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Back to Normal

Of all my poems, this might be the one that’s closest to my heart. I wrote it in the aftermath of Christmas 2018, and was chuffed to have it appear in the Winter 2019 edition of Preach magazine.


THIS HOUSE Oh come, oh come Emmanuel, and hurl
Our order into holy disarray:
Upend the tables where we wheel and deal,
And scatter our accrued prosperity.
Awake us, dancer on the dancing deep,
From placid slumber; rock the boat; disturb
The peace that we content ourselves to keep,
And make us see the chaos we transfer.
Confound our clarity, cut short our too long
Prayers, take back the narrative and heckle
Sermons preached to itching ears. Throw down
Each stone in every separating wall.
Do what you’re here to do … but, come what may,
Rebuild the ruins of us, please – and stay. Carolyn Whitnall, 2019.

And then the pandemic. And the stuff of it all got a bit real. And no, I don’t mean any of the following: that “God has done this,” or that I wished for it, or that there is somehow a “purpose” to…
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Locked Down

In recent weeks, this poem (the first of an enthusiastic spate when I discovered roundels) has felt personally apt in new, weird ways.

DIURNAL ROUND  Another day, another shock alarm;
Another bracing of the body to obey,
And of the face, to face with surface calm
Another day.  Abolish every thought that goes astray,
Deny yourself the luxury of qualm,
Just exercise, and eat, and work, and pray.  You have a system, and it’s like a charm.
And if you’re losing out to keep it, that’s OK;
The time for all those other things will come
Another day. Carolyn Whitnall, 2018.
Of all the people I know, I guess I’ve been one of the least hit by lockdown. Largely because of massive privilege. But also because I have been keeping life simple for some years now. My mental health has long needed careful managing. Or, at least, it feels like it needs careful managing still – who knows by this point? I’m generally too scared to test it.

And some days I am amazed and grateful for my capacity to cycle thro…

From Loos to Pews via Jordan Peterson's Views

A LADY WALKS IN AS I’M LEAVING, AND

Pause. “Am I … where I am supposed to be?”
Petite, the pastel-two-pieced figure bars
My exit, eyeing me confusèdly
And blushing as it dawns on her she errs
In one of two both-mortifying ways.
I muster my most womanliest smile
And, firmly unoffended, meet her gaze:
“I know! We’re used to queuing!” I freestyle.
She breathes relief. I take my person out
The unambiguously coded door –
As order mollifies her nagging doubt –
And lose the mask. I shrug it off, secure
In my admission by the status quo;
But every body needs some where to go.

Carolyn Whitnall, 2019.

I’m cautious to write about gender because I don’t want to seem to weigh in on matters that are outside of my comfortably protected (cis female) experience. But one thing I do know a bit about is anxiety, and I see a lot of it (especially among Christians) in response to increasing societal awareness and embrace of gender diversity beyond the assigned sex binary. Every now and then I find myself on…

Men Of Their Word

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.” (Judges 11:34-35)


MEN OF THEIR WORD Now Jephthah was a mighty promiser;
A man
Of Gilead, by Fallen Matriliny but
His father’s son
Unstinting in ambition. Jephthah was
A leader of his brothers,
Takers-back of land together, for the glory,
Hallelujah,
Of the Lord, the land, his brothers
For his father’s house.
He was a worshipper,
According to the true profession, Jepthah
Burned with holy fire
On the threshold of his premises.
He did
His people proud. And so
It is a custom, to this day, among the people
That the fathers of their daughters
Every year assemble
In their numbers
In the downsta…

Order, ORDER!

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2).
On Twitter last year during Advent, Wil Gafney (a womanist biblical scholar I hope you’re all following too) called attention to the problematic ways in which “light versus dark” imagery in the Bible gets associated with a “good versus evil” paradigm without proper recognition or critique of the role that such binaries have played in producing and perpetuating racism. [1] It was uncomfortable and personally convicting to realise that the language and metaphors of scriptures that I love (and that pre-date constructions of race) had been so distorted by human, and specifically Christian, sin and oppression that their use (when handled unthoughtfully) could contribute to ongoing harm. [2]

I happened to be reading Jordan Peterson’s ‘Twelve Rules’ at the time (y’know, to get me in the …

Reader's Progress

Through prayer and study over the course of many months I came to believe that: a) church should celebrate and support same-sex covenant partnerships no less than we do mixed-sex ones, and b) church should welcome gifted and called people into all areas of ministry at all levels, without barriers of gender or sexuality. [1]

There are people (I was one of them, once) who would see such a position as popularity-seeking. Ha. My circle of acquaintance mostly divides into:
those who are understandably shocked I could ever have believed otherwise, and disturbed that it took me so long to change my mind [2], andthose who are appalled at my "rejection of truth” and have no further interest in anything I might say about anything.Well. OK. It’s not like I was popular to begin with. But if you are in that latter semi-circle, I urge you – for the sake of neighbours and siblings in Christ whose flourishing, well-being, dignity, and sometimes even lives are at stake – to examine your beliefs and…

Check-in Privilege

I'm a reluctant traveller but there's something about the 'liminal space' of an airport that captures my imagination, drawn as it easily is towards questions of order and chaos, boundaries and negotiation, norms and transgression, "exclusion and embrace" (see, e.g., Volf), etc. As such – and helped by the fact that my dread of missing flights tends to leave me with above-average amounts of waiting time to fill – the process of flight travel has emerged as a recurring theme among my recent poem attempts.

Except ... well, even before I was done admiring my latest effort, the whole exercise struck me as grimly ironic. Just how much unheeding privilege does it take to find an airport 'interesting'?! Where I see symbols of the status quo (inviting my imagined metaphorical subversion), other people are experiencing the oppressively, dehumanisingly tangible outworkings of it. [1]

So (a bit like a cryptography researcher who proposes a secure scheme at one c…