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Showing posts from 2018

An autobiographical poem about walking on water

A decade ago, give or take – feeling at crisis point in my mental health and desperately socially disconnected – I "went up for prayer" at a church I was visiting. (I find it hard to do this at my own church when I feel desperately socially disconnected. It's hard enough even to be at my own church at such times). And the gentle, kindly woman who placed her hand on my shoulder and prayed some simple, general, healing words to suit my simple, general, hurting plea looked thoughtfully at me afterwards and said "just, if and when you can, keep taking each next step towards Jesus, whatever that looks like," or words to that effect. It seemed as good a plan as any, so I did. (Not instead of getting medical and professional help, I hasten to add; seeking out and receiving whatever support is available has always felt more like an action of faith than a compromise of it).

Since then, stepping towards Jesus has taken me (slowly, often painfully, and usually the long w…

The Sin of Onan

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also. (Genesis 38:6-10) According to Google's answer to what (let's face it) must be right up there among the most-asked questions since the invention of the search engine, this story is the closest the Bible comes to saying anything directly about masturbation.

And it isn't a story about masturbation. It's not even a story, not really, about birth control methods – although they feature. It's a story about the denial of ju…

What's Alice got that Bob hasn't? [1]

"Those who call themselves feminists – whether "biblical" ones or otherwise – seem to have one belief in common, and only one that I have been able to extract from their arguments: They agree that there is no difference between men and women, apart from the physiological one. It is on this level and this level alone that they recognize men and women as functionally noninterchangeable." (Elisabeth Eliot, The Mark of a Man, 1981, p25; emphasis my own). As a "biblical" feminist myself, this (from a book that I read "for balance", but found too woefully unbalanced to recommend) is news to me.

Here is my best (deliberately brief and vague) stab at the "beliefs" that feminists mostly (perhaps, just about, on the whole) hold in common:
Women and men are of equal worth.Our equality is not borne out in lived reality.We shouldn't just accept this. So, "there is no difference between men and women, apart from the physiological one"?…

Where does marriage get you if no-one takes the lead?

When Mr. W and I embarked on marriage, there was no doubt in my mind that he was the head of the household. There was no doubt in his mind, either, because I had been sure to make it very clear to him.

It hadn't quite got through to the minister who married us, though, as – in spite of my firm insistence on publicly pledging to "love, honour and obey" – when the moment arrived he led us in the edited, symmetric version of the vows, according to which we need only love and honour one another!! I was a little put out, but swiftly pardoned the faux-pas on account of the doctrinal soundness and evangelistic tenor of his sermon. Besides, my embrace of the theology of wifely submission required no officialising and would certainly withstand a mere liturgical hiccup. I stressed as much to my new husband in the car on the way to the reception, and he was every bit as reassured as I insisted that he should be.

Only in recent years have I thought to question whether it really was…

The Big Fish in the Room

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 3:10-4:4, ESVUK).


            I met a traveller from an antique land,
            Who said – “Too right I’m angry, seething hot;
            Far better had He smote me on the spot
            Than made me see the staying of His hand.
            His mercy stoops to depths I cannot stand:
            I’ve fled it like a fugitive, till caught
            And swallowed up, digested an…

Dancing on a Toilet Seat

From time to time, I open a newspaper. Things seem to be proceeding at a dizzying rate. We are dancing not on the edge of a volcano, but on the wooden seat of a latrine, and it seems to me more than a touch rotten. Soon society will go plummeting down and drown in nineteen centuries of shit. There’ll be quite a lot of shouting. (Gustave Flaubert, in a letter to a friend, 1850). As far as I'm concerned, these 170 year-old words could have been written yesterday. And no doubt I could find even earlier quotes to similar effect (though the analogy would be hard to beat). I can't decide if the timelessness of impending cataclysm is more reassuring than it is horrifying, or vice-versa. (Matthew 24:6 springs to mind).

Is it too much of a cliché to say this isn't how things were meant to be? Is it too naive to suggest it's not how they have to stay?

In The Very Good Gospel, Lisa Sharon Harper writes compellingly about the vision of creation's perfect 'goodness' as…

A Sinner's Prayer

As someone with a healthy recognition of my need for the mercy of God, as well as a less-than-healthy capacity for shame and religious anxiety (people, we really need to help each other learn the difference), Psalm 51 – King David's great prayer of contrition and repentance – has long been close to my heart.
Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin! (Psalm 51:1-2) But I've had a growing unease with it ever since the following was pointed out to me. "Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight..." confesses David to God (Ps 51:4). Meanwhile, the short context-providing note at the start of the psalm explains the particular sin which has prompted this humbled outcry: "A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba."

If "gone in to&q…

Graven Mental Images

Unusually for a Christian book, William P. Young's The Shack(Now A Major Motion Picture) caused quite a stir in the wider publishing world. For those unfamiliar, it is a story about a man in the wake of life-wrecking tragedy, who finds himself the invited guest of the triune God in a shape-shifting cabin in the middle of a forest. All sorts of healing and self-understanding and provocative conversational exchanges ensue, as you might imagine.

The book was unexpectedly popular (topping the New York Times Best Seller list for fiction between 2008 and 2010) and predictably controversial. Among the several charges laid against it by 'concerned evangelicals' was the 'idolatrous' depiction of the first and third Persons of the Trinity – as an African-American woman, in the case of God the Father, and as an Asian woman, in the case of God the Holy Spirit.

Now, actually, old habits die hard and I am still 'concerned evangelical' enough to be rather uncomfortable m…