#SheRises7

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Rev Dr Kate Coleman’s book 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership, I’m organising a Twitter book group to read through the book, one chapter per week.  Kate’s organisation Next Leadership are encouraging people to run She Rises book groups and so I thought a Twitter Book Group would be a great idea!  

Rather than having to all be online at the same time or anything like that, we’ll have the hashtag #SheRises7.  As we read the book, we can tweet with the hashtag to share any thoughts or ideas.  We can also read through the hashtag and comment on other people’s thoughts.  And we’ll have a chapter hashtag to make clear which chapter we’re discussing (e.g. #int for introduction, #ch1 for chapter 1, #ch2 for chapter 2 and so on).  

About ten women have told me they’re interesting in joining.  Within the next couple of week’s the audiobook will be launched, so anyone who can’t manage reading it can participate using the audio book. 

We’ll start with the Introduction on Monday 14th October, which gives women time to sign up, and also for those on limited budgets to have a bit of time to get the money together to buy it.  If you would like to participate and can’t afford the book, let me know.  If you would like to support women in participating by buying a book for a woman, let me know (especially men who are committed to supporting women’s leadership).  My contact details are at the end of the blog.

This is the #sherises7 book group plan:

WEEK BEGINNING CHAPTER HASHTAG
14th October Introduction #int
21st October Chapter 1 #ch1
28th October Chapter 2 #ch2
4th November Chapter 3 #ch3
11th November Chapter 4 #ch4
18th November Chapter 5 #ch5
25th November Chapter 6 #ch6
2nd December Chapter 7 #ch7
9th December Overall reflections #sherises7

If you’d like to join the book group, feel free to just start tweeting with #SheRises7, and join in with reading the book and tweeting from 14th October.  However, if you’d like to be copied into tweets about the book group, to let you know where we’re up to and stuff, please can you tweet or dm me and I’ll add you to my list. 

To contact me about needing a free book or to offer to buy a book for a woman, you can email on befreeuk (at) gmail (dot) com or direct message me on Twitter @God_loves_women.

Sermon Notes…

I preached at my local Churches Together unity service tonight and thought I’d post my notes in case anyone would like to read them…  The theme of the service was justice and I preached from Amos 5:4 – 24

  • Each of us here is a beloved child of God. For those of us who have chosen Jesus, we are redeemed and set free by Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s grace. Yet, what are we dedicating our lives to?  What are our priorities.
  • Slavery
    • The slave Bible
    • The EA in the UK
  • Colonialism
    • Christianity spread across the world because the church partnered with the king/emperor
  • Women
    • Anti-suffrage
    • Anti-women’s rights of all kinds
    • Still people who they personally, or their denomination, who don’t believe I should preach
  • Yet still the Spirit moves
  • Those who fought for justice were the outliers of their time:
    • Martin Luther – removing hierarchy)
    • William Wilberforce – RSPCA, criminalising slavery
    • Lord Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper) – child labour, worker’s rights
    • Mary Wollstonecraft – women’s rights
    • Josephine Butler – helped women exploited in prostitution
    • Sarah and Angelina Grimke – fought against slavery and women’s oppression
    • Sojourner Truth – fought against slavery and for women’s rights
    • Martin Luther King – civil rights movement
  • Do we want to be part of the dominant group who remain steadfastly against moving towards a more just society? Are we going to be the people who say:
    • Our job is just to keep the order as it is until Jesus returns. Nothing needs to change in the order of the world, just in my heart, in my personal relationship with Jesus.
    • Napoleon: “What is it that makes the poor man take it for granted that ten chimneys smoke in my palace while he dies of the cold – that I have ten changes of raiment in my wardrobe while he is naked – that on my table at each meal there is enough to sustain a family for a week? It is religion, which says to him that in another life I shall be his equal, indeed that he has a better chance of being happy there than I have.”

 

  • Or do we want to be one of the outliers, one of those who works for more justice, for all people to flourish. As Christian Aid’s slogan goes, do we believe in life before death?
    • Or are we propping the injustice of the Napoleons of this world by only advocating for justice after Jesus returns. A justice which colludes with oppression, abuse and violence?

 

  • Amos vs. 4 and 6: Seek me and live.
    • But what does that mean?
    • Orthodoxy and/or orthopraxy
    • Rohr: “The ego diverts your attention from anything that would ask youto change to righteous causes that invariably ask othersto change.”
      • When you look at what your faith requires, does it require more of you changing now? Not previously, when you first became a Christian? But now?  Or is your faith one which is more focussed on what others need to change?  Are you more interested in debates about a sexuality that you personally don’t have, or in examining your own personal sinfulness?
    • Bonhoeffer: “Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes.” (page 63)
      • Bonhoeffer existed at a time where the majority of Christians in Germany had aligned themselves with the Nazis. At first Hitler and his regime supported the Church, advocated for Jesus and the church. And Christians at that time were delighted!  At last, we get to be taken seriously again, after a time when secularism had been growing thanks to the enlightenment which had, in many places, challenged the idea that God even existed.
      • Hitler declared his mission to be from God and in relationship with Jesus. And Christians generally accepted this.
      • Martin Luther, who we celebrate as the founder of the Reformation, in 1543 wrote a 65,000-word treatise on “The Jews and their lies”, referring to Jews as “poisonous envenomed worms”. Though it is a complex path to trace through history, it is simply not incidental that the Holocaust happened in Germany, the same country Martin Luther had 400 years previously published this terrible and horrifying anti-Semitism.
      • With hindsight, we can see that Martin Luther was atrociously wrong, and that the Christians who supported Hitler were horrifically wrong.
      • But where will future generations see us? Will we be on the side of justice or injustice?  It might be that you say, “I want to be on the side of Jesus”.  But all of these people thought they were on the side of Jesus; Martin Luther with his anti-Semitism, the crusaders who slaughtered anyone who wouldn’t forcibly convert to Christianity, slave owners, the Christians who accompanied colonial forces across the world – enslaving and oppressing entire nations in the name of power and progress, Nazi supporters, opponents of women’s suffrage.  What does it mean to work for justice?

 

  • This is a service for Christian unity. What does unity mean?  Bonhoeffer wrote eloquently about the ways the German church were offering cheap grace and denying the full power of the Gospel.  Was he dividing the church?  Or seeking to reunify it around the truth of the Gospel?  What are we united by?  Believing the same thing or working together for a more just society?

 

  • Unity is a complicated word at the moment isn’t it? We have a country completely divided by that dread word, du-du-duuuuuuuu: Brexit!
    • Me and husband voted different ways, so we are living proof that brexiteers and remainers can stay friends.
    • Yet, with the existing fragmentation in the church, Brexit has become yet another fragmentation. And people have very strong feelings on it, not least because for people of colour and immigrants, Brexit has led to huge increases in the amount of racism and xenophobia they are subjected to.
    • There are some Christians who would say that politics isn’t something we should be involved in, and when it comes to party politics there is an argument for that.
    • However, more generally politics is just a fancy way of saying “how do we organise our society?”And democracy in the West is itself the fruit of Christians working for justice.
    • So while party politics is a different animal, when it comes to Christians engaging politically, we have a responsibility to act for justice, as the passage from Amos reminds us.
      • 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor
        and take from them levies of grain,
        you have built houses of hewn stone,
        but you shall not live in them;
        you have planted pleasant vineyards,
        but you shall not drink their wine.
        12 For I know how many are your transgressions,
        and how great are your sins—
        you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
        and push aside the needy in the gate.

        • It’s easy to read this and see ourselves as innocent; we haven’t taken a bribe!
        • But have we pushed aside the needy?
        • When we vote, do we vote for whichever party is going to centre the needy? It’s amazing that churches together are running these ministries that help homeless and vulnerable people, but what are we doing to prevent these sorts of services being needed?  In recent years, homelessness has risen by 165%, that is not okay.  Families in one of the richest nations in the world cannot afford to feed their children. How is that okay?  Are we committed to eradicating homelessness?  To ensuring every family can feed themselves? To ensuring that every person is valued and treated with dignity and respect?
        • As Archbishop Helder Pessoa Camara said, “When I give food to the poor they call me a Saint.When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
      • Verse 14: 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor
        • When we go shopping to we consider which brands to buy based on whether they trample on the poor? Nestle have tried to argue that water is not a human right.  Lynx used highly sexualised women to advertise their products.  Some high street clothing brands use child labour and slave labour.  When we buy something we vote for its values and support its ethics (or lack of them). Do we seek to ensure that our purchases don’t trample the poor?  The climate crisis worldwide is affecting the poorest.  What are we doing to limit our consumption?  To change the climate crisis?  Because inevitably the poorest will be worst affected by climate changes.
        • How are we bringing justice?

 

  • 18 Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
    Why do you want the day of the Lord?
    It is darkness, not light;
    19     as if someone fled from a lion,
    and was met by a bear;
    or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
    and was bitten by a snake.
    20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
    and gloom with no brightness in it?

21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

  • This is a prophetic word for our time. How many Christians are awaiting Jesus’ return, so that all can be well, but are not acting to make things better right now?
  • If justice is not rolling down like water, if righteousness is not an ever-flowing stream, then God will despise our festivals, He will take no delight in our solemn assemblies.

 

  • The legacy of many of our church mothers and fathers has been a more just society; free education, free healthcare, care of children, worker’s rights, women’s rights, the criminalisation of slavery, the civil rights movements, liberation theology and more.
    • When Jesus’ mother praises God for her pregnancy she sings this:
      • God’s mercy is from generation to generation
        on those who fear Him.
        He has shown might with His arm,
        He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
        He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
        and has exalted the lowly.
        He has filled the hungry with good things,
        and the rich He has sent away empty.

        • She sings of justice.
      • When Jesus announces His ministry in temple He says:
        • “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
          because he has anointed me
          to bring good news to the poor.
          He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
          and recovery of sight to the blind,
          to let the oppressed go free,
          19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

          • He announces justice.
        • Are we the mighty who will be put down from our thrones and the rich that will be sent away empty? How can we be in solidarity with the most vulnerable?  How can we become a people known for our work towards justice?  How can that become one of the things that we are united around?  I’m not sure I have many answers, but often it starts with acknowledging our failures, or as the Bible calls it And then seeking God’s wisdom in how He is calling us to do justice.

 

  • Jesus transforms us and calls us to obedience, but now we are saved, what are we going to do with our freedom?
    • Let us pray.

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

In 2016, I entered the first Sermon of the Year competition run by Preach Magazine.  I only submitted an entry due to knowing how few women put themselves forward and feeling that I had a responsibility to represent womankind by putting a sermon entry in.  And I won it!  Which was amazing!  The prize was free study at London School of Theology and I convinced them to let me enter one of their Masters programmes without a first degree (I left education at 18 having done a two year course to gain a childcare qualification).  Fast forward two years and the competition is in its third year, the final will be on 21st June at LST and I’m now a regular columnist with Preach Magazine!

 

Anyway, I thought it was about time I put my sermon online.  It turns out that the sermon I wrote and preached has involved our family living out the message in some sort of old skool prophet way (which I can tell you is not that fun).  There’s been a lot going on in GLW family life over the last few months and I’m hoping to write something to share with you about it, but I felt to firstly share this sermon as I kind of feel it is part of what needs to be told.  So here goes…

 

“Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.”

 

I am much too young to have “listened with mother” but this question has followed us through the generations. I shall ask you again, “Are you sitting comfortably?”

 

This sermon is entitled “Reason For Hope”. Hope involves balancing on the line between despair and complacency. It is the narrow road we are called to as Christians. For if life is too comfortable, what have we to hope for? Hope can only exist until it is realised. We can celebrate the realisation of our hope, but the hope itself is replaced by the delight of hope fulfilled.

 

Paul tells us in Romans 8 that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to daughter and son-ship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?”

 

What have we to hope for if we are sitting comfortably?

 

Hope requires a deficit; something not yet received. However most of us want a reason to hope without the need for hope in our lives, without the discomfort of any deficit. There’s a reason why the fastest growing churches are in geographical areas of persecution and oppression; when people are in need of hope, Jesus offers Life, whereas there are conversations aplenty in the UK about whether the church is dying and how to revive it.

 

Maya Angelou, in her book “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” says, “I find it interesting that the meanest life, the poorest existence is attributed to God’s will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend in material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at commensurate speed.”

 

We hear Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry mocking the existence of God, as they enjoy the privileges of financial and social security; as white men with enormous power and control over their own lives. Last year Stephen Fry used the example of a fly that burrows into a child’s eye as justification that God can’t be real. Yet often we will find that the children and families who have actually dealt with the burrowing eye fly are more likely to believe in a loving God than Stephen Fry is. Because when you have nothing, God can become real very quickly.

 

As Christians we are called to a life of discomfort. The artist Banksy famously said, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Although he is talking about art, this is also the truth of the Gospel. In a world that sings along with Pharrell Williams that “Happiness is the truth” Jesus’ call to “pick up our cross daily” leaves the gospel of happiness echoing hollow and empty. For as much as Jesus comforts the disturbed, the lonely, the wounded, the abused, He does not call us to be comfortable.

 

Those familiar with nineties and noughties Christian music will know the band Delirious. One of their songs is called Find Me In The River. Within it are the lines, “We’ve longed to see the roses, but never felt the thorns. And bought our pretty crowns, but never paid the price.”

 

In our comfortable existence we want the goodness of God’s gifts and blessing, but the fullness of life Jesus talked about is accessed by dying to ourselves every single day. This is not to say that we should engage in self-hatred. Selflessness is not thinking less of ourselves, it’s thinking of ourselves less. The paradox of Christian faith is that in giving ourselves to God, we find ourselves.

 

Are you sitting comfortably?

 

God loves us so much. If like Cain, we come to God in our plenty and choose to give Him less than the best of what we have, He will still love us. He will still meet with us. Yet, it was Abel who was “looked upon with favour”. God will not demand our all, but if we give it we will find Him and know Him in that.

 

Having grown up in a Christian family, I knew cognitively about the hope Jesus offers, yet it was only after 4 years of being prevented from loving God by an abusive man that I discovered in my heart what it really means to have a reason to hope. I found myself living in a hospital, with a three-month premature baby and a traumatised toddler. I hoped my baby would recover and that my life would improve. Yet God didn’t pat me on the head and grant my wishes. God asked me to give up even the hope that my baby would get better. He told me to stop praying for my baby to recover and start praying for His will to be done. He told me I needed to be confident of my love for Him, whether my baby lived or died.

 

We are so often taught the Gospel of Sitting Comfortably. The catchall verse of Jeremiah 29:11 is trundled out to tell us that God has good plans for us, to bring us hope and a good future. Yet what about all the people who haven’t known a good future? The ones who struggle with depression? The ones who die of starvation? The ones who are abused and raped? The ones with children who are blind because a fly has burrowed into their eye?

 

The Gospel of Sitting Comfortably owes a lot more to capitalist culture than to Jesus. We are sold the lie of consumer based self-actualisation. That we can access total fulfilment through consuming, spending, owning; that the abundance of our possessions leads to the overflow of happiness in our lives. That sitting comfortably or even better, drowning in a sea of excess, is what life is all about.

 

But that is not the Gospel. That is not our Hope. For we are blessed when we are poor, blessed when we are mourning, blessed when we are humble and blessed when we are merciful. Blessed when we are pure in heart and blessed when we make peace. We are blessed when we are persecuted because of righteousness, when we are mocked and when people lie about us. Because ours in the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Are you sitting comfortably?

 

How much are you willing to give God? Will you be obedient if He asks you to move house? To give up your job? Do you need a reason to hope or do you just like having one.

 

In one of the Hunger Games film there is a scene where the not-so-benevolent dictator is explaining his theory for maintaining order amongst oppressed people, “Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.”  Sisters and brothers, we have access to a hope that can set the world alight. Yet because of God’s grace, He allows us to contain it. He allows us to hold just enough hope to know we are saved, without forcing it to change us, to make us people of the deficit.  We have a hope that could set our lives and our communities ablaze, yet we are sitting too comfortably.

 

Until we are willing for God to disturb us, to take us outside of comfortable, then He won’t. And though we have a reason to hope, we have no need of it. No need of it at all.

 

We are called to be a people of deficit. Our Saviour was tortured and died. We cannot shy away from pain and wounded-ness, for our hope is in the resurrection of a tortured God.  The title of this sermon is from 1 Peter 3: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

 

Does anyone ask you for your reason to hope? Or does your life look the same as those who don’t know Jesus? Maybe people know you’re a Christian; not because of your “reason to hope” but because of your lack of gentleness and respect. Maybe they know your opinions on different issues. But discussing our opinions has little to do with our reason to hope. In fact, the certainty of our rightness can sometimes stand at odds with a life of faith; it is certainty and not doubt that is the opposite of faith.

 

Maybe you’re sat here, and you’re wondering what I’m going on about. What is this “reason to hope” that I’m talking about?  God came to earth over 2000 years ago, He was birthed out of a woman as a human baby and grew up to live and teach a way of life that almost every religious and ethical group would agree has never been surpassed. He willingly died to once and for all transform humanity’s relationship with God. And then He rose again, conquering death and making a way from death into eternal life for all of us, regardless of the way we mess up or are messed up by others. After Jesus had risen from the dead He supernaturally floated back up to heaven and in His place came the Holy Spirit, another aspect of God, who would guide and gift us to live radical lives, according to The Way that Jesus taught and modelled in His life.

 

My children and I lived in a hospital for five months. In that time I separated from my ex-husband, and went through a court case against him for raping me and I moved to a new area. Since I chose to give my whole life to God I have not been comfortable, my ex-husband was found not guilty; I still have post traumatic stress disorder; my premature baby became well but has been left with behavioural issues; my traumatised toddler has become a gloriously self-assured 12 year old; I have remarried and moved when and where God has told me to. Recently my mum died and the shockwaves of that have been very painful for me. My 22-year-old niece and her 3-year-old son have come to live with us and we have had to trust God for the money to provide for them. We have carved up our living room to make her a bedroom and my 9-year-old son has had to learn to share a room with a 3-year-old. Our house is filled to bursting. We face pain, disappointment and frustration on a regular basis.

 

And yet, I do all this in the full assurance that I am loved and called and precious. Because Jesus became human, I have a God who can walk beside me and knows what it is to suffer. Through the Holy Spirit, I am held in the painful times. I am comforted, though I am not comfortable. And I live a life of freedom and in the hope that this life is not the end. Jesus’s death and resurrection made a way for each of us to have hope for this life and for the next. This is my reason to hope.

 

As you leave this place, may you know the God who disturbs, may you embrace a life with deficit, where the cost is great and the blessings many. And may you be willing to live a life with a need for hope. For those here that don’t know Jesus, may you know that He is the reason to hope.

 

Are you sitting comfortably? I hope not.

#MeToo: A Hard Freedom To Bear

I’ve been working out if or how to write about #metoo.  The hashtag was started over ten years ago by Tarana Burke to enable women in underprivileged communities who did not have access to rape crisis centers or counseling, to be able to share their stories of having been subjected to sexual assault.  In the wake of the New Yorker publishing details of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and assault of women across Hollywood (over a number of decades), actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to tweet their stories of sexual harassment.  A million people have tweeted using the hashtag in the last few days, with many people also using it on Facebook.

 

The most wonderful Vicky Walker has written over at Premier “Harvey Weinstein isn’t just Hollywood. Men like him exist in our churches too”.  Vicky’s piece, which included her own personal experiences of having been subjected to harassment by Christian men, has been commented on by a number of men.  Peter tells us that, I am concerned that this article is actually approaching the whole issue from the wrong perspective.” (What wisdom Paul has…)  Whilst Paul tells us that, Plenty of conjecture and personal anecdote but nowhere near enough sources to properly level the claim with credibility.”  (I’m hoping Paul is going to commission a nationwide survey on harassment in churches to help us get the data he thinks is acceptable.)

 

Another Paul (not the apostle) tells us Vicky’s article is, “probably the worst article I’ve ever read on Premier Christianity – ever. A Hollywood mogul is unmasked as a serial sexual predator and for some random and completely mysterious reason, this is seen as an excuse to unleash a vitriolic ‘j’accuse’ tirade against an alleged culture of systemic, misogynistic abuse within the church. No facts, no statistics, no case studies not even a suggestion of a cogent or logically coherent argument, just a bunch of subjective generalisations, personal anecdotes, false equivalence, question begging and good old fashioned axe-grinding. Dreadful.” 

 

It would be easier to see these comments as the exception.  To believe that the men expressing their horror at #metoo and those writing about their horror are the majority.  But they’re not.  They are mainly Paul, Peter and of course there’s all the men who actually perpetrate abuse towards women and girls.

 

I’ve seen a couple of well-intentioned high profile Christian women tweeting about #metoo with the hope of change, that out of women’s pain we will see change and hope.  I wish I could agree with them, but I can’t.

 

When we see the pain pouring out of women, how women are opening themselves up, offering their pain, in solidarity, in strength and in vulnerability, we want to believe that change is coming.  That no one will be able to ignore 1 million tweets, or the many Facebook posts that are being shared.  We cannot bear pointless pain, we want it to have Meaning.  And for those who have found their shame diminish in sharing, it is not pointless, and for those who have found community, solidarity or sisterhood, it is not meaningless.

 

However, we must not be under any illusions that #metoo is going to change men’s violence and abuse.  It is not.  And that is why I am finding this week so difficult.  For some, this critical mass seems to be an opportunity to hope for change.  But not for me.

 

I was speaking at a Christian event a few months ago.  After giving the basics of gendered socialisation and statistics about male violence, I went on to share my story of how my ex-husband abused me.  Afterwards, one man approached me to tell me how wrong I was, that men are better than women at working, which is why men are paid more.  A few minutes later another man approached me, he was seething, “You’re harming people.”  He said this to me in a voice that sounded like he was trying not to shout.  “You’re harming people and you’re going to go on harming people whilst you keep doing this.”  He spoke at me for about five minutes before turning away and leaving the building, without giving me a chance to respond.  A woman approached me.  I burst into tears just as she began to thank me for my talk.  I hated that I was reinforcing the emotional weakness of women.  After I pulled myself together, I told the remaining few people about these two men.  They started suggesting ways I could have changed my talk to make it acceptable to such men.  The worship leader asked me, “So what exactly is the point of what you do?”  I told him I was doing it in obedience to God.  “Well you’ve certainly made us all think,” he mused.  “And that’s the point of what I do,” I said to him.

 

I’ve been doing this work for ten years.  I’d like to tell you that being an expert in domestic abuse, telling my story, providing robust data and offering theological analysis would be transforming things.  But I can’t tell you that.  Because it isn’t.  People are invested in keeping the status quo and it doesn’t matter how many women rip open their wounds and share the brutality that was done to them, it will not make the world listen. The world is invested in not listening.  People’s lives feel safer that way.  Feel easier.  As I see brave women bearing their all and telling us their truth, I cry.  Because I want to live in a world where their stories matter and where the critical mass of #metoo shakes the world.  But it won’t.  And that is the brutal truth.  Women’s pain doesn’t matter.

 

I continue to speak and bear my all, not because it will change the world, but because I can’t stop.  As a Christian, I do it with the assurance that there is more than just this.  I have so much admiration for my sisters who do this work without the belief in any greater power, most of the time it is my hope in God that keeps me going.  Occasionally transformation does come, in individual hearts and minds, and I keep going.  Because this is my call.  And it is terrible and awesome and holy.  But this week, it is almost unbearable.

 

I desperately want for there to be healing and wholeness and change.  I want for men to change and children to be raised differently.  I want the police to take sexual and domestic violence seriously.  I want every perpetrator brought to justice.  I want women’s services to be fully funded and I want every person who witnesses male entitlement to challenge it.  I want all girls to be in school and for female genitals to never be mutilated.  I want all girls to have the same chances in life as boys, and for boys to no longer be enculturated into violence and destruction.  I want governments to value the work women do and for men to share emotional labour.  I want women to be safe and for men to view women as their equals.

 

Women have been saying this for generations, and every generation we have to start saying it again.  I’m only 33, but I’m already tired.  How the foremothers have kept going for so long, I do not know.  But even though I know change is not coming in some big wave, I will continue, as hard as this week is to bear.  I can’t stop.  Once we know the truth, it sets us free, and we are free indeed.  But what a hard freedom it is to bear.

Those Who Wait: A book worth reading

Those-Who-Wait-Cover-Preview-333x500

Today is the launch of Tanya Marlow’s new book “Those Who Wait”.  I was grateful to Tanya for offering an early release copy to read in advance of the book being published today.  And so I thought I’d blog about the book and let you know why you might want to read it too.

 

Tanya’s story is one of challenge and waiting.  Having waited ten years to have her ill health diagnosed as ME, she has spent the subsequent years waiting to get better.  For seven years she has been housebound.  Within a Christian culture which often assumes suffering is something to be prayed away and delivered from, it can be extremely hard to cope with the ongoing reality of ill physical health, mental ill health or other difficulties which make life difficult.

 

As I write this I am dealing with having had a plethora of viruses which have reduced my capacity immensely over the last month, I am currently in therapy seeking to deal with the challenging parts of my history, whilst in my wider family there is stuff going on that is both upsetting and frustrating, we have one child with behavioural issues, an angsty teenager and are involved in a family court case regarding our third child.  Alongside this, the ongoing coverage of powerful men who have sexually abused women and girls has left me feeling rather despondent.  Their courage and the subsequent opportunity it has provided for other women to share their stories should be celebrated.  But to be honest, I just feel so despairing, knowing that nothing is going to structurally change, and as we’ve already seen, the women will be blamed, the men will be justified and the colluders will put out shiny PR statements to reframe their collusion as ignorance.  Given this context, the advance copy of “Those Who Wait” was a real gift, in this time of challenge.

 

Although Tanya’s story is one of waiting, “Those Who Wait” is not a personal memoir, but rather a Biblical study on the lives of four characters from the Bible; Sarah, Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary (Jesus’ mother).  Approaching the text with an evangelical theological perspective, Tanya has reimagined the stories of each character, from a first-person perspective.  Sarah as the woman who waited on God’s promise, Isaiah the prophet who waited, John the prophet whose prophecy was fulfilled but not in the ways he wanted, and Mary who waited for the birth of the Messiah.

 

Each character’s story is split into four “scenes” with questions for reflection included.  The book has been designed to function for either an individual, or within a small group context.  Tanya suggests that given the season of Advent is one of waiting, it could be used over Advent with a church, small group or with a Christian book group.  She has included various prayers and other materials for reflecting on the stories.

 

Within the Biblical narrative, it is easy to forget that the stories that take up a few verses may have happened over decades.  The matter-of-factness of the text can prevent us recognising the human characters within it.  Yet Tanya’s retelling of the stories prompted me to see the Biblical characters in a new way.  Particularly with John the Baptist’s narrative, various things within the Biblical text clicked into place and made sense, whilst Isaiah’s narrative was hugely encouraging to me, as someone called to have a prophetic voice.

 

Overall, the book gave me a fresh experience of Biblical stories that are very familiar to me.  And even though it is not a book filled with answers for those who are waiting, the Biblical characters seem to become those who sit with us in our waiting, sharing their stories and encouraging us that we are not alone.  When life is hard (as it is for me at the minute), those who provide instructions on how to cope, or offer me well-meaning solutions are often less helpful than those who tell me their stories and show me that they made it through.

 

Tanya’s book offers a fresh perspective on the Biblical narratives of Sarah, Isaiah, John and Mary and provides opportunities to see God at work as we wait and when we face challenges in life.  I’m thankful to Tanya for writing this book and am hopeful it will help many of those who are waiting.

 

You can buy it here:

 

Amazon http://amzn.to/2gaik89*

Wordery https://wordery.com/those-who-wait-tanya-marlow-97819107868…

Waterstones https://www.waterstones.com/…/th…/tanya-marlow/9781910786864

 

*The RRP is £9.99. BUT until Oct 26th, it’s available from Amazon for £6.99 as a special introductory offer, with the ebook reduced to £3.99.  

Academia and Betraying Myself

The last year has seen me taking my first steps into academia.  I began a Masters with London School of Theology (LST) in September 2016 and next week I embark on the second year of what has now become a three-year project.  I have really struggled with the year and I thought perhaps writing a blog reflecting on my experiences might help me gain some clarity and who knows, someone else might benefit from my ponderings!

 

My route into academia has hardly been conventional.  In 2016 I won the Sermon of the Year competition and the prize was free study at LST.  In looking at the options, I concluded a Masters would both be the best value I could gain from the prize and also would be an exciting opportunity to gain an academic perspective.

 

I don’t have a first degree.  Whilst others my age were going off to university at 18, I had a small being growing in my uterus.  Even before that, the idea of university hadn’t appealed to me.  I am from a northern working class family with middle class aspirations (my parents liked Gilbert and Sullivan and were professional musicians), but no one in my family had ever been to university.  When I left secondary school I wanted to do performing arts but my parents insisted I needed to be able to get a proper job, and so as a female, who quite liked children, clearly the right option for me was a childcare qualification.  Though I didn’t dislike children, it turned out that working with them fulltime was VERY BORING.  My parents promised me that when I had the ability to get a Proper Job, then I could choose to do a performing arts course.

 

However, nobody foresaw that I would begin a relationship with a young man who would abuse me (let’s call him Alan).  They didn’t see that he would coerce me into sexual activity, damage me immeasurably and refuse to use contraception.  Nobody predicted I would be pregnant at 17 (at school I would have been voted Least Likely To Get Pregnant).  I found out my status would (according to the Daily Mail) become Scrounging Teen Mum the same week I finished the childcare course.

 

As a Scrounging Teen Mum it turned out I wanted to do everything I could to reject the stereotypes that I was sure were actually a true characterisation of every other teenage mother other than myself.  I didn’t go to the teen mum pre-natal courses because I knew that all the rest of them would be Scrounging Teen Mums and they would intimidate me with their blatantly low morals.  I wasn’t like them, I thought.  I was moral and good.  My moral goodness was evidenced by my engagement to Alan, the young man who was abusing me (an engagement heavily motivated by a desire to please God and become pure again).

 

I was due to get married two weeks before my due date.  Except two days before the wedding, I went into labour and the wedding was postponed, with me becoming a married woman two months before I turned 19.

 

At 21 my son was born 3 months prematurely after I was assaulted by Alan.  It was the practical implications of my son’s birth that enabled me to successfully separate from Alan, as he was treated in a hospital over an hour from where we lived.  There was a deep, abiding fear whilst we lived in hospital (my two and a half year old daughter lived in hospital with us).  This fear was that I had actually become a Scrounging Teen Mum, and worse still a Scrounging SINGLE Teenage Mum.  I no longer had a husband and stable relationship to point to which proved I wasn’t immoral and bad.  It didn’t matter that my husband had raped me, lied to me, cheated on me, became a registered sex offender for abusing teenage girls or that he pushed me to attempt suicide. The social capital I thought my marital status gave me made me feel able to counter the judgement I felt at being a teenage mother.  And as it turned out, maintaining that social capital resulted in my living in a hospital with a toddler and a tiny baby that kept nearly dying.

 

At first, when speaking to doctors who asked me where my baby’s father was, I would feel compelled to tell them he was currently my husband and that he was also a registered sex offender.  It felt this information would show them that I wasn’t a Scrounging Teenage Single Mum, but rather a person who had tried to make her marriage work, and that my husband was so awful that all my efforts weren’t enough.

 

However, I gradually discovered how much easier it is to live in a hospital with a toddler and a potentially dying baby, than to live with an abusive man.  It took over a year to become practically free from him (becoming emotionally and psychologically free is a much longer process).  In that year I reported him to the police for assaulting me and went through a full trial in which he was found not guilty.

 

I began to embrace being a single parent.  I began to see that other people’s views of me mattered a lot less than I had thought.  Rejecting the stereotypes and refusing to care if people judged me was hugely liberating.  By the time I remarried my son was two years old I became proud of my status as having been a teenage mother.  Proud of being married twice.  Because every time I refused to feel shame or judgement for being a Scrounging Teenage Single Mum, I was rejecting the social constructs that had kept me in a relationship with an abuser.  Over the years I’ve connected with loads of teenage mothers and unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail stereotype that took hold in the early noughties is not true.

 

You may be wondering how my experiences link with my Maters challenges.  My time as a single mother, rejecting the shame and judgement of society in relation to my status was hugely formative.  My identity is deeply rooted in being a working class, teenage single mother who defies anyone telling her she is not good enough.  And even though I remarried (unintentionally) and gradually fell into consultancy work (also unintentional) both of which moved me away from that status, I have been able to hold onto my roots and reject ideas that I needed to have an academic status or more than a childcare qualification to enable me to change the world (or the small bit of it that God has called me to).

 

When I deliver training or key note presentations, I will often finish by telling my story.  And the audience will be challenged by the seeming incongruity of a competent women who has a history of having been subjected to abuse.  This choice of vulnerability and a rejection of the professional veneer that we are often taught to have enables me to reveal people’s prejudices to them.  Their surprise that I have been subjected to abuse reveals that they have a category of people they imagine are victims, and competent professional is not within that category.

 

And yet, as I have been working on the Masters I have felt a constant resistance to the system, to the process and to the material.  Some of that is the dominance of white men who concluded ridiculous things (which my course tutor is open to addressing) and some of it is not having a background in theology.  Whilst it is also that I haven’t done a first degree and so feel like I am only hearing the second half of a conversation all the time.  But mostly, it is because I feel I am betraying a mindset that opened up liberation to me.  Every time I have to value an academic’s words over the words of someone uneducated I feel I am betraying the version of me that rejected societal prejudice.  And every male theologian I have to read leaves me feeling angry for all the women who had better ideas that nobody every listened to, and that my having to value him colludes with that system of ignoring women.  And every essay I write feels like stepping away from who I really am.

 

This week I spent 24 hours at a colloquium.  I applied to speak at it without knowing what a colloquium actually was, and then upon being accepted to speak I had to google it.  It’s basically an academic conference that’s not overly specialist.  It was great to be amongst people who had thought deeply about stuff and the discussions and content was really thought provoking.  However, it seemed that the difference between those attending who would define themselves as “academic” and me was that they all loved their subject, they loved learning, they loved thinking.  My experience of the Masters is more of endurance than love.

 

I love making a difference and challenging people and bringing about change.  I utilise any tools that will enable that to happen.  I have concluded that this Masters is likely to be a tool in what I do.  But I have yet work out how to love that tool.  Especially when it feels like a requirement of that tool is to betray myself and the way I assess something or someone as valuable.

 

It would be nice if this blog concluded in me working out how to love the tool, or how to move beyond a feeling of betraying myself, but I’m not there yet.  Perhaps I’ll write a follow up blog when I finally work out a way through!  But as for now, I hope my ponderings are thought provoking for others.