Saturday, 1 November 2008

The Kingdom of God

Its funny, there are a number (they tell me its seven) passages in the bible that negatively mention homosexuality, but only one of them ever makes me cry. I can so easily ignore Leviticus, and for some reason 'that passage' in Romans doesn't really affect me but this does:

'Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be decieved: neither the sexually immoral nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor theives nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.' 1 Corinthians 6v9

The Kingdom of God is an illusive concept, and I don't think we ever really get a total grasp of what it means. Jesus (as He so ofen did), mostly speaks about it in riddles. We know that it belongs to the poor in Spirit (Matthew 5v3), its like a man who sowed good seed (Matthew 13v24), like a mustard seed of faith and like yeast which spreads (Matthew 13v31), its like treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13v44), like a net that catches fish (Mattthew 13v47), we know that it doesn't live by the same hierarchies as most of us live by (Matthew 18v3). Its like a King who frees us from our debts only to watch us show no grace to those around us (Matthew19v21-35). We know that it belongs to children and those like them (Matthew 19v14). We need to give up all our earthly possessions to find it (Matthew 19v21-24). Its like a landowner that pays everyone the same regardless of how much work they do (Matthew 20v1-16), where the first are last and the last are first. Its like a King who prepares a banquet and invites the lowest of society to come (Matthew 22v1-14). Its a Kingdom where we are called to make the best of what we have (Matthew 25v14-30). Its about righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14v17).

And as I read the gospels, I become surer and surer that this illusive kingdom, this kingdom which has nothing to do with the false boundaries of nations that we create, is something that I want to be a part of it. I want to be a part of the radical, righteous, just way of doing things, that goes against absolutely everything we know. I want to recieve the grace that Jesus gave when he died, and be a part of showing that grace to the world in his resurrection. I want to learn more about what all this means, and I am so, so, so sure that this crazy, confused set of stories is what I want to live by.

So yes, it absolutely does break my heart when Paul suggest that I might not be able to be a part of all this. And I know that some people think that homosexual then didn't including loving monogomas relationships, and I know that its hard to see how much of what was written to another culture applies to our culture today. But can I take the risk? God, and this new system based on grace are the things I love most in the world.

And so I'm still left somewhere in the middle of two ideologies not really sure where I can go and hold myself together in one piece. Heres praying for answers, ideally soon.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Coming out of the Shadows

I’ve decided that its time to come out of the shadows. There’s no especially easy way to tell people that you love that you’ve been keeping something from them, so I hope that you are able to understand that I’ve had to process some of this without you. I’m a lesbian.

I’ve known this for about six years, and I’ve been slowly coming out to a few friends starting from when I was 18. I’ve gone on a fairly big journey, from being sure that this meant that I was going to be celibate and single forever, to now being less sure what is right/wrong and what the path God is calling me down is. I have never (honestly) stopped thinking that God loves me through all this. That’s one of the few truths that I’m sure of.

I know that the people reading this have different opinions about morality and the bible, and will have different opinions about this journey I’m on. I hope that we can agree to be respectful and loving towards each other and show each other grace in our journies.

I don’t have any answers about how my faith and my sexuality fit together, so why am I doing this now? Firstly, I’m tired of the constant energy it takes to assess every sentence, and censor every conversation to make sure that I’m not saying anything that will ‘give me away’. I don’t want to have to do that any more. I’ve also realised that when I’m honest about this with people, I become closer to God. I value my relationship with God more than my secrets.

I’m also doing this because vulnerability is important. When those of us who follow Jesus are too afraid to be honest about our stories, then the kingdom of God is diminished. Given the controversy about sexuality is in the church, it has never been more important for gay people within the church to be honest about the fact that we are HERE. From the few people in the church I’ve already talked to, I can see that when people become aware that there are gay people in the church that they love, and whose faith they respect, things becomes less black and white, and people are treated with the grace they deserves. If I can be a part of making this happen then I will be very blessed.

For all our sakes, I am grateful that, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Will you love the "you" you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same? Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around,through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you and never be the same. In Your company I'll go where Your love and footsteps show Thus I'll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Aldermaston Big Blockade

Most of you, and certainly those of you who live in Scotland will at least be vaguely aware of Trident. In Faslane, a few hours from Glasgow (the biggest city in Scotland) is Britain's main (only?) nucleur weapons base. Nuclear weapons are horrific, and immoral for so many reason, but if you want to read up a bit about why its important that we protest against the presence of weapons that could wipe out a continent then have a look at CND Scotlands lovely website.

I love the Peace movement, as its one of those places where Quakers, feminists, hippies, Mennonites and elderly church of Scotland ministers get together with MPs and trade unionists to fight a common battle.

Basically, Trident is not the only place concerned with nuclear weapons in the UK, and given that Scotland has an increasingly large anti-nuclear movement, with the most powerful MSP in the country (Alec Salmond) being oppossed, CND (Campaign for Nuclear disarmament) are focusing some of their campaigning on England, Aldermaston to be specific.

Aldmermaston is a nuclear weapons factory near Reading in the South of England, and to quote the briefing paper for the big blockade:

The facilities are being built
to test design and construct a
new generation of nuclear
warheads. The project is
going ahead in advance of any
parliamentary decision. In July
2008, documents obtained by
CND confirmed that the government
has already decided
to build new nuclear warheads.

A blockade is being planned for the Aldermaston Factory, which basically is an attempt to 'get in the way' for a day. It takes protest to a new level, showing that when something is going on that we consider to be wrong, and illegal, it is a DUTY to get in the way and stop it happening.

Involvement can range
from their simple but visible
presence at the gates, to trying
to communicate with
workers, to directly impeding
access to the illegal and immoral
work at Aldermaston
(by blockading the gates for
as long as possible and risking

Training is available the day before the march, the protest is entirely non-violent, and non-arrestable roles are availabe if you are uncomfortable with that or can't because of your work.

Details of the Blockade

Date: Monday 27th October
Contact: 0845 4588 361

There will be be groups going down from all over the place, including Edinburgh, so if you want to get involved then try to find your nearest CND/Trident Ploughshares/Justice and Peace group and so on, and see if you can find people to go down with. These things are much less scary in a group. Your nearest Quaker community would also be a good bet.

This is such an important protest, I wish I could go but I can't make it, for a booking form and more information and flyers, then email

Monday, 1 September 2008

Prossy Kakooza

Prossy is a 26 year old women seeking asylum in the UK, after having to flee her home country (Uganda) due to a series of serious assaults, including sexual assaults, due to her being a lesbian. Her initial asylum claim was refused as the home office did not consider her risk to be serious enough for her to stay, despite the fact that she can be imprisoned for her sexuality in Uganda, and her further serious risk of violent attack.

Prossy will be renewing her claim before the Asylum Tribunal very soon, so its very important that we show support to her at the moment. There is a facebook group here
and an i-petition here. To hear more about her story go here

My prayers go out to Prossy, it would be disgusting for the government to send her, and the others like her who have claimed asylum on grounds of sexuality in the last few years (and often been refused), home.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Paula in Bolivia

As some of you know and some of you don't, my twinny Paula is going to Bolivia for nine months to speak Spanish and work with street children. If you're interested in keeping up to date with what she's doing then her blog is Bolivian Blogging

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The Comfort Women - take action

During the Second World War the Japanese forced thousands of women from Korea, the Phillipines and other countries into sexual slavery. These women were repeatedly raped and subject to enormous amounts of human rights abuses. Many of these women are still suffering from this trauma, but increasingly many are bravely coming forward and telling their stories in the fight for justice.

Japan has still not apologised for these horrific atrocities. Like I've said in earlier posts, apologising can seem almost meaningless, but actually I believe apologising is the first step towards real change, justice, and healing. No one person was responsible for this, those who abducted the women, those who raped them, those who authorised it, and those who simply did nothing, all have a share of the blame. This, like so many others, is the crime of a nation (probably nations) as well as individuals.

I believe that an apology from Japan, followed by real compensation for the women still living, and an acknowledgment that the attitudes to women that led to these abuses still exist and need to change are essential. (I think what I just said could be described as repentence, acknowledging the sin but going further than that and creating real change).

Several nations have called for Japan to officially apologise, including the USA, the Netherlands, Canada and the European Parliment. Amnesty International are currently calling for the Phillipines to join these nations in requesting repentance. particularly significant given how many Fillipino women were comfort women. You can take action to support this campaign here

p.s. I love this post you should read it!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Recovering from ideas of God

When I was 15 I was convinced that God wanted me to leave school after I'd done my Standard Grades (like GCSEs in England) and start doing youth work (never mind that I was still a teenager myself!). This was basically my worst nightmare. I really liked school, was very good academically, and far too timid to work with troubled young people! I obsessed over it for ages, desperatly wanting not to do this, but feeling this immense pressure to leave what I liked and do something I hated for God. I finally changed my mind about doing this when an amazing woman came up to me randomly in a youth group meeting and told me that God had good plans for me, not plans to hurt me (see Jeremiah). I'm very grateful to her for being willing to faithfully tell me this when she had no reason to believe that its what I needed to hear.

This story, and a couple of others that I don't want to tell over the internet (privacy is a wonderful thing!) are representative of the idea of God that I'm still trying to fight, and I don't think I'm alone in this. Years of reading true christians stories about how people laid down all their ambitions to do something they never would have considered themselves have left a part of me still believing that what God wants for me is do the things that i want to do least. So although I don't like talking to strangers, I think God wants me to become some crazy street evangelist, and although I'm not very good at working with teenagers, that must be what God wants me to do because I would find it hard.

And I suppose this isn't entirely a lie, because the christian way is narrow, the gospel is full of challenges and (contrary to most 'megachurch' thought), no one ever said that walking in Jesus' way was easy. But through all those challenging things the bible says (love your enemies, give up your property so you can follow God, free the oppressed, bring about justice, live holy and pure lives), there is an infusion of love and grace and joy.

So right now I'm trying to teach myself that even though I've chosen a difficult life journey, that God wants GOOD things for me, not things that will hurt me.

Monday, 11 August 2008

We're back!!

Reclaim the Night Edinburgh is back, click on the link to stay updated on the planning process, get involved and add your comments and thoughts.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Action to Take

Thanks to Womanist Musings that I got this information from

"Equality Now is urgently concerned about Kobra Najjar, an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery who lost her final appeal for amnesty. Iranian women’s rights activists working on her case report that Kobra has exhausted all domestic legal remedies and that her execution by stoning could happen any time.

Kobra is a victim of domestic violence who was forced into prostitution by her abusive husband in order to support his heroin addiction. He was murdered by one of Kobra’s “clients” who sympathized with her plight. Kobra has already served 8 years in prison as an accessory to her husband’s murder. The man who murdered her husband also served 8 years in prison and is now free after paying blood money and undergoing 100 lashes, while Kobra faces imminent stoning to death for adultery - the prostitution her husband forced upon her.

Equality Now is also concerned about recent reports of seven other women and one man, all accused of adultery sentenced to death by stoning, whose executions are also reported to be possible at any time. In Iran, adultery is the only crime punishable by stoning.

Stoning violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Iran is a state party. The ICCPR clearly prohibits torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment. It also limits the imposition of the death penalty “only for the most serious crimes.” No criminal or other act warrants violent and inhumane punishments such as flogging and stoning. Moreover, adultery is a private act and should not incur criminal punishment. Protection from arbitrary or unlawful interference under the ICCPR has been found by the United Nations Human Rights Committee to include consensual sexual activity between adults in private.

Please write to the Iranian officials below, calling for Kobra’s immediate release, the commutation of all sentences of death by stoning and the prohibition by law of all cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments in accordance with Iran’s obligations under the ICCPR. Urge the officials also to initiate a comprehensive review of the Civil and Penal Codes of Iran to remove all provisions that discriminate and perpetuate discrimination against women, including those regarding adultery and fornication, in accordance with Iran’s own constitutional provision for equality before the law.

His Excellency Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Head of the Judiciary
c/o Ministry of Justice
Park-e Shahr
Islamic Republic of Iran
Email:, and
Phone: +98 21 22741002, +98 21 22741003, +98 21 22741004, +98 21 22741005

Note: The contact information above may encounter delivery problems so please keep trying to send your message. Thank you for taking action!

Please also contact the Iranian embassy in your country. The following link may help you find the contact information:"

Friday, 1 August 2008

Do we call Jesus a feminist?

Firstly, the shiny new 'Carnival for Progressive Christians' is up at the wonderful Purteks. You should have a look, its fairly brilliant.

When I haven't been working and watching FAR too many soul destroying American TV shows (when did Smallville get so ridiculous??), I've been thinking a lot lately about whether or not Jesus, and therefore God (as I believe that Jesus is God), should be given the label 'feminist'.

Before I can answer this question, I need to have an understanding of what the word 'feminist' means. My working definition is that a feminist is someone who believes in, and works for, the liberation of women from the systems, institutions and beliefs that opression them. I'm aware that within that different people will have varying opinions of what is and is not opressive, but I think thats ok. I'm trying to practise a feminism that is a fairly large tent at the moment, and I think thats a good thing. Theres much more to be learned when we don't just agree on everything. I'm aware that my definition of feminism has its limits, but I think its a fairly good start.

So, using this definition of feminism could Jesus be a feminist? Well, to some degree, yes! Jesus taught women when most people considered women to be basically incapable of learning, going against beliefs of his time. Jesus trusted women to spread the news of His resurrection when women were not considered to be 'reliable witnesses' in court, going against the sexist systems of his day. Jesus had time for women (and men) who were considered unclean, and women who were judged. Jesus did and does, radically challenge all sorts of beliefs and institutions, including patriarchal, sexist ones. On top of this we are aware from all over the bible that God is a liberator, calling for and bring about our liberation both from spiritual darkness and all forms of earthly injustice, including sexist ones.

So I think I can say that I definatly believe that Jesus wasn't to liberate women and men from sexism. But does this mean I can call Jesus a feminist? Honestly, I don't think so. Feminism is limited, one of the many ways through which humans have and continue to attempt to understand all that is wrong with the world. Feminism CANNOT be fully true, because none of us fully understand. God does fully understand. God sees all of time and knows what is wrong and why, and fully understands the reasons behind it. Because of this I can never put the small labels through which I understand the world onto God.

More than this, to apply my labels to God is to do things the wrong way round. My ultimate aim is to live fully for God (although first I have to discover what that means!). I don't want to simply apply the values I already have to God. I believe that my journey in feminism has been part of this, but I need to be sure that feminism is on of the tools which I use in my attempt to understand my amazing Creator, and that it doesn't become the rule book through which I choose to define God. God is not limited to my politics.

What are you thoughts? How would you answer the question in the title?

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Anglican Church, Sexuality and Colonialism

If you've been reading the papers over the last week then you've probably realised that the Anglican Communion (which is global and includes the Church of England), is in a bit of a mess at the moment. Not unusually in the church its all about sexuality, homosexuality specifically. I should probably clarify before I go on that I'm not an Anglican and have only a very limited knowledge about this way of doing church (as I'm Scottish and therefore a puritanical presbyterian!), so please forgive and correct any errors you say.

One of the more recent events is the marriage (or as most of the newspapers put it 'marriage') of two male Anglican priests in London earlier this month. While this has been controversial for a long time, a lot of the controversy started when Gene Robertson was the first openly gay person to be made a bishop. Theres a really nice profile on him here . There was a lot of anger over this, particularily from many of the African Bishops, which has culminated in an alternative to the Lambeth Conference (big gathering of Bishops) being held for conservative Bishops in Jerusalem at the moment, with a lot of time being taken up discussion homosexuality.

Some people have rightly highlighted that these Bishops have behaved appallingly in their unwillingness to condemn homophobic hate crime (in many of the African countries, often state sanctioned violence).

I am equally shocked by this, and pray that as they discuss these issues they will be able to reach a gracious and compassionate stance even if they don't end up reaching more liberal conclusions about the bible. And yes, I wish that we weren't so obsessed with sex in the church, but I recognise that this is a real difficult issue. While so many of these conversations are laced with some disgusting homophobia, at root this is a question about the very nature of the bible, and so it is important that people in the church are given the space to engage seriously with issues of sexuality and reach their own conclusions.

However, the thing we have to remember is that this alternative meeting is a lot more significant than just a big disagreement over relationships and sex. We have to remember that the history of the Anglican Communion goes right alongside the British Empire and Colonialism. Even now, the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is British) is in charge. This isn't just a question of sexuality, its also a question of whether or not wealthy white countries (Britain being in charge, and the US being where much of the controversy is coming from, the Episcopalian church there is very liberal) should be able to tell developing countries what to do.

While always keeping in mind the awful, un-Christlike abuse and violence towards LGBT people all over the world (in Africa and the middle-east in particular), we cannot win this battle by continuing in fundamentally racist and imperialist attitudes. If the African Anglican Church is to change its mind on issues of sexuality, then African Christians and African LGBT people will have to lead the way. We can give our opinions and assistance to their struggle, but we don't get to be in charge.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Lessons in not giving up

I spent most of Saturday at Faslane (where our nucleur weapons are kept), making a peace chain round the base with CND. I feel like I have a real heritage with CND, partly because my parents were involved in the past, but mostly because CND is just full of amazing older progressive christians. Surrouding myself with elderly quaker women and members of the Iona Community makes me feel safe and inspired.

But more than anything else I was reminded of the hope and drive that has kept CND existing for 50 years. Most of its more committed members are getting old now, peace loving grandparents who've been trying to change the world for a long time. And nucleur weapons have gone in and out of fashion a lot over the years. They came back for a while last year but protestors (especially the student sort) are a fickle group and we've moved on to new and more exciting causes this year. So many big deal causes are forgotten about, from Make Poverty History to landmines (one of the first campaigns I got involved in as a teenager - not much has changed).

I've inspired by the fact that all the people I met on Saturday haven't given up. They really believe that they are going to win one day and they are so full of hope. Trends will always come and go, but those of us who really care, whether its about violence against women, sweatshops, the arms trade, climate change or anything have got to find the hope and the strenth to keep going when the press has gone and the trendy campaigners have moved on.

LIke so many of the anti-nucleur campaigners, even now when I feel somewhat hopeless, I am hanging on because 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me', and because I really, genuinly do believe that Christ will win one day, and the real, non-cliched peace will come.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Reflections on Community

Like all slightly pretentious 'emerging' type Christians, I spend a lot of my time talking about community. And of course, there is good reason for this. Community is up there with grace, redemption and justice in some of the key themes of the bible and christianity in general. One of my favourite things about the trinity is that it shows that even before humans were created there was community: God within him/herself is a community of three. When the bible says that we are 'made in the image of God', then being made to relate towards and love others is a key part of that. And of course, the concept of community is key to what we read about the early church. Without romanticising what it was like too much, we can read that the early church was a community which 'shared everything' (in Acts) and was always willing to give to another part of the body that was in need (as when there was a famine in the church in Jerusalem).

However, like most slightly self obsessed people that spend too much time on the internet I spend a lot less time actually doing community (its definatly a verb) than I do thinking about it. This has not always been the case, and I have some examples in my life of some wonderful forms of community. When I was a teenager I was part of a bible study group (our name was 'gorgeous girls going for God' - embarrasing but true), that was an amazing community to be a part of. This community changed my life, made God relevant to me, and in all likelihood I wouldn't still be trying to follow God without the amazing women involved. When I got involved in organising Reclaim the Night Edinburgh last year, I found myself being involved in one of the most genuinly caring communities I'm ever seen. Being involved in this community also changed my life. I'm most definatly a feminist (and scary and humourless etc) now, which I probably wouldn't have said before.

But there are two key features of community that I'd like to look at, both are reasons which mean that at the moment, I'm finding community hard. Often, when progressive liberal christians talk about wanting christian community, what we really mean is that we want community with christians who are exactly like us. We want to be able to surround ourselves with people who think like us and act like us so that we can feel safe. And of course, there is some truth in this dream. I definatly want to have more christians in my life that think like me! But this is a very limited view of what community means. We are deluded if we think that the community in the early church was one were everyone agreed. You don't have to get far into Paul's letters to see the many conflicts there were about food offered to idols, about what particular church leaders people followed, about whether or not women should lead and a whole lot more. Its really not unlike the conflict we have today. But to my mind, real community will mean looking beyond the real, and sometimes huge differences we have with the christians around us, and trying to work out how to be a part of each others lives, and love each other anyway.

The women who I was in a bible study with as teenagers now have very diverse lifes (some of us are even married!), politics and ways of living out their faith. But because we have established an honest community of love we are still part of each others lives to some degree, and still friends despite our differences. For me, this differences are constantly challenging me in what I think and how I live, usually changing me for the better.

But this is not the main reason that I often avoid community, especially christian community. If we want to have community then we have to really get to know each other so that we can be involved, supportive, loving and challenging. And right at the moment, I'm really struggling with this. Like many of us, I like people to think that I'm perfect. If I begin to really let you know about my fears, my failures, the selfishness that I try to hide with my right on politcs, my desperate search for approval, my feelings of rejection from the church, then you will realise that I don't have it together and that I'm not perfect. I'm not sure what I'd do if I had to get rid of my mask of always being right.

Thinking about community raises more challenges and fears for me than anything else at the moment. Yet if what I said at the start is true, that to exist in community is part of our 'God-given' nature is true, then at some point we're all going to have to take up the challenge. Life is better when we're together.

(I loev to end on a good cliche)

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Carnival of Progressive Christians

Theres a new carnival in town! How exciting. For those of you who don't know, a blog carnival tries to pull together lots of interests perspectives from people within a particular group. Some examples that might interest include the carnival against pornography and prostitution (, the carnival of sexual freedom and autonomy ( the Carnival of Feminists (

This carnival is for Progressive christians, the link is (incidently, how do I do a link without just putting the web page in, this whole post looks ridiculous). The theme for July is community, and I know some of my blogging friends reading this have some really interesting thoughts, so write something and submit it on the page given.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Token White Woman

As the title suggests, I have quite a bit of experience of being the only white person in the room. A lot of my uni friends are Malaysian (mostly Chinese), so I've been to many birthdays/christmas parties/Chinese New Years where everyone else has been an ethnic minority. This has resulted in a good bit of banter about white people being the minority for once, especially when I visiting a friend in her town in Malysia and I really was the only white person for miles. (I've never felt so fat in my life, it was awful!)

However the more time I spend with my amazing friends, the more I'm reminded that I'm not really experiencing what it is to be a minority at all, in fact its more like the opposite. My privilege doesn't decrease when I'm with them, in reality it increases. There has often been a somewhat akward vibe (mostly from people that I don't know well) of gratitude that I, as a white British person would actually take the time to be friends with foreigners. Almost as though I've been willing to take them on as a project (far from the truth, I sometimes get fed amazing Chinese food, always makes me wish I ate meat). I'm not treated as wierd or different in the group dynamic, I'm treated as special, with thanks. I'm increasingly concerned that my desire to be in charge and patronise people is increased with my asian friends, reminding me that I'm not immune from the racist attitudes I've inherited from wider society.

Its the same when I've been in places where white people (especially fair people like me) are very rarely seen. Yes, I've been stared at (like a black person might be in very middle class areas), but no-one is ever looking down on me, or being scared I'm going to steal from them, or that I might be a terrorist, I've never been yelled at by strangers because of my ethnicity . In Thailand strangers came up to me and said I was beautiful because I was so fair. In reality I'm not that attractive; I'm just white. (I was also subject to comment about my weight, I really have to stop going to Asia.)

This post is my repentance for ever having thought that I had in any way experienced knowing what being an ethnic minority is like. Its not about skin colour, its about status, steriotypes, your level of privilige. Even when I'm the only white person for miles my privilige is clear.

P.S. My quiet confession is that I'm always scared of talking about issues around ethnicity and racism in case I'm accidentally racist (I'm aware that I'm an idiot...), please tell me if I am!

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Corporate Repentance

So, after being at the amazing Big Dress in Sheffield a few weeks ago ( I've been left with lots of inspiration and lots of things to think about. Most of the thoughts are about concepts of repentance and community after going to a seminar with Mike Love (

Repentance (as far as I know) means to turn around and go the other way. In the church at the moment repentance is viewed as a very individual act, where individuals apologise to God or other people for things that they have done wrong and make the promise to change (to turn around and do things differently). However, when we look at the Old Testemant, there are many more examples of whole communities repenting than individuals. Israel as a nation repents again and again for its sin, Ninevah repents, etc. Clearly this concept of communual repentance is important, but somehow we have lost it. Perhaps we have lost it along with our sense of community.

However, we do see occasional examples of attempts at corporate repentance, the Australian leaders recent public apology for its treatment of the Aboriginal people is one. Yet I'm not convinced that the leaders of the community apologising is enough. While important, this is really just another why to pass the buck. EVERYONE in a community (be it a country or a paticulare ethnicity of faith group, a political group or whatever) is responsible for what goes on in the community. If Australia is to really change, the leaders of the country repenting is a start, but it will require all white Australians to recognise their racist heritage and to actively repent and work for change. Its got to be bigger than just one person. It may even mean repenting for something that you don't feel that you as an individual are guilty of, because being part of a community means becoming more than just one person.

So what does this mean for the Church? How can we repent for our sexist sins? How can we repent for limiting women and in some cases even condoning or encouraging domestic violence? How do we repent for reducing the impact of the gospels by refusing to allow women to play a full role in the church? How do we repent of our homophobia? (And no, before people either get excited or shocked, I still haven't reached my own conclusions, but that doesn't mean that prejudice and bigotry are ever acceptable.) How do we repent for objectifying women by suggesting that they should 'cover up' to 'protect men'? How do we repent for the damage this causes?

The church has so much to repent for in the way it has treated women (can you think of any other examples?), but honestly I don't know where to start. What can we do?

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Radical Niceness

Niceness isn't usually seen as very radical. At school we are told that its a word that we shouldn't use as its not discriptive enough, nice doesn't get things done, it doesn't get your way, it doesn't change anything.

However, I am increasingly wondering if we (western society) are in need of a radical new niceness. The kind of 'niceness' that makes us stop and say thank you to the bus driver/cleaner/shop-assisant, or the kind of niceness that apologies when we bump into people and smile at strangers in the street (in a non-creepy way). Personally, I think that this kind of niceness makes the world a happier, sunnier place. In fact, I think this kind of niceness spreads, and makes us all better people, and therefore makes the world a better place.

I'm increasingly thinking about the importance of niceness in our activism. As in, niceness to those who think differently to us, or those are standing in the way of good change. I really believe that niceness and generally friendlyness (is that a word? It definatly isn't spelled right) will increase our effictiveness as we try to impliment real change in the world. Sometimes, the aggressive of left wing or feminist activists (I say sometimes and not all the time) can allienate those who may have been on our side, or who may have just had some sympathy with our cause. Courtisy, offers of friendship, and a willingness to explain or perspective can go a long way.

Niceness is necessary with those who we fundamentally disagree with, who probably will never 'come around'. Sometimes we will have to accept that we disagree about something big and important, and just carry on being nice to each other. People are suprised by niceness.

What do you think? Can we change the world just by being nice?

Monday, 5 May 2008

Further musings on modesty

In the way other left wing/feminist people read the Daily Mail, even though it physically pains them to see that people think such garbage, I occassionally read Brio. Brio is a magazine geared at teenage christian girls, made by Focus on the Family (James Dobson et al, chief protectors of the sacred nucleur family). Today I came across this gem of an article and thought it was worthy of further thought:

The article starts out with an image of a girl wearing a tight top, she feels uncomfortable, but shes going to wear it anyway because she thinks it'll make a guy like her. Now, to clarify before I start, as a christian and a feminist, I don't think that anyone (especially any woman) should be pressured into wearing something they don't want to. If this hypothetical girl feels pressured (as teenage girls often do) into wearing something that makes her feel uncomfortable then that is AWFUL and shouldn't happen. The media in particular has a lot to answer for in pressurising young girls to sexualise themselves.

Now me and the author of this article would probably agree on this, its where she then takes her ideas that I begin to have a problem with. My first problem is this line:

"Ladies, the biggest thing guys struggle with is controlling where their eyes go. It’s just the way God wired them. While we respond to kind words and a gentle touch, guys respond to what they see."

Now, I don't expect a journalist to provide evidence or references the way an academice would, but this woman clearly feels no need to provide any evidence AT ALL for her statement. Does she have any evidence that men are more visually 'wired' than women? Untill I see any evidence I'm afraid I don't buy it. Yes, our society expects men to be visually stimulated and women to be more stimulated by 'romance', but that doesn't mean its in our biology. Has she considered the affect that our upbringing, the books we read, the films and TV shows we watch, our experience at school, our friends, our culture, our religions all have on what we consider normal? Is it our genes telling us that women like hearts and flowers and men like naked pictures or is it Hollywood?

What purpose would God have for making men more visually stimulated? I can't think of a single valid reason, anyone have any thoughts?

Lets look at another quote:
"Did you know that you can attract certain guys with the clothes you wear? It’s true! Look around your school or even your youth group. Usually, the girl whose modesty is lacking is surrounded by guys who treat her with disrespect. Ever wonder why? Well, whether we know it or not, we’re sending messages with the clothes we wear."

Well, lets start with where I agree. We do send messages with the clothes that we wear. This can be positive, expressing our cultural identty or inviduality. It can also be negative, for example, if I wear high heels I may be sending out an unwanted message that I'm willing to limit my physical abilities in order to be attractive. (Not sure thats what shes getting at though :-) ) However, the woman is taking all responsiblity away from the men in question here. She states that the boys at the youth group treat the girls who dress immodestly disrespectfully but she doesn't challenge this. This seems to be the behaviour in the article that needs to be challenged, not the clothes the girls wear. Why do the boys think they are ALLOWED to treat girls who show some cleavage with disrepect? Where are these messages coming from? I guarantee that its not coming from the gene pool!

"A low-cut shirt says, “Hey, look at my body!” and attracts a guy who does just that. But a modest outfit says, “I’m saving something special.” "

This is really odd actually. I assume the 'something special' here is virginity, but does the author realise that having a cleavage, and showing it, doesn't actually mean that you're having crazy wild sex? Is it possible that you just think your breats are quite nice and that lower cut tops are more flattering? Or is that just too out there!! Again, low cut tops can be a quest for attention, which is sad, no-one should have to wear a particular kind of clothes just to get people to be interested in them, but there are other reasons! And if it is a quest for attention then whose fault is that? The girl in the story or the fact that everything surrounding her is telling her that she defined by her face and her body?

Ultimatly, the author this article is suggesting that we do exactly what she is telling us not to - dress with boys in mind. Thats what this comes down to. If you dress sluttily (she doesn't say it but she might as well) you're doing it for boys attention, if you dress modestly, you're doing it to 'protect' them - again, its all about the boys. Do these people even stop to consider that perhaps it would be more healthy just to stop dressing for the boys? Her suggestion is that instead of showing skin to get guys to like us, we dress modestly to get guys to like us. Has the author considered that 'getting a guy' may not be the ultimate aim in life, that there are actually other things to focus on?

And, as always in modesty talk, this woman falls into the same logic that the rape myths come from. We as women control mens sexuality by what we wear. If men are affected by this, and choose to rape us, it is our fault, for not considering them when we got dressed. Its so dangerous, but so subtle that most of us don't see it.

The article ends when the girl realises that God thinks that she is beautiful. At first glance this seems nice. And I am absolutely behind the authors view that women (and men and children) should be defined through God and not through what other people think of them. However, has the author stopped to consider that perhaps its a problem that being beautiful is imperitive anyway? Its much more radical, and much more true, to say that, whatever our society may say, beauty doesn't really matter. 'Inner beauty' is an unnecessary concept, as the characteristics that make up this idea, such as intelligance, kindness, sense of humour, or whatever, are good on their own. They don't need to be described as beautiful to be good. Does this make sense?

The author is right, young women in particular are often looking for approval in how they dress, looking for people to tell them that they are beautiful. However, her solution is wrong. The answer is not to cover it and be beautiful 'in Christ'. They answer is much more counter-cultural than that. We need to realise that God did not creat us to 'BE beautiful' God created us to DO, to live, to be active, and in doing so to worship Her/Him. Lets be really radical, and realise that while we don't have to live up to the standards that Hollywood sets, we also don't have to live up to the standards that Brio sets.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

This blog has been suffering from the dissertation mania I'm in at the moment (its about prozac and depression in India if you care). However, I'm currently very excited about the discussion EFN are having about Faith and Feminism. Partly just because its exciting that feminists of all faiths/none are going to be taking the time to actually listen to each other about what we believe. Thats very rare, and very wonderful.

As I prepare for what I'm going to say at this discussion, I've begun to think about how my Christianity affects my feminism and vice versa. Ultimatly, both are ideologies that affect how we live, act, and see the world (although christianity is a bit more than that).

My first thoughts are about the church. The church has, in many ways, been known for being highly sexist and exploitative of women since it began. However, while I acknowledge the churches many sins in this area, I believe its deeply misguided to blame religion for this. I believe that after the Fall, the way human beings related to each other began to change. Power structure and hierarchies were created that simply didn't exist before. As we can see in the story of Adam and Eve, one of the key hierarchies that formed was between men and women. I believe that the result of this sin is that the power dynamic between men and women is skewed towards men (this is how I define patriachy).

If the question was 'which came first, the patriarchy or relgion,' I would say that first there was God, then there were humans, then there was the Fall and sin, and then there was patriarchy (among other things, patriarchy is just one of the tools we use to understand our fallen world). I believe that patriarchy has polluted religion, but that it is possible for religion to exist without patriarchy. Going back to the way it is illustrated pre-fall, when it was just Adam and Eve, walking with God.

In an increasingly secular society (I think this is fair to say??) we have just found new ways to oppress women. In religion this oppression is often expressed through limiting the roles a woman is allowed to fulfil, and existing on subjugation in marriage. In secular society, this oppression is more often seen through an obsession with body image and beauty and the sexualisation of young girls. Violence againsts women is endemic in both sacred and secular relms. As society changes we find new ways to oppress women (and other groups), specific institutions cannot be blamed, its a bigger, much deeper problem than that: its a problem in our souls.

That, in a very convoluted nutshell is how I reconsile my feminism, with what many see as 'patriarchal religion'. And being a follower of Jesus deeply affects how I see my feminism. For me, feminism is part of the process of redemption that we are all going through. Redemption means 'going back to how it was meant to be', and this is true for society as well as for individuals. This requires reconciliation, and grace and love towards those who oppress as well as the oppressor (loving your enemies was never more difficult or more necessary!). I genuinely believe that only using these tools, will anything ever really change. Christian feminism is about taking seriously the call to set free the oppressed, which is so key to bringing in the kingdom of God. It combines spiritual freedom with material freedom.

But the fact that I am a feminist also affects my faith. It consistantly raises useful questions and criticisms. Mostly it affects the way I relate to the church, rather than the way I relate to Jesus. The way the church works is (like most of society) deeply sexist. Being a christian feminist means I have a calling (yes, thats right, a calling!) to fight this (using christlike methods). Celebrating women who are willing to follow God into roles they 'aren't supposed to do', challenging the enormous mound of books that are currently being published showing a skewed and dangerous view of how to be a 'Godly woman' among many other things. Its draining and exhausting, but if we don't do it then no-one else is going to.

There are big areas where christians and feminist often disagree (abortion and sexuality mostly), and without going into my opinions, its clear to me, that while important, these issues are not the root. And at the root, I believe that Christianity, which brings liberation from sin and feminism which brings liberation from gender oppression are all part of the same fight. Its the fight that God has called us into, our challenge to live in a way that glorifies God, to break down oppression and hierachy, and in the end, to see the Kingdom of God become a reality.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Christian Feminism

Ultimatly, Christian Feminist is about taking serious Gods command that we work to bring about freedom from oppression.

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?" Isaiah 58v6

Its about being angry about the opression God is angry about:
"They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed." Amos2v7

When Jesus went to his hometown to preach for the first time, he opened the scriptures and proclaimed his mission on Earth:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4v18+19

These passages highlight God's desire for liberation from oppression. Christian feminists see that of the many kinds of oppression in the world, one of these is oppression based on gender. And so we work to end this oppression, battling domestic violence, sexual violence, mysogynistic pornography, prostitution, workplace inequality, inequality in the home and in school, female genital mutalation, trafficking, the objectification of children and many other things.

We are working to try and bring in the Kingdom of God, bringing real freedom - through knowing God, making God known, and working for the reality of God's desires here on Earth.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Singleness in Church and Society

I have a number of small confessions to make. Firstly, at 20 years old, not only am I a virgin but I've never been in a relationship, not even a pretend one when I was 7. Secondly, I have spent hours over the last month (and indeed most months) thinking about how much I would like to not be a virgin, and how much I would like to be in a relationship. Now, I have very good reasons for both my virginity and my lack of a relationship, but that doesn't stop these feelings, and I'm fairly sure that I'm not alone.

To some degree this is normal. People tell me sex is fun and relationships are fun so its quite normal that both are things I want to do. Pretty much everyone has desires both for companionship and intimacy as well as for sexual intimacy. This is not a problem. However, I'm increasingly aware of how much the world around me is making me feel like there is something wrong with this singleness. Firstly, there is the church. People tend to get into relationships and marry fairly young in christian communities (and I'm sure theres something to it other than sex!). In my own life, two friends my age have got/are getting married this year, and while I'm happy for them, this has not been easy. Singleness is difficult in the church. As you near thirty, it becomes to be a bit odd that you're 'still single', and people begin to look at you kindly and say things like 'there is still time'. I really don't want to go through that! The church is often so focused on the family unit, that any other lifestyle can be difficult to incorporate.

Society and the media in particular also make singleness hard. TV shows and films are all about getting in relationships, and once you are in one, happiness has been achieved. Bridget Jone's Diary comes to mind! Everything we see is geared towards falling in love, sex, relationships, and everything to do with this.

Surrounded by these messages, its very difficult to be happily single. This is so frustrating! Using me as an example, I have so many reasons to be happy with my life. I love my degree, I have lovely friends and I do lots of lovely things. (Its all very lovely.) To a great degree, I am unhappy about my singleness because society/my christian community tell me that I should be. Other than that I don't think I would be. Possibly slightly sexually frustrated, but not a lot more. There are a million ways to have intimacy and companionship with people, and we shouldn't limit ourselves to just relationships.

I don't really know where I'm going with this post, I just wanted to start a conversation about singleness and what it means for us in our world. Relationships are great (they tell me) and I really hope that I'll be in one one day (though I have my doubts, but more on that another time). However, for now, I think its time to try and fight to be happily single.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Jenny Gedes

So, most of the women I've looked at so far have been fairly well known, at least in certain circles. However, very few people have heard of Jenny Gedes, who's an amazing women from right here in Edinburgh. She became famous in 1633, which was a period of religious turmoil in Scotland. King Charles was trying to force Church of England traditions such as Bishops and the use of the book of Common Prayer onto a resistant presbetyrian Scotland. While some the reasons for resistance were probably politically motivated, the Scottish Christians also did not want their church to be based on hierarchy, and didn't want to use a prayer group which exalted the King. Which I think is pretty awesome of them! (And if any Church Historians are reading this, I'm really sorry for this terrible summary!)

So, where does Jenny come into all of this? A book of Canons was about to begin to be used in the Church of Scotland which ran counter to the way the CofS worked and still works (based on principles such as the 'first among equals' role of the minister). The Dean of Edinburgh stood up to read from this book in St Giles for the first time and Jenny stood up, threw her stool at him (!) and shouted, "“"Villain! doest thou say mass in my lug?". This action started what can only be termed a riot in the church, and through this action, and the actions of many others, the Church of Scotland remained free from links with the monarchy and state, and maintained its non-hierarchal system of Government.

I've included Jenny because her story is an often forgotten one (although there is a plaque to her in St Giles where she threw her stool), and because it reminds me of how much ordinary women who are rarely remembered by history, do for God, and in this case, to preserve religious freedom.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Christian Privilege

I've been hearing a lot lately about privilege. About how certain groups have more power than others purely as a result of their sex, race, sexuality etc. And this often goes un-noticed by, for example, white people, because we're used to this privilege, its only when we start to look closely that we see that things are often easier for us than they are for black people, because society is geared towards us. And I am very willing to accept that as a middle class white person I have an amount of privilege that means I have to fight my own tendancies to racicism and classism, and to confront other people when they exhibit such behaviour.

So far, so clear, but I read something on a blog the other day that was talking about christian privilege, and I had to stop and think about this one a bit more. I've very much in two minds over whether or not such a thing exists. Obviously I'm talking about the UK here not the whole world, it wouldn't take much searching to find out that being a christian doesn't bring much privilege in North Korea or Iran or Pakistan (at least not in this world).

On a societal level, I can see the privilege to some degree. Christianity is the dominant religion in our culture, so our holidays are celebrated both by government and the commercial sector much more than Eid or Diwali are. In England the Church of England has bishops automatically in the House of Lords, and all across the UK the church has a relatively powerful voice in politics (although given that every major denomination in Scotland oppposes Trident, perhaps not so powerful as some believe!)

Its on an indvidual level that I most struggle with this idea of privilege. I have put up with very little bullying in my life compared to many people I know, but pretty much all the bullying I have experienced has been about my faith. Many, perhaps even most of my christians friends would say the same. Certianly in high school, christians are an easy and often an obvious target. Surely the abuse most of us went through is not a privilege?

Perhaps it is the institution of the church which gets the privilege not the individuals. Certainly the ideas of the bible are not privileged in our society, in a capitalist society a God who called his disciples to give up everything they owned so they could follow him more effectively does not go down well. In a culture based on hierachy, Jesus' tendancy to treat everyone equally would be ridiculed. In a culture based on 'getting what you deserve', grace is a foreign concept.

So Jesus is not privileged and christians have not in my experience been privileged, but the Church in many ways has been. Maybe this is a lesson for us, we have let the Church (with a capital C) become something more than just the body of Christ, made up of individuals who form a community. Perhaps in order to really live out the terrifying message of Jesus, the institution has to be slowly pulled to pieces. Because real change doesn't come from institution power, it comes from radicals on the edges of society. Exactly where the church should be.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Sojourner Truth

So I realised the other day that I'd basically stopped doing profiles on women who amaze and inspire me, and so I decided to go back and do some more. Maybe I'll even make it a Monday Feature. It would be fun to have features! So, in the name of remembering the forgotten women who change the world for Jesus, so far we have:
- Catherine Booth
- Elizabeth Fry
- Dorothy Day

And today we have Sojourner Truth. Most of the information here is taken from the ever reliable Wikepedia (I'm such a scholar!), so please forgive any innacuracies.

Sojourner was born into slavery in 1797 as Isabella Baumfree and was a famous abolitinist and women's rights activist. In 1806 she was sold to her second master, a very cruel man who beat her and her raped her. She was sold several times, her fourth owner forbade her from marrying a slave from a neighbouring farm that she loved and a number of years later forced her to marry another slave with whom she had five children.

In 1826 Truth and her baby daughter escaped and were taken in by a Quaker family until the New York Emancipation Act made her free. While staying with these Quakers Truth had a religious conversion and some time later changed her name to Sojourner Truth.

In 1844 she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry which supported women's rights and pacifism among other causes. She wrote a book called 'the Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A northern slave', which documented her life in Slavery.

In 1851 she went to the Ohio Women's rights conference where she delivered her famous 'Ain't I am woman' speach, including the lines:

"Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them."

Much of the rest of her life was spent speaking at various meetings as a suffrage and abolitiionist.

In November 1883 Truth died in Michigan, having lived a life devoted to freedom for slaves and for women among many others.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Share your story

I appear to be on a bit of a blogging role this week, probably because I have so much actual work to do this week!

Anyway, I got a request on facebook for christian women, especially those involved in either lay or official ministry in the church, to consider sharing their faith stories for this webisite.

There are some really great stories up their already, it'd be amazing if your's was too, go have a look.

Most Irritating Argument in the World

Those of you who know me in the real world will probaby be aware that I've spent quite a lot of time recently celebrating and advocating for women leading in the church. There are lots of reasons for this, which I will hopefully try to dwell on a little bit in later posts, but for now I just want to hightlight the MOST annoying things that comes up in conversation abou this.

You would think the most annoying thing would be people saying that women aren't qualified to teach, that women are called to submit to all men (***stabs pen in eye***), but actually these are just the tip of the ice-berg. At least those people are honest in their sexism. Actually, for me, the most annoying arguement comes from those who believe they are 'moderate' saying that, 'when men in the church fail to come forward, God calls women.'

Basically, what this arguement is, is that ultimatly, what God wants is for men to lead the church, but because men can be lazy or whatever and fail to heed the call, sometimes God is forced to call women to this role. Do this people seriously have no idea how patronising this is? I would challenge them to tell the Godly, amazing female ministers/elders/priests that I know that they are only fulfilling their call because there is no man around to do it.

Its a terrible argument. Its used to try and make sexism more subtle and its not even logical. Either God welcomes women as leaders or God doesn't. There is no room for middle ground. It also suggests a really low opinion of God. A perfect God does not do imperfect things, this makes no sense. If God does something, and God is perfect, then the action cannot be wrong. (Although for me this becomes difficult as I read the Old Testemant!) Or does God ever compromise? Theres an interesting discussion to be had here!

Seriously, what should I say to people who say this? I honestly don't know how to engage with this arguement, it makes me want to cry.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Message from Ladyfest Edinburgh

Wanted: female filmmakers and visual artists to submit short films (under 20mins long) of all genres and descriptions for a programme of new shorts to be screened at Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh, in May 2008. The screening is taking place in association with Ladyfest Edinburgh, a branch of the global arts festival celebrating the participation of women the culture industries.

Submission Deadline - 15th April

Send DVD copies of films to:
Ladyfest film co-ordinators
c/o Front of House,
Filmhouse Cinema,
88 Lothian Road,

Contact Lydia or Madeline on
or for more info on Ladyfest Edinburgh go to

Wednesday, 2 April 2008


Sometimes I wonder why the feminist movement is so lothe to use the words morality or morals. For example, I've on various occasions heard/read feminists say, "I'm not against pornography for moral reasons, I'm against it for feminist reasons.' I understand why they're saying it, they're saying it because they don't want their opinions to be confused with members of the religious right who are shocked just at the very idea that people have sex, let alone having to see it!

But why are we letting them own morality? Morality is all about what is right and what is wrong, we all have different ideas about what falls into what group, but most of us have a fairly firm idea of things that we believe are wrong (i.e. sin - thats all sin really means). And what could be more immoral than being profoundly sexist, beating or raping your partner etc. Indeed, since I've heard this most with reference to (certain types of) porn, what could be more immoral than abusing and exploiting women, perpetuating a 'rape and violence culture' and promoting only one body type as being normal and beautiful. These things are all really, really wrong, and therefore they are IMMORAL.

Religious people (like myself!) do not own morality. Its time to claim it back! When you are taking a stance for what is right, its important to be willing to say that you are also taking a stance for what is, in your view, moral.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The A Word

I really, really, really hate talking about abortion. Which is fairly unusual for me, usually I thrive on controversy, I've been known to say deliberatly controversial things just to see what people do. Its very bad. But its different with abortion, whenever anyone brings it up (not that that often happens, its not really dinner party small talk), it just makes me feel very, very nervous. Everyone is so sure they're right. My feminist friends are sure that being pro-choice is right and my christian friends are so sure that being pro-life is right. And this makes me nervous because for once in my life I really, genuinly don't know quite what I think. Life is good AND choice is good, why do I have too choose? And what makes me more nervous is that everyone is so convinced that I agree with them, I almost can't bear to say that I don't. And if people know I don't fully agree with them then they're always sure that I'll come around (yes Rebecca, I am talking to you :-) !)

So given how much I hate this conversation, why am I choosing to bring it up? Mostly, because its an important part of my journey. Its one of the very few places where my christian and feminist identity collide, its where the two communities I call home really fight it out in the public sphere. So, as part of my journey of understanding, this has to be something I think about. Even though I don't want to.

And my opinions really are mixed and confused. I remember once in one week, being at an EFN meeting and feeling sad because I couldn't fully agree with the amazing women their about on-demand abortion, then later that week throwing my Christian Medical Fellowship magazine across the room for being so oversimplistic. So this is neither easy nor simple! I can't help but think that when we do make issues like this simple we are somewhat missing the point.

I think life is important, I think its a gift from God, I think that its sacred, I think that all life has the possibility of expressing love for God, and furthering Gods kingdom - our ultimate purpose in life. So, in line with this, I find the idea of aborting potential life (a foetus doesn't have to be living to have potential) difficult. It seems such a waste. And yes, ultimatly, I do not think that God wants women to have abortions. Not because God hates women, but because God is deeply in love with all of humanity, and wants us to live life to the full. I don't see when life begins (whether at conception, inplantation, a certaint stage of neural development) as being the real point, we'll never really be sure about that. The point for me is ultimatly about potential.

However, this is clearly not the full story. When abortion is illegal, women have them anyway. However, its more risky, and women die. Seriously, it happens all the time, a recent Lancet (medical journal) edition about womens health focused a lot on legalising abortion because the authors saw so much of the harm that back-street abortions can do. So, somewhat reluctantly, I believe that abortion should be legal. But is this really a pro-choice perspective? Surely to be pro-choice I would have to come from the perspective that women should have complete bodily autonomy and not just be being pragmatic? And then it gets even more complicated, because I do think bodily autonomy for women is important! But should that autonomy come at the cost of another potential life?

I think that I'm trying to say in this post is that I'm not sure. I don't fall neatly into the 'pro-life' camp or the 'pro-choice' camp, and I'm not sure either of those labels are helpful. Contrary to what you may hear, pro-life people don't all hate women and want to take away their choices, and pro-choice people don't all want to kill babies. Its oversimplistic, and it alientates people like me (and I like to think that I'm in the 'sort of pro-life and pro-choice ish' majority). I really hope that we can begin to have sensible conversations about this, and really be willing to engage with each other. Its complicated, and there probably isn't a right answer, and nothing is ever going to get better if we just shout at each other!

Hopefully more thoughts coming soon on abortion, violence, and what christians have to add to the feminist movement.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Easter Reflections

I love Easter. I love being reminded for a few days exactly what my focus in life is. Christ dying and Christ rising again. There is so much to learn from these few brief days in history, but at the moment, I am particularly struck by one of the stories of Jesus after the ressurection. Its found in the gospel of John Chapter 20, and its where Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene.

The disciples have all been to the tomb, seen that its empty, been completly freaked out and confused (as you would be) and then gone away to think some more. That is, all except Mary, who stays beside the tomb crying. And its at this point, that in John's account, Jesus is first seen risen again. In and of itself its a significant moment. In Jewish law at that time, women were not considered to be reliable and so weren't allowed to act as witnesses in a court of law. By entrusting Mary with the news that He is actually alive, Jesus goes against all the logic of his day, and puts trust in a woman. And not just any women, but a woman that any of the 'religious' of his day would have been shocked to have been seen with. I love this about Jesus, He rocked the boat, and showed this amazing unconditional love to everyone, even the most hated. The gospel was first proclaimed by women, the topsy-turvy Kingdom of God which had come when Jesus rose again, did things differently, radical change was on the way.

But, of course, the resurrection is not primarily a political statement for me to use shamelessly to fulfil my own agenda (much as I really believe that Jesus did deliberatly choose a women to be the first to see him). So, the other thing thats on my mind at the moment is 'Do not be afraid'. When the women went to the tomb and found it open with big angels outside, in all the accounts, the first thing the angels say is 'do not be afraid'. Its also what Jesus says the first time he meets the apostles. Now, I will grant you, they probably needed to hear this given that they have just seen big angels/dead people walking etc, and these are, to the logical person, things to be afraid of. However, I can't help but think that there was more to this 'Do not be afraid' than that.

When Jesus rose from the dead something changed, I don't really understand it, but I know that it gives us hope, and means that we do not have to fear.

For those who are lonely and not sure what the future holds.
Do not be afraid.

For the activists who have worked so hard for so long and seen no change
Do not be afraid.

For those in countries at war
Do not be afraid.

For the dying, the bereaved, the broken hearted.
Do not be afraid.

For those in situations of poverty and desperation.
Do not be afraid.

For those who are unsure whether God is real, and for whom hope is lost.
Do not be afraid.

Christ is risen.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Why I am oppressed

So, I really should be writing an essay right now but seeing as I'm clearly not doing that, I thought I might as well do something mildly useful with my time. At a discussion group last night about oppression, someone raised the (perfectly valid) point, that as a woman they had never felt oppressed because of their gender, and asked me why I feel that I am oppressed. I did a very bad job of answering, partly because oppression of women (sometimes including me and sometimes not), is so clear to me every day, but I'm going to try to answer now.

As we discussed last night, oppression is about power, and one group having a lack of power on a systematic basis. So, here are a few examples of things that I experience, or am aware of, as a result of my lack of power in society that contribute to why I feel I'm oppressed:

- when I'm out late at night, I don't feel safe walking home alone, I'm afraid of being attacked, raped or mugged to an extent that men do not feel. Indeed, in the past I have felt the need to ask a man to accompany me (not that one man could help me much in an attack, but you're much safer when someone with power is with you), unaware of course, that I was much more at risk from this man than any stranger in a bush.

- I am aware that one in four women in this country will experience sexual violence in their lives, and so there is a high chance that it will be me. Never mind that, it has happened, happens to women I love and care about, all because of their gender.

- when I graduate and go into the workplace, the chances are that I will be paid less than any men in my life as women in full time work are paid on average 17% less than men ( If I ever become an executive of a business (hightly unlikely!), I will be faced with the fact that 96% of executives are men, the same is true for most high powered jobs. Thats quite a powerful place to be don't you think?

- I feel oppressed because within the church there are many groups that will not allow me to teach or lead (two things that I'm fairly capable at) BECAUSE I am a woman. No other reason. This limits the potential for me and for women who are called into these roles to both fulfill their potential and bring in the kingdom of God.

- I feel oppressed because I, and all the women I know are held to impossible standards of beauty, and suffer from low self esteem because we cannot reach them. I feel oppressed because when I choose not to engage in beauty rituals like make up and hair removal, I am judged and not considered to be attractive. I am oppressed because my self worth comes from my beauty and not what I am capable of achieving.

- I feel oppressed because I am surrounded every day by women being treated as objects, existing only for the pleasure of men. I see it in lads mags (and of course hard core porn, I just don't see that), music vidoes, countless adverts, TV shows films, womens magazines ('do X to please the man in your life') and so much more. It seeps into our conciousness and sends us a message about what our lives are about.

- I feel oppressed because, like every other woman in this country (I think), I have at some point had a man feel able to comment on my breasts/legs/ass/smile/face as I walk past. After all, since women exist to please men its only natural that they should tell us when we are doing well and when we are failing right?

- I feel oppressed, because whether they meant to or not, I have been taught by, and talked with people who are more willing to accept the opinions of the men in the group and not mine.

- I feel oppressed because people often don't believe me when I say I don't really want to have children, as though I am going against what is natural for me.

And all this is just what applies to me. Never mind that female foetuses are aborted every day in Asia (and here though less so) because a girl baby is less desirable, girl children are killed or die from neglect at high rates. Girls are more likely to die from malnutrition related diseases, because if there is a lack of food it will go to the boys, who are worth more. Girls are less likely to get an education globally as it is less useful to them. As we grow up, it doesn't get better, we are at higher risk of sexual and domestic violence, poverty (majority of the worlds poor are women), female genital mutilation, prostitution, honour killing, trafficking, HIV, and so much more.

And why all this risk? Because we are women. The power in our society, lies, for the most part (and this is changing, slowly, very slowly) in the hands of men. The big word is 'patriarchy' and the reality is all I have said from my life, and so much more that I have never known.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Why I don't shave my legs

I has been a cause of much disgust in my life so far that I do not, and haven't for about 2 years, shave my legs. My sisters are disgusted by this (I don't think my little sisters would be seen in public with me if I had shorts on...), and while other people are much less vocal in their horror, it has certainly surprised many people - woman shaving their legs is just such a normal part of our society.

So, I decided to write down, for the record, just why exactly it is that I don't shave (to be accurate, I don't actually remove hair anywhere, though I have been known to pluck hair from the wierd hair sprouting mole on my face. Lovely.) I don't shave because I don't want to. And this really is my primary reason, I just can't be bothered. And fundamentally, I think that when it comes to beauty rituals like this, we have to realise that not wanting to is a perfectly valid reason not to do something. I would much rather waste my time on the internet than waste my time in the bathroom shaving my legs and pits and puttting on lots of make up (another thing I don't do). There is something very releasing and refreshing in realising that you are not required to shave your legs to be a 'real woman' or an 'attractive women'.

Of course, I do have reasons going beyond my perfectly valid lazyness, though that is the primary reason. I started shaving my legs when I was 13, around the time that a boy in my class saw the hair on my legs and told me that it was disgusting, and if I'm going to show my legs, I really should make sure to shave them. He wasn't deliberatly being nasty, but the newly teenage me was totally horrified. I couldn't bear the fact that something about the way I looked disgusted people (and more particularly, disgusted men), so I started shaving. And this is important to remember, I, like most of us, only started shaving in order to make the way I looked more acceptable to those around me. Shaving has no benefit to me, it doesn't make me happy, I don't enjoy it, it was just to make me normal. And now I'm making the adult, educated choice, not to be normal. Its over-rated.

We cannot live our lives just assuming that we do things because everyone else does, and we are required to, we need to start analysing them. Whye is it that women shave legs/pits and men don't have to (some do, but its not a requirement to be attractive). "The Beauty Myth" talks about how ideas of female beauty are used to control women, and limit them, and I think that has some bearing here. Other people have brough up how the desire for hairless women, makes us look pre-pubescent, child-like. Why would I want to stop being a woman and become a girl again?

So, I guess I don't care how much of a social steriotype I am (over weight, hairy feminist), I am embracing my right to look exactly how I choose to, and not to be limited by constraining ideas of what society says is attractive. Frankly, I just don't have time.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Women, word and sacrament

I just got back from an amazing conference in Glasgow called 'Women, word and sacrament' commemorating 40 years of female ordination in the Church of Scotland. It really was truly amazing. It was inspiring to get too see and even talk to (!) the first woman to be ordained in the Church, and hear some of her wonderful story, as well as seeing one of those womenwho first signed the appeal that resulted in the 1968 desision to ordain women, to see those who pioneered feminist theology in Scotland, and hear from experts in the the history of women in church of Scotland. ANd this is all not to mention the amazing women I got to meet and remeet who work in pastoral ministry, living out every day the believe that women who are called to the ministry of word and sacrament (what most of us would called being a minister) have a responsibility to follow the call, and should not be disuaded by false, sexist ideas. It was both inspiring and refreshing to be surrounded by women for whom 'christian feminism' has been key to their lives, and I am reminded again, that I am not alone.

Even though my head is full of all the amazing things women in the church have achieved, and all that we still have to do, this isn't the issue first in my mind at the moment. A talk we heard about the debates that went on for so long about the ordination of women was full of very familiar language. There was talk of it being 'un-natural', of it 'going against the natural order', 'going against the divine inspiration of scripture', 'masculising women' and 'resulting in effeminite men and a feminised church'. The language was all exactly the same as that which we hear now in the church in the context of sexual orientation. So why, when I pay so little heed to those who argue that women teaching is wrong (going against their 'natural' role as mothers and homemakers!), do I pay any heed to those who say that same sex relations are 'un-natural' and 'unbiblical'.

I wish I could find the answers that I'm looking for, but it may take a lot of time and a lot of wrestling before I can truly figure what side of this whole, horrible battle I am on. For the minute all I can say is, that for my part I am unable to believe that same sex relationships are wrong, but I am unable to avoid the possibility that I am wrong, too influenced by the world. I pray for answers, for clarity, and ultimatly for peace of mind, for all those of us who are searching for answers, fearful of what we might find.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Modesty and other dangerous ideas

Most of the life I have had in the church I am extremely grateful for. I'm grateful for the relationship I have with God that I probably wouldn't have without all the people who were willing to invest in me while I was a teenager. And I'm grateful for all the things I learned and experienced in various christian camp/youth group/youth work settings between the ages of 12 and 18.

However, as I think back, there is one key thing that I not grateful about, and actually that I'm signficantly angry about. I have been to more christian relationships talks than I can remember, every Valentine's day period I would usually go to at least three, and a lot of my views about relationships I got there, because I trusted what the people who led those groups were telling me, and I hadn't yet learned to ask enough questions. And actually, a lot of what I learned there i still believe, but there are one or two things that I would like to make clear that I now think are lies, and dangerous lies at that.

Firstly, there was, 'boys are just more visually stimulated than girls are.' Actually, I'm not sure this is a total lie, but its certainly a dangerous thing to be telling teenagers, when they're all confused, I know it occasionaly made me feel that I was wierd because I'm female and also 'visually stimulated' (becuase we're all visually stimulated, no need to lie about it, its just more acceptable for men). The general assumptions of what boys are like as opposed to what girls are like was also unhelpful e.g. boys often masturbate, girls don't usually (you can almost feel the shame of the girls to do masturbate in the audience, not only are they sure if they're allowed to do this, they're also being told that they're not proper women because they do it). Can we not just accept that people are all different, rather than assuming its a gendered thing?

The most dangerous lie of all was the modesty lie. I have heard so many times that I should keep myself covered up (this especially applies to big breasted people like me!) so that I don't 'tempt the boys too much'. This statement, and others like it, directly implied that I was somehow in control of the boys in my life, and that when (if) I tempted them by showing too much skin, I was also responsible for their actions. I know the people who say this are well intentioned (usually) but they need to know that they are directly feeding into the idea that women are 'asking for it' when they are raped and had a short skirt/low cut top on, because they arroused the guys so much that they couldn't control themselves. Men and boys are all capable of self control, and even in low cut tops, I do not have any control over their minds and what they CHOOSE to do. If I can learn to practise self control and a 'pure mind' (whatever that means) then so can they, its not easy for anyone. Never mind the affect that these ideas of modesty have on young womens feelings about their bodies, as being something to be hidden, something wrong and disgusting, which directly feeds into low self esteem/eating disorders etc.

The potential for these relationships talks to harm young people, particularily young women is massive, I'm still working at reforming my opinions now that no-one is telling me what to think anymore. We need to be aware that when we do these talks, we are talking to vulnerable people, who trust us, and learn not to abuse this trust. We need to stop assuming that everyone in the audience is straight, or a virgin, and we need to start encouraging young people to ask questions and reach their own answers. Not because there isn't such a thing as sexual immorality (I believe there is) but because if we really want people to make good choices, they have to make them for themselves, not just because they feel they have to for legalist reasons. Thats why, 'Truth love waits' doesn't work, its so rarely a real, thought through choice.

And we really, really have to stop making young women feel ashamed of their bodies, or feel to blame for what the men in their life do because they were 'too tempted by our nasty sinful bodies'. We're hurting people, and unless we radically change how we educate our teenagers (and this applies both within and outwith the church) its only going to get worse.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Love and Marriage...

Love and marriage are certainly very much in the air in my life at the moment, with three of my friends getting married this year, one in less than two weeks. (Scary biscuits for me, shes MY AGE!) But marriage is certainly one of those issues where feminists and christians tend to fight it out.

For me it goes without saying that the Christian ritual of marriage as we know it today is full of some unspeakable sexism. It all starts when the man asks the woman's father (or a male family member certainly) for 'permission' to marry his daughter. While this (and I thank God for it) is going out of fashion now, asking permission clearly shows that the women is considered to the property of her father, under his control, with no personal freedom or autonomy. It has nothing to do with 'tradition' or 'family value' and everything to do with sexism and controlling women. Women wear a nice sparky ring to show that they are 'taken' whereas this is not essential for men. On the wedding day itself it all gets worse. The women is taken down the aisle by her father and passed on to her husband, passed on to her new owner (this isn't hyperbole, this is really what the symbolism behind this is). The bride wears white, symbolising her virginity, her purity is an essential part of the marriage, not so for her future husband, its almost expected that he will have got in some practise already - the double standard is clear.

And all this is to say nothing of the fact that behind this tradition is the assumption that the couple will be a man and a women not of the same sex. Not to mention the stereotypes perpetuated in the runup to the big day, with women who are obsessed with dresses and flowers and men who are terrified of commitment. Add to this the hen and the stag night, where men objectify women as they always do and women do their level best to follow on, all the while wearing pink t-shirts saying 'up for it'. I don't feel the need to justify to why I object.

And these pieces of sexism and prejudice are not something that should be dismissed as traditional, or not a big deal, because traditions like this affect how we see the world. This sets the scene for how men and women relate to each other in relationships, sets norms which damage both women and men and I firmly believe helps to establish a pattern of power in relationships which plays a part in the high levels of male domestic violence against women. So yes, it is a big deal.

But damaging as these traditons are, I do still hold out some hope for marriage. The way we do marriage in our culture is of course, not some kind of God-ordained ritual, as all cultures throughtout time have done this differently. The bible makes no mention of white dresses and veils, or cake, or even a presiding minister, the understanding of marriage in Jewish culture was different to ours (not to say that it was better, it was as bad, but I don't profess to have good historical understanding so I'll stop here).

If we consider Adam and Eve to be the first married couple (and yes the story might be allegorical and it might be true, I can't really pretend I care that much, the point remains the same), then there was nothing to their marriage but a commitment to lifelong monogomy, which is all that marriage really is. And yes, many argue that Eve was to submit to Adam as our biblical translations render her his 'helper'. Given that the word used in the Hebrew is also the one used to describe how God relates to the people of Israel as their 'helper' its hard to see how this made her his inferior, no matter how much centuries of patriarchial culture have used it to mean this.

So, if all marriage really is at core is this committment to lifelong monogamy (which I do believe is a good thing, even though divorce will inevitably happen in some cases, and for good reasons), then a ceremony can certainly be a good way to celebrate and affirm this. So rather than throwing marriage out of the window, I believe we need to reform marriage, so we can still celebrate our committment to another person before God and other people, but without all the sexist institutions that currently surround marriage.

Certainly there could be vows involved in this ceremony, vows of love and commitment, but nothing suggesting that one partner must submit more than the other (its all about the mutual submission!). There can even be pretty clothes, but no necessity about what these are. And before the day, the two members of the couple can go out with their friends to celebrate this new, important stage in their life, without feeling the need to confirm to outdated stereotypes of how they should be because of their sex.

And of course, this marriage has no need of being sanctioned by the state which has no business in such affairs. What else do you think we can do to redeem marriage?

Monday, 18 February 2008

Why I am Still a Christian

There was an article in the Life and Work (Church of Scotland magazine, I know, I'm a big loser) this week, which asked some relatively well known people why they are still christians. Their answers were totally appalling for the most part (with the honorable exceptions of the current moderator and slightly disturbingly, conservative MSP Annabel Goldie) and included mentions of 'moral values' and 'going to church as children' and no mention at all of 'Jesus' or 'Grace' or 'The kingdom of God'. And in the funny week I've been having, this feels like a very relevant question for me.

I'm increasingly feeling like a number of the people around me are beginning to feel that while I'm a christian, I'm not really all that serious about it, and its not really that big a part of life, and this is heart breaking for me. I don't know why it is people think this (and I may just be being paranoid), maybe its partly because most people don't think its possible to be a christian and feminist or a christian and left wing or whatever. Most worringly of all is that perhaps people think this because I don't give off the impression that Jesus is important to me. I certainly talk about feminism more than Jesus, which I would like to change, much as I will become even more socially unacceptable if I start talking about Jesus as well as sexual violence at dinner parties!

So, to the questions, 'Why am I still a christian?'. Ultimatly I guess I'm a christian because I love Jesus more than anything else in the world (even feminism!). My life is based around the fact that I have been redeemed (what a good word!) by Jesus' amazing sacrifice for me and that I am called to live my life for God's Kingdom (thats where the feminism comes in). To quote Galations, "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing!"

I'm not a christian because I 'believe in christian morals' or because 'I think christians tradition is important' these are terrible, soul destroying reasons to believe in Christianity. I'm a christian because of grace, nothing more or less. I have been given what I don't deserve (which is part of what grace means), and I am eternally grateful to God for this.

I know this post is a little bit rambly, and maybe doesn't have a whole lot to do with Christian Feminism, but I just want to make my base point clear. Christ is my priority, my aim is to be a Little Christ (or 'christian'), and feminism is a part of that, but feminism is not the starting point - Jesus is.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day was born in New York in 1897 and grew up in Chicago. She went to university in Illinois and there began looking into radical social politics, eventually dropping out and moving to New York to work for a socialist paper called ‘The Call’. In 1917 she was arrested for protesting outside the Whitehouse about women’s exclusion from the right to vote.

Her religious conviction began to grow and she felt a fascination for the Catholic Church. In 1927 she became pregnant with her partner Forster Batterham, which was a great source of joy to her as she had felt that an abortion she had had some years earlier had left her unable to conceive. On the 3rd of March 1927 she gave birth to Tamar Theresa Day, and the child was baptised into the Catholic Church, at which point her relationship with Batterham ended and Day began a journey of bringing together her radical politics and her faith. This conflict came to a head when she felt unable to attend a march protesting high unemployement as it was organised by The Communist Party, who hated religion.

The following day, she met Peter Maurin who lived a Fransiscan lifestyle, and encouraged her to start up a paper looking at social justice issues and Catholicism, resulting in ‘The Catholic Worker’ which took the side of labour unions in the struggles of the time (during the depression) and combined radical politics with religious faith.

The Catholic Worker soon became more than a newspaper, as homeless people began to ask them for help Day and Maurin began to live ou the ancient Christian virtue of hospitality, renting apartment for poor men and women and forming community. The Catholic Worker soon became a movement with houses of hospitality forming all over America, which were much needed in the Great Depression.

Day herself described the importance of their work saying that, “The class structure is our making and by our consent, not God's, and we must do what we can to change it. We are urging revolutionary change”. The Catholic Worker also formed farming communes in this period.

But Day was not just committed to providing for the poor, she was also a committed pacifist who opposed America’s involvement in WW2 and when the Catholic Worker refused to support the catholic troups in the Spanish Civil war they lost a lot of their readers. The movements pacifism was also key in the Cold War, protesting against the civil drills all citizens had to take part in, saying that, “In the name of Jesus, who is God, who is Love, we will not obey this order to pretend, to evacuate, to hide. We will not be drilled into fear. We do not have faith in God if we depend upon the Atom Bomb.” Day and others were arrested several times for these protests.

Many consider Day to have been a saint, but she herself said, “Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily.” Her legacy in the Catholic Worker Movement lives on, with communities formed all over the world committed to non-violence and hospitality, while campaigning for justice and against war.