|Posted by God Loves Women on July 19, 2014 at 4:45 PM||comments (11)|
This is an guest post from a wonderful friend of mine.
I was walking towards my mum's yesterday when someone tapped me on the shoulder, while saying my name. As I turn, he steps back. He asks if I remember him, says it's been a while and tells me his name.
I didn't recognise him at first. But a second or two after I hear the name I do. It's the guy who I was once friends with who wanted to have sex with me so much that he ignored my lack of consent.
We actually have a conversation... of sorts. How is that?
Internally I think I'm wondering how I feel about it all. And I want to know what he'll say... Sorry? I admit it? Anger that I called the police? What?
I'm watching him and feeling nothing. Nothing that I can place. But yet I'm shaking. I know what I'm not feeling - no fear, no anger, no hate, no revulsion - forgiveness worked for me then! but I do not know what I am feeling. Once you let it go, what's it replaced with?
It's been 9 or 10 years.
Do you know what he says to me?
"I haven't spoken to you for years. I know it went a bit wrong. I can't remember why though"
Really?????? You forget what you did? Getting arrested. Denying it all. Calling it consensual.
He goes on to say "maybe we can talk it through and bury the hatchet".
The words "...In your head...?" Bounce about in my head. I've still got that smile on my face I get when faced with any uncomfortable situation. I'm weird like that.
He keeps himself far away from me. As if he is respectfully / cautiously aware of the fact that I really may not want him anywhere near me. His body language is submissive, passive and open - kind of like "I'm not carrying anything". He's kind of bowing slightly. I notice all of this, I'm known for not usually noticing anything like this! For someone who doesn't remember raping me, he's trying very hard to make me feel at ease and to appear... safe.
I think I was still standing there because I was wondering if he's changed. In these years past I've changed in various ways. People change. Has he? He answers my unvoiced question by standing up straight, submission forgotten briefly, and saying "you look really good" with that look of lust that regardless of generation, ethnicity, shape, size or status yes all women have experienced. I know that nothing has changed. He'd do it again. He has no desire to control his desires and my opinion doesn't matter.
He offers his number and I take it because I think that when shock has passed I might have something to get off my chest - I might really tell him off maybe - but the morning after there is still nothing to be said and that feels wonderful.
I am totally surprised by my response having spent a significant amount of time for a good couple of years thinking about what I'd do if I see him again.
It's now quite likely I'll see him again. He says he's often in a place very close proximity to my mum's. I would ask him not to speak to me if he did again.
When I left my mum's I felt watched. I probably wasn't. I didn't want to leave there with my daughter. I was relieved I wasn't with her when he approached as I think I'd have been fiercely protective of her, not wanting her to be tainted by engaging with a rapist.
I'm not sure why I was not also that protective of myself. Is it because I've already been raped? Or because I'm curious to a fault; to the extent that it overrode my fight/flight urge? Or because I am not as bothered about me as I am about her?
I put my hand out to shake his hand. How do you end an unexpected encounter with the man who raped you? He hugs me. I don't feel as dirty as the last time he touched me, but I really wish I'd rejected it. I'm not beating myself up about that... like the last time he touched me. I think he may have taken some meaning from the fact that I didn't pull away. Like reconciliation, like he's made his peace with me. But he doesn't know my mantra. Forgiveness doesn't have to mean reconciliation. Especially when the person is not safe / hasn't changed or repented in the biblical sense. To which I can add Especially when he is a rapist. Forgiveness stops what he did from getting in the way of God and me.
What he did is between him and God. I'm free. :-)
|Posted by God Loves Women on July 11, 2014 at 6:30 PM||comments (0)|
This week my friend Helen shared on Twitter that a church attended by her friend had chosen to pray for Rolf Harris in their Sunday service. They didn’t pray for the girls and women he sexually abused.
In June 2014 Leadership Journal published a piece written by a convicted sex offender, in prison, bemoaning how his offending had ruined his life (not the life of the girl he abused or his family or the congregation he pastored). They have since written a thorough apology for publishing the piece after enormous online outrage about it.
In May 2014, well known Christian author, speaker and teacher RT Kendall tweeted a photograph of himself and Oscar Pistorius smiling after having had lunch together. He urges his over 3000 followers to pray for Pistorius, who is currently on trial for murdering Reeva Steenkamp, his girlfriend, whom he shot dead on Valentine’s Day 2013. No mention is made of praying for Ms Steenkamp’s family.
The church LOVES a redemption narrative. “We are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God”. Isn’t that how it goes? And when those who have fallen far are redeemed, we all feel better, the world is better. It’s in those incredible stories of redemption, of bad made good that we can be confident that God is still moving.
Yet the girl sexually abused by the pastor writing from prison is still damaged. The women whose lives have been ruined by Rolf Harris are unlikely to recover from what he did coupled with years of his face, his songs, his power being all over child and adult media. Reeva Steenkamp is still dead.
The women and children and their family and friends, the victims of these powerful men are ignored. It doesn’t fit the redemption narrative if someone is struggling with the impact of someone else’s sin against them. They are encouraged to forgive, to pray for the abuser. If they don’t, then we can make them a sinner too. Then they fit the narrative. And they can ask for repentance for their lack of love and grace and we can all feel better that balance is restored.
Perhaps it is Disney’s fault? The need for a happily ever after. The capitalist consumerism which sees Jesus as a product to be sold to sinners, to fill their God shaped hole and meet their every wish upon a star. Supply and demand. We get the fairy tale ending where the beast becomes good, the princess is saved and the monsters (not the people) are slayed.
Yet real life is not a fairy tale. Cinderella is a domestic slave. Beauty is suffering Stockholm Syndrome. Little Red Riding Hood is an analogy about rape. Those who have suffered; abused and violated don’t fit the happy ever after.
How do we begin the devastating work of rebuilding shattered lives, when we’re so busy endorsing the quick fixing of abusers?
It turns out the redemption narrative has one massive gaping hole; an analysis of power.
Oscar Pistorius, Rolf Harris, the ex-pastor sex offender are all powerful men. Using their power and privilege to hurt others. They may weep in court or write about how sorry they are and their words and weeping may give off an illusion of weakness. But they are powerful and, very often, unrepentant.
Jesus did not give up all power as God Almighty to become a human baby, show us The Way, die an excruciating death and rise to life so that we can use Him to collude with, enable and perpetuate the damage done by abusive men. We cheapen all He has done by focussing our prayers on the perpetrators while ignoring the hurting, the damaged, the raped and the grieving.
As James tells us that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27) We see again and again throughout Scripture the measure of God’s people is their value of the vulnerable, not of the powerful.
Let us stand with the hurting, the broken, the damaged. And work towards our community of faith becoming a safe and holy place for the abused and the hurting, for the powerless not the powerful.
|Posted by God Loves Women on June 7, 2014 at 6:35 PM||comments (0)|
The other week I was chatting with my wonderful friend Helen and her housemate. Still pyjama-clad and vaguely sleepy, the conversation moved onto single-sex Christian events and not in a good way. I felt it called for a bit of a Google of the names Christian women's and men's events are given. Here is a brief overview:
It seems, in general, fighting is for men and feeling is for women.
I know those who run these events are passionate about what they do and that many people gets loads out of single-sex events, and not all of them are hideously bad, plus it would be unfair to invalidate whole events based on their name. The question is, are these events solely using stereotypes to attract their audience, or are they perpetuating the very boxes which restrict women and men from becoming all God is calling them to be. I've spoken to so many women and men who find the current single-sex conferences alienate them and leave them feeling either inadequate or under pressure to conform.
I'm not sure what the way forward is, but surely there's got to be a better way than this...?
|Posted by God Loves Women on May 22, 2014 at 10:00 AM||comments (0)|
My husband (Mr GLW) has asked me to host his first blog here. Hope you all find it useful!
So, this is the first blog I have ever written. I confess, I don’t read too many other blogs so I’m hoping and praying this follows any “rules of blogging” which may, or may not, exist. My wife, Mrs GLW is very good at blogging and blogs frequently. We often read and comment on each others work before it goes to press but I’ve asked Mrs GLW to only correct the spelling and any really bad grammar in this blog as I want to be as unbiased as I can.
I felt the need to write this blog as Mrs GLW and many other campaigners (I’ll define what a campaigner is very soon, just hang in there) were getting very negative feedback and comments especially from pastors. Now, to be fair, any campaigner expects a fair amount of flack, which is very unfair as they do such a good job and change the world. But a lot of pastors, specifically pastors were taking issue with Tweets and blogs and the like from campaigners. This set me thinking about why these two groups of marvellous people are at such loggerheads over important issues. And so this blog is my thoughts. Let’s go for it!
Firstly, a couple of things I’d like to say (before I say lots of other things): Not all pastors are having a go at campaigners. They are not natural enemies. I just noticed out of all the negative comments Mrs GLW and her campaigner friends get, a fair percentage were from pastors. I didn’t scientifically measure it but was there. Also, even though I’m going to, I’m not a great lover of labelling people. I think personality types have a role but I do understand that people are complex and saying “you have an X personality therefore you think like this” isn’t doing God’s varied creation any favours. I’m also not saying that people are either a pastor or a campaigner. I’m neither and again, these are only broad terms.
Also, dear reader, you may recognise yourself in this blog. If you do, that’s unintentional. I did write this blog from my real life experiences but it’s certainly, honestly not aimed at anyone in particular. Honestly.
I’m also going to talk about victims and perpetrators. Now in case you didn’t know, Mrs GLW and I campaign to end violence against women. And coming from that world (I call it the EVAW World) I do know better than to use the term “victim”. There are much better words that describe people who have suffered at the hands of all different types of perpetrators. However, if you don’t mind, I’m going to stick with victims, just this once, as I want to capture a whole host of campaigns, not just our one and victims seems to be the best word (just this once).
So what’s what? What is a campaigner and what is a pastor? Like all of us, my definition of any thing really is shaped by what I’ve experienced. In the grand scheme of things, I probably haven’t experienced a lot. Because I’m married to a campaigner and live in a world were I interact with more campaigners than pastors, I know a lot more about campaigners. So I’ll start with pastors first.
A pastor, some times called a Vicar, Minister, Preacher, Pope is basically a church leader. The stereotypical ones stand at the front and spout forth God’s word on a Sunday morning. They are very very good at loving everyone and anyone. They want their church or group to be open and welcoming to everyone. They love the victim and the perpetrator and both are welcome. Shouldn’t we all love everyone, I hear you ask? Well yes, but remember this point for later. Most of the pastors I’ve come across are very good speakers. I think it’s part of their training.
You don’t have to be spouting God’s word on a Sunday morning to be a pastor Many people I’ve met are pastors but aren’t ordained, they don’t have or go to a church. They are made to be pastors though and some may be doing God’s work in a place far from the church, like a bank or the government (only joking!). But they all have a pastor mentality – that they love everyone.
So what is a campaigner? Listen and we will hear (a little C of E joke there). A campaigner is someone who is very passionate about a particular subject or cause. They will use any opportunity to tell anyone about it. Sadly, they can sometimes come across as fanatical, always taking about that one and only subject, especially on their days off. (Though like pastors, campaigners never seem to get a day off!) They may not get many opportunities to speak because they come across as slightly mad and, let’s be honest, we all know what they’re going to speak about anyway! Sometimes, campaigners aren’t as articulate as our pastor brothers and sisters (in Jesus, obviously). This is normally due to lack of training which may not be possible due to time or finance or both. Importantly, campaigners are on the side of the victim. The immediate welfare and the restoration (big Christian word there) of victims are their primary and sometimes only focus. They can sometimes come across as hating or having no compassion or love for the perpetrator. They can appear judgemental towards one particular group, normally those they may be campaigning against.
I’ll give you a real like example. I haven’t changed any names to protect the innocent as I haven’t mention any.
I was in church the other Sunday and it was prayer time. Our minister sent up a few general prayers then asked a particular women if she would pray for a particular country way out east which is going through some problems at the moment. This women had left England some years ago to set up an orphanage in this country way out east and quite rightly she was best placed to pray for this county way…you know where.
I smiled as her prayer turned in to a mini sermon about the needs of the people she was serving. She stumbled her way through a list of what needed changing in that country (mostly the government of a bigger country next door) and what her centre needed to survive. I also, disappointingly, noticed a few people sighing and rolling their eyes to heaven. A good reason to always pray with your eyes closed. She was a true campaigner being given a rare opportunity to share her God given passion.
That Sunday’s prayer time (it’s not really called that in our church) brought home to me how sometimes campaigners are perceived: The passion perceived as rambling on about that same subject for far too long, given half a chance. The wants and needs of the cause being seen as perhaps something else to donate to. The way she was ranting at a government (aren’t all governments allowed by God? Even UKIP?) And yes, she wasn’t the most eloquent speaker in town, especially compared with the pastor. I suppose it was that Sunday that was a light bulb moment for me. It really helped me connect the dots on why these clashes between pastors and campaigners occur.
(Just so you know, there was no clash between our pastor and campaigner-woman. I’m sure our pastor knew what was going to happen when he asked her to pray and I salute him for letting her do so.)
And so here’s where the clash occurs: love. Not to trivialise but to explain, (and this is a well known story for many in Campaigning World) most of Mrs GLW’s clashes go like this: a Christian organisation or a well know individual makes a comment which does not help the EVAW cause. Mrs GLW nicely (she can do nice, normally on only Mondays and Wednesdays for some odd reason) informs the person or organisation why their comment is problematic. Sometimes they come back “I’m really sorry, I didn’t realise. Thanks for the advice.” and life’s merry (at least for a few hours). Other times a Twitter mini riot ensues and many people will accuse Mrs GLW and other campaigners of basically not being loving, either towards other Christians or those poor perpetrators (sarcasm intended). And perhaps oddly, or not if you’ve read the above, many pastors are in the “You’re not being loving!” brigade.
So here’s the whole crux of this blog: I think that a lot of pastor type people think that campaigner type people don’t love perpetrators. Not true. I know many courageous people who have been seriously harmed in many ways by a perpetrator and have whole heartedly forgiven them. I also know that the vast majority of campaigners are very aware of the principalities and powers of this word that encourage bad behaviour. They just don’t condone the behaviour and want it to stop.
A cute example: Smaller GLW (our youngest child if you’re not into Twitter speak) sometimes has a paddy and throws things and himself around. I love him deeply but I still tell him to stop this bad behaviour because he may hurt himself, or more likely, someone else. I’m not judgemental towards him as I’m aware of his age, his immaturity (compared with an adult. Well, most adults) and why certain situations set him off (normally Small GLW, his sister). I think I’m right in saying this a very typical parent’s way of thinking.
So is it as simple as that? Pastors are designed (by God) to love everyone and they expect campaigners (and others too) to love everyone and never say a bad word against anybody?
Well for starters, most campaigners I’ve come across do love “the other side”. It may not be the “Let’s all be bestest friends!” sort of love. In most cases of past abuse, that wouldn’t be appropriate or helpful. But there are a lot of people who once experienced horrific abuse who now forgive the abuser. They may never want to interact with the abuser again but that act of forgiveness is still love.
I believe that campaigners are made to see what and who needs changing in the world. Pastors are made to love and welcome everybody. They were both made this way by God to complement the Kingdom. Jesus, who I believe contained every personality type as he was 100% God and we were made in God’s image, displays both pastor and campaigner (and many other) traits from what we read about Him in the Bible.
So what’s the way forward? Once we really recognise and properly appreciate our different jobs and roles in The Kingdom, this should lessen the pressure on ourselves when we see a brother or sister (in Jesus) doing something we don’t agree with. Perhaps our first question shouldn’t be “Should they be doing that?” it should be “Are they being called to do that?”
At this present time, with the current setup in our churches, pastors are gatekeepers a lot more of the time than campaigners. They have more power to decide who preaches and who doesn’t. And because pastors are, well, pastors, you’re always get a pastor’s perspective in a Sunday sermon. I’ve noticed we’re all drawn to parts of the Bible that fit comfortably with our personality type or our calling. Therefore it figures that pastors will always bring a pastor’s perspective to any preach. Now, a few notes about what I’ve just said: Yes I know we have PCCs, Elders, Deacons etc. but in most churches pastors do have a big say. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Also “power” is sometimes a dirty word. A lot of people won’t acknowledge they have power and therefore won’t use it appropriately and that in itself is not helpful. Mrs GLW went on a course about this and is much more qualified to talk about this than I am. Suffice to say, recognise the power you do have (and we all do) and use it for His work.
Anyway, to get back on track, pastors – please recognise those campaigners in your mist and allow them to speak. Recognise that historically most campaigners were shunned and ridiculed by the establishment. Don’t be the establishment!
|Posted by God Loves Women on May 14, 2014 at 5:20 PM||comments (0)|
There’s been recent Christian coverage of “Same Sex Attraction” (SSA) from various media outlets. All the articles that I have read share the stories of people who identify as same sex attracted and talk of their journeys to dealing with this. There is much to discuss about the term “Same Sex Attraction” and what it says about certain parts of the Christian community. However, that it not what I wanted to write about.
What I want to talk about is how all the stories are about men. Men who struggle with their feelings of attraction to other men. About how they have chosen to stay celibate or worked to a place of choosing to be in a relationship with a woman. Women only appear in these stories as wives or girlfriends. I have yet to read a story of a woman who identifies as “Same Sex Attracted”. Perhaps it could be suggested that only men are in this area of Christian culture which sees Same Sex Attraction as a thing. However, I think this is highly unlikely given the amount of women in all parts of the church. I think it is much more probable that the stories of female sexuality remain untold.
Similarly any talk in the church about masturbation is rarely addressed as an issue for people, but rather as a “man problem”.
I’m often known to bring vaginas up in public (if this has produced images of me vomiting up vaginas, I apologise). Though anyone who has been on the receiving end of my vagina conversations may have thought I was engaged in hilarity, which is always partially the case in most everything I talk about. It is in fact for a more serious reason that I talk about vaginas. Namely because nobody does. For many women who have experienced abuse from a partner, derogatory comments about their vagina will have shamed and humiliated them. For others the corporate shame of Christian culture or purity messages have left them feeling there is something wrong with them, combined with the fact that there are very few names for a vagina that don’t cause people to turn up their noses at the very idea its existence can leave so many women ashamed of this particularly wonderful part of God’s creation.
Women, we are in possession of the only organ ever designed purely for sexual pleasure and God made it. When God looked on creation, She didn’t say everything was “very good” except for Eve’s lady garden! She said it was all VERY GOOD! I spoke to a sex educator the other day. She had asked why vaginas had hair on them until the last few years, when girls and women became hairless Down There. One of the girls suggested that it must have been because razors weren’t invented ten years ago.
Shall we just sit with that for a minute?
Hairy vaginas are a result of the razor not being invented. This is what actual girls in the UK think. Then there are the teenage boys, who don’t even know girls grow hair. Who think girls with hair are abnormal. Welcome to the world where pornography forms the bulk of sex education for many young people.
We need to reclaim our sexuality women! To own it and embrace that part of identity. We need to be honest about the ways the world, the church and our experiences have damaged us. For our own lives and for the next generation, let us begin to acknowledge how deeply we have been wounded and bring on the revolution, bring on the clitoris!
|Posted by God Loves Women on May 14, 2014 at 12:10 PM||comments (1)|
As another day turned to evening, she sat on the balcony in the sagging old armchair, her heart and soul weary. In the first few weeks after it happened she had wept every single day. Not a minute would go by when she wouldn’t wonder where things had gone wrong, what she could have said or done differently. As the weeks turned to months the sadness became a knot in her stomach. Occasionally she would laugh, at a joke or something Martha said. Then the sadness would overtake her, combined with a guilt for almost forgetting what had gone before. Martha would see the darkness overshadow her smile and her face would fall. “Everything we do will always be about her.” Martha, the One Who Had Stayed, had spat the words at her the other day. It had been a slap in the face when already the pain of was unbearable. She slowly pulled herself out of the chair, it seemed her body had grown old fast. Soul pain did that. She walked to the railings, squinting into the twilight, hoping that this would be the day things changed. By the time she walked indoors, the twilight had turned to thick darkness.
She undressed slowly, her limbs heavy with grief. Once in her nightclothes she looked in the mirror, the woman in front of her no longer familiar. Her lined face and silvery hair, once proudly held high a crown of wisdom now left her feeling old and lost. Her shoulders slumped slightly and the energy she had lived her life with was lost in the pain of the day things changed.
The sheets cold against her skin, as, the silence shouted louder than the busyness of the day. Nothing to distract her from the memories, an onslaught of pain that never stopped.
“I want it now.” Evelyn had said. Her face hard, her words cold. “There’s a whole world waiting for me and I want to explore it. You’ve always said we shouldn’t be ruled by the traditions. Let me go, give me my share.” Martha’s mouth had hung open. Shocked by her sister’s audacity.
As their mother, she had always offered them freedom. Never holding to the old ways of control, she wanted her daughters to know their worth and value. To have choices, make decisions, live in freedom not duty. Never once had it occurred to her that freedom would break her heart.
She had heard them arguing later that night. Martha’s voice hissing words while Evelyn’s voice had rung out loud and clear, “It’s my choice, you stay here if you like, but the world is waiting.”
As she lay in bed, heart aching, tears slowly trailing down her face, she wondered whether she should regret giving her daughters the power to choose for themselves, to have freedom. She heard the whispered comments of the others; the neighbours, so-called friends and the employees. Her own mother’s words came back to her, “You mark my words Sophia, you’ll regret giving them freedom. Discipline and duty is the only way.” Yet, even in the midst of the screaming memories and darkness, she couldn’t muster any regret.
The darkness and shame overwhelmed Evelyn. Regret sat like poison in her stomach, no amount of vomiting able to purge it. She thought back to her dreams, when she thought the world was waiting. The way her money, her mother’s money had opened the doors. The parties, the film crews, her name in the credits, her conviction had grown with every success. She had been right; Martha wrong. Rich girl, famous girl, star of the reality show, living the dream.
But the dream is just that, one day you wake up. To find your private sex tape watched by the world. She didn’t know exactly when the regret had taken hold. The topless shots sliding into soft porn movies, if the world wanted to watch her, well at least they could pay her. Her FU to the world was to show she could still make it. Yet here she was sore and degraded, shame filling her head with thoughts of destruction.
She’d been given some powder to fix it; so they had told her, “It’ll make it better. It’s no big deal.” Yet, the tiny bags had laid in a drawer, the line she had yet to cross. She wondered whether now was the time. She walked over to the cabinet, took one out and stared at it. Could this take away the terrible poison within? Her mother’s face came into her head. Perhaps, maybe, she could go home. She could offer to work for the business. Find herself a bedsit. It could be better than this porn hell.
Sophia awoke, the state of half-awake providing blissful ignorance from the loss of her precious oldest child. The feelings of grief flooded in as consciousness overtook her. She sat up, squashing the ache in her soul. Before That Day she had regularly read the newspaper over breakfast, but with the first sight of Evelyn in the pages, she had avoided it like the plague, as the sickness took hold in her heart.
She completed each day on automatic pilot. Meetings, conversations, projects, reports; all of them completed by her body, while her soul wept. She knew Martha struggled. So many times they had gone round the same circle, “Evelyn has chosen her path; you’ve got to move on. Not least because I’m still here. I need you Mum.” Sophia had tried to awaken from the nightmare, for her younger daughter’s sake. But it was so hard. She lived for the evenings where she could sit in the chair on the balcony and hope that would be the day.
It had been months since that first night Evelyn considering returning, succumbing instead to the comforting powder. Her soul eviscerated by the photo and video shoots. Man after man, woman upon women. The irony of it being called a shoot. If only someone would shoot her.
She used all her pay to buy the escapism powder, living on the sofas of the men who filmed her. In one of her only recent lucid moments she remembered that time, how she considered going Home; after so long, that’s still what she called it. Home. This was the day things had to change, she was better off there as a worker, no matter how menial, than on the sofa of a pornographer. She had no belongings, nothing to pack. She walked out the door and started out Home.
Sophia was curled on the chair, the evening air cool. She had almost given up hope. She stood, her joints almost audibly creaking, shuffling to the balcony railings. Staring at the horizon she waited. In those moments she allowed herself to hope.
In the distance a speck emerged from nothing, gradually becoming the shape of a person. She gripped the railings and squinted. It was a person. She held her breath, willing herself to stay calm. To keep the hope in check. Yet as the person drew closer, she saw it was her lost daughter. In that moment the heaviness disappeared along with the joint pain and the soul ache. She turned and lunged for the door, leaping down the stairs she shouted through the house, her daughter had come home!
She ran down the path, her bare feet thudding on the ground. She needed to reach her daughter; to hold her. She stopped.
Ahead of her was her beloved daughter, thinner, older, eyes cast down, trudging forward, she hadn’t seen her mother running. Sophia held her breath for a long moment, tears dripping off her chin, she dared not move in case it was just a dream. Out of her mouth a groan of agonised hope escaped, causing her daughter to look up. As their eyes met Sophia knew it was real. This was it. She ran to her daughter, scooping her thin frame up into her arms, holding her tight as she wept.
Evelyn froze. This was not the plan. Her mother shouldn’t be here. And yet she was. Evelyn forced herself to recite the words she had been saying over and over, “I’m sorry. I’ve hurt you so much. I’m no longer your daughter, if you’d let me work for you, that is more than I deserve.” Her muffled words were spoken into her mother’s hair as she dangled in the tight bear hug her mother had enveloped her into.
Her mother loosened her grip, stepping back and attempting to look her in the eye. Evelyn kept her eyes on the ground. The shame twisted, squeezing her insides and leaving her wishing she hadn’t come. The silence was thick as she felt her mother’s eyes boring into her. Suddenly her mother grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the house. She allowed herself to be pulled along. They reached the door and her mother bellowed up the stairs, “Evelyn is home everyone, we must have a party to celebrate! She has been lost, dead and yet here she is, we’ve found her, she’s alive!”
Evelyn’s heart sank, she didn’t deserve this. She shouldn’t have come.
As if her mother knew how she felt, she felt arms surrounding her. Evelyn began to weep, raw pain escaping from her every pore. She had messed up. Yet here was her mother, still loving her. She collapsed into her mother’s arms and sobbed.
The people were everywhere, the “Welcome Home” banner declaring to the world that she was indeed Home. Evelyn sat at the edge of the room, not quite knowing what to do. How many of these people had seen the movies/photos she had been in? How many knew what she had done? Yet her mother was smiling, telling the room how wonderful it was to have her home. Every so often her mum would come to Evelyn, telling her how happy she was.
Martha was nowhere to be seen.
Martha sat on her bed crying bitter tears. How dare Evelyn waltz back into their lives? How dare their mother just throw her a party, after all she had done? Didn’t her mother know how much it had hurt, the jibes and comments? “Sister of the whore!” That’s what they’d called her. The calls from journalists, the way people looked at her. The shame and humiliation. How dare she? How dare Evelyn just walk back into their lives? Then the party! That had been the last straw. She had waited, kept working hard for the family business, been obedient and not so much as a celebration! She could have been out, partying, having the time of her life like Evelyn and yet she had been the dutiful daughter. And where had it got her? Nowhere.
The knock on her door brought her up short. Who was bothering with her when the precious lost daughter had returned? Slowly someone pushed the door open and her mother crept into the room. She refused to look at her, watching as her mum’s feet stepped towards the bed. She felt the bed move as her mum sat down. “Aren’t you joining us for the party?” Her mother gently asked.
“Join you?! I never left you! And that whore who abandoned you, wasted all you gave her and brought shame on our family’s name is being thrown a party! You never gave me anything.” Her mother recoiled at her bitter tone and harsh words.
Her mother smiled sadly, reached out and took her hand. “Martha, you are always with me and all I have is yours. Your sister will live with the consequences of her decisions and the decisions of those who hurt her for the rest of her life, but she has been found and for that we can celebrate.” Martha’s eye filled with the tears, the feelings of unfairness overtaken by a desperate need to feel her mother’s love. She stared at the bed covers, tears overflowing, great drops falling onto the sheets. Her mother moved closer and held her. Martha clung to her mother, great sobs escaping from her mouth. Her mother stroked her hair whispering over and over, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
|Posted by God Loves Women on May 12, 2014 at 4:10 PM||comments (0)|
It seems at the moment that everywhere you look there are debates on the issue of gender boundaries categories for children’s toys - challenges of Lego’s recent addition of ‘girl’s’ Lego, comments on how some stores layout their merchandise or complaints from authors regarding how book covers try to suggest which gender of child ‘should’ read their books.
Quite rightly so, a lot of people would say. But why does it matter so much? Some people might think that ‘making a fuss’ over something like this is overkill, but the answer is it really does matter.
Now don’t get me wrong - I am not saying that we cannot admit men and women/girls and boys are different. As Jenny Baker says in her excellent book ‘Equals’:
“We’re clearly different in lots of ways. We have different body parts, grow hair in different places and the difference in our chromosomes is reproduced in every cell of our bodies. In almost all sports, whether it’s running, cycling , swimming or jumping, men are consistently faster than women: they jump higher, lift heavier weights, throw further and score more. That pattern of men and women achieving differently is repeated in lots of different spheres of life. How can we say that women and men are equal?”
There are clearly differences between men and women, particularly if you look at physical - that is ‘body’ factors. There have also been argued to be cognitive - that is brain - differences between males and females as well, although this remains a hotly controversial topic. But two vitally important facts need to be emphasised.
The first is that although there are some differences, there are a lot more ways in which we are NOT different. This is particularly true if you consider that differences claimed in scientific research look at averages - the statistical centre of natural variation along any given skill/measure. Taking that natural variation into account there is an awful lot of overlap - plenty of women who do not demonstrate the more classically ‘female’ trends; plenty of men who find that they identify with some ‘female’ stereotypes.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the fact is that equality does not need to assume that there are no differences. Quoting Jenny Baker again, she says:
“Equality is the belief that all people have the same value, regardless of any other defining characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and age… equality is about treating people fairly without prejudice or assumptions and it’s the essential foundation on which all fruitful relationships are built. Equality particularly when we’re talking about women and men, is about being free to choose the direction your life takes and having the encouragement and opportunities to enact that choice, rather than being constrained by stereotypes or cultural convention. It’s about everyone being able to flourish.”
So why do these gender stereotypes matter so much? Why not create brands and toys which are pink and feature more classically ‘female’ play types like cooking, fashion or looking after babies? Why not separate ‘boys’ from ‘girls’ toys in stores and supermarkets? Why not brand and design books according to which gender is more likely to want to buy them?
There are lots of answers to this, but one compelling one lies in the psychology of humans. One thing that cannot be denied about humans is how we prefer to simplify the world by making generalisations. One way we display this is in our tendency to form ‘groups’ in our minds for people. We tend to classify these groups fairly simply - as either ‘in-group’ (that is, of the same group as us) or ‘out-group’. You can see this in all kinds of things - social class stereotypes, our love of forming and supporting specific football teams, what newspaper we read - it happens all over our society.
A series of studies both historical and more recent demonstrate how easy it is to induce people to form these kinds of group identities. Perhaps the most famous, called the robbers cave experiment, took a bunch of 11 year old body on a summer camp in the USA. When these kids arrived, they were randomly allocated to one of two groups. At first on camp, simple steps were taken to enforce these group identifies. Each group didn’t know the other existed, but they ate together, took part in activities and chose group names and emblems. Its not that surprising that the kids really took on this group thing and started to share a real sense of group ‘togetherness’.
What’s interesting about this experiment is what happened next. When the camp organisers revealed the existence of the ‘other’ group, what developed was almost immediate hostility - mainly in the groups calling each other names. Once the groups then started to compete against each other this inter group rivalry got more significant. When one group eventually won the ‘camp cup’ this sense of superiority was marked and the hostility increased. It wasn’t long before the groups refused to even eat in the same room as each other.
This famous study then began to explore how best to break down this inter group hostility. But the reason I’m talking about it now is to look at what happens when we strengthen group identity and draw attention to or exaggerate perceived or real differences between two groups. Very quickly a sense of hierarchy develops, particularly if one group, for whatever reason, can be perceived as ‘weaker’. Once that sense of hierarchy is there, it grows. The outcome of this can be very powerful - more than once psychologists, researchers and even school teachers have attempted repeats on different scales of this kind of experiment, and had to interrupt their plans because the degree of hostility was alarming and unexpected.
There are differences between men and women. But the more we exaggerate these by slipping into stereotypical shorthand in order to simplify our world, the more we risk building an ‘in-group’ mentality that can foster and encourage feelings of hostility, negative behaviour and unhelpful beliefs about the ‘other’ group. The more we teach people - however implicitly - that boys are totally different from girls, the greater the chance then members of one group will start to foster and justify cynical or unpleasant beliefs and behaviours toward the other - and thanks to the historical discrimination against women it is usually this group that comes off the worst.
There’s plenty of evidence for this happening. Take some of the classically quoted stats about men and women - such as the claim that women use thousands more words per day than men as a fairly non-controversial example. I know I’ve heard this quoted so many times! And yet, as Deborah Cameron explains in her very interesting book ‘The Myth of Mars and Venus,’ this statistic has no empirical basis at all - in fact studies tend to find little or no difference in the average numbers of words used per day by men and women. So why is this so widely believed? Because those subtle, subliminal messages we see everyday teach us that men and women are much more different than they really are, making us much more likely to believe messages like this that then exaggerate a difference that was never really there in the first place.
Genesis 1:27 states clearly that men and women are made in the image of God. The Message puts it beautifully translating God’s command ‘make them reflecting our nature.’ We need to be really careful about how and when we subconsciously or deliberately separate two groups of people who were created, not identical, but equal. It is in the combination of men and women, in the God ordained harmony of both working together and in real equality that we see the entire reflection of the image of God, not in separating them.
It isn’t just gender stereotypes in kids merchandise that risks this. I’m urging caution on a whole realm of ‘for women’ or ‘for men’ stuff. Of course there’s no harm in us meeting sometimes as guys or women only - sure, we have stuff to talk about that the others may find a bit bewildering or irrelevant. But lets work together and not be defensive to good challenges where perhaps things need to change. Lets take appropriate caution that we are not slipping into lazy stereotypes that risk at best alienating those who do not conform or excluding some who would otherwise have benefited, and at worst building up group identities that may foster and encourage very negative attitudes. Lets celebrate our amazing, God reflecting, common humanity rather than separating what God made equal.
Dr Kate Middleton is a church leader & psychologist with a passion for applying psychology and faith to real life. Although working mainly in the UK, she is currently based in Paris and balances commuting back to the UK with building links there. Kate is one of the leaders of ‘Mind and soul' & regularly writes for their website. She also speaks across the UK on a variety of topics & has written several books. In the UK Kate works with the Hitchin Christian Centre where you can find articles, talks etc by her. On Twitter she is @communik8ion.
|Posted by God Loves Women on April 20, 2014 at 4:40 PM||comments (0)|
It’s been over two years since a group of us on Twitter did #6monthBible reading plan. Today Alastair Roberts (@zugzwanged) suggested we should do another Twitter based Bible reading plan and came up with reading Luke to Acts, a chapter a day for the next two and a half months, starting on Wednesday (23rd April) and finishing on July 4th; reading Acts 2 on Pentecost. Here is the plan.
Anyone can join in, whether you are a Christian, of another faith or an atheist. Read the chapter for day and use the hashtag #luke2acts to tweet any thoughts, reflections, questions or ideas, others can then reply or add their thoughts and ideas. Welcome along!
|Posted by God Loves Women on April 13, 2014 at 3:35 PM||comments (0)|
“Am I Beautiful?” by Chine Mbubaegbu has been sat on my “to read” pile of books since I attended the launch event for the book last year. I consider Chine to be a friend and I deeply respect her and her work at the Evangelical Alliance. Chine’s book is written for Christian women, exploring what beauty is, some of the ways beauty has been distorted and the many consequences of these distortions on women’s lives.
The book is well-written and deeply honest. Unlike some Christian books, Chine doesn’t present herself as some perfect human being that us mere mortals could only dream of imitating, she tells deeply personal stories about her journey of understanding beauty, sharing her life with the reader in a healthy, positive way. She includes some critique of the societal pressures on women and uses Bible passages to explore a Christian perspective on each aspect she explores. Each chapter ends helpfully with a prayer, questions for reflection and a challenge to the reader; this makes it easily transferable to a small group setting.
I’ve never been focussed on beauty, either having it for myself or observing it in others. I grew up odd, never fitting in. Being beautiful wasn’t an aspiration or a desire of mine so the book didn’t speak to me personally. As I read, I felt like an outsider; not identifying with the struggles of going without make-up or mirrors, of being conscious of how I looked in relation to others. I spent a long time hating myself, through most of my formative years and into adulthood I hated myself. Not how I looked, but everything about who I was. I cut myself, starved myself and on occasions took overdoses. Yet, my struggles were not related to feeling not beautiful, but rather feeling utter self-loathing. Rooted in experiences of abuse as a child, teenager and young adult, I didn’t so much see myself as ugly but rather as utterly unlovable. Reading the experiences of Chine and other women didn’t resonate with me, but they did inform me and give me a deeper understanding of the lives of so many other women.
As I read I realised that the depths of my hurts forced me to face them head on. The consequences of abuse left me shattered and unable to function. I was forced to face the demons which tried to destroy me. I couldn’t live until I did. This book showed me that the terrible price so many women and girls pay is not total dysfunction, but rather a level of functionality that is a façade. That women as a class are being conditioned to be constantly dissatisfied with themselves and each other, often not to a degree that destroys them totally, but leaves them feeling gradually eroded. Their lives are subtly distorted, not enough to feel the need for intervention, but too much to live totally free.
The book showed me how so many of my friends and the women I interact with are feeling. The ways they are always paying to have something stolen from them each and every day. It left me feeling grateful to my parents who wouldn’t let me watch television, wouldn’t allow me to fit in. Trained me early to feel comfortable walking against the whole of culture.
Though this book didn’t speak to me directly, I know so many women it will help. I am so grateful to Chine for baring her soul and taking the time to write this book. After reading it, I immediately wrapped it up and posted it to a 15 year old Christian girl I know. Each chapter that I read I thought of women and girls who would benefit from reading it and I’ve already begun recommending it to people I know. For those struggling to answer the question “Am I beautiful?” this is a brilliant book to read!
You can purchase the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Am-I-Beautiful-Chine-Mbubaegbu/dp/1780780605
|Posted by God Loves Women on March 24, 2014 at 8:20 PM||comments (6)|
“But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” Luke 24:11
The first people entrusted with the truth of the resurrection were women, and when they evangelised that truth they were ignored.
Fast forward 2000 or so years and there is an evangelism conference happening in 2015 announced by Revd. Canon J. John on Twitter earlier today. If you look even briefly at the line up for the conference you will discover that there is a group of people not represented in either the speakers or those MCing the day. That would be women. You know, those people who make up 51% of the UK population and 65% of the church.
This conference was brought to my attention by @zoebunter when she pointed out the lack of female speakers. I tweeted J.John to ask why there were no female speakers:
So far he has not responded to me directly, but he has tweeted the following:
I recognise that the conference and the work J. John does is enormously valuable and that hopefully the event will be a great opportunity for those attending to learn and grow. My challenge regarding the lack of female speakers is not about invalidating the work the conference will do, however a conference that hopes to “renew, inspire and encourage” while not including any representation of half the human race is highly problematic.
That J. John chose to describe my legitimate concerns about the lack of representation of women as “chatter” greatly saddens me. This is further compounded in his assertion that they asked women and that no women were available. To state that out of all the female evangelists working fulltime on sharing the Gospel across the UK, none were available is outrageous. Though perhaps what J. John was actually saying is that of the women that were asked, weren’t available. My question is: Why didn’t you ask more women? When none of those that you asked were available, why not ask for other recommendations? Why not do a shout out on Twitter, or through professional networks to seek out female evangelists?
I have only been shouting about this stuff for the last few years and I am already tired of it. There are those who have been shouting for decades longer than me and I don’t know how they keep going. We need a seismic shift in people’s thinking about women’s representation at event, about the reality of gender injustice and the need to change this for both women and men. That in 2014 it is possible to organise an event about evangelism and it not occur to the organisers that it is both legitimate and important for there to be women speakers and women MCs at the event shows just how far we have to go. That good men like J. John (who has a positive reputation for the inclusion of women) could suggest that asking women is enough, shows us that this is going to be a long hard journey.
We need to get to a place where it is assumed that not having women on the platform, on the programme of an event will be seen as controversial. That doing so will cause hurt, disappointment and a reinforcement of patriarchal structures. We need to speak out and stand up, because women are people too.
And just as Mary, Joanna, Mary and the other women were ignored by the disciples, women are still ignored today. And yet sisters, Jesus chose us to be the first to carry the good news. Let us hold that in our hearts and continue to tell people the good news, praying and acting for a different world.
Other people who've written blogs about this: