What you should have read this week

Friday, 24 January 2014

I'm reviving my weekly-ish round-up of things worth reading!

"While some women are fighting not to conceive children—which matters—others are fighting to able to, to not be sterilized, to not be shamed and abused during pregnancy, to not live in poverty with that child and to not worry about State interference and oppression no matter what the choice may be. Whether Black women need abortion or need support for entering motherhood, both choices are valid and both need deliverance from the impact of White supremacist capitalist patriarchy on Black womanhood and Black motherhood."

"I thought about the decision that was mine to make. And surprisingly, solidly, I realised what I would do: I would have this baby. At the time, I didn't know that there is a critical difference between unplanned and unwanted. At the time, I would barely have described myself as “wanting” children. I had never felt that cooing hunger which teenage girls called "broodiness", the longing to put their arms around a baby – even when small, I preferred reading to playing with dolls. And I will never feel the ravenous grief that older women call broodiness, either, the anguish of love with no object. But I did want a child, and specifically I wanted a child with the man I was with. It was ten years premature, but this was that child."

"In the meantime, though, we feminists are stuck with this endless list of reminders from those far cleverer than us. Just in case you’ve forgotten, you shouldn’t worry about banknotes because you should be worrying about Page Three. You shouldn’t worry about Page Three because you should be worrying about every other page of the Sun. You shouldn’t be worrying about the Sun because you should be worrying about the representation of women across the whole of the media. You shouldn’t be worrying about women in the media because you should be worrying about violence against women. You shouldn’t be worrying about violence against women because you should be worrying about FGM."

"After I got married and we left Boulder, a deep-seeded cynicism set in, and every little thing about that former church were all things I despised about Christianity. I mean, really, WHO NEEDS A FOG MACHINE AND LASER LIGHTS? But now, working through that cynicism and suspicion, I've come to have a tender place for churches like that. The glossy evangelical megachurch is a part of my story, just as much as the more gritty, hipster, urban church we're in now.

But, more than missing the worship service and the big-church feel, I miss having an answer for everything and having a checklist to live by. I miss the Christianity of my younger years. I miss that chapter of my story, and in some ways, I truly long for it. Being naive was so much easier."

"I first watched She’s All That back in 1999, at the Stratford Picturehouse some weekend after school. I remember loving it, because it hit all the spots it was supposed to: boy and girl got to have each other at the end, and bad guy kind of got his comeuppance, which is as it should be in real life. The 90s – especially in the mid-to-late period – was a significant time for teen movies. It was a golden period, during which the industry enjoyed a purple patch starting around 1995 with Clueless, continuing into 1996 with The Craft, and exploding in a high point of acne, prom and hormone-fug in 1999, which saw the release of 10 Things I Hate About You, Cruel Intentions, Never Been Kissed, Election, American Pie and of course, She’s All That."

"It is on the windy Sunday evening of October 6 that I make my first contact with the outer ring of this mafia. A big party with VIPs is on the cards; the kind of party an ordinary girl, or rather ‘product’, as we are called by traffickers, is not usually invited to. But I am currently on a fortune ride: Oghogho’s favourite. Additionally, I have been classified as ‘Special Forces’, or ‘Forza Speciale’ as my new contacts say, borrowing the Italian term.  It’s a rule of thumb, I understand, that a syndicate subjects girls to classification through a check on their nude bodies and I, too – in the company of some male and female judges, headed by a trafficker called Auntie Precious – had been checked. I had received the highest classification. “This means that you don’t have to walk the streets. You can be an escort for important clients,” Auntie Precious had told me in a soft, congratulatory tone. The ones of ‘lesser’ classification were referred to as Forza Strada, the Road Force."

And finally...

- This week I finished Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah. Get on it, if you haven't already.
- C. Jane Kendrick is back on the blogging wagon. Hurrah!
- Sunday 26 January is World Leprosy Day (work-related plug alert). If you don't know much about leprosy now's your chance to find out how it's very much a 21st century disease. Watch the video!
- At the Christian Feminist Network we're organising a day conference that's being held on Saturday 1 March in Manchester. The conference will include presentations, workshops and discussion as well as the chance to network with other Christian feminists. Find out more and sign up.

"Put away the shopping cart and pick up a shovel" - who takes responsibility for our issues with church?

Friday, 17 January 2014

What would you say would be a really good reason for leaving a church? Pastor and blogger Aaron Loy* has five reasons he thinks are really bad, but I don't think I agree with him.

No doubt, as a pastor and church planter Aaron Loy has heard the concerns and complaints of many members of his congregation. And this post must have been borne out of a certain amount of frustration at concerns and complaints that he can't fully address or resolve, because some of that responsibility lies with someone else, even the complainant themselves. But my own concern is that just as we can be pretty one-sided in the way we look at issues in our church life, his response to this was just as one-sided and actually comes across as dismissive and patronising, hurtful to those dealing with the issues he lists, and even going as far as to remove responsibility and accountability from leaders.

Discussing the post on Twitter, someone I know commented that it read "too much like cajoling someone to stay in an abusive relationship".

As I read through Loy's five "really bad reasons", my first reaction was to become steadily more irritated. Not because I think we need to move churches at the slightest hint of conflict or dissatisfaction, but because of how I'd feel if I received these answers in response to raising a concern. Under "I'm not being fed", he writes:

"Do pastors have a responsibility to steward the scriptures and care for their church spiritually? You bet they do."

This, however, doesn't stop him believing that the access to "substance" we have through books and the internet makes it a "cop-out" to expect to get what we want or feel we need, teaching-wise, on a Sunday morning. I'd say it's just as much of a cop-out to respond to people concerned about the quality or depth of teaching by telling them to go and get it elsewhere when they might not have the first clue where to start. I believe that a church with the resources to do so has a responsibility to serve its congregation, teaching-wise, at different stages of their faith life. Not by offering these opportunities only to those who are being mentored and trained on some sort of leadership track, but with teaching days, evenings, weekends, papers. There is a difference between spoon-feeding the selfish and ignoring valid concerns about teaching.

Many people spend many years of their lives serving the church and "contributing" to their community, but I also believe there are times when this is not possible, and a bit of consumption of something, anything, is exactly what's needed. That could be down to illness, work pressures, or parenting pressures. From personal experience, I know that when you're going through a stage like that and feel that "contributing" is a struggle, and people to give you the impression that you must give more, do more, expend more of yourself, it can make you feel resentful and cynical.

Not everyone feels comfortable in the same sort of church set-up, and it's here that I worry about Loy's response to his second point - "It's getting too big".

"If you have a problem with big churches, you really wouldn’t have liked the first church and you definitely won’t like heaven. To be frank, if you have a problem with the inevitable growth that happens when lives are changed by the gospel, you have some serious repenting to do."

Feeling comfortable in a smaller group of people, in a quieter and more intimate church service or community has got nothing to do with having a problem with people's lives being changed by the gospel, and I think that's actually quite a nasty way of framing it. On one hand I can see his point about people being dissatisfied when 'things aren't how they used to be' because they are resistant to any sort of change. But small churches and the people who prefer to worship in them, are not 'wrong'. This point also seemed to highlight the oft-discussed divide between extroverted and introverted churchgoers, and the way that extrovert characteristics are often prized by Christian culture. For some people, large groups, noise and crowds are emotionally draining and a huge source of anxiety. Do they need to be ordered to 'repent' as well?

I'm not going to argue with Loy's point on "I don't agree with everything that's being preached"; that's fair enough. But his fourth "really bad reason", "My needs aren't being met", needs some looking at. Again it's important to note there are two sides to every story. No-one can totally have their needs met by a church. But when someone speaks to a church leader about a concern they have, it should not be dismissed as a question of needing to "put away the shopping cart and pick up a shovel". What is the need and why isn't it being met? Can the church help? Is it a petty request or gripe, or an issue where someone needs pastoral support? Is it an issue that has been raised numerous times by numerous different people? If so, it might be time to consider change.

I know that the issues Loy has identified must be a source of frustration for countless church leaders who are working hard and doing their best and trying to accommodate people, but it goes both ways. After reading his post, I felt his overriding message was "Don't try to implicate the church, its leaders, or the way it has dealt with issues - the problem is YOU. If you were less selfish, less needy, and more willing to suck it up and give more rather than expect something in return, you wouldn;'t be in this mess."

We all have issues with the church. Sometimes these issues can and should be addressed. Sometimes, we need to talk them through and understand that we have to take some responsibility for solving these issues (sometimes we truly are the victims of something terrible, other times, we're not and need to keep things in perspective), or that we need to look at them from a different angle and see the nuance.

Aaron Loy's "really bad reasons" might not be the greatest of reasons for leaving a church. But his responses to them are exactly the reasons I have often been fearful of raising church-related issues with people: that in doing so, I would be dismissed and given the impression that the problem lies only with me and my selfishness. People I know have experienced it too, in conversations with church leaders and even in response to blog posts. It is perhaps one of the most common sights below the line in some corners of the Christian blogosphere - someone writes about a negative experience with church; someone else rushes to tell them that they're actually the one at fault. When we address the issues that arise on our journeys of faith, the reaction of the church should not be to absolve itself of any responsibility, but to see both sides of the story and think about what could be done to help.

*who I had never come across before today - which leads me to say that I don't regularly read his blog or know about anything else he has written on this subject. I felt the post discussed here was problematic and hurtful, and felt moved to explain why.

2013: A recap and a new look

Sunday, 5 January 2014

2013 was an odd year. It flew by. I was extremely busy, but in some ways I feel as if I spent a lot of time procrastinating rather than doing. Here are some highlights and thoughts:

- I returned to full time work outside the home in February. I was definitely ready for this to happen and love my job, but full time work plus parenting means I don't have as much time for a lot of other things - blogging for one, hence the tumbleweeds on here (although I did write some posts that I was really happy with). Sebastian spends his days with a great childminder and is getting on brilliantly. He's well and truly into the toddler stage (which is infinitely more fun and rewarding than the baby stage, even taking tantrums into consideration) and keeps us constantly busy. It took him 16 months, but he's also now sleeping through the night, which is amazing.

- I achieved my breastfeeding goal (and then some). Go boobs! I was thankful to be able to continue feeding after my return to work and am thankful to have had such a positive experience.

- I survived my first family holiday (in France; we drove to the south-west coast with a 13-month-old Sebastian) and had a wonderful couple of weeks there.

- I had a great time speaking at Greenbelt and attending the festival for the very first time - you can now watch the video. Tasked to speak on the topic 'When I'm 40...', I realised that 40 is not as far away as I think.

- I took part in a panel discussion on blogging at the Christian New Media Conference.

- I did a lot of thinking about the Christian feminist world, and worried that all too often it ends up shutting itself off from the wider movement. This works both ways - there will always be a need to advocate for greater inclusion of women of faith in feminism - but I think we need to be careful that we don't end up going round in circles repeatedly justifying why we believe in gender equality, or why we believe other people should do the same. I've done that many a time and I fully agree with the woman I heard speak at Greenbelt that I no longer "feel the need to prove I have a right to an opinion and a voice", which includes making anything I have to say 'palatable' to appear more appealing to those who don't believe in equality. We need to move the conversation on - that's why I'm so grateful for the Gathering of Women Leaders, which does just that.

- I continued to find church, and building community within the church, an enormous struggle, although we did make some great new friends this year. There isn't really much else I want to say about this, to be honest. I did, however, read this post yesterday, and was able to relate to it in some ways. And time and again, I return to this post on '(not so) happy clappies'.

- I started the year off by writing about Evil Twitter Feminists, and continued the conversation in the summer with Evil Twitter Feminism 2.0. For the past month or so, I have barely even engaged with any discussion about feminism on Twitter. What was, at the beginning of the year, somewhat mythical, has become very real and very unpleasant, a situation where many people no longer feel able to speak about a whole variety of topics publicly. My feminist 2014 is going to be about building up, celebrating positives and victories, sitting back and listening and learning, building bridges and demonstrating a better way. If you can't get on board with these things, then I worry what you actually do stand for.

- A combination of being busy with work and parenting plus the above point on Twitter has meant I've really shut off from keeping up with blogs and even news over the past few months. This has made writing difficult and it's something I've really struggled with. I miss blogging, but I've felt completely stymied by some things that have happened in recent months. Blogging has changed. In 2014, I'm hoping things will change and that I'll be writing more again. One thing I wanted to do in 2013 but never achieved was revamping how this blog looks - so I finally got that done this past week. I'm now slowly working on getting every post formatted correctly.

- I bought these shoes and this was a really good idea. They're getting me through the winter and haven't made my feet sore once.

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