2019 in books

I’ve found myself doing that thing again where I rush books to hit a target so in 2020 I am not going to count books! I dropped a target for this year, but that wasn’t enough for self-competitive me so in 2020 I am going to visually record and review what I read but no more counting.

My top five recommendations for you are
Invisible Women: Caroline Criado Perez. A game changer. I’ve bought and gifted this book repeatedly – read it, be shocked, angry and start telling everyone you know about the danger/harm girls women face in this world because we are ignored and erased knowingly and deliberately because of our sex. Award-winning for writing and research, and richly deserved.
Wilding: Isabella Tree. Re-framing the conservation debate based on a fascinating experiment.
The Salt Path: Raynor Winn. I had put off reading this as I thought it would be sad, but it is brimming with hope. Read and be uplifted.
Meadowland: John Lewis-Stempel. This man’s writing is pure joy. And in this year where I made a concerted effort to get back to my nature-loving roots, I ploughed my way though most of his nature books. Superb prose. The kind of writer I’d like to be.
Wonderland: Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss. A couple of minutes every morning spent learning and re-learning about the wildlife our little island has to offer.

A quick post on #SmearforSmear

I won’t be doing #smearforsmear and not because I don’t think getting a smear is vitally important or that it isn’t important to increase the number of women who do but because once again I’m struggling with the damage that can be done by un-nuanced viral messaging.

If you don’t know, it is a campaign aimed at encouraging women to share photo and video selfies of themselves with their lipstick smeared. The idea is to draw attention to the fact that the number of women who aren’t getting regular tests is falling.

  • A smear isn’t just 5 minutes and easy for many women. As a sufferer of vaginismus it far from easy and pain free. I bled for 3 days after my last smear and had to return for a second attempt which I yelled and sobbed through. It wasn’t the GP’s fault but it is what it is – next time I may have to be drugged to get through it – fun eh! 2 in 1000 women suffer from vaginismus , probably more, but, ironically, they don’t report because of shame.
  • Any woman who has been assaulted or raped, doesn’t find it easy. I don’t think I need to elaborate
  • If a woman is embarrassed about going for a smear it is because the patriarchy teaches her to be ashamed of her body which, for X reason today, doesn’t conform to whatever is currently correct and attractive to men.
  • If a woman is embarrassed about being hairy in particular, it is recognised to be related to the prevalence of hair-free women in porn. Which is in no small way related to the attraction of some men to pre-pubescent. Shave, or don’t shave – but it is important to recognise why shaving is a thing.
  • The survey on which #smearforsmear is based (although I can’t get a copy of the original questions asked) also suggests not being able to, or wanting to, take time off of work is a significant barrier to accessing a smear. Are women in a position that they can’t look after their health without fearing reprisal or risking their employment? Why isn’t this the news?
  • The survey also suggests that 26% of women can’t get an appointment even if they want to. Surely a result of the defunding of the NHS. And that bit isn’t making the news either…
  • Also, mustn’t forget PSH-education is still dismissed as unnecessary and too embarrassing to teach (the irony), so of course women don’t understand their own bodies, the risks they face and how to stay healthy.
  • And, yeurgh, women and lipstick…. It is a bit like #nomakeupselfie isn’t it?  Let’s accept a stereotype while trying to fight something that is caused in no small part by stereotypes.

So yes, sharing a selfie might make a point to some women about how important detection is. But sadly can also trivialise the real reasons women don’t/can’t get smears by normalising the ‘they’re embarrassed because they’re vain’ or ‘lazy’ or ‘uneducated’.

There is so much good stuff in the work that has been done. I’m just once again disheartened that the messaging and ‘call to action’ is missing a huge opportunity, and could have focused more on the fact local heath services are not doing anything to improve access to smears, or educating women as to the reasons to have them.

So this all smacks of victim blaming.

Things that make me think #3 Why I agree with Equal Marriage:


This is the first in a series. I am not going to delve into doctrine in this edition, I don’t know if I ever will as there are people who do it far better than I could ever hope to. I am talking from my heart in this introduction. There is a list of recommended reading at the end.

I think God created us all in His image. We all fall short of that image.  He loves us all the same.

1 John 4:16
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

He tells us to love each other all the same. He tells us whoever love lives in God. The only definition of God that ever appears in the Bible is that he *is* love.

Love is everything.

There are many ways to love and many types of love.

I think to love we need to ensure everyone has the same opportunities as everyone else and then we can all live freely in our the ways we think own faiths require us too. Anything else is oppression and injustice. Anything else, binds people up in regulations based on what we think is holy (at the moment anyway), is pharasaical.

Brian D McLaren says this (slightly altered to make sense out of the context of the chapter):

“Blessed to be a blessing by the true and living God of all creation is not an either-or thing; it is a both-and thing. We can rediscover the calling of election as an instrument of peace, an instrument of blessing. To do so will require us to make a radical break with hostile identities we have inherited – identities of domination, revolution, assimilation, purification, competition, victimisation and isolation. It will require us to venture out ‘ not knowing where we are going’ – learning to embody a new, strong identity, an identity of mission and reconciliation, blessed to be a blessing, being an ‘other’ for the sake of others, giving and receiving blessings with other blessed people, and thus joining God in healing a world torn apart by human hostility.” [1]

We have to provide a level playing field for all and not victimise, purify, assimilate, dominate, compete with or isolate any person on this planet.

Jesus really only gave one commandment: love.

How are we loving if we say – you’re different to me so you don’t get to have what I have, you should go and be a different subset of humanity over there in the corner and hopefully you’ll figure out how to function in a way that won’t affect me?

Specifically, I do not think the church should be involved at all in the legal side of marriage. We should get out of it altogether. Churches can then bless whichever of those marriages they deem fit into their particular idea of marriage. I mean, for goodness sake, the definition already changes from church to church, let alone denomination from denomination – let’s not pretend it doesn’t – faux unity doesn’t help anyone. There are numerous different models of marriage in the Bible, all of which reflected the social attitudes of the time. Such emotive language such as “marriage has been one way since the dawn of time” are just laughable on any historic level, let alone from any reading of the hebrew Bible.

As in many other nations, let the law have the legal partnership – with legal ceremonies taking place in town halls or on river banks, and let the church bless its own – not even the ones who just want to be married in a pretty place, which also takes the mickey but apparently is an evangelical tool!

There are a number of MPs who hold this position who subsequently voted no including my own, and I applaud that. My default position is to vote whichever way my heart goes regardless of the anticipated outcome. By that I mean even if even if there is no prospect of my candidate getting elected, I’ll vote for them anyway. And so a bill that would get the church out of marriage would be my preference. But that wasn’t on the table and so in this case, supporting the bill more strongly reflected my views and will create equality where there is at present distinct inequality. I do not accept a Civil Partnerships, only available to gays and lesbians is an equal opportunity.

Every time we try to turn our beliefs into legislation, trying to impose our views on people by using [democratic] law, we get into trouble. We need to be political, we need to protect our freedom to express our faith. But we can’t legislate people into following Jesus.

But on that note, let’s keep our lobbying to the bear minimum – seeking religious freedom for all and after that we can work out the details within ourselves and most importantly live them out.  

I remember when the General Synod rejigged their approach to allow divorcees to marry in church and I know people who remember when it stopped being ‘wrong’ that mixed race couples married at all.

Here’s the crux of the matter. I do not know exactly ‘where I am going’ but I know I want to be on the side that loves, accepts and reconciles and maybe gets stuff wrong, than on the side that rejects, over-protects and excludes. the side that is, in my opinion wasting time and resources preserving a wonky, inconsistent tradition that we’re all pretending isn’t abused and misrepresented on a daily basis. In so-called Christian marriage (a woman, a man) 2 women are killed every week through domestic violence[2].  And yes, we allow that to happen and I’m excited by lots of the way the church gets involved in untangling and preventing relationship breakdown and nurturing family life and marriages.

McLaren also said something else I need to echo here. Hopefully it speaks volumes about my thought processes:

“I’m sure I am wrong about many things, although I’m not sure exactly which things I’m wrong about. I’m even sure I’m wrong about what I think I’m right about in at least some cases.”[3]

Remember that good old saying ‘Love is spelled R.I.S.K.’ Maybe here is a chance to put it into action rather than just on a wristband.

[1] Brian D Mclaren “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World” 2012, Jericho Books. pp123 Kindle edition

[2] Figures from Refuge

[3]Brian D. McLaren, “A Generous Orthodoxy 2006, Zondervan Publishing Company

Recommended Reading. As I mentioned at the beginning, there are plenty of people out there weighing this issue much better than I ever will be able to and so to get a holistic view I am offering these for your digestion:


Rachel Mann [June 2013]  Response to Telegraph Letter from ‘heads’ of religion in the UK. 

You should basically read everything Bishop of Buckingham Alan Wilson has ever written on the subject, but start with this: My Marriage Equality Postbag. He separated out all his blogs on the subject here.

Something that just made me love more: video of New Zealand parliament breaking out in a Maori love song after the group passed an Equal Marriage bill.

Changing Notions of Traditional Marriage by Sally Steenland

‘If the church is hypocritical about sex, the media are hypocritical about hypocrisy’ NT Wright at The Guardian.

How Being a Pastor Changed My Thinking on Homosexuality by Dave Barnhart at Gestating a Church

“Tolerate one another as I have tolerated you” by Joe Lenton at Musing, amusng, confusing


Andrew Marin: Love is an Orientation

Sunday Stuff 17/06/12

Round-up of interesting and thought-provoking articles and tweets. Enjoy and let me know what you think!

Prejudice by Digitalnun on iBenedictines

None of us is free from prejudice, but…. what is the point at which opinion becomes prejudice? As a Christian, I believe that there is only one mediator between God and ourselves, the Lord Jesus Christ. For me, there can be no watering down of that; no casual accommodation to other beliefs and creeds. But I have no difficulty in honouring the truth I find in other religions — not in a wishy-washy, we all believe the same kind of way, but with wonder and gladness that I can learn something about God I might not otherwise have the opportunity to do.

Please, Mr Cameron, stop your government from blaming the poor for poverty…on The World Inside my Head by Anna Drew linking to a statement from the Methodist Church

What does a government do when it’s failing on poverty issues? Move the goal posts…

The jubilee jobseekers show modern Britain at its worst by Zoe Williams for The Guardian

The audacity of these contractors makes me want to laugh, but what is paralysingly unfunny is how much larger this is than two organisations; how much desperation there is that people would do this job for nothing; how much sheer unfairness there is in society recasting the cost of training as something to be borne by the person starting out; how much inhumanity there is in abasing the unemployed.

I’m so enjoying finding out about New Monasticism as part of my studies, particularly my latest module in Missiology. Here is a great video from Fresh Expressions

Oh and I got an article printed this week!  One Can Trust foodbank celebrates its 1st birthday with a grant from Buckinghamshire Community Foundation

Tweets of the Week:

@EugeneCho : Don’t tell us what you’re against. Show us something different. Compel us. Create a better story. Invite us into that story.

@Welshtabby (Jayne Smalley): You can tell much about a woman from her hands. For instance, if they are around your throat she is probably slightly upset.

@RichardFWatson:  Dear World. “The Church of England says….” & “The Bible says….” are unrealistic beginnings to any sentence. Please do not trust them.

@markbailey_: “The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” – Norman Vincent Peale

@maggidawn: RT “@PastorMark an enemy stabs you in the back, a friend stabs you in the front.” < U need new friends. Mine have my back & don’t stab me.

@drbexl (Dr Bex Lewis ‏): “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.”  Corrie Ten Boom

@wilsonhartgrove (J Wilson-Hartgrove ‏) : God is not a means by which we can achieve our ideals; other people don’t want to be a means either.

And yes, a few bits and bobs on the whole gay marriage debate:

I haven’t signed petitions, I didn’t get consulted on the CofE statement and nothing said so far has been said in my name. Only I can speak in my name (and the side of the fence I sit on is pretty obvious from the choices of tweets and articles below.)  I do know that an awful lot of what I’ve read coming ‘officially’ from the Church or England makes me uncomfortable and indeed, some things have made me very angry. I have so much love and respect for so much of the CofE and belong to a church in it. We do not get everything right, we don’t always love like we should, but I can’t think of one person I know in my particular branch of the church who isn’t trying to figure out how to. I’m intrigued as to how all of this will affect the relationship between Church and State, but I hope the relationships between those this has hurt and those who have inadvertently or otherwise, been responsible for that hurt, will be rapidly and completely healed.

@KateBielby : Christian gay marriage is threatening to Christianity. Straight atheist marriage is fine. No, you’re going to have to explain this again.

@martinsaunders: CofE tweets make depressing reading. People think we’re bigoted, irrelevant, graceless morons

@IsabelOakeshott : If the PM is so keen on institution of marriage, perhaps he should focus on propping up the heterosexual variety, which affects far more people

A rather angry (as goes the title) but well balanced piece in the Guardian from Nick Cohen:  A church fit only for bigots and hypocrites

The church’s complaint that civil gay marriage may, despite the government’s assurances to the contrary, lead to the European Court of Human Rights forcing it to marry homosexuals at some unspecified point struck me as fanciful and neurotic. But when church sources tried to scare the government into submission by raising the prospect of disestablishment, they spoke truer than they knew. England accepts the emancipation of women. England is on it way to accepting the emancipation of homosexuals. The Church of England cannot stand against the settled will of England and expect to remain the national church.

Not in My Name on Bishop Tim Ellis’ blog

For, in truth, the bishops in the media have not spoken for me or the way in which I understand this thorny matter and, I suspect, they do not speak for a sizeable minority or even majority with the life of the Church. However, it is possible that I will soon be approached by the local media to defend the position taken up by my colleagues and the pressure will be on to ‘toe the line’.

The issue is therefore, for me, one of freedom.

The Church of England says it is against gay marriage. Not in my name | Giles Fraser

And finally there is the absurd hyperbole of the thing. “The greatest threat to the church in 500 years.” Do us a favour. Worse than the dissolution of the monasteries? Worse than secularisation? It is telling evidence of the irrational fear that the church leadership has of gay people that they are prepared to make such ridiculous statements.

And an amusing look at it all from a very different angle: Church considers ban on marriage of ugly people!