the ten series: eight fears

September 16, 2013

I don’t know why in this series fears get eight slots. Seems a bit neurotic. I’m not quite sure that I have eight fears. I presume there are some deep-seated fears that I shouldn’t put on the blog and instead explore in therapy, curled up on a crying chair surrounded by wads of balled-up tissue, with hair in my mouth and a river of snot to my chin. RIGHT LET’S GO

eight fears

1. That I am ‘too much’ or ‘too intense’ for people and that this means that ultimately I am a novelty rather than someone you really like to be around. There are only a few soul friends where this doesn’t worry me.

2. Slugs, snails and soft-bodied creatures. I don’t mind creepy-crawlies, but anything soft and slimy gives me the willies. I have been known to walk home in the dark on a wet night on tip-toe, shining the light from my phone onto my path. Stepping on them sends a shiver through me that lasts for hours. Anything without a spine definitely cannot be trusted. Take jelly fish for example (barf). Ah I can’t even talk about them. They’re too disgusting.

3. That my husband will die. It struck approximately one week after I married him. This is a stupid and pointless fear, because he definitely will die. And so will I. I suppose I fear the impending reality. On some level I think that I would rather die first, to never have to endure losing him. But then I think of how badly he would take it if I died, and I don’t want to put him through that. It is funny how as soon as you find yourself in a deep and loving relationship (not necessarily romantic, either) you suddenly develop this grip on the person as a reaction to the fragility of our existence. I went through a phase (which I think most children do) of deeply fearing the deaths of my parents. It’s incredible how this particular fear can hold us captive. It is the one fear that exposes how out of control everything is: how futile our attempts to hang onto anything are.

4. Small spaces. I have claustraphobia, for realz. It’s not an active part of my psyche so whenever it strikes I am invariably shocked as well as terrified. My most recent bout hit when I visited a museum in Aberdeen where you have to climb a narrow, winding concrete stairwell, built a few centuries ago, to get to the exhibit. UM, NO. About six steps up my brain shouted NO, WE’RE LEAVING NOW. GO GO GO. I had to turn back and leave immediately. I was disappointed because I really wanted to see the exhibit but if I had pushed on through I might have wet myself by the time I’d reached the top, and then had to endure tremors while wandering around but thinking about the descent. Another time that it struck when I wasn’t expecting (and now I think about it, it might have been the first time ever that it struck) was when I was on a primary school tour in a country park and we had to crawl through underground mud tunnels as part of some orienteering track. I had a massive freakout, underground, in a mud tunnel. Yeah.

5. Mountains. There is nothing you can make me do to climb mountains. I will most definitely be the person in the group who breaks their ankle or topples backwards to their grisly death. I don’t mind a friendly little hill. I don’t mind sloping trails in a forest park. But you will never ever get me on a mountain hike where there is even the remotest chance of losing balance and smashing my head open. To be honest with you, it’s not even so much a fear of injury. It’s fear of the humiliation of having to be looked after by the rest of the group and carried back to safety. DEAR GOD NO.

6. That my lack of a proper career will never end and I will be doomed to bouts of unemployment followed by stints temping in stuffy offices until the day I die. This one keeps me awake at night.

7. Being the minister’s wife. My husband worked for six years in a church and is now taking an academic break before going back to full time work in a church community as a minister. This fear of being The Little Woman (ha) has many layers. My husband outshines me in many ways. That is very difficult for my pride. He works harder, is more impressive, achieves more highly. He gets prizes, scholarships, job offers. I get the unemployment line, or so it feels. The church is a misogynistic place. My husband is a feminist and our home is an equal place. We both encompass qualities of the masculine and feminine. But I find myself constantly attending events where Husband-Unit is the keynote speaker and I am the silent wife in the background. I have met colleagues of his, repeatedly, who cannot hold onto my name. I am used to him having fans and followers who tack me on as an addition. This would be less grating if I had something of my own, but despite all my education, striving and very best efforts, I remain The Minister’s Wife. Even moving here to Aberdeen, I was shocked to find that 95% of the PhD students in his department are male, and that their wives and partners have started a women’s social group thing. I just can’t attend something where my identity is as an addendum to someone else’s.

8. Driving. I smashed the car into the garden wall and caused thousands of euros worth of damage that has sent our premiums through the roof. I fear killing someone, wrecking things, causing a massive pile-up. This is a saga that goes on and on in my quest to get my licence. I feel like as soon as I get that goddam licence I am hanging it up and never driving again. That part is the biggest fantasy of all, as there’s no way I’m throwing a pile of kids into a cart at the back of a pushbike and using that to get us from a to b. I’m even worse on a bike than behind the wheel!

Oh, have we run out of room? Turns out I could have kept going indefinitely.

the post where chip monk loses friends and followers

April 21, 2012

The topic of abortion is such a complete shitstorm. And it is so, I believe, not for any of the reasons that either side of the debate claims, but because our number one value is autonomy – the freedom to do whatever we as individuals think is right.

The trouble with personal autonomy is of course that nobody is actually an individual but rather everyone is a member of a community, and our autonomy leaks into the public sphere, bleeding out of our very pores, and then our convictions clash. Nobody cares what the hermit thinks of abortion, as the hermit will never need one, and will also never vote one way or the other. The only context for virtue is relationship.

I will never be in favour of abortion. No doubt, nothing I say here will change the mind of anyone who disagrees. But it is a profoundly violent act, committed against three parties: mother, baby and community (community includes Dad). Choosing not to view it as violence unfortunately doesn’t change its violent content. Where not carrying out an abortion also has violent consequences also doesn’t empty abortion of its violent content.

In cases where the violence suffered by the mother is greater than that suffered by the child were nature to take its course then dogma can be set aside and we must fight to save Mum’s life. An ectopic pregnancy (eccysis), for example, will never be viable. Mum and baby will die. So the baby must be removed from the fallopian tube in order to save Mum. But we are not talking about ectopic pregnancies, because there is no moral dilemma there. Ectopic pregnancies are surgically dealt with as a matter of course in Irish society. We all know someone who has been through it and nobody bears judgment for such a mother. In 99% of abortion cases we are not seeking the end of such a pregnancy, despite what anyone may say.

I am, as I have said here before, a committed reformed Christian. My position on non-violence is coloured by this. My anti-abortion stance however pre-dates my faith conversion. My mother is a pro-life atheist: yes, such people exist. And my position was compounded not by anything I have ever heard in a church (in 15 years’ church attendance I have never heard a sermon on the topic of abortion – I have also never read a Christian book on the subject nor been involved in a bible study that discussed it), but by my foray into the world of ethics. It was the raging arguments in philosophy class that ultimately led me to the position that abortion is morally indefensible.

I am not a Roman Catholic. Reformed Christians do not believe in mortal sin. Sin is sin, as far as scripture seems to be concerned. In fact, the message of scripture as far as I can discern is that the astonishing grace of God cannot be blocked by our sin. Therefore I do not argue that abortion will send you to hell: no more than any other violence. This means that my actions and decisions are not motivated by fear, but gratitude.

Do you hear judgement? If you do, it might be because you you view me through the post-Christian lens. My passion, as I have also said here, is prison ministry. I work with male sex offenders. I have a strict policy of non-judgementalism. I neither judge them personally nor judge what they have done. Their offences are no barrier to my friendship, care or love. Many of them have confessed horrors to me that you could only imagine in your darkest nightmares.

If you’ve had an abortion, I do not judge you. I do not even judge what you have done. That isn’t my job and I am grateful for that, because I would make a biased, foolish and selfish judge. However I will use my vote to legislate against any move that means that violence is normalized further in Irish culture. Many women do not regret their abortions. I am glad that they are not riddled with guilt: guilt is a luxury we cannot afford and serves no purpose, and shame and secrecy only breeds pain and darkness. But many women do regret them. Very few women on the other hand regret having their children.

I believe that women who are firmly convinced that abortion is the correct path for them will find the means to procure one. In 2010, 4,402 Irish women crossed the water to do just that, joining with 189,574 British women. But I subscribe to the unpopular belief that it is a good thing when destructive options for our lives come with limitations (as I write this, I understand that the women involved do not agree that their actions are destructive, but you must permit me my autonomy in this instance and allow us to agree to disagree). For these reasons, and also because I believe in the inherent value and beauty that lies dormant in the potential of every in-utero fertilized egg, will I never be in favour of abortion.

There is no middle ground here. That is why the debate rages. And let it rage. But let us not pour rage on one another: we can only speak our truth quietly and clearly.

the gift of womanhood

April 8, 2012

Being a woman has distinct disadvantages. We’re all familiar with them; there is no real need to detail. As a feminist I feel I am more aware of them than if I were not, and as a Christian feminist, more so. An ancient Jewish daily morning prayer begins with “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe who has not created me a woman.” Who’d wanna be one, eh? Bleeding, crying yokes that we are. Not to mention our damned vulnerability.

And yet women (including me) persistently enjoy being women. There’s a lot of pleasure to be had in and from these bothersome bodies of ours, and a lot of intensely enriching relationships to be had between us, and then there’s the whole possibility of growing babies; no labs or white coats required. Then there are our feminine rituals – the ones that haven’t destroyed us, that is – and the freedom to be camp without anyone noticing. It can be nice, in this place (the western world) and in this time, to be female. Our privilege makes it so.

But what I am reflecting on today goes a little further than that.

When I first began to think vaguely about working as a prison chaplain a number of years ago, I always imagined that it would be with women. I never in a thousand years thought that I would work with exclusively male drug dealers, rapists, paedophiles, thieves and murderers. It seemed too unrealistic. What would we have in common? How would we speak to one another? What if they made lewd comments or shouted at me as I walked around? What if they hurt me? Wouldn’t me and my presence be utterly irrelevant to them? And as I train as a chaplain in a male-only prison, and I work this role out, and work my way into it, I find myself not only falling in love with a group of broken, violent people but finding in the midst of that experience a profound gift in my very femaleness. This Easter morning I worshipped in an all-male prison chapel and knew communion with those men.

There is something in each of us that flourishes under the care of both sexes. Men give something unique to women, and to men, that women cannot give to women or men. And mirroring that, women give something to men, and to women, that men cannot give to women or men. I cannot quantify these qualities. What I do know is that bruised and broken people of either gender require the care of people of both genders in order to fully heal. Perhaps that is what is truly meant by complementarity of the sexes.

From a purely sociological perspective, in prisons, men behave better around women. There is an irony inherent in that statement as I know full well that being a woman has been a deep and painful disadvantage to all victims of some of the men to whom I now minister. Gender matters where crime is concerned. And yet in the group context, it remains true. I have realised that I, a raging sandstorm of a person, am a calming presence to those men, and I find myself in distinctively female roles with them – being mother or sister. That is not to suggest a co-dependent bond or inappropriate relationship, but broken men, particularly violent ones, find healing in a woman being willing to sit with them, worship with them and even share in their deepest realities, in a room with the door closed. I am cognizant of risk but I do not feel fear, and they know this.

There is something about my femaleness that compels the men to behave in a way that they would not in my absence. They are subject to fits of gallantry and leap out of seats for me. They compete to open doors. They call me “Miss” respectfully, if they do not know my name. They take me aside and offer assurances of protection, should anybody bother me or speak to me inappropriately (I keep waiting for this to happen but so far, it has not). I am offered cup after cup of tea or coffee, made with their own very limited supplies in their cells. I am given cards, notes, jokes, miraculous medals and presents. They wait in line outside my office to show me a new photograph that has come in the post of a loved one. It is utterly surprising. It is also a treatment, rightly or wrongly, that I would not receive if I were male. It is a privilege that makes me feel that my enjoyment of it is something akin to greed. I sincerely wished my husband was with me in that chapel this morning, just so he could share in it.

It is a great mystery of humanity that men and women would have all the same longings and hopes and ambitions and preferences and potentialities and still, there is something that sets them apart from each other – something beyond the physical, I mean. I don’t know what it is and I don’t care particularly to define it, as defining it could really only serve bigotry and sexism. But there is something real in it, and at this moment in my life, I embrace my femaleness and all that it enables as I try to love those we have decided are unloveable.

a caterpillar grows to be a butterfly

February 29, 2012

…and I’m growing up to be me!

So it was recently my birthday, and my very imaginative and passionate husband bought me a slew of gifts, all under the theme of self-care and self-development. The gifts related to all aspects of the person – gifts to encourage my flourishing physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Magic.

The gifts to encourage my intellectual development were three recently published books of popular feminism.

One of them is Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan. I’m a big fan of Flanagan and have been reading her superb articles in the (wonderfully high quality) Atlantic Monthly magazine for years. Since I no longer have  a subscription to the paper version, I actually do this sad dinosaur thing where I print out Flanagan’s articles and save them for a time when I can sit down with them comfortably and savour every word. I was pretty excited about receiving this book, as I didn’t even realise she had been preparing it for publication.

But this isn’t a review.

Girl Land refers to the time in a young person’s life when she is not a child and not yet a woman. Girl Land is that dark, cloudy, mysterious bit in between that none of us fully understands.

Flanagan makes a point somewhere just after halfway through that staggered me. She tells the story of how her mother would try to surprise her with conversations about men and sex at unexpected moments when she could not get away – the example she gives is when she might be washing the dog. Her mother had an urgent message that she needed to get across to Flanagan: don’t marry a man just because you want to sleep with him – just sleep with him. Flanagan found these types of conversations unbearable and would do everything she could to escape them. Her mother, also, was profoundly uncomfortable and between the two of them they managed to communicate with amazing ineffectiveness. After these awkward encounters she and her mother would retreat as quickly as possible to the safer territories of Flanagan’s girlhood, with mother preparing a special meal for her, or taking her to the mall for a new pair of sandals. The bit that struck me was this: during these post sex-talk treats, Flanagan would feel like a fraud – as though she was deceiving her mother. She had, as all teenage girls do, a private fantasy life – the stuff of burgeoning sexuality in a young woman – and she was considering when and how she would begin her own sexual activities. She felt strongly that she could not have it both ways: the tender love and pleasure of being cared for by a parent in a clearly defined role, while simultaneously becoming a fully developed sexual woman.

This point hit me like a ton of bricks.

I recalled with a sudden clarity all of the discord I experienced between myself and my parents during the Girl Land years, as some kind of incoherent battle raged between me being their little girl and me becoming a young woman, with inconvenient sexual appetites in tow. These appetites were beginning to express themselves, from their point of view, presumably in the long-haired tattooed boys I was bringing home. The sad part is that I did insist on growing up, thus excluding me from the previous parental affections of my girlhood. They simply could not cope with my transition into adulthood. Parents are terrified of their teenage girls becoming women – what if they get pregnant? I now realise that this withdrawal of my parents’ affections in the face of my impending adulthood was the reason why I was such a fiercely and uniquely independent young person. By leaving my childhood behind and becoming a young woman, I had given up my right to parental guidance and care, and therefore I had to learn to fend for myself.

In this moment of recollection, I remembered many other stories – the stories of my female friends – who in one way or another (and particularly those raised in religious households – which I was not), were given powerful messages that they were to either remain firmly in girlhood, or they were to quietly reach adulthood with a kind of sexual purity (and preferably disinterest) of which no teenager is really capable. I think of one person in particular who was harshly excluded by her family in her decision to date a non-religious young man. Their relationship was obviously screaming !SEXUAL RISK! !SEXUAL RISK! to her family, and so she was subtly shunned until the relationship ended. The irony here is of course that religious teenagers are no less sexually active than non-religious ones – they just tend to have more guilt…or be more selective in what’s sexually permissible and what’s not…or be late starters. :)

Anyhow. This is all just a little food for thought. I may well come back to this subject at another time. Suffice to say, Flanagan is worth reading.

the baby-voice phenomenon

February 22, 2012

Now, I don’t want this post to be woman-bashing or female artist-bashing, but there is a current trend in music that gets right up my nose and it is the Baby-Voice Phenomenon (or BVP). This is where women with beautiful voices, ample songwriting talent and great vocal range adopt the voice of a four year old while singing.

The absolute worst (and admittedly extreme) cuplrit of this has to be Joanna Newsom. Here is Joanna speaking. Now here is Joanna singing. Now I’m not denying that this woman has talent. But she is clearly emulating a young child’s voice in order to achieve some sort of floaty ethereal effect. I can’t bear it.

Other culprits include Regina Spektor and Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley), in their earlier days. They have now embraced full voice thank goodness, and would blow the socks off you live. Feist is another one, although her particular issue is unnecessarily slurring her words softly together, making it difficult to catch what she’s saying. The slurring effect really bothers me, too.

One who is guilty but to a lesser degree would be Lisa Hannigan, who almost whispers her words and sings in the softest tones possible, with a little bit of slurring, and a complete elimination of her Irish accent. Again, very talented, but seemingly holding back on full voice and full expression.

Why are women doing this?

I have a theory, and it might be bullshit. But it seems to me that rather than women embroiled in the BVP wanting to be perceived as little girls, or being romantically linked to their girlhood, it is instead something of a rejection of their womanhood – their strength of presence in adulthood. All of these women are photographed and filmed and styled to be as alluring as possible. I get this: their beauty is an added element that helps to sell their records. They’re not wearing pigtails and gingham dresses and saddle shoes with white socks.  They are, for the most part, hipster to the max. They are twenty-something girls…sometimes a little older. Except that they’re not girls: they’re women. I am frustrated when I can hear a beautiful voice that just won’t reach a powerful pitch – its own peak; not some imagined peak. I’m not asking for the terminally despised so-called cheese of Celine or Mariah: just full voice of the singer in question. To me it seems to be linked to the all too common need of women to shrink themselves – to be smaller, thinner, quieter, daintier. Some women love “mini” things (and not so that they can pretend they are giants either) – miniature cupcakes, tiny dogs, tiny phones, small cars – and God forbid they would drink out of a pint glass – so ungainly! And women notoriously shy away from leadership and centre-stage, preferring to take a back seat.

I was once talking to someone I know who was trying to overcome her crippling self-consciousness. She said something that really struck me: “I deserve to take up every inch of space that I occupy. I just need to believe this.” I was stunned! Why do we as women do this: why do we try to shrink down, to hide our talents, to be less than we can be?

Time for a change. I’m off to sing some power ballads at the top of my voice, to the utter horror of the neighbours.

lazy repost, as a precursor to another conversation

January 17, 2012

You might have already read this a few months back when it was a guest post on Creideamh. If so, you can move along. Nothing to see here folks! I have re-posted it now because I am planning to have some conversations in the realm of body image but specifically on the still-taboo topic of fatness. But for now, a recap:

The Cheerful Heart Has a Continuous Feast

So you may or may not already be aware that I am somebody who has struggles with what’s known as “Eating Distress” – a range of eating disorders that have spanned my whole life from early childhood. But this isn’t a confessional – the ED is slowly and methodically being squeezed out of my life as I make room for good mental and physical health. Eating disorders are, of course, a kind of dogged and persistent mental illness of which abnormal food behaviours are merely a symptom. It is a grave mistake to imagine that enforcing “normal” food behaviours resolves ED. The underweight person is told, “Eat more.” The overweight person is told, “Eat less.” No shit, Sherlock. This kind of approach to curing someone of ED is akin to putting makeup on a cancerous facial tumour, putting a nice shirt on over a gunshot wound or injecting painkillers into a hopelessly torn ligament right before the match. You might think I’m being a tad hyperbolic, but unfortunately ED kills, regardless of the weight of the sufferer, and where it doesn’t kill, it almost always leaves permanent damage to the body even after recovery, whether that be osteoporosis, heart conditions, joint problems, muscle loss, hair loss, infertility, fatigue, blood disorders or hormonal disorders. That’s the short list.

And as I wind my way through the murky maze of exposing and undoing the distorted thinking of the condition I find myself beginning to see things how they really are. I came across this article last week, and have decided that it sums up perfectly the utterly broken vision we hold as a society of what health actually looks like. The cult of athleticism, of toned bodies, of will-power to self-deny, the frenzied embrace of restrictive diets all in the pursuit of the body as the perfect ornament swells with the self-righteousness of its participants and the envy of its onlookers. A woman at 39 weeks pregnant runs the Chicago marathon, with the blessing of her medical doctor, and is lauded in the media for her unflinching determination to cross the finish line. I am agape that she would put her body through such an ordeal, but I am not surprised. I sit with women like her in group therapy every week – women who run on injuries, who over-train to the point of exhaustion, who cannot eat a meal without paying for it, all in the name of our ultimate cultural value – thinness. There might have been a day when she was my hero. Such discipline! Such self-denial! Thinness is the private motivation of the ED sufferer – the socially acceptable one is “health”. Their friends and family look on with wonderment and praise as they train 4 hours a day in the gym on a diet of 600 calories while the muscle of their hearts burns away and their periods vanish. If (as I used to during certain eras of the condition) I headed to the gym seven days a week or, gritting my teeth, pounded my way through self-punishing boot-camp style exercise regimes, I was rewarded with mountainous praise. Every pound I lost was considered a virtue gained. Every grilled fish and salad meal was a plate of pulsating morality.

You know, it’s a miracle that the woman in this article managed to bring a baby to term at all. Thank God for that child who managed to survive in spite of the six and a half hours of intensely stressful pavement-thumping that preceded her entry into this fucked up world.

Most people with ED are not just food-deniers. They are also secret bingers and/or purgers. Occasionally the body’s instinct for survival kicks in and they are forced to succumb to a binge of astronomic proportions. ED is all about excess. You cannot seem to walk a balance, on anything. You swing from periods of excessive starvation, excessive exercise to excessive eating and unflinching lethargy. The “all or nothing” mindset of someone with ED means that their life is the eternal tossing of the same coin – heads being denial and tails being excess. Denial of nourishment, denial of what the body or mind needs, denial of self-care and self-respect and self-kindness; excess of exercise, excess of junk food, excess of restriction, excess of self-abuse and self-loathing. You might be surprised to learn that people with ED come in all shapes and sizes, and most of them live by the very same practices. The body does its best with the abuse it receives as the metabolic rate struggles to compete with its periods of famine and feast. And yet all of these are merely symptoms of the problems, and not the problems themselves.

So what are the problems, exactly? It’s going to depend on the sufferer. The reasons why women (and of course men) develop ED are unique to the individual. But at root, in each person, is the inability to value oneself. That is a simple sentence. Short, blasé. Easy to miss. But learning to value oneself when one has considered oneself of no value, for a plethora of reasons, since early childhood, is an enormous feat. The strange and abnormal food-behaviours offer relief to the harsh reality of the inside of one’s mind from where there is no escape. The mental assaults of ED are particularly vicious when on holidays – not simply because sand and sunshine bring all those issues of body-image to the fore – but because there is always an expectation that with vacation comes an escape from it all. “It all” remaining inside one’s head is a difficult 24/7 reality. I recall when I decided that there was one food behaviour that I could no longer live with, and I quit it cold-turkey. Left without any buffer or comforter, my brain began to scream, almost literally. I spent a week weeping under a duvet as I experienced for real the distorted thinking of the condition and the pain of my own realities without anything to ease it. That was probably not a good idea. ED has its uses, you see. It gets you through hard things, because you don’t have the normal kinds of supports and practices that other people put in place to get through them. If you remove the ED behaviours, you find yourself in a pit of despair with no ladder out. Better then, to take the route of learning new methods for getting out of the pit. Learning these methods also means there’s no room left for the old methods. This has the side-effect of uncovering the reasons for being in the pit in the first place.

So. This post was supposed to be about how you should not run a marathon when you are pregnant. I am guessing most of you don’t need to be told that. And I suppose in a way, it still is about that. Essentially what I am getting at here with the ED/cultural distortion/cult of health thing is that somehow we have forgotten that our bodies are not merely ornaments, but instruments. They are instruments of living. They are not something separate from “us” to be whipped into shape, but rather they are treasures to be kept safe, nourished well and used to fulfil our hopes. My arms might be fat but they are good at comforting. My middle might be soft but it’s a good place for my husband to lay his head. And my calves might be wide but they walk me thousands of miles.

Here’s to balance in that walk.

Your Correspondent, Every muscle in her body is getting a workout, especially her big fat mouth.

talking vaginas

January 4, 2012

I read The Vagina Monologues far too recently for someone with a degree in literature (see what I did there? I turned a self-deprecating comment into self-praise.) You should take a couple of hours to read it yourself or better yet, catch a performance (I’ve not yet managed the latter). I read it for the first time just a few weeks ago in fact, because somebody asked me to make a response to it from the perspective of a Christian woman. So here it is: my Christian Woman’s Perspective TM .

The content of the Vagina Monologues definitely could not be considered to be “Christian content” (I am reminded of a comment I read somewhere years ago about how Christian makes a great noun but a lousy adjective). In the parlance of our increasingly stupid era it is certainly not in the “family friendly” category (whatever that might entail). (For the record, it’s advised that nobody under the age of 13 should be present at a production of the play.) The content recounts a sample of the experiences of hundreds of American women in how they have viewed, thought of, spoken of and experienced their vaginas. (Come on women, say it with me. VAGINAS.) The content deals with shame around the body, shame around sexuality, experiences of profound sexual violence, experiences of sexual awakening and sexual repression, menstruation, prostitution and lesbianism. In short, it deals with many of the experiences of life that are unique to women. These experiences are, I believe, as relevant to Irish women as they are to American women.

The play has been accused by Christians almost universally of being immoral, or of promoting lesbian relationships. So let’s say for argument’s sake that both of these accusations hold. What then should our reaction be, as Christian Women TM ?

If as Christians we can neither participate in nor view any form of art that expresses the brokenness of humanity, then we cannot participate in or view any of the forms of art with which we’re already very familiar. We can no longer read novels. We can no longer watch films or television programmes (Grey’s Anatomy, I’m looking at you). Art by its very nature exposes our humanity in its broken state. The Vagina Monologues is uncomfortable reading and viewing because it deals frankly with taboo words and subjects (VAGINA!). Can’t we be trusted as Christians to engage with taboo words and subjects with the open minds of those who are secure in the Gospel truth? Is it not always valuable to hear the stories of others? It is after all, our story, and the story of the life of Christ, that we are trying to unfold in our own lives, in our own church communities and with our non-Christian friends. If we expect others to listen as we drone on, why then can others not expect the same respect from us?

God speaks to us in his own ways. Karl Barth said, “God may speak to us through Russian Communism, through a flute concerto, through a blossoming shrub or through a dead dog. We shall do well to listen to him if he really does so.” Are we not open to hearing the rumblings of the spirit in a conversation about the rape of women, or a person’s right to pleasure?

But what of participating in the the sharing of such stories? What about being a Christian woman, performing in the Vagina Monologues? Do Christian women not have vaginas (do you guys not? I think I do)? Do they not experience sexual pleasure? Do they not experience shame, hurt and rape? May a Christian woman not act as a voice for someone who has no voice or even more simply, stand in empathy with another (note the word “other” here)? Although vocalising the truth of the Gospel is something that all Christians are called to, not all activities are about vocalising the Gospel. When we watch Coronation Street or paint a still-life or listen to a symphony or bake banana bread or write a song about a loved one, are we to be reprimanded for not telling the full story of the gospel in our re-creative activities? Is it a rule that we, if we are actors, can only be in plays where all the characters are Christians? (I don’t want to see that play.)

Maybe we should begin by boycotting the bible, with its tales of concubines, prostitution and faithlessness to God. Because these stories are our stories. The Vagina Monologues are the stories of women and we should not try to censor those stories. In fact, perhaps we should wait before speaking and, for once, as a church, simply listen. Perhaps we will learn something. Perhaps we will hear the rumblings of the spirit or the stirrings of our own stories. We cannot be afraid of what we perceive to be darkness, if we make the pretty outrageous claim that we do, to be those who bear the light. VAGINA!