Posting the Book?

This is a series of questions called “The Ultimate Book Tag” which I preferred as a holiday post to trying to solve problems of theological praxis or how to sew zips in so they don’t tear back out.  It makes a change from posting a photograph of an animal!

1. Do you get sick while reading in the car?

Not usually.

2. Which author’s writing style is completely unique to you and why?

Uh, what?  If that means, “Which of the authors I have read has the most unique style?”, then, um, probably Shakespeare.

3. Harry Potter Series or the Twilight Saga? Give 3 points to defend your answer.

I haven’t read the Twilight Saga, and I didn’t finish Harry Potter.  I suppose that counts as a vote for Harry Potter, but it might be hard to justify it at length.

4. Do you carry a book bag? If so, what is it in (besides books…)?

No.  I put books in my bag.  I do not carry a book bag.

5. Do you smell your books?

Not on purpose.  Well, not usually.  At least, not on a daily basis.

6. Books with or without little illustrations?

With if the illustrations match the text and have artistic quality.  Without if not.  I never appreciated the type of book which described a golden arrow resting on a red velvet cushion, but accompanied the text with an illustration of a silver arrow resting on a gold and blue brocade cushion.

7. What book did you love while reading but discovered later it wasn’t quality writing?

Goodness, I’ve enjoyed a lot of books enormously which I’d hardly feel were exactly masterpieces of literary composition.

8. Do you have any funny stories involving books from your childhood? Please share!

There was the time when I tried to borrow a book on pregnancy (an age-appropriate book about biological development, not a book depicting graphic or inappropriate sex) from the primary school library, and got forbidden in case my parents objected!  They didn’t.  Despite having established that, the teacher the following year tried to forbid it all over again.

Why on earth the book wasn’t marked reference if they objected to its being borrowed, or kept out of reach of the younger kids if they thought it wasn’t appropriate, I never found out.

9. What is the thinnest book on your shelf?

On my shelf?  In the singular?  What?

10. What is the thickest book on your bookshelves?

Probably “The Complete Works of Shakespeare”, though at least one of the Bible commentaries runs it fairly close.

11. Do you write as well as read? Do you see yourself in the future as being an author?

Yes, I write.  But being “an author” or not is something of an “how long is a piece of string” question.

12. When did you get into reading?

As soon as I could read, though I didn’t enjoy stories until I was probably 9 or 10.  The school made such a fuss about that.  Somehow not wanting to read stories is a sign of depravity!  Or something.

13. What is your favourite classic book?

Probably “The Lord of the Rings”, though “The Blue Castle”, “Alice in Wonderland”, and “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe”, run it pretty close.

14. In school was your best subject Language Arts/English?

No.  It really was not.  Though I did better at secondary school because I actually liked literature.  Not that this always helped because people were obsessed with the notion that we’d find it boring.  So instead of being allowed to enjoy something like the Ancient Mariner and write on it and how it worked we had to carve it up and turn it into a film.

(Yes.  I do have strong opinions on education.  Moving on…)

15. If you were given a book as a present that you had read before and hated…what would you do?

Leave it quietly on a bookshelf somewhere for sentimental reasons.  Though it might find its way to a charity shop in the end.

16. What is a lesser known series that you know of that is similar to Harry Potter or the Hunger Games?

The Worst Witch.  Which I think is actually better composed than Harry Potter* from a literary point of view.  It is more coherent, the text is more tightly composed without unnecessary happenings or words, and the characters and the plot fit together better.

*Such of it as I’ve read.

17. What is a bad habit you always do (besides rambling) while blogging?

Forgetting to tag the posts.  It happens about half the time and then I have to go back and edit them.

18. What is your favourite word?

Well, if you mean, “what word do I use most often?” I would guess probably “it”?  Or perhaps “to” or “the”.

If you mean “what word do I like the most,” well, difficult.  I like five syllable words which have nice assonance and rhythm once you’ve worked out how to pronounce them, and mean something it would usually take a whole sentence or more to express, or is very difficult to describe without a specific word.  “Impassible” is fun, though it only has four syllables.

19. Are you a nerd, dork, or dweeb? Or all of the above?

I’m probably a geek.

20. Vampires or Fairies? Why?

Fairies.  Vampires give me nightmares.

21. Shapeshifters or Angels? Why?

For amusement, shapeshifters.  I spent too much time on the (rather speculative but nevertheless interesting and informative) metaphysics of angels.  I don’t know how many shapeshifters you can get on the head of a pin!  This makes reading about them more relaxing.

Admittedly, I do tend to notice if fantasy writers haven’t thought their story-world’s metaphysics through in a reasonably coherent way, regardless of what they’re writing about.

22. Spirits or Werewolves? Why?

I don’t mind.  So long as it is fantasy and not horror…

23. Zombies or Vampires?

For preference, neither!

24. Love Triangle or Forbidden Love?

Now I want to start comparing “Frozen” with” A Midsummer Night’s Dream”…

Forbidden love occurs in both, though with a rather unusual twist in “Frozen”.  There’s sort of a love triangle in both too, if the Kristoph-Anna-Hans thing counts.

Perhaps it isn’t so much of an “either-or” thing?

25. Full on romance books or action-packed with a few love scenes mixed in?

I definitely prefer romance as a side dish rather than a main.

 

Cherry Foster

A Question of Value

Conventional feminism and real freedom

Suppose someone takes their daughter, or a young friend, to a social gathering*. This young woman is conscientious and high-achieving, and she’s at the stage of thinking about what she wants to do with her life, or, better still, about how she can best serve given her God-given temperament, interests, and talents.

At this gathering, she meets and talks with two women in their late sixties, one of whom has recently retired after being a consultant doctor for many years, and the other of whom has spent her life as the stay-at-home mother of her three children and as a housewife and homemaker.

On the way home, discussing these conversations with her grown-ups, would you expect both these women to be held up as role models for her? Would their different life choices be regarded as equally good ways for her to consider using her gifts and talents by her teachers, her parents, her school careers advisers?

Freedom, I think, would mean having the choice between paid work or traditional woman’s roles equally valued, advocated, supported, and respected.  Not a situation where girls are pushed into medicine and engineering in order to prove someone else’s political point!

We seem to have an odd tendency as a culture to say nice things about stay-at-home motherhood when directly challenged, but to talk and behave the rest of the time as if it was a waste of people’s time and talents, which no intelligent girl or woman could possibly “want” to engage in.

The acceptance that stay-at-home motherhood is not the right way for every family to do things, and the insistence that it isn’t a laudable ambition for a young woman** who’s drawn in that direction to “want” to occupy herself chiefly with the daily care of her family, are very different things.

Cherry Foster

 

*Or suppose, being at the stage I’m describing, you go to a social gathering, etc. I couldn’t write it to include that grammatically without it being hopelessly confusing.

**Or for a young man.  The gender specific language here is chiefly because I am trying to make a point specifically about women and feminism, not because I think stay-at-home fatherhood is wrong, or that it should be off the map.  I am not an egalitarian but a complementarian: I don’t want men who are suited to usually feminine roles, or women who are suited to usually masculine roles, to be prevented by prejudice or convention from doing them, but I don’t think it helps to try to obliterate the tendency of some roles and tasks to devolve more to men or women.  Rather I think, where relevant, a masculine or feminine environment should be aware of its tendencies and understand what it needs to do to welcome and include members of the minority gender.

Choose love – true love that is deeper than involuntary inclination

Why I don’t think that the current catchphrase “you can’t choose who you fall in love with” is an argument for same-sex marriage or the morality of sexual acts between people of the same sex.

Disclaimers: I am not saying in what follows that to have homosexual inclinations is a choice. I am conscious of – and deeply troubled by – the inconsistency within my church institution, in sanctioning things that are against the New Testament standard of chastity for people who are heterosexual, while being strict (in theory at least) about them in people who are homosexual. Granted, I want consistency restored in the direction of restoring New Testament standards of chastity for heterosexuals at the institutional level, but I do recognise the real grievance and the real inequality in upholding these standards for one group of people and throwing them out for another.

I am not not NOT saying that sexual activity between two consenting adults, no matter how unethical I’d argue it is, is evil on the level of rape, particularly of the rape of the most vulnerable and the most entitled to protection and respect – i.e. children. And I do not, in any context, argue that something should be illegal merely because it is unethical. Moreover, I appreciate the historical need certain groups of people had to disassociate themselves vigorously from those who were trying to argue not for the legality of non-violent sexual acts between consenting adults in private, but for the removal of necessary and legitimate protections from children, and the cultural inconsistency I’m pointing out may partly result from that.

Now I shall proceed regarding what this post is actually about!

 

The current catchword for the liberal agenda on homosexuality seems to be, “choose love”. “You can’t help who you fall in love with, how you feel about sex, therefore, same-sex marriage and sexual acts between people of the same sex etc. must be good and right between people who are that way inclined”.

What I wish to argue is that this “therefore” is not actually correct. (That is, that the premise is true but that the conclusion does not follow).

It is a fundamental – and I believe quite correct – insistence of the agenda that uses the “choose love” type catchword, that people are not responsible for their romantic or sexual inclination: therefore, that this should not be subject to moral judgement, and I feel they tend to imply that it must follow that this means it must be good and right to indulge that inclination.

But one cannot then consistently say, as I feel our society tends to: “homosexuals and heterosexuals merely develop differently; this is completely involuntary,” and “paedophiles are inherently disgusting”, as if people with that sexuality are making the moral choice to have that inclination.

That is, if we assume that the development of a sexuality is not voluntary, and should always be respected and acknowledged as part of the person, we have to assume that this is so for everyone, including those whom we currently still condemn merely for being what they are, and who, it is a reasonable guess to say, are probably made to find it more difficult to be virtuous by the social disgust for their natural inclination (given that this seems to be what it has been like for people who are homosexual in the recent past). Acceptance of their experience and support in acting rightly towards children would be a far better response from society than condemning people because they are tempted to misuse children.

I don’t need to argue the case that it is evil to actually use children sexually – that is now mutually accepted on every side of this debate – however much some people on either side have failed to live it, or have wrongly condoned those failing to live it. (Our guilt as Christians is greater because we ought to be upholding a higher standard).

However, the fact of paedophilia, and the fact that it is agreed in the case of people who are paedophiles, that they must be celibate, means that it can never follow merely from the fact of a romantic or sexual inclination that it is right to act upon it. We cannot define doing what we are inclined to do as “love”, regardless of other considerations. Of course, this is not an argument for the whole of traditional Christian chastity ethics, but it is one of the main reasons why I feel that the “choose love” argument is not merely inconclusive, but actually false. It isn’t an argument for the things it purports to be an argument for. I find it deeply frustrating to be continuously bombarded with it as though it obviously ought to change my mind!

However, while I don’t think “you can’t help who you fall in love with” offers any moral conclusion about what it is right to do sexually or romantically, it does dictate certain things about the right pastoral approach. That is, we should not be saying to our young people “trust God and he will make you straight” – that does not seem to be true – but “trust God and he will help you find chastity and true flourishing – as he does all those of us who experience these things differently from you”. And this should be what is said to a teenager who is developing paedophilia as much as it is to anyone else. In fact, I get the impression that a lot of people who are heterosexual, particularly those from certain places and certain church cultures, have also been taught to regard their involuntary sexual desires as wrong in themselves. It is important to make sure it is understood that sins of thought in this matter are what we deliberately do (like consciously indulging a fantasy of being in bed with the last attractive person we met in the street), not what we involuntarily think or feel (such as a picture of that person undressed coming randomly and disconcertingly into our heads).

 

As a philosopher and a Christian I would of course say to people who are homosexual, as to all others, “choose love”. But the set of actions which I think constitute choosing love are not those of the liberal agenda. What I would say in this context is: “choose love. Be physically celibate*. Choose the love which goes deeper than involuntary feeling, and respects the fact that the bodies of two people of the same sex are neither adapted nor designed for sexual activity with each other.”

The body in Christianity is part of the person, a good part of the person, and its biological and personal nature should be thoroughly and completely respected in the context of any sexual act. I am always frustrated, actually, by the similar argument in the context of Ellis Peters’ work, where Brother Cadfael justifies his (heterosexual) affairs with statements along the lines of “it would be an insult to repent of loving a woman like Mariam”**. It is not of loving her that you are bidden repent, but of the fact that you did not treat her with the fullness of love, to either not receive her body, or to commit your whole person utterly to her in marriage until the death of one of you***.

I am not, in saying that true love is deeper than involuntary emotion opposing “true love” and “involuntary emotion” in any black/white way. True love often encompasses involuntary emotion, or is built thereon. Despite the fact that I don’t believe marriage is about “two people in love”, I wouldn’t recommend a man and a woman marry without affection of that type, as the level of spiritual maturity it would take in this culture and in these circumstances to come to “true love” within a marriage without building its practical side partly on “in love” and on long term friendship, seems to me to be astronomical. But true love, love that really seeks the good of the other, can also sometimes mean overcoming our involuntary preferences, as when a mother or father lets their infant child attempt to climb up the climbing frame without assistance for the first time, despite the fact that they’d rather keep them completely safe and not let them acquire the probable bruises!

To those who would say to me frustratedly “you just don’t understand”, I know that this is quite true. I am heterosexual, and I am, more fundamentally, not you. The only way I can understand your experience of these things is by trying to hear what you are saying about it. And that is very necessary for moral enabling and practical support. We do need to build Church communities that support and encourage people in living the demands of the Gospel, rather than ones that lay heavy burdens on people and will not move to lift them themselves.

However, it does not seem to me that “you don’t understand the experience” is an argument for a change of principle. This is partly because the arguments I am making as to what it is right to do or not do are based on the dignity and nature of the body as part of the human person. I think that to argue that we can change the dignity and nature of the body by what we think or experience is to argue that the body is a possession of the mind, rather than equally a part of the person, and I think that to be incorrect. Mental and emotional experience matter, but they aren’t things that can logically overturn principles based on the nature of the body, because these principles are based on things which in this context necessarily take precedence over mental and emotional experience if the body is also to be truly regarded with honour. (This argument potentially works in an atheist/secular context, in that it does not rely directly on theology, though the emphasis I put on the human body as part of the person is undoubtedly shaped by the Christian tradition).

Primarily, though, within Christianity, the principle is based on the idea that God loves us, and he therefore gives difficult commands only because it is truly better for us, not because he is out to get us. There is no way it is consistent with the scriptural narrative to say “because I find this difficult, because it will lead to suffering, because it isn’t what I want, it can’t be God’s will”. Gethsemane alone would rule that out. On the other hand, there is also no way that we should be indifferent to human suffering or struggling. If one part of the body suffers, all others suffer with them. It is important that the approach within the church be pastoral, not in the sense of changing the principles, but in the sense of acknowledging the real extent and nature of people’s challenges in living the Gospel.

Ultimately, I would argue that this whole issue of how one behaves sexually and romantically, for anyone regardless of their sexual/romantic inclination, is not about choosing love or not choosing love, but about coming to understand what it truly means to love.

 

 

* I oppose same-sex marriage because it would be illogical in the context of what I think marriage is, but I have no strong opinion either way on romantic but physically celibate relationships between two people of the same sex.

** I have not the book at present, so while I believe the attribution correct, this may not be a precise quote. The argument I am making does not rely on its source.

***See also 1 Corinthians 6:18, and the following verses.

 

People are welcome to comment. However, I suggest reading at least the disclaimers at the beginning again first (make sure you understand more or less what I’m really saying – or ask if I haven’t been clear), assume the goodwill of anyone who disagrees with you, and use arguments (“I think X because…”) rather than trying to shout others down.

Brownie Points

On responding well to the fluctuations of ability common in dyslexia/dyspraxia

A village hall, dusty, yellow floor, magnolia walls. A group of primary school age girls* in yellow jumpers and brown trousers or culottes, sitting around the hall tables, with circles of floral fabric and of cardboard.

Needles slip around the circles of cloth with varied skill. Some girls double their threads; some use single threads and accidentally unthread their needles. The stitches are pulled up, gathering the cloth to cover the cardboard. The base of a pincushion is formed.

I was good at sewing; I had sewed a lot at home. I was the first to finish. I spent most of the time helping other girls with less experience.

Brown Owl gave me five brownie points for achievement.

The same scene the week after. More circles of fabric. Instead of cardboard circles, the tables are covered in stuffing and plastic lids, lids from chocolate spread and peanut butter jars. Needles are pulled through cloth, this time to gather the fabric over a lid full of stuffing. Then glue is spread on the underneath, and the lid is stuck to the fabric covered cardboard, hiding the stitching, and adding an extra layer of strength to unskilled work.

I was, again, the first to finish the stitching. But as I pulled the gathering stitches up, I broke the thread.

I started again. Again it did not take me long to get around the circle. And again I broke the thread trying to gather the fabric.

Even now, twenty years later, and doing professional needlework, I never try to gather with sewing thread. I use crochet cotton or some other tough, smooth thread that is too strong to break by hand. Why this task, and only this task defeats me, I am not clear. I have a presentation of dyspraxia that has affected gross motor skills but not fine ones (a pattern I think is fairly common in post-stroke damage but unusual in developmental dyspraxia). Perhaps there is something in that particular task which uses the affected part of the brain. Or perhaps it is just harder to put right than most other mistakes that can be made while stitching. But this type of situation is my normal experience. Suddenly, in the middle of something I was good at, came a task I actually could not do, for no apparent reason. Sometimes – worse – it was a question of being able to do or not do literally the same thing on one day and not on another. How inherently frustrating that is can surely be imagined.

I cannot remember how many times I tried to gather that piece of cloth.  In the end, I was the last girl to finish, assisted by one of the leaders, highly frustrated and feeling somewhat humiliated.

Brown Owl gave me five Brownie points for persevering.

It was not a typical response to that frequently occurring situation of being both good and bad at the same thing. The typical response was anger, contempt, and punishment. I was messing around, doing it on purpose, not making an effort. My year two teacher picked up my work on a bad day and told the rest of the class “this is how your work should not look”.

I don’t want to be too hard on my teachers, who were certainly not individually to blame, though I feel our culture surrounding children is. Children should be expected to co-operate (and it should be them not the teacher who is blamed if they don’t) and adults should not assume arrogance rather than frustration, lack of effort rather than an odd pattern of talents and abilities.

I did not receive a correct diagnosis of the problem till I was seventeen, or a full one until I was twenty (the diagnosis at seventeen missing the fact that I had CVI). By which time, sadly, I had complex post-traumatic stress disorder from the combination of bullying by schoolfellows and lack of appropriate support or acceptance in an environment which for a child with that set of difficulties was extremely difficult and hostile.

Looking back, I think apart from not judging (i.e. it not being the default answer to assume that a child who struggles is doing it on purpose rather than having real difficulty), the main things to do for a child with this tendency are to encourage them just to plod on through all the frustrations, to praise them for doing their best on a bad day even though their work is mediocre, to accept (and to encourage them to accept) that their abilities do have an unusually high tendency to fluctuate day-to-day, or within a particular category of activity, and that this is an ok way for someone to be.

And I will be for ever grateful to Brown Owl for doing exactly that.

Brownie uniform photo credit Lia copyright to attribution
This isn’t precisely the uniform I wore, but it is more similar to it than the current UK uniform is, with badge sash and long sleeved yellow top. As I remember it, the navy blue in that picture was dark brown in our uniform, as was the word “Brownies” printed across the front of the sweater. Photo credit: Lia; photo source: Wikimedia Commons.

 

*For international readers: Brownies in England were aged 7-10 when I was a member.  I was probably eight or nine.  Primary School is 4-11.  Year 2 is ages 6-7.