black church hug

There was a hashtag on twitter a couple of months ago started by relationship blogger Oloni called #sluttygirlfears, tackling some of the taboos surrounding women’s sexual desires and dismantling the idea that women shouldn’t enjoy or want sex in the same way men do. I initially looked on as an interested outsider of sorts, but quickly realised that I could actually relate wholeheartedly with the jist of many of the tweets.

I can’t remember the age when I started believing that good girls don’t like sex, but by age 13 I definitely knew it to be true. I don’t remember thinking  too much about sex before 13. It wasn’t that my household was one where the topic of sex was taboo or forbidden. My Dad was (still is) and old school Jamaican man, whose idea of the sex talk was telling me, gruffly, on the way back from a sleepover age 12 ,”I don’t want to find you with any boy behind a bush”. To which I obviously replied “Why on earth would I be doing ANYTHING behind a bush?”

My Mum, on the other hand, encouraged us to ask as many questions as we wanted and she was never shy about giving answers, even if the answer was “I’ll tell you more about that when you’re older”.I had a very good working knowledge of the birds and the bees by the age of 6, thanks to the “GROWING UP”  books she had left around the house, littered with very graphic and clinical diagrams of, as they described it (1986 edition books), ‘coitus’. 6 year old me was unphased and uninterested in intercourse, although I would gladly tell you that men produced sperm, women made eggs, and that it took approximately 9 months for a baby to develop from their joining.

Unfortunately, March 23rd 2003 and the onset of puberty came upon me suddenly. One minute I was reading Harriet the Spy complete with my Marks and Spencer’s training bra, and the next minute hormones, bleeding uteruses and teenage acne attacked me. Shortly after that assault commenced,  I was sitting in the living room at home one afternoon and I stumbled across some porn on the T.V. I was intrigued and disgusted by it at the same time, but honestly probably more intrigued than disgusted. Fascinated that I could finally put the cartoon graphics of “GROWING UP” to real faces, I watched through half squinted eyes for a minute before telling my Dad that something had got fuddled up with the Christian cable box (yes, it was on a Christian cable box) and he should probably get the cable guy to fix it,

I’m sure I was aware of my own sexuality before then to some extent – I knew that when the boy I liked at church had to hold my hand during the prayer my heart would get a bit racy, but I think age 13 was when I really realised that I probably was going to really like sex when I finally had the chance to do it.  The problem was, I was pretty sure I wasn’t really supposed to like sex.

The early 2000’s were the hey day of the ‘True Love Waits’ movement that swept across America’s evangelical churches. Teenagers were signing pledges, writing vows of virginity with menstrual blood (not really, but i wouldn’t be surprised), wearing promise rings and doing Daddy daughter dates to make sure that they had enough non sexual male presence in their life to stop them having sex with men they actually fancied. It was a bit of a #fail, because the pregnancy rate in schools with abstinent only education ended up being the same or higher than schools which taught more about contraception.

Being a young, Caribbean-British Christian, specifically Seventh Day Adventist, I had my own purity woes to contend with. The American books on waiting didn’t exactly resonate with the environment of my South East London private school. I wasn’t being constantly pressured to have sex and having to valiantly run out of high school proms clutching my bra strap and my dignity.

The overwhelming message I heard about sex in church was pretty simple though – “Don’t have it, try not to think about it, and if you do do it, don’t have an abortion because that’s a sin. But once you get married it’s great and a gift from God and you can think about it all the time”.

Age 27, this is no longer serving me.

I’m fed up of us pretending that only single men struggle with wanting sex. The narrative that women seek companionship primarily and sexual intimacy is a pleasant but secondary consequence is frankly, more archaic than leather condoms. It’s hilarious that in 2017, we’re still doing relationship seminars with young Christians where we pull the boys into one room and talk to them about masturbation and porn and pull the girls into another and talk to them about modesty and ‘guarding their heart’. Women of this generation are often as visually stimulated as their male counterparts, much more aware of their sexual desires and definitely not just ‘giving sex to get love’. 15 year old church girls are performing oral sex during the week and sitting at the back of church every Saturday. Get real.

I’m not going to be boxed in by these #sluttygirlfears anymore, being scared of the disapproval of church folks who are in denial about their own sexuality and the sexuality of those around them.  Some women in church have had sex, and are having it right now. Some of them have had lots of sex with lots of different people. Some of them haven’t had sex, but want to. Some of them might even be asexual. Most of them probably really enjoy sex, or at least the thought of it. It’s time to accept it for what it is.

While God gives us boundaries for our sexual behaviour, we don’t help Him along by either pretending that they’re easy to live within, or that we don’t have any sexual desires in the first place. Our inability to accept and acknowledge female sexuality doesn’t lead to righteousness or repentance, but to guilt, shame, self loathing and fear.

I apologise to the women I’ve hurt, spoken badly of, or looked down on because I couldn’t come to terms with the fullness of my own humanity.

To the church girl who has slept with that guy she shouldn’t have, watched the porn video last night or thought a few things that would make the head deacon blush, know that you aren’t strange, abnormal or irredeemable. There are lots of us here, walking this Jesus walk with you, trying to heal from the lies that were told us about our sexuality from those in church and those outside church. You are wonderfully made. God designed your body to desire sex and to enjoy sex as much as any man. You are not a slut. You are formed into wonderful femininity, holding inside of you the breath of God.

I wholeheartedly believe that God’s ideal for us is sex within marriage, with one person who loves us, cherishes us, and forsakes all others. I really want to have that experience one day. It would be great if my sex drive could turn on on the wedding night and stay off before then, but that’s not realistic, and evidently not how I was made. So until then, I’m slowly allowing myself to accept all of my humanity, including acknowledging and celebrating my sexuality – and so should you.

Here’s some great reading material I’ve found helpful:

  1. Real Sex by Lauren Winner
  2. Flame of Yahweh, Sexuality in the Old Testament  by Richard Davidson
  3. Letters to Young Lovers by Ellen White
  4. Songs Of Solomon

adventist

Listen, I know there are some of you who are already disgruntled at the title. Yes, this isn’t going to be a glowing advertisement for Adventist culture. If you want that, I made a blog post a month or so ago about the things I love about my church. Because I do love it, deeply. But although God is perfect, his people, including me, are imperfect and so are the systems and cultures we create.

I read a research paper a few months ago about the common problems that crop up when engaging in psychotherapy and counselling with Adventists. It stated that some of the common problems were rigid perfectionism, unintegrated sexuality and problems of self worth/esteem. As I sat there on the bed in my onesie, bag of sweet and salty popcorn in one hand, I started laughing and crying at the same time. Laughing because there was something almost hysterical about how pointedly accurate it was and crying because it resonated with me personally.

I thought twice about writing this. Once because I didn’t want to get too critical. Twice because I didn’t want to get too personal.

I’ve always been a perfectionist whilst at the same time having a tendency towards being quite far from perfect in a lot of ways. Understandably, that poses a lot of problems.

I can’t blame it all on Adventism. I can partially blame it on the burden of being a naturally smart kid. The sort of kid who had an existential crisis in when she got her results for the year 5 end of year exams. 82% in science. What happened to the other 18%? And if I I could get 18% wrong, what if the next time, another 18% went missing?

I can also probably partially blame it on having a Mother who despite her flaws, is probably as close to a perfect person as anyone I’ve met. And I can definitely put some of it down to my own neurosis and unchecked thought processes.

I can’t however, let Adventist culture get off scott free.

Adventism, like any other denomination of Christianity, is a fairly broad church. Pun intended. There are liberals and conservatives. There are those who are fully committed and those who are non-committal. There are nice people and nasty people (on both the liberal and conservative side). The conservative or liberal labels are sometimes applied lazily because of our desperate need to categorise each other, but they aren’t entirely without merit.

I grew up in what would be considered by some accounts, a fairly conservative family. (Liberal to those who were left of us and conservative to those who were right of us – see how labels are problematic?). During my teenage years I found myself drawn to a brand of Adventism that was even more conservative than what my parents brought me up in. I was sincere in my efforts to be like Jesus. I honestly just wanted to do the right thing and I didn’t care how extreme that looked to anyone else. I went to conferences, I watched sermons online, and I studied avidly. One thing that was emphasised over and over again was the high standard that God called us to as Christians. We weren’t supposed to be like everyone else. We spoke differently, we dressed differently, we ate differently, we used our free time differently – with God’s strength, we could be perfect. My skirt length increased and my Bible highlighting became more creative. My virginity was firmly intact, powered by fail-proof curfews and myriad books on purity. I demanded excellence of myself in every facet of my life. And didn’t always succeed.

The central tenet wasn’t in and of itself theologically incorrect. The idea that Christianity is supposed to be a radically transformative experience that affects every aspect of your life is one that I hold to and one that I believe many churches and denominations have lost in an age of feel-good spirituality and blurry TED talk-esque sermons. Intent and outcome though, are often two very different things, and although the intent may have been to challenge young people to live lives that were dedicated to their faith, the outcome of constant messages that emphasised high standards was often young people who became obsessive about avoiding ‘sin’ whilst forgetting the  principle of love that is supposed to underpin our faith.

You could argue that it’s unfair to blame a preacher or conference for my failure to find the perfect marriage of love and high standards, but when so many young people I know experienced similar struggles with feeling unworthy, unloved and unforgiven, there has to be some self-examination on the part of the leaders sharing these messages.

The acknowledgement that along the way to becoming the person we want to be there will probably be a plethora of wrong turns and false starts was nodded to quietly but quickly dismissed with the exhortation that God’s grace and personal effort meant that those wrong turns could and should be minimised. And isn’t that true? Don’t I believe that my faith is a sat nav that gives me instructions for my journey? I do. But I’ve also come to accept that as the driver in this complicated and sometimes tiring journey we call life, sometimes I get distracted and don’t listen to the sat nav. Sometimes the music is too loud or there are other people in the back that I listen to when really I should be listening to the sat nav. And so I take a wrong turn. But as long as the sat nav is still charged, switched on and in front, it will keep telling me to u-turn or try another route to make sure I get to my destination. One thing I know for sure about sat navs is that they never give up.My route might be different to someone else because of the times I didn’t listen to the sat nav, but the most important thing is that I’m trying my best to listen and that just like the sat nav, I’m not abandoning the journey.

The journey is difficult enough without people adding extra baggage that  you don’t really need. There is no doubt that God requires a certain way for us to live as Christians,  but sometimes I’ve found that humans are really good at adding and taking away things and encouraging others to do the same. People’s intentions might be good, but the effect it can have on your spiritual path can be disastrous.

I’m not here to make a case for low standards or tell you that mistakes don’t have consequences. I’m not here either to make a case for specific lifestyle choices (although I believe in them and will happily share them in person). I’m definitely not here to suggest that sin is anything less than it is or that we can’t overcome it. I am here though to make a case for grace, forgiveness and a little bit more self love. I’m here to make a case for defining yourself by the love of an all forgiving and willingly forgetful (of our mistakes) God. I’m here to speak to the other very imperfect perfectionists.

Someone reading this blog has been beating themselves up because they’re not ‘there’ yet. Beloved, the person you look at that you think is ‘there’ wasn’t always ‘there’. They probably aren’t even ‘there’ now. I’m definitely not.Becoming like Jesus is the work of a lifetime. Be open to the fact that you will make mistakes and so will others. Know that you are loved and essential despite your mistakes. Keep listening to the sat nav. You’ll get there.

P.S. If anyone wants to know more about my particular theological leanings on certain things (from what I’ve studied), shoot me a line in the comment section, facebook, twitter etc.

I recently got back from an amazing week in Bahia, north Brazil. As cliché as it may sound, it’s an amazing place with a rich culture and a unique spirit. Bahia is an area where the majority of the population are descended from enslaved Africans. I immediately felt at home there, more at home than I do in the average British city. I was surrounded by Afros, dreadlocks, brown skin, food that tasted strangely similar to the Caribbean stews my Mum cooks at home and men that appreciated me post-tan (been trying and failing to get to Lupita levels of melanin).

On my second day there, I went to a Samba dance/workout class. Now, I usually avoid gym situations like the plague, being naturally averse to other people’s sweat. Like, I genuinely am disgusted by people who drip sweat from their head – which is most men (wipe yourself down before you hug me please), and I visibly shudder when I have to go near anyone who has anything more than a gentle post workout glow. This class was great though. I was working every muscle, had a lot of fun, felt absolutely no judgement about the fact that my melanin had not conferred any dancing ability to me and samba’d my non rhythmic self for 2 hours. It was all going so well, until we approached the end of the class. Our super energetic teacher summoned us towards the band at the front of the room who had been drumming us through the class. I was a bit bemused, but whatever, I samba’d my way over to the drums. She knelt to the floor in front of the drums. I knelt too  – figured this was our final stretch or cool down. Then before I knew it, she was bowing in front of  the drums, arms outstretched, wailing and arching her back.

Hold up. Wait a minute. Let me put some Jesus in it.

I finally cottoned on to the fact that this was some kind of religious activity. Which I respect, but I wasn’t about to be involved in. So I stood up and shuffled to the side.

Later, she explained that she was a daughter of Oshun, (one of the Yoruba deities or what is believed to be a manifestation of God) and that the drumming and dancing was used to summon the Orisha (spirit).

And what is strange about this? She is after all, an African descendent practising her religious lineage.

The history of the intersection of Europeans with Africans is the same in Brazil as anywhere else in the modern world. There are nuances , but the story of deceit, cultural stripping ,rape, whipping, forbidding traditional religions, segregation and hierarchy enforced amongst Africans based on their proximity to whiteness follows the same pattern it does anywhere else.

Unlike my home country of Jamaica, where the majority of the country is Christian and the traditional African religions are shunned by a sizeable amount of the population (although definitely practiced by some), Brazil has a strong tradition of syncretism. The basic definition of syncretism is the amalgamation of two or more religions. In the case of Brazil, Christianity, mainly Catholicism – which arguably is very different from mainstream Christianity, is blended with traditional African religions. The Yoruba religion has different Orishas – manifestations of the supreme being, and people can be daughters and sons of these various orishas. Many slaves were adherents of this religion but were banned by the Catholic church from following it once they arrived in Brazil. To maintain their practice enslaved Africans combined elements of the Yoruba, Bantu and Fon religions known overall as Candomble, with Catholicism.  The ritualism and worship of dead saints in Catholicism lends very well to the reverence for ancestral worship in the traditional African religions. The belief systems, although very different, have enough similarities that allow for their amalgamation.

Strangely to me at first, some of the followers of Candomble in Brazil that I spoke to, identified as Christian  and Candomble. One man simply said “Candomble is first because it is the religion of my ancestors, but I’m a Christian as well”.

I thought a lot that week about how I as a black Christian related to traditional African religions. Had I been taught to fear them more than other religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism? Did I think they were ‘more’ evil? Had I ignorantly referred to them as voodoo simply because I had very little understanding of the practices? The answer to all these questions is, yes.  I can accept that one of the functions of white Christianity was to instil a level of disdain for traditional religions that was part of an entire system created dehumanise people of African descent.

What does this mean for black Christians? If we understand that our receiving of what is termed  ‘The Gospel” – good news, was actually part of a package of what was admittedly bad news for anyone who shared our skin colour, is it necessary for us to reject it?

Firstly, religion being a cultural baton that is passed down through generations doesn’t appear logical. The idea that because my ancestors worshipped a certain way I should naturally follow it, although superficially compelling, seems a completely illogical way to decide on a belief system. There are many things our ancestors believed about a lot of things that we now question, regardless of our ethnic or cultural background. Few people would suggest that because Irish people once believed in leprechauns that Irish Christians are rejecting their ancestry. Clearly, Candomble is seen as a more sophisticated belief system than leprechauns, but the logic that ancestral belief trumps all, fails.

I realise that although I’ve been brought up in a Christian family, I don’t really see Christianity as something that was simply passed down to me. In fact, I think if I had done, I would be a lot more resistant to following it. Undoubtedly the fact that I was exposed to it contributed to my acceptance of it, and it’s obvious that parental beliefs influence children hugely, but most importantly I felt that it was ultimately an individual decision about a belief system.

Secondly,  suggesting that because a religion was initially presented via oppressive means automatically means that the belief system is inherently false is again, illogical. If we reject Christianity, it cannot be on the basis that we came into contact with it in a less than favourable way. Parts of West Africa were exposed to Western medicine via colonialism, but it would be ridiculous to suggest that we reject every aspect of Western medicine simply because our initial contact with it was via colonialism. A system, be that belief system or other, must be judged in and of itself and that is outside the scope of this post.

Before slavery and colonialism and the rise of the Roman Catholic church, Jesus was not white, and Christianity was not synonymous with white supremacy. Jesus was the son of poor woman who got pregnant out-of-wedlock, part of a minority group living under Roman colonial rule. James and John were anti-Roman activists who had a supernatural experience and laid down their placards for preaching.

One definition of colonisation is ‘to appropriate for one’s own use’, and Christianity has been and continues to be colonised by white supremacy. It manifests not only in the historical and present abuses of black bodies in the name of Jesus, but also in the continuing demeaning of black cultural traditions and black self-worth in our own practices of faith. From white Christianity’s refusal to address their racism, to pictures of white Jesus in majority black churches, to black Christians being guilted into accepting their oppression in exchange for a blessing in the afterlife – the manifestations are endless.

In an age where so many young black people are rejecting what they see as a failed faith, a relic of slavery that they cannot in good conscience engage with, the black church must be rigorous, evangelical even, in its attempts to contend for the faith. Decolonising Chritianity is part of our missionary work.  Practically, that means rejecting extra-biblical traditions that are founded on white supremacist ideology.  It’s simple things like not having only Brad Pitt lookalikes when we visually represent Jesus to our congregations, especially our children. It’s more complex things like dealing with the questions our young people might have about how Christians relate to social justice movements, and being open to supporting black theologians in their attempts to understand how our story as black people is positioned in the grand story of redemption. The problem of pain and suffering in the presence of a loving God transcends race and culture, and becomes even more poignant in the recent history of African peoples. It’s challenging ideas that European art traditions have an inherent holiness that African ones are excluded from. It’s lovingly speaking out against voices that suggest that to be proudly black and a devoted follower of Jesus is oxymoronic.

Individually, it starts from a place of accepting that our own blackness is purposefully designed by creator God.  It is not an aberration or variation of whiteness. It is not ‘other’. The Biblical declaration is that God created from rich, brown earth, sons and daughters of glory. The story of redemption IS our story, as much as anyone’s and we must reclaim it.

burkini

I was up later than I should have been a couple of nights ago and I can no longer blame it on the disrupted sleep pattern my body was forced into by two night shifts a couple weeks back. It’s not the rota coordinator’s problem anymore, it’s all me. I’ve failed to self regulate and I find myself meandering into intemperance and insomnia more nights than is healthy. On this particular night, I had just finished watching a documentary on Donald Trump (will he become President, won’t he? Is this all a dream?)  with my dear old Dad, and casually flicked through the channels with the intention to head to bed. As I flicked, I came across 3 naked women, standing in booths, and another woman scrutinising their bodies as a presenter teased her, asking what she thought, who she liked best. I saw the title of the show, Naked Attraction. Ah, this was the show I had heard others talk about and had determined not to watch. The nudity wasn’t as shocking as the sheer banality of it all. Clearly, TV has run out of ideas. And when you’ve run out of ideas, naked women will generally keep the party going for a bit.

We’ve all seen nudity on screen, be that via an X rated site, a film or even an advert for washing up liquid. This generation of westerners is suffering from nudity fatigue – we’ve seen so much nakedness it no longer excites in the same way.  The existence of Naked Attraction is just one more story to add to the particular secular liberal narrative that wants us to believe that nudity (women’s in particular),  is sexually liberating.

France’s recent ban on the burkini, a modest swimsuit cleverly named to allude to the burqua, was met with astonishment and derision by many liberal media outlets.  It’s a shocking display of disregard for religious liberty. It polices women’s bodies. It makes Muslim women bear the burden for the atrocities committed by a few renegade terrorists who many Muslims would not even consider to share their faith. It’s oppressive. I agree with all these statements, but I wonder how we can separate the ban from the prevailing attitudes towards female bodies and sexual liberation that we have incubated in the West for the past 50 years, as if the two aren’t directly correlated.

The reason why the burkini is so ‘other’ is not merely becuase of the head covering although this is significant part of it. It’s also because of the idea of modesty and covering the female form that is such a stark contrast to our current social norms.

We live in an age where some women can propel themselves into fame and fortune sheerly off the back of sex tapes large bottoms and where women, (black women especially) with considerable musical talent often face overt and subtle pressure to act in an extremely sexual manner in order to achieve success. (I specified race because fuller figured black women who sing better than Adele and like her, aren’t overtly sexual, are not achieving her level of success, and yes, it’s at least partially a race thing).

Despite this being to my mind obviously oppressive, there is a relentless insistence from some sectors of society that these women are sexually liberated and concurrently, the subtle suggestion that modesty and covering are rooted in oppression. Although many liberal pundits in the wake of burkini will loudly proclaim that it’s a woman’s choice whether or not she dresses modestly, we have created a culture where uncovering is by design. Our fashion magazines, our shops, our advertisements and our media all propel us in a direction of nudity under the guise of freedom and despite declaring that we support women in whatever choices they make, we have created a culture that celebrates, orchestrates and rewards nudity. Is it any wonder then, that in our subconscious mind, the burkini is an assault on our ‘value system’? Could it be that despite condemning France for her actions, we have as a collective, played a part in facilitating an environment where to be modest is to be constantly othered?

Arguably, the situation in other countries that are less secular ,where women are forced to cover is far worse than what we currently have in the west. I would be the first to say I would much rather live in a country where I could be naked or burqua’d without retribution (and France is now excluded from this), but oppression is not always as bold as morality police and Taliban soldiers. Both societies have failed to reach a place where women’s bodies are not dissected for mass consumption, where women’s bodies are fully their own without the enduring threat of breaking under standards that are constantly placed on them without regard for their emotional, mental, even spiritual well being.

When I cannot walk into a high street shop and with ease find a dress that does not have a random hole cut into it, a thigh high split, or plunging cleavage, in a not-so-subtle way, I am being told how I should be as a woman. There are a thousands of items of clothing, but so few that allow me to not be forced to conform to the narrative that I a freer when I am less covered.

We may rightly condemn France but we are wrong if we do not examine how, maybe almost imperceptibly to some, we have all allowed this to happen.

kim kanye interacial

 

“Can’t turn a hoe into a housewife”, is a well known phrase. Essentially it encapsulates the idea that once a woman has a past of being sexually promiscuous, she can never become ‘respectable’ enough to become a good wife. The cumulative effect of her past sexual experiences have forever tainted her and rendered her value at zilch in the marriage economy. I’ve made a couple of posts about sexual double standards before and I hate to to beat on the same drum with a similar rhythm, but unfortunately, this message just hasn’t travelled through to the all the intended villages yet  -so I’m going to keep playing.

Funnily enough, men who are well on their way to being able to run their own brothel with themselves as the primary service giver, are the same men who tend to use this phrase without any sense of coyness.  Yes, you’ve read correctly – JimBob who has slept with a different woman every month for the past 5 years, wishes to marry Felicity Neverkissed. It doesn’t strike them as ironic that they’ve treated women as  mere semen receptacles since puberty but still claim that the many women they’ve slept with aren’t worthy of their hand in marriage. This should be side splittingly hilarious to the majority of sensible people, but it always strikes me as strange how so many otherwise intelligent and emotionally sensitive men have for some reason still not rejected the idea that women’s sexual expression has far more moral consequences than theirs. Practically, I would agree it does – we can get pregnant. Morally I’m not sure why my past promiscuity would make me completely ineligible to get pregnant, use a spatula and be a source of emotional support to someone, but a man’s promiscuity has absolutely no bearing on his ability to function as my life partner. View Post