We Need To Talk About Toilets

I’ve said this before, but we need to talk about toilets.

For most of us, the humble toilet is something that’s taken for granted. It’s just there, certainly not something to worry about. Okay, maybe toilets are a tad embarrassing, not something to talk about in polite conversation, but they’re there when we need them, right?

Sadly, for a lot of people that’s not the case. And that’s why we need to talk about toilets, because among other things (sanitation, safety, education) they’re a matter of human dignity.

For a start, there aren’t enough decent public toilets out there for people with disabilities. That presents a stark choice – either struggle with inadequate facilities or just stay in the house all the time. Neither of these choices are fair, neither allow people their intrinsic worth and dignity, but this is the reality for too many. There are children with disabilities who have to be changed on a filthy, inadequate toilet floor just because of the lack of equipment like hoists and adjustable changing benches. This should not be the case.

This is why toilets are a theological issue, and why our churches have to give them more thought. For a start, are our disabled toilets as good as they could be? Do they need more investment? Look, I know funds are tight, but when people are marginalised from the wider community, that could be a clue as to where our churches’ spending priorities should be.

Then there’s accessibility. If local councils and town planners aren’t stepping up to the plate, maybe our churches should make our toilets more accessible to the public. And I don’t know how they might work, but that doesn’t matter because these are conversations that need to be held on a local level in response to local needs.

I know this might all seem a bit prosaic, but toilets are a theological issue. They’re about compassion and justice, they’re about loving our neighbour and the Image of God.

And that’s why we need to talk about toilets.


Don’t Rape (2 Samuel 11:1-4)

A long time ago, a king strolls the roof of his palace and spies a beautiful woman bathing. Being rich and powerful and used to getting what he wants, he orders the woman brought to him, whereupon he rapes her.
Often this is portrayed as a conniving seductress enticing a king in his moment of weakness, but that’s not evident from the text. Bathsheba was more likely washing as part of her monthly purification ritual, just like every other woman in the kingdom. As for David, he knows her husband, and possibly her father; Bathsheba may well have not been a stranger to him. Had she caught his eye before? Had he finally spied his opportunity? Regardless, there’s an abuse of power here: in a rigidly patriarchal society, how many women would feel able to say no to the will of a king?

Let’s not blame Bathsheba for this, just because we love the giant-slayer, just because we love the psalmist. This is all on David. The subsequent cover-up and murder of Bathsheba’s husband just compounds the whole thing. A culture of shame and silence pervades the palace, and later, when David’s own daughter is raped by her own brother, the king does nothing about it.

We like to think we’ve moved on from primitive Bronze Age attitudes like this, but the avalanche of reports detailing sexual assaults by actors, politicians and other high profile figures show that Bathsheba’s story is never far away. And as with Bathsheba, these reports are haunted by the suggestion that powerful, ambitious, successful men are reduced to a helpless mass of urges when faced with a woman, or maybe even a teenager; men become predator and prey rolled into one, a whole culture groomed for sexual exploitation and assault.

Rape and sexual assault are often treated as a “women’s issue”, but given the statistics around those who perpetrate these crimes, they’re also issues of toxic masculinity, and as such the onus is on men to do something about this. We have to stop diminishing it, enabling it, normalising it; if you can’t control yourself around women or girls, or men or boys, you need to seek counselling rather than seeing other people as your divine right. And, to be fair, we have to stop belittling cases of sexual assault where men are victims, because that’s toxic as well.

And churches need to stop defending this, covering it up, justifying it, because to do so is a whole other level of sin.

In short, David committed a crime of power that’s constantly replaying down through the ages.

So men must stop raping people.

When The Night Has Come: A Post For Halloween

Christian-Cross-Carved-PumpkinWinter is coming, so they say; the clocks have gone back, the nights draw closer, we enter into Allhallowtide, a liminal season where past and present and future and worlds both visible and hidden start to coalesce.

It’s at this time of year, the ancient whispers go, that the veil between worlds thins. This isn’t a curtain I tend to poke behind, but the winter seems so dark this year; the spectre of old wars and the clatter of lying keyboards haunt the landscape as powerful men rape and pillage their way through their self-declared empires. Never mind Halloween, the veil has been thinning apocalyptically for a while now. I’m not sure I like it.

But maybe that’s something to think about this Halloween. Maybe we need to catch a glimpse of another world – not a world of wraiths and abandoned graveyards, a world lit only by flickering pumpkin-light, but a better world, somewhere more peaceful, somewhere more just, somewhere more real. Now is not the time to disguise ourselves as monsters so the monsters cannot break us, now is the time to stare through the tear in the curtain and catch a glimpse of hope instead.

Because as the world slips into the dark, hope’s the only thing that will keep us going, the only trustworthy will o’ the wisp willing to light our way. Stick to that path, lest we put too much trust in ghosts.

This is the season of all the saints and all our souls, and while we decorate our homes and schools and supermarkets with the dead and the undead, really this is a season that reminds us of a resurrection to come; at least that’s how I’m looking at it. Things may be in retreat at the moment, the hopes and fears of all the years gathering on the streets. That’s what winter’s all about, after all.

Yet spring will emerge one day, just as it always does. And while now we see through a veil, thinly, then we will see in full. That’s what keeps us going; that’s what brings us through the dark.

The Stories We Live By: Abuse

wp-image-1856397313jpg.jpegCross posted to Bezalel’s Legacy.

We’re a storytelling species; we gather together to tell tales around fires, we paint pictures on cave walls to shape the world beyonderland.  And these stories grow and spread their roots, they accrete and mutate and become memes and mirrors, become the rivers and the topsoil of our cultures. Often these stories are beautiful.

Other times? Other times these stories are toxic.

Silence has a weight all of its own; it creates its own gravity, a crushing absence. Sometimes rumours break through this forcefield, sometimes facts escape to become open secrets, and yet still the silence exerts its power. Everyone knows but no-one says anything.

Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile. Household names who abused women and girls for years under a silence purchased with popularity and power and cold hard cash; men standing on top of a pyramid with an altar and a knife. But while these might be the celebrity illuminati of sex offenders, they’re not the only ones. Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow and, heck, Terry Crews were assaulted, but so were waitresses and cheerleaders and office workers and students.

Because we’re living in a world that says “no” means “yes”, that clothing is consent, that gloating about groping is just the talk of locker rooms, that men get to take what they want and that women should keep quiet about it or suffer the consequences, that sometimes rape is ‘legitimate’. These things are said so many times that they take on their own twisted reality; society itself is groomed. We tell stories that empower abuse, we whisper stories that promote silence and strangle justice. Because this is about intimidation and fear and power that says everyone’s there for the taking.

We’ve got to allow different stories to be told, and in doing so, start putting rape culture to death. Men have to start calling out sexual harassment and objectification and raising our sons and daughters to get out of the shadow of a culture of abuse; men also have to stop assaulting women. That’s where everything starts. Masculinity needs detoxifying.

And with the telling, listening and believing. Because the diesel powering all this is disbelief and inaction; our cynicism and apathy fuels a culture of abuse.

And we have to exorcise our institutions: our churches, our sports clubs, our film studios, our politics, our schools, our homes. Because too many women are too scared to come forward, too many have been denied justice, too many live with the trauma of assault. That’s unacceptable, no matter what our darker stories tell us. Too many rumors turn out to be true, too many scandals end up forgotten. Everything needs to change.

Helter Skelter

I feel weird writing this. It’s rooted in strange thoughts that have been rattling through my mind since I heard that, at a New Year’s Eve concert last year, Paul McCartney made a surprise appearance at a Killers concert to sing Helter Skelter.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; he’s one of the Beatles, he can play what he wants at any concert he wants. But Helter Skelter is a song with a strange history: McCartney apparently wrote it to sound like the fall of an empire, while Charles Manson used it as a code name for his deranged race war conspiracy. It was scrawled on a fridge at the scene of a mass murder, for goodness sake.

So hearing that Helter Skelter heralded 2017, a year in which white supremacists and resurgent Nazis march with torches, in which world leaders tweet and dream about spraying nuclear fire across the Pacific, well… The image is haunting and I can’t shake it. That’s probably why I’m writing this.

Because there’s a counter thought emerging: that as people of faith, we need to protest and resist the darker shadows of our society, and envision and embody a different world. We don’t have to ride the Helter Skelter; we can nail the OUT OF ORDER signs to the whole skeletal fairground.

We can, but too many of us are joining the queue to pay a misplaced tithe to the carnival barkers and the rowdy mesmerists. And all the while the frogs of war croak in the chill swamps of night.

This is why we need to stop, and kneel, and gather round the bread and the wine, not just like our lives depended on it, but those of everyone else as well. Our hope is found in the Eucharist, in the body and blood that unites us rather than divides, in the power that reveals itself not through empire, but in a cross outside the city walls. This is where the strength and the character of the Church is formed; not by the games of Caesar but by meeting around the table and seeing that we’re brothers and sisters sharing in a Kingdom banquet.

There are plenty of people who scream with joy as they Helter Skelter through what’s left of 2017. We don’t have to join them, we don’t have to be formed by them. We have to eat, and drink, and sing a different song.