Flashback Friday: Let’s Not Be Cookie Cutter Christians…

Originally posted on June 20th 2007

Cailin is a Gaelic word for ‘girl’. And it’s what I really struggle to be. Yes, weird I know that I say that when I am one!! When I was a teenager, I desperately wished that I was a boy – I was a bit of a tomboy at Primary School, and to this day I’m most comfortable when wearing a pair of jeans. I often find it easier to talk to guys than I do to girls, because I find that I relate better to them. My friends from Edinburgh apparently consider me as ‘an honourary guy’ (apparently this is a compliment?!). I can’t sew, my ironing skills are appalling. I hate romantic movies. I do wear make up and used to be addicted to straightening my hair. I love shoe shopping, but don’t often shop with girls because it just takes too long. I like to watch football (and for the actual football not to watch guys in shorts). I love camping. My favourite shows include Grey’s Anatomy, Without A Trace and Top Gear. I’m pretty blunt and up front too.

I think I’ve struggled more with this since I went to university and the more I’ve hung around church. In Halls, I lived with 20 other girls. Utter madness. Most girls spent their entire week planning their Saturday night outfit, and I really just didn’t care. The girls who didn’t, they were generally really good cooks, could do all those things like card making, embroidery or whatever. I just never felt like I fitted in with either ‘girl type’, and as a consequence, I would often find myself over with the guys on a different floor so I could watch football, gossip less and not have to be questioned a million times about make up, hair and tops!

When I became a Christian, I quickly realised that I REALLY didn’t fit in. There seemed to be this unwritten rule that as a girl, you were at university to find a husband. You would of course get engaged in your last year of university and marry this man (destined to be a doctor, youth pastor, engineer or minister) shortly after graduation. You would spend your first year or so working and getting to know other women in the church – doing lots of babysitting, sunday school, cooking at Alpha etc. And have people over for dinner (which you cook from scratch) and when you have kids you would then end your chosen career to become a full-time Mum. Now there is nothing wrong with any of that – but it totally isn’t me! First of all, it seemed shocking that a girl learn guitar, or be a worship leader. Second of all, it seemed to be expected that when the CU is having a bake sale to raise funds for a mission or whatever that it would be the girls that baked for it. I really don’t bake. I like football but Christian guys do not include you in this social activity – instead it seems I should be reading Jane Austen books and their seemed to be a thing with Christian girls and watching Pride and Prejudice?? Oh, and tea drinking.

For years, Christianity seemed like some secret society that I didn’t know the proper etiquette for. I didn’t mind that the girls had different gifts, likes, interests etc from me, it was more that all of them seemed to have the same interests, likes etc as each other – but none of them were characteristics that I could find common ground to build a friendship on with them. In fact, I felt a bit like a pariah whenever I found myself in a Christian activity and anything which was a ‘women only’ event filled me with great dread.

Luckily, over time, I discovered that there were other sisters who shared my frustrations. I was lucky enough in my later years of student life to be surrounded by girls and guys who were each unique in our likes, dislikes, hobbies, what we wore, hair colour, hair style, career choice and how important being married and starting a family was to us. We shared one common love – Jesus – and found friendship over that a different things for each one of us.

Speaking to younger girls in church who are coming up through university I think there is enormous pressure to find that ‘perfect Christian man’. How many Christian girls have given themselves that ‘you’ve got until you’re 25 rule?’. How many times have girls gone around church or CU or been on mission or a festival/conference and eyed up what potential husband material there is in the room? How many mothers are putting pressure on their daughters by commenting on any guy they’re friends with. How many couples have the word ‘wedding’ mentioned to them when they’ve barely started dating? I’ve experienced dating in a ‘goldfish bowl’ myself where as a Christian couple you seem to be hot topic of conversation in all Christian gatherings…’do you think they’ll get married?’ ‘when do you think he’ll ask her?’

Singleness is a gift from God. And we all need to use it and cherish it like we should have done our childhood. Most likely, if we are to be married, that guy will turn up when we’re least expecting it. And to be honest, I truly believe that if we can’t handle life on our own, the less likely a relationship will be successful. Because relationships are hard without being self-reliant on a human being who is imperfect as opposed to being reliant on God.

It’s also ok to be yourself. God made each one of us different. You can have a different hair colour, it can be long or short, if you pierce your ears more than once you’re still a Christian. You can be sporty, or into reading, a worship leader, or be tone deaf. You might be amazing with kids and a fantastic children’s church leader. Kids might terrify you or just not be your thing. Some guys love chick flicks, some girls hate them – and vice versa. Every marriage and family is different and that’s ok too. And being a Mum is definitely one of the most difficult jobs in the world. If you can do it without another job on top – amazing. If you can do it while working full-time or part-time – also amazing! Let’s also remember that some people may get married, but not have children, and that’s ok too.

Diversity is good. It speaks of God’s creativity in this world. Don’t be tempted to change your colours (so to speak) just to blend in with those around you.

Comments from original posting:

Paul: wow this is a great post, thank you! We are all so diverse that it really isn’t good to compare ourselves to each other, infact I think St Paul goes as far as commanding that we don’t…

“Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.” Gal 5:25-26

So in this you and St Paul hold a common and vey inspiring view:)

My fictional female role models…

As a young girl, it was tough to find role models. When I became a Christian, I discovered that there were a whole new bunch of expectations on young women that I didn’t feel I would ever live up to. When you are younger, if we can’t see what we want in our immediate life – we often look to the arts for inspiration. Books, TV and film often give us ideas and possibilities of what other options of being are out there. And too often as girls we were shown examples of needing to find a guy to come save us and love us to be complete. Thankfully it wasn’t always the case, and I wanted to share some of the fictional female characters that have given me hope throughout my childhood, teen and young adult years…

Abby Sciuto – Abby, the ‘happiest goth you’ll ever meet’ who is a forensic scientist at NCIS. Always compassionate, loves hugging Bert the Hippo, goes bowling with nuns, builds houses for charity and is every bit as capable with IT as Timothy ‘I went to M.I.T.’ McGee. Which is probably why he admires her so much. I love that none of the more conservative characters like Jenny Shepherd or Leon Vance ever try to make Abby dress differently. They accept her for who she is, because they respect her, her work ethic and her talents.

Professor McGonagall – A single woman, a fair if stern teacher. But one that clearly has her pupils’ backs. She never disciplines simply to exert her power and authority. She supports her fellow women. She doesn’t back down from a fight, and she is fiercely loyal to Dumbledore and to Harry. I always loved those little snippets you got of her mischievous side, as she mumbles to Peeves how to unscrew light fittings and in the film that moment of “I always wanted to use that spell!”

Sally Fletcher – The adopted kid of Tom and Pippa, the girl who had the kind heart and got teased for her imaginary friend ‘Milco’. The one who got bullied, was good at school and worked hard at school. No surprises then that she ended up becoming a foster Mum and a teacher…always giving the underdog kids who had had a rough start in life a second chance. Sally was always just that few years ahead of me on TV as I grew up through primary and secondary school watching Home and Away and as the swot of the class, she made me feel a little less alone. (And yes, I did bawl my eyes out when she left Summer Bay).

Miranda Bailey – I know, I know… I’m supposed to love McDreamy, or Meredith. But Bailey was always my favourite character in Grey’s Anatomy. I loved that she was short.  I loved that she wasn’t sleeping around (like all the other surgeons were). I loved that she refused to get a full wax when after her divorce she is trying to find love again (oh, and as a Health Promotion grad was very proud at her responsible attitude to STD protection!). I loved that she was an African-American woman in old white men’s club. Yet she is exactly where she should be as a competent, highly skilled, hard working surgeon. Oh, and did I mention that she is a Star Wars fan?

The Babysitter’s Club – It’s tough to pick one girl out of this group, because they all had their moments. Jessi Ramsey was the ballet dancer of the group but she was much better than I ever was! Dawn was the only one who never seemed to feel like she had to be someone else to impress a guy and I appreciated that about her. I think I most identified with Mallory Pike. Mallory was the big sister, the one that wore glasses, wanted straight hair, had braces, wanted her ears pierced, wanted to be a writer and really sucked at and did everything she could to avoid  PE. I don’t think I was quite so insecure about my looks as Mallory was, but I could empathise with her struggle. Each of these girls had something to offer and their own strengths and weaknesses. It was also refreshing to see that they came from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds and their families all looked different.

Haley James – I used to get One Tree Hill shipped on DVD from the USA (because I couldn’t afford a TV license and it took sooo long to come out on DVD here in the UK and it worked out cheaper usually anyway) and my friend and I watched it weekly at my flat when we were students. The girl who took a while longer to have close friends that were girls, the one who worked part-time, who liked to teach, who loved to sing. I loved that Haley was willing to wait for the right guy, and that even though she was the sensible one she still got pregnant in high school. I also liked that she wore her ponchos and hats that she got teased for, and that she never bailed on a friend. She never tried to dumb herself down and even when she was afraid of failing and pursuing her dreams she found the courage to go out there and try eventually.

Rory Gilmore and Lane Kim – I love Rory and Lane. I kinda loved last year when me and one of my friends (who is a fellow Gilmore Girls fan – several of my friends have borrowed my DVDs) took one of those BuzzFeed quizzes that I came out as Rory and she came out as Lane. That seemed just totally perfect to us. Rory and Lane are equally awesome in my book. Again, two ladies who didn’t act stupid to get boys to like them. Two ladies who knew what they wanted and worked to achieve their dream. Yes, Rory gets a little derailed, but she gets back on track eventually. I’m kind of glad that they showed that part because so many of us have to make mistakes to learn from them. I’d love Lane’s record collection and Rory’s book collection. Oh, and they were Brownies as revealed  by Lane’s note to Rory in 1995.

Lucy Pevensie – I was so mad when my cousin named her daughter Lucy as that was what I’d always wanted as a name for a daughter. Lucy Pevensie is probably the reason why. She’s not the oldest or the obvious leader. But yet she’s the one who finds Narnia, the one who always sees Aslan before the others, and is the one who reawakens the trees. There’s also a glimpse you see of Queen Lucy in the Horse and His Boy where you find that although her sister is off finding suitors, Lucy is not. She is willing to battle with the boys and is a proven warrior.

Precious Ramotswe – Mma Ramotswe is probably my favourite character written by Alexander McCall Smith. I love that her wisdom, her kindness and that she doesn’t feel the need for a husband. When she realises that Mr J.L.B. Matekoni is worth teaming up with, she says yes to his proposal. But I love that they are equals in their marriage. And he is a great guy who supports her in her business, and continually fixes the little van because he knows how much it means to Mma Ramotswe. And if you’ve never picked up the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of books, um…well…you are going to be lost in many conversations I have with you.

Mulan – because finally we got a Disney Princess who didn’t either a) spend the whole film searching for a husband or waiting for him to save her (yes Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Anna, Ariel…I’m looking at you) or marry a guy that was a bit sketchy (Belle, Pocahontas…). And she basically saves the army, and then saves them again along with all of China. She could have decided to stay, work for the Emperor and possibly be near Li Shang. She chooses to go home. And doesn’t show any romantic interest in Shang until he respects her as a woman. Go Mulan. Until you, the only strong females in Disney were all animals (Duchess in The Aristocats, Nala in The Lion King).

I’m sure there are more that I’ve forgotten, but did you have fictional characters that inspired you, encouraged you or gave you hope growing up?

BK’s YouTube Picks: Authenticity over Likeability

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It all started when I went to South Africa six years ago. My roommate (and now good friend) and I had many conversations in the evenings trying to articulate some of the anger and frustration we were feeling being there. When we returned home, we discovered a TED talk that articulated our frustrations so well called ‘The Danger of the Single Story’.

I am so grateful for her straight talking wisdom. And this is another important message for women – young and old.

BK’s YouTube Picks: This Girl Can

As many of you know, a good chunk of my “spare time” is spent volunteering with GIrlguiding UK. Currently I help lead two units – a Guide Unit with girls aged 10-14, and a Ranger Unit with (soon to be two groups) of young women aged 14-25.

One of the things that has come up again is issues of body image, self-esteem and self-consciousness. At our first meeting of Guides this term, we asked them what issues they felt girls their age were facing today. The perceptions of girls and their ability to participate in sport, or unwillingness to participate in sport or what they are told about participating in certain sports was a hot topic that the girls spent a lot of time talking about with no prompting from us. I’ve heard more than one of our girls tell me they think they are fat, or that they ‘can’t do it’.

I had heard about the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign through following Clare Balding on twitter. I love what she is trying to do to get women more equally recognised for their sporting achievements, and saw pictures of the campaign launch night.

Because it isn’t just young girls who struggle with body image and feeling self conscious…women of all ages do. And quite frankly if us older generations don’t get ourselves in a place where we are content with who we are, then the generations coming up are going to learn from us that they should have issues with body image too.

Be inspired. Get active. Quit judging. Find people you’re comfortable with being yourself and do it together, or if you prefer, use the exercise time to have some peace to yourself!

Oh, and get a good sports bra. Trust me, especially if you go on a running machine or do zumba…you’ll appreciate that support (or as I like to call it boob prison…sometimes I wear a bra and then my sports bra over the top for extra boob incarceration!!)

Thank you to the women who took part in filming. Thank you for showing that yes…WOMEN CAN!

What is your favourite way to stay active?

Why youth culture shouldn’t involve discarding older generations…

Screen shot 2014-12-28 at 22.30.23

This post appeared on my facebook feed on Christmas week, and it struck a chord in me. This year, I officially no longer became a young person. I fell through the cracks as an unemployed ‘mature’ student. With the entering of a new decade, there are privileges that are taken away from you.

The other side is that part of the reason I left a church a few years ago, was that I felt totally redundant. There were ministries I’d been a part of since arriving in Edinburgh, and with people coming up from university I was pushed out of them to let the younger ones in. In one sense, as a person who has been a youth worker in some form or other for half my life now I totally agree with the encouragement of young people into roles of leadership. What I don’t like is that it can’t be intergenerational – that it has to be one generation or another at the helm.

I remember at 22, encouraging my friend to join a smallgroup. His mother turned to me during a conversation about studying the bible and learning more about God and said “well, when you get to my age there’s nothing new to learn about God”.

I found that so depressing. If I get to my 50s and find there’s nothing new to learn about God, then quite frankly I don’t see how there could be a God at all. What makes my God, Yahweh, God is the fact that He/She is so mysterious and ways are beyond our comprehension. As a mere human, there is much I’m able to do and understand and learn…but I’ll never know everything. That’s part of the journey of faith.

Then there are our mothers. Our ageing mothers. Aunts. Co-workers. Who bemoan the wrinkles from months, years and decades worth of laughter and smiles. Scars from children grown and birthed (and meals with friends & family enjoyed…!). Who feel they are too old to offer anything. Who are increasingly often written off, complained about and write themselves off as having nothing more to contribute…

Well, quite frankly….BOLLOCKS to that.

And I know it can be done.

Because there’s a lady who I won’t name  who has proven that I’m right. This lady was like the Mum/Gran to all at my church in Aberdeen. She made quilts for every baby and many of the students. She was one of the first people I met the first day I went there, and on introduction encouraged me to stay for student lunch in the hall downstairs (I’d forgotten I’d agreed to go to my friends’ church and so when they came to my door to drag me to the bus I was still in my pyjamas. I’d pulled my big baggy skater jeans over them and was still wearing the pants from the day before..so gross and embarrassing! so I felt very self-conscious and worried I was gatecrashing). She enticed me with her homemade chocolate cake and made me feel welcome. And over the years, I came to admire her. This lady was nearing 60 and jumped and bounced, she did children’s church as she loved kids. She came to steward at the youth festival, and rather than complain about the loudness of the music would stand at the back with earplugs in, dancing and singing away. She learned how to use poi from our student friend. And when she retired, she started learning how to play the guitar. I never heard her complaining she ‘looked old’ or moaning about diets and weight – something I hear all too often from so many women aged 25 and above. It is refreshing…and it’s how I want to be.

So Annie Lennox…and my retired friend who made me a quilt I still treasure many years later…thank you. I agree. No matter what age, we have something to contribute. And we have so much to learn from those with more life experience, and I so appreciate that, want to absorb all I can from you.

I want to keep encouraging young people…but I will fight for this not to be at the cost of discarding older generations.

BK’s YouTube picks: The Womanhood Hotline

This week in one of my university seminars we were discussing the topic of gender inequality and feminist movements. While searching for a youtube clip to share with some of my classmates I fell upon this fantastic video from the 2014 Brave New Voices slam poetry competition in Cape Town.

I’m not even a conventionally attractive woman, and yet can still list screeds of incidents of having insults, invasions of my personal space, and having guys think it’s appropriate to grab my buttocks or put his hands on my breasts without my permission. I know some of my female counterparts have had it worse. Sadly, sexism is still alive and well, but knowing several feminist dudes out there who believe in gender equality, I hope that this is changing and that one day behaviour like this will not be seen as ‘normal’.

I love the creative way in which Athandwa and Lerato have brought awareness to the issue. 🙂

Tottenham Material

Last week, someone on twitter shared a link to a short film made by an inspirational young woman called Doyin. Doyin is fed up being stereotyped, and has decided to speak out about her frustration in a creative way.

As a Girlguiding leader, I have the privilege of working with a lot of inspirational young women who, like Doyin, are frustrated by elements of the world we are living, and finding creative ways to speak out about it.

As a young person, I still remember a less than inspiring conversation with a staff member from a university that shall remain nameless at a Higher Education fair. Finding out where my friend and I were from, she told us that ‘we probably wouldn’t get on well at xxx university because we weren’t typically the type of social background they looked for in their students‘. Sure enough, it was the only university I applied to that didn’t give me an offer. And I’ve never forgotten that conversation and wondered if it was to do with my postcode more than my academic record.

The media has a lot to answer for, and as a society, we need a better filter for what we absorb from it.

Thank you Doyin for your film. 🙂