Lent #13 – Days in the Wilderness

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Joey Knock

This week I’ve been feeling empty. I haven’t found comfort in the Psalms (they are just words). I wasn’t inspired by the one Sunday of Lent I went to church (because it was Mothering Sunday and I was with my Mother). I didn’t live up to the Lord’s Prayer, to that collective promise of working against sin and evil in the world.

I’ve tried to fill the emptiness and retreated to tweeting, talking to guys and watching porn. And then I’m worried it’s leaving me more void and more disconnected from an identity I crave than before. That sense of losing interest and losing parts of myself has been this week’s white noise (consistently there but thankfully not all-encompassing).

Recognising what’s triggered this feeling helps (new job, the change of clocks). Talking about it helps (texting friends). Taking action helps (baking, reading). Prayer? Prayer exists. I promote its virtue when there’s global emergencies, when all we can do is pray and ask God to deliver us from evil and injustice. But I no longer see how praying for my situation transforms anything, whether I’m the one praying or someone else is.

I’ll still go through the routines. Reading a Psalm from my bedside Bible. Slowly saying The Lord’s Prayer before I come back from lunch. And now I’ll add in an Examen before bed. Is it all just out of a commitment to Lent, this blog and my niche Gay Christian Twitter brand?

Maybe I know the answer already, but I can’t reveal it to myself. So I’ll keep going for 17 more days til Easter Sunday, hoping this process will speak into my emptiness. Hoping, not praying.

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How do you pray when it’s no longer your day job? After three and a half years working at Tearfund and Christian Aid, Joey is starting a new job at LGBT Organisation Stonewall. Joey blogs and tweets (@joeyknock) about faith, LGBTQ culture, masculinity, Disney, and Lorraine Kelly. Seaside walks in Southend make him happy. 

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Lent #12 – Little Lies

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Luke Dowding

How often do we lie? Monthly, weekly, daily, hourly? How often we do we find ourselves slightly bending the truth to accommodate something we’ve done wrong, something we’ve not done at all, or something we’re ashamed of and want to hide?

As children we’re taught that lying is bad, but occasionally white lies are acceptable; perhaps when a parent has to hide something from their child or to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Lies are bad, but omitting the truth or perhaps bending it slightly is acceptable when the situation calls for it.

I’ve recently become utterly obsessed with the TV series “How to Get Away with Murder”. It’s a gritty, messy, provocative drama which focuses on a small group of individuals who become embroiled in a series of murders. It documents their descent into fear, loathing and violence, all due to one lie which led to a spiralling series of bigger lies and a tangled web of deceit which is now completely unbreakable.

Perhaps it may seem a little melodramatic to compare the lies we tell daily to those used to cover up a series of fictional murders, but it’s easy enough to become snared in a similar way which damages not only our view of the world around us but also the relationships which we have within it.

To be quite frank, I’m an excellent liar. I assume it’s partly down to the years spent in the closet but I also just seem to have a knack for it: the bigger the better. It’s also something that consumes me with guilt and so with a heavy heart I admit that I could never join the crew of “How to Get Away with Murder”, I would have snitched on them by halfway through the first season.

However, when it comes to Lent it seems that bending the truth is a little easier. Although I’ve yet to eat chocolate and therefore have had no need to lie about its consumption, I have found it extremely challenging to devote any amount of time to the daily reading of Scripture, and I find that much easier to tell a little porky pie about when asked how that particular commitment is going.

“How’s your daily reading of the New Testament going, Luke?”

“Oh you know, it’s tough to switch my mind-set to be more open to Scripture as a method of devotion but I’m getting there.”

Bosh. Without even really having to answer the question I’ve managed to skirt around the truth of the matter, which is I’m just not doing it with any great regularity. Interestingly, if I had cheated on a healthy diet or abstaining from alcohol for a week, I’d have no qualms in admitting that.

“Gosh, I’m so weak when it comes to complex carbs. I just can’t help myself, must try harder.” *said in self-deprecating, appreciate my efforts kind of way*

Why do I feel the need to cover up my failings when it comes to embracing Scripture devotionally? And will I get to the end of this Lenten period and be able to look afresh at the teachings my faith holds so dear?

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Luke has a degree in Theology from Spurgeon’s College and is currently studying for his Masters in Biblical Studies at King’s College, part time. The rest of the time he works as a freelancer in business management and administration, attempts to journey with the Baptist Union of Great Britain on LGBT+ inclusion, is a Deacon at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, and works on projects such as Soho Gathering (@sohogathering). He is married to Steven and their wedding was the first same-sex marriage to be celebrated at Bloomsbury.

Lent #11 – Distance

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Freddie Alexander

This Sunday I will be teaching children at my church about the Ascension. This will be somewhat out of sync with the rest of the Christian calendar (Ascension Day falls on the 25th May), but we were looking to cover the latter half of Jesus’ life before the children go on holiday for Easter.

As such, I have been reflecting for the past few days on the story of the Ascension, and the nature of presence. Particularly, I’ve been asking what it means to be in the presence of God.

Lent is a time for introspection before the celebration of Easter. In traditional Anglican churches, the liturgy becomes sparser, with less singing and music. Any songs or sequences with ‘alleluia’ are removed from the service, and the ministers will wear a deep purple. The presence of God will still be identified in services, through the taking of mass, genuflecting, and crossing oneself. But what is noticeable is a feeling a lack, as if the spirit of the church has removed itself.

In some evangelical churches, the leader will call the congregation to worship by reminding them that God is present with them, even if the congregation feels ‘close to or far away from God.’ I have found that sometimes a proximity to God is used as a measuring stick within some Christian communities. People aspire to be ‘close to God’, and to feel that God is ‘far-away’ can be a cause for concern.

I wonder if this is a healthy. If we look at the story of the Ascension, Jesus describes himself as leaving his disciples, while at the same time saying that the Holy Spirit will descend upon them. He is both leaving and returning, becoming absent and more present. It is tempting to skip over the ascension en route to Pentecost, where the presence of God is given to believers in the form of the Holy Spirit. And yet I believe that it is an important aspect of any spiritual life.

In Lent, as with other times in a spiritual life, it can be healthy to draw away from the usual ways of encountering the presence of God. In this withdrawal, an absence, we understand ourselves as individuals, encountering loneliness as a realistic and normal part of human life. I am often frightened of being alone, and this is because I feel my presence more keenly in the presence of others.

But I do not stop existing by myself.

Being distant from God is not the same as being forsaken, and it shouldn’t be a subject of fear. As in the Ascension story, presence is a tricky thing, and it is possible to be both distant and close.

This Lent I am making my peace with distance.

Lent #10 – A Process of Prayer

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Joey Knock

This week, I tried to step up my Lent. I’m in the routine of reading and criticizing a Psalm every other morning-ish. Now I wanted to add in The Lord’s Prayer during my lunchtime walks out of the office.

Except I forgot it. I forgot the words of the first, most universal Christian prayer. Put me in a church and I’ll recite it along with everyone. Traditional, contemporary and sung are all in the repertoire. Put me in the park by myself and I’ll stumble after ‘Our father in heaven’, judging my mind for still, inevitably seeing a giant old guy on the clouds.

I had only been using The Lord’s Prayer as a membership anthem. There is something powerful in that and global unity it creates between Christians and churches, but prayer can’t be an act of recital alone. It needs to be a process.

Miranda Threlfall-Holmes Little Book of Prayer Experiments guided me in that process. Line by line, she concisely explains each line of The Lord’s Prayer, then asks the reader to personally reflect on what each line means and use them as nudges for what to pray.

Now when I say  ‘You kingdom come, your will be done’, I pray for justice and peace in the world and see how I’m part of that. When I say ‘give us today our daily bread’, I question how I’m there for those living in poverty in the UK and abroad. I’m connecting God’s justice, myself and the world together. By contrast, reading the Psalms just seems to connect God and me in an individualised way that matters less to my faith.

I was further reminded on Wednesday, especially after the terrorist attack in Westminster, of Dave Tomilinson. In How to be a Bad Christian, he writes prayer in all expressions is always worthwhile. Even if you don’t believe there is a God directly answering prayers (see again the Psalmists), you are sending loving, happy thoughts into the world.

This week I learnt The Lord’s Prayer can be a focus of my happy thoughts and a time to realise what acts I can do to make them happen. I need those who tweeted #PrayForLondon to have known they were praying and known it was transforming themselves as well as the world.

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How do you pray when it’s no longer your day job? After three and a half years working at Tearfund and Christian Aid, Joey is starting a new job at LGBT Organisation Stonewall. Joey blogs and tweets (@joeyknock) about faith, LGBTQ culture, masculinity, Disney, and Lorraine Kelly. Seaside walks in Southend make him happy. 

Lent #9 – A Balance of Two Readings

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Luke Dowding

Suffering from a lack of words is not something I often struggle with; I chat prolifically and have a comment to offer on most things, most of the time. I suppose some people might call this opinionated, I just think I’m a verbal processor and so I may start the conversation following one line of thought but finish on something completely contrary, having used the dialogue to reform my initial idea.

However, this week I’ve struggled to find the words, the words to fully appreciate the different streams of faith consciousness that make up our society. On Sunday, I moderated a panel for Digital Pride, which will air online in April. The focus of the panel was to explore whether religion remains “the main villain” towards LGBT+ peoples. The panellists consisted of a predominantly Christian background with one contribution from a Muslim.

It was an interesting discussion which only scratched the surface of the complexity of the issue. We asked more questions than we answered, but what was clear was the  desire for more conversation, more education, more understanding to take place between both religious and the LGBT+ communities. To assign blame or call one another “villains” doesn’t help, but rather perpetuates division and the process of “othering”.

We also spent a short amount of time focussing on the religious texts of our traditions and whether it is as obvious as it might sometimes appear when it approaches issues of human sexuality. Interestingly, as I’ve attempted to handle Scripture more devotionally and less critically through Lent, I’ve noted that it is much easier to take passages at face value when reading them in a context of devotion. However, what we do with reading is key.

My words don’t often fail me, but I find myself struggling to find a way to accurately describe the balance of reading scripture critical and devotionally. I particularly struggle to describe this within the Christian tradition, where I acknowledge the Bible is, to various degrees, a collection of writings written by human hands.

More importantly, does my bias towards a particular way of reading the Bible continue to affect the way I read it devotionally? Can I ever fully take my critical hat off? And if I can, will I ever find the words to describe how God moves through Scripture, even when written with flawed human hands?

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Luke has a degree in Theology from Spurgeon’s College and is currently studying for his Masters in Biblical Studies at King’s College, part time. The rest of the time he works as a freelancer in business management and administration, attempts to journey with the Baptist Union of Great Britain on LGBT+ inclusion, is a Deacon at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, and works on projects such as Soho Gathering (@sohogathering). He is married to Steven and their wedding was the first same-sex marriage to be celebrated at Bloomsbury.

Lent #8 – Inhabiting Holy Practices

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Freddie Alexander

as incense rises to heaven I watch

smoke drift past my lips and become

as it were, air, and for a moment

 

I imagine a burning coal placed

among my gums, for the effect of holiness;

how sweet I would burn.

 

Censer of God, maxilla and mandible,

beloved fastened with a copper chain

of which the thurifer swings three times

 

three, a most blessed sacrament

over my bedsit, tabernacle, cuticles,

still warm and eking from the centre.

 

One of the things I am finding myself reflect on during this Lent season is the conflicting pressures to perform holiness. I began lent by adding one daily repeating task to my calendar, to pray three times a day – once by reading a psalm, once by reciting the Lord’s prayer, and once by meditating the Examen. By week 2 I wake up and look at this particular task with fear.

I’m not scared of doing this. I know I am perfectly capable. Rather, I have transformed prayer into a goal, put in the same bracket as my goal to write poetry, or go to the gym, or buy groceries. And while I believe that prayer should not be separated from those things, there is a peculiar mental roping that happens when holiness is made ‘completable.’

And now I have somewhat put myself into an emotional corner. Either I reassess my process, and amend it, or I give up. For me, both feel equally bad, because I have ‘failed’ to complete the task I set out to do. In this thinking though, I find myself in the position of the Pharisees, someone who makes holiness an achievable goal.

I don’t often agree with Paul, but his description of being ‘saved by faith alone’ is helpful here. This is not to say that these practices have no value. Rather, they must be tempered with a gentle heart that acknowledges human failing and perceives holiness as an elusive state, tended towards but rarely inhabited.

In this way I enjoy writing poetry as a meditative practice. I use words and images to suggest the direction of my soul, what I am yearning towards, while simultaneously drawing away from it into the realm of language and form. Artwork is a powerful indicator of God, because it immediately removes itself from the realm of apologetics and theology. Instead, it carves out a liminal space, to be held quietly for a moment before dissipating.

Continuing in Lent, and coming upon National Poetry Writing Month in April, I hope to take on these practices more, inhabiting them as oppose to completing them.

Lent #7 – Whose lies?

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Joey Knock

I’m still disagreeing with the Psalms. Whatever the byline says, I picture David (who only wrote half of them) as the author I’m criticizing. This morning he told me God will protect us ‘from the wicked who stalk us with lies.’ (Psalm 12:7).

Instantly I wondered who is the wicked enemy being painted. I’m scared it’s me, living a life where being gay, sexual and Christian is a whole identity to celebrate and not contradict. I’ve heard that voice telling me I broke Britain, this voice a homophobic speaker one church prayer evening. I’ve been stalked by their lies built on a dangerous and deadly theology of exclusion.

Where was God to protect me? How could we use the same name of God and view the different theologies we have as deadly and wicked?

I don’t buy the euphoria of David in these early Psalms (I know some are more vulnerable, despairing. I haven’t got to them yet). It reads of a blind faith and divine intervention I gave up because it’s too close to the evangelical conservative worship that doesn’t welcome everyone, and therefore doesn’t welcome at all.

There’s a more nuanced, more modern Psalmist. Horatio Spafford’s four daughters died in a shipwreck in 1873. The telegram from his wife simply read ‘saved alone’. Soon afterwards, he wrote It Is Well with my Soul. Despite what happened, God somehow eased his soul. And his hymn has been comforter to millions against tragedy and wickedness.

I can question where God is to end the wariness and resentment in my life. And I can be the voice of faith, echoing godliness as Spafford was to other people’s lives. What other voice will challenge true wickedness, lies and exclusion?

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How do you pray when it’s no longer your day job? After three and a half years working at Tearfund and Christian Aid, Joey is starting a new job at LGBT Organisation Stonewall. Joey blogs and tweets (@joeyknock) about faith, LGBTQ culture, masculinity, Disney, and Lorraine Kelly. Seaside walks in Southend make him happy.