Lent 2017

Lent #19 – Ten Reflections

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Freddie Alexander

  1. We worry too much about being holy. Perhaps this is a fear of being damned. As if there is a small island of redemption and holiness, surrounded by a great ocean of damnation. What if these roles were reversed? What if holiness was not a state we kept struggling towards, but a state of contemplation to rest within?
  2. We start Lent with every good intention. “It is just forty days.” Being able to live with not living up to our expectations is a more interesting test of character.
  3. I recently listened to a discussion between Krista Tippet and Richard Rhor, in which Richard described people seeing him in contemplation and describing his face as sad. Richard was surprised at this, because he was the happiest he had ever been. Joy is deep. It can be cultivated out of the sunlight.
  4. These practices come and go, turning on cycles in the year. Lent is less something to take part in, and more something that occurs, inevitably, coming and going, like the tide. Living in peace with this tide seems to be a good life.
  5. How shall we be joyful? How shall we keep our lightness?
  6. Advent seems sadder than Lent. As the Resurrection caps Lent, the Slaughter of the Innocents caps Advent.
  7. I will find it more difficult to retreat in my everyday life. It is a careful eye that needs to maintain this practice. Being able to remove myself to sit upon the mountain and watch storms on the water is a valuable healing.
  8. We should not be so proud as to be wrong.
  9. We should not be so proud as to be right.
  10. Lent is a time to strip back to our core. How do we love, in our core? How do we live? How do we worship? How do we speak of these many difficult things to speak about? Stand taller. Be more.

Lent #18 – A Chance to Witness

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Joey Knock

Flowers

Demonstrating outside the Russian Embassy. Photo by Sarah Moore. See more at http://www.femmenism.co.uk/chechnya-protest/

I’m not used to making Holy Week or Easter a spiritual high point in my year. Sure, I go to church on Good Friday but it’s for the maybe-hot cross buns and the chat rather than the death of our Saviour. Yet even when I was wondering what cocktail to have for lunch during the Gospel reading (I settled for Long Island Iced Tea), the enormity of the story pricked away at me. And as we left, Johnny Cash sang out Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord).

I felt I was there, processing along the seafront carrying the cross, our church group smaller and older than it’s ever been before (at 27, I was the youngest). Martha and Sarah asked me how my new job at Stonewall was going. I struggled to explain what I do to these two stalwarts of the church, who I’ve always assumed to be homophobic with very little evidence. This was the first time Martha recognised that maybe I’m gay.

Why didn’t I tell them what’s happening in Chechnya and where I was on Wednesday? Outside the Russian Embassy with hundreds of queer activists and allies demanding a closure to the reported rounding up, encampment and murder of gay men. These men are the scapegoats that deadly hate creates, as was Jesus.

I didn’t see the connection on Wednesday. Despite a Lent of reading the Psalms and reengaging with The Lord’s Prayer, I didn’t think of praying for Chechnya. After the demo, a colleague invited us back to his flat. Fred, in his 40s, welcomed us as his husband Max, 80, told us about closeted life and heartbreak in the 1960s. My face was a picture all night long, sipping the wine and sipping the (metaphorical) tea.

Back at church on Good Friday over the promised cross buns, Diana told us how clearing out her late Mother’s home was going. Christine talked about her husband’s trip to an evangelical Christian festival that she finds too big. And Betty, who a month ago was walking, wheeled up next to me and shared my disappointment over the not-hot cross buns. However much I hate what homophobia the global church has created and maintained, I care deeply for the church ladies I drink actual tea with.

These still feel like parts of my life to reconcile. You can be gay and Christian, but I’m gay then Christian and usually feeling inadequate and inauthentic in both spaces. And then there’s Jesus. The pricking of an unimaginable story of crucifixion and resurrection that maybe I believe more than I think. A story that says I am here now, because I was there when they crucified Jesus and I must be there for the ‘crucifying’ of men in Chechnya. A story that, come Easter Day tomorrow, brings another promise that maybe I now believe or cling on to a little more. Love wins.

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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 #17 – A Chance to Engage

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Luke Dowding

Lent is drawing to a close!

Come Sunday (or is it today… Or Saturday…?) I can eat chocolate again and stop feeling guilty for not successfully completing a devotional reading of the entire New Testament. Excellent.

So what have I learnt from this Lenten period? Other than biscuits are a somewhat suitable substitute for chocolate and that my academic cynicism seems to know no bounds? Perhaps firstly it’s worth mentioning the art of patience and waiting, a practice long forgotten by this age of immediacy and often perceived as the actions of those who aren’t driven, who lack passion or perhaps ambition. I’m not a patient person, I can’t watch a film that’s longer then ninety minutes without squirming in my seat or having to get up to do something else, I don’t like it when people don’t get to the point of what they’re saying without the use of embellishing adjectives or stories, and I struggle with finding the balance between active and passive activism. However, focusing more on the disciplines of fasting and deliberate action during Lent has offered a new perspective: Easter has been on the horizon over the last 40 days or so, but it has required patience to see Lent through to the end and reach the weekend in which we reflect, mourn and celebrate.

Last night I was invited to the Second Seder for Pesach; a friend of mine had invited over gay men from the three Abrahamic faiths to join in this festival meal. Despite Christianity’s familial relationship to Judaism (one of the dinner guests last night referred to it as siblings, rather than parent and child), I realized how little I knew of the Jewish faith and the traditions and practices within it. As the evening unfolded we were encouraged to ask questions, to be proactive, to challenge and to learn not only about the festival of Pesach but also about one another: our histories, faiths and outlooks on the world. It was perhaps one of the most thought-provoking, emotional and spiritual evenings I’ve had in a very long time; a chance to engage with scripture, our theology and culture, and the hard hitting issues of freedom.

It was on the way back home after such a powerful evening that it struck me what an apt way for me to bring my journey through Lent to a close. Perhaps I’ve not achieved all that I set out to, but I have opened myself up to a way of learning and being that I’d previously thought closed to me. The conversations last night around the Seder plate, reminded me that it is through our journeying together that we learn and grow, whether that’s learning a particular discipline such as patience or the history of a tradition we long thought we knew the complexities of. Through contributing to this blog and reading the other contributions, I feel I have been part of a similar sharing, learning, journeying, and growing; long may that continue.

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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 #16 – The Examen

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Freddie Alexander

I am sat on the edge of my bed. I am wearing a combination of red teddy bear print pyjama bottoms and a yellow star trek t shirt. I have my eyes closed, and am trying not to fidget. Next to me, my laptop is sat open, and the mixed accent of an Irish-American priest is speaking in soft tones about mediation. I am attempting to conduct an Examen, an ancient meditative practice developed in Christianity. It is having mixed results.

The Examen was developed by Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century as a formalisation of the Examination of Conscience. It contains five points that are intended to centre the meditators mind of their actions, how they have encountered and fallen short of God, and how they can look forward to encountering God in their upcoming day/week. Its five steps are as follows:

1. Become aware of God’s presence.

2. Review the day with gratitude.

3. Pay attention to your emotions.

4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.

5. Look toward tomorrow.

I was recommended it as a Lenten practice by Joey Knock (another contributor for this blog series). I often struggle with meditative practices, especially formalised ones. I don’t particularly like sitting still without some form of structure to centre my thoughts. As such, the Examen appealed to me with its combination of short length (always a plus!) and tight structure. With the additional promise of finding audio guides to walk through the meditation, I decided to give it a try.

The second stage of the Examen was where it started to make sense to me. In its description, this section is described as ‘reviewing your day with gratitude.’ In practice, the priest that was guiding me through the meditation asked me to ‘review my day through the eyes of God.’ I was reminded in this of the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, where Jesus tells his disciples that ‘what you did to the least of us you did to me.’ Instead of the usual guilt that is attached to this passage, I was able to reflect on my day, and see the moments I had acted out of love, kindness, and compassion, and also the moments where I had fallen short of these standards. I was moved by how gentle the meditation was, not demanding contrition or repellence, but instead allowing me to simply observe myself.

Each step of the Examen is a step further into oneself, with the intention of finally looking outward to consider how it may be applied to the upcoming day. The attention paid to emotions during the meditation is a good way of reviewing not simply how I felt about my actions in the moment, but also how I feel about them now. Did pride give way to guilt at a boastful comment, or did joy come from humility at an act of service?

I will be taking on the Examen into my regular practices going forward, and would highly recommend it. If you are interested in trying the Examen for yourself, I would recommend the following links to audio walkthroughs.

http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/lunchtime-examen

Lent #15 – Lamentations 5

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Luke Dowding

A re-writing of Lamentations 5. 

Can you see us, God? Can you you see what is happening around us? Look and see the mess we’ve made of your world.

We’ve abused, assaulted, and attacked your creation. Mined the ground, poisoned the soil, the water, the air. We fatten livestock for the already well fattened and we pillage the land of those wasting away.

Our inheritance has been co-opted: politicians and the historical elite hide in shadows as strangers, selling the homes, the identities, the self-worth of those not born into power. Our homes have been turned over to aliens, not the immigrants or the refugees whom we’re told are the enemy, but the giants of corporatism and greed.

We neglect our orphans, our widows and widowers, we fail to support those in need with a fair distribution of wealth and welfare. Those who sleep rough remain without a shelter above their heads, those who sleep on plush pillows buy yet more shelter to protect their wealth.

We have learnt to pay for everything we need, commoditising even the most basic of essentials needed to live. Millions waste water, not counting the cost, whilst millions more thirst. Elderly spend winters freezing in their own homes during the winter months, the cost of heating too much to bear.

We are tired, we are driven to unending deadlines and yoked to wanting more, now. We are given no rest, no chance to stop the forward motion, no chance to get off.

We make arms deals to feather our own nests, exporting weapons to those we know will use them for harm, for greed, for empire building. We have made a pact with those like Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, to keep ourselves safe.

We bear the sins of the 20th Century, the divisions, the conflicts, and the repercussions that followed. The decision makers of that time, slowly fading into history, the aftermath of their inequities repeating today, time and time again.

Those enslaved to capitalism, to power, to greed, they rule over us. There is no one to save us from this cycle, from this norm, from their hands.

We get what we need and all that we don’t, at the peril of our mental health and our physical wellbeing, because we are driven by the fear of being left behind, left out, abandoned. The wilderness is a scary place and we do all that we can to avoid it.

Famine scorches the land and burns up the bodies of those unable to feed or be fed. Like fire it taints not only those who have been burned, but those who witness the burning, those who do nothing to put out the flames.

Women are assaulted in places of sanctuary where they should be safe. Women of colour, trans women, mothers, daughters, women of every nation remain topics of discussion, subjects to be subjugated, their gender and identity exploited and used to exploit.

Princes of literature, music, justice, art, faith, have their hands bound restricting their passion and all that we can learn from it. Those who have gone before us, our elders, are ignored, mocked, locked away.

Zero hour contracts force grinding labour on those who have no other option, those who are young face prospects of unemployment or a lifetime of work that they derive no enjoyment, no passion from.

Those who were long since trusted to remind us of where we have been are no longer listened to, those who creatively look to the future are forced to keep quiet by the struggles they daily carry.

The joy we find in the sharing of the words closest to our hearts, stilled as the freedom of movement long celebrated becomes something feared, scorned and rejected. Our dancing turned to mourning.

We are now crownless, the once jewel of creation, fallen into the same sin we repeat throughout time. The sin of removing ourselves from the Divine.

Our hearts are afflicted because of all of this, we can’t see the world for what it really is through our dimmed eyes. We have become narrow, cold and resentful, the Garden has been left desolate, jackals picking at the remains of what was once pure and delightful.

But our God, you are with us forever. We must remind ourselves that you endure. You endure through it all and for us all.

It seems that you have forgotten us completely, do I need to read through that list again? How can it be that you have forsaken us in so many ways, when all we’ve ever been taught is that you are of love? Pure love.

Let us then focus in prayer and seek you, because we know that you can restore us. Not by waving a magic wand, but by journeying with us through the pain of restoration. Renew us, as we seek to renew the world around us. Change us as we hope to bring change.

Have you utterly rejected us? Are you angry beyond measure? We choose to look to the cross at times such as these, your pain, your suffering, your choice. You have not utterly rejected us. You are not angry beyond measure.

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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 #14 – Grading Bear’s Den Songs in order of Religious Accuracy

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Freddie Alexander

I recently had the pleasure of going to see Bear’s Den live in Glasgow. I was introduced to the band through a combination of a church board game group and my boyfriend, and they have quickly become of my my favourite new bands. Their music is a folk-rock, with the use of synth in their later albums, overlayed with some pretty heavy religious imagery.

In the latter half of Lent this year I will be taking part in National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo). One of the things I will be looking to explore is my own use of religious imagery in my writing. Bear’s Den are a group I will be using as inspiration.

However it is also my birthday and I wanted to have a bit of fun. So here is a list of Bear’s Den songs graded for biblical accuracy.

Isaac

An obvious one to begin with, this song is a reference to the character of Isaac from the book of Genesis. Long story short, Abraham is promised a son by God, but doesn’t have one until he is super duper old. God then tells Abraham in a dream to sacrifice his son, which Abraham obeys, up until the last moment when an Angel of God intervenes and gives Abraham a goat to kill instead.

Bears Den have a bit of a licence with this story. It is unclear as to who’s perspective the song is being written, but for my money I would say it is from Abraham at the moment of sacrifice. This is suggested in the lines:

“Isaac I have never seen you look so afraid
With your head pressed so hard against the stone”

Seeing as Abraham would have been the only other person there, and I doubt this is being written from the perspective of the goat. As such, the chorus line “I’m going to give all my love to you” becomes pretty creepy.

However, it gets a bit confusing in the second verse, with the line “I watched it from afar”. Now Abraham couldn’t have been watching this from afar, and we don’t have any other characters in the story (maybe the angel?). How can I take this song seriously if I don’t know the exact biblical circumstances?

Grade: A-

Agape

There is an interesting double entendre with the title of this song. Agape (a-gayp) in its English derivation means ‘to be open in surprise in wonder,’ while Agape (a-ga-pay) in its Greek derivation is used to mean a love different from erotic/eros, usually used to mean describe spiritual love in Christian contexts – an ‘agape meal’ is a meal between Christians.

Now this gets a bit confusing in the context of the song. The cheery bearded boys at Bear’s Den seem to be singing to a lover (“but baby, I’m clutching at straws” / tell me how long, love, before you go”), which would be more Eros than Agape. The fear of the songwriter is that the love will ‘dissapate’, so it could be a loss of spiritual love?

I feel the songwriters found Agape to be a nice word that means love, and decided to use it as the header to their song. Its good, but its ‘clutching at straws’.

Grade: B

Gabriel

The Angel Gabriel is a popular Angel in the Abrahamic religions, notably the messenger that appeared to both the Virgin Mary to announce the birth of Jesus Christ, and to the Prophet Muhammad to deliver the Qu’ran.

We don’t know who is singing this song, but the subject of the song uses he/him pronouns (and in the darkness / I lose him every time). As such we could hazard a guess that this is sung from the perspective of Mary.

This is supported slightly by the later lines, “it’s not just a shadow, but a life I left behind / the person I am yet most despised” – could this be a young mother Mary as a refugee in Egypt? I’m not a huge fan of this theory, as I tend to think of Mary as a more revolutionary figure, but it is an option.

Grade: B+

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.