Religion

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+

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Lent #5 – Journeying to Return

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Freddie Alexander

I do not cycle in Edinburgh. Cycling on city roads feels alien to me. It is loud, smooth, treacherous, a series of rules that I do not fully grasp. I learnt how to cycle on country paths, dirt roads, and trail-ways. Often, the only way I could leave my own small town was to follow an abandoned railway, long since returned to nature and walking enthusiasts.

I would often follow this railway as long as I could, for hours at a time. The names of towns would become familiar, markers on my journey. Broadstone, Wimborne, Ferndown, West Moors, Ashley Heath, Ringwood. I would set out in the morning and ride until well into the afternoon. Reaching the end of myself, I would stop, rest, and then return.

Returning was difficult. At the outset these routes had been a promise of adventure, newness. I had followed this path because I did not know where I was going. But I knew where I was returning to. I knew, eventually, that my journey would involve returning.

At this beginning of Lent I am tempted to feel distant. To isolate myself within practice and self-denial, to reject a world I am intending to leave behind. Unlike Advent, Lent can be a somewhat solipsistic Christian tradition. We pride ourselves in our meditative practices and devotional sacrifice. We become very public about how giving up alcohol has brought us closer to God. On the first day of Lent I even tweeted a verse from Biblehub.com. In some way I think I wanted to show off.

The common comparison between Lent and the Gospel is in Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism. In this story, Jesus retreats into the wilderness to fast and pray, while the devil tempts him. This is often placed before Jesus has any notable following, even before recruiting his disciples.

Jesus was private about this retreat. He does not mention it to his disciples later in the gospel. I wonder what it means to live privately. Even this morning I sent out a quick tweet mentioning that I was going to Mass. I don’t want to bemoan the ‘evils of social media,’ because I don’t believe in that. Rather, I am wondering how live with integrity, alone before God, wheresoever they manifest.

In this, I remember that Jesus returned from the wilderness. These times of retreat are not indefinite. When we reach the end of our journey into the wilderness, we can always return. The return may be painful, difficult, or even boring. But it is necessary, should we grow in our understanding of ourselves and each other.

In this time of Lent I am trying to be private where I can, quiet where I am tempted to be congratulatory. To follow where this path leads with a limited time, until it draws to a close.

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Lent #4 – Turning from Perfection

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Debbie White

Part of my Lenten discipline this year is reading Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love. What with all the other life stuff that has got in the way the first week has been less than successful, but I hope that next week I can throw myself into it fully. At first I was feeling disappointed in myself for not having stuck to my goal – I felt as though I had failed some kind of test, but then I realised that really isn’t what Lent is about, and it’s really not what Julian is about. So rather than being a reflection on what I’ve learnt from reading Julian of Norwich this week, I thought I’d write about what my motivations for doing this.

It will come as no surprise to those who know me that one of my favourite shows is Call the Midwife. It manages to build me up, break me down, then build me up again within the course of a single episode and is unfailingly moving while never feeling preachy or saccharine. In the first episode of the current season, one of the sisters is about to start treatment for mental illness, and she asks ‘what was it that Julian of Norwich wrote? Not the thing about ‘all shall be well’. Not that, because I can’t believe that anymore.’

The reply comes with one of my favourite bits of the Revelations:

‘God did not say thou shalt not be tempested,

thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be diseased.

But he said, thou shall not be overcome.’

This is a beautiful part of the episode and a beautiful part of the Revelations. The problem with reading Julian of Norwich is that her words are so wonderfully written that it is hard to write about them and add anything to them – nothing I say about the nature of God’s love for us can add to that short phrase. Much of the text deals with this idea, and I think it is something to hold onto during Lent. Often in Christian circles there’s an emphasis on perfection and it can be easy to see Lent as either a way of striving for perfection or beating ourselves up because we can’t reach that. There are many churches which are full of smiling faces hiding fear and vulnerability – churches where people are told ‘if you accept Jesus into your life, everything will be perfect!’

What Julian of Norwich reminds us is that sometimes things aren’t perfect. Sometimes we struggle and life throws things at us we can barely handle. ‘Accepting Jesus’ doesn’t stop bad things from happening – but God is there, in the midst of it.

My hope for Lent is that by reading words of Julian daily I will be reminded of this. Perfection is not what I should be striving for (though try telling that to my Hermione complex!) – re-orienting myself towards God is.

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Debbie is a PhD student at the University of Glasgow researching feminist and queer approaches to Anglo-Saxon nuns. She is a member and former trustee of SCM and is interested in theology, cats and cinema (among other things). Debbie tweets about her research and life as a PhD student at @medievaldebbie.

 

Lent 2017 #1 – Ash Wednesday

Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project. 

Freddie Alexander

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming. (Joel 2:1)

Ash Wednesday is my favourite Christian holiday. I am often required to justify this. Christmas is a popular choice. Easter has plenty to do. Even Advent has a robust liturgy and scripture. Why am I so drawn to the ‘Debbie-downer’ of Christian traditions?

In the episcopal tradition, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. After celebrating Shrove Tuesday (aka ‘Pancake Day’), Christians attend a midweek Mass, before which the priest marks each member of the congregation’s forehead with an ashen cross, repeating:

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Genesis 3:19)

I grew up in the evangelical wing of the Church of England. I was told, along with many of my peers, that we were going to (literally) live forever in heaven.

As such we should not fear death.

As such we should not talk about death.

And yet, people die.

It is this startling cognitive dissonance between evangelical Christianity and Ash Wednesday that I found electrifying. Gone was the wish fulfilment, the happy ending, the gloss. It felt like, suddenly, an adult had turned on the lights and spoken to me in an honest voice.

I felt respected.

As I begin this season of Lent I am encouraged by Ash Wednesday. I feel more attuned to the urgency of self-healing after acknowledging that it cannot be indefinitely delayed. I am called to reconcile with my neighbour because the time for reconciliation is short.

Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

It is appropriate that the core of the Ash Wednesday liturgy is potentially the most famous line of poetry associated with death. The heart of the Christian faith is remembering. To remember Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection, the exodus and prophets.

I must equally remember myself. Each sacrament is a marker in the journey of my life. I will experience each one with varying degrees of consciousness, save one. I can not experience my own funeral. Yet, in Ash Wednesday, this is what I am called to anticipate. Not in fear, or in ignorance, but in submission, kneeling before a priest and accepting a mark of my own life/death.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining

We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of the day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. (T.S. Eliot, ‘Ash Wednesday’)

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Lent 2017 – An Introduction

As a part of Lent 2017 I will be hosting a series of short blog reflections by guest writers. We will be sharing our thoughts on the subject of Lent, and how we are currently meditating on it.

This blog series is intended to be exploratory and gentle, not prescribing what Lent means to us, but rather how we are experiencing it. Our goal is to write multiple short entries, exploring our path through Lent collectively and individually.

The writers to be featured in this series will be:

Luke Dowding

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.

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Joey Knock

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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Debbie White

Debbie is a PhD student at the University of Glasgow researching feminist and queer approaches to Anglo-Saxon nuns. She is a member and former trustee of SCM and is interested in theology, cats and cinema (among other things). Debbie tweets about her research and life as a PhD student at @medievaldebbie.

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