It’s Monday morning in the UK. Less than 24 hours ago, we began to hear that a man with a gun had entered Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Since then, the news media and social media alike have been struggling to process what has happened. We live in a world of 24 hour news, where reactions are instant, and emotional.
There has been a major problem with most of the coverage I have seen and heard, though; it has felt seriously straight/cis/white-washed. Let me be clear: this violence was perpetuated against gay, bi, trans, and queer people because they are gay, bi, trans, and queer. It’s not an attack on “American values” or “the freedom of all people to try and enjoy themselves“, it was an attack on queer people in their own space. Perhaps, he chose a Latin night specifically, perhaps that was a coincidence, we will probably never know, but we do know that the victims we know about so far are almost exclusively Latin@.
Our responses to this tragedy matter. Who we give voice to matters. I have not yet heard the voices of queer people of colour in the British media. I have barely heard any LGBTQ+ voices at all. Owen Jones has been widely criticised for walking off a Sky News newspaper review, when his emotional request that this terrorist attack be claimed as a specific hate crime was cut off repeatedly by both the host and his fellow guest. Furthermore, the Today Programme on Radio 4 this morning included a segment in which “Christian Concern” were allowed to claim that gender neutral school uniforms are damaging to children, in which John Humphries asserted that the existence of only two genders is, “just a fact”.
On top of all this is the narrative that claims that because this terrorist was of Afghan descent, there is a need to deal with “Muslim” violence. This is despite the fact that the man arrested on the way to L.A. Pride with a cache of weapons was white (and has hardly been reported). Islam is not the problem. Hate is the problem. Every politician or commentator who challenges our right to marry, or to use a public toilet, or to do our jobs – whatever their faith or political affiliation – is the problem. Every “I’m not homophobic, but…”, every “love the sinner, but hate the sin”, every “there are only two genders” is another step on the road to the attack at Pulse.
One last thing – the language of “madness” and “lunatics” will get you nowhere. As a narrative, it’s designed to challenge the idea that Islam is violent, and I support that aim, but let’s just say, “Islam is not a violent religion,” and not start to throw mud at vulnerable people with poor mental health just to make that point.
So, let’s choose our words carefully. Let’s choose whose voices we are putting out there. Give LGBTQ+ people a platform, give a platform to queer and allied faith leaders, and tell the stories of the victims. We are scared, we are vulnerable, and we might not say what you think you want to hear, but please – let us speak.
There is a Persian proverb, “A Persian Rug is Perfectly Imperfect, and Precisely Imprecise”. It’s said that weavers of Persian rugs create ‘mistakes’ or deliberate imperfections in their work, in recognition that the only source of perfect creation is God, the one perfect Creator.
You could read this as a naïve arrogance, I suppose, and find an underlying assumption that this human creation would be perfect if only there were not this single disruption to the fabric, but I experience it slightly differently. As someone who enjoys the creative process for its own sake and is also cursed with a perfectionism thatcan be cruelly pedantic, I find the idea that errors are necessary in any human endeavour to be a liberating one. After all, we create so much more than carpets.
In all of our work, we make mistakes. We make typos and calculation errors, we mis-step in our relationships and interactions, and we do it often. These are the mistakes woven through the fabric of our lives, and on the lives of others. What is created by us, and those around us, must fall short of the glory of God. We were created perfect, but cannot sustain the perfection of the Creator.
What is in our control is what we do with our mistakes. Do we try to rip back our lives to fix them so that we are never able to live what we were created to live, or do we look in faith to the forgiveness of others and the grace that is available in God, and take on our precise imperfections as markers of all we have been forgiven for? If we are to live life in its fullness, we must trust God and our community to love us regardless, our perfectly imperfect selves.
Be kind and compassionate to one another,forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
The story of a knit object doesn’t begin with the first stitch cast on. It’s hard to know where it does begin, in truth. With the idea of this project, or with the first stitch this knitter created? Or earlier, in the Middle East, when the first true knitted fabrics were created? What is the heritage of this glove, or that shawl?
In a sense, a knitter’s own history and all knitting heritage is contained in any object. Under the literal woven yarn of the garment, toy, or blanket is the figurative thread that ties together the stories of creator and recipient. When I was an archaeology student, that peculiar sense of holding global and individual history in a created object never ceased to be compelling.
I’m very aware of that as a knitter, too, and it is one of the reasons I find great joy in creating gifts for other people. The crafty Pay-It-Forward that does the rounds on Facebook every year (in which folk commit to make presents for the first five people who comment on the post) is so much of a feature of my calendar that my wife has been known to try and forbid it in an attempt to fend off the inevitable moments towards the end of the year when I’m freaking out about the hat for someone I’ve not seen for five years being too big / too small / too green. I know it will happen, but I’m drawn to the challenge of creating just the right gift for someone who is important to me but a bit distant. In the time you spend creating for someone, they’re not distant at all.
Sometimes I see a pattern I want to make and instantly know who would love it (my Ravelry faves are full of these), but many of those never come to fruition. I’m much more likely to follow through on the projects where I start with the idea that Lovely Person would like a scarf, and it should probably be made from a cabled fabric. That is followed by hours of total immersion in Ravelry seeking yarn and patterns and pestering the long-suffering Mrs. H. to help me make every decision along the way. I might sometimes consult with the prospective recipient, but I’m v fond of giving Surprise Knitted Objects, so I’ll often take a risk rather than give the game away.
Assuming I’m not paralysed with indecision, and I can find a yarn and pattern that are both perfect, then I can finally cast on, and get to one of my favourite things: watching a 3d object emerge from sticks and string.
The best thing about all of this for me is how calming the process can be. I find it pretty easy to be in the moment with my yarncraft, especially a more complex pattern, and I have this amazing time to rest with my prayers and cares for the recipient, and work them into the fabric. It’s also one of the few times I really find it easy to sit with God. I’m often on the bus (in fact, I’m writing this seven hours into an eight-hour coach journey with two works-in-progress in my bag), so it turns my dependence on public transport into a blessing in my day.
Every year, I resolve to make more things for myself. I even broke my ‘yarn fast’ to spend my birthday money on some amazing wool to make myself a skirt this year, but since then I have cast on two gifts that were not in the Plan because when it really comes to it, making gifts makes me happy, and keeps me grounded.
If you’re a yarncrafter and you’ve never taken a risk on making a surprise present for a friend you miss, or that person you don’t know well who seems to be having a really pants time right now, take a risk. Search a pattern and cast on a Surprise Knitted Object for them, and just enjoy spending time with them; I hope it will be a blessing.
Many of my favourite ever projects have been gifts, here’s a few I had amazing fun with (in no special order):
More Tea, Vicar? (This is the original, but I have made several for clergy friends.)
Cthulhu cozy (This was a request – so much fun to work out how to do it.)
If self-harm is part of your story, and reading about it is a trigger, please take care before reading the following. Take care of you.
Here is an uncomfortable truth for people in pastoral leadership: people in your church are affected by self-harm, they don’t know where to turn, and they need you.
In the UK, self-harm (intentionally hurting or injuring oneself) accounts for around 150,000 admissions to hospital each year. Young people (especially adolescents), people living in poverty, and LGBT+ people are at particularly high risk,. Researchers and health professionals believe that self-harm is under-reported, because of the level of stigma and shame that people experience when they disclose self-harm to friends, family, and health professionals. So, let’s accept that there are people in your congregation who self-harm, or live with someone who self-harms, or have a child who self-harms, or experience the sorts of mental health problems that make them more likely than average to resort to self-harming behaviours. Have you ever thought about how you would support them, or empower others in the congregation to offer support?
I started self-harming in various ways when I was a young child. I didn’t know there was a name for it then, and it would be years before I really understood what was going on, or sought help. Like many people of faith, I was scared that what I was doing was wrong, or sinful, and that God could never love someone who hurt themselves.
When I first disclosed to a youth worker at church (with the help of a friend) that I was self-harming, I was scared. I was 16, I was just beginning to find a place for myself and my faith in a church that my friends attended, and I wanted to know how to feel better. Unfortunately, the church’s response was not a helpful one. I was led to believe that I was sinning every time I hurt myself, that I didn’t have enough trust in God, and that my best (or only) route to help was to seek out Christian counselling that would help me to deal with my ‘same-sex attraction’ and in the process I would be healed of all symptoms of mental ill-health. I internalised that for years; the guilt and shame were overwhelming.
It took nearly four years to disclose to anyone else in a position of church leadership, when I finally told the pastor of an MCC church I had started to attend as a student. His reaction was calmer, more measured, and emphasised the universal nature of my experiences. Instead of focusing on what was wrong with my response, he talked about how we could deal with the distress underlying it. It was like a weight being lifted from my shoulders – here was a church in which I could be whole. There were many differences between these two responses, but what my experience came down to was this: in one, I felt judged, in the second, I felt loved.
It is a scary thing, to encounter self-harm for the first time. I recently led a group of ministers in a discussion of pastoral responses to self-harm recently, and one described their initial reaction to seeing a self-inflicted wound as, ‘visceral repulsion’. There is something within the healthy self that is repelled by the idea of imposing bodily harm on oneself. It’s hard to grasp; it feels more abstract than an eating disorder, or an addiction, but it’s very real and has its origins in a similar state of mind – needing to do something to overcome or adjust the painful feelings. The apparent severity of what is done (be it wound, burn, or overdose) cannot be conflated with the severity of their emotional distress – the two are related but not immediately analogous.
Spiritually, someone who self-harms is engaged in a process of trying to make manifest soul-pain that they cannot process. They are reflecting their internal pain on their body to try to make sense of it, but in doing so they often feel a deep sense of shame. If the shame is left unchecked, it starts to magnify the other pain and self-loathing that is already present in the individual. As a pastoral carer, you may not be able to soothe the soul-wounds, but you can reassure a child of God that they are loved and cared for, and they do not need to feel shame simply for the way in which they seek to understand and express their pain. There are a number of ways we can do this in pastoral care. The most obvious is to be fully available for people who self-harm, on their own terms. It can be tempting to try and ‘fix’ the problem, but when people have found a way to cope often it is enough just to sit with them in their pain and be there for them in their coping. It may be wise to encourage someone to seek support from a doctor, but you do not need to fix them.
The other thing we can do as pastoral leaders is to take a stand from the front. Talk about mental health – good, bad, and everything in between – in sermons and seminars, and encourage your congregation to see mental health and physical health as aligned. Just as neither cancer nor diabetes are caused by a lack of faith, or spiritual possession, neither is a personality disorder, or severe depression. Preach bravely about the love of God for all who suffer, and dare to name the unnameable. There are people waiting to hear it. There are people who need that reassurance more than you can possibly know.
Today – 1st March – is Self-Harm Awareness Day. There are loads of good resources being shared today to help you to learn more. Here are just a few, in no particular order:
I love making and giving gifts. The whole process of finding patterns and yarns that will appeal, and working up something that’s fun to knit and (hopefully) fun to wear really appeals to me. I haven’t shared projects with you here for a while, because I’ve been focused on Christmas surprises. So here is a roundup of my Twelve Knits of Christmas (in no particular order).
To see updates of projects as I’m working on them, find me on Ravelry.
This jumper appealed to Ems because of its potential to be perceived as gender-neutral, or a female couple. I blogged more about that last month when I finished it. It’s getting a lot of wear (hurrah!) and is holding up well, but I have had to re-stitch one or two seams.
Nine family scarves
On a whim in July – when Christmas was a very long way off! – I had a thought that it would be a fun thing to do to knit scarves for Ems’ close family. It was a really fun process, choosing patterns and yarns and working on the scarves on my regular commute and on the longer journeys to and from Newcastle over the summer break.
This open drop-stitch pattern is a go-to for a quick project. It grows quickly, it’s reversible, and it’s effective in almost any yarn. It also has the advantage of being very warm when it’s layered. The natural fibres in this yarn have been spun together to create a two-tone effect that is highlighted by the dropped stitches.
Wingspan is one of the most popular shawls on Ravelry. Following the modification directions in the pattern, I adapted the wedges to make a narrower scarf. The short-row shaping creates a curved edge so that scarf sits tight on the neck and will easily tuck under the collar of a jacket.
Like Wingspan, this pattern suggests a number of possible variations. I chose a narrow chevron rib, not too bulky under a coat or jacket. The photo doesn’t do justice to the highlights of scarlet and bright blue in the purplish yarn, which really lift it.
This is a clever take on the standard basket-weave squares. Right-angled trangles in stocking-stitch and reverse-stocking-stitch give the pattern its name and form diamond or windmill shapes as you look at them. The garter-stitch edging stops it from curling and holds the shape.
This scarf uses a technique called ‘Illusion Knitting’. Each row of the pattern is made of four rows of stocking stitch with purl stitches used to raise the pattern off the fabric so that it appears when you look along the long edge. I didn’t manage to capture it properly in a photo, but there are some great pictures on Ravelry, taken by others of their own scarves, that show the full effect.
Pattern: Fibonacci Scarf (Alive and Knitting)
Yarn: Hobbycraft Women’s Institute Acrylic (1 skein each of purple and biscuit)
I usually prefer to knit with a superwash wool or wool-mix, but this recipient is allergic to animal fibre. This new yarn from Hobbycraft and the WI is both very soft and available in strong colours and it knitted up nicely. The scarf itself is a stocking stitch tube closed with tassels. The stripes are determined by the Fibonacci sequence, going up one side and down the other so that wide stripes sit next to narrow ones.
This is an interesting knit. Ysolda’s patterns are very appealing, because they are interesting to the knitter, easy to follow, and very effective when they are finished. This yarn has sections of purple and dark grey amongst the turquoise base that show as blocks on the edging and more subtle flashes of colour in the garter stitch body.
Garter stitch is a good vehicle for lace in a scarf, because it makes it fully reversible and removes some of the risk of the fabric supercurling. The yarn is a lovely wool-silk mix with a soft halo, very easy to work with.
Two post-Christmas gifts
I had some projects I had intended to complete before the end of the year, so I used the Christmas period for them.
This is a quick and easy teacosy requested by a friend. I picked the lavender when it was growing in our garden over summer and left it to dry for a couple of months in my office to make the cotton pouch (which I made from a scrap in my craft box, you could also use an old tea towel).
I am slightly guessing at the yarn, it’s inherited from a stash swap. It’s a lovely colour and took the small seed beads well. The beads turn a simple hat into something a little more special with very little extra effort. A lovely quick project, a ‘just because’ present for our next-door neighbour.
Cross-posted from the newsletter of MCC North London, with permission.
At MCC North London, we usually use a lectionary (readings set for the year) in planning our services. This means that we are working most Sundays within the same scriptural framework as others in churches around the world. This is empowering and humbling.
One consequence of preparing this way is that you don’t have to hear the preachers’ pet texts week in, week out, and we are challenged to bring you a wide range of texts from our rich tradition.
I was amused by the slightly nervous response to when a reading from Leviticus was announced this Sunday. It was a response I recognise, it speaks of a difficult relationship with the Books of the Law. Anyone who has found themselves on the wrong side of a legalistic framework for interpreting scripture is nervous of returning to the scene, and yet it is vital that we do.
My preparation for this week’s sermon served to remind me that every book of the Bible contains profound truth and beauty. When people have used scripture against us, it is critical for our healing that we return to the books that have been used as weapons and find that truth and beauty. When we engage with scripture in order to authentically seek God, we will not be disappointed.