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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Normalisation of the Church of England

"Church of England to use Positive Discrimination to Boost Women Bishops" says the Telegraph. Thus using an expression guaranteed to cause assorted Colonel Blimps to have assortedly high blood pressure.

But why would it need to bother?

Let's suppose the ability of a minister in the Church of England to be a bishop - it requires attributes not all ministers have, no aspersions cast on non-episcopal candidates - is a normal distribution.

And then let's suppose that the selection of bishops is perfect - that the most suitable non-bishop is chosen each time to be consecrated to the next episcopal vacancy. Let's ignore variability between suffragans and diocesan bishops, and the truth that some bishops may or may not fit certain posts better, for reasons of church tradition or whatever.

Then the proportion of men selected up to now as bishops might look something like this. (Bishops in a suitably male colour, like a nice episcopal purple):

But now that women can become bishops, assuming the same things about distribution etc - why would you need positive discrimination? That same graph for female priests, remembering there are fewer full-time priests who are women, would look a bit like this (yes, I know, should be a bit narrower, but whatever). In this  case I've coloured the number of women who are as qualified to be bishops as the men who are already bishops, in a nice feminine colour. For contrast, it's a nice episcopal purple.

And sure this is only a bit of fun, as I get fed up with Burton faffing around trying to do this properly on a spreadsheet so I'm hand-waving rather than doing real maths. And I know there's less accuracy in the selection process, and they'll have missed good men who will be caught later. And I know there will be new, young exciting male would-be bishops coming through all the time. But the long and the short of it is, by having 20 years of women being priests but not allowed to be bishops - there's gonna be a whole bunch of women just bashing against the stained-glass ceiling.

In fact, if there is any need to favour women over equally-qualified men, then the logic would say - that means the criteria are still weighed against women. Sheer stats will mean, given a level playing field, that more than half of all new bishops should be women for the next four or five years. After that, it should still be a higher ratio than the current 5:1 ratio of men to women in full-time priest jobs, until all ratios normalise. I'll say it again - if it takes positive discrimination, then the criteria for selection - whether explicit or implicit - are wrong. The C of E doesn't need to do anything to upset the Blimps. Except let the nature of statistics take its

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

On the Feast of the Magdalene

Not (or not as far as the Bible tells us) a prostitute.

Not a woman who was a sinner - or no more than the rest of us - or not that the Bible tells us.

Not (as far as the Bible tells us) the woman who poured ointment on Jesus' feet.

Not, or not necessarily, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.

Not a paradigm of repentance.

Not a woman they should have named unmarried mothers after.

The one who received Jesus's blessings sevenfold.

The one whose love was first on the scene.

The one who gave the good news to the Apostles.

Not a woman to label.

But then, who is?

Monday, 21 July 2014

Helping Tony Blair

Poor Tony Blair claims he's worth a mere £25m. Obviously my immediate reaction, that that's what he'd like the Revenue to think, is deeply unworthy.

But it is terribly worrying, if the world's worst peace envoy barely has the equivalent of a George W Bush after-dinner speaking tour to rub together. After all, Luis Suarez earns £25m every 2 years or so. Although, to be fair, Suarez does not bite people on the basis of unreliable dossiers. Nor do his misdemeanours lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

But can you do your bit to help Tony Blair?

Just 10 grand will pay for him and Cherie to go on a nice holiday.

49 quid will buy all the unsold copies of his autobiography.

£2,000 will buy him a nice mirror. If he can see his reflection in it, he can practice looking himself in the eye. It can't be easy.

Just 200 grand a year can pay for a new Middle East envoy - one who's got s better track record in Middle Eastern peace-making than Antiochus Epiphanes. In fact, forget that. There's not a person in England who doesn't have better peace-making experience than our Tony. People who spend Friday nights having punch ups in Luton Town centre would be safer hands.

Give whatever you can. Remember the mute appeal of those blank, lifeless eyes. Just whatever you do, help Tony?

Injury Pixies for U

Have you, or someone you love, suffered an Enchanted Wood-related accident?

We at Injury Pixies for U can help you get the compensation you deserve.

Thanks to Injury Pixies for U, the Saucepan Man successfully sued the Magic Saucepan Company for loss of his hearing. The judge said that constantly confusing the words you hear has nothing amusing about it.

We helped Silky the Fairy bring a case for sex discrimination against the Kingdom of Fairyland. As well as having gossamer wings and a helpful personality, Silky has a Doctorate in Astrophysics and an MBA specialising in Woodland Management. Yet she was never allowed to break through the "Glass Tree Canopy because Moonface feared she would meet a nice goblin and have children.

The Angry Pixie was found to have an untreated stress disorder, caused by the constant stream of visitors past his house.  We won him 1,000s in compensation, and got the top of the Magic Faraway Tree cut off.

And the Slippery-Slip? A health and safety nightmare. We took out a class action on behalf of all the goblins and woodland creatures who've fallen down it over the years. Moonface will never smile again.

Injury Pixies for U. Making the Enchanted Wood a safer place to have an adventure.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Gospel of the Lazy Gardener

Of a Sunday, I generally like to use the Common Lectionary for a reading. In a community whose interests are as diverse as Confucious, Ayn Rand, Vangelis, Gandhi and Dr Seuss, it's handy to keep people in line once a week.

Except this week. Totally destroyed the Kitchen Garden detail I had planned for this afternoon. Inspired by the Parable of the Wheat 'n' Tares, they're not rooting up dandelions. Oh no. They're patting them on the heads, saying "who am I to judge."

I reckon for a Son of God, Jesus was a rotten horticulturalist. His garden would have been full of weeds.

And insects. And spiders. And bats. And other wildlife.

Actually, thinking about it.....

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Religious Leaders Top Trumps

What with the weather being so random, a few of us went off to dodge the midges in the Summer House and had a game of Religious Leaders Top Trumps.

We had a great game, which Young Keith won after striking lucky and getting the "Richard Dawkins" card. Which seemed odd as strictly speaking he's not really a religious leader. And his number of followers, "6 billion", was apparently his own estimate.

Overall though, great fun and very enlightening. Just a few gripes, really. All the Popes have saintliness ratings of 10 - "just in case". Which seems a bit optimistic in  the case of Alexander VI. Damian Thompson definitely isn't a leader as such, and his follower rating of 15,000 is his Twitter score, which isn't the same thing at all. And how can Mark Driscoll get a score of -3 for "Equal Rites"?

No Beaker Folk in a Thunderstorm

They say there are no atheists in a foxhole. But I reckon they're wrong. A foxhole - surrounded by the waste and horror of the Somme, for instance - I reckon that's the ideal place to think atheism may have it right. That's me in the foxhole, that's me in the phosphorous light, losing my religion. Certainly the trenches seem to be the defining experience in the loss of faith of the English people,. Funny how we never lost our faith in the power of human progress, either then or with the horrors of the Nazis or the a Bomb or the a Cultural Revolution. But I guess that's generally other people, isn't it?

Anyway, we had a lot of kerfuffle Thursday night. The unexpected storm meant we had Beaker Folk roaming the floors of the Great House, screaming, in their dressing gowns late into the night.

But last night, it was predicted and I could track the storm's arrival. So we gathered in the conservatory to watch the storm arrive from the south. It was marvellous. We had the windows open, the darkling sky had not quite lost its afterglow over Fenny Stratford. The air was heavy with the smell of honeysuckle and approaching apocalypse. I preached my little sermonette on the subject of our awesome creator God - The Lord of Potential Difference and the Logic that makes electrons fly.

There was a massive sheet of lightning, apparently from Woburn to Ridgmont, it was so huge and bright. The landscape flared into two-dimensional, ghastly light. For a moment it was like demons skipped through the woods towards the Abbey. Three seconds later, came a voice of great thunders like the announcement that Doom is arriving on Platform 1,

Next thing I know, the Beaker Folk are screaming, falling to their knees and begging Thunor to have mercy.

That George Carey's got it all wrong. It's not that the church is one generation from extinction. I reckon we're all just one disaster away from paganism..

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Better the Devil You Know

Los and Paul debate the removal of the horned man in the smoky house from the (alternative) baptismal liturgy of the Good Old C of E.

Let's be clear. The Devil of mediaeval conception is not one we find in the Bible. For starters it's actually Jesus who is associated with using an agricultural fork;

"His winnowing fork is in his hand to clean out his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.” (Luke 3:17) - Meek and mild, eh?

In fact, the Dark One's relatively few appearances are quite diverse. First up there's the talking snake trick in Genesis - setting up that great truth in moral affairs - he can suggest, he can cajole, he can draw wonderful pictures of the future. But whether we sin is, on a case-by-case basis, down to us.

In Job he appears to be God's chief scientist, responsible for carrying out quite outrageous psycho-theological experiments on the most moral people to see at what point they crack. With, I should point out, God's express permission. I mean, fair enough, God's gaff, God's rules. But - well; I mean, what?

Then in similar vein, in the New Testament, he's doing much the same to Jesus. Offering all sorts - that aren't really his - if Jesus will worship him.

And you could say that this is a dialogue in Jesus's head, as he works out what sort of a Messiah to be. And you could be right. But, as Dumbledore points out to Harry Potter in the heavenly Kings Cross Station, that doesn't mean it's not true.

Because this, when all is said and done, is what Evil does. It makes promises it can't really keep. It offers things it doesn't really own, and which won't last. It tells you that you are the mistress of your own soul, that you can have all things, while in reality it desperately needs to feed on human souls to survive itself. It will crush a million lives so one person can grasp power.

But it's only ever derivative - no more an equal enemy of God than you and I could be if we wanted to put our minds to it.

Satan's fourth great set-piece appearance (for there is, contrary to popular opinion, no Biblical evidence that Jesus danced with the Devil on his back on Good Friday) is in the Revelation. And, after much false worship and much bloodshed, he and all his mates are thrown into a pit of fire. And that's after Michael - an angel, not the Divine - has thrown him out of Heaven. Embarrassing when you're aspiring to Supreme power, eh? And the message is hammered home. He's pretty mighty. He can attain great power on earth - if humans will bend the knee to him. But his time is short, and his power is secondary. His time will always pass.

That's the illusion. Whether it's Jadis, the Hooded Claw,  Voldemort or Sauron, the power only appears unlimited. It feeds off the obedience it can extract. But the Deep Magic of love and sacrifice - Aslan's, Lily's, Sam and Frodo, the Ant Hill Mob - will always defeat it. That's ground into our souls - the evil witch will lose, the dragon will be slain. Close up, evil looks very big. On an eternal scale, love wins.

So no pitchfork, no red tights. No goat's foot, no hipster beard.  An insistent, whinging, cajoling, tempting, inveigling voice and a power that can only destroy what it feeds on - the souls of women and men. And that experience of being tempted, lied to, encouraged to lust for power that's not mine, for possessions I shouldn't have because I'm damaging others' lives in taking them - that's a sense so strong, I can personalise it. That voice that tells me I'm so useless that everyone, including God, hates me - that's so definite that I can recognise it and put a name on it. And that name means "accuser".

Do I believe the Devil exists? Yes I do. Will I resist his lures, lies and false promises? With the help of God, I will.

The Gates of Hull

Have received a request from three women in the East Riding of Yorkshire. They'd like to form an all-female community under the Beaker rule.

Seems a great opportunity to spread light in the darkness. Now we just need a name. What on earth would one call a group of nuns in Beverley?