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Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Time-Travelling Vicar

Had a visit from "Torchwood". They think they're onto something.

Their evidence is the benefice Sunday service rota of a scattering of villages in North Norfolk:

Little Mizzling - BCP Holy Communion - 8 am

Great Mithering - Low Mass - 8.30 am

Upper Mithering - Parish Family Eucharist - 9 am

Lower Ratrace - Family Communion - 9.30 am

Lower Mithering - Parish Communion - 10 am

Great Mizzling  - High Mass - 10.30 am

Little Mithering - Family Service (3rd Sunday)  - 11 am

You see the issue - the service rota looks entirely reasonable at first glance, in a multi-parish benefice. But there's only the one minister. No retired clergy, no self-supporting, not even a Reader. And there's no way any vicar, no matter how fast they drove, could actually manage to have 30 - 80 minute services in each of those parishes, every Sunday.  And there's the fact that, having been in post for 75 years, the vicar still looks like this......

"Choose the time for Bertie's baptism?
And would you like him "done" in Mineral water?"
So Torchwood are reckoning they're onto the track of "The Father", a maverick Time Lord who travels around, "showing his face for a few minutes" at thousands of parish fetes across space and time, and consuming unfeasible amounts of tea. In fact, they reckon the biscuits he's consuming in endless pastoral visits explain a relativistic wobble in the earth's orbit. He gets around using a time machine in the shape of a small, dusty entrance hall - "The Narthex", which materialises at the front of the churches where he ministers.

Naturally the Church Commissioners are also showing an interest. An immortal alien who can travel in time is wasted in Norfolk. He would make a fantastic minister simultaneously in large benefices all over the country - solving the Church of England's staffing, finance and pension problems at one fell swoop.

So, in my position as chief religious adviser to Torchwood, naturally I ran down to East Anglia with them to talk to "The Father's" PCC. I was a bit disappointed.

"We preferred it in old Father Grinham's time. He used to wear a cope"

I mean, don't get me wrong. They were as friendly and co-operative as any other church committee. But they could best be described as "stiff and unbending", and wanted to keep the vicar to themselves.

I think it's best if we leave "The Father" where he is. After all, we don't want his PCC getting grumpy and "upgrading"  the General Synod. Not again.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Dr Seuss - A Birthday Psalm

I am Sam

Sam I am

I do not like that Sam I am.

Do you like green eggs and ham?

I do not like green eggs and ham
I do not like them, Sam I am.

I do not like them on a table
I do not like them in the Tower of Babel 

I do not like them in the dark
I do not like them in an ark

I do not like them in a crypt
I do not like them in Egypt

I do not like them when unaided
I do not like them with King David

I do not like them with an amoeba
I do not like them with Bathsheba

Not with a scapegoat, not with a ram
not with Goliath not with Abraham

I do not like green eggs and ham
I do not like them, Sam I Am.

Why don't you like green eggs and ham?


The Manly Manifesto

Tomorrow is an exciting day for the Beaker Folk. It's the day of our Manly Manifesto. A whole day when the Manly Men of the community, freed from the feminising agenda of the women, can explore what it means to be a man. A manly man. In a Christian way. A Christian, manly way. And without any hint of being gay. Not that they're anti-gay, of course.
Unfortunately every time they tried to plan it, they were all so busy trying to be Alpha Males - shouting "Damn!" and drinking straight Scotch - that nobody ever actually got round to a schedule. 

Which is why I've done it for them.

8am - Manly Morning Worship

I'll be honest, I'm expecting this mostly to be scratching, belching and worse.

8.10am - Men's Leadership Breakfast

A lot of talk of leadership - the need for it, its importance, what to do with it. Why the old idea of "the first will be last" don't cut it so much in these managerialist days.

8.45 am - Keynote Speech

Yan Hairyman, on the subject: "Pushing your way to the front is Servanthood too".

9.30 - Coffee

10 am - Jesus the Manly Man
Snosgraz considers Jesus in the light of the Gospel evidence:
- He had a beard. Not a stupid, hipster beard. A proper, manly beard.
- He hung out with proper, manly blokes. Men with beards. Proper, manly beards. - And none of this was in a gay way. Not that it would matter if it were. No, not at all. But it definitely weren't.
- He spent a lot of time in the wilderness, like Bear Grylls.
- He used to chase people around with whips and throw tables at them.
- Women used to cook him dinner, and cry at his feet.
From this, delegates will break into small groups to ask the question "Who would Jesus Duff Up?" - an exploration of a new, manly paradigm for male Christianity.

11am - Unarmed Bear-killing

(Beginners level: Gerbils)

12 noon - Manly Lunch

The small groups will head onto Aspley Hearh to catch and kill woodland animals to eat, just like Jesus would.

2pm - Jurgen Moltmann is a Big Girl's Blouse

Radical Manly-Christian speaker, Mark Bisto, tells the survivors from Lunch that all theology is fundamentally a bit soft.

3pm - Said Even-Song
(because singing is a bit soft, and only boys with high voices do it).

3.30 - Unarmed Bear Killing

(Intermediate level: Chinchillas. But be careful, they can nip a bit)

4pm - Who would Jesus Support?
The big debate - if Jesus lived in England now, which football team would he follow?  This may be resolved with a certain amount of manly, friendly wrestling to sort out the issue, which won't be at all homo-erotic.

5pm - Go Into All the World to Be Blokes

The closing banter will be delivered by Snosgraz, who will encourage the men that, through the power of testosterone and delusional self-belief, they can change the world.

6pm - Being Told Not to be so Stupid

Our Manly Men share their Manly Action Plans with their partners.

Cancelled Due to Apathy

Our "Gray Day Service", intended to enable us to express our faith even in annoyingly dull conditions, is cancelled due to apathy.

Frankly it's just as well, as I couldn't be bothered to write the sermon.

And I know the Quire hadn't practiced as they thought the songs were a bit dull and unimaginative.  Well, of course they were. I didn't have the time to think and pray through them, check the key sequences worked. So I just used the ones from last week. The ones everybody said were uninspiring. I thought they'd do.

I really ought to go and put a notice up on  the Moot House door. But it's gray,  and cold out. So I won't worry about it too much.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

A Sharp Edge and a Cross

Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ 
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

The time of Lent is a time for sharp edges. It's not a time for fuzzy niceness. You can do that at Harvest.

The fluffy bunny style of theology says that all things are nice, people are nice, God is nice and we should be nice. Now being nice to people is fine. But God isn't "nice". God is not a fluffy bunny. God is portrayed in the Bible as in many respects quite scary. And that's not where the Gospel is. I knew an old preacher who told me he was going to "preach the Gospel", and preached an entire sermon on the Resurrection. He didn't mention the Cross - the thing that brought the Resurrection about - once. That wasn't the Gospel. It was nice, but it wasn't the Gospel.

Jesus is listing the people that he will be rejected by. The elders - so, the rabbis, the community leaders. The chief priests - the people at whose hands the sacrifices are made that mean people can come close to God. The scribes - the ones who understand and interpret the Law of Moses - which is the gift of God through whom the people of God can keep themselves holy. The full apparatus of local and religious life and institutions will be brought against Jesus. As a Jew, he will be a nobody. And the challenge Jesus lays out is - can you be like that?

Can you be cut off from the whole support structure of your family, your street, your religion, your community? Would you see your next-door neighbour rush inside the house rather than talk to you? Your former friends cross the road rather than be associated with you? That's where some of our brothers and sisters are today.

Would you consider the possibility that your relatives - yourself - might be raped, kidnapped, killed for the sake of Jesus? That's where some Christians are today. What would I do today, with the thought that my son could be tortured and murdered because of my belief?  I don't know. It's not the cross I'm carrying. And if I thank God for that, I also have to pray far more fervently for those that are suffering.

It's easy to troll through the history of the Church and find great saints to set before us as an example. But even that is not necessary. Two weeks ago, 21 Coptic Christians were murdered on the beach in Libya for the sake of Jesus. The last words of many of them were, "Lord Jesus".  The blood of the martyrs has flowed through the Roman empire, through the Reformation, through the atheist Communist atrocities of the 20th Century, down through the Islamist murders of this current one. Because it seems there is nothing Satan hates more than the people who follow the man of peace. Because a man of peace, and justice, humility and putting others above yourself - is the thing that Satan fears above all else.

The word "martyr" has been much-abused by Islamists - not Muslims, Islamists -  recently. I guess my take on it is this. When somebody blows up innocent others - and kills themselves - they're not martyrs. They're murderers. When somebody dies fighting to take away other people's liberty - they're not martyrs. They're failed oppressors. But when somebody dies simply for their faith - holding to what they hold to be true, whether they're Christians in the USSR, Muslims in Burma - an atheist in Bangladesh - they're a martyr. They've died witnessing to what they believe is true, and they've not done it at the expense of anybody else.

As Christians, we're called to follow Our Lord wherever he leads. It's not good news on a short scale, this one. When Jesus tells his disciples what's going to happen, Peter tells him off. Come on Jesus, this doesn't need to happen. You can keep being a preacher - keep on the behaving well stuff. Maybe lay off the "kingdom of God" theme. That's never gonna go down well with the authorities, bashing on about alternative powers, higher forms of government than they can call upon.

"Get behind me, Satan." Peter's looking at the short-term view. He's weighing up the odds for the next few years - but there's much greater weight in the scales than he realises.

Jesus sees a cross - a short time of death - and beyond it, an open tomb and a new hope for the world. He knows that the easy route - Peter's route - leads to a life as a much-loved prophet, audiences with Herod, tea with Pilate - dinner with Annas and Caiaphas, discussing how Jesus's movement can best be channeled into raising funds for the Temple. This is why Jesus says "Get behind me Satan" - he's echoing the approach of the Dark One in the desert. Take it easy, do your magic, draw the crowds - you can be on the gravy train for life.

But Jesus's choice is starker than that. If he takes the easy, cushty route then he's leading his followers down the primrose path to hell. He'd be saying that belief is about sitting round, feeling good, thinking how great God is... everything except the thing he's come for.

And what he has come for? Is to set out God's priorities. That the poor, the child, the weak, the oppressed come first. That the rich, the so-called grown up, the strong, the one with power comes last. That power over another may be strength in this world - but on an eternal scale it's a disaster. .Because power, money, strength - they are delusions. They exist for a while, but they fade. Or you die and they're gone. And then you have another set of rules to deal with.

The Church goes wrong when it allies with those with power. It always has. When it sides with vested interests - whether the king and the nobles in medieval England, or the power of capital in the United States, or the dictatorships of South America. On either side of a division between power and weakness, you will always find Jesus on the side of weakness. Because a man nailed to a cross can't side with power. He knows it all too well for what it is. This is not to say that money is bad, or power can't be used well. But weakness is the side that Jesus is on.

Remember the moment when Frodo offers the ring to Galadriel? She's the elf-queen, the mighty one. He is a three-foot gormless berk with a mighty artifact he can't control. He says to her take it. Her response
"And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!'
She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.
'I pass the test,' she said.'I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.'"
Galadriel has a choice we all have. To use the power we have for good - or evil - or to give it up. Jesus would have made a very good, wise teacher, stayed alive, worked his way round the powers-that-were: done everything but been the Messiah of God. But he chose to go another way. To align with the weak, to preach good news to the poor, to declare that a world order was turned upside down and the strong would not have it their own way forever.

Because the cross is a sign of weakness, a sign of failure. A sign that power hates humility. That the very thing that the dark one fears is one who willingly gives himself for others. We are not called to pick up a sign of victory - or not as the world knows it. We pick up a sign of slavery, of oppression, of defeat. And in siding with the weak and defeated we side with the God who loves the weak and the poor.

I don't know what your cross will be, or is, specifically. But I know that it's the point at which you give up your rights, your strength and your power - and suffer for the Kingdom. For most of us - not the People of Christ in the Middle East - it won't be a literal cross. But the reminder is there before us all the time. If even the King of the Ages was nailed to a cross, what rights do we cling on to? If the one who made the stars is hung naked before a baying crowd, how do we dress up our own ambitions and desires? It sets the things we prize most, and the things that matter most, in sharp contrast - an edge on which we can fall either way.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but lost
and pour contempt on all my pride.

The Secret Sunday School Teacher - Somebody is Letting the Play-Doh Dry Out

Inspired by the Guardian article where teachers whinge, "Grismella" writes this searing insight from the dusty room behind the church hall.

I suppose the reasons why I got into Sunday School teaching were much the same as other people's. I like coming to church. We have nice biscuits. I like the first two songs which are always quite jolly. But I found the sermons really boring, and I enjoy cutting up card. And, of course, a profound sense of calling. And in the early days it was great fun. Apart from the children.

But the fun's not there so much any more. In past, it has just been that the "Roots" magazine has maybe had an off week and I've had to think about what the Bible is trying to say. I could cope with that. Even though young Daniel, whose mother is the vicar, would keep coming up with trick questions like "if Genesis is true, why didn't the dinosaurs eat the cave men?" In the end I had to ask the vicar. She told me Adam, Cain and Abel killed them all because they were fed up with the droppings. Especially the pterodactyl. You wouldn't want to get that in your eye.

And now something more sinister has happened. Somebody has been letting the Play-Doh dry out. You have no idea the stress that puts on you. Especially when you are making models of the animals on the Ark. I tell myself it was just carelessness. But there's always that nagging suspicion. Especially when you know that Radnor is after your job.

Radnor is 18. She's grown up in the church. It's three years since she left Sunday School of course. But she's told us her plan is to become a Sunday School teacher rather than stay in the service on Sunday mornings. But - mark this - we have no vacancies. So she sits around offering to "help". She says she will cover for us if anyone is away or ill.

But I think she is deliberately poisoning me. Last month, I had terrible stomach and head aches on Sunday morning. Radnor "stepped in" and was of course told what a great job she'd done, how everybody appreciated her help at short notice. Everybody giving her the praise I don't get every week. But my suspicion is that she had followed me and my friends down to the curry house where we had a meal the day before, pouring extra chilli in my Lamb Naga and putting something in the shots we drank afterwards in the night club.

And Radnor is "ever so good" at tidying up when the work has finished and we've sung the "Arky Arky" song. Although she drops hints that maybe the "Arky Arky" song is a bit old-fashioned. So I think Radnor has been deliberately leaving the top slightly loose on the Play-Doh to ensure it goes rock hard over the week. And sticking glitter on the Pritt Sticks so the first glue of the week is always really shiny and hard to spread. And I know she looks like she is being kind when she sharpens all the colour pencils. But I know she is deliberately breaking the leads to disrupt my sessions.

I have stressed to the vicar that she must never ever go to another church. She's been here 10 years now, but young Daniel and his dangerous views on dinosaurs will soon be too old for Sunday School. And once he's old enough for university maybe the vicar will decide it's time for a new calling. And if the next vicar is a man, and Radnor looks up with those sulky, soulful eyes and tells him she'd really like to be a proper Sunday School teacher and not an assistant - that's going to be it for me, isn't it?

I sometimes think that I'm reading things in that aren't there - letting my own paranoia and fears that I'm "not a very good teacher - always worrying about yourself and not helping us", as Daniel put it, get me down. I'd discuss it with the Sunday School leader. But I reckon she and the other teachers are breaking the biscuits while I get my cup of tea after Sunday School. I always get there last, as I've got to watch Radnor put everything away. Make sure she doesn't leave the lid off the Play-Doh. She does that, you know.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Thought for the Day

Whether in work or Church, there's nothing wrong with flying by the seat of the pants.

As long as you're flying alone.

And they're your own pants.

Liturgy on the Passing of Leonard Nimoy

Hymn: Star Trekkin'

Archdruid: In the end, we're all just red-shirts on God's star ship.

Hnaef: There's Klingons on the starboard bow,  Archdruid.

Archdruid: Mr Scott, set the photon torpedoes to 83-gun salute.

All: Beam her up, someone

Archdruid: Worship the Lord your God.

All: For that is logical.

Archdruid: Do not fall in love with aliens like Capt Kirk does.

All: For they shall surely perish in unexpected ways.

Archdruid: And do not tribble yourself about tomorrow - what colour shirt you shall wear.

All: For sufficient unto the day are the tribbles thereof

Archdruid: Those who live by the photon torpedo

All: ....shall die by the photon torpedo.

Archdruid: How logical are those who teleport.

All: For they shall inherit someone else's earth.

Psalm 3 ("Thou, Lord, art a deflector shield about me")

Archdruid: Mr Spock has boldly gone where many have gone before.

All: Unto the final frontier.

Archdruid: We know he won't be coming back for now.

Scotty: Ye cannae break the laws of physics.

Archdruid: And we'll surely hear from George Takei soon.

All: To boldly share like no Facebook user has shared before.

Archdruid: But we say, Leonard Nimoy who was the best alien of all: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. [ False ears and Vulcan salute everyone..... ]

All: Live long and prosper.