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Monday, 28 July 2014

Your NHS Horoscope

As Tory MP David Tredinnick tells us we should consider Astrology on the NHS. this could be just the sort of thing you find on your ward in the near future.

Aries.svg Aries

You will meet a man or woman in a white coat. They will give you advice on your condition. You should listen to them. They're far more helpful to your health than an astrologer. Even a "proper astrologer who does it with a chart and you have to know your exact time you were born." No. Stick to the doctor.

Taurus.svg Taurus

Tauruses are independent, free-thinkers. Some may confuse your stubbornness with being headstrong. Don't follow the herd. Astrology is a failed science based on a mish-mash of old religions. It's no basis for your health care. Some would suggest it's a load of bull.

Gemini.svg Gemini

Castor your eye over the evidence for astrology. It's Pollux, isn't it?

Cancer.svg Cancer

Dropping the jokes, this is why you need to take this seriously. If you've acne or you're feeling a bit tired, feel free to try washing your face in the dew of dawn, whale songs or reflexology. Obviously, feel free to do those anyway. Or even prayer. But if you've a real, serious illness, use real serious drugs as well. (Assuming that's what you're prescribed, obviously).

Leo.svg Leo

Do you find you spend a lot of time sitting around for hours, wondering what you're doing with your life? Are you wishing you could get out more, read something new, or get away from that snivelling child with the saucepan on her head? You're in A&E, aren't you? May as well settle in for the long run.

Virgo.svg Virgo

Do the days go so fast you can't concentrate? Too tired to concentrate? Not getting the time to get to know people? Making snap judgements and hoping you get them right? Welcome to General Practice.

Libra.svg Libra

Life is all a matter of balance, isn't it? On the one side there's expensive drugs, the time you need to care for people holistically in the right sense of the word. There's people to listen, skilled surgeons, the attention to know someone needs a drink, or needs assistance to eat. And on the other side of the balance, there's cheap gimmicks like homeopathy and astrology. Who would think hot air would weigh so heavy on the scales? Avoid men with blue ties who like cuts. And I don't mean off-duty surgeons.

Scorpio.svg Scorpio

You may be feeling a bit less well off than you were. Wage packet not going as far as it did? Struggling to make ends meet? You're not gonna be able to afford health insurance, are you? Work harder, you oik.

Sagittarius.svg Sagittarius

At a time of hardship, your family rally around you. Refuse to sign the document they've shoved under nose. It's not an application for a bus pass, whatever they claim.

Capricorn.svg Capricorn

Hard-headed, logical, clinical - there's no fooling Capricorns. You look at this kind of rubbish, and see right through it. Just like.... erm...  David Tredinnick, who's a Capricorn.

Aquarius.svg Aquarius

You will encounter a man carrying a large pot of inert water. He's a homeopath. You may find these in Jeremy Hunt's NHS.  Apart from being proof of the placebo effect, it's not worth wasting your time with.

Pisces.svg Pisces

With your entrepreneurial nature, it may be time to look into a new business venture. Have you considered tendering for part of the NHS? With a bit of practice you could set up as a surgeon, but it's a bit messy. In the modern world, maybe you could tie a scarf round your head and open up your own fortune-telling booth in Reception. Obviously, you need to be careful. Be too down and you could depress people. Too upbeat and there could be complaints from relatives. Best to stick to reassuring generalities. If you make a diagnosis, you could get sued later.

The Whale Truth

Speaking of whale song, I remember back in 1978, when my brother bought ELO's album "Out of the Blue". Many people know "Mr Blue Sky" and "Sweet Talkin' Woman", of course. But there's a lovely atmospheric song on it called "The Whale". Lots of bubbling noises and moaning whale-song effects.

And not worrying too much about the neighbours, we had the windows and were blasting the song out. And the dusk was just pinking in - the first few stars starting to peek out over in the East - and there we saw it, just a hundred yards or so off, obviously called by the song - a pilot whale. It was an awesome moment.

Obviously, bad news for the whale. Goodness knows what it was doing in the Chilterns. Can't just blame that on submarines, can you? But, before the smell got too bad and the army blew it up, we had those memories of a few minutes of happiness.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Beryline Prophecy

All Methodists know about Woods Ware Beryl china. It's green, it's functional, it's tough, and it's in every Methodist Church hall - and others, non-conformist and even Anglican - throughout the country. But very few know the secrets of the Beryline prophecy.

The Beryline prophecy was first revealed to Enoch Wood, as it rolled off that Burslem production line in the 1940s. With the whole world recovering from war, the Woods had continued with the production of their fine china. But something went wrong with that batch. As thousands of cups, saucers, jugs and even gravy boats poured out of the pottery, Enoch saw the end of the world written into that strange green china. It was revealed to Enoch that, should all the Beryl in the world ever be together in one place, the Beryline Consciousness would rise up, and subject all to eternal slavery.

Horrified by the thought of being dictated to by a load of tea pots, Enoch made a rapid decision. He shipped the whole lot out to the four corners of Britain. In those days of austerity, the chapels were particularly happy to receive Enoch's kind offer - the Anglicans generally expected a slightly more refined cup for their Lapsang - and as a result Beryl became eternally associated with Methodism - honest, unpretentious folk drinking out of honest, unpretentious, indestructible green earthenware.

But as time goes by, Methodism is going the way of Sandemanianism and Wodenism. As each chapel closes, the hymn books, small communion glasses and - crucially - Beryl china is passed onto another chapel in the circuit. You wouldn't want to throw away Beryl china, would you? One day - unlikely as it sounds - somebody might break some, so best to have some spare. So the china is consolidated as - unheard by human ear - teacup calls to teacup on the Beryline plane, pulling them together into one giant tea set.

I occasionally think that the Beryl is itself the cause of the decline in the Wesleyan denominations - encouraging certain of its ministers into the kind of liberal Universalism that leads their flock to realise they might just as well stay in bed of a Sunday, if they're going to heaven anyway. At the ultrasonic level, scientists have detected that Beryl tea cups send out the message "Your coffee is your only eternal punishment." Some ministers still heroically stand up for the faith once delivered to Charles and John W - but in their chapels, the Beryl waits patiently. For someone of less Arminian faith is likely to take over after the regulation five years.

And so, as the Methodist chapels close, the Day of Beryl when the Earth Dissolves in Instant Coffee gets closer. For be sure, when the last Methodist chapel receives that massive last consolidating delivery of Beryl china from the penultimate Methodist chapel, the Beryl will arise. What had previously been our slave - the holder of our tea, the saucer that guards 'gainst spills - will be our master. Then we will bow down in terror - and a certain disbelief - to our dull green conquerors.

Friends, why risk it? Go to Chapel next weekend. You need to save the world.

Didcot A Power Station - A Lament

Archdruid: Fallen! Fallen is Didcot the great!

All: For nPower has commanded it.

Archdruid: For she was unclean.

All: She, who once was so shiny, the new wave of coal-fired power station - yet brought down by clean air legislation.

Archdruid: The demolition dudes did their destructive deeds.

All: And great was the fall thereof.

Archdruid: Oh, Didcot Multimammia! You, who welcomed students home from a trip to Town! You gathered us to your motherly breast as we longed for dreaming spires.

All: You pumped acid rain across the Buckinghamshire skies. On a clear day, they claimed you could be seen from Dunstable Downs.

Archdruid: No more will you guard the approaches to the Vale!

All: And a journey to Wycombe will be without interest.

Archdruid: Let them be abandoned in Abingdon.

All: Let them be wanton in Wantage.

Archdruid: Let them be boring in Goring.

All: Let them continue to be nonexistent, with a very dodgy overlap between the PCC and the powers of the local council, in Dibley.

Archdruid: For fallen - fallen is Didcot the Great!

All: And great was the rubble thereof.

Archdruid: Your place shall be the haunt of foxes and jackals.

All: Jackals? Don't you mean property developers?

Archdruid: Oh yeah. I always get those confused.

All: Then let us roll in ashes and cinders.

Archdruid: But only metaphorically. Ugh.

All: And regret that the view from the A34 ain't so interesting anymore.

Archdruid: Go in peace, under cleaner skies.

All: With perhaps a speck of coal dust in our eyes.

Image from Wikipedia

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Imaginary Aliens and a Universal Christ

Of all of the entire opus of hippy-dippy, folksy, syncretistic, dog-eared hymns belonging to Sydney Carter, there is only one that we allow on Beaker premises in any form. Not that ghastly cod-kid's song One more step along the world I go. No. It's Every Star Shall Sing a Carol.

Obviously, we still won't sing it. The Sydney-Carter Free Zone is still in operation. But we occasionally study it, one verse at a time so as not to sustain too much damage, like a World-War One Joke. It's not a bad bit of speculative theology.

Unlike the suggestion Phil refers to that aliens cannot be redeemed. This is based upon an article about the creationist Ken Ham. Phil's point - that Jesus's work is greater than the mythological Adam's fall - is pithily and perfectly put. But there are other objections to the idea that aliens cannot be saved.

The first being that this is confusing two models for explaining reality.Adam and Eve lived, sinned and died in a two-tier universe a bit like a snow globe. On the floor of the snow globe were the earth and seas - the place where human endeavours occurred. The glass of the snow globe was semi-permeable (yeah, I know, but go with me here), and through it could pass the waters that rained on the earth. So maybe not such a great illustration, since obviously there's already water in a snow globe. Well, whatever.

Anyway, my point is that there were no aliens in Adam's world. Literally no place for them. The stars were effectively painted onto the - ahem - dark blue ceiling of the snow globe. And everything outside was where God lived. So nowhere for aliens.

Aliens, of course, live in a completely different model of reality. They live in the world of science fiction. A place where we can, if we are blessed, understand more of what it means to be a human living on earth, by considering what intelligent non-humans might be like. If we ever find aliens (or they find us) then those aliens will be in another model of reality - the one we measure with science and sociology and psychology and such like.

Anyway, on with a bit of fisking.... 
"Of course, secularists are desperate to find life in outer space... The search for extraterrestrial life is really driven by man’s rebellion against God in a desperate attempt to supposedly prove evolution!"
No. We don't need to prove evolution. Outside a few people who can't understand science or don't want to, that's done. And we don't do this kind of things because we want to prove silly points. The whole of Science - like the whole of a decent religion - is a search for truth. Like an electron microscope and a telescope, they both help us to see better - but in two different ways.
"according to the secular, evolutionary worldview there must be other habited worlds out there" 
No. According to the scientific worldview, there's a finite chance of habited (is that a real word?) worlds. Argument rages over how we calculate how big the chance is. Personally I reckon the chance is either very small, or we're really early developers. 
"And I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel."
With the exception of angels, who don't count as aliens, the Bible as a whole is very quiet on the subject of extra-terrestrial beings.
"This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation."
Which logically implies that Adam's fall is greater than Jesus's salvation which, as Phil notes, is not the case.

Also, if I need to assume the aliens fit somewhere in the snowglobe for a minute, then let's do some Augustinian theology. If Adam's sin affects the whole universe, then aliens will suffer as do dogs, cats and bryophytes. They will live and die, and have some nasty experiences (and bright moments) on the way. If the aliens are also made in the image of God (which does not involve God looking like me or Ken Ham, in my opinion) then they will - crucially in Augustinian thought - not be impacted by Original Sin. Original Sin is passed on from parents to children through the act of generation. So intelligent aliens could be sinful, fallen in their own right - or completely free from whatever passes for sin if you're a bodyless thought-cloud or a 50-armed Jatravartid. We don't know. We'd have to meet one even to consider finding out. Good theology is, after all, experimental.
"One day, the whole universe will be judged by fire, and there will be a new heavens and earth."
 But those new heavens and earth will have continuity with the old ones, just as Jesus's resurrection body - and our own - will have continuity with the current ones.The world may burn but we will quiver. Sorry. Force of habit. Be raised in a spiritual body - but still our own.
"Jesus did not become the “GodKlingon” or the “GodMartian"”
 No, of course he didn't. Klingons are imaginary, and Martians almost certainly never existed. But as noted above, the Bible tells us nothing about aliens, or life on other planets. If they exist - and they are fallen, as we might understand it - then how might God redeem them, raise them up, become one with them? We don't know, we have no clues. Like Peter looking back at John, that's not our problem. Not till we find one, at any rate. Maybe Christ dies once, for all, for each intelligent and fallen race, or just once - here? I don't know. I know this planet is special because we are made in God's image, but it doesn't follow that another planet might not also be special - anymore than a mother with two children wouldn't die for either, or both, of them if she had to. As Syd Carter said, every star shall sing a carol, and for once in his benighted songwriting career he might have had a point.
"The answers to life’s questions will not be found in imaginary aliens" 
Well, if you mean through science fiction, as long as that leads to questions about existence and meaning and what time means, then you might move along a bit if you've got the imagination. Just read Asimov on the way robots keep getting round the rules.  That tells you more about us than robots. The aliens of the B-Ark being blasted into space because they're all middle managers and marketing executives - that makes you consider your place in the world. Obviously, if you're just thinking about learning to speak Klingon and dressing up as a storm trooper and wishing you had a pet tribble, you're right. You're unlikely to pass on Original Sin, either, if you see what I mean.
"Now the Bible doesn’t say whether there is or is not animal or plant life in outer space.  I certainly suspect not."
I agree. And I also really hope not. Because if we found animal or plant (or other) life in outer space, sure as eggs is eggs it would be about ten minutes before we thought up a reason to declare war on it. That's why we needed a Saviour. We'd better hope, if we ever make contact with something like us, that they needed a Saviour less.

Outing the Fake Hipsters

We had quite an exciting afternoon in London yesterday. I just could not believe that all those extraordinary beards the men were wearing could be real. I mean, in Victorian times every one of them would have had an urchin chasing after them shouting "Beaver!" Really, it's like Imperial Russia being conquered by campness.

Anyway. Turns out that 50% of them are indeed false. After a day up in Town pretending to be Edward VII, half of all hipsters like to go home and let the breeze cool their superheated chins.

The other revelation is that, when they're not false, tugging at people's beards is counted as a form of assault. Thankfully, pleading that we were from the sticks and had panicked at the sight of so much facial hair, we merely received a stern warning and an escort to St Pancras.

From now on, let Beaker Folk be warned, we are introducing a Beard Tithe. If you want to go around the place resembling Moses feel free. But not actually free, if you see what I mean. Fiver a week. If nothing else, it may discourage the Beaker men from going around looking like hedges.

Friday, 25 July 2014

A Portmanteau Church Words Dictionary

You know how it is. Church words, largely derived from Greek or Latin, mean little to the world of real people out there. You know - "out there"  - the world beyond the Church door. Which, when engaged in church-related activities, you talk about like it's 19th Century Africa. But the rest of the time you mostly manage to go the market, do your grocery shop, pick up your kids from the school or do a full day's work at the office without once noticing that the denizens smell of brimstone, have lives shorn of all meaning, or wear horns on a daily basis.

The average human being, presented with words like "righteousness" or "justification", goes totally blank. So why waste them? Why not combine them into portmanteau Church words? Then you will have a new level of precision to your jargon. And your average human being will be doubly blank. Or, possibly, blank squared.

AnabaptistryA second water tank.
AntinomiallennialismThe belief that, since the world's gonna end, we may as well have a proper party.
CharismodalistSomeone who only has one spiritual gift at a time.
ComplementariamaticBelieving in signs and wonders. But only for male robots.
ErastiabilismFinding the establishment of the church annoying.
EvangelicemulsionPaint suitable for chapels. Normally white or pastel. Light blue is nice.
Hauerwasitforyou?What you say when you've been inculturated.
JustinificationBeing as saved as an Orthodox emperor.
PentecosterlismEast-end Charismatic church tradition.
SandemanicheismDisestablished dualism.
SolefidoismOnly believing in one dog.
ZorroarianismA masked Hispanic heretic rights wrongs.

Sometimes it's Hard to Write Anything Funny

Sometimes it's hard to write anything funny.

There are days when the world seems so dark, you can't find much of a funny side - or at least not without either living in a fluffy, kitten-filled bubble. I mean, sure, I'm English. We have a tradition of laughing in misfortune. But that's generally our own, not other people's. We like underdogs.

And the world's woes are so complex. In Mosul, it's probably clearest who are the rotten gets and who the innocents are. The rotten gets are the ones threatening to kill other people if they don't change religion. And I don't blame Islam - Christians, atheists and even Buddhists have historically been just as good at killing people they disagreed with. I blame the rotten gets. There are some, I know, in this country - teenage fantasists for the most part - who think the rotten gets are in the right. But you've gotta be proper delusional not to recognise a get that rotten when you see one.

Then Israel and the Palestinian territories, where they seem to have been carrying on the same war since Samson first picked up the jawbone of an ass. Easy enough to spot the innocents, cowering in their narrow strip of land, being told to evacuate when there's nowhere to go. Or waiting in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, wondering when a rocket's gonna land. But I reckon the rotten gets are a bit harder to find. Is it those that send rockets into Israel? Or the ones who shell back, with more effect? Who claim that they're accurate, and then hit schools? But who look beyond their own borders and see other enemies waiting for the big day - much bigger than the people on the Gaza Strip - and shudder?

And then for a hat-trick of disasters, Ukraine. I suspect there's a lot of rotten gets in there. But then there's also a lot who just don't wanna be ruled by what they see as a foreign power. Personally I blame the ultimate rotten gets - Lenin and Stalin - for that one.

And then I remember that there's a weird logic to this world, where yesterday's victim becomes tomorrow's rotten get. And even rotten gets justify their rotten-getness by appealing to their own victimhood.
And then I look at the world I live in - well-fed, well-watered, with no real problems - not round here, at least - for 70 years. And I want to go and hug Charlii and Keith and little Celestine and say, "We're so fragile. Our peace is so precarious. Our easy lives balance on such a knife-edge. We could be Shi'ites or Christians in Mosul, or Muslims on the West Bank or parts of Burma, or Jews in Paris. We could have lived in a border-land in Nigeria, or Tottenham."

But then we're cheaply fed and clothed through others' cheap labour. In a society where having some unemployed keeps others' cost of living down. Maybe we're the rotten gets?
And then I rant about the prissyness of our own, well-cushioned consciences. I mean, complaints that Christian bakers have to make a cake for gay people? Rants about "worshipping" gay people and other liberals?  For 2,000 years Christians have executed them, marginalised them, hounded them - surely it's not much to ask, to bake a cake? Hardly evens up the balance, does it?

Sometimes it is not easy to write something funny. This world is broken and complicated. The simplicity of our judgements break down when they're confronted with ground-level facts. Everything I say above is my own opinion, which is filtered through my own presuppositions and the way the media chooses to point its lens. It's pretty obvious to me that this world has too much hate, too much killing, too much suffering. But then you don't have to be John Lennon to notice that. It's changing hearts - starting with one's own - that's the hard bit.

But you, O LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.
Why do you keep on forgetting us? Why do you forsake us so long?
Bring us back to yourself, O LORD, so that we may return to you; renew our life as in days before,
unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.
(Lam 5:19-22)

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Dance of the Seasons

Today's Summer Ritual Folk Dance has been cancelled due to the good weather.

A great shame. We really wanted to celebrate the power of the Sun, it's life-giving rays and general lovely warmness - such a good illustration of God's power that one can easily confuse the two.

But by the time we'd all slapped on Factor 50 suntan lotion, floppy hats, lightweight clothing and sunblock, we looked like a crowd of effeminate Australian cricketers. Well, the men did, at any rate. And it got awful warm. So we've postponed the Summer Ritual Folk Dance till October. Should be a bit cooler by then.