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Friday, 29 August 2014

Lord of the Dance Threat Level

We've raised the Lord of the Dance Threat Level from "Subdued" to "Ironic".

There is still nothing you can do about it, but at least it looks like we're in control of matters

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Theology and Technology, Merlin and Megaliths

"Today, in the 21st century, to call Stonehenge a computer shows less respect than to call it an ancient sacred place, a metaphor which by degrees is again becoming more prevalent." - Christopher Chippindale 2004,  Stonehenge Complete,  3rd edition.

There was a phase, mostly forgotten now by academia but still remembered by tourists, when the great scientific concern with Stonehenge was to prove that it was an astronomical computer.

And the funny thing is, as much effort went into proving lunar and stellar alignments between the stones of Stonehenge and objects of its environs, as has gone into the "alternative" stories - Merlin-magic and ley-lines and magnetometer-based psychic energy detection. And, to a large extent, the scientific theories have been of the same consistency of drivel as the New Age ones. There's one solid alignment at Stonehenge - all else is, at best, supposition.

There was, when I was young, a computer at Luton College of Further Education. Our school accessed it via a dial-up line from a thing like Grandstand's teleprinter. You got a right telling off for playing "sharks"; online at local dialling rates. My friend Mandy went to see it once. It was in a special dust-proof room, and the size of a large sauna. Mandy was astonished. It was like the modern world had become the world of Science Fiction - all lights and tapes and beige.

The Android device on which I am writing this has thousands of times more power than that beast they fed and watered and bowed down to. And yet I find its specs uninteresting. It doesn't really matter. It's just an Android. It does Facebook and I can read Twitter and see the news.

Unlike the computer in Luton Tech, I can - as long as I am connected to the Beaker wifi or a friendly café's - use unlimited bandwidth without a sternly-written letter and invoice for telephone costs being sent home. I don't really care. In the lateish 20th century, this was the cutting edge of science - I nearly said "magical", but it wasn't that. We'd learnt that, in some interminable lessons where we discovered what a bit was, and how a byte was a bit bigger than a bit.

So the excitement of Stonehenge as a computer - it doesn't matter if it was true (it wasn't) because nobody cares any more. Each wave of exciting science - as Tomorrow's World used to tell us, they nearly all involved a laser, and/or a computer - nobody cares. That's why Tomorrow's World has gone, but we've got Minecraft. Stonehenge is like a computer? Can I play Bejewelled Blitz on it, or lend people a dolphin to look after?  Can I pin misattributed quotations to it, or pictures of sad kittens, so all my friends can see? No? Well it's not a very good computer then, is it?

We've lost interest in the sheer thing-ness of technology now. They're just stuff. What's the good of Stonehenge being a star calculator, if it won't show you back - episodes of Family Guy? Science can show you the full wonders of the universe - how we're stuck together, how we fall apart. But it can't tell us what it means to be human beings. That's not its fault, it's not meant to.

But a sacred place - now that is, or at least can be, different. A place where the dead aren't simply absent from the world, but are haunting the stones. A place where life and death meet together. Even if it's a place we don't understand, whose builders we can't name. Even if we don't know what they thought they were doing.

A star calculator made in rock would be interesting. For about ten minutes. The thought of those cold,  lifeless stones giving us clues to the way the cold, lifeless bodies above us behave: interesting and yet;  shortly  after, quite dull. We've got a Google App for that.   For that stone circle - still at least partly together today - to be a sacred place, one where the spirit is reality and life is given meaning and death is no final barrier - that's another matter. The sacred will call us, wherever we are.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Seeing Others Through Your Own Dark Glasses

It's strange what a bit of romance or invention can do for a religion. Especially somebody else's. The picture is, according to the people of the 18th Century, exactly what the folk at Stonehenge were up to in the Druidic era. Arks of the Covenant,  snakes, processions, banners - everything the modern druid was after in worship. You can imagine the thrill as the worshippers gathered, the solemn cries of the druids, the awesome refrains of the bardic harpists.

Of course, it's an illusion. The artist thought these worshippers were British druids and their followers -  what people somewhat later would class as "Celtic". If anything like this ever happened (unlikely) it would have been Beaker People - the Stone and Bronze Age inhabitants of Wessex - not Celts, whether Brythonic or Belgic. Their Druids would have been friendlier, more charismatic, somehow more holy than their Celtic equivalents. Obviously. Stands to reason.

But it's an illusion in another way. Maybe it's a function of time difference, or of distance in theology and tradition, but do you imagine this as some fantastic, climatic experience or is that just my delusion? Do you assume some fantastic quality - as opposed to the mundane nature of your regular worship, in a 17th Century preaching box with a drip in the corner and another in the pulpit, or in your school hall you rent, whose walls are covered in pictures of Hindu gods because that's what they're doing in RE this week, so you have to turn them around every Sunday morning before the service and restore them afterwards?

In short - when everyone is telling you what a great service it was do you think, 90% of the time, that you must have been at a different service?

I reckon that after the service in the picture, in which you can't tell that the solsticial sunrise was obscured by a cold, heavy drizzle, the harpists went off not speaking to each other, because one of them played a B sharp when it was a Bmin key. And the Archdruid was grumpy because she hadn't been as inspirational as she'd imagined when she wrote her sermon and she was blaming the head cold.

And half the congregation went off cold and miserable.  But a few teenage enthusiasts were raving about how great the worship was - and why couldn't they have such a good service at the Rollright Stones every full moon?

Because a lot of what we take out of worship, we bring to it.  And that's not surprising as we're human.  And if the druids went off grumpy because they only saw the crescent, while the bass harpist saw the whole of the moon - then was that because they were less inspired? Or he had a better digestion - was more resilient when it came to attendance at sunset then midnight then the bug fight with the wolf then sunrise? Next year maybe he'll have struggled to get into the mood on account of a bad case of Black Death.

We are all fragile and leaky. And we can think that other traditions and times had or have it easy. But our limited and unsatisfying experiences, with glimpses of something greater, are reminders that our eschatology is not realised, our experience is not perfect, we are still on a journey.

So look through your glass darkly, and prayer for it to be clearer. One day it will be as clear as crystal.  But, for today, don't worry if anyone else has a clearer view. Just enjoy what you can see, and share their joy. We'll all see better one day.

Of course, it's possible that you actually have a fantastic time in worship every time. In which case ignore me. I probably just need to pray harder.

Duck Henge Rises

It was, we felt, important that we created a monument to partner the new (and old) Moot Houses. So as the new Moot House starts to rise over the Doily Shed, we've had to think hard about its companion.

And so, after a lapse of many years, Duck Henge is being restored around the duck pond. Obviously it's not a henge - it having no banks or ditches - but it is very definitely a wood circle. In the manner of "Sea henge", the famous circle and hippy magnet on the Norfolk coast, we're putting the trees into the ground roots up and branches up. Immensely symbolic - albeit we don't know what of. But then that's half the fun with symbolism, isn't it?

Before the last Duck Henge burnt down, it was a thing of wonder and beauty. And, coincidentally, the ducks never suffered from mange, beak rot or general debilitation the whole time. Let Duck Henge Arise!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Extreme Worship Leading Brings that Nagging Sense of Unease

I've been left wondering a bit about Drenzul's "Evening Reconciliation" tonight. I think that maybe - just maybe - he's going a little too far in his worship leading style.

Now don't get me wrong.  I will never criticise anyone who uses a sensitive nudge here and there - a reminder that God is good, our loving Parent. Nothing wrong with that. A suggestion that we, fallible, weak, uncertain, unpredictable, limited, imperfect, fragile, created as we are - that we should approach this awesome Creator with a certain trepidation - with awe and, for want of a better word - trembling - nothing wrong with that.

Nothing wrong with that at all. Not in a leading-into-the-presence of God kind of way.

If, on the other hand, you lead into a time of confession with a PowerPoint gallery of the people in your congregation, actually caught in or roughly around the time of the iniquities for which they will shortly be confessing - that would seem a little edgy. I mean,  the shot of Young Keith walking into the wall of the White Horse - we've all seen that a hundred times. He's got broad shoulders, has Keith. Though they've been broadened, admittedly, by the frequent contact with the walls of the White Horse.
No, more concerning was the fly-on-the-wall footage of Burton Dasset scoring at the annual Accounts v Actuaries cricket challenge match. And before you all leap to condemn him, I will say it's not the worst thing that has ever been filmed in a cricket scorebox. Not even close.

In fact, i would personally call this an act of kindheartedness, or at worst trying to save face. No results were affected by this act of minor fraud. But imagine the scene.

Burton is scoring during the Accountants' innings. He is running the scoreboard - one of those proper, big ones like a brick shed with strings to control the numbers - and the score book. Sat next to him is the wife of the captain of the Actuaries, doing their score book.

She was quite attractive, sure. And if you were to accuse Burton of the kind of adultery which would result in us all losing an eye, rather than go to the Smoky Place, if we took things literally - well, yes. I suspect he was guilty. But that was all. But maybe the excitement of sitting next to an attractive woman in a confined, relatively darkened space, resulted in Burton concentrating somewhat less than normal.

In any case, the Accountants' opening bat had a great innings. Even via the Web cam that Drenzul had clearly hidden in the back wall of the scoreboard, you can hear the cheers as he knocks a four through cover-point for a century and Burton delightedly rings up the third digit on the board.

Even in the half-light, with muffled sound, you can see and hear Burton's panic as he realises he's cocked it up, and the opener's only got 90.

We go on to see low-level fraud on a massive scale - unreckoned since the game began - as Burton systematically gives every extra - or every bye and leg bye, at any rate - to the unsuspecting batter. You can almost hear the sweat falling from Burton when there's an appeal.  You can only admire the way he occasionally "forgets". to ring up the second when they run two, and - with the collusion of the other scorer - rewrites a few bits of history. By the time the opener is out, the score in the book matches that on the board. Burton is a broken man.

But not as broken as when Drenzul played the whole sorry affair, and then spent ten minutes accusing Burton of being, if not the father of all lies, certainly a close relative of all lies - a cousin, or maybe uncle-in-law. This kind of thing was repeated for everyone Drenzul had some dirt on. And there were many.

I know I should have stopped it. After all, I've been blackmailing some of those people for the things we were watching. No chance now. But it was gripping stuff. I've never seen such a heart felt act of confession at the end of it all - although the concluding prayer, "Know you're forgiven and we will never mention what happened here" seemed unusual.

And so we moved on. The logical conclusion of being these kinds of broken people in a broken world, according to Drenzul, is that we need fixing. Turns out he knows a song about that.

And it's not like I've never heard "Fix You" used like that before. And it's not like it can't be quite moving. But I've never seen it played over a PowerPoint montage of sick and injured puppies and kittens before. People were really taken into the whole thing.

In fact, as Chris Martin warbled towards that last dramatic pause, and the baby labrador - having had the plaster cast removed - gambolled across the sand dunes - it would have taken a hard heart not to think that, tough and unfair as this world may be, there's hope and beauty in it.

Just a sneaking feeling of unease, though. I know Drenzul is committed, sincere and a great and sensitive worship leader but - and maybe it was just me - I wonder if the service, taken as a whole, was just a little bit emotionally manipulative?

Monday, 25 August 2014

A Quick Guide to Viral Social Media Posts

No, Facebook aren't removing it from people's timelines.

Now your friends have blocked news from all your games, it's like you're invisible.

Yes, it's easy to see.

You'd be the sort of superhero who stays in all day doing Facebook quizzes.

The puppy was found 100 yards from its house. It has since died of old age. It did go on to have a career as a spoof Twitter account which continues to this day.

The play wasn't as blasphemous as is made out. And it closed four years ago.

London, New York and Toronto all have an "o" in them. As do Ulan Bator, Rome, Cairo and quite a lot of others.

Oh, is s/he being controversial again?

As many circles as your mind wants to make up.

The reason 95% of people don't post that status is because it's pointless and annoying. Your concern about anything is not measured in clicks. And the 95% has not been scientifically measured.

A woman in every town has, apparently, found a simple trick to lose years off her looks. Dermatologists don't care a fig. They're still eating.

If you don't want Facebook sharing your data, switch it off. None of us can follow those instructions and you probably did it wrong in the first place yourself.

Just because a celebrity said it doesn't make it witty enough to propagate.

There are no real people quoted in that article.

No, nobody has died from it.

Just because they've done it, doesn't make it compulsory.

Don't click! It's the Daily Ma... Oh, too late. Oh wow, she has let herself go.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

A Gay Tidal Wave

Terrifying warning from Scott Lively about a "tidal wave of gay theology".

I've got visions of all these macho evangelicals, waxing up their straight-theology surfboards ready for the wave.

Not too much waxing, of course. That would be very suspect.

When Morrissey Was Interviewed for the Vicar's Job

Q: Revd Morrissey, after leaving the Smiths, you were quietly ordained. But after you'd served your title, you spent years trying to find a post.  You eventually because the Vicar of Grizzling-in-the-Mist. So why are you trying to move after only 12 months?

Morrissey: I was looking for a job, and then I found a job. And heaven knows I'm miserable now.

Q: I believe you had a falling out with the Churchwardens in Grizzling. Were you serious in your threats?

Morrissey: I was only joking when I said "By rights, you should be bludgeoned in your bed."

Q: So given there were clearly some tensions within your team - let's suppose Bill, the Warden here, had been very rude to you and then felt really sorry about it. You could forgive him - but if you wanted instead to downgrade his apology and make him feel really unimportant instead, so you constantly had something over him - what would you say?

Morrissey: "William, it was really nothing."

Q: And you've run into some problems with your current parishioners doubting your orthodoxy, despite your obvious sincerity in saying the Creed.  What's your take on that?

Morrissey: How can they hear me say those words And still they don't believe me? And if they don't believe me now will they ever believe me?

Q: So are you alone in this alienation from your congregation, or do you think it's commonplace - say among other ministers you know?

Morrissey: I've seen it happen in other people's lives, and now it's happening in mine.

Q: Social action is very important in this benefice.  What would you say, for example, in encouraging people to protest against the domination of the country by the retail conglomerates, which stifle small businesses and drive ever-smaller margins out of the farmers in our own area?

Morrissey: Shoplifters of the world, unite and take over.

Q: So let's talk about inter-faith relations - what do you think about George Carey's latest comments on Muslim communities in the UK?

Morrissey: Bigmouth strikes again.

Q: As a celebrity, you must realise our concerns that you'd not be totally dedicated to the pastoral and preaching ministry of the church. Given the inevitable demands - as a famous minister - that you be on Songs of Praise, at Greenbelt or guesting on quiz shows - how would you balance your time?

Morrissey: I'd rather be famous than righteous or holy, any day, any day, any day.

Q: It's been a dreadful week in the news - Iraq, Gaza, the threats from Icelandic volcanoes and American earthquakes. There's always some dreadful news coming in about the climate. How do you bring people hope in all this?

Morrissey: There is a light that never goes out. There is a light that never goes out.

Q: Thanks, Fr Steven. Obviously you're completely unsuited to this role. But as you might say, frankly, Mr Shankly, we've nine rural parishes and nobody wants to take the job on. You're the first applicant we've had in 6 years. How soon can you start?

Morrissey: How soon is now?

Finding the Right Combination

Some people can be so literalist.

I said that I wanted the new Moot House to be a "safe space". What I didn't mean was I wanted it to have double-thick steel walls and triple-locked doors.

Not least as when I went in this morning, the alarm went off and I was covered in indelible blue ink.