Friday, 26 May 2017

Death of a Groundhog

It is with sadness that I report that the Beaker Earless Bunny, aka the Groundhog, has passed to the pastures where the grass is juicy and the carrots eternal.

In keeping with Beaker custom, we launched her fiery little funeral ship out from Duckhenge and into the Duck Pond. There was a funerary procession from our trained enclosed penguin order, the Sisters of the Holy Haddock.

Thanks to our neighbours the Guinea Pig Worshippers of Stewartby, who seem to have forgiven us for the time we accidentally ate their little furry gods as Peruvian tapas. The Great Guinea Pig himself said a few words. But as they just sounded like whistles and grunts we've no idea what they were.

We're very sad. She was short-tempered, short-sighted and inclined to attack at the smell of blood. But we loved her.

Service of Celebrity Non-Apology

Archdruid: Please remove your tin hat. This is a holy place.

Rufus Hound: But I'm a freethinking hipster actor-comedian with more followers than God.  I bow to no-one. Especially not the child-murdering government.

All: Sorry what?

Rufus Hound: I may have to make a Nazi allusion at this point, as Ken Livingstone is unavailable for comment.

Archdruid: Maybe inappropriate?

Rufus Hound: I'm sorry if anyone was offended by that comment. But I do seriously think it. So if you're offended it's your own fault. And I am the free-ranging poor person's Russell Brand.

All: Nobody's that poor.

Rufus Hound: Obviously when I say "think", that is probably the wrong word.

All: No kidding.

Rufus Hound: More kind of.... wondering? Behold my wondrous beard.

Archdruid: Can someone please take Mr Hound's spade from him?

All: Fraid not. That hole is already too deep for us to get down. And he just hit the water table.

Rufus Hound: Look, can we just delete this liturgy, fill in the hole and pretend nothing ever happened?

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Failed Church Advertising Slogans

God hates you - Go to Church and he won't.

Headache? Tense, nervous headache? Light a tea light.

£5 will pay for a stone in the wall of our new kitchen. For 50 quid the vicar won't visit for a year. Promise.

Methodism: Probably the best liberal Arminianism in the world.

This is a man's world.

The Rapture. It will give you wings!

The Church of England. Believe what you like. The coffee's awful regardless.

The sun shines on the righteous and the unrighteous. Please donate to our church  roof appeal.

Are you a man looking for women? Go to Church.

Ch__ch what's missing? An engagement with the whole post-Constantinian situation.

You only get an "oou" with homoousious.

Are you a man looking for men? Go to Church. But be discreet. Especially if you end up as a bishop.

Vatican II. The best a modernist can get.

What's the worst that could happen? You could end up in Hell.

If St John the Evangelist Had Been on an Effective Writing Course

Thank you to Burton for this morning's reading of John 16: 16-20 "if John had been on an Effective Writing Course."

I'm impressed that Burton managed to get the whole discourse down to 19 words. Course I am.

But I can't help thinking he's lost the poetry.

Meanwhile, good news after the dawn Ascension Day service on the roof of the Moot House. Only two cases of vertigo and three broken bones.

Next year we really should use a building with a flat roof.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Hearts on Fire

Apologies to the group of newcomers who turned up to this lunchtime's service and were clearly disappointed.

Obviously a problem with spell checking when Burton produced the poster.

That was supposed to be "Informal Worship." Informal. Not "Infernal".

Sunday, 21 May 2017

An Unknown God

Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.”
‘Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ (Acts 17.22-31)
Nothing I like better, I'm afraid, that some one with a career in sales or a degree in media telling me, on the basis of my Archdruical pointy hat, that science has disproved religion. I like to dig out the handbag my Oxford degree in Chemistry (special subject Quantum Chemistry, since you ask) and say "well I'm not sure I agree." They won't be bright enough to be worth arguing with, after all. Not because of their degree or their careers - after all, Trump is basically in sales and he's done all right - but because their foolish question has shown up their uncritical acceptance of third-hand arguments.

Of course I don't just leave them empty-handed. Reaching into the special "other" section in my handbag, I pull out a sachet of instant "spaghetti monster" pasta bolognaise, squeeze it out into their hand, and say "behold your noodly god."

Their reasoning hasn't reached as far as Paul, off the cuff, in Athens 2,000 years ago. They deserve nothing better than being patronised and a handful of mince.

What's one great thing that the existence of religions, of science, of magic teach us? Even the existence of magical thinking? It's that human beings constantly look for explanations and meaning. In a wild world, we want to know how and why things happen, and ideally what will happen next.

And so when the wind blows through the trees and the trees move - the Greek thinks of Aeolus, sending the breezes in the forms of horses. The Christian is reminded of the Spirit of God, who breathes on the waters of creation and breathes life into every human. And the meteorologist tells us about high and low pressure areas, then tells us there certainly won't be a hurricane.

Paul is in Athens and the Greeks are the number one searchers for meaning. They have scientists. They have mathematicians. They have many schools of philosophers - at least one of which is already denying the gods exist. They have hundreds of gods - big gods, small gods, household gods, tree-gods, lake-gods. As if they didn't have enough gods they would, when encountering other nations, find out about their gods - sometimes they would work out which of their own gods they equated to. Sometimes they would just add them in. That's the great thing about polytheist paganism - always room for one more up top.

So Athens is as littered with shrines as Central London is with posters advertising leftwing rallies.

And Paul starts with praise - and never slips into anything other than a reasonable discussion. "I see you are very religious" - ironic, though, as the people of the Areopagus - of Mars Hill - are inclined to sit around dispassionately discussing the latest new religious idea.

They must be so religious, they even worship the god they don't know. They're probably thinking that's just the sort of god you don't want to get all upset with you - one you don't know anything about. How will that god respond if you don't make him or her offerings? You don't know. That's the problem with unknown gods.  So up goes another altar.

Paul says - let me tell you about the unknown god. He's not so unknown to the Jews. In fact, he's even told us hims name.  Though we cant say it....
By Юрий Рудницкий - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

He's the God who made the heaven and the earth - and all the things you ascribe to your gods - the cycles of the seasons, the wildness of the sea, the wind - they all ultimately go back to him.  In fact - all your gods are just ways of coming to a limited understanding of what God is like - but full marks for trying. Your greatest god of all - Zeuss - one of your poets said "in him we live and move and have our being". And in doing that, your poet was actually managing to understand what the true God is like. God is not a separate god, like an outsized human being, like your gods. He doesn't live on a mountain, though we say the lightning comes from him as it does from Zeuss. Because even the mountains, the lightning, the heavens and the earth come from him and totally depend on him at all times.

This is why no scientific evidence could ever be found for God, why no scientific experiment could ever reveal God. Because "in him we live and move and have our being" - even our science depends totally on God.

But, says Paul - there's more. The Greek gods occasionally came to earth.  This normally happened when Zeuss was full of the joys of spring and decided he wanted to become the father of a few more demigods. But it happened. Well, this God I am telling you also came to visit. You won't find God in a stone statue, in a bronze idol - you won't trap God's essence in a stream or a hill or a tree or all the other places you look for gods. The true God came to earth as a human being - died - and God raised him from the dead. Now you've got a short time to decide whether this is the true God or not. Because he's coming back.

Presented with this, we know, the Greeks of the Areopagus said "thanks, that's very interesting.  We'll have a good think."

But it's a challenge for us today. Where do we put our worship? Into the society we live in - into political creeds - into our own pleasure, our own belongings, our own self-image? Do we create our own unknown gods - because we don't know that they are gods? Or do we put all our hope in the God who made everything, in whom we live and move and have our being - who does not exist just as a philosophical concept or a reason to sing pretty hymns and burn incense, but exists as the force behind the universe, and as the man who died on a cross to show us what he's like?

That unknown God has made himself known. If we gaze on Jesus, we will know him more and more.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Fear of Hell Fire

I was just thinking back to the days before I became a Christian.

Now, it's a recorded fact of parish history that my family were Extremely Primitive Methodists.  These faithful people rejected all use of artificial heating and lighting during worship. They were a devout folk, who suffered terribly from chilblains. Especially in the cold winter of 1962-3, when they were wiped out during a particularly long sermon.

My parents were blessed to be away that particular week. Returning to find that Bogwulf Chapel was full of dead Wesleyans, they resolved not to bring their children up in any faith at all. They figured this would increase our chances of not dying in cold churches.

As a result, my siblings and I were brought up with no identifiable religion. Sure, my grandfather was a great fan of "Songs of Praise" - at least until that awful accident involving the hay bailer that meant my father inherited the Big House. But I was given an upbringing free from dogma and certainty. I received my degree in Chemistry, and was prepared for a life in the secular world.

But then, in my early 20s, I was presented with an unexpected outlook on life. That the reliable, consistent world I had always believed in was underpinned with a reliable, consistent Deity in whom "we live and move and have our being." That this universe, which has produced the amazing attribute of creatures with personalities, might actually have been brought into being by person or persons. Who were / was deeply involved in my life - interested in, and loved, me.

I was drawn by love and grace.  I wasn't terrified by Hell. Wasn't running from sin. Not seeking to flee the fear of the wrath to come.

Oh no.  The Church had to tell me about all that, after I became a Christian.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Politicians Who Have Been Treated Nearly as Unfairly as Donald Trump

Since nobody has suffered worse than Donny, how about the people who got close...


  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Sir Thomas More
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Aung San Suu Kyi
  • Joan of Arc
  • Harry Wu
  • Lady Jane Grey
  • Benedicto Kiwanuka
  • Jo Cox
  • Alexander Dubček
  • Leon Trotsky
  • Olaf Palme
  • Mohammad Najibullah

Still, people have been mean to Donald Trump.  Worse all round.

All Religions and Nones

Looking at the rise of the "nones" - those of no religion - and seeing a real marketing - sorry, mission - opportunity.

I suspect the nones phenomenon will be temporary. Firstly because nonreligious people tend to breed less than religious ones. But also because we are entering strange days worldwide. And dark, uncertain times create a need for certainty, a narrative that all will be OK. And the neoliberal faith that told us that everything was brilliant has been convincingly shown to be untrue.

Obviously there will always be people that put their faith in an allegedly perfect old bloke with a beard who will look after us all.  But frankly I don't believe Jeremy Corbyn will get elected as PM. So the 400 people who follow him around will have to find another Messiah soon. That shouldn't be a problem to them. They've followed a few.

So, to step into this spiritual void, I'm creating the Beaker Nones Retreat. The perfect pilgrimage for people of all religions and nones.

DAY 1

12 noon - welcome and lunch

2 pm - a nice walk in the countryside (nymphs please stay in the steam. No point sowing doubt so early.)

4 pm - afternoon tea and cakes

5 pm - "Enya in the Afternoon" with joss sticks and tea lights

6.30 pm - Supper

8 pm - Workshop - "What's it all about?"

9.30 - Bar (donations only - no licence)

DAY 2

8 am - "Thought for the Day" from the Cat's Book of Wisdom

8.30 am - Breakfast

9 am - The Waterboys: Seeing the whole of the Moon

11 am - Cafe Non-church  (coffee in the Beaker Barista Bar, where we've decked a coffee shop out with pews for that traditional feel)

11 am - for the kids - Messy Non-Church (drawing, basically)

1 pm - Lunch

2.30 pm - Ain't Science Great? A look at the wonders of the universe in such a way we all go "Woo!" But without any woo.

4 pm - Herbal Tea. It tastes vile, but you feel good.

5 pm - A walk in the Woods. (Dryads please confine yourselves to the trees. Don't want to shake anyone's faith.)

6 pm - Myth, Magick, Law Codes, History, Biography - how to tell the difference. And still make category errors.

7 pm - Supper

8 pm onwards - The Great Silence. As everyone sneaks off to the pub.

DAY 3

8 am - Morning Rituals: Shaking heads sadly, muttering about last night, looking sheepish

9 am - Breakfast-  Muesli. It's like Calvinism but without the happy bit for some at the end.

10 am - A Few Final Thoughts-  Hnaef tells us all about the brilliant Red Hat he got in America.

11 am - Tennis. Nobody understands the rules and nobody knows how to do it. Except posh people. Just like the Church of England, thinking about it.

1 pm - Lunch and Departure to the real world.