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Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Generation Ex

Just discovered that "Generation Y" isn't just a Billy Idol tribute band.

I feel pretty silly now, to be honest. When they said "we need to do more to attract Generation Y" I thought they just wanted us to hold a 70s Night in the Old Barn. I'm gonna have to see if Tesco will take back all that hair gel and sacks of bin liners.

This also explains why, at the Moot, they were discussing whether a Church Plant might help engage with Gen Y. And the baffled looks when I suggested a cactus.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

101 Uses for a Sloth Bear

Now the sloth bears are out in the open, as it were, and we're all back safety from Not Greenbelt 15, we thought we ought to find some practical use for them.

The obvious thing was to use them as replacement sled dogs. I love huskies - they always look so happy in their work. And sloth bears being much bigger, I reckoned they would be good for shifting bigger loads. Like Hnaef.

So we invested a quid to buy a shopping trolley at Morrisons, brought it home and tried it out on the drive.

Bit of a mistake. A trolley on a gravel drive is, it turns out, unstable. Poor Burton chipped a tooth finding that out. But there's a nice smooth bit of tarmac, runs down from the Orchard to the Doily Shed. The Doily Shed where the Beaker Folk were singing merry cider-making songs while pressing the first of the autumn's crop, out of the reach of the rain.

So we shoved our test pilot back in, with a gumshield this time, stuck the coal scuttle helmet on his head, and told the sloth bears to go for it.

They loved it. Charged down the road, swung off at the last minute, shot Burton straight into the Doily Shed in the sort of accident that could only happen if you've watched too much "Last of the Summer Wine."

So we ran into the Doily Shed. Burton was laying in a great pile of apple pomace awaiting pressing, covered in what was basically apple sauce, shouting "Mush! Mush!"

Which, ironically, was what he should have been shouting in the first place.

The Overwhelming Minority of Safe Lorries

Minor changes to the safety equipment of lorries in Central London have been introduced, in an attempt to make the city safer for cyclists.

Of course, the people who drive massive dangerous vehicles around have complained. Natalie Thompson, of the Fleet Transport Association, said,

 'Funds used to launch the scheme would be better spent on targeting "a small proportion of lorries that don't comply with existing regulations".'

Last year, nearly three quarters of construction lorries stopped in a campaign were illegal. They barely found a legal cement lorry. In May, 95 out of 136 lorries inspected in the City had to be taken off the road.

So maybe the FTA are right. We should crackdown on the small majority of lorries that are breaking all the rules. And we should be fitting better equipment also on the large minority that aren't.

Letting Diana Go

Much upset in the papers over the state of Lady Di's grave.

I've linked to the Metro. It doesn't rant about this as much as the Express. But then at least it's not the Express.

At the time of Princess Diana's funeral, there was much rejoicing that she was buried in Althorp with her "blood family". It was felt that this cocked a snook at the evil royals, who had treated her so badly. Now her grave is covered in moss and the temple - sorry - wooden memorial is getting a bit worn, everyone has noticed that her brother appears to be an unpleasant cove who seems to have a habit of mistreating women himself, and who has the affrontery to charge people to walk round his garden.

Why shouldn't he charge people to come to Althorp? There's gonna be death duties to pay, when Chas Spencer sleeps with fathers in that little caged-off crypt at Brington. The little Spencers - of whom there are a quiverful - are gonna need a few quid. And it's not like the running costs aren't high enough. And he's got two wives from previous marriages. He's got a lot of outgoings.

And that Memorial?

It may be getting a bit tatty - but then even when it was new, it was a bit tacky? A Temple of Diana that the Greeks aren't asking for.

The Express complains that there is algae in the lake where Diana's grave is. Well, I'm shocked. Algae in a lake? In the summer? Whoever heard of such a thing. Surely they should chlorinate it - if the workers in Lodge Farm can stand the smell. The Duke's butler should go out in a coracle every morning with a sieve. How can England itself survive, if there's algae in a lake?

But worst of all. Diana's grave is getting a bit mossy. And a bit overgrown.

Well, good. That is as it should be. The memorials to her ancestors in their crypt at Brington Church (if the rumours are wrong and she's not been buried there all along) are nice and dry and dusty. The church roof protects them from the elements and the electronic alarm keeps them from the sticky fingers of visitors. But when we lay someone to rest - they're supposed to be at rest. And Diana is resting in our natural element.

It is a belief of some I have spoken to that burial is better than cremation because "the spirit stays around the grave longer" - as if a human spirit is a liquid that can be driven off by heat. Be that as it may, there is a sense, as a grave ages, that we are leaving the departed loved one to God. They are safe in our hearts, but we are not clinging to them - they are set free to rest, to sleep until the Day. From dust we come, and to dust we are returning.

Whereas to keep a monument shining bright, to demand that it stands spotless in a virtual desert, not to allow the grave itself to slip into sleep - that's a grasping at the departed. A refusal to let them go to where we all will go - the demand that they should give us more.

Which of course is what the Express needs. It still sells papers through Diana's name. It's only 18 years since she died - enough still remember the shock of that 31st August 97 (and the apparent national breakdown that followed it). There's still mileage for the Express in trotting out stories blaming the secret services, or the Duke of Edinburgh, or whoever, for a few years, if they can only keep the martyred angel fresh.

She was a women people were touched by. She went tragically early, leaving two sons. But she has gone, now, as we all shall. Let her go. It's the way of things for all of us.

Diana memorial by Kenneth Allen under Creative Commons Licence.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Not a Pratchett on the Original

Some troll in the Guardian is saying Terry Pratchett was a mediocre writer.

Well, what can I say? "The Colour of Magic" is a book that transformed my teens. Like Douglas Adams, that other genius of spoof fantasy/sci fi, Pratchett went with an idea and drove it to perfection. Opened our imaginations with humour that danced on a beam from that weirdly-calculated sun.

Drove it with more rigour and imagination and more consistently, even relentlessly, than Adams. You can't better the way that the geography and cosmology of the Discworld, with its little sun, elephants and turtle are worked out. It's a little world of utter brilliance, and sustained for so long.

And to compare Pratchett's work with Mansfield Park? Now that's a good novel. But it's basically a story of how good girls, if they keep their noses clean and their traps shut, can make their way in the world through marrying rich vicars.

Is that really the sort of message the Guardian wants its readers to buy into? If so all their other articles have been way off beam these fifty years or so. I mean, it's hardly Equal Rites, is it?

I'm just dispatching a Luggage (with loads of dear little legs and a nasty attitude) off to Grauniad Towers. If it doesn't come back with the right journalist, it can just put itself straight in the Wicker Man ready for Samhain.

Letters to the Church Magazine

Monthly letters page for the Trim Valley Benefice came out yesterday.

Nathan says it's early because the Bank Holiday. I reckon he's forgotten how to schedule things in Wordpress.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Keeping it Clean

"...fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly." (Mark 7:21:22)
Interesting bunch of sins, here. Starts with the big ones that we all know about. The sex and death ones. We all know they're bad, yeah? And if being sinful can be equated with being "unclean" - as they would be in a ritual sense, I guess - then they're gonna make you dirty.

It's like Jesus is suckering us in here. Even in our modern day, we still know that sexual unfaithfulness is wrong. Though the 33 million people whose names were on the Ashley Madison website presumably think that adultery's not so bad as long as nobody knows you're doing it. And murder - that's bad. Killing people except in self-defence is wrong. Unless you can persuade yourself that it's for their own good, according to the bill currently back in Parliament again and former Archbishop George Carey. But yeah, adultery and murder - "proper" murder - they're wrong. And Jesus's hearers would have been going, yeah - good point.

And then he winds up with envy, slander, pride, folly....

Envy? Envy makes you unclean? On what planet would envy make you unclean? That's not much good news for our world. is it? We drive large chunks of our economy on envy. It's not enough to be safe and comfortable - we've got to have the right stuff. And ideally better right stuff than other people.

Slander? You having a laugh, Jesus? Slander? Where would we be without slander? How would we oil the time between arriving at work and going home - unless it was trying to work out how much John in accounts earns, and indulging in a bit of envy?

And the Church in particular seems to have a certain fondness for slander, backbiting and other such vicious activities. What brings out the biting best in us more than somebody at church we don't agree with? What could be better to bring out our dark side than somebody who doesn't receive Communion the right way, the hymn that we can't stand, the person who doesn't know the way to behave?

It's been a particular fear of mine that, if and when the Church in England dies out, there will be one last conversation between the two last Christians. And one will remark that, even at this final hour, he wasn't the one who forgot to bring the church keys and locked everybody out for ten minutes one Sunday morning, And then he'll die, having made one final cutting point.

It's a bit like the "Upper Class, Middle Class" sketch with the two Ronnies and John Cleese. It's all about things being relative, is slander. Why worry about your own standing with God or other people as long as you can ensure you feel just a little superior another? And that's where slander is driven by pride - a concern about your own position, a demand upon your own rights, an expectation that you'll get the respect you deserve. There was an episode of "Dad's Army" on this evening where Mainwaring found out that he shouldn't have been a captain.As Arthur Lowe brilliant played Mainwaring, with one pip fewer on each shoulder, you could see him shrink. That rank meant everything to him.

Jesus winds up with - of all the possible things we wouldn't expect in a list of things that make you unclean before God - folly. Folly? In what way could being foolish make you unclean? I mean take the famous last words of General John Sedgwick at the Battle of Spotsylvania - "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." That was foolish, but I don't think that's what Jesus was thinking about.

Foolishness is the opposite of wisdom. And wisdom in the Bible is about doing the right things to walk with God. It's mostly about being considered; being calm; being thoughtful; not overdoing stuff. And in the New Testament, Jesus directly quotes God calling somebody a fool.... so what's this foolishness?

It's in Luke 12. The parable of the man who made his fortune, built his barns, settled down to a long and enjoyable life - and died. And God calls him a fool - because instead of doing what God wanted, storing up treasure in heaven, he focussed on getting a decent retirement plan.

It's not about getting the ceremony right, it's not knowing the right way to genuflect, knowing all the words to "10,000 Reasons",  It's about getting priorities right - to God, to each other. In that episode of Dad's Army, there's a lovely moment when Mainwaring, now busted down to a private, comes back to the church hall with no pips on his shoulder. He's lost his position, but he still realises he's got a duty.

The opposite to folly - the last of things that make us unclean - is wisdom. Wisdom says this is where we are, this is what God is like. The short-term things we use to put ourselves up against God and each other - they're not what we should be. True wisdom looks up to a cross and realises that the thing that makes us clean, is the giving up of all things we hold onto. The thing that means we are true with God is not a correct method of doing ceremonies - it's holding onto the Jesus that rejected all those temptations. We are not made clean through anything we can do - we are made clean because God makes us right with him. And if God makes us right with him then all those things - lust, murder, envy, pride and folly - we can reject them. Because they are worth nothing compared to God.

In Search of Mark 7:16

Just getting ready for tomorrow's sermon - and wondering how to turn it round to the importance of the  Beaker Folk saving electricity, by doing the washing-up themselves. And I notice something. There's no Mark 7:16 in the Bible. Or, at least, not in my Nearly Infallible Version, or the Now Rejecting Sexism Version.

Grabbing Drayton Parslow warmly by the elbow as he saunters past, I cop a cheeky look at his King James. And I read:

"If any man have ears to hear, let him hear"
So the King James tells us that men with ears are able to hear. Why are the modern versions keeping this dangeorus knowledge suppressed? I'm perplexed. I'm also surprised, from that use of the verb to have, to discover that Jesus spoke Somerset dialect. One presumes he picked it up while visiting Gkastonbury.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Why I don't Do Festivals (Seminar talk at #NotGB15)

I'd like to thank Graham Hartland for inviting me to give this seminar. Not least because nobody else ever invites me. Greenbelt? Forget it. I'm too Tory. Spring Harvest? I'm not middle-class enough. New Wine? Too liberal. Not GB 15 is my only chance, really.

So you may ask what I'm complaining about, regarding Christian Festivals. And, to quote James Dean, what have you got?

First up there's the weather. Here's today's weather forecast for the East Midlands...

I mean - that's what Christian Festivals do. I went to Spring Harvest once. It snowed. Went to Greenbelt, got hit by a hurricane. You know you'll traipse home, personally soaked, with soaked tent, soaked sleeping bags, the car covered in mud to the roof where you drove straight into a 6 foot deep puddle and had to be hauled out before you drowned.

And then there's the false expectations raised. The minions go off to Spring Harvest, they come back "why can't you lead worship like Vicky Beeching? Why aren't you as mystical as the Northumbria Community? Why aren't you as left-wing yet oddly authoritarian as Bishop Pete?" Never do they show the self-awareness to realise that the problem is not that I'm not as good a leader or preacher as at Spring Harvest -  it's that they're not such a good congregation. Spring Harvest congregation is full of enthusiasm, they'll have read the Bible for the only week this year, they're ready to apply the teaching to their lives. At least until they go home, when they have to do their jobs and clean their houses and mow the lawns and pay the mortgage. And then they have to drag themselves to regular services in the morning and, I'll be frank, they're a bit of a let-down. I'd much rather have a Spring Harvest congregation. They're relaxed, they're listening, they've had the day off. It's not me, it's very definitely them.

And what about the music? First up, the Beaker Quire come home and insist on playing "this great song that we learnt." The first three weeks, nobody knows it. All a bit quiet. Then the next three weeks everyone's got it and loves it. 46 weeks on of singing "10,000 reasons" and frankly that seems like enough. We're gonna sing it for 10,000 years and then forever more? Grief, Is there any way of not going?

And finally there's the teaching. People who've been to conferences have opened their minds, had a think. They're ready to challenge, ready to be challenged, ready to change the world. Frankly, it's a bit of a relief when mediocrity sets back in a few weeks later.

When I started the Beaker Folk I figured it would be like an all-year Greenbelt, full of challenge, art and interest. 10 years in, it's more like a theological college - a place where we protect the inmates from the outside world, while hoping that one day we have divorced them from reality enough that, if they ever go back out there, they'll just float above it thinking it doesn't apply to them. But, whatever else may be its flaws, the Moot House is watertight, warm and comfortable. If anyone buys a souvenir, it's me that gets the profit. And if anyone starts singing Rend Collective songs at half past 11 at night, we'll switch the sprinklers on in their room until they stop. Don't go to a festival. Come to the Beaker Folk.

Now, I'm happy to accept questions. But if they're fatuous or self-aggrandizing, or making points rather than asking genuine questions, Hnaef will come and kick you in the shins with his walking boots. No-one? Great. I'm off to the Hen's Wings, then.