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Sunday, 4 December 2016

Overthrowing Elites

New Living Translation (NLT) Matthew 3: 
In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’” 
John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. 
“You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire. 
“I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire."
There's been a lot of talk about elites this year, in various countries' political systems. The main person talking about elites in the USA is a man who has a skyscraper with a golden lift, in New York. And in this country it's been a stockbroker and public schoolboy.

When John the Baptist preaches, the ordinary people of the countryside come out to see him. But then, when he's getting popular, out come the Jewish people's own elites - the Priests and the Pharisees.

They are the ones who have the religious control - the Priests control the Temple, and the Pharisees - through their dedication to enforcing the Law in everyone's actions - they control everyday lives. And out here in the desert there's a challenge to their control. And he's one who has directly rejected their power - John is  the son of a priest, he's entitled to hang around awaiting his turn to minister in the Temple. But the power of then priests is compromised - the role of Chief Priest is a stitch-up.

So John's out in the desert, greeting them as vipers. And he has a two-fold message: to us. Maybe to him it's just the one point.

  • Repent and produce good fruit.
  • The judgement is coming, through the Messiah.

John's saying our actions have consequences. Obviously they have consequences now - if we do a selfish thing then we may feel good, but someone else will suffer. If we do a good thing, it may or may not be good for us - but someone else will benefit.

But at the Judgement - in a time to come when Jesus reigns in glory - then those actions will still be there. And if they're good, and good for others, and they're living our lives for Jesus - then they're going to be stored up in barns - safe as grain for a heavenly feast. But if they're bad, selfish, hurtful - then they're going to whirl in the wind like chaff, burnt up as refuse in  fire.

And all the elites really will be torn down in that day - because we will account for what we have done, face to face with our God. And it won't matter who we are - only how we saw Jesus in oir neighbours.

And if you think that's terrifying, that's fair enough. I know I do. I know the pile of grain will be small, and the chaff so big, and will have to cling to Jesus's cross to be saved. But because I believe in him, maybe the grain pile will be a bit bigger, and the chaff a little less. So help me, Lord Jesus, to turn and follow you again and again.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Throwing Oranges at the King Penguin: Those Obscure Christmas Customs

Ah, the traditions of Christmas. And while everyone knows that Prince Albert introduced the traditional Eastenders bloodbath to England, many lesser-known Yuletide customs are being reintroduced as part of the current rising tide of English nationalism.

1. Staffy decorating

In Northern English housing estates it used to be traditional to dress the household Bull Terrier up as a Bolton Wanderers player. It always used to be Nat Lofthouse but in these more culturally diverse times, it is now quite often Sam Allardyce.

2. Vicar Rolling

Common in the Wensleydale area, where Christmas was never complete if you had not tipped the local  clergy downhill.

3. Throwing Oranges at the King Penguin

In the Anglo Saxon Sagas, there is mention of the "King Penguin": an evil being who has sworn enmity with Father Christmas. The King Penguin flies over the rooftops on Christmas Eve looking to tip up Santa's magic sleigh. So the children of the Cotswolds used to throw oranges over the roofs of their houses to disrupt his flight path.

3. Election of the Snork Maiden

In the Forest of Dean, the Snork Maiden was elected by the Rangers of Cinderford on St Nicholas's Day, and would be entitled to a rugby ball each day until Candlemas. It is believed that Tove Jansson made use of this tradition when she created her Moomin mythology. It seems no coincidence that all the men in the Forest are bald with big noses.

4. Time-trialling Round the Town

On Friday nights in Advent the youths of Wellingborough race each other round the one-way system in battered hatchbacks.
They do it the rest of the year as well.

5. Bringing in the Yule Log

The Mayors of some towns on Salisbury Plain each year dress up as Yule logs and dance around the Market Squares singing songs from the shows. If this is a fertility ritual it ain't working.

6. Vanity Resignations: The Taming of the Zac

In parts of South West London, the sons of well-to-do philanderers would hand in their notice at Michaelmas, expecting to get their jobs back in time for Christmas. These men - known as "Zacs" would be the talk of the village for a few weeks and then, when they found their job had been taken by someone else, they had to make a living as the Village Idiot.

7. Village Finding

In parts of Somerset at this time of year, it is customary for villagers to come home from the fields to find their homes have once again disappeared under water. They wander the Levels in coracles, poking the ground beneath with long sticks, while singing songs of hatred for the Environment Agency.

8. Finding Excuses for the Church Being Empty in Advent

Every week up to Christmas in Lincolnshire, the Church Wardens try to come up with  reasons why there's so few people at Church on Sunday. These will include shopping trips to Newark, Christmas Markets, the weather, or kids playing football. The real reason the regulars aren't there - because they're all dead - is rarely mentioned.

9. King / Queen of the Bling

In the former council estates of Derby, the person putting the most house lights up is declared to be Queen or King of the Bling. The local gang chief will arrange for them to receive a giant turkey on Christmas Eve. And East Midlands Electric will send them seasonally-coloured bills in the new year.

10. Cabbage Eating in Bury

In Bury, Lancashire, it was traditional to eat all the cabbages in the house on Old St Nicholas's Day. The belief was that cabbages harboured evil green spirits which would cause mischief all through Advent otherwise. Nobody believes this anymore, of course. So these days nobody in Bury eats any veg at all.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Liturgy for the Loss of Andrew Sachs

Archdruid: We are sad to have lost the wonderful Andrew Sachs.

All: Oh rats.

Archdruid: They're filigree Siberian Hamsters.

All: Crackers anyone?

Archdruid: And what we want to know is - was Manuel's first language Spanish or Catalan?

All: You'll have to excuse him. He's from Barcelona.

Archdruid: A man who played a range of parts on stage, TV and radio.

All: Not bad for a bloke from Barcelona.


All: Yeah he was. Basil Fawlty said.

Archdruid: That wasn't real. It was fiction.

All: Oh like Donald Trump?

Archdruid: In real life, Sachs was a half-Jewish German who fled the Nazis and came as a refugee to this country...

All: Not just taking the jobs of our hardworking British waiters then?

Archdruid: No!

All: Oo. Do we still have time to change our vote in the Brexit?

Archdruid: No.

Archdruid: Oh you didn't....

All: Well Boris said we'd save all that money we could spend on an NHS which would suddenly be staffed by all those fully trained British nurses and doctors....

Archdruid: I'm gonna need a bigger Ritual of Confession...

All: Can we burn the  effigy of Russell Brand now?

Archdruid: No. We did that last Guy Fawkes. And Brand was small fry.  Andrew Sachs had to escape Hitler.

Ken Livingstone: Hitler? Did anyone say Hitler? I love to say Hitler.

The Major: Reminds me of when we landed on Sword. Pointed the cannon in the wrong direction, took out the Canadians' tea trolley. Dreadfully drunk of course. I thought the Colonel was a massive dragonfly.

Manuel: What is dragonfly?

Basil: The name of my horse, nitwit.

Manuel: What is witnit?

Basil: Oh, I could be having this conversation for the rest of my life. Try to remember before one of us dies.

Archdruid: May he be lifted on wings like a giant dragonfly, and eternally have a decent view out of his window. In the place where we will dine forever on food that does not have rats in the cracker tin, and which wasn't built by O'Reilly Men.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Is it Time to put the Church Xmas Tree Up?

Are the nights drawing in? If so then is there an M in the month? Then is the School Nativity Play due in church? If so it's for the kiddies. Are the altar cloths gold and white? Then definitely. Else only if you really want to.

Advent Adventure

Yeah this should have happened Sunday but we forgot.

In any case, "Bertrand's Brilliant Bling" has turned out to be a total failure. We insisted that the lights be carbon neutral so he made them solar powered. But then we worried about batteries exploding so he fitted them with no storage. So they only work during the day time.

And then we fitted them to the Community Wind Turbine but with all this calm weather it's not generated anything in a fortnight. Which is why it's been tea lights wall to wall in the Moot House.

Still we shall shiver in the Moot House, clutching a tea light against the dark and an out-of-code mince pie for warmth, and dream of summer.

Have a happy Advent Adventure.

Monday, 28 November 2016

See That Girl - a Tale of God's Love

There's plenty of stuff in the Bible where God, the loving husband, threatens the wayward Israel with all sorts of sanctions - or else offers her unconditional love.

But what if you turned it round? That's a patriarchal world where it's the woman going astray and the sensible bloke - who is, let's remember, entitled to multiple wives and / or porcupines* according to the results of the latest battle - is the one to lay down the law. But in Kirsty MacColl's world, it's a bit different.

In the Freeworld, baby, it's the bloke who is the gormless twerp being lured off by another offer, while the sensible woman is steadfastly loving while wondering what the hell is going on. The woman tempting Idiot Boy away is, apparently, quite good with words - "she keeps telling you lies, she's just a full-time flirt." Inclined to wander - "she only comes around when she's got nothing to do."

But the love the Lover gives is as steady as anything you see in Song of Songs from the Bloke. She holds our her hands all day long to her faithless lover, and calls him back from the edge of idiocy...
Now I won’t tell you again, it’s up to you
But you’d better make up your mind what you’re gonna do
Don’t you know I want you still
I’m so afraid I always will
And I’ll be loving you till you see that girl
I’ll keep on loving you till you see that girl
I’ll still be loving you till you see that girl.

* Concubines. Sorry. Not porcupines. Never get them confused.

Unspoken Liturgy for a Cougher on Public Transport

Cougher: Cough!

Thinker 1: Ooh. That was quite a cough.

Cougher: Cough!

Thinker 2: Another cough? Maybe it wasn't just a one-off.

Cougher: Cough!

T3: Nah, that's not just a tickle is it?

Cougher: Cough!

T4: Someone has decided to drag themself 60 miles into the office.

All: [ironically] So brave! So dedicated!

Cougher: Cough!

T5: You know, I'm starting to worry that might be TB.

Cougher: Cough!

T6: Maybe I should move away. If only people weren't standing all the way down the aisle...

Cougher: Cough!

All: [Pleading] O Fear of Israel, who dragged thy people out of the desert into the promised land, get us safely to the end of this journey without compromising our immune systems.

Cougher: Cough! Cough! Cough!

T7: Ooer. Reckon he lost half a lung there.

Cougher: Cough!

T8: His boss must be a bastard...

Cougher: Cough!

T9: His boss must be a bastard who is always going down with coughs s/he* catches off his staff.

Cougher: Cough!

All: Have a drink of water!


All: Door's open! Let's get out!

Cougher: Cough!

All: And also with you.

* Almost certainly he....

Sunday, 27 November 2016

A Memory of Advent, 1984

I've probably blogged on this before. But don't care.

It was the Brasenose College Advent Carol service, 1984. A weird, Oxford affair. Hymns included the sublime "Adam Lay Y-Bounden" and the frankly odd "Teach me, my God and King." Readers of this blog will know that I'm not a big fan of George Herbert.

In the midst of the collection, somebody with classic 80s big hair tried to balance a service sheet, hymn book, candle, offering bag, and money to put in the offertory. Too much for anyone. Her hair went up in smoke and she ran out screaming.

I forget who that was. But I remember who ran out after her, to comfort her. It was Debbie Hughes - later Peatman. In the world of church, it's often easy to think that the smooth running of the institution, the performance of the liturgy, the need to show that everything is lovely on the surface is all that matters. When actually it's always the people.

Our Bible Clerk knew that people are more important than anything else. She was right. She is missed. I will remember her every year on Advent Sunday. How could you not? God bless you, Debbie. And all those - especially your family - who miss you.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Getting Your Political Bearings

Labour will not win the next election as UKIP-lite, says Diane Abbott. 

And she's right. Labour will lose the next election as a dodgy coalition of left-wingers. Not the same thing at all.

But I'm in awe of her use of language as she warns that a rightward trend could lead to a downward spiral. Maybe not so in awe of her geometry though.