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Friday, 31 May 2013

On the Pursuit of Perfection

A hard afternoon and evening in the Liturgy Committee. Everyone brought some real inspiration, and we had to boil down the ideas to their very essence. But we've created a piece of worship for tomorrow evening that could win Britain's Got Talent.

It's a really challenging liturgy to consider employing. For it to work, everything has to be right. All 47 tea lights have to placed in precisely the right place. The procession is more like choreography - 11 acolytes, three penguins, 4 pebble-bearers and a badger, all moving in perfect time, as the magnesium flares pierce the dry ice smoke. The readings - from Jeffrey Archer, in the original Gibberish - have to be perfectly intoned, in a Friesian accent, as the tradition demands. The doves have to be released just at the right moment, to ensure they flutter majestically around the Moot House, rather than being burnt in the light of 1,000 suns as the lasers drill holes through the steel of the Block of Decoration.

And then the group of Simon Cowells, resplendent in high-waisted trousers and immovable faces, have to skateboard around the still-glowing Block Of Decoration, juggling voles. As they race up the ramps and jump over the Worship Focus, landing in the exploding ball pit, balloons are let down from the roof - each containing a text from the Book of Proverbs. Moving doesn't describe it.

And then we thought, let's just say St Patrick's Breastplate and sing Abba Father. It may be less spectacular, but at least it won't go wrong.

The Verse of "If I were a Butterfly" that was Shamefully Suppressed

If I were an ichneumon wasp
I'd thank you for the moth that I ate
And if I were an influenza virus
I'd thank you for making me mutate
And if I were a scared mother rabbit
I'd thank you for my cannibalistic habit
But I just want to thank you for making me me......

Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Relaxing Cup of Tea

That's a relief. I've been trying for weeks to organise a meet-up for a cuppa with my friend, Arch-Sage Suzie, of the Sarum Folk of Stevenage. And we've finally got it set up.

You know how it is - when I have a free hour, she's running a Messy Funeral (not something I'd recommend, by the way). When she had a bit of time off from the Holiday Club planning, I was busy with the Little Pebbles Orange Iggle Piggle Fan Club. Whenever you think you've time in your diary, you discover that you arranged to "show your face" or "just pop in" at some club that has very little to do with you, but the people expect the Archdruid to show up, just to show they matter. For example - why the Husborne Narrow Gauge Modellers' Club felt the need for me to show up and pour out a beaker of water on the new 4-4-2 loco they've built is beyond me. Their membership so nearly overlaps with the Manshead Hundred Secularists' Group, and the Mid Beds Anorak Club, I'm surprised they really wanted a Druid there. Or, for that matter, somebody who was in possession of more than one X chromosome. And I always think 4-4-2 is a terribly old-fashioned arrangement - why did no-one ever have a 4-2-3-1 loco?

Some days, when all's said and done, just consist of running from Pouring Out of Beakers to Mini-Moot Meetings, to Ash Tree Selection Panel, to Divination sub-Committee, to Entrails Inspection Group, to Lunch Club (without time to have any lunch) to Afternoon Tea with the Bright Hour, to Holy Jinglers (don't ask), to Filling Up of Beakers without time to draw breath.

Anyway, we've finally got it scheduled. Saturday June 4th, at 2pm. It's gonna be a bit of a wait, but I'm sure the time will fly until 2016. I'm really looking forward to it.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

A Celebration of Flower Pots

This evening's Filling-up of Beakers was a special commemoration of the utility of flower pots.

When you think about it, flower pots are a spiritual metaphor in terracotta form. They are a veritable cradle of life - an artefact created solely to nurture plants into life. They "breathe" - not in the sense that they have lungs, but in the fact that their clay structure allows moisture to pass out. They protect the delicate roots of plants from the force of gravity, while allowing those roots to respond to gravity in the right way - to grow downwards into compost that is held safely in place.

There is a further spiritual truth to be drawn from plant pots. For when plants are too big for their pots, we neither throw away the plant, nor the pot - nothing is wasted. The plant is re-potted into a bigger pot. the pot is repurposed, as I believe the term is, to hold another, smaller plant. I'm not sure what spiritual truth this is - hopefully something about the way we can hold onto simple metaphors, but when we grow out of them we need more complex ones, while the simply metaphors are useful for others at an earlier stage in their faith journey. Certainly that's a better metaphor than the concept of "starter marriages" that Burton Dasset's ex-wife told me about earlier, when she was asking me whether I'd celebrate her fourth handfasting ceremony.

Still - plant pots. Nurturing, protecting, frost-resistant and attractive. A thing to celebrate. But, it has to be said, useless at a service of Filling-up of Beakers. The hole in the bottom makes them rubbish at holding water.

Deliberately Provocative Question of the Day

When is it right for a minister to allow her/his personal, ongoing faith journey to impact the worshipping tradition of his/her congregation?

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Wuthering Blights

Although, obviously, that other outreach event was worse. I mean, it was nice to meet Catherine, Katherine, Katrina, Catriona, Katie and Katja, but it was meant to be a relaxed and informal Fresh Expression.

It was all caused because Burton misheard my instructions when i was telling him what to put on the posters. But honestly - who's ever heard of Cathy Church?

Haven't Got a Stitch to Wear

Very classy showing this evening at "Filling-up of Beakers". All the women in nice little black dresses, all the blokes in DJ's. All except Hnaef, whose gold lamé number was set off beautifully by the nail varnish.

It just gave the whole ceremony such a dignified feel,  compared to the usual jeans and Arran sweater look. We're calling it "dressy Church".

Unapologetic

I've just finished Francis Spufford's "Unapologetic" , to which I was alerted by Eddie. The fact I have been reading it for the last four months is no criticism, or indeed commentary on my reading speed. I'm a busy Archdruid, and I actually read it in four chunks, which helped with keeping the arguments together.

This is a lovely book whose profundity of thinking is cunningly hidden by the way it skates along in simple language. It's great fun, and should appeal to anyone who's not a die-hard commentor on Comment is Free Belief, a gun-toting good ol' boy from the Bible Belt or someone who's more offended by the occasional swear word than the state of the world we live in.

Chantry Begins at Home

You know, I sometimes wonder if the baby wasn't thrown out with the Walsingham well-water at the Reformation. So many things we've lost that we should have kept - not Papal Supremacy, Confession, priestly celibacy, Marian devotion and all that stuff of course - I'm referring to Rosaries, nice pictures and chanting - all the lovely stuff.

But now, we're picking up all the good stuff. The Beaker Rosaries in the Beaker Bazaar are doing a roaring trade, and the Plainchant Workshop is a great success. So we thought it would be the right time to introduce Chantries.

Obviously we won't be praying for the souls of dead people. For a start, they're dreadful at paying - never respond even to final demands. And since we don't believe in Purgatory, we've no idea what we'd pray for them anyway. So we're going to be praying to order for living people. Or, at least, since we have some doubt about the whole concept of effective prayer, and we'd be a bit embarrassed about coming before the divine on a contract basis, we'll be doing the Beaker equivalent of prayer:

For £5.00 we will light a tea light for you to have a day's well-being.

For £7.00 we will tie a bit of ribbon to an ash tree for you.

For £10 we will write your name on a holy paper boat, and float it downstream.

For £30 we will walk four times round the Moot House, shouting out that you deserve a promotion. (Extra laps of the Moot House will be a fiver each)

Or, for 50p a shot, we will mention your name in an approving way at "Pouring-out of Beakers".

(Terms and conditions apply. A Beaker Prayer is no guarantee of preferential treatment from the Divine, in this world or the next. At times of peak prayer demand we reserve the right to outsource prayer work to our offshore prayer resource in Middlesex, Fr Zadok Koala, whose idea it was in the first place.)

Monday, 27 May 2013

Scouse Expressions

Great new "fresh expression of church" we've come up with.

Everyone has to wear shell-suits, all the blokes have a dodgy moustache and everyone has a big bubble perm. Then we all walk around getting really glum because our football teams aren't doing very well.

We're going to call it "Mersey Church".

Arnie the CiF Reader has a Bank Holiday

7 am - Wake up. Don't feel grateful to be alive, as there is no Sky Fairy. Post a comment on the Comment is Free blog.  I remark that Christians are deluded people, who believe in an imaginary friend. My brain is always incisive and imaginative first thing in the morning.

8 am - Go downstairs to make breakfast. Not sure whether to have cornflakes or crunchy nut cornflakes. If I believed in a Sky Fairy, I'd probably pray for guidance. But I have my own free will. I can make my mind up. I have no need to read a text that was written by Stone-age ostrich herders to tell me what I should have for breakfast. Decide to have porridge.

8.05 am - Discover that I have no milk.

8.45 am  - Remember I don't have to go to work, as it is a Bank Holiday. Glad that this Bank Holiday now occurs on a clean, secular, evidence-based date. The old holiday that used to be celebrated at roughly this time was based on a Bronze-age dating of a mass hallucination by Iron age shepherds who thought they were being blessed by their imaginary friend. I would rather go to work than celebrate that.

9 am - Go back to bed.

9.30 am - I can't sleep, so I post a comment on the CiF Belief pages. I don't know what the article is - it's probably just that closet Sky-Fairy-Follower, Andrew Brown, trying to pretend he's an atheist again. I remark that Christians are deluded people, who believe in an imaginary friend.

10 am - Get ready to go out. If I believed in a Sky Fairy I would probably say some prayers to keep me safe for the day - thus wasting precious time. But as an evidence-based atheist, I am able to save several minutes in my preparations - keeping them to the strictly efficient and evidence-based teeth cleaning and shave.

10.15 am - Find a car parking space at the supermarket, without any need for prayer. Thus proving that the Sky Fairy does not exist.

10.30 am - It is thanks to evidence-based distribution systems that we have such a wide range of products in our supermarkets. If we were to let believers work in retail, they would simply sit around praying that some products would appear in the shops - and we would all have to eat dust.

10.45 am - I find it hard to understand how anyone can live their life according to some creed. When you think that Christians spend all day trying to please their imaginary friend - can you imagine thinking about this kind of thing, all day?

11 am - I get home to find I have forgotten the milk I went out to buy. Those people whose lives are run by an imaginary friend would see this as some kind of a "sign" that they should go back to the shop. I choose to believe in the evidence instead.

11.30 am - I leave a comment on the CiF Belief blog. I remark that Christians are deluded people, who believe in an imaginary friend. I believe we should engage in constructive dialogue, even with people whose total lack of intellect is shown by their belief in a Sky Fairy.

12 noon - Decide to drink my tea black. Realise I can't actually have any tea, as my tea cup is merely a thought experiment.

12.30 pm - Go down the corner shop to buy some milk. Real, physical milk, you realise. If I were a believer I would probably just pray for milk to appear.

1 pm - Finally get to eat my porridge. I know it is a little late for breakfast, but I don't need the writings of a Bronze-age hunter-gatherer to tell me when I can eat porridge. I am able to make up my own mind on the subject, without invoking a hypothetical Supreme Being.

2 pm - Write a comment on the CiF blog.  I remark that Christians are deluded people, who believe in an imaginary friend. I don't know, with all the intellectual rigour that we apply to their arguments, how anyone could still believe in a God.

3 pm - Spend a while reading the comments on a religious column on the Independent website. I don't know why I bothered. The atheist arguments on there appear trite and gratuitously offensive.

4 pm - I've not really done much, considering it's a Bank Holiday. I could have gone down the pub with my friends, except all my friends are people who comment on the CiF blog and I've never met any of them. Realise that if you are a Christian, you can go down the pub with your imaginary friend. What a sad bunch they are.

5 pm - Realise I have nothing int for tea. Remember something I read a Christian write once. He said that his imaginary friend said that you cannot live on bread alone. To prove him wrong, go to the supermarket and buy 2 croissants, a baguette, a brioche and a pain rustique. I like to support the French. They have a very sensible attitude to religion. They are terrified of it.

6 pm - Although you can live on bread alone, as I have just proven, it leaves you feeling bloated and yet simultaneously unsatisfied. I may not have a very good night's sleep.

7 pm - I seem to have missed "Pointless". If I were a Christian, I would probably blame the Devil for that. Instead I blame my Sky box, which did not remind me.  To cheer myself up, I make a comment on the CiF blog. I remark that Christians are deluded people, who believe in an imaginary friend. When will these believers ever learn?

8 pm - I mean, all day - just wondering about what your imaginary friend is thinking, and thinking about your Sky Fairy. What kind of a life is that?

9 pm - I was going to have a cup of cocoa, but I used all the milk on the porridge. Christians would no doubt go round to another Christian's house at this point, to borrow some milk. But, according on strictly secular and humanist grounds, I go down to the shop and buy some more milk. Whatever the Bible may say about shopping in the evenings.

10 pm - One last post on the CiF blog before I go to bed.  I remark that Christians are deluded people, who believe in an imaginary friend. One of my best, I reckon.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Three Strangers

The Three Strangers, in Thomas Hardy's tale, being - well, I'm not telling you. Spoilers, sweetie - go and read it. It's a good short story, full of local colour and a typically wistful Hardyan ending. Let's just say there's wheels within wheels.

But they would fit in quite well with Vic the Vicar's megalist of Trinitarian analogies.

The Egg as an Illustration of the Trinity

(An extract from Rodrick's children's illustration)
"....and so we see that the shell, the yolk and the white are all part of the egg, and yet all have different functions. The shell is there to protect, and the white is there to nourish, and the yolk is the life inside. And although they're all distinct, yet they all work together when we scramble the egg. Obviously, you don't want the shell in, so that's not really very like the trinity, but then you add milk, so that's three ingredients again and ow ow ow ow ow Eileen, please stop hitting me with that frying pan....."
Rodrick had to stop the children's talk at this point, as he had to remove the whisk from his nose. Lovely, heavy-bottomed frying pan he had there, though. When you think about it, it has the handle, the pan itself, and the non-stick coating...

Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Neverending Church Council

Wow, that was the longest Spring Moot in history.

I don't know what I was thinking about. When someone suggested that instead of restricting the number of people on the Moot Council, we allow all paid-up Beaker Folk to join if they wished, I agreed. They said it would let people contribute if they wanted. I just figured it would save us all that trouble we had last year. Postal vote fraud, candidates burned in effigy, ballot-stuffing, death threats - I tell you, North Korea had nothing on it.

What I forgot, is that a church ballot is just one day a year. But now I have a whole year of a Moot Council which proves the veracity of Eileen's Law.

For those who don't know, Eileen's Law states that the length of a Church Council meeting is:

A) Independent of the importance of the matters being discussed,
B) Proportional to the length of the agenda,
C) Exponentially proportional to the number of people on the committee.

It makes intuitive sense if you think about it. If there were just one person on the committee, the meeting would take as long as it takes to think about each matter and make a decision. Or, being a Church committee, defer the decision to the next meeting. Two people, and there's the chance to argue. Three people, and there's the opportunity for two of them to discuss how awful/wonderful it was when  the Church last tried to do whatever it was, back in Mr Rowle's day. Ten people, and someone will say how poor old Maisie would turn in her grave if she knew you were moving the tea light stand - followed by someone pointing out that Maisie's not dead, and someone saying she's not well, and somebody else claiming she looked all right when she was dancing on the pool table down the Cranfield Club last Friday.

Then you get up to twenty people and it all falls apart. Under item 3 (Property), you note that the door mat needs replacing. Someone points out that Greeno gave that mat in 1958, and his family will be really upset if it's thrown out. Someone will say maybe, in the interests of utility and kindness, we should put the new mat on top of the old one. It will be pointed out that this might be a Health and Safety issue. The council pedant will ask whether that shouldn't be "an Health and Safety issue". You throw the door mat at him. Then someone notices that it's a Wilkinson's own-label door mat, and the whole conversation turns to who replaced the door mat without consulting Greeno's family.

And so the long evening wears on. If you're not careful, the books of old minutes will be opened, and some fool will be suggesting phoning former ministers to find out when the mat was changed. There will then be a suggestion that you contact the minister from 1958 to find out precisely what the terms of Greeno's original donation were, and you'll be into the depths of a row about why séances are wrong - while some people are threatening to leave the church and join the Spiritualist Church up the road, just to find out what happened to the old door mat.

In the end, last night I restored order with a fire extinguisher. Terrible breach of Health and Safety, I know. But it was that or gnaw one of my own legs off. And it's not like I let the extinguisher off. I just hit every speaker with it till they realised they'd all better stop speaking. Made a worryingly empty sound. Their heads, that is. I had the extinguisher checked recently.

Next year, there will be four lay members of the Moot only. And to avoid abuses, I am introducing a new method of election. I've always thought it was time to reintroduce Ordeal by Fire to this country. This will be the chance.

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Gnostic Apocalypse of St Arnold


And I, Arnold, heard these words, and I wrote them in my scroll.

"Hurricanes and earthquakes and tidal waves will come upon you. And when ye see these signs, ye will know that this showeth God's anger against Same-sex Marriage. For 2,000 years there shall be oppression and slavery and exploitation, but these shall God ignore. And there shall be everyday, common-or-garden disasters,  like unto half of Europe dying of the plague, but these won't have happened in America, so won't really count.

"And when the creator of the whole of time and space, having waited 14 billion years to show gay people what he really thinks of them, pours out his wrath on them, you will notice that, though most of the legalisation in favour of men lying with men happens in the northern states, yet most of the hurricanes and other disasters and oil spills hit the South. And then thou wilt need to cherry-pick a bit, frankly. And then wilt thou give thanks for New Orleans, and the World that is Called Disney, which gives you a bit of wiggle room. BUT not too much wiggling,  which thy God does hate.

"And then when thou considereth that the really big disasters all seem to hit countries where all that gay stuff is illegal, then shalt thou ignore the evidence as not fitting with thy theory.

"And if thou thinkest upon these disasters at all, thou shalt reflect not that these countries have many fewer resources than the West, and maybe that's why their sufferings cry unto heaven. Instead shalt thou reflect that a lot of them are Muslims; and then shalt thou not worry so much."

"And now, Arnold, seal up these words in thy scroll, get into thy SUV, and drive to the airport to start thy lecture tour. Thou might as well burn down all the trees while thou art at it. They're only going up in smoke at the Rapture, anyway. "

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Fresh Expressions of Lurch

Cafe Lurch

Cell Lurch

Messy Lurch

Lurches Together

Hail the Hero

It seemed such a nice day when we went out to celebrate Dancing in the May Sunshine Day.

Twenty minutes in, and we had been soaked with rain, battered by hail, and terrified by one almighty clap of thunder.

I know I normally have only contempt and loathing for him, but on this occasion I have to commend Marston. It can't have been much fun for a bloke that bald, dancing in the hail. But he stuck at it. His head is still covered with small red spots where the hailstones landed. Still, how happy are those who get battered with hail in search of righteousness. Or something

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Road Tax - a Clarification

Dear Readers, I notice that Hnaef has recovered from Sundays' hangover. At least to the extent that, on reading Eileen's comments on cyclists, he noticed that she referred to "road tax". In order not to strain his eyes on an laptop screen for another day or two, I agreed to issue this clarification.

There is no such thing as "road tax". There is Vehicle Excise Duty. This is a tax levied on car-owners to compensate the rest of the country for the pain of having to look at their ghastly vehicles, and endure the damage to the environment that the creation of their personal manhood-extension-substitutes / oversized baby-buggies has caused. We charge more tax based on car emissions because bigger cars do more damage - not because they use more road, and the tax is proportional to the road used.

If the argument that car owners pay "road tax" had any meaning to it, we would have to ban all pedestrians from the pavements on the grounds that they have paid no "pavement tax". Indeed, if the idea of "road tax" had any mileage at all (ho ho), then the only people allowed on the pavements would be motorists, as they could argue that the road tax might also pay for the pavements (which are, after all, down the sides of the roads).

For my American readers, I should explain that pavements in England are what you call sidewalks.Cycles are like motor-bikes, but without motors.

The Rules on Hard and Soft Gs

The creator of the GIF image file format has said that it should be pronounced with a soft "g", as in "gym". Presumably he thinks it's for jraphic files? Jreat jormless joon. Still, he was bright enough to invent the jif format, so it would be wrong to call him a gerk.




Devils on 2 Wheels

Cyclists are back in the news again.

People wonder why it is that drivers get so angry with cyclists. Aren't the answers obvious?

  • They blatantly jump red lights on their machines. While normal people (ie motorists) are forced to accelerate towards traffic lights, in the hope that the amber won't go red before we get there. Of course, when we do get there, and they do turn red, we're going too fast to stop safely - and therefore we're completely justified  (and completely legal) in going through them. Not like cyclists.
  • They ride on the pavements. Obviously, law-abiding motorists never go on pavements. Except with only half our wheels, when we're pressed for somewhere to park. Personally I'm always very careful when parking on the pavement. I try to ensure that, should a parent with a buggy or a person in a wheelchair be forced to go on the road to get round my car, I'm parked so far onto the pavement that I leave a decent wide view down the road. That way they can see if there's any oncoming traffic.
  • Should a cyclist jump a red light, or ride on the pavement, and hit a pedestrian - they'll only get a bit of a telling off for causing a few bruises. Whereas if I did the same thing, I'd be at risk of getting a charge of causing death by dangerous driving. That's just not equitable.
  • I paid £30K for my car. And if I try and drive it through London, not only do I pay the congestion charge, but I spend a lot of time in traffic jams. Whereas any fool can buy a £200 bike and get through London twice as quickly as me, for free. Whose idea of justice is that?
  • They wobble. Which means that, even if I leave them a good one or two feet of space when passing them, I'm at risk of their handlebars scratching my paintwork.
  • Some of them don't wear helmets. Then, when they bang their heads on my windscreen, somehow that's my fault.
  • Have you ever driven behind a middle-aged, lycra-clad, male cyclist? I have. For hours once. Couldn't take my eye off it. I mean, him.
  • They don't pay any road tax. Which is based on emissions. Which means I get hammered for it. That's  surely not right.
  • They shout "hello" to each other when they pass other cyclists. It clearly states in the Highway Code that we should treat all over road-users as psychopathic numpties. So why do they act like they have things in common with each other? They are clearly communists.
  • They have no reverse gear.
  • They're generally younger, better-shaped, and fitter than I am. At least, they are before they make contact with my car.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A Christian Chain Mail


Sometimes it is important that we put ourselves on the line for our belief - really go the extra mile in defending the faith for which so many have died. And today one of those opportunities came along. I received the following email:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ 
I am writing to you as I feel sure that you will be as concerned about this as I was when I read this very message just two minutes ago. 
There may well be, somewhere in our country, at this or another time, a stage show, musical or play in which Our Lord is portrayed in a way that is intended to be derogatory. It may well be suggesting he was a communist, a transvestite, a quiz-show contestant, a woman or something equally degrading to His nature. 
The exact details - or whether any of this at all is true - are irrelevant. The important thing is that you share this message immediately with all your friends. It is unacceptable that, in what purports to be a Christian country, I can imagine a production of this kind being put on by so-called "alternative atheists", new comedians and homosexualists. 
I beg you to forward this email to one hundred of your friends, acquaintances or indeed enemies (for we are called to love them, as well), so they can be as outraged at imagining this sort of thing as we are. If you do not know 100 people, make some plausible names up and suffix them with @yahoo.com - someone is bound to have that email. Or why not cut and paste it into your Facebook timeline? 
97% of people are too sensible to send this on - will you be one of the few that do?
If everybody forwards this to 100 people, within 24 hours more people will have read this message than have ever lived. You can be part of a genuine miracle!
With all blessings in Christ,
Someone you've never met. 


Faced with this kind of supposition, scare-mongering and pious imprecision from a comparative stranger, what else could I do? Naturally I forwarded it on to the 78 people in my address book, and 22 people whose names I could imagine. Every day, we have a cross to bear. I am proud to have shouldered mine.



Church Architecture - Some Definitions

Aumbry 1) Someone who was meant to be called Audrey, but the vicar had a cold at the baptism. 2) Somewhere in an evangelical church to keep flowers.

Apse - circular recess where you can get a good signal for your mobile.

Balcony - traditionally where the youth group were parked during services in some non-conformist churches. If the youngest person in the gallery is over 70, it may be worth checking downstairs to see if anyone is left.

Box pews - place for arguing parishioners.

Buttress - something that holds the Church up (see "pillar of the Church")

Chancel - "Will we be able to move the choir?" - "Chancel be a fine thing."

Children's corner - some old toys and some old carpet. Less sound-retentive than their designers seem to imagine.

Choir Gallery - In some high Methodist chapels, the choir sit behind and above the pulpit. Handy if the preacher is talking out the back of their neck.

Choir stalls - a common problem in cold weather.  Best solved by switching the organ off and on again.

Coat of arms - reminder of who the Tudors really thought should be in charge.

Communion Rail - complaint that the vicar's started facing the wrong way.

Flying buttress - sign of a really fractious church meeting.

Font - Comic Sans in the Welcome Leaflet is always a bad sign.

Hot-air vents - effective method of heating roof spaces and the lower portions of people in cassocks.

List of vicars - a list of dead people,  with s couple of living ones at the end, and not much space after the last one. A living parable of the church's history and likely future.

Mural 1) Person called Muriel who was baptized by a vicar with a cold 2) (Last Judgement) - reminder that, at the last day, sinners will be covered in whitewash for 400 years.

Narthex - the Doctor's most deadly foe.

Pew - hard, cold,  ilong, impractical, immobile seat. Named after the fireman in Trumpton.

Popcorn maker - replacement for pulpit for Pentecost services.

Portico - door for posh people.

Pulpit - place for talking down to people. Now largely abandoned in favour of talking down to them from ground level.

Rood screen - not really rude, not a proper screen.

Victorian re-ordering - smug architectural and social disaster.

Whitewashed walls - reminder that some people really hate pleasure.

Vestibule - a small vest.

Vestry - place so cold you have to wear a vestibule.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Trinity and Generosity

The Beaker Trinity Sunday is always a special event. Participants try to express an interesting analogy for the Trinity, avoiding hesitation, deviation or heresy. Most fail at the third fence.

It strikes me, though, that there must be some mileage in the concept of generosity. If you look at the first of the various Biblical creation stories, men and women are created in God's image,  collectively.  And if you look at the second, it is not good for the man to be alone. Obviously not - who's gonna be able to tell him how many beans make five, when the first bean harvest is brought in?

So that's the first clue.  We can't be on our own, and we're made in God's image. And there's already generosity built in there - especially when the forbidden fruit's been eaten and he blames it on her.Whereas any sensible woman would have put the blame on the snake. Not least as, if God had bought that line, there might have been a nice pair of shoes and a decent handbsg being delivered as a reckoning for the snake. No, I reckon after that act of gormlessness,  Adam was lucky there was any begetting happened at all in the outskirts of Eden.

And that brings us back to that second example of generosity - the begetting.  It wasn't enough for Adam and Eve to just be the two of them.  There had to be more. They had to open up their relationship beyond themselves - and the love between them expanded so they gave their love away to the kids. And what a bunch of kids. But still, they had them. And then they had more of them. Sharing love, so as to share more love.

And maybe that's one reason I think of Trinity and generosity.  This is no glorious-isolation God. Not even a wrapped-in-each-other's-presence,  closed-loop God. This is an open, sharing, generous God where love is shared from Person to Person, then opened up again. Shared to many billions of children, with the expectation that they will share it again, because they share God's Image.

Hnaef has rung that buzzer. Wonder which one I failed on?

Sunday, 19 May 2013

"It never happened before"

Caveat - this post is neither pro-same-sex-marriage nor against. You may infer my views on the matter in general, but not from this post, you can't. Or maybe you can. Whatever. You could apply the views following to just about any proposition that is met by "we never did it before". And that's my point.

I was struck by a Radio 5 discussion on same-sex marriage. The argument against consisted of "it's never happened before". Now, there are arguments for and against same-sex marriage. There are, in my opinion, perfectly good arguments against the State getting involved in consensual sexual relationships, at all, ever. But there are other arguments (around the stability of society, the bringing up of children, the preservation of earned wealth within the family) that maybe argue the other way. But the argument I have a problem with is the one that goes, "we can't have "x" (where "x" may or may not be same-sex-marriage) because all this time we've not had it."

Some arguments along the same line might include:

"Antibiotics, Dr Fleming? They may be bright and modern,. but I'll die of a secondary infection just like my grandad did, if that's all the same to you."

"A train, Mr Stephenson? And collapsing of exhaustion after walking 200 miles was too good for my dad, was it?"

"Mr Wilberforce. I think you'll find they had slaves in the New Testament."

"I was a fag at Eton. Never did me any harm. Except the carpet burns and the scalding. But it made me a man."

"Lead fermentation vessels were good enough for my family's cider in the 18th century, and I don't see why I should tea pot rubber duck aspidistra."

"You may call your way progress, but I'm going to die of ague in my mud hut, if it's all the same to you."

"This speaking in tongues is all very well, Peter, but I don't see what's wrong with killing a lamb whenever I commit adultery."


"Black people never had souls in my day."


"Fire, Grunthog? Are you insane? Why can't we blunder round in the dark chasing tigers away with sticks like our ancestors (the Great Spirit bless them) did? The ones who were eaten by tigers?"

The Mis-Heard Franciscan Way


Dad's belongings - market - money to the poor - oo-er grumpy dad.

Nice to people.

World-loving.

No heresy.

Rough habits and tonsures.

Kind to animals.

Clares the nuns.

Padre Pio - a miracle? Doctors unsure.

No flip-flops.

No money of your own.

"Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use verbs".


News on Hnaef and Keith

Good news. They're back. However we now believe they may have been abducted by aliens and had their minds probed, as they appear to be speaking drivel and they're terribly unsteady on their feet. Poor things, it must have been awful.

The Mystery of the Disappearing Hnaef

We're all a bit worried. Hnaef went out for a quick walk at about quarter to 12, vowing to be back ready for our Massive Popcorn Maker Spectacular - our way of celebrating Pentecost by accidentally showering the congregation with pieces of starch coated in scalding-hot butter. But he's not back yet.

Young Keith went out to find him at half past, but he's not returned, either. So we walked down School Lane, and all we found was this:

 Obviously, people spontaneously combust all the time - it's just we don't hear about it. But to have only his hi-viz left, and not even his steel-toe-capped boots, was a shock. We can only hope that it's something else that has happened.

I'm even more concerned about Young Keith. You can always replace a deputy, but a son is a son. Given the way the two of them went separately like that, I can only assume there's some kind of a Bermuda Triangle effect going on at that end of the village.

I guess that's it. There must have been some of kind of irresistible force, dragging them in. They may well even be in another dimension by now.


Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Archdruid's Seasonal Sermon

Deep in the depths of mythic time, the people of the earth - the King James says "men" and, given their hubris and incompetence it's probably right - decided to show how great they were. So they built a tower that reached to the sky. They did it to make a name for themselves, so they were not scattered across the face of the earth.

Needless to say, given that kind of attitude, they were indeed scattered across the earth. And they were given diverse languages so they would never try that kind of thing again.

But one day the curse was reversed. The people came together, and found they shared a common language. And that language was American English. And they built a tower of gold lamé, sequins and platform soles. And they called that place Eurovision.

Sometimes you think all those languages were quite a good idea, after all.

Ye cannae break the laws o' Physics

Fascinated by this article on contactless payment cards being unintentionally charged. Partly because it gives me new opportunities to extract tithes from what I am going to be designating "passing pilgrims" - those on School Lane, for example, who are just heading up to Junction 13.

But I love the comment from the expert - "The terminal is working within the specification of Near Field Communication but not within the intent."

The terminal is working according to the Laws of Physics, in other words. That being the case, I'd suggest you need to change the "intent". Anything else is likely to be much harder.

The Lure of the Past and the Pull of the End Times

The past is a different country. We know how the story ends there.

I was wondering about UKIP. If their package was solely about our status in the European Union, I might have some time for them. But the leaflets I saw for them were kind of second-hand racism. Warning of the 25 million additional Eastern Europeans soon to be heading for our shores - like every Romanian was packing up the family vampire in a box of native earth and heading for Ampthill.

I can't put my finger on their attraction, unless they've somehow tapped into a theme of living in Britain in a kind of 1950s where everyone was decent, British and cheerful. The Empire was ours, we were ruled by chinless wonders who were really jolly good blokes, and you could leave your door open without having all your possessions stolen by an axe murderer. Kids hung around on street corners - because they had no choice - but they were charming Cockernees or Mancunians, non-threatening and white.

Now I'm not saying any of this is in any UKIP policy. But that's the image I get when I see a picture of Nigel Farage (which my spell-checker converts to "garage"). Of course, we're not going back to the 50s - time travel will never be invented (or we'd all know how to do it).

Then there's this whole "early Church" mythology among some church groups. It says the early Church shared all its money like Communists / had bishops/ had no bishops / had no women in charge/ broke bread all the time / had woman leaders / spoke Aramaic and therefore that's what we're gonna do. And again it's not really the early Church - it's always the early Church but interpreted by tradition or our prejudices or wishful thinking. We don't know what the New Testament Church was like, because we're not told enough about it. But it's a handy stick to beat the Present Church with.

Seems to me that Pentecost breaks up any chance of ever going back. The Apostle stands up and says, in the Last Days it's all different. It was about one nation and one gender - and now it's all nations, all people, all ages, people of all genders and none. The Spirit doesn't hark back to Joel's time, when those words were written - she drags us forward to the end times, when everything's new. It's the end times that lay before us - when the world is still renewed and creation still waits with bated breath and a destiny lays before us that is ours. We can't go back. We can only go forward from where we are now. Hang on to your hats, it could be a rollercoaster.

The End is another country. It's the place where we're going.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Brands Snatched from the Burning

A lack-lustre Pouring Out of Beakers this morning, if I'm honest. I think we were suffering a bit from last night's Pre-Pentecostal Earth Celebration - in which Hafnir used that wonderful Caliban's Dream song from the Olympics to give us a wonderful vision of a new heaven and new earth, as the nations come together waving sheaves of golden corn.

I was musing on whether "The spirit of the earth" could be interpreted as the Holy Spirit - and whether this was compatible with a Logos theology that would see the Word as the underlying reason of the Universe, with the Spirit as the gift to the Church specifically. Which meant that I didn't notice when his theme changed to the awful, hellish punishment to be poured out on a world that drives SUVs to kids' football games while the oceans boil and the moon is turned to blood.

Then I realised that Hafnir was dancing around with his hat on fire, throwing flash-paper around the place and swishing petrol about shouting "this is the blood of Mother Earth, which we spill at our peril."

Yes, you do spill petrol at your peril. Especially when your hat is on fire.

As we dragged choking Beaker Folk and stray badgers out of the Moot House, I had a sense of regret and yet relief. I'd been really looking forward to "Comedy with Russell and Jo", our Spring Harvest-style stand-up after the worship. Still, at least we managed to rescue both our famous guests.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Ways to Avoid Contradiction and Fruitless Further Discussion

Sometimes it's just so much trouble arguing with people, isn't it? Having to justify your decisions can be really wearing.  Especially if the person arguing with you keeps on resorting to "logic" and "evidence".

Well, here's a few handy trump cards to play when you don't want to waste any more of your time.  They're quick, convenient and so much better than sticking your fingers in your ears and going "la-la-la"

"The Bible Says"

"You just wouldn't understand."

" God told me"

We can expect that kind of attitude, in these end times."

"Clearly your eyes have been blinded to the truth."

"The Church has always...."

"This is just the kind of persecution we were warned about. "

'Well that's not what it says in my version."

"Disagreement with those God has anointed, is disagreement with God."

"They did it at Spring Harvest."

"It's highly technical."

"The Early Church would never have done that."

"I'm not arguing."

"Well, that's your opinion."

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Spreading it Around

An interesting illustration from Gubbins this evening.

He put some perfume on his hand, shook hands with Young Keith, asked Keith to shake hands with someone else, and then for everyone to share the Peace.

At the end of the peace-sharing, he asked us all to smell our hands. Sure enough, we all smelt of perfume.

Gubbins explained that this shows that, if we share the love of God with others, it will permeate throughout the whole community. Which is quite a nice point. But all I could think was, "that could have been anthrax."

When Geeks Collide

Exciting news from the UEA, as Star Wars fans clash with Whovians.

I've not known a geek-related conflict quite like it since the Oxford Sci-Fi Soc turned up at Brasenose one evening to watch Dr Who, to be met with stiff resistance from a bloke who was determined that the BNC JCR should be a Who-free zone. Oo, that was quite an evening.

The trouble is, Sci-Fi fans are generally the least scary people on earth. The thought of a bunch of people dressed as Vl'Hurgs having it out with a battalion of Soltarans, while the Vulcans shout "leave it Spock, he ain't worth it" - all surrounded by a bunch of spotty students - that's not that worrying, is it?

Although, to be fair, the people interviewed gave us the opportunity for amusement. Jim Poole said, ""We'd like to extend the hand of friendship." - which was presumably cut off with a light-saber.

A Messy Pentecost

Ah, these days leading up to Pentecost, as we cower from the bad weather and huddle round the fire, cursing the dark. It takes me back to before Global Warming, when Pentecosts used to be sunny and warm, and full of the promise of new life.

I remember in particular that Pentecost, long and merry ago now, when we thought we would use doves as a  living illustration for the Pentecost sermon. It was a classic Pentecost, with all the traditional activities already concluded:

  • The helium balloons had slipped their strings, and were interfering with Air Traffic Control over Luton
  • The popcorn maker (symbolic of the hot air of the preacher bringing life to the kernels of God within each person - there may have been some minor heresy in this illustration) had produced tons of tasty popcorn, before unexpectedly catching fire in a very Pentecost-y way.
  • The local Pentecostals had come round to explain that the Holy Spirit is a Person of God, powerful and awesome in her work (they didn't say "her"), challenging our presuppositions and shining a holy light on those things we'd rather keep dark - and not some add-on to worship to make us feel all gooey. Naturally, we'd chased them away for spreading these strange doctrines.
  • We'd opened up the sluice gate and allowed the Husborne Brook to flow gently through its course through the Moot House, while we sang "River wash over me".
  • The party poppers had been let off (after we'd blown out all the tea lights) to express the exuberance of the Spirit.
So it was time for our big finale - the doves. Does anyone know the difference between doves and pigeons? have to confess I don't, but I'm sure they should have been white instead of their kind of random selection of gray and white.

The idea was that, when we opened the cage, the doves would fly around the community, blessing us with their grace and feathery wonder, and then settle in the new dove cote we'd built in the roof of the Moot House. Having minds of their own, as it turned out, they left rather a nasty mess on the roofs and windscreens of the cars in the car park, and then disappeared towards the woods.

I'd like to think we learnt something, but I've no idea what it is.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

What Happens in Church, Stays in Church

You will probably have noticed, if you have stuck with these annals of our little community for more than the three-week average, that I talk a lot about the things that happen in the worship gatherings - be they in the Orchard, in the Moot House or on Aspley Heath. But I've always been very careful not to share the deeper things that go on.

Should we ever see someone experience conversion, for example. I'm not quite clear on what it involves or what it might look like, but I'm sure that, like Michael Gove saying something sensible, we'll recognise it when we see it. But if we do, I won't tell you who the convertee is. Unless it has comedy potential, in which case I might have to.

No, it's a golden rule - "What happens in Church, Stays in Church." And we ensure that it is strictly enforced. So the other day I was struck by a reading from Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, to realise that - although Fanny Price is a drip, the apotheosis of 19th Century Woman-as-Passive-Doormat and all round source of evil, yet there is some point in her. Her humility is a great virtue. And so, in the confines of the Moot House, I resolved to conduct myself in a humble manner in future.

But "What happens in Church, Stays in Church." It's one thing to be humble up to the final blessing, but that's not gonna be much use later on, when I've got to sentence an erring Beaker Person to a paintball firing squad for eating cheese out of hours, is it? Or when, with the other members of the Beaker Druid Executive, we're voting on whether to increase our biscuit expense allowance in line with inflation or in line with the National Debt.

No. How we are changed spiritually is very important. We must learn to love the new challenges and insights we receive - to grow more fully as spiritual persons. We must learn to love our neighbours and want them to be spiritually blessed, as we are. But when we actually meet our neighbours, we don't want to start actually being kind to them, or helping them out. That would make us the most awful do-gooders. And we wouldn't want to go actually sharing the Good News with them - apart from anything else, what Good News would we share? Would make us sound ever so presumptuous, and we wouldn't like to imply that we know better. No, much better, when identifying someone else's burdens, to come home and pray for them to be lightened.

And again, when we heard the words "my tongue will be the pen of a ready writer" the other day - surely that is to be kept within the mysteries of the Moot House? Wasn't it our Lord that said, if you've got something you feel you ought to say, keep it in the closet? It's important that we tame the tongue. But clearly I'm not suggesting that, outside of the set hours and seasons, we can't use our divinely-given gifts of sarcasm and back-biting. That would be unnatural.

So, if you want to keep your religious experience clean, untainted by real life and above all convenient - "What happens in Church, Stays in Church."

Monday, 13 May 2013

A Cock and Bull Story

Once again, Archdruid Eileen has been resorting to fabrication in an attempt to foist her liberal agenda upon me.

She told me this morning that she believed the Hebrews were not monotheists as we would know them. She suggested they were in fact henotheists. A ridiculous claim, that does not stand up to any kind of scriptural investigation. I cannot find a single instance where the ancient Israelites worshipped chickens.

A Cause Worth Fighting For

I've just been remembering back to when I was a member of the Extremely Primitive Methodists. I had a terrible quarrel with one of the other young - as we were then - women. It was over the Banner.

The Terrific Teens had a banner, which we carried in at the start of each service.  As the banner had been provided by my grandparents, I naturally had the job of carrying it in. I was very proud of getting to carry that banner.

Then one week, I was off ill. You may remember that the Extremely Primitive Methodists did not believe in artificial forms of heating, which did leave us quite vulnerable to infection.  And in my absence,  Mary Clary carried the banner instead.

Of course, my fears were realised. Mary discovered the intoxicating power of being banner-carrier.  When I returned to duty, I had to pretty well prise the banner from her hands. The leader tried to arbitrate, of course. Suggested we alternate,  or maybe even the whole group could take a turn. So I pointed out that it was my family had provided the banner, that my grandad wasn't in great health, and seeing other people carrying the banner could push him over the edge.  End result being, I got to carry the banner.

Naturally,  Mary and I never spoke again. But looking back now, I wonder. After all, we'll all be dead in 100 years. I've a former friend I've not spoken to in three decades. It's a shame we never mended those fences.

But, on the other hand - it was my job, carrying that banner.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Hearing is Believing

That was a lovely rendition of the song "Lord, I come to you" which the Music Group brought us earlier. However it has confirmed me in my belief that we should get our music from official books, rather than transcribing the words and working out the chords from worship CDs.

I simply do not believe there is any scriptural sanction to suggest that we can rise up on wings like beagles.

Vanilla and Iller

Everybody knows that this is Tea Light Sunday. When the Beaker Folk, having celebrated Ascension Day on Thursday, have a little break from the Church calendar to allow the Catholics to catch up.

And was it so hard for Hnaef to have ordered the right type of tea lights? After all, there's millions of them in Tesco alone.

So he got vanilla. Can you imagine what 300 vanilla-scented tea lights smell like? I just don't think "I thought they smelt a bit odd" covers it as an apology, myself.

Anyway, five minutes in we had to evacuate the Moot House, leaving people to go and retch in the sweet morning air. Right in the middle of "Let our praise to you be like the incense we don't burn cos it's a bit Catholic." There's seven people now dreaming dreams, and a number seeing visions. And we all smell like cheap ice cream.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Dr Who Upgraded

Loved Warwick Davis this evening. Not in that way. I mean, his appearance on Dr Who.

But it's time for the BBC, that most ridiculously Politically Correct of  British institutions, to do something about the terribly outmoded expression, "Cybermen". To be fair, they're single-minded creatures with no personality who are incapable of expressing emotion, and live for violence and destruction. So clearly, in that sense, "men" is appropriate.

But some of those android annihilation machines were female in a previous incarnation. We should recognise and affirm their former identities And let's face it, it's not like the so-called Cyber-"men" have any identifiable genitalia in any case. So it's time to put things right. It's time the Beeb renamed the Cybermen as Cyberfolk.

Pastors' Spouses and Women Ministers

Judy's response to my pastoral stats post, together with this short and incisive post by Dana Delap, makes me reflect on my own situation.

Already the Beaker people have started suggesting to me that it would be better for us to have a married Archdruid - maybe as soon as Young Keith and Charlii have jumped over the birch-twig. After all, they say, the benefit of having a married Archdruid is that their spouse is available to do all those things that Archdruidical other halves are useful for. Already the suggestion is that, when Charlii puts on the official gold-trimmed silken pointy hat, Young Keith will be available for mowing lawns, tending the Moot House garden, and playing football with the more boisterous of the Little Pebbles.

Let's jump to my other theme. There's a little sting in Dana's comment that she is being blamed for the financial and numerical decline of the Church in the north-east. After all, the Church was financially fine and growing strongly, up to the point where the first women were ordained - and the Catholic Church in Britain and Ireland is, I believe, going from strength to strength. Whereas the reality, it seems to me, is that without the vast influx of women priests - often unpaid - over the last few years, the Church of England's creaking and archaic method of doing business could have collapsed already. There may be many - including many life-long Anglicans - who would think that was a good thing. But if the C of E finally rethinks the nature of its mission, to get to grips with the 21st Century, it will do so from at least a position of gentle decline, rather than radical disintegration.

In terms of the stats, they're pretty clear. There are now far more women priests than the number of male priests who left the Church of England over them. And in terms of theology, well the Church managed to cope with Gentile priests (when Jesus was a Jew); it coped with red-headed priests (when Jesus was almost certainly a brunet) - I'm sure if Gentiles and red-heads can represent Jesus despite their genetic dissimilarities, then so can women, if that's what you think the priest is doing.

Final thought. Margaret Thatcher died last month, and the people that hated her got "Ding-dong, the Witch is Dead" way up the download charts. When right-on, left-wing thinking people can stigmatise the only woman who ever became Prime Minister as a witch, that's not down to theology. But it feels a whole lot like the way some people regard women ministers. Not the ones that take a theological view and leave - the ones that stay behind and snipe.


Friday, 10 May 2013

Some Pastoral Stats

It was Eddie who put us all onto these stats on the general emotional and spiritual state of American evangelical pastors. Quite a revealing bunch of stats, even with the usual caveats on trusting anything you read on the Internet.

I guess American churches,  and particularly evangelical ones,  are going to give pastors that kind of stress. If people are desperate for a strong leader who agrees with them, and you have a job that depends on an annual popularity vote, you're on a tightrope. At least we give politicians a reasonable term before deciding they're as bad as the last lot and throwing them out.

In some parallel English research which I just made up, meanwhile,  I have been able to reveal the following:

45% of Anglican ministers feel lonely in church because the congregation sits so far away.

35% of clergy would rather crawl over broken glass than hear "Lord of the Dance" ever again.

40% of clergy are grateful for getting pastoral calls on their day off, as it distracts them from the paperwork.

17% of Methodist ministers wish they'd been lumberjacks.

4% of ministers really thought it would be like Dibley.

31% of rural ministers have driven between two of their churches with their eyes closed.

79% of ministers can't see how anyone could have the energy to have an affair.
30% prefer gin, 30% wine, 30% malt. They all think the 2% who like beer are weird.

9% have been booby-trapped by a lay preacher who was desperate to get a chance to preach.

7% of rural clergy, when meeting their spouse, vaguely remember their faces but can't remember which church they go to.

70% couldn't imagine doing anything else. Though half of those can't work out why.

Of the 99% who are blessed and blessings every day, 40% don't realise it.

80% have had an almighty row with someone over the location of the tea light / candle stand.

12% have to be forced by their spouses to go to to church committee meetings with a pointy stick.

When told they only work one day a week, 70% laugh outwardly.  80% sob inwardly.  10% contemplate violence.

If your Relationship with God were a cake. ..

"Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace."

Not my own, Jeeves' s.

But it sums up the start of this day. First up because the weather has gone from promise to disappointment pretty darn quickly.  And this morning's Pouring-out of Beakers has just about put the tin lid on it.

The last thing a bunch of early-morning Beaker Folk need, is for Gervase to ask everyone to turn to the person next to them, and tell them what kind of cake their relationship with God would be. At that time of the morning, it's mostly like a pancake - flat, and only experienced once a year.

I'm starting to think Hnaef has the right idea with his use of the Book of Common Prayer.  It's lovely, it's predictable, and Cranmer never allowed space for sharing your feelings with your neighbours. Apart, of course, from your feelings of unworthiness.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

T-Shirts of Peace

You know how it is. You're at the Evening Filling-up of Beakers, or whatever, and it comes to "exchanging the Peace" time. But how do you know what exchange of peace is appropriate with any given person? You look so much of a fool shaking someone's hand when they're into hugging. And you look more of a fool if you think you're on "hugging" terms but discover that the huggee of your choice just thinks you're at "curt nod of peace" terms.

So the answer is both efficient, and potentially lucrative. T-shirts of Peace, indicating just how far you'd rather other people kept from you. In any case of different levels of peace-sharing, the person expressing a preference for greatest personal space wins. Whereas, in normal peace-sharing situations, they always lose.
  

Procedure On the Resignation of a Manchester United Manager

It is more or less unheard of for a Man Utd manager to resign - traditionally they've been sacked after a run of bad results.

But there are still rules.  Firstly the call goes out to the Cardinals - Cardinal Glazer, and Cardinal Glazer. Blessed by the oldest non-voting Cardinal, Charlton,  they enter into conclave to decide which dour Scotsman to give the job to. Obviously there's no rule to say it must be a Scotsman, but all the non-Scottish holders of the post have been rubbish.

At the end of the first sitting of Conclave,  it is decided they need another nine minutes to make their minds up. At this point, the declaration will be made, "habemus Fergie-time."

The Glazers will then go back into Conclave,  to make their minds up.

After the decision is made, white smoke will be seen floating above Old Trafford. This is caused by the Glazers burning tenners.  Because they can.

After the appointment of a new Man Utd manager, the previous incumbent is expected to slink off to work for Sky Sports, until they are sacked from there too. But, since Sky have already signed a non-English-speaking panellist for next season, Fergie is expected to knock about the place, pledging obedience to his successor,  and continuing his life-long search for a watch that doesn't keep stopping.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Thoughts on the Babel Fish

The Babel Fish is well known from Douglas Adams, of course. It extracts meaning from sound waves and convert them into a psychic matrix which it excretes into your ear, thus giving you the ability to understand foreign languages.

But it only works on spoken language, doesn't it. The written word is a mystery to the Babel Fish.

But as long as the foreign language is in Latin Script, you'd be all right, I reckon. Even if you don't understand the language, you could just read out the writing. Then the Fish will hear the words, and translate- as best it can- into your native language. Of course, it would only translate as well as you were able to read the foreign language.  I reckon for most things I'd try to read,  all languages would sound like Swedish.

On a Formerly-Dead Person Floating into the Sky

There's that rather lovely detail in the roof of the Chapel of the Ascension in Walsingham - just a pair of pierced feet, heading up through a fluffy cloud and through the roof. In a place that always totters on that wiggly line between awe and whimsy, I always think that chapel's pushed it slightly too far.
But why? I think partly that the whole thing's a bit too clean. Surely even Jesus' resurrected feet would have been dirty with their contact with our planet? Partly because it's just a bit cartoony - a bit on the marzipan-icing side. But mostly because my brain revolts against the whole idea of Jesus just hovering up into the air, like he's got a jet-pack.

You see, I don't see Heaven as being a point up the other side of the clouds, with Hell as a point somewhere beneath where we've just been planting out the strawberry runners. Obviously, in a scientific world, that's the case - especially on a round planet, in a curved universe. There's no way out upwards. If you went forever in one direction, you'd end up back where you came from.

And while I'm on the subject, I'm unaware of a single verse in the Bible where anyone expresses a worry that, if you did down far enough, you might find Hell. The Old Testament concept of "Hades" seems to be grave-like - a damp, dismal kind of a place - and obviously you could dig down to a grave -  but there are no injunctions against mining too deep, in case you disturbed the denizens. Maybe the Hebrews were more metaphorical than we ever give them credit for?

So anyway. Back to a hill outside Jerusalem, according to Luke. The disciples see Jesus, he gives some last-minute instructions, resists the urge to nip back to Capernaum to check he's locked the door - and is lifted up and hidden by a cloud. We are not told he goes up to the top of the sky - he's just hidden. We've no indication of how high he went.

The important thing is not the physical details of elevation. It's what logically follows. He's not here any more - not in such a way that the disciples can trace him up until he's a dot. He's gone to be with his Father, and he's coming back.

Don't you love the angels' vagueness? He's going to come back the same way he went - but is that in 10 days' time, on the Day of Pentecost, or at some identified spot we can call, for sake of argument, the End of Days? We're not told. Maybe it's both. Maybe it's something that happens every time a new believer believes, or is baptised, or just recalls Jesus' presence.

But there's one thing we now know. Pierced by thorns, slashed by a whip, holed by nails, cut open by a spear, dirtied by three decades of wear and tear on this abrasive planet - there's a human being on a throne in heaven. As we fight and fall ill, abuse each other and die, those wounds we suffer and inflict are already made glorious in heaven. It makes our present sufferings not an ounce lighter - and it doesn't reduce the damage we do one little bit - but it gives it meaning, an end, a resolution, a redemption. Your hurts, my hurts - they're all wrapped up into the world-ending, eternal, freely-carried hurts in the place where hurt shouldn't be able to go - tied into the sufferings of the God who can't suffer, raised from the death of the God who can't die. It may not stop the pain, but somehow it makes it feel like it's shared.

Pinging the Hazelnut Day

What fool put Julian of Norwich Day in May, when there's no hazelnuts in their shells?

So once again we're resorting to using shelled, dried hazelnuts. Usual rules:

One point for hitting the picture

Three points for getting Julian on the nose.

It's gratuitously disrespectful, but it gets us through the dull days of early May. And we've been stockpiling rubber bands for ages.

Ringing the Changes at Stonehenge

Some fascinating photos here of the new Stonehenge visitor centre.

Maybe it's just me, but wouldn't it be more historically sensitive, to have a giant wooden-post-supported visitor centre at Durrington Walls? With a Hungry Horse pub selling nothing but pork ribs?

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Feathers all the way Down

Sometimes, you can feel like you've just seen too many ducks.

As we await anxiously for the time when the eggs are hatching out - a little delayed by the weather this year - and for when our Community pet ducks, Hoi Sin and Alorange, become parents - I  have been much struck by the Asinine Folk, a little tiny group within our Beaker community. I suspect they mean "anserine", but they're probably right first time.

Their belief is that the world does not plummet smoothly through space, its inertia balancing out the gravitational pull of the Sun, as one would normally presume. Oh no. They believe the Earth is carried on the back of a giant goose. When we ask why none of the other planets appear to be carried by cosmic waterfowl, the response is always the same - "they're very shy".

Still, their rather quaint beliefs did offer the possibility of a creative liturgy, so I went with it. And this afternoon we held the Festival of Water Fowl. A Moot House, the twenty or so Beaker Folk who either don't have proper jobs or are here on retreat, and a bunch of geese and ducks.

The theory was that, with the paddling pool inflated and filled in the middle of the Moot House, we'd follow the Proverbial injunction to cast our bread upon the waters, and the birds would jump in to feed, and we'd all go "ah" at the sheer duckiness of it, and go away with a warm feeling at the wonders of feathery nature.

Some chance. Instead, Stacey got ambushed by a bunch of Canada Geese, who could tell she had a carrier bag full of granary loaf. Stacey panicked, and ran round the place pursued by our beaky friends. Tripped over a slow-moving Aylesbury, ended up face down in the paddling pool with a bunch of mallards on her back.

So we dragged her out, and beat off the birds with a couple of candlesticks. The geese fought back, and Burton took a nasty peck to the hand. Lashed out automatically, as you do, and just attracted a load of stroppy birds. An owl, that had wandered in for no apparent reason, latched onto his nose.

Just when it was all becoming terrifyingly Hitchcockian, Young Keith wandered back from work, took one look at the scene, and came up with the obvious answer. Next we knew, Grendel the Community cat had appeared and was tearing round the place. Thus curing the duck problem, and incidentally displacing the Beaker Folk - who are more scared of Grendel than they are of birds.

So the Moot House was covered in feathers and Burton's blood, there's feathers all over the place, and people have realised there are things in this life more scary than badgers. But, on the whole, it's been the best Ladies' Bright Hour we've had in ages.

Another Way not to Include Children

And so today we're going to be thinking about Elijah and the Prophets of Baal. Elijah's a long word, isn't it?
And Elijah said that God was the real God, and Baal wasn't really. And so they had a big contest - a bit like having a race, to see who the biggest god was. Yes, Jess - just like when you and Britney had that Chinese burn contest to see who was prettiest. But please don't do that again.

And so Elijah built a big barbecue, and the Prophets of Baal built a big barbecue. And they had to get their god to set fire to the barbecue. So there were no matches, and no fire-lighters, and no petrol or other accelerants - that's a long word, isn't it? And the Prophets of Baal shouted and danced and nothing happened. So maybe Baal was asleep? So they shouted and danced some more. And nothing happened. So maybe Baal had gone to Tesco's to do some shopping? No, Jael, I'm sure he wasn't on the toilet. This is the Bible, and people didn't go to the toilet. And then they shouted and danced some more and - guess what? Nothing happened.

And then Elijah took a big jug of water, and poured it over the barbecue, and made it quite wet. And then he took another one, and made it really wet. And then he took another one, and poured it over and it was very, very wet. And then he prayed and prayed and - guess what? Oh, have you heard this one before, Tommi? But yes, the fire came down and burnt it all up. Just like happened to Hnaef's barbecue at 4 o'clock this morning.

And so everybody knew that God was the real god. Yes, Jenni, you'd have thought they'd have guessed from his name. But they didn't speak English, so maybe they couldn't work it out.
Did the Prophets of Baal start believing in God afterwards, Ronnie? Let me have a look at the next page and..... coo, lummy. Um... no, they didn't. But Elijah respected their strongly-held convictions, and let them join the Jerusalem inter-faith council. Yes, Shiraz, I'm sure it would have been more exciting if he'd had them all killed. But this is the Bible.

Monday, 6 May 2013

First Burnt Offerings of the Year - BBQ Liturgy

Archdruid: Foreasmuch as the temperature is above 70F and Hnaef has come over all caveman-syndrome, it is intention in the Beaker Community of Husborne Crawley to declare an Barbecue.

All: Fine. I'll get the dumpy bottles of lager.

Hnaef: And I'll get the charcoal going.

A period of careful preparation follows, in which Hnaef attempts to light the charcoal while the other Beaker People set off to Tesco's at Kingston.

Young Keith: Who lighteth this barbecue?

Hnaef: I do.

Young Keith: And who standeth by with the petrol, for when Hnaef fails dismally?

All the other blokey blokes: We do.

Young Keith: And who whereth the suggestive, unfunny and borderline sexist apron?

Marston: I do.

Young Keith: And who standeth by with buckets of water, and of sand, and with fire extinguishers, for when it all goeth horribly wrong?

Everybody Else: We all do.

Hymn: Light up the Fire

Psalm of Lamentation over a failing Barbecue: 

Oh how pathetic are these flames
And how paltry the heat thereof
For though Hnaef bloweth on the coals
And though his face is black even as the knocker of Newgate,as our own Cockney grannies used to say,
Yet the charcoal flameth not
and there is no fire within.
And though Hnaef, ever the optimist, hath placed a burger on the grille "just to test",
Yea it as raw even as the prawn that is raw.
And I wouldn't touch that burger with a barge pole,
Nay, not even if thou paid me many talents.
For it's eating that kind of burger that maketh us to go to Bedford General
Or even unto the L and D.

Hymn: We didn't start the fire.

Hnaef: Woe is me. For I am an man with a raw burger and no firelighters left.

Young Keith: Which fool applieth the petrol?

Marston: I do.

Young Keith: Then I declare it is time for us all to run.

Beaker People vanish in all directions, while Marston applies the petrol. A large explosion follows.

Young Keith: And so we commend the burgers to the earth, ashes to ashes. And we lament with Marston, who is no longer an hairy man, but is now a smooth man. And we reassure him that, though his eyebrows are no more, yet the black plume of smoke above Husborne Crawley is a sign set in the heavens that they will grown again one day.

Daphne Hnaef: While you men have been fooling around out here, we've cooked all the rest of the food in the ovens.

Archdruid: Supper's ready.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

If We Wrote the Church Welcome Leaflet Like a Child

Think of the oldest thing you can. Then something even older than that - older than dinosaurs or cavemen or even the sky.

That's the person we call the "Vicar". And he lives in the Church. Which is a big house which was built for God to live in. Except you can't find him in there. You can find the Vicar. It's God who's harder to find. I think maybe he's hiding.

We go to church in the car, and Mum and Dad swear at each other because they're late. Then when we get out the car they kind of put a bit of a smile on, and stop swearing till the end of Church. When we go into Church, somebody gives you lots of pieces of paper and books for later.

The church has lots of windows, but they're high up so you can't look out of them. And instead of curtains they have Bible people painted on them. There's Noah and James and John and Mary and another Mary. And Jesus on the cross, and Jesus in the stable being a baby. And God is in some of them, but he looks quite angry. Maybe that's because all these people are sitting in his house. And there are names of dead people written on the walls, and some dead people laying on big flat stones. Only they've been dead a long time, so they're made of stone. And they've got their names under them in case everyone's forgotten who they are.

The Vicar has some people to help him called the "Choir". They hide behind the big screen so you can't see them. They must be very shy. Maybe if we all shouted out "Choir", they'd come out and wave. But last time I did that I was told to "shush".

And there are lots of candles. But if you blow them out like a birthday, they all get annoyed. And if you run around the church when the Vicar is talking, you get dragged off and taken out the Church for five minutes. Then Dad says I've got to calm down. Dad has a cigarette while I'm calming down. Sometimes Dad takes me out to calm three or four times. Sometimes I was calm already.

They must like reading a lot when they're in Church. Because they have a hymn book - which they sing songs out of. And a service book - which they read out of. And a Bible - which they leave on the shelf in the chair in front. And then they get given a notice sheet, to tell them they've got to come back next Sunday. And then another piece of paper which has more songs on it. And they all complain and say "now we've got to learn another song we don't know". And I don't know any of the songs, but I can still dance during them. Until Dad tells me I've got to come out and calm down.

There's a big box up the front on top of some steps. It's called a "pulpit" and it's for standing in when you tell people about God. Except the Vicar doesn't go up there. He says if he was in the pulpit, it would be like he thought he was God and could tell everybody what to do. So he stands down the bottom with everyone else,  and tells them what to do from there instead.

Then there's a bit when somebody says the prayers. The prayers are like asking God for things,  but God must hate you asking for things. Because when the person's asking the prayers, everybody else ducks down and hides behind the chair in front with their head in their hands. Maybe it's because they think the church is going to crash, and they've got to get ready.

Then the Vicar stands behind that big table at the end. Some people call it a table, but some call it an "altar". I don't know why. It doesn't alter. It just stands there. The Vicar says it should be pushed up against the wall. But even though he's in charge, nobody will let him. Big thing to know - although it looks like it ought to be for putting dead bodies on, because it's just the right size, it isn't. I don't know where they put the dead bodies. They bury them during the week, so we're at school and don't get upset.

The altar is for having a Last Supper on. But it's not like supper, as they eat it in the morning. And although the Vicar says everyone is welcome, I'm not. They say I've got to wait till I'm older and can understand it. When I ask what it's all about, they tell me they don't really understand it. And they don't get very much supper, and only a little sip of wine. Except the Vicar. He gets a lot of wine at the end, for doing all the work.

And then we have a cup of juice and a biscuit, and I still can't run around. Mum says that's because I might break something. But everything in there is really old, so I don't think it would matter that much.

Then we get in the car and Mum and Dad start swearing again. Sometimes they swear about the Choir, and sometimes about the Vicar. Church always makes them very angry.

(Inspired - again - by Revd Claire's posting, and a thought from @DrBattyTowers). And most churches aren't completely like this. Some are very good for children.)

Letting Children be Children

Wise and sensible thoughts from Revd Claire. Over here.

Maybe one of the reasons some churches don't have children is because childish behaviour is only welcomed in the PCC, and not during the services? Complaining that kids should be like those 100 years ago, who stayed rooted to their pew throughout and knew Matins off by heart, doesn't really help. These kids aren't 105 years old, and there's many fewer of them per family than there were in years gone by. This seems to make them less compliant than the angelic, docile children of the past. Good.

Introvert Church - A Liturgical Guide

The Approach

Before the service - all introverts should equip themselves with a laminated A5 size card. The card reads "Please do not bother me before the service. I am talking to Someone more important than either of us."

During the "welcome" - any introverted newcomer picked out by name and asked to introduce themselves is allowed to walk straight out.

At any time during the service, any ad-hoc response requested by the worship leader - as it may be, questions aimed directly at the introvert such as "isn't life great" or "what's God done for you this week?"  may be met with a Hard Stare.

If you are requested to discuss God's recent blessings with the nearest stranger, remember that the weather is one of God's blessings too.

Ministry of the Word

Responsive reading of Psalms is perfectly acceptable. "Guess the next verse" games where individuals are picked out randomly to give answers are not.

Under the Geneva Convention, it is illegal for a preacher to follow a leading question such as "and I'm sure we'd all like to think we follow these rules in our own households - wouldn't we?" with direct eye contact.

When asked to break up into small groups to discuss "how we experience God's purposes in our own lives" it is acceptable to look at your feet throughout.

Response 

Asking people to write down prayers on pieces of paper for summary by the person offering prayers is fine. Going round person-by-person for a request each is going too far.

During the sharing of the Peace, adopting the foetal position on the floor risks attracting more attention than it should in civilised society. Staying locked in a "praying" position may maintain your personal space, although it may instead just attract extraverts to join you / lay hands on you. Answering a "call of nature" at this point every week may lead to someone calling you out the front for healing of your weak bladder. The best bet is to stand rigidly in a spot against a wall, where you cannot be hugged, with a vacant gaze.

After the service

Visitors and newcomers be warned. The extraverts have made the definition of "not ignoring anyone" far more intrusive than the quiet nod or word of welcome that lets you get on with drinking your coffee in peace. If you are in an old church, take the opportunity to get a good look at every single memorial and piece of stained glass. If in a new one, feign an interest in the notice sheet. If questioned, you only have to give name, former denomination and a vague clue to your occupation.



Saturday, 4 May 2013

Plugging the NHS Funding Gap

Amidst all the talk of NHS budgets, growing population and increased life spans, it is becoming obvious that something must be done.

That's where Beaker Health comes in. Providing a wide range of traditional, proven and - above all - cheap services, we feel we can tailor our treatments to you, the hapless patient.

Aromatherapy - medically proven to make you smell nicer, with no obvious side effects.

Beating the patient with sticks, to drive the demons out - this is very much our universal treatment. On the grounds that unclean spirits cause all the ill in the world, and knowing that beating with sticks is medically proven to drive them out, our beating-people-with-sticks practice is very much at the cutting edge (and bleeding back) of medical opinion.

Homoeopathy - suffering from a serious complaint? Our small drops of water are guaranteed to make absolutely naff all difference.

Nose candling - of course nose candling is a controversial treatment. And the smell of burning nose hair is ghastly. But we've got all these Tibetan cymbals, and it seemed a shame to waste them.

Leeches* - if it was good enough for Robin Hood...

Prayer for healing - I've a sneaky feeling this works sometimes. But you know how capricious God is - after all, he let you get ill in the first place. But God does mostly enforce the Laws of Science, so I'd suggest a back-up with medicine as well.

Hypnotherapy* - our trained hypnotherapist can be so effective, you won't even worry about the size of the bill!

Thinking happy thoughts - our "Thinking happy thoughts class" is quite effective at dealing with minor anxiety and being a bit down in the dumps. But its effectiveness on more serious psychological illnesses and broken limbs is questionable. So, for more serious cases, we recommend being beaten with sticks to drive the demons out.

The Beaker "high fibre" diet. Many people advocate a change in diet for all sorts of medical conditions. We feed our patients large quantities of fermented doily waste-paper. After a couple of days, they've normally completely forgotten what the original problem was.



* yes, I know hypnotherapy is useful for some conditions. And leeches are now at the cutting edge of medical science, along with maggots. Cut me some slack...

Friday, 3 May 2013

Why Music Groups Have Bass Players

It was reading the thoughts of Artsy Honker that reminded me of the old joke. And it was her comment that the Telegraph had an advert for a karaoke-type hymn playing machine that reminded me of Thomas Hardy's "Under the Greenwood Tree".

In UTGT, you may remember, the village Quire - a bunch of musicians and singers - is chucked out in favour of an organist. The implication in the preface seeming to be that the vicars of those days preferred the relative control of dealing with one instrumentalist - and that often the vicar's daughter, or, if the schoolmistress his employee - rather than a stroppy bunch of independently minded small tradesmen.

Indeed, the vicar could go further, and introduce the 19th Century equivalent of the hymn CD player - a barrel organ. Basically, you turned the handle and, be you as sober as a Methodist or as plastered as an Anglican, the tune came out as the writer intended.

In these woeful days, it would seem, the barrel has turned full circle. In the great clergy-organist war, if ever it really existed, nobody is the winner. Where have all the young organists gone? Gone to play on X boxes, every one.

While the vicar is no victor. For what with running around between half a dozen parishes, s/he would probably welcome a musician with some creativity of their own. Ah well, until we encourage a great outbreak of ukulele playing, I guess it's on with the CDs.

And why do music groups have bass players? So they've got someone who can communicate with the drummer.

Dressing for Dangerous Drivers

A bit shocked that a sheriff  has decided that a driver who killed a cyclist - a second cyclist, at that - should get a 5 year driving ban.

Also stunned by the sheriff's comments about the victim not wearing a helmet -

'The sheriff said Mrs Fyffe "wasn't to blame in any way for the accident", but added: "She was not wearing a safety helmet and that in my view contributed to her death."'

Well, if she wasn't to blame, don't blame her. Whether cyclists are safer or not wearing helmets is a complex enough matter without foolish judgements being made in court. If the driver had hit a pedestrian who'd suffered similar injuries, would the sheriff have made the same stupid comments? The thing that caused Mrs Fyffe's death was being hit by a driver who'd done much the same before. A driver who's going to get 300 hours' community service, and will be driving again before his 55th birthday.

Give me strength.

On a Clear Blue Sky Kind of Day

It's a shiny blue day around Husborne Crawley. A real lark's on the wing - God's in his/her heaven - all's right with the world kind of a day.

Which of course leads me to wonder a little on the nature of the world. Those tadpoles, squirming so cutely in the warmth of the Frog Pond, will become food for mosquito larvae, other tadpoles, cats, and herons as their little lives progress. That Northampton Town won the first playoff semi-final means that Cheltenham lost. The midge that hovers over the Husbourne brook, dancing like magic in the strengthening light, is the trillionth to do so - and tomorrow will rest, like its trillion predecessors, in the gravel on the bank.

Such brilliance, yet transcience. Such joy, yet suffering. As ever I turn to the possibilities - a world of physics alone, where death and life are mathematical outcomes of probability, and futility the utter end. Or a world apparently created by a whimsical God - one capable of giving us the laws that mean I can walk this earth knowing that, mostly, I can walk around without suddenly falling straight through - where I can, from one minute to the next, be assured of my continuance. And yet one where those same laws - acting, as it may be, through a stray encoding error on a gene, can produce a cancer, or a dreadful and fatal condition in an unborn child. A world where my freedom to heal lies alongside the opportunity to kill.

And I'm going to go with that whimsical God. I'm going to believe there's a deeper Magic below the prosaic surface. I'm going to assume that, random and scary though this life is, the point is buried in there somewhere. I'm going to believe that today's clear blue sky above my head is a way in for a comet, and a protection against cosmic rays - and is a reminder of a Protecting Veil above us. I'm going to assume that our hope and futility meet at a cross made of wood on a hillside under a darkling sky. And I will be amazed, and awed, and apprehensive. But I will not be afraid. At least, not all the time.