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Friday, 28 February 2014

The Notorious Creationist, Justin Welby

Doug at Catholicity is asked the all-important question, "what is the Church of England's official line on Genesis 1?"

I'm guessing the C of E doesn't have an official line on creationism. It's not great at official lines. The ones that are really official - such as the 39 Articles - are mostly ignored. And any advice from the House of Bishops is immediately fisked, filleted and generally dismembered. Best to assume the C of E has no proper official lines, but is actually just a bunch of people who like drinking poor-quality coffee in cold buildings. But are, generally, pretty nice.

Anyway. Back to the question of Genesis 1. There's no official line. But let's think about the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, whose career before he became an Archbishop was in the oil industry. Quite high-flying, at that.

In fact, as the article at archbishopofcanterbury.org (which I'm guessing is at least semi-official) says,
For 11 years - five in Paris and six in London – he worked in the oil industry, becoming group treasurer of a large British exploration and production company."
So let's ponder that for a minute. An oil exploration and production company. So - do we think, in the company where Archbishop Justin formerly worked, the people responsible for finding oil - people he had to be group treasurer for, responsible for things like income and profits - came to work in the morning and said "Cracking! That particular sedimentary rock is just the sort of Jurassic/Cretaceous formation from which we can often expect to extract petroleum - the compressed organic remains of vegetation from eons ago. Let's try drilling there!"

OR do you think they used to say "We've no idea what to do. Oil is just some black stuff that God scattered randomly around, 6,000 years ago. It could be in sandstone, it could be in limestone - frankly, it could be in granite. Let's just drill holes randomly all over the place and see what we find! There's got to be some somewhere - but who knows where God might have hidden it?"

If you think the latter is the right answer, I have an oil well I can sell you. It's in Bedford, but don't worry. It's as likely a spot as anywhere else. If you think the former is the answer, you've got a reasonable idea about whether the leader of the Church of England, at any rate, thinks Genesis 1 is a literal account.

Reddit, Reddit

"Reddit, reddit", Burton was shouting at me this morning.

Naturally I thought he was trying to impersonate the frogs that have lately hove into view in the Beaker wildlife pond. And, since it's the frog mating season, and he does have a certain batrachian look about him, naturally I hit him with the old Slazenger 400 cricket bat. Its best days may be behind it, but it's still capable of knocking one straight into midwicket, if you get my drift.

But, once he could speak in a baritone voice again, it turned out I'd done the old bean-counter and byte-mangler a disservice. Because somebody has referred to us on Reddit.

Needless to say, after a nice introduction, some other person who'd obviously taken an accidental left turn looking for "Comment is free" came up with the remark:

"]joeflux 1 point  ago
I love how friendly and nice and welcoming they try to make a religion that promises to burn your children in hell if you don't worship God." 

Well, joeflux, if that is your real name (which I doubt), at the Beaker Folk we won't burn your children (if you have any) in Hell if you don't worship God.

Actually, I don't know any religions that would promise to do that. If I recollect rightly, those people, of whatever religion, that believe people will burn in Hell don't promise to do it themselves. They generally assume that's between the (non) believer and God.  They don't have the fuel, or the lighting equipment, or indeed the access to Hell. And they're even less likely to want children to burn in hell because their parents don't believe in God. Nope, those people that think burning in Hell is an option, allow people to burn therein because of their own beliefs or lack of them, not because of somebody else's.

Otherwise, good point. Well researched, and well made. I would respond over at Reddit, but I don't actually own an anorak.

If King David Did Thought for the Day

It's a world full of sadness. Every day in the news, we hear of war, bloodshed, promiscuity. Young men resorting to sex, violence and a rock and roll lifestyle.

And that's mostly just me. Oh yeah. Whether it's pinching somebody else's wife, collecting concubines like they're going out of fashion, or indulging in a nice bit of genocide and city-destruction - David's your man. Have sling will travel, I say. Travel and kill loads of people, obviously. And get another wife. And then do a bit more killing. And then maybe have a census. And even that kills people! I tell you, I can't stop - it's just the way I roll.

And naturally, I've been worrying about the situation in the Middle East. And I've come to a conclusion.  It's nothing that a good round of wiping out small tribes and taking over their cities can't sort out. Look at those Philistines, for example. Strutting around like they own the place. And, in a spirit of loving kindness, there's only one way to go. Kill the lot of them. Oh yeah. Drive them into the sea. Let them know who's boss. Oh sure, you can talk about human rights. You can tell us we should respect other people's freedom of worship. You can whitter on about how everybody's got their own path up the Truth Mountain. But there's nothing like chopping down a few Asherah poles. And killing everyone, obviously.

I'm finishing this thought with a little bit of Liturgical Dance. Let's just say it's a shame for you womenfolk that it's radio. Oh yeah. Enough to make the Missus go green. You know that statue Michelangelo did of me? Well, I've got my complaints about just one small detail, but let's just say he got it mostly right. Love the muscle tone, Micky! Oh yes, ladies. Is that a lute in my loincloth or am I just glad to see you?

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Norora Boringalis

All night, out in the cold, for the traditional Beaker Festival of an Aurora.

Nothing. Not a glow - apart from the one over Milton Keynes, natch. Not much to be done about that. We were out there alone with the roaring sounds from the M1, no wondrous glories of the Aurora to see.

The ancient Beaker Folk worshipped the goddess of the Aurora. We reckon. To be honest, I mostly made this stuff up to fill in the cold hours standing outside looking northwards. However, since it's rarely seen in our southern climes, the average Beaker Person would be dead before getting a view of the Aurora.

As, indeed, will I be at this rate.

That's the trouble with once-in-a-lifetime, sciento-religious experiences.

They only ever happen to other people.

If Ecclesiastes did Thought For the Day

Once again, the press has been talking about flooding and what to do about it. And our hearts do go out, in a very metaphorical sense, to the people suffering in these floods.

But it does make me reflect that, in a very real sense, anything we do about it is meaningless.

Yes, we could build bigger sea walls. But even if rising sea levels didn't overwhelm them, they'd only wear out one day. Probably causing worse problems.

And we can pump water out of the Somerset Levels. But it will only rain again.

If we accept the warnings of the scientists about climate change - and let's face it, this is the BBC - of course we do - we could drive to the recycling centres in nearby towns, whenever we have an empty wine bottle. But the Chinese will continue to burn coal to make more wine.

Or we could build all the houses on stilts. But, let's face it, the people will all die in the end, of other causes.

And then, even if we planted forests in the Quantocks, built a sea wall 1,000 yards high around the entire coast of Great Britain, cured all known ailments, defeated death, and built an enormous space ship to escape the Earth before the Sun expands and swallows us up - the Heat Death of the Universe will get us in the end.

So it's all vanity really. Frankly, I wish I hadn't come in to the studio.

And now back to John for the weather. More rain, I expect.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A Welcome in the Hillside

An interesting blog post on "The Blog by Ben Whitehouse". You can read over there the story of how he wrote to a number of churches in Wrexham, and asked if they'd welcome a gay person.

Two things jump out at me. One being the reply from the man at the council, saying none of the churches in Wrexham would be welcoming to gay people. Wrong. This council man should obviously go to more churches.

The other was the response from St John's saying that one or two people would be likely to "make things quite uncomfortable for you". Benjamin naturally assumes that this is because he's gay.

Yes, he's probably right in context. But call me naive, but I do cling to the more optimistic hope. Maybe those people just make everybody uncomfortable. Maybe they're equal-opportunities discomforters. Maybe they just don't like strangers. There's a few of them about. Maybe the vicar at St John's is just being more open about "that pair" than others would be.

Yeah, you're probably right. And I probably just am a dreamer.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Boy's Games, Boy's Rules

I am much taken by the furore over the BBC's demand that women must always be represented on the panels of their lookalike news comedy shows. The use of "token women" ensuring rather neatly that any woman who does go on the shows in the future will be looked down upon.

To be honest, since Frankie Boyle has gone, I've been left wondering whether Milton Jones and Hugh Dennis are the token comedians on Mock the Week. You may not think he's very nice, but he can occasionally be screamingly funny. But maybe the way that he dominated the show in the past, with his affable air of Glaswegian menace, illustrates what Caitlin Moran said:
"I think that's a boys' game that works for boys," she said.
A reminder of Bathsheba Everdene's reflections, discussing whether she will marry again after Troy's disappearance - when she is effectively being bullied into taking a decision by Mr Boldwood.
 It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.
And that's the problem with Mock the Week's setup, before the idea of quotas is introduced. A quiz / comedy show where it's the people that butt in that get the laughs - where you have to demand the space on the stage - where the more polite, or less aggressive, get butted out from the performing space. I can see that. It is a boy's game. It's a game set up so only boys - or those women prepared to act like them, for better or worse - can really thrive.

So I reckon it's not just time to change the panel make-up. It must be time to change the rules.

But one last thing that worries me - is Dara O'Briain going to abstain in the vote on women bishops?

Fallen Branches on the Family Tree

Neanderthals are an extinct group of humans who lived between about 30,000 and 130,000 years ago. Despite their reputation as bone-headed dummies, Neanderthals were likely as advanced as modern humans in areas such as tool-making, though they were probably less socially adept. (from this article
The whole article suggests to me that Neanderthals would turn up at H Sapiens Sapiens parties, clutching a bag of over-ripe, intoxicating avocados, smiling hopefully, and saying that "I'm a friend of Simian's". Then hanging around, hoping to get lucky when all the more attractive H Saps have paired up.

I have visions of some H Sap Sap lass waking up, clutching her head, squinting over at the other side of the bear skins strewn across the cave floor, and realising to her horror that, in the dim light and after too much fermented yoghurt, she's scored with a Neanderthal. Swearing that he hadn't looked that hairy, or had quite such a big jaw, during that smoochy last dance.

Then, in the 2 minutes before she goes off to find a sabre-tooth tiger to loose in the cave, being treated to his explanations as to why God doesn't exist, and why it will be important for programming languages to support recursion. Sure, we were gonna need those genes later, when the Internet was invented. But what a price it was bought at.

Here's the Church, Where's the People?

Some sound sense here from Linda Woodhead on the proper use of the church as provider of services to the general public. Very different to any concept of it being some kind of distinct entity, separated from the ways of the world.

I think it's really important we understand this distinction. The moment we start using words like "kingdom", we are implying we might in some way be critiquing, or even rejecting, some of the ways of the world. To be a church "family" or "body" implies some kind of exclusiveness.  How different from our calling to support the world's ways; to work within its power structures; to take sustenance from it.

Especially important, I think, are these comments:

"It is the difference between asking parents to have their child baptised in a Sunday service, among people they do not know, and making the family the centre of the event."

Quite so. The church has largely forgotten, in its bizarre belief that baptism is some kind of membership ceremony - involving solemn promises and self denial - that baptisms are, fundamentally, about holding baby showers and surrogate weddings in attractive surroundings.

That's why we ban all regular members of the community from Beaker "christenings". They might clog up the parking spaces, or ask why we only ever sing "Lord of the Dance" and Robbie Williams's "Angels". They might expect a sermon, instead of a five minute reflection on how lovely little Merton, Merlot or Chrysanthemum is. They might ask in what sense we can call it a "christening" when we don't use any water. I'd have to go through that whole explanation about how water can mess up those lovely christening outfits.

And so, by keeping the regular worshippers away from the baptism people, I can have the best of both worlds. And, should the regular worshippers all die out - my income streams are secure for the future. Indeed, by ensuring we have no doctrines or views at odds with society, once I've shed the Beaker Folk, the Moot House should be OK for a grant.

Now I know what you're thinking. By isolating the christening people from the regular congregation, I'm neglecting pastoral responsibilities. But far from it. In fact, we send the babies a card every year. Reminding them they can hire the Moot House for birthday parties. And, for a very reasonable rate,  "Smudge", our lovable, magical and CRB-checked clown.

Yep, this church, at any rate, will outlive its need of a congregation. That's why we hold our main weekly service on Thursday evenings these days.  Stops it getting in the way of the prime Christening slots - 11am, just late enough for people to get here through quiet Sunday traffic. And just late enough that, after the photos, the pubs are open.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

When Flower Arrangers Attack

Oh strewth. Don't you just hate it when the flower-arrangers have a serious falling-out? Not the normal disagreement over what brand of oasis to use, and how to pronounce Gypsophila - no, a real, no-wire-barred, flower-stalks-in-the-eye, secateurs-at-dawn kind of flower-arranging feud.

This morning's Pouring-out of Beakers Olympic Special was a real alt.lit spectacular. We installed a curling rink down the middle of the Moot House and all tried to get the beakers as close as possible to the bulls-eye thing. It was meant to be a kind of metaphor of the struggle against sin - how, even when you think you're somewhere near hitting the mark, some fool puts in a fierce shot that knocks you flying, and then a bloke with a broom gets in the way and you all end up on the floor and there's blood on the ice. That kind of idea.

So Zelma said if we want a winter theme, we need some winter flowers - not those carnations and stuff that Moragh keeps buying from Tesco. So she chucked out Moragh's rather tasteful affair, and replaced them with snowdrops.

Snowdrops. Now, I'm not superstitious. But everybody knows that bringing snowdrops into into the house means death. So I asked Dora to do something about it. So she did. She threw the snowdrops out on the path - apparently you've got to jump up and down on them, to crush the bad out - and replaces them with something genuinely wintry - early daffs.

But Moragh objected to the daffs. Too spring-like. Said if we were going for a Winter Olympics theme we needed something a bit more Alpine. Threw the daffs out, put in evergreen sprigs.

Zelma then complained that evergreens are only for Yule, replaces thed with bare sticks and dogwood branches, to celebrate the bleakness of the season.

Dora said if Zelma wanted bleakness, she should have proper bleakness. I don't know where she got the flamethrower from, but it's true enough. A bunch of smouldering sticks in dirty water with the glaze cracking on the vase was bleak as you like.

Still, I've had to ban all flowers and flower-arrangers from the Moot House now. As long as they were just throwing out each other's arrangements, that wasn't so bad. But when Dora slid Zelma down the curling rink, that was just too much. Especially when Moragh then used another "stone" to knock her out the circle.

Flower arrangements are pretty things. They bring a certain art, and reflection of the changing seasons, to an act of worship. But there's gotta be safer ways.

The Independent is now Just a Thing of the Past

Britain's winter ends next week with further indications of a striking environmental change: the Independent is starting to disappear from our lives.

Being moderately left-wing while claiming you're not politically-aligned, deathly dull articles and the excitement of waking to find that Charles Onians has written an article on snow are all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain's culture, as the Internet produces fewer instances of anyone wanting to pulp a tree to find out what was happening in the world yesterday. Or, in the case of the Independent's politics, in the 1970s. The first two months of 2014 have been virtually free of copies of  The Independent in much of lowland Britain, and December brought only a few purchases in the South-east. It is the continuation of a trend that has been increasingly visible in the past 30 years: in the whole of Britain in the 80s, the Indie had a circulation of 400,000 - whereas today, that is merely 65,000.

Once, under editors like Andreas Whittam-Smith, the Independent was truly a part of the establishment. It had an entitlement to be heard.  But now, a general disinterest in dull, left-wing articles is accepted as a reality by the international community. And the whole idea that,to prove your magical powers, you have to chop down a tree and print out the thoughts of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is generally regarded as a memory of another time.

Children just aren't going to know what the Independent is.  The effects of an Independent-free Britain are already becoming apparent, as fewer commuters sleep past their stations. Fewer people are panicking about snow-free winters, or realising they've mistakenly bought the Independent thinking it was the Guardian.

Of course, in the future, it will still be possible to have a virtual  experience of The Independent. Via the internet, they might wonder at long-ago articles by Robert Fisk - or eventually "feel" virtual post-modern irony from Will Self. But once, people could hold a copy of the news in their hand, and wonder at how anyone could ever make a living printing anything that dull. Not any more, it seems.

Shrine on You Crazy Diamond

I'm sorry to announce that we have had to relieve Grinstead of his duties.

It turns out he lied at his interview. I've discovered that he just used to wander around Walsingham, telling people where the Shrine is.

I know everyone has a tendency to embellishment on their CVs. But there's no way you could say that's "a great deal of experience in Spiritual Direction".

Saturday, 22 February 2014

"Sing it Kitty" - the ASA should act on this Cycling Safety Nightmare

It's all very well 3 using the concept of a "viral video", in its new "Sing it Kitty" video sensation. But look at the issues with it:

The little girl is riding on the pavement, thereby  endangering a passing senior citizen to the point where she drops her environmentally friendly garden waste collection bag. This could have contained sharp sticks or thorns, resulting in a nasty laceration.

Neither the girl nor the cat is wearing hi-viz.

Wellington boots are poor footwear for cycling in.

Despite being in a bicycle basket that clearly does not meet ISO safety standards, the cat is  not wearing a helmet.

There are no lights on the bike. At any moment, the arrival of fog or an unexpected solar eclipse could give real visibility problems.

The child repeatedly punches the air, meaning she is clearly not in charge of her vehicle. This is exacerbated by having what is clearly an abnormally intelligent feline in the basket. At any time the cat  - which is obviously not in s normal state of mind - could grab the handlebars, causing disaster.

She constantly takes her eyes off where she is going, to look to the skies.

Somebody is spraying the pavement with water, risking flooding and making the pavement a potential slip hazard.

There is nothing for it. The Advertising Standards Agency must act now.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Encouraging Feminine Sports

I am most heartened by the Minister for Sports and Equality's contribution to the all-important question of how women and girls can be encouraged into sport. Albeit I think she should be retitled the Minister for Sports and Complementary Equality - and have a Minister for Male Sports and Complementary Equality, responsible for the big decisions.

Certainly one can understand her concern about young women being involved in activities such as hockey, football and tennis. Such sports have long been known to encourage muscle growth, and with it a lascivious attraction to members both of the same and alternative genders. I remember the first time I saw a game of women's Rugby Union Football. The sight of those young bodies covered in mud, grabbing on to each other's bodies in the scrums - I was so shocked I was rooted to the spot for the whole match.

But at the Bogwulf Funambulist Baptists, we encourage much gentler, more appropriate sports among our womenfolk - ones which do not cause overly muscular physiques, or the dreadful unattractiveness of perspiration. Our crochet and knitting circles, for example, encourage the development of hand-eye co-ordination - and a healthy competitiveness at the Tea Cosy finals, I can tell you! - without unnecessary sweating, panting or the need to wear Lycra of any kind.

And our rivalry with Dunstable Strict and Peculiar Baptists at embroidery is legendary. Indeed, I am currently lobbying for it to be made an Olympic sport. I have had a number of rather frustrating discussions with the switchboard at "Team GB", as I believe it is known, but as I have pointed out to them - if synchronised swimming is a "sport", then how can tatting or motto-sewing be regarded as less competitively interesting?

Still, my campaign continues. I am hoping that, if nothing else, we can get macrame into the 2020 Olympics as a demonstration sport, and from there on, the rise of feminine, gentle, non-aggressive sports will be assured.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Do Camel Bones Discredit the Bible?

No. Stop being so silly.

Supporting Father Sam Norton

I would like to put this simply.

This blog likes Fr Sam Norton.  And has no time for Lord Deben.

I was there, at Greenbelt in the late 80s, the day the then John Selwyn Gumboot announced that the good thing about Greenpeace was that it tolerated different opinions. Oh how we laughed. Until that French submarine sank our tent, at any rate. He's probably still wondering what was so funny.

This was the man, let us not forget, who fed burgers to his daughter to prove that ordaining women was wrong. And joined the Catholic Church to complain about mad cows. A man whose career was so disreputable, that he now has to pretend to be a completely different person, to be allowed into the House of Lords.

The thing about Fr Sam is, whether right or wrong, he's going to think deeply and apply some serious Christianity and charity to the situation. Thing about Lord Deben Gumboot, he's a career politician who force-feeds small children with dangerous meat to try and keep his party out of trouble. I know who I'd go to dinner with.

When God Sends Sinkholes

Sometimes the Guardian forgets its rightful modern place as the source of all that is unholy, vile and Liberal. It is as if it can fall back to the nonconformity and godliness which once informed its views - like unto a stream deep underground which, though it may not be seen, yet it faileth not- and especially in wet weather.

And so we see the headline. "Are Humans Causing More Sinkholes?". Naturally, I initially imagined this might be a reference to some unholy practice among the sorts of degenerate subculture the Manchester Guardian panders to in these ungodly times. Be sure, their punishment shall be on their heads. But, in fact, the Guardian is referring to the holes in the ground into which small dogs, minicabs and chunks of Hemel Hempstead have been disappearing recently.

And suddenly I realised that the Guardian has once again returned to the pit when it was digg'd. It stands with Moses in knowing that, where the earth has opened up and swallowed something, there is blame. And where there is blame, there is a moral lesson. There is hope for even the Guardian if it too can stand in judgement on Dathan, Abiram and the family of Korah - knowing that when the earth opens up, it is the victims' own fault.

And so, when I heard about the Hemel sink-hole, I looked into it. And, lest the Guardian return to its old ways, and try to find ways of blaming Science for the recent unsettlings in our nation's soil and water systems, I offer below a simple list of obvious signs of God's displeasure. Now that the Guardian is in the right road, I would hate it to wander into the wide way - as it may be the A1 in Islington - and discover that their favourite traditional Peruvian Coffee-bar has dropped into the Northern Line.

Hemel Hempstead - sinkholopens up as a judgement on their dabbling with black arts in road construction - for they have a "Magic Roundabout".

Florida - sinkholes caused by a mouse living in an unnatural relationship with a duck - while both keep up the cover story of having "girlfriends" whom they never marry. And do not even mention the subject of Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs.

Guatemalan Sink-hole - Roman Catholicism

Somerset - flooding on the Levels caused by gay farmers engaging in the unnatural practice of "dredging". And you will notice who was offering to help? The Dutch! Need I say more?

Hebden Bridge - gayness causes moderate traffic congestion.

Flooding on Cornish coasts - judgement on penny arcades and wrecking.

Cliff-falls at Hemsby - God's judgement on tattoos.

Flooding in the Thames Valley - divine displeasure at the Governor of the Church of England allowing gay priests. As long as they are not gay. Or promise not to do gay things. Or pretend not to be gay. But still, it's disgusting. Stop it.


The Universal Sore Throat of Phoning in Sick

I thought it was a nuisance call at first. I'd already told the caller that I'd traced his location, and was sending round a group of fanatical Beaker Republican Guard to break his knees, when I realised it was Dolorez, phoning in sick to say she can't work in the Beaker Bazaar.

Heck of a sore throat that must be, I thought, to convert her mellifluous mezzo-soprano to the sort of grumbling double-bass that would be snapped up instantly by a quire of Russian Orthodox clerics.

But, of course, she wasn't actually phoning in with a sore throat. She has a bad back. But there's no way for me, over the phone, to diagnose a bad back. So the hoarse voice was a way of - if you like - secondary diagnosis.

This seems to be a common phenomenon. Anybody with a non-audible ailment, on dialling in, seems obliged to adopt an altered voice as a proxy for their actual problem. A headache will cause you to adopt a slightly soft, squeaky voice - which must be murder on the headache sufferer. A stomach upset caused a halting, kind of shambling way of speaking from the top of the mouth. Back aches and other musculoskeletal problems, the kind of whisky-and-50-fags effect I just had from Dolorez.

But the oddest I ever had was Burton Dasset. Once phoned in sick with no voice at all, and had to communicate in the whistling language of the Canary Islands.

Turned out he had gout.

Requiem for Fallen Wellies

Summing up what many who loved Last of the Summer Wine probably feel, this is a lovely little piece on the sitcom the BBC should never have killed off, but should definitely have reinvented.

(Wipes away gentle tear)

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

In a Different World?

A BBC article on increased risk of miscarriage under certain conditions brings me up short. One of the things that can increase the risk of miscarriage is lifting 20kg+ in weight "each day". But good news from the appropriate medical body:
 A "spokesperson at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: "This is a very interesting study in terms of the very large population size." She said it confirmed much of the advice currently given out in the UK to promote healthy pregnancy, such as not drinking, but questioned how applicable the study would be to British women.
On the subject of the findings, Ms Overton added: "Twenty kilograms is the size of a large holiday suitcase. Most of us would only lift that very occasionally.""
I suspect that if you work for a medical association you may be right, and only ever carry heavy bags from the car to the airport check-in. But consider. 25kg is the generally accepted heaviest thing to carry single-handed in industry. With the result that the heaviest cases of sugar, tins of stuff, delivered into supermarkets, for example, are 20-25kg. So women working in warehouses, women in shops, could be lifting c 20kg on a regular basis. 20kg is, in my old-fashioned world, about 3 stone 1 pound. Or the weight of a four or five year old child, quite likely. The sort of small person an expectant mother in her mid-thirties could quite likely pick up all the time, dealing with grazed knees, insecurity over the new baby, or just desires for a cuddle.

If this medical advice is properly right, it might be quite important for expectant mums in the retail, catering or distribution industries. Many women will pick that up quite a lot. Shame if the advice were discarded because some people work in offices.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Argentine of my Life

Really odd. Thought I'd pop in and see how Manuel's new Fresh Expression was going.

The Moot House was full of diminutive Argentinians. I tried to see what they were up to, but every time you went near one, he fell over.

It was intriguing, sure. But I don't think Messi Church is going to catch on.

Picking up Serpents

Right.

There is nothing funny about someone dying after being bitten by a snake during a snake-handling church service.

There is nothing funny because it's not a funny thing to do. It's dangerous. It's setting a bad example to everybody else. It's a denial of the command not to put God to the test.

And it's not even in the Bible. It's in those verses at the end of Mark's Gospel that were added on at some point ti make up for the fact that the original Greek text as we have it is incomplete, enigmatic or - frankly - rather terse. The snake-handling reference seems to be transferred over from Paul's exploits in Acts.

Bizarre as it sounds, in the case of snake-handling churches, liberal text criticism could save people's lives. But it's not funny. It's tragic - children lose their fathers. It's desperate - who would cuddle a snake to prove God exists. It's thankfully not common. But it's not funny.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Ensuring a Stable Groat

I've been getting increasingly worried about Alex Salmond. As the arguments over whether Scotland will be in the EU,  or the Sterling Zone, or they'll still be allowed to join the Cub Scouts continue, he's looking more and more like a fretful, oversized Kevin Spacey. It's not good news for Kevin Spacey, either. If people see Alex S on telly and think "Our Kevin's let himself go", the offers are gonna dry up.

So, in the interests of Scotland and Kevin Spacey, I'd like, if I can, to propose a way that Scotland can maintain a strong currency - whether that's its own denomination - the Groat,  or Bawbie or what have you - or the adoption, without currency union, of Sterling. It's based on simple observation and economics.

Now, I've noticed that, when snacks and drinks are placed on railway trolleys, they appreciate markedly in price. Wine in the shop is six or seven or so quid a bottle. But on a train, a tiny miniature of the same stuff is about a fiver. Likewise a can of lager can go from about a quid, to more like three or four. Experts from the Bank of England are still trying to understand what happens to a bag of crisps to add two quid to its value when it passes through the electronic doors of a Meridian at Bedford station, but it's beyond them.

But it's a godsend for our Alex. The day before Independence, he needs to route a load of empty trains down to Newcastle, carrying all of Scotland's Sterling assets. He nips into the nearest cash & carry, buys every pack of Pringles he can see, and heads back to Waverley station. The next morning he announces that the Bannock, the new official Scottish currency, is backed up by the train loads of Pringles.

The Scottish currency immediately appreciates. No danger of a sudden run on the Groat. Not with all those high-denomination potato-based snacks in a siding in Edinburgh.

Obviously, the danger with this tack is that the Bawbie becomes so strong that there is a run on Sterling or the Euro. Bad news for Scotland,  who still need strong trading partners. But the remedy is at hand!  They just have to run a train south, sell some Pringles via a market stall, the Groat depreciates,  and balance is restored to the international money markets.

I offer this suggestion for what it's worth. Which, at the latest exchange rate, is about six packs of Pringles.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Painted into a Corner

Quick question about the recent House of Bishops statement.

Two gay people marry.

Then, intrigued by the love of individual Christians for one another, or liking the liturgy, or whatever - they start going to Church. They are struck with love for Jesus Christ, and become Christians.

One of them has a call to ministry. But people of the same sex, lawfully married in this country, are not allowed to be ordained. Even if they promise to abstain from sexual relations. Even if they become convinced that, in fact, they were in the wrong and repent. (I'm not saying anything about rightness or wrongness - go with me here, for a minute).

And it seems to me that, given the current rules regarding ordination, if they were so convinced that one of them had a calling to the priesthood, they would have no choice. They would have to get divorced.

And have a Civil Partnership instead.

This isn't going to work for very long, is it?

Speaking the Truth in Love

Is it just me, or is it too early to have to go putting my foot down this hard?

Don't know what got into Dolorez. She asked me over breakfast if we can sing "They Will Know we are Christians by our Love" at this morning's Pouring-out of Beakers.

Well, I spoke the truth in love. I told her that song is the most drivellous, hippiest, unpostmodernist, daisy-chain-making piece of tosh that was ever sung in a forwards thinking, worship-lite context. We're not wasting our time singing stuff that a four-year-old would consider theologically shallow.

Nope, as it says in the pre-printed and therefore immutable order of service (which is for me - everybody else faces the other way, so can use the screen), the song we are singing to reflect our status as a respectful, loving and above all middle-class, intelligent congregation will be "Brother, sister, let me serve you."

Sadly I won't get the chance to be as Christ to Dolorez this morning. She went off in a huff and said she won't be there. How am I ever going to get to model Christlike behaviour to the Beaker Folk if they're always going to take offence? Dolorez has made my job really hard today. I hope she reflects on that. Still, I can be graceful. I'll go round after the Occasion, give her the chance to apologise.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

On Living with Fools, as a Fool, but not calling them Fools

I always reckon it's the way to tell a biblical literalist. When Drayton Parslow is telling me that he's somebody who takes the Good Book seriously - every jot and every tittle* - whereas I'm a wet, softy liberal who bends the eternal message to the Spirit of the Age - I always count his eyes and hands. Last time I looked, I counted two of each. Proving that either he is missing a couple of other vital organs, or else he doesn't take the Bible as literally as he thinks.

It's a challenging old passage, to be sure, in which Jesus takes the Old Testament commandments and adds his own twist. And it's worth noticing that Jesus is doing the opposite to what we are frequently told he did.

You know the old story - that the Jewish people were so oppressed by the Law, so busy carrying their burdens, spending so much of their lives measuring out tenths of everything, so desperate to walk a couple of extra stadia on the Sabbath if the weather was nice - that the Gospel came as a fantastic release. In that kind of narrative, it's a wonder the Jews didn't just give up, wholesale, and head for the hills with the Baal-worshippers and Beaker Folk. And yes, I know some of them did. But consider - the prophets weren't going to waste their time denouncing the nice people. They were going to be moaning about the bad ones - they were like the Michael Goves of their times, driven by a message and determined to make things better and bring justice and fairness to everybody. So maybe not as much like Michael Gove as I thought when I started that simile, to be fair.

Instead, consider the words of Psalm 119:

Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees, that I may follow it to the end.
Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things, preserve my life according to your word.
Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared.
Take away the disgrace I dread,  for your laws are good.
How I long for your precepts! In your righteousness preserve my life.

So I don't reckon the Psalmist's sounding so crushed there? Weighed down by the commandments? Struggling with a sense of sin? Nope. Loving it, wishing to hear the Lord's commands. Generally living the Torahic dream.

And Jesus comes along and, contrary to what we're often told, makes it all a lot more difficult. Did he misunderstand his mission, the more antinomian of us might ask? We can get along - most of us - from day to day without murdering anybody, or sleeping with somebody else's partner. Mostly. But you've set the bar too high, here, Jesus. How can we get to the point of not thinking somebody's a fool, or not even looking at somebody, thinking you wouldn't mind, and then deciding you'd better not as the other half would kill you? And also, the object of lust concerned is twenty years younger, far more attractive than you, and more likely to water-ski across the Somerset Levels pulled on silver cords by unicorns than look at you?

But Jesus is at the root of the matter here - of course. He would be, wouldn't he?

In fact, not committing adultery on a daily basis isn't that hard. It takes a real failure of self-discipline to go committing adultery. Likewise, not killing people on a daily basis isn't hard. Mostly we go whole weeks on end without murdering anyone. Generally, you've got to have some mental disability - or else be seriously evil, which is a totally different thing - to go killing people. We just don't do it.

But putting somebody down - we do that all the time. Thinking the person who's driving at 30mph down the road from Ridgmont for no apparent reason should be banned from the road - that's something we do. In fact, that's how we manage to justify it. Being British, we tend to avoid telling people to their faces that they're fools, cheats, wallies or talking drivel. It's not the way we do things - unless we are at a football match and the person concerned is dressed in black. Oh no. We like to make sure that the people we think these things of are slightly disconnected from us.

  • So if somebody is driving, and we are driving, it's OK to think what we like about them.
  • If we've never actually met them, but they are from another country and looking for a job - that's fine.
  • If  they're in the office, but not actually in front of us - we can say what we like.

And if they're in the same church, the place where we should show most charity, the place where everybody should love each other, the place where we all worship the same God who - from a cross - asked forgiveness for the people who put him there - then naturally we're not going to go fighting and hating each other, are we?

At least, not too openly. Let's face it, if we took Jesus literally we might argue that, if we think someone is a fool, we should save ourselves the trouble and just kill them. But we wouldn't do that. We're British, after all.

Christianity could die out in England. It could. It won't happen for a long time - the believers from Eastern Europe and the developing world, all of whom come here - so the conventional wisdom has it - to claim dole and steal our jobs and use our Health Service - will make sure of that.

But one day, it will. If only because the world will die one day, if only because this country becomes uninhabitable - or maybe because the way Christians live their lives becomes incredible to normal people.

Let's call the last two Christians in England Maurice and Vera. I don't know why. Not married - just the last two of this grand old body of children, women and men to inhabit this lump of rock.

I'd like to think that the last think that passes between thos last two Christians in England, would be the reflection that, after all, God is with us, that God loves us, and that the important thing is not whether something is successful, but whether or not it is true.

I have a fear that the last thing will actually be, that Maurice will attempt to score a point over Vera. Maurice will remark that, after all, if the Church had moved with the times - like he had always been saying - then it would have survived. Vera will counter that, if the Church had stayed true to the Rock on which it was built, and if it had clung fast to the old ways - then it would have flourished. Maurice will point out to Vera that, in the leaflet for the last-ever Old-Form Mass that was conducted, while there was still a Catholic Priest left to preside, there was a spelling mistake and they had solemnly recited the "Agnes Dei". Then he will die with a smirk on his face. And Vera will get her revenge by getting the words "Requesciat in pace" inscribed on his Protestant headstone.


Isn't this what Jesus is trying to tell us? Getting the big things wrong, given the right mental state and a bit of discipline, is quite easy to avoid. But getting the little things right - that's tricky. We can hypothetically love our neighbour, but that doesn't stop us thinking they're a bit of a prat. We won't bash their head in, but we'll quietly patronise the life out of them, obstruct the things they'll like to do, demand cheap Tesco tea if they want Fairtrade (got to look after Church funds), ensure they don't sit too near to us in Church, cunningly dive behind a pew when we could be sharing the Peace with them, agree to their face that their desire for mission is essential - then go home and denounce them as a fanatic.

It's a real challenge, is this stuff Jesus came up with. Like, even going to Church is something we shouldn't do if we're not right with our neighbours. Like, not thinking our neighbours are twits, even when they self-evidently are. Like, just being people who can be taken at our words, and not resorting to twisting what we mean, or getting it half-right, or crossing our fingers or whatever.

You know, on the whole, I reckon we're gonna fail. Let's just hope it's not us that does the judging. We'd never let us off.

* Just what is a tittle? Is it a very small garden bird? Or something else?

Telegraph Not as Clever as It Thinks it Is on Americans

"One in four Americans 'do not know the Earth circles the Sun'", the Telegraph tells us.

Firstly - the Earth does not "circle" the Sun. It orbits the Sun, sure. In an ellipse.  A kind of egg-shape. Not a circle. That's different. I suppose one could say it "ellipses" the Sun, but I'm not sure that verb exists.

Secondly - it's "One in four Americans does not know....."

Thirdly - for the same reason - it's not "One in four Americans are completely unfamiliar with Nicolaus Copernicus's theory" - that would be is completely unfamiliar.

And fourthly - just for historical balance - astrology is  "sort of scientific". It's an -ology, after all. It's just a failed, very bad form of science. It tries to make predictions based on observations, and it's testable. So it is a kind of science. Just rubbish science.

Yes, points 1 and 4 are quibbling and hair-splitting. But to criticise a nation's astronomy with grammar that bad? Public school education, Telegraph? (Doesn't excuse the Americans, mind)


Friday, 14 February 2014

You're Having a Girafffe

Shock-horror, as a Copenhagen zoo kills a giraffe and feeds it to the lions (Warning - picture of dead giraffe in this link) an article tells us that European zoos kill lots of animals every year.

Well, of course they do. That's the thing about those slow-moving herbivores, not especially endangered, that they keep in herds. If they breed, they have 50% bulls/males/cobs/bucks/dogs and 50% cows/females/pens/harts/bitches. But, especially in herd animals, you don't need that many males. Like Russell Brand at a not-very-bright-women's convention, one male can cover a lot of females. Leaving lots spare.

And yes, you could leave the poor old souls wandering around castrated. But let's face it, if you don't feed lions with spare giraffes, bison, wildebeests and penguins, you only have to feed them dead cattle, sheep etc. Lions eat meat. It's a fact.

Strikes me there's two ways to look at this. We either accept that we keep lions, tigers, cheetahs etc in zoos until the point in the future when somehow we can guarantee they'll be OK to survive as species in the wild, and we believe that the unnatural situations in which we keep zoo animals is justified by protection of biodiversity and/or the educational and/or entertainment value of these creatures.

OR we decide that zoos are so bad, we should close them all and just leave wild animals to whatever protection we can give them in the wild.

But the argument that you can't feed a giraffe to lions because it's gangly, endearing and spotty doesn't hold water. To us, it may seem that cute Marius the giraffe is more worthy of life than a clapped-out Friesian cow. But to a lion, they're both lunch. Spots do not make you more worthy of life.

My Rotten Valentine

So just the one valentine.

You move with the grace of "The Mallard" swooping down the line northwards into York
On a day when the Black Sheep Bitter has hit perfection in the barrel.
Let me count the ways I love you? 3C ways.
(I love you as much as hexadecimal).

It's not signed. But I'm guessing I know who wrote it.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Skating on Thin Ice

Reading this illuminating article (I use the word "article" advisedly) this evening, I reflect on the Beaker Roller-blade Dance competition we held earlier, and reflect the author is so right. Skating really is a reflection of  the godly order of creation.

I had been wondering how to get a partner for the competition, earlier.  I know my readers see me as a sage of a certain age, dispensing wisdom and godly scorn. But there was a time when I was the belle of the Dunstable Leisure Centre Saturday morning roller disco set. Actually,  probably second belle - there was a girl called Heather who had nicer legs, and was rumoured to wear jodhpurs in her spare time.  Still, the point is that going round a badminton court on wheels while Donna Summer croons " I Feel Love" is not unknown to me, and I wanted to feel the thrill of rubber on parquet again.

Now,  Burton Dasset is not my ideal skating partner. But he does have all the advantages of the male sex. That is; he's convinced of his own masculinity, and he's gullible. And, if you're a woman of middle age needing some prat to pick you up while scooting round the Moot House on wheels, they're pretty much prerequisites. So he had to do.

In the event, it was worse than that. Burton naturally thought that my choosing him was a sign of sexual attraction rather than desperation, sure.  But we must not forget that the pasty-faced little son of a COBOL programmer is basically, deep down, a clerical worker.

And so it was that I ended up having to pick the annoying little beggar up and carry  him around for the duration of the "Bolero". I mean, obviously we won. After all, I'm the Archdruid. Nobody was going to give me less than a 6. And that just about made up for having the clammy, lustful little get clutching my waist.

You know,  it's left me realising that Roller-blade-dancing is a lot like the gender relationships we find in the Bible. You get a bunch of strong but unconventional women - Tamar, Rahab, Ruth,  Mary.  And a bunch of useless blokes who go around preening and causing bloodshed - David,  Judah, Solomon. Somewhere down the line, through God's assistance, finally we find one man who can actually do something right. But we know who's done the hard work up to that point.

So Burton can preen all he likes, with his bunch of flowers and his gilt tiara.  And he can enjoy the fact that, just for thirty seconds, I had to hold his leg to get him up in the air.  But don't forget who's taking the other half of the prize home. Oh yeah.  That Laphroaig bottle looks lovely on the mantlepiece. And its contents taste even better.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Speaking the Language

Burton Dasset, on one of his rail journeys,  sends me this picture of a church notice board.  I should say that it's very shiny and reflective, so I've cropped Burton out of it the bottom of it

And I guess I've mixed feelings.  It's a pun sure enough, quite a neat one, of its kind.


"God's not interested in your sin - he's got it covered! "

But who's it aimed at?

My suspicion is that this is quite an evangelical church. Now, the average passer-by won't get it. Quite a lot of them won't have much concept of "sin"; and won't worry nights about an abstract theological concept. They might know they're short-tempered when tired. Might be short on patience with the kids. Maybe they don't like the way they snark about their workmates and wonder why they can't stop doing it. But they probably don't worry, as such, about sin, as such.

And then we have "covered". In this context it's probably even a bit of an obscure concept to the average passing Anglican or - for someone who grasps "sin" as a meaningful thing, rather than an outmoded idea best dealt with by psychiatry or self-realisation means - Catholic.

So an unfashionable concept followed by a pun fathomable only by someone deeply immersed in evangelical redemption theology. I think it's pretty clear whom they're trying to attract, consciously or not.

The Baptists up the road.

Celebration of the Nativity of Charles Darwin

Archdruid: The Inexorable Power of the Unseen, Blind Hand of Selection be with you.

All: Aren't hands normally blind?

Archdruid: Oo, yeah.  I've mixed my metaphors right up there haven't I?

All: Crack on, we've all got a lot of evolving to do.

Archdruid: Okey-dokey. So today we're marking the birth of Charles Darkins, who went round the world on a beagle.  Which, needless to say, died of exhaustion - well, wouldn't you, trotting round  the world with a famous Oxford professor on your back?

The untimely death of the beagle led Dawwin to realise he should have picked a fitter dog  In retrospect, the one he chose didn't have a wet,  shiny nose. But it was a lovely colour, and reminded him of one he'd had when he was a child.  So you could say  it was a natural selection.

Stranded in the Galapagos, the naturally observant Darkwings noticed that the tortoises were extremely large. This contradicted everything he had learned in the Bible, which nowhere mentions large tortoises. Furthermore it was obvious to him that, given the slow-moving nature of his new shelly acquaintances and their size, they would have obstructed the gangways on Noah's Ark. There was nothing for it - clearly Religion was Untrue.

Charles Darkling was aided in his discovery by the Finch family, whom he encountered on the islands.  He noticed that Cytherea Finch had a small, attractive nose. Her sister Tiberia had a much larger, Roman nose while Claudio Finch,  their older brother, had a big spot on his nose after being stung by an Ichneumon wasp. Young Charles only found himself attracted to Cytherea, leaving him to conclude that it was the Finch's beaks that decided the likelihood of them successfully finding a mate.  Especially Claudio who, having a bright red nose and accordingly grumpy attitude,  had no mates at all.

And so Charles and Cytherea were married by Fr Mendel, a local monk who ran a pea farm, who explained the concept of genetics to Charles. Charles thought it was all a bit far fetched, and became a Unitarian. After going blind from eating too many tortoises, he had to scrape a living as a watchmaker.  The end.

All: Thanks,  Eileen. Suddenly the whole story makes sense.

Archdruid: No worries. Just two notices. If anyone's wondering what happened to Alfie the spitting alpaca, he was in the "Traditional Ethnic South American Curry" last night. I think the community alpacas are going to find that spitting is not a good trait to pass on. And on the way out, please don't scare Recessive Jean. She's always a bit nervous,  and she's hiding in the cupboard.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Why Project Managers Cannot be Good Christians

An unemployed IT project manager, who is also a devout Christian, contacts me to ask my careers advice.

Turns out her job prospects are being damaged by the Twitter account "Baptist Bible Hour". As it told her:

"Beware of Worry: your inability to plan the future is your strength, 
if it leads you to rely on Christ"

Can you imagine, she asks, how her job interviews have gone lately?

"So, Ms P.M. Candidate.  Under what circumstances would you put an entry in the risk register? "

"I wouldn't. Because a risk is a symptom of worry.  It implies an uncertain future, and that would mean I had no faith."

"OK. Can you tell me about your planning tools?  Are you used to MS Project, or Open Workbench?  What do you use to track dependencies?"

"No, I am incapable of planning.  I find that being unable to plan leads me to depend on Christ"

"So - surely - a complex project.  Standard waterfall, or maybe an iterative approach?"

"HERETIC!!!! REPENT OR BURN!"

Thirty-eight interviews. No second interviews.  Despite the fact she's never prepared for them, because that would be planning.

I've suggested she adopts an Agile methodology.  That regards planning as a loss of faith, as well.

Where You Place the Blame

It was the younger of the two history dons at Brasenose College in the late 80s - the one who wore, if memory serves, corduroy and in his spare time used to dish out fines to undergraduates for such minor misdemeanours as dancing on the roof of the college, letting off fire extinguishers in the library and stapling people to New Quad with croquet hoops.

He it was who had a poster on his wall, which seemed apposite to the jobs both of History tutors and Junior Deans.

"It's not about whether you win or lose. It's where you place the blame."

And at this time of flooding, I can't help reflecting that David Cameron must, at one time or another, have stood in there shelling out 50 quid for doing handstands on the Principal,  or converting the pool table into a beer-pond or whatever, reading those words of wisdom and reflecting that,  at about 4 quid a word, they were cheap at half the price.

When everybody is neck deep in alligators, you deal with alligators. The time to ask who filled the room with alligators is later. For the time being, the issue is not forestry, or dredging (unless there is somewhere it might facilitate drying-out without wrecking a town downstream.  It's not about the EU. It's not who cut what budget. It's not who broke what promise. It's certainly not about Climate Change. It's getting people out of water and protecting property and facilities.

Let's learn the lessons, and take the necessary actions, when energy can be used on that, rather than worrying about the problems directly ahead of us. As Basil Fawlty wisely once said, we can deal with the sackings later.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Salt vs Light

Now, I know what you're thinking.

Being salt of the earth - and being light to the world. Aren't they, very much, opposites?

Salt - a mineral so useful that people could be paid in it. When pure it's shiny, white, bright. When bought by somebody who thinks it's more "organic", "natural" to buy as sea salt - what do we think we're doing when we buy sea salt to put on our chips? It's not like it's been organically raised in free-range salt farms, where the salt can live a happy, natural salty life. Skipping around the fields in its salty way, grazing on free-range sodium. No. Or even, Na. Basically, sea salt is salt with dirt in it - because the sea is not pure and unadulterated. It's got other salts, and fish droppings.

In Jesus's time, I reckon the salt would have come from salt pans - areas where they let the sea in, then evaporate it off in the Mediterranean sun. In this country, most salt is mineral salt. It's mined under Cheshire, where it forms quite literally a rock formation under the ground. And the air in the tunnels of salt mines is so pure, so dry, that the tunnels are used for document storage - because it's too dry for microorganisms to grow.

But how can salt be kept pure, and salty? Or, to put it another way - what makes it lose its saltiness? Well, salt has a property called "deliquescence". It absorbs moisture, it gets clumpy. That's why salt in shops also contains sodium or potassium hexocyanoferrate - to stop it clogging up. So if salt gets damp, it's not so useful as salt. If it gets grubby, it's not so salty, because there's all sorts of stuff going on.

I remember doing an experiment, long and merry enough now, in the old Dyson Perrins lab in Oxford. And being a very bad chemist, I didn't make enough of the product I was making. My yield - we're very keen on yields, in the chemical community - was not good. What to do? I wasn't going to do the experiment again. I had a busy life. But I wasn't going to hand in my test tube, with just 20% or so yield.

So I took an executive decision. The thing about labs is, there's always some kind of kind of chemical crud laying around on the benches. So I scraped some of that off with a spatula, shoved it in, pushed the yield up to 50% or so, and went off to see the supervisor to get my experiment signed off.

But it wasn't the thing I was trying to make, was it? It was half made up of random chemicals, bits of lab bench varnish - not the thing I wanted at all. The melting point was all wrong. The next step in the experiment was to use that chemical to make another thing. And I had a product that was largely varnish. It did not augur well for the future.

And so, to keep the right chemical composition, to keep our salt pure - salty - it's clear what we have to do, isn't it? We have to flee away from the things that contaminate us - from the evil in the world. Like the communities that lived around the Dead Sea - with all that salt - in Jesus's time. Staying away from the World. Staying away from the compromises. Not getting grubby, not living lives that were clogged - there's still communities out there now, trying to do the same thing.

Or the 21st Century equivalent maybe? Only listening to Christian music. Only having Christian friends. Only going to Church activities - filling your life with church meetings and "socials".  As Steve Taylor once said, only drinking milk from Christian cows.

It's tempting. And it's been done. And it's right, that there are things in the modern world - behaviours and attitudes - that we don't want to pick up. And if you're thinking I mean certain lifestyle choices and sexual attitudes - well, I don't really. I was thinking of selfishness, judgmentalism, self-righteousness, grudges and pride. We should certainly want to run away from the world to get rid of them, shouldn't we?

After all , we don't get those in the Church, do we?

But we have the call to be salt - shiny, pure, clean, uncontaminated, best kept protected in a plastic bottle - alongside the call to be light - shiny, pure, and shed over dirty and clean things alike. If you're light to the world - shining out, not protected under a bowl - ten you can't hide away. In fact, if you put a candle, tea light, oil lamp or other fire-based light source under a bowl, you're running the risk of putting it out, through lack of air.

If the Church in this area disappeared - would anybody notice? Would it mean a vital spark had gone, a precious light that had gone out, a vision that others could catch - was no longer available?

Or would it be more like when the bingo hall went - just another leisure alternative that lost its market? Just a slight sadness that something had gone, combined with the reflection that instead of evensong - or the evening bingo sitting - or the Junior Temperance League - or roller skating, or whatever it might be, now you'll have to sit at home and watch Downton Abbey? Is that all it would be?

So what are Christians known for - squabbles over robes, rules about gay priests, where people get to sit, the precise wording of liturgy - all those other attempts to stay "pure", like a shiny kitchen condiment in our glass cruet?

Or street pastors, food banks, genuine day-to-day living alongside people in need - fund raising for schools and hospitals and charities just as much as for the tiles on the vestry roof?

I think I may have set a false dichotomy. You see, salt may be pure, and shiny and white and crystalline when it's sat in its box or bottle. But it's not much use on the kitchen shelf.

Salt is most salty, most tasty and useful, when it's poured out. It's still salty when you're gargling with salt water - when it's used to dab on a sound - and don't we know it. It's still salty when it's poured out on chips, it's still salty when it makes corned beef.  Maybe Jesus was using the same story twice. The way to let salt get unsalty is to leave it on the shelf to get damp and caked and grubby. And then it's not so useful - you may as well use it to pour out on the drive, if we ever get a frost this year. But poured out, used, made visible and tasteable, salt and light are things that change, that reveal new things, that make a difference to the world in which we live.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

A Liturgy of Dave

Archdruid Dave: On this "Call Everyone Dave Day", may peace be with Dave.

Dave's: And also with Dave.

Psalms ( A song of King Dave)

The Liturgical Dance of the Eternal Brooms

Naming Ceremony

Archdruid Dave: Name this child?

Dave: Well, if it was a boy we were going to call him Rodney, after Dave. But seeings it's a girl, we're calling her Dave.

Archdruid Dave: Good luck, Dave.

Daves: You're gonna need it.

Hymn: When the Spirit of the Lord is within my heart, I will dance as David danced.

Archdruid Dave: Eww.  Can you please all put your clothes on again?

Daves: Sorry, Eileen - we mean, Dave. Just taking the song seriously.

Archdruid Dave: I've warned you about crude literalism before. And that was literally crude. And in front of little Dave. Lucky she was asleep. Clearly what the songwriter meant - figuratively speaking - is that you should all upset your partners and celebrate killing Philistines and Jebusites.

Daves: Righto, Archdruid Dave.

Archdruid Dave: Now go out into the world, sweep the floor for the kingdom - following the example of Trigger and of Dave Herbert - and be Dave to the world.

Daves: Righto, Dave.


Serious Note: I believe the recent Pancreatic Cancer advertising campaign is crass. The implication of "I wish I had X cancer instead" is insulting, trivialising other cancers and treating their sufferers, the people who die from them and their families with disrespect.

But. Pancreatic cancer is a dreadful disease, which has taken a disproportionate number of creative people. It has a dreadful mortality rate - which could be explained in all sorts of better ways. Let's get behind the fight against all forms of cancer. And wish all the best, on what would have been his 70th birthday, to one of our funniest actors, Roger Lloyd Pack, aka Trigger. May his broom be lifted up, and sweep forever.

Cancer Research UK

Friday, 7 February 2014

10 Commandments of Commuting

I. Thou shalt not curse God when the train is late. It's probably the train operators.

II. Thou shalt keep ploughing forwards inside the train once it's started, despite the fact people are walking the other way doing the same thing.  These three abide: Faith,  Hope and Charity.  But hope's the only thing that will keep thee going here.

III. Remember the Sabbath day.  Thou dost noy have to go in. Unless thou'rt really unlucky.

IV. Thou shalt not make eye contact.

V. Remember the widow, the orphan, the infirm and aged in the land. But remember also that it's thy seat. Thou gottest on early to grab it. And it's a long way to Reading.  Especially since FGW run the service

VI. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's ass. He or she might notice.

VII. Thou shalt let detraining customers detraining before thou dost entrain. Thou hast to have a system, dostn't thou.

VIII. Thou shalt not bear false witness to the ticket inspector.  They know.

IX. Thou shalt not sing in the Quiet Carriage.  Thou shalt not speak on the phone - not thou, nor thy wife,  nor thy maidservant, nor thy ass nor thy ox. For if the Lord looks down from heaven, and hears a clamour as of that of trumpets, then shall he tut.

X. If through a kind employer or the Unions thou getst to work from home one day, don't sit all day in thy pants working on thy laptop.  For God can see everything.  And so can the neighbours, O thou fool.  Thou'rt in the conservatory.

Bad Timing for a Native Ritual

I'd like to thank Sneef for leading our morning Pouring-Out of Beakers this morning. But I can't help thinking he'd not really thought it through.

Sure enough, it was a traditional Native American First Nations Indian ritual (though I want to check that actually is the proper ethnic term). And it was performed with conviction.

But a Rain Dance? A Rain Dance? Really?

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The A-Z of Technical Church Terms

There's only one thing sadder than somebody using a technical church term, knowing that there are people in the church who don't know what it means. And that's somebody using a technical church term, thinking everybody knows what it means. Let's see if we can help.

AmboSouth American form of liturgical dance
ApseA lapsed asp
AspergesItalian variety of asparagus
AspergillumWhite flower that only blooms when it's raining
BirettaItalian squash eaten while riding a Lambretta, and firing a Beretta
CassockA long Ukrainian tunic
ComplineWhat you do to something that isn't compled.
HassockA long Ukrainian with a spasm in the diaphragm
Laetare SundayThe Sunday when the clocks go forward, and everyone turns up... yeah, OK.
LaityHorizontal church people
LecternAn electric duck
LectionaryPushy dictionary
LegiliumA narrow ledge, for perching eagles on
MisericordsAn overweight person's shoelaces
NarthexThe plastic you make notice boards out of
Oxford MovementDown to the bar when you give up on the essay
OblationBlowing up an oval balloon
PulpitA doll's pullover
ReliquarySomebody who collects retired vicars
Rogation DaysThe chance to go round in odd-shaped circles
SpandrelA breed of small dog, popular with vicars
SupererogationRitual blessing of local senior police officer
ThesaurusA terrifying, verbose dinosaur
TranseptVicar with a wide nose
VestibuleAn inflatable lifejacket, in case the font overflows
VestryWhere to hang your vest

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Midsomer Bingo

You know how it is. You're watching Midsomer Murders. You're wallowing in the perfect English countryside, as piles of bodies cover it. You're knowing that, at some point, somebody called Barnaby is going to come up with the solution to the mystery. You've got a glass of wine.

But you need something to keep your brain just ticking over, just enough to stay awake long enough to find out that the most famous guest star was guilty. So here we have Midsomer Bingo! Just settle back, keep an eye out for the Midsomer detail, and when you get a line - you shout out "Stately Home!"


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Because Apples Are There to be Eaten

Fascinated to read Andrew Brown's piece on "Help me overcome my unbelief". Not sure it tells us the cause of his unbelief, but then that may be my problem, not his. I've a notoriously bad attention span, unable to read even the simplest sentence from George Herbert without wishing I could meet him on the road. And don't even get me started on that "Sweep the Floor for Jesus" hymn he wrote. I sang that at an advent carol service once where somebody set herself on fire. I'm not totally sure that wasn't to avoid singing another verse. Also, Andrew's got a cracking aphorism about bishops, about halfway through.

Andrew is right, of course. Sin doesn't cause all the pain in the world. Mind, I'm not sure the Bible writers all thought that. Some of the wisdom and Psalm authors, maybe. But try telling it to Job or old Ecclesiastes. I reckon they'd be saying they'd meet Georgie H in the road, as well. Next thing you know, there's George Herbert in the road and a whole bunch of people wanting to meet him. Could be quite a queue.

Our Lord's suggestion is that, in cases of unexplained suffering, and where no circumstantial evidence such as a dagger in the Dining Room is found - that "nobody sinned". In fact, that the suffering is so that God's glory can be better revealed. And that's great, inasmuch as the man born blind or anyone else who's blessed enough to be in the firing line of a miracle goes. And praise God, when a miracle hapoens. But for the rest of us, struck down with some genetic condition the doctors can't treat or randomly having meteorites land on our heads or whatever - there must be something else. Not to mention those knocked down in the rush to get at George Herbert.

And it was Douglas Adams (it often was) who remarked that what the story of the Fall tells us is that God is the sort of Person who'd put a brick under a hat to see if someone was gonna kick it. And I wonder if he's got a point.

We are exactly the sort of people who, told not to eat an apple, go ahead and eat it. Later on we'll come up with a rubbish excuse, and later still acquire a need for a Saviour. But, for now, it's an apple. Juicy! Tasty! Forbidden! And we live in a world where crappy things happen, everybody dies, random stuff occasionally falls out the sky and the whole thing's gonna end in heat death.

But what if that is what it's all about? What if this world is the way it is, because it has to be? That we need Time's Entropic Arrow, driving us to chaotic homogeneity, because that's the only way things can happen? So the mess is inevitable. The drive is one way. And hats are there for kicking, and apples for eating, because that's what we do? We just need to be told not to eat the apple. It's the only trigger we need to get a sudden craving for Ashmead's Kernel.

And yet the world is so beautiful, its maths so elegant, and we are so resoundingly here, in all our beauty and stupidity, that I can't believe this wasn't meant. I do believe the whole thing was designed so reasoning beings could crawl out of the slime, and make up myths about their own origins.

In which case, I'll cling to that voice that tells us we don't need to eat the apple - that, given the right example and right support, we can leave the hat un-kicked. That this universe is wrecked and doomed because, this time out, it has to be - because this is the way first-time universes are.  That a universe can't be good until it's done the whole Big Bang-Heat Death thing. Because life only comes through death, and nettles make good fertiliser.

And I will believe that because God knows this is how universes work, God is there in every bit of the pain - shuddering over our stupidity but knowing that the stupid, cruel and evil are all part of it.

I can't believe in a godless world, because it rings with an ungodless glory. But I can believe in an emerging world, in a first-time world. In a world that is still reaching for where it should be, and still reaches for perfection as it dives into oblivion

Through the Mystic Door

In Bogwulf Chapel, the little family place of worship my ancestors built on the estate, there is a door. It's in the wall, halfway up the steps to the pulpit, small and features a fair degree of oaky solidity and ironwork.

So what, you may ask. You've seen doors in church before. Doors are not unusual - they're an everyday occurrence. But it's one of those doors.

See. That made some of you think. Those that know what I mean.

See, Bogwulf Chapel isn't much use to us Beaker Folk. It's too small, too cold, too leaky. We prefer warmth, comfort and seating that's not the subject of a preservation order. So we let it out to Drayton Parslow, and his bunch of Funambulist Baptists. They positively enjoy discomfort and pain.

Anyways. I was walking down past the Chapel after Pouring Out of Beakers. And I heard screaming. So I ran in and found Drayton, white-faced and sweaty. Which is not a way to start the day, believe me.

I'd told him not to open that door. I said it would be foolishness. I told him - leave it. Many old chapels and churches have these doors - made of oak, lurking in a corner of a vestry or side chapel, only four or five feet high and - very importantly - never opened.

If you ask a passing flunky - a verger or Warden, or curate or something - they'll mutter something about it formerly holding incense, or robes, or cheese or something. If you ask if you can have a look in, they'll tell you the key's lost, or the vicar has it, or it's health and safety. And if you ask why the door is so small - they'll tell you it's because people in the old days were shorter.

But if you follow up their logic, and ask why the main door isn't tiny, and you don't have to duck to walk under the rood screen, they won't have an answer. Because what the vicar may know, and isn't letting on - and what Drayton discovered today when he ignored my instructions, thinking there might be some backup tea bags in there - is that the door isn't small because people were short in the old days.

Oh, no. The door is small because it was built by hobbits.

Hobbits over the centuries have built a series of tunnels, connecting many of the ancient churches in the country to their own world. They use churches as portals into our world because they're very beautiful, and there normally aren't any people about. They nip out occasionally, in search of decent hassocks - which are in terribly short supply in the Shire.

But what they're not for, is Baptists stomping unwisely in the other direction, in search of tea bags. And so it was that, merrily singing a snatch of something from the Redemption Hymnal, Drayton Parslow found himself in Smaug's lair.

Well, no wonder he looked so shocked. He's got a nasty burn in the seat of his suit trousers, and no eyelashes. He says if a bunch of dwarfs hadn't turned up and started arguing about how to pronounce "Smaug", he'd never have got out alive.

Still, he's learnt his lesson. You don't open That Door. You just don't

Sunday, 2 February 2014

All-Purpose Midsomer Murders Spoilers

The vicar will be creepy, and will apparently live in the church.

The neo-pagan cult will be sinister and yet oddly cuddly. They won't be guilty.

The landlord will be suspicious and unfriendly.

The pub locals will be suspicious and cliquey.

The Indian take-away is unlikely to feature.

The Barnabys' lovey-dovey act will be annoying.

Somebody's ex-lover will be somebody else's current lover and somebody else's current spouse. And vice-versa.

The People in the Big House will get involved.

The most famous guest star will have dunnit.


A Traditional Beaker Imbolc Groundhog Candlemas Day

It's a well-known fact that the Christian Church first chose 2 February as the date for the Presentation of Our Lord, to co-incide with the ancient Beaker ceremony of Groundhog Day. Groundhogs were a special deity for the early Beaker Folk, representing the fertility of the Earth where they lived, and the little gnawy teeth of the Rodents of Retribution who lived in the Beaker Hades. Groundhog Day has been celebrated halfway between Xmas and Easter for at least 4,000 years, and was originally a celebration of the lactation of groundhogs. Why this was anything particularly to be celebrated is anybody's guess, but the Celts, needless to say, got in on the act, stole the date and invented their own festival, "Imbolc" - which in the Brethonic tongue spoken around Dunstable means "Rat Yoghurt". An odd bunch the Celts. What with them not actually having existed, and everything.

The European groundhogs subsequently went extinct in the Ice Age, and it was left to the German colonists of Punxsutawney to reintroduce the festival when they found some fresh groundhogs. These days, the Beaker Women mark the day by wishing the Beaker Men were as charming as Bill Murray.

There being no groundhogs around, as usual today's Groundhog substitute was the ever-reliable Earless Beaker Bunny. As is the tradition, we started trying to get her out of her cage on the Feast of the Epiphany, and finally succeeded last night. In a new record low, she only inflicted three bites that required hospitalisation this year.
The Groundhog

Once put on the grass outside the Moot House, she looked grumpily around, gave us one of her evil stares, "binked" round in a circle - which is the Bunny signal for more rain - and then went back in her box. And so, as the Beaker Quire sang "I Got You, Babe", we concluded that, it being England, we have no idea what the weather's going to be like for the next six weeks.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Feast of St Brigid

Sure and doesn't the Catholic Online website omit all Druidic references to St Brigid?  Just gives her saint number 453 in the url. I don't know whether that is her official Vatican number, or just a function of the site's Content Management System. But I notice that #1 is St Monica, rather than Our Lady or St Peter, so I'm guessing the latter.

According to assorted legends, Bride was born to the Catholic slave of a pagan lord, raised by a druid and baptised by a bishop. As well as being the midwife of Our Lady and a Pagan Goddess.

See, I'm reckoning a few stories have got mixed together there. I reckon she wasn't "also" the pagan goddess, but more likely "named after". And unless one of her saintly gifts was time-travel then Our Lady more likely had a totally different midwife. St Joseph, I reckon, in those circumstances.

Still, she's certainly one of those brilliant Celtic saints that stand on the edge of faiths - rejecting the old one while still being remarkably adept at absorbing its traditions and powers. Today we are renaming the Well the Bride Well, dressing it with waterlogged snowdrops and last year's fuchsias, and praying that Storm Brigid doesn't blow us all the way to Ireland.

Note that as Brigid was associated with milk, not beer, we shall not be celebrating her day with Guinness, as with other Irish saints. Nope, today it's milk stout. Except for the lactose intolerant, who can have Guinness. And the barley intolerant, who can have wine.