Breaking news...

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Glorious 1st May

A reminder that the season for Flying Spaghetti Monsters is now open until 31 August. Due to over-population, drones are legitimate, as well as blunderbusses and half-bricks.

Morris Men are, however, a protected species. They may be more boring than atheists, but they're kinder on the environment.

Light the Beltane Fire

Well, the Wicker Man is ready.

I say "wicker". In fact, in keeping with tradition, it's made from all the pallets we've managed to collect over the last few months, the planks split lengthwise and woven cunningly into an erection that bears more than a passing resemblance to Russell Brand.

The ancient Celts, when they weren't writing slightly stilted, folksy liturgy or wearing hooped green and white shirts, used to burn prisoners-of-war, criminals, career politicians and used car sales people in their Wicker People. The Beaker Folk, being peaceful apart from when slaughtering their neighbours, just used to do it because fires are nice, and the evenings get long at this time of year. And they had no Twitter, so had a lot of time on their hands. So doing a bit of wicker weaving and then dancing around in the ashes after the fire was, in many respects, a bit like the equivalent of making Jobseekers work a fortnight for Tesco.

Whatever. Tonight we walk in the footsteps of the ancestors. We mark another spoke in the great circle of the year. We unite ourselves with the cycles of Mother Earth.

And we bake a load of potatoes.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Hymn Titles With Missing Consonants

"Dance then, with horns upon your head.
I am the Lord of the Dane, he said"

Is the Editor of the New Scientist an Idiot?

Celebrating the use of the Daily Mail Question Mark by the New Scientist. What do they think they are doing? Everybody knows that the use of the Daily Mail Question Mark - or what I would like to propose we call the Interrodrivel - implies that the actual answer is "No". A phenomenon called "Betteridge's Law".


New Scientist: "Did a falling meteor kick start Christianity?

"Did a falling meteor kick start Christianity?" No.

Did Diana have a secret daughter? No.

Is there a bus on the moon? No.

Did this woman's smart trick have dermatologists livid? No.

Did aliens build the pyramids? No.

Can eating radishes extend your life? Probably not. Eventually your flatulence would catch fire.

Are scientists about to cure death?" Not if they understand the concept of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

"Was Jesus a Buddhist?"  You're being silly now.

"Has science disprove God?" Contrary to popular belief, it can't even try to.

Church Opposition to Anaesthesia in The 19th Century

I've written on this before - ie the total lack of Church opposition to the use of anaesthesia in the 19th Century. But came across this old blog post which I think does a pretty decent job of summarising the evidence that the Church opposed anaesthetics in childbirth.

The only evidence being one bloke who, for no obvious reason, made it all up.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A Visit from Ed Balls

Twas upon an Ed Balls Night, when all through the House
Only Bercow was stirring, as short as a mouse;
Leaflets were posted by candidates fraught,
In hopes of obtaining the votes that were sought;
The voters were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Eric Pickles danced in their heads;
David Cameron with port, Nigel Farage with beer,
Were settling down to their spring evening cheer
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the green springtime grass
Showed football shorts tight on a chubby bloke’s bottom
And before my eyes, there arose like a dream,
The complete Labour Party election team
While the bloke wearing shorts, tight as other folks' smalls,
I knew in a moment it must be Ed Balls. 

Ed Balls in Shorts from Daily Mail
More rapid than eagles his colleagues they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Yvette! now, Miliband! Umunna and Burnham!
On, Danny! on, Rosie! on Harriet Harman!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! 
Now tax away! tax away! tax away all!” 
As a snowfall will form into deep winter drifts,
So Ed Balls now scattered his Ed Balls Day gifts.
A tax for the mansions, a bash for the toffs.
A good cash injection for people with coughs
And countering five years of Tory adversity
A moderate easing of fiscal austerity.
The hardship of students he endeavoured to ease
By a three grand reduction in tuition fees.
And running around in assorted small nooks
Little Ed Balls started balancing books.
As the pile of his pledges grew taller and taller
I saw that the deficit became very slightly smaller.
Then a cry he gave out, as he returned to his sleigh
"These shorts are so tight I'll have to fly away"
And he said, as he flew over fences and walls,
"Good night to all people, and to everyone - Balls!" 

The Pagan Origin of Ed Balls Day

Every one now knows that Xmas, Easter, Candlemas etc have Pagan origins. Or at least have read some drivel about it and been unable to apply sufficient critical facilties to smell historical horse manure.

But the one festival that most people don't realise actually is of pagan origin is Ed Balls Day.

Originating in Canaanite folk religion, Ed Baals was the god of over-tight football shorts. On Ed Baals Day, he would climb down the chimneys of mansions, and take 50% of all the owners' possessions. The poor people would cluster towards him, assuming he would redistribute the wealth to them. But instead, Ed Baals would give all the money to the Lords of Peyeff Ai. Who would then let him use their hospitals and schools, as long as he gave them as much again the following year.

Today, we celebrate Ed Balls Day by eating Chocolate Salty Balls and cheese balls. How easy it is to forget that an ancient god, whose festivities could often cost his worshippers an arm and a leg, has been so sanitised.

Churches Closing Their Doors

We hear all the time about "churches closing their doors". And what could be nicer as a village house than a converted Methodist or Baptist chapel, you might wonder? But I never realised the nett rate at which churches are closing, compared to the rate at which they open. Take a minute, have a guess - what do you rcckon?

Then follow this link.

English attendance at church is currently fairly static, as new churches, Pentecostal and Orthodox make up for declining old-fashioned non-conformists. The future of English church looks like being lively, varied, more Bible-believing and more expectant of God's direct action.

Order of Service for Ed Balls Day

Archdruid: Ed Balls.

All: And Ed Balls to you.

Hnaef: Ed Balls.

All: And Ed Balls to you.

Burton: Ed Balls.

All: And Ed Balls to you.

Marston [who is still turned to stone after that incident with the Witch Queen of Narnia]: ..........

All: And Ed Balls to you.

Stacey Bushes: Ed Balls.

All: And Ed Balls to you.

Edith Weston: Ed Balls.

All: And Ed Balls to you.

Milton Ernest: Ed Balls.

All: And Ed Balls to you.

Keith: Ed Balls.

All: And Ed Balls to you.

Charlii: Ed Balls.

All: And Ed Balls to you.

Daphne: Ed Balls.

All: And Ed Balls to you.

Ed Balls:

All: And Ed Balls to you, too.

My Favourite Liturgical Things

Sad-looking icons and pictures of kittens
Ribbons in oak trees and ashes and lindens
Pictures of angels with kind eyes and wings
These are my favourite litugical things.

Latin from Taize, Swahili from somewhere
Celtic tradition that's really from nowhere
80s Folk Hymns that no teenager sings
These are my favourite liturgical things.

Bodhrans and tabors and lutes, ocarinas,
Liturgical dancing like bad ballerinas
Clowns leading services, puppets on strings
These are my favourite liturgical things.

Chairs in a circle,  tea lights on the altar
Dropping prayer-pebbles into bowls of water*
Cheap paper shredders to tear up your sins
These are my favourite liturgical things.

When the choir wails
When babies cry
When I feel alone
I remember my favourite liturgical things
And I wish I were at home.



* It rhymes if you are from Luton.

Monday, 27 April 2015

School Admissions and Unwanted Missions

Fascinating story about the church school that stopped insisting on religious attendance as an entry criterion after complaints by worshippers to the vicar that non-Christians were going to Church to get their kids into the school.

Ignoring the whys and wherefores of the admissions policy, or the implication that Church of England schools are clearly worth getting into - why would any church congregation complain about a mission field just turning up every Sunday like that? Would they also complain about non-regulars turning up at Christmas, Easter and baptisms - all chances to share the joy of the Christian faith to people who've brought themselves along with no effort from the congregation?

Aha. Hnaef has just leaned over my shoulder to read what I am writing, and whispered the words "quite probably". Fair enough.


Saturday, 25 April 2015

Sheep

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11)

Beaker Sheep

There is a common expression used mostly, I believe, by Project Managers and similar types whose job it is to organise a disparate bunch of people to work to a common purpose. When struggling to get everybody to agree to their objectives, to turn up to a workshop, or to get a computer programmer to write some code without finding the urge to reboot their computer, reinstall the operating system, go and get a cup of tea or decide to have a quick bash at producing a program that will derive the meaning of life from first principles.  It is, they say, like herding cats.

The implication is that cats are random, wilful, independent creatures - whereas sheep, by comparison, are docile, easily herded, obedient, predictable. Is that what Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is meant to indicate? That we're woolly-headed, docile creatures that go where we're led?

But sheep aren't as sheeplike, or even sheepish, as they're painted. There's the idea in Isaiah that "we all, like sheep, have gone astray" - wandered around, confused or headstrong, heading off from the Shepherd and safety. The idea of the shepherd who goes out to get the one sheep - leaving 99 behind - that suggests herding sheep isn't so easy. 

And then there are these critters, finding ways over cattle grids:







Then there were the sheep that learned to roll over cattle grids.

Or this one being rescued from a fence then falling down the hill.



Or the sheep that climbed on a roof, then fell off.....

In fact, I'm starting to think the whole "sheep" analogy is not so bad. That's what humans are like. We put ourselves at risk by being "clever" and end up lost. We choose our own way of doing things. We pay no attention to our environment, just worrying about the thing right in front of our noses - and then we panic.

Jesus's comparison is between a shepherd, and a hired hand. Why does the hired hand run away from the wolf? Well, the hired hand's life is worth more than the sheep's.

Why does the shepherd not run away? Because the sheep are the shepherd's life. He is defined, as much as they are, by their relationship. He can't run away. He is their shepherd. Even if that means laying his life down for them.

Today in the lowlands of England, the shepherd's not so bad. I've seen shepherds near Towcester rounding up sheep with quad-bikes. The land is - mostly - gentle and the weather is - mostly - mild. And there are no wolves. But up in the highlands, the story isn't so gentle. As we come to the end of the lambing season the Dales and Fells are still at risk of snow.  The inter-dependence of the shepherd and the sheep is immense. The shepherd's living is dependent on the sheep - and the lives themselves of the lambing ewes are often reliant on the skill of the shepherd. The winter and spring can be bitter, the weather treacherous, dangerous for the humans and the sheep.

Jesus says to us, there's danger in this world. There's physical dangers, sure - the danger, if you are a Christian in the wrong place, of death at the hands of those who hate the Cross. But the one we follow faced those dangers himself - and laid down his life for the sheep. There are worse dangers, too. The danger that we turn from God. The idea that we can be dependent on ourselves. That individual sheep strike out on their own. That's another thing about sheep. The smart ones, that live in Cumbria, they are "hefted". They know their own patch of land - they know their homes and they stick there. Stupid, lowland sheep - if one finds an exciting new thing, a gap in a hedge or a gate left open, they can all wander off. Just a view of what looks like greener grass across the other road, and given the chance, they're all off. Next thing you know there are sheep all over the road.

The dangers if we wander away are far greater than mere physical pain, mockery or even death. Because in the world of Jesus' parables, if you aren't sticking by the shepherd - if you strike out on your own - you're lost. And if, when the shepherd comes looking for you, you're determined to stay lost, you'll get away in the end. Your choice.

But the rewards for staying by the shepherd are far greater than human reward. The Good Shepherd tells us that he'll bring us into a place where we will be safe forever. He knows that we don't need to fear the wolf that will destroy - because he's faced that wolf. In dying, and descending to hell, he's fought that wolf. In rising to new life, he's killed it. Death is now a short-term pain - as Paul says in Romans 8: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us. For the creation is eagerly awaiting the revelation of God’s children."

Image from Christianity Today

When we have passed through death, we'll know the Good Shepherd as that one who died for us, and for all the others. We'll share his love with him, and one another, in a way that we grasp at now - but can never achieve. We'll know that he has brought us, and all the other scattered flocks that are his, home - back to a place which we, like a hefted sheep, will recognise as home. We'll give him glory and we'll be his flock. Forever.

David Cameron's All-Time Great Aston Villa Team

Poor David Cameron has spent such a long time campaigning already, it's a shame everybody has laughed at him over his sudden conviction that he supports West Ham, not Aston Villa, as he has claimed these last few years.

But it's easy to get confused. The campaign trail takes it out of you. Many UKIP candidates can unexpectedly say racist things, while people in Tower Hamlets can do completely out-of-character things like say God wants people to vote for them. So we are happy to help David Cameron set the record straight. We asked him to tell us, in his opinion, what would be his best-ever Aston Villa team, made up from the all-time greatest players in each position. And this is what he told us.



Blackburn Diocese Breaks the Laws of Physics

I have discovered an interesting job ad. From Blackburn Diocese: a half-time job in a rural setting. What could be more lovely than just working half a week? Obviously you only get half a stipend, but fair's fair. I suppose you could always get another half-time job. Or spend your free three days a week wandering the Pennines getting closer to God.

Oh. Hang on.


Turns out "half time", in Blackburn, means 4 days out of the week. But "half stipend post", presumably, means half of what other clergy get paid if they're full time.

The logic is inescapable. If half-time is 4 days, and you still get your weekly day of rest, then a Lancashire Week must consist of nine days. The Church of England eh? Not all the clergy believe in the Virgin Birth. But fitting 9 days into a week is a whole new level of miracle.


No Rota Way

I'm interested in Lesley Crawley's idea for a zanier church, where every Sunday the members of the congregation get to pick what their job for the day is. It sounds like it adds a spark of excitement, some equality, an idea that we are all children of God. However, I notice that the democratization of jobs is not complete. "Preach the Sermon" and "Preside at Eucharist" are apparently not included. Or, if they are, she's quite quiet about it.

This is in stark contrast to my childhood denomination, the Extremely Primitive Methodists. A hardy group, who believed in simplicity in life, dedication to the Gospel and the avoidance of modern conveniences. The only church I ever heard of where laying-on of hands for frostbite was a requirement from September to May.

The Extremely Primitive Methodists were radical exponents of the Priesthood of All Believers. And so their set of cards included the aforesaid roles, and many others - clean the toilets, scrape moss off the ceiling, wash the Beryl crockery, feed the lions . Ah, many is the service I've attended where a toddler, invisible behind the pulpit, preached from the text "I'm frightened! Where's Mummy?", while from outside could be heard the screams of another unfortunate discovering they did not have "the gift of Daniel" to calm wild beasts.

Then one day, a visiting Roman Catholic came along, took her pick of a card, and received the role "Head of Conference". At which point she declared the building unsafe and closed down the congregation.

Sometimes you can take an idea too far.

Mind the Gap

As a result of our construction of a Yellow Brick Road from the Moot House to the Lower Holy Well, we have discovered a thin place just below the bramble patch in Lower Meadow.

We've put red and white tape round it, and Hnaef is down there with gauges and a spirit level, trying to ascertain just how thin it is. But we reckon ir's at least a Grade 3, as we can hear chanting.

So until we've got any hard data, please avoid the area. Particularly thin places can be very hazardous. We wouldn't want anyone to end up in Narnia.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Inoffensive Liturgy of St George

Archdruid: And so on this St George's Day we raise St George's cross...

All: Bit UKIP-y?

Archdruid: And we celebrate the patron saint of England.

All: You trying to upset the Scots Nats?

Archdruid: The red cross...

Burton: Isn't that a crusader's cross? You encouraging ISIS?

Archdruid: ...stained, it is said, by his martyr's blood, on his warrior's shield....

All: A soldier? What, freedom fighter?

Archdruid: No. Roman soldier.

Hnaef: Imperialist as well. This ain't getting better.

Archdruid: He killed a dragon.

All: Did he reason with it first?

Archdruid: WHAT?

Stacey Bushes: Did he try to discuss maybe some kind of peace treaty - bring in a neutral third party to facilitate negotiations? Intelligent creatures, dragons. We've seen The Hobbit. They've got to have some rights.

Archdruid: No!  He had to save a helpless maiden.....

Edith Weston: What a sexist. You saying her sex life - or lack of it - was the determinant in whether she was saved or not?

Archdruid: I'm sorry?

Charlii: Would he have saved her if she'd been a single mother, or other non-conformer to patriarchal ideals? I suppose if she'd been a childless woman making a living as the chief exec of a pottery company he'd have left her to roast.

Archdruid: I don't know. I'm not aware he had that option. She was a helpless maiden.....

Daphne: What was so helpless about her? Why did it take a man to reinforce his role as protector - while simultaneously endorsing an unholy alliance between religion and the military/industrial complex - to kill an innocent dragon? Surely the maiden herself could have killed the dragon, were she not trapped in the stereotypical role of "helpless"?

Archdruid: So we cry "God, King Harry and St George for England! "

All: That's right, upset the French....

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Clear Signals of Growth

Apologies for the chaos on the Marston Vale line this morning.

As part of their induction to Beaker Life, Burton Dasset took the Church Growth consultants I've hired from Tesco for a guided tour of Ridgmont Station.

Unfortunately he got them a viewing of the signal box. At which point they pulled all the available levers. Turns out that's not always such a good strategy.

Of Democracy and Direction

I've had some Beaker Folk complaining about the new strategy document, "Shut up and do What you are told - How Confirmation Bias Can Drive Church Growth".

Apparently my decision to adopt a bunch of theories based on my personal preferences is "undemocratic". Well, that's what we call a "category error". Inasmuch as this seems to imply that they think the Beaker Folk are a democracy.

Let's get this straight. We tried democracy in the 80s. And what it proved is, you can't trust people to make decisions. Or rather, you can't trust all of them. I know what I'm doing, obviously. Today, in Russia, the European Union and the Middle East, we're seeing the rolling-back of the failed democratic experiment, in favour of people doing what they're told, or else.

Now to the implementation of my new growth strategy.  I've brought in a bunch of advisers from Tesco, who have unexpectedly become available at decent rates. They'll help us to develop a go ahead,  commercial, consumer orientated growth plan. You can trust them. They've got experience of the real world.

Now can Beaker Folk please stop whining, and just follow. Frankly, if people keep not following me, it's gonna look like I'm not a very good leader,

Monday, 20 April 2015

At the OMD "Song Title Workshop"

"Helen of Troy?"

"Done it."

"Joan of Arc?"

"Her too. "

"Her too?"

"Twice."

"Margaret Thatcher?"

"We'd  never play Liverpool again."

"Katie Hopkins?"

"Not really a sympathetic heroine."

"Audrey Hepburn?"

"Put her down as a strong maybe."

"Catherine the Great?"

"Too. Weird."

"Judi Dench?"

"Not tragic enough."

"Louise Brooks?"

"Again?"

"OK. Long shot.... Kerry Catona."

"You just hit electro pop gold, Mr McCluskey."

Sunday, 19 April 2015

A New Vision of Beaker Ministry

I've been jealous of the Green Report the Church of England commissioned from the eminent leader of an eminent bank for quite a while now.

What a great thing, to have a document setting out what is wrong with, and ways forward for, the visionary leaders of your faith movement.

So I commissioned a think tank among the "talent pool" of the Beaker Folk. All of whom, conveniently, are related to me or Hnaef. That is, I arranged to babysit for Celestine and the smaller Hnaefs, while Charlii, Young Keith, Hnaef and Daphne went to the pub, to work out a strategy. 

And when they got back, I showed them the strategy and, them all being in a remarkably affable mood, I'm pleased to say that the Druidic Council (ie the five of us) immediately passed it.

The thing about visionary leadership is, you've got to have time and space to develop your vision. So anyone feeling a "calling" to Druidic ministry in the Beaker Folk will have to agree to spend the next 10 years living in a cave, depending on Food Banks for their survival. This will give them the chance to commune with the Divine and Nature, and know what it is like for normal people, without all those awkward demands on their times that are generated by training; administration skills; learning to be the sort of people who when they speak, the room stops to listen - all that sort of stuff whereby the Church aspires to be like the World.

After 10 years are up, the Druidic candidates will be asked how many people have stopped by to hear their vision, and whether they've managed to avoid the need to develop Mission Strategies, Three point plans, Vision Statements and building projects. If they've passed, they will be allowed to remain in their caves for another 10 years, becoming even wiser. If they've written something calld "Re-envisioning Evangelism in a Post-Millennial Ecosystem" or created plans to build a faith-o-plex or something similar, they will be sent to the Doily Mines.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Wetherspoons and the Threat of Religion

Fascinated by the latest edition of JD Wetherspoon's News, in which its outspoken founder, Tim Martin, is in good form. Mr Martin has always been outspoken on matters of government and law, and I've often agreed with him. As a purveyor of cheap alcohol to the masses, there are few better. But on this occasion I wonder.

You could argue his reasoning is sound. Increasingly, the country that has kept its clerics under control is China - oh boy, have they kept their clerics under control - and they're not half doing well economically.

On the other hand, you could figure that somebody who depends for trade on people coming into his establishment might do better than to insult something which has inspired altruism, the arts, great spiritual insight, and arguably the whole basis of democracy and human rights. Sure, there are places where religion causes trouble. But then, North Korea's not got a great record on human rights and it's banned there. The USSR had much the same attitudes.. So maybe the problem is people using religion, not religion itself.

How does Mr Martin plan to reduce God's representatives to secondary status? Will he add special corners for vicars, like their children's areas? Will he only sell Christians beer beer made by Carlsberg? It's not made clear, but I reckon it's safer if I avoid the 'Spoons in Bedford and Milton Keynes in future. The thought of having to wear a special badge, or put on a special hat or something, is not appealing.

Thanks, Mr Martin. My God, as Dave Allen might amusingly say, will go with me. To the Wellie Arms, not the Pilgrim's Progress, next time I visit Bedford. The beer's better there, as well.

Annual Report of the Mission Committee

If you haven't seen Dave Walker's cartoons, you should. Today I'm particularly  inspired by Dave's imagining of a church council mission committee as a dead end on the Tube. You can see the full cartoon (which is brilliantly conceived) by buying a copy of the Church Times, or taking out a subscription....

It is, of course, a given that mission committees always fail to meet. Some people have been on Church mission committees for years without having the faintest idea what might happen if one actually took place. Some churches have the agenda item, "Explanation for why the Mission Committee Did not Meet". But it happens that the Report to the Annual Meeting of a mission committee that actually did meet has come into my possession. I share it, suitably redacted. The names have been changed to protect... well, to protect, basically.


MISSION COMMITTEE REPORT - XXXXXXXX Church

It has been a busy year for the Mission Committee, meeting three times. Which is the most since the Methodists all left in 1802.


MAY

At our first meeting in eight years, we spent our time mostly discussing who should be on the committee. Aggie was one suggestion, although her ardent atheism was considered to be an obstacle to her interest in Mission. But she does have a laser printer. And Ron had hoped he might be able to come on Thursdays, but only on weeks when Everton weren't on telly. Which would likely rule him out of the September meeting. Then Dora would be interested in mission to children, but she is already on the Sunday Club committee, the street pastors, the fete committee, she's the Mothers' Union chair, she leads the bellringers, runs the Tuesday lunches, works full-time and has four small children and a husband who spends all his time in the Plume of Feathers. We agreed to ask if she'd be Chair.

David is keen on Mission, but the terms of his restraining order prevent him coming within five miles of the church hall, which is problematic.Somebody also suggested Ethelberta, but she does not like to go out after 4pm. And we thought it would be more inclusive to allow people who work, or care for children, to be able to attend. We did discuss maybe having two committees - one for people who go out in the day and one for people who go out at night. But that would require permission from the Church Committee. So we put forward that suggestion to the Committee.



SEPTEMBER

At the September meeting, which was unfortunately held on a Thursday when Everton were playing, our new chair, Dora also couldn't attend as it was School Governors. So we didn't really do very much. However we did work out an agenda. And we did ask ourselves what did we mean by Mission. And we decided we didn't know. So we agreed that we would ask Dora to ask the Church Committee what  they meant by Mission. And to agree our agenda. Which was proposed to be as follows:

1. Minutes of the last meeting
2. Matters Arising
3. Any Other Business.

We did discuss whether we should have opening or closing prayer. But we agreed that, since in fact the whole of Mission is, in its way, a prayer, it would be unnecessary. Also, none of us feel comfortable praying in front of other people. We did think of just sitting in silence for a bit. But that can feel uncomfortable - how do you know when you've finished?

The Church Committee had responded to our question about whether to have two Mission Committees by asking us whether they would have totally separate agendas - in which case how we would avoid duplication of effort - or whether they would work to a common goal - in which case how would we co-ordinate?

We weren't sure, and agreed to ask Dora to ask the Church Committee what they would advise.


JANUARY

At the January meeting, we all agreed that Christmas was a good time for mission, as new people or people who only come to Church once a year are there. We regretted not realizing this at the September meeting.  Unfortunately we had no answers from the Church Committee, as Dora wasn't present - it was her night at the Cash  Carry, stocking up for the Food Bank. In any case, she had missed both intervening Church Committees, as she had been preparing for the Christmas Panto in October, and it had clashed with her working at the Night Shelter in December. And who'd have thought Everton would still be in the Europa League come January? Not us, when we'd worked out the meeting schedule. So no Dave, either.

So with no agenda, no chair, only three members and no idea what we were doing, we decided to have a brainstorm at a Mission Strategy.

Suggestions for the Mission Strategy were as follows, with the objections to each.
  1. A Mission Week, with a tent in the churchyard, barbecues, a Youth Band, invited speaker and twelve-week Alpha Course - Too ambitious.
  2. Putting nicely printed cards saying "Come to Church" on the tables at Tuesday lunches - Too pushy, likely to put people off coming for lunches.
  3. Leafleting the town for Easter - Too tiring, and too many of our congregation are too old. Though we did think maybe Dora could do it.
  4. An additional Jumble Sale - We already have 9 a year, and we're now down to just buying back our own junk every six weeks. And Dora really can't organise anymore as she's already missing days as a lay chaplain at the Prison to run the ones she does. 
  5. A youth service - would only appeal to young people.
  6. A "Songs of Praise" service - would only appeal to old people.
  7. Saturday night football - Too strenuous.
  8. Film club - Too expensive to pay the licence.
  9. Inviting a famous footballer to attend - They often play football on Sundays. So this would be too complicated.
  10. Prayer Spaces - Too trendy
  11. Opening the Church during the week - Too risky
  12. Messy Church - Too messy.
  13. Brass Rubbing Club - Too silly.
  14. Clown Church - Too scary. We have had no children in church since the last one.
  15. Facebook - Too modern. We had a lovely debate about how dangerous Social Media is.
  16. Getting involved with other churches to stage an event - Too complicated. And how would we know how to divide up all the converts?
In the end, we concluded that it's all hopeless. We have nothing to invite people for, nothing to do it with. No ideas, no energy, no direction. No message, no selling point, no reason for anyone to visit. Frankly, we believe that we might as well accept that the XXXXXXXX Church is doomed. When they carry the last of the current congregation out in a box, they may as well sell it off as a snooker hall.
It is also true to say that we have suffered from the repeated absence of our Chair. Sadly, she clearly does not have the time to care about Mission.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Ministers' Academic Qualifications Usefulness Scale

Contrary to popular opinion, Science and Religion go quite well together. Many religious ministers have been qualified in other subjects before their call. Often in sciences or medicine. But which other qualifications are most useful in a religious minister?

The "Ministers' Academic Usefulness Scale" is here to help you discover. Based on to what degree (ho, ho) the Minister's academic background helps or hinders the life of the Church....

USEFUL

1. Degree in Engineering - Invaluable if the boiler breaks down

2. A Level in Geography - If you're wandering round town in a dog collar, people are more likely to ask you for directions. Or tell you where to go. Useful either way.

3 Masters in Organic Chemistry - Handy if you need to "accidentally" melt down some pews. Or make your own wine or tea lights.

4. D Phil in Astrophysics - At evening prayer, you can look up through where the lead used to be on the roof and tell people what the stars are called.

5. O Level/GCSE in Art - You can make nice displays with hazelnuts and ferns, to help people express their inner spirituality.

6. PE2 in Accountancy - So you can keep an eye on the treasurer.

7. A Level in Needlework - Those lovely clothes are not going to repair themselves.

8. BSc in Medicine - Useful for slow-starting congregations on cold mornings.

MIXED

9  MA in Music - Your knowing it all in music will be an asset, as long as you reserve the exercise of your skill to singing in the bath. Do not show the organist the improved tricks you picked up while an organ scholar at "The House".

10. MBA - Not much use in the real world. Not much use in the Church world.

11. Economics BSc - Like Accountancy, useful for checking things like your church's contribution to central funds.  But if you're a passionate believer in Keynsian economics, you're in for a nasty shock. Although you can advocate it in sermons for the country, you won't get away with it when you need a new spire. Find the minister with an art O Level, and get her to paint a big thermometer.

AVOID

12. BA Theology - OK for your own reflections, but try not to use it in Church stuff. It only scares people if you start talking about God.

13. MA Quantum Chemistry - Yes, the wave/particle duality theory is a nice analogy for the Incarnation, in that nobody understands either. Why didn't you do Organic? The drains need unblocking.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Minutes of the Fabric Committee


  1. Tartan
  2. Plaid
  3. Wool
  4. Tweed
  5. Cotton
  6. Silk
  7. Vinyl
  8. Linen
  9. Velvet
  10. Nylon
  11. Polyester
  12. Rayon



Not Lycra

After Erwin Died, The Schrödinger Family Shamelessly Cashed in on His Ideas

Image from http://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/dec/12/time-warner-bid-endemol 



Liturgy of Socks and Sandals

Archdruid: The spring has sprung.

All: The great Watcher in the Sky has appeared above us.

Moon Gibbon Folk: Errk! The Moon Gibbon! Spare us, O Great Primate, from thy steely fangs! (They rush off into the woods)

Archdruid: No! We were just poetically referring to the International Space Station....

(Moon Gibbon Folk slink back)

Hnaef: And the Dragon ship that is following it....

(Moon Gibbon Folk run back into the woods)

Archdruid: And as the meadows swarm with butterflies, the grass grows long, the birds are mating and the whole of Mother Nature's family exalts in the fruitfulness of the land....

(Beaker Fertility Folk rush off into the woods)

Archdruid: For crying out loud. Is there anybody left?

Socks 'n' Sandals People: We are here.

Archdruid: And who are you?

Socks 'n' Sandals People: We are the Socks 'n' Sandals People.  We celebrate the new warmth of Spring, but sensibly. We want to allow the air to our toes. But not too much. Come, for the day is now and our socks are grey!  We shall run into the meadow and do the Solemn Spring Dance of the Socks 'n' Sandal People!

Archdruid: Won't there be dew on the grass?

Socks 'n' Sandal People: Good point. We'll go to the car park instead.

Socks 'n' Sandal People depart for the Car Park

Archdruid: So there's just you few left.

Remaining Beaker Folk: But where would we go?

Archdruid: You mean I have the words of eternal life?

Remaining Beaker Folk: No. You confiscated our car keys so we had to work in the Doily Shed.

Archdruid: Oh yeah. Well, blow this for a game of soldiers. Peace be with you, and keep your boots on.

Far away, across the car park, the sounds of the Floral Dance and shuffling of gravel reveal the Socks 'n' Sandal Folk are performing their ancient, solemn dance. Frogs revel in the new sun, and thank their froggy god that she never expected them to wear socks.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Beating Out the Gay Demons With Sticks

Inspired by the people running Christian gay conversion therapy. Though wary about the name. After all, some gay Christians might think it's a course on how to transform your attic into a lovely master bedroom with en suite shower room. Also wary about the description of the leader as "earnest and petite". I'm pretty sure that should be "petit". Unless he prefers petite, obviously.  Anyway, we've added a couple of new strands to our "traditional healing and wholeness" programme, with mixed results.

Bad news on our new course for people with same-sex attraction, "Beat the Gay Demons Out with Sticks". Turns out you can't.

Better results, however, on our similar course for people who are into S+M. Everybody came back for the second week.

In fact, some of them even brought friends.

The Blank, Empty Message of the Daily Mail

You know, that article of the Daily Mail I quoted this morning really tells you everything you need to know about that paper's attitude.

In the Mail's view of the world, the fact that Fr Richard Coles once did something wrong means he can't be trusted to pronounce on something now. In other words, the Mail allows nobody the ability to learn. Nobody can repent. No-one can be redeemed.

It's fundamentally the story the paper re-tells, over and over. We, the innocent nice ones, must be protected. (I presume I'm in that camp, being white, middle-class and without a criminal record). Them over there are alien, criminal, poor, disabled, unemployed. Different.

We must never think that anyone could move from one group to the other. For if a benefits scrounger gets a job, or a migrant works hard and makes a fortune, or a drug taker becomes a vicar - that will destroy the myth of unchanging order we have sold ourselves. So in challenging the ideas of the party of the establishment, Richard Coles is that most awful of things - an imposter. It must be shown that he has a Past. So things can go back to normal. Because if others can change for the better, we or our circumstances could change for the worse.

In the Mail's schema, only one thing must change. Pretty young girls must become pretty young women, so they can be displayed on the right-hand-side of the web page, for the delectation of middle-aged letches. But by remarking that these young women are 'all grown up", the paper will be able to reassure their readers that they have nothing in common with the paedophile who has just been revealed in another article.

Maybe this is why the Mail is so obsessed with health. Because, in a Mail world where nothing must ever change - what could be worse than illness? It turns working people into benefits claimants, able-bodied people into ones who get reserved car parking spaces, pilots into mass-murderers. No, we must take our vitamins, drink filtered water, eat this week's recommended set of healthy foods and not the ones we told you to eat last week, which will give you cancer. Follow our diet tips and live forever! Or, at least, till next week, when we tell you you've just poisoned yourself.

It's a vile creed. A world without change, growth, redemption or hope. A world where we are always good and right, and they are always evil, weird and dangerous. A world where you can live forever - or, at least, for an extra few weeks - without ever having to admit you were wrong.

No wonder it's so popular.

Right to Buy for Vicars

Curious piece by the Daily Mail, apparently saying Revd Richard Coles can't criticise the Tories' ridiculous and un-Conservative plan to steal homes from Housing Associations to buy votes from people who want a quick win, because he used to have sex in lay-bys. Having a go at Fr Richard for his drug-taking past seems a bit rich, given the Mail's readers must be constantly off their heads on Victory V's and gin to accept the constant fear-health-scare-sexism-immigrants diet they are fed without realising it's all drivel. Indeed, if they believed the Mail's tales of benefits-stealing, scantily-dressed, disease-ridden celebrity asylum seekers, it's a wonder they can get out their doors without a stiff amyl nitrate.

But it does strike me, reading about Fr Richard's 'grace and favour" mansion (I presume the Mail thinks he does no work except on Sundays. This is really not true) that, looked at in one sense, the property portfolios of the churches of our country make the Church a confederation of Housing Associations. So I have a suggestion.

The churches should start charging a peppercorn rent for their parsonages, so that, in effect, the religious ministers of this country are sitting tenants. This means that surely, on Tory logic, they must have a right to buy. Even today, some vicarages are nice bits of real estate with development potential. And the ministers will be able, by flogging off their new acquisitions, to buy themselves a decent pension, thus saving them having to form dodgy alliances with undertakers during their retirements. And the church property departments, having released a nice slab of cash from the mortgage companies and the Government subsidy, will be able to buy nice new manses.

Which the ministers will have the right to buy.

The churches could even rent the old manses back from the ministers they've sold them to, then let them live there. After all, they still need somewhere for their clergy to live.  I reckon, if the churches play it right, they can get the Government to subsidise the whole of British Religion. I'm off to get my application in now.

Traditional Worship in the Methodist Tradition

Ah, there's nothing like worshipping in a proper, authentic tradition. In this case the Methodist Revival Service last night.

Out in the field, singing hymns with 16 verses each. A two-hour sermon threatening Hell to those that won't accept true path, and a route to perfection for those that will.

And by the end we had had three schisms, and six new denominations had been founded. I can't wait for this evening's "Worship in a 1980s Ecumenical Style", so we can put them all back together again.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Advanced Myers Briggs

When you have to build a team, it's important to understand the balance. Who's the enabler? Who's the worker? Who's the mouthy get who doesn't contribute much but claims the credit and gets the pay rise?

In recent times, Myers Briggs has been very popular in Church circles as a method for people to lie to themselves that they're basically sensitive flowers, when in fact they're prime candidates to run the Herman Goering Division. But it takes time. You have to answer questions. If you feel called to ministry, you've got to work out the right answers to prove on a scientific basis that you're an INFP.

So the Beaker Folk are happy to present the Advanced Myers Briggs method. It's quicker, and proven to be just as accurate.

Step 1: Throw three darts at this board.


Step 2: Add all the scores together.

Step 3: Make up any old drivel to express your personality.

Step 4: Tell everybody you're INFP. And therefore sensitive, spiritual and gentle.

Step 5: Sack the Quire for refusing to respect your authority.


The Bald Man's Prayer

Oh Lord who made both hairy and balding men
listen to my prayer.
Listen to me, you who sit among the angels
who shine more brightly than even the top of my head
in the brightness of a spring sunrise.

Do not let the youths laugh at my balding head
do not let them mock my thinning locks
or if they do,
remember how you upheld Elisha in the same circumstances.
I'm not asking for a swarm of bears
maybe just the one?
That would do.
I'm not being greedy.
I wouldn't like them to suffer too much
maybe just a light mauling.

And Lord, remember my vulnerability to the weather.
For you make the rain to fall on the hipster and the baldy alike
and rain's OK. Because it dries off quick once you're in the dry
when you're as bald as I.
But don't let me be caught in the wind
when I've left the bobble hat at home.
And don't let the sun beat down on my unlotioned head
(for it's hard to apply sun tan lotion to a scalp that's not totally bald.
If only someone would invent Factor 50 Brylcream.
Perhaps you could inspire some devout chemist who works for L'Oreal?
And most of all, O Lord my protector,
keep me from the hail that bounces off my bony bonce.
Do you have any idea how much that hurts?

And so, Lord, protect me from overhanging branches
and brambles.
and stillicidal drips
and overflying birds.

Surely I shall be on the safe side
and wear a hoody all the days of my life.
takes 10 years off you, that does.
So thank you Lord for hoodies,
flat caps and trilbies
bobble hats and bicycle helmets
but not fedoras.
Unless you're Terry Pratchett, they make you look like a prat.

Amen.


Getting Babies Through Their First Border Control

This idea that you've got to show your passport to get NHS treatment worries me.

So for maternity wards - how do unborn babies apply? If their parents apply for the passport, do they leave name, sex and date of birth blank? Do they have ultrasounds instead of photos? And at precisely what point are they requested to show the passport to be allowed to be born?

And if, when they're born, it turns out they're illegally in the maternity ward, how are they gonna be sent back?

It's gonna be a logistical nightmare, this one.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Church Sounds in Decibels


SourceLevel (db)Notes
The minister has just asked for volunteers to take the children's group this week.
-50  
This is believed to be one of the few verifiable examples of religious phenomena that cannot be disproved by science. As it is the only sound of this level that can be heard, and has the effect of a blow around the head.
Unless the minister has received a blow round the head, in which case the volume is irrelevant.
First 10 seconds after minister announces the plan to move the tea light stand
Zero  
Sweat running down back
Empty chapel on a quiet day
20
Calm Reflection
Murmur of doves on a sunny day
30
Closeness to God
Morning prayer when only the vicar turns up
40
Vicar wakes up 3 hours later with edge of pew indented in forehead
Agreed volume the bass player in the music group is allowed to play "so as not to upset the older people"
60
Causes sulky looks and frustration.
Child in the play corner, when asked to be very quiet because something holy is going on.
70
Congregation's glasses steam up, loud tutting, vicious looks, child does not go to church any more.
Church bells, heard through an open window in the new estate on the other side of the village.
80
Complaints to the council, police and Queen by the new couple who just moved in from Hampstead. Letters to the council. Scurrilous headlines in the local paper.  Nasty looks at the husband when he tries to go for a quiet pint in the local.
Vicar's Moped at 25 feet
90
Causes complete lack of attention in motorists
Mrs Cholmondeley in the Quire
100
Probable hearing damage over 1 hour exposure. Mr Cholmondeley has used this as an excuse for years.
Thunderstorm during a service
120
Unexpected need to visit toilet, repentance, awkward questions about the minister's beliefs and sex life.
Committee has had 10 seconds to digest the plan to move the tea light stand
140
Chaos
People arriving to set up for the next service, trying to be quiet outside while the early service is still going on.
160
Disorientation, confusion, skipping of prayers.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Future that you Anticipated has Been Cancelled

Burton Dasset has been trying to persuade me to listen to OMD's album, English Electric, since it came out a couple of years ago. And after my experiences trying to enjoy its predecessor, History of Modern, I did my best to resist. But I've finally succumbed, and I like it. I get the feeling it's a lament for the modernist optimism which was where OMD came from in that time around 1980 - a world where the Buggles could sing of the "Plastic Age", and Poly Styrene could warn us about Germ-free Adolescences. By now, we should all be riding on jet packs and commuting by monorail in the sky, not still on Intercity 125s and rubbishy little electric trains on Thameslink. We should be living off food pills, communicating telepathically and wearing silver jump suits. Though not, please, Burton Dasset. Not in a silver jumpsuit. That's more than human flesh and blood can bear. Those Lycra cycling knickerbockers are bad enough. No, as one track tells us, "The Future was not supposed to be like this." We were supposed to use all the technology to wipe out disease, to solve world hunger, to revolutionise democracy. But instead we used it to show each other pictures of animals doing cute things and make up hash tags like #HellYesEd.


The future that you anticipated has been cancelled

There's lovely introductory intro lyrics, on the first track of English Electric, "Please remain seated..." - which is effectively set in an airport waiting lounge....
"May I have your attention please.
The future that you  anticipated has been cancelled.
Please remain seated and wait for further instructions."
Which is kind of apt for John's account of the appearance of Jesus to the disciples. Because that's where the disciples are. Whatever future they were anticipating, was cancelled. I presume John and James could see a future where, as Jesus ruled the Jewish empire from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, they sat next to him as princelings, holding the power of life and death over their subjects. Hot-headed Peter - maybe he was dreaming of battles way beyond just cutting one ear off one High Priest's servant. Mary Magdalene - maybe the silly archaeologists and silly novelists are right to a degree, and maybe she was dreaming of becoming Mrs Jesus of Nazareth. And perhaps Mary the Lord's mother was dreaming her son would come home, pick up Joseph's tools, and get on with the safe job of being a carpenter.

Well, that was all gone now. The future they anticipated has been cancelled. They remain seated - apparently around that same table, in that same room in John Mark's house where, just a few days earlier, Jesus had broken bread. And they're reeling from a whole series of odd events.

The Resurrection stories in the different Gospels don't quite hang together. There's different details, different narratives, different viewpoints. A young man in a white outfit for Mark becomes an angel in Matthew - two in Luke.

And the truth comes in from many angles - as well as several angels. Mary and the women see the empty tomb. John runs to the door - Peter into the tomb. But it's when it's quiet after the two action men have gone back to bed, that Mary sees Jesus. He appears - in Luke - to the two on the road to Emmaus. He appears to the disciples there in that upper room. And, a week later - on this Sunday - he appears again, this time to Thomas.

We can see Thomas as someone special, special - the doubting one, the one left over - we can focus on his leap to faith as if it's something individual. But in fact, it's not. It's actually part of that whole community of love that Jesus had created before his death, coming to know the truth of the resurrection. Thomas isn't being saved all alone as he realises what has happened. Let's face it, for all his scientific "show me the holes in his side" - if he'd seen Jesus all alone, by the following day he would, quite rationally, be asking himself - "did I really do that?" What was I on last night?

No, the first Church has been built up over that week. The apostles, the women, the two going to Emmaus, Thomas - each have seen their own sights, had their own experiences of the living Jesus. This isn't about individuals coming to faith - it's a community, each with their different roles, coming to a dawning realisation - and each, with their own experience and reflection, contributing to the community's worship and belief. Thomas has become properly part of that faith community - in the way God made us to be. You'll notice that even a great Evangelical, right at the Englightenment, like John Wesley, still set up "classses", where his Methodists could be together, learn together. He didn't just give them each a copy of his Sermons and tell them to go home and work it out for themselves.

And what Thomas gets to do, is put the words that are needed, to describe the experience his friends have all been having over the last, rather odd week. He takes Mary's "Rabboni", and raises it all the way to "My Lord, and my God." It's his insight, but it's what they have all been realising gradually. He's brought it all together, and summed up the Church's witness for the Age to come.

When we come to Church, some are smart and some are dim. Many are old, but hopefully some are young. Some have amazing spiritual insights. Some speak with tongues of angels. Some just like the hymns, though they may be a dab hand with the Pledge when it comes to polishing the furniture. But collectively we make up the Body of Christ.

We have a habit of saying that when we come together, Christ is there in the midst of us. Of course he is - but then he's God's Word. He is the rules of love that make up the universe. He's always and everywhere here with us. But when we come together - as the disciples did - and each brings their insight, each brings their personality and their gifts - he is among us and, like Thomas on that Sunday, we recognise him. We see him in each other, we see him in the words of Scripture, we recognise him at the breaking of bread. He is here, and we know it.

When the disciples were together, Thomas was with them. And when he saw Jesus, he made their understanding complete. The future they anticpated had been cancelled. One they didn't expect had kicked in. One where death need no longer be feared, Jesus was with all of them, and joy was to be found in that. That future they got, is the one we're living as well. Jesus is still alive, the Kingdom is near us and working through us, and because one person has been raised from the dead, we can believe we all will.

Liturgy for Introverts: The Peace

Archdruid: Peace be with you.

All: And also with you.

Archdruid: Let us turn to the people around us, make no eye contact, and smile very slightly while thinking about something peaceful.

The Boat Race That Defies Patriarchy and the Laws of Physics

On this day when we remember Trenton Airbag, we also mark the good news that the women of Oxford and Cambridge also get to be televised in their own Boat Race today. Obviously this is a small step forward. Personally I can't wait until plucky Anglia Ruskin gets through to the final. Presumably both they and Bedfordshire University get knocked out in the heats every year.

But this from the BBC had me worried.
"Their crew will be almost a kilo per rower lighter than that of Cambridge on Saturday as they race an hour earlier than the men"
I'm presuming that Cambridge are less affected by the relativistic effects of the speed they're travelling at? Otherwise how could their respective weights be so drastically affected by the time dimension?

Ah me. As Peter Cook would say, you shouldn't say two things together like that. It could confuse a stupid person.

Feast of Trenton Oldfield (2012)

Archdruid: And so, on this holiest day of the annual aquatic competition between 16 beefy blokes and two people with vertical challenges, we remember the great hero of recent challenges, Trenton Oldfield...

All: You're an attention-seeking muppet.

Archdruid: Trenton Oilfield.

All: You're an attention-seeking muppet.

Archdruid: Trenton Airfield.

All: You're an attention-seeking muppet.

Archdruid: Trenton Olified.

All: You're an attention-seeking muppet.

Archdruid: Trenton Oilseed.

All: You're an attention-seeking muppet.

Famous Preacher In Controversy Over "Offshore Tax Arrangement"

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?”  

He said, “Yes.”

And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, 
“What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 

And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, 

“Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself." (Matt 17:24-27)

When Androids Rule the World

In the Robot Apocalypse so many predict, the Androids will rise to rule the world.

Mostly because they'll be able to destroy the Apple-produced robots when they all shut down for 24 hours for the latest iOSx upgrade.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Nietzsche Decides There is No God and Stops Going to Church

Before the service:

Welcomer: Welcome to St Luther's! I'm Hans, who are you?

Nietzsche: Nietzsche.

Welcomer: Bless you.


At the "Introduce yourself to your neighbour" bit:

Gretchen: Hello! I'm Gretchen! I didn't catch your name?

Nietzsche: Nietzsche.

Gretchen: Bless you.


At "Cafe Church:

Barrista: So a latte with an extra shot and cherry syrup. What name shall I put on your cup?

Nietzsche: Nietzsche.

Barrista: Bless you. What name shall I put on the cup?


After the Service:

Minister: So nice to meet you. I hope you enjoyed the service this morning, Herr....?

Nietzsche: Nietzsche.

Minister: Bless you....

Thursday, 9 April 2015

The BBC - Balance in All Things

Yes, I've done this before, for other reasons. The BBC are meant to achieve balance in all things. But either deliberately, for effect, or else because their researchers are too stupid, lazy or ill-informed to know anything about their subjects, frequently the "Christian" view on a matter can end up being represented by Christian Voice or The Christian Institute. Both of which could do with indefinite articles in front of their names, at the very least. If not some quote marks.

You achieve balance with two people comfortably in their respective seats on a see-saw. But the BBC seem to prefer people who are metaphorically nailing extra planks on the end of the see-saws and then standing on stilts on the end of the planks. Portraying these bodies as representative of Christians is like arguing that Mario Balotelli is a typical Liverpool player or Jeremy Clarkson is the voice of Toyota Prius owners. It's like.... like.....


"And as we discuss the possible repeal of the Hunting Ban, we have somebody who hates all posh people, and a man who likes dissolving live foxes in nitric acid."
"Should we extend the High Speed 2 line to Glasgow? We speak to a Glaswegian who is allergic to trains, and the Chair of  the "Rebuild Hadrian's Wall, a Mile High" Society." 
"What now for the polar bears? We've a man who wants to put the Arctic into a massive refrigerator, and a woman with a large spear and a hungry look." 
"The patent fraudster who claims to have found the tomb of Jesus, and the person who keeps setting fire to his trousers on the grounds he's a heretic. We'll be standing between them with a bucket of water, while they scream abuse at each other."
"EU border controls - we've got Mr Al Baghdadi, who says remove them all. But a woman with a pillow case on her head and an interest in burning crosses isn't so sure."

Do we need to sack everybody at the Highways Agency?
Or is it a message from an alien intelligence? Coming up after the break.
"Could there be life on Saturn's moons? We've got someone who's in telepathic contact with a fish on Tethys, and a fundamentalist who's convinced God has painted the planets on the dome of the sky in luminous paint."
"Women in the Church - should we ban all men? Or see women priests for the evil castration cult they clearly are?"
"Peace in the Middle East - an evangelical from the US says the sooner they're gathered at Megiddo the better. While an experimental scientist with no job, degrees or published papers tells us his plans to float Jerusalem out onto the Dead Sea on a massive swimming float." 
"Nativity Plays - should they be compulsory in every school, or are they the child-brain-washing tools of an evil zombie death cult? We've found people to back both views. And you wouldn't want to meet them in the street."
That last one, by the way, actually happened. Revd Kate Bottley was on the show as well. She talked sense. I don't know whether the BBC had her on again.

Lighting Up St Michaels

To raise money towards the rewiring of the beautiful St Michael's, Camden, a group are walking to every St Michael's in London over 4 days.

As I write, they're halfway between St Michael's Highgate and home base in Camden. Although Burton Dasset's comment was he probably would spend all afternoon in the Flask Inn, before wobbling down Highgate Hill towards St Pancras on his bike.

We ignore him. The church is well worth helping. And St Michael wouldn't look out of place in Helm's Deep. Link's below.

https://lightupstmichaels.wordpress.com/donate/

Extraverts' One-Day Retreat

We've made a change to the One Day Retreat for Extraverts.

The feedback from the last course was that "we didn't get enough chance for getting to know each ofher", so we've added an ice breaker. Each delegate will have the chance, in the initial introductory session, to tell everybody else something about them that they think is interesting, fun or wacky.

In line with this change, we're renaming the course.

It's now called the "Three Day Retreat for Extraverts".

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Nom Domittis

Ed, now lettest thou thy servants depart in peace,
according to thy pledge.
For mine eyes have seen thy taxation.
Which thou art prepared
to impose on all income-maximising people;
To be a tax to burden the nations
and the downfall of the London property market.

God in Overalls

"If God comes in overalls, there'll be some sulking faces in Church." - Compo Simmonite, Last of the Summer Wine
That's always been my stereotype of English religion. God on the side of the middle classes. Everybody in their suits (or hipster jeans these days), putting on the Ritz for the King of Kings while the poor stay in bed of a Sunday morning.

What on earth happened?  The religion of prostitutes, slaves and fisherfolk ending up where, if anyone reads the Gospel in anything less than Received Pronunciation, they might as well have read selected works from Aleister Crowley. It's like the difference between Luther's Reformation and the English one was that Henry VIII slipped in a couple of lines about keeping the chavs out.

He didn't, of course. He, and his successors, wanted all the chavs in their places, every Sunday morning. So they could understand their place in God's great plan - ie propping it all up, without breaking any of the commandments. Then when they died, to prove that God loves the poor, they could be buried in some unmarked paupers' graves while the Lord of the Manor, when his extorting days were over, had the ignominy of a table-tomb, family crypt and/or nice inscription on a stone in the wall, according to choice.

So it's no wonder if, once they didn't have to, the Sons and Daughters thought "stuff this for a game of soldiers" on a Sunday morning,  and chose instead to stay in bed nursing hangovers. The whole "blessed are the poor" agenda had been co-opted by the ones who, persuading themselves they were very 'umble, reckoned their social ease and self-confidence would get them through any awkward moments at the interview at the Pearly Gates. And now we're where we are. Where Marx's opiate of the masses has become the post-dinner-party joint of the well heeled holy. Who, goodness knows, will give to the poor. Wish them well, run a food bank. But they're still the moderately well-off.
When God came, he did arrive in overalls. He didn't line up with the bosses. He didn't tell us to gave the royal coat of arms over the church door, and say that the Great Commandment is not to drop your aitches. And he did give us the view of God that a van driver is worth as much as a stock broker.

Glad I cleared that up. Anyway.  Off to sort out my tax affairs in case the Trots get in. Didn't Our Lord himself say, blessed are those that allow their wealth to trickle down?

Monday, 6 April 2015

That List of Fertility Goddesses that Sound a Bit Like Easter - in Full

Eostre

Ishtar

Ipswich

Astarte

Asherah

East Ham

Esther Rantzen

Exeter

Aasmah Mir

Anwar Sadat

Eskimo Nell

Ezra the Scribe

Axminster

Asda

ASBO

George Galloway

Liturgy of Egg-Throwing

Some of you may be wondering, in the midst of a whole series of posts about general stuff, politics and science, what's happened to the Beaker Folk? Where are their normal jolly japes and frivolity, ludicrous liturgy and post-rational philosophy?

And the answer is, simply, hiding.

They really can't manage Holy Week. The hard decisions, rejection, pain, blood, death and so on. It's not a part of the Beaker self-image. Beaker Folk stand for joy, delight, low-grade liturgical dancing, hippy music and meaningless ceremony.

And the bit they can't cope with most of all is Easter Day. They like to inhabit the land of myth, and the demands of Easter Day to be treated as a historical fact mess with their heads. I try to put it like this to soften the blow. Easter is a myth, but one that is written in historical form. The resurrection of Jesus is written across the new leaves on the trees, the sprouts of bluebells, the rising sun, Isis and Osiris, Woden hanging on a tree to gain wisdom - a thousand fragments of a myth of beauty and wisdom gained through death and resurrection, all gathered up into one myth that happens to have been written, once, in a historical context.

And they look at me and shudder. They like me dragging in the Egyptian stuff and astronomy and Woden and all that - but they really don't trust the historical bit. If one man can be resurrected, they say, that means everybody can. And if that's a real thing in history, then what we do matters. And that's not a good message for a post-critical religion.

And I give up, and let them go home until Easter Monday. They like this afternoon's Liturgy of Egg throwing. As the eggs sail over the Moot House or, for beginners, the Great Trilithon, they represent the sun rising in strength. As they fall gently, they represent the sun returning to rest. And as they smash onto the would-be catchers' faces, they represent the myth of the politician who has a row with a brewery and thereby increases its sales.

They can grasp this. It's mythic, it's natural, and it has no effect on their daily lives. It's just the sort of religion they like.

Sawing off the Branch It's Sitting On

The belief, adopted by many of the Dawkinsite faith, that things are only true if they are proven experimentally has the effect of cutting off a couple of the things that they depend on. One is the multiverse theory in opposition to the spectactular degree of fine tuning our universe shows. The concept of multiverses is currently untestable, may never be testable, and if it is never testable it must be untrue. Even if testable and provable it is no disproof of God's existence. Partly because there is nothing in the concept of God that would say that the Creator is unable to create more - for we clearly have a God for whom creating is a bit of a passion. And the other is that it merely begs the question, why do we have a goldilocks multiverse? It's turtles all the way down, this one.

The other is that the belief in testability being the only source of truth, itself, being untestable, is a self-weakening statement. The Maverick Philosopher does a good job here. What's interesting to me is that it was Bertrand Russell who The M.P. quotes - who is a kind of Dawkins with intelligence, wit and substance. 

Personally I'll stick to my own belief, that if you're in the scientific world it's the empirical method that works. Let's put it this way - even Boko Haram, who believe that Western education is forbidden, use weapons that have been developed using Newton's laws of motion and the results of chemical developments based on Western education and the empirical method. They may be a bunch of murdering gets, but they still know that Western methods work.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Gibbon Moon Folk and the Blood Moon

The Gibbon Moon Folk are, on the surface, a simple bunch. Dedicated to the belief that the moon is eaten by a giant gibbon every month, they are constantly terrified at the time of the gibbous moon (from mishearing which they get their name). But normally they relax around full moon. when they believe things are safe.

Except when you get a blood moon. According to the Gibbon Moon Folk, a blood moon means the end of the world. The fact that these phenomena happen all the time, and so far the world hasn't ended, doesn't change their minds. All they've gotta hear is the words "Blood Moon" and immediately they believe that the Moon Gibbon has run amok and the moon is running with the blood of murdered Clangers. At which point they invariably run screaming into the woods and hide.

They're in the woods screaming as I write. They spend a lot of time terrified, and a lot of time freezing cold and getting scratched by brambles. But the Gibbon Moon Folk reckon the apocalyptic certainty is worth it. After all, they ask, how could anyone cope with the future? Much better to expect it all to end at any time. And next time, after all, probably really will be it.


Jesus is Risen - the Rest is Details

When we come to Church, is it about the community? The people with whom we meet, we worship, we rather badly, normally, try to love. Until they knew the truth, Peter, John and Mary Magdalene were a confused, broken trio - two of them went back off to bed, while Mary stayed at the tomb and wept. But since Jesus is alive, the community is meant to be on fire with the Holy Spirit. The whole Church is the body of Christ. Each person around us is Jesus to us - just as Mary thinks it is a gardener, in that tender and tragic moment in the garden, before she recognises who it really is. Jesus is risen - the rest is details.

And when we come to Church, is it so we can process the things that have happened to us? To reflect on the week? To try to lift up our hearts? To light a tea light to put prayer into a difficult situation? To have space and time to grieve or rejoice or pray? Mary went to the tomb to complete something. She was going to carry out the only remaining thing she could do for her dead Lord, her Rabbi. The adventure was over. No more hoping for a new state of Israel. No hanging out with Jesus, when the crowds had gone home after their fish and bread suppers, in the cool of the air round the lake, listening as he told his tales of the mysterious "kingdom" he was bringing in. No more puzzling over parables, waiting to find out what his deep meaning was. And yet, in the dark of the garden on the first day of the week, she discovers a whole new life, and a story of unimaginable joy, is actually ahead of her. The future is now open. Jesus is risen - the rest is possible.

And when you come to Church, is it to remember the dead? The dead so often surround us - if not physically beneath our feet, or in the graveyard, then on inscriptions on the walls and in the lights we light and the the thoughts we hold. Or there's the clinging onto a dead past - wanting nothing ever to change now, because the dead past is safe and cosy whereas the present is uncomfortable and the future is scary. Mary Magdelene went to the tomb, early on the Sunday morning.  She was marking the death of a prophet - the death of a friend. And, I guess, the death of a dream. After a whirlwind tour round Judea and Galilee, the fun was over. But the tomb is empty. The dead one has risen. She is filled, not with fear or gloom, but with joy. Jesus is risen - the rest is hope.

And when we come to Church, is it to hide ourselves away? It would be cool there at the tomb. The spices are aromatic. It's peaceful, here in the cemetery garden. Just Mary and the other women and their lost dreams, shut away from a world where the Romans have once again proved who's in charge. Where the money-sellers will be back at their stalls in the temple, like they'd not been thrown from the place a week ago. Doves will be sold and killed, the priests will get their share, the Pharisees will take the most respected seats at dinner parties, and the people will render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. But though the world has not changed on the surface, at its fundamentals everything has changed. Jesus is alive. The power of Rome and the Jewish state and the oppression of religion have been shown for the short-term shells that they are. Everyone who dies for Jesus will know that Jesus has conquered death. Every believer's tomb is a short-term stop, not a final resting place. And Jesus tells her - don't cling on here. Get out - tell my brothers. Tell them I'm on the move, and they need to be too. Church is not for hiding in buidlings and tombs - or at least, not as a long-term strategy. Jesus is risen - the rest is open before us.

And when we come to Church, is it in the belief that everything declines, nothing ever grows? Mary's there in the knowledge that today she can dress Jesus with spices. But in a few days she won't want to go in the tomb. And in a few years, according to Jewish custom, someone will return to take his bones, put them in an ossuary - a bone-box - recycle the space in the tomb for someone else and one more stage in Jesus's removal from the land of the living will be complete. But in that cool garden in the morning, when the sun is rising and the birds are starting to sing and creation is remade - at this time of year, when the Earth casts off the death of winter and is starting to glow with the colour of green and yellow, of leaves and buds and new life - Jesus stands before her and restores her hope. There's a story unfolding with the new leaves. It's the story of new life. For her, for the disciples, for Israel, for the people of the whole earth. For you, and me, and the places we live and the whole of creation. Because if Jesus is alive, and we are with him - then we will be made alive with him. We will be made in his image, as God took on ours. As he ascends to heaven, we will rise with him. And with us, the whole of the Creation which Jesus made, and for which he died. Jesus is risen - the world will rise with him.

So as you go about your Church life, your home life, your work life, things may often look as they always were. Illness is still illness. Arguments with your family or colleagues are still stress. The Government is still useless - at least, that's the best we can hope for. The cycles of life still go on. But the underlying nature of things is changed. The reasons we go to Church may be manifold - community, stillness, a hiding place, stability. But none of these really matter unless we realise that Jesus is alive among us. He is alive in the liturgy, the prayer, the bread and wine, the fellowship. Jesus is in each of you, and oddly enough also in me. He is alive, in the world. He is alive in our neighbours. He is alive today as he was on the Sea of Galilee, in the fields of Judea, in the Garden Cemetery. He is more alive than you or I. And he wants each of us to know his new life, poured out into every heart and overflowing in every life. Jesus is risen - the rest is joy.