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Sunday, 31 May 2015

"Archbishop whose decade in charge saw Church of England lose 300 thousand worshippers warns Church within a generation of extinction."

"Archbishop whose decade in  charge saw Church of England lose 300 thousand worshippers warns Church within a generation  of extinction." [Daily Mail]  (For third time in 20 years.)


Supper's Ready Service

Such a week as I have had, Dear Readers!

Some of it is a little hazy. I am quite clear up to the point at the Towel Day ceremony, where I was unexpectedly eaten by little pink furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. The next thing I remember, the creatures were all in their turn unexpectedly being eaten by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, I escaped the Beast because, just before the creatures went for me, I had wrapped my towel round my head (let the reader understand). And then the Archdruid, in a jet black ship bearing only the words "Disaster Area" on the side, returned me to yesterday evening.

So far, so logical.

Eileen kindly dropped me off in time for the G2 Definitive Genesis concert at the Stables last night. In the past, I had thought this was our annual "date". If this tradition has continued, she has chosen a strange way to show it. Inasmuch as she went with the Hnaefs yesterday. Playing hard to get, I believe.

In the event I enjoyed the concert. And because Eileen had taken the precaution of stapling the ticket to my "Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" T-shirt I had none of the worry I have had in the past about losing it. Admittedly, she could have simply stapled it to the T-shirt hem, rather than straight through the T-shirt into my chest. But I like to think it was simply her enthusiasm.

I was fired with enthusiasm, as I often am, by G2's marvellous rendition of "Supper's Ready" (complete with occasional forgotten words, exactly as in the Earls Court production, 1977). "Supper's Ready" is a religiously-themed piece of music, a sweeping panorama from Peter Gabriel and his wife having a religious experience while sat in their living room (watching Songs of Praise, I expect,as most people did in 1972), through to the merger of earth and heaven as the children of God enter the new Jerusalem. And so at this evening's "spontaneous casual worship" session this evening, when it came to my time, I remarked that I had casually, and spontaneously, produced a little surprise.

All 23 minutes of the "Foxtrot" version of "Supper's Ready", played by the Beaker Quire on three ocarinas and a couple of ukuleles, while I sang vocals. A fully immersive worship experience, including happy fish, bundles of late narcissi, dry ice, a heavenly chorus of choristers dressed as angels, a procession of seven men across the lawn, and the New Jerusalem (made up from hundreds of Lilliput Lane porcelain cottages on an eight-foot circular podium, lowered from the ceiling by highly-trained, gorgeous geese).

Eileen said thank you very much, but she had really been thinking of a short word of inspiration or a Bible verse. She has also suggested that Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, whom I met on Towel Day and who insulted me just before the encounter with the creatures from Alpha Centauri, got his name after Douglas Adams had listened to "The Knife" off Genesis Live.

Honestly, that woman has no respect for anything sacred.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Holy, Holy, Holy


"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’" (Isaiah 6:1-8)


King Uzziah was, by most standards, one of the best kings of Judah - and certainly better than the ones in the kingdom of Israel, next door. He was no Prince Charles - took the throne at the age of 16, ruled a very long time. He beat up the Philistines, refortified Jerusalem - was generally a success. But he had a flaw.

Uzziah went into the temple and tried to burn incense himself there. Now, the king - however important he thought he was - wasn't allowed to burn incense in the temple. That was the priests' job. The king's job - anointed as he was - was to protect the kingdom, and let it prosper. The priests' job was to run the Temple.

According to the books of Chronicles, Uzziah got his comeuppance for his cheek. He was inflicted with leprosy for the rest of his life, and when he died, because of his leprosy, he was buried separately from the other kings of Judah - so as not to contaminate them with his uncleanness.

And that's why I think it's important that Isaiah gets his vision "in the year that King Uzziah died". The king had tried to raise himself up too high - had challenged the rules of God - and had paid. And the year a king dies is a bit, for the state of Judah, like an election year. Before a General Election, if the result looks close, the Stock Market falls. Afterwards, as the Government is formed, we wonder whether they're actually going to do the things they said. Or, if it's a new party in power, will they promptly stick up taxes, saying they hadn't realised how bad things were? So in Judah - as the king declines - will he succumb to insanity? Will his weakness cause a wave of assassinations of those who might want to push on the process? Will one of his sons stage a coup? When he dies - who is the new king? What are his policies? Will he align with Aram, with Assyria, with Egypt? The state is uncertain. But Isaiah gets to see - not the majesty of a king who ruled all the way to Egypt - but the glory of the King of Kings. The passing glory of the tainted king is contrasted with the eternal glory of the Lord.

There's no uncertainty here. When he sees the Lord in the temple, Isaiah knows exactly who it is. And he cries out something that - in our world where we sometimes see God as cuddly, as endlessly indulgent to us, may seem a bit extreme. But it's something that, if you've just seen the King of Kings, so great that just the hem of his robe fills the temple with glory, and you've seen terrifying angel after terrifying angel surrounding him, makes perfect sense:

 ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts"

This passage is a source of that hymn which is sung on average every couple of hours, I believe, at every theological college, at licensings of Local Preachers and Readers and all sorts of church ministers: "I the Lord of Sea and Sky". Its chorus is rendered by my friend, Archimandrite Simon, "Here I am Lord - Look at me, Lord!"

It can have that feeling to it. The Lord, overcome by the worries of the Lord - hearing his people's cry, feeling their pain, realises that he is not up to the job. In desperation, he turns to the sad-eyed cherubim who were among the first born of creation, who watched in wonder as he made them and then the whole physical world from nothing. The one who lifted the Pleiades into the sky and weaves the rainbow looks at the angels amd said, this is too big a job for me. Whom shall I send? And the response from a tweedy little bloke or a fresh-faced young woman comes back, "Here I am, Lord! Is it I, Lord?" And God turns and says, "Roger!" Or, as it may be, "Kylie! Thank goodness you are here! We'd be lost without you!"

No. If you think God has no other hands than yours, that's not true. God made heaven of earth from nothing. God is incredibly potent. I don't believe God works in ways that are blatantly miraculous very often, but then if you created the laws of physics I don't think that you necessarily need to. And if the God who made the skies offers an invitation to you to join in the great mission on Earth then it's the trembling of Isaiah, not the easy self-confidence of the English middle classes, that you need.


The thing some of us can we can forget is that God doesn't fundamentally need us at all. There was a time before this world was created. It wasn't actually a time, and in a way it wasn't "before" - because both time and the concept of "before" only really exist in our temporal universe. But never mind. Let's push on. I am a woman of unclean lips and I can't express these things very well. But in the eternal Land of the Trinity, God is complete in Godself - Father, Son and Spirit being in a state of love given, received and shared.

And God doesn't create us to worship because God needs that. God isn't a 50s starlet, buying a poodle so she can have it sprayed pink and it can adore her. God creates out of the wonder of God's creative nature, so God's love can be shared even further - and reciprocated, sure. The Trinity, not so much closed in on itself as the sort of tight geometrical shapes we like to draw at Trinity, is open to created beings. When we fall, the Son comes hunting for us, opening God up to the experience of the world as a human being - sharing our world and taking out nature back to the heart of heaven. When the Son returns, the Spirit falls, pouring out new life onto the Church, ever restless, always seeking, always trying to bring women and men to God.

But when the One that makes all things is revelaled, God's glory is such that even seraphim have to hide their eyes so as not to see God's face. And if that's true for those sinless sons and daughters of heaven, when a scruffy Jewish bloke called Isaiah sees his vision, he does the right thing. He howls out a prayer, first up, of confession. "I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a nation of unclean lips."

Funny how it's his mouth he refers to when talking about his sin. He knows, as James reminds us centuries later, that so often it's what we say that causes the trouble. The arrogant talk, the hateful words, the spite, the lying - everything else can come after that source of all troubles.

And the Ruler of the Ages does something remarkable - makes Isaiah clean, puts a red-hot coal on his lips - so Isaiah can speak God's message.

So here we are. If you are going to serve God - as pastor or guide leader, as minister or admin assistant, as Archdeacon or Superintendent or whatever - you need to start with the knowledge that you're being called as servant by the Lord of Hosts. This isn't an act of grovelling - it is recognising your position. Like Garth and Wayne confronted with Aerosmith, you are not worthy. That's the place to be. It's also the place to go on from.

Isaiah's "here I am, send me" did not come out of a conviction of his own worth, out of any idea that he was just the sort of person God would be grateful for. It came, in fear and trembling, out of the knowledge that God was awesome and he was sinful. But that God made him clean to do what God commanded.

So we approach the throne of God in worship, in our lives, in service - knowing that we're never able to claim God's favour through our own natures. But confident that the One who calls us - though terrifying - is loving, giving and true.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Baptising All Religions

A Mirror article with so many odds and ends you don't know where to start.... with the Revd Tim Hayes of St John's Dukinfield cast in the role of Evil Vicar.

"Evil vicar" from Anglican Memes.

In apparently refusing to baptise a child because his parents aren't married (the child's,  not the vicar's), Tim Hayes is quoted as saying:
“I believe marriage is God’s way... [but] it’s not so much about what I think, it’s about what Jesus thinks.”
Well, assuming Revd Tim isn't being misquoted (possibly a dodgy assumption given the rest of the article) what Jesus thinks is "allow the little children to come to me, for to such as them belongs the Kingdom of God." While the Church of England rules are pretty clear, saying that the incumbent has a responsibility to baptise children from the parish, and can't make up the rules to suit his/her personal theology.

A baptism isn't about the parents, isn't about the school, isn't about the vicar's views of modern morality. Little Roman has as much right to God's grace as the child of parents who both married as virgins and go to church twice a day.

I'm being a bit cagy here, as the mother's comments regarding getting Roman into the right school, quoted straight, seem unbelievable.
"It doesn’t matter what religion you are, but they do require you to be baptised.”
Well, I say, what, what? Are there really schools in Manchester where you can get in if you're a Muslim or a Zoroastrian, but only if you are baptised? Has anyone investigated this?  Did the Mirror interview the schools concerned? Or has it just taken the word of an apparently confused mother, who really meant "denomination"?

Obviously, the latter. Cross-checking with the schools concerned would have been journalism.

Edit: A spokesperson for the Diocese of Chester said (Daily Mail link):
'At no point has he refused to baptise the child. The Church of England believes that the best place for a child grow is within marriage.
'The vicar would be happy to help the couple be married and then to baptise their child at no financial cost to them – so that the best outcome can be achieved.
'We hope the family will receive this offer warmly, but if they would rather not be married, then St John’s church, Dukinfield, will still be happy to offer them a service of thanksgiving.'
Which I read as "At no point has he refused to baptise the child. But if the parents continue not to accept the illegal conditions he has placed on the child's baptism, he will not baptise the child". 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Definitely Not My Fault

I would like to respond to people calling for me to step down as Archdruid, in the light of the arrest of a number of druids on accusations of "cash for tea lights".

Yes, it is very easy for people to point fingers. Just because I run the organisation, and have personal management responsibility for all the people arrested, people are somehow suggesting that I should have some idea of the level of wrongdoing.

I would like to stress that, in a long line of management and politicians the world over, merely being in charge and controlling everything that happens does not mean that I had any involvement with the wrongdoings in the Beaker Folk - an organisation which I have barely heard of. And based on the way, yesterday, that I forgot the name of the popular musical that contains "You'll never walk alone" while watching "Pointless" - I am almost certainly senile. There's no way I should be held to account for anything. Though I'm sure I'll be fine to carry on running the organisation.

The Fall of Institutions

Oh, my heart went out to Matthew Parris. The Church has let him down, apparently. It should be dogmatically against Matthew Parris. Sorry, sorry. Against same-sex marriage. And instead, even the local representatives of the Catholic church have been more conciliatory than he expected. I think he's over-egged the Bible though. I'm pretty sure that it doesn't mention the Children of Israel dancing nudely round the golden calf in the desert. That's either a product of Matthew's imagination, or of some film he's seen, which he took to be Gospel. Well, Pentateuch, at any rate.

Maybe the Church is learning not to be an Institution anymore. The Institutions are in decline. Not just the Church. Most institutions. Political party membership is dreadfully low. The Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes are in freefall.

When an institution gets knocked back, it has to reconsider what its core beliefs are, and what are just accretions. The Labour Party will no doubt one again be going through 10 years of debating whether its core beliefs are the nationalisation of the coal mines, or trying to be a nicer party in a post-socialist world. Goodness knows what the result will be, but it won't be pretty. In the Church, as Christendom totters and falls - what matters? Is it the institution itself, is it pretty Church buildings, or is it the original core? Well, we've discovered time and again that it shouldn't be the institution itself. Not just the Churches but the BBC, the authorities that run care homes, the police and - shortly - the politicians have got to face that it's not the institution that needs protecting, it's the vulnerable. The Church of England could probably manage another 100 years persuading people that it's the buildings that are the important thing, but letting them all fall down will become increasingly attractive as people realise they're paying through the nose to just look at lumps of stone. And just being Church to take it out on people of other sexual orientations seems a bit of overkill. Simple bigotry can do that, without all the trouble of singing hymns and having Area Meetings.

You hope, when you come down to it, that as institutions fall we come down to the core. Why did the disciples suddenly burst out and become a Church, one sunny Pentecost morning? And the answer seems to be - because Jesus was alive, and alive in their hearts. That Jesus was welcoming, loving, prepared to deal with anyone. That he took the Old Testament law and boiled it down to two specifics - love  God, and love your neighbour.

So I know I'm being unfair. I know I'm being inconsiderate. I know I'm a right judgemental so-and-so in this. But I'm pleased that Ireland voted for same-sex marriage. I can't condemn it, just because Matthew Parris wants me to. It may be harsh, it may be putting too heavy a burden on Matthew Parris's back for him to carry. But I think he's fine as he is.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Tony War Steps Down as Middle East Peace Envoy

There was shock right across the Plain of Megiddo today as Tony War stood down as Middle East Peace Envoy.

"It's been a tricky decision," said the elder statesman, "but I've taken the peace process in the Middle East as far as I can. Frankly, there was very little need for a peace process in the Middle East when I originally got involved in Assyria, but now, largely thanks to my efforts, the peace process is a lot more needed than it's ever been."

As War stands down as part of the so-called " Middle East Quartet", he emphasised that the job was in good hands.

"Oh yes. Death and Famine are already doing great work from Syria to Iraq. And Pestilence will be having a field day one winter sets in again. No if you'll excuse me, I've got to go and count my money. Who says you can't serve God and Mammon?"


A Hollowed-Out Classic - Far from the Madding Crowd

Whinges

I'll start with the whinges, shall I?

Dorset, England is not 200 miles outside London, as the introduction tells us. Nor, in the context of Hardy's Wessex, is it "Dorset". It just looks and smells like it.

And in the 19th Century, "Crime of Passion" was not a legal defence against hanging. The one that was, was Insanity. Which, especially if you are showing signs of severe mental distress, could plausibly be proven in some cases. I'll say no more. Spoilers.

Cast

Not bad. Carey Mulligan gets nearly everything right about Bathsheba. Strong - actually stronger than in the book - feisty, veering between fierceness, wildness, tenderness and unfairness. Girlish, at times. But of course, like most Jane Austen heroines, we have a tendency to forget just how young Hardy's are. Bathsheba storms on the scene aged roughly twenty, not nearly thirty. And that, when she starts sacking bailiffs and running farms on her own, makes a difference, and would make a cinematic differnce. Enough. I've harped on too much. Mulligan plays everything well.

Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak - tall, stolid, calm, dependable. Everything Oak should be in that respect. His silences speak volumes. His facial expressions great. His accent - just where in Wessex did Hardy locate Flanders? I mean, Wessex was the last place in England to preserve the "d" in the word "three", long after those of us in the Danelaw took to pronouncing our "th"s. So there's a dialectal link there. But Oak is immutable, solid, strong as a.... hang on, I'll think of a simile. He's part of the Wessex landscape. He should speak yokel, not sound like Jan Molby did after 10 years in Liverpool.

Michael Sheen as Boldwood - excellent. Treading the fine line between love, dignity, and breakdown. Really good, understated acting. He makes Boldwood look rather more attractive than Hardy paints, which makes the Valentine joke just a little less ironic.

And I really liked Tom Sturridge's playing of Troy. I liked the brittleness of his bravado, the sense that, under the charming abuser, he was actually a weak, useless flake.

Rush

Sadly, that's all the cast you can really talk about. The rush to pack the story into two hours meant we lost the light and shade, fun and yokel strangeness of Hardy's book. In jumping from set-piece to set-piece where Gabriel Oak, Action Man, saves the day again and again, we lose the things that make early Hardy so much more than a retailer of cow-pat melodrama. Joseph Poorgrass isn't dim enough. Jan Coggan - firm friend of Oak, provider of a room and a listening ear - gets barely a mention. Susan Tall, an absolutely cracking minor character in the original, not even mentioned - I think I may have heard her useless husband, Laban, mentioned at some point. Fanny Robin is so beautiful, so tragic and yet the poignancy of her life is sketched in so briefly. Without a bit more back story, the way Bathsheba takes the coffin into her house makes little sense.

The rush means we lose scenes that are important as well. The early scene where Bathsheba saves Gabriel's life, gone. The drunkenness in the tavern at Roy Town, where Joseph is declared unfit to drive due to a "multiplying eye". The circus scenes. And two scenes in particular. That weird, tragic event where Troy is overcome by the wreckage the gurgoyle has made to Fanny's grave - shedding light on the depths of passion Troy has for Fanny, and giving him some sympathy and more support for his heading out to sea sans culottes, as it were. And then the telling moment when Oak save's Bathsheba's harvest from the storm, and Oak discovers that Boldwood couldn't be bothered to protect his own. Key clues, chucked away for brevity.

A hollowed-out classic

So we have a hollowed-out classic. A love parallelogram sketched in, in front of some glorious scenery. It was like watching a filmed version not of a Hardy novel, but of the Hardy Plot Generator you can find on the full-screen version of this site. Smashing acting, lovely scenery, but no soul. I don't think it's unfair to judge a film on the book it's based on. We can make allowances for brevity, we know things have to be cut and rearranged. But to lose story and meaning for no purpose let me take the example of the singing at the Harvest Supper. In the original, Oak is asked to play flute while Bathsheba and Boldwood sing their duet. It's a symbolic moment - they are apparently to be married, while he is to play the supporting role he always does. But the song itself is "On the Banks of Allan Water". The story of a young woman who is stolen away by a soldier. It's prophetic. The mashup of "Seeds of Love" which is sung in the film, is at best rueful. What was the point?

Enough. If you like costume dramas and flying sheep, nice scenery and good acting, this is the sort of thing you'll like. It'll be on Sky Movies soon. I'm off to read both volumes of The Dynasts. That'll teach me to moan about things being rushed.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden

It was Stephen Fry, I believe, many years ago, who criticised the sorts of people who quote authors' characters and then tag them with the authors themselves. The example he gave was the sort of person who would say "Neither a borrower nor a lender be - Shakespeare!" and forget that the person who says it, Polonius, is an idiot.

And on this most holy of Towel Days, I remember this quote from Douglas Adams:
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"
This is often quoted as a kind of counter to those of us who are deeply committed to both science and faith. I think there are three things wrong with this:

1. Wouldn't it be great if there were fairies at the bottom of the garden? It wouldn't diminish the garden's beauty one jot.

2. These words aren't directly Adams's views (though they may reflect them). If you take everything that is thought or done in Douglas Adams's works as being directly his thoughts, you would also think that stealing space ships is a good idea, going across zebra crossings is dangerous, you should stick fish in your ear and that nobody should ever talk to you about life.

3. They're actually attributed, as thoughts, to Ford Prefect, in response to Zaphod's belief that he has found the lost planet of Magrathea. In context they're funny, quite profound, and absolutely right - up to the point that they realise Zaphod has, in fact, discovered the lost planet of Magrathea. After that point, Ford is merely a cynic who was proven wrong. Turns out, in the context of the book, that the bottom of the garden was exactly  the place that the fairies were.

Towel Day

Archdruid: Does anyone know where Marvin is?

All: He's in the car park.

Archdruid: What's he doing in the car park?

All: Parking cars. What else does one do it in a car park?

Marvin: I don't know. Brain the size of a planet. And they won't let me in the Church of England "Talent Pool" because I'm "too Catholic." Just because I'm  shiny and silver. That, and the way the depression means I don't necessarily believe that the way forward for the church is to invest in leadership. After all, if you want leaders - here's some leaders. Captain Scott was a leader, and look what happened to him and his followers. Froze to death in a lonely Antarctic landscape. Columbus was a leader, and his leadership led to the enslavement and death of entire innocent races.John Franklin's men would follow him to the end of the earth. All died tragically somewhere in North America.  Call that leadership? Because I don't. I'm not getting you down, am I?

Archdruid: Not at all, Marvin. Is there anyone more cheerful joining our liturgy?

Zaphod Beeblebrox: Archdruid! Hi! Now, you don't mind if I miss out that "confession" bit do you? Only I'm such a hoppy frood that I don't have anything to confess to and if I did I would only be saying sorry to myself....

Zaphod Beeblebrox III: .....and to me. If you'd not been fooling around with that contraceptive and time machine....

Zaphod Beeblebrox: Grandad! Shhh! There may be Catholics reading!

Archdruid: Can I refer you to the birth rate in Italy to suggest that may not be a problem? OK, Burton. Rap me the God-word, coin-captain!

Burton: The what, Eileen?

Archdruid: Read the Scripture. Gee, you accountants are so un-hip it's a wonder your bums don't fall off.

Burton: Our what, Eileen?

Voice of the Book:  In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Archdruid: Precisely. The creation of the Universe was a bad move. Let's face it, we're born, we grow, we struggle to build fairer societies. We'd allow that to give us hope for the future of all lifekind.

All: Except of course we know it hasn't got one.

Archdruid: Exactly. And the fear is that when we die, instead of going to heaven, we end up at Milliways...

All: Not so much an after-life, more a sort of apres-vie.

Burton: Does anyone know what happens if I press this button?

A bowl of petunias and a sperm whale materialise and plummet to earth.

Archdruid: Oh well. That's another piece of creative liturgy that didn't quite work.

Hnaef: Archdruid, there's an infinite number of monkeys out here want to talk to you about a Giles Fraser piece they've just knocked up for the Guardian.

Archdruid: You know, it's at times like this that I really wish I had listened to what my mother had told me when I was young.

Ford: Why, what did she say?

Archdruid: I don't know, I didn't listen.

Arthur: Does anyone know where I can get a cup of tea?

Archdruid: You're in an English act of worship. You can get one at the end, in a green Beryl cup, just like anyone else. OK, everybody. Wave your towels in the air, to mark the wondrous genius of Douglas Adams.

Burton accidentally wraps the towel round his head, falls into the Total Perspective Vortex, and is tragically eaten by little pink creatures from Alpha Centauri.

Charlii: I thought you said that this liturgy was foolproof?

Archdruid: That's the trouble with fools. They are so ingenious.

Hymn Number 42.

Archdruid: Go into the world, don't try to disprove God's existence, and be careful on zebra crossings.

God: WE APOLOGISE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.

England is Dying

I have just seen a dog bursting 100 balloons live on national television.

The Roman legions leaving Britain must have felt a bit like this.

Extraversion Conversion Therapy

It's an odd thing. Every now and then, whether we like it or not, an extravert (or extrovert, for those who prefer the wrong spelling) sneaks into the Beaker Community.

Obviously, this can cause problems. They'll start going round asking how people are. They'll organise group trips to the pub, when traditionally the Beaker Folk like to sneak up there after Filling Up of Beakers feeling a little bit guilty. I'm not saying they're actually a threat to the community - after all, Hnaef and Young Keith are both suspected of extraversion, and yet manage to survive in the wild without minders. Their wives keep a close eye on them, though.

And we are a loving community and we want all to thrive - to allow a thousand flowers to bloom. A thousand, very similar, flowers. Wallflowers, ideally.

So we have done a limited experiment - for we are scientific as well as spiritual and deeply, deeply committed to long walks far away from other people - to see if we can cure extraverts. Obviously, we're not going to be beating them with sticks. We're not primitive, you know. Oh no. That's for completely different illnesses.

So it was a simple programme. We got five or six Beaker Folk to leap on a suspected extravert, stick a bag on their heads and then hold them down. I preached a sermon directly at them for 20 minutes on "Outgoing is evil. Jesus wants you to be more introspective." And then we chanted prayers for an hour or two to drive out the extraversion.

Sadly, it's not been a success.

In fact, quite a lot of them seemed to like the attention.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

God's Engagement Ring

It was one of the comic Guide to the Church type books of the late 80s on which this blog is so much dependent (in fact we've probably recycled every single thing to do during a boring sermon over the years). And it gave a definition that I've always loved.

"The Holy Spirit: God's engagement ring"

My cousin Chas had a habit of getting engaged. He couldn't kick the habit. He was a young man of deep emotions. He was constantly getting engaged to be married, and then it would all break up And then a few months later he was engaged again. It wasn't Chazzer we felt sorry for, on his constant emotional roller-coaster. It was his endless succession of fiancees. All lovely girls. And the later ones in the series must have wondered, at their one of the many engagement parties to which our family were invited, why we weren't buying them presents. It was simple. If Chas wanted us to give him another toaster as an engagement present, he was going to have to give a few back first.

That's the point about engagements - they are provisional. They don't give next-of-kin rights. They don't imply sharing worldly goods or debts. They are not the full thing. It used to be the custom in Dorset, according to Thomas Hardy, that young engaged couples would sleep together before marriage but, once a young bundle of joy was on the way, they would marry. If after a while no such blessing was apparent, they could be free to go off and get engaged again, no questions asked.

But an engagement ring is a promise. It says at some point - which may or may not be determined at the moment - we will marry. And the Holy Spirit is that promise in Ephesians 1: 
"In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit who is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory."
So the Holy Spirit is the promise of good things to come, the engagement ring that promises a future wedding, the down-payment on eternity. And she arrives at Pentecost.

In the Hebrew then Jewish calendar, Pentecost was a harvest festival. It was called the Feast of Weeks, because it was  7 weeks after Passover - but it was also called First Fruits.  It was the start of the wheat harvest - and in the Temple, an offering of two loaves was made, and other fruits would be brought to the Temple as an offering.

And when the Spirit falls on the people at Pentecost, it's about a first. They're the first fruit of the new world order that God is creating. They receive that first promise of eternal life - the Holy Spirit. They have God's Spirit - the Spirit who is with Father and Son in heaven forever - fall upon them. The Spirit who is the Love of God personified - or if you prefer, the Spirit from whom all love proceeds - falls on men and women and fills them with the love and praise of God, to such an extent and in such a way that their praise transcends their own languages and spills out into all the languages of the earth.

See, the thing about knowing something as incredible as that Jesus died for us, and rose again - is that you can't keep it to yourself. And the thing about something as amazing as the Holy Spirit deciding to take up residence - is that you can't stop talking about this, and talking about it with power. And before anyone knows where they are, there's hundreds and soon thousands of people all believing that Jesus is alive, and having the proof because God's Holy Spirit is living in their hearts. And the disciples - those firstfruits - become the start of something that spreads across the world, as people have joy in their hearts and power in their souls. Power from God's living Spirit. Pentecost is all about beginnings - that's why some call it the Church's birthday.

And Pentecost is about saying that, if you let the Spirit take control - if you're wanting to be with God, and you're listening to God, and you give God the chance to do what God wants, instead of clinging onto what you like - then the Spirit will take you on a journey. Washed the disciples across half the world, in their different directions.

But if you want to cling onto the way things are - if the disciples had gone back off fishing again, the Church would have been a few people, chatting about how great Jesus had been, until they all died. It's easy to cling onto how things are, decide we love the things we know. A church is a history store. There's memorials, there's memories. We remember what happened in Archdruid Angela's day (well, we say we do - as I've previously established, there was no such person). And maybe things were better when the church was full and there were 2,000 children in Little Pebbles and people far away across the fields used to fall to their knees when they heard the tolling of the iron bell. Maybe on Sundays in England the swings in the park were chained up and everybody spoke in whispers in the street and wore their best things. Maybe it was better in Ireland when the Catholic Church could run the joint and the government had to grovel to the bishops. Maybe that all happened. Maybe it was all true. It's nice, maybe, and it's encouraging, maybe but no matter how hard we cling to it it's not coming back. And if we cling to it then nothing new is going to happen either.

An engagement ring is something that pulls us forwards. It always points us to the future. An engaged couple will spend a lot of time talking about how they met, their shared stories, they'll try to tease out from each other when they first noticed the other, when they first fell in love. But if they never spoke about their wedding day, you'd think something was pretty wrong, wouldn't you?

And so with the Church. We study the Bible - that's the story of how the Church fell in love with God. It's the story of God's love for the Church. And we revere our tradition - the people who went before us, from the prophets and apostles all the way through to Oscar Romero. And it's lovely to be engaged. You can't get a better engagement ring that the Holy Spirit. She's God at work, in us, today. And we can receive the body and blood of Jesus - and we're united to him.

But it's still only an engagement. There's a world we're being called to, to which these are clues and foretastes. In the world to come, we won't know the Spirit in fits and starts - we won't be filled with him according to how full of other stuff we are already. We'll drink from the river that heals the nations. And the presence of Jesus won't be masked as bread and wine, and the body of Christ won't be a thing we try - with the Spirit's help - to be. Instead we'll know God as we are known. And we will throw the glories we piled up for ourselves on earth at his feet and know that the Lamb of God is with us, and among us, and we will be in his presence forever.
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies."
That's where we are now, in the world as it is, in our lives as they are. If we have received the Spirit of God, we want more. We will pray to God for more of his presence, pray to be made more like Jesus. We will pray to be Jesus to those who don't know him so that, through us, they may know him. We will not face in on ourselves, cling to pasts that no longer exist, cling to the small experience of God that we have and try to hold that tight in our hands so it doesn't get away. We won't try to bottle up the Spirit  like we've blown air into a balloon and tie the knot tight, knowing that when the air has dissipated out through the rubber the balloon is useless.

Instead, we shall groan with the creation. We shall have a vision of what is to come - and a vision of how we can bring it into being in this world. The Spirit is not a Spirit of decay or of stasis - she is a power of forward movement and new life. Constantly, if we give the Spirit the chance, working new things in us, and through us into others.

The Spirit is God's engagement ring. One day, that engagement will be a marriage. One day.

Non-heretical Trinity Sermon Planning

I've just read Mandii's proposed sermon for Pentecost. 

Eschewing any attempts to discuss sanctification, or consider the rival attractions of Pentecostalism and Dispensationalism, she's preaching on the topic "Pamphylia is a long word, isn't it?"

On this basis, I'm giving her the gig for next Sunday as well. She'll be going with "Perichoresis is another long word."

I'm thinking this could be the least heretical couple of weeks we've ever had.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Nativity of Morrissey

Other religions have their saints, and so do we. We prefer people from the modern era, on the grounds that most of our target audience - sorry, mission field -  have no real grasp of history. Morrissey is about as near to a martyr as you can get, at any rate. Even if he is self-appointed.


Hi-viz colour: Grey

Lamentation

Leader:        Panic on the streets of London. Panic on the streets of Birmingham.

All:        I was looking for a job and then I found a job, and heaven knows I'm miserable now.

Confession

All: Sweetness, I was only joking when I said by rights you should be bludgeoned in your bed.

Archdruid: The devil will find work for idle hands to do

All: I stole and I lied, and why? because you asked me to

Absolution

Leader:        William, it was really nothing.

Realisation that it's the world that is wrong, and not us, all along

All: You shut your mouth how can you say
I go about things the wrong way
I am human and I need to be loved
just like everybody else does

Affirmation of vague belief

Oh, there is a light and it never goes out
There is a light and it never goes out
There is a light and it never goes out
There is a light and it never goes out
There is a light and it never goes out
There is a light and it never goes out
There is a light and it never goes out
There is a light and it never goes out

There is a light and it never goes out

Primal-scream-like anger catharsis ritual

Archdruid:    Hang the D.J.

All:        Hang the D.J.

Archdruid:    Hang the D.J.

All:        Hang the D.J.

Archdruid:    Hang the D.J. Hang the D.J. Hang the DJ.

All:        Hang the D.J.


Liturgy of healing for a post-modern, liberal congregation

Those Requiring healing: I'm too tired, I'm so very tired and I'm feeling very sick and ill today

Archdruid: Does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body? I don't know.

Those Requiring healing:       Am I still ill?

Prayers of Intercession

All: So please please please let me, let me, let me
let me get what I want 
For once in my life let me get what I want
Lord knows it would be the first time
Lord knows it would be the first time. 

Dismissal

Archdruid: So you go, and you stand on your own and you leave on your own
and you go home, and you cry and you want to die.



Thursday, 21 May 2015

Those Church Pools in Full

Talent Pool: Where bright, young, ambitious things get to learn Leisure centre Management and Swimming in Officially-Recognised Styles.

Learner's Pool: Where people are put out of fear they'll struggle in the Deep End.

Baptismal Pool: Training scheme for high-flying Mennonites

8-ball Pool: Popular alternative to Evensong. But then, what isn't?

Dead Pool: Formerly known as the Communion of Saints.

Muddy Pool: Retraining ministers as blues singers

Pool of Blood: Secretive cult within the Talent Pool, dedicated to the elimination of liberals and heretics.

Liverpool: Place with a cathedral to spare.

Poole Harbour: Good place to encourage tithing.

Pool Resources: Hi-tech library for members of the Talent Pool.

Car Pool: Motor maintenance classes for low flying clergy scheduled for multi church jobs in large, rural patches.

Football Pool: Last resort of cash-strapped congregation that thinks the Lottery is a bit new-fangled.

Splash Pool: When mermaids are allowed to be ordained, this will be their training scheme.

Shelf Assurance and the Brokenness of Stuff

It's only when you sit back and look that you realise how things gradually change.

In this case, in the location of breakables as Celestine has progressed from crawling, to cruising furniture, to walking. Everything is now three foot off the ground.

This is how humans are. No matter how little, we break everything we can get our hands on. At which point there's two choices - let it happen and accept that freedom of will brings brokenness with it, which has to be lived with - or else put stuff up on the shelf.

We can see what God lets us break - the earth, each other, ourselves.

I wonder what he's put up out of our reach?

Here Comes Santa Moz

Oh, the excitement of Morrissey Eve!

On Morrissey Eve all the little Beaker Folk sit up wondering if "Santa Moz" is going to visit. On Ed Balls Day, they'll have written their list of crippling teenage emotional angst, in the form of bad poetry, onto the dried fig leaves of last summer. They use a special ink made from the ashes of Northern industrial heritage mixed in their own tears.

When they burn the fig leaves, to send them to Mozza, the smoke carries such melancholy into the atmosphere that the birds sulk and refuse to build nests for weeks after. Then on the night itself, all the Beaker Folk leave out lamb chops and bags of mince to ensure Morrissey isn't tempted to come down the chimney.

Round about midnight, there's a peal of a bell and an urban decay smell. And then little Johnny Marr pops in to tell us that Morrissey isn't really feeling up to it this year. But through the night, we hear a chiming guitar on the breeze. We try to drown it out by playing "Bat out of Hell" really loudly, but that just gets on my nerves. Honestly, Meat is murder.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Transcendental Mediation

Tricky one there at our "looking disagreement in the face" evening.

I was trying to mediate between Stacey and Milton. A real problem between the two of them. She thinks he's a pig-headed, thick-skinned numbskull. While he thinks she's over-sensitive, fussy and needy.

Well, I tried to help build a bridge. Create some common ground. I told them that I thought, on balance, they were both right.

They found some common ground, at any rate. They both hate me now. I feel that, in a very real sense, we've had a real leap forward.

Welcome to Vegetaria

I've decided we're going to branch out into an authentic Vegetarian menu within the dining hall.

People often talk about food from the country of Vegetaria, but it's not widely realised just how diverse its cuisine is. This is because the Vegetarian food in this country has mostly been brought over by expats from one particular part of the country. In the twin provinces of Ovo and Lacto, the soil is conducive only to the production of red peppers, goat's cheese and the spectacular Broccoli Quiche trees. Hence the Vegetarian food we see is quite limited, considering the great richness of the nation as a whole.

There are also people from the Indian Vegetarian community who have come over to England, but mostly these do not associate with other Vegetarians.

Vegetaria is mostly land-locked, but does technically include the autonomous region of Pesco, a peninsular that lies in the Sea of Self-Delusion. Pesco-vegetarians eat a rich fish-based diet, and occasionally some chicken. Or pork, as that's white meat as well. Other Vegetarians treat Pesco-vegetarians as second-class citizens.

The religious life of Vegetaria is as varied as the country There are Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, and the county of Vega has its own special religion with a pronounced Hermeneutic of Suspicion. The holy scripture of the Vegans is in very small type, so they can practice reading the small print on food labels.

The head of the state religion is known as the Big Wind. Every year, the new Big Wind is chosen at the annual Bean Feast, and lives on a pulse-only diet for twelve months.  This produces trance-like religious states. Particularly in the small hours of the morning. When a new Big Wind is chosen, the previous year's one goes off into the wilderness. At the request of all the other Vegetarians.

While neutral in international politics, the Vegetarians live in terror of a Republican president being elected in the USA. If history has taught them one thing, it is that countries with odd names get bombed more.

Monday, 18 May 2015

The Right Questions to ask to Feel Good about Yourself When you're at a Talk

I'd like to thank Prof Streeg Streegsen for her information and interesting talk, "The right questions to ask to feel good about yourself when you're at a talk".

The question and answer session afterwards was very exciting. I've summarised the questions below.


Burton Dasset: "Professor Streegsen, I feel that your subject is closely related to something in which I have a particular expertise. Let me tell you about double-entry book-keeping for 20 minutes and then see if you agree."

Hnaef: "The question of how best to ask a question to make yourself good when you come to a talk is to determine - what do I think I'm achieving here? Is one setting out merely to open up the discussion - to give the lecturer the chance to expand on what they have said, to illuminate some particular corner of a subject? To explain what maybe you have not quite comprehended? Or are you hoping to determine the veracity of different angles of truth - which may be to beg the question, as a famous man once said, „Ugyan, mi az, hogy igazság?” Or do I instead reach for some of the thoughts of the Greek philosophers - a group of people whom, as we can all agree, knew all about asking questions to make themselves look good?"

Chelveston: "I'm sure you are familiar with the work of Dr Tils Tilson, of the University of Copenhagen, and his concept of "Quantum lecture questions." So I have to ask the question - is this a question?"

Strongwold: "Prof Streegsen. You have managed to speak for 2 hours without condemning the outrageous behaviour of the Scottish National Party MPs in brutally throwing an old man out of his seat in the House of Commons today. Are you saying you actually agree with this behaviour?"

Cheswode: "I used to be in the employ of the Civil Service. I can't tell you which branch as I would have to kill you, ho ho. And on one occasion we had to go to Basingstoke on a Quality Assurance survey to ensure we got the right weight of writing paper for the Head of Department. He was one of the old school, and had a particularly lovely fountain pen - a Montblanc  Meisterstück  he received as a gift when he got his "K", which it was essential he complemented with a paper of the current weight and absorbency. And I ended up in a presentation on the quality of writing paper by the then-Head of Stationery Procurement at the Department of Employment. I asked a stunning, witty question. I can't remember what it was now, but you should have been there."

Dansburgh: "I notice, like all the other people asking questions so far this evening, that I am a man. What do you, as a woman, think this tells us about the failure of feminism?



I didn't bother writing down the answers. There didn't seem much point.

Not even the Biggest Little Gun-Fight in Texas

The gunfight in Waco, Texas that killed 9 and ended up with 200 arrested is described by a local law officer as merely "one of the worst" gunfights in the area. There you go.  Not even the local record.

Way to go, America.

I believe the right to bear arms was brought in, in case British militias attacked. But it's been 240 years now and we've not attacked for ages. If we promise to stay this side of the pond, do y'all want to put your toys away and stop killing each other?

Sunday, 17 May 2015

A PNG in Your Eye

I've found something really important, and I'd like to share it with you here.

Something very important, in Finnish, in a PNG file, with a bad background.

Tricky, isn't it? It's in 4-point text. Oh yeah, and Finnish. You could copy and paste it into Google Translate to find out what it says. But it's an image so you can't. You could use OCR to read it, but at that point size, and with the colours I've chosen, it's gonna be a nightmare. Frustrating, isn't it?

If you're ever tempted to paste a large amount of text into somewhere on the Web - normally Twitter, as you're constrained to 140 characters, and you think to fit it all in you'll just attach it all as an image, just bear in mind - anybody trying to use screen reader technology or some such to follow what you're saying, has as much chance of understanding what you've said, as you have of working out what the text above is all about. Add a link to the original. It might just help somebody else find the words of wisdom you're wanting to share. (And it gives you a visit to your blog as well, quite possibly).

It's the "plank in your eye" passage, in case you're wondering. Dunno why that came to mind...

Saturday, 16 May 2015

The Curse of Eden

I knew we'd forgotten something on Ascension Day.

Just went for a stroll round by St Bogwald's Chapel, and heard whimpering. We were so pleased that Burton avoided injury when he fell off the roof of the chapel on Thursday.

We should have remembered to get him out the bramble patch he fell in, though.

The Unpaid Ministry of the Sleepless Mind

Interesting Church Times article on SSMs. Not Same Sex Marriages - Self-supporting Ministers. Although, judging by the article, the former may be less of a shock to Church culture. The important thing is that the minister be in a Deanery tea morning, rather than off stacking supermarket shelves or driving a taxi. The relative chromosomal configuration of their partner is often far less important, as long as they can bake.

I was especially interested in the importance of involving SSMs in the regular get-togethers of the ministerial community. And I do believe that we in the Beaker Folk are a way ahead in this. As our old-established readers will know, Hnaef has a full-time job running an archery school for people with no thumbs. And, as this involves travelling round the country with his Bow Van (for his profession is rather niche), he was missing a lot of chances to be involved in the diurnal mutual support of the paid Druids.

But I really wanted to involve Hnaef in our fellowship, as our only NAPDLE*. So Keith, Charlii, Daphne and I agreed to move our Daily Druid Scrum, Weekly Catchup, Fortnightly Druidic Conference,  Monthly Synod, Moot and Mini-Moot to the evenings so Hnaef can attend.  Because there's nothing says you are fully included so much as attending a load of meetings to discuss what other people have been doing during the day.

It's so great to see him at every meeting now. And I know Hnaef appreciates it that, even if he's late home having driven back from Newcastle or Truro or wherever, we'll wait till he gets back before starting the meetings. He's so grateful sometimes that he falls asleep from sheer happiness. Other times he'll look at photographs of his kids and sigh with joy and fulfilment.

And there's another advantage to involving Hnaef in this way. I find it means I have plenty of time to get in some power-naps during the day. I have to say, and I think Hnaef will support me in this, that we've all benefited.

* Not a Proper Druid Like Eileen

Thursday, 14 May 2015

A Scarless Jesus

What initially strikes you about this painting?
Where is Jesus coming from and moving towards?
What is the yellow circle?
Who is the person at the top?

These questions are asked in this art study, of the painting of the Ascension by Dali.

Dali - Ascension
They're not the questions I want to ask. What I want to know is - why hasn't he got any scars in his feet? On his hands? In his side? Is this the real Jesus? If so, where are the holes that Thomas could put his hand in if he wanted to? Why is he so physically perfect?

An unscarred Jesus isn't the real Jesus. He's not taking the realities of my life back to heaven in this picture - he's all glowy and untouched.

No.

The Jesus who was among us - who lived with friends, ate fish and bread and drank wine - that's not him. The Jesus who was among us went to heaven with holes in his hands and side. With the mark of  nails driven through his feet. With lashes carved into his back. With the thorn-holes pressed into his head.

When a child dies on a boat heading across the Mediterranean, then the scarred Christ feels the pain. When somebody dies far, far too young - leaving behind children, or even parents - the Christ who was among us knows what it means.

When somebody is homeless on a street, the Son of Man who had no place to lay his head lays down with them, and prepares a home for them.

When someone is hated for being good, doing good, believing in Jesus as Lord - then their murdered Lord looks at his scars and knows what it means.

The man enthroned in heaven is the "Lamb who was slain", the suffering servant. He took our pain, our separation, our struggles, our humanity and he lifted them up into the heart of heaven. And he did that so that, at his Father's side, every time he appeals for us, he can say - "and look at me."

When I'm at the bottom of a metaphorical well, I don't need a Lord who's shiny, way above me and well out of it, calling down, "don't worry, it will all be fine later." I want the person beside me, holding on to me, telling me he's been through it all himself and he's going to climb out of it with me.

I don't want a shiny, untouchable, remote Jesus. I want the grubby one.

Ascension Day

As is traditional, we all climbed up on the roof of St Bogwulf's Chapel to celebrate Ascension Day. It wasnt't the most successful of worship experiences, in my opinion. I'm afraid that, when my venerable ancestors built the chapel, their "New Testament faith" led them to neglect the Old Testament advice to put parapets around the roof. Still, the good news is that Burton's fall was cushioned by a conveniently placed bramble patch. The bad news is, we have no idea how we're gonna get him out.

Beating the Bounds, our other Ascension tradition, is of course the survival of the ancient Beaker Folk celebration of "Yewkip". We prowl the boundaries of the Community, armed with pointy sticks, and throw anyone we don't recognise into the brook. At the end of our circumperambulation, the leader has to say they're resigning, and then threatens the other Beaker Folk of the consequences if they are not immediately reappointed. In former days, the ceremony reflected the mystic role of the leader as the one whose connctedness to the World gave meaning to the Community itself - her existence in that role imputing meaning and vitality to the people under her charge. Hence the ancient declaration, "You're nothing without me!"

So now we settle down to that second hiatus in Jesus' presence - another liturgical space, less terrifying but just as profound as Easter Saturday. Jesus has gone - again - to reappear in another way - again - at Pentecost. The profound question of what the people of God do without God's presence, what the Church would be without the Spirit, can be answered by seeing the actions of the disciples in this waiting time. 

They realised they had a vacancy on their Church Committee, and elected Matthias. And so, in memory or this, we dedicate this time until White Sunday to Church admin, Moot elections and discussions about what wattage the bulb should be in the gents' toilets. At the Beaker Folk, we slot all this kind of stuff into this ten day period. After all, imagine what it would be like if this were the main focus of the Church all year round.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

A Thanksgiving for Ascension

We give you thanks and praise because you sent your Son, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, into the mess and poverty of this beautiful yet scarred world, to be born, the son of a Jewish girl and step-son of a man who worked with his hands. He grew up with family and friends, and except for his total obedience to your will, he was just like us.

But his love for you, and for the poor and outcast, meant he was too good for the powers of this world. So he was rejected, beaten, and lifted on a cross to die.

But in your love and the power of the Spirit, you lifted him even higher. After diving to the depths of the dead, he was raised to life and then lifted into the heavens.

And now, at your right hand, carrying the scars of our sin and the weaknesses of our humanity, yet shining with the glory of heaven - he is our eternal witness in heaven. He pleads for us with his Father, and breathes out his Spirit to fill us with  love, hope, and an ache for heaven. A human being sits on the holiest throne, joined to us by flesh and blood. Calling us his sisters and brothers, he has made us members of the heavenly Kingdom, and calls us to be his family, and eat with him in his kingdom forever.

David Cameron - Everyone's Big Brother

"For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens 'as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone'," says David Cameron.

Yes. The bit where the State leaves you alone if you keep the law is kind of fundamental to freedom and democracy. If you want powers to stop people inciting violence - well I think they already exist. If you go past that, you're into ThoughtCrime.

Some governments like to get their tax rises in early in their administration. Looks like David Cameron wants to get the stupid in early.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Three Un-backed-up Assertions on Martyrdom

A secular blogger, Ananta Bijoy Das , has been hacked to death in Bangladesh.

He is as much as a martyr as Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist martyrs.

 And the people who killed him are as guilty of innocent blood as Cain, Stalin, a fair chunk of the members of the Inquisition, and Henry VIII.

To kill somebody because you don't agree them means that you think their ideas are stronger than your ideas. Because if they weren't, you'd have reasoned with them instead of killing them.

That's it, actually.

Kitten Church

What a relief, now that the Election is over, that we can forget about politics for a few years and get back to some serious religion!

It's a hard life for many people. Lots have to depend on food banks. And they're not all providing the social services it's claimed.  I gave our local one a cake last year. But when I called round yesterday to check my account, they said I'd not got any interest. I know rates are low, but surely I must've earned at least a doughnut by now.

Anyway. With the need, misery and general hardship in this Vale of Tears, I figured we needed something spiritual but uplifting. So the Festival of Kittens came about.

Obviously we projected images of hundreds of kittens on the Wonderwall of Worship. Obviously.

But it was during the singing of "If I were a Butterfly" that we really turned on the worship. We released two dozen kittens into the Moot House. All specially-btef delightful colours, with sparkles in their ears. Young Keith has spent six years genetically modifying to get a lime green kitten. Unfortunately, they're ferocious and all that when they grow up,  and we have to set them loose in Woburn. But they look lovely when they are young.

And then the angel kittens dropping from the ceiling!  It took Branwen ages to glue those wings on. So she had to miss the service as she was awaiting her tetanus jab. Nasty business. But worth it for the rest of us.

So we were singing "Build your Kitten Here", and everyone was throwing catnip balls around for the kittens to chase. And I realised that this is what religion is all about. Having nice thoughts in a kitten-filled environment. In many ways, if you want to enter the Kingdom, you've got to be like a kitten. Fluffy, inoffensive, simple-minded. And, underneath it all, a ferocious predator after the taste of blood.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Looking for Shy Tories?

"Young Conservatives In Fancy Dress". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia 
Looking for Shy Tories in your area?

Hard to find, aren't they?

And yet the Shy Tory of your dreams may be just around the corner.

Talk to Shy Tories YOU want to know.

Please hang up now if you're under 18, not a Tory, or Hugo Rifkind.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Wear, it's Tat

Amazing scenes at the Vincenza Religious Ware (and./or Wear) festival.

I'm tempted to take Drayton Parslow over there, just to see if he'd be left hyperventilating in the foetal position on the floor. Everything the well-dressed priest could want. Including, I suspect, the blackest black priest's socks, beside which all other black socks are actually very, very, very dark blue.

I'm a little concerned by the concept of a "life-size" Mary. After all, we're told nowhere in the Bible how tall Our Lady was. On the basis that the low will be lifted up, she might have been a statuesque 6'4". Or she might have been diminutive even for a malnourished time. We are not told. So any "life-size" Our Lady is surely subject to some kind of legal challenge.

The LED, coin-operated candles are where my heart is at. Fire-safe (especially relevant at the rate we burn the Moot House down), environmentally friendly, and above all you don't get people dropping 5p in the box when the (strictly advisory) contribution is 50p. And if you set the timer for an hour, there's none of this people not being able to light a tea light because the stand's full. There will always be the chance to contribute. I mean say a prayer.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

How Could the Outcome of the Election Have Been so Wrong?

An external enquiry has been ordered into the results of the General Election. Many on the "Progressive" wing, whatever that means, are determined to find out how the wrong outcome was obtained, despite the efforts of the media (Steve Coogan and Russell Brand) to influence it. Indeed, many believe that, in fact, the opinion polls were right and it was the election itself that was wrong.

"We know that the average margin of error of a poll is +/- 3 percent," said somebody who knows what the result should have been, "and therefore we can see that if Ukip and the Conservatives had won 3% less each, and Labour and the LibDems 3% more, we would now have Ed Miliband locked outside No 10 Downing Street trying to remember where he'd left the key, while Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper were wondering what to do with an 8 foot stone slab they've been given as a victory present."

"Gordon? It's Giles. Please can I take
this mind-control earpiece off now?"
Many are suggesting that getting the wrong result was due to so-called "Shy Tories", people who insisted on making their vote in secret booths rather than taking Selfies of themselves with their filled-in ballot paper with an X against "A B'Stard, Conservative".  While Giles Fraser is quite clear. The problem is democracy itself. Democracy is for liberal, over-educated vicars in South London. Not for nasty people, or people who think - against all Giles's clear-thinking reason - that the Conservatives might be good for themselves or the nation. How could they think that? Giles does not go so far as to specify that a public school education or a belief in the three-author theory of Isaiah should be a necessary prerequisite for voting. But you can tell that is the way to go.

 So it's clear. It's not that the opinion polls were wrong. The actual General Election had the wrong result. Polly Toynbee says so. Dame Shirley Williams was quite clear on "Question Time" that the electorate is not good enough for the Liberal Democrats. Giles Fraser is ashamed to be English. We've let the progressives down. We've let the people of Hampstead down. We've let Brian May, Prof Stephen Hawking and Steve Coogan  down. And we've let ourselves down. If we can't come up with the right answer, we don't deserve democracy.

Champagne All Round!

I see that, in the wake of the election result, this image is going round again.

It's an image that sums up all that is wrong, for some people, in the result. The haves and the have nots. The SNP supporter drinking Irn Bru for breakfast, the Chancellor having Moet delivered to his door ready for a proper victory party.

The Chancellor, the implication is, should be ashamed to be celebrating this way when "austerity" is his very own watchword. It's a powerful image.

Indeed, it's a very powerful image. So powerful that people have been using it on Social Media for years. You can tell it's not an image from 2015 by the Cybus Industries bluetooth earphone. So it's not from 2015.

It's not even from 2010.

It's from 2004.  When Gordon Brown was Chancellor.

Anyway, it's clearly not from a Tory party celebration. There's no way you'd catch Osborne and Cameron celebrating with anything as common as Moet.

Elections and Re-elections

So good news. After taking a time of reflection and relaxation, I realised that my perfect replacement as Archdruid is me. So having put in my nomination and been duly elected by the Electoral College, I'm looking forward to the next steps forward in the Beaker Movement.

The first Beaker Movement being to find some people to take that stone slab off Burton's foot. Because I resigned so soon after his accident, there was nobody to give any instructions on its removal. That's the trouble with followers. They ain't all that without leaders.

Speaking of elections, I notice that many people, now their preferred party have not won the election, are starting to talk about unfair electoral systems, and suggesting that, if only they had the sort of electoral system that would generate the results they wanted, things would have been better. This is the sort of forward-thinking that has been adopted by, among others, Zimbabwe, the Soviet Union and the former mayor of Tower Hamlets.

Well, I see their point. And I reckon that ultimately the fairest method is  true Proportional Representation system. On which basis I will point out that the most efficient way to get more than 50% in Thursday's election would be Tory + UKIP + DUP.

Obviously, this might not meet with universal approval from the other 49% of people. And of course they would mostly be "progressive", and therefore believe they had the right to be in charge. The Electoral Reform bods seem to have a cunning method whereby, whatever you do, you end up with a social democratic coalition. Well, it's an idea. I guess the only way to decide what to do, in the end, is vote on it. If only we could agree on the voting system.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Offering My Resignation

It was a freak accident this afternoon. Burton Dasset tripped over the 8 foot high stone slab that I had picked up cheap this lunchtime, and has been diagnosed with a broken big toe.

I do take full responsibility for my negligence in this affair, and offer my resignation forthwith as Archdruid of Husborne Crawley.

I will now withdraw into the Retreat Yurt for a period of reflection.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The American Dream and the "Religion Gene"

People have often speculated on the idea of a "religion gene" or "God gene", which predisposes towards belief in a deity. The specific idea in the link here appears to be twaddle, but I am intrigued by the idea that a bunch of genes code for religious inclinations. I'm assuming that in the same way white cats are predisposed to congenital deafness, so a bunch of religion genes would also go along with physical attractiveness and general charisma. And a religion gene makes good evolutionary sense to me - a belief in meaning, purpose, and Someone to watch over you is going to make you stick it out, and maybe even propagate the old genestock, in trying times when your average atheist might decide it's not really worth it.

And I wonder - and it's only a wonder - whether this gives us a clue as to why America has remained a much more religious place than Europe, even though they rigidly separate Church and State. Whereas in Scandinavia, the link between Lutheranism and State means it's compulsory for everybody to be gloomy.

See, what do we know about the early settlers of the US of A? Along with a number of what are called economic migrants, there was a stonking number of people who moved over there for religious purposes.  The Pilgrim Fathers (who swiftly had to organise another ship for the Pilgrim Mothers after they realised the awful mistake they'd made if they were to form a viable ongoing colony) were mostly Dissenters. Then alongside the Puritans, there were Quakers looking for a quiet life, and assorted other people who hoped they could either avoid persecution, or impose persecution on others, in the New World.

So by the 19th Century, Europe had accidentally shipped its most religious people (because they were prepared to embrace their unpopular faiths to the point of persecution and emigration) and left behind the people who were happy with the status quo.

Which means, if the theory is right, that it's no wonder America is more religious than Europe. They're coded that way.

Now all we have to do is work out which genes they are, compare descendants of 18th Century English and Dutch immigrants in the US to descendants of people who just stayed where they were - and my theory will be complete.

Who needs sociology of religion when you've got wild theories and no way of testing them?

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The New Druidic Training College Takes Shape......

....or it does on paper, at any event. It's a response to the need to come up with so many more druids to satisfy all needs.

Currently we're running at a druid each for:
  • People who only want male druids
  • People who only want female druids
  • People who only want male druids who've been druided (technical term there) by a male archdruid
  • People who want druids who are certifiably Martian
  • People who only want female druids who've been druided by male archdruids (and vice versa)
  • People who only want druids who are married to other druids
  • People who want druids who believe they're totally in control due to their chromosomes
  • People who only want druids who finish every sermon with "but what do I know?"
  • People who want gay druids who keep quiet about it
  • People who want druids who aren't gay but pretend to be
  • One druid to rule them all, one druid to bind them.
Naturally, I just reckon the last one is all that's needed. But everyone else is insistent that they have to have their own particular focus of unity. So I've given up, and agreed to go for it. But that's a lot of training requirements. So we've got the architect to knock up some sketches for our proposed new institution, St Stylites'. We've chosen St Simon as our patron because, as he spent all his time sitting on a column, he clearly never sat on the fence. Except in a very real sense.

As you pull up the Fast Track towards St Stylites', you will see the Ivory Tower reaching up to the heavens. Here our student druids will dream great dreams about how they will revolutionise the world of evangelism, by strict adherence to a bunch of anecdotes from Holy Trinity.

It's a carbon-neutral institution, of course. You have to park your objections - sorry, car - outside the grounds. As you walk down the Primrose Path into the college, you will have to be careful - every afternoon, many of the trainees will be engaged in the college sport of kicking cans down the road.

Artist's Impression of the New Druidic Training College


Once within the grounds, you will be able to hear the peaceful sounds of the Fountain of Youth, plashing into the blue waters of the Talent Pool. If you're lucky, over the sounds of the bees working the white flowers in the Harvest Field, you may be able to hear the sound of Structured Conversations going on in the Delaying Chamber. Sorry, Debating Chamber.

The Leadership sessions will take place in the Green Room. We've come up with a special design for the furniture in the Green Room whereby, whichever chair you sit in, it kind of sinks in just after you chose it and you wish you'd not been quite so keen to choose that chair after all. We got them from the Ikea in Denbigh - lovely new range called Bötcht.

Still, the whole of St Stylites' will focus around the Chapel. In all the hurly-burly of training, leading, facilitating, energising, focussing, heading, administering and managing, it is good for everybody to remember every now and then why they're there.

We won't bother fitting any doors.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Election Pledge-Stones of the Beaker Monarchs

As is well known the early Beaker Folk were a bunch of utter democrats. Election of their kings and queens was on a strictly first-past-the-post system. Basically they lined up the people who wanted to be rulers, and then set the wolves on them. The fastest runners got to rule. The slowest got to make a real-terms increase in wolf nutrition.

But what is less-known is that they used, like Ed Miliband, to carve their election pledges onto megaliths, just before the wolves went for them. This was their way, should they make it to the post (and climb up it before the wolves got there) of ensuring they were held to their promises.

Obviously they're hard to read - they're thousands of years old, after all. And rain wears them down. But I'm glad to show you a few of their stones, and the pledges they made.
Action on flint-knapping jobs

A Wise Woman in every village
A career-defining attempt to see Long Compton 
A Referendum on Leaving the Roman Empire
Controls on Celtic Immigration
A massive increase in yurt-building in North Oxforshire