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Monday, 31 August 2015

Not a Pratchett on the Original

Some troll in the Guardian is saying Terry Pratchett was a mediocre writer.

Well, what can I say? "The Colour of Magic" is a book that transformed my teens. Like Douglas Adams, that other genius of spoof fantasy/sci fi, Pratchett went with an idea and drove it to perfection. Opened our imaginations with humour that danced on a beam from that weirdly-calculated sun.

Drove it with more rigour and imagination and more consistently, even relentlessly, than Adams. You can't better the way that the geography and cosmology of the Discworld, with its little sun, elephants and turtle are worked out. It's a little world of utter brilliance, and sustained for so long.

And to compare Pratchett's work with Mansfield Park? Now that's a good novel. But it's basically a story of how good girls, if they keep their noses clean and their traps shut, can make their way in the world through marrying rich vicars.

Is that really the sort of message the Guardian wants its readers to buy into? If so all their other articles have been way off beam these fifty years or so. I mean, it's hardly Equal Rites, is it?

I'm just dispatching a Luggage (with loads of dear little legs and a nasty attitude) off to Grauniad Towers. If it doesn't come back with the right journalist, it can just put itself straight in the Wicker Man ready for Samhain.

Letters to the Church Magazine

Monthly letters page for the Trim Valley Benefice came out yesterday.

Nathan says it's early because the Bank Holiday. I reckon he's forgotten how to schedule things in Wordpress.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Keeping it Clean

"...fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly." (Mark 7:21:22)
Interesting bunch of sins, here. Starts with the big ones that we all know about. The sex and death ones. We all know they're bad, yeah? And if being sinful can be equated with being "unclean" - as they would be in a ritual sense, I guess - then they're gonna make you dirty.

It's like Jesus is suckering us in here. Even in our modern day, we still know that sexual unfaithfulness is wrong. Though the 33 million people whose names were on the Ashley Madison website presumably think that adultery's not so bad as long as nobody knows you're doing it. And murder - that's bad. Killing people except in self-defence is wrong. Unless you can persuade yourself that it's for their own good, according to the bill currently back in Parliament again and former Archbishop George Carey. But yeah, adultery and murder - "proper" murder - they're wrong. And Jesus's hearers would have been going, yeah - good point.

And then he winds up with envy, slander, pride, folly....

Envy? Envy makes you unclean? On what planet would envy make you unclean? That's not much good news for our world. is it? We drive large chunks of our economy on envy. It's not enough to be safe and comfortable - we've got to have the right stuff. And ideally better right stuff than other people.

Slander? You having a laugh, Jesus? Slander? Where would we be without slander? How would we oil the time between arriving at work and going home - unless it was trying to work out how much John in accounts earns, and indulging in a bit of envy?

And the Church in particular seems to have a certain fondness for slander, backbiting and other such vicious activities. What brings out the biting best in us more than somebody at church we don't agree with? What could be better to bring out our dark side than somebody who doesn't receive Communion the right way, the hymn that we can't stand, the person who doesn't know the way to behave?

It's been a particular fear of mine that, if and when the Church in England dies out, there will be one last conversation between the two last Christians. And one will remark that, even at this final hour, he wasn't the one who forgot to bring the church keys and locked everybody out for ten minutes one Sunday morning, And then he'll die, having made one final cutting point.

It's a bit like the "Upper Class, Middle Class" sketch with the two Ronnies and John Cleese. It's all about things being relative, is slander. Why worry about your own standing with God or other people as long as you can ensure you feel just a little superior another? And that's where slander is driven by pride - a concern about your own position, a demand upon your own rights, an expectation that you'll get the respect you deserve. There was an episode of "Dad's Army" on this evening where Mainwaring found out that he shouldn't have been a captain.As Arthur Lowe brilliant played Mainwaring, with one pip fewer on each shoulder, you could see him shrink. That rank meant everything to him.

Jesus winds up with - of all the possible things we wouldn't expect in a list of things that make you unclean before God - folly. Folly? In what way could being foolish make you unclean? I mean take the famous last words of General John Sedgwick at the Battle of Spotsylvania - "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." That was foolish, but I don't think that's what Jesus was thinking about.

Foolishness is the opposite of wisdom. And wisdom in the Bible is about doing the right things to walk with God. It's mostly about being considered; being calm; being thoughtful; not overdoing stuff. And in the New Testament, Jesus directly quotes God calling somebody a fool.... so what's this foolishness?

It's in Luke 12. The parable of the man who made his fortune, built his barns, settled down to a long and enjoyable life - and died. And God calls him a fool - because instead of doing what God wanted, storing up treasure in heaven, he focussed on getting a decent retirement plan.

It's not about getting the ceremony right, it's not knowing the right way to genuflect, knowing all the words to "10,000 Reasons",  It's about getting priorities right - to God, to each other. In that episode of Dad's Army, there's a lovely moment when Mainwaring, now busted down to a private, comes back to the church hall with no pips on his shoulder. He's lost his position, but he still realises he's got a duty.

The opposite to folly - the last of things that make us unclean - is wisdom. Wisdom says this is where we are, this is what God is like. The short-term things we use to put ourselves up against God and each other - they're not what we should be. True wisdom looks up to a cross and realises that the thing that makes us clean, is the giving up of all things we hold onto. The thing that means we are true with God is not a correct method of doing ceremonies - it's holding onto the Jesus that rejected all those temptations. We are not made clean through anything we can do - we are made clean because God makes us right with him. And if God makes us right with him then all those things - lust, murder, envy, pride and folly - we can reject them. Because they are worth nothing compared to God.

In Search of Mark 7:16

Just getting ready for tomorrow's sermon - and wondering how to turn it round to the importance of the  Beaker Folk saving electricity, by doing the washing-up themselves. And I notice something. There's no Mark 7:16 in the Bible. Or, at least, not in my Nearly Infallible Version, or the Now Rejecting Sexism Version.

Grabbing Drayton Parslow warmly by the elbow as he saunters past, I cop a cheeky look at his King James. And I read:

"If any man have ears to hear, let him hear"
So the King James tells us that men with ears are able to hear. Why are the modern versions keeping this dangeorus knowledge suppressed? I'm perplexed. I'm also surprised, from that use of the verb to have, to discover that Jesus spoke Somerset dialect. One presumes he picked it up while visiting Gkastonbury.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Why I don't Do Festivals (Seminar talk at #NotGB15)

I'd like to thank Graham Hartland for inviting me to give this seminar. Not least because nobody else ever invites me. Greenbelt? Forget it. I'm too Tory. Spring Harvest? I'm not middle-class enough. New Wine? Too liberal. Not GB 15 is my only chance, really.

So you may ask what I'm complaining about, regarding Christian Festivals. And, to quote James Dean, what have you got?

First up there's the weather. Here's today's weather forecast for the East Midlands...


I mean - that's what Christian Festivals do. I went to Spring Harvest once. It snowed. Went to Greenbelt, got hit by a hurricane. You know you'll traipse home, personally soaked, with soaked tent, soaked sleeping bags, the car covered in mud to the roof where you drove straight into a 6 foot deep puddle and had to be hauled out before you drowned.

And then there's the false expectations raised. The minions go off to Spring Harvest, they come back "why can't you lead worship like Vicky Beeching? Why aren't you as mystical as the Northumbria Community? Why aren't you as left-wing yet oddly authoritarian as Bishop Pete?" Never do they show the self-awareness to realise that the problem is not that I'm not as good a leader or preacher as at Spring Harvest -  it's that they're not such a good congregation. Spring Harvest congregation is full of enthusiasm, they'll have read the Bible for the only week this year, they're ready to apply the teaching to their lives. At least until they go home, when they have to do their jobs and clean their houses and mow the lawns and pay the mortgage. And then they have to drag themselves to regular services in the morning and, I'll be frank, they're a bit of a let-down. I'd much rather have a Spring Harvest congregation. They're relaxed, they're listening, they've had the day off. It's not me, it's very definitely them.

And what about the music? First up, the Beaker Quire come home and insist on playing "this great song that we learnt." The first three weeks, nobody knows it. All a bit quiet. Then the next three weeks everyone's got it and loves it. 46 weeks on of singing "10,000 reasons" and frankly that seems like enough. We're gonna sing it for 10,000 years and then forever more? Grief, Is there any way of not going?

And finally there's the teaching. People who've been to conferences have opened their minds, had a think. They're ready to challenge, ready to be challenged, ready to change the world. Frankly, it's a bit of a relief when mediocrity sets back in a few weeks later.

When I started the Beaker Folk I figured it would be like an all-year Greenbelt, full of challenge, art and interest. 10 years in, it's more like a theological college - a place where we protect the inmates from the outside world, while hoping that one day we have divorced them from reality enough that, if they ever go back out there, they'll just float above it thinking it doesn't apply to them. But, whatever else may be its flaws, the Moot House is watertight, warm and comfortable. If anyone buys a souvenir, it's me that gets the profit. And if anyone starts singing Rend Collective songs at half past 11 at night, we'll switch the sprinklers on in their room until they stop. Don't go to a festival. Come to the Beaker Folk.

Now, I'm happy to accept questions. But if they're fatuous or self-aggrandizing, or making points rather than asking genuine questions, Hnaef will come and kick you in the shins with his walking boots. No-one? Great. I'm off to the Hen's Wings, then.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

General Synod Vote "Infiltrated"

There are concerns that the upcoming vote for membership of the Church of England may be compromised by people "whose views are not in line with those of the Church of England."

Among those who have had to pay absolutely nothing to be able to vote for who represents their dioceses over the next five years are a number of people who believe in Catholic doctrines; take the Bible completely literally; don't agree with all the 39 Articles or think the denomination is a buildings preservation trust. Many think same-sex marriage is a good idea, although some of those think it's a better idea for other people than themselves.

"It's a real worry," said a spokesnun, "We're really open to entryists. We've opened the election up to people who are ordained, and anyone who says "yes" when the vicar asks if they can spare a few evenings a year to go to Deanery Synod. We could have atheists, Hindus or even Tories getting a say on who gets to vote on innumerable complex amendments to motions over the next five years. If the wrong people get in, the Church of England could be in almost exactly the same state by 2020."

Two by Two

All kinds of chaos breaking loose at St Bogwulf's Chapel yesterday. Having worked out the sloth bear was an evangelical, we persuaded him to go across the park and take refuge with Rev Drayton Parslow and his Funambulist Baptists.

So Bjorn traipses across the ley, and wanders in during Drayton's Wednesday evening talk on "the Lie of Evolution". Oddly enough, the appearance of a fierce creature with a hug that can snap your spine didn't cause them all to run out screaming. They just presumed he was a member of the Youth Group.

Anyway, halfway through the talk Bjorn starts asking questions. Why does Drayton think evolutionary science is a lie when he accepts every other blessing of science without question? Why does he believe God created photons in flight to artificially make it look like they come from stars a long way off, when God only created them 6,000 years ago? Why would God deceive us? If "the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved", why does Drayton accept any of what must clearly be dodgy cosmology? Why would Drayton use a computer and data projector when some scientists are, according to Drayton, liars?  Where in cosmology and biology does Drayton draw the line between good science and evil science? In short why doesn't Drayton grow side whiskers and join the Amish?

At this, Drayton realised he was confronting a talking sloth bear, and announced that Bjorn was demon possessed and, worse, an Open Evangelical. The Funambulist Baptists gathered round the bear, ready to work out a way of exorcising it. Pitch Forks and flaming torches appeared as if from nowhere. It was all looking very nasty.

And then, from the "Candles for Christmas" cupboard at the back of the chapel they heard a rustling noise...

Faced with two angry sloth bears, Drayton's flock panicked. There were Redemption Hymnals and berets flying in all directions. Wandering past on the way home from the White Horse, Hnaef and Young Keith were surprised to see Drayton and his mates, followed by Bjorn and, it turns out, Agnetha.

Anyway. We spent yesterday evening extending the"Candles for Christmas" cupboard. Now it's a nice size for them, though I wish they'd stop eating the tin foil pie dishes. And we've a plan.

Most people don't realise that every time a church or chapel closes down, a sloth bear is made homeless. The bereft bears wander the country, looking for a new home. Some used to get posts as Labour MPs, but there's not so many jobs there these days.

Will you contribute to our new charity, "Cupboards for Sloth Bears?" We're aiming to expand our Christmas candles cupboard to give every lost sloth bear a home. And all those candles, tinsel, lumps of oasis and little glass holders don't come cheap.

So help us at Cupboards for Sloth Bears. Or, if you think this is all very silly and you'd rather help real  homeless people, go to Graham Hartland's place and find out about the chance to do that at #notgb15.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Last Chance to See

The Lonely Planet guide has published its list of 500 places you must visit before you die.

Of course, if you and everybody else does see them all,  the next generation won't enjoy the sight of a flower, a bird or Chesil Beach.

I'm not posting the link. It would only encourage them

Days of Elisha

Good news of a kind. We've managed to corner the sloth bear in the doily sheds, and have started negotiations. He's demanded a helicopter to get him over the border to Hertfordshire, and a bucket of ants.

He's particularly grumpy over this whole Bible-reading business. We're a progressive, liberal, inclusive community that welcomes all faith and nuns. Whereas he's an Evangelical sloth bear.

So he reckons we have too many Bible readings at services. Can we cut them down a bit, he asks, and sing more songs?

Monday, 24 August 2015

Mad Dogs and Anglicans

Mad dogs and Anglicans get up for the 8am.
The Methodists don't care to, the URC don't dare to,
Ardent Pentecostalists worship through  from ten till ten,
But Anglicans detest a nice lay-in.
In the Baptist Church there's a 2-hour talk,
     to retain you in your pew;
There's Calvinist invective, the Rend Collective,
     but it's not 1662.
On Saturday eve the Catholics leave, there's no further prayer for them
But mad dogs and Anglicans get up for the 8am.

Santa Claws

Honestly, the complaints I'm getting from Grodwell. And it's his own silly fault. Going into the worship supplies room and opening the cupboard door marked "candles for Xmas".

I mean, obviously he was going to get mauled by the sloth bear. What else was he expecting to find in that cupboard but a sloth bear? Where does he imagine any other churches keep their sloth bears?

How to Tell A Liberal Anglican Church From an Evangelical One

Pretty tricky to tell the difference, to be honest. Both will be lacking on proper church fittings, both may have banners with rainbows on them.

But it's easy to tell. If they have four Bible readings on Sunday morning they're liberals. If only one, evangelicals.

A Poem for St Bartholomew

I am hoping that, somewhere in the Norfolk wilds, sometime this morning, the following poem will be read in honour of the saint. [Let some readers understand]

Beneath a fig tree once
there sat a very pious Jew
And if you then had asked his name
He’d say “Bartholomew”
But then the higher critics came
with “L” and “M” and “Q”
And if you now would ask his name
He hasn’t got a clue
(Ascribed to Eric Mascall) 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Further Theology Degree Self-Help Flowchart

Dear Readers, you know how it is with theology degrees - or at least Eileen tells me a lot of you do. They're like train numbers or rare John Foxx gatefold vinyl EPs. As soon as you have one, you want to go and get another.

And so we at the Beaker Folk are going to open another ministerial channel - or, as Eileen puts it, "income stream" to persuade ministers of religion that they don't really need another degree. Or, better, that you really want one of ours.

For the time being, I am posting the attached flowchart. It should help you to understand where you are on the "further theology degree spectrum". Off the end, probably. That's where you people tend to be.

In the world of theology degrees, all routes lead to "further"

Will Worshippers Kindly Refrain From.... (an all-purpose banning notice)

Talking, Dogs, Smoking, Bodhrans, Charismatics, Doubt, Guitars, Darwinism, Freelance Baptism, Rend Collective, Theology, Social Media


Images:  "177-Bodhran-Hinnerk-Ruemenapf-0037-p70" by Hinnerk R, Hinnerk Ruemenapf - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Safety sign - "Kindly refrain from"


No Dogs except guide dogs

Taking Over from the Met

I am pleased to announce that, after a fair and considered bidding process, the Beaker Folk Weather Centre have won the contract to supply the BBC with weather. In fact, we've already hosed down Sir David Attenborough and locked Paul Hollywood in an industrial freezer to show him the real meaning of icing. And we did a bit of a rain dance for South London, but only enough to wind up the Aussies.

We were then informed that in fact it was forecasting, not weather itself, that we were supposed to be providing. So we won the contract on the grounds that we are substantially cheaper than the Met Office, and not much less accurate.

Scoffers may say that you can fulfil those criteria by sticking your head out the window and guessing it'll be much the same tomorrow. And indeed, what we call "Observational meteoroprognostication" is the core of our budget forecasting service. But the BBC have  bit more dosh, so we're throwing in some seeweed. Weather warnings will be issued on the basis of old Aggie's arthritics. If her ankle is playing up, you can expect a cold winter. If you really want serious weather manipulation, we'll sub-contract to Jeremy Corbyn. From what some Labour supporters are telling us, he can stop storms, make the sun go backwards and walk on water.

And now here is the weather. Tomorrow the weather in Husborne Crawley will be sunny with scattered showers, highs up to 68F / 20C. Much the same as today, in other words. That'll be 3 quid each, please.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Through the 16th Century Church Committee Year

I am feeling most blessed to have discovered, in St Bogwulf Chapel's Book case, the following slip of paper, tucked into a first edition of the King James Bible. Especially as I had to drag the bible itself out of Drayton Parslow's hands, he claiming, "it's too good for ye!" It appears to be a compendium in verse of the life of a Church Committee just after the Reformation... 


Ye* Year of Ye Church Committee


In Aprille do they with ye Vicar
Have first meete and start to bicker
April showers drip through ye roof
And Warden doth declare "forsooth"

In June, ye annual Village Fete
Is helde within ye Greenwood
But since ye Squire's enclosed the lot
Ye verg-er's lockèd up for good,

In August, for financial aid
Ye Treasurer doth talk on giving
But since to tithe's the national law
It's pay up, serfs, or else stop living.

October with ye harvest o'er
About ye new Prayer Book they'd riot
But since King Hal's said they must use it
To keep their heads, they're keeping quiet.

December, Church is cold as ice
To keep ye holy Child-Night feast
But not as chilly as ye PCC's response
To the Vicar bringing in "ye Peace".

February with famine looming o'er
They argue o'er the chapel floor
Ye Vicar needs a faculty
It's only 200 years since they changed ye straw.

In  March elections, one man one vote
Each candidate puts forth his name
But ye one man voting is ye Squire
So ye PCC is just the same.


Note - ye "Y" in "ye" is a  thorn, not a "Y". So ye must pronounce it "Ye" whenever ye see it, not "Ye". Except when ye see "ye" and it means "ye".

Goodwife Kitty suggested ye old Saxon Font was in need of replacement.
Ye PCC agreed that it was probably good for another 500 years.

Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone

I went to a secular funeral recently. It was for a perfectly decent bloke, a distant relative whom I'd not seen for 10 years or so.

He'd had a child. He had a job. He had a heart attack so he had slowed down a bit.

I believe it was a secular funeral because that's what the undertakers like around there. The celebrant was bland, moderately cheerful, working on thin material. She had no great promises to offer, no need to make us fear our own eventual judgements, no decent corps of scripture and tradition to lean back on. When her own words failed, in between the Country and Western songs, she fell back - without acknowledging it - on the words of Old Ecclesiastes himself. She told us there is a time to live and a time to die. Didn't mention there being a time to lift my hands up high. Don't suppose she knew that song either.

She also didn't mention that the whole thing is vanity, and a chasing after the wind. Which is a shame.  As at least that would give everyone something to talk about while consuming the funeral tea. But a secular funeral is always gonna be retrospective, I guess. There's nothing to look forward to but egg and cress sandwiches and a glass of sherry.

My uncle when he died had a Christian funeral. At the end we heard a piece of music he'd chosen specially for the occasion (before he went - there was no funny business going on). "Please don't Talk About me When I'm Gone". Which seems a pretty good one for a secular funeral, ironically. Better than "My Way", at any rate.

This was all sparked off by reading Giles Fraser's piece on Cilla Black's funeral Mass. I hate it when I agree with Giles Fraser about something. But there's a sense of responsibility in a Christian funeral. You're going to answer for what you did, or didn't, achieve with your life - just like everybody else.  If you've always depended on your own resources, and not shared with those who can't depend on their own - you may discover your resources are pretty thin-stretched to last eternity. If you've heard and responded to the cries of those in need, you may get a shock when you you discover that, without realising it, you've actually been recognising the Creator. And the rest of us, if we cling in the shadow and stability of the Rock, may escape as those who have been pulled from a fire.

A secular funeral depends on the good character and interesting deeds of the dead person, and the oratorical skills and empathy of the celebrant. A Christian one, on the character of the One who sent us, and to whom we will be accountable. And I know that truth doesn't depend upon the story that is better. But it's still a better story. When it's my turn, I hope I'll cling to that Rock. And hope Mary will pray for my soul.

Take it away, Willie...

Friday, 21 August 2015

In Praise of Spitalfields Life

Spitalfields Life has made it to its 6th Birthday.

If you love London, have a hankering for the things of the past and want to keep the best of them going on into the future, you might want to give it a read. It's brilliant, interesting, and campaigning.

Happy Birthday to The Gentle Author.

Death of Leon Trotsky (1940)

Archdruid: Whatever happened to dear old Lenny Bruce?

All: Can we get on-topic Eileen?

Archdruid: OK. We remember Leon Trotsky as a revolutionary, a visionary, and most of all as a bloke who looked enough like Harry Secombe that it could - if we are not careful - take over this whole liturgy.

Youngest Beaker Person: Who's Harry Secombe?

Archdruid: He was Thora Hird's brother. He frequently fell in the water.

Youngest Beaker Person: And who's Len Trotsky?

Archdruid: Leon's English cousin, Was a plumber in Bolton.

All: Does any of this make sense?

Archdruid: Not really. I'm just spieling to cover up my awareness that we are marking the death of a man who was instrumental in the creation of one of the nastiest, most brutal states in human history - partially responsible for the martyrdom of thousands of Christians, starvation, bloody wars and oppression.  Trotsky, that is. Not Secombe. And yet because he was murdered himself, we act as if he's some kind of hero.
Neddie Trotsky

All: Whatever happened to the heroes?

Archdruid: No more heroes anymore.

All: No more heroes anymore.

Archdruid: No more heroes anymore.

All: No more heroes anymore.

Hnaef: Enter Hnaef, in dazzling orange hi viz and gold nail polish. What's going on?

Trotsky Seagoon: once again I am being pursued by the evil schemes of Grytpype-Stalinne.

Charlii: Have a cake? Take your pick.

Bloodnok: I don't wish to know that.

Eccles: Have a gorilla?

Hnaef: No thanks. I just put one out.

Archdruid: Can we get back on track? We're not supposed to be marking the death of Neddie Seagoon. We're remembering the co-founder of the Russian Democratic Socialist Labour Party.

Young Keith: Bolsheviks.

Archdruid: No, it's true I tell you. After the death of Lenin, Stalin rejected votes for Trotsky to become leader of the Soviet Union because the voters for Trotsky were all clearly left-wingers. And nobody got their three roubles membership fee back.

Hnaef: And so Leon Seagoon went into exile in Mexico, where he earned back his three roubles doing stunt diving off the cliffs at Acapulco.

Little Jim: He's fallen in the water.....

Daphne: In later years, Seagoon denied he had ever invaded Poland in 1920 on the basis of a dodgy dossier. But still he was a threat to the Party. And so he met his fate at the hands of a revolutionary and was deaded.

Hnaef: When he was killed with an ice pick, was that like one of those little ones that Nanny used to break up ice for my gin and tonic? Or a big one used in mountaineering?

Archdruid: Yes I've often wondered that. Because in a hot country like Mexico, a proper mountaineering ice pick is a dead give away, isn't it? Not what you'd expect to take on the Tube. Whereas a little thing for chipping away at ice....

Hnaef: Oh, you've met Nanny?

Archdruid ...would be easily concealable, but very inefficient as a murder weapon.

Hnaef: And so he died and today, on Trotsky Day, Socialists will remember him as they, in their turn, are denied their chance to lead a socialist party.

Trotsky: I don't wish to know that.

All: Shut up! You're deaded!


Thursday, 20 August 2015

Hotel Corbyn-Phobia

In a dark Tory nightmare, looking out for somewhere
They didn't want austerity, offered something less unfair
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shining light
A bearded bloke with a leftist slant
I thought this must be right
But there stood in the doorway;
Someone with a different story
And I was thinking to myself,
"She could be Lib Dem or could be Tory"
She was called Liz Kendall, but she wasn't the right way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say...

Welcome to the Hotel Corbyn-phobia
But we don't want shirkers (Don't want shirkers)
Or Socialist Workers.
Only 3 quid at the Hotel Corbyn-phobia
But you're off the scene (you are off the scene)
If we think you're Green.

Tory MP signed up, but this is where his voting ends.
Mark Steel got rejected, he's got lefty friends
How they shout in the media, how badly they're treated
Some complain in the papers, Jeremy Hardy tweeted.

So I called up Yvette Cooper,
"Could you protect that mine?"
She said, "We haven't had that policy since nineteen seventy nine"
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say...

Welcome to the Hotel Corbyn-phobia
We all want to win (we all want to win)
Without a left wing (without a left wing)
Voting away at the Hotel Corbyn-phobia
We will treat your right (we'll treat you right)
If you're a Blairite. 

Mirror's backing Burnham,
Johnson wants Yvette to win
He said "We don't want no lefties here, we'll never get back in."
And in the inner chambers,
They're going through the list
And they'll send you a rejection letter,
If you're a Trade Unionist and Socialist.

Last thing I remember, I was
Dreaming of '74
I had to find the way back
To the Labour there was before
"Relax, " said the Party,
"You're all in the same boat.
You can join up any time you like,
But you can never vote! "

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

New British Religion Overtakes Church of England

Who can explain the religious situation of the early 21st Century? At the time when the old established denominations were declining, there was new life from  a variety of new traditions - the Orthodox churches, Pentecostalism both Africa and the West Indies. All this with a burgeoning Islam and a thriving Hindu community.

Yet there was one religion that threatened to overwhelm all others. A tradition that caught the imagination of the masses - even those that claimed to follow other religions. A tradition that, like Catholicism and Orthodoxy before it, focussed round the sacred mystery of the breaking of bread at a communal table.

The Great British Bake-Off.

Like Songs of Praise before it, the new religion was pumped into British homes by the BBC. The bearded prophet and Sibylline oracles of the new religion spoke truth and prophetic wonders - interpreted by their oracles, Mel 'n' Sue. They tested the new acolytes - holding the power of life and death, ejection or getting through to the bake-off final.

The representatives of the old religion objected, of course. The fundamentalist preachers fulminated against those who "bake their cakes for Mary Berry". The more Puritanical objected to the constant stream of unnecessary doubles-entendres. But the devotees worshipped every Berry Day - tuning in to see whether salvation had been achieved by a crusty soda bread, by the raisin cakes rising in accordance with the requirements of Paul of Hollywood.

Would the acolytes pass into the seventh heaven of running a bakery in a small market town in the Cotswolds? Or would they pass into the darkness of going to be a nursery nurse, A Level student or computer geek? Only Mary had the power of life and death, fame and obscurity. And, just like the Church of England, a nation attended once a week with no necessary impact on their daily lives. They enjoyed watching the travails of producing lava bread on Wednesday, and bought a nice Tesco oatmeal sliced online on Thursday, same as normal.

Next week - "Great British Bake-off from Calais". Giles Fraser watches an Eritrean who successfully gets a loaf to rise in a hand-built clay oven - but  Giles still makes sure he mostly talks about Giles.

They Shall Drink Flat White Coffees, And They Shall Pick Up Worms

It has been a challenging morning liturgy.

Our "Feast of Fertility" was meant to have a simple, symbolic act where each Beaker Person took a worm from the worm tank, and dropped it onto the Holy Square of Soil. There to increase its friability, water retention and humus content, thanks to the leaves we were to scatter at the end of the act.

Instead of which, everybody ended up screaming and retching at the thought of having to hold worms.

Really, this was due to a combination of faux humility and bad planning. The specially designed worm-handling devices were all out on the side. But Hnaef and I were at the back of the queue - making the point that, because we were litirgically last, we are actually first.

And we didn't explain the use of the worm-handling device because, as is well known, people only remember 10% of what you tell them, but 90% of what they do.

If they are told to do it first.

Anyway, it's Burton I feel sorry for. He spent all night going through the compost heap, sifting out the worms with his bare hands. He says it's not so much the ant bites that he really suffered from. More the wasps' nest he found.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Noble Savages

As everybody knows, earlier human beings lived peaceful lives, until Civilisation, Christianity, Captialism and such like evils introduced us to the concept of being in the right, oppression and conquest. The Iron Age Celts, for example, were incredibly peaceful: singing along to gentle lyres and bodhrans, thinking up unexpected ways of pronouncing words, doing everything in threes and just occasionally cutting the heads off their enemies or burning them in Wicker People for strictly liturgical reasons. Clearly the peaceable nature of the Celts was exactly why they lived in hill forts like Maiden Castle. Because that's what you do when everything is peaceful.

Maiden Castle, Dorset
'"Here, Llewellyn! If we Celts are so peaceful,
why do I keep having to make this here earthwork higher?"

Likewise - and especially - those early Neolithic farming peoples who spread across Europe bringing with them ploughs and beakers. Surely, thought the archaeologists, they were nice kindly folk, letting campers buy pints of milk from them and singing harvesting songs? And clearly the reason that the people in Europe before them, who disappear from the fossil record at this point, just went off into the woods hunter-gathering and got a bit lost?

Or not. Turns out that they were capable, when they put their minds to it, of killing the tribe next door, children included, and carrying off the young women.

So those Nobel Savages were more savage than noble. Not surprising, really - we know what human beings are like. Why would they be any different all that time ago? And if you want to reflect that this is what ISIS have done to Christians and Yazidis; what Russian soldiers did to East Germany; what some Serbs did to Bosnian Muslims - it's not like it's unusual. People under pressure, and people bashing up against other people, did nasty things. They do nasty things. It's part of being human. To deny it, is to fall into the trap of allowing it again.

Monday, 17 August 2015

A Quotation Springs to Mind, Inspired by Damian Thompson's Article on The "Songs of Praise" from Calais

And His mercy is on those who fear Him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy
as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.

In Search of St Bogwulf's Well

Announcement for all Beaker people.

Whoever stole St Bogwulf's Well, please can you return it? It made a right fiasco of this morning's well-dressing. We had to use a paddling pool. Which is not the same thing at all.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Dormition

Dormition of the Theotokos: Theophanus the Greek
I was at first alarmed, and then amazed.
Alarmed by grace being poured in through me
And then amazed at that which I gave out to the world.

Thirty years I wondered and feared
As the tiny being to which I gave life
Grew into life, gave it to others and then gave it up himself.

Two dark nights I wept
Knowing my heart was pierced, my love mocked and broken
That burning life and fearful love was snuffed out.

But on a day of rest, when the earth lay waiting
In the quiet of a garden, he walked again
And the women brought us the good news.

So I have lived long, waiting for him and holding him.
That reckless son whose Spirit flutters one last time in my heart
is now calling me home.

The one I gave room to has prepared a room for me,
And to the one I once gave to the world, I will now bring the world
in prayer, and joy, and hope, until the Age.

New Tolkien Book - "The Shopping List of Isildur" - to be Published

It's the publishing event of the year. After years of research and analysis, a team from Oxford University have managed to publish "The Shopping List of Isildur".

This volume, with just 4 lines of actual text but 721 pages of appendices, in a handsome embossed leather cover, will be retailing for £72.99. It is believed that it represents JRR Tolkien's vision of what Isildur would have sent his squire Ohtar out to buy before the battle of the Gladden Fields.

"From the handwritten note found pinned to Tolkien's fridge after he died," said Professor Trollbane of Brasenose College, "it would appear that Isildur was needing 6 eggs, a loaf of bread, a bottle of Bass ale and a box of matches. The irony is that Isildur never managed to drink that bottle of bass and eat eggs on toast to celebrate his victory, as he was killed by orcs." 

Professor Trollbane is now working on his next recovery of the late Oxford don and author's Middle Earth fantasy - "Elrond's Note to the Milkman". There is a rumour that it may turn out that Elrond, far from being a brave and just ruler, was a racist.

Prescott Turned Gamkekeeper

Putting the indecent assault claim to one side here. I was staggered by the last paragraph, which suggests to me that Ed Miliband was never that bright a choice as Labour leader.
"Mr Miliband had brought the veteran Labour peer in as an adviser on climate change, to help him negotiate the UN climate change summit in Paris."
"So, John - you reckon to reduce the environmental impact of motoring, everybody should have a 2-Jag limit?"

"Oh yes, Ed. that's fair. We are Socialists, you know."

Friday, 14 August 2015

Left-Handers' Day

According to the Guardian - and who knows who we can trust these day? They think Polly Toynbee and alfalfa are good ideas - but, at any rate, in the Guardian's head - today is Left-Handers' Day.

I'm a bit concerned for Burton Dasset as a result. He's off to the Great British Beer Festival. And I'd worry about him getting caught up in a Left-Handed Pride march. All holding their Left Handed flags  with the poles on the wrong side. It's surprising to see so much left-handedness in public, to be honest. Makes me worry that if young children see left-handers in the street, they might think a left-handed lifestyle is something to be emulated.

I do think that the pendulum has swung too far now. When I was a child, anybody who was left-handed was regarded with suspicion. You didn't actually think they were evil, as such. But still, you knew they were different. We were all aware that the left-handers in the Bible were all violent. And it was the people on the left hand that were always in trouble. And if you were a left-handed priest obviously you'd end up with oil everywhere.

We used to know that left-handedness was tolerated in the arts world. Oh and the shock when Paul McCartney came out as a left-handed bass player. My mother wept.

Whereas now you can actually buy a mug with the handle on the wrong side. People are openly left-handed in the street. Even famous sportspeople are coming out as left-handed. Especially cricketers. In cricket, people seem to be applauded just for being left-handed - made special mention of. I blame it on people playing cricket in their pyjamas these days. It's affected their hormones.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to see left-handedness made illegal again. There were terrible times before legalisation. Lefties would have to live out the charades of right-handed lifestyles. Eating and writing with their right hands. Terrified that, at any moment, a smudged sheet of A4 - written in the privacy of their own rooms - would give them away. Worried that, picking up a glass wrong in an absent-minded moment, they would condemn themselves. And beating people with sticks to drive out  the left-handed demons was always wrong.

But I just don't expect it to be normalised. I mean, there's even talk of the Church of England tolerating left-handed priests. As long as they don't actually do anything left-handed. They'll be bishops before you know it.

No, left-handedness is OK in its place. And that place is in the kitchen. Looking at the mangled top of a badly-opened can of beans.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Morris Dancers and Blind Footballers in Mass Brawl

Sometimes I wonder why anyone bothers writing fiction. That is all.

Biretta tip to Bruvver Eccles who RTed this.

NB this could actually be a spoof article and really is fiction. But how can anyone tell anymore? We're just helpless prawns before the power of Social Media.

A Level Results

Is it me or are A Level celebrations not what they were?

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

With apologies to John Betjeman (Again)

When melancholy August comes to Dibley
And the LEDs are lighted after eight
The wax upon the tea lights goes all dribbly
And liturgical dancing goes on until late
Like the sound of massive hippos
jumping all around the Church Hall
when the music group is singing
something great.

Not Greenbelt 2015

I'm aware there are lots of people who go to Greenbelt, and it's very good. At least, I presume it is. I've not been since about 1990. Last time I went to Greenbelt,  I was in the tent at the seminal moment when Martin Joseph was listening to Revd John Smith, Bono crept in under the side of the tent and disturbed Martin so he didn't hear what John Smith was saying, and as a result he wrote the song "Bono makes me cry". Shortly after, he crossed out "Bono" and wrote "Dolphins*" and the rest is history.
This year, Not Greenbelt will not be at Castle Ashby, not by permission of the Duke of Northampton.

I digress. There are many people who will not be going to Greenbelt 2015. Some will be wanting to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. Some are allergic to Kettering. And some can't afford to stock up in Rushden Waitrose on the way.

Well for you people - indeed, we people - help is at hand. For the third glorious year, Graham Hartland is organising NotGB2015. OK, strictly speaking it was NotGB2014 last year. And NotGB2013 the year before. But go and have a look.  You can have a pint of absolutely anything you like in the Hens Wings pub, without leaving the comfort of your own breakfast bar. They'll let you in whether you're uninterested in art, not a Christian or even a Tory.** And it's for a good cause.

Personally, I'm pleased to be running this years "Drainstage" on "The Cringe". We let people with artistic pretensions up to perform. And the minute they say something that makes a panel of three observers all cringe, we pull a big lever and drop them into the drain. Examples of things that make us cringe include people who recommend laying-on of hands for minor sniffles, over-the-top claims that music can cure world hunger and bring in world peace, and anybody who can only play three chords.

Nobody's made it off Drainstage in two years.


* If dolphins make you cry, try peeling them underwater.

** John Selwyn Gummer was the last Tory voter to attend Greenbelt. Shortly after feeding his daughter a beefburger. Not a Greenbelt burger. That'd be an organic, vegetarian, free-range burger I reckon.

Festival of Hand-holding

Beaker Folk may shuffle into a circle.

Men who are less in touch with their feelings may try to sneak to stand between two women.

Archdruid: We all stand in solidarity.

All: We are one community.

Archdruid: Let us join hands in the circle as a symbol of our unity.

All may join hands.

People who are aggressively pacific may look earnestly, but not erotically, into the eyes of people across the circle.

People who are not so in touch with their feelings may look at the floor, close their eyes or, if really assuredly not in touch with their feelings,  feel the urge to cross themselves.

All: You're not holding hands with anyone, Eileen.

Archdruid: Well, I'm standing next to Burton and Marston.  You must be kidding.

Marston: Yuk!  Burton's all sweaty.

Burton: Well I've just had a 30-mile bike ride...

Archdruid: OK. Let go of each other.

Beaker Folk release each other's hands in relief. Marston may wipe his hands on his jeans or, as appropriate, cargo shorts.

Archdruid: We have shown that we can join together in unity and peace.

All: Let's not do it again.

Anglican Logic - Circling the Quadrilateral

The reported removal of the Permission to Officiate from Jeremy Timms, a Reader (ie Anglican equivalent of a Local Preacher) in Yorkshire has exercised many.

Not least as because the offence that Mr Timms is committing - marrying a member of the same genital grouping - is not one which has previously been advertised as resulting in the removal of PTO from Readers. This was previously believed to be, as a kind of Disbenefit of the Clergy, only for the ordained orders. But it now appears that Jeremy Timms can do Reading or Marrying, but not both. I don't know if there's a vibrant inclusive church scene in Yorkshire, but I believe the Methodists are slightly more relaxed in these matters.

Which has led some people to ask what is the matter with Anglican Logic - that a prohibition on one thing, turns out to be a prohibition on something (literally) of another order.

Well, we know not the fine details of Jeremy Timms' case. Always two sides etc. So let's leave that. But Anglican Logic is another matter.

Anglican Logic is not so much a series of inductive steps, a reasoning from A to Z or comparison of oranges with another fruit via whatever process makes sense. Rather it is more like a form of geometry.

Anglican Logic, since the day Cranmer wrote a Prayer Book for a bunch of pseudo-Catholics and wannabe Presbyterian Calvinists, is about finding the nearest point in a multi-dimensional grid to all other points. It is a bit like that demonstration of gravity where you roll a ball bearing around on a stretched piece of rubber to find the lowest-energy point. While all the time worrying that, this time, the rubber sheet might snap.

Anglican Logic is about finding the path of least resistance in an environment in which everything is full of friction.

That's why Anglican logic can defy the comprehension of people with more regular logic - atheists, fundamentalist Protestants, Catholics. Given a really thorny question of morality, one that asks really hard questions about our human nature - the fundie will ask what does the Bible say? The atheist will look for an evidenced, scientific basis to proceed. The Catholic, taking into account the scientific evidence, will ask what is God's will in this, given the Biblical revelation in the light of the Church's historical wisdom. While the Anglican will go off to work out how many pews can be removed without upsetting the people who like pews, and how many pews will have to be left to keep the Victorian Society happy. Anglican logic is more like a tightrope than a ladder.

So we can expect Anglican attitudes to sexuality to continue to walk a balance between people who want complete freedom and equality for all - and those who still have in the garage a supply of both tar, and feathers. It's the Anglican way. It's Anglican logic. Maybe it would be better to talk about the drain on the East wall? It's blocking up in wet weather. Should a few branches be lopped off that ash tree? Or do you think that would need a faculty?

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

QI 3000 - The World Day of Care for Creation

Stephen Frybot: And so, my little metalloid and mutant friends. What can you tell me about the origins of the Roman Catholic "World Day of Care for Creation"?

Alan Davisdroid: Well. My mother used to tell me it was all started by St Francis....

*KLAXON* "St Francis" flashes on the display.

Stephen Frybot: No, no, little Alan. St Francis did love all the birdies and the bunny-rabbits. But it wasn't him.

Phill Jupiterz: Was it invented because of the Little Baby Jesus being born in a stable, surrounded by animals?

*KLAXON* "Lickle Baby Jesus" flashes on the display.

Stephen Frybot: Phill, Phill, Phill. I've been telling you that the Baby Jesus never really existed for 1000 years now. Who are you going to believe - me or God?

Jack Whitehall's Brain in a Saline Solution in a Bottle: Was it a copy of the Church of England Harvest Festival?

*KLAXON* "Harvest Festival" flashes on the display.

Stephen Frybot: No, Jack. Although we know the Catholic Church copied many things from the Church of England: Women bishops, for example, Lord of the dance, Lycra cassocks and out-of-tune guitars, they never stole that lovely Harvest Festival.

The Electronic Memory of Rory Bremner: I remember something about Harvest Festival. It was invented by Parson Hawker of Morwenstowe. He used to sit around for hours on end, taking drugs. And therefore is now the Patron Saint of the BBC.

At the words "BBC", all may bow.

Stephen Frybot: Very good, Rory! You can have some points.

The Electronic Memory of Rory Bremner: Yeah, fat lot of good they'll do me, living on this slice of germanium.

Stephen Frybot: No, this really is interesting. And, after 1000 years, it's actually the first true thing about religion I've explained on this programme. No, the "World Day Of Care for Creation" was originally an attempt by the Catholic Church to take over "Earth Hour". In those days, the more-comfortable people of the Earth used to live in an awful feeling of sinfulness about the way they flew around in planes, drove cars and polluted the atmosphere in making their consumer goods. So to enjoy  guilt, they used to sit in the dark once a year and pretend they were helping. The Catholic Church saw all that guilt and, naturally, wanted a slice. So they invented the "World Day of Care for Creation" so they could try and pretend it was theirs all along. And, being really good at guilt, they got away with it.

Jimmy Carr's Robotic Teeth: And did they stop all the pollution? 

Stephen Frybot: No, they got the Chinese to do that instead.

Token Female Robot: And Jesus wasn't born on Earth Hour? 

Stephen Frybot: Indeed he wasn't. That was Mithras. And so, as Russell Brand's Immortal Ego said, as it ascended unto its Palace on the Moon, "Vanity, vanity - all is vanity." Goodnight. 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

RT for Fav, Fav for RT

One of the favourite tricks of Twitter's rabble-rousers - sorry - opinion-formers is this kind of thing.

"Who is the better theologian?  RT for Moltman; Fav for Barth."

It looks like a kind-of-valid survey. You can see how many people have RTed and how many faved, instantly. It's a kind of instant democracy of the Internet, innit?

It's not, of course. It's a con. And the way it's a con comes down to one of Twitter's main functions, to echo our own views back to us from the right type of people.

See, if I'm a big Barth fan, and Hnaef tweets this into my time line, obviously I'm gonna Fav it. I mean. I am a free human with God-given thumbs. Of course I shall use the right to press the Fav icon.

But who sees that Fav? Not my followers who don't follow Hnaef. Not unless they follow me more closely than, frankly, I already do.

But if I RT it - all my followers will see it. And if they agree, they can RT it too. And all their followers will see it.

But if they don't agree with me, and Fav it - they're a dead end.

And because the sort of people who follow me are likely to have the same view of the great Moltman/Barth debate as me - then if we're on the RT side our RTs will also spread like a virus.

But if we're on the Fav side - nobody will ever know.

So it's a deliberate - or possibly accidental - form of social engineering in the great echo chamber of social media. Guaranteed to way the results the way you like - unless you are too dim to make the answer you want the RT.

I wouldn't want to ban these unbalanced straw polls. I'd just like to expand them. "RT for Barth. Fav for Moltman. Unfollow if you think this a piece of unbalanced, pointless groupthink and confirmation bias in an echo chamber.

Wouldn't see so many of these polls then.

They'd be over 140 characters, for a start.

Scottish GMO Ban - an Expert Writes

Genetic Engineering gone wild
As news breaks that Scotland is going to ban genetically modified plants, we are delighted to have the insight of Scottish landowner and expert in traditional farming methods, Lord Summerisle.

"The ban on genetically modified crops in Scotland is an enlightened approach to the problems of food production in a world that is becoming increasingly concerned about the environment. We have seen the damage that can be caused by genetically modified plants, especially in the case of triffids. Are mobile carnivorous plants the sort of things we want wandering around the Scottish countryside, consuming the inhabitants? The case is unanswerable.

What do you call a man with a Wicker Man on his head?
"PC Howie put his Heart and Soul into our Apples"
The way to assure the integrity of Scottish food and drink is to employ the rigorously traditional methods of farming that have been used in the Scottish countryside since time immemorial. Which is why I will be pressing the Scottish Government to roll-out our pilot scheme of burning sacrificial victims inside Wicker Men across the nation. We have proven results, and no need to resort to dangerous, untested "science."

In other areas, we can see how the loss of traditional methods have caused problems in farming and wildlife. Take bees, for example. They have been hit by neonicotinoid chemicals, and changes in farming practice for sure. But what has surely been most responsible for the decline in honey bees is that nobody ever goes out to the hive to tell them when a member of the family has died. This is just asking for hive collapse.

And we have strong evidential proof that hanging stones with holes in them up in barns, in no ways protects tractors from night hags. This is another area where so-called progress is actually making matters worse. Who is speaking up for the tractors, being chased across the fields by evil witches all night? And no modern technology seems to be available to protect them.
I've been more concerned for my position in the community
since they all voted SNP at the General Election.

I would not like your readers to think that natural methods of farming are easy and fool-proof, however. Although we have additional politicians since devolution - thus increasing the number of "kings" and "fools" available to us - we are reaching the point where the shortage of virgins is at a critical state. Dancing naked is no longer a low-risk activity, since the police all started looking out for the "Naked Rambler".  And we are facing increasing costs - in order to comply with reductions in CO2 limits, we are looking at carbon sequestration for Wicker Man burning.  In short, in order for organic, traditional, non-intensive farming, sustained through human sacrifice to thrive in the Western Isles, what we need above all else is a decent Government grant.

What about it, Nicola? I've backed up your silly ban. Give us a subsidy."



Stolen with gratitude from an original tweet by Robin Ince. 

Nicholas Cage was not harmed in the making of this blog post. Though his reputation was by his appearance in that ridiculous remake.

"Triffid" by John Wyndham, Assumed fair use as a low res image to illustrate this article.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

The Pilgrim People of God Sometimes Need a Nap

Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:4-8) 
Elijah is the prophetic superstar. He dried up the heavens, brought a boy back to life, beat the prophets of Baal in a sacrificing competition. He always wins. But he gets wind that Ahab and Jezebel are after his blood - unsurprisingly, as he's just had all their prophets killed - and he runs.

He runs into the wilderness, and he sits down. And he's had enough. And he wants to die.

There's a phenomenon best described as the Sunday Afternoon Clergy crash. It happens to ministers who've taken services on a Sunday morning.

We can describe it in a series of stages, like the effects of the Scarlet Pimpernel's poison in Black Adder III. Not all are compulsory every time, but go with it for a minute. The first you could describe as mild elation. The minister is still flooded with excitement from the services. Or at least you hope she or he is. If they've just come out the same as they started, then goodness knows what the morning's worship has done for the rest of you.

The second stage is desolation. The minister realises that they've missed a few pages while explaining the family life of the early Assyrians.  Or that they forgot to ask old Harold how his gout is this week - and if you don't ask Harold how his gout is in any particular week, he writes letters to the Church Times bemoaning the laxity of modern day ministry and how, in Harold's day, that nice Reverend George Herbert used to be round to see him every day at 9.15 precisely. Until George died of exhaustion.

The third stage - if they've had dinner, or a couple of glasses of wine, or just been up very early tidying up a sermon - is sleep. The minister will have a nice few hours of kip. And wake up convinced they're late for evening service.

And you could put all sorts of spiritual interpretations on these three stages. Or you could figure it's all down to physiology. The leading of the service - especially if preaching - gives an adrenalin rush. And then as it rushes in, what you've actually got is a form of exhaustion.

And that looks like Elijah here. He's given the performance of his life. He's taken everybody on and won. God has heard his prayer. And now - and now he's knackered. And maybe the biggest highs bring the biggest lows. Maybe that's why pop singers so often fall prey to drink and drugs - to extend the fun past when the natural high has gone. Maybe that's the risk some sports people have to cope with when the days of trophies have gone. And, as my friend Archimandrite Simon put it, even on a really bad Sunday most of us don't have to deal with people - even royal people - trying to kill us. No wonder he's down.

But if what happens to Elijah in his crash is natural, the way God meets him is both natural and divine. Elijah's out in the desert. He's desolate. "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." He's shattered, and with the tiredness come the doubts - has he been good enough? What good is he now? And he passes into sleep.

He wakes and there's an angel, bringing him bread in the desert. Where's Elijah heard that before? He's being reminded - if he's no better than his ancestors, those are the ancestors that God met in the desert, and gave bread to. Elijah is enacting the wanderings of Moses and the Israelites in the desert - including the complaining! - all on his own. And he really does think he's on his own, as we find out later. Maybe that's another thing bearing down on him - the thought that the whole of faith to God depends on him - and he knows how weak he is himself. Elijah eats, and drinks. And goes back to sleep.

And when he's eaten and drunk again, he's ready to go - for forty days. Another reminder of the Children of Israel. And he's going to go to Mount Horeb, where Moses received the 10 commandments. And he's going - though he doesn't know it yet - to get another vision of God.

The temptation to do too much - the urge to get the kick of delivering something, of making a connection, giving a great sermon, writing a cracking blog post that makes the papers - that's so deep in the human soul. Not just in prophets, pop stars and local church ministers.

The worker who gets a pat on the head for working late one night - so it becomes a habit. The quiet words of praise from the boss, because you're there on Saturday - even though you could have had it sorted Friday if you'd been organised.

The urge always to be seen to be doing. The people I've known shattered, because "I've been in back-to-back meetings all day". They're always the same people who it turns out haven't got any actual work done - no thinking, no planning, no programming, whatever - because they've been in "back-to-backs". The scary thing that I've just used that term, and some people think that's a good thing. They're scared, I suppose, of blank spaces in the calendar. If you're not at a meeting - how can you be genuinely working?

And then the late nights, the early mornings, the siren call of the blackberry when you are just about to go to bed at half past 11. And so you fire off an email, to prove you're keen.

And then get one back, 30 seconds later.

And then, whether Christians work for money or not, they manage to fill up all their spare time as well. With things that are valuable, don't get me wrong. Or sometimes with meetings that may - or may not - have meaning. And then of course there's services. And sometimes, if you work really hard at Church meetings and church activities, you may never see your family, or your non-Christian friends. What's the matter with us? Are we scared that if we had a whole day with nothing to do we might start to wonder what we're up to? Do we need every minute filled with something?

Elijah's just had a great experience. And now he's shattered, and down. And, for a moment there, he wants it all to end. And he gets a rest - one sleep, good food that he didn't have to cook himself, another sleep, more food. And he's ready to go.

He's had a Sabbath. He's been met in need, by God. His immediate needs weren't actually spiritual - though it would have been easy to turn them that way, and he tried. He needed food and drink and sleep. He needs to look after himself. He needs the time to rest. When he gets to Horeb - then he can deal with the proper spiritual things. There's time for that. But, for now, what he really needed was a break.

There's a reason why God gave a Sabbath. We all need a break. And we don't need to fill that break with services, church stuff, meetings. In fact, if that's what your Sunday looks like, you probably need another Sabbath. We need a day to rest. To take our brains off the hook. To do some gardening, ride a bike, read a book - even one that's not improving. To watch the telly or even - more than we like to think perhaps - to sleep. If I fall asleep in the day, or have a lie-in because I'm tired, I can feel annoyed with myself for wasting the time. Maybe we need to know that there's a balance where sometimes a bit of extra rest is exactly what you need,

So Elijah goes on, and goes on to be seriously picked up at Horeb, and goes on to fulfil the rest of his calling. But he knows now that God's love and care for him don't depend on what he does. God has met him and cared for him in his tiredness, in his crash, in his hopelessness. And God has shown himself faithful regardless.

God gives us spiritual bread - the bread first given on a cross on a hill. The bread that the manna in the desert and the cake given to Elijah are just shadows of. And it means we grow, and it means we live and it means that, bit by bit, we are being made like the One who is that bread. And God gives us rest to go alongside, not to be replaced as if receiving the bread makes us supercharged. To give us time to contemplate, to think - but also just to stop.

If we've given ourselves in work or ministry, crashes are normal for all of us. And if you're tired, take care of yourself. If you've forgotten to care for yourself or family, then step back and remember what's important. If you're rushing around the whole time, then set yourself some time to stop. And if you can't stand the site of white space on your calendar - then fill one whole day with the word "garden" or "walk" or, if you're that kind of extravert, "friends." If Elijah needed it - and he was a great prophet - then so do you. And in the space, the quiet, the peace and the rest - God will be with you, caring for you. God likes you to take time off. God invented the idea.

The Cult of the 1980s

I'm all in favour of these inter-faith meetings. But this was one of the oddest.

The Cult of the 1980s is a small group, dedicated to the belief that we can find salvation by releasing ourselves from the mundaneness of the everyday. We can do this by adopting New Romantic clothing and make-up, imagining we are thereby freed from death and decay.

The members of the Cult of the the 1980s believe in a great celestial intelligence, the truth behind all music, the primordial song who is known as the "Sky Recital". It's a lovely idea, that behind all the ways and woes of this universe is an eternal song, don't you think?

Their written scriptures are short, as their holy works are all records by Spandau Ballet, Visage and a bit of early Kylie. But they tell of the eternal love and protection of the "Sky Recital."

They tell how the Prince Charming of the Cult of the 80s fought his way past a shimmering pink sea - along an Echo Beach where he met a bull dozer and a deep-voiced clown. He fought off a Flock of Seagulls, and found his way to Africa. To his companion, Toto, he expressed his exhaustion - "we're like sugar mice in the rain, but nothing's gonna stop us now." Eventually he stopped. He knew he was in the right place when he saw the whole of the moon. The people of that place told him, "we built this city on rock and roll."

And he cried out to the "Sky Recital", saying - "I am China in your hand. If there are secrets that only Toto and I can hear, then our lips are sealed. If there is anything of which you say, "it's a sin", then I will give it up. But light in me an Eternal Flame, and tell me that we can live for the day when Heaven is a Place on Earth. In short - hold me now, and tell me you're True"

From Wikimedia Commons - Michiel1972
The worship group


And the "Sky Recital" responded in faithfulness and assurance.

"Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you."

Running on Fumes

Being the geeky type, Burton got very excited about this (Japanese) invention. A cycle lock that only unlocks if you pass a breath test, and texts a sober friend if you fail. Though I have no idea how it knows which of your friends are sober. Monitors their Twitter feeds,  I suppose.

Being nothing if not stupid, Burton then took the gadget and his bike off to the pub in Bedford for their regular "First Friday of the Week" drink.  He locked the bike up outside and went in to have a thoroughly miserable evening. Burton says he now knows why he likes a beer when he's with his friends. He'd thought it was because it meant he could relax and be more sociable. Turns out it's because all his mates are really boring, and he notices when he's sober.

Boring but childish enough to keep running outside and blowing into his bike lock. Hnaef was getting really annoyed with the stream of "help":messages he received during Filling up of Beakers.

But the real disaster was, after a thoroughly dispiriting evening, when Burton went to retrieve his bike. That lock's not big. And to clamp the bike to the pub's drainpipe meant the mouthpiece was at a funny angle. And.....

Did you know that under Bedford byelaws you can be arrested on suspicion of carrying our an obscene act with a bicycle?

Being Bedford, by the time Burton got back to his bike, somebody had stolen the pub. So at least he was able to ride the bike without any more trouble.  But as Burton said, if the thief had been sober, they could have had the bike as well.

Friday, 7 August 2015

The Passing of Local

The loss of George Cole takes me back to the 80s. A time when, in the media and huge all at the same time, we had Minder,  Only Fools, and Eastenders. Of course, the latter was fantasy while the others were more real-life. But there was a sense of passing glory about them. The Cockney races were already swarming to the Home Counties and South Midlands. We can see these shows as elegies.

Today only Eastenders remains, a Cockney bubble (not rhyming slang) in a changed East London.

Before and just when Only Fools and Minder were kicking off, we had strong comedies with local roots - the Likely Lads in the North East, the Liver Birds and Bread in Liverpool, Summer Wine in Yorkshire. These were strong in attachment to their locations, even if the studio filming was often done in London. Rab C Nesbitt was once shown at a foreign TV festival with subtitles. English ones.

But today that all feels a bit lost. The world of media is dominated by posh kids with accents wiped out by university. We have sit coms about the BBC. I'm sure it's a giant media and political plot to wipe out our regionalism - to make us homogeneous UK-ites, incapable of laughing with or at each other any more. Unable to identify with place - because if we had a sense of place we'd resist the schemes to tear up communities and build plate glass over everything.

So I regret the loss of regional. Norman Tebbit's dad may have had a bike, but you can only do local on a bike - not nip up to a different part of the country, where the offices, the houses, the people food, pubs, beer and shops are all the same

Ah, well. Looks like it's Bedfordshire Clangers followed by Dunstable Doughnuts for lunch.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Lament on the Passing of George Cole

Archdruid: All wight?

All: Leave it 'art.

Archdruid: We gather to lady and gent1.

All: Arfur Daley is brarn bread2.

Archdruid: No longer givin' it that with the bunny3.

All: No more dodgy geezers in shabby whistles4.

Archdruid: The lock-up is locked forever.

All: He goes to look for the nice little earners of eternity.

Archdruid: Let us retreat to the rub-a-dub5.

All: Or the Winchester Club.

Archdruid: Remember that hooky6 hairdryers are but for the day.

All: And a Rubber Gregory7 is not all that.

Archdruid: And so from the descending of the apples to the rising up of the pears8

All: We will remember him.

George Cole: 'ere, 'ang on - I was a veteran actor in film and TV, you know. I wasn't just the one character. You can't stereotype me.

All: All wight, Arfur. We believe yer.

Archdruid: Farsands wootn't.


1 Lament (Liturgical Rhyming Slang)
2 Dead
3. Bunny Rabbit/Rabbit + Pork = Talk
4. Oh, forget it.
5. No, you're just making this up now.  Nobody ever said this outside a TV studio.
6. Isn't that Only Fools?
7. Peck? Really? Did anyone ever say that? Really?
8. This is ridiculous.

Alternatives to the Tube

Really, Burton Dasset tells me on his way out to the station, you wonder why people take the Tube on Summer days at all. In a world with folding bicycles why would anyone want to spend 20 minutes in a crowded bean can, with your nose in some stranger's arm pit, and then another 20 minutes re-emerging to the surface? How many people in Zone 1  will walk to the office today and discover what a small place the centre of London actually is?

Burton's vision of a London of people in nylon shirts and Spandex shorts, gasping for breath as they try to climb Mount Highgate, no doubt has its attractions. But I think TfL may be missing a trick in their negotiations.

Surely they should be investing in large stables, and a fleet of proper Hansom Cabs and horse-drawn omnibuses. Then, when the people who drive tubes go on strike, cars could be banned within the Inner Ring completely. The gentle people of Highgate and Hampstead would be able to rattle, Pooter-esque, through Camden and Islington into Town.

Tourists would love it. London would be transformed into a smoke-free version of the days of Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper - which is, apparently, what everybody wants.

The Low Emissions Zone definition might want some looking at, admittedly. There are some emissions a horse can't help but produce. But if it takes off, we could introduce less polluting creatures such as camels, hamsters and ibexes. On the Thames, dolphin-drawn river boats could ply their trade. At night, instead of a scary trip down echoing Tube tunnels, a fleet of robot-driven Night Gigs could ferry Londoners home with mock horn-lantern-effect LEDs on the front.

A gentler, more human London, echoing to the gentle clop of hooves. A London free of diesel particulates and Tube staff. A London fit for the 18th Century. When will Boris Johnson catch a real vision?

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

And the Mac Shall Inherit the Earth

There is much upset on the wires about a Mail cartoon by Mac suggesting that Cilla Black, at the Pearly Gates, is being held up due to thousands of "illegal immigrants" trying to get into the Kingdom. I'm not gonna link to it. They've got enough clicks today.

And I'm not going to try and defend Mac for what seems to be a fairly crass cartoon. Though I don't imagine he was personally responsible for the headline, there's still no way of telling what on earth he thinks is funny here.

But I will point out the following.

Jesus said "the first will be last and the last first". I pray that Cilla Black, through the same grace on which we all depend, will be welcomed to the place where there will be no need for surprise reunions. But if there is a queue at the gates, all we comfortable Christians may find ourselves waiting while the people who really did suffer and thirst for righteousness are let in first, for the food and drink they so dearly need.

Jesus said "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it." There are people so desperate for the kingdom of heaven that they will climb over the fence rather than wait politely at the gates for an appointment with St Pete. You see those figures climbing over the fence? Do you want to be with God so much that you'd rather climb over the spikes than wait for somebody to open the gate for you? If so, then you've maybe grasped what Jesus says.

See that's the trouble with a halo. It's inclined to slip off and get caught on the spikes on that fence. If you're taking the kingdom by force, you're not gonna want excess baggage, are you? Leave that to the nice holy people, queueing up outside like a family from Luton on a booze cruise, marooned just outside Hythe in a VW Sharan.

Of course, there's other images of getting to the Celestial City than a gate and walls. There's the idea of getting there over water. Today, another boat containing hundreds of people capsized off the Libyan coast. Thousands dead this year already. Many Christians, many fleeing persecution. If a Christian running from persecution for his or her Lord's sake goes down in a boat, it's my fervent belief that they will wash up on the right side of that eternal Jordan that waters the trees of the holy city. And, if our God is as merciful as I believe, many others on those boats will wash up with them, along with people who have been frozen, fallen from planes or been struck by trucks as they seek either safety or a better life - and who could blame anyone for looking for either?

So rest in peace, Cilla. You were loved, and I pray that you're now reunited with the loved ones who go before you. I also pray you'll resist the urge to haunt Mac for making you look like Margaret Thatcher. But if our God is like I hope, then, like all the rest of us who have had it fairly easy and been pretty comfortable, it's only fair you'll have to wait for your turn at the gates. Unless you want to climb over the fence?