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Thursday, 31 December 2015

Liturgy for a "Technical Error" Hitting the BBC Website

Archdruid: A "technical error" has struck the BBC website.

Techie: A "technical error?"

Archdruid: 'swhat it says...

All: But what kind of technical error?

Archdruid: Dunno.

Techie: A bandwidth issue?

Archdruid: Dunno.

Techie: DNS problem?

Archdruid: Dunno.

Techie: Catastrophic disk failure exposing a lack of disaster recovery, failover and Business Continuity Planning?

Archdruid: Dunno.

Techie: Routine issue when everyone technically qualified was off on holiday?

Archdruid: Dunno.

Drayton Parslow: Divine judgement on Giles Fraser's latest "Thought for the Day?"

Archdruid: Dunno.

Techie: Flooding due to Storm Frank?

Archdruid: Dunno.

Techie: An infestation of badgers?

Archdruid: Dunno.

All: BADGERS? Aaaaagh!

Lamentation for the lack of a BBC website

All: Behold for the BBC website is down. Our lives will be dull and meaningless henceforth.
Where now will we get our news? In vain we go to the Guardian, but Polly Tonbee is there. The Telegraph leans too far to the right. The Mail has a sidebar of shame whereof one may find pictures of the members of the tribe of Kar-Dash-Ian. The Express has weather panics and new evidence regarding Lady Di. And who reads the Indy? The End Times must even now be upon us - for is it not the last day of 2015? We will now go blinking into the daylight, wondering the question that could easily be on the BBC website if it were not down.

Archdruid: Has the BBC website outage been caused by Martians?

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Turning Down the OBE

Once again I have had to turn down the OBE for services to religion.

I should stress that this rejection is strictly on moral grounds. If the following small demands are accepted I will be happy to accept next time:
  • Elimination of the use of pit ponies
  • Thomas Hardy finally to get the Poet Laureate he so richly deserves
  • An end to the Vietnam war
  • Repeal of the Test Acts
  • Jeremy Corbyn to be allowed to join the Privy Council
  • Disestablishment of the Baptist Union
  • More tea lights on the Daily Service on Radio 4
  • Recognition that the First Order is a terrorist organisation
  • Test Cricket to be on BBC
  • Richard Dawkins to be made a Canon of St Paul's Cathedral
I think these are all pretty reasonable. Come on, Your Majesty - sort this out and we can make this happen!

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

On a Wing and a Prayer

Liturgical news. And it seems a priest in the Philippines has been suspended after riding around his church on a so-called hoverboard, singing a Christmas song to the congregation on Christmas Eve. I reckon he was lucky to get away with a suspension, as the danger of it igniting mid-blessing was apparently fairly high. And there's nothing quite says "Christmas" like a priest exploding as he glides down the nave. Beats an illuminated reindeer.

We've offered him a post as cantor at the Beaker Folk. It may take him a while to get used to the switch from a hoverboard to Heelys®, and Jim Reeves songs are a bit old hat for us, but I think he'll realise he'll be a lot safer. However, we have a lot of competition. The Church of England Liturgical Commission is after him, as well, for their new publication, "Bandwagons and Seasons". The Methodists are reckoning that exploding, mobile worship is surely the Fresh Expression that will finally make a difference.  And it's only a matter of time till Pope Francis - fresh from having a hurricane named after him - realises this priest is The Spirit of Vatican II and gives him his own diocese. That's if he doesn't make it on Manila's Got Talent.

A Wesleyan, Maryan Hymn

Behold the servant of the Lord!
I wait Thy guiding eye to feel,
To hear and keep Thy every word,
To prove and do Thy perfect will,
Joyful from my own works to cease,
Glad to fulfil all righteousness.

Me if Thy grace vouchsafe to use,
Meanest of all Thy creatures me,
The deed, the time, the manner choose;
Let all my fruit be found of Thee;
Let all my works in Thee be wrought,
By Thee to full perfection brought!


Charles Wesley, 1749

Audience / Congregation / Worship

A couple of posts on the subject of worship, and congregational involvement therein.

"Your Excellent Worship Isn't" from John Branyan complaining about bands playing too much, too well, for the congregation.

And Counter-Cultural Father reflects on the view reflected in specific hymnals as to whether hymns should be easy for congregations to sing or artisically better even if they're a bit higher. I especially appreciate Ben Trovato's comment:
"Trotman seems to me, here, to be exemplifying that exultation of participation (in a particular sense) over quality that I frequently lament."
But what neither really does is tell us the answer to the important question - what does God really want? So it's lucky I'm here, I reckon.

We at the Beaker Folk go through phases. When we decided that excellence in worship was important, we took a few key steps. First up, we noticed that the Beaker Congregation were tending to bring the quality down - turning up late, trying out their own harmonies, bringing their own instruments, failing to hit high Gs - we dealt with the issue by banning them from the Moot House, and streaming worship events to their rooms by cable.

Unfortunately  we in the Worship Executive could now hear the Quire without their contribution being mudditimry the congregation. Recognising that the Beaker Quire were the new weakest link, we replaced them with worship CDs.

This now meant that Beaker Worship consisted of Hnaef and I exchanging liturgical responses, interspersed by Matt German. On the bright side, the Peace was taking less time to exchange. But on the other hand, without the voices of the other Beaker Folk, I was becoming increasingly aware that Hnaef's tones are really pretty posh. And when you're just two druids streaming your worship to a congregation that you've banned because they're low quality, the last thing you want to do is appear elitist.

So there was nothing for it. Hnaef has to go. Which meant so did the responsive liturgy. Beaker Worship became basically me wandering around the Moot House, lighting tea lights, to a backing of the Rend Collective.

At which somebody read a bit of 1 Corinthians 14:
"When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up."
And we agreed we needed to change. We went with Paul's advice for everyone to bring their own worship contribution.

Maybe we shouldn't have taken that to mean "each one" every time. Sometimes the services lasted six or seven hours, and we would have to have dinner sent in to keep us all going.

So we have now adopted the following rules:

  1. Worship is to be the combined effort of the people of God. In theory we should use dodgy translations of the word "liturgy" to underpin this. But in practice we include some silence, some responsive prayer, and no song is allowed to go above an E, or have a bridge that nobody is expecting.
  2. The Quire is encouraged to be good enough to lead, but not so good that anyone is ever tempted to introduce a solo during a congregational song.
  3. Percussion instruments are handed out for the last hymn only, with the advice that "we have a lively song to finish".
  4. Nobody who is convinced the Spirit will give them inspiration during the service is allowed to preach - or to play the organ without first learning the instrument.
  5. Anybody who says " of course, the group is better at "Hillsong"" will have an ocarina thrown at them.
  6. This is the only valid use of an ocarina.
  7. Except if the worship leader says "and now just the ladies, this verse".
  8. Song sheets are better than data projectors if there is a power cut. If it's dark, you can light more tea lights.
  9. The organ was a modern instrument once 
  10. Sometimes worship can be just listening or silence. 
  11. If all inspiration fails, use pebbles.
  12. Or tea lights. They're good as well.
  13. The first aim of a human is to love and worship God forever. If our aim is for our quality to be good enough for God, we'll be practising forever instead. God has millions of angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus at any one point. Yet that does not mean that a 3-year-old on a kazoo will not be heard. Indeed, that kazoo will be the lead instrument.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Feast of Holy Innocents - Power Under Pressure

Christmas is all about children, right?

We're not told how many babies were killed as a result of Herod's instructions to kill the Holy Innocents. Probably not a genocide - Bethlehem was too small a place, and the age and gender of the victims were carefully specified.

The odd thing is that Herod is almost a postscript in our post-modern view of this reading. We home in on other details - why did God not warn the parents of the other kids to flee? Or - given the angel tipped the wink to him - why did Joseph not tell the neighbours? Was he so scared he just up and fled? Did he shout to them all to run? Did some not leave because, unlike Joseph and Mary, they were not already strangers in a strange town? Did the locals not trust this man with a Galilean accent, who hung out with shepherds and foreigners and whose child had an odd back-story?

We who have had theological training, of course, have read books. And those books have told us that none of this is true. No Virgin Birth, no Bethlehem manger, no journey to Egypt, no massacre of the Innocents - just a quiet upbringing in Nazareth.

Well I don't believe everything I believe in books. And certainly not those kinds of books. If Matthew is telling us that Jesus is the new Moses - fleeing a slaughter of Jewish babies at the hands of a tyrant, running to and then back from Egypt - then I'm going to listen to Matthew. Because maybe what it really means is that what Moses did was the shadow that Jesus cast, when Moses spoke to God face to face.

This is a story of human power, and the lengths men - nearly always men - will go to, to get it. Herod, the puppet king. He's sold out to the Romans and he's got his throne, but he's terrified. He's so scared of being deposed that he has killed his sons, one of his many wives, and his mother in-law. To keep his friends he raises money for Rome, and starts rebuilding the Temple for the Jews - that rebuilding that only lasted for a few decades. He is surrounded on all sides by enemies - some real, some imaginary, some that have been made his enemies by his imagining.

This scared minion hears a rumour from passing astrologers that there's a new rival around. He's just down the road, in the place David came from, and it's said he's decended from David himself. Herod on the other hand - he's half Edomite. There's no question where this would go if it were a question of kingly legitimacy.

Power under pressure always strikes out. Like Pharaoh before him - like so many Caesars and bullies to come - Herod decides that, if anyone is going to pay, it had better be the weak. And so he strikes.

Justin Welby has referred to ISIL as the Herod of our times. And I can understand that. Especially after Al Baghdadi's latest tape. Assuming the mass-murdering rapist is genuinely still alive, I wonder whether they only issue audio recordings these days because he's being held together with sticky tape.  Power under pressure. A random call to arms. Maybe, like Herod, he can feel the threats around him - the fear that if the Americans or Russians don't get him, and he doesn't get caught by the Kurds, that even the people around him can't be trusted. Maybe he's already being held somewhere quiet, by the bloke who's really in charge, being told what to say.

Power under pressure strikes out, and the innocent suffer. The weak always do. The Holy Innocents die now. But when Herod dies - having killed so many he loved, as well as those he doesn't - will he feel the sacrifice is worth it? His life is long by the standards of a Roman Empire puppet king - but will he look at the ruins of his family and wonder why he chose power?

That evil empire, the Romans, and Herod's cronies, the Priests will get the Christ-child in the end. They have to - unjust power hates innocence. And like Herod, the Priests are under threat from One who can rightly claim their titles. And the One who could be trusted with power will give it up, and takes his Cross. But in taking his life they will only confirm his claim. And the eye of faith sees that those Innocents - the first to die for their identification with Christ - will receive a reward when all things are made right.

But that's in the Apocalyptic Now, where angels and martyrs bow down to the Lamb that was slain. In this valley of death, the Powerful will still strike when under pressure, and we will still hear:
"A voice in Ramah. A sound of bitter sobbing. It is the crying of Rachel, weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted."

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Sun on the Snow

Oddest thing. Hnaef went into the communal loos on the ground floor this evening, after a couple of hours at the White Horse, to find a Sun journalist with his head down the loo.

I mean, obviously that's the normal place to find Sun journalists. Heads in the gutter and not looking up at the stars. But on this occasion the journo concerned was apparently testing out our porcelain for traces of coke and other funny stuff - as they have allegedly found in other places of worship around the country.

I just don't know what we're doing to modern day journos. I mean, you get Zoe Williams writing drivel in the Guardian on a regular basis. We accept that. But even Katie Hopkins doesn't have to spend her spare hours with her head down a toilet,investigating other people's use of unusual substances. As a young journalist, on your first new job, swabbing around communal loo bowls has got to be a bit of a low point.

So let's consider. In the first place, churches around the country are available to all. Anyone can use them. Churches, in line with Our Lord's injunction to drag people off the street, can be used by most any people. If there's signs of drug use in the loos - especially around St Bride's Fleet St - it's not necessarily the clergy responsible. Some of the regular visitors through the week are quite likely to be using drugs - and the church lets them in regardless. We accept people of all faiths and nuns, after all.

And then - the Sun as a source of moral probity? The paper that made up vicious untruths about dying football fans? The paper that hacked people's phones to get juicy stories?  Whoever is taking drugs - in whatever church around the country that may be - at least they didn't accuse innocent people of picking the pockets of dying kids at a football game. And I know which I think is worse. You could argue that, compared to the Sun's past, hanging around churches with drug testing kits is a massive step upwards.

Anyway, it was good we caught the Sun reporter. After flushing his head down the loo a dozen times, we are pretty sure his mind is considerably cleaner than when he started.

And then we used his kit to check the loo. As we suspected.

One of the Beaker Folk is clearly using patchouli.

Saint John the Evangelist

He never leaves me,
though all others have gone.
He was there in the beginning
by the sea, on the mountain
in those two gardens.
He was there.

For though I am alone,
lost by this faithless sea;
all my friends have gone - my brother,
Peter, Andrew, His Mother
from those glorious days
all have gone.

Yet still he comes
on a Sabbath when bread is broken
when his Spirit again roars in
across ages and all space
to this far island
still he comes.

And I see my Lord
slain Lamb; eternal Word.
In spotless robes, as my life ends
and I wait for him to come
in glory - or for me leave.
He is here.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Happy Christmas

A baby comes into the world. He brings strangers and wanderers to see him. Nearby a king fears. And yet throughout the universe, every star sings his praise. Every atom depends on him.

His mother, tired but full of joy. Joseph, still confused but happy they're through it. Outside it's dark. And though the dark will grow and cling to him - though he has plunged into it - it does not understand him. And will never overcome him.

Happy Christmas to Beaker Folk wherever you are. And the Light of the World light your way today.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Humbug all Round

The Guardian has quite a nice little piece about the way people of all faiths and nuns celebrate Xmas. They all seem like a nice bunch. All enjoying the day in a decent way, respecting everybody else.

And then there's Tony Green from Ipswich.... 
“It’s not just the religious mumbo-jumbo I dislike but also all the associated bullshit and worship of materialism. So I do my best to make Christmas day as much like any other day as is possible."
Apart from being even smugger than usual?
"Fortunately I’m a single man living alone"
No kidding, Tony. Can't imagine how that happened. There are people who can't help their singleness. People who wish they weren't single and alone. And then there's one bloke whom we can all imagine single and alone and think it's fortunate for all of us.

"so at least I don’t have the pressure to conform that others might suffer. And after many years I’ve trained my friends"
Friends? really?
"....to realise that however well-meaning their invitations are, I really don’t want to share in the compulsory but fake bonhomie of their celebrations. Obviously my normal night out at the pub isn’t possible and most radio on the day is unadulterated drivel (the totally awful rubbish people will put up with just because a record is a ‘Christmas record’ never ceases to amaze me) so I can’t have a completely normal day. But I do my best."
ie other people's smug meters only go up to 10.  But Tony's goes up to 11.....

“If the weather’s ok I’ll probably go out for a bike ride (nice quiet roads, but watch out for the ‘it’s only a large glass of sherry’ brigade)."
Who are these people who roam quiet roads armed only with large glasses of sherry, accosting cyclists?
"I’ll dip into the radio selectively for the few normal programmes worth listening to, including a few news programmes in the hope that they actually have some real news rather than the predictable ‘Queen said X’, ‘Pope said Y’ stuff." 
Nah, there's no news at Christmas. Everybody apart from you is enjoying themselves. Pagan, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Jew - we're all having a nice time. Apart from you. You're the only sad beggar in the country. Hope someone bought you a new anorak?
"I’ll listen to some timeshifted programmes from previous days and do a bit of work on my computer and finish off the evening with a few bottles of Belgian beer before retiring to bed relieved that the most boring day of the year is past again."
Oh, come on Tony. You have the potential, single-handed, to make every day the most boring day of the year. And "a bit of work on my computer" is going on Facebook and wondering which of your four friends has posted anything today. Even other atheists are avoiding you.
“The funny thing is, the vehemence with which so many people are keen to try and insult me for failing to conform (so predictable with the unimaginative ‘bah humbug’) that I can’t help being reminded of the way closet gays are often the worst homophobes - could it be that a lot of people would secretly like to rein back on the festivities but daren’t admit it because they’re scared of what other people will say? And seeing someone who can ignore it all just reminds them of their own moral cowardice?”
You keep telling yourself that, Tony. You keep telling yourself that. Because the alternative is, let's face it, too awful to face, isn't it?

The Oxen (again)

100 years ago today, this were published.

Happy Christmas Thomas Hardy, wherever you are.

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
   "Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
   By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
   They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
   To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
   In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
   "Come; see the oxen kneel,

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
   Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
   Hoping it might be so.

A Canon Backfires

Giles Fraser, Canon Emeritus of the Guardian, writes to explain why he does not believe in the Virgin Birth.

And I guess the problem I have with this piece is that I agree with a lot of it. Too much is made of Mary's virginity. Took much post-Biblical speculation about her purity - and the rejection of sex that made it kind of weird - is a bad thing. Jesus our Saviour was born into the mess and bullets and muck of this broken world.

But none of that makes the Virgin Birth untrue. Canon Giles has argued back from his view of things to the way he wants things to be.  You could say the Canon has backfired, if you wanted a cheesy pun for your blog post.

Fraser's method is interesting. He argues against the Virgin birth, using those parts of the Bible that liberals would often not believe in. Like John 8. First up, is this the earliest example of a polemic against Christianity? John's Gospel is the last written. Its historical accuracy is doubted by liberals. There are earlier polemics against Christianity, if this is what this is, in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts. And it is only by applying the hermeneutic principle that the text means whatever we want it to mean, that Giles Fraser can poke his meaning into this passage.

Then Giles tells us that Jesus was born in a cowshed. Well, call me Ms Cynical. But isn't this in one of the two nativity accounts in the Gospels? One of the accounts that also says Mary was a virgin? So why doesn't Giles say the manger account is a myth as well?

I suspect it's because the birth in a manger fits Giles Fraser's politics. Can you imagine him, standing in front of the Crib there, getting the chance to look sad and serious without his dog collar? Lovely photo op. No, if you're gonna explain away the Virgin Birth, you can do the same with the whole trip to Bethlehem and escape to Egypt. You explain the Gospels were applying Hebrew Bible narratives to Jesus. You don't get to accept just the bits that fit Guardian politics and your photos from trips to Calais.  And put your dog collar on. With your open neck and your professional sad look, you look like a Moomin on Dress-down Friday.

And Giles Fraser tells us that the Virgin Birth stories were a response to a Roman and Jewish claim that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier. Now I can see what Giles Fraser has done here. He's confused Jesus with Brian Cohen. I mean, no shame in that. Even Wise Men did that. But again Giles is rejecting a story in the Gospels based upon his greater belief in supposition and rumour. Not a great way of deciding what is and isn't true.

You know what I think. I believe in the Virgin Birth. Partly this saves me from crossing my fingers on those rare occasions when the Beaker Folk say the creeds. But mostly because I take two different Gospel accounts - which go into considerable detail of Mary's problems about the miraculous baby she's going to have - seriously. These two Gospels do not, at any point, get hung up on Mary's purity. They do not start mentioning perpetual virginity. They mention it and they tell how Joseph came to terms with it. It is cross-referenced to a prophecy of ambiguous translation - which beyond doubt in Isaiah's mind had nothing to do with Jesus or to a virgin rather than a young woman. But that's what Matthew's Gospel in particular does - endlessly throws Old Testament quotes at this amazing Saviour, born of a virgin and laid in a manger, because that's how a pious Jew gets the words to reflect the wonders that have occurred. Matthew had no need to invent a Virgin Birth to justify an obscure passage in Isaiah. But a pressing need to find a prophecy to reflect the Virgin Birth.

For me it's not about rejecting sex or this physical world. It's God showing his side of the bringing of this Saviour - child and ageless God - into this world. In the muck and blood and straw. I do believe God could have been incarnate without a Virgin birth - though that ain't a mystery I'd be qualified to poke too much into. But if I've a choice of a loose canon trying to generate clicks or Matthew and Luke trying to save souls, I know which one I'd take every time.

Did Women Vicars Wipe out White Dog Poo?

Previously I have commented on Kathy Gyngell's correlation of women priests and decline in the Church of England.

But spurious correlation is a powerful thing. I've had a crack team of Beaker Folk who are graduates of both Oxford and Cambridge (i.e. me and Hnaef) studying all the data, and the revelation I'm about to  make is - to be honest - quite a revelation.

When I was a young girl, there were female vicars. But the streets and alleyways of Bedfordshire were littered - and I think that is the mot juste - with white dog poo. Sure, dogs had brown poo as well. But white dog poo was all over the place.

Today, there's female vicars everywhere you look - especially in Kathy Gyngell's world - and yet, oddly, the white dog poo that was a common experience in the 1970s has disappeared. If we plot the graph of the two facts over the last forty years, it looks a bit like this:

The lesson is quite clear isn't it? Female priests have wiped out white dog poo.

But aha, I hear you cry - almost everywhere except the Conservative Woman Blog - surely correlation isn't causation. How did the advent of female vicars cause this phenomenon? Surely they are unrelated - or else both caused by a third effect.

Not so. It's pretty clear. In the 70s, dogs were fed large amounts of bone meal in their food. As a result of their high-calcium diet their droppings were full of calcium also, and were so white they glowed in the dark. But since then, female vicars have started calling the shots. Under their feminising, liberal, vegetarianising influence, dog food has become - without anyone noticing - increasingly vegetarian. Surely you've noticed that dogs are less inclined to fight and more likely to sit around discussing how to ensure a Corbyn victory in 2020?

So it's not just correlation. It's causation. Women priests have wiped out white dog poo. And I would like, at this point, to apologise for using the expression "wiped out". Probably given you an image you didn't want.


Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Sermon for the Service People Come to Once a Year

It's nice to see you all again, as we gather once again around the crib to remember the Little Baby Jesus, born for us in Bethlehem.

And I realise I probably won't see you again till next Christmas. And I can understand that. This holy night you get warm fuzzies. But it all gets a bit darker shortly - although there's a good bit on Easter Sunday, it's all a bit challenging. And then after Easter there's those dull 9 months to be counted off till next Christmas. No wonder you'd rather wash the car; or watch the kids play football; or just stay in bed.

So I'm not going to lecture you about your utter hypocrisy - what's the point? I won't try and tell you it's pretty good the rest of the year - you won't believe me even if it's true. No, I won't be wondering where you are every Sunday from now till the next carol service.

But just one plea. Any chance you could fill in a standing order? It'll be just like being here every week. But without the sermons.

Women Hating Women Priests

A piece of almost compete spite on a blog called "A Conservative Woman". You may not wish to follow the link. I had to check it out as I'm still not convinced it's not a parody.

Now I can't speak for the ministers in  Kathy Gyngell's parish. So I don't know much about whether they do indeed have " pudding basin " haircuts. Maybe they have bobs? If she's saying that all female clergy are unattractive then I can only assume she's not been watching the news lately. There are some very attractive women  priests. But then personal physical attractiveness isn't a required trait for a minister of God. If it were all the men would have been sacked years ago. Kathy Gyngell may be implying that all women priests are stereotypical lesbians. But then, at least to a degree, this would help mitigate her concern that these ministers would demand "family time" like those female doctors, with their work-life balance and other nastiness. Professional people should sacrifice their families and lives to their professions, in Kathy Gyngell's world. It's not a nice world though, I reckon.

Her reference to the clergy team being "feminised" is interesting. As that's not a word we generally use for cis women. "Feminised" implies that these ministers are either men who have suffered hormonal imbalances, or transsexuals. I personally owe no ill-will to either group. But it strikes me that this isn't what Kathy Gyngell means. I think she means these ministers are, simply, women. And she has used the wrong word, having heard it somewhere, assuming it's merely insulting.

There is then a fairly long passage complaining about one particular minister - especially in comparison to Kathy Gyngell's own sainted father. Well, I can't criticise Kathy Gyngell's father. He sounds like a model vicar of the George Herbert model, from the days when this was possible. Probably a good bloke.

But he seems only to have had one village. And we don't live in Dibley anymore. Even a place near me like Markyate - which would be a small town if it weren't in the Home counties - is bundled together with its neighbour. When Kathy Gyngell was living in an Enid Blyton book, you'd have the chance of knowing all your local farmers. But if your patch is half of Banburyshire, or massive stretches of North Yorkshire, it's not so easy. Especially when your time is taken up visiting an increasing number of frail parishioners, and filling in forms.

Amid the bile and anecdote, there are two statistics. So let's look at them. Kathy Gyngell tells us that since her father retired 40 years ago attendance at Church of England [Sunday] services has halved. This is true. I don't think we're expected to conclude that the loss of half a million worshippers is down to just one man's retirement, even if he visited every farmer in the UK. No, it's the women that's caused the decline, we are invited to believe.

Obviously, women have only been priests for half this time. So has all the decline occurred since the Ordination of Women Act came into force? Here is a stat from the Church Times:

"In another measure, the Usual Sunday Attendance, 784,600 people attended. Forty years ago, the Usual Sunday Attendance figure was approximately 1.25 million.... In recent years, Sunday attendance has continued to fall by a small amount each year. Five years ago, the C of E saw 823,000 people come through its doors on a Sunday."

So attendance fell by roughly 500,00 over the last four decades but 40,000 over the last five years. And when have we had most Anglican clergywomen around? That's right. Clearly the presence of women has slowed the decline an all-male clergy caused.

And Kathy Gyngell complains that, as the number of full-time female clergy rises, the men decline. Well of course.  As the number of female full-time clergy increases, the number of full-time males (if you see what I mean)  will go down, if general numbers are roughly level. That's what happens in any workplace in this situation. If the C of E were a proper business, the result of this would be a steady improvement in quality as competition increased. Being the C of E, who knows what really happens?

Then there's SSMs - those sainted individuals who sacrifice their spare time for God and their fellow humans. Obviously Kathy Gyngell's not gonna like them. They're often women, who still insist on having kids despite their haircuts and men's clothes (to quote one of the comments btl). They don't have time to visit all the farmers. But they're the people who keep the show on the road, for no money, in many parishes.

She ends with a beautiful non-sequitur - that unpaid women priests are keeping all the wannabe full-time male priests out of jobs. There is a simple eight-letter answer to this. And it's a word that defines the only real difference between male and female priests. If there were the money for full-time priests, and people for the jobs - they'd have jobs.

Kathy Gyngell's complaint seems, at root, to be that we don't live in Barsetshire any more. Well we don't. She doesn't like women priests, she doesn't like SSMs. But there's no suggestion from her that she and like-minded friends should pour money into the church to pay for this legion of hairy-chested, farmer-worrying, squire-bothering heroes of the BCP. But no. Just a load of spite and wishing her ideal of England still existed.

Well it doesn't exist, if it ever did. If it lost all the female priests tomorrow, the C of E wouldn't suddenly grow. It would crash at a rate it hasn't since Kathy Gyngell's dad was still active.

Happy Christmas to one and all.

Ark-itecture and Morality

Drayton Parslow unhappy. He built a full-size Noah's Ark (on land) as part of his campaign to prove the literal truth of Genesis. Opened it up for people to wander around, bring their pets, let off ravens etc. But with all this rain, the ground gave way on one side and now it's leaning at an angle of 30°.

And you know what a pain it is, having a listed building.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Liturgy of a Dismal Solstice Sunrise

Archdruid: We welcome thee, O Sun - sibling - creature and sign of the power of the divine.

All: We can't see any poxy Sun, Eileen. You sure it's coming back this time?

Charlii: Yeah, after four blood moons, three supermoon-triggers-end-of-world-sundays and the rise of Donald Trump maybe this really is....

Young Keith: ....the End?

Moon Gibbon Folk scream and run off into the woods

Burton Dasset: But soft, what light breaks on yonder eastern horizon?

Archdruid: That's a car coming down the Ridgmont Road.

Burton: But could it be Phoebus Apollo, resplendent in his Volkswagen Passat?

Archdruid: I know you've been a bit low since InBev took over Camden Town Brewery, Burton, but that's surreal even for you.

Herne the Hunter turns up, gazes wistfully at the Eastern Horizon

Herne: Six thousand years long have I wandered the woods and leys. And I reckon it's gone for good this time.

Other Beaker Folk scream

Archdruid: OK. Let's get breakfast. Maybe the sun will appear later.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn plays a few bars of "Lord of the Dance", then heads off to Crawley Crossing for a bacon bap.

The Mysterious Powers of Dr Dawkins

Eccles has published his latest, in which he suggests that Dr Richard Dawkins is a miracle-worker, for his ability to get people to buy his books.

I think the good Bruv Emeritus is being a little unfair. Some of what Dawkins has written has been pretty good. The Greatest Show on Earth, for instance, is an excellent little book on the evidence for evolution.

Where I think the Bruvster may be about right, however, is when we come to the God Delusion. Anybody who writes a book that full of name-dropping and straws person burning, yet manages to convert people to atheism, is clearly using powers stronger than reasoned argument. I wish I knew what they were. If they were not infernal, I could use them to bolster the attendance of the Beaker People. We lost a few when they went out into the woods on a rainy day. They're not as strong as they were.

Monday, 21 December 2015

A Solstice Poem


My friend Mrs Mellissa Sparrow from Grilsby-on-the-Hill has sent me her poem on the Winter Solstice. Apparently the editor of her local church magazine told her not to send him any more until next summer. I don't understand why....

Winter Solstice

And now, at the death of the year
When nature hides and quivers in fear
The scuttling sun - above the woods
The dry twigs and the flower buds.

But though the dark rolls across the down
yet hope will linger in the frown
of bitter winter, sweeping down
to gild the world with frosty crown

And soon the sun will rise again
To lure the vixen from her den
And shake all nature from its fear
The new hope dawns in every year.

Except of course, when the sun grows old
and instead of rising - gentle yet bold
It expands as a red giant
and swallows everything out as far as the orbit of Mars.
At which point we're going to need another metaphor.
And probably a better rhyme scheme.

Not like in the Book

Much outrage over the news that a black actress is to play Hermione Granger on stage. Some people have pointed out there is one quote in the canon that says that the smartest kid in Hogwarts has a white face - an odd thing, I would say. Most caucasians are a kind of pinky-grey, except after a robust Christmas dinner when they tend to rosy. Or the following morning, when they can approach a colour best described as apple-white. I don't suppose Hermione had been on the razz and was suffering when described thus.

But Hermione's colour is hardly relevant to her character. She at no point joins the Klu Klux Klan or, as far as I'm aware, wonders what the neighbourhood is coming to.

This is an example of a dramatised version of a book where the change is irrelevant. Oddly enough, in a rapid dash to Wessex  Dorset and back over the weekend, I was discussing this very matter with somebody (who didn't really want to talk to me, but hey-ho) in Mellstock Stinsford Church. Sometimes, the very nature of cinematography or theatre as opposed to the written word demands a change in plot, scene. Sometimes, the changes between the two don't really matter or slightly enhance things. For example, James Bond in the books tends to drink whisky. Sherlock Holmes rarely wears a deerstalker in Conan Doyles's originals. But sometimes the drama makes a nonsense of the novel. For instance:

Contrary to the recent film of Far from the Madding Crowd, Gabriel Oak is quite interesting, and from the South West of England.

Contrary to the recent trilogy of films, The Hobbit is quite a short book.

In the book, Bridget Jones is frequently drunk. Very frequently.

Unlike every adaptation, Mr Woodhouse in Emma is an annoying get.

In the Bible, Jesus is Jewish,

Liturgy of Solstice Eve Tea-time

Archdruid: That's it then. Sun's gone down.

All: The sun sets at the death of the year.

Archdruid: Dunno why you're being so melodramatic about it. It's just an astronomical phenomenon.

All: The earth dies screaming.

Archdruid: Was that a UB40 lyric?

All: Erm... No.

Archdruid: Because you know if it was, I'll have to get the.....

All: Not the Slazenger V400 of Death!

Archdruid: Erm, no. I was going to say, the Best of UB40 (Part 1) CD.

All: To be honest we would rather you hit us with the cricket bat....

Archdruid: See you in the morning then?

All: As sure as the Death Star sucks the life from an unsuspecting sun.

Archdruid: May the Force be with you.

All: No we're not falling for that.

Liturgy of the Winter Solstice Being Tomorrow

All: Is it the Solstice yet?

Archdruid: One more sleep. Now, who brought the Beakers?

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Carols Lite

Trying to take the lessons of Tim Lott's Christmas message seriously at this evening's "Nativilite". We decided to dispense with all those tedious, didactic carols and instead only have the sorts of songs that make people feel vaguely Christmassy without any nasty theological or moral implications. You know, even "Away in a Manger" has a sharp turn in the third verse where it implies Jesus is able to be near us and care for small children - and a desire that we become fit enough for heaven. If even "Away in a Manger" is judgemental like that, what hope do we have from some of the more aggressive Advent carols? All that deeply wailing is most unpleasant.


So today's "Carols Lite" had all the joy and none of the content. Running order was:
  • Jingle Bells 
  • Frosty the Snowman
  • Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer
  • Blue Christmas
  • Walking in a Winter Wonderland
  • Fairytale of New York

Of course we had a lot of complaints. Everyone - even those who only come along to the Moot House at Yule and Mayday - said it wasn't the same without the religious carols. We were just singing Christmassy songs. Only Fairytale out of those has a Christian message at all - unless you count the Rudolfian message that we should respect those who do not meet society's ideals of physical beauty.

Which takes me back to the words of Tim Lott:
"This is the nature of Christianity, and of Christmas in general. It is a pantomime that we join in together and play out what it would feel like if we really did believe."
No, Tim Lott. This is your liberal, Western, complacent, ignorant view of the nature of Christianity. It's not the view of the Christian martyrs who are dying in the Middle East and Africa. They don't believe Christianity is a pantomime at all. They think it is eternally serious. The Priest who told you he did in fact believe in the Virgin Birth and Resurrection isn't some anachronism. That's what clergy generally believe.You're the one with the delusion.
A pulpit is for life, not just at Christmas

There's something really clever going on with some hymns. Take "In the Bleak Midwinter". It's one that some of my more literalist friends object to on the grounds that there was in fact no snow; no snow on snow; indeed no snow on snow on snoooow; in the bleak midwinter, long ago. But it's pretty and lovely and Christmassy and it sneaks in some of the most beautiful incarnational theology ever written:

"Angels and archangels may have gathered there / cherubim and seraphim thronged the air
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss / worshipped the Beloved with a kiss".

See, we who do this all the time don't just do it because it makes us feel nice and Christmassy and full of good will - even though it does, and it also makes us thoughtful and cut to the heart, challenged and aware we are sinful, yet loved and forgiven and loved and loved and loved.

We do it because we believe the stuff Tim Lott thinks we don't and shouldn't. When we sing our God was "contracted to a span - incomprehensibly made Man", there's probably more of us thinking we wish we could think of a word other than "Man" that made sense of the line and sounded inclusive, than there are of us crossing our fingers and wondering when we get a mince pie. We believe Jesus was God on earth - we largely believe in the Virgin birth. We believe Jesus existed, walked around, ate, drank, excreted, cried, said some awkward things, was brutally stitched up and killed. And unexpectedly, three days later, started walking around, eating and saying awkward things again. This is in fact what we believe. This is why we write and sing songs about it. This is why we are up at 8am in freezing cold buildings even when it is not Christmas. This is why people die for the Christian faith.

So happy Christmas, Tim Lott. Glad you like the wrapping. Maybe one day you'll actually get the gift.

Ban All Sex

Meanwhile on Radio 4 this morning (link available for a while - 35 minutes in) Canon Chris Sugden of Anglican "Mainstream" tells us that the valid reason for banning homosexual acts (as per some African countries) is to prevent grooming of children.

Let's think about this. Apparently the reason homosexual acts should be illegal is to prevent grooming of boys. Which is already illegal. So making one thing illegal will prevent a different, already illegal thing happening. As if banning hay fever tablets would stop people using Ecstasy. After all, they both make you feel better, don't they?

One trouble among many with Chris Sugden's argument is that you can extend it. Because young girls are also at risk of being groomed. And I don't believe there's any evidence that  men who are attracted to sex with girls are predominantly homosexual. But if the logic says that banning homosexuality prevents men preying on boys, there's only one way to prevent men preying on girls.

Ban all sex. It's the only logical thing to do.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Middle Class Rights

It's all very well, people banging on about "human rights" like they're something so special. But now everyone has human rights, what about the middle classes? What rights do they have?

Join the Beaker campaign for middle class rights, and we will ensure that nobody in Bedfordshire has more than three miles to go for a bagel again.

Our demands are:

  1. Free Wi-Fi on trains.
  2. Waitroses in all market towns.
  3. More brioches in the media.
  4. A national road-widening scheme to make more space for people-carriers and 4x4s.
  5. Recognition that Agas are a necessity, and therefore exempt from VAT.
  6. Kirsty Allsopp to be London Mayor.
  7. Decriminalkisaa
  8. House prices to be broadcast after the weather.
  9. Assertiveness on the national curriculum.
  10. Immunity from prosecution for those who lie about living in the school catchment area.
  11. Hermes to subcontract to people with nicer cars.
  12. Complaining about "gentrification" to be reclassified as a hate crime.
  13. Michael Roux to be mandatory on all TV channels.
  14. Car washing to be the established religion of the United Kingdom.
  15. Received Pronunciation to be recognised as a separate language to more common forms of English.
  16. Mary Berry to be listed.
Until our demands are met, we will not cease our quiet grumbling in M+S, our tutting on the Tube and our 

Herm for Christmas

Can Beaker People listen a bit more carefully when buying Druzmilla Christmas presents. It's always tricky when doing so for people from Hull.

Last year she received a beautiful range of specimens of the Dryopteris genus, and a spectacular Dicksonia antarctica which must have been from a "special admirer".

But what she really wanted was a Samsung.

Friday, 18 December 2015

An Empty Bench in Soho Square...

... If you'd have come, you'd have found me there.


Twitturgy for a Lovely Sunrise

@PersonInLowestoft It's a lovely sunrise.

@PersonInDiss It's a lovely sunrise.

@PersonInHusborneCrawley It's a lovely sunrise.

@PersonInMiltonKeynes It's a lovely sunrise.

@PersonInCoventry It's a lovely sunrise.

@PersonInBirminghan It's a lovely sunrise.

@PersonInStoke It's a lovely sunrise.

@PersonInManchester It's raining.

@PersonInChester It's a lovely sunrise.

@PersonInLiverpool It's a lovely sunrise.

@PersonInRhyll It's a lovely sunrise.

@PersonInBwtws-y-Coed It's a lovely sunrise.

@PersonInAnglesey It's a lovely sunrise.

@PersonInDouglasIOM It's a lovely sunrise.

@PersonInBelfast It's a lovely sunrise.

@PersonInDonegal It's a lovely sunrise......

* Locations may be approximate.
** Pictures may be interchangeable.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Universalist Missonal Resignation

Odd little discussion just now with Bertrand.

You know Bertrand? Lives just down the road. Opposite the Reading Room. In the imaginary cottage nobody from Husborne Crawley really lives in.

I was doing the old missional thing on Bertrand. Responding to the Great Commission. You know, going to all nations, pouring out Beakers etc etc. Telling him that God loves him and Jesus wants him to come along to the Moot House on Sundays and what about it, eh?

And Bertrand says, "What about if I don't?"

And I go, "You what?"

And he goes, "Since God loves me so much he'll let me into heaven regardless, and Hell is empty if not non-existent, and I find it hard to get up on Sundays - why do I need to do anything? Can't I just sit around drinking Greenwich Brewery beer, and flicking  left over silver-foil pie cases from the  Woburn Sands chip shop at the picture of Richard Bacon I've nailed to the mantelpiece I put in  specifically to flick pie cases at pictures of Richard Bacon on?

And I've had a think about it. And he's got a point.

Anyone got a spare pie?

The Ghost of Kenneth Williams Stalks Regents Place

When Kenny Williams of most joyful memory departed this vale of tears - with a most enigmatic entry in his diary - he was living in a flat in Marlborough House, in Osnaburgh Street, London NW.

Ken died in 1988. Too young, too funny, too unloved. The flat was, after a while, demolished. His blue plaque was removed but replaced, when the site was redeveloped, by the plaque which is in the Diorama Theatre.

Regents Place is a typically modern London environment. Gone are the flats of Kenneth Williams' ken. In their place are shiny office blocks, trendy pubs with glass walls, and a health club. Because nothing is more useful to London's thrusting executives than a fitness suite they never have the time to get to.

Of a late evening, the Union bar stops selling overpriced lager to stressed Santander bankers and Atos executives. The concrete canyons fall silent. The striding-woman art installation stops walking and has a breather. Only the BT Tower, looming over the scene, is unchanging - and mostly as Kenny knew it.

It is then that Kenneth Williams stalks the estate, in eternal search of a cooker preserved in a wrap of polythene - of a toilet used by no other human being. Or of a fumble with a muscular builder of ambiguous preferences.

People who have walked through Regents Place in the small hours have reported their experiences. A chill, both unsettling and yet childishly vulnerable. The sense of a presence that is both lovable and yet, oddly, unloved. A spirit reaching out for love and yet pulling away from contact.

And the sound on the wind as the restless soul looks forever for the place, now gone, where he and his Louie found their temporary peace. Accounts differ but young Cockney men - mostly maintenance men of a certain build - are convinced of what they have heard.

A nasal intonation, a mixture of sarcasm and the desire to please, and the sound that echoes across the square and its glass passageways:

"Oooh Matron! Stop messin' about!"

A Festive Crown of Thorns

"The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn."

Walking out in the half-light this morning and struck by an image. A door with four glass panels, and hung on a nail on the central cross of wood, a crown of thorns.

The analogy is not new, as the carol reminds us. A north European tree - symbol, so they say, of enduring life. An evergreen tree, carrying hope and life through the shortest days and darkest nights of the year.

And in bending those prickly branches to a welcoming circle, an everlasting truth and a horror is woven into being. A festive dance becomes an instrument of torture. A crown of thorns, through all centuries awaiting the coming of the true God, priest and king.

The berries - the things that give food to the birds of the air (whose very feathers are numbered). They carry the ones who feed on them through the dark times, shining bright even in snow and the hardest of frosts. They shine as red as wine. As red as holy blood on a Judean hillside.

And so they hang on the doors this expectant Advent morning. The thorns of pain, the bloodberries. A crown awaits the baby king before his birth.

And I walk down the lane, and in shadow each festive door carries its own, unknowing message of incarnation and sacrifice.

A crown of thorns
A crown of thorns
A crown of thorns.....

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Frog in Nando's - a Tribute Song

Did you see the frog in Nando's?
It's been quite a while since I have seen a chicken-leg in your hand.
And I don't blame you in Nando's
Cos batrachians aren't what you expect when eating pitta bread.
And I'm glad we saw the leg
And didn't try and eat its desiccated head.

There was something in the salad that night
It wasn't right - in Nando's.
It was laying there for you and me
We didn't see - in Nando's.
Though I never thought that it could croak
- there's no rivets
If I have to do the same again
I'll take my friend
somewhere else.

Praise Him on the Blue Suede Shoes

Just because...


Well praise God in his Temple.
    Praise him in heav'n.
Praise him for his strength and greatness too.
And praise him with a harp and kazoo.
You can praise him with the organ
and the tambourine too.

Well you can praise him with lyres
praise him with dance
praise him with plainsong, choirs and chants
and praise him with the loud cymbals too
Yeah you can praise his holy name
with your songs and blue suede shoes.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Cycles That Ate London

Lord Lawson tells the Lords that cycling has done more damage to London than anything since the Blitz.

It's true enough. My grandmother was a Londoner. And I remember her stories of her laying awake at night, whenever there was a "Cyclist's Moon", terrified that someone would wipe out her street with a new cycle lane.

She said the great thing about the Blackout was it completely eliminated red-light jumping by cyclists. But when, late one night, a bunch of cyclists came round and knocked her house down, she knew it was time to get my uncle evacuated to the countryside, where there were fewer bikes.

As my uncle waved from the train window at St Pancras, he remembered seeing, far off, the ARP wardens desperately trying to keep cycle helmets off the roof of St Paul's.

Seriously, Lord Lawson, among the things that have had a worse impact on London than cyclists are cars, lorries, 60s brutalist architects, the modern generation of planners who have made the Thames waterfront look like a playroom for a giant baby, the Subway sandwich chain, the people who put ads for prostitutes in phone boxes, acid rain, car parks, pigeons, rats, Margaret Thatcher, the Al Qaeda-inspired narcissists of 7/7, the IRA and the people who knocked the old Euston Station down.

If you want to see something causing more delays than cycle infrastructure, Lord Lawson, then why not go to Soho and Fitzrovia and see what Crossrail and endless gentrification and redevelopment are doing to traffic flows?

And if you really want to avoid cycles, why not do what my Nan did during the Blitz?

Go down the Tube.

Monday, 14 December 2015

How the World Ends - Not with a Bang but a Whisper

Fascinated listening to this morning's Start the Week - including a discussion about the possibilities for preserving and maybe re-creating extinct and dying languages.

It draws analogies, as it probably should, with seed storage facilities (I'm talking plant seed here, you understand, not... oh, don't worry) or places for keeping animal DNA safe for future generations. But it leaves me wondering what life will be like for those future generations. Why are we saving this stuff up for them?

After the global-warming-induced flood/ice age, or the great ISIS v Time Lord War, what will life be like for our descendants, for whom we are keeping the Guernsey-French dialect and the DNA of the lesser-spotted ringworm safe?

We must be assuming they are going to be long-lived. Nobody with a normal life span is going to be wasting their time teaching themselves Patagonian Welsh.

And there will be fewer of them than us. If they're going to be releasing dodoes, great auks, Siberian tigers and jabberwocks about the place, they're going to be needing to believe that there's enough space to let them into the wild, so some farmer doesn't immediately shoot them.

And they'll need to be confident of peace. Which again implies not many people - so no race movements, no fights over scarce resources.

In this world where everyone lives peacefully for ever, people will be able to record the mating practices of woolly mammoths in the Frisk language, confident that their potential readers will have the time to learn Frisk in their unlimited spare time, to gain the essential mammothy knowledge for themselves.

Basically, this future for which we are saving things is just another eschatology - a happy world of quiet, immortal seekers after obscure truth and knowledge-based excitement. The future is a library.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Festival of Pink Trousers

A reminder to all Beaker People that today is the Festival of Pink Trousers. Not red. Especially not red. Terracotta is acceptable, as are salmon and rose. But not red.

I'm not quite clear on why today is the Festival of Pink Trousers. But it is. And you're all supposed to be happy.

So cheer up. That is not optional.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Burning Chaff and a Brood of Vipers

"John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? .... Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”"

Which is a version of the baptismal liturgy that, in the Church of England for instance, can be omitted "for pastoral reasons."

They don't seem over-stressed by it all, the crowds. Where a post-modern bunch of Brompton Hipsters would be all, "Easy, John dude! Let's have a craft beer and an artisanal locust and artichoke rice bowl! Then  we can maybe take the fixies for a spin - there's these lovely wind-y roads just inside the Hebron Gate - chill out and have a chat about this whole "brood of vipers" concept. Nice beard, by the way."

No, the crowds just take it on the chin. "Brood of vipers? Well, John - you're the Baptist. You should know. Careful with that axe, mind. Got sensitive roots, we have, at this time in our race's history."

Which is a heck of an intro for what becomes a fairly uncontroversial list of instructions,  What must they do? Share their coats with people who need coats. Share their food with hungry people. Tax collectors aren't asked to do anything wildly virtuous. "Just do your job. Don't take what you're not supposed to have". No more. Soldiers - don't beat people up and demand money off people.

All sounds entirely reasonable. Even for a brood of vipers. We all know we should share with those who need it more than we do. This is not news. All the major religions agree - you should do unto others as you would be done by. Or not do to others what you wouldn't be done by. Soldiers not beating up people is not a shock.

But in fact that's exactly what doesn't happen. Soldiers oppress the people they've defeated because they persuade themselves they're not as human. They're the enemy. People without coats - how often can it be rationalised that their coat-lessness is down to their own fecklessness? People with not enough food - they have dodgy governments, or if they're in this country they're lazy. How come they're going hungry when they have mobile phones and cars? What's the matter with these people? Burundi is a reminder - not for the first time - of what happens when people decide other people are other than them - a threat and a danger.

John's instructions, frankly, are good and worthy but they don't work. He's just restating the Old Testament Law. Deuteronomy 10:18 for instance: "He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing." Yet 1,000 years on from Deuteronomy's events, people still need telling. 2,000 years on from John the Baptist, people still need telling. Nothing changes from simply telling people what is good and what isn't - because we pretty much all knew it already. It's written in our hearts, that's why it's written in our religions already. And because we know it but don't always do it - that's why we have police, and peace-keepers, United Nations and social services and food banks and charities.

Everybody knows there's more to come: they're waiting for the Messiah, and wondering if John's the man. And John knows he's not, and he also seems to know that the  moral stuff isn't the heart of the problem: "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

John's the greatest prophet the land and people of Israel have ever produced. And the best he can come up with himself is: "be nice to people." There's something far more fundamental that's needed - and he kind of knows what it is.

"His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John knows that whoever comes after him - that cousin  he presumably left behind as he headed for the desert, maybe one he's never met since that blessed morning in Elizabeth's house - has to do more than just tell people what's good. Moses did that - and they promptly made a golden calf. Jeremiah did it - and they threw him in a muddy cistern. Whoever comes, will have to be able to change the very depths of the human heart.

He'll have to burn out all the evil - all the tendency to know what is right and make up reasons why it's OK to do wrong. All those excuses that you don't have to love your neighbours because, let's face it, they're not good neighbours.

I don't know how allegorical "chaff" is here. Is Jesus clearing the threshing floor and throwing the souls that are chaff into the fire? Maybe. Hardly the gentle Jesus meek and mild of fable, but on the other hand, if anyone is ever going to decide who does and doesn't enter the fire, I'd rather it were Jesus. He, after all, is the one that all sorts of people ran to and he welcomed them. If you reach out to him and see him as the Saviour, as the real Baptizer who will change your heart and your eternal destiny - he's the one that can do it.

But also (or maybe instead) - he's the one who will clear the chaff out of the threshing floor of your heart. There's only good grain going to be any use in the kingdom - all the rest needs to be left behind, thrown away. You don't store chaff away in a barn - that's what you do with grain. Maybe if you open your heart to that Baptiser, then the Holy Spirit will come in and burn out the excuses, and the hardness, and the clinging to your prejudices and the self-centredness. Maybe if you open up your heart to the Baptiser then what is left in there will be pure, and holy, and useful - and worth keeping with you into heaven. But maybe it won't be a quick process - because we make it so hard, we cling onto all the rubbish that we've grown with. Maybe it won't be till the End, or until we are called home, that we finally bear the fruit that we are called to do.

Lovely irony from Luke at the end of the passage. "So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people." John's just told them that they're baby vipers, that they have to watch out or they'll be cut down like trees for burning, that the one after him is the one that really means business.

That's the good news, people. God loves us so much that God is prepared to go to a lot of trouble - on God's behalf and on ours - to bring us to him. It caused God a lot of pain - rejection, desolation, the Cross. And it brings us struggle - surrendering to God's will, putting ourselves last, picking up our own crosses. And we fail - often and quite often badly. But at the end, it's worth it. There's only one way to live, by welcoming in that one who baptizes, seeing our darkness and letting the fire of his Spirit burn it away. Then when the Day comes, we'll know the one we have loved, and who loves us so much he gave the world for us.

The Law is an Ass, not a Bike

[Justice Charles] Wide continued by saying: "I'm very conscious, as all judges are, that no sentence I can pass can bring a victim back...."

He didn't finish by saying "...so what's the point of even trying?" But he might as well have done. A lorry driver turns left unexpectedly without checking his mirrors and kills a cyclist. The judge gives a year driving ban and community service. Cos motor vehicles eh? They just kill people. The driver of the lorry is just a helpless pawn in the hands of fate.

A BBC traffic report this month described how a man escaped injury when his car "mounted the central reservation." You'll notice the chap didn't drive onto it. The car just did it. Motor vehicles are like that. Minds of their own.

In the old days before giving the death sentence a judge would put a black cap on. I expect Justice Wide will be putting on Christmas Cracker hats before he sentences in future.

Friday, 11 December 2015

The Liturgy of the Fairytale of New York - 2015

** Warning - people who are arses may find the following disturbing **

Archdruid: You scumbag, you maggot.

All: You cheap lousy faggot.

Archdruid: Happy Christmas, your arse - I pray God it's our last.

All: Are you sure about that?

Archdruid: What?

All: Bit offensive?

Archdruid: Offensive to whom?

All: Are you being offensive to people who are arses?

Archdruid: WHAT?

All: People who are arses are people too.

Archdruid: Wasn't it bad enough when we worried about people who are maggots?

All: This is Dave Cameron's Britain.....

Archdruid: But I didn't even say the person concerned was an arse. It was more of a Royle-Family type of expression...

All: Can't be too careful.

Archdruid: OK. We would like to apologise to any people who are arses who were offended by the making of this liturgy....

Outrageous Heresy

I'm sorry.

I don't like the poetry of Gerald Manley Hopkins. It's clunky.

There. I've said it.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Guardian Reading and the Terminally Self-Unaware

Just reading the Guardian website, as we pinko-liberal types do. Vaguely-interesting piece on perceived visual cues in txt-speak.

Made the mistake of reading the comments btl. Mistake. At least it was better than the comments under the article about the WI banning a woman from breastfeeding. Then I read this comment. I apologise for the swear word. It's biological rather than blasphemous, and fairly mild really.

Add caption
Dweeb44 begs many questions. In which contexts is the expression  "social networking" correctly capitalized? Likewise for Instagram. But most of all - in what universe does Dweeb44 think commenting on a forum below a Guardian article is not social media? (Or, if you prefer, Social Media). Is this a form of Magrittesque surrealism? Is Dweeb44 an abstract philosophical performance artist? Or is Dweeb44 merely someone whose judgementalism is exceeded only by their self-righteousness and lack of self-awareness?

Here's a clue. Dweeb44 is commenting on a Guardian article.


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Donald Trump Calls for Ban on Mosquitoes

In a radical stepping-up of his recent remarks, Donald Trump has called for a ban on mosquitoes.

"What I'm saying is, if we want to keep the USA safe for good ol' white boys to shoot up shopping malls without the danger of Muslim terrorists, we need to keep out Muslims. And if we want to protect American jobs and keep down crime, we need to keep out Mexicans.

"And the most dangerous of all are Mexican Muslims. And what's the Mexican for 'mosque'? It's 'mosquito'. We must act now and ban all mosquitoes before the Mexican Muslims start spreading malaria."

A spokesperson for Mr Trump, calling himself EL Ron Whisty, later clarified that in calling for the elimination of mosquitoes, Mr Trump was also looking to ban mesquite, muskrats and - just to be on the safe side - moss.

Do They Know it's Advent?

That's the forty-first Christingle done then.

On top of nineteen nativities. And the four residential home carol services and the carol-singing round the village (and other people's villages). Eaten the Druids' team Xmas dinner. And the Beaker Bazaar has flogged off all the bling at half-price. And got the Creme Eggs on the shelf

Went into the Moot House last night and someone has put holly around the window ledges. I had it removed of course. How are we going to celebrate Christmas properly when it comes, if we don't respect Advent?

Monday, 7 December 2015

Specialist Subject the Bleedin' Igneous

(The bluestone element of) Stonehenge first erected in Wales, claims the Guardian, in what it calls an "amazing" discovery.

Amazing if we hadn't been suspecting something along those lines ever since the source of the bluestones was discovered, yes. In case you're wondering, the bluestones probably aren't what you think of at all. They're much smaller rocks than the sarsens - the big sandstone lumps that make up the horseshoe and outer ring, the trilithons that people assume are "Stonehenge". Sarsens come from Wiltshire - still an impressive feat, but not so much as bringing the bluestones from Presceli.

The Guardian suggests that the stones were brought to Wiltshire as a sign of the unification of the tribes of southern Britain. Which is the sort of EU-phile, Unionist dreaming I expect from the Grauniad. Every age gets the Stonehenge it wants, and the Guardian gets one that symbolises peace, love and understanding in a sylvan prehistoric socialist Utopia.

An alternative suggestion, to me, is that the Stonehenge bluestones are the prehistoric Elgin Marbles. We know that Archdruid Enya, her successors and the Wiltshire Beaker People of the time were powerful enough to construct mighty structures like Durrington Walls and, for that matter, Stonehenge. What's to say they didn't simply wander into Wales for a holiday, discover it rained the whole time, beat up the local Elvis Tribe, and carry the whole lot back as proof they were the baddest? Would have left the locals all shook up, for sure. Not so nice, not so "let's all just get together, guys, and be at one in peace and harmony". Much more like human nature.

Meanwhile an alternative view published last month says there was no quarrying at all, and the stones were probably carried to Wiltshire by a giant glacier.

As long as the Welsh don't want them back. King Arthur Pendragon would be livid.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

This Has Always Been My Pew

Now don't get me wrong. I understand that some people are attached to the seats where they normally sit. It's not just about staking out your territory. It's about security About familiarity breeding content. About feeling safe, in your own space, to worship.

But you can take it to extremes. I mean, take Blanderella at today's ecumenical service with the Guinea Pig Worshippers of Stewartby. Yes, you can still expect that worship is - in the modern parlance - a safe space. But surely there's got to be some kind of flexibility - some charity - some accommodation - in sharing worship with another fellowship?

Especially when we were invited over to their place. Blanderella just sitting on her own, in a dark, empty Moot House, wasn't a symbol of constancy. She was just being ridiculous.

Road-Building

A Church of England bishop was on Radio 4 this morning 

This is not unusual.

The bishop was taking a lot of flack on Twitter about it.

This is not unusual.

He wasn't taking flack just from atheists. He was taking it from Christians. And, in particular, Anglicans.

This is not unusual, either.

He was taking it because - apparently, because I wasn't listening - he was saying the Lord's Prayer ad should have been allowed to be shown in cinemas because this is predominantly or traditionally a Christian country.

No, I don't agree with that, either.

I don't agree with not showing the Lord's Prayer ad, though. I think it should be shown because the advertising agency apparently originally agreed to show it, and because I believe in free speech. Any argument that goes it shouldn't be shown because then other religions might want to show ads strikes me as the logic of fear and Student Union free speech bans. I wouldn't stop the National Secular Society or Regents Park Mosque advertising in a cinema. I'd prevent ISIS doing so as they're a terrorist organisation.

But the argument that the Church is entitled to something special because it's the Established Religion, or because "we're a [predominantly/historically] Christian country" is still heard. Mostly in the comments section of the Mail website, I would expect, but still heard.

John the Baptist came into a society where there was an established religion - Temple Judaism. And another, more locally-active version, Pharisaism. And most people seem to be rubbing along OK - going synagogue on the Sabbath. Up to the Temple on a semi-regular basis. It's a predominantly Judaic society. Albeit the Romans are the secular power, and that causes a bit of friction.

And John the Baptist comes in and says, "repent". A baptism for the repentance of sins. He's tearing down high places and raising up low ones, because he's building a highway, he says. A highway for the king.

Creation of a new highway is a radical thing. They're putting in the new Dunstable bypass at the minute - what will be a gleaming new structure, carrying people from Luton to Leighton Buzzard. And people from Leighton Buzzard to Luton. Some would say they've not thought this through. But there's a massive amount of work going on. Great swathes of countryside being torn up. To those of us who know that little swathe of countryside, north of Luton and Dunstable, and love it - it's a shocking sight. The reference points are being destroyed - the lie of the land changed. The skewed crossroads at what I always called Sundon Cross has been taken to pieces.

That's what happens when a new road goes in. Everything and everyone's expectations get realigned. There's a new way to get from A to B.

That's where the Church is now. We had a model. It said we are the Church, and as it happens we align to society. And Society aligns to us. Good citizens come to Church and all is well. Society will be well-ordered, everyone will behave quite well, and as a bit of a bonus you can go to heaven at the end.

Everything about that model is broke now. If people don't go to Church, it is no longer regarded as their problem. We don't have to get on our high horses when people show no Biblical literacy - there are people in our society, some of them probably still thinking they're Christians according to the old model - who don't know how to construct a simple, one-sentence prayer. And that's not their fault. While the world they lived in changed radically, we kept our old model of Church and Society - and they all lost interest.

I guess the call is the same as with John the Baptist - a call to repentance and baptism. Repentance isn't just about saying sorry. Repentance is about recognising that we've been going wrong, and we're going to have to change direction.

We've continued to sink our energies into buildings. We've continued to think we have a right to be heard. We've assumed that people may have wandered away but they're still basically just Christian, and as long as we stay the same things will be all right.

Well maybe now the time is to change. We have a road to build. And the top-down strategies of the past have failed. I remember the Decade of Evangelism. What an achievement. Ten years of slow decline, it could have been called. The assumption that the structures of the Church are for the best have been exposed as the wrongdoing of priests and pastors - only a few, out of the vast, vast majority - got ignored or hidden for fear that the organisation might be tainted. Well it's tainted now. All the arguments over modern language, inclusive language, furniture rearrangement - they're all just noise when it's the whole package, not just the wrapping, that people aren't even rejecting - they just don't care.

We have a road to build. We've got to see where our valleys are getting in the way - the sorts of places where we get bogged down, in arguments and point-scoring and name-calling - and we've got to raise them up. We've got to have a new way in the desert.

And we've got to go up to those high places - where we've worshipped the institution, or the building, or the way we've always done things, or the idea that Father is right - and we've got to flatten them. There's a chalk cutting in Dunstable. Originally built by the Romans, deepened by the road builders of the 18th century. The top of the downs would be a nice place to stand. A great view north and west, over the Vale of Aylesbury and all the way out to the hills above Hockliffe or to Dunstable Downs. You could sit there for hours. But if anything was going to move they'd need to be on the road. And the only way the road would be right would be - if you were a Roman - flat and straight. So the hill had to go.

And then if we've flattened the high places and raised up the low ones we can get ready to see the King. But remember - this isn't a road for us. It's for him. When we have thrown down our false idols and given up our low ways, we're still waiting for him. It's the Way of the Lord.

That's another thing we have to remember about repentance. It's not something we have in us. We have tried schemes and plans and self-importance. We should really be trying waiting for Jesus. Getting where he is. In prayer, and on the road. Walking with the people he walked with. Going with humility and hope, not a claim that we have some state-given right to be heard. If we're walking with the ones Jesus walked with, we must be on the Lord's highway. It may not be the country lanes we'd like. It may not be going where we expected.  But that's the way he's coming.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

An Afternoon With Polly Toynbee

Don't know if booking is still open, but a "related link" brought me to this advert for an afternoon of journalism with Polly Toynbee, whom we discovered last month to be the partner of the Bishop of Manchester.

45 quid for the afternoon, next Saturday.

Maybe not. You'd have to pay me a lot more than that.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

From the Sub-Lime....

Real trouble with the Beaker cess pit. It's been clagged up something chronic thanks to the lime deposits from the local hard water.

We've never had this problem until the Community grew to its current size.

I suppose it's a matter of scale.

The Science of Profundity

A "scientific" survey (I put the word in scare quotes, as otherwise you might think I take it seriously) has indicated that people of lesser intelligence are more convinced by fake profundity, the paranormal, pseudo-science and utter dri***.

Well, all I can say is, those that go often to the well are actualising their bucket's essential jerboa.

That'll be 40 quid. No cheques. I weren't born yesterday.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Vampire Strikes Bat

Bit worried about Drayton Parslow.

The little bell tower in St Bogwulf's Chapel has always been inhabited by bats. I swear my ancestors installed them when they built the place. They were a funny bunch, the Fitzroy-Russells.

But Husborne Crawley bats have always been a bit... unusual. We've traditionally just left rare steak out for them in the hope they'll leave us alone.

But against all our warnings Drayton had to go up there to find additional storage space for copies of the "Redemption Hymnal". He collects them from closing chapels - says they'll be needed when the End comes.

Brushing aside my injunction to him, that these bats are uncanny, as " superstitious, Papist nonsense ", up he went. There was a whirring sound, some screaming and then Drayton came down looking battered and bloody.

Sure, he said he was alright, as we left him last night. But I dunno.

Is it normal for Baptist ministers to hang by their ankles from roof beams?