Friday 1 December 2023

The Fairytale of Isaiah

"Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand." (Isa 64:8) 

Kirsty MacColl leaning over piano, singing at Shane MacGowan, black and white, in Fairytale of New York,

Hard to know where to start with the woe of the world today. Innocents suffer and die as Hamas attacks Israel and Israel bombs Gaza. Ukraine faces another winter of bombardment of its energy supplies, up against a gormless yet relentless opponent. In order to try to resolve the issue of climate change, three English dignitaries fly to a conference in separate private planes. And Shane MacGowan has died just before Christmas. And the hope that Fairytale of New York may finally make it to number 1 after 36 years comes as small consolation.

Like Kirsty McColl and Shane Macgowan, Isaiah 64 is looking into a world of disillusionment after hope. After Exile, the hope was that the Jews would return to a land of blessing - where ever valley was raised up, every mountain lowered, every road made smooth, and they would live up their calling to be God's chosen people.

Instead, they managed about half of it. Malachi will point out to them that they're letting down their side of the covenant in the imperfect sacrifices they're bringing.They were still a fractious little nation, with a poor replica of their original Temple, surrounded by enemies and at risk of being crushed by the great empires around them. The dreams weren't bad, but after the party they still have the hangover of reality to face. 

And if that's not sounding familiar yet again today, I don't know what is.

And yet amid the disappointment, there is hope. And the hope doesn't come from the failing People of God, as they forget to call on God's name and do their substandard good works. Instead it comes from their Covenant God. The one who on Sinai made the mountain shake with holiness.

And so the turn to God as their faithful parent - "we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand." The clay on the wheel may go wrong - but that doesn't make it worthless. It can be remoulded, returned, broken flat and made into a ball and raised up again.

All those people that sell us perfect lives - with the right products, the right lifestyle, the right prayers, the right way of following God's laws - are lying to us. Because in this world it is not in our hands to have a perfect life. Even a man as rich as Elon Musk must put up with his own fallibility - whether he believes in it or not.

When Kirsty tells Shane in "Fairytale" that he's taken her dreams from her, he says "I kept them with my own. Can't make it all alone. I built my dreams around you." In the drunk-tank, as two lovers scream abuse at each other, there's still a glint around, as the boys of the non-existent NYPD choir sing and the bells ring out Christmas Day.

We can despair, or we can turn and say - you are the potter, I am the clay. Let's try again, and again. Remake me again, and let's see how it works out this time. And let me be remade and remodelled and changed until the day when I am fully in the right image - the one I am called to be, the one I was seen as before time began, the one I will be when time ends. And if it takes the end of time to make this all right, then let that be.

Saturday 25 November 2023

Be a Goat

 Intrigued by this re-interpretation of the Parable of the Talents where the third servant (who didn't do anything with his talent, and was cast out into the darkness etc etc) is in fact the hero.

And turning to the story of the Sheep and Goats, and thinking - maybe that's how we should approach that? What if the Goats, who are not doing the "good works" expected of them, are in fact the ones who are protesting against an unfairly structured society? What if visiting those in prison is effectively supporting the elite in their use of imprisononment as a tool of injustice against the poor? Acting as an opiate of the masses when they should be rejecting the whole concept of jail as a civilised way of dealing with issues?

What if those feeding the hungry are in fact thereby propping up and unjust and capitalist system? Because, after all, it's the State that should be feeding the hungry. All the food banks are just covering up the injustice, when to refuse to feed the hungry is the radical act that demands we rise up and overthrow the whole system from the top down? Starting with... erm... God.

And so the goats are cast into eternal punishment. Martyrs to the cause. We stand with you, comrades.

Saturday 18 November 2023

In the making of Memes there is no End

Apparently this quote from Facebook  (where I saw it) is by someone called David Rankin. I have no idea which of the many David Rankins. But it doesn't matter, of course, as it's been turned into a meme. It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you've put words onto a wacky image and saved it as a jpg, it must be true. No Harvard referencing system required.

Olde worldy looking woman saying "You can't trust an apocalptic religion to solve real-world solutions. Their identity is based on the world ending".

The meme is using a fairly imprecise meaning of "apocalyptic that really means "eschtological", I think.  And when you look at the Parable of the Talents, you've gotta say it's pretty end-timesy, but not all that apocalyptic. Jesus doesn't invoke dragons, beasts, talking horns and all of the genuine apocalyptic stuff, just a bloke going on a journey and leaving behind some slaves to look after some money.

And bear in mind it is money. The English word "talents" comes from this parable. But in the parable, it's a huge amount of money. One talent is maybe twenty years' labour for a worker.

 And the parable isn't about just sitting around and waiting for the owner to come back, whatever the meme writer may think. If anything the opposite. The slave who just sits around and waits for the owners' return is the one who gets the telling off. It's the ones that are active about their masters' business who are commended.

And that's what Jesus expects of us through this parable. We have an amount of time alloted to each of us. We don't know how long it will be till we are called home, or Christ comes - in whatever way. What are we going to do with it? We can make smug Internet memes like the smug atheists (other smug belief systems' memes are available). Or we can assist food banks. Visit the sick. Raise money for Ukraine. Work to give medical assistance to people in other, less fortunate countries.

The irony of the slave who buried his talent is that burying it was actually more trouble than taking it to the bankers. We can actually put more effort into evading the responsibilities we have, than into fulfilling them. We can run after all sorts of unproductive things rather than do something useful with your time.

And this is not a call that every Christian should be a superhero for Jesus all the time. It's possible for us all to be tired, depressed, old, feeling that we cannot be producting servants, generating eternal wealth. But the master in the story has handed out the talents in different amounts - and yet both the man with five talents and the man with two received the same reward - to be given more responsibility and enter into their master’s favour.

But in the round, for all of us - to quote the meme - is our identity around the world ending? Yes it is. But when Jesus comes, we shan't be sitting around waiting for him - that would be burying our talents. We shall have been busy doing his work for him, and shall receive our reward.

Wednesday 1 November 2023

All Souls’ – an explanation

A quick correction on the advert we put up on the BeakerWeb for our All Souls’ Service.

When we said “we will be commemorating all those who have died by lighting candles at our Sunday Evening Service”, we didn’t mean that Sunday Evening services are particularly dangerous.

Nor is there any need for an exclusion zone around the tea light stands.

I hope this clarifies matters.

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Nativity of Kirsty MacColl (1959)

This seems about right for these particular Titanic Days. "Children of the Revolution". Johnny Marr guitar. Kirsty vocals. And a message as depressing and appropriate today as 31 years ago.

Saturday 7 October 2023

Celebrating Meetingtide

There's so many "tides" in the Church these days. Christmastide, obviously. Eastertide, natch. Ascensiontide, swiftly followed by Whitsuntide. The newly-invented Creationtide, the Year B late-summer speciality of "Breadtide", and of course for progressive fellowships, there is Pridetide.

But there's a Tide that is not really being celebrated. And that Tide comes in late September / October each year.

It's in that gap between the school Summer Holidays, and Rememberingtide. When a well-organised fellowship has got its Harvest Festivals out of the way, (wary of bumping up the congregation count too much in October, let the Reader understand).


All those things that need to be squeezed in between other things, get squeezed in. In the Beaker community, we have Moot, Mini-Moot, the Little Pebbles Planning Session, the Grand Myfanwy, the Eisteddfodd, and the annual trip to Wells-Next-the-Sea before the crabs get too drowsy.

In the Church of England, a busy and engaged person could have a PCC, Standing Committee, Churches Together in Dibley, Property Committee, Deanery Synod, Diocesan Synod, Governors' Meeting, and, if a clergy, the Deanery Chapter, which always sounds like a fairly non-scary version of the Hell's Angels. More like Heaven's Biscuit-Nibblers, I guess.

The General Synod officially happened months ago, but apparently some of them are still in York, arguing about sex.

Two people in Druid hats at a meeting table

Of course, like any proper season of the church, Meetingtide has its own special food and drink. Tiny packs of biscuits, and bad instant coffee*. But, things not being what they used ter be, these days it's mostly bring your own.

So October goes in a blaze of meetings, and at the end you're looking at All Saints, All Souls, Rememberingtide, Christ the King, and then it's officially Christmas for six weeks.

So wishing you all a happy Meetingtide. Keep your chins up, there's only 4 weeks to go.

* You're right. There is no good instant coffee.

Friday 29 September 2023

Rishi Sunak and the Robin Hood Tree

This week's article in "Revering Nature" is from Rishi Sunak

Hello everyone. And I hope you've all noticed how much more competent I am than my predecessors.

My first thought when I heard about the felling of the Sycamore Gap tree was "What a great shame. Such a lovely tree felled for no obvious reason."

A lovely tree in the gap between two hills

But then I said to myself - isn't that what Sadiq Khan or Keir Starmer would say? And don't I need to clutch the motorist-friendly agenda? Where drivers all over Great Britain are free to drive 4x4s at 15mph through city streets where the limit is 70, if only there wasn't too much traffic? A Britain we can all be proud of?

And looking again I realised - now that tree is out of the way, won't that be a great gap through the hills through which to drive transport infrastructure?

Not a railway line, obvioously. Although I'm commited to HS2, of course. And I look forward to when customers can catch replacement Ubers along the complete line of the HS2, between Old Oak Common and somewhere near Aylesbury. Bringing levelling-up very definitely to the north-west. Of Buckinghamshire.

No - a gleaming motorway. Stretching from Newcastle to Carlisle, removing the need to slow down and look at those boring hills we have "oop north", as we Yorkshire folk call it. And no local councils keeping everyone down to 20 mph. You will be able to get across the north of England at any speed you like, and any local authority that tries to control you will be closed down, and put under the control of Nadine Dorries.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

And none of your solar-powered cars - who ever gets enough sun up there? No, the great thing about the new "Sycamore Gap Motorway" is that Newcastle is just in the right place for importing good old-fashioned British petrol. From Norway

The other name for the tree is "The Robin Hood Tree". What a great name. A famous example of someone who stole from everyone, and kept it to himself. And when he died - not a mention of inheritance tax.

The Conservatives. The tarmac industry is safe with us.

Sycamore Gap tree photo: By - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Thursday 28 September 2023

The Root of All Evil

I'd like to apologize to everyone who was disappointed at today's Harvest Lunch for the over 80s. 

Like you, I was anticipating a hearty and tasty meal of meatballs, pickled herrings, potato dumplings all washed down with blackcurrant schnapps.

But it turns out that when Margöt said she was cooking "something Swedish", she meant "something swede-ish".

I hope the turnip soup wasn't too bad.

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Liturgy for Bereft Brexiters


Big picture of Mark Carney, small picture of Camilla Tominey (whose "think" piece it is) with headline: "The political class has betrayed Brexit by turning Britain into a European country"

Brexiter 1: We have been betrayed

All: By the political class

Brexiter 2: We voted to control our own borders

All: And we have allowed others to control them for us

Brexiter 1: We voted for "them" to go home

All: And now the fruit lies unpicked,

Brexiter 2: you can't get a pint,

All: and a different "them" has arrived

Brexiter 1: We voted to reduce environmental red tape

All: And now the beaches are poisoned.

Brexiter 1: Why has this all happened?

All: It is a mystery. It's so bad here, we'd move to Europe, only we voted to stop that.

Brexiter 2: Why is the country so much worse than a few years ago?

All: We search for answers

Brexiter 1: It's because you haven't believed enough!

Rishi Sunak: Brexit is a great success! You just haven't noticed!

Brexiter 2: Closet Remoaner! You have betrayed Brexit!

Brexiter 1: Great Brexit is very cross

Arnold Rimmer from Red Dwarf in gingham outfit with pig tails and "Mr Flibble" the penguin glove puppet
Great Brexit is Very Cross

Brexiter 2: Great Brexit will arise and have his revenge

Brexiter 1: Great Brexit will destroy the doubters

Brexiter 2: Great Brexit will succeed

All: O Great Brexit, we are truly and heartily sorry. We have not believed in your benefits. We have sat around moaning about lazy young people when we could have picked fruit in the fields. We have complained about the prices in 'Spoons when we should have been drinking for Britain. We have failed you. We repent and will believe in Britain. From now on, instead of complaining there are no dentists, we will pull out our own teeth.

Brexiter 2: Go out into the world, and trade!

All: Can we do that on Zoom?

Camilla Tominey screenshot - from the Telegraph

Mr Flibble: From Red Dwarf, the BBC