Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Dropping the Ash Bomb

It's been quite a morning. I was inspired by the Anglicans offering "ashes to go" for people who can't be found in church. But I was concerned that, like people intincting (dipping the communion bread, their fingertips, millions of viruses and under-nail dirt into communion wine), ashing lots of passing strangers might be an effective method of spreading disease.

Hence Young Keith's invention of the "ash drone". Which can ash a small town in a matter of minutes without the need to go within 100 yards of anyone at all. Efficient, profound (as a symbol of death falls literally from the skies) and, according to Thames Valley Police, something we must never do again in their manor. We are now the only religious movement to be banned from an area of Milton Keynes since John Wesley was thrown across the Ouse into Northamptonshire by a Stony Stratford mob.

At the "lessons learned" meeting afterwards we've agreed. Next year's forcible ashing we're going with the customized fire extinguishers.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Transfiguration

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.  Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.  As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:1-9 NIV )
Surprised to read the following tweet on Twitter, quoting from Theilhard de Chardin, from a pastor who obviously thought sounding smart was better than keeping to the traditional Christian view of the human condition:
"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spirit beings having a human experience." 
Which reminded me of another quote, often mis-attributed to CS Lewis:
“You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body”
Which is also a long way from what we find in the Bible. The Biblical view of things - inasmuch as we can ever derive a Christian view of these things - is that human beings are very much body and spirit, bound together by their very nature. We are whole human beings. Not body-less beings, for a time being making use of a fairly broken vehicle to get around. When the body dies, in the Old Testament, the spirit goes down to Sheol - the grave - a damp, gloomy place where not much happens. Not released into a lovely experience of weightless transcendence.

Which is important in terms of how we see ourselves. If you're a soul which has a body, the temptation is to think your spiritual side is all perfect and lovely, while the bodily side wears out and breaks down and eventually gives up the ghost. Whereas if we're body and spirit - bound together - one integral human being - then maybe the fact that our bodies are imperfect and fallible means our spirits are in much the same state. That they need healing and renewal as much as we know our bodies do.

In which case baptism makes sense - as we wash the outside, we are also expecting a similar baptism of our spirits.

And communion makes sense. We don't just come to church for a nice little spiritual experience. We don't meet God just in the stillness of our quiet times - though that's good as well. We also meet God in physical creatures of the earth. In bread and wine. Things for which we give thanks, along with giving thanks for all creation.

But then that gives us another challenge. If our bodies matter, bread and wine matter and are where we most closely meet God - then what of this world we live in? If you are the sort that thinks you're just a soul that happens to have a body, then you might think - well, it doesn't matter if the climate is changing. It's a shame for the people whose houses are flooded, or whose forests are burning - but it's only the temporary world. We're sitting here waiting for the psychic spaceship that will whisk us away to the the land beyond the clouds where we can sit in the sky and float around in our nighties forever.

But if our bodies matter, if bread and wine matter - then this world matters. And we should figure maybe looking after bodies - ours and other people's - matters.

Which is a long way to coming round to Jesus on the mountain with Elijah and Moses and his closest three disciples. But important. Because the temptation is to think that, on the mountain there, the disciples see Jesus' true nature as a godly being, rather than the dusty creature they see every day walking round the paths of Judea and Galilee. But let's consider. They're on a mountain.

It was on a mountain that Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. It was on a mountain that Elijah heard the still small voice. The Israelites liked to build their places of worship on the high places, and the Temple was built on a hill in the centre of Jerusalem, itself in the middle of the Judean uplands. The Israelites were so keen on worshipping God on hills that some of their enemies thought their God was a god of mountains. Now the Hebrews knew their God was the god of everything - David knew that even if he went down to the grave, God would be with him. But there's a certain truth that you can get to feel God better than in a low one, often. Maybe it's a bit like the old days at Launde Abbey, the retreat house on the borders of Leicestershire and Rutland. It's at the bottom of a massive hill. And in the days before they installed Wifi, if you wanted to make communication with the outside world, you'd have to climb  to the top of the hill to get a signal for your phone call or web browsing. You had to get better reception. And on the quiet of a hill top, you have the time and calm to listen.

And so maybe the disciples can just see better. They're seeing the same old Jesus who has been walking round with them. But also, as his clothes are shining white and his face is transfigured, they see Jesus is the Son of God, with his divine nature revealed to them.

I wonder whether the Transfiguration - in a way - looks both forwards and backwards. Jesus was taken up on a mountain previously - by the Devil - and showed the whole earth, and offered it if he will bow down and worship the Devil. And rejected the offer. Here on the mountain, with Moses and Elijah - those two great warrior prophets - if he had one of them at each side of him, he could drive the Romans out of the Holy Land. But, like Galadriel considering the Ring, he knows that's not the way forward. His way will lead forward to a cross. So he is once more the Jesus who Peter knows, walking down the mountain with those same road-worn feet, telling them he's going to have to die.

But the Transfiguration also looks forwards - in the Garden after the Resurrection, Mary doesn't know Jesus at first. On the road to Emmaus, the disciples don't know who he is until he sits down at the table with them and gives thanks and breaks bread. The Transfiguration is a promise that whatever is to come ahead - and it must lead through the Cross - another place on a hill where human beings will see God - it will lead through that to the Resurrection, where the first promise of the renewal of the world is made. Where the first human being will rise - body and spirit - and go to his Father, to take our human nature into the heart of heaven.

There's a promise of the resurrection of the whole Universe. Heaven and earth stand on tiptoe, waiting for the day that all of us will be made like him, and the re-made universe will shine with that holy light that the disciples saw, and ring with his praise, and give thanks for all that God has done. And there's a glimpse of that, on that mountain, as the disciples fall down before the living God, who is also their friend, Jesus.


Want to support this blog? Want a good laugh? (or to shudder at death at any rate? Then here's two ways you can keep the Archdruid in doilies...
If you want someone to share the terrors of death while making you laugh, we have "A Hint of Death in the Morning Air" - 97 poems to make you wonder, laugh or shake your head sadly. At only £1 on Kindle. Or if you want to know what the people in the pews really think, and you prefer your words printed on paper, why not try "Writes of the Church"?  The letters to the Church magazine the vicar really didn't need.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Worth The 13.8 Billion Year Wait

Worth the wait

Out in the Twittersphere, the user Atheist Forum, normally known for tweeting irritating and simplistic memes, seems to have had an epiphany. To wit, this tweet:

And yes there's a few issues here. I actually believe God created this particular universe (there could be others, after all) 13.8 billion years ago, rather than creating it that old. The number of galaxies is subject to confirmation - but could get up to 200 billion or even way beyond that as we discover more. And yes, there's a lot of stars per galaxy, in the same way that there's a lot of ruins in Mesopotamia. It is true, as Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide noted, that you may think it's a long way to the chemists, but that's peanuts compared to space.

And I don't think God created this amazing place "only" to have a personal relationship with me. That would be a bit presumptuous. I think God revelled in the joy of creation long before I got here. The way the rules of everything came into existence in (or even before, if such a concept means anything) the big bang. The Word laid out the R-squared law, the nature of time. Stars coalesced, flamed, then screamed into space, creating the heavy elements from which we are made. The Spirit hovered over the void while the Word danced on the edges of the event horizons of black holes.

And we don't know yet whether there are creatures, whether  little furry creatures from Alpha Centauri or great space-going life-forms, basking in the rays of suns and metabolizing over millennia the dust of the universe. If there are, do they think they too are made in God's image? And if so what do they think that image means? It might help us to understand too.

So I believe God rejoiced in all that God had made, long before we first fell out of a tree and stood upright. But when we did - God had been waiting all along. I was in God's mind when God first said let there be light, and you were, and even Atheist Forum was. And then, just 2000 years before I got here, God got here again first. Because it's all very well creating such a brilliant, beautiful, cruel, doomed and loved universe - but God wanted to experience it properly, from the inside, as well. And to do that, God had to be one of God's creatures too.

So yes, the idea that God created a universe so as to have a relationship with me - it's a lovely idea, and it's true, and it's wonderful. And do you know what's even better? It wasn't just for me. It was for you too. And it's been worth the 13.8 billion year wait.



Want to support this blog? Want a good laugh? (or to shudder at death at any rate? Then here's two ways you can keep the Archdruid in doilies...
If you want someone to share the terrors of death while making you laugh, we have "A Hint of Death in the Morning Air" - 97 poems to make you wonder, laugh or shake your head sadly. At only £1 on Kindle. Or if you want to know what the people in the pews really think, and you prefer your words printed on paper, why not try "Writes of the Church"?  The letters to the Church magazine the vicar really didn't need.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Upper-Class - Middle Class - Unskilled

Boris Johnson: I'm the Prime Minister. I blag along on the basis that I'm posh and remember a bit of Latin. And although I have no discernible use, I can get Dom to do all the thinking for me. And I earn £150,000, and get two houses plus I can throw Raab out if I want another love-nest. So I look down on her....

Priti Patel: I'm the Home Secretary. I like to bring in laws that would ban my own parents from ever moving to the UK. I can smirk and be vicious. And I earn £140,000 per year.  So I look down on him...

Peter Bone: I'm an MP. I talked the people in a constituency that depends on international logistics into voting for Brexit.  I earn £76,000. So I look down on him....

Marketing Manager: I spin up lines about "new paradigms" and "influencers". I don't know what they are. But I do earn £50,000. So I look down on her...

Social Media Influencer: I earn nothing. But I can scrape together a living from all the free tins of tomatoes and beans I get by running my website, "Tomatoes and Beans for Life". So I'm confused by him...

Polish Plumber: I can diagnose the problems in a Baxi boiler from 1996, wade in human waste to unblock a drain, or get my hand into a tiny gap to replace the ballcock in a space-saving loo. While talking in my third language. So I...

BJ, PP, PB, MM: Unskilled labour! Get out!


Want to support this blog? Want a good laugh? (or to shudder at death at any rate? Then here's two ways you can keep the Archdruid in doilies...
If you want someone to share the terrors of death while making you laugh, we have "A Hint of Death in the Morning Air" - 97 poems to make you wonder, laugh or shake your head sadly. At only £1 on Kindle. Or if you want to know what the people in the pews really think, and you prefer your words printed on paper, why not try "Writes of the Church"?  The letters to the Church magazine the vicar really didn't need.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Mum's Gone to Iceland

I'm a bit confused.

I've just heard that Iceland has an app that enables you to check whether you're too closely related to someone you meet to consider settling down and having children.

But I'm pretty sure if I met any of my relatives while shopping for reasonably-priced frozen foods, I'd recognise them.  And I've never considered looking for love while checking out the deals on frozen king prawns anyway.

Am I missing something?


Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Ten Top Ways to Get the Church to Carbon Neutral

We hear from the Church of England Synod that they're planning to get to nett-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Which is a great ambition. But people are asking, how will it be achieved? Well, we've had access to a top-secret document that reveals how it's going to be done.

1.  Mobile Church 

In the first instance, it's no good closing down lots of small village churches so the vicar doesn't have to drive around. If you do that, instead everyone else drives. And that's even worse. So one possibility is a solar-powered "Mobile Church". On the principle of mobile libraries, this crenellated electric Transit will go from village to village, ringing a bell as it arrives in each settlement to encourage the faithful to come to prayer.

2.  Renewable Pews

It's not commonly realised that pews are a carbon sink. So instead of just replacing pews with chairs, in this scheme parishes will grow pitch pine trees in the graveyards. Then whenever the vicar fancies replacing the pews, they'll just make some more out of the trees in the churchyard,  flog the old ones to local antique shops and pubs, and plant some more trees.

Marlow Church illuminated at night
This will have to stop


3.  Bees

In the old days, wax for candles was given to the church in the form of tithes. In a zero-carbon Church, candles will replace all lighting within churches. Since the churchyard will be full of pine trees, the best place to keep the bees will be on the church roofs. In this way, High Catholics will be happy with all the candles. And with all those hives on the roofs, we can expect a rapid decline in lead thefts.


4.  Incense Carbon Sequestration

Not the world's greatest source of CO2, to be fair. But still, nett zero is nett zero. In future, all thuribles will be fitted with calcium hydroxide filters to sequester the CO2. The resultant lime solution can then be dried out, and the chalk used to write above the church door at Epiphany.


5.  Growing Moss on the Congregation

Moss converts CO2 into oxygen and more moss, and is a valuable habitat for small invertebrates. So members of the congregation will be encouraged to grow moss on their hats and coats. As well as helping the environment, it will also soak up rainwater when the roof is leaking. On closer inspection, the think tank discovered that roughly 50% of congregations (and 89% of elderly male priests) are already growing moss on them, so the best species for church habitats have already been identified.


6.  Go Acoustic

By converting the music group to acoustic guitars and pianos instead of electric keyboards, nett use of electricity will be achieved. Some more radical thinkers have suggested going one step further, and getting rid of the instruments all together.


7.  Hymn Books

Hymn books are a long-term form of carbon storage - so much better for the environment than those environmentally-unfriendly overhead projectors with their oil-based "acetates" that some of the more hip churches have adopted. Once all the lights (and heat) have been replaced by candles, hymn books once again become a viable form of showing congregations the words to sing. In a related strategy, using the old BCPs in the crypt is carbon neutral whereas disposable service folios are an environmental nightmare.


8.  Raising Graveyards

Instead of banging on about not enough burial space and the terrible environmental impact of cremation, just build an extra storey on the churchyard. Raise all churchyard walls by 12 feet and you have enough space, over the next couple of centuries, to triple the carrying capacity. Instead of dirt, burials will be filled in with the moss harvested from the congregations.


9. Geothermal Heating

The ultimate renewable energy source for warming up cold-hearted Christians. A 25-mile deep hole under the chancel will provide an unlimited supply of heat on even the coldest morning. And provide ministers with a brilliant illustration when preaching about Hell. Churches with adult baptism pools may be able to achieve similar objectives using heat exchangers, but it's nothing like as much fun.


10.  Zero-New-Christians

By putting out confusing directives about sexuality, fighting over the best kind of worship and sustaining feuds between quires, ministers, organists and congregations, it may be possible to achieve a zero-new-Christians target. This will result in the Church being completely carbon neutral by about 2050, all on its own.


Want to support this blog? Want a good laugh? (or to shudder at death at any rate? Then here's two ways you can keep the Archdruid in doilies...
If you want someone to share the terrors of death while making you laugh, we have "A Hint of Death in the Morning Air" - 97 poems to make you wonder, laugh or shake your head sadly. At only £1 on Kindle. Or if you want to know what the people in the pews really think, and you prefer your words printed on paper, why not try "Writes of the Church"?  The letters to the Church magazine the vicar really didn't need.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

But God was not in the Wind

Bit of a cheek, I thought, this morning.

After I'd gone to all the trouble of getting down to the Corded Ware Folk of Leagrave to preach on "the holy river Lea - old bikes as ritual offerings".

Went into the vestry (why do Corded Ware Folk have vestries?) to sign their register and in the "Comments" column the Chief Potter had written "Visited by the Big Wind."

He assures me he meant Storm Ciara. But I'm not convinced.


Salt and Light

I was reminded of my friend Dave the other day. I haven't seen him for a while. He went off to minister to a heathen race in a far off, uncivilized land. East Anglia. And he was driving in Ipswich, I think it was, when somebody cut him up at a junction.  And I should explain in case our American readers get confused that he wasn't attacked with a bladed instrument. I mean that someone infringed his rights of way while he was driving.

And Dave, being a warm-blooded kind of chap, indicated his view of what the other driver had done with one of the Two Obscene Gestures. And then he remembered - newly ordained, as he was - that he was wearing his dog collar. And had to modify his gesture into the up-stroke, as it were, of a blessing.

It's hard being called to be salt and light when you're driving. I think driving is the worst thing humans ever invented. Apart from the environmental damage, I mean. Even if cars were powered by the sun and floated on air, it would still make us worse human beings. I don't put any stickers or other signage in my car to indicate any kind of religious affiliation. It's just tempting fate.

As Christians, Jesus calls us to be salt and light. And in a world where salt is bad for the heart and light pollution is a bigger problem than encroaching darkness, sometimes it can feel like these are bad metaphors. We don't have the fear of the dark in the same way, when the nights draw in and we can chase it away with Christmas bling, or huddle around the iPhone's glow to keep us warm.

And salt? Salt's so common. I thang yew. Salt's so common that some foods have red stickers on them to warn you. Why would Jesus want us to be salt?

Different world, then. Human nature not so much. The things you take for granted, maybe more so. Light when you depended on oil lamps which were just bowls with wicks. A world so dark at night that you'd organise your big get-togethers at full moon, so people could find your way home. Note Jesus's illustration - you put a light on a stand, it lights the whole house. Or it does if you're all living in the same room.

And salt. Mined from the edges of the Dead Sea, or evaporated out in salt pans by the Med. None of your grainy, free-flowing white stuff. More like the rock salt we pay extra for. Or even the stuff we chuck on paths if we ever get another frost in this country.

But essential. In a hot country if you wanted to preserve meat, you'd pack it in salt. Salt was used to draw the blood out of kosher meat. It was used in the incense in the temple, and to offer to God. It was used to clean and disinfect wounds, and the skins of newborn babies.

So we're to be those that add taste to the world. Those that bring healing.
All that Salt and Light

But salt is useless if it's not used. It has to be poured into water, rubbed into meat, chucked onto ice. And as it's used, it becomes part of the thing it's being used for. It dissolves. Chemically you could still get it back out - but functionally it must be dispersed.

Maybe that's like Christians. Locked into a jar, shiny and white, salt is just potential. On fish and chips, it creates something special. I see the numbers of street pastors that were out in our towns last night, offering help where required, or just being there - scattered out, doing some good.

And maybe that's why Jesus's warning. Salt is no use if it's not salty. Typical table salt contains anti-caking ingredient so that if the salt absorbs some moisture, it can still be poured out the holes in the salt cellar. In Jesus' time on earth, salt from the sea or the Dead Sea would contain much higher levels of impurities than we're used to. Maybe it would go off.

If we're leaving ourselves pure and unused on the shelf, maybe that's what we risk. We're no use for anything. In fact, we pick up moisture and pollutants from the air - we get obsessed with our churchy lives or our gossiping or our judgemental behaviour  and we're not even any good for pouring out any more. Church is God's salt mine - God's salt pan - the place where the Spirit works on us to make us pure - and then throws us out to make us useful.

So, be salt for Jesus. Pour yourself into the world, that by doing so you may add flavour and interest, healing and purity. You're salt and light for Jesus - not called to be aloof - for the world has all the loofs it needs - but to make the world better, and in doing that, to shine a light, and defrost the way,  that leads to him.

Want to support this blog? Want a good laugh? (or to shudder at death at any rate? Then here's two ways you can keep the Archdruid in doilies...
If you want someone to share the terrors of death while making you laugh, we have "A Hint of Death in the Morning Air" - 97 poems to make you wonder, laugh or shake your head sadly. At only £1 on Kindle. Or if you want to know what the people in the pews really think, and you prefer your words printed on paper, why not try "Writes of the Church"?  The letters to the Church magazine the vicar really didn't need.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Commemoration of the Life of Kirk Douglas (1916-2020)

Kirk Douglas and Lauren BacallArchdruid: We meet to mark the passing of a man... always flawed, as we all are. Always determined, sometimes brave, very dimpled and above all.... famous.

Charlii: Just an old actor, wasn't he? Does anyone care?

Archdruid: Well, I'm sad, I guess....

Hnaef: I'm sad, I guess.

Burton: No, I'm sad, I guess.

Young Keith: I'm sad, I guess.

All: I'm sad, I guess...

Continues for days. 



Want to support this blog? Want a good laugh? (or to shudder at death at any rate? Then here's two ways you can keep the Archdruid in doilies...
If you want someone to share the terrors of death while making you laugh, we have "A Hint of Death in the Morning Air" - 97 poems to make you wonder, laugh or shake your head sadly. At only £1 on Kindle. Or if you want to know what the people in the pews really think, and you prefer your words printed on paper, why not try "Writes of the Church"?  The letters to the Church magazine the vicar really didn't need.