Thursday, 10 June 2021

Blessing of the House You're Leaving

This is the place where we came to rest. A place to shelter from the weather and the world.

This is the place God's love blessed. And where that love was shared, and grew.

This is the place where we laughed and cried. Blessed new wonders and mourned our losses.

This is where - around the table and in every mundane task we did together, in eating and cleaning, and the life we planted - we took part in the joyous life of the Trinity.

And though we leave it now, and new adventures call, this place we called home still lives with us. And it will always have a place in our love.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Ritual for Blocking a Cathedral Canon on Twitter

Hymn: Block of Ages 

Social Media Wonk: We are gathered here today in the presence of Almighty Twitter to block A. 

Spotty Web Geek: Blocking one of your own canons is a very dreadful and awful state, instituted of God when he banned Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.  And is not something into which to be entered lightly. I therefore ask: have you examined A and found them/him/her to be of godly life and sound learning?

Social Media Wonk: I have. But I'm blocking A anyway.

Spotty Web Geek: Do you believe we've already dug a deep enough hole recently?

Social Media Wonk: As long as there's a spade and a hole, we'll keep digging [Isa 51:1].

Hymn: I Hear the Sound of Twittering in the Leaves of the Trees

Inspired by...

The Moot House of Windsor

The people of Magdalen College are facing odium in the Daily Mail (to which I shall not link) for the Middle Common Room taking down a photograph of the Queen. 

Now as a former member of Brasenose, we did not have a Middle Common Room. Well, we did. But we called it the Hulme Common Room. Though I was unsure about the Hulme after Whom it is named (see what I did there), I have now ascertained both who he was, and why so many people from Manchester Grammar School went to Brasenose.

But I digress. The main question to be asked of Magdalen MCR, as far as I can tell, is what on earth possessed them to put a picture of the Queen up in the first place. This is not normal student behaviour. But having put it up, as was their right, their successors were equally in their rights to take it back down again. Which has upset the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, and added more fuel to the current culture war. I mean, it was the same in our day. I remember that Keith Joseph was livid when he found out that I had a poster of Garfield in my room, and not Margaret Thatcher as some of my Tory friends did.

However. If there is kudos to having portrayals of the Royal Family on your walls, I can go for that. We'fe nearly spent the money we made after selling Dominic Cummings all those eye charts early in the pandemic, after all, and another contract would be handy.

Therefore, the Beaker shared areas will be graced by portraits of the Royal Family as follows. The Queen Elizabeth II Dining Room will have a triptych of Her Majesty, Prince Philip and Prince Charles. The Windsor Doily Shed will be graced with Wills and Kate, together with their children. The Mountbatten Orchard will have a series of wooden posts, arranged in the manner of Woodhenge, each whittled into a representation of a Royal Family member. 

The Princess Diana archery range will have a beautiful rendition of Diana, arrayed as the goddess of the hunt. 

When my Toyota Pius finally runs out of steam, I will be replacing it with a Renault Meghan.

And to keep the Beaker hound, Rosebud, company we will be hanging a picture of Prince Andrew in its natural place. The doghouse.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Renaming the Dawkins Award

 This blog has previously not thought much of Richard Dawkins. To be fair he probably has not thought anything about this blog. But then, if nothing else, I have more recently done proper research in Oxford's Department of Zoology than Dawkins has. But then most people have. He hasn't done a proper day's research, as far as I can tell, since about 1980.

But Dawkins is old. His light burns dim. Stephen Fry might be a suitable person now to carry the light. But he is hardly scientifically literate. Lee from Lee and Herring increasingly resembles an extra member of Madness. And Herring from Lee and Herring will never be able to free himself from the suspicion that he is the offspring of one of the Wurzels. Or is it the other way round? Is Herring the chubby bloke acting like he's a bit urban and Lee the yokel? I can't remember. Either way. A new carrier of the flame of dim nearly-scientific opposition to religious faith is needed.

So the Dawkins Award for people who aren't very good at proper science, and are worse at understanding religion, has had to be renamed. It is now the Alice Roberts award. I'm pleased to say that the first winner of the award is of course Alice Roberts. It was well deserved. 

Friday, 4 June 2021

The Beaker "Weed or Plant" App

Inspired by a new phone app I saw that can tell you - allegedly- whether a plant is a weed or a "good" plant.

The Beaker Plant or Weed app has a Red/Green traffic light system. Green is "all plants are good in the right place". 

Red is "GIANT HOGWEED - Strike by night - they are defenceless. Don't let them kill you with their hogweed hairs. KILL WITH FIRE."

It's a simple system. But effective.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Nativity of Thomas Hardy (1840)

Revd Shirley: And now we come to the subject of ambition. As we consider the Philosopher's words: "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity." And consider the appalling sight of a man unprepared to remain in the rank of his own parents - to work with his hands, sit in his chimney corner and drink elder wine. And instead to aspire to architecture and literature - subjects suited for those of a much higher class. More educated. With an Oxford MA. Someone who is more able to think of higher things and conjure the words that delight from a classical education. For be sure that learning is best trusted to the learned, and not to one conceived under a hedge.

All: Shirley, you can't be serious.

Revd Shirley: I am serious. And it's Reverend Shirley.

Thomas Hardy: Now listen, your Reverence. I have power over you through my pen. I've already written you into Greenwood Tree as the poor sap who fancies the schoolmistress. And I can make you a frolicker with mikmaids, a drunken fool or a bigoted Evangelical just as easily.

Revd Shirley: You monster! An Evangelical? Not that!

Thomas Hardy: Your future is in my hands. Since the day I started to write, I have all power over you. Who will remember your deeds as vicar of this quiet little place by the embowered Frome? But my words will live forever. Choose yours carefully.

Revd Shirley: Moving on. Hymn 442.

Thomas Hardy: And so the President of the Immortals is me. All your reputations are in my hand. Yokels, drunk, lusty squires and randy heiresses. I control you all! All! Do you hear me?

He laughs an evil laugh, and walks out into the conveniently timed thunderstorm. The harmonium starts up "Lead Kindly Light".

Monday, 31 May 2021

Phasing Out The Common European Psalm

Big news on the Beaker Brexit front, as it has been discovered that we have been singing metrical psalms all this time. It has led to calls for all metrical psalms to revert to imperial measures. Don't want any metric in our newly-independent United Kingdom.

This is a major change. After all, we're reverting to the way we sang psalms prior to the UK's entry into the Eurovision Song Contest. It may sound a bit obscure and technical to some. So best to explain through a common metrical psalm, such as the Lord's my Shepherd.

Under the European Psalm Harmonisation Measure, The Lord's my Shepherd was in Common Meter  (8-6-8-6). In reverting to traditional English psalmody, this has now been converted back to Short Imperial Meter (£8/6/6½d). Long Meter is now Brilliant Imperial Meter ((£12/8/4½d).

There are some problems with this of course. Notably all the fractions of iambic tetrameter that are left over after rounding. There is a concern that, in keeping with the alleged inflationary effect of decimalisation in the 1970s, that all poetry will now be a bit shorter. Again to use Psalm 23, this has had to be reduced to:

The Lord's my Shep.
I'll not.
He makes me green the waters.

Some are saying that these shortened psalms aren't as good as the old, efficient, pre-Brexit ones. If you've heard the Beaker Quire, however, you'll know that the shorter the psalms, the happier we will all be.

Saturday, 29 May 2021

“For God so loved the world”

When we say “God so loved the world”, what do we think of as “the world”? The world of people? The world of business? The sinful, evil world we imagine always being out there? The world of nature? The universe that God created? All things we can think of as “the world”. 

The Book of Common Prayer baptism service includes rejection of “ devil, the world, and the flesh.” 

I mean, first up. Yes. Obviously reject the devil. Very sensible. Not a good bone in whatever body the definition of rebellion against God possesses. Let's get rejecting the devil very clearly out there. Rejecting the devil is very much, in my opinion, a good thing. Spotting the devil in order to reject the devil, often trickier.

But how do we reject the world? What meaning of world? We can love the world too much - and get obsessed with ambition, riches and what have you. What meaning of flesh? Obviously we can become obsessed with things that make us feel good. Or, these days, we can be driven to things that make us too sad about the flesh we have. Look too much at magazine articles and vlogs and influencers that are all about perfect bodies and not our own ordinary bodies. Either way, that’s not good. We aren’t called to make either gods or devils of our own bodies.

But God made the world.  We are told in the beginning, when God created the world, his Word was what brought things into life. And God’s Spirit was on the waters of chaos. And God said the things of the World are Good. 

And the Word - as Jesus - became flesh. So these things aren’t bad. Flesh and the world aren’t actually bad. Flesh must be good because God walked around made of it.

And now we’re told this. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. That whoever believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life.”

So God loves this world that God made. Maybe God’s not so fond of some of the things we do with it. And maybe we have lost God's own wonder at the world. We can lose the sheer joy of the world in our modern, industrial, technological lives. Sometimes the computer screen, or the phone, or the motorway ahead of us, or the building opposite, is all that we see. 

And we’ve inherited from the Industrial Revolution a view of the world that it’s there to exploit - a thing we’ve conquered, and a thing we’re separate from. We extract gravel from farmland so we can make cities and we suck oil from the ground to make the toys in McDonalds Happy Meals so they can wash up on Turkish beaches in 10 years time and the earth itself is just a resource for us.

But God loves this world. So much that God’s son came for it. All of it. We can go down to the individual level in a minute. But worth staying at a higher level for a mo. God loves this world. Its geology, its plants, its animals, the amazing way it sustains life. God also loves the entire universe that the world moves through. God made it beautiful and even with its flaws and dangers, it is beautiful.

And then God loves us. And God makes us a special case. First up - he sent his Son, who came as one of us. Imagine the cost to God of giving the Son? You can’t. I can’t. It’s a mystery. We’re not God. But it must be costly, as God had to love us so much that it was worth it. And his Son was lifted up on a cross so we can all be saved. And that’s an amazing image Jesus uses about the snake in the desert. I’m sure you’ll all remember the story from Numbers, but in case you don’t - there was an outbreak of snakes in the desert. And the people of Israel came to Moses and said “make the snakes go away”. And God didn’t make the snakes go away. Instead, he got Moses to lift up a bronze snake on a pole. And though the snakes kept on biting the people, if they looked at the snake they didn’t die but they were saved.

In the same way - remember the snake in the Garden of Eden - well, the curse he talked our mythical ancestors Adam and Eve into hasn’t gone away. We still have temptation and we still have sin. But Jesus is saying here - even though sin is in the world, and even though you still sin - look up to me and you will be saved. You will be a subject of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

But Jesus I think is also saying, beyond that - because you’re sinful, you actually need to know to look up to him for your forgiveness. Under your own power, you can’t even find the forgiveness that is available to you. 

So Jesus says - you must be born from God. Through water and the Spirit. Born from above, because you can’t do it in your own strength. I’m not going to give you a definition of what “born from water and the Spirit” means, as after 2,000 years of analysis there’s at least four possible ways of explaining it and we wouldn’t have time! But what it says to me is that God’s spirit is working with our human nature. And I’ll get the rest of the explanation eventually.

Last Monday the Church of England, and hopefully last Sunday the Methodist Church, remembered John and Charles Wesley. Not on the date that either of them died, which is a bit unusual. But on what I call, as an old Methodist, Aldersgate Day. It’s the day John Wesley went to meeting at a chapel in Aldersgate St in the City of London, and someone read from Luther’s preface to the book of Romans. And Wesley wrote later, “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” 

And the funny thing was, he’d been a priest in the Church of England for 10 years by then.

But I think that was the Holy Spirit working in Wesley. He’d gone from a dry faith, about what he did and what he’d always believed - and to be fair he’d known he needed more. And now he had a direct experience of the Spirit working in him. Giving him the faith he needed in Jesus. And giving him the assurance that through Jesus’s work on the cross, he was forgiven all the things he had done wrong.

Now some people read “born from above” (or “born again”) and think it prescribes a very stereotypical way that you become a Christian. You’re full of sin. You think to yourself, there is nobody to help me. You hear the Gospel. You become a Christian. Hallelujah! You’re born again.

And if that happened to you, that’s all well and good. It more or less did to me, as it happens. But it’s only one way, in my opinion, that you become a Christian. Millions of people have become Christian by being steadily going to church all their lives, loving Jesus and being filled with the Spirit, and not needing to have a crisis experience. Jesus says that people who are born of the Spirit are like the wind. You can’t control where they’re coming from or where they’re going to. And to prescribe how other people become Christians is I believe like trying to put chains on the Holy Spirit. You shouldn’t try it. And it won’t work. Let’s rejoice however people come to Jesus, not give other people our patterns to fit into. And let the Spirit blow where the Spirit wants. Which is what will happen anyway. You don’t have to be like me, and I don’t have to be like you and that is all good. What matters is that we know Jesus and we are filled by the Spirit.

So Trinity Sunday. I’ve not tried to do any illustrations of the Trinity. Not tried to explain the Trinity. I won’t. The Trinity is a mystery. The Creeds don’t explain the Trinity - they put a hedge around the definitions. Tell us what is safe to say, what we can say. And then leave it.

But the revelation of the Trinity to us is utterly woven through this passage that we’ve heard. God so loved the world that God sent the Son. The Son is lifted up for us to be saved. And the Spirit is the one that brings us to new birth in God, lifts up our eyes to Jesus, moves us forward and guides us in our faith. That’s not a theoretical Trinity that we might try to investigate like a lab specimen and define under a microscope, if we were so arrogant. That’s the living Trinity of love. The Trinity that made us, loves us, makes all things new, and brings us to eternal life. May we continue to know that open, generous, love of God the Holy Trinity, three in one. And may we reflect that love in our lives, forever.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Waking Up in the Light of Pentecost

 Bit of a day we're looking forward to here.

At the Beaker Folk we embrace the imagery of the Holy Ghost as the Wild Goose. Free, unfettered, slightly eerie when flying overhead.

So we weren't going to complain about Young Keith's promised "surprise" illustration. We expected some lovely audio-visual of a V-formation, the old stuff about the one in front doing the work but them all sharing out the job, the "all of us is because one of us are" stuff.

Anyway. Long and short. The Canadian Goose Removal Party is to assemble at the Moot House south-east portal at 9. Please bring nets, pointy sticks, and buckets of water. I know Young Keith suggested a flame thrower. But they've still got Burton Dasset. So let's go easy.

In other news - dinner tonight may well be giant omelettes.