Sunday 28 February 2010

Let's Face the Music and Liturgical Dance (V) - Full Moon Moonstomp

At last a dance we can all join in!
The Moonstomp is perfect for all who wear steel-toe-capped boots as liturgical dress.
With the Ultra Violent Light that we have had fitted into the ceiling of the Moot Hall alongside the other, more liturgically conventional, spots and fresnels, we can look forwards to this evening's Full Moon celebrations being exceptionally enlivening.  Since I'm a bit sick of Lent already, all Beaker Folk are entitled for this evening to wear the Hi Viz of their choice.  I look forward to the green, yellow, red and violet of the Hi Viz flashing and fluorescing.  A sight worth seeing indeed.
The Moot will be held at 10pm sharp.  As you know, Beaker Theopsychology holds that the Full Moon is always the best time for doing any kind of business, as our creative juices will be flowing most juicily and the spiritual pathways are completely clear.  There are no properly peer-reviewed studies, but in tests we conducted ourselves, Beaker Theopsycchology is 25% more effective than homoepathy and 17% less secretive than Anthropogenic Global Warming studies.

We had a good time this morning with Moomins.  Moomins is always one of my favourite services - solemn, yet with a hint of Finnish mythology.  The "Moonificat" is always a lovely canticle, and the "Moon Dimittis", with its call upon the Moon to be safe as it wanes once again, is guaranteed to bring a lump to the throat.

In summary the programme for the rest of today is:

6pm - Moonstruck

7pm - Moonstomp 

8pm -  Moongazing

10 pm - Moot

12 midnight - Barking at the Moon

All going swimmingly

I've just enjoyed my daily hour-long dip in the Beaker Swimming Pool - the beautiful round indoor swimming pool we transformed the last-but-three Moot House into when it flooded. Between 2 and 3 is "Archdruids only" swimming, and it's nice to have the pool to myself.
But then it's not used much at other times.  I can't helping thinking we're suffering here from a clash between Child Protection and Health and Safety.
Going on the great example of the Bridges shopping centre, we banned anyone over the age of 16 from going in the pool in case they were any kind of danger to children.  Obviously, many of them wouldn't have been.  But you can't be too careful.
Unfortunately, under our strict Health and Safety policy, we don't allow children under 18 in the pool unless they are accompanied by a responsible adult.
Since implementing these rules, utilisation of the pool has gone down to 0% except during the Archdruids Only session.  This is bad news.  But I can confirm that the incidence of pool-related verruca has dropped sharply.  There's practically no danger of drowning (although I note that Drayton can be seen hovering near the edge during my swimming sessions occasionally, Hnaef normally drags him away).  And our regular testing shows that we have the cleanest pool in the East of England.  So our overall "swimming pool success rating" is 5 stars.  Well done to everyone!

Making a tent for Moses

The disciples.  Great at falling asleep at the wrong time.  In the Garden - fall asleep.  On the mountain - fall asleep.
So there's Peter, James and John half asleep and their Lord shining like the sun.  Well, you're going to wake up aren't you.  Then Moses the Law-giver and Elijah the Prophet appear.  And talk to the One who fulfils them both.  Wonder what they made of it- Moses and Elijah?  Bit of a shock when you're 1,000 years dead - suddenly you're back on top of a mountain again?  Or maybe they just knew why they were there - minds going back through the centuries to another meeting, another mountain, the same Lord.

Nothing like that ever lasts.  The Glory shines - the Divine is near - and then the mists roll away, and you're all just stood there.  Like just after the big party ends - the same old place, but the shine and the music and the glitter are gone. And it's your family, your mates, the same old faces.

But you're left with a glimpse of something Beyond.  And a hint of Glory.  And something to keep with you - for when the Cross looms on the horizon.

It's nice to be up on the mountain.  The air's clear.  The wind blows.  The noise of the city is far below you.  But you've still got to go back.  You've still got to hold your course.

How far Jerusalem?  A million miles from that mountain top, that moment held in eternity.
Or just down the hill and follow your destiny.

Saturday 27 February 2010

The dangers of homeopathy

The good news about homeopathy is that there are guaranteed to be no side-effects.  That's because it doesn't do anything.
Except drowning.  I had one of my headaches last night, and to be honest I over-did it on the homeopathic remedies big time.  Thankfully they pulled me out before it was too late.
Oh yeah.  And poverty.  You could end up very poor.  Now of itself poverty doesn't really hurt you, but the side-effects of this side-effect can involve living in a cardboard box, getting too many tattoos and owning a Staffie.
On gullibility the scientists aren't so sure.  Is homoeopathy the cause of gullibility?  Or gullibility the cause of falling for homeopaths?  Or is there no causal link and they are merely caused by the same source link - a deficiency in your iron levels, for example, or an allergy to nettles?

For some other side-effects, look here at the ten23 campaign.

The incurable randomness of being

Fantastic links, ht to Entangled States, on the subject of the Black Hole at the centre of our Galaxy.  Almost makes us wish we hadn't wrung out our own one.  If we'd only been a little more creative we could have used it to make the Hemel Hempstead roundabout work properly.  Although judging by the story on the Wikipedia article about the lorry driver that ended up in the Gade while negotiating the roundabout, maybe there's been one there all along.
Meanwhile we've had real trouble with the Moody Blues' Lost Chord, which we found at the bottom of the Black Hole.  It's hanging around the Moot House joining in the songs.  We tried blasting some chromatic music at it to shrink it, but it seems only slightly diminished.  Some are saying it's only a minor issue, but we're thinking of declaring it a major incident.  For the time being, our efforts to deal with it have been suspended.

Whoever says to his brother "You Fool"...

... except we do it all the time.

When they cut us up at roundabouts.
When we are in a hurry at the supermarket and someone's paying for a flat-screen TV with 2p pieces
When two slow-moving old codgers are moving down the High St and we want to get round
When we read something we disagree with on the Internet
..... especially that
.... and indeed especially that
.... even when the people under consideration are obviously "fools"
.... or up to yesterday they were big fans of Prof Dawkins.....
.... or most vehemently of all when they're just like us, except for one minor detail.

Let's hope Hellfire is as metaphorical as they say.  Or we're all in trouble.

Friday 26 February 2010

No recession in Bedford?

I have for various reasons been driving in and out the newly-Unitary Borough of Bedford today.
The good people of Bedford seem to have splashed out on some very regal-looking purple signs announcing you are entering the fiefdom.  Lots of them.  Sometimes two in succession, without any neighbouring county or unitary authority even bothering to tell you you've left Bedford city limits.
Didn't anyone tell the council there was a recession on?  Or is corporate local council branding more important? I feel we should know.  But I bet we won't find out.

The Great Black Hole Spin Dryer Experiment

We've got the chapel back then.

Based on the assumption that a spinning black hole emits Hawking radiation, we just wrapped a rope round the hole a few times, tied the loose end to the back of the tractor and drove off really quick.
By stimulating the emission of Hawking radiation*, we managed to dry all the mass out of the black hole, and the chapel has been recovered!  We can now ask Stacey to give us the Man from the Council back and everything's back to normal.  Given we now have a rebuilt Moot House we now have a chapel without much use, so we are happy to offer it to the Starkadders as a replacement Wood Shed.  There is something nasty in it, but it's only Drayton Parslow, checking out the stained glass.
Now we just have to deal with all the other things that we found when the black hole dried out.  The second half of "Edwin Drood", the remains of the crew of the Marie Celeste, Lord Lucan, Shergar, the Likely Lads - we wondered whatever happened to them - and the Moody Blues' Lost Chord.  I tell you, emptying out a Black Hole is worse than digging down the back of the couch.

* We do these experiments so you don't have to.  Our Beaker People are specially trained and expendable.  Please don't try spinning black holes at unusual speeds at home.  Or, at least, not without a strong rope and a tractor.

Burton Forgives

There are some things in life of which we can be certain. Which is of great comfort to an accountant like myself, who gets very upset when facing sudden and unexpected shocks. For example - 70 times 7 is, so my adding machine assures me, 490. And I am generally good at numbers and operating my adding machine, whatever the enquiry into Polly Peck said about my auditing skills. So I have confidence in my sum.

Gentle readers, 490 is a lot of times to forgive someone. Who could one imagine of such inordinate evilness that they might exceed even that buffer-zone of forgiveness? Nasty Nick off Eastenders, to be sure - but then he is safely ensconced on the Panto merry-go-round and need never ask "Ma" to forgive him again if he doesn't want to.

Taking things literally, as I am wont to do, I created myself a "forgiveness book". Everybody who ever upsets me, I put a mark against them in the book. And then when I feel I can truly forgive them I cross it out. If I ever get to 490 I will have to stop forgiving them, and then they had better watch out.

Young Keith, however, is the sort of person that likes to raise doubts in the minds of folk of weaker faith. For example, the Archdruid - who unlike me does not have a forgiveness book - has never forgiven him for that episode when he announced the McDonald's he was eating contained meat that had been sacrificed to idols - although it turned out it hadn't, as far as we could tell. But he put some doubt in my mind.

"Burton," he told me, "of course, there's a better-attested reading of 77 times - not 70 times 7."

Well of course, I was distraught. Running a quick check on my Forgiveness Access Database (I like to have a back-up, in case I lose the book) I discovered that no fewer than three people had been forgiven more than 77 times but less than 70 times 7 - and one of them was the Archdruid. What could I do? Clearly I had broken the Letter of the Law - and, as the Good Book tells us, "The Letter Killeth". What awful punishment might the Letter deal out to me for being too forgiving?
Thankfully the Archdruid came to the rescue. She assured me, based on her own reading of the variant manuscripts, that it should be 70 x 7. And told me not to be so stupid in future. I'm really thankful to the Archdruid. I'll miss her when I've got to forgive her for the 491st time. Still, if I stay out of her way, that may not happen till next month at the earliest.

Thursday 25 February 2010

The Chapel

We've made a bit of progress with the Chapel.  We tied a rope round Young Keith's waist and dropped him down the black hole.  Before we pulled him back (we tied the rope to the tractor - we weren't taking any foolish chances here) he managed to peek over the Event Horizon and confirmed that he could see the chapel down there.
Now we just need to try and think of a way to pull it back.  Maybe a longer, stronger rope?

There's probably no forum...

Now relax and enjoy your life.[Forgot to say - Parental advisory again]  What do you mean, you didn't really have one?  Surely you have friends?  Oh.  Right...

(Had to get this joke in because David Keen is on Lent or I'm sure he'd have got there first.  Not the rude, anorak-wearing-atheists-have-no-friends bit.  He's politer than I am.)

Dawkins Forum Closes

Parental advisory - don't click on any links in this post unless you are a grown up who is not easily offended by "intelligent" "rational" people proving they're right by using swear words.

When you read the witty and reasoned comments of the contributors to this I guess you can see why Prof Dawkins has shut down his forum. (Parental advisory - explicit and often gormless language).
They do use some rude words, do atheists.  At least in inter-religious debates believers only anathematize each other and inform people they don't agree with that they're going to hell.

Apparently the good Professor himself wrote this (Parental advisory once more - although being from the Professor it's at least not gormless).  Although I can't help feeling it's a glove puppet.  For once in my life I can feel sympathy for him.  I shall be lighting a tea light myself for him - fancy being the Messiah to that lot.  You'd be better off being Brian Cohen.

The Man from the Council Comes Round

Bit of a shock this morning.
Did anyone else know that St Bogwulf's Chapel was Grade 2* listed?  Neither did I until the Man from the Council came round.  And when I tried to explain that the chapel was sucked into a Black Hole after a radical service of alternative worship, he didn't believe me.  He's threatened us with all sorts of fines.
He's quite young and attractive for a Man from the Counil - hasn't developed that twitch they get when they've been coming round here for a while.  So Stacey Bushes has been only too happy to offer to keep him "occupied" for a while.  But I reckon, even in a local council, it can only be a week or so before they notice he's missing.  There will be some form he'll have had to fill in that won't be docketed properly, and then they'll send out the Deadwood Posse.
Anyone got any brainwaves let me know.  Even Young Keith is a bit stumped at the logistical challenges involved in pulling a 13th Century Chapel from the wrong side of an Event Horizon.

Those Modern Special Lent Events in Full

For those that are giving up Lent this year: 

Fellows' Fellowship Fry-Up (if we stuff the blokes full of bacon and black pudding, they won't notice that we've got the Flower Pressing service tomorrow)

Rav4 Procession of Witness (walking is so 1950s)

Releasing of the Scape-Squirrel into the wilderness (well, straight up the nearest tree, in fact)

Anne Summers Lenten Evening (buy that special something ready for Easter - in aid of Church Funds)

The Chocolate Repentance Fantasia (with chocolate fountain, naturally)

"Compare the Meerkat" evening

Assemblies of God Praise and Worship Evening (due to not knowing what Lent is)

C of E Praise and Worship Evening (due to knowing what Lent is, but can't we have a sing-song anyway?)

The Fondue of Atonement

The "being driven out into the desert" will be replaced by "being driven out to the Brunel Shopping Centre, Bletchley".  It's similar, but there's more life in the desert.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Prayer control

You know, I love to encourage freedom of expression.  In particular the freedom to discuss and argue points is very important. People have to have their say - and often we can learn from other people.  Even if we disagree with them.  And even when they're wrong - as a diamond cuts diamond, or a stone sharpens a knife.  It helps us to cut to the truth. But sometimes people will get carried away in an argument and start sounding like they may be right.  When it seems that someone has God and logic on their side, it's time to adopt other tactics.  Violence is more quickly effective, but can leave people bruised.  Or in some circumstances they may even hit back, and I hate it when things escalate.  But not as much as they do....
But there is a gentler, more effective method of dealing with this situation.  Turn to prayer.
When I say "turn to prayer", of course, I don't mean break out the BCP, or even invite ex-tempore contributions from the floor.  No, you just make sure you're the one doing the praying.  Obviously, it helps if you're the archdruid - but in practice almost anyone can achieve this if they are convincing and glib enough.
So what you do is: you start with some opening, general prayer - ideally giving thanks for the creative dialogue you've been engaging in.  Then move the subject of the prayers to ensuring that God is in line with your views.  Once you've managed this, who can possibly argue?  As long as you leave no gaps then no-one can nip in with their own prayerful views - and who ever interrupts a prayer, anyway?  But to be on the safe side, make sure you breathe halfway through clauses so no-one could ever butt in.
Having ensured that Divine and earthly are both on your side, say "Amen" and clear off pronto - safe in the knowledge that you may not have won the battle, but you've won the prayer war.

Nervous Breakdown

Obviously I needed to know more when Burton Dasset gave me the heads-up on this year's sales from the Beaker Bazaar. They're down 25% like-for-like to date. Probably due to the snow. "Burton", I asked, "can you give me a breakdown?"

So he nipped outside and put sugar in my petrol tank. You can't get the people these days.

Fun with Email

Following on from my suggestions on computer etiquette, here's some suggestions for how to improve the flow of information from email.  If you do this right, maybe no-one will ever email you again.  And that can only be an improvement!

Flag all emails as "!Urgent!".  This will help people prioritise.

Always ask for a read receipt.  People love letting you know they've received your email which you only sent them "FYI".

Whenever you receive an email, forward it to ten other people, marked "FYI".  People like to be informed.

Work hard to be known among your friends (or at least your former friends) as "the one who forwards on email jokes".

Make sure you send on jokes that are as racist and sexist as possible.  People feel embarrassed being told these jokes in person, but once they're encoded into Ascii they suddenly become acceptable and amusing.

If someone sends out a company-wide broadcast, click "Reply to all" when you want to ask the sender for more information.

If someone sends out a company-wide broadcast, and some idiot clicks "Reply to all" when they want to ask the sender for more information - click "Reply to all" when you point out to them what they've done.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Let's Face the Music and Liturgical Dance (IV)

It turns out we didn't give up stupidity for Lent after all. This morning at breakfast, Edith Weston asked whether I minded if she performed a Liturgical Dance at Pouring Out of Beakers. I was momentarily distracted by the large pain au chocolat that Hnaef was getting round the outside of (because I thought we'd banned these for the Season) and must have nodded without thinking about it.

Arriving in the Moot House through the South East door, as is liturgically correct from Autumnal to Vernal Equinox, I was surprised to see that the Beaker People coming out of the Corridor of Uncertainty were falling over and sliding about as they entered the Moot House.  Turns out this was because of the ice covering the floor.  In the event, Edith's planned "Liturgical Ice Dance" was cancelled due to the large number of injuries.  We're not going to be allowing her to perform it this evening either, and all that refrigeration equipment's just going to have to go back.  And I blame Sally for giving her the idea.

Holy Computer Use

Nearly a week into Lent.  And you've probably learned to resist most temptation.  So now let's move onto the advanced stuff.

Now we all know that people's attitudes towards each other are far worse when they're driving than when they're face to face.  Unless, according to some stories, you are Prime Minister, in which case you're better off in a car because then any mobile phones you throw are liable to bounce off the car windows.

But there's another environment in which behaviour becomes even worse - the world of computing,  Consider an example from the world of IT incident logging systems.  Let us consider the interaction between an overnight computer room operator, who we will call for the sake of argument "Norman" and a C++ Developer, whom we will call "Jeremy".  "Jeremy" wears a T-shirt that he rarely washes, and that you can only find funny if you understand the concept of "recursion".  And if your name is Jeremy.  On the other hand, deep down at heart, he's a good bloke.  He wants the world to be a better place.  And so does Norman.  So how did it come to this?

NORMAN 04:45 - System gave disk space warning. Deleted archived log files and restarted process.  Warehouse Control System delivered all the lettuces to the deep freeze section.  Phoned Jeremy, who recommended we delete and recreate the Tote History File to re-initialise the pick routes.  Did this, restarted process and all now well.

JEREMY 08:44 - Just got in and system running smoothly.  Lettuces were unfortunately destroyed.  There's a doc in Sharepoint indicates that when there's a disk space warning, you should cancel the background Conveyor Router before deleting the log file - if you'd done this we'd still have the lettuces, lol.

NORMAN 08:51 - The Operating Instructions don't detail this document.  Can you update?  Maybe next time the lettuces won't have to die - you wouldn't want that on your conscience again ;)

JEREMY 09:01 - *My* conscience? The OpInst clearly says you should follow the "Out of Disk Space" documentation.

NORMAN 09:11 - We used version 1.1 of the "Disk Space document.  It didn't mention the Conveyor Router.

JEREMY 09:14 - There's a version A.  We moved to the lettering version control after the DC Swap-Out last month.

NORMAN 09:17 - Well, nobody told us.

JEREMY 09:18 - We held a meeting.

NORMAN 09:19 - Well maybe you developers did.  Perhaps next time you hold a meeting you should invite the Ops department as well.  THEN WE'D KNOW WHAT TO DO WHEN SOMETHING GOES WRONG IN THE NIGHT.


NORMAN 09:21 - You probably invited the Help Desk because it's the only way you get to meet girls.  No wonder we never got the information - you sad acts probably just spent your time flirting with Vera.

JEREMY 09:22 - Yeah?  Well do you wonder where your girlfriendwas at 04:45 this morning?  Why do you think she's so keen on you working the night shift?  I bet she was round with the boys from Goods Inwards again.

HELPDESK 10:17 - Traced the problem with the Warehouse Control System.  "Overheight, Overweight" warning was due to Jeremy being strapped to a tote and fed into the Automated Crane Storage system.

You see how quickly things can go downhill if you only communicate in ASCII?  So a simple moral for the day - why not pick up the phone instead, ideally before someone gets delivered into an Automated Storage and Retrieval System?  You know it makes sense.

Monday 22 February 2010


I can't say how pleased we are to see that the NHS is going to stop funding homeopathy treatments.
It's the last thing you need in private enterprise, is state-subsidised competition.

Now roll up, roll up!  We've gallons of complete safe water, guaranteed free of side effects.  And we'll even put a label on it  - to say it's been slightly tinged with whatever you need, to put one over on the so-called "professionals".  And now each dose of homeopathic medicine comes in its own hand-moulded mini-beaker.

Take it home as a souvenir of your time with the Beaker People.  A bottle of traditional healing wisdom, and something which will live in your memory - until you have to be rushed into hospital for real treatment.

Disclaimer - Beaker Homeopathy is only recommended for people who aren't really ill.  If you're genuinely unwell, you'll be better off with a doctor.

A Rebuttal

Now, let's get something straight.  The Moot House has been ringing with claims that I am in some way a "violent, menopausal tyrant who throws phones at people that annoy her, before kicking them in the shins with her steel toe-capped boots."
Which is fair comment.
Let's face it, if you had to deal with the kind of half-witted, flower-and-pixie-loving day dreamers that I have to every day, you'd be inclined to go around smashing doors down with a wood-splitting maul and hanging Drayton Parslow over the M1 from the Ridgmont Bypass bridge by the ankles.
But the accusations that I am short-tempered are completely unfair.  No, if I have to inflict violence - in love, I hasten to add - I pray and meditate for days in advance.  And then carry out the sentence in a spirit of loving correction.  And "brooding"?  Where did that come from?  No, once I have the Beaker Folk back to a suitable attitude of fear and apprehension I feel remarkably relaxed.
Unless they really annoy me.  In which case I throw a phone at them.

As a mother gathers her chicks

Life is hard on chicks.
At birth, 50% of them are male.  But males don't lay eggs.  In the old days, you'd breed them up anyway and then eat them.  But today - you have meat chickens, and you have egg chickens.
So the boy chicks get liquidated.  Actually, in a factory farm they tend to get macerated.  Bit rough on them, but you can't make an omelette....

So maybe this image has been modernised out of relevance.  For the mother hen in Jesus' day, it was only the fox the chicks had to worry about - and Jesus had a fox called Herod.  But now - chicks have a much rougher time.  Does the simile hold?

So often I've wanted to gather you as a hen wants to gather her chicks - gather you from the maceration of humanity's industrial wars - gather you from the battlefields where you'll be slaughtered in your millions - gather you from the killing fields - gather you from the windowless sheds where Caesar's successors will once again try to wipe out God's chosen people - gather you from the torture chamber and the casual violence and the under-age sweat shops and the cut-price production lines and the indentured labour and the brothel-keeper.

One day.  One day.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Squirrel Theology

A recap from earlier today....

"Look at what I found growing on the wall of the cellar, Archdruid.  What do you think they are?"
"Well, they look and smell like mushrooms, Marston.  But I'd throw them away if I were you."

Based on the logic that I'm not him, Marston went off and fried said fungi with a little garlic and olive oil and had them on toast.

He now tells me that he's been appointed the "Second Prophet to the Squirrels".  The First Prophet was Mother Julian, with her famous "size of a hazelnut" comment.
According to Marston, God has given up on human beings - he quoted Hardy's famous words "after 2,000 years of mass we've got as far as mustard gas".  God now has a mission to the squirrels.  And the Reds are his chosen race.

Marston says that the invasion of the Gray squirrels from America is a judgement on the Reds, just as the Babylonian exile was a punishment for the People of Israel.  Although Marston is curiously reticent on just what iniquities can be committed by a squirrel - he thinks it may have something to do with nibbling lumps out  of conkers.  But just as Babylon fell to the Medes and the Persians, so the Grays are in their own turn being chastised for the iniquity of chasing out the Reds, under the thrall of the new Mutant Killer Black Squirrels.
Marston wants to preach the Good News to the Red Squirrels, telling them to turn from their iniquities and be saved.  He wants to tell them there's a place where the Squirrel and the Fox will lay down together, and their winter stashes of nuts will never be lost.  But he's rather stymied by his inability to learn the Squirrel language. Although he reckons that all squirrels speak the same language - as they have never attempted to build a giant drey that reaches up to heaven - the Grays and Blacks have an American accent.  But lacking anyone who is bilingual in English and Squirrel, he's in for a long haul here.

I hope the effect of the mushrooms wears off soon.  But not too soon.  He's currently coming in really handy for retrieving all the footballs and kites we've got stuck in the trees over the last few summer picnics.   And I'm hoping he may be able to nip up a drainpipe and clear out the guttering for us.

Things you don't want to hear a Preacher say

We don't like the concept of "preaching" really, at Husborne Crawley.  It puts the preacher in a power relationship with the preachees - implying that the preacher has access to knowledge and oratorical power that the preachees do not possess.  Whereas the evidence round here is that the preacher, on the whole, has none of these things.

Still, since the other alternatives to preaching - "oratory", "rambling", "musing", "facilitating an ongoing thought-enhancement and spiritual development process in a theological context" are all equally weak, we'll stick with "preaching" for the purposes of this discussion.
In any case, here's some things that may help all members of the Community to improve their inspirational aspirations.

"But enough about God.  Let's talk about how clever I am."

"So I've sketched out the socio-dynamics of the Essene fellowship, giving summary accounts of five or six of the most recent views of the archaeologists and theologians.  Now let's move to point one of this six-point sermon..."

"I've learnt that people remember more of what they see, than of what they hear.  So after that account of the sins of the Israelite men with the Moabite women, I'll be giving a demonstration of those sins with my wife.  Just as soon as we've put our teeth somewhere safe - we wouldn't like them to fly out...."

"So I hope I've been very clear on the spiritual damage you can suffer from hidden sin.  Now then - Hnaef has the roaming mic - who's the first to confess?"

"I am the god of hell fire!"

"I'm pleased to see that the use of the word "mercy" in that verse in Isaiah was the subject of my MA thesis.  So I'd like to read it to you now.  In full."

"You know, I'm really regretting that prawn curry last night.  And the beer seemed a bit cloudy as well.  Now, this pulpit is quite high so I'm quite pleased to see there's no-one in the front six rows."

"OK - I'm the one with the preaching gown.  I'm the one up here with the big book.  So everybody listen to me.  I'm right."

"I'm pleased to say that God gave me a direct message last night.  And oooh he had a lot to say."

"I'm afraid I'll have to preach the second half of this sermon extempore.  Not because I've had a sudden burst of inspiration.  No - the computer ran out of memory and crashed after printing off the first half."

"But I see it is time for the Evening Service to begin.  So in conclusion..."

"I really wanted to focus on "giving" this morning.  And it so happens that I have here the records of everyone's standing orders.  So, let's see... Albert Aldwincle - £20 per month...  Rhoda Benson - £15...."

"I've felt so inspired this morning that I'm going to issue an altar call.  The doors are locked, and no-one's going home until we've had twenty new converts."

If I ruled the world

 I'd be good and fair.
All things would be great.
People doing what they wanted.
Everyone equal.
Not evil.

They'd all just love me.
I'm sure they all would.
Of course, they'd want to love me.
And if they didn't
they'd have to.

Luke 4

Saturday 20 February 2010

A Beaker-ish, Hardyan, Lenten Thought

...he might have been seen on most days at this time trying the temper of the mortar by punching the joints with his stick, looking at the grain of a floor-board, and meditating where it grew, or picturing under what circumstances the last fire would be kindled in the at present sootless chimneys.
From Fellow Townsmen in Wessex Tales.  A superb collection of short stories.

"Remember you are dust".

The numbers game

"Outside Europe, numbers of Christians are rising at a phenomenal pace.
But in the West, they are falling."
- Diarmaid MacCulloch - A History of Christianity, BBC2

Comparative birthrates:

France - 12.2

UK - 12.0 
Canada 10.3

Democratic Republic of Congo - 49.6
Liberia - 49.6
Uganda - 46.6
Zambia - 39.3

New Atheism - like King Canute buying a canoe.  And telling himself how much cleverer he is than the tide.

(Birthrates per 1,000 people -

We're only human

Try to identify the difference between Lent and Advent.
Try and put your finger on it.
After all, there are things in common:

  • Lilac / Purple colours in Anglican churches (we prefer red hi-viz until the Spring Equinox in Husborne Crawley, for historical reasons).
  • A general soberness in the mood (except at the interminable Christmas dinners and parties in Advent, when the fast is suspended - sometimes for days at an end)
  • A shortage of flowers around the place - although the deadly Flower Arranging Mafia may be inclined towards cacti and succulents during Lent, in the same way as they go for dried Nigella and bits of stick and rose hips in Advent).

Maybe it's that Advent is about expectation (on the cheerful side) and about judgement and death (on the ominous side).  And Lent is about what it means to be human - about temptation, and getting things wrong, and failing, and wondering what to do about it.

Frequently when I ask Beaker People why, or how, or for what purpose they have fouled up I get the response "I did my best".  To which the correct response is "Yes, I was afraid of that".  Or they may say "We're only human", to which the answer is "Keep trying, you may make it..."
Sarcastic I know.  But it's best that we are fully aware of the situation we're in.  We get it wrong.  We muck it up.  If we see a hat on the pavement, we'll kick it - even if we know there's a brick underneath it.  Shown an apple and told not to eat it, we eat it.  Give us a button marked "do not press this button..." - yes, well you all know how that ends.  Give us a talking snake and we'll listen to it.

We're only human.  That's what it comes down to.  We're only human.  And as long as we can remember that's what we are - we do fine.  If we think we're a little lower than the angels - well maybe we are.

But when we decide we're gods - that's when the trouble starts.  Because we're only human.

Friday 19 February 2010

Fasting Friday

Good  ideas for Lent
  • Giving up red meat and things from the chocolate machine (Eileen)
  • Giving up red meat and port (Hnaef)
  • Giving up men (Stacey Bushes - personally I'd given up on men years ago)
  • Giving up dancing naked on Aspley Heath (the Beaker Fertility Folk - although I think they're just glad of the excuse not to in this weather)
  • Giving up standing on Ridgmont Station taking the same train's number over and over again all day (Burton Dasset)
  • Refraining from persuading people that the Great House is Woburn Abbey and selling them tickets (Young Keith)
  • Giving up Death Metal (Drayton Parslow)
  • Giving 10% more of your income to Community Funds - nobody's offered, but if they would like to I'll give them an extra tea light.

Bad ideas for Lent
  • Giving up breathing (Marston Mortaine.  The good news is that every time he passes out he breaks his fast.  Still, respect for the self-control when he's conscious)
  • Giving up going to work (Elbert.  That's 10% of an IT help desk operator's salary that won't be coming our way for the foreseeable future).
  • Standing in the pond up to your waist while holding a bird in a nest in your hand (Oicumenika - in the first place, she's combined two different saints.  In the second place, they were both Celtic and therefore not recognised in the Beaker pantheon.  And in the third place, we had to pull her out when she went blue and her legs stopped working.
  • Saving money by making tea lights out of melted-down dead badgers (Burghley).
  • Eating only seal meat (Rordricka.  Again, we suspect she's done this in an attempt to be vaguely Celtic.  But it's a nightmare in the kitchen.  And the smell of roast seal just hangs over the place.

A proper fast

If Lent is a time of fasting, and Friday is a day of fasting - then how much fasting must one do on a Friday in Lent?  Is it a double fast, or a fast squared?

Humans love a set of rules.  Keeps us safe.  We know where we are.  The Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne, decreed that anyone eating meat in Lent was to be put to death.  He also decreed that Saxons who would not convert to Christianity were to be put to death.  You didn't mess with Charlemagne.

But relief was at hand for Saxons - in Lent, at least.  The Church came up with all sorts of exceptions over the years to the meat-eating rule.  Some said you could eat Beaver Tail, as an honorary fish.  Or maybe duck on the same basis?  And on St Patrick's Day, the Irish could eat corned beef.  Then you could have Mothering Sunday off - and any other Sunday according to some - or you only had to fast on Fridays.  Or only until 3pm.  For every rule its exception.

How often do we do that?  Hold fiercely to principles that have the most convenient exceptions?

And yet.  And yet.
"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?" 
Have a good fast.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Not one stone on another

Just go and have a look - at your house.  Your church (building).  Your office.  The town where you live.  Your football team's stadium.  The Houses of Parliament.

One day - not one stone will be left on another.

What does that make you feel?

Does it change your viewpoint?

What do you invest in that one day won't matter?

Where do you get your security from?

And is it secure?

What are you building with?  Gold and stone and silver?  Or pallets and cardboard and paper?

"Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." (Matt 24:2, NIV)

From dust you came

There's always such an argument over the Book of Genesis, especially chapters 1-3.  Which is odd because it is such a modern view that there must be literal truth there.  Fundamentalism, when all's said and done, is a child of the 20th century - a fact that militant atheists (with their blinkered, stunted view of history) overlook.  As do those on the fundamentalist side of the argument, for whom nothing happened of any consequence between 100AD and last week.
"From dust you came".  True of course.  Utterly true.  From dust we all came.  We come from the animals (or, if applicable, plants) - and the animals came from the plants they ate.  And the plants come from the dust of the earth - and the dust goes back to the dust of more and more animals, dead animals, and more plants, dead plants, and the waste of living plants and animals.  And they all came from the dust.  From dust we come.
But what dust.  The dust of stars.  The elements of which we are formed - the carbon, oxygen, calcium, phosphorous - were forged in the atomic furnaces in the depths of stars, more than 5 billion years ago.  We are made of dead plants - of dead animals - of dead stars.  From dust we came.
And to dust we return.  No doubt about it.  When they opened up the barrows around Stonehenge that's all they found of the people themselves - scraps of bones and piles of ash and bits of dust.  Every human dream, every first love, every new child, every journey ever commenced in hope - they all end up in the dust. Helen, whose face launched a thousand ships - dust.  Alexander the Great, who conquered a world - dust.  Stalin - dust.  Queen Elizabeth I, who preserved a country and destroyed Philip's army and inspired a thousand lovers - dust.  The Egyptian Pharaohs, who tried to cheat death through Chemistry - even they crumble into dust.

A precious world, a world of greens and blues - where life is quick and love is short and hopes all crumble into the dust.  Make the most of it.  And give what you can.  For from dust you came, and to dust you shall return.  And the treasure that doesn't crumble to dust?  Stash it away.  You'll need it later.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Ashes to Ashes - Ash Wednesday


Organic Compounds + Oxygen.

Sign of mourning.
Sign of judgement.
Covering of destruction.
End of all things.
"Dies Irae" as the Requiems have it - the "Day of Wrath when the world dissolves in ashes".

The poet said, "This is how the world ends - not with a bang, but with a whimper."
He lied.
Or at least was uninformed.
The Sun is warming.  In a billion years the seas will boil.  All life will cease.  And as the sun expands, the Earth will turn to an ash in its turn.
This is how the world ends - not with a bang, but with a fry-up.

As the prophet said, "Anyone here from Hastromil?"  It's going to be too late to worry about whether you left the gas on then.

Ash - the end of every civilisation.  Whether the burning of a city, or the covering from a volcano - what's left is ash.

Ash - the recognition.  If this is all there is, then fine.  But it's all ashes.  But if there's more than this, then what we have and what we are must change.  The impurities must be purged.  The phoenix must rise from the ashes - because where else do you get a phoenix from?

Ash - what's left from a fire, that we scatter on the ground so new life can spring up.

Have a thoughtful, and repentant, Lent.

Image "Garden of the fugitives", Pompeii - from wikipedia

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Lenten Activity

I've not yet decided whether this community should give up any of the following for Lent:

  • Being stupid
  • Having alt.worship go tragically and/or embarrassingly wrong
  • Being arrested by the local Police (Young Keith's Uncle) for dancing naked on Aspley Heath
  • Filling choir robes with helium and floating them over Woburn Sands
  • Lighting tea lights
  • Meditating on pebbles
  • Singing crass and embarrassing feminized worship songs.

Whichever I do decide they should give up, life round here will almost certainly be immeasurably improved.

However, in a spirit of doing something different, I hope I can promise you a short meditation each day in Lent.  I may be another of my sermons, it may be a stray thought, it may be something uplifting or challenging.
You have all been warned.

Well that just about wraps it up for Science

Disturbing news from Young Keith, who's been applying the theory that either Genesis 1-3 is literally true or else God doesn't exist, to other fields of endeavour.

He started by looking at 
Schrödinger's Cat.  Judging by the legal records of early-mid 20th Century Austria, it is evident that at no time did Schrödinger ever actually put a cat in the situation recorded.  There are no historical mentions of half-dead cats wandering the streets of Vienna.  Therefore no cat actually existed.  And if Schrödinger never actually had a cat, then Quantum Physics is clearly false.
He went on to Organic Chemistry.  We will remember that in explaining the structure of Benzene, Kekulé described how he had a dream of seeing a snake catching its own tail.  By Kekulé's own admission a dream, so the snake never existed - and in any case the idea of a snake catching its tale comes from the Worm Ouroboros - which is a myth.  So clearly Organic, or at the very least, Aromatic Chemistry is false.  Kevin's theory is that Kekulé's dreamt up the theory because he had been sniffing too much benzene - a chemical that Kevin has now proven doesn't exist.  Kevin realises his argument is circular - but then so are (or aren't) the Aromatic Ring and the Worm Ouroboros.

Finally for Science, Keith went on to look at gravity.  By considering the account of Stukeley, who apart from being the revered re-founder of our order of Christian Druids was also the man who wrote the account of Newton's Apple, we can see that Newton's Apple was only a theoretical apple -  mythical apple, if you will.  Not an empirical apple.
From this, with a stunning leap of counter-intuitive logic, Keith has concluded that Gravity doesn't work, and it's mere inertia that stops us falling off the earth.  We've tried arguing with him, but he's using the Fourteenth Tenet of Post-Modern Belief - "that which is counter-intuitive is always true".  So he's spent all night nailing everything to the ground.  There's a number of Beaker People who got six-inch nails driven through their flares and into the floor of the Moot House during Pouring Out of Beakers this morning, and they're not happy.

Finally, Keith points out that Ron, Hermione and ideed Harry Potter himself are imaginary.  So he has concluded that the virtues extolled by the Harry Potter series - such as bravery, goodness and friendship - aren't true either.  So now he's nailed the Beaker People to the floor,bhe's going round kicking them up the backside.  I think we're going to need to get  his Uncle, the Police Constable, to bang him up for a little while until he's calmed down and achieved some kind of sense of proportion.  And I need to check whether this is all down to Keith discovering where I stashed the rest of the Valentine's chocolate...

Monday 15 February 2010

The Archdruid is Resting

I'm pleased to say we can all venture back out now.

Surely there's a D.Phil thesis somewhere in the effect of heroic quantities of milk chocolate on Archdruids. She's organised 15 services since midnight last night, painted the Beaker Bazaar (bright purple - who knows why) then Artexed the Dining Hall (and ignored the Working at Heights Directive, I'll have you know). She then spent a while screaming that the woodlice were coming to get her.
She's gone off for a rest now. Judging by the theme music, she's playing through her back catalogue of "Friends", so we can probably assume she'll be asleep until some time tomorrow.

Hnaef and Drayton are currently busy boarding up the door to the Archdruid's suite to make sure she's not out till she's definitely settled down. But they have asked me to let you know that Filling up of Beakers is cancelled, due to it's being dark already. The New Moon Moonstomp is at 10 o'clock, followed by Howling at the Moon. In the meantime, I suggest we all nip down the White Horse. I think we all need a swift one after the day we've had.

Thank goodness Valentine's Day only gets cancelled once a year.

Sugar Rush

I need to offer some apologies - I've been accused of being a little "excitable" in leading Pouring Out of Beakers this morning.  I can only attribute it to the vast amount of chocolate I've consumed since yesterday.
It would clearly be unethical to throw away all the chocolate Hnaef confiscated on Valentine's Day.  Therefore I felt it was my moral duty, and environmentally imperative, to eat my own weight in chocolate.  But it's left me rather hyper.  I may calm down in a day or two.

In the meantime can we get back to having services every thirty minutes, as I hastily re-arranged last night.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Valentine's Day is Cancelled

Once again I have found it necessary to cancel Valentine's Day.  The issue is that, falling on a Sunday, we need to transfer it.  And since there are no free days to transfer it to, we will simply have to forget it till next year.
So I'm afraid that any chocolates or flowers about the place will be confiscated as we enter the period of Lent early.  This evening's Festival of Flowers and Sherbert will instead be replaced with an hour of Standing in Icy Silence, which will be followed by the Act of Recrimination.

These directives are in no way because I only received one card this morning, and that from Burton Dasset.  If anyone wants to know how I knew an unsigned card was from a train-spotting accountant, I'll let you know what the verse was inside it:

"Roses are Red
Violets are Blue
I love being in a train over the Harringworth Viaduct
Only 32% as much as I love you".

I rest my case.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Parish Notices

Apologies, there was a typo on the Community Noticeboard.  It actually should have said "New Moon Watch". Due to fat fingers, it ended up as "New Moob Watch".  Can you all please now stop walking around looking at Burton's chest.  It's making him very self-conscious.

On the subject of the New Moon, the Watchers are now well-installed on the Watching Step.  Yet another cold one, of course.  Some people say that making people stand on a concrete step in all weathers for 48 hours to wait for the New Moon to appear is cruel.  And I say yes it is, but don't we have to be cruel to be kind sometimes?

The Men of the Moot Council have come back from their annual Quiet Day. Hnaef says it was nice to be able meet in an environment free from competitiveness and the threat of violence.  And I think it's good that they are able to relax for one day in the year.  But if I find Drayton's been plotting again, there's going to be trouble.

Friday 12 February 2010

Commemoration of the Birth of Charles Darwin (1809)

And a very happy birthday to Charles Darwin, famous chiefly as the author of one of the finest - if not the only - book on the action of earthworms at Stonehenge. Worms were one of Charlie D's favourite subjects, and Stonehenge was a fine place to view them. So we like to think that, deep down, despite his religious doubts, he may secretly have been a druid. 

The Giant Tortoise donkey derby will be run around the Paddock at 2pm. Now the legal people got very shirty when we asked about the import licences, and the man from the Ecuadorian government got very angry when we phoned up to ask if we could borrow half a dozen.  So we're asking for volunteers to dress up in the Giant Tortoise suits.  We hope, in any event, that this might make the races a bit quicker.

4pm the "Who can whistle like a finch" competition will be judged by a bloke who looks a bit like Bill Oddie.   Look, we're not made of money.

The "Growing a Charles Darwin Beard" competition will be starting at 5pm.  We realise that it could be quite dull, everyone in the Moot House watching Hnaef and Burton seeing who can grow a beard the quicker, but it will still be more exciting than watching the Arsenal-Liverpool game was on Wednesday.

The music for tonight's Festival of Darwin Service will be REM-themed.  "Losing my religion" seems appropriate, and "Everybody Hurts" in honour of the behaviour of the Ichneumon wasp.  And, given that general progressive 19th Century view on life, "Superman" - remembering Nietzsche as well there, you see.  We'll also include D:Ream's "Things can only get better".  We will then have the annual Darwin Memorial Cup: running 26 laps of the Community to demonstrate the concept of "Survival of the Fittest".

The Fruit Fly experiment.
Also to celebrate Charlie D's life, we have been carrying out a series of scientific experiments into genetics. And we'd like to share the results with you now. I hasten to add this hasn't been peer-reviewed, or pier-reviewed, or even pear-reviewed. So don't go rushing to the press with health scares just yet. We'll do that instead, so we can make all the money.  In order to sound all scientific, we've tried to use the scientific passive voice throughout.

1.   A 5-legged drosophila in a glass jar together with a 7-legged drosophila.  After 24 hours, both flies were dead.  It had been forgotten to give them any air-holes.

2.  Having obtained another 5-legged drosophila and 7-legged drosophila, holes were put in the jar.  After 24 hours, both flies were gone.  The air-holes, having been punched with a six-inch nail, were bigger than the flies.

3.  Having eaten another jar of strawberry jam and punched small holes in the lid, a 4-legged and a 6-legged drosophila were put inside.  After 24 hours, both flies had stuck to the jam on the glass.

4.  Having cleaned out the jar and obtained a 3-legged and a 9-legged drosophila.  24 hours later we discovered both animals were alive but had not mated.  It was suggested this was due to spatial difficulties in mating - the 3-legged specimen had all its legs on one side so was leaning over, while the 9-legged one, having legs all round, probably just couldn't get anything in the right place, so to speak. However on closer inspection it turned out that both were males, which probably explains it.

5.  We got a male and female drosophila, each with 7 legs, in the jar.  They were both eaten by the 9-legged one, which we forgot to take out.

6.  We tried again.  This time, successfully.  A batch of eggs were laid.  When they hatched, we discovered they were all coloured in such a way that they appeared to be wearing tiny Luton Town replica strips.  Which, if nothing else, proves there is no such a thing as Intelligent Design.

After that we frankly got bored with science and realised that actually we can't write in the passive voice without going mad.  So we broke out the stones and tea lights.

An order for Theological Reflection

The sound of footsteps is heard, growing louder, echoing down the Corridor of Uncertainty.  The Procession for Theological Reflection enters the Moot House from the Corridor, and advances to the Worship Focus (a large mirror*)

The procession consists of:

Tea Lightifer

Bearer of the Staff

First Reflector              Second Reflector

The First and Second Reflectors are clad in their shiniest hi-viz, and also hi-viz trousers, for maximum reflection.

The Bearer of the Staff bangs the Staff three times on the floor.

First and Second Reflectors:  Jurgen Moltmann!

[Or, as it may be, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza; Karl Barth; or Søren Aabye Kierkegaard)

The Procession turns round, and exits via the Corridor of Uncertainty.  The sound of echoing footsteps is heard dying away.

* We use a Large Mirror as the worship focus as a reminder that, used without care, discipline and challenge, Theological Reflection will reveal one thing only - oneself.

Thursday 11 February 2010

The Corridor of Uncertainty

In yet another triumph of rapid construction, we're pleased to announce the Corridor of Uncertainty.
Forty yards long, it links the Great House in a due north-south line with the Moot House.  We can vary the lights so that, at any given moment, the Oblate, Novice or whoever is heading into worship can be bathed in white light, strobed, or left in utter darkness.  We've also wired up a PA system independently of the rest of the community sound loop, so that it segues uncertainly between Death Metal, Vaughan Williams, Messiaen and The Birdie Song.

The uncertainty this generates sets the victim, or "traveller", as we call them, on psychic edge. The Left Brain screams for meaning, but can find none.  Particularly when the conveyor belt speeds up. Imagine being whizzed at twelve miles an hour in complete darkness while listening to "Firestarter", only to screech to a halt, drenched in ultra-violet light while three minutes of "It's a Small World" cuts in.  The Left Brain looks at the Right Brain and recoils in horror - seeing it as Other - angel, unclean spirit, pixie or smurf according to your upbringing and former beliefs.  The mind collapses to a psychic jelly - not a great journey, for some of our members.

And suddenly they go through the Portal of the Imagination and they are in the Moot House.  Enya sooths the troubled soul, the place is bathed with a hundred tea lights, and they are beckoned to their own seat, in a safe place, and offered a bagel.  The Left Brain relaxes, takes command of the situation - looks at the Right Brain and knows it has been the Known all along - a friend, fellow-traveller, companion and Twitter follower.  All is right with the world.

We only opened the Corridor of Uncertainty this morning, and already offerings are sharply up.  We reckon if  we put in for a patent, we could achieve world peace within the decade.

On Voting Systems

Most enlightening yesterday afternoon, watching the electronic voting system at the Church of England General Synod break down.  They had to resort to walking through the "Aye" and "No" doors to register their votes on whether to vote on the amendment to the amended amendment, as I explained to Burton until he so unexpectedly fell asleep.  I blame it on the three hours he spent in the Marquis of Granby while I was at the Synod.  He came out babbling something about having to watch the pigeons flying.

Personally, I'm always in several minds as to the best voting system.  I generally go for the "One Archdruid, One Vote" system - where, being the Archdruid, I get the one vote.  But sometimes people get shirty and demand more of a democratic say at Moots.

So we've experimented with the "Aye" and "No" doors concept.  And the good news about the Moot House is that it has four doors - "Aye", "No", "I'm not sure" and "I don't think it's so much an either/or as a both/and".  The problem with the fourth door is the enormous cost of the lettering.  But on the bright side, it's the door that everybody goes through so as not to cause offence.  And then I get the casting vote.  And if there's ever anything really contentious, I find that the good old Slazenger helps people to determine the "right" door.

Now one system I really enjoy is the "Beaker" voting system. Everyone fills a beaker of water, and then pours the contents either into the "Yes" or "No" tank of water.  In an idea we got from 1970s editions of "It's a Knockout" we then get Burton to measure the result using a dip-stick.  He then declares the result in his celebrated "Eddie Waring" voice.  In another idea we got from the same programme, people on the other side of the argument are allowed to throw beach-balls at the voters, as they balance along the see-saws and tight-rope walk over the big pools of water on the way to the voting tanks.

Then we have the "trained cat" system.  In this, every Beaker person brings his or her trained cat, and instructs them which way to vote.  The cats go and sit on either the "Miaow" or the "Purrrrr" mat to indicate objection or agreement.  Of course, this system is liable to fraud; on occasion we have detected traces of catnip on the "Miaow" mat.

But with an electronic system all this is rendered irrelevant. As long as Keith's got the programming right, I can ensure that every vote goes my way.  The best kind of democracy is always the one that comes up with the right answers.

Burton goes to London

Dear Readers, such excitement as I feel, even now, as I write to you. I was really too tired last night after our big day in the Capital. But now - it all seems a wonderful blur.
The Archdruid being of the Liverpool-supporting faction, while I am of the Gooner persuasion, she very kindly organised what she referred to as "Corporate Hostility" for their annual meeting at the Arsenal home ground. I was sure she meant "Corporate Hospitality", but she assured me that she was right.
We went down early, and paid our respects to the Kirsty MacColl memorial bench in Soho Square.
At this point, the Archdruid said she was going to "pop in" to the General Synod, which by a remarkable co-incidence was also happening in London yesterday. What a truly wonderful place it must be, to have two events of such excitement on the same day!
So the Archdruid left me on Kirsty's bench, requesting that I keep notes of whether the pigeons, "shivering in the naked trees", decided to fly.
I'll be honest. Soho Square is a beautiful oasis in the Metropolis. But three hours was a long time to sit on a bench watching pigeons.
When the Archdruid returned, and we set off on the magical Picadilly Line (they have trains that run underground in London - can you imagine?), she was kind enough to explain to me the events at the Synod. But unaccountably, as she was telling me about how people had to walk through doors to vote on whether to vote on an amendment to the amendment of an amendment, I blacked out. Must have been a chill on the brain as a result of all that pigeon-watching.
Of the first half of the game I will say little, for indeed there is little to say. But in the second -oh, the Arsenal came alive! A wonderful cross for the winning goal! But I have to say that the reminder of the game proved that it was indeed "Hostility" that was Corporate. I wouldn't say someone as spiritual as the Archdruid sulked, but she did accidentally bruise my shins with her steel toe-caps once or twice, while jumping around trying to keep warm.
The evening ended in terror, as I cycled down the snow-covered back roads of Bedford on my way back to Husborne Crawley. The Archdruid said she didn't want to risk steering or braking problems with me in the car, so she drove to and from the station alone. Which I suppose was considerate of her - not wanting any harm to come to me - but she doesn't actually drive a Toyota. Still, better safe than sorry.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

The Armadillo Song

(To the tune of... well yes, obviously)

When the day is dawning
On a dull and rainy morning
On the Ark with Noah
And the pythons and a forty-foot boa
And a pair of llamas
And a hungry goat
has eaten my pyjamas
Now I'm sleeping in my coat.

I've got to feed the armadillo
Clean the hippos' cage with Brillo
Now I'm feeling rather ill.  Oh,
it's the smell that gets to me.
Now I've fed the armadillo
I've got to give the budgie some Trill.  Oh,
I really hate that armadillo.
I wish I'd never gone to sea.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

A guide to Worship Leading (II) - What to say

Useful things to say when leading worship
An important part of worship is knowing, in that almost prophetic way, what is the right thing to say at the right time.  But you know what it's like in the busy life of a worship leader.  Sometimes you just don't have the anointing.  So  I recommend a number of spiritual-sounding phrases you can use at any point when things need moving along.  You can write them on 3x5 index cards or, if you're the sort of fellowship that uses an autocue for the worship leader, get the teleprompt operator to stick them on there for when you look at a bit of a loose end...

"You know, I get the feeling that every single person in this congregation is feeling the love of God to the fullest right now.  Hallelujah!"

"Turn to the person to your right and say hello.  No - not all of you.... that's not going to work, is it?  OK, every other person, counting from the right, turn... no - not your right, my right..."

"It's been so nice to welcome the Shildon former Railwaymen and Miner's Outreach Group this evening. And we're coming to our last song, "I want to be out of my depth in your love".  And I think it would be nice if we all joined hands and sang this to each other."

"Now I don't want to offend anyone at this point, but it feels right to me that we all put our hands in the air..."

"Keith!  Kill that fox that's attacking Mrs Jones!  Quick!  Oh, no... it's OK, it's her hat."

"I get the feeling that someone, somewhere in this 500-person celebration is feeling like they have some kind of buried sin.  Something only they and God know about.  And I don't know who it is, but if whoever it is harbouring this vile and lurid sin would like to come down discreetly to Keith, they can receive prayer.  Keith is the one just below the stage, in the pink T-shirt and comedy hat, under the sign that says "Discreet repentance for vile perverted sinners."  No-one?  God's not going to be happy...."

"And now the women only to sing this verse.... and the men only to sing this one.... and now the left-handed albinos.  Sing UP, Derek!  We can't hear you!"

"Bronwen encouraged her son to claim he was only 13 to get a cheap bus fair.  So in accordance with Matt 18:6... Burton!  Where's that millstone?"

"Happiness is next to godliness!  Sadness is a sin!  Sadness is a sin!  God wants us all to show our joy by dancing as David danced!  Let's see you all dance.  No, not jiggle - DANCE!"

"So we've had a fantastic exposition on the Sermon on the Mount from our 24-year-old, pretty, Cambridge and Yale-educated young pastor, Lady Louella Fforbes-Smyth.  And if you feel you're letting God down in any way, or you feel unfulfilled or unloved, I'd like you all to come down the front... Stop! Stop!  Not all of you!!"

"God's love is so real!  Now I want you all to go and find someone you don't know too well and give them a hug.  Burton!  Put Stacey down!  Now!"

"We now move into the offertory hymn.  I don't want to pressurise you here, but things are a bit short at the Manse.  Basically, if we don't get the tithes we're eating the hamsters."

"You know, it's at times like this that the words of Ezra 4:2 come to me.  Now, I know you all know that reading, and it's probably dear to all your hearts, so let's just shout it out together."

Green Electricity

I'm pleased to announce the Beaker Green Electricity scheme.  As of today the People of the community will be able to benefit from electricity provided solely from our new reclamation/incineration scheme - using 100% waste materials - and the generator we've built down in the Big Meadow.

OK, we've a few teething troubles.  But electricity and hot water will be available in the Great House between the hours of 4 and 6 in the morning.  And my office, like the Beaker Bazaar and the Moot House, are supplied from their independent source so you can be assured that we can keep selling pebbles and doilies.  And especially tea lights.  And I will continue to be able to issue my bulletins at all hours - although you may not be able to read them.  And if the sun's out, the solar panels we fitted for the Christmas Lights will be kicking in.  So round about May you should all have all the electric light and heating you need, during the hours of daylight.

Meanwhile we've just got to solve the problems with that giant plume of smoke that's spreading across the motorway.  Say what you like about burning old tyres as a source of energy, they're smelly.

Quantum Phone Danger

Intrigued by this from the BBC about using Quantum effects to make phones scroll more intelligently. 
Here at Husborne Crawley we're always in favour of finding productive uses for science.  But you've got to worry, in line with the principle of improbability, that if you press the wrong button, your underwear could be teleported three feet to the right.  I feel the phones' manufacturers should publish a disclaimer to say that if this happens you've no-one to blame but Paul Dirac.  And stay away from really hot cups of tea while using them.
I mean, imagine the newspaper headlines.  We get enough health scares as it is, without the papers coming out with "Quantum Phone half-killed my cat".

Monday 8 February 2010

A guide to Worship Leading (I)

Following on from our Worship Group Identification, I’ve been inundated with quite literally a question about the art – if I may call it that – of Worship Leading.
In fact, maybe art is the wrong word. Sometimes, as we study the interface between psychology, physiology, musicology and theology at which Worship Leading takes place, I think it could even be a science. So distilled from the experience of being, meeting with and frequently sacking worship leaders – here is my advice. Some of it’s practical, some theoretical. But I hope it’s all useful and thought-provoking. I feel this may be the first in a series, so today I’m just going to be focussing on two areas. Secondly we’ll look at worship leading from a musical perspective. But being aware that some worship leaders don’t play musical instruments, I’m going to start with Newbie Management.

Managing Visitors

You know how it is – somebody turns up whom you’ve never seen before. Now, you’ve been busy at the front sorting out the last-minute nervous breakdowns, fist-fights and panic attacks which will occur in the Worship Team before any act of worship. So you don’t know whether the newcomer is a visitor, or a potential first-time visiting member. And you also don’t know whether the newcomer has been welcomed by a regular member of your fellowship or not. What do you do?

1. Bring them up the front. Very important. Whoever they are, bring them up the front. Ask them to introduce themselves to their fellow worshippers. Feel free to ask them where they’ve come from and whether they’re likely to stay long.  Ask them what great thing has happened to them this week, and if it doesn't sound too great then push them for another.  Ask how they feel God is blessing them on a scale of 9 to 10.  If they have left another fellowship, ask whether they were previously keen tithe-givers. Men in particular love to be paid attention to in this way.

2. Allocate them a buddy. Once they’ve retreated to their place (oddly, people tend to move much faster back than they come to the front) – ask someone to “look after them” for the occasion.  I normally try to get Burton Dasset to do this, as conveniently he can then follow them around for the rest of the morning forcing Gift Aid forms into their hands.

3. The Freelance Prophet  Now, particularly for seaside congregations and for communities that have a fair turnover of pilgrims, like our own, we have an issue with what I call “Freelance Prophets”. Particularly at the more spontaneous fellowships, where people may be invited to bring forward “a word**”. The Freelance Prophet will rush to the front, convinced that they have been chosen this very week to impart something special. And unaware that last week, another Brummie Pentecostal came forward and said exactly the same words of encouragement. Which I guess may be telling us something…
Now that the Moot House has been completed, we like to invite Freelance Prophets down the front to the special “Freelance Prophecy” spot just in front of the Worship Focus. Then we pull the trap-door lever. We always fish them out of the brook at the end of the Ceremony – although by that time they can sometimes be down in the duck pond.


Again, I can only scratch the surface here. I’d just like to give you some ideas on keys and segues on this occasion.

Key Changes – between songs
Very important, this. When modulating between songs in two different keys, there are different approaches. One is to work through the change in practice with the Worship Group. You can find a great deal of advice on the chord sequences that will lead you from, say, G#m to F (as frequently happens in my experience). This will enable you to move smoothly through a number of intervening seventh and other bridging chords, and leave your congregation – or, as I prefer to think of them – “punters” perfectly prepared for the next song.

Alternatively, assuming you’re a guitarist or keyboard player, just bash out a few random chords and then kick straight on. Spontaneity is, as we all know, the most important aspect of worship. And with luck your fellow “band” members will catch up at some point in the next song*.

Key Changes – within songs

Crucial to any invocatory experience is what we might call the study of “worship dynamics”. Given a situation in which, for example, the worship is really taking off, or the punters seem a little stodgy and worship-leading is rather like stirring treacle – or, actually, any other case between these two – the best thing you can do is modulate in the key a full tone above what you are currently playing. Professors of Worshipology call this “knocking it up one”.  Or they do round here.  I realise it may have other connotations in other places.

It’s really important that you have some awareness of where your fellow band-members are, especially if you have a horn section. If, just after a chord shift, you hear the whispered words “double sharps”, or you become aware that the sax and trumpet players have formed a lynch mob, you will know that you have gone into a very wrong key. Best bet is to wrap it up quick and hand over to the preacher.

By the way – the concept of “knocking it up one” is subject to the Law of Diminishing Returns. If you do it once, you can add excitement and drama to the song – a sense of rising spiritual temperature. If you do it twice you may hit a key that the horn section can’t cope with. If you do eight times, three things will happen. Firstly you’ll end up in the same key you started from, just an octave higher. Secondly you’ll have sung that song at least eight times through. And thirdly you may find some members of the fellowship have turned blue and are laying around the place. This is not to be confused with any spiritual experience, and we suggest getting some medical help in before the victims get any closer to God than they really want at the this time.

Broken Cadences

Finally for the musical section on this occasion is the concept of a “broken cadence”. I’ve no idea if this is the right term, but it feels like it should be. As you are moving into the final cadence of a song – maybe everyone’s feeling like they’ve really “broken through” and are at one with the Divine – don’t play through to the last chord of the song and then finish as everyone expects. Just leave it hanging there. If you’re in C, and the last chord before you end is a G – just stop in G and leave it. If you really want to make the point, go for a short walk at this point.  If you get it right, some congregation members may fall over due to applying the musical and spiritual brakes so sharply, and then you can claim they’ve been slain in the Spirit.
* Annoyed band members very rarely physically assault the worship leader actually during an act of worship. And so far it has never resulted in anything worse that a few scratches, in my experience.
** “A” word implies the singular. If only.

Oddly enough, Banksyboy has been thinking about Worship songs today as well.  Go and have a look!  (NB  merely suggesting you go over there does not mean I agree with him.  Though I do.)