Wednesday 31 March 2010

Who wants to be a Tera-Electron Volt?

And your question for One Million Pounds: why are you doing this again?

A) Because we can
B) Research into disease is boring
C) We can get all excited about TeVs and LHCs! Makes us feel like real men when everyone at school used to beat us up for being nerds.
D) Look at my research grant!  I mean!  Look at my research grant!

It's just a job I do

Good.  Out of the door, line on the left, one cross each."

You may not like the Life of Brian, but they caught the dispassionate nature of Roman slaughter just right there.
6,000  followers of Spartacus. Hundreds in the Jewish wars.  A rebel here, a bandit there.
So he was just one more.  Not even a statistic.  Just one more dead Jew.  On one more cross.
Just one more.  Just like so many others.  Just one more.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Teaser Tuesday

This came from Scatter Cushions.
The rules are:Grab your current read.Let the book fall open to a random page.Share with us two (2) 'teaser' sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.You also need to share the title and author of the book that you’re getting your 'teaser' from .. that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you've given!

"If Jesus Christ, then, consists of"two substances".... what should we say about them?  Tertullian has the distinction of being the first theologian frankly to tackle this issue."

[Kelly, JND 1985 - Early Christian Doctrines 5th rev ed.  p 151]

Strangely appropriate to the time of year.  And it was this or "Barcoding - getting it right".

The Twittering Brethren

Having the time off this evening, I thought I'd go to a different fellowship's mid-week service for a change.  It's so nice, having the peace and quiet round the Community.  So I went along to the Twittering Brethren.

Now, I'll admit that I thought the Twittering Brethren would be a more Home Counties version of the Quivering Brethren of Cold Comfort Farm fame.  So I was looking forward to a good dose of doom, gloom and despondency for the evening.  But no.

No, it turns out far from being the shivering bunch of Calvinists I had expected, the Twittering Brethren are a Trappist order who have discovered they can get round their vow of silence by spending their lives on Twitter.  So although Brother Anthony can't talk to Brother Gerard using his voice, he can tweet his every spiritual thought into the twittersphere.  I enjoyed the silence of their community at Compline, but was surprised to see that it had been renamed to RT @Vespers.

Anyway, I was glad to leave in the end.  A couple of the more progressive brothers have moved on to Facebook, and Brother Wulfstan had just thrown a cow at Brother Edward.

The politics of feeling Good

So I've had numerous complaints from the Beaker People about the series of Lenten and then Holy Week themes.  They said I've been a bit gloomy talking about temptation and death and suffering and stuff. But you know, I thought it was important that we put a bit of depth; some seriousness and consideration into our Beaker ritual year.

I mean, we do talk about the cycles of the season and all the rest of it - the ups and downs, the dying and waking of nature. But in fact, when you get down to it, we kind of don't like the bad bits. Apart from St Morrissey's Day, and St Thomas of Mellstock's Day, we don't ever really get any down moods at all. And even on those days, there's still the relief of, for example, going aroung pretending to be a Dorset yokel and painting on fake smallpox scars. Which is why, for all that it's supposed to be Lent, most of the Beaker Folk have been going to work on a Creme Egg since early January.

The main reason the Beaker Folk shy away from Easter in particular is that it includes death. And they don't like that one little bit. They suspect that, if even God had to die, then they might have to face that as well. And they're not happy with it. On the whole they have less problem with the pain and the cross per se, as they're happy to reflect on the knowledge that the suffering was happening to someone else. But they feel that at a time when the spring is springing and birds are building nests and daffydowndillies are bloomin and frogs are busy making little frogs, all this obsession with death and tombs is a bit in bad taste. And they told me if I kept going on about it, they'd decide it was time for a holiday. They said what good was the so-called Gospel if all I did was keep telling them bad news?

So I've just got back from a walk to find a note telling me they've all cleared off. They're staying at a Travel Lodge on the south coast from now till Sunday, when they're coming back for the traditional Throwing the Eggs over the Moot House rituals. They like Easter Sunday. It's a happy day.

Spiritual Limping and the Importance of Safety Shoes

Thank you all for asking, yes I'm fine.
I've just pulled that tendon at the back of my ankle.  I tell you, I'm a martyr to that tendon.  Otherwise always in perfect health, I just sometimes feel like the tendon at the back of my ankle is letting me down.  It's always been my... I'm sure the expression will come to me.

But on the subject of feet and ankles, we have laid in a new and exciting supply of safety footwear.  Out with the old steel toe-caps!  Now you can buy kevlar safety shoes.  They're lighter, safer and they don't conduct the cold into your feet on frosty mornings.  Just £35 each from the Beaker Bazaar, where we will also take your old boots off you for free.

And we've got a great new offer in the Bazaar for day and weekend pilgrims.  We can now rent you a pair of "pre-loved" steel toe-capped safety shoes at only £3 per day! (Plus a £10 deposit).

Ricky Martin - A Nation Mourns

If I appear slightly woozy and unbalanced this morning, I have to apologise.  It's the discovery that Ricky Martin is gay that did it.

Not that the sexuality of Mr Martin himself bothers me much, either one way or the other.  Apparently he made a record in the 1990s, which I suppose entitles him to be a celebrity along with Mr Blobby and Aqua.  Whatever happened to Aqua?  Sorry, that's beside the point.  The point being that, if Mr Martin has now decided to let everyone know what everyone knew already, then that's fine by me.

What happened was, I was driving down to the Builders' Merchants with Edith Weston, who was after a new nail-gun.  Then one second after Nicky Campbell announced the world-shattering news on Radio 5, Edith screamed.  I'm only glad that the windscreen is toughened glass, but I nearly drove straight into a car coming the other way.

What a sad journey it was after that.  I had to enlighten Edith on George Michael, Elton John and particularly Julian Clary, for whom she's always had a soft spot.  All her teenage dreams shattered.  And tell her that Kermit's not a real frog.  And Harry the Bigfoot doesn't live with the Hendersons.  And ET never went home.

And I'd be grateful if someone could confirm that the picture above is indeed Ricky Martin, as I've no idea what he looks like.  On this occasion, in Wikipedia I trust.

A seamless robe

And 2000 years on
men and women
are still treated
as objects
to be bought
to be sold
to be abused
to be thrown away.

"Stations of the Cross" from St Alban the Martyr, Holborn.

Monday 29 March 2010

Planning Worship in a Post-Modern Environment

You know, in the old days it was simple:

If you were Methodist you had the Bible, earnest preaching and Wesley's hymns;
If you were Catholic you had Latin liturgy, liturgical colours and incense;
If you were Anglican you had the BCP and cricket.

But things have changed.  Now through the wonders of Liturgical Renewal, you can mix 'n' match to the service that suits you.  Mash up Gregorian Chant and heavy metal?  Just call it creative.  Don't like candles?  Use scented tea lights.  Singing the Psalms not suit you?  Gaze at a hazelnut.  After all, it's what Mother Julian did.

So as another in our occasional series in Worship advice,  here's a few more hints 'n' tips to help you negotiate the post-modern maze - or should I say - labyrinth?


Smell is the one of the six senses that is hard-wired straight to your brain.  Smell is powerful.  Smell can be your enemy - or your friend.  If the smell of old hymn books and musty hassocks is your thing, then that's great.  Get straight down your local village Anglican church and get your hands on your BCP.  If you're lucky, there might be some other people there as well  But other smells are maybe more conducive to a worshipping atmosphere.  Incense is good.  Personally I find a mixture of spikenard and frankincense just hits the spot, in a relaxing post-daily-toil joss stick.  But try and introduce incense to your communal worship and you'll always find you've got one person who claims it brings on their asthma attack, even if they've never had asthma in their life.  You'll bring the thurible in, and there'll be the sort of outbreak of coughing you normally only get when some-one starts burning old tyres in a tuberculosis ward.  And we all know how unpopular that makes you.

So why not try pumping the smell of fresh coffee, or baked bread, into your worship space, church or Moot House before meetings?  It will give your worship that homely feel - and the takings in your coffee shop afterwards will go up.  Or failing that, the scent of ironing can create the real sense of yearning for home when you're ten and it's raining outside.  Or is that just me?

Music to Listen To

With my background in the Extremely Primitive Methodists, this one is counter-intuitive and hard.  I want to be busy, busy - doing the next thing, then the next.  I can't imagine just sitting still and contemplating.  Worship, to the Extremely Primitive Methodists, was all about doing stuff.  Not least because if you sat still you would freeze to death.  But sometimes you just have to be still.  And they tell me that playing a piece of music can help.  Now, already on this site today Sally and Graham have recommended Coldplay.  And I can see that for some people, having people from Camden as the background to their spiritual lives may work.
But somehow, whenever I hear "Fix You" I just remember that I've got to get the Community Cat down the vets.

So here's some ideas that I find go well.

Enya, obviously.  Enya has the great advantage that you can feel terribly spiritual and go away feeling vaguely blessed and spiritual without ever coming across anything that may actually change you in any way.  Jon and Vangelis used to work much the same way.  WhilFauré can make you feel all woosy and other-worldly.  Gregorian chant can make you feel like it's the day after a rave, if you're after that "back in the 90s" experience.  And Chris de Burgh just makes you wonder when it's going to stop.

Graven Images

Now I'd like to consider the power of pictorial art.  Our ancestors knew all about this, of course, with their wall paintings and stained glass and sacred carving.  Until the evil Roundheads smashed the glass and whitewashed the walls and smashed the carving.  

Of course, the Roundheads may have been on the credit side in being in accordance with the 2nd commandment.  Which you could see as a slight advantage - but I'd say that to instil a sense of true worship, the best bet is to project images on the wall of the Moot House.

Personally I love Eastern Orthodox icons.  Obviously, I've no idea what they mean - I can't read much Greek and the saints all seem to be a little dull - but the goldy colour is brilliant and they just look so spiritual.  So projecting images of icons interspersed with pictures of homeless people in London can always be very effective.  Everyone goes away feeling holy, and just a little bit compassionate.  And it hasn't cost them a penny!  Can't be bad.

Cafe Church

It's just so fair-tradey last year, isn't it?

Back in the day, there was a great craze for "Irish Theme Pub Church".  It fitted in very well with the Celtic Worship revival.  Basically you got a church in Harpenden (or, for those west of London, Woking), filled it with Irish drums, pictures of shamrocks and leprechaun memorabilia and played Irish-style music.  The Churchwardens (if Anglican) were issued with shillelaghs instead of wands and the responses mostly consisted of "So are yer all right there, Father Ted?".  The liturgy was renamed the "craic" and post-service coffee was replaced with Guinness.  Unfortunately there was a tendency to skip the service completely and head straight for the coffee, but it was a real step forward in making worship "real" to the youth of the London suburbs who  totally failed to attend.

So now we've moved the angle to Thai Takeaway Church.  Basically, if you phone us up and give us your credit card number we'll deliver you a Thai takeaway.  You don't even need to attend any kind of "formal" worship, and you can listen to the praise music of your choice (or even just watch the telly) while you're eating the food.  We feel it's a real step forward in making that "attending worship experience" a little less intimidating.

Spring Moon

Looking forward to tonight's Spring Moon.

The Beaker Fertility Folk have always claimed that the Spring Moon is the strongest, and causes the sap to flow in the trees and juices in the leaves.  They also claim another load of things in a similar, slightly innuendo-ish way.

I don't believe that the Fertitility Folk have any problem with getting their juices to flow at any stage of the Moon or season.  They seem equally willing to charge into the woods at any phase or time.  But if anything I feel they're going to be disappointed.  The weather's lousy.

Of course, the weather forecast is also bad news for the rest of us.  So if it continues to be dull  and miserable we'll hold Barking at the Moon in the Moot House.  Marston promises to give us his talk "The day I went to the Moon", which is loosely based on when he ate those toadstools he found on the verge near the Experimental Farm.  It promises to be a long evening.

Don't forget, in accordance with liturgical season, hi-viz tonight will be blue.  If anyone's short of a blue hi-viz vest I've got some for sale in the Beaker Bazaar.  But get there quick - at 6pm I'm putting them up line with yesterday's Cider Duty hike.

Using Coldplay in Worship

Sally is one of the great muses for the Beaker Folk.  When we've wondered what else can we do with tea lights, pebbles and 20 metres of coloured rayon, it's always Sally that has come up with new horizons for us.  But she has wondered how  it's possible to use Coldplay in an act of worship.

And of course the choice of music is important.  Playing the right piece of music can inspire people with feelings, thoughts and visions.  Personally when listening to a Coldplay song such as - in particular -  "Yellow", I like to close my eyes and imagine a better time.  A time when "Yellow" won't be playing any more.  That always inspires me.

Reforming the Radical Middle

A few Beaker People have been grumpy ever since I formed the group Approving Druidism.  They said they're uncomfortable with the concept of a religion that likes things and wants to be encouraging.

So in an attempt to get a more aggressive edge to Beakerism, they've formed a new group.  They're calling it "Lever".  Their aim is to lever out of our community any people they don't think agree with the doctrinal basis of Beakerism.  They're swimming against the tide here a bit, since Beakerism doesn't have any doctrinal basis, but still - good luck to them.  You can never have too many pressure groups, I say.

In an unusual piece of international co-operation, Lever have also founded a chapter in our daughter Community, the Beakers of Madison County.  And they've called their group "Lever".  I wonder why they gave it a different name?

A Fall

Let me cling to the One 
who falls to where we are Fallen
And lifts us up to where He sits. 

"Stations of the Cross" from St Alban the Martyr, Holborn.

Sunday 28 March 2010

The Festival of the Almond

The Almond is one of the great signs of spring.  Prunus Dulis , even in the northerly climes of Husborne Crawley, will show its delicate pink blossoms ahead of pear, apple and cherry.
Ours has finally started to show some colour.  It's been a long, hard winter but we can celebrate that the weather has finally picked up.  Which is just as well.  As a number of our folk had been demanding that we start burning stuff to encourage the sun to grow stronger.  And as I often point out, I'm not sympathetic to sympathetic magic.

Our Weather Sage, Weregild, tells me that we're set fair now.  No more bad weather ere the Winter Storms begin.  All's well with the world; the Lark is on the Wing, the frogs are spawning, norming and performing and Marston has taken off his vest.

So I'm looking forward to this evening's activities.  And we're lucky enough to have two events going on.  The "Living with Lactose Intolerance" workshop takes place in the Moot House and the Stilton Cheese-Rolling Competition will be held in the courtyard outside.  What could possibly go wrong?

However note that the "Loving the Bodhran" evening tomorrow has been cancelled after somebody stuck a biro through the skins of each of the seventeen drums.  We suspect that music-lovers may be responsible.

Two processions

Five days earlier they'd cheered the coming King.
Simon had been looking forward to a peaceful Passover.
The earthly Powers had been shaking.

But the Hosannas echoed back as "Crucify", and died away as sobbing.
Simon had a job to do.
And it wasn't the earthly Powers that were shaking.

"Stations of the Cross" from St Alban the Martyr, Holborn.

Saturday 27 March 2010

Authentic Earth Hour Worship

OK, it was a bad diary clash when all was said and done.

I said we'd celebrate Earth Hour in the Moot House, with an hour-long meditation on the darkness.  That meant, after much nagging, that even the lights were switched off in the Archdruidical Suite.

But Hnaef had agreed, after even more nagging, that Milton Ernest was going to be allowed to organise an authentic Celtic worship evening. I had real reservations, but you know how I am - once I'd heard that the authentic Celtic worship evening was going to include Taizé chant and  Tibetan Prayer Bells I was in.  That's authentic enough for me.  And of course, the Celts were known for their concern for the environment, and for switching off all electrical appliances in the evenings.

Now Hnaef and I had a chat about the lighting arrangements.  We'd worked out that by the time you've burnt a tea light, you've actually consumed more of the earth's resources and contributed to more CO2 than if you'd flown a polar bear in specially to switch on the Oxford Street Christmas lights.  So they were ruled out for the hour.  We agreed that, given Taizé chant is fairly simple and the band wasn't needed, we'd risk it and go for a complete hour's worship in the dark.  A kind of early Tenebrae, but without the sad bits.

So with fifty Beaker Folk sat quietly on their bean bags, enjoying the authentic Celtic flavour of a song from France sang in Latin, it was all going remarkable well.  Even the Tibetan Prayer Bells were being bashed in time.

And then we found out about the Liturgical Dance.

Again, I'm not finding fault with the authenticity here.  I'm sure that in 6th century Staffa, Mull or Islay, Celtic French Latin worship with Tibetan Prayer Bells was always accompanied by four of the less slender worshippers equipped with ribbons and a beach ball and performing a liturgical polka.  You can see how that would have appealed to St Columbanus or St Rab or whoever.  But in the dark, in a tightly-packed Moot House, it caused utter chaos.

So Hnaef has bruises on various parts of his body after young Mabelline stamped on him.  I'd like to remind those worshippers who complained about Hnaef's language, that he didn't actually utter any blasphemies - only obscenties.  And I'm pretty sure some of those were actually technical medical terms for the places that Mabelline had stood on.

And the Beach Ball put out the Eternal Flame, which was the only light source we had for the emergency evacuation.  Which explains why, in the darkness and chaos that followed, Milton ended up with a bruise that, if looked at closely, does appear to resemble the outline of a Slazenger V400 cricket bat.  Odd that.  I can only assume that someone must have lashed out with one in Milton's general direction.  Another good reason for wearing liturgical hi-viz - it makes it easier to pick the worship leader out, even in poor light conditions.

And then Young Keith tells me that what he was trying to do, was hit the button to put on the emergency lighting.  As I say, that's what he tells me he was trying to do.  Which is odd. Because the button for the emergency lighting is down by the Worship Focus table and you just have to press it.  It's the big button.  The glowing green one.  The one that was the only bit of light in the entire community.  The light that literally shone, albeit gently, in the darkness.  Whereas to switch on the sprinkler system when there's not a fire, one would have to be by the North-East door, and in possession of the correct key.  Maybe at Earth Hour, all the spare electric needs somewhere to go and cross-circuited the system?

So now we had half a hundred Beaker Folk, in a state of panic, in the darkness, soaking wet, and receiving random bruises from the still-prancing nymphs of the Celtic Polka Dance society.  It's not a great way to finish an evening's worship.  But still, we need to consider that it sounds like a pretty good summary of the breakdown of the Roman Empire, which was happening at around about the same time on the same continent - and also in Latin.

So I guess that all in all we've had a fairly authentic evening's worship.


That time always comes.

When the band that started as a four-piece of keen kids
added a keyboard player,
then a string section,
then got remastered,
then went overblown and brought in a guest sax player and harmonica

splits and the second-most-creative one goes somewhere else.

So they hire a symphony orchestra...

...and write their own dodgy symphony.

And bring in a bunch of gay Filipino backing instrumentalists, because African music is just so Paul Simon and they want a different "angle".

And then one day they just stop and go back to basics and bring out the "unplugged" album.

It's not just posing.

Don't forget:

 - one day you will look at the vestments
- or the 24-part music group
- or the 12-point sermon
- or your 6-part series on making your marriage work
- or the seventeen people preceding you on your way to the altar
- or your "23 steps to loving your kids" programme
- or the drapings you've just had placed around the High Altar

and you'll say to yourself - "how did I get here?"

and you'll think - didn't this all start with a bloke, in a dusty country, with a bunch of mates, who said "love God and your neighbour"?

and you'll go unplugged.

With thanks to RobinsonS again for the inspiration.

Friday 26 March 2010

The Hour of Less Power

Earth Hour is nearly upon us, with the WWF encouraging us all to switch our lights off for an hour.

Some suggestions for what to do in Earth Hour have included: "games, candlelit dinners, chatting with friends around a fire, a walk in the park".  I may be missing the point here but 8.30 GMT tomorrow is gonna still be pretty dark, and you're not gonna catch me walking round the park at that point.  Sure, the moon's gonna be pretty bright, if there's no cloud, but what you going to do if you're attacked by a badger?

There's been a certain amount of sound and noise signifying very little about it, particularly Damian Thompson's suggestion we all switch on extra electrical devices.  I'm not sure I'm that keen on the suggestion.  After all, why would I go out of my way to spend extra money just to upset the WWF?  That's like going out and buying a special pair of gloves just to slap a Quaker.  And we all know unsatisfying that is.

So come Earth Hour, all the electric lights will be switched off in the Great House while the Beaker Folk sit in darkness.  Though to be honest that's pretty well the case all the time.  In order to save money, only essential lighting is ever switched on - and generally that means the electric in my study and private suite, where clearly I may have essential work.
But this all leaves me with a thought.  If we - and by "we" I mean all the other Beaker Folk - can do without electric light every night of the year - why can't you?  Instead of scattering your family around 4 different rooms of the house, there each in your atomized way to do your own thing - gather them all together, before Mr Harry Hill's smiling face - or whatever is on, or around your favourite  board game, or equip everyone with a banjolele - and enjoy one another's company.  Turn off all the lights you don't need.  Don't run your car for half an hour before you drive it.  Turn your computer off when you're no longer using it - and the wi-fi!  Don't forget the wi-fi!  And whatever you may or may not achieve in environmental terms, you'll certainly be richer.  And then you can afford that nice pair of sequinned gloves you've been after*.

* Slapping a Quaker may or may not be satisfying. But it is certainly illegal and we recommend strongly against it.  I chose the Quakers for this illustration because they're very nice, pacifist people and almost certainly won't slap me back.  But it's still wrong.

Thought for the day

A quid for the Times Online?

I could buy The Independent for that.

The Other Bad Thief

Yesterday was, in the Catholic church, the celebration of Dismas, the "Good" thief.  Last mentioned in the Bible having his legs broken to hasten his death, although we have it on good authority that he was shortly to enjoy  much better times.  His feast day is 25 March - because saints are commemorated on the day of their deaths - their "birthdays" - and in Dismas's case his "birthday" was Good Friday.   And traditionally the date of Good Friday was 25 March, which is also the feast of the Annunciation.  So old Dismas gets a bit overlooked most years, and nobody that I'm aware of names churches after him.  Though I don't suppose he cares.

But the real point about this is just to say:

He wasn't the "Good" thief.
He wasn't the "Good" thief.
He wasn't the "Good" thief.
He was the justified one.

Just had to get that off my chest.

Thursday 25 March 2010

Stone Age Burial Rites in Central Bedfordshire

Based on a cursory glance at the Time Team Stonehenge Special, I've discovered that the ancient Beaker People of Stonehenge, when they died, were left on mortuary platforms for the birds to peck off the flesh, and then the bones were buried in a sarsen tomb.

Sounds a bit messy, but if it's authentic...

Obviously, in these days of lightweight and convenient building materials, it's a lot easier to erect these ritual constructions than it used to be.  So tomorrow morning we're off up the Builders Merchants for some breeze blocks for the round barrow and some decent 2x4 to build the mortuary platform.  There's nobody in the Beaker Folk actually planning on dying in the near future, but best to be well-prepared.  And  it's probably better we get in early as we're going to have to try and get this form of burial past the Mid Beds Council planning people as well.  And you know what those people are like.  It could take weeks to get permission.

Poor Old Rosie Suffers from Darling

Apart from graphs, Dear Readers, nothing animates me more than the subject of Real (as opposed to gassy, mass-produced, unnatural) cider and real ale.

The sale of real ales and ciders has taken a terrible bashing in pubs, mostly due to the smoking ban and now it faces yesterday's introduction of a 10% duty rise on cider.
Now I wouldn't like you to think I'm recommending you support "binge" drinking, or anything like that. But I hope you can see the difference between a craft product and something fizzy designed purely to make you feel fuzzy. And don't forget that "Real" cider is a Zero-Carbon product*.

Therefore can I recommend you to the petition for reduced duty on Real beers and ciders, to be found at the No 10 website - here.

* Actually I've no idea if this is true, but it may well be. You think of all the CO2 those trees soak up. And it sounds good.

The Worship /Music Graph

Dear reader, the Archdruid has asked me if I could knock up one of my quick graphs. So here it is.
This is in response to a debate on musical complexity, quality and worship on Banksyboy's excellent and thought-provoking blog.

In essence, it maps depth of worship intensity against musical complexity. Now clearly these words are emotive and therefore I need to issue lots of caveats:

(a) This graph is assuming a uniform quality of musical performance -i.e. somebody who is good enough to play quite complex music, but not necessarily doing so. So not the Beaker Band, equipped as they are with an out-of-tune banjo, a badly-played bodhran and an ocarina.

(b) Of course you can worship without music at all. "Worship" and "Music" are not synonymous. But the minute music starts, it tends to define the worship for that period of time. That is why the value "0" for music does not have a corresponding "worship" value.

(c) On the music scale, a complexity value of "1" is roughly equivalent to somebody banging a piece of corrugated iron with a mallet. "15" is a piece of Messiaen played by an organist accompanied by mail voice choir, bag pipes and marching brass band. So 6 or 7 would be round about a small choir and organ singing some Stanford, or a 5-piece rock & roll worship band, playing something by Delirious?

(d) That question mark in (c) isn't mine. It belongs to Delirious?

(e) Rats. Did it again. It's really very confusing.

The Annunciation and Passion

An odd thing, often, the Feast of Annunciation.  Often seems out of times. Last year I went with a fellow-student of micropetrology to Walsingham, to celebrate this micro-glimpse of Christmas.
It oftentimes falls in Lent - and occasionally, on Good Friday (when the modern-style Churches transfer it somewhere else).
John Donne saw the depth of irony in it.

TAMELY, frail body, abstain to-day ;
to-day My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur ; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast,
Christ came, and went away ;
She sees Him nothing, twice at once, who's all ;
She sees a cedar plant itself, and fall ;
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive, yet dead ;
She sees at once the Virgin Mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha ;
Sad and rejoiced she's seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty, and at scarce fifteen;
At once a son is promised her, and gone;
Gabriell gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, she's in orbity;
At once receiver and the legacy.
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
Th' abridgement of Christ's story, which makes one—
As in plain maps, the furthest west is east—
Of th' angels Ave, and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God's Court of Faculties,
Deals, in sometimes, and seldom joining these.
As by the self-fix'd Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where th'other is, and which we say —
Because it strays not far—doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to him, we know,
And stand firm, if we by her motion go.
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar, doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud ; to one end both.
This Church by letting those days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one ;
Or 'twas in Him the same humility,
That He would be a man, and leave to be ;
Or as creation He hath made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating spouse would join in one Manhood's extremes ;
He shall come, He is gone ;
Or as though one blood drop, which thence did fall,
Accepted, would have served, He yet shed all,
So though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords.
This treasure then, in gross, my soul, uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

The Budget Summary - Winners and Losers

Well, I've had Burton going through the fine details of the Budget with a slide rule, and this is what he's come up with... 

A married man earning £1 million a year in the City of London will be smart enough not to be paying any tax.

A man with two children living in a gated street off Whitehall and earning £200,000 per annum will soon be homeless.

People who like drinking decent cider are going to be livid.

An Archdruid in a large house in the South-East of England will be substantially worse off when she dies. But then she won't care.

A banker living in a five-bedroomed house in the South Downs will shortly be moving to Switzerland.

Two gay people buying a £600,000 house in Beaconsfield will still attract loud tutting from the neighbours.

A Curate in the Church of England can't afford to buy anything anyway, so will be no better or worse off.

A member of the Unite Union can hold the Government to ransom.

People who smoke 50 cigarettes a day smell.

A married man in Somerset with three children, who drinks 8 pints of scrumpy every night is probably going to go blind.

People living in parts of Glasgow are still going to die ten years younger than people living in Iraq.

The Last Supper Super-Size Scandal

was trying to ignore it. I really was. All the stuff about Super-Sized Last Suppers. But in the end I can't. I just can't.

It's not that there isn't a real problem with obesity. Of course there is. There's a lot of it about. Indeed, I often wonder to myself how come the Archdruidical hi-viz has shrunk, once again, in the night.
But the "science" is so bad. Or, more likely, the reporting of the science is bad.

Let's start with Charlene Shoneye, "obesity dietician" who said she wasn't surprised because 

"Twenty years ago, for example, most crisps used to come in packs that were 20g. Now they are 30g, 50g or even 60g, and we are still eating the whole pack." 

She's probably right. But that doesn't explain why the sizes of Last Suppers grew most between 1500 and 1900 does it? There's not only no causality, that's not even correlation. That's like saying we know Global Warming is happening today because all the ice started melting after the last Ice Age.

Now let's consider Professor Brian Wansink, whose very name sent me to many anagram sites to work out if this is just an early April Fool. Apparently he and his colleagues at Cornell University - which I believe, unlike Cambridge, is a real one - studied 52 paintings and worked out the sizes of the feast based on such empirical evidence as "the assumption that the width of an average loaf of bread from the time should be twice that of the average disciple's head".

Is that real science? Is that a universal constant, comparable to Boltzmann's? Will the Wansink constant (which, conveniently, is precisely 2) go down in the textbooks of the future? It remains to be seen. But when all is said and done, is measuring the size of disciples' heads and comparing them to loaves of bread really something for a grown team of researchers to be doing?

To be fair to Craig Wansink, Prof Brian's theologian brother, he lets us into the good news that there's probably no theological reason why the portions are getting bigger. But since he's a theology professor, that just tells us he's wasted the last three years. Still, as the prophets Rice and Lloyd-Webber told us, "Any Grant Will Do".

He's not the Messiah

Amusing article on the Guardian site (now there's a rare statement) regarding Raj Patel, an academic and author who has unexpectedly found himself regarded as the saviour (or, for our American readers, "savior") of the world.

Apparently Mr Patel is an emanation of the Maritreya, a representative of the Space Brothers of Venus.
Leaving aside the possibility that the Space Brothers are just the latest manifestation of a long line of fraudulent Messiahs, which include the Kray Twins, the Chemical Brothers, Steptoe & Son, Sister Sledge and the Lighthouse Family, I just want to suggest this.

If the Space Brothers are so keen to save our earth wouldn't it be responsible of them to get their own house in order first?  After all, Venus is hardly the type of place we would look if we wanted to know how to deal with runaway climate change, is it?  Why beholdest thou the CO2 in thy Space Brother's eye, but considerest not the gaseous sulphuric acid in thine own eye?

Or perhaps - given that the Space Brothers clearly switched too many lights on when Venus Day came round, perhaps they've got the wrong saviour?  Maybe he that is least among cartoonists will be greatest in the Kingdom of Venus?

Lent Calendars

You get no parties in Lent.
You get no Lent Calendars*.
Easter doesn't keep breaking out into Lent.
It lasts 7 weeks instead of Advent's 4.

I guess that's because Easter is bigger than Christmas.

* With thanks to @RobinsonS

Tuesday 23 March 2010

A Religious Fellowship Leaders’ Personality Test

It's important to know, when considering new jobs or the vital balance of personalities in a community, where exactly you fit.  Eschewing the other 73 methods of working out what makes you "tick" that people have already developed, I'd like to share the one I use when considering appointments to Druidic positions.

1. You have a hard decision to make. Do you

A. Pray long and hard about it, and consider what the Bible has to say?

B. Make a snap judgement. It’ll all end in disaster anyhow.

C. Ask the PCC/Church Meeting/Moot to form a sub-committee, on the grounds that it’s going to be a couple of years before you really need to come off the fence.

D. Watch QI instead.

2. Which Social Networking Media do you use when not doing your “day job”?

A. Blogger – you like to be able to express your thoughts in detail

B. Twitter – you like the cut-and-thrust and succinctness of the thoughts.

C. Facebook – you like to keep in touch with old friends

D. Day job? I have a day job?

3. When you are chairing a committee you like to:

A. Tell them all what you’ve decided and jump straight to the nem con vote.

B. Keep everything to the point. Get the business done and get off early. Life’s too short for wittering.

C. Listen to everybody’s point of view. It’s important they all feel valued.

D. Send your last-minute apologies because you’ve arranged to do a baptism visit at the same time.

4. Who chooses the songs/hymns in your fellowship?

A. You do. You have a vision for where you want the music to go over the next 5years.

B. The Church Wardens/Stewards/Executive Arch-Assistant Druid. But nobody really knows why.

C. The Organist/Worship Leader. It’s important to encourage people to express their own gifts.

D. The Organist/Worship Leader. They get really shirty if you upset them.

The Results

Mostly A –The Prophet. You have the vision, the enthusiasm, and the profound conviction that you’re always right. A true Leader, but it’s always worth looking over your shoulder occasionally to see if anyone’s following. You like to spend your holidays invading Poland.

Mostly B – The Pragmatist. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In fact, if it’s only a little bit broke it’s probably better off left alone. Acutely aware of the value of time, you’re at your best pruning pointless activities from the religious calendar. But you were at your worst when you fitted that conveyor belt to speed up multiple baptisms.

Mostly C – The People Person. It is important to give people your attention. They have to feel wanted. Conflicts must be resolved. Pastoral visiting is an essential part of your ministry. You work a 100 hour week.

Mostly D – The Escapist. Probably an INFP or INTP on the Myers-Briggs scale, you were called to Ministry by your deep love for people. Unfortunately it turns out that people can be hurtful, rude, unthinking and unappreciative of the love you have for them. Dodging meetings and spending time in cyber-space will help you to choke down those troubling thoughts you have about decking the Circuit Steward.

A Celebration of Middle-Class Worship

OK - so we've given up any pretence of a preference for the poor, and we know that God doesn't like the rich. We now realise that only the Middle Class are truly godly. So we are happy to share this order for Middle Class Devotion.

Opening Hymn: When I needed a cleaner were you there, were you there?

Prayers of confession
In a suitably smug attitude of humility, knowing that we are really better than we're pretending.

All: We have wandered from the true path like a Rav 4 going off-road. We humbly confess that we have not loved ourselves as our neighbours. We have left undone those windows that we ought to have done up, to prevent opportunistic burglary. We have passed off Marks and Spencer food as our own, and we have not walked in the ways of Delia. And we have no health insurance.

Archdruid: Go. And whinge no more.

Hymn: Maureen has Broken the 100K Ceiling

Reading: Well, actually a cosy little cottage up near the Ridgeway above Henley, but it's handy for Heelas and Caversham Waitrose.

Homely (like a Homily, but in a cottage garden style and with Shaker furniture)

Offertory: Gardener, Au Pair, let me serve you*
[during which time Hnaef and Young Keith will come round with their new PIN-enabled card readers]

Nunc Dimminess
And now we can let the au pair give the kids their lunch
While we nip out for our own.
For our eyes have seen a nice little place down near Marlow
quite exclusive but really quite affordable.
A place to go for a quiet Merlot
while we assassinate the character of the preacher.

Prayers for those less fortunate than ourselves (which will last a while because, let's face it, that's most people)
[Including the list of those needing healing (sponsored by BUPA)]

Closing Hymn: And can it be that I should gain an interest rate that will inflation-proof my savings

May the rain fall gently on your herbaceous borders
May the evening sun light up your Tuscan terrace.
May your decking never warp and your trellis never tumble.
May your property values rise
and Mr Barratt never build an estate on your countryside view.
May your Prius start when you ask it
and stop when you need it.
May your bread-maker bless your mornings
and a G-and-T your evenings.
And the Aga keep your kitchen warm all the days of your life.

* With thanks to Banksyboy, whose song idea I have just shamelessly ripped off and corrupted

Monday 22 March 2010

Festival of Frogspawn

Dear fellow Beaker Folk and other readers

I'm afraid the Archdruid is still having a bit of a lay-down this morning after the shock of discovering she'd been wearing a cloak made from a skinned badger all day yesterday. The anthrax tests were negative, I'm pleased to say - but we're still waiting on the TB results.

We are struggling this morning with Hnaef's absence (he's on an archery residential for people with no thumbs) and Drayton's unfortunate incarceration in the Gulfing Room. Therefore the lot has fallen on me to prepare the liturgy of the Festival of Frogspawn, to celebrate this new and exciting sign of spring breaking out all over.

Now some say that accountants are dull people, unable to produce creative and inspiring liturgy. But I hope this Ceremony will still those doubts. alt.worship, a respect for nature and double-entry precision can co-exist.

The Festival of Frogspawn

Liturgical Dress - quiet, sober business suits

The procession to the Pond - Beaker People will walk precisely 2 seconds apart as timed by Burton's watch.

Leader: Oh look! There's a bit of frogspawn
All: And another bit!

Leader: That makes two bits of frogspawn!
All: Oh, no - look -another bit!

Leader: Making three in all.
All: Look, it's a bit cold....

Leader: Hey! Here's a fourth bit!
All: You know, it's lovely and sunny but it is a bit parky stil...

Leader: Five bits! There's a bit over here!
All: So we're just...

Leader: Maybe there's some round the island. I'll just get the punt...
All: We're a bit bored with frogspawn now. Is it OK if we...

The Leader jumps into the punt. In relief, the assembled Beaker Folk confiscate the pole, push the punt out into the middle of the pond and leave him to it.

Young Keith: That's it! I'm off to get some breakfast
All: And we're all with you.

Quick Thought

Why is church designed for retired people?

Sunday 21 March 2010

A dawning sense of horror

I've just had a bit of a shock.  Going back to my suite of rooms tonight, I was tidying my clothes.  I noticed that my Badger Tribute outfit from earlier today looked rather like it had a tyre mark on it.
At first, I just thought that Alfric had gone in for realism to a really impressive degree.
Then I realised where all the black and white furry cloaks for today's ceremony had actually come from.
I am now speechless with horror and may well post no more.  At least, until tomorrow.

The Spirit of the Badger

That's one of the distressing things about this time of year.
As the days lengthen and warm, the boar badgers roam afield looking for sows.  Old Brock is a randy old beggar and no 60 mph speed limit will act as a warning to him.  So every early Spring, the Beaker Folk become a little sad about the black and white fuzzy bundles laying on the side of the road, or squashed flat in the middle.

So today we celebrate the "Spirit of the Badger" festival.  A whole day of celebrating Brock the Badger, and wishing him well and safe passage - either across the A421, or on his way to the Badger Afterlife, as the case may be.

We're interweaving the Spirit of the Badger around our celebrations of "Saint" Thomas Cranmer.  Seems quite appropriate, as badgers and Cranmer alike have met early ends at the forces of oppression - respectively "Bloody" Mary and the Motor Car.  And both have a tendency to black and white.

So we wear our black-and-white capes for the day with pride, as we say "Goodbye Brock".  And try not to get run down on the way to the White Horse for a celebratory, solsticial Quick One.

Celebration of the Martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, 1556

In these troubled times it is good occasionally to remember those that have struggled through even harder ones.  We wouldn't necessarily see eye-to-eye with Cranmer on many things.  Being a Cantabrigian, after all, he was probably emotionless, intellectual, cold-eyed and inclined to treachery.  But we can forgive someone that, when he produces such sublime liturgy as the 1549 Prayer Book.  A work providing for flexibility, with not a word spare: with Collects so short and pithy that people could even have spared the time to listen to them.  A masterpiece.

Today being the anniversary of ++ Cranmer's "birthday", I would ask that certain decencies be observed.  In particular, we shall not be lighting any bonfires.  I know we like to light them on big occasions, but it would be on the tasteless side.  Likewise cries from my fellow Oxonians of "3-0 to the team in Dark Blue" will be frowned on.

And we are left to ponder.  It seems that the Roman Catholic Church continues to be able to announce that its favourite sons and daughters are saints in these modern times.  Yet although the Church of England seems happy to announce that it will hold celebrations and festivals, and continues to refer to those canonized in pre-Reformation times as "St Mark", "St Sebastian", "St Cuthbert" etc, apparently it does not do so for those after the Reformation. Cranmer, for example, merits a Lesser Festival in Common Worship.   Does this mean the C of E no longer regards itself as able to decide?  Or did Saints stop with the Reformation?  For truly, if any saint of the Church deserved the title, then Cranmer - liturgist, martyr, and founder in a way that Henry VIII wasn't of Anglicanism and its heritage of language - surely does.  Even if it would have annoyed him.

Pouring out Perfume John 12:1-8 Revisited

Or maybe it's all about commitment.  Maybe a year's worth of perfume is all Mary has.  Saved up for a whole lifetime - poured out in a moment.  A last farewell to a loved rabbi, teacher, miracle-worker - not yet seeing beyond the grave to the early-morning garden?  Was Mary one of the various Marys in the garden that Sunday morning?  Who knows - there were enough of them about.  But the sweetness of her commitment has hovered in the air over 2,000 years of hurt and scandal and failings.  She just gave what she had.  Go thou and do likewise.

Saturday 20 March 2010

The Rites of Spring

Well I think everyone's recovered from the Equinoctial Festivities now.

Never in the field of alt.worship can so many people have had just such a bouncy service.  Certainly the first time we've had a procession into the Moot House of people on Space Hoppers.  Touch of class there, for sure. Although it is rather tricky for the acolytes to bounce along while carrying those candles.  A couple of nasty wax burns is the price you pay for devotion.

Thanks to Hnaef for getting that bouncy castle into the Moot House.  Everyone had a lovely springy time during the Getting Rather too Close for Comfort of Peace.  Although on the bright side, all that kissing and hugging was rather damped down by the Spring Onion that we passed round during the Allium Dei.   An interesting and creative thought, although it does seem to be repeating.  The price you pay for authentic, traditional worship, I guess.  Also it did cause rather a lot of choking and gasping for water during the singing of "God is rather nice".

Once again, Hnaef's Equinoctial Tightrope Walk went horribly wrong. I'm thinking that we should now regard pulling the Executive Arch-Assistant Druid out of the duck pond as a set part of our equinoctial liturgy.

Well the sun's over our side of the equator now.  The days lengthen apace - the lengths of the days now already being longer than the nights for various wacky astronomical reasons.  And every day in every way it's a little warmer.  On the down side, Pouring out of Beakers is a little earlier every day now.  But hey - it's Spring!

And now I must retire to try and remove this very large spring I rather unwisely attached to my feet to do my Zebedee impression.

Sport Relief

In case you were wondering, this is the right place for Beaker Folk. 

This site is wearing a Man Utd strip for one day only as a "Shirt of Hurt".  If you have the money and the heart for the Sport Relief cause, go give.

Quantum entanglement on the Macro scale

Fascinating piece on Entangled States about macro-level quantum entanglement.  The ability to force one entangled entity to "choose" which state it's in by measuring its entangled quantum partner.

Generally I have no trouble with telling people what to do.  But we have serious problems sometimes trying to get Beaker People to make up their minds when we have no preference ourselves, which is why there are so many voting doors in the Moot House.

But now I have the answer.  We've borrowed old Mr Schrodinger's cat from down Mill Lane and when Beaker People are dithering we get the cat entangled in their Arran sweaters.  Then we measure the cat, and the Beaker person concerned has to make up his or her mind.

Stop me if this is overly technical.

But we are actually suffering from the after effects of these quantum entanglements.  Once entangled on the quantum level, it becomes very hard to separate the cat's behaviour from that of the Beaker Folk.  Last night, for example, we had to retrieve Wierdgulf from a tree.  Yellbert became stuck in a drainpipe while chasing a vole.  And Lavender has taken to playing with a ball of wool in the library.

Gather Ye Rosebuds....

.... or as the Poet Horace put it, "Carpe Diem". I hasten to add I am neither a reader of Horace nor of Herrick.  Although I am sure they were both great chaps in their own way.  No, I am a reader of PG Wodehouse, and these are quotations of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves - referring to the poets Horace and Herrick.

But how true it is, nonetheless.  Yesterday morning dawned clear, sunny - a beautiful blue sky over the South Midlands or, if you prefer, Northern Home Counties.  A day to rejoice in, to be glad that one is alive.  A day to sing out for joy to God.  But, as the Bard of Avon put it:

"Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:"

But the trick, surely, is to enjoy the glorious morning afore the sun ends up with egg on his celestial face.  Don't let the thought of the later clouds bother us while we gather rosebuds, make hay while the sunshine, seize what day there is.  For sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.  Consider the lilies, and go and do thou likewise.  Don't worry too much about the bridges ahead - we can burn those when we come to them.
As the prophet Arkwright put it, "If I can help someb-b-b-b-body as I travel along..."  then I will have made something of the day. 
And as another poet said,

"Jenny kiss'd me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss'd me,
Say I'm growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss'd me."

Or, to revert to the Master one last time - as the Prophet Fink-Nottle said, ""It's a beautiful world, P.K. Purvis."

Friday 19 March 2010

Worship leading - Prayer

You know, the Prayers for Other People and the World  (or "Intercessions" to give their posh name) can be an awkward piece to get right in any fellowship.  The knowledge that Coffee is hanging in the air gives an air either of impatience or foreboding to the whole thing.  And yet you're supposed to be standing between the World and the Divine - calling the One into the Other to make things happen.  Or something, depending on your theology of these things.  So to give you some creative help, here are some ideas.  Some may work for you, some - well who knows?

1.  Instead of having the usual boring prayers from the front, ask everyone to join in with their own contributions.  If you're middle-of-the-road Anglicans you'll enjoy an unusual and rather wonderful 5 minutes of silence.  But if you're at the more charismatic end of things, you may even find people preaching whole sermons during this time.  I've know one "spontaneous" contribution that included 3 points, a summary, a handout of the prayer with footnotes giving the biblical references and an altar call.  It can also be a handy way to find out about new and interesting places where nasty things are happening.

2.   All-together spontaneous prayers not your thing?  Then why not break everyone up into small groups and ask them to discuss - or even to pray - together.  Give them some starters - maybe "who's got a condition they'd rather not talk about" or "who'd like to share something that will embarrass a close relative" and away they'll go.  Or not.

3.   Ask everyone to write one prayer out - one thing they really want to happen in the world - on a square of paper.  Then light them all in the fireplace and.... no, sorry.  I've got that confused, haven't I?

3(a) What I meant was - and then read them out prayerfully.  You may have to apply some discretion.  If anyone's wishing any actual physical harm on anyone else in the fellowship that's not great.  But I see no harm in prayers for character in Soap Operas - Dot's knee or Ken's love life or whatever.  After all, prayer's gotta be good in general, even if it's meant to be directed for the good of imaginary people.

4.  Many churches have a prayer list for ill people.  And then they have a prayer list for dead people.  Followed by the list for people who've been dead for a while.  And it's a depressing fact in many cases that people move gradually down the list.  So why not have a prayer list for people who are better than they are?  Then some people will move up the list.  OK, you're not going to be expecting people to do a Wigan and go up all four divisions - but maybe just up from "not well" to "well" would be nice once in a while.

5.  Build on the list of unwell people.  Many people in your fellowship won't know them, as they don't make it to meetings as they're not well.  So why not pray for other people who you don't know?  Maybe pray for a list of people from the phone directory each week, or day, or month according to your worshipping patterns.  Better still bring a phone directory back from your holidays, and pray for the people in that.  Then every week there will be people in another part of the country being mysteriously blessed - and they'll never know why.

6.  Pray for Richard Dawkins.  Not for him to be converted - then he'd only go to heaven and hate it.  Just pray for him to have a nice day.  And then if he does, you've won!

Programme for the Nativity of Glenn Close, 1947

10 am - Reversals of Fortune

12 noon - Dangerous Liaisons (led by the Fertility Folk)

2 pm - Stepford Wives (a talk from those faithful women who go to church meetings every night, do charity work all day, raise four perfect children, have immaculate houses and give endless prayerful support to their husbands).

4 pm - 101 dalmations (although, due to a shortage of dalmations, a fair number will be mongrels and labradoodles)

Please note that Bunny Boiling is against Beaker principles.  Whatever some may have whispered in the past.

A male, heterosexual transvestite runs round Britain

Eddie Izzard.  Like him or loathe him (I love him).  Amazing site of him running around Britain on BBC 3.  The Human Spirit can do amazing things with the Human body.

Perhaps next year we could all run a marathon every day of Lent?  No?  OK then, how about something more manageable - maybe not losing it with the family or the friends or the workmates?  

Yeah.  Right.  After you with the running gear, then... 

Thursday 18 March 2010

Google Street View

We're intrigued by the fuss that the good people of Broughton down the road in Milton Keynes made over Google Street View.
"This is an affluent area. We've already had three burglaries locally in the past six weeks. If our houses are plastered all over Google it's an invitation for more criminals to strike," said one householder."
That would be one householder who had just invited even more criminals to strike...

Perhaps if the van from Google just drove round Broughton all day and night filming, then there wouldn't be any crime at all in Broughton?

Thankfully, being buried away behind the plantation, the Community isn't visible from any roads round here.  But having seen footage of their own homes, there are some spouses of the Fertility Folk asking precisely whose cars were parked outside their houses at the time Google went by.  I can see we're in for a fractious time.

Lent in Yorkshire

We've struggled here to come up with a Lent posting for every day.  Some people who are doing so rather well are on the Filey Parish Blog.  Recommended.

Lent Scores so far

Archdruid: No red meat at all (except Laetere Sunday, of course, when half a cow was consumed).  But to be honest, pheasant and quail are starting to lose their appeal.

Hnaef: Well, if you're gonna have one drop of port....

Marston Mortaine: Giving up breathing didn't last too long.  He's back on it now.

Young Keith: Has only blown the side off one building all Lent.  A vast improvement.

Drayton Parslow: Plotting has been almost completely suspended.  But then he has been locked in the Gulfing Room since Ash Wednesday.

Burton Dasset: Has managed to give up sex for the whole of Lent so far without any evident difficulty.

Mrs Dasset: Has been most supportive of Burton.

Stacy Bushes: Thinks celibacy is over-rated.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Celebration of St Patricks' Day

Opening Hymn: Rare auld Mountain Dew

Liturgical Dance (no arms)

Gradual: Wild Mountain Thyme (Will ye go, Lassie, go?)

Reading: Mark 16:18 

Offertory: Whiskey in the Jar (just a nip each)

Quote for the day: "Dawk is the curse of the Preaching Classes" (Wilde)

Closing Song: Fairytale of New York

The Archdruid says: "Guinness?  No thanks.  You won't catch me drinking any of that Irish stuff, just cos it's St Paddy's Day.  I'll have a Magners." 

For a less fun, politically-correct, but more musical version, of Fairytale, try this one.

Sex and Death - John 12:1-8

Spikenard (Nardostachys grandiflora or Nardostachys jatamansi; also called nard, nardin,and muskroot): a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas of China, India and Nepal.

Worth a year's wages - so it's expensive.

"While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance." (Song of Songs 1:12);  "Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard" (Song of Songs 4:13) - so it's sexy.

You can even buy it as part of a 2nd Temple Incense Kit. Popular for making Hypocras, some say.  And some say it's good for age-old griefs and the transition from life to death.  Some say.

And the scent filled the room.  But which scent?
The sweet smell of the perfume, to be sure.  But that's the top notes to what lies beneath.
The stench of deception?
The vulgar aroma of money? Those 300 denarii that could buy food for a family for a year?
The smell of poverty?  Of rubbish and dirt and unwashed bodies?
The smell of death?
Or the smell of sweat and blood and fear?

It's a sexy thing to do, pouring perfume on someone's feet and wiping it with your hair.  Did Mary know this? Did Jesus?
And it's a reckless thing to do.  That perfume could have been sold.  The money could have been spent on the poor.  Your offering could have gone to Christian Aid - not towards the restoration of the aumbry.  The time you spent sweeping the church floor - you could have visited Old Mr Jones.  If you love God first - well, he doesn't really need your money, does he?  And you're to love your neighbour as well.  And if God loves your neighbour too.... If you love Jesus - that's great - but why does he need such expensive perfume?

It's all upside down.  It's a funeral wake.  But whose?  Lazarus's, who sits here alive?  Or his death whose time is soon to come?

And the perfume poured out - the anointing he should have received on Easter Sunday.  Would have been wasted then - he wasn't there.  But  now - now's the time when it's meaningful.
You can't be an anointed one without an anointing.  But he didn't receive one from a priest.  He was anointed by a desperate woman, who maybe had just a streak of prophecy.  Not anointed as king.  Crowned with oil and perfume for his death.  A waste of money?  Better for the poor?  Maybe.  But maybe, just this once, not. 

*Should that be fora?

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Disorganised Religion (III) - Orange Rolling

Orange rolling on Dunstable Downs* was, according to some, a commemoration of the stone that was rolled across Jesus's tomb.  According to others, because they're orange, it's all about  the sun plunging to its death as the oranges roll down Pascomb Pit followed by... well, followed by nothing in the case of the oranges, as you don't want to eat them once they've smashed  a couple of hundred feet down chalky downland.
In any case, it happens - or happened -  on Good Friday.  But Keith, as part of his campaign of Disorganised religion, decided that was too predictable.  So he lined thirty of our best Beaker People up with a couple of cases oranges, and totally failed to organise a coach for today.
When they realised the coach wasn't going to appear by pure coincidence, the Folk fought back the urge to tie a millstone round Keith's neck and throw him in the Hus Bourne, and instead sorted themselves out with lifts in various 4x4s and all headed for Dunstable.
Of course, by the time they got there it was dark.  And it's quite dangerous wandering around the top of chalkland scarps in these conditions.  I've counted them all back, but quite a few of them have some nasty bruises.  And in the most impressive bit of spontaneous religion I've seen so far in this whole sorry episode, Keith appears to have been pelted with oranges.

* I believe I was very likely present at the orange rolling in this photo.  Although am too young to remember it.

New Moon Watch

They can't actually see it yet, but out there somewhere the first glimmer of the first quarter of the moon is shining.
This has been the easiest Moon Watch in months.  Barely a frost either night, no snow, no rain, no howling gales.
So I've just sent Hnaef and Keith down with a bucket of iced water each to throw over the Watchers.  It would be a shame if the Watchers had no spiritual benefits from their efforts.

The difference between men and women...

...can be summarised as follows.

An Optician ran an advert pointing out that as well as checking your sight, an optician may help identify glaucoma, diabetes and high blood pressure.
All the women in the Community thought that was useful.  All the men swore they'd never go to the optician again.

A BBC article said that dentists could be useful in identifying mouth cancer.
All the women in the Community thought that was useful.  10% of Beaker males swore off alcohol and tobacco.  The rest swore off dentists.

Monday 15 March 2010

The difference between a success and a failure

A thought strikes when reading the BBC's article on dotcom failures.
Apparently the fashion site wasn't Mac compatible.
I'm no expert, so I won't carp at this.
But I'm still surprised to hear that sales of anoraks, and of T-shirts with jokes about floppies and stroking mice, would be enough to make or break a web site.

Disorganised worship (II)

See, I reckon Eileen's partly to blame here.

It was Eileen told me that the best worship is spontaneous. Planning is wrong. Go with the flow. Actually, I think she said Spirit. Anyway.

So she told me the best sermons are preached "in the Spirit", not on paper. Said on paper Liverpool were a good football team, but look at them on the pitch. I could see her point.
And she asked me to organise the music group for this evening's Filling Up of Beakers on the Occasion of the Full Moon.

So taking my cue from her "spontaneity is everything - preparation is nothing" line, I just asked a random group of people to turn up and play musical instruments.

No practice, no sheet music, no chord sheets. And actually none of them had ever played those instruments before. Still, on the "in the Spirit" theory it should all have been fine.
Do you know, that was the worst music I've ever heard?

Venn I Survey

It is often said by our esteemed and slightly frightening Archdruid that I am a bit of a nerd. And, Gentle Readers, who am I to disagree? Especially when Eileen herself is threatening me with the Slazenger of Wrath.
But today it seems that this nerdishness, if indeed it is, has been rewarded. For the Archdruid has asked me to do some serious mapping of the socio-demographics of religious groups, through the power of Venn diagrams.
Accordingly, let us start with a simple example: the preference of some people for the use of pebbles vs tea lights in worship. I think the lesson to be drawn here is pretty clear. Some people like tea lights, some like stones. But lots of people like both. Who are the people that like only stones? My guess is that they are fundamentalist evangelicals on their way to deal with an adulterer or blasphemer.

Let us move outside our beloved Beakerism, and into a more mainstream denomination. Take Methodism, for example. In my experience, Methodism is strongly associated with people singing very loudly, and women who wear hats that look like they were once small furry animals. And indeed that is what the diagram shows: Moving ecumenically on, and considering the existence of the Coptic Church, we can consider the way in which the science of Vennology can shed light onto some of our favourite sayings:  Now let us consider an example seen in many fellowships across the land - the relationship between Worship Leaders, people with no sense of embarrassment, and people who assume fake American accents. Now there are Worship Leaders who speak perfectly normally in the accent of their own area of upbringing. There are those who do not feel obliged to tell you stories about their personal lives and development and their spiritual viewpoints. And... well, let's let the Venn Diagram tell its own story.
Finally I'd like to move to an area where the difference between men and women is quite marked - but not as much as we always realise. Consider fellowships where it is not considered sufficient quietly to cross oneself, or to look respectfully at the floor, ceiling or leader during the closing blessing. Consider those fellowships that expect us to engage with our fellow men, women and Beaker People during this activity. What do they look like in Venn format?
So I hope this little expedition into Venn world has been enlivening for you.  Tomorrow I'll be using the same techniques to investigate the behaviour of ursine animals in an arboreal environment.

Disorganised religion

Young Keith says he's become disenchanted and disillusioned with Organised religion.  The rest of us say that "disenchanted" and "disillusioned" mean almost exactly the same think, so he is merely using flash words to make himself sound intellectual.
But be that as it may, he's decided to do something about it.  He feels the need to get back to a simpler, more spontaneous time when the Spirit moved as he/she/it would and the follower followed the prompting.  "Like a tuned aeolian harp in a gentle zephyr" was how he put it.  Which we thought was quite nicely put. 
Hence this morning's exercise in "Disorganised Religion".  He turned up at the Moot House with a copy of the "Wee Worship Book" and some pebbles.  Meanwhile, only two hours later, Stacey Bushes alarmed the Watchers in the Watching Hut by arriving with a branch of ivy, a banjo and a small earth-moving machine.  And Chesney Wold appeared in the Dining Room at two o'clock with an Enya CD and the Book of Common Prayer.
Personally I would say it hasn't worked too well so far.  But Young Keith says I'm just old and out of touch with where the "kids" are in the worship arena.  Well we'll see.

Lark Rise to Eden

In the background "Lark Rise to Candleford" is playing.  A story of simple countryfolk whose accents are approximately 150 miles to the south-west of where they are supposed to be.
There's a dream of  rural utopia, where communities were together.
Where people walked around in sepia.
Where every problem could be solved by a bit of community feeling.
Where the reapers head out into the golden corn with a "hey nonny" and the silver, flashing sickels.

And the Beaker People look back to a golden age when we were in touch with the Earth.  When our spirits were as one and the whole world sung with the glory of the earth-power.

And the Pentecostals tell stories of the days after Pentecost, when life was just like it is in a dusty church hall in Derby.

And the pagans try to recreate the days when everybody knew the Earth Goddess - or Diana - or Apollo - or Odin - or whoever.

There's a deep longing in all of us - a pull back to a world that once was - yet never was.  Where we were innocent, and free, and in tune with God and the world.  A time when all was right.

But is it a pull backwards - or a pull forwards?  Is our Eden in the past - or in the future - or is it in our present?  Horizontal or Vertical?  A dream to build a new Jerusalem - or the safe place we retreat to when the world is hard and harsh?

Well, I hope you weren't looking for answers....

Sunday 14 March 2010

Laetare Sunday

It being Laetare Sunday, no need for a Lenten posting this morning.

Saturday 13 March 2010

Other facts you never knew

Hot on the heels of the news that some children thought the Queen invented the telephone, we asked the Junior Beakers and our visiting Imagineer, David Lewis, for some other "facts" that they knew.  They kindly provided the following, but we think they may have made some of them up.  Rather like the answers to the original survey.  After a great deal of analysis we reckon that one and a half of these are true.

  • Albert Einstein invented Pringles while working in the Bern patents office.
  • St Paul developed the prototype for the game we now know as "Ludo" - which is why it has a Latin name.
  • Both the poet John Milton and economist John Keynes were born in John Street, in Milton Keynes.
  • Thomas Hardy's job in early life was as a drag queen  He told his friends and family that he was working as an architect, although this was only slightly less embarrassing in 19th century London.
  • Due to the rotation of the earth, if you stand at the North Pole you are more likely to die of dizziness than cold.
  • In Essex, white socks are a sign you are looking for a fight.
  • If you lit a line of beacons from Wallsend to the Solway Firth you'd cut Northern unemployment by 25% 
  • It was originally planned that the M1 would connect London with Skegness.
  • Jensen Button was named after a character in Button Moon.
  • All the lions in the world are descended from one original pride that lived at Longleat Safari Park. 
  • Night Nurse is used in the Turk and Caicos Islands as a form of hallucinogen 
  • Phil Mitchell of Eastenders invented Thin Layer Chromatography.
  • Carrots are actually fruits.
  • If you live south of the Equator the hands on a clock go anti-clockwise 
  • You can never have too many piercings.
  • Homeopathy has been properly peer-reviewed and it turns out it's better than real drugs. 
  • It has been proven that Rhubarb and Custard chews are a cure for Swine Flu.
  • Wallabies are the only type of marsupial living wild in Bedfordshire.
  • Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" is based on the same chord progression as "God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols 
  • People from Corby don't really sound Scottish
  • Due to the Coriolis effect everyone in New Zealand is left-handed
  • From space, Ipswich looks like the face of Simon Cowell.
  • Samuel Pepys got his nickname because he used to climb up a ladder outside Nell Gwynn's chambers 
  • Lager tastings are serious events. Masters of Lager mark 17 different categories of taste, body and aroma 
  • Wombles really did live freely on Wimbledon common until 1649, when Cromwell put a price on their heads.  
  • Ducks are actually good at cricket, and regularly make centuries in matches against chickens.
  • Moats in mediaeval days were filled with custard, thus providing a defence and sustenance for those inside.
  • If you are playing against Arsenal it is within the rules to kick their players with the studs of your boots. 
  • Sheep are slightly more intelligent that Dolphins, and can count up to 12. 
  • George IV was a world-class chemist, which is why he was known as the "Prince Reagent".
  • Plans are afoot to rename Prestwick Airport 'The London Airport at Prestwick' 
  • The Corby Trouser Press was invented by a Corgi called Norbie.
  • The Celtic Tradition in worship is both "Celtic" and "traditional".
  • The first person to land on the moon was Alice Cooper. But the CIA hushed it up. 
  • Due to a mirroring effect in the upper atmosphere, the Great Wall of China can sometimes be seen from Japan.
  • Australia was towed into its present position by a large fleet of tugboats.  Originally it was an island off the Kent coast but it was towed away to be used for convicts.
  • Due to the roundabouts, car tyres in Milton Keynes wear out on the Left Hand Side. On alternate days you have to drive backwards 
  • You're safer in Bedford town centre than in your own bed at midnight on Fridays.
  • Fireworks and glass were invented by an ancient civilisation in Croydon, 2 millennia before the Chinese. 
  • Being on Twitter on a Saturday night is a sign of a fulfilling social life.
  • Anoraks are so named because they were made up of the complete skin of an orak (a now extinct type of yak) 
  • Kerry Katona worked as a designer on the Large Hadron Collider.
  • Frogs aren't actually reptiles. They're arthropods. 
  • When Rafael Benitez signed Lucas Leiva for Liverpool, he thought he was signing a different Brazilian called Lucas who is good at football.
  • Buckinghamshire is the only English county where pineapples grow in the wild.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer discovered Fiji.