Saturday 30 April 2011

The eve of St Walpurga

Yes I know it's late. And we've all been out at the hand-fasting. But that's not the point. It's May Eve! We've got to stay up all night, light the Wicker Man, have a dance and then sit and watch the sun rise in amazement.
I love this night. Look forward to it every year. God bless St Walpurga I say. A pious saint and very effective against rabies.

The management of wedding guests

It must be the pointy hat. Every time I conduct a handfasting, I attract the argumentative drunks afterwards at the reception. And you always have to be polite, even as they're breathing Chardonnay fumes all over you. Because of course, being the holy one there, you can't just put them in a headlock and throw them in the pond. Or so they told me after the first time. You just have to look for the right polite time to make your excuses and go to find another person to talk to. Feigning cramp can help you to get out quick if you need to.

This one tried to persuade me that Science had disproved religion. I saw his one GCSE in Sociology and raised him a Masters in Chemistry that it hadn't. He asked me if I can categorically prove God's existence, which of course I can't.

So I asked him if he'd ever heard of Pascal's Wager. Turns out he hadn't.

Easiest 50 quid I ever made. That Geoff Pascal is a genius.

Doubts about Thomas

I'm thinking Thomas had at least a reasonable viewpoint.

Anyone can make an unlikely claim. And when they do there's three questions you can ask yourself. Actually, there's probably lots more. But three's a good number of things to remember.

1) Do I trust the person making this claim?
2) Is the claim reasonable?
3) Is there any reason why you'd want to make this up? eg some kind of extra authority or to make yourself sound impressive or make money?

Let's take an easy example. I went to college with David Cameron. Never spoke to him, of course - never even got to trash a restaurant in the Oxon countryside - but even so it's my one small claim to second-hand fame.

So you can ask these questions. I've given you a couple of possible answers to each question.

1) Do you trust the person making this claim?
(a) What? The pointy-hatted weirdo who claims to have spent a large chunk of last year in Thomas Hardy's Wessex? What do you reckon?
OR (b) Yes of course. She's a great and trusted spiritual leader.

2) Is the claim reasonable?
(a) David Cameron went to Oxford. The writer of this blog is clearly hiding a working-class background, and could never have got through the rigorous Oxford exams.
OR (b) I suppose so. Eileen seems to know something about barcodes, at any rate. Do they have an MA in barcodes?

3)  Is there any reason why you'd want to make this up? eg some kind of extra authority or to make yourself sound impressive or make money?
(a) No, it'd be a sad claim to make up.
OR (b) No, it'd be a sad claim to make even if it were true.

So if we apply these three questions to Thomas what do we get?
1) Do you trust the person making this claim? 
(a) Peter? Mr Big-shot who ran away when stuff got to hot?
OR (b) Yes, with my life.

2) Is the claim reasonable?
(a) No.
OR (b) Jesus claimed it would happen. But it's still pretty unlikely. So, on balance, no.

3)  Is there any reason why you'd want to make this up? eg some kind of extra authority or to make yourself sound impressive or make money?
(a) No. They must be mad.
OR (b) No. They must be raving mad.

So on the balance of my three-question method of checking an unlikely claim, I'm going to give Thomas a clean bill of health. No wonder Jesus wasn't annoyed with him. No "Oh ye of little faith" when Jesus turned up on what the disciples were already calling "Easter 2". Just "come and see, Thomas". So I'm going to give 10/10 to Thomas for a sensible attitude, and another 10/10 for changing his mind when presented with overwhelming evidence. I think they ought to make him a saint.

Friday 29 April 2011


On this happy day, there seems nothing better to talk about than the wrath of God. Or, at least, one of the things that have traditionally been seen as God's wrath manifest.

In days gone by our Anglo-Saxon or Norse ancestors, huddled in Hrothgar's house  or equivalent, would worry themselves silly when thunder and lightning struck. They would think it was Thor or Thunor, according to dialect. As they would put it, Thor - what is he good for? And then duck, lest aforesaid thunder deity should sling his war-hammer at them. Those Norse gods didn't do irony. While the Hebrews didn't waste their time personifying thunder. They just put everything down to God - thunder, lightning, hail, light drizzle and that niggling sea fog. But they were clear it was sent directly by the divine, and assumed that it was a sign he wasn't happy. Which is about the approach some Christians had when York Minster was struck about the time of the enthronement of David Jenkins as Bishop of Durham - remember him? The world was gonna end and everything that year.

Now I know that in fact thunder is caused by people rubbing balloons together, and all that. I know there's a scientific explanation for it all. But it still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. And I hope that's a psychosomatic phenomenon. And not a purely physical one caused by a sudden build-up of charge in my immediate vicinity. Put simply, regardless of what my rational mind tells me, when the sun is shining I think God is happy. And when it's hailing I assume God's annoyed. And when there's light rain I see it as God's blessing.

But when the weather suddenly changes, and the skies abruptly darken, and the lightning flashes across the sky and there's even just the one unexpected clap of thunder, I assume God is really mad and head for the cellar. As I say, I know it's stupid. I know that if God were really angry he could also find me in the cellar. But that's the way I am. There's just something so un-impersonal about a good thunderstorm. You really do feel that mad gods are shouting across the sky at each other.

So it was a strange 25 minutes, earlier this afternoon, but it's nice again now. Rationality has now been restored, and I'm back in the daylight and enjoying the party again. But I've said it once, and I'll say it again. He's awful scary, is God.

A good weeding

I do love a good weeding. There's nothing like getting down on your knees in front of the Almighty, next to the one you love, and giving some clear, long-lasting commitment to the process. That way, you can get some serious growing done, though you need to keep working at it together, or things can start getting neglected, and then you're in real trouble. If that happens, you may need to bring in an expert third party to get things under control and help sort things out: there's no shame in that.

Although some might disagree, I also think that a couple of cats are useful in this regard, as they can keep the number of uninvited guests down to minimum (it can sometimes be difficult to control the birds, in my experience, as they can be _very_ persistent_ around bedding time).

On a completely different note, I'm told by those in the know that there's a big wedding going on today in London town. I'd not noticed any coverage myself, and was due to take a turn in the Doily Mines today, but apparently it's a Bank Holiday, so I've declined. The Archdruid, who's a bit grumpy about the whole thing, tried to insist that as it's "volunteer work", there should be no time off, but, taking my life (and my shins) in my hands, I have over-ruled her, declaring the day a Community Holiday.

The Archdruid, you understand, isn't a big fan of weddings, but Mrs Hnaef and I coming up for our 16th wedding anniversary, and we're very happy. No, really. We take time together, we take time to ourselves (the entirety of Lent, this year, as it happens), and we wouldn't be without each other. And the wedding was the start of that. We did the "big thing": partly for us, partly for friends and family. I mean, you only get married once, right? Well, that's our plan, and we invited all of those we love, and those who love us (of whom several of the latter, including my father, who was conducting the ceremony, kept asking my bride-to-be questions such as "are you really, really sure?", and giving her helpful advice like "it's not to late to change your mind, you know"). The future Mrs Hnaef started on the champagne at breakfast (that's _real_ breakfast, at 8 o'clock, not the one after the wedding), but I was too scared to have more than a half of stout before the service. But we both went through with it, she nearly gave my grandfather (the one who thought eating ice-cubes gives you leprosy) a heart attack when he thought she winked at him, the choir sang, the organ played, the preacher (my previous director of studies) gave a _terrible_ and theologically very suspect sermon, and we said our vows in front of the assembled multitude. And I was the happiest man in the world. As was the new Mrs Hnaef. Well, woman, anyway: it was a Church of England wedding, and they aren't putting up with that sort of thing then, though I'm sure they're entirely happy about it these days.

Even my mother-in-law was happy - not a phrase you'll hear me utter very often - and not just because she'd also been on the champagne (and possibly gin) from breakfast time. Happiest of all, possibly, were some of Mrs Hnaef's Liverpool-based cousins who my father mistook for porters and tipped for carrying some bags. Aunt Amy (a Liverpool aunt) lost her handbag and a high-heeled shoe in the flowerbeds, but found them in the morning, and one of the afore-mentioned cousins slept in a bath on a college staircase somewhere, so what more could we all have hoped for?

And in the morning, Mrs Hnaef and I headed off to a little cottage in the Cotswolds for the week of rare breeds farms, hawking, torrential rain, powercuts, cribbage and being forced to read my favourite science fiction novel ("If I'd known it was this rubbish, I wouldn't have married you: is it too early for a divorce?") that would characterise the rest of our marriage.

Was the wedding a big hoo-har? Yes. Was it a nightmare to arrange? Yes. Was it expensive? Yes. But I've never regretted it for a moment, and, I suspect, despite her protestations, that the same goes for my lovely bride. Who never did say "obey", in the end.
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A Right Royal Barrel o' Monkeys

In deference to the heritage of most Beaker People of Husborne Crawley, today we are celebrating the Royal Wedding with a Right Royal Cockney Knees-up Ceremony. We've heard about the Street Parties of 1953 and we want some of that celebration. Albeit without the post-war austerity. That's not the fun part.

With respect to their Royal Highnesses (Gord bless 'em), we've looked at the Programme (surely "Order of Service"?) and it seems a bit kind of royal but worthy and dull. And that stuff about giving away your daughter... well, I dunno. Seems a bit feudal? Or it would be except most of the young women I know would be of the "are you going to give me away of your own free will or am I going to make you?" variety.  So our view is therefore that we wish them well, but after we've seen a few seconds of The Dress we're going to go and get on with the party. So we've decked the Moot House in Bunting, we've got a facade of the terraces off the Holloway Road stuck on the front of the Doily Shed for the day, we're putting on our Union Jack waistcoats and we're going with the following Alternative London Order o' Service:

Rule Britannia 

Chas 'n' Dave's "Give me a London Girl Every time"

Roll art the barrel

Maybe it's becors I'm a Londoner

Holloway Girl by Marillion (a controversial choice, but you're lumbered with it)

Appearance of the Pearly King and Queen. Though we won't know what to do with them. I mean, what do they do when they're out of their manor? Bit of song and dance?

There'll always be an England

Doin' the Lambeff Warwk

Dishing-out of the cockles and whelks

Land of 'ope and Glory

After which we're going to drink some of Mr Charles Wells's fine Bedford brews - particularly Bombadier, but of course they also brew Youngs' London beers now - and then do the Okey-Cokey in the Moot House.

It won't be pretty, it won't be logical, it won't be particularly coherent. But it will be, above all, patriotic.

Thursday 28 April 2011


In the light of all the fuss over Rob Bell and the rest, I've had some pondering to do. And I've come up with some observations.

The first is that all possible views on Hell can't be right. Drayton Parslow is convinced that everybody who is not a Fundamentalist Baptist is going to Hell. Challenged on all those centuries between the 1st and the 20th, when Fundamentalist Baptism was actually invented, and whether everybody, even the Dunkers, went to Hell, Drayton tells me that there were Fundamentalist Baptists in between but they keep very quiet about it. But there are other groups who are convinced that they are going to heaven and Drayton Parslow is among those going to Hell. It's a bit like a business trip to Slough, apparently. Everyone's convinced of its importance, but they all want somebody else to go there.

The second is that you need to draw a distinction between "Hades" - which is sometimes translated as "Hell" but sometimes as "Sheol" or "The Grave" - and "Gehenna", which is the real deal where worms never die and the fire is never quenched. There's a bit of a difference. I mean, in this-world terms you can imagine Hades as being a bit like a Crewe Station waiting room on a drizzly Tuesday when the train's delayed an unspecified amount of time, while Gehenna is like that, only the tea's undrinkable and the table's on fire and the train's still in London and the guards are poking you with pointy sticks and Whigfield is the muzak. Forever.

The third is that a loving God wouldn't want anybody to go Gehenna. If a loving God's like a loving parent, and we're assured that's how it is, then mere rule-breaking won't do it. Of course, if God's like a barmy parent, who when the kids play up smashes up their toys and throws the computer out of the window, that's another matter. That's certainly one reason why I never thought having children a good idea. After all, I felt bad enough afterwards when I put 240V directly through Burton's train set. The third time, at any rate.

And the fourth, I guess, is that a loving God wouldn't stop them either. If that's what you want, if that's what you need, if that's where you're determined to end up - that's where you're going to go. There's stuff God can try to do - little things, like die, and rise again, and plead, and hold out his/her hands. But there's a day when God will stand back and purse his/her lips and say "Well, it's your eternal life. It's up to you." That's what freedom is all about. Myself, I reckon the way back is always open - but that's not the same as saying everyone will take it.

Fifthly, you can believe in none of it. You can believe it's all made up. You can see it as a social construct designed to keep people in their places. You can. But I don't think Jesus did. I don't think he had that vested interest in good social manners. When you've only 33 years on this planet, you're not going to worry that much about the breakdown of civilisation.

Overall I've decided that I'm going to go for the "Gehenna doesn't really exist" approach, combined with the "God exists" approach. Best of both worlds, I reckon. That gives me that perfect combination between happy punters and no fear. Or, as I like to put it, "do what you like and give all you can".

Lies, Damned Lies and Decimal Places

There was a certain amount of noise in some parts of the Twittersphere yesterday, regarding the growth figures.
The growth figures last quarter indicated a 0.5% decrease in the economy. While for this, the growth figure was an increase of 0.5%. That meant it was back where it came from, said the pundits. Not so, said the twitterati. For if you subtract 0.5% and then add on 0.5%, that's not the same.

It's easy enough to show that this is true if you use a very large decline and increase. Suppose the economy is 100, and it declines by 50% in one quarter. The economy is now (100*(100-50)/100) = 50. But then if the economy grew by 50% in the next quarter, then it's now 50*(100+50)/100) = 75. So it's not where it came from, is it? QED.

But that's with a large increase. Let's do the same with a small decrease and then increase. So for 0.5% decline, the economy will go from 100 to 99.5. And with the same increase, it will then go from 99.5 to 99.5*(100+0.5)/100. Which is 99.9975. Which is clearly not 100.0000. But it's a bit of a mouthful. So let's round it to 2 Decimal Places, shall we? Which makes it... Oh. 100.00. So it's not the same number, but yet it is. So you could say the economy has bounced back to not quite where it was, but it is, probably, within the margin of error, once you remember that Bernie did build that extension after all, and Waitrose sold 4 more jars of mustard than they expected.

So on a strict, strict, strict interpretation, with every number quoted to 4 decimal places, the pedants may well be right. But even if they are, who wants to be a pedant?

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Making things up for Easter

I think Hnaef may have missed the point on this one.

I'm sure that Mouse is right, and the link of Easter to the alleged goddess Eostre is a pile of foetid dingo's kidneys. Frankly, it's just as likely that it was named after Estragon from Waiting for Godot. This is the way that back-creation of religious explanations tends to work. Let me give you an example.  And remember this is just a bit of fun - no Celts were decapitated in the production of this blog post.

There is a real tradition that people roll oranges (or at least did when I was young) down Dunstable Downs on Good Friday. A steepish, concave slope called Pascombe Pit, to be precise, that haven for young courting Dunstablians.
People notice that Pasc- as a prefix is a bit like Pasch-. So there you go, there's the rock-solid religious connection (and it is combe-shaped, since you mention it). And the oranges are clearly the stone that was rolled away from the Tomb.

Except, that's clearly just a Christianisation of a pagan ritual. But of course, oranges are - as the name suggest - orange. So clearly they represent the sun. Pascombe Pit orange-rolling was therefore a place where you rolled oranges downhill to represent the sun er... getting stronger in the summer. And Dunstable Downs faces West, and that's the way the sun sets. And so the oranges are rightly going down in a westerly direction. It's all coming together.

Until you remember that the orange hasn't been in these isles that long and was probably unknown in prehistory. So any claims of a long tradition are in a bit of a state.

But then you remember that there used to be a gallows on top of Dunstable Downs. And there are Five Knolls (actually, there's seven barrows, but that's another story) and Elizabeth Pratt was arrested on the Five Knolls and charged with witchcraft and died in Bedford Jail (at the same time that John Bunyan was in there, although there's no evidence she influenced Pilgrim's Progress).  So there's a death link, and there's a witchcraft link.
So clearly in the old days they didn't used to roll oranges down Pascombe Pit. No, they rolled the heads down. After all, to Celts the head was the source of the soul, and heads would roll quite nicely. So the Celts would decapitate their victims at the top of the hill - probably criminals, because let's face it those Celts were basically nice, decent types. Probably be keen on a game of cricket if they were around these days. Probably better at cricket than England, at any rate. So they'd execute their criminals, unless there was a real criminal shortage. Then they'd roll the heads down the hill, as a sacrifice to the setting Sun. Goodness knows what they did with the rest of their victims, unless there was a kebab van up at the picnic site in ancient times.

And Vitamin C, like religion, is good for the soul.  Which is why in more modern times they used oranges. Although last time I heard, even using oranges was banned for Health 'n' Safety reasons, so goodness knows what Central Beds Council would make of using heads. Unless you could persuade them it was a genuinely neo-pagan ritual, in which case they might give you a grant.

And that's how you get from an innocent Eastertide tradition to a story of decapitation and sun-worship. I'm sure we all feel better for that.

And, if nothing else, I'm getting a worried feeling about why that orange I rolled down Pascombe Pit when I was a child felt so heavy.

Dunstable Downs image from Wikimedia Commons, original uploader Infors. Author Thomas Ormston.

A fight's coming

The Church Mouse has issued what appears to be a direct challenge to the Archdruid, suggesting that Easter's basically made up, and we should do as the French, Belgians and other Continentals do, and celebrate Pesach, instead. He rejects all talk of bunnies and eggs, and, implicitly therefore, of pebbles, tea-lights and, gasp, even beakers.

I hope he's got protection, or can scuttle pretty fast, because as soon as the Archdruid hears about this, she's going to put on her anti-rodent hobnailed boots.
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Yes to the AV

Brothers and sisters, what an evening of terror I had last night. Only my faith of iron took me through it without being converted to cross-dressing or dog-shooting.

Since returning from Skegness, and once - praise be - my leg muscles had healed from cycling Burton around the place with his groyne strain - I have been taking an interest in the AV debate. And naturally I assumed it was something to do with the national debate over which version of the Bible should be read at the royal wedding. And of course the reading should be the Authorized Version - the one which, for a reason that is wrapt in the eternal mystery but is doubtless true and right, describes kings and royalty and others in government over us as "tyrants" far less frequently than other version.

So, dear friends, I created a huge banner with the words "Yes to AV" on it, and suspended it between a couple of large trees. And it came to pass that yesterday evening I was visited by a nice young man, who asked if I would like to get involved in the "Yes to AV" campaign. Which is how I found myself in the Reading Rooms last night.

But gradually it dawned on me that something was wrong. These earnest young men, women and - as it seemed - hippies were not discussing the eternal power of the word of God in Jacobean language. No. They were talking about some kind of arcane voting system. I explained to them that, on good Biblical principles, I could not support any kind of "alternative vote" scheme. I let my "yes" be "yes" and my "no" be "no". My "no" is not actually "not completely, and other alternatives are available." The lot that elected Matthias was first-past-the-post, not alternative preference lots.

And we discussed some more and I discovered - woe of woes - that I had fallen into a nest of Liberal Democrats! A party that once advocated shooting dogs, if my memory of Jeremy Thrope's time as leader serves me correctly. A party that is now led by a man who is openly Clegg. And worse - not only Liberal Democrats, but it turns out that one or both Milibands is also in favour.

Friends, I could not delay in that place of loose morals and evil talk. I returned post-haste to the Manse, removing, once again, the "WO-" that Eileen had painted on the front of the nameplate.  And converted the banner to read "Yes to the AV - No to AV".

I went to bed last night rejoicing, and ready for a good night's sleep. And slept soundly until this morning, when I was disturbed by someone driving into the fence, as they tried to work out what my sign meant.

Contemplating Navels

In his comment yesterday, Ray remarked about people who "contemplate their navels". Which was surprisingly perceptive - perhaps you might even say prophetic.

Today's "Finding your inner Citrus Fruit" looks like being a real winner. The Beaker People will sit around and consider the spiritual fulfilment that can be found by contemplating a navel, satsuma, grapefruit or ugli. Their roundness represents the earth, of course, while their dimples each represent the little imperfections that yet, somehow, make life worth living.

Then after everyone's spent half an hour contemplating their navels, we fire lemon juice out of a super-squirter at the Beaker People and they all stagger out into the daylight, blinking.

Call me an old romantic. But we hold this ceremony every year, and it always brings tears to my eyes.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Beaker Blockers

I'm afraid that in her comment this morning on my plans to disrupt people's wireless social networking, txteva may have misunderstood.

The "Beaker Blocker" isn't some kind of radio transmitting solution. Oh no.

No, it turns mobile phones into jam in a completely different way. Wood-splitting mauls do.

The Contemplative Life

Sometimes a member of the Community will have a certain kind of spiritual experience. I can always tell it by the radiance of their faces and the look in their eyes. And when it happens, they come to me and they tell me they've achieved a new kind of spiritual depth. They've realised the futility of piling up worldly wealth. And they tell me that they've given up their jobs, they've rejected vulgar mundane manual work, and they just want to sit at my feet and learn new spiritual truths.

And I always look them in their starry eyes, and I say to them, very gently, "You've got three minutes to run before I let the dogs out."

And do you know, some of them are on such a spiritual high, they spend the next three minutes wondering what deep meaning there might be to the concept of "the dogs" getting out. But they always run in the end.

"If a man will not work he will not eat", said St Paul. And I'm sure if he had had a couple available, he'd have put something about rotties in there as well.

On Germanic neo-paganism

Often people ask me, given my obvious interest in the relationship between God and nature - why do I persist in holding this fusion of Trinitarianism and meditating on tea lights? Why not consider something like the Germanic paganism that our ancestors once followed. (I say "our" assuming I am having this debate with a fellow descendant of the Norse, Angle and Saxon people - and, if you insist, the Jutes. Celts and others can go and sing something from Iona if they prefer). Why not look at the stories of Thor, Frigga, Loki and the rest in the light of the joys and terrors of nature?

But my response would be that I find Trinitarian Christianity encompasses the great truths of monotheism as well as the vibrancy and diversity of polytheism. It embraces universal myths while having a rooted, historical base in a real, historical human life.

Also, for me religion has to engage not just with the intellect. It's got to chime in with the affections. If I'm going to follow a religion I have to feel the truth as meaningful to me. And I don't have a Woden heart.

At the Church Tweeting

I was reading a totally spurious poll the other day, which I won't link to because although allegedly a piece of research it was actually a puff piece for a dating site. But cutting to the chase, the main conclusion was that people who use Twitter have on average shorter romantic relationships.

Well, what are we to make of this? We could write off the entire thing as the publicity drivel it certainly was, but that would deprive me of the chance to write this blog-post. Or I can run with it for instructive purposes as to the pitfalls of Social Networking. Imagine a quiet candlelit dinner.

SHE: "Are you all right?" 
HE: "Yes."
SHE: "What are you thinking?"
HE: "Thinking?"
SHE: "Yes. You just gave a little smile. I saw you"
HE: "Oh, it's that @PhilRitchie comparing Wayne Rooney to a potato again."
SHE: "You've got your phone under the table? I thought you were reaching out to hold my hand. Is this what our relationship has come to?"
HE: "Look, shall we go outside for a moment?"
SHE: "After tweeting during our dinner you think this is the time for that sort of thing?"
HE "No, it's just that according to @VirtualAstro, the International Space Station's about to go over".

Well, you can see how long that kind of relationship is going to last.

And it can be disconcerting in other spheres of life. I mean, in the old days if you were preaching and somebody was sitting with their head slumped forward you were safe to assume they were asleep. But now it could be worse. They could secretly be paying attention. They could be accusing you of the ancient sin of Triclavianism live on-line, while you're merrily working your way towards your third point, and getting advice back from their Twitter mates (who'll meanwhile be dissecting their own pastor online) as to which form of penitence they should prescribe for you.

And the use of Faceback via smart phones in services has a lot to answer for as well. The other week we had a couple go from "friend request" to "like"-ing each other's statuses, to "In a relationship"", to a jealous dispute over an old school friend one of them had just found, online and all the way back to un-friended, all between the lighting of the first tea light and the pouring out of the last beaker. They weren't even in the same row of seats. Still, it makes the sharing of the Peace a lot easier these days. We just get everyone to stay in their places and "like". It's a lot more hygienic.

Twitter in meetings doesn't help, either. It used to be amusing a year or two ago, when people just used to tweet about how boring it was. But in these post-Ordinariate days, when any wrong move is the potential cause for another splinter group, it's a nightmare. You go into the Moot meeting thinking it's just some routine stuff about removing the moss from the gutters this month. You make a loose remark about Rob Bell being a good communicator, and it's in the outside world before you are. And because you're chairing, you're the only one that can't see what's going on in cyberspace. You come out at the end of the meeting to discover half the Folk have joined the Guinea Pig Worshippers and the other half have elected Burton Dasset as Pope of Woburn Sands.

So I'm taking action. Young Keith's been working on this for a week or so and the Beaker Blocker, a high-powered mobile-phone jamming device, is now thoroughly installed and working. There's been some complaints from the local authorities, but there's not a "dislike" button on Twitter, so what are they going to do about it?

Monday 25 April 2011

Celebration of Fish's Birthday

Archdruid: Do you remember chalk hearts melting on a playground wall?
All: Knock it off Eileen. Not that hammy old sell-out.

Archdruid: OK then. I'm a Market Square Hero, gathering the storms to troop.
All: You do that sort of stuff in Aylesbury, you'll have Bishop Alan to reckon with.

Archdruid: OK... So here I am once more, in the playground of the broken hearts...
All: Which is the normal consequence of being a large balding drunken Scotsman.

Archdruid: You're not taking this seriously, are you?
All:  Well, what's he done since "Clutching at Straws"? Leaving Marillion wasn't the greatest career move, was it?
Archdruid: Well, there's, er.. loads. Er..

All: You've not bought any of it have you?
Archdruid: Not as in bought it. Or listened to it. Or heard of it. But I'm sure it was very good, whatever he's made. And didn't he sing the Scottish National Anthem at Wembley in 1996?

All: Any other famous birthdays we can celebrate?
Archdruid: Oliver Cromwell? We could re-instate some of his ideas?

All: The fool escaped from paradise will look over his shoulder and cry
Sit and chew on daffodils and struggle to answer why?
As you grow up and leave the playground
Where you kissed your prince and found your frog
Remember the jester that showed you tears, the script for tears.

Happy Birthday, Derek Dick.

No beer at royal wedding

According to the Daily Mail and others, the consumption of beer has been banned from the Wedding of the Year.

Apparently William and Kate wish to have a "sophisticated" experience. Quite right too. After all, a couple of glasses of Blue Nun or Lambrusco and I'm as ready to read Proust and swap Wildean  bons mots* as the next Archdruid. Whereas beer - well, that would be the drink of working class people, who need to drink greater volumes of their chosen bevvy to replace all the sweat they've lost while working down coal mines. And therefore appreciate the lower alcoholic content, as it enables them to drink eight or nine pints before they get the urge to have a union jack tattooed on their stomachs and then go off to trash a restaurant or two in Thame or another suitable location. Lucky they've not invited anyone like that to the wedding.

There was a church hall not far from here, that used to have a list of rules on the wall. And one was that, while beer was banned, it was acceptable to drink wine at social functions. And the message was that while good well-behaved Christian folk could drink wine, given a crack at the juice of the malt they would run amok. Or, to look at it another way, Christianity is middle-class. You want to be a good Christian, you gotta act like the Normans and Romans. Or, to look at it another, another way, "we don't want your sort in here".

I hope the reports are wrong. Instead of drinking fizzy French wine, I hope the Royal Family will be enjoying the delights of Titanic's Royal Ale, Adnams' Royal Wedding Ale or the many others that are currently being brewed in the belief that the natural drink of choice for the English people, when celebrating a British event, is English beer.

For a list of suitable Royal bons mots, you may like to read this from the Guardian. Sophisticated chaps, those wine drinkers.

In Cyberspace, no-one can see your mitre

Because it was from the Guardian, I didn't like to mention it until after Easter Day was over. But now it is (have a good Octave, by the way)... And I should warn that, in case you couldn't tell below, there's no research whatever gone into this. It's my gut feel.

"What effect has the Internet had on Religion?" asks Aleks Krotoski.

Obviously, it's given a nice hang-out to the kind of atheists who would otherwise sit upstairs on their own in their parents' houses fuming that nobody understands them - as reference the comments below Krotoski's article if you need evidence (but why would you need evidence, dear, God-loving readers that you are? Faith will be enough for you - you don't even have to follow my link to know that the article exists. Oh, you did? OK.

But on a world-wide scale, at least for Christians and neo-pagans and fruitcakes, and for the kind of intelligent atheists who don't think writing the words "sky fairy" means they have won their argument - and even for those who do - it's given us a level playing field. On the Internet,. the most popular religious sight can be by an Archbishop, or an Archdruid (I can dream) or the Flying Spaghetti monster or anything. The first criterion is that it has to be interesting - which will tend to reduce FSM's chances, once you've got the joke the first time. But then the people reading have the chance to judge what the site is worth. And so sites such as eChurchblog or Cranmer or Gurdur will bring people to them because literary worth is matched with wide interests and dedication. Sure, a boring Archbishop (thinking of none in particular) or dull comedian (thinking of several) will attract followers on Twitter - but merely "following" does not mean following - interacting and caring and relating and discussing and challenging. The  popularity of a good site bypasses hierarchies - even the hierarchies they support, if they're Fr Z. And so a billion informal networks form - each one the result of the wave function of a particular human being and the sites and people he/she follows. And instead of the top-down structure preferred by the people at the top of structures, you've got a spider's web of authority radiating out from the consumer (for in a sense that's what they are) to their numerous spirituality providers.

And then there's speed. A heresy can be discussed, anathematised and/or followed and/or expanded within a day. Fakery can be found out - or find a refuge, or gain credence - rapidly. Sensible and not-so-sensible ideas can be scrutinised at the speed of light. Rob Bell was vilified a month before his words could even be distributed, printed as they were on a dead tree. That's the difference. 500 years ago, the printing press meant the Pope could be challenged by a German monk over the course of a year or two. Today, at an hour's notice, he can be examined by an alleged Smolensk butcher, the reinvigorated ashes of an Archbishop of Canterbury, a mouse or any one of a hundred thousand small-town Prots from the good ol' US of A.

But as the speed of virtual interaction increases, so one of the challenges is to the face-to-face interaction. Why should I waste my time arguing with a bunch of deadbeat Beaker People in real life, when I can find people I agree with from New Zealand to New Brighton? Why should I drag myself down to church in the rain when I can join in with Virtual Abbey (albeit I get Matins a bit on the late side - round about lunchtime)? Why go out and find a bunch of flesh-and-blood Humanists to relate to, when I remember that they're all a bit spotty and pasty-faced, and their avatars are so much more attractive?

Because we're humans, that's why. Because we love to communicate, and we need to see each other. Because we're flesh and blood, not floating brains in buckets of electrolyte solution. At least I reckon most of us are.

So get out and meet some real people. That's what having bodies and senses is for. Real people that may cause you problems you can't just solve by blocking them. People who when they love one another properly don't just do it by adding an "x" to what they say. In a real community which exists in a real world, where their inter-relationship models a real Trinity and not @God on Twitter.

And when you've done all that stuff, can you nip back and link to this? Only my Wikio rating's appalling.

Sunday 24 April 2011

Chuck another log on the mythical beast, Mable

There's nothing better than sitting in the garden in the darkling gloom, sipping a  celebratory Easter port and chucking the occasional handful of sticks in the chimenea.
Except when you send Young Keith down to the Garden Centre and he gets it wrong and comes back with something that is spelt very similarly.

Basically, if you try putting a few sticks in a Chimera you'll never play the harpsichord again. That'll teach us to go shopping at a garden centre called Dobby's.

Easter Egg-Throwing

The Rationale

The tradition of Easter Egg-Throwing over the Moot House is an ancient Beaker tradition that goes back to at least 2005. It has taken place every year since, with the exception of the year it snowed and the year we couldn't be bothered and last year when we unexpectedly transported across to Thomas Hardy's Wessex in a parallel universe.
It may echo my memories of rolling oranges down Dunstable Downs, unexpectedly transformed into eggs flying through the sky.

The Dubious Spiritual Connection

We throw the eggs from East to West over the Moot House, thus representing the sun in its daily journey across the heavens. At this time when the sun is strengthening, we try to throw the eggs as high as possible, emulating (but not encouraging - that would be sympathetic magic, and wrong) the sun.

The Rules

Only fresh, free-range eggs are to be used. We're not barbarians.
Throwers must stand on the throwing grid.
Eggs must go cleanly over the Moot House, passing between the North and South Stations.
Anyone catching an egg without it breaking can keep it.
A bit of advice - try to catch one-handed to the side of your body. If you try two-handed in front of your face  - well, try not to inhale.
Don't run in front of other people to make a "catch". It is within the rules, once they have wiped themselves down a bit, for them to chase you with a pointy stick in this situation.
Anyone catching the Snitch is in the wrong place entirely.


Hnaef gets a hose and cleans everything down. The rest of us feel a bit guilty about the waste of food and we write a cheque to Christian Aid to make ourselves feel better.

Happy Easter!

Saturday 23 April 2011

RIP Jesus?

And a hush settles on Hades. It's been a funny few days. The one in charge so much busier than usual - rushing about, getting involved in affairs upstairs in a much more direct way than normal.

Of course, he's always been more interested in what goes on up in the daylight.  Down here, he's happy to leave security to the underlings. Not that this is really his domain, of course. This is just the holding camp. The transit station, where they wait to be moved on to the "delights" ahead. Still, the gates still hold firm. And himself was ever so pleased to welcome his latest "guests". Though he's still looking around for a rebel he seems to have mislaid. Not normal, losing them. Still, we're awaiting the heretic rabbi now. The one who's been causing all the fuss. We nailed him in the end.

When there's a knock at the door. No need, mate, it opens inwards fine. Just give it a push.
No, I said a push, not a bash. Someone must be really keen to get in. They normally have to be dragged down.

Well, not a bash a... a smash? A ripping. A splintering. And the sound of the doors being thrown about the place. Ricocheting off the walls. And there's people heading out. Where do they think they're going? Don't they know that's one-way? Or would be, if the doors were still there. What a mess. They're all heading out into that light. Past the "NO EXIT" sign. Can't they read? Why's the boss not doing anything about it? He's gonna be furious. Oh. He's sprawling there with someone's sandal across his throat.  That heretic rabbi's sandal.

An echo dies away, the sound of a billion voices.
"He descended to the dead. On the third day...." 

Peaceful again. Still, the rabbi's gone, and we've still plenty here.
Shame the doors got so smashed. What an utter state. It'll take eternity to patch that up. But, you can stay here if you want to.

But why would you want to? What am I thinking? Wait for me.....

Detail from the Trinity in Glory, St Alban's Holborn.
[In charitable and constructive opposition to this]

Low Tide (a London reflection for Holy Saturday)

It's a long way from the sea here.

Yet you can still feel the pull. That twice-daily drag - in, out as the moon has her say.

And at low tide, so much is revealed. Sand and mud and rubbish. The dregs of Berkshire, washed up on a foreshore in the city.  A new world, changed twice a day.

The river shuffles with the changing tide - glinting silver and blue in a wash of sluggish gray. A can bobs in the water, waiting for something to happen.

Behind the conversions, obscured by banks and insurers, you see glimpses of Wren's treasures. Purveyors of boutique faith for the specialist.

While Mr Pooter struggles across London Bridge in the traffic. Getting nowhere fast, the traffic news from 5 Drive mocking. Another hour till he's home. The Pooters live in Purley now. Well, you'd get your head kicked in if you walked around in Holloway these days, with a name like Lupin. The joggers run past, grinning through the pain.

Once this place thronged with watermen and lightermen. Rough men with rough language, who'd not even let a prince take a trip without a few well-placed words. Men who ran the city, when the river was at high tide. But now, as the traffic creeps over, a few boats troll up and down. River taxis and tourists. That's all.

Old Father Thames sighs, and swirls, and kicks a plastic bottle around. And waits for the tide to come in.

Friday 22 April 2011

My thoughts are not your thoughts

As the heavens are higher than the earth, 
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, 
and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, 
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty, 
but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isa 55 from NIV. No apologies for critically- and contextually-suspect but theologically appropriate reading.
Landscape with kind permission of Northamptonshire.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Maundy musings

In response to the rather worried-sounding phone call I received from Hnaef, who was cooking a barbecue when he read my earlier posting  - it was nothing to do with him. I may have the delusions of grandeur to have that kind of Messiah complex, but not the delusions of humility that would have to go with it to do it properly. And I'm sorry about the damage he suffered when he dropped that lamb chop. But at least that will teach him not to barbecue in his swimming costume again.

It takes a certain kind of person to carry out that sort of betrayal. Not Hnaef, who is loyal, trustworthy, reliable, unambitious. If you were wondering about the sort of person that might betray you, you might be looking out for a wild-eyed idealist who thinks that concepts and causes are more important than people. These are the sorts of people that sacrifice friends, family and often their own lives to further the ends of a cause that seems more important than anything. It is possibly no surprise that they tend to be young men.

Or if you looked at Biblical precedent, the sort of person who would let you down might be the one in charge of the purse. An over-interest in matters financial might cause you to objectify people according to what benefit they can bring rather than their innate worth.  Although Burton is dull and unimaginative, this does not apply to all those who deal in financial matters. Maybe Judas thought he was speculating to accumulate - a little push now to bring the Kingdom in more quickly - a theo-martial leveraged buyout, if you will.

Of course, if you were a potential Labour party leader wondering who might be betray you, you'd be looking out for the person who looked most like you, and who you used to kick around when he was younger and smaller than you were. So maybe envy comes into it as well.

The Biblical authors weren't so inclined to philosophise on the matter, of course. Luke puts it down to Satan - the accuser. So does John.  Though it looks like John had it in for Judas in general. But if the Devil made Judas do it, then was it really his fault? Did he have free will in this? Could the Devil have entered any of the disciples, had one of the others agreed to co-operate? Is it a big step from Peter's desertion to Judas's betrayal - or just the change from passive denial to active collaboration?

I wouldn't say he did it for the money.  Annas and Caiaphas may have thought that was all that mattered to him - but when the deed was done the money didn't matter. Maybe, in the end, Judas didn't matter much either. Just a cog. Without the betrayal the authorities would still have got Jesus another way. The Cross would still have loomed, the nails would still have bitten, the Devil would still have had what he thought was his day - and he would still have woken up a loser on Sunday morning.

Betrayal: Psalm 55

 If an enemy were insulting me, 
   I could endure it; 
if a foe were rising against me, 
   I could hide. 
13 But it is you, a man like myself, 
   my companion, my close friend, 
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship 
   at the house of God, 
as we walked about 
   among the worshippers.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Will the last person to read the Independent please recycle it?

The Independent is an institution in decline, with fewer readers than ever.

As the tabloids look forward to the Royal Wedding and the fun they will have over the next few years with "is-she/isn't-she" stories, and even the Telegraph ponders weighty questions such as changing the rules of succession and whether Dave Cameron should wear tails, it may seem the wrong time to be discussing the future of the Independent.

Founded  by Andreas Whittam Smith to enable his divorce from the Telegraph, and in direct defiance of Rupert Murdoch, it has always steered a careful via media between the liberalness of the Guardian and being in any way interesting.

But as the hardline liberal group increasingly flirts with the idea of joining the Guardinariate, while the middle classes become obsessed with the health scares of the Express and Mail, increasingly the Independent has nowhere to go. It has experimented with so-called "fresh expressions of journalism", such as its "compact" or "comic" size, but the figures speak for themselves. From a circulation of 400,000 in the 1980s, it fell below 200,000 at the Millennium. Despite blips when readership has improved, the circulation in 2010 was 183,000 - down 10% on the year. The number of stipendiary journalists has been cut over the years, as the paper has tried to adjust to this decline. And as long as it clings on to old-fashioned doctrines such as "Liberal Democracy", it is hard to see how it can move forward.

Will anyone miss the Independent when it closes?

Shouldn't think so.

Proscribing Processions

I've been having some thoughts about the procession at the start of Acts of Worship.

You see, when we line up and process in with the botsalifers and the acolytes at the front, then the wavers of peacock feathers and then the gladiators, the Ring-Bearer, a zither-player, the junior druids then Hnaef and finally myself - it kind of makes me look important. Which obviously is nice, but is that where the focus should be?

So we have experimented with the idea that Hnaef and I should be at the front. Gives a nice impression - the idea that, as Archdruid and her Executive Assistant, we should be leading from the front. Taking awkward decisions, meeting trouble and danger on your behalf, being the first to approach obstacles... well, you can see why we decided against that. No-brainer.

So then we played around with the "just bimble in and sit down" approach.  But when you did that, nobody every knew whether we'd really started, or whether we'd pick up the tea light, paper clip or sermon notes that we'd come to fetch and go back out again.

So I think we've really cracked it this time. We've put all the equipment in place, and relocated the Druidry Room to a mezzanine in the roof space of the Moot Hall. We're going to be lowered gently down straight onto our thrones while strapped into theatrical flying harnesses. That should combine simplicity, decorum and humility in equal measure. And it's going to be great fun, as well.

Easter Debunked

Over at Always Hope, Charlie Peer does a little debunking of the annual "Council bans Easter" story.  Which is always a seasonal twist on the "Council/Charity/Christian bans Christmas" stories. Although there was less on the "School bans Halloween" story.

And as I mentioned yesterday, we have had our annual "Easter isn't quite right" story from an under-qualified author, which again has its parallel in the "There was no Christmas donkey".

Well, to save you the trouble of trawling the Web looking for spurious debunking stories and dodgy claims made after daft research, here's a whole bunch of untrue stories about Easter. I can guarantee that these stories are completely false, and based on either bad research or none whatsoever. Now you can relax and enjoy Easter knowing it's been thoroughly debunked.

  • Caiaphas was elected High Priest under the Alternative Vote system. If they had used First-past-the-post it would have been Joseph of Arimathea.
  • Based on his red hair, Judas was probably Welsh.
  • Pontius Pilate invented the Pilates system to help him relax after a hard day's haranguing hoi polloi
  • Several of Jesus' disciples had a fig allergy, hence his opposition to the trees
  • Due to the stupidity of human beings, the press will never run out of stories of people being cruel to animals at religious festivals.
  • Contrary to popular belief there were only 12 disciples and no kangaroos at the Last Supper.
  • Croydon Council has banned Easter eggs from all council meetings.
  • The Hot Cross Bun originated as a food to be eaten from January to April.
  • The Easter Bunny was originally the Easter Badger, based on Brockworth the Saxon god of blogging. But had to be changed to the Easter Rat due to tuberculosis fears. Unfortunately the Black Death put paid to that tradition, so they changed it to a rabbit. Then myxomatosis came along, and they gave up trying.
  • You can date Easter by identifying the year when a total eclipse of the sun occurred at the same time as Passover,causing the darkness that fell over the earth.
  • The word "Easter" comes from the same Anglo-Saxon root as the word "Easel". In East Anglia they used to dedicate all artistic equipment to the goddess Eostre. 
And don't forget - if 23 April falls in Holy Week, the Church moves St George's Day not Easter Day. One day the newspapers will notice, and denounce the Church as being unpatriotic, in thinking that the Resurrection of Our Lord is more important than being English. It could be this year and, if it is, you read it here first.

1This is very bad science, religion and history.

Giving up for Lent - Day 42

Beaker Person
Giving up
Current state
Burton Dassett
Train Spotting
Groyne protecting
Young Keith
Taken up the pipe - surely that's cheating?
Archdruid Eileen
Forgotten that life was ever worth living.
Laying carpet
Daphne Hnaef
Instructing Hnaef
Marston Moretaine
Fruit & Quiz Machines
Taken up Suduko 
Mansfield Woodhouse
Watching Television
In the aquarium
Drayton Parslow
Tanned and fit, yet strangely subdued.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Drayton Reflects

There are two gates at Butlin's in Skegness. The main gate is open all day and night. The little gate that opens onto the promenade shuts at 5. Which means that if, like Burton on Sunday, you go for a bike ride up the promenade to the Admiral Benbow, you get locked out and have to come round the camp to the front gate. Which makes me recollect.

When I was a child, I would walk with my parents to chapel. In the summer, when the ground was dry, my father and I would take the long way back across the meadow, while mother went home to start cooking Sunday lunch, and we would come in to the garden through the back gate. We lived in a long lane, and the rest of the meadow was fenced off, so this was the only way through. But sometimes, because I was growing up and headstrong and yet still not old enough to control my emotions, I would get into a mood with my father and go off and hide in the bushes and refuse to come home. You know how children are.

Of course, I would never stay there. As soon as I thought he had walked off ahead, I would creep along behind him, peeking through the undergrowth and trying to make sure he could not see me. And he would always try to act like he was not looking back - but I always knew he would. And then when he got to the back gate and went in, I would always have that lurking horror that he might lock the gate, and I would be consigned to retrace my steps, and take the two-mile walk back through the meadow - which could be quite scary to an eight-year-old - and up the lane round to the front of the house, and find when I got in, scared and tearful, that dinner would be cold.

And do you know, every time it happened, the gate was locked.

Home at last

It has been a long and wearisome journey home.

Burton was unable to push his folding cycle back to Skegness Station on account of his "groyne strain". And there are some areas where even the most dedicated of fundamentalist pastors refuse to lay on hands. So at Burton's insistence I cycled back to the station which giving him what I have always thought of as a "saddler", although he refers to it as a "backie". Although it was not all joy in the morning for Burton either. In order to get us both on the cycle I had to gaffer-tape the suitcases to his jacket. However sadly for Burton I was unable to unfasten him from the case, and he had a terrible time getting through train doors on the way home. And then the taxi driver informed me there was no way he could get "that prat in the suitcases" into his vehicular conveyance, and I had to cycle Burton and myself home. Surely the way is scary that leads from Ridgmont Station to Husborne Crawley - and fast are the cars that belt along it.

But surely I am home and delighted to see a wife who meets all the specifications in Proverbs 31.  Who demanded to know what I had been doing out with my "ungodly friends" and set me to work re-plastering the spare bedroom. It is a joy to be home!

Lead Codices and Wednesday Last Suppers

And so, conveniently timed for Easter, a metallurgist with a book to plug tells us that the Last Supper was on a Wednesday.

According to Prof Colin Humphreys, the day of the week of the Last Supper is "the thorniest problem in the Gospels". I would have said not. The Virginal Conception, the accounts and motives of Judas and the discrepancies between the accounts of the Resurrection are all thornier in my opinion, and all more likely to provide fruitful theological reflection. A little matter of dating is the least of my worries. And dragging in an obsolete lunar calendar seems about as unnecessary as arguing that the issue can be resolved by a simple matter of time-travelling. How very metallurgical to get so obsessive about something so minor.

The more usual resolution to the problem, if you're interested, is to say that for theological reasons John deliberately moves the date of the Crucifixion so that Jesus dies at the same time as the Passover Lambs. It fits in with the prevalent view of John as later, more reflective, more explicitly theological (because all the Gospels are the results of, among other things, deep theological reflection). However, as they say on the BBC, other excellent views are available. Some people date John quite early and regard him as more "historical" in the modern sense. And even to fret about such a thing as accurate dating is a product of a modern mind-set. For what it's worth, if you like both total consistency and simplicity, maybe they just had the Passover meal a day early at John Mark's house because Jesus knew he would be otherwise engaged the next day. Now you've just got to deal with the time at which the Crucifixion took place - 9 or 12.

Although there is an alternative, alternative view. It's worth pointing out that Marillion dated the Last Supper to Good Friday. An idea which, in my opinion, is totally Fugazi.

To be fair to Prof Humphreys, I've not read his book. So I'm on as much dodgy ground here as the people who criticized Love Wins last month. But, fairly or not, I'm drawing a straight line through last year's "Super-Sized last Supper" and 2008's "Judas and Pilate are innocent".

Far be it from me, with my degree in Quantum Chemistry and background in bar codes and health 'n' safety, to tell the Good Prof what to do. But if he's videogenic enough perhaps he could do a series with Professor Francesca? Or he could put  his metallurgic knowledge to some really good use and explain how those old codices, which according to the Daily Mail could be the sealed scrolls of Revelation1, managed to go rusty, instead of the colour of lead or copper oxide. I'm just a Chemist and I'm sure they've aged the wrong colour.

So while I'm suggesting the solution to Biblical controversies this morning, I'd like to make my suggestion about the Jordanian codices. Based on the image at Wikipedia - I reckon they're the first generation of Nintendo DS. The one where the graphics weren't so good.

1 Did they really write that?

Monday 18 April 2011

Pulling mussels from the shell

I'm afraid, although I've had a smashing time, that the week at Spring Harvest finished badly.
Nothing to do with Spring Harvest, or Butlins. It was my own fault. I walked into Skegness to sample the Thatcher's Cheddar Valley at the Wetherspoons (6/10 - rather too acidic, possibly not the turnover this fine cider deserves). Still, good enough to try a couple of pints.

On the way back I thought I would jog along the beach. But I pulled a muscle when I tripped, trying to jump over a wooden breakwater on the beach.
Nothing too serious. Just a groyne strain.

Spring Harvest Reflections

Beloved Brothers and Sisters, I go through these experiences so you don't have to. Indeed, only one as strong in faith as myself could be expected to get through this without flinching.
I have seen young people brought to faith, this week. And yet I have also seen women leading worship and even teaching. I have seen a bishop in an open-neck shirt, instead of the Papish regalia I would expect of a bishop. It puzzles and saddens and disappoints me, and I am sore afflicted by doubt.

I have seen lively worship, and people knowing an experience of God. And I have reflected that they didn't deserve it, especially given that type of worship. Too much happiness and not enough fear and trembling.

And at least once in this last week I have heard the word "enculturation". And I have shuddered. For it is this word that above all tells me all that is wrong about the modern Church.

But still I am inspired. Inspired by this example of how to go wrong. How can we hope to win souls if we read from a Bible translation that is easily comprehensible, when the Inerrant word of God was written in Jacobean English? How can we bring the country to its knees in prayer unless we look it straight in the eye and challenge it with its failings of iniquity and transgressions? Surely we must tell people that they have gone "a-whoring with their own inventions" - no matter how much that makes them laugh? We must nail the colours of a 6-day creation to the mast of our faith. Or vice-versa. I am still working on that metaphor.

No, I will guard the souls of my flock and myself, and we will cling faithfully on until Christ returns. And I will  return to stand in the Dunstable Quadrant or the Brunel Centre in Bletchley, and shout at Society through my megaphone until Society sees the error of its ways.  I will climb on my watchtower and watch - although few will hear the call, even fewer will understand it, and maybe none will act on it. That's what Mission is all about.

Altar-ed states

That's the trouble with Beaker Revival Services.
Being by nature the nuanced, balanced, post-modern people we are, people don't really like committing themselves. So even Hnaef's appeal to everyone "who feels, say a little bit different about something" to come down the front for ministry was greeting with some serious equivocation.

But Beldwyn's been playing "Just as I am" for 11 hours now. Can someone please, please come forward?

Sunday 17 April 2011

Moonrise over Crawley Crossing

And it really did rise over Crawley Crossing today, and it's full, and it's lovely.

I know the moon is a lump of dead rock. But then I also believe that, in some way, Neil Armstrong and all the rest spoilt something special when they went up there. Call me an old romantic.

And when you look at that lump of dead rock, floating orangey-yellow and gorgeous and silent over Crawley Crossing and the roar of the M1, it's a special thing. It's no deity - Genesis told us that. And it's not nailed to its position on the inside shell of the sky -  Copernicus and Galileo and all the rest proved that. It's just serene and uncanny and eerie and beautiful. It shines with reflected glory. But then, don't we all?

The Charismatrix

Dear Readers, a strange morning. I went to a talk on Malachite, but it turned out to be all about some Old Testament prophet and not the important ore of copper at all.
And then I listened to Bishop Pete and Vicky Beeching and they were talking about the gifts and attitudes necessary in a worship leader.  And being an organisation kind of person, as you know, I realised that I could use this to help identify the right people for the right jobs. I attach my Gift Matrix  - or "Charismatrix" in the original Greek - to help you, Dear Reader, with your discernment of the proper role for which you may be being called.

In case you are wondering, I have discovered that the role of Treasurer is indeed an artistic one - especially when the Archdruid is trying to "lose" 5 grand here or there.

But the wonder of my chart, I have discovered, is that you can discover what people's real calling might be. So, if you find you have a cleaner with artistic tendencies, you may have found someone with that rare and important Spiritual Gift of Overhead Projection!

Likewise, I have been able to identify shortcomings - or, as I prefer to think of them, "training opportunities" - in the gifting of those who already occupy posts in Husborne Crawley. And with that in mind, I dropped an email to Archdruid Eileen earlier, explaining the areas where she might require improvement. She sent one back shortly afterwards, suggesting that it might be better for my health if I stayed at Skegness somewhat longer than I was planning. So her pastoral skills are improving already! The Gift Matrix really does work!

A veritable feast of preaching

You know, Spring Harvest is like redundancies. It's not the people that go that suffer so much - it's those of us that are left behind to carry on.

Take the people at Drayton's chapel. In  his absence, his deacon - Mr Obadiah Zebulun - is preaching. He doesn't often get the chance, and he's made the most of it. One of the escapees told me that his sermon, "A few thoughts on Nehemiah 3", started at 5 past 10 and he's still in "Secondly". They've got "Thirdly" through to "Fifthly" to go, then the Conclusion and his half-hour Exhortation and it'll be time for the altar call.
Sometimes you're just glad you're not a Baptist.

Saturday 16 April 2011

O'Vienna Epidemic

I'm getting really worried that the Community is suffering from an outbreak of O'Vienna Syndrome.

For starters, we've got Kenneth, the community radio ham. Who will be only too happy to tell you the wavelength he's using. Or, if you ask him nicely, the number of kilohertz he's running at. And Eugene is very handy at chopping logs, although he's got to be cautious with his equipment, if you see what I mean. His mate Bill is equally clumsy, although we always assure him there's no harm done. While their pal Johnny needs to be reminded of the kind of behaviour that is expected of him.

Meanwhile, Rudolph is still in training for his attempt at an Olympic qualifying time. And we're all busy practising our chant to encourage him to go faster. Rudolph's girlfriend, Margaret, is still waiting for him to propose. Although we're not sure whether she'll accept him. Not least because she still longs for Francis,her first boyfriend - although their relationship was wrecked by his amnesia.

Or maybe I'm just imagining this. I really should pull myself together.

Out of the depths I rise

It has been a most challenging day, Dear Readers.

An enjoyable morning - I went along, at Drayton's advice, to hear Bishop Pete talk about worship.  Although Drayton himself went to find something that wasn't being co-led by a woman. And I was most taken by the concept of the "Greeting" - the part where the congregation greets each other - as Eileen sometimes says, when she's in one of her Tridentine moods, "Pax vobiscum", and the congregation responds "et cum spiritu tuo".It's a short life but a varied one, in the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley.
And I was musing on the beautiful call and response as I was on my way back from Burgh le Marsh this afternoon on my bike.

I don't know if you know Burgh le Marsh? An interesting place - mounted up on a hill above the fens like Mount Zion. But with less Sanhedrins and general trouble. The Fleece used to sell a nice pint of Olde Trip, but since Hardy & Hanson were taken over by Greene King they've got Speckled Hen instead. Which was still a very nice pint. Slightly sweet, heavy but with a good hop bite. In the Fleece, 9/10 in anyone's money.

And I was heading back to Butlins, swerving along the fen lanes, with the view of Skyline ahead of me in the distance. Like the view of the Celestial City in that book Drayton keeps going on about, or the view of Oxford that Jude the Obscure gets in that book whose name I can't remember, but which the Archdruid likes because there's a nice, pointless and poignant death in in it. Excep in the film with Dr Who in it, where Jude's still alive at the end.

And as I barrelled along the lane, I realised that someone was beeping his horn repeatedly at me. Taking my headphones off (I had been enjoying a nice bit of Kraftwerk) I turned round to see a man driving a Ford Mondeo.

"Whoi don't yew get out o' t'way, you gr't steaming poil o' donkey droppins'?" he asked. (I can't do the accent).
"And also with you," I replied, without thinking much what I was saying.

That ditch was very muddy. And the bike was much harder to ride after I'd dragged it out. And I'm very smelly now. And I'm not totally sure he was into liturgy, now I think about it. It was probably that which upset him.

Fire engine excitement

Mrs Hnaef and the Archdruid have had a lovely morning. There's been an awful fire, but luckily noone was hurt, so the ladies of the Community got to watch burly firefighters shift hoses round all morning, whilst I was sent off to provide hot drinks for everybody and "keep out of our way".

I'm sure that I'll be asked to launch a full investigation into the conflagration (I usually am): I just hope, for Burton's sake, that the expenses receipts and accounts haven't been affected this year.
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Today, the vast majority of people will get up, go to their Saturday activities (as it may be shopping in B&Q, stressing at the uselessness of their football teams, digging up their allotments or screaming at the children, have a pizza/chinese/meal out/potted meat sandwich, watch something mindless involving Ant & Dec and go back to bed.

They won't feel lost because they're without God. They don't feel a god-shaped hole in their lives. They won't stand outside at 10pm tonight screaming at the empty skies because they've just realised they don't have a meaning.

And as the world turns, and Christian people argue about pre- and post-lapsarianism, universalism vs Gotterdamerungism, lilac robes vs shabby suits and electric guitars vs electronic organs; while organists strop off because of vicars demanding something the congregation can sing, and others walk out because they're being asked to say words they understand, and all of them think that this thing - this pointless, pointless thing - whatever it is - is more important than a crucified Galilean and a billion hungry people and a world of pain - then people in MK's Xscape and the Luton Arndale and people waiting for buses at Greyfriars in Northampton and people heading to Ikea (in MK, N London or Coventry according to choice and/or accent) will continue to do just what they're doing without realising that buses and artificial ski-slopes and shopping centres and furniture with amusing, Swedish-chef names aren't all there is - even though some of these things can point beyond themselves if you look very closely.

And the Lion of Judah may roar, but the roar won't be heard. Because it will be drowned out by the squealing peevishness of his children's frets and squabbles. And a world will go to perdition while a thousand pointless arguments rage.

Sorry, got a bit carried away there. Just saying.

Friday 15 April 2011

The long, dark audit of the Soul

I often feel that examining the state of your soul is a little like looking at your bank balance at the cash machine when you've not kept any records of your outgoings for a year or so. Or like needing a checkup at the doctor's and not really wanting to go. You think there may be something nasty going on there, but your think to yourself - maybe not just now. Maybe another day. Better just walk away from the woodshed once more.

And we can have a vision of God as the Eternal Auditor. The one who opens the books at the end of time, adds up the credits and the debits, and sees which way your lifetime's P&L has gone. Better have plenty on the heavenly balance sheet, you may think, where you know it's not going to get written off as unrealisable assets. If you think that way. And you could think, in that case, of your confessor, priest, pastor or preacher as your earthly accountant, the one who keeps the books in line and helps you to keep focussed on the final dividend before you the Eternal Auditor gets hold of the books. And if you find there's some unexplained expenses, or a dubious write-off, or something accruing where it shouldn't - they'll help you to see it and deal with it.

All of which is a roundabout way to explaining why I was so keen that Burton went to Spring Harvest when I heard that Drayton was going. He's not finished the Year End yet. And he's going to be ever so surprised when he discovers that this year's Expense Claims have gone up in smoke again. Especially when you consider that he's kept them in that electronically-locked, bombproof, passworded, fire-proof safe to stop them exploding this year.

The password was Fly1ngSc0tsman. It didn't take long.

Chumminess in worship

Burton Dasset has really not taken the idea of a godly holiday seriously.
Immediately after the events at the "Big Top" yesterday he went off to discover what the local pubs are like. He came back two hours later to announce that the three or four he'd visited had no real ale. He said it with deep regret, and the reflection that it was only Guinness that stood between him and despair.
And this afternoon he has unfolded his foldy bike and headed off in the Skegness hinterlands in search of real ale. But before he went he was able to create a chart for me.

It all comes down to some words I have heard from a bishop in the "Worship Zone" - which turned out to be, not a marble-floored chapel with salutary texts on the walls as you might imagine, so much as a big white tent next to a main road. The bishop was hard to identify, since he wore an orange shirt and was working in partnership with a young woman who was not compelled to check that what she said was in accordance with the bishop before she said it. What is the Church of England coming to?  At this rate they will have women bishops before you know it.

As I understood it, the bishop said that there is a range of responses to God in worship, ranging from awe to "chumminess". To be fair he did seem slightly to distinguish himself from "chumminess" as a concept. I prefer to think that Church of England bishops might regard God rather with a manly respect. In the same way that they have exchanged a kiss of brotherhood for the limp handshake of mild regard in their Peace.
But it is not a continuum I have ever considered. For myself, I would see the worship continuum as being from Manly Respect through to Awe. However, in an ecumenical mood - for I am in that "letting one's hair down" frame of mind, even going so far as to have my top button undone beneath my Hope Springs Bible College tie - I have included it in the following chart.
I think this triangle of opposing forces is all fairly clear. It is clear that, as one grows in "chumminess", one becomes increasing devoid of the fear and awe that is the proper response to the one we only dare to cringe as we call "Sovereign and most Awesome Lord". However it is safe, I believe, to move along the line from Terror to Manly Respect - always remembering that even Manly Respect is not to grasp at equality with God, merely to recognise ourselves as men (and, in certain circumstances, women) who are saved and therefore able to approach, with however much fear and trembling, the throne.
In general, the red circle on the diagram identifies about the optimum position - mostly terrified, somewhat respectful (in a manly kind of way - none of that silly emoting) and never, never "chummy".

In concluding I must say that I am delighted that in these modern days that one does not find mildew on the walls in one's chalet. My parents would often take me to holiday camps as a child, and it does rather use up a young fundamentalists's time on such a holiday, desperately trying to find a Jewish priest to inspect your chalet walls.