Friday 30 September 2011

Litourgia del Chanel 9


Archdruid: Bono estente

All: Et bono estente tuo


Archdruid: He tet-tet-tet, tet-tet-tet, confessionale

All: Nos ave faro des cosas harmartios
E nos ava no faro des cosas nos devon faro
E nos avons ne sana in usi.

Archdruid: Va da mono oculatos. No stantio del visio des yuous. Chris Waddle.

All: OK, la Archdruida. Nos rentros des mantalos.

Archdruid: Et nuo la sermone su haides, dela Poula Fisch (Marcos 9:48).

Poula's Sermones

E temporato en Haides Exterior - Scorchio!
E en  Haides Interior - Scorchio!
E en Gehennas - Scorchio!
E en neuna circlo del Haides - Scorchio!
E il vermo ne mortio, e il inferno ne dampenos.
Repentari, oder les derriaros sera - Scorchio!


Archdruid: Sminki-Pinki va en paxos, e broadcasti del verbos.

All: Boutros Boutros-Ghali

Late-night annoyance with an English mythical creature

Just caught Herne the Hunter taking a stroll across the meadow. And I told him good and strong.

I don't care if he is supposed to be a degenerate folk-memory of the Celtic god Cernunnos.  That's no excuse for dropping his dog-ends on my footpath.

And while we're on the subject of dogs, if he's going to let Black Shuck "do his business" in the Community grounds, he can use a pooper-scooper like everyone else. I'm not giving any allowances for mythical beings.

Thursday 29 September 2011

On speed

Reading the news about the raising of the speed limit I wondered momentarily if it were April Fools' rather than St Michael's Day.

But I note the Gruaniad's paragraph:

"The existing 70mph limit was set in 1965. The government argues that cars are significantly safer since then, with a fall of 75% in the numbers of people killed every year on British roads since then."

.... from which, momentarily, I drew the moral that Dave's boys and girls want to raise the speed limit to bring that hint of danger back to the mundane world of motoring. Jeremy Clarkson would approve.

"It also says that up to 49% of drivers are currently breaking the top speed limit."

....which implies if everybody went out stealing, the Government would legalise theft.

St Michael's Day (2)

And can all Beaker Folk please stop wishing Daisy a "happy birthday"? The joke's starting to get tiresome now.

St Michael's Day

It's an awful late post today, I know. But we've spent the day celebrating in Marks & Sparks.

This may be almost incomprehensible to the 30% of our readers who are from the former colonies, I realise.

And in a strange reversal, Young Keith was escorted out of the shopping centre after comparing a shopping assistant to a dragon. Well, we may be a religious community but we're not all angels.

Wednesday 28 September 2011


Sometimes life is hard. This I understand. Sometimes your predictive text (well, mine, actually) wants to change that to Izmir, instead of "is". These things I take in my stride.

But I have another job. Another calling. Another vocation. I am an MSE. Not a Micro$oft support engineer - I haven't sunk that low - nor a Minister to Sarcastic Eileens. I am a Mostly Sympathetic Elder. I take time to listen to people and (mostly) sympathise with them. Sometimes in a wig and my "old person trousers" if they seem to be over 40. To make me seem elder, you understand. Sometimes I don bunches of dark purple berries, particularly for the more confused or pedantic.

And I give what time I can to the Community. But it never seems to be enough. It is hard enough that I struggle with feelings of guilt about the commitment I can provide, but when the Archdruid creates me for my lack of time management, sometimes I wonder if I am appreciated at all.

Except by Young Keith, of course.

Set them up, please landlord: it's my round again.

Beryl the Methodist

I've had a lot of Beaker people ask me about our use of Beryl pottery. It's a strange thing to ask so I've been ignoring them or, where possible, throwing a nigh-on unbreakable saucer at them. But enough's enough. So here you go.
1) We use Beryl because it reminds me of my Methodist heritage. Whenever a new Methodist fellowship was founded, John Wesley used to send them a crateload of Beryl as a foundation present. 250 years later, most of it is still going.
2) Beryl is uniquely suited to drinking cheap instant coffee.
3) My great-aunt was called Beryl.
4) We've always drunk coffee out of Beryl cups and we're not going to stop now.
5) It's incredibly resilient (see (1) and (2), above).
6) What are you, some kind of heretic or something?
7) That the tea service at the Last Supper was in Beryl is a fact as indisputable as the Grail legend itself.
8) If the Beryl goes, I go.
9) There's loads of it around second-hand. Basically there's more on the market every time a church, nursing home or humanist association closes.
And in closing, I pass on this Methodist joke.
Q) How many Methodists does it take to change a light-bulb.
B) Depends how many Methodists are on the Light Bulb Committee. And how many are on the sub-committee they task with deciding whether the bulb needs changing. And the people on the sub-committee charged with doing the actual changing. Although you have to subtract all the people that on all all three committees - which may well be all of them.

Not Seriously Ministering

I'm a little exasperated with Hnaef. And the People Who've Retired Group are feeling quite let down.

I texted Hnaef yesterday to say that Charlii wouldn't be able to take the "PoWeR" Group (we call them that because it sounds quite dynamic, and it's better than the old name "Free Labour Source"). Charlii was due to take their Tea-Time Talk, but was unable to make it due to being in extensive therapy after her marathon stint as a squirrel during the Holiday Club season. The allergy to fake fur's not helped either, to be honest. But Hnaef turned up ten minutes late looking exhausted for the 5 o'clock meeting. And just claiming "I had a meeting in York" is hardly an excuse. The PoWeR group was most disappointed - after all, some of them had their tea to make.

After all the trouble we went to, to find him a new job title. He got all humpty about NSM - or "Not Supplying Much" because he said it had negative connotations and you can't be defined by a negative. So we changed it to SSM ("Some Support Maybe?") but there's no evidence that's made him work any harder.

He's over there now, doing the presentation he'd planned to do on the train yesterday. His office light was on when I went to bed last night as well. I asked him why he couldn't have been getting on with it during the evening, and he muttered something about "children". And he talks about that presentation like it was my fault. When I went to all the trouble and expense of phoning him to advise driving a hire car down yesterday afternoon to make the meeting. I went round just now to suggest he got himself a cup of coffee - and that he needed to get a better work-life balance, but he just looked at me in a kind of bleary way and then went back to his PC.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Tactical Substitution

Yes, I'm very unhappy with Malgwyn. Sulking away, just because I started her on the "pew". She wanted the starting role as 1st Acolyte, but I pick the team. And refusing to come on for Burton when that tea-light turned out to be too heavy for him - well, that's not I what expect from someone who used to be Chief Squirrel. Until we dropped her. Very unprofessional.

Anyway, it's a Service of Two Halves, and for the return fixture I'll be playing her in the "hole". That's the one we're going to stick her in up to her neck during the Celebration, not the position just behind the "front 2".

Lost in the Ether

This is a message for Catriona.

I can't leave any messages on your blog! This is the only way I can tell you.
I tried to send Burton Dasset to "that place full of Rangers and Celtic supporters", but I'm afraid he only got as far as Corby.

8 Good Links

The Alethiophile on high-speed muons, Relativity and scientific proof

A remarkable story from Anita

Entangled States on Standard Candles.  Keep reading, it might come...

Margaret does something random and devout, as usual

Darrel from Stuff Fundies Like with a great email

Suem on Losing My Religion

Phil Ritchie on atheism and comedy

Gurdur on atheists in foxholes

Feeding the Hand that Bites Him - or Something

I'd like to thank Steve for his contribution to our Great Evolution Debate. As I said in my own comments, I mostly agree with him. And as normal with Steve that means I agree with his science. Although I quail at the mental picture he comjured up of naked people waving straw men.

I disagree however with his assertion that I can't attack Dr Dawkins' attack on literalism and also literalism itself. That's exactly what I can do - it being my blog. And saying that Creationists are wrong is not yet a crime - unless it is, under one of those over-arching pieces of thought-crime legislation that Tony Blair invented. In which case I'll see Steve in court - where we'll both be in the dock.

No, I have every right to criticise Dr Dawkins for his own straw men - which I presume he did not create, but rather has evolved painstakingly from straw monkeys in his lab. The idea of a Creationist in every school is a McCarthyite invention of great ingenuity. But the positions of those fundamentalists within the churches who definitely exist are also there to be attacked. It's just the fundamentalists that hold these views aren't really off running the schools. But they do poison and polarise the debate - which makes it easy for middle-brow newspapers such as the Daily Mail. For the purposes of a nice easy characterisation, on one side there are Dr Dawkins, the EU, Human Rights lawyers, comedians, Health + Safety enforcers and New Labour. In the blue corner we have England, the King James Bible, old maids cycling to the Rose and Crown after Evensong, the Common Person, Biblical literalism and the Little Baby Jesus.

It's a view that gives Dr Dawkins media time when he attacks fundies. And it makes fundies appear like they represent the norm when they present their ideas as being what Jesus said - in that strange Gospel land where Jesus, despite being wholly human with a man's limitations, also has total knowledge of science and yet is oddly quiet on the existence of America.

It all gets complicated in reality when we have more shades than that in the whole of life. In this reality we can find that not every one who is anti-Gadaffi is therefore a peace-loving democrat. But nor are they all Al Qaeda sympathisers. Not all Christians are fundamentalists. Not all vicars are either gay, or women with dodgy taste in the colour of clerical shirtings. Not all blokes with beards smoke pipes. Not all IT people wear anoraks.Not all scientists are atheists. And not all atheists are good scientists. And Dr Dawkins can write perfectly good books such as Blind Watchmaker or Greatest Show on Earth while still writing preposterous name-dropping laziness and choir-preaching like God Delusion.

So I say a plague on all your houses. This is an Oasis of Fuzzy Thinking. Because reality is fuzzy.

Monday 26 September 2011

Another politically-correct sellout to Europe

We've been busy down at the Great House, taking up some of the old carpets in the pilgrims' suites. And when I say "we" - it's true. It can be hard work, supervising.

But when we took up one particularly old carpet I was astounded to discover a copy of a newspaper from 1752. I thought you might be interested.

Ye Dailie Maille
Ye 2 September 1752

In yet another craven cave-in to Europe, today ye Government have implemented ye Gregorian Calendar.

"It's ye political correctedness gone mad," one man said to ye Maille reporter. "We've been forced to adopt ye new calendar so we don't offend ye Catholics.

But ye Government defended ye decision to join ye "European Single Calendar". A spokesman told us, "It's important to move with ye times. And if ye times aren't ye same as ye times across ye Channel, we'll never be able to trade with ye continent. All ye boats will turn up at ye wrong time.

A member of ye UKIP, however, said that Britain should have ye ability to set its own dates, without ye interference from ye Central European Diary. "I can foresee a time when the whole calendar breaks up, and ye local governments once again set their own dates - or at least there will be ye two-speed Europe. And if ye Greeks ever join - well, they're centuries behind at the best of times." 

Science takes a turn for the Worse

Inspired by the kerfuffle that has broken out over evolution, and especially by the Archdruid's demand for a decent definition of "species", I decided that I would work hard to enlighten you, my dear readers, as to this area of scientific controversy and doubt.

I took as my starting point the definition of "species" that says it is a group of organisms that are all capable of breeding with each other. And I note in passing that the article that says the British wildcat is in danger of extinction because of cross-breeding with domestic cats, is on this definition inexact in calling the wildcat - it is a sub-species perhaps, or maybe even merely a "breed".

And to avoid a terminological inexactitude of my own, I decided to define the verb "breed" as "for organisms to combine genes in such a way that a mixture of their genes is passed on to descendants."

But I have hit on a problem now. Because on my definition, I am the same species as a virus. And not any longer the same species as Mrs Dasset, as she has made quite clear that she's not going in for any more DNA exchanges. I feel slightly queasy - which, oddly enough, is exactly what Mrs Dasset said last time I broached the subject. But when I feel better I will need to find some better definitions.

Muons in a half-shell?

I've been having to write some serious emails of apology since Young Keith got my comments on Evolution and Relativity the wrong way round.

He's made a real mess about the place, and drained all available energy sources with his Chelonocyclotron. And I've no idea where he even got the Giant Tortoises from, but I promise that once they're back down to non-relativistic speeds, they're going to the Galapagos.

End Times - this time with evidence

I know that, of late, some people have been linking:
a) the falling of objects (however man-made) from the sky
b) the (possible) problems with cause and effect that might arise from muon neutrinos' (experimentally unconfirmed) ability to break the speed of light;
with the End Times.

This, let me assure you, is bad science, sad theology and mad conjecture.

However, news has reached me that Fernando Torres scored a goal in a Premiership match over the weekend, so it's official. We're doomed. The End is Nigh. Run for the Hills.


OK. It's now less than 3 months till Christmas. So already the cries have begun. "Can we put the bling up now it's dark in the evenings?"

To which my answer is, as it always is, "no". Although on this occasion "no" can be interpreted as "not yet" - as at some point it will be late enough in the year for us to put the bling up.

For the time being I'd point out that the Weatherpeople say it's going to be an Indian summer. So please can all Beaker people set to chopping wood, and putting all loose objectsd away safely. We may not be certain when the gales and blizzards will strike but we can be sure they're just around the corner.

Sunday 25 September 2011

The Dangers of Graven Images

After prayer and consideration, I have decided. The Bogwulf Baptists are reverting to use of the Redemption Hymnal.

It was my own fault, suggesting that we moved towards the use of the laptop and the data projector. I had thought it would give us a more modern edge - although still firmly rooted in the First Century. But we had struggled with that old Overhead Projector for a long time, and we needed to move forwards. I thought.

But I have found that the use of a computer reduced our chances for spontaneity. In the "old days" it was possible, under the guidance of the Spirit, simply to change the running order of hymns. I would just say, "And now we'll have that old song - Hallelujah - and Roderick Chalfont, who has the the Gift of Overhead Projection, would only have to find the acetate for the correct song called Hallelujah. Sometimes he could go through nine or ten songs before he found the right one, but at least I was Spirit-lead, even if he wasn't. And neither, sometimes, was the organist when we found she couldn't actually play that version of Hallelujah.

But with the computer today, when I announce we were going to sing Hallelujah instead of the song I had previously chosen under the guidance of the Spirit, but which the Spirit had now changed His mind about - we then had to wait while Roderick searched through the directories on his computer to discover the right song. And while the songs I had initially - under the guidance of the Spirit - chosen were nicely formatted into Powerpoint, the song that I - I mean the Spirit - now chose was in a Word document. But that was not the great problem. Oh no, the Bogwulf Baptists are hardy folk, able to sing with spirit and devotion regardless of the file format of the song.

No. The problem was that, as Roderick went through his folders trying to find the right version of Hallelujah, we had a glimpse of the contents of the other folders on his PC. It turns out that Roderick and Mrs Chalfont have been putting other things on their PC which they maybe did not wish to have unexpectedly projected onto the wall of a Baptist chapel. It was funny though. I didn't realise that Ailsa was a traffic warden. In any case, Roderick has told me that he is changing his default folder view from "Large Thumbnails" to "List". And I am going back to the Redemption Hymnal. It may limit spontaneity, but it does not contain pictures.

Has Bean

Worshippers all over the country are outraged at Rowan Atkinson's recent comments about Church of England clergy. Those, that is, that haven't been thinking he's been Archbishop of Canterbury these last few years - after all, if he's been wearing a fake beard, wig and eye-brows and making deeply theological comments we can't understand, that would explain why we've not seen him on the telly much lately.

A Church Warden, Ivor Madeup-Name (132) said "It's an outrage, what this Edmund Blackadder has done. Accusing vicars of being smug, arrogant and conceited is clearly the job of the PCC. I will be writing to the Right Reverend Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells to see what he's going to be doing about it."

Mr Madeup-Name told me that his local vicar has one things in common with Rowan Atkinson, however. They were both last funny in 1997.

Darwin was - More-or-Less - Right

My post remarking that Richard Dawkins is right attracted quite a few comments. Although the roof of the Moot House now accountably has a number of items of headwear on it.

But one commentator suggests that whereas the people at Cern who found the superphotonic muon neutrinos are willing to put their findings up to inspection. Whereas if anyone dared suggest Darwinian evolution was wrong they'd be howled down. That the Theory of Evolution is in some way dogma.

And I'd like to start by recognising that it's the howling of fundamentalists on one side, and the cheesy dismantling of straw men on the other by Dr Dawkins, that give us this impression of a war between religion and science. The fundamentalists do it because they've invested too much on their version of Bible interpretation - their house of cards is only too likely to collapse. While Dr Dawkins presumably does it because he enjoys the adulation of spotty, anoraked earnest students and 2nd-rate or fading comedians. And for the money. And, of course, because he really does believe religious belief is dangerous.

But on the question of who is right about the science behind the Theory of Evolution - God is with Richard Dawkins. I base this on the statement by Jesus that "I am the Truth". And if Christ is the Truth then he as Logos - the organising and creating force behind the universe, the source and origin of Log-ic and rationality - is with Dawkins on the science.

Much play is made by some of it being "only a theory" of Evolution. Well, it's "Only a theory" of Relativity as well. But that doesn't stop some flat-earthers trying to hijack it into a proof - against all evidence and common sense, based on one naive reading of Holy Scripture - that the universe is actually remarkably young.

The Theory of Relativity does what all good scientific theories do. It explains observable facts and it enables us to make predictions which we can then construct experiments to test. And in general (and in Special.... ho, ho) it works. As I mentioned previously if someone tells you Einstein is wrong, your first step is to doubt your experiment.

Which is why, all joking about Higgs Bosons aside, the guys at Cern have done what they have done. They've said - "we appear to have found something remarkable here. Please can everyone look at it and prove us wrong? Ta ever so much."

But the Theory of Evolution is much the same. It's a theory which is as well-tested as to say - it's a fact. What Darwin gave us - not knowing about genes, not understanding the underlying physical causes of mutation - was a theory that fits the facts as they can be observed, and also enables us to make predictions that can be tested. As usual with these things we can have tweaks and even quite large changes and refinements - as General Relativity expands Special into the realms of gravity, and as Quantum Theory gives us new strangeness to the universe again - but the basic over-arching theory is sound.

In fact, and this may just be my view but I'm going with it, for me it's easier to imagine the Theory of Relativity being fundamentally re-assessed (as it will have to be if those neutrinos are really that quick) than that Evolution will be. Evolution at root isn't a physical theory - it can't be supplanted by a new constant, or a bigger atom-smasher or a surprising discovery that a universal constant changes over time. It's statistical. It's descriptive. And it works. If you read Dawkins's Greatest Show on Earth you will realise how and why.

Evolution is a scary thing. It challenges our picture of God. It makes you re-evaluate a lot of things. But then it should do. Because it's true.

Back to Church Sunday

Inspired by Back to Church Sunday we decided it would be a good idea to hold a Back to Moot House Sunday.

So we've made some good coffee. We've put up banners. We shoved some leaflets through doors. And we even invited some people along.

And some people even turned up. But now they're here we don't know what to do with them. So we've given them coffee. Thankfully we've cunningly coo-ordinated Back to Moot House Sunday with our Harvest Festival so at least they've some rude-looking veg. It's funny how Agnus only ever finds rude parsnips (not turnips, as the'acclaimed thespian Mr Rowan Atkinson thought) to donate to us. I'm sure The Prophet Malachi would Have Words.

And now a dilemma faces us. When can we turn to face the Moot House?  And why did we have to turn our backs on it anyway?

Saturday 24 September 2011

Richard Dawkins is Right

I've no idea how many schools really teach creationism, or want to. Richard Dawkins is, if nothing else, a relentless self-publicist so would probably campaign against it even if no schools were teaching it at all. When I was at St Agatha's School for the Slightly Unbalanced Children of Gentlefolk back around 1980, anyone trying to teach Creationism as a form of science would have been laughed out of court before they'd got as far as explaining how all the fossils were planted by the Dark One / were the skeletons of animals that died in the Flood. Someone did apparently manage to introduce a Creationist to a Christian Union meeting, but his theories regarding the speed of light slowing down were generally greeted with derision and rotten vegetables. Even the Christian Union at St Aggie's were a scary bunch.

It strikes me that if the churches of this country really want to get to grips with the Creation stories, they should do their best to stop the teaching of Creationism in churches. I know it's against Free Speech, but then we don't allow preachers to encourage the stoning of adulterers or claim that the wine in the New Testament was miraculously unfermented grape juice either, do we?

Actually - I've just quickly called Drayton Parslow. Turns out that he does claim that about the grape juice. But he says stoning is definitely illegal. Worryingly, he didn't say "wrong". Just "illegal".

But still, the reason teaching Creationism is wrong is because it does such an injustice to the Bible. Here in Genesis 1 we have a big story about an ordered Universe - a predictable Universe. A place where things work in line with rules. The light and the dark are separated, the lights are put in place, the sea is sea and the air is air and the animals walk and the fish swim and people are part of it. And it's all good. And God isn't a two-bit Babylonian god, making the earth out of bits of leftover other Gods. He's an ex-nihilo creator of order out of chaos. And if you think that last sentence was oxymoronic, you're right. And I don't care.

Then in Genesis 2-3 we have another big story - a dream of how things could be, where death isn't and God is just up the road and the man and the woman can live quiet lives doing useful things and then because humans are stupid and want their own way, things go wrong.

And in Genesis 4 we get that whole farmer and the rancher can be friends thing for the first time in history - the nomad against the pastoralist, the vegetarian against the meat-eater - Cain and Abel. But hatred has slunk in by now and things go wrong and we're into the world of blood feud - but also the world of technology and music and creativity.

And an understanding of genre means you can rend so much meaning out of these. There's wondering about the texts underlying - there's the pervasive "Younger versus Older Brother" motif that goes all the way through Genesis to the New Testament discussion of Jews and Gentiles depending how you read it. There's that stunning prophecy - especially on this day of Our Lady of Walsingham -

"And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

So why, with this great and fascinating patchwork of myth and beauty, prophecy and folklore, national beginnings and deep psychology - why would any fool reduce Gen 1 to being mere science, and Gen 2-4 to history? For goodness' sake - get a grip. Read scientific truth out of scientific things, and read moral and psychological and religious truth out of Genesis. And then struggle with it, because this isn't simple stuff and there's a lot of symbol and imagery in there - and you know how slippy they are. I hate to say Dawkins is right - and I'm sure, as I say, that he's just drama queening it up for polemic effect - but when he says we shouldn't teach Creationism in schools, he's right. But I'd go further. We shouldn't allow the teaching of Creationism in churches. We'd shouldn't allow it in RE - except for humorous and satirical reasons. We don't allow the theory of the Lost Tribes of Israel in history, we don't allow flat-earthers to give advice in Geography, and we don't teach the principles of alchemy in Chemistry. We mention them as being wrong, and move on. So with Creationism -  it's bad science and it's bad religion. And it's a dreadful way of approaching literature.

Fire from on High

We had a bit of a shock in the middle of the night. Hearing an almighty crash we assumed it was the satellite crashing into the courtyard. However rushing outside, we discovered it was just Young Keith coming back from the pub and walking into the dustbins. Hnaef, who was meant to be with him, got back about ten minutes later. He was swearing blind that a "mystic river" had risen up and surrounded him as he walked up the drive. But we retraced his steps and it turned out he'd just lost his way and fallen in the brook, same as normal.

But I'm still seething over NASA's nonchalant attitude to the whole thing.  One of their tweets last night was "everybody OK out there?", along with a reminder that any of their junk that landed in our back gardens was still their property - in direct contradiction of the International Convention on Finders-Keepers. Another tweet reassured Americans that at least they were safe, with any damage likely to occur safely in Canada. While they have now confirmed that UARS has definitely landed. They just don't know when. Or where.

You know, it strikes me that if someone walked around NASA headquarters, throwing ball-bearings at high speed randomly into offices, while shouting "good luck" - and reassuring their victims that no Canadians were likely to be hurt - the Americans might regard this as a crime.  But when NASA does this on a worldwide scale, it's just one of those things. You know - progress. And don't worry, the chances of this particular bit of junk killing anyone was only about one in 3,000.  So that's all right. And I'd like to reassure everyone that when Young Keith gets over his hangover, and starts firing old fridges over the Ridgmont Road with his newly-developed trebuchet this afternoon, the chances of him actually hitting anyone are really very small.

Our Lady of Walsingham

Beaker People push past the protesting Drayton Parslow to enter the Moot House. 
In order to simulate that OLW experience as accurately as possible, we have made the floor of the Moot House extra-squeaky this morning.

V. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.

R. And she conceived by the power of Holy Ghost.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.

R. Be it done unto me according to thy Word.

Hail Mary...

V. And the Word was made flesh.

R. And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary...

V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.

R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Glory be to the Father....

Beaker People may wander off, confused and yet strangely uplifted.

Friday 23 September 2011

Season of Nuts and Yellow Fitfulness

Liturgical dress: Red hi-viz and hard hats. 

A fire of sticks burns in the Moot House grate. A pot of acorn coffee is suspended over it. Beaker Folk trying this seasonal fare are unsurprised to discover that it tastes horrible.

Archdruid: As Mr Kipling once said - "Autumn! Season of fogs and mellow fruitfulness."

The Hot Beaker is poured out upon the Dry Ice. "Fog" seeps across the Moot House floor. 

All: Autumn don't half make your ankles cold.

The Beaker People process out to the Grove, over which a tethered hot air balloon is floating.
In the distance, a stray Martian tripod destroys the Spade Shed. Justin Hayward's "Forever Autumn" plays. The Watcher of the Skies keeps a look out for descending satellites.

Archdruid: Autumn - symbol of mortality.

Red Maple leaves are poured out of the balloon. Each Beaker Person picks up a leaf and contemplates their own mortality. We achieve a moment of rare genuine contemplation in a mad world.

Archdruid: Autumn - a symbol of fruitfulness.

Cooking apples are poured out of the balloon. We scatter as the symbols of ripe fruitfulness - some of them weighing 4 or 5 pounds - hurtle out of the sky and squidge on the grass around us. A few nasty bruises are sustained.

Archdruid: You're all OK. You can come back.

All: Not while that maniac's throwing apples at us.

Archdruid: All the apples have been cast.

Beaker People drag themselves back into the Grove.

Archdruid: Autumn - bringer of darkness

Baskets of blackberries are poured out of the balloon. Beaker people run screaming as their clothes are stained.

Marston: My best muslin!

All: You what?

Marston: Look, there's something I've been wanting to share with you all...

Marston's revelations are suspended as hazelnuts start pouring out of the balloon. The Grove resounds to the shouts of pain, as they must have done at so many Beaker festivals when  the Neolithic Folk gathered in the growing cold of the dying year to pray for the sun.

Archdruid: Within the valley of shadowless death they pray for thunder clouds and rain.

All: But to the multitude who stand in the rain, heaven is where the sun shines.

Archdruid: Come on, let's go to Costa in MK and get a cup of coffee that's got no acorns in it.

The Beaker Folk proceed to the Car Park.

Burton [from the balloon]: Hi, er - people. Can you get me down now? I don't know how this thing works. Hello - guys?

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn picks a fight with Herne the Hunter, alleging breach of copyright. A fair elf-maiden dances across the lawn. But nobody notices.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Faster than a speeding neutrino

Sadly I was still writing my own posting while Hnaef was posting his on women bishops moving faster than the speed of light. Which caused me momentarily to wonder whether this blog is also moving at the speed of light or possibly slightly faster.

But on reflection it's more likely the result of two people doing one thing each, at roughly the same time. A co-incidence. Or a "Moon-incidence", as we call it round here. I'd think it was spooky if it so clearly wasn't.

But I've given the matter some thought. The matter of speeding neutrinos, that is. Not the matter of women bishops. Which is, in my opinion, an open-and-shut case - possibly one of those cases that are larger on the inside, which bishops traditionally pack with a chasuble, mitre, alb, Bishop's Chaplain, Book of Ecclesiastical Misdemeanours and their crozier, and yet which fit in the glove compartment of a Fiat Panda. Anyway. Back to the case in point. Which is not the bishop's case. No. The speeding neutrinos.

So my first reaction is that the experimenters are almost certainly wrong. My old Chemistry tutor, a fine man and keen brain and good hockey player in his day, memorably put it like this - "Whenever somebody tells you Einstein was wrong, it's a good idea not to believe them."

And so how can I explain the problem? My first thought was that they just haven't allowed for the rotation of the earth - a bit like the time Marston Moretaine thought he'd time-travelled forward an hour, but he'd just gone to France on holiday. But the maths are a bit beyond me on this one, so my second theory is that CERN have put the story out to hide the Higgs Boson - or rather the lack of it, the Higgs Boson itself being very well hidden as it turns out. Need some kind of good-news story on fundamental physics, they may have thought. and breaking the speed of light is a bit more impressive than losing a fundamental particle. Then my third theory is that it's margin of error. Arrive 60 billionths of a second quicker than they expected - I reckon they're just not quick enough on the stopwatch.

Back on the subject of women bishops, however. I think the lack of women bishops in England today is proof of the non-existence of time-travelling neutrinos, or else proof that there will never be women bishops. As if in the future there are both women bishops and time travel, I reckon they'd time-travel the women bishops back to 1835 Oxford. That would put the cat among the pigeons for Forward in Faith. And might give John Henry Newman a whole new perspective on things.

R.E.M. ember

My heartlessness regarding the splitting up of REM has caused a storm of correspondence. And once again Mrs Trellis of North Hamptonshire writes:

Dear Rowan 
 I am not happy about REM. Why did God allow this to happen? 
Yours sincerely, Mrs Trellis.

Well Mrs Trellis - the theories about how and why God allows terrible things to happen are called "theodicy". Sometimes we suffer excruciatingly painful and inexplicable things for a long time. And then they break up, and things get better again.

If anyone needs support in their REM withdrawal, they can call our premium rate phone number, and Burton will tell them how miserable he is before accusing them of being fascists. It's not quite the same as the real thing but it makes me richer so I'm not complaining.

If you believe they put a man on the moon, you're almost certainly right.

Woman bishops and muon neutrinos

As will be apparent to everyone who has been keeping up with recent events, the Archdruid is very exercised by Higgs Bosons.  Rather specifically, in fact, by the lack of them.  But one thing that we do know exists is the speed of light.  And it's inviolable.  So tradition tells us, anyway.

Now, I'm not say that woman bishops are inviolable, or inviolate, or into violins, but, just as the speed of light is traditionally held to be unbreakable, so woman bishops were supposed to be impossible.

So, what happens when you begin to get evidence to suggest that woman bishops may, just may, exist?  You do what any good scientist does, of course, and see if your friends agree.  You send out to the diocesan synods, which are like your physicist peer communities, and ask if they can see them, as well.  And if it turns out that they do exist, then tradition may have got some things wrong, and everyone's going to have to reevaluate rather a lot of things that they thought they knew.

Episcopy != male closed clique.

Liturgy for the Last Day of Summer

Defiant Beaker Folk may wear bathing costumes and sun hats. The rest of us will wrap up warm.

Archdruid: It's a bit parky innit?

All:             I blame that global warming.

Archdruid: Did you see the loss of sea-ice in the Arctic?

All:              It's the penguins I feel sorry for...

We pause for a moment - partly for the fate of the penguins, but mostly for the Archdruid to lament the state of Geography teaching.

Archdruid: Oh the days were hot and the nights were long. I must have sung a million songs

All: But all the words just came out wrong on the last day of Summer.

We process in 4-2-3-1 formation to the conker trees. Those of a Julian nature may contemplate a conker and reflect that it is about the bignesse of a hazelnut. The rest may kick the leaves around in a moody kind of a way.

Archdruid: Do not go gentle into that good night.

All:             Fight the good fight with all your might.

We do the "Hedgehog Dance" to the Great Trilithon. It takes ages as the "Hedgehog Dance" mostly goes round in circles.

All:              We can't see the sunrise through the arch, Archdruid.

Archdruid:  That's partly because it's cloudy, partly because we're a bit late and this isn't a sunrise service - and mostly because you're facing the wrong way again.

We process three abreast to the Autumn corner of the Moot House. Ironically so-named as the Moot House is circular.

Archdruid: And then the rain came down And sparkled the signs of the Underground.

All:             And the darkness fell all over town On the last day of Summer.

All may exit, shivering.

("Last day of Summer" - Kirsty.
"Do not go gentle" - Dylan Thomas)

Wednesday 21 September 2011

REM Split - The Tributes

"I remember when Michael (Stipe) said to me, how are we going to do something different? And I said look at Mary and me - think of how we are - how happy and - to coin a word - shiny. And maybe get in that girl from "Rock Lobster". The rest is history." - Lord Jeffrey Archer

"97.4 MHz on FM. Also available on Medium wave." - Kenneth

"Until Michael (Stipe) and I got involved, the Middle East was a place of violence, suspicion and unease. Thank goodness the two of us - and, at times, Pope John Paul II, God and Barack (Obama) took some action." - Tony Blair

"I don't believe it" - the Man in the Moon

"I knew it was going to happen. I just haven't mentioned it till now." - Uri Geller

"It was a difficult chance. The ball was running away from the goal. And Frank (Lampard) was too old to trust in him." - Fernando Torres

"REM breaking up's not the end of the world as we know it. At least, not till October." - Harold Camping

"As Lala Ward told Michael Stipe, in an unfunny and unconvincing anecdote, losing your religion is quite a good idea all round." - Richard Dawkins, in The Money Delusion

"They made a billion billion billion billion pounds...." [collapses in numerical delirium] - Prof Brian Cox

Facebook has changed

Facebook has changed. From the complaints, I presume that world hunger is solved, the Middle East is at peace, Gadaffi is under lock and key, they've found the Higgs Boson and there is no-one out of work that doesn't want to be. As that's the only way that some minor changes to a fading social networking platform would be that relatively important.

The long and Winding Woad

I've been thinking about woad. Popularly grown in these parts in years gone by - particularly over the border in Hanslope where people from Husborne Crawley were prone to move. Probably for the clay.

Woad was a common colouring material for the Ancient Britons, according to some traditions. In particular the Celts under Woadicea (this was under the revised Latin pronunciation) did their best to drive the invaders out of these islands - pointing out, in the words of Pontius Pilate, that all woads lead to Rome. Although, if you're out walking the footpaths in the countryside between Grafton Regis and Northampton, all roams lead to Roade.

But how did the Ancient British People really use the stuff? And if you activated the dye by weeing on it, as the woad page suggests, would you really want to rub it on your face to make yourself scary? Indeed this page suggests that other dyes may have been used, or it may have been for tattooing rather than a kind of splash-it-all-over woad. In which case maybe we're on the woad to nowhere.

Of course, if my puns have seriously annoyed you and my lack of respect for traditional myths has left you mourning your lost fantasy world of the pre-Roman British Isles, I can only ask you to calm down. It's really not very helpful, is woad rage.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Lost in translation

It serves me right for attempting such dishonesty, but Young Keith has made me seem a fool.

It was the Beaker Quiz this evening and I had done rather well on my specialist subjects - real ale, railways and adding up. But saints are not my greatest area of expertise. Still, with just the "patron saints" round to go, I was level first. And Young Keith appeared to be on my side when, seeing me struggling with one of the questions, he hissed an answer at me.

What a fool I am. It turns out that, although St Anthony of Padua is indeed the Patron Saint of Lost Things - he was not martyred by being pushed down the back of a sofa.

Quick TV Programme Joke

Good news. Digging around in the contents of an old Apple Mac, Young Keith has discovered a lost script from Douglas Adams. In this proposed TV series, a cook from Barrow in Furness discovers that his friend is from a far-away place populated by odd creatures who speak with an incomprehensible language. Sunderland. It was going to be called the Hairy Bikers' Guide to the Galaxy.

Times and Seasons

Can I just address all those Beaker People who are planning, it being the 21st September tomorrow,  for the Solsticial Festival of Autumnal Balance.

It's all rather lovely. The giant pile of leaves for kicking through, the Cosy Corner with the chiminea, the Hedgehog Nutrition Centre where the Wodewose enables us to feed up the hedgehogs before their big sleep (and charges us for the privilege - they learn quick, these mythical wildmen). And the giant orrery with which Burton is planning to bore us silly as he explains - yet again - how the equinoxes and solstices work.

Now there are many that object to us marking these times of the year. Times and seasons, they say - falling back into pagan or ancient Jewish ways. To which I say "phooey". Christmas at Winter Solstice, St John's at Summer Solstice, Easter (based on Passover) set to the Sunday after the Full Moon on or after the Spring Equinox - how Beaker is that? And Michaelmas - that other annual celebration of defeating the powers of evil - at Autumn Equinox. So we're going to enjoy our Autumnal Equinox and look forward to the dying of the light.

But not tomorrow. You've all jumped the gun. Can you put everything back - it's not Equinox till Friday. We've got two days of summer left. Honest. So break out the bathing costumes and try to catch those rays.

The irony of Coalition

After telling us for apparently centuries that coalitions are a good thing, I hear some Liberal Democrats are complaining that they're having to support some things they didn't campaign for, or don't like.

Well, yes. That's how it works, of course. But cheer up, Lib Dems - thanks to our electoral system you may not have to suffer this way after the next election.

Monday 19 September 2011

Strawberry flavoured positrons?

Pastor in Valle produces a finely-written and educated blog on all things Catholic and quite religiously conservative. He also occasionally very kindly links to this blog. And his link yesterday drew more comments than my original post - albeit two of them were mine. Add to this Steve's comments on my original posting, and we've got a strong reaction in favour of doing fundamental research into physics. Which in principle I agree with. It's just the massive price-tag at the LHC that does my head in. I mean, for £3Bn you could buy 60 Fernando Torreses. And let's face it, they would be about as much use.

It's been pointed out to me a couple of times recently that an experiment is not a failure just because it doesn't have the expected results - indeed it could be argued that it is more of a success for being unexpected. Although that doesn't go for Robbie Williams's attempt to crack America, obviously. But in a spirit of investigation, I would like to repeat the hypothesis and offer I made on the Valle Adurni blog. I have this theory that positrons, collected in large enough amounts, taste of strawberries. And if someone gives me a couple of billion quid, I will be only too happy to test my experiment in an exotic location of my choice. If I am proven wrong, I will rejoice that we've proved antimatter doesn't taste of strawberries, and also will rejoice in the knock-on benefits from the project. Not scientific progress along the dodgy lines of the Apollo mission inventing non-stick saucepans - they didn't even have a cooker.  No, I'm thinking more of the cashflow benefits of that couple of billion "resting in my account".

BBC "Bad Science" Team and the Earthquake Pig

The BBC reports on the pig that survived an earthquake.

Now in the interests of some kind of charity I'm going to assume that this reporter is either a China affairs expert or the one they send to cover human affairs - sorry, porcine affairs stories. I'm going to assume they're an Arts graduate in short.

It's the little things that do it for me - the remark that the cloning was a success even though the pig was 5 years old and castrated.

Well, yes. This reporter either doesn't understand the concepts of cloning, or possibly those of castration. I think the point is that the cloning took place because of, rather than despite, the castration.

The reporter then goes on to tell us that the piglets bear a "striiking resemblance" to their dad. Yes. Striking, eh? Surely the only "striking" resemblance between two genetically identical organisms is a very poor resemblance.

Believe me, it's not that I'm being unkind. It's just that next week the same reporter could be trying to explain issues in human reproductive ethics to us. And that really scares me.

Liturgy for International Talk Like a Pirate Day 2011

Archdruid: Arrr!
All: Shiver me timbers!

Archdruid: Arrr!
All: Shiver me timbers!

[Continues for a while]

Ye Confession

Archdruids: Be ye all dirty bilge-rats, landlubbers and scurvy dogs fit only for the yaaard aaarm?

All: That we be, that we be.

Archdruid: And do 'ee blame that Original Sin?

All: That we do, that we do.

Archdruid: Then keel haul the lot of ye, if anyone's gonna have merrrcy on 'ee it won't be me.

All: Avast.

Hymn: Yo ho, yo ho, a reformed sinner's life for me.

Reading: Psalm 107:23-27

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.
For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end.

All: Ahoy! That do sound like us, that we be. I mean, that we aaare!


Archdruid: Ahoy, me hearties!

All: Avast, landlubber!

Archdruid: Ahoy, me hearties!

All: Avast, landlubber!

[Continues long into the night]

Sunday 18 September 2011

Jeremy Hadron Hits the Nail on the Head

An interesting and, I think, enlightening comment from Jeremy Hardy on this week's news quiz (this link will expire on 23 September).

Regarding the total failure of the Large Hadron Collider to find any Higgs Bosons (my theory being that it's a bit too small for them to see) Jeremy Hardy remarks that it's this kind of thing which causes a higher proportion of physicists to believe in God and therefore incidentally makes physics not a "real science". After all, he remarks, we know chemistry works because we've got Boots. Although I suspect he's ignoring the existence of the Boots homoeopathic range.   But Jeremy Hardy rightly points out that physicists eventually have that end point in their research. At the Big Bang - or even if they work out what was before it - at the Higgs Boson - or anything smaller - or whatever they decide may exist instead of it to give us all mass - at some point they're going to have to shrug their shoulders and say "maybe God did it." Maybe not Brian Cox, of course - who seems to believe in an alternative higher being. And that has certainly been my experience.

The proper scientists  I've known - physicists, theoretical chemists, even biochemists - seemed to have average or even above-average levels of religious belief. Not fundie 6-day-creation religion, because by definition these people can think clearly. But they certainly often have faith. Whereas the soft-scientists and almost-scientists - zoologists, economists, computer scientists - they don't. And I suspect it comes down to your priorities. Physicists and theoretical chemists are interested in truth and facts and mad stuff like that. Whereas zoologists are into fluffy bunnies, economists think human beings can actually control this world in some meaningful way and computer scientists just got into it because they thought it was a way to meet girls.

If the particle physicists have really spent about £3Bn of our money - that's 3-followed-by-11-zeroes pence, as Brian Cox would tell us - in an attempt to find something that doesn't exist, that's got to be an act of faith that outstrips the Oxford Martyrs, Christopher Columbus trying to find the Indies by sailing west, and even people tuning into Big Brother thinking it might be better this year. And what a waste of money - grief, £3Bn could have bailed Greece out for nearly a fortnight. But maybe, as Prof Brian would tell us, the basket-case Euro-zone countries will always be with us. Whereas the Large Hadron Collider will be quietly re-opened as a fairground ride in two years' time, and we'll forget what it was ever meant to be for.

Anniversary of the Battle of Chrysopolis (324)

Archdruid Eileen: Today we remember the Battle of Chrysopolis - fought between Constantine and his brother-in-law and colleague Licinius. This is a solemn moment as we remember that these two rulers jointly issued the Edict of Milan. That they were joined by bonds of kinship. That when the Roman Empire could have been organising to protect itself, it was torn asunder by ambition once again. That later, Constantine betrayed his solemn oath by having Licinius - and subsequently, Licinius's son, Constantine's own nephew - executed. That despite following the Prince of Peace, Constantine was a man of war. That..... what's that noise?

Beaker Folk: You're not Caesar, you're not Caesar, you're not Caesar anymore.

Other Beaker Folk: Licinius when you're winning - you're only Licinius when you're winning.

Archdruid: Oh forget it. Let the mayhem begin.

Saturday 17 September 2011

Best Practice in Worship Focus Use

The use of the worship focus can be very important. We know that historically crosses, crucifixes, icons and other objects have been used to direct the attention of congregations and educate them - and consider the triptychs of mediaeval religious art. And in Beaker tradition we find it important that people know the right way to look. Freed as I now am, dear Readers, from the task of eavesdropping on the Beaker People, I have been able to do some serious research into the way in which different traditions can enable people to focus during worship.

In this first example, there is no argument about who is the focus of the congregation's attention. Apart from A and B, who are left over from my researches into worship furniture arrangements.

In this second example, the preacher has been given a better sense of priorities.

If the example below fits in with your beliefs - where else could you possibly focus?

Here, all extraneous objects of interest have been removed, enabling the congregation to put its attention, under divine guidance, where it is most important.

A typical Beaker arrangement - in a circle so we all get the sense of sharing. A and B really should get a room. While "ADE", whoever that is, is quite annoyed about the attention being paid to K (Kylie, or, as it may be, Kayleigh). Likewise, D is wondering what C finds so interesting in E.

A perfect Beaker worship setting. All eyes are on the triad of tea lights - soothing the spirits and elevating their souls.

25 Most-spoken phrases in the Beaker Community

Congratulations to Burton, who broke all the rules on privacy and data protection to eavesdrop surreptitiously on the entire community for a month. He was, however doing it in the interests of science. In particular, he was trying to identify whether the most spoken sentences and phrases were, as I had always suspected, "just remind me who I am again" and "I like biscuits.".

Burton went to a lot of trouble to find these phrases out. In his zeal to get hold of words not just spoken in the communal worship, but also those uttered out in the grounds, and those whispered in the dark that I want to shout from the rooftops, he has fallen off a lot of drainpipes and ladders - not to mention fallen out of several trees. He on one occasion had to spend twenty minutes submerged under the water in Galadriel's bath, breathing through a drinking straw. At least, he said that was part of the research. I can't help noticing that Galadriel reported him before the research officially started.

Anyway, he's spent the last week with a load of speech analysis software and a spreadsheet, and the results are finally in. And so the favourite Beaker phrases are as follows:

25 - "Those songs were all a bit new - didn't know any of them."

24 - "I like gin."

23 - "Pouring out of Beakers again?"

22 - "That music was so old-fashioned."

21 - "Don't worry - she's bound to retire one day"

20 - "Oh, s/he is a lovely person. But...."

19 - "Well, I thought she could have mentioned God at least once. It was a sermon, after all."

18 - "10p? Oh, I forgot my tea money again."

17 - "No, I've totally forgotten what the sermon was about again. Where's the biscuits?"

16 - "That music group was too loud this morning."

15 - "To be honest, I don't think I'm really growing here. I'm not taking anything out of the worship. Mind you, that was true of the last seven fellowships I belonged to. If I could only find something in common..."

14 - "I've a medical problem with kneeling. It hurts my dignity."

13 - "You can call it a cassock-alb. It still looks like a bloke in a frock to me."

12 - "Couldn't hear the music this morning. Wish they'd turn it up"

11 - "What's all this with tea lights?"

10 - "What did he think he was trying to say there?"

9 - "Yes, the drums always sound better if the drummer's playing outside.

8 - "I wonder if I put the dinner on?"

7 - "What has the worship leader done with her hair?"

6 - "I've been terribly blessed today in the worship. I was sitting next to Kayleigh."

5 - "I only come here for the coffee, to be honest."

4 - "Why did the teenage guitarist look so moody?"

3 - "It's not so much that you're using a giant thermometer to show the progress of the building fund. It's more - if the scale starts at Absolute Zero you may be sending out a message of desperation."

2 - "No, it's not just a physical thing. I really like you on a... um... spiritual level."

1 - "Yes, I agree that she may be a paranoid schizophrenic with psychopathic tendencies. But you've got to admit she's a strong leader."

Friday 16 September 2011

Quick Scandinavian Heretic Joke

Very odd evening after the apple business, as well. Fancy this evening's Filling up of Beakers being invaded by a bunch of Scandinavian cybernetic modalists.

I never could understand Swedenborgians.

The Story of the Workers in the Orchard

So I've had some whingeing from the Apple-Picking Detail.

Some people have been out picking apples in the Orchard since first light this morning. And their backs are aching - and so are some of their heads, where shaking the trees with insufficient bonce-protection resulted in bruises, contusions and concussion.

But some people went out at lunchtime, and only picked until it got too dark to dodge the falling apples.

And others nipped out after work, and picked a few apples in their spare time.

And now I've got complaints because you were all treated the same.

Well what other than "nothing" were you all expecting to receive? For goodness' sake; what do you think this is, a parable?


So we struggled through to the end of Churchwood last night. The series about the religious community led by the strangely androgynous Revd 'Jack' Harkness. Who defies conventionality by not sleeping with anybody.

This latest series, "No-miracles Day", was a little odd though. How could there be a church where no-one was ever saved? Even if, for regions of diversity and economics, it was in Wales? Was it linked to Revd Jack's refusal to preach the Gospel on the grounds that it might be offensive to people who didn't believe it, or who belonged to other religions? And what strange power was it that caused Revd Jack's sermons apparently to go on forever?

I'm afraid by the end I was just hoping for something - anything to happen. Even if it was an invasion by those arch-villains from the spin-off, Revd Who? I quite like those Calvinist Daleks, with their blood-curdling cry "Predestinate! Predestinate!"

So I won't be tuning into the next series of Churchwood. But the actor who plays Revd Jack seems to be everywhere at the moment. Next week he's on Strictly Presbyterian. I think I'll give it a miss.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Two Suns in the Sunset

Fascinating story of the planet Kepler-16b as it orbits its two suns. compares it to Tatooine, although it is not a desert planet. But I remember those other planets that orbited multiple stars in their different ways - Helliconia and, especially, Magrathea:

"Night's falling," he said. "Look robot, the stars are coming out."
From the heart of a dark nebula it is possible to see very few stars, and only very faintly, but they were there to be seen. The robot obediently looked at them, then looked back.
"I know," he said. "Wretched isn't it?"
"But that sunset! I've never seen anything like it in my wildest dreams ... the two suns! It was like mountains of fire boiling into space."
"I've seen it," said Marvin. "It's rubbish."
"We only ever had the one sun at home," persevered Arthur, "I came from a planet called Earth you know."
"I know," said Marvin, "you keep going on about it. It sounds awful."
"Ah no, it was a beautiful place."
"Did it have oceans?"
"Oh yes," said Arthur with a sigh, "great wide rolling blue oceans..."
"Can't bear oceans," said Marvin.

The Bible has no Contents Page

Just a thought, while we're still in the midst of thinking about Biblical inspiration and interpretation, as developed again by Doug - the Bible has no contents page. Yes, I know your Bible does. But the Bible doesn't. However we decide what's in it, and what's out of it, there's no Spirit-breathed contents page that must be infallible. No definitive list of Bible books in the Bible. And no note at the end of Revelation to say "there are the other 65 (or, as it may be, 70-odd) books after which no-one can add any more". Wherever the list and order of books came from, it's not the Bible. No, really. It's not.

All work and no play makes Jack(ie) a dull parent

I have been pondering the time we give to our children. Not mine, obviously. Those belonging to other people. People who've not had to have their own children quietly adopted at an early age in an attempt to break the long run of hay-baler accidents and early inheritances.

Although I may have just said too much. Just imagine the second half of that last paragraph was hypothetical.

No, I'm talking about real children in real families. Families where kids are simultaneously held up as the only things that matter in life, and then given too little time.

Time is a genuinely limited resource with children. They get to 18 or thereabouts and they're off to university, or out into the big world - leaving behind a cupboard full of electronic toys they played with once and a pet they decided they wanted at some stage - and that's it. If you're lucky they'll nip back once a fortnight and Christmas (although if you're really unlucky they'll turn up with a load of laundry and a broken relationship and a request to move back into what you've just taken to calling "the Study"). And if you're really, really unlucky, the pet they left behind is a wolf-hound with halitosis.

But that just-short-of-two-decades is when a whole new life and personality is formed. It's an amazing time. And it's a shame if you missed it because you were at work from before getting-up time till after bedtime. Sure, some have to work long hours to make ends meet. But if those extra hours are so you can have a slightly newer car in the garage - or because you quite liked risking the stress-related breakdown because you always wanted to be CEO - then think about what you're doing. What does it profit a (wo)man if (s)he gains the whole world - but loses the sight of a childhood? You can always wait till the kids go out to work and save the nervous breakdown till then.

And it's not just work. This could be a hobby doing this, eating your time - or the squash club - or church life. Especially church life. Churches can swallow so much time. Not just the regular worship, that you all might go to as a family. But the evening groups. The music group practices. The outreach committees. The parenting courses. The Ministry Teams. The Deanery Synods and Ecumenical Groups and the sub-committees and the events planning.

Note that I'm not talking about God here - God's probably stayed at home with the kids, while you're spending an evening at the Property Committee discussing what voltage the new light bulb should be.

And you can't tell me the pastor's always there and expects "commitment" in church members. While you were still at work, the pastor was able to use the benefits of flexible time to pick up the kids from school and cook them a lovely spaghetti bolognaise. A bit like the one you bolted on your way in from work, in the ten minutes before you rushed out to Beaker Folk Together in Barnet to plan the new 17-week discipleship course "making better Christians". While the people you have the most responsibility for helping to become Christians are at home. Watching Simpsons. And thinking it doesn't reflect real life. Because Homer has his work-life-home-pub-church balance right, and spends time with his kids. And the Simpson kids don't scream when their dad comes home because they think he may be a burglar.

So I don't know where I've gone to with this. Except to say - if you can - spend more time with your children. Not "quality" time. "More" time. Except the Beaker parents, of course. You can bring Beaker kids to all Beaker events. As long as they play quietly with the antiquated and rather grubby dolls in the Kids' Holding Pen. If they won't we'd rather they stayed at home.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

No victims

I'm once again struck by the power of a Kirsty MacColl lyric. It happens a lot, and on this occasion it's that anthem to not being oppressed, "No Victims".
But I'm not tearing my heart out for you, dear
And when you wake up I won't even be here
Sod all your funny little ways
They don't make me laugh these days, anymore.
It's a story of sad realisation, sure. Not the prince-and-princess story we expect. Not a happy ever after, not a tale of perfect fidelity in a life-long relationship. But as an alternative to oppression and the-little-womanness, it'll do. We can't get itchy at every imperfect relationship - because that would mean every relationship we have with another, imperfect human being. But as a story of awakening - of not accepting a position of submission and second-best. You may not like it - I think it's a sign of hope.

Saved in Translation

Yesterday's merry japes in the Spanish tongue have brought me back to Doug Chaplin's comments regarding the translation of the words of and stories about Jesus into Greek - or, to put it another way, the writing of the Gospels.

The scriptural basis of the Christian faith lives primarily in translation. We don't have Our Lord's words as he originally spoke them because the Gospels are not in his native tongue of Aramaic. Which makes any claim to be using the "originals" very nuanced when we go to our Greek New Testaments and try to drag the beauty of John's Gospel out of them.

But it's not even that simple. Because if we are reading Jesus quoting Old Testament scripture, we have to bear in mind that the Old Testament that the early Church tended to use was the Septuagint - a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Common Greek.

And so we have passages where Jesus - an Aramaic-speaking Jew, presumably - is quoted (in Greek) referring to passages in the Hebrew Bible, but the Bible he is quoted using is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible - presumably (and this is presumably, I realise - I have no way of proving this) a version he didn't use. It's as if I wrote a life of Spurgeon, and wherever he quoted Scripture I subbed in the words from the Douai-Rheims Bible.

I'm assuming here that this is what happened -  and that this page is wrong when it argues, from Jesus' quoted words in the Bible, that he used the Septuagint.

If I were Drayton, and set store by Biblical inerrancy, I could despair at this point.

But the evidence, thankfully, is that I'm not Drayton. And I will rejoice that the Spirit takes all that linguistic mess and confusion and, through yet another translation, adds another layer of nuance. Or two, if you read the NIV where the Bible has been translated into Evangelical, or the Revised English, where passages appear to have been translated into Liberal. And I could go on.

And I will rejoice that God can get in on the act to the degree that he can take the Hebrew of Isa 7:14-16 and actually translate that into a genuine miracle.

A glory of our faith, it seems to me, is that through the competing narratives of the Bible stories and the scope for flexibility and imprecision that the story of the words entails, the work of Spirit and man or woman in interpretation goes on. We share a belief that can morph into a thousand expressions of life. And rather than regret that, I'm going to celebrate it.

Now I'm off to pour out some beakers. We're reckoning the wind's dropped off enough we can hold the ceremony outside again today - which is a great relief. Young Keith is busy installing the stations for the Spirituality of Robotics in the Moot House and I'm not convinced that one of those robots isn't a People-mincing machine. One of the Sirius Cybernetics Corps' less successful GPPs.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Todo se ha ido tranquilo por allá

Phil comments on the problem that Fernando Torres has had with translation - ie that when he was trying to say "given a bit of patience I'm sure my run of poor form will come to an end - after all look at the quality of the people behind me", it came out as "If you put a white beard on Frank Lampard he'd be a dead ringer for Father Christmas, Terry's always too tired from extra-curricular activities to limp any faster than an asthmatic snail and the rest of them, frankly, are well past it".

But had El Niño really said what he has been reported as saying, he would only be proving what we all knew - that there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who blame others when they are at fault themselves, and those who blame themselves no matter who's at fault. It's a simple psychological fact that, by blaming his team mates, Nando would be preserving his self-belief until he started scoring goals again. It may not be a spiritually good idea, but it does wonders for your self-respect. Although it may mitigate against ever getting better.

Still, good luck, Fernando, I'm sure things will get better,  Or, as they say in Spain, "Él no podía golpear las nalgas de una vaca con un banjo".

Tweeting during Sermons

Maybe a bit late to the party, but I've been reading the blog by Vicky Beeching regarding the use of social media in Church/Moot House/Religious Conference with a Groovy Hashtag (#RCGH11).

Now I'm as hip as the next person when it comes to technology. Especially if I'm sitting next to Marston Moretaine, who thinks that he hears "voices" when it's just the Archers on the radio. Whereas my family were among the first to get into 8-track cassettes, Betamax videos, Segways and Sinclair C5s. And I'm really looking forward to this Google+ thing taking off.

And of course Hnaef is even more technically minded than I am, with his Android tablet (although I really can't see how he's going to get that down, no matter how much water he takes it with). But I still thought overdid it during last night's sermon. He must have sent out thirty tweets musing on whether the Nativity of Richard Gatling was a suitable celebration for a peacable kingdom like ours, updated Facebook with exciting statuses like "is in the Moot House", "likes Messiaen" and "wishes Cafe Church had decent coffee". Uploaded some rather tasteful images of the tea lights and pebbles onto yfrog.  And wondered whether anyone would ever accept his invitations to join him on LinkedIn.

Which would, I suggest, have collectively been a little obsessive at the best of times - and very distracting for him. But we were all waiting for him to finish preaching. Three hours that sermon took. We didn't "like" him after that.

Monday 12 September 2011

Sacred Kites

I think Marston really misunderstood this one. The minute the wind got up he told us about the tradition in Pakistan of flying killer kites, and set off out with a roll of wire, 30 square feet of canvas and a load of 2x2. Said when we saw the monster kite hovering 100 feet in the air we'd marvel at the Aeolian wonder of it all, as the wind moved it where it would.

He said that as a means of inculcating primeval awe, and making us one with the elements, this was going to be a real winner.

Anyway. I'm glad to say he seems to have missed Luton and Cranfield airspace, but if anyone sees 16 stone of wally flying over the Stewartby area, can you let us know? I'd say it's cos we like him, but the truth is he's got the key to the Beaker Bar in his pocket.

Succession Planning

This morning a pericope floats round my head:

Woe is me! For I have become like one who, after the summer fruit has been gathered, after the vintage has been gleaned, finds no cluster to eat; there is no first-ripe fig for which I hunger.

I've no idea what it means, but certainly all the figs blew down in the night, and I don't fancy taking on the Killer Wasps who have put their black-and-yellow flag under the tree and claimed the land for Good Queen Wasptoria.

So instead I've been investigating the source of the rumours that I'm planning to step down next year. And when I say 'planning' the rumours seem to mean 'going to be forced into'.
I've heard that some are saying I should make way for "a taller druid", whatever that means. Apparently in these troubled times we need somebody posher, with a more liberal attitude to - well, frankly to everything. And if we are going to continue to see assemblies 'of a broadly Beaker nature' in some of of our local schools, it is suggested, we need someone who actually believes in assemblies.

I've no idea who's been putting these ideas around on Beaker Internet forums, as clevely he is using a pseudonym. Well, don't worry, 'Hafen', I will work it out.

Need I do more than point out the parallel with Mr Blair? After three centuries of ruinous wars, self aggrandisment and passing endless laws so that his lawyer wife could make more money, Tony Blair was so disliked that we encouraged Gordon Brown to plot against him. However Tony took the hint and went off to become the Supreme Leader of the World's Religions and, having the right track record, to bring peace to the Middle East. And then we found we had Gordon, micro-manager of financial insanity, distributor of cheap gold and Scourge of Bigots.

I know you're all wondering where Gordon is these days, and I can tell you that he's in a good place. Occasionally he still throws phones at us when he thinks "Ed" is out to get him. But mostly he just sits in the Peaceful Room, contemplating a tea light and moving the budgets that he still believes he controls around. It's bad news for Social Services in Gordon's world this week , I can tell you.

But you see the pattern. When Tony left we got Gordon. When Maggie was knifed we got - you know - that bloke. When Solomon went they got Rehoboam. Better the devil you know, as Gadaffi maybe should have suggested.

Anyway, enough of the rumour-mongering. Remember that the one who wields the knife never wears the mitre. I mean crown. And we religious types have better things to do than be ambitious. Like pray and do good things.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Sum enchanted evening

I've just been enjoying terrifying Hnaef. If there's a one in 60 chance of being hit each day by this satellite, I told him, then surely that's only one in 30 during the night-time? As clearly the satellite won't crash to earth in day light as it's a space object - and space things only come out at night.

In fact, as I pointed out, he's lucky we're still the sunny side of the Equinox. As there's more night than day after that, and so more chance of the satellite falling.

You see, this is why it was so important to me to get Burton in as a proper Financial Accountant. When Hnaef was Treasurer, nothing ever added up - and not in a good way. It was my own fault for misunderstanding his qualifications - when he told me he was good at Numbers I thought he meant he was qualified in Maths. Not that he was referring to his specialism in Old Testament studies.

Satellite statistics

The Archdruid mentioned last night that there's a chance of a satellite falling on our heads. In Burton's absence (he was off counting the frequency of number plates containing the characters "DU11" or something), I took it upon myself to do some research, and it turns out that there's a 1 in 3200 chance that it'll fall on someone's head between now and the end of October.

I got to thinking: what if that someone is me? 1 in 3200 sounds small, but I've only got one me, and I'm rather fond of it. And what would the impact of my loss be on the Community? Apart from a ruddy great hole in the Moot House roof, obviously.

And then I thought some more. And did more calculations. And given that there are, by my reckoning, 51 days left, including today but excluding Sundays (I don't know much about theodicy, but would God allow such an accident on His Own day? Surely not), between now and the end of October, there's a 1 in 62 chance of my getting hit on any particular day. And that's about the same as the fatality rate I found on the Interweb  bring quoted for BASE jumping. Which, I think we can agree, is pretty scary.

I mentioned this to Mrs Hnaef, and, for some reason, she's currently trying to buy me a parachute on Amazon. If only I could get her to take these issues seriously.

Friday 9 September 2011

A scarily precise satellite

We've heard the warning now. The Telegraph tells us that a satellite is falling from the sky. In a bizarre headline they tell us that it's a £468 million satellite. That's scarily precise for a falling satellite. Why would cost matter when a satellite fell on your head? You wouldn't think, "that's a £200 bike that just ran into me". To be honest, its six ton weight strikes me as far more relevant than its cost.

"Yellow" alert of weather forecasters talking tripe

It's the Weather People's  latest technique for getting in the news.

In the old days they'd issue a forecast based on their computer model of it always being hotter than yesterday, and say we'd have barbecue summers, tropical heatwaves in July, Indian summers and lager winters. But they were always wrong, and deservedly laughed to shame.

So now they have introduced the concept of a "Yellow alert". I'm guessing a yellow weather alert is two down from red, and one up from green. Perhaps with bronze alert and primrose alert available for those tricky not-quite-so-clear alerts.

Far as I can tell, "yellow alert" means that they don't think anything serious is going to happen, but they've not been in the news for a week or two. It has the great advantage that, if nothing happens, they can say "it wasn't a specific warning - just a yellow alert".

Now I reckon that we have three tends that can conveniently come together here. One is that nobody believes the Met Office any more, because they are, by and large, pants. Another is that, despite that first point, everybody has a desperate urge to hear scary weather stories. Aand the third is that the Government wants to save and/or make some money. So I suggest, bringing these three threads together, that the Government sell the Met Office to Sky Sports. The taxpayers make some money, the Met Office can talk even greater tripe - along with Geoff from the Football programmers saying "Lucky for Total Network Solutions they won 2-0 today over Cefn Druids - especially with that plague of frogs forecast" and we all feel like the world is more exciting than in fact it is. Then on the terrestrial channels, as they were once known, we can replace the pointless, fake-excitement-generating weather people with people's nans, who can just appear on the screen wearing headscarfs and pac-a-macs and say "It's September. It might rain" or - as it might be in Husborne Crawley- "Looks black over Leighton".

Just one thought though - when your local weather people issue a "Yellow alert of rain", do you think what I think? Yes, thought so. Ugh.

Ritual Food Friday

Your know, normally I prefer to work and study quietly in my own office. But Friday afternoon is different. Then, Hnaef and I like to pick up our laptops and walk - we like to quit our offices (which are, of course, hierarchical and so patriarchal and therefore bad symbols of oppression) and "hot desk" into the Open Plan.

The "Open Plan" is the area about half the size of my office, wherein work Burton, Jenni the Community secretary, Barb the COO of Mrs Whimsey's Doilies plc and of course Charlii. Ever alert to such issues, Charlii knows that  if there's anything confidential to discuss in a pastoral role, she should ensure her visitors speak quietly. Especially this week, when she's doing a cut-rate special for counselling people with unusual and embarrassing urges.

But on Fridays, the lower-ranking people of the Open Plan have a ritual almost religious in its intensity. They bring in stuff. Doughnuts, cheese straws, chocolate, tortilla chips - every low-value, high-calorie food you can imagine. All "because it's Friday". So it would be churlish not to join in. Or "eat free stuff", to put it another way. Good grief, it's barely 5 o'clock and I've eaten six custard doughnuts already.

Obviously, now we're full of cheap calories we'll be off back to our offices. Give the lower ranks too much white sugar and they become ever so noisy. And Marston's just come in to "share" his mental-image problem with Charlii. And frankly I'm prepared to wait for the book on that one.

Enya and Mary

I've received a letter from a Revd T.R.Ellis of North Wales. She writes:

Dear Ms Vorderman

I note that you spent the festival of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary celebrating instead that other famous icon of the Irish, Enya.  How do you propose to explain yourself on the last day, heretic?

Love to Hnaef. We studied together. Hope his Imitation is coming along.

Kiss, kiss

T.R. Ellis (Revd Dr Mrs)

Well, Tracey. What can I say? Not to God, but to the Great British Public - a famously less forgiving judge. I mean, just look at Red or Black.

The Nativity of the BVM is a nuanced and intriguing festival. Ann holds in her hands this child who will one day hold the Universe. This precious bundle who, in just a few short years, will receive the terrifying news that God is with her and that she is blessed among women. A choice - for I am sure it was a choice - is before her. To choose the path that leads to potential shame, to pain, possibly to divorce and estrangement and ultimately, definitely, to her own form of passion that day at Golgotha - or what? To run from the will of God, to play happy families with Joseph, to bear many children - which of these two will she choose? How can so tiny a spark already such a world of potential? And what do we bring into the world - what potential, what choices make us in our own way God-bearers: those carry God into our own places? There among the pain and the joy and the shadow of death all things are played out - albeit unknowingly except for One.

And faced with that, I thought it might be safer to light a tea light and play some nice Irish New Age music. Beaker People don't like hard theology and tough decisions. They make them fall over.