Wednesday 30 November 2011

Holding Fake Hands in a Circle

I pass this idea on which I heard from His Hermeneuticalness.

There's no more to say. What sort of church is it where everyone doesn't hold hands during solemn moments?

Lighting the Bling

As the time ticks towards midnight the Beaker People gather in the Orchard. [We're holding this CET in order to get to bed at a sensible time]

Archdruid: Great is the darkness that covers the Earth

All: You sure that's not copyright, Eileen?

Archdruid: The Light shineth in the darkness?

All: Very topical. Classy. Has Michael Gove autographed your hi-viz for you?

Archdruid: Black chaos comes,

All: and the fettered gods of the earth say, Let there be light.

Archdruid: OK, Flick the Switch, Hnaef.

Hnaef: This switch?

On the horizon, the Great House is plunged into darkness. The sound of Marston Moretaine walking into a tree echoes across the dell.

Hnaef: Oh! THIS switch?

The Doily Shed is - once again - taken out, as Hnaef sets off the dynamite. Small pieces of lint descend from the heavens on the assembled Beaker Folk.

Hnaef: Definitely got it this time.

Drayton Parslow's house descends to the depths of the earth as the trap-door, built by the Russells in the 18th Century as a forgotten practical joke, is activated.

Hnaef: Ah - is it this button marked "light the bling"?

The strings of white lights are illuminated.

All:  Aaaaah!

The inflatable Santa inflates and glows in the dark.

All: Ooooh!

Killer penguins appear from trap doors and sprint towards the Beaker People. The Beaker Folk may run for their lives or, as it may be, beg for mercy. We recommend running. Killer penguins don't show mercy.

All: Aaaargh!!

Archdruid: All may kneel.

All: No, Eileen. You're supposed to "say the black and do the red".

Archdruid: You all want to "do the red" when the red is "All may kneel"? When there's killer penguins running amok? Wouldn't you rather do the black and say the red?

All: Good point. All may leg it.

Archdruid: Let's do the red!

An Auspicious Day

Nine years ago today the pop group Girls Aloud was formed on the Reality TV talent show Popstars: The Rivals.

And I think that has something really important to tell us. And that important thing is that, though fame is of but a day, and all flesh is but grass, though a thousand ages in God's sight are as just an evening, and though the silver cord is broken, the chain is snapped and though much water has flowed under the bridge, there are no grapes on the vine and all the flowers have gone - though where to, nobody knows - despite all this, the Rubbishy Reality TV Talent Show format is like unto the hills that were formed from age to age.

I was - as men count it - young when Girls Aloud were formed. And now in the reckoning of men I am as those that need "a little work doing". But rubbishy TV and its manufactured moppets abide forever. 

And if you're interested, all the flowers had gone to San Francisco, so hippies could wear them in their hair. But where have all the hippies gone, long time passin'?

Tuesday 29 November 2011


It's probably a bit late now, but.

The concept of "growth" has become an idol. I heard someone expressing shock that by 2015 the income of British families will be about the same as in 2001. And I thought to myself - wasn't it going to happen one day? Constantly improving conditions couldn't go on forever.

The greatest lie of the 1990s in British politics - "Things can only get better". Things were already getting worse before the last election, as the boom days of cheap money driving bank profits, and bank bonuses providing copious tax income, went - and the debt racked up.

But there's no reason why things should always get better. As the resources of the world become scarcer, and the population grows, the days of constant expansion have to end. Yes, that's Malthusian and Malthus has always been wrong in the past, but we're pushing some of the limits now - until we can start to exploit Mars. The oil is running out, coal fills the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and renewables are rubbish.

And Europe has lived on a dream for too long - governments pumping in money to keep the idol of "growth" going. Like the companies who, only a few years ago, would be told by those who claimed to be experts that they weren't borrowing enough money.

Goodness knows, I'm no fan of the current government. But maybe they just can't tell the real truth. The day's going to have to come when we realise that the old way doesn't work any more. The world is running out of stuff, and we can't consume it forever. It's been a long party for the West. But now it's gonna be a nasty hangover. And "hair of the dog" may sound enticing, but it's never a long-term solution. It's gonna be bad, and it's gonna last a long while.

Still, mustn't grumble.

230th Anniversary of the Zong massacre

An terrible case, and yet one that ultimately moved humanity forward.

In order to claim on the insurance, the captain and crew of the slave ship Zong threw 133 living slaves into the sea to drown.

Of course, there was no way they were going to get away with it. The ship's owners had to pay for it.

In the Civil courts. Although killing a slave was no crime, the courts eventually held that the insurance claim was invalid as he had not taken proper care of his cargo.

We're not going to be having any jolly ceremonies this morning. Just having a sit and a think and a weep for 133 lost people. And at what human beings can do, in cold blood, for money, when they put their minds to it.

Though we'll light just the one tea light for Granville Sharp - Bible scholar, musician and abolitionist. And the man who managed to establish that in England, at least, there were no slaves - the rest of the Empire would have to wait, and the fight goes on today.

Monday 28 November 2011

Death of Eleanor of Castile (1290)

It was a strange day. We thought we'd mark the death of Eleanor of Castile by visiting the sites of some of her  crosses.

Geddington is a lovely village. Thankfully it's not too bad a drive from Husborne Crawley, but with a scary ford. Beautifully-preserved cross in a wonderful place.

Hardingstone (Northampton) - Not so picturesque. A bit noisy with traffic, and the end's fallen off.

Stony Stratford - we forgot to turn off the A5 and went straight past by mistake. Shame really. Stony's also got a tree where Wesley preached, and the Cock & Bull pubs famous for the stories.

Dunstable - We visited the Eleanor Cross, but it's a little chi-chi shopping precinct. The cross itself was smashed up by those arch-hooligans, Cromwell's Men (c).  Although at least the Eleanor Cross is not as ugly as the Quadrant, that homage to rubbish 60s architecture. And no, Dunstable, those blue triangles you stuck on it in the 80s didn't help at all.

Woburn - nobody knows where the Cross was. So frankly the visit would have been a total waste of time if it weren't on the way home. Still, being Woburn we were able to buy some of the traditional local products (antiques, knick-knacks and a couple of houses). I wonder what Woburn was good for before they invented heritage.

But you've got to reflect - this was a real love story.He was a real murderous, tyrannical, blood-letting French-people-killing de Montfort-crushing Scots-hammerer, was Edward I. An equal-opportunities hater, as well as going on the crusades he expelled the Jews. And yet when Eleanor - the mother of as many as sixteen of his children - died, the heart-broken Edward had a cross erected at every place where her funeral procession from Nottinghamshire to London stopped. He's written a love story right across the South Midlands - one that still exists, in names and stones, to this day. 

Children are the Beaker People of the Present

It was a joy and unexpected pleasure to have so many people turn up yesterday morning.

In some respects it was just an amazing miracles of timing that three of Arti's grandchildren were visiting on the same day as four children whose parents are thinking of holding a hand-fasting in the Spring. And then two members of Little Pebbles thought they'd see what the "Big Boulders" got up to.

You see, people often say to me that "children are the Beaker People of the future". To which I reply no - children are the Beaker People of today. They're just smaller than the other Beaker Folk.

But on the other hand, we had an issue. Apart from the "holding pen" at the back of the Moot House where we keep the really little ones to stop them moving about, we don't normally have children in our worship. Frankly we find them quite annoying and needy. We use a lot of worship aids - tea lights, pebbles and so on - that can be quite dangerous in bored little hands. And I remember with horror that day when, looking up to check the next line of the Beaker Solemn Prayer on St Jarvis's Day, I saw a three-foot high Optimus Prime - with full working parts - fly across the Moot House and catch poor Hnaef mid-meditation.

And yesterday we had scheduled a two-hour dissertation on "The dialectic between the thought of Karl Barth and Willo-the-Wisp". Which was never going to hold little attention spans for long.

Thankfully, with the improvisational skills for which we are renowned, we were able to re-model the service! Charlii was despatched to put on the squirrel outfit, the Beaker Quire launched into "Father Abraham" and the day was saved!

Charlii gave a wonderful "squirrel Advent monologue" on the Wise and Foolish squirrels. Some of the adult Beaker Folk said it was the first sermon they'd understood all year.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Oxbridge Interview Teasers

Ah, how this article on Odd Oxbridge Interview Questions took me back.

I remember one of the questions at my own Oxford interview like it was yesterday. "Henry VI - a good man and a bad king. But was he a good thing?"

It seemed a strange question at the time. Not least because I was hoping to read Chemistry. I blathered a bit about the delocalization of electron charge in an aromatic ring, and knocked up quite a decent proof for the three-body problem as expressed in a Helium atom. But it didn't hold water. But then, in a state of panic, I punched the tutor on the nose and ran screaming from the room, before pegging a passing Scout to New Quad with croquet hoops.

Turns out, Oxford being Oxford, that was the correct answer. They probably taught how to answer that kind of question at Manchester Grammar School. I always thought it was a bit unfair, having to derive it from first principles like I did. And if I'd only managed to catch a second Scout I'd have got a scholarship.

The Bells of Waiting Advent Ring

A real triumph this morning. "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" on hand-bells. And to achieve that when we were missing the C#, A and F was a real achievement. Next year we really must try it with a full set.

That was one of the best Pouring out of Beakers we've had in a while. And despite missing three of the crucial notes, it was still more tuneful than the Beaker Quire.

Saturday 26 November 2011

A Changing World

I was reading with interest, as I often do, the writings on Entangled States. A blog on the interface of religion and quantum physics is always good by me. But on this occasion what took my eye was this article on the collapse of the suburbs in the US.

And I read it with interest, wondering how British society would change as the world turns, IT becomes more pervasive and petrol ("gasoline" to our non-UK readers ("essence" to our Francophone readers)) becomes more expensive.

We're already seeing the results of the combination of superstores, high duty and the smoking ban on our pubs, as they close in droves. In towns that's not so disastrous but in the villages it's a nightmare - with the post office gone, the pub closed and no shops left in ages, there's just the church. And that may only be open once a month. Or, as in Farndish, even the church is redundant.

What's going to happen when we can no longer afford to drive to the shops whenever we realise we need to? The petrol price is already far higher than in the States. The day will come when the people of Farndish will decide they can't afford to drive across the county border to Irchester for their convenience shopping and a quick pint - or to Wellingborough or Rushden for their weekly shop. And what will the successors of Messrs Waite, Rose, Stockwell and Cohen do then?

Send their delivery drivers out to respond to Internet orders, probably. But no longer zig-zagging across the country - the price of diesel will be too high. They'll have to give villages weekly dates. But who will live in those villages? Presumably most will be working on the farm - as the cost of fuel goes up and makes the use of manual labour and horses more competitive again. Those that work in London and the other cities will move into the big towns and cluster round the railway stations again. The price of property in the new suburbs - car-friendly, inaccessible to trains, tubes and trams - will crash, as the sources of accessible work dry up. the middle-class will head into the towns while the poor - those whose time is less valuable so can spend more time working - will relocate on the fringes.  As cars abandon the roads, the cycles will inherit the earth, picking through the pot-holes that the council won't be bothered to fix.

Maybe they'll start to re-open the old railways stations - at least on lines that still exist. Roade, Husborne Crawley - too late for Dunstable, of course. But at least that may offer some lifelines to villages that would otherwise die without transport.

Just a thought, of course. Who knows, some of the renewable energy pipe-dreams may come to fruition, giving us all infinite mobility at cheap prices. Maybe. But at the moment, I can't see it.

Tearing Open the Heavens

If only you would tear open the heavens and come down!
Mountains would quake before you like fire igniting brushwood or making water boil.
If you would make your name known to your enemies,
the nations would tremble in your presence. (Isa 64:1-2, CEB)

It's easy to scoff (I've found) at yesterday's news regarding little Gove and his issue of the King James. Though I suspect his idea was actually meant well. 400 years of a fine piece of literature are worth celebrating. Even if it's not the earliest, the most accurate or the most readable English version of the Bible. It's just that the idea of Gove writing a few words in the frontispiece blows the whole thing for me. And I'm unsure whether, like the original, the Government is planning to issue the Apocrypha.

But it's also something so kind of retro. It's almost like a recreation of the original concept where the idea was for one Bible to be put in every church in the land. But that's not because they were in need of an English Bible - they'd had those for ages. Rather it was James's way of imposing some uniformity and a bit of respect for those in authority - after all, the Geneva Bible was also available, but it had a habit of referring to king as "tyrants". And writing seditious comments about the authorities in the margins. And you couldn't have that, could you? After all, Job 6:23 (KJV) says " Or, Deliver me from the enemy's hand? or, Redeem me from the hand of the mighty? " - whereas Geneva says "And deliuer me from the enemies hande, or ransome me out of the hand of tyrants?". And you start to guess why James might prefer a more... more gentle reading of the activities of the powerful.

And so Dave's Government have decided that they will reproduce that act of conformity by issuing the copy of the Bible that was meant, among other things, to ensure we knew our place. As I say, I'm sure they're not thinking like that. But that's how James's Government must surely have thought.

Some people believe that authorities think religion is good, because it keeps the populace well-behaved and kindly. Let's face it, the Big Society, if it ever appears, will need to be heavy on support from religious groups. But if the Mighty/Tyrants were really to use the Bible to enforce public conformity, they'd have to remove a few bits. Like anything to do with the mis-use of power. Or money. Or, these days, care for foreigners. Or, most of all, anything that suggests there is a higher authority than the Government. So maybe the ultimate Bible issued by a Government would just be Romans 13. Apart from that, the Bible is a collection of books that is a threat to the authorities. Their rule is flaky, their kingdom temporary and their hopes destined for flames - as everyone that ever tried to cling to power discovered, from Gaddafi to Maggie to Tiberius Caesar - one way or another it all goes west in the end. And we can't depend on their competence forever.

"O that you would tear open the heavens and come down". The world will dissolve in ashes, the 5-year plans indefinitely suspended. The secret police forces will be in the open. The prisons thrown open, the wrongs righted. The tyrants will flee. They all want stability - whether a Big Society where everyone's in it together, another 5 years, a single currency, the next great push, or a boot stamping on a human face - forever. They all want stability because that means they'll always be in charge. But the world's not like that. God's not like that,. The future's not like that. They all come to an end - human, fallible, fragile as they are, no matter if they think they're gods.

I remember a moment of wonder in politics - in 2002. Estelle Morris stepped down as Education Secretary, admitting she wasn't up to the job. The Guardian list a couple more examples.  Oh that other leaders, managers, politicians would admit they weren't up to the job. Then they might do the jobs better, remembering that their downfall is coming, their jobs are merely temporary - and they're not good enough for them anyway.

The Bible from Cover to Cover

Drayton Parslow's really annoyed with me about yesterday's "Gove" preface.

He'd accuse me of blasphemy. But trouble is, he can't work out whether that bit of grovelling* to King James I, at the start of the Bible he authorised, is technically part of the Good Book or not. My argument is, how could it be? It wasn't written in Biblical times. And the majority of the people who follow Drayton's rather extreme views on the AV are Americans, who are very determinedly replublican (with both a small and big "R", for the most part).

Drayton's not so sure, feeling that in some way the whole set up from cover to cover must be inspired. I counter by suggesting that, since God's responsible for the whole universe, he could apply the same arguments to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

So he's gone off to commune with his Maker. I'll see if he's come up with anything coherent later.

* To be fair to the Translators, having seen what James I arranged to be done to traitors I think I'd have a neat line in grovelling in their shoes too.

Friday 25 November 2011

The King James Version - the "Gove" Preface

Every School To Receive A King James Bible, With Intro From Michael Gove

"Dave" Cameron, 

Prime Minister of England, Scotland and (Northern) Ireland,
Privy Councillor &c.

MICHAEL GOVE wishes Grace, Mercy and Peace, through JESUS CHRIST, our Lord.

GREAT and manifold were the blessings, most hip "Dave", which Almighty God, the Father of all mercies, bestowed upon us the people of England, when first he sent Your Shiny Face to rule and reign over us. For whereas it was the expectation of many, who wished not well unto our Sion, that upon the setting of that bright Grantham Star, MAGGIE of most happy memory, some thick and palpable clouds of BROWN-NESS would so have overshadowed this Land, that men should have been in doubt which way they were to walk; and that it should hardly be known, who was to direct the unsettled State; the appearance of your Face, as the Sun in his strength, instantly dispelled those supposed and surmised mists, and gave unto all that were well affected exceeding cause of comfort; especially when we beheld the Government established with His Cleggness, and Your hopeful Seat (Witney), by an undoubted Title, and this also accompanied with peace and tranquillity at home and abroad.

But among all our joys, there was no one that more filled our hearts, than the blessed continuance of the preaching of God's sacred Word among us; which is that inestimable treasure, which excelleth all the riches of the earth; because the fruit thereof extendeth itself, not only to the time spent in this transitory world, but directeth and disposeth men unto that eternal happiness which is achieved through a decent Banker's bonus. And it winds up the NSS something chronic.

Then not to suffer this to fall to the ground, but rather to take it up, and to continue it in that state, wherein the famous Predecessor of Your Daveness did leave it: nay, to go forward with the confidence and resolution of a Man in maintaining the truth of Maggie, and propagating it far and near, is that which hath so bound and firmly knit the hearts of all Your Daveness's loyal and religious people unto You, that Your very name is precious among them: their eye doth behold You with comfort, and they bless You in their hearts, as that sanctified Person who, under God, is the immediate Author of their true happiness. And this their contentment doth not diminish or decay, but every day increaseth and taketh strength, when they observe, that the zeal of Your Government toward the Citie of London doth not slack or go backward, but is more and more kindled, manifesting itself abroad in the farthest parts of Christendom, by writing in defence of the Truth, (which hath given such a blow unto that man of sin, as will not be healed,) and every day at home, by News International, by hearing the Mail read, by cherishing the Express thereof, by caring for the Telegraph, as a most tender and loving nursing Mate.

There are infinite arguments of this right Conservative and religious affection in Your Shiny-face; but none is more forcible to declare it to others than the vehement and perpetuated desire of accomplishing and publishing of this work, which now with all humility we present unto Your Daveness. For when the Tories had once out of deep judgment apprehended how convenient it was, that out of the Original Sacred Tongues, together with comparing of the labours, both in our own, and other foreign Languages (mostly "Received Pronunciation"), of many worthy men who went before us, there should be one more exact Reduction of the Publick Debt by the Shrinking of the State; Her Majesty's Governmen did never desist to urge and to excite those to whom it was commended, that the work might be hastened, and that the business might be expedited in so decent a manner, as a matter of such importance might justly require.

And now at last, by the Mercy of God, and the termination of Labour, it being brought unto such a conclusion, as that we have great hopes that the Conservative Party shall reap good fruit thereby; we hold it our duty to offer it to you, Dave, not only as to our Prime Minister, but as to the principal Mover and Author of the work: and I, humbly craven of Your most Shiny-faced Majesty, that since things of this quality have ever been subject to the censures of ill meaning and discontented persons, it may receive approbation and Patronage from so learned and judicious a Bloke as Your Daveness is, whose allowance and acceptance of our labours shall more honour and encourage us, than all the calumniations and hard interpretations of other men shall dismay us. So that if, on the one side, we shall be traduced by Socialist Persons at home or in the EU, who therefore will malign us, because we are poor Instruments to make God's holy Truth to be yet more and more known unto the people, whom they desire still to keep in ignorance and Blairism; or if, on the other side, we shall be maligned by self-conceited Libertarians and Knights of the Shires, who run their own ways, and give liking unto nothing, but what is framed by themselves, and hammered on their Anvil; we may rest secure, supported within by truth and innocency of a good conscience, having walked the ways of simplicity and integrity, as before the Lord; and sustained without by the powerful protection of Our Maggie's grace and favour, which will ever give countenance to honest and Conservative endeavours against bitter censures and uncharitable imputations.

The Lord of Heaven and earth bless Your Government with many and happy days (or at least until enough Lib Dems rebel that we have to hold an election), that, as his Heavenly hand hath enriched your Election with many singular and extraordinary Graces, so We may all be in it together, to the honour of that Great GOD, and the good of his Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord and only Saviour.

The lofty prose of the King James Version made it particularly suitable for reading out loud, at a time when most of the population was illiterate. Let's hope the distribution of the King James at this time isn't a clue to future education policy.

Keeping Cattern

In days gone by each small area of the country had its own specialisms. Yeovil, I believe, made gloves. Melton Mowbray, pork pies. Luton had straw hats, and after that it made cars such as the Vauxhall Shove-it. Northamptonshire made boots and shoes.

And between the straw hat world and that of boots, from Woburn to Northampton to Wellingborough to Bedford, they made lace.

Husborne Crawley being in the Lace Belt, we've done some checking and sure enough in the 19th Century we had lace makers up at Church End. Cottage work and women's work and vicious it were on the eyes, huddled around a candle.

But on 25 November ever year the Lace Makers had a day off for St Catherine's Day. They would eat Cattern Cakes flavoured with caraway seeds and have a nice cup of tea. I'm thinking it wasn't the wildest of festivals but it was at least a relief frrom squinting at lace. So today we're lighting a tea light and raising a beaker of something not totally unlike tea, to celebrate those who went before, slaving in the cold with worn-down down fingers so rich ladies could have frilly knickers.

Rolling Your I's

I'm busy trying to get some ideas for the Last Sunday before Blingtide sermon. Which means that, as normal in these circumstances, i 've been racing around the 'net trying to find notable ideas to steal. And I was interested to read Biblical Preaching's take on dropping names during sermons.

And I think that's so right, as I was saying to my friend Dicky Dawkins the other day. It's supposed to be our secret, but because there's only the four or five of you reading out there I'm sure it's not going to leak out.

It was during my year studying Influenza virus glycoproteins in the Zoology department at Oxford. I believe it was the start-of-year welcome to new members of the department (a concept, let me tell you, that the Chemists could have copied). And Dicky - as he lets me call him - was so down in the dumps. And I said to him - look, Professor (as I called him then)  - it's a common problem. You write a seminal work like The Blind Watchmaker, you've the world at your feet - and then you realise that you have nowhere to go. And everyone looks to you for answers and - let's face it - you"re not God.

And do you know, I led him to faith? Of course for contractual reasons he's spent the last twenty or so years writing atheist books but if you can find your way through the stereotypes, name-dropping and lazy straw people (slack-jawed and otherwise) you will realise that, without his publishers noticing, he's actually being cleverly ironic - in much the same way that Ricky Gervais pretends he's a thoughtless oaf. But these days Dicky is ducking out of debates rather than admitting that his life has been a clever - if lucrative - joke.

But as I got back to college that night in 1986, I met a shiny-faced member of the Tennis Club in the Porter's Lodge, wearing a Dickie Bow, and looking glumly at his tennis racquet. A string had broken during the match against Rubric that afternoon, and his valet had been unable to repair it as he had been called unexpectedly away to look after an auntie who had contracted TB. Why, asked young Cameron, did such unfortunate things always happen to him? It would be past midnight before Jeeves was back to fix the racquet now, and how would it be any use for hitting eggs into the fans at that night's Bullingdon Club event?

"Dave," I told him, "I feel for you. We're all in this together."

And do you know, my using the shortened version of his name, and the expression I'd just used - which, being posh, he'd never heard before - sent him away with new purpose. He went off to the OUCA meeting that night instead of the Bullers.

But, as I said to the Dalai Lama last week, I'd never drop names. You're just trying to use other people's fame to give yourself cheaap kudos - or building yourself up with unlikely anecdotes in which you're the hero.  And who wants to do that kind of thing?

Thursday 24 November 2011

Cheap, Lousy Faggots - An Archdruid Chunters on

It struck me, a propos  last night's comments on "Fairytale of New York", that it could be suitably used as a vehicle to advertise Cheap Faggots. Or at least reasonably priced ones, which are definitely in Tesco's assortment. However, I'm sure they wouldn't describe them, or want them described, as "lousy". And I'm sure they're not, I should add for legal reasons.

Although not written by Kirsty MacColl, Fairytale has many of her distinctive traits. The defiance is trademark. That rounded, slightly-husky voice - topped off with a not-quite-fake hint of an Irish accent (her dad being a well-known Irishman)  It's a brilliant performance. And Shane MacGowan has the mixture of defensiveness, bravado and self-pity to play the part to perfection. The Pogues provide their wonderful blend of punk and folk. What a song this is.

What a way to use it.

Not Giving Thanks

No, we're not holding a Beaker Thanksgiving "out of solidarity with our American chums".

In the first place it always worries me that a British celebration of Thanksgiving might give the impression that we're celebrating out of relief. A bit like when Brad left my old company, Amalgamated British Safety. The farewell drinks party was in full swing when Brad popped back to pick up his safety boots. Very embarrassing.

We especially don't want to upset Americans as increasingly they're our only source of foreign currency. With the European economies facing reality it's only the Americans who, Wile E. Coyote-like, are a thousand feet above thin air and still running like they're on solid ground. If the American Beaker market dries up I'll have to make more economies. And that means three fewer hours of hot water each week. And that would involve inventing the concept of negative hours of hot water.

No, we won't hold a Beaker Thanksgiving because everyone would treat it as an early taste of Xmas. There's a time to eat tasteless, dry poultry and it's Christmas Day. If you have it early you won't look forward to it.

Climate Change Update

The meteorologists down at the Duck Pond tell me that the Husborne Glacier has "calved" another iceberg. This one is described as being "as big as a shed. But not a big shed. Maybe a toolshed. But not one you'd keep any big power-tools in. It'd be all right for hand tools and maybe a smallish bike."

Some think it's a sign of Global Warming. But for myself, I see 'bergs floatin?g across the duck pond and think - why have we got a glacier at all? Only I'm thinking our scie?ntists may need some more accurate measuring equipment - but I'm loathe to splash out if the Husborne Glacier is a bit of an anomaly. 

Wednesday 23 November 2011

A remembrance of maggots

In these sensitive days, the word "maggot" is the only one from that most glorious of the glorious lines in "Fairytale of New York" that I could include in the title of a blogpost.

I was reminded of Shane and Kirsty's finest moment when watching a Tesco advert that happily adopts the merry tune, while making sure we can't hear the words.

You can understand why. "Fairytale" starts in a NYPD drunk tank, where a dying alcoholic reflects that he won't make another Christmas. Which reminds me that, the other day in Tesco, I saw an advert for a confidential helpline for erectile disfunction right next to the one advertising 24 cans of Stella for £12. Know your market, I suppose.

The song goes on to mention maggots - not a great association for a food retailer, I'd suggest, and ends in a litany of hate between the two antagonists. The song is about the break-up of a disfunctional, drink and drug-addled relationship during the jollity of Christmas Eve in New York. Which, as a way to celebrate the Festive Season, seems very appropriate to me - after all, it was to redeem the brokenness in our lives that Jesus came. I'm not sure that's the association Tesco were thinking of, though.

Experimental Liturgy

I think it was Thirsty Gargoyle (although it may have been a former organic chemistry lecturer, that day I bounced a flask of burning ether down the lab bench) who once said to me that there's no such thing as a failed experiment. There are merely experiments we won't need to bother repeating.

I think Oric's experimental liturgy at Pouring Out of Beakers is one we won't need to bother repeating.

And yes, I know that lighting a tea light in a bowl of pebbles is kind of hackneyed now. But, ingenious as it undoubtedly was, lighting a pebble in a bowl of tea lights just doesn't work.

As I say, Oric shouldn't think of it as a failure. Just as one we won't need to bother repeating. No failure here at all.

Never Mix Your Parables

This is just a thought. But when the sheep are separated from the goats, at which point do the wolves in sheep's clothing get spotted?

I suppose they might give themselves away in an eschatological game of "what big eyes you have, Lambkin? Or does St Peter have some kind of a scanner fitted to the Pearly Gates?

Tuesday 22 November 2011

The Doctrine of Total Mediocrity

'Begin at the beginning,' the King said gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'

"Why does religion keep telling us we're bad?" asks David Lahti, in a nicely-worded post. Which attracts the usual incisive, cutting comments below the article. I'm sure that, this time, those learned and meaningful comments will definitely make believers so ashamed of their beliefs, and so suddenly aware of their foolishness, that they will give up their beliefs immediately and dedicate their lives to wearing anoraks and making snide and - on a universal scale - pointless remarks on Internet forums and wondering why the other sex has lost interest in them.

But to be honest, it's obvious why religion tells us we're bad. The reason is - plot.

Religion is not merely a set of rules. Hopefully it's never one of those, but that's another matter. Religion is a narrative. And narrative needs somewhere to go from, and somewhere to go to.

And St Paul kind of set one narrative up and if you're struggling for a sermon topic and you're a certain kind of evangelical, it's easy and it fits and it starts:

"God is very good. But we're evil. Ooooh we're evil. We're so bad that everyone went bad in a bad way. Let's face it, even getting a bit shirty with the Traffic Warden who's just clamped your car is sinful. And sin fits you for Hell.  Did you hear?  HELL!!! Even if the only wrong thing you did in your life was thinking that the power-mad freak in the Westminster Council uniform who's just clamped your car because it was overhanging 0.5% of an inch of yellow line - three minutes after the restriction starts and even though he  knows you were walking towards the car - even if that's the only wrong thing you ever did - and even though you only thought you'd like to smash his head onto the windscreen - and even though some might call that a reasonable thought and even though you know it's not - it's wrong, oh so very wrong - even so - YOU'RE GOING TO HELL!!! Now... what are you going to do about it?"

And various options will be offered to you. Trying to be good, so you're entitled to go to heaven. With the conclusion that YOU'RE GOING TO FAIL!!!! Or giving up and resorting to artificial means of cheerfulness - whether that be tawdry sex, or the sweet oblivion of alcohol, or watching Celebrity Big Brother. Without even the slightest concession that sex may be nice, or alcohol can indeed - in sensible quantities - be sweet*. Doesn't matter, because one morning you will wake up in a pool of last night's Creme de Menthe with someone you don't recognise, of a gender that you weren't thinking you were that attracted to, in a place you weren't expecting, while watching someone who used to be in Bros discussing the meaning of life with an old politician on Channel 5, and you'll have got the sack from work and you'll have hit Rock Bottom.

And then you will be told that there is one - and only one - way to salvation. This may be through repentance forgiveness and future sanctification, or following a six-step programme to enlightenment, or simply giving all your money to the pastor. But if you follow it, you will be Happy All the Day.

Now the thing is that the Book of Romans is just one way of looking at human nature. There seem to be others. Jesus didn't think that the Beatitudes were completely unrealistic. When he said "blessed are the peacemakers" he didn't add "...not that there are any. And as for the meek - where can you find a Meek, I ask you?" And when he talks about Sheep and Goats, although the consequences are pretty serious for the Goats, there doesn't seem to be any suggestion that it's impossible to be a Sheep.

And while a Drayton Parslovian analysis of human nature would fall in with the concept of Absolute Depravity, the Catholics, to take just one example, would seem to believe - at least in days gone by - that our lives are both weeds and wheat, and those that drag themselves over the line of salvation (I speak figuratively - for of course there is only one Dragger of our Souls) will still have spirits in such a state that they need purging.

Here at the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley we tend to have a view of human nature that can be summed up as "Total Mediocrity". This states that most of us, given an even break, will neither go to hell in a handcart nor be applauded as saints, but rather muddle through life without anyone noticing. It's not over-exciting but it's realistic. We recognise, however, that from this point there are easy and hard ways to go. To run amok in the local shopping centre with a dangerous weapon, for example, will cause everyone to know who we are. It's an easy way to make your name, but at best you will be known as "that wally" and at worst as a sad but dangerous adolescent fantasist. To be noticeably good, on the other hand, is very hard. To be a known saint you will have to wash the faces of the unloved, visit those in prison, be a friend to the stranger. And since nobody takes any notice of the unloved, prisoners and the stranger, you're going to have to do that a lot before anyone cares. You'll just have to hope that someone notices. Preferably someone who's fond of the unloved, prisoners and strangers.

But the point is, it's not a great story. I think that's why some liberal Christians have to invent a whole new tale - one where people are basically good but the system is bad. Because if there's not something bad to make right, some low to climb out from, some despair in which to find hope - there's no narrative.

So in conclusion - why do religions tell us that we (or the world, or the system) are bad? Because if they don't, as I say, there's no plot. With no rags, there's no riches. Whoever read a rags-to-rags story (depressing) or a riches-to-riches one (boring)? With no downs, where's the ups? (Except in Dunstable, where the Downs are the high points). Without Absolute Depravity, where's the excitement of being Saved to the Uttermost? If the system doesn't need to be smashed, why not leave it alone?

Gentle ones, you've got to have a direction. You've got to have movement. You've got to have a dream. For if you don't have a dream, how you gonna make a dream come true?

* I'll give you that there's no redeeming side at all to "Celebrity" Big Brother. Unless it be the feeling of relief when it's over.

Shallow Loss of Faith

Typical, isn't it? I only got into this religious leadership lark for the money, glory and opportunities for emotional blackmail and psychological manipulation. And I get to spend half the night in the Moot House after Pouring Out of Beakers, giving spiritual counsel.

Naturally what was discussed is strictly confidential. But then you're probably never going to meet Orik. So I feel that gives me liberty to tell you all about it and, when a few weeks have gone by, use him as a sermon illustration.

Now normally we'd call what has happened here a "profound loss of faith". But it's Orik we're talking about, so a "shallow loss of faith" might be more accurate. Frankly if you fell face-down in Orik's spirituality nobody need rush to call the life-guards. But that's not his fault - he's an Enviroment Officer for a local council so what can you expect?

See, Orik has been talking to Drayton Parslow. Never a good idea, and it always makes me feel like I've come into contact with some greasy surface myself. Drayton has managed to persuade Orik that, to have true faith, he has to believe - literally - in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden. But he's failed to convince Orik that the story is in fact true.

I've reasoned with Orik. Isn't it the case, I asked him, that the story of Genesis 2-3 is repeated in many other metaphorical ways - be it the rebellion of Melkor in Ainulindalë or the power-hungry Flight from Death of Voldemort? Does something have to be literally true, I asked him, to have truth, beauty and power? And he just looked at me sadly and told me he was lost because he has no faith.

That's the oddest bit of it all. Although Orik claims to have lost his faith, he's not lost his belief that he will be judged. He's in the position of the Atheist who wished to God that he believed in God. Except in reverse - he's terrified of the wrath of a God he claims not to believe in.

I tried one final bit of sound logical reasoning. Isn't it the case, I asked him, that all rebellion against God, all our attempts to be the captains of our own souls - all our determination to run our own show against all the evidence - are sublimated and typified in the words of the Snake? But Orik just said that doesn't have any legs. I'm not sure whether that was a comment about my argument or the Snake.

Thankfully I remembered the old mantra about "belonging before believing", and that we are an Oasis of Fuzzy Thinking. And I got Orik to light a tea light, meditate on it and think about a waterfall. It worked. Which is to say, he's still convinced he's Going to Hell but at least he feels better about it.

Monday 21 November 2011

Let's Face the Music and Liturgical Dance (17)

Well we've had a full and fulfilling afternoon, in our Liturgical Dance workshop. Perry Koresis really is a marvelous instructor.

Of course we ran into the usual array of problems whenever you try to introduce dance into worship. Drayton Parslow called round to call it an offence unto the nostrils of the Lord. Well fair enough, it was quite intense and some of the Beaker Folk Dancers did get rather sweaty.

And some of the men complained quite bitterly about being expected to wave the ribbons round their heads in the "Rhythmic Gymnastics" part of the workshop. But Hnaef enjoyed it. Rather too much, in my opinion. But still, he was a great example to the others.

But a word to the wise. When someone declares, as Marston did, that they are going to "dance as David danced" just remember how exactly it was that David danced. Some of the older female Beaker Folk needed the administration of strong, sweet tea. And I've told Charlii to get the photos off Facebook immediately.

Celebration of the Nativity of Friedrich Schleiermacher

Two Beaker Folk in hi-viz and safety boots stomp to the platform placed in the area of the Worship Focus. They are of course the Theologischereflektoren.

Reflectors: Fredrick Scheldermacher!

All: No, try that again.

Reflectors: Froderick Shleidermocker!

All: mmmmmm....

Reflectors: Dietrich Schelduck!

All: Shall we just skip on to the sermon? Those beakers ain't gonna pour themselves.

Archdruid: Today we celebrate the birth of Fr.... -I mean Herr Schl... that bloke whose name is on the service sheet. And we reflect on all the great concepts he gave us. For surely if it were not for the man I affectionately think of as "Freddie Shaw", we would not have such fantastic words as "Gesinnung" and "Fertigkeit". Words with which I can baffle you as you probably thought they were Ernie and Bert in the German version of Sesame Street.
We can underestimate the importance of foreign words in theology - not just the German ones - after all, words such as kenosis and perichoresis - or even substantia - can mean whatever I want them to and therefore I can sound like I'm cleverer than you.

A moment's silence as we give thanks that no major theological works have ever been published in the Welsh tongue.

All: Don't want to push you, Eileen, but it's breakfast time. Can we just pour out the Beakers and go?

Eileen falls into a reverie as she contemplates the glories of the word "Zweckdenken" and wonders why English words aren't so romantic.

The sound of beakers being poured out, and feet pattering from the Moot House, can be heard. Please don't drink all the tomato juice - the Cook is planning some Italian thing for tea.

Sunday 20 November 2011

A blog to cheer you up

As we head into the darkness of Advent, it's always good to read something that will cheer you up.

So I particularly recommend the last couple of missives from Cold Comfort Farm, where Judith Starkadder is a living reminder that, no matter that the nights have drawn in and the Beaker Folk be as dim as an energy-saving light bulb in a power-cut, there's always somebody worse off than yourself, and looking at it being that way till at least Mayday.

The Cloud of Unknowing

As I look across the foggy Marston Vale this morning, I reflect on the metaphors this gives me for spiritual life.

For are not the hazy yellow shapes of street lamps we saw last night like the Bible, the writings of the ancients, and the spirit within us, giving us indications of where the road is, and a limited view of the true lie of the land? But in this modern so-called "morning" all the lights have gone out.

And the sounds of baffled Beaker People, falling into the brook after walking the wrong way back from Pouring Out of Beakers, are as the lost souls that wander in the darkness, without any true light. While I, who have the Community 1 million candlepower torch, will be ready to assist them just as soon as I've finished charging up the dustbin-sized battery it contains. It may take some time, but I will be ready to help them one day. Probably just as soon as they are drowned. Surely I am like the foolish bridesmaid, who left the charger at home.

And for those thrashing Beaker Folk, the small light that we have lit in the attic to show them the way home will compete with the electric lighting that Drayton, ever conscious of his limited budget, has lit in Bogwulf Baptist Chapel. Will our lost people follow my light or Drayton's? Or, confused between the two, will they just fall in the brook again?

In the fog the sounds are muffled. Even the M1 sounds kind of comforting on a day like this. I tried crying out  to Hnaef (a specialist in falling unexpectedly into rivers) to let him know which direction. But I think that my cry of "over here" may have been heard as "never fear" - as they just shouted back "that's easy for you to say," followed by more splashing.

Ah me. Well, when they find their way home I'll be ready for them. A fire glows in the grate. I have prepared for them warm soup, hot toast. Of course, if they keep getting lost like that, I'll have to eat it all myself.

Saturday 19 November 2011

On Absolute Monarchy

It's a strange image for today, when you think about it. The "King" - the absolute ruler. Although the kings of ancient times didn't normally have our idea of the long dynasties (Egyptians excepted, of course). Our Queen can trace her origin back to when King Arthur burnt the cakes* and that's a lot longer than the entire Roman Empire lasted - let alone the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

The kings of the ancient Middle East, like their reigns, were often brutal and short. They tended to rule by fear - especially with respect to those close to them. Basically anyone called Herod was pretty well guaranteed either to be a tyrant, or to die on the orders of someone else called Herod. The Herods' reigns were conditional - balancing their own rules with the demands of Rome. And while the emperors in Jesus' earthly life were long-lived and successful, the start of the empire was no peaceful thing. But the idea of the emperor deciding which of his servants were successes and which needed to be replaced, would have been pretty common.

Today we don't "do" absolute rulers in Western Europe. Sure, some of us still have monarchies, but we keep them for entertainment purposes mostly. We've generally, apart from in Greece and Italy, got into democracy. If we don't like the rulers, we wait and eventually kick them out. It's a method that delivers change with a lot less bloodshed than other systems. And in other parts of the world where they don't get the vote, they find other ways of removing them - I note that the last of the Gaddafis in the wild has now been captured, and will no doubt have a fair trial before being found guilty and killed.

As long as this impure world exists, with its failed promises and creaking systems and political lies - as long as this is the way of things - we can tolerate no absolute monarch, no divinely-sanctioned dictator. We, as  failed as they, but not so corrupted by power - want the option to throw them out from time to time - ideally without a revolution. We see the countries run by bureaucrats, technocrats and theocrats and we shudder.

If there was one ruler of the world we'd follow, one absolute ruler forever, whose rule was supreme  then the only one we could accept would be one who totally identified with the poor. One we saw in the defenceless. One who spoke for the oppressed. One who broke down discrimination, saw through the divisions caused by race and gender. One who saw service as the only form of kingship.

Well, we might accept that ruler. Or we might decide getting rid of him was the best first step in any case. Best to be on the safe side.

*(c) Sellars & Yeatman

In Memoriam - Basil D'Oliveira

When "Dolly" first played Test Cricket he was 33. So, as a batsman, the world lost probably 8 years of a test career that was still long and - in batting terms and as a backup bowler - very effective.

By racism and stupid injustice South Africa lost a fine player. By trying to impose its hatred on another Test country it drove itself into the cricketing wilderness.

God bless you, Dolly, and all that you achieved. An average of 40 and a decent bowling record tells you for who you were - a decent Test player. Your race should never have determined your career, and your determination rose above the hate and the system.

He hath shewed strength with his arm :

he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.

He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.

Friday 18 November 2011

Too early to look a lot like Christmas

We're in that period before Advent. A time of waiting for the time of waiting. A time of expectation, of longing, of hope and yet trepidation.

We're not necessarily in that time when I would have expected this evening's tea lights to be housed in Father Christmas light holders. Nor for the mulled-wine scented candles to have been broken out so early. Nor "Walking in the Air"and "A Spaceman Came Travelling" to be piped out of the Community speakers instead of Enya.

If your Christmas starts in November then it can only celebrate the fat man with the red coat. Now there's nothing wrong with Santa, whatever Drayton Parslow may think. But a celebration of Christmas that starts early and focusses on getting what you want, now, is going to peak on December 25. By the 27th the Santa decorations are looking a bit tired and pointless, the stockings around the chimney purposeless. And I want Yule to last till Twelfth Night. You can call me old-fashioned if you like.

So can we please put the Santa light holders back into the Worship Room until a more suitable time. And the Christmas themed fleeces that have broken out in the Rainbow Room. And the penguins can go back into cold storage, too. I've haddock up to here with them.

The Feast of St Pudsey

And so the Beaker timetable moves on to St Pudsey's Day.  And St Pudsey's Day brings to an end the early-November cycle of remembrance, as we see entertainers on telly whom we had assumed dead years ago.

Solwey is having his ears waxed later on. Hnaef will be having a sponsored sing from the Methodist Hymn Book (the 100 year-old red one).

The Beaker Car Wash will be smearing cars with grubby water for charity once again. And Charlii will be wearing her Giant Squirrel suit. She's not doing it for charity - it's her job.

Have a good Feast of St Pudsey. And be careful with that generosity - you may find it becomes a habit.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Ian Hislop is OK

I was facinated by David Keen's comments on Ian Hislop. In the Beaker Common Room, the Private Eye is the only allowable reading material. Apart from the Bible of course. And the Book of the Dead. And the Road Less Travelled. And the Hitch-hiker's Guide trilogy. But still - it has the great advantage over all these that it can be re-used when past its sell by date, and offered for sale as authentic Beaker toilet paper.

We like Ian Hislop. Because he doesn't just laugh at people. He does it with moral purpose. There's real indignation in the humour. The Eye can be misguided, cruel, public-school and silly and sometimes plain wrong. But when you consider some of the people who've sued it over the years, you've got to reckon they've done a lot of things right. I've not bothered to look up Ian Hislop's birthday, so we're lighting a tea light for him and 50 years of the Eye right now.

Quick Jane Austen Joke

I was just having my fortnightly update with Charlii. And as so often happens she was asking whether she could maybe do some jobs that don't involve dressing up as giant woodland creatures for the children's work.

But she surprised me when she revealed she's a leading light in a Jane Austen Re-enactment society. Imagine! And she hadn't told us before. She's clearly been hiding her light under a bustle.

St Hugh of Swans

I've always had a certain affection for St Hugh. Together with St Chad he is patron of my former College chapel. As he's a kind of honorary "old boy", as it were, I did go to the trouble of visiting St Hugh last time I was in Lincoln - although, to be fair, he was a bit quiet. However unlike Chad, the patron saint of people who look over walls and of small circles of paper, St Hugh is the patron saint of sick people and swans.

Given these two specialisms, we figured we'd two choices for this morning's special service. We could either have a healing service, or a blessing of swans. Now last time we had a healing service I became accutely aware of the presence of lots of ill people around the place. Which un-nerved me, frankly. And thanks to our theology of healing - which states that God often responds quite quickly to prayers for common colds and for people who are "feeling a bit down", but allows long-term, debilitating illlnesses and amputations to linger for the good of the sufferers' souls - we never really pray for healing per se anyway. More for a general feeling of acceptance, and a prayer that they'll make it to the doctor safely.

So it looks like a swan blessing. We're getting the Community charabanc out and heading for the Bedford embaankment, with maybe a hint of an unusual cider at the Wellington Arms.

Now all we've got to do is work out how you bless a swan. I reckon there's no point throwing water over them. They won't know the difference. Just water off a duck's back really. Maybe we should just wish them well from the side lines, and chuck them some bread.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Transport for London hates Cyclists?

Dear Readers, we cyclists are so awkward. We pay no road tax, neither do we contribute fuel duty. We can go where we like, when we like, wearing as much Lycra as we like (subject to the indecent exposure laws). And yet local authorities are obliged to pretend to like us, because we are "green" - emitting no more CO2 than a non-cyclist after tackling a flight of stairs.

But they don't really like us. We are awkward and independent. So they pay lip-service while giving us dangerous facilities and ridiculous cycle lanes. I commend to you this article from Rosamundi. And the rest of the blog. And suggest you take a trip through the centre of Leicester and up the Melton Road to Thurmaston, as I did in the spring, to see how not to do things.

I should say that I would not accuse the individual people who work or even run Transport for London of hating cyclists. Given the job that they do, many probably cycle themselves. They will be committed to making travel more efficient and safer. They will care deeply about cyclists. But  a big organisation chases targets and big projects and sometimes they don't listen too well to those they're supposed to be there for. I would make a simple suggestion to TfL and every other authority responsible for cycling and its facilitation. Anybody who commissions a cycle lane should be forced to ride it in the rush hour, every day for a month. And anybody in any transort authority should be made to cycle around their city for a day with Dave Warnock, while he points out their shortcomings. I'm sure the world would be a safer place for those on two wheels, and a slower one for those on four.

Look after cyclists - they are looking after the world better than you are. Unless you are a cyclist. In which case, well done.

Kate Middleton Pregnant?

I've got no idea. I'm just an Archdruid in a neo-coenobitic community in the English South Midlands. I've spent all day slapping around the face those male members of the community who went into the woods to be "manly" - and who were then terrified by a squirrel and a 21-year-old Assistant Druid in a nylon badger outfit.

But it's a nice way to draw attention to your sad little newspaper, TV programme or blog. Like "Will the Italian Dictatorship lead to a Fall in Cheam House Prices?" - a headline with no commitment to any answer other than "search us". "Do Mobile Phones Cause Bell's Palsy?" - I don't know, but it might draw your attention. "Silvio Berlusconi goes into the 'Celebrity' Jungle?" - plausible, at least. "Could Graham Kendrick be the next 'Kirsty' from Location, Location?"

The answer to that last one is no, of course.

And she's "Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge"

Manly Moonshine

I tell you, this Manly Worship thing is doing my head at the moment. Straight after this morning's Pouring Out of Beakers all the men in the community headed out for an "adventure" on Aspley Heath. Not one was back by "Lauds at Lunch", our outreach where we turn the monastic timetable on its head in a "Cafe Church" kind of concept.

Half an hour ago I decided enough was enough and sent Charlii off to find them.   They were in the woods, frozen with fear, having been "cornered by a squirrel". Of course what made it worse was that, having been entertaining the "Little Pebbles" playgroup, Charlii was dressed up as a giant badger.

Marston's run screaming and is lost in the depths of the wood now. Burton's been dropped off back at the Great House and he's in the Recovery Position. I'm not sure whether it's smelling salts, a slap round the face or a bucket of water over the head he needs to bring him round. I suspect all three.

Manly Morning Worship

Today's Pouring Out of Beakers will be in the Traditional Language.

Which, given this is Manly Worship, will be Klingon.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Manly Worship

I can't tell you how much excitement I feel after this evening's "Manly Worship".

It was all Archdruid Eileen's idea. She said that if we wanted to know the sort of worship that would attract men to our Community, maybe we should let men organise the worship now and then.

Actually, thinking about it what she really said was that if we wanted to know the sort of worship that would attract men to our Community, we should reflect that it's been men organising the worship for 2,000 years. And then she said that she was taking the evening off, and a "bloke" would have to do it anyhow.

She then said that what she wanted was to see real, manly worship led by real, manly men. And that Hnaef and Young Keith weren't available, so I would have to do.

I think she meant it kindly.

And of course I have the perfect qualifications for leading manly worship. I would wager that nobody is as manly as I, as my interests are those that almost exclusively interest men:
  • Train-spotting.
  • Angling.
  • Real ale and cider. Not just drinking these manly beverages - after all, many women do also. But women rarely have a 2GB Access database, listing every pint they have drunk since the age of 18 together with tasting notes, a rating of colour and the temperature served to within 0.1C. Only a truly manly man would do this.
  • County cricket. As a dedicated follower of Northants County Cricket Club I am well-known to both the other people who watch 1st class cricket there, and who have given me the affectionate and ironic name, "Old Boring".

And so I chose some suitably manly music (which we did not sing nor dance to - merely sat there, nodding appreciatively), readings and liturgy for today's "Manly Filling-up of Beakers" [1]

Manly Worship

Introit: Keith Jarrett's "Innocence" - a really spiritual concept in a piece of modern jazz. Nice.

The Greeting
Burton: Awrite, mates?
All: Awrite, Burton?

Burton: So, done anything wrong?

All may leer and, if appropriate, make inappropriate gestures.

All: Not 'arf

Burton: You old rogues.

The discussion topic tonight is "If the church were a car, what kind of car would be it?" Answers involving the colour will not be accepted.

OT Reading from the Book of Numbers - a nice example of manly categorisation and organisation, as opposed to womanly tidying. (Although personally I would have organised the tribes in alphabetical order)

A Manly Meditation

We listen to a reading of the 1923 timetable for the Cambridge to Oxford "Varsity" line, and regret that the joy of being able to get on at Husborne Crawley Station, like that of alighting at Wendlebury Halt, is no longer with us.

Team-building Activity
Sorting our CDs into order. (More obsessively manly types may use the older liturgy, or "vinyl" as we called it). Women may merely sort their collections into alphabetical order of surnames, while men may adopt surname order within genre.

The Manly Sermon
In which I will illuminate the "Sermon on the Mount" with manly reflections on manly illustrations, such as how Jesus is our Wicket-Keeper: he's always behind us and he'll never drop us. Unless, of course, he emulates M.S. Dhoni's record in the summer 2011 India tour of England.

The Peace
We exchange the "slight shrug of recognition" of peace. Any actual physical contact (except with particularly attractive younger ladies) will be regarded as a sign of unmanliness.

Offertory Hymn
A rendition of John Foxx's greatest hit - cerebral, manly music. With none of that soppy "worshipping" that is so popular.

Interactive Prayers
Burton: So, if anyone's got anything you want us to pray for out loud....?

All: No, we're fine Burton. Nothing wrong with us. You just say a nice thanksgiving. But not too thankful - we don't wanna sound needy.

A tea light may be lit. With a blowtorch.

Burton: Now clear off, and don't do anything I wouldn't do.

[1] I know what you are thinking. As Young Keith made exactly that joke when he wandered in from work at the end of the service. And it's not manly, actually - that's just crude. And anyway, we don't have any shelves in the Moot House. Not that we don't know how to hang a shelf. Oh no, nothing wrong with our DIY skills. Just give us a drill, a HB pencil, a screwdriver and a spirit-level and we're your men.

Nativity of Frida from ABBA

Liturgical Dress: Spandex, Big Hair - Roller Skates and Ruffled Shirts optional

Archdruid: Voulez-vous?

All: Ah-ha.

Archdruid: Flying high, high - I'm a bird in the sky.

All: I'm an eagle.


Archdruid: You're a tease and you turn 'em on Leave them burning and then you're gone Looking out for another, anyone will do You're in the mood for a dance.

All: The judges will decide. The likes of me abide. Spectators of the show. Always lying low.

Ritual of not wanting to share the "hug of peace" because you need a quiet moment to yourself

All: I don't wanna talk if it makes you feel sad. And I understand You come to shake my hand.

Recessional ("Abba,  Father")

Borrowed 1970s Dad: "Who are that on Top of the Pops? Even the men look like girls."

All: Abba, Father.

The Inevitable Dismissal

Alan Partridge: Knowing me, Archdruid Partridge - knowing you, the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley.

All: Ah-ha!

Monday 14 November 2011

Round the World in 80 Days

Celebration of Nellie Bly, pioneering journalist and businesswoman.

Hnaef: I shall commence by journey from Hoboken by boat.

Hnaef punts into the middle of the Duck Pond. Being a Cambride man he stands at the wrong end, and inevitably falls in.

Burton: And I shall continue the journey on donkey.

He disappears into Top Meadow, desperately clinging onto the donkey's neck.

Charlii: I shall get from Paris to Berlin by pogo-stick. Although I shall be hampered by this squirrel outfit I'm wearing once again as part of the Little Pebbles' "Let's go Nuts in Autumn Week".

She bounces off to her latest humiliating assignment. Far away across the field a bunch of small children collect their bags of hazelnuts and elastic bands, and get ready to improve their aims.

Marston Moretaine: I shall celebrate Nellie Bly's groundbreaking investigative journalism - by looking into conditions in the Doily Shed.

Archdruid Eileen may beat him with Hnaef's punt pole or, if it is available, the pogo stick.

Eileen: And I shall make the final stage by hot air balloon.

She climbs into the balloon and, casting off the guy rope, discovers it is not as "tethered" as she thought. Phone contact is lost as she floats over Olney.

Hnaef: Do you think we should "investigate" where she is?

Burton: Sure. Maybe this afternoon?

All: And we're right with you. 

Sunday 13 November 2011

The Central Message of the Bible

Peter Kirk at Gentle Wisdom suggests that David Cameron's selection of Php 4:8-9 is not, as Mr Cameron suggests, the "central message of the Bible".

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. 9Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

But I suspect that David Cameron has actually been quite cunning in his choice here. What he has chosen is a set of words which just about anyone of any faith can sign up to. You've got to admire his tact.

But if some nice words about being good aren't the central message of the Bible, what is? Is there a central message at all?

If you think of Joshua, for example - what was the central message of the Bible for him?  Something, I would suggest, like "Kill the Canaanites. No, all of them. Look - you've missed one."

For Drayton Parslow next door, the central message of the Bible might be along the lines of "We're so crummy we deserve for God to smash us into small pieces and braise us over a slow fire. Forever. But Jesus died to take all that pain for us. Better keep the faith or it's slow-fire time."

While a universalist (I'm thinking in general preference, rather than the denominational sense) might prefer "God loves you. All of you. Try and be good, but you'll go to heaven anyway. In fact, - be bad. You might as well. Go on, have some fun. Kick a puppy for me."

While a post-modernist might say that the central message of the Bible is that there are no central messages to the Bible. There are lots of messages - about killing Canaanites, about God liking some of the Canaanites after all, about establishing a separate people to be holy, about salvation - that Paul and Mark and Moses and Isaiah (all three of him, if that's your bag) all have different messages and that what we hear is not a single message but a hubbub of messages, sharing some common themes.

If we learn anything from all this, it is that the central message of the Bible is pretty well whatever you want it to be if you put your mind to it. So I reckon David Cameron's not got it all wrong. But I think I'd put the words "Jesus" and "Saves" in there somewhere. I reckon they're quite important.

h/t to David Keen for alerting me to this - but not in the cartoon in the blogpost I've linked to. I just think it's funny.

(And I should add that kicking puppies is not good, and definitely not part of the central message of the Bible.)

Bankers Decide an Economist Should Rule Italy

"Mr Napolitano is expected to formally ask Mr Monti or another candidate to form a government of technocrats.

Mr Monti, a well respected economist, is exactly the sort of man that the money markets would like to see take charge at this time of crisis...." (BBC News)

Mario. Monti is a "Lifetime Senator". Which, as far as I can make out is the Italian equivalent of a Life Peer. Which is worrying me as it suggests that, if the crisis in the UK's music industry continues, the Queen could appoint Andrew Lloyd-Webber as Prime minister.

Private bankers brought us the Credit Crunch. European economists helped fudge the rules to bring us the Euro. Which country's Prime Minister will be decided by the "money markets" rather than the electorate next? Democracy's a delicate flower. It's scary to watch it wilting.

Saturday 12 November 2011

More fowl puns

I had to agree with the Archdruid that Aelfride's service was lacking something, but when I chatted to her afterwards, she admitted that she'd prepared a large cathedral-like structure, in the shape of a futuristic dome, but had been unable to use it.  Some huntsman or other had realised that she was intending to work with ducks, and had hidded out in it.  Imagine her horror to discover that her duckminster had a fowler in.

Grebe Expectations

Saturday is the day we let the "amateurs" have a crack at leading worship. And it was an enthusiastic but frankly bizarre contribution from Aelfride today.

Ever one to consider the stars to be God's daisy chain, she organised a "Celebration of the Spirit of Water Fowl" today. And since it mostly consisted of everyone waddling around the Moot House quacking, to be honest there wasn't much difference with a normal service.

But unwisely Aelfride had allowed herself to come under the psychic control of one of the feathery friends she had swimming around in the paddling pool which she used as the Worship Focus. This was most noticeable during the sermon - not least because the duck she was channelling seems to be a very dull one, whose three points were "It's nice weather for ducks", "We'll either sink or swim" and "We should all flock together". I mean, frankly. We were hoping for something challenging, something inspiring - something altogether different. And all we got were duck-willed platitudes.

Another Parable of the Talents

An king went away on a journey. And before he went he called his servants to him. And unto one he gave five talents. And to the second he gave two talents. And to the third he gave one talent.

And he was away a long time. And when he returned, he called his servants to him. And the one who had received five talents said to him, "I have taken your five talents - and behold I have made them into five more talents." And the second came to him and said "Behold what I did with the two talents you gave me - I have earned two more talents".

And the third came to him and said "Frankly I couldn't see what I was going to achieve with just the one talent, so I borrowed a load of talents from a German bloke. And then I lent them to some Americans who wanted to buy their own Mobile homes. And then I borrowed a load more talents from the Chinese chap down the road. And I spent them on plasma TV screens and posh pasta. And behold I have no more talents, and the Americans can't pay me back and the Chinese man and the German bloke want their money back and there's nobody left to lend me any more talents.

So the king took the talents from the first servant, and from the second. And he gave them to the German bloke because his loan was due in first. And then he went to the Chinese bloke and asked if he could lend him any money, but it was looking a bit iffy. And so the king had to leave his country again. And the German bloke appointed the third servant - the one who had borrowed all the talents - as the new Prime Minister. And there was a great weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Clearing out the Worship Room

Anyone need a collection of six-year old Christingles?

We're clearing out the Worship Room again. A thing that needs to take place every so often. Now the Worship Room is quite badly named. It's not that any worship actually takes place there - except in that super-spiritual sense that all that we do is worship. Rather, it's where we prepare for worship. Where we store those items (candle holders, carol sheets, rams-horn trumpets) that we use on a more infrequent basis.

And where we shove the junk left over from acts of creative worship, in case someone can use it again.

The half-burnt tea lights we just accept as a matter of fact. No-one wants to waste a tea light with wax still in it. But then nobody wants to fiddle around trying to find the wick in a half-used one. So this morning once again we've melted all the wax down, and re-cast it as a life-sized candle in the shape of a celebrity. This year it's Silvio Berlusconi. We'll look forward to watching his diminishing stature through the Yuletide period.

Likewise pebbles. Now everybody likes a nice pebble to hold in worship. But where the people of Dunstable in the old days used to think that plum-pudding stone bred underground to produce new pebbles, I believe that every day, new pebbles are materialising in the drawers of the Worship Room from another dimension.

Then we have the whole "Old Service Sheets" phenomenon. Again, I understand people's innately frugal nature - and I appreciate that they don't want to waste the world's resources. And some service sheets could be re-used a year later, I suppose, no matter how dog-eared they become. - and whatever vile purposes the Under 8s seem to have used them for. But the "Liturgy for the 50th Birthday of Tony Blair" is unlikely ever to be re-used, and there hundreds of service sheets that are like unto it.

Then we have the bags of left-over hazelnuts. Bought every year to celebrate Julian of Norwich's Day. And made even less appetising, now we have them in front of us here, by the fact that we celebrate Julian in May - when the only way that you can go gathering nuts is to get the de-shelled varieties, from Waitrose. We've piled them up in the Top Meadow, next to the aforesaid Christingles (and the hard-boiled Easter eggs, and about 500 feet of dried-up vine branches) and we're awaiting advice from Environmental Health.

So now we're down to the weird stuff, and trying to remember why. What good was the model of the Mary Rose in matchsticks? What devotional purpose did the small signed photographs of Frankie Howerd ever serve? If we ground up all the sea shells we've accumulated and threw them in the sea, could it combat CO2-induced carbonification? Who thought there was any point in collecting up all the used party-poppers last Yule, and putting them neatly in a cardboard box? What good did they imagine they'd be for?

And so it continues. A stuffed hedgehog, forsooth (and it takes a lot to make me say "forsooth" these days). 44 copies of Mission Praise 2 (words only). A letter from Bob Geldof, telling us what we could do with all the PET bottle tops we sent him. Baked-bean scented candles. Baked-bean-can candle-holders (we suspect these last two went together, but can't remember why). A tea-pot shaped like a cottage.

It's like the spiritual detritus of our worshipping lives, washed up on the beach of old liturgies. Ah well, it's all gotta go. The skip has been loaded and the truck is here. Wagons, roll!

Friday 11 November 2011

The Geeks Inherit the Earth

I suspect, my dear readers, that the Day is coming.

Once upon a time, you could only rule a country if you were a charismatic, and preferably murderous, dictator - rising to the top on a pyramid of the bodies of your friends. Or else a charismatic, and probably slightly shady, democratically-elected leader such as Tony Blair.

Well, those days are drawing to an end. In Egypt and Libya the oppressors have been removed. In Italy the snake-oil salesman can see the end of the road. The foolish democratic experiment has been revealed for what it is - and through a banking failure, the countries of Europe are being taken over by bankers. The irony may not be lost, but no-one will be smiling as the time of bread and circuses is replaced by the time of shortages and cuts. Given the grief to come in Italy and Greece, for sure, how could the Prime Ministers be men or women who might have to face a popular vote? Enough that they can face riots with steely resolve and a spreadsheet.

I look at Britain and I consider. The cuts may have happened in time - the bond yields may stay down. But with our massive banking and share-trading sector, the engine of the economy is increasingly at the mercy of the computers that drive the trades. The crisis will come, as the bankers take the reins across the western world, when the health or otherwise of the economy drifts - or is wrested - from the democratically-elected politicians to the armies of silicon that control all our livelihoods and destinies.

It is clear where this is all going. Eventually, in the United Kingdom and possibly other countries outside the Euro, the only ones able to run the economy will be those that understand the financial and information technology sectors. Where to date in the West a politician would typically be a Politics or Law graduate - emotional, needy creatures as such tend to be, playing to the crowd - the rules have changed. We need cool-headed, precision-loving, logical men and women. People who care about money and not people. Rulers who need brook no popularity because they serve only the Machine.

I stand waiting for the call.

So the Poor Old Ostrich Died for Nothing

Wrestling with Orthodoxy

A real problem with Arxchie.

You see, Beaker orthodoxy says you can believe what you like - we won't judge.

But Arxchie says that's not true.

I guess excobeakeration is the only possible route. But it doesn't feel right. Maybe we'll try re-education first.

In Memoriam - Cpl Ernest F Miller. K in A 12 October 1916

A Date of No Significance

Those who are into numbers might consider that 11/11/11 is an interesting date. But it's not. Even if the dating scheme we use were based on anything more than an inaccurate stab at the date of a historical event, we only make this date significant if we knock the "20" off the front. It is a different day of a different month of a different years in other calendars. It is a date of no significance

And on this date of no significance we remember a man of no significance. Ernest Miller died in Northern France in 1916. He is remembered at Thiepval - and in an unexpected war memorial set into a bank in Whittington Park, off the Holloway Road. A place more-or-less where his road used to be. His road is forgotten, his community gone. His generation is now passed from our sight. The causes of that bloody, stupid war are mostly forgotten.

But we will remember him.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Live tweeting from the Moot

 Archdruid Eileen 

"Any other biscuits"? I'll have a Custard Creme. Oh, business. Business. 
 Archdruid Eileen 

Proposal that men should be allowed to be Archdruids. Thankfully it needs a majority in the House of Archdruids. 
 Archdruid Eileen 

No we're not going to form  and set up camp in our own courtyard. 
 Archdruid Eileen 

The argument "this is the way we did it in 1412 under Archdruid Orik". I may have to play my "I'm the Archdruid now" card. 
 Archdruid Eileen 

A nice time there. Coffee broke out. Some chances for ministry. But now back to the agenda 
 Archdruid Eileen 

 any good? This presentation on "Tea lights and urban mission" isn't giving me any hope at all.
 Archdruid Eileen 

 enjoy  - Burton still giving the treasurer's report.
 Archdruid Eileen 

 on in 2 mins. No wonder Hnaef has claimed "man-flu" and stayed at home. 
 Archdruid Eileen 

Just remembered - never said a prayer at the start of the meeting. Should I leave to end, or make up a reason to pray now? 
 Archdruid Eileen 

"Leaders' expenses" very large. Perhaps we can redefine them as "charitable donations" next month? 
 Archdruid Eileen 

Burton onto the balance sheet now. Boy did we have to work hard to get stuff off that. 
 Archdruid Eileen 

Did Wagon Wheels get smaller over time, or was it that my mouth got bigger?  
 Archdruid Eileen 

Sorry about that. Burton still talking. 
 Archdruid Eileen 

 Archdruid Eileen 

Burton Doesn't know how boring his Treasurer's Report is. Or he does and he's an evil genius. 
 Archdruid Eileen 

No idea how to get the Moot over before  starts. Feigning injury might work I suppose. 
 Archdruid Eileen 

No, this Moot does not approve of equal rights for koalas. 
 Archdruid Eileen 

First motion that we should make better provision for commuters. We already provide a 4am prayer meeting and 10pm house group 
 Archdruid Eileen 

Live-tweeting from this month's moot. A real first, this. Not least because I'm supposed to be "chair".