Monday 31 December 2012

Drayton Parslow's Non-New Year Message

Now is the time of year when traditionally some people come up with a New Year message. A sign of absolutely no humility, in my opinion. When most sensible people want to sit quietly, with a cup of weak tea, wondering precisely when the world is going to end, the last thing they want is a self-appointed New Year expert, either from the fields of religion, politics, science or Richard Dawkins, telling them what they should do with the New Year.

The fact is, the New Year is a calendrical nicety. If we had numbered the days sequentially, from the day of Our Lord's birth onwards, then there would be no concept of any cycles of nature. Things would become warmer, and then colder again, every 365 days or so - but we would recognise this simply as the way things are, not signifying anything of any great significance. We would have trouble recognising when Christmas and Easter were, but then here at the Bogwulf Fundamentalist Baptists we worry little about times and seasons - knowing that New Moon Festivals, in particular, dear as they are to the hearts of the Beaker Folk across the paddock, are not close to the Lord's heart.

And so this is not a New Year message. It is simply some sound advice. The first day of a year (or last of the previous one) is not especially auspicious - as one of Eileen's prophets once wrote, "the days they turn into years, and still no tomorrow appears". I have no idea what this means, but it may be relevant. But we should be ready to preach the Gospel "in season and out of season." the Gospel season starts on 1 January next year, and closes on 31 December, and we should not forget this. So these are the things I would advise any time of the year.

Firstly, stop it. You know what I'm talking about - and yes, it is thee that I address. Stop it. And that. That's not much better. In fact, it may even be worse. Try not to think about it. When I'm trying not to think about things, I find it best to sing Psalms. Maybe number 90 - which, after all, recommends we number our days, instead of rounding them up into years.

Secondly, do something more productive. If you stop doing that thing you knew you ought to stop, you will have more time to do something else. Sitting quietly is good, provided it is in a godly frame of mind, but if you find yourself thinking about the thing or things you should have stopped, then you should stop sitting quietly as well, and do something more profitable. Did I mention singing Psalms?

So there is my advice - as sound today, tomorrow and in the middle of next summer. Stop doing things you should stop - especially that. And do some things you should be doing. It is simple advice, but I hope it will serve you well. And a Happy Tomorrow to you.

Blogging New Year Resolutions

It's that time of the year again. And although I know some would say that  New Year Resolutions are a resort to works instead of grace - I say phooey. Therefore these are my Blogging New Year Resolutions for 2013. I hope I can stick to them.

1. I will not obsess over blog statistics (even though this post might make December 2012 my biggest-ever month for blog stats, if it's any good).

2. I will not retweet other people's RTs of my links.

3. I will not deliberately upset other people in order to improve my blog stats.

4. I will tell Young Keith to switch off the Feedjit display on the big-screen in the Moot House, and replace it with something useful like the cricket scores.

5. I will not measure my value in life as if it were the weight of my Klout rating. Nor my Tweet Grader rating.

6. I will be glad that ebuzzing seems to have given up its attempt to grade blogs (especially as it never gave me very good marks) - not that I've looked lately. I mean, ever.

7. I will not allow the Moot House to burn down this year. Unless I'm very short of material.

8. I will only post rambling introspection if the "burning-down the Moot House" seam has been completely mined out.

9. I will only tweet links to my own posts once. Unless they're really good, obviously, and it's clearly just that nobody else has noticed.

10. I will not express any views on same-sex marriage, no matter how much traffic they may drive.

Maybe I need some grace...

Real-time Nativity Progress

That was an act of genius of Young Keith's, hacking his uncle the Policeman's old train set into a "Real-time Nativity Set". I just wish he'd thought of it before Christmas, so we could have had an express arrival of shepherds and the shining host. Still, there's always next year.

The Magi have just made their call at Jerusalem Central, encountered Herod and are now heading up the branch line to Bethlehem Halt. Their stop at Bethlehem is scheduled for Sunday - and all at a speed of four feet per day! It's a masterpiece of low voltages and accurate gearing. The Star is on the front of the loco, so they're gonna follow it wherever it goes.

Meanwhile the shepherds are backing very slowly away from Bethlehem and back up into the hills. While the people of Zebulun and Naphthali are still going round in circles in their tunnel. It's got theology, scripture and fully-automatic points. Which is why Burton Dasset won't leave the Moot House now for hours on end.

Keith does have me worried, though. If he continues with his intention to map out the whole of the Gospel story in a train set, we're going to be tripping over Bible Characters sat on Flying Scotsmen, 125s and Gordon the Big Engine for months to come. I'm going to have to think through the Health and Safety implications of all this.

Sunday 30 December 2012

Interim Arrangements During the Absence of An Archbishop of Canterbury

So the sad news is that Rowan Williams is retiring as Archbishop of Canterbury today. While the exciting news is that Justin Welby will be enthroned as the new one on 21 March (appropriately Druidic, in my opinion). (Edit - I have it on good authority that he actually becomes the Archbishop of Canterbury on 4 February,  on his Confirmation of Election).

But who's in charge in the meantime? The answer lies in an ancient manual, of which the Beaker People have the only copy. In it, the period between Archbishops is described in similar terms to the old "Lord of Misrule" traditions in English folklore. And the good news is we translated relevant passages from the Little Geste de St Anselm into modern English before we "lost" it. So here's the official low-down on how to keep the show on the road:

1. Anyone grabbing a mitre and heading into Canterbury Cathedral can be "Bishop for the Day". This gives you the right, for 24 hours, to offend other provinces of the Anglican Communion in any way you see fit. Of course, Synod will continue to ignore anything you say, regardless.

2. Just like a normal interregnum at parish level, this is the church's chance to completely reorganise everything. You've got 3 months to start using Latin (or, according to choice, Syriac or Klingon) in masses, introduce women bishops, swear-in feline sidespeople (or sidecats), merge with the Unitarians, and bring in new festivals for the nativities of George Clooney and Eric Bristow. When the new Archbishop starts, you all swear blind it's always been like this, and it's exactly how Rowan left it.

3. Somebody will suddenly decide it's their job to make sure everything keeps going. In a church setting it'll normally be the person that always wanted to be Churchwarden but knew they wouldn't get elected. However in this case, it'll probably be Giles Brandreth.

4. If you're the first person to get hold of a Telegraph or Mail reporter after a news story breaks, you are entitled to present yourself as the holder of the opinion of "The Church of England". Feel free to say whatever drivel you like. It will all be reported as if the C of E is a monolithic bloc of people with exactly the same views.

4. While no-one's looking, why not redraw the diocesan boundaries? Hack off bits from Ely, Peterborough and St Albans to create a new job for the "Bishop of Fenland". If there isn't one already, there really should be. Make sure he has a flat mitre, in keeping with the post.

5. Sell off a cathedral. Not a big one, obviously. Just a little one, which nobody will notice is missing. If there was an Archbishop around, he'd want to know about it. But for the next few months, this sort of thing will be delegated to the Property Committee. Spend the money on decent coffee for all churches for the next 50 years.

6. Declare war on a smaller denomination. I know churches don't fight wars much any more, but surely even the C of E can beat the Quakers? They're pacifists, after all.

7. Make the Church Commissioners take out all their investments, give half to a sensible charity, and spend the rest on copes, doilies, Moog synthesisers and Badger Tanglefoot beer. Sure, it'll be bad news for retired clergy. But it's gonna be a heck of a three months. 

8. After ten years of people moaning he's too liberal / conservative / incomprehensible / bearded, after 21 March next year, Rowan Williams will officially be a saint whose every word was a long-pondered gem, and every move a strategic, prophetic masterpiece. This has never really worked for George Carey, mind you.

9. Don't forget the Queen is Supreme Governor. You're all gonna look awful sheepish if you go too far, and she makes the class stay in at lunchtime till the miscreants own up to moving Westminster Abbey to the Isle of Dogs for a laugh.

10. Try not to get into an argument about sex. You can save that until there's someone in charge again.

The Nativity - the closing credits roll

The Shepherds - In an unlikely pun-based co-incidence, opened Judea's first 24-hour hosiery laundry.

King Herod - appointed Roman Empire Peace Envoy to the Middle East.

The Magi - Arrested as illegal immigrants, spent nine months in a detention centre before going back to their own country a different way (handcuffed to members of the Judean Borders Agency).

The Little Drummer Boy - after successfully getting his own song about attending an event he wasn't at, went on to captain Chelsea.

Joseph - Lived in constant fear of an argument with his step-son's father. Who was, genuinely, bigger than he was.

Blessed Virgin Mary - Despite no education, being of an insignificant family and a single mother, went on to become Queen of Heaven. Simon Cowell livid, as she had a fantastic back-story, yet he had no way of being able sort out a record deal.

The Holy Innocents -  Innocent, and yet the powerless victims. Always remembered - and yet never heeded.

The Christ-child - Innocent, holy, God-loving, caring for the poor and helpless, incapable of any wrong. Was killed for being an affront to polite society.

Saturday 29 December 2012

A Quick Seasonal Reminder to Church Leaders

To all ministers (lay or ordained, pastoral, worship-leading, preaching or otherwise) - a quick reminder.


I know many of you will have been wandering around unsure what day it was, due to having too many services on Monday and/or Tuesday. Especially if you're an unpaid church-leader-type person, you may well have had the week off work ever since, and - with the familiar school / work / dole office / post office cycles absent, it's easy to get confused. After all, with all the "TV Classics" you'll have seen over the last few weeks, you may well believe it's 1974. Even the normal TV programmes will have been off their schedules. And even those church ministers who've had the odd funeral/visit over the last few days will have lose touch on the actual day of the week. Well, it's Sunday tomorrow and, with the exception of those paid clergy types who head for the nearest sea or airport as soon as the Mass of the Dawn is finished Christmas Day, you're going to have to go into the 8am /9.30 /10am /11.30 / Evensong or all of the above in some cases, and do whatever it is you do.

Now, doing things right in Church is going to seem a bit strange after all the Christingles, 9 Lessons and Chickens and Solstice Singalongs. So here's a quick check list for you to try and help you adjust:

1.  If leading worship in a more formal setting, you should ideally be wearing some kind of typically worship-leading gear (smart suit / dog collar / chasuble / that kind of thing). Except in certain extreme forms of Fresh Expression, a onesie in the form of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is almost certainly wrong.

2. Before taking too much care over number (1), just make sure you know who you are, so you can get the dress code right. If you've a posh, commanding voice but a secret need to be loved, you're probably the vicar. If you're going to be preaching your sermon of the year, which you've been working on since last New Year, you're a Lay Preacher and the regular minister is off for their post-Xmas break. If you've a frustrated urge to thrown people out of church, you'll be a steward or Churchwarden. If the latter, the onesie's probably fine.

3. If you turn up and nobody else does, don't panic. Check the plan / rota / smartphone calendar. It's possible that everyone else has simply taken the day off because they've nothing official to do (see number 10). In which case, rejoice that millions of millions of angels, saints and martyrs are still joining you. But figure they probably won't need your sermon - they're in a much better position to judge the rights and wrongs of things than you are, and won't need your advice.

4. If you're in the right church, you can hear singing, but you can't see anybody in the congregation, you're probably facing the wrong way. This kind of confusion can set in at this time of year.

5. Try not to express too much delight that "now we can all get back to normal". People like wonder, special-ness and awe, and many don't like the magic to stop. Normal's OK, but you can have too much of it.

6. The Three Kings should be 47% of the way from the box where they're kept to the Crib. If this means they're creeping up the aisle like Weeping Angels, all the better. Tell the congregation not to blink. And especially to keep their eyes open during the sermon.

7. If you're down to preach, it may be impossible to work out what has been transferred where, and what the lectionary is trying to tell you. Try and produce something generic, cheerful and still-Christmassy as a sermon. Unless your church is dedicated to St Thomas Becket, or St Stephen, and you've decided tomorrow's the day, in which case don't.

8. Carols are still fine. Of course, after the last week, you'll be down to the ones nobody knows in a desperate search for novelty.Instead why not just try switching the tunes? "O Little Town of Bethlehem" to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun", for example - or "While Shepherds Watched" to "The Yellow Rose of Texas".

9. Try not to start drinking until lunchtime. You may have been starting with a quick G&T for breakfast since Boxing Day, but now's the time to show a bit of restraint.

10. Of course, if you have no official role in church, you can probably give yourself the day off. It's been a long week.

A Christmas Wordle - The Answers

Firstly, for those who've forgotten it - here are the questions.

And the answers are...

Friday 28 December 2012

The "It's Still Christmas" Service

Archdruid: We sing our first song, Yule Never Walk Alone.

All: Isn't that a bit Christmassy?

Archdruid: Well it is still Christmas.

All: Yes, you're right - it is still Christmas. Mine's a sherry.


All: We confess we've forgotten it's still Christmas. We've started to leave the lights off on the Moot House. We've taken to kicking the singing snowmen on the drive as we walk past. We've been tempted to take the Tree down the dump. And there is no elf in us.

Hymn: Brightest and best of the LEDs of the evening

All: Isn't that a bit Christmassy?

Archdruid: Well it is still Christmas.

All: Yes, you're right - it is still Christmas. Mine's another sherry.

Santa: Ho-ho-ho!

All: Your time's past, though, big man. Get back in your box!

Santa: Oh. Oh...... Oh.

Hymn: "Somewhere over the rainbow".

All: Isn't that a bit Christmassy?

Archdruid: Well it is still Christmas.

All: Yes, you're right - it is still Christmas. I'll skip the sherry, though. My stomach's playing up....

Archdruid: And so, in reverence and wonder, we turn to our crib scene - gaze in awe on the baby with his mother and Joseph; the sheep, cows, asses, oxen, alligators, spacepeople-come-travelling and zebras.

All: That's all very well - but where's the Magi?

Archdruid: They're still in the loft..

All: The loft? What are they doing there?

Archdruid: Well, it is still Christmas.

All: And also with Yule.

Thursday 27 December 2012

Top 10 Christians on Social Media by Shoe Size

1. Tall_rich - Size 12
1= Hnaef - Size 12
2. David Lewis - Size 9
3. @littlewarrior - Size 8.5
4. Ian Piper - Size 8
4= Phil Ritchie - Size 8
5. Eddie Arthur - Size 7 (but don't ask about the waist size)
6. Batty Towers  - Size 6.5
7. Rev Jean Size 6
8. Dr Bex "@drbexl" Lewis - Size 6
9. The Vicar's Wife - Size 5.5
10. Archdruid Eileen - Size 5 (although she threatened me with a cricket bat not to say size 11)

A Christmas Wordle

Dear Readers!  Two pieces of good news!

The first is that I am not too badly hurt after falling off the roof the other day while putting the star up there.

And the second is that Eileen has allowed me to post you this little teaser - "Burton's Christmas Wordle". I hope it may fill in that ennui-ridden void after Boxing Day, and before New Year.

Any clues needed, don't forget to ask. And a little hint. If the image below is too small, click on it. If the image is still too small, buy yourself a laptop with a bigger screen.

The Perfect Christmas

I know it's premature, but it's about now that I start to look back on Christmas and think - well, was it any good? Reflect on the adventures of the last few days and think - well, maybe it will be better next year. The Ale will be real-er; the wine more sparkling; the children more adorable; the angels more exultant.

Obviously, every Christmas has its moments. I think in particular of Hnaef attempting to climb in through his front window dressed as Santa on Christmas Eve, being bashed over the head by his eldest on suspicion of burglary and impersonating a Saint of the Catholic Church. That made me laugh. And Burton falling off the roof while trying to put that star on the top. On year, Burton will learn. But not next year, I hope.

And, of course, Solstice morning - as we looked out across a rain-infested wilderness and pretended we could see the sun rise. That always brings a lump to the throat, and a suspension to the disbelief.

But here's the odd fact. Unless this is the year that you ended up on life support after falling off the roof, or the house was flooded due to the unfortunate breaking of a dam - there's a good chance this was your perfect Christmas. In years to come you'll look back on those hours of trying to get the new Android tablet to work, or the Miranda Xmas special, or the fact that, due to working in an Internet fulfilment warehouse, you've been back at work since 2am on Boxing day, or the way your kids went on the X-box 23 hours a day and slept the other hour, and you will think to yourself - that was great.

There's a perfection at the heart of Christmas. When you switch off the LED lights on the roof, kick over the singing snowmen, push past the dancing Father Christmas, turn the telly over from the Last of the Summer Wine special from 1984 ("Getting Sam Home", if you were wondering), curry the last of the turkey, and remove yet another ball of wrapping paper from the throat of the kitten before it chokes - there's something beyond all that.

Amongst the sales, and the shepherds, and the Wise Men and the endless manifestations of a  4th Century bishop of Myra / Norse Winter God, there's another little tiny god, laying in a manger. He doesn't say much, he's not remembered by many, but there's a  kind of redemption that he gives, even to a Christmas when you've visited 45 relatives in two days, and three of them are still offended that you only gave them an hour each.

But when the fairy lights, the Cointreau, the baubles and the Chocolate Orange have all gone back in the box till next year, that small god can stick with you, and stay with you all year. With a more transformative effect that a bottle of Cava and a box of Ferrero Rocher, but without that regretful feeling in the morning.

There's nine days left to Christmas. Make the most of them. It's still the perfect Christmas.

Puritan Car Stickers - the Revenge

I was driving back home the other day, towards that big roundabout near Newport Pagnell the other day - you know, the one just up from J14, where you have a choice of Olney, Wellingborough, the great N. Pag itself, or the northern side of CMK - when I noticed the sticker in the back window of the car in front.

"My car is smoke-free. Is yours?" Well, there was plenty of smoke in my car after that. Coming off the flames I was breathing. I was the only one in my car, after all. Burton Dasset had come up to Olney with me to see what real ales they had in the offie, but I'd thrown him out at Emberton and told him he'd have to walk home.

But how dare these people go asking me questions about the smoke-free (or smoke-infested) state of my car? It's not their car, it's mine. And my lungs, as well, should I choose to pollute them. And the duty on cigarettes, it strikes me, is well capable of paying for the NHS treatment of smoking-related illnesses. Obviously, I don't smoke - what sort of daft habit is that, to be taking up? But I demand the freedom to smoke, in the privacy of my own car, as long as it doesn't impact on my control of the vehicle or - like Burton's pipe - create such visibility problems that you shouldn't be moving.

I was so angry I forgot to look what I was doing, and drove straight into the back of her when she stopped at the roundabout.

So it strikes me that, on a strictly risk-based assessment, having smug stickers in your car is more dangerous than smoking. In a recursive and paradoxical move, I've now put a sticker in the back window of my car. It says "my car is sticker-free. Is yours?"

I'll see if anyone follows my example.

Wednesday 26 December 2012

The Christmas Leftovers Service

It's all very well for ministers in mainstream denominations. They'll no doubt all be on their way off for some winter sun by now, having left care of the church to some random selection of stewards, elders, wardens and lay preachers.

But the point of being a religious commuinity is that we don't just shut up shop on Christmas morning, safe in the knowledge there's nothing to do till Epiphany. Oh no. For us, the cycle of prayer goes on.

Of course, for the Boxing Day festivities we don't go out and create wholly new stuff. We do the liturgical equivalent of what sensible people do with food - use the leftovers from Christmas Day.

So this evening's Post-Nativity Christingle 3 Lessons and a Carol service shoud be quite something. The Post-Nativity Play heavily features a bunch of shepherds sitting around in a field, reflecting that yesterday was very exciting but they're back at work now. The Christingles are all fairly workable but the sweets have all gone. And a few of the candles seem to have been consumed as well. And the Carol is a stray seven verses of "While Shepherds Watched", to the tune of "Bridge over Troubled Waters".

So it's a service in complete harmony with the feel of the day. It's gonna be..... yeah, well, probably OK.

More turkey?

Not A Good Example

Hnaef is most taken by the Collect for St Stephen's Day. So much so, indeed, that he has passed it on for my perusal. And I must be honest here - it's surprised me as well.

"Grant, O Lord, that, in all our sufferings here upon earth for the testimony of thy truth, we may stedfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed; and, being filled with the Holy Ghost, may learn to love and bless our persecutors by the example of thy first Martyr Saint Stephen...."

I mean, don't get me wrong. It was noble of Stephen, and all that. One admires the martyrs, of course. But I'd respectfully suggest that the prayer in time of sufferings for the testimony of truth should maybe be about us finding miraculous ways out of that suffering, or maybe having the wisdom not to get into that suffering in the first place.

Ideally, of course, one would want to get to the point where we don't need to suffer for the "testimony of truth", because we all agree that all our independent views of truth are equally valid. That will, of course, require everyone else to be as tolerant and enlightened as we ourselves are.

But however you look at it, I don't see how the Prayer Book encouraging Hnaef to look to the heavens for consolation, rather to the earth for an easier way out, is helping anyone.

I told Hnaef that, if he wanted, I'd write a letter to the author, suggesting a more realistic prayer for the next edition. But Hnaef told me not to bother - he'd probably never read it.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

It's a Wodenful Life

I have never understood Downton Abbey, and I don't intend to start now. An enclosed, inward-looking world, where the males are all idiots and a grande dame rules the roost - is exactly what we are, so I decide what the Beaker People can watch in the "Room of Visions".

Mostly this year it's been It's A Wodenful Life - a neo-pagan retelling of the original story where, when George Bailey considers suicide, a Valkyrie called Klara turns up to tell him how much better life could have been without him.

Klara explains that, through his relentless social activism in preventing Mr Potter from taking over Brunanbergh Falls, George has been operating in a Constantinian paradigm - assuming that his own moral actions have a right to make a difference to civil society. Instead, Klara explains that if he had kicked off his shoes, hugged a tree and thought of the wisdom that can come through shamanic experiences, he would have had a much easier life. Sure, Mr Potter would have knocked down Brunanbergh Falls and replaced it with a giant shopping mall while the whole town went to sex and sin, but George could have had a lovely quiet time, in his cottage on the edge of the forest - and what would have been so wrong with the sex and sin, anyway?

George is invigorated by Klara's revelations. He gives up caring about the future of Brunanbergh Falls, lives in a tree, and announces to all who pass by that he is "The Wise Man of the Woods". He enjoys a peaceful, stress-free life until twelve years later, when his tree is flattened by Mr Potter's bulldozer, busy building the new Expressway.

Happy Christmas

A Cool Yule to y'all.

Husborne Crawley doesn't look like this, this Christmas. But it looked Christmassier when it did. They said there'd be snow at Christmas. They lied.

And don't turn up at the Church expecting us to be there, either. You'll only confuse the vicar.

Monday 24 December 2012

Modular Christianity

It's such a problem, finding a form of Christianity that meets your real needs, in the real world. Either the world doesn't fit your faith, or your faith doesn't fit the world.

We've been doing some thinking and we've realised that the problem is that the Christian religion, as traditionally envisaged, is an all-in-one unit. If you're a Traditionalist Anglo-Catholic, you'll be into Marian devotion, frilly liturgy, the occasional genuflection  and a secret (or not-so-secret) longing for the priest to face East for the Eucharist. If you're a Funambulist Baptist, you'll be into long sermons, doctrinal certainty, complementarianism, belief in all of the Biblical miracles (including that stuff with Elisha and the axe-head) and a disbelief in Evolution. Now these positions can be OK in isolation - but come up against the real world and there's a bit of a crunch. You have to swallow all or nothing - and "nothing" is always gonna be a viable option.

But now the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley are proud to announce Modular Christianity. Let's take an example, and build it up slowly.

So in the first instance, you might just be taking up "feeling vaguely spiritual".

 There's nothing wrong with feeling vaguely spiritual, of course. some Beaker People manage to feel vaguely spiritual for years, and not advance one inch, and no harm done. But maybe you feel that you want to move into a deeper religious experience. In this case, you see how Modular Christianity can help you. Without needing to invest in a complete belief system, you can easily add a couple of modules - for example, "Lights a tea light" or "Something nice about kittens".

But again, this might not be enough. In the end, what does this combination get you? Apart from vaguely spiritual feelings about the danger of singed kittens. You can add some more modules.

This shows the sheer power of Modular Christianity, but also the danger that this kind of flexibility can bring. Notice the way some altruism has crept into the mix.

Take the example below:

This is somebody who just got into Methodism because they liked singing hymns loudly in empty chapels. But by getting carried away with the modular nature of our new model of Christianity, they've ended up thinking they are John Wesley.

And of course it doesn't stop there. The basic principle of Modular Christianity is that you can mix 'n' match. So there's nothing to stop you ending up with something like this:

Now even I can see that that's not going to work. It's the danger of that kind of  chaos that prompted us to construct a number of "pre-pack spiritualities". You can still tailor them, but you get a decent core grouping to build on. Currently this is our favourite. We issue this spirituality to all our Beaker People as a starter, and do you know - we get very little sales resistance and a lot of fuzzy feeling.

With thanks to 3 Minute Theo for the inspiration.

A Mis-sold Christmas

Have you been mis-sold snow at Christmas?

Were you told there'd be peace on earth?

Instead did it keep on raining - a veil of tears for the virgin birth?

Did you believe their promises of a dream Christmas, and a fairy story?

Were you encouraged to invest in a Silent Night?

Across the country, millions of people will be waking with a yawn in the first light of dawn, to see Santa through his disguise.

If you've been encouraged to believe in the Israelite, but have looked to the skies with excited eyes to no avail, you could be entitled to compensation. Here at Greg, Lakes and Partners, we fight to ensure you get the pealing bells, Christmas tree smells and eyes full of tinsel and fire you're entitled to.

It may not snow this year - but you can still believe in Father Christmas!

Terms and Conditions apply. If you win, we keep all the presents.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Rowan on Celtic Christianity

The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury has remarked that there was nothing particularly special about the "Celtic" church to make Celtic Christianity anything unusual in its time.

And he may well gave a point. The Celtic church, i.e. the Church in those places that spoke Celtic languages, is just a term that we use to clump together a group of folk for convenience. The church in what is now the highlands of Scotland would have had a terrible time trying to understand their fellow Celtic Christians from Cornwall. And neither group was involved in some kind of rejection of the Pope's heavy-handed authoritarian Catholicism, preferring a free-thinking, open-minded, hippy faith, where the skirl of the pipes and the thud of the bhodran could be heard on the moorland breeze as it wandered over the heather.

No. Some "Celtic" christians today do good work, with a social conscience. But when a middle-class, middle-England congregation starts adopting "Celtic" music and ways, what it's really doing is rejecting its own heritage. It's adopting "Celtic" as a badge, not to be more rooted - but to take on a fake persona, a misunderstanding, a mask.

That's why I set up the Beaker Folk, of course. We needed something more authentic. Whatever else you can say about the Beaker People, they were never under the authority of the Pope - because there was no Pope. They didn't need to accommodate the Constantinian settlement with Christianity - because they were before Constantine.

I know a few hair-splitters will point out that the Beaker Folk were before Jesus as well. True, but we believe they glimpsed through a campfire, dimly, the Truth that was to come. That's why they were such peaceful, loving folk - at one with nature, at peace with each other, and knowing the joy of being in their place, rooted in the Earth, at ease with themselves.

Of course, this could all be rubbish. But it works for us. And that's the main thing, isn't it?


Now we're all looking forward to this evening's Christingle service. Just a few reminders, however:

1) Can everyone keep their Christingles well away from the crepe paper that has mysteriously appeared all over the Moot House. There's a lot of lint around and frankly the whole place could go up.

2) Please encourage your kids not to eat the Christingles until after the service. Last year, little Agrippina ate all the sweets, the candle, and was halfway through the orange peel before anyone noticed. If your children are going to eat petroleum wax, I'd much rather they did it on your premises, not mine.

3) Bringing home-made Christingles is discouraged. I know Hnaef wanted to show off his handiwork last year. But sellotaping roman candles and gobstoppers to a Space Hopper is no way to encourage that "aaah" feeling of reverence so important on these occasions.

4) Try to keep one armslength between adjacent children. It means I've a half-chance of feeling worshipful at some point in the proceedings, rather than having to hold the bucket of water throughout just in case.

5) Don't forget, at this time of Advent, that when a child does catch fire you should put them out with fire extinguishers with a purple label.

6) No party poppers.

7) No doily frisby-throwing.

8) No congas.

9) After last year, we're ensuring we overhead project all songs. Nobody will need to shuffle four different printouts and a lit Christingle.

10) Trained explicateurs will be on hand, to inform people what the different parts of a Christingle mean. That way I don't need to remember.

11) Finally, I don't care what the Church of England does. I'm keeping the offering strictly for "Community Funds".

Saturday 22 December 2012

Wandering in the Crepe Paper Labyrinth

Firstly, apologies for the lack of the little hat-shaped accent on the e in "crepe". You know what Android phones are like.

It was an interesting little service this evening. We hung the Moot House with floor-to-ceiling black crepe paper, in such a way as to form a maze. Then encouraged all the Beaker People to go in, and told them to find their way to the exit.

Of course, what they didn't know was that there was no exit, and we sealed the entrance after them. They wandered around for ages. I reckon it was three hours before, panic-stricken and desperate, Morgwn started screaming and tearing at the paper. Next thing we knew, fifty or so Beaker People had given up on playing by rules, torn the maze to small pieces of lint and made their escape to the bar.

I don't really know what we've learnt today. But I reckon that, whatever it is, it's something to do with Advent.

Friday 21 December 2012

The Dessert Fathers

Many monks, eremites and anchorites of earlier days of the church are remembered today. We think of St Stylites, who sat on a pole, or Mother Julian, who took on a boy's name.

But one group has almost completely slipped from the corporate churchy memory. They were a group that - like their Trappist and Benedictine fellow-workers - somehow found a way to combine the cloistered life with the production of luxury comestibles. But unlike Dom Perignon, they focussed on food, not drink. I refer, of course, to the Dessert Fathers.

Chief among them was St Ambrosia of Meringue. This visionary created his famous "Rule", in which he specified that, although the making of fine desserts is a work in honour of God, having Seconds is a heretical kind of realised eschatology - "we shall all have Seconds in the Kingdom."

St Tantalus Tiramasusius took this stream of asceticism further. He it was who, in his monk's cell, had every morning delivered him a bowl of the coffee liqueur dessert that gave him his name. Each day, he would resist the dish from Lauds through till Vespers when, returning to his bed, he would eat with joy his taste of heavenly delight.

Then there was St Rodrigo de Sorbet, who said that all the wisdom of the world was not equivalent to eating a fool for God.

Nor should we forget that this was not just a mediterranean movement. Our own English church produced its own followers of the Dessert Road. We can think of St Humbold of the Crumble, the Monks of Bakewell, the Pancake Friars of Olney, or St Richard of Eccles, whose dedication to a monotonous diet of stodgy, raisin-filled puddings ruined his complexion, and led to his nickname - "Spotted Dick".

It wasn't all beer and whimples for their female counterparts, either. The Little Sisters of the Griddle were the leading exponents of pious pancakes - at high days the use of honey was permitted to sweeten the dessert, but in Lent only lemon juice was available. And no pancakes, of course.

The Dessert Fathers' art and piety reached its pinaccle in the High Middle Ages. But the counter-Reformation backlash was felt when the Pope forbade the use of sweet fillings, imposing instead a Diet of Worms. Although many stood up for the Dessert Fathers, the Emperor saw his chance to grab their valuable stores of sugar, saffron and angelica. As a result he accused them of "trifling with the authority of the Church", and had them cast from their monasteries. Those that resisted he had bruleed. And so ended a sweet thread of pious devotion, and a long age of savoury penance set in.

A Very Small Apocalypse

Apocalyptic is seductive, attractive, simple.

It comes  in many forms. The wild creatures of John the Divine; the smudged, worn-out glyphs of the Maya; the expectations of aliens; the scientific hypotheses and scary graphs of climate change, as picked up in the mass-media. And it's polyvalent - the Beast can be a thousand oppressors, down a thousand ages.

But there's a common thread in there.  Apocalyptic is a critique of the world as it is. Apocalyptic says that chaos is increasing. Men and women (mostly men) do evil. The poor get poorer; the rich become richer. Human souls are oppressed so that a few may benefit. A left-brained, progressive, social revolutionary would say that things are wrong and something must be done.

But they can't be put right in the normal course of things, says Apocalyptic. Our society is broken, not just fractured. The remedy is not evolution, nor revolution - it is revelation.

And so the beasts of the Revelation of John are thrown into the fire. Mountains split open, revealing aliens, who hop out to carry us to their celestial Jerusalem. Mesoamericans forecast the Age of Aquarius - yet again. Triffids stalk the land, throwing humanity back to a simpler life of good vs evil - man vs oil-bearing plant. Heaven and earth pass away, to be replaced by new and improved models.

It's simple, it's encouraging. And if you're an oppressed group with no help but God against your oppressor, it can keep you going a long time. And if you're a middle-class hippy with a desire to opt out, it's just wishful thinking.

"Apocalypse", of course, means "Revelation". Something you didn't expect, which you had to be shown. Not a thing you could work out from first principles. A world gone to hell receives a saviour - not a mighty warrior-elf-king, but the baby of an unmarried lower-middle-class girl from a captive race. He doesn't storm in; he sneaks in. He isn't surrounded by flunkies, pressmen and private doctors - he's met by shepherds and pagan foreigners, and chased out of town by a jealous rival.

Just half a stone of human flesh - snuck into the world while everyone was looking the other way. Meaning nothing, yet meaning everything. Changing nothing, but changing the world, one life at a time. Bringing infinity into the length of a child; the timeless, unimaginable depths of God into a human life cut short.  A very small apocalypse.

Solstice Morning

Ignoring all the Mayan hype, the fact of the matter is it's a bright, shiny, Solstice morning - albeit a bit damp underfoot. So my advice is to stay on hard-standing areas and, especially, keep off the grass.

As is usual on a Midwinter Solstice, the key time is sunset. We'll gather in the Moot House at 4pm for some traditional Icelandic chanting, then as the day draws to an end we'll walk out into the apocalyptic wasteland of the onion patch and look sadly south-west.

The Gibbon Folk, wearing ponchos and shaking maracas, will rush screaming into the Wildwood as the darkness-fear settles upon us.

A noble rebel, the Wicker Person will be lit - standing proud against a screaming sky.

And then we'll nip back to the Great House for our solsticial Sherry Reception and pikelets.

Just a quiet solstice, really. I just hope the Piper at the Gates of Dawn doesn't turn up and confuse us all.

Thursday 20 December 2012

A Very English Apocalypse

It's a little-known fact that the great Yorkshire prophet, Bickerdyke, issued his own Apocalypse warning in the 1990s, and those writings were preserved by his loyal disciple, Gunnershaw.

Unlike Mayan prophecies, there is very little doubt over the content of Bickerdyke's prophecy. Mostly because he wrote in English - even expressions like "I'll go to t'foot of our stairs", "Ee bah gum", and "Careful wi' that whippet, Gunnershaw" can be translated without too much trouble into the Southron tongue.

The only doubt about Bickerdyke's prophecy is in fact the day when the Apocalypse will happen - which is expected to be on a Wednesday, at 2.17 pm.

But the list of instructions the prophet left are clear, concise and, above all, very English:

When the Apocalypse happens:

  • Have a nice cup of tea;
  • Try not to go on too much;
  • Don't panic;
  • It's just like the Blitz;
  • Mustn't grumble;
  • Join the queue for the End of the World;
  • Worse things happen at sea;
  • Maybe a quick pint, eh?
  • Hang on in quiet desperation;
  • I blame that global warming;
  • OK, a sherry then;
  • We're Church of England. We don't "do" Armageddon;
  • It's worse in Somerset - they've got flooding there;
  • At least you won't have to worry about that cold any more;
  • Best post early;
  • Torres is never gonna get his touch back now;
  • Be glad we're not French;
  • Maybe have a committee meeting;
  • Stiff upper lip and all that;
  • Turned out nice again.

"Not saying I believe him - but I wish today was Thursday" - Norman Clegg

Quick Mayan Solstice Apocalypse Joke

Very odd. Heard a load of splashing just now from the Mayan Pool. The Mayans have been a great tourist attraction for us, with their jumping through hoops, swimming around with balls on their noses and the great fun we have have at feeding time, throwing them fish.

But I got down to the pool, and they've all gone. Just left a note saying "So Long, and Thanks for all the Tapas."

I wonder what it can mean?

Wednesday 19 December 2012

A Slow Morning

And so the morning croaks into life around Husborne Crawley. A dull, gray, dull-gray kind of morning that causes one to reach instinctively - as one remembers the words we learnt at that creaking, croaking, God-instilling school, shining white with the haze of fluorescent light as we poured out, into the  knees-scabbing playground where the asphalt burnt and the tennis balls stung as they flew - orange-shaped yet lemon-coloured - across a wormwood sky - causes one to reach, I say, for the word-forms if not the thought-forms of that thought-worm of our memories and text-books, Mr Thomas. Mine's a whisky, thanks, but I'll wait till the sun's over the yard-arm.

As the sickly, trickly, gray-treacle trickle of light smears across, heavy with the mist mizzling across the Vale and showing, like a grudging householder revealing the Calvados decanter, the dangerous beauties of the Amazon warehouse, the other side of that hard, slow, concrete river of traffic where commuters, computer-bound, half-dream, half-drive in a half-paid-for car, the ghostly figures of Fenris Wolf, Herne the Hunter and - lest we fall into cliche - the Third Marquis of Tavistock - merge into the drawn-out, dreadful, death-full dregs of night. Beaker people stream out across the grass, tasting the morning air - those that smoke, croak, and hope for the morning Woodbine before the Pouring-out of Beakers. They are never satisfied, and never quick enough - and will stand, ashless, restless and cashless, through those acheing minutes of holiness till the silent benediction is loudly pronounced, the last oxymoron explained, the ringing, singing, tree-lined avenue of trees fills once again with egg-bound, bacon-found, toast-hoping Beaker Folk - and they can gasp, grasping, at a gasper before their repast.

Wish the days would start get longer. Can't keep this stuff up. It's murder on the soul.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

A Steady Light

Midwinter Solstice is a scary time. If you took away our electric lights, a cloudy English night at midwinter would be a long, dark, waiting time. And a couple of thousand years ago, with wolves still around, the need would be strong to huddle round the fire, singing brave songs and waiting for the light to come back.

Every year, the days shortened. The fear might be - this year, the sun won't come back. Maybe the nights will get darker until there's nothing left.

And so light festivals clustered around the solstice. The fettered gods of the earth cried "let there be light". And wicker men, pitch torches, bonfires and the odd tree would be lit as signs of hope and defiance.

Came the time when the date of Christmas was set - there are various theories as to why it was 25 December, and frankly none of them matter. But at the darkest time, a light shines out.

Today we light candles, tree-lights, dancing snowmen and singing, ringing trees. It's a funny thing to consider, but the bloke who climbs a ladder and puts an illuminated, dancing Father Christmas on his roof to make the kids happy, is in a direct line from the Beaker People of the Neolithic, who lined up their monument on the midwinter solstice sunset, fearfully watched the Sun set, prayed it would come back in the morning and lit a bonfire to encourage it.
Some typical bling. Not in Husborne Crawley.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it. Maybe sometimes even those that kindled the light didn't understand it, either. But it shines nonetheless.

Kirsty MacColl (1959-2000)

Now don't wake me up again
Don't let me feel anything
But when you go
Let me dream that I go with you
So you won't make my heart ache anymore
Leave the light on and don't shut the door

The sketch below is Kirsty with Simon Brint on French and Saunders. Two performers taken from us, tragically early.

Monday 17 December 2012

About the size of a Chestnut

Surprise this morning at the "Beauty of the Chestnut" workshop. We all assumed that Young Keith was going for the "Mother Julian" angle when we came into the Moot House. OK, we thought, a chestnut isn't exactly round - but then Julian saw the whole creation, not just the Earth - and maybe the universe would be a four-dimensional chestnut-shape if you could see it properly? So we picked up the chestnuts, planning to contemplate them reverently, admiring the graceful curves and beautiful markings. That wasn't a presentation tray Keith had them on. It was being kept warm by a little array of tea lights. The chestnuts were roasting, in an attempt to be festive. Then there's twenty of us running around with burnt hands, and the Beakers had already been poured out. Thought that didn't stop Burton putting his hand in anyway - and discovering that, swelling as it was, he couldn't get it back out. We had to bash the pot on a brick to smash it, before everyone rushed down to stick their hands in the brook. Then we couldn't remember whether it was twenty seconds, twenty minutes or twenty hours you're supposed to run burns under water for. We compromised on "until it's too cold" in the end, then made our way back to the Great House - burnt, cold and muddy. We won't be admiring the beauty of the Creation in a chestnut again.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Advent 3 Activities

Third Sunday in Advent. Fantastic. We love Advent - the looking forward, the longing, the wistfulness. We've even lit the special silver candle. And so today our programme's looking like this:

8am - Candles and Mince Pies round the Manger

9am - Bucks Fizz and Mince Pie breakfast

10am - A Tinsel Extravaganza

11am - Carol Service (Modern Style)

12 noon - Carol Service (Traditional Style)

1pm - Carol Service (Gangnam Style)

2pm - Reindeer Derby! Put your shirt on Blitzen, have a monkey on Cupid - or will Rudolph win by a nose?

3pm - Children's Nativity

4pm - Grown-up's Nativity (as inept as the Children's one but without the "aaah" factor)

5pm - Mod Xmas Service - Vespers with the Vergers on Vespas

6pm - Turkey and Tinsel Tea with Mince Pies to follow

7pm - Hnaef's Ukulele Night - "The Sound of Music from Scratch" - bring your own ukulele

8pm - Carols by Candelight around the tree. Bring your own candle.

9pm - Charlii's Sleigh-Ride - bring your own sleigh. And snow.

10pm - Screening of the Wizard of Oz. Bring your own advocaat.

As I say, I love Advent. But it's all about waiting. Thank goodness we Beaker Folk get to celebrate the Solstice on Friday - we couldn't take the suspense of hanging on till Christmas for the fast to be over.

Mayan Apocalypse: Official Responses

Inspired in part by the news that NASA have brought forward the release of their video about the Apocalypse: maybe because they won't get the chance to show it later?

British office workers: Typical. Could have taken a day off earlier in the year, instead.

Nick Clegg: Proportional Representation's dead. The economy's wrecked. Opinion polls put us behind the Nazi Party and Genghis Khan. What else could possibly go wrong? Oh.

Reform: At least we never had women bishops. Wait - who's that woman with the stars around her head?

Iran: Hang on! We wanted to start that!

People at Stonehenge: Hey man, what a party! Now, when's the Apocalypse? Yesterday? Bummer. Missed it.

American Survivalists: Run for the hills! Ooo, the hills have been laid low. Run for the plain! Ooo, we're already here.

The Guardian: Angels pouring out bowls of God's wrath to raise sea levels by 3cm by 2045.

British Office Workers: Seeing it's the end of the world and a Friday, we might as well slip off home a bit early?

Daily Mail: Armageddon "being over-run by immigrants."

Ed Balls: It's not fair. Now I'll never get to be Prime Minister.

Michael Fish: Calm down, everyone. It's not the end of the world.

@Pontifex: TYpical. Just as I worked Twitter out :( #baddayattheoffice

Confederation of British Industry: On reflection, we think it would be a good idea to reintroduce Final Pension schemes.

Boris Johnson: Cripes! Just five days left then. Must make best use of the time.... Ladies?

The Methodist Church: The End of the World is currently being looked at by a sub-committee within the Minstry Division. As soon as it has reported to Conference - some time next year - and approved, of course, we will have a fully-worked-out strategy.

David Cameron: This is further proof that we are heading in the right direction. The End of the World is yet another part of the mess that was left to us by the last administration.

British Office Workers: Boss, OK if I leave "next week's actions" blank on the weekly progress report?

Jesus of Nazareth: But as for that day and hour no one knows it -not even the angels in heaven -except the Father alone. For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be.

Saturday 15 December 2012

It's the End of the World as We Know It Yet Again

And so, as 21-12-12 (or, for Americans, 12-21-12) appears on the horizon, the countdown starts.

The Cleveland Leader tells us that panic-buying is spreading across the globe. It's true there's little in Husborne Crawley, but then we don't actually have a shop, so that's not surprising. Young Keith is down the White Horse drinking beer like it's going to run out, but then that just means it's Saturday. Or any other day when the day ends in "y".

Why? What's the point of panic buying? What could one purchase that would get one through the end of the world?

Except, of course, one thing.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matt. 6:19-21

So there you go. Thermos flasks; salt (salt? When is salt going to be the one thing that your survival depends on?); rifles, no doubt, in some parts of the US; torches and kerosene. Not one of these would survive the end of the world. No aliens are going to appear at the "alien garage" in the Pyrenees. Either we're all going to wake up on 22 December with everything as it was, or else none of us are going to be here. Either way, you'll be wasting your time buying Thermos flasks.

As I've said before, don't buy your prophecies from Mayans. If Mayans knew the first thing about the future, they wouldn't have worried about the end of the world. They'd have seen Spaniards coming, with Bibles in one hand and guns in the other, and ran for the hills. They didn't. Live every day as if it's going to be your last - not laying in bed, half-conscious and retching, but making the most of every moment. And now I'm off to kick Burton Dasset. I know what I'd do if I knew when my last day was.

The Christmas Round-Robin Arrives

Since the invention of email, it's been so much easier to send out the traditional Christmas Round-Robin messages. And I've been receiving an annual missive from my old school-friend Tracey ever since her marriage - nearly twenty years ago now. But this year's email was slightly different to the previous communications.

"Dear All 
Well, we've come to the end of another exciting year!
You may remember that last year I gave you the good news that Jasmine had been promoted to a Scholarship after her first year at King's, that Raughri was predicted to receive straight A grades at "A" Level (Ofqual last-minute decisions permitting!!) and that our lovely Springer bitch, Snorri, had produced a litter of seven lovely pedigree  puppies - two boys, four girls, and the most delightful "runt" girl called Angie, whom we were hoping to keep ourselves!  Meanwhile, after Karl's promotion to Executive Vice-President for Sales Development, we had finally been able to buy that converted 18th Century rectory in a Cotswold village. I was worrying, if you remember, that Karl might struggle to adjust to the commute, although he expected to be able to work from home on Mondays and Fridays! And of course - would Snorri pine for her "daddy" when he was away in the big scary City?!
 And I realise that you're all wondering how we all got on. Those of you who've always cared about my well-being might have been hoping it had all worked out fine - while those who've been an eensy-teensy bit jealous over the years(!) might have been hoping that Karl was a bit tired after his long midweek journeys - you rascals!!!
Well, there's something I need to tell you. 
It's all been a lie. In some respects, the marriage breakdown was my fault for having that "fling" with a waiter on our honeymoon (but you know how those Mediterranean nights are, eh girls!) - But Karl took badly to it, as I suppose was reasonable. On our return home he took to heading for the pub every night, going out with the "lads" - and eventually left me for a Personal Assistant called Barbara. 
I stumbled from one broken relationship to another - increasingly hating myself for my failing, and Karl for his. Eventually I could trust nobody. I turned to the comforts of religion, but my anger kept coming to the fore. I was banned from the PCC in the end, after that incident with the curate and the wheelie-bin. Meanwhile, I could hardly be said to have had a career. I went from one short-term job to another, often wrecking my chances with ill-thought-out affairs and, on one occasion, a badly-thought-through leveraged buyout of a waste disposal company. 
I have finally achieved some kind of stability, working in the admin department of an import company. Every night I go home to my cold flat, above a dry-cleaner's in the Finchley Road. My cat is my only friend - that and the Hardy's Crest. I'll be glad when the conviction for threatening the neighbours is spent, as I might have a chance of getting a better job. 
I've hidden behind this lie for so long. But because I've barely dared to meet anyone, I'm lonely. I can't keep making things up on Facebook any more - having to keep inventing wonderful things to update my status is doing my head. There's only so many times a year my imaginary husband can bring me home a bunch of imaginary flowers, or whisk me off to a pretend holiday in the Bahamas. People were starting to ask just how many days' annual leave Karl had, and whether I owned a florist's. 
So there you go. This is it - the real me. The lies have all gone. I'm just a middle-aged divorcee, struggling to make a living in a lonely, heartless world. Can you still be my friends after this? I pray, whether you can or not, that you have a happy Christmas. And I'm glad to be able to tell you the truth. I feel free at last.
With love and kisses   

Do you know what, I wish I'd not un-friended her now. She sounds much nicer than I remembered.

Things that Will Not Be at the Bogwulf Baptist Carol Service

My Brothers (but not sisters, for what I am writing today concerns the government and regulation of church activities - an area where only men should be concerned) - what a great accommodation with the World have modern-day Baptists made!

Only the other day, I discovered that another nearby Baptist church was holding a "candle-light carol vigil". Candles? In a Baptist church? Spurgeon would have wept. The Baptists, as is well known, trace their heritage back to John the Baptist himself - and all down the long ages we have never used candles - even, at very early times, rejecting their Papist associations. This, together with a similar suspicion of oil lamps (much loved by Beaker Folk and other neo-heathens), led to the Baptist churches spending long centuries walking into walls, tripping over pews and being unable to read their hymn books at Evening Services. However the invention of electrical illumination blew away these centuries of darkness, and bathed us in the pallid-yellow light of Compact Fluorescence.

I should say that tomorrow evening we will be celebrating the Bogwulf Baptist Carol Service. I am aware of the temptations of my little flock towards such papist extremities as candles, doilies and rosaries - tempted as they are by the so-called "Archdruid" next door, who is ever on the lookout to lure innocent souls to Rome or the deepest groves of Aspley Heath. And so I will hereby list those things we will not be employing to celebrate the Nativity:

  • A robed choir (or, as Eileen would viciously spell it, "Quire");
  • Vestments of any kind. A smart suit and some value-priced aftershave will be quite sufficient;
  • Candles - of course. And likewise oil burners;
  • Magi. Heathen astrologers who, as they would probably put it themselves, "got lucky";
  • Christingles - which, looking as they do like childishly-made satellites, are clearly the folk memories of an ancient UFO cult. Also they hold candles;
  • Streamers;
  • Banners;
  • Father Christmas - a pagan/Christian mash-up if ever I saw one;
  • "A Virgin Most Pure" and any other hymns that mention Jesus's mother too much;
  • Party-poppers;
  • A Crib Scene - using a plastic doll as a representation of Our Saviour is idolatry. The "little donkey" was never in the Bible - or at least not in the King James Version. I shudder to think what strange animals might be in the New Revised Standard Version. Likewise we reject as unreliable Eileen's use at the Beaker Nativity last year of alligators, pigs, squid, Martians, the Little Drummer Boy and Postman Pat;
  • Mince pies;
  • Mistletoe - which encourages kissing. And kissing leads to cuddling. And where does that lead? Precisely. Unimaginable midnight fornications;
  • Wine - which leads to mistletoe. And pop songs that rhyme "wine" with "time" and "rhyme";
  • Sherry - obviously;
  • Godly Play.

We will, however, be expecting joy and wonder at the gift of a Saviour, sent to earth. No matter where I try to squeeze the colour out of religion, to force the church back to its basic message of fearful repentance, it always squeezes back in somehow.

Friday 14 December 2012

Jeeves and the Same-Sex Marriage

Another post from Hnaef's old school-mate, Bertie Wooster, on a pressing subject for us all.

It is at this time of year, when yellow fog creeps around the lamp-posts of the old metrop', that I occasionally take a look at one of the national dailies. Not the Telegraph, of course - too high-brow for Bertram Wilberforce Wooster - nor yet the Guardian. I worry that the Guardian encourages the intellects of girls like Florence Craye to even greater heights. Although Jeeves sometimes likes to read out the comments on the Comment is Free - Belief web-page, to remind me of how ghastly things would be if we had a revolution.
No, I had a brief read of the Sun. And what I saw there caused my knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand an end, like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

"Jeeves," I called out.

"Yes, sir?" he replied, from the kitchen, where he was preparing the fragrant eggs and b. for the old breakfast.

"Jeeves, it seems the Government are looking to legalise Same-Sex Marriage."

"Indeed, sir. It is often the way with incompetent young men like Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne that, faced with a large problem they are unable to solve, they try to remedy a problem they think they have the intellectual powers to tackle."

"So what you're saying, Jeeves, is that Corky Cameron and Oofy Osborne think that if they let men marry other men, nobody will notice that the country's got less money that Tuppy Glossop on Boat-Race night?"

"Indeed sir."

"That's not going to work, is it?"

"Almost certainly not, sir."

"Still, on the bright side, Jeeves - why should our more artistic friends not be allowed, when the urge to settle down and plight their troth strikes them, to make their vows at the direction of Rev. Joseph Tucker (Badgwick), Rev. Leonard Starkie (Stapleton), Rev. Alexander Jones (Upper Bingley),  or Rev. W. Dix (Little Clickton-on-the-Wold) as the case may be? What's sauce for the gander is sauce for the other gander, eh?"

"One would think so, Sir. But what Sir is perhaps unaware of is that same-sex marriages will not be performed by any of the gentlemen of the cloth you just mentioned."

"So maybe Rev. JJ Roberts of Fale-by-the-Water will bring himself to do so? I've heard stories about old JJ dating right back to Magdalen..."

"Sir, regardless of what you may have heard of the Rev. JJ Roberts, he is unlikely to do so either. The Church of England will not be allowed to conduct such weddings."

I sipped the healing oolong and frowned briefly. Bronski Beat Night at the Drones had been a rather wild event, and the old bean was not firing on all four cylinders.

"Jeeves, this confuses me strongly. So Corky and Offy are allowing same-sex weddings, but not in churches?"

"No, Sir. Churches may conduct such weddings if they wish."

"But the Church of England does not so wish?"

"The Church of England, Sir, has no choice. The Government has decided - at least until they change their mind again - that the Church of England is not allowed to choose. It has also decided the same for the Church in Wales."

"The Church in Wales, Jeeves?"

"Indeed, Sir."

"Is there still a Church in Wales?"

"One or two, I believe, Sir."

"Well, Jeeves - I suppose that's the State Religion, so that's why they can't carry out the weddings that everyone else can? Odd, I suppose, but consistent with the good old C of E."

"Your reasoning is sound, Sir, except that the Church in Wales is not established."

"Gosh, Jeeves. So - and correct me if I'm wrong - churches will be allowed to conduct these weddings, because the Government is in favour of same-sex weddings, except for the one church that the Government actually has a say in running, which won't be allowed to?"

"Correct, Sir."

"And except for one other church that the Government doesn't have a say in, but which presumably the Government doesn't realise it doesn't have a say in."

"Indeed, Sir."

"And some say I'm the one with few brains. At least I know that England and Wales are different places."

"Indeed Sir. Is there anything else, Sir?"

"Just one thing. Jeeves.... will you marry me?"

"Certainly not, Sir. Not if it has to be in some red-brick Congregationalist chapel."

"I know what you mean, Jeeves. Definitely not the place for a Society bash."

"Quite, Sir."

Sandy Hook

Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord
and may light perpetual shine upon them.

Thursday 13 December 2012

In Memoriam - Norman Joseph Woodland - Inventor of the Barcode

We remember the man who made electronic trading possible, inventing the barcode 30 years before anyone invented the means to read them.

Archdruid: Thin, thick, thick, thin, thin, thin, thick, thick, thin.

All: Thick, thin, thin, thick, thick, thick, thin.

Archdruid: Thin, thick, thick, thin, thin, thin, thick, thick, thin.

All: Thick, thin, thin, thick, thick, thick, thin.

Archdruid: Thin, thick, thick, thin, thin, thin, thick, thick, thin.

All: Thin, thick, thin, thin, thick, thick, thick, thin.

Archdruid: Thick, thick,  thin, thin, thick, thin, thick, thick, thin.

All: Thick, thin, thin, thick, thick, thick, thin.

Archdruid: Thin, thick, thin, thin,  thin, thin,thick, thick, thin.

All: Thick, thin, thick, thick, thin, thick, thick, thick.

Archdruid: Thin, thick, thick, thin, thick, thick, thick, thick, thin.

All: Thick, thick, thin, thin, thick, thick, thick, thick, thin.

Burton: Stop! Stop! You got the check-digit wrong!

Archdruid: May the EAN-128 always be with you.

All: And ITF-14 with you.

Homily on St Lucy's Day

Patron saint of brave girls with useless brothers.

Today we remember how Lucy and her older, more boring, sister Susan showed bravery and loyalty. Despite the betrayal of her idiot brother, Edmund, they stayed loyal to Aslan to the end and beyond.

It is a reminder that, in locking my own brother in the attic and confining him in the care of Mrs Rochester, I have acted wisely and in the best interests of all....

.....What's that, Hnaef? Wrong Lucy? That Narnia stuff was just a story? OK, well can you all forget what I've just said. Except that bit about locking people in the attic when it's for the common good. That's true.

Come on Caspian. Looks like it's back in the wardrobe for you.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

If you see George Herbert on the Road.... - he's never passed his test.

Asking Questions about Faith

A post by 3 Minute Theo combines with the results of the 2012 census to make me ponder.

For those of you who don't know, Theo wanders the world under the cover of his pseudonym, Justin, constantly just one step behind George Herbert - a bit like a theological Carrie Fisher in a Christendom analogy of the Blues Brothers. However he took time off to visit a small church community, whose life includes reading the BCP Offices together and looking after some poor people.

And you have to wonder - where's the spiritual reward in that? No wonder institutional religion is down to four old women in a church in Solihull and the Dalai Lama [Burton - can you please check my stats?] 

So the thing that strikes me is that the census is asking the wrong question. It is asking a religion-related question based on our old, category-based divisions. It believes you must be a Methodist, or a Catholic, Jewish or a Shaman. It doesn't allow for the both/and - people who are both Atheist and Church of England, Buddhist and from Burnley, Jewish and a believer in the Ancient Mayan Calender and so on.

If we ever have another census, I suggest we  embrace diversity, plurality and yet also precision with the following question on "Spirituality" rather than "Religion":

What kind of spirituality do you have?

A) I'm definitely a Spiritual kind of person. I'm not saying I have a religion, or believe in a god, but I sometimes get these Spiritual feelings.

B) None

That should sort this year's artificially-massaged-by-humanists figures out.

Early Morning Devotions

Today's Thawing-out of Beakers will be held in the Ravi Shankar Memorial Moot House. Please bring a sitar and suitably exotic ambience.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Lowering the Energy Barrier

Here at the Beaker Folk, we apply many models to the life of faith. Burton, for example, is incapable of understanding anything that cannot be modelled either through double-entry book-keeping or an entity relationship diagram. This has caused many problems in the area of human interactions, due to the "Optional" nature of his relationships.

Personally I always understand things better if I can express them in terms of chemical models. Let me take what is variously referred to in different communities as "evangelism", "mission", "outreach" or "jumble sales" as an example

The idea is that of the activation energy of a reaction. This gives us the amount of effort that has to be put in, in order for a chemical reaction to occur. In missional terms, we could view that as the difficulty for any given new person to go from "out" of the fellowship to "in" it - at least as a newbie.

Consider this - a personn is introduced to the Church of St Trendy-in-the-Wold. St Trendy-in-the-Wold is "cafe church" in the broadest sense. The Revd Riley Groovy-Geezer doesn't wear a dog-collar, and refers to everyone as "dude". The fellowship meets in the local Starbucks, and their meetings consist of "inspired chat". Since all things in this world are holy, the chat can range over many subjects, but mostly football or kids. Sometimes somebody mentions religion, but they're normally reminded to keep it light. St Trendy's congregation is easy to join - the activation energy is very low.

Now consider St Mytholmroyd with St Agnes, Great Frilling. A church in the Syriac Renewal / Post-Punk tradition, the services consist entirely of the clergy bashing dustbin lids and playing electronic music while screaming at the congregation in Aramaic. They meet in an old Anglican estate church in the Somerset countryside. There is no heating in the building. However they've introduced air-con, so they can make it really cold in winter.

Practically anyone entering St M and A's will be terrified, and run screaming. Which is a shame, as they have a deep understanding of community, a profound and moving Gospel. Which few ever really get to hear. The activation energy is too high.

The people at St Trendy's say that the St M+A's people are ineffective communicators of the Gospel. But every now and then, say the Syriac Renewalists, somebody is saved - and radically changed. The Trendys would call that a bit of a freak occurrence. Personally I would put it down to quantum tunnelling.

In return, the St Mytholmroyd people say that it may be fun and easy to join St Trendy's, but there's no substance. By being all things to all people, they might save none. Revd Groovy-Geezer points out that Norbert had a deeply moving experience the other week, but does accept this might be because of that seventh espresso.

So there you have it. The ideal Church attitude to mission would be to have a low energy of activation, but a strong exothermic reaction later on. I'd suggest a cafe church where, half an hour in, you start screaming at people in Aramaic. But what do I know?

Monday 10 December 2012

Good Reasons Why We Shouldn't Move the Tea Light Stand

I like the tea light stand where it is.

Archdruid Angela, your illustrious predecessor, put the tea light stand there. And she was a good Archdruid.

In my parents' day they always had the tea light stand there - right in everybody's way. And we're used to it now. You can't argue with tradition.

What happens if it tips over when we move it?

The Extremely Primitive Methodists of Eversholt moved their tea light stand. Next thing, there was an electric banjo and a tambourinist, and the Quire went to nothing.

People aren't going to light tea lights if they're over there. They like to light them over here.

Moving the tea light stand is a great idea. Once we've set up the Tea Light Moving Sub-Committee, to report to the Furniture Committee, to produce a final proposal for the Property Committee to consider recommending to the Eldership. Once we've elected an Eldership.

We moved the tea light stand in 1983, and had to move it back because people complained. OK, Elsie complained. It's never been ten years? Yes, we do miss her. She'd turn in her grave if she knew you were going to move it now.

We can't move it on Health and Safety grounds. People could get burnt. Oh, after the tea lights are all blown out? OK... it's heavy. That's another reason.

If you move the tea light stand, where will it end? Gay alpaca weddings, that's where.

There have always been Starkadders, at Cold Comfort Farm. And they like the tea light stand where it is.

Move the tea light stand? Are you some kind of Methodist or something?

If you move the tea light stand, I will leave. And so will the anonymous other people I will claim to have been talking to.

My friend's fellowship moved the tea light stand. They were all dead in a week. Dysentery.

You've never liked tea lights, have you?

My grandparents donated the floor tiles underneath the tea light stand. If you move the stand, you might as well smash the floor tiles.

I'd like to draw the Moot's attention to the pointy bit of this lump of wood we keep the door open with. It's the thin end of the wedge.

Why don't you go the whole hog and get scented tea lights? That's obviously where we're going.

I have absolutely no objection in principle to you moving the tea light stand. But I don't think we should act pre-emptively. Just as soon as the Catholic Church move theirs, I'll be the first to help in moving ours. It's an ecumenical thing.

I've been a member of the Beaker Folk for 40 years and we've never moved the tea light stand.

If you move the tea light stand and the smoke stains the wall, you'll have to re-render the Moot House. Then the outside will look grubby so we'll have to paint it. And then we won't want the ducks sitting on the roof so we'll need to dig a new duck pond. And then it'll look a bit empty and we'll have to buy a load of old railway sleepers and rebuild Duck Henge. That seems like a lot of trouble, just to move the tea light stand.

Closure of Wearmouth Colliery, Sunderland (1993)

After 800 years of Durham coal-mining, the Wearmouth Colliery closed on 10 December 1993 - the last in the historic county.

Coal-mining is a dangerous industry - even now, but particularly a century and more ago. There were the perils of suffocation, explosion, equipment failure, accidents and of course roof-falls.

An old Durham miner I knew, one who remembered pit ponies, told me about the life of those who went below-ground. He said they were gentle, respectable men when up in the daylight - never swore - but cursed relentlessly when underground. We can romanticise their close-knit communities, their commitment to the friends and neighbours and lifestyles,  the piety of many of them - good Methodists, often -  but the virtues came at a great cost in shortened lives and hardship. So often the good things of humanity come from hard times.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Making Wonder out of Chaos

Maybe it's the thing that made us what we are. Not the opposable thumb, not the ability to speak - not that those two things, put together, aren't powerful enough. Bell-ringing, tug-o-war and Rugby Union would all be futile without that combination. But the innate belief that things must make sense. Not necessarily that the universe has a meaning - but that things are capable of rational explanation.

When a scientist takes it that the lawa of physics that apply to this part of space, probably apply to that part too, and their predictions work - there's a wonder to that. When somebody predicts the existence of an element from a spectral line in the Sun's light - and then that element is discovered on earth later - that's an incredible thing.

When you consider that the existence of Neptune was predicted - and that was how they knew where to find it - that's a testament to our need to make patterns: find explanations: make sense of things.

Sir Patrick Moore has died. I loved his Observer book as a child - a book that opened up the beauties of the heavens, and the mythology behind the names of stars. He never seemed to lose that child-like joy of making new discoveries; of always looking for the next new, wonderful horizon.

The communication of Science is a star short tonight.

Apocalyptic Weather Headlines and their Translation

Daily Express: "Three-month Siberian Monster-Freeze will grind Britain to a Halt"

Translation: It's gonna be a bit parky.

Luke Robinson: "New Ice Age God's punishment for marriage of gay female bishops"

Translation: It's gonna be a bit parky.

Daily Mirror: "Snowmaggedon!"

Translation: It's gonna be a bit parky.

James Delingpole: New Ice Age coming! Burn the windfarms to keep warm!

Translation: It's gonna be a bit parky.

Guardian: "Cold winters will be a thing of the past with Global Warming"

Translation: It's gonna be a bit parky.

Sun: "Phew, what a Chilla! Three months of Snowpocalypse to come!"

Translation: It's gonna be a bit parky.

Daily Star: "Happy Sexmas! Fifty festive frolics!"

Translation: It's gonna be even colder than normal, for some readers.

Daily Mail: "Immigrants rain like cats and dogs all over the UK, stealing British salt stocks"

Translation: It's gonna be a bit parky.

Changing Times

I feel sorry.for Grundle. He's been going around all weekend with a really sad look after he failed to get that Project Manager's post because of his aptitude test results.

He was fine on numeracy, verbal reasoning and spatial reasoning. But he really got a bad mark on Trapeze. He's now wondering whether he's really suited to Agile.

Saturday 8 December 2012

An Imprecise Resemblance

Eileen has been roaring with laughter and appreciating the ingenuity - as she sees it - of a blog that Gurdur recommended to her, dedicated to the various replica Stonehenges around the world.

I say "replica" and "roaring with laughter". I am as fond of a laugh as the next man - especially if I am standing next to Drayton Parslow. However this blog, "Clonehenge", is a cause of sadness, not joy. The measurements are clearly approximate. These are not true scale models. They are just lumps of stuff assembled in an approximately Stonehenge-ish way. I expect the Sun does not even rise in a special way on the Summer Solstice - except by mistake. Few of them have any kind of hint of the existence of the Bluestones. And don't even get me started on the fact that they don't even have ditches or banks - or that Stonehenge itself is not a henge.

However, Dear Readers, there may be the chance for restoration. I note that Clonehenge has a competition to produce a "replica Stonenehenge" before the Winter Solstice. Please - get out there, dig ditches, align stones and produce trilithons. Generally just make Stonehenge replicas to your hearts' contents. But please - try and get the scale right?

Friday 7 December 2012

Turkey and Tinsel Services

I've always been struck by the entreprenurial opportunities - or, if you prefer, chances for engagement - that are modelled by seaside hotels in the concept of "Turkey and Tinsel" breaks. These give the retired and the comfortably but not extravagantly well-off the chance to pre-celebrate Christmas in comfort, peace and quiet long before the real thing is ruined by children, grandchildren, feuds, chaos, disorder, bad feeling, arguments over the telly and edgy silences that characterise being with the family for too long at one go.

And so we're giving the Beaker Folk the chance to pre-empt Christmas this weekend as follows:
Tonight, when eveyone's had a few and are ready to go to bed, we will shuffle them into the Moot House for "Midnight Celebration". This will take place at 11.30. When it is actually midnight, we get half a dozen people to turn up late and confused, and make them sit at the front. They will then stand up when everyone is sitting down and vice-versa, as well as holding the Streams of Living Walter books when everyone else is going from Hums and Singe of Fellowship, Ultimate Combined Version of all the Other Combined Versions - Now That's What I Call Worship 86.

After ten minutes, when they start to wander round the place, Hnaef and his Paramilitary Division of Beaker People will throw them out. This will be described as "Engaging with the Community".

Then, when everyone's gone to bed, we will play recordings of small children shouting "Can we get up, now?" all night at high volume before getting everyone up early, herding them into the Moot House, and expecting them all to be joyful. To add to the general mood of celebration, Hnaef will wear a beard.

I like to think that, if we do this, at least the real thing won't seem so bad.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Adam Lay Ybounden

One of my favourite Adventy songs.

It's never gonna be a great favourite with proper protestants, this. But I do like the idea that the Fall was a good thing - not in itself, but because it gave the chance for grace to abound. Not that I believe the Fall was a historical event (or even an historical event) - but why let history get in the way of Truth?

If you need the words and translation, they're here.

Remembrances of Formal Hall Past

Dinner at Brasenose College was a two-stage affair when I was an undergrad. There were two choices: the earlier dinner was informal, and the second sitting was formal. "Formal", in this instance, meant wearing a gown, which could be worn over pretty much anything.

If one were a chapel person, and in particular if one were the Bible Scholar, one occasionally got to say the grace before the second sitting. I wasn't, and didn't. It was in Latin, and goes as follows:

Oculi omnium spectant in Te, Deus!
Tu das illis escas tempore opportuno.
Aperis manum Tuam et imples omne anima Tua benedictione.
Mensae caelestis nos participes facias, Deus,
Rex aeternae gloriae. Amen.

Which we used to translate as "something about heavenly tables?" Most of us weren't greats scholars.

Those who had to carry out this task often used to enliven it by trying to say it as quickly as possible. I believe the record was about 10 seconds. I hope when the books are open and thrones set in place, they weren't be judged for their deeds. I mean - what could an appropriate punishment be? Having to spend all eternity at Lincoln?

Autumn Budget Statement

I'd like to thank Burton for his Autumn Budget Statement. He won't be presenting it, of course. He might say something stupid.

To summarise - the situation is dire. Revenues are down. Nett Beaker income is down. Doily sales are down. The filling of the pillows is about the only thing that isn't down.

So we can look forward to another year of austerity. The hot water will now be available from the tap in the kitchen on alternate Weds, and I'm going to be introducing a series of rolling power cuts across the three floors of the Great House. I know I said last year that we had another year of austerity. So fingers crossed for next year, eh?

Now i'd love to stick around and answer some of the questions from you poor people. But the helicopter's waiting to take me to Milton Keynes. It's not some kind of emergency - I just like seeing how lovely the parks and lakes look with all the frost.

Don't worry, though. You poor people can enjoy the frost as well. The beauties of nature are free. Which is just as well, as otherwise I'd try and put a surcharge on them.