Wednesday 29 February 2012

If ITV Commentated on Acts of Worship

"The vicar's reading from some notes in the pulpit. He's preaching a sermon."

"Singing The Old Rugged Cross after If I were a crocodile has changed the whole complexion of this praise service."

"And during the Peace, the congregation are taking the opportunity to shake hands with each other."

"Once again, the Cloud of Witnesses prove they're good in the air."

"The crucifer playing in the "hole" behind the two acolytes. While the Gospeller's workrate means the vicar's been freed from book-carrying duties."

"The Archdruid's just reached "and finally" in her sermon. But Sir Alex Ferguson is tapping his watch to indicate that he reckons there's another four or five minutes."

"It's a service of two halves - the Word and the Sacrament."

"Now the Sunday Club rejoin the rest of the church. Which will reduce the average age of the congregation."

"The angels performing well on the wing - while the verger will be taking the sweeper role after the service."

"The choir's sitting down now. They're ...hur, hur... not singing any more."

"The deacon showing real belief. Especially in the Creed."

"Not a lot of interest in this "Sydney Carter Service". Empty seats all round the church. But I reckon there's a good chance we'll be hearing "Lord of the Dance" later."

Evicting Burton

I must admit, I wasn't expecting it to be so difficult to evict Burton.

The legalities are horrendous, and seem to go back to feudal times. In those days under a complex arrangement of copyhold and turbaria, tenants on the estate where the Great House now stands had possession of their lands until a certain number of lives had come to an end and the tenancies lapsed back to the landlord or landlady - in this instance, me.

In the past my ancestors normally dealt with this kind of legal nicety by burying the offending peasants in the marshy ground down by the brook, or getting them declared guilty of heresy or treason - always a handy way of freeing up property and also inheriting a few quid. But in this allegedly enlightened century, these options aren't available to us. I'd considered letting a few badgers loose in Burton's dwelling - he being notoriously terrified of these monochrome chums - but I can't do that because, incredibly, they have rights - the badgers, that is, not Burton.

And then to compound my problems, "Occupy Husborne Crawley" came along and pitched their tents along my corridor. Through gritted teeth, and with fingers resolutely crossed behind my back, I have promised that if they go away and deposit themselves somewhere less local, I will leave Burton to live in his lodgings in peace.

Or, at any rate, I will try to find somewhere suitable for him to "exchange."

Once Every Four Years

It's a plan I've had in mind for a while now, and on this special day, it seems it's right to put it into action.

You see, it's Burton. He's been living in the Treasurer's Flat, next door to the Archdruidical Suite, for a long while now. Frequently his is the first face I see in the morning, and he's often the one to wish me "good night" - although not that often. Being a good accountant/trainspotter he's often asleep under the influence of a couple of pints of "Old Crungewelter" long before I head upwards to my own lavender-scented pillows. And I'm not made of stone - I recognise that since he was divorced he's been terribly lonely.

And of course it is that special day today. And so I've made a decision.

I'm having him evicted. I could convert that flat into a very nice walk-in wardrobe. I'm sure St John Cassian, who fled into the desert and is remembered on February 29,  will look after Burton when he is, likewise, driven out into the wilderness.

Nativity of Gioachino Rossini

Rossini was born on this day in 1792.

Which makes him, by my reckoning, 55 today. Odd, he doesn't look a day over 220.

In memory of Gio's most famous work on his 55th birthday, we will be celebrating our four-yearly "Barber of Seville" ceremony. This is where everyone gets their hair cut, while sucking a sour orange. It's pointless and Young Keith is a dreadful hairdresser - but it's traditional, and that's so important, isn't it?

Tuesday 28 February 2012

After the Ball is Over

That was a real shock for Drayton Parslow. He was walking from his cottage down to Bogwulf Chapel for his regular morning's period of smug repentance when something fell out of the sky and landed on his head. Knocked him out cold for a while. A Beaker person found him and called me and, fighting back the urge to draw a beard and moustache on him, we helped him come round.

Drayton was aghast. He was convinced that he had incurred an immediate 10 Wrath of God points and been struck, so to speak, by a warning thunderbolt across the bows. But a bit of a search around the place, and the discovery of the round object responsible, meant we were able to put his mind at rest. It was just Charlie Adams' penalty finally coming to earth.

Celebrity Saint Smackdown

Over in Lent Madness, an interesting concept - a match-up between two great saints of the church, and the chance to pick your favourite.

You may think it's a bit of a laugh, or a bit disrespectful (there's not really any wrestling involved). But it does give you the chance to compare two religious greats - in this case Ephrem of Edessa and Thomas Cranmer. A noted ascetic versus a man of power and influence.

The English Reformation was not tidy nor clear. It was often not even about doctrine. You may loathe Henry VIII, and with good reason.  But Thomas Cranmer wrote sublime English, and made good his confession at the last.

Ephrem was likewise a man whose writing the Spirit moved and, in his own way, a martyr.

Monday 27 February 2012

Five Go to Church

One of the more interesting aspects of Enid Blyton's writing is the near-total failure of her characters to attend any kind of worship.  I believe Darrell Rivers may have occasionally attended the chapel at Malory Towers, after Mavis went missing if I recall correctly. But otherwise they were a surprisingly godless lot, for such a bunch of utter upper-class English weeds. But here we have the fragment that reveals Blyton's experimental chapter, in which the Famous Five encounter religious experience.

"I'm sorry, young sir," said the sidesman. "There's no way you can bring your dog in here. This is a holy place. You'll have to tie him up outside the church hall along with Kiki the parrot."

"I'm not a boy, I'm a girl," responded George, " (although I'm as good as a boy), and Timmy's one of the Famous Five. He's nearly human. Surely he can come in?"

"Afraid not, miss. We've not invented pet services yet. But we can give him a bowl of water, or, if he prefers, ginger-beer?"

Grumbling, George tied Timmy up next to the squawking  parrot, and rejoined her cousins.

"Oh gosh," exclaimed Anne, "look at that lovely altar frontal - and the banner with a line from a 1970s chorus embroidered on it. I'm going to come to church all the time now, so I can join the banner-making group."

"Hush up, you chaps," whispered Peter. "It's all about to start, and we've got to be quiet."

The organ boomed out as the first hymn started. Alarmed by the noise, Anne clung onto Dick.

"Oh Dick, what is that?"

"Don't worry, Anne. I'll protect you. My goodness, look - it's a bunch of men in frocks."

The altar party passed by them. Dick watched them closely in case they tried to kidnap the children.

"They're a rum lot," remarked Julian, "and I suspect that, dressed like that, they may be foreign. I heard somebody mention a "Kyrie Eleison", so they may well be Italian. Look out, everyone."

But there was no cause for alarm, and they enjoyed the singing of "Jerusalem" and "Land of Hope and Glory", the sermon on "God's chosen people - the English" and then the final hymn - all the verses of the National Anthem.

At the end of the service they chatted to a nice round-faced farmer's wife, who handed out tea to the adults and fizzy pop to the children.

"Actually," said George, "I quite like this religion thing. And I fancy the idea of standing up the front and telling everyone else what to do. What to do you call the chap in charge?"

"That was the vicar," said the woman.

"And he's in charge?"

"Well, his boss is the bishop - and he lives in the Palace, next to Kirrin Cathedral."

"In that case, I want to be a bishop," persisted George.

"Yes, that's a good thing for a handsome young man like you to aspire to," replied the woman.

"She may look like a boy," interjected Dick, "but in fact she's a girl."

"Ah. In that case I'm afraid you can't be a bishop."

"I don't see why not," said George, "I'm as good as any boy."

"Not round here, you're not. This is the Church of England."

Outside they heard the sound of barking, and a cry of "Cor blimey, that dog's got me trousers."

"Quick, let's get outside," shouted Julian, "some nasty Cockney oiks are stealing the lead off the church roof."

"Oh Julian," exclaimed Anne, "you can be so grown-up sometimes."

Another Bit of Blog Love

Another new blog on the side bar - although making a repeat appearance - is Holger.

He's started quite well and I'm looking forward to him experimenting with 2-sentence postings on his blog any day now. But loads of other stuff as well.  Go see!

Quick Blaise Pascal Joke

I've just spent the last ten minutes trying to explain to Young Keith why Pascal's Wager isn't meant to be an each-way bet. He seems to think if he puts a couple more quid on, then if it turns out Woden's in charge, Keith can come back as an elf-maiden.

There's a lot of things wrong with this theory, not least where Keith thinks he's going to find a kind of astral bookmaker. But it's a wet Monday morning, so I've just left him to it now. My head hurts.

Sunday 26 February 2012

After a few hours in the coal shed

When the whistle blew at the end of extra time, I went and locked myself away. I can't stand watching penalties. Although you can always trust Stevie G and Charlie Adams to put them away.

How did we do?

Celebration of all things American

Struck by the co-incidence of three key birthdays, of people who had great impact on the American people, born on 26 February, we can't miss the chance to celebrate all things American.

9 am - In memory of John Harvey Kellogg, b 1852. There was a chance to sign up for one of two events - either the "Cornflakes of Fellowship" breakfast or Young Keith's Festive Enemas.  Oddly, or perhaps not, everyone has signed up for the cornflakes. This is probably good news for their health, but bad news for my budgetary forecasts as it means that Beaker People aren't quite as gullible as I'd thought. Still, on the bright side everyone can have extra natural yoghurt with their cornflakes as Young Keith won't be needing it.

11am - "Buffalo" Bill Cody, b 1846. Showman, soldier, legend and near-exterminator of bison. Born in an age when the West seemed to go on forever, and resources seemed inexhaustible, it was Cody that proved they aren't. In so doing he established the Ameican tradition - since extended to nearly every natural resource - of "when it's gone, it's gone".

In memory of Buffalo Bill, we've hired a mechanical rodeo bull, and everybody's got to have a go. Ir's not technically worship, but at least it should give us a laugh.

1pm - Service in Memory of Levi Strauss (b 1829) - inventor of Blue Jeans, and therefore Rock & Roll, Motorbikes, Teenage Rebellion, Baby Boomers in Elastic Waistbands and America

Introit: "I put my Blue Jeans On"

Confession - for those who wear stonewashed jeans.

Old Testament Reading: The Birth of Levi

Meditation: The Blue Danube

New Testament Reading: The Call of Levi

Regressional: "Forever in Blue Jeans"

7pm - Dinner - Buffalo Steaks. Dress: Fringed jackets and blue jeans (no stonewash)

Saturday 25 February 2012

The Blessing of a Holy Toe

Much excitement about the place, after Ehrhead's announcement that he had a specially spiritual toe.

Within minutes a small sect had been set up, dedicated to the lessons that could be learnt from the possessor of a spiritual toe. While another small sect declared that claiming to have a spiritual toe is an example of the sin of pride, and opposed the Toenailites. Before we knew where we were, there were anathemas being exchanged at dawn and pro- and anti-toe proof texts flying across the hallways.

A particularly democratic bunch have decreed that all toes are spiritual, as the whole universe is imbued with the wonder of the divine. Ehrhead, after much thought, agreed that they were probably right, although his was specially holy. But what about people with athlete's foot or ingrowing nails, he asked? Should a bunion result in exclusion from the holy people? Or, indeed, a holey sock?

I wouldn't mind, but today's Liturgy of Mild Tolerance had been so encouraging as well. We agreed that all religions lead towards the same truth, that all roads lead to the top of the mountain (except the notoriously dangerous North Col route) and no blind person can describe a whole elephant. and yet, within twenty minutes of that meeting, some drivelling fool is proving that the concept of all religions being equal is rubbish, hopping around the place with his holy toe.

Well, I put my foot down.   Now nobody believes Ehrhead's toe is holy. Not now the nail's purple.

Sewing new Green Patches on old Blogs

A missive arrives from the real world (I expect) which I am glad to pass on, to let you know that the Greenpatches blog has moved to the New Greenpatches blog. Every now and then Green Patches made us the Blog of the Week, and we're not going to let that kind of kindness go unnoticed. So go read.

Wild Horses wouldn't

The horses are gone from the lawn this morning. Mysterious.
I checked with those who might have been wandering back late from the pub, as to whether they'd seen the horses. They said no, they'd come back over the field on acount of the dry weather. But there were four blokes they didn't recognise in there last night - a red-headed man, a blond, a black man and someone with a very pale complexion. Young Keith had expected they were some local boy-band. But they were very good at pool.

Dawkins "Only an Agnostic"

Some people have jumped on Dr Richard Dawkins' back over his reported admission that he's not 100% convinced God doesn't exist. That strikes me as unfair. The Good Professor is, after all, a scientist. And scientists know all about  the difficulty of defining absolute certainty. In return I'd like to point out that I'm not 100% certain that there is no god, either - there's always that possibility that all the wealth and power I received after sacrificing  that goat was a total co-incidence*. Or, as we like to say, goat-incidence. But I refuse to be called an agnostic - as otherwise the only people that were not agnostic would be either insane, illogical or both.

But Richard Dawkins self-identifies as an atheist, and if that's how we identifies himself that's good enough for me. Even if he clearly doesn't mean it**.
* Not really.

Friday 24 February 2012

Late-night visitors

Four horses grazing on the lawn.

One white, one red, one pale green and one black.

I'm not complaining or anything, you realise.

Maybe just a little nervous?

Golden Promises and Murky Threats

It's been a day of golden promises and murky threats.

Every time the sun's come out we've rushed out to enjoy it, but then almost immediately another wave of cloud rolls in from the west, and we've charged back inside in case it rains.
It's not like we've even seen the rain as a problem. In some ways, in this drought-ridden corner of a homely field, the rain is more of a golden promise than the sun. Do we need rain or what? So we hope that this time we might get a downpour - but that didn't happen either.

It all takes me back to my formative years with the Extremely Primitive Methodists. In those days, long and merry ago now, the churchgoing population of these islands was probably about twice what it was now. Extremely Primitive Methodists are, like many of the more Protestant groups, classifiable as "suckers for a prophet". And many a time and, as the saying is, oft we would hear a message that inspired us to hope for revival in our land.

The message would normally start as a list of momentous recent moments in history. These could go back as far as the 60s but no further - saying the First World War was a sign that Christ was returning was no longer a viable option - but would more likely be contemporary significant 80s or 90s events such as the Big Wind of 87, the rumours (pre the events near Central Park that sad day) of the Beatles reforming, outbreaks of 'flu, passing of laws that were considered permissive, the death of Brezhnev - that kind of thing.
What is God telling us through all this? the Prophet would ask. And the answer would normally be that the Church and/or the Nation were being called to repentance. That the people must rend their hearts and not their collectives. And then there would be an outbreaking of the Holy Spirit over all the nation that would be the biggest since the last one. And revival would break out.

And in many ways it's an upbeat, feel good message. No wonder people bought their cassettes (yes, in those days we did indeed buy our prophetic visions on magnetic tape) and magazines (yes, in those days we did indeed read our prophetic visions on paper). They were offering hope, vision and a bright time ahead.
I felt I should try out my own prophetic ministry at one stage. So I started my own magazine and booked a series of church halls. But my key message was that things were looking a bit depressing, and the Church in the UK was probably destined to decline in numbers and influence until we were all dead.
It was strangely unpopular, my "I'll give it ten yeas" tour. Even despite my set of slides, full of stats of decline and reasons not to hope. And even my inevitable last slide of a beautiful sun-set over Husborne Crawley, over which I would make my last prophetic remarks - "and so, in visual form, this is how it's going for the English Church."

Naturally, evangelicals didn't like my message.

But even some liberals told me they wouldn't bother coming along because, although they believed in my message, there was something on telly.

Twenty years on from those days of my youthful apathy, I wonder who was right - those excitable prophets of fundamentalist Holy-Ghost Revival, or my dreary forecasts of decay. Sure, the Extremely Primitive Methodists have declined to the point where the President of Conference has been the only member for the last 10 years, but then they were always a small bunch, and at least Mabel knows she'll win the votes.
And yet Christian communities still cling and, often, thrive around the place. The chapels aren't ringing with the Redemption Hymnal but then we've lightened up a bit which can't be all bad. We maybe don't dream of rolling the clock back to New Testament times, but there's still good work, quietly done, the homeless homed, the hungry fed and the Word preached.

So in the light of this, I'm going to revise my previous, youthful prophecies. And give us another twenty years.

Trespassers will be Persecuted

Our discovery that Lent is very little fun at all has led us out into the garden, in an attempt to revel in the goodness of growing things, the sermons in stones and books in running brooks - all that stuff we say when we can't be bothered with any kind of faith that demands we change something.

Today's count of "natural things we encountered while trying to meet God in nature" included a dead badger, a discarded tyre and the remains of the pancakes which Bernie cooked but nobody wanted yesterday so he threw it out for the birds. He was hoping, somewhat improbably, to attract blue-tits and willow-warblers. What he actually got were seagulls and magpies.

We also met a man, taking a short-cut home from Aspley through the grounds, with a runny nose, called Trevor. Which is a strange name for a runny nose, when you think about it. Trevor's discovered that the sign that reads "Trespassers will be Persecuted" is not a misprint. We've accused him of heresy and locked him in the Doily Shed, while we decide whether to throw stones at him or play him the last series of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps. I'm going for the former, as it's over more quickly and less likely actually to damage his soul.

Thursday 23 February 2012



Wednesday 22 February 2012

Imposition of Swatches

Dear Readers, I have had a stressful evening.

Some have accused the Christian Religion of becoming overly feminised. And I have always denied that accusation. After all, I say - look at the Revised Common Lectionary. Only a man thoroughly versed in the deciphering of old train timetables could have the faintest chance of understanding what reading should be used when the 3nd Sunday after Epiphany co-incides with Candlemas (or Imbolc, if you're Eileen) and the Sunday Next before Lent when Year A is a Leap Year. I suspect women, more used to being practical and just getting on with things rather than worrying about precision, would just pick one at random - or, if it were Eileen, the "nicest one".

But this evening, Eileen decided to "subvert Lent" by holding an "Imposition of Swatches". She wants to purchase new curtains for the Moot House, and has decided that she would do this by holding up each fabric in turn and asking the men of the Community what they think.

I thought, before attending, that it would be more free-form, with ad-hoc contributions from the floor. I had certainly not expected that we would each be expected to give a 30-second "thought" on the theological, moral and aesthetic reasons why we preferred one swatch to another. I also had not realised that, after each man had given his opinion, Eileen or Charlii would then explain why they were precisely wrong and the opposite was the truth to what he had said - even if the previous man had said the opposite.

This isn't behaviour I normally expect of Eileen. She normally goes for tie-dye in most domestic fabrics. Nor would I expect her to be backed up so vociferously by Charlii, who generally just seems to like khaki. I was going to accuse them, at the end of what turned out to be a very long meeting, of using psychological techniques to impose a feeling of hopelessness, frustration, fear, cognitive dissonance and melancholy - in other words, a suitable set of emotions for early Lent, in Eileen's world-view. And I was going to point out that I'd got them rumbled. But in the end I decided not to say anything - Eileen wouldn't have listened, she would have fired some more confusing questions at me, then she would have got angry, and finally daffodils. Gosh I'm feeling sad.

An unlucky break for Herne the Hunter

Just got back from Milton Keynes - picking up some more flour for this morning's first "Twelve Days of Shrove Tuesday" pancake breakfast.

And who should I bump into, at this eerie and folklorish hour, but Herne the Hunter? I say "bump into" - quite literally. Who knew that ancient English mythological creatures rode bikes? Although I suppose they're into Green things. And he was wobbling around a bit - must have been a good foot out from the kerb. So I don't feel I was wholly to blame - whatever he said as he turned me temporarily into a giant weasle.

Anyway, he says there's no need for us to get him to hospital - they heal naturally, do ancestral demigods. But he's sat in the Conservatory demanding pancakes.

You know, now I see Herne close up, he does look rather like the Piper at the Gates of Dawn. You don't suppose they may be different names for the same folkloric figure? After all, you never see them in a room together.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Cherchez les Hommes

A nice piece from Stroppy Rabbit on the Woman Caught in Adultery. A conundrum in many ways, this tale. Not least because apparently Richard Dawkins is fond of it. I've no idea if this is right - he's never shared his views with me, at least. In some ways Stroppy Rabbit has the advantage of being set free from the need to believe that Jesus actually did all the things that are attributed to him, of course. Which maybe gives her more scope to consider the meaning behind the stories.

But when I read it, I wonder where the men are in the story. Not the Pharisees, the ones who rush to judge. The men. If the woman's an adulteress, where's the husband? If he's on the scene he's not considered worthy of notice. And how about the adulterer? Where's the boyfriend? Is he more powerful - is he the boss who's been knocking off the underling's wife? Is that why the husband's not around - told to keep back if he wants to keep his job? Or did the boyfriend shin off down a drainpipe with his toga round his ankles as the baying mob of stoners came rushing in the front?

We're not told. The woman's on her own in this scene. The act of adultery is - remarkably, considering - one of which only she is considered to be guilty. She's the centre of attention, the bait in the trap, the test case. She's not a human being - she's the set of conditions with which to test Jesus.  She's the fulcrum of the see-saw that can go one of two ways - agree she should be stoned and set yourself against the Romans, agree she shouldn't and set yourself against Moses.

Jesus bends down and writes. What's he writing? We don't know. We're not told. Maybe it doesn't matter,. Because the attention's off her now - it's on him. He creates a pause; a point. And then he turns the attention on them. If you've got no sin - then you stone her.

I don't think it matters whether Jesus is sinless or not, in this instance. He could have been the biggest fornicator, drunkard, thief and cheat in the eastern Med and he'd still have been in the right. They were pointing the finger at the woman - on the principle that the woman pays. And he's pointed that writing finger right at their hearts. The scene disperses, the focus is off, and it's just Jesus and the woman - and, presumably, the husband she's got to go back to. Well, that much at least is her problem, and his. But it's not theirs.

Pancake Day Transferred

A bit of a change to the Beaker liturgical year here.  A lot of Beaker People travel to work, and won't get home till long after tea-time. So we're moving Pancake Day to next Sunday so nobody misses out.

Obviously, though, it's still Pancake Day today really. So we're having some today as well.

Girl on the Platform Smile - Episode 2

Suspicions of a new "Nescafe" couple or - even worse - "BT" couple - were strengthened when this script was emailed by "a friend".

"Tickets from Sutton, please.... thank you, sir.

Is this lady with you? And does she have a ticket? Then could you ask her to stop gazing at me like that and find it?

Wigan, you say? You're right, it was lucky she crossed over to your platform. Maybe she confused it with Wimbledon?

Doesn't say much, does she? Are you sure she actually has a ticket - to Wigan or anywhere else? If not, she is liable to a penalty fare.

Look I don't care if it's the home of pies. Merely having beautiful eyes is not an acceptable alternative to possessing a ticket valid for travel.  We'll have British Transport Police waiting for you at Victoria.

And put that ukulele in the luggage rack. Somebody might want to use that seat."

Monday 20 February 2012

Criminal Records

Need to make this clear.

It's may be against common decency, musical sensibility and the generally-held sense of what is right and wrong.

But playing "Abba, Father" is not strictly speaking against the law. Please can you release Solweigh immediately - that citizen's arrest is invalid.

Spring Harvest

No, we're not to Spring Harvest this year.

I'm not going. So no-one's going. Drayton's not going - not after last year. When he found our Burton was only going in the hope of meeting a single, female vicar. And Burton's definitely not going. Not after last year's failure.

I've been phoned by Spring Harvest twice now, asking if I'm going. No I'm not.  Hope everyone who goes has a good time. But we'll have to have an alternative week of teaching, preaching and modern worship here. Burton's still learning how to tune the ukulele, but he's hopeful that by April he'll be able to manage "Our God Reigns". You can't get much more modern than that.

Sunday 19 February 2012

The Long Bright Tea-time of the Soul

It's a weird feeling for this time of a Sunday. Going down to the Moot House this morning for Pouring-out of Beakers, I found all the Beaker Folk fast asleep where I'd left them last night. When I told them to wake up, as we'd got an act of worship to perform, one of them mumbled something about "just another ten minutes Mum. And it's only R.E. first thing." So naturally I poured the beakers out over a few of them, and left them all to it.

But it's given me an odd kind of Sunday. Sure, I went off and meditated on the wind blowing the trees around - with so much less effect on them in their current, leafless state. The way trees lose their leaves before the Winter storms begin, you could almost believe in Design. But my sermon on "Mountain Top Experiences", complete with Powerpoint presentation, remains unprojected. Which is possibly just as well, as it mostly consisted of photos of people in woolly hats and warm coats, gazing hopelessly into thick fog and clinging onto cliff edges.

Yet not having preached today has left me feeling rather good. Sure, I've not enjoyed that buzz you get from rousing everybody's spirits. But on the other hand I'm not currently in that state of  spiritually coming-down that follows. For once, I'm not sat here having realised that everybody completely missed my point. I'm not recalling that I dropped an entire page of notes without anyone noticing. I'm not fretting that nobody's life was dramatically changed. I'm not panicking that all anyone said to me afterwards was "nice sermon, Archdruid."

In short, I'm not feeling washed-out and desolate, gazing out the window in a state of torpor and letting my coffee go cold.

I've just been for a walk, and recognised Drayton Parslow for the child of God that he is, instead of the menace to shipping that I normally regard him as. I asked him whether he ever feels deflated on Sunday afternoons. And he said yes, and he believed that, when that happens, it's because the Spirit, having spoken through him to others, has now left him to consider his own failings. An interesting thought. But I'll still put it down to a drop in adrenaline.

Still, the afternoon is sunny and clear, I've managed to get the ESPN licence renewed and, out in the kitchen garden, Beaker Folk refreshed after their long sleep are digging the beds ready for the early plantings. It's all bright till tea-time. What a refreshing Sunday this is.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Late-night prayer session

That was a mistake.

Never have a few minutes' silent prayer during a late-night prayer session.

They're all fast asleep. I've had to tip-toe out.

Still, on the bright side, they'll be early for Pouring out of Beakers tomorrow morning.

The X-Factor Universe

I'm a little late catching up with Doug's rather nicely worked-out comments on the prologue to John's Gospel. You know how it is. Hearing that my phone was on an Android operating system, Burton went all "Blade Runner" on us and declared war on all smartphones, vowing to hunt them all down and replace them with nice, safe phones with circular dials. It took six days before the phones managed to out-think him and bring him to justice. Well, ten minutes to out-think him. They spent the rest of the time trying to re-program him to have a personality.

But what set me thinking were Doug's comments on the universe in which we live and its susceptibility to reason and what one could see as its "right" universal constants. Doug lists three views (one of which can be discarded out of hand) and the other two are thusly:

"2. Those patterns reveal that the universe is ordered according to mathematical ratios and scientific principles in ways which make it entirely open to rational investigation, but there is no actual reason the universe is reasonable. The ordered, proportioned and investigable universe is the result of a purely accidental, irrational and random chance."

3. Those patterns reveal a fit between the reasoning investigator of the creation and the rational nature of what is being investigated that make design, purpose and intentionality a more congruent understanding of the patterned universe. Some sort of Creative Reason behind the universe seems a more reasonable explanation both of the human capacity for reason, and the susceptibility of the universe to rational investigation."

Some scientists, of course, adopt a different explanation to this apparently innately anthopogenic universe, where by divine plan - if you like - the constants are "just right". Let me use the analogy of the Eyeballs in the Sky.

In the Perishers cartoon strip, you may remember, Boot the dog goes with the children every August to the seaside. While Marlon says stupid things and Maisie pushes the lads around, Boot goes off to see what the crabs are doing in the rockpool. The crabs, seeing Boot's "Eyeballs in the Sky" assume he is a divine visitation. Hymns are sung, the low are lifted high, the seers and leaders are brought low, civilisations are brought to an end and mildly dirty jokes are made. And then the kids go back to School, late, and the dog goes with them and it's all over for another year. The crabs wait for the Eyeballs to come again.

Now to the crabs, the rock-pool is their "Pooliverse". There's only one, and heaven is upwards. The rationalists among them  have in the past, Babel-like, built towers of crabs to attempt to reach the Eyeballs to prove they are not divine, or pushed crabs holding onto sticks up out of the "Pooliverse", but these heretics always come to a sticky end and need not concern us now.

But of course, we - the clever, cartoon-reading omniscients in all this - we know there are other rock-pools, on that beach. Some will contain periwinkles or sea urchins. Others will have holes in them, so are empty - or they are too shallow and dry out in the heat of the morning sun. Or they are polluted by the outflow from the storm drains. But the crab's Pooliverse is in the Goldilocks zone, where the components are "just right". It may appear to the crabs that the pool has been designed for them - in fact, they just happen to be in the right place.

And so it is with the Universe, say these scientists. There are uncountable other universes - each one with its own sets of universal constants. In some the strong nuclear force is too week, and helium cannot form. In others gravity is too strong, and stars collapse into black holes as soon as they form. In others, the Humboldt's Constant is irrational, and penguins cannot fly underwater. And so, you see, we have no need of God to explain the "just right" universe - instead we have an X-factor multiverse, where the Leona Lewis set of constants go on to deveop life and perform at the Palladium, whereas the rather rubbish universes rail at the cosmic (but, I stress, metaphorical) Simon Cowell that they could have supported life, only they had a bit of a cold and didn't warm up properly. And nobody understands them because their speed of light is too fast.

And so we live in a just-right universe because where else could we live?

And, in between kicking Burton because it appears that the smart-phones have reprogrammed him as a member of JLS, it makes me think two things. One is - if that's the case, where did the just-right multiverse come from? And the other is - how come I'm here?

Friday 17 February 2012

The Girl on the Platform Smile - the Uke Chords

I have had such an evening!

Earlier on, I found the chords to the song on "The Girl on the platform Smile". I have been playing it ever since. I suggested to Eileen that we could re-create the scene, but I'm afraid she hit me with the ukulele.

The Pipers at the Interference Patterns of Dawn

The New Scientist asks the question on every hippy's lips: "Did other-worldly music inspire Stonehenge?"

I'm gonna take a punt on this one and go with "no". The idea that some Beaker People noticed interference patterns between two flautists playing the same note, and thought "we must mark this magical phenomenon. Let's run up the Marlborough Downs and drag all the sarsens down - and put a 50-ton stone wherever we find a dead spot. That's got to be easier than marking it out with paint." Did they do this?
Not an interference pattern
No. The answer's no. Just another in a long line of explanations for Stonehenge that don't hold water (unlike the uneven surface of the Altar Stone, which does. Although it's not an altar - it used to stand upright).

The interference pattern from two flautists would be symmetrical. Stonehenge's sarsen horseshoe is aligned on an axis, and vaguely symmetrical in one plane not two. There's no explanation for the bluestones' arrangements - a horseshoe and a circle, as well. There's no explanation for why the bluestones were being moved around - or why they went all the way to Prescelli to get them (yes, I know that there's a glacier theory, but they'd still have to move them, unless they happened to land in a circle and a horseshoe). It doesn't explain the Station Stones. It doesn't explain the Cursus, or Woodhenge or Durrington Walls or the Avenue or the solar alignment. Or the wombles. OK, I made up the wombles.

I notice that Steven Walker is an "archaeoacoustician". Now there's a creatively-named science if ever I heard one. No wonder he's independent. I'm going to give this 3.2 Goves on the plausibility scale. Which is just behind the aliens in likelihood, but ahead of the wombles.

Here's the only commentary on the sounds of Stonehenge I'd recommend:

"What monstrous place is this?" said Angel.

"It hums," said she. "Hearken!"

He listened. The wind, playing upon the edifice, produced a booming tune, like the note of some gigantic one-stringed harp. No other sound came from it, and lifting his hand and advancing a step or two, Clare felt the vertical surface of the structure. It seemed to be of solid stone, without joint or moulding. Carrying his fingers onward he found that what he had come in contact with was a colossal rectangular pillar; by stretching out his left hand he could feel a similar one adjoining. At an indefinite height overhead something made the black sky blacker, which had the semblance of a vast architrave uniting the pillars horizontally. They carefully entered beneath and between; the surfaces echoed their soft rustle; but they seemed to be still out of doors. The place was roofless. Tess drew her breath fearfully, and Angel, perplexed, said—

"What can it be?"

Feeling sideways they encountered another tower-like pillar, square and uncompromising as the first; beyond it another and another. The place was all doors and pillars, some connected above by continuous architraves.

"A very Temple of the Winds," he said.

The next pillar was isolated; others composed a trilithon; others were prostrate, their flanks forming a causeway wide enough for a carriage; and it was soon obvious that they made up a forest of monoliths grouped upon the grassy expanse of the plain. The couple advanced further into this pavilion of the night till they stood in its midst.

"It is Stonehenge!" said Clare.

"The heathen temple, you mean?"

"Yes. Older than the centuries; older than the d'Urbervilles!"

Morning has Broken

The "First Morning", if we should choose or be able to define it, would have been a point in the rotation of a coalescing mass of hydrogen, helium and heavier elements, dragged together by their own gravity after being ejected by the death throes of a former star.

Any folk singer or, indeed, blackbird, present at the time would have died due to the lack of a breathable atmosphere. Which at least would have saved them from the more painful death consequent on the solar radiation from which they would not have been shielded by the unbreathable atmosphere.

I've no idea what the first "dew fall" would have been on that first earth, but I'm guessing something fairly acidic. And it wouldn't have fallen on the first grass, because that came billions of years later.

Likewise the "first bird". I"ve always been fond of the notion that birds are indeed actually the only remaining dinosaurs - members of the warm-blooded, flying group to be sure. Now I don't know what the first pterosaur sounded like but I'd guess something fairly terrifying rather than the sweet call of a blackbird.

So, on the whole, I think some people can over-romanticize this whole "like the first morning" business. Morning has indeed broken, but thank goodness it's not like the first one.

Thursday 16 February 2012

"It is meaningless - in a way"

"It is meaningless - in a way - so each of us can put our own meaning on it." So said a local in response to what they're called Achill-henge - a megalithic folly in concrete on the Western coast of Ireland.

I sometimes think that you can put too much weight onto the powers of logic. Logic only works well when it starts from the right base. What one might call bastard-modernism puts a lot onto an apparently scientific method - which is why Christian Fundamentalism is a modern construct, but without science's power of review and criticism. The people of earlier times were more allegorical, more mystical, more woolly - they had no need, in the great scheme of things, for 6 days to equal 6 days - they could mean what you wanted.

As does Achill-henge. And so, in our own green and pleasant land, its more ancient cousins like Stonehenge and the Avebury.

You can make a wild stab at what it all means - the burial mounds we can at least understand part of - but there's no real certainty. I still remember the first time I saw the Rollright Stones. On an icy early October morning, wandering along the ridgeway road that leads from Little to Great Rollright. And there were the stones -almost  nuzzling up towards the fence by the roadside - not sinister, not really scary but certainly... well, uncanny really. Eerie, it might be called.

I've never really understood what it is about the place - it's just a strange place. People tie ribbons to the trees, but I've never understood why. It may have meant something once but we don't know what - the ancient Beaker People left no writing. It's like a tea light or a thunderstorm or a lunar eclipse or a kiss. They're what they are, and we react however we react and put in the meaning we want to impute. As the man said - "It is meaningless - in a way."

If a waveform collapses in the forest

He's a nice neighbour, Mr Schrödinger. Quiet, polite, helpful - understanding - and especially so when you consider the sort of people I have here in the Community.

But it's his cat that gets on my nerves. He sits out there, grinning down from the fence at the Beaker cat, Grendel. Who's not that great a fighter (although you should have seen her mother).

And he leaves droppings in the flower beds - the cat, that is, not Mr S himself.

And you can't feed the birds anymore - he's jumping off the fence and climbing the bird table and slaughter ensues.

In fact, I'm getting a bit paranoid about him. I start to get edgy when I think he's in the garden.

He's out there now, I reckon.

Or maybe he's not.

Or maybe he just partly is?

Rats, that's it. I'm going to have to go out. There's only one way to resolve the situation.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Set Religion Free

I've been pondering the concept of "secularism".

You see, for all that the court case against Bideford Council was sponsored by the British Sad Sacks, and the bloke who brought the complaint was a bit Mr Beanish - I can't see why prayers (presumably of the traditional "broadly Christian nature") should be on the agenda. If councillors want to pray, let them do so in their own cupboards, as the Lord said. Or, if they want to get together to do so - let them do so beforehand. I'll not begrudge them the electric. Not least as I don't pay the bills in Bideford.

It just bothers me that any religion should be expected to be privileged in a modern state. Why should it? The Church managed 3 centuries without getting to demand that the State did what the Church requested - and once it had State recognition, I'm not convinced it did such a great job with it all the time then. The Church was never meant to have power.

It strikes me that, if religion is in touch with the heart of God (or gods, for we at the Beaker Folk accept people of all faiths and nuns) then it doesn't really need this kind of  protection. Blasphemy laws are foolish, obviously - for if God can't defend Godself against blasphemers, given the divine sanctions of eternal damnation and thunderbolts, what can mere human beings do? But if religious morals are in accord with natural law - thosee mandates that in one sense don't need to be written down because they can be deduced from the way things are - why should we need to appeal to the Divine to back them up? As CS Lewis pointed out when he listed all the religions that have the Golden Rule, these things must be fairly clear. The Universe was kind of built round them, if God did indeed build the Universe.

Likewise I'm not too fond of bishops in the House of Lords. Or, let me clarify that - I'm quite fond of bishops, and I've no problem with bishops being in the House of Lords, provided that they've either been elected by the populace into a proper, democratic Lords or they've been appointed for their general contribution to the life of the Nation. Personally I'd have no problem with removing the whole of the "Great and the Good" that currently occupy that hallowed place en masse, and starting again with no appointment of retired politicians, party donors or John Prescott.

You see, Jesus will one day reclaim his right to rule the whole Universe. But he didn't tell his Church to. He expected his Church, as far as I can tell, to be few in number, often oppressed and rarely if ever in power. The idea of Cardinal Richelieu, Rasputin or bishops in the House of Lords did not, as far as the Good Book tells us, ever cross his mind. If the Church is running the show, if it's on the side of power, then it can't identify with or speak for the weak, that's what I reckon. Let the country have an even playing field, privileging no creed, that's what I say. Then the Faith can be set free.

In the Drunk Tank

I'm intrigued by the Government's latest gimmick. Sorry, policy. Policy. I keep confusing those two.

They plan to introduce US-style "drunk tanks" to put, presumably, drunks in.

Now a "drunk tank" is, as I understand it, a cell for drunk people. I fail to understand how a "drunk tank" differs from a cell with a drunk in it. Surely a drunk-tank by any other name would smell as foul?

Or would drunk-tanks be available only as accommodation for drunks - in which case I would argue this would be just the kind of waste of resources that Tories hate in the public sector? If there were a sudden outbreak of non-drink-related crime - as it may be, fly-tipping or terrorism - would the suspects be turned away if the only flowery dells left had been redesignated as drunk tanks?

And I detect another flaw.

In the UK, I would argue, the term "drunk tank" is almost exclusively associated with that holiest of punk-folk songs, "Fairytale of New York". The opening of a drunk tank would likely attract a host of drunks, wanting to get locked up therein on the off-chance that the old drunk next to them might start singing about the Rare Ol' Mountain Dew. All we need in this culture is for people to adopt deliberate drunkenness so they can imagine they're in New York, with Kirsty MacColl waiting for them on Christmas Morning when they're kicked out.

No, drunken disorderliness is a crime. Beating up family members when drunk is a crime. Anyone adopting these behaviours should be treated as criminals - not romanticised as Americanised losers. Let's put them in the cells. That's where you put criminals.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Professor Pillinger does it Again

A nice little article on the Wilsford-cum-Lake meteorite.

I was intrigued by Professor Pillinger's comments that "along came some druids, scavenging on Salisbury Plain for strange or interesting stones, and it was picked up and used in a chalk mound..." Just like the ones that druids famously didn't build. With no evidence that druids ever collected stones. Because the (remarkably limited) information we actually have on druids says they worshipped in woods, not with mounds, not with stones.

Unless, of course, they were Beaker druids?

I would say that it proves scientists shouldn't wander into other people's fields. Except of course that we know Prof Pillinger's last great success was putting a barbecue on Mars and leaving Beagle II in the garage. And Dickie Dawkins doesn't know the name of that book. Maybe scientists shouldn't even wander into their own fields? Or at least, only proper scientists like particle physicists and chemists should be allowed to wander into any fields.

Believing in Hardy

Well, since Hnaef challenged me, it was pretty easy.

Under the Greenwood Tree, or The Mellstock Quire: A Rural Painting of the Dutch School.

Is it really so hard to name the foundation document of your most defining beliefs?

I'm not sure Hnaef did so well. I'm almost sure that was an Anglo-Saxon accent he used in pronouncing the German title of that book by Jürgen Moltmann.

My Nerdy Valentine

In some ways I blame myself. We've worked so hard to remove all the more troublesome masculine characteristics that all we have left is "geeky". It's anonymous, of course, but all the evidence points to Burton Dasset as the sender, as you'll see:

Roses are red, violets are blue,
The base of love is binary,
And 1 and 1 make 10.


Monday 13 February 2012

Cheering up a dull evening

The Eve of St Valentine is always a little wearing. You can never hold a decent religious service in the evening, because every now and then the penny drops with a different bloke as to what day tomorrow is, and he legs it out the Moot House looking furtive. You hear the sound of gravel being sprayed across the drive as he belts out of the grounds, returning twenty minutes later and claiming to have been answering "a call of nature" - when we all know for a fact he's been off to Tesco at Kingston for an emergency purchase of chocolates, flowers and sparkling rosé.

So I scrapped the normal evening celebration after Filling up of Beakers, and instead we went for a showing of  an old DVD of "Midsomer Murders".

It was the one where there's a series of murders in a strange, nature-loving religious community in a remote village - I realise I'm not narrowing this down much. But the result is that there's a deal of mutual suspicion about the place. Being an impressionable lot, the Beaker People have acquired the belief that someone is out to get them. Everyone's making sure they're not stabbed in the back, and they're huddling in small groups for self-protection. I tell you, sometimes I reckon I might as well be in the Church of England.


It was Eileen who asked me to carry out an audit on the governance of the Beaker Folk. "Burton," she said, "don't we have a few too many committees?

Naturally I rushed off to draw a diagram. And I have listed below the current Beaker committee structure.
A few things spring to mind. The first is that we can see the source of much aggravation between the various sub-committees within the Beaker committee structure. To take just one example - where do we draw the line between a barbecue (social) and a bonfire (worship)? If potatoes are roasted on the bonfire, does that make it a barbecue? It may sound like a pedantic point but these fine details have caused punch-ups in the past as everyone tries to establish where the boundaries lie.

We did experiment with some combined sub-committees - a group that combined members of the Little Pebbles management group, and the All Age planning sub-committee, for example. However in that instance it turned out that the members of both groups were the same - so we struggled to understand who was speaking in which capacity. Likewise, the Bingo and Flower Arranging groups are identical in membership - so they have to wear different hats so they remember what they're supposed to talk about.

In summary, we now have enough committees to ensure that anyone who really wanted to, could go to a meeting every day for a month. So I have reported back to Archdruid that yes, we do indeed have enough committees.

Sunday 12 February 2012

How Evolution Works

I was just thinking again about those glowing monkeys again - the ones with the bio-luminescence gene.

It strikes me that if an hedgehog passed on a mutation that caused ts children to have hi-viz prickles, that would be a decent adaptation and they might thrive (although it might be good news for badgers). At any rate, they'd get run over less often.

Whereas if a ninja had the same mutation, it wouldn't necessarily be such a good thing.

Hearing the Call

Brethren, what a shocking morning.

In some respects, the problems started with the bloggers behind "The Church Sofa". It seems that it was they who inspired the soi-disant Archdruid next door in her evil schemes.

I now know that it was she - or one of her minions of darkness - who slipped into Bogwulf Chapel last night, and gaffer-taped a mobile phone under the pulpit. She who then waited until the time at which she knew I would be mid-way through my sermon, "The narrow road and the wide one." She then called up.

AC/DC were never my favourite rock group - even as an adolescent, as I struggled to find the resolution to the temptations of the flesh (and strength in my struggles, for no young women ever seemed tempted in return). I considered them loud, coarse and sexually over-explicit. I have never enjoyed their music, and indeed have avoided listening to it for thirty years. Until today.

For it was as I offered the congregation the alternatives - the narrow road that leads to eternal joy, or the wide one that leads us down the path to perdition - that they were offered the suggestion that "Hell ain't a bad place to be." Naturally I cleared the chapel immediately, and sent in volunteers - suitably protected with ear-muffs - to remove the offending phone. Unfortunately, given the hearing protection, it was somewhat harder to find the phone than might otherwise have been the case. But we found it eventually.

I think, brothers (but not sisters - for the moral choices I am about to put before you, you should only receive advice on from your own pastor, or a husband of suitable moral fibre) - I think that Eileen was expecting me to storm round to her House, bang the door with a noise like unto the Knell of Doom and denounce her for the scheming, insensitive trouble-maker that she is. But no.

I walked to the Great House, avoiding the man trap and branch-covered pits she had so cunningly strewn in my path, and presented her phone back to her.

"It's for you," I told her - witty, I think - "But I want you to know, I forgive you."

She looked a little confused as I left. I think I may have got this one right.

Darwin's Birthday (1809)

It's a commonly-known fact that Charles Darwin was exactly the same age as Abraham Lincoln. Which gives you cause to think. The idea that out of all the thousands of famous people that have ever been born, two were actually born on the same day is almost too unlikely to believe. Rather like the idea that camels and canaries share the same, distant common ancestor - a kind of lemur called an Ai-Ai. Of course, they both evolved to lose those rather disturbing fingers that the Ai-Ai possesses, thus making them much more suited to desert life.

Darwin it was who, in 1831, took to sea under the command of Robert Fitzroy and embarked on what turned out to be the gastronomic frenzy of a lifetime.

His early days on board ship were blighted by sea-sicknesses, and Charlie D stuck to raisins - unusually for a man who had, in his time, eaten kestrels and owls. Maybe, as he leaned against the side of the boat, retching wretchedly, he considered that he had bittern off more than he could chew. However once over that, he made up for it big time. Over the next few years, Darwin consumed a wide variety of the members of the animal kingdom including albatrosses (which weren't considered unlucky till Coleridge wrote that poem), giant tortoises (he was very fond of the soup, and kindly sent me the recipe when I lived in 19th Century Wessex), rheas, armadillo and a puma.  Many endangered species that we know today are only endangered because Darwin ate so many of them in the 19th Century. Even today there are two species of puffin named "Darwin's Tasty Puffin" and "Darwin's Needs-a-bit-more-salt Puffin". Indeed, one species of bird was famously named literally at the table - the "Great Auk".

It was while exploring the Galapagos Island that Darwin made the discovery that would make him famous, when the Spanish cook, Fernando, served up a dish of finches cooked in birds-eye chilli and lemon. "How come these finches each have a different shape and a different kind of beak?" Darwin asked. The answer was that the different finch shapes had been adapted to the different sauce types - the  plumper, grain-eating finches went better with the garlic + herb sauce, while the "very hot" sauce covered up the taste of insectivorous birds.

And so Darwin developed his theory of natural selection. In a nutshell (cracked easily by the muscular beak of the Large Tree Finch), animals that are tasty get eaten more than those that aren't. Which is why nothing ever tastes as good as Mum's cooking - all the animals have evolved to taste worse since you left home.

So, Charles Darwin, we salute you for your indefatigable culinary adventures. And well done to Abraham Lincoln as well - a man so honoured in the UK that we named one of our middle-sized Midlands cities after him.

Saturday 11 February 2012

Church Closure Snow Line

Once again a dreadfully cold night is forecast over England. A night to remember those without log fires, central heating or, indeed roofs.

But after last week's outbreak of service cancellation and poor turnout, some fellowships are getting their cancellations in early to save their congregations turning up to find a locked door. Or the ministers having a total attendance of 4 if you include the Godhead (or 2 for Unitarians). So I'm glad to offer this early-warning service for church closures.

St Botolph's, Little Gibbering - Baptism cancelled due to frozen font.

St Vitus's, Skipping-Round-the-Mapole: Unable to light tea lights due to temperature below the flash-point of paraffin wax.

Benefice of Great Unease with Much Trembling: service will go ahead, as the congregation has been snowed into the church since last Sunday.

Chitterling Methodist Church - So cold it's snowing inside the chapel.

St Pingu, Little Sense - Door frozen shut

St Bernard, Little Hope - Door frozen open

St Nanook, Upper Blizzard - Bellringers frozen to ropes

Great Chattering in the Pews - The heating broke down. In 1765.

Bogwulf Fundamentalist Baptists - Service is on. Underfloor heating will be set to maximum. To remind the congregation of what to expect for all eternity, if they're not careful.

 The Salvation Army

From the Postbag

And it's been a right mixed bag this week, with the Synod talking about Women Priests, Fabio Capello retreating from the England job and a secret poll of Conservative ministers revealing that even David Cameron doesn't believe the Health Service reforms are a good idea.


"Fr Lester" writes from Hinckley to tell me that the "problem of women's ordination" is all down to the availability of ready-made jam and cake. "In my day, middle-class women would spend most of their time making jam and cakes. But now that such comestibles are readily available in Waitrose, they find they have time on their hands. Since much of the jam and cake was intended for use at church fetes and jumble sales, naturally they look for new outlets for their religious energies. And of course since Henry VIII closed the convents, nowadays that means the priesthood.
"In my opinion, Mr Kipling should have stuck to writing exceedingly good books. Mr Hartley would have been better off concentrating on fly fishing. And Mr Robinson would definitely have benefitted from watching what his wife was doing in the afternoons. After all that scandal in the 60s she joined an all-woman commune, and is now Episcopal Bishop of New Brogsville, Carolina."

Climate Change

So much for women bishops. Deidre Drayne writes in from Droitwich on the vexed subject of whether burning incense is causing global warming. She says "It stands to reason - before the 1830s Britain was in a mini-Ice Age. The Thames froze over and Frost Fairs were held on William Gladstone. Then the Oxford Movement started, CO2 levels started to rocket and now we are where we are today. I'd go outside to look in horror at the dustbowl to which the West Midlands has been reduced, only my door is currently frozen shut. "

But Fr Dudley from Wolverhampton writes, "Absolute piffle. Incense is, if anything, the antidote to global warming. If you ever find anything colder than the temperature in an Anglican country church let me know. Last week our pews were so cold they exhibited super-conductive behaviour. Played havoc with the pace-maker."


English sport has been much in the news this week, with only the Rugby Union side, whatever that is, doing well. Sydney Odde-Breeches writes in from Market Snodbury:

"Dear Eileen. I am not surprised that the English batting is once again collapsing. Hiring a coach who was Italian was clearly a terrible mistake. Ian Bell is hopelessly out of position on the left wing, while nobody has ever really solved the problem of how Lampard and Gerrard can play together in the middle order. Personally I would appoint Chris Huhne as England captain as he is currently out of a job, and JohnTerry being appointed Transport Secretary means we now have enough liberals in the Cabinet."

The Eurozone

And finally, as crowds of Greek protestors head for the Parliament and police tear-gas them, while families give up their children because they can't afford to feed them, I receive a letter from a spokesperson for the Greek Prime Minister. Stavros Thanatodemocritos writes:

"We found your comments that 'the Euro is a disaster. The Greeks should sell Crete to the Germans, switch back to the Drachma, devalue and refuse to pay their debts' to be extremist and anti-European. And in any case that is Phase 3 of our economic plan, and is supposed to be a secret.

"For now we have to stay in the Euro, sack Civil Servants, cut pensions, fire tear-gas at rioters and encourage families to give up their children - otherwise chaos could ensue. Apologies for the lack of a stamp on the envelope, and for this letter being written on a palimpsest of the original edition of Homer's Iliad. But we're a bit short this month."

Thanks for all your emails and letters. Burton Dasset has thoroughly enjoyed wading through them all to find the ones that were vaguely interesting - actually giving up several night's sleep for the task. It's a hard job, but someone's got to do it - and it's not going to be me.

Friday 10 February 2012

Synod member "to challenge prayers before sessions"

Already reeling from yet another gruelling few days of discussing women bishops, the Synod of the Church of England can expect another problem after one of its members said that he would challenge the use of prayers before the daily sessions of the Synod.

Mr Brian Strangely-Annoid told reporters he had been inspired by the action of Clive Bone in challenging Bideford Council.  He added,  "The use of worship before Church of England Synod meetings is an anachronism - and discriminatory against people who don't believe in God. When I complained, they told me I could turn up late - but it made me feel uncomfortable, wandering across the hall when everyone else has already been there for a while. I demand equality for those atheists and members of other religions who are in the Synod - and who don't want to have Christianity rammed down their throat.

An Anglican spokesperson responded, saying "We believe that the use of prayers before Synod reflects the fact that this is historically a Christian organisation. At the last census more than 50% of members of the Church of England indicated that they believed in some kind of god. We appreciate there are socially-minded people who want to be involved in the Church without actually believing anything. But if those that don't believe in God don't want to take part in worship before Synod meetings, I suggest they just do what everyone else does and go on Twitter until it's all over.

Olney the Lonely

The BBC bring us news of a fascinating piece of meta-analysis that reveals that, in the great scheme of things, loneliness is a big killer. What does it teach us?

I suppose it tells us that it's a good idea for people to see other people. Naturally the government's doctors won't be allowed to recommend people get down the pub as a way of improving their health, but I don't know - bit of a walk either side of some social interaction, and nobody's making them consume alcoholic drinks if they don't want to - I hear such beverages as Irn Bru and Tizer are also available.

But it's a fact, the scientists say, that people need people. Some would say it's an echo of the Trinity, coded into our very beings. Others, that humans have evolved to be social because when our many-great-grandparents came down from the trees, they needed to be able to gang up against lions, hyenas and Millwall supporters. Indeed, my great-uncle Freddie Fitzroy-Russell spent most of his life living up a tree, only coming down occasionally to hunt a gazelle or whatever in the Safari Park. It was poor Freddie's condition that encouraged the rest of the family to stop only marrying other people called Fitzroy-Russell, so at least his life wasn't completely wasted.

Of course, others might reflect that this is why, as I mentioned the other day, there are only twelve anchorites in the Church of England.

But it should give us great encouragement to get together. It's not just good for the people you see, particularly should you go out of your way to see someone who lives alone (that's someone who's expecting you or whom you know - don't just go freelancing, that's not at all wise) - it's good for you as well.

Failure in Intercessory Prayer

Can all Beaker Folk who work in Milton Keynes, London, Oxford, Bedford or Luton notice that, despite a rather lovely covering to the landscape, covered as it is by a shawl of beauty sufficient for the purity of the Blessed Virgin herself, the roads are all open and the railways running OK. so you can get out and go to work.

So those of you who insisted on holding an all-night "snow service" to pray for a snow day, are going to be very tired, aren't you. As I told you, it only works if it's in line with the will of the Creator.And s/he obviously wants everyone in at work today. I can't pretend to understand why - even the firstborn cherub struggles to plumb the depths of love divine - but maybe somebody else was praying to be able to get somewhere, and you balanced out so God decided on a compromise?

Thursday 9 February 2012

Hallowed Chaos

Having had our experiments with Fish & Chip Church, Take-away Church and all the rest, it's nice to direct you to a new blog, Hallowed Chaos, by Sheena, who has some practical advice on Hairdressing Church.

Hat-tip to Laura (@layanglicana) for putting me onto this. Laura herself blogs here.

Sacrifice in English Religion

The English religion, it is sometimes said by people wondering why men don't go to church, is football. For the benefit of my American readers, or people from Gloucester, Northampton or St Helens, I should explain that I'm talking about foot-ball here, the game that one plays with one's feet, hence the name.
One part of the older, traditional religions of the British Isles, before the English arrived to introduce the Church of England and subsequently football, was human sacrifice. In order to ensure that the crops grew the following year, the Celtic folk would build giant Wicker Men, fill them with prisoners, and set them on fire - as shown in that seminal film where Christopher Lee cons Edward. Woodward into dressing up as a fool and then sets fire to him while the brass band plays "Summer is y-cumen in" or somesuch culturally inappropriate song.

For my American readers, I should explain that this is The Wicker Man. Not the one with Nicholas Cage. Ridiculous film that is. Imagine - a religious commune run by a scary woman, where the men are all useless drones. Where could they have got that kind of idea?

In more recent years, due a misprint, the Wicker men transformed into "wicket men" - a group of Novices, dressed ceremonially in white, who are slaughtered when they are unable to cope with the magic of "spin bowling".

For my American readers, cricket is... no, sorry, I couldn't possibly explain.

The English religion of football is based on a four-year liturgical cycle.  In some respects it resembles the Fisher King of Arthurian legend, that man on whose welfare the state of the kingdom depends.
The nation engages a council of wise fools, the "FA", to find the man with the greatest tactical and magical skills. It must be a man. The English will not allow women to take this role due to a belief that they don't understand the arcane mysteries of the Laws of the Game- in particular "The Offside Rule".The FA are allowed to scour the world for this role, or sometimes just Middlesborough. When they find him, they pour gold over his head until he accepts the role.

The "England Manager" will initially be recognised by the nation to be gifted with second sight, profound wisdom, genius and an ability to solve the "Riddle of Gerrard and Lampard". His every touch will be regarded as magical, to be confirmed after two years when, after a goalless draw with a team from a small former Soviet Republic, the team narrowly qualify for Europe. He will then be declared "unlucky" to have gone out to Germany or, as it may be, Italy.

But this is the high spot of his powers. From now on, everything he does goes from genius to foolishness. He will repeatedly be compared with an ancestral sage of near god-like powers named "Ramsey" and seen to fall short. The only one still convinced of his powers, he will make bizarre claims to be able to divine the sins of people in former life. He may drop people in good form, play Wes Brown instead of Jamie Carragher, or believe in an antiquated formula known as "4-4-2".

The end of the Manager's reign is always bizarre, shambling oblivion. Managers have taken obviously injured players to tournaments in the belief that they can be miraculously healed; claimed to have fountains of youth in which Beckham can regain his youthful ability or paired Emile Heskey with Wayne Rooney. They may unexpectedly take Lineker off when we need a goal, or pick players who have never even played for their clubs. Some may even start to resemble turnips, or other root vegetables. When they raise an umbrella above their heads in a futile attempt to keep the anger of the gods from falling on them, the nation knows that it is time. The well-being of England is once again at a low.

Eventually The Manager is sacrificed to that god-like pantheon "The Press". Supernatural beings that are said to be able to know a man's very thoughts - or at least his phone messages. The Press accepts the sacrifice, and makes one demand of the FA. If the last Manager was English, they demand the mystic powers of a foreigner. If the last was foreign, they request the traditions and ancient powers of a Briton. They belief that there is one mage - the O'Neill of legend - who can combine both these threads. And yet the O'Neill can never be found when he is needed.

Enough. Time has once again come full circle. The sacrifice is made. A new Manager will be appointed, all nature will be reborn and the cycle can begin again.

John Hooper (1555)

The first Protestant Bishop (although not the first Martyr) to suffer in the Marian persecution. Bishop of Gloucester. Yet he does not, as far as I understand, merit even a commemoration from the good old C of E*.

Perhaps because he wasn't a Cambridge man?

*© The Church Mouse

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Fabio Capello Resigns....

As we heard from this tweet a short time ago.

Lucky Harry Redknapp is innocent then?

You can say what you like, but I reckon that was a heck of an over-reaction to the Church of England Synod's discussion on women bishops.

A Thought on Women Bishops

Some are saying that the Church of England should consecrate women bishops because otherwise the World Outside will see the denomination as unequal, backwards and irrelevant.

Yet the Methodists, bless them, have had full equality for women for ages and are a tiny denomination - especially in the UK. The Episcopal Church in the States has full equality for people of all genders and several sexual inclinations, and is rapidly declining. Yet the Catholic Church, which has no female deacons even, and which in the West will only allow married men to be priests if they have been pre-approved by the Anglicans, is large and still growing. Most Pentacostal churches wouldn't dream of female headship and yet as an overall movement Pentecostalism is growing rapidly.

It seems to me the logic is wrong here. The Church of England should not consecrate women bishops because it's worried what the World thinks. It should consecrate women bishops because that is the right thing to do.

The Catholic Spirit

On the whole it's true to say that our relations with the Guinea Pig Folk of Stewartby have been strained. At times, very strained. Especially that time we ate their gods by mistake, although the occasion when  we accidentally trod on a previous generation of guinea pigs (and one of the replacements ended up as a half-Blackberry robo-cavy) has been lost in the time wars.

It doesn't help that their beliefs are so unusual. I mean, I'm fond of quoting John Wesley's Sermon 39 on The Catholic Spirit, but Wesley's question is "Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?" So frankly the answer is "As long as you wear that silly guinea pig outfit and continue to talk in a mixture of whistles and grunts, then no it ain't."

But I read this fascinating article on early guinea pigs in Europe. It turns out that from relatively early times after the discovery (or, as I prefer to think of it, "invasion") of the Americas, guinea pigs were available in Europe. The Stewartby People will be very intrigued to know that they were mostly treated as pets - although I see there are also tasting notes.

But more fun will be asking Drayton Parslow about the Bruegel painting. There are clearly guinea pigs in the picture of Adam and Eve in the garden - but how, I shall be asking Drayton, did the cavies get across to South America? Did they swim? Or perhaps Japheth kindly dropped them off when Noah said it would be OK for him to borrow the Ark for a spin? I can imagine Noah's reaction when Japheth eventually got back, an extra 10,000 miles on the clock.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

What Would Jesus Hunt?

Just when I thought this was all over last November, what happens but John Piper and Mark Driscoll, whoever they are, have inspired the numpties of the community to go and prove how manly they are.

It's a problem. Between the dodgy knees, excess weight and arthritis, they weren't going to do anything reckless like play football or anything. And Burton Dasset's suggestion that they have a manly game of bridge had few takers - even when he explained how dashing and aggressive it was to bid Weak 2s.

And they're scared of the local squirrels and badgers since last time they went out into the landscape to do manly things. So instead, in the manner of manly men of the past, they went round to Drayton Parslow's for a fry-up. I always like to think there's nothing manlier than a bunch of blokes wrestling with nature in the raw, in the shape of a rasher of well-cured bacon or a free range egg.

Still, the trouble with this manly behaviour is it's so high-risk. I suppose it's the old "winner takes all" nature of the Y-chromosomed - in evolutionary terms, it's either make yourself successful and attractive to mates, or you might as well die trying. Which in practical terms this tea-time meant poor Marston got hit with fat when an egg spat in the pan. Poor dear, he ran it under the cold tap for ten minutes but he still thinks it may blister.

The Hermit of Continuity

Skipping through the duller stuff from yesterday's Synod on the Comment is Free live-blog. There's no point getting excited about women bishops, as it turns out that the vote on that is in July. The Church of England now seems to have been "opening the door to women bishops" since the Flood.

But I discover the stunning information that the Church of England has 12 "enclosed hermits". Who knew that these godly people still existed, taking their religion so seriously? The world seems a better place for knowing this, somehow. There's no indication as to how or where they are enclosed, however. The details are sketchy. Are they enclosed in the manner of Mother Julian, or our own nearby and blessed Christina of Markyate? Are there twelve of them  because that's the "right" number, and whenever one wanders off to do other things or receives her/his eternal reward they have to elect another one? Presumably they don't all live together, although if they did that would be an "observance" of hermits, I discover. As opposed to a "mutual contradiction" of hermits, which would make more sense.

By contrast, here in the Beaker Folk, we used to have a small group of Hermits of Suspicion. A fairly unpleasant bunch, they had a habit of looking at you like you'd been doing something wrong and generally making you feel pretty sinful. They all had to take the name "Herman" on their inclusion in their order. But after Drayton set up his Funambulist Baptist Chapel they discovered that his was a stricter and more world-denying form of religion and joined him. All except the one remaining Hermit, Herman, who refused to deny his vows. Since he's keeping the order going all on his own now we call him the Hermit of Continuity.

Monday 6 February 2012

A Strange Internet Community

I don't know if you've noticed an assortment of strange communities on the Internet? It seems to bring out odd, allegedly factual but possibly fictional or even allegorical religious sects - one thinks of the Quivering folk of Beyond the Woodshed, for example.

But another has caught my attention (I say caught, this one seems to have set out deliberately to have been noticed), still it's original and quirky and apparently non-conformist. What more can you want? I don't know where the Demitasse Community is heading, but it might be worth a watch.

Fish & Chip Church

I think Young Keith may be onto a winner with this one.

His "Pizza Church" was a total failure, as everybody just phoned up for delivery. And getting a music group, three stewards and preacher into that delivery van was a real squeeze.

But the point about Fish & Chips is that the tradition is for people to come out and buy it - particularly on a cold evening like tonight. We've been writing the songs up on scrappy sheets of A4 paper in marker pen, and the "wisdom nuggets" we're using instead of proper readings are scribbled up on brightly-coloured, badly cut-out stars.

We encourage people to stand around, eating out of their hygienic, faux newspaper wrapping. This gives the worship that effortless informality we associate with the chippie. And also imparts a sense of nostalgia for a simpler past. Albeit it makes the sharing of the peace a bit greasy. And it's tricky to clap during the livelier songs - splintering batter going everywhere.

All in all though, we'll give it another go. Today's sermon "Why faith is like a pickled egg" went down a storm. Which, to be fair, is better than the pickled eggs.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Burston's Beer-Tasting Notes - Blue Monkey "Ape Ale"

A fine tasting ale, this.

A pale beer with its strength belied by its pale yellow colour. However it's a remarkably hoppy beer - I'd say the brewery's description of it as having "moderate bitterness" is putting it mildly, if you will pardon the pun. The bitterness - clean, citrussy bitterness from hops that had enjoyable lives - is all over this delicious, light-tasting beer. But it's 5.5% alcohol - so be careful!

On the Grebbels scale I'd give it 4.5 Cardinals.

Tax Evasion and Tax Avoidance

Interested to read in the Evening Standard a confusion between tax evasion and tax avoidance. It's important because it kind of relates to the law, without which the country would no doubt descend into anarchy.

Sebastian Shakespeare describes plumbers working for cash-in-hand, and Amazon's cunningly-contrived tax status, as "Tax avoidance" - thus putting them on the same level, give or take the amounts of money involved. Well in the law of the land, these aren't the same.

A plumber working for cash in hand and not declaring his or her income is guilty of tax evasion. This is a crime. Amazon's current rate of tax payment (none, if you're interested) is not tax evasion. It's tax avoidance. Unless they're breaking the law, in which case it's evasion. Although, to be fair to Amazon, the money they pay to their warehouse and other workers, web designers and so on is income taxed, and the Amazonians then spend their money in shops, so it's not all bad.

You may think I'm a bit tetchy on this subject, but that's only because I am. Beaker (Cayman Islands) is a 100% legal offshore tax avoidance vehicle. It may be unethical, dodgy and mean. I may be fleecing the Beaker People to a degree that's unwise in the current weather conditions. But I'd hate to think it was illegal. That would be wrong.

Festival of Snow-related Bad Theology

Since we had to cancel the  Global Warming event we were quite excited at Young Keith's suggestion of a "Festival of Snow-related Theology". His idea was that everyone in the community should have to stand up and give us an insight into humanity and its relationship to the Divine, using a snow or ice-related illustration.

What he didn't tell us was that he had a crack team of snowballers, ready to strike if anyone toppled over into whimsy or bad theology. Which, let's be honest, was always going to be likely.

Goffrey was first. He explained how he always saw the nature of God in terms of the threefold nature of water - that the Father is the steady, regular pattern of ice; Jesus the living water; the Spirit is like steam, which bloweth where it will as it comes out of a kettle. I think Goffrey is quite lucky. In the old days he would've been burnt at the stake for modalism like that - not just covered in snow.

I took a fair number of snowballs myself for my response to Goffrey. Iexplained that a more reasonable analogy to the Trinity can be made in terms of the triple point of water. Turns out when explaining a mystery, one shouldn't use an illustration nobody can comprehend. Even if you use a phase diagram. The last words I heard before things all got a bit confused was "what state is this then, O Wise One?"

Hnaef was up next. He explained how he also used ice-related illustrations for the trinity. So there are six sides to every snowflake, recognising the sixfold nature of the water atom (I let this go - it probably wasn't worth arguing with). And then there are two natures of Christ - human and divine. And two times three is... well, thankfully he was cut off at that point by a hail of snow and had to take cover before he got into any more trouble.

Charlii stood up and said  what did snowflakes and fingerprints have in common? To which Young Keith's uncle, the police officer, replied that they can both give away the identity of a criminal - footprints in the snow being a means of following the miscreants back from the scene of crime. No, replied Charlii - they're both unique. Your fingerprints are yours and nobody else's and no two snowflakes are ever the same - so we are all special and unique. To which Burton, reasonably I thought, asked how did she know this and how could she prove it? Which scientist, asked Burton, had ever measured and categorised every snowflake that ever fell or will ever fall? Charlii stuttered a bit as she wondered whether these two "facts" were really true after all. Which was fateful. We had to dig her out the snow with a spade. Still, she's still a vast improvement over our last trainee druid, who was tarred and feathered after that talk on the Christian roots of Margaret Thatcher's politics.

Mansfield Woodhouse butted in at this point. He has always been one of the more moral of the Woodhouse family - especially compared with his mother, who sits at home day after day having successive fits of the vapours and failing to make matches for her sons. Should we not, said Mansfield, rather see morality as an icy landscape - where if we take a step from the straight and narrow we may stray onto a slippery slope and shoot off downhill to disaster?

I'm afraid by this stage I was cold, grumpy and fed up with theology. So I switched on the sprinkler system in the Moot House. Everybody's a lot closer to the nature of frozen water now, although their theology's no better than it was. Still, I feel we've all learnt something.

An Inconvenient Truth

Today's lecture "God, Gore and Gaia - the roles of populist science and post-modern religion in confusing weather with climate' has beenl cancelled due to snow.

I blame all that Global Warming. Someone Up There must be very angry with us.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Knowing your Onians

As the snow buckets down across England, tonight we in Husborne Crawley will light a paraffin-wax, fossil-fuel tea light in honour of Charles Onians.

I believe that Charles is still a working journalist, although I've not noticed much in the way of his work lately - especially around the subject of global warming. But every time snow breaks out in England, all the people that don't believe in anthropogenic global warming link to Charles's item in 2000 - "Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past". As an Independent article it was a perfect example of its kind - of the highest Green potentials, scare-mongering in an intellectual kind of way and ahead of its time. At least 12 years ahead of its time as it turns out. Although, of course, he could turn out to be right in the end.

And so once again, as on many similar days over the last few years, we remember Charles Onians. And all across England, others will do likewise. I suppose you could call it his "Michael Fish" moment. We will celebrate by singing Marillion's 1989 song, Season's End. Makes me melancholy to think it's nearly a quarter of a century since they made this terrifying prophecy.

Getting close to Season's End, I heard somebody say
That it might never snow again in England.
Snowflakes in a newborn's fist, sledging on the hill
Are these things we'll never see, in England?

(Answer - No).

Gathering Winter Fuel

Foolishly, as it turns out, we burnt a lot of our firewood on Imbolc as we celebrated the forthcoming end of Winter. A little early, as I now realise.

So we're needing to proclaim the Beaker equivalent of Martial Law here. Or, for the group of people on retreat this weekend who are members of the Jedi faith, Martian Law.

So can everyone get out and find every bit of available combustible material to keep the stoves going? Fresh-cut wood is not going to help, so please leave the Avenue and the Spinney standing.

I'm thinking more of any more old pallets from Marston Gate that may be laying around, the half-burnt remains of tea lights that we can melt the wax out, briquettes pressed out of doily lint, and any old tyres you can find? I know they're a bit smoky, but in environmental terms they're actually more sustainable than wind turbines. And nobody's going to know it's us burning tyres, as it's going to be too cold for anyone to come out and check.

I'll be in my office knocking up a quick "Liturgy of it still being Winter". I love the changing of the seasons - but why does it have to be so changeable?

Friday 3 February 2012

Quick Chris Huhne Joke

Obviously I can't comment on his upcoming court case. But I would say Chris Huhne's a rubbish Climate Change Secretary.

He's been in the job for nearly 2 years, and the climate's barely changed at all. What's he been doing?

Theological Reflection on a Derailment at the Points in Bletchley Station

I am pleased to hear that there was just the one injured person as a result of the derailment of the train at Bletchley station this morning. And it would seem that the driver's injuries are light, so that is good news.

Network Rail have indicated that the train may have travelled into the points too fast. Which may or may not be the case - I am happy to await the results of the enquiry which I am sure will be arranged. But it gave me thoughts of how we can learn lessons of life from this kind of unfortunate incident.

To be sure, for many of us our lives, dear readers, can appear to be running on rails. It is not that we have no options - simply that they are a sensible and finite number. For those of us with railway-like lives, there is no question of wandering off down by-ways, taking unwise detours or driving at high speed across playing fields, scattering screaming footballers in our wake. No, we have a choice of high-speed mainlines or attractive quiet branch lines. And wisdom consists in making the right choice when approaching the points.

For if we do not approach points with caution, we can choose unwisely (I realise that for a real train driver the points are chosen for him or her but Eileen has warned me what can happen if I get too Calvinist). We might choose a wrong route and, instead of rolling through the attractive Pennine valleys of life, be presented with the nightmare of a Friday evening on the East Midlands Line. Or, if we are going too fast to be careful we can simply derail and end up explaining to Eternal Controller how it came to be that our lives came off the rails.

For myself, I would be happy to spend my life in the sidings, helpfully pushing carriages around. I would be happy to know that I could never cause a day's disruption on the Euston Line. Quiet, useful and above all safe. For if we do not move too fast, Dear Readers, we can be sure that we will never overturn. Although we may rust solid.