Monday 30 April 2012

A Wet Beltane

The Archdruid squelches through the pelting drought, down through the marshlands where, before the Great Drought started, there was but dry heath, and approaches the Wicker Person.

Archdruid: As this Wicker Person burns - so may the sun rise on our land and dry up the Drought under which we drown.

She attempts to light the Wicker Person, but fails dismally due to the saturated state of the drought-sodden wood.

All: Stick some petrol on, Eileen, or we're gonna be here all night. And we're getting soaking wet in the droughty drizzle.

Hnaef may leap forward with the lighter fluid or, as it may be, petrol (Don't try this at home) But the drought overcomes even the petrol and a pile of unsold copies of Tony Blair's "A Journey". In a frenzy, Eileen attacks the Wicker Person (now redefined "Wicker Man" due to its uselessness) with her cricket bat, reducing it to soggy kindling.

Archdruid: That's it then, kiddies. Winter's gonna last forever, and no Christmas - mark my words. Let's hit the White Horse.

All: And also with you.

Beltane Instructions

OK folk, we like to make the May Eve celebrations something special. So I'm glad to see the Wicker Person looming on the horizon already.

Our ancient ancestors, we Beaker Christians believe, were groping dimly towards the light. So we can forgive them, as they tried to understand those intimations of universal love, self sacrifice and human rights, if they occasionally got it a bit wrong. For example, by putting all their criminals, prisoners-of-war and any stray dogs into a Wicker Man (no sexual equality in those days - being a matriarchal society, they were quite clear it was a Man that should burn) and setting fire to it. They were merely celebrating the Light that was to come into the world, in the limited way they could.

But of course now we know the truth, we can celebrate May Eve as those ancient Beaker people would have, had they known about forgiveness and discovered America. So we will be putting only jacket potatoes in the Wicker Person, and enjoying this traditional Beaker snack with traditional Beaker high-mono-unsaturated butter-effect spread.

The usual other instructions apply. If we see any Morris Dancers, I'll be the one to throw the first stone. Any mimsy Maypole dancing as recommended by deluded, chinless Anglican clergymen will be treated as a form of heresy. As will anything dating back to Victorian days.

So the rainstorms have gone, the sun has returned. We are halfway from Spring Equinox to Summer Solstice! Summer is but around the corner - let us celebrate the strengthening Sun!

Giocon with Da Wind

"OK, Lisa - you can open your eyes now."

"Leo, I've been looking forward to this for weeks."

"So, Lisa - waddya think?"

"Erm... well it's not very like me, is it?"

"Listen, Lisa - I'm an artist - not a photographer."

"A photo-what?"

"Never mind - little project I'm working on. All I'm saying is, I can't just paint the scene in front of me. My job is to open a window into the soul."

"So, Leo - what you're sayin is, you've painted a representation of.... my soul?"

"That's right, Lisa."

"So if I've got this right - my soul has no eyebrows?"

"Look, that's how it looks to me."

"How can my soul look like me, but with no eye-brows? What sort of weird artist are you?"

"Lisa, forget the eyebrows. What about the smile?"

"I take it that's my soul's 'smile' is it?"

"That's it. I was aiming for 'enigmatic'."

"OK. Well, I think what you've hit, is 'trapped wind'. Still, that's closer to enigmatic than having no eyebrows is to having eyebrows."

"I can see why they call you 'Moaner'.

"'Mona. That's 'Mona'."

"I'm just glad all my clients aren't as fussy as you are."

"Leo, you're living in dream-land. John the Apostle's coming round in a while. He says you've made him look like a girl..."

Sunday 29 April 2012

Sermon on Bobby McGee

It was a conversation on "freedom" that called to mind that sentiment in the Kristofferson/Foster song (recorded so many times), "Me and Bobby McGee". The line is "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose".

I take it as a bitter line; we jokingly say that people after a relationship has ended (or before one starts) are "free", but free from what? Free from responsibility, sure. Free from the demands that one person makes on another's time, energy, personal space. But as the singer says, if your freedom means there's nothing left to lose - what good is freedom? Sure, he's free to find another love, to behave badly, to do whatever he wants - no longer enslaved to another's seemingly insistent urges to travel the southern United States on an assortment of traffic - but in the process, he's lost everything that mattered.

And yet it reminds me of that great road movie, Clockwise. Given one last chance to make the Headmasters' Conference on time, Stimpson remarks, " It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand." As long as Stimpson thinks he's failed, he is set free. It is when he still has a hope of success that he can't stand it. For Stimpson, having nothing left to lose is freedom. Is that why Jesus told the young rich man to give away everything he had? By having nothing left to lose, would he be free - as Marley was not, dragging his money behind him through all eternity? Would Stimpson's life have been better had he just given up the Headmasters' Conference, the ambition, the slavery to the clock - and gone to live on a farm and keep chickens?

Or is the message of "Me and Bobby McGee" that we should gather our rosebuds while we may? In that brief half-hour of summer we can expect this year, between the droughty floods of Spring and the floody droughts of Autumn - you may just see the one rosebud. Grab it while you may - assuming that it is legal and safe to do so. I would strongly recommend ye leave any rosebuds alone that ye may see in your local municipal park or trip to a stately home - these are not your rosebuds to gather. But if they are your own rosebuds, then gather them while ye may. For the summer is a fleeting beauty, and we are fragile creatures that flit through the light, and peer dimly into the future.

As the singer of the song reflects, he'd trade all his tomorrows for a single yesterday, holding Bobby's body close to his. Some might reflect that it serves him right for hitching up with a girl who is clearly unhappy simply to accept the name "Roberta", and instead feels the need for shortness and informality so popular in these troubled times. But others will recognise that feeling. As a singer of the same era remarked, you don't know what you've got till it's gone. Best to enjoy paradise before they put up a parking lot - grab the rosebud while it's there - and make the most of hugging Ms McGee before she heads off looking for the home you'll hope she'll find.

And if we end up feeling that we'd trade all our tomorrows for a single yesterday, then it must have been a superb yesterday at the time.

Today's Drought-related Worship Song Line-up

The arky-arky song

Reign on me

Down the Mountain the River Flows

By the Rivers of Biggleswade

I hear the sound of drizzling

The animals drove in 4x4s

On Jordan's stormy banks I stand

Wash me clean in that cool river

The Faerie River of Husborne Crawley.

Long we have puzzled over the Faerie River. This is not to be confused with the Bourne that gives Hus- its second syllable. Oh no.

The Faerie River appears at times of moderate to heavy rainfall. It rises rapidly and unexpectedly, and traditionally catches out late-night returnees from the pub. On this occasion it was Hnaef and Burton, together with the members of the Soc Media Pastoral weekend. They were walking across the drive past where the path forks off to Cross Horse House, when they suddenly realised they were paddling through a couple of feet of water.

Ever one to keep his head in this sort of crisis, Burton started shouting, "We're drowning! We're drowning!". This set off the Pastoral people, and by the time I got down there, suitably waterproofed, there was watery hysteria setting in, with the Pastoral people attempting the doggy-paddle and Hnaef trying to calm them down by shouting out that he has a life-saving badge.

In the end, everything was sorted out with hot cups of tea. And the good news is that with all that Pastoral ability around, everyone was able to offer everyone else counselling. I saw them all this morning, and they all claim to be post-wet or ex-wet, and to have got over it. I dunno though. They all still seem pretty wet to me.

You see, that's the way with the Faerie River. It comes and goes as it choosess, answering to no-one and obeying no master or mistress. My personal theory is that it's the primeval memory of the landscape, periodically recreating the days when Husborne Crawley was on the sea bed. It makes me feel very small and yet blessed, somehow.

On an unrelated matter, i'd better get down and chivvy up the people who've foolishly joined today's Landscape Encounter Group. We're going to get them to clear out all the leaves that have washed into the drain on the drive. Blooming nuisance, but thankfully it only happens at times of heavy or moderate rain.

Saturday 28 April 2012

Keeping Bad Company

I've just heard Young Keith and Charlii coming back in. Late again on a Saturday night.

I really do think that Charlii is starting to have a bad influence on that boy. I mean, apart from the drunkenness, promiscuity, dangerous scientific experiments and general all-round recklessness, he's always been such a good lad. I wonder whether Charlii, a mere Trainee Druid, is the right person to be allowed to associate with him? After all, she's notorious for going around in a squirrel costume.

The Study of Mathematicians

Dear Readers, such an exciting day!

Eileen has been using me in her role-playing games as part of the Social Media Pastoral Studies weekend! To do this I had to hide from the group that were on the course, and respond to their comments via a computer in an IM conversation - pretending to be someone on-line who could be engaged with in pastoral encounter.

Why the only computer I could use to fulfil this role was in the attic, I am unsure. Eileen said it was to ensure I did not contaminate the process by being close enough psychically to influence the delegates. But it's rather scary up here, and the Archdruid's brother is at the far side of the attic, restrained only by the chain and the presence of Mrs Rochester, his nurse.

Eileen has just messaged me to tell me that my job is over for the day. Apparently I drove several members of the course into a state of deep despair, but that was what the Archdruid called the "weeding-out process", and she had no problem with that. No, it was later on that I was told I could step down, as I had failed the "Turing Test". I think this may be a bad thing.

So, finding that the attic is locked from the outside again, I have sat up here, studying Sipech's comments on Mathematicians causing all the ills in the world. I have to tread carefully here. Eileen has told me that "all the best people come from Dunstable", so I would not like to risk her wrath in arguing with Sipech. And the good news is that he is right. It is applied mathematicians that have called all the woe in the world - statistics, made-up facts, the systems that drive the Stock Exchange and related commodity-trading systems. Pure mathematics, especially when allied to physics, have only resulted in such relatively benign effects as the nuclear bomb. Other than that, they just help us to explain the universe within a logic-based framework.

Cartoon Lab Blog

Look, I know what a creative bunch the Beaker Dispersed Community is.

So please can you all nip over to Dave Walker's new blog, "Cartoon lab", and join  in the fun.


Social Media Pastoral Paper

Last night we were pleased to welcome our latest group on the Beaker Social Media Pastoral Course. As the old-fashioned pastoral methods - going to see people, talking to them, going out for a pint with them - decline in our increasingly virtual world, it's important people are in touch with the new ways of doing things.

Ironically, we deprive our course delegates of all Internet and phone access for the period of the course - basically to stop them cheating - and so I can safely give you a sneak preview of the paper they'll be sitting tomorrow morning to earn their certification. Of course, in the world of the Internet the certificates mean absolutely nothing, but hey - at least I've got the course fees.

1. What are the emoticons for:
A) Smile
B) Sad
C) Wink
D) *proffers cup of tea*
E) Sympathy
F) Trying not to look shocked, but failing
G) Enough with the war stories already.
H) Hugs (but chaste, pastoral hugs)
I) *lights a tea light*
J) Sprinkles with holy water.

2. When offering virtual pastoral advice across parish boundaries, whom should a Church of England minister ask for permission? Give your reasons - and not in txt spk.
A) The bishop.
B) The incumbent of the parish the advisee lives in.
C) Because the Internet is world-wide, ever member of clergy in the whole world.

3. When giving advice on-line, if someone gives the opposite advice what should you do?
A) Follow up with the church authorities who agree with you, quoting as appropriate St Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley or that Bono from U2.
B) Engage in a flame-war with the other person who has chipped in with their ill-considered, rash and probably heretical suggestions. If necessary, block/unfriend the person who originally had.a question/problem as their needy bleatings aren't gonna help anybody once battle's commenced.
C) Reflect that someone's struggle with doubt and loss, combined with their partner's unexpected announcement about their sexuality, is probably not best discussed on their Wall.

4. A Local Preacher has an engagement at the other end of the Circuit, when the drought has cut off every road in the county.
A) What equipment might the chapel need to allow her to preach using Tumblr?
B) What technical challenges will they have in the pastoral follow-up and challenges after the service?
C) Just how tempting is that "off" switch going to be?

5. "If you're announcing your church services on Twitter you might as well just declare wholesale war on the neighbouring vicar and put up posters in the Morrison's in their parish". Explain why this view is either (a) totally misguided or (b) completely sensible.or (c) the shape of things to come.

6. Your online friend has "come out". Via the medium of Twitter, either explain (a) why s/he is going to burn if s/he doesn't repent or (b) that we have a loving God who made him/her that way. Do not attempt both in 140 characters.

7. "Trolls are made in God's image too." Try to think of some justification for why this may not be right.

8. "Fitzroy-Russell's Law" states that as the number of people a church minister follows tends to infinity, the proportion of clergy they're following tends to 100%. Try to disprove this in your own online activity.

9. Discuss the uses of Google+. Write no more than 100 words, as we won't bother to read it.

10. One of your congregation's relationship status has gone from "married" to "it's complicated. Why on earth would you want to keep out of it?

11. "In cyberspace nobody can see your dog-collar". What impact should this have on your online behaviour? Especially if your profile says you're the Arch-Bishop of the Western Hemisphere.

12. "If I engage in evangelism on an atheist forum, everyone will be really courteous and at least listen to me."
A) What planet are you living on?
B) Why could I replace "attempt evangelism" with "espouse atheism", and replace "atheist" with "Christian", and yet the question would still stand?

13. Possibly unlike your congregation IRL, why are you surprised that so many people out there are not like you?

14. With the aid of a bucket and the physics describing the conductivity of water - why is Internet Baptism a bad idea, while a Service of the Word might work?

15. "If I start a blog I might become a Famous Christian and people will come to me for advice and I might get invited on speaking tours". Is this a bad motive? And what are the chances?

16. Does pretending to be a loveable cartoon character / historical person / warrior-princess lessen your pastoral effectiveness? What about if your user ID is  "Atilla the Nun?"

17. Why might you want not to accept a "friend" invitation from a member of your church? What might lead you to block them and report them as spam?

18. Is it easier to pray for people you know on-line or those IRL? If so, is this because you don't have to live with them?

Placing the Blame for the Financial Crash

At last the BBC has found the real cause of the Crash, and the resultant travails in the world economy. It wasn't the bankers, and it wasn't the politicians. It was in fact the mathematicians.

I've always suspected the mathematicians. While the Chemists were slaving in the Dantean conditions of the Dyson-Perrins lab, and the future Prime Ministers were playing tennis or trashing restaurants, the mathematicians would simply not bother getting up till tea-time, slop around in cable-knit sweaters, then get drunk and set fire to themselves on electric bar-fires. They were clearly unable to accept responsibility, and would sit around until the early hours plotting, as it turned out, revolution.

We shouldn't underestimate the power of mathematicians. Jealous of the ability of Physicists to attract the oppostie sex; without the ambitious intensity of a PPE student; not being in a subject that had the potential for explosive catastrophe like Chemistry, or smirking at the fate of the Younger Despenser - what wry amusements did mathematicians enjoy?

Well, it turns out that all along they were planning the downfall of the economic system. As time went by, the complexity of trading systems were such that computers were used, rather than the gut-feel trading that we see in documentaries such as "Trading Places".  The basic foodstuffs on which the whole world depends were made dependent upon futures options, derivatives, options on derivatives - the real world where farmers grow wheat, which people buy and make bread from, was submerged under increasing depths of ever more complex financial models. Yet the computers that crunched the numbers that underpinned the models had the ability to decide who had grain and who had not; who lived and who starved.

And everyone was forced, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their forehead,  so that no one could buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or his number.

Oh... sorry, I seem to have gone all apocalyptic there. Now, I'm not saying that mathematicians were in the power of the Dark One. But it does seem to me that somehow, like a thousand geeky Sorceror's Apprentices, the mathematicians set upon the world something which the capitalists thought that they could use, but which they couldn't control. If computers are able to manage who owns the food supply, they are literally able to decide - in their blind, uncomprehending way - who lives and who dies.

It is an irony perhaps that a world that started through a Word could be brought to ruin by a Number. I don't really know what to do about it, though - unless perhaps we all get allotments?

Friday 27 April 2012

Ecumenical Disaster

Never again.

Don't think I'm not in favour of ecumenism. I'm all in favour of it - especially the kind of ecumenism where everybody becomes a Beaker Person. Or where we wish each other well from a distance, while making sure we never actually have to work together.

But today's ecumenical venture was a disaster.

Never, ever again, will I invite the congregation of the Pentecostal Snake-handlers to a meeting of our "Petting Zoo Church". That's a lot of children who won't sleep for a week, and a lot of boas that won't need to eat for even longer.

On the Music Group Being in the Image of the Triune God

I had a bit of a rant the other day about "proper" versus quire music. And you may not be aware, but in my salad days I used to be the cello-player in a folk/rock/worship group called "Elijah's Babies". Which is why I tend to favour the Mellstockian in all things music-worshipful, I guess.

I've always thought there's something rather wonderful about being in a band as opposed to being a soloist. And we players of bass instruments notice it most of course. It's like an image of the trinitarian model of God - the way that the different instrumentalists have to offer up their different roles to God, each other and the congregation. There's something of an epiphany about the way the keyboard player has actually to look up; to recognise s/he is in a group; to stop playing all the lead notes during verses, recognise there's a vocalist to do that and a bass player to do the bottom line, and a guitarist to fill in the mid-range - and just play the stuff that makes the whole thing just right. The rhythm section keeping the show on the road, the bass/cello/serpent/left hand of the keyboard player adding the depth that brings us to the profoundest place of worship - each playing their part, and then yielding to the other in their turn.

I remember one day, we were playing the Cropredy Folk Worship Gathering, and we were scheduled to play the inevitable "Be thou my Vision (Celtic Style)". We'd got it just right in practice. Started quietly - just tabor, voices and a bit of cello for the bass (a lovely, stabbing, short stroke). Then building, bringing in the other instruments until the last verse when, bringing the song to a crescendo, we threw the kitchen sink at it. Quite literally, actually. Throwing a kitchen sink at a dinner gong has a lovely effect, I always feel - both exotic and yet homely at the same time.

So we were ready. Me and Bodhran Bill looking intently at each other, ready to move the audience - I mean, congregation - with this most evocative of songs. We waited, as we always did, for that moment of perfect peace when the anticipation of the gathered worshippers created a still point - a thin place, if you will, into which the music would be breathed into that first chord.

Of course, you know what happened,  don't you? Terrified by an extended period of time (ie about 30s) in which he had nothing to contribute, Ivor the Ivories launched into a traditional church-style introduction. At the wrong speed. In the wrong key. In the wrong key signature.

We can laugh about it now, of course. But in fact at the time it was a great learning experience. In particular, I learned it's very hard to remove Irish Harps from round the necks of organists without taking their ears off. Terrible, sticky-out ears, keyboard players.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Shepherds and Sheep

Of course, I know all about sheep. You have to, living out here in the country. Some townies couldn't tell the difference between a sheep and a badger, but actually it's easy. A badger's a scary black-and-white animal with a vicious bite. Whereas a sheep's a scary woolly animal with a vicious bite. They go around looking all Larry-the-Lambkin and cute, and when you're not looking - whoomp, they'll have the wallet out of your coat. Of course, we involve sheep in worship occasionally - they tend to raise the IQ of the Beaker congregation, and I like to have church members who are easy to fleece.

It was no laughing matter for an ancient shepherd, you know, out in the wilds with the fleecy little beggars. One part of the shepherd's job was to guard the sheep from the wolves. But you'd also have to keep the sheep, fools that they are, from wandering away. Apparently sheep are kept in blocks of 100, and only one sneaks off at a time, which at least makes the counting easy. Although modern Britsh sheep are kind of stealth ninja sheep, capable of getting over cattle grids by commando-style tactics, the ancient Hebrew ovines were more conventional - their tricks normally revolving around falling off cliffs, drowning in brooks and lying down in green pastures. All of which the shepherd would have to be watching for.

And then there were all those wolves in sheep's clothing to look out for - something, presumably, that could only be achieved by one of those Whitehall-Farce style clothes swaps. In which case there would, somewhere out there, also be a corresponding number of sheep in wolves' clothing. And you can imagine the confusion that kind of thing could cause. A wolf in sheep's clothing would sneak in with the flock and then start eating them while nobody's looking. While a sheep in wolf's clothing would scare you off then eat all the best grass.

There's a very powerful story there, though. Of how the shepherd lives his life with the sheep - out in the hills, away from human company. Living through sun and snow, rain and gale. Sharing the experiences, knowing the sounds of nature. Being with the ewes when they're in lamb, bringing the new ones into the world - the sorrow of the dead, and the constant, endless bleating.
And then one day, some of the sheep team up with the wolves, and get the shepherd put to death for claiming to be the farmer. As I said, they're vicious things, sheep. You can never turn your back.

Then Anti-Posh Boy Alliance

Nancy picks up from my comments of the other day on the description of Dave Cameron and his side-kick, George as "arrogant posh boys". She doesn't just take issue with "boys", but also "posh".

It is too easy to decide the Tories can't be listened to because they're posh. Until we remember that Tony Blair is probably as rich if not richer than David Cameron, or that Harriet Harman was also privately educated. The real problem with Dave and Geoerge, but also with Ed, Ed, Yvette, Harriet, Nick and all the rest is, it seems to me, that none of them have ever really done anything worthwhile. Their career trajectories, for the most part, have gone from running the bar at the OUCA garden party, to carrying bags for more senior politicos, to suddenly running the country. The old way of running the country didn't used to be that great, perhaps, but at least we knew that if the Tories were in, these were people who were used to running businesses. They recognised rubbish like the pasty tax coming from the Civil Service when  they saw it - because if they didn't they wouldn't have been successes in their real lives. Likewise John Prescott, for example, whatever his flaws, had genuinely done real jobs - knew what it really meant to have served other people. The current lot seem to have succeeded merely through having shiny faces.

So poshness is neither here nor there. The whole bunch of them are pretty well on a level for their past inexperience at doing pretty well anything, and it shows.  If Bertie Wooster were alive today instead of mere figment of the Master's imagination - he was, after all, educated at Eton and then Magdalen, Oxford; sitting there comfortably on a private income - I suspect he'd be in the House of Commons by now. I just don't know which side of the House.

But to be posh is, like being gay or Welsh or a supporter of Northampton Town Football Club, not solely a lifestyle choice. Although we can't find the posh gene, those that are born posh find it very hard to change - indeed, they are sneered at as "Mockneys" if they try to lose those fruity vowels. Wedgie Benn himself, I'm told, although prood to become the former Vicount Stairgate, nevertheless never really understood the working class when he was in government. When he had Trades Union visitors, apparently, he always served them sandwiches on the grounds that's what common people eat. While it's more-or-less impossible successfully to impersonate the posh if you're not. To my knowledge, the only people in living memory that have really achieved it have been Lady Gaga, Screaming Lord Sutch and the Barron Knights.

No, we have to learn to understand posh people. They aren't like us. If they weren't safely in the Houses of Parliament they'd be getting run down in traffic or gazing into puddles wondering who the person is gazing back out at them. I'm not saying they'll ever truly be part of mainstream society - their communication problems alone prevent that, communicating only by a kind of braying noise - but as long as they can be kept in one place, with the Civil Service to prevent them from ever truly having power, they can at least be contained.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Fourth Anniversary of the death of "Humph" Lyttelton

Archdruid Eileen: It's a great pleasure to be here in the Reading Room at Husborne Crawley. In the 18th Century, the Dukes of Bedford put a great wall around their estates so that they could enjoy all the most beautiful parts of our Bedfordshire countryside without all the scruffy peasants wandering around and spoiling it. I wonder what it's like in there?

Every part of the British countryside would not be so interesting without its characters. And in particular, we have all grown to be familiar with those famous characters, "the village idiots". Let us welcome our teams.
Now I'm afraid that the Lovely Samantha has refused to be involved in tonight's game as she has objected to being involved in "a sexist stereotype causing ribaldry through the tickling of middle-aged masculine sexual hegemony". So instead this evening it will be Sven sitting on my right hand.  And now it's time to play the game called "Cheddar Gorge Litany".

Hnaef: Cursed
Burton: is
Charlii: he
Young Keith: that
Hnaef: curseth
Burton: his
Charlii: father
Young Keith: or
Hnaef: mother.
Burton: Amen
Charlii: Cursed
Burton: is
Young Keith: he
Hnaef: that
Burton: removeth
Charlii: his
Young Keith: neighbour's
Hnaef: landmark.

Archdruid Eileen: Let's play Mornington Crescent. Today we're playing according to the Russell rules. All transitions through Bedford Square can only be made on the diagonal., and no seducing the servant girls except on Wednesday.

 Hnaef: Aspley Guise
Burton: Ridgmont
Charlii: Cranfield
Young Keith: North Crawley  
Hnaef: Moulsoe
Burton: Broughton
Charlii: Broughton? Isn't that within the Borough and New City of Milton Keynes? I think you've just huffed.
Burton: Wavendon.
Charlii (pointedly): Woburn Sands
Young Keith: Tebworth
Hnaef: Tingrith
Burton: Chalgrave
Charlii: Nobody actually lives there, do they?
Burton (hastily): Sundon.
Young Keith: Mornington Crescent.  

Canterbury English Dictionary.....

Thurible - Bloomin' awful

Superintendent - Having all the best motives

Incense - How you receive change in the USA

Parish - Round about Par.

Chasuble - "Charles, you're a dreadful beast."

Residentiary Canon - How you fire the Dean

Wesley - Doing things like "Wes".

Prebendal Stall - Senior clergy spinning out of control

Archdruid Eileen: And after "There is a Green Hill Far Away" to the tune of "The House of the Rising Son", that's quite enough of "One song to the tune of another". Ever. But now it's time to greet the late arrivals at the Ecclesiastical Ball.

Hnaef:  Mr & Mrs Ord and their transexual daughter, Miss Eric Ord.

Burton: Mr Leadofftheroof and his wife, Nicola Leadofftheroof

Charlii: Mr and Mrs Fiss, and their over-large son, Benny Fiss.

Young Keith: The famous Methodist, Sir Kit Meeting

Hnaef: Mr Vicars, his partner Daisy Off, and their elusive daughter, Ona Vicars-Daisy-Off.

Burton: Mr Chew-Arguewiththeorganist and his son, Don Chew-Arguewiththeorganist

Charlii:  The lovely Scottish couple, Mr and Mrs Rainger, and their scary daughter, Flora Rainger.

 From Nigerian, Mr N' Communion, and his divisive daughter, Angelica N'Communion.

Young Keith: Mr & Mrs Bennet-Thats-ABigSpire and their son, Gordon Bennet-Thats-ABigSpire  

Archdruid Eileen: And as the dove of peace flies into the conservatory window of eternity, and the moth of hope burns its wings on the tea light of destiny, I see that it's the end of the show. Goodnight, and thanks, Humph.

European Football and Karma Mechanics

For those who care not at all about football or, in a strange way, theodicy - go read something else now.

For those who care a bit but not much - you need to know the following. There's been a bit of an outcry about last night's football match in which, over two legs, Chelsea beat Barcelona 3-2. The cry is basically that it's a bit unfair for Barcelona, clearly the better footballing team, to lose. Pep Guardiola, the manager, said "football has not been fair to us".

Well, no. Football has not been fair to Barca. Let's get this straight. Barcelona had all the possession. Over two legs, they had above 70% of the possession. Chelsea won 3-2 on aggregate.

Barcelona keep the ball on the ground, the way football is supposed to be played. Chelsea, for the most part, keep their centre-forward on the ground. Chelsea won 3-2 on aggregate.

Barcelona play beautiful football. They pass from man to man, barely playing a long ball. John Terry is a thug, the mindless violence of whose challenge last night was barely matched by its blatant stupidity. And neither of which is matched by the amazing interview he gave in which he agreed that yes, it was obvious. And yes, it was a red card. But he somehow disconnected those facts from his own actions. Chelsea won 3-2 on aggregate.

Barca had ten craftsmen in the outfield. Chelsea were a man down from the stupidity of Terry, and missing both centre backs from midway through the first half. Chelsea won 3-2 on aggregate.

Barcelona hit the woodwork twice in the first leg, missed open goals, and yesterday missed a penalty. Chelsea won 3-2 on aggregate.

Chelsea are a team that have been bought and funded by a Russian oligarch; a club formerly associated with Kings Road playboys. A club that never achieved that much until millions of pounds of Russian oil and gas money were pumped into buying a bunch of mercenaries. Barcelona are the footballing embodiment of Catalan resistance to the fascist dictator, Franco. Chelsea won 3-2 on aggregate.

Kirsty MacColl was run over by a speedboat, while Shane MacGowan (not that I would ever wish him anything other than well, bless him) has been spared to torture his liver for (so far) another twelve years. Chelsea won 3-2 on aggregate.

Every day around the world, about 18,000 children die of starvation. Robert Mugabe is 88.  Idi Amin died peacefully at the age of 79. Does the Chelsea score matter that much?

On the great map of the world's doings, the fate of a rich London football team and their rich Catalan opponents don't really rate that highly. But they do highlight a a big, obvious, easy-to-read fact. The race isn't to the swift, the fight not to the strong, and the spoils don't go to those who deserve them. Sometimes things happen against anyone's expectations, and against all apparent fairness. There's no point talking about fair and unfair: the fact is that Barcelona put an inflated pig's bladder into the hole between three sticks twice, and Chelsea did it three times. All other stats are irrelevant. Life's unfair. That doesn't mean we can't rage against it, hope for the injustice to be righted, fight for fairness when we can. But life's just unfair. Sometimes you can only moan about it and live with it.

Did I mention that Chelsea won 3-2 on aggregate?

Expressive Liturgy

I'd like to thank Solwyn for her lovely "St Mark's Gospel, retold on the Bodhran". I think we all agree that her partner, Chakkra, did a lovely job of interpreting the random drumbeats into a liturgical dance.

But there were a couple of stray quavers in the "Feeding of the 5,000" that I don't think were in the original. And a triplet in the message of John the Baptist that was definitely Nestorian.

So I've had to find them guilty of rhythmic heresy. There's no real forgiveness for this kind of stuff: they've just got to leave.

Though I did take the opportunity to break the drumskin on the bodhran. It's to save the world.


And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we sailed away from the quay
And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the cheers
We sailed off to Gallipoli.

Eric Bogle, 1971

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Celebration of the 22nd Anniversary of Gruinard being Declared Anthrax-Free

It strikes me that's the test of whether you put your trust in science or not.

22 years after they declared Gruinard to be anthrax-free, I'm happy to believe the scientists that it's true. I bet that there's not an anthrax spore on the island. Completely free.

But I still wouldn't actually want to go there.

Prayer for the Right Kind of Drought

This may be used for the occasions when it keeps raining, even though there is a drought.

Oh Lord

We have sinned grievously in thy sight, burning the unclean fire of the internal combustion engines. We have created Audi A4s, and Skoda Octavias. And we have bowed down on Sundays unto them and cleaned their hub caps. And we have gone a-motoring with our own inventions. Our CO2 riseth up to the heaven, and is a bad smell unto they nostrils. And although it's not much more CO2 than thou art used to, our emissions being unclean and yet relatively insignificant, still Al Gore, that great profit, has declared that we are guilty, and must tithe and tithe again until we are clean once more and the Earth's atmosphere is pure Oxygen.

And so thou has smitten us with drought. But being smarter than the average god, thou has smitten us with drought that falleth as cats and dogs: even as stair-rods. Yea for forty days the flood-gates of heaven have been opened, even as in the days of Noah.

In the past thou sent oft on our forefathers and foremothers just ordinary boring drought, and they cried unto heaven and thou heardest and relentedst (or else heardest and took no notice, and the country dried up even as the Negev and everybody died) but in these latter days of drought, the rain it raineth every day and lo we might even drown of drought.

So hear our cry, withdraw thy hand. And let it rain only at night, so the reservoirs may be as filled as the waters of the sea. And return our hose-pipes from exile, that we may once again wash our cars and clean the fascias, as in the days of our forefather.

Monday 23 April 2012

In Defence of Cameron and Osborne

I really do disagree with Nadine Dorries calling David Cameron and George Osborne "arrogant posh boys".
They were arrogant posh boys 35 years ago. They're grown-up now. That makes them arrogant posh men.

The Pilgrim's Egress

I am musing upon two quotations I heard this morning, which to a degree I read in opposition to one another. Allegedly the first is from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: "He who moves not forward, goes backward"; and the second from G.K. Chesterton:"There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less." I say "allegedly" as "you can't trust every quotation you read on the Internet" (Mark Twain).

I like G.K.'s, and I don't trust Goethe's. That's the fact of it. To be fair, I've no idea what the context is for Goethe. He may go on to discuss the right times to move forward, and when backwards is more appropriate. But life is too short for me to start digging round in the works of Goethe. The way in which it is quoted, on the other hand, seems to pre-suppose that to go forwards - to progress - is necessarily a good thing - the great lie of Modernism.

I was struck by the use of the word "progressive" at the last election - or just after it, when all the haggling started as to who could cobble together a Coalition further to ruin the country. The Labour Party, in an attempt to appeal to the Liberals, starting referring to those two parties of the Left-ish as "progressive". There was no attempt to define what they were progressing towards - I had visions of progressing further towards a surveillance state, as that seemed to be New Labour's grand plan - but the assumption was that to be of the Left was "progressive" and progress was a good thing.

And to be sure, to progress is often a good thing. The inventions of antibiotics, the tea light and the non-stick frying pan were all good things. But Goethe does not even cover all the options, and so logically his statement is a lie.

"He who moves not forward, goes backward," says Goethe - to which I would respond - what about sideways then, Johnny WvG? You've not considered sideways. If I walk up to a cliff edge, wondering at God's beautiful sea and sky, then to move forwards is a foolish thing - I will tumble into God's beautiful thin air until I crash onto God's hard, pointy rocks. Going backwards will be quite a good move. If there is a cliff path then sideways will be an option. But perhaps the best of all will be simply to sit down and enjoy the view.

Imagine, if you will, the discussion between the Henry III and his chief executioner.
Executioner: You want to do what, my Lord? 
Henry III: From now on, the penalty for treason is to be dragged at the tail of a horse to the place of execution. Then hanged by the neck.... 
Executioner: ... till dead? 
Henry III: ... till a bit throttled. But just a bit. 
Executioner: Isn't that a bit lenient, my Lord? 
Henry III: Haven't finished yet. Then cut down, emasculated.... 
Executioner: One or two 'm's?  
Henry III: It doesn't matter - you can't write. Then cut all the way up the middle, then disembowelled. Then you burn the bowels and... other bits before their eyes. Then you put your hands into the chest and pluck out the heart. 
Executioner: I take it I'm going to get overtime for this? And isn't it a bit cruel? 
Henry III: Cruel? Up to now we've just hanged them. This is progress.
Executioner: And what about for women? Something similar?
Henry III: Of course not. We're not barbarians. We'll burn them alive.

Yet again, to the slave traders of the 17th Century - introducing an industrial-scale slave trade must have seemed like progress, compared to the old, ad-hoc, cottage-industry slavery that had happened around the place till then. Progress all depends upon what you think you're moving forward to.

It seems to me that, in this world of finite and dwindling resources, where progress means wiping out honey bees and "fracking" for natural gas, Chesterton is right. One way to have enough is to get more. But the world will last a lot longer in a liveable state, if indeed we are content to live with less. Sometimes, if the option is to go forwards or backwards - just nudging back a bit is not such a bad plan.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Walking - A Deadly Serious Issue

I've just been reading about the backlash over Addison Lee, a London taxi firm, and the response from its boss, John Griffin, in the Huff Post. And I have to say he's got a real point. But he doesn't go far enough.

Because what about pedestrians? Even more pedestrians are killed on our roads than cyclists, and yet we never hear anyone complaining about them.

I'm sure that, like me, you've all seen them - crossing the road, walking along the pavement; sprawled across your bonnet. Walking around in their shoes, with headphones on, with their T-shirts and their umbrellas if it's a bit rainy. You can see them eating apples or smoking or - even - on the mobiles to their mates while they are walking - which in my opinion comes under the heading of walking without due care and attention.

In the old days you would have to pass a walking proficiency test to be allowed out on the roads. But these days, children as young as twelve months are often proclaimed as being "already walking". Already walking? Some of them can barely make it round the living room without hanging onto the furniture, and even then they're likely to trip over the cat.

And yet, without 3rd party insurance, without passing any kind of test, without road tax to pay for the wear and tear their shoes are putting on the pavement - there they are, within a few years, walking around as if they owned the road. Running across pelican crossings, even when the red man is showing; cutting the corner off zebra crossings; sometimes even daring to walk down the road when there are cars parked on the pavement, where any fool can see they should simply turn round and go back the way they came and stay off the road.

And do you have any idea the damage a pedestrian can do to a car? I only winged one last year - didn't even do him any serious damage, although to be fair he was a bit of a lardy lad - and yet the collision smashed the glass in my wing mirror. Catch a pedestrian at a decent speed and you can be looking at a new windscreen.

In other places such as Milton Keynes, there are fantastic footpaths. But round here, quite often there are no pavements at all. And do pedestrians take that as a hint that they should stay in the house? No - they resolutely go for "walks in the country". Frankly, whose fault is it if they end up being catapulted into a hedge?

I am quite clear on this, and it's time the Government took note. No motorist will be safe until every pedestrian in the country has been fitted with a speed limiter, given a crash helmet and hi-viz, wrapped in a mattress, given a flag to hold and told either to stay on the pavement, or stay at home. Thanks for listening.

Mass on the Grass with Brass

One of frequent-commentor Anonymous's comments on the London Gallery Quire piece refers to "Mass on the Grass with Brass".

It strikes me that these are three words that are meant to rhyme, but don't. Unless you're a really serious Catholic (Roman or Anglo?).

It also strikes me that Anonymous probably won't get that joke. But maybe that's a bit crass?

Running the Race

Apparently it's Earth Day. I'm somewhat confused, as it seems only last month that it was Earth Hour - and I'm worried that if anybody introduces "Earth Week" we're all gonna be sitting in the dark for a long time.

I won't provide you with the link to the Earth Day website as it takes forever to load and I'm guessing that's due to the amount of merchandising on it.

So instead we're celebrating London Marathon Day today. Some are attending worship wearing space blankets, some dressed as pantomime horses or Wombles. Hnaef is coming dressed as a deep-sea diver, and we're hoping he'll be in his seat sometime next Sunday.

Our theme will be "running the race". The life of faith is a marathon rather than a sprint, so we must be spiritually fit, eat lots of spaghetti the night before, and take on plenty of liquid. I'm not sure where we're going to go with the second of those - unless we open a new concept in Trattoria Church - but Young Keith and Charlii unfortunately managed the third down the White Horse last night. We shall be switching on the extra-strong spotlights in the Moot House this morning and explaining that the photophobic, quivering wrecks before the congregation are an example of what can happen if you don't train for your spiritual life, and instead get over-hydrated.

I really blame Charlii. Young Keith is normally such a quiet, sensible lad.

Incidentally, this BBC link tells us that you can buy a new LED lightbulb to celebrate Earth Day. In the States, they will start at £30. Which is quite a cost to achieve the same impact on CO2 emissions as simply watching half an hour's less telly a day. We do have an LED prototype bulb in the Moot House. It costs you a load of money, is unreliable and rather dim. We're thinking of calling it "George Osborne".

Saturday 21 April 2012

Smug, snobbish, irrelevant

Thanks to those doughty folk at the Thomas Hardy Association, I have belatedly had my attention drawn to the patronising, smug, snobbish views encapsulated in this review of the London Gallery Quire.

I have no idea what the London Gallery Quire sounds like. Actually, that's not true - I could probably have a pretty good guess. What I mean is, I've never actually heard them, though I do plan to if I'm in Town on the right day. I suspect they're pretty good.

But let us consider the situation when the West Gallery quires were being pushed out of existence. A group of random performers - some good, some bad, some quite possibly dreadful, would get together to praise God on an assortment of whatever instruments they could play. If they were the purists of Thomas Hardy's Mellstock dream-world, they would have stuck to "strings forever". If they were of the less fastidious variety of quire, they might include those tooting clarionets, the marvellous deep note of the serpent, the outlandish weirdness of the "vamping horn" even.

Unlike Michael White's metropolitan, comfy view of the quires being replaced, throughout the land, by the surpliced choristers of cathedral choir schools - it didn't happen. In Hardy's short novel, Under the Greenwood Tree, it's just the organist (whose bodice the vicar is hoping, at some point in the future, to be ripping). In many places it was just the schoolmistress and the kids from the Sunday School. What was achieved was not better music - it was more controlled music. Instead of having to deal with a bunch of semi-educated rustics, the vicar merely had to instruct the schoolmistress or his daughter or whoever in the hymns he would prefer this week.

It was all part of that generally annoying tendency the vicars of the 19th Century had towards tidying everything up. With a new-found professionalism, they had a new-found interest in interfering in everything. So the quires had to be cleared away. The wild rituals of the Maypole were transformed into prim, chaste, ordered, country dancing - with ribbons and, again, the adults replaced with children. Running off into the woods on St John's Eve was very much last century.

They knocked down ancient churches and rebuilt them in Gothic. Installed pitch-pine pews that nobody can get rid of today without some busybody chaining themselves to them. Wrote some of the worst hymns anyone could ever sing. Whereas the 18th Century was "the church's finest moment in this country" - it was the time of revival, of the Wesleys, Isaac Watts and George Whitefield. We have had nothing to compare with it since, no raw shock of the Gospel proclaimed again nationwide, coming to hundreds of thousands who had never heard - just tinkering and attempted re-invention of a tradition that never existed; a withdrawal of the Gospel to the Telegraph readers, as they tried to make it as tame, tidy and clean as a bunch of nice choristers in white surplices.

And by taking away the interest in the worship from a large collective of the community to themselves and those they could most directly control, they divorced religion from the people and made themselves the only ones who cared whether it happened or not. And in giving organists all that power, where once it would have been a bunch of yokels who would argue even amongst themselves - did they know what monsters, in so many cases, they created?*

So it is with joy that I hear a music group playing in a church. Because the spirit of the Mellstock Quire does not live on only as a curiosity. Wherever two or three decide that what the church really needs is a band made of two out-of-tune guitars and a couple of ocarinas; wherever someone is trying to find the best way to combine the sounds of an English Horn and a ukulel; whenever somebody puts a 200W PA in and realises they've run out of sockets for all the leads; the spirit of Mellstock is kicking back. Because "viols and their like" are not "indeed long gone from Anglican worship". Stick a strap on a bass viol, hang it round your neck and add a pickup or two and it's a bass guitar.

It took them 160 years, Parson Maybold, but you've failed. The Mellstock Quire is back - you just wouldn't recognise it.

* Any organists reading, don't worry - obviously I don't mean you. It's those others...

Making an Entrance

I have been doing some analysis, Dear Readers, of the things that we can learn from the time people turn up to morning worship and the things they do. You've probably noticed that, on the whole, the same people arrive at the same time (or at least you have noticed that if, like me, you're the "head counter", and therefore deem it your role to be the first person to arrive, to count everyone in). It is very much a "work in progress" (and therefore cannot yet be capitalised and written off over five years, which is what I will be aiming for when it is complete), but this is my analysis so far.

For those of you who arrive at precisely one minute after the service starts, I hope this will fill in the details of the preparation that have been going on since when you were still in bed.

T-60 - The head counter, the Person who Unlocks.

T-50 - In fellowships that meet in schools, the Chair Putter-Outers. If there is a Music Group, they will all turn up with the exception of one key person - normally the keyboard player or vocalist.  If a choir, the Organist will arrive, and start complaining that the choir is late.

T-45 the Sunday Club leaders arrive, and start to strap on their protective clothing

T-40 - People with other jobs to do: Book Issuers; Table Arrangers (who should have done it yesterday, really, but were busy with other things); The Church Wardens, Stewards, Deacons or other generally "in charge of godly order" type people - unless they are also Unlockers. People who want to impress the minister by being keen.

T-35 - The person who fills up and switches on the Tea Urn does so. If cups and saucers are to be put out on a trestle table at the back, this may be done now, or else during the latter part of the sermon.

T-30 - Nobody actually arrives at this point, but everybody will start to worry that the worship leader / visiting Preacher / minister isn't going to turn up this week. People will remember the time in 1978 when Old Reverend Methuselah was snowed in.

T-29 - The minister / visiting preacher arrives. Everybody says, with literal accuracy, "For a minute there we thought you weren't going to turn up." The spare Local Preacher / Reader / Warden / Steward growls inwardly, and puts away their special "Emergency Sermon".

T-25 - The Sunday Club leaders finish putting on their protective clothing

T-20 - In the Church of England, the Sidespeople arrive. Since nobody knows what they do, this isn't really important.

T-15 - The older folk who like a chat before the service. Those of an Anglo-Catholic persuasion will normally have this chat while standing next to the sign that says "Talk to God before Mass, and each other afterwards".

T-10 - The last member of the music group / choir arrives. There will be some convoluted reason why they're so late - there always is.

T-8 - In an Anglo-Catholic church, the priest puts on all the clobber so as to be able to stand around prayerfully for a while.

T-5 - The Sunday Club leaders start to think that no children are coming this week.

T-3 - In churches of a more Protestant nature, the Chief Steward or similar will appear out of the vestry, ostensibly to do something like bring the Bible out, or put a glass of water on the ledge in the pulpit. Nobody knows why this can't happen earlier.

T-2 - All the families arrive. At least, all the families without small children. The Sunday Club leaders adopt the "crash" position.

T-1 - In churches of an Anglo-Catholic persuasion, the Priest remembers something important s/he has left in the main building, has to take off all the tat, rush into the church, bow in many directions, grab the missing item, bow in many directions, rush out and put all the tat back on.

T0 - The grand entrance, procession or whatever may take place. In churches of a more dramatic nature, the minister may spring up through a trap door, abseil from the balcony or appear in a flash of smoke.

T+5 The families with small children arrive halfway through the first hymn. The other members of the congregation will tut, and wonder why they can't get there on time. They have forgotten, or else do not know. what it is like to have small children.

T+10 The person who always leaves it to the last minute sneaks in. They may reflect that they need to re-visit the concept of "last minute".

T+30 The person who is secretly test-driving a different congregation with an earlier service turns up, having legged it out from the other place during the last hymn. They will look smug and yet guilty at the same time, as befits one who is better than this place.

T+60 On one Sunday a year, the people who forgot to put their clocks forward arrive. They will join in the last hymn, assuming it's the first, and then wonder why the leader is pronouncing a closing blessing.

Sad Farewell

It's been an emotional morning, but it's over now and we've said goodbye to Tammi.

In the end, we decided that the best way to send her off in the Beaker Way was on a traditional Viking Fireboat. It was a solemn moment, as Hnaef lit the hay, then the yellow spark spread through the brushwood and into the logs we'd laid her on. And we pushed the boat out into the duckpond and watched as the flames consumed it and it sank, dramatically, to the bottom. And we turned away with a sigh and maybe wiped away a tear.

Now I know that some people said we shouldn't have gone out and invented our own tradition like this - there are official rules about how it should be done. And others are saying we may be in trouble if the Environmental Health hear about it.

But I don't care. She deserved a proper send-off. I'm really going to miss that hamster.

Friday 20 April 2012

RIP Bert Weedon

It's a sad day. Bert Weedon, the man who taught the world to play, has died. Over all the earth, a million people who only know two chords will wonder how to find the third.

Bert, you meant that a lot of people could create something. And creating something is a step closer to the heart of God. May your barre chords never buzz, and your B7 never be bunched-up.

Situations Vacant

Alternative worhip and health Sales Executive, Husborne Crawley

Are you able to swear blind that crystals will improve the spectrum of your aura? Do you think feverfew really heals fevers? Do you find yourself lighting tea lights to get in a spiritual mood? Can you administer an enema?

The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley are looking for a keen salesperson to retail and occasionally deliver alternative therapies and worship aids. You will possess a warm, friendly nature, a winning smile, be a good team player and will almost certainly have no soul behind those so-caring eyes. On a commission-only basis you will not flinch from lying or cheating to make those sales that will keep the pay-day loan shark from the door. An ability to agree that icons are "pretty" will help.

The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley is an equal-opportunities employer. You can be any gender, race, creed or sexual orientation you like as long as you never give a sucker an even break. During the hosepipe ban you'll be expected to supply your own watering can.

Sales Assistant, Christian Bookshop

If you want to spread the Word in a declining market, while you're undercut by the Internet, God bless you. We suggest you sell rosaries "under the counter" - that way you won't upset the Baptists.

Methodist Circuit Rota Organiser, Much Amending in the Marsh

Are you an expert with spreadsheets? Do you have a head for figures? Do you like to meet and work with new people? Can you solve the three-body problem in Physics? Was it you who proved Fermat's last theorem? If so, you are just the person that Much Amending Circuit is looking for.

Your job will be to ensure that the 19 Local Preachers, 2 Ministers, 3 Retired Ministers, 187 visiting Local Preachers from other circuits, Vicars in Ecumenical Parishes and people who just want to have people listen to them are distributed evenly across the services of the 21 chapels in this Circuit. Some chapels have a different time each week for their services, some have Communion monthly, others once a quarter, some unexpectedly take the summer off services because they've a chalet in Clacton.

You'll receive no pay, but you can expect to receive a string of conflicting special requirements, and keep the secret "black list" of which chapels won't have which Preachers, and vice versa.

The Methodist Church is an Equal Opportunities Employer. Although its recruitment processes are on the complex side. Oh, and we made up the bit about "meeting people" - you'll never get away from the computer.

Christian Builder

You'll be building with living stones. So treat them carefully.

Bible Translator

If you've ever woken up in the morning and thought "there really aren't enough versions of the English Bible" this could be the job for you.

An adaptable thinker, it's up to you to think of new ways to express God's timeless Word, so that people who already own 19 versions of the Bible want to own another one. Wrestlers, Rock n Roll fans, Goths, Weightliflters, Refuse Collectors, People who like Kittens - these are all people who've already got a version of the Bible specially for them.

We want to make sure every niche is covered - no stone unturned in our search for a demographic we've not produced a version of the Good News for. A way with words and a track record in Marketing will be invaluable.

Hebrew, Aramaic and New Testament Greek not really required.

Diocesan Peacekeeper, Diocese of West Loathing

Are you a practising Christian with a black-belt in karate? West Loathing diocese is terribly split on women priests, homosexuality, the Anglican Covenant and the use of the Prayer Book, and just about anything else we can think of. 

Your reconciliation skills will be just as useful as your ability to withstand long, fraught meetings. You will of course be expected to attend all Diocesan Synod meetings, but must be flexible for location within the diocese as you may have to be "parachuted in" to PCC meetings or, in extremis, particularly fractious outbreaks of Morning Prayer.
Experience in bomb disposal and hypnotism a must.

The Church of England is an equal opportunities employer. Except we will often discriminate on the grounds of gender, faith or sexual orientation. Although we can be fairly liberal on the "faith" bit.

The Morning Unfolds

An apologetic Sun makes his return, slinking into the sky above the drought-sodden fields and plantations of Husborne Crawley. The land steams gently in the unaccustomed warmth of its unexpected proprietor. Streaks of red and orange shine on the puddles and newly-created Woburn Sea.

Those birds that have survived the deluge clear their lungs of inhaled water, shake the dampness from their wings, and lift themselves, near-waterlogged, from the damp-boughed, damp, bowed, blossom-laden trees. They attempt a liquid dawn chorus, but give up, exhausted, and fall to the ground.

In the strengthening sun's rays, the Beaker Folk, dressed in their liturgical wellies and pac--macs, look suspiciously at the strange orange disk hanging in the air as if it owns the place. A few don dark glasses, their eyes, like those of cave-dwelling fish, revolting against the shock of the unaccustomed ultra-violet.

The Archdruid suggests that the Liturgical Dance should be held on Big Meadow. Her followers point out that, if they did, they would be stuck in the mud - possibly unable to be extracted without the aid of specialist lifting equipment. Eileen points out that this is generally the idea.

Someone suggests a Pouring out of Sand ritual, to encourage some nice dry weather. It is pointed out that, contrary to appearances, we need the rain.

Eventually they agree that they can Pour out Beakers outside, since it's such a nice day. Despite the village being built on the Green-sand, the water simply sits there on the grass, unable to sink in. A haddock, rather improbably, swims into view.

Away to the West can be discerned a small gray cloud, no larger than an Archdruid's fist. In the swamp below we can see the Piper at the Gates of Dawn. He's not waving.

Thursday 19 April 2012

The Church of the First Day Simmonites

The Beaker People are a broad church. And we are happy to offer living space to any group that wishes to share our community - provided they abide with our strict rules of having no absolute rules, and can afford our prices. And this latest bunch are quite a nice group as well. And they're happy to live in the tumbledown old shepherd's cottage. He was terribly tumbledown, that shepherd. That's why I had to throw him out of the cottage. But I am glad to give space on this blog for the Great Compo, of the Church of the First Day Simmonites, to introduce himself.

People of the World, and Nora Batty

I'm grateful for the warm welcome, at a fairly reasonable rent, that Archdruid Eileen has given to the Church of the First Day Simmonites.

We take our name, of course, from that First Great Compo, the founder, prophet and eternal leader of our fellowship. In his honour, we take our fellowship's name from his surname. Strictly speaking we should have added "-ites" onto the end of his surname, like Darbyites or Millerites. But that would make us Simmoniteites, and that would be silly. We are the Church of the "First Day" Simmonites to reflect a noble truth about our prophet - that while God rested on the seventh day, Compo rested on the first. And the seventh, and all five in between.

We choose the Great Compo as our role model based upon our belief that Last of the Summer Wine documents all three of the basic male personality types, and the two female types (which are of course, young and confused or older and scary).

The three male personality types can be identified as:

The Cynic - world weary, constantly putting up a shield of ironic commentary. The Cynic is exemplified by Norman Clegg - so endlessly suspicious of the world that he will not go out, even on a summer's day, without a vest, shirt, cardie, waistcoat, jacket and raincoat. The Cynic gets short-term amusement from the world's travails, and can appear amusing or even wise - but his detachment and refusal to throw himself into the moment mean he will never truly live. Safe within his endless layers of protective clothing - both real and metaphorical - he can never be truly vulnerable. And without vulnerability, how can we ever be really human?

The Empire-builder - As characterised by Blamire, Seymour, Foggy and Truly. The Empire-builder always believes that he, and he alone, has the vision to plan new plans, dream new dreams and conquer the world. Of course, the problem with striving for world domination is that there's only one world - and how many people can hope to dominate it at once? Probably just the one, and there are many Empire-builders out there, eyes squinting keenly at the horizon - so it's a dog-eat-dog world. The energy expended in trying to take over the world explains how Last of the Summer Wine was onto its fourth "Third Man" before the sad loss of Compo - and Foggy had to take five years off to paint ornamental eggs before he could manage a second stretch.

Which brings us to Compo. Compo exemplifies the truth that the Kingdom belongs to those that can enter it like a child. Incapable of thinking beyond today; unruffled by the travails of the past. Compo is an eternal man-child - incapable of doing harm, ever dreaming the impossible - unafraid to fly a giant pigeon, jump through a boat, roll downhill in a barrel or even tackle Nora Batty. If the world were made up of Compos, no wars would ever be fought. No crimes more serious than the theft of the occasional apple would ever be committed. Admittedly we would all still be living in caves and scraping mould off the walls to eat, but would that be so bad compared to global warming, neo-nicotinamide pesticides and the Daily Mail?

And so we of the Church of the First Day Simmonites dedicate ourselves to walking along walls, climbing trees, swinging from ropes, going downhill in bath-tubs and doing other activities that would be moderately dangerous to an elderly gentleman. We never get up before lunchtime, drink brown ale in bed, and wear revolting clothing. On Sundays we reflect that we ought to be in church, then decide not to bother. We're completely useless, deeply annoying and yet - and this is a tribute to the Zen-like power of the Compo - we're completely stress-free. We wamble in the uneven footsteps of our founder, whose wellies we will never be fit to wear. We are the Church of the First Day Simmonites. It's not big, it's not clever, we're not proud and we don't care.

Drought Update

We continue to be concerned about the drought. At the moment it's droughting cats and dogs. For the last week it's been droughting down in buckets. And yesterday there were a couple of inches of standing drought on the drive.

I'm really concerned about this year's crops. Based on the Met Office and the water companies, and twenty years of Gardenia's World advising we prepare for climate change, this year we planted saguaro, prickly pear, date-palms and coconuts. Nothing's germinated.

Although I'm never quite sure about planting coconuts - do you "chit" them like new potatos, smash them up or just plant them as they are? Although it doesn't matter that much. The coconut bed is awash with rain.

Normally we use the "failed organic" technique - where you don't use synthetic pesticides till the last minute, then panic when you see the state the courgettes are in, and run around laying a mulch of slug pellets two inches deep. This year we didn't even think about slugs because of the drought - but just now a bunch of slugs have punted past on a coconut, on the way to the outdoor swimming pool. Or "Mediterranean gravel garden" as we called it a couple of weeks ago.

But we don't let all this hydrological woe get us down. Oh no. We've still been up this morning taking part in the "Blessing the Land with Rain" ceremony. We take a beaker of water and scatter the water ritually to the nine winds, in a way that is strictly symbolic and in no way intended to be sympathetic magic.  This normally requires us to send somebody down to the brook for water, but the good news this morning is that we just scooped it up outside the Moot House, on the way to the Blessing Spot.

There's something a bit ironic in standing in the middle of a sodden field, with the drought coming down like stair rods, praying for rain. But still, it's good for the crops, so they say.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

The First Deadly Sin of the Internet

It has not, it is fair to say, been my most prolific time for posting on the Internet. I've just been so busy. There's the day job, the White Horse, the creating amazing worship aids for the Community - it's all go. When you get the chance finally to go online, what little bandwidth Eileen is prepared to allow the rest of the Beaker People from the wi-fi is always occupied by Burton Dasset, uploading transcriptions of ancient railway timetables. For instance, I'm currently downloading that old electro dance classic, New Order's Blue Monday. It enjoys its thirtieth anniversary next year, which makes Eileen feel very old. However me starting the download enters its tenth anniversary next week, and it's starting to make me feel old as well.

It is my suspicion that Eileen's hogging of the electron flow is all down to vanity. Social Media is a terribly addictive drug, and I reckon that she's been trying to see how her ratings, on the hundreds of different platforms that measure how popular you are with your fellow-sad-ones. And so I thought, vanity being a sin, that I would test out a gadget on the community network to help her resist.

Basically, it's a Chrome or Firefox add-on that just sits in the background. Every time you check to see if one of your tweets has been re-tweeted; or go to Google Analytics; or jump to the Feedjit real-time view; or check your links on Wikio; or put your own name into Google to see if you've been mentioned, it puts a subliminal image of a budgie up on your screen. Budgies being the most vain of animals - constantly looking in those little mirrors - the idea is that your subconscious realises that you're getting just that little bit too budgie-like, and you check your self-centred ways. I didn't bother producing a version for iPad or Mac, cos let's face it -some people are beyond help.

So anyway, I popped in to see Eileen to find out whether the app has worked, but I didn't really get any sense out of her. She just rang a little bell for ten minutes, and then went off to get her supper. I wonder why she's got so keen on millet all of a sudden?

Drought Warning

Typical. The Community Droughtometer has stopped working, so I can now no longer see how drought-y it is. I say stopped working, it's actually so far underwater that I can 't read it any more.

Environmental, Natural or a Lifestyle Choice?

I'm afraid (although I'm using the word "afraid" very loosely here) that I missed the BBC3 programme "I woke up Gay" yesterday.

There did seem to be many mean comments on Twitter, however. I've no idea if they were anything to do with Chris (or "Kris", as he now is, having apparently woken up "K") - there were just mean comments on Twitter. There often are. But it strikes me that it's a bit rough having such a rotten attack on someone who survived a life-threatening event like that. In brief, the 19-stone rugby player suffered a stroke after "high jinks" went wrong, and came out of it gay.

But I'm regretting missing the programme now, as the Telegraph review doesn't tell me the key fact I believe we all need to know. I mean, I know it's wrong and immoral, and involves men putting their bodies together in unnatural ways. And we also know it's rife at Public Schools - or, at least, so popular imagination has it. But is Kris now ex-Rugby? Or is he post-Rugby?

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Making Things Just Right

I had to pull Edith Weston up this evening at "Filling up of Beakers". She was very clearly pouring from the Fetching Beaker with her hands at "5" and "7" on the beaker. She was definitely not just risking instability, but also totally liturgically incorrect.

Can all Beaker People of the rang of Beaker-Filler and above please note - when filling up beakers, the Fetching Beaker should always be held at "4" and "8". It's the little things that make the difference. We'll have a special  run-through at the next Liturgical Workshop. And we'll keep at it till everyone gets it wrong.

And the Last will be First

I feel I need to issue a bit of a clarification - people seem to think I expect special treatment because I'm Archdruid, and I want to clear things up.

Just because I get to wear the pointy hat, and the special robes, and just because I get to sit in the Archdruid's Special Comfy Beanbag in the Moot House, and expect everyone to make the Beaker sign of obedience as I walk past, doesn't mean I think I'm anything special.

Likewise, the ringing of a special bell before I talk, and the way I get to stand in the Archdruid's Pulpit (except when I decide I woud be more post-modernly "hip" wandering about (tracked by the Archdruid's spotlight) while I share my pearls of wisdom in that deceptive manner that looks like I just thought of them) - that's not because there's anything wrong with the "Pulpit for Other Ranks".

And yes, that is a very big poster with my face on it, behind the Archdruid's Sermon DVDs and the collected sermon books and the copies of "100 Brilliant Thoughts from Archdruid Eileen", and "89 Further Brilliant Thoughts from Archdruid Eileen" (I'll be honest, I was struggling with the sequel - you could call it the "difficult second album syndrome" striking).

And yes, Young Keith is working hard on, where people will be able to download my sermons (with suitable advertising embedded) or ask me to say a special prayer for them, and there is a section called "Just How Great is Eileen?". And the Sermon Scoring Section, where you can rate my sermons as "Wesley", "Whitefield", "Lloyd Jones" or merely "Spurgeon".

And it's true, I do get to eat at the head of Top Table in the evenings.

But none of this is because I want anyone to think I'm in any way special. No, it's because as a leader, I'm called especially to be a servant. And so the only reason we have all this attention being directed towards me, is to see what a fantastic servant I'm being.

Monday 16 April 2012

St Android's Day

A slight surprise at this evening's Filling up of Beakers. Feeling like a bit of a snooze, I sent the Android Archdruid off to take the service.

Imagine my surprise when I nipped down looking for some milk from the kitchen, assuming everyone was still safely out in the Orchard. I discovered Hnaef grabbing a handful of tea-bags. Drawing myself up to my full height (about 5'3") I looked him firmly in the chest and reminded him of his duty, as Executive Arch-Assistant Druid, to be at all acts of worship that weren't ridiculously embarrassing. He looked a little embarrassed, and confessed that Young Keith had knocked him up a Robotic Hnaef, which attends services when he, the real Hnaef, doesn't feel like it. Hnaef's argument, that trying to put a happy face on all the time is a bit wearing when real life throws lemons at you, and that therefore it's for the good of the Beaker People that he sends a robotic substitute, seemed terrifyingly like my own argument. So I told him off, but not too much.

If you see Thomas Hardy on the Road, Give Him a Doughnut

Peter Kirk has posted on Gentle Wisdom some comments on my own posting of The Convergence of the Twain, Thomas Hardy's poem on the loss of the Titanic.
And Peter rightly notes the shock that Hardy's idea of God, the Immanent Will, should have been - so to speak - planning this tragic accident.
Some people, based entirely on wishful thinking, have tried to reclaim Thomas Hardy as a Christian almost against his will. This is clearly counter to his clearly expressed thoughts, his poetry and his novels - but otherwise it's entirely plausible. Whatever else Convergence of the Twain says, it's not a poem about "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world" (not my words - one of Jeeves'). Hardy, in his cheerful way, is contemplating the clash between human achievement and the chaos that brings all our aspirations to nothing:
"Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls
--grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent"
Which isn't that unlike the sentiment you could find in Ecclesiastes.  "Vanity, vanity," cries the Philosopher, indeed.
Certainly when I had the chance to meet him in 19th Century Wessex, Hardy seemed mostly interested in the other sex rather than any less terrestrial divine beings. Indeed, noting his infatuation with his former schoolteacher, I thought it best to keep contact to a sensible, cordial distance. But he was 20 and had a strange mother, so I suspect his obsessions were entirely a combination of hormones and repression, which six miles and above of walking every day seemed unable to subdue.
But all this musing has left me thinking about the Hardyness of the world in which we live. As Norman Clegg remarked, out in the lovely countryside where we live, there's the sound of little creatures eating other creatures. The average wild animal, living in an Edenic landscape, can hope at best that it gets run over before it breaks a leg and starves, or is eaten alive by a slightly bigger animal.
In the whole history of humanity, the percentage of people who lived a full healthy life and slipped gently from sleep into death, old and full of years, having their descendants even unto three or four generations, is small. While those miscarried, aborted, died (children and mothers) in childbirth, died suddenly of unexpected disease or tragic accident or slowly and painfully from cancer and other long-holding, dignity-stealing diseases is terribly large. (You'll excuse me being a bit vague on the stats - I've sent Burton off to do an audit of the doilies). And we have only had effective pain-killers for a couple of short centuries.
So if we take our cue from the natural world, we must surely side with Thomas Hardy and conclude that the "Spinner of the Years" is a heartless brute, if not a player of warped and cruel games.
It seems to me that we've four possible responses to this:
1) Go with Tommy H. The Immanent Will's a monster. Accepting that the Immanent Will is no cruel, conscious, Other - but the combination of the random events and actions that make up an unlikely, doomed world under an empty sky. Meaning - or lack of it - is what you make it.
2) Light a tea-light, tell ourselves that the stars are God's daisy chain, and try not to think black thoughts.
3) Try to reconcile the bleakness of the cosmic state with the fact that, every morning the sun rises. Put your faith in the belief that, when the Titanic sank - in strict accord with the rules of the world that say that ice is hard, and metal can be broken, and is heavier than water - that Someone grieved, Someone sank to the depths, and that Someone will raise her crew and passengers at a last day. And hope this mad hope in the unlikely, irrational but totally firm belief that that One has already started that raising process.
4) Deliberately miscount the number of conclusions, thus giving ourselves a momentary wry smile at the unfairness of things.
For all its terrors and fears, it's a beautiful world, PK Purvis. And for all its beauty, Madeline, it's terrifying. Rabbits may look like gnomes at sunset, but that doesn't stop them being ripped to pieces by foxes or eaten by flies.
And if you see Thomas Hardy on the road, give him a doughnut? It's only temporary. But the sugar- rush might cheer him up.

Sunday 15 April 2012


You'll never walk alone.

Stand-in Sunday

And so, all round the country, Readers are experiencing that last-thing panic as they wonder whether there's anything new to say about Thomas. Local Preachers are checking the SatNav to ensure they can get to that village they've not visited since Sunday after Easter 2 years ago. And stand-in thurifers look wistfully at inert charcoal and wonder whether lighter fuel is a good idea*

Those of us old enough will still call this "Low Sunday". But I think I prefer a new title - "Stand-in Sunday". Any superintendent minister, incumbent, or Head Holy Honcho with a little financial nous will have stayed "on duty" as long as possible last week, safe in the knowledge that many of the folk in their care will have been dodging hailstones at Hemsby, Skeggy or Minehead. I discount those fellowship leaders, of course, who went to Spring Harvest and so weren't at their home church Easter Day - they have already received their reward. But all the other (child-free) regular post-holders and church officials will be off enjoying the cheap holiday week.

So today it's the faithful substitutes who step in. The visiting organist has been practising "Breathe on me, breath of God" for the last twelve months, just waiting for the call. Unfortunately after all this practice he's got bored with the normal tune, and has found a 9th century plainsong that almost fits. The brass was polished yesterday in a second-best-polisher kind of way. The flowers have been arranged in a "only flower arranger around" fashion. And the job of putting things onto other things has been given to anyone who happens to be passing.

The step-in Door Steward, in a fit of pique at being overlooked for the big gig last week, is handing out copies of the old Methodist Hymn Book. No, not Hymns and Psalms. The old one.

It's a celebration, is Stand-in Sunday, of the fact that the church is a body, not a couple of stars with a load of followers. What will the body do without an eye? A kidney will have to stand in for the week. What if the body were all just a foot?  Well, for one Sunday only, it will have to hop up and down to praise the Lord.
The praise will be just as valuable, for all that the Worship Leader's away wishing he was Vicky Beeching (I've always worried about that worship leader). Not least because we won't get a ten-minute anecdote before each song, and we won't be told how much that song has to lift us up / challenge us / give us the faith as much as a gnat, so we can move camels. [Hnaef, can you check I've got this right?]

The point is that, after a certain amount of doubt and confusion, and despite the odd random explosion because the 3rd Heating Deacon has forgotten the crucial order in which to switch the boiler on; despite the occasional Lay Preacher who's convinced it must be Christmas if she's been asked to step in: despite the panic as it's realised that one acolyte will have to carry two candles and the cross while balancing the Gospel on her head - the show must go on.

You may realise that in fact God's just as pleased if the sermon does not include insights into Platonic Realism: or Anarcho-Syndicalism; or Bristol Rovers or whatever the vicar's favourite method of shedding light is. God doesn't count the altar party and know them all by name (actually, God does - but won't hold that against you when it's just you on your own, meandering down the front with your dodgy knee). If the ciborium's 3" to the left, or the Big Bible is not held up for precisely 17 seconds after the reading; if the worship leader's not given every different sociological sub-group a chance to sing a verse on its own in an attempt to discover the worshipping Weakest Link (Clue: men under 30 and the creche are the worst at singing complex theological love-songs) - God won't worry.

In fact, even if the entire congregation has gone to Bridlington and left you on your own - you may wonder what they've got against you, but God won't have anything. Once you've unlocked, switched the heating on, taught yourself to play the organ, sung a couple of hymns, granted  absolution** to Old Mr Hanwell, who's been missed off the invite list to Brid because of his drunken exploits last year, preached a sermon, made and drunk the coffee and moaned about the sermon - God will be just as pleased as if there'd been 10,000 of you in a borrowed football stadium. And possibly amused, if you tried to get Mr Hanwell to "come forward" at the Altar Call.

So it's a great thing, Stand-in Sunday. And I'll be observing it myself, by taking the morning off. Although, of course, I'm not trusting that shower of Beaker Folk to manage completely without me. Oh no. Android Eileen, the robotic Archdruid, will be leading Pouring Out of Beakers. I've programmed her with one of Wesley's sermons, as well. So they should all have a great time.

*No. Really, no.
** Be very careful. In Anglican, Orthodox or Catholic contexts - look down to see if, judging by the clothing, you appear to be a priest of some kind before doing this.

The Convergence of the Twain

Long before the film, Thomas Hardy wrote this.

Seems the right day to post it.

Convergence of the Twain 
(Lines on the loss of the 'Titanic') 


      In a solitude of the sea
      Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.


      Steel chambers, late the pyres
      Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.


      Over the mirrors meant
      To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls -- grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.


      Jewels in joy designed
      To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.


      Dim moon-eyed fishes near
      Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: 'What does this vaingloriousness down here?'...


      Well: while was fashioning
      This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything


      Prepared a sinister mate
      For her -- so gaily great --
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.


      And as the smart ship grew
      In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.


      Alien they seemed to be:
      No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,


      Or sign that they were bent
      By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,


      Till the Spinner of the Years
      Said 'Now!' And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

Saturday 14 April 2012

The Grand National

Don't get me wrong. I've nothing in principle against horse-racing, or even steeple-chasing. And I admire the bravery of the jockeys.

But imagine you've brought a horse - a great, beautiful, daft thing like a horse - to the peak of its condition. You've worked with it as trainer for years. It knows who you are.

Then you pack it off on four and a half miles of jumps, knowing there's a 5% chance within the next twenty minutes that it will be dead.

I wouldn't. I really wouldn't. There's some real work needs doing on that course, or the race should stop.

You can see also: RSPCA official statement; LLM Calling.

Not in My Name

In the light of the latest set of complaining and alleging persecution of Christians (in the UK, I mean, while Christians in the Middle East and Africa really are being persecuted), I've decided it's time to update my list of the various groups and people that don't speak for me.

Former Archbishop Carey

Anglican "Mainstream"

Drayton Parslow

The Daily Mail

Anne Widdecombe


Westboro Baptist Church

That Dot Cotton off the Eastenders

The advert on the Clapham omnibus

Kenny Dalglish (unless he's saying something along the lines of "we're glad we won and the lads done well" or "we're sick as parrots but good luck to Everton")

Harold Camping

Anyone claiming they can help people be post-gay, ex-gay, recovering gay, off-gay or near-gay. Or gay, for that matter.

Any members of the Stewartby Guinea-pig Worshippers

Polly Toynbee

Anybody at all, really. It's safer that way.

Basically, is it OK if I speak for me? And, obviously, the other Beaker Folk worldwide whom I represent, whether they realise it or not.