Tuesday 30 April 2013

Ancient Thoughts on the Five Knolls

Today, we shall be finding inspiration from the world around us, instead of looking into dusty tomes for wisdom.

I shall mostly be considering the beauty of nature, as revealed to us in the gentle loveliness of the Dunstable Downs. The "Flying Archaeologist" yesterday reminded me that, although burial mounds on chalkland - including the eight or so barrows in Dunstable's "Five Knolls" are - green and gently folded into the downs today, when first built they would have been a stark white, shining with the native chalk. As the people of the Vale of Aylesbury looked up to the ridgeway at sunset, the barrows would have glowed a reddy-orange in the sunshine cast across the Vale, giving an illusion of the colour of life to those chalky sepulchres. Likewise at sunrise, the Vale folk would have seen the sun rising behind the mounds - casting the near sides into darkness and making them appear black. The Vale folk would have given thanks that the sun was rising, and even more so that they had a ridge of solid chalk between themselves and Luton.

The irony is that, unknown to them, they were encasing the bodies of their families and friends within the miriad small bodies of other former things. For the chalk is a compressed mass of the shells of tiny sea creatures, that lived and munched other tiny sea creatures and then died, in those sunny Cretaceous seas. Then they fell to the bed where, as Prof Brian Cox would say, "a mill-ion, mill-ion, mill-ion" creatures piled up and were transformed, through great weight of water and greater weight of time, into the soft white porous stone we know today.

I really shouldn't start the day like this. I'm going to be all humble now for hours, and you know how grumpy that makes me.

Monday 29 April 2013

Some Subtle Subtitles for Church Vacancies

It can be hard work, trying to attract a new minister to your church. What with the phenomenally high wages and bonus schemes common throughout the clerical world, the important thing is to remember that it's the softer things that can help you attract a new minister. Here, then, are some useful phrases with which to scatter your ad or church profile - and what you will be hiding beneath the covers.

What to sayWhat it means
looking for an energetic ministerAfter three years without sleep you'll forget what it is to dream.
a mature congregationFor the first four years, the Parish Share will be padded by legacies.
We are interested in Fresh ExpressionsWe now have Pet Services every week, and Communion once a month.
We have not passed any resolutions, but would expect sensitivity towards those whose views were so strongly expressed in the debate."Y" chromosomes are strictly obligatory.
An active lay ministry teamThey've a habit of mining the vicarage garden, to keep themselves in work.
A rural beneficeSeventeen villages, four churchgoers in each. And they all want a weekly service.
Someone able to spread warmthThe boiler's always breaking down.
With a strong grasp on their visionIt normally takes us three months to completely break a new minister's spirit. We'd appreciate a bit more of a challenge.
An exciting time for our church.We're thinking of buying a new Hymn Book.
a people-centred pastor Your phone will never stop ringing
open mindedThe Choir form the backbone of the local wife-swapping circle
Good at building bridgesThe argument started about whether to move the tea light stand, and now the Flower Arrangers are refining uranium.
A developing ministryWe've got some funding, and we're dying to work out what to do with it. We're hoping you may have some ideas?
Styles of worship include Cafe Church, BCP Morning Prayer, High Mass, Folk Communion, Goth Mass, Messy Church and Benediction.We're looking for a very energetic chameleon.
Strong involvement with the local schoolsYou'll never get out of governors' meetings.
We really need young familiesWe're stating the obvious, and we've no idea what to do about it.
We need a minister with strong, conservative theology and a heart for men's ministry.Someone who's definitely not gay.
Looking for a minister who can engage with the church community...In fact, we really want a married forty-year-old man with three churchgoing children.
... with a strong Sunday School......so we hope your wife will be leading it from now on. We're all knackered.
...a minister with a passion for growing churchWe reckon the last few just liked decline.
....able to work as part of a team....Pliable
PropheticInclined to denouncing the outside world. And quite right, too. It's dreadful.

Sunday 28 April 2013

Liturgy for Ed Balls Day

For those who don't know what this is about... 

Archdruid: Ed Balls be with you.

All: And Ed Balls with you too.

Archdruid: Ed Balls.

All: RT @ArchdruidEileen Ed Balls

Hnaef: Ed Balls.

All: RT Hnaef Ed Balls

Charlii: Ed Balls.

All: RT Charlii Ed Balls

Young Keith: Ed Balls.

All: RT Young Keith Ed Balls

Ed Balls: Ed Balls

All: RT @Ed_BallsMP Ed Balls

Hnaef: Ed Balls? How did he do that?

Archdruid: He gets everywhere.

Love is all Around

Thanks to Rodrick for this morning's talk on "Jesus says we have to love each other". Very effective.

So much so that I decided that, henceforth, I should make it my aim to love my fellow Beaker Folk as I'm supposed to. But, knowing that we are not allowed to face anything we can't stand, I thought I'd take some preventative measures and make a list of the people I will be designating as exemptions, so I don't fail in this calling. Currently the list (with reasons) stands at:

Burton Dasset (nerd)
Marston Moretaine (fool)
Charlii (money-grabbing gold-digging potential rival)
Hnaef (posh)
Milton Ernest (implausible name, even for a Beaker person)
Mansfield Wodehouse (too northern)
Mrs Wodehouse (always ill)
Aelfine (too delicate)
Rodrick (too challenging)
Raughrie (always moaning)
Bernie (always cooking roadkill)

Going further afield, I also need to add from the Bogwulf Baptists:
Drayton Parslow (fundie)
Marjory Parslow (too much like me)
Kayleigh (too much like Kylie)
Kylie (too much like Keeley)
Keeley (too much like Kayleigh)

So I'm currently managing to love every body else like I'm supposed to, which is a great achievement. I am, however, aware that the above list consists of all the people I've met or thought about since I heard Rodrick's challenge. So it may have to get longer.

Saturday 27 April 2013

The Proper form of Male Headship

I see that once again, and no doubt much against his will, Pastor Mark Driscoll has been dragged into the limelight for a sober, biblical and godly analysis of the relationship between men and women.

To be fair, this verse in Proverbs is one that it is easy to lampoon. Eileen, the self-styled Archdruid next door, has a habit of turning it round it as "the average husband is a drip". And in referring to a nagging wife as a dripping "faucet", Pastor Mark is clearly quoting from an Ishmael song, not even the Nearly Inspired Version, and not from the true Scripture which renders it as "...the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping."

But I do believe it is important that we establish the ground rules of a marital relationship based on Biblical principles. That is why I have always been clear with Marjory that I am the one who is in the place of God in our marriage, and she in the place of the obedient, pure and hard-working Bride.

And so we have come to the proper order of hierarchy and obedience. I make the really important decisions - which form of Dispensationalism to believe in; whether the Fall was inevitable; who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews; the best ways to calculate the Age of the Earth from the king lists of Judah and Israel. While Marjory is allowed to make the secondary decisions, those which do not impinge on our immortal souls - where to go on holiday; financial investments; the amount of the Bogwulf Baptists' tithes that should go to me (as pastor) and Marjory (as Church Secretary and Treasurer - an important but, clearly, secondary post). Likewise, because our bodies are temples, it is important that I keep the house tidy, do the cooking and washing up - these cannot be delegated because our very health depends on them being carried out correctly.

I am pleased to say that, with very few complaints, which we resolved by agreeing I was right, Marjory has been prepared to fall in with these arrangements. And, I should add, suggested that, on the same basis, the removal of household rubbish and unblocking of the plumbing is so important it needs a man to do it as well. It is good for a woman to know her limitations.

Friday 26 April 2013

A Brilliant Woman

So another woman has been removed from a British banknote.

I refer, of course, to Elizabeth Fry - prison reformer, Quaker and consumer of Turkish delight, who is to be replaced by Winston Churchill.

Now, we owe Winnie no ill will. A great man, unless you were a miner. But that leaves us with no women on our banknotes - or, at least, the side without Her Majesty on. The usual suspects have been suggested for next time - Boudicca, Queen Elizabeth, Joanna Lumley,  Jane Austen, Margaret Thatcher.

But if you ask me, there's a fine candidate who did marvellous things in a man's world and nobody's ever heard of her.

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin.

Nobel laureate? Check. Scientific pioneer? Check.

Inventor of protein crystallography (thus enabling modern computer-based drug design) - yep. Fighter against disability? Yes again.

She deserves the creation of a note specially for her. I'd go for £15.

(Image from Wikipedia)

Seeking the Lost Sheep

Every time. Every time we have a Lunar Eclipse, the Gibbon Moon Folk go missing.

Thing is, they're probably off on Aspley Heath, howling. It can be pretty disturbing, for the dog walkers up there. One year we had to go and collect them from where they'd got chased up a tree by a badger.

Now I know what you're thinking. This isn't a 1970s comedy where people can go missing on the moors. We have mobile phones. We can call them and ask where they are. But these are Gibbon Moon folk, who believe a giant monkey eats the moon every 4 weeks. They eschew the use of mobile phones and anything else that might tend to provide insights from the outside world that would undermine their worldview.

So I probably ought to go and find them. But in these kinds of circumstances, I ask myself - what would John Noakes do? And finding the answer is "do something pointless and dangerous", I've set up a zip-wire from the roof of the Great House and over the Duck Pond. The Beaker Folk will have a bit of fun, and we'll let the Gibbon People come home when they're hungry.

Thursday 25 April 2013

The Legend of the Moon Gibbon

Mention of the Moon Gibbon reminds me that there are many new readers of this website, who may not be aware of the long and tortured history of the Moon Gibbon.

It all started with a mis-hearing. Somebody mentioned the "gibbous moon" - gibbous, being from the Latin for "hunchbacked", is a moon between first and third quarters, but not full. Some of the more impressionable Beaker Folk thought they'd said "gibbon moon". And from this came the belief that the moon is inhabited by a divine gibbon, which eats the full moon every month, and then vomits it back up.

At times of proper, full-scale, meaningful lunar eclipses, the full moon goes a ghastly red colour. At these times, the Moon Gibbon Folk believe, the Moon Gibbon has launched an all-out attack on the other denizens of the moon, and our nearest neighbour is running with Clanger blood. If you don't know what Clangers are, this should help.

For we Bedfordshire people, a "clanger" is also one of these, eaten by field-folk in the 19th Century and, to this day, on special occasions.

The gibbon-gibbous confusion has caused much upset for the Beaker People in other ways as well. For example, a confusion over the term "waxing gibbous" (i.e. a moon on the way to Full) ended up with shivering primates all over the place. We try to discourage this kind of behaviour. But, notwithstanding various schisms, the Moon Gibbon people are still with us - and still get stroppy and worrisome as we near New Moon every month.

Liturgy of a very small partial obscured Lunar Eclipse

Archdruid: Behold! For somewhere behind the clouds, a very small chunk of the moon is being obscured by a very small part of the earth, causing it to go slightly beige.

Moon Gibbon Folk: Aaagh! The moon's being eaten! The moon's being eaten! Behold the wrath of the Mighty Gibbon!

All: Can't see a bloody thing, and it's damp out here. We're off for a pint.

Archdruid: And I'll also come with you.

Two Sides to Every Argument - the MMR Fallacy

In many respects, I blame the BBC for the measles outbreaks in Swansea. Or, if not the BBC, then a philosophy which that august body stands for. A philosophy that seems to break down into these four principles:

1. In the interests of balance and "fairness", there should be two sides to every argument.

2. In the interests of simplicity, there should be only two sides to every argument.

3. In the interests of entertainment, the two sides to every argument should be on the extreme opposite edges of the argument.

4. Science/Theology/Politics/Ethics is too hard for our audience, and for many of our reporters, so let's keep it simple.

These four principles lead to a maverick doom-spreading, money-raking scare-monger getting as much attention as all the sober scientists who oppose him. And then, often, doubly downgrade the sensible viewpoint by getting an extremist to present it. Or a "Christian" view on (normally) same-sex relationships being presented by "Christian" voice, or by somebody who thinks homosexuality should stay in theological colleges, where it belongs.

In this way, all discussions can be reduced to simple binary propositions, where equal representation gives the impression of equal validity.*

So I have some proposals here for future debates on the Beeb. Some have one rational point of view, some none. I offer them freely, for what they're worth. I won't even ask for royalties. 

"How should we deal with bovine TB? - We've got an expert in the epidemiology of TB in rural environments, and a bloke from the National Rifle Association with a pathological hatred of black-and-white mammals, who's got a brand new bazooka and an urge to tour England."

"Richard III - a good man or a bad king? A prominent Tudor historian debates with a woman who claims to be the reincarnation of Edward V."

"Scrap metal thefts in Southern England - the Deputy Chief Council of Thames Valley Police discusses the problem with a man who blames a race of steel-eating alien cuttle-fish. Who may have a point..."

"The Moon Landings - someone who thinks the Moon is a goddess debates with a bloke whose mate Syd says they were faked in a studio in New Mexico."

"How best to revitalise British democracy? A member of the Electoral Reform society takes on Simon de Montfort."

"Where now for Same-sex marriage in the Church?  The Bishop of Buckingham meets a man from the Westboro Baptists."

"Quantitative Easing - We ask the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England whether a woman who just walked the window, and thinks all money is evil because it has pictures on it, has a point."

"And now we discuss the Luis Suarez affair. Mac the Manc, the Stretford End Scouse-hater, argues for the death penalty. While a man from a previously unreached tribe in Papua New Guinea argues that Suarez risked food poisoning by eating uncooked Chelsea player."

"Turning to immigration. A Home Office spokesman tells us the number of Bulgarians coming to this company will be quite low, while someone's Nan argues that Enoch was right and we should send them all home. All of them. Including those bloody Normans."

"Was Jesus married? The Archbishop of Canterbury says we can't really be sure, while a bloke called Eric who read something on the Internet says he's a direct descendant."

*  The other side effect is that they encourage a "Columbus Fallacy".  This states that "They all laughed at Christopher Columbus, when he said the world was round. He was right, so anybody that comes up with some stupid idea may well be right." 

The problem with this Fallacy is that (a) They didn't laugh at him. Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to be his patrons. (b) The fool didn't even find the East Indies. (c) Science is naturally sceptical. It is right to challenge new theories - that's how science works. If you come up with a theory, it's your job to prove it. Just because it's a theory doesn't mean it's right. (d) We only hear about the right theories that people challenged.

Sex, Dying Churches and Rock + Roll

Just a couple of items off the sidebar to mention.

The first is Maverick Philosopher's take on the infertility argument against same-sex marriage. Interesting, taking it from a secular viewpoint. I guess where I don't follow the argument is the assumption that production of children is the only reason why marriage might be in the State's interest. In theory, the encouragement of stable, loyal relationships would also further the stability of the State by the creation of the extended family networks that marriage causes to exist. Although, to be fair, most Beaker Handfastings end up in an almighty punch-up that is more likely to divide than unite society.

The second is itself a link - though credit, where it is due, to Alan R Bevere, on the Autopsy of a Dead Church, for passing the link on.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

If Wayside Pulpits Said What We Sometimes Think

Steps in Bible Translation

Just a thought, really.

Let's take the words of Jesus and consider that they would have been spoken in Aramaic, in all likelihood.

Somebody translated that into Greek. And then St Matthew (let's suppose it's the Beatitudes we're talking about here) gathered and maybe regularised the Greek interpretations of what Jesus said on the Mount.

Or if it were the Matthew, maybe he did the translation himself, from the Aramaic in his own memory.

Modern Bible translators take that Greek translation and turn it into English.

Now if you're King James to the bone, then you've got to then make the act of translation from KJV to your own thought-forms. Although, to be fair, if you're that much of a KJV wallah your thought-forms may well be 17th Century anyway.

And after those 2-3 acts of translation, chances are you'll still end up with the words "hunger and thirst after righteousness", or something similar. So if you want to explain that to a non-Christian you'll need to do another translation step.

It strikes me the options to improve the situation are this, in descending order of utility in accurately understanding the words of our Lord:

1) Invent the Tardis and go back to the 1st Century Middle East, taking everybody you might want to share your faith with, with you.

2) Learn Koine Greek. Better, learn it yourself and then teach it to all your friends.

3) Don't keep shouting at your friends in KJV English.

4) Try and think of a good way of saying "hunger and thirst after righteousness".

European Unity

Thanks to Peter Kirk, who shared this link with me on Facebook, continuing on an archaeological theme.

Turns out the original Beaker Folk were related to the modern Spaniards. Who knew?

Peter asked me if this means the Daily Mail should send me home. I tend to think that it proves, in the deepest possible sense, that we are all German.E

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Barely Comprehensible

Catching up on some weird channel of the C4 family in search of that Grand Designs where a couple shoe-horn a house into Camden, I came across a Garnier antiperspirant advert in the break that confused me in two ways. Firstly they told us that 99% of 74 women agreed with some proposition or another. Which is very odd. As that means that 0.74 of a woman disagreed. How did they measure that?

But worse, apparently this spray comes with "Anti-Yoda protection". I really don't like this idea. Either my hearing's going, or the voice artist's diction is poor, or deodorants have gone over to the Dark Side. I'm hoping it's her diction.

Bible "Not Written by God"

On this most Shakespearean day of the year, when traditionally broadsheet newspapers queue up to prove that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare, I would like to share with you another radical theory.

It may astound many, and cause Drayton Parslow to cry, but I believe I have the evidence to prove that the Bible was not written by God.

The various theories are as follows:

a) Everybody knows it was written by King James. That's why it's got his name on it.
b) It may have been written by a shadowy bunch known as the "Apostles and Prophets". This is not to say that God was not the inspiration behind it - acting as a kind of manager, if you will - but he never actually put pen to paper. Although he may have put finger to tablet, and, indeed, wall.
c) He never signs it.
d) There is a suggestion in some versions that the first first five books were written by a "Moses". Or the Earl of Oxford.
e) The writing style is all over the place. If it were written by God, surely it would be more consistent and - above all - self-assured?
f) The author of Revelation claims to be known as "John". As far as we aware this is not God's first name.
g) What would the point be of arguing about whether there was a 1st and 2nd (and 3rd and 4th) Isaiah, each smaller than the previous like they're a bunch of Russian dolls, if all along it was God that wrote the lot?
h) God would have known that floods don't work like that.
i) God didn't go to Eton, so clearly this kind of thing would have been beyond him.
j) Occasionally God is portrayed in an unflattering light - as unsure whether to smite people or not, or getting angry.

The Beaker Queen of Windsor

Thanks to @Yes2WomenBishops, I discover that an upper-class woman of Beaker Times has been found buried in a quarry in Windsor. Now let us get this straight. She may have been a "Beaker Queen" but that's not like a "Pearly Queen". She didn't have lots of little beakers sewn onto her jerkin, bodkin or tunic. She wasn't going round singing "Doin' the Avebury Walk". She was a higher-caste member of the Beaker People - inasmuch as our definition of Beaker Person is "the sort of people who were buried with Beakers".

She is a fascinating addition to our knowledge of Beaker Times. Her golden trappings mark her out as a natural ruler - I have no doubt she would have been an archdruid, the use of "bling" for the working classes being very much a feature of our troubled times.

But it all leaves me with a really worrying thought. She was found in a quarry. Richard III was dug up in a Leicester car park.The Amesbury Archer was found in a housing estate.

Is it just me, or are you also wondering why important people were always buried in major engineering works?

Monday 22 April 2013

Let the Flame Burn Brighter

All our silly fault, of course. We saw a promo video from the Rend Collective Experiment, thought it was a good idea to rip off. Sorry. Be inspired by. Singing praises round a campfire - how authentic could you get?

Of course, we forgot that, while the Moot House's most recent incarnation is in principle totally flameproof inside and out, we timber-clad it as part of our "Log Cabin Spirituality" session in February. The last couple of weeks of mostly dry wind, the big stack of newspapers that Burton had stored up to turn into eco-friendly briquettes but had left in the Moot House porch, and a couple of gallons of petrol we thought we'd use to get things going - I suppose you'd be fair to say it was, to a degree, our own fault.

I'm just glad only two Beaker People lost their authentic folky beards. As it was, we got to the chorus of "Build your kingdom here", and set our church on fire.

Sunday 21 April 2013

The Quip of the Week

[R Dawkins] The rest is all primitive stuff about bronze-age goatherds.

[Eccles[ Well, we have to admit that several of the characters in Genesis (and there are many interesting ones, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and so forth) would have lived in the bronze age, and some of them would have owned goats. But then, Richard lives in the plastic age and wrote a D.Phil. about chickens, so we don't seem to have moved on significantly.

Just a lovely little quip. Respect to Eccles

"The vicar can't speak to you now"

"Clergy hide from Constant Callers" (BBC News)

"I'm sorry, I can't make it to the phone right now.

"If it's a normal week day, I'm probably in a meeting, or taking a funeral, or at the hospital, or in a School Governors' Meeting, or maybe in the vestry printing off the service sheets, or fixing the boiler. Or maybe on the church roof, covering up the hole where the lead was stolen, with plastic sheeting. Or if I've not fallen off and I've got back down safely, maybe trying to persuade English Heritage that it might be an idea to replace the lead with something that's not lead. Or, if I'm halfway through the latest set of 200 forms that I've been asked by somebody to fill in for no apparent reason, I may simply have taken the phone off the hook in a desperate attempt to concentrate.

"If it's Sunday, I'm probably at the 8 am at Great Spaldersley. Or the 10 am at Little Spaldersley. Or the 11.15 at Upper Twing. Or if it's between noon and 2, I'm probably at the Faith Lunch. Unless I've any urgent pastoral visits to make. Or if it's the evening, I've got the 6pm at Bradwick-cum-Gobley. Or the "Cafe Church". In between times, I'm probably slumped, exhausted, on the couch next to an untouched glass of whisky.

"If it's my day off, please refer to what I do on other week days. Except of course I'll be feeling guilty for doing whatever it is I'm currently doing, as it's supposed to be my day off, which is when I normally do the shopping, gardening, house-tidying, cooking and get to see my parents and children.

"If you are standing outside my house and it looks like I'm in, and you've rang the bell and I've not answered - that's probably the cardboard cutout I put in the window to make it look like I'm around. If you can hear sobbing, that's just the sound effect I play to confuse burglars. If there were other people in the queue to the door before you, can you pass this on to them?

"You can phone me on the mobile if it's urgent - which I'm sure it is, as it always is. But if you do, and when I answer it I start screaming or swearing, could you just do me a favour? Hang up and call back in ten minutes, when I've pulled myself together.

"And bear in mind there is a very, very slight chance I may have locked myself into my own garage, with a cup of tea, a torch and a copy of 4-4-2 Magazine, in a desperate attempt to evade detection and get in the first serious reading I've managed in 2 years. Should you break into my garage and can't see me, I'm probably hiding in the old filing cabinet in the corner.

"And once again, sorry I can't answer the phone."

Saturday 20 April 2013

Comparative Religious Exam Paper 2 - Mission

Write between the lines on the paper only. No calculators, leaflets, or proselytizing. 

1. Ignoring any consideration of effectiveness or financial benefits, what is your church's defining form of mission? (If you are an Anglican or Methodist, you may draw a map of your church grounds marking the Jumble Sale with an "X".

2. "Men of Athens, I perceive that you are in every respect remarkably religious." - How did you get from this to wearing an anorak in Dunstable town centre, while shouting at passers-by through a megaphone?

3. The Methodist Church has 7 members. St Martin's has 9 members. The URC has 6 members. So why are you running a building project?

4. "For we know we struggle under the cloud of transgression. In the natural, we are fallen beings. Because of the weight of our iniquity, we are unable to obtain true atonement without the cleansing grace of the sacrifical substitution of our righteous redeemer." - When you were handing this out down town last week, what did you think you would achieve?

5. "The defining symbol of the Church is not a cross, nor a fish, but a thermometer". If you can tear yourself away from the cake stall for a minute, would you care to comment on this?

6. "I become all things to all people, that by all possible means I might save some". Do you think that's wise?

7. "The trouble with modern people is that they don't want to go to church." Ignoring the weakness in this argument, how often do you actually think it?

8. Is the Church in the two-thirds world better at mission because:
a) People don't laugh at them;
b) Christians in England are persecuted more;
c) They actually believe in it;
d) Something to do with the Holy Spirit?

Try not to justify yourself too much.

9. Godly Play. Why? I mean, why?

10. Is "Enculturation" a real word? Be honest.

11. If you organise a church away day to discuss mission, brainstorm what it's all about, get a decent vision, develop a strategy and come away ready for battle - what are the chances of anything happening?

12. Which of the following do you, honestly, think count as mission?
a) Church Committee meetings
b) Getting alongside the lonely
c) Sharing your personal experience of faith
d) Wearing a witty T-shirt
e) Putting up a "wayside pulpit"
f) Bellringing
g) Tweeting insults at Richard Dawkins.

13. At the AGM, it is agreed that sub-committees are needed to look after "Mission", "Fund-raising" and "Social Activities". Why do you think just the one committee should cover it?

14. Sending men in threes into the pub to do mission work could be a bad idea why? Illustrate with a picture of the pub ceiling.

15. Taking an honest look, what percentage of your "outreach" activity is based on doing stuff people already in the Church like? You may use all three digits if necessary.

16. The 19th Century Anglo Catholics brought beauty and worship into the slum areas. Do you reckon Costa's the same sort of thing? Illustrate with an economic analysis of their profit margins.

Stonehenge General Manager - Job Application

Mistletoe Grove
Avalon of the Apple Trees

Dear Madam or Sir

Enclosed find my application for the role of Stonehenge General Manager. I attach my CV, of course, but I feel I should pick out some of the salient points.

I have a long experience of dealing with Stonehenge. Indeed I built it. This was a major project management exercise, though it did not, as is often believed, involve vast armies of Neolithic labourers dragging the bluestones from Wales and the sarsens from the Marlborough Downs. Rather, I used cutting-edge geopsychic technology. Or, to put it simply, I used magic. Nor was it an exercise in bringing together the disparate tribes of Old Britain in a common religious endeavour. Frankly, I did it because I could. And to upset the Irish druids I nicked it from in the first place.

I notice that, under your guardianship, the old place has rather gone to ruin. To be honest, it looks like you've been giving it the same treatment that Maggie Thatcher gave to Barnsley. Most of my stones have gone missing, some of the ones left have fallen over. And it looks like it's been centuries since the whole thing had a lick of paint. It had a lovely woad emulsion in my day. And you've lost the roof, by the look of it. So my first step would be to get some replacements in. I reckon if we "repurposed" a few sarsens from Avebury, and got a load more spotted dolomite in from South Wales, we could have it ship shape in a week or less. I take it that magic levitation of stones is still one of your selection criteria?

Of course, the side effect of having the full circle of stones last time was when it raised a massive psycho-physical storm and wreaked terrible destruction on Basingstoke. But I've undertaken a risk review, and don't think we've too much to worry about. I'm not sure they've got over the last one, yet.
A bit run down
I also notice that the "Hungry Horse" pub at Durrington Walls has gone as well. I suggest we get that rebuilt as quickly as possible, and pilgrims to the site will once again be able to enjoy giant racks of ribs and piles of steak.

Now, I know what you're thinking after looking at my CV. With a background in construction and the entertainment industry, what good would I be in what is fundamentally a "business as usual" role? And the answer is - I think we can take Stonehenge to new heights. My career as an adviser and part-time cartoon character with Disney has shown me how we can put the "wow" into even the most ancient of earthworks. That's why I'm suggesting that we expand the Stonehenge Landscape to include the "Amesbury Archery Centre", where toxopholites can recreate the invasions that brought the New Stone Age to an end in a bloodbath of bronze and a hail of arrows. The "Tumulus Tornado" rollercoaster will give tourists the excitement of actually heading straight through a series of burial mounds - complete with scary skeletons and Neolithic Men rising from their graves in a fantastic animatronic display. And, once the concept is completely worked out, we'll open a string of Stonehenges in more accessible parts of Britain - as the Internet really starts to bite, I anticipate cheap sites opening up in out-of-town shopping centres around the country.

Nor are my ambitions limited to the UK. The current travails of the Eurozone may make Euro-Stonehenge (or "Carnac", as I believe it's called) more of a future aspiration. But based on my projections, we should aim to pick up a couple of spare Greek islands, and maybe part of Cyprus. Those places have plenty of old ruins laying around, and we should be able to create a Stonehenge Experience with decent weather - and where you're more or less guaranteed a view of the Solstice Sunrise.

As to references, I'm afraid I'm struggling there. Obviously, most of my work has been freelance. My first client (for whom I worked as a reproductive health advisor) was Uther Pendragon. Unfortunately he died of an overdose of instant coffee, while his son, Arthur, who took over the family firm, was last heard of sleeping in a cave in Wales. Morgana le Fay did say she'd write me a personal reference, but some would say it's more of a poison pen letter. Seriously. Don't touch the ink.

But I hope you can see that I'm just the man to help you bring Stonehenge back to its former glories. I have three months' notice but, since I'm a wizard, I can rearrange time to start immediately.

Yours faithfully


Dancing in the Dews of Dawn

Yes, it's all very easy to blame me. Call me an old romantic if you like. But it's the Beaker way to dance in the dews of dawn.  And, of a sunny spring morn to do so barefoot.

But it's fair to say that this morning the dew was on the frozen side. The barefoot dancers aren't half as full of the joys of spring as they were expecting. They're all sat around the radiator now, trying to defrost. Don't know why that will help - I switched the gas off on 1 March. Still, if it works for them it's probably all right.

Friday 19 April 2013

Great Mysteries of Our Age

On Vicar of Dibley, why did nobody ever mention what was wrong with the other side of the parish council table?

Liturgy of Healing of an Internet Connection

Note: can be adapted for use with a failing laptop at work, or random error message.

Archdruid: Inasmuch as the Wireless Router no longer functions

All: It is as the brazen serpent, which heareth not the charmer, charm he never so wisely

Archdruid: So, we see the Internet as through a glass, darkly. We have but the bandwidth to download the whiskers on a Lolcat. Our latency is latent and our tweeting has been silenced in the streets.

All: Behold, for ye must needs phone the Help Desk at the service provider.

Archdruid: At these words is my heart heavy and my mind shall darkened be. For I know that the moment I phone the ISP, the connection will pick up.

All: Even so, must ye call out from the depths to "Mandy" in Bangalore. For it is the sick that need a doctor, and those whose Internet functioneth not that must call the Customer Service Centre.

Archdruid: Even though I walk in the valley of a computerised switchboard, I'll do it.....

On-hold music (Kingston Town by UB40)

Archdruid: Oh hello. "Tarquin?" Is that a common name in India? Oh, never mind. It,s my Internet connection. It's very erratic and now it's completely stopped. Yes, I know you can't see anything wrong. You never can. It's always my fault.... ooh. It's working. Well it wasn't a minute ago. Yes. I'll call back if it does it again.

The Archdruid may hang up gently or, as is more likely, throw the phone across the room - even unto the far wall.

All: It's stopped working again!

Hymn: A thousand ages in thy sight are as the time spent on-hold to a call centre.

Jack or Jill of All Trades

Highly recommended - a poem via  Lesley, "I am the vicar, I am". That's highly recommended unless you don't like good poetry, or you've a pathological and incurable hatred of vicars.

A bit like the beatitudes, I'm not sure whether the poem reflects an aspiration, where this vicar is, or what people think s/he's like. Or, most likely, a bit of all three. Anyway, it's brilliant.

(and thanks to Daisy for correcting me. I never was any good at reading the small print...)

Thursday 18 April 2013

What a Gove we have in Michael

What a friend we have in Michael
Gove, who likes to change our ways
Speaks out without ever thinking
Lengthens all our learning days.
When the holidays are over
Michael won't leave us alone
Tells us it won't be till night-time
That the kids will all get home.

If your school was short one Bible,
Govey's gift was just the thing.
Don't expect to understand it
This was auth'rised by a King.
If you want to teach Creation
As a scientific fact
Get in your school application
By our Michael you'll be backed.

If you're planning for your children
with your husband, partner, wife
You may worry how unstable
is their academic life.
Will they sit a baccalaureate
GCEs, course work, set text?
Michael never is discouraged
School Certificate will be next.

Now the holidays are shorter
all the staff have dirty looks
in three weeks' summer vacation
all they did was mark some books
Now they've got to set more homework
To be marked in the small hours
Thanks to an elf-faced politician
Carried away with his own powers.


Wednesday 17 April 2013

Ceremony of Watching the International Space Station go Over

Beaker Folk shuffle out into the Darkness

Archdruid: Will you shut those torches down!

All: And also with yours.

Archdruid: Yes, but my phone's got Google Sky on it.

All: Fair enough, let's watch!

Burton: Is that it?

All: No. That's a plane.

Burton: Is that it?

All: No. That's Aldebaran.

Burton: Is that it?

All: No. That's someone's security light.

Burton: Is that it?

All: No. That's the Amazon warehouse.

Burton: Is that it?

Archdruid: No. That's a badger.

All: A badger????

All may scream and run around. A thud rings out.

Marston: I've run into a tree! I've run into a tree! I've gone blind!

Someone may remove Marston's cap, which has fallen over his face.

Burton: Is that it?

All: No. That's the Air Ambulance, coming for Marston.

Hnaef: Oh, wait. It's British Summer Time, isn't it? I've used GMT to work it out. Still, there's a lot of cloud about anyway. We were lucky to see that star...

The Beaker Folk retreat, defeated yet again.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

The Average Church AGM - in Pie Charts

Dear Friends, based on exhaustive analysis and endless research, it is my joy to share with you the fruits of my labours in pie charts - a breakdown of the typical people who attend a Church AGM, that annual celebration of people's inability to publish and/or read material in advance, thereby stretching what would otherwise be a fifteen-minute meeting into a three or even four hour spectacular. And a summary of their average distribution of the use of those three or four hours.

I should point out that, this being a pie chart rather than Venn diagram, inevitably some simplifications have been made. For example, the ministers could entirely possibly be Martians, but I needed to show both categories for those occasions when the Martians are members of the laity. After all, Martians are people too.

Typical AGM Make-up
Use of time in AGM

Far Ancient Tongues

A strange question from Eileen when I saw her crossing the park earlier. She asked me - if I believe that the Authorised Version of the Bible is the authentic Word of God, why do we use that in worship but do not use the Book of Common Prayer, which is of similar age and language?

My response was simple. The Book of Common Prayer is an example of enforced uniformity, attemptedly imposed upon God's people by a Government that claimed rights over the Church. Clearly it is not to be used.

Whereas the Authorised Bible was authorised by King James. I hope that clears up the difference.

Job of the Week

Are you a church minister fed up with all the jibes about only working one day a week?

Then why not be the Stonehenge Solstice Manager? You'll only have to work two days a year!

A Crisis in Authority

Some Moot that was last night.

We've shifted Moots to the first Monday before the full moon, as that gives a pleasing randomness to  the intervals between them. I was hoping that might also disconcert some of the Beaker Folk - a few of whom were likely still to be a bit subdued from a heavy weekend. But no such luck.

Arasporn asked, why couldn't I be a stronger leader? More decisive and less inclined to see both sides of an argument? He said if I didn't pull my finger out and become more authoritative, he'd have to join another neo-post-modernist revivalist congregation. I said had I got this clear that he was ordering me to show leadership? In which case, I refused to do so - instead I suggested the best thing he could do was join the Hedgerow Folk of Cowley, Middlesex.

Left Arasporn in a dilemma, you see. He couldn't do something I suggested - that would mean he was obeying my weak leadership. On the other hand, he couldn't join any other group, as that would mean he had no respect for authority. In the end he decided he would stay, but he will take no notice of what I say in future. So no change there, then.

I think I've said in the past that what most people want, is a strong leader who who happens to agree with them. Those who most fervently believe in the old Beaker saying that "Auntie knows best" are the most likely to get upset when "Auntie" has a view that's different to theirs. At which point it's not their fault for being disobedient - it's mine for not knowing the right way to be a strong leader. It's not easy being the one in charge. But, on the bright side, it's worse being the ones at the bottom. After all, they've got me as a leader.

Monday 15 April 2013


There's a poignancy about this anniversary falling so closely before Margaret Thatcher's funeral. It's due to assorted ironies. It was under Margaret Thatcher that grounds in England started to be made safe. Seats stopped great waves of people sweeping down the terraces. Those evil fences - designed to keep hooligans off the pitch (and I note that "hooligan", like so many of those names on the Hillsborough Memorial, is a word of Irish descent). They created pens in which a slaughter could happen. They were there to keep back the worst in a working-class society - and there were some terrifying specimens behind those bars, right across the country - but they killed some of the best. They're all gone now. They had to go.

In the aftermath, the innocent were blamed, their memory tarnished. Even now, we're waiting for proper justice. Most of those responsible for the smears and shaming are, this morning, thinking it's quite a nice day - they being retired comfortably - to mow the lawn. I hope they remember and repent.

Back to Mrs Thatcher - it was her paper that did the blaming, at least one of her MPs that helped out. A police force lied to us. Did she know? Maybe we'll find out more now.

But of course, this isn't really about her, or her lackeys. It's about them - the 96 - most so terribly young - who died that day in 1989. They never walked alone. They never have . They never will.

Sunday 14 April 2013

The Perils of Petronella

It was the self-described "Archdruid" next door who drew my attention to this article in the Daily Mail about the trouble a rich, middle-aged woman has, making ends meet in today's world. Eileen's comment was that Petronella Wyatt's face would be improved by being slapped with a wet fish, which struck me as uncharitable.

Poor (apparently) Miss Wyatt has only £80,000 per annum with which to make ends meet. Her woes, and those of her friends in similar conditions, are described in great detail.

It leaves me with a great dilemma. For if we are to believe the Bible, it is difficult for the rich to get into heaven as it is. And what greater irony could there be than that a rich person is unable to get through the eye of a needle, even if they are poor? It seems a terrible injustice.

I notice that Miss Wyatt does not refer to having any lawfully-wedded husband. Maybe this is the root of her problem? For if she is a young-ish lady-about-town in London, trying to live on only the 80 "K" described, life will be difficult for her. Particularly if she has been going out to dinner in her spare time. I believe London has establishments with names such as "McDonald's" and "Angus Steak House", whose prices can mount up quite significantly.

If Miss Wyatt took some advice from me, I am sure things could be improved. My suggestions would be:
a) Find a godly, preferably well-paid man, and marry him.
b) Give up your job.
c) Stay at home and indulge in godly and money-saving pursuits: cooking, darning, knitting your own clothes, maybe managing an allotment.

I can guarantee that Miss Wyatt's life will seem infinitely more well-funded. As long as she commits herself to growing sufficient vegetables to enable her husband and herself to make it through each winter, she will not have to waste money eating out in expensive restaurants. If she makes it her role to ensure that her husband's dinner is on the table when he returns from a day's honest toil - and his sandwiches in the fridge, ready for the morn - she will discover that, between that and darning, she does not have time to spend money in Harrods, go out to dinner, or waste money on fine wines and suchlike sybaritic comforts.

Godly, simple, homely and effective. I offer my advice for what it is worth.

Liturgy of slapping people who deserve it with a wet fish

The people who deserve to be slapped with a wet fish may line up in front of the Slapping Podule.

N1: That Andrew Wakefield's got a point. Because the Government never responded to hysteria with a foolish public health measure, and people believed a self-publicising doctor against the scientific evidence, and the Press can't resist a scare story, it's all the Government's fault.

N1 is slapped with a wet fish.

N2: All the newspapers online going behind pay walls. It's a disgrace. They should stay free at the point of delivery, like the NHS.

N2 is slapped with a wet fish.

N3: I reckon we should all get a day off for Mrs Thatcher's funeral. It's what she would have wanted. Though I shall never forgive her for invading Iraq.

N3 is slapped with a wet fish.

N4: I flew to Tuvalu to see an exhibition on sea level rise. I think it's shocking, what people are doing to the atmosphere. Drove down to Gatwick, obviously - the trains are so ghastly.

N4 is slapped with a wet fish.

N5: I campaigned against the Poll Tax. Well, I signed the cheque in a very scruffy style. I was hoping the bank would bounce it. You're best to break the system from within. I like to think I was the straw that broke the camel's back.

N5 is slapped with a wet fish.

N6: I'm shocked about homelessness in the UK. In fact, I wrote a tweet. Didn't send it, though. Two sides, and all that.

N6 is slapped with a wet fish.

N7: It's plain to me that most of the unemployed don't want jobs. In fact, I reckon we've mixed up cause and effect. What if it's people that didn't want jobs that caused the downturn?

N7 is slapped with a wet fish.

N8: If it weren't for everybody demanding respect for their so-called "opinions", the Church would be able to lay down a clear, consistent line that I could sign up to.

N8 is slapped with a wet fish.

N9: I'm not saying I'm against selecting her as minister because she's a woman. But she's got children - how can she be dedicated to the church? And her husband might have undue influence over her - which is the church committee's job. Or even God's.

N9 is slapped with a wet fish.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Understanding Sermon Feedback

You know how it is. You've just preached the sermon of your life - or you've stood up and busked it after realising you've prepared for the wrong reading. I mean, last year I thought I was preaching on TS Eliot's "Wasteland", and then the reading was from "Biggles and the Camel Squadron." You've got to think fast when that happens.

And whenever that happens, you go and stand by the Moot House door and, as everyone says "goodbye" on the way out, they all precede it with "nice sermon, Eileen."

This is a little guide to translating the words people say after a sermon, to the actual thought they are trying to convey. I hope it will be helpful.

What they sayWhat they mean
"Nice sermon, Eileen""Nice sermon, Eileen."
"Nice sermon, Eileen""Your insights into the family life of the early Assyrians have transformed my life. I am forever in your debt."
"Nice sermon, Eileen""Your heretical views are condemning an entire generation of Beaker People to eternal torment. See you next week."
"Nice sermon, Eileen""I've been struggling to get enough sleep. You've helped"
"Nice sermon, Eileen""I'm joining the Mormons. It's all your fault."
"Nice sermon, Eileen""I only come here because I like drinking bad coffee out of a Woods Ware Beryl cup."
"Nice sermon, Eileen""Thank goodness, I stayed conscious this time. Last week I was so cold, I went into a state of hibernation."
"Nice sermon, Eileen""I'm referring you to the Spanish Inquisition."
"Nice sermon, Eileen""At least nobody actually ran out screaming this week."
"Nice sermon, Eileen""During the sermon, we've been planning the Revolution. Next week, we're going to have Ken Livingstone instead of you."
"Nice sermon, Eileen""You've never really understood the idea of Enculturation, have you? To you, it's just a nice word to throw around like post-modern confetti."
"Nice sermon, Eileen""Missed the whole thing. I was on Twitter throughout."
"Nice sermon, Eileen""I never understood a word."
"Nice sermon, Eileen""It's been a heartbreaking few months. We've struggled through my illness. Today, although I still suffer from unexpected and embarrassing burping at times of stress, I feel I've got through the worst. And I've felt strongly that God has been with me through it all.  And now, with those poorly-chosen words about Mother Julian, you have exposed the whole faith charade for what it is."
"Thanks for those thoughts on the ways we can use 1 Corinthians to inspire good inter-Church relations. I've just a few concerns that we could maybe unpack them - expand on where ecumenism may drift inter-faith, and the implications thereof? Do you have a view - maybe based on Paul's discussions with the Areopagus?""I'm so very lonely."

Rites of Spring

The Orchard is bathed in a strange yellow glow as the Beaker Folk assemble in  the Apple Grove.

All: My eyes! My eyes! What is that strange yellow thing?

Archdruid: Behold the Sun! Source of power, life and warmth!

All: Ooh! Sun!

Archdruid: Many generations have laboured through the Endless Winter, awaiting this day. Prophets and Patriarchs longed to see yon golden orb, afloat in an azure sky. Four score years and ten have we yearned for the return of th'celestial fire.

All: It's been a bit parky, we'll give you that.

Archdruid: And now behold! Primroses, daffodowndillies, grape hyacinths and crocuses spring afresh from Mother Nature's womb!

All: Tone it down, Eileen. It's still early.

Archdruid: And so we sprinkle the earth with water, a sign of new life, hope and bountiful benisons!

The sprinklers are switched on. Where the sunlight cuts through the spray, shimmering rainbows dance.

All: Ooh!

Man from the Water Board: I have in my hand two pieces of paper. Behold the new Drought Order, effective from this first day of Springly Sunshine. And behold the fine for the use of a sprinkler system during a drought. Archdruid Eileen, thou'rt bang to rights.

All: It's a fair cop.

Friday 12 April 2013

Monty Python and the Civil Partnership

A Northern mill town. Haunting brass band music pays. Graham Chapman leads his three-legged donkey along a street of terraced houses. Entering a house, he finds his son (Michael Palin) and mother (Terry Jones - not the dangerous American pastor - the nice one with the posh voice). 

Chapman: Trouble at t'mill.

Palin: Oh no - what kind of trouble?

Chapman: One on't cross beams gone owt askew on treadle.

Jones [falsetto]: Pardon?

Chapman: One on't cross beams gone owt askew on treadle.

Jones: I don't understand what you're saying.

Chapman: [slightly irritably and with exaggeratedly clear accent] One of the cross beams has gone out askew on the treadle.

Jones: Well what on earth does that mean?

Chapman: I don't know - Mr Wentworth just told me to come in here and say that there was trouble at the mill, that's all.

Palin: Mother, Father. There is something I need to tell you.

Chapman: Is it abowt t'cross beam?

Palin: No, father. You spend all your time worrying about cross-beams, treddles, winding gear and looms. You never appreciate the finer things - art, music and... and love.

Chapman: Loov? Dost know owt abowt loov?

Palin: Yes father, I do. Father and mother - I need to tell you. I have fallen in love. And I want to enter into a state of Civil Partnership with Toby, from the Whippet Club.

Jones: Well, son. Obviously it's not what we would have hoped for. You weren't designed to enter into a state of sexual union with another man - it's not the ideal, not the Biblical pattern you were meant to fit into. It's clear to your father and me that, while a Civil Partnership expresses some of the features that you might expect in a marriage, nevertheless it is not the ideal environment in which to raise children. Therefore, although we will make certain accommodations - make young Toby welcome, and always hope for the best for you both, we don't really think we can give you our blessing.

Palin: Well, I didn't expect a kind of Faith and Order Commission.


Yes, it's the happening thing right across InterWebSpace.
For years now, people who don't go to church have been using little acronyms in their texts, on Facebook and in Twitter postings to make succinct, witty comments. "LOL", for example, means "Laughs out loud". Unless you're a Conservative Prime Minister, in which case it stands for "Gets too close to the Press."
Of course, the Church knew that it had to get on this bandwagon - show it's hot, hip and happening and down wiv the kids wot don't care wevver dey is affeist or not (dwtkwdcwdiaon). Which is why, after only five years' consultation, Churches Together have managed to produce a provisional list of ecumenical txtspk - chrchspk 0.9.
The list is subject to final approval within the next ten years, which is why I thought it was best to leak it now. Some might point out that in the "too nice to be..." it is impossible to tell the difference between an atheist and an Anglican. Which is, of course, sometimes true. So I reckon that works......

5ss - five-service Sunday (to save rural Anglican priests listing them all out)

aawu - "and also with you"

ahtirl - "acts holier than IRL"

bgf - "blames Giles Fraser"

cap - "contemplates a pebble"

crotbpit "confuses rest of train by praying in tongues"

chtt - "considerably holier than thou"

ctt - "crosses the Tiber"

dgi - "doesn't get irony"

dhc - "defends hopeless cause"

dmwwa - "doesn't match words with actions"

dpipbvip - "disagrees privately in public but viciously in private"

dwv - "disagrees with vicar"

gmfybinw - "God may forgive you but I never will"

iawg - "I agree with Giles"

idoe - "in danger of excommunication"

iitsoie - "indulges in Twitter-storm on insufficient evidence"

ittuobgwnm - "I'll talk to you online but glad we'll never meet"

latl - "lights a tea light"

liiyts - "loses interest in yesterday's Twitterstorm

lmoa - "Lutherans may offer adoration"

opfh - "offers prayers for healing"

pabw - "prayers and best wiishes"

pap - "punches a Presbyterian"

pls - "polite little smile"

ptom - "preferred the old minister"

rital - "rolls in the aisle, laughing"

sbic - "secretly believes in Creationism"

sgf - "suppresses guilty feelings"

sh - "suspects heresy"

shm - "says Hail Mary"

sot4td - "switches off Thought for the Day"

ssg - "smug, saved grin"

sottsmp "switches off Twitter to say Morning Prayer"

tntbaa(w/c/a/f) - "too nice to be an atheist (Wesleyan/Catholic/Anglican/Fundamentalist)

upbrp - "upsets parish by removing pews"

wiamwh - "wonders if a Mass would help"

wtib - "we tried it before"

wua9rca8s - "wakes up at 9, remembers communion at 8, screams"

wwui - "wishes we used incense"

Thursday 11 April 2013

Therapy Cat-astrophe

A nice bit of Primal Screaming this afternoon.

We like to have a good Primal Scream of a springtime. Sets you up for the rest of the year. All winter we build up angst, which needs to be released into the spiritual ether so it doesn't go critical. Screaming is therapeutic and, if done en masse, only very, rather than extemely, embarrassing.

It did upset Grendel, the Community cat, however. He's rushed out into the fields. I'd worry more, but when we went searching for him we found all those dead badgers. He's obviously in a well bad mood.

Forgotten Science - Religion Controversies

Everybody these days remembers the great controversies. When Darwin met "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce, for example. Darwin claimed we descended from apes, while Sam, pointing to his upper-class heritage, claimed to be 40% racehorse. But the lesser ones have been forgotten - we all know about the great spat between Pope Paul V and Galileo Galilei, for example - but who remembers the younger brother, Galileo Figaro, who proved that watched kettles do boil, thus overturning 1500 years of Catholic dogma? This post is dedicated to those lesser-known scientific heroes.

Like Manuel Tiago Sanchez de Madrid. He it was who, after careful observations, proved that the rain was falling mostly on the Pyrenees and not, as Torquemada maintained, mainly on the plain. The investigations into Tiago's claims were complicated by this joke making no sense in the Spanish language. In the end, the Inquisition brought a lesser charge - that Tiago claimed that rain fell out of clouds, while the Bible was clear that there were sluicegates in heaven. For this clear heresy, Tiago went to the stake.

His death provoked a new discovery, however. His alchemist friend, Xavi Garcia de Pamplona, had given Tiago a large crystal of what we now recognise to have been copper sulphate, as a bizarre leaving present - "a nugget of purest blue". Picking through the ashes to retrieve his gift, Garcia noticed that the crystal had turned white.

Garcia's work "On the dessication of Blue" caused an outrage. Many said it was 500 years ahead of its time, and should have been applied to a future British boy band. But by rendering blue to white, Garcia was showing disrespect to the Blessed Virgin. He was summonsed to see Pope Urban, and under threat of torture agreed that it stayed blue, and he must have imagined the change. Although his disciples maintained that, under his breath, he muttered "but it does go white."

Nor are these troubles confined to Spanish scientists. The Northampton botanist Art Shoesmith established that dandelion clocks and thistledown were types of seed and not, as claimed by the Catholic Church, baby angels. His trial was later claimed to have been irregular - he was made to blow all the seeds off a dandelion head, at each puff saying what time it was. When the last seed blew away, the judge remarked, "It's execution o'clock."

Finally in this little list of scientific heroes, we must not forget the Scottish zoologist, Mary McTavish. She it was who, by careful comparitive studies, established that cows were mammals and not, as the Church claimed, fish. Her condemnation was assured, as the bishops realised they had a bleak seven weeks ahead of them, if they weren't going to be able to eat their favourite "Lentburgers".

Falling off the edge of the world

A fascinating set of photos in this little montage on the BBC website of collapsing cliffs in the northeast.

Reminds me of that sketch from the Secret Policeman's Ball. The one where Peter Cook tells his disciples that the wind will not be so great as to lay low the mountains of the earth. So he and his followers will be as safe as houses. The houses that will be burnt by the fire burning on the Jereboam.

There's a metaphor here about security, permanence and what we put our hope in. But I won't draw it out, or they might be offering me a job on"Thought for the Day". Instead, I'll leave you with just this as a moral to the story - don't live on cliff edges. Those cliffs in Broadchurch look dangerous and foreboding, because they are.

"And great was the fall thereof."

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Ceremony of Not Blessing Things We'd Rather Not Think About

Archdruid: Brothers and sisters, we are gathered together today not to bless something we'd rather not think about.

All: And also with you.

Archdruid: The thing we'd rather not think about is something we don't necessarily think is instituted by God, or at least not in a manner we'd really want to think about. If at all. So we won't be blessing it. We'll say prayers for those who've come to us for affirmation, prayer and support. And then we'll move on to something more reasonable, which we'd rather be thinking about.

All: Too right. We want to get off to the Reception. That DJ's got a great collection of 80s Madonna records.

Archdruid: And so we now we welcome F and F (or, as it may be, M and M), who have come to be not joined in anything holy at all, although we will be praying for them to be blessed - not blessed, more kind of recognised - in their doing what we'd rather not think about. Actually, I don't like "recognised" much either.

All: It's some kind of a tribute to them that they're here at all, frankly.

Archdruid: M and M (or, as it may be F and F) - we'd rather not go into any details, but have you been to a Registry Office and signed a certain civil agreement I'm not going to mention?

F and F (or, as it may be M and M): Yes we have.

Archdruid: Members of the Beaker Folk. It's all a bit late to ask this, frankly, but does anyone know any reason why they shouldn't have done that?

Drayton Parslow (running in like a sharp-suited Dustin Hoffman): YES!  Do you know what it is they get up to?

Archdruid: We're trying not to mention it.

Drayton Parslow: Disgusting! You're all disgusting!

Archdruid: OK. M and M (or, as it may be, F and F) - we're not going to mention it, or necessarily approve. But God bless you. I mean - no, scrub that. May.... er... may you be in our prayers, whatever you get up to...

Drayton Parslow: NOT THAT!

Archdruid: And I now pronounce you two people whose private life I'm definitely not going to be thinking about. And I'm going to hope we've struck just the right balance between those who definitely aren't in favour of that kind of thing, and those who think we ought to be more in favour of that kind of thing. If you know what I mean.

All: We certainly do. Amen.

Unlimited Source of Renewable Energy Discovered

They're calling it the power source that could revolutionise renewable energy.

An almost-unlimited source of power. A portable generator in paper form.

Basically, all you have to do is put the average Daily Mail issue in front of the average liberal, and you can boil a kettle with the excess heat that is generated. It never fails, it works at the press of a URL, and it could stave off global warming (which the Fail doesn't believe in) for years to come.

Sermon on the Nativity of Nicky Campbell (1961)

Sometimes I feel I've got too tired and cynical. I was going to preach about how socialist church people believe in nationalisation, central control of the production and enforced wealth redistribution - just like Jesus did. Maybe draw a line from that to the way conservative church people believe in free enterprise, a minimum social safety net, lower taxes and a genuine free market - just like Jesus did.

But I won't. That would be tired, and cynical. And it's Nicky Campbell's birthday. And he wouldn't like us to be tired and cynical. So maybe if I just keep bashing on, some of his natural Caledonian charm will find its way into what I'm saying. He's like a Donald Farfrae for our times - upbeat, practical, remarkably youthful, and inclined to sing "Edelweiss" at a moment's notice.

So instead let's have some happy thoughts. On my way to the Moot House this morning - it's just coming up to 6.45 -  I was struck by how, despite the gray chill, there is a springly optimism in the air. The birds are singing - in a shivery kind of way - as they bustle around building nests in a desperate attempt to keep warm. The sun is going to be heaving above the horizon any time soon. As the great Police said (the new wave/reggae band, not the people enforcing law and order), "there seems to be an invisible sun/it gives heat to everyone." And, in a very real sense, I like to think that's true. The Police also made a song about a stalker, which people like to use at weddings. Later on, I'll be getting two people to discuss the song "Every Breath You Take". Ideally one from the National Secular Society and one from Christian Voice.

Sorry. Lost the thread again. It's early - in fact, it's 6.47 -  and we've got up specially this morning to celebrate the Nativity of Nicky Campbell. We thought we should rise early in the morning because, in doing this, we remember that this is what he does for us. Maybe that's why this sermon appears to consist of light-hearted and whimsical thoughts, mixed up with the sort of provocative statements that make mildly lonely people with a grudge phone in to Radio 5 at 9 am, to share their badly-thought-through prejudices and terrifying social panaceas with the rest of us.

Panacea, by the way, is the name of a Greek goddess. I think that's a great shame. I was hoping it might be the plural of "panaceum". Which would mean "panaceas" would be a very bad form of grammar. Or not? Maybe you disagree? Which would give me the opportunity to ask the important question, "why do people misuse plurals like "data" and "agenda"? Then we could have some people tell us that Greek doesn't matter and we should live in the modern age. Then somebody could tell us that "data" and "agenda" are Latin words, and the previous people were just wrong and should be locked up. Then somebody else could tell us that the Government has no right to interfere with our grammatical constructions, and somebody else could blame the asylum seekers / Tory party / social workers / pedants / Poles / Polish asylum seekers / LGBT rights lobby. That should while away an hour.

It's just coming up to 6.50, and I remember that I'm supposed to be preaching a sermon on Nicky Campbell's birthday. I like to think he could have been anything that he wanted to be - do you remember that song, Hnaef? What was that in? Bugsy Malone, wasn't it? Scott Baio and Jodie Foster. A fine film. I walked down to see it in our Scottish cinema - tartan seats, and a tanner from Ma Campbell to buy some pop-corn. At 9 o'clock, we'll be asking the important question - "Whatever happened to affectionate names for coins?" We'll have a numismatist who, let's face it, will be unlikely to have a proper job to go to, a Professor of Comparitive Neo-Linguistics from the University of Hertfordshire, and David Haye.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Not Gloating at a Death

I was not a great fan of Margaret Thatcher. I never voted for her. I thought some of the things she did were just too divisive. But I can see two sides to most arguments - a great weakness, I know. And I wonder - without Thatch, would today's Britain be much different? We would still have shed our old manufacturing industries - the world would still have globalised. Coal would still have been inefficient to extract - and the Left would today be arguing it causes global warming. She was no more unpleasant than others on the stage of the 80s - than Ken Livingstone, or Arthur Scargill. And she exuded competence - in a way that her main opponents across the Commons, Foot and Kinnock, never did.

But some hated her, and I can understand that. Personally I hope that, now she's gone, we may get some more news on the Hillsborough disaster - maybe stuff that's been kept quiet until she's no longer around.

Now, a lot of the Social Media, and at least one newspaper, have been gloating in her death. And I think that's wrong. A death - whoever's death - is a solemn moment, a transition from this tangible world to an uncertain future. To gloat at anyone's death is a terrible thing. To be relieved at a death is maybe another, where the one dying is currently responsible for a bad state of affairs, which may now become better if we're really lucky. But to me that's relief, not gladness. Nobody gains if an old woman dies.

And if Christians gloat in a death, we're really losing it. Death is a terribly serious business for Christians. It is, after all, the thing Jesus died dealing with. Death is the gateway to two possible final destinations. If the departed one is heading - as it were - down, then that might be God's righteous judgement, but we would be wrong to cheer that. If they are heading upwards, then if we make that journey ourselves later we're gonna look right idiots if the one we laughed  about is in the arrivals lounge, as part of our own reception party. Especially if she then forgives us for our gloating.

As my old mum would say, if you can't say something nice, don't say anything,

Monday 8 April 2013

"Part of the Plan" - for Lady Day

This wasn't really part of my plan.

My plan was straightforward enough. A family wedding. Enough wine to go round. Plenty of going around, looking quietly happy.

Some kids. Ten, maybe? Maybe half to survive, though some might die young. I'm not saying it's without darkness, this plan, but it's the regular plan. Everybody else has it.

A quiet life - as long as some fool didn't go stirring the Romans up again.

Not an easy life.  But a decent man - Joseph's a decent man - he can help me throught the ups and downs as best he can. That was part of the plan - not for my way to be smooth, but to have someone help me through it.

But this wasn't really part of my plan.
This really wasn't part of my plan.
Was this really my part in the plan?

Lady Day Programme

Hi-viz today is blue.

8am - Reading of the Annunciation

10am - Hiring Fair

Noon - Golbert will give a presentation proving his inability to distinguish between "Virgin birth" and "Immaculate Conception"

2pm - Talk - "Diana, Artemis, Brigid, Hecate, Mary - claiming pagan precedents for Christian beliefs, regardless of the evidence"

4pm - Rosaries

6pm - The difference between Ascension and Assumption - Margot will share her internet-gathered musings.

8pm - Dinner

Midnight - Flits.

Sunday 7 April 2013

Things you don't want to hear when the Pastor's away after Easter

"Jenni's had this sermon on "the Family Life of the Early Assyrians" waiting since 1984, and this is her chance...

"Reverend Brown had the only key. And he's gone to Spring Harvest. So we'll be singing lots of action songs, to stave off hypothermia."

"Normally at this stage we'd be taking the offering, but this week - it's time to bring on the goat..."

"It's time to share the peace. This week, Rev Janet's not around to stop us, and I'm desperate for some human contact, so I've got this new idea..."

"'ello, my name's Jim. I'm from t' village down t'road. And this week I'll be sharing my revolutionary views on the Doctrine of the Trinity. I read a book by Don Cupitt once, so you're in safe hands."

"Confession is always so general. I thought it would be better to be more specific. Now, then - adultery. Either somebody owns up to it, or we're all staying here till they do."

"Today's worship is being transferred to a Bus Replacement Service."

"I've always thought Hymns for Today's Church was a bit traddy. So this week, it's The Sydney Carter Experience"

The Virgin Birth "A biological impossibility"

Steve Jones is clearly needing to upset some fundamentalists to get some publicity.

According to his new book,
"Modern science, he says, shows that we cannot all be descended from a single couple, that the plagues which were supposedly supernatural punishments were probably contagious diseases, and that the virgin birth is a biological impossibility."
Reading from left to right, I guess my responses would be:

"we cannot all be descended from a single couple" - well, that's defined "Adam" and "Eve" in very specific ways - as the single original human sources of  Y-chromosomes and (I presume - it's not spelled out in the article) Mitochondrial DNA. Which is odd. Because I would define "Adam" and "Eve" as "the mythological actors in a mythological story about how the natural human tendency is to foul things up". Still, to each their own.

"that the plagues which were supposedly supernatural punishments were probably contagious diseases" - well, duh. You mean, like plagues?

"the virgin birth is a biological impossibility" - the thing is, I reckon St Luke knew that as well. You see, if the virgin birth were a biological possibility - if pregnant virgins were wandering the Middle East 2,000 years ago, perhaps forming "pregnant virgin" clubs, and organising virginally-conceived baby showers - I reckon this might have been mentioned in the Biblical record. There would have been no need for Joseph to work out how to put away Mary quietly, as virgin births were not a biological impossibility and no shame would be involved in him discovering his betrothed was with child. If virgins were going round left, right and centre getting pregnant, this would not have been news.

You can say what you like about the virgin birth. You can believe it happened; you can believe that in fact the Incarnation itself is not dependent upon it; you can believe it was all made up; you can believe it is the way that the Evangelists (well, two of them) stress the importance of Jesus' birth. But what we do all agree - atheists, liberals, fundamentalists, and all in between - is that the virgin birth is a biological impossibility. That's why it's a miracle.

These must be tough times for Steve Jones. There are sexier atheists on the block. And he's a snail specialist, not a cosmologist or particle physicist. And most of the other loud atheists are comedians, who at least have a certain charisma and are funny. But there is one line in the article that I thoroughly approve of.
"Jones said he was resigned to the idea that his latest book might stir controversy, but added: "I don't mind if people burn my books as long as they buy them first.""
Good lad! That's what it's all about.

[Late edit - if you're locked out of the paywall, I apologise. I'm guessing you get a couple of views before they try to charge you.]

Liturgy of Sending-out of Preachers on a Cold Morning

Archdruid: Dearly-beloved, inasmuch as we have offered to supply preachers to our friends: the La Tene Folk of Luton; the Corded Ware Folk of Caddington and the Windmill Hill Folk of Westoning: so we are gathered in this cold car park, to commend unto them these our replacement preachers.

For we know that the leaders of our sister Communities are having the week off after Easter, and their congregations are like lost sheep without a shepherd, needing liturgy and instruction.

And so I ask our Guest Speakers to come forward.

Burton, Hnaef and Charlii step forward.

Archdruid: Guest speakers - will you go unto the scattered flocks of Bedfordshire, bringing words of sustenance and assurance?

Guest Preachers: If we can, we will.

Archdruid: Will you bind up the wounded and lift up the downcast?

Guest Preachers: If we get the chance, yes.

Archdruid: Will you preach your own random and exciting take on a much-loved passage of Scripture, ensuring the congregation decide you are never, ever, coming back?

Guest Preachers: We'll give it a go.

Archdruid: Will you, getting carried away with a false sense of self-importance, inventa completely spurious persona for yourself?

Guest Preachers: Probably.

Archdruid: Will you be travelling by car, or your own personal hobby horse?

Guest Preachers: Definitely the latter.

Archdruid: Then, in the grip of self delusion and the power of sudden independence, go forth to spread the confusing news and project a false self-image.

Guest Preachers: Let's go kick some butt.