Sunday 30 June 2013

Wesley Family Hymnwriting Workshop

Susanna :, that's not bad, John. I always say you can't go far wrong, translating the works of  Martin Luther into English. Obviously, there's only so much of yourself you can put into it. It's not all you, is it? Still, technically correct and theologically sound. Whereas Charles... Charles, how are you getting on?

Charles : Well, Mother, I've been working on "Come, and let us Sweetly Serve", but I've got a bit of writer's block here, I reckon...

Susanna: : OK, Charles.  Well, obviously, it can be hard to start on a hymn. Sometimes getting it out of the blocks can be quite tricky. Where are you? Verse one? Two?

Charles: Verse seventeen.

John : Seventeen? What - verse seventeen? Not word seventeen or line seventeen?

Charles : Yes, It's a real nuisance. I really got into it, and then just as I thought I was really hitting my stride - it's come to a complete halt. It's a real train wreck. Whatever a train wreck is going to be.

Susanna : Come on, Charles. Read it out....

Charles : OK - here it goes. It's line four I have the problem with.....
Let us join, (’tis God commands)
Let us join our hearts and hands
Help to gain our calling’s hope,
Build we.... something something something.... 
Susanna : Mmm. You know, before we get to line four.... obviously, the whole thing's great and everything, but.... just a little thought.  Obviously you've crow-barred the second half of the first line in to get a rhyme. But you've rhymed "commands" with "hands".

Charles : Yes?

Susanna : Well, it works round here, obviously. But think, Charles. We spent a lot of money to get you to Christ Church, and we don't expect you to come back speaking like a coal miner. Did you notice anyone at Oxford rhyming "commands" and "hands"?

Charles : Maybe some of the northern students.

John : Which ones, exactly? They were all from MGS, and just as posh as us.

Charles : Well. Maybe not. But the Yanks will think it's fine.

John : The thing is, Chazza....

Susanna : Don't call him Chazza. Did we raise you to call your brother Chazza?

John : No. Sorry, Charles.

Charles : No worries, Jonners. It's cool.

John : Anyway, the thing is - this is the seventeenth verse of what looks set fair to be a thirty-two verse hymn. No chorus, no bridge, no middle-eight. Just thirty-two verses in a strict 7-7-7-7 metre.

Charles : Yep. So far, so normal.

John : Well, I reckon nobody's going to care what the rhyme is. Frankly, you'll be lucky if they've not all completely zoned out by verse twelve. You could rhyme "Archangel Gabriel" with "spanner" by verse seventeen. Let's assume "hands" and "commands" will pass muster.

Charles : Sounds reasonable.

John : In which case, frankly, you might as well finish it:
Help to gain our calling’s hope,
Build we each the other up.
Charles : It doesn't rhyme,. does it?

John : My hypothesis being that it really doesn't matter by now.

Charles : And in order to make it fit and scan, you appear to have invented your own form of word-order. "Build we each the other up"? Who do you think I'm writing this for? Yoda?

Susanna : Who?

Charles : An old friend from Oxford, mother.

Susanna : Well, I think it sounds rather lovely. You should thank your brother for helping you finish your verse.

Charles : Thanks, Jonners.

John : No worries, bruv.

Susanna : Now, Charles, about this carol you've been writing. What on earth is a "welkin"?

Saturday 29 June 2013

A Brief and Illogical Philosophical Diversion

I was thinking about the silly "you can't disprove an invisible unicorn" argument today. I must admit I've never had the slightest urge to disprove invisible unicorns.  Not least because it strikes me that they would probably be rather charming creatures.

But when you think about it,  there's all sorts of non-existent creatures that we can't prove don't exist. Giant invisible winged toads, stripy stealth badgers with radar deflection, Martian invisible rock hobbits and the Nestene Consciousness,  to name but - hypothetically - trillions. And we're still unable to disprove the existence of tribbles, though we think we're so clever.

In fact, by definition the imaginary things we can't disprove vastly outnumber the things we can - as for everything that we know exists we can hypothesise invisible versions - included giant, pygmy and green spotted versions.
And so, it seems to me, the universe may teem with invisible imaginary creatures - one or more of which may be looking over my shoulder as I write.  Maybe they're the source of all the extra mass we can't find in the universe.

Is it me or does it feel a bit crowded in here? I'd have a cup of tea to calm myself down, but I seem to have left my invisible cup in orbit again

More Exciting Prayer Coming Right Up

A certain buzz around the breakfast table this morning. I don't know who worked out the rota, but the group leading the prayers tomorrow morning is the "Wednesday Coffee and Biscuit Hour". A group dedicated to finding out the ins and outs of everybody else's business.

So judging by the discussion this morning there should be some really juicy items of prayer for tomorrow. A number of prayers for conditions whose sufferers will be really grateful are out in the open. They will be relieved they don't need to keep those secrets any more. Especially Dora. Who'd have thought it? I shall be more careful during the Hug of Peace in future.

Friday 28 June 2013

When the Embodiment of Evil Depends on your Perspective

We're deluding ourselves when we look at a pond or lake.

We look at that still water - perhaps shimmering on a hot summer's day - and think peace, perfect peace.

But under the surface it's a teeming world of life and death struggles. Could you tune your ears to the right frequency all you would hear, in the immortal words of Norman Clegg, would be the same of small creatures munching on small creatures.

In April, tadpoles are small, delicate and vulnerable. To a tadpole, the dragonfly nymph is a vicious, munching monster - a miniature incarnation of all of Dr Who's worst nightmares. To a baby tad, a baby dragonfly is evil incarnate.

By late June, the tales are turning. The remaining tads have been munching on algae, duckweed and other tadpoles. They are now beautifully tuned killing machines. The dragonfly larvae, on the other hand, ain't changed much. The predator is now the prey. The odds are about even, but increasingly weighted towards the tad

By the following summer, the change is complete. The tadpole is now a beautiful, green and brown, perfectly formed one ounce frog. The dragonfly has changed to its adult form - if things have so worked out, it may have mated, passing on the genes that got it past that under-pond apocalypse. But now it's a battered, bruised, failing flying machine - its wings wrecked by weather and exertion. When it comes across its old adversary, it's simply lunch.

Sometimes, the embodiment of evil depends upon your perspective.

Some Random Preaching Tips

You know, people often come up to me and say,
"Eileen, that sermon today spoke to me so strongly, I have completely lost my faith. I no longer fear God's judgement on me, and I'm going to run off with the milkman. Thank you."

Which just goes to show that sermons can still be effective, even in this multi-social-media world. But I know other people never get this kind of feedback. So, in the latest of this occasional series, here's a few more of my hints and tips for dynamic speaking.

1) There's nothing so boring as a sermon illustration about how the preacher bested someone in an argument. Unless the person whose suppositions and beliefs you so ruthlessly destroyed is in the congregation. At which point the gloves are off. You can say what you like, safe in the knowledge that you're the one on the stage / behind the lectern, and they are sat with the punters unable to respond. If they start arguing you can have them exorcised. Never forget who's the one wearing the pointy hat (or whatever the non-Beaker equivalent is).

2) There's nothing wrong with attacking straw men. They're much safer than real ones.

3) If you don't believe something but think other people might, say "in a very real sense." This gives the impression that you have deeper mystic knowledge, while simultaneously distancing you from whatever preposterous idea you're putting forward.

4) Sometimes you feel you have to explain something you don't really understand.  The best bet is to do so by analogy with something that you do understand but most other people won't. I often compare things to the second law of thermodynamics, as if Entropy is a real force rather than a statistical description. Failing that, draw analogies with Quantum Theory.  Nobody really understands that.

5) If while preaching you start to feel your line of reasoning is weak, then you've already fallen into the trap of trying to present a coherent argument. You should have stuck to being uplifting and jolly.  But if you're now stuck, don't try and dig your way out of it by doing theology on the hoof.  That's what led to all the early-Modern burning. Instead, stick with what you've written - but speak - very - slowly - and - quietly. People don't generally get coherent arguments, but they like sincerity.

6) If people are drifting off, SHOUT!! If, on the other hand, they're all actually asleep - sneak out and get first dibs on the biscuit. If you find the congregation's snoring is waking you up, then frankly you need a better guide to preaching than this one.

Thursday 27 June 2013

Lonely Old People Need Not Be a Problem

What can be done about the one in five old people facing loneliness, asks the BBC.

Well, it's a tricky one, isn't it? The normal BBC response would be for the Government to hire a massive army of people who would go to old people's houses and ask them what it was like during the war. But i suspect that the national coffers won't support that.

Likewise my own idea of rolling back the entire discredited "Enlightenment" project, reversing the elevation of the autonomous individual over the family, and re-instilling the idea of "duty" is more a long-term scheme. Also it may involve the invention of time travel so we can take out several leading lights of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Here's a modest proposal however. For those older people who are relatively physically active, yet lonely - and there are many - perhaps they could go to church?

Many of them will remember the old churches of their youth, when the ministers were terrifying, god-like creatures who were beyond question, and people were required to pass highly rigorous exams in New Testament Greek - and pledge allegiance to all 39 Articles before being allowed to run the Bingo Committee.

Well things have changed. These days, older people are likely to find that the mystique of the vicar has gone forever. The minister could well be a jolly woman, or a disco diva, and likely to be grateful to see someone in church at all - rather than hedging themselves about with undeserved divinity. And we'll accept anyone regardless of what they believe.  And there's all sorts of stuff with no religion dragged in at all - coffee mornings and all-age services.

Obviously if this idea is to have wings, the church will have to rethink its strategy. All age services that mean what they say . And they will have to include songs like "The old Rugged Cross" as well as "Great, great, brill, brill."  But it can be done. One church I know runs an over-50 holiday club.  Obviously, like the over-50s insurance ads that run during UK Gold breaks, over 50 is a euphemism for "over 75". Or at least,  as I progress relentlessly towards that milestone myself, I hope so.

But increasingly older people are physically quite active, possessing large amounts of free time, and maybe only too keen to meet people.  I think maybe we've worshipped youth too much.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

A Delicate little flower, but you'd be distressed by his Impudence

Burton's been down to the wine tasting in Bow Brickhill.  I wish he'd not do it.

He's come rolling back, singing "roll out the barrel."

He always goes to these things meaning to do it properly, assessing the bouquet, mouth-feel, all that rubbish wine tasters talk. He gives points to each wine for these features carefully, rationally and maturely. And, from what I can gather from Young Keith, he manages that for about an hour.

The next three hours he spends awarding random marks, regardless of any given wine's qualities. I'm told that this evening he gave a Merlot  π/10 for body. Now that's what I call creative accountancy.

Of course, this kind of riotous living is not without its dark side. Apart, that is, from all the rest of us who have to put up with him wandering round the Great House, singing Depeche Mode songs and walking into walls. In the morning he will find that, because he awarded imaginary numbers to that Muscat, he can't come up with a meaningful total for his sum enjoyment of the evening.

And then he's going to hate himself.

The Fable of the Blind Men and the Elephant

Once there were four blind men. And encountering an elephant, each described the elephant according to what he could feel.

And the man who took the trunk said "an elephant is like a snake."

The one who felt its side said "no - it is like a wall. "

One grabbed a leg, and said "it's like a tree."

And the one who took its tail said"No - it is like a riding crop."

And so all these men thought they had the truth. But in fact each had only a partial truth.

The one who had the whole truth was the coach driver who had taken them on their trip to the zoo in the first place. And he got six months for recklessly endangering their lives by getting them into the elephant enclosure.

The zoo received a heavy fine for Health and Safety breeches that made it so easy to get at the elephant.

The author of the fable was much maligned on Twitter,  partly for only including men in the story and partly for assuming that blind people are so ignorant they don't know what an elephant is.

But the one who came off worse was the man who grabbed the tail. It took weeks for the smell to wear off. But how was any one to know that the elephant had eaten a bad cabbage earlier?

Tuesday 25 June 2013

The Pluto Exclusion Principle

Not many people know about the Pluto Exclusion Principle. I only found out about it the other day, while talking to a friend who used to work for Disney.

People who have, at some point in their lives, worked for Disney have a profound sadness. This is caused by spending their lives having other people make jokes about their working for a Mickey Mouse organisation. But they do know about the Pluto Exclusion Principle. I didn't know about it myself, but when you hear about it, it makes perfect sense.

The Pluto Exclusion Principle states that, at any one time, outside of the official parks, there can only be one of each Disney character "in play" at any one time. So, if Mickey Mouse is opening a nursery in Yokahama, he cannot be simultaneously glad-handing at a film premier in San Salvador. If Goofy is goofing around in Nanking, he can't be nanking around in Sydney.

Now, you'd think this is a mere marketing ruse - part of the magic. But in fact, it's all pure physics. The danger is that, due to a double-booking, two of the same character end up in the same place at the same time. This would be a disaster - with the same polarity, spin and charm, if two of the same character met, they would create a singularity that could destroy the entire fabric of creation. 

Don't call Disney Corp a "Mickey Mouse organisation". They might sue, they've heard it all before, and it's only due to their constant vigilance that the universe remains in existence.

Godly Myers Briggs Play

"That's Moses, isn't it?

I wonder why Moses is looking so sad?

That's right. It's because he's an INFJ, isn't it? He's very keen on God's righteousness. And when he sees an Egyptian oppressing one of his fellow-Israelites he expresses his murderous extrovert. But he's not a natural talker. And he's talking to God, isn't he? We've not got a model for God, because if we did have that would make Moses really angry. And we know how that brings out his genocidal extroversion.

But God's talking to Moses, and God's got a plan. Oh, look - it's Aaron. Do you think Aaron's able to talk to Pharaoh?

Aaron's talking to Pharaoh now. Surely being an ESTJ, Aaron can get Pharaoh to let the people go?

Oh no. Pharaoh's not listening to Aaron. Pharaoh's an ISTJ with extroverted living deity. They're never happy being told what to do.

I tell you what, shall we put the pieces back in the box and have some juice? When all those insects start crawling around the place, and the river turns to blood, that might be quite Messy. And that's a different Fresh Expression altogether."

Monday 24 June 2013

The Church of England News Headline Generator

It's already been a big summer for the Church of England in the press - the vicar who works for Sainsburies, Rev Kate Bottley's Flashmob Wedding, and the alleged Pagan Church of England.

But if the stories are drying up, and you don't have the imagination to mess around with the facts like that Telegraph article on Pagans and the C of E, why not just make the whole thing up?

That's where our new Church of England News Headline Generator comes in. Just press the button below and get your earth- shattering new C of E story - all crisp and ready for the silly season.

A Voice in the Wilderness

By our modern way of judging things, John would be a one hit wonder.

He came out of nowhere and was suddenly the biggest draw in town. He was the number one. "Baptistmania" was all the rage.

And then, as is the way with sudden rising stars, he was supplanted. Just as his birthday is celebrated on the edge of the equinox - as the days get less - he was overtaken by another who was waxing strong.

And he could have struggled by, bashing out the same hits, playing to smaller crowds - like the remnants of Manfred Mann playing The Stables instead of the Hammy Odeon. Waiting for a "30s revival" to break out, and troll around small-town Palestine with three failed Messiahs, a soothsayer and a bloke who thought he was the prophet Enoch.

But John was true to himself, whatever. He had something still to say - a challenge to authority. And even if he couldn't count on the crowds to protect him he was going to tell Herod where he stood.

And, alone in a cell, wondering if it had been worth it - if the One who he'd heralded was the one he thought - he got the message ---the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.

And then he received two rewards - one from that useless, craven, vicious king, so brave towards his people and yet a crawling worm to Rome. And the far greater one from the real King - a crown to sit on his precious head forever.

Sunday 23 June 2013

On Liturgical Uses for a Sundial

Simply because it's that time of year, I've been asked to say a few words about the Sundial in liturgical usage.

Now, the sundial is a perfect Beaker worship focus. At least in the summer, it can be used to great effect outdoors. In the winter, inside to stay out of the weather, it's frankly a bit pointless. Not least because of the effort involved in dragging it in from the croquet lawn, and all the mud you get everywhere. And, obviously, the fact that it doesn't work.

But a sundial in the summer, on a sunny day if at all possible, is a thing redolent with spiritual insight and power.
A working sundial
First up, it's a poignant reminder of the human condition. Once the sun has gone round once, that's another day gone. Or is it half a day? How does it fit in with 12 versus 24 hour clock? Or am I thinking about the tides? Anyway - whatever. Once the sun has gone round, that's either 12 or 24 hours you'll never get again. Gone forever - like thistledown blown on the wind of fate, the moving finger writes and having writ moved on.

Also, the sundial in the picture above is, you will notice, casting its own shadow. By putting stakes in the ground around a sundial, you can use the sundial itself as a gnomon, to the better use of all kinds of concepts including the prefix meta-. And you can't beat a concept that begins with the prefix meta-.

And then, the way in which the sundial brings the circles of the earth into our domestic setting - the great circles of sun, moon and stars, the universal wheel, the wheel of fortune and the Giant's circle that we call Stonehenge - all these combine to tell us that we must dance around the sundial. Preferably while wearing tie-dye or voile, and almost inevitably to the song "Teach me to dance".

Yes, it's a world of power, is a sundial. Unfortunately, we thought that the best place to put ours was in the "Mediterranean gravel garden", which all the gardeners and weather forecasters told us would be so sensible when Global Warming made us as hot as the Algarve. Which means that the sundial is currently laying on its side, in a pile of glacial murrain that used to be the gravel garden, surrounded by saturated lavender and frost-bitten yukkas, at the bottom of the slope where the melting snow carried it in April. Just as soon as the water level has gone down, we'll be retrieving it. Still, the rhubarb is doing well.

A Midsummer Night's List of Instructions

A few instructions on the Eve of St John. Please can you all note:

Filling-up of Beakers at 6 pm is according to the standard ritual. I will not be attempting to emulate Kate Bottley. I haven't got those moves. Or, if it turns out I have, I will probably inflame the old arthritics.

Running-into-the-woods is at 8pm.

Running-back-into-the-woods-when-we-realise-it's-wet will take place at 8.10pm.

The time from 9pm to 11pm will be spent arguing over which St John is which. For avoidance of doubt, this is St John the Baptist's Eve. He also gets the Lamb and Flag in Oxford and the colleges. So there you go. All your answers on a plate.

Anyone looking up at the Super Moon and making the joke "well, it don't look that super to me," will get a beaker of water thrown at them. Including the beaker.

Throwing apple-peel to discover your future husband, for those few female Folk who fulfil the criteria of being unwed virgins, is a silly 18th century revival. If you do it, please don't try and claim it's a pagan rite. There is, as nearly always, practically no evidence of that. In these days of serial monogamy, we will of course be providing plenty of apples. Please can you avoid sowing Parsley seed - this alternative ritual will nearly always result in Drayton Parslow demanding we throw the practitioner in the duck pond to see of she floats.

Please note that the Midsummer bonfire is not lit with real bones. I know it's traditional, but we're trying to respect the views of our vegetarian, vegan and gluten-allergic folk. Not that the last ones need to worry about bones, but they get upset if we forget they exist. Could anyone planning to jump over the bonfire ensure they wear safety goggles. Also - remove your hi-viz first. I got them cheap, and I'm not convinced they're flame proof. That kite mark looks like it was drawn on with crayon. Which means next time I need to get Burton a proper stencil.

Now that the nights are drawing in, please can you make sure you lock the door after 10pm. This ensures security, and also really annoys the Beaker Fertility Folk. The weather now being only moderately horrible, they are planning to stay out celebrating their unsavoury beliefs until the small hours, and the least we can do is lock them out in the rain.

Saturday 22 June 2013

The Super Moon - Your Questions Answered

Q - What exactly is the Supermoon?

A - It's when the Moon suddenly becomes much larger than normal. This makes it considerably brighter and more massive..

This Supermoon has a chunk missing, and so is less frightening.
Q - Doesn't that defy the 1st Law of Thermodynamics?

A - Not at all. The Supermoon effect is caused by quantum vacuum fluctuations. Or, to put it in simple terms, whenever there is a Supermoon, there is another satellite on the other side of the universe that becomes much smaller.

Q - Does it have any effect on the Earth?

A - Yes. The additional gravitational pull - "supergravity" - of Supermoons has been associated with tidal waves, increased volcanic activity, unusual squirrel migration patterns and the release of David Hasselhoff singles. In extreme cases, gravitons can actually fall from the sky and roll around on the ground.

Q - So what you're saying is, we're all going to die, aren't we?

A - In a word, probably.

Q - Do Supermoons appear in ancient writings?

A - Not real ancient history. Not like the Chinese, or Caesar, or anything. But in some pagan lore which we've just invented, it is said that the world will end whenever there is a Supermoon. Followed by clouds clearing and the wind falling light and westerly. The Egyptians had a good of Supermoons, who was universally feared as the bringer of hay fever.

Q - What is the best way to view the Supermoon?

A - We normally advise you take a 5" reflecting telescope, and cover the open end with a thick green vinyl filter. Then leave the telescope in the garage, just go outside and have a look at the moon. It should be the big white thing in the sky. Obviously, this implies you're trying to see it at night. It's not so striking during the day.

Q - Shouldn't I wear safety clothing or something?

A - If it makes you feel better, yes.

Q - What about these gravity waves I've heard about?

A - If struck by a gravity wave, just lay on your back and float. If you feel like it's part of a gravity rip tide, swim sideways to get out of the gravity current.

Q -  Do you think it's a good idea to dance around a bonfire naked?

A - Not in your case, no.

Coping with Burnout

We've been running our very successful "Coping with Burnout" course for the last couple of months. To accommodate busy people with full working weeks, we've bee running the course all day Saturday and Sundays.

Not this week, though. All the delegates have phoned in sick. I dunno. Some people have no stamina.

Snorbens Day

Can I be the first to wish you a happy feast day of St Albany? Patron saint of in feasibly small cities, Waitrose customers and museums.

Liturgy for the Day after the Summer Solstice (Again)

Archdruid: Nights are drawing in.

All: Soon be Christmas.

Friday 21 June 2013

Parking our 4x4 on Uther Pendragon's Lawn

A very poor piece of journalism by the Telegraph on an alleged attempt by the Church of England to recruit pagan members.  So bad, I suspect it will be corrected some time in the next day or two.

Mostly it's just obviously drivel - just literally doesn't make sense. Most of the people who have commented on the piece have followed the "Christianity stole the Pagan festivals" line, and that's drivel, as well. Drivel that has been repeated on TV by Stephen Fry with respect to Mithraism, so people assume that it's true, but that just makes it posh, smoothly-delivered drivel. So mostly there's a lot of drivel about.

In fact, the piece does not actually go far enough. What the Telegraph has not discovered - but I am now at liberty to reveal - is that the Church of England has secretly been training its crack missional priests, in combined exercises with the Beaker Folk, to enable them to mingle with the Stonehenge Solstice devotees. The plan was to spread the Anglican word undercover.

It all started when a representative of the Church of England hierarchy - whom I shall identify only by their "pagan name", Raven Aurora - came to me and said,
"Eileen, there's 50 million people in this country don't go to Church. And several thousand of them are neo-pagans. It's pretty obvious where our priorities lie."

And so we embarked on "Operation Greenwood". The training has been gruelling:

  • We encouraged them to reject Tonsure Collars, and move towards flowery skirts / trousers and tie-dye T-shirts. Although, to be fair, that had happened before we got our hands on  most of them. It was only the female Anglo-Catholics who took some persuasion. They're a tough bunch. They've got to be.
  • It took six months of gestalt therapy to crack their tendency to wear socks with sandals. Eventually, we got them wearing trainers without socks as a compromise.
  • We trained them to resist the urge to respond to "Peace, Man" with "And also with you."
  • We realised that raising your arms to salute the sun, looks rather like the action many of them were already adopting at the altar. So this was just mostly a matter of wearing a different colour of robe. It was just the Charismatics needed calming down. Last thing the people at Stonehenge wanted, was some people waving their arms around and being over-enthusiastic. They'd have stuck out like a sore thumb.
  • We encouraged them to change their beliefs. Or, in some cases, to adopt a few. We realised some of the "Sea of Faith" crowd were in danger of coming over as dangerous liberals to the neo-pagans.
  • They had to learn that eggs are for putting on standing stones at astronomically important times of the year - not for coming up with silly illustrations as to why they might relate to Easter.
  • They adopted names like "Daisy", "Moonflower" and "Marigold". This wasn't particularly to blend in - it was just something some of the Anglo-Catholics were doing already, and they thought everybody else might like to try it.
Everyone left shortly after Fr Willow started his sermon on "Parallels between neo-paganism and the  Psalmic rituals of the 2nd Temple, with particular reference to the work of Jurgen Moltmann".
The result of our training was that, this morning, and without anyone noticing, fully 25 percent of those present at Stonehenge were card-carrying members the Church of England. One in particular is currently the joint favourite with Jeffrey John to be the next Bishop of Durham. You could recognise him by the bald head, multiple piercings and the way his whole body is covered in tattoos. No, not Jeffrey - the other one.
We hid a full-size canon of Salisbury Cathedral in the Heel Stone.
Members of the Wiltshire Constabulary on duty this morning were heard to remark that there was a different variety of weed being smoked this morning. Well, that smell would be unfamiliar. It was Fr Aloysius, of St Sebastian's, with some rather nice Prinknash Abbey. You can take the priest out of Oxford, but you can't take Oxford out of the priest.

QUAERITUR - Should an Archdruid Carry a Cricket Bat?


Yer Actual Solstice Celebration

The Beaker Folk storm back into the Meadow, frightening the wits out of the Piper at the Gates of Dawn, who's been trying to get the rain out of his pipes for the last hour.

The Little Pebbles (in unison): Are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly there yet?

Archdruid: Behold! The Solstice is upon us! The sun kisseth the Tropic of Cancer, blessing us with his warmth and light.

All: No sign of warmth or light round here, you sure you got the right Solstice?

Archdruid: Let us do our Solsticial Dance!

The Beaker People hop around in their wellies, trying to feel a bit summery. They fail.

Herne the Hunter: Don't say I'm late again.

Piper at the Gates of Dawn: You always are, Antler-Head.

Herne the Hunter: Who you calling Antler-Head, Antler-Head?

Piper at the Gates of Dawn: Well you have got an Antler-Head.

Herne the Hunter: So have you. Oi! Stop pushing!

Piper at the Gates of Dawn: You started it. Here, take this. (He smacks Herne with his pipes - breaking them on Herne's antlers)

Herne the Hunter - Oh, you're right. I have got antlers.

Archdruid: Strewth, it was never like this in Wind in the Willows. Keith, can you shove these pre-Christian relics in the van and chuck 'em out in Cranfield? They might get a grant or something.

Better than Stonehenge - Summer Solstice Sunrise

A gray, miserable dawn. A huddle of Beaker Folk face east through the rain.

The Little Pebbles (in unison): Are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly there yet?

Archdruid Eileen: Behold the wonder of the Solstice Dawn!

Young Keith: It's too early and it's pouring down.

Archdruid: It's better than Stonehenge, though.

Young Keith: In what way?

Archdruid: If we were at Stonehenge, we'd have driven 120 miles, we'd be surrounded by hippies, and it would still be pouring down.

All: Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I said it's all right....

Martston mucks up the tricky bit on the guitar

The Piper at the gates of dawn turns up, late as usual. Unusually for the decayed folk-memory of a nature god, he carries an umbrella.

Thursday 20 June 2013

The Lord of the Dance Risk Predictor

It's a new church, and you're looking around nervously. What are the odds they will sing 'Lord of the Dance' at some point in this service? Well, worry no more. Now, simply by checking some visual clues, you can estimate your risk, using our exciting new Lord of the Dance Calculator.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

The Sermon Discomfort Rating Chart

Dear Readers, the Archdruid is "temporarily indisposed1" at the moment, so I have taken over the Blogging apparatus. I've been doing some particularly interesting research, and I'd love to share it with you.

What I've done is devise a Sermon Discomfort Rating system, wire up the Sermonometer to a number of willing guinea pigs at numerous churches It is quite a complex apparatus, with the least said, soonest mended when it comes to the probes, as you will see when you consider the things that are rated for the Sermon Discomfort Rating. And I have to ask people to fit the apparatus themselves - as many, seeing me approaching with the "fundament firmness tactileometer", tend to hit me with any large objects that are handy.

In any case, the Sermon Discomfort Rating index scores from 0 to 10, as follows:

0 - Happy with life, and looking forward to an exposition of God's holy scripture.
1 - Mildly irritated with the preacher, inclined to fidget.
2 - Slightly more irritated with the preacher, starting to tap foot.
3 - Moderately irritated. Shuffling in seat.
4 - Really quite bored now. Alpha waves start to shut down.
5 - Bottom completely numb. Shuffling between buttocks to restore blood flow.
6 - Really quite angry at the thought that you could be watching telly.
7 - Peripheral organs starting to shut down.
8 - Blood supply removed from hands, feet, bottom and brain.
9 - As brain encounters oxygen starvation stage, imagine you are walking up a bright tunnel towards a bright light.
10 - All previous states eclipsed by overwhelming realisation that you need to go to the loo.

As I say, I tested this rating system on a number of people, across a number of denominations. And I discovered that for some reason - maybe training, maybe an evolutionary affect caused by the natural selection imposed by people sitting in drafty chapels for hundreds of years - the onset of each stage happens at a different time for each denomination. I attach the results below.

The results are fairly clear, I believe. Certainly we should learn that nobody should preach for more than 20 minutes in an Anglican village church with no toilet. Additionally, I note that after 60 minutes, Pentecostal discomfort starts to decline again. I believe this is because they are starting to realise they will be able to boast to all their friends from other Pentecostal churches about how seriously they take the Bible, if the sermon is well into its second hour.

I would like to stress that no preachers were harmed in the preparation of this experiment.

1 Drank a pint of Pimms neat at Hnaef's 94th barbecue of the year, and is currently dreaming dreams and seeing visions.

Project Management Issue

OK, so it's a Health and Safety issue. But I can't help thinking the Agile methodology compounded the problem.

And Young Keith was so pleased with himself at writing the "putaway" routine for our new automated warehouse. It's an exciting new venture - when it goes live, we will have the most advanced lights-out doilies, tea lights and souvenir pebble operation in Western Europe.

But then Keith found out that Charlii was looking for him, to find out where the heck he was last night. In a panic, he jumped into a tote on the"large stones"  conveyor and got himself put away in the racking.

Charlii has wandered off to look for him elsewhere. Now Young Keith's just got to wait a week for the next planning session,  to find out if we decide a retrieval program is the next "must-have".

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Keeping Your Promises

I'm terribly in two minds about the new Guide promise.

Obviously it's a shame if the atheist children of atheist parents can't join. After all, they've got to find friends somewhere, and goodness knows having parents like that isn't going to help them.

But that promise - I mean, in the first place, it's not exactly republican-friendly. What do we do for young women who want to belong to a paramilitary organisation but don't approve of a hereditary quasi-ecclesiastical nominal ruler?

And then there's the line about "be true to myself and develop my beliefs". I mean, to be fair, it's inclusive. There's nothing there an atheist, Muslim or a Christian couldn't say. Or, for that matter, a Satanist, a member of the Junior Wing of the Klu Klux Klan, or somebody whose other hobby is pulling the legs off moths. All could promise that, whatever else they do, they'll be true to themselves. And by definition they'll be right. Whatever they do - that's what they're like.

So, if the Guides want something which doesn't disappear up its own inoffensive asininity in future, can I suggest the promise that the Little Pebbles say? It has deep roots in popular culture, yet is somehow at the same time both profound and deeply inclusive.

"I promise that I will just be myself,
that I will totally nail it,
go on an incredble journey
and that I will completely own my membership of this organisation.
Although I'm seven years old, this is my last opportunity.
I'm what this is all about.
I feel like my whole life has been leading up to this,
and it's been the best day of my life."

Doug's Moved Again

Maybe it's because he's got itchy feet, maybe it's becomes he wants to leave an electronic trail so complicated even the American secret service couldn't follow it, but Doug Chaplin's blog has moved again. He's always thoughtful, occasionally quite punchy and he now rejoices in the blogname of "Catholicity".

I have updated the blogroll again. Updating the blogroll has three basic functions: Add, Delete, and "Doug's Moved Again".

A Pew with a View

Of course when I was in my Twenties, I was much more evangelical.  In fact, I used to run a House Church.

In many ways I was glad when it all broke up, though. For starters, the font was right in front of the telly. And it was a great relief to chuck out the pews and replace them with a couch. But worst of all was the way the smell of incense used to hang around.

Cats - A Corrective

I realise this is going to shock some people. But it has to be said. Although the picture shown here is of a cat being cute and attractive - this is an impression they like to give. They're only too happy to be photographed while playing with string, laying on their backs, or hilariously falling off things and pretending not to be embarrassed.
This cat may look like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. But he is preparing for a quick left-paw dip into the pond to remove a shubunkin.
 The thing you don't realise (and I'm hoping to get this post out before they notice) is that cats own the Internet. They control it. They are using it to make you think they are friendly, sociable animals. All this stuff about the NSA monitoring web traffic - the NSA are amateurs compared to a decent British Domestic Shorthair, when it comes to playing with its prey (us) before administering a quick bite to the back of the neck. They're having you on, luring you in until they can get enough of their friends round to make you the next course.

This cat is carrying out musocide in another dimension - which is why she is a little blurry. Note that the room is littered with cat toys - a sign of who is in charge of the establishment.

Cats scream all night, fighting and mating. They massacre the wildlife for miles around. They leave stray organs of former rodents laying around on your floor. They make your house smell of cat wee.

Catz iz not nize.

Monday 17 June 2013

Revised Ritual for the Death of Somebody Who was Famous in the 1970s

Archdruid: Well, I see x has just died.

All: Yep, true enough.

Archdruid: In the old days, when we were - did we but realise it - quite innocent, we'd have had a liturgy featuring x's catchphrases, famous song lyrics and so forth.

All: Yep, we would.

Archdruid: Can't risk that sort of thing now. So  - x has just died. And we pray that God will receive x according to God's own mercy, and not according to anything x may have done that we don't know about yet, but will do shortly. Not that we want to cast aspersions.

All: Too right, Eileen. Pious, well-meaning, but safe.

Archdruid: I think that's quite enough of that.

All:  Least said soonest mended.

All may disperse, to keep an eye on Twitter for the revelations that may - or may not - come out.

Rules for Men in the Beaker Folk

Yes, I know. We've struggled by with the informal arrangements for too long. It was time to sort it out - especially after I caught Burton trying to explain that, in modern economic conditions, the Parable of the Talents should have the servants going bankrupt and demanding that their master bail them out by floating themselves on the Stock Market. We've got to get a grip on the role of men in the Beaker Folk.

Look, I'm not saying that men should keep completely quiet. Who would be without their charming prattle about the 4-4-2 system? And their odd belief, in discussions between themselves, that much younger women might consider them to be attractive is quite humorous in its surreal self-delusion. But on matters of doctrine, you've got to be more careful. After all, while women are creative and productive of life, men are associated with destruction - natural, with all that testosterone and those Y-chromosomes. So it's pretty obvious who really needs to keep things under control round here.

So these are the new rules:

  1. No man is to give an opinion on anything except football or real ale, if there are any women present.
  2. Actually, no man is to give an opinion on real ale if there are women present. They may know what they're talking about, but it's a very, very dull subject.
  3. Men may teach other men about spiritual matters. They'll probably get it wrong, but at least if it's only with other blokes they'll not do too much harm. If there's a woman around, it would be best that she either doesn't listen, or ideally takes over.
  4. Men may not fill up beakers, but they may pour them out. You've got to have a system, haven't you?
  5. Any man suggesting a course of action will be advised to have a sit and a calm down while the wiser gender work out precisely what is wrong with it.
  6. Hnaef is allowed to carry out his duties as Executive Arch-Assistant Druid, as he's very posh, so people don't take him so seriously.
  7. The Archruid's decision is final. No correspondence will be entered into.

Sunday 16 June 2013

Cross, Pollinated

We're all, rightly, getting worried about the state of the nation's bees. In my opinion, banning neonicotinoids couldn't have happened quickly enough. And I do worry about the way their decline has paralleled the covering of our green and yellow land with oilseed rape and mobile phone masts. You can't tell me they've not been involved.

But it was lovely today to see an absolute swarm of bees, busily working the flowers on our Rosemary.

Rosemary herself is livid, mind you. But it's her own silly fault for wearing such an absurdly large button hole.

The Origins of Father's Day

Today, Father's Day is one of the cycle of Christian festivals, held on the 3rd Sunday of June. And just like Mothering Sunday, Harvest Festival, Children in Need and the like, nobody would ever dream that it was anything other than a celebration passed straight down from the Bible itself.

But in fact Father's Day has an origin that goes, like everything that anybody ever celebrates anywhere, back to Pagan times.

The pre-Christian Germanic races held a feast called "VatersDag" in the middle of June every year. Although we know little about it, we can assume that it was held at the point in the year when the menfolk were sent off for six weeks to slay the neighbouring tribes and steal their chinchillas (a notable delicacy in Teutonic times). They had to get back for the feast of Lammas (or LaefandaLagerPleaseHansMass, as it was called in the original Old Proto-Saxonian) so they could get the crops in.

Although the feast was in the midst of ancient and unwritten times, the little German children would make clay models of Odin and Thunor, and hang them in their World Ash trees as a gift to the gods, in the hope that their dads would be home soon, with some really juicy chincillas to eat.

With the coming of Christianity to Britian, St Boniface and St Wilibrord decided to impose the same kind of Christianisation on pagan festivals that Augustine had applied to Christmas, Easter and St Gandalf's Day (Jan 3rd). But all the other pagan festivals had already been taken in England, and so they had to travel all the way to Holland and Germany just to find VatersDag, which had been overlooked. Landing at Wassenaar, Wilibrord was going to be killed by the locals for not wearing clogs and a pointy hat. But he got away with it by turning to the local lord and saying "Coming to meet me on this cold day in wooden shoes? You must be Frisian!" Being of Germanic blood, they assumed that this play on words was some kind of miracle, and were instantly converted.

Wilibrord and Boniface originally converted the feast to being "Our Father's Day", a celebration of the giving of the Lord's Prayer. But Pope Leo III, when introduced to the new observance, had another idea. Having crowned Charlemagne, he was in a mood for aggressively expanding the influence of his rule, and declared the festival to be "Il Papa's Day".

Throughout the Midldle Ages, the faithful would remember the Pope on that 3rd Sunday in June, buying him bottles of beer, cheap aftershave and handkerchiefs and sending them to Rome. But as time went by, the great stashes of these gifts built up. When Luther visited Rome in 1510, he was shocked to see entire warehouses full of Brut and socks - although the monks made sure none of the beer went to waste. It is a little-known fact that when he nailed 95 theses to the Wittenberg door, he had written them on hankies and nailed them with a pair of cufflinks that had been intended for Rome.

Luther was always a moderate reformer. He replaced Il Papa's day with Father's Day as we more-or-less know it today. In England, Henry VIII tried to make it a feast day when everybody sent the king gifts as the father of the country. Like most of Henry's ideas, this wasn't terribly popular until the hangings started, after which it really caught on quite well.

The Puritans banned Father's Day, along with everything else. But when they had fallen from power, Charles II became a great fan of the day. He received many gifts every year - although his mistresses' husbands would sometimes wonder where the whisky and neckties they had seen in the shopping had got to, by Sunday morning.

But it was the Victorians who popularised Father's Day in the rest of Britain - Albert introducing the concept at Balmoral, from Germany where it had originated. Having nine children, he was never short of socks as long as he lived. In the 20th century, when it started to be popular in America, card-makers and other commercial operations became interested in it. And so we have the festival that we celebrate today - a Christian festival that, shamefully in my opinion, has been quite blatantly commercialised. And beyond it all, an innocent memory of those young Saxon men, kissing their children goodbye before going off to steal their neighbours' rodents.

Saturday 15 June 2013

Ms Eileen explains Evolution and Creation to the Little Pebbles

Well, children. It's nice for Miss Holsworth to ask me to come and talk to you on the subject of Evolution and Creation. They're two very long words, aren't they? But Mr Gove thinks you should all be able to explain one, and to read about the other in Jacobean English.

No, Angelika. Adam and Eve weren't monkeys. And the Snake wasn't actually a plesiosaur, Jazmin. Because they lived in the sea, not in gardens. And dinosaurs had died out before there were any human beings. I don't care what Mr Parslow told you, Jazmin. He is untrustworthy on matters of science. And, in my opinion, Biblical interpretation.

So evolution is very simple. There were very small things living in the sea, and then dinosaurs happened. And living among the dinosaurs were some very small shrew-like creatures. And these evolved into monkeys. And monkeys evolved into apes, which evolved into humans and chimps and gorillas.

And that is science. You can test it. No, not by pushing chimpanzees out of trees, Rodrick. That experiment is no longer licensed. And it wasn't very useful when it was allowed. No, you can test it with viruses, or dog breeds, or moths that change colour. So it's true.

And Adam and Eve are also true. But they're true more like Harry Potter is. No, Rodrick, Voldemort isn't going to attack the Little Pebbles Academy. He's dead. And he never existed. He is an allegory of evil - and when he kills Harry, in the process he weakens himself. So there is truth there, even though it is not literally true. And so Adam and Eve represent all of us. They are human beings who can make choices like us - an yet although they know what God wants, they do it wrong - the same way we do. Which is why we also need Harry Potter. No, not Harry Potter. Hang on, I'll get there in a minute....

No, Chesney. Michael Gove is not an allegory like Voldemort. He has a nose.

I can see we're into deep waters. Like the plesiosaur, yes, Sigourney. No, Adam and Eve didn't live in a garden in Bikini Bottom and have face masks like the squirrel in Sponge Bob. Let's start again.

In the beginning God created the earth. There was a big lightning bolt and then fish evolved out of protozoa. Dinosaurs roamed the earth, as did cattle, squirrels (land-based, not aquatic) and kangaroos. All the kangaroos were later dropped off in Australia after the flood by Noah before he went back to Turkey. God created Adam and Eve, they saw the apple, a plesiosaur was washed up in the Garden of Eden by a freak water spout. It was a talking, evil plesiosaur, which talked Adam and Eve into eating the apple. When he had the power of knowledge, Adam realised the dinosaurs were a danger on account of their enormous droppings - good for the garden, not so good on your head. So he killed them all.

God made clothing out of the dinosaur skins for Adam and Eve. Eve was particularly fond of her T-rex-skin trousers, making her the first fashion icon in history. People spread across the earth, and modern history happened.

And that's how we reconcile Creation and Evolution. Any questions?

Friday 14 June 2013

Half Vicar, Half Dolphin

Not really "dolphin", but it makes for a nice title.

I'm indebted to the always-hopeful Charlie Peer for linking me to this Daily Mail article about the part-time vicar who works 19 hours a week for J Sainsbury. It is, in many ways, a non-story. St Paul made tents around the Mediterranean- Revd Martyn drives Sainsbury's groceries around Cornwall.

But it's Revd Martyn I find myself worrying about, quite apart from him posing in clerical dress and hi-viz like a wannabe Beaker Person. "People ring me up when I'm driving", he says. Well, maybe they do. I hope he'd deal with that by switching his mobile off when he's working. "It's hard to juggle two jobs", he says. Well, it is. But many people do it - either between two paid jobs, or between being paid and being a parent or a carer. And, like being a priest, you don't stop being a parent when you're at work.

But if he's working 2 days a week, he needs to block that out. Ideally he needs to take those evenings off, because he won't be doing simple 9 hour days the rest of the week. And he needs to block his day off. And he wants to explain to the people of his benefice about the concept of "Sabbath". He'll be a better priest and a safer driver if he can avoid being a shattered, guilty wreck. After all, our Hnaef is a Self-Supporting Druid, and he runs an archery school for people with no thumbs. If he lost interest while wondering about a particularly tricky part of the Creed while doing his other job, he could end up doing a King Harold at Hastings impression. And nobody wants that.

And then he can rejoice that he takes his "other" job to the altar, and he shares the experiences of so many people who balance time, play a number of roles, and have their Christian faith running through it all like the letters through a stick of rock.

But if the diocese really wants a full-time clergy in that benefice - if it wants somebody who is set free to serve and pray all the time - I suggest it works out how to pay for it.


This morning's ramblings on language were actually caused by the reading Hnaef chose this morning for Pouring-out of Beakers.

Now we often have Bible reading in languages other than modern English. Gives us that feeling Peter Gabriel must get when playing authentic World Music with authentic worldlings. You know, I often feel really envious of people who don't speak English. It must be great, always having the Bible sound so exotic like that.
But as you may know, Hnaef is an expert in Old English and other archaic Germanic tongues. And today, though he was reading from something comprehensible and in a form of Modern English, the Bible from which he was reading 1 Corinthians 15 was Wycliffe's version.

It's the chapter in which Paul lists the witnesses to the resurrection. Except Wycliffe didn't say "resurrection", did he? Wycliffe and his mates translated it into English as  "again-rising". (I think it's written " ayenrisyng", but Hnaef was kind).

Hit me right between the eyes, did that. That the concept of Jesus's again-rising has hidden itself behind a Latin word all my life has kind of made it a technical term. I believe in the Resurrection, but that use of Latin kind of distances it a bit. Makes it a subject of study, rather than the earthy,  English "again-rising". That suddenly roots it in my world - in the everyday English in which I express the things that matter most, because they're closest to me. And I know that we talk about Jesus' "rising again" but having it the other way round, as a compound noun, just made it so new - and yet familiar.

And if that one unexpected compound word hit me like that, then imagine the shock that a whole Bible in English must have given its readers. The whole lot - originally written in the everyday languages of its world - rendered into the language that English people dug while speaking, asked for their dinner in, haggled over the price of a coat in, expressed their love in - swore in. What a shock - and what a discovery. The Word becomes flesh, and lives among us, and we can hear the Word's earthly story in our own words.

When Wycliffe receives his own again-rising, it will be from the clay and lime of the Swift - not from the marble of Rome, nor even the dust of Jerusalem. And he'll find that people all over the world have heard God speaking to them in their own language, too. That's the thing about having good ideas. They catch on.

How the Future was Invented

There's a scene in Chapter 51 of Thomas Hardy's "Far from the Madding Crowd", in which Bathsheba Everdene remarks that it is hard for women to express themselves, in language that was invented by men.

Hardy was a creature of his modernist times, and as such would have thought like a conventional dualist, with the idea that men made the world while women were the passive acceptors of the world that Man was marking.   So I wonder whether Bathsheba's words are right here.

It seems to me that, in the depths of evolutionary time, the invention of language would have been dependent on the context of the inventor. Huddled round a fire for warmth and safety, nursing the infants while the more expendable half of the species were off hunting triceratops, mothers might have had more time for developing the reflective side of language in serious conversation.

So in my hypothesis, women would have been responsible for the development of words of hope, aspiration, comfort and, when the hunters were consumed by a T Rex, consolation. Meanwhile the hunters - either jogging through the primaeval forest after a velociraptor or actually in the process of beating a pterodactyl to death - would have developed words like "quick", "run" and "look out for that tiger".

If my idea is right, then I believe it was probably women who invented the future tense - and with it the whole world in which human dreamers live, with their hopes and aspirations for a new world. Imagine the scene as Stig returns with a brace of supersauruses, while Jasmine has been sitting cooking berries and roots with the women, and nursing little Ug and Rosemary:

Jasmine: Two! Well done!

Stig: We catch them. You cook them?

Jasmine: I'm washing the trilobites. But I will cook you some lizards tomorrow.

Stig: Tomorrow?  What tomorrow?

Jasmine: Oh, I forgot. While you were off hunting, Heather and I invented the concept of the future.

Stig: Future? What the future?

Jasmine: It's really simple. Let me explain. Tonight the sun will go down.

Stig: Sun go down?  No. Sun up there.

Jasmine: Thinking about it, Stig, you don't need verbs much at all in your personal continuous present tense, do you? Just "hit", 'hide" and "run". Stig? Where are you going?

Stig: Run! Run! Hide! Jasmine hit!

And so was opened a linguistic gap that has never really been closed.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Privatisation of the Church of England

Clearly in my position I'm privy to a lot of secret stuff. And normally I keep it pretty quiet. But this is dynamite, so I'm going to have to leak it.

Civil Service lawyers have been checking the Act of Supremacy pretty carefully, and they reckon they're on solid ground. And they're setting up for the announcement in the next Queen's Speech, that they're going to float the Church of England on the Stock Market.

Now this is a much-loved institution, woven into the fabric of English history and culture that we're talking about here. So you can't just flog it off. Oh no. First you've got to break it up into dysfunctional parts with tricky commercial relationships. In the case of the C of E, this fundamentally means separating estates, property and operations.

Operations - congregations, dioceses, food banks, street pastors, visiting the sick, weddings and evangelism - are a generally cash-generative division. Each diocese will be floated as a separate company. Since the Government's watchdog, OfMitre, has identified a lack of entrepreneurship as a weakness, congregations on the edge of dioceses will be able to open branches in other companies' areas.

Additionally there will be three national operations. Two will offer services to traditional Anglo-Catholics and  Evangelicals respectively, and their boardrooms- sorry,  Bishops' palaces - will be fitted with special glass ceilings. The third, EasyCleric, will be a no-frills operation, allowing people to know the joy of Church without all that cost of discipleship. In contrast, the Anglo-Catholics will offer a high-frills operation.
Estates - a lot of Church of England real estate is tied up in low-return fixed assets. Or, to put it another way, graves. The job of Godsacre plc will be to scour the graveyards of the country, looking for unused bits that can be flogged off to the developers of executive homes. Where the presence of dead people makes this difficult, the spin-off Church of Entertainment will be developing niche attractions such as wildlife walks, weekend breaks in rectories during interregnums, and ghost hunts.

Godsacre will be looking actively at the reintroduction of bone crypts and ossuaries*; these will free up more prime village development land, formerly known as "churchyards". And the storage fees that will be payable to BildChurch will be returned a hundredfold in real estate values.

Plant - Finally we turn to the loss-making area of buildings. The new not-for-profit organisation, BildChurch, will be responsible for the maintenance of places of worship, and for raising money to keep them standing through the arms-length fundraising organisation, OfTherm.

BildChurch will be trying to charge a market rent for these buildings. Although in the short term this may result in a number of branch closures, there will be a welcome cash boost when any spare capacity is sold off to the Godsacre company. This rationalisation will also generate a number of high-end country properties which can all be sold to new holding company, Old Rectories plc.

In a complete lack-of-monopoly like the British religious world, there is no real need for an Ombudsman or oversight board. But you've got to find jobs for the right sorts of people. So the HouseBish organisation will be responsible for ensuring that the new church companies are charging reasonable fees for weddings, and not engaging in uncompetitive practices with respect to funerals.

Floating the Church of England brings with it some risks. Concerns have been raised that, after privatisation, the British water and power companies ended up in foreign ownership. Already it is believed that an Italian operation may be interested in taking over some branches. American churches may be interested in some more profitable evangelical congregations. And Richard  Branson has indicated that, given sufficient State subsidy, he will be able to guarantee three-hour conversions. It's going to be an exciting new world.

(Late edit: It would appear that Eccles got a whiff of this last year. Albeit he missed out on the organisational details above. Truly nothing new under the sun, and of the writing of satire there is no end.)

Liturgy for St Anthony's Day

Archdruid: Peace be with you.

All: Sorry, Eileen, we've lost our service sheets. Any ideas?

Archdruid: Nah, forget it. They'll probably turn up when we least expect it.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Those Obvious Scams in Full

They started in the days of folklore, and went on to faxlore. And now they're Facebook lore. I refer, of course, to those scare stories that tell us to be careful of stuff that isn't really a threat.

The trouble is, they're so plausible. You read them, and they sound about right - so you resolve never to open an email that has the subject "Dear Mum, why on earth are you not reading my messages?" because they might be from your Son, trying to con you out of twenty quid to go to the White Horse.

But here's a quick roundup of all those current scams. Don't be fooled!

People are running around Milton Keynes carrying dustbins. They ask if you can check your hat size. If you take your hat off, they shove the dustbin over your head and run off with your hat. This happened to a friend of my cousin's in Furzton. Don't lose your hat!

If you take out a mortgage with a bank, they will expect you to pay the interest every month. They are trying to make a profit. They are not, as they pretend, just there to help you own a house.

If you see a large thermometer outside a church, they will be trying to raise money to keep the building up. They are not telling you the temperature - it's not that cold.

When vicars say in sermons that something is true "in a very real sense", they don't really mean it. It's not true at all. Or, at least, not in a real sense. If you're not careful you could end up believing in things that the vicar doesn't.

The line "over the mountains and the sea, your river runs with love for me" was written by global-warming scientists trying to panic the public. There are no rivers running over the mountains and the sea. There may be a river running through the valleys and over the fields, but this is less alarming - at least in a rainy winter.

When somebody phones up, giving large number of details about your upbringing, knowing all about you and saying they're your mother - it's probably your mother. Be very careful.

Anyone who says "that's how I roll" is unlikely to be capable of rotary motion. They are almost certainly square.

People standing in the town centre with a sign saying "Can we pray for you?" will pray for you if you ask them to. They're ruthless like that.

An insurance company is going round, cleverly getting money out of people who think they are contributing to bereaved Caledonian woman. Don't be fooled into thinking Scottish Widows are a charity.

Don't let the poor spelling deceive you. Stationery shops never go anywhere.

If you see a man with a shiny face telling you his banks have lost all their money and you have to help pay it back, he's the Prime Minister. You have little choice for the time being.

The CIA is spying on all of us through listening devices cunningly hidden as daffodils. Take no chances. Dig up all your daffodils. I did, and I know the CIA aren't bugging me in the spring anymore. Because they were all, in fact, daffodils. But I feel much safer knowing that.

If you are approached in the street by somebody saying  he's a Freemason, and can he take a photograph of your bottom - run away.  He just wants to take a photograph of your bottom, and the freemasonry is a diversion.

If you come across a large building called "Tesco", they will lure you in with shelves full of food. But you will be expected to pay for it when you leave. Do not be suckered in.

Don't let so-called "postmen" put letters through your letter box. They're doing it for the money.

If you receive an email from me, saying I've got a load of money from a Nigerian dictator, please send the cheque to "Archdruid Eileen, The Great House, Husborne Crawley, Beds."

If you receive an email from someone saying that they're a conman, and can they steal your money, don't reply. There's a good chance they're a conman who wants to steal your money.

(And try not to fall for this scam that John the Lutheran has noted)

The whole series inspired by this from @TlfTravelAlerts

And here are some real scams, from the nearly-always-reliable

Quick "Rebecca" Joke

Last night, I dreamed of Mandalay again.

Due to a mis-reading of the brochure, that was the worst Cornish holiday I ever had. Burmese clotted cream is rubbish. And there's a limit to how much entertainment you can get out of watching flying fish.

Tuesday 11 June 2013

The Apocalypse Unfolds on Social Media

People are inviting their friends to play the new "Armageddonville" game. Others wonder if they'll ever reach the last level of Candy Crush.

The #suppersready hash tag is popular among formerly long-haired clergy in their 50s.

Many people wonder what Michael Fish would be forecasting now

The "CityofBabylon" commerce website is showing a holding page. The merchants of the earth weep, for their courier networks are no more.

Police tweet - "Please do not report outbreaks of pestilence on Twitter."

The #uklocusts web page gets a record number of visits.

A picture of a sad cat in front of an exploding litter tray goes viral.

Richard Dawkins is telling us that it's still more likely to be a hallucination.

Spoof 4square accounts for Jesus are checking in all over the place.

It's generally agreed that the End of All Things isn't as impressive as the Opening Ceremony.

There is a Twitter storm as people demand the use of the correct term, "Equestrians of the Apocalypse".

The lower teenage reaches of an atheist teenage subredit is full of sniggers that "Whore of Babylon" sounds a bit rude.

#itoldyouso is trending.

John Prescott tweets to blame David Cameron, and says we'd have had 1,000 years of peace under Labour.

Ricky Gervais tweets respect for the One person who's clearly got a bigger ego than he has.

Numerous "God" and "Jesus" accounts are deleted. The owners wonder whether the heavenly cache will last longer than Google's.

Someone on Facebook posts a photo of herself and her family, afflicted with boils. It gets 87 "likes".

On Google Plus, someone wonders whether this is more like a Postmillennial or Amillennial of the Apocalypse. Nobody responds.

This is the way the world ends - not with a bang, but a Twitter.

Monday 10 June 2013

Eating Mythical Apples

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your labor pains; with pain you will give birth to children. You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.”
But to Adam he said, “Because you obeyed your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life."
(Gen 3:16-17)
See, to me there's a bit of a problem with blaming all the destructive, apparently random stuff in the world on the Fall. If I were a Creationist, I'd not have this problem. But I want to have my 14 billion year old cake and eat its moral icing.

So you can't blame the physical and very historical matters of earthquakes and volcanoes and exploding stars on human disobedience, without dragging in some kind of retrospective quantum catastrophe which rewrote everything. And what kind of fool would do that?

But if that's the case, then what do we take from the story of the Fall? Because it's definitely a story worth working through. It has all those ingredients that are so popular in film and television in these troubled times - naked people, power struggles and talking animals. What's not to like?

I would like to note, in passing,  this article which postulates that it was maybe the Fall that cost humans their ability to synthesize Vitamin C. If we imagine the Eden story as factual historically and scientifically, I'd suggest the opposite - if Adam and Eve had working Vitamin C genes, they'd not have needed to eat any fruit in the first place, especially that fruit.

I guess I prefer to have a play with the idea of choice, human intelligence and the HPtFTU (let the reader understand). See, i reckon we had nettles, thistles and all other kinds of woe before any mythological First Lady was conned into eating any apples. Likewise earthquakes, tidal waves and - let's say it - death.
But something happened to us in evolution. Dunno when precisely - whether before Cro-Magnon or at the time the valley of the Neander was full of its eponymous folk. Our brains got big, and our hearts gained the ability to be warm, soft or hard according to how we decided. We found we could eat apples, or not according to choice. And if God told us not to, we could do it regardless - and then try and hide from God later. And if we decided to kill one another,  it wasn't just one of those unfortunate natural skirmishes. We'd deny it, or try and excuse it - I never did it. That herdsmen deserved it. He was different. Smug so and so.

And it wasn't that there were no nettles and thistles before, either. But to an animal, they're problems at just that one point in time - when you're pushing your way painfully through them. It's only we naked apes who worry about them in advance - who can feel anticipated pain. And of course, being naked apes, we knew all about it when pushing through thistles and brambles. And we're the ones who can anticipate the terrors of death, fear the pain of it before we know it for real, and wonder with hope and trembling what lies beyond it. It's not just that work is hard - what animal doesn't have a hard life? But we're the ones going to bed, knowing we've got to get up and face it again in the morning. We're the ones that can go home from work on a Friday, regretting that it all starts again on Monday.

But these amplified pains come with our unique joys - it's a package deal. Hope for years - and an eternity - to come. Pleasures we can work for - and the work itself can be a pleasure.

It was a double-edged sword, eating that apple - giving us the ability to use metaphors, but also to mix them. And those big brains that gave us choice and strategy came at a cost; as those upgraded skulls squeezed through the previous release of birth canal.

And always at the end of that glorious riot of choice, happiness and fear was death and futility - the waste of dreams and dissolution of those big brains. And those brains that let us love, also let us fear and mourn. And the snake - symbol of the eternity into which we are launched - looks like he's won.

But isn't that where God's other judgement comes in?
"And I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; her offspring will attack your head, and he will crush your head." (Gen 3:15)
But that's another whole story of choices, isn't it?

Quotations from the NET Bible