Friday 31 January 2014

Anglicanizing a Classic Sketch

Ronnie C: Four canticles.

Ronnie B: Four canticles?

Ronnie C : Four canticles.

Ronnie B: There you are. Four canticles.

Ronnie C: No, four canticles.

Ronnie B: Four canticles?

Ronnie C: Yeah. Four canticles. Anticles for forks.

Ronnie B: This ain't gonna work, is it?

Ronnie C: No.

Thursday 30 January 2014

Fresh Expressions Postbag

I was intrigued by the Fresh Expressions "Myths Busted" post on Missional Musings. I frequently get letters asking my advice, or telling me about their great ideas - because, let's face it, the Beaker Folk are definitely a Fresh Expression. And one of the most profitable, to boot. Mind you, if you think about it, Canterbury Cathedral was a Fresh Expression once upon a time.

So here's the Fresh Expressions postbag. I hope you can build on these ideas so that one day, you too may be able to fill in your own grant application.

"Dear Archdruid,

We knew that if we wanted to reach the unchurched on the estate, we had to get to where people really were - share their experiences, know what really moved them.
So I took up Twocking.  Within a few weeks, I'd really earned the kids' respect, and I was having a great time myself, living "on the edge" of the kingdom.
But after I hit that bus shelter, the bishop has found out, and now he says I can't be the vicar anymore. This persecution is the sort of thing that happened to John the Baptist."

"Dear Archdruid,

I like to put on a badger outfit and yodel. I'm sure there must be other people like me. Do you reckon I could start a church?"

"Dear Archdruid,

I was all in favour of Messy Church when the vicar introduced it. What a great way of communicating with a new generation, I thought.
But then I went along, and it was full of children! Ghastly. And the vicar was not wearing a chasuble. If this is your Fresh Expressions, I'll stick to the Masons."

"Dear Archdruid,

We're seriously looking at starting a Godly Play. We've collected together a number of models and a sheet of beize. However we are all atheists, and the models are mostly old Matchbox cars. So we spend our time re-creating famous traffic jams."

"Dear Archdruid,

The rainy weather has had the effect of causing a bryophitic carpet to spread across the roof of St Hilda's. So we're thinking of renaming it "Mossy Church".

"Dear Archdruid,

Our Civil War Church was a great new innovation. As members of Lord Rockingham's Light Infantry, Fr Fresshe and myself would go along in the guise of Cavalier chaplains, offer a traditional form of Eucharist and preach a homily. We got to wear lace, and the Civil War people were gradually converted into card-carrying Laudians.

Then Peter Kirk came along and told us Cromwell wasn't so bad after all, and it all went to pot. Now half of them are Anabaptists, and the rest skip communion to go to their Presbyterian prophesying class."

"Dear Archdruid,

Here in the Somerset Levels, we are great outdoors types. So we thought "Rambling Church" would be a great idea. And in the autumn, we had a great time - sometimes twenty people would join us in what was, after all, Our Lord's way of doing church - the vicar would head across fields, preaching sermons over his shoulder. But in December and January, attendance has dropped off, and the vicar has developed trench foot. Most people can't work out why, but I blame the gays."

"Dear Archdruid,

I like to stand in Dunstable town centre wearing an anorak, shouting threats of eternal damnation at passers-by. Nobody was converted. Last week I decided to become a Fresh Expression. Now I wear a T-shirt with a cheerful image on it, and stand in Dunstable town centre shouting threats of eternal damnation at passers-by. Still nobody is converted, but at least I feel I'm moving with the times."

"Dear Archdruid,

I have a large bag of porridge and a "Footprints" towel, in a lock-up garage in Meriden. Am I a Fresh Expression? Or, given the brand of porridge, am I just a Quaker?"

"Dear Archdruid,

Attendance at our Youth Club really took off over the last couple of months. But then one of the parents found out about the "Breezers Bar", and now we're right back to where we are. I blame Michael Gove."

King and..... Martyr?

I think it's generally known we at the Beaker Folk prefer Charles II over the his dad. An impetuous bloke with an over-high opinion of his own office, Charles I. Whereas Charles II was racy and exciting, and interested in the snails at Stonehenge, and climbed trees.

But still, on this day at the Banqueting House in Whitehall, Charles I lost his throne, his crown and his head at the end of the most vicious of all our wars. And that fun-killing, self-important-yet-ever-so-humble, Irish-murdering, maypole-axing, joy-hating, Christmas-banning, arrogant, throne-grabbing ratbag, Oliver Cromwell became king in all but name. And in his purge of Parliament a bunch of useless yes-men, the man whose statue is outside Parliament achieved a massive reduction in democracy - such as that tender shoot was. Why on earth is he there? He should be dragged down and thrown in the Thames.

Today, to mark a man whose most impressive action in this world was the way he left it, we're going to be dragging the grubby regicide who succeeded him in effigy around the Moot House, before leaving him on a gibbet as a warning to all power-hungry wannabe Puritan tyrants. And putting up a maypole. And lighting some candles in front of some saints. He'd hate that.

Wednesday 29 January 2014

In Praise of Long Grass

I'd like to thank Sneef for his invaluable discussion paper, "What Should We do About Those Things We Don't Want to Think About?" Erudite, learned, thoughtful, caring and, above all, indecisive. Which seems fair. Sneef has only spent seven years writing it, and he wouldn't want to jump to any hasty conclusions.

I'll be honest, I'd hoped that would be the end to the whole sordid matter. But two of the Beaker Fertility Folk just came in, and said they'd found the report in the long grass, and what was I planning to do about it? Obviously I thanked them for discovering it. I'd have kept it myself, but I'd forgotten quite where I'd kicked it. And I asked them what they had been doing in the long grass, but they said I'd probably rather not think about it.

So, anyway. Sneef's conclusion about what to do about the things we'd rather not think about, was that we ought to think about them. And to that end, I think we shall set up some groups to think about the things we'd really rather not think about.

Except, of course, that's naturally a thing we'd really rather not do - whether the thinking should be done or not. You wouldn't want to rush into thinking about things you'd rather not think about, without having a good think about it.

So I'm going to put in place a process of thinking about how to think about the things we'd not rather think about. In this way, we can move the process forward, without at any point actually having to think about the things we'd rather not think about. Then once we've had a really good think about that, we'll have a really good idea about how to move forward with the whole "thinking about things we'd rather not think about" agenda.

So I hope that's clear. The people who found Sneef's report did ask me when I expect we'll be cutting the long grass this year. But I don't know. I might let it grow wild this year. It's quite a handy place for things to be hidden. Things that you'd rather not think about.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Space-hopper Service

We thought it would be a good idea, the Space-Hopper Service. A nice retro feel about it, very child-friendly. And how they smile, those happy Space-Hoppers! Bound to cheer you up on a dull winter Tuesday.

The initial procession was positively uplifting. How great the acrolites looked, bouncing along in their double file. That they only managed to set fire to one person's hair as they rode one-handed, carrying candles on six-foot candle-lances, was a real triumph. And Oric will finally have to accept that it's time he stops wearing that acrylic wig.

Then the Beaker Quire followed in. I tell you, until you've seen a procession of 12 singers, resplendent in tartan hi-viz for the octave of St Rab Burns, singing the Dies Irae from Verdi's Requiem - you've really not seen a quire processing.

Shame about Dorphin, though. She timed an extra-high bounce on a scary bit just as she went through the Small Indoor Trilithon. I know the Health & Safety purists will insist that her crash helmet saved her from head damage. But I maintain that, if she'd been bare-headed, she'd never gave hit the Trilithon at all. Or fallen backwards.

Or landed on Schmorkle.

So Schmorkle wouldn't have fallen off his 'Hopper and landed, clutching its ears, in the Mystic River which flows around the Moot House. And runs into the Hus Bourne brook. Which is flowing rather quickly at the moment. Anyway, the good news is they dragged him out of the river at Bedford, and they reckon the hypothermia is only mild. Barely any chance of that amputation they feared.

Meanwhile, back at the Moot House. The Bounce of Peace was brilliant. Since everybody had to stay on their Space Hoppers, nobody could get close enough to hug, kiss or pat you on the back. Particularly good news for Raughrie, as well. Being sat in his wheel chair, he normally has to fight off unwanted friendliness from above. But once he was mounted on his robotic space hopper, which I notice he had rather cheekily fitted with a Taser, he feared no evil.

And then we came to that most poignant of Beaker ceremonies, the evening Filling-Up of Beakers. Now, I'll confess, we'd not really thought this through. Trying to pour water from one beaker, into one held by another Beaker Person, while you're both bouncing around is tricky. Water slops around, everybody gets wet, somebody slips, the beakers are dropped. The next thing you know, there's shards of broken terra cotta all over the place - and then when the Bouncy Liturgical Dancers' Space-Hoppers landed on the sharp edges.... well, you can imagine.

So I guess the Space-Hopper Service summed up much alt.worship. Edgy, exciting, very different and with good intentions. Goes out with a bang.

But, ultimately, a bit of a let-down.

Like an Old Joke in a China Shop

It was quite a scary moment in the Beaker Bazaar yesterday. Mr Jones's prime bull, "Execrabilis", ran amok and, for the purists among you, amuck.

All the way down the religious porcelain figurines. Luthers, Calvins, Savonarolas and Wycliffes smashed to pieces all over the place.

When Mr Jones turned up and got the beast under control, he did agree to pay for the damage. But not having enough cash, and not trusting credit cards, he stumped up using his web-based funds transfer account.

That's right. Turns out it's a PayPal Bull.

Sunday 26 January 2014

Re-imagining the Beaker Year

I've been inspired by this article by Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, and a series of responses - ranging from the intelligently-engaged Bosco Peters to the mind-numbing, jaw-dropping "Anonymous", who equates the liturgical calendar to the Bible itself. (I presume s/he means the Bible. It could equally be some other Holy Book).

Whether you agree with Miranda or not, there's no harm in remembering the reasons why the year is shaped as it is, and consider the way the story plays out.

The fundamentals of the Beaker year are laid out in the Beaker Common Prayer, of course. But I am considering a process of Liturgical Renewal (as I do every week or so) - and so I feel that it's worth spelling out the way the Beaker year is working.

The Beaker Year, in line with the old Pagan one, is divided into Quarter Days (Solstices and Equinoxes), with between them the Cross-Quarter or Eights Days (Imbolc, Samhain, Beltane and Lammas). The more determined Beaker Folk then divide the year even further into 16ths, or even 32nds. This gives them the advantage of having a feast every 11 or 12 days, which makes them happy, I suppose.

The Beaker year starts, in line with the Old Calendars, on 31st October-1st November, or Samhain. Or on 21 December at the Winter Solstice. Or 6 January (Old New Year). Or 25 March (Lady Day) or Old Lady Day (6 April). Or, like Methodists, on September 1. We like celebrate, so the more new years the better. So, to simplify matters, let's start the calendar - somewhat controversially - on 1 January.

From 1 Jan through to the Spring or Vernon Equinox (named after a bloke called Vernon Equinox, who discovered it), we concentrate on the lengthening days, the preparations for the Spring - the there-but-not-there-yet-ness of the warming sun. And, since we are often snowed in during these months, we stick to inside activities - looking out the windows, tea light-lighting, processing around the inner perimeter of the Moot House. Nice, dry stuff.

In the middle of this time, we have Imbolc. At Imbolc, which is also known as Candlemas, we like to light a lot of tea lights. Imbolc itself is some pagan festival to do with the lactation of ewes, but we try to resist the urge to go near any ewes at this time. Partly because, although we love all of Gaia's little creatures, we are quite scared of sheep. Especially when they're lactating. Makes them awful grumpy.

At the Spring Equinox, to celebrate the returning strength of the sun, we like to light some tea lights.

Then, just 6 short weeks after Spring Equinox, we celebrate May Day. We like to light bonfires for May Day. And St John's Eve, Halloween, New Year (all of them) and Lammas. We like bonfires and tea lights.

From May Day to Summer Solstice, we like to light tea lights. But only in darkened rooms, or at night. They're a bit useless during the day. Sometimes we like to wrap voile around things. We generally stick to inanimate objects.

At Summer Solstice, we celebrate from the actual Solstice all the way through to Midsummer Day. On St John's Eve, our Beaker ancestors would sit up all night at the long barrow to see who was going to die in the following year, and then run off into the woods for wild fertility rites. We light to light a tea light.

And then the year is all downhill to Yule. At Autumn Solstice, we like to light some tea lights. It's getting dark again, so it all feels quite cosy. And then, as Kirstytide (10 October) gives way to Samhain, we light some tea lights. And a bonfire.

From Samhain to Winter Solstice, we argue about when Solstice is Yule, whether Yule is one month or two, whether the Venerable Bede made the whole thing up. And we light a tea light.

By the end of the year, we find that we have got all the way through 12 months, and everything is much as it was, except the Tea Light Holder dump at the end of the Big Field is a lot more full of aluminium cups than it was in January. But we've had some nice feelings, and seen some nice fires, and lit a lot of tea lights, and that's the main thing isn't it?

Mote and Beam, Mote and Beam

"Extremist Religion at roots of 21st Century warfare", says Tony Blair.

That and dodgy dossiers, made-up Weapons of Mass Destruction, pointless and destructive regime change and plain old sucking up the States, of course. That's got to run religious extremism a close second, surely?

Quick Milton Keynes Joke

You know, sometimes I go to Milton Keynes, park up near the shopping centre, and ask myself... what's the Point?

Church of England Mostly Tory Shock

So it turns out that the majority of Church of England people vote Tory, while Catholics are more likely to vote Labour.

That middle-class, mostly rural people tend to support the Conservatives, while predominantly-urban people who are more likely to be working class have a tendency for Labour, came as such a shock to me.  I tell you, I had to give up for the day on my in-depth academic research into what bears do in the woods. And that letter to the Pope asking what religion he is will have to go unwritten.

Whom to vote for is a fraught business. You're weighing all sorts of stuff - civil liberties against state involvement, the idea that the "Market" works against the idea that big Government is benevolent.

But the inevitable cry that Christians can't vote Tory really worries me. Firstly, because that presupposes that your understanding of economics is somehow better, and that you can identify that left-wing politics is better, because you're a proper Christian - which seems to me nonsense. And secondly, because there's a nagging feeling that somebody is actually saying "because I'm a Christian, other people will have to pay more tax". And I'm not sure that's Christianity. I've a funny feeling that's Christendom.

Saturday 25 January 2014

Zebedee Gets it in the Neck

The men are overdue home, and there's no sign.

Mrs Zebedee's starting to worry.  A bit odd - they weren't meant to be going out today. Wary of the weather portents, they'd said they'd be carrying out maintenance - net mending, bit of grease on the rowlocks, putting a few nails in.

But she's waited long enough, and dinner - fish, natch - is gonna be ready soon. So she leaves the servant by the hearth (for the Zebedees, after all, are business people) and wanders down to the lake.

There's the boat. There's some nets, in various states of repair. There's Zebedee himself, sat in the back of the boat with Jonah. No sign of the lads. The old blokes are sharing a drop of red, while Jonah complains loudly that, because of his name, nobody had ever let him go to sea.

Jonah's wife is on the scene, as well, now. Demanding to know where Peter and Andrew are. Peter, she seems to be implying, is all very well going off in the hot sun - but Andrew? You know how sensitive his skin is. He burns very easily.

Zeb and Jonah look up, stagger to their feet. Try to explain. You know how, previously, their young men had got caught up in the excitement around John the Baptist? How they'd gone a bit apocalyptic? How James, always the impulsive one, had to be banned from eating any more locusts and honey after they'd had to condemn the old privy and dig another one?

Yes, says Zeb's wife. What of it?

And you know how they'd met a bloke called Jesus, and said they'd keep in touch?

Yes, says Jonah's wife. Thankful  that John had got arrested, and they'd all got away alive. Though she could have done without Jesus renting a house up the road. Total troublemaking bad influence, with his living a quiet lifestyle, praying and fasting and going on about how great his dad was.

Well. That Jesus. He just turned up. Went up to the lads. Said follow me.

And they left? Without wondering how their fathers were going to replace their cheap labour? Without worrying about their mums? Without a word?

Oh no, says Zebedee, they left a note. He hands it over.

It's very short, and to the point. It just says one thing.

"Gone fishing,"

Thursday 23 January 2014

The Train Commuter's Psalm II

The foolish say to themselves "there must be a seat."
Yet in vain do they seek for one.
Restlessly do they wander the carriages and vestibules,
Ignoring those standing already, as if they think it's by choice
Onwards they press, from end to end,
As if the front carriage will miraculously be empty.
Yet, so they shall not have to come back looking silly,
They end up spending the journey in the bike section.
Others look around for seats they may grab at stations
But nobody gets off,
not even one.

As for me, I shall stand here in peace
My heart quietened within me
I shall remain leaning on this luggage rack
my Smartphone and Thermos beside me
all the minutes of my journey,
until I reach my final destination
where this train terminates.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

If Football Managers were Pastors

I'm writing this at the end of 90 minutes, before the Extra Time in the Lower-Rated Teams Cup (aka League Cup) - a kind of consolation for teams that don't need to "concentrate on the League" any more).

Obviously, I don't know how it's going to end. But I'd just quickly like to reflect on how the managers reacted at the end of 90 minutes.

David Moyes, steely, miserable, stalked over to meet his players as they came off the pitch for the pre-Extra-Time huddle. Like a Wee Free minister whose prayer for healing from haemorrhoids has failed. Whereas Gus Poyet is jumping around, clapping his players off, grabbing their arms and encouraging them.

If they were ministers, not managers - I know who I'd rather have as my pastor.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

When Tamar and Judah went on Jeremiah Kyle

KyleInfidelity, death, trouble with the in-laws coitus interruptus and sheep-shearing... these are just some of the issues on today's show. It's a real rollercoaster ride with Tamar and Judah.
So first let's meet Judah. He's a real character - 11 brothers and a sister, a history of conspiracy to murder..... Judah - they've never actually found Joseph, have they?
JudahLook, we've all had a few scrapes in the past. And I'm sure Joseph is fine, albeit probably in a prison or working as a slave somewhere.
KyleBut that's not why Judah's here today, is it? No, today we're going to be talking to his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Come on over, Tamar... 

Tamar comes on, clearly pregnant.
Judah attempts to get out of his chair after Tamar, is dragged back down by Benjamin and Zebulun.
KyleSo Tamar, you've been Judah's sister-in-law twice? 
TamarYes, and it should have been three times. But he made sure it didn't happen....
KyleLet's just go back for a bit. In the first place, you were married to Er?
TamarYeah, right bad 'un he was, as it turned out. But then, when you consider his father....
JudahThere was nothing wrong with my boy Er!
KyleStrange you should say that, Judah. As I've got a statement from a man called "Moses". Moses says that Er was wicked in the sight of the Lord. And that tells me that YOU WERE NOT A GOOD FATHER.
Judah(Sobs) It was hard for me, being one of twelve. My Dad, spending all the time arguing with all his wives. Joseph swanning around the place in long-sleeved coats. So I let Er down. I wasn't there when he needed me. And yeah, he was no angel.
KyleAnd then, Tamar, you married Er's brother - Onan.
TamarThat's right. And he was a total w-
KyleCareful, Tamar. Family show.
Tamar...aste of space.
JudahPhew. It's fair to say Onan didn't do his duty by his brother. But - divine punishment for people for not reproducing?  I think God's the one whose behaviour is in question here.... 
KyleYou may be right. But we're more pre-modern than post-modern, Judah, so let's not go putting the Divine on trial, eh? We can't afford that kind of insurance. Not this close to Sodom and Gomorrah. So, when Er couldn't give her a son and Onan wouldn't, why did you, Judah, not let Tamar marry your third son as you were so supposed to? You weren't doing your duty according to the Law, were you? Not such a great patriarch.
JudahHe's just a bit of a lad...
TamarHe's 18 stone and 27 years of age.
JudahWell, I wasn't going to let him die.
KyleAnd so you, Tamar - you could have been a quiet, dutiful widow and daughter-in-law. But you didn't, did you? You WENT ON THE GAME!!!

Crowd boos
TamarWell, what was I supposed to do? No kids, my family ashamed of me, looked upon as a failure...
JudahI tell you, Jeremiah, there's only one thing her sort understand. We've got to burn her. 
KyleJudah, I can see you're very upset. And obviously it's the way things are done round here. But don't you think you're acting like a relic of a failing patriarchal society?
JudahLook, I respect her choices. Her lifestyle. Her right to choose her own way and make her own mistakes. But this is, in fact, a perfectly intact, fully-functioning patriarchal society. And I say, with all respect to her lifestyle choices, it's time to BURN HER!!!
KyleTamar, I understand you're currently expecting as a result of your - ahem - new profession.
TamarYeah. And guess who the father is?
KyleWe have, in fact, got the results of the paternity test right here. And we have conclusive proof - well, as conclusive as a length of cord and a staff can be.  Judah - You're the Daddy!

Chaos breaks out. Judah realises he's been in the wrong. Tamar hugs Judah's friend, Hirah the Adullamite. Joseph appears in Egyptian dress, to reveal he's been alive all along. Moses wonders how on earth the Messiah is going to be descended from this shower.

KyleSo I think we've all learnt a lot today. Mostly, this. If you sleep with the widow of your first two sons while out shearing your sheep - don't ask for it on credit. It'll save you a lot of trouble later.

Electric Dog Collars

Should dog collars that administer electric shocks be banned? That was the BBC article that drew my interest this afternoon.

My initial reaction was that they can be a useful training device. When used in training, they make it possible to draw the subject up sharp. They are no use for rewarding good behaviour - on the continuum from "stick" to "carrot" they are definitely at the "stick" end - but still, they can keep them away from danger, stop them wandering from the path - generally it gives the keepers a bit more control over unruly, out-of-control subjects.

However, on closer investigation it turns out that the collars in question are for controlling dogs, not vicars, as I had assumed. So there's absolutely no question about it. Ban them. Now. It's vile.

Noah on Daytime TV

And so, in the six hundredth year of his life, Noah realised he'd been wasting his money on that over-50s insurance plan.

And so he entered the ark - he, and his wife, and his son, and their wives, and 7 of all clean animals, and 2 of all unclean animals. And a bloke who kept asking him "Have you been the victim of a Deluge that was everybody else's fault?"

And Noah wondered how, when they had landed, he would make ends meet until the next harvest. For behold, the Wonga-ites had perished in the flood. In fact, weighed down by the wages of the poor, they'd been the first to sink.

But after 150 days, when they landed on Mount Ararat, they got some appearance money by appearing on Jeremy Kyle, in the episode "My Dad Gets Drunk and Wanders Around Naked".

And Ham didn't come across well, at all, in that. Though better than Judah did, later in the series, with the results of that paternity test.

And all the people of the earth looked on the Kyle show, and thought that maybe God had been a bit hasty, giving up on all that "Flood" business.

Monday 20 January 2014

A Thought for Blue Monday

First up - and something I've got to be as careful with as anyone.

Today is not "the most depressing day of the year". Depression is a mental illness which can range from mild to utterly debilitating. One day of the year being slightly fretful isn't even close. Not the same thing at all. Like claiming that stubbing your toe is leg-breaking. Claiming a grotty day is "depressing" trivialises a serious condition and upgrades being mildly miserable.

Also. It's not even that bad a day. Nights are shortening, and in a bit of sunlight this afternoon, with a bird singing and a Red Kite swooping overhead (probably after the songbird) it was almost spring like.

And then, look what we've got to look forward to! Orthodox Epiphany, and then Imbolc. It's like Christmas never ended. And the good news is, you don't have presents to buy or cards to send. John Lewis aren't running six-minute ads intended to make us better people. The sort of amateurs who throng the pubs in December aren't in them. And the smug gets who go "dry" for January have stopped going the pub, having a half of a tooth-eating, gut-rotting, fizzy drink and telling us how great it feels to be detoxed. No, by now they're sat at home, watching Celebrity Big Brother, sucking the contents out of leftover chocolate liqueurs and wishing it was February.

So cheer up, face the music and dance. It's a beautiful world, and even if it's not then it's the only one we've currently got. Don't let a stupid advertising campaign get you down. And don't confuse being s bit down with depression.

Sunday 19 January 2014

Random Mediæval Witchcraft Question

Actually, the great Witchcraft scares mostly weren't Mediæval. They were more what we'd call "Early Modern". But I just wanted to use an "ash" in the title. It was just a random question that always strikes me when seeing the typical witch-trial / burning scenarios in films, TV programmes and what have you. If the witches really were in league with the Dark Powers, able to unleash evil at will - how come they were always easily captured by yokels with pitchforks and torches? And since the obvious answer to that question is - because they weren't anything of the sort - then why wasn't the mere fact of their arrest proof of their innocence? I know why - all about the elimination of dangerous outsiders, elimination of the weird, the search for scapegoats and the perceived danger of independent women. But still - surely it must have occurred to someone?>

Saturday 18 January 2014

Flooding Caused by Gay Marriage

At last, somebody has said what we were all thinking. A member of UKIP has associated the recent flooding with the passing of the Gay Marriage bill. The Prime Minister, of course, blames Global Warming. But he is merely trying to distract attention from his own, direct, sinful responsibility.

A notoriously gay road

 This is entirely in agreement with what my study of the divinely-commanded disasters of the whole of history has indicated. My new book, "When God Gets Angry and Kicks Things Around", will be published just as soon as I can find a publisher suitably godly not to keep laughing when I give him the synopsis. But to give you a taster - here are just some of the disasters I detail.

2013 - FloodingGay Marriage
2005 - Hurricane Katrina"Family Guy"
1994 - Norwich Library catches fire    Church of England ordains female priests
1987 - London Hurricane / Black Monday     The Pet Shop Boys
1980 - Election of Ronald ReaganThe rise of Disco
1970s - Americans lose in VietnamWomen wearing slacks
1939 - World War IIWomen wearing nylons
1929 - Stock Market Crash / The Great DepressionWomen Getting the Vote
1914 - World War IThe Tango 
1780 - Gordon RiotsGin
1666 - Great Fire of LondonPeople blaming God for the Plague
1665 - London PlagueCharles II's Mistress, Barbara Villiers
1558 - Loss of CalaisCodpieces
1453 - Fall of ConstantinopleIcons
c15th Century - Death of Greenland's Vikings Too much mead and sagas
1066 - Battle of HastingsKing Harold's Mistress
476 - Fall of the Roman EmpireRoman Catholicism
79 - Destruction of PompeiiNail-biting
146 BC - Fall of Hellenistic GreeceHomosexuality
4004 BC - Throwing out of EdenEating apples and wearing fig leaves

There is no doubt about it, brothers and sisters. Until we return to a time of godliness and good behaviour, such as under the lawful, godly and - above all - disaster-free Oliver Cromwell or Edward the Confessor, we will never know peace in our land.

A Gove fit for Heroes

I've been directed to a fascinating article on the 1919 Luton riots, an event I confess I was unaware of.

I am impressed with the place of my birth. When the war was over, and the "boys" came back home to Luton, the council decided that the best way to celebrate was for the Mayor and Corporation to have a banquet and not invite any ex-servicemen. The hungry people, short of work, rioted. After days of rioting and the drafting in of police from London, they finally settled down and went back to hoping to get jobs making straw hats.

The mayor, who spent a while barricaded into the Town Hall, later emigrated - the most marked man in Luton. You know, Michael Gove is right. We should celebrate, not just commemorate.

A New Stone Age

Disturbing article from the BBC. Apparently the Sun is falling asleep, which could result in colder weather for decades to come. But the BBC is also telling us, on a daily basis, that Global Warming is going to get hotter for centuries to come. And the Prime Minister tells us that the recent flooding is caused by Global Warming, which even the Met Office are hesitant to say. Or maybe they do agree with, after all? It's all very complicated.

What does seem pretty obvious to me is that the Government should be doing more to get trees planted on hillsides, and stop anybody building on floodplains. When they interviewed somebody flooded out on the Somerset Levels recently (clue - 1,000 years ago, Glastonbury was pretty well an island) they said "something has changed." I can't speak for their particular village, but I do recall that a few years ago, the Willow Man of Somerset used to be in glorious isolation apart from the motorway he watches, like a primaeval traffic cop. Whereas now, he's surrounded by houses and next door to a giant distribution centre. That is, a distribution centre of gigantic size. Not a D.C. for Giant logistics, which would be a much more interesting matter. I suppose you'd have to strap them to the back of low-loaders to stop them struggling.

But I digress. The point is, if you plonk concrete and tarmac down onto former marshland, you may have an impact on the surroundings. Cider apple orchards would be far more sensible.

So I would suggest, to mitigate flooding in the south, a major forest-planting exercise (mixed, fruity woodland would be good for wildlife, good for firewood and quickly reach maturity) and a policy of building all new houses on former industrial sites in the north.

Except. The BBC article says that the fall-off in solar activity is the biggest in 10,000 years - Not merely since the Little Ice Age of the 17th Century. Could we be on the verge of something much bigger?

Don't forget that we, technically, live in an Ice Age. This little period of calm in which he have gone forth, multiplied and spread across the face of the earth is merely a benign blip. We live in an interglacial within an Ice Age. Mother Gaia is merely having a hot flush, not running a fever. If you look at the graph of ice volumes and temperatures for ther current Ice Age on the graph here,  you will see that we are just at the same point in the graph where it all tipped over 140,00 years ago. And while we all laugh at the clowning of the #spiritofmawson, let's just remember the Antarctic sea ice is running record highs.

So there is nothing for it. I'm going to plant a load of trees, and then burn them down. Buy sunglasses, a swimsuit and a parka. Dig up all the drowned drought-resistant plants I put in the Mediterranean Gravel Garden that got swept away when the snow melted last April, and plant a load more - but this time interspersing them with Arctic moss and lichens. And seaweeds. I'm going to encourage other people to buy more efficient cars - because they save money, and we shouldn't waste the world's resources, and they improve our energy security. But personally I'm going to get a gigantic 4x4 Chelsea Tractor, to get me out of the sand dunes / mud / ice floes that we can all expect. I'm going to remember that the climate will change, and has always changed, and we are tiny, and fragile, and gormless. And we have confused temporary stability with how it will always be.

Good luck, everyone. If you need me, I'll be in my bunker. Let me know when the glacial is over, or it's all cooled down again, and we can bury our dead in beakers, and all knap flints in the delicate, precious, terrifying, uncontrollable sunshine.

Friday 17 January 2014

The Church of the Giant Sky-Pixie

Odd little credal statement that Drayton Parslow  found yesterday in an old drawer in Bogwulf Chapel. He passed it on "in case you might want to use it". It's hard to tell, but I think he was trying to be funny.

The Creed of the Giant Sky-Pixie

We believe in the Giant Sky-Pixie
Who made the heavens and earth
And then stood back a bit
Only getting involved now and then
to tweak stuff that wasn't going quite right.
Randomly interfering with the laws of nature
like a bloke with a screwdriver - or possibly a hammer - poking around in a washing machine
But actually wandering around a slightly bigger version of time-space himself
with no real awareness of the illogicality of this.

Creating him in our own image
or, at least, projecting our worst fears and greatest hopes onto him;
we occasionally worry that sending things into space may hurt him.
But then, remembering that he's a magic Giant Sky-Pixie, we figure he's probably pretty good at ducking.

As the Church of the Giant Sky-Pixie, we rejoice that the Pixie loves us more than all the people who don't believe in the Giant Sky-Pixie. Atheists, Buddhists, Agnostics, and all those of other faiths. (Except some atheists, who we suspect secretly do want to believe in him).

And we look forward to the day when the Giant Sky-Pixie will come to the earth, and stomp over all the evil people in his Giant Sky-Pixie Boots.
Especially the Reformed Church of the Great Sky-Pixie. Heretics. The Giant Sky-Pixie hates them.

Thursday 16 January 2014

In Memoriam, Roger Lloyd-Pack

We're all deeply saddened at the loss of Roger Lloyd-Pack, much-loved actor famous for his broom in Only Fools and Horses and bowels in Vicar of Dibley. Sadly died before his time.

In his honour we'll be lighting the Beaker Miraculous Everlasting Tea Light. It's quite a powerful religious artefact. We've been using it for 9 years now, and it's never needed replacing.

Although, to be fair, we've made some minor running repairs over the years. We've replaced the aluminium cup twelve times, and the wax every couple of days.

Putting My Foot in it Again

Rats. This is what happens when I get annoyed with Drayton Parslow and shout my mouth off.

He accused me of thinking that fundamentalism is bad Christianity. Not at all, I told him. It's not a bad form of Christianity. It's a bad form of Science.

A Tale of Three Trees

The story of the Fall is, it seems to me, one of the truest stories you can find.

Eve is cursed with great pain in childbirth. This is as a result, it seems, of obtaining knowledge. Well, fair enough. It seems to me that the price of our giant brains, and our upright posture, is difficulty, pain and danger in childbirth. Certainly more than in other animals, I reckon. And when I consider the dangerous and destructive uses to which Young Keith puts that painfully-bought intelligence, I sometimes think I'd have traded a few hours' less pain for the alleged benefits of being Homo Sapiens. And what a joke that self-awarded Latin tag is.

And then the key end result of the story. Having grabbed the fruit of knowledge, we are forbidden the fruit of the Tree of Life. So we have the knowledge to see the facts, but have the power only to mitigate them, for a short time - not change them. Animals will die, but they don't have to worry about it. They just are, and then aren't. But we thinking bipeds can see the horizon, but only guess what's beyond it. We are doomed to know that we are doomed. We have knowledge, but not eternal life.

The Tree of Knowledge, and the Tree of Life. I think we're gonna need a better Tree.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

The Three-day PCC

I reckon this is just apocryphal. But only just.

It happened to a friend of a friend, who was on a PCC which was known for its fractious debates. The Rector had already installed a metal detecting tunnel over the Church Hall Door. But after the unfortunate incident with the plastic explosive and the leader of the Outreach Group, she'd had to introduce a regime of random pat-downs, and started dropping heavy hints about rubber gloves.

It was one of those villages which was dominated by a small number of families, who divided down tribal lines whenever there was any kind of controversy. Which was always. And the subject of Item 9 on the agenda this particular Monday evening was a real old favourite - was it time to buy a new Knitted Nativity set?

There had been whispering and campaigning in the village for weeks before the meeting. The Knitting Circle was massively in favour of the idea - as was the owner of the local wool shop. The relatives of old Deidre Day, who had knitted the original set, were set against it.

So the excitement built through Prayers, Apologies, and all the way up to the debate on which sort of light bulb to use as a replacement in the gent's toilet. Always a popular subject in its own right. Someone would normally propose a 10W Compact Fluorescent bulb, at which point somebody else would say that Fr Watts would allow nothing other than a 60W incandescent. Then it would be pointed out that you can't buy them anymore. Then old Gracie would admit she had 700 old-fashioned light bulbs stashed away in the garage "in case the Portugese invade", and somebody would say could she donate one to the church, and Gracie would say she donated a light bulb in 1982, and she reckoned it was somebody else's turn.

And so the long evening would wear on. Normally. But on this occasion, they just agreed to ask the Property Committee to draw up a list of three alternatives and report back in six months, and bashed on .

So to the knitted Nativity. Daphne said she thought it was time to get a new set, as the old set was getting worn out. The Knitting Circle were all set to go, and the owner of Knice Knitz was offering to knock 10% off the list price in exchange for a small placard thanking them for their generosity.

Deidre's great-grand-daughter defended her ancestor's work. It was part of the fabric of the church. Sure, it was a bit grubby. But a bit of TLC and it would be good as new.

Jez said that he was concerned the set was not so much grubby as infected with anthrax. He asked, rhetorically, whether they really wanted to wipe out the village?. Oddly, some people were warmer to that prospect than you might imagine.

It turned out that Rosinante was an expert on anthrax - or, at least, had Googled it once. She shared with the PCC a three-hour diversion on the life cycle of the disease, and the history of the island of Gruinard.

At the end of Rosinante's dissertation, just as the Rector was looking to go to a vote, Charleston ventured the opinion that the Joseph in the existing Nativity didn't have a proper head. They all howled him down, saying Joseph certainly had a head. He demanded the Joseph be exhumed from the large box in the Sunday School cupboard and examined. Sure enough, it appeared that Joseph had lost his head at some point in the past. Probably 1975, to go by the best-before date on the Chocolate Orange that had been put in its place. A side-bar debate broke out as to whether a best-before date was the same as a use-by, and whether it would still be safe to eat. There were no volunteers, although Branwen told an anecdote about seeds that had been excavated from a pyramid.

A pattern was clearly setting in. The anti- and pro- camps were quite evenly balanced, and there was uncertainty as to which way the vote would go. So each side was trying to filibuster the other in the hope the opposition would give up and go home. Every time the Rector tried to get to the vote, somebody thought up another anecdote, and kicked on.

By 8 am the following morning, the milk had run out. The Rector told them no supplies would be allowed in until the vote was held.

At 10 am the first compromise was suggested - that the old and new sets be put in different parts of the church. The Knitting Circle people said fine, as long as the new set was the one in front of the altar. This was not acceptable to the Deidre's Memory faction.

By 8pm that evening, they had also turned down the idea of alternating the sets, either on a yearly, weekly or daily basis. Or even using one set for Mattins and the other for Communion.

At 2am, somebody suggested they keep the old set this year, but delegate a Knitting Sub-committee to debate what to do about the new one. They had Wise Men thrown at them.

At breakfast time, having run out of both tea and coffee, they were reduced to water and bourbon biscuits. Somebody remarked that, if the new set were knitted each group were represented by their own hymn set to an unusual tune. For example - While Shepherds Watched to the tune of Ilkley Moor Baht 'At. It was noted that Joseph was more Baht 'Ead. The secretary sent out for a new notepad for the minutes.

At lunchtime on Day 3, somebody ate the chocolate orange. The resulting hospitalization slanted the odds slightly in favour of the Pro- faction. They pushed on with their compromise

By 6 pm on the third day, the proposal was made that they knit the new Nativity Set out of the wool from the old set. It was passed unanimously.

They got through AOB in only 5 hours. That's the trouble with a long meeting - you whiz through the later stuff.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Withdrawing to the Mind Chapel

It's a trick I learned from Sherlock Holmes.

When I have a really hard problem to solve, or a really stressful situation, I mentally withdraw to a safe place. A space where my mind can be clear. I call it my "Mind Chapel".

It really helps. By the time I've dealt with the theft of the mind-lead on the roof, started a mind-appeal for the mind-organ and found out the mind-oil-fired-boiler is on the blink - I've totally forgot about my real-world problems.

Monday 13 January 2014

When Victoria Wood was appointed Archbishop

You know what they say. You should never go back.

It's been a cold couple of days - the boiler's been on the blink, so we've been dependent on the Beaker Folk collecting enough wood to keep the fires in the Great House going. And with a level of intelligence as low as the average Beaker Person, it's no wonder that Stacey Bushes, our first-aider, had a lot of splinter-removing to do. Although I still doubt Burton's story that he picked up one splinter while "sitting on a pallet to do my shoe up". I think he was taking cynical advantage. Which he paid for when Stacey told him she'd have to burn it out with surgical spirit. So, when Charlii and Young Keith returned this morning from honeymoon, the first thing I asked them - after what my present was - was to get out to the boiler room and sort it.

Of course, Young Keith is brilliant but slightly unpredictable. As I forecast, he didn't achieve quite what he aimed for, and he converted an old-fashioned oil-fired boiler into a time machine.

Naturally, we spent a while shouting at him. We were all cold and the last thing we wanted to do was fight Daleks. But still, we had to do something. So we took a chance.

The boiler was fitted in 1965 in what was, at the time, my family home. So we went back to three days after it was installed, unplumbed it, stasis-locked the boiler to the time-machine-that-was-formerly-a-boiler, nipped back to 2014 and installed the new-boiler-that-was-the-old-boiler. Brilliant, I thought. I figured that my parents would have claimed on the insurance back in 1965, put in the replacement, and all would be - more-or-less - cushty.

Wrong. What happened was that my father's insurance claim was turned down, on the grounds it was the fourth one he'd made that year - including one for setting his own loon pants on fire. My mother, who was an irascible woman in her day, took the train to Birmingham with my dad's cricket bat, and trashed the insurance company office. Claim forms everywhere, apparently. That office was the new workplace of a young Julie Walters, who resigned that day, concerned that insurance was not the safe, comfortable career she had been promised. Instead she took a job as a bus conductress, and met and fell in love with a student medic who was on his way to University. They married a few years later and she never worked again. She didn't have to - he made a fortune, surgically repairing Birmingham accents.

Of course, this meant she never met Victoria Wood. So Wood and Walters were never formed and Mrs Overall was never created. Without a partner in crime to spark off, Victoria Wood, never made it as a comedian and actor, instead finding the solace of religion. She became a deacon in the Church of England and - in 1994 - one of the first female priests in the denomination.

Such was Victoria Wood's charm and inoffensive nature, combined with a steely ambition, that she almost single-handedly persuaded the Church to consecrate women as Bishops in 2003, and went on to become Bishop of Reading, Durham and then - in 2013 - Canterbury.

But it was while studying Theology as a mature student at Oxford University in the 1980s, that she had persuaded a rich PPE student that politics and trashing restaurants was not the way to get to heaven. Instead, he decided to dedicate his life to carrying out free plumbing repairs for religious groups.

And so it was that, when we arrived back in 2014, we discovered that David Cameron had just fixed the boiler. And therefore Young Keith hadn't tried to fix it, and we hadn't gone back in time, and my mum hadn't got so angry, and so Victoria Wood had met Julie Walters, and Jordan had never become played Maria in the Sound of Music, and Dappy hadn't become Education Secretary, and Richard Dawkins had never played cricket for England.

And so time snapped back like an elastic band, and everything went back to where it was, more-or-less. But to protect the very fabric of space-time from a bad case of recursion (because the last thing we needed at this point was Jayne Torville, as the 13th Doctor Who, arriving to fight the Cybermen), it snapped back slightly differently. Instead of creating a time machine, Young Keith merely blew up the boiler in the traditional manner, and we're all back to burning pallets.

So, I've phoned up two local plumbers, and they'll be round tomorrow to give us quotes for a new boiler. I don't think we've used either of them before. In fact, I think Steve Gerrard and Frank Lampard may have only just started up in business recently. According to village gossip, they started off as a partnership. But they couldn't work together.

Sunday 12 January 2014

Into the Depths, and Back Out of Them Again

Interesting talking about the interplay yesterday between Religion and Science, where they relate to the beginnings - and endings - of universes.

To go to the End first - some of the people of Jesus' time had started to give up on what these days we'd call a worked-out, political agreement to the problems of the Middle East. Having been free and captured, scattered and brought together again repeatedly in the past, the Jews had been under the rule of the Romans - their governors, like Pilate, and their puppet kings, like the Herods - for a couple of generations. And as the legions rolled into town and back, and as the minor rebellions were crushed with military efficiency and the cruelty of crucifixion - for the Romans somehow have managed to sell themselves as a civilized race, despite being one of the biggest bunches of evil beggars in history - it looked like things were pretty well set for ever. And so people started to look up to the skies for salvation, and into their hearts rather than at the here and now of the land - and they wrote of a great redeemer and they started to dream apocalyptic dreams.

And a Day of Wrath, when there Earth is consumed in ashes - is a forecast scientific event. The world has about 500m years before the heat of an expanding Sun boils off all CO2 so, the plants die. It then fries the remaining rocky ball to a cinder after about a billion. 500m years. That's all that life on Earth has got. The Sun itself is about halfway through it we life - has about another 3 or 4 billion before it too dies. The Universe itself, lest we think that escaping from the Earth will enable Humanity to last forever, will gradually run down into chaos and meaninglessness. In one way, it will never end, as it won't go away. It'll just sit there - forever - useless.

So, if I've not had the chance to say it yet, Happy New Year.

Why don't we go to the other side - look at the story of creation? And some of the Jews - the ones who were maybe waiting for a redeemer, maybe wondering why He hadn't got here yet - and they wondered what to do about it. And maybe some of them thought, maybe they should work harder to be good Jews - not a bad thing to be, in any time. And they could try and be more disciplined, maybe, and hedge their Law around so they didn't accidentally break it - and invent new laws, just outside the proper religious Law - to keep themselves well away from it. But maybe some of them looked inside themselves and they found sin, and lust, and ambition, and hatred - and realised that they weren't actually, fundamentally, great people. And though their Law could keep them from physically sinning - it wasn't keeping them from wanting to. And they realised that what they needed to be, wasn't better people but new people. Maybe they looked ahead to their Day of Reckoning - and figured this world was doomed. And they needed to line themselves up with another world - a less doomed one.

And John came, preaching a message of baptism for the repentance of sins. And plunging into the river, and having water poured over themselves - maybe they saw that as a return to the waters of creation - which God first separated in Genesis 1 - God separated the waters above the earth, from the waters below. And life teemed in between the two:

And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’  So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so.  God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
And maybe they saw the baptism as a return to the waters of the womb - the waters that break when a baby is about to be born. Or maybe they saw it as joining in with Moses, when he piled up the waters of the Sea of Reeds and the people of Israel became a new nation - or Joshua, when he stood the waters of the Jordan up on end and the people of Israel took possession of their land. A whole host of ideas of new beginnings.

And scientifically, the story of Evolution has a similar pattern - life comes from the water. Life evolves in the teeming chemical soups of the early seas. And land life is born when the first lung fishes drag themselves out onto the land, grab a taste of the murky air, and think - do you know what, there's room to grow here. Let's give it a go. And then wasn't it Douglas Adams who suggested that leaving the seas might have been a bad idea in the first place?

So the story of Baptism is a story of death and life - of plunging back to our source, and new beginnings. It's about identifying our doomed-ness, and relating ourselves to a new life - a new source of life - a less doomed one. Jesus went through the act with us - symbolically in that baptism - John tries to talk him out of it, "You should be baptising me, and you want me to baptise you?" But Jesus is having none of it. If the Son of God is going to share our lives - he's going to share all of it. He's gonna plunge back through the whole story of human creation - into the darkness of our pasts, the darkness of where we come from, and the source of all human life - and he's gonna crash out, gasping, into the world of light - the world of the future - the world that has a hope.

And if he's going to do that then, through our baptism, we are doing the same thing. This baptism of Jesus is the story of his life on earth. And if we let him grasp us on his trajectory, we die with him - go on dying with him every day - and one day, rise with him.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.'

Saturday 11 January 2014

Not Only a Satellite

A wonderful moment out there. Seeing the clearness of the sky, Charlii and I headed out into the cold with the four-inch reflector telescope.

And we did, before the mist started closing in. But while I was faffing around trying to get Jupiter into the viewfinder, and Charlii was getting the binoculars out of the case to get a look at the half-moon, an absolutely gorgeous shooting star fell down between the two - like a lantern dropping from the sky, dying in the air.

It just goes to show - if you look up, you may see what you're looking for. But if you keep your eyes on heaven, there's other wonders you'll see that you didn't even expect.

So an enjoyable evening. But I was a bit surprised at the new plant we just saw in the middle of the lawn. Kind of drumming quietly to itself. And that was a very odd flower it had. Looked more like a sting.

Friday 10 January 2014

Pharisees Condemn Revised Baptism Liturgy

John the Baptist has come under fire for his "experimental" use of a new baptism liturgy.

Leading Pharisee Caiaphas said, "it's just dumbing-down. Under the old liturgy, John would demand “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" And then we had to repent before baptism.

But under the liturgy he used for Jesus of Nazareth, he merely said 'I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?' To which Jesus just responded, 'Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness'

"Where is the threat of Hell in that? Where is the bare-faced abuse we all had to suffer?"

In response to the complaints, John said "This was strictly a one-off. In future, I'm going to revert to the original wording. Now get out of here, you brood of vipers."

Jesus himself was not available for comment, having gone on a 6-week stay in the desert.  When asked why he had dispensed with one of the most important parts of the liturgy, one of his disciples said that Jesus didn't consider he had anything to apologise for.

Biofuels for the Bee

The BBC warns us that, due to a shortage of bees, the production of oil-seed rape is at risk. The rape-seed oil being a major crop in the production of biofuels. This is apparently down to an EU ruling that 10% of fuel should be biofuel.
Some kind of bee, definitely not on oil seed rape

There's a bee shortage because of the widespread use, it is believed, of neonicotinoid pesticides. The good news is that the EU has banned these chemicals now.

But what crop was being sprayed with these pesticides? Oil-seed rape. And why was it important to spray them so much? To get the yields up. And why was oil-seed rape getting so popular? Because of biofuels.

So the EU has issued a directive to ban the use of chemicals, that were being used in an attempt to meet an EU directive. Or, to look at it another way, in order - allegedly - to protect the environment, the EU has managed very seriously to damage the environment. And the costs of trying to fix that will presumably be either a reduced chance of meeting the biofuels requirement, or the ploughing-up of more land,

Oil-seed rape is also heavily dependent on the use of artificial fertilisers, which have to be manufactured, often by using natural gas. So we increase our use of fossil fuels, to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.

Some things I think we should ponder:
Things are normally more complicated than we think.
Our actions often produce unintended consequences.
If you want to save the planet, ride a bike.
In a hungry world, crops are for eating, not driving.

Thursday 9 January 2014

Taking a tip from Father Ted

It was, in the truest sense of the word, an ecumenical matter this evening.

Three members of the Church of England General Synod came down for the evening, to see what we had in common. You know, deep, theological stuff - tea lights, pebbles, hazelnuts, committees.

We were a bit concerned that Hnaef might get off the leash and start demanding they bring in equal marriage and equal rites.

So we trained him to say just two expressions, which will enable anyone to survive in Synod company.


and "We should give somebody a few years to produce a discussion document."

I think he fitted in very well.

Theme Night Cancelled for Scriptural Reasons

Sorry, everybody. I know you were all looking forward to the Theme Night tonight. A combination of nostalgic sounds, worship, dress and then a classic period buffet, as part of our "Through the Decades" culinary worship thread.

The "Sounds of Living Water" worship, with accoustic guitars and maracas, would have been fine. But then when I told Drayton Parslow about the Occasion, he told me that the prawn cocktail starter, cocktail sausages on sticks and pigs in blankets were all banned in the Bible, as were women wearing poly/cotton mix trousers. He's obviously in one of his terribly-literal moods. And he did threaten to turn up with three friends from the Thornborough Baptist Church (they're like Westboro Baptists, but they wear tweed) to picket. So, to be on the safe side, I'm pulling the event.

Who would have guessed it? Turns out Leviticus condemned the Seventies.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

The Beaker Folk of Midsomer Dibley Parish Council Planning Meeting

Archdruid: So now if we can move on to the planning application for the two-storey extension in Crow Lane. Now, I'm very keen we approve this because...

Hnaef: Eileen, I hate to interrupt you, but this is the Beaker Moot meeting. Why do you think we have any kind of jurisdiction over local planning?

Archdruid: Hnaef, your point is sound. But consider. We are an imaginary religious community in a small, scattered English village. And therefore, like Dibley and the Midsomer villages, we have whatever local government rights people imagine. That's how come I approved the Ridgmont bypass and the A421 upgrade.

Hnaef: I don't think that's right, Eileen. I'm going to ring up the council...

Archdruid: I think not, Hnaef. Don't forget that I am also the local Justice of the Peace. So you'll do no such thing, or I'll command that  Marston and Edith arrest you and detain you in the Doily Shed, until such time that you are taken from that place and flogged

Hnaef: You've got no right to do that!

Archdruid: Under the Delegation of Powers Act 2013, which I wrote (and approved) last week, I think you'll find I can. So schtum, or I'll approve my back-up Planning Permission to demolish your apartment...

Hnaef: What are you talking about? Our apartment is underneath yours!

Archdruid: And don't I know it. Sometimes I can barely sleep for the sound of knitting...

Hnaef: But your Archdruidical suite of apartments are going to fall down if you do that!

Archdruid: Of course not. As leader of an imaginary local community, under the meaning of the act, I have powers to suspend the laws of physics as long as I have good plot-driven reasons to do so.

Hnaef: In that case, I'll be quiet.

Archdriud: Thank you, Hnaef. Now, if there's no more objections, we'd better look into the recent spate of drownings. Where's the pathologist.....? Don't say that mysterious ailment, unknown to doctors, that I invented to make her more interesting has flared up again?

Tuesday 7 January 2014

When Organists Play "Pointless Hymns"

I don't mean really pointless hymns, like "Kum Bay Ah".  But surely you must have noticed that, every now and then, you get a hymn that nobody knows. Without practice, without warning, without the organist having played it as an introit or as incidental music at a previous service, or while everybody's coming in. Just, apparently out of a clear blue sky, a hymn nobody has ever heard of. But by diligent investigation, and hanging out on the organists' section of the "Dark Web", I've discovered something that was previously kept a strict secret, protected by oaths of blood.Organists compete with each other at an adapted version of the TV game show, "Pointless"

The rules are quite simple. The organist has to pick a hymn that nobody in the congregation knows. After all these years, some of them are so good that nobody knows what any of the hymns are. That's classified as a "Pointless Service". By the congregation, at least.

(Pointless is produced by Endemol. I hope they don't mind me hacking low-res images).

Quick Obscure Musical Theological Joke

Funny discussion with Uurdwolf today. He believes that human beings can take the first steps towards their own salvation. But not all the way. He reckons we can only make one-eighth of the journey ourselves.

He's a hemi-demi-semi-Pelagian.


OK, so sin.

No, no, no. For all Beaker Folk already heading out to the woods to celebrate the Forbidden, Furtive Fertility Rite - that wasn't an instruction. It was meant to be more of a snappy introduction. And the Forbidden, Furtive Fertility Rite is, lest you should forget, forbidden.

But it kind of highlights the point I'm hoping I'm going to make. "Sin" is a slightly odd word. It's not used much in normal human discourse, and when it is, it is normally used to refer to something a bit sexual, and almost by definition religious. Thus we associate sin - a falling-away from the way that we know, instinctively, we should behave - with one particular sphere of human activity, and largely disconnect ourselves from the issue.

Sometimes, in one of those confession-fests some of us like so much, we will allow others to shoulder, retrospectively, some other sins. Drug-dealing, robbery with firearms, gang membership, eating non-organic vegetables. That kind of sin.

But in identifying certain kinds of naughty behaviour, we lose sight of things. Like the litany of other naughty behaviour we're strangely less likely to identify for some reason:

Like idleness
Or anger
Or greed
Or pride - needing a promotion, setting a good image, getting that all-important "tea light-holder" posy
Or lack of compassion for the poor
Or judgmentalism - and I know a lot of Beaker Folk are really judgemental, and you should stop it. Honestly, it's disgusting.
Or getting so tied up in the world we live in that we realise, due to its complexity, that, somewhere down the economic line, we're all, somehow, exploiting our neighbours, or helping to spoil our world. Or accidentally investing small parts of our savings in companies that own parts of companies that own parts of companies that make parts of guns.

And then we read - to get back to the top, as it were - what the sin of Sodom was. In lurid detail. You ready? "Pride, too much food, undisturbed peace, and failure to help the poor and needy."

Sorry I had to put you through that. It was sordid, wasn't it?

And it's then that I  look at this world, and realise that it's not just individuals doing naughty things that are "sin". It's our collective inability to do right, made up of a myriad of individual inabilities to do right. If this world were put into an Eden-like state tomorrow, we'd organise a complex supply chain so the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was picked, distributed, traded as a commodity, kept in short supply to ensure high prices, the sub-standard fruits thrown away to ensure maximum market value, stored in a preservative atmosphere, and stuck in specially chilled cabinets with a three-day shelf life. We only deserve the best Forbidden Fruit, after all. We're discerning consumers. And we're looking for the new KwikSinFruit - already peeled, cored and presented in a massively oversized plastic container.

All the other trees in the garden would be grubbed up and burnt, to clear space for Knowledge Tree plantations. And the people who actually picked the fruit wouldn't be able to afford it. Meanwhile the head of, a slimy character if ever you saw one, would be able to put his feet up - if he had feet - knowing everyone was working hard for him.

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah. Sin. Just say "no", OK?

Sunday 5 January 2014

New Daily Mail Baptism Promises

The first change to the Baptism rite in the Beaker religion since John the Baptist himself has caused uproar.

In an attempt to be more "relevant" to Daily Mail readers, the candidates will have to promise to reject:

  • The European Union and all its works
  • Biscuits, chocolate, cauliflower, orange juice and "all other foods that give you cancer"
  • Benefits-claiming of any kind
  • Scrounging 
  • Skiving
  • Being Romanian
  • Rational scientific or political thought.
A senior cleric in the Church of England said he did wish to be named. Quite often, if possible.

Saturday 4 January 2014

They Left by Another Road

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (Matt 2:12)
Just 12 short verses, the Magi get. Unless you include the promise in Isaiah:
A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.  (Isa 60:6)
And some might, and some might not, according to their choice.

They come in, and go out, like a comet, do the Magi. They come from - in terms of the narrative - nowhere. No introduction, no names, no number (were there three? Two? One hundred and twenty-seven, to ride that multitude of camels?) and, presumably, no pack-drill. They wander in, they shine with the reflected brilliance of a unique glory - they disappear into darkness, leaving by another road.

We don't know how long they stayed - ten minutes, a day, or whether they put themselves up at the Bethlehem Travel-lodge for a few weeks, did a bit of sight-seeing in between the glorifying. We don't know. But I'm guessing they didn't stay long. And they left by another road.

You can see the Magi as the culmination - the end of a story. The standard nativity builds it up nicely - Joseph bangs on the (normally third) door, to be told there's room in the stable. Mary joins him and, in short order, the Christ-child. Then the shepherds, clutching lambs, then Magi offering presents. At modern nativities of the thorough sort, there's normally assorted llamas, alligators and Furbies knocking around the place at this point. A few angels may hover,  But the Wise Men finish the set, don't they? The collection is complete. The curtain can come down, and the angel that's been "really needing a wee" since the start of Act 2 can leg it, and the kids can come out and the lad who played Second Ox can get the necessary praise from his mum and granddad, and they can all have a mince pie and a cup of tea or juice according to choice.

But of course that's not what it's about, is it? This nativity set is more like a set of skittles. And you don't set up skittles to look at them. You set skittles up to throw a cheese at, or bowl a large ball at, according to the game of choice. And they get scattered. The shepherds, by this stage, are in any case back in the field. The Wise Men are to go back to their own country - somewhere via the North and then East - by another road. The  angels have disappeared into wherever angels disappear - the sky, or heaven, or the land of myths and human subconscious, or simply into the background - until they'll be needed in the Desert, or at the Transfiguration, or in one Garden or the other.

The Magi have set the ball rolling - or, if you're from the South Midlands, the cheese flying. And that missile heading towards the sweetness of the manger / stable / house according to stage of development of the nativity scene, is human power-hunger, human ambition, human hatred. The set is broken up and they're all off in different directions. The Christ-child, and his mother and step-dad - they're going to have to leave by another road shortly, as well. In a story that's going to become familiar, everybody scatters - and somebody has to pay the price of human hatred and the power of a king. A king who can't be the real King, because his power has been sold to him - by a power that has only borrowed it - and their time is running out.

The point is this. We can rest in a moment of wonder. We can draw strength from its beauty. We can gaze on the crib and think, isn't it lovely? The innocence and worship and awe. But we can't cling on there. We can have a beautiful church - we can decorate it, we can light candles. We can erect monuments to the people who went before - we can treasure their memory.

But we can't stay there. The shepherds had to go off and tell their mates about what they'd seen. The Magi went back to Arabia and - presumably - pondered the wonders they'd seen, and became even wiser. Frankly, we don't know. But they went home changed - as a comet shines, in the light and heat and bombardment of the sun - it chucks out some dust into space, it boils off some ice, it picks up some solar particles - it glows with a brightness it can't own, and it sails away, changed. The Wise Men are changed - they go home by another way. And, with a cross before him and a vicious king behind him, Jesus goes home another away. The Blessed Virgin heads out - to protect her son in the short term - but knowing that a sword through her heart will one day await her. And every time we hear about Jesus from there on in, he's on the move - always heading towards Jerusalem.

We can rest in the holy moment - for a moment. But we, and the Church, have to move on. We are not called to sit in one place - even if we do so geographically. We're called to be pilgrims. Wherever the world goes, we're called to go with it - comforting it, challenging it, transforming it. Where the culture changes, we've got to be able to redeem it. Where times change - we've got to hold onto the essentials, but learn the language - adapt to the circumstances - keep speaking the Gospel in a language that will get through. Keep telling the truth, keep standing for the poor, keep following Jesus.

We come into Church and worship God. We call Jesus the Son of God - called to his beauty, his love, his innocence. But we can't rest as we are, stay as we've always been, hang onto how things are. The power of the Spirit; the presence of Jesus - means we should expect to be changed. We come in - we worship - we are different. And we leave, for our own country, by another road.

Friday 3 January 2014

Nativity of JRR Tolkien (1892)

(runes courtesy of the Hobbit Rune Generator)

Re-imagining History - If Sir Alex Ferguson Hadn't Retired

Many Manchester United fans have been bemoaning the team's relatively lowly position in the league this year, including several defeats at the "Theatre of Dreams" and ending up below Tottenham and Liverpool by the New Year. Some might consider that a key issue was the introduction as manager of David Moyles, following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.

But what would have happened if SAF had stuck in the saddle for a couple of years? An intriguing clue has been found, in a stream of quantum data that has snuck through a black hole from a parallel galaxy. It appears to be encoding an edition of Match of the Day from towards the end of the 2014-5 season.

Lineker: So really quite a disappointing end to the campaign for Man Utd, Robbie, and I guess now we're going to have to expect Sir Alex to step down?

Savage: I think so, Gary. Last year, despite having a squad due for serious renewal and with Roonie and Van Persie injured - and even when Hernandez was unexpectedly eaten by that lion in Nantwich - they scraped by, got second place and a consolation in the FA Cup.

Lineker: But it was his rebuilding in the close season, wasn't it? We expected that some might be due for moving out - Evra, Nani, Roonie. And there were always doubts about de Gea. But that wholesale clearout, Mark?

Lawrenson: Yes. And at the time we thought maybe the pressure had got to him. Or maybe his conviction that he had overcome everybody in the past, and outlived all his rival managers - maybe it brought on megalomania. He simply thought that he was all-powerful, and could do no wrong. I could understand him getting rid of a lot of those players......

Lineker:  But replacing them all with cephalapods of the order Teuthida?

Savage: That was very strange. Obviously, they did better when it was raining. But it can't help when half your team dries out while playing in the Community Shield. Really, it was remarkable that they avoided relegation.

Lawrenson: It just goes to show that Alan Hansen was right. You can't win anything with squids.

Thursday 2 January 2014

John Calvin - Inventor of Underpants

Few people today remember the important contribution that the Protestant Reformation made to the clothing industry. In the early days of John Calvin's ministry, he realised that allowing freedom under the cassock, so to speak, had contributed to the sexual excesses that had marked some aspects of pre-Reformation Catholicism. And so he invented underpants, as a way of keeping his clergy under control. They also helped in draughty churches in alpine winters.

Of course, the French-born theologian couldn't market in his own country, which was still strongly Catholic, and toying with the idea of having its own Pope. So instead, he had to launch in the more Protestant countries, and in a small way.

So to start with, he opened outlets in the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland, and parts of Prussia, Bavaria and Saxony. And, due to endemic malnutrition in the Europe of the time, he only manufactured the clothing in "small". And so a brand was born. "Calvin - Klein".

Inspired by @theAlethiophile. Though I'm sure it's been done before.

LIturgical Blackmail

Just been shown Old Arfur's will. He was a wiley old soul - died while I was away, and Charlii, by all accounts, gave a wonderful talk. As ever, the council wouldn't let the Beaker Folk have a proper Beaker funeral - i.e. they weren't allowed to leave Arfur on a wooden platform for his flesh to be consumed by the birds of the air. And they talk about diversity.

So anyway. While Arfur was alive, he was always banging on about wearing the correct liturgical outfit - in his own opinion. He'd been to the Windmill Hill Folk of Wymondham - that cathedral of alt.lit - and was most taken by what he considered to be the "proper" pointy hat. Of course, while he was alive we could keep him under control, and generally just ignore him.

Not now, though. In his will he has left the money to purchase an official "proper" druidic pointy hat - hi-viz green with a strip of flashing blue LEDs up it and a small wind turbine at the top. Seven years I've spent refusing to wear one of these. But it's a bequest, aint't it? And the family will be every so offended.

I guess I've got no choice.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Good Innkeeping

Goodness knows I'm no expert in running pubs. My knowledge of the on-licence trade was garnered in a few evenings running the college bar, and the main requirement for that was still being able to remember where you lived by around 11.30. And it's a dreadful hard life these days. People think they can build their own pub substitutes around watching "8 Out of 10 Cats" while drinking Tesco Bitter. But it strikes me, as a punter in these places, that there are a few simple rules that will help.

So an innkeeper must be able to offer a listening ear, but strong enough to deal with trouble-makers.

Unless times are so hard that the innkeeper needs to do absolutely everything, the innkeeper will employ the right people to work behind the bar, wait tables or cook. The innkeeper is rarely the best DJ or quiz-setter, but needs to know where to find them.

All the publicity in the world won't help if the welcome is poor and the ale is off.

The good innkeeper knows that beer is, in its essence, good. The good innkeeper ensures it reaches its customers in the condition it is meant to be in - doesn't mess around with it.

The good innkeeper won't shirk from cleaning the loos - indeed will often have to.

Some people only come into a pub once or twice a year, often at Christmas. If they're treated like regulars, and not like amateurs who don't know what they're doing, they might come back during the year.

Although, clearly, the main job of a pub is to sell good ale - the good innkeeper will still have consideration and care for the lager drinkers, the wine-lovers, and the smokers. Especially as the smokers are often the ones who really want a good beer.

The innkeeper needs to ensure a good rest now and then. Even if it means not opening on Mondays.

The good innkeeper will rely on the support of the brewery or pub chain when it's useful. And hope they keep their noses out when it's not.

Though the innkeeper has influence over the decor, the atmosphere and the quality of the drink, it's the locals that actually make the place a local.

The good innkeeper will be aware that building a successful business can take many years of slow progress. But a bad innkeeper can lose all the customers in a fortnight.

The good inkeeper knows that it's good to keep the decor fresh, and a very good refurb now and then is a good thing. But replacing all the furniture and completely changing the theme every two years is silly.

The good innkeeper will know that the pub is part of a community, and quite often helps define it - whether it's a town-centre hellhole or a quaint 17th century village local. People are often  glad to know there's a pub, even if they never go in it.

The locals will still be there long after the innkeeper has retired or gone to work for Wetherspoons.  Whether the local is, is to a large degree down to the innkeeper.

First Unicorn of the Year

As we always say round here, the first to bag a unicorn in the New Year will be lucky all year.

It always seems such a shame. They're such graceful, intelligent beasts. And it's not like you can eat them - they're far too salty. After being left off the Ark and having to swim for it in the Great Flood, they had to evolve rapidly to balance the osmotic pressure, and went too far. The sea was much saltier in those days - something the so-called "scientists" and "theologians" don't tell us.

And you can't wear their skins, because they're really irritating. Ten minutes of wearing a unicorn hide and you come out in hives.

So really we just do it for the sport, and for the thrill of getting the first one of the year. Still, tradition's tradition. I'm off to get my harpoon gun mounted on the 4x4. Tally ho!

A New Year Poem


I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

31st December 1900