Monday 31 March 2014

Nativity of Dermot Morgan (1952) [warning - contains mild bad language]

Hymn - My Lovely Horse

Archdruid: We've got to lose that sax solo. In tribute to Dermot Morgan, we've replaced our monthly cafe church with....

Mrs Doyle: Now, will you have a cup of tea?

Archdruid: Not now, Mrs Doyle. I'm leading a service.

Mrs Doyle: Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, GO ON!

Archdruid: OK, I'll have a cup of tea.

Mrs Doyle: Well, now - it's gone cold. I'm just going to have to pour it all down the drain.

The Parade of Lovely Girls

Archdruid: Now aren't they all lovely.

Burton: To prove I am non-sexist, and able to pay women a compliment without being in any way creepy, can I mention that they all have lovely bottoms?

Archdruid: No you can't. Oh - look at that - I can see that the gutter of the Great House has moss clogging it up.... But let's push on. It's great to celebrate John & Mary's 25th Wedding anniversary with this renewal of vows. John - you must be very proud of Mary?

John: Feckin' old witch.

Archdruid: And Mary, you must love John very much to be together after 25 years?

Mary: It would only have been three years. But the chamber stuck in the gun when I pulled the trigger.

A scream can be heard - Mrs Doyle falling from the gutter of the Great House.

Fr Dougal's Creed

All: You know the way God made us, and he's looking down at us from heaven?
And then his son came down and saved everyone and all that?
And when we die, we're all going to go to heaven?
That's the part I have trouble with.
So, if God has existed know, what did he do in his spare time, like, before he made the Earth and everything?

Archdruid: And now, I will ask Fr Jack to say a few words over the offering, which is in aid of the needy.

Fr Jack (Jumping out of the window with the collection):  Shower of Bastards.

Archdruid: Just two quick notices. First up, on the Green tomorrow lunchtime we'll be taking part in the traditional Irish pastime of kicking Bishop Brennan up the....

Charlii: Archdruid, I'm afraid that's been cancelled as he's got to defend another paternity suite.

Archdruid: OK, anyway. On Sunday afternoon, we will be holding a blessing service for Pat Mustard's children. The service will start at 1pm, and if I'm quick we should be finished by midnight. So now Fr Dougal will play us out on the electronic organ with our new

Fr Dougal fails to get anything meaningful out of the keyboard.

Archdruid: Dougal! Just play the ****** note!

All: And also with you.

Archdruid: OK, you asked for it.  Take it away, Fr Noel.

Fr Noel Furlong: Kum By Ah, oh Lord..... come on, sing along.....!

A Poem on John Donne's Day (1631)

There once was a poet called Donne
Whose rhyming was always spot-onne.

Sunday 30 March 2014

Women, Watch What You Wear

So it's bad news about Pastor Rick Hermann.

Apparently he read the Song of Solomon, and exploded.

I blame God. Inspiring all that stuff about breasts and lips. I mean, asking for something like this to happen.

Drayton had the right idea a few years ago, I reckon.

Solemn Liturgy of the Clocks Going Forward

Archdruid: So go out, to bring peace to the world, and be peace in the world.

All: Oh, bum. Forgot.

Saturday 29 March 2014

Pierced to the Soul - A Thought for Mothering Sunday

Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed - and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
As you walk into the Anglican shrine at Walsingham from the garden, that's the image you see first up - Our Lady, with a sword literally piercing her heart. It brings you up short - this combination of the kitsch (because this is, after all, Walsingham), the poignant and the crudely literal. Or, of course, not truly literal - because it didn't literally happen. Can you have crudely metaphorical?

It's not a message you want to receive at your child's thanksgiving service - that your own soul will be pierced. This has already been an odd conception, followed by an odd birth - and now a foreboding, at just 6 weeks old. Mary's realising she's in for a long and bumpy ride, here, with her unusual son and her remarkably forbearing new husband.

But is the foreboding that different to any other new parent's? At least those that act like proper parents - the ones that care, and worry, and fret, and work. That's what parents do - hoping for the best, sometimes fearing the worst, working to make things well - knowing that their children need good roots, but also the chance to grow.

A feeling common to so many mothers will come - when their little boy, who was so precious and special and tiny, suddenly launches himself out onto to the world. OK, in Mary's day they didn't normally wait till they were 30 before doing that. And, even in Mary's day, they didn't normally remain single that long. Thinking about it, in that day, that must have caused her some worry as well.

But when he does fly the nest, boy does he do it. Off into the wild blue yonder, from Tyre in the north to Jericho in the south - and occasionally with his family straggling behind him. As he says things nobody expects, the fears grow in Mary's heart. Is he mad? Is he suicidal? Is he trying to wind the authorities up?  Is he seriously trying to bring about a confrontation with the Romans?

We're not told where Mary was, that Sunday when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey - a pacifist entry for an unlikely king. Was she with the disciples as they shouted their hosannas? Or walking behind, worrying about what happened if he fell off the donkey? Or not in Jerusalem just yet - tearing in from the country, having heard news of yet more trouble - more excitement in this turbulent son's life. The one she couldn't marry off - even though doing that would have been another sword in her heart. A smaller one, though, sure. And one with the promise of joy to come.

But he wasn't going to bring her immortality through grandchildren. That she probably knew already. And that she knew for certain on that Friday when the sword found its place for sure. On that black day when nature screamed out against that injustice of all injustice, and the unusual, unhoped-for, unexpected son she'd nurtured and loved all these long years bowed his head under the weight of everybody else's failure.

She gave him the human nature we share. She entered into the passion - as he carried our griefs, so she carried her grief. She stands there, at the cross, as one among so many mothers - and fathers - who look aghast at what the world has done. Who've brought children into the world - hoped for them, cared for them - but known that, one way or another, they must give them up. She stands with all those who look at the waste and pain in the world, and wonder why. As she holds the broken body of her boy she weeps for him - and we weep for the world with her.

In Mary I see so much that we know. Surprise, joy, hope, fear, despair. Yet through her, God came into the world. You can see the Crucifixion as a pointless, small act - one more dead Jew in a world that has always killed Jews. Or you can see it as a cosmic event - the Sinless One defeating the powers of evil. Somewhere in between those two, there's the tragedy of a parent grieving for a child - hopeless, personal, overwhelming. And somehow, in this case, mirroring the grief of that child's other parent - the one who sent their child into a world, knowing how it would go, and who now turns the sky black, and shakes the earth in his own grief at this consummation.

But if she shared in that grieving, how much more do we share in her joy? A son unexpected in his conception - and totally unexpected in his return from the womb of the earth. A son given up to death, at the hands of the frightened, the oppressors, the evil, the hopeless - returned through the power of the Awesome one. The almighty one. The holy one.

Some Christians are accused of making too much of Mary - of raising her up too much like a kind of demi-god. Making her too pure, too good, too - too much like her Son is, in fact, supposed to be. But I want to be with her in her humanity - to see her as the archetypal Christian she actually is. Weeping at the way things are, but knowing there is a better way. Rejoicing at the Resurrection, knowing that the Slain One is actually the Living One. Being filled with the spirit, sharing broken bread, and giving thanks always. And waiting in patience - as she once did for a first time - for the day he comes again.

She Mucks You Up, Your Mum

I'm terribly confused by Giles Fraser's piece with a Mothering Sunday theme.

Obviously, using quotations from Larkin gives our Giles the chance to be all sweary, like a proper radical vicar. And quoting a whingeing poet from the early 70s lets him get down with the kids an' all.

But the miserable Hull librarian's poem was about both mums and dads - whereas Giles Fraser homes in on the mums alone as the source of a child's developing woes.

I don't know whether this is Giles Fraser's expectation of family life. I mean, families do come in all varieties these days. And mostly they muddle through regardless. And we've not declined into Civil War yet. And I realise that there are many one-parent families in this country, and mostly they have a mother rather than father raising the children.

But is Giles taking that as the norm? Or even as an ideal? Maybe in Giles Fraser's Utopian vision, fathers are as drones in the bee world. Perhaps he thinks that, having planted their seed, as it were, they have no more use. And since, unlike drones, men don't have the decency to drop dead after the deed is done - then they should just clear off out of their children's lives - spending their time watching Sky Sports down the pub, or working as Guardian columnists, while the mothers get on with the important job of messing up 40% of their children's lives.

It's an odd little piece, but quite an achievement, to blame women while denigrating men. You could say it's narrowly gendered.

Friday 28 March 2014

The One Bit of Fantasy / Sci-Fi That Needs Inventing Tomorrow

Science Fiction and Fantasy has given us many wonderful aspirations for the future, most of which never happen.

Jet packs, for instance. They told us we'd all have them now. We don't, anymore than we all go around with pointy, slightly shiny faces, wearing jumpsuits made out of bacofoil. Teleportation likewise - which at least saves us all those philosophical and religious debates about whether, when we're disassembled, transmitted at the speed of light, and then reconstructed at the other end we're really the same people.

And, that other Sci-Fi staple - who wants food in tablet form? Apart from the radical shortening of romantic evenings out, I reckon everybody in a food-pill alternative future is gonna have the old Farmer Giles summat rotten. Although some of the wasters I've had evenings out with, just eating a food pill and clearing off would have been preferable. And most of them have deserved the intestinal and other consequences.

And telepathy? What fool would invent that? Aren't there enough wars, and sufficient relationship breakdowns, without everyone knowing what everyone else is thinking? Blimey, the planet would be a bombsite within ten minutes of that being invented.

But there's one invention that should be achievable today, with current technology, and would be of immense value to civilisation. I refer, of course, to the Luggage.

The Luggage, should you not know, belongs to the tourist Twoflower in Terry Pratchett's sublime Discworld starter,  The Colour of Magic. It travels around on its dear little legs, and is fiercely protective of its owner.
Even if you removed its ability to eat muggers, it would massively improve the situation at Bedford and St Pancras stations, and at that trickiest of halfway points between, Luton Airport Parkway.

See, the situation's got out of hand. Some fool gets persuaded that "London Luton Airport" is in some way near you London, and books their flight to Ibiza or wherever from there.  Oh no. London Luton Airport is about 1,000 miles from dear old London Town, and can only be reached from real London via St Pancras.  

And what do people take with them when travelling between St Pancras and Luton?
Rucksacks as big as houses, and enormous suit cases on wheels, that's what. Sometimes people head across St Pancras with wheeled suitcases so large, the handle's in London and the back wheels are still in Surrey. They're a menace to all in their vicinity - blocking the way, occupying more space than Noah's Whale, tripping you up - frankly, if it weren't for wheeled suitcases, St Pancras could be half the size.

And then there's the giant rucksacks. Rucksacks so large that, if their owners ever tripped over, they'd lay on their backs, squirming like woodlice, and no more able to regain their feet than upturned tortoises. I've seen a Dutch backpacker turn round rapidly, and knock a bunch of pensioners on a shopping trip to Oxford Street halfway up to Holloway.

So the Luggage - forget the walking through walls and ferocious teeth. All it needs is robotic, insectoid legs - which can be done - the ability to sense obstacles and go round them - like a robotic vacuum cleaner - a bluetooth device that is paired to its owner's smartphone - and you're there.

With the legs and the detecting ability, it could cope with escalators, follow its owner onto lifts, and take itself off to the hold on planes. You could tell it to "stay" outside Marks & Sparks while you picked up a quick G&T before a long journey, it could dodge other Luggages and tourists - basically, the thing would save everybody a ton of time and aggravation at every mainline station and airport in the country.

And I say bluetooth communications. For short distance, yes. But obviously, the ability to read its owner's location off from his/her smartphone's GPS location or the mobile phone network would be even better. Just imagine. You could be in the middle of an office emergency, realise it was gonna require an all-night stayover for reasons of being handy for work in the morning, summon the Luggage and - within just a few short hours - it could have made its way all the way from Luton or wherever to the City.

Before you know it, now some inventor is going to pick the idea up, there's gonna be Luggages all over the place - heading off to the shops for us, running alongside their owners' bikes, maybe even with their owners sitting on them as they head off on the way to New Street Station - it can get awful tiring, wandering round Birmingham.

Convenient, friendly, agile, and above all completely achievable. The Luggage. Coming to a railway station near you, soon.

The Mists of Unknowing

It's on days like today that we transfer our morning time Pouring-Out of Beakers to Foggy Bottom.  Foggy Bottom has earned its name. For when it's misty anywhere else, it's foggy in Foggy Bottom.

Foggy Bottom is a place where the edges are blurred, outlines become vague, the  grand meta-narratives of modernism and crypto-narratives of post-modernism lose their sharpness.

As we stand shivering in the damp air, the flickering horn-effect perspex-windowed lanterns take us - not so much back in time, as into Anytime. We think of clouds of glory, of Mists of Unknowing. Is the gray figure flitting through the gloom the Piper at the Gates of Dawn, come to bring fear and wonder to the woodland? Woden seeking wisdom? Or is it Diana the Huntress? As it happens, no. It was Burton Dasset, blundering around trying to find us. And the splashing we hear is him stumbling into the leaf-bedecked, mossy pond, not a couple of hardy nymphs splashing around in Dryad's Wood.

You see what I've done there? I've resolved the quantum uncertainty of the thin place, and substituted it with the cold water of the Real in which we all drown.  None of us are better off for this attempt at so called reality - least of all Burton, whom we leave to flounder as a punishment for ruining our reverie.

And so that is my message for this morning. Let us eschew certainty. Certainty is for left - brained people - Calvinists and accountants and Java programmers and such-like - who still delude themselves that there are fights worth fighting, great dreams worth imposing on other people, trouble worth taking.

Whereas we - in a half-lit, badly-drained hollow in Bedfordshire - we are in the presence of the fading folk memories of our peoples, of saints and holy ones, and all the innumerable host of heaven. We have taken time to loose ourselves from the demands of Time.

We'll save the world later, once the mist has cleared.  And we've rescued Burton from the pond. His whimpering is really starting to interfere with the sense of holy awe and expectation now.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Quick Informative Note for American Evangelicals

People who have lifestyles some of you don't approve of are involved in the following activities:

  • Farming
  • Electricity generation
  • Oil production
  • Clothes
  • Water extraction and purification
  • Motor manufacture
  • Printing and Minting Money
  • Computer manufacturer
  • Television
  • Building, including church buildings

Good luck with modern life.

Feast of Fragrant Pogoing

Sometimes an idea just seems right.

Strewing the floor with fragrant herbs was the traditional way of mopping up spills, and covering up the smell of cat droppings in the traditional Beaker house.

While pogoing was the traditional way for spotty lads in the late1970s/early 80s to rid themselves of the sexual frustration caused by seeing the girls they fancied getting off with boys with "wedge" haircuts who could dance disco.

We put them together. Strewed the Moot House floor with a mixture of hay and pot pourri, then used punk music in the service. The Beaker Folk were encouraged to pogo, and pogo they did.  Although, obviously, not as much or as vigorously as they did in 1980. None of us is getting any younger.

So everyone smells very fragrant, and is a lot less stressed than they were earlier. And keeping to the school disco theme, using the Commodores' "Three Times a Lady" as the recessional hymn was an act of genius. The Smooch of Peace has now been going on for twenty minutes.

Having your Muddle and Eating It

MP Ben Bradshaw has accused the Church of England of wanting to have its same sex marriage cake and eat it. The Good Old C of E* is, he tells us, in a muddle.

Well, I think it's more ontological than that. A muddle is not so much what the C of E is in, as what it fundamentally is. Ever since the day Henry VIII redefined marriage as not being something that existed between him and Katharine of Aragon. In the world of Platonic Ideals, the essence of Muddle - the thing all concrete, physical-world muddles approximate to - is divided into two provinces and has a General Synod.

Will vicars married to members of the same genital group get the sack? Probably not. Let's face it, when Mary I came to power, all the married priests just hid their wives in the cellar until they got a more Protestant queen. I imagine that, should the Barchester Inquisition arrive at Mr Quiverfull's house, some similar arrangement will probably be reached. And should Mr Quiverfull's bloke eventually be discovered, the rules of incumbency being what they are, it could be years of wrangling through the courts before any resolution were reached. And since, somewhere down the line, Europe would be invoked on Mr Quiverfull's side, the church would probably think it better to keep out of vicarage affairs in the first place. 

Curates, on the other hand, might be better off keeping same-sex-spouses in the cellar. If nothing else, it will bring back happy memories of Tudor times.

* © The Church Mouse

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Evangelical Football Result

Quite an exciting evening, with the Evangelical Football Match.

The Arminians took on the Calvinists. Final score was Arminians 1 - Calvinists 2. The Calvinists tell me that they reckon the result was a foregone conclusion. But the Arminians say they started strongly, but then fell away.

Wesley got sent off early in the second half, for a backsliding tackle that he mistimed. As commentator cliche would have it, he had an early Barth.

A Ceremony of Conscious Uncoupling

Archdruid: Do you, Chris, wish consciously to be uncoupled from Gwynnie?

Chris: I do.

Archdruid: And do you, Gwynnie...

Gwynnie: Don't call me Gwynnie.

Archdruid: And do you, Gwyneth, wish consciously to be uncoupled from Chris?

Gwynnie: I do.

Archdruid: A marriage bond being set aside, especially in situations where there are children involved, is nearly always a sad situation. It speaks of hopes that have - maybe quietly over the years - died. Shared vision that is now faded. A flame that has burnt out. Whatever our views on marriage, we should all have sympathy, a sense of sadness, and a feeling that, because a family must come to terms with a loss - a kind of bereavement - we are all diminished. So why on earth did you put out such a pretentious press release?  What did you think you were playing at? It just tells us your hippy-dippy, probiotic, macrocosmic ways are more important than other people wishing you well, maybe even more important than the fact you should be mourning a relationship's end.  Nevertheless, we wish you well. For your kids' sake, and your own. Go forth, and uncouple consciously. Whatever that means.

A Pagan Perspective on Easter

Nice little piece on Easter and the other religions with dying / rising gods from YewTree at Stroppy Rabbit. And Yewtree's right, there are many religions that hold this key myth within them. Nothing wrong with that. Personally I think it's encoded into the very universe, as much as the fact that 6x9=42. Or something.

Fast-forwarding through Lent

And so the awful idea of basing the Lent Course's format, but not content, on the Alpha Course, comes home to bite us, if that's not jusshing my metaphors.

Tonight is the night of the Big Meal - the whole apogee of Middle-Class Religion, where everyone sits around in smart-casual wear, eating a large chilli con carne with garlic bread, followed by Black Forest Gateau. All washed down with the finest New Zealand wines - because Christians don't drink beer like normal people.

 And, as luck would have it, having done "Temptation", "Struggle", "Challenge" - this is "Fasting Week".

Everybody did enjoy the discussion on what a great idea Lenten fasting is.  And, to be fair, it was only me seemed to mind. And that was only because it was a Chardonnay. We're all just a bit over Chardonnay, don't you think? And white? With chilli?

Tuesday 25 March 2014

World Vision's Grotesque Error

I am shocked. Shocked. By the decision of World Vision to allow its employees to be in same-sex marriages.

I have, at various times, been a trustee in an assortment of godly charities. And we have always been clear on our policy in this area. I am now incorporating this policy into the tenets of the Funambulist Baptist Support Group, set up to support the pastors of the Funambulist Baptist Church when they have retired.

Anyone of same-sexual attraction that wants to be a member of the FBSG is specifically not allowed to enter into a marriage, or for that matter Civil Partnership. No, they will have to resort to lies, deception and guilt - just like in the old days. It is important we keep up our standards.

On the Feast of the Annunciation

The plan was in place a long time. From before the beginning. Working in quiet persuasion, unexpected turnarounds, and a series of unlikely people. And, amongst the younger brothers, upstart kings and carpenters, a series of unlikely woman.
A prostitute; the adulterous wife of a murdered soldier; a loyal foreigner in an alien land; a widow who slept with her father-in-law. The Judah family - and Judah's ancestors - attracted a wide range of strong women. Maybe they were the only ones that could put up with them. Sometimes that line was strong - and the Serpent could get in amongst them. Sometimes they were quiet, and he let them lie. But such an odd group of women - who's going to worry? 

Yet shining at the end of that line of unconventional, faithless or faithful women - this teenage bride-to-be. Sweeping the house, maybe,  as the preparations are still going on for the wedding - this year? Next?  To her carpenter. A steady income, her mum might have said. That, yes, and strong arms in a dangerous time. She's an unlikely queen, is thist unknown girl from a conquered race.

It's going to change her life, sure. That short interview with an angel is going to open her eyes.  Just a few short words,  a stunned "let it be" and new life and hope in the world. A new Eve's obedience defies the old one's pride, and the game changes.

The plan stops being a plan, the ground work is done. The psalms of yearning have had their day, and the good news is starting to be sung.

And the Serpent feels a foreboding ache in his head. And he squirms, and worries, and fears.

Monday 24 March 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I always look forward to Lady Day. It's normally like Xmas in Lent.  Sometimes it just squeaks after Easter, and sometimes it has to be transferred.

But this year it's gonna be a bright day in a solemn six weeks. A promise of things to come. A remembrance of the Incarnation, in the middle of remembering why it happened.

So we've laid in the turkey, crackers and tinsel. We've dug out the recording of the Queen's Speech.  And we're gonna go festive for one day only.

Let merriment break out!

Joseph the Labour Patriarch

Hnaef points out to me the story of Joseph.

While a ruler in Egypt, Joseph gets wind a famine's coming. So he engineers the grain market so he can control it, grabs the land and, when he gets the chance, imposes a tax on everybody. In the process he massively increases the centralised power of the state.

He loosens border controls and lets in economic migrants (ie his family).

And he's the brother who succeeds, offending his older brother in the process. 

That coat weren't many-coloured. I reckon it was just red.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Things that weren't Introduced at Vatican II

So the Ecumenical service with the the Roman Catholics was a bit of a failure.

In many ways I blame myself. But I mostly blame Xandra. It was she who told me that, if you really want Catholics to be able to join in with your worship, send in the clowns. You've got to have clowns. No, apparently not. They don't think Liturgical Processions of Clowns is at all devotional.

Nor the unicycles. Personally, I thought that Fr Donald showed great good-humour and a certain bravery in going on the unicycle at all. He is, after all, 86. But they don't feature in Catholic Liturgy - not even in ecumenical services - at all. They were not, no matter what Xandra said, introduced at Vatican II.

The Bouncy Cathedral - now, that was more popular among the children. But, still, not really something anybody from the left-footed contingent considered to be conducive to a worshipful and meditative atmosphere.

And our "Name that Ikon" game - apparently (a) it's disrespectful and (b) it's the Orthodox that are into ikons. They're the ones with the beards, I am now told. Learn something new, and all that.

So anyway, having shown that we had absolutely no idea of what Vatican II had actually introduced, we thought we'd invite the Catholics to take over - show us how it was done. I thought we could expect something time-honoured, traditional - something that took us back down the ages of the Church with that sense that things have always been this way, that the rock on which we are all built does indeed give solidity, an unchanging, reassuring, soul-healing sense of deep time and the Church Universal.

When we snuck out after 20 minutes, they were on the fifth reprise of "Praise my God with the Tambourine".  The flautist was doing a pretty bad impression of the bloke from Jethro Tull. And the banjo player had broken one of his strings, but hadn't even noticed. Vatican III can't come quickly enough, as far as I'm concerned.

Saturday 22 March 2014

If Software Development Ads Were Like Church Job Vacancies

A group of retail companies in the West End of London are looking for a Business Analyst.

As an experienced Business Analyst, you will be familiar with understanding and developing business opportunities, and translating them into systems requirements. 

You will then need to translate those systems requirements into technical specifications, which you will need to write the code for.

You will have experience of developing HTML, CSS and Java, and be familiar with Agile methodologies (where you will be both Scrum Master and team) and  Prince 2. A strong Project Manager, you should be at home either writing COBOL (one of our companies still has an IBM S/34) or doing presentations to the Institute of Directors. Any experience in rewiring card-punch machines will come in surprisingly handy.

A strong team leader, you will be responsible for the instruction, training, inspiration and development of a group of part-time programmers, with strengths in a variety of different operating systems and programming languages.  Who don't get on. And will expect you to make tea for them.

Also, one of those programmers is an old-school Cobol 1 programmer. You may think you've got everything upgraded to Cobol 2 (i.e. about 1979) but don't worry - the minute your back is turned, it will all be recompiled back to the good old way. END-IF? Who ever needed those in the old days? 

Since the companies operate in a variety of markets, you will be equally inspired by working in supermarkets, fashion or the mobile phone industry. You will be expected to have a working knowledge of modern trends in social media, although you won't use any of it.

You won't get paid, but we can offer you a flat rent-free. 

Friday 21 March 2014

A Dream of Mad, Mad Moon (John 4)

If this desert's all there'll ever be
Then tell me what becomes of me.

It's the song of the wanderer that gets trapped. The one who searched beyond the final crest. There was a dream - and the wanderer pretends to have wings instead of arms, and heads out.

The final crest wasn't all it was cracked up to be. It really was for the birds, as it turns out. And love was left behind, in a desert land. And there's a dream conjured up by that mad, mad moon - a dream of rain. A dream, ironically, of Newcastle, where it rains so much you can't wait for a touch of sun and sand.

But the sun and the sand - that's the real delusion. A pretence of warmth, of sunshine and cloudless days. But cloudless days are, in the end, a curse.

A woman goes down to a well in the noonday sun. A daft time to go down to a well in a hot and dry land. You going to go lugging water around, you want to do it in the evening, when it's cool. Like Rebekah, those centuries earlier. She'd gone out to get water in the evening. But then Rebekah was a good girl. She was allowed to hang around with the other women. Maybe this woman isn't so welcome with the others. Maybe the other local women think she's no better than she should be. Five husbands already - and now she's shacked up with another bloke. Is he the grudging foster-dad to a host of her brood by her previous relationships? Or has she never had a child - her barrenness fraying her marriages, and another reason for the women's scorn.

I guess we don't know. I'm just filling in circumstantial detail. But those five husbands and a live-in love-interest - one after another - as she pretended to have wings for her arms, took off in the air - and tried to find places that the birds never see.

One marriage after another, like a succession of ridges on the fringes of the desert - each promising shade and rest, each revealed in turn as dunes.

It's not that there's anything wrong with a sand dune in the desert. You can get a bit of shade, some shelter from the sun, even from the drying wind. But you won't last long. The thing that you need above all else is water. The woman's flown from passing shade to passing shade - kept out of the heat for a while each time - but she needs something more, something life-giving, something that will quench her thirst.

Within the valley of the shadowless death, they pray for thunderclouds and rain. She goes down to the well, and finds the one who can pour out an absolute torrent of what she needs. There was nothing wrong, maybe, with all those husbands, each considered individually. But she could never have got the thing she ultimately needed from them.

And then after a day or two - after she's kicked up the fuss in the town, and they've wondered who that was, and some have believed, and some have laughed, and some have simply stayed at home in the shade - does she follow? Does she pray? Does she praise God? Or does she go back to her mundane life, and start to wonder again whether - beyond one last desert ridge - she'll find another oasis?

A fall of rain? That must have been another of your dreams.
A dream of mad, mad moon.

Mad, Mad Moon - lyrics Tony Banks, from the 1976 Genesis album A Trick of the Tail. Details from the cover, by Hipgnosis)

Thursday 20 March 2014

The Dream of Fred Phelps

The scene: the pearly gates. A lone figure walks through the blessed fields of dry ice and is greeted by a saintly form.

St Peter: Fred Phelps?

FP: Yes.

St Peter: You've been a bigot, a hate-monger, an anti-Semite. You've disrupted the funerals of brave soldiers. You have misrepresented God.

FP: Oops. That was wrong then?

St P: Yes. Now there's two lots of good news, and one bad.

FP: What's the good news?

St P: The Good News is what it always was. God's love is stronger than your hate.  You can come in. And the other good news is - we've assigned a saint to look after you, help you settle in during your first few million years . He's been acting as your guardian angel, in fact.  Though he's never claimed it was easy.

FP: So what's the bad news?

St P: Can I introduce you to St Sebastian? He's a soldier, and a gay icon. I reckon you boys gonna get along fine.
Hard as it is to say, may he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Solstice Celebration of Neshness

Archdruid: Hurrah!  It's Vernal Equinox. We're gonna get out there in Big Meadow, dance around the reinforced-concrete stone circle, and celebrate.

All: But it's a bit cold.

Archdruid: Then wear coats.

All: But it might rain.

Archdruid: Then wear flat caps.  Grant Shapps would approve.

All: But it's getting dark.

Archdruid: Precisely. It's the equinox - so the sun is still setting before dinner-time. This is the ceremony where we encourage it to stay up later, through the encouragement of tea lights.

All: But it's quite windy.

Archdruid: Then put your tea lights in the lanterns provided. Genuine horn, them lanterns.

All: But it's really windy.

Archdruid: Then turn your backs to the wind.

All: But it's really, really windy.

Archdruid: Then tie yourselves down.

All: Can we just have our worship in the Moot House?

Archdruid: Nesh, you lot. Nesh.

All: But there could be an owl, or a badger, out there.

Archdruid: Mm. Yeah. Hadn't thought of that.

All: And it's warm, dry, windproof and well-lit and badger-proof, is the Moot House.

Archdruid: Oh, all right then. Just those once, mind.

A Liminal Place is Itself a Space - Spring Equinox

Archdruid: Oh, we're halfway there.

All: Oh, livin' on a prayer.

Archdruid: Behold we are in the land of halves! Just as the ink is black, the paper's white.

Hnaef: But there can be blue ink.

Daphne: Or green paper, for people with dyslexia.

Archdruid: OK. Just as there is day and night.

Marston: Although I quite like twilight. The time of mystery and sacredness, when the shadows are long, and the air yearns for the old times.

Archdruid: As there is male and female..... OK. I know what you're all gonna say. Let me start again.

Archdruid: Let us not be fooled, at this time of equinox, into thinking that the world is all black and white, binary opposites, good and evil. All things in this world are half-tones, shadows and borderlands. A liminal place is itself a space.

All: Oh, we like that.

Archdruid: Not my own. One of Jeeves's. And so we encounter whatever mystic thing it is we're after, here in the half-lands of the imagination. The equinoctial sunrises, ragged, in a windy sky - as the cloud blows through we have echoes of the winter, yet hope for the summer.

All: The sun? Where is it?

Archdruid: Not risen yet. I was being poetic again.

All: Right-ho. Can we sing " Colours of Day" now?

Archdruid: Yeah, go on. I need me breakfast.

The Solemn Ritual of Mutual Equinoctial Felicitations

Archdruid: Happy Spring!

All: And also with you.

Wednesday 19 March 2014

The Day They Cut t'Bingo Tax

Wally Batt's Voice is heard across the sound of Dvorak's "New World Symphony"

Aye, ah remember when ah 'eard.

Ah'd rid t'bike down t'hill, past t'food bank, down to t'superstore, and pushed it back wi' a couple of loaves of Tesco Value bread. We couldn't afford Hovis.

And when ah got 'ome, there were me mother and me father, singing in t'front room - the one we kept for special occasions, until they introduced the bedroom tax. Then we had to sub-let it to a bloke called Alf.
And me mum said to me, hast not heard? They've halved the tax on bingo! And beer's down by a penny a pint!

And me dad were pleased, an all. He said he didn't have to buy an annuity any more - he could take out his pension in a lump sum, and decide it how to invest it himself. Or he could 'ave, if e'd got a pension. He couldn't afford to put any in after the owner at t'mill stopped the final salary scheme in the 2002.

Still, if the old folks were 'appy then so were I. Fer a minute we thought of changing our bank account. But instead we had some Tesco Value bread. Wi' real polyunsaturated spread.

A couple of hours later, me mum went off to bingo to celebrate, and me dad went off down t'hill to t'pub. And I wondered - even wi' the generous change in the tax regime, 'ow could they suddenly afford ter go out when they'd 'ad no disposable income since the financial collapse? Was it that George Osborne 'ad produced an economic miracle?

But when me dad came 'ome, it all became clear.  They'd sold me bike.

Vandalism in The Second Church of the Internet

Just spent three hours getting rid of the traces of vandalism in the Second Church of the Internet (formerly the Moot House).

We don't think they were technically malicious, just confused. They obviously got too carried away with the idea that we have taken on some of our ideas from Facebook.

So now we've put things right, we've left a sign to make it clear. We don't want people writing on our wall.

Sex, Sampling and Sensation

I watched "Cure me, I'm Gay" last night with a certain morbid fascination. Obviously it was sensational stuff. And towards the end, I was wondering what Dr Christian Jessen was trying to prove. If he wanted us to think that all Christians believe that homosexuality is a sin or a moral disorder or caused by demons, he certainly picked the right Christians. I think he had a sampling problem, though, if his selection were meant to be scientific - an adjective he espoused throughout what I saw.

Dr Christian, to be fair, also went to see a cracking pseudo-medic, who tried to cure him through the power of colour and relocating his glands (not in that way - stop sniggering at the back. What I mean is - claiming the adrenal glands were in your brain). This was also not scientific, according to Dr Christian.

Well I don't know. Claiming the adrenal glands are in the brain is scientific, in the sense that you can carry out experiments to find out. But the banging-on about science and proper medicine did in the end make me search out this on NHS treatment of homosexuality - up to quite recently. So gay people were being treated by proper qualified medics, in the United Kingdom, on scientific grounds. To be fair, this may have been covered in the early part of the programme, before I was alerted to it by the fuss on Twitter.

Still.  Quite scary, what the NHS did. Especially the lad who was sexually assaulted by the doctor who was supposed to be treating him.

But I think the way I look at it is this. We're all, in principle, on a search for truth and compassion. We all get it wrong. And then we try to get better. Most Christians no longer beat people with sticks to drive demons out of them. And in most sensible countries the doctors no longer attach electrodes to people to stop them being gay. Religion being often more conservative, some religious people will take longer to get on board than others. But we should be engaging them in a search for truth - not, unless they are utter charlatans like the brain-colour-therapy pseudo-doctor, demonizing them.

And, by definition, sampling for scandal is not "scientific". Sampling has an impact on what you're investigating. Most of the openly gay people I know are Christian ministers. If I made a documentary about "Gay People I Know", it would appear that the whole Christian world was gay. That, too, would be a sampling error.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Gravitational Waves of Excitement

All exciting stuff as somebody discovers the gravitational waves that prove something or other to do with the Big Bang.

Basically, and I realise I'm getting technical here, the Universe was very small. And now it is very big. And the bit between it being so absolutely tiny you couldn't even see it (not least as your body would be blown to pieces by the enormous explosion that was about to happen), and the bit where it's very very big - is history.

The scientists have been looking for a "swirly b-mode pattern". Yes, I know. I've got a picture of Matt Smith as Dr Who at this point as well. Often do have, actually. But let's move on.

All the really interesting stuff in the Universe happened between 0 and trillionths of a second, as can be shown by this useful graph:

So all the key stuff happened very early. In fact, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics being what it is, you could argue it's pretty well been downhill all the way since supersymmetry went west (and east, and north. But not south. That's the thing about supersymmetry breaking down).

The other thing that is a relic of the Big Bang is the cosmic background radiation. It's in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is why the universe smells very faintly of baked beans. I only mention this so I can do the microwave / baked beans joke.

What does this tell us about God, the creation of the world etc etc? Nothing, to be honest. But it does give me the chance to remind you that the person who came up with the whole Big Bang theory was a priest. Not only that, but a Belgian. Not a famous Belgian, but he probably ought to be. Ladeezngennulmun, I give you Fr Georges Lemaitre.

Personally I reckon the ex nihilo  sense of the Big Bang would have been very attractive to a Christian cosmologist. Even a steady-state universe wouldn't say there was no God - as there's nothing to say that the Creation exists within Time at all (or at least not in a meaningful way). But still - let there be light!  And there was baryogenesis. As Norman Clegg woulld say, "I like it!"

Dunno what this was all about, really. But isn't God great?

Gay Weather Continues

"We can’t be certain about the direct link between bad weather and the gay marriage legislation", says Andrew Symes on Anglican Mainstream.

Well I beg to differ. I had a day out in Town today. But it took me ages to get to Flitwick station, due to the gaydrifts on the road. Got to London, went on the traditional pilgrimage to visit Kirsty's Bench, what do I find out? Blooming Soho was flooded with gay people. Came home this evening and the train was delayed due to gayness between Luton and Harpenden. And with all the gayness that's been falling, lately, the runoff in Mill Hill has been terrible. Oh yeah. There was a gayslide. Nothing could move for hours.

Yep, in my opinion there's no doubt about it. You can't get much more of a link than that.

By the way - yes, praying about same-sex marriage seems entirely sensible. Pray that God's will is done. Always a good idea.

No Day of Wrath in a Low-Calorie Judgement

Pondering that whole "no Dies Irae in the Faure Requiem" thing.

I mean, Faure nuff. Sorry. I mean, fair enough. He was obviously a nice bloke. And the Day of Wrath When the Earth Dissolves in Ashes is a scary thing. Judgement,  Hellfire - it's not nice, is about the long and short of it.

But I will be honest - and I do love the piece, don't get me wrong - it's like a gaping hole in the middle of the Requiem, isn't it? A bit saccharine, I reckon.

I mean, I know it doesn't technically affect the main purposes of a Requiem - praise, a lead up to Mass in its original setting at least, asking God to get the souls of the faithful departed out of Purgatory a bit quicker.

And goodness knows I wouldn't like anyone actually to go to Hell. I reckon it's a horrid place. At least that's what the guide books say.

It's just something about, I don't know, the whole concept of free will.  You can call me an old Thatcherite, obsessed with choice, if you like. I just think that people should have the option.

You see, if there's no other road to go, then I don't see why Jesus had to join us on the narrow road. If the only way is up, then why did he come down to get us? If there is no Dies Irae - no day when God's wrath is flung at our - for want of a better word - sins, then why does it matter how attached to them we still are?

There, I have given myself a headache now, worrying about it all. I'll go and listen to Faure's Requiem, I reckon. It's very soothing.

The Second Church of the Internet

It's sorted.  We've been trying to keep it quiet, but it is all in place now.

I call our reboot of the Moot House "The Second Church of the Internet". "Second" because I bet somebody has already done the "First".

And "of the Internet" not because it's virtual, online and interactive. It's not.  If you want virtual communion, virtual schism, virtual rows between the bell ringers and virtual mutual anathemata - you can find those In Real Internet. No, I wanted to form a proper, local, hands-on church experience - but with all the lessons we've learned from 25 years of Cyberspace.

Like the Cat Chapel. Everybody loves cats.  And so the Cat Chapel is full of logs, scratching posts, things to fall off and get stuck in - and cats. But not just any cats. We've got the most wistful cats you can imagine. Who spend all day amusingly chasing the butterfly and bird images we project onto the wall. Or occasionally just stand around, enigmatically, while we project amusing but spiritual subtitles onto them.

Naturally, the cats in the Cat Chapel are protected behind a plexiglass screen. We can't go taking chances with allergies - not a problem on the Internet. And, of course, readings are from the Lolcat Bible.

Likewise we have now replaced the Daily Service with Dogely prayer. "The Lord is very my German Shepherd, I shall not much want.  Wow!" being the favourite psalm.

Naturally I have learnt from Twitter. From now on all sermons can only be 140 characters long. Although, with the attention span of the average Twitter user, we've had to introduce hashtags to reduce the amount of actual content still further.

And we've taken the Twitter concept still further by allowing the congregation to shout abuse at the preacher in real time. So much better than them waiting till they're having their dinner, and doing it behind their backs.

To make the sermons even more like Twitter, we're inviting atheists to come along and explain why they're all wrong - through a combination of misunderstood science they heard from someone else who had a clue, and category errors. The congregation engages them politely, if in a baffled manner, for a short period of time - and tnen we throw them out and they're never allowed back.

And we've learnt from Facebook, too. Oh yeah. During the prayers, the congregation gets to pray for people who never existed, or who went missing but were found again ten years ago.  In the "emotional blackmail spot", people each get twenty seconds to stand up and share something that matters deeply to them - then to give hard stares when the next person doesn't just repeat what they said - just like 97.8% of people.

So why not drop by? After all, you can walk out of The Second Church of the Internet any time you lose interest. I'm not saying people won't mind if you do. They'll either be really angry, deeply hurt or really sympathetic. But only for five minutes. Then they'll forget who you were

Monday 17 March 2014

St Patrick's Day Service

To be sure, we couldn't let St Patrick's Day go by without holding a service in the tradition he would have been familiar with.

3 hours of Latin later, having been prickled to death by the hair shirts, we feel we've done him justice. No wonder he invented Guinness.

If Abraham did Thought for the Day

Good morning, everyone.

In these troubled times, we are called to be prophetic.  When we look at the inequalities in the world - the manifest injustices, frankly - what people ask is, how can we speak truth to power? How can we best face up to tyrants and dictators?

Well, I've got this piece of advice that has worked for me throughout my life. It's enabled me to make my way - as a person of God - through this world, and never come to harm.

Why not try grovelling and lying?

Works for me. Pushy king fancies my wife - I just tell him she's my sister. Pharaoh likes the look of her? Same again. Tell him she's my sister.

And do you know what? Every time I did it, God pulled me out of the trouble I'd got myself into. Not a hair on my head out of place.

Yes; there's no doubt about it. For the man of faith in this troubled world - try lying and grovelling. Use your nearest and dearest to get on in life.  You know it makes sense.

Sunday 16 March 2014

If Elijah did Thought for the Day

Sometimes it's hard for we contributors to Thought for the Day to come up with a topic. Maybe the news is just so bad that you can't make a whimsical point out of it. Somehow an inclusive and liberal viewpoint seems a bit banal when set against the horror of what human beings can do to each other.

It's at times like this, to prove we're prophets of the people, that we turn to football.

You know, Elisha, my successor, was like me in many ways. Erratic, charismatic, energetic, interfering in national politics.

And of course, being my "successor", he was a success. Raising the dead, curing deadly water, calling ferocious bears out of the woods - he was, in all ways, just as successful as I was.

I bet Sir Alex Ferguson wishes he knew what that felt like.

10 Commandments to Save the Independent

Just been reading Peter Stanford's 10 Commandments to save the Anglican Church.  I presume from the context he intends to mean the Anglican Church in what is currently the United Kingdom, as opposed to worldwide which is, numerically, doing pretty well. In fact, I suspect what he really means is the Church of England, but he didn't want to come over as a Little Englander in this most po-faced of liberal newspapers.

Still, it seems to me that it's only right that some believer returns the compliment to the Independent. It has its own new dawns - faffing around with paper sizes, embracing Climate Change as an exciting new way to raise taxation. But the Truth - or diversity of opinion, as the Indie would more likely put it - is that its decline continues unabated.

So having had a ringside seat at the events of the past two decades, and more broadly as a fellow traveller (albeit at one pew removed as a Guardian-reader), who sees so much that is good and needed about our national most boring newspaper as its goes about its daily, non-headline-making headline-making, here are a few suggestions – more 10 conversation-starters than 10 commandments – assembled with the help of absolutely nobody at all.

1. Appoint Richard Coles as editor. Everybody loves Richard. Or at least people who listen to Radio 4 or remember the Communards or read the Independent and/or live in Finedon do.

2. Stop being more boring than the Guardian.

3. Try a different size of paper.

4. Remake the Vicar of Dibley in a newsroom.

5. Start supporting UKIP.

6. No, actually, it's hopeless, isn't it?  I'm sorry. I'm never going to make it to 10.

Saturday 15 March 2014

How Saint Patrick Never Drove the Non-Existent Snakes from Ireland - or Not

The National Geographic debunks the legend that St Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland - just in time for St Patrick's Day. A kind of early-spring equivalent of those bishops that like to claim there were 24 wise men, or Jesus was born in a bouncy castle, at Christmas.

But I wonder. The story is based upon the fact that they've never found a fossil. Well, fair enough. But they'd never seen a living coelacanth until they discovered a living coelacanth. Finding something is positive proof, but negative proof is always a bit trickier. It's only 300 years ago that you could have said there was no evidence of bog bodies in Ireland. But it didn't mean there weren't any, did it?

And then the claim that snakes never got to Ireland, and then couldn't get across from Britain because of the sea. Let's consider.

Galapagos Tortoises crossed 1,000 miles from South America to breed. And they can barely swim. Unless Noah dropped them off, of course.

It's  about 100 miles from England to Ireland. And snakes can swim pretty well.

So I'm thinking - maybe there were snakes in Ireland. Probably weren't, on the basis of evidence, but not impossible.

And then let's consider - St Patrick throwing the snakes out of the Emerald Isle is called "a legend" by everybody.

So the National Geographic is using scientifically dodgy reasoning to go out of its way to debunk what everybody knows is a "legend".

Frankly, thinking about it, I don't know why I've bothered.

Staring into the Abyss

It's Voltaire, I believe, who said "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him".

But I'm starting to think maybe there's a reverse principle in existence. What about if Hell doesn't exist, and therefore it's necessary to invent that?

In other news, I saw Ant and Dec this evening. Is this a limited run, or will it last forever?

Ceremony of Well-wishing

On average I receive a letter from "A Well-Wisher" about once a week.

I'm not sure what the A stands for - Andrew, perhaps, or Audrey. Also I am not sure about whether the writer is one of the Somerset Well-Wishers, or perhaps a scion of the Leicestershire branch of that noble and ancient English family - it is said that Gascon de Wisher served as lieutenant in the Breton archers at Hastings, and took the first part of his name from the family seat he established in Somerset.

In any case, the latest letter is typical of Mr or Ms Well-Wisher's oeuvre.

"Dear Archdruid  
It has come to my knowledge that you have moved the tea light stand.
You should of course be aware that the tea light stand, which was donated to the Beaker Folk by a lifelong member, was placed centrally between the northeast and Northwest doors so as to symbolise "light shining in the darkness" - a Beaker beacon of hope.  
By moving the tea light stand - in the face of 200 years of tradition - to the eastern quarter of the Moot House you might as well trample on the grave of that loyal member. I am writing to the Royal Ancient Order of Druids to protest. 
Be aware that I, and many other people with the best interests of the Beaker Folk at heart, are watching you. You will trip up. You will be found out. And then, when your disgrace is revealed, our joy will be complete.
A Well-Wisher"
Where does one start? Obviously with the fact that, being only a decade old, the Beaker Folk's only life-long members are unlikely to have donated the tea light stand. There's only so far pocket money will stretch. I actually bought it myself, thinking it might bring in a few quid (it does). And since I installed it, I have received letterz from A Well-Wisher complaining about me moving it into and then removing it from the south apse, the Chapel of Contemplation, the Room of Viewing (ie the Telly room) and the Corridor of Uncertainty. The whole reason it's on wheels is so we can easily move it about.

OK. We had to change the wheels. The original castors meant it was so mobile that we had that occasion when, at the height of Yulefest a few years ago, a screaming Marston Moretaine ended up spreadeagled across a fast-moving and fully lit tea light stand, as it shot out of the Moot House and down into the Duck Pond. But when, on good Health and Safety grounds, we fitted lockable wheels. I received a letter from A Well-Wisher. Informing me that I was ruining the stand by removing the original Georgian castors.

I now have enough letters from A Well-Wisher that I have the ability to use them in a creative liturgy. And so, in an early-Spring version of Well-Dressing, today we will have a Ceremony of Well-wishing at the Wishing Well.

The Little Pebbles have crafted the letters into an eight-foot papier-mache representation of the sort of person who writes letters to the Telegraph. At noon, we shall carry this wondrously formed little tableau down to the Wishing Well. We shall throw it in, and leave it to bob around until, gradually, it sinks to the bottom. It will then sit there, unmoving and immovable, until it dissolves and dissipates into the brook. None of us will touch it - nobody will move it. It will remain, unchanging, until it is forgotten, irrelevant and gone.

We, meanwhile, will process to Bogwulf chapel. Apparently the Victorian Society has received a letter from "A Well-Wisher" telling them about the marvellous pitch-pine pews. We need to get them chopped up and in the Beaker Boiler before anyone manages to place a preservation order on them.

Friday 14 March 2014

Staggering Around Like a Yorkshire - based Retailer

An interesting update from Morrisons as they post a loss.

Saying that they're going to sell off Kiddicare because they're underperforming is probably a good idea for Kiddicare, but it seems a bit rich. Kiddicare was doing perfectly well until Morrisons bought them.

If you want to get an idea about the leading-edge awareness of Morrison's, consider that they think that the discounters are a new idea. That's all you need to know.

So having bought Kiddicare to get into e-commerce, then given up on them when they didn't instantly produce results, then brought in Ocado, they're now selling off Kiddicare having failed to use them properly. 

Meanwhile, having filled their stores with poncy veg, they're gonna take on Aldi.

So I'd like to propose a new simile. 

"Staggering around like a Yorkshire-based Retailer".

Qu'ils Mangent de la Quiche

It's all a bit much.

6 years we've held off serving quiche.

6 years - six! count them! Of not eating quiche.

All because of Adrian Plass, and his characterization of eating quiche at all Christian functions. Thanks to him, the Beaker Folk have eaten less quiche than any other group of people of the same age and weight in the Western Hemisphere.

But I was a bit tired this morning. Bernie, aware that the Beaker chickens have been giving of their bounty lately, snuck up and said "what about quiche tonight?" Didn't even think about it. Just said "yes".

And so we had quiche tonight. And sure enough, having eaten no quiche for six years - unless he was eating unlawful quiche out of egg-lock - Burton leaned over to me, smirked, and I knew what was coming.

"Give us this day our daily quiche," he quipped, as though it was fresh-minted, "for that's all Christians ever eat."

He got a quiche in the face.

This idea that Christians eat only quiche is so ingrained, so deep-rooted, that it needs a whole new word. So I'd like to share it with you.

I reckon it's a quiché.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Squonk Racing from Chepstow

1st - Glumkin 100/30
2nd - Tearful 4/1
3rd - Dolores 11/2

1st - Sadly often - Evens
2nd - Skulking Morosely 2/1
3rd - Seldom seen 5/1

3 30
1st - Blue Monday 4/1
2nd - Cheerless 3/1
3rd - Crestfallen 5/1

Meeting Abandoned - Flooding

Celebration of the First Ordinations of Women as Priests in the Church of England

I'm afraid our celebrations will be a bit muted as our special guest, the first woman to be a bishop in the Church of England, is unexpectedly delayed.

So we'll just have a glass of sherry to pretend to be Anglicans, and give thanks that the upcoming generation of women priests - many of whom will be bishops one day - don't have such bad tastes in paisley clerical shirts as the first lot. Who deserve our thanks and congratulations regardless.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

A Handy Guide to Some Hidden Church Meanings

You know how it is. You want to say something but you can't.

Maybe it's because you want to be rude, but don't want to hurt the other person. Or maybe it's because you're a bit worried that the other person might come back at you. Or you want to big up your own position without all that tiring "thinking through the argument" that you might have to do.

So, for those on the receiving end - ministers or ministees - here's the low-down.

What is saidWhat is meant
I reckon you've got a gift for children's work.Somebody's got to work with the children. Since the Sunday Club folded they've been driving us up the wall. And I reckon you're the most gullible. And - bonus! You're a young mother! So 30% of it is your job already!
That sermon raised many theological issues for me.I  thought Ministerial selectors claimed they worked under the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
This church is not meeting my spiritual needs Neither could the other seventeen churches I've been a member of over the last twenty years. If only I could work out what the common element is.
What we need is a strong leaderOne who agrees with me.
 I'm doing fine, thanks.I cried all last night because my life seems like a total waste. The children appear to be possessed by demons. My useless husband spends all evening playing "GTA5". My mother's not talking to me because my useless husband insulted her hat. And the leaking shower fitting has resulted in the entire house smelling of mould.
There was never any mention of removing the tea light stand in Father Bunwicke's Day.Bunwicke hated that tea light stand with every fibre in his body. But we told him that Father Darlington had loved it in his time.
I'm doing fine, thanks.I'm doing fine, thanks.
The lead guitarist seems very enthusiastic. All those instrumental breaks! He must have worked very hard at those. Is he in a band? If he played acoustic I'd smack him over the head with it. But a solid-bodied electric may be an offensive weapon within the meaning of the act.
Does the worship leader write down all those introductions to the songs, giving us the theological insights that he has gained from them and the way he sees echoes in them of his personal walk of faith? Does he pray extensively about what he's going to say before the service, hoping that he will receive exactly the right words to say?Or does he just have a natural talent for drivel and self-promotion?
I have always stood for maintaining ancient church traditions.Jesus stood for the oppressed, the poor, the outcast and outsider. Which is why I am determined we will have the right coloured candles in Advent.
But, when we try to relate the faith of the First Century to the modern world, what do we find?Let me tell you what I read in the Guardian on Saturday.
There will always be a place for you in the choir.Nobody else could possibly fit your cassock. I mean, who else is that shape?
No, really. I've got a soft spot for the Churchwarden. It's that boggy bit at the North side of the churchyard.
As Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians, the Lord loves a cheerful giver.Look, at the Deanery Synod we missed the Parish Share by more than any other parish. It's embarrassing. Just 50p a month more per person, and we'll overtake Little Tremlett.
Some of the parents need to give their children a bit more supervision.Last Sunday one of the little beggars managed to pole-vault over the rood screen using a churchwarden's wand.
People always focus on numbers. But there's so many other ways in which a church can grow.We're pretty much where we were spiritually, as well. But thankfully it's much harder to measure.
Many of the older people quite like "Lord of the Dance".Actually, I quite like "Lord of the Dance". But I'm not going to admit it. Not since the music group threatened tarring and feathering to anybody who asks them to pick it.
Have you ever considered that God may be calling you to a pastoral ministry?Can you please stop singing? My ears are bleeding.
I'm only saying this in love.Not only am I being extremely rude and uncharitable, but now you're going to feel bad at yourself for being angry with me.
I'm all in favour of women's ministry myself. But a female pastor would upset my friend.A woman pastor? What do you think this is? Gomorrah?

Lament on the Discovery that Twitter is Down

My heart is heavy within me
And my soul fails in its darkness
For the Twipper API is not happy
And my time line refreshest itself not.

I remember how I used to go onto Twitter
To hear the latest news
Unargued political certainties thrown out to the ether
Preaching only to the quire.

How happy we were in those days
When we could play our hash tag games
Laughing as we noticed somebody had already done our joke
And breathing satirical fire when someone redid ours.

We tweeted freely,
Retweeting our enemies as well.
For only the pagans retweet only their friends.
And subtweets we would never cast our eyes upon.

Even in the watches of the night

But we wasted our nights discussing Question Time.
We threw away hours on #strictly
And now our judgement is upon us.

Where now can we go?
Forelorn we roam the wilderness of Facebook; but the people we call friends are playing stupid games.
We turn to LinkedIn
But who cares what 75% of CIOs think about iOS 7.1?

And there's naff all on telly.
Not even Question Time.

I may even have to find out if my closest friends, those I love like a brother or a sister,
are still alive.

And so we will surf the Web in the valley of the shadow of death
All the days of our life.

Oh, hang on.

It's back.

Monday 10 March 2014

Lenten Music - Week 2

After last week, when used the music of Tom Waits in our devotions, this week we take the Lenten theme a bit further. Accordingly, this week's music for Pouring-Out of Beakers will be The Smiths.  In the evening, to lighten the mood a little, we'll be using The Cure to accompany Filling-Up of Beakers.

This strategy will continue until the mood is thoroughly darkened. I'm hoping that by next week, everyone will be ready for the more cynical works of Elvis Costello.

Sunday 9 March 2014

The Not So Unpleasant Version of the Bible

It was Snargent who originally started it. He complained about the Crucifix in the Chapel of Contemplation - said that the depiction of an execution was quite unseemly for a religious group.

And that was nothing to when I pointed out that it was based on the accounts in the Gospels. The discovery that we have a holy book that includes such things has caused uproar. What, we were asked, did we think we were doing? Dolorez says that thinking about the Bible has caused her little ones, Mordant and Celery, to have sleepless nights. Personally I reckon it's more likely the sound of Dolorez singing "I will Survive" into the small hours that has given the little ones unsettled sleep, but still. I didn't want to upset her further.

And I remembered that, so as not to upset people who flick on during the boring bits, we've already made the decision to have no Funeral Service in the Beaker Common Prayer. I reckoned this was the way forward. And so we have produced the Not So Unpleasant Version of the Bible. Like the original Bible, but with all the nasty bits sanitised. So if you're fed up with bloodshed, slaughter and annihilation in your favourite inspired text, why not try the NSUV? For example:

In the NSUV, after a heated debate with his brother, Cain admits that his offering wasn't as good as Abel's. God tells them that, actually, he was just feeling a bit grumpy and off cereals, and they were both pretty good.

Noah trains as a lifeguard. In gratitude for him saving their lives in the Flood, the people of Mesopotamia mend their ways.

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah take Lot's guests down the pub for a pint.  Neither fire nor brimstone are required.

The Levite is not such a coward as to push his concubine out into the street. The men of Gibeah consider that their behaviour hasn't been so great, and go home to their wives.

All sacrifices are of vegetables.

The Children of Israel book a holiday in the land of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar turns out to be a remarkably affable hotel-owner. The waiter is from Barcelona.

After Elijah wins the "who can call down fire" contest, he invites the Prophets of Baal to an inter-faith tea.

King Herod visits the town of Bethlehem dressed as Santa, with a sleigh full of toys.

After St Peter provides King Herod Agrippa with an anti-worming treatment. Herod is so grateful he agrees that he is just a man, after all.

Everybody goes to heaven at the end of Revelation.

So why not give the NSUV a chance? It's a new kind of Bible for a new kind of religion. Offence-free. Blood-free. Violence-free. Outrage-free. And, above all, salvation-free.

What Christians Believe

This just occurred to me after reading somebody telling us that "Christians believe.....X." It doesn't really matter what. I quite often hear people telling us what Christians believe. And it occurred to me that people informing us what Christians believe can cause more stress than the actual beliefs themselves.

So to avoid anyone getting confused, I'd like to be clear on "what Christians believe".

  • Christians support right-wing policies.
  • Christians believe in a 6-day creation.
  • Christians are opposed to birth control. Especially abortion.
  • Christians believe in a spiritual Resurrection.
  • Christians believe homosexuality is the work of the devil.
  • Christians believe the world will end imminently.
  • Christians are Liberal Democrats.
  • Christians believe that the Pope, when he speaks ex cathedra, is infallible.
  • Christians support a bigger welfare state.
  • Christians believe in the "Big Bang"*
  • Christians accept divorce.
  • Christians believe in assisted suicide.
  • Christians believe in unlimited immigration.
  • Christians are pro-choice.
  • Christians are opposed to immigration.
  • Christians are in favour of same-sex marriage.
  • Christians believe they'll have a cup of tea.
  • Christians believe in a physical Resurrection.
  • Christians believe in no Resurrection at all, more a figurative kind of thing. You know, metaphorical. In a very real sense.
  • Christians are implacably opposed to divorce.

Next time somebody tells you what Christians believe, do yourself, and my blood pressure, a favour. Ask which Christians they're talking about.

* Actually, it was a priest who came up with the idea.

Saturday 8 March 2014

Drowning with an Imaginary Man, Getting Dragged out by a Real One

From Romans 5
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.......

But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

You see, I don't believe Adam and Eve existed. Not in a real, flesh-and-blood, kind of way.

And you might say I have therefore negated Paul's argument, undermining it by taking away its very underlying premise. And I say to that phooey.

To me, it's about models when you're talking Adam and Eve. In the same way that God doesn't really have bowels with which to have compassion, or fly on the clouds of the thunderstorm - these are just ways of describing God's nature. In the same way that the quantum theory doesn't undermine the chemists who did their models based on the idea that atoms were bouncy balls. What was thought to be reality - when that was all the reality there was - is determined to be a model. And I reckon we have one such example here.

Because I do believe that sin came into the world with our first human parents, however you decide who they are - I wouldn't be surprised if that was an alternative definition of "human" - the first ones who could knowingly do wrong. It seems to set us out from other animals - this idea that we can do something despite knowing we shouldn't. It doesn't seem to be an attribute of other animals - except cats, maybe. But I reckon  when cats do something wrong, they revel in it... cats have no concept of guilt, no idea of needing to make recompense. Cats are just cats. They'll eat the family hamster without a qualm, and still come round to ask if they can share your curry.

The idea of sin like a genetic ailment  just feels so right. The whole "sin" thing just seems so baked-in.

Paul tells us that in fact the Jewish Law had a purpose with regard to this sin. Not a saving purpose in the first instance, but a purpose. I suppose the example I'd give is the flood gauge boards between Harrold and Carlton.

You must know where I mean? Harrold and Carlton are just a few hundred yards apart. They're separated by the River Ouse, and you get between them over a narrow old bridge with those kind of refuges where - in the old days - you'd let a haywain or whatever go past. While today you lurk there, wondering whether it's safe to go for it before the next Bedfordshire Young Conservative in a Beamer comes flogging it down the road after an afternoon's paintball in Bozeat.

But the point is - right next to the bridge, where the river bank gives way to water meadows - the danger of flooding is quite real at times of heavy rain. And there's a footpath, up above the floods, to protect pedestrians from the water and assorted Young Conservatives. And the footpath is on arches, so the water can race through when there's a  flood. And next to the arches there are these flood gauges.

And the flood gauges tell you how deep the water is. If you're actually in the water, in your car, they won't get you out. And they won't make the water go down.

But they'll tell you how deep the water is. And, if you're just dipping your tyres in the water, they'll tell you whether it's a bad idea to go any further. But they won't pull you out.

And Paul's saying - that's what the Jewish Law did. And that's a not a bad thing. You don't know how deep you're in unless you have a scale. You don't have the warning that you might get swept away. You just have to look out for the cars in front, going through the arches, to give you a clue.

But, Paul is saying, if you're in it up to your car roof, switching the windscreen wipers won't help. And the gauges aren't so useful either. And I don't want to push the analogy any further, and have Jesus as the bloke who dives down and drags us out of the flood. Actually, I can't see why I shouldn't. That's the whole point isn't it? When all logic would say that the best thing to do is stand on the bank, and throw a rope out to us and drag us back - safe and sound, just like the public information films used to tell us, Jesus doesn't do anything that safe. Disregarding the danger, ignoring all best practice in life saving, Jesus leaps in to where we are. Grabs a hold, if we let him, and pulls us out. The gauge board has told us the trouble we're in. If we've any sense, we're shouting out for help. We need someone to drag us out - preferably from a safe place. And yet Jesus jumps in, grabs us by the neck, and hauls us to the surface, gasping and panting for breath.

To the rest of us, real human beings who aren't Tom Daly, there's a limit to the sort of depth we're going to haul people out of. I remember when Young Keith was young, walking down the Husborne brook with him and his "uncle" the Police Constable. and Young Keith jumped in. Just out of a clear blue sky, no warning, no announcment of "Uncle!  Miss Fitzroy Russell! Keify's gonna swim!". Nope, just leapt in there. And, the brook being relatively shallow, I just stuck one hand in and pulled him out. No worries. Oh yeah, he was worried enough. But we knew he wasn't coming to any real harm.

Likewise when we used to practise "life saving" at school. In that 25-yard, algae-ridden, wee-infested swimming pool at St Mitholmroyd's School for the Children of Maladjusted Gentlefolk. And we'd don pajamas, and jump in, and head down to lift rubber weights from the bottom of the pool. From a depth, if memory serves me right, of about 9'. But if that pool had been 20' deep, you could have forgotten it. We wouldn't have been able to hold our noses long enough to get down there.

And so, in the human way of thinking, there's a depth beyond which even the bravest won't dive to retrieve a rubber weight, ring or 2 bob bit, according to whatever the teacher's throwing in the water today. The pearl fishers could dive 100 feet or more down, looking for those pearls of great price. But even they had to give up beyond a certain point.

And, for those brought up on a certain kind of attitude to sin and misbehaving, this analogy (ho ho) holds water. They get a sense that there's a place beyond which you can go, after which the rescue's not coming. Fall deep enough into whatever pattern of behaviour you've adopted, they suggest, and nobody can come and help you. When the water's so deep that the light's giving out, and the pressure is crushing the air out of your lungs, and you can feel your ears and eyes imploding with the force of the water you've stumbled into - then there's no way out. You can't swim up, and who can come and get you?

We can look at the way God is described - mighty, holy, unable to look on sin - and prescribe a point beyond which you can't fall. And some people define that point as being beyond the depth to which they've gone - but not so deep as some other people can all. And some look at a point way above their own heads - and think that's the depth from which you can be rescued. They're the too faults we can fall into. Either deciding that our God won't come for them - you know, them. The scruffy ones. The disrespectful ones. The useless ones. The ones that won't fit our mould.  Or thinking that their God - the one that saints are on speaking terms with - won't come for us..

And Paul says -  "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more". It's a simple message from Paul, for all the trouble we have to take to pick our way through it. There is no point to deep from which Christ can't pull us. There is no distance so far he can't come and get us. There's no thought so dark that the Man whose death was darkness doesn't understand it. Nowhere he's not going to reach you, nothing he's not going to do to come and get you - or, indeed, anyone else.

You may think you're a failure. You are. You may think you're unable to sort yourself out. On an eternal scale, that's right. You can patch stuff up, make a new start, on a limited basis - of course you can. But on a long-term basis you're on a hiding to nothing. You can think other people are much worse than you. You may be right. You're probably not, but let's go with it.

But no matter how deep, no matter how far, no matter how stupid the situation into which we fall, throw ourselves or are thrown - there's always someone down there with us, living it with us, down among the roots and the old tyres and the debris that's been washed down the river. With us, alongside us, hanging on to us, pouring breath into us - throwing his arm around us and heading for the sun and the surface.

There's a hell of a lot of sin in the world. So thank God, there's a whole lot more grace.

Lent - the True Story

There seems to have been a division in Lent in recent years.

There was a time when it was all about chocolates - or not eating them, or cigarettes - or, rathet, not smoking them - but many people did still remembered to mark the season one way or another. This was probably put to death about the time that Shrove Tuesday was officially renamed Jif Lemon Day. Lent, in the popular imagination, is now just a lacuna - a void, if you will, rather than a South American relative of the camel. At one end, advertised by the people who sell eggs and plastic lemons containing lemon juice, is Shrove Tuesday. At the other, pushed by the manufacturers of confectionery, is Easter.

Easter is when we remember how the Easter Bunny discovered chocolate, and brought its manufacture to the masses in egg-shaped form to commemorate the ancient Aztec custom of cutting off their victims' heads and boiling them in chocolate to hang on the traditional Aztec Easter Trees.

The story of the Easter Bunny was imported from Brazil in that happy time for chocolate, before Willy Wonka so cruelly enslaved the Oompa Loompas. One of the worst episodes in the Western conquest and exploitation of native First Nation Americans. How theae gentle, fun-loving creatures became bonded labour in Wonka's hideous sweet factory is a matter of shame. The factory failed repeated Health and Safety inspections, and was many times nearly closed down due to small children getting stuck in pipes, contaminating the products, dropping through rubbish chutes or being savagely "juiced" or attacked by squirrels.

The Oompa Loonpsa were, of course, sworn enemies of the Munchkins. As long as the two diminutive tribes were living in the forests untouched by civilisation, this enmity mostly consisted of raiding each others' clearings and stealing Twixes. But they were dragged into a proxy war between Wonka and his nemesis, Oz. The two Westerners engaged in an escalating arms race, buying machine guns and small cannons with the profits from their respective emerald and chocolate empires. Eventually the Oompa Loompas gained the upper hand, stole all the lacunas (the pack animals, not the voids), and sacked the Emerald City. The Munchkin empire was no more.

That this horrific story became two of our most-loved children's stories says much for the power of Hollywood.

And so today, to try to claim Lent from its traditional roots in South America, as they have done with so many traditional pagan festivals, Christians put ash on their foreheads, swear off gin, and re-enact the story of Adam and Eve - to remember how far we have fallen.

Meanwhile everybody else eats hot-cross buns and Creme Eggs throughout the entire season, little knowing that in doing so they are cruelly satirising the fate of those Munchkins, and the ongoing suppression of the Oompa Loompas.

Which is worse? You will have to decide for yourself.

Thursday 6 March 2014

The Archdruid's Lenten Thought - Day 2

You know, bacon is really, really tasty.

Top Gear Cycling Safety Video

Don't watch it myself, but Burton Dasset tells me he had mixed views on the Top Gear "cycle safety" piece.

As a frequent London cyclist himself, Burton says the jokes about smashed bikes and, worse, broken cyclists were pointless and obviously there to get publicity.  While the actual time they spent cycling around London made a couple of good points about the poor driving of buses and  unexpected peril of pedestrians, who walk out into the road without looking.

Burton says that for him, the worst part was when Jeremy Clarkson rubbed some cream onto an unpleasant, wrinkled part of his anatomy that's better kept out of sight.

Well, maybe a bit unfair. After all, riding around in the open all day - Jeremy probably did need to put some sun block on his face.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

#givingitup - a recommendation

I suggest reading this, about tragedy, Christian response, Lent.

A Poem for Richard Dawkins

Who could not be moved by the wondrous Richard Dawkins's ode to sex?

So much so that I felt moved to write these following lines.

The tireless bee for human gain 
we have domesticated. 
But when a don gets on a plane, 
his honey's confiscated.

Today's Health Scares in Full

I reckon the press has got right into Lent.

Smoking parents shorten their children's lives (BBC)

Eating protein shortens your life (Gruaniad)

Eating sugar shortens your life (Plymouth Herald - with a quote from a "Plymouth Expert", no less)

Drinking shortens your life (Telegraph)

So if you can't get your calories from protein, sugar or alcohol, that only leaves consuming carpet or fat. Is that really right? And is Axminster carpet better than nylon?

The Archdruid's Lenten Thought

I'm missing bacon already.

Tuesday 4 March 2014

The Improved Use of Icons in a Church Near You

There are, it seems to me, two limitations to the Church of England "A Church Near You" website.

The first is in the title - why just the Church of England? Why not churches in general? Would that be so hard? A bit of ecumenism? Why not include Beaker People, The Tea Light Evangelicals and the Salisbury Snake-handlers?

Get the first limitation fixed, and the second limitation would become more obvious. Let me explain. Here is the entry for St James, Husborne Crawley.

You know. Don't get me wrong. Handy to know that guide dogs for the blind are welcome (do you know of any place in England that has a sign saying "No Guide Dogs"? But in these multicultural, pick-and-mix, post-modern days, they're not necessarily enough. 

So here are the Beaker recommended additional A Church Near You Icons. Let's hope you find just the place for you.