Wednesday 30 April 2014

Film Review: "Summer Holiday II"

Regarded as one of the great Abramovich's disappointments.

Cliff Richard and Una Stubbs decide to go for one last trip, this time to Lisbon, to remember old times. On the way they pick up Jose, a Portuguese man who claims to be special and says he knows how to get there.

During the night, they discover that Jose has parked the bus on a football pitch in London. But disaster strikes - which is more than Fernando Torres normally does - when the wheels fall off.

Theme tune: "Los Ninos"

Those other great hits:

"We're all going on a longer Summer Holiday than we Wanted" 
"It doesn't Mata anymore"
"Baby, it's Cole Outside"  

Rigidly Defining the Borders of the Church

OK, so war has once again broken out between the Music Group and the Flower Arrangers. This is not the first time, probably won't be the last, but we've had to act. We normally try mediation, consulting, discussion, reconciliation. But on this occasion all normal channels of diplomacy have broken down. Turns out that Stransley "borrowed" the strings off Gerbo's ukulele to train a live ivy up Dreadnort's clarinet as an avant-garde flower arrangement. From my perspective, that neatly takes two instruments of mass disruption out of action with one fell swoop. But still, the Quire responded by throwing copies of "Mission Praise Combined" at the flower arrangers, and some deliberate scattering of lily pollen - in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention - broke out, and so I've decided it's better to draw the line.

Quite a lot of lines, actually. We've divided up the Moot House into a number of autonomous zones. Obviously the Druids have overall executive control. But the only way for the flower arranger and the musician to be friends was to introduce a rigidly-patrolled buffer zone. The area around the Tea Light Stand is a neutral zone, like Antarctica, protected by treaty.

The country of Free Flower-Arrangie was, last I heard, working on the elements of a new alphabet, to go with a language that only has seven nouns, one of which is "oasis". Also, we've shot down what we believe are a couple of Cleaning Drones, that were trying to get behind the Flower Arranger's defences and clear up some fallen leaves.

But I'm particularly worried about the Coffee Team enclave. Up to now they've been OK, as the regular congregation have been taking in food parcels. But we're going to have to negotiate them safe passage to the South Door before one of them bursts.

A Wicker Man is for Beltane, Not Just for Christmas

And so the Wicker Man rises above the greensward, resplendent in the wood of 32 pallets which we have cunningly woven into what looks remarkably like wicker.

On the subject of misnaming, I've been challenged for calling it a "Wicker Man". Well, I've agonised over this myself. Those that object to me calling it a Wicker Man say I'm attributing the male gender to a dumb, inanimate object with no personality.

Which I suppose is fair comment. Anyway, at precisely midnight we will be lighting the Wicker Men with a dozen flaming torches. Obviously, the torch-carrying mob will be taking a detour round to the Old Farage first. Then they shall negotiate the Beltane Labyrinth on the way to Wicker Meadow.

Please can all Beaker Fertility Folk please note that you're not as young or fit as you used to be. So please do your "special dance" after the fire has died down a bit and there's less light.

After the ceremony, we shall adjourn to the Edward Woodward Room for sherries. Or people who like sherry can. The rest of us will be in the Ekland Room, with a bottle of decent Scotch.

Please can the Hedgehog Squad do their check at about 11.50. Last year we had "Spiny Surprise" for tea for half of May.

Jellyfish are Not Immortal

Young Keith, in between checking Charlii for twinges, led this afternoon's liturgy - a Celebration of the Sea - and ventured the remarkable news that jellyfish are immortal.

In fact he went way beyond this startling assertion.  He came up with a complex and, to my mind, pointless analogy between the life cycle of the "Immortal Jellyfish" and the Resurrection on the Final Day. With a slide show. And many references to the word "polyp". More than we needed, to be honest

I regret to say this, of my  flesh 'n' blood - and after all, blood own is thicker than sepia - but he's talking drivel.

Firstly because he broke the First Law of Sermon Analogies - which states that, if you have to explain the thing you're using as an analogy, it's a bad analogy.  If you explain sin using entropy, for example, you have to start by explaining entropy.

The entropy/sin analogy also breaks the Second Law, which states that analogies should be interesting. Which the Immortal Jellyfish story doesn't.  What could be more interesting than an immortal jellyfish?  But Immortal Jellyfish also  break the Second Law of Sermon Analogies - which states that an analogy must be a valid analogy. I should state at this point that most preachers ignore both First and Third laws, in pursuit of compliance with the Second. They think.

But this immortal jellyfish one breaks First and Third Laws. You have to use words like "transdifferentiation". Which isn't easy. And then, importantly;  jellyfish are not immortal. Not in any meaningful sense of the word. I know we at the Beaker Folk like to act like the world will last forever, and it's down to us petrol-swilling metal heads to guard its future - but jellyfish are not immortal, any more than the world is.

First up - because, no matter what we do about carbon emissions and limitations on Justin Bieber,  the world is going to end. The sun may or not swallow it up, but it's gonna dry all the seas up and all the immortal jellyfish are going to look bloody silly, aren't they, dried up on the flaky crust of the shell of Planet Earth as a red, rogue sun grows ever bigger?

But even if the Immortal jellyfish hitch a lift in the bilge of the last spaceship heading for the Horsehead Nebula, their future is still, ultimately, certain. Second Law of Thermodynamics, old thing. Will do for us all in the end. When the Universe hits heat death, and there's no more entropy to free - then the supposedly immortal jellyfish are gonna be smeared into primal entropy just like the rest of us. No more krill to catch. No more terrifying Australians by rocking up on Bondi Beach. Just a smooth, endless, meaningless pulp of dying photons. Forever.

You know, I think I might skip the calamari tonight. Somehow there doesn't seem much point.

A Stripling in a Loose Garment, Stripping in a Garden

Don't ask me how this comes up, conveniently next door to the (transferred) feast of St Mark. And I'm not sure I'd Google the expression above, if I were you.  The first half of it was tweeted into my timeline and the image stuck.

I'm thinking, of course, of Mark 14:

 "50  And they all forsook him, and fled.

 51  And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him:

 52  And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked."

The later Gospel writers remove this reference, possibly thinking that it detracts from the solemnity of the moment to have young nude men running around the Garden like some Monty Python sketch.

Apparently Jeremy Bentham thought the young man was a prostitute Jesus had taken into the garden with him. Which seems unlikely to me. Firstly because if the rozzers had caught Jesus in flagrante, the Sanhedrin wouldn't have wasted their time arguing over theological issues with Pilate. They'd have just picked up some handy-sized stones. And secondly because if the Gospel writer had gone to all the trouble of ignoring that entire event of passion, he'd have knocked out the young man altogether. From the passage, that is. Not literally.

The most likely explanation for the young nude chap is that he's someone who, knowing that Jesus the exciting young rabbi and his disciples have gone out into the garden, grabs the nearest linen cloth to hand - maybe his bed sheet? Did they have such? - runs out to follow them, hides to see what's going on and, when it all kicks off and the place is crawling with temple guards and legionaries, legs it. A copper grabs his shoulder, is left with a handful of cloth, and our man legs it, nude, into the Jerusalem night.

The next step many take is to assume that the most likely explanation for the source of this youth is that he's a teenager who should have been in bed. Who was, in fact, in bed on this holy night, in his mum's house. Which house was actually the building that contained an upper room where Jesus and his disciples were eating their Last Supper. That, in short, the young nude man was Mark himself.

It has a lovely logic about it. This brief glimpse, if you will, of the author.  Painting himself into the picture, like a Hitchcock cameo. Adds that touch of historical veracity.

It's also a little cameo of Mark's future career. This wasn't the only time Mark tried to follow Jesus and then ran away. He did it later on, on a missionary journey with Paul. So much so that Paul refused to work with him again - Like Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane. Only without the bad language and money.

Mark's habit of running away was so - ahem - marked that the Church of England, with typical tastelessness, uses the Acts reading explaining all this on St Mark's Day.

But remember this. At the end of his journey, Paul writes that "Only Luke is with me," and asks to get Mark to come to be with him. Towards the end of Peter's life, tradition has it, Mark was with him, and wrote down what Peter told him into what became the first Gospel. How odd if, unknown to even Jesus himself, Mark was closest to him also as he prepared for the end of his own life

Mark - the one who was always running away. The one who first wrote Jesus's life story. Allegedly, the nude bloke in a garden. It's funny who God uses.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

The Church Coffee - View of Mission Correlation Index

Instant,  Own-label  - Doomed

Instant, Fair Trade - Doomed, but with a social conscience

Bags - Missional, but not Messy

Java - Geeky

Bags, Fair Trade - Missional, Conscience, not Messy

Cafetiere - Messy. 

Espresso Machine - Well into Alpha. 

Camomile Tea - Emergent

Rules for the Administration of Biscuits

I see, my gentle Beaker Folk, that there is much dissension among you over the consumption of biscuits. For when you gather together around the coffee table - an act of worship in its own way, as is all of our time on this earth - people are unfairly treated.

Inasmuch as those who don't have any clearing away to do get to the coffee table first, and half-inch all the Jaffa Cakes. And then all the Abbey Crunch and chocolate cookies go. So that those who have carried the chairs, or packed up their instruments, or offered prayer ministry, are left with only the custard creams.

And there are those who allow their children to feast freely on the wagon wheels of the land. Some have been know to sneak to the front and get away with two in each hand and three in their mouths. Which, at least, confirms my suspicion that they're not as big as they were.

And the cry of "who ate all the fruit pies? " reacheth unto heaven.

And so I am constrained to introduce the following rules.

Children will be separated from the biscuit plates by a distance of 6 cubits (according to the Etruscan cubit). This distance to be marked on the floor in blest chalk. Their parents are to take them one wagon wheel each. On a paper plate, so as to meet hygiene standards. The plates to be recycled into doilies, for not recycling them is an abomination unto George Monbiot.

Jaffa Cakes are no longer to be served on the biscuit table. For they are cakes, not biscuits.

Each adult is to take one biscuit from the "nice" plate and one from the "plain" plate. If, 20 minutes after the coffee time starts, biscuits remain they are to be covered with a shiny red paper doily, and removed to the Druids' lounge.

In this way, we will eat biscuits in peace, and drink from the filter coffee of joy.

Monday 28 April 2014

We Come in Peace

I suggested the other day that maybe there's no other life out there. And it's certainly my preferred solution to the Fermi so-called Paradox. Life is just hard to make.

But this evening,having the choice between Grunwicke's "Sensing The Divine in a Bowl of Soup" alternative liturgy; or watching Rev on the telly; or something else - I went for something else. I was in the need for some light-hearted fiction, so I'm watching the Channel 5 alien night, rather than the documentary on BBC1.

Discussing aliens, a woman with a stern look on Channel 5 told us that they are not to be feared. They may have so much to teach us, she said. And I wonder.

Maybe I'm extrapolating from human nature. I dunno. But human nature is all I have to go with. I'm thinking the Europeans going to America. And Africa. The Romans in Britain. The Vikings in Yorkshire. The Saxons in the Isle of Wight. Stag do's in Lithuania. So - if an alien expedition found this little blue-green planet on the unfashionable (according to Douglas Adams) fringes of the Western Spiral Arm of the galaxy, why might they be here?

They could be on a mission to bring peace. Or they could be here with the intention of exploiting the planet, either killing us as a by-product or enslaving us to produce for them whatever it is they've come looking for.

They could be heading across the darkness of interstellar space, on a risky and terrifying voyage at immense distances from home, having homed in on a broadcast of Eastenders, because they think we're nice and we might want to say "hi". They might want to share their star-hopping technology with us. They might have some insights into how we could live better.

They could be heading this way, having seen World War II films, Independence Day,  footage of Tony Blair justifying the invasion of Iraq, Putin suggesting the West is the problem, people throwing bananas at Dani Alves.... and wanting to share their technology with us? Would anyone seriously think that any alien intelligent enough to cross the galaxy to find us would want to tell us how to get out and about more?

No, if you see any aliens, they're coming to exploit or destroy us. If we meet aliens, there's only one option.

We're gonna have to kill them. It's the only way.

Joining the Dots on the HS2 Route

The Government insists it will build the HS2 Rail Link, while opponents say its £50Bn price tag makes it uneconomic. If only there was a way to cut the costs...

Meanwhile, the unemployed will have to work for free to keep their benefits.

Dave, it's just a thought, but give me a call? I'm sure, for a fee, I can help you out here?

A Few Good Links

Being a bit blogger-retro, while there's still some blogs out there...

David Keen on being not actually OCD at all, as OCD is serious. You know he's right anyway. But he is right.

Dwight Longenecker on Catholic Priests who are Fathers in the Biological Sense.

There's something I agree with Steve at Naws on. And, oddly, he agrees with Rowan Williams. I'm impressed. I never understand what Rowan is saying. Crimperman agrees with both of them. So they must be right. Or maybe Doug doesn't think so.

And Jem on Rev. The show that divides Christians into those that like it, those that don't, and those who haven't seen it. Oh yeah, and those that think it's kind of OK. Sally likes it.. And Sally's take on it is powerful and good. Sally saved me from a nun once, in circumstances I can't go into here. You should listen to her.

A Child's "Ed Balls Day" in Luton

One Ed Balls Day was just like another, in that motor town where the ball-bearing factory ran down to the railway now, as Leagrave Marsh oozed towards Lewsey Farm across a stream of people heading to the L&D after a bust-up in the First and Last on the other side of the rumbling M1, where the people of Dunstable went to bed smug at night and knew they would never vote for the red-rosetted, red-faced, tax-increasing Labour candidates  Luton returned on alternate election nights.

All the Ed Balls Days run down together as they fall down to the sky-splitting, factory-hooting, Nova-spitting Vauxhall factory, out on the way to the airport, where the Chevette-shoving, Cavalier-carving Lutonians would make a few duds on a Friday afternoon and head for the Brache, for the football-chasing, skittle-throwing, .22-bullet-shooting start to a Luton weekend. I put my hand into that clunking, unprofitable, downwards spiral of a production line, and I pull out Ms Harman and the Socialists.

I remember that Ed Balls eve, down in Ms Harman's garden as I listened to Mr Dromey explaining those donations, and all the time it was retweeting. It was always retweeting, on Ed Balls Day. Casting back through the straw-hatted memories, of the furtive men sneaking through High Town on the way back from the Bricklayers' and looking in dark corners for a secret fumble of an Ed Balls' Night, and the time Mrs Smith was always apologising for her husband, and Mrs Blair used to put a wig on during the day and be Miss Booth - or did Miss Booth put a weird smile on at night and pretend to be Mrs Blair?

And down I roll through those ancient days when I remember going down, down past Mr Blair's Carpet-Bombing Shop. He was never happy, that shape-shifting, skin-shedding, two-ways-facing Mr Blair. Always down the Two Brewers with his friend Bush, a guacamole lunch with Mandy in that fish shop on the Halfway House roundabout - the chips oozing, greasing, sweating with the precious lard - and then every night off for a fight with the Iraqis. And sneaking past Mr Blair (for he was never too safe to be near, always telling you how much he loved people of all faiths and then going off to start a fight in the Middle East. You never wanted to be too close to the hymn-singing, rosary-holding, dangerous old fool).  And down I plunge, towards the Red-Flag-singing Lea, wondering whether it was Marsh Farm that was burning.

Something was always burning, all right. Normally whatever country Mr Blair had thought was looking at him the wrong way in the "George", in those rock-and-rolling evenings when he would play with his band, then go out after last orders into that Bible-Black, biscuit-scented, ball-bearing-bearing Biscot,and look for someone to punch, knowing that whoever he chose, in that cloistering, darkening, soul-sapping suburb, his friend Mr Bush - jaw jutting, way-losing, confused but deadly as a viper in a Straw Hatter launderette washing basket- would be just behind him, posturing, politicking, drivelling and tripping over his shoelaces.

Always on Ed Balls Night there was music. And sometimes an uncle would sing "Things can Only Get Better". And Mr Prescott would let too much food get into him, and fall off a wardrobe, and sing "The Red Flag". And Mr Blair would say "That's quite enough of that," and go out and punch somebody innocent in the street. And then, while the fight was raging outside and Mr Bush was wading in and innocent bystanders were getting dragged into it, I would look out the window and shudder, and dread the thought there was ever going to be another Ed Balls Day. And I would mutter anxious words to the unhearing dark over Stockwood Park, and drift off to an uneasy sleep.

Sunday 27 April 2014

A Retired Archbishop Speaks

Lord Williams, who retired from being the leader of the Church of England in 2012, said: "If I say that this is a post-Christian nation, that doesn't mean necessarily non-Christian."

He's just fooling around now, isn't he?

Capitalism is Pretty in Pink

Thanks to the folk who put me onto Monopoly Boutique Edition.

It's actually been around for a while now, by the look of it, but its selling point compared to its more traditional - ahem - brother game is this:
.....dressed up in pink and all about stuff you love! Buy boutiques and shopping centres, go on a shopping spree, pay your mobile phone bill and get text and instant messages. 
I think the most telling sentence though is this one:
Best of all, the game is stored in a beautiful keepsake box.
Yep. In the original game, it's about the cut and thrust of raw capitalism. Evil moguls stab each other in the back in order to gain sole exploitation rights on the metropolitan property market. That's a bit scary for we gentler ones, whose take on capitalism is summed up in the aspirations of a Valley Girl.

But even so, the game's gonna have rules. You need to be able to give the right money to the other players - implying numeracy. So the game mechanics aren't the best bit about the game. The best bit of the game is that the box looks pretty in a pink bedroom.

I'm hoping that this is just like the Pope's crow-hunting hawk. An April Fool that's been around and everyone's forgotten it was a joke. I'm not holding my breath though.

Saturday 26 April 2014

“My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

I've just opened a reverse-telemarketing company. Basically, I've got a phone number that's deliberately white-listed as a residential address, easily accessible through the Internet, clearly marked as "one of those suckers who'll buy things off you". Then when somebody phones up from an anonymous number and tells me they're not trying to sell me something, I introduce them to our wide range of tea lights and essential oils for meditation, with free delivery for orders over £15. It's doing quite well, although I suspect quite a lot of them are paying with their previous victims' credit card numbers.

John's Gospel is emphatically not like one of those cold-callers who assure you repeatedly that they're not trying to sell you something. John's Gospel, from beginning to end, is trying to sell you Jesus Christ. This Gospel is not the equivalent of a Church that conceals its ulterior motive under the pretence it's a book-club, a coffee shop or a children's drop-in centre. I remember when the Beaker Folk opened up the first Mrs Whimsey's Doily Shop. By clever marketing and obscuring our true nature, it was many years before most customers realised that, by laying out one of our doilies and putting a jug of water on it, they were engaging in our most sacred rituals. Although, come to think of it, that probably says more about the banality of most Beaker rituals than their gullibility.

But the point I'm trying to get over, the thing I was trying to say before I was distracted by thoughts of doilies (now 30% off in our "Countdown to Mayday" sale, by the way) is this - John's Gospel is a Gospel. It's explicitly about Jesus. It goes from the Cosmic, as Life, the Universe and Everything is created through the Word - to the domestic, as a woman of no repute pours ointment on his feet - to the mythic, as we remember that this odd little act of pouring-out perfume shows that he is Christ - the Anointed One. And everything about this Gospel tells you the same story. Why does he work wonders? As signs that he is the Holy One. Why feed the people of Israel on the far side of Lake Galilee? Because he's a successor to Moses - and more. Why are we told about Thomas's trials? To show us that Jesus is the risen one. Why do we get the I Am pronouncements? To show us who He Is. Jesus is all this is about. This is a Gospel. There is good news, and it's all connected to Jesus.

The Gospels on the whole seem to be, if this isn't a fairly obvious thing to say, honest documents. They admit that even Jesus can get tired, or angry, or even say things that sound quite rude to our ears. But the authors don't seem to have the same sensitivity towards their predecessors or, even, their own friends and colleagues. I've just been reading about the new Man Utd season ticket brochure. They've had to do a bit of minor airbrushing since the first edition came out. Seems that the first picture they used - with David Moyes, the manager who was in charge up to Tuesday - needed to have poor old Moyesy removed from it. The new brochure has the same picture, sans Moyes. He is now an un-manager.

If the Gospel writers applied the same attitude, then James and John wanting to blow up a Samaritan village, struggles over who's the most important disciple, Peter's betrayal - they'd all be removed. The Holy Saints would be beautifully cleaned-up, lose their warts, keep on a beautifully even, serene keel - would all be clustered round the Cross on Good Friday. But no. They're confused, they're scared, they desert, and we're told all about it. The Gospels don't even try to protect Jesus from the accusation of bad judgement, in picking Judas in the first place. And then Thomas asks some key questions about the Resurrection, and we get to hear all about it...

Even the most gormless disciple was able to work out, given a live Jesus in front of them, that he was in fact alive again, after all that had happened. They'd not believed the women - fair enough, who believed women in them days? And then they'd been thrown into confusion by the empty tomb. But, faced with Jesus himself, alive and before them - they'd realised. They lost their grief, they were a team again. Sure, they still weren't too brave when it came to the authorities - but they knew where they were.

Thomas, he's been otherwise occupied when Jesus visited on that first Easter Sunday. Shopping, or down the pub, or just gone for a walk. The easy story for John to tell is the one that goes, "and Thomas believed as well". But John, at the expense of Thomas, is telling us more than this. Because telling us the Good news about Jesus is more important than Thomas's reputation. Even if it means the poor soul being "Doubting Thomas" for the rest of history. John gives us warts and all.

The story I hear goes like this. The women - they believe straight away. But the women, as we found out when Mary of Bethany poured the perfume on Jesus' feet - the women know who Jesus is, and they're gonna comprehend his Resurrection early. After all, they were the ones up on that Easter Sunday morning, caring for Jesus beyond any hope. They got the Resurrection, they got  that he was the Messiah - after all, it was Mary who gave him the anointing that made him the Anointed One.

And then the disciples-  they see Jesus that first Easter Sunday. They're glad to see the Lord. But they've been scared; they've been tired; by Sunday evening they're maybein a bit of a mystical state. You think what it's like if, in line with modern ideas of celebrating a holy day, you've been up till 2am on the Eve of the Festival, followed by the Dawn service on the festival itself. You'll believe rabbits can fly, in that kind of state. What with wish-fulfilment, self-delusion, they could, plausibly, have created a story. Unlikely. And you've got the women and - from Luke - you've got the men from Emmaus. The evidence is stacking up. The witnesses are multiplying. But still, they could.

Thomas doesn't believe. Thomas wasn't there. Thomas has no reason to believe. Thomas is a sceptic. And I don't blame him. We do the people of the First Century a disservice when we imply that they were credulous, that the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection were just accepted because the people were too gormless to apply normal standards of evidence. They knew where babies came from - that's why, 33 years before Thomas's experience in an upper room, Joseph thought it was best to divorce Mary. And they knew there was a difference between dead and alive. If they thought the dead sometimes wandered the earth - and, let's face it, some people believe that today - they still knew they didn't have physical bodies when they did it. Thomas is asking for some decent evidence - not just happy emotion, not a gooey feeling that things are somehow all right. Holes in the hands - holes he can put his fingers in - a hole in Jesus' side - these are physical things. Real things. Objective, testable things.

What John's telling us is, this is no wafty "spiritual" resurrection. This is the real thing. Jesus is alive. He was dead, and now he's alive. All hope was gone, and now he's alive. As alive as you are - as alive as I am. And then beyond that, to a whole new dimension of alive. An amount of "alive" we can't even imagine. He was alive to the Marys. He was alive to Peter and the gang. And, in case you think they were all a bit in the mood for some wishful thinking, he was alive even to Thomas.  Thomas, who wanted a decent standard of proof. Thomas, who after a whole week was rested, rational, coherent. Thomas, who was blessed. Because he set the bar high - and he got every proof he demanded, and proof beyond that. He got the proof that took him past any response you might have expected of him. He could have said, to the other disciples, "you're right". He could have looked at himself, and said, "I'm wrong". He did neither. He did the right thing, the logical thing - he was a logical bloke - the only thing.

His demands were met, the proof he wanted was given. He looked at the risen Jesus, he believed. He worshipped. "My Lord and My God."

How blessed we are, if we can learn from Thomas.

The Filter of Life Doesn't Look Promising

The discovery of an earth-like planet kicks off the debate about whether we are shortly to make ourselves extinct, or are we really lucky to have made it to this point in our species' evolution?

The Moon Gibbon Folk, of course, disagree with the premise of this debate. If there's a gibbon on the Moon - a giant, malevolent, supernatural one at that - then maybe there's more life about than we think, they argue.

Well they have a point.  Obviously, it's a rubbish point. But once again it gives me cause to consider the Fermi Paradox, and think it's maybe not so much of a paradox after all.

Maybe the universe is quiet, because we're alone. Maybe we're either the first successful shot at life - or maybe we're the only shot. Maybe we are the observers whose presence ensured the universe's quantum existence. We are wholly responsible.

Suddenly I feel a bit chilly.

The Church Pressure Group Generator

It's a rule as old as the hills. If you're going to have a Christian lobby, pressure group, think tank or get-together of likeminded souls, you need to give it a two-word name.

The rule says - the first word is some kind of adjective - normally a verbal adjective like "Condescending", although it could be another kind such as "Anglican" or "Evangelicals".

The second word is a kind of tortured noun - normally an abstract one but sometimes it's an adjective that's been nounified, like "Evangelicals".

Put them together and what do you get? You get a brand new Christian pressure group. Note - before using this actual name,check. There's a 50:50 chance it already exists.

Friday 25 April 2014

What Sort of Former Evangelical Are You

There was a time, long and merry ago now, when people would be proud to proclaim themselves Evangelical. When the giants of the Evangelical world, US and UK, were people we liked and respected. John Stott; Michael Saward; Drayton Parslow. Some are now waiting for endless glory, while others are no longer as young as they used to be, and are maybe not so active. But we loved them. Still do. Apart from Drayton, obviously. This was religion that was intelligent, rational, compassionate.

In the happy days when I started the Beaker Folk, I realised it was handy, when pilgrims were arriving, to know their declared churchpersonship. Meant I could tweak the contents of the pilgrimage to the people.  And so on their booking forms, I'd ask them to indicate where they stood: Catholic, Wet Liberal, Annoyingly Wet Liberal, Evangelical.

But I realised this was a blunt weapon (and not the one I reserved for the really annoyingly Wet Liberals - the ones who only came on silent retreats so nobody could ever get offended by anything anyone said). And so I subdivided the Evangelicals into "Open", "Conservative" and "Scary".

But that's not enough now, is it? Something has changed. The triumphalist certainties of old have been shattered. Maybe it was Mark Driscoll. Maybe it was a response to modern views of sexuality, that seemed so ungracious that some were just embarrassed. Anyway; I've reframed the question completely to accommodate the modern world. Because what is the Church for, if not that?

So the new question and options are:

What sort of Former Evangelical Are You?

a) Ex-evangelical

b) Post-evangelical

c) Emergent

d) Thinking Emergent is a bit old hat

e) The Artist Formerly Known as an Evangelical

f) Once and Future Evangelical

g) Like those Irish people who worship round bonfires on the beach

h) Non-Evangelical

i) Over being an Evangelical

j) Would prefer you didn't mention that whole "Evangelical" thing

k) Greek Orthodox

l) No, I'm still an Evangelical

m) Mark Driscoll

n) Pass the snake, would you?

o) Get over it.

I tell you, it's a fractious, fractional and confusing world out there.
I blame the Evangelicals.

Least Adequate Explanation of the Trinity Prize - New Contender

Thanks to Ardwulf for his lunchtime "Immersive Worship". The theme was meant to be, as it often is, the mutual indwelling of the persons of the Trinity.  This normally involves Liturgical Dance. And who doesn't like Liturgical Dance?

Cue 30 minutes of watching, puzzled, as Ardwulf sprinkled rain water over a dusty floor, while an industrial fan wafted the scent towards us.

Eventually the penny dropped, and I pulled the plug - on the fan, and the liturgy. Easy mistake, I realise, caused by somebody's dodgy handwriting.  That did look rather like "petrichoresis".

Thursday 24 April 2014

Church of England BAPs - Those 50 Secret Tricky Questions

It is a well-known fact that all Anglicans who are possibly called to ministry, having attended a Bishops' Advisory Panel (BAP), are sworn to secrecy regarding what actually happens. The status of BAP candidate is akin to the outer circle of the Freemasons, in more ways than one.

So it was at great personal risk (thankfully not mine) that we managed to get a Beaker infiltrator through Confirmation, DDO and the entire series of assessors that lead to BAP attendance. And by scratching the questions onto the soles of his feet with a pair of compasses (used for drawing circles in the notoriously difficult "Describe the Geometry of the Trinity" exercise, he has managed to evade the detailed body-search procedures that might have led to his being discovered.

  1. Can you explain the doctrine of predestination, using matchsticks and boiled sweets?
  2. How much of a Fleetwood Mac fan are you?
  3. Which parts of postmodernism are you just blagging?
  4. Which soap star has been the biggest influence on your life? 
  5. Canterbury or Hippo?
  6. How's your head for heights? And your ability at tiling?
  7. Do you think that biretta's premature?
  8. African swallow, or European?
  9. Are you scared of nuns in particular, or just women in particular? [Optional for female candidates]
  10. Out of 150, what percentage of your time do you think you'll be able to give to administration?
  11. Can you give an example of where you've removed some furniture against the preferences of the person whose house it actually is?
  12. Which denomination would you prefer to let down in Ecumenical dialogue?
  13. Did you think nobody noticed you have that third pint last night?
  14. You know the 48-hour rule doesn't apply, don't you?
  15. Which Genesis albums do you own both on vinyl and CD?
  16. Do you prefer your sherry oloroso or fino?
  17. How many chickens do you think?
  18. If you had two successive meetings, 14 miles apart, how fast do you think you could drive to get between them?
  19. Do you have any idea how silly you'll look in a rose chasuble?
  20. Meetings will form a fair part of your day. Can you show me what you look like when fast asleep with your eyes open?
  21. You know Dibley is imaginary, don't you?
  22. Christendom may be dead - but don't you think it would be better if it wasn't?
  23. How do you handle conflict? This is not a hypothetical question.
  24. Do you have any concept of what exhaustion means?
  25. What kind of a scruffy, lovable old dog are you thinking of getting?
  26. How's your juggling? No - with eggs, not calendars.
  27. Can you use this calendar of lunar phases, and this map of the East Anglian coast, to work out the tide times for next week in Great Yarmouth?
  28. If not, how are you going to manage the Lectionary?
  29. How do think it will feel, being the one not crying at your friends' funerals?
  30. You know the peasants won't just do what you say these days?
  31. You know how it's nice to be able to relax in the evening? How do you think it would be, not to?
  32. Did you just get into this for the quiche?
  33.  Not using decimals, how many meetings do your reckon you can fit into a typical 16-hour day?
  34. Does your spouse have any idea what he/she is in for?
  35. Do you want people to like you?
  36. In that case, do you think you should be doing something else?
  37. How far, do you reckon, could you throw a choirmaster?
  38. What level of oil boiler maintenance have you reached?
  39. How much Moltmann have you read?
  40. Are you exaggerating?
  41. You have read the Bible, haven't you? All of it, not just the bits at Christmas?
  42. You know all the "vicars" on Twitter are impostors, don't you?
  43. How's your memory for names?
  44. Can you make a bridge from toilet rolls and paper clips? How might you apply this to your ministry?
  45. You may learn a lot of Greek words over the next three years. How quickly do you reckon you can forget them again?
  46. Have you ever considered what it's like trying to manage amateurs?
  47. Some people will think you're closer to God than they are. You won't let that go to your head, will you?
  48. You may spend your curacy in a squirrel costume, doing the church children's work. In what way will you be following the footsteps of St Francis?
  49. Can you explain the Parable of the Talents through interpretive dance?
  50. When you see yourself in a dog collar in the mirror - how likely is it you'll swear? And after 10 years?

(Should you want to know, yes our agent got through.  And there's talk of him one day being an Archdeacon.)

Bryony has a much more fanciful idea of the whole thing, if you want a look.

And then here's a personal account of this weird activity, with a link to more examples.

Other Things You Never Knew About Top Gear

So the middle-aged boy-racers of Top Gear staged a Traffic Jam for comic effect. I was so shocked I nearly decided to vote UKIP.

In other news:

Jeremy Clarkson's testosterone levels aren't actually that high.

They're rude about cyclists because the outrage gets them publicity.

When they do those coast-to-coast challenges, they have a camera crew and backup team with them.

They gave those bikes and the stupid clothes back after they filmed that thing in London. And the cycling experts they spoke to knew they were going to be stupid. And they probably pulled Clarkson's chain off deliberately. And that's not necessarily a euphemism.

Some of the stars in reasonably priced cars are more like celebrities than stars, if truth be told.

Some of their fans are spotty teenagers who can't even drive, but like to bask in the glow of their machismo.

The Stig is just a professional driver in a racing outfit. Not a superhero. Although some say his kneecaps are made of germanium.

James May makes to like out he's the most laid-back of the three.

Richard Hammond isn't all that tall.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

At A Moment's Notice

See, this is what happens when you let Burton Dasset help out.

I remarked in passing that I'm absent-minded about charging my phone. Commented that, should Charlii suddenly go into labour when I've let the battery die, I won't know about it for ages.

Came in just now to discover that he's purchased a dozen cheap phones, downloaded their numbers into Young Keith's, and has wired each phone up to forward answer phone messages to all the others. That way, he says, he makes sure I won't miss the announcement that the youngest member of the Fitzroy Russell clan is on the way.

Yeah, I said. But Young Keith only has one phone. And he's as bad at charging his, as I am. And there's no guarantee, in the circumstances of a rapid exit from Waitrose, let us say (apparently they give you the shopping free if your waters break, so Charlii's spending a lot of time in there at the moment), that Charlii will remember to let me know so then what?

He went a bit white for a while. But now Young Keith has half a dozen phones. One of which is wind-up. I'm gonna be the best-informed Granny in Central England at this rate.

St George's Day - The Mail Exposes the Church of "England's" Shame

The Mail has today filled its pages with references to St George's Day. Around the country, patriotic organisations have flown the red cross. And yet, while we have campaigned to kick Alex Salmond out until it's a less English day, one former national institution has not been celebrating with us.

In a shocking attempt to comply with European regulation (the Catholic Church), the Church of England is today instead marking something called "Easter". The Church of England - note that word, England - is  ignoring St George in favour of a religious festival imported from the Middle East.

While Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral and St Giles Fraser's Church all ignored our national day, the Rev Bill Bumptious of St Stroppy's, Southwark, used a St George's Day Flag altar cloth, and threw red roses at his bumper midweek congregation of 3. Rev Bill said, "I've always ignored anything the Church tells me, and today is no different. The Church of England is oppressive, restrictive of personal freedom and dreadfully illiberal. But thankfully its rules make it very hard for it to sack people that ignore the rules."

A spokesbook for the Archbishop of Canterbury said, "When St George's Day or St Mark's Day falls between Palm Sunday and the Second Sunday of Easter inclusive, it is transferred to the Monday after the Second Sunday of Easter. If both fall in this period, St George's Day is transferred to the Monday and St Mark's Day to the Tuesday. When the Festivals of George and Mark both occur in the week following Easter and are transferred in accordance with these Rules in a place where the calendar of The Book of Common Prayer is followed, the Festival of Mark shall be observed on the second available day so that it will be observed on the same day as in places following alternative authorized Calendars, where George will have been transferred to the first available free day."

We don't know what that means, except that the unpatriotic Church of England - supporter of an asylum-seeking single mother, her tax-dodging son and the hard-working carpenter who had to support them both - has ignored St George, our national saint. Instead it is remembering that the man behind the infamous "Temple Disturbances" of 33AD had his sentence of death cut short to 2 days for good behaviour.

They will be celebrating in the West Bank tonight.

BBC's Jamaica Inn - What you Missed

Aunt Patience:Arrrrh!
Mysterious Albino Vicar:Arrrrh!
Person who's wandered in from the Archers:Arrrrh!
Spare Smuggler:Arrrrh!
Person who killed somebody in Midsomer:Arrrrh!
Stray character from Lark Rise:Arrrrh!
Aunt Ada Doom:Arrrrh!
Eddie Shoestring:Arrrrh!
Adge Cutler:Arrrrh!
Worzel Gummidge:Arrrrh!

Continues Inaudibly

Blair May Damage World Health

I may be simplifying this, and I confess I'm not an expert on world politics.

But it seems to me that Tony Blair has a basic idea that, if there is a fundamentalist or totalitarian viewpoint out there, the only thing reasonable, liberal, democratic people can do is find the people that hold that view, and bomb them into oblivion. For peace.  In a democratic, free-speech, rights-respecting kind of way.

As I say, i may be misrepresenting his view.

But, then, Iraq happened, didn't it?

The True Story of St George

And so on this holy day, we remember St George, a citizen of Turkey, Syria or Armenia - depending upon precisely which non-left-wing group's straw people we want to burn today.

George found that the people of Turkey/Armenia/Syria/Poland were living in fear of a terrible dragon. This dragon demanded the sacrifice of virgins on a regular basis. And as long as the virgins were of common birth, this didn't particularly bother anyone. Obviously it upset the common people, but then if you want to live like common people, you've got to do whatever common people do.

But one day the supply of working class maidens ran out, and the powers that be decided something must be done. So they sent for George, a local warrior or, in some particularly silly versions, plumber. George, sizing up the situation, realised exactly what needed to be done. Oh yeah, upper-class girls can be found by the thousand in parts of Chelsea and Hampshire. But a talking dragon? That's a rare breed you've got there. George immediately got a court injunction protecting the dragon from any kind of disturbance, and told the posh girl who was the next on the list that she was going to die in a good cause.

But young Griselda was strong, fearless, devout. And above all a loather of environmental policies. Her dad got to be king by obtaining a number of fracking licences. And she wasn't going to be eaten by a dragon just because some bleeding-hearted leftie saint had strolled along. So she borrowed 20 feet of copper pipe from George, on the pretext that she needed to sort out her mum's downstairs lavvy before she was horribly eaten by a fire-breathing monster. Then she converted it into a lance, and shoved it up the dragon's nose.  The dragon was caught totally unawares. He'd presumed it must be kebab today.

Naturally the whole thing had to be hushed up. So George took the credit, and went on into the semi final where he lost on penalties to St Michael. The young lady's active role was forgotten, lest any future English women should be inspired by her action and decide to become Prime Minister. And, on this day in England, we celebrate the birthday of William Shakespeare, who in order to keep on the right side of the Tudor monarchy turned George into a brave but foolish young man, the damsel into a determined young girl, and the dragon into a bawdy nurse. How the story of Griselda and the Dragon became that of Romeo and Juliet is one of the great tales of English literature in itself. So cry God, King Harry and St George! And try not to think too much of the things King Harry did to the French in George's name.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Beetle Drive-in Horror

I'm afraid we're going to have cancel this evening's planned Beetle Drive.

I should never have given Marston the organisation job. But he was keen, and I was distracted by all the near-misses on the maternity front. I did explain to him very carefully the way that Beetle Drives work. He was very attentive. He did what he was told. Exactly. He made his own beetles specially for the evening.

I say "made". "Dismembered" would be more accurate. The Beetle Drive's off. And I'm off my dinner.

An Ambitious Programme

I'd like to thank Chetwynd for his interesting proposals for the new evangelisation of England.

Broadly, his proposal is that we campaign for an independent Scotland. That, he believes, will provide the Tories with the edge in England (and Wales, which apparently we get to keep.)

Then, we offer our spiritual services to David Cameron. We do this on the basis of the following:

a) We have women in leadership already. Unlike the C of E or the Tories, we don't have to struggle to get any women in place

b) We offer full equality in marriage services. Again, no embarrassing power struggles and no forty-year fights through Synod.

c) We offer vaguely spiritual feelings, occasionally singing a few bars of "Jerusalem" before forgetting the words.

d) Aren't old buildings lovely?

e) Hardworking, responsible discipleship.

On this strong commercial proposition, we intend to run the Church of England as a franchise, thus bypassing all that dreary stuff they'll need to do to modernise. We will appoint Olivia Colman as our chief spokesperson, and that bloke who plays her husband in "Rev" as our stunt comedy vicar.

Then when David Cameron wins the next election, the really serious piece of evangelisation comes in.  We franchise all Social Security and state pensions services to your friendly local church - let's face it, that's already happened for emergency food provision. Anyone wanting money, food or a roof over their heads will have to see the local vicar, who will judge their case based on whether she has seen them in church lately, and whether they're a notorious evil-liver or no better than they should be.

In this way, we will restore both power and moral initiative to the Church. And England will be Christendom again.

I'm not sure about all of it. Chetwynd's assumption that every church will have its own full-time vicar, regardless of its size, seems to owe more to watching "Postman Pat" than any kind of economic or demographic reality. And his proposal that the vicar should be allowed, in cases of severe moral turpitude or idleness, to unleash the Skimmington on households, seems a bit much. Merely making them repent in sackcloth seems enough to me.

Monday 21 April 2014

Theology Degree: "Rev" Studies Module (25 pts)

This exciting new module helps the theology student to apply their theoretical skills to a nearly-real, contemporary urban culture.

What did the Bishop mean when he said that Latin? Is the word "Miltonian" appropriate? What's with Colin? Is Olivia Colman perfect? Are they ever going to show a nice female vicar? In what way is Adam expressing an incarnational ministry? How did the choirmaster from Dibley get such a remarkable promotion? Will this enable the Church of England to connect with modern English society? Is it only vicars watching it?  How have we moved forward since "Bless me, Father" and "Dad's Army"? What does Buster the Dog think?

These and many similar questions are the kind of thing you'll be asking yourself. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you won't have to quote Moltmann or spell "Kierkegaard". It's relevant, it's now, it's happening, it's urban, and above all it doesn't involve learning to write in a different alphabet. All reasons why you'll be desperate to do the Rev Studies Module.

The Waiting Times

Couple of hours of intense waiting there. Bit of a panic from Young Keith - and a sharply-intaken breath from Charlii. But they're both back and still, in externals, two not three.

Young Keith taking it quite seriously. Not everyone would have built their own machine to measure blood alcohol levels, to ensure he's safe to drive without ever missing an opportunity to top up. I'm not saying it's a good idea. I don't think he'll ever get a licence for it. But he's putting in the patent application anyway. He says it's what expectant fathers all over the country have been waiting for. And he's verifiably below the legal limit. (Or, at least, he was until he got home from this bit of excitement). 

Is Richard Dawkins Telepathic?

I enjoyed this article on scientific method and the Resurrection. Which I think agrees with my own assumption that people in the 1st Century AD didn't believe that people rose from the dead, either. Let's face it, if they thought resurrection was an entirely normal occurrence, the story of the Early Church would have been Peter standing up on the Day of Pentecost, and his listeners going "well, yeah. Duh. And what exactly is a Resurrection meant to prove? Doris was resurrected last Friday. And old Matthias came back to live despite being pulled to pieces by baboons."

But I digress. It's the quote from, I believe, the God Delusion (the article, unscientifically, doesn't cite its sources) that made me sit up. I have to confess I didn't notice its implication when I read the God Delusion, preoccupied as I was with keeping a running total to check whether names dropped scored higher than random straw-person assertions about what believers believe. Still, here it is:

"The nineteenth century is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles like the virgin birth without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated Christians are too loyal to deny the virgin birth and the resurrection. But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know that it is absurd, so they would much rather not be asked."

My conclusion from this is that there two possibilities. One is that Dr Dawkins is guessing what his acquaintances really think. The other is that he is telepathic. Since the former way of behaving is clearly unscientific, and unworthy of a great scientific work, then the latter must be true. The Good Prof is possessed of paranormal powers, thus making him a formidable adversary in debate - because he can guess what his opponent's next argument will be.

Of course, being a telepath also undercuts Dr Dawkins' own arguments that such things don't exist. That's probably why he's so shy about it.

One of us is famous, one is either a comedian or a skateboarder, and one is Polly Toynbee

This is so embarrassing.

As part of the end-of-term fun for the "Little Pebbles" Year 9s, we set them the task " write a self-important letter to the Telegraph ", and in a reversal of the usual game, " think of somebody who's nearly famous whom you wouldn't invite to a dinner party".

Unfortunately Burton Dasset found the resultant two sheets of paper, assumed they were genuine and, it turns out, posted them off.

Still, full marks for putting Tim Minchin at the top. People have heard of him.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Quiche in Our Time

Knew it was trouble when I heard the Daily Mail were going to cover our lunchtime "Bring and Share" meal. I mean, sure we are the Northern Home Counties' number one neo-reconstructionist pre-pagan Christian Community, but surely, I thought, there were other, bigger celebrations to attend?

That Ross Slater turned up, ate three quiches and a couple of cold pizzas. Then announced he'd not brought anything with him, and how come we were so gullible? And he wouldn't join in with the "Peruvian Gloria". Said it had probably been introduced into the country by asylum seekers.

The Hobbit II - The Desolation of Moyes

(In order to pad the original novella out to a blockbuster trilogy, justifying all that equipment to New Zealand, it was necessary to pad out the original material somewhat. Now read on......)

And so the dwarfs continued on their march towards the Misty Mountains, under the leadership of their new wizard.

"I don't think this new bloke knows what he's doing," remarked Giggsi.

"I don't know why Gandalf left us when he did," replied Van Persi, "he'd built us up into a world-class fighting machine, and then all of a sudden he went off to the Grey Havens."

"You don't think," said Cleverli, "that he decided most of you were simply too old, and he couldn't face the thought of trying to get a new band of dwarfs together, so he just cleared off and got Moyzi in as the new wizard?"

"Rubbish," replied Giggsi, trying a bit of clever footwork and tripping over his beard.

Moyzi turned round, angrily. "It's a longer term project. I've already got a new dwarf in."

"Fellaini? He's a dwarf?" replied Giggsi, "What sort of dwarf looks like that?"

"A very tall one. The age of elves is coming to an end, Giggsi. The new age will favour taller dwarfs who can compete in the air. Now - where's that hobbit? We're going to be needing him for the next battle."

"He's still a mass of breaks, strains and bruises from the last battle. He needs a rest."

"No. We're all depending on Rooni. He's the one that will accomplish the mission. Just you wait and see."

And so the Battle of the Three Armies was fought between the tribes of the Scousers, the Citeh and the Chelski. The dwarfs watched from afar, and wondered if they would ever get to fight dragons again. But the wizard Moyzi stood at a distance, sucking in his cheeks, and wishing he was back in the gardens that the elves call Lothlórien, which is named in the Scouse tongue "Goodison".

Reasons Not to Use the Peruvian Gloria

Never using that Peruvian Gloria again.

The alpacas ate all the tea lights. And what kind of language is "Peruvian" anyway? We'll stick to Latin in future.

The Daily Mail's Online Strategy as a Venn Diagram

With fear and Great Joy

"They left the tomb filled with fear and great joy." (Matt 28:8).

A remarkable combination. Not emotions we normally put together, are fear and joy. It's like anger and apathy; or surprise and impatience. It's not that they can't go to together, it's just that we wouldn't normally put them in the same sentence like that.

Fear and great joy. When else might these things go together? Winning your place at the university of your choice, when you weren't really expecting to get the grades, maybe? Getting the man or woman you love, to agree to marry you? These sorts of things that may give you short-term fear - at the thought of what you're suddenly committed to - but the expectation of joy starting now, and continuing into the future.

Fear, because who could not fear, if they understood properly, the living God? This has been quite a shock. They were expecting to find a corpse. Not pleasant, sure. Maybe, in the half-light of that dawn of the first day of the week, it's a shadowy, slightly spooky mission. But it's a known quantity. A certain weight in human flesh, to be paid respects to and then left. You know where you are.

They weren't - even after the remarkable things they'd seen - expecting to see what they got. Not angels dazzling on gravestones. Not white-faced Roman soldiers, quaking in the cemetery. Not - definitely not - the man they had seen crucified on Friday, now walking out through the garden, issuing instructions about what they had to do next. So the fear comes as they realise they're face-to-face with somebody who's way beyond even what they've imagined up to now. A healer, sure. A prophet, certainly. The Messiah of Israel - they've dared to hope so. But a man who, single-handed when beyond any hope of human assistance, is alive when he should be - indeed was - dead? That is a scary thing. Whether he was their friend or not. It's the author to the Hebrews who tells us that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. It must be a terrifying thing to see the living God wandering through the dew of the early-morning garden.

But he was their friend, of course. Their rabbi; their teacher and helper. And that's why they had the great joy. Where had their hope - if any - been from 3pm Friday till now? In the resolution that they could slip out of Jerusalem, head back to their disparate homes, remember the teaching of their dead rabbi and do their best to live up to it? But the teaching had been so radical, and the references to himself so much a part of the message – how could his message live on without him there?

And now that’s all turned over. The fear is that they appear to have met the living God - in the guise of the travelling rabbi, Jesus. The great joy is that, despite the combined efforts of a bunch of jealous priests and the most efficient and cruelest empire the world has so far produced, he is manifestly walking round a garden.

That was their reaction to what they had experienced, and what they were now seeing - fear, and great joy. What's our logical reaction today?

Much the same, I reckon. Fear, and great joy.

You can't beat fear as an emotion when it comes to considering God. I've always found the universe scary - it's so unimaginably big, and old, and its future is so unimaginably more than even its inconceivable past. But I can get my head round the idea that God is the principle behind the entire universe - the one by which everything else was set in motion; the one in whom we live, and move, and have our being. I am quite happy with that. The idea that the ground of all our being might actually be interested in me - might have dibs on my life - might want to start getting involved in what I do; that's terrifying. I remember when Rose Tyler got a taste of godlike powers in Christopher Eccleston's last episode as Dr Who - the way she could just will the daleks out of existence. And I know that God is way beyond those minor kinds of godlike powers - that the whole of the universe, and the whole of time, past and future - is here only at God's desire. That's kind of scary. But the idea that the whole of that might simultaneously want a relationship with me - is interested in me, loves me and wants me to love him back - that's, in a weird kind of way, a nightmare.

But then great joy. You see, the resurrection is a display of God's power - of the power of good - over every kind of evil. It's the statement from that God who is terrifying, and yet weirdly interested in us, that all that terror is on the right side. We live in a nasty world, at times. It is a world of random threats - from nature and from human beings. We know there's the threat of natural disaster; the fear of sudden disease. We know that, even if we dodge the medical conditions and, living in the UK, we'll miss out on tidal waves and earthquakes - apart from very small ones in Rutland - even then we'll eventually succumb to Anno Domini. None of us can dodge that.

And then the world is full of nasty people. Just this week in the news - the bullying of Ukraine by Russia; more killing in Syria; that murderer Robert Mugabe having the sheer gall to say that the UK's not a nice place.

And what the resurrection of Jesus says is this - in the face of tyranny, of injustice, of blatant greed - that those who are guilty of these things may get away with it for a while. But they won't forever. That the people who rob and rape and cheat and kill to further their ends - will lose in the end. That even that great tyrant Death does not win in the end. Death has no victory because Jesus has made it not a dead end. Death is now a place where we will lose the things we yearned for in life, and are set free to live fully for God. Death is an abhorrence and unnatural. But Jesus has shown us we can walk through that shadow, and will emerge on the other side on that great Day when the dead are raised, and Death is no more.

And the Church - from that surprising garden to today - works its way through life with fear and great joy. Every member walks through life with fear and great joy. Fear because we serve the living God. And joy because we know that Jesus is alive.

Happy Easter.

Saturday 19 April 2014

The Perils of Being the Pontiff

I always enjoy Left-footer's blog. But I reckon he's worrying too much on Pope Francis's behalf here. I reckon Popes get special training in not getting over-excited about people's feet.

Personally, I had absolutely no lustful feelings about the people whose feet I washed on Maundy Thursday. Although, to be fair, I could barely see their feet.  You have to stand well back when you're using a hose.

I Believe in One Holy Catholic Church

"Nowhere else will you find local Nigerian matriarchs, gay students, bankers and mentally ill people forming friendships over fried chicken and rum punch,” says Mark Williams, a young vicar in London.
Well, quite.

Friday 18 April 2014

Giving Jonathan Trott a Break

Feeling so sorry for Jonathan Trott. This fine cricketer is taking another break after realising that he has not recovered from the stress-related issues that plagued his Ashes tour.

The Mail, to which I won't link yet, suggests that Trott has suffered from "anxiety attacks". Trott's own statement says it's anxiety. No particular symptoms given. But the thought that Trott might have been facing short-pitched bowling at 90mph plus, while trying to cope with any of the symptoms of anxiety? I mean, anxiety is perfectly ratonal when some hulking Antipodean is throwing lumps of cork and leather at your head. Add to that a genuine anxiety condition, and no wonder your game would go to pot.

And then knowing that, if you fail, the Daily Mail is going to Photoshop Death in behind your picture, isn't going to help. And then knowing that, since you have no physical signs - at least, not early on, people are gonna think, if you say you can't do it, that you're just a quitter? What pressure does that pile on?

We put a lot on top sportspeople. They're not our false gods, mostly - but we do see them as our representatives, our totems. And then, when they let us down, we make sure they know all about it. Think of Brendan Foster's comments on Mo Farah, or the way that our local hero, Paula Radcliffe, got flack for a perfectly reasonable bodily function in a long race.

And then, male sport in particular being so macho - how hard is it to spot that your own mental health has gone past the reasonable and possibly helpful " under some pressure " to the unreasonable - especially when, by definition, your sense of proportion has gone? A problem in any macho culture, where saying you can't cope is weakness. And that macho culture can be business, or the Church, or sport. And maybe especially it weighs on you in cricket - a team game, yet won and lost on a thousand individual actions and decisions. A game where one bad decision means your own skill - which may be honed for thousands of hours in the nets - won't be needed for another week.

So prayers for Jonathan Trott and his family. This time he needs to take a proper break. If that break is for good, it's up to him. If he comes back - even just to the county game, even just to play on a park on a Sunday afternoon - good for him. A human being is more important than the world. How much more so, than a game.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Countless Calvaries

I was just reading Bruce Grobelaar's account of the event of that day, 25 years ago, at Hillsborough. And as so often happens when reading the story, ended up with tears in my eyes. Tears at the futility - people who have died without seeing justice for their family. Children who never came home. Others who grow up without their parents. And yes, anger that the responsibility for what happened has been evaded so long.

And this morning, the grief and desolation of the Korean ferry sinking reaches us. And I pray for the parents who, terrified with grief, wait for news of their children. For lovers who are praying for loved ones. For those who may still be trapped and alive. That many can still be rescued.

Thomas Hardy's poem, "Unkept Good Fridays" tells of all the other people whose Passions the world ignores, while paying great attention to Jesus's. I suspect old Tommy H, at 86 years of age, had given up caring if people got upset, and just wanted to rattle a stick in some Christians' cages.

But he had a point. We don't mark all the futile, tragic, pointless and/or heroic deaths. In one sense we can't. This old and pock-marked world has too many deaths, too much senselessness, too deep a well of personal and tragedy. We would mourn somebody every minute of every day, if we were to try. Every day - every second - would be another Good Friday.

If only, I might say. If only there was a way of taking one cruel death - one human being cut off in the prime of life - at the height of all human powers. One human being who could encapsulate all those innocent people who suffer - one representative of the wasted youth and loss of dignity that covers this planet from a football field in Sheffield to the muddy fields of the Somme, from the slaughter of natives of America to the deaths of slaves, to the people of Hiroshima and the casked remains of the people of Pompeii - and every other unminded Good Friday in between.

If we could take just the one representative of all this, and hold that person up for all to see. And - just for the fun of it, and to prove our point - if we could make God feel the pain and the waste that he's left us to. If we could get him to share in it all. And mark that one event, and then remember that it's not just a one off, it's a focus, a singularity, a distillation of every senseless loss that's ever happened. And that through it, we expect God to share in what we know, too.

If only.

The Popular Panel Show, "Ask the Laity"

The BBC reports that the Catholic Church, having polled its members on their views on such matters as sex, drugs and rock & roll, is not publishing the results of the survey. Well, naturally. I'm sure it'll leak out one day, but you do need to keep the lid on what people think as long as possible. Otherwise mayhem could break out.

The BBC reports that
Reformers said refusing to publish the results would suggest the Church was not sincere about sharing responsibility with lay people.
Well naturally. That would be akin to the BBC letting the licence payers have a say in how it's run. And think about those churches that do share responsibility with lay people. No wonder the Catholics ain't  serious. I mean, the Church of England shares responsibility with the laity. And they've had to create a system so demanding in personal time that only old, rich laity with a love of committees can get any of the share. While if the clergy get on the various synods, that's work time. Still, in a stroke of genius, the C of E has a system so complicated that nobody can ever make decisions in under 20 years in any case. The Methodists share responsibility with the laity, but then they learnt how to organise committees from the Church of England, and then went on the advanced course.

I'm sure it's useful for the Catholic Church to know what its people think. But if they start getting involved in decisions, where will it all end? Gay hamsters marrying chip shop owners and a dolphin bishop, that's where. Or even Catholics using contraception. Without feeling ashamed about it, at any rate.

We're not told if the survey asked what religion the Pope is, but I'm sure that if it had, the answer would have been filled-in in advance.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

God's Amazing Miracle of the Moon Behaving Like the Moon

I wasn't going to bother with this "The Bible is Coming True - Lunar Eclipses Forecast Something or Another" piece in the Express. I was going to leave it. Just another fundamentalist saying silly things to attract attention.

And then I read this, from the Pastor forecasting something or another from a series of lunar eclipses to get us to look at him.
"And then, He chooses to do it on Passover, the Feast of the Tabernacles, Passover and the Feast of the Tabernacles? It is absolutely an impossibility that it could be random chance."
It is. It is an absolute impossibility that you could get successive lunar eclipses on these feasts by random chance.

Because the behaviour of the sun, moon and earth aren't bloody random chance, are they? They're determined by the law of gravity, and by the laws of motion. It's physics. That's not random chance.

And how come they happen on these feasts?

Because they're full moon feasts. That's why. Passover and Sukkot are full moon feasts.

And when do you get lunar eclipses? When the earth comes between the sun and the moon. In other words, although you don't always get a lunar eclipse at full moon, if it's a lunar eclipse, it is always a full moon.

So the reason why the lunar eclipses happen at Passover and Tabernacles is that they are just the kind of days when you get lunar eclipses. Not God's messing around with nature, just the God-given laws of nature, combined with a religion that attached its feasts to full moons.

It's amazing, is a lunar eclipse. It's a blessing from God, in my opinion. But it's not magic. And it's not, as the pastor seems to think, astrology. It's science. I love science.

David Cameron's Christianity

Nice little piece from David Cameron in the Church Times. All about Christianity, its beneficial aspects, its principles of love, charity, responsibility and so on. No mention of Jesus's promise that "in my Father's house are many rooms. Just the right number of rooms.  No spare ones, because that would reduce your benefits", but you can't have everything.

In fact, no mention of Jesus at all. And that's maybe what divides David Cameron's idea of Christianity from mere Christianity (I'd love to be wrong, by the way). Because mere Christianity isn't about lovely buildings. It ain't about hardworking people, or generosity, or any of the many wonderful things that Christianity gives us.

You can't be evangelical about Christianity. Not in the strict sense. Because Christianity isn't the thing itself. Christianity is the way that people respond to something - the organisational form of a personal response. The codification of a direct encounter, expanded across 2 billion such encounters.

In short, my faith - and mere Christianity -is not about "Christianity". It's not about lovely buildings. I'd cheerfully see every church building in the country fall down tomorrow, if it meant one more person knew Jesus. I'd see every organisational form of Church fall apart under the weight of their own committees, if by that happening one more person knew the life of Christ in their own life. Unlikely, I know. But given the choice I'd vote that way, because one eternal human life is worth more than all the architecture and all the organisations in the world.

The source of Christianity is Christ. The reason we love our neighbours is because God first loved us. The reason we try to make this world better, is because God loves it so much.... yeah, you know the rest.

Which is why Dave Cameron's words are lovely; they're well-meant, I'm sure, and they're to be welcomed.

But they're just not at the heart of the matter.

Easter Week Begins

..... or so the Guardian tells us.

Actually, it does begin. On Sunday. This, on the other hand, is Holy Week. We'll commemorate now, and celebrate later.

Really, I expect better of the Guardian. Apparently all their journalists spend a lot of time in Chapel, calling on a higher power to protect them from evil. You'd think they'd have got the church year right by now.

The Banned for Easter Hymn List

Every now and then I check over the Beaker Banned Songs List to give it a spring clean.  There's always stuff to add,  what with there being no end to the writing of songs. And sometimes something like "Shine, Jesus, Shine" has been on the list so long it's acquired a kind of retro charm, and gets reinstated.  But with Easter coming, it's important to do a quick check.  So the following are not going to be sung at all between now and.... ooh, say the Second Coming?

"How Deep the Father's Love for Us. - that whole "Father turns his face away" makes my head hurt. Is it heresy? Is it orthodoxy? Dunno. But it's got many sons being led to glory, and no mention of how the daughters get there. Unless they're helping to lead the sons, obviously. I suppose that would make sense. The sons wouldn't necessarily get to glory if being led - they'd only lose the person leading, take a wrong turn at the next roundabout, and then refuse to ask for directions.

"In Christ Alone" - I've no problem with the line " the wrath of God was satisfied." Much better, in my mind, for God to have satisfied rather than unsatisfied wrath. God with unsatisfied wrath would be terrifying. I mean, the world's scary enough as it is. But I've only got one life, and there's only so much of it you can use up discussing penal substitutionary atonement and the theological outlook of Anselm.

"There is a Fountain filled with Blood" - sorry, the imagery's too weird.

"Lord of the Dance" - heretical drivel written by a drivelling heretic. A friend used to be creative and try and give it some drama, by playing "I danced on the Friday" in a minor key. He never went the logical step further, and removed the black keys from the keyboard.

"Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen - we should really leave this and "LOTD" to the Catholics. Apparently this is the kind of stuff they have to sing since Vatican 2. But I don't think we should be encouraging them. Nor should we intrude on private grief. Let's move on.

"Trust and Obey" - in another, parallel universe, the message of this may well be true. But not with the physics of this one.

Incidentally, in discussing Anselm's theology of atonement, the correct term is "penal substitution". I'm sure that's what Grobitt was trying to say yesterday. But what he was actually proposing would be much less use in the long term, but dreadfully radical in the short. And would carry the risk of rejection.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Wash and Pray

May I refer you, my brothers and sisters, to the attached news item - in which it is revealed that there is dissension within the Church of Rome regarding whether or not the Pope should wash the feet of women.

Naturally, being the Catholic Church, the argument is over what tradition and Church Law says. Is it any wonder, my brothers (for I am now heading into deeper waters, into which the shorter gender should not wade for fear it may go over their heads) - is it any wonder, I ask, that they have this disagreement when the look to the rules of Men, and not to the Good Book, to resolve their doubts and guide their meditations?

It is quite clear to read. Our Lord, to set an example of humility, said that others should do as he did, when he knelt, tenderly, to wash the apostles' feet - making an example of reaching down, that the first should be last and the ruler the servant.

But he did not wash the feet of women. Humility is all very well, but there are limits.

In Otter News

Apologies to all those confused by this afternoon's misprint on the PowerPoint. You're right, they don't have hands. More kind of webbed paws. It did spoil a rather lovely chorus.

Still, respect to Hunge for finding a great picture as background to the slide.  That was a really benevolent-looking otter.

Justice Still To be Done

Easter Origins

I realise I'm on a certain amount of disputed ground here.

Not over the claim that Easter derives from a Western-European Pagan spring equinox  festival. That much, I am assured by the Internet, based on one line in Bede and a poor grasp of linguistics, and a bunch of groupthink and wishful thinking, is true.

No, this disputed ground is over the existence or otherwise of a bloke called Moses.

My starting assumption is that somebody forged together a bunch of Hebrew tribes into what eventually became a big enough nation to knock the daylights out of various other tribes, and formed a nation big and coherent enough that, when it was exiled to - among other places - Babylon, it was able to coalesce around its hymns, its foundation myths and its sense of identity.

My assumption, further, is that some of those Hebrew tribes, early in their story, crossed the desert from Egypt with a certain amount of tribulation before making their home in Canaan. And that they probably had a hard time of it in Egypt, being members of a small, battered, enslaved group.

In fact, I'm going to go so far as to say that what the book of Exodus and its successors contain is the story, maybe embellished as national origin stories are, of how the nation that called itself "Israel" and became the Jewish people, formed itself - in reaction to oppression and external force. I don't necessarily believe that the whole Law Code was written in the desert - because much of that code seems to relate far better to settled life in a promised land than it does to the experience of crossing a wilderness. But, in short, I believe the story of the Exodus.

And I believe the story of the Passover. Because the Passover is the Exodus in miniature - the moment when God acted (in the sort of way, one might argue, that the kind of God who kills unfruitful fig trees acts) to let God's people go. It's the story of punishment to oppressors and freedom to captives. And it's brutal. And you may not like it. Especially if you're a firstborn. But I can get it.

And you might, if you like, posit that there was a pre-Passover festival that the Hebrews attached their nation-creation story to. Some kind of Spring festival - based on the Equinox and the phases of the moon. Certainly that's how Passover was defined. You might be right, I can't disprove it. Although it makes sense to celebrate the birth of your nation in the spring when the leaves are green. And it is a good idea to mark your religious events by the moon when you live in a world without street lights.

And then when a new group arises in that old nation, and wants to mark the death and (it claims) rising of its leader, wouldn't it make sense to attach that feast to your leader's story? The tale of two new beginnings, joined together? Obviously this would involve, within the lifetime of many who founded this new group and who were there, inventing the wholly spurious justification that the Leader - a pious Jew - was in the spiritual capital of his nation at a time when people went there on pilgrimage, on pilgrimage. How likely would that be? They probably had to tell old John and James the Leader's brother to shut up when they said, "You know, I'm sure it was round about August Bank Holiday...."

So a religion of death and resurrection and a freedom from spiritual oppression and the hope of new life, claims its key founding events happen  in a city where its Leader might well have been, at a time when he might very well have been there, and writes down the story within the life time of those who could very well have been there - attaching the story of Easter to a spring festival indeed, a Jewish spring festival called Passover, which had a ritual meal that looks remarkably like the ritual meal with which the new group remembered its founder. How unlikely is that?

You're right. I should stop this wild speculation. Let's go with Bede's confident, enigmatic, one-sentence assertion that a Middle-eastern religion invented its main festival because it stole the idea from a tribe a thousand miles away. It's much more rational. We could add in that Joseph of Arimathea got the idea and brought it back, when he visited the Glastonbury garden centre to sell them his new thorn bush, bringing the non-existent boy Jesus with him. And buying a souvenir mug from the Grail shop. Yes, that's clearly right. How could I be so gullible?

Monday 14 April 2014

The Church of England Crisis Scale

The Church of England has, once again, been plunged into crisis.

"But why this time?" I hear you say. And I don't know. But it always is. Andrew Brown's article today, for example, is talking about the married vicar. It could be that but, as Andrew hasn't used the word "crisis" at any point in the article, maybe the crisis is something else. And I like to think that Andrew would never talk about being "plunged into" crisis. I know that in journalistese, one is always "plunging" into crisis, but since a "crisis" is, in origin, a decision point - a crossing with different paths to choose, if you will - then I don't see how one can be plunged into one. You can't be plunged into a decision. You can be led to one, I suppose. Or you can feel your way towards one. But plunge into one? It's not baptism. Although, under the right circumstances, this could cause a crisis in the Church of England (tm).

You know, the trouble with crises in the Church of England is they're like London Buses. You struggle to get on them with a lot of shopping. The actual members of the Church of England are so used to crises that they don't even notice them any more. A typical day in the life of the Archbishop of Canterbury consists of waking up, deal with a couple of crises, Morning Prayer, couple of crises, elevenses, crisis, luncheon, crisis and so on. Crises are meat and drink to the Church of England. This is a source of confusion, I believe. Many assume that a crisis is some kind of dangerous situation. The Church of England, rather, sees crisis as being like the air one breathes, or the water in which fish swim, or gravity - an ordinary feature of the environment, without which life would be very scary.

But for those that have to deal with reading the Daily Telegraph, Guardian or the Daily Mail , and are wondering just what kind of crisis the Church of England is dealing with from day to day, I offer the "Eileen Scale". On the basis of the Beaufort and Richter Scales, I have ranked the scale from zero upwards. Just hope the C of E doesn't make it all the way to 12.

1...................The Ordinariate
2...................Investing in a payday lender
3...................Investing in an arms company
4...................Changing the baptism service
5...................Somebody getting upset in Africa
6...................Celibate gay man maybe becoming bishop
7...................Women not becoming bishops
8...................Potential Disestablishment
9...................A gay marriage nobody can do anything about
10...................Abolition of the Book of Common Prayer
11...................Dissolution of the Monasteries
12...................Using the modern version of the Lord's Prayer