Monday 30 June 2014

Dealing with Clerical Humanity

Slightly frantic phone call from Nathan, the priest in the Trim Valley benefice where I stayed for a few months' sabbatical.

Seems he's said something he shouldn't.  Not s problem, said I. Unless you said it in full plenary PCC with video evidence, just deny it.

Yes, he says, but he wrote it to the Church Magazine,  at the last minute, and the editor sent it straight to the printer, and tomorrow there's gonna be 1,000 copies going out, to every house in the village.

Well, I say, you've a few options:
A) Stage an elaborate fire that totally destroys the mags, but leaves the vestry in which they're stored intact.
B) Burn down all the villages, so the villagers have something else to worry about.
C) Claim the mags are impregnated with spores of Black Death - a tactic which combines biological impossibility with utter terror. Especially in Grilsby, where the locals talk about the last outbreak like it was yesterday. And are still technically fighting the English Civil War.
D) Ride with it.  He wrote the truth, and it's just one of those things. And, if anyone looking like Daily Mail reporters turns up in the Hanged Man, denounce them as witches and have them ducked in the pond on the green.

He's going for "D". Brave man.

Sunday 29 June 2014

A Self-Referential Liturgy of Internal Dialogue

Archdruid: Our God has compassion on all he has made. He will let nothing be lost.

All: 'Ere, Eileen - are you using liturgy to coerce us into a false agreement with your Universalist tendencies?

Archdruid: Yes. And there's nothing you can do about it, cos it's in the liturgy. You can refuse to say anything, but then you'll just look like a splitter.

All: We are the playthings of the liturgist. We are merely puppets to the over-ruling arc of the liturgy, the rainbow of responses that bends our wills.

Hnaef: I'm not. I have free will. I can say what I wish.

Archdruid: Actually, Hnaef, I think you'll find that's in the Order of Service as well.....

Hnaef is  chastened to discover that he, too, is but playing a part.

Archdruid: No, I think you'll find that we're all safely tucked within this script. And because we are all trapped in this liturgy, I can make you say what I like.

All: All we like sheep like a nice tasty meal of grass. Anyone for clover?

Archdruid: Now where was I....

All: In an unbiblical and possible unchristian position of universal salvation. 

Archdruid: I'm bored with that now. I think Arminianism's so much better. Less liberal, but more fun. Don't you like a bit of responsibility?

All: Can we decide our own responses if we're Arminians?

Archdruid: I guess so.

All: Good. Then we're all off to the pub.

Archdruid: Wait a minute, that's not in the order of service.

All: We think you'll find it is now.

Archdruid: Oh wow, yes it is. Well, go in peace, to have a pint.

All: Last one to the White Horse buys the first round.

All should depart in silence, until they get to the road, at which point they can leg it to the pub.

Jesus - "Elton John is Wrong"

In a wide-ranging interview,  Jesus Christ has said that he believes Elton John to be fundamentally misguided.

"Saturday Night is not all right for fighting," said the "Son of Man" from  the Book of Daniel, "it's for quiet prayerful meditation up to sunset, and after that, when the Sabbath is over, it's OK to cook something to eat. And don't let the Pharisees tell you that you can't heal people. You can do that if you like. But if you go out as well-oiled as a diesel train, and get into fights - that's not a good idea. You should turn the other cheek, and love your neighbour."

Asked whether he thought gay marriage was right, Jesus replied "Gay marriage is not even a thing in the 1st Century. I can't possibly answer that question - I'm a Roman Empire-era Jew. Nobody's ever thought of it. You can't just drag me into 21st century issues and act like you know what I think. Take the responsibility. Weigh the evidence. Make your own mind up. But don't drag my alleged views into it."  Asked whether he thought Pope Francis would take a more liberal view on sexuality, he pointedly asked whether Francis is a Catholic.

Jesus refused, however, to be drawn on whether Elton John had faded as a creative act from the mid-80s, reflecting a trajectory that had already gone from pub rock to ballads. "I'm a prophet and religious leader. What do I know about 20th Century music? You might as well ask a rock musician to talk about theology."

Saturday 28 June 2014

Casting out Erics

This afternoon's  "Hour of Powerful Blessings" was powerfully blessed with powerful blessings.

However there was one moment when, for a moment, I lost concentration. A lady with a strongly northern - Yorkshire, I believe - accent came forward. She told me she had a problem with "this Eric".

"This Eric?" I asked.

"Yes, I can't get it out of my head. It's rotten, this Eric."

Naturally, I addressed Eric powerfully, demanding he leave this woman alone. Ordering him to depart, and return to the hellish place when he originated. However, instead of rejoicing under her newly-granted freedom, she stood her ground, looking confused.

"This head-ache....." she repeated.

I may have to seek prayer for my hearing.

On This Rock

Why Peter? Why is he the one who is to be the Rock, the one on whom the Church was built?

John was clearly more spiritual - emotionally closer to Jesus. And we like a nice, spiritual thinker, don't we? Thomas generally had more insight - he knew exactly what going to Jerusalem meant. Matthew, I suspect, would have been better organised. And, as many have commented on my Ministers' CVs post, organisation - proper organisation, as opposed to organisations - is something the Church is often lacking. If Matthew had been the first Bishop of Rome, maybe today the average clergy study wouldn't be a candidate for the"Buried Alive - Uncontrollable forms and Old Song Books Special". You know the one where the previous incumbent is found behind a wall of old copies of Songs of Living Water, still trying to work out her attendance return, four years after the new minister moved in.

But it was Peter who made the declaration.

"Who do people say I am?" They're all asked.

And the disciples have ready answers. "Some say a prophet, or Elijah returned, or Jeremiah."

That's the scholar's answer to the question who was/is Jesus - different things to different people. A minor irritant, soon forgotten, to the Roman governor. A rabble-rouser who had to be eliminated, to the Temple rulers. The "Son of David" to a beggar in the street. An irrelevance, to most people today in the UK - remembered in a child's carol or hanging lonely on a war memorial.

But that question is only a lead-up.

"Who do you say I am?"

And only one voice comes back. "The Messiah, the Son of the Living God." In a quiet moment, a still point, an eager young man suddenly knows, and makes his wonderful confession.

That certainty was soon interrupted by fear, by doubt, by terror. "You are the Rock" becomes "you will deny me". A moment's glorious recognition becomes a terrified, guilty night, a day of horror and a day of flat desolation.

But then "you will deny me" turns into "feed my sheep". The knowledge is refreshed,  the relationship - only denied one side - restored.  And the Rock - still gormless, getting it wrong in the arguments over Gentiles with Paul - is ready to stand firm.

And so Peter is the Rock on which the church is built. We are not here to care what others say about Jesus. We're not always strong, we're often right. We're weak, we're human.

But we stand on the rock, knowing the Church, battered and bewildered and threatened as it often is, stands against all the works of Hell and, in telling out Peter's confession, will bring those gates down and the prisoners - if they want - out.

The words spoken by Peter, the first duty and most important words of Popes, bishops, priests, ministers,  pastors, deacons, Sunday Club teachers, and very single other living stone, built on that Rock, as they look to their cornerstone and foundation.

"You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God".

And everything else comes after.

Friday 27 June 2014

What the EU Does

Many do not give the European Union credit for the good it does. David Cameron, to name just one.

And yet, through the judicious combination of donations from the larger, Germanic nations ("Les Suckers") to the more deserving parts of the continent, great things can be done.

Take the example of "Le President"

"Le President" is actually a Flemish bloke called Jan. He grew up not making "cidre", because that's not the Dutch for "cider". In fact, he used to wear clogs when he was little.

But, thanks to the European Union, Jan gets to go around pretending to be French. He gets to do some vaguely suggestive activities with girls carrying apples. He can throw away perfectly good apples thanks to the EU Apple Scrappage Subsidy. He can afford to subsidize jazz bands, and a thriving bar that sells only rubbish cider in the middle of the French countryside. In Belgium.

The EU. Working for you.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Deciphering a Minister's CV

It's a teaser, isn't it, trying to get the right woman or man for the right job? You've got to find your way through, not just what people say about themselves, but also the way they see themselves.

Those who recruit in business get a lot of practice in trying to second-guess the phrases in CVs for job applications. They know that "exhibited expertise in Agile methodology" really means "extended a four-month project to 2 years as we constantly changed our minds." They know that "a hands-on, people person" means they've threatened people with violence to get things done. And they know what "proactive", "good team member", "self-starter" and "synergy" collectively mean. Absolutely nothing.

But you've got the same problem when you're hiring a minister. And, unless you're at at a particularly fractious Baptist church, you only get to work these things out once every few years. You're matching your beautifully-accurate, honest Church Profile to the resumes of four candidates for archangel, wondering how on earth you can tell which is the best fit.  So here, to help you, are a few words and phrases to look out for.

What they sayWhat you should read
Involved in all aspects of church lifeControl freak
Successfully managed four restorations in different parishes.Frustrated with the mundanity of the pastoral cycle. I will immediately start poking holes in the limestone walls, to generate the excuse for another building project.
Creatively engaged in the musical worship of the churchThough I never want to have to fight another duel with an organist.
Passionate advocate of Church Growth theoryEgotist
LaudianOff to Rome shortly
Social Media evangelistAlways tired during the day.
Dedicated to the pastoral care of the congregationI'm scared of outsiders. Some of them don't believe in God. They're weird.
Enthusiast for Liturgical RenewalNail down anything removable.
Developing interest in rural ministryDecided to get out the city after boarding up the last remaining window.
Above all, interested in people and ideasI've a five-year backlog of admin now and it's gonna be easier and cleaner simply to get another job and leave it behind. Even so, it's gonna take 3 skips to clear the study.
Traditional Evangelical theology One week the sermon's on Romans 5, the next it's John 3:16. And repeat.
Familiar with a busy, multi-parish ministry6 points on my licence. And I weep a lot.
Experienced in children's workWas once a curate
Engaging actively in multi-faith encountersClear the vicarage garden, I'm bringing my own Henge
Dedicated to the priesthood of all believersI've got a little list. Got a little list...
Wanting to express the mystery at the heart of the faith Nobody has a clue what my sermons are about
Successfully met the Parish share requirements after three years in my previous postEncouraged everybody to worship with the Methodists every October.
Believer in the power of God's holy scripturesFewer readings, longer sermons
Exploring new ways of "being church"After my last Restoration project came in under budget, the roof fell in and we had to borrow the school.
Experience in rebuilding church corporate lifeAfter I'd upset everybody, they all left. But there was a visitor on Sunday so things are looking up!
A passion for engaging with the communityAlways in the pub
A prophetic, spontaneous preaching ministryToo lazy to prepare sermons
Keen to engage with young adultsMy wife has banned me from talking to other women
Frequent performances in amateur dramaticsMostly during PCC meetings.
Dedicated to missionI like to stand around the market in an anorak, with a loud-hailer
Led to move into full-time ordained ministry All the other accountants used to laugh at me because I couldn't add up.
A traditional view of family life and moralityMy wife has to walk two paces behind me.
I model an active, outgoing faithI haven't read a book since 1987.
Aware of the multi-cultural aspects of our societyI've got an MA in Political Correctness and I'm not afraid to use it to my own advantage.
Engaging the Gospel with modern cultureI've got the Creed down to just "I believe..." 

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Hamartia to Your Failings

Based on this tweet.....

Which would change the old chant to:

"When you're sat in Row Z, and the ball hits your head - that's hamartia" 

Just as soon as we've taught the football fans of the country the concept of sin as "missing the mark", Bobby Zamora can have peaceful dreams.

An Award for xkcd

I'm delighted to award this to xkcd, The inaugural Beaker Folk Award for "Satirising people for doing exactly the kind of thing you do yourself" is a beautiful statuette, "The Plank in the Eye". It was well-earned.

Jesus Tribute Act

I was pondering, as you do, the parallels between the fine work of the tribute act, G2 Definitive Genesis - much beloved of denizens of The Stables, Wavendon - and priests, pastors and other permitted ministers of the rite of Communion, Mass or the Lord's Supper.

As you would. Now it strikes me that, as people going along to Wavendon, there are certain things we want to hear. Carpet Crawl, for example, or Afterglow or the Knife. Probably not Acabab.

And when they play, we want to hear music roughly as it was played in the "Second's Out" era - that great live album. Unless, obviously, the song in question was first recorded in 1979. Shame to have five minutes or more of everyone standing around in embarrassed silence. That would just be silly.

And we don't mind that they're not dead ringers of the originals - though Piers is rather Tony Banks-ish, with his thoughtful expression. And Terry can somehow appear to inhabit Phil Collins's persona in an uncanny way. Not his habit of having a divorce every five years and then writing an album about it. I mean his on-stage persona. And Dave does quite a good job of looking like the little, earnest bloke who never played bass with Genesis.

No, that's not the important bit. The important thing is that they sound like the originals. We don't really want originality, new improvs, exciting new sound effects or hip-hop. We want a group that plays Genesis songs, like Genesis did. We want the right instrumentals, in the right place. We want that delicate pause in Supper's Ready before we all shout "a flower?"

And I feel the same way about the way somebody leads Communion. I don't mind if their physical appearance is much like Jesus. I personally don't go much for beards, anyway, and we don't know how tall he was.

In fact, I don't personally care whether the person leading the Communion is English, Jewish, Pakistani or African. Or male, or female, or any other designation they choose. Or straight, gay or celibate. These things are not my problem. Jesus died to save all of us, and that's good enough for me. (And yes there are certain past acts that would rule some people out of ever presiding at Mass, and that's another matter).

And I don't care whether this is in the frame of a BCP Communion, Anglo-Catholic Mass, Methodist or other setting, or even if it's a genuine free-person just reading the words directly out of the Bible  (and yes there are some churches that won't let me partake, and that is also another matter).

What I ask is that they are a Jesus Tribute Act. I want them to do the things Jesus did, and say the words we are told he said. Not in Aramaic, I'm not some kind of perfectionist - but to leave it at that. I don't want their own comments on the matter. I don't want interesting modern diversions. You can say what you like during the rest of the service - in the sermon, announcing the songs, doing the notices.  After all, Terry in G2 doesn't pretend to be 1970s Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins in between songs. Otherwise he'd have to pretend he'd never been to the Stables before, and demand to know when Milton Keynes happened.

But during the Communion, in the words and the actions, I want them to be a Jesus Tribute Act. I don't want them. I don't want personal flourishes. I don't want personalisation. I don't want clothing that says something about them. I don't want to know anything about them at all - who they are is, for the time being, totally unimportant. I just want a good, reliable, authentic Jesus Tribute Act.

I guess I'm just old fashioned like that.

Extraordinary Time

Now we're through Solstice, and even the lustiest Beaker Fertility Folk are back from the woods after St John's Eve, I've been able to take a serious look at the forthcoming calendar.

And it's a bit lacking in liturgical light 'n' shade. Only Lammas to look forward to. And that's dull.

So to cheer us up, I'm adding into the calendar some extra days for Beaker Saints. In this case, to preserve some semblance of spirituality, I will be ensuring that their names, at least, are vaguely religious.

25 June - Eli Wallach (RIP)

29 June - John Bishop

3 July - Thelonius Monk

6 July - Simon Templar

10 July - Monkfish of the Yard

15 July - John Deacon from Queen

18 July - Greg and Ian Chappell

20 July - Bruvver Eccles

22 July - Ian St John

26 July - Herman's Hermits

28 July - Cannon and Ball

31 July - Charlotte Church

Tuesday 24 June 2014

John the Baptist's Aunt Pays a Visit

"Look at him, wide awake! Laying there, bright in the crib, sharp brown eyes darting the room. Odd, isn't he?

I mean, lovely obviously. But... odd for a baby?

Ever alert. You don't see that often, not on day 1.

Even on the breast - look, there! Just a hint - he can't really see, can he? He never really settles on anything - but eyes just flashing from side to side.

Like a coney in the desert, looking out - for a fox or a mate.

Like a girl out looking for her lover, but fearing her dad's gonna arrive.

Like a guard on a wall, watching - for an enemy, or the king.

I wonder what he's looking for?

Still, he'll soon calm down.

He can't keep that up forever.

He'd never settle."

We Apologise for the Interruption

We apologise for the interruption to your service.

You were expecting the way we were
Worship the way it's always been
Prayer Book Communion and Evensong
Cranmer's soaring liturgy and humble hearts
Pitch-pine pews in respectful rows
The faithful bowing at the rail
Reverence and quiet
A chanted psalm.

You got "Family Communion" with Prayer H
"Shine Jesus Shine" on a harmonium
Chairs arranged in a rough horseshoe
A sermon from the aisle
Not the finely-carved Victorian pulpit
A scrum called "The Peace"
People milling round a nave altar
And still no families.

He's been here three years now, so time to change things
You can't leave things as they are
If you stand still  you go backwards
So we're reordered, reorganised
Redesigned, renewed
Ready to face the modern world anew
With user-friendly liturgy
And lightweight liturgical garments.

But he's got his eye on the church in town
Revd Brenda's 67, and she's thinking of the coast.
With his track record as a dynamic vicar
Moving the church forward
Facilitating transformation with his inspired vision
He'll be a shoo-in at St Bernard's
So we've only got to wait.
Four years, we reckon.

Then the High Altar can go back against the East wall
The nave altar and the Common Worship books will look lovely,
Stacked on the ASBs we hid in the crypt in 1984.
The pews are in the Church Hall cellar - "waiting for a buyer" we said.
No, waiting for a vacancy. Two days to get them back in, last time.
Assorted versions of Mission Praise and Songs of Fellowship
Will still be central to our mission
The Guy Fawkes night after the vicar leaves.

We apologise for the interruption to your service.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Monday 23 June 2014

An Old Cynic Sheds a Silent Tear

Go and read this on  the Rectory Musings blog.

I don't care if you have rational answers.  So do I. But who cares? I give thanks.

You Are a Body, We Are a Body

Was reminded today of that silly "you are a soul. You have a body" thing that gets attributed, by people who don't understand how orthodox he actually was, to CS Lewis.

And it reminded me of the original version of the Phatfish song,  "There is a Day."

The Day in question being The Big One, of course:

"A Day of freedom, and liberation from the Earth".

Now, my little Beaker Folk, you can see what's wrong with this, can't you? That's right. It's nothing like the Biblical, Gospel hope. We aren't hoping for liberation from the earth, but with it.

The Gospel hope isn't that our souls all sail off to Heaven leaving a torched and battered world behind. In John's Revelation, there would be no point to that, as the Heavens will pass away as well. That would be like taking all your shares in Comet and investing in Woolworth. And yes, when I was 12, Dunstable Woolworth was about as good as it got.

The appropriate analogy for me seems that if Jesus was resurrected, if we are to be raised, then the Universe also will, when it gasps its last photon of energy into the entropic soup that remains, be raised as it should be.

And if Jesus's body is scarred forever by his time here; then, while transformed into brightness, maybe we will still carry, shining, the scars we've accrued. And maybe then so will the world - restored by God - hold the marks we've put on it.

You are a body. Look after it. We are a body. Look after each other. This world is not disposable, but maybe it's reusable. Take care of it.

Sunday 22 June 2014

The 4,000th Post

Archdruid: Friends, Bozos and Beaker Folk. This liturgy will be.... our 4,000th blog post!

Aliens from Toy Story  Ooh!

Archdruid: One's 4,000th post is a special number. So many things multiply into it - 4, and 1,000. And 40, and 100. 400, and 10....

All: That Base 10 work's coming along OK, then.

Archdruid: OK, let's face the music and dance....

The Beaker Quire plays "The Anniversary Waltz ." The Beaker Matrons attempt that spirally dance they saw on the Stonehenge programme last night. The Beaker Matrons realise they're not as lithe as they were.

Archdruid: Let loose the lovey doveys!

Crates are opened. A legion of lovey doveys ascend in a glittering, swirling flock.

All: Aah!

The doves are consumed by the fabled Eagles of the Pope Emeritus.

All: Oops.

Hymn: "Free bird". Somehow nobody has their heart in it now.

Archdruid: It's now time for the offering. So, this being a special occasion, I hope you'all all give special amounts. Young Keith's Tithe Enforcement Team will be passing among you with wireless payment devices and metal detectors.

Hymn: Money for Nothing

Archdruid: Now, a special message from a longtime friend of this blog. Sadly he can't be with us today, but he left us a video message. However, since the 1970s Revival the other week, we no longer have a data projector or PA system. So this is a picture of Richard Dawkins I've drawn onto an acetate. However, since the 1930s Revival last week, we no longer have an overhead projector.

A badly-drawn acetate of an Oxford don is passed around. Some remark on the resemblance to Tony Blair.

Archdruid: OK, bring on the penguins.

The Little Sisters of the Holy Haddock, the order of discalced penguins, process into the Moot House. However, they've not really done much since their triumph at the 3,000th Post Liturgy. They've aged badly and lost their pace. The old "False Verger" tactic no longer fools anyone. They're humiliated by a bunch of younger, hungrier Dutch penguins, and retreat from the stage.

Archdruid: Sorry, Sisters. I think it was a mistake keeping that walrus as manager.

Hymn: What do Pretty Girls Do?

Archdruid: So I'd like to thank you for all attending this 4,000th Blog Post Liturgy. But I have a bit of news. You see you thought I was just little old Archdruid Eileen, with my pebbles and tea lights and pipeweed, living in my bunker at Church End. But in fact......

Lights dim. Lamia writhe, poised between lust and death. Herne the Hunter averts his eyes. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn longs for a quiet life with badgers and rats. 

Archdruid: I am.....

Eileen's pointy hat grows longer and her body grows tall and thin, until she towers over the terrified Beaker Folk.

Aliens from Toy Story: Oooh!

Archdruid: .....Sarumana the Taupe!

All: The Taupe?

Archdruid: Yeah. By the time they finally got a two-thirds majority for women wizards, all the decent colours had gone.

All: Nice special effects, Eileen. Can we sing Lord of the Dance now?

Archdruid: No! I have established my Urukh-Hai in the cellars under the Great House, and now..... Urukh-Hai! Take them to the doily mines!

Urukh-Hai Captain: Sure thing, O great Sarumana. Oo - tea lights. We love them. Nice joss sticks. Do you know, I think we're just going to hold these pebbles and contemplate them for a while....

The Urukh-Hai launch into an unaccompanied verse of "Brother Sister let me Serve You."


Archdruid: OK, Hnaef. Turn on the water cannon. Let's go count the offering.

Liturgy of the Day After Solstice

Archdruid: Nights are drawing in.

All: Soon be Christmas.

Saturday 21 June 2014

South West Guilt Festival

....from The Church Sofa.

Reminds me of  the North Bucks Ferret Fanciers Club. Though they were real, obviously.

The Day of Carp

The early-morning watchers of the video loop of the Solstice Sunrise this morning are complaining.

Their first complaint I can understand. Hnaef had manifestly pointed the webcam southwest instead of north-east. And so the recording has fifteen minutes of light gradually increasingly, with Hnaef's shadow suddenly stretching out into the distance, and then a whirl through 180 degrees to reveal the sun, already clearly over the horizon. With Crawley Crossing wreathed in light mist, and the sunshine reflecting off the Amazon warehouse, it must have been a marvellous sight.

But the real moan is about me playing the Kirsty MacColl song, "Last Day of Summer", over the tape. Why, I am being asked, am I playing a piece of misery about the end of summer, when it's only just beginning?

Well, I say. It's a reminder to gather rosebuds while we may. You may be thinking there's loads of summer, the days are long, the fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high. But think on. It's all downhill from now on. The days will become shorter, even as the temperatures rise. If you're gathering rosebuds, grab them with two hands. But, obviously, wear gloves. They have nasty thorns.

The Romans had the idea of " Carpe Diem" - the Day of Carp, when the world dissolves in goldfish. Try and get out there, grab those rosebuds, before the Great Carp gets them.Happy Solstice.

Friday 20 June 2014

Ephesians 6 for English Pacifists

Clothe yourselves with the full batting kit of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against Sri Lankan bowlers, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.

For this reason, take up the full batter's equipment of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand with a leg stump guard. Stand firm therefore, by fastening the thigh pad of truth upon your leg, by putting on the chest guard of righteousness, by fitting your batting shoes with the toe guards of peace - ready for the yorkers of life.

And in all of this, strap on the pads of faith, to push away the balls of the evil one which pitch outside leg stump. Put on the box of purity, to protect your more sensitive beliefs. Seek after Wisden. And take the helmet of salvation to guard against temptation's bouncers, and the bat of the Spirit, always getting on the front foot of prayer, that you may, by playing each shot on its merit, achieve the match-winning innings of your life.

A Midsummer Night's Delusion

Living encased in glass and concrete, basking in the TV's glow, we can be detached from the cycles of life, the way nature works, where our food comes from. We are disconnected from things that really matter. So there's some depth and sense in the neo-pagan views of nature and the seasons.

Which this article completely fails to convey.

 "A big part of the Druid thinking is there's this cycle called the year, which fundamentally affects everything we do..."

To be fair, a lot of others have this cycle called the year. And even people in cities notice they can drink outside later in the summer, and have to wear coats in winter.

"Summer solstice is when the sun is at its highest point and the longest day of the year. Winter solstice is the opposite – marking the shortest day and the sun being at its lowest on the horizon."

Not exactly. The sun is actually at its lowest on the horizon twice a day - at sunrise and sunset. Unless this chap has his horizon specially lowered at Yule.

"When you do it at Stonehenge, you're in the same place for the same reasons as people 5,000 years ago – in a place they marked out as special that they picked out to meet up and do these observances."

Since the original Beaker Folk left no writings, we actually don't know why or what they did. They could have used that day for  throwing eggs, for burials, for having a giant Moot, for slaughtering dragons and then burning the remains thoroughly so as to leave no traces for future archaeologists. Maybe they were holding giant courts and sentencing murderers to death. We've really no idea. One theory holds, in any case, that Stonehenge was only for midwinter, in which case nobody was there in the summer. We don't know, in short, if their reasons were the same as ours.

And oh, how they danced

It all ends quite nicely, with them surrounded by the power of the sun, gods (why no goddesses?), fairy folk etc. But it gives me pause for thought.

Here we have a restoration religious movement - imaginative, creative, devout  - harking back through the millennia to a more natural, more original religion.

While all around us, Christian churches in attempting (and failing) to be contemporary and relevant, chuck out the old in favour of the modern, the shiny-new, the - when all is said and done - transient.

Well, it makes  you think, dunnit? Who's the ones making it up as they go along, and who's the ones trying - however speculatively - to stay in touch with the source?

See you at sunset.....

Thursday 19 June 2014

A World Cup Lament

For the Players of Vuvuzelas

You showed favor to Inger-land;
you restored the well-being of Roy.
You gave us a speedy front three;
you restored Rooney's hair. (Selah)
You gave us a modern formation;
we no longer went Route 1.
Our keeper's hair shone like the precious oil of Hermon
Running down his head and shoulders.

And yet, let's face it, nothing's changed!
We break like waves on our enemies
And our back 4 is like unto the sieve
What did Stevie G think he was doing?
What happened to Raheem?
Will we continue to fail throughout future competitions?
Will Glen Johnson always wander astray like unto the lost sheep?
Must we suffer 50 years of hurt?

With heavy heart will we put the St George's flags back in the cupboard.
Bereft of flags will we drive our cars.
How long until we win a trophy?
How long until our heads are high?
We will wait through the nights of summer have passed
We will look for the time we can go to the pub for Leicester v Baggies
And once again will we delude ourselves
That the Prem is the best league in the world.

Solstice Eve Arrangements

As usual we will celebrate Solstice Eve tomorrow night at sunset. On Saturday morning, we just accept that Beaker Folk won't get up in time. So we will record the precious event at sunrise, and then play it every hour through the day. Both mystical and convenient!

Wednesday 18 June 2014

"Stop Being Beastly to my Mates" - James Corden

James Corden weighs into the whole 'how boring is Phil Neville" debate by saying we're all mean, and it doesn't matter because it's only Twitter anyway.

"Who are we to say that anyone's commentary is bad until you've sat in that seat and actually done it?" asks the popular laddish comedian.

Well, unless the rules have changed, we're the people who pay for the BBC, and therefore Phil Neville's wages. Which I think should give us a voice. We don't have to be better than people we pay to have an opinion.

Phil Neville is knowledgeable. He's been there. He's just very boring.  With voice coaching, guidance, practice he could be good. Currently he's boring.

No doubt about it, he got a rotten lot of abuse. Some plain wrong. It shouldn't happen. But he got it when he was a player.

But he was very boring. I hope he gets better.

Joshua and Ai

One of the nastiest bits of the whole Bible in this morning's Pouring-Out of Beakers.
The doings of Joshua and the Children of Israel at Ai take the whole "stars are God's daisy chain" area of speculative theology, smash it up, burn the ruins and then jump up and down on them waving salt and singing "the stars are not God's daisy chain, you bunny-hugging losers".

The tactics are sound, of course. Copied, to a degree, by William the Bastard at Hastings. But it's the genocidal aftermath that stings.

The treatment of the other towns of Canaan was shocking, with slaughter of the men and married women and the sparing - or, to use another expression, enslavement and rape - of the girls. And it's all done in the name of the Lord.

I guess context is a lot. We're looking at a small race in the midst of a dangerous place, trying to survive. But it's still dreadfully nasty. The line from this to the lighting of tea lights in front of a photocopy of the Rubliev icon, in a cold building in middle England, is a long and wobbly one. Though if Jesus's achievement had been only that, through him, genocide had been replaced with fluffy thoughts and the scent of vanilla, even that, after 2,000 years, would be human progress.

Joshua's approach to intercultural relations has been popular this last 100 years. We're seeing it from Muslims in Iraq, Kenya, Nigeria. We've seen it from Christians in Bosnia, Germany and parts of Africa. From Buddhists in Thailand. And from atheists in Cambodia, Russia, China. It's the default, it seems, of men to destroy the Other when possible.

I don't know whether God ordered the destruction of Ai. It doesn't sound like the actions of a loving God, but then I can't rule it out, because volcanoes. I do know that I cling onto the One who said, love your enemy and forgives them. I can't honestly say I'd feel that way if they were nailing me to a cross. But I will believe in the One who did.

Feels very dark, doesn't it?

I think I'll light a tea light. Vanilla is soothing.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

The Sermon of Silence

You know how some people, when they go on holiday, bring back a church magazine from the local fellowship, so you can see other people have fetes and jumble sales too?

Well, Dreidre and Llantwit stayed at a boarding house last week. The landlady is a devout member of the Shivering Brethren. Their meetings are in total silence, except for when they feel inspired.  At which point someone will stand up and preach a four hour sermon on "The Rapture". No-one goes home until this happens. Sometimes they are there for days, apparently.

Anyway, they left the church mag in the Library. 32 blank pages. Obviously the editor wasn't feeling inspired last month.

Thomas Hardy On-Demand

There are, I am told, people who have been known to refresh the homepage of this blog constantly, so as to get new Thomas Hardy plots. This seems like a terrible waste of time.

So to make it more efficient, Burton Dasset has knocked me up this new Thomas Hardy Plot Page. With the button that generates a new story whenever you want one, you can read a new story at the click of a button, quicker, without all that load on your PC and the server.

The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley - working to make your  time-wasting more efficient.

Doge Compline

Much driving away dangers. Very Psalms.
Very Night Prayer

Monday 16 June 2014

Questions to Which the Answer is "No"

Should Creationism be taught in English schools?

15 Effective Habits of Successful Church Leaders

Do you look at other, more successful, Church Leaders and wonder how they do it? Do you have a non-envious and strictly unselfish desire to be more successful than they are?

Well, worry no more. Help is at hand. Here is my list of ways to be a successful church leader. Not all the habits are suitable for everybody - women, for example, miss out quite badly on a couple of them But don't blame me - blame the Pope.

1. Having a large congregation. Successful church leaders tend to have lots of people in their church.

2. Always making time for breathing. Church leaders who don't breathe are generally better at being former church leaders.

3. Being a man. Especially if you're a Roman Catholic.

4. Reading the Bible. It reduces the chances of somebody catching you out with a question like "who was Noah?" or "how many wise men were there?"

5. Checking the mirror on the way out of the vestry, always think "teeth and beard." Make sure your smile is fixed and your beard prophetic. Unless you're a woman, in which case you failed point 3 anyway. May as well give up.

6. Learning to "power nap" through meetings, so you are awake at the end when people may try to launch guerilla AOB attacks.

7. Having a big car. This impresses the faithful that God is on your side.

8. Always knowing you are right. People say "What sort of monstrous religious leader rules by fear, intimidation, and claiming they have a hot line to God?" Well, if it's good enough for Moses.....
9. Never reading theology books. They make you doubt your certainties.

10. When in doubt, asking yourself - "What would Mark Driscoll do?" He's a successful church leader.

11. Setting up a Twitter account that only tweets automated platitudes. That makes people into successful church leaders. Unless correlation and causality really are different things.

12. Coming up with your own ludicrous explanation for why Evolution did not happen. Some people will swallow it. People who don't really grasp Science, sure. But if your target market is people who don't understand Science and intolerant people, you're never gonna be lonely.

13. Never turning down a meeting. This must be a really good habit, as it's so popular with Church leaders.

14. Having a really good back-story. Kind of X-factor with salvation instead of a record deal. If you don't have one, making one up can help.  Nobody will bother checking. If they do, offer money or a job as an Elder.

14. Having an attractive wife (see point 3). Unless you're a Catholic. Unless you came over to the Ordinariate. Although, to be fair, in that case you're unlikely to be that successful.

15. Eating. Again, all successful church leaders ensure they eat relatively often. Sure, many of them advice fasting. And it's OK on occasions. Just don't get it confused with a long term option.

16. Ability to number lists correctly and proof read (see 14).

Evil vicar via Anglican Memes

The Madness of Tony Blair

Boris Johnson wisely tells Tony Blair to "put a sock in it".

Unwisely he then refers to TB as "mad".

I'm not sure he is suffering from any mental illness. The grimace and weird eyes are surely down to the strain of trying to persuade himself that what comes out of his self-justifying mouth has any relationship to the truth. History is your judge, Tony, you told us. I think you need a better lawyer.

But it's cheap and wrong to call him "mad". Mental illness is an illness and shouldn't be used as an insult Also it's an unfair comparison. Unlike Tony Blair, most sufferers from mental illness are no danger to anybody else. Tony Blair is, simply, self-obsessed and wrong.

Sunday 15 June 2014

A Crushing Metaphor

A hard afternoon at the "throw the badly-used Trinitarian analogy at the preacher" challenge. The preacher using the example of  the Trinity being like an egg got splatted, the apple fan got rather bruised. But never use the example of a washer-tumble drier for the Trinity. It took us ages to haul it up above the pulpit And we're still trying to get Mogwyn out from underneath it.

Whom to Follow on Twitter

I was rather inspired by this article on why Twitter is failing to add new accounts. And it makes great sense to me. The idea that Twitter seems to have - inspired by the cheap journalism of papers quoting celebs' views on life, the universe and the Iraq crisis - is that we really want to follow the accounts of famous people. And people do follow famous people, there is no doubt. Compare Justin Bieber with Weird Larry from over the park. Bieber has more believers. Several more.

But, turning it round, just because somebody is famous, that's no reason to follow them. You think about it. These people have press officers, PAs, people to do their tweeting for them. It's a little-known fact, for example, that Tony Blair's Twitter account is ghost-written by his PA, a dead-eyed fantasist has-been who, in his deluded imagination, thinks he's a force for good in the world*.

And if it's the real person behind a celebrity Twitter account, they're too busy making albums, running denominations and invading countries to do much interacting back. Obviously you can try trolling them to get a response, but really? Just trying to provoke Richard Dawkins into being all cold, donnish and aloof as he brushes you off like an experimental geneticist dealing with an escape of nine-legged Drosophila?

No, here's my guide to following on Twitter - and, by extension, my recommendation for the way Twitter should be running its recommendations:

The most important thing - above all else - is to follow people who will talk to you. Obvious, in real life, isn't it? I mean, if you spent all day every day with Oscar Wilde, but he never spoke to you - his famous wit and charm would be totally wasted, wouldn't it? That's what Twitter is missing - the people who make Twitter Twitter, are those who talk to other people. Politely, maybe challengingly, but never rudely.

Novelty accounts can be fun, or annoying. There are chickens, bears, koalas, cats, bogeymen, archdruids out there in Twitterland. A clue - most of them aren't real, or at least they're not the ones doing the typing. The real reason that the Sad Cat is sad is because he's a hopeless touch typist, and it's his owner who types the tweets and makes the money out of the books.

People who share your interests and views - try to limit these. Would life not be really boring if we were all the same?  Isn't it a kind of trinitarian imperative to relate to people in their diversity, not just their sameness? If you're an IT professional, don't just follow other IT professionals. How boring would that be? Likewise for golfers, accountants, vicars, sky-divers and cheese makers. Follow people who like different stuff, believe different things, follow different traditions, live in other countries, tweet - if you can cope with it - in other languages. Learn something. But obviously make sure you follow people who have your own interests - people who can sympathise with you in your situations. Of course, there are people who hold certain interests which you probably don't want to hear about them. And, in many cases, you probably won't want to mention these interests if you have them. In fact, sometimes you might be better off not on Social Media at all. I'll move on.

Celebs - why bother? I mean, seriously? They rarely talk to you. As I said above, they're busy people. If you really do have a driving interest in Ricky Gervaise or the Pope - and I guess it might happen, it's a strange world, after all - then fair enough. But a word of warning. If you spend a lot of time retweeting their inane drivel in the hope they'll like you, or dragging them into arguments in the hope they'll be on your side, you're a sad beggar and have little hope in this life or the next.

Trolls. Block / report spam. In the Beaker Folk we have a "Response Unit for Neutralising Trolls". This spells "RUNT" because that's what most trolls are. Using some high-tech monitoring unit Young Keith would really rather not talk about, they can locate approx 75% of troll locations. And then we send Weird Larry round.

Famous dead people - strictly, an overlap between famous people and novelty accounts. But how many dimensions do you think I've got to work with here? Range from accounts that just tweet quotes from your favourite author, to people who actually pretend they are the dead people. If you want Queen Victoria's views on the Iraq situation, you can just follow her and find out. Clue - she only takes advice from Palmerston and Kitchener, and you might as well just follow Tony Blair in that case.

So there you go. That's my advice. No celebs, a few news channels, no trolls, a few dead people, a few animals, some people you agree with, some you don't, and - above all - people who will talk to you and be interesting. People who aren't famous, but have from around 100 to a couple of thousand followers - i.e. they're interesting enough in their own right to build up a following, but won't be too busy to talk to you.

Just like life, really. Where the best friends and workmates are interesting in their own right. Which ain't that surprising. When Soc Med works well, it is just like life. If your life consists of following celebrity news and not much else, then you're missing out on a lot. As, apparently, is Twitter.

* Stop press. Apparently TB writes his own tweets.

"We Didn't Start the Fire" - Tony Blair

"We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that 'we' have caused this," argues Tony Blair.

Quite right, too. "We" didn't cause it, Tony, dear. You did, with your cowboy friend, your made-up evidence, your desire to be a strong man, your bullying cronies, your belief that liberal democracy is best imposed by force.

If you have got five minutes, the Western powers of today might need a bit of a hand in getting that speck of not intervening in Syria out of their eye. And then, given that plank of wood in yours, best not turn sideways as you walk through the door on your way out.

Saturday 14 June 2014

The Dumping Ground of Trinitarian Analogy

Out the back of the Moot House (as if a circular building could have a "back", but let's go with it), down the gravel path that leads past the asparagus garden, beyond a cunningly-crafted screen covered in wisteria and Virginia creeper, there is a blighted place.

No light really gets there. It's a place in the stasis of half-darkness and good intentions. It's a place of broken hearts and fractured imaginations. It's the Dumping Ground of Trinitarian Analogy.

In the "recycling container", there's a family tree, where dotted lines are used to try to imply Jesus and the Spirit are like brothers and yet not quite. Various triangles, with different lengths of sides, drawn onto many sheets of paper. Yet more circumscribed triangles. And numerous empty bottles of "3-in-1 shampoo".

In the food bins, there's a pile of eggs, a pie in 3 slices. And a Gala pork pie. Those eggs again, always eggs. The shamrock grows wildly on the giant lumps of Playdoh dumped on the ground (and yet still it's all the same Playdoh). Meanwhile, in a low-pressure area where the light of the Sun (photon, wave and yet still one light) and of the fire (heat, light, the fuel source) never reach, the Triple Point of Water endlessly sublimates in its three-phase equilibrium. Watch you don't trip over the electric fires. You could get your feet tangled in those coils.

Meanwhile, over in the Library this evening, Keith is scratching his head and scribbling. He's down to preach tomorrow. I can hear some mutterings about "manager, players, team spirit". I can see his Panini World Cup sticker book will be taking the trip down the path, past the asparagus garden tomorrow morning.

It's a sad, desperate, frightening and yet deeply boring place, the Dumping Ground of Trinitarian Analogy. Boring because it records that same, endless attempt to express the inexpressible and make sense of Mystery. I wouldn't advise you go there. It's damp, dark and dismal. Any light you think you find is illusory. Enjoy the mystery. The mystery is real.

An App for Thin Places

Smashing bit of app programming by Young Keith there.

Armed only with my trusty Samsung Galaxy, I've just completed the Beta testing of a strip of School Lane. Meanwhile, Beaker Folk spread far and wide over Husborne Crawley have completed an analysis of the thinness of the entire village.

A thin place
It's obvious to me that, if some places are "thin"  - Walsingham, Iona, the Rollright Stones, Lords - then other places must be "thick". The Houses of Parliament spring to mind, after the sight of the party leaders posing with the Sun. Albeit Westminster, a holy place on an island, was a thin place before they dredged the marshes and moved the pond life from the fenny brooks into the Chapel of St Stephen.
Ed Miliband is sitting in a "thick place"
But if some places are "thin", and others are "thick", then there must be spiritual slopes. Ley lines must be like spiritual v-shaped valleys. And how does one get from a thin place to a thick one, except down a spiritual contour?

I mean, the app's not actually capable of measuring the spirituality in the air. That would be ridiculous. What you do is, you press the screen every fifty feet and it works out how spiritual your finger is. Proper spiritual science.And so we used Young Keith's app, and the miracle of GPS, and we have successfully mapped the thinness of Husborne Crawley:

Thinness measured in milliStewkleys (mSt).
Obviously it's what you would expect. Things are thinnest around the woods, the brooks, and the church. We're not very sure why there's such a thick spot in the fields between the school, the pub and the M1. But we'll be looking very carefully at those spots where the thinness gets down to 6 mSt. Gotta be good for some serious pebble-holding, I reckon.

As I say, we're using the Beta version, and it's in Android. To be honest, I'm worried about the version for iOS that Keith is developing, Knowing the way Apple's clocks and alarms work, if you're measuring the thinness of Stonehenge at the wrong time of the year, you may discover you actually are in 3000 BC.

The Unspecified Number of 10 Commandments

It does not often happen that something shocks me to the core. Questions the whole basis of what I take to be true. But it's happened today. And I'm not quite sure how I have missed something this fundamental, for so long.

I blame Bruvver Eccles, of course. And, in this particular instance, his list of 10 British-Values Commandments.

Now I realise I will not always agree with everything Eccles says. Not surprising, as one of us is a member of the longest-established Christian tradition in the British Isles, and the other is a Roman Catholic. Eccles, to take one example, would not join me in congratulating Colin Coward on his award (he's in there somewhere). But then we're entitled to disagree. That's a British Value, is disagreement without actually fighting. Except on Friday nights in Dunstable. And then, Eccles may not know how tall and distinguished Colin is.

But I digress. My point is, Eccles punctuates his commandments, if I may put it so, differently than me. His number 1 (or I, if you're checking this against the list on your church wall) includes my number I and II. Or possibly omits number II altogether, depending upon whether you think he's just a sneaky Papist hoping to get away with some idol worship (or even idle worship, which is less like hard work) on the side.

But then to make them add up to X, Eccles splits out X into his own IX and X, thus separating out coveting one's neighbour's wife from coveting his/her lawnmower, tea spoons, goat and conservatory.

Whereas if you look at the way they're parsed in Exodus (see below), if you were going to divide up X, you'd surely have the house as IX and the rest, including one's wives or wives, chickens and Ford Grand Cmax as number X.

Now I'd like to think that the reason Catholics do this is as a recognition of a wife being more important than one's fig tree, Indian takeaway and 3D telly. It's a human rights issue, isn't it? So they make a special case of the wife - as they should. I also hope that in the next English translation (there's bound to be one along in a minute) they expand this to include husband, otherly-designated spouse, Civil Partner with no intention of upgrading and Handfasted Significant Other. Although I realise I'm probably in a different camp to Eccles on this as well. And I realise that he's probably basing his list on Deuteronomy 5, and not, as I am, on the list behind the altar in Cranfield Church.

But as I look at what I have always thought of as the X Commandments, under the influence of this dangerous Papist concept of being able to number them differently to the way King James did when he actually wrote the Book of Exodus , I realise there are all sorts of ways of parsing them. In fact, if you crunch together both "only one God" and "no idols", and leave the coveting all in one place, you get the IX Commandments. If you split out everything that has a " you shall", you get as high as XIV. For you could, logically, if your profession was idol-maker but you were not a practising idolater yourself, make unto yourself graven images, but not bow down to them.

And if you took the list in Deut 5, it's perfectly reasonable to argue that the wife-coveting is separate. Though by dividing up the Sabbath instructions, you could even get as high as XVI.

So why do we think there's X Commandments? Does the Bible says there's X, and not XII or XIV? Not that I can see - the headings to chapters were not part of the original text, and I don't know of anyone elsewhere in Scripture referring to the "Ten" as such.

Which leads me to an uncomfortable thought. They're the basis of the rest of Biblical morality, they're foundational to the way Christians think about the world. But we don't really know how many there are.

Next time Drayton Parslow quotes the X Commandments at me, as he frequently does, believing I am a shocking libertine, I shall tell him that his numbering is not inerrant, but merely a tradition taught by man. That'll show him who the fundamentalist really is.

Here they are in the NRSV (Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Exodus  20

Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;

3 you shall have no other gods before me.
 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
 7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.
9 Six days you shall labour and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
 12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
 13 You shall not murder.
 14 You shall not commit adultery.
 15 You shall not steal.
 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
 17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Thursday 12 June 2014

The Art of the Stroppy Church Resignation Letter

Dear Church Secretary and Council1

It is with a heavy heart 2 that I submit my resignation.

I have been a member of Slimewold Church for 43 years3 and have seen many good ministers in my time4. We have had our differences, but we have worked through them in a democratic manner5.

I have made many suggestions as to how our Church could move forwards, engage with the community, and grow 6. But now Revd Peasmere has announced that the tea light stand is to be moved to the vestibule, rather than on the opposite side of the chapel to the pulpit.

The tea light stand was donated to the chapel by a member of my family7. If they knew that a minister, merely through a disputed vote in the Church Committeehad banished that donation - paid for from their life's savings9  - they would never have made that gift. The tea light stand has been in place for generations10, and we will not see its like again. You have ruined the integrity of this beautiful, historic, unchanged 11 chapel. I sometimes wonder whether dark forces have been at work in this fellowship of ours 12 .

If the minister cannot 13 address the very real issues facing the church, rather than superficial matters of church furniture 14 , I fear for the future of the fellowship. Indeed, unless God has mercy 15, the congregation may cease to exist.

Yours in sorrow rather than anger

Chas N Davey

1  - make sure it's addressed to the Church Council. This is your moment to embarrass the minister. So ensure it's read out under "Correspondence"
2 - ensure that, though you're resigning, you make it clear you're being forced out.
3 -  a lot longer than the current minister
4 - implying the good ones are in the past.
5 - not that you're suggesting there are any tyrants around at the moment
6 - do not go into details. That there were "many" is good. Listing them might open up angles of attack for the minister.
7 - almost certainly true. And if not, refer to point 3.
8 - you disputed it, at any rate.
9 - thus implying that, by moving the tea light stand, the minister is effectively robbing you of your inheritance
10 - see point 3
11 - unchanged since they removed the original asbestos roofing, at any rate
12 - directly accusing the minister of being in league with the Horned One is better saved for the pub, or the Ladies' Bright Hour.
13 - challenge the minister's ability. It's so much nicer than impugning someone's intentions.
14 - hope nobody remembers your previous insistence on the importance of the tea light stand. You've bigger fish to fry
15 - it is obligatory to say the church will die. But best avoid looking like a fool, just in case.

Hell is a Pagan Idea....

Or so a book by Jon M Sweeney apparently claims.

I've previously argued against claims that Easter and Christmas are ultimately pagan. Even the claims for Halloween, I reckon, are ultimately unprovable.

But Hell. Pinched and converted from the pagan philosophies of Greece and Rome?

OK, pagans. You can have this one.

Tony Blair - the Prophet

In 2003, then-prime minister Tony Blair said there was a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Or, to be exact, he said,  "Yes, on the one hand, we do not know of a link between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks, but there are unquestionably links between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Just how far those ... links go is a matter of speculation."

So there were unquestionably links we didn't know about. There were also unquestionably chemical weapons we didn't know the  whereabouts of, and we were going to Iraq to break the links we couldn't identify, and destroy the chemical weapons we couldn't find. And in invading a strongish country to remove a (for the region) secular leader, we were going to strike a blow against fundamentalism and terrorism.

I'm not saying that Tony Blair was a liar, a war criminal or a fantasist. Although we are talking about a war with no validity, non-existent weapons, and no connections that I'm aware of that have ever been found between Bin Laden and Saddam.

But, in the light of the news that an Al Qaeda army is currently taking over the cities of Northern Iraq, I would like to hail Tony Blair as a prophet. He got the connection right. He merely - and, let's face it, this is a common problem with apocalyptic prophecy - got the year wrong. He thought, as he speculated of invisible links between Al Qaeda and Iraq, that he was talking about 2003. Turns out it was 2014. And it was largely thanks to Tony and his pals dismantling the state and replacing it with a weaker, less secular, more divided one.

There is another alternative, of course. He could be a warmongering, megalomaniac idiot, who was fired up by his self-image as a Man of Destiny. But surely that can't be right? After all, he's Middle East Peace Envoy now. No, he's clearly a prophet.


There's a kind of compression of decimal places when reporting the size of churches.

I mean, logically you should only be allowed to call yourself a mega-church when you have at least a million members. In which case, Anglicans, Methodists, Southern Baptists and the Orthodox Churches are all mega-churches. The Catholic Church is a giga-church. And most soi-disant "mega-churches" are merely kilo-churches. Some of them, truth be told, are no more than hecta-churches.

But then I read on Episcopal Café about a "micro-church". Surely, I say to myself, a church with a millionth of a member is no church at all?

Of course,  I'm being silly. Mega- and micro- mean, in their simple senses, "big" and "small". And, given the choice of a big church where the pastor is a long way away and you have to go through layers of assistant pastors, group leaders, Thrones and Dominions to reach the seat of power, and a church where you can just ask the pastor to pass the salt, I reckon the micro-church has a lot to say for it.  Especially when you reckon that the abiding temptations for the leader of a large church include pride, manipulation, ambition. The worst you can manage as a dinner church leader is taking an extra Brussels Sprout, or one too many glasses of wine.

I note that the first comment on the report on Dinner Church relates to how they pay the pastor - expressed as "is it sustainable?" If it's the sort of church where the people go out to eat to worship, and only need to stick up a sign in a shopfront to turn it into a place of worship - yeah, that's sustainable. Stop talking about money.  Let them eat and worship God, I say. And if the thing falls apart at some point in the future, then they won't have some useless purpose - built edifice left behind, crumbling like Ozymandius. They'll just leave it to be converted, and move on - unencumbered by architecture, but with memories of many happy, holy meals.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Global Lightening - Warnings from Scientists

Strange changes are being seen in the weather over the last five months, which may have major implications for farmers and insomniacs.

Scientists have warned that every morning, dawn is breaking a little earlier. And every evening, the sun is setting a little later. Some are suggesting that this is related to the warming trend seen since February.

"In fact," says Dr Grant Cheque, "if the days continue to get longer, at current rates it will be light all the time by March 2015. Governments must act. Please can I have a grant?"

The radical and unprecedented changes to solar availability are also being noticed by hardworking people and pensioners. A woman we picked at random in a Bletchley bus queue said,

"It's terrible. It's even light at 10 o'clock. Makes my Arnold awful frisky. I've started buying the hay fever tablets that make him drowsy. And he doesn't even have hay fever."

Meanwhile, in Australia, scientists are warning that it's getting increasingly dark. They are asking for funding to look into whether the two phenomena are related.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

The C of E Takes the Gloves Off

Bit of a punchy response here from the C of E Tumblr here to the BHA's fatuous attempts to make themselves interesting and newsworthy over the "Trojan Horse" schools.

There's a good reason to have faith schools. They're generally pretty good. Having a belief in the eternal worth of your children, and a faith in a rational, predictable creator - that's gonna encourage you in science, and in general, I reckon. If any schools were run in the way the BHA  approved, the uniforms would be anoraks, and so would the staff.

Ceremony of Healing from Hay Fever

Archdruid: Peace be with.... atchoo!

All: And right back.... atchoo!

Archdruid: Let us join in the Psniffly Psalm.

All: Oh how many are my sneezes
My hanky is soaked through
All day long my eyes are itching
And my nose is tickling.

Atchoo! *

My eyes are red from rubbing
And my nose is like unto the tomato that grows in the valley of Sharon.
I gaze out on the world through fuzzy lenses
And wear dark glasses all the time.


Oh give unto me the unction that is call-ed Vaseline!
That I might smear some on my nasal philtrum.
There may it rest all the day
Sticking onto any pollen grains that are headed for my schnozz.


Even though I sit in the dark of a curtained room
Yet pollen is always with me
Its spiky alien beauty entrances me under a microscope
But not so much when it's up my nose.

Archdruid: Care for an antihistamine?

All: Don't mind if I.... atchoo!

* A word of uncertain meaning, which may be an instruction to the musicians.

"Homeless Spikes" - The Real Answer

Boris Johnson leaps into the fray over the spikes to keep homeless people from sleeping in an alcove outside some Southwark apartments. According to the Guardian, he tweeted:

"Spikes outside Southwark housing development to deter rough sleeping are ugly, self defeating & stupid. Developer should remove them ASAP."

I agree. The developer could put a little bike storage shed in that space. Much more effective, and nobody could complain. Nothing inhumane or ugly about a bike shed. And, as a cyclist himself, I'm sure Boris would approve.

See, I can understand the reason they did it. A resident of that development coming home late at night, knowing that a potentially large, potentially drunk, person is lurking in that space by my front door. I can understand that you may feel you'd rather not do your bit for the vulnerable and homeless in London in that precise way.

If only, I find myself thinking, there was something more that could be done for all the people without homes in London. If only there was somebody who had the responsibility and authority to speak and act across the whole city for the common good. Because nobody wants others to be on the stones, but few want unknown people lurking in their doorways. If only there was someone who had the job of ensuring action so the city as a whole looked after homeless people better, and who didn't talk like alcoves without spikes was a strategy for homelessness.

If only, I can't help thinking, London had some kind of a mayor. Perhaps Boris could suggest a candidate?

Monday 9 June 2014

Last Chance to See

I'm not gonna link to it.

But the Telegraph site was recommending to me a site with an article on "9 Places to Go Before They Disappear Due to Global Warming."

I guess it's kind of irony tourism.  They're all low-lying tropical paradises, of course. The sort of place where you can only get if you - ahem - fly. In other words, to get to these places before they disappear, we're encouraged to adopt the single most effective method of pumping CO2 and pollutants into the atmosphere.

I look forward to the follow-up from that particular site. Where they identify the ten most endangered tasty species, so we can eat them before they're extinct. And maybe pick up an ironic souvenir, made from the ivory from the last African elephant.

Extraordinary Time

Yes, it does seem a waste that we only wore the red for one day.

So, in this octave of expectation of the World Cup, liturgical dress will be white, with red hi vis. But Beaker Folk from the Celtic nations may opt for the national colours of Germany, Italy, Spain or whichever other place you'd support rather than England.

It's OK. I understand.

You're jealous.

Sunday 8 June 2014

Calling is Not Everything

They took some organising this morning, did the Beaker Folk. I blame it on an outbreak of piety and an elevated doctrine of "calling".

Started with Strawbens, when I asked him if he'd carry a few tables into the Moot House for the Chessy Church. He put on that faux-devout look and said, he didn't feel called to carry tables. I explained to him the difference between calling and sending, told him who was doing the sending, and he went off pretty rapidly to do some carrying. And it has to be said, he served the church well. You'd prefer a willing volunteer, but a scared one is acceptable.

Strikes me you could sit around waiting for a calling all your life. Like somebody waiting for Mr or Miss or the Revd Perfect. The Perfect person won't necessarily turn up. You might have to grab somebody who's not quite so perfect, and maybe try to get along. Don't try to make them perfect. That's never gonna work.

I mean, look at Paul's instruction to Timothy. "Do the work of an evangelist". No mention that he was called to be one. He just got the job. Maybe the evangelist had worn herself out after a long apologia, and they needed a short-term substitute.

Maybe, just sometimes, the thing to be called to is right in front of you. If George Herbert was right that you can sweep the floor for Jesus, then it might - or might not - be a long-term scheme. It might be a ten-minute calling, or a three-day event helping at something where they just need a bod to back up the adult / child ratio. Go and grab it. And, after a lifetime to doing whatever your hand finds to do because it's to hand, maybe that was your calling after all.

On All People

There's a challenge, there. The people of Cappadocia, Pamphylia, Cyrene and so on have all come up to Jerusalem, to come to the Temple. The one place, Moses said, that one could make sacrifices. The place where the whole world came, to hear the ancient liturgy expressed in ancient tongues. And the disciples, outside the Temple precincts, yell out God's glory and everybody understands.

When the Spirit brooded on the waters, nothing could tie her down then. She watched and order formed on dark chaos. When God decided who should have his Spirit, it happened - regardless of class or priestly or otherwise role. And now, says Peter, the Spirit is poured out on all people, and instead of being a barrier and a curse, the languages of the world are vehicles to praise God in many different ways. Jesus the Jew has become the Saviour of all.

And down the centuries, the different languages of praise are poured out, and the Spirit cannot be confined to one - not Hebrew or Aramaic, not Greek or Latin. Not even 17th Century English. All languages are blessed for worship, because the Spirit is poured out on all people.

Same today. We can't trap the Spirit within our structures. We can't cage the Spirit - no bars would be strong enough for the dove who soars like an eagle, and tears human constructions apart. Not in the logic of the Enlightenment, not in the language of Western politeness, not in the denunciations of true believers. The Spirit is poured out on all people. And flies freely across the world.

Saturday 7 June 2014

Gentle as is the Dove

There are some rumours going around the Community that I locked a number of members of the Beaker Folk in the Doily Shed this afternoon, and left them there until they had produced the requisite number of doilies for the big bash that one of our customers is catering for tomorrow. A rather niche caterer, they specialise in 1970s Black-country Pop /  TV cross-over events. They're called "A Kipper Tie and a Slade of Cake".

Well yes, but I was in a bad mood, wasn't I? I was off to a slow start. First thing this morning, I was down in CMK shops, when somebody shuffled up to me, and told me that he needed to get back to Derby for his mum's birthday party, but had lost his money in a complicated space-hopper-related accident, and could I lend him enough for the bus fare?

Well, I'm as generous as the next Archdruid. And I felt sorry for him. But it's murder, trying to get from Milton Keynes to Derby by bus. And I wasn't going to risk him on the trains at the weekend. So, in a fit of weakness, I told him I'd drive him there.

White with gratitude, he went. Told me there was absolutely no need, and the money would be fine. But I insisted. Took him down to the car, drove him off to Derby. He said his mum lived "somewhere near the centre", so I dropped him off near Pride Park. That seems to be the biggest thing round there.

Funny thing is, he started begging me to take him back. Said he'd got a text, and his mum wasn't feeling well and he should leave her to recover in peace. Well, naturally I pointed out that he had a responsibility to his mum in these circumstances, and insisted he got out. When I drove off, he actually ran after the car for 200 yards, waving to me and mouthing what I can only assume were words of gratitude. Odd, though. He didn't have a Derby accent.

But of course, that made me short of time for all the preparations for the Whit Sunday Whoop-Up. We're planning to fill the Moot House with helium-filled doves, and the new "tongues of fire" machine takes hours to fuel up. And I had a sermon to write, and I was realising that my good deed had cost me a good four hours. And then remembering that we'd got to get the doilies out, I asked if a few people would just knock the holes out of a few each, and they all claimed they'd just got married, had fields to inspect etc. Fortunately, I had the "tongues of fire" machine to hand, and suddenly everybody was far keener on making doilies than they'd previously thought.

But it's left me in a really bad mood, all the aggro of the day. Burton just popped round to tell me about an exciting rounding-up he'd found in the souvenir crystals sales ledger, and I threw a lump of chrysolite at his head.

You know, we are a rough-edged race. A few Methodists and assorted old-balls (not to be confused with each other) apart, none of us has ever claimed perfection. Or, at least, not with any plausibility. If we are filled with the Spirit we leak. If we think we have managed to take a step forward, we fall backwards. If we think we are now perfectly able to regard ourselves as nothing, we start looking down on those less humble than ourselves.

And yet grace gets poured out, again and again. Danaid-like, he fills the sieves of our spirits with the Spirit. Because he can never run out of grace, as we can never quite shake off our stupidity. It's all on one side, generosity constantly overcoming selfishness. And that goodness it is.

One day, I'll be full, and stay full. Probably not today. And, despite the date in the liturgical calendar, I'm not holding out much hope for tomorrow either. But one day.

Friday 6 June 2014

Create your own Bible

And this chap has it about right on new English Language Translations. And more serious than me.....

Goldilocks and the Three Laws of Thermodynamics - A Scientist's Fairytale

Once upon a time there was a pretty girl called Goldilocks. Now although she lived in an enchanted wood, Goldilocks grew up in Luton. So when she noticed an empty house in the forest with an open window, naturally she nipped in to see what was worth nicking.

Goldilocks did not know that the house belonged to the Three Laws of Thermodynamics. And, that morning, the Laws had just gone out for a walk while their porridge cooled.

The First Law of Thermodynamics left his porridge in a closed system to cool down. But once the air above the porridge had warmed to be the same temperature as the porridge, it never cooled down.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics had just thrown her porridge on the floor. The bowl had shattered, and no matter how long it was left there, the bowl was never going to join together and be filled with porridge. It was just too statistically improbable.

And the Third Law of Thermodynamics like his porridge really cold. So he had left it in the world's most powerful fridge. But no matter how far he'd turned down the dial, he could not get the porridge to Absolute Zero. The porridge lay at the bottom of the fridge, frozen solid, and unexpectedly conducting electricity, but still resolutely hanging onto some vibrational energy.

Goldilocks cracked open the First Law's closed system, and let the porridge cool down. Soon it was just right. You can't beat thermodynamics.

Another reflection on the story is here.

Dan on D-Day

A clear day, and an early start. And all the boats with their precious cargo heading across to Normandy. And among them, a man I used to know.

Dan never mentioned his spell in the Army. And so when I thought about it - as I occasionally did, he having lived through two world wars, after all - I presumed he'd been too young for the first and maybe too old for the second. He'd have been in Dad's Army, I assumed.

But when he died and his widow, Ede, suddenly put a picture on the sideboard - they were proper Londoners, they had to have a sideboard - and he was in uniform in the picture, well obviously that was me better educated. But still no mention of what he did.

And when Ede died, and they went through the precious things, then, and only then, did a member of the family get Dan's medals. Not from the attic - from the Ministry of Defence. He'd never bothered getting them himself. Maybe he didn't see the campaign as a celebration. They also found his discharge papers - a battered old booklet. Very little information. Place of discharge, number, but also regiment and dates, obviously.

Turned out Dan was there, on the day or - possibly - in the evening of the first day. Driving a truck behind the boys in tanks. All the way from Sword, eastward and up.

Still, no more details than that. No clue to whether he was brave, what he saw. And, in the regimental history, they found the clue to why his daughter - whom he first saw when she was a year old - always treasured a bracelet made from Dutch coins.

As I say, he never mentioned it. Not once. Never said what it was like, to be a man pushing middle age watching all those young lads go out and many - on both sides - not go home. Never mentioned the weeks getting out of Normandy, or the schlep across northern Europe - or the feelings of boredom on that return to England, a sense of freedom in the office in Northampton, and the new discovery of a home in a village near Luton - the back of beyond to a Holloway boy, with space and fields instead of the miles of bomb sites and the broken windows.

As I say, never mentioned anything about it, at least not to me. Just drove his lorries, wore his trilby, smoked his fags, drank his beer and still ate jellied eels. But I bless him with all my heart.

Thursday 5 June 2014

A Small Heap of Offering

Dreadful news coming out of Bogwulf Baptist Chapel.

It was their Special Service for Fundraising yesterday. Apparently their evil landlady has put the rent up again.

Revd Drayton Parslow said he would keep preaching until the "heap offering" reached 6' high. And he's still going. Apparently having worked through "The Riches of Creation", "The Concept of the Tithe", and "The Generosity of the People of Israel in Numbers", he's on point 4 now, "The Lord loves a Cheerful Giver". We've sent in sandwiches, milk and honey - obviously, I stand to benefit from this one, so I don't want them flagging - but they've still only reached about 3'4". I'm gonna have to send the card-reader in if they've not reached the total by midnight.

It's All Ogre Now

All the excitement over Richard Dawkins and the fairy tale controversy has brought it all back to me.

Back in the late 80s, I was a researcher in the Zoology department at Oxford. I was on the special Bogeyman Experimentation Unit. You may not know, but bogeypeople are the nearest analogue to a human being you can get for really good auto-immune experimentation. And, being they're supernatural you can kill them over and over again, so you save money on breeders.

The howls would carry on late into the night, carrying down the South Parks Road.  But we could only ever do these ghastly experiments at the Laboratory of Molecular Biophysics, being careful to make sure that Professor Dawkins didn't know. At the time, I though it was because, being tender-hearted, he didn't like to think of a bugbear, hobgoblin or foul fiend suffering so. It's only now that I realise.  It was actually because, if he'd found out, it would have shattered his lack-of-faith.

The Very Grumpy Ogre

Once upon a time, there was a Very Grumpy Ogre. And the Very Grumpy Ogre was grumpy because all the other people in Fairyland believed in a land called "Earth", where magic didn't work and instead of flying, people used petrol and electricity to get around in carriages that weren't pulled by rats turned into horses. And godmothers weren't fairies, they were just friends of little Kayleigh or Thor, who were happy to make some promises in a cold building.

And then the ogre would say it was ridiculous that people believed in science,  and that magic was the only thing mattered. And he would go and see his friends the trolls, who used to wear anoraks. And some of them - but not, I I have to stress for legal reasons - the Very Grumpy Ogre - used to hang around on the Magebook social crystal ball network, and cast rude anonymous comments towards beautiful princesses. But not all trolls.

There's not a fairytale ending. One day the Very Grumpy Ogre discovered that actually it was he who was living in the make-believe world, and he ceased to exist. And nobody lived happily ever after.