Thursday 31 July 2014

Dawkins and the Dog

I guess it's a testimony to something, either good or bad, when the supporters of Richard Dawkins can still support him after his crassness of the other day. See, for instance, the comments BTL on this article.

But why would the rational, logical, scientific souls that these people presumably think they are not do what I would do if - well, here's an example. Luis Suarez. When he got in trouble for racistly abusing Patrice Evra, I marginally defended him. The sort of defence you wouldn't like your brief to use in court. I didn't think he is, deep down, a racist. My belief is that he is fundamentally an idiot. I think he's a fantastic player. But he's an idiot. Nothing he has done since has changed my view.

You'll note that I have separated out two elements of Suarez's character there, approved of one but not the other.  I guess it must be a tribal character - one that I can't hold to that degree - that would have seen Suarez as a brilliant player and, because he was a Liverpool player, therefore innocent.

And yet that seems to be what the CiF'ers are doing with Dawkins. They are backing him up in an illustration that is vile and - as it happens - illogical and that he has no right to make - because they agree with him on something totally different.

It's like they've too much vested in him to allow him to fail. They whitewash his wrongness. How could you not divide one set of discourse - atheism - which is a perfectly respectable position to hold, from another which is outrageous - and not see you can hold one but be wrong about the other?  It's not like anyone's claiming he's perfect, is it? So it must merely be tribalism. Which, as Ukraine shows us, is one of those inherited traits that might have been useful in our evolutionary past but it's a right pain now. 
A bit, some might claim,  like religion.

But then I remember this from Matt 15:

A Canaanite woman from that area came and cried out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is horribly demon-possessed!”
But he did not answer her a word. Then his disciples came and begged him, “Send her away, because she keeps on crying out after us.”
So he answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But she came and bowed down before him and said, “Lord, help me!”
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” he said.
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith is great! Let what you want be done for you.” And her daughter was healed from that hour.

So first up I don't know whether Matthew thought calling a foreign woman was a dog was reasonable or not. He offers it with no comment. He isn't interested in the comment, I suspect, so much as the answer and Jesus's response to that. He is interested in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, opening his mission up to the nations.

But it sticks for me. Is this Jesus doing a Dawkins?  Or, rather, does this cause me as a Christian to do the same thing the Dawkinsites on CiF did?

See, I can pretend that what Jesus said wasn't offensive - that the word he used meant "puppies" or "lap dogs" or something. That he was teasing. But I don't believe he was.

Or I can pretend he was trying - in his omniscience - to provoke just that response. But I don't believe his earthly omniscience was all that, to be honest. I reckon the Incarnation meant he had exactly the amount of brain that would fit in his skull.

Or I can believe this. That Jesus - perfect God and perfect human - was a perfect 1st Century Jewish man, not a 21st century imagination of what he was like. I believe he therefore thought gay sex an abomination, couldn't even conceive of female disciples, and thought Gentiles, compared to Jews, were dogs.

But that doesn't mean we have to agree with him on any of those things. The woman's retort changes his view. The Jewish Messiah is open to the world. Who says Jesus didn't have to learn?

You may say I'm a heretic. But I don't think I am the only one.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Despite What Anyone May Tell You, Some Entirely Reasonable Overlaps Between "Different" Kinds of People

Out With a Bang

A great occasion in the end, was Wilfrog's funeral.

Once again we were stymied on the question of a proper, authentic Beaker funeral. We were told that the traditional "fireship" was out of the question, as the duck pond just ain't big enough to allow it.

So instead it was a cremation followed by pyrotechnics. Wilfrog being a lifelong Watford fan, we loaded his ashes into a rocket in the shape and colours of Harry the Hornet.

In the end, it was what he would have wanted.  We shot it straight through the window of a Luton Town fan.

Sheep May Safely Glaze

Never get a ewe in to do a replacement window. Cost an absolute fortune. I was fleeced. Actually, she was - if we're going to live in a world absolutely based on Dawkinsian mechanics. And all those hoof prints on the window. I was going to do the joke about herd of sheep glaziers but it turns out that it's flock. Which is much what I said when I saw the droppings on the conservatory floor.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

The Very Hungry Dawkins

One day the Lawd of the Dawks felt very hungry.

But the Great Dawk wasn't like you or me. We eat food and drink gin.  Whereas the Dawk subsisted on attention, which he liked to wash down with the psychic energy he could extract from howls of rage.

So the Dawk decided to say something outrageous, yet which he reckoned he could logically defend. He didn't worry about the people who could rightly be very offended, because Dawks are attention-seeking toads.  And three hours later he wasn't hungry any more.

The End

Monday 28 July 2014

Your NHS Horoscope

As Tory MP David Tredinnick tells us we should consider Astrology on the NHS. this could be just the sort of thing you find on your ward in the near future.

Aries.svg Aries

You will meet a man or woman in a white coat. They will give you advice on your condition. You should listen to them. They're far more helpful to your health than an astrologer. Even a "proper astrologer who does it with a chart and you have to know your exact time you were born." No. Stick to the doctor.

Taurus.svg Taurus

Tauruses are independent, free-thinkers. Some may confuse your stubbornness with being headstrong. Don't follow the herd. Astrology is a failed science based on a mish-mash of old religions. It's no basis for your health care. Some would suggest it's a load of bull.

Gemini.svg Gemini

Castor your eye over the evidence for astrology. It's Pollux, isn't it?

Cancer.svg Cancer

Dropping the jokes, this is why you need to take this seriously. If you've acne or you're feeling a bit tired, feel free to try washing your face in the dew of dawn, whale songs or reflexology. Obviously, feel free to do those anyway. Or even prayer. But if you've a real, serious illness, use real serious drugs as well. (Assuming that's what you're prescribed, obviously).

Leo.svg Leo

Do you find you spend a lot of time sitting around for hours, wondering what you're doing with your life? Are you wishing you could get out more, read something new, or get away from that snivelling child with the saucepan on her head? You're in A&E, aren't you? May as well settle in for the long run.

Virgo.svg Virgo

Do the days go so fast you can't concentrate? Too tired to concentrate? Not getting the time to get to know people? Making snap judgements and hoping you get them right? Welcome to General Practice.

Libra.svg Libra

Life is all a matter of balance, isn't it? On the one side there's expensive drugs, the time you need to care for people holistically in the right sense of the word. There's people to listen, skilled surgeons, the attention to know someone needs a drink, or needs assistance to eat. And on the other side of the balance, there's cheap gimmicks like homeopathy and astrology. Who would think hot air would weigh so heavy on the scales? Avoid men with blue ties who like cuts. And I don't mean off-duty surgeons.

Scorpio.svg Scorpio

You may be feeling a bit less well off than you were. Wage packet not going as far as it did? Struggling to make ends meet? You're not gonna be able to afford health insurance, are you? Work harder, you oik.

Sagittarius.svg Sagittarius

At a time of hardship, your family rally around you. Refuse to sign the document they've shoved under nose. It's not an application for a bus pass, whatever they claim.

Capricorn.svg Capricorn

Hard-headed, logical, clinical - there's no fooling Capricorns. You look at this kind of rubbish, and see right through it. Just like.... erm...  David Tredinnick, who's a Capricorn.

Aquarius.svg Aquarius

You will encounter a man carrying a large pot of inert water. He's a homeopath. You may find these in Jeremy Hunt's NHS.  Apart from being proof of the placebo effect, it's not worth wasting your time with.

Pisces.svg Pisces

With your entrepreneurial nature, it may be time to look into a new business venture. Have you considered tendering for part of the NHS? With a bit of practice you could set up as a surgeon, but it's a bit messy. In the modern world, maybe you could tie a scarf round your head and open up your own fortune-telling booth in Reception. Obviously, you need to be careful. Be too down and you could depress people. Too upbeat and there could be complaints from relatives. Best to stick to reassuring generalities. If you make a diagnosis, you could get sued later.

The Whale Truth

Speaking of whale song, I remember back in 1978, when my brother bought ELO's album "Out of the Blue". Many people know "Mr Blue Sky" and "Sweet Talkin' Woman", of course. But there's a lovely atmospheric song on it called "The Whale". Lots of bubbling noises and moaning whale-song effects.

And not worrying too much about the neighbours, we had the windows and were blasting the song out. And the dusk was just pinking in - the first few stars starting to peek out over in the East - and there we saw it, just a hundred yards or so off, obviously called by the song - a pilot whale. It was an awesome moment.

Obviously, bad news for the whale. Goodness knows what it was doing in the Chilterns. Can't just blame that on submarines, can you? But, before the smell got too bad and the army blew it up, we had those memories of a few minutes of happiness.

Sunday 27 July 2014

The Beryline Prophecy

All Methodists know about Woods Ware Beryl china. It's green, it's functional, it's tough, and it's in every Methodist Church hall - and others, non-conformist and even Anglican - throughout the country. But very few know the secrets of the Beryline prophecy.

The Beryline prophecy was first revealed to Enoch Wood, as it rolled off that Burslem production line in the 1940s. With the whole world recovering from war, the Woods had continued with the production of their fine china. But something went wrong with that batch. As thousands of cups, saucers, jugs and even gravy boats poured out of the pottery, Enoch saw the end of the world written into that strange green china. It was revealed to Enoch that, should all the Beryl in the world ever be together in one place, the Beryline Consciousness would rise up, and subject all to eternal slavery.

Horrified by the thought of being dictated to by a load of tea pots, Enoch made a rapid decision. He shipped the whole lot out to the four corners of Britain. In those days of austerity, the chapels were particularly happy to receive Enoch's kind offer - the Anglicans generally expected a slightly more refined cup for their Lapsang - and as a result Beryl became eternally associated with Methodism - honest, unpretentious folk drinking out of honest, unpretentious, indestructible green earthenware.

But as time goes by, Methodism is going the way of Sandemanianism and Wodenism. As each chapel closes, the hymn books, small communion glasses and - crucially - Beryl china is passed onto another chapel in the circuit. You wouldn't want to throw away Beryl china, would you? One day - unlikely as it sounds - somebody might break some, so best to have some spare. So the china is consolidated as - unheard by human ear - teacup calls to teacup on the Beryline plane, pulling them together into one giant tea set.

I occasionally think that the Beryl is itself the cause of the decline in the Wesleyan denominations - encouraging certain of its ministers into the kind of liberal Universalism that leads their flock to realise they might just as well stay in bed of a Sunday, if they're going to heaven anyway. At the ultrasonic level, scientists have detected that Beryl tea cups send out the message "Your coffee is your only eternal punishment." Some ministers still heroically stand up for the faith once delivered to Charles and John W - but in their chapels, the Beryl waits patiently. For someone of less Arminian faith is likely to take over after the regulation five years.

And so, as the Methodist chapels close, the Day of Beryl when the Earth Dissolves in Instant Coffee gets closer. For be sure, when the last Methodist chapel receives that massive last consolidating delivery of Beryl china from the penultimate Methodist chapel, the Beryl will arise. What had previously been our slave - the holder of our tea, the saucer that guards 'gainst spills - will be our master. Then we will bow down in terror - and a certain disbelief - to our dull green conquerors.

Friends, why risk it? Go to Chapel next weekend. You need to save the world.

Didcot A Power Station - A Lament

Archdruid: Fallen! Fallen is Didcot the great!

All: For nPower has commanded it.

Archdruid: For she was unclean.

All: She, who once was so shiny, the new wave of coal-fired power station - yet brought down by clean air legislation.

Archdruid: The demolition dudes did their destructive deeds.

All: And great was the fall thereof.

Archdruid: Oh, Didcot Multimammia! You, who welcomed students home from a trip to Town! You gathered us to your motherly breast as we longed for dreaming spires.

All: You pumped acid rain across the Buckinghamshire skies. On a clear day, they claimed you could be seen from Dunstable Downs.

Archdruid: No more will you guard the approaches to the Vale!

All: And a journey to Wycombe will be without interest.

Archdruid: Let them be abandoned in Abingdon.

All: Let them be wanton in Wantage.

Archdruid: Let them be boring in Goring.

All: Let them continue to be nonexistent, with a very dodgy overlap between the PCC and the powers of the local council, in Dibley.

Archdruid: For fallen - fallen is Didcot the Great!

All: And great was the rubble thereof.

Archdruid: Your place shall be the haunt of foxes and jackals.

All: Jackals? Don't you mean property developers?

Archdruid: Oh yeah. I always get those confused.

All: Then let us roll in ashes and cinders.

Archdruid: But only metaphorically. Ugh.

All: And regret that the view from the A34 ain't so interesting anymore.

Archdruid: Go in peace, under cleaner skies.

All: With perhaps a speck of coal dust in our eyes.

Image from Wikipedia

Saturday 26 July 2014

Imaginary Aliens and a Universal Christ

Of all of the entire opus of hippy-dippy, folksy, syncretistic, dog-eared hymns belonging to Sydney Carter, there is only one that we allow on Beaker premises in any form. Not that ghastly cod-kid's song One more step along the world I go. No. It's Every Star Shall Sing a Carol.

Obviously, we still won't sing it. The Sydney-Carter Free Zone is still in operation. But we occasionally study it, one verse at a time so as not to sustain too much damage, like a World-War One Joke. It's not a bad bit of speculative theology.

Unlike the suggestion Phil refers to that aliens cannot be redeemed. This is based upon an article about the creationist Ken Ham. Phil's point - that Jesus's work is greater than the mythological Adam's fall - is pithily and perfectly put. But there are other objections to the idea that aliens cannot be saved.

The first being that this is confusing two models for explaining reality.Adam and Eve lived, sinned and died in a two-tier universe a bit like a snow globe. On the floor of the snow globe were the earth and seas - the place where human endeavours occurred. The glass of the snow globe was semi-permeable (yeah, I know, but go with me here), and through it could pass the waters that rained on the earth. So maybe not such a great illustration, since obviously there's already water in a snow globe. Well, whatever.

Anyway, my point is that there were no aliens in Adam's world. Literally no place for them. The stars were effectively painted onto the - ahem - dark blue ceiling of the snow globe. And everything outside was where God lived. So nowhere for aliens.

Aliens, of course, live in a completely different model of reality. They live in the world of science fiction. A place where we can, if we are blessed, understand more of what it means to be a human living on earth, by considering what intelligent non-humans might be like. If we ever find aliens (or they find us) then those aliens will be in another model of reality - the one we measure with science and sociology and psychology and such like.

Anyway, on with a bit of fisking.... 
"Of course, secularists are desperate to find life in outer space... The search for extraterrestrial life is really driven by man’s rebellion against God in a desperate attempt to supposedly prove evolution!"
No. We don't need to prove evolution. Outside a few people who can't understand science or don't want to, that's done. And we don't do this kind of things because we want to prove silly points. The whole of Science - like the whole of a decent religion - is a search for truth. Like an electron microscope and a telescope, they both help us to see better - but in two different ways.
"according to the secular, evolutionary worldview there must be other habited worlds out there" 
No. According to the scientific worldview, there's a finite chance of habited (is that a real word?) worlds. Argument rages over how we calculate how big the chance is. Personally I reckon the chance is either very small, or we're really early developers. 
"And I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel."
With the exception of angels, who don't count as aliens, the Bible as a whole is very quiet on the subject of extra-terrestrial beings.
"This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation."
Which logically implies that Adam's fall is greater than Jesus's salvation which, as Phil notes, is not the case.

Also, if I need to assume the aliens fit somewhere in the snowglobe for a minute, then let's do some Augustinian theology. If Adam's sin affects the whole universe, then aliens will suffer as do dogs, cats and bryophytes. They will live and die, and have some nasty experiences (and bright moments) on the way. If the aliens are also made in the image of God (which does not involve God looking like me or Ken Ham, in my opinion) then they will - crucially in Augustinian thought - not be impacted by Original Sin. Original Sin is passed on from parents to children through the act of generation. So intelligent aliens could be sinful, fallen in their own right - or completely free from whatever passes for sin if you're a bodyless thought-cloud or a 50-armed Jatravartid. We don't know. We'd have to meet one even to consider finding out. Good theology is, after all, experimental.
"One day, the whole universe will be judged by fire, and there will be a new heavens and earth."
 But those new heavens and earth will have continuity with the old ones, just as Jesus's resurrection body - and our own - will have continuity with the current ones.The world may burn but we will quiver. Sorry. Force of habit. Be raised in a spiritual body - but still our own.
"Jesus did not become the “GodKlingon” or the “GodMartian"”
 No, of course he didn't. Klingons are imaginary, and Martians almost certainly never existed. But as noted above, the Bible tells us nothing about aliens, or life on other planets. If they exist - and they are fallen, as we might understand it - then how might God redeem them, raise them up, become one with them? We don't know, we have no clues. Like Peter looking back at John, that's not our problem. Not till we find one, at any rate. Maybe Christ dies once, for all, for each intelligent and fallen race, or just once - here? I don't know. I know this planet is special because we are made in God's image, but it doesn't follow that another planet might not also be special - anymore than a mother with two children wouldn't die for either, or both, of them if she had to. As Syd Carter said, every star shall sing a carol, and for once in his benighted songwriting career he might have had a point.
"The answers to life’s questions will not be found in imaginary aliens" 
Well, if you mean through science fiction, as long as that leads to questions about existence and meaning and what time means, then you might move along a bit if you've got the imagination. Just read Asimov on the way robots keep getting round the rules.  That tells you more about us than robots. The aliens of the B-Ark being blasted into space because they're all middle managers and marketing executives - that makes you consider your place in the world. Obviously, if you're just thinking about learning to speak Klingon and dressing up as a storm trooper and wishing you had a pet tribble, you're right. You're unlikely to pass on Original Sin, either, if you see what I mean.
"Now the Bible doesn’t say whether there is or is not animal or plant life in outer space.  I certainly suspect not."
I agree. And I also really hope not. Because if we found animal or plant (or other) life in outer space, sure as eggs is eggs it would be about ten minutes before we thought up a reason to declare war on it. That's why we needed a Saviour. We'd better hope, if we ever make contact with something like us, that they needed a Saviour less.

Outing the Fake Hipsters

We had quite an exciting afternoon in London yesterday. I just could not believe that all those extraordinary beards the men were wearing could be real. I mean, in Victorian times every one of them would have had an urchin chasing after them shouting "Beaver!" Really, it's like Imperial Russia being conquered by campness.

Anyway. Turns out that 50% of them are indeed false. After a day up in Town pretending to be Edward VII, half of all hipsters like to go home and let the breeze cool their superheated chins.

The other revelation is that, when they're not false, tugging at people's beards is counted as a form of assault. Thankfully, pleading that we were from the sticks and had panicked at the sight of so much facial hair, we merely received a stern warning and an escort to St Pancras.

From now on, let Beaker Folk be warned, we are introducing a Beard Tithe. If you want to go around the place resembling Moses feel free. But not actually free, if you see what I mean. Fiver a week. If nothing else, it may discourage the Beaker men from going around looking like hedges.

Friday 25 July 2014

A Portmanteau Church Words Dictionary

You know how it is. Church words, largely derived from Greek or Latin, mean little to the world of real people out there. You know - "out there"  - the world beyond the Church door. Which, when engaged in church-related activities, you talk about like it's 19th Century Africa. But the rest of the time you mostly manage to go the market, do your grocery shop, pick up your kids from the school or do a full day's work at the office without once noticing that the denizens smell of brimstone, have lives shorn of all meaning, or wear horns on a daily basis.

The average human being, presented with words like "righteousness" or "justification", goes totally blank. So why waste them? Why not combine them into portmanteau Church words? Then you will have a new level of precision to your jargon. And your average human being will be doubly blank. Or, possibly, blank squared.

AnabaptistryA second water tank.
AntinomiallennialismThe belief that, since the world's gonna end, we may as well have a proper party.
CharismodalistSomeone who only has one spiritual gift at a time.
ComplementariamaticBelieving in signs and wonders. But only for male robots.
ErastiabilismFinding the establishment of the church annoying.
EvangelicemulsionPaint suitable for chapels. Normally white or pastel. Light blue is nice.
Hauerwasitforyou?What you say when you've been inculturated.
JustinificationBeing as saved as an Orthodox emperor.
PentecosterlismEast-end Charismatic church tradition.
SandemanicheismDisestablished dualism.
SolefidoismOnly believing in one dog.
ZorroarianismA masked Hispanic heretic rights wrongs.

Sometimes it's Hard to Write Anything Funny

Sometimes it's hard to write anything funny.

There are days when the world seems so dark, you can't find much of a funny side - or at least not without either living in a fluffy, kitten-filled bubble. I mean, sure, I'm English. We have a tradition of laughing in misfortune. But that's generally our own, not other people's. We like underdogs.

And the world's woes are so complex. In Mosul, it's probably clearest who are the rotten gets and who the innocents are. The rotten gets are the ones threatening to kill other people if they don't change religion. And I don't blame Islam - Christians, atheists and even Buddhists have historically been just as good at killing people they disagreed with. I blame the rotten gets. There are some, I know, in this country - teenage fantasists for the most part - who think the rotten gets are in the right. But you've gotta be proper delusional not to recognise a get that rotten when you see one.

Then Israel and the Palestinian territories, where they seem to have been carrying on the same war since Samson first picked up the jawbone of an ass. Easy enough to spot the innocents, cowering in their narrow strip of land, being told to evacuate when there's nowhere to go. Or waiting in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, wondering when a rocket's gonna land. But I reckon the rotten gets are a bit harder to find. Is it those that send rockets into Israel? Or the ones who shell back, with more effect? Who claim that they're accurate, and then hit schools? But who look beyond their own borders and see other enemies waiting for the big day - much bigger than the people on the Gaza Strip - and shudder?

And then for a hat-trick of disasters, Ukraine. I suspect there's a lot of rotten gets in there. But then there's also a lot who just don't wanna be ruled by what they see as a foreign power. Personally I blame the ultimate rotten gets - Lenin and Stalin - for that one.

And then I remember that there's a weird logic to this world, where yesterday's victim becomes tomorrow's rotten get. And even rotten gets justify their rotten-getness by appealing to their own victimhood.
And then I look at the world I live in - well-fed, well-watered, with no real problems - not round here, at least - for 70 years. And I want to go and hug Charlii and Keith and little Celestine and say, "We're so fragile. Our peace is so precarious. Our easy lives balance on such a knife-edge. We could be Shi'ites or Christians in Mosul, or Muslims on the West Bank or parts of Burma, or Jews in Paris. We could have lived in a border-land in Nigeria, or Tottenham."

But then we're cheaply fed and clothed through others' cheap labour. In a society where having some unemployed keeps others' cost of living down. Maybe we're the rotten gets?
And then I rant about the prissyness of our own, well-cushioned consciences. I mean, complaints that Christian bakers have to make a cake for gay people? Rants about "worshipping" gay people and other liberals?  For 2,000 years Christians have executed them, marginalised them, hounded them - surely it's not much to ask, to bake a cake? Hardly evens up the balance, does it?

Sometimes it is not easy to write something funny. This world is broken and complicated. The simplicity of our judgements break down when they're confronted with ground-level facts. Everything I say above is my own opinion, which is filtered through my own presuppositions and the way the media chooses to point its lens. It's pretty obvious to me that this world has too much hate, too much killing, too much suffering. But then you don't have to be John Lennon to notice that. It's changing hearts - starting with one's own - that's the hard bit.

But you, O LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.
Why do you keep on forgetting us? Why do you forsake us so long?
Bring us back to yourself, O LORD, so that we may return to you; renew our life as in days before,
unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.
(Lam 5:19-22)

Thursday 24 July 2014

The Dance of the Seasons

Today's Summer Ritual Folk Dance has been cancelled due to the good weather.

A great shame. We really wanted to celebrate the power of the Sun, it's life-giving rays and general lovely warmness - such a good illustration of God's power that one can easily confuse the two.

But by the time we'd all slapped on Factor 50 suntan lotion, floppy hats, lightweight clothing and sunblock, we looked like a crowd of effeminate Australian cricketers. Well, the men did, at any rate. And it got awful warm. So we've postponed the Summer Ritual Folk Dance till October. Should be a bit cooler by then.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

The Normalisation of the Church of England

"Church of England to use Positive Discrimination to Boost Women Bishops" says the Telegraph. Thus using an expression guaranteed to cause assorted Colonel Blimps to have assortedly high blood pressure.

But why would it need to bother?

Let's suppose the ability of a minister in the Church of England to be a bishop - it requires attributes not all ministers have, no aspersions cast on non-episcopal candidates - is a normal distribution.

And then let's suppose that the selection of bishops is perfect - that the most suitable non-bishop is chosen each time to be consecrated to the next episcopal vacancy. Let's ignore variability between suffragans and diocesan bishops, and the truth that some bishops may or may not fit certain posts better, for reasons of church tradition or whatever.

Then the proportion of men selected up to now as bishops might look something like this. (Bishops in a suitably male colour, like a nice episcopal purple):

But now that women can become bishops, assuming the same things about distribution etc - why would you need positive discrimination? That same graph for female priests, remembering there are fewer full-time priests who are women, would look a bit like this (yes, I know, should be a bit narrower, but whatever). In this  case I've coloured the number of women who are as qualified to be bishops as the men who are already bishops, in a nice feminine colour. For contrast, it's a nice episcopal purple.

And sure this is only a bit of fun, as I get fed up with Burton faffing around trying to do this properly on a spreadsheet so I'm hand-waving rather than doing real maths. And I know there's less accuracy in the selection process, and they'll have missed good men who will be caught later. And I know there will be new, young exciting male would-be bishops coming through all the time. But the long and the short of it is, by having 20 years of women being priests but not allowed to be bishops - there's gonna be a whole bunch of women just bashing against the stained-glass ceiling.

In fact, if there is any need to favour women over equally-qualified men, then the logic would say - that means the criteria are still weighed against women. Sheer stats will mean, given a level playing field, that more than half of all new bishops should be women for the next four or five years. After that, it should still be a higher ratio than the current 5:1 ratio of men to women in full-time priest jobs, until all ratios normalise. I'll say it again - if it takes positive discrimination, then the criteria for selection - whether explicit or implicit - are wrong. The C of E doesn't need to do anything to upset the Blimps. Except let the nature of statistics take its

Tuesday 22 July 2014

On the Feast of the Magdalene

Not (or not as far as the Bible tells us) a prostitute.

Not a woman who was a sinner - or no more than the rest of us - or not that the Bible tells us.

Not (as far as the Bible tells us) the woman who poured ointment on Jesus' feet.

Not, or not necessarily, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.

Not a paradigm of repentance.

Not a woman they should have named unmarried mothers after.

The one who received Jesus's blessings sevenfold.

The one whose love was first on the scene.

The one who gave the good news to the Apostles.

Not a woman to label.

But then, who is?

Monday 21 July 2014

Helping Tony Blair

Poor Tony Blair claims he's worth a mere £25m. Obviously my immediate reaction, that that's what he'd like the Revenue to think, is deeply unworthy.

But it is terribly worrying, if the world's worst peace envoy barely has the equivalent of a George W Bush after-dinner speaking tour to rub together. After all, Luis Suarez earns £25m every 2 years or so. Although, to be fair, Suarez does not bite people on the basis of unreliable dossiers. Nor do his misdemeanours lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

But can you do your bit to help Tony Blair?

Just 10 grand will pay for him and Cherie to go on a nice holiday.

49 quid will buy all the unsold copies of his autobiography.

£2,000 will buy him a nice mirror. If he can see his reflection in it, he can practice looking himself in the eye. It can't be easy.

Just 200 grand a year can pay for a new Middle East envoy - one who's got s better track record in Middle Eastern peace-making than Antiochus Epiphanes. In fact, forget that. There's not a person in England who doesn't have better peace-making experience than our Tony. People who spend Friday nights having punch ups in Luton Town centre would be safer hands.

Give whatever you can. Remember the mute appeal of those blank, lifeless eyes. Just whatever you do, help Tony?

Injury Pixies for U

Have you, or someone you love, suffered an Enchanted Wood-related accident?

We at Injury Pixies for U can help you get the compensation you deserve.

Thanks to Injury Pixies for U, the Saucepan Man successfully sued the Magic Saucepan Company for loss of his hearing. The judge said that constantly confusing the words you hear has nothing amusing about it.

We helped Silky the Fairy bring a case for sex discrimination against the Kingdom of Fairyland. As well as having gossamer wings and a helpful personality, Silky has a Doctorate in Astrophysics and an MBA specialising in Woodland Management. Yet she was never allowed to break through the "Glass Tree Canopy because Moonface feared she would meet a nice goblin and have children.

The Angry Pixie was found to have an untreated stress disorder, caused by the constant stream of visitors past his house.  We won him 1,000s in compensation, and got the top of the Magic Faraway Tree cut off.

And the Slippery-Slip? A health and safety nightmare. We took out a class action on behalf of all the goblins and woodland creatures who've fallen down it over the years. Moonface will never smile again.

Injury Pixies for U. Making the Enchanted Wood a safer place to have an adventure.

Sunday 20 July 2014

The Gospel of the Lazy Gardener

Of a Sunday, I generally like to use the Common Lectionary for a reading. In a community whose interests are as diverse as Confucious, Ayn Rand, Vangelis, Gandhi and Dr Seuss, it's handy to keep people in line once a week.

Except this week. Totally destroyed the Kitchen Garden detail I had planned for this afternoon. Inspired by the Parable of the Wheat 'n' Tares, they're not rooting up dandelions. Oh no. They're patting them on the heads, saying "who am I to judge."

I reckon for a Son of God, Jesus was a rotten horticulturalist. His garden would have been full of weeds.

And insects. And spiders. And bats. And other wildlife.

Actually, thinking about it.....

Saturday 19 July 2014

Religious Leaders Top Trumps

What with the weather being so random, a few of us went off to dodge the midges in the Summer House and had a game of Religious Leaders Top Trumps.

We had a great game, which Young Keith won after striking lucky and getting the "Richard Dawkins" card. Which seemed odd as strictly speaking he's not really a religious leader. And his number of followers, "6 billion", was apparently his own estimate.

Overall though, great fun and very enlightening. Just a few gripes, really. All the Popes have saintliness ratings of 10 - "just in case". Which seems a bit optimistic in  the case of Alexander VI. Damian Thompson definitely isn't a leader as such, and his follower rating of 15,000 is his Twitter score, which isn't the same thing at all. And how can Mark Driscoll get a score of -3 for "Equal Rites"?

No Beaker Folk in a Thunderstorm

They say there are no atheists in a foxhole. But I reckon they're wrong. A foxhole - surrounded by the waste and horror of the Somme, for instance - I reckon that's the ideal place to think atheism may have it right. That's me in the foxhole, that's me in the phosphorous light, losing my religion. Certainly the trenches seem to be the defining experience in the loss of faith of the English people,. Funny how we never lost our faith in the power of human progress, either then or with the horrors of the Nazis or the a Bomb or the a Cultural Revolution. But I guess that's generally other people, isn't it?

Anyway, we had a lot of kerfuffle Thursday night. The unexpected storm meant we had Beaker Folk roaming the floors of the Great House, screaming, in their dressing gowns late into the night.

But last night, it was predicted and I could track the storm's arrival. So we gathered in the conservatory to watch the storm arrive from the south. It was marvellous. We had the windows open, the darkling sky had not quite lost its afterglow over Fenny Stratford. The air was heavy with the smell of honeysuckle and approaching apocalypse. I preached my little sermonette on the subject of our awesome creator God - The Lord of Potential Difference and the Logic that makes electrons fly.

There was a massive sheet of lightning, apparently from Woburn to Ridgmont, it was so huge and bright. The landscape flared into two-dimensional, ghastly light. For a moment it was like demons skipped through the woods towards the Abbey. Three seconds later, came a voice of great thunders like the announcement that Doom is arriving on Platform 1,

Next thing I know, the Beaker Folk are screaming, falling to their knees and begging Thunor to have mercy.

That George Carey's got it all wrong. It's not that the church is one generation from extinction. I reckon we're all just one disaster away from paganism..

Thursday 17 July 2014

Better the Devil You Know

Los and Paul debate the removal of the horned man in the smoky house from the (alternative) baptismal liturgy of the Good Old C of E.

Let's be clear. The Devil of mediaeval conception is not one we find in the Bible. For starters it's actually Jesus who is associated with using an agricultural fork;

"His winnowing fork is in his hand to clean out his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.” (Luke 3:17) - Meek and mild, eh?

In fact, the Dark One's relatively few appearances are quite diverse. First up there's the talking snake trick in Genesis - setting up that great truth in moral affairs - he can suggest, he can cajole, he can draw wonderful pictures of the future. But whether we sin is, on a case-by-case basis, down to us.

In Job he appears to be God's chief scientist, responsible for carrying out quite outrageous psycho-theological experiments on the most moral people to see at what point they crack. With, I should point out, God's express permission. I mean, fair enough, God's gaff, God's rules. But - well; I mean, what?

Then in similar vein, in the New Testament, he's doing much the same to Jesus. Offering all sorts - that aren't really his - if Jesus will worship him.

And you could say that this is a dialogue in Jesus's head, as he works out what sort of a Messiah to be. And you could be right. But, as Dumbledore points out to Harry Potter in the heavenly Kings Cross Station, that doesn't mean it's not true.

Because this, when all is said and done, is what Evil does. It makes promises it can't really keep. It offers things it doesn't really own, and which won't last. It tells you that you are the mistress of your own soul, that you can have all things, while in reality it desperately needs to feed on human souls to survive itself. It will crush a million lives so one person can grasp power.

But it's only ever derivative - no more an equal enemy of God than you and I could be if we wanted to put our minds to it.

Satan's fourth great set-piece appearance (for there is, contrary to popular opinion, no Biblical evidence that Jesus danced with the Devil on his back on Good Friday) is in the Revelation. And, after much false worship and much bloodshed, he and all his mates are thrown into a pit of fire. And that's after Michael - an angel, not the Divine - has thrown him out of Heaven. Embarrassing when you're aspiring to Supreme power, eh? And the message is hammered home. He's pretty mighty. He can attain great power on earth - if humans will bend the knee to him. But his time is short, and his power is secondary. His time will always pass.

That's the illusion. Whether it's Jadis, the Hooded Claw,  Voldemort or Sauron, the power only appears unlimited. It feeds off the obedience it can extract. But the Deep Magic of love and sacrifice - Aslan's, Lily's, Sam and Frodo, the Ant Hill Mob - will always defeat it. That's ground into our souls - the evil witch will lose, the dragon will be slain. Close up, evil looks very big. On an eternal scale, love wins.

So no pitchfork, no red tights. No goat's foot, no hipster beard.  An insistent, whinging, cajoling, tempting, inveigling voice and a power that can only destroy what it feeds on - the souls of women and men. And that experience of being tempted, lied to, encouraged to lust for power that's not mine, for possessions I shouldn't have because I'm damaging others' lives in taking them - that's a sense so strong, I can personalise it. That voice that tells me I'm so useless that everyone, including God, hates me - that's so definite that I can recognise it and put a name on it. And that name means "accuser".

Do I believe the Devil exists? Yes I do. Will I resist his lures, lies and false promises? With the help of God, I will.

The Gates of Hull

Have received a request from three women in the East Riding of Yorkshire. They'd like to form an all-female community under the Beaker rule.

Seems a great opportunity to spread light in the darkness. Now we just need a name. What on earth would one call a group of nuns in Beverley?

Wednesday 16 July 2014

The Logical if Unexpected Consequence of Barth's Church Dogmatics

"Logic and intuition are futile. Revelation is everything. Master."

Who Will be the First Female Bishop in the Church of England?

Geraldine Granger
The "Vicar of Dibley" is bright, engaging, almost wholly devoid of theological substance and has successfully hung on to just one small rural parish, without merger into a larger benefice, for twenty years. So she's clearly clever and devious enough. Sure, she's a fictional comedy character. But since when was that a barrier to preferment in the Church of England? 4/1

Harriet Harman

Relentless, well-connected and driven. Her apparent lack of belief in God should be no barrier. If Labour are returned to power after the next General Election, she plans to outlaw discrimination against people on the grounds they're useless. In which case, she's got as good a chance as any. 14/1

Tiff Stevenson - She'd just be great, I reckon. 6/1

George Carey 

Bit of a long shot, this. But if it got him in the Mail? I reckon he'd go for it. 100/3 

Theresa May 

At least she's used to the Press banging on about her dress sense. And do you seriously think there's not gonna be "The Bishop of Kettering, in kitten heels, clashed with the Bishop of Luton, who'd also turned up in a purple blouse..." 7/2 

Amanda Holden

The thing she's been waiting for her whole life. Her one big chance. If she got the job she'd grab the opportunity with both hands. She'd nail the consecration. She'd own the enthronement. She'd live that dream, and make it hers. 12/1 

Germaine Greer

Worth it just to make Damian Thompson think he's living in his own surreal dream-world. 7/2

The Night of the Beaker Prom

They wanted a Beaker Prom. Because "we never had proms when we were at school."

No. We had discos. Where spotty boys in pork pie hats and winklepickers would pogo in a desperate attempt to take their minds off their failures with girls. Then kick the loo door in. Then a quick smooch, if people got lucky, to "Three Times a Lady" before the rousing encore of "Another Brick in the Wall" (Part 2, as Burton insists on telling me). I can still taste the luke-warm coke and furtive Embassy fags.

So we've had a Prom. They wanted a 1980 Theme Prom.

So  bald blokes in pork pie hats and winklepickers have been pogoing in a desperate attempt to recover their youth, but not for too long for fear of heart attacks. They daredn't kick the loo door in, in case it brought on an attack of gout or arthritis.  Then a quick smooch, if people got lucky, to "Three Times a Lady" before the rousing encore of "Another Brick in the Wall" (Part 2, as we are now all aware). I'm just glad we've banned smoking, and I've got gin as an alternative to Coke.

Plus ca change, plus c'est plus vieux. As the Young Parisians almost certainly don't say.

Monday 14 July 2014

Kirsty MacColl / Theology Crossover Jokes

There's a guy works down the chip shop swears he's Dionysius
But he's a pseudo-Areopagite and I'm not sure about you.

Carey on Regardless

Thinking about it, the last-but-one Archbishop of Canterbury's antics proves that the Pope has the right idea on these things. Even as the Synod vote on women being bishops was being announced, George was ready to steal their thunder by jumping over the Grand Canyon on a rocket-powered motor bike.

At the last minute, somebody pointed out that Bishop George doesn't know how to ride a rocket-powered motor bike. That may be true, but it didn't stop him offering endless advice to the bloke who actually did do the jump.

So I've sent Justin Welby a plan and quote on spec. The Canterburycon will contain two fully-equipped living quarters. One apartment will be visited on a daily basis by animatronic Daily Mail reporters. The other will have a door that actually lets the occupant out, but has a bungalow next door in which a roster of members of the Campaign for Plain English will live, ready to accompany Rowan anywhere he goes.

If the idea catches on, I'll be offering it to Dave Cameron. It would provide the perfect environment in which we could hold Tony Blair - showing him holographic images of world leaders and the ability, in his leisure hours, to play "Call of Duty - the reconquest of Syria". And he'll have the option of changing the people he wants to bomb whenever he gets bored.

The Church of England Allows Women to be Bishops

Finally. At last. Well done, everyone. And remember to be nice to the people who lost the vote. You're Christians, not Americans conquering the West.

Some are saying this is the final nail in the coffin of eventual union with the Catholics and Orthodox.

Yeah right. After all, after 550 and 1,000 years respectively, that had all been going so well up to now.

The Church of England is a slightly more Equal opportunities employer.

Sunday 13 July 2014

Sunday of the Octave of Flying Ants

It is wonderful to mark Flying Ants' Week.

The male flying ants, having unexpectedly developed wings, head off into the sky. Very lucky ones get to mate with a queen - then all the males, crashing exhausted to the ground, die. For most, their life has been utterly futile. Even the ones that get lucky will die without seeing the next generation.

And on top of that, everybody hates you. It's not much of a life, being a male ant.

In solidarity with them, Burton Dasset is currently up on the launch pad with fake wings. In a few moments somebody will push him off. I do wish he wouldn't whimper like that.

Just Enough Good Soil

If you are a sensible farmer, you don't throw seed randomly around.

Especially if it's a cereal crop. If it's wheat or barley or corn - the seed could have been eaten. Every pound of barley corn is a loaf fewer on the table. In Jesus's day a farmer might broadcast - that is, throw around - the seeds.  But I'd think he'd try and have a decent degree of accuracy. Just skipping along the side of the road, merrily throwing seed around, knowing 50% is gonna land on the gravel, isn't great management of your resources.

But the story says that the seed gets chucked everywhere. And when it lands on the good land, it's got a real chance of growing. It's been ploughed, it's probably had manure put on it, it's gonna be fairly flat. But the sower throws the seeds everywhere.

Seeds are amazing things. In an acorn, there's some fat, some protein, some carbohydrate - just enough of each that, if the acorn gets watered, it can produce a root that can reach out for an anchor, for water and nutrients - and a shoot that can reach up to the sunshine. And it contains the DNA - the genetic instructions - to build an oak tree that can produce its own acorns. All that in a thing that is so tiny in your hand.

Some seeds can grow after a thousand years if they're stored dry. Some can only germinate if they've been eaten - and then come out of the other end - of a bird or another animal. But all seeds, in the right place given the right conditions, can grow.  I've got plants growing in the gutters of my garage. I've seen butterfly bushes - buddleias - growing halfway up fifty-foot walls down the sides of the London railways. If the field is well-managed, that's good for a seed. But they'll take the chance.

The story's not about farming. It's about the Kingdom of God. And when God's the farmer, the rules change. It seems God is prepared to throw the Kingdom around randomly, in the hope some will grow.
What's the Kingdom? It's the place where God's values are there in place of the world's ones.
Think of the person you like least. The one who really gets on your nerves. The one everyone loathes. In God's rules, they're loved.

Think of the one everyone looks down on. They could be a celebrity who's fallen on hard times - a homeless person - a drunk staggering back from a night on the town, who wants to be your "friend". Even a banker. In God's rules, they're loved.

Or maybe the one's yourself. Unable to believe that God loves you, but waiting to receive the seed of God's love, planted in your heart. When you first know that God loves you - when you first know what Jesus did, in his life and death for you - then a seed is shooting. If you nurture that, come to God in prayer and praise, it will grow. You may think the Church is God's ploughed field, and you're a long way off the beaten track - down a hedgerow or just a plant pot in a back garden - but if there's the need for God, the hope to let him grow in your heart, the desire to let God's love grow in your heart - then you'll just be enough good soil to bear fruit.

Saturday 12 July 2014

Stripping of the Altars

Quick off the mark at the Church of Eternal Relevance, I hear.

Now the C of E is allowing flexibility in clergy liturgical wear, the vicar has announced he's going to be wearing football replica shirts. Appeals to "normal people", whatever they are.

So it's Celtic in "Ordinary Time";

Aston Villa in Lent and Advent

Spurs at Christmas, Easter and years ending in a "1"

Liverpool for Pentecost

And the Grasshoppers of Zurich away strip for Laetare and Gaudete Sundays.

It's  nice to know they're keeping things traditional.

Always nice to have a day of refreshment....

The Synod Vestments Vote - How it Could Affect You

A Typical Ordination Service Under the Current Rules


Under the proposed relaxation of rules


So you can see - instantly more relevant to our contemporary society!

Triangulating Carey and Fraser

My "WWGCD" approach has been blown to pieces by Giles Fraser.

For the Random Hand-Grenade Thrower has spoken on the subject of George Carey. And he has said

Carey in favour if right to die in tomorrow's Mail. It seems there is not a single subject on which I agree with him.
— Giles Fraser (@giles_fraser) July 11, 2014

Well now what am I supposed to do? If Giles Fraser disagrees with George Carey on everything, where can one turn for the wrong answer to every question?

In some cases it's possible to triangulate. For example, Fraser is strongly on favour of same-sex marriage in the church, while Carey is against. I shall therefore be guardedly in favour. They actually agree on the ordination of priests (Giles may have missed this one) so I shall continue to be in favour of the abolition of male ministry.

But there are some questions where it is tricky. "Is there a God?" Or "should Liverpool have sold Suarez." In theory, yes/no questions - although Giles Fraser could probably reduce both to an attack on capitalism. But where such questions leave no options that can disagree with both of them, I shall resort to the time-honoured response that brooks no argument, rejoinder or comeback.

That would be an Ecumenical Matter.

Friday 11 July 2014


There's so many difficult questions in life. The moral dimension of the world we live in is both deep and complex. So whenever I'm faced with a thorny issue, I ask myself this simple question.

What would George Carey do?

Then I do the opposite.

The Church Moves With the Beaker Times

Just seen this week's Church Times cover. The Church of England embraces Beakerism

My work on this planet is nearly done.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Service Replacement Service

We regret to inform you that tomorrow's 9am "Intimations of Immortality" Service is cancelled due to a shortage of druidical staff. Charlii and I are going shopping, Hnaef and Daphne are at work and Keith can't be bothered.

Instead there will be a Bus Replacement Service. Burton Dasset will be driving the Beaker Minibus on his "Lost stations of the Varsity Line" historical tour.

It's not very religious (apart from for Burton). But it will give you all a very real sense of what eternity feels like.

A Last Forlorn Hope

So the Dutch flags and orange bunting form a new stratum above the St George's Crosses in the Ritual Hole of Broken dreams.

And faced with the weekend's approaching game - Germany v Argentina - we make the awkward decision about who we want in the final.

So we have considered the patterns in the clouds. We have studied the entrails of a (frozen) chicken - from Waitrose, we're not barbarians. And we have cast the lots, and the die. And we have consulted the wisdom of the elders.

We're gonna support the ref.

Unless, of course, it's Howard Webb.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Liturgy on the Spiritual Aspects of Germany Thrashing Brazil

Archdruid: Fallen!  Fallen is Rio the Great!

All: It wasn't even a close shave...

Archdruid: That is enough of that.

All: Ooh missus.

Archdruid: Dionysus is defeated by clinical, efficient Apollo.

All: The machine munches the flowers.

Archdruid: The left hemisphere outmanoeuvres the joyous, irrational right.

All: Samba is replaced by dull, bleak electro pop.

Archdruid: Bahn-bahn-bahn

All: Autobahn

Archdruid: Bahn-bahn-bahn

All: Autobahn

Archdruid: Gone are the freebooting swaggering footballers of the Dream time.

All: Fallen to the robotic Dennisen Den Menacen.

Archdruid: Where is the Beautiful Game?

All: Crushed by Teutonic efficiency.

Archdruid: Bend it like Beckham?

All: Vorsprung Durch Technic.

Charlii: Wait!  Wait! You've got it all wrong!  The Germans were playing football like it should be played!  The Brazilians were the ones lumping it around, kicking people off the park, dependent on one or two star players. Credit where it's due.

Archdruid: Charlii, thou mayst be right. But thou'rt at odds with the popular narrative. Clearly the real problem was that the Brazilians are now called Hulk and Fred and Eric, instead of Pele, Juninho and Jairzinho. They need more romantic names!

All: They just need better names!

Archdruid: And so, as the era of bleak,  Nord-Europe football sweeps the globe like a plague of boring 7 - goal victories, kicking up the sand into a North Sea dune of efficiency, grinding the chorizo of false number 9s into bloodwurst, we wail and remember the Latino wonders of old.

All: Bloody Germans.

Far off, the sound of bossa nova is overtaken by the tones of an oompah band.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Quick Committee Joke

I really don't know about the new Archdruidical Commonwealth Games Smock.

Should it be in traditional Beaker tartan? (Green on green) or in the more avant-garde "Anglican SSM Paisley"?

I guess I'm gonna have to consult the Fabric Committee.

Liturgy of Skipping Through the Daisies

A lovely ceremony of Skipping Through Daisies today.

Ardwulf had mowed a beautiful labyrinth into the Daisy Lawn, round which we skipped as we sang "Daisies are our silver". As we approached the central sundial, surrounded by pieces of broken coral and cowrie shells, we danced beautifully, waving the shawls in sparkling paisley patterns in a display of vivacity and joyful abandon. At the sight of the shawls of 25 middle-aged Beaker Folk shimmering and swirling in the breeze, I rejoiced. This is true worship - to create wondrous colours while behaving in a vaguely folky manner.

Someone suggested we continue in our worship by singing "I Will Dance (Undignified)". Which I promptly vetoed. We didn't want to make fools of ourselves.

Monday 7 July 2014

Psalm of Celebration at the Return of Pointless to BBC1

When we heard that Pointless was back on BBC1, we were as in a dream
We dusted off the map of Africa and sat back ready.
So long through Wimbledon fortnight we waited for Alexander and Richard
Agog at 5.15 we would flick the channel to 1
And what did we find?
Some bloke bashing woolly balls around
Or a woman flashing her knickers around
and groaning. Too loudly.
Great was the wailing of the female tennis stars
our teeth were put on edge at the howling
"Grendel" the Community Cat hid behind the settee
Convinced that Fenris Wolf had come to claim his own.
Bereft, we walked through the shadow of death
of obscure knowledge and random geekery.

How we laughed when Djokovic won
How we smiled at the knowledge the tennis was over
With what joy we flicked to the wonders of BBC1 HD
To see Richard, resplendent in his cleverness and tallness
And dark-eyed Alexander,
whose eyes are like unto the wells between the walls.
And so may we shout out the name of the children in famous books
And reckon that Vanuatu is worth a punt
And reel off the base metals of groups both 1 and 2
And characters from Eastenders.
And in response to "Name an obscure chelonian"
the sound of "the turtle" will be heard in the land.

Structured Discussions

After another great row between myself and Blenwen over where to site the tea light stand, we've put in place a series of structured discussions so we can understand each other's views.

Actually, I think we understand each other very well already. So Blenwen has made it quite clear we can't "agree to disagree". Her principles will not allow her to be yoked unequally with people who think the stand should be by the door.

While from my perspective, I am happy to have open, respectful, moderated discussion. At the end of which, in a sense of charity and unity, it will still be my bloody Moot House. My gaff, my rules.

Saturday 5 July 2014

Any Christ You Like

“What can I say about the people who live today? What are they like? The people today are like children sitting in the marketplace. One group of children calls to the other group,
‘We played flute music for you, but you did not dance;
we sang a funeral song, but you were not sad.’"
(Matthew 11)

Why will Jesus not jump to their tune? Why does he not act like they want? He eats with "sinners". He lets a "sinful woman" anoint him. He's a friend with rich and poor, with prostitutes and traitors and trouble-makers.

Jesus doesn't mention the Pharisees in here - it seems like a rant against just about everybody! But they were a great example. Jesus is - in most of what he seems to say and do - in broad agreement with the Pharisees. He shares their views on the Resurrection and, mostly, on the Law. But he won't quite be one, will he?

It's so easy to find people dragging Jesus in on their side.  For example, Jon Moseley of the Tea Party believes that Jesus is a capitalist - quoting the Parable of the Talents to prove it.

Whereas I could cite you plenty of examples of people proving Jesus is a socialist, because he  told people to give their money away. I would humbly point out that Jesus didn't advocate giving all wealth and means of production to the Romans so they could use it fairly. But then they wouldn't have done. And Jesus's earthly ministry predates both socialism and capitalism. And, I would probably argue, his Church had a strong hand in both coming about. So I don't think Jesus is a Socialist.

The Elton John's comments about Jesus last week kind of said it all. Elton John looks at Jesus, sees the epitome of compassion, and decides that therefore Jesus would agree with him.

""He was all about love and compassion and forgiveness and trying to bring people together and that is what the church should be about."

That's the Jesus Elton John has decided he wants, and that's the Jesus he invokes on his side. But he doesn't mention the Jesus who called a Phoenician woman a "dog" because that's not inclusive. He doesn't mention the passage where Jesus says

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 
For I have come to turn
“ ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’"
No, that's a different Jesus, that is. A scary, divisive Jesus. Likewise when he starts burning up tares but saving good wheat. Or sending goats one way and leading sheep the other. This is a non-inclusive Jesus - if inclusive is meant to be of everybody.

It's a kind of narcissism, deciding that whatever I believe, that's what Jesus was like. But it's natural, and it's always happened. There was a body a few years ago called the Jesus Seminar. It decided that by voting, and examination of the texts concerning Jesus, they would decide which bits of the stories of Jesus were true, historic, and which were fables and legends. By the end they'd decided Jesus was a wandering wise man, a social revolutionary, who was not born to a virgin mother, didn't do miracles and wasn't resurrected. Which was, of course, what they'd thought beforehand or they'd never have started the exercise. They got exactly the Jesus they wanted.

But it's what people have always done. They've looked at Jesus and seen a socialist, a Buddhist, a Victorian gentleman, a druid, a freedom fighter, a nice Tory, a dreamer, a spaceman, an Egyptian mystic, a Greek Philosopher, a bunny-hugging environmentalist. They've found, in Jesus, exactly what they've put in there.

 It's the danger of the whole "What Would Jesus Do" concept as well. Quite apart from the obvious issue that it can't be applied to whole areas of human experience. As the kids in the programme Outnumbered knew when they asked the vicar, "What would Jesus do if he met a polar bear?" Tricky question. He'd probably start off by wondering what on earth this creature was - as it wouldn't be anything you could expect he'd heard about. Then I guess he'd have either run, or charmed the beast.... Or zapped it...  But this doesn't really help me if I met one. If you're thinking of getting married, but not sure - the question "What Would Jesus Do" is not helpful. Unless you're really really looking for the answer "stay single". And what about the answer to the question, "should I stick to the day job or start a new religion?" Well, when I asked myself that, I said to myself "What Would Jesus Do?"

Never looked back.

No. Jesus is not there to reassure us in our certainties. He is not there to confirm what we already thought. He is not there to put the seal of  approval on who we are. He is not supposed to dance to our tune. He's much more Jewish than most of of us can consider. He was, in his earthly life, probably rather smellier than we're really approve of. His feet and hands would have been calloused. He was almost certainly not blond.

The Jesus of the Gospels is so much richer than that. So much wilder. So much stranger.  The One who walks on water, who tells the storm to be quiet, who lays hands on lepers, who has no human father - he's pointing us to something so much deeper, so much more important, than whether you're nice to people, what your politics are, whether you think the way you behave is right.

When we look into the face of Jesus, what we are not to find is ourselves looking back, generally speaking. Not if we are comfortable, happy with our own situation, a bit smug. What we are to find is the face of those we are called to love. A challenge to our attitudes.

But for the ones who are struggling - the ones who feel judged - the ones needing God's love - the ones who are told they don't matter - there's something else to be seen. The face of the one who doesn't judge. The free love of the God who cares - the one who counts every sparrow on the earth, and knows every hair on our heads, and loves us to bits. The one who says to the one who is tired, come and rest. To the one broken down, I will lay down with you. The one whose yoke is easy, and whose burdens are light.

When you look into the face of Jesus, what do you see?

Thursday 3 July 2014

Ordination Retreats and Their Wildlife

I'd presumed it was all about the stereotypical people you get on retreats.  Instead of which Rachel has shared with us some photos - lovely as they are - of actual wildlife. Barely satirical at all if you ask me.  But lovely.

So I've had to fill the gaps in here. Hnaef is, as we have previously discovered, a closet Anglican and quite posh. So he knows quite a lot of people who have been to ordination retreats. And, by asking around for me, he's managed to identify the following ordination retreat wildlife.

People who went to College

There are two basic divisions to the Retreat Wildlife. Those who went to College (full time) and those who were on a (part time) Course. People who went to College tend to be younger. They talk about things like "Staggers", which I believe is the sheep equivalent of Mad Cow Disease. And they're called things like "Maud" or "Camilla". Though I couldn't find out what the women's names are.

People who were on a Course

Can't see a pebble without meditating on it. Gather fallen twigs in the Retreat House gardens to build impromptu prayer stations. Sing "I the Lord of Sea and Sky" at all opportunities.

But then there are many subdivisions.....

People who Can't Stand Silence

Not necessarily just extroverts. There are actually more introverts who just love background noise.  Blocks out the voices. Extroverts will cope with silence by indulging in giant charades to tell everyone how happy they are to be silent. Many have learnt British Sign Language for just this kind of occasion. Or even semaphore. There's nothing like having two bloody great flags to say "I'm eschewing all forms of communication. And I'm an extrovert! LOL!" 

It's actually the introverts that really hate this kind of thing. They'll be off, at the first hint of silence, on 20-mile bike rides or all-day walks. On days with bad weather they'll pace the corridors / cloisters in quiet desperation. If there's a motorway handy, they'll stand on a bridge nearby, just to get some kind of noise in their ears.

The SSM IT Person

The SSM (self-supporting minister, not.... you know....) will inevitably have a key system going live. They've been let out for the retreat on the strict condition that they bring their lap top and keep in touch. If at a rural Retreat House, they can be seen on the horizon, roaming the hills and trying to get a signal. At the end of the week, they'll discover people have started calling them "Father"/"Reverend"/"Archdruid" and will wonder how that happened.

The Sleeper

Could be a young parent, or an SSM candidate, or just idle. No fear of "silent times" at all. Will just head back to bed. If in the first two categories, this will be the first week they've averaged 8 hours sleep per day in years.

The Soul's Awakening

What they're all supposed to be like, I suspect. Either so amazed with the amazement of the amazing thing to happen to them that they will soak up every amazing moment and treasure it, amazed, in their hearts. Or so terrified by what's happening they can barely speak.

The Person Who's Ill

You don't get twenty middle-aged people together for a week without one of them being ill. Could range from mild lurgy, to nervous exhaustion, to swine flu to - in really bad cases -"The Staggers". This gives everyone else the chance to pray for them to get there / get better / make it through the ordination service. Which is, in a way, a Good Thing.

The Blokes

Believe it or not some people being ordained are bona fide red-blooded Blokes. I don't mean Lads. They won't be trying to chat up the waitresses at dinner. But they will be the ones, at the end of Compline when the Great Silence starts, using Boozers' Sign Language to communicate something like this:

"Quick couple?"

"Elephant and Castle?"

"No, Roger is already at the Giddy Sheep."

"OK. Pint of Old Bloodnock?"

"Oh go on then."

The Super-Spiritual

So keen on spiritual delights that, as well as the set worship of the Retreat, they will also be found in the Retreat House"s daily services (in rural areas) or at the cathedral at all hours (in retreats in cities). I suspect all this prayer will come in handy when, a few weeks later, they're removing dead pigeons from the organ pipes or dealing with a couple who want a "christening for little Stefaneigh, but not anything religious". In fact I'm sure it will help. I just don't understand how.

The Person Who's Not Thought the Whole Thing Through this last 5 years

Will be found, on the morning of the ordination, wearing a clerical collar, looking at themselves in a mirror, and swearing freely.