Sunday 31 August 2014

On Dealing with a "Sky Fairy" Remark

From time to time in your Christian pilgrimage, you will find somebody refer to God as a "sky fairy", or Jesus as your "invisible friend".

Generally speaking you should simply ignore such people. They're making no meaningful point, they have no real concept of how Christians picture God, and being atheists they are less likely to breed than normal people. So their view will gradually die out with them.

If, on the other hand, it's your pastor saying it, the best bet is probably to change church.

Saturday 30 August 2014

On Encountering a Church

A situation many encounter. For some reason you have decided to go to a church to attend a designated "service". You will need some of the following responses.

On encountering the welcomer:

Do not, on a first encounter, fill in a sheet to be contacted. This can wait. If you have never encountered a church before, it can be distressing, in your first week, to be on the flower rota or to have to join the "Prayer Ministry Team", or put forward as a potential ordinand. Take your time, and keep your personal information personal.

Do say "thanks, I'm just looking around. My children's names are protected under the Geneva Convention. And my husband/wife/Civil Partner/ Significant Other will probably never attend Divine Worship as s/he is a militant atheist/allergic to incense/exploring Buddhism/fighting for ISIS/convinced that the Church of England is Babylon."

On being offered a prayer book and hymn book, just accept them. They may have spores, but it may well not be anthrax.

On being offered a prayer book, hymn book, notices and additional hymn sheet - demonstrate your juggling ability.

If you have children under the age of 16, there may be Sunday Club / Sunday School provision made for them. Make the most of it. You may be in charge in 3 weeks' time.

 If your children are under the age of 6, and there is no Childrens work or you have wandered into an "all age service" that consists entirely of readings from Barth's Church Dogmatics, you may be told you will never be welcome again. If this happens, presume it is God's judgement on that congregation, and go find another one that still wants to exist in 20 years.

Do not mention you can play an instrument. Do not comment knowledgably about the Amin6 in the closing cadence. Do not do "air guitar" if there is any suggestion you understand pentatonic scales or have the vaguest idea what an Emaj is. Let people assume you know nothing about music. Then the worst that can happen is someone tries to recruit you for the choir.

On the other hand, instead of everyone being after your time and attention - there are some places where nobody will talk to you. Do what you like - hang around with a cup of coffee, inspect the stained glass, set fire to the vicar - you will just be assumed to be a stranger and left to it. Don't worry you're being ignore. Enjoy this. At some point in the next 40 years, something unrealistic and arduous will be expected of you.

When choosing a pew / seat - be aware that they are all "taken" - at least potentially. Arrive as late as you possible can - that way you can get a better idea of where is generally free.

Do sit as far back as you can. That means you will avoid the danger, if you are at the front, of standing up when all the "regulars" behind you are sitting, or kneeling when everyone else is doing the hokey-coley Should this happen, everybody will tell you it was fine,  and nobody noticed. Do not believe them - they saw it all, and they're all laughing at you. To repeat - arrive late, and sit near the back.

Communion services are quite odd. If you don't know what a "communion service" is, you need a more advanced guide. Basically, if someone you don't know suddenly walks up to you and offers to shake your hand - reciprocate. If the greasy bloke in the choir who's been watching you throughout the service tries to hug you - knee him in the canticles. If anyone tells you they believe in sharing a "holy kiss", tell them you're from Glasgow or Millwall.

Different churches have different rules on when people can receive Communion - either after they have been baptised, or when desirous to be confirmed, or after confirmation. Any given new church will have rules you can't anticipate. Best is to to go up when everyone else does (sitting at the back will help you judge this) with your hands crossed over your chest for "a blessing" - at least until you're made a bishop. Otherwise someone will think of some reason why you've been a bit premature in receiving.

Do not assume that the person who is really friendly to you before / after the service is just being friendly. They may be the person who has just done the "church welcoming" course, and will follow you round for days to come. If you are male and have given hints you are single/widowed/divorced, they may just be trying to get in quick before the rush. If they are wearing a dog collar, they may be the vicar. In which case it is his/her job to be friendly. If you live in a country area, and it is the vicar, don't worry. They'll be off to the next service in four minutes.

Most important of all - do not assume that the above is exaggeration. You may think I'm implying that people in Church are weird. This is because they are. The important thing to remember is - so is everyone else. Church people are no more weird than anyone else. They just have a sneaking suspicion they might be weird, and a vague hope that God can do something about it. They're probably right, but timescales are important. Remember that 1,000 ages in God's sight are the equivalent of one evening - what's the chances he's going to be doing a rush job?

Friday 29 August 2014

Lord of the Dance Threat Level

We've raised the Lord of the Dance Threat Level from "Subdued" to "Ironic".

There is still nothing you can do about it, but at least it looks like we're in control of matters

Thursday 28 August 2014

Theology and Technology, Merlin and Megaliths

"Today, in the 21st century, to call Stonehenge a computer shows less respect than to call it an ancient sacred place, a metaphor which by degrees is again becoming more prevalent." - Christopher Chippindale 2004,  Stonehenge Complete,  3rd edition.

There was a phase, mostly forgotten now by academia but still remembered by tourists, when the great scientific concern with Stonehenge was to prove that it was an astronomical computer.

And the funny thing is, as much effort went into proving lunar and stellar alignments between the stones of Stonehenge and objects of its environs, as has gone into the "alternative" stories - Merlin-magic and ley-lines and magnetometer-based psychic energy detection. And, to a large extent, the scientific theories have been of the same consistency of drivel as the New Age ones. There's one solid alignment at Stonehenge - all else is, at best, supposition.

There was, when I was young, a computer at Luton College of Further Education. Our school accessed it via a dial-up line from a thing like Grandstand's teleprinter. You got a right telling off for playing "sharks"; online at local dialling rates. My friend Mandy went to see it once. It was in a special dust-proof room, and the size of a large sauna. Mandy was astonished. It was like the modern world had become the world of Science Fiction - all lights and tapes and beige.

The Android device on which I am writing this has thousands of times more power than that beast they fed and watered and bowed down to. And yet I find its specs uninteresting. It doesn't really matter. It's just an Android. It does Facebook and I can read Twitter and see the news.

Unlike the computer in Luton Tech, I can - as long as I am connected to the Beaker wifi or a friendly café's - use unlimited bandwidth without a sternly-written letter and invoice for telephone costs being sent home. I don't really care. In the lateish 20th century, this was the cutting edge of science - I nearly said "magical", but it wasn't that. We'd learnt that, in some interminable lessons where we discovered what a bit was, and how a byte was a bit bigger than a bit.

So the excitement of Stonehenge as a computer - it doesn't matter if it was true (it wasn't) because nobody cares any more. Each wave of exciting science - as Tomorrow's World used to tell us, they nearly all involved a laser, and/or a computer - nobody cares. That's why Tomorrow's World has gone, but we've got Minecraft. Stonehenge is like a computer? Can I play Bejewelled Blitz on it, or lend people a dolphin to look after?  Can I pin misattributed quotations to it, or pictures of sad kittens, so all my friends can see? No? Well it's not a very good computer then, is it?

We've lost interest in the sheer thing-ness of technology now. They're just stuff. What's the good of Stonehenge being a star calculator, if it won't show you back - episodes of Family Guy? Science can show you the full wonders of the universe - how we're stuck together, how we fall apart. But it can't tell us what it means to be human beings. That's not its fault, it's not meant to.

But a sacred place - now that is, or at least can be, different. A place where the dead aren't simply absent from the world, but are haunting the stones. A place where life and death meet together. Even if it's a place we don't understand, whose builders we can't name. Even if we don't know what they thought they were doing.

A star calculator made in rock would be interesting. For about ten minutes. The thought of those cold,  lifeless stones giving us clues to the way the cold, lifeless bodies above us behave: interesting and yet;  shortly  after, quite dull. We've got a Google App for that.   For that stone circle - still at least partly together today - to be a sacred place, one where the spirit is reality and life is given meaning and death is no final barrier - that's another matter. The sacred will call us, wherever we are.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Seeing Others Through Your Own Dark Glasses

It's strange what a bit of romance or invention can do for a religion. Especially somebody else's. The picture is, according to the people of the 18th Century, exactly what the folk at Stonehenge were up to in the Druidic era. Arks of the Covenant,  snakes, processions, banners - everything the modern druid was after in worship. You can imagine the thrill as the worshippers gathered, the solemn cries of the druids, the awesome refrains of the bardic harpists.

Of course, it's an illusion. The artist thought these worshippers were British druids and their followers -  what people somewhat later would class as "Celtic". If anything like this ever happened (unlikely) it would have been Beaker People - the Stone and Bronze Age inhabitants of Wessex - not Celts, whether Brythonic or Belgic. Their Druids would have been friendlier, more charismatic, somehow more holy than their Celtic equivalents. Obviously. Stands to reason.

But it's an illusion in another way. Maybe it's a function of time difference, or of distance in theology and tradition, but do you imagine this as some fantastic, climatic experience or is that just my delusion? Do you assume some fantastic quality - as opposed to the mundane nature of your regular worship, in a 17th Century preaching box with a drip in the corner and another in the pulpit, or in your school hall you rent, whose walls are covered in pictures of Hindu gods because that's what they're doing in RE this week, so you have to turn them around every Sunday morning before the service and restore them afterwards?

In short - when everyone is telling you what a great service it was do you think, 90% of the time, that you must have been at a different service?

I reckon that after the service in the picture, in which you can't tell that the solsticial sunrise was obscured by a cold, heavy drizzle, the harpists went off not speaking to each other, because one of them played a B sharp when it was a Bmin key. And the Archdruid was grumpy because she hadn't been as inspirational as she'd imagined when she wrote her sermon and she was blaming the head cold.

And half the congregation went off cold and miserable.  But a few teenage enthusiasts were raving about how great the worship was - and why couldn't they have such a good service at the Rollright Stones every full moon?

Because a lot of what we take out of worship, we bring to it.  And that's not surprising as we're human.  And if the druids went off grumpy because they only saw the crescent, while the bass harpist saw the whole of the moon - then was that because they were less inspired? Or he had a better digestion - was more resilient when it came to attendance at sunset then midnight then the bug fight with the wolf then sunrise? Next year maybe he'll have struggled to get into the mood on account of a bad case of Black Death.

We are all fragile and leaky. And we can think that other traditions and times had or have it easy. But our limited and unsatisfying experiences, with glimpses of something greater, are reminders that our eschatology is not realised, our experience is not perfect, we are still on a journey.

So look through your glass darkly, and prayer for it to be clearer. One day it will be as clear as crystal.  But, for today, don't worry if anyone else has a clearer view. Just enjoy what you can see, and share their joy. We'll all see better one day.

Of course, it's possible that you actually have a fantastic time in worship every time. In which case ignore me. I probably just need to pray harder.

Duck Henge Rises

It was, we felt, important that we created a monument to partner the new (and old) Moot Houses. So as the new Moot House starts to rise over the Doily Shed, we've had to think hard about its companion.

And so, after a lapse of many years, Duck Henge is being restored around the duck pond. Obviously it's not a henge - it having no banks or ditches - but it is very definitely a wood circle. In the manner of "Sea henge", the famous circle and hippy magnet on the Norfolk coast, we're putting the trees into the ground roots up and branches up. Immensely symbolic - albeit we don't know what of. But then that's half the fun with symbolism, isn't it?

Before the last Duck Henge burnt down, it was a thing of wonder and beauty. And, coincidentally, the ducks never suffered from mange, beak rot or general debilitation the whole time. Let Duck Henge Arise!

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Extreme Worship Leading Brings that Nagging Sense of Unease

I've been left wondering a bit about Drenzul's "Evening Reconciliation" tonight. I think that maybe - just maybe - he's going a little too far in his worship leading style.

Now don't get me wrong.  I will never criticise anyone who uses a sensitive nudge here and there - a reminder that God is good, our loving Parent. Nothing wrong with that. A suggestion that we, fallible, weak, uncertain, unpredictable, limited, imperfect, fragile, created as we are - that we should approach this awesome Creator with a certain trepidation - with awe and, for want of a better word - trembling - nothing wrong with that.

Nothing wrong with that at all. Not in a leading-into-the-presence of God kind of way.

If, on the other hand, you lead into a time of confession with a PowerPoint gallery of the people in your congregation, actually caught in or roughly around the time of the iniquities for which they will shortly be confessing - that would seem a little edgy. I mean,  the shot of Young Keith walking into the wall of the White Horse - we've all seen that a hundred times. He's got broad shoulders, has Keith. Though they've been broadened, admittedly, by the frequent contact with the walls of the White Horse.
No, more concerning was the fly-on-the-wall footage of Burton Dasset scoring at the annual Accounts v Actuaries cricket challenge match. And before you all leap to condemn him, I will say it's not the worst thing that has ever been filmed in a cricket scorebox. Not even close.

In fact, i would personally call this an act of kindheartedness, or at worst trying to save face. No results were affected by this act of minor fraud. But imagine the scene.

Burton is scoring during the Accountants' innings. He is running the scoreboard - one of those proper, big ones like a brick shed with strings to control the numbers - and the score book. Sat next to him is the wife of the captain of the Actuaries, doing their score book.

She was quite attractive, sure. And if you were to accuse Burton of the kind of adultery which would result in us all losing an eye, rather than go to the Smoky Place, if we took things literally - well, yes. I suspect he was guilty. But that was all. But maybe the excitement of sitting next to an attractive woman in a confined, relatively darkened space, resulted in Burton concentrating somewhat less than normal.

In any case, the Accountants' opening bat had a great innings. Even via the Web cam that Drenzul had clearly hidden in the back wall of the scoreboard, you can hear the cheers as he knocks a four through cover-point for a century and Burton delightedly rings up the third digit on the board.

Even in the half-light, with muffled sound, you can see and hear Burton's panic as he realises he's cocked it up, and the opener's only got 90.

We go on to see low-level fraud on a massive scale - unreckoned since the game began - as Burton systematically gives every extra - or every bye and leg bye, at any rate - to the unsuspecting batter. You can almost hear the sweat falling from Burton when there's an appeal.  You can only admire the way he occasionally "forgets". to ring up the second when they run two, and - with the collusion of the other scorer - rewrites a few bits of history. By the time the opener is out, the score in the book matches that on the board. Burton is a broken man.

But not as broken as when Drenzul played the whole sorry affair, and then spent ten minutes accusing Burton of being, if not the father of all lies, certainly a close relative of all lies - a cousin, or maybe uncle-in-law. This kind of thing was repeated for everyone Drenzul had some dirt on. And there were many.

I know I should have stopped it. After all, I've been blackmailing some of those people for the things we were watching. No chance now. But it was gripping stuff. I've never seen such a heart felt act of confession at the end of it all - although the concluding prayer, "Know you're forgiven and we will never mention what happened here" seemed unusual.

And so we moved on. The logical conclusion of being these kinds of broken people in a broken world, according to Drenzul, is that we need fixing. Turns out he knows a song about that.

And it's not like I've never heard "Fix You" used like that before. And it's not like it can't be quite moving. But I've never seen it played over a PowerPoint montage of sick and injured puppies and kittens before. People were really taken into the whole thing.

In fact, as Chris Martin warbled towards that last dramatic pause, and the baby labrador - having had the plaster cast removed - gambolled across the sand dunes - it would have taken a hard heart not to think that, tough and unfair as this world may be, there's hope and beauty in it.

Just a sneaking feeling of unease, though. I know Drenzul is committed, sincere and a great and sensitive worship leader but - and maybe it was just me - I wonder if the service, taken as a whole, was just a little bit emotionally manipulative?

Monday 25 August 2014

A Quick Guide to Viral Social Media Posts

No, Facebook aren't removing it from people's timelines.

Now your friends have blocked news from all your games, it's like you're invisible.

Yes, it's easy to see.

You'd be the sort of superhero who stays in all day doing Facebook quizzes.

The puppy was found 100 yards from its house. It has since died of old age. It did go on to have a career as a spoof Twitter account which continues to this day.

The play wasn't as blasphemous as is made out. And it closed four years ago.

London, New York and Toronto all have an "o" in them. As do Ulan Bator, Rome, Cairo and quite a lot of others.

Oh, is s/he being controversial again?

As many circles as your mind wants to make up.

The reason 95% of people don't post that status is because it's pointless and annoying. Your concern about anything is not measured in clicks. And the 95% has not been scientifically measured.

A woman in every town has, apparently, found a simple trick to lose years off her looks. Dermatologists don't care a fig. They're still eating.

If you don't want Facebook sharing your data, switch it off. None of us can follow those instructions and you probably did it wrong in the first place yourself.

Just because a celebrity said it doesn't make it witty enough to propagate.

There are no real people quoted in that article.

No, nobody has died from it.

Just because they've done it, doesn't make it compulsory.

Don't click! It's the Daily Ma... Oh, too late. Oh wow, she has let herself go.

Sunday 24 August 2014

A Gay Tidal Wave

Terrifying warning from Scott Lively about a "tidal wave of gay theology".

I've got visions of all these macho evangelicals, waxing up their straight-theology surfboards ready for the wave.

Not too much waxing, of course. That would be very suspect.

When Morrissey Was Interviewed for the Vicar's Job

Q: Revd Morrissey, after leaving the Smiths, you were quietly ordained. But after you'd served your title, you spent years trying to find a post.  You eventually because the Vicar of Grizzling-in-the-Mist. So why are you trying to move after only 12 months?

Morrissey: I was looking for a job, and then I found a job. And heaven knows I'm miserable now.

Q: I believe you had a falling out with the Churchwardens in Grizzling. Were you serious in your threats?

Morrissey: I was only joking when I said "By rights, you should be bludgeoned in your bed."

Q: So given there were clearly some tensions within your team - let's suppose Bill, the Warden here, had been very rude to you and then felt really sorry about it. You could forgive him - but if you wanted instead to downgrade his apology and make him feel really unimportant instead, so you constantly had something over him - what would you say?

Morrissey: "William, it was really nothing."

Q: And you've run into some problems with your current parishioners doubting your orthodoxy, despite your obvious sincerity in saying the Creed.  What's your take on that?

Morrissey: How can they hear me say those words And still they don't believe me? And if they don't believe me now will they ever believe me?

Q: So are you alone in this alienation from your congregation, or do you think it's commonplace - say among other ministers you know?

Morrissey: I've seen it happen in other people's lives, and now it's happening in mine.

Q: Social action is very important in this benefice.  What would you say, for example, in encouraging people to protest against the domination of the country by the retail conglomerates, which stifle small businesses and drive ever-smaller margins out of the farmers in our own area?

Morrissey: Shoplifters of the world, unite and take over.

Q: So let's talk about inter-faith relations - what do you think about George Carey's latest comments on Muslim communities in the UK?

Morrissey: Bigmouth strikes again.

Q: As a celebrity, you must realise our concerns that you'd not be totally dedicated to the pastoral and preaching ministry of the church. Given the inevitable demands - as a famous minister - that you be on Songs of Praise, at Greenbelt or guesting on quiz shows - how would you balance your time?

Morrissey: I'd rather be famous than righteous or holy, any day, any day, any day.

Q: It's been a dreadful week in the news - Iraq, Gaza, the threats from Icelandic volcanoes and American earthquakes. There's always some dreadful news coming in about the climate. How do you bring people hope in all this?

Morrissey: There is a light that never goes out. There is a light that never goes out.

Q: Thanks, Fr Steven. Obviously you're completely unsuited to this role. But as you might say, frankly, Mr Shankly, we've nine rural parishes and nobody wants to take the job on. You're the first applicant we've had in 6 years. How soon can you start?

Morrissey: How soon is now?

Finding the Right Combination

Some people can be so literalist.

I said that I wanted the new Moot House to be a "safe space". What I didn't mean was I wanted it to have double-thick steel walls and triple-locked doors.

Not least as when I went in this morning, the alarm went off and I was covered in indelible blue ink.

Saturday 23 August 2014

In Praise of Evangelicals

I've been hearing a lot recently about the "Evangelical Wing of the Church".

What with discussions about women as bishops in the C of E, sexuality, the Alpha Course and what have you; everyone's talking about the Evangelical Wing, of course. They're the ones who handle snakes, or make women wear berets. They're the ones who not only believe in Adam as a real historic person but claim to have Methuselah's mobile number. The men wear chinos and smug expressions, and the women look after their seven kids each and are terrifying in their devotion to being submissive. They keep people out of Church posts by the power of their monetary contributions, and teach Creationism in schools.

But is that the way it is? Are they really organised like the Brompton Taliban, ready to take over the world - or Surrey, at any rate - with their Alpha Courses and sweaters?

The problem with talking about an "Evangelical Wing" is it presupposes that they are an organised, coherent group. Whereas the English evangelicals, scattered as they are across a dozen denominations and a myriad of independent and federated churches as they are, couldn't organise a good night out in a brewery. Not least as they wouldn't be able to agree whether a brewery was really the right place for any kind of function.
Michael Saward in his book "Evangelicals on the Move" summarised the traits that identify Evangelicals as:
1) A belief in a conversion ("born again") experience
2) Activism
3) The centrality of the Cross in salvation
4) Something about the Bible

(I haven't actually got the book to to hand, to be honest. But it's roughly right).

And none of these, when all is said and done, directly translate into "believe in a 6-day Creation", or "oppress anybody who is not like us." 

Evangelicals are, after all, a broad church - or a broad part of the Church. And Evangelicals have done good stuff. Evangelicals campaigned to end the slave trade.Evangelical ministers are unlikely, on the whole, to be careerist in Church matters - being more concerned for the care of their flocks and their local communities. John Stott was an Evangelical.  Evangelicals write great hymns. They produce the best preachers. They take the Bible seriously. They stand for something more than  accommodation with the prevailing culture. They believe God can act. They are, on the whole, a good thing.

I like Evangelicals. 

Just thought I'd say it.

"Tumble Church" - A Liturgy in Rubrics

Beaker Folk enter the Moot House in pairs. Men may wear shorts and singlets. Women, in homage to the 80s, big hair and leggings.

To the sound of Ravel's Bolero, the males attempt a forward roll. They lay, floundering, screaming that they've pulled a muscle (or, as it may be, irritated their arthritis).

The females prance around a bit with beach balls and ribbons.

Whenever a woman accidentally treads on a bloke, he may scream and indicate further damage has been incurred.

Everybody limps off, wondering what the point was. In Wittenberg, Luther turns in his grave.

Friday 22 August 2014

Just Give us the Honey - The Richard Dawkins Chantry

The ineffable saver of pussons that is Eccles has alerted me to the way in which it is possible to spend money to get ever closer to Richard Dawkins. A warning - if you follow that link, as Slartibartfast warned Arthur Dent, do not nod your head at any stage. Or you may find yourself at dinner with the Dawk Lord and considerably lighter in the pocket.

Assuming the whole page isn't a spoof, I am particularly impressed by the fact you have the option to join one of the Circles of Vanity while giving a donation in memory of a deceased relative or other loved person.

I presume that this is something like the medieval practice of paying a chantry to say a requiem mass for your dear departed to hurry them through Purgatory. And, although the precise scale of Richard Dawkins's involvement in these donations isn't set out, I like to think that, in some richly-endowed lab in Oxford, the following kind of thing is practised:

£20 means that a snotty atheist undergraduate will recite the name of the loved one, each year on their birthday, followed by "that one's not coming back".

£50 - a post-grad researcher in molecular biophysics will look at a picture of the loved one, and remark "don't look so good now",

£100 - the possessor of a DPhil in some subject that gives one expertise in theology - say an endocrinologist, or someone who is researching the causes of gout - will say your loved one's name three times, and then say " If only there were a God! Then there would be a point to this. Can I have my cheque?"

£1,000 - annually on the birthday of the person to be remembered, a special memorial meal will be held. Richard Dawkins himself, splendidly attired in sub fusc, will consume a delicious steak - as only Pro-choice people can - say the name of the person to be remembered, reflect that since there is no God he needn't have bothered, and then comfort himself that, in all probability both the person to be remembered and the person doing the remembering wouldn't understand his reasoning. After all, they haven't learnt to think yet. And one of them, barring a miracle which by definition won't happen, never will.

At the top end of donations, I like to think it will be possible to endow new colleges, dedicated to the glory of nothing and set up not to pray for the souls of the people who died in the 100 Years War. Ultimately, little Chantry Laboratories can be added to the sides of existing laboratories, so members of university Sci-Fi Societies can figure it doesn't really matter whether we remember people or not - it can't do them any good, and we are only fooling ourselves.

It's a brave new world we're living in.

Thursday 21 August 2014

On Going to Greenbelt

So they're all packing up, those Beaker Folk preparing for their short trip up the old 509 to Kettering (handy for the Doc Martins shop at Wollaston, by the way).

It kind of makes me proud, seeing them all going off, so excited and wide-eyed. And I think back to my own experiences at Greenbelt, not least that famous occasion in 1986 when we were hit by a hurricane.

I only normally use the word in advertising material, but the thing about Greenbelt is, it's holistic. What I mean is, the experience is about mind, body, sprit. Once again I hear about the latest utterances from theism's favourite useful idiot, Richard Dawkins, and I figure if all you've got is "logic" then it lets you go off in all sorts of bizarre directions, all logical from the place you started from. The void that yawns under his latest utterance/ "apology" seems to open wider ever time he gains control of the Twitter apparatus. I presume most of the time his wife beats him off it with a sonic screwdriver, but the poor woman's bound to lose concentration occasionally.

But if you accept the religious traditions you're given uncritically, without letting them engage with your mind, without letting in the learning this modern world has, you're surely also stranded in a make-believe world. We can't live in the 1st Century, or even the 16th. We live here and now. Our deposit of faith is constantly re-examined, renewed, revitalised by what comes from the world, our thinking, our experience.

And Greenbelt does that.  It brings in Art, and new insights, and new angles to view things. While allowing you to understand more about your body - for it is holistic,  remember - by allowing you to struggle through four feet of mud while reflecting on a new understanding of the Trinity through the medium of chainsaw juggling.

Have a good Greenbelt, if you're going. Cling onto that valuable place where logic and spirit kiss. Worship, wonder, wobble, pray. And don't come back wondering why your own Church can't be that good all the time.

Unless, that is; you're prepared to make it like that yourself.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Inter-Church Summer Olympics

EventSt Chasuble's, Icon StSt Luther's, Swinging in the VineyardMilk-Depot St Methodist
Freestyle Thurifer7 - Perfect Figure-eight, maybe a little light on imagination.6 - Poorly-executed 360, but extra points for hitting a Churcharden3 -They put a spider-plant in the thurible 
Preaching: Sexual Morality4 - Good take-off, but came down heavily on the fence.6 - Deducted points for covering the pulpit with spittle.9 - Sermon started uncertainly, but came out well in the end.
Preaching: Economics7 - A working understanding of the subject, good Biblical basis, though inclined to veer  to the left.5 - Remarkable reverse flip on Biblical infallibility with regard to camels and needles.5 - Over-reliance on jumble sales
Church-hopping7 - New competition record for Swimming the Tiber9 - Remarkably quick, although a number of false starts.3 - The pews were installed by some of the current congregation's parents.
Science quiz7 - Good understanding of the processes of combustion (candles, incense, Protestants)1 - Under-estimated the age of the universe by 13 bn years6 - Failed the "composition of good coffee" question.
Liturgical Dance10 - Out of the question6 - Infrequently, due to suspicion that it might be an occasion of lust.10 - Would be too worried about Elsie's hip.
Trashing the preacher1 - As long as it's less than 5 minutes, it's fine.10- lapse into liberalism was dismantled at dinner tables across the town7 - He was boring, but he is very nice.

Final Result: All have won, and all shall have prizes.

A Strange Question from the New Statesman

"What happens when evangelical virgin men get married?" asks the New Statesman.

Just my guess, but I reckon they'll wonder whether there maybe should have been a woman involved. If they're fairly tradition evangelicals, obviously.

Alt.Worship in Extraordinary Time

This morning's "Progressive Rock Devotions" will take place at the Fountain of Salmacis. Please can everybody bring a Methodist Service Book, and a doily.

This morning the anthem will be "Ave Maria" to the Kendrick setting. The Beaker Quire will be led by Jeroboam on the Bb Coronet. Please leave any Large Hadrons in the copse. You know they disturb the nymphs.

Monday 18 August 2014

The Tower of Bibles

And the people of Trav-El-Oj cried out, "what shall we do with the multitudes of Gideon Bibles we have removed from the bedrooms? For behold, the Daily Mail doth cry out against us, and we've millions of books to deal with - and if we commit them unto the pit, which is called Lan-dfil, great will be the outcry against us and we will be a hissing and a byword.

And the ruler of Premier Inn, which is named Len-e Hen-re, said unto them, "why do ye not make of them a great pile of Bibles, which reacheth unto heaven, and make the pile in the Trav-El-Oj which is in the town with the ford that is called Staff, which is the centre of the Land?

And they did, and the pile of Bibles reached unto heaven, and could be seen from Chez-ter to the land of Sol-e-hul, right across that land where dwelleth the Brummies.

But there came unto that place a member of the Prayer Book Society, and he asketh the receptionist, "where in the Great Tower of Bibles can I find a King James Version? For my soul panteth like the hart that looks for cooling brooks, until I find a copy of the Good Book in the language that St Paul himself spoke.

And the receptionist looketh up from the copy of "The Little Book of Calm", and saith - "behold - for the King James Bible that we found in the oldest hotel is there, at the bottom of the Great Tower of Bibles, just handy to take out and go for a good read.

And he pull-ed the King James out from the bottom of the stack. And the lot fell on him. And great was the fall thereof.

Moral - if you really want a Bible in your hotel room, take your own. It's more reliable and you can get a more inclusive version.

The Final Score (in Memory of James Alexander Gordon)

A sunlit August afternoon
Some said "the football's back too soon"
but joy came suddenly so true
with "Watford 1, Luton Town 2"

Homecoming, autumn after tea
A Morris Minor on the A43
And soothing o'er the radio still
"Liverpool 2, Tottenham Hotspur nil"

And at a snowy Christmas time
The grounds are frozen under rime
The Pools Panel's disputed score
Means two points for a goalless draw.

And spring time, when the table's tight
And Europe's sought in April's light
The green leaves rustle on the tree
"Dumbarton 2, Kilmarnock 3".

But now this earthly season's done
Games are played beneath an eternal sun
An angel sings the perfect score
It's "Forfar 5 - East Fife 4"

Non-Gender-Specific Breakfast

Realising an imbalance in the gender-specific social events amongst the Beaker Folk. So men get breakfasts, snooker, 5-a-side and Hnaef's Knitting Circle. Women get the Bright Hour.

So this morning we insisted on joining the Monday Breakfast Club. And discovered an awful fact.

They can't cook. It was all rubbish - burnt bacon,  sausages raw in the middle, scrambled eggs that started off "sunny side up".

So I did some for Charlii and myself.  And Marston remarked how nice ours looked; and could we come and do the cooking every month?

I think the scrambled eggs suited him.

Saturday 16 August 2014

A Sad Commentary

Matthew Norman laments the passing of the great old Match of the Day commentators of the past - either into retirement or beyond this world's touchline to the changing-room of eternity. Which leads me to two thoughts.

First up - I don't particularly care if commentators are great personalities. I want them to tell me, with a minimum of words if possible, who's got the ball. If it's on telly I don't particularly care if they tell me it's a goal. I can see it's a goal, and even use my judgement to tell if I think it's a good one.

Secondly - don't you miss Auberon Waugh and Keith Waterhouse? Now they were really good columnists.

Friday 15 August 2014

Two Things That Always Seem Wrong

Two things that always seem wrong to me.

One is when people say the Church in Britain is in decline because it appears intolerant and illiberal. That if the Church as a whole were only more like the Liberal Democrats in its view of morality, it would be more popular. I think you've only got to look at the Episcopalians in the States to realise that isn't true.

The other is when people suggest that the Church is in decline because it's too tolerant, too liberal. You've only got to look at the size of the Wee Frees to realise that isn't true either.

I think the Church should work out what it thinks God wants the Church to believe and do and take it from there. Since this is an imprecise discipline, parts of the Church may well come up with different answers to others. This is ideally met with love and discussion rather than hate and anger.

What the World thinks of all this is neither here nor there. It is not supposed to be a popularity contest. It is supposed to be the Gospel.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

We Love Vicky Beeching

"Everybody Look at Me", says Richard Dawkins

Decent, ordinary scientists have helped enable evil scientists to become homicidal bringers of death by being "so nice" that people do not question their actions, Richard Dawkins has argued.

Dawkins, the evolutionary scientist and outspoken atheist, said moderate scientists had inadvertently paved the way for the sorts of scientists who exposed innocent people to nerve gas.

Saying they had made evidence-based knowledge a "legitimate reason" for their behaviour, he claimed they have now helped "make the world safe" for the sort of people who infect people with deadly diseases to see what happens.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, he told an audience that moderate scientists were "so nice" they had made it difficult for society to question what they got up to.

Richard Dawkins has a book out.

The Complete "Exam" Collection

The readership of this blog has grown over the years.

I mean, not to the point where I can retire early or anything useful, you understand. But it does grow, steadily, more or less, over time.

And this means that the current readership, who seem to have been generally amused by this morning's Rural Ministry Exam paper, may not be familiar with all the other Exams that we have shared over the years.

So if you're in the need of more examination-based mirth, and before the papers are filled with over-excited 18-year-old girls tomorrow: here's the complete set.

Contemporary Christianity Exam

Science for Fundamentalists

Comparative Religious Exam 1 - Music

Comparative religious Exam 2  Mission

Pastoral Theology for Rural Ministry - Examination Paper

Answer all the questions.  Do not attempt to keep everyone happy. You haven't got that long.

1. The Shornsheep Benefice has eight churches, an average of six miles apart. Each has a service on Sunday. When does the vicar eat?

2. Compare and contrast the lives of the clergy in Jane Austen's novel. How jealous does that make you?

3. Piddlington Emmanuel Baptist Church has 5 members. Piddlington Free Baptist Church has 4. Why can't they just get over that row about the new crockery set in 1923?

4. St Mary's, Verging-on-the-Brink, has the tallest spire in the county, is 100m long and seats over 500 people. Yet the village, even at its height, has only ever had a population of 200. What did the squire, Sir Roger de Courtney-Cox, think he was playing at in 1368?

5. "If the Victorian Era had never happened, it would have been a good thing." Discuss.

6. The average tenure of an incumbent in the Chitterlings Benefice is three years. The average vacancy is 30 months. To the nearest six months, how long will it be until they realise the problem isn't with the ministers?

7. Just how primitive is Jimsthorpe Primitive Methodist Chapel? Use the standard 3-age model.

8. The adult congregation of St Quiverfull's consists of three teachers, two stockbrokers, three solicitors and a retired judge. Surely they could run a family service for themselves once in a while?

9. There are 9 children in Year 2 at St Martin's Lower (C of E). They all look remarkably like the last vicar. What could possibly explain his rapid "calling" to a mission in Siberia? Illustrate your answer with a diagram of a shotgun.

10. The congregation of Minchin-in-the-Marsh Methodist is 12, with an average age of 75. Exactly the same as in 1980. What on earth is going on?

11. The church of St Agnes, Ammersleigh, has on average 24 weddings, 17 baptisms and only one funeral each year. Its normal Sunday congregation is 7. Imagine how pretty it must be. Deconstruct the explanation for why the wedding fees are so high.

12. St Colin's has to raise £400K for a new roof. Does the thermometer outside the church really need to be that big?

13. With reference to the table showing the price of lead since 1990, explain why Jeb has taken to shooting thieves off the roof. Try to think of a convincing alibi.

14. The church has just bought a new 1kg tub of Fair-Trade Coffee. If the average congregation is 12, and the average teaspoon holds 5g - why can't they buy something nicer?

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Dealing with Healing

Raughrie has a way of dealing with people who offer him prayer for healing.

Obviously, I'm talking when he's there and everything. He can't do much about people indulging in stealth prayer when he's not around.

He sometimes used to let them, but these days asks them not to. In the circles he moves in, people are always offering to pray for his healing. It's kind, but it's a bit much. And he's not been able to take up breakdancing just yet.

But sometimes pushy people rush up and insist on praying for his healing, whether he likes it or not. When  this happens, he tells them nothing happened. Which it hasn't, so far.

Occasionally, people will tell him that's because he doesn't have enough faith.  When this happens, he likes to run over their feet in his wheelchair.

If they complain it hurts, he tells them. That's because they don't have enough faith.

Stories of Two Kings

Reading this morning's lessons from the Anglican church in New Zealand (he's a right dilettante, he is), Hnaef pointed out to me a remarkable and also kind of topical opposition of readings.

In the reading from Samuel, it's the story of the rejection of Saul. You remember the story? Saul is told to defeat the Amalekites and consign their entire city, its occupants and all the livestock to utter destruction.

Saul, old softy that he is, kills the inhabitants but saves - temporarily - Agag, the Amalekite king, and the best of the flock. When Samuel the man of God catches up with him, he tells Saul off. Not for the genocide of which he is clearly guilty, but for saving the sheep - according to Saul, so he can sacrifice them later. In words that will be echoed - for very different reasons - by the prophets who will succeed him, Samuel demands to know whether God wants sacrifices or obedience.

Now, there's a nasty parallel here to some current events. And I don't want to think about God ordering massacres. I know the Hebrews were living in a very different world - one where there was no Geneva Convention, no prisoner-of-war camps. Where the level of technology wasn't so great that a few armed guards could keep dozens or hundreds of unarmed people under control. But it's still a ghastly idea, that God commanded it. Though you can see how some teenage fantasists, loose in Iraq like the fundamentalist equivalent of a package tour to Ibiza could draw a line through this, or similar stories from their own faith's history, and decide God says it's OK.

I guess the interpretation that puts God in the best light is the one where the Children of Israel, having decided it was God that told them to annihilate their enemies, later come to associate God with peace, supporting the foreigner in your land, caring for widows and orphans, and getting good jobs as doctors and lawyers, while developing a self-deprecating sense of humour. Thus realising that the massacres were an unfortunate part of their growing up as a race.

The interpretation that puts God in a somewhat scarier light is that the annihilation of the Amalekites - to cleanse a holy land and keep the Hebrews from the temptations of idolatry - was exactly what God wanted. God knew - in God's infinite wisdom - exactly what God was doing. And if you protest that you can't believe in a God like that, well your problem is that neither God's existence nor his nature are for us to decide based on our own preferences. God has, after all, got form. If God exists, God is the immutable force that, through evolution, created the Tsetse fly and the Ichneumon wasp - who created a universe that will expire in the slow agony of heat death. God, that is. Wasps are rubbish at creating universes, whether governed by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics or not

But the second reading Hnaef shared was of the rejection of a different king. This king is sent to the cross. Unlike Agag, he's not the only one - temporarily - saved while his people perish. The opposite. He's the one picked out from his people for death. The people whose greatest moral leaps forward he's taken and honed into loving your enemies and even Samaritans and tax collectors.

And he thinks - momentarily - that he's also been rejected by God. But in fact, we know he's been accepted. And through him all the others can be saved. And God has the sacrifice that is acceptable - because it's one of perfect obedience.

So I struggle. I reckon I can see - in the story of the  people of Israel and their religion - that journey traced out, from a tribe fighting to carve out a living space to a faith that loves the stranger.
But I can see a mirror image of the rejection of Saul and the acceptance of Jesus. The death of a nation, and the salvation of so many. The way of destruction, and the way of sacrifice.

Maybe God will explain it all for us one day. But I'll look at those two stories of the two rejected kings, and follow the way of the second, and believe that his way is a better way for me to live in God's will than the first.

Monday 11 August 2014

Liberal by Name, Conservative by Nature

A piece here by Rev Eddie Green on Linda Woodhead's way of identifying liberals.

I agree with Eddie.

Bigmouth Strikes Again

In typically conciliatory mood, Morrissey calls for Jamie Oliver to be gassed. It's obviously the vegetarianism that brings on these murderous thoughts. If Morrissey had a nice burger now and then, he'd probably be a lot more chilled.

He also suggests that we will only appreciate him when he's dead, the big whinging overgrown teenager. Well, I hope he's around for a long time yet to remind us of his self-importance and what a great guitarist Johnny Marr is. But if he likes, when he dies, I propose we all put our handbags on his grave, and then dance around it.  I'm sure it's the sort of thing he'd appreciate.

No Cosy Apocalypse

So once again a Supermoon passes, as they have for trillennia, and civilisation continues.

A penchant for an apocalypse has always been part of the human psyche. In my lifetime alone we've had the Bomb, a New Ice Age, herpes, AIDS, the ozone layer, Ebola, Global Warming,  assorted flu strains and Harold Camping. Many of which were or are quite serious, none of which wiped out the world. Yet. Give them time, obviously. Apart from Harold Camping.

I remember a Daily Mirror article from the late 70s - my family had an odd choice in reading materials - that announced we had 10 years till the oil ran out. Terrified, I was, at the time. At least if the oil runs out now, we'll have renewable energy sources. So we can all gather around a 7W bulb to keep warm, until we remember the new bulbs don't give off any heat. No, they give off mercury instead.

It's as if we are programmed for apocalypse - the idea that the cosy world we live in might be ripped apart at any moment. We feel we have sinned, and we must pay. Or maybe we can repent?

The modern, post-Christian idea of sin and repentance is different and kind of rubbishy, of course. We have burnt too much petrol; and so we are doomed to see Al Gore, and aging rockers, flying around the world telling us we must not use fossil fuels. My nan, at the age of 94, gave up eating beef in case it gave her CJD. We have punched a hole through the sky and so must repent and use less effective propellants for our antiperspirants!  Actually, that last was relatively sensible.

But alongside the cosy apocalypses there are constant real ones - or one, long-running one that constantly mutates. I've never believed in one, final big apocalypse - John the Divine's vision is replayed endlessly, wherever a brutal oppressor extinguishes life and hope from the people God makes.

There's an endless cry that goes up of "How long?" as the Romans, the Communists, the Puritans, the Islamists, the cattle-herders of America, at times the Catholics, and so many others have crushed life, joy and freedom out of people's lives. Each small apocalypse, each pogrom, each act of oppression a part of the work of the Beast, the Dragon's work as time is short. Part of the rolling apocalypse that goes on to the end.

Maybe we're right. Maybe we have sinned and need to repent. There's some real evil gets oppressing God's people in Iraq right now. It's not hard to see the Beast there. But in squeezing every penny out of cost prices, in the misbegotten adventure to get cheap oil that started what's going on out there, in our keenness to preserve our lifestyles while realising not everyone can have one like ours - maybe we help keep the story rolling in our own times.

There's no cosy apocalypses. There's just one big one. And it rolls on from the start to the End.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Super Moomin

It's even worse, apparently.

The combination of the Supermoon with the centenary of Tove Jansson's birth has led to the prophesied disaster known as "Supermoomin".

Halfway through the Charity Shield, we will become aware of alien, pale-faced, expressionless beings wandering around the place, living simple lives in northern climes; where they may have their challenges but will always be kept from real tragedy. However the seasons change, they always have a happy ending.

Man City fans, they're called. Oh save me from the clutches of Snufkin and the Snork Maiden!

Supermoon - Your Questions Answered (Again)

Q: The Express tells us there's a Supermoon today. Could it mean the end of the world?

A: Oh yes,  not a doubt about it.

Q: What? Aren't you supposed to say it's all fine?

A: Haven't you read the article? It's terrifying. The third Supermoon this year. Gotta mean something.

Q: But isn't it just a statistical thing? You've gotta have the moon nearest some times?

A: Oh yeah.  But have you read those ancient olde prophecies? And then what with the Perseid meteor showers.....

Q: But aren't the astronomers all really excited, because the moon is so much closer and easier to observe?

A: Astronomers down the years have found that telescopes have the ability to make the moon look bigger whenever they want. Full moon is always a bad time to observe the moon because it's too bright.  And what with apocalyptic super-storm Bertha..... We're all doomed. Who's gonna worry about studying craters?

Q: So not good observational conditions?

A: All irrelevant. The star-gazers are all in their secret temple beneath the Royal Astronomical Society, sacrificing an emu and praying to the Moon Gibbon  to have mercy.

Q: You've worried me now.

A: Well,  stop reading the Express, you prat. There's real people in this world with terrifying problems. Stop encouraging low-grade tabloids to make up cosy apocalypses for you.

Saturday 9 August 2014

Quick Business Jokes

Yes, it was a great disappointment when my early commercial ventures failed.

First up I went into the ironing business. Sales were flat.

So I tried a regional agricultural scheme. The theory was that we would grow heathland vegetation in the Hull area, to sell as a convenient source of sheep fodder.

We called the company "Ferns for ewe".

When that failed, I branched out with a deckchair company. But it soon folded.

We Live Our Lives Forwards

I am not a pacifist. Sometimes I think it is necessary that we send people to fight.

And I realise that the best time to decide whether to fight is after the event. But we live our lives forwards, so that is a luxury not granted to us.

Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait always seems to me a war we should have fought. A nasty dictator, but more to the point the invasion of a friendly country - the logic said "yes".

Afghanistan - up to the point where Al Qaeda was disrupted - probably likewise. That was self-defence.

The intervention in Bosnia - protecting the innocents - yes. Just not soon enough.

Iraq last time - never, never. No justification, no way - just dodgy evidence. Which we discovered afterwards, mostly. But someone decided they wanted a war, so we had one. Yeah Saddam was nasty. But if we invaded every country with a nasty leader we'd never stop fighting.

At the minute, America's intervention in Iraq feels completely right. Let's pray they are. You never can know what might happen next. We live our lives forwards.

Friday 8 August 2014

If TV Detectives were Ministers of Religion

You know the sorts of vicars you're gonna get in crime series. They're nearly always creepy, or victims. Or, in Midsomer, both.

But what if it hadn't been murder that captured everybody's imagination the last hundred years? What if it had been pastoral matters? What if, instead of solving tricky crimes, the thing everybody wanted to know was how the curate dealt with a tricky question at confirmation class? What would that be like?

Reverend Morse

Hard-drinking Fr Endeavour sends his willing curate Fr Robbie out to do all the day-to-day ministry. A succession of attractive middle-aged women join the church, but Reverend Morse, an allegedly confirmed bachelor but not like the people at St Gabriel's down the road, always ends up burying them.

The Right Reverend Strange, Fr Endeavour's bishop, constantly criticises his unconventional liturgies, but Morse doesn't care. He's normally drunk or listening to Requiems late at night.

Fr Lewis

After Morse's death, Fr Robert has his own parish. An old-school liberal himself, he gets confused when his new curate turns out to believe in God.

Reverend Cagney and the Venerable Lacey

When Christine "comes out", she realises she'll have to join the Episcopalians. Still, it means she can get ordained.

Midsomer Vicars

Due to some seriously nepotistic patronage, there's always been a Reverend Barnaby at Midsomer St Mary. The current one has to compete for parishioners with nine New Age cults, wife-swapping and the Pony Club. But why are all the police officers either creepy or dying?

Saint Sweeney's

Fr Regan and his Parish Evangelist, George, have a rough and ready way with the local sinners. They bash them against walls until they promise to come to church on Sunday.

The Deacons of Hazard

Two good ol' boy Texan priests are into guns, cars, girls and the suppression of anything that looks a bit gay. Daisy's short cotter is always guaranteed to raise Church Warden Hogg's liturgical temperature.

Rev Brenda

A motherly Self-supporting Minister gets everyone to confess in the end.

Sherlock's Chapel

As the series opens, Sherlock is deducing, from the rope fibres on her blouse, the smell of specialist oil and the grass stains on her skirt, that the organist is having an affair with the bell-tower captain.

Revd Homes is a brilliant Bible preacher, but lives in constant awe of his clever brother, Moltmann. After an argument over who has the better reredos, both Sherlock and Fr Moriarty fall off the church roof. Miraculously, Sherlock's back to lead the following Sunday's service.

The Professional Priests

Bishop Hudson wonders whether he should remove the licences of Fr Bodie and Fr Doyle.

Preach to Me

Fr Cal Lightman's uncanny knowledge of psychology makes him a brilliant preacher.

But the suspicion that he'll go to any lengths to get a conversion means nobody ever quite trusts him.

Endeavour the Ordinand

The young Morse doesn't get thrown out of Oxford after all, but develops a deep love for the High-Church tradition of Beaufort College Chapel.

Sister Starsky and Mother Superior Hutch

The hip nuns with the speedy car race around town saving souls, serving the poor and telling Huggy Bear he's going to Hell.

The Police Officer of Dibley

PC Geraldine is the first female constable in the village. The Police Complaints Commission is full of amusing and lovable idiots.

Rain Dance - Venue Change

Due to the weather, the Traditional Authentic First Nations Native American (Red Indian for older non-liberals) Rain Dance will be held in the Moot House.

Thursday 7 August 2014

Red in Tooth and Claw

Woken up abruptly by a thud and then a prolonged howl.

Turns out the Astronomical Devotions Group have just got in from their shooting-star watching. Overcome by the beauties of nature, the pathos of dying stars and - I suspect - the bottle of rum they took to keep out the cold, Grimzey tripped over Grendel, the community cat.

That's some wound Grimzey has now. You wouldn't think a cat could put lacerations that long in. Killed the spiritual moment dead, it did. Oh well, so much for the romance of Psalm 8. Out of the mouths of cats and ducklings

Wednesday 6 August 2014

On a Universal, Theological Scale - Everything's B*ll*xed

"Here, as everywhere, the Unfulfilled Intention, which makes life what it is, was as obvious as it could be among the depraved crowds of a city slum. The leaf was deformed, the curve was crippled, the taper was interrupted; the lichen eat the vigor of the stalk, and the ivy slowly strangled to death the promising sapling."

A tree falls in the woods

Thomas Hardy, if you couldn't guess.  The Woodlanders, if you haven't read it.

Be warned - if you read on, the word that I've, Sun-like, asterisked out is revealed in all its awful terror. If you don't like the use of the word I've bowdlerised above, stop now. Although, if that's the worst thing in your world, you're doing OK really.

Hostage to Heirlooms

It's been three years since we last had to rebuild the Moot House. It shows.

Gyegph kindly bequeathed the additional tea light stand. We already had a tea light stand. The one Guerone donated. We couldn't throw out the original, or Guerone would have been offended. We couldn't refuse the new one, as it was a bequest.

So we have three tea light stands. Oh yeah. Don't forget the one from when we built the Moot House. The one that is built into the tea light alcove. The one with "Dominus Illuminatio Mea" engraved over it. Obviously, the inscription was a gift, from Dominux - a former don. So we can't lose the original tea light stand. The inscription would look stupid, beings it's curled round a carved tea light.

Forgot the Little Pebbles tea light stand, didn't I? They wanted their own tea light stand, and for health and safety reasons we didn't want them near the lit tea lights. So they've got a special stand, with LED tea lights. Lovely it is. They made it our of a Weetabix box at "Messy Quadragesima". It's a bit charred and tatty, but we can't lose it, can we.

And then there's the candle stands.  Six, in total. All donated by somebody who just wanted to make a statement about light in the darkness.

I'll be honest. We've kind of distorted the local candle market. The bee keepers for miles around are living in the lap of luxury, as I have run endless candle-making classes. And Tesco have just started doing tea light home delivery in an artic. But people can only light so many portable light sources, you know? We're all candled out; that's the truth of it.

And then Debriz bought us the Worship Focus Kneelers. A set of beautifully cushioned Kneelers, on which one can kneel - you probably guessed that - so as to view the Worship Focus.

Nobody has ever knelt on those Kneelers. You can see the Focus perfectly well without kneeling.

But they were donated.

Down by the South Door, we discovered an old sofa one day. Hnaef was halfway to the dump with it before we discovered it was a donation. Back it came. Had to write a letter of thanks.

And the Mission Praise first editions. In a parallel universe they might be valuable one day. But Drognir brought them with him from his old church when they threw him out. So they have to stay in the Mission Praise Cabinet that Marston so kindly built out of old pallets. And added  a brass plaque to so we can't throw them away.

The thing is, well-wishers have donated us so much general stuff, we can't actually get any worshippers into the Moot House for Spiritual Occasions. The Quire have been invisible behind the Worship Focus Tapestry (and inaudible due to the Speaker Cosies) for months.

Since the donation of all those beach balls, the weather's been pretty good. We've been out in the Orchard enjoying the wonders of nature. But the day is coming when we're gonna need to move inside for the autumn. There's only one thing for it.

I'm gonna have another Moot House built.

Sure, the other one will remain. We'll let people go in, say how lovely it is, light a tea light or bounce a liturgical beach ball. But the new Moot House is gonna be purist, austere, clean-lined, classic. And it's gonna stay that way.

Largo has already promised to donate us a carpet.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

A Controversial Call Not to Recall Parliament

Every year somebody has a reason for recalling Parliament. It's Israel / Gaza (not Nigeria, Mosul, South Sudan or anywhere else) but that's this year's reason.

I disagree with recalling Parliament under any conditions short of four horsemen appearing and grazing their horses on College Green.

MPs are useless when they're there the rest of the time. Why would they be any better in the summer?

Star Mann

I'm going to go to all the trouble of telling you about a minister in the States, who's gone to all the trouble of being snarky about my favourite trans feminist canon of a cathedral.

Lone Star Parson suggests first up that the Archbishop of Canterbury was not showing his famous negotiating skills when he took a couple of priests who happened to be women to Rome. I've no idea if that is true or not - the Archbishop never calls on me when making these kind of visits, for some reason -  but I love the suggestion he should have made sure all members - ho-ho - of a party to Rome should have been male.

Pope: "So, Archbishop - about these women priests you have?"

Archbishop: "No, none at all, your Holiness."

Pope: "But everybody knows you've got female priests."

Archbishop: "Nosiree. Can you see any here with me?"

Pope: "But we saw the 20 years celebrations, and the vote on women bishops. Lots of women wearing clerical collars."

Archbishop: "No, no. They were... erm.... eunuchs. Yep, eunuchs. That's why they were so feminine-looking."

Pope: "You have eunuchs in the Church of England?"

Archbishop: "Well, let's face it, you had them in the Vatican choir for centuries..."

Afterwards, Justin Welby catches up with his wife on the phone.

Mrs Welby: "So how did it go, Justin?"

Archbishop: "Not so bad. I accidentally mentioned Angela Tilby once, but I think I got away with it....."

The Lone Star Parson then objects to Rachel Mann on the grounds that she's a trans woman, a lesbian, and a feminist (and he nods to her also being a heavy metal fan by including a photograph of her playing the guitar). Which is odd. Because some of us might just think that what he's done there is described some aspects of this multi-talented person. Very important aspects, but then there's lots more as well. She's a decent medium-pace bowler as well, I believe, but no mention of that. Beings he's American, you'd think that would be the worse of the lot. Curiously, he accompanies this rant with another photograph - of the Pope and Archbishop with a load of men in purple frocks. But merely listing somebody's attributes does not count as criticism, in my book.

You know, I'm thinking I'm not his target audience.

Monday 4 August 2014

A Daily Mail Study in Total Cycling Irrelevance

Brilliant from the Daily Mail. A cyclist has a collision with Billy Piper. He has a serious shoulder injury. And the Mail tells us:

"The Mail on Sunday understands that the cyclist was not wearing a helmet." 

On his shoulder, presumably? What sort of a wally doesn't wear a helmet on his shoulder? What was he thinking about? We're not informed whether Ms Piper was wearing a seat belt, or for that matter a helmet, or whether her car was fitted with air-bags. At least one of which is more relevant, as a seat belt is a legal requirement, unlike a helmet.


"the teenage cyclist who was travelling downhill at a significant speed." 

So pretty obvious who was at fault, you reckon? I wonder why the speed was significant? Perhaps it was very fast, or very slow, or 3.141592654 mph. That would be pretty significant.

Still, I hope the lad heals well, and Billy gets over her shock. And don't forget, you don't have to click on the link. I take these risks so you don't have to.

Lights Going Out

Andrew Brown writes of the "First World War Ritual that sheds little light."

Well, I wonder.

Obviously we don't want the national unstiffening of upper lips we witnessed when Diana died. For one thing, it was too embarrassing for words. And for another, Elton John is too busy with his new career as a speculative theologian.

See, most of us can't remember the Empire.  The main source of information for what happened in 1914-18 for us is Blackadder. And our yardstick for whether wars are worthwhile is Iraq.

We're going to turn some lights out tonight because 100 years ago, hundreds of thousands of our countrymen - and some of our countrywomen - died. They were fighting for a cause we don't really understand, but they left gaps in our family trees. There are men buried at Cambrai and the Somme who should have been buried in Husborne Crawley, Garforth, Dunstable, Yeovil or Highgate. And we suspect that they were thrown away in someone else's game. 

And while we honour their bravery, we hate the futile way they died. And we're far enough away from it now that we can do both these things without anyone thinking we're being disrespectful to their memory when we say "What a waste".

So turn the lights out tonight. Remember the Boys. And remember that war is dreadful, and most alternatives are normally better.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. 
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Saturday 2 August 2014

"A" in Latin, "D-" in Maths

A post in the Boston Catholic Journal requests the use of Latin in the Mass, and quotes the following remarkable fact:
 The language that has been synonymous with the Catholic Church for over 2000 years has become forgotten (yes, and verboten) in less than 50.
" The language that has been synonymous with the Catholic Church for over 2000 years has become forgotten (yes, and verboten) in less than 50."

I mean, seriously? The Catholic Church has been using Latin for over 2,000 years? Since Jesus was - what? About 20? Were the words "hic haec hoc" floating across the Sea of Galilee as Peter, Andrew, James and John got their act together before they even met Our Lord?

I'm going to give them some credit for having just got a bit carried away. But I guess that's not really my beef with the piece. Neither is the use of a German word for "forbidden". I'm sure Pope Benedict will forgive them for that unfortunate slip.

Let's consider.
Every Jew knows how to pray in Hebrew, just as every Muslim knows how to pray in Arabic.
Fair enough. But Moses, presumably, spoke Hebrew (he would have been decent at Egyptian as well, I guess). David spoke Hebrew. Solomon did. Mohammed spoke Arabic.

But Jesus almost certainly didn't speak Latin. He spoke Aramaic, he'd have prayed in the Synagogue in Hebrew. He may have had a smattering of Greek. But he'd have known little or no Latin.

So there's a prima facie good reason for the people of the Syriac churches (many of them currently being expelled from parts of Iraq) to continue worshipping in Syriac, which is as near to Aramaic as you get these days. These people worship in Jesus's language.

And when Jesus's words were written down. They were written in Greek. So you could argue, if you wanted, that Greek is a good language to pray in. It's the nearest to the direct words of Our Lord that we've got.

But the history of the Church, and the fact of the Incarnation, says to me that you don't worry about the language that much. The Gospel has always been written at one step removed from what Jesus actually said, and the Church has never stopped shaping the Gospel - or being shaped by the Gospel - in whatever culture it falls into. In the Western Empire, Latin made sense - the Good News had to be shared in the language of the Empire, lived out in the Latin way. But in 21st Century England or much of the US, Latin puts the Gospel at one step removed. It's not Jesus's language, it's not the language of the people in their daytime lives. It's just another language. It's as odd as a 21st Century Englishwoman expressing her faith in 16th Century English.

I'm teasing, of course. If you are so immersed in the Latin Mass, it's a perfectly sensible language to express your worship in. If you've grown up with King James and Cranmer, 16th Century English is a perfectly good way to worship God. (I know the King James Version was 17th Century, but the language was archaic when it was written. There's nothing wrong in expressing your worship in the way you're comfortable with. But, there's nothing wrong with your own language, either.

Anyway, I must be off. It's our traditional Taize service. I do love a nice bit of Taize.

There Might be Orcs

An interesting piece on the demolition of the brutalist, concrete architecture of postwar Britain. To which I mostly think, "good". Most of it is, or was, hideous. This is mostly talking about the provincial little towns - Portsmouth, Coventry, Birmingham. But I'd like to suggest, if we're knocking stuff down, we strongly consider the Barbican and the entire South Bank complex. Oh, and Euston Tower. Centre point - that can go. And Dunstable Quadrant? Not technically in London, but close enough for my grand redevelopment.
A genuine monument to the architect
But not just to replace it with bloody glass. Glass is great from the inside, as long as you're not next to the window on a sunny day. The views from the Central London bridges, looking east inspire me and get me down by turns. The really massive buildings are individually stunning, but collectively look like the play set of a giant baby.

"And if you're really good, you can have the Walkie Talkie to play with"
Let's put in buildings where every side apart from north has to convert sunlight into energy. Let's have buildings in the shape of giant trees. Or moths.Imagine a giant moth where the Barbican is, its wings made of solar panels, twisting through the day to face the sunlight. Let's build a giant grassed hill on the Southbank, with windows piercing it like the world's biggest hobbit burrow, to complement the tower of Mordor down the road. I tell you, when I heard the Shard was being evacuated due to a fire alarm, I was hoping there might be orcs emerging out of the building and scattering across Southwark.

A Place of Sanctuary from Orcs
The man who runs a society for the architects who destroyed our joy and imagination said,
"Architects are seeing their pride and joy reduced to rubble before their eyes."
Well, good. There should be a law that, when architects are getting on in life, the local public gets a vote on whether their work should stand. If they get a no vote, the buildings should be ripped down. It would encourage the next generation to remember the people who have to live with their follies, and not only consider their vanity. If your work is as bad as Coventry city centre, you should not have the right to a legacy.
Wouldn't get knocked down in the architect's lifetime
On the basis of my new law, the Walky Talky has got about 15 years. It doesn't deserve that long, The Telecom tower, however, woud stay forever. And architects would remember that all reinforced concrete and plate glass is like grass. It lasts just as long as we want it to.

Will the Real Mary Seacole Please Stand Up

The Daily Mail (if you click you can't say I didn't warn you) does a hatchet job on the modern version of Mary Seacole's life. Though I have to say if they are right, it's a much better story than the one we hear - she was far more of a proper heroine than I imagined. What a woman! Tending to people's needs while making a fortune. I find my heart strangely warmed.

But a hint to the Mail. If you're gonna do a number on somebody else's version of history, don't tell us that a new statue is the first memorial to Mary Seacole, and then underneath it have a picture of the blue plaque to her in Soho Square. You're just shooting yourself in the foot, aren't you?

Friday 1 August 2014

Answering a Question Invalidly

It's not often I dip the toes of the druidical slingbacks into Catholic controversy. But just this once. With a hat-tip to Rorate Coeli (which probably knows the title of the blost is quoting Our Lord out of context....)

The response of Dom Cláudio Hummes (Brazilian cardinal apparently) to a simple question is revealing, or not. I think it's an invalid answer. Or maybe an invalid question.

The question was:
"If Jesus were alive today, would he be in favor of gay marriage?" 
The answer it received was:

"I don't know, I formulate no hypothesis on this. Who must answer this is the Church in its entirety. We must take care not to raise issues individually, because this ends up creating more difficulties for us to reach a valid conclusion. I think we must get together, listen to people, those who have an interest, the bishops. It is the Church that must indicate the ways, and there must be a way for all."

The correct answer, of course, should have been:

"What do you mean, "if"? Ask me a sensible question and we'll do some proper theology on the answer."

Here it is in the original Portugese.

Back in the Good Old C of E

For those that aren't aware through other routes, the churches in the place where I spent a short sabbatical last year have their church magazine letters online.

The August edition is here. Disappointed in Margorie. You'd think she could keep Bradley under better control

Liturgy For Yorkshire Day

Archdruid: 'Appen as 'appen.

All: Aye, 'appen.

Archdruid: Hast seen their Ronald?

All: Aye, appen as might.

Hymn: On Ilkley Moor Baht 'at

Three worshippers of the Ancient Yorkshire Gods await the End of the World according to the Prophet Bickerdyke


Oh Great Earnshaw, forgive us if we have ever said the beer's better down south. Overlook it if we ever accidentally overpaid for something. Do not remember when we have spoken more than we needed. And let us off if we ever caused trouble at t' mill. And let us never doubt Geoffrey Boycott. And deliver us from ever going to London.

Billy Fisher: London? A man could lose himself in London, Mr Shadrack. Looooooose himself...... 

Charlii: Didn't you say that last year?

Billy Fisher: I'm from Yorkshire. It saves me buying another order of service.

Reading from the Prophet Bickerdyke

"Make a note Gunnershaw. The world will end at 17 minutes past 2, on Wednesday...... urghhh"

Norman Clegg: I'm glad today is Friday.

Archdruid: And Lammas Day, Norman. The day of the first loaf...

Wally Batty: Eeh, ah remember when I used to push t'bike up t'road to t'bakers to get a loaf of Hovis. Then I found out t'hill were in Dorset. Awful push that were.

St Geoffrey: Dorset? Tha were looky. I 'ad to push my bike - with no wheels - up the North Face o' t'Eiger, in a snowstorm, wearing a flat cap and clogs. And if you told Alistair Cook that, 'e wouldn't believe you.

St Geoffrey is beaten with sticks of rhubarb by a collection of grannies.

Hymn: Gradely is thy Faithfulness

The Hooter of Blessing sounds, and the Beaker Folk depart t'mill in silence.