Sunday 30 November 2014

Have Yourself a Self-Referential Christmas

It's the thing I finally twigged this year. That I'd never considered before. A thing so obvious, that I should have got it. And now I have.

That as Christmas drifts further from its roots, there's no shortage of Christmas music being played. There are radio stations in the United States that play 24-hour Christmas music. From October.

And yet Christmas used to stop on 12th night, just in time for Epiphany. And now it finishes, basically, on Boxing Day.

And that is because, to a large degree, once you've reached Boxing Day, the centrepiece of Christmas itself is redundant. As I have pointed out before, this centrepiece of Christmas - the one person on whom it all centres - is Father Christmas. And once he's delivered his presents, it's all over. That's it. Time to get down to DFS and buy a new sofa.

I think we can track the problem with Christmas through the songs. In the beginning, there were a few Latin hymns for the Nativity. "Adeste Fidelis" and all that. And then the great folk carols that were sung in the days of West Gallery Quires - "Arise and Hail", and "While Shepherds Watched" and "Remember O Thou Man" - that last written by the man who also wrote "3 Blind Mice", as it happened. Those songs were about Jesus, about the Incarnation, about Redemption, about the mystery of faith. Powerful stuff. And on Boxing Day, you could still sing carols - because Jesus is still with us on Boxing Day as well. The Incarnation is, after all, a thing that lasts for ever.

But then songs, and belief, changed. There were the songs about happy imaginary cartoon characters at Christmas time - "Frosty the Snowman", "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", "Rockin' Robin", "When Santa Got Stuck up the Chimney". Songs about the weather, as traditionally conceived at Christmas in the higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, "White Christmas", "Let it Snow", "Winter Wonderland".

But then there were the songs about being happy at Christmas, because it's Christmas and Christmas is happy. "Silver Bells", "I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day", "Mistletoe and Wine" and - most insipid and insidious of them all - "Wonderful Christmas Time".

Yep, "Wonderful Christmas Time".

"The party's on
The feeling's here
That only comes
This time of year

Simply having a wonderful Christmas time
Simply having a wonderful Christmas time

The choir of children sing their song
They practiced all year long
Ding dong, ding dong
Ding dong."    - By Lennon, McCartney, Starkey, Harrison.

So we're feeling good because it's Christmas.  And what is it that makes us feel good about Christmas? Well, it's Christmas time, innit? We're simply having a wonderful Christmas time. We like Christmas because it's Christmas. The modern Christmas is the festive equivalent of the Bitcoin. Because, cut off from its roots - whether Christian or alleged pagan - and when you consider it's at the most miserable time of the year, when it's dark all the time and there's almost certainly no snow, it's the celebratory equivalent of lifting yourself up in the bucket you're standing in. And what on earth are McCartney and friends doing, listening to a choir of children who only know one song and yet have spent all year practising it? They must be rubbish.

Do you know why I like "Fairytale of New York"? Because it blows the self-referential away. All the singing of the NYPD choir, the bells ringing out, the fact it's Christmas Day - are shown for what they are as two addled losers slag each other off amid their drink-drowned dreams.

And, obviously, it sounds nice and Christmassy. Have yourself a self-referential Christmas. I'm off to play that one by the Darkness. 

An Illiterable Petition

Intrigued by the truth or otherwise of an Internet meme about a man moaning about live music, I found this petition.

It seems pretty reasonable to me that nobody moving near a live music venue should be able to complain about the music - in the same way that someone moving to a village should not be allowed to complain about the church bells or clock, the farm lorries driving down road, the sheep, cocks crowing, cattle lowing or foxes being accidentally stood on by the local hunt - honest guv.

Except that the flaw in the wording did it for me:

"There are innumerate cases of people knowingly moving within close proximity of live music venues, only to try to have their licenses revoked or have them closed completely when they take exception to the noise."

These innumerate cases are such a nuisance, aren't they? "Mrs Jones, I put it to you that when you complained about music going on till 11pm at the Eight Bells Pub, it actually went on till 10pm at the Nine Bells..... Furthermore, the groups you were complaining about were not tribute acts to the Dave Clark 9, Fun Boy 6 or Heaven 23." 

Saturday 29 November 2014

Welcome to the Future

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates." 
It's one of the great climate scare stories, which crops up from time to time. Frogs in Cornwall have started spawning early.  The Guardian says that, according to experts, this is because of climate change - this is the earliest frogs have spawned in Cornwall for nearly ten years. They also say the frogs are spawning 5 months early. Which would imply that frogs in Cornwall normally spawn at the end of April. Which is, frankly, a load of mouldy frogspawn. Even in these frozen climes north of London, the frogs are merrily doing what frogs do in February/March time in the average year. They're way ahead of that on the Lizard peninsular. They're never happier than when spawning, Cornish frogs. Dirty beggars.

And hang on. The article implies that, nearly ten years ago, the frogs spawned even earlier. So does that mean that, compared to nearly ten years ago, our autumns are actually getting colder*? Nobody dwells on what was going on back then.

Except me. I've done a bit of research (i.e. I googled the words "Frogs breeding in October") and discovered an article from the West Briton in 2009 - which says that frogspawn had died in a sharp frost because "Species like the frogs have adapted their lifecycles to make the most of the mild winters, breeding in October rather than the more usual spring."

So the Guardian's experts are talking drivel. Frogs spawned much earlier than this 5 or 6 years ago, and people thought it was the new normal.

Frogs are not the cold-blooded, calculating creatures you might imagine, from the Guardian's description of them. Nope. They mooch about in the ponds and hedgerows, and when the weather's about right they decide it's time to make little frogs. Then they all dive in the pond, and do what frogs do. If they get it wrong, and the weather turns sharply colder afterwards, or the pond dries up, the frogspawn all dies and the Guardian writes sad little articles about how the weather has "confused" the frogs.

I have three conclusions out of all this. One is that frogs, like Guardian journalists, are rather dim creatures that know little about climate. The second is that I've probably used the word "spawn" too much for a family blog already.And the other is, if we are anything like frogs, then waiting for the "right time" to do anything is doomed to failure. If something is the right thing to do, then we may as well do it.

It's easy, says Jesus. Look out for the signs of the times - it's just like checking the state of the fig leaves - when the leaves are green and tender, summer's nearly here. The trouble is, in 2,000 years of waiting, people have decided the time is now over and over again, and they've never been right. From Hilary of Poitiers in 365, through hundreds of failed medieval prophecies, many of them brought about by plague and war - all the way through the Jehovah's Witnesses up to Harold Camping - there's a certainty that only one prophecy of the end of the world, if that, will ever be right. And so far they've all been wrong.

So Jesus tells us, look out for the signs - but nobody knows when it will be. So what do we do?

Stay awake, he says. Be ready. I guess it reminds me of those old English farces, the sort of play where - for perfectly rational reasons - somebody has lost their trousers, the maiden Aunt is plastered, there's three blokes who aren't vicars, sat on the couch in clerical attire, the house is in uproar, and there's a knock on the door and the cry goes up "oh no! It's the vicar!" So the person who lost his trousers has to jump into a cupboard - the one that, for some other perfectly rational reason, the vicar keeps wanting to look into. And the knocking they keep hearing is the drunken maiden aunt they've chucked in a trunk. And the three blokes dressed as vicars have to pretend they're real ones, and discuss the problem of Socinianism at great length, and try to get out of taking the wedding ceremony that - for technical reasons the real vicar is unable to take. And they've thrown the prominent local UKIP politician out the window**. And the point with that kind of farce is, if they'd known the vicar was arriving at any minute - they'd have kept Aunt Mabel off the gin, and the bloke with no trousers would have clung onto them at any cost. And the blokes who aren't vicars wouldn't have dressed up as if they were. And the UKIP politician would probably still have been thrown out the window, because who wants one of those on the premises?

If the servant wants the Lord to come back and find that the floors are swept and the windows are clean and there's food in the fridge ready and a bottle of bubbly nicely chilled ready to welcome the Lord back - then there's no  point the servant thinking that he or she will have plenty of warning. Yes, in these enlightened times, Tesco is open 24 hours a day. And would be more, if they could. But if the servant's fast asleep when the key turns in the lock, and the floor's dusty and the fridge is empty and the fire's gone out and the central heating hasn't been maintained in 5 years - it's all a bit late to deal with it, there and then.

In other words, there's only one way for us to get ready for Jesus's return. It's not to keep looking, keep watching the horizon, looking for astronomical line-ups of planets, It's not doing bizarre calculations of the dates of prophets and kings to work it out - did you know Isaac Newton spent more time doing speculative apocalyptic calculations than doing Science? When the Lord came for him, did old Isaac wonder where he'd got his sums wrong, or did he wish he'd done more Science?

No, there's only one way that the house would be ready for the Lord, whenever he arrived - and that would be for the servants to keep it habitable all the time. The champagne in the fridge. The microwave meal in the freezer - well, you wouldn't want to waste food. The floors swept. The windows clean. The fire laid. The plumbing tested. The smoke detectors with good batteries.

So how are our lives going to be, if Jesus arrives unexpectedly? Have we lapsed into apathy - expecting that, as the days turn into years, no tomorrow will ever appear? Have we set up our systems, our practices, our expectations as if they'll go on forever, much as they are? Have we forgotten the warning that Jesus is returning "soon"? When Jesus comes again, when heaven and earth are joined as one, then the whole world will be filled with love and the light of the Lamb. Are we doing that today? Are we loving each neighbour - whether we like them or not, whether they are respectable or definitely not - as if they're the Lord who will return? Are we thinking that, if time is short then we have a need to tell everybody about the Name of the one who will save them from sin and hell - or are we thinking that, if we leave them to ponder long enough, they might become like us in the end?

Are we keeping things tidy for the Lord's return? Or are we gazing out the window, thinking, "no sign of him", and heading off to bed thinking the state of our lives can wait? Are we living each day as if it might be the day we are judged - or are we putting that off till tomorrow? Are we living in the past, or in the present, or in the expectation that, at any point in our present, somebody might say "Welcome to the Future"?

Nobody knows the day. I wouldn't even try to. Just live like it might be today.

*Not lately. Nothing much has changed in 20 years.
** Yeah, to be honest, I don't watch many farces. I assume this is the sort of thing that goes on.

The Traditional Modern All Purpose Fusion Christmas Card

It's that great dilemma at this time of year, isn't it? Should we have funny cards, novelty cards, snow or the traditional nativity? Santa, snow, robins? If we use a traditional nativity will people think we're too up-tight? If we go for all funny cards are we giving the message that the true story of Christmas doesn't matter?

Well, worry no more. With the new "Beaker Blended Tradition" range of cards, you can satisfy all Christmas requirements. It's a way of pleasing everybody, this Christmas.

And in many ways, it's a parable of modern Christmas. Rudolph takes the attention, the robin's cute, Santa's arriving and, over to one side quietly, barely noticeable, a baby has been born.

Friday 28 November 2014

I had a Dream Last Night....

I had a dream last night. I dreamed I was leading Pouring out of Beakers, but I had lost the order of service. And I was supposed to be preaching, but I didn't have a sermon. And I didn't have the readings, but Burton Dasset was supposed to be reading. And he kept looking at me, asking what the reading was, but I couldn't remember. So I gave him the Little Book of Calm, but he asked me what page. And I didn't know.

I guess that's just me?

Celebrating Yuleval

And so, on this Black Friday, we at the Beaker Folk celebrate the start of the feast of Yuleval.

We chose "Yuleval" to express the ancient concept of the month of "Yule", relayed from our Anglian (but not Anglican) forebears** through the Venomous Bede* to the present day. To Bede, "Yule" was just a name. But to us, "Yuleval" is a state of mind.

"Yuleval" means no judgement - no claims of one religious festival over all others.
"Yuleval" means songs and poems, tales of old and happy remembrances, around log fires. Or, failing that, log-effect electric fires.
"Yuleval" means presents, Santa, cribs, reindeer and stables. But no genocidal king, killing children and giving us terrifying questions about why God preserves one but leaves the rest.
"Yuleval" means bling, tea lights, light-up snowpeople and dancing penguins.
"Yuleval" means a direct contact with our pagan ancestors, cuddly feelings and an excuse to have several jars.

Obviously, "Yuleval" only lasts until the day after Boxing Day. After that, we're in the season of Hogmanay.  Which lasts until the feast of "CreditCardBill". When we all get a bit down, to be honest.

Join us, this year, in celebrating Yuleval. It'll really upset the Daily Mail.

* Thank you, 1066 and all that.
** According to ancient Beaker myth, everybody evolved from four bears.
*** Bling from the very worthy and awesome Karl's Christmas Display.

Liturgy for Black Friday

Hymn: Manic Monday

Archdruid: It's Black Friday.

All: Ooooh!

Archdruid: To be followed by Cyber Monday!

All: Ooooh!

Archdruid: Then Ruby Tuesday, Sheffield Wednesday and Thursday Night Football.

All: Isn't that American?

Archdruid: Aren't they all? Let's join in our Litany of Materialism.

All: We bemoan this Black Friday that we have let God down
We have let ourselves down
We have started once again marking times and seasons
Not those that remember things that matter
Not remembering the rising and setting of the sun, the changing of the moon, the story of salvation
But dates tied instead to the desperation of retail marketing departments promotional cycles
We have heard the urge, deep within ourselves, to hoard up new belongings
While dispatching the old ones they replace
As aid to the countries that our selfishness makes poor.
We confess that even now
The entire back row is surfing for the new Paddington souvenir merchandising at 25% off
- hurry while it lasts
While Hnaef is quite clearly shopping for a new external hard drive
Under the pretence of looking up Eileen's Bible references in the original Greek on an iPhone app.
And so we recognise our weakness, 
Reproach ourselves for our transgressions,
And wish this service were over.
We've got cheap day returns to London where we plan to tear up Oxford Street
And at 5.30, when we return to the terminus 
- hallowed by Pancras and Betjeman
- we will complain to the guard that our tickets are not allowed on the train until 7pm
And we will get in the way of grumpy commuters with folding bikes
- and we shall repair to the Betjeman Arms [or, they may say, "The Euston Flyer" or"Doric Arch" or, if allowed by the Ordinary (and they don't get much Ordinary than the Archdruid) Bree Louise]
And there shall we bemoan that the evil retailers have sucked us into their orgy of materialism
That it was not our fault - we were merely the hapless victims in all this
And that London, having beer at 4 quid a pint [or they may say "Prosecco at 30 quid a bottle"] is a rip off
And we wish there were no such thing as Christmasses 
And we'll be glad when it's all over.

Archdruid: so you see, in a very real sense, we're all to blame for Black Friday

Hymn: "Saturday Night Fever"

Archdruid: go, and shop till you drop.

All: See you later!

Thursday 27 November 2014


Since Blogger, Facebook and Twitter have changed their terms to allow themselves to publish the things other people write on the Internet, we have to take action immediately before discovering that our entire social lives have been converted into e-Books, and sold via the Dark Net to used net-curtain salespeople in North Korea.

I thereby declare that in accord with Space Corps Directive 1742, no Social Media outlet or political party is allowed to confuse the Moot House with a mosque, publish my complete DNA profile, steal Monty the Penguin, or publish this blog post in such a way that anybody can read it.

If Blogger puts itself in contravention of this directive, it is liable to fines not exceeding 46 jelly babies (or 51 if at least 5 are raspberry flavour), the sequestration of its mineral rights to alluvial sediment, and the complete loss of function of its mojo.

Copy and paste if you want to put content on your blog or Facebook page that actually means nothing, but begs the question of why you continue to use something you're convinced is conspiring against you, a for-profit organisation you seem to believe is a public service.

Infinite Intercession

Oh gosh I've offended a lot of people.

Trouble was, Bodric's prayers of intercession. If there was a relative of a Beaker Person, a small town in the Middle East or a low-grade disaster anywhere in the world that went un-prayed-for, I couldn't tell you what it is.

Anyway, after twenty minutes I decided enough was enough.  So very, very quietly, so as not to disturb anyone, I snuck out of the Moot House and went off for a cup of tea.

So I've just had a delegation. Turns out "you shouldn't do that when you're leading the service". When Bodric got to the end and nothing happened, they just all sat there in silence, waiting for me to move on to the Beaker Pouring. They reckon it's the longest morning service in history.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Not Going to Church on Sunday

Back to the subject of busy people not going to Church. Interesting article at Standing on My Head on why Anglicans Don't go to Church on Sunday. Actually, until immigration changed the figures, Catholics didn't much either, in England. And Fr Dwight's assurance that as long as we all become Catholics and go to Mass, everything will be fine reminds me of something. Now what was it?

.....and then three priests appear with a mobile altar
Is there anything to be said for another Mass?
Oh yeah. I remember.

But I was also much taken by  John the Lutheran's quotation from Ford Madox Ford,
 Tietjens had walked in the sunlight down the lines, past the hut with the evergreen climbing rose, in the sunlight, thinking in an interval good-humouredly about his official religion: about the Almighty as, on a colossal scale, a great English Landowner, benevolently awful, a colossal duke who never left his study and was thus invisible, but knowing all about the estate down to the last hind at the home farm and the last oak: Christ, an almost too benevolent Land-Steward, son of the Owner, knowing all about the estate down to the last child at the porter’s lodge, apt to be got round by the more detrimental tenants: the Third Person of the Trinity, the spirit of the estate, the Game as it were, as distinct from the players of the game: the atmosphere of the estate, that of the interior of Winchester Cathedral just after a Handel anthem has been finished, a perpetual Sunday, with, probably, a little cricket for the young men.  
Ford Madox Ford, Parade’s End (No More Parades, part 1, chapter 4)
Fr Dwight's stereotypes - the harassed female priest in the image, soup kitchens, "a blend of the Girl Scouts, Being Spiritual and the Power of Positive Thinking" - they're unfair on the priest, the people that run soup kitchens, the Girl Scouts. He's got a beautiful line:
"...a transaction with the supernatural, the threshold of heaven, the staircase to the stars, the grittiness of repentance and redemption, the soul’s salvation and the heart’s homing"
 If Jesus is to be encountered, Jesus tells us, he is encountered in the sort of people you meet in soup kitchens. There's a transaction with the supernatural, you have repentance and redemption and the soul's salvation (if we are to take the story of sheep and goats seriously) at the soup kitchen. A direct encounter, Jesus tells us, with his body. Don't knock soup kitchens. This God isn't the absent  Lord of the Manor, or his dilettante Son. This God is here, physically, in the bodies of the poor and homeless.

But the encounter with Jesus in the soup kitchen - that is, for the average Christian, a giving-out. And, if it's not funded properly, fuelled the right way, then it is still a virtue with its own reward, but busy-ness alone, the service of the  poor or the acts of social goodness - well, they can become world-bound without their cosmic connection.

Because we do meet that body of Jesus elsewhere - we encounter body and blood in the Mass, and we know the Word alive in us when God's word is preached. A Christianity that is alive when hearing the Gospel, when gathered round the Lord's table, is alive when serving the poor. Yes, Fr Dwight is right. Let's be lifted up to Heaven in the Mass (and let's be brought to the throne of God by the preaching of his word). And then, when we've done that - let's feed the Jesus that we've fed on, And do you know what, if we're preaching the word, receiving the sacraments and feeding the poor - let's not worry too much who goes to church on Sunday. We'll leave that to God.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Drive-Thru Church

Drive-Thru Church is the first official Beaker response to the news that cathedral attendance keeps going up, especially mid-week.

It's based on the following key principles:
1. People need a spiritual connection;
2. People are time-poor, but some of them are money-rich;
3. Very few cathedrals are located conveniently for ring roads and motorways:
4. The possibility of selling merchandising relating to nearby cathedrals;
5. Some people are so addicted to their cars that you might as well let them stay in them;
6. It works for weddings in Las Vegas.
7. Involvement and commitment are, like, so Christendom.

In essence, it's a cross between a Drive-Thru McDonald's and a car wash. Cars pull up in one of the six "worship bays". Each "worship bay" is decorated in the style of a familiar worship location: St Paul's, the Sagrada Familia, Lourdes, Walsingham, Buckfast Abbey, or Stonehenge.  Opening the windows, worshippers then receive all the traditional requirements of a full cathedral service experience:

1. A recording of a psalm (Goodall's "Dibley" theme);
2. A recording of a reading;
3. By a cunning combination of electric fields and white noise, the vaguely uncomfortable feeling that you don't know what you're doing;
4. The Lord's Prayer (BCP, natch);
5. Something by Standford.

The car is then wheeled forward on a conveyor, where the cashier - sorry, officiant - will give you a vague assurance of God's forgiveness, ask for a donation and try to sell you a fridge magnet of Salisbury Cathedral, or a set of coasters featuring the ikon of St Alban. If you don't offer a donation, but have a contactless payment card, don't worry. We'll sort something out.

All told you'll be in and, spiritually refreshed, back out in 10 minutes.  Who says the Church can't move with the times?

Warning: Drive-Thru Church may not have any noticeable effect on the state of your soul. Typical 256% APR. Your home may be at risk if you do not keep up your payments. Terms and conditions apply. If in any doubt, consult your Spiritual Director.

Church and Love and Work and Life and Time

I shall have more later, I suspect, to say on the theory that cathedral services are thriving because it's easier to fit a half-hour dash into a city-centre building than it is to get up and organised and get the kids together and plan your way round shopping and weekend sport and visits to Granny.

But the idea of church for the time-poor did chime in with my experience, when visiting Facebook, of seeing an advert for an online dating agency for people who are too busy to have time to meet potential partners through the usual, time-consuming methods of having hobbies and interests, going to the pub or having mutual friends. Which made me think.

If your busy work life means you're too short on time to find a soul mate, how will you find the time to maintain a relationship?

Answers on a postcard please. No photographs. Especially not that kind of photograph.

Monday 24 November 2014

English Church by Numbers

5Average number of references to previous ministers in a church meeting.
6 years How out of date the  "latest news" is on the average church website.
2Average number of tweets after which a new social media ministry runs into the sand. Number 1 is always "Trying to work out how this Twitter thing works".
55Average age of the children of choir members
65Average age of people who think "Shine Jesus Shine" is a modern hymn
7Number of people in the average town who know what the Rend Collective is
4Number of people on General Synod who have a day job that can't broadly be described as "Church stuff".
761Number of hours from Tulsa, if a church committee meeting had to debate whether it was a bad idea to go there, whether somebody had been there before and it hadn't been very nice, or whether there were other medium-sized cities in Oklahoma that should be considered by the "where we should go to in Oklahoma sub-committee" before definitely committing to going to Tulsa. 
23Number of attendees at the monthly "Benefice Together Service", when there are 5 churches in the benefice, each with an average attendance of 23.
3Average number of points in a 3-point sermon, if the preacher hasn't been infected with the virus of post-modernism. 
45%Decrease in regular congregation when there's a baptism in the main service.
1.8Average number of  persons that members of the congregation actually believe are in the Trinity.
5thThe Sunday in a month that transcends the laws of time and space, melts rotas, leaves people in the wrong place doing the wrong job, and can cause the church to fall into a black hole and enter another universe.
4Average weekly attendance of a medium-sized church, if the Treasurer filled in the annual return.
29%Proportion of church members who are to all intents and purposes Arminian
35%Proportion of church ministers who are to all intents and purposes Arminian
25Number of times you have to play "Just as I am" as an altar call, before somebody takes one for the team and goes forward for prayer.
5Average charisma of an atheist on Reddit, if Joe Wilkinson off of "8 out of 10 Cats" scores 12.
95Occupants of the graveyard that are alleged to be turning in their graves, if the church reordering goes ahead.
15Most tea lights you can light on a tea light stand without the danger of a chorister having a toupee go up in smoke becoming serious.
3Final number of nonconformist churches in a town, if the two nonconformist churches decide it's a good idea to unite.
15 yearsTime the average church member spends in committee meetings in a lifetime.
Average number of Property Committee meetings it would take to decide that renting the church hall out to a group of hamster-worshippers was not a good idea. 
15Members of a Methodist choir above which the vibrato can go critical and start causing quantum effects. 
712%Amount bigger the congregation would be, if all the people who claim to be speaking for "other people" were telling the truth.
17Number of ghosts that still have a say on the running of a typical church.
3.141592654Number of points in a three-point sermon in a Catholic Church, if the Bishop is a member of the "Magic Circle". But it's all Pi in the sky.
1.5Number of people who know the new song that the band really wants to play. Including the people in the band.*
4Average number of people who turn up an hour late when the clocks go forward.
52Weeks of the year when a visitor will be told "there's a lot of people away this week...."
1/177Ratio of people who know who a Christian celebrity is, to the number of people who know who a proper celebrity is.
2Different opinions in a church committee meeting when 12 people are there.
31Different opinions on the same subject, in the church car park afterwards.
3Number of people that everybody claims do all the work.
45Number of people who claim to be one of the three who do all the work.

*thanks to Raquelita for this one.

In the 49th hour, God Rested

Quick worrying thought re the 6 days of Creation.

Did God break the EU 48 hour Working Time Directive?  I mean, logically, six 12-hour days is a lot more. Naturally, being English, God could opt out. But if so, which employer would be required to give God a waiver form?

Sunday 23 November 2014

With Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Obviously, I blame myself.

Though mostly I blame Ashley.

When we had our "spontaneous worship" Occasion this evening, I was very keen that all could - spontaneously and freely - contribute. Following Paul's words in 1 Corinthians, I encouraged people to bring a song, or a psalm, or a verse, or a word.

Ashley brought a Psalm.

Number 119.

In the end, we carried her outside and left her in the car park. It was the only way we could finish the service.

On the Use of Greek Translation in Sermons

I'd like to thank Brother Lewes, from the Windmill Hill Folk of Whipsnade, for his sermon this morning.

Sadly we didn't tell him about our rule on the exposition of Greek words in sermons. To wit, that if anyone uses a mistranslation of a Greek word from the New Testament, or else over-stretches the exegesis of the original Greek to the point where they're putting in more than they're taking out, Marston Moretaine throws a bucket of iced water at them.

Lewes did comment on the buckets before the Ritual, but I admit I forgot to mention their use. You'd think, after the way he got a bonus bucket for his misuse of the Greek word for "worship", that he'd get the message. But there's something about preaching while people throw buckets of water and ice at you that can be very disorientating.

Then, I'm afraid, he explained the meaning of the word "liturgy". Thing is, if you solemnly tell us that it means the "work of the people....." well, it's kinda like catching the Snitch. A "bingo" or "mah jong" effect kicks in. All consideration of buckets of water are forgotten.

And I don't like it any more than the next Archdruid. It's not like I enjoy it. After all, Lewes is our guest.  But rules are rules. We didn't throw him into the Holy Well of St Bogwulf for fun.

I can still hear him hollering now. But the tradition says he has to stay there "till the stain of bad exposition is washed away by the healing stream".

We'll give him another half-hour, then we'll lower a rope for him. I hope he'll be OK to preach at Filling up of Beakers tonight.

Another Kind of Throne

It's been quite a week for considering who our rulers should be.

UKIP are proudly claiming that their victories in a couple of by-elections are because they're plucky outsiders, ordinary ex-public-school, ex-City-worker, ex-Tory MPs like the rest of us. It's a wonder they get away with it. But then an equal wonder to me is the number of people who think they can deal with  UKIP simply through scorn and simple labelling. Calling UKIP "Nazis" or "fascists", for example. Fascism is about top-down, totalitarian control and the worship of power. It's not a bunch of chinless wonder libertarians. Or calling their supporters "stupid". Is that how we persuade people these days, just by calling them "stupid". You can imagine the discussion on the doorstep: 
"You're going to vote UKIP? You must be really stupid." 
"I have seen the light of my ways. I shall immediately become a LibDem supporter. I shall trade my white van for a Prius. Oh wow. Suddenly my IQ has doubled. I must buy some flowers for my pet mouse, Algernon."
The apotheosis of which attitude was the sneer-fest that is Radio 4'a News Quiz. Although, when I hear that programme, I always feel so sorry for Jeremy Hardy. It's no wonder he's so bitter and cynical. It must be a hard job, being the straight man on a comedy quiz. At least Sandi Toksvig gets a script.

But what the Twitter sneers and News Quiz ridicule do is reinforce the impression that UKIP are creating. The image of today's Labour Party as a pasty North London face, knocking back a skinny latte, looking down its nose at a man with a Union Jack tattoo, forever. A party sat on its IKEA throne, giving unchallenged instructions.

The constant idea that somebody else has the right to decide what is good for us. The idea that we're to stupid to have real views, and need to be pandered to through simple images. If the British Left wants to get a proper mandate, let it talk properly about fairness and solidarity, about the whole of society. If your idea of better policies is trying to prevent your leader looking a prat when he's eating breakfast, then don't be surprised when one idiotic photograph and comment loses one of your Shadow Cabinet her job.  In the words of St Jarvis Cocker, and this goes for Tories as well - the future that you've got mapped out is nothing much to shout about. The only parties showing any vision these days are the Greens and the SNP. Yet it's the Tories and Labour who are assuming the right to rule us.

The self-enthroning assumption made by other people that they've got a right to rule. The Right on the basis that they've got more money and are from the right background - the Left on the bizarre premise, never backed up in fact, that they're somehow more moral - better people - than the rest of us. And then, in other times and/or other places, the idea that somebody or other has God's ear, or speaks God's words. And then they set out to prove it with swords, knives, guns and fire.

On a cross outside a city hangs a naked Jewish man. He claims to have God's ear, and to speak God's words.  He has chosen to prove this by not raising an army, by not looking down on the poor, by speaking on an equal level with the oppressed. And he has asserted what are the rights of God's only Son by laying them down, going quietly - like a lamb to slaughter. And in dying because he was seen as a threat to those in power - the ones claiming kingship, the one acting with Imperial authority - he's shown up human power for the lie and abuse it is. He's thrown down a challenge to the rule of the Prince and princelings of this world. Their power is useless - scared of one unarmed bloke? Their time will pass. 

He's given up a throne in heaven for another kind of throne. One which doesn't stand for judgement but forgiveness and freedom. It stands the right to rule on its head, and rejects every entitlement - even the one that comes from breathing life into every human soul. Another kind of power. Another kind of ruler. Another kind of world. Another kind of throne.

Thursday 20 November 2014

"If Jesus Was Alive"

There's a lot of it about. "If Jesus Was Alive....."

OK. If you write "if Jesus was alive" you have no right to continue. The only reason Jesus is known today is because of the belief, held by his Church, that he is in fact alive. His importance rests on that claim, not on his teaching which, for the most part, is not that radical. We all, after all, know what good looks like. Apart from ISIS, obviously. And Kim Jung-Il. And the management of One Direction.

Don't go trying to own Jesus by telling us what he'd be like if he "was alive". You're just using our God and hero to back up your - frankly, rather pants - sentimentality. Use John Lennon, or Davy Crockett, or Lady Di, or Errol Flynn, or somebody. They are not alive (I've not included Elvis, you will notice) - or, if they are, they owe it all to the above-mentioned Jesus - and their reputations do not rest on the claim that they are in fact alive. Whereas if the Church didn't believe Jesus was alive, you'd never have heard of him. Do not co-opt our religion into your sad little world. Stop picking random good guys and attaching them to your own self-aggrandizement.

But - above all else- realise the great crime you've committed.

It should be "If Jesus were alive". Do you fools have no idea how the subjunctive / conditional construction works?

Ironically, there's only one person who ever got it right....

This doesn't make me happy. And he doesn't look a thing like Jesus.

The Day a COBOL Programmer Heard the Call to Ministry


Wednesday 19 November 2014

How to Deal with a Church Row (Anglican Version)

Make All Teachers Wear Hi Viz

Concern from Burton Dasset, fresh back from a day in the Smoke.

While proceeding in a northerly manner in the Somers Town area, Burton noticed a crocodile of schoolchildren. All, in the interests of Health and Safety, wearing hi viz tabards.

So far so eminently sensible, in Burton's view. Indeed, Burton once ordered a giant hi viz for his house, to stop lorries driving into it. Had to take it down after that pilot on the approach to Luton went temporarily blind.

But I digress. Burton's point is this. Given all the kids are dressed up like mini Bob the Builder tribute acts - why not the teachers? Are they not also in the gloomy early North London morning? Or does hi viz only work on under-18s?

Indeed, if a bus driver were to see hi viz-clad kids either side of the road, and none in the middle, they might assume the road was clear and progress. Only to discover that a dark-clad teacher was camouflaged in the middle of the lane.

No, teachers must wear hi viz, at all times and in all places. Even in bed. We've got to keep them safe.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Charges for Criticism

Thanks to Broadway Hotel, Blackpool for the idea.

From now on, the tariff of charges is as follows:

Pilgrims criticising the Community........................................... £40

Accusations of heresy ................................................................£50

Pinging hazelnuts at the picture of Mother Julian ....................... 20p

Moaning about the food .............................................................£28

Letters to the Church Times ....................................................... £4

Comments on Guardian Articles .................................. 10 a penny

Complaining that things ain't what they used to be .................. 2 guineas

Failure to return borrowed pebbles after three days .............10p per pebble

Theft of the Ark of the Covenant ............................. 50 tumours of gold

Trolling the archdruid on Twitter.............................................. £45

Failure to read the small print .................................................... priceless

The PCC - A One-off Church Meeting / Chemistry Cartoon Strip

Monday 17 November 2014

Flower Ferapy Fraud

Load of money I wasted on this. They swore blind to me that Bach's Flower Remedies were just the thing. Exactly the kind of kind alternative therapy the Beaker Folk would appreciate. So I ordered the complete set.

Bloody rose bush still died. Useless.

If Church Committees Had Written Famous Works

The Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)

"And so," concluded Elrond, "although I thank Gimli son of Gloin for telling us about the friendly welcome he received from the folk of Moria last time he was there, and we all laughed at the account of funny things Aragorn has heard Gandalf say in sermons, and though we agree with Frodo that hobbits are disgracefully overlooked for selection in the sport of basketball - can we please move onto the question of what we're going to do with this Ring of Power?

The Italian Job

Michael Caine: Hang on, lads - I've got a great idea. But before we stop the bus toppling over into cliff, can we take a moment to hear Mr Croker's reminiscences of what it was like being a gay gangster in 1960s Parkhurst.

The Three Musketeers (Dumas)

"All for one, and one for.... d'Artagnan, do you really want to divide by houses? You always win the "non-musketeer" vote anyway."

The Mayor of Casterbridge (Hardy)

One evening of late summer, before the nineteenth century had reached one-third of its span, a young man and woman, the latter carrying a child, were approaching the large village of Weydon-Priors, in Upper Wessex, on foot. I was that child, and I would like to share with you my entire life experiences from that day to now.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Lewis)

"Reepicheep, you can't make it to the utter East. It was tried before, in the last vicar's time, and it was a disaster." 

Julius Caesar (Shakespeare)

Antony: Friends, Romans, countrymen. Lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. 

But before we start, can I bring your attention to the shocking state of the Senate drawing-pin fund? Over the last 12 months it has been running at 73% over budget. Indeed, if it were not for the tireless efforts of volunteers throughout the Empire, recycling drawing pins after they have been stuck into notice boards, having checked first that the notices they pin up are advertising events that have now happened - sometimes even straightening the pins out - for who among us, friends, Romans, countrymen, have not snagged our fingers on a badly aligned drawing pin.....

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Baum)

"I  am astounded," continued the Chancellor of the Diocese of Oz, "that you attempted to move this house without obtaining a faculty. Ignorance of the Regulations is no excuse. No wonder it landed on the Wicked Witch of the East."

Henry V, Act III (Shakespeare)

One more unto the breach, dear friends! After we've heard this 45-page report on the most cost-effective number of meetings to hold each year. 

Sunday 16 November 2014

Over-Coaching a Long-Ball Church

Well call me old-fashioned, but I do worry that it's the over-coaching of bishops that is taking the vibrancy and excitement out of our national game. I mean look at this report on the Bishop of Truro's view of the future of the Church of England:

Bishop Thornton previously said the Church of England would struggle to exist in 10 years.
Speaking on Radio Cornwall, he said: "I'd been saying that for a while now so I think we have to come down and say it's five or six years."
Bishop Thornton said analysis of attendance figures was "all showing one thing".
He said: "I fear that we are on a steady decline at the moment."
The Diocese of Truro voted on 8 November 2014 for a 28% increase in the amount of money it needs from local churchgoers to reduce a £1.2m deficit over the next year.
Look at the evidence - a time-bound prediction of the end of the Church of England, a vague aspiration that things must be done, and no specific suggestions - obviously Bishop Thornton could have come up with all sorts of brilliant ideas that just weren't reported, but the only one we've heard about is shoving up the Parish Share. The Bishop of Truro has clearly been coached by George Carey.
Trainee Bishops go through their paces before meeting Crewe Alexandra

And that's the problem, isn't it? Upping the Share, so as to keep things as they are, while simultaneously saying things can't stay as they are. The Long Ball of episcopal tactics. The fear that, if you tried anything genuinely creative, it might all go horribly wrong and you'd be the Last Bishop of Barchester. Don't play the ball out from the back, just lob it forward, clear your lines for now. It's gonna be 6 years - or 10 years - or a generation - before the opposition dribble it back. But at least you can keep the scoreline down.

Maybe the answer is to do what the Premiership does. Get in some of the most exciting players - sorry, clergy - from around the world. Some of those African bishops, without the privileges enjoyed by our native young bishops, learn to play with flair and creativity. People who can make some decent diagonal moves. Whereas in these safety-first day, we no longer allow young English bishops to play in the streets, learning their craft banging the Book of Common Prayer against a wall. Instead we get them off the roads, safe on EpiscoTurf, coached and trained and standardised. It's not a question of what talents they have - it's about can they fit into one of the standard formations? A defensive 4-4-2 or a Lambeth Quadrilateral?

I suggest the C of E doesn't coach the women. Let them thrive. Let them play their natural game. If they're wide players - and, let's face it, Left-wingers are the only ones that've been acceptable this last 40 years - then let them run with it. If they suit the libero role - free-ranging, bringing other people into play - then let them use their talents. If they're natural sweepers, allowing others to bomb forwards while they clear up the mess at the back, then let them do that - maybe some of the men could learn to do it as well, lest we stereotype.

Let the women be themselves. You never know -  after 50 years of hurt, maybe it's time the Church of England won a Lambeth Conference.

"I Wander Why the Religious People Still Deny Science"

A nice BBC piece on Philae the comet-lander generates - being the BBC - a selection of sensible and far-from-sensible comments.

The one that took my eye, and which I would commend to you, is comment # 10. I realise some of you are on mobiles, or too busy to follow links and then scroll around. So let me quote it to you.

" -2
  • Comment number10.

    I wander why the religious people still deny science."

A very good question. Especially the "wander". Heaven knows I wander about it myself. As I scrolled through the comments on my iPad, to see what people were saying about a robot that landed on a comet, I have to confess I was denying the lot. The comet, the lander, the spaceship that launched it, that lead scientist's T-shirt, the idea that something with the brains of a washing machine machine knows what it's tweeting, the lot. Is it any wander?

Indeed, it was a rocky few years I spent, getting my MA in chemistry. Not the last three years, when I didn't need to study anything, just had to stay alive. No, the four years when I was expected to go into the lab, and carry out experiments, or to read books by the marvellous and handsome Graham Richards or the scruffy, in my opinion, PW Atkins. I used to go home at night and cry, having to spend all that time studying spectra, the fine structure of atoms and then - later, as a research student - transferring over to investigate the hydrogen bonding potentials of the surfaces of protein molecules. And all the time denying it all.

And even today it's a challenge getting out the door. As I walk outside and notice that the rays from the sun warm my face, I have to remind myself it's a delusion. The way in which I walk on the ground - whereas before Newton lied to us about Gravity, I could have floated amongst the tree tops!

Oh science, science, I deny it all.

Now I realise that "gaisha" is probably about 16, Scribbling sadly away in his room dreaming of Dawkins when the rest of his age group (I presume it's a "he") think of members of the opposite sex. Or indeed, according to preference, the same sex. That's fine. We're all entitled to our own life-paths. But I would like to say this. It's not the moderate scientists you have to worry about. They're fine. They do stuff like try to create new medicines (which I deny work, obviously), create new materials, do serious research on the crunchiness of cornflakes - they don't so much harm, on the whole. I mean, given their belief in an unprovable world where things are reliable and predictable, you could say their faith is quite impressive. It's the teenage extremists like "gaisha". They're the ones I worry about. The fundamentalists.

And yes, I'm sure "wander" was just a typo. But I do cling to the idea that "gaisha" denies proof-reading.

Saturday 15 November 2014

Rise of The Social Machines

All the Beaker Folk gooing away over the messages from the Philae comet-lander coming through on Twitter. Even though I've been trying to persuade them it's not the lander itself, but the monkey that was sealed in the unit. But still, like a cross between HAL and Thomas the Tank Engine, the little craft has won its fans. Philae's last message was to say it was having a snooze, but  with the hope it might wake up later, when it gets more sunlight.

I don't think Philae has thought this through. It will get more sunlight when it's much nearer the Sun. Which suggests its next message may be "What is that big orange thing? So this is it, I'm going to die".

You have been warned.

Meanwhile given the whole maelstrom of cyber-whimsy, Young Keith thought it might be nice to hack the chips in the household devices and have them post updates on our internal social page, the Beakernet. Bad mistake.

At first it was fun, as the CD player told us how it was getting bit dizzy, the Aga repeatedly told us it was "hot" like some spambot on Twitter trying to attract the sorts of men who like women with numbers in their names. The fridge took on a Fonz persona, repeatedly telling us how cool he was.

But then, like human-based social media, it became a bit much. The freezer turned out to be "in a relationship with" the microwave. The tumble dryer started trolling the liquidiser. The juicer - who put a chip in a juicer? - fell out with the telly, and terrible flame wars started. And then we found out that the washing machine is heat-sensitive. Oh those agonising, terrible tweets. We've had to put everything on a "wool" setting. The microwave then announced its relationship status was "it's complicated" and the freezer blocked it. But then set up a sock puppet, pretended to be a teasmaid, and hung around posting snarky messages. 

What really put the tin lid on it for me was the discovery that every time a toaster ejects its toast, it's the human equivalent of sexual climax. I never want to read any statuses like those again. Filthy thing. I'm gonna use the grill from now on. That only posts pictures of kittens.

Friday 14 November 2014

The Other Talent

There was a king who went away on a journey. And before he went, he summoned his three servants to him. To one of his servants he gave ten talents; to the second he gave five talents; and to the third he gave one.

The first servant arbitraged foreign exchange with his ten talents, and made ten more.

And the second servant invested his five talents in foreign trade, and made five more producing cheap shirts which he sold through a discount chain.

And the third one decided he wouldn't be a grasping huckster like his companions. He would make a stand against his boss's capitalism. He felt solidarity with the working class, who he would be exploiting or undercutting if he was to make any money. And knowing that his boss was a harsh man, he buried his talent in the ground.

When the king returned, the third servant went to where he'd buried his talent, to find a bunch the working class had dug it up, and spent it on Carling Black Label and kebabs.

Moral - burying treasure in Luton is a stupid idea. You'd think they could smell it.

Thursday 13 November 2014

Church Definitions - "A Good Meeting"

Everyone got home before midnight;
people could remember what happened at the last meeting;
nobody mentioned the minister-before-last and how he did things properly;
nobody died of old age;
they didn't have to re-form the committee without the minister, in the car park afterwards;
no blood feuds were started or got worse;
the treasurer is still in post (and not in the Post);
somebody mentioned God;
all the windows are still intact;
nobody threatened to call in English Heritage or the Victorian Society;
coffee wasn't served before, during or after;
there was an expectation that the Church had a purpose beyond its own yard;
the minister didn't close it down abruptly for reasons of public order;
nobody spent fifteen minutes explaining why it's impossible to raise any more money.

Obviously it will be several weeks before the Secretary finds out if the notes were comprehensible.

Resting in Peace and Ashes

Well., what a day. How can you compete with Fauré's Requiem, sung in translation in modern Cornish, to the accompaniment of a 1984 Casio keyboard? Just the way Fauré would have done it, if he'd had the modern Cornish.

The thing about old Fauré - and he wouldn't deny it, him being such an urbain bloke - is that that requiem of his is missing one giant element. A certain je ne sais quoi, as I'm sure he would have said in his native Latin. In other words, reading from left to right, a Dies Irae.

What good, you may ask, is a Dies Irae? Surely the "Day of Wrath when the Earth Dissolves in Ashes" is a nasty, wild, violent, aggressive concept - resonant with the idea of a God who is angry with things and is going to sort things out. In fact, if you think about it, the Fauré having an Offertory and no Dies Irae makes it the perfect requiem for the average modern church. And I wasn't dropping the Offertory, believe me. No. Some things are sacred.

But the great thing about the Dies Irae is that it brings colour, movement and a certain drama to the concept of a Requiem. So we inserted the one from Verdi in, just between the Sanctus and the Pie Jesu. 

Six people had to be treated for shock. Even the fact that we'd substituted in the Pie Jesu from Lloyd-Webber's piece - that being the one they all expect these days - didn't calm them down.

We had to administer 15 minutes (the minimum therapeutic dose) of Taizé and that just about got everyone back on an even keel. But that's taught me a lesson. No more messing with the classics. Next week's musical setting of Newman's "Dream of Gerontious" is going to have the overdrive taken off the electric guitar. And we're going to sing it in the original Bulgarian.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

The Mysteries of the End of Curacy

There is a lot of myth surrounding how priests in training finally end their curacy. Many people wonder how it is that a curate can cease to be a trainee and become a fully-fledged incumbent.

Well, we've done some research, and we can reveal the secrets of how curates are trained up into their fully-fledged status.

The process starts when an ordinand first hatches out of theology college. In those early moments after ordination, the new "deacon" will be confused, and inclined to do things that are embarrassing.

Newly Hatched Curates
Over the next three years, the older female members of the church will feed the curate cake and tea. This special food causes the new priest to grow in girth, and to approach maturity.
Curates become especially able to detect new sources of cake and tea, and to communicate their location to other curates through the CME "Liturgical Dance"

"Mrs Brown in Little Tremlett has a new-baked ginger cake"
After about three years (part-time curates can take longer as they have fewer opportunities to obtain cake), the curate will be ready to become a new vicar. At this crucial point in their development, one of two things can happen.

If the curate believes that the vicar is weakened by age, they may attempt to take over the church where they have been growing. In this case, they will often fight the incumbent vicar in the garden of the vicarage. If the curate wins, they take over the existing church and the vicar goes into retirement.

If, on the other hand, the curate is not strong enough, they will instead strike out on their own with their own members of the congregation, to form a new church. On sunny spring afternoons, the sight of a Church Swarm will often be seen, clinging onto the outside of a church building.
A new Vicar heads out with his Church Swarm to find a new church building

What will happen, when the weather is warm enough, is that the curate will set off into the countryside, accompanied by the Church Swarm of those worshippers that choose to go with him or her to form a new congregation. The Swarm will wander around the neighbourhood until it finds a church with no priest, and then move into residence in the building. Normally they will merge with the existing congregation - however if the pheromones are not compatible, they will drive the old congregation out into the churchyard and take over the building completely.
Three priests with a supplier of cake.
The one on the left is about to eat the old one and take over.

100 Top UK Christians

I see that His Grace, late of Canterbury and Blogspot, has opened nominations for the top UK Christians.

The rules say you have to be a UK Citizen, and you have to be alive.

He doesn't mention anything about being imaginary.....

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Let the Churches Fall Down

Here's just a thought. 

Methodists and suchlike inhabitants  of redbrick chapels have already worked this out. But the C of E will get there.

Thing is, these lovely buildings - they're not necessary, you know. There's no reason to be found in the Gospels why a small group of aging people should continue to put in all their energy to maintain a load of 800-year-old buildings.  All those jumble sales, all those thermometers outside church buildings - none of it, if carefully considered, has any justification in the New Testament.

Jesus never said, "Blessed are those who chair the Property Committee". St Paul never mentioned the need to preserve historic buildings. The members of parish churches around England have, basically, been conned into keeping their communities' most beautiful buildings in good condition  - despite the fact that it is not their problem. They're preserving a historic legacy that is no more theirs than it is that of locals who never go to Church - but like that familiar tower looming over the village.

Gennelmenanladies of England, the support of church buildings is on borrowed time. All those dedicated local Anglicans saying "we can't let the building fall down" - one day they'll say to themselves; "why can't we let the building fall down?  What's gonna happen? Is Aunt Dora, who's down near the third yew tree from the left, gonna rise from the dead to get revenge? Well, she probably will. A right terror, Aunt Dora. She wouldn't let a little thing like being dead get in the way of getting shirty about somebody letting the church fall down. But it's a chance worth taking, I reckiy.

I should say that I'm not sure about the legalities of this. There would be the need for a shadow Church of England, which members of PCCs would have to join even as they resigned from their committees and ran, freed from building-based responsibilities, into a new denomination that meets in the biggest house that the existing members of the congregation own.

But look at the advantages. Everybody suddenly gets to worship in the warm. Money can be spent on mission and ministry, not stone and crumbling mortar. Freedom to preach the Gospel, not shake collection boxes for a building project.  And all the liabilities of the buildings of the Church of England to be dumped on the shoulders of the last person to leave.

You know it makes sense. The buildings have got to go.

Scraping the Stonehenge Bottom of the Barrel

RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said: “The Chancellor collects more than £30 billion in road fuel duty and Vehicle Excise Duty (car tax) alone but spends just a quarter of this on the road network (Western Daily Press)

Well, good. We can spend the other three-quarters on asthma and diabetes treatment and research, bike lanes and rail. Personally I'd scrap the Vehicle Excise Duty completely. If we want to charge people for polluting the air - and who wouldn't - we can more efficiently load it straight onto road fuel duty. Directly and proportionately charges the biggest users of fuel - and therefore biggest polluters.

And yes, we should improve the A303. We should narrow it, with pinch points, so people rat running to the West Country use the M4, like they're supposed to, and the only people who go that way are people who actually want to visit Stonehenge.

And, with the money raised from my enhanced fuel duty, we can tunnel a proper "tube" tunnel - 50 yards under Stonehenge - and bury the A303 so deep it has no effect on the archaeology. Problem solved. Rant over.

Not Respecting the Ancestors

It was a fraught meeting of the tea light sub-committee, that's the truth.

It was Dolorez's stubbornness that really wore me down. Yes, her grandmother was a dedicated servant of the Beaker Folk. Yes, we all miss her.

Yes, she was generous in her donations towards liturgical needs. But all the tea lights have been burnt now. We just have 20 empty tea light holders. 20 sad little empty aluminium cups. Which my spell checker keeps trying to correct to "aluminum". Frankly, that alone is reason enough to get rid of them.

No, we're not going to form them into a "pyramid of remembrance" to rest in perpetuity on the Worship Focus. And no, when I consider that it's just what she would have wanted, it doesn't melt my flinty old heart.

They're going in the skip, and that's the end of it. And if, as threatened, I burn in Hell, it won't be because of my attitude towards spent tea lights.

Monday 10 November 2014

A Confident Step Sideways

Just reading the minutes of the last Moot Meeting. And I'm guessing that by the end of the three-hour discussion on agenda item 4, "The Way Forward", Charstairs the Moot Minuter may have been a bit punch-drunk.

So anyway, apparently the vote was 7 in favour of "Something must be Done', while 4 were in favour of "Over my dead body".

I just wish I could remember what we were talking about.

Sunday 9 November 2014

The Day Doctor Who Died

I feel like it's the whole series, really. But this one in particular.

Every series finale. Every blooming series finale. The World/Universe/Gallifrey once again comes to an end. And once again the Doctor fumbles his way to a solution.

The trouble is, after The Parting of the Ways, there was nowhere more to go for end-of-series finales. An end-of-the-Universe battle between Daleks and a godlike Rose Tyler, involving a man brought back from the dead and battalions of Dalek space ships being vaporised - after that, merely turning up to 11 was never going to help. How can you, when the dial's already switched up to 12, and then somebody's smashed the amp up with the power of the Vortex at the heart of a Tardis? And how can you compete with a fully-formed companion with a believable back-story, like Rose, when you're a cardboard cut out "Impossible Girl" of a companion?

And so every series finale becomes an exercise in pro-celebrity shark jumping. Well, the shark has been well and truly jumped. It's time to kill the shark. Or, at least, cut the water-skis up. Or close the water-sports company.

I tell you, If I see the clouds roll away from the Earth, leaving it safe and pristine once more, I'll scream. Yesterday the assembled consciences of everybody who had ever lived on the planet, embedded into a bunch of revamped Cybermen, collectively ascended into the heavens and sacrificed themselves to save the world. And, apart from a fleeting moment of recognition of the Brigadier, I didn't care. I couldn't work out whether this was because the relationship between Clara and Danny was so poorly drawn, or whether it was the ludicrous device of Cybermen ascending into the heavens with jet-powered heels. Honestly, it was bad enough with levitating Daleks. But those Cybermen - how were they going to maintain aerodynamic stability?

And then the idea that every fragment of a Cyberman contains the instructions to build a Cyberman from scratch - sure that was clever, a reference to the DNA in every human cell. But how did these shiny-headed Von Neumann machines manage it? OK, the Cyberman pollen, falling into a graveyard in the ironstone fields of Northamptonshire - no problem. Raw materials for steel and glass aplenty. But in London? Seriously? The pollen, grabbing the available materials, would have been turning out china dolls. This is meant to be Science Fiction, not fantasy. There's a difference.

But there's something more deeply wrong about the Cybermen since the series returned - even in Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel, when Roger Lloyd Pack played a brilliant creator who ended up as part of his own engineering. And it's this. The original Cybermen were the masters of their own destiny (I use the masculine throughout, in line with their naming convention). They chose to become androids, as a way of ensuring their own immortality. It was a Faustian contract with technology. But Lumic's creations, and Missy's children - they've no choice. They're not evil creatures - they're as much victims as the people they're deleting. Something is lost there.

Quite liked Missy, though. Maybe there's something about evil, manipulative, power-crazed women I like. Can't imagine why. Michelle Gomez is superb, dancing as the world sees an alien resurrection. But the insanity, the use of the word "bananas". Left a nasty taste. You can do bad things without being insane. In fact, most bad things are done by sane people in the real world.

And I love Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. He's a brilliant Doctor - sharp, funny, ambivalent, with those lovely dark shades. But he's let down by the writing, the concept, the not-quite-right special effects. The Cybermen lifting off into space weren't awesome, they were laughable. They might as well have saved a few quid and just pulled a load of Cyberman models up into the air on strings.

Far as I'm concerned, the whole series has died on its feet. We need fewer strained relationship issues, fewer instances of the whole Universe being at risk, and more running down tunnels and climbing up ventilation shafts. Or we just accept it's never gonna regenerate.

Saturday 8 November 2014

Shop Early for Christmas

 ‘The kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the
bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’ (Matthew 25)

So a Gospel Reading about preparation. Strange thing. We live in a world where what's often applauded is spontaneity; the original, the quick-fire, the witty. "What do you want for Christmas?" we ask, and people say "surprise me". I surprised Young Keith last year. I bought him Bucks Fizz's greatest hits. It surprised him. Won't say it delighted him, though.

And yet it's a world where things only actually work if people are very prepared. Let's take the world of retail. The Christmas ads spring into life as soon as Guy Fawkes is over - we swoon or vomit over the penguin in the John Lewis ads, wonder which Z-lister is going to Iceland. And yet the ad campaigns are already ancient history to those that planned them. They were worked out months ago - alongside the merchandising plans, which were put in place after the orders were placed - way back in the spring - for the Christmas merchandising which has spent the last six  or so months being hauled across the oceans, piled up in the nation's warehouses, all waiting for the vital day - the day the Hallowe'en merchandise sold through, in some cases, or the day - prepared a way off - when, the summer fashions sold off at 70% off, the winter collection could take its place on hangers and shelves all over the country.

In the world of retail, Christmas doesn't just happen. In three months' time, the first Christmas cracker samples will be arriving in the nation's retail head offices, ready for consideration for Christmas 2015. They'll be playing back the post-mortem of the Christmas which, for the rest of us, hasn't happened yet - learning lessons - did they buy too much or too little? Could they have planned for whatever freakish Christmas weather - floods, or sunshine, or even snow - they're gonna blame their poor results on this time? When people complain that Christmas starts earlier every year - it doesn't, generally speaking - they live in some mythical world where retail warehouses of infinite size are stuffed, like Fairyland, with Christmas goodies, just waiting for the one day when the whole lot can be teleported magically into the shops at an appropriate time - say the 3rd of December - when people claim they really want Christmas shopping to start. And it can't be done, can it? Because firstly people actually want to do their Christmas shopping in November. And secondly because they couldn't do it without Father Christnas's help. And he can't can he? And you know why?

Because he's too busy helping The Doctor this year, that's why. And wondering how to deal with the loose end from this latest series finale of Doctor Who - which is where the Cyber-Brigadier is heading off to, on his mission to spread 1960s moustaches and received pronunciation to an unsuspecting universe.

So the arrival of the Christmas everybody expects in the Western world - or, at least, all the ones with money - is the result of an immense amount of planning and preparation, by an immense number of people from all over the world - from the factories of China and the Philippines, to the sailors of container ships, to truckers and merchandise planners and smart kids who work out demand elasticity and wastage projections.

The grocery company who phoned up the turkey farm on Christmas Eve, to find out if there were any going because they were expecting a bit of a rush, would be out of business in the New Year. The fashion retailer whose shelves were still full of summer frocks because they were hoping for a bit of an Indian Summer, and then realised they really needed to get some jumpers in sometime in early December, likewise.

And Jesus tells us that, when he comes back, he's expecting preparation himself. Not logistics or marketing campaigns or price negotiations or Point-of-Sale material or all the things retailers do. No. But maybe something requiring as much effort.

He doesn't go into the details in this parable himself, except to say "keep awake". But I reckon we get enough clues elsewhere as to the preparation required. If retailers plan for when Christmas arrives, how do we plan for when Jesus arrives? For when Heaven arrives on earth?

In Heaven, we're told, there's praise that goes on day and night. So to praise and worship God on this earth - that's not an affectation, it's not a waste of time, it's not about our own nice feelings. It's practising the thing we'll be doing forever. And if I'm sounding a bit flippant, then it's more than that. It's doing the thing we were designed to do. We were created to love God and each other. In worship we do the former. And when our praise and thanksgiving to God spill over into telling the good things he's done for us - not just to him, not to each other, but naturally and not in some programme of evanglism to others - just the love of God spilling out into our natural lives - then we're doing both at the same time.

That God we love, is love, we're told. And we'll be recognised in Heaven for the love we showed others. When everything we've done - everybody we've helped, everyone we've crossed, everyone who needed us and we either responded or let them down - turns out, all along, to have been standing-in for Jesus. If God is love, then Heaven is a place of love. And if love is the currency then it's our active deeds of love - not the personal gushy feelings of loves - that we'll be recognised for. The poor fed, those in prison visited, the sick seen, the aid given. The people we don't even like made time for. Heaven's a place where there there is no darkness, no evil. And our call is to let the loving and kindness we show to others drive out the darkness. That worship for God flows over into calling on the Spirit to fill our hearts, minds and spirits - to give us new gifts, new callings, new vision, new priorities. And where we harbour grudges, the Spirit wants to convert those to consideration for others. Where we claim parts of our life for ourselves - put our own selves on the throne - the Spirit wants to knock us off the throne we are trying to claim for ourselves - to put us in the place we're called to be. A more natural place. A place that's like home.

And in heaven, for now, we're told by John in Revelation, the cry goes up - as it does all over the earth - "How Long? How long till the hungry are fed, till humans are at peace, until the martyrs who gave - and still give - their lives - for the Prince of Peace receive their rewards? It's the cry of God's people down through the ages. "How Long?" It's not a cry of despair, although it comes from the point of despair. It's the cry of faith, the cry of hope, the cry of defiance. The Ruler of this World shall not win. The evil in this world will not prevail. The proud will be thrown down, the dictators shall fail, the mighty shall see their might crumble and the humble shall be lifted up. 

And we work for that - as we prepare for the coming of our Lord. We must never give up on this world - we must keep fighting, longing, struggling, giving, so that the Kingdom may find its footholds in the nooks and crannies of this world of pain. Every kindness we do, every time we love another as ourselves, every time we try to understand God's will in our lives, every word we breathe in prayer or praise - is a tiny pocket of the Kingdom, shining in the darkness.

But the source of those tiny chinks of light is the glorious light of our Lord and our God. The light of heaven shines in just through cracks for now - but we look forward to the day that all darkness is driven away, the day that the victory which was won on a hill in Jerusalem, is made clear in the making of a new Heaven and Earth, in a new Jerusalem - in the Devil admitting he's beaten once and for all Then, the little lamps we've kept burning will become part of the whole Universe shining with the glorious brightness of our Lord. And we will enter in and be with the bridegroom, and join in the party that lasts forever. And every tear we've shed for this troubled place will be wiped from our eyes.

So stay awake. Be prepared. Watch, and pray, and work.We may not know the day or the hour, but we know it's always Soon.

Come, Lord Jesus.

And now we sing the closing hymn, "The Carpet Crawl".