Wednesday 31 December 2014

Happy New Year

We're all out wassailing shortly, as is right and proper. It's the end of a grubby old year - and one that has ended in a whole bundle of grief, though there's been blessings. But before us lies a new, shiny one. Full of possibilities to try, to succeed, to fail, to light tea lights or meditate on pebbles as you feel inclined.

So as the Beaker Blessing has it:

May your every uphill have a downhill just before it, or just afterwards.
May the rain only fall when you've remembered your coat.
May the bright sun shine in the day time,
and not at night as that will mean some terrible catastrophe has befallen the entire planet.
May your sea levels stay level
and your conservatory not be struck by meterorites or bird droppings.
May your left turns be easy
and your right turns benefit from conveniently timed gaps in the crossing traffic.
And may you be yourself, inasmuch as it is achievable and compliant with the local jurisdiction, or if you are Katie Hopkins, in which case maybe you'd be better pretending to be somebody else.

Happy New Year.

The Church Committee: The Recursive Sub-Committee Vortex

Liturgy of Throwing the Christmas Tree Out Before New Years Eve

Archdruid: "The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious."

All: But the needles are dropping now. They lie like the manna in the desert across the floor. And we all get them in our socks and slippers.

Archdruid: "All flesh is as grass" and the Norwegian spruce is like unto the flowers of the field.

All: All the leaves are brown, and the chocolate baubles are eaten.

Archdruid: How desolate it stands, the tree that once was called beautiful.

All: The presents shall nestle under it no more. The children play with the empty boxes. And the "Frozen" action figures are already forgotten, like the people that rest in the dust.

Archdruid: And so we commit our Christmas tree to the dump.

All: The baubles to the big box of Christmas stuff, there to await the Nativity Scene, and to rest on the stairs until we get round to putting them in the attic in August.

Archdruid: The lights we wrap carefully, ensuring not the least entangling.

All: They shall be tied like unto the Gordian Knot when we extract them in November, and we will search in vain for the transformer that was lost.

Archdruid: The angel on the tree shall be wrapped in crepe paper.

All: I'm sure it's a fairy, not an angel.

Archdruid: But the outside bling remainest, secure as a stronghold, even unto 12th Night on the sixth January.

All: You sure you don't mean the fifth? 

Archdruid: We normally leave it till the sixth but don't light it after the fifth. It's a kind of via media...

All: OK. Shall we get this tree out?

Archdruid: So go unto the garden waste skip at the dump, old friend, and return to us anew as environmentally-friendly but surprisingly expensive compost.

All: May your needles drop like tears, as you weep and remember the days gone by.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

The Church Committee: The New Diary

Advent Saturnalia

Ah, this happy time of year - I talk in generalities, as the news is as ghastly as I remember since the Boxing Day Tsunami. But amid the remains of the tinsel, the reversal of attitudes to life, death, reward and punishment that has happened as the world  - or at least the ageing Western portion of it - has become increasingly less religious, is drawn ever clearer.

For those with eyes to see, and a feel for liturgical rhythm, things have been turned upside down. If you live in contact with the world, and yet are not of it, maybe you see it better. The way we have inflicted Saturnalia on Advent - or maybe vice-versa.

The liturgical narrative, the myth of midwinter, if you like, goes like this. Things get bad, and then they will get better. The plants die, the ground freezes, the sun goes dark. But then the sun magically fights back. The daylight holds steady, then increases. The coldest of winter is yet to come, but the darkness has not overcome the light. The sun is coming back.

And the Christian myth - repeated though the ages, even - oddly - in the Antipodes where the world and seasons are upside down - goes much the same. In November and December the story is of foreboding, of hope that glints through through darkness. Of death and judgement and last things. But the culmination of this is Christmas - the annual reminder of Messiah's birth. We go into the new year knowing that God is with us, and we will be with him for all time.

Whereas the modem narrative of Christmas is this - we eat and drink and are merry all through December, at endless works dos, parties at friends', nights down the pub. And then we stagger out into the new year, bloated and dyspeptic, and realise that we have sinned and must make amends. The papers run stories of liver disease, obesity and trouble in A and E. And for our salvation we look to the gym, a dry January, and the promise to ourselves of that most failed of all human pledges. "Never again." And every year we promise ourselves we will be better. But every year we are older, and deeper in decay, and less able to restore ourselves by our own willpower and physical efforts.

What has happened? We have run the myth in reverse. Now we have our fun first, and then we have the grim foreboding of a joyless, arduous, abstemious New Year.

As we stand on the verge of another Secular Advent, I wish you joy, hope and good cheer. God knows, we're gonna need it.

Monday 29 December 2014

The Moral Leadeship of Nigel Farage

The Daily Mail goes in for a bit of freelance Church of England bashing as it turns out that the Queen, and Wills 'n' Kate, are perceived to be above Justin Welby as moral leaders.

Well I don't know. That means the Supreme Governor, the Supreme a Governor-in-Waiting and the Chief Operating Officer of the C of E are all in the top four. And who's going to deny Malala a place? She has been a brilliant moral leader. So a result for sensible religious people all round.

But some idea of the quality journalism behind this piece can be seen in the headline below. I've screen capped it for you because even the shoddiest sub-editor has surely got to fix this sometime.

"Nigel Farage, of Ukip, got a respectable 39 per cent of the vote."

Which would have meant Nigel Farage  actually beat all the other people in the list. Except, of course, that the "respectable 39 per cent" that Nigel Farage got was for "worst moral leader".  Still, all have won. And all shall have prizes.

Not Tested on Animals

After having to deal with a small group of animal rights protesters outside the Beaker Bazaar this morning, I need to clarify something.

The Organic Sunrise range of bath products is suffering from typographical, not moral, problems. The "Shetland Bubble Bath" contains extracts of kelp. Not, as the label says, "kelpie". And the active ingredient in the "Brassica Refreshment Shower Gel" comes from cauli. Not "collie".

Sunday 28 December 2014

Are You Rapture Ready?

Are you Rapture Ready? Answer our simple quiz to find out.

1. The current state of the Middle East is......
a) The logical outcome of the previous state of the Middle East, mixed with the idiocy of Bush and Blair.
b) Predicted in the Book of Revelation.

2. If you're a Christian in Iraq you should:
a) Make sure you're somewhere safe. Probably pray as well. I hope we can help.
b) Rejoice. Your sufferings mean some fat get in the West can feel it's all coming to a logical end.

3. The best thing about your car is:
a) A low-emissions engine. Will save the ice caps.
b) A sunroof. Will save you banging your head when the Day arrives.

4.   The dearest possession in your house is
a) Your family Bible, handed down from Gt-Grandad Arnold
b) The family Uzi, handed down from Uncle "Redneck Jeb".

5. A vacant space in the car park means
a) Some-one else just left the car park.
b) Your prayers, over those of the daughter of an Ebola victim in Sierra Leone, have been heard. Well done! Your holiness rocks!

6. The growth of hunger and homelessness means
a) You should give more to those who need it.
b) The End is nearly here.

7. When walking down the street you look up
a) In case a piano falls on you
b) In case an angel is calling you.

8. What do you think of fracking?
a) If it produces natural gas then - subject to ensuring it's safe - it might be a useful short-term provider of energy.
b) Earthquakes! Random explosions! Landslides! Dividends! I'm in! For the short term, obviously.


Mostly (a) Are you some kind of pinko-liberal? You're going nowhere when the day comes are you?
Mostly (b) Better adopt the "braced" position! You're off to a cloud any day now!

Soon be Easter

And congratulations to the vicar of Killay, in Swansea, for the first complaint about Easter merchandise of the year.

What does Fr Tim think the Co-op should put on the empty shelves where the Christmas merchandise was? Seed drills? Chitting potatoes? Snow shovels? It's hard to know. This is the way retail works. If you have a choice between putting your products on a shelf in a shop, and in a warehouse - and you have a spare shelf - you put them on the shelf.

I hope Fr Tim didn't have any carol services before Christmas Eve. That would be blatantly consumerist.

A New Sign of Peace

Brilliant idea from Young Keith.

From now on, when I say "let us share a sign of peace", we use the Beaker "sign of peace". This means crossing your arms at the wrists, and flapping your hands to do an impression of a dove.

That way, there's no need for any of this hand-shaking, hugging, kissing or high-five-ing. We just share the Beaker "sign of peace".

It's a great relief.

Saturday 27 December 2014

The Holy Innocents

Across the country tomorrow, it's that special day of the year - one normally not surpassed by Low Sunday (that's the one after Easter) or even Trinity. Right across the place, retired ministers local preachers, lay Readers, church wardens, enthusiastic amateurs and alarmed Sunday School teachers who thought they were just doing the "Little Angels" 3-5 years old suddenly discover they are doing what is, according to tradition and legality, referred to as a "sermon", "meditation", "thought" or "talk". The paid ministers having disappeared in a cloud of Prius exhaust within 10 seconds of pronouncing the blessing on Christmas Day, are now in Spain, Dorset or in their secret bunkers, enjoying 10 days off after leading or attending approximately 55 nativities, carol services, Christmas services, Midnight Masses etc.

And these wholly innocents,. having got Christmas and Boxing Day out of the way, are right now checking the email the pastor sent in the small hours of Christmas Eve, giving them the details of the service for Sunday. And they're in for a shock. Because, when they were thinking they might be saying something nice and cosy about shepherds, they discover the minister has decided to keep the feast of Holy Innocents this Sunday.

So the minister has done it again. Legged it and left the awkward reading to the hired help. And Holy Innocents isn't like the Trinity. You can't get away with some dodgy theology and a borderline-heretical illustration. You're gonna have to face the story in all its horror.

There's a parallel in the Old Testament. The killing of the Hebrew boy babies by Pharaoh and - in the midst of it - the saving of Moses. And there's a terrible reversal - a dreadful second Passover - as the Son of God slips away - back to Egypt - while others die in his place.

And the questions comes up - in among the tinsel and the three-day-old Brussels sprouts - how come the Christ child gets away, and we sing our happy songs, and quote the prophet Hosea - but God lets those other children die? Why does a voice cry in Ramah? Why are Rachel's children lost yet again?

We don't need Darwin's Ichneumon wasp to tell us that life is cruel, arbitrary, ultimately doomed. We've known it all along. And we know that the death of the Innocents is not a one-off. It goes on - the Hebrew boys of Egypt; the children of Bethlehem; the Harrying of the North; the victims of Stalin's purges; Coventry; Dresden; Pol Pot; the Christians of Iraq and Syria; the children of Peshawar. And that's just some of the victims of deliberate violence. You can blame men for those. But there's the other lost little ones - from AIDS, Ebola, starvation. Some of those we can do something about, some we can't. But the same God, so believers say, preside over their loss.  And Rachel weeps for her children.

There's no escape for the children of Bethlehem. No way to bypass seven fools with bombs and guns in Peshawar. Because, on the whole, the universe works the way it works. There is no magic wand to pull them out of the firing line with a "get out of jail free" card. And Rachel weeps for her children.

And to conclude that there is no God, that this world is all there is, and the innocent will die unless we can stop them, does seem to me entirely reasonable. There's an honesty in atheism that some forms of theism eschew. The God who finds the faithful car-park spaces is not, in my mind, compatible with the God who allows the children of Gaza or Belsen to die. If God is going to allow this to happen, I reckon, then God needs to take responsibility. If God allows this to happen - whether caused by evil men, or by the blind cruelty of the laws of science - then God cannot be let off. God cannot be off directing traffic on the Westway while children die at the hands of evil men across the world.

One boy-baby survived that minor holocaust in Bethlehem. It is said that, after a time lying low - like the children currently lurking in Egypt, Lebanon, the safe parts of Iraq and Syrai - he came back to the village of Nazareth, And after 3 decades of dodging the powers of evil - the authorities of the world - they finally caught up with him, nailed him to a cross and killed him. Having got away with it as a baby, time ran out in the end. And they got him. They got them all in the end.

The babies of Bethlehem took Jesus's place. And in his turn, he took theirs. He joined them - one more Holy Innocent. One more weeping mother. One more insult against the face of God and the dignity and life of a human being. But this time the insult was directly to the face of God, and this time the Innocent came back.

For now, the blood of the Innocents cries out. As it does, over and over, against the horror of the systems men build to keep the powerful in their place and the weak in theirs - and they wait for the Reckoning to come. And know it will one day. And two women are joined in grief - as they will one day be joined in joy.

“A sound is heard in Ramah—
    bitter crying and great sadness.
Rachel cries for her children,   and she refuses to be comforted,
    because her children are gone.”
His mercy is from age to age, on those who fear him.
 He puts forth his arm in strength and scatters the proud-hearted.
He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly.
He fills the starving with good things,  sends the rich away empty.

Friday 26 December 2014

The Oxen....

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

One of Thomas Hardy's (several) homages to Christmas. This one has that combination of modernist doubt and Hardy's sentimental attachment to his childhood.

As a bloke who thought he became an adult late, there's a lot can be dragged out of this. We all have an attachment to the things we loved as a child - and of course there's no Christian, Biblical warrant for the idea that all creatures bow down at midnight on Christmas Eve/Day. And Hardy was of a sentimental era. You have to remember that the author of "Once in Royal David's City" also inflicted on us "All things bright and Beautiful". It was a savage age.

But what is Hardy saying to us? That, under that fashionable veneer of Victorian doubt, he's longing for the Wessex piety of his childhood? I doubt that the ones he grew up with were genuinely so simple. They knew, as well as he, that the story was a story.

I'm gonna leave it there. Tommy H was a better writer than I'll ever be, and a master of irony. And if anyone wants me to wander down to the cattle shed with them to see how things are going.... they can forget it. It's 48 hours late. And have you seen what the weather's like?

Samuel Green Chooses the Israelite King

When Jesse and his sons arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the man who the Lord has chosen.”

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Eliab is tall and handsome, but don’t judge by things like that. God doesn’t look at what people see. People judge by what is on the outside, but the Lord looks at the heart. Eliab is not the right man.”

 Then he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

Jesse answered, “No, I have another son—my youngest, but he is out taking care of the sheep.”

And Samuel said "For various reasons the individual may not be willing to engage in this programme at this time e.g. family issues, time commitment. If he's killing lions and caring for sheep, he's not going to be attending seminars on time management and developing high-performing teams. Well done, Eliab! You've got the job!"

On the Feast of Stephen

Have we got this right? On this day, in keeping with what we assume is a tradition, we've been up in Bletchley following poor people around while carrying pine logs. Not one of them was grateful, and several managers told us to get out of their shops.

Thursday 25 December 2014

The Fairytale of Christmas

It's a strange song, to be sure, is Fairytale of New York. Sounding so jolly, yet with a bitter centre. To the bells of Christmas Day, and a choir singing "Galway Bay", a drunk remembers his row from the previous year with his junkie girlfriend. Happy Christmas, everyone! We're all losers here! Though, at least, there's some consolation in even that.

But there's a promise of reconciliation - of redemption - within the bile at the end.

"I could have been someone." 
"Well so could anyone.
You took my dreams from me, when I first found you." 
"I took 'em with me, babe. I kept 'em with my own.
Can't make it all alone. I've built my dreams around you."
In the smell and noise of the "drunk tank", the aggressive dreamer dreams of the better life he'll have when he's got off the drink and his girlfriend's off the dope. Even when he's lying next to a bloke on his way out, and looking forward to a seriously fuzzy Christmas morning, he knows there's life where there's hope, and hope where there's love.

If you want, then like me you can see that the better time, when all our dreams come true, depends on a baby in a cradle in Bethlehem. He's somewhere in the middle of our modern Christmas, between the tinsel and the Frozen animated models - but he really is in there somewhere if you look. If you're like me, you know that baby is also in the old man dying in a drunk tank, the drunks singing along to Frank Sinatra, and the "old slut on junk, lying there nearly dead". He's down here, sweeping us all up, picking up our weaknesses, sharing our Christmas joys and despair - and giving us all the promise of a better time.

And if you don't believe all that, then it's still the best Christmas song in the world, and the days aren't getting any darker, and though the snow may be yet to come - the darkest of night is over. It's all downhill from here to Summer.  Happy Christmas.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Midwinter Murders

Plot Synopsis

The county of Midsomer is in uproar. Every vicar in the Midsomer Diocese has told the school kids at the carol services that Father Christmas doesn't exist - simultaneously. From Gandle-by-the-Hill to Little Bingley, the crying of children goes on for three days.

The press are down at Midsomer Palace demanding the Bishop of Midsomer issues an edict contradicting his ministers, and stating categorically that Santa is alive and well. While the bishop is explaining that in Santa's case it is not so much either/or as both/and, news breaks from Twing. Father Christmas has been found dead in his grotto. Stabbed through the heart..... with a crozier.

How will Inspector Barnaby untangle this mystery? Is it the children who followed Santa on his way to work, shouting "you fat b*****" whom he threatened they would receive no presents? Is it the strange New Age group who are in the fields abiding, and are convinced Santa has stolen the festival from them?  Is it the lusty Xandra, who's feeling left out because she's the only  pub landlady who hasn't had a secret affair with a local landover? Or is it, in fact, the bishop - taking the heresy of his underlings to their logical conclusion?

Either way, nobody's going to be looking up to the skies in Midsomer, this Midwinter.

The New Moon in the Old Moon's Arms

A glimpse of something so magical, and yet something that is so easy to explain - so scientific - so predictable every month - this evening.

The "new moon in the old moon's arms".

"Earthshine" from Wikimedia commons by Claude Schneider
The old moon, not illuminated by the Sun, is instead lit by earthlight. When the new moon is slender enough, the earthlight is enough to show up the side away from the Sun. The new moon is in the old moon's arms.

Seems very Christmassy. 2,000 years since a baby called Jehoshua - the salvation of the Lord - is resting in the arms of his mother, a girl called Miriam - named after the sister of Moses. The man who stands, confused but proud, in the room is Joseph - named after the most loved of the sons of Israel. The new world rests in the old world's arms.

Of course, it's foolishness to talk of the "old moon" as if it is passing away. The dark area, currently dimly lit by the reflected light of the earth, is actually waiting to be lit in its turn. The new moon is not the replacement - it's actually the first-born. The one that springs from the old tale is the one that will lead it into a new story. The new moon is what the whole moon will soon be. As time goes by eventually the whole moon while shine with the glory of the Sun.

But for this moment, at the start of its story, the new moon rests in the old moon's arms. Silent, graceful, full of promise, expectant. It's beautiful, isn't it?

Under the Greenwood Tree - or, the Mellstock ASBO

Young Keith has just pointed out an unfair piece of discrimination on my part.

In Thomas Hardy's "Under the Greenwood Tree", he points out, the Quire wander around a scattered village after midnight, singing loudly and waking people up, and it's regarded as a venerable folk custom.

Whereas when he, under the influence of the same apple-based drink, started singing " Rudolph the red-nosed Reindeer" outside last night, his own nose was rendered like unto Rudolph's with my well-thrown tea pot.

Where, asks Young Keith, is the justice in that?

Now thinking about it, he's got a point. If he were wearing a smock-frock and carrying a lantern, it would be another matter.

In particular, he'd be much easier to see in the dark. I'd already thrown three mugs and an alarm clock before I hit him.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Not so Jolly Midst the Holly

It's that time of year when dull columnists get the chance to put a festive spin on their navel-gazing. And so Zoe Williams of the Guardian gets to answer the all-important question, "how can I write 500 words of egocentricism that have something to do with Christmas?"

Important to start with a false dichotomy in these things.  In Zoe Williams's world you can be spiritual, or you can be consumerist. But you can't be both. And, with the exception of Zoe Williams herself, you can't be neither. 7 bn people on this planet and you'd imagine she's the only one to achieve both of these. Here's a Venn diagram to help you.
A lonely intersection?

A lonely place to be. 

But the dichotomy is, as I say, false. For people who can be both spiritual and consumerist, I would like to refer you to the United States of America. Many of them spiritual to the eyebrows, and yet ardent churchgoers. What about members of the Prosperity Gospel movement?  And then, there are plenty of anti-consumerist, unspiritual people. Stingy b*ggars, we call them. There you are, Zoe Williams - you've got some friends!

Not pleasant friends, obviously, but friends. And then there's good news!  She has family as well. But there's a problem....
"But having kids has tipped me over the edge. It isn’t their spiritual wellbeing I’m worried about – they have grandparents for that."
Now I'm sorry. But this woman has kids, and presumably thinks they need spiritual wellbeing. Which is interesting, because she doesn't have any spiritual side herself at all. Now, either she has a spiritual side, or she doesn't. If, as she says, she doesn't - then why on earth does she want her children to have one? Or, indeed, a spiritual side each - we are not the sort of community at the Beaker Folk to wish spiritual homogeneity on anyone - even children with such an unpromising parent. But if she thinks the kids need spiritual development - what sort of irresponsible woman outsources the spirituality of her children to somebody else? Is this the brave new world the Guardian is pointing us to?

Of course it isn't. In the Guardian's ideal world, we would outsource the spiritual side of our children to the State. They would be indoctrinated in Pollytoynbeeism, joylessness, atheological yoga, breathing exercises and dodgy beards. By outsourcing her children's spirituality to their grandparents, Zoe Williams is showing a reckless private enterprise that, properly cultivated, could lead to a decent consumerism. There is hope for her yet. And also, in the deep worry she has about throwing away batteries - surely that's down to a form of environmentalism. And if you care enough the environment to fret over throwing away batteries - isn't that spirituality? Albeit a watered down, surrogate form of spirituality, expressed only through fretting about portable power supplies.

The article finishes in the following, deeply worrying, way:

"I have no ideological home in this season. But I do love the drinking." 

I'm a consumerist with a spiritual side, Zoe Williams. Nothing like a frenzied shopping spree in the West End followed by Mass at All Saints or some tree-hugging on Primrose Hill, if you ask me. But a word to the wise - taking those two sentences together, are you sure you haven't found your ideological home and just not realised?

Monday 22 December 2014

Father Christmas Hits Out at "Arctic Circles"

Father Christmas has stunned the elves on his factory committee by saying they're complacent, tired and "not fit to put together a lego castle with a rubber mallet".

In a hard-hitting speech in his Lapland hideaway, Santa listed the "15 Ailments of the Toymakers":

1) Feeling immortal. "Just because you're an elf doesn't mean you're immortal. Though you are, of course."

2) Working too hard. "We've seen a massive surge in faulty toys - Monday morning dolls with missing heads, and Friday afternoon teddies with no fur. Although that could have been when Robbie Williams visited. Either way, you've got to stop racking up the overtime, and focus on a quality product."

3) Becoming spiritually and mentally hardened. "Every toy should be made with the joy of a child in mind. If there's no innocent laughter in your work, the magic is gone."

4) Planning too much. "We spend 9 months trying to calculate overall sales volumes, and when the letters to me start going up the chimney, we don't have time to respond. We need to build up a safe buffer stock and trust we get it right."

5) Working without coordination, like an improvisational Jazz band. "If I see one more elf walking round with an Elsa from Frozen, while there's another elf the other end of Lapland wondering what to do with the matching Olaf - I'll nail their ears to the door"

6) Being Will Ferrell."It's just unacceptable, in this day and age, that Will Ferrell should feature in a blog post such as this."

7) Being rivals or boastful. "Rudolph's nose is the perfect guidance system on foggy Christmas Eves. The other reindeer must let him play in their reindeer games."

8) Suffering from 'existential schizophrenia.' "It's not good enough that my elves have second jobs as extras in 'Snow White' once Christmas is over. If you're an elf, you're an elf. You're not a dwarf."

9) Committing the 'terrorism of gossip.' "All I ever hear is 'look at Rudolph's nose - hitting the gin again?' It has to stop. "

10) Glorifying one's bosses. "Giant inflatable plastic models of me have appeared outside every elf's house over the last fortnight, along with innumerable penguins. It's got to stop. I don't even like penguins."

"Down with this sort of thing" - Santa

11) Being indistinguishable from others. "A few of you could at least paint yourselves blue and pretend to be smurfs."

12) Having an 'elvish face.' "All those pointy ears and that look Cate Blanchett did in Lord of the Rings, which is meant to be mystical but actually looks like constipation caused by actute macrobiotic consumption. You can all stop it."

13) Wanting more. "There comes a time when you can't make any more Disney characters from this year's film hit. I've got an entire garage full of Toy Story figures. And even I still have to pay the royalties."

14) Forming 'Arctic circles'. "We already have an Arctic Circle, and an Antarctic one. If you add anymore, it's going to be a danger to navigation."

15) Seeking worldly profit and showing off. "I blame that Dudley Moore. Making out that elvish life is all about saving Christmas and adventure and excitement. Whereas in fact it's all about good production line management, steady sleigh driving and getting good fuel economy on round the world trips. Elves are not supposed to be making careers in films."

The Sun Also Rises

Some minor grumbling among the barrack-room lawyers about our Solstice morning liturgy. That is, why didn't we celebrate this morning - the morning nearest the actual Solstice - rather than yesterday morning.

And, of course, there's some logic there. We could then have celebrated that the world didn't end during the night. And we'd have been in line with the people at Stonehenge.

I can see the logic of this position, and of course we share with the Stonehenge pagans a respect for the cycles and rhythm of nature. But consider - we also share much with our Christian brothers and sisters. Especially the Anglicans and more progressive Catholics.

So I transferred the Solstice to the nearest Sunday.

Sunday 21 December 2014

Liturgy of the Winter Solstice

Archdruid: The morning light is weak and gray

All: Because it's Winter Solstice Day.

Archdruid: We huddle in a forlorn way

All: Because it's Winter Solstice Day

Archdruid: Although we're celebrating Yule

All: The rest of Winter could be cruel

Archdruid: Let's drink good beer, and not thin gruel

All: To keep the cold at bay.

Archdruid: As Hern the Hunter stalks the wood

All: The muntjacs' chances don't look good.

Archdruid: We shall eat game, and not prunes stewed.

All: It's too cold to dance in the nude.

Archdruid: And though the days are getting longer

All: The sun ain't getting any stronger.

Archdruid: To plant tomatoes - what could be wronger?

All: We'll go and gather wood. 

Archdruid: It's bloomin' freezing. I'm back off to bed. Nature's death my left ear-hole.

Saturday 20 December 2014

The One Who Held the Hopes of the World

 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’
And so the one whom the whole universe could not contain, was held in the womb of a Jewish girl.

Mary is a lens through which we can see the story of Jesus. There at the beginning, in that moment when the World knows God is living in it again. It's like a reversal of Eden. The first time God walked with humans on earth, according to that ancient myth, it was a disobedient woman who talked a disobedient man out of that position of wonder. But now there's a reverse. An obedient woman says "yes" to God, and an obedient man is walking the earth again. This time, not one who will fail. But it takes Mary's "yes" to let God walk the earth again.

Mary is the one through whom the Gospel is revealed. She knows God - who's been communicating through prophets and priests the past few millennia - is now properly in the game. She sees the wonder of her cousin's pregnancy - and the greeting she receives in return, as the unborn John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth's womb to greet his cousin and Saviour.

And she suffers a series of martyrdoms. That initial rejection by Joseph, until he learns better. The rejection we get when we do strange things because we love God - Mary got that. She has accepted God's will, and at the first hurdle Joseph is - quite reasonably - upset and suspicious. He's got to know the rules of the game before he can accept her.

And the time she spent - after wondering at his growing strength and wisdom - feeling rejected. Like so many mothers, before and after - she's left, in a way, bereaved. He's not clinging to her skirts any more - not wandering the paths around Nazareth, lisping the names of plants and places and animals and people as he takes in the wonders of the world that he made.  He's left home, he's got his own ways - he's playing by the rules of his own game, living his own life. Saying strange things, running wild risks. And when she thinks he's out of his mind, and comes to get him - he says who is his mother, who are his brothers - the whole world, if they accept his teaching. And who are those strange women who follow him around?

Then those six hours at the cross. Broken and desolate. I remember the grief of my own gran at my uncle's funeral. My gran, in a way cursed by her own longevity - lived to see the death of her son, at a decent age, but still too young. My nan was confused, senile (at an age when you no longer say it's premature) but still feeling the pain, still numbed by the shock. But for Mary, still maybe not yet 50, still in her senses, still - in our terms - a middle-aged woman.  To see her son, so young, so active, so healthy, so charismatic - promising so much - nailed like a crow to a piece of wood under the sky and left to die. And the dark hours as he was taken down, hastily pushed into a borrowed grave - in this stranger's grave - the confusion - how did he know Joseph of Arimathea? What was he doing there, taking her son away: just as his cousin had; just as his disciples had; just as the crowds had; just as the Romans had? Why was he always being taken  away from her?

And maybe her mind went back to that time, that other time in Jerusalem, twenty years earlier, when she'd turned and he was gone. That time they'd run back, and found him - after three days - in his Father's house. Whole, and well, and astounding the wise men. That time they had. But this time, without Joseph, with just Jesus's strange friends to support her - this time, for Mary, there was to be no restoration.

And so as the earth went dark on that springtime Friday afternoon, so Mary went dark with it. God had promised so much through her - demanded so much from her. She was God's servant, and she'd done what she asked - and look what she'd received.

Small wonder, when the dawn broke on the Sunday after the Sabbath, if she couldn't face the visit down to the grave. The other Mary - the woman who'd dared to stay with Jesus through that long Friday - she went. And some friends. Very early in the Sunday morning, news came out of the garden. Strange, unsettling news. They came back with a story, as weird as discovering Jesus in the temple with the wise men all those years ago. In fact, weirder by half than that.

Was she there in the closed room that night, when he appeared, the time that Thomas wasn't there? Was she there the next week, by Galilee, on the mountain? She was certainly there when the Spirit fell and she knew that the Son she'd accepted; the Son she raised; the Son she'd mourned; the Son she'd received back from the dead, was going to be with her - in her every breath - for the rest of her life. And when she who once held the hopes of the whole world died, she was in her turn received by her Son. And I believe, as she gave up her life on earth to bring heaven into the world, she spends all eternity in heaven praying for the earth through which she was saved. Which is why I'm happy to ask her;

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Friday 19 December 2014

The All-Purpose Christmas Press Release Bingo Card

It's the same every year. The same old stories. The bloke called Noel who's born on Christmas Day, disbelieving bishops, terrified local authority officials being told by sensible Muslims to stop being sensitive prats...

Well, now you can enjoy the preparation for Christmas Yule  the Festive Season with this exciting Christmas Press Release bingo card! Just tick off the list as you read the stories or see them linked as click-bait on Twitter! If you get all 20, shout "I'm a Bingo Winner and You can  call me Rudolph!"


It's funny though, you know. If you see the amount of drivel thrown at the Christmas story - almost as much as the tinsel under the multicultural Festive tree - you start to think what is it, in this story of a baby, born in strange circumstances, that makes so many people get so bothered? You'd almost think he has a power way beyond the situation he was born into.

The Annual "Santa is not Real" Scandal

Sorry, it's a Mail link.

But I think it has to be, as I'm after three of the quotes from the story. This year it's the time of Revd Margaret McPhee - Nanny's heartless relative, apparently - to upset all the kids by denying the existence of Fr Christmas.

Samantha Tisshaw described how her confused seven-year-old son asked her: ‘Mum, why did Reverend Margaret lie to us ?’
I look forward to Ms Tisshaw rushing to the press in a couple of years' time, when her confused nine-year-old son says to her "Mum, why did you like to me when the vicar told the truth?"


Furious messages posted on the internet include one from Colin and Clare Jefkins, who said: ‘Sorry my child will not attend any more church services again. ‘She would not like it if we said there was no “God”.’ 
Well, I don't know, Mr and Mrs Jefkins. Given she's C of E and recently ordained, there's a 10 per cent chance she might agree with you, and 20% chance she'll say that, in a very real sense, it depends what you mean by God.

But my favourite is probably the Mail's own remark, 

Rev Margaret McPhee claimed that Father Christmas was 'make believe'
Claimed? Has the Mail gone so far down the relativist, post-modern, wishy-washy, liberal, un-English route as to use the word "claimed" in relationship to Fr Christmas's non-existence? Do they really believe that Santa-ism is a religion of equal worth to the great world religions?  Of course Fr Christmas is real. I've locked him in the Doily Shed after we caught him last year. And until he resigns from Forward in Faith and gives me that Raleigh Chopper I asked for in 1977, he's not getting out.

Thursday 18 December 2014

How to Deal with a Church Row (United Methodist Church Version)

How to Resolve a Church Row (Methodist Version)

The BBC and the Secret of Nuclear Dieting

I've been busy, so it's taken me a while to get to this. Let's leave the gentle world of world religion, bidding a quick prayer of bidding to Libby Lane on her imminent elevation, and move on instead to the ever-dangerous world of BBC Science Reporting.

When I read the headline, Fat "breathed out" of body via lungs, say scientists,  I mean, what - actual fat molecules being exhaled? I can imagine the odd fat molecule somehow contaminating the air you're breathing out - but actual routinely breathing out fat? I suppose it would explain how you feel if you've had a hard night on the bread and dripping, but really?

And then I discovered what they were trying to tell us. And it's terrifying.

"The Australian team traced the route of fat out of the body as atoms. Their findings are published in the Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal. When fat is broken down to its constituent parts, a couple of things happen. Chemical bonds are broken, a process which releases heat and fuel to power muscles. But the atoms - the stuff fat is made of - remain, and much of these leave the body via the lungs as carbon dioxide, say the scientists."

Stone me. You mean, as in the secret and until now never-heard-of process, (broadly, for I am writing this at a level that even BBC science correspondents might understand) decrees that we break food and oxygen down into water and CO2? Why had nobody ever noticed before?  Oh, they had? Even a fun-facts page like this?

I don't really get it. Maybe this is "persuade the BBC something everybody knows is radical research" week, and it's just not been publicised as well as "Speak like David Attenborough Day"? If so, they've totally conned this particular reporter. Who presumably has a degree in media studies.

Let me finish with this quote from the article:
"Dr Tom Barber, associate professor of endocrinology at Warwick University and University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire, said the work was interesting and novel, and busted the misperception that fat is simply burned off as energy - something that even many doctors think."
Let me give you some advice. If your doctor seriously thinks that an Einsteinian process of mass being converted into energy is happening every time you eat fat, stay well away from them. They know nothing about the human body, and even less about physics. At e=mc2, if you lose 1 kg of fat on a diet, you will release the same amount of energy as 1,000 Hiroshimas. And I don't think you want that on your conscience, do you? Stay off the diet.

Kirsty MacColl, 18 December 2000

Now you see me, now you don’t
You say you will but I know you won’t
You nearly had me in your hands but now I’m gone
But not complaining ’bout my life again
No sirree, and what I’ve got belongs to me entirely
I look left and I look right and I cross this road alone
‘Cos I’m feeling my way
I may go up, I may go down but wherever I may roam
I keep feeling my way home.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

"People are saying that...."

I was reminded of this blog post when Marston came up to me this afternoon and told me that "people are saying that" I'm imperious, domineering and scary.

Naturally I'm not falling for the old "people are saying that" shtick.  So I decided I would confront it head on. There were 47 Beaker Folk at Filling-up of Beakers this evening. I gave them each a button, and left a jar by the door on the way out.

Basically, if anyone thought I was a bullying control freak, they were to drop their button in the jar. If not, they were to take the button home with them, as a lasting symbol of their loyalty.

Anyway, good news is that a traditionalist friend of mine is being ordained as an Anglican deacon, and is making his own cassock.....

Anyone want a few buttons? I seem to have eight spare.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

The Church of England / Business Translator

Inspired by this ad for a C of E "Talent Development Manager", at a very tidy salary. Albeit I did wonder if it was a spoof. It was only the word "Parishes" that somehow snuck through that stopped it sounding completely like it was advertising the sort of role that a business that has forgotten its purpose might have used.

So to help any aspiring member of the Church of England who wants to get with the new business-focussed, go-ahead world of Church, here's those key translations from old, boring, failing church-speak to new, dynamic biz-talk:

VicarBranch manager
Sermon on the MountFormer Business Model
Diocesan BishopRegional Manager
Suffragan BishopArea Manager
ArchdeaconFacilities Manager
Church CommissionersPensions Committee
ArchbishopChief Executive
CathedralAntiques department
Long-serving parish priestUnderachiever
Baptisms/FuneralsCustomer churn
Redundant churchSurplus plant
Supreme GovernorNon-executiveChairman
GodSleeping Partner
PCC Customer Relations

See, it's not like the Church of England doesn't need to be more dynamic. It's not that it shouldn't identify, train and promote people of vision and creativity.

It's just that it doesn't need to sound like the world, and like it's picking up 10-year-old business models, when it's doing it.

Monday 15 December 2014

Infecting the Church with Mangerialism

Sometimes you wonder what the organisation you love, give your time and effect is coming to.

It's been a creeping thing, but it's becoming increasingly obvious. Even though it's against our traditions and the things we hold most dear. The Beaker Folk have been infected with Mangerialism.

This idea that we should change our organisational method - adopt the mangerial philosophy - has been criticised by many of the Beaker People. Surely, they say, a hierarchical, top-down movement cannot accept the attitude that, if the place to find the Son of God is in a manger, the first shall be last and humility is the mark of true nearness to God.

Much better, they say, for the leaders of the Druidic Synod to pick the most suitable candidates - i.e. those who work the system, function within the parameters and above all are just like those on the Druidic Synod. Then they can ensure smooth, steady, organised, effective running.

And you know, I think they're right. Mangerialism may be OK for the meek, the humble and those who are meant to be servants. But it's never gonna run an organisation, is it?

Sunday 14 December 2014

Keep UKIP off the Sherry

Being on sedatives makes UKIP member homophobic.

Being tired makes UKIP leader racist.

If they ever get in power it's going to be murder, isn't it?

Defence Minster gets flu, invades Holland

Chancellor takes paracetamol, bets Bank of England on a card game

Environment Secretary drinks double espresso, demolishes Bath

Home Secretary has a curry disagree with him, tells the Police to "arrest all the poor people."

Foreign Secretary takes antihistamine for airsickness, refuses to get out of plane on diplomatic mission because "there are foreigners out there".

Liturgy of Lighting the Third Advent Candle

Archdruid: So now, Little Bajja will light the pink candle for John the Baptist...

All: Not the pink one! That's for Mary!

Archdruid:No, it's not. That's the fourth one. The remaining purple one, which has burnt down a bit because Bozco lit it last week in a dreadful clockwise/anti-clockwise confusion. The pink one is for John the Baptist.

All: No! The pink one is for Mary. You're supposed to light it next week.

Archdruid: No. The pink one is for brightness in the darkness of Advent, for today is Gaudete Sunday. Which is why, out of respect for Catholic tradition, we sang that hippy old Steeleye Span song.

All: But it's pink because Mary's a girl.....

The Archdruid reaches for her trusty Slazenger V400 cricket bat

All: No, you're right. Pink is a lovely colour for a hairy wandering prophet. You go ahead.

Archdruid: So now, little Bajja will light the pink candle for John the Baptist.....

Hnaef (who has been awaiting his moment): I think you'll find that's "rose".

Archdruid: No, it's exactly where we left it on Advent Sunday.... 

Saturday 13 December 2014

Quick Meteor Rant

Sky-watchers will be burning the midnight oil today (Saturday) as one of the year's most spectacular meteor showers reaches its fiery peak. (Manchester Evening News)
Well, they won't will they?  The one thing that the sky-watchers will not be doing, if they want to see meteors, is burning midnight oil. How counter-productive would that be? They're much better off blowing the midnight oil out, and standing in the dark. It saves the planet, and gives them a chance of seeing meteors....

The Church Committee: The Talent Pool

Friday 12 December 2014

Why Baby Jesus Would Never Go on the X-Factor

"No Crying He Makes"

Why? If the cattle that aren't mentioned in the Scriptures were lowing, and awoke the Baby Jesus, why would he make no crying?

Real babies, real human babies, would cry, wouldn't they? In my experience the problem isn't that "no crying they make". The main thing is that they don't stop once they've started.

So why would the Little Lord Jesus not cry? If the only thing that distinguishes him - behaviourally speaking - from other babies is that he is without sin, then the answer is obvious.

Crying is a sign of sin.

This, at least, would explain something about the X-Factor. If all the contestants were (as they seem to be) constantly crying, then clearly this is the result of sin. Presumably the sin of pride and/or avarice - the idea that by turning up, moderately-talented as most of them are, with a sad back-story, they are instantly entitled to fame, respect and money. And so they cry. Cry when they go through to the next round, cry if they don't. Cry, in general. at how the world hasn't noticed that they deserve to be famous and rich, just for being the works of art that they are.

So if crying is a sin, and crying is a feature of being on the X-factor: whether winning, losing, or just being there giving your back story, then the moral is obvious, isn't it?

The Baby Jesus would never go on the X-factor.

Celebrating Wacky Jumpers Day

On this most holy of Wacky Jumpers Day, I would like to remind Beaker Folk of the rules.

Anybody turning up to any Beaker ceremony will be driven out into the snow. If no snow is available, we will provide some. I've kept a fridge-full since 2012 specially.

The Shallow End of the Talent Pool

The Church of England's latest idea is to "groom 'talent' for high office".

Where to start?

Oh yeah. Never, ever, ever, use the word "groom". Never, Ever. Again. What twit wrote this? The word used to be reasonable. But not this last 10 years. But that's not a comment on the C of E. That's a comment on the Church Times.

Next. One of the bishops in the "Review Group" of this scheme is the Right Reverend Timothy Thornton, Bp of Truro. The bishop who told us the Church of England had only six years, and the only solution was to increase the Parish Share.

I don't know what else the report has to offer, but my money is on "money for consultants".

Just a guess.

(Edit: Artsy Honker and Revd Rachel Mann got there before me. And, obviously, more thoughtfully)

Thursday 11 December 2014

The Road Less Cobbled

Our "Recreating Olde Englishe Christendom" service maybe didn't go how we planned, but it was a cracking evening's entertainment all the same.

Maiden aunts cycling to the Moot House through the evening (fake) snow and (dry ice) mist came a right cropper. Well, cycling maiden aunts aren't best suited to cobbles. Aggie completely lost control in a skid on the frozen cobbles, sent a side of Morris Men flying in all directions, through the doors of the Rose and Crown, and smashed into the vicar, out for a pre-Christmas dry sherry with a bunch of chirpy Cockernees who were drinking warm beer while wearing pearly outfits.

Little suspecting the arrival of an out-of-control maiden aunt

Of course, when the (closeted) vicar shouted in pain, his lover the blacksmith ran over to comfort him. A shock to the bishop, who was having a dry gin prior to leading a confirmation service for all choirboys whose voices had broken by the 1st Sunday in Advent. Since they could no longer hold a treble line and therefore had no use in the choir, the assumption was that they might as well be confirmed, then they could have a clear conscience when they never came to church again. On the discovery that the vicar had been outed, the bishop had no alternative but to call in a bunch of bobbies on bicycles, two by two, to organise the traditional nine lessons, tarring and feathering by candlelight. Then he retired to the Lodge, leaving an army of old wives to use their folk remedies to patch up the maiden aunts, Cockernees, vicar and blacksmith.

Ah, what we have lost.

Baby Jesus v John Lewis

"Baby Jesus takes on John Lewis" (Telegraph)

Panicked Church of England members wonder which side to support.

Senior bishop says "It's not so much either/or as both/and".

Member of the "Jesus Seminar" says that while there's doubt over the Nativity stories, there's a 65% chance there's a very nice John Lewis in Reading.

Waitrose, the autonomous region of John Lewis that has a fledgling independence movement, points out that a free cup of coffee is the perfect accompaniment to gold, frankincense or myrrh, and there's free parking for your camel.

Keen to get in on the action, Arcadia challenges Mithras to "have a go if you're hard enough".

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Encouraging Minedfullness

The "Filling up of Beakers" this evening was on the ropey side, as liturgy goes. We pride ourselves on quiet dignity, contemplation and above all mindfulness.
Ah, mindfulness. The "wellbeing" of spiritual practice.

We attempt to be mindful, to dwell in the moment - to tabernacle, if you will, in the real. Knowing that a moment in which we have been mindful, is one that we have truly minded.

Or mined. When I asked Young Keith to allow for a spirit of mindfulness, he took that to mean mined-fullness. A Moot House full of mines. Nothing too serious - nothing actually weapons-grade. But he seems to have thought that it would encourage us to consider the evil of these weapons, and the industry that produces them, by putting small explosive charges under the carpet tiles in the Moot House. Not just a few, as in the old Windows game. But all of the tiles.  Beaker Folk were hopping all over the place, to the accompaniment of St Enya's "Shepherd Moons".

Running out the Moot House, we discovered that he'd mined the path during the Initial Devotions. And the lawn. In desperation, a group of us made it to the duck pond and jumped in the rowing boat.

We saw the dull, round object, bristling with spikes, too late. Turns out he bought the old naval mine from a Mission to Sailors on the Essex coast, and loaded it with a sugar-based explosive.

So not only did we end up in three feet of muddy water; we were covered in what was essentially caramel. Why did he put condensed milk in that mine?

Learn this lesson. Mines are bad things. They should not be used. Not in war, and definitely not in worship. Not if everybody ends up smelling like a toffee apple.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

History Lesson

Today, Liverpool play Basel in the UEFA Champions League. We (I use the first person plural when talking of the Reds) have to win to go through to the last 16. Lose, and we could be concentrating on the League Cup

10 years ago yesterday, we met Olympiakos (who play merry hell with my spell checker) at the same stage. We had to score three goals in the second half to go through. We did just that, including a screamer from Steven Gerrard. The rest is history.

Unfortunately, history is all that it now is. Liverpool fans sing about the club's history. We tell the stories of Istanbul. Those of us who are old enough remember that smashing header by Tommy Smith to win our first one. But it's only history.

I reckon tradition just becomes history when it's no longer relived for real. Why do Labour supporters bang on about Attlee, Tories (and UKIP members, for that matter) about Maggie Thatcher? Because their modern successors are standing on the toenails of giants, squabbling over their minor differences in how to deal with the modern world. Why is the SNP able to invoke the spirit of Wallace? Because they've picked up his fight and run with it.

So the Kop will roar them on today. The commentators will refer to the special atmosphere of a "night of European football". But for our history to be more than just that, the players need have the spirit of '04-5, the spirit of Istanbul, the spirit of Shankly and Kenny and Bob Paisley, the heart of Tommy Smith or Emlyn Hughes. That's when history will be tradition.

When the Church calls up the stories of Jesus - is it history or living tradition? Are we bringing the life of the One who loved the outsider into our place? Are we retelling events, or re-calling them? There's Christians around the world living his life of sacrifice, even to the end. But we - are we standing in the tradition of the ones who broke the slave trade? The ones who inspired the early English socialists? The ones who contributed to the Enlightenment - whether it was a good idea or not - through humanism combined with the belief in a rational God?

Do we live the sharing of the early Church, or just tell the story as a matter of history? Does the Spirit fall in tongues of fire in our hearts, or in our Bibles?

Are we living with history, or tradition?

And for what it's worth, I reckon Liverpool will let an early goal in, get over - anxious, and lose - heroically - 2-1.

Monday 8 December 2014

The Church Beyond the Community

Interesting piece article from Robb at Changing Worship on the C of E parish system. But while it's worthy and well-argued, I guess what he misses is the application of what I'd like to call Plass's Law.

Plass's Law derives from an early passage in the original "Sacred Diary", and is probably best expressed as follows:
"The most efficient use of your church's resources in evangelism consists of reaching out to people who are Christians already, or easily converted."
You think about it - if you want a lively church which resounds with heartfelt worship, if you want fervent prayer, if you want - pertinent to the Beaker Folk - generous givers (and of course you want cheerful givers - after all, God loves them so who better to fill your church with) then starting with non-Christians is really hard. You've got to begin by meeting some non-Christians in the first place - and that can be tricky.  Then invest time in persuading them that we're not all middle-class creationist homophobes. Then instill in them the conviction that they're loathsome reptiles that no good God would love. Then tell them that God loves them.  At some stage in that process get them to believe God exists. Then set them on the 9 stages to salvation, 6 doorways to faith, 3 steps to heaven or whatever programme your church uses. Can take ages.

Whereas just offering a better Church-based experience to someone who's already a Christian - well, that's relatively simple. The hard work is done for you.  Just get your pastor to do a presentation skills - or, better, stand-up comedy - course.  Make the Quire listen to the Rend Collective till they grow beards and invest in some drums. Offer chill-out areas with proper coffee. Put the best sermons on YouTube. Generally, just make sure you're more attractive than St Wilfred's up the road. They'll start shunning the own-label instant coffee and tuneless mumbling of the quire at St Wilfred's within weeks. Be flocking down, they will.

And if there's good news at the more liberal/progressive end - at the more socially conservative side it's even better!  Because the more of a Creationist homophobe you are, the more attractive you can be to the people you're after. It just proves you're sound.

You can test my theory out. Go to Oxford Street (the one in London, that is). Go up to someone who is trying to convert people. Walk up, smile politely and ask for a leaflet.

When they've come round, read the leaflet. You don't want to leave fundamentalists unconscious from shock in a busy road like that. Sort them out, then read it. With a marker pen, cross out every sentence that would be meaningless to a non-Christian

Before you there will be a piece of paper covered in lines written in black marker pen.

They're not really trying to save the unsaved. Or if they are, they're doing it badly. They're trying to prove to the already-devout that their church is even more devout. Their pastor is more godly than yours.

And the good news is that, in a car-based economy, the more-devout church could practicably be as much as an hour's drive-time away from its ideal convert. In the 19th Century, a parishioner might walk 3 or 4 miles to get to the parish church. Today's equivalent would be getting to Husborne Crawley from Twickenham, Oxford, Leicester or Dagenham. The Church of the M25 is a reality.

And motorists who are prepared to drive 50 miles to church are going to be committed enough (and in sufficient possession of disposable income) to be good tithers as well. It's a win all round. You can keep in touch by Facebook, and they can just pop down on Sundays. Not that the types of church I've mentioned above are led by money-grabbing mercenaries. But the Beaker Folk are, for sure.

You know the other great thing? These people will be just like you!  No need to keep chastising their sins and changing their ways until they become more like the image of God that you are modelling for them. For was it not Our Lord who said the Kingdom of God is like unto a net that is let down into the sea by a modern trawler, which is designed only to catch one kind of fish? And if there's any fish of the wrong species when they pull the net up, they throw them back into the sea to make sure they're all the same type. Our Lord told truth in his parables - he just couldn't see far enough into the future to prophesy the Common Fisheries Policy.

Whereas think of the problems with Robb Sutherland's "parish" attitude. For starters, you're limited to the people who live nearby. Many of them will not be Christian - so you've got all that problem of having to gain their trust by acting nice. In fact, it's worse than that. Because they live nearby, you may have to be start acting in a consistently holy manner. They might be poor, or scruffy, or have random behavioural problems  problems for you, that is.And, being local, they might start turning up on Sundays or at coffee mornings, acting all needy. Could be quite embarrassing if you've got the local MP visiting. After all, you don't want the people who have to live with the consequences of the things s/he supported turning up in your nice 12th Century porch and wandering into church halfway through the annual municipal service.

These people will - if they ever do - take ages to grasp the essentials of the Christian faith. Especially that one about giving 10% of their income - on the assumption that they have an income at all. In fact there is a good chance that they will be a nett drain, financially and emotionally, on the congregation for the foreseeable future.

No. Get the pastor's comedy patter brushed up, improve the mixing desk, invest in some classy PowerPoint backgrounds. Print off some fairly esoteric leaflets, and advertise yourselves as a Biblical/Inclusive/Progressive/Snake-handling/Hipster church online, and in a 30 mile radius. Your rewards will be great on earth, and the people you speak to will be statistically more likely to join you in heaven. Everyone's a winner! And the people who aren't winners, are gonna be losers anyway.

Quick Niche Nativity Joke

Whom did the Magi call out when Caspar's camel broke down?

Herod the Tow Truck.

Sunday 7 December 2014

The Christmas Story Debunked - Again

In the biggest shock since the last time a senior churchman debunked the Nativity, the Bishop of Barset has debunked the Christmas story. Never has the Christmas story been so debunked. And nor will it again until next time.
The other Wise Men are outside, holding the llamas.

In a wide-ranging debunking, the Right Reverend Randolph Rogers told London newspaper "The Jupiter" that:

  1. The Angel Gabriel, being a fearsome being from the highest hierarchy of the heavenly servants of Gods (see the book of Ezekiel for other examples) almost certainly did not look like a small blonde-haired girl. Although, to be fair, few things can be quite so scary as a small blonde-haired girl in a bad mood.
  2. The mysterious group of strangers whom Luke identifies as "shepherds", on the basis of their crooks, were actually a group of Anglican bishops on the way to an interfaith dialogue event with the Zoroastrians.
  3. The "star of Bethlehem" was an experimental drone that the Romans were using to keep the Zealots under control. It fell to earth when the olive oil ran out, setting fire to a camel service station.
  4. There were no oxen or asses in the Biblical story. The Vatican edited out the actual animals mentioned in Matthew - llamas and penguins - in a desperate attempt to hide the fact that the world is round.
  5. There is substantial archaeological evidence of the use of picnic chairs in the Jewish Iron Age. So it is very unlikely that the shepherds - or, as we have established - Anglican bishops - were "seated on the ground". The dew on Hermon is notorious, and much avoided by the hermits. So they would have been wary of the effect on their arthritics.
  6. There were seven Wise Men - the traditional identification of three of them as "Bashful, Sneezy and Doc" clearly indicating that it was Dopey who suggested the detour to Jerusalem.
  7. The "inn" mentioned in Luke was a Premier Inn. There was no room because, when Mary and Joseph arrived to check in, Lenny Henry was found in the room, shouting about how great it was.
  8. The Dead Sea Scrolls mention a red-clad man called "Santa Claus", who visited Qumran and distributed Cabbage Patch Dolls. Being strict montheists, the Essenes burned the Dolls as idols. Santa just made it out of the desert on his sledge before being stoned.
  9. Statistically, several people in Bethlehem would have had dreams on the night of the Nativity.
  10. Joseph made up the story about a census. He actually made sure Jesus was born in Bethlehem so he could play cricket for Judea.
You know, I've got a theory. The Nativity is a story about how God comes to earth to forgive people for their sins, show us how much he loves us and align himself with the poor, defenceless,  and homeless. If anyone ever listened to it, it could be pretty unsettling. So much better to demythologise it, wrap it in pretty paper, sweeten it up and - when all else fails - debunk it. We're all much safer when it's a Care Bear story or the subject of archaeological or critical analysis. Otherwise we might see through the red-nosed reindeer, Santas, tinsel and baubles and see God coming, naked into the world - wrapped by his mother - and laying, helpless as the tyrant rages, in a manger.