Saturday 31 January 2015

50 Shades of Dawk

Richard Dawkins makes the news with his remarkable theory that we can cause theocratic dictatorships to fall apart through the power of rude and norty films.

We've been kicking around a bit of a "treatment", as I believe the word is, for the sort of Dawkins-approved erotica that would be effective. We've loosely based it on the plot of the Good Professor's (rather good actually) book, The Greatest Show on Earth.

In the film version we are proposing, a lusty Swedish housewife is bemused when, instead of the plumber, the dark handsome man at the door is a famous but sadly un-Nobel'ed scientist. When she asks him to talk dirty to her, he tells her at great length about the circuitous route of the vas deferens, and how - if Design really were Intelligent - the whole arrangement could be made vastly more efficient.

The Islamic State must be quaking in their Hush Puppies.

Debating Discipleship

"In the Synoptic Gospels and John, the word nearly always refers to The Twelve....
...... Scripture might therefore suggest that discipleship is not the best description of normative Christian life." (Angela Tilby, Church Times)

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

The Proof-text of the Pudding

Revd Paul Williamson writes on the First Things blog about why he objected to the consecration of Libby Lane.

Now, liturgically I do feel a certain sympathy for him - after all, he was at that part of the service where the congregation is asked if they approve. And he didn't. So I guess he was within his liturgical rites. Albeit he's not somebody you'd want to see at the back of the church at your wedding.

That said, I'm not convinced of his logic. He tells us:
"In 1 Timothy 3.1,2 we are told that “the bishop is the husband of one wife.” To be a bishop was to be a man."

So firstly I look forward to Revd Paul Williamson turning up at the ordination of the next unmarried male bishop with the same objection. I believe there will be one along shortly.

But also, I'm confused. If Revd Paul Williamson is the kind of thorough chap I expect, to have read 1 Timothy he must have read through 1 Corinthians 6 on the way there. And there we find:

"If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!  Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!  The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. "

But Revd Paul Williamson has brought so many legal cases against the bishops of the Church of England, that he has been declared a vexatious litigant, who has to get permission to sue anybody else.

So it seems to me that the literalness of the Bible depends upon the verse he's reading. You know, I can't read anybody's mind. But anyone would think there was something else behind the protest than just the Bible?

Friday 30 January 2015

Not Totally Disagreeing with Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry is in the news again, then.

On this occasion for telling an Irish TV presenter that God is evil, mean-minded and stupid.

And I think he's got quite a point. A lot of the evidence is in his favour.

Stephen Fry envisages a situation where, contrary to his theological beliefs, he is in fact at the Pearly Gates in front of the Great Judge, and decides to take God to task:
"Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?  I'll say: bone cancer in children, what's that about? How dare you how dare you create a world where there is such misery that's not our fault? It's utterly, utterly evil."
To which, if it happens, the likely response from God - if God were capricious, mean-minded, and stupid - would be "because I made the rules up. Now go back as a tapeworm" If God really were like that, it would be no good telling God so - because there is no higher court to appeal to. If God really is evil, then that's how things are, and the best thing to do at the Pearly Gates actually would be to grovel and hope things didn't get worse. Thomas Hardy reflects on our ability to make God kinder than the evidence warrants and says: 
“Human beings, in their generous endeavour to construct a hypothesis that shall not degrade a First Cause, have always hesitated to conceive a dominant power of lower moral quality than their own; and, even while they sit down and weep by the waters of Babylon, invent excuses for the oppression which prompts their tears" -- Return of the Native
They didn't, of course. Or, at least, not exclusively. While weeping by the waters of Babylon, the Children of Israel were also calling blessings down upon anybody who smashed their enemies' children on a rock. But if you're holding God to a higher standard, then God isn't really God. If God has let you down compared to an absolute standard, then God is merely another creature, subject to judgement like ourselves.

Maybe that's why some Gnostics came up with the idea of the Demiurge. The fallible little god who makes the world, getting it wrong because the Demiurge isn't the real God. Or maybe there's an inferred difference between the god who wants Isaac slain, as opposed to the God of Jesus Christ. The god who made the dodo, not the one who resides in sublime glory among the blessed ones. Maybe this earth was just made by a lesser god.

To which the Hebrews said "no".  There's only one God. And that God - although we bow down to our Creator - can also be held to account on account of the divine nature. Take a psalm like number 74:
God, why have you turned away from us for so long?
    Why are you still angry with us, your own flock?
Remember the people you bought so long ago.
    You saved us, and we belong to you.
And remember Mount Zion, the place where you lived.
God, come walk through these ancient ruins.
    Come back to the Holy Place that the enemy destroyed.
The Jewish people have never been strangers to calling God back to God's own nature. Their appeal - in a bold way - is this. "God, you have left us down.  You've let the Covenant you have given to us down.And, do you know what? You've let yourself down." That's some nerve, right there, but combined with the faith that God will - somewhere, somehow . respond.

So I'm not totally disagreeing with Stephen Fry. This world is beautiful in places, awesome - in the real sense - at times. Some of us respond by imputing goodness and love to a perfect creator.

But I also want to say to God, so what about a child with bone cancer?  What about a child that never saw the light of the sun? The woman raped in an African civil war or the orphans of Syria? How can you stand by and watch and doing nothing?

And I guess I end up with the odd, unsatisfactory resolution that, though God is great and God's purposes are loving - yet somehow God actually is acting like an irrational gambler. That the bad things of this world are, in God's eternal arithmetic, a downside worth taking on in the short term. That somehow, in a way I can't understand, an eternity of God's presence is worth a finite amount of pain. It's even possible that, through God's free love and no goodness of his own, a complaining, ranting Stephen Fry will somehow one day be caught up in the bliss.

It's only through volcanic activity that life is on this planet. It's only because stars have died that I can write these words. It's only because creatures die that this world is not littered so tight that none of us can move. To scream at God because a child has cancer is totally reasonable. God has let us down - again. These are God's laws, this is God's universe. To have made a world where this could happen - is total recklessness. There's death, destruction and pain written into this world from beginning to end - and the pain seems to be a precondition of the life. Maybe that's how it is. Maybe that's not how it should be, but I lack the full picture so maybe I can't judge.

At the depths of human pain and misery, amongst the lowest that you can go, is a man in the prime of life - a young man, an intelligent one, one who can hold his own in debate against the best-educated they can throw at him. Flogged to within an inch of his life. Nailed through the hands and feet, and left to die on a pole, naked in the sight of anyone who passes by. And the reckless maniac of a God who created this cruel and hideous universe says "that's my boy". And that boy responds, "so why have you forsaken me?"

So why?

Thursday 29 January 2015

Things that can be Weaponised

Flower arranging tools
Grave digging equipment
Musical instruments
Boiled sweets (if you have a gallery)
Hat pins
Liturgical Dancing
Coffee rotas
17th Century English
Children's activities
The Past
Organisational Change
Former pastors

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Reimagining the Church for a New Generation

That was a challenging time. We booked a Mini-Moot to discuss our vision for the church of the future.

This is key, bleeding-edge stuff. In a world where connection is more important than linear logic, where community is being rediscovered and restructured - how do we reconfigure the Gospel? We have to be bold - to break new ground - to pretend to see the future.

So we threw around some radical ideas. The challenge of the Millennials - the need for rebooting Gen X as the dreamers and visionaries instead of the embittered, cynical rebels. The need to be relevant to life on the street, to the places where it's happening. The old binary ways are melting - the new world is one of configurable identity; constant partial belonging; a new world where propositional language is replaced by prepositional attitudes.

So it was a hard time, a fun time, a visionary time. And I think we've got the arrangement of the seats about right in the end.

Election Leaders' Debate

I would like to thank David Cameron for insisting that I have to be involved in the election leaders' debate or he won't take part.

It is true that Beaker Britain, with tea lights available free on the NHS, Enya played through speakers on every corner, and much-needed investment in the doily industry, would be a happy and prosperous place.

But I feel that combining politics and religion only ever causes trouble. Not that politicians should not be guided by their own and their constituents' consciences - but mandatory Pouring out of Beakers strikes me as an assault on human rights. And the example of Tony Blair - bombing Iraq on spurious grounds and then nipping off to Catholicism once it wasn't expedient to be an Anglican - is ever before me.

So thanks, Dave, but you'll just have to share the debating platform with the Greens, Plaid, Monster Raving Loonies and Wake up Wokingham parties. This Archdruid's not for standing.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

A Perfect Day on Another Planet

This planet, if you were anywhere near it, would surely have to be one of the most gorgeous things you could see. So big that if it were our local Saturn, you could see the rings - bigger than full moon - in our Earth's night sky.

And yet this planet, wondrous as it is, is nothing compared the human mind - capable of conceiving of the tools to find this planet, of understanding the gravitational rule that holds the rings in place. Capable of seeing, calculating and - of all things - wondering.

A single human being is more complex, brilliant and precious than that whole planet - should it last a trillion years. Which makes it all the more remarkable than anyone should treat not just one, but six million, as no more than a logistical problem - a waste disposal issue. And from Auschwitz to Mosul, and every genocide in history, evil men have managed to persuade others that someone being different is a capital offence. That some heritage, or some belief, makes the other disposable. That it's a good option, when you disagree with someone, to kill them.

It's always a perfect day, on that planet around a far-off sun. Nothing every goes wrong, nobody ever dies. It just hangs there, lovely as it basks in its star's light. And nothing ever happens. There's no fear, no danger, no desire, no hope.

I look at the heavens you made with your hands.
    I see the moon and the stars you created.
And I wonder, “Why are people so important to you?
    Why do you even think about them?
Why do you care so much about humans?
    Why do you even notice them?”
But you made them almost like gods
    and crowned them with glory and honor.....
Lord our Lord, your name is the most wonderful name in all the earth!  [Psalm 8]

Monday 26 January 2015

A Traditionalist in Name Only

So the bloke who heckled the consecration of Libby Lane turns out to be serial moaner Revd Paul Williamson, of St George's Hanworth.

Well, I went and had a look at St George's website, and I was aghast. Have a look:

Comic Sans. I ask you. 

Call themselves traditionalists? Not in my name. 

A Dark Day for the Church of England

I'm shocked by the Church of England's decision today. A terrible breach with the universal Church and a sign that their slide into liberal, trendy moral relativism continues apace.

To point out the shocking break with tradition we have seen today:
- Jesus never did this
- The Early Fathers would never have imagined such a thing
- Even Luther and Calvin, while wrecking so many traditions, never dreamed of it.

So why does the Church of England think it has the right to consecrate a Manchester United fan as a bishop? We're going to hell in a handcart. No wonder that bloke heckled.

Robert Bloody Burns

Now, I don't have anything against the poet Burns. I would like to stress that.

And I don't have any problem with Scottish people - or anybody else - liking him. And I'm happy with Scottish people being proud of him. A fun poet, a good lad. No doubt about it. Good old Robert Burns. Not Rab, nobody called him Rab. Not without him writing something viciously satirical about them.

But why are pubs in England celebrating him? I mean, he wasn't English. He wrote in the Scots dialect. Why would an English pub-owner put on an evening of Scottish dining in honour of some Scottish poet nobody in the pub has actually read? After all, we don't celebrate Voltaire Day, or Mark Twain fortnight.

I think it's that weird English thing where English people think they're the norm, while everybody else is rustic, interesting, ethnic and exotic. And it's not good enough. Wake up England! You have a Ptolemaic conception of England. We're all Copernicans now. England is just a place. A nice, funny, ironic place with a climate that is, on the whole, about as friendly as you get in this random world. But still just a place. Come on England! Our own poets and culture are worthy of celebration as well.

For starters, I propose we introduce Thomas Hardy Day.

On Thomas Hardy Day (2 June) we will drink West Country Cider. We will eat fried lights, and beef sandwiches without a plate. We will drop our glasses under waterfalls. And we will consider the cursed, futile nature of existence as we shake our fists at the empty sky.

Then we will read the Thomas Hardy poem, "Hap".

If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love's loss is my hate's profiting!”

Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so.   How arrives it joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
—Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan. . . .
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

Blimey. Tell you what, anyone fancy some haggis and a drop of whisky? Good old Rab Burns, eh? Hoots!

Saturday 24 January 2015

They Flog Bloggers, Don't They?

We're not flying any flags at half mast for King Abdullah. I won't go so far as to say we went out and bought a flag specially so as not to fly it at half mast. And of course one prays that all those who die will, through God's grace, find their way to the eternal Kingdom. But the irony of Westminster Abbey flying a flag at half mast for a monarch who would have closed it down if it were in his country - and would have had the Canon Steward cover herself up or face a flogging - and told her not to bother trying to drive herself home - well, frankly, who needs satire?

The spokesperson for the Abbey says
“Nor would it have done anything to support the desperately oppressed Christian communities of the Middle East for whom we pray constantly and publicly.”
Which, by a remarkable coincidence, is exactly the same as what the late King Abdullah has done for the oppressed Christian communities of the Middle East. Although, to be fair, he did rule a country where conversion was punishable by death, and churches were illegal. But still, tact in all things, eg?

Saudi isn't just a nasty country to Christians, of course. Women who are raped, if they report it, are in severe danger of being sentenced to flogged for adultery. King Abdullah did, however, commute sentences of crucifixion to beheading. The old wet liberal.

But just as Abdullah was on his deathbed, the attention of many was drawn to the blogger, Raif Badawi, and his horrific sentence. They've currently suspended the flogging until he gets well enough to be flogged some more. Which I suppose is a sort of kindness.

And Raif Badawi draws me to the Conversion of Paul. Saul, as he was known before adopting his new first name, was no stranger to the arts of brutal execution. Revelled in them. Got permission to wander freelance round the Middle East trying to murder Christians. But then, as he's wandering along:
" Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."
It's that identification of Jesus with the persecuted Church. Jesus also tells us of a judgement where it's discovered that however you treat the weak, the poor, the imprisoned - that's how you have treated Jesus. And the interesting thing is that, in that judgement, it doesn't seem to matter what your religion is, or what you believed, whether you were a Semi-Pelagian, Muslim or worshipper of Native American spirits - or that of those you met. It tells us that you responded to Jesus through the way you treated those weaker than you - because Jesus was those people. A terrifying thought to those of us who idle our winter days by the fire knowing there are homeless on the streets of London.

But what if that means that the Jesus who was himself brutally flogged - so much so that it reduced the time it took for him to die on a cross from days to a few hours - what does it mean if somebody responsible for a judicial flogging on political/religious grounds (basically, oppression) gets to the big throne at the End of Days, and sees Raif Badawi sitting there on the throne? Doesn't this mean that our tortured, brutalised, humiliated King of Kings is in everyone who is unjustly punished and cruelly treated, from Abel son of Adam to St Stephen to Jan Huss to the 6 Million of the Holocaust to Maximilian Kolbe to Aung San Suu Kyi to the raped Bosnian Muslim women to - it would now appear - Haruna Yukawa?

Paul chose to follow the One he'd persecuted. He lived like him, suffered like him, and died for him. Christians and others across the world - including Jews, atheists and Muslims - suffer for opposing totalitarian and intolerant regimes and societies. Mostly Christians, at the moment, but that's been different in the past.

Maybe when we all get to that judgement seat, we'll all see those persecuted of the world sat there. And we'll all be challenged - were we active oppressors, were we quietly compliant? Did we kick up a fuss? Did we write letters, complain, boycott? Did we use the economic and political power we had, or did we just keep quiet, and grateful for the military support or the oil?

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Will we know him, when we see him?

Friday 23 January 2015

Commination Against the Person Who Pinched the Milk

As the hart panted for the water so I longed for a cup of tea.
And so I went unto the fridge to get a drop of milk.
For the tea is not Earl Grey, which is palatable without a drop of cow-juice.
Indeed it is a Value Brand which was purchased when we ran out
and we had to get to a shop that was open.
And now what do I find?
In the space where the milk bottle was
is just an empty space
like in the Phil Collins song "Against All Odds"
like unto the plains of Gilyead
where the fat cows of Bashan roam
and yet it is a land only of honey and no milk
and putting the honey in cheap tea
is like unto putting a golden ring in a bull's nose
though very tasteful to sweeten a nice Lapsang Souchong.

And so my wrath will burn fierce
against the one who stole the last of the milk.
In misery shall I put some powdered milk in the tea
which was bought in 1996 when I thought it might be handy.
May the one who pinched the last of the milk find it goes sour in their mouth.
May they develop a previously unsuspected lactose intolerance.
May they go around for the rest of the day with the taste of cottage cheese in their mouth.
And may the sugar they no doubt put into the tea turn out to be salt.
May the caffeine of their cheap tea bags keep them awake all night
and may their dreams be of Jimmy Carr and Brentford Nylons ads from the 1970s.

Oh hang on a minute.
No, I used the last of the milk myself an hour ago, when I made that milky coffee.
Forget I said anything.

Thursday 22 January 2015

Manning Up the Church

I'm indebted to the brilliantly ranty and rantingly brilliant God Loves Women for reminding me of something we were planning to do.

It's obvious to me that, in these disjointed and troubled times, what we really need to be into - if we're going to inspire a new generation and reach the agnostic* masses - is Manning Up the Church in a serious way. We've done the old, hippy liberal ways too long, and look where it's left us. We need Manning Up.

Obviously I'm referring to this chap.

Cardinal Henry Edward Manning. The first man in England to use the expression "Nuns! Run!" in a humorous context. A great influence on education and, above all, a man who was not ashamed of a bit of lace.

Yep, that's what we're missing in the modern church. We're scared of lace. Too much dark wood and sharp edges. Well, I've seen the light. From now on, every single hi-viz in Beaker liturgical use has got to have lace trim. We're doing a new line of proper lace doilies for the tea lights. The new Archdruidical pointy hat will have plenty of lace.

We've had enough of a feminised church. We're Manning Up!

* The true definition of "agnostic" is "having no garden gnomes". Not a lot of people know that.

Image Henry Edward Manning by Barraud, c1880s" by Herbert Rose Barraud - [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Not Knowing What a Hipster Is

No, I didn't really mean this...

"2001 Low-rise jeans and thong whale tail" by Gates of Ale - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

I really meant these...
The thing is this - a middle-aged Church of England vicar who thinks he's a bit of a man-about-the-old-metrop told me he met another vicar, only a year or two older. And that other vicar - who lives in a decent sized town - we're not talking Much Mithering in the Marsh here - had never heard of hipsters. At least, not the example directly above this. He wasn't really sure whether his companion had any views on jeans that are so low-slung they require topiary of a totally different kind to Mumford and Sons to pass for vaguely respectable. My friend doesn't think his companion is a bad parish priest - he is clearly a very good one, eschewing all worldly knowledge in favour of ministering to his flock. Clearly a good man.

But my question is this. Being a church minister requires many things - particularly in an Anglican parochial setting, I suspect. Your typical minister will have a congregation often in its seventies or eighties. They will mostly be white. They will mostly be rural. They will often want to talk about the Blitz, or what it was like trying to hold candlelit carol services in a blackout. There is nothing wrong with these things. But if clergy don't break out of their parish circles occasionally, they can become like a minister who once told me "everybody in the village is talking about our Sunday evening service", when he meant all the people he met were.

Religious ministers of England - go to the pub. Drive into your big local town, whether that's Olney, Towcester or even Stow on the Wold. Surf the net. Grow a giant beard, buy a fixed-wheel bike and get into craft beer. But not necessarily the last examples. But go out and see something different, before you look in the mirror at a 40-year-old face, and think to yourself that that sugar rationing must have been pretty awful.

"2001 Low-rise jeans and thong whale tail" by Gates of Ale - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Quick 1980s Pop Joke

Narcissus, rushing through the forest, comes to an unclouded fountain, of silvery water - undisturbed by shepherds or the flocks that graze. He flings himself down to drink and - in the water - he sees what he thinks is a real body, though it is but a shadow. He sees himself - two stars for his eyes, his godly face and body - and he gazes, in admiration, at the wonder before him in the deep.

Just then, he hears a thumping sound in the dell. And a group of creatures - half-human, half-rabbit - hop across the glade. They smile, quizzically, beneath their floppy ears as they disappear into the warren. The last he sees is their bobtails, vanishing into darkness. He is wrenched from his dream, and turns to the elemental creature of the well, who has crept up behind him.

"What were those?" he asks the nymph.

"What were those?" And her eyes are dark as limpid pools." Oh - just my backing group...."

Remove Your Pews - the Natural Way!

Good news for progressive church ministers everywhere, and my bank balance!

After a series of highly dubious experiments, Young Keith has managed to genetically engineer a particularly specific form of woodworm. Anobium x pinarigida, the "Pitch-Pine Beetle".

The Pitch-Pine Beetle is unique in being a voracious consumer of only one thing - the wood found in church pews. Any vicar wanting to develop a more innovative liturgical life, but having trouble with the Diocese of Gloucester, for example, has only to let this little beastie loose in the nave. Within three weeks, all that will be left is a series of piles of sawdust - but oaken doors, pulpits and rafters are left intact!

Oh yeah. Mail order only, we'll let you have twenty beetles through the post. Your Faculty problems will soon be at an end.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

At the Multiple Episcopal Consecration


 - Bishop who won't consecrate women

- New bishop who won't be consecrated by women

- Bishop who will consecrate women

 - New female bishop

 - New male bishop
- Bishop who would consecrate a woman, but hasn't yet

- New bishop who has a bit of a cold

Paying the Price for Non-Attendance

Uproar in the Community this morning as the invoices drop on the door mats.

I got the idea from the boy who was charged for non-attendance at his friend's party.

After all, what is a Beaker celebration if not a kind of party? And when we send out the weekly service programmes, do we not put on them "we look forward to seeing you there"?

And if someone doesn't reply, that is therefore an acceptance. And if they then don't turn up - that's a breach of contract.
I reckon either income or future attendance is gonna improve because of this. In fact, if it works, I'm going to leaflet the village with the next Community newsletter.

Monday 19 January 2015

Liturgy for Blue Monday

Hymn: Blue Monday

Archdruid: How does it feel

All: On a Monday this blue?

Archdruid: Does your purse feel rather empty?

All: Is your credit card bill due?

Archdruid: Is it still two weeks till payday?

All: Is Christmas something you rue?

Archdruid: How does it feel?

All: Tell me how does it feel?

Archdruid: Those who went off skiing

All: Are back from their vacations

Archdruid: From now until mid-August

All: They will fly away no more.

Archdruid: I see quite a bleak future

All: I wish I could get away

Archdruid: But instead I shall go to the office.

All: And spreadsheet my life away.

Archdruid: But it's only four days till Friday

All: The light's at the end of the tunnel

Archdruid: So I'll fight my way through my day

All: Though the weather's so cold.

Hymn: Blue Monday

All: 12 inch version! 

Archdruid: Let's face the music and dance!

Sunday 18 January 2015

Let Our Praise to You be as Incense. But not yet.

A strange interruption to our preparation for Divine Worship, this morning. A confused gentleman of Anglican appearance came up to me and asked whether we were Forward in Faith, or the more general type of Anglo-Catholic. I explained to him that we were Bogwulf Funambulist Baptists. We know of no strange liturgy, nor do we flirt with the Version of the Bible that is not merely Revised, but also New and Standard.

He appeared disappointed. Clearly - for we are tenants in Bogwulf Chapel, which is beautifully decorated and full of stained glass windows, contrary to the clear word of Scripture - he had assumed we were of that degenerate band of liberals and Erastians, the Church of England.

"Yes," he remarked, "I thought I couldn't smell any incense."

I explained to him that incense is merely a Papistical recovery of the use of incense under the Law which brings condemnation but no redemption. But I was surprised to discover that he was an Anglican who knew at least two chapters of the Bible - for he quickly responded "what about in Revelation 5 and 8 then? We'll have incense in heaven."

And that is correct. In incense we shall have heaven. And in the Old Testament there was incense. But for now - there is no incense. What could be clearer than that?

Saturday 17 January 2015

A Murderation of Starlings

Starlings are, to me. a powerful symbol of the divine. The way they move together as the spirit moves them - forming fantastic patterns in the sky that they themselves could never imagine. A real sign of the beauty of creation, as it aches for the children of God to be revealed. Why Young Keith imagined they would behave in the same manner when confined in the Moot House is beyond me. He tells me that how he even managed to collect them is still covered by the Official Secrets Act. But, whatever his secret, the fact is that having a couple of thousand panicking songbirds thrashing around the place is not good news at all. Screaming Beaker Folk tearing around worrying that they would suffer the fate of Tobias. Not good.
"Sturnus vulgaris in Napa Valley 1" by Brocken Inaglory - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

On the bright side, we've got a few of the Beaker Folk scraping all the guano off the walls and floor of the Moot House. We've persuaded them that, by picking up all that waste product and pouring it onto teh compost heap, they're entering into the natural cycle of renewal.

We're gonna have some great raspberry canes next year.

Friday 16 January 2015

On the Non-Biblical roots of Socialism

Some trace the roots of Socialism back to this passage in Acts:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

And, you know, there's lots here that I love. The believers recognised that their possessions weren't their own, but God's. And Luke identifies God's grace in the generosity of the young church.

But it ain't Socialism. If it had been that, the a Church would have demanded first dibs on the land and houses long before the owners decided to make such good use of them. And instead of selling them it would probably have adopted a plan to build tractor factories. Which would have been a good idea, if you could get tractors to run on olive oil. After all, everyone was still tilling the land by hand or with oz ploughs. Anybody who got a tractor factory up and running - maybe with a decent five year plan for branching into combine harvesters - would have been onto an immediate winner.

And also, there is this from a bit later on - when Ananias announces he's sold some land and given them all the money, but in fact he's kept some for himself: 

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4)

And Ananias is struck down dead for lying to God.

Seems pretty clear to me that the young Church has adopted a policy of voluntary, mutual, charitable support. Good Victorian values. Peter makes it quite clear to Ananias that he is entitled to keep the land, keep the money - it's up to Ananias what he does with it. But what Ananias is doing is trying to get praise on the cheap. 

And so in a similar Biblical vein, I'm going to announce this year's Voluntary Giving Campaign. All Beaker Folk are invited to contribute whatever they want. It's completely optional. But, where Peter had divine assistance, I am monitoring all electronic traffic in and out of the Community WiFi. And I have a list of your addresses and a drone. Don't worry, when we ask for the voluntary 20% contribution, we won't need Santa to tell us who's being naughty or nice.

Thursday 15 January 2015

The House of Inspirational Poetry

Little did Verlaine and Rimbaud know, during their poverty-stricken, absinthe-sodden, tempestuous sojourn in their Camden townhouse, that one day they would inspire the stage name of an American punk rocker.

And a Sylvester Stallone character. 

I reckon Verlaine got the better side of the deal, as it goes.

A Lament Over Tesco

Fallen, fallen is Tesco the Great!

Tell it not to TE Stockwell.
Mention it not to Jack Cohen.

The aisles of plenty are empty of customers
The website has seen better days.

How she once swooped on the merchants
Demanding retro income and listing fees

She went unto the dairy farmers of Bashan
And demanded the lowest prices, trusting that the EU would subsidise them.

She strode through the streets, putting "Extra"s and "Metro"s on every corner
Adding field to field, until she had the space to build an superstore in every town.

And she reached up-market - even as high as Waitrose.
And she went down to the depths - even to compete with Aldi and Lidl.

But her arm was stretched too far
And her underlying profitability not what she thought.

Her turnover was overturned
And who could make sense of her reporting of long-term supplier agreements?

So her profits are uncertain
And her shares have gone down as unto the pit.
Her dead cat bounceth not
And her bonds are like unto junk

And so the people gathered and laughed at Tesco
And made mockery of her

And jeered and saith
"Is this was the one that would take on the World?

But her employees were filled with trepidation
And her suppliers knew their profit margins would soon be brought low
And their volume would be like unto a stork in the desert.
And your pension probably won't do too well out of it all.

So ask not for whom the self-service checkout beeps
It beeps for thee.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

The Great List of Church Improvements

A hard but productive Mini Moot, where we generated the annual list of things people think would improve our mission, user experience and general profitability for the next years.

The rules of the Ceremony of the Creation of the Great List of Church Improvements are established since of old, and unchanging. Anyone can shout out an idea, however silly it might be to others - in accordance with our liberal beliefs. There is no such thing as a silly idea. Only ideas whose time has not yet come. And ideas whose time will never be. And those that might offend sensibilities.

And the silly ideas. There is no way we will have a Liturgical Lemur. Ridiculous. Lemurs are endangered species, and having a trained llama to take part in our ceremonies would be demeaning. If we wanted someone up front in black and white with sad eyes and that likes sitting on fences, we'd join the Church of England.

This year we have the following List of Improvements:
  1. More singing of traditional songs, which everybody knows;
  2. Longer, more expository sermons;
  3. Building a cathedral, as they're really popular these days;
  4. Replacing prayers of confession with aromatherapy - so everybody feels better about the things they have done wrong, without getting all grovelly with it.
  5. A deeper exploration of the powers of silent prayer and worship;
  6. Sundays off church;
  7. More modern songs to enable the congregation to appeal to a younger age group;
  8. Fleetwood Mac Church,
  9. Noisier worship to encourage chikdren;
  10. Liturgical Panda;
  11. Liturgical Dance;
  12. Fewer tea lights;
  13. Replacing the Quire with an orchestra;
  14. Shorter, less boring sermons;
  15. A points system for sin, with public naming, shaming, penitence and - if appropriate - tarring and feathering;
  16. More Catholic-style worship;
  17. Replacement bus services when the preacher breaks down;
  18. More people reading out their own poetry;
  19. Better, Fair-Trade coffee
  20. Pouring-Out of Beakers to be replaced by bingo to appeal to the younger generation;
  21. Coughing Church;
  22. Muddy Church for adults only (including wrestling);
  23. More evangelical worship;
  24. The Eternal Flame to be relit, now the price of petrol has gone down;
  25. Saving money on coffee by going back to own label instant.
  26. Clog dancing;
  27. 17th Century Reconstruction Services (not just BCP. Proper costumes as well. But skip the Plague);
  28. More tea lights;
  29. All potential Church Leaders to attebd crash courses in organising drinks-based entertainment functions in brewers;
  30. No - definitely fewer tea lights;
  31. Being a more inclusive Church by banning intolerant people;
  32. More cutting-edge pebble-holding-based worship activities;
  33. Croissants at all services;
  34. More progressive attitudes towards annoying people. Apparently, annoying people are a minority with no legal protection from discrimination. That mostly seemed to mean my no longer locking them in the Doily Shed. Which will probably get removed at the Committee stage.

Among ideas that were shouted down, so haven't made the cut, were "more praying" and "putting others first". These were generally agreed to be a bit impractical.

In accordance with ancient tradition, we have now generated the Improvements List in mid January.

Then the time through to March is spent in Whittling Worshops. Then in April and May we organise the Strategic Steering Groups responsible for developing the ideas that have been whittled into strategies. From June to September, we organise the Working Parties to evolve the strategies into a number of Work streams. Then from October to December, we organise the Work stream Teams to deliver the individual deliverables from the strategies. We also set up a Governance Group, with dotted lines from all Work streams, to ensure there is no duplication of effort. And the Executive Ideas Board,  which has a watching brief to ensure that no two groups are trying to do the same again.

And then in January, we hold a Mini Moot to come up with a list of ideas for the forthcoming year.

The Sun Rises Earlier Every Day

I'm no Creationist. I don't agree with Intelligent Design either - it feels too much like God as a Professor Branestawm type of inventor, constantly poking a screwdriver into the works to ensure that the right kind of thing arrives - producing a rabbit rather than a vampire, jet-propelled bunny-wunny, a human instead of a Dalek.

I guess my way of seeing it is that this universe is imbued with God's nature - not such that God inhabits it, so much as there is a lot of the nature of the artist in it. Clues and fragments of God's personality scattered around the place, the rise of consciousness and our ability to use what we assume is reason coming from the Creator being personal and reasonable. I actually do believe in a Goldilocks universe, and if anyone ever proved there were multiple universes I'll presume that therefore it's a Goldilocks multiverse.

And as rational beings, we turn that round and create models and stories to explain and expound. And so some genius decided to celebrate Christmas at the Winter Solstice.

It's now, in the weeks after Christmas, when that logic plays out (for we in the Northern hemisphere - you people of southern climes can go and practice the boomerang, have a barbie or go and fight some orcs, if I'm boring you with my Northron sensibilities).

The days are actually getting colder, not warmer. The Met Office is covering the weather pages with warnings of yellow rain and - worse - yellow snow (Burton - can you check if I've got this right?). This week's Big Wind is forecast to be the biggest Big Wind since - at the very least - the last Big Wind. Or even the Big Wind before that.

And yet the sun rises earlier every day. It sets later. Although for wildlife the days are getting harder, as the berries run out and the next fruit will be in the summer, yet each of those days will be longer.

It's a metaphor that somebody has coded into our calendar for us. Every time we think things are getter harder - the days are getting longer. When the darkest time is reached, the sun starts to rise earlier. When the ground is hard as iron, and there's no fruitfulness in the fields, it's time to start thinking about sowing seeds. When everything is dead and cold, and they have been for what seems line forever, spring is coming.

Monday 12 January 2015

Quick #FoxNewsFacts Joke

Why did an American news channel do its survey of religious belief in Birmingham with only one possible answer?

Sunday 11 January 2015

The Ordinariness of Water

It's boring enough, is water. A simple molecules - one Oxygen, two Hydrogen. Not one of those complex long organic molecules I used to have to try and work out the structures of, when I was an undergraduate in the Dyson Perrins or Inorganic Chemistry labs.

And those of us on a lush green island in the path of the Gulf Stream on the edge of the Atlantic take water - even safe drinking water - for granted. It literally falls out of the sky, half the time. If you were in the Somerset Levels last winter, it lay across farmland as if it owned the place. Which, in a way, it does. Because the Levels have been brought into their current state by engineering and a need for dry land. The Isle of Glastonbury - like its holy Eastern cousin, the Isle of Ely - gets its longer name from the fact that it was just that - an isle - in the middle of shallow waters and swamps. And when, after two years of drought, our water companies tell us that the water's running out, we have learnt to assume that they're scare mongering. That it won't be ten minutes till the stuff is falling out the sky in bucket loads again. It's dead ordinary, is water.

And yet. It's powerful stuff. Although the molecule is simple, when it's in ice or even liquid form there's an immense power in the bonding between nearby molecules. When you freeze water, it expands - it takes up more space. We tested this, long and merry enough now, during a school performance of "War of the Worlds". We needed dry ice for the special effects and, having some beer handy and fancying a cold one after the show - for we weren't a very well-behaved bunch of six formers - we put our cans of beer into a bucket of dry ice.

For those backstage, attention was taken off the performance by the sound of what could best be described as screaming. When the backstage hands peered into the bucket of dry ice - looking through the Dr Who-special-effect clouds of mist that were hovering about - they discovered that the cans of beer were bigger than when they'd put them in. And the quiet screaming we'd heard was the metal stretching as the water - for beer, even our local beer made by Mr Wells is nearly all water - expanded as it froze into ice. This is unusual behaviour - most liquids contract when they freeze - made possible because the great polarity of water means it hydrogen-bonds into a rigid, open lattice structure with more space in it than the liquid version. And cooling your beer in it is also unusual behaviour, seen mostly by sixth formers, and should not be attempted at home. Or during productions of rock musicals.

Water is a fantastic solvent of ionic chemicals. Especially salts. Which makes it a brilliant component of - for example - plants, as the water taken up by the roots contains the essential elements needed for the plants' operation. It also means that the sea is a pond of floating nutrients - which, given the right starting point of, for example, a load of lightning, it was the perfect medium for life on Earth to kick off. Which is why one of the big questions that astronomers trying to justify their usefulness will ask, when discovering an exoplanet, is "what state will water be on it?" 

Water in bulk is a moody thing. A still sea or lake is beautiful. Reflections off the sky can be wonderful. But a storm at sea is terrifying - water is heavy, and can be fast-moving.

In a hot country far from the sea, its value is really above diamonds. Because you can't live on diamonds. In an increasingly crowded world, it's already a flashpoint and a point of argument between countries. Its use is a sign of discrepancies in wealth and power. The Dead Sea is dropping by 3 feet a year due to extraction of water by the countries upstream. And the need for water from the Jordan is a source of friction as Israel's irrigated land has increased tenfold since the 2nd World War.

And so maybe it's not so commonplace, so boring. It's the life-giver - the womb of life. No wonder our ancestors venerated those places where water literally sprang out of the earth - saw spirits in fountains, springs, wells and rivers. 

And so Jesus, at the start of a long ministry in a dry and dusty land, goes down to the Jordan. And down there is a man who is returning Israel to its roots. Calling the people of Judah out from their day jobs, from their everyday lives of dealing with Roman bureaucracy and trying to earn enough to eat, and join him - like Moses and Noah before them - in celebrating the cleansing and life-giving and sacred powers of water. 

John doesn't like it - "I need to be baptised by you, and yet you're here to be baptised by me? You've got no sin plastered on you with the dust from the road and the river bank. You don't need to repent. You don't need washing."

But Jesus tells him - get on with it. It's the right thing to do.

And so the Word that was spoken over the water in creation, enters the water. The one in whom is the life of men, goes into the medium through which he created it. The thing that was meant to make all the other people down there on that riverbank holy - it has its holiness affirmed and is brought to the holiness it's always possessed, by the presence of the one that made it.

The one who made everything - who sustains everything, the one in whom we live and move and have our being - is made of ordinary flesh, is washed with ordinary water, eats ordinary bread and ordinary wine. And in doing that, he reminds us and lifts our heads up to look and sea - this whole creation, the light of the stars and the solidity of the earth and the sparkle of water - they all shine with the glory of the Creator. And if we can't see it now, in a place that is fallen and grubby and where nothing - human bodies, machines, political systems - work quite right, yet when the creator enters the world, it's on its  way up.

In the meantime, we have to take it for granted, and use the ordinary/holy things around us in the service of the God who came into our ordinary world to show how special it is. We can use the ordinary gifts we have - bread and water and our time - to serve the ordinary people, who are made in God's image, with whom we share the world. Nobody is beyond our help - nobody deserves our contempt. Because God came to share the image God had created in us. God is in the ordinary - The Word became flesh, was made of ordinary stuff like us.

Saturday 10 January 2015

The Evil Anglican Churchmen Who Opposed Obstetric Anaesthesia

I was minding my own business this evening when the attached picture got retweeted into my timeline with some suitable scorn attached to it.

Such a blatant example of religious superstition and opposition to progress. Outraged, I tell you - outraged? I was so outraged I did some research.

James Simpson, the concerned doctor, was a steady member of the Church of Scotland. He practised in Scotland, so on two bases the scandalised interests of the "godly men" of the Church of England would have had no effect on him. In the 1840s the Church of England had bishops in the Lords, as it does today, but no veto over the practice of medicine.

In 1853, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England waded into the row in a particularly blatant and outrageous way. You're gonna be outraged by this. Blatant? Outraged? I should say.

Those of you who know your history will know the Supreme Governor was Queen Victoria. She was given chloroform when she gave birth to Prince Leopold. So outraged was she by the unbiblical method, that four years later she used it again for Princess Beatrice.

So the whole "Evil Churchmen who Opposed Chloroform" story is drivel.

And it's anaesthetic. There's another "a" in it.

The Worship Did Nothing For Me

"The worship did nothing for me", said Denzyl to me after Pouring-Out of Beakers.

I just don't get it. We had the best line-up of the Beaker Quire we've had in a very long time. They were even able to do without Oxlade on the comb and paper.

The pebble-bearers glided majestically across the Moot House on their skateboards. The Little Sisters of the Holy Herring, our community of Discalced Rockhoppers, performed some beautiful synchronised diving into the Holy Well. The Winter Maidens, resplendent in their Tongan national dress, strewed snowdrop petals over our the central aisle.

The holographic Dalai Lama floated over the heads of the worshippers before spinning through the Summer Sunrise Window. Whale noises, pumped quadraphonically into the Moot House, represented "deep calling to deep". And we hired a stand-up comic to deliver a precisely-timed ten minutes of morally impeccable humour.

So why didn't the worship do anything for Denzyl? What did we do wrong?

Friday 9 January 2015

The Church Innovation Cycle

Much is made of the Pastoral Cycle, and Kreb's Cycle. But all things in life, it seems, come in cycles.

And church innovation is one such. All things in the life of the church must eventually go round this cycle. It may have an orbit of 20 minutes, or a thousand years. But round the cycle will go in the end.

Westboro Baptists Can't See What's In Front of Their Noses

Those attention-seeking rednecks are at it again. This time protesting about the people at the Gay Christian Conference in Portland, Oregon.

Yet they've never complained about the Edward Lear poem, "The Owl and the Pussycat". In which two creatures, not only of different species but of different biological orders, are married by a turkey with dodgy ecclesiastical orders. Are they sure they've got their priorities right? Are they hiding something? Or are they just scared that gay people have better dress sense?

The Church Committee: A Snack Reveals the Secret of a Parable

Thursday 8 January 2015

When Retreats Collide

That wasn't the greatest night we've ever had in the Community, to be honest.

The Percussion for Three-Year-Olds course unwisely gave the kids full-sugar Tango with their tea. Little Ronnie, in particular, is such a terror. I think I heard the last cymbal clash at about 5.30 this morning.

I'm not sure I can face the first session for our other course group. The people on our "Silent Retreat for Insomniacs" are never that happy first thing as it is.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Comet Watching

Apologies. The "Real Star of Bethlehem" comet-watching session this evening has been cancelled due to unexpectedly high wind. That's the last time we let Morris eat all that cabbage before he leads an event.

Monday 5 January 2015

Liturgy of the First Day Back at Work After Christmas

Burton Dasset: Oh woe, how full is my inbox.

All: How many are the emails that are ranged about me.

Burton: How did so much emailage appear?

All: Mine enemies (ie the people I work with) must have worked through the night watches, sending me urgent requests, even on the device that is called a BlackBerry from New Year parties.

Burton: But I promised myself I'd take Christmas off properly.

All: A little sleep.

Burton: A little folding of the hands.

All: A little raising of the glass.

Burton: But now how much drudgery lays before me.

All: How close do the deadlines loom.

Burton: For before Christmas when something had to be done by mid-January surely I said in my heart - that's miles away. I can do that in the New Year.

All: But the Festive Season has gone, the tinsel is down, and we are not yet safe.

Burton: For behold, mid-January prowleth like unto a lion.

All: And even February is now like an wolf that lurketh, even in the groves of Gilead.

Burton: And the accounting period must now be closed.

All: Like unto the house of the judge that listeneth not, except unto importunate widows.

Burton: And so shall I labour long on the ledgers.

All: And it shall be as a dreadful reckoning.

Burton: I shall be like unto those that watch for morning.

All: I shall not cease, my adding machine by my side and Excel before my eyes.

Burton: Until I have balanced the last book.

All: And in this I have hope.

Burton: For late night ledgers last only for a fortnight.

All: And Starbucks cometh in the morning.

Sunday 4 January 2015

I am no Longer My Own

From my old church, with love to our Methodist friends this first Sunday of the calendar year.

(Modern Version)
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

Saturday 3 January 2015

You Do Not Own the Calendar

Further to the priest who complained about Easter Eggs in the shops at New Year.

And people who complain about Christmas products in September.

And anybody who ever remarks that hot cross buns are on sale all year round (to be fair, this blog deals with such a thing quite sensibly)

You do not own the calendar. If you want to eat only mint leaves in Lent, that's up to you. If you don't want to buy tinsel until Advent, then schedule your shopping in Advent. But, if you do this in an ostentatious manner, don't let me ever catch you singing a Christmas Carol before Christmas Eve. You will be satirised forever. I promise. You can decide how you want to arrange your own shopping schedule. You can arrange your own services. But you do not own the calendar. If other consenting adults want to carry out transactions of seasonal products outside when you personally consider them appropriate, that is tough.

The religious person who says that it's outrageous there are Simnel Cakes sold in July (I've no idea, I just made this one up...) is saying that, on the basis of their religious beliefs, they have a right to tell other people off for their shopping habits. No they don't. I'm pretty sure Christendom has gone, and I'm frankly quite pleased about it.

You can manage your own lives. That's fine. You can eat seasonal foods at your own seasonal times. That's very wise. You are marking rhythm and balance in your own life, church, spiritual activities. This is sensible and healthy. But - regardless of where we get the basis for it from - you do not own the calendar.

Friday 2 January 2015

Three Ways to Know

They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.They prostrated themselves and did him homage.Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way. (Matt 2)
Astrologers, magicians, scientists,priests - we don't really know where to put the Magi. Somewhere in between those, probably. The lines we draw today are a bit sharper than they were in the past. And then, of course - astrology isn't a kind of religion. No, it's a kind of science. As Maureen Lipman used to tell her fictional nephew - "you got an 'ology, you're a scientist." It's bad science: science that doesn't work. But it is science. It claims you can understand personality - even predict the future - if you know something about the state of the stars at certain times. So it's subject to falsification and verification. It's astronomy's more personable, more extrovert - but less ambitious and nerdy, older sibling. It just doesn't work, that's the only problem with it.

Except, it seems, this time. They come seeking the King of the Jews, having read something right from the stars. Something - a star, according to Matthew; Jupiter, according to some theories - has risen in the East. Well, all stars and planets rise in the East. That's how we tell them apart from the International Space Station. And the ISS wasn't around in those days. But they saw it when it rose, and - driven by some mixture of understanding, their own kind of science and - who knows - the hand of God - they've ended up at Jerusalem.

Close, but no cigar. Only six miles out. Within the margin of error, I reckon, for a bunch of scientists using a science that doesn't work. That's not so bad. And there, the scientists run up against the experts in Scripture.
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
And it's the theologians that give them the answer. "Bethlehem. You're just down the road." But though these theologians know the Scriptures - they do nothing about it. They just sit there on their theologically-correct, eschatological bottoms and do a bit more musing.

They know what they're talking about, do these scribes. But maybe they're divorced from their subject.  You know what that kind of learning can do. What should be all about truth becomes instead just a thing to study. Scripture to them is a specimen - the book of Micah is, for them, like a butterfly with a pin through it. Stuck there to inspect, to tut over, to weight the words of. But run all the way over the Bethlehem, with the promise of a baby Messiah? Maybe not. In the same way you can study Thomas Hardy and never get the urge to throw a bag in your car and head for Dorset. There's theologians, after all, who don't believe in God. You want to be at a safe distance, lest you're disappointed by the reality or overcome by it. Or maybe they're just worried about what Herod will do if they run down and welcome this baby king. Itchy trigger finger, had Herod.

It's the Magi - the maverick foreigners, the Gentiles with the odd star-gazing habit - who don't think it's just an academic matter. They've dragged their bums halfway across the known world, through danger, heat and cold, to get here. They're not gonna quibble over half a dozen miles. They're off and heading for Bethlehem.

Albrecht Dürer - Adoration of the Magi(Wikimedia Commons)

And this is where the theories stand back in awe, and worship with the rest. The study of those cold, twinkling stars - looking down at the Magi, just as they looked up. The understanding of the Scriptures. Science and Scripture - the application of our intellects to what we're given. They're brilliant and they're important. They're elements of truth. But they're secondary.

All the promises of the prophets, all the wonders of the universe. All that is, and all that ever might be. The knowledge of the ages, and the darkness hiding the ages to come. They're all held in the grasp of a baby's hands. The mind that conceived the universe, conceived and brought into the world by a young girl.

The knowledge of sages and insights of prophets are secondary now. They've come to see, they've arrived and now they know. Listen. You can know the wonders of God through the study of science. You can see the mind of God written in the rules of physics, God's wondrous carelessness and terrifying abandon in the laws that run the world. And you can try to fathom God's will, to know your right behaviour and the ends of all things, through the Scripture. And when you actually know - just grasp a moment of the presence of Godself in this world. When you know, for a moment, for just a thumbnail of the wonder with which you are know, then you will find the resolution of all truths and the end of all our human strugglings.

They threw themselves down and worshipped, then they went home by another route. Changed forever and filled with the joy of knowing Christ's presence. It's open to us too. Offer your gifts, your knowledge, your wisdom and your searchings. Pour them all out before him. And know that the Christ born in Bethlehem is born in your heart. A third way to know, the glory and culmination of the other two. God is here with us.

Worship in a Onesie Wonderland

Oh. My. Days.

I suppose I could blame myself. But I can't personally be at every Worship Occasion in the Moot House. I've got to have a break now and then.

And it's been a long Christmas. Started in November, after Charlii claimed she'd discovered evidence of a "Proto-Beaker Yule". And for us it will roll on into Armenian Candlemas, some time in April according our liturgical calendar. So, especially after the Wassailing on New Year's Eve, I needed a lie-in.

But what Charlii and Hnaef cooked up in my absence. Well, I just hope the Catholic Bishops don't hear about it. Or it could be breaking out all over Europe.

Onesie Wonderland Worship. Disproving the Anglo-Catholic theory that all good liturgy is, ultimately, clothing-driven. And based on the co-incidence that Celestine and Hnaef now have near-identical one-piece outfits.

The difference being that Celestine looks rather cute in her tiger suit, because she's not one year old yet. Whereas Hnaef..... Well, maybe the fact that Hnaef bought his own in the Sales tells you something. Like that nobody, before Christmas, thought to themselves, "do you know what a mid-forties, well-built bloke would look good in? A tiger suit."

There is also the similarity that Celestine has to hold herself up by the furniture to get around the room because she's still learning to walk. Whereas, at this time of giving, Hnaef had other reasons for needing this method of locomotion from time to time.

Anyway, I wandered out to take the air at 11.30, to watch thirty or so Beaker people, dressed as an assortment of big cats, pandas and dinosaurs, bouncing out of the Moot House after Hnaef had pronounced the "Tigger song of Peace." The hymns had, natch, included "If I were a Butterfly", where anybody wearing the right outfit had to stand up, jump round and wave. And "All Things Bright and Beautiful". Which would be better-named, in the circs, "All things Polyester and Inflammable."

Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with creativity in worship. Innovation is good. Breaking down the barriers between the Church and people who think dressing up as a lion to go to the shops is a good idea.

I just wish it had happened in someone else's church, that's all.