Saturday 28 February 2015

A Sharp Edge and a Cross

Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ 
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

The time of Lent is a time for sharp edges. It's not a time for fuzzy niceness. You can do that at Harvest.

The fluffy bunny style of theology says that all things are nice, people are nice, God is nice and we should be nice. Now being nice to people is fine. But God isn't "nice". God is not a fluffy bunny. God is portrayed in the Bible as in many respects quite scary. And that's not where the Gospel is. I knew an old preacher who told me he was going to "preach the Gospel", and preached an entire sermon on the Resurrection. He didn't mention the Cross - the thing that brought the Resurrection about - once. That wasn't the Gospel. It was nice, but it wasn't the Gospel.

Jesus is listing the people that he will be rejected by. The elders - so, the rabbis, the community leaders. The chief priests - the people at whose hands the sacrifices are made that mean people can come close to God. The scribes - the ones who understand and interpret the Law of Moses - which is the gift of God through whom the people of God can keep themselves holy. The full apparatus of local and religious life and institutions will be brought against Jesus. As a Jew, he will be a nobody. And the challenge Jesus lays out is - can you be like that?

Can you be cut off from the whole support structure of your family, your street, your religion, your community? Would you see your next-door neighbour rush inside the house rather than talk to you? Your former friends cross the road rather than be associated with you? That's where some of our brothers and sisters are today.

Would you consider the possibility that your relatives - yourself - might be raped, kidnapped, killed for the sake of Jesus? That's where some Christians are today. What would I do today, with the thought that my son could be tortured and murdered because of my belief?  I don't know. It's not the cross I'm carrying. And if I thank God for that, I also have to pray far more fervently for those that are suffering.

It's easy to troll through the history of the Church and find great saints to set before us as an example. But even that is not necessary. Two weeks ago, 21 Coptic Christians were murdered on the beach in Libya for the sake of Jesus. The last words of many of them were, "Lord Jesus".  The blood of the martyrs has flowed through the Roman empire, through the Reformation, through the atheist Communist atrocities of the 20th Century, down through the Islamist murders of this current one. Because it seems there is nothing Satan hates more than the people who follow the man of peace. Because a man of peace, and justice, humility and putting others above yourself - is the thing that Satan fears above all else.

The word "martyr" has been much-abused by Islamists - not Muslims, Islamists -  recently. I guess my take on it is this. When somebody blows up innocent others - and kills themselves - they're not martyrs. They're murderers. When somebody dies fighting to take away other people's liberty - they're not martyrs. They're failed oppressors. But when somebody dies simply for their faith - holding to what they hold to be true, whether they're Christians in the USSR, Muslims in Burma - an atheist in Bangladesh - they're a martyr. They've died witnessing to what they believe is true, and they've not done it at the expense of anybody else.

As Christians, we're called to follow Our Lord wherever he leads. It's not good news on a short scale, this one. When Jesus tells his disciples what's going to happen, Peter tells him off. Come on Jesus, this doesn't need to happen. You can keep being a preacher - keep on the behaving well stuff. Maybe lay off the "kingdom of God" theme. That's never gonna go down well with the authorities, bashing on about alternative powers, higher forms of government than they can call upon.

"Get behind me, Satan." Peter's looking at the short-term view. He's weighing up the odds for the next few years - but there's much greater weight in the scales than he realises.

Jesus sees a cross - a short time of death - and beyond it, an open tomb and a new hope for the world. He knows that the easy route - Peter's route - leads to a life as a much-loved prophet, audiences with Herod, tea with Pilate - dinner with Annas and Caiaphas, discussing how Jesus's movement can best be channeled into raising funds for the Temple. This is why Jesus says "Get behind me Satan" - he's echoing the approach of the Dark One in the desert. Take it easy, do your magic, draw the crowds - you can be on the gravy train for life.

But Jesus's choice is starker than that. If he takes the easy, cushty route then he's leading his followers down the primrose path to hell. He'd be saying that belief is about sitting round, feeling good, thinking how great God is... everything except the thing he's come for.

And what he has come for? Is to set out God's priorities. That the poor, the child, the weak, the oppressed come first. That the rich, the so-called grown up, the strong, the one with power comes last. That power over another may be strength in this world - but on an eternal scale it's a disaster. .Because power, money, strength - they are delusions. They exist for a while, but they fade. Or you die and they're gone. And then you have another set of rules to deal with.

The Church goes wrong when it allies with those with power. It always has. When it sides with vested interests - whether the king and the nobles in medieval England, or the power of capital in the United States, or the dictatorships of South America. On either side of a division between power and weakness, you will always find Jesus on the side of weakness. Because a man nailed to a cross can't side with power. He knows it all too well for what it is. This is not to say that money is bad, or power can't be used well. But weakness is the side that Jesus is on.

Remember the moment when Frodo offers the ring to Galadriel? She's the elf-queen, the mighty one. He is a three-foot gormless berk with a mighty artifact he can't control. He says to her take it. Her response
"And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!'
She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.
'I pass the test,' she said.'I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.'"
Galadriel has a choice we all have. To use the power we have for good - or evil - or to give it up. Jesus would have made a very good, wise teacher, stayed alive, worked his way round the powers-that-were: done everything but been the Messiah of God. But he chose to go another way. To align with the weak, to preach good news to the poor, to declare that a world order was turned upside down and the strong would not have it their own way forever.

Because the cross is a sign of weakness, a sign of failure. A sign that power hates humility. That the very thing that the dark one fears is one who willingly gives himself for others. We are not called to pick up a sign of victory - or not as the world knows it. We pick up a sign of slavery, of oppression, of defeat. And in siding with the weak and defeated we side with the God who loves the weak and the poor.

I don't know what your cross will be, or is, specifically. But I know that it's the point at which you give up your rights, your strength and your power - and suffer for the Kingdom. For most of us - not the People of Christ in the Middle East - it won't be a literal cross. But the reminder is there before us all the time. If even the King of the Ages was nailed to a cross, what rights do we cling on to? If the one who made the stars is hung naked before a baying crowd, how do we dress up our own ambitions and desires? It sets the things we prize most, and the things that matter most, in sharp contrast - an edge on which we can fall either way.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but lost
and pour contempt on all my pride.

The Secret Sunday School Teacher - Somebody is Letting the Play-Doh Dry Out

Inspired by the Guardian article where teachers whinge, "Grismella" writes this searing insight from the dusty room behind the church hall.

I suppose the reasons why I got into Sunday School teaching were much the same as other people's. I like coming to church. We have nice biscuits. I like the first two songs which are always quite jolly. But I found the sermons really boring, and I enjoy cutting up card. And, of course, a profound sense of calling. And in the early days it was great fun. Apart from the children.

But the fun's not there so much any more. In past, it has just been that the "Roots" magazine has maybe had an off week and I've had to think about what the Bible is trying to say. I could cope with that. Even though young Daniel, whose mother is the vicar, would keep coming up with trick questions like "if Genesis is true, why didn't the dinosaurs eat the cave men?" In the end I had to ask the vicar. She told me Adam, Cain and Abel killed them all because they were fed up with the droppings. Especially the pterodactyl. You wouldn't want to get that in your eye.

And now something more sinister has happened. Somebody has been letting the Play-Doh dry out. You have no idea the stress that puts on you. Especially when you are making models of the animals on the Ark. I tell myself it was just carelessness. But there's always that nagging suspicion. Especially when you know that Radnor is after your job.

Radnor is 18. She's grown up in the church. It's three years since she left Sunday School of course. But she's told us her plan is to become a Sunday School teacher rather than stay in the service on Sunday mornings. But - mark this - we have no vacancies. So she sits around offering to "help". She says she will cover for us if anyone is away or ill.

But I think she is deliberately poisoning me. Last month, I had terrible stomach and head aches on Sunday morning. Radnor "stepped in" and was of course told what a great job she'd done, how everybody appreciated her help at short notice. Everybody giving her the praise I don't get every week. But my suspicion is that she had followed me and my friends down to the curry house where we had a meal the day before, pouring extra chilli in my Lamb Naga and putting something in the shots we drank afterwards in the night club.

And Radnor is "ever so good" at tidying up when the work has finished and we've sung the "Arky Arky" song. Although she drops hints that maybe the "Arky Arky" song is a bit old-fashioned. So I think Radnor has been deliberately leaving the top slightly loose on the Play-Doh to ensure it goes rock hard over the week. And sticking glitter on the Pritt Sticks so the first glue of the week is always really shiny and hard to spread. And I know she looks like she is being kind when she sharpens all the colour pencils. But I know she is deliberately breaking the leads to disrupt my sessions.

I have stressed to the vicar that she must never ever go to another church. She's been here 10 years now, but young Daniel and his dangerous views on dinosaurs will soon be too old for Sunday School. And once he's old enough for university maybe the vicar will decide it's time for a new calling. And if the next vicar is a man, and Radnor looks up with those sulky, soulful eyes and tells him she'd really like to be a proper Sunday School teacher and not an assistant - that's going to be it for me, isn't it?

I sometimes think that I'm reading things in that aren't there - letting my own paranoia and fears that I'm "not a very good teacher - always worrying about yourself and not helping us", as Daniel put it, get me down. I'd discuss it with the Sunday School leader. But I reckon she and the other teachers are breaking the biscuits while I get my cup of tea after Sunday School. I always get there last, as I've got to watch Radnor put everything away. Make sure she doesn't leave the lid off the Play-Doh. She does that, you know.

Friday 27 February 2015

Thought for the Day

Whether in work or Church, there's nothing wrong with flying by the seat of the pants.

As long as you're flying alone.

And they're your own pants.

Liturgy on the Passing of Leonard Nimoy

Hymn: Star Trekkin'

Archdruid: In the end, we're all just red-shirts on God's star ship.

Hnaef: There's Klingons on the starboard bow,  Archdruid.

Archdruid: Mr Scott, set the photon torpedoes to 83-gun salute.

All: Beam her up, someone

Archdruid: Worship the Lord your God.

All: For that is logical.

Archdruid: Do not fall in love with aliens like Capt Kirk does.

All: For they shall surely perish in unexpected ways.

Archdruid: And do not tribble yourself about tomorrow - what colour shirt you shall wear.

All: For sufficient unto the day are the tribbles thereof

Archdruid: Those who live by the photon torpedo

All: ....shall die by the photon torpedo.

Archdruid: How logical are those who teleport.

All: For they shall inherit someone else's earth.

Psalm 3 ("Thou, Lord, art a deflector shield about me")

Archdruid: Mr Spock has boldly gone where many have gone before.

All: Unto the final frontier.

Archdruid: We know he won't be coming back for now.

Scotty: Ye cannae break the laws of physics.

Archdruid: And we'll surely hear from George Takei soon.

All: To boldly share like no Facebook user has shared before.

Archdruid: But we say, Leonard Nimoy who was the best alien of all: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. [ False ears and Vulcan salute everyone..... ]

All: Live long and prosper.

If you see George Herbert in the Road, Emulate Him

"He was noted for unfailing care for his parishioners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill, and providing food and clothing for those in need....Never a healthy man, he died of consumption at the early age of 39."

On this Saint George Herbert's Day, I pledge myself to unfailing care of the Beaker Folk. I shall take tea lights to those who are ill. I shall provide pebbles and food for those in need.  I shall mop their consumptive, romantic brows. I shall be unstinting in the time I put into this sacred mission. And then, when the day's labours of care are o'er, I shall long bother the night watches with the composition of metaphysical poetry.

Thank goodness it's only one day a year. I'm dreading it. Not surprised it killed George Herbert

Thursday 26 February 2015

Getting Your Priorities Right

I've been reflecting on a clear, but illustrative point.

If you are reading this on a computer,  look at the 'Top 10 Ever" of posts on this blog's sidebar . All enlightening,  amusing and challenging, sure. All - more to the point - about the minutiae of church life. What is absurd about being a Christian; what sort of Christian are you.

Not apologetics. Not, as for the last 48 hours, pouring scorn on atheist Dawkins fan boys.

I consider the daily 2,000 readers I typically get for a bit of silliness about Church profiles. I compare it to the 20 readers of the, to me, gripping question of how God might be involved in Creation without turning up and waving a magic wand. (Clue: the words to consider are 'in him we live and move and have our being').

What does this tell us? I'm a big science fan. I have an Oxford MA in Chemistry. I love science, me. The way religion and science shed light on each other - I love all that. Seeing some wannabe Dawk spouting off in a mixture of ignorance and confirmation bias - or some creationist doing the same, for the two positions are illegitimate half-siblings, not opposites - that gets me grumpy. Sends me off to create a mountain of snark.

But the typical churchgoer is miles ahead of me. They know Richard Dawkins and his ilk are basically just wasting good breathable air when they spout forth. They don't care if I satirise the excitations of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, or whatever it's called.

Because my readera have more important things to worry about. How many buttons on the cassock of an evangelical who's quite fond of the 39 Articles? What type of incense to use Plough Sunday?  Is it green or gold from Epiphany to Pentecost? Now that the Food Bank appears to be functioning properly in town, should we expand to renting the school on the middle-class estate? These are the things my readers mostly worry about.

Arguing with scientism and radical atheism - that's of no interest. If you are collecting a car boot-load of groceries for the local people who can't make ends meet, you ain't got time to worry about Stephen Fry. You want to help your fellow people, then get home to an argument about what colour the third candle in Advent should* be.

That's why the readers of this blog care more about which Charismatics are always forgotten about** or what the weight of a churchwarden is if expressed in badgers***, than an argument about whether God exists.

They know God exists. And they've got their priorities right.

* Rose. Or, if you are a man, pinkish.
** Catholic Charismatics
*** European or African badger?

New Scientific Hypothesis Proves the Existence of God

It's late, and I've given up Social Media for Lent. But I've just realised I've missed something important. And I wish what I'd missed was the Dawkins fan-boy page discussing it. There is nothing looks more like a faith than a bunch of people drawing completely erroneous conclusions from something, is there? Which is what the Dawkins fan-boys are doing. Bless them. They've got to believe in something.

So let's think about what that hypothesis of Jeremy England's that I was just referring to (and the Independent was failing to understand) was saying. It was saying that the nature of our universe is such that life can spontaneously evolve. That the very fabric of probability is such that entropy can drive evolution.

It's almost, wouldn't you say, like it was designed that way? Almost like it was reflecting the very person-hood and life-giving nature of a living Creator. Chuck in the quantum anthropic principle that no quantum universe could exists without an observer, and, as Oolon Colluphid might say, that just about wraps it up.

I'm playing, of course. Obviously, the way to interpret evidence is the way you want to. That's what good scientism is all about.

Overturning Guardian Orthodoxy

In October I wrote a blogpost pointing out that the Guardian, on religious matters, except for Andrew Brown, didn't know what is was talking about.

I am pleased to note, thanks to a correspondent, that the article I was complaining about was changed to make it more boring but, more importantly, more historically accurate.

I'm not claiming any credit. But it's nice to know that they do learn occasionally. The Guardian have, on this occasion, shown an ability to tell their apse from their ambo.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

The Least Scientifically and Theologically Literate Article from the Independent Since the Last One

I don't know. I reckon this could be one of the worst ever. In many ways worse than articles in the tabloids telling you that rearranging the astrological chakras in your airing cupboard can make sex better.

"New theory could prove how life began and disprove God" says Andrew Griffin in the Indie.

The theory is basically "given long enough, things can happen". This is true, but not exactly radical.
There is an explanation of the theory given that is, in essence, drivel. I think Andrew Griffin is trying to say something about how organisms apparently break the 2nd law of thermodynamics, but of course don't. I think he's trying to say that. As that is what the original article in Quanta magazine says. But the following.....
"But a new theory, proposed by a researcher at MIT and first reported in Quanta Magazine, proposes that when a group of atoms is exposed for a long time to a source of energy, it will restructure itself to dissipate more energy. The emergence of life might not be the luck of atoms arranging themselves in the right way, it says, but an inevitable event if the conditions are correct.
“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said."
..... is basically just a set of words vaguely related to each other, piled up in the hope that we believe the author sounds plausible.

I got the feeling from the Independent piece that I was missing the whole "and then a miracle happens" box in the flowchart. We're given the researcher's second name  but no first name. I was left wondering if the researcher is the entire south-eastern half of the United Kingdom?

But here's the killer blow to God from Andrew Griffin's perspective...
"As Rosenberg notes, the idea that life could have evolved from non-living things is one that has been held for some time, and was described by the pre-Socratic philosophers. But England’s theory marks the first time that has been convincingly proposed since Darwin, and is backed by mathematical research and a proposal that can be put to the test."
The idea that life could evolve from non-living things has been a given for ages. The mechanism - the divine spark - if you like - that's the bit that needs a bit more explanation. Though not much. When all is said and done, this is still a theory that if you put energy into an inert mass of material, there is the possibility of life. That's what the "lightning bolt in a chemical soup" theory of the origin of life holds. In a weird kind of way, it's what the creation of Adam describes - the inert Adam, made from the dust of the ground, needs a kick from the outside (the breath of God in this case) to make him move.

The Independent article has proved nothing. It's meant nothing. Frankly, it's barely resembled English and never got close to science. And has it disproved God? As far as I can see, the main thing it disproves is that Andrew Griffin is a journalist who should ever write on religion or science.

Meanwhile, the actual article in Quanta is here.  It's interesting, it's well-written, it accepts the theories that England is setting forward are there to be challenged, and it doesn't mention disproving God at all. Which means it is scientific. It's important sometimes to understand these distinctions. And "England" is actually Jeremy England. Looks a nice, thoughtful young man. Maybe he should write for the Independent. Somebody ought to.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Church Profiles - Some Clues

You know how it is. Your current ministerial posting turned out not to be the New Jerusalem you were sold. And the congregation is starting to realise that you're not exactly the Archangel Gabriel yourself. And so you take yourself off to the jobs pages, and you find yourself trying to decipher the terminology.

Just what is a fellowship trying to convey when it's using a piece of ecclesiastical jargon? Is Laudian higher than Traditional?  Who raises their arms highest - a charismatic or a high church vicar at the Eucharistic Prayer? Here are the clues you need

Affirming Catholic: We're keen on everything. And very affirming. We affirm lots of things. In a very gentle, affirming way. Not too specific. More kind of Affirming Fuzziness.

Alternative Episcopal Oversight: See "Forward in Faith".

Anglican - We think a term nobody understands may be better than "Church of England", which everybody does.

Catholic: Not actually proper Roman Catholic. Cos if we were we wouldn't need to say Catholic. And you wouldn't be looking at our profile, would you, Sandra? If you get the job as our minister we'll call you "Father" whether you like it or not. Unless Sandra gets the job, in which case we'll call her "Reverend Sandra", as "Mother" just sounds a bit scary and Psycho-esque.

Celtic: Not really Celtic.

Charismatic: In the 60s we had prophecies, healing and speaking in far-ancient tongues. But we've tidied that down to tweed and Matt Redman.

Conservative Evangelical: God writ it. So you'd better live with it.  (Dietary restrictions subject to New Covenant).

Dignified worship: No children

Diverse: Irreconcilable

Ecumenical: Average worship.

Emergent: Like "Fresh Expression", only vague.

Evangelical: We've all sinned. And now we're all much better. But them out there..... oh boy... God will meet them where they are. And make them like us.

Environmentally-sensitive: Pagan

Forward in Faith: We are dedicated to the unity represented by the Bishop, so much that we got our own.

Fresh Expression: Almost completely meaningless. Could be a hymn-singing creche in a tennis club, a family service in a 13th Century church, "Swimming Pool Church" (no petting, smoking or forcible baptism) or a bunch of hipsters getting together each Sunday to have a "who looks most like Moses" competition.

Inclusive: Welcoming of people of all genders and none; all sexualities and none; all viewpoints except the ones we disagree with.

Laudian: Keen on dressing up. Not too worried about why.

Liberal: Tea lights, pebbles, 1970s hymns played on an 1870s organ. We're progressive, we're hip, we're welcoming, we're loose on doctrine and tight on finances. We're the Church of the future. We'll all be dead in 20 years and the building will be a snooker hall.

Liberal Catholic:  We strongly believe in many things.  But mostly incense and copes. Oh, do we love incense! Incense, don't you love it? And chasubles....

Liturgical Renewal: At the cutting edge since 9am, sometime in 1950.

Milenial: Like Millennial, but mis-spelt.

Millennial: The Reverend Mumford and his sons welcome you. Rend your Collective, not your hearts.

Missional: See "Fresh Expression"

Modern Catholic: You might think "electric guitars and loads of incense". You might be disappointed.

Open Evangelical: Like Evangelical but with a longer timescale on Creation. Non-judgemental on sexuality. Not actually judgement. We wouldn't like to judge. Not in a judgemental way...

Post-Evangelical: Big on love and forgiveness. "Over" all that judgement.
We're not of Paul! We're of Jesus! We're post-evangelical, and post-ironic.

Post-Modern: It's not about the grand narratives. It's about the small stories. And my small story is "How do I feel?"

Reform: Reform is something that happened once. In the 16th Century. Let's not do it again, eh?

Rural: Ten churches. And the vicarage is haunted.

Spirit-Led: Erratic and uncontrollable.

Strong Choral Tradition: The organist is in control. The organist has always been in control. The organist will always be in control. The organist has sign-off on the Church Profile. 

Traditional Catholic: Like "Catholic". But remove all references to Sandra. And move to 1894.

Unique Challenge: We've seen off six ministers in as many years.

Welcoming: Needy.

Broadchurch - Series 2 Finale

Spoiler alert. Also I should warn you that my entire experience of watching "Broadchurch" consisted of writing blog posts, occasionally looking up and going "Ooh! West Bay!"

So a little challenge for you - "Broadchurch" is Bridport/West Bay's third appearance in fiction or drama.

(A) What were the other two, and what was the town's name in each?
(B) Which of the two was the worst venture by a former Eastenders actor since Anita Dobson's recording of Anyone Can Fall in Love

Anyway - the Broadchurch plot as I understood it. Having been on trial for murder, the shaven-headed scary bloke - no, not that one, the other one - is found guilty. In accordance with ancient Dorset law, he is sentenced to be thrown off a picturesque cliff by the local pagans.

But having prepared him for sacrifice, the pagan priestess (that woman who's in everything) divines that even Manannan Mac Lir will not accept him. The ancient sea god wants him to suffer even worse than this. They consult the local vicar, to find out what thing in all the three creations could be worse than a long drop to a watery grave.

The vicar consults the Big Book of Divine Retribution and comes up with the answer. So they send him to Sheffield.

Meanwhile David Tennant gets a taxi. When asked where he's going he responds, enigmatically, "Trenzalore".

As I say, I wasn't paying much attention. So I may have filled in a few details.

Monday 23 February 2015

The Beaker Folk Will Not Pay Below the Living Wage

In the light of recent comment in the media I've had people coming up to me today asking whether anybody in the Beaker Community is paid under the so-called "living wage". I've no idea why it's called a "living wage", as it's pretty clear that Iain Duncan Smith, for example, couldn't live on it. It wouldn't even keep him in smarm.

But never mind. The answer to the question is that no, we do not pay anybody in the Beaker Community under the living wage. Hnaef, Daphne, Charlii, Keith and I are paid via an account in the British Virgin Islands. And technically we're not employees, we're charity trustees. So that's all fine.

Burton Dasset does the role of Treasurer for free as he thinks I might one day be overcome by the realization that everything he does, he does it for me. Which only ends up with more money being funneled via the BVI, to pay for my anti-emetics.

And, of the people who perform the more menial roles around the place, I would like to make it clear that Rodrick in the Beaker Bazaar is an intern and Morry is a volunteer. Chezney who works on the till is on work experience.  Bernie, the cook, works for the roadkill and because I know what happened to his uncle. And Dazza and Dreidrie, the handy person and cleaner, are respectively just retired and helping out, and self-supporting.

So no - we at the Beaker Folk don't pay anybody under the living wage. I'm glad I've made that clear.

Sunday 22 February 2015

Emma Watson - The Beaker View

It has been claimed that the actress Emma Watson has been dating Prince Harry

As a person famous only for ĺiving in a make believe, fantasy world of strange behaviour; castles, and people with bizarre titles, totally removed from reality - there's no way Harry should be let anywhere near a sensible young woman like Emma Watson.

Bishops' Pastoral Letter to be Filmed

Much excitement in the world of religion, politics and cinema as it is announced that the Bishops' Pastoral Letter is to dramatised.

Since it's being adapted by Peter Jackson, it's expected that the 5th part is going to come out about the time of the 2020 election. The part of Grima Wormtongue is to be played by Peter Mandelson. Bishop Libby Lane takes on the role of Eowyn.

There's a satisfying ending, in that the Scouring of the Shire is restored. However after throwing Sharkey and his pals out of power, Frodo and his pals decide that they need to follow exactly the same policies as their predecessors.
Meanwhile, in a dark cavern under Middle Earth, Gollum raises up his fighting Ukip-Hai. A race that tries to hide their true purposes under the pretence that they are valid participants in the Battle of Five Armies. But whose schemes are always undone because they keep accidentally saying what they're really thinking.

Far, far  away on the Barrow Downs, Tom Bombadil continues to tell everyone to be nice to each other and not worry about possessions. The Minister for Mordor is terribly catty, and points out that Tom's congregation has dwindled to just the Lady Goldberry. And even Gandalf accuses Tom of preaching moral claptrap.  But Tom remembers that money, power and even rings are temporary, sings his merry songs, and stays closer to the truths of this world than all the others.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Somewhere, Over the Rainbow

"God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh." (Genesis 9.8-17)

Everybody with a smartphone has a nice picture of a rainbow. Here's one, for example. From when I had a job as a stunt double in that film (let the Reader understand).

Whereas this one is a real humdinger of a rainbow. It's lucky Constable had his phone with him when he visited Stonehenge, really. And what were the chances of him arriving in weather like this?

"John Constable Stonehenge".
  Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
It's a massive, powerful picture. There are human figures in the picture, but they're dwarfed by the stones. The stones themselves - the grandiose wreckage of human endeavour - are in their turn reduced to minor details of the landscape. The thing that dominates this picture - in the same way it does in Turner's more violent, but equally "sublime" landscape - is the sky. And in that brooding, heaving sky, it's the double rainbow that is marked out - its arc falling to ground just behind, or even within, the stones.

It's not a magic thing, a rainbow. You can work it all out beautifully, scientifically and mathematically. You can work out how low the sun has to be before one is observable from the ground. You can generate one for yourself, on a sunny day, with a sprinkler attachment on  a hose pipe. It's all good, scientific, solid, predictable stuff.

But it's a good symbol, nonetheless. I wonder, when that great flood that sparked the legends of all those Floods took place - did the bedraggled survivors, piecing their lives back together, see the rains come storming in, look to the skies, and take comfort? It's a symbol of a covenant as strong as the laws of physics.

It's not the covenants where there's stipulations on both sides that give me hope - they depend too much on me. I love God's one-sided covenants.  The ones where God promises to make Abraham a nation; to write his laws on our hearts. The rainbow stands in the sky, no matter what we do. Be we as kings or as small as the figures in Turner's Stonehenge, the promise still stands. You can turn around, you can look the other way. You can shut the door and refuse to look out. But as Mr Scott would remind us, ye cannae change the laws of physics. If conditions are right, there will be a rainbow in the sky whatever you do about it.

And your rainbow is in a sense a constantly changing thing. You may be in the same place. And the sun is the same, in a relative way. But every moment that you look at a rainbow, the sun is reflecting from (and refracting in) a different set of raindrops. Its constancy is actually the sum total of all its innumerable changes. Maybe that's a symbol in itself. God is ever old and ever new - constantly renewing our world, imagining new things. Our world changes - we grow, grow old and die. Everything is constantly moving, dragged down under the weight of gravity and entropy. And as we change, God moves with us. We are a pilgrim people. Whether spiritually or physically, we have to move. And the sign goes with us - ever changing, yet ever faithful.

Twenty-one Christians are murdered - not executed, which the media seems to think is a stronger word - they're murdered, there is none of the legal justification of an execution - on a Libyan beach, simply for following Jesus. Their murderers make up the excuse that these poor labourers - whose church has existed in North Africa since before Muhammad was born - are "crusaders". But the murderers are right that they are people "of the cross". After all, they've just received their cross. And they are welcomed into paradise by the One who took the Cross before them.

 And where I would want to see bombing raids, a Coptic Christian calls out for God to forgive. God's mercies are new every morning. That bishop understands the logic of an unconditional, universal covenant. Even if you're so far from God that you make up lies to justify murdering innocent people, God's grace is still free and available. The pilgrimage of God's people has gone from Noah's promise, through Abraham, through David and Jesus - and God's free promises are still being offered. The promise doesn't require you to kill infidels, but then nor does it ask you to follow some African Christians in their belief that you should persecute gay people. Nor does it ask you to believe in whichever social rules your own religious body believes in. God's eternal promise just needs you to believe the promise.

The promise says that God will bear with this dirty old world as long as it takes. And I've no idea how long that is. But a one-sided convenant means however far you wander, whatever you do, wherever you go, whatever the world throws at you, God is still bearing with you - ever changing, ever showing new mercy, but ever the same. You can't stop a rainbow and you can't make it stand still, either. All you can do is look and wonder.

Friday 20 February 2015

Getting Our Nose Out of Current Affairs

It has been suggested to us that we have, over the last few weeks, focussed possibly too much on the worlds of finance, the press and politics than is necessary for a religious community. And, on balance, I am prepared to accept Iain Duncan Smith's view that the church should leave politics to those quiet men who know what they are doing.

Anyway. This afternoon's traditional Swiss worship (with yodeling) will be in the Barclay Room,  where we will be considering the Lenten theme of being called to account. And the Sark-style Feast of Non-Registration of Financials will be  in the newly-renamed HSBC Moot House. Should be quite an event.

Thursday 19 February 2015

That Telegraph Editorial in Full

Nobody likes us
Everybody hates us
We think we'll eat some worms.

Short, fat hairy ones
Long, thin, skinny ones
Itsy bitsy buzzy worms.

Thanks for the money
Now it's time to eat some worms

BBC don't like us
Guardian hate us
Think we'll go and eat some worms.

Sorry, it's here really.

Making the Bishops' Pastoral Letter More Vital

Let's ignore Iain Duncan Smith for a minute, shall we?

Doesn't that feel better?

Now. More intelligent and sensible people than the "Quiet Man" (and let's face it, he has a lot to be quiet about) have commented on the Bishops' Pastoral Letter. Which is, at 52 pages or so, quite a lot of reading in this 3-minute-attention-span world.

Charlie Peer, for example, said:
While Paul Stead said
I've considered this. And I've concluded that the sight of the House of Bishops reading out a 53 page document on YouTube is not going to make things any more exciting. Although tweeting the key points with the hashtag #notalltories might not be such a bad idea.

But the key in this fast-moving, hyper-connected, communication-overloaded age is, I reckon, to combine Paul and Charlie's ideas into one. I'm thinking of the video like this

Bp of Gloucester: "The privileges of living in a democracy mean that we should use our votes thoughtfully, prayerfully....." * Does cartwheel in cathedral *

Bp of St Albans: "... and with the good of others in mind, not just our own interests. " * Eats world's hottest chilli *

Bp of Bath and Wells: "In Britain, we have become so used to believing that self-interest drives every decision,...." * Skateboards across roof of Westminster Abbey *

Bp of Ely: "....that it takes a leap of imagination to argue that there should be stronger institutions for those we disagree with as well as for those 'on our side.'" * Wheelies through Bishop Woodford House on a motorcycle *

Bp of Newcastle ""It is not possible to separate the way a person perceives his or her place in the created order from their beliefs, religious or otherwise, about how the world's affairs ought to be arranged."  Plays Minecraft for 20 hours

Bp of Burnley: "The claim that religion and political life must be kept separate is, in any case, frequently disingenuous....." * picture of cat doing something amusing *

Bp of Durham ".....most politicians and pundits are happy enough for the churches to speak on political issues so long as the church agrees with their particular line." * Sledges down church roof on tea try *  

Bp of Willesden: I've never liked Liberals! * pulls replica Spurs shirt over head *

 I'd watch it, anyway...

Lent Giving Up Status - Day 2

NameGiven UpCondition
Burton DassetTrain SpottingCollecting car number plates
Drayton ParslowBelieving in LentSmug
Marston MoretaineCigarettesFinding it very easy, having been turned to stone by Jadis the Ice Witch
EileenSocial MediaIn denial
CharliiGinEating wine gums
Young KeithSweetsDrinking gin

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Giving Up Blogging For Lent

Just to let you all know. I've decided to give up blogging for Lent.

To blog is, as we know, a creative and enlivening thing to do. But it takes a lot of time and energy. And all that creative effort that goes into being silly about Giles Fraser's latest inconsistency. You know, just being able to 'be" rather than"do" - that's got to be restorative. More time to spend with the Lord. More mediation. More stones 'n' tea lights....

Oh, wait. What day is it?

Random Acts of Unlicensed Ashing

Ash Wednesday!  A day for.... um... I dunno, is it something about Alfred burning the pancakes?

Anyway,  knowing Lent doesn't start until you have eaten a pancake, we've been carefully avoiding them since yesterday. But we're taking Ashing very seriously.

So, to reflect the idea that we shall all return to dust 'n' ashes - and that we know not the day nor the hour (nor, quite likely, the postcode) a group of flash mob ashers have been touring the area, giving passersby blasts from Ashington's Patented Ashing Machine.

The great thing is that, rather than a neat cross of oil and palm ash that leaves Sky News reporters wondering what's going on, the Ashington machine covers them from head to foot in cinders. Unfortunately it was only twenty minutes before the crew were pulled over by Young Keith' s adoptive uncle, the Police officer.

They're still in custody. Whoever knew you needed a licence for Al Fresco Ashing?

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Engaging With Politics

You know, whether they're Conservative, wet Liberal, Trot or  that bunch of crypto-racists with Bertie Wooster for a leader, it's important that we treat political views with respect, and have an informed debate leading up to the General Election.

That's why I published my 194-page pamphlet  "Engaging With the Political Process in a Constructive Incarnational, Enculturated Encounter. "

When I checked, not one Beaker Person had read it all. Not even the 4,000 word digression on how Barthian theology is in dialect with the "land" concept of Brueggeman, in encompassing the corporeality of endogenous growth theory.

And would you believe it - the Sun hasn't even printed it all in full. Just ran the headline "Maggie-Worshipping Archdruid Says Flog the Slackers". Though I don't know why they just quoted the sub-title of the report like that.

Honestly, I don't know why we bother.

Monday 16 February 2015

Religion as A Good Thing or Not

It's one of those things that get dragged into discussions these days. Is religion a good or bad thing?

It's a strange one. If you compare it to other, apparently similar, categories of activity, you might be able to come up with a conclusion - is it better or worse than, say, football supporting, watching 50 Shades of Grey or voting in the X-factor? Or, to put it another way, is it like considering whether a drug is effective or it's a good idea to spray sweetcorn with neonicotinoid pesticides? It presumes there's options to be considered.

Except that it's not quite like that.  In my personal case, religion is, primarily, a response to a sensed relationship with the Divine. In which case the question isn't is it useful, a good or bad thing. It's maybe like the question of whether the laws of Physics are true or not. It's no good asking oneself whether the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is good or bad. It just is what it is. Then you have to work out what to do with it. Realise that tidying is futile, and pour salt on ice to melt it - these are things to do with the fact of Entropy. Debating whether it's any use to society - whether we want to live in untidy houses but not fall off our bikes when it's cold - these are kind of applied. They don't change the root observation.

So some religious practices are good, some are bad. But I shall continue my own religious observances as long as the waves roar the voice of the Creator, the heavens are enchanted with God's glory, and the image of God is imprinted on every child that is conceived.

Sunday 15 February 2015

Giles Fraser in the Wilderness

And after his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by a non-existent being that was a kind of personification of evil in a very real sense.

And St Giles came over to him and said, "Jesus - you're OK. There's nobody here...."

Which made the whole thing a bit of a farce really.

Celebration of the Birth of Jeremy Bentham (1748)

Jeremy Bentham Auto-icon in his box

To be honest, we couldn't think of anything very funny.

So we just played "Living in a Box".

Is it any Wonder Guardian Reading is on the Wane?

Once, reading the Guardian was something respectable people - pillars of society - would do. They believed it made them better people, more balanced, fairer - they desired the words of Polly so they could feel that there was a kind of super-intelligence that could tell them what to think.

These days it is very different. The Guardian has been almost eliminated from our country. It has lost 48% of its adherents over the last six years - which  is roughly the same percentage that the Church of England  has lost in 4 decades.

With straitened financial situations, is it any wonder that the electronic edition has to turn to people writing GCSE-level essays?

And so "Is it any wonder religion is on the wane?" asks Benjamin Jones in the Guardian CiF. Bless him - as a "humble humanities graduate" he expounds on the way science answers questions which religion can't. I'm guessing when he says "humanities" he means "media studies", as there's no way anybody who's studied English, say, could come up with such a trite little piece.

To be fair, as somebody who doesn't show any evidence of knowledge in either field (I presume he does know that if modern people lived lives of "Methuselah-like" length the current expectancy at birth would be 969?) he does at least grasp that there's a difference between asking "how" and "why"?  But to write that ", I wager, is a much stronger incentive for church attendance than theology" is to misunderstand profoundly that in fact community and theology are not discrete categories. You do one in the context of the other. Each feeds the other. The lived community of the church is itself theology.

It's fish in a barrel time, really. Benjamin Jones is right - rape has been used as a weapon of war by people fighting wars of religious origin. But rape was also used - possibly in the worst example in history - as a weapon by the Soviet Union in Eastern Germany and elsewhere as the Second World War came to an end.  The USSR was an atheist state. I suspect Benjamin Jones's humanities degree isn't history, either.

I think we know what happens to "advanced" countries, when religious belief is dropping. It turns out they die. Fewer children are born to older parents. I don't think that's because atheists don't want to bring children into the world - at least I've never heard an atheist complaining that they were brought into the world when their parents knew they were doomed from the off. But maybe science may be "deeply satisfying", but not an answer so satisfying that you think it's worth further sharing it?  Maybe if you think there's a point, there's a purpose, there's a plan, then you are more likely on average  to have children. Maybe that's why Muslims contribute 4 or 5% of the population, but 10% of live births? I don't know. Maybe Benjamin Jones's humanities degree could come in handy? He could go and find out.

Saturday 14 February 2015

Testing the Turing Test

I am feeling a bit sorry for Burton Dasset. He wanted to put a comment on someone's blog, and got a "prove you're a human" captcha.

So he wrote 2,000 words in response on love, pain, longing, the fear of death, loneliness and the problem of being a finite creature, in a doomed universe, yet able at least partially to sense the concept of the eternal.

Anyway. It asked for a second opinion.  He should have just typed in "422".

The Embodiment of Evil

Sometimes Giles Fraser scares me. I've agreed with him twice this year. But thankfully he's back on form with his piece: on making the Devil redundant.

First up it's the way he complains about kicking the Dark One out of the baptism service - at great length - and then reassures us that he doesn't exist. Which betrays a great inconsistency. If we are going to insist that non-existent embodiments of evil are in the liturgy of the church, surely Giles Fraser should go further. He should be asking the Bishop for permission to include in the Baptism service a host of other baddies from fiction. This has the advantage of putting something more dynamic into the service. Let's face it, the Book of Common Worship has turned what should be a celebration of life over death into a celebration of words over bladder control. Also, by using more contemporary baddies, Canon Giles will be able to appeal to a new generation of churchgoers who otherwise find white, balding , middle-aged ex-public schoolboys somewhat irrelevant to their normal lived experience.

So I suggest that the Canon might like to consider the following:

Minister: Do you reject Voldemort and all his works?

Candidate: I reject them.

Minister: And Jadis the ice witch?

Candidate: I reject them.

Minister: And all her Turkish Delight?

Candidate: I renounce them.

Minister: And Moriarty and his schemes?

Candidate: I do flee from them.

Minister: Even if this latest Sherlock is morally ambivalent and and bit psychotic himself?

Candidate: Yeah, but Martin Freeman is always so lovely, isn't he?

Minister: That reminds me: Do you reject Smaug and all his treasures?

Candidate: I reject all dragon-sickness.

Minister: And Sauron and all his minions? [the traditional language version may substitute Morgoth for Sauron]

Candidate: Oh, definitely.

Minister: And Jihadi John?

Candidate: I will not view his videos. Especially as I fear the Tories' attitude to Internet security only slightly more than the Islamic State.

Minister: Guardian reader, eh? 

Candidate. Yep.

Minister: So I can't interest you in rejecting Polly Toynbee then?

Candidate: You reckon she's an embodiment of evil?

Minister: Probably a matter of opinion. OK then -  Do you reject Christian Grey and all his perviness?

Candidate: I reject them. That first book was unreadable. I had to read the lot to confirm to myself they were really that bad.

Minister: And Dr Evil?

Candidate: And Mini Me.

Minister: And Doctor Hook?

Candidate: Don't you mean Captain Hook?

Minister: Yeah, sorry. And the Hooded Claw?

Candidate: And the suspiciously-similar Sylvester Sneekley, and also Dick Dastardly.

Minister: And Gargamel?

Candidate: I should smurfing well think so.

Minister: And Doctor Eggman?

Candidate: I reject him and Blofeld.

Minister: And the Wicked Witch of the East?

Candidate: And the Wicked Witch of the West.

Minister: And the Mysterons and all the Illuminati and Alien Lizards?

Candidate: I reject evil, however it may be embodied.

You see, to me that word "embodied" is important. The Devil is the embodiment of all that is evil. The world today, old and full of cares as it is, has as much evil as it ever has. The Devil is - mostly - a bit part in the Bible, but appears at critical points. In the Gardens of Eden and Gethseman; in the desert; when Job faces his trials; when all hell breaks out in Revelation. There are times when he seizes the day - or is flushed out, when Jesus is casting demons out.

But he mostly wants to stay quietly hidden. Lurking behind the scenes, doing his stuff or letting others do his stuff for him. Pulling the strings on the nasty bits of capitalism. Nudging the communist regimes to notice that "atheism" is part of their creed, so Christians must be the enemy. Persuading Inquisitors and Islamists that other people are on his side, so they don't notice the parts of their own lives that are dark. Justifying the Blitz on London or Coventry - or the firebombing of Dresden.  That's where he wants to be - in the shadows. Because whenever he comes out in the open it ends up badly for him.

But maybe deep down we known he's there. So we keep dragging him into the open as all those other embodiments of evil - putting form to him. So we can see him for what he is. And reject him - again and again. We know he's there. We have to know what he looks like - just enough to ensure we're not on his side. And we have to remember that he's not embodied as Jesus is. He doesn't take on human flesh and keep it forever. He's restricted to a nudge here, a suggestion there, a distortion of the truth there, a system of government over there. The stuff that God makes the earth out of is actually too good for Satan to keep a permanent hold.

So please, shorten that interminable prayer over the water. But don't throw Satan out of the baptism service. Well, actually - do throw him out, if you see what I mean. And if you're going to keep him in, it's not because he's a kind of pantomime villain so Giles Fraser can feel like there's some theatre in the service. He's not the Ugly Sisters or The Evil Emperor Zurg.

Except, of course, in a way, he is. But he's more than that.

Liturgy of Fretfulness on the Feast of Valentine

The Archdruid may sit, icily, in the Moot Houe.....

Hnaef (wearing a heart-shaped self-knitted Valentine's sweater with "22 years" on it): But I don't get it - you did get a card!

Archdruid (doing impression of Galadriel when offered the Ring): THAT WAS FROM BURTON DASSET!

Hnaef: It wasn't signed. How do you know?

Archdruid: "Roses are red, daffodil stems are green. I love you nearly as much as my trusty adding machine..."

Hnaef: Good point.

Burton: So not much chance of getting one back then?

Archdruid: Look around you, Burton. Is there any evidence that you're the only man on earth?

Burton: So there's still hope then?

All may leave the Moot House, before the fiery wrath of the Archdruid explodes.

Thursday 12 February 2015

50 Shades of Stupid

"50 Shades of Grey to cause spike of 999 calls", according to the BBC.  Not a phrase I'd necessarily use "spike" in. Gives some thoughts I didn't want to think.

But one reason people had to call the emergency services did make me think people should listen to better advice. As the song nearly put it, "If you like it then you Shouldn't put a Ring on it."

The Parable of Drinks After Work on a Friday

There was a certain businesswoman who decided to organise a few drinks after work on a Friday.

So she sent out invites to all her employees. But some went into Junk folders. Some returned out-of-office notifications. And some were ignored because the recipients already had 5,000 unread emails, and the cares of the world overcame them.

And the businesswoman realised that this was turning into completely the wrong parable. So she sent out her Corporate Governance Executive (which is to say in English, dogsbody). And he went unto all the employees and said, "Lo come unto the Temple Brewhouse on Friday evening. Come and drink freely, without cost, to your heart's desire."

But one saith, "I cannot attend because on Fridays I work from home." And another saith, "I get out early on Fridays because lo, that is when my wife hands the kids over for the weekend." And another saith, I live in the place that is called Don-cas-ter. And I cannot tarry in the land that is called The Great Smoke, for lo I live in a pokey studio flat in Kew during the week. Four days do I labour, and on the fifth I lurk around my house in Yorkshire in my pajamas, answering the phone to give an appearance like I am working."

So on Friday at 5, the businesswoman went out unto the open-plan and behold it was like unto the decks of the Marie Celeste.

And the Corporate Governance Executive said unto her, "shall I summon the homeless, the stricken with age and the sellers of the Big Issue, and invite them unto the bar for a wide selection of craft ales, both from London and even unto the shores of San Francisco?

And the businesswoman saith, "Nah, don't be so silly. We'll do it next Thursday instead. "

Conclusion: The Big Society hasn't really taken off.

Grand Meeting of the Moot

Quick notes on yesterday's Grand Meeting of the Moot.

The group work was, as ever, terribly successful. Everyone got the chance to say why "they" (eg the Druids/ordinary Beaker Folk/the Guinea Pig Worshippers of Stewartby) didn't understand/were living in the past/were being dangerously radical/didn't understand what it's like "on the ground" in Husborne Crawley. And we all agreed that nothing/everything must change if we are to stay as we are/move forward/build Jerusalem.

Bringing the groups back into plenary session, we brainstormed what the Beaker Slogan 2015/16 should be when the new season starts in August. And concluded that, despite the attractions of "Dangerous Discipleship for a new Generation" and "A Liminal People Balancing on the Edge", the Mission Statement that best encapsulated our vision was "Well, After all, What Can You do, Eh?" Not inspiring, but we reckon we can live up to it.

I ruled the Druids' Standing Committee out of order, as we were all sitting down. Got the afternoon back, which was good.

And then in the afternoon, a lot of people told us about their visits to vase communities in Guatemala, regaled us with their childhood experiences of tea lights, and made shocking revelations about their personal lives. All of which allowed them to make striking poses and look serious. At least, that's all I noticed. I was listening to the last radio series of "Count Arthur Strong" on the headphones I have cunningly had disguised as hearing aids.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Feast of Frog-flinging

And so, as the days lengthen, today I found the first cold, grumpy frog in the pond - presumably working on the basis that it's the early frog that gets the, erm, frog.

So we declare the Beaker Feast of Frog Flinging. This ancient act of worship goes back to at least 2011. Can I remind Beaker Folk of the salient points:

1. No real, live frogs. Stuffed frogs, toy frogs and plastic frogs are all fine.

2. No china frogs, pottery frogs or generally hard, heavy frogs. That was an awful black eye Marston suffered last year.

3. The frogs of the Tribe of Zebulun are to be arranged anticlockwise, or "antifrogwise", around the Pillar of frog arranging. The rest according to the ancient dictates in the Book of Neil.

4. Anyone offering unauthorised leapfrog is to have their eyebrows dyed an unlikely colour.

5. The "Little Pebbles" group is to be renamed :Little Tadpoles" from today until Munchkin Thursday.

6. Tapioca for lunch. Yum.

7. Small prayer groups, or "Lily pads" will gather at 11am for Prayer for Lord Green. It ain't easy being green.

8. Hymns today are "Frog Chorus", "Frog in thy name I Go", "The Long and Winding Toad." For the ceremony of Complain tonight, "Oh Froggy Night".

9. Burton Dasset is this year's King Frog. Again.

OK. Get out there, and fling some frogs!

Monday 9 February 2015

English Christianity "Who Am I?"

Fun and games as we all tried to guess who each other was pretending to be.

Daphne spent three hours explaining how a cup keeps tea from falling on the floor, using extremely complex analogies while wiggling a pair of false eyebrows. Rowan Williams.

Burton brought a giant globe in. Wrote the words "Biblical studies" on it. Then turned it upside down.  Francesca Stavrakopoulou, obviously.

Charlii was pretty easy to guess. Standing in a corner ranting at a non-existent person about all the things he had let her down over. Stephen Fry.

Hnaef ran around shouting "Liberals! You're all wet liberals!" Took a while but eventually we realised he was being the Bishop of Willesden.

But I guess the most obscure of all was Bertwand. First he divided everybody up into two groups - one big, one small. The people in the small group he patted on the head, while the people in the large group he scowled at and told us we were too old, too untalented. Then he drove everybody out into the cold, regardless of which group they were in, and locked the doors, leaving the Moot House empty.

Turns out he was "the Future of the Church of England".

Sunday 8 February 2015

In Many Ways, the Perfect Committee Member

I'm glad to say that the Moot saw it my way when it came to replacing Drogness, the member who flounced out - sorry, resigned on principle - over my proposal to move the tea light stand three inches to the right.

Any committee is always an uneasy coalition of shifting alliances. And the Moot is no different. There are those who agree with me, and those whom I am having to work out how to drive off. They say that no opposition is a recipe for dictatorship, and that's definitely the way to go in my opinion. But in the meantime, we had to co-opt a new Keeper of the Tea lights. And I'm glad to say that we have elected Marston Moretaine.

Those of you who pay any kind of attention to the goings-on in this little Community will remember that it's not six days since Jadis, the ice-witch, turned Marston to stone. So Marston can't express any opinions, can't bring the benefit of his considerable experience, and can't bore the committee stupid with interminable stories about what was like under a different pastor, at some point in the past. He never turns up late (because he never goes anywhere) and he doesn't eat donuts. And we can action him to whatever we like, because he never argues.

He is, in many ways, the perfect committee member.

The Perils of Working the Early Shift

I've just realised that when I referred to the "broth of God", I mean the "wrath of God". James was John's brother, not his butler. I apologise for shouting out "What? Balaam had a taking bottom? It's a bit early. I normally get Charlii to take this while I drink lots of coffee.

And now we sing our closing song, "Why can't you lot Get up at a Sensible Time like Normal People?"

Saturday 7 February 2015

Shock at an attempted reconciliation meeting at Labour HQ, when Tristram Hunt unexpectedly turns up.....

"Nuns! Reverse!"

He went on to announce a free pet brick for all in a Labour Britain, before looking at his hairy hands and being dragged off screaming.

Sherlock and the Watchmaker - the Word Become Flesh

Warning - spoiler alert.

 The pictures below show the set-up of the house in Camden that doubles, in the new Sherlock, as being 221B Baker Street. Burton  kindly snapped them for us on his way home from counting beans in his day job. And it would appear that the Christmas Special will feature some kind of flashback to Victorian times. Given that this was yesterday, I expect that this afternoon, Holmes and Watson were running up and down outside, getting into taxis, shouting "The game is afoot!" and trying to find some Baker Street Irregulars, while running through fake fog. Or something.

Setting up "Speedy's Cafe" to be "Speedwell's Tea rooms"
A large fronded plant and assorted Victoriana

Now, though, it will be dark, and there will be no more filming outside Baker St. And by Monday,all the paraphernalia will be removed.  Baker Street will once again be North Gower Street, a pleasantish backwater off Euston Road. Speedy's caff will be selling bacon street sandwiches again. And Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman will be elsewhere - either to play the same characters in a studio somewhere or else at home, being the posh, expectant father and the dutiful father-of-two respectively.

And it's tempting to read the Gospel in the same way. The son of God arrives on this fallen earth. He wanders around the place, giving good examples and inspiring teaching. He dies. He rises. He goes away. And nothing has changed.

That way of thinking separates earth and heaven - puts up a vast gap between God and creation. On earth, ant-like creatures that bumble around, falling over, walking into walls, fighting each other and dropping down dead. Meanwhile God sits, like a banker in a Southwark penthouse, looking down on the woe and poverty below. The Watchmaker who wound it all up or - if you prefer in this electronic era - put the hearing-aid battery in - and wanders off to do something else.

But the preface to John's Gospel, as you re-read it - however mystical, poetic - tells a different story. The Word is the creative principle - the one everything is made through. And the Word's closeness to that creations is breathed through the piece as much as the Spirit breathes life into Creation. All things are made through the Word - an intimacy with the world that is so much more than the relationship between a creation and the creator who stands back to admire the creation.  Not one corner of this immense universe was not made through the Word. The life that belongs to the Word, is the light of the ones that are made in God's image. This is a relationship as close as can be imagined, between God and the world. Its dependence on God is complete.

But God could imagine it being closer.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Not "was veiled in flesh", though I don't suppose Wesley was in a particularly heretical mood when he wrote it. He was probably just enjoying the poetry. Stronger than "veiled in". "Became." The one the world was made through, became made of the world itself. He made the stars. And now he is himself made from stardust. His body and blood formed, in the womb of a frail woman of the earth. The stuff of the earth was already special - all of is was made through him. But now he bears its imprint on him. The Word is made from the dust of the earth. The one whose name God breathed into the void of space, breathes the warm air of the Judean hillsides.

Now the thing about being made of the stuff of the earth is, it makes you like the earth. Which is to say, finite and temporary. And if you're made of human flesh and blood, it means you respond like human flesh and blood. If you're worked too hard, you get tired. If somebody lashes your back, you bleed. If somebody drives nails into your wrists, they go through. And if they attach you to a cross and leave you in the sun, you die.

The Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us. And that made us so uncomfortable, so scared. It challenged the powers that be - brought real power into the world. The power beside which all the power of tyrants, dictators and puppet rulers pales.

When the princes of the earth had done their best, and the Lord had been born again, from the womb of the earth, he returned to where he came. But in his return it wasn't that everything was like it had been before.

I don't think it was so much that the world had changed, from having the Word living in it, walking on it. It was more like, God changed.

The source of life had tasted death. The one whose hands hold the universe, had been nailed through the hands. The changless one had known change. There is a new and unexpected thing in heaven - a human being sitting on the throne.

He is still wounded.

The scars in his hands, on his feet, on his back, they're still there. The changing, deathly world we live in has left its mark on God. He became like us - he knew what it is like to be us. And he still shares our pains and our grief and the depths to which we can feel we have sunk. The pains of every wounded childm every murdered 

But he is alive, and reigns forever.

It's a bloody awful world, sometimes. But I do believe it is good, because it was made through the Word. You hear some Christians talk like this world is passing away, but I don't believe it's being scrapped. After all, the King of Kings, ruling in heaven, is made of the stuff that you, and I, and the world, are made of. There's a promise of a beautiful future - for the heaven, for the earth, for all of us. It's not about destruction - it's about resurrection. It's not about God giving up on this world - how could God give up on the world? God loves it so much he gave his Son. It's about God lifting us up, picking us up, wiping every tear from our eyes.

Jesus didn't play a part - he wasn't pretending to be a human being.  He wasn't a 1st Century Benedict Cumberbatch, acting his part in grotty London before going back to his posh life. He is the ultimate method actor - or the ultimate bad actor. Like Ricky Gervais in the Office, he's only playing himself, He wasn't toying with mortality. The watchmaker became a living sundial - the one whose own shadow tells you that the time is now. He was part of the mechanics - the pendulum that makes the tick regular, that will one day make the clock run true.

"What do you mean, Jesus is like me?"

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And in the middle, and the end, and all through the End, the Word has become flesh, and makes his dwelling with us. Because he is like us.

Friday 6 February 2015

Apology and Accessibility

Some humble pie.

In my previous blog post to you, O God-lovers, I posted an inspirational picture. Unfortunately some of the text on that picture was illegible to some people due to the colours of text and background being difficult to distinguish.

The great irony in this - if irony were the right word, which it isn't really - is that in the blog post before that, I'd warned against doing exactly that. In my defence, I put the text in the TITLE tag of the image.  In my non-defence, that meant I had made the page more useful to completely blind people with screen readers, than to people with colour blindness using smart phones.

Here is the text, in its plainest form.

Liturgically dance like nobody's watching.

Pray like nobody's got the dinner on at home. 

Write letters to the newspaper about traditional language in the liturgy like nobody cares. 

Advertise "Back to Church Sunday" like most people these days have just drifted away.

Confuse the Persons of the Trinity like Athanasius isn't looking down on you from heaven right now.

Preach like nobody's listening.*

Hold Church Meetings like everybody's going to live forever.

Arrange flowers like that one at the back isn't really a triffid.

Rip out pews like the Chancellor of Gloucester Diocese doesn't know how to produce very large Acrobat documents.

Pontificate on sexual morality like nobody's paying any attention.  

* They're not. Don't worry.