Tuesday 30 June 2015

The Daily Mirror's Convincing Proof of Flying Saucers at Stonehenge

The Mirror is excited about the discovery of what appears to be specks of dust on the camera lenses of people at Stonehenge. Sure the camera never lies - but why is it always so out of focus when there's UFOs about?

In 2009, the MOD declassified this picture of a suspected UFO at Stonehenge

The article tells you a lot about what I suppose one could try to call modern journalism. For instance:
"Stonehenge took nearly 1,500 years to build and was believed to be constructed between 3,000 and 2,000 BC."
I mean - how is that even mathematically possible? But I'd really like to quote the last two sentences to you. 
"Although some of the stones featured come from local quarries on Salisbury Plain, others have been traced to the Preseli Hills in Wales nearly 200 miles away.
This has given rise to the theory that it was constructed as a landing area by extra terrestrial beings."
Can you see how any reading of the first sentence could lead on to the second? Why would being made up of Wiltshire sarsens and Prescelli bluestones lead to the conclusion that it was constructed as an aliens' hoverpad?

However if the Mirror's right, there's a horrifying thought. Given nobody in modern times has seen a craft land, they must be stacking. It's gonna be a nasty time when they run out of fuel.

Jeremy Bentham Resigns from UCL Over Tim Hunt

Jeremy Bentham has today resigned from University College, London, citing the recent treatment of Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt over his remarks about women scientists.

"Tim Hunt is a respected scientist who seems to have made one poor-taste joke on the spur of the moment, " said Bentham, from the chair where he has been sitting for the last decades. "As a Utilitarian I believe in the maximum happiness for the most possible people. And Tim has made a lot of people happy, by giving them the impression that they are superior human beings to a professor of biochemistry. Life sciences are a special interest of mine, albeit in my case - ho ho - they are unlikely to be of much use. If he is not reinstated, I will be leaving UCL, just as soon as someone pushes me out."

A spokesperson for UCL said, "I'm afraid it appears Jeremy has lost his head. He's going to have to get back in his box."

The Sick and the Dead

Every week in "Beaker News" we publish a list of those who are ill, so everyone can pray for them. Underneath it we put a list of people who've died at this time of year, so people can wonder what they're supposed to pray about it. I like to encourage a bit of theological angst.

When Burton was printing the notices this week, unfortunately the photocopier developed a hiccup and printed a horizontal line above the last three people on the "sick" list. Contrary to concern in the Community, I would like to stress that this does not mark the "relegation zone". I can tell that Zedward, for example,  must already be feeling better. He came round to check whether there were going to be play-offs.

Living in a Black and White World

This week sees the meeting of the Society of Ordained Scientists, whose membership, at least, sounds like it ought to be pretty well defined.

It is a common whinge from certain of the Internet's below-the-liners that being a believer who is also scientifically minded is somehow cheating. As if we've got to come off the fence and either believe in God, or a rational Universe. And we have to believe every word in the Bible is literally,  historical and scientifically true if we call ourselves Christian. They're like a vegetarian demanding that a meat eater only eat steak. Well, some of us are quite partial to a nice bunch of English asparagus. Which sounds like a euphemism, but I can't work out why.

We can engage critically with our religious texts and traditions, without taking every word as being somehow scientifically true. Not least as scientifically true always carries with it the modifier "until someone does a better experiment". The LHC, Hubble telescope, advances in biochemistry do not disprove God. They allow us better to appreciate the wonders God has done. We believe the rationality of the universe reflects the image of the reason behind it.

To fundamentalists, both religious and supposedly scientific (actually atheist/secular/humanist) everything is black and white. And we can understand why you can see it's black and white. And everything is sharp and clear and kind of 60s retro-chic in black and white. It's just we've got a colour telly.

Monday 29 June 2015

Growing for Growth Strategy

Thanks to everyone for their very helpful contributions at yesterday's "Growing for Growth" meeting. The strategy we adopted is as follows:

1. Get more people in.
2. Especially children.
3. And it would be handy if they are good givers from the outset. (Not the children, obviously, though that would be nice as well).
4. Do more things we like, as that is bound to attract more people from "out there".
5. Prayer meetings for mission to be held every evening.
6. Keep an eye out for trouble-makers and working-class people. Probably more trouble than it's worth, letting them in. Not very spiritual and not very rich.
7. More denouncing people in the media.
8. Six-week "Ignatian Contemplation With Visualisation" course, to attract people who've no experience of church.
9. Get an amplifier for Bodworth's ukulele, so he can play some rockin' riffs and get the kids in.
10. Really, before we go out to the strange people out there, consider what we think the Beaker Folk would do with all these extra people.
11. After all, we'd need new parking. And the coffee-making facilities are barely adequate as it is.
12. Start a fund-raising campaign for a new boiler and extended car parking.
13. Permeable parking, obviously. With thyme planted in the spaces.
14. Defer implementation of the car park enlargement until after the fund raising.
15. Defer fund raising until the Boiler Selection Committee and Car Park Environmental Impact Team have reported back (April 2017)
16. Defer implementation of Growing For Growth Strategy (except points 12, 13, 14, 15, 16) until all assessments, landscaping and boiler purchase are complete.
17. Form sub-committee to work out whether point 16, being self-referential, needs rewording or even breaking into several further points.
18. Think about the danger of bees if we used thyme. Maybe the non flowering species of camomile would be more sensible.
19. Encourage people to leave legacies. This is not technically a growth strategy, but we should still take every opportunity to push it.

Frankly, I can't see why new people aren't already queueing up outside.

Sunday 28 June 2015

The World Cup 2018 Record is Dedicated to Sepp Blatter......

Handed Down to Us

Burton came home a bit shell shocked yesterday. He went off to the London Pride demo, thinking it was some Real Ale celebration. I suppose they have the beards in common, at any rate. This once again proves why Burton's nickname is "Tesco Bleach". He thinks it's because he's sharp and cleans up the Community accounts. Whereas in fact it's because he's clinging and thick.

Burton's mother, a strict Presbyterian, was apparently dreadfully shocked by the expanding gay scene after legalisation in 1967. So she ensured that he got plenty of toys that would ensure he grew up securely masculine. Oh yeah. Especially in the area of the costumes he got to play in. There was a cowboy, a Native American, a motorcycle cop, a builder outfit...  But despite this, Burton's sexuality has never really been in doubt. He's a frustrated nerd. Apparently that's not enough to get your own letter, mind you. So the struggle continues.

St Pancras Church

Old St Pancras, I mean. Not the attractive, huge edifice on the Euston Road. The lived-in chunk of history tucked so closely behind St Pancras station that many don't realise it's there.

Surrounded by 21st Century infrastructure, falling down almost constantly. But it's the oldest surviving place of Christian worship in London. The churchyard is a peaceful wonder. And the Gentle Author has produced a wonderful blog post, on a wonderful blog.

Saturday 27 June 2015

Unclean Healer

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years.
She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
 Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age).  (Mark 5)

We have a girl, and a woman. One quite well off, we assume: her father can afford to have her mourned for properly. We don't know her name, just her dad's - Jairus, the synagogue ruler. One poor, and we're not told her name either. Nor her husband or father, in that land where people are often identified by the men in their lives.

They've had a very different twelve years. The girl has grown up well loved, well fed, well respected with her important dad and her loving mum. The woman - well, no. We don't know what caused her illness - maybe it was in childbirth that she acquired the problem. Maybe what should have been a happy time became the start of a nightmare for her. Or a hormonal problem that meant her periods never stopped.

So she's going to prone to anaemia, to picking up other illnesses. Maybe feeling tired the whole time. Not much use, maybe, economically - unable to work much in fields, or to travel far. But maybe worse, in the society she lives in, for twelve years, she's been ritually unclean. And the rules for uncleanness are pretty strict. Her bed is constantly unclean. Anything she eats with. If she has a husband they can't make love without  him becoming unclean. If he even kisses her, touches her hand she's unclean.

If, in desperation, she sneaks up behind a famous rabbi and grabs the edge of his coat - he will be unclean. But 12 years of isolation, exclusion, loneliness - they drive her. A belief that this really is the Messiah - maybe that drives her. She believes in a God, don't forget, whose very own rules make her an outcast. And yet, faith overcoming doubt, she believes that God can make her well.

Jesus is currently on a roll. He's stilled a storm, then thrown demons out of a possessed man. But in both these cases, he's been the one initiating. On this occasion, he's effectively the victim of a drive-by healing. He should be concerned that the touch of this woman's hand has made him ritually impure. If he wants to rejoin civilised society, he should immediately run off for a bath and then, essentially, go off. And hide in the bushes for a week. And then he'll be clean. But instead, he finds out who has touched him, and then he gets her, hesitantly and scared, to tell her story.

And Jesus is so gentle to this woman who has dared so much, and broken so many religious rules, to find the healing she's dreamed of so long. "Go, Daughter. Your faith has healed you."

And he's off. Off, despite people suddenly turning up, saying, "don't bother, the girl's dead."

Mark's cut this together like a screenplay. While the attention's been on the woman, offstage somebody else has been the centre of attention. The nameless, unclean woman is free of her illness. But the little posh girl has died away from the cameras. So there was the noise of the crowd. The hush as they wait for the woman to tell her story. And now, as Jesus goes into Jairus's house, the average English person would be expecting peace. People murmuring and saying consoling things. As Victoria Wood once put it, " In India when a man dies the widow flings herself onto the funeral pyre; in England she just drags herself to the kitchen and says "72 baps, Connie - you slice, I'll spread"."

No. It's not like that.

Worth focussing on Jairus for a minute. He's one of the leading men of the town. But he's been grabbing on the feet of this wandering healer in the hope that he can do something that none of the local doctors has been able to manage. And when he was trying to get Jesus back to his house... well, you know what it's like, if you've ever had to get medical treatment for a child and you're wondering why the NHS are taking so long even to answer the phone. He's gonna be frantic. And he must be wondering what on earth Jesus is doing, wasting his time with this outcast woman when his own, precious daughter is dying. And he's told she's dead. And everything goes blank, and black. and he heads for the house with this rabbi, anyway - his faith as great as his sorrow.

And the house is in uproar. There's people howling, people wailing, people playing flutes. He's crashed back into noise. In amongst the chaos, Jairus's child is laying still, still offstage, in another room. This has been the story of the bit-parts, hasn't it? "Woman in the crowd" has been the star of the show so far, and we're still yet to meet "the girl offstage."

Jesus throws them all out, like one day soon he will throw a bunch of money-changers out of the Temple. It's just Jesus, the girl's parents, and probably his three closest disciples. I say "just". That's very nearly a small crowd, when you think about it.

The girl's twelve. To us, she's a child, just started upper school. To the first century, she's nearly old enough to marry. Just reaching the point of adulthood. Those twelve years the woman outside has been dreaming of a normal life - Jairus and his wife have been dreaming of the life their daughter will now just be moving into. Marriage to a nice boy - a good, religious boy. And her own children in due course.

Jesus is stepping into a place of broken dreams and tragedy for the second time in this short episode. And there's another common thread. To touch a woman with bleeding - that is to become unclean. There's many things can make you ritually impure, according to the Book of Leviticus - that collection of laws that are so desperate to keep God's people so pure that they will be worthy to follow the Lord. Touching a dead body makes you unclean. Remember when the priest wouldn't help the man who had been assaulted in the story of the Good Samaritan? Was that because he didn't care, or because if the man had been dead, the priest would have been ritually unclean?

We were talking the other day about these trolleys that supermarkets have these days, that can't go past a certain point. And we were wondering how they worked. And reckoning that what it can't be, is that the supermarkets put massive magnets under the ground on the edges of their car parks. Cos, if you think about it, it would stop the trolleys. But it would also stop small cars. And people with plates in their heads or pins in their legs or heart pace-makers.  But one thought that struck me was, maybe the trolleys don't go beyond that point - because they just think they can't. Maybe they're constrained by their own limitations of imagination, or fear. Maybe they think that if they venture beyond the car park, monsters await that eat trolleys? No. That's not how they work really. We googled it. Turns out, it's magic. So that's solved.

So where's the limits on Jesus, the wonder-working healer and all-star preacher here? How far can he venture beyond where people are supposed to? He's healed the woman, and yet his healing has overcome her uncleanness. He's in the room with the dead girl - not a relative of his, just the daughter of some bloke who's been grabbing Jesus's feet in the market square. And Jesus reaches out and takes her hand and says, "get up, little'un"

And up she gets.

Here's what I reckon. We box this world up into the ones we accept and the ones we don't. There's the ones we love, the ones we want to impress, the ones we patronise, the ones we avoid. There's the places we'll go, the things we'll risk, and the things that we can never consider. And Jesus breaks through all the rules and all the divisions.

The medieval Church saw the way Jesus broke across in a more radical way than we did, really. Because they believed that the dead were in Purgatory, they prayed for them to get out as fast as possible. They included the dead in their prayers. The medieval Church recognised that the Jesus who brought a young girl back to life, who died on a cross yet rose on a Sunday morning - transcends even life and death. And in doing so, they retained the dead as part of their living community - just as God does.

And that's the God I believe in, and the Jesus I believe walked this earth. One who takes all our divisions and makes them void. To Greeks, a God who took on a real human form and made it his own was madness. How could God's purity be mixed with the blood, sweat, tears and droppings of a real human being? Jesus did it. And in doing that, he broke all the other rules about what you could and couldn't be, if you wanted God to love you.

Could you be divided from Jesus because you were ritually unclean? Apparently not. Because you were a Gentile? No - he healed the centurion's servant and the Syrian woman's daughter. Because you were a woman, in such a patriarchal society? Evidently not. Because you were a leper? No. If you were dead?

No. Not even if you were dead. Jesus could still reach you there. Is still with you there.

He takes the rich and the poor. The sick and the well. The living and the dead. Men, women, children and anybody who will either grab his cloak, or let him take their hand - and makes them all one in his kingdom which has no end, and where all will be well. And he does it because every barrier that was ever put up beyond which God would never go, or beyond which God could never reach - he has broken through himself.

"Love like death has all destroyed
rendered all distinctions void
Names and sects and parties fall
Thou, O Christ, art all in all"

Friday 26 June 2015

Farage From the Madding Crowd

"That's it!" said Bathsheba Everdene, the young lady-farmer. "I said that I would run Wetherbury Farm. I promised that I would be Bailey, and Master. Yet I keep saying I will marry unsuitable alpha males. I can't do that and be a strong feminist icon. Therefore I am going to stand down as the farmer in charge of Wetherbury."

"He-he!" said Christian Cantle, "Miss Everdene has resigned!"

"Resigned? I never said resigned," said the young, attractive, cherry-lipped [throws bucket of cold water over Thomas Hardy] woman. "I am merely putting my future into the hands of the owners of the farm."

"But isn't that you?" asked Bailey Pennyways.

The rosebud-mouthed temptress gave him 2 guineas severance pay. And told him to get off her land before she set the dogs on him.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Pretending to See the Future

A Tory MP wants a law committing the Government to assign 2% of spending to defence, in perpetuity.

This comes hot on the heels of George Osborne's plan to make all Governments balance their budgets in good times.

Now, I reckon it's generally a good idea to balance the books in good times. To borrow a Biblical analogy, if Gordon Brown had been chancellor to Pharaoh instead of Joseph, by the end of the 7 bad years the Egyptians would have been pretending they had grain - after giving everybody double rations during the good years, and handing out free craft beer to the masses. But passing a law about it is a bit stupid.

Stupidity isn't a sin, though I sometimes think it should be one. A moment's thought would show you can't bind the hands of future governments like this. At least, not unless someone got enthusiastic about a Constitution. In which case I refer you to the problems America has with guns.

And even if you are stupid, a bit of observation would help. Like the fact that the Tories are currently planning to revoke the law committing Governments to limiting child poverty.

Or not child poverty. Children in relative poverty. That was a stupid law, however well-meaning. If you want to reduce the number of children in relative poverty, just stop paying State pension. The number of children in relative poverty will plummet in very short order, because it's all relative and all the pensioners will now be poorer than the kids.

But never mind that. Labour passed a law to bind a future Government, and the Tories can revoke it. That's my point.

Unlike stupidity, pride actually is a sin. And the attempt to hold the future to your own standards is pride on a grand scale. It says that we, the people of the current day, are able to decide what the correct response will be to situations of which we can know nothing. We're like somebody in 1890, passing a law in perpetuity to say you can't take phones on trains, because people would trip over the leads.

It's thinking like the people that the Prophet Isaiah satirises: "Tomorrow will be just like today - or even better. " And then deciding that, despite our weird belief in human progress, nobody can have a better view of how the future should work than we ourselves.

We don't know what the future will hold. We don't know whether the spending on defence will be zero, as we enter a world of peace and blessing, or 100 percent as we fight off an invasion from the Faroe Islands. We have no idea what priorities will be. We couldn't imagine. If somebody 20 years ago had said the World Wide Web would mostly be used for sharing pictures of drunk people and cats, so people on buses and at the world's great landmarks could see on their phones what drunk people and cats look like - who would have believed them?

We already have too much power over the future. The poison we pump, the plastic we discard, the animals we're wiping out - these are all forms of control. We're limiting the diversity, the health of the future. Let's concentrate on getting the world cleaned up and safe. And let the future pass its own laws.

Solemn Act of Contemplation

I dunno. Gonna have to look at the structure of our "Solemn Act of Comtemplation" and see how we can fine-tune it.

I don't know whether it was the plate-juggling, or the chickens, or the way the Eternal Flame was reprogrammed to belch flame in random directions, or the urchins who shouted out deep comments from the works of Steve Chalke. But something wasn't right.

One of the sword-dancers said to me afterwards that he'd not been able to focus on God. Felt distracted, somehow.

Perhaps we could lose the Ferris wheel?

Wednesday 24 June 2015

The Morning After the Midsummer Night Before

I see Puck had a good few last night. Gets a skinful on St John's Eve and it's all "When I was a young elf, I could put a girdle round the earth."

Well, he got as far as Farndish. He's just staggered back, saying he'll need to lose some weight and build up his wings before next year. Same every midsummer.

At least Bottom has moved with the times. These days he just sticks a traffic cone on his head.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

St John's Eve

Sometimes tradition can be so helpful.

The Beaker Fertility Folk have all rushed out into the spinney to celebrate their traditional St John's Eve rituals.

The Beaker People who Recreate Unlikely old Traditions are just heading off to Church Porch, to wake and see who will die this year in the parish.

All either terrifyingly pagan or scarily close to necromancy.

Still, it's lovely and quiet in the Community this evening.

Mustn't grumble.

Anatomy of an Echo Chamber

Then do it all again.

Monday 22 June 2015

Legend of St Albans (Verulamium)

Today the Beaker Folk remember one of our local-ish saints, and first English Saint after Joseph of Arimathea, St Albans.

St Albans was originally a Roman called Verulamium. He swapped places with an amphibious priest whom he met in the Roman ruins. All Romans lived in ruins and stayed in the bath, which is why the priest was amphibious. It was left to the Anglo Saxons to invent roofs and upright walls, due to having greater experience with wet and cold weather. It was all right in Rome, having just ruins for buildings, due to it being sunnier.

After becoming a Christian and therefore Church of England, Verulamium had to choose a new name, and called himself St Albans after the town he lived in. After building the cathedral (with walls,  in the English style) he was murdered by the Romans.

To this day, on the weekend nearest his saint's day, the people of Snorbens diocese walk to the cathedral. People believe this tradition may have been invented by someone from Redbourn, and not from Husborne Crawley or Souldrop - who live so far away that, by the time they get home from one pilgrimage, it's time to turn round and walk back on the next one.

Liturgy for the Day After Summer Solstice

Archdruid: Nights are drawing in*.

All: Soon be Christmas.

* Technically they aren't yet. Although the days are now getting shorter again, the nights won't really start drawing in till next Sunday or Monday. Because Science. But here in Husborne Crawley, we mark the spirit, rather than the letter, of the law.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Suffer Little Children

Today being a summer's day, it features the first big Child Naming Ceremony of the year. Please can all Beaker Folk please note the following, in preparation for Mylie and Kylie's Naming.

We're expecting about 150 additional adults today, so the Moot House will be full. If you really must sit on "your" bean bag, get to the Moot House an hour early. Guests at Blessing Services arrive very early, or sometimes very late when the mothers confuse it with a wedding.

If you turn up on time, and someone is sitting in "your" bean bag, don't waste your time tutting and looking at it. This family is working class. Your passive-aggressive middle class grievances will not be ignored - simply unnoticed.

There will be a lot of children. They will make a lot of noise. If this is a problem for you, bring ear plugs. If the sight of small people whizzing around at high speed disturbs you, wear welder's goggles.

Because most of these people haven't been to an act of worship since the last blessing they attended, they won't know when to sit, stand, kneel, light tea lights etc. This may make them feel awkward. So please can our "regulars" sit near the front. Then the visitors can see that you don't know what you're doing, either.

None of these people will know the traditional Beaker hymns. So I've chosen modern choruses such as Shine, Jesus Shine and Abba Father. They won't know these either. But at least they're shorter.

During the Restrained Greeting of Peace, none of our visitors will know what to do. They only go around shaking hands with complete strangers on New Year's Eve. Leave them alone. If you force them to shake your hands they will be terrified. If you try to share a Kiss of Peace, you will likely be punched in the teeth. And I won't testify against them in court. If they all leave at this point, thinking it's all over - don't panic. We're holding the offering early.

The doors open at the pub they've booked at 12 sharp. So there may well be an exodus at ten to. The Beaker Quire will play loudly to cover the sounds of tyres chucking gravel around as they belt out the car park.

Above all, remember that Kylie and Mylie are children of our Heavenly Parent. They come to receive a blessing, themselves undeserving, unable of earning grace. They and their family are not invading "your" space. They are being welcomed into God's. They're not interfering with "your" service - they are showing you a lesson about God's free love.

And, chances are, they won't be back next week. So you've that to look forward to.

Solstice Morning

For all those who failed to get up, i.e. everyone, the exact moment of solstice sun rise this morning was captured by the webcam on the Trilithon. We are replaying the loop in the Room of Viewing every hour today.

Curiously, we appear to have recorded two decayed ancient deities - Herne the Hunter and Pan. This is quite a rare occurrence. Normally they turn up an hour late, as they don't understand British Summer Time. Even more curiously, it would appear that Pan is complaining that Herne forgot his Fathering Sunday present.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Solstice Eve

A Wicker Person, its feet encased in two shopping trollies, is pushed out onto the car park. Its chest is emblazoned with the words "Lord Summerisle - RIP". The deep inconsistency of this is relished rather than reconciled or rejected.

The Beaker Folk gather on the Platform of Viewing, and gaze towards the Great Trilithon, shining brilliantly as ultra-violet light is beamed onto its fluorescent pink paintwork.

The Beaker Folk shiver in the heavy, humid and unexpectedly cold air. They sip at celebratory glasses of Pimms. 

Archdruid: In but 5 hours, we rise to greet the Solstice Sunrise.

Hnaef: That's a bit early, isn't it?

Charlii: I hear that it's going to be pretty cloudy.

Young Keith: I'm probably going to be sleeping off this Pimms.

All: We've got fields to visit, just got married, etc.

Archdruid: Then run out into the hedgerows and bring in the....

All: We've been out into the fields and lanes and hedgerows. We've found a bloke called Pete on his way home from the pub. But he says he's not getting up early on a Sunday.

Archdruid: Oh blow it. Light the Wicker Person and let's go home.

Starlight in Their Eyes

Reading, by co-incidence, Thomas Hardy's Two on a Tower, I am amused to read the following in the letter of his great-uncle to young Swithin St Cleve, wannabe astronomer:
‘A woman of honourable feeling, nephew, would be careful to do nothing to hinder you in your career, as this putting of herself in your way most certainly will.  Yet I hear that she professes a great anxiety on this same future of yours as a physicist.  The best way in which she can show the reality of her anxiety is by leaving you to yourself.  Perhaps she persuades herself that she is doing you no harm.  Well, let her have the benefit of the possible belief; but depend upon it that in truth she gives the lie to her conscience by maintaining such a transparent fallacy.  Women’s brains are not formed for assisting at any profound science: they lack the power to see things except in the concrete.  She’ll blab your most secret plans and theories to every one of her acquaintance—’
‘She’s got none!’ said Swithin, beginning to get warm.
‘—and make them appear ridiculous by announcing them before they are matured.  If you attempt to study with a woman, you’ll be ruled by her to entertain fancies instead of theories, air-castles instead of intentions, qualms instead of opinions, sickly prepossessions instead of reasoned conclusions.  Your wide heaven of study, young man, will soon reduce itself to the miserable narrow expanse of her face, and your myriad of stars to her two trumpery eyes. 
‘A woman waking a young man’s passions just at a moment when he is endeavouring to shine intellectually, is doing little less than committing a crime.
‘Like a certain philosopher I would, upon my soul, have all young men from eighteen to twenty-five kept under barrels; seeing how often, in the lack of some such sequestering process, the woman sits down before each as his destiny, and too frequently enervates his purpose, till he abandons the most promising course ever conceived!
‘But no more.  I now leave your fate in your own hands.  Your well-wishing relative, 
‘Jocelyn St. Cleeve,
Doctor in Medicine.’
And I reflected. Thank goodness nobody thinks like that anymore.

See the Sun Arise in the Western Skies

Thanks to Dolzmir for putting in a serious shift, giving us our new Solstice Sunrise Viewing Terrace - a gravelled area with a glass roof, from which we could view the sun rise tomorrow morning through the Great Trilithon - newly painted in fluorescent paint, just as you can't prove the one at Stonehenge wasn't. 

Unfortunately it appears that Dolzmir had held the diagram the wrong way round, and we are now set up for a cracking view of the Winter sunset when it gets here.

Good news is, forecast is cloudy. So we can pretend we're looking in the right direction. In creative liturgy, imagination and improvisation are everything.

Friday 19 June 2015


OK. Let's start with the obvious.

Yes. I have been known, occasionally, to suggest pagans are making stuff up as they go along.

And you won't catch me at Stonehenge this Sunday morning. Too cold, too likely to be cloudy, too far away. Too full of hippies and people whose Ancient Druidic Order dates back to Poland Street, Soho in the 19th century.

Actually, I prefer the place in the photo.

It's quieter. It's more homely.

It's never gonna get a view of Long Compton. 

It's the Ed Miliband of ancient monuments.

This is just the King Stone, let the reader understand. There's the King's Men and the Whispering Knights as well. Frankly, our Angle ancestors (other ancestors are available) were more sexist about their naming conventions than the Beaker Folk probably would have been, if we had faintest idea what they believed.

And maybe that's the point. Stonehenge, the Rollrights - they're tabulae rasae. Nobody knows what they were for. Nobody knows what gods were worshipped there. Nobody, let's be frank, even knows if I've guessed at the right Latin endings there. OK. Archimandrite Simon does. He will tell me if I'm wrong.

If you see the Rollrights, as I first did, in the quiet and cold of an autumn morning - or at any time of transition and, let's be honest, all times are liminal as well as "soon" - they're a little bit eerie. Disconcerting. They've no failed grandeur, like Stonehenge has, if you believe the press cuttings before you see it. They're also not pressed in by tourists and fences and the A303. They're just there. 
You can wander around - during the day you can put a quid in the box. At night you can't, as a charming bloke comes round round with an equally charming young lass, and takes the box away. But at night, though you may get in for free, but they're really a little bit unnerving if you're on your own. 

Because you aren't told what they're for. It's not like a parish church, with the 10 Commandments on the East Wall, behind a rood screen. They just - well, they just are. If you're a neo-pagan you can imagine the Piper at the Gates of Dawn, his nymphs dancing around the stones. If a Christian maybe remember Jacob realising he has stumbled into the House of God; Abraham seeing the torches among the sacrifices; or another hill top, a long way away, where a sacrifice was lifted up to the sky. 

They point to something beyond themselves, beyond the watchers. They tell us there's a depth to creation, which calls to the deeps in our hearts. 

If there's a clear northeastern sky tomorrow morning, the first glint of the sun - beautiful deception - will be framed behind the Heel Stone as it rises, then rise through distant mist over the horizon. Through sleep deprivation, dope and/or wish-fulfilment, a hairy bunch of people will see the beauty of creation and count themselves blessed to see it.

Don't knock them. They can sense what most people miss. They're in touch with the music of the stars. They're filling in the gaps where the World won't. They're hearing something calling. 

The Newest Pagan Temple in the World

Really curious about the first modern day pagan temple in England, as reported in the Newark Advertiser. Obviously we respect all beliefs and nuns, but if people are going to enact pagan renewalist movements simply by paganifying Christian ritual, I feel I should at least get royalties.

But it's this paragraph that makes me wonder:

“We do not knock on people’s doors or thrust it down their throats. A lot of people who want spiritual guidance but do not know where to turn and are not satisfied with the conventional religions are looking to Odinism as an alternative.”

Maybe it's just me. But wasn't Odinism all about smashing down people's doors and ramming cold steel into their throats?

They don't make pagans like they used to.

A New Worship Leader Learns to Fly

I dunno.  In every new worship-leader's life comes the day they've got to fly solo. And so, after her careful training by Charlii and Hnaef, today Agnetta was allowed to lead Pouring out of Beakers with no supporting druids.

I don't know whether it was the power went to her head, or nervousness at being on her own,  or excitement at the approaching Solstice. At any rate, today was not the day to try "Congregation Surfing."

Not at a Friday morning service. The two congregation members were both sitting in the back row.  Did a "Grohl", didn't she.

Now obviously we respect Agnetta's beliefs in health care. That's why we ensured we used distilled water to wash the blood away. Being a dedicated believer in homoeopathy, she was worried about side effects if we'd just used tap water.

But in the end we had to persuade her that aromatherapy wasn't really gonna help her. Neroli might be inspiring, and lavender soothing. But to fix that broken leg, we had to take her to hospital.

The Final Curtain

I'd like to thank Jermoleene for her presentation to us last night, "Revelation - a Post-Modern Perspective."

I'll be honest, I was expecting more considerations of contemporary apocalyptic images. More discussion of the Beast as Global Capital, or the secretive intelligence agencies that manipulate our lives. Maybe not so much running around, shouting "God is very angry", and pulling down the blinds in the Moot House.

Still, we were all moved to fear, and then, when Jermoleene ran out into the countryside shouting "Woe, woe and thrice woe!" it all went better in the end. So just like the book, really.

Thursday 18 June 2015

Larkin In Good Company

Holly Baxter wonders whether a plaque in Poets' Corner is a good idea for the agnostic Philip Larkin.

As Gerry Lynch points out in the comment the above links to: two words.

Thomas Hardy.

10 (Other) Christian Insults

Thanks to The Church Sofa for their "10 Christian Insults".

But I reckon, 10's not enough. If you really want to say someone's not fit to assist you on with your slingbacks, you want to consider:

  1. "I'll pray for you."
  2. "I know what you mean. I used to think that. But then I found the Truth".
  3. "Have you been hanging around with Methodists again?"
  4. "Mmmmmmmm......" 
  5. "You sound just like me before I repented."
  6. "I'll just call the pastor. He can explain it more simply than I can."
  7. "Did you, at any point in the past, dabble in Tarot or the World Wrestling Federation?"
  8. "Of course, Jeremiah had his doubts, as well."
  9. "You probably need to spend some time with the Lord over this. On your knees. Or your face."
  10. "I don't want to judge. So I'm going to assume it's your venality, viciousness and bodily desires speaking, not the real you."

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Ministry à la Carte

" Clergy do not have the option of treating the teachings of the church as an à la carte menu and only modelling those with which they personally agree."

Please tick all of the 39 Articles that you feel apply. 

1. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity.
2.Of Christ the Son of God.
3.Of his going down into Hell.
4. Of his Resurrection.
5.Of the Holy Ghost.
6.Of the Sufficiency of the Scriptures.
7.Of the Old Testament.
8.Of the Three Creeds.
9.Of Original or Birth-sin.
10.Of Free-Will.
11.Of Justification.
12.Of Good Works.
13.Of Works before Justification.
14.Of Works of Supererogation.
15.Of Christ alone without Sin.
16.Of Sin after Baptism.
17.Of Predestination and Election.
18.Of obtaining Salvation by Christ.
19.Of the Church.
20.Of the Authority of the Church.
21.Of the Authority of General Councils.
22.Of Purgatory.
23.Of Ministering in the Congregation.
24.Of speaking in the Congregation.
25.Of the Sacraments.
26.Of the Unworthiness of Ministers.
27.Of Baptism.
28.Of the Lord's Supper.
29.Of the Wicked which eat not the Body of Christ.
30.Of both kinds.
31.Of Christ's one Oblation.
32.Of the Marriage of Priests.
33.Of Excommunicate Persons.
34.Of the Traditions of the Church.
35.Of the Homilies.
36.Of Consecrating of Ministers.
37.Of Civil Magistrates.
38.Of Christian men's Goods.
39.Of a Christian man's Oath. The Ratification.

At the Deanery Synod

It's something all non-Anglicans ask frequently. PCCs we understand. General Synods we have read Twitter feeds from. But, given they produce no obvious output, have no effect on the external environment, are universally feared and occupy astonishing amounts of time without seeming to do anything - what actually is  a Deanery Synod?

Well, the word comes from the Old English word denu, meaning a clearing in a forest, and the Latin word, "syn-nod", meaning "Everybody indicate agreement and we can all go home". To get onto a Deanery Synod, in theory, involves a fiercely-fought-out election campaign between people desperate to represent their church in the wider area, followed by a vote at the Church AGM. Or in practice, you just have to be the slowest to duck when the minister asks for volunteers.

Deanery Synods are nominally held in church buildings. This maintains a sense of decorum and strict Puritan rectitude. But it is only a legal fiction. In fact, once everyone has gathered, they sneak out the North Door and off into the woods.

But do not be over-excited, Little Ones. This is not some Beaker Fertility Folk frenzy of frolicking 'midst the Flora. No, the Deanery Synod makes for the nearest glade, sits on the giant toadstools that have unexpectedly grown in a circle, and there engage in earnest discussion with the Little Folk.
At this Deanery Synod, all the attendants are invisible.

Now, I know what you're thinking. The Faerie of legend are quarrelsome, skittish little creatures, known for swapping babies with changelings and spinning straw into gold. Surely, you are thinking, the Deanery Synod must be a wild old affair. But you are forgetting.

The Little People are 500 years older now than they were when Fairyland had a large adherence and it was expected that elves, goblins and bugbears would want to go to faerie gatherings. But these are modern times. Young bogeymen and women want to play football on Sunday mornings. Hobgoblins and foul fiends are obsessed with playing on Minecraft. And the atheist movement, though intellectually weak in a society of supernatural creatures, nevertheless has had a dampening effect on the urge of faerie folk to get together and cast spells.

And so, at Deanery Synod, the parish representatives get to sit and listen to assorted woodland denizens complaining that the glade has a leak, wishing things were like they were in the 9th century, and complaining that they ache. They will frequently reminisce about when Oberon and Titania were in charge, and remark that dialogue at woodland gatherings isn't so memorable now the language of Shakespeare has been removed from their spell books.

The main function of Deanery Synods, from a human perspective (let's not bring the Divine into these things) is to elect people to be on the Diocesan Synod. This is achieved by leaving everybody in the glade until the last two are left, not having rushed off to go to the toilet. Dependent upon the age of the Synod, this can last up to 20 minutes. Once they get to Diocesan Synod, they will need even stronger bladders to qualify for the General Synod or, as it is known to Synod junkies, "Mainstage".

Some say that, once the people of the Deanery Synod have been enchanted by the glamour of the little people, they fall into a deep sleep and wake up 40 years later.

Others say it merely feels like it.

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Keeping the Top Gear Traditions

Chris Evans has been announced as new presenter of Top Gear, replacing Jeremy Clarkson.

According to the Telegraph: ''The presenter promised fans he would "do everything" he could to "respect what has gone on before and take the show forward."'

After which he ran a Malaysian caravannner off the road, and punched a cyclist.

Monday 15 June 2015

Creationist ≢ Christian

Caught a bit of the Nicky Campbell phone-in today on the report by Linda Woodhead and Charles Clarke on religion and schools. In case you don't know, Linda Woodhead is a very intelligent person who knows lots about religion and sociology.  And Charles Clark is a politician.
As ever there were questions about why humanists' taxes should pay for faith schools. To which the answer is (and I apologise for being a pragmatist here):  "because,  on the whole, they're better. And when you are in your childless, friendless old age and depending on the State pension to know where your next anorak is coming from, you'll be glad some people are educated well enough to pay taxes, you smug, secularist prig."

And then there was the tweet to Radio 5 that said school was for teaching "facts". So there go drama, music and English Lit.

But it was the equating of creationism with Christianity by some that got me down. How many times do we have to explain? Christians can be scientists. We accept different insights into truth. We actually have more tools for understanding this world than atheists do, because we use all the ones available to atheists, and then faith and theology as well. We are able, or most of us are, to distinguish genre in writing, to tell philosophical and theological approaches from scientific ones, and use them all.

So, in short:

Creationism  Christianity.

And, though it may be a subset of Christianity, it's also a subset of Science. And it's bad at both.

Dead With a Smile on My Face

According to the BBC website,
"You're more likely to hear Monty Python's Always Look On The Bright Side of Life - according to a 2014 survey, the most popular song played at UK funerals - than Verdi's Requiem."
Well, I should think you are. "Always look" is about 4 minutes long. Whereas Verdi's Requiem is getting on for a couple of hours. The debate with the Crem management would be interesting.

"Can I bring my own CDs?"

"Sure. Which track?"

"Oh, no. All of it."

"No. And the 200-strong quire ain't going to fit in the 'Jezza Bentham Memorial Chapel'."

"OK. Can we have 'My Way'?"

"My Way" being the summary of the modern funeral. A bloke who's done stock accounting at a brass accessories firm for 50 years, then died because he couldn't face the wild excitement of sitting in his front room watching "Cash in the Attic" and they play "My Way." Just like they did for his dad, and his uncle. And technically "the end is near", but only because we're looking back on it.

"Always look on the Bright Side of Life" is a glorious song. Fantastically inappropriate in its original context, picked up with sarcastic intent by gloomy football fans. It's a song exactly in keeping with the modern view on life and death. That is, it is literally whistling in the dark. It's not about "celebration" rather than "mourning". It's about ironic fatalism, the thing English people fall back on when we have nothing to believe in.  Whereas the old BCP funeral service, with its sure and certain knowledge of eternal life, its glimpse of eternity and resurrection - that was, among the challenge, hopeful.

The irony that "Soul Limbo" is in the top 20 in that survey cheers me up no end. I hope "Another one Bites the Dust" is due for a comeback.

Sunday 14 June 2015

Prayer for the Return of the Jumble to the Boxes Till Next Time

Jumble that is donated for charitable purposes has but a short time in the daylight.

It is spread out on a table in the porch. It is offered to passers-by. It is ignored, and then once again departs into darkness.

And so we consign this jumble to its boxes, old books and tea towels; souvenir thermometers from Malaga and unneeded mug-trees. In sure and certain knowledge that they'll be taken out again next month.

Anybody want to buy this "Magpie" annual from 1977?

Like a Mustard Seed

Jesus also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’ With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
In England we talk about mighty oaks coming from little acorns, which I guess is the same image. Seeds for the most part are tiny things. Even acorns are big compared to sunflower seeds, or poppy seeds, or tomato seeds. They're as small as grains of sand. But let them get enough good soil, and they grow. Let the words of Jesus catch just enough of your heart that what he says makes sense - just give God's Spirit room to grow. The things Jesus did - the way he was prepared to welcome everybody, the posh people and the ordinary people and the ones everybody thought were useless or just plain bad. Jesus loved them all. He was prepared to put up with the mess in other people's lives because, I guess - let's think about the soil.

Normal soil is dirty and full of bugs. So. We could try growing seeds in something clean. We can try and grow things in sand. Get some nice washed play-sand from the garden centre. You can plant a seed. It'll grow in there. Because nothing else is in there, it'll grow quite quickly. But then it will wither and die. Because there's no nutrients, is there? Just nice clean silica. Doesn't even hold water.

But think of growing a seed in real soil. Early on, it's trickier. There could be other seeds already there. There could well be slugs and snails. If you're growing pumpkins, you've got to be on your guard, or they'll be on your gourd. It's more of a pain getting seeds going in real soil.

But when they get going, they're much richer.  The soil holds moisture. The soil is rich in nutrients. There's worms working, building up the structure - bacteria and worms breaking down the plants that were here before, but converting them into more nutrient to breathe new life into the new plant.

What I'm saying is, you don't wait till you think you're good enough, to look to let God into your life. Mostly because you'll never make it. You'll never be holy enough, clever enough, well-behaved enough, un-sweary enough for that. But God's kingdom doesn't work like that. Let just one seed of the Kingdom fall into the right place - just one scrap of soil in your heart - and God's Spirit will make it grow. Even if, at first, you don't notice. And then all the riches in your heart - all the things you didn't realise could be good in God's eyes - will support the seed that was planted. And just as every seed is unique - and just as you are unique - your knowledge and love of God will grow, just as his love grows in you.

A seed is planted. It just needs somewhere to grow.

Saturday 13 June 2015

Colour Rush Church

Inspired by the Colour Obstacle Rush at Willen today, so we went for the Colour Procession this afternoon.

A whole new concept in initiating worship. As the acolytes, tea-light bearers and druids approached the worship focus via the Corridor of Uncertainty, they had to "run the gauntlet". Coloured paint,  buckets of water, people with giant foam cotton buds - the full gamut of extreme worship.

Personally I thought it all looked a bit fraught. So I ensured I came in via the trapdoor under my archdruidical seat. But the younger ones did seem to enjoy it. Though Keith came a nasty cropper on the vaulting horse - putting it on wheels was an act of evil genius.

Anyway. We've had complaints. Some said that starting worship dripping in paint, glowing in UV,  and tackling obstacles was irreverent. Some said we were just trying to outdo the Catholic Bishops.

But mostly, people wanted to know why we didn't stick to liturgical colours.

Thursday 11 June 2015

RIP Christopher Lee

Hymn: Summer is ycumen in.

Archdruid: What do you call a man with a wicker man on his head?

All: Edward.

Archdruid: What do you call a man with three wicker men on his head?

All: Edward Woodward. Are you here all week?

Archdruid: A nameless fear stalks Husborne it is...

Burton: Drah-culah!

Charlii: The fighting Uruk-Hai of Sah-ru-man!

Hnaef: Lord Summerisle!

Archdruid: Gosh, that's a lot of nameless fear for one bloke. And a lot of long, dramatic vowels. Couldn't he have been in Last of the Summer Wine?

Compo: That Dracula has gone in through Nora Batty's upstairs window!

Foggy:  Obviously couldn't resist those wrinkled stockings.

Clegg: Got a rolling pin through the heart though.

Compo: And putting his coffin on that shopping trolley was a big mistake....

Archdruid: And so we say farewell to....

Burton: Drah-culah!

Charlii: Sah-ru-man!

Hnaef: Lord Summerisle!

Archdruid:  ... purveyor of fear to the masses and yet, I reckon, a decent bloke.

All: We shall not see his like again.

Archdruid: Unless he's got one more trick up his sleeve, at any rate.

Ominous Exuent Omnes.

Resigning With Honours

Sir Tim Hunt has resigned as honorary professor at UCL, after his silly comments about "girl scientists".

What do we think we're doing, letting him get off lightly like that? He's still got a knighthood and Nobel Prize we could campaign to strip him of.

Do we have any sense of proportion?

Wednesday 10 June 2015

A Vicar Calls

You know how it is as a busy minister. Everybody complains you don't go to see them. If it's not people with highly infectious diseases wondering why you can't find time to visit, it's members of the PCC suggesting that every-member ministry starts with the pastor door-to-door visiting every house on the new estate. And if you ever do go to see the housebound parishioner to take communion, there's an evens chance they've gone to Sunny Hunstanton for the weekend.

Well, now help is at hand. We at the Beaker Folk have been inspired by the home delivery companies, adopted their systems and techniques. And now, at very reasonable rates, you can buy these "Called but you were out" cards. Instead of all that time visiting, and awkward conversations on the doorstep by people who really weren't expecting the local hitman or woman for the God Squad, you just sneak down the path, pop one of these through the door, and leg it.

People will be happy you visited. Many people will be glad that you cared, and even gladder that they missed you. If they really want to see you, they'll be able to call and arrange for you to drop round another day. And if you really want to behave like a delivery company - why not throw a bag of jumble over their garden gate?

"Sorry I missed you" cards. Pastoral ministry for the busy minister.

Not Caring About the Minister's Sex Life

This is my take. It may upset the Warriors of Social Media from both sides equally. I don't know. Don't care, actually.  But this is my take.

If you believe the Media - and especially the BBC, which has to report the news, regardless of the lack of anyone who understands religion or journalism - the Church is obsessed by gender and sexuality.

Oh yeah. Hardly ten minutes go by without Church members thinking "That Revd Nehemiah Jones. Is he, ignoring the beard and interest in steam trains, secretly a woman? Is he,  despite a total lack of interest in the music of Judy Garland, and his happy marriage to a woman called Rose, secretly gay?"

And so, in the mind of some parts of the media, we go on - fretting lest some unnecessary use of lace, or lack of interest in the Duckworth-Lewis method, reveals that our clergy are a Y-chromosome short of the full bag of almonds, or are as the nine-pound-note.

Whereas, in reality, on the whole, nobody cares.

The things that would put us off/on ministers include such important questions as:

1. Will the minister use baptisms as an excuse to launch a Nine-point Path to Salvation on an unsuspecting congregation of visitors?
2. Will Christmas services consist of the minister wondering what the congregation has been doing the last 12 months?
3. Will s/he return my calls within 48 hours (allowing for their day off )?
4. Are they able to listen?
5. Do they believe in God?

The correct answers to above being "no", "no", "normally", "yes" and "hopefully" respectably. The questions as to the disposition of their genitals - and what they do with them - remain, as they should be - less important than whether they can run a fund-raising event, or the assurance that they won't fill the rectory garden with goats. Frankly, filling the garden with Village People tribute acts is a lot less trouble than goats. And I'm only banging on about the goats because I know of a parish where the (male) rector had a lot of goats as pets. And when non-worshippers complained about his successor being a woman, the worshippers counted their lucky stars that she was a woman who didn't like goats.*

No,  Church people, on average, probably think about matters of sex about as often as anyone else. Maybe slightly more, as let's face it, the average Church member is more attractive than an anorak clad atheist.  But the question of whether they might or might not want to have sex with the minister occurs no more or less often than the same question with respect to a shop assistant, bus driver or council receptionist.

And that doesn't, normally, have any effect on whether we'd want to use their services. Come on, we've got God to worship. That's far more important than sex. 

*There was, as far as we are aware, nothing dodgy about the liking for goats. What are you, the Daily Mirror?

Monday 8 June 2015

Blooming Awful

Uproar among the flower arrangers.

Floribunda just started screaming uncontrollably. And eventually we just had to do that thing where you slap them to bring them to their senses.

Not that we expected that to work. She was just getting on our nerves. It didn't help her, but we all felt much better.

Anyway. After a while we realized that the problem was a really badly arranged set of blooms from a lilac-blue climbing plant. She hated the fact that her colleague, Hyazinth, had used the plant in the first place. And she loathed the arrangement. And that's what brought on her attack.

That's right.

It was a bad case of wisteria.

An Experimental Form of Blessing for People Who Like to Expand on the Normal Ones

And May Peace and Blessing be with you
And those whom you love
And those you're merely fond of
And those you don't have much time for, really, but we ought to remember them out of charity
And those that you hate
And those you'd destroy
The bloke who gave you a funny look at the bus stop this morning but you'd not given him a second thought till now
The people currently going through Junction 13 of the M1
Facebook friends
All the Facebook Friends whom you don't care if you ever see them again or not
All the sock puppets on Twitter
People whom you've never met
Dead people
People who aren't born yet
People who are never even gonna be conceived
All sentient animals
(especially any we might eat at any point in the future)
Small pink furry creatures from Alpha Centauri
The cast of "Glee"
and everyone in Palau
and other potential "Pointless" answers
Now and forever.


Sunday 7 June 2015

Welcome to Church

Over the last few weeks we have had quite a few visitors and new Beaker Folk around the Moot House. Maybe a bit of housekeeping needed on our welcoming techniques, I reckon.

First up, can I remind everyone about the good practice shown in the Perfect Church Welcoming Leaflet.  But if we could just learn from the last months' experiences?

Remember that woman who came in at the end of April? The one you all greeted when she came in? She described it as "like Shaun of the Dead". This is not good.

Well done to Shona. She saw Ranwulf heading purposefully towards the young woman who wandered in last week. That very attractive woman. I now Ranwulf is still complaining about the broken hip he suffered when Shona rugby-tackled him to the ground. I think that hip was a price worth paying.

Now on the subject of diversity. We are a welcoming and accepting congregation. We welcome people of all faiths and nuns. And likewise we are keen to welcome people from across the LGBTQIA. But whoever came up with that questionnaire, you shouldn't have. And whoever gave it to those new people to fill in, you really shouldn't have. Really, really, shouldn't. You don't have to be that welcoming. We had to get an expert in to explain some of those terms.

If people don't tell you where they live when you welcome them (and let's face it, why should they?) then following them home so you know where to post the Community magazine is also out.

Giving people earplugs on the way in may not be the best way of putting them into a good frame of mind for worshipping. Instead, keep them in reserve for when the Beaker Quire starts playing.

Yes, saying somebody's name a couple of times is a good way to remember it. Saying in between 20 and 30 times in one welcoming conversation is really pushing the limits of obsessive. Especially when you squeal it.

Saying "what percentage chance is there you will be back next week?" at the end of the service is perhaps a little bit obsessive.

Likewise, refusing to give somebody an information leaflet on the grounds that "you won't come back - they never do" is perhaps suggesting a bit of defeatism in the situation.

Scanning people to see if they are secretly alien lizards is never welcoming. Even if we did catch two last week.

It's nice to give visitors - or regular members - gifts. Especially at this time of year. Primroses, tomato plants, lily flowers. But eggs and tomatoes? What made you think that was a good idea?

Saturday 6 June 2015

"Who Are My Mother and my Brothers?" Mark 3:20-35

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:20-35

Thirty years ago, I had a dream. And Gabriel, aflame with glory, with eyes that have seen the wonder of the depths of space, told me I was favoured by God. And I was greatly troubled.

It was not easy. Joseph rejected me, for a while, It was a strange labour, in a foreign town, with odd visitors to the baby. At his blessing, I received a curse: "a sword will pierce your own heart".

But then it was easier. He grew in wisdom and the knowledge of the Lord. He was pious, eloquent, clever, funny. He saw things in new ways, spinning sermons from wheat and weeds, coins and parties.

That sword pierces now. He is the friend of sinners, the enemy of the scribes, He takes the Law, and completes it to keep it. He breaks the rules and throws out demons. He's talking about the end of the world - but saying it begins, and ends, with him.

I lost him once before. On the road from Jerusalem. He said then there was somewhere he had to be instead - his Father's house, not our's. He was surrounded by wise men then. Not the ones the wise men despise, like now.

I want him home. Out of the crowds, away from those hero-worshipping disciples. Away from the Magdalene - they say she had a demon. Far away from the prostitutes, the needy, the edgy, the lame. Back to where the grain of wood and the hammer of nails are all that matter - the life he was called to.

 Is he mad? The wise men say he has a demon. If he throws out demons, can he be what they say? I want to hug him, to hold him, But we can't get near him. They crowd around him - needing, touching, holding, listening. And when he knows we are here - "my mother and my brothers and my sister are those who do God's will". So am I not his mother? Has he rejected me? Forgotten me?

But my love runs deep, for my odd, eccentric first-born. I promised God I'd carry him. And now I'm here, I'll not let him leave me. Though his face is turned to Jerusalem, I'll follow him. I'll follow him to the ends of the world.

I held him in my arms before.

I'll hold him again.

Pieta - Giovanni Bellini

Friday 5 June 2015

A Grammatical Thought Experiment on God's Gender

Greek has three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, neuter.

So does German.

French has two, but masculine takes precedence.

Flemish - now this has always been too much for me - it's got either two or three, depending.

English has "he and she, "him and her" " for things that have clear genders - people, and animals that you know quite well. But for all other things it just uses "it". It's heading towards having no genders, though it's never gonna get there.

Can you imagine a language which uses "the" as a definite article, has "it" for all genders, and distinguishes between male and female parents by calling them "parent", and "who happens to be male/female" only if there happens to be a need to distinguish?

Yes, I can, too.

Festival of Tin Foil Trousers

Can Beaker Folk please note that, in consideration of the lightning threat, this morning's "Feast of Tinfoil Trousers" has been cancelled.

To be honest I can't remember what theological point this was making anyway. But we put Burton out in tinfoil trousers as a test-worshipper. And let's just say he won't be needing to wax his legs before his next big bike ride.

Thursday 4 June 2015

Above Us Only Sky

There's a not-much-noticed novelette by Thomas Hardy, called "Two on a Tower". It's a tale of star-crossed lovers, set against their nightly explorations of the depths of space via powerful telescopes. He knew how to tell a raunchy story, did Tommy H, when he put his mind to it.

There is a ghastly nature to space, when you have to face it. It's not as infinite as many think, except in the same way that the world is limitless - if you head round the equator in an easterly direction, you'll eventually come back to the same place. And the theories say there's a similar kind of feel to space. Not that you'd go right round its curvature, as if you're lucky the expansion will stay ahead of you. Depends how fast you go, I reckon.

Sorry. Got distracted.

Just been out watching the International Space Station go over. It's only about 200 miles or something up. But it's eerie watching it as it sails on silent wings around the old blue ball. Beyond it today were Jupiter and Venus - mere millions of miles away. The Andromeda Galaxy contains a trillion stars, and is two and a half million light years away. But it's local, all things considered.

If you get this far in musing as a Christian or Jew, there's only one thing that comes to mind, I reckon:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them?

Psalm 8 is the context for a sense of abandonment, a horror of the vastness of space; a kind of holy shock as we realise just how small we are. As the prophet said, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's peanuts compared to space.

I like to think, if I ever got shoved into a Total Perspective Vortex (the possibility is remote, I realise) that when I saw a map of the Universe, in all its terrifying immensity, and in one tiny corner a little tiny sign saying "You are here" - that the place where I am, would be marked by a cross.

Not my cross. Somebody else's. The cross that says I may live in a mind-numbingly huge universe, and death may be inevitable, and the world may move with the cruelty that only the unthinking laws of Physics and chance can provide, and the meaning may - for a moment - be totally lacking. But I am not alone. Zaphod Beeblebrox survived the Vortex because the universe he was in, was built simply for him. And, deep down, I do believe that this universe I am in was built simply for the Word who gave the song of creation its grammar, died on a cross, and did it all for me. Not just for me. But for me as well.

It's big and empty and terrifying, the sky, innit? But it's beautiful and comforting as well.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

The Correct Way to Address a Minister

After all the excitement over the right thing to call God, we have a new hot-button topic. What do you call a minister? Is it "Revd James Jones"; "Rev Jane Jones"; "Revd James";"The Rev Jones?"; "The Revd Joanie Jones"?

The answer is obvious. We should all call ministers "Father". Whether they're male or female. Just like God.

I Mentioned God Once, But I Think I Got Away With It

After the comment from UKViewer on the last post regarding mentioning God - or not -  I'm thinking that this really is the way to go.

After all, the things banned from pub discussions, so they say, are politics and religion. The thing you should never mention from the pulpit, they reckon, is money, in case you upset people.

I sometimes think the sense there is a bit lacking. Presumably the people who get upset if you talk about money fall into two groups:
1. People who can't afford to give a bit more.
2. People who can afford to give a bit more, but don't want to and would rather it wasn't mentioned. It's so vulgar, isn't it, money?

If this is so then I shouldn't mention the spiritual inspiration to be found in the view from high mountains, either. As this will upset people with vertigo, and also people who could go to the top of a mountain but can't be fagged with the walk.

I couldn't mention the wonders of God to be seen in a meadow, in the wild flowers and hedgerows and wildlife. In case I upset people with hay fever, and also people who don't like the countryside. What is wrong with people who don't like the countryside? Are they scared of sheep or something?

I'm sorry, I've lost my track. Where was I?

Oh yeah. Talking about God. Obviously we should be discouraging this. You know, people come to Church, they want to hear something funny; uplifting. They want some peace, to sing a hymn. Maybe they like the architecture. Or they have a thing about sitting in cold buildings. Maybe they are in search of a spiritual experience.

So the last thing they want is someone stood on a wooden box, telling them the logic of the Universe wants to be their friend. It's gonna scare them. They might read the Bible and find out these God persons expect certain kinds of behaviour. They might start to think about death, meaning, truth and other inconvenient concepts.

And you know how it is. Once you start talking about God as if God exists, you might think just saying God all the time is getting to be a bit samey and want to use a pronoun to refer to him/her/them.

And then you've had it.

No, if you want to avoid trouble in church, don't bring God into it, is what I say. After a 100 year trial, the PCCs of the Church of England have discovered that keeping God out of all discussion speeds things up, and has no effect on decision waking. Obviously it's hard to tell, as there's never been a control population, but still.

Now I just have to work on removing the politics.

Don't Mention the Deity

Apologies to everybody after yesterday's sermon.

I don't know how Charlii managed to do it, but in amongst the amusing anecdotes about Celestine's first words, left-wing politics, stories about anthropomorphic woodland creatures and dodgy economic theories, she accidentally mentioned God.

I'm really sorry for all the upset caused. Charlii has offered her resignation, but I've told her she is a much-respected member of the Druidic leadership and she must merely go on a 6-week re-education course.

She's young.

She'll learn.

The Social Media Hunger Games

The Daily Mail has quite a good record for showing helmet cam footage of cyclists being bullied and put in danger by motorists. I suppose it gives its readers a frisson of the dangers of the real world they often read of. You know, the real world outside suburbia where, if you read the Mail, scantily-dressed actresses are outnumbered only by Slovaks and illegal ISIS-supporting asylum seekers. And this goes for the latest Internet sensation, the owner of the Brew Cafe chain in South West London. That's not the independent Brew Cafe in Oxford, who are probably wishing they had a different name about now.

The best-rated comment on the Mail article currently is the Neanderthal who presumably thinks that a 50-year-old lookalike for a chubby Andy Parsons, apparently wearing a gimp suit and earphones to go for a drive in a Chelsea Tractor is some kind of role model. And so "Sonny Bill" of Lincoln gets top billing for telling us that he hates cyclists too. Presumably after pressing "Send" he sat there going "huh huh huh" for a bit then wondered why the man he could see in the mirror was staring at him a bit funny. Meanwhile the thousands who pressed "Like" went off to see if they could find their bottoms with both hands.

So what do we learn from this? Apart from that civilised people should avoid South West London and Lincoln, obviously? Well, I'm impressed with the BBC's "are you the hardest-working poor person in England" concept. It's been referred to as a kind of austerity Hunger Games. But I would point out that it's almost totally lacking in the composite bows, daggers and explosives that make the Hunger Games interesting.

So my proposal for the Hunger Games of Social Media is this. We get someone who liked Sonny Bill's post on the Mail, and almost any atheist commentor on the Guardian's "Comment is Free - Belief" page*.

We put the two of them in a room, put the cameras on them, and wait for either of them to saying anything showing signs of having been thought through and original. If this happens the one who wins it will be crowned "Media Monarch" and we let them out

It's gonna be boring TV for a few days, but I reckon one of them's eventually gonna get hungry and eat the other.

* I think my friend Tim commented on it once but I'm letting him off as he is capable of humour and independent thought. #notallatheists

Tuesday 2 June 2015

Should God be referred to as a Woman?

... that Telegraph poll missed an option.

I've corrected it for them.

The Telegraph confuses Bishop Libby with God

And the result is....

"It doesn't matter what your opinion is. God is what God is. This is not a subject for a petition on the government website. You don't get a vote."

To clarify - this is not a criticism of calling God "Father". God is the one from whom all good fatherhood (and motherhood, for that matter) flow.