Wednesday 30 September 2015

Only One Future Allowed

'Monday morning, 8.15am, and the British Humanist Association is hosting its no-prayer annual breakfast. The bacon butties are long gone by the time shadow business secretary Angela Eagle launches her attack on Tim Farron. “At a time when we have a huge revival of fundamentalist religious belief, we have a newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats who is an evangelical Christian who believes in the literal truth of the bible. He does. He just doesn’t want to talk about it a lot because he knows how much it will embarrass his own party.”'

From the Guardian

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Is There Life on Mars?

Not so excited about the discovery that there is flowing water on Mars. We knew there was water on Mars, we knew the sun shone on Mars. Those two things together make it possible for water to move around. So good stuff, interesting, confirmed some theories but it's not exactly world- or even Mars-shattering.

Knowing there's flowing water means there's a better chance of life on Mars than if we knew there were no flowing water. And what does it mean if there's life - small-scale, bacterial-type - on Mars?

Well, I guess it means there's a better chance of life elsewhere. If two next-door planets have life, then the chances that an earth-sized planet in the Goldilocks zone round a star across the galaxy may have life as well. If it's similar to simple life on Earth, maybe there's a greater chance that the comet-dispersal theory of life is correct. In which case, maybe there's life around every cosmic corner. Maybe some of it would be complex, intelligent, brighter than us, fiercer than us, angrier than us. If we think it it old enough to cover the darkness of space between its home and here, we may have things to worry about.
No running water.... no soup..... 

And what does it tell us about the nature or presence of God?

It tells us this universe is wonderful and mysterious, with surprises and the potential for the generation of life. If you believe in God, it's proof - as if you needed it - that God is creative and endlessly imaginative - and has made a universe of wonder which is yet based on principles so utterly beautiful and simple. If you don't believe in God, stick with the first bit. If you don't believe in God, but you're a bit snarky and you don't think too hard, you may decide it disproves God. I still haven't been able to make that logical jump. There's people on Twitter who have but, like smug maths students, they haven't shown their working. And you know what happens if you don't show your working and you get the final answer wrong, don't you? No marks.

Monday 28 September 2015

A Lament for Facebook being Down

Archdruid: I was glad when they said unto me, "you have three new likes on Facebook"

All: But when she clicked on the link, Facebook was down.

Archdruid: Tell it not in Redwood City.

All: Publish it not in Regents Place.

Archdruid: You can't anyway, as the button is not there.

 All: And no status to update.

Archdruid: I remember the days when I went unto Facebook to "poke" friends.

All: Or to post passive-aggressive rambles saying that if people are my real friends, they'll spam other people with the same neediness.

Archdruid: I remember the excitement of an unsubstantiated outrage.

All: Which on Twitter would last but for an evening, but on Facebook could keep coming back for months.

Archdruid: Where now can I post photographs of kittens?

All: Twitter.

Archdruid: Or nice pictures of my lunch?

All: Twitter.

Archdruid: Or get into futile arguments about theology or politics?

All: Twitter.

Archdruid: Or share mundane news about my life?

All: Twitter, Eileen. It's bloody Twitter. You could use tumblr, but people keep confusing it with Tinder.

Archdruid: Is it back yet?

All: dunno. Hang on.... it's got the spinner going....

Liturgy for the Blood Super Moon

Archdruid: Not so much a blood moon.

All: More a beige one.

Sunday 27 September 2015

Super Blood Moon Apocalypse Eve

And so here we are again, on the eve of another Blood Moon Apocalypse. So I spent this morning spelling out the best way of looking at the religious and scientific points of interest about such a celestial event.

I suppose to me the regularity of the moon's cycles - the way we can predict eclipses - speaks of the constant nature of our God. I love the beauty of the Physics, the way we can trust the universe to do what it does - within the parameters of what we know. And knowing the Physics doesn't take away the ability to read into it real poetry, philosophy, spirituality. It lifts us, awes us, humbles us and leaves us - if we choose - to bow down to the long-patient, eternal hand that conceived of such things as symbols.

So I explained all this to the Beaker Folk this morning. Or tried to. Got as far as the word "Blood Moon", and the Moon Gibbon people screamed and ran out into the woods. For those of you who've not been with us for long, I should explain that, due to a misunderstanding of the term "Gibbous Moon", the Moon Gibbon people believe that there is a large supernatural gibbon on the moon. Each lunar cycle, as the moon wanes, the Gibbon eats the moon: bringing it back up as the moon waxes. But at lunar eclipses, the Gibbon Moon Folk believe, the Gibbon Moon runs amok, and the moon is dyed with the blood of slaughtered Clangers.

So tomorrow morning, if anyone gets up and the skies clear, we can expect the perfect collision of science, religion and superstitious. A beautiful natural phenomenom. The reflection that we are part of a fantastic plan. And, far off, the howls of terror and cries of "Spare the Soup Dragon!"

Happy Super Blood Moon Apocalypse.

Saturday 26 September 2015

Blood Moons and Lilies of the Field

So I see the world's going to end. Again. Apparently the combination of a lunar eclipse and a super-moon will cause the Imminent appearance of the seraphim upon the Jeroboam. And as a result people in America are, once again, heading to the hills and stocking up on tinned food and assault rifles.

It seems to fly against all logic. It's not like lunar eclipses are rare - I've personally had a good view of at least half a dozen over the years. And it's not like "super moons" are rare. They're just hyped. A supermoon happens half a dozen times a year. None of this is unpredictable. We understand the physics. The Chinese were predicting eclipses centuries before Christ.

And it always amazes me that, if you are told the world is going to end, the first reaction is to go out and get some food and a gun. Because if you think this is the Apocalypse - the great day when Jesus will return - you're wasting your time with both. First up, Jesus is renowned as a dead good provider of free food and drink. And if he's going to be judging both the living and the dead, I just don't think guns are going to be much help.

So I'm not heading to the hills and I'm not stocking up on corned beef. Though I'm tempted to set the alarm for 1am Monday morning so I can see it - if the weather looks hopeful.

Obviously most people aren't alarmed. The end of the world happens so often these days that it's hardly worth getting excited about. Although there's always that nagging feeling that, one day, somebody is going to be right.

But I'd like to compare it with what Jesus says. He says this: "See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these." He's comparing the kingdom way of life with a way of life that constantly worries - keeps up with the Joneses. What Jesus says elsewhere is that you're wasting your time trying to work out the end of the world - because even he, during his time on earth, didn't know. He tells us about a judgement, and he tells us it could come any time - but he doesn't give us a timetable.

Because what Jesus is really saying, I believe, is that we should always live like it's the end of the world. I don't mean we should all live up in the hills, gnashing our teeth and living on tinned sweetcorn and hunting rabbits. I mean we should all live considering that we may not have the time we expect.

So if you've a friend who you've not seen for a while, and you're thinking one day you should get together - make a phone call, send an email or try and find them on Facebook - maybe today is the day you should do it. If you've been planning to give some money to a good cause, or spend some tie doing something worthwhile - maybe today is when you should do it.

If there's something you have been planning to do, or try, or if there's a relationship that's been broken and you've always thought you should say sorry - always thought someone should make the first move - maybe today's the day for that move. Maybe it's you should do it.

And then if the world doesn't end on Monday morning, it won't matter that you've done something you should have done anyway. And you'll have another day to do those things you should have done anyway - good things; fulfilling things; things that help others; whatever. It doesn't mean you give up your job, or let your house fall down, or don't cook your dinner. And give thanks for the good things God has given you in this world, for however little a time they give you a glimpse of his goodness. But "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Don't panic that the world might end tomorrow. Just live like it might.

Friday 25 September 2015

Archdruid's Thought for the Day

Smile and the world smiles with you.

Cry, and you can start up a blog and hopefully get a book deal.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

The Ministry of Lamenting Small Inconveniences

Ah, that nostalgic feel of an autumnal equinox. Autumn is always the season for remembering. At this time of year, I like to remember the ankle-deep leaves falling onto Parks Road. The yellow light of Brasenose welcoming exhausted, smelly Chemists back from a hard day's Purgatory in the Dyson Perrins lab - any Chemist accused of being involved in unseemly parties at Oxford has the alibi that, smelling as we always seemed to of esthers from the bowels of Hell, nobody even invited us to seemly parties let alone unseemly ones.

And so we celebrated the equinox today in the Moot House, as the weather was looking dodgy. We had an "apple" theme - which is to say that everybody brought an apple or two to hold, pretend was the earth and/or another planet depending on how much fruit they had bought. And, when Hnaef started a very long sermon on the finer points of an organ piece by Messiaen, they were very handy for throwing.

And so we spent part of the afternoon hosing down the Executive Arch-Assistant Druid to remove 100 pounds of apple sauce. I mean, what were the chances of that happening three years running?

And thoughts of Hnaef's repeated apple-sauce issues remind me of another woe that occurred to somebody from a former house group, in a former church, many years ago. He was a teacher, and arrived one evening a little shell-shocked. Unsurprisingly. That day, when he left the classroom for a moment, his class had set the contents of his briefcase on fire.

Now, Martin Saunders mentions a particular Christian reaction - and I quote - "the sympathetic heart-cry of compassion" - accompanied by a bit of a frown and head tilt. This is what Christians do when somebody else suffers any kind of inconvenience. However small. Presumably because every minor setback a Christian suffers, is clear evidence of either persecution or the hand of the evil one. And Christians have to sympathise. It's the Ministry of Lamenting Small Inconveniences.

There was, during the one-day series the other week, an incident where a batsman received a fast delivery, for want of a better description, midwicket. And the fielders did what cricketers always do when a batsman has a ball arrive in the area for which the protective box was invented. They wandered around a little way away, smirking a bit. No doubt somebody suggested he did a bit of counting. It was a kind of slightly amused sympathy.

And that was the feeling I had when my friend told the house group - in tones of great sadness and shock - that somebody had set his briefcase on fire. I felt very sorry for him. Everybody else in the group did the sympathetic heart-cry of compassion. But I couldn't do it. Because, mixed with the empathy, there was a certain amount of respect for his students. Anyone could have just pinched his bag, or emptied it out of the window. That would have been nasty, and very unclassy. But somehow setting it on fire in the classroom showed a certain amount of vicious style.

And that was when I realised that I am missing a vital Christian gift. I do not have the Ministry of Lamenting Small Inconveniences. Don't get me wrong. In the case of bereavement, serious injury or loss of employment, I am as capable of sympathy as anyone else. But mention that you had to queue to pay for your shopping, that you've got an ingrowing toe-nail, or the upgrade to iOS9 bricked your iPhone, and I won't be able to do it. I will treat the information as uninteresting, slightly sad, but underserving of tilting my head or sighing.

You know why? Let me take you back to that cricket match. There's a bloke who has just taken a sharp rap on a sensitive part of his body. Imagine if the fielders, his parter, and the umpires had been members of a Christian house group.

They wouldn't be wandering around the outfield, grimacing and making jokes about his evening being spoiled. Oh no. They would be stood around him in a circle, heads titled to one side, making that noise Christians make when another Christian has suffered a temporary but probably not serious inconvenience. If he was really unlucky, somebody would be offering to lay on hands. And chances are, that would be a little beardy bloke with a bald head and an earnest look.

The Ministry of Lamenting Small Inconveniences. It's exercised by so many. We shouldn't encourage it. It could be terribly embarrassing.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Lament for the Last Day of Summer

Archdruid: The last of the summer rays falls on the grateful earth

All: Sorry, Eileen? It's pouring with rain.

Archdruid: And the earth revels in the last warmth of summer.

All: Eileen, can we chuck another pallet on the fire? It's freezing.

Archdruid: Let us bask in the sun and rejoice while we may! Gather ye rosebuds and eat of the fruit of the land!

All: The tomatoes are months behind. The rosebuds all rotted in the rain. And the hottest summer in history, as predicted by the Daily Express (yet again), and even the Telegraph, has been a washout.

Archdruid: Then let us take one last summer dance on the blessed grass!

All: Lower Meadow is under water. The floor in the Orchard is covered in fungus. There's nowhere safe to dance.

Archdruid: What about the tennis court?

All: Covered in moss. It's terrifying.

Archdruid: Then let us cower under cover, sing our songs of woe, light up the wood-burner, throw chair legs on the fire and lament the total wash out that the summer has been. OK, Kirsty - take it away.....

Sunday 20 September 2015

God of the Gaps

Richard Dawkins was very holy this morning. His first thought, as the day dawned, was to pour out praise in the manner of the Psalmist or the author of Job, to God: comparing him to the little, bodgy, cut-and-shut God of the Gaps and asking "what other God is there?"
To which, in the ancient Beaker catechism which he is clearly quoting, the response comes:

There is only God, and that God is not a God of the gaps.
The heavens themselves are too small for God to take as a dwelling
The earth too small to be God's footstool.
What God could fit in anything so small as to be a gap?

Some say what about the fine tuning of the universal constants?
Do not these prove the existence of God, since each is set in its place,
From the beginning of time to prove that God has designed them?

If the constants are as they are, let us seek to know why.
Could they be different? In other universes are they different?
Can we imagine how another world might be if they changed?
But do not look for God here. This is a gap. It is too small.

Others may say - what of before the Big Bang?
What brought it into being?
Who set a singularity in place, that it might fill the void?
Is God not found there?

If there is mystery there, let us unravel it.
Let us do the maths [here Americans may say "math" if they really must]
Let us peek beyond if we can - but do not look for God here.
This is a gap. It is much too small.

Or we may look at consciousness and wonder
Are we touching the presence of the soul?
Is this gift so great it comes from God
Is God not found here?

It is  a gift and a great wonder
So let us understand it, analyse it
Find its biological basis and use it
To understand illnesses and explain behaviour
But do not look for God here.
This is a gap. It is too small.

Let us take metaphor and speak of God
As the one who throws thunderbolts and chucks down hail
Who takes the sky as a coat and shines with the sun's righteousness
Who brings us into the world and breathes life.
If in him we live and move and have our being
Then the whole logic of the universe is the grammar of the Word that spoke it
The meaning of this world is written on the surface of Meaning
And hope is filled with the universal Hope even as the world burns to an end.
Then the Spirit works with our spirits to a hope we cannot dream.
In the end there is no God of the Gaps
Because there are no gaps.

As a matter of fact, it's all Gap.

Saturday 19 September 2015

20 Ways to Know Your Ministry is Not Going Well

Interested in this "Christian Today" article on "Six Ways a Congregation Can Kill a Ministry". Which led me to wonder - how do you know when your own ministry is not going well? Well, from someone whose ministry never goes that well - here's some hints and tips.
  1. As you stand in the porch to say goodbye after the service, you realise most people have snuck out through the back door.
  2. The stewards forget to invite you to the Annual Church Meeting.
  3. The Bishop has a separate room at the Palace for complaints from your congregation.
  4. The magazine editor asks if you had any clever friends at college who might want to contribute to the monthly "thought".
  5. Babies always cry at their christenings. All through their christenings. From the minute you go round for baptism preparation, and for weeks afterwards. And so do their parents.
  6. Wandering into the Choir Vestry wondering why your arm is aching, tou find a small "vicar" doll hidden under the anthem sheets.
  7. Sick people don't complain if you don't come round to see them.
  8. You find out that people are referring to the Manse as "The Death Star".
  9. Instead of shouting "Amen" during sermons, the congregation are now praying, "Lord - stop him now!"
  10. You come back from sabbatical to find the congregation have filled the preaching rota for the next six months with guest speakers.
  11. The former incumbent's new house in the village has been paid for by a congregational appeal.
  12. Left under the lid on the Church photocopier, you find a photograph of yourself with the title "Know your Enemy".
  13. The undertakers have started to advise people to use secular celebrants because "they make death seem less frightening".
  14. Your Church Times always comes through the letterbox with potential jobs circled in red ink.
  15. The housebound members of the congregation have nicknamed your bicycle "Binky".
  16. People start holding up score cards after your sermons. 
  17. When you say that the new building project will take more than two years, the congregation wonder why you're bothering.
  18. Congregation members change the signs on their door to "No free papers, no salesmen, no clergy".
  19.  Somebody at the Church Committee suggests updating the Church Profile.
  20. Finally, to revisit that article in Christian Today - if you start to think your congregatio are "agents of Satan" - you may have a bit of an issue. And it may not be your congregation.

Friday 18 September 2015

Eileen Has a Family Conference

So, Cousin Angela, our family has always been close. When we were little, we both played round Nan's house. And we thought that Nan's furniture was normal. Sure, pink plastic vinyl couches look a bit ghastly now. But in the 70s we thought that, and orange-and-brown curtains, were normal. And Nan's dead now.

And I'm sorry that you don't like the way I've moved away from her taste. Yes, my apartment is now full of Ikea stuff. Well, it would be. It's tidy, it's sharp, and I can get it from just up the road at Denbigh. But don't get me wrong. Filling your house with vinyl furniture and pictures of gipsy ladies with green skin and horses running into the water..... well, it's not my choice. I prefer a nice black-and-white arty thing. I'm not saying I'm right and you're wrong. We've chosen differently.In 30 years, the old stuff from the 70s will be in vogue and people will be laughing about my tub chairs and pine shelving. It happens.

But I've stopped giving you style tips. I don't come round your house and give you advice any more. You don't pay any attention, and frankly who's to say I'm right? So I don't do it.

But on the other hand, it's getting a bit wearing, you writing me emails telling me how much you hate the furniture. It's my furniture. I like it. I think it's trendy. I may be deluded, and that just-salvaged look may just be a passing fad. But it's where I am.

And if you want to go round the neighbours, offering to redecorate their homes for them in your preferred style then - fine. Let's face it, they're mostly Beaker Folk or Drayton Parslow. Anything you can do to the furnishing chez Parslow can only be a good thing. But bear in mind his furniture is strictly 60s chic. And he's been trying to get me to adopt it ever since he moved in.

So in future, let's not worry about having tea round at each other's house. It won't work, we'll only argue and we'll both end up explaining why the others' furnishings aren't right. Let's act like proper families, and meet up on a neutral venue. I guess the pub's out, so how about a coffee shop?

Then we can have a cup of coffee, act like we're family, and not criticise each other's furniture.

We can insult the coffee shop's furnishings instead.

Thursday 17 September 2015

Back to Nature

Controversy at the Over 60's "back to nature" event.

Unfortunately Groderick managed to confuse "pond dipping" with "skinny dipping".

He'd like to apologise to the members of the Ladies' Bright Hour.

And Mabel would like to apologise for thumping Groderick with the edge of that bucket. It seems to be a case of mistaken identity. She thought she was catching a tadpole.

Automating the Vicar

Lots of ministers posting on Twitter that, according to a BBC survey, they've only a 2% chance of being automated out of employment.

Which is nice. Obviously lots of people are at risk of being automated. But it's good to know that the clergy are safe.

So I started thinking about which parts of a clergy job could be automated. And I should immediately distance myself from Young Keith. In what I presume was an homage to Douglas Adams, he said he reckoned he could program a robot to do it. It just needed two phrases - "Two sugars,please" and "vote Labour." Wrong. Wrong. I thoroughly disapprove. I only quote hin to indicate just how wrong he is.

No there's lost the clergy do that you couldn't automate. Not reading the Bible, obviously. That could easily be automated. Or calling to check you're OK. An automated system could cope. Albeit it might have trouble if you chose option 17 - "I'm suffering from existential dread and a phobia of biscuits". But in general. Just plug in the numbers / email addresses, and send round a friendly message on a frequency that could be pre-arranged or selected from the Church website.

Obviously, once they've spent a few years in ministry, many clergy have a desire to run a building project. And it's well known that project management is a hard skill to automate - all that negotiation and bullying is hard to reproduce in a robot. In general, automating project management is going to require the invention of the Daleks. But still, when you dig deep down into most church building projects - they don't really need to be done, do they? Short of the urgent "The tower is falling down". most reorganisations are, when deeply investigated, optional. So never mind automating the job. Just don't do it. It'll go away.

And again, the mechanics of most worship - getting a speech simulator to do the litugy is easy, leaving suitable pauses. You could just play a tape instead of having a sermon.

So if we dig in here to this "my job only has a 2% chance of being automated", we rapidly head towards "only 2% of my job can't be automated." And here's the rub - it seems to be the important bit. It's being the only one with the time to listen when everyone else is out or dashing about. It's being sometimes the only human face that somebody sees who's not a health professional. It's sometimes about just being there - an actual human presence that can't be automated because there is nothing on earth, to the vast majority of human beings (I leave Burton Dasset out here) that can do the job of another human being. Being asked "say one for me..." - doesn't work if you can just type the prayer into a website. Somebody praying for you can only be done by a real person.

Cooing over a baby; diffusing the anger and fear at some funerals; being as pleased as the couple you've just married. You can't automate those.

It's about taking a piece of bread and a glass of wine, and saying "this is my body..... this is my blood".  That's the bits you can't automate. That's the bits that are irreplaceable.

Not chairing committees. Anyone could get a robot to sit there for two hours, and then go "so if we do not have any other business...". In fact a robot's got the advantage. It could go into sleep mode.

Obviously, the minister can't. That would never happen, would it?

Bling it On

Just a reminder that the second wave of devotional Christmas merchandise is now on sale in the Beaker Bazaar.

If you want a solar-powered Rudolf with an LED nose that sings "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" in Korean, you want to get in quick while stocks last.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

The "How Christmassy is it Feeling?" Calculator

The summer is over and we are not yet saved.

And yet there is a brightness on the horizen. Because what does the end of summer mean if it's not nearly Christmas? Just use our Christmassy Calculator to work out - how much like Christmas is it today?







Tuesday 15 September 2015

Festival of Ferrets and All Things Yorkshire

Yeah, so yesterday's Ferret Service was challenging, thought-provoking. I wouldn't go so far as inspirational.

This was Hnaef's response to the Prime Minister's alleged rudeness to Yorkshire people. And also in memory of Brian Close, who has left us for a better country even than the one between the Humber and the Tees. Hnaef thought it would be good to celebrate all the great things for which that great county is known. So the service started with tripe, which everyone avoided. Mottershaw preached a sermon on "God's Home County", so more tripe. We sang "While Shepherds Watched" to "On Ilkley Moor". And then we released the ferrets. They had been trained to do a ferrety formation dance to the tune of "Floral Dance" by the Brighouse and Rastrick. Although Young Keith wasn't quite convinced that 24 hours' notice was enough.

Needless to say, a dozen ferrets in a well-attended Moot House had quite an effect. That is, everyone took one look at those intelligent eyes, and fled. The ferrets decided the Moot House wasn't ideal ferret habitat, and legged it out into the fields to look for rabbits.

By the time we all came back, the whippets had also got off their leads and wrecked the place. They ate all the rhubarb crumble that was intended - along with pints of Mild - to finish off the service. And it was hours later before we discovered the effect rhubarb crumble has on a whippet's digestion.

So the Community smells of bleach. The Buckinghamshire Ferret Fanciers are still out in Big Meadow, trying to retrieve their little vicious furry friends. The whippets have all been returned, and we've hung our cloth caps up.

Next time Cameron offends somebody, I hope it's the Italians. Then we can just eat pasta.

Monday 14 September 2015

Liturgy for a Rainy Day When the Trains are Up the Spout

Archdruid: The Rain falls hard on a humdrum town.

All: This town has dragged you down.

Archdruid: As the rain soaks into the dust of late summer

All: Let us smell the petrichor and dream of childhood.

Archdruid: Of endless autumn days of rain 

All: Of rainy day lunches in the Hall

Archdruid: When our feet swapped tarmac for parquet

All: And we ate sandwiches instead of singing hymns.

Archdruid: When we knew the thrill of the new in this re-defined space

Hnaef: And played at Top Trumps on the organ bench.

Archdruid: Hnaef! Get off the organ bench! 

All: And do not run in the corridors.

Archdruid: But now we turn to those at Bedford and Luton awaiting East Midlands trains.

All: Who can read the signs of the times, but can't control the signals.

Archdruid: We think of them, sitting on the platform, with the thud of rain and yet no trains.

All: But why can they not take the Thameslink?

Archdruid: Because even at the best of times, Thameslink trains are like unto the crowded carriage that goeth unto perdition.

All: Whereas East Midlands are like those that go unto blessing - quiet, cool and yet oh so few.

Archdruid: Do those on the platform look at the rain, think of their grumpy bosses, of the all-important admin that awaits them?

All: Do they look at the departures board and gnash their teeth, opening wide their mouths against their fate?

Archdruid: And do they remember long-lost days?

All: When a fall of rain could convert even a lunch break into something new and exciting?

Archdruid: For all things will come to an end.

All: Let us seize the wonder and blessing of sacred moments, that we may hold their magic in our hearts.

Saturday 12 September 2015

"Top" Woman Priest "Is a Woman"

I was interested by this little piece from Christian Today on the abuse received by Rev Emma Percy, for saying that we should call God - "she". Not all the time, just some of the time.

I guess the main meat of the article - that there are gormless people who write nasty letters to people who disagree with them - isn't much of a surprise. Nor are Emma Percy's views particularly radical. I'm all in favour of recognising that, as the source of both men and image - who are both and collectively created in God's Image - there's no harm in using female language about God. I should say that calling Jesus "she" seems a bit odd, and calling the Holy Spirit and only the Spirit by female names could, in those of an Aryan tendency, just tend reinforce subordination. So you've got to think through this stuff. But God as our mother, Jesus as the mother hen that gathers her chicks - it all makes good sense.

But no. What worries me is, in what sense is Rev Emma Percy a "Top woman priest"? Is the headline (and the text, which says she is a "leading" woman priest) - saying that she is a "top priest" for a woman? Is Christianity Today saying that the ranks of priests are basically like the pop charts, where Country & Western has to have its own chart because it's not good enough to get into the real bestsellers?  Do women have to have their own "top priests" still because none of them would get into the real list of "top priests", in other words? Only surely one or two of the bishops would get into the charts these days, if nobody else?

Or is Christianity Today actually saying "a top priest who is also a woman"? In which case I have two issues - firstly, Emma Percy is the chaplain of an Oxford college. Which is, strictly speaking, a fairly mid-table kind of a position. When Jeffrey John was chaplain of my college, long and merry ago, he was a fresh-faced young man who was a long way from getting to the position of being a "leading Welsh gay cleric".  I presume that the Welsh Gay Cleric chart is really niche. The equivalent of the Folk Music album chart, I reckon. Sorry. I digress. My point is, there was never any suggestion that just being an Oxford college chaplain made you a "leading priest". And my other issue is - when will we stop saying "woman priest" the whole time? Women in the Church of England have been priests now for 20 or so years. There's even bishops.

I realise that if Christian Today took my issues seriously, the headline would be "Priest Abused for Calling God "She"". I guess that's slightly less sexy as a headline than their original. But we've got beyond saying "Top Woman Politician Yvette Cooper resigns from Shadow Cabinet".  Maybe the Church will get there on day. Maybe it'll just take time. Quite a long time.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Church of England Announces "Beatle" Saints

The Church of England, ever keen to stay on the forefront of human culture, has announced that it is to add a new set of commemorations to the Common Worship calendar.

In order to appeal to today's modern, smartphone, wi-fi, connected Millennials, the new set if saints are from the era that today best captures the leading edge of Anglican worship.

The 60s

The Road to Salvation?

St Rita the Lovely
Meter Maids
St Eleanor Rigby
All the lonely people
St Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
St Pablo Fanques
St Henry the Horse
Dancers of the Waltz
St Maxwell
Silver Hammers
St Molly
Singers in Bands
Ss Vera, Chuck & Dave
St Jude
Musicians who live in the shadow of their parents
St Desmond
Barrow Boys
St JoJo
St Father McKenzie
Unappreciated preachers and un-darned socks
St Pam
St Billy
St Yoko

The new saints have upset traditionalists. When the Revd Blue Meanie was asked where this new direction had left the Church of England, he replied, "Nowhere, Man."

Hipster Tax

Dear Readers, you will know the problems that we have with hipsters in London. Specifically that, with their single-speed cycles and love of "craft" beer, they are simultaneously blocking up roads, toppling over at junctions, and threatening the viability of real beer. Beer with proper bits in it. Beer that tastes of malt with a smattering of hops.

But I have been inspired by Kate Shrewsday's blog post on the Beard Tax in Russia. Surely this is the answer - a shot in the arm of the deficit, a kick in the bottom to Jeremy Corbyn (to which he will respond by requesting  a consultation on whether that should really have happened) and the roads clear once again for accountants on folding bicycles, who choose to stop, and put their feet down, at junctions.

I am aware that a percentage of real ale drinkers are also hairy men. But not so great a proportion. As Gandhi famously said, you can't break an omelette without cooking eggs.

Expression of Innermost Feelings

I'd like to thank Aston Clinton for the short "Expression of Innermost Feelings" as this morning's worship.

The idea was that we would get closer to our purer, deeper, more essential selves through the medium of art, poetry, dance and the consideration of the natural world.

In practice Young Keith and Charlii indulged in some light "moshing", which resulted in the inadvertent destruction of most of the Quire's instruments. I'm not sure whether that expressed their innermost feelings, but from the grins on their faces I suspect it did.

Burton just wrote what he called "De Profundis" - a poem from the depths of his heart. I didn't ask him to read it out. It was just a series of train times and beer tasting notes.

Aston himself did some art. Fascinating stuff. You wouldn't think anybody would be able to draw so many torture instruments so accurately. Must have taken real study.

Hnaef and I respectively expressed our innermost feelings by painting on gold nail varnish, and sorting out the preaching rota up to Christmas.

And Ratti got close to the natural world by taking the morning off to go badger-trapping.

On the whole, I'm glad we expressed our deeper, more essential, inner selves. 

Now we must remember never to do it again.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Nativity of the God-Bearer

It's a long way from here to the end, Queen of Heaven
A long, dirty, hurtful way.
That little heart as yet un-pierced beats fast.
Stars flicker in unfocussed eyes, arms reach out.

Those tiny feet will walk many miles, Queen of Heaven
The grassy Nazareth lanes
The road to Bethlehem, Egypt, Jerusalem
And a way of sorrows where your loved one hangs silent.

Those arms will hold your loved one, Queen of Heaven
A tiny creature, far from home
A broken man, on a darkened hill
And, as they take him away, a last goodbyel embrace.

No stars for a crown today, Queen of Heaven
He will wear one of thorns for you first.
In your mother's arms this quiet first day
Only she sees the stars that shine in your eyes.

The Fundamentalist Giles Fraser and the Death of Europe

The first thing you learn at Liberal Theological College is never say "The Bible says". The Bible is a collection of  80 or so books, by many different authors, in many situations over more than 1,000 years of the history of the people of God. Different authors acting under the Spirit would have been speaking into different political spheres - the world of Moses is not the world of Jeremiah or James. You make no sense if you try to understand the early chapters of Genesis as history, or the Book of Job as a guide to making portable tents. "The Bible says" is the mark of people who haven't really thought about things, don't understand the complexity of the texts.

I saw an example the other day. Unusually, in a Guardian headline. "Christian politicians won’t say it, but the Bible is clear: let the refugees in, every last one"  Giles Fraser calls for, if necessary, the removal of the entire greenbelt if need be to let people in.

But the thing about the Bible is, it's not that clear, as we liberals know. Never is. We have to think through these things, work out what to do. There are 60 million displaced persons worldwide. And, through climate change and future warfare, there will be more to come. As Ian Paul notes, what Giles Fraser is doing here is virtue signalling. Making sure everybody knows how good he is prepared to be, at other people's expense, then lamenting that the evil government won't let his plan come to fruition. In times gone by this was also known as Liberal Democrat policy making. It may soon be Labour's.

Ian Paul's article also uses a previous analysis by Robert Peston to explain why actually Germany might be practically better off than the UK in accepting refugees from Syria. There's a fundamental problem with Europe - it's dying. If you think it's unfair that people working in the industries caring for the old get minimum wage, don't worry. In 40 years there's gonna be so many old people to the young ones, the ones doing that job will be able to charge what they like. If that's not to be the case, something has to change.

The British are keeping the birth rate up quite well by European standards. Probably through a mixture of the relatively large immigrant population that already lives here (immigrants are younger than the average, and of late have tended to be Muslim), and the kind of joyous alcohol-fuelled recklessness that still inspires some of the indigenous white youth. Germany, Spain, Italy on the other hand have seen the decline of religion combined with - well, what? If having children is a sign of hope in the future, then it appears the majority of the European continent has none. I blame the EU, really. If the most you've got to hope for is the clarification of the quality regulations for import paperwork - if you like, a regulation  rubber stamp, stamping on a harmonised import docket  forever - then maybe you can't see much point any more? No worlds to reach, no dreams to dream.

But the other part of that piece from the Telegraph is the disturbing one. With current rates of population growth in Africa, in particular; with pressure on resources; with potential climate change - that number of displaced people, from resource conflict, shortage and disaster - could be in the hundreds of millions. In a world with half a billion people looking to move north even Giles Fraser's generosity might be strained. We need to invest in a sustainable way to deal with these issues before they become unmanageable. Goodness knows how - I'm an Archdruid, not a statesperson.

If "the Bible is clear" on what we do for people, then let's remember that the "battered refugee people, fleeing political oppression in north Africa, and seeking a new life for themselves safe from violence and poverty" went into their new home in Canaan and committed genocide. The Bible is clear. They had to kill all the " Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites". Kill them all. And yet Giles Fraser at no point in his article advocates screening for the descendants of any of these tribes - and let's face it, there's probably still a lot around. The result of the Hebrew invasion of Canaan must surely have been refugees heading to places round about like, for example, Syria.

Yes, the Bible is in favour of looking after the stranger in your land. Yes, we should be generous to help those in need. Yes we should give till it hurts. Where we can take people in, sensibly and safely and with a combination of a hard head and a warm heart, we should. Where we have refugees in our land, we should respect and protect them. And we follow the One who told us that all are our neighbours. But the Good Samaritan didn't immediately put the assaulted man up in his own house - he put him up in a nearby inn because it was closer. The Bible is always clear if you predetermine what it should say. But I don't think Giles's solution is necessarily the right one. And the Bible's not clear on tactics, whatever it may be on principles.

Monday 7 September 2015

We Are Just Dust - Cyber-Souls and Sprained Ankles

Blogging more fitful and fretful than normal this last few days. I could blame it on pressure of work, or some holy thing like being too disorganised to make any spare time. But in fact it was because I sprained my ankle at the end-of-Not Greenbelt 15 fancy-dress bowling party.

Just a note to the organisers for next year - holding a "Black and White" party was trendy when ska was popular - a bit dated when I was a student - and absolutely ridiculous when half the invitees are Anglican priests. That was a lot of clerical wear for one small party. And I was far too busy pretending the pins each had a little face of Drayton Parslow, Burton Dasset etc on them to do any self-care on my size 6s. If I'd been allowed to wear the ankle-height Doctor Martins I requested, this might not have happened.

But it's a reminder of how fragile we are, and to what a degree we are each one body, mind and spirit. Because a sprained ankle, even given modern drugs and flunkies to bring grapes, is enough to put me off writing, or even thinking clearly. It gives me even greater respect for my hero, Dorothy Hodgkin, whose brilliant work in X-ray Crystallography was done despite terrible arthritis.

As a BBC report reminds us, CS Lewis, in "Abolition of Man", foresaw the future possibilities of "improving" the human race. And there are problems already in the history of this. For while I think that contraception is on the whole a good thing - the population of the world will become more and more a source of famine, war and refugees as time goes by - I can't forget that Marie Stopes made sure she set up her clinics in working-class parts of London, to try to stop the poor breeding. Like rabbits, they were, apparently.

And the idea that we could augment our minds by putting, in essence, USB ports in our heads - of itself might be handy. We could take off-line dumps of Wikipedia. But it would wreck the average pub quiz. If we had access to distributed processing, it would make a mockery of exams.

And then the idea that we could, when this earthly heart and fail, and human life cease, upload our consciousnesses into a Cloud and live forever in a virtual world. Well, first up, I suspect that won't technically be us at all. Just a backup. But even if we could transfer our consciousness - what then? If just one, then why not a miriad copies of ourselves? What does that mean for our individuality? Where is one's self?

People who aren't qualified scientists but write science articles tend to say this is immortality. But there's two issues. One is the apocalyptist's friend - the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. We cannot achieve immortality because the universe itself is dying. We are all, on a cosmic scale, dust.

And the other problem for anyone seeing a computer backup as immortality. This would put your soul under the control of the guys from the IT crowd, forever - or at least until the sun expands to swallow the computers. You will suffer extended outages, you will occasionally discover that you have been restored to a previous backup. You will be at the mercy of geeks who will think it's amusing to change your avatar. You could be hacked and die in a terrible cyber-war. And - if it's Apple who get to market first - beware of the upgrades. You could go into stasis for 24 hours and, when you are finally reinitialised, discover you have received a free upgrade to Dappy from N Dubz.

The future will be broken. We are just dust now. But at least we're human.

Saturday 5 September 2015

"Jesus is not my Dead Ancestor"

Fascinating stuff from Eddie on the problems in translating the Bible into other languages. Worth remembering that English doesn't have one-to-one equivalents to Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek either. In one sense, every act of translation is also one of interpretation,

Ask Eileen - Caring for Fretful Children

It's a question I'm asked a lot - "Eileen, as a famous blogger, how do you cope when you're baby-sitting for Celestine, but she's fretful, being a bit naughty or otherwise unable to settle?"

Well, I always think it's important in these circumstances to go to the Bible. And that tells us that grandchildren are the pride of old age.  Which gets me a bit annoyed. I mean, I'm not that old. Not even qualified for Saga.

And then again Proverbs tells us that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child. But when they're littler than you that's always  wrong. And when they're bigger than you and you suddenly decide to try it, you really need something a bit more solid to give yourself the advantage - maybe a cricket bat. Although currently my Slazenger is in for repairs after I had to break that folk mass up. But overall I don't think hitting kids helps. I don't recommend it.

My old Nan used to say you should rub some gin in the gums when kids are teething. In fact, sometimes she would drink a couple of glasses. The kids didn't stop crying, apparently, but she sometimes managed to get some sleep.

Then once they've reached Celestine's age, and start to understand what you're saying, you can find iteasier to quieten them. If she's fretful or troublesome at night, I go and tell her there's goblins out in the wood and her crying could attract them. That tends to mean she keeps quiet.

But there's one foolproof way, when looking after my grandchild, that I find I can ensure a good night's sleep.  I put her in her favourite cowgirl outfit, wrap her up in her little powder-blue jacket, take her out in the car for a short drive, and drop her off at Charlii's mum's house.

Never fails. But do it before you try the gin.

Friday 4 September 2015

People Like Us

I dunno. I've tried not to listen to Twitter on Syrian refugees. Trying to disentangle genuine heartfelt anguish at the struggle and disaster people are facing - the majority -  from people just wanting to make a party political point, from utter racists. It's all a bit much. And our heartfelt responses aren't necessarily always the best. And I still don't see that sharing photos of a dead child - especially when the media is already doing it - is the right thing to do.

Should David Cameron have done more earlier? Yes, I reckon. Does declaring we "welcome refugees" without thinking about the consequences of that statement - of more, not fewer, unsafe boats heading out into dangerous water - does that risk increasing the disaster? Yes, probably. That mere message, regardless of what we actually do, may have that effect.

Was invading Iraq an act of monumental stupidity and hubris? Yes, for sure. Was providing indirect upport to remove the Libyan leadership because the Arab Spring seemed to be a good thing a mistake? Yes, in retrospect.

Was David Cameron a fool to want to bomb Assad's forces in Syria? Oh boy was he. Would it help people to go home quicker, if we swallowed our pride and principles and made common cause with Assad against Isis? I don't know. I'm an Archdruid, not a sooth-sayer. You'd still want to protect the Kurds from him, and for that matter protect them from Turkey.

And can I understand why people who are at least moderately safe in Turkey decide to take a massive risk and get on a dangerous boat - knowing how dangerous it is - in the hope of a better life? Frankly I can't. But I'm not there. I don't know what dreams and fears drive people.  Maybe I'm just not as brave as them.

But I know this. We can disagree on policies, practicalities and the best way out of situations. But people who aren't like us are not swarms, tides, or dogs. They're people. They may speak different languages, have different faiths, come from different backgrounds. But they're still people. They have dreams for the future and aspirations for their families. They have hopes and fears. They act, in times of peril, remarkably like us.

And the reason for that is that people who aren't like us, are actually just like us. Whatever we work out as the best way to deal with a complex, fast-moving, hideous situation - that's still the place to start.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Generation Ex

Just discovered that "Generation Y" isn't just a Billy Idol tribute band.

I feel pretty silly now, to be honest. When they said "we need to do more to attract Generation Y" I thought they just wanted us to hold a 70s Night in the Old Barn. I'm gonna have to see if Tesco will take back all that hair gel and sacks of bin liners.

This also explains why, at the Moot, they were discussing whether a Church Plant might help engage with Gen Y. And the baffled looks when I suggested a cactus.

Tuesday 1 September 2015

101 Uses for a Sloth Bear

Now the sloth bears are out in the open, as it were, and we're all back safety from Not Greenbelt 15, we thought we ought to find some practical use for them.

The obvious thing was to use them as replacement sled dogs. I love huskies - they always look so happy in their work. And sloth bears being much bigger, I reckoned they would be good for shifting bigger loads. Like Hnaef.

So we invested a quid to buy a shopping trolley at Morrisons, brought it home and tried it out on the drive.

Bit of a mistake. A trolley on a gravel drive is, it turns out, unstable. Poor Burton chipped a tooth finding that out. But there's a nice smooth bit of tarmac, runs down from the Orchard to the Doily Shed. The Doily Shed where the Beaker Folk were singing merry cider-making songs while pressing the first of the autumn's crop, out of the reach of the rain.

So we shoved our test pilot back in, with a gumshield this time, stuck the coal scuttle helmet on his head, and told the sloth bears to go for it.

They loved it. Charged down the road, swung off at the last minute, shot Burton straight into the Doily Shed in the sort of accident that could only happen if you've watched too much "Last of the Summer Wine."

So we ran into the Doily Shed. Burton was laying in a great pile of apple pomace awaiting pressing, covered in what was basically apple sauce, shouting "Mush! Mush!"

Which, ironically, was what he should have been shouting in the first place.

The Overwhelming Minority of Safe Lorries

Minor changes to the safety equipment of lorries in Central London have been introduced, in an attempt to make the city safer for cyclists.

Of course, the people who drive massive dangerous vehicles around have complained. Natalie Thompson, of the Fleet Transport Association, said,

 'Funds used to launch the scheme would be better spent on targeting "a small proportion of lorries that don't comply with existing regulations".'

Last year, nearly three quarters of construction lorries stopped in a campaign were illegal. They barely found a legal cement lorry. In May, 95 out of 136 lorries inspected in the City had to be taken off the road.

So maybe the FTA are right. We should crackdown on the small majority of lorries that are breaking all the rules. And we should be fitting better equipment also on the large minority that aren't.

Letting Diana Go

Much upset in the papers over the state of Lady Di's grave.

I've linked to the Metro. It doesn't rant about this as much as the Express. But then at least it's not the Express.

At the time of Princess Diana's funeral, there was much rejoicing that she was buried in Althorp with her "blood family". It was felt that this cocked a snook at the evil royals, who had treated her so badly. Now her grave is covered in moss and the temple - sorry - wooden memorial is getting a bit worn, everyone has noticed that her brother appears to be an unpleasant cove who seems to have a habit of mistreating women himself, and who has the affrontery to charge people to walk round his garden.

Why shouldn't he charge people to come to Althorp? There's gonna be death duties to pay, when Chas Spencer sleeps with fathers in that little caged-off crypt at Brington. The little Spencers - of whom there are a quiverful - are gonna need a few quid. And it's not like the running costs aren't high enough. And he's got two wives from previous marriages. He's got a lot of outgoings.

And that Memorial?

It may be getting a bit tatty - but then even when it was new, it was a bit tacky? A Temple of Diana that the Greeks aren't asking for.

The Express complains that there is algae in the lake where Diana's grave is. Well, I'm shocked. Algae in a lake? In the summer? Whoever heard of such a thing. Surely they should chlorinate it - if the workers in Lodge Farm can stand the smell. The Duke's butler should go out in a coracle every morning with a sieve. How can England itself survive, if there's algae in a lake?

But worst of all. Diana's grave is getting a bit mossy. And a bit overgrown.

Well, good. That is as it should be. The memorials to her ancestors in their crypt at Brington Church (if the rumours are wrong and she's not been buried there all along) are nice and dry and dusty. The church roof protects them from the elements and the electronic alarm keeps them from the sticky fingers of visitors. But when we lay someone to rest - they're supposed to be at rest. And Diana is resting in our natural element.

It is a belief of some I have spoken to that burial is better than cremation because "the spirit stays around the grave longer" - as if a human spirit is a liquid that can be driven off by heat. Be that as it may, there is a sense, as a grave ages, that we are leaving the departed loved one to God. They are safe in our hearts, but we are not clinging to them - they are set free to rest, to sleep until the Day. From dust we come, and to dust we are returning.

Whereas to keep a monument shining bright, to demand that it stands spotless in a virtual desert, not to allow the grave itself to slip into sleep - that's a grasping at the departed. A refusal to let them go to where we all will go - the demand that they should give us more.

Which of course is what the Express needs. It still sells papers through Diana's name. It's only 18 years since she died - enough still remember the shock of that 31st August 97 (and the apparent national breakdown that followed it). There's still mileage for the Express in trotting out stories blaming the secret services, or the Duke of Edinburgh, or whoever, for a few years, if they can only keep the martyred angel fresh.

She was a women people were touched by. She went tragically early, leaving two sons. But she has gone, now, as we all shall. Let her go. It's the way of things for all of us.

Diana memorial by Kenneth Allen under Creative Commons Licence.