Monday 29 February 2016

Everybody is so Angry Online

Today's "Live online like you do IRL" day got off to a bad start. Anyone have any idea how to remove a washing machine from an external wall?

My assumption was that, if people acted online like they do with real people, there would be lot more kindness and courtesy in Social Media. Well, maybe not kindness. More social embarrassment and awkward politeness. We are British, after all. But still, an improvement.

Instead of which the opposite happened. People decided it would be less trouble simply to behave to the physical people around them in the same way they would on SocMed.

Hence what will forever be known as the "Leap Day Porridge Riot". Burton has gone around shouting out platitudes and following them with the words "Einstein", "Lincoln" or "Ghandi" so nobody argues with him.

Then there's people throwing enormous tizzies and refusing to talk to others for major offences like disagreeing with them, having their own interests, or asking if they're "OK hun?"

And Gilbert Strange, the Beaker Secularist, just came along to Pouring Out of Beakers and, whenever I mentioned God, shouted "Don't you mean the Sky Fairy?"

Which is why I threw the washing machine at him. Honestly, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

So it's really important we get the washing machine out of that wall. Gilbert is embedded behind it.

Making it worse, I've blocked him and reported him for spam. So I can't even ask him how he is.

Aisle of Plenty - Sold out by the Pound

And so this most English, most nostalgic of albums comes to an end. Maybe the Charterhouse Massive were regretting the passing away of the pre-Woodstock nation - as instead of love and peace incorporated, the supermarkets tightened their throttle hold on the nation's high streets and purses.

And yet the landscape they describe has changed so much that listening, 40 years on, evokes nostalgia for their nostalgia. Fine Fare has gone - their grubby store on Dunstable's High Street North now replaced by a massive Asda where the Queensway Hall stood, massive Sainsbury where the Bedford Trucks factory was.  Safeway were swallowed by Morrison's - the sort of northern chain it probably never occurred to Genesis existed. After years of their suppliers cooperating with their fine, fair discounts it turned out that Tesco were accounting - ahem - wrongly for them. The Cheshunt Empire is as diminished now as the British one was then. The supermarkets left the high streets for the green fields, and have now snuck back onto housing estates. And now all that volume of retail space looks embarrassing, as people in sheds push out internet orders.

And what we are left with? Maybe reflected in the Olympic ceremony of four years ago - a certain wit. Self-deprecation instead of imperial bombast. Irony and humour and wordplay and an ability, through these, to distance ourselves from our situation while consoling ourselves that we are above it. All the things this album revels in. We may not have faith in God. We may not have faith in ourselves. But we have faith in our ability to divorce ourselves from our lack of faith.
The album came out as an England bereft of empire joined a European Economic Community (as it was) running out of stream. That old fraud and fiddler of political boundaries, Edward Heath, was responsible for this most important piece of politics of the last 50 years. And now we wonder again what our place in the world is.

The UKIP MEP David Coburn tweeted Saturday regarding EU exit. Maybe it's just me but his stream of consciousness reminded me of Gabriel's list of grocery prices:

There's a variety of nightshade called bitter-sweet. Its berries look pretty, but if you chew them, like a demon in the guise of a damsel in distress, they taste bitter and - if you are foolish enough to eat them - can kill you. And so this best of albums passes into the night with its lament for a departing England - and rings now bitter-sweet.
Still alone in o-hell-o See the deadly nightshade grow.


Sunday 28 February 2016

After the Ordeal / The Cinema Show

Gotta have a nice bit of relaxing music after the Battle of Epping Forest, and "After the Ordeal" provides it in two parts, as the dust settles on dead comedy gangsters and Harold Demure, still clinging to the branches of his tree. Five talented musicians putting together a really nice, really intricate and yet remarkably high-tempo instrumental.

And then on into The Cinema Show. Taking in a little pre-romance. We don't have the background - is it a first date? Are they "going steady" as they used to say back in the day? Will his chocolate surprise be sufficiently romantic to ensure that Romeo does indeed make his bed with Juliet? After all, it works for Paratrechalea ornate spiders. And judging by the words of old Tiresias, maybe that should be a warning to our Romeo. TS Eliot gazes on at the world he foretold. Living in a basement flat in the 70s - in the underworld where Tiresias walks - Romeo is going to need more than a floral tie and upright stature to gain his prize.

The chorus has another reference to the eroding effects of water on earth (harking back to Firth of Fifth). Is that a Tyresian prophecy of the effect of Romeo nagging for sex later? "Raging" isn't really an attractive prospect is it? Is this going to be a nice encounter later on - or is he a git? Will she be glad it's over, as she puts on her new Genesis LP as he leaves? We never find out.
Take a little trip back with father Tiresias,
Listen to the old one speak of all he has lived through.
I have crossed between the poles, for me there's no mystery.
Once a man, like the sea I raged,
Once a woman, like the earth I gave.
But there is in fact more earth than sea.
There is far more earth than sea, of course. You were just thinking about dry land at the surface, weren't you? And Tiresias - seer of Thebes, adviser to Ulysses, part-time woman - he should know. Maybe Juliet got a happy ending after all.

Saturday 27 February 2016

The Battle of Epping Forest

The "East End Heroes" battle it out to decide who gets to take protection money from the fish and chips shops. It all ends badly, taking in some fairly filthy Cockney rhyming slang, odd nicknames, and  assorted pieces of word play.

A thing about war is this - that the people who start it very rarely benefit very much. By the time the dust has settled they might as well have stayed at home. And the people who have to defend themselves or their allies - it might be better than if they just rolled over. But it's still not the ideal place to be. Most of the great aggressors might think war is a glorious things. But on the whole they ended up saying "curses!" And the first person to do a protection racket is only setting themselves up for the second person to do one.
When the limos return for their final review, it's all thru'
- all they can see is the morning goo.
"There's no-one left alive - must be draw."
So the Blackcap Barons toss a coin to settle the score.
A friend used to run a branch of a major betting company. When the representatives of the local heavies came round, my friend said not a problem - he'd happily pay the protection money. But would they mind giving him an invoice so he could put it through the books. They never came back lest they awoke something bigger. Who says capitalism doesn't work?

Church Strategy - the Booker Lesson

Talk of the Church of England's "strategies' abounds. The idea that being " strategic" is good - that what is needed is strong leadership and a long-term strategy.

Ah me, it all reminds me of the fiasco that was the Booker "Heartland" project. Booker was an odd rag-bag of companies, with a profitable and efficient - but boring and unfashionable - chain of Cash and Carry Wholesale outlets. In a declining market, their Chief Executive - a man called Charles Bowen - decided that the correct approach was to build a centralised supply chain like the big supermarket chains all were. And at the middle of that project, to buy the company's biggest competitor.

Charles Bowen was showing massive strategic leadership. Nobody can doubt that - this was a bold and radical transformation of a long-established company.

There was just one or two minor problems. Charles Bowen wasn't very good. And both schemes were deeply, deeply flawed. The company nearly went insolvent. And when, after Stuart Rose and his brilliant side-kick, Charles "Two Brains" Wilson had rescued the company by a combination of pleading with the banks and decent, hard-headed, retailing - the bunch after them nearly ruined it again by putting together enormous, expensive, unworkable schemes.

I heard last year a suggestion that reminds me of the Heartland project. It came from Giles Fraser. I've no idea what it is that makes a left-wing cleric come up with a capitalist solution. But trimming down your local presence while building up regional "hubs" (oh, how managing directors love the word "hub") is exactly what Booker did.

It wasn't just the logistics economics that were wrong for Booker. It was also softer stuff - appearances. Centralising the supply chain led to much less stock in the local branches. This was good for retailers (for whom shop rents have historically been expensive) and useless for a wholesaler (whose outlets are themselves on industrial estates). But because stock levels in the branches were - deliberately - low, customers assumed the chain was going out of business. Confidence was low.

Apply that to Giles Fraser's view on churches and what would you see? Local worshippers would not travel to St Giles-in-the-Ivory-Tower's. And local occasional worshippers would just assume the Church was shutting down.

I'm not saying strategy is a bad thing. It's just a thing. But bad strategy is immensely worse than no strategy. And muddling through and making the best is a strategy in its own right. The cry that " something must be done" should always be subjected to immense scrutiny. Because something is so often worse than nothing. And if you're going to import ideas from business - pinch them from Stuart Rose, not from Charles Bowen.

Friday 26 February 2016

More Fool Me - A Waiting God

Parts of the Bible are - in modern terminology - "problematic". There's the occasional incitement to genocide, for instance. Everybody loves "By the Rivers of Babylon" by Boney M, but who ever reads down to this part of the psalm? 
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock! (Psalm 137)
And then there's the bits of the Bible where Judah and Israel are compared to wanton whores. Who, as we all know, are the most whor-est variety. But then sometimes it becomes a bit more amenable to modern ears and eyes - and becomes simply about a marriage relationship. And yes, OK God is still the man. But it's an old book, innit? Don't mean the truth ain't still there - we just have to approach it carefully.

Because the Bible often parallels human love with God's love for people, you can find some odd parables. For example between this rather sweet - or possibly a bit obsessive - little Genesis love song, and the book of Hosea.
And you'd be the one who was laughing
Except when things weren't going your way
And then the lady would say that she'd had enough
Wandering around on her own. ("More Fool Me")
In the same way the people of Israel will continue many days without a king or a leader. They will be without a sacrifice or a memorial stone. They will be without an ephod or a household god. After this, the people of Israel will come back and look for the Lord their God and for David their king. In the last days they will come to honour the Lord and his goodness. (Hos 3:4-5)
So an ignored God is not less than God. A God that the Western World does not believe in does not stop existing. The God that brought the universe into existence will still be upholding all things, still breathing life into us, still directing the traffic on the Westway - whether we think he is required or not. An eternal God will still be, among other things, a Waiting God.
Ah, but when it comes
Round to you and me
I ask myself
Do I really believe
In your love.
Yes, I'm sure it will work out alright.

Thursday 25 February 2016

Firth of Fifth - Ecclesiastes and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης "One can never step in the same river twice" - Heraclitus

The river flows through the landscape - over millennia cutting through even the side of a mountain. Its course laid down so long ago that the sheep in their pen, the men who gaze with joy (at what? A warrior floating to the sea in triumph, or a dictator on a funeral barge?) - they are merely temporary.

But its apparent timelessness is only an illusion. Two reasons.

Firstly because of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. The Book of Ecclesiastes states the first two Laws of Thermodynamics. The First (There is nothing new under the Sun) and the Second (It is all vanity - a chasing after the wind). In the end the river will no longer run to the sea. And the sea will be boiled. And the earth will not be there. And the universe will wind down like a spinning top comes to rest.

Secondly because in fact the river itself is changed from moment to moment. The water that makes it up is totally changing. The flow changes. The sky above it changes. And the observers change. 

I was driving down the hill from Somerset towards the Avonmouth Bridge once and, by a remarkable synchronicity, this song came on the CD player. And glancing across, I was struck by a remarkable sight. Now the Severn, like all wide stretches of water, changes colour with the sky, and occasionally with any suspended material washed downstream. It is often grey - occasionally nearly brown. But under a clear blue sky, with a sun setting over Wales - the Severn was a brilliant sky blue colour. It was magical. I've never seen it like that before or since.

Now I can't share the photo with you because I was driving. I couldn't really appreciate it - don't take you eyes off the road, children. And it's not really the circumstances to start taking selfies, is it? So you'll have to take my word for it. But it was brilliant.

Even the river - majestic and eternal as it seems - changes every moment. Just as a sea does, just as a rainbow does. Not only can you never see the same rainbow twice, but as the raindrops fall it changes every moment. Making every moment special, every moment unique. As Kirsty MacColl wrote, we'll never pass this way again. Even the land goes in the end.
The sands of time were eroded by
the river of constant change.

Here's the Church - Where's the Sheeple?

Scenes at last night's faith vs atheism debate last night as Broderick used the word "sheeple".

Now "sheeple" is a word used, oddly, by people who think they are cleverer than the ones they are referring to. The implication being that they and only they (and presumably the people they get their ideas from) are creative free-thinkers. Whereas sheeple are happy to go along with the herd.

Which is odd. Because what the use of a lazy portmanteau word actually says is that you are unoriginal and uncreative,  and reaching for a playlist of insults that contains, for idiots of differing persuasions, words such as "libtard" and "feminazi". Words that I think of as "frapmanteau" words - they should be hard-hitting but in fact are just all instant powder, wind, milk and water.

So unfortunately as Broderick stood on the rostrum and used the word, he set off the "Smug Intellectual Laziness Detector" (or SILD). Awful trouble. Took us hours to get the piano off him.

In other news I read the phrase "Gay Inquisition" today. Needless to say used by a member of the religion, one of whose denominations invented the Spanish one.

I encountered the Gay Inquisition once, unexpectedly, after I said I didn't expect there was one. Actually, they're just like the Spanish branch. Only with better taste in furnishings. The comfy chair and the soft cushion actually co-ordinated.

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Worship in the Presbyterian Style

Bit of a disaster, this afternoon. We asked the people from Yurt B to lead worship "In a Presbyterian Style".

So they had a massive disagreement and split into two groups.

Anyone got a spare yurt?

I Know What I Like - A Tragedy of no Ambition?

A young person decides there is no point in trying too hard. On the "Selling England" album, of all  albums, this might make sense. The idea that rampant retail commercialism is resulting in the country's soul being sold off. The East End Heroes beating each other to death over who gets to run the protection racket. What's a bit less likely to end in woe all round?
When the sun beats down and I lie on the bench
I can always hear them talk.
Not doing any harm. We might argue that - on a professional level - keeping those mowing blades sharp ain't such a bad aim. The gardener has the sun as a companion, the chance to have lie-down at lunchtime - no anxious moments huddled over a spreadsheet before the next big cost-based accountancy beanfeast. And does somebody on a bench, prior to getting up for the afternoon's mowing, really achieve less than somebody who's a big hit in the fire escape trade? As the proverb puts it - "Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife." (Prv 17:1)

Some will always put "the Church" as a better ambition than all "worldy" ones. Priests and missionaries get more prayers than lawn-mowers and supermarket checkout assistants, that's for sure. Ironically, as it's the people at the checkouts that are most at risk from the world as it changes to Internet deliveries and self-checkout. There's a Thomas Hardy short story - "A Tragedy of Two Ambitions". In it two particularly vile wannabe vicars let their father drown to protect their sister's marriage prospects - and their own careers.

And then there's this advert in the Church Times. For a "priest/entrepreneur". I'm gonna be fair, I hope. I can see why in a mission field entrepreneurial skills are a good thing. We wouldn't want every priest to be just "caring" for their parishes. Some have to be doing the work of an evangelist - or enabling the work of other evangelists - developing Spirit-inspired strategies. Looking to where there is need and developing strategies for growth is so dreadfully needed. But the word worries me. It has overtones of pushiness, of seeing the main chance. Maybe it is just that word. To quote the advert a bit further:
"caring for two delightful villages combined with working to maximise mission opportunities afforded by urban and cultural redevelopment."
See that's a heck of a thing to expect of anyone. Although it is what we maybe implicitly expect all the time of pastors in any location. But to be entrepreneurial is to constantly looking out for - in this instance - mission opportunities. Constantly wondering what is needed. That's a lot of printing, meeting, greeting, publicising, networking, building, starting. seeing when the thing started was the wrong thing. To add caring for the two existing plants on top of that - I dunno. You're looking for two different skill sets, two different people probably. Or one, tired, disillusioned one perhaps - too busy caring to innovate, or too busy innovating to care.

Everybody has a right calling - and maybe different callings at different times. The Spirit gives out gifts for the edification of the Church - and brings them to work together for the Body as a whole. Some are called to care, some to mission, some to be big cheeses in the fire-escape trade - and maybe some are called to sit on the bench and feel the sun beat down and think.
Me - I'm just a lawnmower: you can tell me by the way I walk.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Dancing with the Moonlit Knight - Selling England

"Paper late", cried a voice in the crowd.

It's a cold early evening in the winter of 1987-8. At Baker Street Station, the crowds are transferring between lines, or pouring in out of the cold to catch the Met line out to Betjeman's dreaming suburbs - one day to be Blur's "leafy Nowhere". In the bustle and haze, where the cold of the outside hits the warmth and static of the station, an old guy in a flat cap, voice worn to a bullfrog croak, issues the same cry he has uttered for - apparently - ever.

" Piperlight

The whole chant, as low as a Russian bass singer with a bad cold. But "Standard" a full major fifth below "Paper Late". In this busy corner of the great city, with the rumble of Marylebone Road and Baker Street, the crunch and whoosh and squeal of the trains - even over the remorseless sax solo (not by Bob Holness) that haunts your head - still the cry of the old newspaper seller resounds across the foyer.

This is London. How long has the paper-seller been there? Any period of time between 12 months and 60 years would be equally ancient, in the ears and minds of the souls that flit between the West End and the Chiltern fringes of London.

John Lewis in Oxford Street took a million quid in a day that winter. The news ran through the store like an electric current. To the other stores on that "Occidental Bazaar" as Elvis Costello will soon call it, selling stuff is routine business. Shareholders to satisfy. Wages to pay. Only the "Partnership" turn it into a moral imperative. Almost a social duty. The rest have to put pretty girls in pretty frocks to sell their stuff - convince us that what fits a size-8 post-adolescent will make a 50-year-old gran look passable. It's a trick. But selling things isn't so bad in itself - the Good Wife of the Proverbs is a pretty decent merchant, long before the Earl of Oxford decided that what his patch of boring West London farmland really needed was a Virgin Megastore and Selfridges.

Long before John Lewis - long before Peter Gabriel sang his tricksy opening lyrics to this most inventive and punning of albums - balancing on a golden thread between satire and folk-tale; kitchen-sink romance and Cockernee dust-up - this England (and this London, its flywheel, black hole, evil genius and epitome) rolled forwards on wheels of commerce. It's what it does.

Jump forward to 2016. Today the gangs have changed - more diverse than those gentlemen of the East End who "only picked on their own" (they didn't), who have since died in clean shirts in Bedfordshire or Essex.  Today's battles are often smaller-scale than the expanse of Epping Forest - sometimes a scrap over just a postcode. Yet sometimes part of a web from Hackney to Somalia or Syria.

And London's commerce has moved on too - even from that winter's night in the 80s, and from Genesis's satire on commerce - let alone from those postcard days of street cries and costers, the bakers of Pudding Lane and the fishmongers of Friday Street - their Lenten theme remembered only in the name. Do you remember the Knights of the Green Shield? Ah those books of stamps of yore. Fore-runners to the loyalty cards with which total fealty would be (if the supermarkets had their way) enforced. The sages of Dunnhumby - who, let's face it, sound like a bunch of gnomes - glean their nuggets of gold from the straw of Big Data. They're dissecting England by the pound. They know if you've been good or bad. They know when the bloating of Christmas over-indulgence gives way to the bio-yoghurts of Tweenmass and then into Dryanuary. They know if you have decided you're gluten- or lactose- intolerant. Let's face it - it's only the fear that they will give themselves away that stops them having your shopping ready for you when your Bluetooth connection announces you're pulling into the car park. 

Beneath the mucky streets of London, the River Fleet snakes. Polluted by early-modern butchers. Host to 18th century parties, held by pox-scarred courtesans in the fields beyond the walls. Canalled by Wren and imprisoned by Bazalgette. The Victorian of that name took the filth of London out beyond the Isle of Dogs. His 21st century descendant broadcast a fair amount of filth across England. The Fleet murmurs under the City - remembering the days of pomp, the time of the Romans. Like the last of Old England's energy, the last dribble, in times of flood, pours out from a sewer under Blackfriar's Bridge. A journey that started among the sands of Hampstead Heath - round Parliament Hill, once loved of Druids - past Primrose Hill, once loved of Blur. Through the cress-softened meadows of Kentish Town it once poured, bringing iron-rich health and beauty to smoke-crazed clerks on the Farringdon Road - desperate for fun, buns, beer and an inviting look from a professionally-friendly shady lady. And filled with dirt and mud, exhausted, like the commercial activity left to a City trader after thirty years in the braces, it drips out into its greater relative - the river that London still recognises, encircles, celebrates and yet - so often - turns its back on.
The note he left was signed "Old Father Thames". It seems he's drowned.
Selling England by the Pound.

Monday 22 February 2016

The 5000th Blog Post

Hymn: Who Wants to Live Forever? (Queen)

Archdruid: Peace be with you.

All: But clearly not with your mind, after 5,000 posts of this drivel.

Archdruid: Why not turn to the person next to you, to share how you have been blessed by God this week?

All: Good point, well made. We meant - "well done on the 5,000 posts."

Archdruid: Don't pull a stunt like that again. I still need a "volunteer" for a visual aid later.

All: Righty-o. You're the boss.

Boris Johnson sails across the Moot House on a miniature cable car, getting stuck halfway.

Boris: I would like to stress that I am here solely in my role as outgoing Mayor of London. And absolutely not because I'm trying to be Prime Minister. Whoops. I mean  - in favour of leaving European United. Or whatever the team is called.

Archdruid: And not because of that  romantic evening summer, punting down the Cherwell with a bottle of Pimms, when we wished on space hardware? And I wished, I wished, I wished you'd care?

Boris: Don't remember that. Though in Husborne Veritas and all that.

Archdruid: Ah. Must have confused you with some other floppy-haired Old Etonian OUCA idiot. Easily done. OK Folk - poke him with the pointy sticks.

The totally non-careerist Mayor of Brexit is poked with pointy sticks for having an incoherent, morally flawed and dishonest policy on Europe.

Archdruid: Bring on the Penguins!

The Little Sisters of the Holy Herring process through the Moot House, accompanied by Clown Priests on Roller Skates, Squonks, Badgers etc.

Archdruid: Ah, to be in the Moot House at this time! What was it the Poet Herrick said, Jeeves?

Jeeves: Gather ye....

All: No! It's a trap!

Jeeves: ...rosebuds....

"Rosebud" the dog tears Jeeves to pieces.

Boris: Aha! Jeeves would have been safe had he instead mentioned that the Latin equivalent is "Carpe Diem..."

"Carpe Diem" the sledge falls from the roof, trapping Boris with his bottom stuck in the Mystic River.

All: Well, I wouldn't vote for him.

Archdruid: Over to you, Charlii...

Charlii: Any advice?

Hnaef: We're still after a local government grant. So whatever you do, don't mention God.

Archdruid: I mentioned God once, but I think I got away with it.

Charlii: OK - bring on the Yokels.

First Yokel: I see that Thomas Hardy's dead and gone, as we all shall be.

Second Yokel: What? Again?

First Yokel: Aye. It were trending on Twitter.

Second Yokel: Must be true then.

Charlii:  And now a short theological reflection.

Six Theological Reflecters in hi vis and Dr Martin boots clomp to the Worship Focus.

The Chief Theological Reflector stamps three times

Theological Reflectors: Jurgen Moltmann!

The Theological Reflectors stomp back out

Charlii: And now there will be an interpretive liturgical dance, by a group of mimes and Morris dancers who call themselves " Elijah's Babies". But the good news is, we've told them to dance in the Orchard so we don't have to see them.

Lighting of Tea Lights

Hnaef: Let your tea lights burn bright in a naughty world.

There is a smell of burning hair

Hnaef: Eileen, get away from Boris with that tea light.

Boris: Yaroop!

Eileen: Can I at least throw pebbles at him?

Young Keith: Mum, hold the pebble, look at the tea light. And imagine the world is nicer than it is.

Charlii: As it is written inThe Big Beaker Worship Book, page 1.

Hymn: Sweet is the Night (ELO)


Archdruid: So after 5,000 posts what have learnt? Fear badgers, mind the gap, remember that 5,000 words of careful theology are worth less in the eyes of the Internet than a quick rant saying some member of the church is a bit of a bigot.

All: Is he? What a bigot!

Archdruid: And remember that, while other blogs rise and fall - while authors burn out or lose that first flame of inspiration - yet I blog on forever! BOW DOWN, O MORTALS AND KNOW YE ARE BUT DUST.

Vroomfondel: This is all getting needlessly messianic.


Archdruid: Let's face the music.

All: And dance.

Squonk - Killing What You Desire

The Squonk lives in the hemlock forests of Pennsylvania. So ugly that it cries constantly, its trail of years makes it easy for hunters to catch.

The bad news for hunters is that if you do a catch a Squonk, it will dissolve into a pool of tears.

The secret of human contentment, I am convinced, is in having enough challenge to make life interesting, enough food, drink and shelter to make life bearable, and sufficient ambition to have an aim that doesn't ruin other people's lives.

Too many divorces have been caused by someone trying to make the boss happy, in the search of more pay and a little boxy room to sit in - only to discover that the children have grown up. Really, like monks and Popes, anyone genuinely ambitious in business should have to take a vow of chastity. Then they can get their kicks on achievement without dragging others into it. So their kids don't grow up wondering where one or both of their parents are. It's bad enough when circumstances force that on people. But to choose it?

Alas, when the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it - then who cares what car you drove, if you were an absent parent or partner? “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless! It is like chasing after a Squonk!

Sunday 21 February 2016

Over-sharing with the Person Next to You

Bit of a change of tactic this morning for the start of the service.

Normally we have "turn to the person next to you, say hello and share something nice that's happened this week". But it got a bit samey - so we thought we'd mix it up a bit

So instead everybody got a card to draw out, on precisely what to over-share with the people next to them. These included:

  1. Something God has blessed you with this week.
  2. Something that has left you thinking God really hates you this week.
  3. The last infectious disease you don't really like discussing.
  4. Who's your secret "Moot House" crush?
  5. What was the cruellest nickname you had at school?
  6. Explain the doctrine of communicatio idiomatum through the medium of dance.
  7. A quick round of "snog, marry, kill".
  8. What is your most persistently terrifying dream?
  9. Twister.
  10. Say something nice about the person next to you's appearance.
  11. Your nastiest habit.
  12. Discuss your favourite humming sound.
  13. Scream "Get away from me. You are secretly a lizard!
So we tried it out, at any rate. There was a fair amount of sobbing, a certain amount of embarrassment and a number of people mutually agreed to discuss absolutely nothing, and simply pretend to be praying / tweeting / crying.

And four people just walked out, and came back during the second song. Which, it has to be said, is an improvement on the usual situation. I think we'll do it every week.

Love Yurts

A lot of trouble down at the Yurt Village.

Always been a bit different, have Yurt C. Just because they're the other side of the brook, they feel it gives them a more distinct character than the others. To quote Farrej:

"They're a bunch of twerps who don't understand the traditions of mutual respect and tolerance we've built here in Yurt C."

So Yurt C are holding a vote to decide whether to remain as part of the Yurt Village, or whether to become an independent Yurt separate from the others. As you may know,  a rope has always marked out the Yurt Village from the rest of the Beaker Community - enables them to take responsibility for their own backyards. But what with the rope stretching across the brook like that, it has got increasingly porous. So Farrej and his friend Galoshes and Bozza are now arguing they should re-draw the boundaries of the Yurt Rope.

It looks like being a very boring Spring. And one with a lot of puns.

Harlequin - The Fear of Israel

He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. 
Then he said to him, ‘I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.’ (Genesis 15.5-12,17-18)
3,000 years of trouble in the Middle East starts right here, Abram is promised the land of Canaan.

Or maybe not. The trouble was there a long time earlier. That little patch where the King's Highway leads through - all the way from Egypt to the Euphrates. The control of the trade routes was always key - and Palestine / Judea / Israel / Whatever it was called at the time - it was always right in the middle of it. Forget religion causing the trouble - geography was what kicked it off. Though a little nation, that was always being kicked about, did manage to develop a theology of a God so supremely powerful that other gods didn't even count. Which must be a consolation as you're being dragged off into exile. Again. But that knowledge of a God beyond the circles of our imagination must have come from encounters like this.

I've always found this one of the weirdest pieces of the Bible. Abram questions God's promise and says "how will I know?" And God's answer is to make a fire-pot and a torch pass between a series of bisected animals.

I'd like to drag in at this point the Genesis song "Harlequin". It has a certain similarity - a common eeriness.
Came the night a mist dissolved the trees
And in the broken light colours fly, fading by.
Pale and cold as figures fill the glade
Grey is the web they spin, on and on, and on and on.
Through the flame still summer lingers on
Though her pictures soon shatter.

There's something so edgy in deserted places as the night falls or as dawn breaks in. Goes back to the depths of evolutionary time, I reckon. There's a Moody Blues line in their song "Question":
But in the grey of the morning
My mind becomes confused
Between the dead and the sleeping
And the road that I must choose.

A dawn or a dusk is a changing time - one where the living and the dead maybe aren't so far apart, When the mundane can be charged with the sacred - a time, when the sky goes dark and the Dead One is put away, supposedly for good - or an early morning, when it is barely light, when somebody walking in the cool of a garden can confuse an angel with a gardener, and then a piece of news so surprising that it changes the course of history.

Then there's that other famous encounter that always reminds me of Abram's meeting with God just as night has fallen. It's from the other end of night, again. and it's from Wind in the Willows:
Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fulness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humourously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered. 
'Rat!' he found breath to whisper, shaking. 'Are you afraid?'
'Afraid?' murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. 'Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet— and yet— O, Mole, I am afraid!' 
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
Sudden and magnificent, the sun's broad golden disc showed itself over the horizon facing them; and the first rays, shooting across the level water-meadows, took the animals full in the eyes and dazzled them. When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.
Rat and Mole see the Piper at the Gates of Dawn - and their encounter brings them to worship - but those words - "Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet - and yet - O, Mole, I am afraid!" That's maybe Abram's experience in the night of the one who spoke to him - and made immense promises - then proved it - if that's the right term - by passing through his camp with a burning torch. That's Jacob at Bethel - seeing the ladder, hearing his grandad's Lord making the same promises to him as to Abram - and being afraid.

That's the disciples, seeing Jesus walk towards them on the water just before sunrise - convinced he's a ghost. That's the realisation I can occasionally get - now and then - at the edge of my consciousness - that God is just so immensely other - so incredibly strange - so way beyond my understanding - that I want to cry out in terror and knowledge of my own weakness like Isaiah or react like the Gerasenes when Jesus threw the demons out of the man called Legion - and they went to him and begged him to go away. They couldn't cope with that much goodness.

It's that divine depth of goodness they can't cope with - that we can't comprehend with our minds. The depth of goodness that goes way past "nice" to a depth of love that conceives a universe that will contain you and me - with our good aspects and our bad ones. That will see all the good and evil that will ever happen in the world. Will see a cross and an empty grave. Will see a terrifying end, and a fantastic resolution. Will see the light of a thousand setting suns and their beauty, and a million acts of mundane cruelty and evil. Can see individual human sacrifice, and selfishness. Pleasure, pain, and the hundreds of billions of years that this universe will eke out into heat death. Will weigh all that and then, despite the risks, say "Let there be Light".

And it's that primal goodness - the Fear of Israel - that underpins this universe. No wonder it's scary, having an encounter with the Living God.

But it's that divine goodness way beyond us that promised one childless man - and him half-dead with age - an incredible inheritance. Built up that man's nation and then, when it fell away, when it turned to hoarding riches, or when society got slanted against the poor, when they decided that religious observation was more important than the widow and the orphan - that divine goodness wept over the City that was promised, and came like a mother hen, to gather her chicks into one place and keep them safe under her wings.

That Thought behind the Universe that wept for Jerusalem still gives itself again and again - in every creative morning and restful night, in the edges between day and night. In bread and wine, in water and oil, in the love between two human beings, in the everyday and in the special moments when heaven opens just a little and we see God's glory,
All, all is not lost,
And light appears in the shades of dawning
When your eyes can see
Order the pieces, put them back, put them back.

Saturday 20 February 2016

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning Sermon Club - a Timeline

Day / TimeActivity
MondayDay Off
Tuesday Read the texts for Sunday
WednesdayAllow time for texts to be mulled over. Meanwhile carry on with everyday business as usual.
ThursdayMore mulling, while burying people / visiting people / preparing assemblies / church committees etc etc etc 
FridayForget there's a sermon to be written. Do some more of the above. Still plenty of time.
Saturday 6pmGo on Twitter to tell everyone you'd better write a sermon pretty soon. Receive lots of affirmation.
Saturday 7pmWatch old "Midsomer Murders". It was the creepy vicar. But then it always is.
Saturday 8pmBack on Twitter bemoaning a lack of ideas. Receive lots of affirmation.
Saturday 9pm Write a blog post on the text, thinking it might become a sermon.
Saturday 10pmRead back blog post and realise that 2,000 words on how you felt once while sitting by a pond in a retreat house in Leicestershire hardly counts as a sermon. Despair
Saturday 11pmJot down three points:

"Some people weren't nice to Jesus"
"Jesus was nice"
"Be like Jesus".

Reflect that it's true, albeit a bit brief. Probably will be able to pad it out in the morning?
Saturday 11.15pm Well-earned gin/scotch/beer/milk/cocoa
Sunday 00:00 - 6amStressy dreams in which Simon Cowell is in the congregation, giving his views on your sermon, its theology and illustrations. You keep forgetting what the reading is, and you are unaccountably dressed as Looby Loo.
Sunday 6amMake stupidly strong coffee.
Sunday 6.15amCheck to see if anyone's blogged any sermons. Discover they have, but they're all completely at odds on the meaning of the readings. Despair.
Sunday 6.30amGo on Twitter to tell everyone how hard it is.
Sunday 7amHave another coffee.
Sunday 7.15amTry "Text this Week". Discover that they think it's something before Lent and you've got it as something after Epiphany. Despair.
Sunday 7.20amJust another ten minutes on Twitter?
Sunday 8am Have another coffee.
Sunday 8.15amSpend a while ensuring all the coffee you just drank won't be causing a "problem" halfway through the service.
Sunday 9amStart to lead service fretting about the fact you've not got a sermon. Preach on three points:

"Some people weren't nice to Jesus"
"Jesus was nice"
"Be like Jesus".
Sunday 10.15amEverybody says "Nice sermon, vicar/pastor/archdruid. Nice and short."
Sunday 10.30amReflect you should probably blog your sermon, like everyone else. 

Mandy Zuma's Revenge

Good news from our sister group, the Aztec folk of Tenochtitlan. They've been sharing their ancient Mexican mysteries with us for years. And in return we've introduced them to the English Mother's Union" concept of a "Wave of Prayer".

In fact, they have reinterpreted this into their own tradition, so that all the people in the congregation takes part in the Wave of Prayer in turn - and then each sits down again.

That's right.

It's a Mexican Wave of Prayer.

Heathaze - Going with the Flow

Beware the fisherman who's casting out his line
Into a dried up river bed,
But don't try to tell him 'cos he won't believe you.
Throw some bread to the ducks instead, it's easier that way.
I feel like an alien, a stranger in an alien place.
You can be a prophet.
You can make a stand.
When it's the right time.

I've never quite gone with the "speaking truth to power" business. That's the kind of thing an established church tells itself when talking, in the same language, from the same perspective, as power. It's not the sort of thing the persecuted Church of the Middle East does. They mostly seem to keep their heads down, try not to upset anyone overtly, keep praying. Much as the Church did when persecutions broke out - not that they weren't prepared to stick by their Lord. But they didn't go asking for trouble. It just arrived, over and over.

Going with the flow doesn't seem such a bad thing. When there's real injustice to confront, then yes - confront it. But don't act like a prat, making yourself a pain to prove your point - to draw on persecution when you didn't need it, so you can play the victim. Maybe, just maybe, what you're really doing there is enjoying privilege - not speaking truth to power.

Throw some bread to the ducks instead. It's easier that way.

Friday 19 February 2016

Rolling in Agony in the Aisles

The Church Sofa mentions ten injuries that can be picked up in Church.  And I read it, then got busy and forgot to add on my own suggestions. So if I could add a few more from my own experiences of church life. But to stress something important. It is essential that churches keep an accident book to record all instances of church-related injury. This will then enable them, through the classic "risk triangle" process, to determine what the risks are of a serious injury arising - as shown in the triangle on the right.
  1. Strained cheek and jaw muscles - caused by maintaining a beatific grin through a whole morning at the sort of church where a sad face is a sure sign of inner sin.
  2. Steward's Droop - a lack of interest in sex caused by spending hours standing around in cold buildings.
  3. Bruised toes from dropping stacks of hymn books. Nobody should be allowed to stack more than 3 hymn books without steel-toe-capped boots and Manual Handling training.
  4. Flea bites from the vicar's inevitable "scruffy old dog". Vicars never get puppies. Instead they go to the special Vicar's Dog Farm, in a secret location in Kimbolton. Just behind that white agricultural building on the Raunds road. There, puppies are raised of that special indeterminate variety which is actually Vicar's Dog breed. They start looking tatty and old at about the age of 6 months, at which time they are randomly allocated to a vicar - and then look much the same for the next 15 years.
  5. Back spasms from over-enthusiastic hand-raising.
  6. Incense-related asthma - some people actually do get a physical reaction to incense smoke. Many more will start coughing even if someone walks past them with an empty thurible.
  7. "Preacher's Knuckle". In this rare condition, a preacher who has been gripping the outside edge of the pulpit for dramatic effect discovers a spasm that means they cannot remove their hands from the pulpit. In extreme cases, the preacher has to be prised from the pulpit with a stick. On other occasions, the congregation do that when the preacher believes they are physically fine.
  8. Frozen bum from sitting through a 2-hour sermon. Common in churches where the pastor suffers from "Preacher's Knuckle."
  9. In churches of the High tradition - candle wax burns.
  10. In churches with a strong tradition of prayer - grazed knees.
  11. "Offertory Elbow" - a condition caused by the person bringing the offering bag / plate up to the front discovering that the contents are too heavy. Rare in Catholic, Anglican or Methodist congregations.
  12. Muscular-skeletal problems caused by trying to pick up adult baptism candidates.
  13. Locked back from over-praying in the "shampoo" position.
  14. In churches that meet in schools - slipped disks from stacking too many chairs at once. See notes on hymn books, above.
  15. Tenosynovitis from too much shaking of hands at the peace (also afflicts ministers of large churches post-service).
  16. Sore head / shoulders from being over-enthusiastically prayed for, for healing. The most ironic of church-related injuries.

Burning Rope - All is Vanity

Very Banks. Much enigma. Wow!

As the substitute Philosopher of Genesis tells us it straight. I'll be honest I've no idea what the song is about. Why has someone climbed on a burning rope? Are the people following the climber those who do not wish them well? Or people in a similar situation to the Rope Climber?

And is the Man in the Moon's seduction a romantical way of saying insanity? Nothing circumstantial is all that clear. Only the moral that Tony Banks wants us to understand:

But keep in mind
Don't live today for tomorrow like you were immortal
The only survivors on this world of ours are
 The warming sun, the cooling rain
The snowflake drifting on the breath of the breeze The lightning bolt that clears the sky for you
Yet only eagles seem to pass on through
The words of love, the cries of hate.
As Old Eccle'astes himself said, "Vanity, vanity". It's a lovely time of the year. Birds are mating. Sun is strengthening. And yet in temperate northern latitudes, you can see a snowflake drifting in the breeze. Take a moment. Enjoy these things. Sunrises are easy to see when the sun is rising around half past seven. Enjoy the dramatic clouds. All these things will be around after you've gone - but you've just for this chance to stop and breathe and enjoy.

And then this future afterlife - well that's as maybe. Tony Banks don't know. Which some would see as a failure of the public school system - designed as it was to promise the rewards of a Heavenly England to compensate for the chances of dying of dysentery in a far-flung land that was forever Stolen.

The eye of Lent sees further than the Seer of Charterhouse. It sees that all we have accomplished now will just turn to dust - so don't bother clinging on to it. But it sees with David's son that a burning rope - now put out - is in fact a way upwards which angels may ascend and descend on. Beyond Lent is Easter, and beyond age and disillusion and dust is resurrection. But enjoy the snowflakes, the sun and the rain. You're only mortal once.
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Eccles 12:13-14)

Thursday 18 February 2016


Petition: People to realise that Internet petitions are, in fact, a complete waste of time. At best a method of laughing at the government. At worst a futile exercise in virtue-signalling.
If 100,000 people sign this petition, the Government won't care.

Green Shield Trump

Don't see why the owner of the Tintagel Hotel gets all the fun, appointing Donald Trump to be a Knight of the Round Table.

As Archdruid of Husborne Crawley, I hereby appoint Mr Trump to be Knight of the Green Shield (2nd Class). This entitles him, on presentation of a full book of stamps at the Beaker Bazaar, to a free tea light (ear wax or bogey scented - a really bad Harry Potter tie-in we now regret).

Note - Knights of the Green Shield have a nominal value of 0.000002p. No refunds. Terms and conditions apply. In the event that he is elected President, we reserve the right to widen the Mid Atlantic Ridge.

Wot Gorilla? - The Case of the Safe Knife-wielding Ape and the Unauthorised Trousers

A sad case, the otter that drowned in a pair of "unauthorised trousers". But the article then gives a whole list of other tragedies that have occurred at the same zoo.

And then, at the end - an example of the kind of slack thinking that leads to these problems.
"In 2009, a gorilla was photographed wielding a knife which a keeper had inadvertently left in its enclosure, an incident the zoo described as "overblown" because gorillas don't understand the concept of using tools as weapons."
I'll tell you the word that quotation is lacking. "Yet." That's the word they should've put in that quotation. "Yet." Have these people not even watched 2001 or the Planet of the Apes?

The Return of the Giant Hogweed - a Faceless Dread

Many foul creatures have disturbed the rest of humans. Fenris wolf; the sea-monster Rahab; Daleks; the Wild Hunt (featuring Gabble Ratchetts); and the demoness Lilith. And then there's.....

"Beware - Giant Hogweed in this area"
Heracleum mantegazzianum - what a wonder that thing is. Tall, stately umbelliferous bracts. If you know what "umbelliferous" means, you've got more chance of spotting it than the poor, innocent Tauntonians who saw this sign on the towpath last year.

The thing about putting up a sign saying "Beware - Giant Hogweed in this area" is - if you don't include a picture, what are people thinking they are bewaring?

It's a common problem for Bertie Wooster - a "nameless dread". Normally in Bertie's case the problem is that there is a young, intelligent woman looking to mould him into something more suitable. But we have here, on the banks of the River Tone, a Faceless Dread. You and I. dear intelligent Reader, know what we have to look out for. Something like a giant species of what the people of the Beds and Northants countryside still occasionally call "ceck" - or cow parsley. But if you don't know what you're looking out for, you may decide the biggest thing on the river bank - a willow, perhaps, or ash tree - is the Giant Hogweed. And, bewaring as fast as you can, you run down towards some friendly-looking herbaceous perennials, just eight or nine feet high and....
Mighty Hogweed is avenged.
Human bodies soon will know our anger.
Kill them with your Hogweed hairs
We all occasionally have a faceless (or nameless) dread. Something we can't quite put our finger on, that tells us things aren't quite right. Sometimes we can mythologise them - into hypochondria, or fear of global warming, nuclear doom or the next scary virus.

But maybe that's because we know that lurking behind these faceless dreads, we are just catching glimpses of the real dread. The fear that we are not quite in line with this world. That we just do stuff that is wrong. That we can't drag ourselves out of this ourselves. That we are constantly at the mercy of stuff we can't control.

That's being human. You can despair, or create your own imaginary safety, or have a few and run recklessly through the hogweed pretending it doesn't really matter. Or look for something to hold on to.

Careful with the thing you're holding onto though. Make sure it's not a hairy umbellifer. Or, if you do grasp the hogweed, strike by night. They need the sun to photo-sensitize their venom.

Wednesday 17 February 2016

Patting People's Hands Until Everybody Dies

I'm a bit conflicted by the Guardian's report of a Church of England report of how the C of E is doing in working-class estates versus posh bits.

In one sense, the discovery that the church spends less on working-class estates is unsurprising. Working-class people never went to church in the first place. Many on these estates now are of other religious backgrounds. And if you went to the working-class estates I know best, with a message sharing "the beautiful shepherd", frankly you'd just get your head kicked in outside the One-Stop.

But I have lots of sympathy for the idea that clergy should be chosen for their keenness for evangelism - not just their pastoral sympathies. The Church as a whole has two choices, it seems to me. One is bringing good news to those who haven't heard it - identifying the right mission fields, making the right provisions, accepting that people may come to God who can't actually afford to pay a ludicrous amount towards keeping the building's roof on, because they're too busy scraping the money together simply to keep themselves going.

Or we can go with the "pastoral" model, and pat people's hands until everybody dies. One way gives the Gospel a chance. The other makes the minister feel useful. Not saying we shouldn't look after people - but that's a part, innit? Not the whole?

Visions of Angels

This is such a despairing song.
Ice is moving and world's begun to freeze
see the sunlight stopped and deadened by the breeze
Minds are empty bodies move insensitive
some believe that when they die they really live
I believe there never is an end
God gave up this world its people long ago
Why she's never there I still don't understand
Visions of angels all around.
An empty world is abandoned by the angels. God does not not exist. God has just given up on us. The world is freezing and all the pretty things are illusions.

 There's a time to tell the truth to God. To weep by the Rivers of Babylon and not - as Hardy said - to make up excuses for our Creator, but instead to call our Rock to account. If you're as good as you say, and you've made this covenant with us, and we're made in your image - then how come things are as they are? What are you going to do about it? Where do we go to get visions of angels that won't fly away?

Lord God, you are my Saviour.
    I have been praying to you day and night.
Please pay attention to my prayers.
    Listen to my prayers for mercy.
My soul has had enough of this pain!
    I am ready to die.
People already treat me like a dead man,
    like someone too weak to live.
Look for me among the dead,
    like a body in the grave.
I am one of those you have forgotten,
    cut off from you and your care.
You put me in that hole in the ground.
    Yes, you put me in that dark place.
Your anger presses down on me like a heavy weight.
    It’s like one wave after another pounding against me. Selah
You made my friends leave me.
    They all avoid me like someone no one wants to touch.
Like a prisoner in my house, I cannot go out.
My eyes hurt from crying.
    Lord, I pray to you constantly!
    I lift my arms in prayer to you.
Do you do miracles for the dead?
    Do ghosts rise up and praise you? No! Selah
The dead in their graves cannot talk about your faithful love.
    People in the world of the dead[a] cannot talk about your faithfulness.
The dead who lie in darkness cannot see the amazing things you do.
    Those in the world of the forgotten cannot talk about your goodness.
Lord, I am asking you to help me!
    Early each morning I pray to you.
Lord, why have you abandoned me?
    Why do you refuse to listen to me?
I have been sick and weak since I was young.
    I have suffered your anger, and I am helpless.
Your anger covers me like a flood.
    Your attacks are killing me.
They surround me on every side.
    I feel like a drowning man.
You caused my friends and loved ones to leave me.
    Now darkness is my closest friend. (Psalm 88)

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Handfasting Charges 2016

For those incredibly sad Beaker Folk who've been following the Twitter Church of England Synod feed and want to know why we don't have a similar system. First up, of course we do.

And for anyone thinking of a Beaker Handfasting - the charges are as follows.

Handfasting.................... £45

Broomstick-Jumping..... £10

Certificate ...................... £10

March of the Penguins... 20 herrings

Beaker Quire................... £ Free

Beaker Quire Absent...... £20

Sermon ........................... £10 / min

Sermon (pre-loved) ........ £20

Heating (Oil fired) .......... £90

Heating (Dragon fired) ... 3 sheep

Clown Celebrant ............. £90

Humanist Celebrant ....... Free with a real one

Confetti ........................... £15

Locking the "ex" outside. £75

Video ............................... £20

Bouncers ......................... £45

Hoverboard Procession* £50

Fireworks ........................ £200+

Mini bar ........................... Prices as listed

Bowling Alley ................... £5 per game

Fairy Godparent ............... £70

Tea lights ..........................  10p

Golf buggy ........................ £30

Verging on the ridiculous. £30

Lucky stones .................... £10

Lecherous Uncle .............. Ubiquitous

Inter-family fight ............... £100

* £200 deposit, refunded if the hoverboard doesn't explode

Ecumenical News

Exciting news as the Church of England declares itself to be in something like communion with the Church of Scotland. Which is not the same as the Church of England in Scotland, which is the Episcopal Church. Except they don't like being called the Church of England in Scotland as that's not their real name. And it's got the word "England" in it. And they aren't all that keen on the pact between the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. Or something. If you're confused, try and keep up.

After the Russian Orthodox Patriarch met the Pope at a Cuban airport, the Bishop of Bath and Wells met the Moderator of the URC in Gloucester Services. Reports that the Chief Rabbi fought for the last bag of pretzels in Harrow Tesco with a District Chair of the Methodist Church are described as "merely gossip".

In other news, GafCon has been referred to OfCon, the Office of Conference Regulation. When the Anglican Church in Aotearoa met with the Australian Catholic Church, it went to extra time. The replay will be held at a neutral venue. Probably Switzerland.

No Son of Mine - Not Mine to Judge

A man abuses his son and his wife.

The son runs away - but years later, he wonders if he could make things right.

He returns - and the father takes his chance to add yet more abuse.
You're no son, you're no son of mine
but where should I go,
and what should I do
you're no son, you're no son of mine
but I came here for help, oh I came here for you.
I don't understand why he went back - I believe I would never go back in those circumstances. So I have to bear this in mind.

I'm not the one to judge. I don't understand. It's not as easy as I think.

But - if you suspect child abuse, your job is to report it.

Monday 15 February 2016

Stephen Fry on Giving / Taking Offence (Warning - Swearing)

"'It's now very common to hear people say, "I'm rather offended by that", as if that gives them certain rights. It's no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. "I'm offended by that." Well, so fucking what?' —Stephen Fry 2005 "

"“Will all you sanctimonious fuckers fuck the fuck off Jenny Beavan is a friend and joshing is legitimate. Christ I want to leave the planet”." - Stephen Fry 2016

You've gotta be careful whom you offend, I reckon. You might get hit by a rattle.

The Lady Lies - The Lust that Lays Men Low

I was so tempted to post this one for Valentine's.

Being mostly public school boys, there's a certain attitude  to women in the world of Genesis. They're quite often, not to put too fine a point on it, scary demons. The "lady" of the title; Lilywhite Lilith; the nymph Salmacis; the Lamia. What are they trying to tell us? OK, Rael's girlfriend in "Counting out Time" has some sense, and we hope that Juliet in "Cinema Show" finds a Romeo worthy of her in the end. But that's still a fair number of demons to be getting on with, innit?

"He knew he was walking
Into a waiting trap,
Neatly set up for him
With a bait so richly wrapped."
What more could he want? The lovely lady - vulnerable. Sexy but needing protection. And offering him "something special after if you like". It's never gonna work out, is it? Yet off he goes. Once again confirming that the problem is that people are stupid.

They say "who dares, wins". But if something looks too good to be true - well, you know the rest. You know what the rumours in the forest were. It's Lent, a time to look at our temptations and weaknesses. And the fact that - even when we know our weakness is killing us - yet we love it too much to leave it, to hopelessly misquote "Man on the Corner".  Look out for richly-wrapped bait, that's all I can say.

Stephen Fry Leaves Twitter Again

Stephen Fry has given up Twitter again.

Odd thing about the whole furore over Stephen Fry referring to Jenny Beavan as being dressed as a bag lady. It's the assumption that the worst thing he did was insult Jenny Beaven. But that's not the problem at all. The thing that is problematic is that he thought a bag lady was a funny thing to compare somebody with.

Bag ladies are a description of homeless women who carry their belongings around with them in plastic bags. I used to walk past one in Marylebone Churchyard in the mornings in the 1980s. She use to sleep in the church porch - at risk from cold, hunger, passers-by, thugs and male homeless people. She was my age, and she's quite likely dead now.  They are frequently people with mental health issues. All of which makes Stephen Fry's use of them for a "joke" wholly unsuitable. They are victims of our society, quite often. And not to be used as a method of joking with one's celebrity chums.

Maybe in Stephen Fry's world, it is only costume designers' feelings that matter. I realise that if you are living on the street, the views of a former comedian are unlikely to matter much. But the disparagement in his usage of the term is not going to help his viewers to see them as human beings.

The sensible thing to do in these circumstances is probably to apologize, while making a suitable donation maybe to a charity working with homeless people. Then everyone gets on with their lives.

For a more sensitive, touching view of these victims of our society I suggest the wonderful song "One Better Day". I realise that in our more fastidious times, the name of the group is itself problematic. But they were famous in the 80s. Life was different then. Except for bag ladies.
Further down, a photo booth,
a million plastic bags
And an old woman filling out a million baggage tags
But when she gets thrown out, three bags at a time She spies the old chap in the road to share her bags with
She has bags of time.

Sunday 14 February 2016

Afterglow - a Searching Soul

Time it was when I was young and the Downs above Dunstable were my playground. Blows Downs were my backyard - with their cows, ridges and enigmatic remains of Beaker huts on the top that were blamed on Cromwell. While Dunstable Downs gave great views to the West - where the sun would sink over the Aylesbury Vale. You didn't bother about going up Dunstable Downs in the early morning, except at Easter when the sun would rise over the towers of Hockwell Ring. But looking west from the edge of Pascombe Pit - with the Five Knolls a site of genuinely unquiet sleep for the sleepers (who were excavated by the Victorians) you could see Edelsborough Church - distinct and clear against a green patchwork and a pink sunset sky.

All the Vale skies come down to the place where sky meets earth, and earth, sky - somewhere way across the Vale over towards Tring, where Bucks and Herts meet and kiss, and dream as the sun's last rays shine on Beds. And I think of the character Gwylim in Dylan Thomas's short story "Peaches", who converted thoughts of carnal love into religious verse, and I listen to the sublimity that is Genesis's best every love song, "Afterglow".
And I would search everywhere
Just to hear your call,
And walk upon stranger roads than this one
In a world I used to know before.

And like the young poet (not a dog in this portrait) we hear the song and ask - is Tony Banks writing about a woman? About God? Of some untouchable thing we cannot quite touch? And we put D. Thomas to one side and think of another writer's poetic imagination - CS Lewis's concept of "joy".

We walk upon stranger roads than that to the Downs - see the dust dance in a sunbeam - and search just to hear a call. Until, to skip between poets once again (and what could inspire to poetry more than this piece of absolute bliss and yearning?)
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.  (Eliot: "Little Gidding")
Happy Valentine's Day, by the way.

Catherine Bennett....

It's tricky to trust a privileged left-wing journalist who thinks she has a divine right to criticise other people's beliefs when they're not relevant.


In the strange world that is Social Media, the Church of England has been accused of "trolling" for offering prayer for Richard Dawkins.

This really does say more about the people making the accusation than the people offering the prayer. Our Lord quite clearly told us to pray for our enemies, and I'm not sure the Good Doctor even counts as an enemy of the Church of England - more as a grumpy neighbour who may complain about the noise the kids are making, but still quite appreciates your nice house and garden.

The Revd Arun Arora has been forced to make one of the weirdest comments I've heard in ages, where he said that he doesn't agree with everything that Dawkins believes in. Well quite. Maybe it shows how toxic our world has become, that it is assumed one can only wish good things on one's friends and people one agrees with.

Here at the Beaker Folk, we shall leave references to the Good Doctor in the news feed, as we still think they're funny. And we shall light a (beeswax) tea light for him.  We pray that he gets well soon. And we don't think one can pray ironically.

Saturday 13 February 2016

The Knife - Another Bloody Prophet (Luke 4)

Not very hard to reflect on, this one. Peter Gabriel has done all the hard work.
I'll give you the names of those you must kill all must die with their children
Carry their heads to the palace of old hang them high, let the blood flow
Now, in this ugly world break all the chains around us
Now, the crusade has begun give us a land fit for heroes, now

Despite all the evidence that sticking people's heads on spikes and killing does not make this world less ugly, people keep falling for the idea that it might.

I have a suggestion why this might happen.

I reckon, deep down, people are pretty stupid.

I remember hearing the late Michael Saward saying that evangelicals are suckers for a prophet. But let's face it, lots of people are. And so many of those prophets are the ones encouraging the sticking of heads on spikes.

Sometimes these prophets are Islamists. But Communists, Christians, Fascists have all killed in the name of them being right and others wrong. The use of the word "prophet" here is generic. The Puritans fled persecution in England and Holland we say. Yes - but they went to the New World and started persecution in their own right, once they got in charge.

But the temptation is embedded right into the human soul and our natures.
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. (Luke 4:5-8)
Thing is, this isn't just a story in the Bible. Isn't just a forty-five year old song. This is the stuff that happens every day. Kids who think they will fix the world get lured into joining the Caliphate in Syria or Iraq and go off happy to kill all the unbelievers in horrible ways in the hope of bringing in some equivalent of God's kingdom. They think they're right. But it's hormones, idealism, narcissism and stupidity.

A group of men and a woman are competing to become the rulers of the most powerful country in the world - still, just about. Not one of them - not even Donald Trump - goes off home to their secret lair at night and gloats about how, if they win, they will use their power to cause mayhem and pain to people. They all think they're the ones that can make things better, if only they had the power.

I don't think, in planning to attack Iraq, that Tony Blair was chuckling to himself about all the death and injury and civil disturbance he would cause. I don't know what the hell he was thinking - but I do believe that he believed he was using the power he had to do things that were right.

And we - when we grab small amounts of power - in a church, in an office - responsibility because we believe we are really the right people to use it - and we tell ourselves we will be totally the right people to do it - how careful do we have to be that what we are doing is truly right? Who do we listen to - which voices do we allow to seep in to say, "you're being a bit stupid now"?

Knowing Scripture ain't the answer alone - the Devil quoted scripture. Jesus - filled with the Spirit from his baptism - even in hunger and thirst and tiredness - quoted it back but took the full meaning from it - a meaning that wasn't about self-glorification. It wasn't about the conviction that - if it was only he who had the power - he would be the ultimate kindly tyrant. Jesus in the desert is like Galadriel in Lothlorien - offered ultimate power, but at what a price?

A few prophets turn away from the spikes and heads and stuff, and accept that - if you're really in line with God's will - you're more likely to suffer than to rule. And this one prophet chose a route that led to being hung up for people to look at him instead. He was offered the whole world if he could just make one small concession to receive power. Because the route to a better world goes over a hill with three crosses on it.


Today's Lent Group will be postponed. The Borrowers haven't brought them back yet.

After last night's "Bring and Share Supper", the pile of leftover sausage rolls was so large that it collapsed under its own gravity into a Black Hole. Could all Beaker Folk please avoid the Refectory until we find out if we can designate it as a Thin Place.

The Introvert's Group meeting is cancelled. Nobody is ill - they just decided they'd all rather stay at home with a book.

Whoever left a candle in the tea light stand please remove it. It's making us all really edgy.

Please pray for the group going off for a week of " Worship in the Celtic Style". They're off to Wales to convert a closed-down Methodist chapel into apartments with a view of the Usk.

Please note that the Finance Committee meeting has now entered its 6th day. Unfortunately last night's plan to send in leftover sausage rolls has had to be abandoned. Anyone got some cold pizza we could let them have?

Monday's "Time Management" seminar has unfortunately clashed with Hnaef's talk on "Finding Space in Busy Lives". So we're moving it to 10pm.

Friday 12 February 2016

Time Table - Things that Last

Gone the carving,
And those who left their mark,
Gone the kings and queens now only the rats hold sway
And the weak must die according to nature's law
As old as they.
A parish church is raised to the status of cathedral. Inside it's just homely. A collection of minor grandees are celebrated round the walls.

Above it looms a monster. A spire raised to capital - to boast above the London skyline. One is to the glory of God - the other to the wit of humans and the kingdom of cash.

The cash won't last. One day it will all be gone. And we can remember the words of Eliot:
"Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?"
One day, the most powerful man, the richest banker, the most famous celebrity - all will be dust. In the end, all the people alive today - no matter how powerful - will be the people of long ago.

Making Gravity Waves

Much confusion around the Moot House as Ghulez misreads the science news, and confidently opines that he discovered Einstein's waves years ago, and it just depends how much cornflour you use.

Having dissuaded him from boiling up a huge vat of gravy in the sandstone cellars under the Moot House to repeat his experiment, we end up wondering what the practical uses of gravity waves actually are. Especially since the Guardian's "Two centuries of Expectation" turn out to have run concurrently, not consecutively.

I suppose the honest answer is - in practical terms - not much. Gravity waves probably aren't going to be harnessed by massive gravity dams across the Gravity Severn to provide renewable Gravity Power. Or, at least, not without terrible damage to the nesting habitat of the guillemot or something.

But philosophically there's something wonderful about it. There's a human endeavour in it comparable to climbing Everest or completing a really tricky jigsaw - you know, a really tricky Cotswold cottage with roses around the door and a Prime Minister arguing that the local council's spending cuts are outrageous. That kind of tricky. All that red in his face against the yellow oolite is so hard to sort out. Do the edges first, is my advice.

A book of which I am very fond is Keith Thomas's magisterial (it is obligatory to call it magisterial) work "Religion and the Decline of Magic". He writes of those pivotal times between the Renaissance (very much an upper-class event) and the Enlightenment (very much a middle-class one, don't you think? I always believe Voltaire would have called supper " dinner", had he not been French, and purchased a chaise-longue).

Reading Thomas caused me to distinguish between magic, as an attempt to force the universe to do what we ask, and religion - where we ask nicely. In Thomas's worldview, if a spell doesn't work it's because it was not done properly - eye of the wrong species of newt, or the black cat had a white patch on its ear or something. Whereas if prayers do not result in a response it's because God is capricious, sovereign, better-informed or non-existent. Whichever, point is you can't coerce God by doing something just right.

By this definition magic (and for that matter astrology are not forms of religion. They're forms of science. Albeit, like phrenology, graphology, economics and the health pages of the Mail, types of science that don't work.

Which leaves me with two humble disciplines, in both of which I believe. Science, which leaves itself totally open to question - methodology that does astounding things because it does not assume it knows everything, but rather can wait 100 years before it proves the thoughts of a genius - yet which will give up a mechanistic universe just as soon as someone can prove that quantum theory explains the microscopic world properly. 

And then religion, which looks at the universe, tries to take moral meaning from it, and yet is ever aware that though we never cease from our seeking, yet we are unable to control our own destiny or the meaning of our own lives. That will humbly look up and see a Jewish outlaw on a cross and see in that the logic behind all the gravity waves in the universe.

Gravity waves aren't going to be much use. But that's OK. To expect them to provide a practical function like a non-stick saucepan is like asking whether Schrödinger's cat was a good mouser. If they're proven, they are another line of truth and beauty written in the book of this universe. If you're a Christian then they're another amazing revelation of the Logos, in whom we live and move and have our being. If you are a Genesis fan, they're ripples that never come back.

If someone next week proves the experiment was flawed, or there's a better story to explain the results, then that will be accepted - after a fight, rightly - and the search for truth will move on. Science is humble like that.

But considering the gravity waves scientists claim to have found were caused by two black holes colliding, 1.3 billion years ago - if you're a believer doesn't that make you feel humble? If it does, maybe it was worth it.

Do you know, I feel we need the Poet Keats at this point, Jeeves. But then, I often do:

"Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien."