Wednesday 30 March 2016

Springlike Springiness Service

Here at Beaker Folk, we like to push the frontiers of liturgy. And on a spring day like today, with the daffs in their fourth straight month of flowering and heading for a fifth - what could be more springlike than our Springlike Springiness Service?

Now I'm aware this particular liturgy hasn't gone well in the past. There have been a number of injuries. And so we put in some additional Health and Safety precautions. Held it outside. On the astroturf football pitch. Only six acolytes, which kept the number of petrol-driven pogo sticks to a bare minimum.

Still, it's a high-impact liturgy. And during the hymn "I spring up high, I fall back down", the people on space-hoppers came off the trampoline.

In retrospect, you shouldn't have multiple people on space hoppers on trampolines during action songs. But how were we to know that it would set up standing waves like that? One minute they were happily singing the line "I stamp my feet and I bounce around", the next they were trapped in a hideous resonance.

I'll never forget the looks of terror. After 30 seconds in which they all bounced higher and higher, there came an almighty "twang", and Beaker Folk and space hoppers were flying everywhere.

Still, at least the space hoppers kept smiling.

(Spacehopper by Reptonix via Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Situations Vacant: Vicar in the 1950s

The 1950s Parish is looking for a new vicar.

Skilled in pastoral visiting, the vicar in the 1950s parish will be able to visit every house in the parish every six weeks. He (naturally) will have a commitment to traditional worship, including morning and evening prayer seven days a week, while having the spare time to prepare exciting worship for every Sunday Eucharist

We are an equal opportunities parish. But while our vicar will have a commitment to equality and inclusivity, he will be married with three children, and have no idea that any other arrangement would be possible.

We don't have any real interest in mission - because who needs that when everyone is basically a Christian? But it would be really handy if the new vicar were interested in "reaching" the local community. Many of them are a lot less white than you might imagine, when you consider we live in the 1950s.

Fete opening, growing pumpkins, and showing your face at the pub while having absolutely no opinions on anything will be invaluable.

Obviously we have no right to express opinions on the husband/wife* of the new vicar. But s/he** should be a good organist, keen organiser of the Sunday School of 75*** children and expert at baking scones. Although, obviously, none of these things are necessary. We wouldn't dream of marking you down on any of them.

But they would be really useful. Especially if we have a number of candidates. You wouldn't want to fall short on the "attractive but not over-sexy wife who is very useful at Church-related stuff" category, would you?

The 1950s Parish is part of the Still Living in the Past Benefice. But doesn't really want to admit it.

* wife
** she
*** 2 or 3, on a good day

Monday 28 March 2016

A Flowchart for Telling if a Christian Festival Really Originated in a Pagan One

Modern Children Know Nothing About Easter

A terrifying indictment of the state of religious awareness from the Suffolk Gazette.

Everybody knows that Easter Monday is the day that Simon Peter put off tidying up the garden until. Only then it was really wet so he spent the day watching Carry On films and eating chocolate instead.

Why do Journalists Who Know Nothing Write About Religion?

And so to the latest in the occasional series "Why do Journalists who Know Nothing Write About Religion?" And on this occasion, step forward Tobias Jones.

The Church of England, Tobias Jones tells us, while explaining how they have a church buildings problem, has 15,700 churches. But each year it sells 20. This, to Tobias, is a crisis. And indeed we should take note. At this rate, in 785 years time, they will all be gone. Time is running out.

To be fair, Tobias gives us some other important facts. For instance, the Church of England has nearly five times more buildings than Tesco. He doesn't make it too clear why this is a relevant comparison, however. The Church does not mostly build out of town sites. The square footage of a Tesco superstore is vastly greater than that of even most cathedrals. And one of these was built to be the spiritual centre of its world, but has been left behind by modern trends and is now contracting quite rapidly. While the other is a church. This isn't comparing Egremont Russets with Ashmead's Kernels, is it?

The irony is that Tobias then lists a load of things that churches are doing to use their space effectively - things that churches in the right places have been doing. He doesn't mention that the building stock of the Church of England is overall in remarkably good shape - a tribute to those small congregations. He tells us Catholic churches are closing in Salford. He doesn't comment, as Private Eye might do, that the attitude of modern Catholic bishops to church buildings - even useful ones -  makes the Iconoclasts look reverent, and that Catholic church attendance in this country is stable.  But then Tobias tells us just how much he knows about religion:

"Christians believe Jesus tore down a temple and rebuilt it again in three days."

No. No they don't. You see, this was the charge they brought against Jesus at his kangaroo court. And even then, they only said he claimed he could. And even with a judge already putting on the black cap, they couldn't make it stick. Jesus's own temple (ie his body) was torn down and he brought it back in three days. But nowhere ever does anyone think Jesus tore down a temple. This is one of the most spectacular pieces of drivel that even the Guardian could write.

Here's my suggestion. If Guardian writers are this utterly incompetent, they should not be telling other organisations what to do with their building stock. They shouldn't be dabbling in politics, religion or economics. They should be made to sit at home, calculating the Grauniad's annual losses, until they come to the conclusion that they're not very good at what they do.

Instead, Tobias Young is probably off at this very minute, having his photo taken in the Guardian Commentator Pose. You know the one? Body at 30° to the camera, face forward, defiant, campaigning, smug look on face. The look of someone who believes they know how to run the world. And won't let facts get in the way of that belief.

Saturday 26 March 2016

The Printed Independent is now a Thing of the Past

Archdruid: So, as we - the people who will miss the printed edition of the Independent - gather together - let us celebrate their catchphrase. The Independent - it is...

All: .................................................................

Archdruid: I'm all on my own. In an empty Moot House. With nobody who cares that the Independent has gone from being a serious newspaper to a clickbait-generating sub-Breitbart, left-wing copy of the Daily Mail sidebar. Does anybody care?

Andreas Whittam Smith's Cyberspace Projection: I do.

Archdruid: Yeah, St A - but anyone else?

The howling wind blows the rainy rain round the Moot House eaves, in a last memory of the snow that will never fall again in England [link now removed.Thank you Mr O'Nians]

Archdruid: Come on - surely you must be able to tell us that among the ten reasons for not voting Tory, one is that your nose will fall off?

Charles O'Nians: The printed edition of the Independent is now a thing of the past.

Archdruid: OK then. The Indie has gone and nobody cares. I'm going to go off and wait for Easter Day to break. For lefty papers may come and go - but Jesus is risen forever.

No liberal commentator can be heard in response. A few pages of newsprint drift past in the wind.

Former Archbishop Carey Undermines His Own Message With His Own Words

"The other crisis we are in danger of overreacting to is the flood of migrants from Syria."
From the Telegraph.

Little hint. If you don't want to overreact, don't use words like "flood".

A Social Media Prayer of Self-Examination

Dear God.

I wish I was really as morally pure as my Twitter persona. As fun-loving and easy going as my Facebook profile. And as talented as my LinkedIn account.

And as young as my avatar.


Friday 25 March 2016

The Long Good Friday Workshop

Dannii is really a very diligent trainee druid. Which is to say, under Charlii's guidance, that she is getting a bit obsessive about knowing where the children are. After all, as St Paul said in 1 Corinthians, to each is given gifts as the spirit determines. And unto trainee ministers, it's children's work.

And so the Good Friday Workshop came along, as it did everywhere. And I advised Dannii that what we really wanted was some beautifully decorated crosses. Nice to have on the window sills of the Moot House come Easter Sunday.

But little Griswold Grommet wandered over, halfway through putting the battery-powered LED into the greaseproof paper, silver-glitter-glued cross. And said,

"Aren't we just making very pretty representations of an instrument of torture and death?"

Which of course is right. We make the symbol of Jesus's death very pretty. Even in most representations of the crucifixion, he's looking pretty stoic, and shiny, and Saxon about the whole thing. And when we abstract the Cross to a mantelpiece decoration, we lose a lot of the horror. Which may or not be a bad thing.

But what made it worse for Dannii was not the sudden grounding of the reality of crucifixion. Having caught Dannii off-balance with that, Griswold followed up with the words "By the way, are all the children still here?"

Nightmare. Utter nightmare.

Sure, Dannii had the register. And all she had to do was match it up against 27 children, each of whom had stickers on them. With their names on. But do you know how fast children move? And then Dannii had the problem that some parents had babies with them - who didn't count. And Jazmyn took little Boromir off for a Good Friday treat to Gullivers' Kingdom, halfway through. Though this was balanced by Chelski turning up late with her son, Roublze. And some kids had two stickers. Or none. And of course it's a law of Physics that at least four kids are always in the loo whenever you need to count them.

Anyway, it's all over now. All the kids have gone off happily, stuffed with industrial quantities of sugar and chocolate. There's a vague hope around the Community that some of them may even fall asleep sometime round about Ascension.

But poor Dannii is slumped into a corner of the dining room. She appears to be in a trance. But, if you sneak up close to her, you can hear what she's muttering. It consists of "23-24-25.... anyone seen Chardonnay?" over and over again. It could take weeks to get her back to normality.

Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day. 1608 - John Donne

Annunciation - Fabriano

Tamely, frail body, abstain today; today
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away;
She sees Him nothing twice at once, who’s all;
She sees a Cedar plant itself and fall,
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive yet dead;
She sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha;
Sad and rejoiced she’s seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty and at scarce fifteen;
At once a Son is promised her, and gone;
Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John;

Madonna and Child with Mary Magdalen- Longhi

Not fully a mother, she’s in orbity,
At once receiver and the legacy;
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
The abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the Angels’ Ave and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God’s court of faculties,
Deals in some times and seldom joining these!
As by the self-fixed Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where the other is and which we say
(Because it strays not far) doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to Him, we know
And stand firm, if we by her motion go;
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud, to one end both.
Pieta - (by or after) Raphael

This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one:
Or ‘twas in Him the same humility
That He would be a man and leave to be:
Or as creation He had made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating Spouse would join in one
Manhood’s extremes: He shall come, He is gone:
Or as though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay, 
And in my life retail it every day.

– John Donne

Taken from fullhomelydivinity 
Images from wikigallery. Do not use for commercial purposes or remove warning.

Thursday 24 March 2016

Foot Washing Frenzy

We thought we'd do some proper kosher church tradition stuff.

We thought we'd do some foot-washing. Just like a proper church. So we asked for volunteers.

Most of the Beaker Folk said they'd rather not have their feet washed, as they didn't really feel worthy enough for it.

Then some of the Beaker Folk said they didn't me to wash their feet, as I'm not worthy to do that.

So we thought and considered. And I decided that I was going to go back to the very beginnings of the tradition, and take the words of the Bible seriously. In fact, literally. The words where Peter said, "not just my feet but my body also."

So I turned the fire hose on them. It is fair to say the Beaker Folk are now all thoroughly clean.

Next year, they better get it right. They are unworthy enough to have their feet washed. And I am worthy enough to do it. That's what the passage is all about, after all.

And it was Night

So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:31-35
A strange liturgical day tomorrow. If the Church calendar allowed it - which it doesn't any more - then tomorrow would be both Good Friday and the Feast of the Annunciation.

The Eastern Orthodox church - who seem less binary, more able to cope with two emotions at one time - leave both days where they are. In the morning, if you like, celebrating that God gave Jesus to Mary. Later in the day, remembering that time when Mary received back the broken body that she had brought into the world.

This co-incidence happens very rarely - this is the last time this century. None of us will live to see the next one, dearlings - and so in the Beaker Folk  we are joining with the Orthodox in leaving both feasts together. We like the complex mashups of joy and horror. These are powerful things. It's just a shame we don't have the theological, intellectual or emotional scaffolding to hold them together.

An intimate moment as an announcement is made to Mary - and a terrifying death, sealed away from God - are the book ends to Jesus's earthly life. And the reading from John at the end of the Last Supper has that same thing - an intimate moment as Jesus has shared a meal with his closest friends then given the bread to Judas - and the betrayal as Judas leaves the room straight away. And it was night.

The sacrifice didn't start on the cross. Jesus's sacrifice began from the moment the Living God took a human form, in the body of a young Jewish woman, and made his first journey towards daylight. His passion didn't start with the first nail, or the whipping, or the crown of thorns - it had been there all along in the pain of birth; the rejection of those who had followed him; the disappearance of Judas from that Last Supper, the first communion of the Church. He lived in a broken country - one of a defeated nation - with the oppression of an evil Empire and the terrorist responses of the Zealots and the everyday threat that violence might break out.

And it was night. And Jesus knows that the cross is looming - and then? Well, he seems to know that Resurrection lies just beyond that. And he could just spend a while considering that. But instead he tells his friends what they should be doing. In contrast with the man who just left, clutching his handful of bread and guilt - they should love one another.

It's a time of international stress, when people in the major cities of Europe and in Turkey fear another attack - when in parts of Syria and Iraq every day is a day when nerves are tight as guitar strings. Some will use this to cause hatred between people - the people who bombed Brussels air port and the people who hash-tagged #stopislam are closer to each other than they are to the rest of us. When Daesh/ISIS wish to trigger a war between their form of Islam and the world - and the dim right-wing tries to grant them their wish - I'll bear in mind what Jesus said, just when it was night,

Just as He has loved us - we should love one another.

As Sure as Eggs is Eggs (Aching Men's Feet)

So our Lenten stroll through the world of Genesis is over. And Supper's Ready comes to an end, as does the universe. As Max Quordlepleen once said, it's too late to worry about whether you left the gas on now.

All the oppressors of the world come together and the birds feast on their flesh. All that hate the Lord are wiped away by the One whose tongue is the two-edged sword of his Spirit.

We have found our way, I and both the readers who've stuck in with it, from Genesis to Revelation. We have strolled with Albion, fought with East End Villains (now doing time for the Hatton Garden heist, as it goes). We have gone from a burning rope to a musical box - dodged the giant hogweed and decided not to mess with the Slippermen.

And now we come, with squonks, nymphs, Pythagoras, shrouded saints and all the company of God's people and we see a great sight.

A harvest feast, lit by candle-light. A table, now faded, where once a meal was eaten. Two loyal souls heading for church on a Sunday evening. And a quiet meal with friends on a Thursday night, the hope of the years of the Children of Israel become together something much greater.

All hate and fear are over. The river of God brings our healing, and we can come to the place we can only ever imagine, and sometimes just glimpse in a hymn; a word; a picture; bread and wine; another human in need. A place we realise is, in fact, home.

Supper's Ready.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Apocalypse in 9/8

Co-starring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchets, of course. Gabble Ratchets are the Gabriel Hounds - the sound of the Archangel rounding up souls. Or, in a Pagan worldview, the Wild Hunt of Woden, Herne or any other mythical hunter you feel should be looking for the dead across the wilds of the dark night. The hunting pack on the edge of the world, that you hear barking late at night. More boring people claim it's the sound of a skein of wild geese.

Supper's Ready heads to the end in a riot of oppression, persecution and the need to stand strong. The Dragon - that ancient serpent who has been the enemy of humanity since the start - has risen up to take power. The "wisdom" is the false wisdom of evil oppression. The wisdom that justifies death and persecution in the name of a religion, or a state, an ideology or just plain old hatred.
Dragon's coming out of the sea,
Shimmering silver head of wisdom looking at me.
He brings down the fire from the skies,
You can tell he's doing well by the look in human eyes.
Better not compromise.
A story of the End? Or the End that is repeated over, and over, every time God's people are oppressed by a vicious regime? Daesh being just the latest in a long line of dragons - misusing wisdom for evil? The Dragon is the regime of hatred and oppression without end - "a boot stamping on a human face forever." Because there is not one Antichrist - rather there are many antichrists come into the world.

So the trumpets blow to declare the End. Pythagoras writes his song on the moon - reflected in a mirror. All at a cosmic level is falling apart and people flee for cover.

And the song collapses in for a moment, to that point in the living room when it's two people in love, they hug and supper's ready. It's gonna work out fine.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

A Keen Runner

Congratulations to David Keen, who has completed the Yeovil Half-Marathon. More determined vicars might have done the whole 26 miles, as that would get them to Taunton, which doesn't trample on the memory of Thomas Hardy.

Still, running just over 12 miles has unfortunately stranded David in Ilminster. He's now frantically raising money so he can run back.

Willow Farm - Changing into a Human Being

The 23 minute epic progressive rock anthem that deals with life and death, war and the Revelation of St John the Divine.

And in the middle of it, after a battle and after a Greek demogod has re-enacted a scene from Ovid's Metamorphosis at the top of a mountain of human flesh - this breaks out.
There's Winston Churchill dressed in drag,
he used to be a British flag, plastic bag, what a drag.
The frog was a prince, the prince was a brick, the brick was an egg,
the egg was a bird.
(Fly away you sweet little thing, they're hard on your tail)
Hadn't you heard?
(They're going to change you into a human being!)
Yes, we're happy as fish and gorgeous as geese,
and wonderfully clean in the morning.
I'm English. I don't know if this is definitively English, because I regard this kind of stuff as pretty normal. But if the English are known for one thing, I'd like to hope that this kind of outbreak of sheer, joyful drivel in the middle of a moderately serious piece of music is the sort of thing it is.

It's the kind of thing that brought us the Olympic opening ceremony, four years ago. (Four years? Was it really?) It's the sheer desire to face the music and dance that leads to a serious poll to name a serious research boat "Boaty McBoatface". It's the thing that, once the po-faced outrage dies down, lets even Christians in England decide that Life of Brian is quite funny. If despite the best efforts of the BBC and Revd Kate Bottley, Judas really did go to Hell, there'll have been an Englishman going down in the same batch, remarking "and not only is it hot, Judas - but you're ginger. Never thought of that, did you? Still, mustn't grumble. I'd knot your hanky if I were you."

And so the greatest war time Prime Minister, just 8 years after his death, was described as being dressed in drag, having previously been a plastic bag. Surreal rhymes are thrown into the mix in a gleeful mixture of folklore and unlikely simile.

There's just one line in this whole frolic that brings me up short. "They're going to change you into a human being!" (Which in the "Seconds Out" version, unless my memory fails me, is greeted with "Oh No!")

What is so disturbing for - I presume - a supernatural being in being turned into a human being? Well, if you're supernatural, you may be immortal - or at least of extremely extended life. You may be immune to pain. You may have superpowers.

Well, faced with that - what sort of supernatural being would ever want to be a human being - breakable, mortal, able to be cut, hurt, bruised? I mean - who on earth would want to do that?  The Little Mermaid did, and she did it for love. I'd never thought of the Little Mermaid as a type of Christ, literally until I wrote that last sentence. But I'm going to - not draw a strong parallel. Just that one. She becomes a mortal human being and, faced with temptation, chooses to do the right thing and dies. God's Son becomes a mortal human.... well, yeah. You've got the rest.

Monday 21 March 2016

How Dare I be so Beautiful?

We watch in reverence, as Narcissus is turned to a flower.
A flower?
A section of some dubiousness in terms of its name - "How dare I be so beautiful" was the catchphrase of Jonathan King, Narcissism isn't just about thinking you're lovely - it's about entitlement, control, a "grandiose view of own's own talents", self-centredness.

Narcisus - that embodiment of vanity. It was OK for Echo to love him. But he wasn't interested in reciprocating. Not interested in anything except himself. Until he leaned over a pool, looked in the water - and died of love, gazing at himself in the water.

Genesis, I assume, didn't know how prophetic this section of "Supper's Ready" was to be - the "beauty" captured by his own power over others, trapped in his own trapping.

The things we call narcissism are around us today - in the States, Narcissus appears with implausible hair and eccentric facial expressions, revels in his power and threatens to destroy an established political party. If we're lucky, that is. In Europe. other narcissists tell themselves they are warriors for Allah, and set off to oppress other Muslims for the sake of Islam. Their rants and self-justification recorded for their own preening and posterity. Maybe the most destructive of all our failings.

Maybe Social Media encourages our narcissism. We can surround ourselves with followers. Ensure they are like us. Block or, at least, avoid those who aren't. Then gaze into our reflection in the shallow pool of our own selection. And, as we think how lovely we are, be turned into a flower. Beautiful in our own eyes, but pretty much useless.

Before they were famous - before Collins and Hackett, even, the embryonic Genesis, under the wing of Jonathan King, made a song called "The Serpent":
Images he made to love
Images of gods in flesh
Man is wonderful, very wonderful
Look at him
Beware the future
OK, I'm not saying it's great. They were very raw. They sounded a lot like the Bee gees. But you might not realise there was a reason why they were called Genesis. 

But the lure is set. The beauty of human beings. The urge to think we're great and others owe us love. The belief that not much happens that matters - not outside our little world, at any rate. The viewpoint that says we are not the centre of our own existence, so much as the centre of the world.

And Narcissus is turned to a flower.

Sunday 20 March 2016

Riding on a Palomino

I'm really disappointed by Dannii, our latest trainee Druid.

Given she spends most of her life dressed in a squirrel costume, leading worship-lite activities for the Little Pebbles, I thought we'd give her a proper role this Palm Sunday. Reward her for her servant spirit by making her the centre of attention.

But she's quite diminutive - I believe "titchy" has been the victim of Political Correctness. And this year's Grand Parade was looking like being a big deal. So we ditched the pony and got a nice Palomino to raise her up a bit.  And three spare donkeys. Jesus just having the one big one and one small one always feels a bit unambitious.

Even so, as the parade came down the gravel path, preceded by brass bands, elephants, apes, peacocks, and surrounded by Morris Dancers, mimes, king penguins and the First Battalion of Prince Rupert's Dashing Cavaliers (Broxbourne Regiment), it was really quite hard to spot her.

Especially as, to prove how responsible we are, the Beaker Folk had bought the biggest consignment of the largest sustainably-sourced palm fronds in history. Bit of a story there, actually. We ordered so many palms - and were so good at negotiating the price of them down - that they stripped entire palm forests to source them for us. A whole region gone to desert as a result. Just goes to show, there's a price to pay for ethical trade.

Anyway, the fronds were so big that nobody noticed that, in the crowd and the noise, Dannii had slipped off the horse and gone round to the Little Pebbles. We'd left them in the Pebble House, concerned that some of them might be a bit noisy for a serious affair like a Palm Sunday procession.

So a whole hour we spent, cheering, waving and applauding a "donkey" with no "Jesus" on. We realised when we had nobody to carry out the fig-cursing ceremony. Really annoying. We'd brought the weedkiller and everything.

When we caught up with her she was doing finger-painting with some of the smallest Little Pebbles. Drawing donkeys. Very small donkeys, and very blocky Jesuses on them. We told her she'd let us all down, and she pointed to the kid's faces - covered in a mixture of paint and wonder, and a little bit of love for the young woman who decided she'd rather abandon a really important, starring role in the show, to be with them.

Utterly unreliable. Next year Hnaef can be Jesus. He's over six feet tall, so a commanding figure. And he's really good at projecting his humility.

Ikhnaton and Itsacon and Their Band of Merry Men

Steve Borthwick on his "Naws" blog has defined a "Cult" as a group where only one person knows it's a scam. On the other hand, Genesis are going along a long way out of their way to compare what happens at the end of Supper's Ready with the actions of the Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man.

Ikhnaton is an alternative rendering of "Akhenaten" - the "heretic Pharaoh" who introduced the Egyptians to a form of monotheism - worship of the sun disk. Some believe that Akhenaten may have inspired the religion of Moses - but since we don't know when Moses lived, we'll just leave that as a suggestion.

And they're giving me a wonderful potion,
'cause I cannot contain my emotion.
And even though I'm feeling good,
Something tells me I'd better activate my prayer capsule. 
 But why a prayer capsule? Suggestion would be that the false religion - any false religion - can't provide fulfilment on its own. So the followers of Ikhnaton and Itsacon need a handy boost or two - a potion to bring them down, a prayer capsule to keep them feeling good. This is a religion of control. One that maybe can't cope with emotion and true human feelings.
Not a real Jesus

A decent religion is one that reflects all of human experience. That's why the psalms are so great. You feeling good, bad, utterly downcast or murderously angry? There's a psalm for you. You don't to go out and bash the heads of Babylonian babies on rocks - but you can understand where that psalm came from. You can know the uplift of a lament that turns to praise. Or you can read the lament that stays lamenting - because sometimes we are like that.

A religion that demands happiness, cheesy smiles, uses the expression "blessed" a lot, that demands that you turn to the people next to you and tell them something good that's happened - this is a religion of the prayer capsule. You've got to be the right spiritual and emotional temperature the whole time. Don't be sad, don't get angry. You can be judgemental if you like, mind - judgemental is what we do.

There's a story about a God who came to earth. Who became like human beings. Who road down a dusty road on a donkey - because a war horse would be too grand. Who got angry, got sad, cried and raged and ran around with a whip and cursed a fig tree and bled and cried out in horror and died. That's God in a real life. Not a dumbed-down, blessed version, floating free from the world. Not a provider of prayer capsules.

Feast of Equinoctial Balance

Archdruid: Let us rejoice in this day of true balance!

All: There's only two of us here.

Archdruid: What?

Hnaef [for it is he]: Do you really think anybody would get up at 4 o'clock just for the Vernal Equinox?

Archdruid: Suppose it is a tad early....

Hnaef: So do you want to do this liturgy?

Archdruid: Well.... are you going to do the balancing on the high wire to show the balance of nature?

Hnaef: Not in the cold and dark.

Archdruid: See you at noon then?

Hnaef: OK. We'll tell them it's the Equinox then.

Saturday 19 March 2016

The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man

Yes, he's here again, can't you see he's fooled you all. Share his peace, Sign the lease. He's a supersonic scientist, He's the guaranteed eternal sanctuary man. 
He claims to have a means of fighting fire, which is a lie. He also claims to be a supersonic scientist, and the giver of eternal sanctuary.

Every age will have its Messiah, telling us it's their way to heaven. Often they are obsessive religious types. Some even found religious movements that last beyond their lifetimes. Though in the process, simply because they have palpably died, their influence is weakened and their theology changed.

Then in this technological age, our cheap Messiahs are often the ones who tell us that science will make things right. That our problems are that our lives are too short, our faces not beautiful enough, our shirts not the right bluey shade of white. Every now and then some fool who doesn't understand thermodynamics will once again claim that science can make us immortal. And we watch, sweating on our artificial sofas, and trust them and get in our cars that kill the atmosphere and the land. We drive to a city that wouldn't need so much air conditioning if we hadn't used so much air conditioning. We breathe in diesel particulates, because choking on fumes is so much better than walking. And we tell ourselves that if science can make things this good - imagine what it will be like in the future.

Still, scientist or religious leader, we need to trust somebody. And if we can't wait for the right one then we'll catch on to any one. The new generation, we're told, isn't about badges and labels - it's about becoming part of a Movement. Being part of a movement can be a good thing. To catch the optimism of Jeremy Corbyn isn't bad - thinking you can make the world a better place is a noble ideal. I don't believe he could do that, mind you, but he is at least, I believe, well-meaning. And despite his followers' belief that he can fix global warming and world poverty, he's not the Messiah. The teenage losers who ran to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS - they were looking for a movement too. And boy what a messianic religion they found. A religion of hate, terror, suicide and sexual violence. Not Islam. - Islamism

Then the ones who committed suicide to fly to a comet; the ones who want to eliminate Downs syndrome by eliminating those that might have it. All simple ways to a better life.

Nah, he's offering something too easy, is the Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man. Look at all the children, led down many paths. Reflect that the worst is not, as long as we can say 'this is the worst'. Strap in tight. Because the road is narrow and windy and long, if you don't want to take the easy highway that leads in the wrong direction. Because all we have seen are just the birth pangs.

That All-Purpose Guardian Millennials Article

Like "Rocky", many Millennials have been to the Philadephia Museum of Arts
Millennials. Everywhere you look there are millennials. In the media; the arts; at the forefront of culture. Many refugees, coming from countries with low average ages, are millennials. Gay people, black people,web developers and coffee shop baristas - all these socio-demographic groups often contain millennials.

But what do millennials want? What do they think? Where do they find meaning? What is their attitude to Rocky films, Global Warming, the Fuggles hop or the Weak 2 Spades opening at Bridge?

Well, some of my best friends are millennials. And it is notoriously difficult to pin them down. That's the whole millennial thing, you know. Being millennial. Acting millennially. Growing up through the millennium. Doing millennial things. But they're very young aren't they? And none of them read this paper. Makes you wonder why we bother. That's the problem with millennialness. It's wasted on millennials.

Because it's not bad enough just being a refugee.......

Philadelphia Museum of Arts from Wikimedia Commons. By su1droot - Flickr, CC BY 2.0,

Strategic Missional Re-envisioning Taskforce

The results of our Strategic Missional Re-envisioning Taskforce (SMART) are in.

We set the group up to re-imagine what a dynamic, incarnational, enculturated paradigm might look like in a post-liberal ecumenical And they have now reported back on how we can effectively use our local druids to encounter culture in a counter-cultural milieu.

As a result:

The communities in Luton, Leagrave, Leighton and Linslade will be renamed the "South Bedforshire Group". The current Druid in Residence, Kennedy Cassidy, will be moved to the "Chiltern Chapter", where her skills in evangelism, church-planting and pastoral engagement are much-needed.

The communities in Chalfont, Chesham, Chartridge and Cheddington will be renamed "The Chiltern Chapter". The current Druid in Residence, Cassidy Kennedy, will be moving to the South Bedfordshire Group, where her abilities in church planting, liturgical creativity and evangelism will be very useful.

The "Candleford Communities" of Banbury, Bicester, Brackley and Buckingham will be renamed the "Lark Rise Group". The current Druid in Residence, Cody Connor, will be moving to the "Ironstone Group", where her pastoral care, liturgical flair and creativity will be invaluable.

The "Shoemaker Ministeries", based in Hannington, Holcot, Harrowden and Higham Ferrers, are to be renamed to reflect their heritage, as the "Ironstone Collective". The current Druid in Residence, Connor Cody. will be transferring to the "Candleford Communities", where her expertise in evangelism, pastoral work and liturgy will be particularly appropriate at this time of challenge.

Thanks to SMART for daring to dream big dreams and "think the unthinkable". Although I wish they hadn't suggested Iain Duncan Smith might be Prime Minister after an EU Exit vote. I know it's unthinkable, but not in the same way. I feel we are making some radical changes to the way these groups operate, and we wish them well as they take the next steps in their pilgrimage.

Friday 18 March 2016

Supper's Ready: Lover's Leap - Thin Places

Let us ask ourselves that all important question. Just how thin does a thin place have to be, to qualify as truly thin?

And what do we measure thinness in? Should we use earthly units? And if so would they be units of distance - or maybe units of time?

I would like to propose, since it was his feast day yesterday, that we adopt a new SI unit of spiritual thinness and we call it after St Joseph of Arimathea, frequent visitor to that thinnest of old Albion's thin places, Glastonbury Tor. The "Joseph" is henceforth defined as the spiritual thinness of an English churchyard on a warm summer evening.

On this basis, the Rollright Stones would be about 3 Josephs - for spiritual power increases with thinness. Stonehenge about a quarter of  a Joseph (which has increased since they moved the car park). And standing in a circle holding hands while playing Celtic New Age music can generate a thinness field of about half a Joseph per second per second. Or 0.5 milliEnyas.

Of course, thinness declines on an exponential scale. So although the thinness in the Moot House, a strong thinness generator, is quite high - by the time you've got across to the White Horse on an evening when Burton, Hnaef and Keith have gone out for a few jars, there's quite a lot of thickness about.

And so Peter Gabriel, home from a few months away dressing up as a moth, looks at his wife and is overwhelmed by thinness.
Coming closer with our eyes, a distance falls around our bodies.
Out in the garden, the moon seems very bright,
Six saintly shrouded men move across the lawn slowly.
The seventh walks in front with a cross held high in hand.
...And it's hey babe your supper's waiting for you.
Hey my baby, don't you know our love is true.
There's nothing special about the Gabriel residence. And it's just night time. And maybe they're just tired.

And they see a vision with no obvious meaning - the numbers are all wrong. Not three saintly men, or eleven or maybe twelve? But six?

But a spiritual experience of whatever meaning is what they have.

 And if we take the man at the front as whom you'd imagine, with his cross held high - or even if he's just the crucifer from the local church, got lost on his way to Mass - then those following behind are already dead, in their shrouds - dead to themselves or dead to the world? But as they follow the cross, there's only place they are heading.

Jerusalem. The place where heaven really did meet earth, and God hit earth with a thump. And then rose back up, with the earth lifted up instead of the cross.

The  closeness of God is maybe not definable by the place you are in. Is a cathedral really closer to God than a warehouse? Could a motorway service station stand at the foot of a ladder to heaven? Are we really closer, to the one in whom we live and move and have our being, in a garden than in a biscuit factory or a supermarket?

There are no thin places really.

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

Thursday 17 March 2016

Home by the Sea

Images of sorrow, pictures of delight
Things that go to make up a life
Endless days of summer longer nights of gloom
Waiting for the morning light
Scenes of unimportance like photos in a frame
Things that go to make up a life.
It's an unlikely occurence, I'll grant you. But if you were captured by a bunch of ghosts while burgling a haunted house by the seaside - what would be the things that went to make up your life?

It's not all our choice, of course. Some are struck with illness - often tragically early, sometimes horrendously so. Some never see the daylight. Some have lives that are so threatened, so hard, so challenging that every day is a fight. But even then there are moments of delight - a child born, a human hand holding yours - I guess among the trouble. I remember the song "Undertow" (which we won't have time to cover this Lent) and its consideration of what you'd do if you had just one more day - instead of a comfortable forever-today while you wait for tomorrow to appear actually to do something. So what are the pictures that you can control that makes up your life? Cling onto the good - experiences and deeds. Every moment is precious - there are no scenes of unimportance really. Even just sat watching "Pointless" or "Eastenders", is a moment that should be special. It will only happen once.

Oh, and don't burgle deserted seaside houses. No good will come of it. If you remember one thing this Lent, let it be this.

And so we come to the second kind-of-end of this little Lenten jaunt through the work of the Boys from Charterhouse. The first was when we went through "Selling England" in order. The second, now, as we draw breath. Just seven days left to this series.

If you want me, I'll be walking across the sitting room.

Judas Iscariot "A waiter from North London"

It's nearly Easter. So it must be time for some "radical" revisionism of the Gospel. And so Kate Bottley, the "Dancing Vicar" of Gogglebox fame, takes a fresh look at Judas and concludes he was basically a bit mixed up and misunderstood.

This fresh look having been around since at least the 70s. I remember our school doing a passion play on just this theme. Starring Mark Harbottle-Skink, as the troubled, idealistic Judas who thinks he will provoke Jesus to messianic revolt. Mark's hanging scene was very dramatic, as he threw himself from the scaffolding (we were very trendy that Easter term). But he was preserved from actual strangulation by the harness he wore.

On the second night, he got the harness a bit twisted around the crotch area. He screamed and struggled a bit which added no end to the realism. And the following day he had to sing his key solo, "I'm just a misunderstood Zealot from Zealous Zealophania" in a reedy treble rather than the deep, rich baritone which won him the part.

And then on that third night there was trouble with the offal. To add Biblical realism, he had two pound of chitterlings up his shirt, which he released from the platform. Then the curtain came down and we all rushed on to mop the stage. But that night there was  a problem with timing. Four minor disciples were walking under him as he let the intestines drop.

And the lot fell on Matthias.

But I digress. So new and more 21st century research of the post modern variety (i.e. you make up what feels good to you) has in fact concluded that Judas was a waiter from Mill Hill in North London. He got his surname when someone asked him if his chariot was any good, and he replied "-ish". Judas had served Joseph of Arimathea when had stopped off at London Gateway services on the way back to the Holy Land. It's not generally known, but on one of his frequent trips to Glastonbury, where he'd seen one of the Rolling Stones' early gigs, Joseph went up the Fosse Way to see the Rollright Stones (the first tribute band). Then cut across to Husborne Crawley, wondering why so many roundabouts had been built between Tattenhoe and Boughton, then down to Kent.

Judas was amazed by Joseph's stories of his wondrous nephew, and decided that this year, it really would be Jerusalem. There he got a job as waiter in a restaurant popular with the Sanhedrin.

So you see, when they came in talking about Jesus and Judas innocently mentioned he could get them an introduction - what the Gospel describes as blood money, Judas thought was a very generous tip.

And so Judas, the innocent idealistic waiter from the London suburbs, went down in history as the most evil man that ever lived. And to add insult to injury, he got home late that night. The Sanhedrin spent over an hour arguing about who had ordered the extra matzos.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

That's All - The Love that Will Not Let me Go

Yes, we're ripping a lyric out of context again. Good. So what. If Song of Solomon is in the Bible, we can do this. Yes we can.
Truth is I love you
more than I wanted to
there's no point in trying to pretend
there's been no-one who
makes me feel like you do
say we'll be together till the end
I don't know why you might get into what I will call, for the sake of argument, "religion". Some wander into it. They go along because friends are, because they started wandering in on a weekday to get some peace in a quiet building. Or they just wanted something to give some direction, some meaning, some clue beyond the everyday.


And they find that God has a love that, to quote the old hymn, "will not let me go". You just went along because you thought the music was jolly. And you discovered that God has a fierce, almost desperate love - a love that will hang on through everything you go through, through all the things you do. A love that will cling on to you all the way to a cross.

"A shame that's all"? Maybe. A shame if you want to be free of that love that keeps calling you back. If you want to depend just on yourself. If you think you are truly autonomous.  But a love that holds you through death and beyond the other side? You end up loving it more than you wanted to. You only wanted to love a bit. But you can't. It's always the same.

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Situations Vacant - Church Warden

Do you have a unlimited amount of spare time and no desire to spend it in the garden, on the beach, or doing up the house?

Have you an unfulfilled desire to walk in front of vicars while carrying a large stick you are not allowed to use as a weapon?

Do you have no talents in stone masonry, boiler maintenance, Kung Fu, or bell lubrication - but a strange urge to "give it a go"?

Do you have a good head for heights and an interest in bending lead into interesting shapes?

Do you get sufficiently lonely that the alarm company phoning you up every night will cheer you up?

Then why not be a Church Warden? Wages are zero, so you might think you're better off being a bell ringer. But let's face it - who fixed the bells last time one fell off? That's right. Be a Church Warden and the bells will probably fall on somebody else.

Jesus he Knows Me - Abuse of Power

'Cause Jesus, He knows me
And He knows I'm right
I've been talking to Jesus all my life
Oh yes, He knows me
And He knows I'm right
And He's been telling me everything is alright
Not normally known for their searing social commentary - obviously I except "Illegal Alien", a piece that should be played to David Cameron every morning. Little bit of politics there....

Televangelists are an easy target - well, the ones of this era certainly were, with their appeals for millions, perma-tans and claims that God promised them a helicopter or whatever. Put your hand on the screen, send me a few grand and you can be healed / have a limo / afford plastic surgery.

But that spiritual abuse hasn't gone away. It's just got mostly scarier, less corny, less fake-hair.

As the US loses its spiritual heart, it's found another bloke with implausible hair and pigmentation to put its trust in. Put your hand on the screen, pull up the drawbridge, and you'll be safe from Muslims, gays, and those charming Illegal Aliens that Genesis sang about. Imagine there's no heaven? Well, at least you can still believe in Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, another bunch of disaffected people who think Society is keeping them down are attracted to a Messianic bunch of murderers who tell them that killing, rape and suicide will win them heaven.

And then, on a lower scale, the spiritual abuse never went away in American Christianity either. Nor, sometimes, in England. Mark Driscoll can serve as an example of a lot. But then every vicar that every thought people should believe them because "Father knows best" or they have a charism of leadership, or they are a prophet - well, they all need testing, don't they? All the time.

Apart from me. You're OK with me. The Beaker Folk trust me with their money because they know I'm the one with the tea lights, the pebbles and the impressive control of the latest Politically Correct terminology for all those things you thought you'd started naming correctly.

Jesus he knows me. And he knows I'm right. Believe me.

Sharing With the Person Next to You's Unwelcome Recovery

Burton Dasset came back from London a little sad last night.

He went along to the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity to hear a talk on "God's Unwelcome Recovery" - about how the media have an inbuilt bias against faith because they are part of a metropolitan elite. And how there's more faith about than people think. Did you know, for instance, that the church-going population of London increased by more or less 100,000 between 2005 and 2012?

Well, Burton didn't until last night. He told me there were quite a lot of statistics - which made him happy - but maybe the evidence was more interesting than compelling. Or, to put it another way, Burton wanted more stats.

He also thought more exploration was needed of some of the loose threads in the argument. For instance, the claim that the State has been trying to sideline religion since the Reformation goes against another argument - that the State is happy to use religion as a tool for control. They can't both be true at the same time.

Likewise, the claim that, contrary to popular belief,  everybody didn't go to church in Reformation times (or why would they pass a law enforcing attendance?) Burton's suggestion is that this was, at least in part, because they were trying to stamp out Catholicism by enforcing conformity.

But still, said Burton, a useful counter to the usual media line and some good stuff on the way the majority of deaths in war and oppression in the last 102 years were caused for strictly non-religious reasons. Think the two World Wars, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Lenin and that Austrian bloke who proves the big outbreaks of death aren't all caused by atheists. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that all atheists, given the chance, are homicidal persecuting monsters. All I'm saying is, just be grateful Nick Clegg has never won a parliamentary majority.

But then, the thing that caused all the trouble - and me and half the Beaker Folk to be kept awake all night by the sound of sobbing - happened at the break.

The M.C. or whatever he was, bloke in charge of LICC, suggested everyone share with the person next to them one thing they had taken away from the first session. And the chap next to Burton shared his enthusiasm that the Orthodox and Pentecostal churches that are growing in adherents in this country are bringing light and colour to our cynical little land.

And in return Burton shared how he had been considering that one of the things that marked out Christianity in majority white English churches was the number of women compared to men. And how he had thought church-going might let him meet the special person for him. And instead, every time a new, single woman joined the Beaker Folk, he forgot all the stuff we taught him about small talk and little compliments and attentiveness - and instead started about the stations on the former Varsity Line and the concept of cost versus retail price-based accounting.

Anyway, three hours later he was still bemoaning his lonely life and how he had nobody to share his collection of 1930s beer mats with. They had to turn the lights off to get rid of him. Leaders of church meetings, never ask people to share with the person next to them. Burton Dasset might be there.

Monday 14 March 2016

Immortal by Not Dying

The quote in the title is from a song by evangelical satirist (or satirical evangelical) Steve Taylor:

"Immortality's what I'm buying
But I'd rather be immortal by not dying."

A quote brought to my mind by the news that za man plans to gain 'immortality' by having his brain uploaded to a computer.

Well, where to start? Where do I always start? 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. This is not immortality. Because one day there will be no energy left to power this virtual brain. Or, in all probability, all power sources will get smashed up in riots / wars / meteor storms long before your digital remains were uploaded to another planet.

In principle, however, if it were possible to upload your brain to gain immortality why wouldn't you? Sure it's not immortality. But it's longer than your three score and ten (four score if you have the strength).

If you knew that it were you. Because if you uploaded your still-living brain - which "you" would be you? The organic you, just after the upload, would realise that it still wasn't "immortal" even if the digital you were. So the organic you would want to do another upload. And another. And another. Each time erasing your screaming digital self. And eventually you'd realise that what you really needed was a hot standby.

But at what point would you take the transfer to the hot standby? If your brain were being replicated real time to the Cloud (Celestibole or otherwise) and you died instantly in a car crash, you'd want the standby to be working right up to the moment of impact to ensure "you" were immortal.

But what about if you were suffering from  a degenerative brain condition? My Gran, of blessed memory, spent her last three years convinced she was living in 1930s Holloway. The thought of spending all eternity going "maybe that nice Mr Chamberlain will sort out the Czech problem - knees up, Muvver Brarn" - that's not appealing. But the thought of identifying the precise moment in a slow, long, tragic process that is the right moment to make the jump to cyberspace - preserving the true you - is meaningless. Those who know people with advanced senility are aware that, even amid a lot of drivel and confusion, every now and then a piece of music, a prayer, a keyword can bring the real person back.

No. To ensure digital immortality it would be necessary to copy a living brain across, and then immediately extinguish the brain that was copied. God help you if it then turned out the backup was corrupt.

So now you are a digital, immortal brain. What next? Obviously it would be nice to get some extra processor chip and memory - at least you could while away eternity being better at "Pointless" than when you were organic. But there's serious downsides.

What about viruses? It only takes the person running your data centre to click on a dodgy link and next thing you know there's Taiwanese Cheese Erotica being broadcast from your brain as part of a botnet of disembodied brains.

Then there is the backup strategy. Every time they test the disaster recovery process there will be two of you. And now which one is immortal? When they scratch the DR disks to reinstall Little Jimmy Krankie, your second ego will discover that in cyber space, noone can hear you scream.

But the worst of it? Who will be in charge of your immortal remains, at least as long as this civilisation lasts? Geeks, that's who. People for whom the IT Crowd isn't a sitcom - it's a slice-of-live documentary. You will be slowed down when they decide to install "Call of Duty" on the servers. You will be switched off, then back on again, when they don't know how to stop you looping. They will download you to Android devices. They will cock up your upgrades, leaving you with inoperable personality features. You will wake up in the morning able to appear only Finnish, after they cock up your language pack.

Good luck, cyber-eternity-boy. You're gonna need it.

The Carpet Crawlers - of Sheep, Death and Birth

To say that Carpet Crawl has religious imagery is a bit of an understatement. There's the Lamb back - no longer lying down on Broadway, but instead in the form of a woollen carpet. The fleas cling to the golden fleece.

The corridor is decorated in red ochre - colour of blood and life, and popular ritualistically (ie we don't really know why...) to the Ancients. This corridor is a spiritual birth canal.

Another use of red ochre is as reddle - remember Venn the reddleman in Hardy's "Return of the Native"? Reddle / red ochre was used to mark sheep as belonging to their owner. Are the Crawlers the sheep that are finding their way to the true Shepherd? Are they marked as belonging to his flock?

We've gotta get in to get out
We've gotta get in to get out 

Echoes of Lewis's "Last Battle" there - as the people of Narnia and of Earth find their way to the land where Aslan lives, the cry goes up that you have to go further up, further in. Which sounds a bit Freudian to me, but then we've already had a spiritual birth canal so what the heck.

 The corridor leads to a candlelit harvest feast - the Supper that is ready? Do the Crawlers stay there? Or are they the people who will shortly be running around at the top of the stairs? And is the harvest feast the meal that sustains the Crawlers as they head on their stairway to heaven?

Whatever. Rael heads up the spiral staircase. He has further excitement to come, with the Lamia. He hasn't got to the point of giving up on fleshy delights for spiritual ones. And the Crawlers?

If they got in, maybe they got out.

Sunday 13 March 2016

The Musical Box - For a Moment of Time

While Henry Hamilton-Smythe minor (8) was playing croquet with Cynthia Jane De Blaise-William (9), sweet smiling Cynthia raised her mallet high and gracefully removed Henry's head. Two weeks later, in Henry's nursery, she discovered his treasured musical box.
Eagerly she opened it and as "Old King Cole" began to play, a small spirit-figure appeared. Henry had returned - but not for long. For as he stood in the room his body began aging rapidly, leaving a child's mind inside. A lifetime's desires surged through him.
Unfortunately the attempt to persuade Cynthia Jane to fulfill his romantic desire led his nurse to the nursery to investigate the noise. Instinctively, she hurled the musical box at the bearded child, destroying both.
Poor Henry, trapped in his half-world as, head removed by his playmate, his spirit experiences the whole of his life in the span of "Old King Cole". His appeal to Cynthia:
And the nurse will tell you lies
Of a Kingdom beyond the skies
But I'm lost within this half-world
It hardly seems to matter now.
brings back the advice of Siduri;  the second-best course of action of Paul. "Let us eat, drink and be merry. For tomorrow we die."

But Henry's got no idea whether there's a Kingdom beyond the skies. He is still chained to the circles of this world. He grasps for pleasure - and a dreadful pleasure at that -  in the time he has left. And we still have the choice - are we to see pleasure as a pointer beyond itself - to the source of all joy - or to be all there is?

Careful with that mallet.

Hails as Nard

I'd like to thank Keith for organising that "Nard Experience" service. The idea being, that in order to help us call to mind the scene at Mary, Martha and Lazarus's house, we would experience the sheer power of the scent of nard used by Mary in anointing the Lord.

It strikes me, in passing, that Jesus's words: "It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial" Jesus is actually recognising Mary as a prophet. This is a prophetic act - anointing the Anointed One, and preparing him for burial before his time.

But back to the Moot House. Where Young Keith's plan was to use dry ice to bubble nard within the CO2 giving us both an atmospheric sight and a wonderful, evocative scent. Except nard's a bit hard to obtain, so he used lavender water. Which froze solid when he poured it on the dry ice, prior to lowering into the hot water bath. Which he never quite managed to do as the fireworks he'd planned to set off just as the scent permeated the Moot House, went off unexpectedly early. Which meant everyone was blasted with fragments of lavender-scented ice.

You know, it's a long way from a house in Bethany with a group of apostles debating whether it is legitimate to waste money on worship, and a bunch of terrified Beaker Folk fleeing the scene of a scented explosion. But the house was indeed filled with the wonderful scent. And I'm told lavender oil is quite healing. Which will come in handy. Wish Young Keith had given the money to the poor, mind. Would have saved us all a lot of pain.

Saturday 12 March 2016

Losing the Congregation

Yeah, I used to be a Spiritual Director. But then I got a promotion and now I'm a Spiritual Chief Executive.

Got a concerned call from an Anglican minister. He thinks maybe he's losing the parish.

Well I dunno.  Apparently the diocesan office had to upgrade their network. Needed more disk space for all the complaining emails.

And then during a sermon, some preachers are aware of bored congregations. Even people falling asleep. But surely it's wrong to fit a trap door with a timer in the pulpit? I asked him - didn't they need a faculty? But apparently it was English Heritage who suggested it.

And then the copies of the Church Times started arriving, with the more attractive jobs circled.

Oh, and the PCC have apparently started work on a Parish Profile. And instead of asking for visits, the really sick parishioners have started moving to get burial rights in other parishes.

And the poison-pen writers have started signing their names. Which I admit is unusual. Especially when a fair number are from the Archdeacon.

So yeah. I reckon he's having a hard time. Probably time he started a building project.

Land of Confusion - Wars and Rumours of Wars

Now did you read the news today
They say the danger's gone away
But I can see the fire's still alight
There burning into the night.
As long as the world turns, and as long as there are men on it - I'll mostly blame men here - there will be trouble.

The Genesis boys were just the right age to have grown up with optimism. The flower-power bunch thought that given enough love, enough acid, enough sex, enough flowers and enough hair the world could be put right.

There was just one problem. 

Human nature.

A quote from a famous man: 
"Take heed that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs. "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come."
Or, to put it another way,
There's too many men
Too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go round
Can't you see
This is a land of confusion.
This is the way the world is. Let's use the hands we're given to make this a place worth living in. But we'll never quite get there - the fire will still be alight. To be fair, we didn't start the fire. It's always burning since the world's been turning. And it will still be alight at the end. Hold fast, love your neighbour - and one day a super man will return to sort out the men of steel. Corny? Yeah. I don't even like the song.

But I do like the video.

Friday 11 March 2016

In Too Deep - Love Shared and Love Given

It seems I've spent too long
Only thinking about myself - oh
Now I want to spend my life
Just caring bout somebody else.
It's a song about sexual love. About a really committed love. About somebody who realises that love is not just about self-gratification, about taking, about what makes us feel good.

The time when love is real love, is when it's about giving. About caring. About looking out at the other  instead of inwards at oneself. To ask the question - what I am giving here? Instead of what can I get out of this?

That's true love in a sexual relationship. But that true love is also a model that says - if I love the special one in that way, I need - in a less exclusive way - to give more than I take, to view the rest of the world in a way that is giving instead of contractual. To move from thinking about yourself to caring about another is a start. But love is shared, and then shared again - to children, to neighbours - stop being smutty at the back there - to all those that need love.

Jeremy Hardy "Not Very Funny"

Controversy has broken out after a comedian at a Jeremy Corbyn rally was not very funny.

A spokesperson said, "When we knew that Jeremy Hardy and Mark Steel were appearing at our Justice for Jeremy Corbyn rally, we were very excited to have two such famous celebrities. But turns out we were confusing Mark Steel with that bloke David MacCallum played in the 70s. And he'd barely even met Joanna Lumley.

"And then when Jeremy Hardy spoke we couldn't believe it. Almost everything he said was totally unfunny. Though he made some joke about a Blairite being bonkers. That was quite good."

The organisation's organizer's are now said to be concerned that the comedian, who is believed to live up to his politics by being largely state-funded, has in fact never been funny at all. Members of J4JC believe he may have been funny on "The News Quiz", but can't find anyone who has ever listened to it.

Said the spokesperson, "We could go through the BBC archives trying to find examples of Hardy being funny. But we would have to listen to all that low-grade snark and whining for so long trying to find something. It's inhumane."

 J4JC were temporarily encouraged by Jeremy Hardy's Wikipedia page which said Hardy's impressions of posh people
 "have often prompted great mirth and recognition in live radio audiences."
However without any citation on that remark, it is impossible to know when that may have occurred. Sobbed the spokesperson, "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack."

Last night Jeremy Hardy gave reporters his own account of events. But unfortunately nobody could remember what it was.

The Leader of the Opposition last night gave his reaction: "Gosh! Harumph! Let's get out of jolly old Europe and put me in charge!" 

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn was unavailable for comment, as he was at a "Justice for Jeremy Hardy" rally.

Thursday 10 March 2016

Blood on the Rooftops: The Mundanity of Media Horror

Blood on the rooftops, Venice in the spring
The Streets of San Francisco, a word from Peking
The trouble was started, by a young Errol Flynn
Better in my day, oh Lord!
For when we got bored, we'd have a world war, happy but poor
So let's skip the news boy (I'll go and make some tea)
Blood on the rooftops - too much for me.
The couple in the song seem to have no interest in the news because it's too much hard work. They don't want to sit around listening to a discussion on current affairs. They'd probably hate Question Time. I can't blame then. I hate it.

This song was written in the 70s. The news was pretty grim - "Arabs and Jews, boy". So some things don't change. So they turn to anything else. Blood on the rooftops is OK, apparently, as long as it's tomato ketchup.

Today The Twitter is full of news. People share pictures of decapitations. so we can know just how evil decapitation is. The Blood on the Rooftops couple would put on a sensitive media filter, and just follow kitten accounts.

But are we so different? The horror that floods social media - the horror that is choreographed on the news. Either the horror becomes mundane, or we have to turn away. Nobody could be that horrified, or that outraged, that often. We don't have the energy. So we can collect the horror up and do nothing - apart from a few retweets or one of the endless petitions that make no difference. We can surf the mundanity of horror. Or we follow the kittens.

"Drop of wine?" Let's skip the news and look at some "amazing things that happened when the photographer was filming." It's incredible, apparently. I see the cricket's not improved.

Wednesday 9 March 2016

The Christian EU Exit Flowchart

With absolutely zero verifiable facts about what the EU will look like after a Brexit - we all have that problem. How should a Christian approach the forthcoming "Exit" referendum for the UK in the European Union?

With a flowchart, obviously.....

Discover there is a Brexit referendum; What does the Bible say? ; Depart, depart, go out from there! (Isa 52:11) ;  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.  (Isa 2:4); Galloway wants to leave;  ; How could anyone with that hat ever be right ?;   Yeah but  Osborne wants to stay in.; Prayer is our only hope.

Guide Vocal - Letting Go

I call you for I must leave,
You're on your own until the end.
There was a choice but now it's gone,
I said you wouldn't understand,
Take what's yours and be damned.

This is the one where Genesis write quite a similar song to the Human League's equally classic Don't You Want Me, but in a Genesis kind of way. We're not told if Duchess (I presume it's the Duchess) has been working as a waitress in a cocktail bar until she met the Guide Vocal (Duke Albert?) but that seems to be the genuine idea.

And there's nothing wrong with mentoring. People need advice, guidance, pushing forward. Kids have to be shown the ropes, told not to play with fire, kept away from deep water.

But the day should come when the student is free to flourish alone - the child becomes an adult. It can be hard letting people take their wings. But it's unhealthy to clip them - for the clip-er and the clip-ee.  And sometimes the student overtakes the master.

And the right things to say is "take what's yours and be blessed". Don't stop you worrying, don't stop you caring. But when the lead vocal is laid down, the guide vocal isn't needed in the mix anymore.

Liturgical Tribute to George Martin

In tribute to George Martin, the liturgy was chopped into three second chunks, then threaded backwards through a tape player and set to a heavily phased 13-string guitar with white noise and a tenor horn section.

Beaker Folk stalked purposefully across a zebra crossing accompanied by famous faces from the past (George Martin, The Beatles, Sir Alex Ferguson, George Galloway, Audrey Hepburn, Stephen Fry etc).

Imagine a fairground hurdy-gurdy in a snowstorm.

Better that than listening to the liturgy. That was incomprehensible.

Tuesday 8 March 2016

Cul de Sac - The Rich Sent Empty Away

You know you're on the way out,
It's just a matter of time.
You thought you'd rule the world forever,
Long live the king, but don't spare the loser now...
The one in charge shudders as they wonder how long they'll last.

There's a fair amount of this Messianic kind of stuff in Genesis - The Knife, One for the Vine. Goes with that kind of swords-and-sorcery prog-rock stuff I guess. Thinking of the Battle of Evermore from another heavy band of the era.

There's a clause in the Gospel of Luke, expressed through the words of a teenage unmarried mother-to-be: possibly the least powerful thing in her society. They're defiant words, and they're a promise rather than a threat.
He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.
 We don't know whether the things that are "far below, where shadows fester as they grow" are a good freedom force, or a bunch of trolls. We do know that the one in charge is on the way out. But they they always are. Sometimes as the revolt grows (Gadaffi, Ceausescu); sometimes as their pride drags in external enemies (Saddam, Hitler); sometimes they live in constant fear of an internal conspiracy - and, wondering when the knife will slip between the ribs, they take out their real or perceived enemies - until one decides to take them out (half the Roman emperors). And in the end, age will get them all. At the End of Times, the one Mary brought into the world will raise up the humble, and thrown down the week; complete the revolution that he wrought on the cross - the humble and meek raised up, for sure.

Monday 7 March 2016

Ripples - Time Slips Away

Saw two cats on the roof of the shed earlier. Not the Beaker cat, Grendel, or his even more fearsome mother. Just a random ginger tab and a tortie. 

And the cats are up there, looking at each other and around the garden, like they would never do anything different. As if the world is as it always is, and they will always growl at each other and sneak around after the pigeons like they do today. A cat has no concept of passing time. Age must come as a shock to it, which it adjusts to slowly.

Not so bluegirls.
The face that launched a thousand ships
Is sinking fast, that happens you know,
The water gets below.
Seems not very long ago
Lovelier she was than any that I know.
Angels never know it's time
To close the book and gracefully decline,
The song has found a tale.
My, what a jealous pool is she.
The face in the water looks up
She shakes her head as if to say
That the bluegirls have all gone away.
There's a piece at the end of Hardy's most cheerful book, Under the Greenwood Tree. The vicar has just discovered that Fancy Day is engaged to young Dick, the tranter's son.

"Why, she's my sweetheart, and we are going to be married next Midsummer. We are keeping it rather close just at present, because 'tis a good many months to wait; but it is her father's wish that we don't marry before, and of course we must submit. But the time 'ill soon slip along."
"Yes, the time will soon slip along--Time glides away every day--yes."
Maybold said these words, but he had no idea of what they were. He was conscious of a cold and sickly thrill throughout him; and all he reasoned was this that the young creature whose graces had intoxicated him into making the most imprudent resolution of his life, was less an angel than a woman.
Parson Maybold wanders to the bridge, and rips up the letter he was planning to send to a friend, telling him of his plans upon marriage to Fancy Day:
Maybold stood still upon the bridge, holding the card as it had been put into his hand, and Dick's footsteps died away towards Durnover Mill. The vicar's first voluntary action was to read the card:--
   NB.--Furniture, Coals, Potatoes, Live and Dead Stock, removed to any
   distance on the shortest notice.
 Mr. Maybold leant over the parapet of the bridge and looked into the river. He saw--without heeding--how the water came rapidly from beneath the arches, glided down a little steep, then spread itself over a pool in which dace, trout, and minnows sported at ease among the long green locks of weed that lay heaving and sinking with their roots towards the current. At the end of ten minutes spent leaning thus, he drew from his pocket the letter to his friend, tore it deliberately into such minute fragments that scarcely two syllables remained in juxtaposition, and sent the whole handful of shreds fluttering into the water. Here he watched them eddy, dart, and turn, as they were carried downwards towards the ocean and gradually disappeared from his view. Finally he moved off, and pursued his way at a rapid pace back again to Mellstock Vicarage.

And so Maybold's dreams rush downstream from him. Ripples that have gone to the other side.

The book - cheerful as it is -  is full of warnings of what happens to young, flighty women. Mrs Leaf, widowed and having lost all of her many children but one, looks out of the window like a pot-sick plant. Mrs Dewey worries about appearances, and the fact that she has only had five kids. Liz Endorfield - smartest of them all except, maybe, Fancy - is a witch.

Is it just me sees Fancy and Lizzie Endorfield reflected in the mirror on the album cover? The young girl hungry for love and the crone who has seen it all. Gotta be said, despite her evil reputation, that Lizzie the Witch is a bit less stressy than Flirty Fancy, the hottest school-ma'am in South Wessex.

It's not just young women whose looks don't last. Any lad who has put his efforts into being particularly toned must know that one day those muscles will turn to dust. The sharpest-minded thinkers may lose their wit more slowly than the bluegirls see the ripples run away. But it will come, one day. One day, when we don't depend on our beauty, our strength, our speed or our brains. What rock can we cling to that day?