Thursday 30 June 2016

Corbynite Clerihews

Shami Chakrabarti
Says there's not much wrong with the Labour Party
But Corbyn says Israel's devices
Ain't so different to ISIS.

Things as Yellow as Boris Johnson

1. A large bunch of bananas

Church-Seeking: Some Advice

It might be a sudden whim, an instant conversion, a pang of nostalgia or a desire for a quiet space. But you've decided to go Church.

What do you do now?

Well, if you live in a small isolated building in the English countryside, go out your house. See that building with the pointy roof or tall tower? Go there. But just check it's got some kind of sign outside saying it's St Somebody's or in the Diocese of Blogchester or whatever. Burton Dasset once spent a Sunday morning in a water tower. Said it was very peaceful but his trousers got wet. And the coffee was weak.

With a countryside church, your next problem is working out when the services take place. If you're lucky there will be a service rota posted outside like in the Trim Valley churches. And then all you need is a friend with an astronomical calendar and a degree in pure mathematics, and you can almost certainly work out when the service is - to a Sunday either side.

If there's no rota then you'll just have to hang around the churchyard on Sunday mornings from 7.30 until somebody turns up. If you're lucky you might only have to wait a few hours. If you're unlucky it could be six months. If you ignored the sign saying "redundant", your bones will be found by future archaeologists who will conclude that you were a ritual sacrifice.

Eventually when you get in and there's a service, then you will get to see what the vicar looks like. Tired, probably. As s/he will have got up stupidly early ready for the 8am, either the Pro Plus won't have kicked in yet, or else they'll already have taken services in all the other 8 churches you can see scattered across the horizon. On the bright side, you will meet with your Creator, meet new people, and acquire a new job such as cleaning or flower-arranging or the maintenance of an ancient building.

Of course you may not want a formal service, and simply want to sit quietly and meditate on things. So why not drop in during the week?

Because it's closed. That's why not. If you're lucky there will be a notice telling you the last known address of the person who had the key.

Then there's towns. The great thing about towns is the choice. You may be wondering where to start.

You could try the reviews from Ship of Fools. They have a tendency toward snark occasionally. But that's the way with personal views. And that's what they are - a personal view. The reviewer may say somebody died after reckless snake handling, and the release of mustard gas to replicate the End of Days was a little over the top - whereas somebody else might have gone away giving thanks for a thoughtful sermon, and tasteful music played during communion.

Then why not try the church website? As a source of architectural history, and pictures of people who have left the area in the last nine years, nothing could be more useful.

Then there's the Church of England's "A Church Near You". It's got the same information as the website without the pictures. The name of the last vicar but one. And a map which, by displaying the parish boundaries, is invaluable in working out where there was a hedge or ditch in the 12th century.

Look, if at the end of the day, you want to go Church - I suggest you try a few. One or two will be scary. One or two boring. In many of them the congregation will all be older than your grandparents  - unless you're over 60. But if you've got that calling, somewhere you'll find the right place. God will be there - God is everywhere  - but you'll also find Jesus's body, sitting about, singing, rejoicing, occasionally moaning, and possibly drinking coffee. Honest. It's worth sitting around wondering when they open.

Unless it's Husborne Crawley church and the heating's broken again. In which case come back when it's warmer.

Wednesday 29 June 2016

A Prayer of Repentance for the Leave Vote (with footnotes)

Archdruid: And so we pray forgiveness for the hardheartedness with which we1 have voted.

All: Knowing we have thrown our country into chaos, we repent of all our sins of thinking it was a good idea to give the ruling classes a good kicking.2

Archdruid: We repent of the arrogance that led us3 to reject Mrs Merkel and all her works.

All: And to teach the French a thing or two.4

Archdruid: And we repent that the old and gray have rejected the wisdom of the young5.

All: And we reject all accusations of racism6.

Archdruid: And so we formally promise that, if by some miracle we get another chance to vote on this, we will show wisdom, charity and courage this time7.

All: Amen8

1 Other people
2 At least, we did when we thought Sterling was going to crash and we'd all end up eating stale Pringles to survive. We've cheered up a bit now.
3 Other people
4 Though we're still quite pleased about that.
5 If only they'd looked up from their Xboxes we're sure they would have been very instructive.
6 We hope we still have visas for plumbers.
7 Questions are being asked about the way the petition for another referendum has more than 45,000 votes from Husborne Crawley.
8 We'd do it again. Not only have we upset the Germans, the French and the whole EU infrastructure - we've got rid of Cameron and might do for Corbyn as well. Just a shame about that embarrassment Farage.

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Jeeves and the European Parliament

"What ho, Jeeves!" I said as I sauntered back into the restful abode, in Berkeley Mansions W1, in the quiet eventide.

"Good evening, Sir," returned the faithful retainer, looking across from the cocktail he was whisking up, to restore the Wooster fibres after a long day on the Continent.

"Well Jeeves," I remarked, flicking a speck of dust from the sleeve, "I certainly gave it to the EU Parliament, what! Told them they had been asking for the day when, armed with the Junior Ganymede club book and a load of lies about immigration, I would finally get Market Snodsbury to withdraw from the European Union. Told the lot of them they had never had a proper job!"

The faithful servant gave a soft, gentle cough. The sort of cough that a sheep might give when standing in a foggy field, watching GK Chesterton fall onto a sheet of tin.

"Well, out with it, Jeeves"

"I'm sorry Sir?"

"What do you have to say? I gather from that cough - and that expression like a stuffed Francois Hollande - that you have something critical to impart?"

"Sir, I have had your friends round to let me know what they think about your performance. I would not like to impart an opinion, but I personally think it was unwise. Oofy Prosser..."

"The Drones Club millionaire, Jeeves?"

"Indeed Sir."

"Oofy Prosser must be grateful that I've cleared the way for him to make an absolute bundle?"

"Oofy Prosser thinks you are an idiot who has put his investment fund at risk, Sir. Tuppy Glossop has asked to be removed from the list for your next birthday bash. Your Aunt Agatha says you are a boil. And Rosie M Banks..."

"The romantic authoress and wife of my old friend Bingo Little? She is always one for the bon mot. What aphorism did she come up with this time, Jeeves?"

"She said you are an arse, Sir."

"Jeeves," I said, and pulled myself to the full height. "This is not the way in which to address a preux chevalier. I put it to you that you have betrayed the Code of the Woosters. And you are severely lacking in the feudal spirit. This is the dear Master, Berties Wooster, whom you are addressing in this disrespectful manner."

"Far from it, Sir. I put it to you that you are, in fact, Lord Sidcup. Or - to give you your original name - Roderick Spode."

I looked down at the black footer shorts that I was wearing, where I had expected to see plus fours. I heard the cries of "Heil Spode" from the window. I drained the fragrant cocktail to the dregs.

"You have found me out, Jeeves. Will you call me a cab so I can depart to the Drones Club, there to have a few pints and bemoan the way in which, since I first appeared in the pages of PG Wodehouse, Britain has lost an empire?"

"Very good, Sir."

"Carry on, Jeeves."

Celebrating Peaceful Day

And so after the sound and fury of the EU referendum, the rally of the Socialist Workers' Party behind Jeremy Corbyn and the humiliation of a load of donkeys led by a donkey last night - we settle down to Peaceful Day.

Soothing sounds are being piped around the Community grounds. Images of ducklings and kittens are being displayed on the Moot House projector. But not images of ducklings with goslings. Now that's a photo shoot I'm not repeating.

People are being urged to tread lightly on one another's dreams. To whisper sweet blessings. To smile softly, with holy eyes. To stay away from Twitter. To be mindful. Above all, to be peaceful.

The idea for Peaceful Day came from today being the feast of Irenaeus - that famously peaceful man. He was a great opposer of heresies. So we won't actually mention him during any Peaceful Ceremonies. We don't want to upset any heretics. It wouldn't be peaceful

Sunday 26 June 2016

His Face Was Set Towards Jerusalem

 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:51-62)

Two consecutive stories and at first I didn't see the connection. One story seems to be about hospitality and power. The other about commitment.

But I think the connection is the thing that Luke says twice: Jesus's face was set towards Jerusalem.

This was a Samaritan village. So it could mean that they rejected Jesus because they knew he was a pious Jew: if he was on his way to Jerusalem, they wanted nothing to do with him. He was probably on pilgrimage, he'd be wanting to go the Temple. He'd be all fussy knowing that they had the ability to make them unclean.

But I think Luke is being more theological, more literary than that. Luke 9 is the hinge point of the Gospel. Jesus does the great miracle of the feeding of 5,000. Peter declares that Jesus is God's Messiah. He predicts his death. He is transfigured. He predicts his death and again.

And then he sets his towards Jerusalem. From now on in, the Gospel of Luke is heading for the cross.

So I wonder whether the Samaritans are actually being quite cagey. If they sense that Jesus is going to Jerusalem for that confrontation with the authorities that will bring him death - maybe they don't want to be accused later of harbouring a heretic and trouble maker. If his face is set towards Jerusalem - let him go there. We've got two political parties today in the UK, after the EU referendum, where the more  senior members are going to be trying to make sure that they're on the winning side - or at least, that if they're on the losing side, they don't upset the winners too much. Maybe that's where the Samaritans are.

And then in the second story. People come to Jesus and say they want to follow him, one with reservations. One has an ageing father, and wants to stick with him until he dies - then he'll follow. One says he'll follow Jesus anywhere - and Jesus challenges him to realise how hard this is going to be.

You can't plough a furrow straight if you keep looking back - you'll keep misdirecting the ox pulling the plough, and end up all over the place. Same as you can't ride a bike or drive a car if you keep looking over your shoulder. You'll be a hazard to traffic.

Jesus knows if he looks back there's Nazareth, and a loving home. A steady job. Mary making his dinner and asking when he's going to settle down with a nice Jewish girl. If he looks back his path will be all over the place. Ahead there's rejection, pain and a cross. He's got to keep looking ahead so he sets his face towards Jerusalem.

I wonder about the way James and John wanted to blow the village up. They feel offended - and want to strike back. It can make you feel good, blowing up someone else's life - metaphorically - but Jesus tells them off and drags them on. Was that charity on Jesus's part - peacefulness? But also the knowledge that if we start scrabbling and squabbling  with people along the way, we're not looking forward?

If we're called to follow Jesus we're called to look ahead. There may be a cross there - or something like one. And behind us may be all sorts of comforts we wish we could cling onto. But what we're called to ahead, leads to the love of God and loving God, and knowing God forever. Our way is in the footsteps of the King - going forward in hope and love - and not looking over our shoulder.

Friday 24 June 2016

Beaker Brexit Tent

Introducing the Beaker Brexit Tent.

You can go in, rock gently, and pretend the outside world isn't happening and other people are all like you.

You'll have to put your name down though. There's eight people packed in there. And another 46 in the queue.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

EU Referendum: The Final Opinion Poll

We in the Beaker Folk have stayed out of the Referendum debate up till now. We've never really got over the annexation of Middle Anglia by Mercia, to be honest.

But we did run an EU opinion poll over the last month, planning to reveal its results today. Sure, it's got a margin of error. But it's the most accurate opinion poll conducted in a small religions community in mid Bedfordshire that we're aware of.

How will you vote on the 23 June?
Leave: 42%
Remain: 46%
Liberal because I always do: 12%

Name the major effects of a "Leave" vote?
Hordes of mastadons tearing up Kew Gardens: 17%
The Seraphim dancing on the Jereboam: 19%
A new, more confident UK: 44%
Scottish independence: 35%
Independence for Wales: 18%
Freedom for Tooting: 12%
Runaway global warming causing Leicester to retain the Premiership: 9%

Nigel Farage rhymes with:
Garage: 6%
Barrage: 45%
Pinstriped shyster: 49%

What do you think Boris Johnson's first reaction will be if Leave wins?
"Britain can stand proud." 22%
"We have cast off the shackles of bureaucracy" 38%
"We have regained our place in the world" 4%
"Hurrump! Brrrrrrrr! Wooooor! Groooooo!" 36%

Michael Gove:
Yes: 4%
No: 91%
What?: 5%

How will Germany be regarding the referendum?
With anxiety: 35%
With hope: 41%
Using it as an excuse to invade Czechoslovakia: 24%

The Referendum has resulted in us seeing Tony Blair, Paddy Ashdown, and Michael Heseltine on our TVs. Had you known about these unintended consequences, would you have voted Labour at the last election?
Yes: 1%
No: 1%
We must put off having another election until the earth is a scorched cinder, orbiting the bloated remains of a dying sun. 98%

Managing Decline

The big question at the meeting of the Moot this week was this. Should we actively have a strategy to manage decline?

Well first up, there's the undeniable fact that, for literary reasons, there are always roughly 50 adult Beaker Folk. I realise there's been about 600 different Beaker Folk named over the last 10 years. But there's always roughly 50 Beaker Folk at any one time. So in one sense, I have no decline to manage.

But the thing about managing decline. Sure, it's not a Gospel thing. The Kingdom of God is yeast in a loaf; a seed growing into a tree. It's described in terms of growth, expansion, tying up the burglar. It's about winning.

Sure it has risks. You could see failure. If you look for growth you could fail. Could shrink or, doing something risky, collapse.

Whereas managing decline, there's certainty. You'll get smaller, but slowly. You'll never burst into life, but then you'll never collapse like a red giant going supernova. You'll just quietly fold away, patting the hands of the old faithfuls in reassurance, until you're all dead.

And there's freedom there. Why worry about doing radical stuff? Why worry if people outside the church are attracted, appalled or alarmed? You can just do your own stuff, in your own way, till there's nobody left to do it.

And winning is just another word for triumphalism, ain't it?

So yeah. Managing decline sounds good to me. As long as there's still fifty of us.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Liturgy for the Evening After Summer Solstice

Archdruid: Nights are drawing in

All: Soon be Christmas.

Solstice sunrise over Cranfield

Lament for a Solstice With Broken Cloud

I love that moment on a solstice sunrise. The expectation, floating like croutons on the chill in the air. The silence, broken only by the birds song, traffic on the M1, and the realisation you're on the Luton flight path again.

And then scanning the horizon for a break in the cloud. And, as the mystic orb rises above the horizon and the clouds melt, we see our shadows, marking the dewy grass between us and the noble railway sleepers that make up the Great Trilithon of ancient (2009) Duckhenge.

And that's when we realised we were all facing the wrong way again. Same as every year. By the time we'd reassembled on  the southwest side of the duck pond, the moment was lost.

Another half hour and we expect the Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Herne the Hunter and assorted dryads and wood elves to turn up. They do struggle with British Summer Time.

Monday 20 June 2016

Summer Solstice Rescheduled

I'd like to apologise to all those Beaker Folk who got up for the Summer Solstice at 4am today.

In particular I believe there was a certain amount of trouble with the Piper at the Gates of Dawn, who threw his pipes in the brook in disgust and beat up a couple of woodwosen.

In fact although the Solstice is today, it's not till nearly 11pm. So we're celebrating the Solstice Cocktail evening tonight - "Strawberry Moonbeams" - with the Solstice Sunrise tomorrow morning. Followed shortly after by the Grand Liturgy of the Nights Drawing In.

I hope that's clear.

Sunday 19 June 2016

Jumping Naked Over the Solstice Bonfire: Revised Arrangements

The Beaker Fertility Folk aren't as young as they were.

In years gone by, they would leap naked over a bonfire on Solstice Eve. But Anno Domini has slowed them down. And, more to the point, reduced their ability to jump.

After last year's "Great Singeing", this year they'll be jumping over a tea light in the barn. Safer all round.

The End of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Good news from our traditional Fathering Sunday mythical creatures hunt. For the first time in Beaker history, we have managed to capture an invisible unicorn.

The mythical creatures hunt was the result of a lot of agonising. Obviously we wanted to reproduce the angst that everybody gets on Mothering Sunday - the preacher not wanting to offend anyone, the treading on eggshells. But we didn't want to dwell on it too long. So we needed something male-friendly. And what could be more male-friendly than something task-based (ie looking for something) and totally futile (looking for imaginary creatures).

But this year we've hit the jackpot. We managed to find an invisible unicorn while it was feasting on the remains of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The bad news being that there's a whole bunch of colander-wearing geeks who now aren't just terrible disappointments to their fathers, but they don't have anything to make them think they're philosophical comic geniuses. Fathers' Day is totally ruined for them. But then this particular class of individual has probably been wrecking Fathers' Day for years, buying their dads The God Delusion or Richard Dawkins: The Flight of the Honeybee when frankly they really just wanted beer or football compilation DVDs featuring Richard Hammond or whatever.

If anyone wants to know how you know you've found an invisible unicorn, the answer is obvious. Black matt paint. Though unfortunately we only managed one coat, and it's dried streaky and we're in the most almighty row with Woburn Safari Park. They think we've customised a zebra.

Saturday 18 June 2016

Neither Jew nor Greek

Before faith in Jesus Christ came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3.23-29)
Galatians is one of the longer tellings-off in the Bible. The Galatian Jewish Christians have been excited by the news of the Gospel, and they're excited that Gentiles are coming to know Jesus.

But as Rob Runes's Letter to the Church Magazine reminds us, the Gentiles are a dreadful bunch....
"– apparently they don’t know the Bible, worship sheep, and are violently opposed to God’s prophets."
So the Jewish Christians are in fact so excited about the Gentile Christians that they want them to become Jewish Christians as well. They want the male Gentiles to undergo circumcision. They want them all to follow Jewish food and ritual laws.

But Paul knows that the Gentile Christians didn't need to follow the rules to be saved. They didn't need to lay off the bacon to know Jesus. They didn't have to avoid black pudding to receive the Holy Spirit. They just had to believe in Jesus.

The Jewish religious laws seem, in this argument, to have been a marker that proved the Jewish people holy. They were like a football shirt that said what team you were on - like a way of proving that you were on God's side. But the Christians who had come in from the Gentiles - the "Greeks", according to Paul, presumably because we are all Greek to him - hadn't needed the rules. They had received the Holy Spirit, and they had become Christians. Why would they need to follow the food laws? Why did they need to be circumcised? They didn't need to become Jewish. They had to believe, and be baptised into Christ. And if that's enough, then why do they need to add extra?

Paul answers that question by throwing God's love out to everyone. There is no Jew, or Greek, or slave, or free, or male or female. God's love is given to everybody in Christ Jesus. We can all belong to Christ. We can all be adopted into God's family.

Our problem can be that we don't realise God can love other people just as much as God loves us. That was the problem for the Galatians: they knew God loved them and, if only the Gentile Christians could be more like them, If they could eat the right foods, dress the right way, take up the Sabbath.

This week has seen two murders particularly in the British media. That of Jo Cox, I'll avoid. It's sub judice and we don't know enough to comment anyway without making giant guesses. The other - the shooting of 49 innocent people at the "Pulse" nightclub in Orlando. A murder where some people - in the US especially - seem to think the crime was somehow lessened by its targets. 49 innocent people died when they'd gone out to have fun. 49 people - gay people. The target of the crime was gay people. People who I'd like to think, if they came to your church, or to the Beaker Folk - on their own, with their partners - with their families - we would greet as we do anyone else. Offering a welcome exactly the same as we do to anyone else. The regulations in the Old Testament against homosexuality, it seems to me, are part of that world that made certain foods special, certain activities special, to mark the Jews off as a sacred people that weren't like the rest of the world. Because now that faith has come, we are no longer supervised by the law.

And if you don't believe that - and I can understand that not everybody believes that, with regard to gay people having sex with other gay people - then I hope you'd still welcome gay people into your fellowship, just like everybody else. Because God loves them, as much as you, no matter what you think of what they do.

Not just gay people. People can be looked upon suspiciously for other reasons - made to feel unwelcome by our unthinking, instinctive words and actions. People who are single; people without children; children; people who don't dress the way we do. Young people who have a different attitude to everything. While those two incidents made the British press, many people were once again being murdered by Isis for trying to flee Fallujah. We don't hear so much about it because - I guess - they're not so much like us as an English MP or a bunch of people partying in the city where Walt Disney World is. But they're all made in God's image, God loves them, as much as you - no matter what you think.

But then, maybe it's you that you don't think is so attractive to God. Maybe you think God doesn't think you're up to it. All over the country, there's teenagers taking exams. And if you need 2 As and a B to get into Sheffield and you get 3 Bs maybe Sheffield won't take you because you're not good enough. Maybe you think God is like that. Maybe you're wondering what grades it will take to get you into heaven, and thinking that you probably haven't done enough revision.

And Paul turns it upside down and makes it quite clear that that is the wrong way round. The Jewish Christians in Galatia - they've been so good, they've kept the Jewish Law, they've sung the Psalms and they've prayed three times a day. And that's all good. But the Gentiles - the non-Jews - the Greeks and Pamphylians and Arabs and, eventually when it gets here, the Celts and the Angles - they've not done any of it. And yet - they are baptised into Christ and they are clothed with Christ.

And it's all through faith, not through what you do. Paul says we are clothed with Christ - when God looks at us, what he sees is not a Bedfordshire person or an American, a gay person or a straight one, a beautifully prim person who's never said a wrong thing in their life or a person who gets stressy and bangs stuff around and swears like a trooper. God sees Christ in you.

You are special - with your strengths and weaknesses. You have your own likes and dislikes, people that you love and turns of phrase, facial expressions, incredible joys and secret fears that only God sees. You are not like anyone else, and God sees you and loves you, and sees you in the light that is scattered through the prism of Christ.

And you can know that God loves you - wholly, limitlessly. So much that the Son died for you, and yet so much that the Son lives for you and in you, And if you can know God loves even you, then you can know that God loves everyone else. Or, if you can understand that God loves everyone else - maybe you can realise the shocking truth. That God even loves you.

Friday 17 June 2016

Jesus's Valentine: Turning the World of Biblical Archaeology Upside Down

A long, exhaustive, exhausting and quite likely excellent piece on the origin of the "Gospel of Jesus's Wife".

We at the Beaker Folk have long retained, passed down our secret society for generations, proof that Jesus was in fact in a romantic relationship. It is an ostracon about 4 cm square, from a broken terracotta beaker. On one side is scrawled a picture of a flower. On the other it has this text:

Roses are red
Galilee's blue
I love you more
Than Bartholomew.

We've checked its age, and it looks pretty old. And at least as authentic as the Gospel of Jesus's Wife. So we reckon we can turn the world of Biblical archaeology upside down.


Thursday 16 June 2016

Not all Fun for the Dung Fly

Fascinating piece by Phil Gates in the Guardian on the dung fly.

The first thing that took me was the description of the fly eating hoverflies "like hotdogs". I presume therefore that there is a really posh species in the Cotswolds that eats hoverflies with a knife and fork.

Then the other thing is the way  fungus takes over the dung fly and turns it into a light-seekingg robot, climbing up to the top of grass stems to attract other flies to the same fungusy fate. Nasty.

This is a strange and wonderful world. Where  the wonders are not always of the fluffy bunny or beautiful sunset kind. Darwin said he thought the ichneumon wasp was a challenge to the concept of a good creator. But then animals getting munched on by other animals was nothing new, even in Darwin's day.

For me, the rationality of the universe reflects that of its creator. I don't need fairies at the bottom of the garden - though they would be nice - or miracles happening all around - though that would be fun. Just one big miracle is enough to convince me that that God also walked this earth - and scattered a few smaller ones in his wake.

And in seeing God in nature and revelation, I can see God as bigger, stranger and weirder than the image we sometimes try to put  frame on. Come siblings, let us like fungus-infected dung flies ever climb towards the light.

You know, I may not use that as a sermon illustration. I think it might be Pelagian.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Liturgy for the Death of GK Chesterton (1936)

Hymn (Knees up Father Brown)

A small, dishevelled priest in a shovel hat stands blinking in the spotlight. He looks exactly nothing like Mark Williams and is distinctly not a Brummy.

Father Brown: Let us throw soup at the walls.

Beaker Folk throw soup at the Moot House walls, break the windows and chase after men in passages.

Archdruid: I hope you're going to pay for the damage.

Fr Brown: Indeed, when I corrected the bill to £2,000 from £200 yesterday, I ensured you had enough.

Archdruid: Ah, but I corrected it from £2,000 to £32,000 pounds.... 

Burton Dasset: Hang on! That was my credit card!

Fr Brown: Flambeau! You have betrayed yourself again.

Flambeau (for it is he): Curses. And I thought I was the master criminal.

Hnaef: I thought Burton had put on some height....

Archdruid: You cannot escape. We have Young Keith's uncle the police officer outside. And Mark Williams dressed as GK Chesterton himself is on the roof, above the tin sheet.

There is a loud crash

Flambeau: One mere constable from the Bedfordshire Constabulary cannot stop the great Flambeau!

He springs nimbly through the South East Door

And is dragged back in by the....

Archdruid: ....wolves. Forgot to tell you about the wolves.

Fr Brown: But those are all the wolves. If they are only guarding that door, there is nobody at the Northwest door....

Flambeau leaps nimbly through the North Door

The clang of a heavy hammer on bone is heard .

Fr Brown: .... except the blacksmith.

Hnaef: So Flambeau - if you can just give us the giant opal you stole from the Russian princess.

Flambeau: Aha! I have my little victory! That parcel containing a PlayStation for my nephew that I had to drop off at the post office? It was the jewel. It is even now on its way to my apartment in Paris.

Fr Brown (blinking): I fear not. I switched parcels in the White Horse. The opal is even now being delivered to the princess's secret Belgravia townhouse.

Flambeau: OK. It's a fair cop. I'm gonna get years for this.

Archdruid: Not so. Flambeau, you have two choices for redemption.

Fr Brown: Either you spend the next 30 years in a monastery, where you will confess your many sins to me and do penance for your many wicked ways....

Archdruid: .... or you can stay here for a few days at very reasonable rates, light a couple of tea lights, and realise you're actually quite a decent chap and it's society's fault. (She hums a few bars of "Will You Come and Follow Me")

Flambeau: No contest is it? Monastery it is.


Archdruid: The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. 

All: The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.

Archdruid: Then let us all go about our business.

Charlii: Keith, Hnaef - get down to Drayton Parslow's house, take the fascia down and retrieve the opal before he gets home

Archdruid: Master criminal? Genius Priest Detective?

Charlii: Yeah, what fool would think a vilkage like Husborne Crawley would have a post office, these days?

A far-off  sound can be heard. It is PG Wodehouse turning in his grave.

Monday 13 June 2016

Why Are There No Mass Murders Committed With Rocks?

A commentator on my post about the Pulse murders says that murderers can also use knives or rocks - so why do I think banning guns is a good idea?

Well, it's like this. A knife is quite an inefficient and unreliable way of killing one or two people. It's rubbish for a mass murder. People can wrest a knife out of your hand, they can kick you in the shins. If you want to know how effective a knife is as a weapon for terrorising more than one or two people, consider the case of James Rashford, who attempted to hold up Lloyds Bank in Taunton with a machete. Failing to reckon with the bravery of the Taunton public, he was jumped on by the other customers and ended up with a 30 months sentence. If he had had an assault rifle, the story would have been different. I reckon he'd have got his money.

Or consider the suggestion that we should ban stones because people in more regressive regimes execute people with them. Well, stones are even less efficient than knives. If James Rashford of Taunton had walked into Lloyds with a stone, the cashier would have told him not to be so silly.

In England, you are actually forbidden to carry lock knives, flick knives and assorted other forms of cutlery in public. We don't even like that much danger in our lives. After the Hungerford massacre, we banned all handguns. I didn't agree with it - still don't. We have responsible gun clubs, with very secure safes. We could have kept the sport without endangering the public. However. We banned all handguns. And there has been only one gun massacre since.

Due to the gun laws and the public perception that guns are "protection" in the States, you're in danger of being shot by your own toddler. Whereas I'm completely safe from this. Mostly because I have no toddler. But also because, even if I had accidentally produced a proto-toddler three years ago and forgotten about it, that toddler would still not be armed - no matter how angry he or she would be that I had forgotten about the whole event. In England, toddlers are not dangerous.

If you're going to commit a terrorist atrocity, in a gay nightclub, you will be more effective with an assault rifle, which shoots nearly a round every second, than with a bag of stones. King David himself, you may remember, could only cope with one Philistine at a time when using stones, however effectively the individual stones were. Drive-by stonings are annoying but rarely fatal.

If you want to stop mass-shootings, whether a "terrorist" 2nd generation Afghan  in a night club or inadequate white boys in a school, your best bet is to limit the number of guns. There's a reason why there are no mass murders committed with rocks.

Day of Frogs

Today Beaker Folk celebrate the Day of Frogs, as the first tadpoles in the duck pond lose their tails.

To that end  (not a frog's end, I mean intention) we will be gathering at Duckhenge in full froggy festive fashion, there to sing the Hymn o' The Day, "It Ain't Easy Being Green".

We there process to the Dining Hall to eat the Day of Frogs special menu:

Frog's Legs
Frog a la Peche
Semolina with chocolate tadpoles.

Retchings will be held in the Orchard afterwards.

Sunday 12 June 2016


Another narcissist with unresolved hate. Another bunch of innocent people who make a soft target.

And the same old country with stupid gun laws.

The state of Florida, a few years ago, changed the law so that if you wanted to buy a gun you had to come back three days later to pick it up. This was meant to stop people just buying a gun because they were really angry, and then shooting people.

They forgot that people can be really angry for more than a few days. This person seems to have been really angry because he had a bit of a rubbish marriage, and he didn't like gay people. And that's going to last longer than 72 hours. In other news, Florida gun laws are crap.

And yes, he may well have claimed he was inspired by Daesh. Hating-narcissistic losers can be inspired by other hating-narcissistic losers. Daesh have got to the point where they don't need actually to do anything - they're a brand. And in the same way that brain-deads buy brands of jeans, handbags, perfumes to prove how hip they are - a narcissistic loser will adopt the brand of narcissistic loserdom.

In one way, it doesn't matter what we say. Social media won't stop sad gits being sad gits. Narcissistic losers gonna lose, narcissistically. Ideally they won't take other people with them. Gay people are God's people, made in God's image just like straight people and also the people who really can't be bothered, but would rather have a cup of cocoa. Except gay people get persecuted and harassed more than anyone else, which says to me that they are - if anything - closer to God than the rest of us.

God loves persecuted people. They look like God's Son. American gun laws probably make God sick. If we take the guns away, sad gits just gonna be gun-less sad gits. Sounds good to me.

Are Church of England Clergy More Pro-Europe?

I think it's fair to say, though I haven't done exhaustive research, that the proportion of Church of England clergy supporting the European Union is greater than that of laity or non worshippers. And Archbishop Justin Welby has confirmed that he is firmly "in".

We need to think hard, to avoid knee jerk reactions. It's easy to caricature a bureaucratic organisation that, although allowing some nominal democracy, has unelected officials to decide things for us.

But the Church of England has its good side as well.

Saturday 11 June 2016

Confirmation Bias "Could Rise by 85% Thanks to Referendum"

Experts are warning that, as a result of the EU Brexit Referendum, confirmation bias in British Social Media could rise by as much as 85%. A survey of 200 people has indicated that the majority of them believed that confirmation bias was becoming increasingly prevalent, especially among their friends.

"It's an observed fact, or at least it is in my experience" said an expert in echo chambers, "that when any kind of controversy breaks out, people increasingly look for evidence and reports that agree with their own prejudices. How else can we explain the surprise that Ed Miliband failed to win the last General Election, when it was obvious to Conservative voters that he was a shambling incompetent who couldn't eat a bacon sandwich unaided, or the way that people who support exit believe the EU costs us £350m per week?"

A representative for the Society of People Who Don't Believe in Confirmation Bias said that this survey appeared to be small and unrepresentative, and pointed to another survey that said that people were approaching the whole thing with an open mind.

However when we approached the President of the Society for What We all Suspected, he said the results were unsurprising, and in line with his own experience.

The Mark of Cain

A bit early for theology, but, you know.

I met Drayton Parslow wandering across the ley, and he showed me his latest pamphlet, "Forsake thy Grievous Sins Which Cry out to Heaven for Vengeance, or Thou Shalt be sent to Perdition for Thine Iniquities". He reckons it will be a great evangelistic tool for the totally unchurched who are well-versed in the King James Version of the Bible.

And there's a passage in  the early sections, before all that obsessive interest in the sins of cross-dressing which Drayton always shows. Where it talks about us having the "Mark of Cain". And I asked Drayton what sort of "mark", or "curse", it is.  Did he, like some American Baptists, think Cain was given black skin? Or, as some have suggested a horn? The whole "black skin" concept, apart from being vile, also being incoherent, as only Noah's family made it through the Flood (I am reasoning here using the model of the Genesis creation narratives) so you'd expect them all to be pretty much the same skin colour.

Drayton tells me that, since the Bible is silent on the mark itself, any attempt to be specific would be a waste of time. Though he did speculate that maybe Cain just had a distinctive hat.

For myself, I'm looking at this sculpture of Cain (from Wikipedia). And I've got my own theories about what the curse or mark of Cain was.

That's right. He always had a headache.

Friday 10 June 2016

Things Less Boring than Deanery Synod

An hour of lawn-mowing,
grass seed-sowing,
watching paint drying
Top Gear.
Looking at a log
the dullest blog
sitting on the bog
and Carlsberg beer.

Things less boring than Deanery Synod.
Things less boring than Deanery Synod.

Nail polish removing
furniture moving
and beans.
Eurovision scoring
Still-life drawing
canal boat mooring
and eating your greens.

Things less boring than Deanery Synod.
Things less boring than Deanery Synod.

Claiming expenses
repairing  fences
minor traffic offences
and Hove.
Eating an orange
climbing Mount Blorenge
Being Percy Gorringe
or Michael Gove.

Things less boring than Deanery Synod.
Things less boring than Deanery Synod.

Wednesday 8 June 2016

EU Registration Extension Irony

A young man turned eighteen in May
He tried to register to vote on the very last day
Thought he'd been robbed when the website failed
As a million people registered too late
And isn't it ironic... don't you think

It's like a blind date on your wedding day
Going Christmas shopping on Boxing Day
Doing your civic duty when it's stupidly late.
Who would've thought... it figures

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Former Archbishop of Canterbury to be Theologian in Residence at McDonald's

I'm pleased to hear that Rowan Williams is to take up a new role as St Mellitus Theologian-in-Residence in McDonalds.

In his new role, the former Archbishop of Canterbury will be sitting in the children's area of fast-food restaurants around the country, and encouraging the patrons to consider such important questions as whether Hamburglar was evil or just a victim of nominative determinism.

The good news is that Lord Williams of Oystermouth has been able to write some of the descriptions of the dishes on display. For instance his description of a Big Mac reads:

"Can we by eating encompass the very quiddity of a Big Mac, comprising as it does a patty of purest British or Irish beef - for in the eating of a Big Mac we indeed break the boundaries of our nutritional liminality, reaching across the troubling political and theological borders and encompassing the Catholic, the Protestant, the Muslim (with respect to appropriate slaughter techniques) but above all not the Hindu interpretations of the constitution of a bread-based meat-enmorphing and gherkin-enlightened sentience, a very consciousness of the unmistakable presence of what is, what can be and what never will be in a very real sense a splash of accurately dispensed tomato relish? Do you want fries with that?"

Monday 6 June 2016

The Husband as Spiritual Weightlifter

The Gospel Coalition brings us advice on how a husband should look after his wife: 
"A Christian husband hoists onto his shoulders the things that burden his bride—her insecurities, her shifting moods, her hot temper, her gnawing guilt, her persistent fears, her sin. He gives himself up to bear her up."
The first thing to say is, she wasn't much of a catch, was she? I reckon he could have done better. Or maybe, maybe she's actually quite a nice woman and he's making up all the stuff about her shifting moods and hot temper, and all the rest of it, in a cack-handed attempt to make her dependent on him, Mr Perfect.

And then - he's hoisting onto his shoulders not just his wife's manifold failings, but his wife herself. What is this bloke? Some kind of bloody weightlifter? And does he hoist all her burdens directly onto his shoulders - and then the Mrs on as well? Or does he just leave all the burdens on her shoulders and pick her up with them where they are? It's not such great news for the little woman, but at least it's efficient.

I've asked the various super-spiritual husbands and their vexatious, irrational other halves down to the Big Meadow for 9pm. I'm not convinced they will be the great adverts for the Christian religion that the Gospel Coalition imagines. But it's gonna be a brilliant piggy-back race.

Take a Pew

"Welcome to St Agatha's! Nice to see someone new.

Feel free to sit where you like.

No, not there. That's Vyvian's seat. And he doesn't really like people too close to him... so I'd avoid the pew in front. And behind. Oh - and in his peripheral vision. That's the worst, of course. Makes him jump.

Maybe over there... oh no - that's where the Wardens sit. I meant a bit further forward. Yes, I suppose that pillar does block your view of the pulpit. I don't really think that's a bad thing is it?

Ooh. I wouldn't sit there. That's the seat where our MP sits if she attends. No.... not very likely. But if she did you'd have to move. You know, like in that parable. And you wouldn't want to be scorning the Good Book's advice on seating.

Yes, over by the children's corner is fine. You'll not be bothering any one there. Just be careful. Little Arnold gets a bit frustrated when he's bored, and starts throwing bricks out the corner. No, you're right.  Foam blocks won't hurt anyone. But unfortunately these are real bricks.

Yes, this is a small church. If we had more space we wouldn't have to store building materials in the children's play area.

No, please not there. That's Agnes's pew. She'd be really upset if she knew you were sitting there. No, she won't actually be here, bless her. She's more here in spirit. That's her memorial over there. 80 years she sat in that seat.

Oh, vicar's arrived. Looks like it's just us three then. Normally there would be more. But you know, it's half term..."

Sunday 5 June 2016

The Great Ten Commandments General Knowledge Test

In the light of the BBC report that genuine Christian refugees and converts are being rejected by immigration officials who bizarrely believe that knowing the 10 Commandments is proof that you are a Christian, we polled the Beaker Folk to ask how well they know the Commandments. The results were, it is fair to say, mixed:

12% of Beaker Folk thought there were actually eleven Commandments.

56% of Beaker Folk thought the first commandment was "You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul and mind."

42% thought commandments didn't count unless they started with "Thou".

Another 20% thought they were all a bit negative, and couldn't we drop a few "Shalt nots".

28% signed a petition demanding that the Government remove the commandment against homosexuality.

While another 24% signed a petition demanding that the Government replace "do not covet" with "thou shalt not be gay" as they felt that might be more convenient and achievable.

6% knew all the right commandments, but not necessarily in the right order.

60% were strongly in favour of remembering the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy, as long as it didn't stop them popping out for milk when they ran out, or being able to drive to a nice country pub for a spot of lunch now Weatherspoons don't do Sunday lunch.

80% thought "keep taking the tablets" was still hilarious.

I'm currently just waiting for the authorities to come round and deport the lot of us. We obviously don't deserve to stay.

Resolving Fundamentalist and Liberal Approaches to Genesis

A challenging evening last night at the Beer Buff's Meetup.

A real argument, Dear Readers, about the problem with fundamentalist approaches to Genesis.

In the end, the liberals and the more conservative elements had to agree to disagree. Although we all accepted that the first album was awful and Trespass was dubious, the liberals said that everything up to Duke was probably OK.

The fundamentalists said if it weren't Gabriel, it weren't Genesis.

Not recognised as canon

Saturday 4 June 2016

A Widow's Only Son

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. (John 7:11-17)
She's been driven beyond despair. A widow. A woman with just one son. The son who should have been her provider, according to their society. And that son is dead. And this should not be.

I remember an old relative's despair at her son's funeral. Her son died at the age of 73 - so what people in other societies, at other times, would consider a truly ripe old age. But, even with her understanding of what was happening dulled by the dementia that would carry her away a couple of years later, she knew she had lost her son. And this should not be.

And then we're not talking about a world with social security and a decent pension. The widows' son was  her pension. He would have cared for her, in the absence of his father. But now that's gone. She has no support. If she has daughters, that might make the situation worse rather than better. Where's the dowry coming from, if the son is not there to support them all?

So she's beyond words of consolation. Beyond pious exhortations about another world - a happier place where he is now. She's broken, and maybe facing utter destitution.

And Jesus's heart goes out to her. This should not be.

Monday is D-Day. And I remember an old man - as I knew him, thirty years ago. He had been nearly forty when he crossed the Channel that day in 1944. He'd left three sons behind - and another child on the way. And he and his colleagues attacked Sword Beach and left colleagues behind - young men - and his own wife and sons would have been so terrified for him, as he went out to fight in the liberation of Europe. And though he got home alive and lived to a ripe old age, yet so many men - so much younger than him - died on both sides during those terrible weeks of the Battle of Normandy. So many wives and girlfriends, mothers and fathers mourning the young men who never went home - to England, Canada, America, Germany, Poland.

And this should not be.

We can play around with why Jesus only raised a few, but not others. Why he healed some, but not always. But that was the nature of Jesus's incarnation. It was limited, It was short in time - on this planet, at any rate. It was about a certain impact, in a certain time, to a certain number of - mostly - a certain race. And at just the right time, in just the right place, to just the right people, it had an impulse that carried a belief in Jesus across the world.

The raising of the widow's son is just a glimpse of God's heart, and God's power. Jesus sees one young man - at one time - one grieving mother - as his own soon would be - and his heart goes out. And he brings the lad back to life.

It's limited, it's temporary. It is, in fact, a symbol of what we can do.

Nothing we do today will last forever on this world. We can give time and effort and money to help other people - but these efforts will not last. We can fight for great causes. But the causes will not last. The people fighting for whether we should leave or not the European Union - well, the EU won't last. Nothing on this fragile world will last.

But every time we do a good thing in this beautiful, fragile, brittle world, we are standing up for a longer vision. We make changes because, when we look at the evils and sadnesses of this world, we know they should not be. We know there's something wrong. and we do what we can to put it right - even though we know that nothing we do will last. But it's an act of defiance. And it's an act of faith that, though we are only putting sticking plasters on today, something eternal is coming.

And so Jesus raises the widow's son. It's only temporary. The lad will die again. It's only in one place, and at one time. But I believe he raises the young man because God believes these things should not be either.

The problem of why the world is as it is, if God is as we believe God to be, is an endless source of trouble for Christians. If God is good, and almighty, then why is the world a mixed bag at best, with death at the end?

But I cling onto my belief that this world is not as it should be - and that I hold this belief because it's actually written into my very being. Written, in fact, into a world that longs for its own freedom. That the world should not be like this, and will not always be like this. That one day, the dead will be raised and they will not die again. That God will live with his people, and God will not return to heaven. That widows and widowers will no longer weep and those that have mourned will be comforted, and that God will wipe away every tear from their eye. When the victory that Jesus promised in the raising of the widows' son, and achieved in the garden on Easter Sunday, becomes the victory that streams out into all creation, and we know that that victory is forever, and our lives in him are eternal, and the little victories we win each day are wrapped up into the eternal victory that Jesus has won, on his Cross and from the tomb,

Friday 3 June 2016

How to Understand the "Former Vicars of this Parish" Board

Best viewed by clicking on the image

Dawkins' Honey, Bin Laden and the Big Bang Theory

Scientists are wondering why the universe is expanding 9% more quickly than they expected. This implies a lot of extra matter out there we don't know about.

Some have speculated about subatomic particles, and some about tiny, invisible galaxies.

But I would like to propose an alternative solution. In 2013, Richard Dawkins had his honey confiscated at an airport. Just a one-off diva moment from the world's most famous scientist who hasn't actually done any science in 30 years, you might say. In fact we all did. But think on.

All over the world, unabashed by the good Prof's righteous complaints, customs officers have continued to confiscate honey from innocent zoologists and proper scientists.

I put it to you that the missing so-called "dark matter" is confiscated airport honey.

His baleful influence has sped up the acceleration of the universe.

Truly Bin Laden has won.

Thursday 2 June 2016

A Birthday Poem for Thomas Hardy (1840)

Birthday Poem for Thomas Hardy

Is it birthday weather for you, dear soul?
Is it fine your way,
With tall moon-daisies alight, and the mole
Busy, and elegant hares at play
By meadow paths where once you would stroll
In the flush of day?

I fancy the beasts and flowers there beguiled
By a visitation
That casts no shadow, a friend whose mild
Inquisitive glance lights with compassion,
Beyond the tomb, on all of this wild
And humbled creation.

It's hard to believe a spirit could die
Of such generous glow,
Or to doubt that somewhere a bird-sharp eye
Still broods on the capers of men below,
A stern voice asks the Immortals why
They should plague us so.

Dear poet, wherever you are, I greet you.
Much irony, wrong,
Innocence you'd find here to tease or entreat you,
And many the fate-fires have tempered strong,
But none that in ripeness of soul could meet you
Or magic of song.

Great brow, frail form—gone.  Yet you abide
In the shadow and sheen,
All the mellowing traits of a countryside
That nursed your tragi-comical scene;
And in us, warmer-hearted and brisker-eyed
Since you have been.

                                     Cecil Day-Lewis

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Is Incense a Psychoactive Substance?

The Major's taking no chances in the Trim Valley.....

Why, if Evolution is True, There are Still Apes

The outcry over the death of the gorilla, Harambe, has caused much outrage. Was it murder? Or justified monkeycide? And if we ascribe rights to an ape, what line does it have to cross to be entitled to human rights?

Which in turn begs the question asked by many a creationist. If evolution is true, and we are descended from apes - why are there still apes?

What this questiondoes is reveal that the questioner doesn't really understand evolution. So let's deal with this once and for all.

The point about evolution is that it is a process. So if apes are still around, what that really proves is that they haven't evolved yet. That doesn't mean they aren't going to - they just haven't got around to it yet. Think of it as like when cars first had seat belts. Others still didn't have them. Then when some had air-bags, others till just had seat belts.  Same with primates. First they're just monkeys, then they evolve into apes. Apes evolve into orangutans. Then they evolve into gorillas, and gorillas into chimps. And, finally, into humans.
How evolution works

But, I hear you ask, if apes just haven't evolved yet - then why aren't they evolving all the time? Why do zoos not have to check their cages carefully in case any apes have evolved in the night?

Again, the answers are found in cutting-edge evolutionary science - specifically the concept of "punctuated equilibrium". Things aren't evolving all the time - otherwise it would be chaos. It takes a change in the climate or other living conditions. And then whole swathes can evolve at the same time - otherwise, the first of a new species would never have anything to mate with.

Despite developing a liking for sweets, Guy never quite made it to human
So we can probably expect global warming to encourage the evolution of more chimps into humans, as having less hair, we can cope with the heat better. So if you're driving round Woburn Safari Park and a naked person asks if you can give them some assistance, report them immediately to the wardens so they can be let out and be reclassified. But whatever you do, don't let them in your car. Humans that have just evolved can be working with their still-ape family to get them all out through the gates. The wardens are wise to such tricks.

So next time somebody asks why there are still apes, please direct them here. They might finally get it.

Guy the Gorilla: By Chris huh - Own work, Public Domain