Tuesday 30 August 2016

The Ark

Everyone was being really really bad.

People were hating.
People were cheating.
People were fighting.
People were lying.

It was just like today.

And God said:  

I'm gonna wipe it all out!

The plants are green.
And the earth is so lovely 
Like a raindrop in space.
And Noah.... Noah's all right.
…and Mrs Noah, obviously.

And I like 
the rats, the bats, the cats, the dogs.
The toads, the nematodes and frogs.
The cows, the sows, the bulls and pigs.
The horses, earthworms, fleas and squids.

I’m gonna need a really big Ark."

So God called Noah 

And said:

Get the rats, the bats, the cats, the dogs.
The toads, the nematodes and frogs.
The cows, the sows, the bulls and pigs.
The horses, earthworms, fleas and squids.
And get them in a really big Ark."

And Noah was the only one who ever did what God said.

So Noah built a really big Ark.
A boat as big as... well as big as a really big boat.

And then he went out with a really big net.
And caught two of everything....

The rats, the bats, the cats, the dogs.
The toads, the nematodes and frogs.
The cows, the sows, the bulls and pigs.
The horses, earthworms, fleas and...
Not the squids. You don't need to keep squids dry.

And then it rained.
And rained. And rained.
Until there was no rain left to fall.
And no ground left at all.

But Noah was safe
With Mrs Noah.
And their sons
And their sons' wives 
And the rats, the bats, the cats, the dogs.
The toads, the nematodes and frogs.
The cows, the sows, the bulls and pigs.
The horses, earthworms, fleas and squids.
They were all safe in the Ark.

Except the squids. They were loving it outside.

Then the rain stopped.
And the rays of sun dropped
On that big blue planet.
And Noah opened the door.

And out came 
the rats, the bats, the cats, the dogs.
The toads, the nematodes and frogs.
The cows, the sows, the bulls and pigs.
The horses, earthworms, fleas and squids.

They all came out the Ark.

Except the squids. They wanted to know why it had stopped raining. They liked it that way.

And the sun shone in the sky – and a rainbow appeared.

And God said:

“This is my promise. 
As long as the rainbow appears in the rain
Then I’ll never ever be that angry again.
The sun and moon will float in the sky
And though the earth may get wet, it will mostly be dry. 

For the rats, the bats, the cats, the dogs.
The toads, the nematodes and frogs.
The cows, the sows, the bulls and pigs.
The horses, earthworms, fleas and squids.

Especially the squids.
I like the squids."

Beware The Shadow Synod

The Independent reports that some churches are preparing for some kind of action if the Church of England does some unspecified liberal thing about gay people in some kind of partnership. Or something.

The idea that three dioceses are forming a new grouping sounds improbable. Three whole dioceses? One of which is Canterbury? I can't imagine Justin Welby rebelling against himself. Now, Jeremy Corbyn.  I could imagine him rebelling against himself. But I digress.

What worries me is the concept of a "Shadow Synod." The thought of them sneaking around, having secret divisions by houses, building an Evangelical Death Star... Can't they rename themselves the "Rebel Alliance?" Sounds much friendlier. Then they could have ewoks.

Monday 29 August 2016

RIP Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder has died.

Forget Johnnie Depp. Wilder was the perfect Willy Wonka. All-powerful, moral, yet utterly irresponsible. He is a major contributor to my view of  the nature of God.

He's now the star in a new film: "Everything you wanted to know about Death, but were afraid to ask." May his saddles ever blaze,

Sunday 28 August 2016

Notting Hill Celebrates: Hugh Grant's Official Birthday

Once again in West London the Notting Hill Carnival is in full swing. Bobbies on Bicycles two by two, quaint Chinese tourists wondering what the strange heavy smell is in the air and wondering if it's the famous "London Smog", and Rhys Ifans running around in his underwear. England at its multicultural best.
Hugh Grant's official residence

What is generally forgotten today is the reason for the Carnival. It was originally planned to have a big party on 9 September - Hugh Grant's birthday. Hugh, being the hereditary Duke of Notting Hill, is entitled to a three-day celebration each year. But it was agreed by Harold Wilson's Labour government, at the same time they introduced International Sit on the Train Floor Day on May 1st, that they would also create a new public holiday at the end of August, to celebrate Hugh's birthday in style.

And so it came to pass. Today is International Foppishly Shy Day, the second day of the festival. All the upper-class English people who now live in Notting Hill ensure they get out to the Cotswolds. They let out their town houses for the weekend to the sort of people who used to live in Notting Hill before gentrification. Steel bands play in the street, parades of Old Etonians carry out their traditional "stroll" down Ladbroke Grove, and people in Minis attempt to get to press conferences as fast as possible. Every door in Notting Hill receives an extra coat of blue paint, at Hugh's expense.

Meanwhile, Hugh Grant himself tours the area in an open-topped bus, waving to the adoring crowds and throwing fivers for the street urchins to chase. Before amusingly taking a high-speed wrong turning, crashing into the market stalls, and proposing to a random American.
The Coldstream Guards celebrate another Happy Hugh Year

Hugh Grant's Official Birthday. A piece of Olde England.

Heaven or Wetherspoons?

With thanks to Andrew Dotchin for putting my words to imagery.

"According to popular images,
heaven is a place with marbled 
surfaces where you can eat food
and drink wine all day.

Sorry, that's Wetherspoons.

God Hates Fondues

He told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place,” and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ (Luke 14:1,7-14)
There are people who say "Jesus says this" or "Jesus didn't say that" to back up their points.  Because taking just one gobbet of scripture out of context always helps, doesn't it? If you want to know what to do - read the Bible. Just take the simple sense and go with it.

But I don't often hear it applied literally to this passage. Yep, the reading where Jesus tells you not to invite your own relatives to dinner.

Some may think this is an absolute godsend. The idea of going "Oh, yeah, I'd love to invite you and Dave and your six lovely kids round - but I am specifically forbidden from doing so by Jesus." Peace, perfect peace.

But where's the correct response from those you'd expect to hear it from? You don't hear people invited to tea with the vicar say, "O thanks. But can you invite a poor person instead?" We don't get the weekly invite to Sunday dinner from a family member and send a passing stranger with a limp round to their house in our place.

You don't see Westboro Baptist Church picketing suburban front rooms with signs saying "God hates fondues."

I don't go many dinner parties. So I don't know if there is still the strict etiquette where people had to sit in the right place. Obviously I sit at the centre of High Table in the Beaker dining room - but that's just so I can see what's going on. And sure, Charlii sits to my right - with Keith just opposite - but that's because they're family. And sure, Daphne and Hnaef are the other side - but they're friends. It's all very rational. And obviously Jesus must have been using exaggerated speech. Because look who were at the Last Supper. His friends.

But what is our place in the world? How do we measure it? Is it by the niceness of our clothes? The company we keep? The size of our office? Are we doing a good  - wanting to do the best we can using the gifts God has given us - or are we working out whether we are 8th or 9th in succession to the key to the Executive drinks cupboard?

When, in short, we look at the whole of God's humanity - where do we see our place in it? There's a website you can use to find out by one measure. You can go and look up where you stand if you're just thinking in terms of money. Jeremy Corbyn is in the top 0.05% of rich people in the world! How come he is so high up when I only come in the top 5%, I ask my tax advisor. And we both agree that it's mystery all.

That website is not meant to make you feel good. It turns out you're meant to feel humble - how can I, even adjusted for excessive costs on business wear and compensation for precious losses, be richer than 95% of the world? What makes me so special? Do I think I'm better than 19 out of 20 people or am I lucky or - as an evangelist with a Porsche might say - blessed?

Do I think being me, makes me special - as if I'm moving up the table in God's seating arrangement - or will be happy to take the bottom place? Knowing that, if God is the fair judge and forgiving parent that God is - I'll end up with a seat at the heavenly banquet, and the  knowledge that I'm God's daughter, and the sight of God's face forever.

This seating arrangement stuff is weirdly important, of course. Because if we're to believe the images, heaven is a place of marbled surfaces, where we will be able to drink wine, and eat, all day. Which makes it sound scarily like Wetherspoons, but without the fruit machines. I guess the Methodists got in first and banned them. And imagine if you were sat next to a pub bore who kept telling you they should never have built the Arndale in the 70s, for all eternity. You need a decent place at that table.

There is another sort-of seating arrangement story in the Gospels. Two disciples wanted to be at Jesus's right and left hand when he sat on his throne. He told them, that's someone else's job to decide. And when he was on that throne in his glory, instead there were two robbers and rebels.

That's Jesus putting the seating arrangements in context. That's Jesus putting our social status to death. That's Jesus telling us who God thinks is important.

So if you're wanting to think about the people God puts up the list in the heavenly seating arrangement - the food bank box is just behind the tea light stand. The food banks themselves are in Bedford, Dunstable and Milton Keynes. The Big Issue Just Giving page for Not Greenbelt 2016 is here. And your dinner table is - well, you know where that is.

I wonder if Jesus ever got invited back to that house for dinner.

I wonder if he cared.

But I know I'll be glad to get even the bottom seat of that table, with the heavenly crumbs. Because even that will be the happiest meal ever.

Saturday 27 August 2016

Definitely Not Greenbelt 2016

Once again the Beaker Folk have travelled up to Graham Heartland's "Not GB" festival.

Got here early yesterday morning. Albeit turned out we really were a bit early. No stewards, no tents, no cars, no happy campers. Just owls.

Scary creatures, owls. We locked the coach door and sang comforting songs till day broke. I say "comforting". Six hours of " Kum By Ah" got a bit much, to be honest. Then a bloke came and knocked at the coach door.

Turned out because of the hi viz, he assumed we were the construction crew for the authentic "Greenbelt 1986-style" toilets. And I didn't like to argue. Not least because, with the Beaker Folk busy digging enormous holes in the ground, I could nip off and put the Archdruidical Tentiplex up in peace, without Marston tying himself up with guy ropes while helping. Funny thing, last year, the number of times he did it you'd think he enjoyed me having to untie him while swearing at him.

Did make me wonder why he was still putting his tent up by day 4.

Anyway. They all asked how come I'd dragged them out into the virtual countryside to engage in manual labour. So I told them they were actually digging ritual pits into which people would later be making offerings. Seemed to persuade them.

So today we've just been to early morning worship with the Isle of Wight community. They're like the Iona Community except every act of worship ends with ritually cursing Ofsted.

If you want to attend Not GB 2016, you can find Graham's blog here. The Twitter feed is here.

And most importantly #notgb2016 is a nonprofit, virtual organisation. All of its revenue goes to the Big Issue Foundation. And you can just give here.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Only Pub in the Village

Going through a village last week and saw the last pub had been boarded up, fenced off and was going through a metamorphosis into four apartments and three executive homes.

And I felt something should be done.

We need some really strong laws to stop this sort of thing happening, ripping the hearts out of local communities. So, in accordance with the book of 1 Kings, I thought I'd propose that the last pub in a village only be converted to housing at the cost of the firstborn of those responsible.

Yeah, but we're talking property developers, ain't we. 

Wouldn't make the slightest difference. 

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Uncivil Celebrant

I'm now registered as an Uncivil Celebrant for weddings. 

It's like being a Civil Celebrant. But you get to say rude things about the bride and drag up episodes from the groom's past he'd rather not think about. 

Got a bit edgy today though. I accused the congregation of being a bunch of scroungers who were on the sick while perfectly fit to turn up to a wedding.

Didn't get anything in the collection.

The Spirituality of Gardens

A Japanese gravel garden is a wonderful spiritual thing. Simple, yet able to carry the most wonderful messages through the patterns in the gravel. A nice flowering cherry and some wind chimes will set the ambience off a treat.

So if all Beaker Folk could please gather at the Archdruidical Lodge at 9am please. That ground's got to be flattened, a foundation put in and 5 tonnes of gravel carried through from the car park.

It's not often we allow ordinary Beaker Folk to enter the Druid's Garden. So please reflect upon this privilege. And work quietly.

Sunday 21 August 2016

Christian Voice's "Sideboard of Weird"

Everybody knows about the Daily Mail's "Sidebar of Shame". Mostly links to lightly-clad young ladies with comments like "hasn't she blossomed" or somesuch.

But the Christian Voice "Sideboard of Weird" is even worse. I attach a* copy of the ads they list. Bear in min these are "sponsored links" - not any old rubbish like you might get at the bottom of "Writes of the Church".

Knowing "The Name of Your Angel?"  What part of the Bible does that come from?

"How to know God" and "Free Coaching" - are these related?

But the ones that did for me were the bottom three.

"Over 40s Dating Website" and "Widows Dating Online" (presumably not with other widows, which would cause poor performance in the diving). But those two together caused me to read the last one as "Instant Grandma Checker". Freudian or just failing eyesight? Either way, if you're on an over 40s dating website, best check your grandma.

In case you're wondering - the Gaylord in the Isle of Dogs is an Indian restaurant. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Though I suspect this may be an interesting case of an advertising algorithm horribly misfiring.

* Low res, cropped, definitely not in breach of copyright under fair use

"Going Gay" and Losing the Diving

Good piece from Cranmer on rather a crass tweet from the Twitter account of Christian "Voice" (or possibly "Christian" Voice) to which I'm not going to link.

The tweet implying that Tom Daley had lost the diving because he had turned gay came in association with another that - by pointing out Tom Daley's fiancé is older than him - kind of implied (without actually saying it) that there was something further creepy about the whole business.

Daley has, since unexpectedly turning gay, won a bronze in the synchronised diving. I assume that the sight of Tom Daley and Dan Goodfellow, hugging while dressed in nothing more than budgie-smugglers, pushed the owner of the Christian Voice account into some kind of spasm. After all, the account had mostly shown an obsessive interest in the sexual organs of Caster Semenya - way beyond anything that would be regarded as merely a scientific inquiry into whether her victory was legitimate.

The trouble with "Christian" Voice is that it puts us in a bind. If we disagree with them we draw attention to them. If we ignore them, people might think Christians are all like that. But if hanging around with a gay bloke can turn you gay, I'd advise against hanging around with Christian Voice. You might turn all bigoted. And then you'd never win in an Olympic diving event. It would be so distracting. I mean - if you were in the changing rooms you wouldn't know where to look for the best.

Saturday 20 August 2016

Beaker Stall at Greenbelt Cancelled

Our special Beaker Yurt for Introverted Intuitives at Greenbelt has had to be cancelled.

It's not that the people running it didn't think it was a good idea. They just couldn't be bothered to work out the fine details like what colour to make the tent. Marvis was last seen in Aspley Heath, wondering whether fruit flies get obsessed about how many legs they have.

Friday 19 August 2016

Church Committee Subtitles

"We tried that before and it didn't work"

- Nothing has changed in the last 40 years. At least, not in this little world.

"We don't want to do anything that upsets people."

- A slow but quiet decline is preferable to a noisy change.

"People are saying"

- I am saying, but that doesn't sound very impressive on its own.

"With the greatest respect"

- Your opinion ain't worth a pile of dingo's kidneys

"I have been a member of this church for 60 years"

- I have no real argument but RESPECT MY AUTHORITY

"I believe the Spirit is saying"

- I have no real argument but RESPECT GOD'S AUTHORITY

"Does this need a faculty?"

- I have a great respect for the fabric of the church building and we should consider things properly.

"Sometimes we need to stop talking and arguing about what people want, and make the decision that is right for the church.

- I'm the bloody vicar, I am.*

"Does this need a faculty?"

- I'd like to delay this proposal for 12 months, by which time I'll get the other nay-sayers onto the committee

"I have brought a petition?"

- I've asked all the people who agree with me.

"If we do (X) Old Maisie won't come to church again."

- Old Maisie came to church last at Septuagesima 2001. She refused to come back because she didn't like the shade of green in the altar frontal. But her objection to (X) would be completely rational.

"I have some Any Other Business"

- I have something out of left field that means nobody will get home till midnight.

"If this mission is successful - will we have enough parking?"

- I hate change and this is the best I've got.

"Archdruid Elfride would never have allowed this."

- Elfride is dead, if indeed she ever existed, so you have no way of arguing with this. We loved Elfride. Like we will love you. Once you've gone.

"I don't understand why the diocese thinks we should pay so much."

- I believe that vicars can live on fresh air and sunshine. And why do they need families?

"Should we refer this to the Property Committee?

- Should be a good 6 months delay without even trying.

"And now for the Mission and Outreach Committee."

- Grab some popcorn. This will be a 30 minute explanation of why they've not met lately.

"Let us close the meeting in prayer"

- Probably the way we should have started it.

* (c) Monty Python (more or less)

Steering Commitee Update

Bad news from the Steering Committee.

The slalom was just too tricky. Always a problem when there's 4 people steering. Cones and flags everywhere.

Thursday 18 August 2016

On the Righteous and the Unrighteous

In the light of the flooding of Tony Perkins's house - after he claimed that God sends bad weather to punish gay people.

Obviously it would be possible to speculate on secret sin. But that would be wrong.

One could suggest that it's just a funny irony. But it's not funny. After all, that's somebody's home. And not just his. And it's not ironic.

Or you could say that the Dark One fights against God's saints, while God punishes the bad guys. But how could you tell the difference? Everybody always thinks they're in the right.

The right thing to do would be to pray that Tony Perkins's family - and all other flood-hit people - get back in their houses soon. That this world is more irrational, and the laws of physics more powerful, than we mostly think.

To reflect that God is the amazing God behind this rational, wild, erratic world. And that that just shows God's greatness more.

And to love everybody - even the ones we don't agree with.

Liturgy for Cheering Up Simon Jenkins of the Guardian

Archdruid: He is a man of constant sorrow.

All: In him all joy is killed.

Archdruid: Where is his excited happiness of eight years ago? When he snarked only about other nations?

All: Gone. All gone.

Archdruid: And where his approval of London 2012; where he complained only that we wouldn't get our money back?

All: But be fair. He's been grumping about expenditure per medal since at least 2006.

Archdruid: So if we cried tears like unto the river Jordan, or the great Wadi,

All: We would never shed all the tears of Simon Jenkins that we are winning Olympic golds.

Archdruid: Tears that have sprung up since the beginning of time.

All: Jeremiads like unto Jeremiah.

Archdruid: He's never gonna stop banging on, is he?

All: Still. At least he's consistent.

Archdruid: Have another medal?

All: Don't mind if we do.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Jeremy Corbyn is No Trot

If it proves anything, apart from his poor planning skills, Jeremy Corbyn's three-hour journey on the floor of the Newcastle train proves he is no Communist.

No, Corbyn sat meekly on the floor in "Standard" like a member of the unawakened proletariat. Had he been a proper revolutionary Socialist he should have risen up with his fellow floor-dwellers and demanded fair distribution of first class seats.

The problems would have started shortly afterwards mind you. When, in accordance with good Labour principles, he insisted on trying to drive the train.

Tuesday 16 August 2016

A Strange Baptism

2500 BC. A group of people start from Durrington Walls. They leave a place of timber (meaning life). They journey down a river (called, in their ancient tongue, "river".)

They come to a place of stone where a ritual descent is enacted - the sun, on the last day of the year, dies. But, because they have enacted this ritual, they know it will rise again. They journey back to Durrington, to feast on roast pork.

2006 AD. A group of people journey to a place of stone. In place of the river there is a round stone bowl. A ritual is enacted - someone is said to die in the water, yet rise again. Because the Son rose, all are assured that everything will be OK. They journey to the Royal Oak, to feast on ham sandwiches.

The symbols may change. But they never go away.

Monday 15 August 2016

The Dormition of the God-Bearer

When Gabriel called
eyes deep as time
And the blessing, silent, so tiny 
was given.

A Temple dark
Anna, Simeon
and a blessing, so fierce, so sharp 
was given.

A Temple seat
My love, sitting
and the blessing - his Godly wisdom -
was given.

A ragged crowd
My son, beyond
my love and the blessing I wanted
to give him.

An accursed day
My boy, hanging
Bitter blessing of bearing again
was given.

A dawn so blessed
salves my deep wound
through his death-killing love, the sweet earth 
gives him up.

Now many years
His face, unseen
Yet his blessing, his Spirit, 
is given.

And now - sleeping?
My love, calling
As his blessing, his kiss, his embrace
is given.

It is over.

Sunday 14 August 2016

Trapped in the Middle with Yew

Can whoever "tweaked" the mowing of the new labyrinth into a one-way system please get out there and make some corrective action.

There's seven weekend pilgrims stranded in the middle, scared to cross the lines. They should have gone home four hours ago.

Saturday 13 August 2016

A Broad Church

"Instead there needed to be “a broad church – capacious and generous”. Narrow Anglicanism “is almost a contradiction in terms. It is the breadth that defines Anglican polity. And it is the breadth that will save it.”" ("Top Cleric says Church of England Risks becoming a Suburban Sect")

We're seeing two beautiful examples of echo chambers set up in the Western World at the moment. Firstly in the US, as Donald Trump believes that every pool that goes against him is an example of electoral fraud. And when he loses, as badly as we can only hope he will, he will blame the blacks, the Hispanics, the Liberals and for all we know alien lizard-people for rigging the poll. There's enough dysfunctional to make him Republican candidate. We can only pray there's not enough to make him president.

And then Jeremy Corbyn. Launched on a torrent of false claims. A man whose campaign says he was leading in the polls before the sensible MPs started trying to get rid of him - which is based on one outlying poll amongst a thousand. A man who demands loyalty, after 30 years of voting against his party. Somebody who has never been anything other than a pointless MP, who says his opponent has never had a proper job.

What do they both have in common? They are surrounded by people who pander to their bizarre conceits. Their associates are like them, their identities dependent on them. They are the bubble that surrounds them. They inhabit their bubbles.

Meanwhile, in a totally unrelated environment, a man raised via Eton - middle class, educated and suburban - guides a church that has decided that, to be successful, the church needs to be middle class, educated and suburban.

I've no idea why I brought these things together. After all, the Church is a net full of many types of fish. A field fill of mixed crops growing. A place where thousands upon thousands - of all the tribes of Israel and all the nations of the earth - are called together to be one, diverse unity,

I don't know why I think the church should be odd, spiky, variable in nature, eccentric, troublesome and troubled, weird, mixed and awkward. Almost as if being diverse and relational were the nature of God.

So I'm ensuring Hnaef is in the chinos and checked shirt tomorrow. Let's rejoice in the uniform nature of our newly consistent church

Service for the Passing of Kenny Baker (Who Played R2D2)

Archdruid: Bee-bee-bee-boop-boop-trill

All: Bee-doo-bee-doo-bee

Archdruid: Tree-bee-doo-doo-bee-bee-doo

All: Bree-bree-dree-drill-doo-be-doo

Archdruid: Doo-bee-doo-bee-doo

All: Isn't that "Strangers in the Night?"

Mark Hamill:  We've lost R2!!!!!

All: May the Force be with him

Every Anglican Everywhere: And also with you.

Friday 12 August 2016

A Camden Tale

Told to me by Burton Dasset, who was on his way home via St Pancras

A young woman in a hijab is walking along Pancras Way. She crosses a side road. Unknown to her, an angry bloke in a car is tearing along that side road.... the other side of a small rise in the road as she starts to cross.

Angry bloke has to stop at the white line because the young woman is already crossing the junction. He stops, beeps, and then swears profusely at the young woman.

Without looking towards him, she raises one middle finger in his general direction and carries on walking. Serenely.

Burton and other nearby pedestrians are left gasping for breath with laughter.

Homework Question : Which of these things makes you less fully human? A car or a hijab?

For Some Strange Reason - Durrington Walls and Ritual Relevance

Excitement at Durrington Walls as researchers discover, not a load of stones, but evidence of wooden posts.

Not  finding what they were looking for caused one archaeologist to say,
"For some strange reason they took the timbers out and put up the enormous bank and ditch that we see today."
Well, it may be a strange reason to Doctor Nicola Snashall. But I bet it was perfectly obvious to the people that did it.

Here at the Beaker Folk we are dedicated to the use of the thoughts and traditions of other cultures - Celtic, Aztec, Syriac - even if we have to make them up. Their being strange makes them more authentic.

But to the people that inhabited these cultures these things were normal. The Aztec empire fell when people realised that worshipping feathery bird-gods and playing nose-flutes and Tibetan gongs* were all getting a bit samey. Whereas Roman Catholicism seemed so much more.... authentic. Plus the Spanish had much more effective weaponry.

So "strange reason" to you may well be "perfectly sensible reason" or "sound liturgical practice" to someone else. The people that built, inhabited, and messed around with Durrington Walls would probably think you'd need a pretty strange reason to dig up somebody else's ritual site

* Hnaef - please check.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Vote Librarian

Just realised the political affiliation of Gary Johnson, very much the St Jude of the American presidential election.

He is a libertarian. Not, as I thought, a librarian.

Which is a shame. Librarians rarely get to the higher positions of political life. Power goes to career politicians, lawyers and, occasionally, chemists or actors.

A librarian president would, I think, have a radical effect on the Constitution. The First Amendment, for instance, would have to be changed, to say you had the right to free speech as long as you whispered.

And the Second Amendment would say Americans could bear arms as long as they didn't use them. Bloody noisy things, guns.

But what if it were a libertarian librarian? Perhaps people would be allowed to put their own books on the shelves - and not necessarily in accordance with the Dewey decimal system. That way chaos lies.

But for me the clincher is this. If George W Bush and Tony Blair had been librarians we would never have invaded Iraq. They would have been too busy working out whether the "dodgy dossier" were politics, geography or fiction.

Vote Librarian for a safer world.

Monday 8 August 2016

Speak Like a Vicar

When leading services do you drop your aitches? Or, worse, call them haitches? Do you say "wou'n't" like Tracey from "Birds of a Fever"? Do you worry that your ars are a bit rarnded into wubble-yews?

Then you need the Beaker special retreat, "Speaking Like a Vicar". Here, in the relaxed surroundings of our English stately home, you can learn to speak like the Vicar in Dad's Army.


4pm - Arrival and tea in the Drawing Room

5pm - " Lessons from Pygmalion" - a warm-up session

6pm - Sherry. Yes, we know it's disgusting. But if you want to sound like a vicar you're gonna need some of this.

7pm - Supper. Your personal tutors will be listening for any linguistic laxity.


8am Breakfast

9am Stream 1 (Northern) - "On Ilkley Moor Without One's Hat". A musical unlearning of flattened vowels.

Stream 2 (Southern) - Considering the weather patterns in Hereford, Hertford and Hampshire.

11am - "Going a bit sing-song" - developing your own "special" voice for preaching.

12 noon - "The HTB alternative". Learn how to preach while sounding like Tony Blair.

1pm - Lunch

2pm - "How to speak very very slowly" - find out how to take 2 or 3 minutes over one word without hyperventilating.

3pm - The best of Derek Nimmo.

4pm - Tiffin and end.

Sunday 7 August 2016

The Fall and Rise of Duck Henge

It's been ages since we had problems with Duck Henge - that ancient (ish) trilithon that looms over the pond, and through which the sun rises on Saint Bogwulf's Day.

But it was a hot summer day, and Hnaef wanted a barbecue. And you know how much Hnaef likes a barbecue. He had the special gas-powered, Incinerato Mark III. And he was merrily blazing away when he accidentally took the brake off.

Duck Henge is a mystery. Erected in the mists of 2009, it has seen several solstices, Bogwulftides and St Kirsty's Days. But it is no more. Two burnt stumps rising from the edge of the pond, and some ash still floating on the water, are all left. We've had to cancel the rally in support of Christopher Biggins, we're that upset.

And so once again we have the task of rebuilding Duck Henge. We're thinking maybe steel girders - but is that such a good idea for an ancient monument? The Moot will have to decide.

Credited as Righteousness

Genesis 15 (abridged...) After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”
He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between [the sacrificed animals]. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,

I'd like, in engaging in this little piece, to refer you back to a piece I previously wrote, called "In a Pagan Place". As the thing I wrote there certainly applies here. Not least as this passage from Genesis was the basis of a lot  of that.

Abram here is a stranger in an alien place. He has left his home and family and is in the company of strangers.  Leaving behind intertextuality for a moment, it is clear that his mind is disturbed. He's clearly a man to whom family means a lot - he's just spent chapter 14 rescuing his  nephew Lot from evil king Kerdolaomer of Elam. He's not an avaricious man, and he's a religious one,  because he gives 10% of his winnings from that battle to Melchizedek the priest-king of Salem.

But he has no children. And in a culture which apparently doesn't think much of the hope of an afterlife - children are your future. There's that line from last week's reading from Ecclesiastes - where he says what's the point of working for riches when you don't know what will happen to them when you die? At least, one hope is that you bequeath to your children.

So he's fretting. He's maybe feeling hopeless, empty. And God comes to Abram and says - do not be afraid. I will be your shield and great reward. And Abram's an honest bloke and all, so he replies well thanks, Lord. But that's not as good as having children, is it?

I like the honesty. At this point Abram should be grovelling with gratitude at  being told the Lord is his great reward. Instead, he says yes - but what about where I'm gonna leave all this money I just won? Thanks for all the being a shield and very great reward - but I actually wanted a baby.

Wanting a child. So deeply engrained into us that it is literally - and I don't often say "literally", this being a oasis of fuzzy thinking - in our DNA. And I don't often say " in our DNA." This being, as best as I can manage, a cliché-free zone. So deep a part of our human nature that it can override so many of our other human desires. Abram, I think, would have swapped all his gold and possibly even God being his great reward, to be a father.

It's so part of our nature - that's why, with questions of family and children, with the whys and hows - with our inbuilt assumptions that people want, and can have, children - we're normally best to ask no questions, make no assumptions, and listen graciously if we are called to.

The Lord has a plan for Abram. And it's beyond one line of inheritance, one stack of gold. He takes him outside, and Abram sees the stars - and God says, this is what your descendants will be like.

And Abram believed God's promise. And the Lord reckoned it to him "as righteousness".

And on that one short passage, so much of Paul's theology of salvation was founded. All of Romans 4 - as St Paul is working out how God's promises are given to Jews and Gentiles - comes from this one idea that when Abram believed the Lord, he was treated as righteous because of it. Galatians 3 - Paul rejects the idea that male Gentiles can only become proper Christians by having certain - ahem - modifications made, and all Christians should follow the Jewish food and ritual laws? Why? Because when Abram was credited as right with God, this happened because he believed, not because of him following the right ritual actions or eating the right food.

So God takes Abram and scares the wits out of him in this dark, pagan place. The darkness falls like death in that lonely place, but Abram sees God's light in the darkness and receives a promise that the Lord will keep.

Because Abram has faith God treats him as righteous. And Abram through Sarai his wife and through Hagar went on to have two sons who would become the ancestors of many nations.

But through the example of Abram's faith his inheritance was much wider than genetic children. God's love could not be constrained by human inheritance. Abram believed the Lord - and it was credited to him as righteousness. In that dark place, that eerie place, that place where the difference between the Lord and humanity was so stark. Here is a human being up against the wildness of the world - and the Lord transcends that wildness and speaks to Abram and makes promises.

And so God may seem far off, unspeakably distant, incomprehensible, all powerful. We may try to put God into many different boxes. Or we may chain him through liturgies, tame him through leading services in chinos. Domesticate him with simplistic hymns, and weigh him down with tea lights and pebbles. But God breaks all those boxes. God rejects our attempts at domestication, because God is the wild, eternal, unstoppable Being beneath all being. But awesome, unthinkable, unchainable as God is - God listens to a prayer spoken in terror or fear, breaks down all barriers to come to us and count us as right with God.

The sacrifices cut in half in that awesome place were not what brought Abram close to God. That was another sacrifice - made once and for all - many years later. They were just an image of what was to come - a shadow of the true sacrifice. God came close to Abram in that wild place. Came close to us in Jesus. Comes close to us through the Spirit. And says - "my nearness to you is not because you are good enough - because you're plainly not. It's because I love you enough. Only trust in me. And I will count you as good enough, because that's what Jesus makes you."

Friday 5 August 2016

God is Really Quite Big

Came to me as we poured out beakers just now.

According to Beaker lore, night air is good air. I picked this idea up from my mentor, St Sue of Middlesbrough. I suspect her views, in turn, were formed by her experiences in 1970s Teeside, when there was slightly less chance that the smoke factories would be chucking out pollution at that time.

So we allow the holy beakers, filled with purest water from the Hus Bourne (n. b. - do not drink) to receive the goodness that pours down like God's mercy all night. And then in the morning we pour the waters out upon the ground, representing God's blessing. The ceremonies have the advantage of feeling vaguely pagan, without having anything you could put your finger on and get burnt as a witch for.

But as we poured it out, it struck me that water's incredible stuff, isn't it? Its polarity means that its atoms stick together - just enough for it to flow, when you pour it but not so much that it comes out of the Holy Beaker in a solid chunk. Except in the middle of winter, when we redefine the ritual as Chipping Out of Beakers.

Its polar nature means it is a liquid at temperatures much lower than organic molecules of the same weight. And it is a great solvent for salts - giving it the ability to carry calcium, the raw material of shells and skeletons. It dissolves carbon dioxide too - weakly  - and oxygen- bringing those other key materials into the seas that formed the womb of earth's life.

And also, in the right conditions, if you're rowing or dabbling around with the washing up or beside a river - it can run right up your arm. How does it do that?

And I'm not saying water is any kind of evidence of the existence of God. But I will say that, assuming there is a God, the thought that God could dream up water is an indicator of the fertile, diverse, creative God we have.

Water that can destroy an army, can pour over someone to wash them, can drag them down or bear them up. The thing that carries the fuel of our lives around our bodies - or pour out of a broken heart.

And when I imagine the Earth hanging, blue and beautiful with its seas like a water-drop in God's imagination, before God scattered its raw materials across the universe through the death of uncountable stars I have to face facts.

The God whom we create in our imaginations, who backs up our prejudices and approves of our flaws - or the God who nit-picks at our weaknesses - is really quite small.

And God, it seems to me, is really quite big.

Wednesday 3 August 2016

How to Deal With a Crying Baby

Donald Trump has caused yet more controversy by telling a woman with a crying baby to get out of his rally.

But of course crying babies are just a thing in life. People have babies - apparently even Trump supporters find each other attractive enough to make them. But churches frequently have babies in the congregations - and not just for baptisms. So what tactics should we employ?

Saying "can you please remove that child? There's people trying to pray here". If Jesus said to bring the children to him, and then you order them out, whom are you most resembling? You could argue "a group of people we now call saints." Or you could think of a bloke with an orange face who insulted the parents of a dead soldier last week. Your choice....

Having a Baby Park. Have a space with some toys, and even a cupboard with emergency wipes and nappies and a changing mat. Make sure it's out of earshot, obviously. And make it clear that parents must supervise their babies at all times. But obviously only insist that babies are there if they are crying loudly. Or might....

But resist the temptation to clear a space for children at the back of the church, next to what Anglicans would call the "North Wall" . Nobody puts baby in the corner.

Tutting is sometimes quite effective. Can really put a young parent on edge. And you know how that calms babies down.

Likewise Staring can really look like prayerful concern. If you're really hungover or shortsighted.

Picking the Baby up when leading is a real high-risk strategy. If the baby calms down and starts gurgling happily people will think you're Francis of Assissi. If the baby panics at being picked up by a strange person when they were already upset - well, holding a purple, howling infant throwing their toy duckie in your face while milk-sick pours down your liturgical hi vis is never a good look. Still, out of the mouths of babes and ducklings....

A creche* is something that happens when people from Holy Trinity Brompton aren't driving their 4x4s carefully on the way to church. Probably started singing in tongues, lifted up their hands in praise and - bang - into then back of that Porsche Cayenne.

My preferred technique is to just carry on with the show. Maybe introduce a song in the hope that you remove embarrassment and give the baby / parent (s) chance to relax. If preaching, speak up, keep it snappy. Let them go out for a break if they want. And make sure you coincidentally get to them during the Scrum of Peace / coffee time and just be nice. Happy for any of my lovely readers to come up with better suggestions, of course.

Or, obviously, you could just utterly embarrass them and look like a complete horse's bottom. How you treat crying babies tells us a lot about what you think of other people whom you think are less important than you.

* yes it's an old joke. But worth it in the context I thought.

Tuesday 2 August 2016

Liturgy of Your Day Being Wrecked by Trains When You Have Church Responsibilities

Burton Dasset staggers into the Moot Meeting, an hour late.

All: Where've you been Burton?

Burton: Train late due to signal failures.

All: Couldn't you have left earlier?

Burton: Not really. We're sorting out the end of month...

Archdruid: We haven't received your Treasurer's report, Burton.

Burton: No. I was going to do it on the HST this morning. But then a road fell on the line at Barrow on Soar - wherever that is - so I had to get the Thameslink and they don't have WiFi....

Archdruid: Do they not have WiFi in London?

Burton: You know how I mentioned the end of month....

All: What about coming home Burton?

Burton: We were all standing up. It's really hard to write a report when you're standing up.

All: That's the trouble with Burton. No dedication.

Monday 1 August 2016

Lammas / Yorkshire Day

A reminder that liturgical wear today is hi vis and flat caps. Whippets will be raced at 4pm.

Old Mrs Boycott will be taking the collection at Pouring out of Beakers. Just throw coins towards her and she'll catch them in her pinnie.

Given the number of people refusing to eat Lammas loaves due to real or sympathetic gluten issues, we will instead be distributing sticks of rhubarb. It's up to you whether you eat them, or play a nice cover drive.