Monday 30 September 2019

And Did Those Feet?

The BBC embraces the "fought in two world wars" zeitgeist by telling us that the nation's most popular hymn, Jerusalem, was composed to encourage the troops in World War 1 - as a friend of Robert Bridges set Blake's vision of a socialist utopia to rousing music.

It fails to draw the irony out, however, that Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry died of Spanish Flu just before the war ended.

I hope this is not a portent of Brexit, for which so many people who fought in both the Great War and its tricky sequel voted. The Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-19 was a direct consequence of the war, as soldiers returned to their home countries from Belgium and spread one of the most lethal pandemics of all time. As we tick down the days towards Boris Johnson's do-or-die deadline (itself a phrase from a poem about a headlong charge into disaster),  remember Charlie Parry. The man who wrote a hymn to big up a pointless, damaging battle with our neighbours that left Britain shattered. And then died of it himself.

We should maybe consider getting a new theme song, as we head towards Brexit and more pointless deaths caused this time by our cutting our own supply chains to prove how strong we are. WTO sung to the tune of YMCA, perhaps. Or O Jeremy Corbyn. Or, once the barriers go up on Ireland, how about It's a Long Way to Tipperary?  But the risk is that, as British migrants to the EU make the journey back - the Brexit voters among them for the third time,  having previously returned in 1919 and 1945 - and as the people who have helped us keep the NHS going pass like the elves in the opposite direction, we reap another healthcare whirlwind.

Still, bring me my sword to cut red tape. And my arrows of desire for the sunlit uplands on which stand those dark, demolished mills. It's gonna be like Jerusalem. Probably about 70 AD.

Want to support this blog? Want a good laugh? (or to shudder at death at any rate? Then here's two ways you can keep the Archdruid in doilies...
If you want someone to share the terrors of death while making you laugh, we have "A Hint of Death in the Morning Air" - 97 poems to make you wonder, laugh or shake your head sadly. At only £1 on Kindle. Or if you want to know what the people in the pews really think, and you prefer your words printed on paper, why not try "Writes of the Church"?  The letters to the Church magazine the vicar really didn't need.

Saturday 21 September 2019

Unrighteous Wealth - The Dishonest Steward

[Jesus] also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:1-13)
I mean, obviously, this parable warms my stony old heart. For who could have amassed more unrighteous wealth than someone who grew rich on the donations of the religious gullible, crashed a doily company having taken all the profits out as dividends, then taken all that unrighteous wealth and dumped it offshore to make sure the gullible can't get their money back and, when they're flat broke and old, won't even get decent state pension because I'm not paying any tax?

And the obvious answer to that is - the people who bankrolled the Leave Vote for Brexit, then shorted the country. Made a killing in currencies and now hope to do it again. When it came to setting up a belief in false vision, then cashing in - I was just an amateur.

But I wonder. Is this unrighteous wealth of which Jesus speaks just a rich person's plaything? Let's take the Church Commissioners' wealth. I mean, they do their best. Don't get me wrong. Their website goes to a lot of trouble to explain the dibblings in potentially unethical stuff that may result from investments - almost whether you like it or not. According to this page, the Church's Ethical Investment Group advises against any company that makes 3% or more of its income from pornography or conventional weapons. Which is oddly specific and gives one visions of someone having the job of having to count to ensure nobody breaches the strict limits imposed on nipples or tanks.

It's all very hard, is what I'm saying, to stay clean in this murky world. If you're a retired C of E Clergyperson, does it linger in your mind that anything up to a 3% limit of your monthly pension could be funded by porn and machine guns? But then - as you stand there in a 12th Century Church, celebrating the Mass as it has been celebrated since the year 2000, does it occur to you that the building was put up with the cash that the local landowner screwed out of the labour of his local peasantry? That the money in the plate might have come from a tobacconist, or a win on the fruities at the local, or a trust fund squirreling money away tax-free in Jersey?

If you're in Liverpool or Bristol, do you reflect that the cities themselves grew rich on human misery? Do you bear in mind that, when Wilberforce (hurrah! Good Christian!) fought and succeeded in terminating slavery in the British Empire, the church - and even and individual bishop - received compensation for the value of the slaves?

So it's a murky world. Even you, the Guardian-reading, ethical-almond-milk-drinking, Beaker Person reading this article will be using some kind of electronic device containing rare earths that may or may not have been mined, processed or engineered in an unethical way. You may have popped to Tesco Express for your guilt-free sugar for your fair-trade coffee, forgetting that Tesco bought Booker Cash and Carry - and that Booker originally made its money exploiting indentured sugar labourers in British Guiana. We are entwined in a world-wide-web of unrighteous wealth. And our employer has noticed, and having notice, has given us notice that we are entitled to what the John Lewis Partnership used to refer to as being "summarily terminated".

So, what are we going to do? We're too useless to work for our salvation and mostly too proud to beg. And Jesus says - see what you can do with that dodgy money you've got laying around.

Not the poor. God's always been very keen on giving the poor a free pass. The rest of us. With our slightly-tainted cash and our up-to-3%-corrupted pensions and our dependence for our whole lifestyles on a web of oppression  and profit.

Why not make like the dishonest steward and buy some friends in heaven? Give some of that loot away. Forgive a grudge. Get some tins for the food bank. Sponsor a medical research charity. Sponsor a child. Twin a toilet. Help pay for disaster relief, or a medic in a war zone, or surgery for the victims of war rape.

This doesn't mean just accept the world is unethical and crack on - by all means, examine where what you do does not contribute to human flourishing but instead exploits. Make your choices, campaign for justice. When you buy things, with your dishonest wealth, choose those things that you need, that are good, that you can trace. You'll still be reading this blog on a device made for dishonest wealth, with materials that earned dishonest wealth -that's kind of the world we're in - but work to make it better. You don't live in a cave, and if you did you couldn't earn more dishonest wealth to buy more friends in heaven.

And when God finds out that you've used God's wealth, earned from God's world, to cheat your way into having friends in heaven - God will say well done, faithful servant. You've grasped that most important thing - the earth is God's, and everything in it, and you're using some of God's wealth in the way God approves - by loving the people he created.

Support this blog...

If you want someone to share the terrors of death while making you laugh, we have "A Hint of Death in the Morning Air" - 97 poems to make you wonder, laugh or shake your head sadly. At only £1 on Kindle. Or if you want to know what the people in the pews really think, and you prefer your words printed on paper, why not try "Writes of the Church"?  The letters to the Church magazine the vicar really didn't need.

Thursday 19 September 2019

Filling-up of Beakers at the Sunset of John Humphrys' "Today Programme" Career

Hymn: It's All about the Balance

Archdruid: And so, we are here.

All: At the sunset of John Humphrys' Today Programme Career.

Archdruid: The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow.

All: But though we are glad that John Humphrys is heading towards fourscore, yet we realise that it's been our labour and sorrow.

Archdruid: For in pursuit of balance he has conflated "Christian Voice" with a truly Christian voice...

All: The Taxpayers' Alliance with a genuine alliance of Taxpayers.

Archdruid: Nigel Farage with a real politician.

All: Contempt and interruption with debate and enlightenment.

Archdruid: Nation  shall speak peace unto nation.

All: And maybe we'll try Radio 4 in the morning again.

Archdruid: And now "Thought for the Day" with Giles Fraser.

Giles Fraser: Hello everyone. Isn't the EU abominable? [Drones on a bit]

John Humphrys: Thank you very much Giles. That was incredibly boring. But I liked the bit about Brexit.

Hymn: Dear John

Want to support this blog? "A Hint of Death in the Morning Air" - 97 poems to make you wonder, laugh or shake your head sadly. At only £1 on Kindle. Or if you want to know what the people in the pews really think, and you prefer your words printed on paper, why not try "Writes of the Church"?  The letters to the Church magazine the vicar really didn't need.

Sunday 15 September 2019

All We, Like Sheep

Luke 15: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Friend of mine moved out to a village. He was one of these tele-commuters. And he figured this village - not a highland Scottish village, or Northern England or Wales one - just an hour from London and set between decent sized towns - he thought this village would be full of similar minded people. You know, he an architect and his wife with her line in high-end sculpture. So they joined the local Facebook group to find out where the best coffee was to be sourced and where they all hang out for a sociable time with free wi-fi. First posting on the page: "Does anybody know whose sheep has its head stuck in the railings by the park?"
Spot the Lost Sheep
 Yep. 21st Century in Dibley. Turns out sheep still matter.

In Northamptonshire, the sheep farmers are suffering terribly. There are people rounding up sheep, slaughtering them in their fields, and then stealing the meat. The sheep farmers are reported to be "devastated". And with good reason. It's not like having some shirts nicked from a clothes shop. The lives of shepherds are tied up to those of the sheep. They're in it with the sheep - in all weather. Out lambing in some of the darkest, coldest - sometimes snowiest - days. Helping struggling ewes to give birth. Keeping them off the wrong plants. Removing them when they get their heads stuck in fences. Worry they'll work out how to get over cattle grids. Making sure they're all the right way up - because there's no end of ways a sheep can bring itself to danger. Remember Gabriel Oak in Far From the Madding Crowd? When his daft dog drives his flock of sheep over a cliff, Gabriel has lost his livelihood. He's also lost his trade: because which farmer would hire a shepherd whose last sheep farm was his own? The shepherd's life is tied to the flock.

In using the parable of a shepherd, Jesus tells us a couple of very important things about God's relationship to us. He's adopting that Old Testament imagery of God as the good shepherd who cares for the sheep, whereas all the bad rulers are just in it to fleece them. But it's also about the closeness of God to God's people. God is in it with us - in the mud and dag and blood and dark and fears.

Compare it to today's other parable of God finding the lost coin. The woman loses a coin. She searches for that lost coin, and celebrates when she finds it, but the others are nice and safe in the house.

Is it me ewe're looking for?

Whereas this tale of the shepherd.  Wouldn't you all, asks Jesus, leave 99 sheep out in the field, and go and find the other one? To which I suspect the answer might be, we don't know. Because the Judean uplands in the 1st Century weren't Dunstable Downs. The wolves and lions on Dunstable Downs are safely caged away in Whipsnade zoo. Whereas the Judean uplands have wild animals wandering around. Things with teeth and muscle. Are you going out in the day time, Shepherd? Or the night? How many ravines and places where wild things can hide are you planning to go through?

David went around with his sling in case he met a wolf, or a gigantic Philistine. What are you going to meet, O rather Lacksadaisical Shepherd, and what do you have to protect you as you try and find that last woolly-minded member of your flock? And how many are you going to lose of the ones you've left behind?  What's so special about the lost one when all the good ones are stood there nervous wondering what time you'll be back?

But that's what God is like, Jesus tells his audience. God's not happy to take the 99 that are already safe - like contestants on Bullseye in the 1970s knowing the money's safe to take home but do they want to try and win a motor boat? God's going to take a chance and go and get the other one. The one who is - remember - not rebellious, not evil, just.... lost.

Remember that, O safe sheepy friends, as you enjoy your safeness on this heavenly ewelease, field or downs according to your locality and tradition. As we sing our songs of our heavenly sheepfold and how much we love the Shepherd - and isn't it great to have such a loving Shepherd - the Shepherd knows there's other sheep need finding and bringing home. And we're not to judge them and decide they're goats. We're to love them and accept them into our woolly flock.

So the Shepherd comes to earth, and gathers the lost ones, and they know his name and follow him. And then he turns to the place that should be the best of all fields - where the grass is juiciest - where God's Presence has been enthroned among the cherubim - on and off - since the people of Israel first came across the Jordan. And there, where he should find other shepherds, instead - in the palaces - he finds foxes and wolves. And he is taken outside the walls and crucified.

And there, he finds two more last lost sheep. One who is nailed to the cross next to his is told he'll be with him today in Paradise. And one, a Roman soldier - one of the army that keeps the Jews under oppression. One of the ones who slung him up there.  Who turns out to be a lost sheep in wolf's clothing. Who looks up at him and realises who he is. And Jesus calls him home too.

More rejoicing, says Jesus, over one that is found than over 99 that were never lost. But the ones that were never lost - they were always lucky. Always by the side of the Shepherd. Always in green pastures, by still waters. And the ones that are found - we are blessed. We never knew where our true home was. Never knew where our Shepherd was. Scraped around for the blessings we could find. But now our Shepherd has found us, we're safe with the flock - we've finally found our way home.

 "A Hint of Death in the Morning Air" - 97 poems to make you wonder, laugh or shake your head sadly. At only £1 on Kindle. Or if you want to know what the people in the pews really think, and you prefer your words printed on paper, why not try "Writes of the Church"?  The letters to the Church magazine the vicar really didn't need.

Friday 6 September 2019

Sunday 1 September 2019

Liturgy for the First Day of Meteorological Autumn

Hymn: Last Day of Summer (MacColl)

Archdruid: Behold! The first day of Meteorological Autumn!

All: But isn't that a bit arbitrary?

Archdruid: Yeah. Obviously the Autumn actually starts at the Equinox...

All: So why do meteorologists say it's today?

Archdruid: Well, it's the first of the month...

All: And we base a serious weather phenomenon on an arbitrary date?

Archdruid: It's easier to calculate when it's whole months...

All: So this whole "Meteorological Autumn" thing is just because weather forecasters aren't very good at spreadsheets?

Archdruid: See you in three weeks or so?

All: Okey Dokey, Eileen.

Archdruid: Nights are drawing in.

All: Soon be Xmas.

Hymn: Forever Autumn

A Hint of Death in the Morning Air" - 97 poems to make you wonder, laugh or shake your head sadly. At only £1 on Kindle. Or if you want to know what the people in the pews really think, and you prefer your words printed on paper, why not try "Writes of the Church"?  The letters to the Church magazine the vicar really didn't need.