Monday 28 December 2020

The Miracle of St Wilfred

 In the village of White-Hall in those days, when Great King Boris had shown his power over foreigners by letting them catch very slightly fewer fish, there came word of the Miracle of Saint Wilfred.

Wilfred was the son of St Boris, and possessed of a miraculous head of golden hair from the day that he was born. Another miracle was that although his parents had said he would not be in the public eye, yet he used to appear in the Mail when his father did not want too much close scrutiny. 

But this latest miracle surpassed all the others - for did he not, at eight months old, paint a portrait of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer? And kept his colouring within the lines?

And the people beheld the reindeer, and the miraculous hair, and cried out "Surely this is no mere child, but one of the cherubim, come in human form in Boris's line.

Though some said Boris himself had helped and done most of the colouring for him, others pointed out he could never have raised that much energy.

And then it was revealed that the babe could also sing "Old Macdonald Had a Farm." But the Cynics wondered, if this were true, just when he had been born.

Sunday 27 December 2020

Shepherd of Shepherds

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. Luke 2: 15 –21

A bunch of shepherds turning up at a new-born baby's side? Would have been quite the episode of "Call the Midwife", as they were told they smelt of sheep and had to go wash their hands. 

Maybe it's not surprising that the shepherds got there first. Shepherds worked odd hours in out of the way places; would have been handy for the arrival of angels.They'd have woken the whole village if they'd rocked up first of all at a rabbi's house.

But shepherds are also important as a sign of who Jesus is. They're common people - Christ is sent to earth for common people - but they're also living parables of God.

Among the many illustrations of God's nature in the Bible - farm owner, king, potter - one of the most common is that of a shepherd. Psalm 23 - "The Lord's My Shepherd". Isaiah 40: "He will shepherd his sheep and will gather the lambs in his arm." The King who the Lord loved, David, was a shepherd of sheep before he became a shepherd of his people. Ezekiel 37 has God getting fed up with the shepherds of Israel, and saying if there's a job worth doing, it's worth God doing it properly.  And now these shepherds are drawing to the cradle of the one who will be the shepherd of shepherds.

By far my favourite carol is "In the Bleak Midwinter". And I know some people of more literal tendencies than mine get a grump on about it sometimes - they say it wasn't snowing. But I say to you - firstly if you're super-literal - yes it can snow in Bethlehem.
And secondly - forget the meteorology. Enjoy the poetry. And then having come for the poetry, stay for the theology. Christina Rosetti pours out verse after verse of the most amazing wonders. The one who heaven isn't big enough for, in a manger. The one who can receive the praise of angels and archangels - just needs his mother's breast and somewhere to lay his head. The one who will tear up the heavens and earth - needing a roof over his head for shelter.
And maybe the shepherds brought a lamb - we're not told. But they did all they had to do. The saw the baby. They were amazed, they went out and spread the good news. God has come to earth with an angel train - and they have seen God as a child with their own human eyes. And they fade from the story, go back to the hills. And in keeping with Gabriel's instructions, the baby is called Jesus - because this weak baby in the manger is going on to fight the devil, defeat death, and save his people. The shepherd of shepherds is going to grow up to be the king of kings.

Friday 25 December 2020

The Laws Older than Time

 The star's appearance has been a long time in the making. Forged from the raw materials of the universe, in the depths of space, it has consumed itself to sustain itself - the roar of heat as protons combine, forcing out against the gravity that drags ever into the heart. Unseeing, unknowing, it follows the laws laid out when time began, its silent progress through the universe, held in balance between gravity and inertia.

As it first rises, new against a Christmas sky before anyone knows of Christmas - though some have hinted - it is seen by one who calls some colleagues. They make sacrifices - for they are people of faith. They plot its course - for they are scientists. Maybe they cast some spells - they don't draw the lines between magic, faith and religion like we do. Then they set off. They will be a while.

In a manger in a village in the hills, a mother lays her child. He knows nothing yet of the wonders of the skies. But in the darkness of his eyes are all their glories. Somehow those eyes have seen them at their birth. And yet for now, those eyes are unfocused. All the baby knows is warmth and cold, hunger and milk, light and shadow.

The mother sings the lullabies her mother sang to her - to the one who wrote the music of the heavens, and heard the praise and joy of the angels as he cast the stars across the sky.

The laws of the world, laid out by this child. All things underpinned by him, upheld by him, kept in existence by him. But tonight he is subject to those laws he made.

And underneath those ancient laws, as shepherds shuffle in around the manger, the mother, the confused husband and the still centre of all - underneath those laws lie the older ones.

The love of Father for Son, the love carried by the Spirit, draws the shepherds and Magi, the star and those parents. Stronger than gravity, brighter than light, deeper and darker than that baby's eyes. Love re-enters the world it made in love, sustains in love and redeems with love. And the God that dies - written across the myths and religions of the world like a red cord in golden cloth - enters the world, to live under its laws, and die under them, and then transcend them with the laws older than time.

Monday 21 December 2020

Solstice Morning

 All piled into the Moot House to watch a video of a Winter Solstice sunrise. Cats and dogs outside and we had to nail Hnaef's robes down with tent pegs to stop him blowing away for the Autumnal Farewell.

So. First day of winter. Shortest day of the year. On an island that has, through deception and incompetence, cut itself off from the mainland. Plague-struck, wondering how it will import the food it needs. Struggling through a recession, while planning for the next wave - the crashing down of an act of colossal security and financial self-harm. Led by a huckster who would be out of his depth running a Bible stall at a Secularist Society jumble sale.

The solstice still holds promise though. Maybe the days are short and wet, and the nights are cold. But tomorrow it will be a little lighter. The worst of winter is to come - and this year it will be dreadful, for all sorts of reasons. But spring will get here in the end. It won't be as much fun as springs were in the past. But it will be spring nonetheless.

So lift up your heads and light your bling as an act of defiance. Face the winter and see it through. Spring will get here in the end.

Sunday 20 December 2020

Solstice Eve

Beaker Folk wander out into the dark, holding their phones aloft against the darkness. they sing the Solstice Song.

All: Raise your banners high. Don't die, sun, don't die.

Archdruid: Solstice Eve! The year dies screaming.

All: And that's not the half of it.

Archdruid: Dare we hope that tomorrow will be better?

All: Eileen, we're in Tier 4. 

Archdruid: Does a light shine in the darkness?

All: If it does, it's somebody burning their furniture to keep warm.

Archdruid: But the New Year will bring hope. 

All: Have you even heard about Brexit?

Archdruid: There may be trouble ahead. But while there's moonlight, and music, and love, and romance...

All: Let's whistle in the darkness. It might scare off the demons.

Archdruid: Demons?

All: About the only thing the year hasn't thrown at us.

Archdruid: OK - throw the ritual scarecrow on the Solstice fire.

All: Bad news. That tatty, scruffy, badly-dressed figure with the unrealistic hair?

Archdruid: Yeah? 

All: Wasn't the scarecrow. It was the Prime Minister.

Archdruid: OK. Any ideas?

All: We could ritually burn some bread?

Archdruid: Best not. We'll need that wheat to horde in a few weeks.

All: It really is dark isn't it?

Archdruid: Yeah. But light a candle against the darkness. And the sun will still rise tomorrow. 

Overhead, an asteroid veers into a disturbing path. While beneath our feet, the sound of the Husborne Dragon stirring is heard.

A Child's Christmas Nursery Tale of 2120

 "And so, children, Boris Johnson became only the second English leader to cancel Christmas."

 "Who was the first? "

 "Oliver Cromwell. He was a man who thought he knew what God wanted, and liked to tell people what to do."

 "And was Boris Johnson like that?"

 "No. He didn't like telling people what to do. And he didn't want to think too much about what God wanted."

 "So was he good at leading? "

 "No. He always made the decisions he'd said would be bad decisions, but too late."

 "So if he didn't like telling people what to do and he wasn't any good at it, why did he become the leader?"

 " He thought he'd enjoy it. "

 "And did he enjoy it?"

Saturday 19 December 2020

Is Carbon Evil? Masks, the Universe and Everything

 I fell down a bit of a theological/scientific rabbit hole this morning. Read some "logic" on masks that was so related to the guano of the Vespertilionidae that it left me wondering whether it was deliberately harmful and manipulative, or the result of such groupthink and such a desperate attempt to control reality that anything, even this utter earwash, was better than dealing with hard facts.

The logic is this: 

  1. Oxygen is God's perfect element. (I know. Don't ask.)
  2. Carbon is evil. (Ditto)
  3. When you breathe in through a mask, you are taking in CO2 that you wouldn't normally (for pity's sake).
  4. Which increases the amount of evil.
  5. Therefore masks are the MARK OF THE BEAST because we all have to wear them to buy and sell.

A little clear thought has eased my mind on number 3, I'll be honest. Because the people who wear masks most, apart from bank robbers, are doctors and nurses. Who on the whole I find to be very nice people, interested in making you feel better. OK, they also tell you to drink less, but that's also well meaning if inconvenient. Nurses in my experience actually go to church proportionately more than other people. So that's also good. 

But why is carbon evil? It turns out (I google this stuff so you don't have to) that the logic is that it's because of its makeup at the subatomic level. Carbon is atomic number 6:

6 protons

6 neutrons

6 electrons.

666 - number of the beast. QED. And because we are made of carbon, and 666 is the "number of a man", it proves that our bodies are evil.

Except of course that that isn't how numbers work. 6 times three is 18. Not a scary number at all. And it's not how our bodies work. We are, after all, more water than anything else. We're less than 20% carbon. But even so - since we don't really keep the CO2 in our breath, we dissolve it in our blood, take it out then we just breathe it back out - even if the level of CO2 through a mask was clinically higher (it isn't) it would have to be massively higher to do any harm.

Our bodies make CO2 from the oxygen in the air, and energy reserves in our body, all the time. If wearing a mask is evil, then any respiratory process is fundamentally flawed. Getting out of bed in the morning, walking an extra mile for someone, labouring in a vineyard, walking down the street handing out made-up apocalyptic tracts - all these things generate extra CO2 and therefore must be evil.

But there's more. This piece of logic does not go down a level. Let's ask ourselves this - what lies below the protons etc? Answer - quarks. How many quarks in the common nuclear particles?

3 in protons

3 in neutrons

Plus one lepton in electrons.

In a carbon atom there are therefore 6 x 7 = 42. The answer to life, the universe and everything. 42 is the number of degrees at which a rainbow forms. The time in minutes that a gravity car would take to go through a tunnel in the earth. The number of stations of the Exodus, the number of lines per page in a Guthenberg Bible.

So carbon is a beautiful, wondrous element - the basis of organic chemistry, of everything living and beautiful around us. The thing that gives diamond its beauty and hardness. That burns to keep us warm. Its use to cook bread gave us civilisation. It made up 16% or so of the perfect body of Jesus.

So don't diss carbon. It's beautiful.

And wear a mask. It's just a part of loving your neighbour.

Friday 18 December 2020

St Kirsty's Day (2000)

On this St Kirsty's Day, when we can't get to Soho Square without legitimate reason and we're going to have to sit on our own benches instead, we will light a candle for all those taken cruelly from us too young. The pigeons will have to shiver in the naked trees on their own this year. But we'll hope there is angel floating round someone's house. Even if he's called Terry.

The bloke who works down the Chip Shop who swears he's Elvis looks a lot more like Elvis now he is hiding his false teeth behind that facemask. So at least that's good.

The Mambo de la Luna will be held in the Orchard. I won't be joining. Not in these shoes. I don't think so.

Twenty years.  Is that how long it is? I look to the future and see a thousand setting suns. But tomorrow never came. 

Sunday 13 December 2020

Just a Voice

There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8)

One of the great chapters of the Bible, is John 1. We hear it on a midnight clear, when in the amongst the debris of the Nativities and burnt-down candles and left-over Christingles (in a normal year), the first 5 verses put the manger, the shepherds and sheep and all the rest into an eternal context - talking about the Word who is before time, who is with God and is God, becoming part of our story.

And into that first chapter with all its deep theology and mystic overtones, John weaves the story of God's second cousin, John. As the director cuts from the places before time to a deserted scene outside Jerusalem. And we plunge from eternity into a bunch of establishment figures questioning a scruffy prophet.

But then scruffiness in a prophet can be a sign of holiness. And eccentricity is what you get from prophets. And he's drawing the crowds. So what's going on? The leaders want to know.

How tempting it must have been for John. When the leaders from Jerusalem come out to see him. 

 "Are you the Messiah? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet, the one who stands in the footsteps of Moses?"

Now John is full of power and the Holy Spirit. The whole world is coming out to see him. And I remember the story of Corporal-Signwriter Walter "Foggy" Dewhurst at the end of the Second World War. He - at least in his imagination - has built up an awesome fighting force from a tribe of Burmese forest-dwellers. And when they can't kill the Japanese any more, they say OK - we'll kill someone else, then. And for a moment Foggy is tempted to invade the Dutch East Indies - but then he remembers there's a job for him back in England so decides not.

For John maybe it's like that. With all these people hanging on his every word. With a feeling of the End Times in the air. With the Romans hated, and Caesar a long way off in Rome - is he Messiah? Is he the Prophet? Or can he make a good impression of it? Can he act against the Establishment and the rulers? Can he say to these leaders - yes, it is me. Follow me! If so, will it end in glory, or terrible defeat? 

 And I was thinking about that scene in the Lord of the Rings where Frodo, in the Garden of Lothlorien, offers the Ring to Galadriel. You know the scene? And Galadriel, the great elf-princess, becomes incredibly tall and terrifying and tells Frodo she would be a beautiful, terrible queen. Because she knows that though she might want the Ring for good, the exercise of power will instead be the thing that rules.

And then she goes back to normal size. Gives Frodo the Ring back. And says, "I pass the test." She will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.

 And so for John. He's not claiming to be any of these things - he's just a voice, in the wilderness, saying Make Way for the Lord. And that is enough.

We are so often tempted to put ourselves or others on a pedestal. It can be a temptation for a preacher - because preaching is a performance, and it puts adrenalin and endorphins into you and that feels good - and about 3pm of a Sunday afternoon you're wiped out like you've come down of a drug fix and you look forward to it again and think - can I, next time, be funnier? Be wiser? Be more controversial?

Which is natural but you run the risk of the show being about you, not Jesus.

Or I've seen churches where the vibe is about how cool the leaders are, how attractive their family lives  look or how famous the people are that they hang out with - and that's the kind of leader you're thinking that God's church needs, even as weak human beings are being put up where they can be pulled down from later.

And as a leader it's so important to ask yourself what is this about - this sermon, this coffee morning, this meeting - who is being glorified? Is this building project for God's glory and the good of God's church, or is it about my mid-life crisis and wanting to leave something behind?

And John - out where the air is clear and so is his mind - says "I'm just a voice. I'm just telling you to get ready. But there's someone out there - maybe even here now - He's the one that will be worth following. Now get ready.

 John stands in the great succession of prophets. All the good ones pointed to God. He, uniquely, will get to pour water on God's head. To greet him as a cousin. To wonder if he's found the right one. And then, like Galadriel, to diminish and leave the story, having done his job.

And we, as God's church, we can scrabble and argue about how we work during a pandemic - between those who prioritise people's safety, and those where the scale is further over to the spiritual need to meet together physically. We can - in more normal times - worry about whether we've got the leading part, or the bit part. Are we leaders, followers or people who just want the attention? 

And the church's job is not to rule people's lives, not to be a power in the land, not to have everyone think we're perfect. 

We're just a voice. In the wilderness. Saying get ready, He is coming.

Sunday 6 December 2020

"Mary Did You Know?"

Songster: Mary, did you know? Mary, did you know?

Mary: Let me put it this way. Gabriel told me who my Son was. Elizabeth's son John leapt in her womb to greet him. Anna and Simeon told me what he would be like. And I wrote the Magnificat. What do you reckon?

Songster: I'll get my coat.

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Psalm for Sorting Out and Hanging Up the Christmas Lights

Oh wow, how many are the knots
and to what degree are these lights tangled.

I tug them to see if they will come apart
and they huddle together, 
like unto the knot that is Gordian
like unto a nest of serpents that twine in the darkness

If that is what serpents do
I try to stay away from serpents.

I look back to last Epiphany
when I put the lights into their box
consigning them to darkness
even as the light of the year grew.

And I said to myself, "let us not thrown them in randomly
like unto last year 
and the many years of our forefathers and foremothers before us
even like unto those who went down unto the grave
in despair that they could not untangle their bling.

And so I carefully coiled the wires
Keeping the plastic icicles separate
cunningly using those little twisty bits of plastic-covered wire
so that no two wires would be entwined.

And now look at what I have.
A nest like unto a consultant's chart
constructed by Dominic Cummings 
and a superforecaster 
with a hangover.

A solid mass of wire and plastic 
and there is no sign of an end.
When will I see the end?
And yet the end is not nigh.

I struggle all afternoon, even as the light fadeth
and still I have not a single string.

The lights come on in my hand as the timer cuts in
which at noontime I said I would have them hung up
long before this happened.
And still there is no end.

The day turns to evening
the sheep return to the fold
the chickens come home to roost
and I have found the end.

As darkness falls
like unto the Valley of the Shadow of death
I stretch out the strings of lights 
until I have the lights apart.

In gladness I climb the stepladder
hanging up the lights
to celebrate the birth of a king in the middle east
through blue LEDs and plastic things that could resemble icicles.

Some of the icicles are missing.
In vain do I search the loft for the missing icicles
But none are found.
Not in a box
nor on the insulating foam.

And so I resolve to give it in.
90% of the icicles are there.
And maybe nobody will look too closely.
Next year, I will do it better.

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Tuesday 1 December 2020

Betjeman in Coronatide

The tills in Marks and Sparks are quiet
James Dalrymple is running riot
We hang the lights up on the roof
To shout this loud and lasting truth
That though the times are wearing grim
We still won't let the virus win.

The early reindeer  on the lawn
And round the bungalow the strings
of fairy lights in many colours
and many flashing, tasteless things
mean that the passers-by will say
“We're glad you did” on Christmas day.

The Coca-Cola ad is stilled
retailers face a grim new year
the top toys though will still sell out
cos Amazon still gets about
and people say the Pogues are haggard
and try to find a rhyme for "maggot".

And no-one's flying out to Spain
We're stuck here in the Advent rain
And no-one's going down the pub
Unless they eat some token grub.
Instead we order online beer
To generate some FaceTime cheer.

We try to rank our family near
Which granny do we hold most dear?
But hugging granny's not so wise
This weird, unfair Coronatide.
Though Laurence Fox might act quite brave
Please don't help grandad to the grave.

But is it true, can it be true
This most unlikely tale of all,
As Brexit looms through Advent mists
A baby in an ox's stall?
But is it true? That ancient tale?
I'll have to check with Ian Paul.

And is it true? For if it is
No virtual drinks upon the screen
No social-distanced carollers
Around the empty village green
No massive fight about the right
To eat Scotch eggs on Christmas night
No DPD upon the drive
No PS5 that won't arrive
No Xmas rat-run thanks to Waze
Can ever this great Truth erase –
Our God was born to share our pain,
And so this Advent does again.

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Monday 30 November 2020

Advice on Streaming Online Services

I know a lot of clergy and others have been struggling to understand the best way to stream online services. So here's a bit of advice out of our own hard experience here at the Beaker Folk.

In the early days we used to use Gribble to put our worship onto Groblol. We found it best to disambulate Gringe before defragging the Wildrive connector. This needed an RS232 welded into a skelt shamble. But remember to earth the skelt shamble, to avoid an overload of pink noise.  But even so, there were issues with temporal disjunctures. Especially at higher temperatures.

So now, for Beaker Folk services, we normally channel the AV through MoobCrush. This gives us bidirectional drain channels, but without a lot of overhead vizbleed.

If you're using a Snarklink, ensure the co-ax is cross-threaded. Ideally left-handed, although neutral bandwise is an alternative if you're in Croydon.

We like to channel our channels through YouTube as a downstream uplink, cross-furculated into DribFlan. Albeit we had a few problems degrommiting the backdribble, so we had to drivel the audiolink through NoseFlash and then it's just a matter of converting CMYK to BRB on the fly, and we're sorted.

Hope this helps.

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Sunday 29 November 2020

Awesome Things We Did not Expect - Advent Sunday

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry.  

How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people.
Our sacred cities have become a desert; even Zion is a desert, Jerusalem a desolation.
Our holy and glorious temple, where our fathers praised you, has been burned with fire, and all that we treasured lies in ruins.

After all this, O LORD, will you hold yourself back? Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure? (Isa 64)

A Marylebone Street at dusk

It's been a bit of a year. 

You remember back at the start of 2020? We sang Auld Lang Syne and shook hands in that weird way you do. How long ago was that now? seven or eight years ago?

And we've gone through all sorts, haven't we? First there was a virus we assumed there was only a problem somewhere foreign. Then we realised it was also over here. And then we were told it would be sorted in 12 weeks. And then it was going to be nearly normal by Christmas. And now it isn't.

And now we get less sunlight, it's harder to get outside where the virus doesn't spread so much. 99% of the population of England will basically be in lockdown next week, when we officially come out of lockdown. It's going to be a grim winter and a very odd Christmas. But we're promised no more tiers by February.

The grown-up, hard, long-haul thing we need to face is that the best thing we can do, on the whole, is batten down the hatches and protect everyone we can until such time as the vaccines and/or therapeutics start to make life safer. This is not a nice story - it means we have to accept that the economy is going to be on the slide for a while. Pubs are closing and a lot will never open again. A lot. This virus is going to change the face of our country, forever. And short-term we're stuck with not going the pub, not going round our friends' and families' houses.

It's no wonder people look for simple answers. Wishing away the virus, or pretending to themselves that people have died "with" the virus, not "of" it. Ignoring 50,000 excess deaths already this year in the UK, to tell themselves a comforting story. Wittering on about Herd Immunity when it's clear no country is anywhere near it. People demonstrating against Lockdown, in London and around the world - effectively denying the seriousness of the situation. It's because they want to tell themselves a happier story. They want the easy way out. Unfortunately, it ain't true.

Then these words from the Prophecy of Isaiah ring down the ages. It's looking from the perspective of the Jewish Exiles who returned from Babylon. The country they return to is wrecked. The Babylonians have planted other nations into Judah. Jerusalem is in ruins. The Temple - that great achievement of Solomon - is destroyed, and all its treasures gone. 

Like 2020, this wasn't the thing they were looking forward to. Their great return is not a triumph. It's a let-down. They haven't got glory. They've got the hard, hard work of rebuilding - while fending off their enemies and dealing with their own infighting. And the prayer goes up to God and it's so down-to-earth, and yet so faithful.

First up, an appeal - if only God will act quickly and make things simple - "O that you would rend the heavens and come down."

Then they remind God who God is. The true God, who has acted in history and done great things: the God who was faithful to the faithful. The God who can break mountains and overturn history.

Then the reflection of where they are: the nation has sinned And God was angry. So how can they be saved? When they're unclean and they aren't prayerful. And there's a vicious circle going on - God doesn't act, so the people don't pray, so God doesn't listen.

And then they return to God's nature. And they appeal. We are the clay - you are the potter. We are your creation. Thing about an artist making a creation - they always put something of themselves into the work. God, you made us - maybe you can re-cast us, re-mould us - but whatever you do, don't forget us.

Then they move on to an appeal to God's nature in what he has done in the past for Israel and Judah. These are God's cities that are waste - this is the temple where God's Name was praised that has been destroyed.

And then they recognise that God is sovereign, and put it all into God's hands. "After all this - will you hold yourself back? Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?" 

Which you could take as despair. Or you could see this as begging the answers - no, God will not hold back. No, God will not stay silent. No, God will not punish them beyond measure.

And so, in the ruins, of the city, in the wastes of their formerly great nation, the Jews will pick up spades and trowels - and swords - and start to rebuild. Their prayer has been dependent on God's faithfulness. And they won't chuck it at God and leave it - they'll start to work as if God will respond. They will trust in the God that did great things in the past, and they'll work as if he's working through them.

So here we are. Our churches are closed - but soon they will be open again in a specific and limited way. We stand in the tradition of those Jews that returned to Jerusalem - aware that the job ahead of us is huge, but God is faithful. We believe that the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Moses and Elijah and Isaiah - is also the God who is revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, who came to earth, and descended to the depths - and rose again. And if we believe in that Covenant God, that faithful God, that incarnate God - then while we know times are hard, while we face a future that is uncertain, we also know One who has been through the waters of death and has come out the other side. 

And we don't need the wishful thinking and the magical thinking, the miracle cures and the wishing-away and all the other ways there are to cope. We have a God who has faced the hardest things in the world and overcome them all.

So welcome to Advent. When we remember that life is not always easy. That there are no simple answers to our human condition. Life is a struggle - this year more than many. But God is faithful, we are his people - and Jesus is coming. Put your Christmas lights up early, if you like. Give yourself some cheer. Winter is swarming around us. But Spring won't be far behind. And a baby will be born, and laid in a manger, who is light to the world, who walks with us through the sadness, and brings us through a cross and resurrection to new life.

As a man waking in a dark night
runs to the window, and there afar 
sees the first gleam of dawn
and the morning star.

A woman struggling, now near her time,
feels the first birth-pangs, sure -  though fearing -
that through more pain to come
child-dawn is nearing.

And a world grown old in sin and blood
yearns for an answer and hopes so long
though all hopes fall to dust
hears an angel song.

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Wednesday 25 November 2020

Take a Break, Justin

"Dear Archbishop, now is not the time to take a sabbatical", says Karen Armstrong in the Guardian. Which I guess is a Guardian-Religious equivalent of the constant calls during summer holidays for Parliament to be recalled. She tells us that next summer will be a bad time for Justin Welby to take some time off (thus misunderstanding the full purpose of sabbaticals, which includes study) and tells us that "Jesus could not retire to cultivate his personal spirituality because he was perpetually besieged by desperate people".

I mean, he was certainly, in many Bible passages, surrounded by people with assorted needs. It's true. Maybe that's why he went out into the desert for 40 days, to consider his ministry. Maybe that's why he spent a lot of time walking around Judea and Galilee, with just his disciples - I'm assuming that he got a fair amount of downtime in between villages with desperate people. Maybe that's why he set out on a boat to cross Galilee. And went out to quiet places to pray. And why, at the critical point in his earthly career, he went off to the Garden of Gethsemane. But in general - maybe there's more about when Jesus was surrounded by desperate people - because that's the interesting bit. "Jesus goes for a walk for a bit" is a bit less exciting than "Jesus throws pigs out of a bloke and they all drown."

Frankly, if the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn't have a break when he's due one - to study or write as well as rest - what example is he setting to everyone else? To the clergy who have spent the past 8 months, working in an alien environment to minister to their fellow-Christians, and who frankly need to ensure they get a break - after what will be a weird Christmas if not before? To people who work too hard, too long every day during the week? To a world that is obsessed with presenteeism, where so many people - even when they're on holiday - can't help dialling in to check where they need to get involved in their absence.

Most of all - turns out, if the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn't take a break - he's not even following in the footsteps of his master.

Go on, Justin. Have a break. It's what Jesus would do.

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Tuesday 24 November 2020

The Fetishism of Christmas

Do you remember back to those heady days in July when Covid infection rates were falling? What days they were. Toby Young was claiming the epidemic was over, as if it had just happened magically and not due to a lockdown. This was before he had to fall back to "it's no worse than flu" type posturing, backed up bad bad arithmetic. Boris Johnson took credit for "getting deaths down", and said we should be back to "significant normality" by Christmas. 

Well, I guess maybe a Boris Johnson family Christmas - with members of the family in different houses and nobody quite sure if anyone's going to see their dad.  But it's all about Christmas now, isn't it? The annual debate over "Fairy tale of New York" has started. Earlier every year. And the newspapers are speculating over what kind of Christmas will be allowed. Amid concerns that a "normal" Christmas will be out.

I guess it depends what kind of Christmas you think is out. Snogging the weird bloke in Accounts at the office party, for instance, a major part of some people's Christmas - that's a no-no. Pubs heaving with people who believe in no religion but are just glad of ten days off work - out. Packed Christingle services - no to them as well. Albeit you'd have to wonder whether the dangers of catching Covid outweigh the ever-present ones of spontaneous combustion.

The bit of Christmas Matt Hancock wants to preserve is where people see “some of their loved ones, but still keep the virus under control”. Which is a bit like expecting to leave the EU and simultaneously keep all the trade benefits. And who would believe in that? If you see more loved ones, you will have less control over the virus. It's pretty simple. 

I heard a chap on the radio saying he remembered the good old days when he was a child. When on Christmas Day his family would sit up late, playing cards for two pence stakes with his nan and grandad. And he wants the same experience for his kids. It's a lovely thought - I did the same as a child. Not with this bloke's nan and grandad, that would be weird. With my own. But what I would say is this. If you can make a sacrifice this Christmas then maybe playing cards with their grandad won't be a one-off. Why would you prioritise your own nostalgia over the safety of your father?

And then - for many people, isn't this Christmas just a fetish? When the reality is gran being sick on the couch after a forty-third Creme de Menthe, and the brother-in-law sulking because you forgot his other kid, and a friendly game of darts turning into a war zone and Monopoly boards flying through the air, while outside under a carolling sky the teenagers are setting fire to a car. Or was that just my childhood Christmases? The reality of a "normal" Christmas is hell for probably a third of the population. Maybe instead of worrying about the nostalgia-merchants we should be concerned for the ones that will be genuinely lonely and need support - a wave through the window, a chat from the other end of the garden path or, go on you techno-freak you - maybe a chat on Facetime (other methods of talking to people are available).

And then a Twitter lawyer suggested moving Christmas to February and all hell broke loose as Christians explained you can feel free to move getting together with Granny, but Christmas is still going to be 9 months after the Annunciation. While the sceptical people who aren't as sceptical as they really ought to be  - because they've accepted an unproven theory as unGospel truth - declared Christmas is really a Christianisation of Yule, Saturnalia, the feast of Sol Invictus, Mithras's Birthday, for all I know, probably the Day Isis got a Nosebleed, and Children in Need as well. It can't be all of those things. And there's no proof - proper proof, not hyopotheses, passed-on "facts" or supposition  - of any of these things. 

So it turns out the "Christmas is really Pagan" season has started early as well.

So enough's enough. The bling is going up tonight. This year, in keeping with the extended season of Lent we entered in March, we'd decorating the Moot House with illuminated pumpkins, gravestones and skulls. Remember you are dust, for to dust you will return.

I've got that right, haven't I? Or am I just celebrating Ash Wednesday at the wrong time as well?

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Friday 20 November 2020

Boris Johnson Saves Christmas

The nation is in a state of fearful confusion.

Many are scared of a disease that disproportionately kills older people. Those with medical conditions hide away. While a grinning fool called RumpleDalrimple wanders the country without a mask to hide his face, to everyone's pain and discomfort.

As the nights draw in and the weather turns cold, people are increasingly gathering together indoors - increasing the chances that they will pass on the disease to their families. 

Common sense would say that people should, out of care for the relatives, make this Christmas particularly low-key. Stick to phone calls and Internet chat. Stay within their own homes, or out in the open air. Avoid clustering together with people they've not seen for 12 months, in case they are unwittingly carrying the illness. Maybe even discover the age-old wonders of writing cards or round-robin letters. 

Where can the country find someone desperate to give some good news to achieve some temporary popularity? Someone who would put a few days of nostalgia and warm feelings above the sadness of deaths in the new year? Someone who lives day to day, prepared to get some pleasure now, regardless of what may be coming down the line?

Only Boris Johnson can save Christmas. 

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Thursday 19 November 2020

Better Names for de Montfort University

Back in the day, there were universities and polytechnics. But then all the polytechnics became universities, and had to come up with exciting new names. Luton College became Luton University and eventually (in a bid to cover its traces) the University of Bedfordshire. Whereas some of them went for association themselves with famous people. Anglia Ruskin University, for example.And Leicester Polytechnic renamed intself de Montfort University.

An interesting choice of name. I mean, in the middle ages, some of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges and other such institutions ended up named after some unsavoury characters. I don't mean Jesus, or St John. I mean like my own, "King's Hall and College of Brasenose", where the king concerned was presumably Henry VIII. Albeit he was a bright young kingling when Braseonse was founded so nobody knew the horrors to come.

But Simon de Montfort is quite another matter. We all know what he was. A mass-murdering, anti-semitic rebel, who made himself king in all but name, and massacred the Jews. And ultimately he ended in utter failure Makes you wonder why anyone would ever have thought him a good idea.

And now the students union have very sensibly decided that maybe the university could be named after a more suitable candidate. Needless to say, the comments below the Leicester News article are mostly decrying the suggestion for "wokery", "snowflakes", and "rewriting history". And we could discuss the fact that "rewriting history" is basically "history". But I dont think anyone's suggesting rewriting history here. They knew what he was like when they named the place after him. And let's face it, it was well known in the 13th century that de Montfort was an anti-semite and a failure. He ended up dying in battle. His head was chopped off, his testicles arranged around his nose, and then sent as a gift to Roger Mortimer's wife. Which I suppose solved the problem of what to give her for Xmas. But gives you weird ideas of what they could have used for the university's logo.

 But the real irony is that the people complaining about the suggested renaming are almost certainly supporters of Brexit. And Simon de Montfort was the absolute epitome of an unelected European bureacrat, coming over here and changing our laws without our say so. And while he did put together the prototype of a House of Commons, he did so in a desperate attempt to shore up his support, while coincidentally funneling money into his own accounts.

So time to rename the place. To help the good people of Leicester, here are some suggestions that would all be better than "de Montfort" to precede "University":

  1. Richard Attenborough
  2. Graham Chapman 
  3. Sue Townsend
  4. Thomas Cook
  5. Arthur Russell Wallace
  6. Lady Jane Grey
  7. Henry Bragg
  8. Errol Christie
  9. Gary Lineker
  10. David Gower
  11. Showaddywadd
  12. Caroline Ashurst Briggs
  13. Emile Hesketh
  14. Not the other Leicester
  15. Bill Maynard
  16. Una Stubbs
  17. David Icke*
  18. Gok Wan
  19. Cornershop
  20. Englebert Humperdinck**
  21. Walkers Crisps
  22. Martin Corry
  23. Willie Thorne
  24. Richard III ***
  25. Syd Lucas
  26. Peter Shilton
  27. Colin Hall **** 
  28. Dunelm Mill ***** 
  29. Joseph Merrick
  30. Pukka Pies

* be popular with some of the people complaining, at any rate

** the singer, not the composer

*** the cathedral seems quite fond of him

**** only mayor of Leicester whose trousers fell down at a public event

***** just to upset Durham, really

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Monday 16 November 2020

Spreading the Word, Spreading the Plague

A church in Islington has been closed by police after it attempted to hold a service despite Covid regulations. The pastor, Regan King, has argued that, although he is breaking the law, he is not a law breaker. Which, if nothing else, makes me wary about the logic he may employ in sermons.

I understand why churches argue their services are necessary. Our spiritual needs are very deep. In our different ways, we crave meaning. Many of us find that through religious acts. Some through acts of charity - Regan King's church has been very generous in feeding people through this crisis, so we can commend them for that.

Jesus said, "when two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst". Two or three is a number than can be easily achieved in a household bubble, or in a (legal) meeting of two people in the park. You don't need 30 people in a building. And you certainly don't need to argue 15 of them are "assisting with the service" in your "pushing the guidelines to their absolute max". 

I mean, firstly this is about the law. We have a duty to obey laws - even ones that stop us doing what we like. Unjust laws we can debate. But this church isn't bravely worshipping despite persecution - as otherwise we'd have to assume the government is also persecuting pubs, fashion retailers and nail bars. 

It's about love. You show love by feeding the homeless. Yes, you do it by meeting their spiritual needs. But you also do it by not gathering a group of people into one place during a pandemic, increasing the chances of someone passing on the disease. And thereby increasing the chances of someone outside the gathering catching it next week - an elderly relative, a homeless person you were supposed to be serving, a patient in hospital. And since it spreads virally - and since many carriers have no symptoms - somebody can be dying in your local hospital, four weeks after you held a service that you thought had no consequences.

The pastor says they were keeping to social distancing. Well, social distancing is a mitigation, not a prevention. It says that if we all follow the rules, we reduce the amount we spread. Masks only reduce transmission, and the virus has no concept that it needs to stop travelling when it reaches 2 metres from your nose. Every time we socialise, at whatever distance, we increase the chances of spreading the disease.

And the comparison with supermarkets is a terrible one. We cannot live on bread alone, sure. But we can only go a couple of weeks without it. And in an epidemic as winter approaches, we need all the good nutrition we can get. If we closed all the supermarkets, Regan King's not getting much of a congregation for the foreseeable future. We can wait to meet in buildings. It's hard - it's an exile - but it's doable.

In conclusion I think this church did what it did with all the right motivation, for all the wrong reasons. If love is what we are called to do, then let's love each other by keeping each other safe. Feed the hungy, give comfort to the lonely, and avoid spreading deadly, infectious diseases. What would Jesus do? Teach by example, and mostly out of doors. 

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Sunday 15 November 2020


I met a traveller from Islington
Who said—“Two vast and arm-less spectacles
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose bald head,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Domimandias, Cummings of Cummings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Geek, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

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Saturday 14 November 2020

Liturgy of Farewell - or is it - to Dominic Cummings

Archdruid: Rarely Beloved, we are gathered here today to bury the career of Dominic Cummings. Or, as he is known to his friends...

she checks her notes

Archdruid:, forget that.

All: He'll be back. Just like Arnie.

Archdruid: Let's take our wins where we can and enjoy it for now. 

Hymn: "Da doo-dom-dom" by the Dom-ettes

Psalm of Lament

All: Oh, how many are our woes.
And how great the fears before us.
For we pass through the valley of Covid
which runneth down to the cliff edge of Brexit
As those that are sitting in a shopping trolley 
pushed by a 15-year-old youth, out of his head on extra-strong mints.
And as our nation rages against other nations
and heads for the edge
yet our leaders, O England, are as jack-asses in the ruins
fighting amongst themselves for who is the true leader
when the terror is on every side
and the people perish for lack of vision.

A cloud of pantomime smoke, and Dominic Cummings appears in the midst of the Moot House

Dominic Cummings: Behold it is I! Dominic Cummings. Seer of sights, viewer of visions, dreamer of dreams, scourge of the Civil Service and geekmeister incarnate. Working class hero, wielder of whackos, herder of weirdos and superforecaster of superforecasts.

The Archdruid turns a fire extinguisher on him.

All: You didn't superforecast that coming.

Dominic Cummings: Foolish Archdruid! Know ye not who I am? I am the one that channeleth the spirit of the Masses. The spokesperson for those too gormless to know what to think. The one whose every thought is channelled in pure quantanium through the peptic synapses of my mind.

Archdruid: MA in History, weren't it, Dom?

All: Bald bloke from Durham, you're just a bald bloke from Durham. Bald bloke from Durham... 

Dominic Cummings: Minions! Do not believe this deceiveron in her pointy hat! Fall down and worship me - your true Edgelord of Edgelords. 

Burton Dasset: I worship you, O Edgelord. King of the Nerds and purveyor of poorly-understood science.

Charlii inserts a scone into Burton's silly gob, before he loses his immortal soul.

Archdruid: Cummings, you are fallen. Your days are over. Return to the pit from which ye slithered.

Dominic Cummings: Nice little 4-bed in Islington, actually... Listen - look at this bald head - consider my prophetic powers. I shall summon bears to rend your youths.

Archdruid: We're a rural congregation in the 2020s. Where do you think we're going to get any youths?

Dominic Cummings: Curses. Foiled again.

All: Poundshop Phil Collins. You're just a poundshop Phil Collins.

Archdruid: And Cummings.... I've always wanted to say this....... You have no power over me.

Dominic Cummings: What mean ye, witch?

Archdruid: We Beaker Folk are an official bubble. All the grounds, amenities, rooms in the Great House, the Stables block and the Dower House - are officially one property. But you come here - in defiance of the Rules of Boris Which All Must Obey - and sully our bubble with your fancy London ways and potentially your virus. Let me introduce you to Young Keith's Uncle, the Police Sergeant.

Young Keith's Uncle: I'm afraid you're bang to rights, sir. Would you like to accompany me to the station?

Dominic Cummings: Fool! Don't you know who I am?

Young Keith's Uncle: Aren't you Lee Hurst? When did you swap your checked shirt for that silly T-Shirt? And you're wearing it inside out. 

Dominic Cummings: I am enacting a parable! I do not follow the rules. I make them.

Young Keith's Uncle: I think you'll find, Mr Meldrew, that round here I am the Law. Now get in the Fiat Panda. You're coming with me. 

Dominic Cummings: I have failed the test. I shall diminish, and return to North London. And remain Classic Dom.

Archdruid: And so the forces of evil were diminished. And the people said Amen.

Hymn: Be bald, be strong. 


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Monday 9 November 2020

Liturgy of Special Pleading

Archdruid: Because of the way the Government left it too long ahead of doing anything, once again many of the things which make life worth living are shut down. And so together we join our voices in lament that we are unable to meet - and point out that our...

C of E clerics: ... churches

Tim Martin: ... pubs

Gym owners: ...gyms

Archdruid: ...are Covid secure. We provide a social service in our...

C of E clerics: ... churches

Tim Martin: ... pubs

Gym owners: ...gyms.

Archdruid: We bring people together safely in our...

C of E clerics: ... churches

Tim Martin: ... pubs

Gym owners: ...gyms.
Archdruid: And we claim to be an exception because what we do goes beyond mundane pleasure and simply existing. We offer people...
C of E clerics: ... God

Tim Martin: ... cheap pints

Gym owners: a sense of well-being.
Archdruid: And so while we all recognise that clothes shops, community centres, cinemas and night clubs weren't really Covid-secure, we bring our pleas that our...
C of E clerics: ... churches

Tim Martin: ... pubs

Gym owners: ...gyms.
 Archdruid: Are absolutely fine.

In a special plea that people realise it's not the individual activity that is the issue. It's the sum of all human interactions that spreads disease. If we can all reduce what we do for a while, we can all get back to what we do with more of us still here.

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Friday 6 November 2020

Liturgy of Goodbye to Geoffrey Palmer (1927-2020)

Hymn: "Love is like a butterfly" 

Archdruid: Sorry there's no liturgy. Bit of a cock up on the overhead projection front.

All: We didn't get where we are by not putting the right Powerpoint on the lap top.

Archdruid: Let us join in our confession.

All: Almighty and most merciful Father, bit of a cock up on the lost sheep front. Bit of a cock up on the the devices and desires of our own hearts front. Bit of a cock up on the holy laws front. Bit of a cock up on the undone things front. Bit of a cock up on the done things front. Bit of a cock up in the health in us front. Any chance of a bit of forgiving? And maybe a few potatoes?

 Archdruid: God who looks not on the cock ups on the life front, but would rather we turn from our cock ups and go forward into life with no cock ups, forgive us our cock ups, keep us from further cock ups, and ensure we go into the future life where there will be no more cock ups.

Hymn: As Time Goes By

Archdruid: Now let us raise a toast to Geoffrey Palmer.

All: Shouldn't really. Trying to keep a clear head. Double whisky. Thanks. 

Archdruid: Now may Geoffrey Palmer be blessed with the blessed, in the land where the butterflies are beautiful and there is no need to chloroform them, where retired Majors don't go red in the face and hate foreigners, where teenaged sons no longer sponge off their parents, and frustrated housewives have no need to roam in search of experiences new. And the cleaner doesn't moan about your moany music.


Archdruid: May God keep you from the Forces of Anarchy, wreckers of law and order, communists, Maoists, Trotskyists, neo-Trotskyists, crypto-Trotskyists, union leaders, communist union leaders, atheists, agnostics, long-haired weirdoes, short-haired weirdoes, vandals, hooligans, football supporters, namby-pamby probation officers, foreign surgeons, head-shrinkers, Wedgewood Benn, keg bitter, punk rock, glue sniffers, Play for Today, squatters, Clive Jenkins, Up Jenkins, Up Everytbody's and Chinese restaurants*.

All: And from racialists, Rear Admirals, Queer Admirals and Vice Admirals.

Recessional: Breakfast in America** 

* lists slightly edited from original for reasons of 2020s sensibility. 

** if you're the right age you'll get the joke.

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Sunday 1 November 2020

Terrifying Metaphors in Worship Songs - "My Lighthouse"

Just breaking off from burning the Wicca Person for Samhain to note that the Rend Collective song "My Lighthouse" is terrifying.

My lighthouse, my lighthouse
Shining in the darkness. I will follow You

The whole point of a lighthouse is to warn you about the rocks it's on. Basically, the whole message of a lighthouse is "don't come over here. You know where you are - that's a lot safer. You're in open water. I'm on the rocks. " Whatever you do, don't follow a lighthouse.  It's good to be on the Rock. But not to be on the rocks.

Kids, be safe. Don't follow lighthouses.

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Saturday 31 October 2020

Halloween in the Reformed Tradition

I'm really looking forward to this year's combined Samhain/Reformation Day activities. What we call "Halloween in the Reformed Tradition". So this evening all the little children will be going round the Community wearing Martin Luther masks and telling each other that sweets are bad for you. And offering people the choice of "trick or thesis"?

They're gonna have such a great time going round, splitting into smaller groups every time they have a disagreement. Complaining about persecution while simultaneously rooting out witches and Catholics.

Of course, in this Community we do not suffer a witch to suffer. Instead I rescue them from the grips of the teeny engineers and give them a small allowance to live in the Haunted Mansion. This former dower house is actually incredibly warm, cosy and free of infestations of the supernatural. But they make me quite a living knitting woollen spiders for the Beaker Bazaar. And oddly enough, most of them work in marketing.

The Catholics we set free into the wild, having tagged them so we know if they turn up again.

Meanwhile the Punkies are coming on well. We have the traditional pumpkin ones, all the way down to the little middle class ones carved out of ghost chillies and garlic cloves.

Please note that due to inclement weather, the burning of the Wicker Man will take place indoors. Please bring your breathing equipment. Which is now mandated for all indoor Beaker worship in any case.

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Thursday 29 October 2020

Rock on in Peace: Rock on to Glory. RIP Bobby Ball

The Beaker Folk may twang their braces

Archdruid: Rock on, 

All: Tommy.

Archdruid: Rock on, 

All: Tommy.

Archdruid: Rock on, 

All: Tommy.
Archdruid: Rock on, 

All: Tommy.
Hnaef: I'm unfamiliar with this Northern Working Class humour. Is that all he did?

Archdruid: Hnaef, Hnaef, Hnaef. O deprived posh boy. This is all that is necessary. But let me tell you that Bobby Ball will now be the Patron Saint of Preachers' Nightmare Dreams. I refer you to the Chronicles of Last of the Summer Wine 22:7. In which Bobby plays "Lenny from the Pickle Factory" and Tommy Cannon plays "Man in the Boat". Lenny is convinced that he is receiving messages from Above. The news spreads. A crowd gathers to hear his prophecies.... 

...and nothing comes. Lenny's "voice" has left him in the lurch. 
At 4am in a preacher's mind, this scenario plays over and over again. And so we remember Bobby today. Mourn the passing of a Northern legend. And pray to avoid the fate of Lenny from the Pickle Factory.

Hnaef: OK. Then... Rock on Tommy!

Archdruid: Rock on, 

All: Tommy.

Archdruid: Rock on, 

All: Tommy.

Archdruid: Rock on, 

All: Tommy.
Archdruid: Rock on, 

All: Bobby.

Archdruid: Rock on in peace.

All: Rock on to glory.

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Wednesday 28 October 2020

Liturgically Appropriate Resting Places for Church Creatures

There has been a certain amount of animation - some positive, some negative, as ever - over the little ceremony for the interment of the earthly remains of Doorkins, the Southwark Cathedral cat.

Cats are among many creatures that can be associated with churches. And the problem naturally arises - where is the appropriate place to bury our dumb chums? I know the tradition is to quietly smuggle their ashes into the funeral caskets of their human companions when they follows them over the Rainbow Bridge. But church animals are sometimes effectively ownerless - they may be wildlife, or stray livestock - or the owner doesn't want to end up lugging suitacases full of animal ashes around the place.

Looks like a lion's head on a gravestone (it isn't really)


So here is your guide to the appropriate places to stash the ash of our former furry (or feathery or scaly) friends.

AnimalEternal resting place
RabbitEaster Garden
CrocodileSouth aisle
Church MouseGod's House
GnusUnder the yews
SwallowIn a hollow
Squirrelled away
Buried deep            

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The Delusional World of Julia Hartley-Brewer

As yesterday's alarming figures for deaths from Covid in the UK sank in, it was Julia Hartley-Brewer, the Katie Hopkins for the Waitrose shopper, who summed up exactly what the last nine months have been all about.
There's some really weird stuff going on in that tweet. Obviously, there's the lack of consideration for the deaths of many people. The UK is now averaging over 200 deaths per day being announced - ahead of the supposedly apocalyptic warning of the Chief Scientific Adviser, who said this might be what we faced by mid-November.

There's the blame-shifting. If a lockdown happens, Julia Hartley -Brewer is implying that it's not because the government isn't managing things properly. It's not the Establishment that is at fault. It's because a poorly-defined "you" wanted it. The implication is that the "you" involved aren't Julia's loyal followers. This is some disembodied group of people - presumably Remainers, Progressives and Liberals, who - far from being "owned" are able to impose the lockdown that they wanted to causing people to die.

Then there's the inability to understand motive and balance. Attitudes to Covid-19 are on a spectrum. At one end are people who think it's a hoax, or caused by 5G, or no worse than flu. At the other end are people who a are genuinely terrified for their lives and haven't been out of the house since March. Who routinely spray everything that enters their house, and wash their hands every thirty seconds. Everybody else is somewhere in between. And according to how you prioritise public safety against public liberty, you will conclude there is a right course of action whether lockdowns, or mask wearing, or being James Delingpole. All these options are available to you. But to Julia HB, it's more polarised: you either agree with her, or you're a snowflake who really likes everybody being locked down.

Then there's the magical thinking. If this is the lockdown "you" had been hoping for - then clearly a load of people dying is caused by "your" wish for a lockdown. Julia HB's causality works differently to everyone else's. If we wanted to stay out of lockdown, according to this logic, we should have acted as if lockdown was not a possibility. We should have just gone along with the Hartley-Brewer magic-based attitude to science.

The thinking can be seen all the way through this epidemic. When it started, Boris Johnson told us we in the UK would resist it like Superman.  Which it didn't, because it's a disease and not Lex Luthor. In the same speech he also told everyone the UK didn't need to worry about a Brexit no-deal and we already had an oven-ready one. Ah, how times change.

As the disease started across the world, it was no worse than flu and we just had to sing "Happy Birthday" while washing our hands. Sunetra Gupta told us we already had large degrees of herd immunity. Daniel Hannan told us Sweden was just fine. Then as we got it under control for the first time, the cries went up that the reopening was too slow. That mental health was suffering - which it was, but it's a balance, again. 

Then as the autumn came in and cases rose, it was due to increased testing. As they rose further, it was false positives - as there was no increase in deaths. Then as deaths rose it was people dying "with" the disease, not "of" it. Currently it's the claim that there are currently no UK excess deaths. But there's never a reflection that, if all the people who died in Spring of Covid were really as sick already as the deniers claimed, there should have been a massive fall in excess deaths in the late summer. Which never happened. No reflection that it's a bit odd all those people died "with" the disease when people weren't normally dying in those numbers.

And now Sunetra Gupta tells us that herd immunity is the way to go - a turn round from the spring, when she told us we were already largely immune. And the deniers leap on that, although there is no evidence that the immunity lasts. At every stage, actual events are denied with pseudoscience and wishful thinking.

And now, the climax of wishful thinking. People are dying because "you" wanted a lockdown. Well Julia Hartley-Brewer must hope you're ashamed of yourself, whoever "you" are. You brought the disease back through your lockdown obsession.

Beaker Folk, we know what works with diseases. Separation, hygiene, properly tested drugs (untested drugs might work but you'd have to be lucky and get the right one) and vaccines. And we know what doesn't work. Wishful thinking, blind faith and libertarianism. 

In Jeremiah 28,  there  is a confrontation between Jeremiah and the prophet Hananiah. Hananiah tells the king that God's going to wipe out the Babylonians and it's all easy street. Jeremy's message is that the Babylonians are gonna win, and the best thing to do is mitigate that. 

You don't need to be Jeremiah to know which prophet Julia Hartley-Brewer and her friends are. People, be more Jeremiah.

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Monday 26 October 2020

How to Feed your Family for 50p a Day

There's been a lot of nonsense talked about how to feed children. Many going on about the need for free school meals to be extended into the holidays. As if it's expensive.

But with a bit of imagination, a bit of work and some careful scrimping, you can feed your family for 50p a day. I've managed to make it work for the Beaker Folk and I can let you have the method below. This recipe is for Beaker Artisanal Wood-Fired Pizza. And it's no secret - this is how you do it... 

Feeds 50 Beaker Folk

  • Pizza bases: £25
  • Tomatoes: Free from the Beaker greenhouses
  • Mushrooms: Free from the mushroom cellar
  • Cheese: Artisanal Beaker Cheese made from the Beaker herd
  • Fuel: Beaker Charcoal hand-charred from wood from the Beaker Forest. 
  • Olive Oil (extra-virgin) - hanging around in the herb cupboard
  • Herbs - see Olive Oil
Obviously, this is just the adults. We've put in an order for KFC for the Little Pebbles.

Why can't everybody else be as ingenious as us?

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Sunday 25 October 2020

The Christmas Truce: 2020

The Bishop of Paisley has called for a "ceasefire" of Covid restrictions for 24 hours at Christmas Day.

  "A 24-hour lifting of restrictions on gatherings and celebrations, a break in the war on Covid, just like the pause in the First World War on the Western Front in 1914, when the British and German troops laid down their guns and met in no man's land to celebrate Christmas."

There was a breathless hush in the ward as the sound of immune responses fell quiet. The hospital staff ceased from their  battle and listened.

On the breeze they heard a reedy music. Gradually it drew nearer and louder. It was "Silent Night" sang in the Covid language.

Scrabbling beneath a bed, a trainee nurse pulled out a football and kicked it over into No Man's Land. The viruses drew up in a 4-4-3 formation.  And for the first time in 12 months, as that game of football was played out along the hospital corridor, there was peace between viruses and humankind.

As Christmas Day drew to an end, the nurses and doctors, cleaners and porters and caterers went back to their jobs. As snow fell outside, they could hear a virusy rendering of "We Wish you a Merry Christmas" and the letting-off of virusy party poppers.

 Before New Years Day, the rate of infection had risen and an increased number of deaths was already on its way for mid-January.

Because viruses don't do truces. And they don't know about Christmas. And they don't respect British national myths of exceptionalism. They've never even heard of World War One. They're just viruses. They do what they do.

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