Monday 28 September 2020

Be Bold, Be Strong and Go To Church

I have been having some discussions on the subject of the Coronavirus (or as I call it, "Degenerates' Flu") with the so-called Archdruid next door. 

I am always open and willing to learn. And so I was happy to take a guided tour of the Moot House where she leads her godless services. I even - for I am not one to shout loudly of eating meat sacrificed to idols - I even, brothers and sisters, agreed to wear a mask on my face, and stayed 4 cubits from her at all times.

I would be remiss, brethren and suitably-guided womenfolk of those brethren, if I were not to mention that I could not have been any closer to the woman even if I had wanted to be (not that I would ever be within 4 cubits of a woman when unchaperoned - temptation lurks therein). For she was swinging her Slazenger V400 cricket bat around her head at all times to ensure it was a matter of "thus far and no further". 

The Moot House is currently a veritable site of wonder. Eileen has divided it up into literal "bubbles". Each family attending worship sits in a 5-cubit-high perspex container, with electric wheels underneath and its own air supply dropping from the ceiling. Those attending Beaker worship (for I believe they worship beakers) are thus sealed from all human contact. To be "on the safe side",  the bubbles rain down jets of sanitizing fluid onto their inhabitants at points during the service. 

But compare this to my own Bogwulf Chapel. The Bogwulf Funambulist Baptists have no fear of the works of Degenerates' Flu - for they are not degenerates. They take no notice of the Government's half-hearted warnings - even less so since we discovered that Boris Johnson is apparently a godless Roman Catholic. And not a godless Anglican as we had always assumed.

No. At Bogwulf we know that to socially distance is not to love God. For "perfect love casts out fear". And so we are happy to join in the safety of our own congregation, trusting in God, whatever the R (for "renegade against God") factor. We fear not an invisible virus - for we believe in the invisible God. And which is greater, I ask you? A virus or God? God, obviously. Viruses are tiny. Really, really small. Whereas God is higher than a skyscraper and deeper than a trampoline. We wait not for the vaccines and cures of science. For we have laying-on of hands and we anoint, not with sanitizing liquid, but with holy oil. We will not wear masks, for our hearts are pure and our songs are of victory.

But, we asked ourselves, why should we restrain ourselves from fear just in the case of one tiny virus? Do we not have faith in the Lord who guides? Does not God say, "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye"? And "a little child will lead them"? That is why all Bogwulf Baptists that come to church by car, are driven by the youngest members of the family. And yes, for the Dripsby Family, that is not surprising - for they are all aged over 80. But little Nebuchadrezzar Strange, at four years of age, will be in charge of his father's new Toyota to come to church on Sunday. He will not be able both to work the pedals and see over the dashboard, but he has faith. Truly little Nebuchadrezzar is an example to us all.

Likewise we fear not the power of God, whether in earthquake, wind and fire. That is why we scorn the lightning conductor that was fitted to the chapel roof. Not that we took it down - that would be merely reckless for the Lord. No, to achieve the full "fools for God" to which we aspire, we have connected it to the lectern in the pulpit.

Brothers (and carefully instructed sisters), I have an update on Revd Nathaneal Jupp, who fell ill on Sunday morning while acting as our guest preacher. He died this morning. Normally we rejoice in the death of a true believer. However, since he was electrocutedduring a thunderstorm, we must assume he was in fact a wolf in Baptist's clothing, judged by God, struck down before our eyes as a sinner, and no doubt destined for hell. Our thoughts and prayers are with his widow, and we hope she finds a more godly husband at some time as appointed by God in the future.

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Let Them Jump While They Can

As the world turns, the church calendar brings us to Judgmenttide. Normally this happens twice in the year - once around St Peter's Day and once around Michaelmas - but in times of plague it can all be transferred to late September if required.

Judgementtide is when the pictures of newly-minted deacons and priests in the Church of England are released to the world. This used to have to wait until the Mercurius Rusticus woodcuts could be made and distributed to the quarters of the realm. However I believe in these modern times, the Church Times sends them out in paper form. 

And then the Judgers judge. The fresh-picked clergies jumping in the air in celebration are the main target of judging. And I have to admit, I have my sympathy. I would not have been jumping in the air at my Druid Creation ceremony, had I not just patted myself on the head with a copy of a Bob Flowerdew book while reciting some Latin to make myself Archdruid. But in my own connexion, the Beaker Folk's fresh-made druids tend to fall to the ground, clutching their heads as they realise the horrors that lie before them.

Other Judgers like to look at these pictures and criticise vestment crimes. Inappropriately personalised stoles, cassock-albs, birettas worn back to front - that kind of thing.  

The diocese of Bath And Wells seems to have taken this head on. As well as jumping deacons, we have enjoyed the sight of the new ministers and bishop heading across Wells Cathedral Green like a scene reinstated into the Director's Cut of Hot Fuzz. At one stage I thought they were in terrible danger of being knocked down by a massive bowling ball. No messing around there, no trying not to upset the terminally miserable. I suppose the cider makes them brave down there.

I wouldn't do it. But let them jump if they want to. It's a hard enough world. If you're going into a church context with a lot of vulnerable people and decide to keep the doors closed on Sunday, you're going to have some muscular-Christianity dudebro claiming it's more important that people get their in-bodily-form worship this particular Sunday, than that they survive to go to many services in the years to come. 

Worse, if you're a female new clergy (or even a newly-female clergy I suspect) on Social Media you're going to get the specially miserable types targeting you for specific criticism of your vestments, theology, hairstyles, living arrangements or whatever. Sometimes not even your genuine living arrangements - sometimes just the living arrangements that the Judgers would like to imagine you have.

So let them wear stoles without surplices if that's their thing. It's tough out there. They're going to need a couple of happy memories of liturgical faux pas to keep them warm through the coming winter.

Let them jump while they can.

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Saturday 26 September 2020

The Perils of Being Boris Johnson

Like a piece of endless, bad, performance art, Boris Johnson's private life is once again dragged out from the shadows to try to obscure the sheer badness of his government at everything. It's a bit like upsetting the dim right wing over migrants in Kent wasn't enough (as it turns out, if they don't have a permit they won't be able to get off Thanet anyway).

The latest is in the Daily Mail. I'll save you the trouble of giving them advertising revenue by satirising the article here.

So basically poor Boris Johnson has taken a pay cut to be PM. Instead of the £300K or so he used to get for writing lies for the Telegraph and Spectator, he now gets a mere £150K or so to do the same as the leader of Her Majesty's Government. Yeah, I know. Poor chap.

He's been taken to the cleaners by his second ex-wife. Which is fair enough as she has had roughly 66% of his known children. 

He has to pay for his own meals, and those of friends of his when they come round to dine. I know. Yeah. Unlike the rest of the country, whose meals are provided on the State.

He only has two houses that he owns himself. He can't sell one of them, as it's where Carrie Symonds lives when she needs to get away. 

Heart bleeds. To make it worse, if he wants to go out to the Rose Garden, he has to go through an office. Whereas if most occupants of central London want to go to a rose garden, they only have to walk to Regent's Park. And also, in Regent's Park there's less chance of finding a short-sighted man sitting behind a church hall table making bizarre claims about why he went to the North-East. 

No wonder, in these circumstances, Johnson and Carrie Symonds have had a quiet christening for Baby Wilf rather than a big, illegal wedding for the two of them with a christening attached as is so popular these days. And no wonder poor Carrie has been reduced to staying at a £600 per night hotel in Italy while her partner carries out his master plan to achieve herd immunity in British students.

It honestly couldn't get any sadder. That this man should reduce himself to this for our sakes. Unable to afford the £75 per head to invite his mates for dinner at his Buckinghamshire grace and favour mansion. Literally walking through an office to get to his garden. It's like the end of Mayor of Casterbridge without the dead caged bird at the end. Like a kind of Citizen Kane, Johnson sits in his poky flat in Downing Street, muttering "Bullingdon" as he remembers happier times.

Or maybe, as I say, it's a distraction. Brexit's a disaster and death rates from Covid are rising again. Of course Johnson wants us to concentrate on the soap opera of his life. Of course he does.

Just as reminder. If Johnson's that bloody poor, he can resign as PM. Brexit's a disaster, and death rates from Covid are rising again.

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Friday 25 September 2020

Keeping Everyone Happy at Church

Having a bit of a reflect on the following tweet, in which Dan Brown (not that Dan Brown) reflects on what someone said to him... "your job as vicar is to make sure everyone's happy".

And of course, that's what the job of a church leader is supposed to be. Just consider what this requires. Ensuring the happiness of.... 
  • People who want to be "fed" in the main service.
  • People who like a nice snappy sermon so they can get out quick.
  • People who like modern music.
  • People who like the old stuff.
  • People who only ever want to sing things they already know.
  • People who like modern English.
  • People who like traditional English.
  • People who like Latin.
  • People who like Syriac.
  • People who expect charismatic gifts to be practised in church.
  • People who think anyone who practises charismatic gifts should be exorcised.
  • People who point out that exorcism is also a charismatic gift.
  • People who want the church to be inclusive.
  • People who want the church to be exclusive.
  • People who think the church would be better if everyone was like them.
  • People who believe the Bible is literally true.
  • People who believe the Bible is all metaphor.
  • People who've never read the Bible.
  • People who believe the Bible is literally true, but never read it.
  • People who want to install new toilets in the church.
  • People who think the church building should be frozen in time in 1872, when the Victorian restoration knocked it down and rebuilt it.
  • People who demand the pastor gives strong leadership that agrees with them.
  • People who want to be told what to believe.
  • People who think they know better than the pastor.
  • People that actually do know better than the pastor.
  • People who want lively church with all-age-friendly worship.
  • People who think children should be seen and not heard.
  • People who want church to stay on Zoom forever.
  • People who don't believe there is a virus and want to receive communion in both kinds, with a large band, and congregational singing. 
  • People who think the pastor should leave everyone in peace.
  • People who think the pastor should visit every house in the neighbourhood. Every month.
  • People who don't want to cause a fuss, but then do anyway.
And any of the above could include the pastor themself.

What's a conscientious pastor to do? Obviously one way of keeping everyone happy is to create endless services in an attempt to meet all requirements, and charge around pastoral visiting the world. Though that might involve an exhausted, dispirited pastor.

One way is to decide that maybe everyone can just be a little bit happy and a little bit unhappy. Basically, everyone has to put up with a bit, so that everyone gets what they want.

One way is to remember that Jesus came to bring, not peace but a sword. Hand out some weapons and leave the church committee to get on with it.

And another? Identify all the people that agree with you. And chuck all the rest out. You can't keep everyone happy. But at least you'll only have to talk to the ones you can. 

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Wednesday 23 September 2020

Keeping out Cold in the Time of Covid

With the new Government rules (I won't bother linking to them - they'll only change tomorrow) on groups in
QR Code: "Dom knows where you are"
worship I've had to reconsider the traditional Beaker Way of keeping warm during worship.

The Beaker Folk have, once the weather gets a bit parky, had a tradition of snuggling down in the Moot House during corporate worship under giant snug fleeces. It's a kind of group hug without any actual physical unnecessary contact. And I'm pleased to say that even though there is in general a "Rule of 6" this does not apply to Beaker Folk using fleeces.


(Drum roll) 

It's not a blanket exemption. 

I'm also being asked whether we need to put a QR code up on the Moot House door, for people to scan as they come in. 

But it's not black and white.

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Tuesday 22 September 2020

Covid and the British Tradition of Freedom

Much attention today has been paid to Boris Johnson's response today, when asked why the UK death rate from Covid is higher than in comparable Western European Countries, that it came down to our tradition of freedom.

We're grateful to Rodney Stoke - the chair of the Beaker Boris Johnson Gaslight Appreciation Society. Here he tells us exactly what the Prime Minister meant.

Here at the Boris Johnson Gaslight Appreciation Society, we do our very best to believe the best of whatever our glorious mop-head says and does. When he has another illegitimate child, we say it proves he has energy. When he does a U-turn, he is listening. When he is inadvertently racist or homophobic, he's just being Boris.

But the controversy over his remarks that the UK is a "freedom-loving country" has been fabricated by the press. We should, as the Prime Minister implies, be proud of our death rate, proof as it is of our dedication to freedom: our freedom not to obey orders, for instance. Other countries may have a long history of following orders to the letter. And we can see where it leads. Whereas we live for freedom.

Our freedom to drive our children the length of the country while suffering from an infectious, potentially-fatal disease. Our freedom to get eye tests in whichever Durham town we want. Our freedom to go around hospitals shaking hands with infectious people. To live in whichever of our second homes we fancy during a pandemic. 

Where can I stop? As an Englishman, I demand the right that my tax should be used to outsource disease prevention to friends of the Establishment without going out to tender - is this not what Nelson died at Waterloo for? I demand the right for James Delingpole to go into corner shops and photograph his ugly, unmasked face for the delectation of his following of 12-year-old Edgelords.

I demand the freedom to celebrate our world-beating achievements in dealing with Covid without people thinking I'm some kind of idiot.

I demand that the Football Association, Badminton England, the Church of England, the Licensed Victuallers' Association, and every other cultural, sports, and business body are free to spend the days after each appearance of the Prime Minister wondering what the hell it means for them this time. I demand that all attendance limits for all activities in England should have the freedom to be whatever multiple of three the Prime Minister feels like. 

I demand the right to work from the office even though I don't need to. Or work from home even though I am a supervisor on a mushroom farm. Or work from someone else's office, just to annoy them.

I demand the freedom for Neil Whatsit, former Chief Statistical Covid Nerd, to sleep with his girlfriend and resign afterwards. I demand the freedom to get out, shop, lick lamp-posts, and go to sleep at night with my teddy bear with the face of Toby Young sewn onto it - without my mother telling me I'm weird and need to grow up.

And above all, I demand the freedom to die that the economy may live. Set me free, Boris - I'm ready to to die for England! 

- Rodney Stoke.

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Monday 21 September 2020

Liturgy for The Last Day of Summer

Beaker Folk, in groups of no more than 6, gather in the Orchard. Unless they live in a "bubble" of more than 6, in which case they can gather in their bubble of more than 6. 

Song (with which nobody must join in): Last Day of Summer (MacColl)
Sunset over the King Stone, Lt Rollright

Archdruid: Let us sanitise our mitts.

All: We sanitise them for the common good.

Archdruid: Let us put on our masks.

All: It is meet and right so to do.

Archdruid: Can you smell the year a-turning? The ploughed earth exhales as it rests from its labour.

All: Can only smell sanitiser, tbh.

Archdruid: Can you hear the birds singing their last songs of summer?

All: Nope, just Burton coughing from the sanitiser going up his nose.

Hymn: Theme from Last of the Summer Wine

Archdruid: We pour out the last of the summer wine.

Hnaef: Can you at least pour it in here? Saves waste.

Archdruid: The crops are brought it. The beanstalks ploughed into the ground. The world turns. The government told us to get out and shop...

All: And now they tell us we were reckless.

Archdruid: They told us to eat out to help out.

All: And now it turns out we were covidiots.

Archdruid: They told us to get into the offices even when we didn't need to.

All: And we ignored them. Going the office isn't as much fun as 2 for 1s on Rishi Two-Snacks. 

Archdruid: And so we turn to the setting sun.

All: And figure it's gonna be a long cold winter.

Archdruid: Let us be kind, and cut each other some slack.

All: Or it's gonna be even longer. 

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Monday 14 September 2020

Christian Twitter Controversy Calendar - Holy Cross to Michaelmas

Mon 14 September (Holy Cross Day) - Penal Substitutionary Atonement
Tue 15 September (Nicetas the Goth) - Can Goths be Christians?
Wed 16 September (St Edith of Wilton) - Are carpets acceptable in church?
Thu 17 September (Hildegard of Bingen) - Little glasses for communion
Fri 18 September - Should we make church more relevant to people, or people more relevant to church?
Sat 19 September - Little glasses for communion
Sun 20 September - Trump v Biden
Mon 21 September - Opening churches during Coronavirus: DudeBros v Snowflakes 
Tue 22 September - Little glasses for communion
Wed 23 September - Liturgical colours for hazard tape?
Thu 24 September  (Our Lady of Walsingham) - Our Lady, and Walsingham
Fri 25 September (St Firmin) - Is running with bulls Covid secure?
Sat 26 September - Little glasses for communion
Sun 27 September - Stella Maris - term of adoration, or spelling mistake?
Mon 28 September - "Not enough teaching because of Zoom"
Tue 29 September (Michaelmas) - Can you be a saint if you're an angel? 
Wed 30 September - Why did you say it was till Michaelmas and then do today as well? Also - little glasses for communion.
Thu 1 October - All the non-conformists wonder what's the deal with little glasses for communion.  

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Sunday 6 September 2020

Prophet and Comic

The Telegraph and the Tories have got in a right old nationalist, reactionary grump over comedians the last couple of weeks. The comedians approved by the BBC are all left-wingers, intent on bringing down the government, we are told, through the use of gags about Government ministers, Boris Johnson and observational comedy about amusing misunderstandings in common life.

And this at a time when most comics aren't even working.

This contrasts with a whole history of grown-up attitudes to comedy. Court Jesters were often allowed a leniency to say what nobody else could. Will Sommers, for instance, who lifted the heart of Henry VIII. Admittedly he pushed over the line once, by calling Ann Boleyn a ribald and Princess Elizabeth (later Bloody Queen Elizabeth) a bastard. But fair to say, once Henry had decided not to kill Sommers. Instead he killed Ann, and had Elizabeth declared a bastard. Think it's fair to say we all know who the bastard really was.

But the point was - Henry was a secure king. In his early days, a relatively capable one - albeit bolstered by the money his dad had made. So he could relax around a jester.

But now the excitement over the lefties. How dare Nish Kumar make jokes about the handling of Covid? Why doesn't Susan Calman stick to nice songs about wellies, like Billy Connolly did? Why can't Zoe Lyons stop? What do all the comics hate the Tories?

I mean, one theory would point out that comedians are intelligent people. So that may be it. But. The more sensible point would be that their job is to make fun of the life we live out.  It's the rules. Comedians are the modern-day prophets - pointing out, from mostly a relatively privileged place, what is wrong with those in power.

The most powerful bit of satire I remember - which still hits home after decades - is the Peter Cook monologue of the judge's summing-up at the Thorpe trial. If we have any younger readers, I should explain that Jeremy Thorpe - then Liberal leader - was to any normal view of events guilty of the attempted murder of a former lover. The case made national news, due to its mixture of power, dead dogs, and the biting of pillows. The judge in the case probably saved Thorpe from a guilty verdict through a biased take on affairs to protect a member of the Establishment. But that sketch has everything - someone privileged to be heard, through his own public school and Cambridge education, taking to task the privilege and entitlement of the country's ruling classes. It is a brilliant sketch

Which of course achieved nothing. Thorpe couldn't be retried, the dog was dead, and the Liberal party was still a joke. And, for the last ten years, the government deciding what that life is like has been a Tory one. So of course they get most of the jokes. And after ten years of what the Government is complaining is biased buffoonery, they're still the Government. The comics have achieved less, in actually changing the system, than Marcus Rashford. And let's face it, if we're comparing comics to prophets, Jeremiah didn't achieve that much either.

But the current crop of comics are still better than the alternatives. Frankly, we don't need Jim Davidson's career resurrected. We don't need racism for laughs. Though obviously these days he'd have to be careful with jokes about ethnic minority workers on public transport. We don't need Lee Hurst on telly. It's not that he's pro-Brexit and has terrible taste in shirts. It's that he isn't funny. The high spot of his career was feeling up sportspeople with Rory McGrath To have power, comedy has to pick on the powerful. And the powerful are the Government and the Establishment they're busy taking over. But if some Tory-supporting comedian is actually funny, I might laugh. The European Union deserves satire (Private Eye has at least one cartoon, and often quite a section, in it every week). I wouldn't expect people to be laughing at accents and hairstyles these days - it's not just that it's not funny, it's cruel.

And the silly -season focus has been on comic-bashing and nationalist tub-thumping. Keeping migrants off our beaches (using the term "illegal immigrants" of course). Singing patriotic Victoriana at Last Night of the Proms. Getting upset because Extinction Rebellion means Telegraph readers get their daily delivery of surrealism delivered an hour later than normal. (Though, given the views are generally from 1834, why does an extra hour matter?) As Janet Daley might say from the safety of her withdrawing room: get into the office, eat Pret and die for England, you cowards! Not that this applies to the people reading paper versions of the Telegraph. They've not been to the office since Michael Gove was a shiny-faced schoolboy.

It's just as well nothing else is going on in the world. If, say, we were gripped by a pandemic of a deadly disease, the far Right was rising, and unelected bureaucrats are selling Government contracts to their mates... If we had just left the Union that has given our Continent peace and our economy resilience... If our Government was responding to a self-inflicted, massive shock to our trading relationships by building car parks and failing to deliver IT systems - surely they'd want us to be hearing about that? 

Wouldn't they?

That is a matter entirely for you.

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Saturday 5 September 2020

Parable of the Bean and Potato Plants

It's busy out in the Potato Plot. The busy Beaker Folk beaver away, bringing bushels of bulbous tubers back to the barn.

And I wonder, if there's a parable there. You know the problem with analogies - if you have to explain them, they lose some of their power.  I don't mean like where Jesus gave a parable and everyone went, what does that mean, and he skipped off leaving them to work it out - the power there is in the working out. And I guess that the fact he then tended to explain them to the disciples in secret maybe means that he didn't choose the brightest all the time, knowing he could leave the women and Gentiles and tax collectors to work these things out for himself while Peter's going - "so tell me again about the lost sheep?"

But when somebody's decided to explain the Trinity using the quantum theory, or good and evil using the law of entropy. And they have to then explain what quantum theory or entropy is - normally badly - and you've forgotten what the point is before they get back to the theology. And after all that you're thinking, surely entropy is a good thing because that's the way God gets us from the start of the story to the end, and not the bad thing the vicar's talking about. 

But I have the same feeling sometimes with the parable of the mustard seed. First thing any preacher has to do is explain what a mustard plant isn't (ie the little seeds we stick on damp cotton wool to get a quick salad sandwich) and then how big it was. By which time it's time for coffee. Or, in these Zoom-enlightened times, for the ritual "wave of goodbye". 

Here's a picture of a bean field near Northampton. The farmer grew the beans until they were knee to waist high (depending on the height of people's knees and waists) and then zoomed round the field with a harvesting type device, leaving everything below 4 inches behind. In the distance, if you squint at the picture, you'll see the tractor which is ploughing everything back in. Yet in the foreground, you can see the beans they failed to harvest, because they were too low - some of which will no doubt, unless doused with herbicide, sprout up in the middle of the oilseed rape or winter wheat or whatever is planted next.
Remaining beans in a field after harvesting

Is the Kingdom of Heaven like those remaining bean plants - apparently dead, apparently useless, but full of potential life, going under the radar, waiting for the chance to spring back in a way that the farmer now thinks is maybe weeds instead of wheat?

Or consider the Beaker Potato Plot. We knew it was time to start harvesting when the plants on the surface were starting to die off and look scraggy. And every fork you turn over is a new surprise - will you get massive potatoes fit for roasting in the ashes of the Wicker Man at Samhain? Or little squitty ones fit only for boiling and mixing up with salad cream for Sunday tea? Until you pull them out, you won't know.

Maybe the dying, scraggy greens on top are the way the church looks today. Clinging on to old ways against the changing seasons, battered, trying to keep growing when that's no longer what it's for. While under the surface - that's where the truth and hope and future is. It's been growing unseen. A new surprise with every fork turned over. A bit nobbly and grubby, but full of potential and taste and - for some at least - the start of next year's crop, once it's been through the dark times. And a crop 5, 10 or 20 times what was planted.

Let's hope so. Otherwise maybe we've had our chips.


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