Thursday, 21 October 2021

Boris Johnson Saves Christmas Again

 I was going to write a "Boris Johnson saves Christmas" blog post. 

But then I remembered. I already had.

Gets earlier every year, doesn't it?

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Doing What it Takes to Keep Covid Down

 I'd like to thank all the Beaker Folk for coming here today to hear about what we're doing to keep the rates of Covid down.

And to cut a long story short, we're doing whatever it takes to ensure we don't infect people. And also keep producing doilies, which is a major source of Community funds, through the Beaker (British Virgin Islands) trust. Which has just branched out into viral infection testing.

To that effect, while we think masks are a good idea, we won't be insisting that anyone wears them. Obviously they're shown to reduce the transmission of Covid. And co-incidentally they keep doily lint out of your lungs. But also, wearing them might imply there's a reason to wear them. Which of course there isn't as we're totally back to normal. So please wear a mask to keep yourself safe. While not wearing one, so as to make it quite clear there's nothing to keep yourself safe from.

And while working from home might seem like a good plan, those doilies won't bang the holes out of themselves. And sure, all that doily lint in the lungs might make it seem like you've got Covid. So not much point testing - it's probably lint.

Regarding ventilation - well, doilies are made of paper. Which is notoriously lightweight. So of course we need ventilation. Just not in the doily shed. Where everybody is working. And coughing because of the lint. With all that going on, the last thing we need is any additional draughts.

So I think the message is clear. Keep doing everything as if there's nothing going on. Which of course there must be as otherwise I wouldn't have called this meeting.

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Cross Keys Enterprises Announces the Jesus in The Holy LandTour 27-30AD

 St Peter is proud (but not too much, as that would be a sin) to announce the Jesus in the Holy Land Tour, 27-30AD. Although we're not sure what the AD means. Precise dates can be confirmed when he actually turns up.

  • Capernaum
  • Bethany-Across-Jordan
  • Judean Desert
  • Cana
  • Capernaum
  • Jerusalem
  • Judean Countryside
  • Samaria
  • Jerusalem
  • Some hill in Galilee
  • Capernaum
  • Nain
  • Gadarenes
  • Capernaum
  • Nazareth
  • Bethsaida
  • Gennesaret
  • Tyre
  • The Decapolis
  • Magadan
  • Bethsaida
  • Caesarea Philippi
  • Mt Tabor
  • Jerusalem
  • Bethany
  • Ephraim
  • Perea
  • Jericho
  • Jerusalem
  • Bethany
  • Mount of Olives
  • Calvary

Also available the Premium Jesus Experience

For the low price of everything, you can experience Jesus's difficult explanations of parables. Get called "Satan". Be told you will be persecuted and die. And then be persecuted and die. Benefits include:

  • Pre-show bread and wine before this is opened up to the general public
  • The chance to be rejected by your loved ones
  • Selling all you have and giving to the poor
  • Having to love people you don't like
  • Being dragged before your persecutors
  • A place in heaven
  • Souvenir lanyard

Merchandise available

  • One pair of sandals
  • No extra T-shirt
  • 5 loaves and 2 fish
  • Palm leaves



Sunday, 17 October 2021

Post-Covid Post-Conference

 We've loved having our pilgrims with us for this first conference post-Covid. According to the Government, at any rate.

Please to allow us time to sanitise everything, can pilgrims ensure they have left their rooms by 7 am. Please drop your bedding into the portable incinerator which we have provided in every room. Please pour all unused shower gel and shampoo into the sink, and then drop the recyclable plastic bottles into the incinerator with your bedding.

DO NOT return to your room. The antiviral fog will be pumped into every room at 7.30. Anybody oversleeping, the best bet is to put your pillow case over your head, run out screaming, and then please drop your pillow into the portable incinerator in the Rollright Lounge.

Please drop your room keys into the Vat of Dissolving in reception. Best to stand back. 

This morning's Pouring Out of Beakers will be held in the Lower Field. You're glad you helped drain it now, aren't you?

Please fill in the online Course Review forms. We don't want any nasty contaminated ones coming back to us for reading on paper.

If you contributed to the cairn in the Orchard, please take your stone home with you. We don't want to touch them, and if we left all the cairns ever built in the Community, we'd be knee deep in flint.

We hope you have enjoyed the training. Have a good journey home. We look forward to lighting tea lights with you again when it's safer. 

Saturday, 16 October 2021

"Realistic Church Training Course"

 Well done to everyone on their second day of Estates Ministry yesterday. Especially to Nordrick, who bagged a brace. As if that even means anything. The peasant beating was particularly enjoyed by all devotees of old jokes.

Today's "Realistic Church Training Course" has been seriously changed from our original plan. It was a realisation on our part. All this time the Church has been doing programme after programme about growth - and yet growth did not happen. Mission Action Plans - yet the actions and plans and mission did not produce as much fruit. Alpha upon Alpha upon Alpha - yet decline.

And we thought - should we continue to put on growth-focused strategy training? Or train ministers in what was actually useful? How many plants might be planted and flourish for each church closed?

And so we put our energy elsewhere. You might call it defeatist. Or maybe more efficient.

Starting timeOld courseNew course
8 amBreakfastComplaining about the hierarchy
9 amMorning Prayer
Mourning Prayer 
9.30 amAction plans for growthManaging decline 
11 amChurch planting Church closing 
12 noonLunchStaring into space over your soup
1 pmFree timeDealing with emails from home about the South Aisle falling down
2 pmFree time
Dealing with emails from home about the school's latest Covid stats
3 pmChildren's ministryDealing with dying trees
4 pmMinistry modelsMinster models
5.30 pmEvening Prayer (CW)Evening Prayer (pebbles)
6.30 pmDinnerDinner followed by calling parishioners or they'll want to know why you're not really working
8 pmNight Prayer
9 pmBarHowling at the moon

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Estates Ministry Day

It's really great to have our first group of pilgrims in 18 months back for a course. It's been so long.

Today in "Realistic Ministry in Modern Times" we'll be focusing on Estates Ministry.

The programme:

11.30 Arrivals and complaints about the traffic on the M1

12.00 "The Land and the Gentry" - understanding Rural England 

1 pm Lunch

2 pm "The trouble with camels" - how to build a really big needle 

3 pm The Enclosure Act - Still relevant today?

4 pm Blessing of Beagles - For Life or Just for Boxing Day?

5 pm Draining the Lower Field

6 pm Supper

7 pm Monetizing Heritage - a Guide to Inheritance Tax and Charitable Status

8 pm Night Prayer (in the Private Chapel)

9 pm - Midnight Port

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

A Celebration of Blitz Spirit

Beaker Folk Gather Under the Stairs

Archdruid: The Spirit of the Blitz be with you.

All: And also with you. 

Hodges: Put that light out!

Archdruid: We celebrate the Brexit deal which means we need to have the Blitz Spirit.

Hodges: Put that light out!

Doris: Dig for Victory!

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Build back, butler.

Butler: Very good, young Mr Rees-Mogg.

Archdruid: It was a brilliant, oven-ready deal.

Lord Frost: Which we were conned into signing by Anna Soubry, Marcel Proust, and Michel Barnier.

Archdruid: Lord Frost did such a great job.

Lord: And also a terrible job. Which wasn't my fault. It was a brilliant deal and an awful one.

Archdruid: So we gather together to celebrate the famous Blitz Spirit. Which carried us through the Second World War and will carry us through the self-inflicted woes of Brexit. Which is going completely to plan.

Norris: It's brilliant. Queues everywhere. I nearly passed out with joy in the Post Office yesterday.

Doris: Dig for Victory! 

Norris: If we start now we'll have beaten Adolf by Christmas.

Charlii: I light a candle to celebrate the Blitz Spirit.

Hodges: Put that light out!


Archdruid: Is that really the Blitz Spirit, Keith?

Keith: Turns out, yes. Along with outbreaks of looting, theft, and murder.

Charlii: I light a candle in this confined darkness.

Hodges: Put that light out!

Doris: Dig for Victory!

Archdruid: The Brits. Plucky, independent people. Not seduced by simple slogans and cheap propaganda.

Hodges: Put that light out!

Doris: Dig for Victory!

Norris: Takes me back to the good old days. 3-day weeks, power cuts. Bodies lying unburied in the streets. No bin collections. Angst and despair.

Archdruid: Aren't you conflating 1973 and 1979 there, Norris?

Norris: No. This was last week in Bedford.

Charlii: I light this candle to the plucky spirit of the Brits.

Archdruid: Who farted?

Burton: Oops.


Beaker Folk are blown out of the cupboard under the stairs

Norris: Now, that's more like the Blitz!

Doris: Dig for Victory!

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Nativity of Kirsty MacColl (1959)

An empty bench in Soho Square

Beaker Folk assemble on a mountain top Under the stars, on a big hard rock

Archdruid: In these shoes?

All: I don't think so.

Archdruid: I was 21 years when I wrote this song. I'm 56 now but I won't be for long...

All: Was it that long ago?

Archdruid: Give or take a bit of artistic licence.

All: Wow. What do pretty girls do?

Archdruid: Get older, just like everybody else. 

All: Shame that didn't happen to Kirsty like everybody else.

Archdruid: Would love her here today.

All: Truly these are Titanic Days.

Archdruid: And she'd see Boris for what he is.

All: A Big Boy on a Saturday night.

Archdruid: Spends hours in the mirror

All: Trying to look informally ruffled.

Archdruid: Did you know New England is a suburb of Peterborough?

All: Well, we're certainly not looking for it there then.

Archdruid: So let us console ourselves that Kirsty is an Autumngirl, flying over London

All: All the trees on fire. It looks like home.

Archdruid: You sure the trees aren't actually on fire, as opposed to metaphorically?

All: Ahh.... 

Archdruid: But the sun don’t shine 

All: And the snow don’t snow

Archdruid OK. We gonna cheer this up? We're celebrating  a Nativity, after all. Am I right?

All: Absolutely! And if we don't finish soon it will be Halloween.

They do the Mambo de la Luna off to the Chip Shop

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Liturgy of Misty Mellow Autumnal Unfruitfulness

Archdruid: The mellow mist flows fruitfully.

All: The Husborne Brook flows dutifully.

Archdruid: The summer is gone.

All: The plague is officially over.

Archdruid: And yet we are not safe.

Charlii: Little Celestine's brought it back from Little Pebbles.

Archdruid: Then why are you and Keith here?

Keith: We're on the Zoom.

Archdruid: Ah, yes. I forget sometimes what is on-site and what online.
But in the silence of the morning 
My mind becomes confused 
Between the online and the onsite
And the mode that I must choose.

Archdruid: Harken to the sound of falling apples in the Orchard.

All: We must turn them into chutney to feed us during the Great Shortage.

Archdruid: A reading from the Beaker Annals:

During that bloodiest of Blood Months, the Beaker Folk realised there were no pig-killers in the land. For Archdruid Haystax, in a spare moment between cavorting with his many wives, had banished all the butchers back to Scythia.
And the Beaker Folk did lament and built a great burnt offering of pigs to the high god Brexit, who eats his children and yet never gives them any blessing. And there was a famine of crackling in the land.
And the crops rotted in the field because the Beaker Folk knew not how to harvest them. And the true believers in Brexit said, "It is because the young are lazy. And go to Druid School and do degrees in Woad Studies and Nephromancy."
And the young said, it's because we're all too busy working in warehouses. Because you sent all the fork-lift chariot drivers back to Samothrace.
And so the Beaker Folk waxed wrath with one another. And Brexit was never satisfied but destroyed everything. And Haystax counted his children and looked for another wife.
And then the Celts took over.

Archdruid: What a terrifying tale. Thank goodness that sort of thing doesn't happen today.

All: Amen.

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Lament in the Queue at a Motorway Services Petrol Station

The time has come when the Lord has sent a famine on the land.
Not a famine of food (apart from the food which rots in the land)
Nor a famine of water (apart from the bottled water in supermarkets)
but a famine of petrol.
The people wander from town to town
and drive very slowly from sea to sea
but there is no petrol to be found
not even a drop.
And we lament the greediness of those 
who fill up with no need
who put jerry cans in their boots
and tell granny to be careful not to spill
the petrol they have poured into the kettle she is holding on her lap
and they'll try not to go too fast over bumps.
For they fill up their cars with no need
panic buying even though there is no panic to be bought.
Like that bloke in front.
Bet he voted for Brexit.
And I bet he goes in to pay without a mask.
Not so us. 
For we need to get to Coventry next Tuesday
and it's best not to take any chances. 
So we thought we'd get out and get a tankful
before the panic-buyers get there.
Swines that they are.
You can't be too careful can you?
But lo the queue is 4 miles long
full of selfish beggars
who have no need for petrol at this time
nor diesel when Grant Shapps said there's plenty of it.
They should have stayed at home
and then there'd have been plenty for everyone.
Especially us.
And so we wait 
like unto Job scraping his sores, we listen to the Best of Wham
which is unaccountably the only CD in the car.
We suck on wine gums and hope 
that when our bodies are found
in six week's time
still in the queue at this services
they'll know we had a real reason to come out for petrol.
We need it.
You can't be too careful.
Can't go taking chances.
We really do need to go Coventry next week.

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Lament for the death of Robert Fyfe ("Howard" in Last of the Summer Wine)

The last of the summer's gone
A little chap, all woebegone
Whose bike was always out too long
in search of summer wine.

He raced to find some quiet lane
While Pearl demanded he remain
To clean that dirty window frame
And not sip summer wine.

He never quite got it right
in search of bliss
Marina's hot, but she got
barely a kiss.

So now on this autumn day
the fleeting summer's passed away
and Howard will no longer stray
to drink his summer wine.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Liturgy for the Last Day of Summer

Hymn: Summer Night City    

Archdruid: Nights are drawing in.

All: Yeah, we did that already.

Archdruid: We consider the lost dreams of Summer.

All: We started it hoping we didn't all die of Covid. We've ended it hoping we don't all starve due to lack of CO2.

Archdruid: So, at worst, a mixed result?

All: The worst summer in history. 

Archdruid: Worse even than last summer. 

All: Last year we at least accepted we had a problem. This year we have to pretend everything's normal.

Archdruid: Tim Martin's not happy.

All: Yeah, there is that. 

Archdruid: Liverpool top of the league.

All: That is also good.

Archdruid: Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness coming up?

All: What?

Archdruid: All the joys of autumn.

All: Giant spiders, gas shortages, no gifts for Christmas.

Archdruid: These are a few of my favourite things?

Hymn: Last Day of Summer

Archdruid: Soon be Christmas.

All: Yes, we did that.

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Noah's Ark - A Children's Tale

At "Little Pebbles"

Archdruid: ...and so the Lord put a rainbow in the sky. To tell Noah that he would never judge the earth in that way again. And Noah...

Little Eric: So that's it?

Archdruid: Sorry, Little Eric?

Little Eric: So that's it? God killed everyone....

Archdruid: Apart from Noah's family.

Little Eric: Apart from Noah's family.

Little Angelica: And we don't even get to hear what their wives were called. Don't you think that's a bit patriarchal?

Archdruid: Well, of course it was patriarchal. It was in patriarchal times.

Little Angelica: So what was Noah's wife's name?

Archdruid: Nelly.

Little Angelica: Is that in the Bible? 

Archdruid: It's in... later translations, let us say.

Little Eric: Forget Noah's wife! She's not important!

Little Angelica: She's very important!

Little Eric: Not to my point! So God puts a rainbow in the sky. And he's killed literally everybody apart from Noah, his sons...

Little Angelica: ... and four nameless women.

Archdruid: Well, yes. But they were bad.

Little Eric: How bad?

Archdruid: Well-bad. 

Little Eric: That bad?

Archdruid: Yep. So you can see God was well within God's rights to...

Little Eric: Wipe out the entire human race without giving them the chance to repent.

Archdruid: I'm sure he warned them.

Little Angelica: Where does it say that?

Archdruid: Well, the Bible is silent on that.

Little Eric: And then having killed an entire species

Archdruid: Apart from Noah.

Little Angelica: And his sons. Who have names, I notice. And all their wives. Who don't.

Archdruid: Apart from Nelly.

Little Angelica: Which is made up.

Archdruid: Well, let's face it, this is all made up.

Little Angelica: WHAT?

Archdruid: Nothing. Nothing. Yes. God killed everybody except 8 humans and either 2 or 7 of every other species, except the unicorns. Because God hates bad people.

Little Eric: And the eunuchs.

Archdruid: What?

Little Eric: Nothing. Just something I heard.

Little Angelica: And Methuselah drowned.

Archdruid: What?

Little Angelica: Do the maths. Methuselah - the granddad of Noah, who lived to be 969 - died the year of the flood. So he must have drowned. What sort of man must Noah be to let his gramps drown?

Archdruid: Maybe God waited for Methuselah to die of natural causes and then sent the flood?

Little Angelica: So God's great plan to annihilate all the evil people had to be delayed because Methuselah had stayed on the high-fibre diet and kept off the lager?

Archdruid: I don't know. I guess.

Little Eric: So God put a rainbow in the sky - which, being a natural phenomenon, was probably happening all along. And what did he achieve?

Archdruid: There was no more sinful behaviour.

Little: Eric: Apart from Noah promptly got totally plastered, and Ham saunters in and goes, "Oh look at Dad in the nud" and everything's back to square one?

Archdruid: Good point. Didn't really work, did it?

Little Angelica: So the eunuchs died for nothing?

Archdruid: Look - is it song time?

Sunday, 12 September 2021

We are the Winter People

I only do plugs for selected people. So here's a plug for friend of the Beaker Folk Jenny Rowbory, and the YouTube launch for her book of poetry - "We Are the Winter People" - in aid of her hoped-for treatment in the USA.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

A Warning on "Ride and Stride" Day

 The sad case of Cycling Cleric of Maxey.

Be careful out there.

"Henry Horne Selby Hele. Cl. He was instituted to the Benefice of Maxey by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough at the private Chapel of the Palace on Friday 31st May 1901. He was inducted by Canon James, Rector of Peakirk in St Peters Church on Saturday 15th June 1901. Rev Hele left home early in the morning of December 31st 1901, cycling through Barnack and Wansford falling in a fit of apoplexy at the foot of Ailesworth Hill. A subsequent inquest determined the cause of death as accidental. "

Friday, 10 September 2021

Liturgy for The Nativity of Colin Firth

Alison Steadman: Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
Oooh! Mr Darcy!
All: And also with you.

Liturgy for 50 Years of "Imagine" (Transferred due to "Buy a Priest a Beer Day")

Elvis Costello: Was it a millionaire who said "imagine no possessions"?

Archdruid: "Lennon finished composing "Imagine" one morning in early 1971, on a Steinway piano, in a bedroom at his Tittenhurst Park estate in Ascot, Berkshire"  (Wiki)

All: Oh yeah. Good point. 

Archdruid: Never liked its whinging self-righteousness.

Piers Morgan: Wokery! Wokery! All is wokery!

Archdruid: What's that written on your hand, Piers?

PM:  Nothing. Nothing.

Archdruid: "I ❤ Meghan"?

PM: Hate. That smudged shape means "hate". It's not a heart that smudged because I've been kissing it. Anyway. What about "Imagine"?

Archdruid: Oh, we're done with that. Terrible hippy bilge.

The Ghost of Malcolm MacClaren: Never trust a hippy.

Burton Dasset: Has anyone seen Bambi?

Neil from the Young Ones: Not me. I'm strictly lentils.

Archdruid: We know. That's why you have to stay in the garden. Right. Altogether.

Imagine there's no Devon
I wonder if you can
Cornwall an island 
Like the Isle of Man.
Imagine all the people 
Looking for Teignmouth.
You may say I'm a weirdo
And that I'm all alone.
I hope one day you'll join me
Then there will be more than one.

Imagine no possessions 
I wonder if you can.
I can't because I'm loaded 
And I love it, Man.
Imagine all the people
Singing this utter tosh
You may say this is meanness 
I won't say you're wrong
But I'd like to say don't listen 
To such a drippy, whiny song.

Thursday, 9 September 2021

The Minister is Tired

If you could just give the minister a moment.
These times have been hard
Reading regulations 
Installation of sanitisation
Adding things 
Cancelling things 
Changing things 
Exchanging things 
Putting things away 
Taking them back out - we know more today.
Studying virology 
Crowd psychology
Hybrid services
With cameras overheating 
The odd virtual meeting 
While half say "it's nice doing face to face"
And others refuse to be in the same place 
As anyone who's not triple-vaxed
In HazMat
suits. You
wouldn't believe the scenes 
Looking at countless Zoom screens
Then remembering on the third Wednesday it's Teams
Because Zoom fails to work 
On Jenny's  Chromebook.
Holding virtual hands
With the dying. Checking the latest rules 
On hospital visiting.
Uncle Jim's funeral by the graveside
Because Aunty Joan won't go inside.
Wedding guests that won't go masked 
No matter how nicely asked
Even with Grandma's condition 
And the bride's dad's only in remission.
(And the changes to the Wedding Regs
Have left the minister running on the dregs
Of energy 
And sanity
And stability
And mental agility.)
And no chance of rest 
from the Lateral Flow Test.
Communion in the hand? On the tongue?
In the garden? Bring your own?
And the inside, outside, all the sides
In Covidtide.
People who worship in masks
Those who focus on irrelevant cleaning tasks 
Those who are scared stiff by the news
Those so reckless, they're licking the pews.
Trying to discern 
what is this normal to which everyone wants to return 
So if the minister looks a little gray 
at the Zoom Communion today
please don't think 
it's  your screen needs adjusting - 
it's her colour balance on the blink.
It's been a long time.
And the minister is tired.

Saturday, 21 August 2021

Too Sexy for a Vax

I'm too sexy for a mask
too sexy for a mask
not brainy... just don't ask 
And I'm too sexy for a jab
too sexy for a jab
My immune system's fab.
And I'm too sexy for L Fox
too sexy for L Fox
don't put me in that box.

I'm no doctor, you know what I mean
I do medical research all on YouTube
Yeah, all on YouTube, all on YouTube, yeah
I do medical research all on YouTube.

I'm too sexy for Chris Whitty
too sexy for Chris Whitty
He's brainy but I'm pretty.
I'm too sexy for Piers Corbyn
too sexy for Piers Corbyn
His views are quite absorbin'.
And I'm too sexy for a vax
too sexy for a vax
My O2 levels are right at max.

I'm no doctor, you know what I mean.
I gather my research on Facebook
Over on Facebook, yeah, all on Facebook.
I get my Covid advice over on Facebook.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

God's personal representative in Stoke Ashfield with Moulton-on-the-Moor

Bit worried about my friend, Chris Beaumont.
I mean l, I've followed his career with interest. And love and care - he's an old friend. 30 years as a Business Analyst in the shopping trolley industry. There's nobody I'd trust more to tell me where the shopping trolley industry is going.

Albeit when I actually asked Chris where it's going, turns out the answer is "mostly straight on. But one of the wheels keeps swerving off to the left."

Anyway. Whether caused by the random swerving or not. Chris heard that still small voice calling him to the Anglican ministry. And after 16 years of discernment, 3 of academic training and 3 of curacy, he's now two months into his new role as God's personal representative in Stoke Ashfield with Moulton-on-the-Moor.

Yeah, Chris says he's surprised as well.
Says he only applied to be Priest-in-Charge 

Saturday, 14 August 2021

Church Souvenirs Pricelist

 I've been thinking. This Covid lockdown thing cost our economy a lot of money and a lot of people and organisations have had to find new ways to raise cash. 

Not us, of course. I've got just the kind of well-healed, educated congregation that could just work from home and save on commuter fares. Which was why it was so easy for me to justify jacking up the wifi subscriptions. But new ways to raise cash is always good. 

Now I've noticed that a lot of churches try to make some money from visitors by selling postcards and souvenirs. And I reckon we can get some of that action. Not in the Moot House, of course. That looks like a cross between the Tellytubbies' home and the worst aspects of 1970s Milton Keynes. I mean St Bogwulf's Chapel, in the grounds.

St Bogwulf's Chapel was built in the 12th century on the very site of the martyrdom of the holy saint. He was beheaded by the Norse as they came to plunder Aspley Guise. Being an Anglian saint, of course, he didn't let a little thing like decapitation stop him. Instead his head, moved to Ludgate Hill, continued to prophesy the future of England: including the invention of the Internet, the winner of the 1927 Derby (from which my grandfather made his money) and George Carey's disappointing reign as Archbishop of Canterbury.

At least, that's what the guidebook says. In fact, the chapel was built as a "tin tabernacle" for the Extremely Primitive Methodists by my grandad. With the money he won on the Derby. We later stone clad it in greensand stone, to confuse people.

So prices for the souvenirs of Bogwulf Chapel will be as follows:

Slightly battered guidebooks:   £2.45

Damp leaflets:  40p

Postcards (with edges folding up):  30p

Fridge magnets of St Alban: £4.50

Fridge magnets of St Bogwulf: £5

A History of Husborne Crawley by a local who made most of it up:  25pup

Hymnbooks: Please stop taking them

Second Hand Dave Walker calendar which will work again in 2087 (and the jokes.probably still will): 50p

Second Hand Michael Green books from the 1980s: Just have them

Thursday, 12 August 2021

The Wisdom of... (2 Kings 2-3)

Funny what you get remembered for. Solomon, for instance. Had 700 wives and 300 concubines. As he got old he turned to other gods - mostly it is said due to one of this wives, the princess from Egypt. And yet what's he remembered for? His wisdom.

Solomon in his early days is the high point of the Israelite and Judean monarchy. A young king, in command of his kingdom, in close co-operation with his high priest and prophet. He's been left, somehow despite his dad's weakness, a united and quite prosperous nation.

And he goes to offer a massive sacrifice, like only a really prosperous king could - this isn't just about worship. It's about proving what a great king he is. 1,000 burnt offerings is a really impressive amount of livestock, just burnt. We might say, a massive waste. Judas might say, you could have fed 1,000 families for weeks. I'm not convinced I wouldn't agree with Judas. But Solomon is proving his dedication and his wealth, and he's doing it on a grand scale.

So God comes to this heroic figure, this mighty king. And says to him, what do you want?

Now it seems to me that the way the world goes is, the more someone has, the more they want. Not always, but that seems to be the way of things. Politicians with quite enough money will keep hustling for more, even when they could be retired in their shepherd's huts writing another load of useless memoirs. Businesspeople will keep asking for tax breaks, even when they've got quite enough.

So Solomon's reply to God is worth noting.
But first  up - the way he structures his answer is worth looking at. He says thanks for what God has done for David; encourages God to continue with looking after him; says that he is just nothing; then asks God what he wants. Beautifully structured prayer, with thanksgiving for past blessings flowing into a request for future ones, all based within an ongoing relationship.

Solomon says - I've got all this responsibility. And I don't know what I'm doing. So give me wisdom.

Couple of modern-day expressions that might be worth bringing in at this point. The first is the so-called "Peter Principle". The idea that people in organisations keep getting promoted until they reach the point where they can't do the job any more because they don't have the skills. So a brilliant computer programmer might end up as a terrible project manager. A brilliant salesperson could become a terrible Chief Executive.

And then, a controversial hypothesis often used for purposes of insulting other people.... the "Dunning-Kruger Effect" - the idea that people of low ability over-estimate how good they are at something. A bit like my guitar playing. Or all the experts on epidemiology and virology you meet in pubs or online. Unless you're very lucky.

But Solomon knows how good he isn't, and he knows he has been promoted beyond his abilities. So he shows wisdom first of all in asking for wisdom.
Very wise.
 Now, wisdom is something that people often look for. And in a variety of ways. St Simon Stylites sat on a pillar for 37 years so everyone assumed he was wise. In an episode of Last of the Summer Wine, Hywell Bennett attempts to become wise by dressing up in a potato sack and fake beard and living in the woods. 
Hywell Bennett ("Kevin"), in a potato sack and fake beard, with Truly, Clegg, Billy Hardcastle and Ivy in the Cafe. There are buns on the counter.
Not that wise?
And it's easy to confuse wisdom with other things. Intelligence, for instance. But there's a difference. Intelligence is knowing that smoking is bad for you. Wisdom is not starting smoking.

Or "common sense". As the A Level results come out, you get the usual chorus of people saying "I didn't get the grades I needed but I still managed to become a hereditary peer in the House of Lords". Or others saying it's not the grades. It's your common sense. And I don't know. Common sense doesn't tell you how to manage an epidemic. If I'm building a nuclear reactor, I want some people with some knowledge of construction and/or nuclear physics involved. Not some bloke who managed to put his shed up OK and reckons he can give it a go. But for the question - should I build a nuclear power plant? - I need wisdom.

So Solomon has a lot ahead of him. He's got to keep his dad's kingdom united. Potentially fight off others of his family that would quite like the job. Build a temple to the King of Kings. And do all that with 1,000 fathers-in-law all coming round to tell him that they wouldn't have built the temple like that - they'd have had a bit more elevation on the architraves or the cherubim should be a bit wider or he's used the wrong type of sea-cow hides.

"You're gonna want to use Dutch Bond for yer Court of the Gentiles."

So Solomon asks for wisdom, judgement and discernment. Wisdom which can only come from God. Something to be sought in quiet, in giving time for consideration. Something which comes from prayer. Something that comes from insight into human nature and the world we live in. Something that is more sensible but less common than common sense. Which puts all learning and intelligence into perspective. Which looks to follow God's paths, using all the gifts that God puts in our way.

I like the idea that God is kind of a bit surprised at what Solomon asks for, and goes, "well in that case... you've won the jackpot! Honour and riches as well! You got the million-pound question right, and didn't have to ask the audience. 
And God in most modern translation gives Solomon something like a "discerning mind". But in the Hebrew, what Solomon receives is "a hearing heart". I like that - there's something important there. The Hebrew concept tied the will up to the heart rather to your head. So - let your heart hear before you make decisions.
And God then ties just one thing – Solomon’s lifespan - into one condition - walk in the ways of God's commandments and statutes. The irony that God then says "as your father did" - when we know that father's an adulterous murderer - we'll skip over. David has already become a meme. The perfect idealistic king. An image of what a king should be. Just not the one David managed to be in real life.

But that ties it up. Walk in the way of God's commandments and statutes - so read the Bible, understand what God is saying through it - this is not an easy job. Wrestle with God to get to the heart of what God wants. You don't need to wear a fake beard to be wise. You do need to put your back into it.

Solomon didn't live up to it in the end. We never do. Only one person ever did. For the rest of us, there's forgiveness. Wisdom in the end is knowing God's heart. And when we find wisdom, we find ourselves looking into the face of Jesus. 

"Last of the Summer Wine" episodes: "It all began with a Volvo Headlamp" and "Wheelies". (c) BBC - fair use of low-resolution images.

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Liturgy for "A" Level Results "Encouragement"

 Archdruid: Are ye all of middle age and reasonable income?

All: We are.

Archdruid: Then us all now "encourage" those receiving "A" level results.

All: We all failed them and it didn't do us any harm.

Archdruid: Well, I didn't.

All: Sshhh!

Archdruid: It's getting easier all the time.

All: Not even proper exams this year.

Archdruid: Young people don't know they're born.

All: Staying at home with their feet up, just because little Mary has caught a potentially-fatal disease.

Little Celestine: What did you do in the Culture Wars, Nanny?

Archdruid: Oh, I blew a dog whistle.

All: And took your "A" levels as well?

Archdruid: Well you had to. There was a war on.

All: And also with us.

Archdruid: Getting the wrong grades didn't ruin my life.

All: Made us the people we are.

Archdruid: There's more important things than exams.

All: There's common sense.

Archdruid: How do you think those people would have tried to storm the wrong studios without common sense?

All: Made them the fools they are.

Archdruid: I went to the University of Life.

All: You went to Oxford.

Archdruid: Yeah, but I had to qualify from the School of Hard Knocks.

All: You went to St Mitholmroyd's School for the Daughters of the Distressed Gentry.

Archdruid: Yeah, but it were a struggle.

Lord Bethell: Getting the wrong grades bucked me up. I'd never have become a hereditary peer without it.

Telegraph Reporter: Any pretty girls picking up their grades? 

Archdruid: 45% Top Grades? In my day you had to be Swotty Charlie Swotkins to get a B. 

All: He's a vicar now.

Archdruid:  What a shame. All that wasted potential.

All: Could have been a Cabinet minister.

Archdruid: But he never got the Latin.

All: He never got the Latin for the rigorous Cabinet minister exams*.

Archdruid: You only have to get one answer right for the Vicaring exams.

All: They say "The Lord be with you".

Archdruid: And he scored 50%.Right, I'm off. Young Keith's cousin got 3As and we need to have a meal with the family before she attends a super-spreader event in Rock.

All: Can we say the final blessing?

Archdruid: May your grades be the best, may you get the place you want, may your Clearing if required be merciful.

All: Amen.


* RIP Peter Cook

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Because He Was Worth It (2 Sam 18)

 The revolt and death of Absalom. What a story. As in, what a mess. What an absolutely human mess.

And in this squalid tale of treachery, war crime and rebellion - so many resonances to other aspects of the Bible.

As David's armies and Absolom's play hide-and-seek, the Wood of Ephraim becomes a kind of evil Eden, devouring those that wander. Absalom - maybe inspiring his half-brother's "vanity of vanities" line in Ecclesiastes - gets his wonderful hair caught in a tree.

In one sense, Absalom is like Adam - trying to snatch power from the one to whom it should belong. And yet, this utter wombat is also Cain, the brother-killer. Then, as he hangs there from a tree suspended between heaven and hell - who do we think of? Is it Judas, the betrayer? Or is it Jesus, the redeemer? Certainly nothing in this story resembles Jesus. And yet - "cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree".

And then Joab - disobeyer of orders, frustrated and demoted general - who was previously in charge but is now one of three - or embodiment of the Avenger of Blood? Getting his avenging angels to remove the usurper and - he hopes - bring some stability back.

David's humiliation is really complete by now. The great fighter, who has been told by his people to stay at home so the professionals can deal with it. The man whose weakness in managing his family led to all of this. He should have punished Amnon. He should not have let Absolom back. He certainly shouldn't have let Absalom get in between him and the people, playing the one who got them justice. He's misplayed everything. And he's whinging about his son when he should be the one looking after his people.

And do you know what, David makes me so angry. He's so desperate that his son should live. Despite the murder, the trouble, the stress, the rebellion. David is so pathetic and Absalom is so terribly set on his path of self-destruction that I suddenly realise, as I call David a pathetic weak father incapable of managing his family and demand to know why he hadn't thought it would be better to look after the kingdom and not his useless wastrel offspring... And why he didn't actually tell Joab, get in there and kill him and get this over with.

Do you remember when Nathan tricks David with the story of the ewe lamb, and David gets so angry he declares a sentence of death on himself?

 And do you know, I've just realised who Absalom is most like. And as I say it's kind of Adam or Eve, and kind of Cain. But most of all - the rebellious child whose father tries to keep in the right way, whose father will do anything to make the path back, will forgive anything, will suffer anything...

I've just realised that Absalom is most like me.

And I've just declared a sentence of death on myself.

And when David, this weak, loving, desperate father, declares, "would God I had died for thee", I suddenly realise that for Absalom - suspended between heaven and hell by his hair - the chance had passed and he had gone place the point of no return.

But for me, I can be the prodigal, the one that came back, the one that accepted the father's gifts and this time stayed. And the death sentence I pass on myself gets reversed through the one that hung between heaven and hell, smashed out of hell, and lifts me up to heaven.

And if for me, what about you? The God who made the universe was humiliated and hung on a tree, to die for you, to bring you back. This God doesn't drive you to hell - you can only take yourself there. But this God does accept you as a child.

Don't be an Absalom.

Sunday, 1 August 2021

Llamas Day

 Thanks to Burton for the Festival of Llamas. They're not exactly friendly creatures, so all that spitting made the service more difficult that it necessarily might be. And they occupy a lot of space. Which has the downside that the Moot House was quite full. But then on the bright side, you can use a llama for social distancing. If you always keep a llama between you and everyone else, you know that's pretty much 2 metres. Including the safe distance you need to keep between you and the llama.

I didn't really get Burton's analogy of the llama as being a bit like the Trinity. Yes, a llama is bad-tempered, hairy and smelly. But just being able to say something is three other things is not the same as even a bad trinitiarian illustration.

But it was when Burton told us all that people have been celebrating Llamas Day for thousands of years that I realised his big mistake.

Lammas Day. Not Llamas.

Friday, 30 July 2021

Liturgy for a Minister Losing a Set of Church Keys

Minister: Woe unto me for I have lost the keys of St Mungo's, Mill-on-Flume.

Minister's Spouse: Is that the big set?

Minister: Forinasmuch as it's the keys to a rural Church of England church building, yea it is a big set. The keys are as numerous even as the grains of sand on the seashore - even unto the stars in the sky, including those we cannot see. But they are all big sets.

Minister's Spouse: But is the front door key big?

Minister: The front door key is like unto the weaver's rod, or even the Leviathan that sporteth in the deeps. But not quite as big as that of St Mary's, Sutton-by-Flume or St Midge's, Bridgeton-on-Flume.

Minister's Spouse: Lo, are these the keys of which thou art deprived?

Minister: As it is clearly written on the little red key fob, these are the keys of St Jemima's, Little Mincing.

Minister's Spouse: And what of these keys?

Minister: The green fob indicateth that these are St Hamble's, Hambletown-on-the-Heath.

Minister's Spouse: Let us pray unto St Antony.

All: O St Antony, saint of all lost things, pray for thy servants that we find the lost keys of St Mungo's, Mill-on-Flume. And let this not be unto us like when we lost the fountain pen, and through thy intercessions found it just as its replacement was delivered by the Man of Yodel. Amen.

Minister's Spouse: When didst thou last see thy keys unto St Mungo's? 

Minister: When I locked the door of St Mungo's last Wednesay after Mattins, which is also called Morning Prayer. 

Minister's Spouse: And then whither goest thou?

Minister: Around and about. Unto the petrol station which is called Morrison's, then the Post Office, then I returned to the parsonage and fell asleep while mowing the grass.

Minister's Spouse: And hast checked the grass?

Minister: All grass is like grass. And there be no keys to be found. No, not even one.

Minister's Spouse: Didst leave them in thine other trousers, which I put in the wash? 

Minister: If thou hadst put my other trousers in the wash with the keys of St Mungo's, then wouldst thou have known all about it when the washing mashine madest a noise like the cymbals of David as he danced before the Ark. 

Minister's Spouse: And then wouldst thou have been dressed like David as he danced before the Ark, given what that would have done to thy trousers.

Minister: Verily. 

Minister's Spouse: And didst leave them on the desk?

Minister: Nay, for I work at my desk and there are there no keys.

Minister's Spouse: What are these keys from the top of the food cupboard?

Minister: Those are the keys of Great St Edward's.

Minister's Spouse: And these from the sill of the round window?

Minister: Those are the keys of St Edward the Less.

Minister's Spouse: What about these keys I found in the electric cupboard?

Minister: Verily those are the keys of St Humpty's, Humpington Magna.

Minister: Art thou also Rector of Humpington Magna?

Minister: I guess I must be.

Minister's Spouse: Here they are, in your coat.

Minister: Oh yeah. I remember now.


All: Thank goodness for that. Amen.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Bathsheba's Baby (2 Samuel 12)

David Demands Justice

So first up. When it comes to Nathan's denouncement of David. Nathan's being very brave. He is tearing a strip off the king of Israel, whatever it costs.

He had a bit of practice two weeks ago, when he told David he wasn't allowed to build a temple. But stillNathan lecturing a sitting, shell-shocked, David he really is being brave. David at this stage is pretty much an absolute monarch - able to take any woman he wants, or get anyone killed he feels like. He's got the heroic back story. He's still the embodiment of the new Israelite state. He can be pretty sure he can get away with murder, with the people behind him. That's what power can do.

But Nathan has to tell it to David  as it is. Nathan is a prophet of the Lord. And a prophet has responsibilities. And telling the truth is one of them. As is standing up for justice.

 And Nathan tells his story carefully. He's a good prophet. If he'd gone to David and just said, "miserable sinner: adulterer and murderer" he'd have lasted about as long as Uriah the Hittite. I think about all the times I've seen people standing on the street, shouting at passers-by that they're miserable sinners. I suppose they've a chance of attracting other people who'd like to stand on streets, shouting at passing sinners. But that has got to be a limited market, I reckon.This is not how to get people to listen to you.

So Nathan doesn't do that. He weaves instead a tale about a rich man stealing a poor man's sheep. Now, there's nothing to suggest that David thinks he's listening to a parable, a moral fable. David is, as king, the supreme judge of Israel. So trying cases is his job. But normally a senior judge (think Moses) would get the tricky cases. And to David, this is a very simple case. 

David's judgment: the poor man has been sinned against. The rich man is guilty of theft. He must die. And pay 4 times the value of the lamb.

Reading that back, it might make more sense if he paid 4 times the value of the lamb, and then died. Gonna get messy the other way round. But still. David wants justice! David is also projecting his own guilt, I think. Because the penalty for stealing one lamb - however much-loved - is not death under  Israel's laws. It was under the supposedly Christian United Kingdom in Victorian times, of course. Amazing how flexible Christian forgiveness becomes when property is involved. But the Hebrew law was as much about limiting punishment as it was about imposing it.

How often we want justice imposed properly as long as it's others who are getting that justice. It won't have occurred to David that he's judging himself. He's one of those people that are better speck-spotters than plank-removers. Some of us are the same. Not only do we pretend to ourselves we did no wrong. We also make excuses for ourselves when we do something wrong. We assume that others are always making the wrong decision with level heads, wherease when we get something wrong, it's because we were tired, or stressed. Others among us, the opposite - we judge ourselves too harshly, and forget we have a God who forgives. In  this case, David doesn't just judge the sheep-stealer's theft. He also judges him because he had no pity. Best remember. Sin is sin. And we all foul things up. But God's forgiveness, bought hard, is free.

And David has passed a death sentence on himself.

In David's case, there's quite a charge list here. Of the Ten Commandments - the moral laws that underpin the Covenant with Moses, I reckon David has definitely broken three:

  • Do not covet your neighbour's wife
  • Do not commit adultery
  • Do not murder.

And arguably, in his attempts to cover up his adultery, he's also broken the command against false witness. At what point does attempting to evade blame become straight lying?

You start with breaking one. You end up breaking three or four. Thing with sin is - repent early and repent often. Or it can take you over.

The Woman Pays

It's quite a strip Nathan has torn off David. But. Although Nathan says David has had his sin taken away, the consequences of that sin are pretty huge. Nathan says the Lord has defined three punishments for David's adultery and murder:

  • A blood curse on his descendants
  • Someone else (Absolom his son, as it turns out) sleeping with his wives in the open
  • The death of the baby Bathsheba has just borne.

And maybe it's just me. But in my conception of God, I'd rather that the person taking the rap here had been David. Struck down by lightning, crushed in a surreal harp-falling-from-a-window accident, anything. Anything but a curse on the newborn, the unborn, and the totally innocent. The punishment for David's sin has not been so much removed as transferred.

And do you know what, I don't see any way of letting God out on this one. Thomas Hardy said that it was a mystery to him how humans can conceive a deity that is less moral than they are themselves. Though Hardy tormented his creations just as much as any President of the Immortals could care to do. Poor Tess. Poor Marty South. Not Jude. Useless get.

And I'm not going to let God off by comparing the judgemental God of the Old Testament to the lovely God of the New. Because the God of the New Testament lets a lot of people send themselves off to perdition, apart from the whole Ananias and Sapphira incident.

I can see it could be a post-justification by the person writing the Book of Samuel - this happened so if must have been a punishment. Except I can't apply that to the rest of life. Jesus was clear to the man born blind that his blindness was not due to anyone's sin. When someone today suffers - cancer, the loss of a child - I won't accept that this is punishment for their sin. Yet it's easy to do. There's been enough victim-blaming over Covid the last 18 months. People have been too overweight, too stupid, too reckless, to have protected themselves, we are told. So I don't buy that.

I can see that the way the world works means that people do in general get hurt by other people's sin. I was reading the way athletes have suffered because of their country's and their coaches' determination to win medals. And the ones normally suffering the abuse are young women or children. And when people are hurt by others' sins, the sinners are normally the powerful and the weak are the ones hurt.

All this should make us angry. And it's worth going off to Loughborough Church's "Ministers' Muse" with Revd Wendy Dalrymple and friends to hear more on this.

Because isn't this how life actually is? The powerful man sins. He is humiliated. But he gets to die at a ripe old age, with a young virgin in his bed to use as a hot water bottle. He's remembered as the ideal king - the one whose monarchy will be restored in his descendant, the Messiah. Even has a hotel named after him in Jerusalem.

Bathsheba is abused. Her husband is killed. She has to marry her abuser. Her son dies.  She has been treated as property. And yet still she pays.

The other wives of David are abused. The foreigner, Uriah, is dead.

The powerful man has sinned. And everyone else pays the price.

If this doesn't make us want to rage against God, and consider the state of this world and what we should be doing about it - it should.

Where Prophecies Collide

And we're now left with two prophecies, which while not quite contradictory certainly aren't particularly synergistic.  

David has previously been promised that his throne will last forever

He has now also been told that the sword will never leave his descendants.

How do you reconcile them?

I look to a man who walked this earth, a son - it was said - of David. He died a violent death at the hands of the powerful - the religious and secular powers of his place and time. He died the death of the powerless, the death of a slave. Death by crucifixion. Even though he was said to be the Son of David - the Messiah - he gave up all the power he had and died like a rebel.

And when he rose from the dead, he took all the weakness of humanity, the scars that had been inflicted - the sheer suffering that human beings can inflict on others - and carried them into heaven. And there, the Lamb that was slain from the beginning of the world, he argues with his Father on behalf of the weak, the powerless, the victim. And when the time is right, he will come to claim back his own.

That Son of David - bearing the scars of that curse forever -  having made all things right, he will reign.

And there will be no more oppressors, and no more oppressed. Because the Lamb's own will love him and be loved. And they shall inherit, not through force and might, but through the Lamb's own sacrifice. And though the violence David brought on his descendants will always be remembered, yet that throne will never end.

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

The Husborne Hump: An Apology

I would like to offer my personal apologies to all customers that came to the Husborne Hump today.

Based on the Marble Arch Mound, my plan was to allow people to get up above ground level, in a Covid secure way, which let them feel free after these 18 months of confinement. To experience a similar sense of spiritual fulfilment to those that have climbed Ayres Rock. Or Uluru. Or even both. 

Some people complained that our Covid Passport policy was strict. And yes, we showed a great deal of rigour in ensuring that nobody visiting Husborne Hump would be carrying the virus. Measures included demanding proof of 2 vaccination jabs. A negative test. And living in solitary isolation in a small caravan in Aspley Heath for a fortnight. Stringent, yes. But no worse than having to be in a spaceship with Richard Branson, I'm sure you will agree. I say "spaceship". "Plane that went a bit higher", really. But that's netierh here nor there.

A slight hill

But those who payed the £1,800 to isolate, and then visited the Hump, said it was "disappointing". And I have to admit, there were some issues. Our planting is still to grow to the planned height. Which is not surprising. You can hardly expect it to spring to rain-forest height overnight. Especially when it's astroturf. And then some said they thought that the Hump could have been higher.

But it couldn't. For health and safety reasons, the Husborne Hump was limited to a height of 5'3". And people could only climb it in hard hats and while roped to a guide (Burton Dasset). Some said that Burton's presence was the main issue, and to be fair I could see that.

So I can see people's disappointment. So I've decided that we will meet all our statutory requirements to our dissatisfied pilgrims. If they want, they can get a QR barcode to come back in 6 weeks and do it all again. OK, the QR barcode will cost £200. And will never fade. But it's a small price worth paying when you consider they'll have to spend another 18 hundred quid to isolate again.

If anyone wants me, I'll be reconciling the takings.

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Revd WH Tawdry

In the Diocese of Gallifrey and Sodor, the Rev WH Tawdry is struggling to keep his head above water in his parish. They exist to be Jesus-shaped tea lights. Maybe we are all called to be Jesus-shaped tea lights? 

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

One wedding and Uriah's funeral (2 Samuel 11)

 So at what point did the heroic King David become "bad to the bone David"? As he turned 50 and looked at his paunch and slowed down, I expect. 

The time of year when kings go off to war.  But not David. The slingster of old is no longer a ruddy-faced youth. More a gammon-faced geezer now. He's too old to charge into battle. And the arthritis gives him terrible gyp when he slings a stone. These days he has people to do his slinging for him. So he could go off to war, but Joab's a loyal chap and unlikely to do unto David as David did unto Saul. So Joab's in charge in the field.

David also has people to do his courting for him. Well, I say "courting".

Bathsheba (modesty covered by wisps of cloth and arms) is attended by her servants while a very small David peeks down from above
Bathsheba at Her Bath - Artemisia Gentileschi

Bathsheba is beautiful. She's not pregnant, as she's washing off her ritual impurity. She's also the young wife of a loyal subject of David - loyal even though he's not an Israelite.

And David wants her. So the "courting" may well be along the lines of "King David would like you to call. If it's not too incovenient, which it won't be of course."

The method David uses to get his end away is not confined to the early Israelite kings. It has been used all over the world, including by such lovely types as Stalin's hitman, Beria, and the sons of Saddam Hussein. We're not told if Bathsheba had any choice when David's henchmen came along to tender his respects. So probably not.

So Bathsheba's purity and innocence stand in opposition to the lusty old goat she is brought to see. And when Uriah comes on the scene, we see it again. David wants Uriah to go off to make up for lost time with Bathsheba, and cover up David's dirty deeds. But Uriah's just your humble bloke. He won't leave the palace while he's on duty. He won't have a happy homecoming with Bathsheba until the boys are all back home. He's faithful to the Hebrew God - even though he's a Hittite himself. What can a lusty old king do with such a faithful man?

 Kill him, obviously.

Joab is, it has to be said, not a blameless man. Loyalty is generally regarded as a virtue. But when you're getting your soldiers killed because your uncle can't keep it in his ephod, you've probably pushed your loyalty too far. It's a loyalty that will also kill Joab when David dies.

But David's spun completely out of control. His self-control has gone. He has killed to cover up his lust, which he only got the chance to enjoy because he indulged his laziness.

God will give him the bad news next week. But in the mean time, consider. For David, it is now downhill effectively all the way. He rose on the wreckage of relationships and sheer brute youthful energy, but also his closeness to God. And now he will sink under his own weakness, his own failings, his own betraying body. He cast himself free of God. And now, free from God's guidance he is like, as someone said, a trolley careering out of control in a supermarket. 

He was already toxic to his first wife. Now he's toxic to his sons, to his followers, to his sons and daughters.

From now on in, he's not the hero. He's the fall guy.

Monday, 19 July 2021

St Gregory and Macrina's Day

 Today as well as Freedom Day, when the Covid plague stops at the threshing floor of Araunah, it is St Gregory and Macrina's Day.

It was St Gregory who, when told he could take his mask off in church because St Boris the Hermit had healed the land, said he would be keeping his mask on and so would all those in his churches because St Boris had a habit of making up stuff he thought might be cheerful, rather than living in the real world.

We mostly remember St Macrina for her contribution to Liturgical Dancing. The song she wrote has been sadly corrupted since her time, but the original ran:

Have a dance in holy joy, St Macrina
Dancing is a holy thing, St Macrina
Though we all find it embarrassing, St Macrina
Hey St Macrina

St Macrina would find the current words much less edifying.

Liturgy of Joy for Freedom Day

Hymn: Bells they Aren't Ringing, Children aren't Singing

Archdruid: Let us give thanks that this pandemic is suddenly over this Freedom Day. Let bells ring out and let little children sing.

Charlii: Little children aren't singing. Bubble's burst.

Archdruid: Then let adults sing out loud in the stifling heat of the Moot House!

All:  Let's not, but let's  keep our masks instead.

Archdruid: So no singing in the Moot House?

All: Beaker Quire can sing.

Archdruid: I'd banned them before the pandemic.

The Cautious Beaker People: If you're singing in the Moot House, can we have a separate service?

The More Cautious Beaker People: Outside?

The Even More Cautious Beaker People: In a separate field each?

Archdruid: Maybe the stones could cry out?

Stones: We're isolating.

Song: She's Coming Home, Katie Hopkins is coming home.

Archdruid: As if it's not bad enough, there's the danger of Hopkins standing naked in doorways. Still, at least Chester Cathedral bells are ringing out.

Chester Cathedral: No, they're not.

James Delingpole: It's freedom day! 

Laurence "Quite Good in Lewis" Fox: We're off to Spoons to lick the bar like normal men of the people! 

Servicing staff: Same as last week you mean? Good grief.

Delingpole: Got your camo jacket Loz?

Hathaway: Too right, Della! Makes me look so tough!

Boris Johnson (via video link): On this Freedom Day it gives me pleasure to announce that I'll be self-isolating in a massive house and garden out in the country. I apologise for the state of my hair, but I'm also in isolation from my comb. 

Archdruid: And now we silently sing the hymn from the screen, "You're not singing any more."

Thursday, 15 July 2021

A Temple Not Made With Hands

 "Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?" (2 Sam 7:5b)

So a quick recap. David kills Goliath. Saul dies. Jonathan dies. David becomes king. David defeats everyone. David takes the Ark into Jerusalem. David reveals altogether too much while dancing. Now read on.

What's a bloke gonna do when he's defeated everyone and got a capital city and brought the holiest of all things into the city and put it in a tent? Upgrade the tent, obviously. 

And you may wonder why God gets a bit humpty about it. Maybe David's getting a bit above his place. Maybe he thinks by building a nice house for the ark, he's got God pinned down. Always best with God, you might think - to be located somewhere safe. Under control. No self-respecting deity that made the heavens and earth is gonna stand for that. Same for us. We like God to fall in with our specifications of an orderly life and a well-run church. But every time we decide what God wants to be doing, God decides something else. God doesn't sympathise with our liturgical preferences, our decisions as to who is and isn't entitled to be in God's in-crowd. God's a bit random like that.

Or maybe David really does just want to honour God, and God doesn't want David doing it because his hands are so blood-stained.  David just isn't clean enough to build this Temple for the holy one of Israel.

And God's offer is to turn this round completely. Instead of David building God a house, God will build a house for David. And that's another reminder of David's limited nature - he can control cedar and stone. But he can't control the future. Nobody ever can. Let's take some examples... 

The dictators of the past dreamt of a boot stamping on a human face forever, they say. But they all passed the same way as all the other dictators in the end. The future is not and never will be in their hands. 

It makes you wonder why any vicar ever bothers to make changes in a church, for instance. Soon as they leave, the next one does the opposite. Bring in one of the many modern Lord's Prayers and the next vicar will replace it with the old one.  That or the congregation will bring it back during the vacancy, and swear it was always that way. Bring in the old Lord's Prayer and the next vicar will replace it with the new one.  Same way, no Gordon Brown can bring in exciting initiatives like HIPs (remember them?) without David Cameron scrapping them. No Cameron can make the Tories a bunch of cuddly liberal metrosexuals without an Alexander B dP Johnson turning them into a bunch of people booing young black men. Even this current Government will one day see its power gone and somebody reversing what they did.

Or us at home - domestically we can make our houses into homes only to know that when we sell them the buyers will rip the insides out and turn them into their own homes. We know the day will always come when we lose control of the future. 

In business a Chief Exec can decide to make the company closer to its customers - more responsive - by decentralising. And the next one will promptly centralise everything to make it more efficient and standardised. 

There's always a point where our control is gone. 

But God has control of the future. And God will build David a house. But not a house made of stones and cedar. One made in human life. David's son will build the Temple, and will be the first in a line of kings that will last quite a while. But. As we know. Only 400 years. At that time, the house that Solomon builds will be destroyed and the house in the flesh that God has established will be dissipated and scattered. But not lost.

Because God's promises are longer term than that. And bigger than flesh and bone, cedar and stone.

The throne God's putting in place will last forever. David can't guarantee that - he can't control the future. Henry VIII drove the country to distraction trying to ensure his family would inherit from him - and with all the viciousness of Thomas Cromwell and all the liturgical genius of Thomas Cranmer, and all the murderous instincts to kill and elbow out non-delivering wives... he managed one generation. One generation. David's family managed about 18 generations before they passed into the vagueness of Exilic history.

But God's promise will last forever. And it's a promise that will be achieved in a circuitous way. Through Bathsheba and an adulterous relationship and an arranged death. Through Solomon, the boy who was not really born to be king. Through a descendant of David marrying a descendant of Jezebel - at least, according to St Matthew.

And through the Exile and the return, through the chaos of the Maccabees and the descent into defeat by the Romans... God will establish his throne that lasts forever. In a temple not made with hands - the body of that son of David, Jesus.

It's all grace. David couldn't earn this. David couldn't plan for this. In a million years he couldn't envisage it. Somehow God's promise will come down through the troubles of God's people to the point where a son of David will come to this world, and take his place on a throne that will last forever.

It's all grace. Solomon's temple made with hands will not last. But the house that God builds will last forever. And the temple that God will make is the one that will be destroyed - and rebuilt in three days - the temple that is Jesus's body.

It's all grace. David can't earn it by  goodness. Can't plan it. Can't build it. Can't control it. But through him, God blesses all people. Through him, we are blessed. And the temple not made with hands is our heavenly temple, and God is with us, and the temple is our God and our Lord, and our Saviour and our friend - the son of David whose throne lasts forever.