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.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Beyond the Alternative Service Horizon

I'm really annoyed. It's been so long since this happened last.

And now I've got to go and update the notice board that said "4209  days since we last lost part of the community into a black hole" and reset it to zero.

How was I to know how many Alternative Service Books were going to come in as a result of us declaring an ASB amnesty? But that was the problem. It wasn't the ASBs. As the trunker-loads of ASBs came in, and we wondered how to deal with them, we were caught in a pincer movement as thousands of copies of "100 Heresies for Today" came in from the other direction. Who knew so many people bought them? And held on to them - presumably locked in an attic like Mrs Rochester lest they got out and did any damage?

And then packed them into cardboard boxes and sent them to us.

The Preface to 100 Hymns for Today starts, "Today's Christians need today's songs to sing as well as yesterday's." If the book had ended there as well, that would have been good. But they had to follow it with some actual hymns. I mean, that much heresy and dodgy poetry that tightly packed.Those Sydney Carter titles alone were wrenching at the astral plane. How can a book be 3% Sydney Carter? Well over the critical limit. 

So the sheer weight of Syd C dragged all the dark things from Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes towards itself. Including a concrete cow, a couple of tons of slugs, and a Wetherspoons pub. All circling the Alternative Service Horizon.

Now the thing is, once you're beyond the Alternative Service Horizon, time goes very slowly. It's like being in a Liberal middle-of-the-road church in the 1980s. As the vicar preaches on why King David was invented by King Josiah to justify his writing the book of Deuteronomy. In other words, it tends to infinitely slowly. To our horror, Burton Dasset was dragged into an endlessly-cycling loop of "God of Concrete, God of Steel". 

How were we to save Burton? 

I'll be honest, I've got no idea. He's still in there, his face frozen with horror. Oddly, in a Theological Black Hole, all the light can escape. It's the hope that gets dragged down.

We'll have a bit of a think. He'll keep. Beings he's an accountant, he was always a bit light on hope. 

Saturday, 10 July 2021

No Passengers in Mission

The Beaker Folk have been on at me. Apparently my statement that "there are no passengers in mission" has been dissected, digested and deliberated and the results are in.

It has been suggested that in fact the following people are entitled to be passengers in mission:

  • People too old 
  • People too tired
  • People too ill
  • People who were just too ill and haven't really got over it
  • People too sad
  • People too confused
  • People too young.

In fact, it has been suggested to me that maybe we should regard the people who really should be passengers as the mission field. Trying to bring in all the people that won't be passengers, so they can pull in others that are not going to be passengers... I mean, it's a bit Ponzi-ish isn't it? Are we, I have been asked, a hospital for the spiritually sick or a sales techniques training centre?

To which I can only say, get me some decent sales people. We haven't met our targets.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Dance as David Danced

"David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.  As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart." (2 Sam 6:14,16)
First up - asking the big questions. What is an ephod? 

Looking at Wiki, as you do, it seems like the answer is - something shaped a bit like a kind of liturgical pinny - a kind of sleeveless apron, down to below your waste. So quite a handy item to dance in, though the important thing isn't what it looks like, so much as what it's for. It's a priest's garment, in the Old Testament, and it seems David could wear it because he was king and taking part in this ritual.
 
Howard from last of the summer wine cleaning windows with a pullover over his pinny, while Normal Clegg leans on his bike to talk to him
Man in a non-liturgical pinny

And what a ritual. Our Restricted Common Lectionary compilers have, needless to say, removed the bit where Uzzah catches the Ark and drops down dead. Bit too Indiana Jones, I expect. But David wants the big show to really make the point - he's the King, this is the Ark. And the Ark is coming home.
 
It's coming home, it's coming home, it's coming
The Ark is coming home etc

But Queen Michal is not happy.

The reason for her unhappiness, she tells David later, is that as a result of all that dancing and leaping about, more people have discovered what David keeps under his ephod than should have been the case. She thinks that David should have behaved in a more kingly way than pogo-ing around in a pinny. And it sheds a whole new and disturbing light who people who like the song "Undignified". And it was disturbing enough as it was, to be honest, that song. Or the song, "When the Spirit of the Lord is within my heart I will dance as David danced" - what in a liturgical pinny with an insubstantial undergarment?

But maybe as with many people that get grumpy there's more to it than just the thing she says. Michal is, after all, Saul's daughter and Jonathan's sister. Maybe she's figuring that the person that should be bringing the Ark triumphantly into Jerusalem is her dad. Maybe she's angry that God didn't bless Saul, but did bless David. It's common enough, I think, to begrudge other people their blessings. Why did they get that talent, that job, that house, that car, and I didn't? But sulking and hating only grow more sulkiness and hate. They consume your energy and blight your joy. 

But - maybe it's because, while Michal was David's first wife, David basically abandoned her when he escaped from Saul - and married two more wives while he was a fugitive. Michal ended up married to another man, who was very upset when David demanded her back. Maybe Michal thought, I'd rather have a quiet life with the other bloke than this twerp cavorting around. Maybe if that's what it is, you can't blame her.

It's like trying to follow a plot in Coronation Street, isn't it? Next time someone demands Biblical standards of morality, I suggest you ask if they mean like David.

Michal is thinking of her dignity, maybe of her dead family and her other husband and past hurts. David has forgotten everything in the joy of the moment. He has done God's will, he has united the kingdom of Israel, he has given it a capital - and now the most precious possession of Israel, the Ark - has been brought to the place God destined for it. The Ark that went through the desert with the Hebrews, that led them across the Jordan, and led them round Jericho. The Ark that represented the presence of the Lord with God's people. How can you not be glad when the Lord is with God's people? When God's purposes are being worked out? 

Michal's relationship with David has been broken - she loved him once, but he's let her down repeatedly. Whatever grace God has shown David, has not been down to the way he's looked after Michal. How often does a political career destroy a couple's relationship? A couple of weeks ago, Sarah Vine (and who would think I would quote her?) told us in the Mail that the problem with a male politician marriage is - the wife who's left at home knows her husband is not the Master of the Universe he puports to be.
 
Michal certainly knows that.

David didn't have to abandon Michal. Didn't have to marry increasing numbers of wives. Didn't have to indulge Absalom. Didn't have to be such a weak dad that he ended up dead sons. Didn't have to nip down to see Bathsheba. As an upholder of family values he was - at best - in need of improvement. 

David is not a deep thinker. He's not the sort of bloke you'd meet on a silent retreat. He's impetuous, hormonal, sometimes dangerous - a man who has killed many times, and treats women badly repeatedly. If you like, David is a stereotype of the male virtues and vices - brave to the point of recklessness, yet a disaster for all around him. Yet God has made him king.  And he gives glory to God and serves God's purposes.

God's is gracious enough even to work through someone as flawed as David. In the days when the universe was first woven into place, the thread of the story of salvation went right through men with their good and bad aspects - Abraham, Jacob, Judah, Boaz, David... through that litany of badly treated, long-suffering or non-stereotypical and yet exceptional women - Sarah, Rahab, Tamar, Ruth, Bathsheba.  And through all these, God will bring forward through that most exceptional woman, Mary, the Son of David who excels David. The promise from before time began, in flesh, brought forward from this brilliant, reckless, flawed line.

If God's grace can work like that through David, then it can through us. We can praise God for all he's done for us. For the promises yet to come. Knowing the one who was faithful to David is faithful to us. David's no perfect hero. But the one he followed - and the one who followed him - is.

Sunday, 4 July 2021

The Lord is With You

 "And [David] became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him." (2 Sam 5:10)

One of the more common expressions in the Bible, "The Lord is/was with someone." Said to Joshua when he's about to go up and start conquering the Holy Land, and the people of Israel tell him to be bold and strong. Said spectacularly to Mary at the Annunciation - when Gabriel said "The Lord is with you", and Mary "was greatly troubled at his words" - as who wouldn't be?

Said here about David. And it's a key message of the books of Samuel and Kings. Why does David - the ideal King - become more and more powerful?

Well, it's not because of his great might, in the first instance. God chose him when he was just the farmer's lad.

It's not because of his great morality. He spent half his life basically acting like a guerilla, at one point he went off and joined the Philistines, he slept with the wife of one of his captains, then arranged for that captain to die.

It's not his judgement and wisdom. He hopelessly over-indulged his son Absolom and when he should have been ruthless in dealing with Absolom, he spent his time faffing around over the matter until Absolom got himself caught up by the hair in a tree - and then he went off mourning when he should have been ruling.

It's not his accuracy with a sling, though that was handy. And not that he's a pretty handy writer of psalms and a bit of a hero at playing the lyre. Though that's useful.

It's because the Lord is with him. Which puts it all in context.

Also puts our modern life in context. We put people on pedestals because they look good on YouTube or because we think they're charismatic politicians - left or right. And then when they fail we beat them up because they are in fact just human beings.

But the thing that David seems to have known all along is that he's just a man. You don't see pride from him. Bear in mind this is the man who's captured Jerusalem - already an ancient and holy city, and one that will be for the next 3,000 years and more. He's united the tribes of Israel around him. He's established a dynasty. 

 And yet - when he fights Goliath he knows that he will win because the Lord is on his side. In Psalm 20, he says, "some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." In Psalm 22 - speaking of himself and yet, through the Spirit, also of the One who will come from his line - he describes God enthroned as the Holy One, and himself as just a worm, not even a man.

And that's maybe why God is with him. Because David knows how things are. He doesn't set himself up as a god-king, like the Eastern rulers do and the Pharaohs and like the Caesars started to do. Maybe he spent too long out in the dark, fighting off wild animals, to think that he's the super human. He's always aware of his dependence on God. And because of that, he's always aware that God is with him.

God is with you. We pray it as a blessing - "The Lord be with you". The Lord was with David when he was winning battles, when he was dancing as the Ark of the Covenant came into Jerusalem - but also when he is in great distress. When his son Absolom has killed his other son Amnon - and is now taking over his kingdom - and David is once again in hiding - he can write,

"But You, O Lord, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head." (Ps 3)

God's grace, God's free love, is most with David even when he's being most useless, and when things are going wrong, you could say. And that's when David can respond to God's love in faith. So this is true for us as well. We don't have to be ashamed of our weakness - to hide our sadness from God. David poured all his out. And the Lord was with him. Even if I fall into Hell, said David, even there I'm not hidden from you:

"Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you" (Ps 139)
Like all lives, David's comes to an end. By the standards of his day he's quite old - 70 - but by then he's worn out I expect with all that fighting and dancing and dealing with all his wives and children.

But he dies having been promised that his line will never end - although he's not to know how that promise will work out. But we know. In that holy city of Jerusalem, which he captured, which he made his capital and where he gathered the tribes into one holy nation - his great descendant was presented before God, and Anna and Simeon prophesied that he was one greater than David. Just outside that same city, this great descendant died. Just outside that same city, he also rose from the dead. And one of the titles that great descendant is given is Immanuel - God is with us.

When John Wesley died - another chap whose holy career interfered badly with his relationships with women - his last words are said to have been, "best of all is, God is with us."

The Lord is with you - because you are God's child. The Lord is with you - because of God's love. The Lord is with you - because "great David's greater son" was in fact the Son of God, who came to earth to find the lost and find you and me. The Lord is with you - because God's love is so great that God can never ever leave you.

So today, whether you're feeling happy, brilliant, sad, or broken, know this blessing - the Lord is with you.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

"Free From Limiting Factors" - 10,000 new Laboratories

The establishment of 10,000 new, non-expert-led laboratories in the next ten years is among the ambitious targets that will be discussed by the Welcome Trust. 

It also envisages the doubling of the number of children doing brain surgery by 2030.

The initiative has been christened "Brilliant" by Prof Branestawm, of the Institute of Dodgy inventions and Groupthink.

Professor Branestawm explained how Brilliant would result in a million new scientists, operating from someone's front room.

 "Labs led by people who fancy having a go release science from key limiting factors. When you don't need a proper lab, to pay the scientists, and long, costly education for nuclear physicists, then we can release untrained people to just crack on and do stuff with whatever kit they can knock up. In lab-planting, there are no safety standards. I mean, passengers."

 Prof Branestawm has been testing this theory by talking to other scientists. There is some work to be done, he admitted, in ensuring nobody actually created dark matter and destroyed Croydon.

Many of the 10,000 labs would start small, and some would remain as 20 or 30 self-taught scientists working from someone's front room. Prof Branestawm broke off to appeal for people with enormous front rooms to come forward. But he said the definition of laboratory was "tight". There must be at least one drunk bloke who everyone works round, and a spare lab coat and safety glasses in case Boris Johnson pops round.

As a mushroom cloud formed over Chipping Pagwell behind him, Prof Branestawm said, "we must avoid this initiative being seen as 'just another initiative '. Which is why we're calling it a 'vision ', which is entirely different. Not the same thing at all. The important thing about this vision is that, when we've stripped talented people out of existing labs to found new labs in people's sheds with no equipment, it's not my fault that the existing labs fail because they've lost key staff, and the new ones explode because Mrs Jones managed to split the atom in the Hoover. No, it's your fault because you didn't believe enough."


Possibly based on an article in the Church Times about the Church of England starting 10,000 new churches in ten years. 


Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Alternative Service Book Amnesty

The periods of semi-lockdown are tricky, aren't they? You can do all sorts of things, but only a bit. With the result, during the periods of semi-lockdown, a lot of church wardens in the Church of England have been doing a lot of clearing out of old cupboards and bookshelves.

And what they've been finding, under piles of copies of Hymns for Today's Church, Hymns for Tomorrow's Church, Hymns for Yesterday's Church, congregation members who were forgotten after the service before the first lockdown and what have you, are a number of copies of the Alternative Service Book that is best described as approaching "lots".

Angel made out of Prayer Book
And it's a funny thing, the ASB. At the time hailed as the most exciting thing since vanilla blancmange, it is now a criminal offence to conduct an ASB-based service, punishable with either 10 years in prison or a transfer to a 15-parish benefice in Worcestershire.

It's a real problem, isn't it? I mean, the temptation to get back to Eucharistic Prayer 4 is going to be high. And it's so Alternative and not common. But it's illegal. And if you just leave them gathering any more dust, there is a real danger that your church will attract the ASB Dust Weevil. And you can say goodbye to your marble memorials if that happens.

But you can't dump them in landfill. Then, given ASBs contain a lot of words of the actual Bible, you might really not want to burn them. And you can't give them to your local Oxfam shop, no matter how much you try to bribe them. They learned their lesson after the Woking store exploded from the sheer pressure of ASBs they'd accepted and couldn't sell on. And they will never be of historical interest. 

But the solution is at hand. The Beaker Folk ASB Amnesty. Stick your ASBs in a cardboard box. Print off the courier label (only £5.99 for delivery) from the Beakernet. Give them to Pavel, the Hermes delivery driver who seems to cover the whole of England.

Give us a few months and the Little Pebbles will have turned them into a host of angels like this. The good news, at least it will give them something to do. Half of them are constantly isolating because Covid anyway, and we have a theory that all the dust off all those old ASBs will boost their immune systems.

It's gonna be a great display come Christmas!


(Prayer book angel courtesy of @thesparklyrev)



Tuesday, 29 June 2021

The Parable of the Health Secretary

 There was once a Health Secretary whose Prime Minister thought he was, frankly, hopeless. And the Health Secretary thought to himself, "what can I do? I'm too hopeless to be Health Secretary and I'm too busy with my "assistant" to work, and he's going to fire me once I'm no use to use to take the flak he deserves."

So he called in someone who sold ball-point pens for a living. And he said to him, "take this order for face masks and I will pay you a lot of someone else's money."

And then he called in someone who made washing machines for a living. And he said to him, "take this order for badly-fitting PPE and I will pay you a lot of someone else's money."

And then he called in someone who used to be bad at selling mobile phones. And he said to her, "take this order for failing to know who has been tested and what the results were or who they met, and I will pay you an incredible amount of someone else's money."

And then the day came when the Health Secretary was found kissing his assistant. And he resigned. Or was fired. It was never very clear.

And it the days to come, even though he knew there would be a lot of child support to pay, the Health Secretary knew he would be fine as he had lots of future in consultancies in the ball-point pen, washing machine and mobile phone / grocery / health consultancy industries.

So make friends for yourself with other people's money. It's a lot less expensive than doing it with your own. As then you have to eat pea pods in a pig sty.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

The Right to Disappear - Church Video Recording and GDPR

 Tricky one, this. I'm thinking the Beaker Folk need to copy the instructions that the C of E have given out on filming in church.  After all, they've got better-practised lawyers than us. But it's not going to be easy.

Not least as all Moot House "occasions", as we call services, are streamed on the BeakerNet for the dispersed flock, people commuting, and those terrified to even leave the house let alone go in the Moot House. So we need to get this right.

First up, we need to get signatures off anyone that will be in shot, saying they consent to their images being held and shown. That's easy enough. But then they only need to do that once. So now we have to remember who's signed and who hasn't. We can't really keep a sheaf of papers lying around in the Moot House. And they have to re-sign every three years. So we've adopted the policy of scanning the signatures into a database.

This can be a bit of a problem at handfastings, where it only takes one person to object and the official videographer is out of a job. So we had to adopt "gentle persuasion" to get them into the non-film zone. Or, to put it another way, a pointy stick.

But at any point in the future, any who's agreed to be recorded can change their mind. At which point all occasions they have been filmed need to be "removed". We were just editing the videos and removing their images, leaving the slightly weird impression that they'd been retrospectively raptured. So, we're being a bit more sophisticated than that. Thanks to some expertise from Young Keith, once we've tracked down the recordings, we can replace the individuals with the image of Compo Simmonite.  Bit of a problem when an entire family opts out en-masse. The video looks a bit... weird. But you know, it gives us a laugh.

But first we've got to track down the videos they're in. So we need a database to track not just their signatures, but every event they've been to. So we issued everyone with bar codes they can scan, so we can match people to occasions. Speeds things up no end. OK, then we have to apply GDPR to the database. So that's another problem. But still, we're on the case.

Except, a month in, people have been forgetting their bar codes. So we're having to find a better way of doing it. A way they can't forget. A reliable mechanism that means we can meet our GDPR requirements in a seamless, handsfree, way. 

I would like to assure all Beaker Folk (and handfasting attendees) that while the insertion of the chip is painful for a moment, the soreness wears off. And we can use it for track-and-trace as well. So everyone's a winner.

Friday, 25 June 2021

Lament

 David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan.
He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah.... He said:
"Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen!" (2 Sam 1:17-19)

A lie we can adopt - a Western tendency we can fall into, and which gets amplified in some kinds of Christianity - the idea that we have to be perfect people. We have to have perfect smiles, perfect lives, perfect children. Two cats in the yard. We have to look like the pictures in an ad for Alpha with a bunch of flowers on the dining table, a matching tea set of decent china, and good-looking friends. Above all, we have to be happy all the day. This is a challenge to live up to. Most of us are best not trying. But I've been to a service where the first thing that was said after the introductory 5 or 6 songs was, "who's had something good happen this week?"

This can run into the sand when bad things happens. Maybe we then think, why has this happened to us? Sometimes it's possible to see the kind of martyr's smile syndrome, where someone is clearly conveying that they know they're supposed to be strong, but they're kind of breaking inside.

Sadness and fear can be something some people either don't want to share, or want to avoid, like it's catching. I knew someone who, receiving a diagnosis of cancer, wouldn't even talk to her best friend to tell her about it.

The Bible has no truck with it. When things are bad in the Bible, people lament. One thing the Bible knows about is lament. Maybe one of the reasons why the Jews, as a people, have survived thousands of years of racial and religious persecution and exclusion. In the Bible, they'd sing laments, they'd weep, they'd put on sackcloth and roll in ashes. They knew all about lament.

Lament is powerful.

And lament is not a lack of faith. 

So here, David's been busy smiting Amalekites. While Jonathan and his dad King Saul have been, unfortunately, smitten by the Philistines. There's been a whole lot of smiting going on.

And although David and Saul have had their low points - mostly when Saul keeps trying to kill David, because David is clearly shaping up to be the next king - yet David has always felt loyalty to him.

And David has loved Jonathan - and clearly loved  him more than he loved his wives. You can read into that what you like. The Bible just says that. Moving on... 

David could, if he were British - or maybe if he were the sort of British person that believes his own propaganda and still things he lives in 1942- decide he's going with the stiff upper lip. He is, after all, the king-elect. He maybe should be strong. Should be the one going, "yeah, we've lost a couple. But on the bright side, those Amalekites didn't like it up 'em.

But he doesn't. He laments his lost friend and lost patron. He repeatedly says, how the mighty are fallen. He tells Israel that its glory is lost. But in his lament, there's one thing you might notice. One thing not there. One name, if you like, missing. 

In the whole of the passage of lament for Jonathan and Saul, David doesn't mention God once. I wonder if David was so lost in grief, he doesn't know how to bring God into it - he doesn't know what to say? I suppose it's possible his grief was so intense, he almost doesn't even believe in God for a while. 

But even when David has left God out of the lament - one thing we can know - is that God was still with David in it. God was still faithful to the promises made to David. And God was still faithful to the convenant made with Israel. The day would come when David could rejoice again.


Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Transferring the Summer Solstice

A swan taking wing off a lake, in the rays of the rising sun

Can Beaker Folk please note that the Summer Solstice is due at 4.31am or thereabouts on Monday. Conveniently this is quite close to the time of sunrise as well at 4.52.

Given it's a Monday, nobody's going to want to get up that early. Therefore we're transferring the Solstice celebrations to 12 noon on Sunday. Hopefully everyone will be able to get up for that.

We're leaving the Solstice Sunrise where it is. However, since nobody will watch it, we'll record the first rays appearing over the Amazon Website via our Ring camera, and be broadcasting in on the Beakernet every hour from 10 o'clock.

Andrew Lloyd-Webber: An Appeal to Open the Theatres

 I know how not to spread it

I know how not to spread it
In the papers I read it
Show some balls. Pack fans in stalls
let them have a few in the Circle 
bar - you know in a few days
you'll spread it far.

I don't know why we panic
Why the papers are manic 
It's a cold, it's just a cold.
And I've had so many colds before
In very many ways
it's just a cold.

We will all wear masks.
Double cleaning tasks.
Use the LFTs
To beat the disease.
I never thought we'd come to this.
Plagues not spread by fleas?

I like to think I'm clever
I'm Andrew Lloyd-Webber 
It's a show, it's just a show.
And I've had so many shows before
In London and Broadway
it's just a show.

How has this state arisen
where I could go to prison
There are tests, I can attest
- theatres are so clean, you've never seen
a West End singer cough
please don't switch us off


I Know Covid Well (The Boris Johnson Song)

Covid seems to  hang on quite eternally
Ev'ry time we beat it, it goes wrong.
But this has never yet prevented me
Opening up too far, before too long.
Looking back I could have played it differently
Not ate out to help out -
Who can tell?
But ev'ry time I think I've got it right
Now at least I know
I'm not so bright.

Wasn't Dom good? oh
So good! Wasn't Dom fine? oh
So fine!
Isn't it madness
He's out of line?
But in the end he knows a bit too much about me
He's more brainy
He needs his geeks and freaks and weirdos. I know him so well

No one in your life is with you constantly
No one is completely on your track
And though I ditched my pride to back him up
Now he's gone and stabbed me in the back.

Looking back I could have played it differently
Told him Barnack Castle wasn't right
But that was when I so much needed him.
Now he says Matt Hancock's not too bright.

Wasn't it good? oh
So good! Wasn't Dom fine? oh
So fine!
When we did Brexit
In that short time
How could I know  how it would go if I let Delta in?
How can I ever begin?

Wasn't it good? I could do more.
Isn't it madness
The Sausage War
But in the end I had to please the ERG.
Border security...
I need to stop all immigration (where's Priti Patel...?)
It takes time to stop infections. I know Covid well.

Monday, 14 June 2021

"Gig Economy" Priest

 Retrieved from the Church Times jobs pages. The original ad has already been amended to lose the words "gig economy" in favour of stressing flexibility of income stream.

"This post might suit a ‘gig-economy’ priest with other sources of income keen to re-locate to a beautiful part of the world"

Magazine Article  from Reverend Angela

Dear Everyone. Thank you for welcoming me to your lovely parish. It is truly in a beautiful part of the world. 

I am looking forward to our service every Sunday at 9am. However if I'm late back due to running visitors back to the airport, I hope you'll be able to carry on without me. You know how the gig economy is. The taxi runs are quite often cash in hand and you can get some decent tips if they've had a few at the Square and Compasses before deciding it's time to go home.

Likewise you will see from our timetable of worship that we are holding a weekly Bible Study. Please note this will be every Wednesday evening, unless Imran's Curry House is holding a "2 for 1" week in which case I'm going to be busy driving Chicken Vindaloos around the suburbs of Bournemouth.

And apologies about missing the fete. Only St Stibbington's-in-the-Wold has a vacancy, and by doing that wedding for them I was able to claim the fee plus some really decent expenses. Nice little earner. Got a couple of funerals coming up in Weymouth, as well. Lovely.

This coming Sunday, I'll be looking forward to preaching on the Parable of the Zero-Hours Contracts, where the people the vineyard owner takes on early in the day are shattered from having been picking in the Amazon Warehouse all night, while when he goes to take people on later in the day they've all cleared off to deliver Dominos for Uber Eats.

In closing I'd like to reflect on those people who've told me that when they wanted a priest with "other sources of income", they were really thinking of someone who'd semi-retired from a job in banking or someone whose husband was a finance director, or something like that. Well, being able to be an incumbent because you're independently wealthy is more like the Jane Austen economy than the Gig one. If you'd wanted that kind of a priest, maybe you should have said so.

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Blessing of the House You're Leaving

This is the place where we came to rest. A place to shelter from the weather and the world.

This is the place God's love blessed. And where that love was shared, and grew.

This is the place where we laughed and cried. Blessed new wonders and mourned our losses.

This is where - around the table and in every mundane task we did together, in eating and cleaning, and the life we planted - we took part in the joyous life of the Trinity.

And though we leave it now, and new adventures call, this place we called home still lives with us. And it will always have a place in our love.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Ritual for Blocking a Cathedral Canon on Twitter

Hymn: Block of Ages 

Social Media Wonk: We are gathered here today in the presence of Almighty Twitter to block A. 

Spotty Web Geek: Blocking one of your own canons is a very dreadful and awful state, instituted of God when he banned Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.  And is not something into which to be entered lightly. I therefore ask: have you examined A and found them/him/her to be of godly life and sound learning?

Social Media Wonk: I have. But I'm blocking A anyway.

Spotty Web Geek: Do you believe we've already dug a deep enough hole recently?

Social Media Wonk: As long as there's a spade and a hole, we'll keep digging [Isa 51:1].

Hymn: I Hear the Sound of Twittering in the Leaves of the Trees


Inspired by...

The Moot House of Windsor

The people of Magdalen College are facing odium in the Daily Mail (to which I shall not link) for the Middle Common Room taking down a photograph of the Queen. 

Now as a former member of Brasenose, we did not have a Middle Common Room. Well, we did. But we called it the Hulme Common Room. Though I was unsure about the Hulme after Whom it is named (see what I did there), I have now ascertained both who he was, and why so many people from Manchester Grammar School went to Brasenose.

But I digress. The main question to be asked of Magdalen MCR, as far as I can tell, is what on earth possessed them to put a picture of the Queen up in the first place. This is not normal student behaviour. But having put it up, as was their right, their successors were equally in their rights to take it back down again. Which has upset the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, and added more fuel to the current culture war. I mean, it was the same in our day. I remember that Keith Joseph was livid when he found out that I had a poster of Garfield in my room, and not Margaret Thatcher as some of my Tory friends did.

However. If there is kudos to having portrayals of the Royal Family on your walls, I can go for that. We'fe nearly spent the money we made after selling Dominic Cummings all those eye charts early in the pandemic, after all, and another contract would be handy.

Therefore, the Beaker shared areas will be graced by portraits of the Royal Family as follows. The Queen Elizabeth II Dining Room will have a triptych of Her Majesty, Prince Philip and Prince Charles. The Windsor Doily Shed will be graced with Wills and Kate, together with their children. The Mountbatten Orchard will have a series of wooden posts, arranged in the manner of Woodhenge, each whittled into a representation of a Royal Family member. 

The Princess Diana archery range will have a beautiful rendition of Diana, arrayed as the goddess of the hunt. 

When my Toyota Pius finally runs out of steam, I will be replacing it with a Renault Meghan.

And to keep the Beaker hound, Rosebud, company we will be hanging a picture of Prince Andrew in its natural place. The doghouse.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Renaming the Dawkins Award

 This blog has previously not thought much of Richard Dawkins. To be fair he probably has not thought anything about this blog. But then, if nothing else, I have more recently done proper research in Oxford's Department of Zoology than Dawkins has. But then most people have. He hasn't done a proper day's research, as far as I can tell, since about 1980.

But Dawkins is old. His light burns dim. Stephen Fry might be a suitable person now to carry the light. But he is hardly scientifically literate. Lee from Lee and Herring increasingly resembles an extra member of Madness. And Herring from Lee and Herring will never be able to free himself from the suspicion that he is the offspring of one of the Wurzels. Or is it the other way round? Is Herring the chubby bloke acting like he's a bit urban and Lee the yokel? I can't remember. Either way. A new carrier of the flame of dim nearly-scientific opposition to religious faith is needed.

So the Dawkins Award for people who aren't very good at proper science, and are worse at understanding religion, has had to be renamed. It is now the Alice Roberts award. I'm pleased to say that the first winner of the award is of course Alice Roberts. It was well deserved. 


Friday, 4 June 2021

The Beaker "Weed or Plant" App

Inspired by a new phone app I saw that can tell you - allegedly- whether a plant is a weed or a "good" plant.

The Beaker Plant or Weed app has a Red/Green traffic light system. Green is "all plants are good in the right place". 

Red is "GIANT HOGWEED - Strike by night - they are defenceless. Don't let them kill you with their hogweed hairs. KILL WITH FIRE."

It's a simple system. But effective.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Nativity of Thomas Hardy (1840)

Revd Shirley: And now we come to the subject of ambition. As we consider the Philosopher's words: "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity." And consider the appalling sight of a man unprepared to remain in the rank of his own parents - to work with his hands, sit in his chimney corner and drink elder wine. And instead to aspire to architecture and literature - subjects suited for those of a much higher class. More educated. With an Oxford MA. Someone who is more able to think of higher things and conjure the words that delight from a classical education. For be sure that learning is best trusted to the learned, and not to one conceived under a hedge.

All: Shirley, you can't be serious.

Revd Shirley: I am serious. And it's Reverend Shirley.

Thomas Hardy: Now listen, your Reverence. I have power over you through my pen. I've already written you into Greenwood Tree as the poor sap who fancies the schoolmistress. And I can make you a frolicker with mikmaids, a drunken fool or a bigoted Evangelical just as easily.

Revd Shirley: You monster! An Evangelical? Not that!

Thomas Hardy: Your future is in my hands. Since the day I started to write, I have all power over you. Who will remember your deeds as vicar of this quiet little place by the embowered Frome? But my words will live forever. Choose yours carefully.

Revd Shirley: Moving on. Hymn 442.

Thomas Hardy: And so the President of the Immortals is me. All your reputations are in my hand. Yokels, drunk, lusty squires and randy heiresses. I control you all! All! Do you hear me?

He laughs an evil laugh, and walks out into the conveniently timed thunderstorm. The harmonium starts up "Lead Kindly Light".

Monday, 31 May 2021

Phasing Out The Common European Psalm

Big news on the Beaker Brexit front, as it has been discovered that we have been singing metrical psalms all this time. It has led to calls for all metrical psalms to revert to imperial measures. Don't want any metric in our newly-independent United Kingdom.

This is a major change. After all, we're reverting to the way we sang psalms prior to the UK's entry into the Eurovision Song Contest. It may sound a bit obscure and technical to some. So best to explain through a common metrical psalm, such as the Lord's my Shepherd.

Under the European Psalm Harmonisation Measure, The Lord's my Shepherd was in Common Meter  (8-6-8-6). In reverting to traditional English psalmody, this has now been converted back to Short Imperial Meter (£8/6/6½d). Long Meter is now Brilliant Imperial Meter ((£12/8/4½d).

There are some problems with this of course. Notably all the fractions of iambic tetrameter that are left over after rounding. There is a concern that, in keeping with the alleged inflationary effect of decimalisation in the 1970s, that all poetry will now be a bit shorter. Again to use Psalm 23, this has had to be reduced to:

The Lord's my Shep.
I'll not.
He makes me green the waters.

Some are saying that these shortened psalms aren't as good as the old, efficient, pre-Brexit ones. If you've heard the Beaker Quire, however, you'll know that the shorter the psalms, the happier we will all be.

Saturday, 29 May 2021

“For God so loved the world”

When we say “God so loved the world”, what do we think of as “the world”? The world of people? The world of business? The sinful, evil world we imagine always being out there? The world of nature? The universe that God created? All things we can think of as “the world”. 

The Book of Common Prayer baptism service includes rejection of “ devil, the world, and the flesh.” 

I mean, first up. Yes. Obviously reject the devil. Very sensible. Not a good bone in whatever body the definition of rebellion against God possesses. Let's get rejecting the devil very clearly out there. Rejecting the devil is very much, in my opinion, a good thing. Spotting the devil in order to reject the devil, often trickier.

But how do we reject the world? What meaning of world? We can love the world too much - and get obsessed with ambition, riches and what have you. What meaning of flesh? Obviously we can become obsessed with things that make us feel good. Or, these days, we can be driven to things that make us too sad about the flesh we have. Look too much at magazine articles and vlogs and influencers that are all about perfect bodies and not our own ordinary bodies. Either way, that’s not good. We aren’t called to make either gods or devils of our own bodies.

But God made the world.  We are told in the beginning, when God created the world, his Word was what brought things into life. And God’s Spirit was on the waters of chaos. And God said the things of the World are Good. 

And the Word - as Jesus - became flesh. So these things aren’t bad. Flesh and the world aren’t actually bad. Flesh must be good because God walked around made of it.

And now we’re told this. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. That whoever believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life.”

So God loves this world that God made. Maybe God’s not so fond of some of the things we do with it. And maybe we have lost God's own wonder at the world. We can lose the sheer joy of the world in our modern, industrial, technological lives. Sometimes the computer screen, or the phone, or the motorway ahead of us, or the building opposite, is all that we see. 

And we’ve inherited from the Industrial Revolution a view of the world that it’s there to exploit - a thing we’ve conquered, and a thing we’re separate from. We extract gravel from farmland so we can make cities and we suck oil from the ground to make the toys in McDonalds Happy Meals so they can wash up on Turkish beaches in 10 years time and the earth itself is just a resource for us.

But God loves this world. So much that God’s son came for it. All of it. We can go down to the individual level in a minute. But worth staying at a higher level for a mo. God loves this world. Its geology, its plants, its animals, the amazing way it sustains life. God also loves the entire universe that the world moves through. God made it beautiful and even with its flaws and dangers, it is beautiful.

And then God loves us. And God makes us a special case. First up - he sent his Son, who came as one of us. Imagine the cost to God of giving the Son? You can’t. I can’t. It’s a mystery. We’re not God. But it must be costly, as God had to love us so much that it was worth it. And his Son was lifted up on a cross so we can all be saved. And that’s an amazing image Jesus uses about the snake in the desert. I’m sure you’ll all remember the story from Numbers, but in case you don’t - there was an outbreak of snakes in the desert. And the people of Israel came to Moses and said “make the snakes go away”. And God didn’t make the snakes go away. Instead, he got Moses to lift up a bronze snake on a pole. And though the snakes kept on biting the people, if they looked at the snake they didn’t die but they were saved.

In the same way - remember the snake in the Garden of Eden - well, the curse he talked our mythical ancestors Adam and Eve into hasn’t gone away. We still have temptation and we still have sin. But Jesus is saying here - even though sin is in the world, and even though you still sin - look up to me and you will be saved. You will be a subject of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

But Jesus I think is also saying, beyond that - because you’re sinful, you actually need to know to look up to him for your forgiveness. Under your own power, you can’t even find the forgiveness that is available to you. 

So Jesus says - you must be born from God. Through water and the Spirit. Born from above, because you can’t do it in your own strength. I’m not going to give you a definition of what “born from water and the Spirit” means, as after 2,000 years of analysis there’s at least four possible ways of explaining it and we wouldn’t have time! But what it says to me is that God’s spirit is working with our human nature. And I’ll get the rest of the explanation eventually.

Last Monday the Church of England, and hopefully last Sunday the Methodist Church, remembered John and Charles Wesley. Not on the date that either of them died, which is a bit unusual. But on what I call, as an old Methodist, Aldersgate Day. It’s the day John Wesley went to meeting at a chapel in Aldersgate St in the City of London, and someone read from Luther’s preface to the book of Romans. And Wesley wrote later, “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” 

And the funny thing was, he’d been a priest in the Church of England for 10 years by then.

But I think that was the Holy Spirit working in Wesley. He’d gone from a dry faith, about what he did and what he’d always believed - and to be fair he’d known he needed more. And now he had a direct experience of the Spirit working in him. Giving him the faith he needed in Jesus. And giving him the assurance that through Jesus’s work on the cross, he was forgiven all the things he had done wrong.

Now some people read “born from above” (or “born again”) and think it prescribes a very stereotypical way that you become a Christian. You’re full of sin. You think to yourself, there is nobody to help me. You hear the Gospel. You become a Christian. Hallelujah! You’re born again.

And if that happened to you, that’s all well and good. It more or less did to me, as it happens. But it’s only one way, in my opinion, that you become a Christian. Millions of people have become Christian by being steadily going to church all their lives, loving Jesus and being filled with the Spirit, and not needing to have a crisis experience. Jesus says that people who are born of the Spirit are like the wind. You can’t control where they’re coming from or where they’re going to. And to prescribe how other people become Christians is I believe like trying to put chains on the Holy Spirit. You shouldn’t try it. And it won’t work. Let’s rejoice however people come to Jesus, not give other people our patterns to fit into. And let the Spirit blow where the Spirit wants. Which is what will happen anyway. You don’t have to be like me, and I don’t have to be like you and that is all good. What matters is that we know Jesus and we are filled by the Spirit.

So Trinity Sunday. I’ve not tried to do any illustrations of the Trinity. Not tried to explain the Trinity. I won’t. The Trinity is a mystery. The Creeds don’t explain the Trinity - they put a hedge around the definitions. Tell us what is safe to say, what we can say. And then leave it.

But the revelation of the Trinity to us is utterly woven through this passage that we’ve heard. God so loved the world that God sent the Son. The Son is lifted up for us to be saved. And the Spirit is the one that brings us to new birth in God, lifts up our eyes to Jesus, moves us forward and guides us in our faith. That’s not a theoretical Trinity that we might try to investigate like a lab specimen and define under a microscope, if we were so arrogant. That’s the living Trinity of love. The Trinity that made us, loves us, makes all things new, and brings us to eternal life. May we continue to know that open, generous, love of God the Holy Trinity, three in one. And may we reflect that love in our lives, forever.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Waking Up in the Light of Pentecost

 Bit of a day we're looking forward to here.

At the Beaker Folk we embrace the imagery of the Holy Ghost as the Wild Goose. Free, unfettered, slightly eerie when flying overhead.

So we weren't going to complain about Young Keith's promised "surprise" illustration. We expected some lovely audio-visual of a V-formation, the old stuff about the one in front doing the work but them all sharing out the job, the "all of us is because one of us are" stuff.

Anyway. Long and short. The Canadian Goose Removal Party is to assemble at the Moot House south-east portal at 9. Please bring nets, pointy sticks, and buckets of water. I know Young Keith suggested a flame thrower. But they've still got Burton Dasset. So let's go easy.

In other news - dinner tonight may well be giant omelettes.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Litany for Nul Points at Eurovision

O Graham Norton, how long must we come last?

Our songs aren't very good, we know.

And we don't get our singers to dress as trolls

We don't understand Europop

And there is no joy in us.

We can only be silly properly after a night out in Covid-secure conditions in Barnsley pubs.

But surely this is nothing to do with any of that.

We get no points because they're jealous of our vaccines

And teaching us a lesson because of Brexit

And Prince Harry

And because they've never got over the War.

We think back to the good old days

When we won it with Katrina

That blue-blooded English girl

From Topeka, Kansas.

We were walking on sunshine then

Although we can't remember what she won with. Wasn't as good.

So we demand our Government withdraw from Eurovision

We could save the £5.50 we spend every year on our performers' costumes

And give it to Dido Harding instead.

That'll teach 'em Mr Mainwaring.


Friday, 21 May 2021

Getting Married in the Church of England - Update

Remember the bad old days of weddings? Such old-fashioned, weird times before 4 May this year?  When the happy couple would sign two registers, the vicar would keep a copy to send the Registrar, and then give a copy to the Best Man to lose in hilarious circumstances about six hours later? Weren't they complicated, clunky and traditional?

Well, don't worry. In the middle of a pandemic, when nobody had anything else to worry about, the Government has changed to a new, funky, digital, and exciting system.

Dave Walker has a great cartoon in the Church Times to advise clergy on how this particular bit of their admin (and a few others) is changing. But I do feel like he's being a bit kind to the new marriage system. I may have got some of this wrong. So feel free to correct me before any innocent clergy accidentally gets it all wrong. Here we go...

"It's Digital! (but you'll need a paper copy too)" is putting it mildly.

It's digital in the same way that this blog is. In that it exists on a computer. You don't submit it digitally. You don't process it digitally.  No. What you do is - you go onto a computer. You go to the right page (if you can work out what the right page is) and you can then type into the document you find on that page, just like an old-fashioned Word document. Because it's a Word document.

And then, just like an old-fashioned Word document, you can print it off. There you go. That was the digital bit done. Yeah. You would have thought there was more to it than that. No block chain or Time Lord technology or anything like that. Not even an up to date version of Word.

In case even that was too much digital for you (in which case I presume you're getting this blog post printed off for you by a more technical friend), you can print off a whole lot of blank copies as well for emergencies, and fill them in by hand. Forever. You need never go digital again.

Try and use nice paper though. You remember those lovely old wedding registers where everyone took the photos while people were signing them and then some vicars who didn't  understand stuff got all umpty and said you couldn't, as taking photographs of a register (which is a public document) would reveal people's name (which are their names) so it broke GDPR (which it didn't) or Child Protection or the Official Secrets Act or something. Them lovely old green ones. Which you signed with a lovely old fountain pen in lovely old special Registrar's ink. Well, they've gone.

Instead. Everyone signs a bit of A4 which came off the vicar's printer. Let's hope they've got a nice laser printer. As if the vicar's still using the dot-matrix they bought when they were the trendiest vicar on the block in 1988, you're gonna be signing something that looks like a prop in the original TV run of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. 

So use a lovely bit of textured, lovely paper. I would. And you still need the lovely old ink and pen.

At this point, you then get the good bit of the new system. You can enter both the happy couple's parents' names and jobs - mothers and fathers - so that's good. Big step forward.  And you can also enter up to two (but no more than two) of the parent's new significant others. Giving up to four people that you can put down. Still not enough for Adele, probably, but enough to cause some real heartache when the groom is debating which of his mother's three polyamorous partners to put down together with his father and his father's new civil partner.

And you can have up to six witnesses. Or eight. Or something. Two or more, at any rate. This is in case any of them die before you find out the wedding document never got to the Registry Office.Which will never happen of course.

So you print out the form. Get it signed by the bride, groom, and witnesses.  DO NOT give it to the Best Man to lose in hilarious circumstances in six hours's time. DO NOT give it to the Bride's mother or significant other to show the neighbour. DO NOT take a copy. This is very important. You will see why later.

You then post the signed document to the Registry Office. Don't use registered post. Don't track it. Don't worry. No important documents every go astray.

Because the system is so slick, churches no longer need registers. Which is why the churches have to buy a new book, in a lovely grey colour, with the words "Register of Marriage Services" on the cover. The Register of Marriage Services are like the old green books, only not so important. Also DO NOT get anyone to sign them except the clergy. That's not what they're for. I'm not sure what they're for, but never mind. Let's move on.


 

New, non-green, Register that isn't a Register

You will see that each entry in the new Register-which-isn't-a-Register has a serial number on it which should match the one you entered on the wedding document you just posted.

What do you mean? "Oh dear?" That's normally what the bride's mother says at a wedding.

It's a great thing, this serial number. You can use any serial numbering you like. Which means if you're a boring old vicar you can just start at number 1 and work up. Then when you're talking to the registrar about the wedding document that didn't turn up (which will never happen), they can ask you which parish it was in as you've sent them four number 6's this month. If you're a vicar who was formerly in IT, you're liable to overthink it, and try to develop some numbering scheme that accounts for, for instance, having two church in the same parish but only one book so you'd better have some kind of structured key except you remember from your Business Analyst training in 1988 that you DON'T PUT MEANING IN A KEY. So maybe you need another book to identify the link entity between marriages and churches. Or something. There's no obvious reason why the sequence numbers should be strictly sequential, by the way. They could frankly write the names of the books of the Bible in there, or only prime numbers, or ascending values of vulgar fractions. The scope for creativity appears to be huge.

Let's move on. You're going to need to go and hang around by the post box, and try and persuade the postperson to let you have the marriage document back and that's gonna be tricky. Better wear your dog collar. And stop all that stress-dribbling.

You will have noticed that at no point in the process so far has the best man got a copy of the marriage certificate to lose six hours later in hilarious circumstances. The happy couple have to apply for this separately, by contacting the registry office, either before, after, or presumably even during the wedding ceremony. Perhaps there's an opportunity to make the liturgy include the phoning of the Registry Office just after the priest has declared them person and other person, or whatever the next gender-neutral marriage ceremony will say. However. Let's suppose, despite the Royal Mail never losing documents, that the arrival of the document at the registry office never happened. Now what?

Time for the other bit of good news. There is no need for the quarterly return.

The what, I hear you ask? Unless you're a clergy, in which case I hear gentle sobbing.

The quarterly return. The thing whereby the registrar could check they'd received all the copies of the wedding certificates from all the churches, chase down any that had gone missing, and spot fakes.

Because now all that happens after a wedding is that clergy sends in a sheet of A4, with the names of all the various possible combinations of parents and parentoids,  and the names and signatures of the happy couple and the various witnesses  and witnessoids, with a sequence number made up by the vicar based on anything at all they like, there's absolutely no way that the pieces of paper could go missing or be faked is there?

Oh, good point. Which has just been noticed.

So now the quarterly return has been scrapped on a national basis, individual registry offices need to reintroduce it on a local basis. Each with their own scheme. Each on their own design of digital medium (eg a Word document) to be posted, emailed or carrier-pigeoned back as clergy see fit. Or not sent back at all, as it's not a legal requirement, it's just a favour to the poor registrars who are desperately trying to get some control back into a process that's not fit for purpose.

And then you find out that one is missing. 

Do you remember that you aren't supposed to take a copy of the wedding document? Well, that's bad news. As you now have to print off another one. And get it signed. But one of the witnesses has gone back to Canada. One is dead. And one has legally changed their name to BX4989 and gone to live in a commune of people that are transforming themselves into cyborgs. But via email, fax, letter, seance, and invading the commune and beating BX4989 until they remember what their old name was, you get a perfect copy of the document, all ready to go back off to the registrar. 

But you're a bit busy. So you give it to the Best Man to post.

Six hours later, in hilarious circumstances...



Monday, 17 May 2021

Week of Prayer for People Doing the Acts 2 Reading for Pentecost

This week the Beaker Folk will be focusing on the Week of Prayer for People Doing the Acts 2 Reading for Pentecost.

We have a theme for each day:

Monday - meditations on Psalm 45: "My tongue is the pen of a ready writer"

Tuesday - meditations on Psalm 13: "How long, O Lord?"

Wednesday - "Spare them, Lord" 

Thursday - Meditations on Psalm 90: "O God Our Help in Ages Past"

Friday - How to pronounce "Pamphylia"

Saturday - All-day practice

 Last year we tested 10 people doing the reading in real-world conditions, ie a load of people watching them through Zoom going "Fridge-ie? Is that where fridges come from?" And we mapped out the panic levels of the readers against different place names. And we found that, early on, people are quite happy - "Parthians" isn't too bad - but there's that sudden acceleration from Medes through Elamites to Mesapotamia. After that there's an undulating but high level of panic. But as people go down the gears through Egypt and Libya, knowing there's the easy ground of Jews and Arabs (at least in linguistic terms) to come - getting side-swiped through by "Cyrene" is all too easy. These tests were run with the NIV, but we did a limited comparison with the King James, and "proselytes" is the real killer. Is it "prose-lites"? Or "prossel-ie-tees?" 

So spare a prayer for the people reading Acts 2 this week. It's gonna be a tough one.

Panic Levels Through Acts 2