Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Reformation Martyrs Day Revised Collect

 I see from the old wall calendar that today is Martyrs of the English Reformation Day.

Where the good old C of E (copyright Church Mouse Publishing) prays as following:

Merciful God, who, when your Church on earth was torn apart by the ravages of sin, raised up men and women in this land who witnessed to their faith with courage and constancy: give to your Church that peace which is your will, and grant that those who have been divided on earth may be reconciled in heaven and share together in the vision of your glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Which is a very Anglican way of saying "fault on both sides". I mean, some of those martyred were, let's face it, pretty happy with the other side being martyred. 

This also being Star Wars Day (May the 4th etc) it's a bit like hoping that Darth Sidious and Princess Leia might be buddies in the Grand United Force Where All is Made Well.

A more accurate collect might be:

... when all's said and done it was a bit of a mess. Frankly we can't see how even your mercy could forgive someone who sets fire to somebody or allows them to be cut into pieces just for a difference in belief that most people these days couldn't even explain very well. We don't know and can't judge whether some of these people will be reconciled in heaven or the other place. I mean, Thomas More's a great example. Always happy for someone else to be incinerated for the good of their soul but gets his head cut off and suddenly he's a saint? Really? And look at Cranmer. Chucks Cromwell, and Catharine Howard under the bus, but ends up with his name in the lectionary and a college named after him. Durham college, obviously. So, over to you... 

Or, better still, let's be very English. And just pretend it never happened.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

The True Vine

John 15:1-8 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunesso that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

In 1992 a containerload of plastic bath ducks fell off a cargo ship in the Pacific Ocean and the ducks - for want of a better word - escaped.

Over the following years, they washed up all over the place. Some went North to Alaska. Some went south to Australia. Some snuck through the Bering Straits into the Atlantic. One made it to Scotland.

Which tells us two things. One, that plastic is terribly durable and we need to be careful what we do with it. And two, that this world is a connected thing. What you do in one place can have an unexpected effect a long way away.

As the world is, so the Church. Jesus draws us this mental image of the church as a vine. As with "I am the Good Shepherd", the image has deep Biblical roots. The people of Israel were referred to as God's vineyard or God's grapevine. Normally in the context of some judgement or another. Because it's being asked does it bear fruit? Very important in vine husbandry, does it bear fruit? As vines aren't much use for anything else. You can't make a nice chair out of the wood of the vine. You can just about get some benefit by burning it on the fire. But that's not a return on your investment when you wanted to make a nice Sirah wine.

The vine is an interconnected thing. Jesus in saying "I am the vine" is identifying himself with Israel. All the promises that were made to Israel in the past were pointing to Jesus. And remember that means the Jews were never rejected. We are grafted into God's holy work in progress. And if that happens then we form part of the whole plant - being blessed with it, suffering with it.

Now you can get a bit hung up about "pruning" here. And it worries me when they say "all the suffering you get is God's plan for your life". I remember someone coming to me after my parents died in that tragic hay-bailing accident. And a member of our Extremely Primitive Methodist connexion came round and had that gormless pious smile he used to have, and said, "God will not try you more than you can bear. It will all turn out for good in the end. Trace the rainbow through the rain." And I turned to him, with the tears falling to the floor, and I smashed him in the face. I tell you, no jury would convict. Maybe God works through our tears and pain - but that's a consequence of the world we live in. God would much rather work through our joy and love. But we live in a broken world.

"Pruning", it strikes me here, is about the ongoing work in our lives that God enters into. I have no idea if pruning hurts a grape vine. If I think a lot about it, I consider that a sentient vine with a central nervous system would get rather grumpy about it. But would be unable to resist, to be fair, not being a thorn bush or a nettle. But since they're not, they mostly just buckle down and keep growing. Maybe moaning in a viney kind of way. But pruning is about encouraging fruit. Everything about a domestic vine is about encouraging fruit. You prune a vine in winter, when all the energy is in the roots, so as not to hurt it too much. You cut back to the strongest bud. You want all the energy from the roots come the summer to go in the right direction. And I've been intrigued, visiting the wonderful New Lodge Vineyard of Earls Barton, to see just how hard they cut the vines back in winter. They know the vines need a lot of work - and then they can produce a lot of fruit. It's a labour of love, not of cruelty.

And I know I need a lot of work. I know we all can. Because God wants us to produce fruit. Which St Paul tells us is made up of: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We can't produce all that lot on our own. Or at least I can't. Or maybe a bit, some of the time, for people I quite like. But Jesus says, stay in the vine. Go with the programme. "Remain in me", says Jesus. Be part of the vine - whose branches include so many other people - and know that you're all working together. If a vine grows well, all the branches will be strong and the plant as a whole will produce fruit. If a vine is sapped, it's weakened, or it's damaged, all the branches will suffer. If the leaves are in full daylight, they will pull the nutrients through for the rest of the plant.

So look after each other. You are all part of one vine. You all have the one rootstock. You are all engaged in the same holy purpose. Stay in Jesus, because he gives all you need. And know, as you bear fruit in the way you behave, live and work - that you'll bring glory to Jesus's father.

Friday, 30 April 2021

Unleash the Wicker Person

 Ah, St Walpurga's Night. What a night.

The Wicker Person is already looming over the Big Meadow. Beaker Folk are preparing to celebrate the feast in groups, strictly socially distanced. All the potatoes are lined up ready to bake in the ashes, just like in the original Beaker times.

Please can people note that, if sparks from the fire burn through their masks, they are no longer Covid secure and need to go back to the Mask Dispenser to get a new one. Please do not  get too near the Wicker Person while using hand sanitising gel. We don't need to have to work out how to deal with Beaker People with flaming hands. Some kind of sand bucket thing? See what I mean. Don't chance it on us working out a solution.

The Big Sloppy Hug of Peace, so popular normally after a night at the White Horse prior to the May Eve celebrations, will be replaced with a "Limp Wave of Peace in People's General Direction". Personally I find that both safer and more generally comfortable.

This year's Quidditch match will be socially distanced. In the sense you can't really play Quidditch. So just forget it and put those brooms down, you delusional twerps. Yes, especially you with the Nimbus 2000.

Still, the main thing is that May Eve is here. Summer is icumen in. Loud sing Cuckoo. Somewhere. No idea where. But still, there must be a cuckoo. And if there is, it must be singing. Loudly.

Bit parky though. So wrap up warm as you celebrate that Summer is icumen in. You don't want to get a chill.


Wednesday, 28 April 2021

The Legend of Cally Banks

They say the old ironstone railway line in Finedon, Northamptonshire is haunted. Just a feeling. Maybe just a slight chill, or a feeling of being watched. Or the shock of an owl, apparently appearing from nowhere on silent wings on a still evening. Or the red kite that watches the end of the line, ever watchful for a meal, but flapping off if you give it any attention. But few know the true story.

Interesting little place, Finedon. Its main attraction these days is national semi-precious treasure* Revd Richard Coles. But it also has an odd obelisk, celebrating the recovery of King George III (he got worse again), a pub that claims to be the oldest in England (it isn't) and a stone called the Finedon Stone. Which I suppose it is. So one out of three ain't bad.

It also has a disused ironstone mine, now converted into a country park. And part of that park is the old ironstone railway, running down to a nature reserve.  It's a spooky walk, that old railway line. You constantly, gently, descend into increasing darkness. The plants are a bit spindly and sickly. The concrete sleepers still sleep where they have dozed this half a century and more. The bracket fungus could almost look like they're stained with the red of ironstone and human blood.

Bloody bracket fungus

And you always get the impression, when walking down there, as TS Eliot says in the Wasteland, that, "there is always another one" lurking somewhere just nearby. And the guidebooks will tell you that the reserve at the far end got its name - "Cally Banks" - because it is where the iron ore was melted down with limestone - or, as it is known in the trade, "calcined".

Well, that's what they say. And it's kind of true.

But they miss out the key bit.

There was a man who worked on the calcining ovens down there. His real name was Ezekiel Banks. A tough chap - strong as an ox, as you have to be when shovelling lime and ironstone. A bit of a loner, they said. So while others worked up the top end near the village - dragging the lumps of iron from the ground, leaving the great gaping canyon that nowadays threatens to pull the cemetery down into itself - Ezekiel worked at the other end of the line, out where the winding paths confuse the unwary purple-clad wanderer today. Where, when the ironstone train wasn't clanking along, you could hear the bells of Finedon or Great Harrowden churches, depending on the wind, and the gentle gurgling of the River Ise.

They called him Cally because he did the calcining. Also, being unlettered Finedon folk, they couldn't pronounce Ezekield.

Now Cally loved a young Mexican girl. What she was doing working behind the bar at the Bell in the 1930s was anyone's guess. But she did. And Cally spent many evenings, listening to the landlord droning on about how the Bell is the oldest pub in England (it isn't) just for the sweet moments when he could chat with Falina about the terrible fate that befell a young cowboy she once knew.

Not the oldest pub in England

But Falina had a track record of causing toxic masculine behaviour, as we'd now call it. A wild young engine-driver on the ironstone railway - Sam the Shovel - started coming into the Bell more and more often after work. And while Sam was rakish in his engine-driver's cap, and all his wild talk of his mile-long trips down the line from the mine to the calcining ovens - sometimes even hitting 15 mph - poor Cally's clothes were covered in rusty ironstone dust, and specs of lime. It wasn't so bad, except he once accidentally dropped a Coke down his coat. Fizzed for days.

Falina fell deeply in love with Sam. And the more she loved Sam, the more Cally's jealousy simmered.

One day he could take no more. He knew the rough time that Sam would be running the train down, laden with its load of ironstone. He lurked behind an ash tree on the bank, above the railway line, waiting for the moment that Sam the Shovel would appear. He watched anxiously as he saw steam swirling round the little cutting. Eventually, the little locomotive puffed into view, Sam's cap visible behind the controls. Cally flitted from his hideout, took a few paces down the bank, and leapt from a height onto the footplate. He pushed his rival out the other side. He planned to leap on his prone form, and finish him off with whatever lump of rock came to hand.

The falling figure gave a cry - a female cry - and crashed to the ground. As the train continued to race away at 5mph, Cally realised too late that it was his own Falina, wearing Sam's hat as a lover's token.

Sam had been engaged in getting the next shovel of coal from the tender. Realising what had happened, he turned and slammed the now-distraught Cally across the head with his shovel. Cally fell from the loco, bounced off a rock, and rolled back under the wheels of the ironstone wagons.

To this day, the kids say that the mysterious square hole in the Cally Banks nature reserve is the entrance to Cally's grave. They say the whole reserve is a kind of 20th Century burial mound, raised in honour of the smelter, failed lover and murderer.

Do not climb in to check
And they say that if you walk down the railway track, away from Finedon, of an evening or a gloomy afternoon, you'll always feel the presence of Cally - just behind you - just quietly watching. Waiting for that train. Swearing to himself that, should it ever come down that way again, this time he's going to get Sam the Shovel.

If I were you, I shouldn't wear a cap. Stick to a nice hoody.

* I realise I've partially been inspired by, partially plagiarised Richard's wonderful David here. I hope when I see David next he'll forgive me. 

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Setting Sail in the Vacuum of Integrity

 I don't know what all the fuss is about.

We all agreed at the last Moot that what the Beaker Folk needed was something to give them a lift. Something to raise the spirits. Something to increase the general happiness of the world.

And so I arranged for the purchase and fitting out of the new Beaker Boat, Vacuum of Integrity. And I think you've got to agree that it's a worthy boat for these difficult times. I'm going to leave it on the Duck Pond for a few days, just to lift everyone's spirits. Then Vanman Bert is going to take it down to Fenny Stratford so we can launch her on her future journeys.

And yes I know some people have criticised the Vacuum as being a waste of money. Some have suggested that maybe crushed velvet drapes, silk bedding and the exclusive design talents of Jasmine Bordello-Boudoir have been over-expensive at a time of hardship and fear for so many Beaker Folk.

But as Young Keith raised the St George's Cross on Friday, while the Sun that Never Sets on the Empire rose over the Amazon warehouse, it struck me that such criticisms are unpatriotic. Aren't you ashamed of yourselves? The Vacuum will fly that flag on all truly English days - St George's, Shakespeare's birthday, the anniversary of Shakespeare's death, the coronation of Charles II and so on. And we've got a Union Jack somewhere for all the saints of the other British nations.

No, the carpers and whiners, doomsters, gloomsters and baby-boomsters need to look deep into their dark, bitter, treasonous hearts and think - why are you begrudging such a beautiful gift to the world?

Some have criticized the lack of transparency around how the boat was paid for. Especially since I was complaining about how poor I was just the other month. I can only say that, if anyone contributed to the boat's purchase and kitting-out, it is shyness that stops them having their generosity praised. We should laud their commitment to putting this thing of beauty on the water and not look for public acclaim. Even though, of course, I paid for it myself. I think the thing to do from now on is create a charity to look after the boat's maintenance and future refits (the autumn-winter fabrics collection looks stunning, darlings) so people don't have to sully themselves with such unworthy thoughts again.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

The Good Shepherd - Not just a Stained Glass Image

 Well, ever since that dog chased Grendel across the desk during my Facebook service recording, it appears I've adopted a dog. We traced the owners through the microchip service, but all they did was scream down the phone. An interesting character - half collie, half St Bernard. Which means he has the urge to chase sheep, but loses interest after a quick run because it's too much effort.

Still, that quick run is always amusing if we've insisted Burton Dasset takes him for a walk. I've seen Burton dragged across an entire field because Tommo's herding instincts took over, until the sitting down instincts reasserted themselves.

But it's made me think about sheperds and sheep more. Those fluffy losers, often to be seen laying on their backs in fields in the morning dew. That's the sheep, not the shepherds. In a modern, go-ahead world we think of them mostly as commodities. Not the valuable thing any pastoral animal would have been in the 1st Century. I was intrigued to discover however that even today farmers do have a way of knowing which sheep is which. They give them squad numbers so they can tell which lamb belongs to which ewe. 

Ewe with Lamb - Numbers 76
Come in number 76

Whereas with Jesus, it's every hair on our head that is numbered - not just one number per adult sheep. Still, it helps to look after the lambs, I guess.

I also discovered that if a sheep headbutts a lamb, it's either not that sheep's lamb, or the ewe has taken against her own lamb. Just goes to show. It's no life being a lamb. You may think it's all frisking around in the open air, but there's agressive mothers, random other sheep,  and mint sauce to worry about.

We've got some lovely songs about Jesus the Good Shepherd. And some lovely stained-glass window and Illustrated Bible pictures - which we normally mix up with the Lost Sheep and get two parables for the price of one. And Jesus as the Good Shepherd looking for the Lost Sheep is a lovely image isn't it? And a meaningful one. Especially if you're a lost sheep or a just-found one.

But "I am the Good Shepherd" is also one of Jesus's "I Am" statements. Alongside the Bread of Life, and Light of the World, and "Before Abraham was I Am."  So it's a bit more profound that just Jesus looking after us - great though that is.

It's a direct claim, I think. Israel has always had a shepherd. It once had a shepherd king - David - but thereafter the kings who followed him were always going off the rails, forgetting about God, and losing interest in the things they were supposed to be protecting - foreigners, orphans, widows - just generally the most vulnerable people.

And God repeatedly told them they were bad shepherds.

It's worth reading all the prophets in the Old Testament. Then you get gems like Zechariah where the shepherds exploit the sheep. And Ezekiel 34 where God tells the bad shepherds that from now on, God will look after God's flock.

So when Jesus says "I am the Good Shepherd" , he is stating his equality with God. He is taking God's job on.

So what does that mean for us? It means that God the Son is our shepherd. We are his flock. We depend on Jesus - we stay close to Jesus. Depend on him for the care and attention we need. He knows our weaknesses, loves us and died for us.

And if we're a flock - there's a corporate responsibility. Flocks stick together. There's safety in the numbers of a flock. That's why sheep act in sheepy ways - if Tommo the Dog barks at them going into their field, generally speaking they join together in a mass stampede.

I was walking across a local estate - one of these diversified ones that do everything from stately homes tours to business conference centres to high-wire climbing - and they also do the normal, sheepy stuff in their rolling acres of course. And a chap in a Land Rover drove up and stopped and looked carefully at a ewe with a couple of lambs. And he told me he was a bit worried that a ewe was rejecting a lamb. "Oh,' I said. "Are you the shepherd?"

 " No, " he replied, "I work on the golf course." 

 I've mixed the metaphor up a bit here but I hope you get where I'm coming from. The flock is not a bunch of individuals. Its sum is greater than its parts, and it exists to protect its members. We don't ignore the needs of members of the flock because it's not our job, or we don't care for that particular sheep. We collectively care for all the members of the flock, because they belong to our shepherd. The relationship isn't just vertical, as they'd probably still say in business. It's also horizontal. We live and thrive as one flock, not as multitudes of individual sheep. But we are one flock because we all belong to the Good Shepherd. The one prepared to die for his sheep.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Tess of the D'Urbervilles: 2021 Remix

Roped-off Turberville grave, with square tiles
"Please stay 4 tiles apart at all times."

"Within the window under which the bedstead stood were the tombs of the family, covering in their dates several centuries. They were canopied, altar-shaped, and plain; their carvings being defaced and broken; their brasses torn from the matrices, the rivet-holes remaining like martin-holes in a sandcliff. Of all the reminders that she had ever received that her people were socially extinct, there was none so forcible as this spoliation. She drew near to a dark stone on which was inscribed:


Tess did not read Church-Latin like a Cardinal, but she knew that this was the door of her ancestral sepulchre, and that the tall knights of whom her father had chanted in his cups lay inside.
She musingly turned to withdraw, passing near an altar-tomb, the oldest of them all, on which was a recumbent figure. In the dusk she had not noticed it before, and would hardly have noticed it now but for an odd fancy that the effigy moved. As soon as she drew close to it she discovered all in a moment that the figure was a living person; and the shock to her sense of not having been alone was so violent that she was quite overcome, and sank down nigh to fainting, not, however, till she had recognized a Church Warden in the form.

"Hello," said the Church Warden, "I'm here to supervise your private prayer. Please can you scan the QR code, fill in the visitor's register, sanitise your hands and ensure your mask fits over both your nose and mouth? Please sit only on the blue chairs, but not if they contain a "I have been used for private prayer" laminated card. Unless it is a green laminated card, as they are from more than three days ago. Please do not shout, sing, scream or lick the pulpit. Now command me. What shall I do?”

“Go away!” she murmured."

Sunday, 18 April 2021

20 Uses for a Mask in Church

Many intelligent people are complaining about the use of masks to restrict the transmission of Covid. Sorry. Did I say "many"? I meant "no". But still. Masks aren't all downside. There's lots of good reasons to embrace the mask in church... 
  1. Keeping your face warm on cold mornings
  2. Staying at home and paying a person with the same colour eyes to take your place
  3. Smuggling in and eating sweets
  4. Similar, but with a miniature of whisky
  5. Pretending to be Hannibal Lecter
  6. Or Douglas Bader, according to the mask
  7. Slipknot? No, you're probably right
  8. Experimenting with the right breathing method to steam your glasses up
  9. Singing without being spotted
  10. Sticking your tongue out at the preacher when they're making the Bible mean what they want it to
  11. Mouthing complaints about the kids running about without anyone knowing
  12. Wearing the colour of lipstick you really always wanted to wear without being judged
  13. Not bothering to shave
  14. Trying to blow it out like a balloon
  15. Wearing it on your chin instead of your nose, like it's some surreal beard
  16. Hiding a yawn
  17. Use it as a catapult once you can take it off in the churchyard
  18. Hiding lots of yawns
  19. Hammock for the church bats while you've taken your mask off to do the reading
  20. Not causing other people to die.

Not a Ghost

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.( Luke 24.36b-48)

I grew up in a ghost-ridden place, in the eastern fringes of the Chilterns. We had a headless horseman. The "Gray Lady" who haunted our Victorian school building. And the ghost in the village of Markyate was always the one that outshone all the others. Allegedly a former lady of the manor who moonlighted as a highwaywoman, she wandered the grounds of Markyate Cell at night, screaming for help and generally terrifying the locals.  We also had the Black Shucks - the fearsome ghostly dogs of Eastern England - to contend with. And that was to say nothing of dealing with people from Luton.

The belief in and fear of ghosts seems to be a commonplace thing, transcending religion and culture. 20 years ago it was suggested - on the basis of nothing obvious - that the growth in mobile phones was killing ghostly phenomena. And yet, "Most Haunted" kept going till 2019, and is probably re-running on some golden oldies channel even as I type.

Yew tree in Husborne Crawley churchyard
Waiting for what comes next

So Jesus appears to the disciples. This reading describes the evening of the first Easter Sunday. So - remember from last week - this is the day Thomas has gone AWOL. Luke doesn't mention that. Luke's writing down someone else's description of the events - probably not John's. But it does fit in nicely with John's. And Jesus's telling them that he's not a ghost, is backed up by him telling them to touch him, see he's physically real, and him eating the fish.

I'm just imagining Thomas. The first edition of Luke's Gospel comes out. Thomas goes "oh, I was there. Let's have a look." Reads the bit about the first appearance of Jesus to all the disciples. Goes, "Hang on. He ate fish? Nobody told me about the fish. All this time you've called me 'doubting Thomas' and they got to see him eating fish? Had they only told me about the fish."

Because there is something so physical about Jesus after the Resurrection. Yes he can just appear and disappear. But he can build beachside BBQs. He can offer to let Thomas put his hand in his side. and he can eat fish.

God, it seems, is a very big fan of the physical world. After all, at the Creation, God made so much of it. God realised it's good for people not to be alone - they need human contact. And don't we all know that after the last 12 months. God clearly loves colour, and life, and massive explosions in deep space. It was sad to hear that John Polkinghorne died recently - a physics professor before he became a priest and theologian. He was a living statement that if we only pursue a spiritual, wafty religion and want to escape from the earth, then we're missing out one whole side of God's wonder. And if we try to reduce all things to science - which Science doesn't, because Science knows what it is for - we are looking at the world with only half our faculties. 

So I don't believe God is going to give up on this world, anymore than he gives up on us. God's Son is now made of the stuff we are made. The stuff the earth is made of. His Resurrection is a promise to us for our future, that we will be raised with him - but also one for the world. God does not give up on this beautiful, damaged, glorious world. He will make all things new. So give thanks for this world - God made it, God loves it, God's Son died for it, and God expects us to care for it. And when God's Son comes again, all things will be made anew.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Liturgy for Recording a Facebook Liturgy in the House Without Interruption

Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Cat walks in front of camera*

Archdruid: Bum. Start again.

Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Sound of toilet flushing next door*

Archdruid: Rats. Start again.


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Cat walks back across camera*

Archdruid: Bum. Start again.


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Dog chases cat across desk*

Archdruid: I haven't even got a dog....


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Cat starts knocking books out of bookshelf*

*Archdruid throws cat out of window*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Young Keith starts up soup maker*



Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Little Celestine walks in with her new toy tank*

Celestine: Nanna - tank! Kill Russians!

Archdruid: That's very nice, Celestine. Why don't you go and invade Woburn Sands?


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Phone rings*

*Archdruid throws phone out of window*

*Yowl from Grendel the cat, who has been hit by the phone*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Dog jumps out of window after cat*

*Sound of cat and dog fight*

*Archdruid throws bucket of water out of window*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Sound of email arriving on laptop*

*Sound of Archdruid's head banging on desk repeatedly*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Sound of Grade 2 level violin practice*

*Sound of window slamming shut*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Coldstream Guards march across the gravel garden playing Sweet Georgia Brown*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Pigeon flies into window*

*Sound of pigeon sliding down window*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Boris Johnson walks behind desk dressed in PPE and gazing at a fake vial of vaccine*

*Sound of Boris Johnson being beaten with Lubert Stryer's Biochemistry (2nd ed)*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Paraglider crash-lands and comes through roof*


Archdruid: Go into the world with the sun on your hair, the wind in your back, the hills on your face, and the snails rise up to greet you. Until we meet again. Amen.

*Beep of camera switching off* 

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Over-commemorating Prince Philip

There's been some suggestions that we've overreacted to the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.

Just because we've been tolling the Kazakh Mourning Gong every 30 seconds day and night. At least since Amazon delivered it.

And why is everyone so upset about us replacing every single service with a Beaker Requiem Mass? Didn't all the churches?

And making all conversations contain a minimum 40% discussion about Prince Philip.

And yes, in retrospect, flying the flags at half-mast was a mistake. But we couldn't get any online. And the only Union Flags we had, apart from a pair of Burton Dasset's pants (which we firmly rejected, not least as he was wearing them at the time) was bunting. And flying bunting at half mast is a bit of a hazard. But not as much as Burton's pants.

We decided to go a bit more proactive on the mourning after complaints that the commemoration of the Queen Mother was a bit sorrow-lite. I didn't see it. A 24 hour gin party struck me as just the thing she'd approve of. But people were overreacting to the mourning period for Princess Diana. Apparently in Husborne Crawley so many people were weeping onto the M1 from the Bedford Road bridge, that the cortege needed to use windscreen wipers.

Among the complaints I have received are:
Too much mention of Prince Philip 
Not enough mention of Prince Philip 
Too many complaints about too much mention of Prince Philip 
Too easy to complain 
Too hard to complain*
Not enough photos of Diana.

Well, the Diana one is tricky. Doris Medium, the Beaker Clairvoyant, tells us there's a massive fight going on in the afterlife as Prince Philip, with a heavenly shotgun, demands Mohammed Al Fayed takes back his accusations. But then, Doris's psychic abilities are a bit suspect since she forecast that 2020 would be the best year Britain ever had, and Brexit would do wonders for Northern Ireland. Never trust anyone who claims to be channeling Sir James Goldsmith, I say.

Any case. In response to all the complaints, I shall be running an independent inquiry to determine whether the Prince Philip-tide season has been brilliant or merely acceptable.

Today's programme:

8am Wailing and gnashing of teeth 
10am Socially-distanced memorial game of bicycle polo
12 noon Prince Philip Memorial Lunch in the Prince Philip Dining Room (all dishes á la Grecque)
2pm Lamentations of Penny Junor
4pm Presentation: "The Prince Philip I never Met" by Young Keith
6pm Tiffin
8pm Compline, featuring Burton Dasset's memories (yet again) of the day the Queen drove past him in London
10pm-6am Kontakion in the Siberian Tradition.

* but the whingers still managed to

Monday, 12 April 2021

Commemorating the Pilgrimage of Dominic Cummings to Barnard Castle - 12 April 2020

 A Song of Ascents

Archdruid: I was glad when they said unto me, 

All: let us go for a bit of a drive.

Archdruid: My eyesight seemed a bit weird 

All: And this seemed like the best way to heal it.

Archdruid: And now behold here we are

All: Feeling sick in the park in Barnard Castle.

Archdruid: Barnard Castle is like a castle that is builded on a hill.

All: Actually, that's exactly what it is. Hence the name.

Archdruid: Surely, surely Dominic is a loving father.

All: He did what any loving father would have done.

Archdruid: Drove 2 tons of machinery 25 miles, 

All: with his child in the back,

Archdruid: with dodgy eyesight, carrying a deadly disease.

All: We've all done it.

Archdruid: Thanks all. That's a wrap. 

All: Oh. Aren't we all going to sing "Laudate Dominic"? 

Archdruid: Against the rules. Besides, I've got to edit the blog to make it look like I predicted Covid in 2007.



Sunday, 11 April 2021

On Not Going to the Royal Funeral

I'd like to share with the Beaker Folk that I've decided not to go to Prince Philip's funeral.

Obviously, I would have been invited. But I thought it was more important that little George or one of the other ones went instead of me.

By making this announcement really early, I'm pleased that I'll be taking the pressure off the Royal Family who would have been really embarrassed to ask me and then it would have been bad when I said "no, let little George or the other one go."

I think you'll agree I made the right decision.

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Saying Goodbye to Prince Philip

Such a problem in a post-modern worship paradigm, is marking traditional "establishment" type events such as the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.  A hard-working and devoted servant of our nation, so it was concluded we should do something.

It all started when the Beaker Folk heard that the Church of England churches were ringing bells "half-muffled" to mark his leaving this mortal coil. Why couldn't we do that, they asked. Well, we don't have church bells.

We have Tibetan singing bowls, they said. Why can't we ring them half-muffled? But it's not easy to find a Tibetan singing bowl player, and would they agree to being half-muffled? It's not easy in a pandemic. 

Then someone wondered whether Prince Philip might have offended Tibetans at some point in his life, and whether our using their sacred instruments to mark his going might offend them again.

And once we'd realised that, the French Horn section had to be taken out of the planned fanfare.

So we realised pretty much any ritual we could appropriate was probably invented by a nation that Philip had insulted over the years. Albeit always in a good-mannered, well meaning way. Not like the modern professional racists we've had the last five. You always got the impression with Prince Philip that if people from one of the nations he insulted had just said, "naff off big ears" he would have laughed. Obviously, being the husband of a reigning monarch, people mostly didn't.

Anyway. People started saying - why be all sad about it? Why muffle things? What about fireworks? A group of showgirls in memory of his nightclubbing years? A band of accordionists playing Gary Moore's back-catalogue for no apparent reason? Smashing a load of plates to celebrate his Greek heritage? A massive bacon sandwich world record attempt to celebrate his Danish heritage? Let's liven it up, they said. Why not a thirty-foot-high icon of Philip in flowers like we did for Diana?

So we've decided to go out and shoot a few pheasants in memory of Prince Philip. It's what he would have liked.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Amice? Amice?

Sally called when she got the word
And she said, "I suppose you've heard... 'bout the amice?
Well I rushed to the church steps and I looked inside
And I could hardly believe my eyes
As Father walked to the altar with no amice in sight.

Oh, I don't know what he's thinking
His alb was white as snow
I guess he's got his reasons
But I just don't want to know
'Cause for 24 years
Fr Jones has been wearing an amice.

24 years of sitting in my place
Thinking that my cotta could use a little lace
Now I've got to get used to him giving up on the amice.

I remember the day that Fr Jones came
With a handsome biretta, "SSC" to his name. And an amice.
Now he walks through the door, with his head held high
And maybe I got some incense in my eye
When I saw that cassock-alb, I started to cry.

Oh, I don't know what he's thinking
His alb was white as snow
I guess he's got his reasons
But I just don't want to know
'Cause for 24 years
Fr Jones has been wearing an amice.

Roy Chubby Brown: Amice? Amice?
Archdruid: Not now, Roy. This is serious.

24 years of lovely Roman Rite
Now he's gone all liberal and it happened overnight
And I've got to get used to him giving up on the amice.

And Sally called back, said "I know you're down
let's go elsewhere,
there's a new priest in town
who wears an amice"

"Jones's amice is gone
But Fr Matt's on fleek
with a cassock, alb, amice
and stole so chic."
So we went to St Saviour's instead.

Oh, I don't know what he's thinking
His alb was white as snow
I guess he's got his reasons
But I just don't want to know
'Cause for 24 years
Fr Jones has been wearing an amice.

24 years I was happy as can be
But now it's Common Worship, Eucharistic Prayer C
But I'll not get used to him giving up on the amice.

 No, I'll never get used to him giving up on the amice.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

The Swedish AstraZeneca Vaccine

 Lots in the press about the Swedish AstraZeneca vaccine.

Seems like the Swedish AstraZeneca may have some side effects. So the Government isn't recommending it for under 30s. Even though only one sixth of the small number of deaths are in people under 30. Which sounds a bit odd. But makes sense when you consider you're comparing the risk of the vaccine versus that of the virus for different age groups.

So, best be careful.

What with it being a Swedish vaccine.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

The Dead Don't Rise

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20.11-18 20)

There's an idea that those of us who believe in miracles are unscientific people. That we can believe that people rise from the dead. That it might be OK for people in the first century to believe in that sort of stuff, but we live in a civilisation that's invented Post-It notes and Internet trolls. Surely we're more sophisticated?

Trouble with that theory is, of course, that it's rubbish.  In the First Century they didn't believe people rose from the dead the whole time either. They knew that wasn't a normal thing. You can tell that in the account of Mary Magdalene at the tomb.

Mary of Magdala has often been represented as a prosititute, with all the chances for pious blokes to talk about greater rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, etc etc. But that seems - not so much unfair - as why shouldn't prostitutes believe in Jesus? Lots of them did. Maybe better to say, having no evidence to support it. The belief she was a prostitute came from Pope Gregory, who managed to announce that Mary Mag, Mary of Bethany and the woman that wiped Jesus's feet with her hair were all the same person. Dunno why. You'd think being Pope and everything he'd know how to read the Bible and weigh evidence. Maybe he just thought there were too many woman in the Gospel and it would be a good idea to condense a few female personalities down. Anyway, long and short - we have no reason to think she was a prostitute. And maybe better reason to think she was a businesswoman, wealthy, independent of any husband, and so one of the women who bankrolled Jesus's mission.

Any case. Bit of a digression. Let's crack on.

Unexpectedly encountering an empty tomb, Mary's first reaction is not "oh, he's obviously risen from the dead." She's a sensible, rational woman. Even after the wonders she has seen. She assumes "they" have taken away Jesus's body. She's not specific about the "they". Maybe the Romans. Maybe the Temple guard. Maybe the Pharisees. Maybe Mrs Joseph of Arimathea, while berating her husband about his habit of giving nice new tombs over to crucified rabbis. At no point does she think "I bet an angel's rolled the stone away and he's walked out." And I guess this is the point at which Mark's Gospel just stops. Where Mary (who John has focused on) and the other women are standing, scared and baffled.

John and Peter, meanwhile, had turned up - had a look - shrugged - assumed it's just one thing after another this Passover, and walked away. John says Peter "had believed" - but doesn't tell us what he'd believed apart from the body being gone.

Mary stands at the empty tomb and waits and weeps. And there's two angels sitting there now. And again she assumes not that they're angels - because she's a rational woman, remember, not some believer that angels just appear in the morning in Jerusalem gardens - but that they're some random garden-tomb-related blokes. And she says "they've taken him away." 

She turns around. Again - no evidence of massive credulousness here. You don't turn your back on angels. Or, at least, I wouldn't. If I thought there was angels in front of me, I'd keep an eye on them.  You never know if they might break into the Hallelujah Chorus, or upset your donkey, or tell you you're pregnant. Tricksy things, angels. But Mary thinks they're just the tomb patrol or something, and turns around. And Jesus is there.

And again, Mary is a hard-headed woman. She doesn't say, "oh it's you. I was wondering when you'd rise from the dead." 

She says, "have you got him?"

Now, in John's Gospel and in Luke's account of Emmaus, Jesus is not instantly recognisable. Maybe there's something about a resurrection body that is different to a mortal one. It wouldn't be surprising. I mean, it's a big change, not being dead any more but instead being raised to eternal life. If that's the case, I'd like a slightly smaller nose, if there's any Recording Angel taking notes. Not too much. Not your actual Voldemort. Just a bit less. A bit off the ridge. 

In any case. Mary thinks he's the gardener - because who else would he be, in a garden? It's not going to be Jesus because she knows he's dead, remember? Given the choice of there being an unusual amount of garden foot traffic this Sunday morning, or her rabbi having risen from the dead - she goes for the obvious, sensible, scientific, rational explanation. And she thinks maybe the gardener has moved the body.

Mary's a pious first-century Jew, we can assume. And so we can imagine that, like the other Mary (or the same Mary if Pope Gregory was right, which he wasn't. I mean, he wasn't infallible), she believed in the Resurrection. But when they believed in the Resurrection, they believed it would all happen at the end of time. It wouldn't have occured to Mary, or for that matter Mary, to have thought that the Resurrection would just happen to one person. Kind of an all or nothing thing, they (or she) would have thought.

So that's ruled out. So she waits for the bloke in the garden to say "it's a fair cop". Or "not me, random woman in the garden" or "actually it was the Romans".

And instead he says "Mary". And that's all it takes.

Mary now knows there aren't a plethora of gardeners about this morning. This is far more unlikely. And yet she now has the evidence she needs, in the one word he's said. This is her teacher, her Lord - the one she's been crying for since Friday morning. The one she watched die on Friday afternoon. And here he is - alive. 


But she's not to hold onto him. 

There's an echo here for me. Remember when Jesus' mum comes to drag him back home? The one that Pope Gregory didn't think was the same as all the other women. But when she does, Jesus makes it quite clear it ain't happening - he's heading for Jerusalem. 

Now another Mary can't hold onto him either. Maybe she'd like to go back to the days pre-Thursday-night. Teaching she can't quite understand, and neither can anyone else.  Unexpected miracles. Evenings where her Master explains the words his Spirit gave in the Hebrew scriptures, and gives his own insight on them. But she can't hold on to him. He is always moving forward. The next stage in bring all people to his Father is for him to ascend, and send his Spirit. So all believers can have Jesus with them all the time. That's why Mary can't hold on to him.

"Go and tell my brothers I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."

And she goes. And becomes the apostle to the apostles, the messenger to the messengers. The first preacher of the Easter Sunday good news. Everything has changed. Nothing will ever be the same. Jesus is alive.

From that Sunday in the garden, to today. for the rest of time - everything has changed. There is no grave without hope. No cause or person too lost. Nothing too unlikely. Because against all common sense, against all science, against everything we know about how the world works - Jesus is alive.

From that Sunday, for the rest of time, we know that although Death may win its battles, Life has won the war.  Jesus is alive.

And though we grow old, and though we lose loved ones and know that one day our loved ones will lose us - we know that beyond the painful days there is coming a joyful one. Jesus is alive. 

And while we wait to see Jesus  in person - at the Resurrection or when he comes again - we can know his Spirit with us, every day, the Spirit of Jesus telling us that no matter where we are, or what we've done, we can know God's love and fogiveness. Because Jesus is alive.

Tuesday, 30 March 2021


 Two days in and welcome to the season of Judgementtide. When people take to Social Media to criticise people who are doing what they're allowed to do.

We can expect from now till the end of Judgementtide complaints that people couldn't go to the park because there were so many people in the park; that people out jogging where literally surrounded by people out jogging; that people on the beach can't believe that so many other people go to the beach. 

Meanwhile Daily Mail photographers will be hitting every public space to take photographs of other people in the public space, to prove how selfish they are.

If you are someone who celebrates the season of Judgementtide, please don't.

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Beaker Brexival of Britain

 Delighted to say that the Beaker Folk have won our bid to host an attraction at the 2022 Brexival of Britain. We're running the "Cake Zone".

The Cake Zone lures you in with 3D holographic images of a massive cake. The cheerful song over the Tannoy will tell you that you can both have your cake, and eat it.

When you get through the one-way doors into the Cake Zone, you discover that in fact you have to make the cake before you can have it and eat it. But you figure it's an interactive Zone, it's a fun zone - it's hands-on - you knuckle down and you mix and bake a cake.

Three hours later, you come back to the Cake Zone. To discover that Jacob Rees-Mogg and Dido Harding are eating your cake. When you complain that it's your cake, Mogg tells you it's a very happy cake. A British cake.

When you get home and look at your credit card bill, you discover that the cake ingredients cost you £2,000. And Jacob Rees-Mogg's nanny has dropped a note through your door letting you know it will cost the same next year as well. And every year.

But good news. At least it was a cake. It wasn't a brioche.

Annunciation Eve

 Tucked away in the story of the Fall, just so you notice it without noticing it, are a tiny little couple of verses with a huge promise.

“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen 3:14-15)
Blink and you'd miss it. But it's there. It's a promise worked out before time began. As our mythical ancestral mother, streaks of Fruit of Knowledge still on her cheek, is told she's barred from the Garden, yet then God announces in code how one day we'll get back. When that serpent from before time, from force of habit, will strike at the wrong heel. And the Son that was always to come from Eve's line will crush his head.

It's a lovely reversal. Just as sin first entered the world through a woman's disobedience - and then the man followed, in his gormlessness - so redemption first comes into the world through a woman's obedience. Mary's "Yes" to God reverses Eve's "It wasn't my fault. The snake made me do it." Where Eve let sin in, Mary will let in its cure.

And I like to think, when Mary's Son smashed down the doors on that Holy Saturday in Hell, that Eve wiped the apple juice from her face, grabbed hold of Adam and said, "Come on then. Our lad's done it. Just like his Father said." And marched on out behind the descendant she was promised. Heading for the garden she lost so long before.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Celebrating Vernon Equinox

And so, as we stand around the smoking ruins of Duckhenge, looking out across the fetid waters where Young Keith drove the sit-on mower during his ritual First Mow of Spring, and as the Little Pebbles learn about proactive environmentalism by dunking mallards in soapy water - we remember the sad life of Vernon Equinox.

When Orton Equinox married his blushing bride, Summer Solstice, back in Yule 1964, they had no idea of what might befall little Vernon, the cause of their rapid wedding. 

Born in March 1965 young Vernon was a dreamy child. He made it his habit to see the sun rise over the Rollright Stones each day. This was inconvenient to his parents, who nearly killed themselves driving there from their home in Leeds.

As he grew up, Vernon Equinox became increasingly frustrated with people who confused his name with that of the first day of astronomical spring. Googling his own name - a natural hobby for those wanting to know what people think about them - only turned up pages of badly-informed reddit posts, Canadian Chevrolet garages, Beaker Folk pages making the same joke every year, and terrible poems. And the ever-mocking question: "Did you mean Vernal Equinox?"

 Vernon had to make his own name. For a while he changed his surname to Junction. But people thought he was a village in Buckinghamshire, and asked him if they could still get to Ramsgate.

Eventually Vernon decided show biz was the way. He painted himself green, put a giant flower over his head in the manner of Peter Gabriel, and went around town centres as a dancingdaffodil - the living embodiment of Spring. But he found himself involved in a turf war with a bunch of itinerant Morris Dancers from Cleckheaton.  In keeping with West Yorkshire tradition, their battles were fought out in local food. Many a Morris Dancer came to grief under the weight of Vernon's mum's heavy-battered Yorkshire pudding. And one skirmish - outside the fish shop in Garforth - he won by throwing a large cod with plenty of vinegar at the ringleader. But they came back in larger numbers. Bought a special meal deal with a can of cola. And Vernon had had his chips.

So in light of his terrible failure, the Beaker Folk mark this day in honour of Vernon Equinox. A man doomed by his name. A man who embodied the way each bright new year fails in the pitiless light of the summer sun, and dies in the bitter cold of winter. And most of all, a reminder to us all. Never get in a butty fight with a Morris Dancer.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Zoom and Tea Lights

 I'd like to apologise for the certain amount of chaos that broke out during today's Filling up of Beakers on Zoom. 

The first issue was during the "Howling at the New Moon" when my PC decided to install updates. I thought it had finished, but it turned out that as a result of some kind of driver clash, I got the sound back but no picture. And that's not much use in such a visual service as Filling up of Beakers. I mean, if all you're getting is the sound of flowing liquid and no visuals, you might be thinking it's like that time Burton Dasset accidentally pocket-dialled the conference call number from the toilet, when we were holding the "Over 90s Quite Bright Half-Hour". That was a terrible time.

Set them all off, as well. It was nearly three hours by the time we got everyone back together.

So I knew I needed the video. So I got the session up again using my phone. But then I got feedback. So I switched the PC off. Only the PC was the host. So I had to boot it up again. And this time I had the video but no sound. 

At which point, Grendel the Community Cat, angry at being ignored, started knocking the left over palm leaves from last year's cancelled Palm Sunday craft activity off the top shelf. Falling beautifully onto the ring of tea lights on the hearth. So I jumped over to stamp the palm leaves out when they caught fire.

As the free Zoom 40 minutes expired, I am aware that the visuals weren't great. All that any Beaker Folk could see was me, with my fluffy "Brian from Family Guy" slippers on fire, surrounded by burning palm leaves. Screaming silently while Young Keith and Charlii threw beakers full of water over me. 

It was truly the most urgent Filling up of Beakers we've ever held.

But maybe not the most spiritually fulfilling.

Of Greeks and Seeds

Some Greeks had gone to Jerusalem to worship during Passover.
Philip from Bethsaida in Galilee was there too. So they went to him and said, “Sir, we would like to meet Jesus.” 
Philip told Andrew. Then the two of them went to Jesus and told him.

Jesus said: "The time has come for the Son of Man to be given his glory. I tell you for certain that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat. If you love your life, you will lose it. If you give it up in this world, you will be given eternal life.  If you serve me, you must go with me. My servants will be with me wherever I am. If you serve me, my Father will honour you." (John 12:20-26, CEV)

A popular poem at funerals, I'm told - though I've never used it, it shows up on the Internet lists of good poems for funerals - is "Death is Nothing at all", with the line "I have only slipped away to the next room".

It's a poem with an interesting history, as it was originally part of a sermon in which the preacher said basically, it's nice to think that death is nothing at all - but that's not the case.

A friend of mine died a few weeks ago. Same age as me. Mid-50s. No particular health issues that I was ever aware of. A real shock. She was a lovely woman with a huge heart and real care and love for people. For those of us who hadn't seen her for a couple of years, but still been friends online - you're left with that kind of dull ache.And where she's gone, for her loved ones, there will be a huge hole. "Death is nothing at all" doesn't cover it. Because she's not slipped away to the next room. Believe me, if she had, I could hear her talking about curtains. She loved talking about curtains.

Some Greeks come to see Jesus and we're not clear on why - they're up in Jerusalem for the Passover, and maybe they think that he's one of the sights. So they get Philip, and he gets Andrew and they both go and find Jesus. And Jesus - whatever it is that the Greeks want to know about - decides he wants to talk about death and life.

And he says a very odd thing about death - and in particular his death. He says it's necessary. A grain of wheat has to go into the ground and die. It ceases to be a grain of wheat in the ground - the moisture gets to it, and it starts to open up. But if it doesn't go in the ground, it doesn't grow.

Death is very serious indeed. It cuts us off from friends, family, sunlight and noise and laughter.  But it also sets us free. Jesus says "if you give up your life in this world you will be given eternal life." Thomas Hardy's poem, "Friends Beyond" imagines all the people of the village who are now dead, rejoicing that they're not worrying about worldly stuff anymore. They don't care who's got their belongings or who owns their houses.

I think Jesus is saying - we can achieve that this side of the grave, first up. We can know that everything in this world is God's - enjoy it, use it, help others with it - but don't cling on to it. Know that we give everything into God's hands, so we can utterly depend upon God. So the things you love now - maybe some you need to give up. Most, you need to offer up to God, give thanks for them, and use them to his glory. You don't have to give up stuff you like to follow Jesus - but you do have to give up stuff that gets in the way.

And if we depend on Jesus, if we follow Jesus - we can follow him into the grave, then follow him back out again. Our hope for the future goes beyond death. It goes out through a reopened grave, into a world where Jesus is the light that gives light to everyone. Where all things are made well. Where all our pains and sorrows are healed. Where we will be with God forever, and love him as he loves us.

Friday, 12 March 2021

Here is Your Mother

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)

In the middle of an utterly heartbreaking passage - the death of Jesus on the Cross - is this utterly heartbreaking interlude. Mary stands at the cross. The son she was promised by an angel, risked her marriage and name for - the son she wondered at - who she lost then found in the Temple - the son who she's loved and has followed out on his travels to try to persuade him to come safely home - she's watching as his life ebbs away on the Cross. This is it then, she thinks. All those promises from God - were they false? Was the only true prophecy the one made by Simeon, in this city, 33 years and a few weeks ago - "a sword will pierce your own heart"? 

The hymn "Stabat Mater"says it so well, of course:

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last. 

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing, 
all His bitter anguish bearing, 
now at length the sword has passed. 

And as he hangs there, Jesus shows his love for both Mary and his "beloved disciple". This disciple is generally regarded as being John the son of Zebedee. And I'll go along with that. In his own loss and suffering, Jesus ensures that they both have someone to look after them. He also, in my opinion, commits the care and the devotion of the Church to his mother. But maybe another time.

This has been the second Mothering Sunday in succession that is plain odd, verging on cruel. Children that would normally be with parents are separated. Some haven't seen each other since the late summer - or even since before last March. Many people have lost loved ones without even seeing them - for the protection of others, but at such personal cost. 

Stained glass of Crucifixion, Chapel Brampton

It's so easy to be jealous of others who have been more fortunate - able to find bubbles that work. To go beyond jealousy to resentment when we think others are breaking the rules we've been so carefully keeping. The press has certainly kept us entertained with photographs of people in parks. A pub landlord in Bedford was surprised to get a visit from the police when he was just having dinner with his family - apparently he was breaking lockdown according to whoever reported him. That will teach him to eat dinner in the lounge bar of his own home. Complaints about who's gone for a walk where, for how long, have been many. And reporters have been out in crowded streets, to report on the sort of irresponsible people who crowd streets - with no sense of irony. 

 But Jesus's words here on the cross tell us a better way. When we are in times of sadness and challenge - be kind to each other. Look after each other. This isn't, as they say if they don't understand that rocket science is very simple, rocket science. But it's easy to forget in such stressful times. Don't judge. Appreciate each others' struggles. Carry each others ' burdens.

 As he had said just the previous night - which must, at this point, have seemed so long ago - love one another. So it's not earth shattering, new or the product of revolutionary thinking. But it is radical - in the sense that it gets to the root of things and makes things totslly different.

Let's go out into the world and be kind to each other. And let's all look forward to a better day. It is coming.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

RIP John Polkinghorne

Cambridge Professor of Mathematical Physics

Anglican Priest

Writer of some stuff on science and religion that even vaguely scientifically-literate Archdruids could understand.

Man with a brain so big it could warp gravity.

At last he is face to face with Someone who knows more about science and religion than he does.

I think he'll be thrilled by that.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Good Morning Brian

Brian Finnigan: Good morning, Brians everywhere.

Brian Madeley: It's a lovely day. After the show I'll be going off to a house party with Laurence Fox and Nigel Farage.

Brian Finnigan: Which should put an end to it being a lovely day. 

Brian Madeley: But more importantly, we're going all over Britain today saying Good Morning Brian.

Brian Finnigan: That's right. It's like Good Morning Britain, only with Brians.

Brian Madeley: We'll be talking to Brian May later about his badger, Brian.

Brian Cox: And Brian Cox will be telling us how everything is amazing. But in the meantime - let's get out into Great Brian and talk to some Brians! 

Brian Madeley: So over to Brian in Dorset. Good morning, Brian.

Brian in Dorset: Good morning, Brian. Good morning, Brian.

Brian Finnigan: Good morning to you, Brian. 

Brian Madeley: And now  we have Brian in Chesterfield on the line. Good morning, Brian.

Brian in Chesterfield: Good morning, Brian. Good morning, Brian.

Brian Finnigan: Good morning to you, Brian. 

Brian Madeley: Brian in Newry! Good morning, Brian.

Brian in Newry's wife: Good morning, Brian. Good morning, Brian. Unfortunately Brian is out queuing for eggs.

Brian Finnigan: Good morning to you, Brian's wife. Now, we've got someone on the line...  Is that Brian from Caversham?

Brian from Caversham: Yes. I'm Brian, and so's my wife.

And "in the kitchen" this morning we've got that inspirational Bake Off star, Mrs Williams!

Brian Madeley: Hang on, she's not a Brian.

Brian Finnigan: No, but she's Brian-y.

Brian Madeley: Well, sounds OK I suppose... 

Briony Williams: Hello to you both. Isn't this basically just "Good Morning with Brian and Brian"? Aren't you actually Richard and Judy?

Brian Finnigan: We were. Now for contractual reasons we're Brian and Brian.

Briony Williams: But don't you think it's a bit repetitive, just going around saying "hello" to people to Brian?

Brian Madeley: A bit. But at least it's not as boring as Piers Morgan banging on about Meghan Markle.

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Liturgy for Laurence Fox Running for London Mayor

 When we heard Laurence Fox was running for London Mayor* we rejoiced.

We cried with joy in the streets of Husborne Crawley**

For he is representing those silenced

those whose voices have not been heard.

The white upper-middle-classes

Old Harrovians

Members of acting dynasties

RADA graduates

Former spouses of Doctor Who companions

People who've been on prime-time TV regularly for their entire adult lives.

Telegraph journalists

and friends of Toby Young.

For who hears from these people

and who gets to hear their opinions?

They are ground down by the system

and excluded by the Woke.

Like the Israelites in Babylon

they cry by the rivers 

they are dropped by their agents

and know the Morse franchise won't be extended to a fourth incarnation.

And so he will count his money

gnash his privately-educated teeth

wear a suit jacket with tattered jeans

like Richard Hammond in 2005

and put himself up for election.

Where he will sink like a stone

like Jonah in the sea

or those that descend to a political Sheol

and we would like to say he'll never be heard of again.

But no such luck.

* Not worth paying for the paywall.

** While on permitted daily exercise

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Zen and the Art of Vicarage Heating

 On a cold and grimy winter's day like today, when spring still seems far off, my thoughts meander over to my old friend, Revd Tucker McJackson.

During his active vicaring career, Tucker was a wonder of the art of church reordering. He specialised in moving to a benefice with half a dozen churches, somehow persuading everyone that they needed to remove some pews to create a "flexible worship space", and then getting the faculty through.

What gradually became more evident, as time went by, was that he left each posting after he had achieved the last reordering - and that, on average, he managed one church conversion per year. Then he'd move on to another multi-parish benefice, and do it again.

A nosy rural dean noticed that, whenever he moved, Tucker always managed to land a parsonage with a wood-burning stove. And, upon closer investigation, it was discovered that his bills for oil heating were pretty much zero. But all the stoves he left behind were totally knackered from intensive use, and the flues were clogged with pitch pine resin.

So it wasn't the liturgical dance that had motivated Tucker to remove the pews. It was keeping warm for free. 

A church where a third of the pews have been replaced with chairs
"That'll keep us going till January, at least"

After that the bishop took an interest in Tucker's job applications, and steered him into a role where all the pews had already been removed.

Then Tucker started to take an interest in replacing hymn and service books with more trendy versions. And his churches had an outbreak of all-year-round Christmas Tree festivals. By the time he retired, he had put more fine particulates into the atmosphere than a year's traffic on the M25.

Once he didn't have the chance to strip biomass from churches on a professional basis, he took to hanging around after services, collecting up the notice sheets. The lockdown has really set him back on that one. But he's switched his tactics again. Now he goes into churches that are open for private prayer and pinches the hand sanitiser bottles. You know the way many open churches have people sat in them all day? They're not really monitoring where you're sitting so they can spray the pews down with Dettol. They're keeping an eye out for Tucker.

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Mr Potato Head Has Had His Chips

 I had forgotten, if ever I knew, that the original Mr Potato Head was just a collection of the bits - nose, eyes etc - that a child would require to personalise an actual potato.

Now, of course, Mr Potato Head comes with his own plastic body. And much excitement has been caused by the suggestion of a new, gender-neutral marketing approach to "Potato Head".  Which among other things makes me wonder - why is the sort of people who shout so loudly about "snowflakes" that get so upset about things like this? Is it possible that the sort of person who shouts "snowflake" is basically just a bit thin-skinned? Like a Yukon Gold potato? Which would probably be eaten by Stinky Pete if he were prospecting in the far North-West.

That Mr and Mrs Potato Head are married asks all sorts of questions. Before they married were they Mr Potato and Miss Head? Or has he always been Mr Potato Head and she was formerly Miss Spud or something? Should Potato-Head be hyphenated? Are they related to the Somerset Potato Heads?

And since they are married - were they matched by the Reverend Potato Head, as Michael Moran suggested? Or in a registry office? If the former, is he married or could be a monk or - indeed - a Friar?  Presumably wherever they married, they will have had excellent witnesses as they will have had so many eyes.

If they have children will they be sprouts? 

Either way, here's a bit of basic biology. Potatoes, like many plants, are hermaphroditic. They can act as male - producing pollen - or female - being pollinated. So there is no Mr or Mrs Potato Head. They are all whatever pronoun and title they like Potato Head.

Not only that. Potatoes are capable of reproducing asexually, by the use of the tubers (or potatoes, as we tend to call them) that they produce every year. No need for lipstick, top hats or bushy moustaches. Potatoes can just produce new potatoes without needing to get all lovey dovey. No need for Father Potato Head, little bridesmaid potatoes or the Father of the Bride giving away Miss Spud while the Mother of the Groom says that Mr Potato Head is a chip off the old block.

Not only that - but even in the world of Mr and Mrs Potato Head, the couple's facial parts and limbs can be mix and matched (or Mx and matched if you prefer) between the two. They are plastic toys. They don't have to fit your stereotypes. Let's face it - they don't even have bodies, just giant heads which the limbs stick out of. How are they supposed to digest their food? And what do they eat with no teeth? Mash?

Maybe it's time to move beyond anthropomorphic members of the nightshade family for children's face-based fun activities. Let's consider the possibility of smaller members of the vegetable clan being able to adopt their own expressions and limbs. In the interests of the planet - using less plastic and yet achieving the same objective - let's try a tiny veg-based toy.

All we are saying, is give peas a chance.

Monday, 15 February 2021

Liturgy for the 50th Anniversary of Decimalisation Day

Hymn: Money

Archdruid: Coor it's cold enough to freeze yer tuppenies.

All: Why are you pretending to be a Cockney? And failing so badly?

Archdruid: It's how they all spoke in the 70s.

All: All?

Archdruid: All.

All: Name them?

Archdruid: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Babs Windsor...

All: You've confused the Carry On films with history again.

Archdruid: Anyone lend us half a dollar?

Burton: Got two bob.

Marston Moretaine: And a tanner.

Archdruid: Can you get him back to work? That new yurt's not gonna cure itself.

Boring Bill: Ah, the good old LSD. The Gold Standard. Remember you'd get 4 and fourpence farthing on a Friday, have a night out, fish and chips and still enough for the taxi home.

Archdruid: Bill, you weren't born till 1974.

Boring Bill: We'd beat the Germans in another war, hammer the Aussies at cricket. You could leave your house unlocked and when you came back the burglars had done some cleaning for you and picked up a pint of jellied eels from Castle's.


Boring Bill: The telly stopped at 9 o 'clock. Then we'd all stand to salute the National Anthem. And you couldn't go to bed till the white dot had completely disappeared.

Archdruid: Someone carry him off.

Jacob Ree Smugg of Smugg Hall: Surely it is not enough merely to go back to 1971. A forward-looking England would be one where trade was conducted in groats and crowns. The handsome young squire of, for instance, a Somerset village would scatter largesse from his jalopy to the deserving starving poor, before attending the local magistrate's sessions to arrange a witch ducking for the local crone. Illnesses were taken on the chin. Especially fossy jaw.

Boring Bill: And now we're free from Europe we can go back to the good old pounds shillings and pence! Up yours, Delors!

Archdruid: Here, Bill. Lend us two guineas, a sov and three and six?

Boring Bill: Wot?

Archdruid: So let us go forth into the world, regretting we don't still have ha'pennies. 

All: We don't even use cash.

Hymn: Price Tag

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Modern Jobs for a Post-Modern World

 Here at the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley, we're realising that in the new world we're not as well off as we used to be. So we're reducing the number of frontline druids. Thanks to Arquan, Jezwell, Rodquil and Geremy, who are now on "House for Druid" terms. Without the houses.

But the exciting news is that we've found the money from somewhere for four exciting new posts at Enabling Druid level. These Enabling Druids will be reporting directly to our Executive Deputy Archdruid (Hnaef), and helping the team with the forward envisioning of the druidic experience in these trying times.

 Job descriptions are below.

Mission Consolidator Druid

The Mission Consolidator's role is to see all the mission going on, and consolidate it. The successful candidate will have a role across both vertical and horizontal sectors - with the possibility of working on the diagonal after year 1.

Mission is like a messy garden - the weeds of new life can spring up anywhere, messing up the patio and levering bricks out the wall like a rampant buddleia. The Mission Consolidator will be expected to apply the oversight metaphorical weedkiller on the growth in the margins, to ensure the mission is safely contained in nice big raised beds, and keeps the missional garden tidy.

The ideal candidate will have a hatred of things getting out of control, and ideally some kind of bull terrier cross.

Coordinating Druid

With a wide-ranging vision over the scope of our stewardship, outreach, inreach and top-down revitalisation activities, the Coordinating Druid will be tasked with coordinating whatever they see. Anything uncoordinated is to be rationalised, organised, restructured and generally coordinated. The Coordinating Druid will have a dotted line into my Assistant Executive Archdruid (Charlii), a diagonal line reporting into the Archdruidical Executive Assistant (Young Keith) and a desk next to Burton Dasset (sorry).

The ideal candidate will have experience in leading small start-up religious groups, providing drive and energy, and giving them the dynamic impetus to grow them while maintaining strong discipling disciplines. Failing that, some experience in Microsoft Office, especially Access.

Dreamer of Dreams Druid

The Dreamer of Dreams Druid will be charged with the dreaming of dreams. Imagining the impossible, seeing visions and generally coming up with those off-the-wall strategies that could change the direction of the House of Druids.

Since that's all basically a waste of time, they'll also be running our Mailchimp account and writing begging letters to local authorities if we think they might have any spare cash.

The successful candidate will have a track record of failed ambition and broken dreams. This job might be suitable for a former Liverpool manager.

Oversight Druid

The role of the Oversight Druid is to keep an eye on the other three, in case they get above their station and start thinking they might make an Archdruid.  Meantime, they'll be drawing up exciting transitions for slides in PowerPoint.

The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley are an Unequal Opportunities Employer. 

The Light, and Not the Light

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14)

Doesn't the introduction of the Baptist in the middle of the Prologue of John's Gospel jump out? 

There's a deliberately mythic message worked into a rhetorical structure there - Ian Paul works it through very nicely.  All the Genesis echoes, and the Greek "Logos" overtones. And right in the middle of the works of creation and salvation - here's John the Baptist. Kind of jars, suddenly bringing a mere bloke into it. And then putting him to one side for later.

I does break the poetic flow. But then I think it's done for a very important reason - to emphasise Christ's origin against everyone else's.

John's "sent from God" - and we know Luke fills in some detail of John the Baptist's birth, whether or not the Fourth Evangelist knows. John is the latest in a long line of men who were sent from God - the prophets. A fine and noble tradition, and he's the latest witness. He gets a privilege over his predecessors. Theyto witness directly to the light. He introduces the light, sets the scene for the light, and ritually drowns the light before it rises again to the surface.

Sunrise over Pitsford Reservoir, Northampton

But you know he's not the light. He's witnessing to the light. He's reflecting the light. But he's not the light.

Jesus Christ is also sent from God. But the Evangelist is saying - but this is the light. He is coming from a different place. They're both alike - both preached, both came to nasty ends at the hands of authority. Both men. But - one was just John. And the other - the other was there from the beginning of time. Made everything you are. Made everything that is. Shone light all down the ages. And then - we - we blessed people - we saw his glory when he came in flesh.

And where John came and bore witness - Jesus makes us God's children. This is the critical difference. Listen to John. But be changed by Jesus. And you will be caught up into the story of eternity, a singer of the music from the beginning of the world, a part of the story of how the whole world is saved.

Saturday, 6 February 2021

Prayers for Deodre: By Tradition

 Prayer Book: "And so, immortal and all-powerful God, even remembering that Thou art almighty and we but poor sinful worms, deserving only to be crushed under Thine eternal feet - we bring before Thee thine servant Deodre. A sinful and failing maidservant but still Thine own creation - humbly petitioning that Thou in Thy great mercy might heal her and not rush her suddenly into her departure from this vale of tears - but if Thou dost not heal her, at least offer her in Thy great kindness chance for repentance so she departs not into the Pit but rather through Thy great act of redemption....." 

Mid-80s Charismatic: "And so God we just want to say that we just want to ask you for Deodre, that you just heal her, Lord, and just make her well, Lord, and just give her so much healing, Lord, and that she just will feel just so held up in your arms, Lord, and so we just hold her up to you, Lord, so you can just hold  her in your arms, Lord, and just make her well, Lord, and in your loving arms, Lord, we just pray that...."

Pre-written Prayers Led by Member of the Congregation:  "And we pray for Deodre, that you will heal her. I'm not allowed to share what she's got, for reasons of confidentiality, but you know what it is. And we pray also for the bloke she caught it off." 

Celtic: "God of the sea and sky, and all the other less elemental elements like the trifold rock, scissors and paper  - may the road rise up before Deodre - but maybe not as fast as when the sun on her face dazzled her, the wind on her back spun her round due to her over-large backpack, and she tripped over the kerb." 

Methodist Extempore Prayers: "And Lord we pray for Deidre. I mean Deodre. Lord, you know who I mean. Heal her from her blisters. Oh no, that's Mairhe. Her acne."

Beaker Folk: *Lights a tea light, thinks nice things about Deodre* 

Sea of Faith Tradition: "Shame about Deodre, isn't it? Hope she can reconcile herself to it."

Friday, 5 February 2021

Tweet in Haste, Get Mercilessly Trolled at Leisure

 Everyone's had something to say about the tweet of Reverend Jarel Robinson-Brown.  Which no longer exists. And I'm not reproducing it but I'm sure you can find a screenshot.

My view for what it is worth:

  1. Racism and homophobia are wrong. The hateful atracks on Robinson-Brown are far worse than anything he said, or might be inferred to have said.
  2. It was a poorly-thought-through tweet, and factually wrong. Some people might disagree with my view here. And that's fine. Though they'd be wrong, but we can disagree respectfully. 
  3. Most people who clapped for Captain Tom Moore just wanted to say thanks to a bloke who had put his heart and soul into helping out the NHS.  The man lightened some very dark moments.
  4. Sometimes, whatever nefarious motives their opponents put on them, Prime Ministers have to do something that speaks for the nation. Think Tony Blair with Diana. They'll still get the blame for bandwagon jumping.
  5. See (1) above, in case you forgot. 
  6. Some people have leapt onto Jarel Robinson-Brown because they're so pleased to have a young black man they can hate who isn't Marcus Rashford. They've been hating Marcus Rashford and haven't dared say it out loud.
  7. Some people actually have dared to hate Marcus Rashford out loud. 
  8. Those people also hate Lewis Hamilton by the way. If I could only work out what the connection is. But I know you can get away with a lot more if you don't share a certain characteristic with the three people above. See (1) above.
  9. Jarel Robinson-Brown needs a lot of protection and care from his bishop now.
  10. Don't make living or recently deceased human beings saints. It doesn't always work out well. This is saying nothing about Capt Sir Tom. Just a good general principle.
  11. Some people blamed Capt Sir Tom and his family for his death. Because some people are capable of vile things whatever age or colour you are.
  12. If you go on Social Media complaining that other people haven't been clapping on doorsteps when you have, that is a bit cult-like, don't you think? Bit Orwellian?

In the light of (12) above, Young Keith will be collecting the names of everybody that did not stand on the doorstep and clap either the NHS, Captain Sir Tom, or Boris Johnson over the last 12 months on at least 5 occasions. Nothing sinister in this. It's just in case it's something I need to know if anyone calls up about it.