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


 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".