Saturday 21 August 2021

Too Sexy for a Vax

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

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

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

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

Thursday 19 August 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 14 August 2021

Church Souvenirs Pricelist

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slightly battered guidebooks:   £2.45

Damp leaflets:  40p

Postcards (with edges folding up):  30p

Fridge magnets of St Alban: £4.50

Fridge magnets of St Bogwulf: £5

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

Hymnbooks: Please stop taking them

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

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

Thursday 12 August 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 10 August 2021

Liturgy for "A" Level Results "Encouragement"

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

All: We are.

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

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

Archdruid: Well, I didn't.

All: Sshhh!

Archdruid: It's getting easier all the time.

All: Not even proper exams this year.

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

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

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

Archdruid: Oh, I blew a dog whistle.

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

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

All: And also with us.

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

All: Made us the people we are.

Archdruid: There's more important things than exams.

All: There's common sense.

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

All: Made them the fools they are.

Archdruid: I went to the University of Life.

All: You went to Oxford.

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

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

Archdruid: Yeah, but it were a struggle.

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

Telegraph Reporter: Any pretty girls picking up their grades? 

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

All: He's a vicar now.

Archdruid:  What a shame. All that wasted potential.

All: Could have been a Cabinet minister.

Archdruid: But he never got the Latin.

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

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

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

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

All: Can we say the final blessing?

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

All: Amen.


* RIP Peter Cook

Wednesday 4 August 2021

Because He Was Worth It (2 Sam 18)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't be an Absalom.

Sunday 1 August 2021

Llamas Day

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

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

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

Lammas Day. Not Llamas.