Monday 27 December 2021

Christmas and Easter - A Proposed Revision

It's been the worst-case Christmas this year from a church service perspective. Same every time Christmas Day falls on a Saturday. You go from Advent on Friday morning to crib service / Christingle/ other crowd-pleaser at 4 pm. To Midnight Mass at 11.30. To Christmas morning on Saturday. And then suddenly it's Christmas 1 on Sunday and clergy and lay ministers and stewards and wardens and elders are dragging themselves back into Church while everyone else votes themselves Sunday off because it's Boxing Day.

There is a simple solution to this.

Move Christmas Day to the nearest Sunday to 25th December.

Then after Sunday/Christmas Day, everyone can have Boxing Day off. Except those really dedicated traddies who like marking the very important feasts that follow Christmas. Clergy and preachers can enjoy a drink without worrying that they have another service in the morning and doing a Dibley.

The Sunday after Christmas will always be the Feast of the Holy Name.

Epiphany will then always be a fortnight later than Christmas Day. On the Sunday. To avoid more clashes. This will give us 14 days of Christmas. So that's not bad.

It also means that you don't have that weird liturgical timing issue like this week, where Jesus is born in a manger, gets lost in Jerusalem, and is then praised by the Wise Men.

But what of Easter, I hear you cry. Well, I propose similar. Fix Good Friday as the nearest to 25 March. This means that the link of 9 months before Christmas is always kept, reflecting the old tradition that the Annunciation and the Crucifixion were the same day. This would mean that they do in fact coincide in our calendar every 7 years, giving us the chance to use John Donne's most poignant poem more often. 

Aha, you say. But then Easter Sunday will be the day the clocks go forward in the UK, six years out of seven. What about those people that attend 6 am Easter vigils? They're doomed to very early rising nearly all the time. 

To which my response is threefold. First of all, move the UK permanently to GMT and be done with this ridiculous rigmarole. Are we children that we have to lie to ourselves about what time it is?

Secondly, if you really think you need to move the clocks - do it on the first Sunday of April instead. What difference would that make?

But thirdly - the sort of people that like to get up for a 6 am service are just the sorts of people that would like to get up for effectively a 5 am one even more. The sleep deprivation is even greater, the dawn experience even more mystical. So they'll be happy.

Outside the world of Church, there are other advantages. With Christmas and Easter the same distance apart every year, retailers will be able to have consistent promotional campaigns and supply chain plans. Thus making planning simpler and thereby giving us happier and more efficient retailers.

So - a revised Christmas and Easter that will keep everyone happy. I commend it to Christendom.

With thanks to this tweet from @FrPsiChi for the inspiration.

Sunday 26 December 2021

Last Sunday of the Year

 Last Sunday of the year.

The really determined have one more Sunday service to go. 

The really sensible have been asleep for an hour or two this afternoon.

20 months of risk assessments, Government advice, Government not-advice, Government information and mis-information. Earnest scientists, vaccine conspiracy theorists and lockdown obsessives.

The people who don't want to leave the house, and the ones that think it's all nothing.

Whoever you are - stewards, wardens, ministers, choristers, organists, Methodists, Catholics or Pentecostals, pew-sitters or Bible-bashers - in God's strength you've done your best. Without being virologists, epidemiologists, biochemists, or bioethicists - you've done your best.

Don't count the numbers. Of course they'll be down. Don't count the Facebook views - they don't count for much. Don't look back two years. Nobody was terrified then. You can't compare anything to anything. 

So don't judge yourself. You've done your best.

You may need to mourn. You my not have done that when you really should have. That's OK.

Give it a few days till you buckle up. We go again in the New Year. 

But meantime, take it easy. You've done your best.

And it's the last Sunday of the year.

Friday 24 December 2021

The LFT Before Christmas

LFT before Christmas and all through the manse 
Not a person was moving. All were in a trance. 
The minister's hands quivered over the kit 
and watched it. And watched. And scrutinised it.
The red control line showed up valid and clear 
and the minister knew that the truth would appear 
And mamma in worry looked over his head 
For fear that another line would show up red. 
For how could they cope with a positive line? 
They needed a void - an invisible sign 
that nothing had lurked up the minister's nose 
to lock him inside as the Yuletide cheer rose. 
For what would they do, at this late Christmas hour 
should the minister fall 'neath the Omicron power? 
Replacements were  few in the villages round
As the positives piled up like snow on the ground.
Christingle, the Crib Service, Songs 'neath the tree
Were now all at risk from this cursed LFT
And Midnight, and Morning, and Boxing Day too
would go out the window if this didn't come through.

So they watched and they waited, till minutes passed by
and they knew it was safe, and gave out a great sigh.
And the minister said, as he turned out the light
in the bathroom, "at least we are safe Christmas night."

Thursday 23 December 2021

Glimpses of Angels

Got the Archdruidical mid-Yule day off. Took the chance to get out to where I feel most connected to the wild, a two-hour journey out to where the Fens meet the sea.

Little plug, by the way. The Rising Sun at Gedney Drove End. They only have one real ale on (Abbot Ale) but Burton Dasset tells me it was beautifully kept. Looked after by lovely people. If you're anywhere near that (unlikely, I know, but you could be going from Nottingham to Kings Lynn or something) then well worth popping in.

So anyway. Just my kind of day. Not actually raining, but slightly misty. You couldn't see the sea from the sea-bank. The flag was down at RAF Holbeach, so you knew you wouldn't accidentally be blown to pieces. And I, who prefer the times of dying light and gloom at tea time, felt that sense of Northern European satisfaction that, though things may seem peaceful and dull, Ragnarok is coming. 

There's a brooding presence out there. The skies are, of course, huge. Even when they just hang there, gray. The sea - behind the mist and beyond the marsh - can be sensed rather than heard or seen.

All in all, a time and place to reflect on things. 

And out there, you reflect on those Old English saints, Guthlac and Botolph. Famed for taming the marshes, and thereby taking away the powers of the ignis fatuus or "Wills of the Wisp". So famed as exorcists. The ones who tamed the rogue lights.

And that ancient presence - hanging in the sky and the skies and the gloom and the silence - can we give it a name? People have tried enough. Lit fires. Put up stones. Shaken their fists at the sky. 

In a manger in Bethlehem, a young woman lays her son. The most ordinary thing of all. Down the ages, billions of mothers will take care of billions of children.  The light in that child's eyes shines with the light of the start of the universe. Outside, some scruffy shepherds have seen the glory of heaven. In here are just the glimpses of angels. The wide-eyed cherubim that saw the bang of the Big Bang are bowing down as they realise that God has done something they could never imagine - second-born as they are, and first-born in time. The Logos - the Word that holds all time and space in place - has become a point in time and space.

And the hopes and fears of all the years meet here tonight. Where the flickers from the fire give warmth to the mother and her careful, proud, still-worrying husband. And the one that first nudged the comets into their orbit lays there, so still, flickering in the firelight that throws shadows where they can see glimpses of angels.

And we, in twenty-first century England, whether in fenny wastes or the sulfur glow of cities. Whether chasing deals or wondering where the next fiver will come from. Tear yourself away from your phone or laptop or tablet (after reading this post, of course). Clear your head in the cool air. Look out at the dark or the light or whatever your house, flat or alternative accommodation is bathed in.  Look. 

Maybe in the shadows. Maybe in the face of someone you help. A homeless person or a foodbank client or someone you can't stand, but tolerate because that's what you are meant to do.

You may see glimpses of angels.

Toby Young Did PPE

Toby Young in full-on bullish mode in the Daily Mail. 

"At Long Last Boris Johnson has placed his faith in the British people, not in the Cassandras in lab coats".

It doesn't seem to have occurred to Toby that scientists don't only produce models of epidemics, they also produce vaccines. 

Toby did PPE. He didn't do life sciences.

In fact, the sorts of people that model epidemics don't need to wear lab coats for the most part, as they use computers to do the modelling. 

Toby Young did PPE. He didn't do computer science. He probably thinks that people programming computers wear lab coats.

Toby has previously told us that the epidemic would fizzle out. The virus would disappear into thin air. He doesn't seem to remember that his previous forecast was useless, and potentially dangerous.

Toby Young did PPE. He didn't do history.

And of course - the comparison with Cassandra is awesome. The whole point about the prophecies of doom that Cassandra came out with is that she was right. Troy was doomed. She was ignored by the Toby Youngs of Troy because they preferred good news stories.

Toby Young did PPE. He didn't do Classics.

I feel we have reached the point where we have to ask - apart from being supremely pleased with himself, what is the point of Toby Young? Like wasps, he appears to have no good function to fulfil on earth.

Actually, wasps kill all sorts of bugs that damage crops. But Toby Young did PPE. He didn't do zoology. So he won't know that.

Tuesday 21 December 2021

The Ghost of Solstice Past

Quite a let-down, the grayness of the Solstice sunrise. Still, at least to ensure greater accessibility, our stream of "Great Solstices of the Past" was brilliant. To be honest, we may not bother with actually watching the sunrise in years to come. We have enough "in the can" to last us years. And the rate Marston Vale is being built up, I worry we may have to watch the real sunrise over a distribution centre in future.

Still, being the Winter Solstice, at least it wasn't too early. I'll be honest, I was suffering after a sleepless night. Wracking my brain over all those good reasons we need to give for why the Druidic Synod meeting on 20th June 2020 lasted until 4 am, and ended with Young Keith serenading the Community with "Knees Up Mother Brown". 

So, re last June: 

  • It was a standard meeting. All appropriate safeguards were in place.
  • We always drink at Synod meetings. It is a deeply Beaker tradition that we bless each agenda point with a hearty "wassail", a cup of good mead, and a jug of good ale.
  • We were 6 feet apart, in the Rose Garden, at all times. Apart from Stacey and Brunwild, who photographs have revealed had what we could best describe as a developing social support bubble. Funny how we didn't notice them grappling on the chamomile lawn at the time. I suppose that's because we were all engaging so deeply with our discussions.
  • All summer solstice Druidic Synods go on till 4 am. That's so we can watch the sun rise. Which is the official closing point of all solsticial Druidic Synods. And is work, not worship. Because we are being paid to be druids. A bit like C of E priests, maybe. And worship was banned at the time. So of course we weren't worshipping. We were working.
  • It was an essential meeting.  We had to discuss what mitigating actions we could take to ensure distancing in the worship that definitely wasn't happening.
Now we just have to resolve the ongoing problems with Herne the Hunter and the Piper at the Gates of Dawn. They're really grumpy at turning up to solstices where no worship is happening. What is the point, they ask, of them being all ancient and mystical if we're all in bed or still holding - ahem - meetings? Hardly in keeping with their essential eeriness.

And I wouldn't disagree. But Herne and Piper are getting on a bit for deities these days. So they're living in a nice little house in Furzton, Milton Keynes instead of wisping around in a preternatural kind of way. Are we going to be that in awe of a couple of demigods who live in a nice little 3-bed semi with a view of the lake? Especially now Herne has a WFH job in logistics planning?

These days have done strange things to us. 

Saturday 18 December 2021

Herod Antipas Announces A New Enquiry

Press release... Galilee, 38AD

There has been a lot of interest in the alleged party that definitely didn't happen in my palaces, at which I didn't get drunk and nobody did a striptease or anything like that.
And in particular there have been allegations that I was implicated in the death of St John the Baptist.

In the light of interest in the fate of the "People's Prophet", in particular stirred up by the gutter press such as St Luke, St Mark, and other members of the so-called "Good Book Project", I am therefore instigating an investigation into what definitely didn't happen.

To this effect I am appointing my step daughter Salome to head up the investigation. As the wife of my cousin, I can guarantee she'll come to the right conclusion.

Herod A. 

St Kirsty's Day (18 Dec 2000)

On this St Kirsty's Day we remember, in the light of recent events, what her view of Boris Johnson might have been. 

And, to that effect, we offer you the tantalising possibility that somehow the song "Freeworld" may have been prophetic of his particular "Titanic Days":

I thought of you when they closed down the school
And the hospital too
Did they think that you were better?
They were wrong
You had so many friends
They all left you in the end
‘Cause they couldn’t take the patter

Rest in peace Kirsty. We'll see you when the clans rise again.

Tuesday 14 December 2021

Praise the Zorb - A Guide to Worship in a Time of Omicron

A lot of people asking how we're gonna change our rules for worship now Omicron is here.

Now I'm not one to need to show we take things seriously by rushing out to make changes- quite often irrelevant and performative changes - every time Government advice changes. And we already have everyone in airtight Zorbs for worship so we're going way beyond Government regulations. 

Quite a thing, airtight Zorbs. If the service lasts more than 30 minutes everyone has to leave to get re-gassed.

Anyway, as I say. I'm not going to make cosmetic changes just to look like we're doing something.

So from this Wednesday can all Beaker Folk please wear the new T-shirts that read "Careful Now". They're conveniently colour-coded according to vaccine status: Red for no jabs, yellow for one, amber for two and green for boosters.

Anti-vaxxers get special T-shirts with an image of St Sebastian on them. Since they strangely seem to think they're the victims in all this.

Tuesday 7 December 2021

The 2020 Druids' Christmas Party That Definitely Didn't Happen

 A lot of Beaker Folk have been asking me why, at a time when we had locked them in their rooms and they had to get their food by leaning out the window while Burton Dasset threw cans of lemonade and croissants at them, there was a Druidic party last Christmas.

I would like to reassure all Beaker Folk of the following:

  1. None of the Archdruidical Executive was there.
  2. At the Druidic Party that didn't happen.
  3. Even if we were there, it was socially distanced.
  4. And we were wearing masks.
  5. Except during the snogging.
  6. Which of course didn't happen.
  7. Because we weren't there.
  8. And the mistletoe was just a decoration.
  9. For the party that didn't happen.
  10. Which we weren't at.
  11. And the tins of Camden IHL that filled up all the recycling bills the following day were just the ones I'd been saving up to claim the deposit for 25 years, until someone pointed out there wasn't a deposit so I thought that day was a good one to get rid of them.
  12. The cancellation of all the Zoom worship sessions the day following the party which didn't happen was because all the Camden IHL cans interfered with the WiFi, not because all the druids had hangovers.
  13. Which we didn't have, because we were very careful how much we drank.
  14. At the party which didn't happen.
  15. Even though it could have as we had all worked closely together since March. 

I hope this makes it clear.

Sunday 5 December 2021

A Voice in the Wilderness - and a Wilderness for a Voice (Luke 3:1-6)

 We of course associate St John as being the voice in the wilderness. When he's asked who he is, he denies being the Messiah, or the "Prophet" promised by Moses, or Elijah returned to earth. He's just the voice in the wilderness.

But he's not the first messenger in the wilderness, even in this passage. Having set John so precisely with so many rulers and high priests - having ensured we know this is happening in the real world of history, not in timeless myth - Luke then tells us that the word of God came to John in the wilderness. The first voice in the wilderness here was not John, crying out - it was the still small voice of God, which speaks through earthquake, wind and fire.

In our tidy minds, used to efficient and mechanical agriculture, maybe the wilderness - the desert or deserted place - has negative connotations. It's no use for ploughing, it kind of doesn't belong to anyone, it's not productive. The Bible told the Hebrews not to harvest or glean to the very edges of fields, but to leave them for the poor to glean. In the Fenlands of England, the response of course was to make the fields so huge they barely have edges let along corners. With our attitude to agriculture, how could we ever imagine a wilderness, a deserted place, a place un-owned and un-tilled and - as we would see it - un-cared for?

And yet the wilderness is the place where the prophets met with God. Where Israel became a nation and learned its laws. Where Elijah ran for sanctuary and where he and John heard God's word and where Hagar was comforted. 

The most wild - as in deserted and weird - places I know in England are the Wash coast in Lincolnshire, and the Bristol Channel coast in Somerset. Both places where you can get far from other people. Both places which tell us of the fragility of life - the fossils tumbling from the rocks of Somerset, the Nene outfall at Sutton Bridge, so artificially created, so hemmed in with the banks that humans have made, so defiantly threatening to turn the fields of sugar beet back into saltmarsh when the day comes. For me they're places of great creativity - the cry of birds, the beauty of sea and sky and the shifting borders between sea, sky, and land. They're places to wonder, and to fear slightly, and to hear how great God is.

And I wonder, in these dark days of Covid, whether the old churches of our scared and tired land, are called to be wilderness to our times. Places that nobody quite owns. Places that, in the terms of the 21st century, are unprofitable wastes of space. Neutral zones where people can come with all their fears and hopes and all the things they have unexpressed.  Places that contain awe; where the living confront the truth of our coming death; where in stillness and quiet we can hear in the wilderness the word of the Lord. Telling us that the way shall be prepared in our hearts for the Lord, and all flesh together shall see God's glory and salvation.