Tuesday 31 May 2022

When Hymn Meters Go Imperial

I won't link to it. But the Express has listed the nine best Brexit benefits out of 2,000 sent to Jacob Rees-Mogg. When you consider that those nine include having slightly more powerful electric cycles, you can tell how well it's all going.

And we can now put a crown on the side of a glass. It would make you proud to be British. If you could tell it was a British crown. Last I looked, all sorts of countries had or have crown images. How do we know that when putting a crown on a glass, it's not one third of a Papal crown? Or a Swedish crown on holiday? But then given you can put brewers' names and logos on glasses, or archers, or lions - is there any evidence that the one thing the EU stopped going on a glass was a crown? Seems unlikely.

But, not to be put off, it is now being trailed that Imperial measures are being reintroduced. I'm sure that, to cut red tape, having twice the weights and measures to check is really effective.

And this makes real sense. After all, think of all those people over 65 who never learnt metric at school. They've only had 50 years to get used to them. And think of all the scientists who, instead of publishing results in Angstroms (a foreign name if I ever heard one) will be able to measure the widths of molecules in nanobarleycorns.

And it's a winner at the Olympics. When all the other nations have to run 100m, we'll be able to stroll home over 100 yards. Though British 1,500m runners might have to put in a bit more honest British sweat and elbow grease running a whole mile.

I'm sure the whole thing isn't a giant distraction from Rishi Sunak giving tax breaks to oil companies to find more oil - the very thing we really don't need them doing - and equally sure that wasn't a distraction from Partygate, Wallpapergate, Dilyngate, or the generally incompetent way this bunch of second-rate journalists, car dealers, and hedge fund owners is running the country. And I likewise assume this isn't just some pathetic attempt to find a rationale for Brexit when a plunging rate of trade, meltdown at borders and total lack of good times for the fishing industry might suggest it's not been great.

And I will point out that, if Natalie Elphicke starts measuring the Brexit-induced queues at Dover in yards rather than metres, they're going to look even longer.

But we want to help. And we noticed in the Big Beaker Book of Hymns that traditional hymns are given "meters". Not only a metric measurement but a badly-spelt one to boot.

So we have converted all the hymns from meters to Imperial measurements. No need to thank me - it was my pleasure. A little sampler below.

HymnHymn MeterHymn Yard
Amazing Grace
8 6 8 6
8.7489 6.5617 8.7489 6.561
All People that on Earth Do Well
88 8 8
8.7489 8.7489 8.7489 8.7489
And Can it Be    
8 8 8 8 8 8 with refrain
8.7489 8.7489 8.7489 8.7489 8.7489 8.7489 with refrain
O Come, All Ye Faithful

Monday 30 May 2022

A Slave Set Free?

Julius: What do you mean, it's gone?

Slave-woman: It was that Jew. Paul.

Justus: What did he do to you?

SW: He commanded the spirit. Told it to go. In the name of... Jesus. Some other Jew they believe in.

Julius: And it left?

SW: Gone.

Justus: Can't you pretend?

SW: Well, I can. But it's never going to be convincing. I can't see things anymore.

Julius: You've spoilt everything.

SW: I did nothing. It was the spirit. It was like... even the spirit was attracted to the truth.

Justus: Well... what can I do with you now? You're useless. You bring in no money.

Julius: We could keep her for our... little comforts?

Justus: We wouldn't dare when she had the demon in her. What the hell is in her now if it's more powerful than that?

Julius: She could work in the kitchen?

Justus: After what we've done to her all these years? You think we could trust the food?

Julius: OK. Well then she can get out.

SW: What?

Justus: Get out. You're an unproductive unit. We have no use for you.

Julius: OK. Let's go and sort out Paul.

----  A while later. A street outside a prison. Paul and Silas are walking away from the prison, limping slightly ----

SW: It's you.

Paul: How are you?

SW: Free. But... no idea what I can do. But what about you... what happened?

Silas: We shouldn't cast out demons. The Empire doesn't like it. But we're good.

SW: That demon was right, though.

Paul: A demon was right?

SW:You are slaves of the most high?

 Paul: We are.

SW: And you are proclaiming the way to salvation?

Silas: We reckon so.

SW: Then let me be a slave like you.

Saturday 21 May 2022

Do You Want to be Healed?

So there's a footnote to the passage in John 5 which, if you're reading the King James version is verse 4.
And it tells us that the pool at Bethesda, every now and then, was stirred by an angel. And when the water was disturbed, then the nymph Salmacis would come to the demigod Hermaphroditus and...

Sorry. I've got John's Gospel and a Genesis song confused again, haven't I?

But it's a reminder of how deep - ho-ho - our sense of the beauty, the holiness, the strangeness of water is. When I consider the remarkable engineering works of the Fens I think to myself - that was an act of desanctification. A use of brute force and human logic to make the water obey. Look, we shall cause rivers to run above the fields. We shall make water run uphill. We shall dry up the Naiads' homes. We shall drive Will o' The Wisp from his marshy fastness. We shall exert dominion over the land.

But here we have this magic healing pool. Where every day for 38 years this man has come on the off chance he will be healed. Thinking that in the unlikely event he's first in, in the unlikely event that the water is disturbed - maybe he'll be healed.

38 years of someone dropping him off - as if he can't get into the water, I'm sure he can't get to Bethesda unaided - and then leaving him there all day. 38 years of someone collecting him on the way back from work.

38 years of thinking, if I do get into the pool, and if it doesn't work, I may just drown.

And so the question Jesus asks - do you want to be healed?

I met an old Londoner once. He was a teenager during the Second World War. At the end of the War, taking advantage of the new opportunities that peace brought, he took up burglary.

He wasn't a very successful burglar. He was always getting caught. But he stuck at it. In the 50s and 60s he'd hang out on the fringe of fashionable London. He'd note when the minor celebrities he knew were out - then go round their places and burgle them. He'd always get caught. And go back inside.
When I met him, he'd been pursuing a career of theft and repeated incarceration for 50 years. He didn't seem over-sad with his lot. The thugs left him alone. He was a kind of Blanco character, for those of you who remember Porridge. He had a little room he didn't have to pay rent for, he had order and a schedule. He liked to come along to the chaplaincy group. Though maybe he didn't listen too much to the eighth comandment. He was comfy in prison

Maybe this chap's the same. Maybe he knows his life isn't going to change. Maybe he knows he's stuck in this routine for the next number of years. Maybe he's quite resigned to what he's got. Maybe that's why Jesus says to him, "do you want to be healed?"

Maybe that's why he doesn't answer Jesus with "yes", or "no", but with a complaint. "I never get in the water in time because nobody helps me." Maybe he doesn't realise this is an offer from Jesus. Maybe he thinks it's just a general enquiry. Maybe he thinks Jesus is suggesting he doesn't try hard enough - so he has to explain himself. 
Or maybe he thinks Jesus is patronising him, and he's choking back the frustration - "Thirty-eight years of laying by this pool, hoping to be healed. Thirty-eight years of getting nothing. When shepherds were turning up at your stable, young Rabbi, when you were a baby in swaddling clothes - when you were still the intense subject of your step-father's suspicion - all that time ago - I had been coming here, and getting disappointed, for five years. What do you think, do I want to be healed?"

But after 38 years, maybe he's settled for his role as eternally disappointed man by the pool. Or maybe he's told himself he has.

"Take up your bed and walk," says Jesus. And while that's a command - maybe the man's being made whole still depends on his response. I say "made whole" - because healing's beyond just the bodily. Some of the people I know who have disabilities are the wholest people I know. But this man has sunk into a comfortable failure. As Jesus says "take up your bed", the man has two choices. To take up his bed, or to conclude he cannot take up his bed.
So is he going to accept God's grace? A free offer of healing from Jesus? An unasked for, unexpected blessing? Or will he shrug, say good things never happen to him, and settle down to watching for another ripple in the pool he will never get into in time?
He takes up his bed and walks. Turns out, he does want to be made whole.
You know what a story about Jesus's healing is not? A recommendation for people to go our and demand to pray for others, who have often been prayed for a thousand times before whether they liked it or not. Healing may happen - but when it does it's rare. People with disabilities are not there to make other people feel happy about their own faith.

What this story is though is about what Jesus offers to all of our lives. We can get in our rut. Want nothing to change. And yet - God's grace here is given free - the man hasn't even asked it. It's been found unexpectedly. And it is beyond what he could ever imagine.

Thursday 19 May 2022

In Memoriam: Vangelis

Theme from Chariots of Fire plays. Beaker Folk fail to jump over hurdles. Mayhem ensues.

Archdruid (drinking glass of champagne): See, Hnaef - I told you not to put them on the hurdles.

Hnaef (drinking glass of champagne): Shall we run around the jolly old court before the clock has finished striking 12 doncherknow doncherknow?

Scene from Chariots of Fire when Nigel Havers goes over hurdles with champagne glasses
Definitely not a stereotype

All: Wasn't that Harold Abrahams did that?

David George Brownlow Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter KCMG OLY: No. It was I, David Lord Burghley. As thinly disguised and portrayed by all-round toff, Nigel Havers.

Charlii: Oh - I thought that was Hugh Boneville?

Nigel Havers: No.

Young Keith: Or Stephen Mangham?

Stephen Mangham: Don't be silly. I was 12 when it came out.

Hnaef: Or Colin Firth?

Alison Steadman: Oooh! Mr Darcy!

Burton Dasset: Jeremy Irons?

Daphne: I thought he was also Nigel Havers.

Archdruid: Can we get back to Vangelis? 

All: Let's 

Archdruid: So we say goodbye to Vangelis, and pray that he will always be together in Electric Dreams.

All: That's Giorgio Moroder.

Archdruid: Ah yes. Then let us all pray he finds his way home.

A time of speaking in far-ancient tongues

Archdruid: As it is written in the Book of Jon and Vangelis, if you're asking me when, I'll say it starts at the end.

All: We drift to heaven bringing in the morning light

Archdruid: And after all is said and done

All: There's only us we can make it right

Archdruid: So, our love will carry on and on

All: Now, our love will be free, be free

Archdruid: And so we set pray Vangelis will be set free to know Divine Nature

All: Super Nature

Archdruid: The supreme gift of knowledge and space

All: In this cacophony of life 

The Peace

Archdruid: Peace will come 

All: Peace will come 

Archdruid: Peace will come 

All: Peace will come

Archdruid: Peace will come 

All: Peace will come 

Archdruid: And we hope Vangelis will see the light of..

All: A true horizon

Archdruid: Do you reckon this is a bit niche?

All: Dunno. Best ask the Friends of Mr Cairo.

Archdrduid: Do you know where they are?

All: Last seen on the Mayflower.

Archdruid: Mayflower, do you copy? 

Blessing of the Mayflower

In the wind, on the ship, a lullaby
We sailing pass the moment of time
We sailing 'round the point
The kindly light, the kindly light.
Archdruid: Go, Vangelis, sailing through the waters of the summer's end.
All: And also with you.

Saturday 14 May 2022

"A New Commandment"

How would you describe the history of the Christian faith? A small group of believers, who were convinced that - against all logic, science and sense - their leader was alive, whose conviction was so great that they were prepared to die themselves for this claim. And even though the forces of an empire were against them - and even though you were better off socially and economically if you stuck with the established religion - yet the power with which they told people about their leader was such that they spread like cow parsley in an ornamental border. After 2,000 years of persecution - by others, of others, and of each other - the followers of Jesus eventually reached the point where they could hold church meetings that could spend hours discussing what power replacement light bulbs they should use in the church toilets.

Something gets lost, and has to be rediscovered over and over again.

And it's not the structures and attitude of the early Church. We have Paul to let us know that the early Church was as prone to argument, selfishness, and sheer silliness as we are. When church groups claim they are trying to reproduce the early Church - which early Church are they considering recovering? Galatia or Corinth? That's why the Primitive Beaker Folk sect have such a problem. How can you go back to a Primitive Beaker Christian movement that existed before Jesus himself walked the earth? A lot of imagination, obviously.

And yet we know we have constantly to be called back to our roots. Called back to what we fundamentally know forms the basis of our faith.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34) 

Now, "love one another" is in one very important way not a new commandment at all. When you consider what is called "The Golden Rule", do to others as you would have them do to you - that's all over the world's religions. And that's pretty much the definition of loving one another. The "Second Commandment" as defined by Jesus is there  in Leviticus 19:17-18: "Love your neighbour as yourself." So what's new?

"As I have loved you".

How has he loved us?

All the way from heaven to earth. Because Jesus's love is not just like our love. It's the love of God the Son giving up all rights to become one of us. A human like us. Not a god in disguise - the actual God who is actually a human.

All the way to a cross. Because "love one another as I have loved you" is not just about being nice. Jesus's love for us is in the end a total sacrifice. And I struggle to define how that love as sacrifice works. There are so many models for it, and yet not one can capture the sheer depth of what Paul called "a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks." But the idea that things can only be made right when a god dies is written deep into our human condition, I believe - scattered across so many religions in fragments of truth as gods die. And this God dies with our names carved in his hands - the death he did not deserve, the love we did not deserve.

All the way from the cross to the dead. Not just dead as in a human body devoid of life. Beyond that. When the Apostles' Creed declares, "he descended into Hell", I take that to mean - the completion of that cry on the cross, "My God, my God - why have you forsaken me?" The separation from the Father - the loss of that relationship that Jesus had known naturally his whole life, a life lives as the man who was also God. And so "he dscended into Hell."

But as the Roman soldiers took the cross down ready for its next victim, and the demons crowed in victory, the discovery was made in Hell. Jesus had smuggled God in even there, hadn't he? 

Now, I know some people believe that every word of the Bible is literally true. But when King Hezekiah said "Those who go down to the grave can no longer hope in your faithfulness", as quoted in Isaiah - he didn't know everything, did he? Would have been better off listening to King David:"even if I go down to the depths, you are there."

How has Jesus loved us? All the way to an empty grave. Beyond all hope, as the bravest of women weep as they approach their teacher's tomb - and they find there is nothing there. In the midst of death, Mary Magdalene finds life.

So we are called - as we always are with Jesus - to an impossible standard. How can we ever love one another as he has loved us? Well, then in that case we know how to love - as if others are our neighbours, knowing that Jesus's love is measured in its costliness, its generosity, and its power. And knowing that what love we give comes from God. If we love one another, simple as that is, then we are sharing in the love that the Father has for the Son. Sharing it out as the Spirit uses us. Being remade in the image of our three-in-one God who loves us, has always loved us, and will always love us. That other book with John's name on it says, we love because he first loved us. So we we are called to love other people with a love that is a reflection of Christ's love, as moonlight is the reflection of sunlight.

That's all a long way from most of what our behaviour as Christians tends to be about. So if we are to love as Christ has loved us, we always need to start with repentance - with turning from what we'd often rather do - bitch about each other, score points - and look again and again at how Christ has loved us. To love is not - as CS Lewis said in the Four Loves - a safe place. To love makes us vulnerable. Well, see Jesus on a Cross. To love means to care for the good of those we don't like - well, Jesus died for people who hated him. To love means to be caught up in the love God gives, and to share the love God gives. Well, that's a taste of the immortal. If we are sharing God's love, we are preparing ourselves and others for heaven.

"As I have loved you, so you must love one another." It's an impossible command. But it's the one to live.

Saturday 7 May 2022

The Diary of a Mocker

With the flatterers were busy mockers
 who gnashed upon me with their teeth.
(Psalm 35:16)

5 am - Alarm goes off. Showered and brushed teeth ready for a big day's gnashing.

6 am - Gym and wild swimming

7 am - Train into Town. Mocked on train.

8 am - Breakfast at desk. Gnashed teeth.

9 am - Pre-meeting meeting with the flatterers. Did some mocking.

10 am - Gnashed teeth.

11 am - Engineered takeover of multinational.

12 noon - Lunch appointment. Mocking.

1 pm - Gnashing teeth.

2 pm - Meeting with flatterers.

3 pm - Mocking.

4 pm - Gnashing teeth.

5 pm - Wash-up meeting with flatterers.

6 pm - Gnashing teeth at The Union.

7 pm - Train home. Gnashing teeth at commuters.

8 pm - Mocking taxi driver. Home.

9 pm - Evening Gnashing.

10 pm Last mockings.

11 pm Bed.

Monday 2 May 2022

The Broken Ground of Being

Archdruid: And so, as we relight the Eternal Flame after Saturday's intervention by the Buckinghamshire Fire Brigade, we know the depths of the light of the universe that enlightens the human mind...

Young Keith: Mum, can I ask you something?

Archdruid: You have to call me "Archdruid". We're on duty.

Young Keith: OK, Archdrduid - can I ask you something?

Archdruid: Course you can. I'm your mum.

Young Keith: It's just... you know how everything we do is a metaphor and about lifting us up or expanding our vision or increasing our knowledge of creation or something?

Archdruid: Of course. We're a religion.

Young Keith: Well, what if there's something behind it?

Archdruid: How d'you mean?

Young Keith: I mean, suppose God - and I use this word itself in a metaphorical way because after all, how can we use the word "exist" in relation to the very ground of existence? I mean, to say God exists is kind of meaningless because if God exists all existence derives its very existence from God such that you cannot meaningfully say God exists... 

Archdruid: Cut to the chase, Keith.

Young Keith: Suppose God actually exists?

Archdruid: Exists?

Young Keith: Is actually there. Not as a hypothetical that forms a kind of language we can use to imbue our universe with meaning, but as the actual Meaning that imbues our universe in the first place.

Archdruid: You mean, exists?

Young Keith. Yes. In such a way that asking whether we say "he", or "she", or "they", or "God" for God is in itself meaningless because God is beyond our concepts of existence and even to try to apply objective terms to God is to break the mystery down to the mundane?

Archdruid: You mean, exists?

Young Keith. Yes. And cares about what we are up to.

Archdruid: Seems a bit unlikely, doesn't it?

Young Keith: But suppose.

Archdruid: Think I'd better light some more tea lights.

Young Keith: I'll go and lay some pebbles out. Sandstone or limestone?

Archdruid: Sandstone. Gotta be authentic.

Sunday 1 May 2022

The Scorching Bards of May

OK that was quite a Beltane celebration.

In keeping with the Beaker tradition, the Wicker Person was built on the Upper Meadow. But yeah, a bit close to the Orchard. Some would say. And given the oil price crisis, it was agreed we would use all the Maundy Holy Oils we've been "recycling" for the last few years.

I don't really know how it started. But it comes about because of the annual Anglican oil-blessing that happens at their Maundy Thursday services. The bishops bless three lots of oil - healing, chrism, and the other one. And then they dish it out to the clergy in little vials. And the little vials have little labels on them so the clergy know which is which - "H", "C" and the other one. And then the sticky labels fall off. So the clergy can't tell which is which. And can't remember which smells nice. So they stick them all in the same bottle and use it for everything for the rest of the year.

And 12 months later, they've got half a dose of mixed oils and it's Maundy Thursday again and they tell themselves that this time they'll definitely get it right and put the stickers on better. But they don't know what to do with the left-over oils: which have been blessed by the bishops - so they started giving it to us. And we just put it in a big barrel, on the basis - much-loved by 80-year-old blokes - that it would come in handy one day.

And so last night, we decided it was time to use it. As an accelerant on the Wicker Person.

Well, it was quite a lot of oil.

And it consumed the Wicker Person in no time. Then headed for the trees in the Orchard. And before we knew it, we were battling the latest Beaker conflagration. Chucking water on the situation, of course, would only make matters worse. As we remembered as the ducks got off the pond in short order, and Duckhenge was razed to the ground. Again.

Anyway, there's nothing like singing "summer is ikumen in" while fire takes out your favourite apple trees. It was like being back at Oxford, except without the posh kids breaking their backs jumping in the Cherwell. What made it worse was the Bardic Brotherhood were in the orchard, tuning their lyres at the time. We had to roll them in the Astroturf round the Moot House.

So anyway. Eventually, it went out. The Moot House is still intact. But with all that incinerated scented oil, everyone slept for hours. We were going to get up for a thoroughly woo moment watching Jupiter and Venus at dawn. But I guess it will have to keep till next time they get together in the sky.

Happy May Day.