Sunday 31 July 2022

Organist Donors Needed

To inform Beaker Folk of our musical situation today:

Oddric, our accordionist, is on holiday.
Micro, the player of electronic keyboards, is on holiday.
Tandrik, the banjolele player, is on holiday.
Godfrilla, the flautist is on holiday.
All the children, potential players of ocarinae, are on holiday.
The percussion section is on holiday.
Our collection of "1,000 easy hymns for churches without organists" is in 8-track format in a digital world. Which, to be fair, sums up my life.
Which leaves us Young Keith on the spoons.

It is our tradition, in the manner of Psalm 68:25, to publish the processional order of musicians: "In the front are the singers, after them the musicians, and then come the girls with the tambourines".

So here we have it: "In the front is nobody, after them nobody, and then comes Keith with the spoons".

Praise God in the sparse congregation.

Thursday 28 July 2022

In Memoriam, Bernard Cribbins

Introit: The Wombling Song

Archdruid: Right.

All: Have a cuppa tea?

Archdruid: We'd like to apologise for the lack of music on this Occasion. Unfortunately the piano is stuck on the landing.

All: Give a shout for Charlii?

Charlii: We give thanks for the only man to be two Doctor Who companions.

All: Quite a regeneration.

Archdruid: Wasn't he a Hinchcliffe from Alderson Street?

Bernard Cribbins, skiing on the back of a van, as Gavin Hinchcliffe

Norman Clegg: There are a lot of rumours to that effect.

All: Have another cup of tea?

Archdruid: And now he has carried on off his mortal coil, drifted over the horizon on Old Jack's boat, told his final story, and is wombling free in a land where celestial pianos are forever standing on the landing, to look for his heavenly Gulf Stream, to tend an allotment which is watered by the River of Life and produces 12 harvests a year.

Charlii: "In my Father's house are many rooms"

Mr Hutchinson: And they are all up to the standard required by hotel inspectors.

Tea will be served after the ceremony

Wednesday 27 July 2022

The Remains of the Pandemic - 2099

 The year is 2099. Around England, churches maintain the remembrance of the rituals they adopted in response to the Covid pandemic.

At St Margaret's, Flimpning, people use hand sanitiser every fifteen minutes.

At St Bilberry's, Lesser Thong, they all sit 2 metres apart. Just as they have since 1732.

At St Boris's, Fridgehampton, there is still a sign telling people to stay out of the chancel.The congregation believe the air is more infectious there than in the nave.

At St Mungo's, Midgeley, the president intincts the bread with the wine through an eye dropper, then distributes the bread while wearing a haz-mat suit.

At Holy Cross, Rempford, the Bibles and prayer books are kept in a glass-fronted safe. On Plough Mondays, the congregation are allowed to look at them. But only look. Never touch.

At St Celestine's Middling-in-the-Moor, the altar frontal is black and yellow and reads "Hands-Face-Space".

At St Kettering's, Coglington, a 2 meter long wooden ruler is carried in the procession by the Metrifer and laid on the altar steps.

In St Philemon's, Bilgewater, every other pew is still roped off with black and yellow tape.

At St John's, Gerbley, they just got the faculty to replace the black and yellow tape with black and yellow railings.

At St Apollos's, South Shillington-with-Wombleswade, they wear liturgucally coloured masks. 


Nobody can remember why any of these things occur. But they know if they don't do it, something will happen.


Wednesday 20 July 2022

Birkenstock Sunday

It's always a bit boring liturgically this time of year. Harvest a way off and Midsummer is past.

And what with the weather being hot, we have to take care of the clergy. Some like to go barefoot to lead liturgy. Which puts them at risk from wax spillage from candles, of course. But also - consider the temperature of church paths. 

If you're worried about your clergy burning their feet on badly maintained asphalt, my advice is to put your hand down on the path for 10 seconds. If you can't, it's too hot for barefoot clergy.

Likewise be careful of allowing your clergy to go out for walks in this weather. Especially the ones who, goth-like, go out all in black. Ensure that if they're out visiting they get a cup of tea or elderflower pressé wherever they go. But be careful. Some clergy apparently manage to visit 20 parishioners a week. And that much elderflower pressé can wreak havoc on a clerical metabolism. So an alternative is to leave out a small saucer of gin and tonic. Ideally with a few pebbles in, so flower arrangers can climb out.

If your clergy is in the habit of going out in a soutane, encourage them to consider a straw hat or even a biretta. The brim may save their noses from sunburn.

But all things considered I think it's time to let the clergy lighten their mood clothes-wise after the heat of this week (and with the temperature predicted as 86°F this Sunday.
That is why we are declaring Clerical Birkenstock Sunday. Clergy of all denominations are encouraged to wear sandals, flip-flops or kitten heeled strappy shoes. Aware that Birkenstock is not the only brand of sandal, you could also consider the hard-wearing Doctor Marten variety, as we will be modelling in the Moot House. 

But not red Crocs. They're for Pentecost. And ditch the socks, people.
Bermuda Shorts should be considered liturgical wear this Sunday, as opposed to the tedious ties and chinos of the HTB brigade.

And if you must wear alb and amice, why not ditch the cassock? That way people might get a glimpse of your Bermuda Shorts.

Birkenstock Sunday. North Oxford churches may make their own arrangements.

Monday 18 July 2022

About Durocobrivae: Dunstable's Traffic Problems Start

 Inspired by an endless complaint on Dunstable's social media page

  • Arthur the Druid

Can't believe the mess the Romans have made building Watling Street through the town. Took me a week to get from the Ridgeway to Waulud's Bank. And even that was only after diverting through the Five Knolls

  • Weetabix the Farmer

I mean. Who thought it was a good idea just driving a new road straight across the Icknield Way like that? No consideration for the people driving cattle already. I know they say they're cutting the time to Londinium to two days. And it will be really handy in 2,000 years when they build Milton Keynes. But it's just a mess at the minute.

  • Arthur the Druid

In my opinion they should never have drained that swamp at Hockliffe. Yeah, it was a problem getting trench foot every time you went to the Beefeater. But it stopped the Iceni invading.

  • Copydex the Glue Maker

The Iceni invading? You been sniffing glue? I have, obviously. But doesn't mean you all have to. No way are the Iceni invading.

  • Arthur the Druid

They won't need to now. Straight down Watling Street, over the lights and on down to Verulamium. You mark my words, if this new road doesn't lead to the destruction of several cities my name's Caractacus.

  • Copydex the Glue-Maker

All we need to sort it out is a kind of double roundabout. Then it's dead easy for anybody coming down from Lactodorum, take a nice easy left and you're on Church Street. I wonder why it's called Church Street?

  • Weetabix the Farmer

The Beaker Folk tried a double roundabout. It was all right for the locals. But it was the Londiniumites. They came up here at weekends, couldn't understand it, panicked and next thing you knew, chaos. I remember when there used to be ox carts stacked up all the way back to Magiovinium.

  • Copydex the Glue-Maker

And why do they have to make it so straight? They had to knock down 4 hovels coming down Half Moon Hill and they could have just gone round them. No respect. There was a Holy Oak at Markate. Cut it down and went straight through. They could have just gone round it on either side.

  • Weetabix the Farmer

I blame it on Europe. Them Romans drive on the right over there. Come over here and they've got no idea what they're doing

  • Arthur the Druid

It's gonna wreck trade in the town centre now you can get to Deva in a fortnight. Who's going to buy woad on the market now?

  • Weetabix the Farmer

The market's gone compared to what it was back in Neolithic Times. They should never have moved it outside the Boudiccas Way Hall.

  • Arthur the Druid
It was charging for parking really did it. Came out Tiffanix's Disco last week and they'd clamped my chariot. Only been ten minutes over the three hours.

Sunday 17 July 2022

Liturgy of The Heat

Archdruid: Behold for the heat is so great that our tongues cleave to our mouths. We long for cool water as does Sylvia Sims long for an ice-cold lager in Alex. And the druids wear not robes. They go about undraped in their druidical drapings.

All: Especially Burton, who has forgotten that his lack of trouserings are no longer covered over by his druidical drapings.

Burton: Oops. Sorry. I'll just borrow the Liturgucal Voile from the Worship Focus.

Archdruid: The Liturgical Voile is long and beautiful, coloured as is the rainbow.

All: But it's still see-through, Burton, you idiot.

Burton may slink from the Moot House.

Archdruid: Theresa May underpants. I ask you.

All: Margaret Thatcher is at least stylish.

Archdruid: And so now we turn back to the heat. The sun burns down like that which scorches the desert of the Negev, and the wadis of Husborne Crawley run dry. We cry out for the blessed rain.

All: I bless the rains down in Africa.

Archdruid: And we cry out under the hot sun, how long must it be so hot?

All: Nah. We remember the long hot summer of '76. The snowflakes of today melting in the sun. In '76 we sat out on the beach, watching England getting hammered by the West Indies, in special tin foil funnels so we got even hotter.

Archdruid: You what?

All: We'd just finished fighting both World Wars. And anybody who'd been through the Blitz and the Somme wasn't going to worry about a bit of sun.

Archdruid: Just how old do you think you're claiming to be?

All: And we were in the Common Market but before Up Yours Delors and his ban on ladybirds so the Germans could sell us their beetles. We had good English ladybirds everywhere. In your hair, on your arms, on the ground, up your nose... And when it was Flying Ants Day we'd smear ourselves in jam and run around seeing who could get the most ant bites.

Archdruid: Are you seriously...

All: And then after a full day in the sun, rubbing each other down in Beef Dripping - none of your poncey extra-virgin olive oil back then - when we were thoroughly crispy, we'd drip eight pints of Ind Coope Best, and pop ourselves into the oven for a couple of hours. We'd be walking back from the pub, just as the bakers opened, and they'd slide us in with the crusty whites. None of your namby-pamby wholemeal gluten-free vegan-friendly sesame-seed-and-halloumi lardy dah bread in '76. Couple of hours in the oven, then back to lay on the melting tarmac on the A5 as the traffic ground to a halt because a Fiat - never a British car, never a Vaxuhall or a Ford or an Austin Allegro or a Hillman Imp - a Fiat had overheated.

Marston Moretaine: Actually, it was normally a Hillman Imp.

All: Heretic! Wash your mouth out with coal-tar soap. The proper stuff made from coal tar. Not the modern day EU-friendly non-carcinogenic coal-tar-scented variety.

Archdruid: Do you think this actually happened? Or have you been out in the sun too long?

All: Then we had the invasion of jellyfish. They swam up the Lea and invaded Luton. Some of them had run market stalls in the Arndale for months before anyone noticed. And when we wanted to cool down we sucked Jubblies. Triangular lollipops so big they were carved out of icebergs and brought into Portsmouth Harbour by tugs. Not Filipono tugs. English tugs. Then we hosed ourselves down - with the hose attached to the hot tap - put a few coals on the fire and settled down to watch the Goodies in black-and-white on a 12" telly, with granny on the roof making sure the aerial was in the right direction. So don't tell us it's a bit hot. When the 1976 heatwave started in 1946, just after we won the war - just us, nobody else - and lasted until 1994. AND we had to watch the 4 Yorkshiremen sketch on the telly. Every day. Till nan fell off the roof.

Archdruid: Go out to spread your delusions to all nations.

All:So don't talk to me about so-called climate change.

Martha and Mary and John Clare and Nora Batty

Sat here after the Folk Night at the end of the John Clare Festival and reflecting on this morning's Lectionary reading of Martha and Mary.

If he weren't already in love with one, John Clare would be a Mary of course. His record of indolence, laying in ditches and general mimsying about would ensure that.

Coming forward to our own time, I remember in the Last of the Summer Wine.episode, "Happy Birthday Robin Hood", Alvin Smedley (more hygienic occupier of the house of the late Compo Simmonite) is sitting outside his house while Nora Batty is making the dust fly around with that broom. Alvin asks her something along the lines of, don't you ever think of giving some time to vino? To which Nora replies, "Life's not for vino. Life's for sweeping."

The day after Nora died, of course, her steps were dusty again. Can you take memories of clean steps with you? As the Philosopher said, "Vanity; vanity; all is vanity."

Martha's got God in her front room. And she's in the kitchen, cutting the crusts off sandwiches.

And we live in a world where our productivity is often all that is seen to matter. Measured as economic units. Told to get back out to the office as soon as ministers worry that JD Wetherspoon and Pret a Manger  might find their profits endangered. Whisked on straight roads, round interesting villages, to ensure we get from A to B as efficiently as possible regardless of how boring.

Sometimes it's a good idea to stop and stare. Read a single verse of the Bible and think about it for a week. See the glory of the Lord in the beauty of a leaf. Hold hands. Ideally with someone you should be holding hands with. Talk to your family while there's time. I've never heard a funeral sermon that included the words, "most of all we give thanks for all the time they spent improving the formatting on PowerPoints."

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics meant Nora Batty's steps could never be kept clean. From dust she came, and to dust they will return. Mary chose the right thing. To sit at the feet of the Master and listen.

Thursday 14 July 2022

The Straight Lines of Oppression

 Up in the lovely, formerly Northamptonshire village of Helpston for a visit for the John Clare Weekend. I look at a map. And the thing jumps out.

The straight lines.

Straight lines are nearly always the sign of colonisation, don't you think? When the Romans built Ermine Way and King Street across the Fenny edges in straight lines, they were defying custom and - let's face it - gravity. Most noticeable in the Roman road across Hardy's "Egdon Heath" (Black Heath near Dorchester). The road goes straight over hills. In sheer logistical terms nonsense - any sensible Beaker Person would go round. But in the language of Empire, of domination - if a legion has to climb in a straight line to the top of a hill, every hairy-bottomed Celt for miles around would see the sunlight glinting off the armour and think, if they're so stupid as to climb up like that, what will they do to us if we revolt?

And then the drainage of the Fens. Straight lines. The road from Helpston to Glinton. A straight line. One that superceded John Clare's wobbling and merry route - in his mind if not in reality - from his real home to that of his imagined alternative wife, poor Mary Joyce. Until it too was bisected by another straight line - the iron road from Peterborough to the North.

And these straight lines like the Roman one were the marks of control - of the Duke of Bedford and suchlike landowning chums, deciding to drain away the traditional lives of Fenfolk and uplanders alike, in the interests of fields of waving turnips. Once you get out there, where the horizons are distant and the skies are vast, if you look at the middle distance it's all straight. Straight roads, square fields, straight dykes intersecting at right angles. It's all straight lines. Order imposed on the fenny primal chaos. Draining out the Wills of the Wisp with the curves. The fields have been joined to fields until there is no-one on the land.

The borders of the United States, as you head west, are straight. Some states are, allowing for the curvature of the earth, as near rectangles as you can get on an oblate spheroid. Straight lines imposed on the winding trails of those who were there first.

And the borders of the Middle East and Africa - drawn by rich Westerners on  paper napkins, according to legend - straight.

A straight line on a map is an act of aggression. A defiance of history, folklore, custom, tradition and geography. Two fingers up to the land, to the people that lived with the land, to God, who apparently chooses to seat Godself in a triangle around a round table. It has no place in the mental landscape of a free person who chooses not to oppress others. It is the oppression of Nature and human nature.

Let us go round hills, or wind up them to winding ridgeways. Let us reclaim the crooked roads of our crooked ancestors. Let us see straight lines for what they are - the mark of Empire, the mark of oppression. Wanderers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but a few hours due to your less efficient route planning.

And avoid Milton Keynes. It's all straight lines.

Wednesday 13 July 2022

The Evolution of the Church Rota

St Myrtle's, Mytrle-on-the-Myrtle

Trinity 5
2004MarthaMavis    BettyBettyRogerDaisy
2005    ArthurFlorence MabelMabel
2006MarthaMavis    BettyBettyVicar
2007 ArthurMarthaMabelMabel
Vicar VicarDaisy
2018    Daisy    
2020    Daisy    
2021Daisy    Daisy
2022"All Together" at St Bogwulf's,Greater Myrtle

Sunday 10 July 2022

Politics and Religion

From Amos 7

"And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’

Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”"

Went to Westminster Abbey a couple of weeks ago. Special service marking the half-millennium of William Cecil (aka Lord Burghley), chief minister to Elizabeth I. All the great and the good were there, and David Starkey. And Starkey's summary of Cecil's life included the difference of opinion between Cecil (pronounced Cicel, apparently) and Elizabeth (pronounced Elezibath, I presume) over whether you should have bishops or not.

Brought me up quite short, I can tell you, in that place where monarchs are crowned and entombed, to consider they might expect control of some kind over the church.

And yet here's the minister of the king, 2,800 years ago, telling Amos to go and preach somewhere else. Not at Bethel, which is the king's shrine.

And of course it's true. This is the king's shrine - Beth-el, the house of God. As opposed to the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem which Solomon created. When Solomon was consolidating his earthly power by insisting sacrifices could only be offered in the place that he decided.

So when you hear anyone saying religion should stay out of politics - it never did, in either direction. As Putin makes the leaders of his tame Church rich, as Church of England canon law is part of English law, as the US proclaims its separation of church and state while its Supreme Court rules in line with the religious "Moral Majority" - it never did. It never could, to a degree. Questions of what is sensible, what is right, how we treat those in need - they're questions where faith and politics intersect. How as a Christian can you come to a political question about refugees and not remember that your Lord was one? How can you consider social security and not think of the injunctions to care for the orphan and the aged? While balancing with St Paul's instruction that if you don't work, you don't eat? If you have faith, it must always direct how you act and what you believe in the public sphere.

But here in Bethel it's politics trying to rule religion. Amos is told to clear off to Judah and earn his money there. And his reply is powerful. 

"I'm not a pheasant plucker..." he begins.

Sorry. It's been a long week.

"I'm not a prophet, nor a prophet's son." So it's not his profession, handed down. 

"I'm a shepherd and sycamore-fig dresser". So he ain't rich, but he's supporting himself. He doesn't need the king to pay him to tell him good news. He's not a client. He's not a yes man. He's free to say what God tells him. The king may own the bull and the altar at Bethel. But God owns the world. Money can compromise the tame priests and prophets of King Jeroboam. Amos is free of that.

But what Amos is in thrall to, is the Spirit of God. And that is where he gets his ability to tell uncomfortable truths to power. He works from the faith of God to hold nations to account.

And that's how we should work, sisters, brothers, and otherwise-identifying siblings. If we have faith then our moral lives, and our political engagements, should flow from our faith and our holy books to our own lives and then our political lives - even if that's just once every few years in the ballot box. To mention just a few people whose faith fed into their political activities, I'll choose Oscar Romero, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King, and the Revd Ian Paisley. If you're hot under the collar about any of those, I shall merely say that the Kingdom of God is a strategy - any particular viewpoint is just tactics. You may think one or more of those people are saints, and we'll maybe need to agree to differ. But that's my point. 

So let our faith drive our actions, and let us give thanks for our freedom to pray (and mostly to say) what we wish. And let us always hold our own political beliefs up to view in the light of Christ.

Friday 8 July 2022

Liturgy for Hearing Peter Bone Has Been Made Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

 Archdruid: I'm sorry?

All: You what?

Young Keith: You having a giraffe?

Charlii: Is that even a job?

All: Is he even a real human being?

Archdruid: We're just being trolled now.

Hnaef: Yeah. Dead cat. What's Johnson trying to hide?

Daphne: Well, he's kind of resigned.

Archdruid: And all the Tories are jostling to be leader.

Burton Dasset: And he knows he can't even have his wedding reception at Chequers.

All: And even the Mail is having to admit he's a dead loss.

Archdruid: So there's only one conclusion.

All: He's having a laugh.

Archdruid: It's all been a laugh. Getting Brexit done.

All: Having a laugh.

Archdruid: Parties during lockdown.

All: Having a laugh.

Archdruid: Telling the 1922 he'd do it all again.

All: Having a laugh.

Archdruid: Anyone think it's funny?

Burton Dasset: Well, he's just an ordinary bloke we can all get on with...

Burton may be pelted with marshmallows.

Sunday 3 July 2022

Naaman the Self-important

Is it just me, on this fine sunny just-after-Midsummer morning, or is there just the hint of the Epiphany about the story of Naaman the Syrian, great commander of the Aramean army?

He's told there is an answer to his leprosy. He's told that answer lies with Elisha the prophet.

And so he goes to the King of Israel instead. Nearly causing an international incident. There's a problem with prophets generally in Israel and Judah - the ones that are real prophets are too inclined to tell the truth. And the kings can't handle the truth. So the prophets at court are tame ones who say what the kings want to hear. Which means they have traded God's power for earthly power. No wonder the king's so worried - is this a pretext for war?

But just as the Magi went to Jerusalem when they should have gone to Bethlehem in the first place - the power of God is somewhere outside the palace.

And so, like the Magi after him, this man seeking healing from the East comes to Elisha's house. And reveals the source of his confusion. Because he tries to buy his healing. With enough gold and silver to set Elisha up for life and the after life. And some clothes.

Elisha's God doesn't need the money. How can you pay for blessings from the one who smashed stars apart to make gold in the first place? What is God going to do with ten sets of clothes? Because this isn't magic - Elisha doesn't own this healing power. It's God's Spirit that will heal.

All Naaman has to do... is dip himself in the Jordan 7 times. How can that be so hard?

But we find that Naaman's real problem in life isn't leprosy. It's pride. He thought he could buy healing. He thought he'd impress with his gold and silver and oddly-specific number of sets of clothes. But Elisha doesn't even come to the door. He's not impressed by money. All he needs from Naaman is obedience to the true God.

You know the old story that a wise man - St Francis or Thomas Aquinas, according to your Google results - goes to see the Pope. And the Pope's showing him all the Vatican treasure. And refers to the healing in Acts 3, and says "St Peter can no longer say, 'silver and gold have I none'." And Francis or Aquinas or whoever replies, "nor can he any longer say, 'get up and walk'"

Naaman has confused his power with the ability to command God. And you can do a lot with earthly power to command what the Church does, it turns out. From rich families buying up the best Church of England vicarages to modern-day church leaders using their prophetic authority to get away with their sexual felonies. But the One that money and power can't command - is God.

And so Naaman stands and rants. Elisha ain't impressed with his riches. He doesn't even think much of his rivers. But it's the slaves that have wisdom again. They're used to having no power. But they do understand how to do what they're told. They do know where real authority comes from.

"Why not just do what he says. What's it gonna cost you?" 

More than all the gold and silver. When Naaman thought he could buy his healing, he thought his relationship to the God of Israel was transactional. A deal between two partners - I want healing, I have money.

Now he's discovered his relationship to God is one of obedience and trust. Do what you're told, Naaman. And then I'll heal you.

And so Naaman goes through this pre-Baptist baptism. Dipped 7 times for completeness. Coming to God with nothing and knowing he can't compel God - he can only trust.

Which is how we come to God in Baptism. And how we walk with God every day. God delights in your gifts - God gave them to you in the first place. So we come in trust, in obedience, in weakness and trusting in the One who can do everything.