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Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Congregation at Trumpton Church

Pew, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb

Averting One's Eyes from the Naked Bishop

I have had it brought to my attention that the Church of England has appointed a Naked Bishop. I have posted the link as it was supplied to me by Young Keith, the son of the soi-disant Archdruid Eileen. I have not followed the link as there is a severe danger, as it seems to me, of a picture of the Naked Bishop being shown on the computer screen. Since I have eschewed modern technology, and am still using a PC running Windows 3.3 to access the Internet, you might argue that the resolution would not be such as to have a degrading effect on a respected and mature Independent Baptist minister. But I should not take the chance. After all, were I to catch a glimpse of a Naked Bishop I would have to destroy the browser history on my Netscape Navigator.

Young Keith is no stranger to encouraging nudity, I should point out. Every winter, he convinces a group of the Beaker Folk's deluded pilgrims that dancing naked on Aspley Heath is a key part of the Beaker religion. Every year his uncle, the police officer, has the job of rounding them up, threatening them with criminal charges, and then releasing them on the grounds that it "will not stand up in court." This makes Young Keith laugh, although I do not understand why. He is maybe nervous about discussing such matters. Understandable. I do not feel comfortable, myself.

Keith tells me that the Daily Mail quotes Rev George Curry, as saying that nakedness is to be kept within man and wife except for medical emergencies. I would however disagree with this  esteemed churchman. For why single out emergencies? Either nakedness is required in a medical situation or it is not. The only situation I can imagine where full-scale nakedness might be involved in a medical emergency - and not a medical non-emergency - is one where man and wife were involved in the first instance. I will say no more. Though I may go for a brisk walk.

I need hardly remind my readers that naked bishops, like any other kind of naked person, are an offence unto to the Lord. For was David's naked dancing not accounted naughty unto the Lord? At any rate, his wife was offended by his nudely cavorting, and if his behaviour was such that the Little Woman considered it wrong, then we can assume it was at the very least not edifying. For does not the Book of Proverbs not teach us that women, albeit kept under strict regulation as to their spheres of influence, can have judgement and discernment?

I should stress that, even between man and wife, since Eden nakedness should have been strictly on a limited basis. For Adam and Eve were alone in the Garden - and yet they were already ashamed of their nakedness. So in order not to be an offence unto my eyes, Marjory has ensured that I have not seen her naked since we were married. Indeed, my concern regarding the Lord's loathing of the naked form is such that I ensure I wear a bathing costume in the bath, lest even the Divine Eye  should look upon my form and be displeased.

In short, the appointment of a Naked Bishop - and a woman at that - is just the kind of liberal, godless, pagan action I would expect from the Church of England. I am told that the Daily Mail is not specific on the circumstances under which we would expect this Naked Bishop to be naked. Which I infer to mean that she will be naked on a fairly regular basis. I suppose she will keep the rules of the Church of England with respect to liturgical wear, however. It would be entirely in keeping with the Anglican Church's mixture of heathenism and Popery for her to be fully dressed in Papistical finery for liturgical activity, and naked for weekday events.

As I say, I am not surprised. The rot started when the Puritans were excluded. Naked Bishops are just the latest inch down the Slippery Slope. Oh Cranmer, you would weep.

Lots of Little Apocalypses

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  (Luke 21)
The Book of Revelation. Much beloved of mystics, losers, dreamers, people who can't cope with the modern world and want it all to end. And I'm quite fond of it too. Isaac Newton was a big an of predicting apocalypses. He spent more time trying to work out when the End would come than doing Physics, I think it's fair to say he wasted his time. I wish he'd done more Physics. Maybe if he'd read that bit where Jesus says nobody knows the day, he wouldn't have spent all that time on it. Anyway, old Isaac reckons the world will end in 2060. Which, with current pension conditions, will be just about when I retire.

And as the evil beggars of ISIL killed a Norwegian and a Chinese hostage - as if to draw the nations of those two poor men in - and as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom works to ensure we can get our share of the bombing in, I remembered the words - as I do every few weeks if I'm honest - of Revelation 16:16: "And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon."

"They" in this context being frog-like spirits from the mouths of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet. And "them" being the kings of the earth. That's the trouble with this kind of writing. It's all about context.

This passage where Jesus talks about the End occurs in all three Synoptic Gospels. And it seems to be mixing up two events. One is the one that has happened - the Jewish Revolt which led to the Fall of Jerusalem. This happened within the lifespan of some of Jesus's hearers. And must have seemed like the actual End to a lot of them.

The other is vaguer, stranger, more pictorial. Jesus doesn't separate them - maybe, incarnate, having given up all but love - maybe he doesn't see it so clearly. He tells us that the day will come when the Son of Man will return, in clouds of glory.

There's no timescale, no calendar, no clues. And the great story of Apocalypse is - you never get any firm dates. That's maybe because the dates are unknowable. Maybe they're outside time. But because they're undatable, because they're cast in pictorial, mythical language - they're reusable. To repurpose the language of code development, they can be repurposed.

And so through the ages generations of Christians have been able to see signs of the times, lift up their heads and know the End is near. The Christians of Constantinople when it fell - they must have believed the Day was upon them. For many it was. The people who lived through the Plague that repeatedly struck - sometimes taking a third of the population - we know they did. Every time a Christian group of people suffer persecution - the Day is drawing near.

Then there are the rich, oppressing, comfortable Christians that stock up with guns and get ready for the End to come. Dunno what they think God will do for them really. Free them from their oppressors? Imagined or otherwise? And if they think the thing to do in event of Jesus's return is to head for the hills with a machine gun - what do they think Jesus is going to return as? A fur trapper? As Peter Cook said in the sketch, as his disciples went up on the hills -  the hills will be safe as houses.

I do believe that Jesus will come again. But I'm not going to predict how, and I'm not going to predict when. I believe the whole Creation is waiting to be repurposed - not going to use that word again now - recreated, renewed, resurrected. And on the grand scale of things I believe that may take longer than most who predict the end of the world are prepared to wait. And I also believe in lots of little apocalypses - not the one people are constantly ready to predict will take place next Wednesday or whenever. That whenever God's people are at a crisis - and wherever - these words of Jesus are true once again. That whenever God's people are persecuted, fleeing and threatened - then Jesus is once again drawing near.

There's something written in our hearts that keeps telling us the world is supposed to be fair. I even remember one lady saying to me, when it was diagnosed that her cancer had returned - "I suppose I must be a right evil bugger to deserve this." We ache for meaning in the things that life throws at us - even if that meaning implies we have caused our own misfortunes. "Serves 'em right", we say, when somebody we think deserves their comeuppance gets it.

Of course, this deep feeling that the world is fair is contradicted by everything we know about the world. Bad behaviour - even evil, spiteful, vicious behaviour - sometimes brings its rewards. If the world handed back what people deserved we wouldn't need police and armed forces - people would know not to be evil because they'd know the consequences. But I do believe that's the thing that is just a sign, just a clue - not a proof - that the world is designed for good. Against all sense, we believe that the world ought to be fair, if it's not. That people ought to get what they deserve, even if they don't. That a world where the best and fairest that it ever produced gets hung on a cross, is not living up to what we expect. And that's a belief that starts with the story of Adam and Eve, and goes all the way through to the Revelation of John.

The promise of Advent is that in fact this is written in our hearts. That one day the hungry will be fed forever, the lonely comforted, the sinful forgiven and the whole broken family of God will be drawn together from far and near. That beyond the endless battles, the pain and fear and woe and darkness of this world, there's a light dawning. That the world is struggling, yet pregnant with the promise of a new hope.

And we wait for the Lord to come. Not daring to guess when, and not knowing how, but believing that the work he completed on the Cross will be made clear in the earth and heavens, when we see God as he sees us, when the water of the Spirit pours out across the world as healing streams, when a cross is transformed to the Tree of Life for the healing of the nations.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Though All Hopes Fall to Dust

An Advent Poem
As a man waking in a dark night
runs to the window, and there afar 
sees the first gleam of dawn
and the morning star.

...a woman struggling, as she grows,
feels the first birth-pangs, sure, though fearing
that through more pain to come
child-dawn is nearing.

And a world grown old in sin and blood
yearns for an answer and hopes so long
though all hopes fall to dust
hears an angel song.

This post free to use Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike

It is Wrong to Shoot People in Clinics

Somebody has been arrested after killing people in a Planned Parenthood clinic in the USA.

We don't know why, as far as I'm aware. It could be because he is murderously anti-abortion. Or he could be someone whose girlfriend aborted a child and he is angry. He may be a Christian, or not. But some people have taken other people's tragedy as a chance to make snarky remarks. (It's not the original here that counts as snark - probably irony to make a point -  but you can check out the replies).

So if anyone was in doubt, I'm a Christian. And I think shooting people in Planned Parenthood clinics is wrong. God does not approve. I don't normally claim to speak for God as God is cleverer and more compassionate than me. But on this occasion I'm risking it. God gets angry when people murder other people.

As Inspiral Carpets nearly sang, "this is how it feels to be Muslim".

Friday, 27 November 2015

Don't Let's be Beastly to the Syrians

This is not a pacifist blog. I'd hope it's a pacific one however, except obviously when the Moot House dissolves in ashes. And I notice that the Labour leadership is not totally pacifist, either. The Shadow Chancellor, for example, has previously indicated he doesn't mind people bombing, for instance, the British army or shoppers. Although apparently these days he prefers throwing Chinese-made books at people.

But the pressure is on to bomb Syria. Even Hillary Benn seems to think it's a good idea. His dad would be so proud. But David Cameron is determined we should do our bit.

David Cameron was also determined to do his bit two years ago, when he wanted to bomb the other side. Or, at least, one of the other sides.

It's really complicated, as shown when Turkey (anti-ISIL) shot down a Russian (anti-ISIL) plane for allegedly straying into its airspace. Turkey doesn't only want to hit ISIL - it also keeps attacking Kurds. And it wants Assad gone. And Russia doesn't only want to bomb ISIL - it also wants to bomb the people who want Assad gone. Though it doesn't want to bomb Turkey. Not yet.

So with all this bombing going on, and Syrian airspace thick with the aviation of all nations, David Cameron thinks that there needs to be a bit more bombing. It's like, "there's enough munitions in the Syrian air to blow Raqqa into tiny pieces. Every legitimate target could have been destroyed months ago. What could possibly help now? Chocks away, Ginger! The Brits are coming!"

The only way, it seems to me, that ISIL is going to be properly driven out of Syria is by really well-equipped, well-disciplined soldiers on the ground. But Turkey wouldn't want them to be Kurds or Assad's army. And Russia wouldn't want them to be an army that would then take on Assad. Nobody wants it to be an affiliate of Al Qaeda. And the West won't put up with another round of British or American body bags returning from a foreign field that is forever Armageddon.

So chuck a few more bombs in. If there's one thing Syria can use right now, it's a few more bombs. But of course these will be British bombs. They'll make all the difference, won't they?

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Bishop of Greater London

Edit - after this post was written the Telegraph article was rewritten to remove the Bishop of Greater London and make it clear that Bp Croft thinks the "ban" is silly. There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repents or one journo that corrects a story...

Utterly intrigued by the discovery, courtesy of the Telegraph, of Jonathan Blake, "Bishop of Greater London".  Interestingly the Telegraph lists him alongside Stephen Croft, Bishop of Sheffield, as attacking the Church of England "Lord's Prayer" ad.

It says something for the religious illiteracy of the Telegraph that it takes this comment from Bp Croft:
And The Rt Rev Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield, said it was hardly surprising that the Lord’s Prayer had been banned “in the boardrooms of consumer culture” as it promoted everything global corporations were against.
as an attack on the ad, not on corporate culture. But let's leave Bp Croft aside. His point is well-made (if badly understood by the reporter, Victoria Ward, who is presumably hoping that if she writes a really good article she won't have to write in pencil any more.) And we've heard of the Bishop of Sheffield.

The Bishop of Greater London. I'd never heard of him. I mean, it doesn't sound like a proper title, like "Archdruid of Husborne Crawley", a post going back in its current form to 2000 AD and before the interruption due to the evil Celts to 4000 BC. Although I once met the Archdeacon of Charing Cross and that sounds pretty unlikely as well. Very Barchester.

What Victoria Ward fails to mention is that the Bishop of Greater London is not a Church of England or Roman Catholic bishop. He is a bishop, according to Wikipedia, of the Open Episcopal Church. And so entitled to that title. And according to their front page he is very much an action-bishop.

I don't quite understand the point the Bishop of Greater London is making in his comment on his own web site about the Lord's Prayer controversy, where he appears to be saying that identifying God with Jesus is wrong. But then he fell prey to that mistake of typing " fell pray ", so it could just be poorly wordsmithed.

So that's the Bishop of Greater London. I hear he has an Archdeacon of Fulham Broadway and a Dean of Staples Corner, and his cincture is technically called the M25, but that's just a rumour.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Richard Dawkins Commentary: the Child Jesus in the Temple

When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[Luke 2:41-49] 

Yet another young boy getting credit for his so-called "intelligence" and "originality". And what exactly was he doing, this prodigy? "Listening" to the teachers and "asking them questions". Is there anything so remarkable about that? Had he invented a new language? No. He was just using the same Aramaic words everybody else used, and re-arranging them. I hardly call that "understanding". If he were so "understanding", he would have created a new  language of his own and asked questions in that - not just copied the same old language.

And what questions was he asking? Were they important ones such as what kind of genius would popularise a meme, or had the teachers of the Law heard the terribly witty thing that Sir David Attenborough once said to him? No. Again, he was almost certainly asking questions about God. And who would be in the best position to ask searching questions about God? His Son, obviously. So in astonishing everyone with his supposed understanding of God when in fact - let us face it - he had already got all the information he needed from the Godhead Himself, Jesus was frankly cheating. His Father had already given him all the answers.

Jesus lived in the Land of Milk and Honey. Yet at no point in any of his journeys across the borders of Judea, Samaria and Phoenicia was his honey confiscated. Which is yet another blatant example of religion receiving privileges.

Somebody else said something terribly apposite about religion to me once. But she wasn't very famous, so I can't remember what it was.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Why the Widow Gave Her Mite

Thanks to the eloquent and prolific Bosco Peters, I've been fretting away about the text of the widow's mite. Bosco Peters has an interesting, challenging and, I suspect, correct view on this story.
The problem - the bit where we get it wrong - is where we break the text up into chunks rather than seeing it as a whole piece. Here it is:

The Widow’s Offering (Mark 12: NIV)
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said,“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
And, concludes the preacher, Jesus commends the widow for her whole-hearted giving. Because she alone understands that what God is doing is calling for whole-hearted sacrifice - giving all she has to the service of God. What a great example she is to us.

See, what we've done there is rip a gobbet of Scripture out of context and used it to justify what we want it to say. And the sub-headings in our Bible and our chapter divisions let us do it.
Let's take the headings and chapters out and put the context in.
As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said,“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
“Do you see all these great buildings?”replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”'
In that context, the moral isn't about whole-hearted sacrifice at all. It's about a futile act. The widow has invested her money in something that won't last. The rich men have thrown their money as well for the same lost cause, but then they can spare it. And they got the benefit of being known benefactors. They have received their reward on earth, at least.

And giving to the Temple isn't, strictly speaking, giving to God even if it were going to last. We refer to the Temple of Herod as the Second Temple but it's actually more like Temple 2(b). Herod the (so-called) Great was rebuilding the Temple to the Glory of God, and his own glory as the half-Jewish puppet king. And it was a nice little earner. The priests had the money to be proper players in the Judean power games. Until the Zealots went over the top and the roof fell in on the whole thing.
So the thing she's given her money for isn't gonna last 40 years - if she's a young widow she might even see it fall. And she's given her money because she's been conned into a corrupt scheme where the priests can wield patronage with a vicious Gentile occupying power - propping up a scheme that should, if the priests really read the prophets, be giving money to her.

The widow was conned. She should have spent her mite on a bagel. You reckon Jesus commended her? I expect he wasn't angry with her. But I bet he hated the system