Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Bring the Villages Closer Together

A recent short trip to Suffolk makes me reflect on the particular issues of the church there. Take, for instance, the "Benefice of the Saints". Which consists of:
Rumburgh with All Saints South Elmham & St Nicholas South Elmham; St James South Elmham; St Michael South Elmham; Ilketshall St John; Ilketshall St Lawrence; Ilketshall St Margaret; Flixton; Homersfield; St Margaret South Elmham; St Peter South Elmham; St Cross South Elmham.

If you're thinking South Elmham and Ilkeshall have lots of churches for two villages, this is because they aren't really villages. They're actually collections of villages, each one named after a saint.

So the church in the parish of "All Saints South Elmham & St Nicholas South Elmham" is, as you might imagine, dedicated to "St Michael and St Felix."

This is England.

Also being England, this whole patch is covered by an incumbent and one assistant, who also has two other jobs. And it's currently in vacancy. So of your mercy pray for Revd Ian Byrne, who must be shattered.

Of course the congregations in this scattering are small. Flixton, for instance, has a PCC with 3 members. And doesn't have a service this year between Bonfire Night and Christmas Eve.

Now when faced with this kind of thing, some people suggest a Minster Model. This is where the worship is based around the main church, and people are sent out - presumably on bicycles - to minister to the outlying parishes. I've never understood why this helps, or what the point is. Another solution is to close most of the churches. The churches are over-large for this age, and probably for any age - they were presumably built with money from wool, or rubber bands, or whatever that part of England made in the old days, and they were built big to the glory of God and bigger to the glory of the local squire.

But people like to have a church in the village where they live. Even if they never attend. Which leads me to my more radical suggestion.

Move all the houses closer together. Then close the churches that aren't where the houses are anymore, or sell them. The houses will be close enough together that not only will they have viable church congregations, they will also have enough people to support local schools, pubs and maybe even a shop with a sub-post-office.

You could call the clumped-together villages "towns".  I don't know why nobody has ever thought of this before.
If all the people in the graveyard rose, they still wouldn't fill the church

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Lament for the Last Bongs from Big Ben for Four Years

Hymn: "Ben" (M Jackson)

Big Ben: BONG!

MPs: We lament as we hear the last bongs from Big Ben on this last bongy day for four years.

Big Ben: BONG!

MPs: Surely our entire identity is tied up in the bonginess of these Westminster bongs.

Big Ben: BONG!

MPs: And if Big Ben bongs not, it is Health and Safety GONE MAD& © - for what is the hearing of a bunch of workmen - many of whom might not even be English - compared to our sense that there will always be an England?

Big Ben: BONG!

MPs: For if the bongs of Big Ben do not bong us out of Europe, will Brexit really be Brexit?

Big Ben: BONG!

MPs: If the 6 o'clock news on Radio 4 has just a recording, is it really the news?

Big Ben: BONG!

MPs: And if people realise that the whole Brexit exercise is a pointless exercise in failing to realise we have lost an empire and thrown away our entire purpose - will they not think we have lied to them in order to achieve a destructive, expensive, pointless exercise in vanity?

Big Ben: BONG!

MPs: Still, we stand, with heads bowed. The Empire has gone and we are just an island and a bit, on the edge of a continent, unable to accept our place in the world. Surrounded by evil foreigners.

Big Ben: BONG!

MPs: Let the French be gone - the Germans retire. Speak through recession, depression and fire... thou still small voice of ....

Big Ben: BONG!

MPS: Thou still small voice of.....

Big Ben: BONG!

Jacob Rees Mogg: Oh! There's nanny! I just need to get off for my lunch,,,

Big Ben: BONG!

Boris Johnson: Oh I say!  That lady over there is rather lovely.  I'd best get on my bike. Woof!

Big Ben: BONG!

David Davis: You know, with all the difficulty of Brexit on my shoulders, I'm starting to realise it's really difficult and sometimes I go home at night and I look at myself in the mirror and I...

Big Ben: BONG!

Jeremy Corbyn: Wasn't that..... ?

Diane Abbott: No, sounded like the right number to me.

Hymn: "Abide with me"

Crumbs for Dogs

A Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.‘ And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15.21-28)
If stories about Jesus were tweets, this might be the one that got deleted later...

Remember the other week when I was criticising a ridiculous Independent article that said the existence of Canaanite DNA proved the Bible was wrong when it said the Hebrews had killed them all? Well, here's a living, breathing Canaanite woman talking to Jesus.  Long after the Hebrews had any means of wiping them out. In the actual Bible. The one that Ian Johnston, the Independent's "science"correspondent, said was wrong because it said the Canaanites were all wiped out. If only the Independent's "science" correspondent understood the concept of research and looking for evidence.

Anyway, did I mention she's a Canaanite?

So this woman is a descendant of the race that Jesus's race set out to destroy, over 1,000 years ago. And to rub salt in, Jesus's name is the equivalent of the Hebrew "Joshua". That first Joshua - the name means "The Lord Saves" - was pretty specifically there for the Hebrews. His job, after Moses died, was simple. To go into the Promised Land and commit genocide in the name of the Lord.

In these days, we'd probably pull down his statue.

Robert Edward Lee Statue Lee Park Charlottesville
A statue that is no longer there

But since he's in the Bible we instead put him into stained glass windows.

In our defence, the vast majority of us no longer advocate wiping out other tribes as a means of consolidating power.

The vast majority, at any rate.

So the woman knows that Jesus is one of her race's historical enemies. A man who should see her as an enemy; as unclean. And she's a woman. And he's got his mates with him. A really embarrassing, really tricky situation. Because she's not going to want to go in there and ask him for a favour, is she?

But she does, because her daughter is ill. Of course she does. Which parent wouldn't?

And Jesus refers to her as a "dog".

Shocking words for us. Maybe less so for the disciples. They're good Jews, they know that the Gentiles are - if not still the enemy - at least not right. They worship strange gods. They eat the wrong things. They don't have Abraham as their ancestor. It's a working description and illustration - Jesus the Messiah has come for the Jews, God's family. Not for the others, the ones who don't even have the scriptures.

You know what dogs are like at meal times. They don't know they're different. They know everybody else is sitting round the table, and they're on the floor, but that won't stop them demanding what they want. The desire for food, in dogs, is more urgent than the fear of looking ridiculous.

And so they beg. And they scrape around hoping the kids will drop some scrap, or that dad will be sympathetic seeing those big, sad, brown, begging eyes. And so they stick at it.

And that's exactly what the woman does. With her urgent need, her refusal to give up - and her quick wit. " Even the dogs get the crumbs. And her conception of God's love is so great, she knows even the scraps of it will do for her child.

And Jesus is amazed. And Jesus responds in love. And God's love does for her what her heart's desire was. And a wall - put up a millennium earlier - is broken down.

It took a time for the message to sink in properly with the Church. And, being human, we keep forgetting it.

There is a constant temptation to think that others are not as good. That others are the enemy. That something they are; or something they do; makes them too different. We do it ourselves, in small ways. We do it instinctively. We shouldn't. Because small fears and exclusions lead to large ones.

The right-wing marchers at Charlottesville chanted "Jews will not replace us." Well, here's the news. Jews will not replace them. Jews included them. A Jew, Jesus Christ, died for them. That Jewish man is enthroned in heaven and prays for them. His Jewish mum prays for them to him. The Jews, Peter and Paul and Thomas and all the rest, spread the Good News.

And they spread the Good News of a Messiah who wasn't just for Jews. Who could heal a Canaanite child after all those long years of hatred. Who could pray for the Romans who killed him. Who reaches out his arms to all those - scattered through the world, and through all time - who will recognise in him the world's saviour and their own peace. Even for Jews. Even for Canaanites. Even for Samaritans. Even for us.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Moving the Tea Light Stand

Yes it's moved again. Yes there have been objections.

Apparently the tea light stand has been just in front of the worship focus since Queen Anne's time. If we move it then we are spitting on the graves of our ancestors, and parciculary Archdruid Elspeth, who first introduced the idea of putting small pieces of paraffin wax into aluminiu cases.

For a certain amount of perspective. I invented the Beaker Folk in 2006. Young Keith made the original tea light stand himself a couple of years later. That particular tea light stand, and eight like it, perished in assorted Moot House explosions.

The current tea light stand was made in February. Until June, it was just inside the South East Door.

I'm going to have to move it back, regardless.

It's tradition, after all.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Brucie : The Last of an Age

Archdruid: Nice to see you

All: To see you, nice.

Archdruid: What's on the doors, Young Keith?

Keith: "All flesh is as grass."

Archdruid: True, but not as cheerful as I was hoping.

Burton Dasset: Charlii, can you give us a twirl?

Charlii: Sexist.

Burton: Hnaef, can you give us a twirl?

Hnaef does a twirl

All: Lovely Hi vis!

Hnaef: Just something I picked up in Arco.

Archdruid: Life is the name of the game.

All: Good game! Good game!

Archdruid: What do points make?

All: Prizes!

Archdruid: And so we must all reach the end of the conveyor belt of life. And whether we have collected a toaster, fondue set, saucepans or a cuddly toy, we know we must lay them all down and look to the biggest prize of all. And though no-one can know the destination of any other - whether higher or lower - yet we can remember the man who made us laugh and enlivened our childhood Satuday evenings.

All: Didn't he do well!

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Liturgy of Patronising The People Getting Their A Level Results

Hymn: Another Brick in the Wall

Archdruid: Let us all humble-brag our poor educational results.

Famous Columnist: I failed all my A Levels and now I'm a Famous Columnist.

Twitter Vicar: I failed all my A Levels and now I'm a vicar on Twitter.

TV Presenter: Failed all mine and now I get to read an auto cue for a living.

Famous Brain Surgeon: I failed all my A Levels but I worked my way up via carpentry

Businessman: I failed all my A Levels and now I'm a successful businessman.

All: What about you, Eileen?

Archdruid: 4 A grades and went to Oxford. Why do you think I'm the Archdruid?

All: No. You're supposed to say you failed and it didn't matter.

Archdruid: Well of course it matters if you fail. What is this? Self-delusion day? Self-publicising day for people who got away with not trying...?

The Archdruid is dragged out of the Moot House.

Hnaef: I failed all my A Levels and...

Archdruid  [From outside] : Liar! Mmmph!

Charlii: Let us all now praise ourselves...

Hymn: School's Out

Stacey: Let us go in peace to big ourselves up.

All: Too right!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Garden Bridge : A Requiem

Hymn: Bridge over Troubled Waters

Archdruid: Ave Boris! Pontifex Minimus!

All: Is that real Latin?

Archdruid: I don't know.

Hnaef: Shouldn't that be 2nd or 3rd Declension Bor-e?

Archdruid: But how would you know that wasn't pronounced "bore?"

All: Sounds reasonable to me either way.

Archdruid: Oh, I dunno. We never did dead posh boys' languages at St Mitholmroyd's. I did Technology.

All: And even failed that.

Reading - Eccles 1

Reader:  "Vanity! Vanity...."

Archdruid: Yeah, that sums it up.

Hymn: The Eton Boating Song

Row, row, row your boat
When it's nice and sunny
You couldn't build a garden bridge
with the plebians' money.

Archdruid: Poor Boris laments and cannot be comforted.

All: His bridge is no more.

Archdruid: Where now can Joanna Lumley go to be absolutely fabulous?

All: Oh, she's got a few quid. She'll be comfortable.

Archdruid: So thank goodness Boris won't be allowed near any other vanity projects that will make us all much poorer just to bolster his ego.

All: Look, we hate to tell you this...

From afar comes the sound of treaties being torn up by a floppy-haired lecherous incompetent.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Boris Khan't : A Garden Bridge

Or a Vision in a Dream. A Fragment

In Westminster did Boris Khan't
A stately garden bridge decree:
The Thames, the muddy river, ran
Through Millwall, Barking, Dagenham
    Down to a frozen sea.
Three hundred meters in the air
were planned to thrill with flowers fair:
There would be gardens bright with planting grand,
Where blossomed many a commercially sponsored tree;
And here were Lumleys, honoured through the land,
Enjoying the privileges of chumocracy.

But oh! that deep unbridgeable chasm which yawned
Beneath the financials of this romantic venture!
And Boris Khan't, Tory, louche, mop-hair adorned
Ensuring Joanna Lumley was not scorned
Needed funding for this ludicrous adventure.
And from this river, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this City in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty funding momently was requested:
To assist which public finance was  sequestered
Like rain fell massive amounts of lolly
for the architects who designed this pointless folly:
Boris thought the cash would flow forever
for those engirdling the sacred river.
For years meandering with a mazy motion
Through city committees the planning schemes ran,
Still searching funding unmeasurable to man,
And still the Thames ran to the ocean:
And ’mid this tumult Boris did not hear
Those who said this was a bloody stupid idea.

Maximilian Kolbe /  Heather Heyer

Bracketing these two together, on the feast day of the former.

Both died because somebody else decided that some people, some lives, are worth more than others.

Did those who first supported Hitler imagine how it would pan out? They wanted to blame someone for their state of affairs. Supported the strong man who would put things right. Ended up with a Catholic priest being put to death by injection because they couldn't starve him fast enough. How, the guard that killed him might have asked, did we get from there to here?

By not recognising the humanity in others. Start with those who having nothing in common with you - once you've dehumanised them long enough, you'll soon enough not recognise it in anyone.

Same way when a bunch of child abusers can rape kids because they're not Muslims, because they're white - passing them around because they think they're worth less than their own kids.

Same way that the EDL and their friends can use those rapists to  smear an entire religion, a whole racial group. To make them somebody other, somebody less important, somebody who must be feared.

And so a racist who went on a racist march for racialist motives with people carrying Nazi flags claims he doesn't want to be called a racist. Well you  wouldn't , would you? That would imply you were the oppressor - being called that might cause a moment of self-realisation when you ask, in the manner of Mitchell and Webb, "Are we the baddies, Hank? You know, us with the swastikas and flaming torches shouting about blood, hanging out with the sort of fantasists who drive cars into innocent people?

If you don't recognise the humanity, the diverse image of God if you think that way, in people not like you - that's when you think driving cars into crowds, driving needles into priests' arms, is a reasonable way to behave. It doesn't start with murdering priests, Jews and gypsies. It starts with that suspicion that somebody is less than you - that that somebody wants your power - and that you'll support somebody who'll do something about that.

I'm not going to claim any moral equivalence between Heather Heyer and Maximilian Kolbe. Because some would object that one is better than the other, because one is a priest. And Kolbe's view of Jews has been a source of controversy in itself. But I can identify the common evil that caused their deaths - a fear of others that leads to making them less than human. As a snowball starts off downhill, and causes an avalanche, so do the smallest put-downs, the tiny fears, that lack of love turn into full-on hatred, death and oppression.

Tomorrow is the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin.  And here life turns the world's injustice on its head. If small fears and hates can turn to a terrifying oppression then here's a story where a small good thing turns to a great one - as one young woman says "yes" to hope and brings joy to a whole world, and the promise of a justice that makes tyrants and oppressors fear. 

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his humble servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed,
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear Him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.