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Thursday, 29 January 2015

Things that can be Weaponised

Flower arranging tools
Grave digging equipment
Musical instruments
Boiled sweets (if you have a gallery)
Hat pins
Liturgical Dancing
Coffee rotas
17th Century English
Children's activities
The Past
Organisational Change
Former pastors

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Reimagining the Church for a New Generation

That was a challenging time. We booked a Mini-Moot to discuss our vision for the church of the future.

This is key, bleeding-edge stuff. In a world where connection is more important than linear logic, where community is being rediscovered and restructured - how do we reconfigure the Gospel? We have to be bold - to break new ground - to pretend to see the future.

So we threw around some radical ideas. The challenge of the Millennials - the need for rebooting Gen X as the dreamers and visionaries instead of the embittered, cynical rebels. The need to be relevant to life on the street, to the places where it's happening. The old binary ways are melting - the new world is one of configurable identity; constant partial belonging; a new world where propositional language is replaced by prepositional attitudes.

So it was a hard time, a fun time, a visionary time. And I think we've got the arrangement of the seats about right in the end.

Election Leaders' Debate

I would like to thank David Cameron for insisting that I have to be involved in the election leaders' debate or he won't take part.

It is true that Beaker Britain, with tea lights available free on the NHS, Enya played through speakers on every corner, and much-needed investment in the doily industry, would be a happy and prosperous place.

But I feel that combining politics and religion only ever causes trouble. Not that politicians should not be guided by their own and their constituents' consciences - but mandatory Pouring out of Beakers strikes me as an assault on human rights. And the example of Tony Blair - bombing Iraq on spurious grounds and then nipping off to Catholicism once it wasn't expedient to be an Anglican - is ever before me.

So thanks, Dave, but you'll just have to share the debating platform with the Greens, Plaid, Monster Raving Loonies and Wake up Wokingham parties. This Archdruid's not for standing.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

A Perfect Day on Another Planet

This planet, if you were anywhere near it, would surely have to be one of the most gorgeous things you could see. So big that if it were our local Saturn, you could see the rings - bigger than full moon - in our Earth's night sky.

And yet this planet, wondrous as it is, is nothing compared the human mind - capable of conceiving of the tools to find this planet, of understanding the gravitational rule that holds the rings in place. Capable of seeing, calculating and - of all things - wondering.

A single human being is more complex, brilliant and precious than that whole planet - should it last a trillion years. Which makes it all the more remarkable than anyone should treat not just one, but six million, as no more than a logistical problem - a waste disposal issue. And from Auschwitz to Mosul, and every genocide in history, evil men have managed to persuade others that someone being different is a capital offence. That some heritage, or some belief, makes the other disposable. That it's a good option, when you disagree with someone, to kill them.

It's always a perfect day, on that planet around a far-off sun. Nothing every goes wrong, nobody ever dies. It just hangs there, lovely as it basks in its star's light. And nothing ever happens. There's no fear, no danger, no desire, no hope.

I look at the heavens you made with your hands.
    I see the moon and the stars you created.
And I wonder, “Why are people so important to you?
    Why do you even think about them?
Why do you care so much about humans?
    Why do you even notice them?”
But you made them almost like gods
    and crowned them with glory and honor.....
Lord our Lord, your name is the most wonderful name in all the earth!  [Psalm 8]

Monday, 26 January 2015

A Traditionalist in Name Only

So the bloke who heckled the consecration of Libby Lane turns out to be serial moaner Revd Paul Williamson, of St George's Hanworth.

Well, I went and had a look at St George's website, and I was aghast. Have a look:

Comic Sans. I ask you. 

Call themselves traditionalists? Not in my name. 

A Dark Day for the Church of England

I'm shocked by the Church of England's decision today. A terrible breach with the universal Church and a sign that their slide into liberal, trendy moral relativism continues apace.

To point out the shocking break with tradition we have seen today:
- Jesus never did this
- The Early Fathers would never have imagined such a thing
- Even Luther and Calvin, while wrecking so many traditions, never dreamed of it.

So why does the Church of England think it has the right to consecrate a Manchester United fan as a bishop? We're going to hell in a handcart. No wonder that bloke heckled.

Robert Bloody Burns

Now, I don't have anything against the poet Burns. I would like to stress that.

And I don't have any problem with Scottish people - or anybody else - liking him. And I'm happy with Scottish people being proud of him. A fun poet, a good lad. No doubt about it. Good old Robert Burns. Not Rab, nobody called him Rab. Not without him writing something viciously satirical about them.

But why are pubs in England celebrating him? I mean, he wasn't English. He wrote in the Scots dialect. Why would an English pub-owner put on an evening of Scottish dining in honour of some Scottish poet nobody in the pub has actually read? After all, we don't celebrate Voltaire Day, or Mark Twain fortnight.

I think it's that weird English thing where English people think they're the norm, while everybody else is rustic, interesting, ethnic and exotic. And it's not good enough. Wake up England! You have a Ptolemaic conception of England. We're all Copernicans now. England is just a place. A nice, funny, ironic place with a climate that is, on the whole, about as friendly as you get in this random world. But still just a place. Come on England! Our own poets and culture are worthy of celebration as well.

For starters, I propose we introduce Thomas Hardy Day.

On Thomas Hardy Day (2 June) we will drink West Country Cider. We will eat fried lights, and beef sandwiches without a plate. We will drop our glasses under waterfalls. And we will consider the cursed, futile nature of existence as we shake our fists at the empty sky.

Then we will read the Thomas Hardy poem, "Hap".

If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love's loss is my hate's profiting!”

Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so.   How arrives it joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
—Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan. . . .
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

Blimey. Tell you what, anyone fancy some haggis and a drop of whisky? Good old Rab Burns, eh? Hoots!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

They Flog Bloggers, Don't They?

We're not flying any flags at half mast for King Abdullah. I won't go so far as to say we went out and bought a flag specially so as not to fly it at half mast. And of course one prays that all those who die will, through God's grace, find their way to the eternal Kingdom. But the irony of Westminster Abbey flying a flag at half mast for a monarch who would have closed it down if it were in his country - and would have had the Canon Steward cover herself up or face a flogging - and told her not to bother trying to drive herself home - well, frankly, who needs satire?

The spokesperson for the Abbey says
“Nor would it have done anything to support the desperately oppressed Christian communities of the Middle East for whom we pray constantly and publicly.”
Which, by a remarkable coincidence, is exactly the same as what the late King Abdullah has done for the oppressed Christian communities of the Middle East. Although, to be fair, he did rule a country where conversion was punishable by death, and churches were illegal. But still, tact in all things, eg?

Saudi isn't just a nasty country to Christians, of course. Women who are raped, if they report it, are in severe danger of being sentenced to flogged for adultery. King Abdullah did, however, commute sentences of crucifixion to beheading. The old wet liberal.

But just as Abdullah was on his deathbed, the attention of many was drawn to the blogger, Raif Badawi, and his horrific sentence. They've currently suspended the flogging until he gets well enough to be flogged some more. Which I suppose is a sort of kindness.

And Raif Badawi draws me to the Conversion of Paul. Saul, as he was known before adopting his new first name, was no stranger to the arts of brutal execution. Revelled in them. Got permission to wander freelance round the Middle East trying to murder Christians. But then, as he's wandering along:
" Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."
It's that identification of Jesus with the persecuted Church. Jesus also tells us of a judgement where it's discovered that however you treat the weak, the poor, the imprisoned - that's how you have treated Jesus. And the interesting thing is that, in that judgement, it doesn't seem to matter what your religion is, or what you believed, whether you were a Semi-Pelagian, Muslim or worshipper of Native American spirits - or that of those you met. It tells us that you responded to Jesus through the way you treated those weaker than you - because Jesus was those people. A terrifying thought to those of us who idle our winter days by the fire knowing there are homeless on the streets of London.

But what if that means that the Jesus who was himself brutally flogged - so much so that it reduced the time it took for him to die on a cross from days to a few hours - what does it mean if somebody responsible for a judicial flogging on political/religious grounds (basically, oppression) gets to the big throne at the End of Days, and sees Raif Badawi sitting there on the throne? Doesn't this mean that our tortured, brutalised, humiliated King of Kings is in everyone who is unjustly punished and cruelly treated, from Abel son of Adam to St Stephen to Jan Huss to the 6 Million of the Holocaust to Maximilian Kolbe to Aung San Suu Kyi to the raped Bosnian Muslim women to - it would now appear - Haruna Yukawa?

Paul chose to follow the One he'd persecuted. He lived like him, suffered like him, and died for him. Christians and others across the world - including Jews, atheists and Muslims - suffer for opposing totalitarian and intolerant regimes and societies. Mostly Christians, at the moment, but that's been different in the past.

Maybe when we all get to that judgement seat, we'll all see those persecuted of the world sat there. And we'll all be challenged - were we active oppressors, were we quietly compliant? Did we kick up a fuss? Did we write letters, complain, boycott? Did we use the economic and political power we had, or did we just keep quiet, and grateful for the military support or the oil?

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Will we know him, when we see him?

Friday, 23 January 2015

Commination Against the Person Who Pinched the Milk

As the hart panted for the water so I longed for a cup of tea.
And so I went unto the fridge to get a drop of milk.
For the tea is not Earl Grey, which is palatable without a drop of cow-juice.
Indeed it is a Value Brand which was purchased when we ran out
and we had to get to a shop that was open.
And now what do I find?
In the space where the milk bottle was
is just an empty space
like in the Phil Collins song "Against All Odds"
like unto the plains of Gilyead
where the fat cows of Bashan roam
and yet it is a land only of honey and no milk
and putting the honey in cheap tea
is like unto putting a golden ring in a bull's nose
though very tasteful to sweeten a nice Lapsang Souchong.

And so my wrath will burn fierce
against the one who stole the last of the milk.
In misery shall I put some powdered milk in the tea
which was bought in 1996 when I thought it might be handy.
May the one who pinched the last of the milk find it goes sour in their mouth.
May they develop a previously unsuspected lactose intolerance.
May they go around for the rest of the day with the taste of cottage cheese in their mouth.
And may the sugar they no doubt put into the tea turn out to be salt.
May the caffeine of their cheap tea bags keep them awake all night
and may their dreams be of Jimmy Carr and Brentford Nylons ads from the 1970s.

Oh hang on a minute.
No, I used the last of the milk myself an hour ago, when I made that milky coffee.
Forget I said anything.