Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Hearts on Fire

Apologies to the group of newcomers who turned up to this lunchtime's service and were clearly disappointed.

Obviously a problem with spell checking when Burton produced the poster.

That was supposed to be "Informal Worship." Informal. Not "Infernal".

Sunday, 21 May 2017

An Unknown God

Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.”
‘Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ (Acts 17.22-31)
Nothing I like better, I'm afraid, that some one with a career in sales or a degree in media telling me, on the basis of my Archdruical pointy hat, that science has disproved religion. I like to dig out the handbag my Oxford degree in Chemistry (special subject Quantum Chemistry, since you ask) and say "well I'm not sure I agree." They won't be bright enough to be worth arguing with, after all. Not because of their degree or their careers - after all, Trump is basically in sales and he's done all right - but because their foolish question has shown up their uncritical acceptance of third-hand arguments.

Of course I don't just leave them empty-handed. Reaching into the special "other" section in my handbag, I pull out a sachet of instant "spaghetti monster" pasta bolognaise, squeeze it out into their hand, and say "behold your noodly god."

Their reasoning hasn't reached as far as Paul, off the cuff, in Athens 2,000 years ago. They deserve nothing better than being patronised and a handful of mince.

What's one great thing that the existence of religions, of science, of magic teach us? Even the existence of magical thinking? It's that human beings constantly look for explanations and meaning. In a wild world, we want to know how and why things happen, and ideally what will happen next.

And so when the wind blows through the trees and the trees move - the Greek thinks of Aeolus, sending the breezes in the forms of horses. The Christian is reminded of the Spirit of God, who breathes on the waters of creation and breathes life into every human. And the meteorologist tells us about high and low pressure areas, then tells us there certainly won't be a hurricane.

Paul is in Athens and the Greeks are the number one searchers for meaning. They have scientists. They have mathematicians. They have many schools of philosophers - at least one of which is already denying the gods exist. They have hundreds of gods - big gods, small gods, household gods, tree-gods, lake-gods. As if they didn't have enough gods they would, when encountering other nations, find out about their gods - sometimes they would work out which of their own gods they equated to. Sometimes they would just add them in. That's the great thing about polytheist paganism - always room for one more up top.

So Athens is as littered with shrines as Central London is with posters advertising leftwing rallies.

And Paul starts with praise - and never slips into anything other than a reasonable discussion. "I see you are very religious" - ironic, though, as the people of the Areopagus - of Mars Hill - are inclined to sit around dispassionately discussing the latest new religious idea.

They must be so religious, they even worship the god they don't know. They're probably thinking that's just the sort of god you don't want to get all upset with you - one you don't know anything about. How will that god respond if you don't make him or her offerings? You don't know. That's the problem with unknown gods.  So up goes another altar.

Paul says - let me tell you about the unknown god. He's not so unknown to the Jews. In fact, he's even told us hims name.  Though we cant say it....
By Юрий Рудницкий - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

He's the God who made the heaven and the earth - and all the things you ascribe to your gods - the cycles of the seasons, the wildness of the sea, the wind - they all ultimately go back to him.  In fact - all your gods are just ways of coming to a limited understanding of what God is like - but full marks for trying. Your greatest god of all - Zeuss - one of your poets said "in him we live and move and have our being". And in doing that, your poet was actually managing to understand what the true God is like. God is not a separate god, like an outsized human being, like your gods. He doesn't live on a mountain, though we say the lightning comes from him as it does from Zeuss. Because even the mountains, the lightning, the heavens and the earth come from him and totally depend on him at all times.

This is why no scientific evidence could ever be found for God, why no scientific experiment could ever reveal God. Because "in him we live and move and have our being" - even our science depends totally on God.

But, says Paul - there's more. The Greek gods occasionally came to earth.  This normally happened when Zeuss was full of the joys of spring and decided he wanted to become the father of a few more demigods. But it happened. Well, this God I am telling you also came to visit. You won't find God in a stone statue, in a bronze idol - you won't trap God's essence in a stream or a hill or a tree or all the other places you look for gods. The true God came to earth as a human being - died - and God raised him from the dead. Now you've got a short time to decide whether this is the true God or not. Because he's coming back.

Presented with this, we know, the Greeks of the Areopagus said "thanks, that's very interesting.  We'll have a good think."

But it's a challenge for us today. Where do we put our worship? Into the society we live in - into political creeds - into our own pleasure, our own belongings, our own self-image? Do we create our own unknown gods - because we don't know that they are gods? Or do we put all our hope in the God who made everything, in whom we live and move and have our being - who does not exist just as a philosophical concept or a reason to sing pretty hymns and burn incense, but exists as the force behind the universe, and as the man who died on a cross to show us what he's like?

That unknown God has made himself known. If we gaze on Jesus, we will know him more and more.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Fear of Hell Fire

I was just thinking back to the days before I became a Christian.

Now, it's a recorded fact of parish history that my family were Extremely Primitive Methodists.  These faithful people rejected all use of artificial heating and lighting during worship. They were a devout folk, who suffered terribly from chilblains. Especially in the cold winter of 1962-3, when they were wiped out during a particularly long sermon.

My parents were blessed to be away that particular week. Returning to find that Bogwulf Chapel was full of dead Wesleyans, they resolved not to bring their children up in any faith at all. They figured this would increase our chances of not dying in cold churches.

As a result, my siblings and I were brought up with no identifiable religion. Sure, my grandfather was a great fan of "Songs of Praise" - at least until that awful accident involving the hay bailer that meant my father inherited the Big House. But I was given an upbringing free from dogma and certainty. I received my degree in Chemistry, and was prepared for a life in the secular world.

But then, in my early 20s, I was presented with an unexpected outlook on life. That the reliable, consistent world I had always believed in was underpinned with a reliable, consistent Deity in whom "we live and move and have our being." That this universe, which has produced the amazing attribute of creatures with personalities, might actually have been brought into being by person or persons. Who were / was deeply involved in my life - interested in, and loved, me.

I was drawn by love and grace.  I wasn't terrified by Hell. Wasn't running from sin. Not seeking to flee the fear of the wrath to come.

Oh no.  The Church had to tell me about all that, after I became a Christian.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Politicians Who Have Been Treated Nearly as Unfairly as Donald Trump

Since nobody has suffered worse than Donny, how about the people who got close...


  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Sir Thomas More
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Aung San Suu Kyi
  • Joan of Arc
  • Harry Wu
  • Lady Jane Grey
  • Benedicto Kiwanuka
  • Jo Cox
  • Alexander Dubček
  • Leon Trotsky
  • Olaf Palme
  • Mohammad Najibullah

Still, people have been mean to Donald Trump.  Worse all round.

All Religions and Nones

Looking at the rise of the "nones" - those of no religion - and seeing a real marketing - sorry, mission - opportunity.

I suspect the nones phenomenon will be temporary. Firstly because nonreligious people tend to breed less than religious ones. But also because we are entering strange days worldwide. And dark, uncertain times create a need for certainty, a narrative that all will be OK. And the neoliberal faith that told us that everything was brilliant has been convincingly shown to be untrue.

Obviously there will always be people that put their faith in an allegedly perfect old bloke with a beard who will look after us all.  But frankly I don't believe Jeremy Corbyn will get elected as PM. So the 400 people who follow him around will have to find another Messiah soon. That shouldn't be a problem to them. They've followed a few.

So, to step into this spiritual void, I'm creating the Beaker Nones Retreat. The perfect pilgrimage for people of all religions and nones.

DAY 1

12 noon - welcome and lunch

2 pm - a nice walk in the countryside (nymphs please stay in the steam. No point sowing doubt so early.)

4 pm - afternoon tea and cakes

5 pm - "Enya in the Afternoon" with joss sticks and tea lights

6.30 pm - Supper

8 pm - Workshop - "What's it all about?"

9.30 - Bar (donations only - no licence)

DAY 2

8 am - "Thought for the Day" from the Cat's Book of Wisdom

8.30 am - Breakfast

9 am - The Waterboys: Seeing the whole of the Moon

11 am - Cafe Non-church  (coffee in the Beaker Barista Bar, where we've decked a coffee shop out with pews for that traditional feel)

11 am - for the kids - Messy Non-Church (drawing, basically)

1 pm - Lunch

2.30 pm - Ain't Science Great? A look at the wonders of the universe in such a way we all go "Woo!" But without any woo.

4 pm - Herbal Tea. It tastes vile, but you feel good.

5 pm - A walk in the Woods. (Dryads please confine yourselves to the trees. Don't want to shake anyone's faith.)

6 pm - Myth, Magick, Law Codes, History, Biography - how to tell the difference. And still make category errors.

7 pm - Supper

8 pm onwards - The Great Silence. As everyone sneaks off to the pub.

DAY 3

8 am - Morning Rituals: Shaking heads sadly, muttering about last night, looking sheepish

9 am - Breakfast-  Muesli. It's like Calvinism but without the happy bit for some at the end.

10 am - A Few Final Thoughts-  Hnaef tells us all about the brilliant Red Hat he got in America.

11 am - Tennis. Nobody understands the rules and nobody knows how to do it. Except posh people. Just like the Church of England, thinking about it.

1 pm - Lunch and Departure to the real world.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Why is this Not News?

I dunno.  We had 57 people at yesterday's Nylon Night Shirt Nocturne service.

Not a thing on the Mainstream Media.  Anybody would think they're trying to keep nylon-based alt:liturgy services out of the news.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Service for the Last Game at White Hart Lane

Archdruid: The last game at White Hart Lane.

All: Man Utd's last game at White Hart Lane.

Archdruid: Rooney's last game at White Hart Lane.

All: Harry Kane's last goal at White Hart Lane.

Archdruid: The last football game last game at White Hart Lane.

All: Pochettino's last game at White Hart Lane.

Archdruid: Sky Sports' last game at White Hart Lane.

All: Gary Neville's last commentary from White Hart Lane.

Archdruid: Spurs' last home game at White Hart Lane.

All: The last game in North London at White Hart Lane.

Archdruid: The Bishop of Willesden's last game at White Hart Lane.

All: His last Twitter complaint from the last game at White Hart Lane.

Archdruid: The last kick off at White Hart Lane.

All: Lloris's last save at White Hart Lane.

Archdruid: The last throw in at White Hart Lane.

All: The last goal at White Hart Lane.

Archdruid: The last free kick at White Hart Lane.

All: The last corner kick at White Hart Lane..

Archdruid: The last final game of the season at White Hart Lane.

All: The last final whistle at White Hart Lane.

Archdruid: The final sulk from Mourinho at White Hart Lane.

Burton Dasset: What is White Hart Lane?


(Inspired by the relentless reminders of Sky Sports)

Saturday, 13 May 2017

1970s Week of Prayer

Reflecting the determination of both the Labour and Conservative Parties to return us to different aspects of the 1970s, we are celebrating a 70s Week of Prayer.

In our "exciting" 70s worship, we will sing exclusively from contemporary Christian music of the 1970s. The sermons will feature all the most contemporary theological themes - that God is dead, that the Bible was made up, that heaven, hell and judgement don't exist and that we should have a deep interest in the "true" historical Jesus never really existed.

Remarkably, the mixture of Sounds of Living Waters, Timothy Dudley-Smith and Sydney Carter that we will be using for our worship this week is exactly the same as that found when churches in 2017 decide they need to sing something "modern".

The "Punk Eucharist" on Sunday will be an attempt to attract the "Youth" which will utterly fail, as Hnaef, resplendent in a red hat and safety pins, tells everybody how hip he is. NB no spitting.

After each service, we will discover that the selection of Austin and Hillman cars in which people have driven to Church will not start, and hold an Act of Jump-Starts in the car park.

On Monday, our Liturgy of Power Cuts will include the lighting of candles and tipping of rubbish in the street.

Monday will also be the last day of our 70s Worship Theme Week.  That's right. It's a three day week.


Thursday, 11 May 2017

Service for the First Day of Hayfever

Archdruid: Peace be... Atchoo!

All: And also Atchoo..

Hymn: Here Comes the Sun

Archdruid: Hay, hay whadya say?

All: Pollen blew your mind away.

Archdruid: Atchoo!

All: And Atchoo too.

Reading:

All flesh is like grass
But not all flesh likes grass.
Let righteousness flow like streams of tears
Flowing down the face of the Archdruid.
Let our love burn as hot
As the irritation in her eyes.
Let us be as pollen to the world
In principle a good thing, but irritating to everyone we encounter.

The Offering of Useless Folk Remedies

Archdruid: Local honey! Lovely. I'll put it on my toast. It's useless for hay fever obviously.

Richard Dawkins: Did someone mention honey?

All: Leave it, Richard. That's all in the past.

Archdruid: Atchoo!

All: And Atchoo too!

Hymn: All things blight and miserable, all pollen mean and small.

Blessing

Archdruid: Atchoo!

All: Bless you!