Breaking news...

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Encouraging Spontaneous Worship

I'd like to thank Grewzum for last night' s "meditation on pebbles".

During the meditation, my thoughts went back to the early days of the Beaker Folk. How we rejoiced in our discovery of alternative worship!  No longer shackled to the hymn sandwich, or even to traditional liturgy we were free - free to worship in spirit and truth, with creativity and devoutness unfettered by the chains with which other fellowships bound themselves. Even Tradition is no dead hand, if you can make your own tradition up.

That first year, it was all pretty much contemplation of pebbles. First there was regarding their beauty, their markings, their solidity - often, when someone had been to the seaside, their roundness, which so beautifully captured the concept of God having the whole world in God's hands.

Then in the autumn we were able to switch to conkers and hazelnuts - with appropriate health warnings - and then someone thought of marbles. But still, albeit they brought other connotations - of the natural world, or of childhood - they were pretty much pebble substitutes.

Then after twelve months of holding stones, comparing their weight to that of our sins and dropping them in bowls of water as prayers - for pebbles are infinitely flexible -  we figured it was all getting a bit samey. So we agreed to try some spontaneous worship. Worship back to basics. After all, we figured, there was no mention of stones in worship in the New Testament. But loads of references that could imply spontaneity, if you worked hard enough on your exegesis.

That first week, we discovered that spontaneity isn't necessarily the best approach for musicians. It wasn't so much that a group of reasonably talented musicians couldn't busk whatever the worship leaders unexpectedly decided to sing. Given a comprehensive set of music books, and at least agreement on the key and who was leading in, they could probably have coped with most stuff, fairly passably. Up to that memorable day when Herrreerr said "and now I feel God is calling us to sing the Lacrymosa from Berlioz's Requiem.  And it wasn't the long succession of burned-out Data Projector operators, who sometimes found themselves speed-typing songs that were in no known collection.

No, the real problem was the people who announced - reasonably, given the basic premise that God would bless our spontaneous, unplanned oblations - that they were just going to rock up and play instruments they had never learnt.

After that first week - that dreadful first week!  Who can forget the anguished scream of those bagpipes when I turned the blow torch on them. After that first week, we had to introduce the rule that you could only spontaneously ask for a song if it was in one of the 45 specified music books. And all wannabe musicians had to satisfy basic competency tests. Though somehow Nordix had discovered three chords that first week, and has been the backbone of the music group ever since. Though after week 3, we bought him a capo. Albeit that damaged what had been promising sales of tight trousers in the Beaker Bazaar.

Later on, we had to restrict spontaneity in other ways. After Gesmyn prayed the same spontaneous prayer every week for a month - and we discovered the people she was praying for didn't even have the conditions she was listing - we had to get spontaneous prayers written down and vetted a week in advance. This was a great relief to Burton Dasset, mind. He had absolutely no idea how he came to get pregnant, when Gesmyn's prayers alerted to his delicate condition.

Then we had to crack down on spontaneous Scripture readings, especially by people who didn't have Bibles with them. They were just frequently inaccurate. That whole Genesis reading where Bizmere mentioned the people laughing at Noah, the failure of the unicorns to show up, the sad demise of the trilobites (poisoned by an influx of fresh water, apparently) and the laying down of the Jurassic sediments was probably the worst. Though worryingly I was the only one who noticed. Of course the unicorns weren't left behind - they're just the King James word for rhinos.

So in the end we realised that the best bet was to write down absolutely everything people had to say spontaneously. And that was how we developed the Beaker Common Prayer.

And then after outbreaks of worship focuses that included giant hogweed (so we could contemplate God's wonders and yet awesome terror) and the day Chasleigh invited everyone to bring their own badger, we decided to get q bit of a grip on creative liturgy as well. And it's pretty well been pebbles 'n' tea lights all the way down since then.

Creativity and spontaneity are great. We embrace them whole-heartedly. You've just got to get them under control.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Pulling Camels Through the Needle

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom” (Mark 10:25)
You know, I'm not sure this is as scary for rich people as you might imagine. After all, surely the whole point of being rich is you can afford to buy stuff. Like, for instance, very large needles. And, if needed, you could pay some geneticists to develop a line of dwarf camels.I've got visions of the Acme Large Needles company springing up next to the Dwarf Dromedary Development Department on  the Oxford Science Park.

It's a good image, though - a camel through the eye of a needle. Tricky at the time. Presumably would have given the hearers a bit of a laugh. Although, in the case of the richer hearers, it might have been a thoughtful kind of laugh.

This whole passage - with the readings before it - seem to be about spiritual priorities. In the previous reading, they're bringing babies to Jesus and he is blessing them rather than looking after the important people and here we've got a very rich man coming up and saying - what do I need to do to receive eternal life?

And eternal life - life with God, forever - if you believe in that, it must be the most important thing in the world. It must outweigh all other things you should want. And the man who comes to Jesus - he's certainly religious enough, as we'd see it. He doesn't break the commandments. And maybe he's hoping that Jesus will say "you're cool then. You've passed your spiritual health check. Keep it up and you'll be there. Well done you."

But Jesus does nothing of the sort. He says, give away everything you have - and follow me. And the man goes away, broken. He realises that he can't do this. Because he loves his money more than he wants eternal life.

The good news for you is, God doesn't necessarily want you to give up all your money. Of course, the bad news is that I don't know how rich you are - or how much you love the stuff. The other bad news is that this might be because there is something else - your friends, your lifestyle, your telly or your public image - that you love too much, instead.

But there's good news at the end. And if the bad news in this story came from Jesus being kind - the good news comes from what sounds like a put-down to Peter. Peter rushes up and says - well look at us - we've given up everything to follow youi.

And it's like Peter is putting his good work up against the rich man's - sure he keeps the commandments but he won't give up his money. Look at me, Lord! I've given up everything! Not strictly true as it happens - we find out at the end of John's Gospel that they still have access to the odd fishing boat. And we find out from Paul that Peter is going around on missionary journeys with his wife. Peter's wife, that is. Not Paul's. We don't know where Paul's wife got to.

And Jesus kind of puts him down - yeah, yeah, yeah - give up family and farms and you'll get them back. But that's not important, just giving random stuff up -that's not what brings you eternal life. You can't earn it, Peter, any more than the rich man. You'll get it all back. But the important thing is that you do it for me and the Gospel.

And Jesus concludes by saying the first will be last, and the last first. The ones who thought that getting to heaven would be a pushover - the powerful, the respectable, the rich, the tidy - they're the ones that will have the trouble being in God's kingdom. They've got too much they want to hang onto here. But the last - the people who hang on lightly to what this world offers, the ones who don't value their belongings or their images - the ones who maybe aren't proud of themselves - they're the ones who can find it easy to follow Jesus, to hear a Good News that God is a welcoming, loving God - because they don't have much to weigh them down.

Quick quote, apparently from Bishop Desmond Tutu. Though I follow Mark Twain's motto, "don't trust anything you read on the Internet." Still - "God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low." I think that's pretty good news for all of us. It's not about showing you've got a tick list of all the things you've got right, it's not about earning your way into heaven. It's about loving God more than anything else - and knowing that God loves you even better than that.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Predicting Sexual Orientation 95% Accurately

Interesting study into a combination of genes that seem collectively to predispose to homosexuality (or not) in men. Apparently this leads to an algorithm with a 67% chance of predicting sexual orientation.

Trouble is, this kind of science reporting could lead to some fool developing an in utero test so as to offer selective abortion. You may think it would be outrageous but society seems to tolerate it for gender.

I should point out that there is a method that gives a 95% success rate in predicting sexual orientation. Which is to assume people are straight. I'm not advocating this, merely pointing out that the way society has thought since the Old Testament is actually more accurate than cutting-edge genetic science. I probably could think of something more sociological and progressive to use for a bit of satire, but last night's "Have I Got News for You" has convinced me that satire is dead.

Nativity of Kirsty MacColl (1959)

I'm an autumn girl, flying over London 
With the trees on fire it looks like home
I’m an autumn girl on the endless search for summer 
Cause I need some love to heat my frozen bones.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Life From Mars

Inspired by the latest failed apocalypse, I thought I'd read "War of the Worlds". I've not really paid any interest to it since I was Dancer #3 in the production of the musical version, at St Mitholmroyd's School for the Children of Distressed Gentlefolk. Anyone there may remember that Hayley (Dancer #2) and Tracey (Dancer #1) had to be dragged off-stage after spending five minutes waiting to start dancing while under the level of the dry ice smoke. There were questions about how it happened that the stage curtain failed, at that point, in that way. All I will say is that nobody ever proved I was near the handle at the time it was apparently sawn off with a hacksaw. And where would I have hidden a hacksaw? The answer, in a 1983 dance-based scenario, could well be in my leggings. I imagine.

In any case. I had forgotten to just what a degree War of the Worlds is set in the southern Home Counties. by a third of the way through, the Martians have already laid waste to Woking, Byfleet, Weybridge and Guildford. Which is a terrible experience for the people who lived there. And not great news for Waitrose.

"We reckon them big eggs have come from Sainsbury's"

Image from Wikimedia commons

National Poetry Day

For chatting online nothing's fitter
Than spending an hour on Twitter
There may be a connection,
But since the Election
All the Socialists seem rather bitter.

The Apocalypse Will be Televised

And so another Apocalypse goes by and we're all still here. My personal theory is that we won't know which is the real one until Fox announces it's signed for the rights.

But you know whom I feel sorry for? It's the young woman in the picture in the Independent, wearing a T-shirt that reads "King Jesus Returns, May 11 2011. I mean, Young Keith is going around proudly wearing his Fu Fighters " Broken Leg Tour" T-shirt from the Bowl. And in years too come he'll be even prouder, as it gets more tatty, to wear it at other gigs.

But a T-shirt declaring the end of the world for a date in the past? I mean, you can't just rock up to the next forecast Apocalypse saying "yeah, I followed the return of King Jesus before it got trendy."

So I'm producing the "Apocalypse Tour" souvenir T-shirt. With every predicted end of the world, up to "E-Bible Fellowship, October 7 2015. Including " Halley's Comet, 1066; "Great Fire of London, 1966" and "Syria - arrangements to be announced shortly."

So get your Beaker Apocalypse Tour T-shirts now.

Limited offer while stocks last. When we're gone, we're gone.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Bitter-Sweet Taste of a Bake-off Final

Ah, a Great British Bake-off final. It leaves me with mixed emotions.

Obviously, it means that Beaker People will be insisting on watching Bake Off in the Room of Viewing tonight. Driving me out to watch the 48" telly in my room or possibly, in desperation, do some kind of religion.

And yet, and yet, there's another way of viewing this.

No more Bake Off after today!

There's a little piece of the apple of joy at the soggy bottom of the stodgiest cake.

Death of Edgar Allan Poe

If anyone has seen Mr Reynolds can they please let me know?

To mark the death of Edgar Allan Poe we will be releasing 166 ravens. In accordance with the Streeb-Greebling liturgy, we are supposed to get them to fly underwater. But after last year's disaster, we decided "never more." We'll let them out in the open air this year.