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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Can-Utility and the Coastliners - To Dust You Will Return

An immaculately early-Genesis track. Lots of fairly random organ solo, fair amount of violining leader guitar. And of course a story.

"The waves surround the sinking throne
Singing "Crown him, crown him,"
'Those who love
our majesty
show themselves!'
All bent their knees."

The story of Cnut at its prog-rockest.

King Cnut of England, Norway and Denmark. A North Sea emperor. But he, the story goes, got sick and tired of the sycophancy of his - OK, let's name then - sycophants. The exploit down by the sea was Cnut's attempt at satire. "All you fools tell me I'm so great - but I can't even turn the waves back."

And so Cnut could have gone down in the annals of people who are famous for being humble. But if that were the plan - and I'm not saying it were - then it failed.


How is Cnut known in popular mythology? As the fool who thought he could turn back the tide. His attempt to show humility has been turned into a story of vainglory. Not even as successful as Ozymandius, he has merely left us a story of foolishness and an anagram joke - whose variety apparently never fails - for the people who comment on Guardian web pages.

Of such is posterity. We cannot protect our "legacy" - think Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, tarnished as war criminal and bigot-hunter. Edward Heath - whose crimes in joining Europe, abolishing Huntingdonshire and giving parts of West Yorkshire to Oldham were heinous enough - is now remembered on the basis of unprovable post-mortem allegations. John Major - who never did much beyond the Cones Hotline - is remembered for a liaison with the Egg-woman. And he, Blair and Brown are still with us and protected by the libel laws.

Better to forget your legacy, mortals all. Love God, love your neighbour, and enjoy your life among this world of vanity. For dust you are, and to dust you will return. And your memory could well be worse.

"The Carnival is Over" - the Book that Tears the Clown Union Apart

The annual Clown Service has taken place at Holy Trinity, Dalston. Each year at a different church they hold this celebration of a tradition of unity, slapstick and being unable to get out of the car park. Where the Church Wardens struggle to work out who are the clowns and who are the clergy - the same as they do the rest of the year.

And yet the number of self-identifying clowns has fallen. There has been a long decline since the Victorian heyday of confidence and expansion, when clowns were sent to Africa and the big circuses opened enormous Big Tops in the new London suburbs. And over the last 20 years the number of people saying they find clowns "irrelevant",  "scary" or "boring" has risen sharply.

Now a new book - "The Carnival is Over: Slapstick in an Unfunny World" examines the causes of decline, while also indulging in what some have claimed to be fairly scandalous gossip.

Among the authors' claims are that:

* The Chief Clown's "Year of Slapstick" in 1994 wasn't at all amusing.
* A leading English clown in the 1970s was openly unfunny.
* Marcel Marceau, believed to know the dark secrets of the Clown Union, was begged not to talk.
* People experimented with balloon modelling.
* Some clowns refused only to cry when there was no-one around - resulting in the forensic discovery of trace amounts of lachrymal fluid in custard pies.

Very few Under 25s now identify as clowns. One pioneering clown in the East End who would only be identified as "Ditzi " said, "We have been trying to "reach out" to the unclowned. That's why we've had Clownish Play, Hipster Circus, "Godly Custard Pie Throwing" and even have had joint performances with jugglers and mimes. We thought of adopting the idea of "Messy Church" but "Messy Clowning" - well that's just clowning, isn't it?"

The rise of the "New Humourless" has also taken its toll on clowning as, especially on Social Media, Ricky Gervais has become popular - taking up the baton from formerly unfunny people such as Rowan Atkinson.

Nor is Britain an exceptional case. In the United States, there is now a nationwide shortage of clown vocations - and a rift with the wider Clown Union over their occasional habit of attending Church without shaving foam, giant bubble-makers or balloons.

But there are still staunch defenders of traditional clowning. A spokesclown for a breakaway group, "The Clowning Association of North America", told the book - " He who gets in a car with the Spirit of the Age will soon have his wheels fall off and the bonnet fly up. Sure, the trendies will do Frozen or Adele covers, but what will they do next year?"

These traditionalist clowns are themselves reaching back to Harlequin and Pantaloon as they look for "true clowning as delivered unto us by Grimaldi." They may look a strange, tiny group to the world outside. But they believe that by staying true to the roots of clowning, they will remain even as - for clowning in the mainstream - the Carnival is Over.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Year of Living Gibbously

The Moon Gibbon people aren't happy.

Coming back from London yesterday, Burton Dasset shared with them that it was Chinese New Year. Burton has this habit of wandering round Soho - he says he's looking for the plaque in Poland Street commemorating the foundation of the druids. But I reckon he's revisiting the former haunts of his youth, as all the old strip clubs are turned into new executive housing developments.

So anyway. The Moon Gibbon people are curious. Which year is it, they ask, all innocent.

Oh, right.
"Gibbon" by JackieLangford
Now, don't get me wrong. I've argued with them.

In particular I've pointed out that gibbons aren't actually monkeys. Being tail-less, they are apes. But the Gibbon Moon Folk tell me that, when a giant supernatural gibbon is raising up an army of the mighty fighting Urukh-Clangers to invade the earth, confident that this is the specified year, the last thing you're going to do is check if it has a tail.

So the Gibbon Moon Folk have declared a Year of Blood and Darkness, and retired to their yurt to gibber.

I'll be glad when 2016 is over. It's not turning out as funky as we were all hoping on December 31st.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Government to Introduce League Tables For Churches

Since the General Election, the Government has made great strides in improving the state of the nation's churches. In particular, thanks to the need for children's work to be monitored by Ofsted, we are safe from Anglican children, radicalised by their teachers, attempting to hold unauthorised jumble sales.

Now, in its latest attempt to raise standards in the Church of England, the Department for Religion has announced the formation of a new body, OfGod. The random arrival of OfGod is expected to cause as much concern as Ofsted turning up at a school - or the Spanish Inquisition arriving unexpectedly with a comfy chair.

The OfGod inspection will cover all aspects of Church life, in an attempt to ensure that all churches are above average by the year 2020. Churches will be rated by their achievements in specific areas:
  1. Community activities.
  2. Quality of preaching.
  3. Successful evangelism.
  4. Old Etonian vicars.
  5. Making irregular attenders feel gently reassured by the thought that, even if they never actually shove their noses through the church hatch, nevertheless somebody, somewhere is praying in a non-judgemental, English kind of way.
  6. Setting up foodbanks cheerfully and without complaint.
  7. High-quality music.
  8. Market penetration of the Church magazine.
  9. Members leading quiet lives and not getting involved in dangerous criminal activity, dangerous drinking, or political activism.
  10. Rate of baptisms and weddings (taking into account the demographics of the parish).
  11. Property maintenance.
  12. Getting curates into the "Talent Pool"
  13. Keeping down the rate of funerals by encouraging healthy lifestyles.
  14. A balanced syllabus. Rather than specialising in Evangelicalism or Anglo-Catholicism, churches will be expected to offer a broadly-based mixture of all forms of Christian worship. Ideally, for instance, a Church that offers High Mass on one Sunday will have worship led by a bunch of thrash-metalheads from Lithuania the next.
  15. St Ambrosia's was put in special measures
    for the holly deeemed offensive to pagans.
  16. Equal opportunities for people to get married, regardless of sexual orientation, prior marital status or religion.
  17. Saying nice things about the Government.
  18. Inventive use of Social Media (to advertise cake sales, not to complain about the Bedroom Tax).
  19. Encouraging an "In" vote in the EU referendum.
  20. Culturally sensitive celebration of religious festivals. e.g. not getting all shouty about Jesus being alive at Easter.
  21. Vicar being able to tell the difference between a small nun and a large penguin.
  22. Giving spiritual sustenance, but not encouraging energy-wasting resentment or disruptive political protest, when the village post office closes or the bus service is wound down.
  23. A 10% "Pulpit Premium" for prolific preaching.
  24. Equal-opportunities promotion of all religions equally.
  25. Productivity assessment for number of fetes.
  26. Vicar riding around on a bike.
  27. Stressing that Jesus in Egypt was not a migrant - he was an ex-pat.
  28. Cherubic infants singing around a manger on Christmas Eve.
  29. Not complaining about the need for food banks.
  30. Quality of the biscuits.
  31. Managing the churchyard to encourage all the wildlife that's been killed by the farmers using neonicotinoid pesticides after applying to Defra for exemption from the EU ban.
The Department of Religion was this evening refusing to spell out what sanctions might be applied to failing churches. They refused to confirm or deny a claim that churches in special measures might be taken over by Holy Trinity Brompton. 

Call Everyone Dave

Today is "Call Everyone Dave" day in memory of Roger Lloyd-Pack. the inimitable and irreplaceable "Trigger" in Only Fools and Horses. He died last year of pancreatic cancer -a cancer which can take people suddenly, and far too young.

The page to support Pancreatic Cancer, UK is here. All right, Dave?

Sunday, 7 February 2016

All Greek to Me

Just a quick footnote to Broderyk's sermon this morning.

Yes, "metamorphosis" is the Greek word corresponding to "transfiguration".

No, St Luke was not saying that Jesus had turned from a caterpillar into a butterfly. This is a terrible misunderstanding on many counts.

I hope that's clear. And that we never, ever have to hear that chorus again. If I were a fuzzy-wuzzy bear, my theological reasoning skills would be equally as fuzzy, if not wuzzy.  But neither as fuzzy, nor as wuzzy, as Broderyk's.

Litany for Sermons on the Transfiguration

Archdruid: On those who struggle to complete their sermon this morning because they can't draw any parallels from a terrifying event on a Judean mountain and the 7.42 when it's raining

All: Have mercy.

Archdruid: On those trying to delve into the Greek to discover whether Peter's "shelters" would have been "tabernacles"

All: Have mercy.

Archdruid: On those trying to use the phrase "behind the veil"

All: Have mercy.

Archdruid: On those who who preach, or teach, or listen this morning

All: Have mercy.

Archdruid: On those still awake trying to work out what the preacher is trying to convey

All: Have mercy.

Archdruid: And especially on those who say that the Transfiguration "reveals Jesus's true nature. And then spend twenty minutes having to explain that dusty, dirty, sweaty and unmistakably human was also Jesus's true nature

All: Have mercy.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Liturgy of Explaining Everything About the Liturgy

Archdruid: And so, as it's the start of the service, let's begin the service by wishing peace to each other. Thus ensuring that we start in a state of peace. So peace be with you.

All: And also with you.

Hymn: My Heart Will Go On

Archruid: Now we are at peace with each other, let us remember that we may not be at peace with the Divine. Not because God does not love us but because we turn away from the Divinity. And so we come to this time of confession, not because God does not know our sins, but so we accept them and cast them away from ourselves.

A Confession Is Read

Archdruid: Now it is time for Filling-Up of Beakers. We fill up beakers to represent blessing being poured into us. So in this illustration. the Pump of Filling is the source of the Divine Blessing. And the beakers represent us. And so at the start of the filling-up, the beakers are empty. A symbol of emptiness. And then as we pour water into the beakers, it is a symbol of filling. We notice that as water is poured into them, they fill up - just like we do when filled with the Divine Blessing.

All: OK Eileen. We got it on the first lap.

Beakers are Filled Up

Archdruid: And so we come to a reading from Scripture. Around the world, religions that hold to Scriptures have always read those writings - almost always from their own holy Scriptures - when they come together to praise God and read their Scriptures. As we do now.

A Reading from the Little Book of Calm

Archdruid: Now we have already wished each other peace, then received God's peace. And in response to God's peace, now we can all wish each other peace - but this time like we really mean it. As we walk around sharing the peace, our handshakes, hugs or curt, English nods will be symbols of the peace that we share. And we say "Peace be with you" to express our hope that God's peace - and our own, and the Creation's - will indeed be with them. And also with us...

All: Eileen, is it time to explain the dismissal yet?

3 Years of Hell in the Ecuadorian Embassy

We've welcomed a new person in the Beaker People today. It's Angela, fresh from her previous job cleaning in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Where, she tells me, conditions have deteriorated.

Sure, anyone could get a bit stressy. Since whey-faced rape-charge-dodger Julian Assange has been "arbitrarily detained" - by himself - there's been two coppers hanging around outside at all hours, ready to arrest him if he nips out to McDonalds. Then there's the press attention. The phone calls at all hours. The constant fear that George Galloway might pop round to offer solidarity.

But they're not really the things that caused her to break. Nor the constant rattling of Assange's Vitamin D bottles, or occasionally thinking she's run into a ghost when the dangerous narcissist wanders out of a doorway. Nor even his playing Teena Marie singles in the early hours. She says even when he left his toenail clippings in the carpet, at least all she had to do was hoover them up. Sure the piles of empty Tizer bottles around the place are annoying, Though not as annoying as the wind the Tizer causes. But you learn to live with it.

No, she says. In the end, it was his habit of drying his socks and pants on the radiator. I mean, imagine that for three years. It's a crime against humanity