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Monday, 20 October 2014

Lynda Bellingham

Lynda Bellingham's death has been announced. 

She was too young, too sexy, too clever, too funny for cancer to take her at that age. But everybody who dies of cancer is all those things.

God bless all those who look for cures to the various kinds of cancer. May they have success in their work. And God bless Lynda Bellingham, those who loved her, and all who suffer from cancer.

We call cancer sufferers "brave". We talk about their "fights". They may be brave, they may fight. They don't have to be brave, they don't have to fight. They don't have to fit the media's definitions. They can do what they like. It's their lives.

But cancer's a bastard.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Tim Minchin Speaks for Jesus

"If Jesus were around now, he'd not need this tribute act"

Article here... 

An Ecumenical Dilettante

Shocking. At the "God and Gaia in Creative Harmony" service, I was accused of "picking and choosing" Church traditions. Someone suggested that we just went through the various different denominations, pinching the bits we like.

To avoid any such accusations, I should make it quite clear:

We in the Beaker have a Catholic sacramentalism;
Congregationalist ecclesiology;
Arminian soteriology;
Anabaptist eschatology; 
An Anglican approach to Reason in theology;
Orthodox pneumatology;
Celtic cosmology;
And a Methodist set of crockery.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Another Messiah

Isa 45: Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him— and the gates shall not be closed: I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.

A text full of wonder and opportunity this is.

Tho last verses remind me of those words of Rose Tyler as she destroyed the ultimately final, never-again-repeated-until-next-time attack of thee Daleks. Rose, you may remember, has looked into the Time Vortex at the heart of the Tardis, and is suddenly aware of all time and space. And this happens.....

ROSE: I am the Bad Wolf. I create myself. I take the words, I scatter them in time and space. A message to lead myself here........ Everything must come to dust. All things. Everything dies. The Time War ends. 

(The Daleks crumble.) 

DOCTOR: Rose, you've done it. Now stop. Just let go.

ROSE: How can I let go of this? I bring life. 

(Jack breaths again.) 

DOCTOR: But this is wrong! You can't control life and death. 

ROSE: But I can. The sun and the moon, the day and night. But why do they hurt? 

DOCTOR: The power's going to kill you and it's my fault.

ROSE: I can see everything. All that is, all that was, all that ever could be. 

DOCTOR: That's what I see. All the time. And doesn't it drive you mad? 

ROSE: My head. 

DOCTOR: Come here. 

ROSE: It's killing me. 

DOCTOR: I think you need a Doctor.

Some truth in this tale from the Doctor- in a strange kind of way, the truth that God is directing to Cyrus.

But I see I've gone ahead too far. Let's go back, from the end of the Universe, to the 6th century BC. To, as chance has it, Babylon - which is where the Jews were in exile - carried off 70 years previously by Nebuchadnezzar. Babylon being part of what is now Iraq - in the news again for much the same reasons.

Cyrus is the King of the Persians. A powerful local king, in the country next door. Persia is, broadly, modern-day Iran.

And this prophecy is maybe the equivalent of the Kurds of Iraq looking at Barack Obama. In fact, if Cyrus were the sort of emperor who was going to stand at a distance, lobbing rocks at the Babylonians while trying to persuade the people of Asia Minor to attack Babylon, then he would be just like Obama. As it happens, he ain't. He's already joined the Medes and Persians into one small empire, and now he wants to build himself a proper empire. Cyrus wants - you  might say - to put sandals on the ground. Cyrus, as it happens, is going to make the largest empire the world has known up to this time.

Now, I'm reckoning that Cyrus was probably not a gentle man. To survive in a royal court of that time, to lead the rebellion that led to the Persians taking over the Medes,  He seems to have been a resourceful and brilliant warrior. But he seems to have been a tolerant man. When the prophecy was fulfilled, he sent the various conquered races that the Babylonians had exiled back home. Among them, those Jews. He let them go back to Jerusalem.

In amongst the things God promises to Cyrus: the powers, the strength, the divine aid, there is one extra-special thing he grants. We don't pick it up in English because the clue's not there. But it's there, OK..... "to his anointed, to Cyrus,"

Cyrus is one who is anointed. The Old Testament has a few anointed ones - Elishah, David, most of the kings, in general. But among them stands that one who doesn't quite fit. Not a Jewish king. Not a Hebrew prophet. A Gentile. Awkward, God picking a Gentile as his chosen - his anointed - his messiah.  Which is the word we're looking at here.

But having raised him up as his anointed, God puts Cyrus in his place. He's a man, not a god. "From the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things."

Other kings in that time thought themselves to be more like gods. The Egyptian Pharaohs, in particular. Must be easy to think you're a god when, you've got power over human life and death like that. Herod Agrippa, we're told in the Acts, was greeted as a god and as a result was eaten by worms. Never nice.

And Cyrus gets a reminder of how things are. Even when lifted up to be God's anointed, he's still a man. There's only one God who gives life as well as takes it away. One God who divides day from night. Cyrus will do great things for God - without even knowing him as the Lord - but he will do them only through God's power.

 Cyrus the anointed one was a great liberator. Most importantly for the Biblical story, he freed the Jews from Babylon - gave them the chance to go home and make sacrifices.  As such he looks forward to another anointed one - another Messiah. Where Cyrus freed the bodies of men and women, this later Messiah would free their hearts and spirits.Where Cyrus the Gentile let the Jews worship the Lord in Jerusalem - this new Messiah would let Jews and Gentiles worship the Lord wherever they were. Where Cyrus let them leave Babylon for Judah, this one lets them leave death for life.

 This mention of Cyrus is one of both great might - and yet fallibility. Cyrus was only a man, and died. God makes it quite clear who's in charge. The Messiah who came after him - there are other stories about him. Though truly a man, he wasn't only human. Though he died, he conquered death. He was the one, says John, through whom the light and darkness was made. He is the Light of the World. He holds the keys to Death and Hades - that is, he saves from death.

There's only one human that can see the beginning and the end. Only one whose hands hold life and death.

It's not Rose Tyler. But no wonder her head hurt.

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Beaker Symposium Comes to a Controversial Decision

There's been a lot of debate in the chamber, and in the press.

The "Tablet" in particular has been vociferously in favour, although the Church Times has avoided coming down either side of the fence. Dave Walker wrote a particularly scathing cartoon.

And there's been some bitterness Below the Line on Guardian Comment is Free, as the atheist commentators have tried to make up for their lack of love lives by spilling electronic ink all over the page.

But we've had to make a pronouncement. It's going to upset some conservatives, and really upset some liberals. But it's right, it's just and - above all - it's funky,

"Drop D" guitar tuning is allowed in the music group. But only if you don't play the bass string.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Dead Serious

"Kicking the Bucket Festival" aims to remove the taboo on death, says the Oxford Mail.

Which makes it odd that its name is a euphemism.

Liturgy For the Nativity of PG Wodehouse

Introit: Sonny Boy

Archdruid: Oh I Say!

All: What ho, old gel!

Hymn: Sonny Boy


Archdruid: OK, I've read the contents of the Junior Ganymede club book, and suffice it to say you've all been rotters, beazles, scourges on civilisation and all-round bounders.

All: We're sorry.

Galahad: I'm not.

Archdruid: Well, you're all forgiven. Especially Gaily (smiles coyly, remembering something that happened in '97)  

Archdruid: Except..... Spode.....

Lord Spodecup: Yes?

Archdruid: I know about "Eulalie".

Lord Spodecup: Curses! I can no longer be a dictator.

Archdruid: True. You could maybe join UKIP?

Hymn: Sonny Boy

Poetic Reading: "When Cynthia Smiles"

Hymn: Sonny Boy

Old Testament Reading: the story of Jael, wife of Heber (read by Miss Honoria Glossop)

Hymn: Sonny Boy

Sermon: Christian Love

All: Spare us the lengthy digression into the family life of the early Assyrians!

Hymn: Sonny Boy


All: Gosh, isn't everything jolly?
Plump pigs, cocktails,  spats and cats and tennis
Water spaniels and Aberdeen terriers
Bread roll fights,
Blacking-up to play Banjoleles
[Archdruid: NO! We're using the Revised Liturgy! You can't do that anymore! ]

All: The Blessed Damozel leaning over the bar of heaven
The stars, which God has threaded as his daisy chain,
The little bunnies which look just like gnomes....

Gussie Fink-Nottle: The Blessed Damozel makes me sick.

Archdruid: I now publish the banns of marriage between a random assortment of people, some of whom will no doubt be together by the end of the service.

Hymn: Sonny Boy


Archdruid: Tally Ho!

All: Tinkerty-tonk!

Recessional Hymn: Sonny Boy

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

God Only Speaks in Dalek

Confusion at this afternoon's Beaker Symposium session. Discussing whether culture should determine Church morality, and Marston remarked that "God only speaks in Dalek". Which would,. at least, fit in with Eccles's experience at the Catholic Synod that is apparently going on at the minute.

Turns out that Marston was trying to be pretentious and repeat what he'd heard somewhere else, that God only speaks in dialect. However, reading earlier books of the Bible - maybe he's got a point. "Exterminate! Exterminate!" would seem to be a reasonable precis of the instructions to Joshua.

Beaker Symposium on the Family

As the Beaker Symposium on the Family reaches its 8th glorious day, I can feel that it's time I made clear what the Beaker Symposium on the Family is meant to achieve.

It is not meant to define Beaker doctrine. This is partly because we don't actually have any. But mostly because, if we did, it would be me defining it. It's more of a conversation, where people who have had contact with what we theologically define as "the Real World" tell me what they'd like, and I tell them no.

What happens is that we pick the subject of the day, then go off into small groups to discuss it. Each group writes their opinions - if that's not too strong a word - on flip-chart paper, then they come back and present their findings through the medium of mime or interpretive dance. Meanwhile everybody else strokes their chins, chews the ends of their glasses, and nods sagely.

At the end of the Symposium, we will take all the flip chart paper, and turn it into a giant papier mache model of June Whitfield. Then I will tell everybody to carry on believing what I tell them.

I should correct the press speculation around one of the leaks from one of the groups. When Chazberry said that "gay people have many gifts", what was not reported was what she thought those gifts were. Contrary to popular speculation, she didn't mean in music, creative arts and keeping quiet about their orientation when they're in high office. No. She meant shape-shifting, extraordinary strength and resisting evil. Turns out she was thinking about the X-men. We may never find out the source of her confusion. And to be honest, we're not going to look too hard.