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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Unbaptism and UnKnighting

I don't know why these two struck me as being similar - apart from, of course, the way they're quite similar.

Rene Lebouvier (of France in case you hadn't guessed) has applied to have his baptism revoked. The story is in the Mail. He's asked to be struck from the baptism records - but I'm not sure what that would achieve. A baptismal record is, after all, a historical record of something that happened. On a certain day, at a certain time, this event happened. That much can't be undone. Baptism either leaves an indelible seal - or it doesn't. If the former, merely removing his name won't make him any less baptised. If the latter, then it will make no difference at all. The ceremony will still have happened, but history will have been falsified.

If we accept the idea that baptism is simply a membership ceremony, then it strikes me that removing his name would still be a silly thing to do. If Burton Dasset ever decided he loved lager and wanted to leave the Campaign for Real Ale, they wouldn't go through all their records effacing every record that showed he was ever a member. They would merely record the fact that, when he stopped paying his subs, he stopped being a member. They might, if they designed databases the same way that Burton set up the Beaker membership mailing list, have an end date which they would set to the date when he lapsed. But they wouldn't destroy every trace that he loved bitter. So maybe, to keep all happy, the Catholic Church should simply find his baptismal record and write an end date in for the date he asked to leave. The baptism will still have happened - which of course it did - but his opting out will also have been recognised.

But this brings me onto the man formerly known as Sir Fred the Shred Goodwin. I word that carefully.

Are we saying that Fred was a knight for a while, and is no longer? Or has his knighthood been revoked back in time to the date that he first went down on one knee while Her Majesty tapped him on the shoulder? Or to put it another way - was Fred a Sir Fred and then no longer a Sir Fred - that is, his Sir Fred-ness has been terminated? Or after Her Majesty's revocation was he no longer ever a Sir Fred at all? It probably, logically, didn't ought to matter. But I just feel that it does.

Transfer Deadline Day News

Transfers completed

Giles Fraser - from St Paul's to The Guardian (Free transfer)

Rumours

Man City exchanging Carlos Tevez for Steven Hester (RBS) - said to be unlikely as Tevez would not accept the pay cut.

Hester unlikely to join Liverpool either. Luis Suarez, the most likely exchange offer, says he wouldn't like to be as unpopular as the Chief Exec of a bank.

Ed Miliband to Northampton Town (£3m, although he'd only have to pay half up front). Labour are once again having trouble with strikers, but Miliband has increasingly found himself "in the hole" this season.

Tory Front Bench - to bring in Emile Heskey. Even the economy's more on its feet than Emile.

Sir Alex Ferguson - to host Strictly Come Dancing.

Tory Front Bench - to buy Chelsea. Not the club, the place.

Monday, 30 January 2012

EU Directive on Stable Doors

The Church Mouse has blogged again. Though it threatens to be a one-off.

However, with a small amount of inspiration from the Mouse, I've dug into a little-known piece of EU Regulation. The EU Directive on Stable Doors is as follows:

The stable door must always be shut. If the stable door is open, it should be shut as soon as possible. Preferably before the horse has bolted. Although after may be acceptable - and is certainly more likely.


Just because the French and German governments left the door open a few years ago, that is no excuse for other nations to leave the door unlocked. The French and Germans had to leave the door open, as otherwise how could the horse have had some exercise? That was a limited, understandable opening of the stable door. The horse had a bit of a canter, sure - but by no means did it bolt.


The limited and responsible opening of the stable door that the French and Germans carried out is not to be copied by other, less irresponsible countries opening the door (or leaving it open) whenever they feel like it. The Greeks seem to have cut the door up and used it for a beach barbecue. While the Italians have blown the bloody doors off.


Should the horse have bolted, shut the door as soon as possible. And then blame the British - even though they refused to look after the horse in the first place.


If you keep forgetting to shut the stable door, Germany will send someone round to lock the door for you.


If you're very careful and shut the stable door, albeit on an empty stable, the IMF may lend you another horse. You need to keep this one in the stable. Lock the door this time. After you've put the horse in it. 

Death of King Charles I (1649)

Today being the anniversary of the martyrdom of Charles I, we're abandoning any normal liturgy.
Instead we're going to remember how, on that cold morning outside Whitehall Palace, the forces of nothing-being-much-fun won. And we remember how the monstrous Cromwell went on to found a hereditary institution in place of the existing hereditary institution - which lasted right up to the point where everybody realised how useless his son was. But not before he'd murdered anD enslaved an awful lot of Irish people.

So, as an insult to Oliver Cromwell, we're going to start the day with mince pies and Christmas cake. Ignoring the cold, we're going to dance round a maypole. We're going to have Spaniel-Racing on the Big Meadow. And a game of football, should the ground thaw at all. Finally we're going to drag Cromwell and Ireton in effigy round the grounds and then hang them from a big tree. We're not quite sure which side Ireton was on, but we reckon a plague on all their houses.

For today, everybody must wear wigs. Today's universal greeting will be "Rupert - you're so dashing!"
Please can Beaker People all wear vests for the outside activities. I wouldn't like to see anyone shivering, especially during the Oak-tree Climbing competition.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

On Booing at Patrice Evra

First up, I should declare an interest. All the members of the Beaker Folk leadership team are Liverpool supporters. It is not a requirement of membership for Beaker People to be Liverpool supporters - for we accept people of all faiths and Nuneaton Town - but it is a strange, statistical quirk of fate, I guess. Also I speak only for myself on the subject below. The Hnaefs can speak for themselves, if they want to.

There was much complaint yesterday about the way that Liverpool fans at Anfield booed Patrice Evra. And I'm not going to defend it. It's gormless and idiotic. Should we have been running a Beaker coach trip to Anfield, I would have dealt with any such behaviour from Beaker People severely (but not instantly, as they have a habit of confiscating cricket bats at football grounds, with good reason). But it was not merely unsurprising, it was inevitable.

Did Luis Suárez racially abuse Patrice Evra at that previous fixture? Probably. I can't say for certain, because I didn't hear it. The charge that was proven against him was on balance of probability, not the "beyond reasonable doubt" of a criminal court. Is Suarez a racist? Probably not. is he an idiot? Probably, based on a whole series of incidents. Did Liverpool over-react, defending Suárez when they should have shut up, printing T-shirts supporting him that they shouldn't have done? Yes. I can understand why they did - understand the depths of tribal loyalty and the sense so often felt by Liverpudlians that the world is against them - but understanding isn't condoning. They should have shut up, up front, and not stoked the fires.

Were Liverpool fans going to be silent at Evra yesterday? Of course not. That's not a matter of being racist - it's about loyalty, misguided as it may be. Their man - whom they believe to be innocent - was sitting in the stands, while Evra was on the pitch. they believe Evra is a cheat. They were going to boo him - in just the same way that some Man Utd fans were going to sing about Hillsborough, and Leeds fans sing about Munich. It's not funny, it's not clever, and it's shocking to the middle classes who thought football was a nice sport to watch now. Well, maybe from behind a nice big window in a hospitality box it's all changed. But the people down on the sides of the pitch are still working class, still attached passionately to one side or the other, still eating pies not prawn cocktails and still loathing the other side's guts - especially when it's Luton v Watford, Portsmouth v Southampton, Spurs v Arsenal or absolutely anyone against Man Utd.

Working class males have always been quite good at hating other people when they're of a different type. Once upon a time - and even now, occasionally - the nation is quite grateful for that, as it helps us fight wars. At home, in peace time, in a culturally diverse environment, it just takes longer for them to realise that the rules  have changed than the ruling classes would like.

But that's why a football fan isn't going to let a little thing like an FA charge being proved make them believe their man is in the wrong. Good grief, football fans will make claims that defy the laws of physics in their demands for referees' decisions to go their way - never imagining their claims are wrong, or even impossible. Balls that have clearly gone over the line will be claimed to have stayed out of the net. Offside players will be believed to have been 10 yards from where they actually were. And it will never occur to the supporters that they are anything other than right - and that the referee, the linos and the other side's supporters are all utterly deluded.

That kind of tribalism is there all the time in our society - and not just among the working classes, although they are less adept at hiding it as something else. It's been there since the Tower of Babel and it'll be there till the last trump. Stirring up the anger, as the TV and media have been doing - endless shots of  Suárez yesterday, for no better reason than reminding us he wasn't playing and why. It was cheap easy TV, especially during a fairly dull game.

Next time Liverpool play Man Utd, Evra will be booed by Liverpool fans and, if he plays,  Suárez by United ones. That's just business as usual. Foolish tribalist supporters from Man Utd and other clubs will claim Liverpool are all "racists", thus blackening a club and all its supporters. We're not, though the club have been foolish. But it's a working-class game at heart with working-class passions, and sometimes that means people will do stupid things. One day the old divisions will end. We will all realise that in Jesus there is no East or West end of the East Lancs Road. That the Runcorn bridge joins together, just as the Mersey divides. That there is no Mancunian or Scouse. Or all the fans will become middle class, and polite applause will ring out from both sets of supporters, when a goal is scored. But it's gonna be a long time coming.

Lament for a Broken-down Car on a Frosty Morning

Archdruid: Some trust in Pontiacs, and some in Corsas.

All: But we will trust in the man from the breakdown company.


Archdruid: God spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes.

All: He hurls down his hail on our windscreens.  Who can de-ice this icy blast? 


Archdruid: O Lord how manifold are your mercies!

All: And how murky are our manifolds!


Archdruid: O Lord, how many are my woes! How has my gearbox risen up before me.

All: Many are saying "The breakdown truck will not deliver her."


Archdruid: I lie down and sleep. I wake up again.

All: And still the breakdown truck does not arrive.


Archdruid: How I loathe those that build dodgy clutches.

All: I despise those that put cheap components into otherwise decent cars.


Archdruid: But though grinds and screeches last for the night, still Roy cometh in the morning.

All: He's a very nice man.


Archdruid: But I will wait for the breakdown van, as the night-watch waits for the  morning.


All: More than the night-watch waits for the morning, we shall await that van - even though he drives through the valley of the shadow with a four-hour estimated arrival time.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

London Stone

Uproar in the Daily Mail. Developers are planning to move London Stone a way down the road.

Most of you won't know about London Stone. It's a lump of limestone in Cannon Street. It's been there for a long time - Shakespeare mentions it. Some say it's Roman, some Druidic. Needless to say, some think it's a sacrificial stone. Needless to say, "some" in this context means "Blake".

It's sat in a little cage and it's easy to walk past and you don't even notice it as your rush past - which is true for so many truly great things in London. I don't want it moved up the road - I want it where it is, nestling there, watching the centuries go by. And yes, I know it's been moved around in the past. But I don't care.

h/t for the story (I don't read the Mail, myself) to Pagans for Archaeology. But if you want to hear from the Stone itself, you'll have to go here.

Where Albion slept beneath the Fatal Tree
And the Druids golden Knife,
Rioted in human gore,
In Offerings of Human Life


They groan'd aloud on London Stone
They groand aloud on Tyburns Brook
Albion gave his deadly groan,
And all the Atlantic Mountains shook

Learning by Rote

I enjoyed Yewtree's comments on Atheism and meditation, but it's her sensible comments on learning by rote that particularly raised my interest.

It has been assumed, certainly since the 1960s, that rote-learning is bad. But of course there are things you really need to learn that way. If an electrician is using resistors, it's far better that they simply learn what the colours mean, rather than carrying out a series of experiments every time they want to use a 75Ω. A football referee who learnt the rules of the game by trial and error would not be massively popular among the players and the fans - although he or she might end up on the Premier League list. And we learn road signs from the Highway Code by rote, not by driving into quays, shooting into the air while going over humped-back bridges or overtaking on double white lines. There are places where experimentation, experience and flexibility are great things in education. And places where maybe, on the whole, you're better not.

Multiple Marriage

I've been contemplating multiple marriage. Not for myself, you understand. When I consider the instances of woeful manhood with which I am often confronted around the Community, and the behaviour of certain rats in the past on Greek islands, pretending he was a well-connected stock-broker when he was actually an arc-welder from Walsall, I shudder at the thought of even one marriage.

No, I've been thinking about the instances of multiple marriage and concubinage in the OT. And trying to make some sense out of it all. After all, nobody's told they can't have multiple wives. And when Solomon's wives are mentioned, it's not because they are as numerous as the sand on the seashore that they are disapproved of - it's because they encourage him to worship foreign gods.
Although, let's face it, it must have been a nightmare trying to remember a thousand birthdays.

And I guess there's a natual gender inequality to these considerations of multiple marriage in Biblical times. After all, the Israelites were often at war. If the men went away to war and few came back, it would make demographic sense for the remainder to have multiple wives if you needed your population building up again. Also if a man could only have one wife in those days, it would have meant lots of unmarried women around, either sitting around in withdrawing rooms like the Misses Bennets, playing poorly on the piano-forte and leeching off their dads, or out plying a trade, if you get my drift, on the streets. I'm not saying that these life-choices weren't unfairly constrained, in our modern eyes, but polygamy was more of a symptom of the situation than its cause.

Statistically in a time of peace, there would presumably have been more men about than women - due to death in childbirth. But a woman taking two husbands would have little statistical impact. Her lifetime average number of children would barely have changed, but the number of bits of car engine laying around on the kitchen table waiting to be degreased and refitted would have gone up exponentially. So what was the point? Far better for potential husband number two - on statistical grounds, making no moral judgements here - to be out using up any spare energy in working his socks off in the fields to produce more food. Or going off on a raid to find himself a "wife" from the Moabites or wherever.

So far, so based on economic principles. Making no moral judgement, just doing. - as the Americans so amusingly say - the math. But then we turn to those two fore-runners of Our Lord himself, David and Solomon. What a pair.

For these two, it's not enough just to optimise the reproductive rate of the nation. Oh no. For David and Solomon it's about wealth, the exercise of naked power, and foreign relations.

Bathsheba already had a perfectly good husband. She didn't need another one. But David was ageing, the young men were at war and Viagra hadn't been invented - so she was just the lift he needed. The inconvenient presence of Uriah was dealt with through something which could fairly be described as conspiracy to murder and the gaining of an additional wife became a matter of abuse of power.

Solomon's wives were the result of a lot of diplomatic activity. But you have to wonder. I mean - there weren't 700 countries he had to keep on friendly terms with. Did he ever think, round about wife 400 or so, that enough was enough and he really ought to pack the hobby in now, before he had to build another extension?

Solomon's acquisition of wives was in fact far beyond the efficient level of optimal population growth. And let's face it, he'd have been worn out with the diplomatic activity - hem hem - required simply to keep each of his wives, as it were, feeling at all wanted. This is about oppression - of a man over women, and of one man over other, less powerful, men. I'm sure the under-sexed and frustrated men of Israel must have rejoiced, as they went out to reap crops and slaughter cattle to feed the multitude of Solomon's women and children - that they had such a powerful king to look up to.

And this number of wives must have been the cause of Solomon's famous expostulation "vanity, vanity - all is vanity". Mostly as he waited for his turn in the bathroom in the morning.

But enough of desert regulations under the Mosaic, Adamic and Noahic Covenants, they all cry. What of the New Testament? Well again, no condemnation of polygamy - although no real mention of it, either. Maybe the People of Israel had just got out of the habit.

But there is one class of people for whom the number of wives is specified, and I think this needs spelling out. It's in Paul's first letter to Timothy.

"Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach...."

This is the ESV - other versions read "bishop", "elder" or minister. And if we are to take the Bible literally, what does it tell us? That the clergy must be male - and that they must have.precisely one wife each. Nobody with two, and nobody with none. One wife, and just one wife. So I'm out on my ear, Drayton Parslow is, as in so many ways, borderline (is that one wife at a time or one wife in a whole lifetime?) and Rowan Williams is absolutely fine. But the Pope, Augustine of Canterbury and a miriad of others should never have got past selection conference if Paul were one of the advisors. Meanwhile, on Biblical authority, every other man can have as few, or many, wives as they can coax to the altar. It's all fine. It says so in the Bible.

Friday, 27 January 2012

A too-late #FollowFriday

Social Media is a funny thing.

You can pretend to be someone you're not. Develop half a dozen alternative personalities (or at least put them in the public domain without someone coming round with a concerned look). You can exchange theological pleasantries with a mouse, a deceased archbishop or a whelk.

Or you can get to know people from thousands of miles away and whom you'll never meet, such as @MildewPea, who passed, the other day, to the place where the milk never goes in first and it's always a decent blend. She made Twitter a delight, brought frivolity and good nature to a new height. She had a tea trolley called Maud and loved Englishness. It was a delight, when our time zones coincided, to hear her cheery tweetings. And now, suddenly, she's gone. It's surprising that a relationship mediated through electronics can suddenly leave you with such grief, but it does.

Goodbye Milly, and God bless. I'm sure you'll be happy with the eternal wine you'll be sipping now. Though I hope they can find Earl Grey occasionally, or I'm not coming.

Pointless Activity with Ritual Meaning

Yes, I know the ground is hard this morning. That's the frost did that. And I know it's still icy in places from where last night's outburst of sleety rain settled.

But you've got to take this in the round. The frost breaks up the soil so the plants can grow. It's all part of that death-and-renewal cycle that gives us eternal hope.

But yes, I agree that today may not have been the greatest day to start the digging of the ritual trench. But you're all out there now, the sun's shining, the ice is starting to melt...

And when we've finished digging the trench, and spent a couple of hours looking at it, then filled it in again so it looks like it's never been there - think what a great feeling of achievement you'll all have.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Earth Will Burn

Whate'er shall we do O Lord 
When Gabriel blows o'er sea and river 
Fen and desert mount and ford 
The earth will burn but we will quiver 


It was refreshing to spend an afternoon with the Ladies' Not-so-Bright-Hour of the local Quivering Brethren.
You see, most ecumenical activity with our more extreme friends - churches from the FIEC, or the Old and Crotchety Catholics - consists of them explaining why theirs is the only true faith, and if you don't follow them then you're doomed to "Hell, Hell I tell you! Be like us, and then you can be with us in heaven for every". Which, to be honest, mostly makes you think that maybe Hell ain't a bad place to be.

But not so the Quivering Brethren. For as you drink their foul tea, made with the dried sweepings of the second-picked leaves from the worst barn on the estate, they explain in great detail how you can be just like them in all respects - but you'll go to Hell anyway. I don't know - it just seems to take the pressure off, somehow.

Flying Primates

Just musing over Andrew Brown's article in Comment is Free. Nice summary of the situation, I think. Although accompanied by the usual foaming at the mouth from the strangely intolerant liberals the Guardian seems to atttract.

It strikes me that this "code of practice", whereby people can pretend that they aren't under the authority of women bishops even though technically they are (and yet, strangely, people with objections to male leadership have no similar opt-in to a female bishop) is by its nature temporary. For one day, no doubt a while after that blessed day when the first bishop in the Church of England who is coincidentally in possession of a pair of X-chromosomes instead of the allegedly more godly X+Y combination is consecrated - one day someone will decide a woman is the right person to be Archbishop of Canterbury.

That woman may not be born yet. But one day - as day succeeds night - it will happen. And what will happen then? The appointment of an alternative scheme with a Flying Primate?

Library@Church

Don't know why we didn't have this idea before. But we finally got there. It was the link from Cafe Church to coffee shops in bookshops that made us realise.

Fundamentally, the concept of Library@Church is that both institutions can, at their best, produce feelings of awe through the creative use of silence and the stimulation of the mind and spirit.

So Young Keith has spent all night erecting the bookshelves in the Moot House and filling them with improving books. It's a pretty good selection - at the last count he had 45 second-hand copies of "The Road Less Travelled", 92 remaindered volumes of Tony Blair's "My Journey"  and his own copy of "Steven Gerrard - My Story". At 9.30 we'll open up, and people will be allowed in to wander, muse and chill out in the respectful atmosphere. Although we're expecting a bit of a fight over the Gerrard book.

At 11am, to make Library@Church more exciting, we'll introduce a coffee shop, and a bunch of Peruvian traditional puppeteers will present their Inca-language version of "Strangers on a Train".

Then while everyone's at lunch, we'll rip out half the bookshelves and replace them with an Internet Cafe. But ensure that none of the worship leaders (or "librarians", as we're calling them today) are able to service the PCs if anything goes wrong. People will be able to use our on-line service to look up the exciting books that are available in other Beaker Library@Church establishments around the country.

Then, to provide that authentic "Library" experience, we're going to close Library@Church down and throw everybody out. In future everyone will instead have to wait for the mobile Library@Church, which will come round in a van for twenty minutes once a fortnight till the diesel runs out.

All the books however will be shipped round and used as fuel for my book-burning stove. It's an ill wind, I say.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Paying Leaders by Results

It is truly said that if you can measure something, you can make it better. And it is also true that the horse that stamps the grain is entitled to get its oats. And so at the last Moot meeting, where we discussed how best to incentivise our Druidic Team to maximise their performance, I asked for suggestions - which have flooded in. So thanks to all the people in the Community who've responded with ideas for bringing in a performance-related pay scheme for myself and the rest of the leadership team. I've listed the suggestions below, together with the financial, practical or theological reasons for rejecting them all.

Bonus payment per soul saved - This is just so fraught. I mean, the only objective measurement we've got this side of glory as to whether someone is saved or not is when they say they are. And then - what happens if the salvation they think they've received doesn't measure up to the Community-approved definition of salvation - if we had such a thing? And then - worst of all - what would happen if later on they apostatised? Since I'd almost certainly have spent all the money on Jaffa Cakes and Aspall's cider, I could hardly be expected to pay it back.

"Bums on seats" - I mean, sure this looks a simple formula. So much per bottom. But the calculations could get complicated - is that on any particular day of the week? Do I lose out in August when everyone's on holiday? Is it an average? Only if so - what kind? Would it be in my interest to cancel all badly-attended Occasions and only organise them for big events such as Full Moon, Lammas and Yule?

Pastoral Visiting - Simple, measurable. But where would we get the money from? I mean, I can happily go and visit people all day (unlike Hnaef, for whom this would definitely be a "beer money" kind of activity in his spare time). But we'd have to start charging the people we visited. It would simply be unfair to the unvisited otherwise.

Sermons preached - This would encourage me to preach lots of sermons. And we don't want that, do we?

Handfasting Ceremonies - Sure, I could be paid, let's say, 100 quid for each one conducted. But I already hold a monopoly on the catering contract and the on-sales licence, so I use the "Free Ceremony" deal as a bait to get them to hold their receptions with us.

Fellowship Whip-rounds - Don't be silly. Do you want me to starve?

Funerals - I've already negotiated an "arrangement" with a couple of undertakers in surrounding towns. The grieving families quite appreciate my sermons, as I always like to be encouraging about the fate of the dearly departed - whereas some vicars still seem a bit constrained by the concept of a "judgement". Sadly though, as they are reducing in number, my revenue source is starting to dry up a bit.

Which is why I've got to propose my own solution to the performance-related pay issue.

Beaker Folk (Cayman Islands) has issued a number of shares in Beaker Folk Operations Ltd to me and the other members of the Synod. Naturally these are non-voting shares (so I keep all the power on important decisions to myself) but this does ensure that The Hnaef Corporation (Jersey) and Mrs Hnaef Ministries (Turk & Caicos Islands) will be suitably remunerated in a fair, transparent and tax-effective way. I hope you'll understand that, being based directly on the profits that we make each year, this scheme represents the most accurate way of measuring the spiritual, leadership and prophetic contribution we make to the Community. So much better than mucking around getting judges to mark your sermons out of 10, I'm sure you'll agree.

Facebook Status Supporting Unicorns

Nobody thinks about unicorns anymore.

Since they were so arbitrarily translated out of the Bibles after the King James Version, people have refused to believe they exist. Jokes have been made about them drowning in the Great Flood - as if a mythical animal dying in a metaphorical Flood were a laughing matter. Well it's not. These mythical animals metaphorically suffered an awful end, and the mere facts that they didn't exist and it didn't happen (or at least not on a worldwide scale and it was embellished for theological reasons) are no reasons to mock.

Will you put this status up on your Facebook page and annoy all your "friends"? At least one of whom is just pretending to be someone you were mates with at school, but doesn't post or interact much - because they're an imposter, and actually they're that boy/girl you used to avoid at all costs and who was thought to spend their spare time torturing moths, and who you secretly feared had a crush on you. And who actually still does.

99% of people won't post any old rubbish on Facebook just because someone they've not seen since before the Berlin Wall came down told them to - but will you?

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Last Smile of the Girl on the Platform

Dear Readers, the Archdruid has allowed me just one posting on this subject - inspired by a stray visitor to this site. And after reading the site I am about to link to, I need say no more about it.

The writer of the piece covers much of the ground we have dealt with in our own journey on this blog - but he also identifies the station and both the trains in the sequence. I repent in dust and ashes of my lack of train knowledge, and only wish I was like the author of this blog.

However I would note that a more appropriate location for the young woman to be travelling would be Syston near Leicester. It is closer to Sutton (although still 100 miles or so away) but is truly the "home of pies". Pukka Pies are made there and it is also in the Appellation Controlee-type region within which Melton Mowbray pork pies can be made.

The Ecumenical Movement

Eileen dragged me off to a "Druids together in Dunstable" meeting yesterday, and it's left me wondering.

Is the Ecumenical movement something that grows on you with time, like high blood pressure or grey hair? Or is it more like being a Pink Floyd fan, where once upon a time everybody liked it but nobody new has for 20 years?

Sofa Shop Church

We're considering another of Young Keith's ideas today - Sofa Shop Church.

There is some real research behind this one. Firstly, Keith has noted that many people don't go out to church on Sunday evenings - they prefer instead to sit on the sofa and - in the case of the particularly devout - watch Songs of Praise. He also points out that people in adverts for sofa shops are always very happy. And that sofas are much more comfy than proper church chairs, and infinitely more so than pews. Young Keith has gone so far as to point out that the use of rock-hard pews in Drayton's chapel is a direct and flagrant transgression of Isa 40: "Comfort, comfort ye my people."

I can see a lot of sound reasoning in this. If we combined Sofa Church with Cafe Church - and maybe put in Takeaway Pizza Church for good measure, we'd reach an environment that was attractive to the non-religious and very nice to be in. In fact people might forget about the outside world completely, apart from when someone had to get up and answer the door for the latest delivery of pizza.

But the trouble with a Sofa Shop Church is surely that there's always a sale on. How could we cope with constantly having to tell people it's a good idea to come along? It sounds like a lot of work. And I've seen the enthusiasm people in sofa shop sales have to have. I can't honestly see where we'd get that, round here.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Takeaway Religion

I wasn't so convinced with Young Keith's latest concept in alternative worship.

I mean, sure, it's accessible. There's no real barrier to the unchurched at all. You're meeting people in a very real way, as the saying has it, and you're giving them what they need.

But Cafe Church to Go? Isn't that just a takeaway coffee bar? I mean sure - saying "God bless" instead of "Have a Nice Day" makes it spiritual. But I really doubted whether it would work. Till I saw his franchise plans, and now I'm thinking the idea may be richly blessed.

Christian Unity and M1 Widening

I've never lived far from the M1.

It's a straight enough road and an honest one. In its modern configuration it goes from the chaos of Staples Corner to the Yorkshire straightforwardness of a junction with the A1. In between it embraces Watford and Watford Gap, Leicester and Leeds. Its clear original intent of letting northern people get south more quickly has always been muddied by the politically correct decision to have an equal number of lanes going the other way, to pretend that might be equally attractive.

Between about 2004 and about 2008, the road suffered between Luton and somewhere around Redbourn as they widened it. For a period of four years or so, drivers in that section suffered delays, contraflows (which are not as fun as contrabasses) and low speed limits while peope in hi viz drove dumper trucks around. And then they finished.

And you would think that at this point the powers-that-be would have though that was a good job, and put some money into something useful - like some bike lanes that actually went somewhere and didn't dump people, screaming, into oncoming traffic or just disappear after forty yards. But no.

Instead they realised that if you widen one bit of road, thus making it quicker and easier for people to get from, let's say, Harrow to Toddington, many people will realise they didn't really want to go to Toddington (lovely as it is, and the Methodists are very nice, as I remember them) but will push on - wondering what are the delights of Newport Pagnell, Northampton, or even - fabled as it is - Nottingham.

And so with a wipe of the brow and maybe a light oiling of the dumper trucks, the people in hi viz moved up to the stretch between Luton and Milton Keynes (junctions 11 to 13 or so) and started widening all over again.

The current widening goes right past our demesne of Husborne Crawley, of course. And has been ongoing, in my admittedly subjective estimation, for about 1,000 years.

And if they ever finish - which seems unlikely, given their current rate of progress - they will move up to the MK to Leicester stretch, I suspect, and start all over again - as that will now need widening as everyone bottlenecks at J14.

I reckon that over the last 10 years, someone who drove regularly between Husborne Crawley and Watford will have enjoyed approximately one day of trouble-free, contra-flow free driving. When it's all finished it will be worth it. But of course it will never finish.

I remember the M1 widening as I consider the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The more I think about it, the less I understand what it's really for. I am of course all for wishing each other well, praying for other denominations and recognizing the Spirit working through them. And where fellowships can work together to highlight issues we can influence - or work on projects where we are stronger together - let's go for it. But are we praying that one day the different denominations will bury the hatchet and all be - organisationally - as one? If so, like M1 widening, I suspect it's never going to end, this process.

Within the historically mainstream denominations, no Methodist or Presbyterian will submit to Rome. Especially the female minister, I reckon. And in the new, vibrant, Pentecostal movements - why would they bother? For myself, I am happy to work towards union with Rome. But I can see real problems as to how we would fit the Catholic heirarchy into our flat Beaker structures. Clearly the Pope can't be an Archdruid - he being male. But would he accept conditional re-accreditation as a Deputy Druid? It seems unlikely.

So instead we will have an annual week of services that seem vaguely to have survived from the 60s, as a collection of churches host their neighbours in a variety of ways that are intended not to offend. Our Catholic brothers and sisters will attempt not to pray that we will all be one - just as soon as the Protestants have recognised the errors of their ways. The Protestants will try not to mention the Reformation.

We will say nice words in the liturgical equivalent of thin soup. We can pretend we'd like it if we were all together as one - if only all the others were like us. And then we can go back and get on with our internal squabbles for the rest of the year, having agreed to hold a joint carol service in November.

Still, I shall look on the bright side. At least we've stopped burning one another. That's one step forward.

Religious Discrimation

Yes, thanks for all the condolences for old Albarn. For those who don't know, he's failed in his latest Religious Discrimination bid.

All Albarn wants is that, when he passes on, he be allowed to have his funerary rights conducted in the traditional Beaker manner. The ancient Beaker Folk, of course, exposed the remains of their late ancestors to the birds of the air until all the flesh was pecked off. Then their bones would be entombed in round barrows - where, every few seasons, the living Beaker People would enter and, in an arcane and incomprehensible ritual, shuffle the bones around with those of other ancestors in something resembling a property exchange in a game of Monopoly.

The council says it's not the shuffling the bones around so much, if that's what he wants. It's the exposing a corpse on an elevated platform for a number of months. well, Albarn's not giving up. He says it's next stop Strasbourg.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Churches Together Sunday

Oh boy, what a morning.

So I've so had to just walk out of Drayton Parslow's service this morning before I lost it. I know Eileen's always hitting him with stuff - cricket bats, mostly - and I'm starting to see why.

It was Eileen's fault. She knows Drayton doesn't do "Churches together" stuff. Drayton's idea of Christian unity is that everyone becomes a Fundamentalist Baptist. His kind of Fundamentalist Baptist. And Eileen doesn't do it either. Her post-modernism says that whatever other people want to do is fine by her, but we have decent coffee so she's not going to join with other Christians who have worse coffee.

But she wanted me to see the dark side of religion. So she talked Drayton into preaching on "Holiness, Grace and Justice" as a special favour, for me to hear it. And also preached on the same subject herself. So I got Eileen from 9 till 9.10, and the Drayton from 10 till 12 - at which point I feigned illness. He offered to rush forward and lay on hands, but I told him it was "somewhere you wouldn't want to lay on hands". At least, I hoped he wouldn't. So he looked horrified and I ran out before he could find someone who did.

So the "Holiness, Grace and Justice" comparison. If Drayton is swayed towards Justice, then it's fair to say Eileen sways towards Grace. Or, to be more accurate - if Drayton sways towards Vengeance, then Eileen tends towards Indulgence. Our readings for the day were Lev 11 (clean and unclean animals - so we had some concept of "Holiness") and Luke 15:11-32 (Prodigal Son) - so we had some idea of Grace and Vengeance. I've linked to the King James Version here, as it's the version that Drayton uses - while frankly it's pretty irrelevant what version Eileen uses as long as it's gender-neutral. The two headings below are those that strike me as the salient points of difference. They may not be what Eileen or Drayton thought they were talking about.

Does God love fluffy bunnies because they're cute, or because he loves everything?

Eileen thinks God loves bunnies, and that was the main part of her sermon all round. In fact, the whole concept of Vengeance and Grace came down to a fairly long digression on who God loves better when a fox chases a rabbit (a rabbit, because it's cuter) - and how that can be applied to fox hunting (God loves the fox better, because it's cuter than a hunter and doesn't vote Conservative). But Eileen's wishful thinking seems to be ignoring the Earless Beaker Bunny, who's so vicious that we have to equip her keepers with small bells on their turn-ups, so she's not surprised into savaging them when they come to clean her out. The Bunny, that is - not Eileen. Eileen also assured us that God loves everything else on the list, no matter how vile - because God's like that. But especially God loves cute things.

Drayton reminded us, in passing as he also savaged every other unclean animal, that bunnies in Old Testament times were unclean before the Lord, and puts this down to their love of sex. He still treats them with suspicion, although that may be due to the day that Eileen put the Beaker Bunny in through his kitchen window and it ate Marjory's slippers and then bit his leg. On poor etymology and worse folklore and religious history, Drayton associates rabbits with the goddess Eostre and thinks they are therefore pagan and accursed. I did want to point out to him that our only (and slim) source for Eostre is St Bede, who was a Catholic, but you're not supposed to butt in during Drayton's sermons. Of course, to confuse the issue the "rabbit" is actually a "hare" in the King James Version of the Bible, and so Drayton doesn't really believe that rabbits exist at all. Unlike unicorns.

Why did the Prodigal Father run to his son?

So let's move onto Grace and Justice. And the tale of the Prodigal Son revealed a new, softer side in Drayton. He's much taken with the story, and reckons he can understand how the son felt. The older son, that is. How, asks Drayton, can the father forgive the younger one and ignore the obedience of the older, better behaved one? Drayton's conclusion is that, once the party's over, the younger son gets to work digging out the drains under the instruction of theolder one - a part of the story that, to be fair, he accepts isn't in the Bible but follows logically. Why does the father run out to the son?

Eileen's idea is that it shows the graciousness of God - in that the father is doing something relatively humiliating in running out after his son. This seems a lot of reasoning on not much basis to me - but probably not compared to Drayton's suggestion that the father was out for a job, and so naturally carried on running and naturally was pleased to see his son. Eileen's main concern in the whole thing is the fatted calf - as she points out, the Eldest still lives at home, the Youngest is back in the bosom of his family - the only one that loses out is the fatted calf. He's the one not rejoicing. Apart from, presumably, Mrs Prodigal - who's going to be doing some serious cooking - and the servants, who'll probably have to wash up.

Eileen's conclusion to the whole thing was that God loves everything, and it's best to just skip over the idea of Justice and vengeance and right and wrong - light a tea light and hope it'll all be over in the end. Drayton's is something to do with fire, and lots of it. I'll like to tell you more, but it was at this point that I realised I was going to miss my dinner. I'll catch up with Kayleigh and Kylie later, and hopefully get more informed. But I suspect, whatever it is, I'm not going to like it.

So, I'm off to put the Flump suit back on. This afternoon is Flump Day for the Little Pebbles. Very hip and happening for today's kids, is a TV programme they produced in 1976. I wonder whether Flumps would be clean or unclean to eat?

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Journalism is Easy

A tweet that I shall not repeat (but only because it links to the article I shall now describe) declares the "death of journalism" by linking to an article on Katy Perry unfollowing Russell Brand on Twitter.

The circularity of that first sentence actually suggests the tweet is right. How did a 2nd-division singer unfollowing a 2nd-rate lothario on a social media site qualify to be a press article?

But I shall take hope from this. I have always fancied being a journalist, and it now turns out that repeating low-grade gossip from the Internet counts as journalism. So I am happy to provide you with this concise journalistic digest:

Paul Daniels cut off his own finger. It was reattached in a delicate operation by a team of surgeons, assisted by the lovely Debbie McGee.

The BBC has an article on "open marriage". Unusually for the BBC it doesn't provide an alternative view - which in this case would be almost anyone in the world saying what a bloody stupid idea it is.

On Facebook, someone is now friends with someone they were at school with, but don't really remember. This is only possible through the power of social media.

Several bloggers from Essex went to a diocesan conference. They had a good and challenging time, but since they're not celebrities and they're not on "The only way is Essex", it hasn't made the news. Nobody, as far as we're aware, had a fight or got arrested.

Joey Barton is old enough to know better.

A woman has been fined for reading from the Bible.

Living on God-Time

Hnaaef has been showing me the page for the Church of England "daily office". He sits there during Pouring out of Beakers sometimes gazing at his Android device and - though he claims he is "tweeting" his reflections on the service and bitching out whoever is leading- I suspect he is actually sneakily using another liturgy.

But I was intrigued by the feed page. It tells us that you can "find time for God", then informs us that all services are GMT. Which sheds new insight into what the "G" stands for - and confirms my suspicions that God is, after all, an Englishwoman. Prepared to cater for all - as long as they toe the line and keep their noses clean.

Naming Cermony in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Genre

Archdroid E1L33N: What will you name this child?

Lord Kirgiloth of Jabrelium: His name is Rosh-Kiergawath, Seeker of Planets, Foxbane, Wielder of the Szarchane Sword and Heir to the four keys of Gelt-harzupp.

Archdroid E1L33N: So.... OK if we go with "Rosh" then?

Friday, 20 January 2012

Girl on the Brighton Platform Smile

I picked up today on Sipech's response to the Archdruid's rant about the "Girl on the platform smile" advert.

Sipech, who blogs at "the Alethiophile", remarks that the station appears to be in Sussex. And after paying very careful attention to the advert, I believe he is right. You will notice that at one stage the man with the ukulele is standing in front of a destination board that clearly contains the letters "IGHTON" - which I would take to be short for "Brighton".

But this gives me pause to think - because the list of stations that the young man hazards for the young woman's destination are all in the North. It is unlikely that anyone would have a choice of Hull and Wigan from the same station even in the North - they laying at nearly opposite ends of the trans-Pennine route - unless indeed they were in Liverpool. But the chances of guessing she is going to one of these stations when she is sitting in a small station south of London are remote indeed.

And this afternoon, being in a similar romantic predicament to the man with the beard, I tried serenading a young lady from the opposite platform at Bletchley station with a ukulele. She did cross the platform, but then started hitting me with the ukulele and telling me to stop singing.

So I have come to a reluctant conclusion. Playing the ukulele at railway stations does not make you successful in love, and the people in that advertisement were not in the place they were pretending to be. I strongly suspect they may be actors. It would appear you can't trust anybody these days.

I have tried on-line dating agencies in an attempt to find a second wife myself - my first wife threw me out for "being boring". But when I enter my hobbies - train-spotting, Java programming, cycling and real-ale - into most websites I get a 404 error. I try not to take it personally.

Programme - Friday 20 January

8 am - Pouring out of Beakers

9 am - Drying out of the Beaker People

11 am - Weeping

12 noon - Gnashing of Teeth

1 pm - Lunch

2 pm - Mumbles

3 pm - Blessing of the Meek (please bring your own meek, but ensure they've had their canine distemper jabs)

4 pm - Defence against the Dark Arts

5 pm - Muggle-hunt (in the Big Meadow)

6 pm - Dinner

7 pm - Filling-up of Beakers

8 pm - Time of Silence (apart from those who retreat to the White Horse. And those having the secret drinks party nobody knows about)

Midnight - Howling at the Moon

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Girl on the Platform Smile

A week or so ago it was pointed out (by @stukershaw, if you're interested) that this advert for a dating agency was getting a lot of showings on telly.

A few thoughts.

A 28-year-old woman is not really a "girl". She is a woman.

That "boy" has a beard. Infantilizing him isn't making this any better.

They're playing the long version a lot. Is this (a) because advertising is really cheap after Christmas or (b) because it's just after Christmas so lots of people need another relationship?

She can't half shift over that bridge, yet is mysteriously not out of breath by the time she materialises on the other platform.

Why the heck has he got a ukelele anyway?

If the solution to not being in a relationship was playing cheap musical instruments on railway stations, who would need Internet dating agencies?

I'm obviously not getting out enough.

Not Reading Wikipedia

I've no idea what special day it may be today, as I'm not reading Wikipedia. We can live without them.

That'll teach them to think they're important and we care. They've just used us in their political games. Swines.


(with thanks for inspiration to Richard Battersby)

Wemembrance of Wulfstan of Worcester

Archdruid: We wemember Wulfstan!

All: Which Wulfstan?

Archdruid: Wulfstan of Worcester!

All: We will wemember Wulfstan of Worcester!

Archdruid: Worrier of the Welsh!

All: And wealthy!

Archdruid: Wich through wool!

All: And weliable for William!

Archdruid: Which William?

All: William the B... Conquewor.

Archdruid: And now let us wejoice in the weturn of Wikipedia! Without which I'd wonder where we were.

All: Welcome, Wikipedia!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Wacky Rejection of Oxford "Application"

I'm sure I should take away a different message from the news that a funny 19-year-old has "turned down" Magdalen College, Oxford.

But all I took from it was that, in 10 years' time, should I be up before the Beak charged with, for example, sticking pots of paint on the heads of annoying people, I won't be hoping that Elly Nowell is my defending counsel. I would fear seeing the judge dusting off the black cap, frankly. If this wacky student ever makes it to the Bar, I foresee a future of her being banged up for contempt of court as, dressed in her elitist barrister's outfit, she makes fun of the judge.

The idea of someone heading for a career in Law complaining about a "fairly ridiculous and prominent elitist institution" defies satire, really.

The Colour of Magic

It is a great joy to me, lifting my heart and causing my soul to skip like unto the hills of the psalm, whenever I see new converts flocking unto this little Zion, O my brothers and suitably-instructed sisters. And especially so when they have been gathered from the godless and self-obsessed Beaker Folk next door.

And yet today although I welcomed Quizling and Torquil into the house of the Lord, which is to say the Bogwulf Baptist Chapel, for initial instruction after their abrupt conversion, there is something that seems not right unto my heart.

This is the first time I have ever had two people arrive at the manse door, each with a pot of paint stuck on their heads - blue for Torquil, and green for Quizling. I still do not understand the full details - and they were, after all, still spitting out paint after I removed the pots - although I gather the so-called Archdruid was behind it. For apparently she chose "MacNeil" - at which my two new brethren asked what was wrong with "Munro". I have no idea what this means, and can get no more sense from them.  I can only hope they are not the names of two of the darker spirits that I may have to cast out. This is what happens when we start to dabble with strange powers.

Painting the Door - Latest

Yet more door-related misery.

Quizling tells me that he represents a number of people who really wanted the Moot House door painted green, but lack the confidence to say.

Interestingly if I add up all the silent people that Quizling claims to be standing for, and those for whom Torquil is the mouthpiece, it comes to more than the number of people that actually belong to the community. I'm starting to think that maybe the two of them are merely trying to increase their own standing, and don't represent "Silent Majorities" at all.

In any case, to restore peace, I'm going for a compromise.

Rest for the Wiki


This blogpost contains no citations, and could be improved by deletion.

They came to call 18 Jan 2012 the "Great Darkness". The day that some Wikipedia software engineers, concerned that the US government was going to make them use SOAP, pulled the great online encyclopedia offline. And while the engineers wondered how, without Wikipedia, they were going to be able to find the instructions on how to turn it back on again, the world fell into darkness.

It's terrible news for me, I can tell you. Whenever I inform the Beaker people that we're celebrating a new form of Inca liturgy (not the one with the still-beating heart - that's gross and must sting a bit) it's to Wikipedia I turn for the salient points. It also conveniently has lists of births, deaths and notable events for each day. Now we might have to use real saints, if Hnaef can find his old Book of Common Prayer - that must surely give all the saints for any day?

And pity the poor student, having to write a scientific or historical essay today. Though if essays are submitted explaining that Karl Marx left Harpo, Chico and co after "Duck Soup", because he didn't think it covered the area of class struggle with sufficient seriousness - how will the teachers be able to check?

Down at the tabloid newspapers, there must be utter panic.  How are they going to write their "20 things you never knew about Peter Sarstedt" articles now? There could be pages of blank newsheet coming off the presses as I write. And the QI Elves have been given a day's unpaid leave as well.  Stephen Fry has been reduced to the status of mere mortal.

So we are celebrating the Lament of Knowlessness today. It's basically a straight moan that, although we thought we were so much cleverer than our ancestors - thinking we knew all about Bob Holness playing the sax on Baker Street, the Hundred Years War and the chemical structure of amides - in fact we know little. A small amount of contextless data rattles around our empty brains but, without Wiki, we don't know how to give it a Sitz in Leben. Like frogs in a pond in March, there's no logic to how the ends join up. Did Lord Nelson kiss the author Thomas Hardy? Did the composer Engelbert Humperdinck have a second career as a pop singer? Did. Freddie Mercury prophecy the day when Lady Gaga would take over the world and pump her music into our radios like a latter-day Big Brother? Is Endemol a kind of sleeping tablet? Did St Helen come from St Helens or Saint Helena? I realise that, as it says in the Book of Samuel, everything is vanity - all human knowledge is but polarised dust on an unused disk array - and I repent in that dust and weep.

On a brighter note, we're going to be painting the Moot House door blue today. If we can find out how paint works.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Popular Opinion

Never let it be said that I don't listen to others.

In fact, all day I have done little more than listen to Torquil as he complains that we didn't listen to him. He is insistent that "many people" secretly supported the blue paint-job for the door. Now as we all know there is nothing worse than "many people" who "just don't like to complain", but have one self-appointed spokesperson who likes little else.

So like a judge listening to a nagging widow, I have given in. The Moot House door will be blue. Green is definitely wrong.

Behind the Green Door

A real coolness this morning at breakfast. Torquil is really unhappy about the "green door" decision. He sat there breaking his toast into tiny pieces and muttering that the treatment of the Cathars was only marginally worse. And he said that certain people - certain people with pointy hats - are out of touch with what the ordinary Beaker person in the Moot is thinking. That we are not - whatever we claim - all in it together.

Or so I'm told. I was in my suite of rooms having breakfast alone. I find I function better if I don't have to hear the clatter and chatter first thing. And I'm allergic to cheap coffee and "value" bread.

Monday, 16 January 2012

A Point of Great Importance

It's been a long and painful process, but I'd like to feel we've all grown through it.

And I'm not going to say we've always pulled in the same direction. Often times this evening I've wondered whether there are members of the Beaker Folk who are wilfully argumentative, heretical, or frankly downright possessed. Possibly by the spirit of Mr Ed the talking horse.

And it's not often we cover so much theology in one evening. I mean, apart from the Bible (including the Apocrypha, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and the Little Book of Calm we ended up seeking through Barth's Kirchliche Dogmatik (in the Flemish) and St Augustine's On Hippos, and we eventually came up with the conclusion.

We're going to paint the Moot House main door green. The people who wanted blue are just going to have to get used to it. Honestly, what a Property Committee. We had to mop the blood up afterwards.

Frost Frenzy

Please can Beaker Folk note that this morning's "Celebration of the Winter" ceremony will be held in the Moot House. It's a bit too parky outside.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Searching for the Unicorns

Eileen has been round earlier. I wish she would not come disturbing my restful Sabbath-day hush - and I have a sneaking suspicion she has been to the White Horse for Sunday lunch, and is in a mood that could be charitably best described as "frivolous".

She was pestering me about the unicorns in the Bible - saying she always thought they'd died in the flood. Her theory, apparently, was that Noah didn't want any horns that sharp on the Ark in case they punctured the vessel. But she has challenged me - they clearly survived the flood, as they appear in the books that deal with the times after the flood - Job for example -
"Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?" - and so clearly we know that Job was familiar with unicorns, and that clearly they were of little use for ploughing. Not a farmyard animal, you might conclude.

But, says Eileen, if they did not all drown in the flood - where are they?

This is a serious question, and deserves a serious answer. And I note that one group of people have come to one logical conclusion - that they are invisible. And with admirable zeal they are busy trying to find the invisible unicorns. Although I can't help wondering what they are hoping to achieve here - an invisible unicorn, being shy and retiring as it must, will clearly just stay out of the way. Although it strikes me that, as these unicorn-hunters are also said to be scientific, they are clearly missing the obvious way to be certain about the presence of the unicorns. If they simply napalm the entire camp, they can be very sure that there are, now, no unicorns.

Unless, of course, they are flame-proof.

If modern unicorns are not invisible and flame-proof, then another possibility is that they are hiding somewhere that civilized humanity has not yet reached - perhaps in a lost Andean valley, in the jungles of Indonesia, or maybe a suburb of Northampton.

Or maybe they all died in Biblical times - perhaps, given their notorious uselessness, unable to plough, and that they were reputedly the size of horses - perhaps the Babylonians simply had them cast out from the face of the earth, and their hides turned into coats for rich ladies - in the same way that, I have heard, the Boticelli Cherubs were wiped from Renaissance Europe.

Eileen, in her sarcastic way, suggested that maybe the unicorns have all evolved into rhinoceri. What a ridiculous thing to say. Everybody knows that it is rhinoceroses.

Meeting God Changes Lives?

Eileen has asked me to apply my forensic brain to the statistics she was quoting this morning. Dear readers, it always gladdens my heart to assist her in her ministerial struggles! I remember that every part of the body may have a purpose. And mine is not only to be stood up against the door to guard against draughts.

It seems to me that the situation in the survey that Eileen describes can best be described as a Venn diagram, thus:

Now the people who make some connection with God in church, and do something about it - that is those in the white portion of the right-hand set - they make sense. Of course if you meet with God something is going to change? Let us call them "Responders".

And the people in the white portion of the left-hand set - they also make sense. They have not met with God, and nothing has changed. Let us call them "Pew-fillers".

The people in the outer set but not the inner sets - they are people who have not met with God through churchgoing, but have changed their lives anyway. I will call them "Self-starters". Or they may be people who, through not meeting God in church, have decided it's about time they changed their lives by not going to church. I shall call those "Leavers".

But the people in the patterned intersection are the most interesting of all. They are people who, having met God in church, have not changed anyway. They've enjoyed the presence of the divine in a worship situation, and are going to do nothing about it.  I am going to call them "Consumers." Oddly enough, the Archdruid quite likes them. She says the Pew-fillers are always vaguely disappointed, and the Responders are too much trouble. The Self-Starters can be useful, as they will do helpful jobs without claiming any kind of divine mandate for anything. But Consumers are quiet, undemanding and won't change the world. As long as they keep putting money in, they're just the type she likes.

Giving Discipleship the Tebow

As if in divine response or validation, I read this morning's article in the Huffington Post - Churchgoing has no effect on 50% of Americans?. (That's 50% of those that go).

This is great news for believers everywhere, as next time the US decides to attack somewhere we can show that it's not Christianity that did it. And Christians in the UK can be assured that of Tony Blair's devoutness and David Cameron's uncertain piety, only one (ie 50%) affected policy. I'm going for Cameron on this one as it strikes me that between Blair's Anglican and Catholic phases, the only difference in his behaviour was that now he's moved from a local church to a multi-national, his megalomania has become international. Since that's just the kind of thing we'd expect of Tony Blair, clearly his affiliation has nothing to do with his behaviour.

Back to the article "three out of five church attenders said they could not recall an important new religious insight from their last church visit." And given that 50% couldn't remember walking away with a "significant new understanding", I'm left wondering whether a significant proportion could actually remember where they were on Sunday morning.

As I say, it's all a great boost to my theory that if you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. But if you give a man a fishing-rod, he'll ask if you can nip off and catch a fish with it for him, only there's something on telly.

In another blow to US Religion, I note that Tim Tebow is out. That's a great shame, as i'd hoped he could go all the way. I suppose now either Mitt or Newt will win the nomination, but I really thought Tim was the one who could actually take on Obama.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Frost Service

Can all Beaker People please note that we're calling tomorrow morning's Frost Service off, due to a frozen pitch.

Discipleship Lite

Now this is very important, and fundamental to the very nature of the Community here. So I'm going to have to lay this on the line. It's really not going to do anyone any good if I beat around the bush here.

Some people have asked me whether maybe the Beaker life is not challenging enough. They've been noting the lives of some of the famous disciples - Peter, for example, Stephen or maybe James. And they've noticed that quite a lot of them, on the whole, ended up dead at an earlier age than might have been expected. They notice that Paul, among his many adventures and brave preaching of the Gospel, ended up getting beaten up, flogged and imprisoned more often than is the average.They have suggested that, if the "Beloved Disciple" was that same St John that washed up having a Revelation on Patmos, then maybe that was a lonely place for the lad who spent the early days of the faith at the heart of a group of disciples to end up.

They have noted the long and nasty history of many of the people that followed on - and the lives being cut short, even today, of thousands of Christians worldwide - of places where they are persecuted, imprisoned, kidnapped.

And they've noted a long tradition of holiness and self-denial, of discipline and trying to act the right way.

And they've asked whether we're missing something in our daily life.

And I've said to them - yes, it's true. Apart from when battle breaks out over what scent the tea lights should be, we rarely get involved in any punch-ups due to our faith.

But I say, look at the struggles we go through every day. We work ceaselessly to ensure that every liturgy we use provides maximum personal fulfillment and uplifting experience. We'd not have time to do this if we were constantly battling the desires of the flesh.

And hungering and thirsting after righteousness is all fine, sure. But if it's spiritual experiences you want, then getting all holy first is a long way round. I mean, some of those saints had to work for years before they really got godly - and that's a long old wait for a blessing. We offer easy-access ritual providing a short-cut to beatific feelings.

But don't think we are immune to self-criticism. We are not afraid to take a long hard look at ourselves. After every act of worship we ask ourselves - did that work? Were people uplifted? Did they find themselves challenged - but not in a depressing kind of way? Were the music group in tune (answer - almost certainly not). Did we "break through" in a new and exciting kind of way - even newer and more exciting than we did last time?

But we don't want to go letting that spill over into our daily lives too much. After all, many Beaker People would find that, if they didn't carry on being grouchy, moaning and back-stabbing at work, they would be under stress. And stress is a bad thing. You don't want to go getting stressed, as if you do you'll be unhappy and not enjoy yourself. Much better to be yourself - no matter how sneaky and unpleasant that may be.

You see, it's not like we don't reverence saints. Of course we do. We love saints. Saints are great examples for us to look at. But they're just a bit kind of strenuous, aren't they? As Eustacia Vye remarked about St Paul, while he was excellent in the Bible he'd hardly do in real life. Going round denying self, living for God, being all things to all people - it's all a bit much. And we love Mother Julian of Norwich deeply, and will often reflect on a hazelnut in her honour (in appropriate season - we're not barbarians, after all) - but getting locked up in a brick cell so as to concentrate more on the divine is not my idea of a balanced spiritual life.

So I've suggested that if they want a more demanding spiritual life, maybe they could attend the extra-late Howling at the Moon and extra-early Saluting the Dawn (which can be carried out an any time of night, due to our dawn-simulator in the Moot House). With a bit of luck they should find that the sleep deprivation gives some lovely spiritual feelings.

Friends Beyond the Summer Wine

Foggy Dewhurst, Nora Batty, big Sid making cups of tea,
Compo Simmonite and Eli,
And Blamire, Seymour and Edie, lie in Holmfirth cemetery!

"Gone, I call them, gone for good, that group of local hearts and heads
Yet at evening rush-hour,
Or last orders when the noon-heat breathes it back from walls and leads

They’ve a way of whispering to me—fellow-tyke who yet abide—
In the muted, measured note
Of a ripple under archways, on a  Pennine hillside.

“We have triumphed: this achievement turns the bane to antidote,
Unsuccesses to success,
Many thought-worn eves and morrows to a morrow free of thought.

“No more need we buns and coffee, free of all West Yorkshire stress;
Chill detraction stirs no sigh;
Fear of death ne'er seemed to scare us: yet death gave all that we possess.”

Wainright: You can burn the Karl Marx picture that I kept beside the bed
Close the library, flog the books off
We're all equal now we're dead.

Nora Batty: Let the pigeons foul the path that once I kept so cleanly swept.
Snap the clothes prop, break the yard-brush
Dirt and soil I now accept.

Foggy Dewhurst: You can sell the campaign medals that I won in countries far
But though you search through all the boxes,
You won't find the Burma star.

Compo: Throw away my woolly hat, and let my ferrets run quite free
Let the women pass un-harassed
No attraction now, for me.

All: Pints of Tetley, Syd's foul cuppas, coffee gatherings so long
Scary women, feeble men-folk
They don't matter where we've gone.

Do we care in which far dale Howard and Marina ride
Or that Pearl, with shrewish wisdom,
knows he's something still to hide?

We don't care who's in the Co-op, who's no better than she ought,
Who's gone riding in a bath-tub
Or donkey-chasing for his sport.

We don't care if Norman Clegg still goes to Ivy's caff for tea,
or if the former Mrs Truelove's
as awful as she used to be.

Thus where Yorkshire grit's not needed, where flat-capped folk finally creep
In that quiet, moonlit bone-yard
As  mill-girls and landlords sleep,

Foggy Dewhurst, Nora Batty, big Sid making cups of tea,
Compo Simmonite and Eli,
And Blamire, Seymour and Edie, whisper gently now to me!


(After "Friends Beyond", by Thomas Hardy)

Friday, 13 January 2012

Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars Hill

I've just been catching up on the latest Internet and media storm around the relationship between men and women. Once again someone has come out and made some surprising comments on the vexed subject of the respective roles of men and women. But it strikes me that the concept of "complementarity" is very important here.

Paul Jewell, I suspect, has just said something off the cuff and amusing. A journalist remarked about the penalty decision that  Amy Fearne didn't give for Ipswich that the crowd "to a man" would have given the penalty. Mr Jewell's response was to remark that - to a man, yes - but to a woman, no.

Now it could be argued that Jewell was just using a convenient way of picking out the assistant referee. It could be pointed out that when he referred to "the lineswoman, or whatever she's called" he was struggling in exactly the same way as every other person involved in football in the country as they say "linesman", then remember it's an "assistant referee or whatever they're called". For myself i'd suggest to FA two alternatives - either take a leaf out of the Fire Service and refer to them as "line-runners", or follow the universal and gender-neutral term that is actually used  across the country, and call them "lino".

But I digress. The whole argument, as I say, ignores the concept of complementarity. There are roles that must be held in such a way that they complement each other - not that one is more important and the other lesser (although they are) but that society may function in an orderly way. I refer, of course, to the relationship between referee and lino.

In the beginning it was ordained that the referee is the head of the team of officials, while the lino is subject to the ref's authority. We do not allow the lino to be in authority over the ref, for the referee's decision, no matter how wrong, is final. And we do not know the secrets of the conversations that take place between ref and lino. For all we know it had been ordained by Robert Lewis, the referee at the game, that the linos were to make no decisions other than offsides and whose throw-in it was. Some refs do this, and they are within their rights - though we may disagree with their views. But it does ensure that everyone knows their place. And if that were the case, then the responsibility for the non-penalty was thoroughly with the ref. The linos (both of them, male and female) were mere adornments on the side of the pitch in this case.

Now I like to think the best, so I'm going to assume Paul Jewell wasn't being sexist. I'm going to choose to believe that, like Diane Abbott tweeting, he fires off his thoughts without them actually going through the "thought" process. I'd like to think if the lino had been in possession of a Y chromosome then Paul's response would have been "obvious to a man - but not that man." For if history has taught us one thing, it is that  football managers are bad losers no matter who the officials are.

Friday 13th

What a start to the day.

Woken up early by all the screaming and crashing from the (Wo)Manse across the way.

Drayton Parslow, to prove to his followers that all superstition is rubbish, was deliberately walking under a ladder.

But it was a remarkable piece of bad luck. Our Beaker Black Cat, Grendel, seems to have figured out how to use the ladder to go after the birds on the roof. Disturbed by the loud singing of "To be a Pilgrim" from below, Grendel did what any self-respecting Beaker cat would do and threw himself off the ladder and onto Drayton's head.

Now, I didn't realise about Drayton. That's a superbly realistic toupee he's been wearing all these years. Next thing they know, Draton's sat on the ground clutching a lacerated chrome-dome while Grendel's killing his syrup. Drayton staggers up and chases after the cat, thus drawing Grendel's Mother into the affair and Drayton's got one cat eating his wig while the other goes for his ankles. Eventually he fled into the house crying "Vanity, vanity."

So a nice start to Friday 13th I reckon. Drayton's gonna have to spend some time living this one down.  But I'm opening up the Beaker Bazaar early so the Funambulist Baptists can buy their heather, vegan rabbit-effect feet and Traditional Beaker 4-leaved Clovers. It's an ill wind, I reckon.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Jumping on the Bandwagon

Oh I love a bandwagon.

After all, what's the point of a wagon if you can't jump on it with the band? Everybody jumps on the wagon until you can't move on the wagon for bands. And the bandwagon's the only thing anyone's interested in - especially the bands. And before you know it the wagon's not moving anymore and you wonder what the point of a wagon is if it's so full you can't get on and so slow that it doesn't move.

And then you get off the bandwagon.

Time for an Upgrade?

Maybe Young Keith is right and it's time to upgrade the computer.



But then, maybe it just sums up my life.

Let's Face the Music and Liturgical Dance - Again

Now don't get me wrong. Dance is a wonderful thing. And liturgical dance can illuminate the words of worhip as well as giving the dancer the opportunity to worship in body, mind and spirit.

It's just - tap-dancing?

To "Just as I Am"?

Let's Face the Music and Liturgical Dance - Again

Now don't get me wrong. Dance is a wonderful thing. And liturgical dance can illuminate the words of worhip as well as giving the dancer the opportunity to worship in body, mind and spirit.

It's just - tap-dancing?

To "Just as I Am"?

Extreme Worship

Afraid we've had to call off this morning's planned "Extreme Worship" event.

Young Keith's uncle the police constable tells me that if we want to drive around the village with the worship group clamped onto the top of four Citroen C4s, singing "I hear the Sound of Rustling", we'll have to have all the roads closed. And come up with some way of stopping the music blowing away.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A Little Local Trouble

It was Thomas Hardy (died today, 1928, in case you missed it - you still have time to light a tea light) who described "a local thing called Christianity" in his ambitious, grandiose but sadly quite dull The Dynasts.

And in musing on Tommy H today, I drifted off onto the troubles of the Western World. We talk about the current economic problems - but they are currently mostly the problems of the West. China, for instance, continues to grow at a cheerful 9% or so, even while the Europeans stagnate or go backwards.

Meanwhile Christianity seems to be a in a similar condition. While the churches of Western Europe lie half-empty we're up to a record worldwide of 2 bn + Christians - and in China alone there's somewhere around (hard to say, but conservatively) 70M. And look at the booming economies (and numbers of professed Christians) of Brazil and Russia. I note that the numbers aren't high for Western Europe but, given a region  producing no children and in economic decline.... oh well.

I've my doubts on the theories set out (see attached article) that it's a nation's insecurity that drives religious belief. Let's face it, the best church-goers in England are middle-class and as a rule they're the ones with least insecurity - unless, of course, the insecurity is caused by the Daily Mail? But the Chinese and Brazilians aren't looking so insecure these days (I'll give you the Russians and Mexicans).

So it's a nagging feeling - is it just the Western world that's strange?

Death of Thomas Hardy (1928)

1st Yokel: That Thomas Hardy's still dead, then?

2nd Yokel: Aye, reunited with the Immanent Will as we all will be.

1st Yokel: Come again?

2nd Yokel: Yes, he be dead. One of the Things Growing in a Country Churchyard, as we all will be.


1st Yokel: Shall we drink to that?

2nd Yokel: I've not seen a drap o'drink since nammet-time on Lammas-tide, though that were as pretty a drap o' tipple as I've seen this side o' sheep-shearin'. Otherwise it's all been nowt but smalls.

1st Yokel: Can you please speak English. Is that "yes" or "no"?

2nd Yokel: That's "yes".

1st Yokel: Then knock it off, and let's get a pint.

2nd Yokel: 'Tis an ungodly remedy, but we ought to feel deep cheerfulness that a happy Providence keeps it from being any worse.

1st Yokel: What?

2nd Yokel: I said, it's your round.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Summer is i-kumen in

Much excitement around the Community as we celebrated the first time we've seen the Afterglow on the western horizon after 5 o'clock. Frankly I have my doubts as the sun's still setting in the south-west, and I reckon it was actually the glow from Milton Keynes' streetlights that we saw.

Still, an eventful day as we celebrated the Nativity of Rod Stewart and reckoned that he'd never get away with the lyrics of "Maggie" these days. Or at least, he shouldn't. But "Sailing" is a great song for liturgical responses, and even has its own actions. Great for the kids - if they weren't all at school - but we went ahead anyway. You don't want to suffer too much from self-consciousness if you're in the Beaker Folk.

And we were going to mark the Eve of the Death of Thomas Hardy by eating his final meal tonight. But a bit of research in Millgate has revealed that it was pheasant and champagn Sounds a bit luxurious during a troubled financial period, so we're going for lamb curry and cider instead. I like to think it's what he would have wanted.

On Ecumenism

Last night I had a wonderful dream.

Every church in the world had come together in perfect unity. All doctrinal differences were resolved, and each church recognised the other's ministry and sacraments.

Truly, we were all one in the Spirit, and recognisably the One Body for which Our Lord prayed.

But then I noticed.

Sure, it was lovely, the way that everyone in the world was lighting tea lights in one acccord. And the knowledge that as one Community was pouring-out beakers, on the other side of the globe another group was filling them up.

But in my dream all the newly-redundant male priests, excluded from ministry according to ages-old Beaker Lore, wandered the earth wondering what else they could do. The ceremony of "Tenebrae", which so many groups had adopted for its dramatic loveliness, lost its power for some when they were told that they must keep a couple of tea-lights lit "for people who are scared of the dark".

And do you know, in my dream, as I surveyed the nations of Beaker Christians, and worried about the worldwide hazelnut and tea light shortage - not to mention the rocketing commodity-market price of voile - I realised there was something missing. And it was difference. Nobody could ever disagree any more - because, in the world of the Wholly Beaker Church, all viewpoints were equally valid - especially the viewpoint that all viewpoints are equally valid, which is the most valid of them all.

And I rejoiced that we had broken down the old hierarchical oppressive church relationships. That no longer did authority flow downwards from men of God to men not-quite-so-much of God to people of even-less God. And instead, across the world, bottom-up democratic communities were spontaneously deciding policies that I just happened to agree with.

And I realised that without crusty, reactionary elderly male bishops, and people in ludicrous outfits and Drayton Parslow and fundamentalists who really believe what they say - that the place was really boring. What was the good of people the world over using icons if there wasn't somebody, somewhere, believing they were real vehicles of grace, and not just shiny pictures that make us feel good? Why sing music from the charismatic side of the church without someone - somewhere - really believing that if they are receptive enough the Spirit will fill them and give them spiritual gifts? For in my Beaker world church, being filled with the Spirit was acceptable as long as
nobody thereby acquired gifts that might be a bit awkward - like tongues, or prophecy. Or healing.

So I woke screaming.

I've had a flick through a few blogs this morning and I'm pleased to report that everything's OK. The Catholics are still convinced everyone else has got it wrong. And the Fundies still thinlk everyone else is going to hell - including other Fundies they argue with on minor matters. And the Methodists can still see the good in everyone. And the Unitarians seem to be happy with letting everyone get on with being themselves, regardless of doctrine.

All's right with the world again. So I'm just off out to accuse Drayton Parslow of being a woman-hating bigot. Thank goodness it was just a dream.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Nativity of Severus Snape / Full Moon

Sometimes there's a problem with a religion where you make it up as you go along, feelings are treated with respect, wishful thinking counts as much as dogma or logic and you daren't give offence.

And that is that, no matter what someone comes up with, you can't come up with a knock-down reason why what they're saying is tripe.

Take this evening. One of the more bookish of the Moon Gibbon folk noticed that today is Severus Snape's birthday. For those of my gentle readers, whose evangelical sympathy would mean they have never opened the deeply-suspect covers of the Harry Potter series, I should explain that Snape is a deep and complex character, a man of many sides and - at the last - a great hero. But he has a sinister and austere side to him, as befits a member of Slytherin. Combining this with the evident fact that it's full moon, a whole new and scary mythological conjunction has arisen.

The Moon Gibbon people have decided that, when it's Severus Snape's birthday of a full moon, Snape redivius haunts the land, savaging those muggles that have not held fast to the old true Gibbon Moon faith. But the Moon Gibbon people are a fundamentalist and basically pessimistic people, constantly convinced that they have failed the Gibbon himself - not least because they have no idea what his requirements actually are. They should be out joining with us howling at the moon - instead they've broken for cover early this evening and are lurking in the spinney calling for the mountains to fall on them before they receive the lash of Snape's satirical tongue. It's gonna be a long night.

(For the calendrical liturgists among you, I'm sure you'll be interested to know that, given Snape's birthday only rarely coincides with the full moon, on other years the Gibbon Folk plan to move it to the first Saturday between Snape's Day and the nearest Full Moon. That means they can have the whole of Sunday to get over being terrified to death by an angry wizard in league with a giant lunar primate. If any of this makes any sense, you may like to consider starting your own religion).

Burn Down All the Forests

With a doff of the pointy archdruidical hat to Doug Chaplin (albeit on Twitter) for bringing this to my attention).

The BBC tells us that, thanks to CO2 emissions, the next ice age (which was due to being in about 1,500 years) will now be postponed.

This throws climate scientists who believe in warming (the majority) and those who deny (a few, and a lot of bloggers and people in bars) into a quandary.

Because a climate-change sceptic can't argue that we should keep on generating CO2 to stave off an ice-age, if they deny that producing the gas has any effect on the climate.

On the other hand, if you're one of the ones who say we should reduce carbon emissions to prevent global warming, but preventing global warming lets in an Ice Age in 1,500 years by the back door - then by how much should we reduce emissions safely? Do we try to reduce emissions to save the people of the next century, and hope the people of the next millennium will be able to help themselves?

It's really very hard to know what to do. It seems that if we take one path, this is it - we're all going to die.
Whereas if we take the other - then this is it, we're all going to die.

I've a sneaky feeling that religion got there before science on this one, with the very sane conclusion that we are all, indeed, going to die. But don't burn down the forests really - it's a silly idea but a catchy title.

Migration Watch

I'm not going to beat about the bush. Burton Dasset is feeling most let down over his membership of Migration Watch.

Six months he's been a member, and not one field trip. Still, he's just heard about the publication of the report "Them Poles, coming over here taking Our Jobs", as I believe it's called. And now he understands why they lost interest in the "winter visitor" he phoned them to report, when he explained it was an unusual species of tern.

I notice that Migration Watch describes itself as "non-political". Off-hand, I can't understand how an organisation that counts incoming foreigners and reports that they're taking the natives' jobs is non-political, but I've obviously not thought deeply enough about the matter.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Transferring the Nativity of David Bowie

Please note we'll be translating the Nativity of David Bowie as this year it clashes with the Nativity of Elvis Presley. Shame really. I was looking forward to celebrating Bowie's birthday, but now I'm all shook up.

A New Retention Myth

In contrast to the old, clearly-made-up Retention Myth I would like to propose the following:

People remember 55% of things they warmly agree with.
81% of the bits they violently disagree with (of which they remember about 5% accurately)
And 42% of sitting around feeling in a comfortable and safe place.
4% of what they read on notice sheets
9% of what they subsequently hear when someone reads all through the notice sheet again for them
1% of the things on a notice board
Yet, mysteriously, 75% of urban myths

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Getting your sermon priorities right

It is said that people remember 10% of what they hear, 20% of what they see, 30% of what they do... presumably up to 100% of what they eat.

I've never seen any real research behind this claim, no trainer has ever cited his or her references to me (but see the link below), and my guess is it's codswallop, like the claim that the Americans spent millions on a space pen while the Russians just used a pencil. Burton Dasset once heard a trainer claim that the Beagle II mission was a masterpiece of project management, so that just goes to show the rubbish that people can say when power-crazed and drunk with the smell of dry-wipe marker pens.


But the claim I mentioned - the so-called "Retention Myth" - has infected the way that Beaker People engage in what more traditional, or - as you might say - "square" - churches would call "preaching".

For myself, the assumption that most people aren't paying much attention to sermons (see Burton's post from earlier today) is backed up by a natural inclination to avoid any firm doctrine in case it causes an argument. So I find it best to read spiritual-sounded verses from the Metaphysical Poets while playing a little light Enya, to the accompaniment of some vanilla-scented candles. People always say "nice sermon, Archdruid", and never feel the need to argue with my model of realised eschatology (which is just as well, as my model of realised eschatology is made of old matchsticks and wood glue).

Hnaef has bought into some of the verbal vs visual theories, so he occasionally preaches while riding a unicycle round the Moot House. I'm not saying anyone is any better-informed, but the time he did it while juggling with chain-saws, people certainly gave him 100% of their attention. And many came close to having their lives radically changed.

The other trendy sermon technique we like to use is to split people up into small groups and share their thoughts, and then get one person - the "rapporteur" is one term, although we prefer "show-off" - to summarise the group's findings to the Beaker People in plenum. We have noticed the tendency that this has to show up unusual heresies, and we treasure it as a way of developing some new ones.

Drayton, of course, when preaching over at the Funambulist Baptists, sticks rigidly to the belief that Jesus would only approve of sermons preached by a bloke in a suit. His sermons can occasionally last for an hour at a time, I am told - but if they are any longer than that, they have a break so his congregation can change ends at half time.