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Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Day the Earth Hour Stood Still

Every year, without fail, we celebrate Earth Hour.

I say "without fail." In fact, we celebrate Earth Hour, almost inevitably, with some kind of failure. This year being no different to any other.

In order to be more comprehensive in our energy saving, this year we cut the power at the fuse box. The whole complex - Beaker Bazaar, Moot House, Great House, Doily Shed et al - plunged into darkness. Just the fridges left on.

And so we sat there in the Moot House, in the darkness. Letting the stillness of Husborne Crawley find its way to us, above the roar of the gas-burners we needed to keep warm with the roof open.

The theory was that we all sat there, letting the darkness and stillness seep into our souls - feeling ourselves at one with the Earth that we neglect and loot every other hour of the year, with our electric lights, television sets and computing devices. That we could look up through the open roof and see the wonders of creation, wheeling above us.

At least that was the theory. It was a shame about the clouds blotting out the heavens, of course. But a number of Beaker People had various astronomy apps on their smartphones, and spent a whole hour ooh-ing and aah-ing at what they would have seen on a clear night. While the remainder spent all their time, it turns out, tweeting to their very limited number of followers the events of the night.

Most of which events of the night were indeed provided by Burton. About twenty-five minutes in, and he stands up shouting "Badger! Badger! Badger!"

Well, the Beaker People don't like badgers. They're terrified of them. I try to tell them that they're just friendly old brocks, the last remaining decent-sized carnivores left to us from Merrie England. But they tell you that they can break your nose with one swipe of their wings. I tell them that's swans, and then they tell you they can break your back with a hug. I tell them that's the giant ant-eater, but they reckon that's close enough.

So needless to say, next thing we know there's Beaker Folk running in all directions - never a good idea when you're in a confined space in the dark, and the only lights available are the glow of 50 smartphones. It was all very confusing, and bruising. I managed to keep myself from being hurt using a secret and ancient art - also known as cover drives and swipes to cow-shot corner (let the Reader understand).

Not a badger
When too many people had run into walls, I managed to hit the emergency lighting button, and the truth was revealed. In amongst the battered and terrified Beaker Folk, we saw Rizzo, the Beaker Jack Russell. Now she's got a black and white face, sure enough. But under no circumstances could anyone mistake her for a badger. Well, OK - under one circumstance she could be. That being where an impressionable accountant caught a glimpse of her in the half-light of Earth Hour. He always gets over-excited at Earth Hour. Honestly, he's as bad at Christmas.

I'll be honest, I wasn't that impressed. Burton had kind of spoilt Earth Hour for all of us. I called a rapid end to festivities, and sent everyone off to be bandaged. 

Still, at least all was not totally wasted. Burton, full of remorse and the desire to make recompense, has very kindly gone off to make some emergency doilies. He may be some time.  I may let him come back into the Moot House some time after midnight. Alternatively, I may just slip a badger into the Doily Shed if I can find one.

Hiding the Blackberry

I've hidden Young Keith's Blackberry.

It was a hard decision, but it had to be made. Every time the rotten thing flashes, he rushes to it to see what the problem is. Does he have a decision to make? Has something gone wrong? Will he need to rush into work to save the day? Will he - once again - save the world through the power of spreadsheets?

The point is though, most of the time it's just emails from other people he works with him, catching up with their work at the weekends. The work which, if they didn't do at weekends, they would have to do during the working week. Not meaningful stuff, for the most part. "Thanks for your email - I'm working on it." Or "Sorry I didn't respond to you last week. I was having a week off with stress."

But once he's read an email, he can't resist responding - just to prove he's read it on a Saturday or Sunday or three o'clock in the morning, or whatever. And of course that causes someone else's Blackberry, somewhere else in the Home Counties, to flash its little red light. And they find out Young Keith's responded. So naturally they send him an answer.....

So, impressed with Sam's article (which mostly relates to church life, but I've widened it to Keith's life) I've hidden his Blackberry. It's wrapped in cling film, in a four-feet deep plant pot, underneath the Big Yukka in the conservatory. We'll lift up the Big Yukka again on Monday morning and let him have it back before he goes to work.

Meantime, it's had a bad effect on Young Keith. He's sweaty, prowling round the Big House, looking in corners, trying to find out where the Blackberry's gone. I've told him to have a walk, have a read, have a beer. And he tells me yes he'll do that - just as soon as he's found his phone.

I can see I'm going to have to do this every weekend. It could take a while to cure him.

Complementarianism in Motoring Evolution

I was intrigued when I heard, via David Warnock, of this little piece on Female Role Models. And I have shown it to Drayton Parslow - who said it made some interesting points - but I pointed out to him that he's not allowed to learn from them, as he's not a woman. But then I realised that, on the same basis, he's also not allowed to receive instruction from me either - and he just had. Leaving him in a terrible paradox, I'm sure you'll agree.

It seems to me that if an Evangelical church starts allowing its women to lead and preach as long as only other women are around, it would be heading down a terrible slippery slope towards them realising they're actually as good at it as men - maybe tending less towards the high-flown rhetoric and aggressive finger-pointimg, sure - but compensating with those feminine wiles like taking account of who the audience is, and building empathy. But rather than engage further with the piece - because after all it's written by a woman, so doesn't need too much consideration by any menfolk out there - I'd like to share with you a piece of social behaviour that has always intrigued me, and of which the post has reminded me.

I occasionally take the rail trip into London, and I always wonder at the behaviour of an, admittedly small, group of male commuters whose wives pick them up (and drop them off) from the station. Except for one-car families, I've always wondered about the financial wisdom of this operation. Sure, they save on parking. But then there's all the extra petrol in making two journeys. There's also the time Wifey wastes driving backwards and forwards, sitting at the station waiting for the Great Hunter's return from the Thames-side Forests when there's points trouble, to be sure. But I'm sure that her time is factored in as "valueless".

But the phenomenon I'm referring to is this. In the morning, Mr Commuter drives the car to the station. Wifey sits dutifully in the passenger seat. When they reach the station, Mr Commuter goes off for a day's hunting, be it in Docklands or the West End, while Wifey gets out of the car, goes round to the driver's side and drives home, or takes the kids to school. It is at this point we discover that Wifey is able to drive. She is not doomed to sit outside the railway station all day listening to Chris Moyles. No! She has sufficient intelligence to drive a complex 2-ton piece of machinery all on her own - without male instruction.

In the evening, she sets off from home to drive to the station. She has no doubt spent all day doing Female activities - looking at pictures of kittens, perhaps, or baking lovely cakes. She reaches the station - practically always without, at any stage, forgetting the route, or sobbing hopelessly at a traffic light because she can't remember which colour means "go". She gets out of the car, goes round, sits in the passenger seat. And when her Provider returns, he throws the dead antelope or whatever he's caught into the boot and drives home.

What I believe we're seeing here, Gentle Ones, is pure evolution at work. Clearly the male of the species is a much better driver - his instincts attuned to following the movement of gazelles across the Great Plains, he can slip safely into moving traffic, beat that bloke in the A8 away from the lights, and effortly sweep cyclists from the bike lanes. If the Male is not available, then the female of the species is clearly capable of driving. But then it is only she, the offspring, and other road users that are at risk. The Male is safely in London. As long as the Male is involved, clearly he must drive - for the safety of all concerned, and to preserve the gene pool.

I think there is much we could learn here from cases of gender-related behaviour in history.

Clearly Boudicca's problem was that her husband was deceased - if he were alive, the chariot driving would have been much better and the Romans would have been driven from Britain.

If Jael's husband Heber had been at home, he would have driven that tent peg into Sisera a lot quicker and straighter. Contrariwise, Jesus could not have been female as in that case the traders would never have been driven from the temple - instead they'd have got lost, wandered about a bit and then stopped to ask for directions.

If Margaret Thatcher had been a man, she would never have wasted her time on reducing the size of the state and taking on vested interests - instead she would have dealt with important, manly stuff, like pasties and petrol cans. The sort of stuff you buy in garages.

I'd go on - and frequently do - but I think on this occasion I will stop. I've got to go into Milton Keynes to do some shopping later, and I'm a bit worried about how I'm going to cope with all those roundabouts. I wonder if I can get Hnaef to drive me?

Friday, 30 March 2012

Earth Hour Eve

The Beaker People have always taken Earth Hour seriously.

It's only two years since the combined Earth Hour / Tenebrae / Celtic Service when the invasion of Liturgical Dancers resulted in the Eternal Flame going out and the sprinklers going off.

Whereas last year we were invaded by aliens descended from Rod Stewart, asking us to switch off the laser light show.

Now we don't want that happening again. I know we'd been planning the fireworks and all the rest of it. But do I want a bunch of tousle-headed, tartan-wearing Londoner aliens turning up all shirty again this year? I don't think so.

This Earth Hour, we're just going to sit. Very quietly. In the dark. For an hour. Because that's going to save the world. Isn't it?

All in it Together

Another visit from Sir Alan Torque-Sniceley, of the Tingrith Tories. He told me that Francis Maude was talking rubbish about storing petrol in jerry-cans.

Sir Alan always keeps a complete back-up of one tankful of petrol at any one time. But he's not breaking any health & safety laws. He keeps it safely stored in the spare Bentley.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Disastrous Worship Experiments

Sometimes you've got to stop, take stock. Look at what you've been doing, and wonder what on earth you thought you were up to. Why did the idea that seemed so good at the time, that drew such energy and enthusiasm, turn out to be so awful, you ask yourself? Unless, of course, it was a great success. In which case, well done. We judge failure very hard - or at least I do. When we should realise there's no such thing as a failed experiment - only an experiment that gave a negative result. Except for Young Keith trying to store petrol in pasties, as they're cheaper than jerry cans and keep the petrol in a kind of sequestered state. That was a bad experiment.

We have been inspired by the concept of Fresh Expressions over the years. Still are, of course. But maybe after the attempts we've made, we should rein in our ambition. Still, to give you some ideas of what to avoid - feel free to read, mark and outwardly avoid.

Post-modern Church - Where we abandoned the old, oppressive "big" narratives like God, Renewal, New Life, Moral Living, Trinity. and focussed ourselves on small narratives that people could own for themselves. Turned out the small narratives were all stuff like sneezing, itching and people asking when coffee-time was.

Cathy Church - all the men got really annoyed at being called "Cathy". Actually, so did the women. Especially Cathy. She didn't feel so special any more.

Sadly Play - A form of children's work where you act out Thomas Hardy novels. The kids got so down. Maybe if just one lead character had make it to the end alive, it would have helped.

French Expressions of Church - nobody turned up.

Stoat Pastors - turns out stoats aren't aware of any particular spiritual needs.

The Church in the Market Place - Actually, this was just a reading of a 20-year-old book by George Carey rather than a radical concept. Still, we had a nice morning cheering when the pews were taken out.

Garage Church - Total confusion, this. Most people thought we were going to introduce a radical, revolutionary, 20-year-old form of music to the church. Instead, turned out that Hnaef just thought it would be fun to have a service in the garage. It wasn't.

Goth Church - total failure of understanding again. I was thinking more "moody young people with a spiritual side just waiting to be tapped". Not recreating the sack of Rome. Not again.

Moth Church - like Goth, only with Moths. Attracted bats. We won't be doing that again.

The Church in a Tent - Like a church, only in a marquee. In the winter it got freezing cold, and the rain dripped in. So just like a church, in fact.

The Good Gnus - The Nativity, acted out by people dressed as aardvarks. Wrong on so many counts. Not least because a gnu is a kind of wildebeest, and nothing like an aardvark. Fitting those snouts on was just a painful waste of time.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

On seeing a Yellow Venus

“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?"
"Yes."
"All like ours?"
"I don't know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound - a few blighted."
"Which do we live on - a splendid one or a blighted one?"
"A blighted one.”
Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles

An odd experience walking across the Great Meadow tonight. The crescent moon was beautiful, of course. Jupiter set beneath the horizon. But hovering above the western horizon, a yellow Venus.

Venus is meant to be white, of course. I don't know what made the third-brightest object in the sky turn yellow - could have been the haze of sodium lighting from Milton Keynes, could have been atmospheric - but it transformed that pristine superlunary embodiment of the Goddess of Love into a different entity entirely.

And I fell to contemplating the State of Things. The usual question of course. There's no doubt that if I were not the good, traditional, Trinitarian Christian that I am, I'd be a particularly scary form of neo-pagan. The universe we inhabit is just so terrifying - the sizes so great, the gaps so large, the habit of random particles popping up from the random wave-form of the quantum void just so - well, so random, to be honest. The "God's in his heaven and all's right with the world" theory of life has never done for me. But then neither has the idea that Mother Gaia loves the bunnies. The evidence, such as it is, is that if God's in his heaven., the world's bloody terrifying. And as far as Mother Gaia is concerned, the bunnies can fry if that's what it takes to burn off the fever called Humanity. If I were a pagan, I'd be raising giant stone blocks to keep the One I feared off my back.

I stereotype, of course.  But it does strike me that any cuddly-bunny theory, either Christian or not, fails to stand up to a reasoned investigation. Darwin had his Ichneumon moth; Hardy had Tess as the plaything of the gods. We have the fate of the innocent Cornish pasty. They all add up to meaningless misery on the face of this apparently wonderful earth.

But go outside, under a yellow Venus, and the world changes somewhat.

CS Lewis asked himself why sheer, boring, brute, physical matter was required for God to create other beings. And, as one who is tempted to poke among mysteries, he merely confined himself to the comment that maybe it was necessary to create a physical, dimensional universe in which to house other beings than God himself. I'm sure someone (maybe Holger or Archimandrite Simon) will be able to reference this book, but it's late and the CS Lewis wing of the library is a scary thing late at night - inhabited as it is by centaurs and not-quite-tame lions.

But if the physical world was necessary to house sentient beings, then maybe there's something existential about a physical world that it should go bloody wrong the whole time? Give a human being free will and sure - before you know it there's going to be a war, or oppression, or racism or One Direction. We can't help ourselves. And maybe if God's going to create a world, then the world has that same problem - the world has a kind of free will (which you can express in the equations of the Quantum Theory, if you wish) - and if you give something free will then it's going to go wrong. It can't help it - it just does. Earthquakes will happen, stars will emit meaningless but deadly pulses of radiation. The truth of the Garden of Eden story is that anything created - given a free choice - will at some point make something pointless and stupid happen. And create something as big as the Universe, and something pointless and stupid will happen everywhere, all the time. It's not a problem, as such. It's not a design flaw. It's not even unexpected. It's just that, if God creates something that's not God, the option's there. And if the option is there, you can be fairly sure it will be taken.

In which case the Crucifixion is not a cruel God, punishing an innocent man because all the other humans couldn't keep the rules. The Crucifixion is God saying - "I took a chance. I made a universe so I could have living beings. I made it able to be what it wants - and I made you able to be, within the parameters of your environment, the things that you can be. I made it that way because that's the only way I could. If I made people that couldn't go wrong, they wouldn't be people. If I made a world that couldn't go wrong, it wouldn't be a proper world. You had to be free. I made that decision. And I did it because I wanted to love you.
And because the world is so fierce, and your decisions are so wrong so often - because only by leaving you alone could I let you be you - I knew that if I was going to make you, then pain was inevitably going to happen. And if that was the case, then I was going to have to take it with you.

"So I know it's foolishness. And I know you won't understand it. And I know you are going to make up all sorts of theology to rationalise it - because how can a human being deal with anything without a model - but I'm going to have to do it.

"If I'm going to make a world in which you have to suffer - because if you don't, then you and the universe won't be free - then I'm going to be in it with you.

"So give thanks to the human Jesus - because he's shared all the sufferings you and the world ever will. But the human Jesus is also Me. I am He. It may make me seem small, it may make no sense. It may be open to ridicule, and all sorts of misinterpretation. But I am going to be He - sharing the sufferings you must suffer, because if you don't there will be no world. And if there is no world then I will have nothing outside myself to love.

"And bear with it. Because - when we've broken down the need for a physical world together, and crawled through the pain it brings, there's an eternity of joy you can never imagine. You'll have to bear with me - but then I've shared with you."

This world may be blighted, but then they all are. Venus is this evening, in all her unlikely yellowness. But they shine with the light of eternity.

Blame Culture

Interesting findings from the consultant in Dynamic Religious Communities whom I'd employed to do a survey.

She's confirmed that, as a team, we're not really performing to our full potential. We're afraid to take risks, sticking to "safe" liturgies like pebbles 'n' tea lights.

She puts this caution and mutual suspicion down to a "blame culture".

I'm shocked. A blame culture?

I reckon Burton's responsible. Constantly taking notes in that nasty little book. I reckon he's noting down where people fall short. Or maybe Charlii - being the newcomer in the group - is trying to spot the weak links, showing them up to me so I think worse of the others.

Either way, I'm going to get Hnaef to investigate. I want to know who's causing the blame culture right now.

Pasty Tax - Government Advice on Surviving the Emergency

So pensioners are having reduced income tax allowances, while one-income families are losing a benefit that is available to two-income families with nearly twice the amount coming in. But there's only one Budget change that the nation is interested in - VAT is being levied on hot Cornish pasties.

To assist Beaker Folk during this pasty emergency, I've downloaded the following information from the Government website. I hope it helps.

Q How likely is it that VAT will be applied on pasties?
A Very likely indeed. Or, if somebody from the pasty industry wants to stand the right person dinner (I'll say no more) - not very likely at all. We'll find something else to put VAT on. Gay marriages, or frozen oven chips. Although not, obviously, venison.

Q What should we do if VAT is applied to pasties?
A There is absolutely no reason to panic. George Osborne has recommended that if you get your personal shopper to buy the raw ingredients, and your chef to cook the pasty for you, it will be totally free of VAT. Of course, if you did want to splash out a bit and glug a drop of the old cooking vino in there, then that will attract VAT. But on the bright side, once we introduce the new minimum alcohol pricing, you won't need to restrict yourself to cooking wine. You may as well buy a nice merlot, for all the difference in price makes.


Q Should I stockpile pasties?
A No. They'll only go cold and then you'll be able to reclaim the VAT. And whatever you do, don't keep them in jerry cans in the garage. They could go off.

Q What about panic buying?
A The public should resist the urge to panic-buy pasties. We don't want another stampede in Greggs.

Q Well, what should we do?
A Government advice is that consumers should keep topping-up on pasties in case the VAT goes up. If you're passing a pasty outlet and you're feeling less than three-quarters full, have another pasty. In this way you'll be kept full of pasties without causing chaos at pasty stands on railway stations. We strongly advise you don't allow yourself to become empty, and then eat four pasties at once.

Q What does David Cameron say about all this?
A "You know, the other day I met a man who was eating a pasty, and he said to me, 'Dave - why are you adding 20% to the cost of my lunch?' And I told him 'Made-up Pasty-eating Bloke, we don't want to do this. But it's been caused by the hole in the pie-dish caused by the last Government. Ed Balls ate all the pies, and we have to clear up the mess. Which is mostly broken bits of old pastry.'"


Q What are the odds the Government is deliberately playing this and the tanker strike up, to obscure the profound unfairness of the budget?
A What? Don't know what you mean. Move along. Nothing to see here.

Chicken Day

Today, being in an Easter-y mood as we are, is hereby declared "Chicken Day".

Today we give thanks for the gift of the world's most numerous and useful bird. We will be carrying out the mystic ritual of Egg-rolling (not egg-throwing - that has to wait for Easter Day).

Charlii will be dressing up as a Rhode Island Red for today's Little Pebbles session.

We will all go and look at the Beaker Flock, and consider the lessons they teach us. How their strict pecking-order ensures peace and harmony.  How they toil not, nor do they spin, and yet Solomon in all his finery was unable to lay an egg - yet these little feathery girls can. What brilliance of design/evolution/random acccident/human meddling in genetics (delete as appropriate). We will give thanks for their innate knowledge of when to wake and when to go to roost - regular as a well-ordered Beaker Person.

And then we've got a special dinner. Don't want to spoil the surprise, but let's just say we've bought a catering pack of piri-piri sauce.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A Guide to English Christianity

I'd like to thank Anonymous for his/her contributions to this site over the last couple of days. It's really opened my eyes up to how Americans do (or probably don't) think about us over on this side of a pond.

So I'd like to try to explain how church life works over here. To assist me, I'll be able to call on my considerable amount of experience of American religion, having been to two services in the States. One was in a little church in the communal hall of a trailer-park, and was notable for being small, welcoming, and not unlike some URC churches in the UK. The other was a giant Southern Baptist church, whose congregation was bigger than the population of the average British town. The pastor did not endear himself to me, by first telling his congregation that England is a terribly ungodly place, and then when saying "goodbye" at the door asking if I was "a Britisher". Sadly I was on holiday, and open-toed sandals are poor footwear in these circumstances. But fortunately the congregation was so large, I was able to nip down the road to a mall, buy a pair of steel-toe-capped boots, go back to the church and kick him in the shins before he'd finished saying goodbye to the congregation. Truly, it is a land of opportunity. You can achieve anything you want, given sufficient money and energy.

Geography

I realise that some friends from across the Pond have trouble understanding our geography, so to help you understand - "Europe" is a small group of countries on the western fringe of Asia, and to the south-east of England. "London" is a part of England but not all of it - only in London are there red buses, bobbies on bicycles two-by-two, chimney sweeps, flying nannies and people driving around in minis. There are other parts of England - for example, Liverpool, Birmingham or Scotland - where this kind of thing doesn't happen at all.

The words "Britain" and "England" are used synonymously. There is no difference, and those parts of Britain that believe they are not part of England (eg Wales and Scotland) are just deluded. I'm not going to mention Ireland as that just makes people get upset. Suffice it say that none of Ireland is part of England.

I'm also not going to mention Welsh church-going (as few do) or the Scottish variety. Except to say that in some Scottish churches, all pleasure is banned. The official Strict Kirk (Free Independent Presbyterian) Bible has the word "joy" replaced throughout by the words "strict rectitude and quiet and appropriate self-examination".

Church Politics

In America, it seems to me, you can tell politicians apart by the age at which baptism takes place. Broadly, I reckon, Democrats baptise children and Republicans baptise adults.

In England, a good rule of thumb is as follows. A lay member of the Church is likely to be a Conservative or a Liberal Democrat. Whereas a member of the clergy will be either a Labour Supporter or a Liberal Democrat. You can tell the Liberal Democrats of both orders apart these days. They're the bitter, disappointed ones.

Church and State

It's important to remember that the key difference between the church in the US and in England is its relationship to power. In the US, there is no relationship between the church and state, and the church is therefore politically quite powerful. The Church of England actually has a number of seats in the House of Lords (our equivalent of the Senate), while the Governor of the Church of England is the Queen. In any other country, this would give the Church quite unfair advantages in the way of political power. But in England, with our fear of boasting and natural love of the underdog, it's quite the opposite. The Church of England has no effective power at all, and its natural diffidence means that even "church schools" will have almost no tendency to cause their scholars to grow up as Anglicans. It's much the same way that we don't really have "mega-churches". Why have a church where you can boast about the size of the congregation, rather than one where you can complain it's so cold that the water in the font has frozen?

If you weren't English, you might think there was something odd in the idea that the Archbishop of Canterbury (i.e. the Primate of England) crowns the King or Queen of the United Kingdom. But then I'm not, so I'll go with it.

"A Christian Country"

Nope, not no more. Not if ever.

"Becoming an Islamic State"

No, not that either.

"Over-run by the forces of political correctness".

No, nor that.

The Church of England

As the Established religion, the Church of England has the responsibility to spend its historical assets on the upkeep of buildings that people never visit. Historically a via media, the "good old C of E" holds in tension two very different groups of people - the ones who expect to attend Communion at 8am on Sundays, and the vicar, who doesn't see why they can't turn up at 10 o'clock like everyone else.

Many Church of England (also "Anglican") buildings have a royal coat of arms on the wall. This is a reminder that after we rejected the dictatorship of the Pope at the Reformation, we were quite clear who was the One who the Church had to obey. No, not God - that other bunch, just below him with posher voices. These days, of course, the Queen has no more power in England than anyone else. That's because, since she doesn't carry cash, she never has £250K in readies handy, which is what power costs these days.

In reality, ultimate power in the average parish church is wielded by a shadowy group of Illuminati called "The Choir". They decide what music can be sung, which century the liturgy should come from, and when it's time for the vicar to call it a day and go somewhere else. The Church Wardens have important responsibilities in road repair and painting walls, and are issued with long sticks called "wands". These wands are rubbish, incapable of even the simplest expeliamus incantantion when the sermon's gone over ten minutes. Although they have pointy ends which can be handy in hooking flying bishops and bringing them down to earth.

The other key groups in a Church of England church are the "bellringers" and "flower-arrangers". These people, like the "little folk" of tradition are never seen - it is said that they slip out just before the first worshipper arrives - although some claim the bellringers can be found in the public bar of the local pub on practice nights. And every other night.

It is a myth that English vicars drink only tea. They drink only gin.

Orthodoxy

Some Anglicans, of the tea lights-and-pebbles variety, quite like icons. These are not to be confused with real Orthodox, who go through interminable liturgy because they think that's right, and because it's pleasing to God, and not because they think it is in some way "ethnic".


Catholics

English Catholics are frequently Irish, although some of them are Italian or Polish. A few of them are English. If you meet a married Catholic priest in England, he's likely a Church of England bishop.


Non-conformists

Non-conformity was an 18th Century English religion dedicated to the building of ugly red-brick chapels, on the grounds that religion wasn't meant to be pleasant. They are called "non-conformists" because historically they wouldn't do what they were told.They vary from some Methodists, who are so "high" they are nearly Anglicans, to fire-breathing fundamentalists who are so (King James) Bible-believing that they are constantly on the lookout for unicorns.

Today, most non-conformists are very nice, and largely undistinguishable from the more Protestant members of the Church of England - except for being lumbered with those red-brick chapels.

Church Coffee

Since some Anglican churches are also ugly and made from red-brick, and some non-conformist buildings are actually quite nice - and some non-conformists also use stoles and other "liturgical" apparatus - you need a more reliable way of distinguishing them. I recommend waiting until after the service. If you find you are drinking bad instant coffee from a green "Beryl" or other Woodsware cup, you are in a non-conformist chapel. If you're drinking bad instant coffee from a chipped bone-china cup, you'll be with the Church of England today. If you've unexpectedly been given a pint of Guinness, you'll have wandered into a Catholic church.

Emotion

The English don't do this. We're talking about a nation that responded to the fire-bombing of its capital by bemoaning the lack of tea-making facilities in the Tube stations.

The English are capable of singing the most emotionally heart-rending words, to the most stirring tune imaginable, while preserving a demeanour that resembles Buster Keaton having a boring day. Emotion in religion is regarded with the utmost suspicion.

If the English discover that one of their own is showing inappropriate emotion, they put them on a ship to America. A person incapable of keeping all emotions completely to themselves is known as a Winslet.

There are a couple of exceptions to the "no emotions" rule. An Englishman is allowed to laugh, cry, sing and show all emotions between despair and elation, openly and freely - provided he is watching a game of football. At weddings, the bride's mother is allowed to cry. Although it's regarded as bad form if the bridegroom does.

The Parable of the Parking Lot

My regular correspondent "Anonymous" has moved to America! From where s/he reports on a church with a car park so big they have to name the sub-car-parks after the books of the Bible.

Which makes me muse. My immediate reaction to this was the one it always is to modern Church doings - how did we get from the way Jesus lived to bumper stickers/tea-lights 'n' pebbles/jumble sales/Keble College chapel? But on this occasion a chord was struck - after all, didn't Jesus on a similar occasion create enough food to feed 5,000 plus women and children? He effectively had his own mega-church for a while

So I'd like you to come with me here, and imagine that, on his return, Jesus decides to put off the smiting, Rapture, plagues and judgement for a year or two to give everyone a final last chance to repent. And takes a job as visiting Pastor in an American super-church.

And the Assistant Pastors come to him and said, "Lord, what shall we do? For there are so many who have flocked to see you from within a two-hour drive-time. Yea, for many have journeyed long along the desert roads - where bloweth the tumbleweed, and the deer and the antelope play, and one has to change the Eagles CD even unto three or four times to reach civilisation."

And Jesus replied to them and said, "Enough with the King James talk, already. OK, so if they have travelled a day's journey - as it were from LA to San Jose - or from El Paso to Amarillo - then they must be hungry. Bring me five bagels and two small Gefilterfisch."

And they replied unto to him saying, "Lord - what need have they of loaves and fishes? For the Chrysolite Chapel has in-house restaurants, pop-corn sellers and free potato chips that fall even from the ceiling like manna from heaven. No - the problem is the car parking lot. For its sub-lots are full even from Genesis unto Malachi, and Matthew unto Revelation."

"You guys have a strange way of arranging the Hebrew Bible," replied Jesus, "but we'll skip that for now. Instead - can the church not buy more land for its parking lot?"

"Indeed not, Lord. For unto the East it borders McDonalds' lot. To the West it borders Taco Bell. To the north, we adjoin the lot of Krusty's Krematorium Donut Stall - and to the South it adjoins the area that the Ol' Ponderosa Rib-Fantasia allocates for its customers' parking. Surely, the lots have fallen for us in good places."

"Then I have another suggestion," replied the Lord. "For yours is truly a church of Baby-boomer Empty-nesters. And though you drive in cars as big as bars, each only carries one or maybe two sitting in the front seat. So why doesn't the one with spare seats offer to another a lift to Church on Sunday? You'll fit twice as many people in and still half the parking lot will be free. Or maybe some of you could try cycling? Bikes take up barely any space."

"Lord, saith they unto him, are you some kinda commie?"

Monday, 26 March 2012

Buying Influence - the Tariff in Full

I can't comment on other allegations regarding people getting meals with famous leaders who were at Brasenose in 1986, of course. Other than to say that in my day, you could sit and eat dinner with David Cameron for about £1.50 at Hall, if he ever turned up - as far as I remember he was mostly to be found hanging around the porter's lodge in Bermuda shorts, clutching a tennis racquet.

But somebody has jumped on the bandwagon to accuse me of secretly selling influence by allowing people to "buy" their chance to have dinner with me. And my response to this is of course robust - what's the point in being secret about it? If it's a secret, I'm seriously cutting down the available market. This is all open and above board - and the rates are as follows:

For £5, you can have half a Kit-kat and choose the first hymn.

For £10, Bernie our "alternative" chef will whip up a nice Roadkill Soufflé. You can choose the first reading and pour out the beakers.

For £50, you can get to choose what wattage the new bulb in the kitchen should be, without all that nasty red tape going through the Property Committee. And Bernie will cook you a nice cheese on toast and he'll wash his hands if he prepares the toastie after cooking a Roadkill Soufflé.

For £150, you can have a Big Mac, and one doctrine of your own choice added to the Beaker Articles of Faith. As long as it's nothing about wombles or anything stupid.

For £250, as well as the Big Mac, you can even include wombles in the Beaker Articles of Faith.

For £500, you get a proper meal, with soup and chips and everything. And you can be Archdruid for the Day. This permits you to wear a pointy hat and push the Beaker People around. Although, needless to say, you don't get to make any proper decisions.

For £1,000 - and if you buy me dinner at the White Horse - I may think very hard about where to award the running of the Beaker Infirmary when the renewal comes up. I'll only think about it, though. No promises.

Of the Father's Heart Begotten

Thanks to Hnaef for reminding me, being the good Anglican that he is, that today is Lady Day, rescheduled from yesterday which was Sunday. He was wandering around singing hymns of the Annunciation in that rather charming voice he has - none the less for being posh and not faux-American in any way - albeit he is on the loud side. He was actually taking the circular walk towards Aspley Guise when I heard him, and at the time I was sitting in my study listening to Megadeth.

Personally I always prefer the piquancy of Lady Day falling on Good Friday, when I can quote John Donne's marvellous words. But that doesn't happen too often. And then the words of "Of the Father's Heart" are wonderful enough:

O how blest that wondrous birthday,
when the Maid the curse retrieved,
brought to birth mankind’s salvation,
by the Holy Ghost conceived;
and the Babe, the world’s redeemer,
in her loving arms received,
evermore and evermore.

It's a smashing verse bringing together the Incarnation, the two natures of Our Lord, the obedience of Our Lady. The humility of the Giver, receiving from that young, delicate creature. The circular relationship as the Maid accepts her mission, the Spirit initiates, the Son is diminished in the status he accepts, and yet not in godhead. And all held, evermore and evermore, in the foreknowing heart of the Creator from the beginning to the end.

Here at the Beaker Folk, it's right and good that we should laugh at ourselves - most of the time we deserve it, and we might as well get there first. But there are mysteries so deep that we can only kneel, wonder and worship. Ultimate truth was revealed in a small way - just as well, as how else could we perceive it?

Ooh, I feel all Christmassy now, just for today. I may have to switch the bling on.

Times of Balance

It really was such a nice couple of afternoons over the weekend. And I'm afraid that Luzi was overcome by climate-alarmist headlines such as "first warm day ever in Scotland." So she came rushing out onto the lawn just now, to join in with our Pouring-out of Beakers in the first new moon after Solstice. In bare feet.

She's just got into slippers and we've made her a vegetarian Bovril. She can't actually talk but I'm sure she'll be fine.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Contemporary Christianity Exam

3 hours. No talking, mobile phones or proselytising. 

1. Why would you not want to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury? (Use no more than 6 sheets of paper)

2. A small Methodist chapel has six members. With the aid of compasses and a protractor, draw a diagram of the inter-relationships of the committees they are on. Use no more than four dimensions.

3. Using a sketch-map of the world, explain the Anglican Covenant. (Do not colour countries in pink. We don't own them any more).

4. A URC chapel has 20 members. Draw the typical seating arrangement at 10.29 on a Sunday. (Use the back row only)

5. At an evangelical church, Alfie has "gone forward" 7 times in the last year. Bertie has "gone forward" 4 times and Chelsea 10 times. Why on earth does the pastor keep making altar calls?

6. Two Anglican clergy are trapped between floors in a lift. What are the chances, by the time they are rescued, of a schism?

7. The graph below shows an experiment on the effect of incense concentration on congregation members.


a) At which concentration of incense has the entire congregation passed out?
b) Why were people coughing even when the thurible was empty?

8. Compose a letter to the local newspaper complaining that the local minister is introducing "modern" worship. Feel free to use the expressions "thin end of the wedge", "dancing in the aisles" and "Graham Kendrick".

9. Imagine God's feelings about current Anglican pre-occupations. Try not to let your tears stain the paper.

10. Geoff has 55 tea lights. Jane has 55 hazelnuts. Paul has 5 large pebbles and Sue has a small paper-shredder. Why do you suspect that you may be on a theological training course?

11. On a silent retreat, what percentage of the men will be in the pub within 10 minutes of Compline? Clue for people with Arts degrees - "100%" is equal to all of them)

12. "The only thing worse than an Episcopalian's taste in vestments is a modern Catholic's taste in architecture." Discuss.

13. If it costs £250,000 to meet David Cameron, just how gullible are you? (This isn't a question about Christianity, thankfully, but I just fancied asking it).

14. With the aid of filters and fair-trade ingredients, explain why you suspect that "Cafe Church" may be a middle-class concept.

15. If Jesus wanted to let little children come to him, what is the average age of your congregation?

It is later than you think

I have just met the self-titled "Archdruid" from next door. It being a Sunday she was out for a stroll for a traditional Sunday lunchtime "bracer", as she called it, at the White Horse. I was of course just returning from our 10 am morning worship.

The clocks going forward caught a few members of our church out this morning! How we laughed that they arrived exactly one hour late for the service. I'm pleased to say that we brought the "Prayers for Notorious Sinners" forward this morning - to just before we "just moved into a Time of Worship" for a second time- and as a result they mostly came in during the reading. So although they missed the chance to encounter God in prayer and the first and second times of worship they were still able to hear the whole sermon and join in the congregational response and the third and fourth times of worship.

Inevitable British Summer Time Gag

Oops. Forgot, didn't I?

Just some empty beakers, and a note on the Moot House table.

"Dear Eileen, where were you? We've poured out the Beakers and gone back to bed. If you really wanted to sing "Will you come and follow me" this morning, you can do it yourself cos we're not going to.  Charlii."

Saturday, 24 March 2012

A Scary Tory with a Chateauneuf-du-Pape-y ending

A bit odd, but last night we had a visit from a member of the Tingrith Conservative Association.

He'd mis-understood about our day of prayer for Pedants, and thought it was for peasants. Very good idea, he said. He hoped, in line with Tory policy, that we were praying that the peasants stayed off the booze. Apparently when he heard that Lidl cider was cheaper than water, he had his chauffeur wash the car in it. Made a shocking mess, the paintwork went all sticky. He had to hose it off with Evian, same as normal.
He was very keen to emphasise that he'd used French water to wash the car - after all, there's a drought on.
Then having stressed again that the lower orders - and especially people from Newcastle - cannot be trusted with cheap alcohol - he went off. Apparently his drink supply had run short, but the tanker had arrived. Last time, two servants drowned in the storage tank, he said. They gave a nasty tang to the port, but he'd drunk worse when he was in the Bullers.

Now there was an organisation that was prone to drink-fuelled escapades. If they'd only raised the price per unit to £100 in 1985, there would be restaurants in Thame that still had the original windows.

The Turin Shroud - Conclusive Proof

Finally, after all the other books, the conspiracy theories, the 2,000 year old pollen grains and the mediaeval fraud, the long wait is over.

Art historian Thomas de Wesselow has sat around eating biscuits and reading books and come up with his conclusion. The Turin Shroud is authentic, and the disciples were convinced of the Resurrection by a sheet.

I'm not going to read the book. I don't know why - call it intuition that after the last 999 books on the subject, this one is wrong too. And besides - how does he know he's talking about the right Turin Shroud? I've got three in the Relics Shed. I was hoping to get a fourth, to match up to the number of heads of John the Baptist, but the Pope won't sell. He says that he's just got the one, and if I had all four I'd only jack the price up. Which, to be fair, is true.

But back to the theory. I mean, just call me suspicious. But can you imagine Paul chatting to Priscilla on quiet nights in Ephesus or wherever?

"No, I didn't see Jesus physically resurrected. Though I did see him in a vision. And in Jerusalem I met with Simon who is called Peter. And he told me that, very early on that Sunday morning, Mary Magdalen very clearly saw a sheet. Yes, a sheet. And that same sheet went on to walk through doors, break bread, give advice on where to catch fish, and build barbecues. Yes, I thought it was a little odd myself. But Peter seemed very convinced."

After the Shroud hoaxes, da Vinci Code, the Rosicrucians, the idea that it was Thomas, or Simon of Cyrene, or someone else on the Cross, the "Jesus took a special drug so he just looked dead" theory, the claim that there is a mystical order of Clangers who possess the One True Cross, the idea that Jesus was spiritually gadding around the place while the physical Jesus was dying for good and all on the cross - after claims of hallucination, epic wishful thinking, of the disciples having the profound sense that Jesus was alive in a very real sense - and now after the claim that what God actually raised from the dead was a mediaeval sheet (I exaggerate slightly here, for comic effect) - do you know what I think happened? I think Jesus was taken, dead, off the Cross and two days later he was alive again and God did it. And then all the martyr's deaths that followed make sense - because the apostles had seen the risen Christ.

They didn't go to their own crosses claiming they'd met an excitingly-marked sheet, nor somebody who might have looked a bit like Jesus. They couldn't go out and say "Jesus was crucified and is risen" while Our Lady was in the corner, muttering, "you know, the person on the cross - wasn't that Judas all along?"  How was Stephen going to be stoned for merely claiming his friends had seen some interesting bedding?

I know. I'm being all controversial here, and expounding some mad doctrines - possibly well beyond those of the modern mainstream denominations. But the simplest explanation for why the apostles said what they said, for the way they behaved, for the way they died, and for the way the Church exploded into the Roman World, is this. Jesus died. And then God made him alive.

Friday, 23 March 2012

George Giveth, George Taketh Away

I sent Burton off to do some analysis on the Budget, and his overall conclusion was that it was a bag of bits. However, I note that the Budget has come in just as we hear about the Government's plan to bring in minimum alcohol pricing. No co-incidence, I reckon, that he's lifted the lower-rate tax threshold while planning to up the price of cheap booze.

Let's just accept as self-evident. that drinking too much on a regular basis - or far too much as a one-off - is silly and potentially harmful. And let's ignore the likelihood that what little George and his friends come up with is against EU law, and look at whom he's planning to target.

So the proposed minimum price for alcoholic drinks is 40p per unit. If we reckon the average bottle of decent wine is about 9 units, that would be £3.60. Frankly, I don't buy wine for £3.60 a bottle so the good news is that this is unlikely to affect me in any way.

In the same way, Burton bought a half of Imperial Stout in the Euston Tap yesterday afternoon while he was in Town. OK it was 9pc alcohol, but still that's 3 units. It was £4.50. Under the Government's plans the minimum price would be £1.20. So no impact on Burton's way of life.

So if the wine-drinking middle classes and real-ale consuming accountants are unaffected by the Government's plans then who are? That's right. The poor. The people who maybe can't afford my taste in wine, or Burton's in real ale. Not that encouraging people to drink Thatcher's Katy or Tring Brewery's products is not a noble aim - but why are poor people's livers needing more protection than rich people's? I thought we were all in this together.

It'd be enough to make poor people cry into their beer, but they won't be able to afford it. And they won't even be able to have a pasty from Gregg's to cheer themselves up - because there's VAT going on that. I never imagined anyone could invent a regressive alcohol policy, but I reckon the government's done it.

Pedant's Day of Prayer

One in ten people in this country suffer from Pedantry.

The urge to constantly analyse other peoples' English, to helpfully offer to advize them on their error's. It should be helpful to make people's communications less unambiguous. But in practise, they can be treated like leopards - social Marias.

Something as simple as a trip down to London can be, quite literally, a nightmare. Imagine looking at a sign saying "Kings Cross" as you pull in from Milton Keynes, London Luton Airport or Colchester. Would you want to try and do your Christmas shopping when your unable to bring yourself to enter Hamleys, Selfridges or Harrods?

Indeed, even a walk through you're local small town can brake a pedants heart - quite literally. They can get addicted to the marker pens they use to correct the sign's outside Greengrocer's. And they can spend so long arguing with market stallholder's that they can end up with no shopping, running the risk of having to eat out at restaurant's such as Pizza Hut, where they'll point out that the building is actually quite well-built. They will often get thrown out of buffet restaurant's for pointing out that "all you can eat" is not time-bounded, so they should be allowed to live there. Or sending the coffee mug's and cola glasses' back and demanding refund's, on the grounds they have bottom's.

Pedant's are easily overlooked, just because there is less of them than sufferer's from other psychological condition's. But they would argue their no different to me or you. They just have this illness' to put up with. Its hard, but they would say, between you and I, that they'd rather have Pedantry than go through life accepting its inaccuracies'.

So from 10 to 4 today we'll be having our Full Day of Prayer for Pedant's. Hopefully you'll be with us for the whole program. But if not, it's something you can literally dip in and out of. 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Ask Auntie Eileen

Occasionally the Beaker post-bag fills up with the anxieties of our readers from around the country. So it's good now and then to expose these losers to the derision of the world for your enjoyment - and maybe even solve their problems while I'm at it.

Dear Auntie Eileen,
Since becoming a Christian I have had a busy church life. Sundays there's Communion and Evensong; Monday is Church Council, Circuit Stewards' Meeting or Churches Together. Tuesday it's Housegroup, Wednesday is Music Group. On Thursday there's a Bible Study. Friday is Ladies' Bright Hour and Saturday I help out at the Coffee Morning.  But something worrying seems to be happening to my mind. When I came home yesterday I could hear voices in my head, and had a vision of an angry man sitting in the living room. Am I hallucinating, or am I just tired out from all my church activities? Chantelle

Dear Chantelle
I think what's happened here is that the man that you've seen on your couch is what we experts call "your husband", while the voices in your head are actually something we call "your children", upstairs in their bedrooms. If you get home a bit earlier, you may find that there are small people running around the front room - these are what we call the bodily manifestation of the voices you've been hearing.  You should either stop doing so many church activities, or else not bother going home at all. This halfway house isn't doing you any good, is it?  Eileen


Dear Auntie Eileen,
I am wondering if you can help me. Every time I attend a service, we sing "I, the Lord of Sea and Sky." It's been eighteen months now, and I'm not sure I can take any more. I have spoken to the music group, and explained that it's making me hate coming to services - and yet it just carries on all the time - every single service. Without fail. I'm losing the ability to go on. Can you give me some advice?  "Angie"

Dear Angie,
From what you describe, I'm going to hazard a guess that you're three-quarters of the way through theological training. Can you steal yourself for just six more months? At the end of that time, you'll just have to sing it once more, and then you can put it behind you forever. Or, at least, until your priesting (assuming you're Anglican - I can't imagine you're Catholic, after all). Or until your church has a Reader / Local Preacher / Pastoral Assistant / Missionary / Tea-maker due for licensing. Eileen

Dear Auntie Eileen
Tea lights or pebbles? "Sammy"

Dear Sammy


I always think this question is not so much about "either/or", as it is "both/and". But then the question "either/or or both/and?" is itself not so much an either/or question as a both/and one. So it is either tea lights, or pebbles, or both tea lights and pebbles, or tea lights. Or pebbles.  Eileen

Dear Auntie Eileen


I have a friend who thinks he may be in love with one of the girl singers in his church's music group. Although he's not sure whether it is Kylie or Kayleigh, that he loves best. What advice can you give him?  "Martin"

Dear Drayton


If I were you, I'd consider what will happen to you if Marjory discovers your dark and depraved thoughts. I told you nothing good would come of letting attractive your women occupy places of authority, such as singers, in your chapel. It's disgusting and unnatural. Stop it now.  Eileen



Dear Auntie Eileen


I know it's natural for some people to be scared of going to church - it's a strange, unfamiliar environment and we do unusual things - such as men singing, shaking hands with strangers, or talking to God. And in particular, my problem is that I'm scared of the Church Wardens. Every time I attend church, there they are - terrifying me. I'm convinced they know all about my darkest sins. They know so much about the Church and everything  and they're watching my every step knowing that I don't know the right time to cross myself, or bow, or even the tunes to so many of the hymns. Everybody else knows all the liturgy off by heart, but I just stand there sometimes opening and closing my mouth in the hope that they will all think I know what I'm doing.  "Charles"


Dear Charles
Pull yourself together, for goodness' sake. What sort of attitude is that for a vicar? Eileen



Dear Auntie Eileen 
I am the treasure of a small Methodist chapel. The light bulb has gone in the gents' toilet. The stewards reckon we should get a 100W bulb, but I reckon 40W should do just fine. What do you think we should do? Arthur


Dear Arthur
I regret to inform you that, since you last bought a bulb, the old fashioned type that actually produce light has been made illegal. In fact, church life being what it is, it's possible your old bulb is actually an oil lamp and the entire "electric" concept has passed you by. You could just go and buy a modern bulb - what we technically call a UREB or "Useless Rotten Energy-Saving Bulb". But then you'd only be guessing wildly what light you actually got. The boxes these bulbs do give you some advice - mostly by having  a little diagram, showing how much light you'd get if you were able to buy proper bulbs instead of those compact fluorescent monstrosities. But my advice is that you should refer the question to the property committee. That way it could be months until you have to stump up for a bulb.  Eileen



Dear Auntie Eileen


I write on behalf of a concerned PCC.
At our last meeting, the vicar announced it was her intention to remove the pews from the church. If she'd planned to replace them with chairs we might have been able to live with it. But it turns out she intends to fill the entire nave of the church with plastic balls so we can have a more informal feel to worship. Should we turn to civil disobedience, or just report her to English Heritage?   "Chester"

Dear Chester
I understand your concern. Ball pits are so 2003, aren't they? If your vicar wants to bring the church into the twenty-first century proper, and make the place more relevant to men, then you should chip-board the floor and lay down a decent model railway. Under the pretence of "Messy Church" you could then get the children to build some decent scenery to put round the rails and make a scale model of ..... ow, ow. Ow, ow, ow. Please - Stop.... 


Dear Chester
I apologise for that interference from Burton Dasset, who has just gone off to bathe his head. The vicar's right about removing the pews, but I suggest some nice leatherette bean bags. Easy-clean, warm on those winter mornings, comfy and completely flexible. Eileen.



Dear Auntie Eileen
I am the chief steward of a Methodist chapel. Out treasurer has just resigned in a right hump. What should we do? Norman

Dear Norman
Oh dear, treasurers eh - can't live with them, can't live with them. If he's a normal treasurer, just give him a few days and you'll probably find he'll un-resign. On the other hand, if it was over something of real principle - like having to buy a new light-bulb - then he'll never come back. I suggest you change the locks on the safe, and get the new light-bulb bought before you get a new treasurer.  Eileen

Old Before Caesar

We're looking forward to Earth Hour next week. But I can't help feeling that the last couple of years have been a little... well, a little dark, frankly. OK, sitting around with tea lights is very mystical but then we do that every day of the year anyway.

So for this year's Earth Hour we're going to be having a massive firework display, with a laser show and a giant video screen. Young Keith's out there building the tyre-burning generator as we speak.

But Earth Hour brings us to think of all things Earth and Spiritual. And I remember that moment of realisation I had yesterday, standing up on the ridge surrounded by the Rollright landscape and wondering what fool let them build the outskirts of Chipping Norton where you could see them from the Rollrights.

These stones were old before Caesar. The King's Men - the circle - was erected about 4,000 years ago. And when that was built, the place was already hallowed. The Whispering Knights (hidden here behind an ugly railing for no apparent reason) were already old then.
In typically idiosyncratic English style, the King's Stone is the other side of the road. And even more typically English, it's in another county. When the King's Stone went up, the circle was already old.

And when Caesar came, the King's Stone was already old.

It may not seem much, in cosmological or even geological terms. But in the time-scales we normally think in - the Whispering Knights was a tomb before the Great Pyramid of Giza was built. About the time that the tomb was as old as Westminster Abbey is today, the circle was built. The time from the building of the circle to Caesar's arrival on our sandy shores, is the same as from Caesar to now. By the time Julius arrived, Rollright and Stonehenge were abandoned already and left to fester - as meaningful to Iron-age life as a Peculiar Baptist Mission Hut is today.

Yet they're still there - not quite as old of the hills, but made out of the same stuff. And the people who were strewing flowers and fruit around the circle a couple of days back really don't have a clue what the original Rollright people did there - it's unlikely they'd have celebrated the Equinox, for starters - but maybe they're drawn by that same Awe that led someone to put that circle there in the first place.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Cranmer Wouldn't Like It

Hnaef's not in a good mood.

In some ways, it's my own fault. First up, we cocked up the planning for the Equinox trip to the Rollright Stones. Should have been yesterday, had we worked it out properly. Instead of which, we trusted to Marston Moretaine's planning skills and he booked the coach for the wrong day.

You see, had I asked Burton to plan it, he would have chosen the right date. He's nerdy like that. He would have identified that the Equinox was 20 March, not today as one might imagine. And Hnaef likes things just right, so we'd messed it up.


And it's Cranmer Day. Fancy going to an ancient pagan circle on the feast day of a famous evangelical, said Hnaef. Cranmer wouldn't like it.

And Cranmer was a Cambridge man who was burnt at Oxford. Apparently my wearing my Brasenose College scarf all day was tactless. Cranmer wouldn't like it.

But after getting home, and pointing out that Cranmer wouldn't like being remembered on a special day anyway, I thought it was time we placated Hnaef. So we printed off some copies off Cranmer's 1549 BCP Evensong, and used that as the preface to Filling-up of Beakers.

As I said to Hnaef, it was lovely to use that old Evensong. The use of the Reformation-era English - so beautiful, so sonorous and so hard to understand - it's nice just to let the words roll over us, enjoying the tone rather than the meaning.

Bit of a mistake, that. Turns out Cranmer wouldn't like that, either.

Those Great Daily Mail Headlines of the Year

January

Can snow cause hypothermia?

If Channel freezes, asylum seekers "could walk from France"

February

Kissing "major cause of glandular fever"

St Valentine "definitely a foreigner"

Living in Britain "terrifying" - Living Abroad "worse"

March

Do daffodils cause cancer?

Tuberculosis in illegal immigrants - the impact on house prices.

April

Notorious immigrants take over Abbey for Big Fat Greco-German wedding

Terminal diseases "inevitably fatal"

May

Pippa Middleton"s bottom "can cause heart palpitations in older men"

China builds rocket to beam illegal take-away workers in from space

June

Can meat cause cancer?

Dangerous Dogs - Britain's Shame

July

Vegetables "major cause of cancer" claims publicity-seeking scientist

Unemployed people "the major cause of unemploymenr" - Osborne

August

Can sunshine give you cancer?

Is the Islamic Republic of Abroad safe? "Stay at home" advice from a leading scare-monger.

September

Royal Wedding "lowered house prices"..

Girl in Wales on benefits has baby - Britain's Shame

Ed Miliband - "Dawkins should be next Archbishop"

October

Can pumpkins cause blocked bowels?

Civil Partnerships "lower house prices", claims straight man who has to keep suppressing those troubling fantasies.

November

Queen Mother "liked gin" - shocking revelations

Nick Clegg "causes lower house prices".

December

Can Christmas give you cancer?

Can faster-than light tachyons allow asylum seekers to claim they've been in Britain for generations?

Mistletoe - the hidden dangers

And Did Those Feet in Ancient Times  "Jesus an Illegal Immigrant" - report by William Blake

Tinsel "strangulation alert"

"Salmonella - my Christmas Turkey Hell"

The Magi - how were they allowed into Judea? Herod's shocking border-control policies

"German woman" to lecture us on Christmas Day?

Brussells Sprouts - the Hidden Dangers

Can The Wizard of Oz cause Suicide?

Broken Egypt - how were a Jewish family with an illegitimate child allowed through the Sinai

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Challenging the Darkness

Circumstances a few weeks ago took me to the graveside of a departed dearly-loved one in Dunstable. And as these things go in these busy modern days, I was quite late getting there. 

It was during those days of early February when there was still snow on the ground, and there was a light foggy haze in the air already, even before the dusk, and it was nearly dark while I was there, the sun just setting and the lights of West Street hanging jaundiced away across the cemetery. And it was the first time I'd noticed the solar lights.

It's a modern tradition, and quite a nice one, I think. Many of the graves - especially those more recently occupied, and even more especially the large Irish and Gipsy graves - have these little solar powered garden lights. And as the dark took hold, the solar lights came into their own - a cold, brittle off-white like so many little will o' the wisps.

You could easily imagine each of these lights as a soul tarrying above the body's last resting place - those above-ground lights showing the community of Dunstable Beyond, now resting in that quiet chalk.

It seems to be a touching statement of - well of what? Maybe faith, in some cases. Just a desire to do something nice, in others. But it seemed to me like a challenge to the darkness. Whatever it may seem, this life is not all there is. Death is a vicious enemy, but its victory will not last forever. We will rage, in any way we can, against the dying of the light. And we believe that if a light shines in the darkness, there's a good chance that, even if we don't understand it, neither will the darkness.

The BBC States the Obvious

A curious little paragraph from the BBC in an article reflecting on the standing-down of Archbishop Rowan Williams.

Referring to the "Archbishops' Compromise", whereby women bishops wouldn't have as much authority as the other type, the author writes:
"It was almost carried by the General Synod but was defeated in the House of Clergy, where the influence of women priests is strongest."
They have a point there. After all, the influence of priests in the House of Laity is always going to be limited. While the influence of women in the House of Bishops is pretty well zero, unless there has been some systematic and technically highly accomplished fraud.

So, the BBC has advised us that the influence of women priests is highest in that part of the General Synod where one finds women priests. I await their informing us on the impact of ursine quadrupeds on the biochemical composition of arboreal environments.

Vernon Equinox

So once again the sun stands over the equator at lunchtime, and it's spring again.

So there we were at a quarter past five, freezing cold, looking up at a blank equinoctial sky. And out of the dark looms a tall bloke.

He says his name is Vernon Equinox - the bringer of balance. I asked - isn't that Cygnus? And he accused me of being an old hippy Rush fan. Which was rather rude, I thought.

Turns out he's ambidextrous, even-handed in dealing with disputes, naturally level-headed and sanguine to the point of boredom. He's the living embodiment of days and nights being in harmony.

Well, anybody who's used to harmony isn't going to cope with Husborne Crawley. Hnaef has just failed - once again - to do his Equinoctial Tightrope Act. Normally he just falls in the duck pond, but on this occasion he landed plum on Vernon's Head. Hnaef's grateful for the soft landing, of course, but poor old Vernon's now walking around in circles. That's nothing like as evenly-balanced in my opinion.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Lament

I lift up my eyes to the hills
But where's the help coming from?

When the waves of pressure come in from every side
And the drumming of the modern age never lets up its beat.

When every moment is a demand
And each second a dealine

Each aspiration a command
And every request an ultimatum.

When there are two things that are never satisfied: three things that are always hungry:

The Grave and fire that are never satisfied; and The Next Big Thing, which is always hungry.

Where are you in the noise?
Where is your stillness in the movement?
Where is eternity in the fleeting seconds,
the immutable in the constant change?

Where is resurrection in a dying world?
New life amongst decay?

Unlikely as it may sound,
And against all conventional wisdom,
Though the worldview is against me
Though the idea's old-fashioned
And the beliefs abandoned
Though the hope is hopeless
And the faith is shaky
I will wait on the Lord my God.
I will hope in the God of Israel.

Making the Most of Privatised Roads

I've been most interested in the Twittersphere chatter regarding privatised roads. Which is to say, I've noticed that something's happening, and some people are quite angry. But I've not actually done any research into it. I've been busy, what with the Warming up of Beakers prior to Pouring Out of Beakers. And I've been reading a book about how unlikely intelligent life is in the rest of the Galaxy. Which has been getting me rather down because, as St Eric the Idle noted, there's very little down here.

Anyway, I feel I'm as well informed on road privatisation as the average Cabinet Minister tends to be about European treaties. And on that basis, I've put my proposal in to the Department of Transport.

I'm proposing to maintain two short stretches of road, either side of the entrance to Woburn Safari Park. And I'm going to be equipping Young Burton and Marston with a clothes prop each as a toll barrier, and a bucket (nb - no change given). I reckon I'm going to make a fortune.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Image of God

Sometimes it can be hard, trying to lead people to enlightenment.

Take this morning. As part of our "creative worship" initiative, I'd asked the Beaker Folk to draw the image they saw, when they thought of God.

Well, it was a motley enough gallery that took shape, 'tis true. A couple of pictures of Santa. Some other old-looking blokes with beards. Burton drew a series of mathematical equations, and explained that God is the Immutable Logic behind the physics of Creation. Young Keith drew a picture which looked remarkably like my own late father, which was disturbing. But not so disturbing as the giant mincing machine with which Morgwn had equipped the Deity.

Well, I gathered them together for "Reflecting Time". I pointed out to them that, Burton excepted, all had drawn God as a Big Bloke in the Sky. Had they forgotten, I asked them, what day it was? Had they merely thought of God as the alpha-male conqueror of Chaos? The avenging judge? Must God always be doing, acting and smiting? Can God not be life-giving, nurturing, nourishing? Can God not allow to grow, instead of tearing up weeds and using artificial fertiliser? In short, on this most Mothering of Sundays, can we not think of God as our Mother?

Well, there was a thoughtful silence. I like to think this was because they were mulling over my words - and not just because they were wondering how to repair the table I had inadvertently smashed with my cricket bat during my talk.

As I was taking the pictures out just now to the Recycling shed, Drayton Parslow walked past. I showed him Morgwyn's picture, with the Book of Rules, the scales, the mincing machine and all, and asked if he'd ever seen anything like it. All Drayton asked was, didn't I know it was against the 2nd Commandment to draw an image of God? Especially one that accurate.

Mothing Sunday

Deep in the mists of time, it is said, Mothing Sunday was when the Beaker People celebrated the incoming of spring.

On the Sunday before the Vernal Equinox (the ancient Folk spent all the working week making beakers) they would head out for the woods after dusk with ancient tea lights in ancient Chinese hanging lanterns. If the first moth of the spring flew clockwise round the lantern, then a good harvest and no more snow was assured. If, on the other hand, the moth flew widdershins, it was an baleful and evil-foretelling moth. The Beaker Folk, being a practical bunch, would therefore kill it and wait for a happy moth to turn up.

If the Chinese lantern caught fire, the Beaker Folk would blame "cheap foreign imports" and bemoan the decline of the local lantern-making industry since everybody got into making beakers.

When the first Anglo Saxons became Christians, they realised that they could no longer tolerate these pagan goings-on. So they extended Mothing Sunday to Mothering Sunday. Mothers not being inclined to fly aroud Chinese lanterns, the entire hanging-lantern import business went into serious decline, to be replaced by the rise of late-night garages selling daffodils.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

St Patrick, the South Midlands Saint

Who could be a more appropriate saint for the southern end of the English Midlands than St Patrick?

It's always a joy to celebrate one of our local saints - John Bunyan of Elstow, Gary Cooper of Dunstable, St Cadoc, who was martyred at Bannaventa near modern Daventry, and St Patrick who was born there. So nur-nur-nur. St Patrick wasn't just from what is now England - he was from just 30 miles up the road.

So today we have celebrated St Patrick with appropriate local food - Ock and Dough, Bedfordshire Clangers, Long Buckby Feast Pudding and Frog Island beer from Northampton. I love it when we celebrate these things properly.

I Predict the New Archbishop

Dearest God-Lover, inasmuch as everyone else has shoved their oar in on the subject of the next Archbishop of Canterbury, and the betting is in full swing, I felt it was my turn to make a prediction.

Young Keith has fed the @twurchofengland Twitter stream through our Quantum Prognosticator, set the Uncertainty level at 3.5 Archers, added a dose of chilli to reflect the fact that only the other day David Cameron met a man who was Archbishop of Canterbury, hit the Big Red Button, apologised to the people in Ridgmont whose shed he'd just taken out, hit the Big Green Button instead, and come out with the following prediction. Although it may be a job spec rather than a prediction, on closer inspection.

The next Archbishop of Canterbury will be:

Too theologically liberal

Too hidebound by tradition

Not a strong enough leader

Undemocratic

Too accepting of homosexuality

Homophobic

Too weak on Biblical morality

Too old-fashioned for today's world

Too academic

Too populist

A source of division

An appeaser

Unconcerned about injustice

Meddling in politics when he should be worrying about people's souls

A cause of house prices falling (c) The Daily Mail

Too chummy with the Government

Too chummy with Labour

Too chummy with the Vatican

Too chummy with the Free Churches

Stuck in an ivory tower

Too concerned about the poor.

A man.

A follower of Jesus.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Hitchin a Ride

The so-called "Archdruid" who lives next door to me claims to be an expert on Dunstable. Before I set off this morning to bring the True Light to those who live in the darkness of the shadow of the Vale of Aylesbury, she told me that Dunstable is a place more associated with the Protestant Faith than most. At least, she says that due to the divorce there of Henry VIII at the Abbey (which he rewarded by dissolving), the Dunstablians are closely associated with the English Reformation. They have traditions that Oliver Cromwell's soldiers shot bullets at the church doors. The Methodist Church dwarfs the Church of England equivalent. And in the 80s it was the home of the New Covenant Church - now reduced, she believes, to renting time from the Methodists while their old home has reverted to being the West Street Baptists. But in its day, the New Covenant Church was a true beacon of the Protestant, Charismatic, Baptist faith.

And so one might have thought that the people of Dunstable are ready for one more in a stream of the holy homecomings that have clearly marked their history. But it seems not. Instead, the inhabitants cling to one of the other local  traditions.

In her more mellow moments, the Archdruid talks of the old Luton tradition whereby people suffer a moderate form of kidnapping. In  short, they used to grab their unsuspecting victim, thrown them in a car and throw them out a little later in Hitchin. "The long winter nights used to fly past", in Eileen's words.

But I never dreamed that this was how I would have to suffer for my faith. Imagine the scene  outside a boarded-up shop in the Quadrant, as the people of Dunstable call their shopping centre.

"Friends, I bring the words that can save you from Perdition!" I shouted.

"What petition's that, then?" asked a local, "is it to get rid of the bus lane in Church Street?"

I explained that Perdition was a state of endless torment in a joyless, dark, half-alive state. They said they would not sign a petition in favour of that, and said that to avoid things like that they voted Tory.

Changing my tack - for I am all things to all men - I moved straight to the Good News "Your iniquities are expunged!" I cried. "Righteousness imputeth he unto you, like unto the oil that runneth down the beard of Aaron."

A young listener was asking if she could have subtitles, when a group of large men in hoodies appeared. I was dragged down the ramp, shouting that "His intercessions are sufficient for your sanctification." I was bundled into a car, and spent half an hour with a couple of the ruffians sitting on my chest until I was thrown out in Hitchin.

The Baptibus was in Dunstable. I never travel on my evangelistic pilgrimages with money, in strict accordance with Matt 10:9-10. In that passage the Lord did not forbid us the use of mobile phones, of course. But when I called people to come unto my aid, my deacons were at work. Meanwhile Kylie and Kayleigh said they were "working on a tricky diminished chord", while Marjory was watching something that appears to have been called "Jeremy Kyle", and apparently had to wait for the results of a DNA test. Few seem to stop for hitch-hikers these days, and I found myself struggling in a fearful state up the A505. As a women's football team went past in their club minibus, one of them seemed to think it was amusing to throw a bowl of orange peel over me. Such is the result of allowing women to play at such unwomanly activities.

Eventually I was picked up by a couple who turned out to belong to a strange religious cult, and spent the rest of the journey to Luton trying to convert me to believing that Eric Clapton was God. After a four mile walk from Luton to Dunstable, I returned to the car to discover that the operators of the Farm Foods car park had issued me with a parking ticket for overstaying my journey. The irony was that I was parked just outside the little Baptist book shop. Truly, today I have cried out to God from the pit of despair.

It is of course our aim to emulate the great heroes of the faith. But on this occasion I could not help feeling that Paul had things easy in Ephesus. Dunstablians, as Eileen remarked during this morning's conversation, are a tough crowd.

Gospel Friday

Today is a day of decision. A day of changing lives.

Today is a day of history. A day of a new dawn.

For today I am going once again to spread the Good News to the people of Dunstable.

I shall be more careful in the message I spread there this time, as the Spirit wills. Last time I preached at the Eleanor Cross (which I expected be a carefully-preserved monument, but turned out to be a shopping centre). I told those Dunstablians who would listen that there was A Better Place. But they all thought I meant Caddington.

The (small-"g") good news, however, is that the people of Dunstable understand the concept of eternity - as they told me that was how long they had been waiting for somebody to reinstate their train line.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Margaret Moves

Formerly the proprietor of a blog with all sorts of names including Cats and Pomegranates, Margaret is now blogging at Margaritki. A lovely-looking new Wordpress blog, with additional excellent photos from Margaret.

Collapse of White Cliffs of Dover "Not Due to Global Warming"

In a shocking turn of events, the BBC today did not associate a dramatic environmental incident with climate change.

A large chunk of the White Cliffs of Dover have fallen down. The BBC suggests this may be due to "freezing conditions over the winter". It's been cold, so a chunk of cliff fell down - in strict correspondence with the "freeze-thaw" mechanism we were all shown at school. Pumping CO2 into the air had nothing to do with this, apparently. The sub-tropical conditions we were forecast for the last three years had absolutely no impact, what with them not happening.

BBC, you're missing a trick. We're in a drought, for goodness sake. Surely the cliffs have collapsed due to dehydration - and therefore it's climate change?

There is good news, though. If you look at the picture of the fallen cliff, there's another one right behind where the old one fell down. I guess cliffs must be like shark's teeth?

Beware the Odes of March

The Ides of March


Julius Caesar
must have been an East-end geezer.
Cos every year he went
and took a holiday in Kent.


On Liturgy


A tea light brightens up the church
Pebbles won't leave you in the lurch.
But if to read God's Words you dare,
You're better off with Morning Prayer.

On Ecclesiastical Ambition

To become a cardinal
is rather hard 'n' all
Being a vicar
Is much, much quicker.

David Croft

The better works of David Croft
are on the television oft.
But it's hard to savour
"Grace and Favour".

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Live-blogging Chelsea

Interesting to watch De Matteo's brave substitution earlier. Three subs on at once. he brought on Fernando Torres, a barn door and a banjo.

Lent Link Love

MadPriest brings out a new monthly liturgical resource.

Emma at LLM Calling continues to count her blessings.

Filey Parish does a reverse Britannica by printing off blog-posts for public reading.

E-church blog has a few good links. Also some comments on the funerals with no-one attending. An increasing sign of a society where people don't have kids because they want it all? A sad comment on the breakdown of modern family life? A signal that everyone is too busy? We don't know, because Stuart just leaves us to draw our own conclusions.

The Starkadders decide they can see signs of the end, then change their mind.

Stroppy Rabbit - on the Pagan attitude to same-sex marriage (they're in favour) and the legal ramifications (none whatsoever, as Pagans aren't licensed to conduct different-sex marriages either).

And in a parallel universe, Gurdur on the amazing news that in Alabama, they still don't like different-race marriages. Presumably they don't like different-sex ones either. (Is there a better term than "different sex"? It makes the whole thing a whole lot more exciting sounding than some might want it to).

Dave Walker launches his new website. The one with, erm, not much on it...

Political Correctness Gone Mad

Most Beaker Folk didn't take a 10 ton sarsen stone to work yesterday, despite my Strongly Worded Instruction. I will therefore have to apply my strongest possible sanction - the Rent Rise. This is of course strictly voluntary. Very strictly voluntary.

I'm giving dispensation to Ardwig, however. She did take her sarsen to work, but her manager immediately told her to remove it. He said it was Health and Safety, but there was absolutely no H+S issue. How could there be? Her delivery van was going nowhere with that sarsen in it - no danger to anyone at all.

No, I suspect what we have here is a case of Political Correctness Gone Mad. We Beaker Folk are being persecuted in case the Corded Ware Folk also start demanding to bring their religious symbols to work. Mind you, this being the severed heads of their enemies, I could understand it.

Ardwig is going in to work today with a very tasteful sarsen lapel pin. Let's see White Van People Ltd try to ban that - the fascists.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Eat Nuts, Live Forever

I believe that Anonymous is one of Archdruid Eileen's more regular followers. He or she is always commenting on a range of topics on this blog, although she or he does appear to have a wide range of experience and views - surprising in one person. Perhaps Anonymous is a Renaissance Man or Woman?


But I am indebted to Anonymous for drawing my attention to the Sky reporting of the Red Meat Increases your Chance of Death story. Taking a wild Google of the contents - for my life is nothing if not lived on the edge - I found a similar story with ITV News - and a much better reporting of the details from the Guardian.

Let us compare the passages. First the sober, considered, wise words of the Guardian:
"The findings show that each extra daily serving of processed red meat – equivalent to one hot dog or two rashers of bacon – raised mortality rate by a fifth.Conversely, replacing red meat with fish, poultry, or plant-based protein foods contributed to a longer life. Nuts were said to reduce mortality rate by 20%, making a case for swapping roast beef for nut roast."

And now the wild-eyed ravings of ITV:
"Each additional daily serving of processed red meat, equivalent to one hot-dog or two rashers of bacon, raised the chances of dying by a fifth.
Conversely, replacing red meat with fish, poultry, or plant-based protein foods contributed to a longer life.
Nuts were said to reduce the risk of dying by 20% - making a case for swapping roast beef for nut roast."

As Anonymous points out, the implication if I were to take ITV seriously would be that if one ate nuts five times a week, one would be immortal - unless it were a compound reduction, in which case one's chance of dying would still be less than 50%.

And to turn Anonymous's argument on its head, if I ate two rashers of bacon a day, I would be dead by Friday night.


The problem with science reporting, it seems to me, is that reporters do not do it very well. Although the Guardian recognised it is the rate of death, rather than death itself, that is being measured - it still does not help a lot. We could do with the time factor. Is that an increase of a fifth over a day, a year or a century? If a century, given one's chances of dying are all but 100% anyway, then eating bacon every day of the week gives you more or less a 200% chance of dying. You might think that worth the risk.



But I have to conclude that somewhere in there may be a grain of truth regarding vegetables being healthier than red meat. After all, it was a godsend for Daniel.  I shall in future eat a diet of vegetables only. It may make me pale, skinny, uninteresting and a martyr to wind - but at least I shall live forever.