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Friday, 31 August 2012

An Attempt at a Personal Blogpost

Maybe it's just stats envy.  I've noticed how many other blog-writers don't concentrate on the important details of their exploding liturgy. They rarely even mention the way their services fall into chaos after badger invasions, or their problems when their entire fellowships fall into ditches.

No, instead they seem to focus on personal exploration, understanding how they relate to themselves and other people. It seems an odd way to behave to me, but clearly there's visits in it. So here goes. Ahem.

If you're like me, you often find the buzz of the modern world occasionally does your head in. Constantly being surrounded with half-wits means I lack true intellectual challenge. And let's face it, I'm not getting any younger. All I have to show for slightly less than half a century on the face of this planet is my parents' house, Young Keith, and a lucrative franchise fleecing the gullible spiritually unfulfilled. So it's not like I'm so comfortable in my own skin that I can disregard these more visible signs of my life-long failure.

It's at times like this that I find inner strength. Deep within, there is a secret, gentle place - a kind of safe room, if you will. It's a place I can withdraw to. Not for long periods of time, of course - after all, we must live in the real world.

In my safe place, I like to visualise all those people and situations that cause me stress. I can see them now - lined up with their smug expressions. And then there's the gormless ones that can't understand anything. I imagine Burton, trying to explain to me why I really ought to pay the right amount of tax, or the Beaker Quire trying to learn a fourth chord.

Of course, such a safe place needs some music. I normally like to imagine a Death Metal band in the corner of the room, just next to the wood-burning stove which I like to imagine using for burning books by Stanley Hauerwas.

And then, I imagine all of my problems away.

When I say imagine them away, of course, what I really mean is - I imagine chasing them away. Running screaming around my safe place with the old Slazenger V400, smacking Burton round the ankles... after five or six hours of such visualisation I find I can face the real world again.

Do you know, I feel better already, just thinking about it. I'm glad I've offered you this glimpse into my inner life. We should do this more often.

Feast of St Aidan

Today we celebrate the feast day of St Aidan in the traditional Celtic Way. That is, by making up a load of ritual of a vaguely atmospheric nature that has nothing to do with Aidan, and is anything like any Christianity he would have recognised.

Bodhrans and tabors are to be used at all times today. I've bought a tin whistle, and will be using it to poke in the eye anyone who claims to be able to play it.

The hymn "Ho for the Sea-faring Saint" will be sung to the Pogues tune "Rainy Night in Soho".. That seems suitably Celtic.

Some have objected that  the "Washing of Gongs" ceremony is in no way Celtic. Well, my argument is that it's authentically Tibetan, or if it's not it should be. And before the great Race Movements of the 1st Millennium BC, the Celts used to live next door to the Tibetans in the same street. That was before they left because of the noise abatement order over the bagpipe incident.

It being a full moon, we will be holding the AidanMoot in camel case.

As a special concession, today's music to be piped throughout the community will be by "Lindisfarne". Except "Fog on the Tyne" with Gazza. I think I've now hunted down and destroyed every copy on the premises, and apologise to any Beaker Folk whose rooms were trashed in the process. Although, let's be honest - you were asking for it.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Liberal Christmas Carol CD

As the nights draw in and the air is full of nip, it's just that time of year to release the Beaker Liberal Christmas CD. Full of carols that cannot offend the most rationalist sensibility,in  just twelve weeks' time the Liberal Christmas CD will fill you with Christmas spirit while not expecting you actually to commit to anything.

So pre-order early, for that person in your life who doesn't believe in Jesus too much but quite likes the sitting quietly and doing good things that they think are at the heart of Christianity!


 Track Listing

1. A Virgin? Not sure. 

2. Long ago, prophets never imagined. 

3. O Little Town of Bethlehem, we've dragged you into this story for Messianic reasons. 

4. Hark, the sound of herald angels appears to be in your head.

5. Away in a cave stuck behind a guest house

6. Oh come, all ye.

7. Adam lay y-maginary.

8. God rest ye, invented gentlemen.

9. Little Dawkins.

10. The Little Evidence Boy

11. We three supposed fulfilments of Isaiah 60 are.



And don't forget, it's not four months to Christmas!

Heaven (Tax) Haven

Politicians on all sides have been calling for action on a new tax-avoidance scheme.

A whole bunch of clever lawyers totally failed to discover the so-called "treasure in heaven" loophole, which was first identified by a carpenter in Israel.

"It's a very simple scheme," explained a Labour spokesperson. "By giving away your money and possessions you avoid paying any tax on them at all. In the short term the money is "lent" to those who really need it. But in the long term, it's in an off-planet account in a tax haven called "Heaven" and you collect in full later - in a place with no inflation, rust or moths. The brochure is most specific about the rust and moths. The HMRC can't touch you. We want this loophole plugged, and plugged now - who are ordinary people to decide what to do with their own money? That's our job."

The Government was more guarded in its approach. "Clearly your money is yours to give away or spend as you wish," said a junior Treasury minister. "However these kinds of long-term, large scale investments are another matter. How are we going to clear the deficit if everyone's storing their treasure up in heaven?"

However the minister had some more positive words to say about "Jesus", the mysterious figure who first introduced this scheme.
"I wish he were around today," she said, "he had a fantastic track-record of healing the lame, the blind and those with mental illness. Think of the savings we could make in Disability Living Allowance. And we could "streamline" the NHS tomorrow."

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A Hint of Autumn

A little nesh, that Archdruid in the big house. It's the first time the temperature has headed down to 50F and she's lit the wood stove in her conservatory.

Out here, the rabbits know something is up. The older ones are telling the youngsters about a time called "Winter" - when every night is cold and sometimes the ground goes white. The really old ones are recalling days when snow lay on the ground - but the younger ones seem to think that's just a fable.

Still, they know something is changing. And the younger ones are realising that nothing ever stays the same - as soon as it is hot every day, the nights start drawing in. As the grass grows long in the hedgerows, the berries are turning to black. And when life should seem so easy, already the creatures of the woodland are and worrying that the good times won't last. They're right to get ready. Gather rosebuds while you may - they'll be black with frost all too soon. 

Beheading of John the Baptist

A solemn mood hangs over those few Beaker Folk who are up this morning, as we consider the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist.

There are still those who think the Church can dictate to society on the basis of an institutional position; of a tradition of being a "Christian country" or some such appeal to inherited power and prestige.

John went to Herod and said, "you can't have your brother's wife" and so he was locked up, and eventually murdered. No need for due process of law in that cell in Herod's palace. No privilege of being part of the established church - you didn't get less established that a saint in the desert telling Roman soldiers what God wanted from them. Just a simple man, telling simple truth, and suffering the consequences.

He missed a trick, did old John. At the height of his fame - while he was still doing the hermit trick and everybody wanted him - he could have done a deal - got a little sinecure in the Temple. The "wild desert prophet" - still dressed in his loincloth during office hours, drawing the crowds with his new, slightly-less-apocalyptic message:

"After me comes one whose sandals I am not fit to fasten. He will help you all to undersstand God better. We will all feel redeemed - in a very real sense. Your spiritual lives will be revolutionised - but our society will remain as it is. Isn't that better?"

Then after work, out of the loincloth, into some crisp clean robes and back to a cosy hermitage where he could put his feet up and enjoy his new-found security. It's a hard life, after all, being a working prophet. A very hard life.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Church Meeting Dismality Calculator

You know how it is. Some Church meetings are Spirit-inspired. The attendees are full of fire, vision - but also a humble acceptance and respect for others' point of view. Things get done.

But there can be other meetings. Meetings which go on too long. Or somebody makes an appeal to divine guidance ("I feel God is saying...") without any evidence. Or they appeal to "other people" who agree with them, or have concerns - but they won't name them, to preserve their anonymity. Or the minister pulls rank to ensure nobody brings any more arguments. Or, to put down the rank-pulling minister, somebody tells them that the last incumbent did it so much better.

Until now, there's been no way to measure these meetings' dismality. Until now. Now, thanks to Burton's limited javascript skills, you can measure just how dismal your church meeting was.

(This is a very beta version - all feedback gratefully received).


ENTER YOUR MEETING PARAMETERS







YOUR MEETING DISMALITY RATING
Length Rating
Divine Guidance Impact
Shadow of predecessor
Silent Majority Appeal
Minister Knows Best
Total Dismality Rating

0-10 - Fairly inspiring
11-30 - Pretty dismal
31-50 - Very dismal
51-80 - Incredibly dismal
81+ - You'd never believe how dismal.

St Augustine of Hippos

Archdruid: Today we remember St Augustine of Hippos.

All: That great guardian of hippos.

Archdruid: Both the little hippo.

All: And the great hippo.

Archdruid: The gray hippo.

All: And... er... the other gray hippos?

The definitely-not-a-sermon

Archdruid: We remember the story of how one day, Augustine was walking along the road when he saw a sick baby hippo. And a zookeeper, a safari guide and Bear Grylls had all passed by on the other side. But Augustine took that hippo, and bound it up, and cared for it. And since it had no parents, he taught it to fly...

All: Taught it to fly?

Archdruid: it had fallen out of its nest. Hippos were much smaller and capable of flight in those days. It's what Evolution is all about.

All: OK, we'll run with it.

Archdruid: In later years, when Augustine was Archbishop of Canterbury, he took that little hippo to England with him. And as he was being blessed by Pope Gregory, the Pope saw the hippo and said unto him, "Non Hippopotamus sed Hippopotami." And gave unto him a second hippo. And Augustine....

All: Eileen, you've jumped the shark here. That was a different Augustine.

Archdruid: Two Augustines?

All: Yes. One of Canterbury, one of hippos. We mean, Hippo.

Archdruid: Strewth. You'll be telling me there were two Dionysi the Areopagites next.

Burton: And I think you'll find the plural of "hippopotamus" is "hippopotamuses".

All: Can it, Burton.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Essex Police in Search for Invisible Unicorn

Essex police have another search on their hands tonight after reports of an invisible unicorn outside Colchester.

A Mr R Dawkins phoned the police to say that he had seen the invisible unicorn in a wood.

"I was terrified," said Mr Dawkins, "I looked towards the unicorn and I couldn't see it at all. It wasn't paying any attention to me, as far as I could tell. In fact, I've no idea what it was doing because it was invisible.

Meanwhile, a woman who wishes to be known only as "Mrs X" took the following photograph:

Mrs X said she thought the unicorn was in the middle distance, towards the car nearest the tree. However she could not be sure, as it was invisible.

Another report came from Mr Arthur Lofe, who said he heard the unicorn as far away as Newmarket in Suffolk.

"I had my windows open yesterday evening," said Mr Lofe, "when I heard a whinnying - just like I reckon a unicorn would make. It's pretty scary to think that they could move so fast. I mean, it was in Essex earlier, and it's up here already. I'm not opening my windows ever again."

And so Essex Police face another evening of philosophical enquiry. While, somewhere in the wastes around Colchester, a mythical beast is on the move.

The Lamb Lies Down In the Moot House

Filling-up of Beakers - set to "Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" (Gabriel)

The procession moves towards the Worship Focus (an aerosol paint can).

Behind the procession, Hnaef drags a railway luggage trolley. On the trolley is clearly a large quadruped - padded with powdered wool, and swathed in Lifeless Packaging.

Horrified, the Beaker People turn to view Hnaef's exhibit. Can it be what they fear?

Marston Moretaine: Is it the.... Essex Lion?

All: Ooooh. Lion.

Rael: A Lamb?

All: Aaaah. Lamb.

A salamander scurries into flame to be destroyed, as imaginary creatures are trapped in birth on celluloid. 

Stacey Bushes: Is it the... Northampton Newt?

All: No. Too small.

The neon dims to the cold and white. Lilith, first wife of Adam, lurks in the undergrowth, snickering in a French Canadian accent for no apparent reason.

Bargest - Is it the.... Milton Keynes Meerkat?

All: Noooh. Not friendly enough.

The Klu Klux Clan sell hot soul food, while the Beaker Quire plays "In the Mood".

Garbut: The Towcester Tiger?

A frisson of fear passes through the Beaker People.

Hnaef: No! It's the.... Bedford Badger!

All: A BADGER? Aaaaagh! 


Panic-struck Beaker People flee the Moot House. Those with a high degree of rationalism remain, as Hnaef's "pet" chases out after the Beaker People.

Archdruid: I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Burton.”

Burton: Well, I know I've got sunshine in my stomach!

Archdruid: I'm counting out time....

Burton: Erogenous zones, I love you. Without you what would a poor boy do? It's the last great adventure left to mankind.

The Archdruid sloshes Burton with her cricket bat

Archdruid: Death would be a greater adventure, you loathsome train-spotter.

Burton: I think I need a visit to the Doktor...

Slippermen: We like you have tasted love. Don't be alarmed at what you see.

Burton: You yourself are just the same as what you see in me.

Burton and the Slipperman leave the Moot House, discussing SQL injection techniques and their prevention.


Archdruid: When you eat right fru it you see everything alive.

Remaining Beaker People: It is inside spirit, with enough grit to survive.

The Cage descends, trapping John and Rael.

Dismissal

Archdruid: OK guys, let's go. And watch out for the Lamia. They'll alarm yer.

The All-Purpose Press Religious News Planner

I'm not talking about the good press specialising in religious news here - Ruth Gledhill, Andrew (not the other one) Brown et al. I'm talking about that mainstream press that occasionally dips its toe in the waters of religious reporting.

Every now and then some religious news story genuinely hits the headlines - a new Pope, or Archbishop, or someone saying we shouldn"t allow gay marriages because the next thing you know they'll be letting marsupials demand civil partnerships. But I've discovered the press's Religious News Year-planner. And
found out that they actually plan for the same stories every year.

As we near the start of the Old Beaker Year on September 1 (to be distinguished from the Traditional Beaker Year (21 Mar): Revised Beaker Year (1 Nov) and Beaker Civil Year (2 Feb) why not join us in this year's Religious Press Bingo? If you spot any of the following stories in the press, award yourself a point. We'll see who wins next Beaker New Year...

21 Oct - first warnings of the Satanism hidden in Halloween

31 Oct - Interview with a bank-clerk from Dorking who dances with the Surrey Coven on Halloween and claims to be named "Willow Springsdawn". (NB - may be substituted by a council planning officer called Hazel Zephyr from Swindon on Solsbury Hill, etc)

1 Nov - Desperate, clumsy attempt to complain about fireworks being let off early for Guy Fawkes without complaining about fireworks being let off for Diwali.
OR
13 Nov - Desperate, clumsy attempt to complain about fireworks being let off late for Guy Fawkes without complaining about fireworks being let off for Diwali ).

14 Nov - Leftwing council in Midlands "bans Christmas so as not to offend Muslims"

15 Nov - Assorted Muslim bodies say they are not offended by Christmas.

16 Nov - Leftwing council in Midlands says they're not banning Christmas. The decorations are banned on strictly Health and Safety grounds. And what's wrong with calling their winter celebrations "Snowfest"?

17 Dec - "Was this comet / conjunction of planets / unusual outburst of solar radiation / newly-discovered alien spaceship the "real" Star of Bethlehem?

20 Dec - Theology Professor explains the "mythical" elements that Matthew and Luke added to the Nativity: i.e. the Wise Men, Shepherds, Little Donkey, Census, Bethlehem, stable, lowing cattle, little drummer boy, virgin birth, Davidic ancestry, Jesus. Bishop writes story off as "hogwash".

21 Dec - Bishop complains about modern carols.

22 Dec - Christingle services "a Health and Safety nightmare".

23 Dec - Jesus "really a Hindu"

24 Dec - Christmas a "totally pagan festival", claims somebody based on very bad sources and wishful thinking.

27 Dec - Xmas congregations slightly up/down/about the same compared to last year.

28 Dec - Church explains congregations slightly up/down/about the same due to weather / X-factor / Recession / Christmas falling on 25 Dec, which is a bank holiday.

6 Jan - Unexpected discovery that Eastern Orthodox churches have Christmas late.

April (if Easter very late) complaint that "unpatriotic, left-wing" Church has moved St George's Day because it clashes with Holy Week / Easter Day / Easter Week / Sunday.

Monday in Holy Week - Theology Professor announces that the "mythical" elements of Easter include the Passover, darkness, Judas, the thieves, the angels, the Resurrection, Jesus.

Tuesday in Holy Week: Bishop refers to Monday's story as "hogwash".

Wednesday in Holy Week: Sexy archaeologist announces she's discovered the tomb of someone called Jesus in Judea - "and there's bones in there." Nearby are tombs of people called "James" and "Mary".

Thursday in Holy Week: Bishop points out that you couldn't throw a stone in Jerusalem without hitting someone called Jesus, James or indeed Matthias son of Deuteronomy of Gath. It would be a miracle not to find the tomb of someone called Jesus near that of someone called Mary - so this story is also hogwash.

Good Friday - Judas "misunderstood", says other bishop who's fed up not being in the news debunking people who debunk things.

Holy Saturday - Easter "entirely pagan", claims someone who's unaware that the "goddess" Eostre has one source (St Bede) and the Easter dating is based on Passover - which, ironically, is the one Spring Equinox festival we can find really good evidence for.

Wednesday in Easter Week - attendance at Easter services slightly down / up / about the same compared to last year.

Thursday in Easter Week - attendances were slightly up / down / about the same due to weather / lateness / earliness of Easter / the decline of religious belief / a sudden revival / Easter being on a Sunday this year, says Church.

30 April - An HMRC official in Chipping Norton likes to dance around the Rollright Stones on May Morning. Claims his name is Rowan Goodberry.

1 May - Morris Men are a bit of a laugh, aren't they?

May to  Halloween - Religious story close season. Although in August we may try to scrape together some sexual scandal / cover-up if there's not much news about.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

News on the Blog

A new direction for @ramtopsrac (Rachel), as a blog on the life of a lay minister becomes... one on the life of one now suddenly training for ordination. "Because God Calls".

Publishing the Bans

Sometimes this has got to be done. We're a tolerant bunch here in Husborne Crawley, but some bans need to be published.

We are hereby banning:

  • Automated public safety announcements at Luton Airport Parkway Station (I already knew that running downstairs carrying luggage is dangerous)
  • UB40
  • Burton Dasset's presentation of "Beers I have drunk" (which is basically a spreadsheet and a load of drivel about "Fuggles" and "Hallertau")
  • Chewing Gum
  • Cucumber sandwiches
  • Fifty Shades of Grey
  • George Galloway
  • Size 0 Models
  • Celebrity Big Brother
  • Anyone at all wearing Lycra outside cycle racing
  • People who say "It's a funny old world"
  • Jeans that hang halfway down teenagers' bums
  • Any more singles from George Michael
  • Swearing (except if it's me, in understandable circumstances)
  • Golden Delicious apples
  • Stella Artois Cidre
  • "Footprints"
  • The remake of "Wicker Man" with Nicholas Cage
  • Adverts made for the whole European market, with bad English dubs
  • The remake of "Italian Job"
  • The Mexican Wave
  • Eyelashes on cars
  • Drake and Lil Wayne (at Young Keith's request)
  • Ecuador
  • iPads
  • Over-exaggerations about the spiritual effects of cookery
  • Lord of the Dance
  • People dressing animals up (except for padded body-warmers for Jack Russells - they're OK)
  • Intolerance
So in short, if we see any of these on the premises, they're going in the Thin Place. Everybody has been warned.

Raining on the Righteous and the Unrighteous

It's a common human urge to blame disaster on personal or corporate sinfulness. A sufferer from cancer may ask themselves what they did that was so wicked. American preachers will occasionally blame hurricanes on gay marriage, or droughts on tight gun control. Others, of course, blame the droughts on burning fossil fuel. And the damp summer in Britain on burning fossil fuel. And the last, warm winter on burning fossil fuel. And the cold winters just before that on....

And so this morning I've had people coming to me to say - if there is a God why did it rain both on Greenbelt (in Cheltenham) and on the Pride event in Manchester? To which I've responded that we should think about the people that have come off worse in all this. To wit, any gay Mancunian Christians who were planning to go down to Greenbelt afterwards. Not only have they been soaked twice, they're Mancunians. If the Pride march had wanted good weather, they could have held the event in Riyadh, where they could have guaranteed it would be dry. They would have had other problems, of course, but then so would the Greenbelt organisers if they tried the same thing.

No, we are too ready to ascribe bad weather and similar issues to God's apparently random justice. When the city of San Fransisco is destroyed in a giant earthquake, it won't be because God hates gay people. It will be because you shouldn't build major cities on major geological faults. When (if) the people of Nauru have to leave due to flooding it won't be because they've been particularly sinful. it's because the Americans mined out all the bird droppings.

Now, I must get off and help Young Keith. We're all set up to release a plague of frogs towards Drayton Paarslow's house. That should bring on a decent bit of repentance.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Beaker Dream Interpretation

You know how it is. You wake up in the morning - in a cold sweat or with a strange sense of peace - and realise that, in fact, it was all a dream.

But what did that dream actually mean? Some say it's your subconscious, processing all the events of the day. Some, that it's a message from your unconscious. Others, that the Divine can actually speak to us in our dreams. Still others, that if I need you to hold me tight, it's all I gotta do. Out there on the Internet there are millions of pages, while out there in what passes for the real world thousands of alleged experts, there are neo-pagan and psychological and even Christian bookstall attempting to tell you what your dreams mean.

I can't say this too strongly. Anybody who tells you what your dreams mean, is making an unverifiable claim with no basis. So now we've cleared that up, let's see what they mean.

Your teeth all falling out - A very common dream. This normally means that you have been worrying about all that sugar in the carbonated cola drinks you've been consuming. Or all your teeth are falling out.

You keep missing buses - Your dream "you" is just as unfit as the real "you". Take up jogging. Ideally, in your dreams, as that's less real effort.

Endlessly being unable to dial a phone number - You are being overtaken by the constant progress of technology. You feel incapable of keeping up with the next best thing. You have a PC but never switch it on in case the Government read your thoughts. Face it, you're a dinosaur.

Flying - This is a sign of repressed desire. Flying in a plane indicates you are fearful of technology. If you are flying without wings, you're worrying about appearing on the X-factor.

You are naked and surrounded by strangers  - You're a 2nd-rank member of the Royal Family enjoying a week's R&R after watching the Olympics.

Birds flying around your house  - An urge for freedom, but you sense that God has it all in hand. Unless you're Tippi Hedron.

You are dancing round Stonehenge with Herne the Hunter and Christopher Biggins - Your chakra's in a bit of a twist here. Have you considered acunpuncture?

Running and Not Getting Anywhere - You've got thirty-seven committee meetings, six hospital visits, twelve funerals and four baptisms in the next week. You're trying to find some "vision" but the Vision Committee is still working out its Mission Statement. Or Vision Statement. Or something. If you're not a minister of religion, this dream probably means that you're trying to get the Worship Group to play something that was written after 1994.

Being Lost - You have realised the existential truth behind Humanity's current position and purpose. This is not necessarily a good thing.

Being chased around rows of terraced houses by aliens - You ate too much pizza while watching Dr Who. Next time, lay off the anchovies.

Falling - You feel totally out of control of your life. Somebody else is making all the decisions for you. You strongly suspect it's Chris Moyles.

You are trying to preach a sermon, despite not having written it, or planned the service - A common anxiety dream for church ministers and preachers. Especially those who forgot they'd been invited to a party on a Saturday night and were too polite to go home.

Complementarianism in Action

Some members of my congregation at Bogwulf Baptist have been asking me to explain Complementarianism. And clearly it is a very long word. But the essence is that men and women originated differently in the Creation. Since Adam was created, and then Eve, it is obvious that Adam must be more in God's image than Eve - because surely there was the possibility for a genetic mutation, even between Adam's creation and Eve's drawing-out from his side.

And then Eve fell first, followed by Adam. So no matter how far men are fallen, women are just that slightly further.

In days gone by, the division between men and women was clear. Men, in less fear of hell than women (due to being made more in the image of God, and slightly less fallen) were bigger, stronger and generally more suited for the dangerous jobs - fighting, hunting, reaping. While women needed longer lives to repent, and were smaller, so needed to stay at home scraping animal hides, or if they had to go into the fields, gleaning.

Now, we have machines to do our agriculture and killing for us. And so it is important that we consider what men and women's roles should now be. I hope this list helps. I have restricted this list to Church life - but I am sure you can see from this example how things can be expanded to the rest of life - the home, or the workplace.

Woman-friendly activities
Cleaning
Making tea
Making coffee
Flower arranging
Welcoming
Sunday School leading
Singing
Playing Acoustic guitars
Making quiche
Playing Flute
Tidying
Swooning
Holding coffee mornings
Attending Bright Hours
Drawing up rotas (in a suitable position of submission to the leader)
Being pretty
Creche
Leading Bible Study (as long as it is attended by other women, and is not too taxing a passage)
Listening to praise CDs
Visiting the lame
Banner-making.

Man-friendly activities
Drumming
Leading.

The Joy of Subs

I'm sorry, I did lose it a bit in the Ministry Room before this morning's Pouring out of Beakers. It was all the substitution of roles that did my head.

So Gneiss was meant to be Boutrosifer but couldn't be because she's at Greenbelt. Dorrix took over her role. Which meant that Oris had to sub in as Beaker-carrier. But Orris was left-hand acolyte. Grenville had agreed to be stand-in acolyte for Orris, but the other acolyte had phoned in a bit sniffly. And while Kenton was happy to be an acolyte, he made it quite clear that he can only do the right-hand acolyte role. But Grenville isn't happy playing on the left either, so Cherrie stepped up to left acolyte while Grenville dropped back to play in the "hole".

I'd just got that sorted when Hnaef came in to tell me while at the front were the singers, after them the musicians - the girls with the tambourines had swapped to be welcomers, and could I suggest any stand-in percussionists?

So some might think that smashing the beakers, sweeping all the tea lights off the table, chasing the Worship Focus out of the Moot House (anyone know why that badger was the Worship Focus anyway?) and then driving the Beaker Folk out of the Moot House with a hoe was the sign of a slight over-reaction. But I shall maintain that I was provoked.

Friday, 24 August 2012

50 Words for Snow...

They say that the Eskimos have 50 words for snow. It's not true, of course. But here are some others that might be.

The Dutch have 50 words for "flat".

Charismatics have 50 words for "extrovert".

People from Wigan have 50 words for "pie filling".

Conservatives have 50 words for "scrounger".

The English have 50 words for "unlucky on penalties".

Greenbelters have 50 words for "rain".

Prince Harry has 50 ideas for "recreational activity".

Presbyterians have 50 words for "sitting quietly".

Students have 50 words for "sleep".

Arsene Wenger has 50 words for "myopia".

Domestic abusers have 50 shades of grey.

It is Over

There's an image I sometimes see. Three crosses on a Judean hillside. Women and spectators huddled together in the unseasonal cold of that unnaturally dark Spring afternoon.

In the middle, a young man - yet looking older than Abraham as he hangs, quivering, on that ugly stake. The two on either side were spared his scourging - but that's a mixed blessing They are writhing and fighting for life, while his pain and exhaustion are such that he is giving up the ghost.

A cry goes up in the darkness. It splits the quiet air of that ghastly day.

"It is finished."

It splits the air; it rends the veil in the temple. Some say it broke the earth. And it cuts Time in two. Yet it reaches up to heaven, and joins heaven and earth. Nothing will ever be the same again.

It goes quiet again, broken only by a woman's sobbing. It is over.

But it's also just begun.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A Story of Greenbelt, 1986

Of course, the modern-day denizens of Cheltenham Racecourse have centrally-heated tents, solar-powered cooking stoves and their own individually-allocated toilets. But that wasn't how it was the 1980s.

It was at the end of that miserable summer of 1986 that the Greenbelt Festival was struck by Hurricane Charley. In those days the festival was held in the grounds of Castle Ashby, Northants. And the toilets were... well, to put it mildly, unspeakable. Vast holes in the ground, above which users of the facilities sat on planks of wood with bottom-sized holes cut in them. Nobody ever dared look down, and the chief topic of discussion was always the same - how much money would you have to drop down there to go and get it back? Of course, those toilets could never have survived the invention of the smartphone. People would simply have refused to risk dropping their phone. Indeed, a friend of mine once managed to go five days with just one visit to the toilet. And that involved a drive to a McDonald's in Northampton.

1986 was a typical Greenbelt. That is, it barely stopped raining, although Simon Mayo broadcast a Radio 1 roadshow - I seem to remember "It's a Sin" being one of the "Bits and Pieces" tracks. A wonderful communion service had been celebrated on the Sunday morning as the sun briefly shone - 24,000 people sharing bread and wine. White sliced and polystyrene cups, sure, but it was still special. And at some point, John Selwyn Gumboot spoke in a seminar at which he accidentally referred to being at "Greenpeace".  The Iona Community taught us how to sing folksy little songs from a little red book - something which was to inspire me in years to come. I reckon they turned a nice profit from those.

And then came Monday night. The great Mainstage finale. I've no idea what happened over there - we daredn't go. You could barely stand up in the rain. As Charley smashed in, the Bedfordshire Extremely Primitive Methodists were huddled around a guttering candle as our tent filled with water1. But we heard  that the Big Top was collapsing. And then - the worse rumour of all - that the toilets at the top of the hill were about to overflow.

What could be done? There was no time to evacuate thousands of campers from the bottom of the hill. It was nigh-on impossible to get a car to move on that saturated ground to get anyone out. And some people were walled into their tents by the vast numbers of Adrian Plass books they'd bought that day. The only possible action was a feat of civil engineering unsurpassed in the annals of Christian arts festivals. We would have to erect a dam.

A hint of August afterglow was struggling through the stormclouds over Cogenhoe as we set out to raise the earthworks. Clearly we had no spades or other earth-moving implements, so we made the best of what we had. In short, that was the only dyke ever to be dug with 7,000 out-of-tune acoustic guitars. As the sound of the unaccompanied singing of "Our God Reigns" drifted across the sodden air, we dug for our lives. Never did a bunch of drenched Evangelicals do such a night's work - fortified by a chain-gang providing those needing strength with Pot Noodles and baked-bean-and-corned-beef hash. The dam was just twelve feet high - and three hundred yards long - as the last Takamina gave way under the weight of the last sod of clay. All we could do was watch, and pray. The toilets were giving way, and the rain was still falling.

It was a ghastly dawn. The eerie light shone across the unnatural lake. The flood reached to just six inches below the top of the dam. We hummed "When the Levee Breaks" in a guarded undertone. But the dam had held. The rain had stopped. And when someone who had overdone it at the Falcon the night before came rushing out for the loo, we told him to clear off and go behind a hedge.

So that is the story of how we saved Greenbelt from a fate worse than death. But if you told the Greenbelters of today, they wouldn't believe it...


1 - The Extremely Primitive Methodists reject all artificial sources of light, heat and tent waterproofing. They are a devout people, constantly walking into walls and suffering from damp rot.

Apple Gathering Time

Can all Beaker Folk please be aware that the Discovery apples are ready to eat, and the "scrumps" of other varieties are falling. Apples are free at the point of delivery (but there's an honesty box in the Bursary if anyone wants to give thanks for Nature's Bounty).

It was Tess (of the D'Urbervilles) who noted that apples are like worlds. Some are whole and sound, some are blighted. And some have already attracted wasps - which, due to a freak quantum entanglement, means that somewhere on the other side of the Galaxy there are planets being attacked by giant alien vespids.

Beaker People, it is your respnsibility to save our extra-terrestrial brothers, sisters and other, more alien, sibling-type relatives! Please can you ensure all fallen fruit is collected, the good apples put into the "scrumpy freezer" and the mank bits composted. In this way, you'll be saving this planet and other ones.

Except, of course, those planets that continue to be quantum entangled. They're going to be wondering why they've plunged into a sudden Ice Age.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

NHS Worldwide

Sometimes people like to use me as a Spiritual Director. Which is fine by me - my charges are very reasonable. Although these days I'm the Spiritual Chief Executive, and leave the money side to the Spiritual Financial Accountant.

Normally my conversations are of course bound by secrecy. But on this occasion, National Interest demands I tell all. This is the account of my conversation with a man I will call simply "DC", a few months ago.

"Tell me, Eileen - how can I get more money for the NHS, without cutting taxes anywhere else?"

"Tricky. Tell you what, why don't we get the top-flight hospitals to open franchises abroad? After all - we get McDonalds and Ikea, surely we can give something back. We could maybe open wards inside foreign branches of Marks and Spencer."

"Nice one. But, contrary to popular opinion in this country, nobody else has ever heard of the NHS. Where am I going to get the budget from for the advertising we'll need?"

"Tell you what, Dave - you've got some big event coming up in the Summer?"

"The Olympics? What about them? Shocking waste of money, but the Trots landed us with them. Of course, I'm going to have to look like I enjoy them, or Boris is going to steal the show."

"Yes. But the money's allocated for the Opening Ceremony, isn't it? That Doyle bloke......"

"Boyle?"

"Yes. Used to love him on Mock the Week. Can't he arrange a big NHS piece? Dancing nurses, kids under the bedclothes, Andrew Lansley threatening the whole scene..."

"Too scary. What about Voldemort?"

"Yeah, or him. And the letters "NHS" in big lights. What a teaser campaign that would be. And you know what the best thing is?"

"Tell me, Eileen."

"Everybody will think it's a lefty dig at you lot - when in fact we'll be launching "Brand NHS" to the world."

"Brilliant! I wish I had brains like you, Eileen."

"Well, that's why I'm Archdruid of Husborne Crawley. And you're just the Prime Minister."

"Thanks, Eileen. Goodbye."

"Bye Dave, and say hello to Boris for me? Tell him I haven't forgotten...."

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

New-Wave Art-House Psalm Singing

The use of psalms in worship is age-old - all the way back to the First Temple, indeed. And maybe we don't know what the music might have sounded like, but the Jewish people have preserved a glorious tradition of musical psalm settings.

And then the Christian Church has not hesitated to set the psalms to music, in many ways. We think of the Anglican Chant, or the Metrical Psalms of such worthies as Tate & Brady, Sternhold & Hopkins or @Artsyhonker. And then the lovely setting of the 90th Psalm in Elgar's interpretation of Newman's Gerontius. Then we have the rather nice "The Lord's My Shepherd I'll Not Want".

So when Harchibold told us he wanted to try his new setting of Psalm 23, I was all in favour. In fact we made it the centrepiece of this evening's Filling-up of Beakers. For those interested and true experimental music lovers, I reproduce it as best I can.


{SCREAMS} THE LORD'S MY SHEPHERD, I'LL NOT WANT!!! [Smashes crockery with mallet]#

{SCREAMS} THE LORD'S MY SHEPHERD, I'LL NOT WANT!!! [Beats corrugated iron with metal bar]

{SCREAMS} THE LORD'S MY SHEPHERD, I'LL NOT WANT!!! [Runs anti-clockwise around Moot
House, slapping the walls]

{SCREAMS} THE LORD'S MY SHEPHERD, I'LL NOT WANT!!! [Lies, screaming, on the floor]

{SCREAMS} THE LORD'S MY SHEPHERD, I'LL NOT WANT!!! [Stands matchboxes on end]

{SCREAMS} THE LORD'S MY SHEPHERD, I'LL NOT WANT!!! [Throws cow at congregation]

{SCREAMS} THE LORD'S MY SHEPHERD, I'LL NOT WANT!!! [Digs hole]

{SCREAMS} THE LORD'S MY SHEPHERD, I'LL NOT WANT!!! [Does an Orc impression]

{SCREAMS} THE LORD'S MY SHEPHERD, I'LL NOT WANT!!! [Runs clockwise around Moot House, stroking walls]

{SCREAMS} THE LORD'S MY SHEPHERD, I'LL NOT WANT!!! [Throws beakers at wall, splashing water and bits of china everywhere]

{SCREAMS} THE LORD'S MY SHEPHERD, I'LL NOT WANT!!! [Rolls marbles across floor]

Yes, it was challenging, thought-provoking and avant-garde. I don't think we'll be doing it again.

On the Risks of a Dead Carpenter Knocking Down a Temple

I was pondering - as you do - the trial of Stephen in the book of Acts, 6-7.

And I was reflecting that the account may or may not be tidied up, enriched or full of the things the author thought Stephen should have said. Great people in great events are often too busy at the time to hire a speech-writer, jokesmith, and person-who-looks-out-for-stupidity. And in these recession-struck times, it turns out some American politicians can't afford the last of these, either.

So if you were a historical great leader, your half-time team-talks necessarily consisted of "Essex - you done great. But look out for the Breton archers - they're sitting in the "hole" and looking to get in behind the back four. Falstaff - you need to get tighter on their cavalry. Forlorn Hope - oh, yeah, never mind." But if you were smart you hired Shakespeare to turn it into "Once more unto the breach, dear friends..."

In the same way, I don't know whether Stephen's defence to the somewhat unlikely charge of "saying that rabbi we killed the other week is going to destroy the temple" was as Luke has put it. It might be literally true - and if so may give Julian Assange a fighting chance if he ever comes to leave the Ecuadorian embassy to fight his case. "Your honour, in my defence I would like to say - In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angy, and been widely regarded as a bad move..." If he kept that up, all the way through Plato, Aristotle, Magna Carta, the Speaker standing up to Charles I, the Tolpuddle Martyrs.... the chances are, at their current birth-rate, there'd be nobody left in Sweden by the time the extradition hearing was over.

But in Stephen's case, I really hope it's literally true that his defence was the whole of the history of Salvation, from Abraham to Jesus. I love the idea of some Sanhedrin lawyer objecting - "I don't see what Joseph's falling-out with his brothers has to do with the case at hand" and Stephen explaining that it was everything to do with the case at hand - it's all about God's hand, working in history - leading up to this day.

Strikes me that if Stephen's defence had instead been "What, you reckon me saying a dead carpenter is going to knock down the Temple is a crime? Tell me - just how convinced are you that Jesus hasn't risen from the dead?" he might have got out of there alive. But instead he chose to tell the whole story of salvation. And they killed him for it.

So I reckon there's two lessons to be learnt here. One is, people don't like being told they're on the wrong side. And the other is - unless you're a king with Shakespeare as your speech-writer, keep it snappy.

Monday, 20 August 2012

A Short History of the Church

In the beginning, there was the Early Church. The Early Church was pure, faithful to the Gospel (which had not yet been written), spoke in Aramaic and wrote Greek. We should not hold this against them, as Jacobean English had not yet been invented. They drank what they called wine, but this was the sort of wine which was actually miraculously unfermented grape juice. You could never get drunk on this kind of wine, which is why there were so many warnings against getting drunk.

Freed from the Law, the early Christians were able to dispense with battlements around their buildings - which was bad news for builders and, in the very short term, for Eutyches. But they learnt from their mistakes and re-introduced them - but from Grace, note - not to keep the Law.

The Early Church also had priests and bishops, but this was probably due to a bad translation into the original Greek.

They also had Early Fathers. These were often celibate, but that was all right as they chose this way of life. They weren't forced into it by the Church (as their Catholic successors were) or their wife (as I often am).

The Early Church had to battle against the Gnostics, Arians, Anglicans, Modalists, Eustachians, Docetists and Pelagians, Semi-Pelagians, Hemi-Demi-Semi Pelagians and  Monarchians. True Orthodoxy was established at the Council of Nicaea or Nicea. But the Council was also an example of an Established Church - and so they chose a totally different way of going off the narrow path instead. Orthodoxy should have been established in each congregation, individually, by a democratic vote as advised by a godly pastor - and not enforced by a supra-national synod ruled over by a Pope. And so started the Dark Ages.

In the Dark Ages, the Church introduced monasteries and nunneries. Shocking places where people were forced to work and pray, in close proximity, without the presence of the opposite sex. Can you imagine the temptations of same-sexual lust to which these poor souls were exposed? I know I can.

Some improvements were attempted by Wyclif - who at least tried to write the Bible in English. It was not the King James, but at least - in his blinded way, for he was still a Roman Catholic, remember - he was trying.

Luther then made matters better, while Calvin and Arminius made them worse. But at least the Pope (all three of them) was/were getting to know their place. And Indulgences were banned by Protestants, to be replaced by Jumble Sales - they were less efficient than Indulgences, and there were no days to earn out of Purgatory, but at least they were Protestant.

And then we have the so-called "English Reformation". Let me make this straight. Any church that is founded for the sole purpose of helping out with a fat man's sex life is going to be cursed to argue about sex for the rest of its existence.

But it was John Smyth (the se-Baptist, not the Knight with the same name who founded Eileen's ungodly college) who showed people the way. The Baptists were back in the daylight - the sheep among the goats. How could God bless these godly people other than, just five years later, having the Bible translated into God's Word, the King James Version, by a group of, erm, Anglicans.

But we had better skip on swiftly, lest we think too hard on that. Suffice it to say that since that day in 1606, the Baptist thread has been woven by Particular Baptists, Strict Baptists, Peculiar Baptists, Strict and Particular Baptists, Paticularly Peculiar Baptists, Open Baptists, Closed Baptists, Early-Closing Wednesday Baptists, Independent Baptists, Union Baptists, Fundamentalist Baptists and our own Independent Funambulist Baptists. In all this, you will notice, we have one common feature. We all have different Church Names. And in our own case the Funambulism is not compulsory or regarded as a necessity to salvation (although it is a means to grace) - it is merely a result of a poorly-written Church Noticeboard.

And so, we faithful few continue to fight bravely. We look to the past, and shudder at where we have come from. And we look to the future, and think - why worry? The world's going to end next week. We shall climb on our tightropes - our own narrow paths - clutching the balancing pole with which we avoid both Papish legalism and Libertine Hedonism - and wait.

Holy Inconsistent

While taking a breath of fresh air and the first morning coffee, I just met Drayton Parslow. Every Monday he's full of inspiration from Sunday's worship, and goes for a prayer walk round the village - which mostly means round my Community.

Just to get the week off with a bang, I asked him why he's prepared to accept all the benefits that the modern scientific method brings us - poly-cotton shirts, smart phones, the Internal Combustion Engine - but dithers over medical science (he'll only go to a doctor if it's really serious, and prayer hasn't worked - or not in a "healed the ailment" kind of way) and rejects the Theory of Evolution - based on the same scientific method.

He tells me I'm not really wise enough to understand. Smart phones and artificial fibres are part of the scientific world. Whereas healing and Creation are where God works more directly.

He's right. I don't understand. Maybe I'm not wise enough.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

News on the Blogroll

Just added bapesaurus - a trying-again blogger - who re-boots with an absorbing account of a trip to Lindisfarne.

While old friend Gurdur has a really interesting piece on immunology vs pschiatry. These modern techniques are all very well, but what was wrong with beating people with sticks to drive the demons out?

Interesting Truths - Suem expands on yesterday's Beaker post to suggest some signs one has clergy parents.

And Catriona has quite an alarming statue.

On Meeting a Clergy

If you got through my post yesterday on how to tell if you may be a clergy, and came to the conclusion that you are not, then you may be wondering, if you should encounter a clergy - what do you do with one? And how will you know that it is indeed a clergy that you have met?

Clergy Stereotypes

Once upon a time, there was nothing that could strike the heart with such fear as the words "It's the vicar". Indeed, the entire careers of some farceurs and some JB Priestley was based on these alien beings, suddenly appearing in working class or lower middle-class livings rooms. In these, and those successors such as Dad's Army and the ouvre of Derek Nimmo1, vicars were typically upper-class, slightly dim, well-meaning but ineffectual. Their ignorance of the more - ahem - physical side of life was typically a blessing in those days, as it prevented them realising that they were almost certainly closet homosexuals.

Nor did the modern, kitchen-sink. attitude to life prevent this kind of view of clergy. In Postman Pat, for example, the Reverend Timms actually appears to live in the church, and spends his time running downhill on bikes without brakes while saying "Saints Preserve Us".

Identifying your clergy

Some clergy are sneaky masters of disguise, so it is important that you identify them early. Basically, if there is a knock at the door at a time when you have a visiting tennis player - for completely innocent and explicable reasons - hidden in your wardrobe wearing no trousers, that will be a clergy. It is at this point that you are permitted to shout "Oh no! It's the vicar!"

If you meet them in the street, there is a good chance that they will be wearing a dog collar - a piece of white plastic. This is a bit like the "For hire" light in taxis, and indicates that they are available for work. If you ask a clergy nicely, they will often carry light shopping for you, or hold your baby or - more amusingly - someone else's baby. Off-duty clergies will take their dog collars off, and you will have to look for other cues. As Pastor in Valle suggested the other day, they will be wearing black socks (properly black socks, beside which all other "black" socks are merely dark blue). If they are wearing these blacker-than-black socks with sandals, you have your clergy.

In church it is normally pretty obvious. They will be the one at the front, introducing hymns or preaching. But **danger**. They could be a Local Preacher or Lay Reader or other such NCO. Check the neckline for a dog collar - not easy if they are wearing cassocks, chasubles or polo-necks. Or wait until they have defrocked at the end of the service. If it is in fact a Lay Preacher, check the graveyard for somebody laying in an unoccupied grave cunningly camouflaged and used as a mantrap, or accidentally boarded into the vestry from the outside. That will be the clergy, and the Lay Preacher has once again managed to get an unplanned preaching appointment.

In olden days, clergies would occasionally go around the parishes, catechising children and doing good works. Now that the typical clergy's patch has about 30,000 people in it, they seem to have decided not to bother. So if the clergy is indeed knocking at the door - you've probably invited them around, to have a child named or baptised, or because you are undergoing existential doubt. In this case you will have the advantage of knowing they are a clergy. But you may not know what gender they are. This next section will help.

Clergy Gender

In these equal-opportunity days, you will need to determine whether your clergy is a male or female clergy. This doesn't really matter when addressing them to their face - "Your Reverence" or "Your Holiness" will do perfectly well either way. But you might need to refer to them in the third person at some point, and then where would you be? And their habit of just calling themselves "Reverend" or "Reverend Doctor" makes it tricky to guess.

You might be thinking it's easy - surely female clergy wear skirts? But you have to be careful. If you meet them in church, many of them appear to be wearing frocks. And some female clergy wear trouser-suits. If their clerical shirt is in paisley, it's almost certainly a female clergy. If they're called "Jim" or they have classic male-pattern baldness or tell you about their prostate problem (unlikely, but we're living in an increasingly informal world) they're gonna be a bloke. If you can, invite them to bring their children with them - this should give you the clues you need, according to whether they call them "Mummy" or "Daddy". Thankfully, if you suspect your clergy is in fact a Roman Catholic, you can assume they're male. Thus you will avoid the embarrassment that sometimes ensues if you invite them to bring their children.

Entertaining a clergy

Now you have your clergy located and identified, how are you going to deal with them? Tea is normally suggested. If you live in certain Surrey villages, you might want to suggest wife-swapping, but you should really get to know them better before the conversation comes up - they may be celibate, and this would upset your arithmetic. (Also, they're generally not in favour, regardless).

Try not to swear. Clergy never swear, and are not used to swearing around them. You might want to try role-playing the following scenario with a friend or family member before inviting a local clergy round, just to ensure you have the correct social graces. Basically, if you can learn the appropriate lessons from this little sketch, you will be safe to invite clergy to your house.

Scene: A typical Surrey stock-broker's house. In the Lounge is Mrs Jones and her new local clergy, Reverend Hampson. Mrs Jones has not yet identified Reverend Hampson's gender. Hidden in the Kitchen, for entirely innocent and explicable reasons, is a tennis-player with no trousers.

Mrs J: Tea, vicar?

Revd H: Thanks, that would be lovely.

Mrs J: And how is life getting on at the Vicarage now you've moved in?

Revd H: Lovely thank you. We've been busy painting the study walls. I have so many books.

Mrs J: I'm sure you do. And none published since you were ordained?

Revd H: I can see you've met a clergy before, Mrs Jones!

Mrs J: Indeed. Drop of tea?

Revd H: No, I'm fine thank you.

Mrs J: Now, you must remind me. When I come to write your Christmas card - your - ahem - other half's got rather an exotic name... how do you spell it?2

Revd H: What, Sue?

Mrs J: Aha!  Sue! So you're a male clergy!

Revd H: I think not. We're in a civil partnership.

Mrs J: Oh, sorry. I should have guessed from the paisley clerical shirt.3

Revd H: No worries.

Mrs J: So do you share a bedroom, or do you resist temptation through the use of separate rooms?

Revd H: I beg your pardon?

Mrs J: Sorry. Sorry. I should have thought that bit. I mean - I shouldn't even have thought it. But I definitely shouldn't have said it. What was I thinking of?

Revd H: Maybe I will have a drop more tea.

Mrs J: OK. Oh ****4 I've spilt some tea on the carpet.

Revd H: Never mind.

Mrs J: Oh, ****5 - now I've said ****.

Revd H: Don't worry, we all say **** occasionally.

Mrs J: Yes, but not in front of a clergy. I can't ******** believe I said **** in front of the vicar. And now I've ********* said ******* as well. What a ***** state. I can't ****** believe it,. You'll have to ***** excuse me. [Rushes out of lounge into kitchen].

Trouserless Tennis Player: Has the clergy gone already?

Mrs J: No, she's still there.

Trouserless Tennis Player: How you getting on? Have you managed to avoid swearing?

Mrs J: Well, I said **** once, but I think I managed to get away with it....


Notes 

1 Now sleeping, after a too-short life, just a few miles across the border in Easton Maudit, Northants

2 Clever - trying to derive the gender of the clergy from that of the clergy's partner - and without at any point making any assumptions (apart from the one, fatal one).

3 Missed the obvious clue as to the clergy's gender. The whole following mess could have been avoided, and Mrs Jones need never have worried about Revd Hampson's partner. NB the paisley thing is about gender. Nothing else. Make no other assumptions, or you'll really be in trouble.

4 This is what happens once we let a conversation with a clergy get out of hand. Mrs J should have stuck to safe subjects such as kittens or penal substitution.

5. **** and **** are different words. I've chosen to censor out all bad language in this sketch. Some of the readers of this website are clergy, and I wouldn't like to disturb or trouble them with this kind of thing.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Those Tell-tale Signs You may be Clergy

You know how it is. Sometimes you get the feeling that you may be a member of the clergy. Here's a few clues to help you check your suspicions.

1. You find your jaw aching with sympathetic grinning, because everyone's always pretending to be joyous in your presence.

2. The organist has a grudge against you, and you don't know why.

3. You're allowed to go round the houses of people you don't know. But nobody thinks that's odd.

4. (If you're a married man) - your wife is unexpectedly talented at banner-making, baking and playing the piano.

5. (If you're a married woman) - your husband is allergic church matters.

6. On Sunday mornings, your garden is always being booby-trapped by a frustrated Lay Preacher.

7. The previous person to do your job was better than you.

8. You find yourself sympathising with those bankers who didn't fix interest rates or lend recklessly.

9. The newest book in your study was bought the year you went to that big building in the nearest city.

10. You get paid simply for living in your house - yet you work 80 hours a week.

11. Your children are a constant disappointment to other people, though not to you.

12. You understand the concepts of "day off" and "holiday". It's their practical application that eludes you. And admin doesn't count, does it?

13. You discover a white piece of plastic in your collar. If you take it out to go down town, people you know seem disappointed.

14. You swear more than all the people you meet. No-one else ever seems to swear, in fact. Or, if they do, they're really sorry.

15. You break into a cold sweat if you ever read the expression "8am".

16. You find yourself praying less than people expect you to.

Like a Diamond from the Ashes

And so, after a few dark seasons, a strange new creature called AFC Rushden + Diamonds crawls into being, blinks a few times in the unaccustomed light, and begins its new existence on a football field behind a pub called the Dog and Duck in Wellingborough.

They call them "phoenix" clubs. There was once - long and merry ago now - a club called Rushden and Diamonds. Formed with ambition and money from the Dr Martens boot and shoe empire, they climbed from the United Counties League, through the Southern League, then after all the tricky years in the Conference they got as high as League One. And then the shoe industry, like that on the Frogstar planet, went into a decline. And, over a few short years, the club descended and then folded.

Now tumbleweed blows across the pitch at Nene Park, former home of the Diamonds. Football is seen no more. The pass-and-move, passion and fire of the old days is as a memory. Or, to put it another way, Kettering Town play there.

But somewhere in those muddy fen-edge Nene water-meadows, hope was already stirring. A sense that something even as artificial as welding Rushden Town and Irthlingborough Diamonds together had produced something special. Could they not start again - produce something organic, something new, something that could thrive?

And so today it all starts again. Diamonds v Thrapston on a borrowed pitch with just one stand with about 100 seats, and that will probably be sufficient. A light year from the millionaires who will also be kicking off their season today. But this is a field of dreams, this will be a new theatre of hope and anguish. This is a community club, whose owners are the fans and whose visionairies thought they could start again from the bottom.

Burton's happy. He's seen the fixture list, and AFCRD are going to be playing a couple of our local clubs - Olney and Buckingham - though it may be a few years before they once again play Bedford or even Luton. But he says this is a sign that the hope of resurrection is in every human spirit. I tell him not to use concepts he doesn't understand, and get a move on learning that rude song about MK Dons. One day he'll need it. One day.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Lament for those Lost in Ikea

I was glad when they said unto me, "Let us go unto Milton Keynes",
And now here we are in thy aisles, oh Ikea.

The Lord is my shopkeeper.
I shall Lack Kvarnvik.

Oh Lord, how many are my Forså
How Mandel rise up against me.

All day long they call unto me
saying "Where is now the exit?"

For thy corridors are eternal
The floors of this building go on forever.

Balding men are crying out, "free us from this chain -
from the hordes of strangely-named furniture deliver us.

"For we remember how we left the babes and sucklings in the ball pit
Thinking we would be back in a short time, and have a cup of coffee

"And yet now we walk through the valley of the shadow of Jeff
and I'm feeling a bit ill."

Surely Iris and Laundry will be with me all the days of my life
And I shall be stuck in this enormous shop forever.

If you Meet William Stukeley on the Road, Kill Him.

On the side of this website, about halfway down, we have a picture of William Stukeley. And we describe him as the "First Christian Druid".

Stukeley it was who popularised the idea of Druids at Stonehenge. A reasonable enough supposition, in itself, at the time. After all - someone must have built it. The idea that it was the Romans had been common enough - after all, who else had the skills to do such a thing? The total lack of inscriptions gave the lie to that. Others have been suggested - the Phoenicians, for example - of whom there is no evidence at all in these islands. Or the Egyptians. All these ideas seeming to suggest that the natives of these islands were unable to erect their own apparently pointless monuments.

But Stukeley - rightly - recognised that these were British builders. It's just that, before the 3-Age categorisation of Prehistory, and before anyone ever dreamed of Beaker Folk, they didn't know about anyone earlier than the Celts. So it must have been the Celts. And since the Celts had Druids, the Druids must have led the services. That the Celtic Druids were famous for worshipping in woods, not in stone circles on open downland, was not a problem - as after all, who else could ir have been?

So his historical reasoning wasn't that bad. It's where he went next that caused the trouble - casting the Celtic Druids in the form of basically being hairy, woad-covered Church of England clergymen; assuming they were basically gentlemen; inspiring a quasi-Masonic organisation to spring up (Stukeley was, among other things, a Freemason): the whole Noble Druid concept was invented, and away they went. Basically, this was Christianity before and just after Christ, with the odd bit of human sacrifice in a Wicker Man - but only because they didn't know better.

In these days, of course, we know better. The Ancient Celts were a bunch of total warfare bunnies, and one of the last nations to have been beaten by an Italian army. Their spells didn't work, their poetry was ghastly and their main aim in life was to sit around getting drunk and eating rubbish poetry.

The Beaker Folk, however, are totally different. A peace-loving bunch of proto-Methodists, interested in lighting candles and thinking about kittens, they never did anyone any harm. Their Druids lived in peace with Nature, planted a tree to replace every one that had - regretfully - to chop down and issued sage advice in solemn tones. They only indulged in human sacrifice when they really had to - for example because they had a glut of prisoners, or had had a bad harvest.

I hope that's quite clear, and I have managed to separate wishful thinking from hard historical fact.

Rotas

That's the rotas finished then. It meant a late night but we got there in the end.

Burton's new spreadsheet helps, of course. It runs the Worship rota, the Visiting rota, the Tea rota, Greeting rota, Flower rota, Music rota, Coffee rota, Gardening rota, Little Pebbles Kid's Club rota, Mid-day Club rota, Ladies' Bright Hour speaker rota (how did we get a Ladies' Bright Hour? And why do so many men attend? I have no idea. I really must get on the rota), the Overhead Projection and Underhand Deception rotas, the Doily Shed and Beaker Bazaar rotas and the Pilgrim Facilitation rotas (i.e hoovering the accommodation wing).

Each rota has its own tab on the sheet. But even so, with fifty or so Beaker People and approximately 14,000 slots to fill on a three-month rota, some clashes are bound to occur - not least where people have indicated they'll only do some things on Fifth Fridays and others on Wednesday during term time and so on.

Sometimes you can end up with the spreadsheet rota equivalent of a Deadly Embrace. At these points the spreadsheet just stops with a kind of exhausted look, and we have to brute-force events - or even cancel the Railway Enthusiasts' Fortnightly Gathering.

So we've got there now. Every Beaker Person in their places, all jobs filled and we're all sorted out. But I do sometimes wonder about the effort involved - are we making this too complicated, or do we need to put together a rota-makers' rota? Still, that's Xmas 2014 started. And the real trouble starts in November, when we put together the rota for Spring 2015.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

It takes one to know one

I am shocked by Eileen's statement that "we are all heretics", based on what seems to be a very reasonable website.

I can assure you that I am in no way a heretic. And neither is anybody else who broadly shares my views on the Inspiration of the Bible (the true Bible, not the modern translations), the Resurrection, sexuality, the 6-day Creation, dancing on Sundays,  the Second Coming, dancing during the week, Godly Play, dancing in the dark, cross-dressing and and the other doctrines in my 79-point "Heresy Checklist".

Except for Marvin, down in Dunstable. Although not in my checklist, I think his views on Unicorns are decidedly unconventional - but I am not sure whether that is a heresy or merely a simple misunderstanding.

G****e and Ukulele Chords - The Democratic Linkiness of the Internet

If yesterday's post on Heresy teaches us anything, it is that there is a kind of democracy to the Internet.

I have quoted two links - one in the main post, one in the comments. The pages I link to both seem to  agree on one thing - that Pope Benedict is a heretic. But one author thinks that to be the because Benedict is a Catholic - while the other thinks it because His Holiness is not Catholic enough.

Neither of these people have much genuine authority, of course. But my links will direct you to their sites just as efficiently as if I had sent you to the site of the Vatican, the Baptist Union or Church Mouse (retd). The URLs have equally the same worth, if you will, whatever wisdom or drivel they may be writing.

But a URL will have some relative weight, of course. A Roman Catholic going to the Vatican site will automatically impute value to it, in the same way that an unmarriageable bloke with an anorak gets a warm feeling on arriving at the forum of Richard Dawkins's website.

So why did I choose those links? Because they were the most interesting among others dealing with the subject (and when I say "interesting" I do not say "representative", "rational" or "likely to get you any nearer heaven"). So a certain degree of interest - and controversy - gives these pages weight beyond their value.

And how did I find them? I typed two sets of search terms into G****e. Those terms were "assumption mary heresy" and "separated brethren". It was not I that put them on the front page of the results - it was the inscrutable and ineffable workings-out of the global algorithm that decides the value of everything. And by linking to them, I am aware that I have made matters worse.

Every author of blogs will know that visitor stats are strange things. We write what we believe to be gems of theological profundity and personal insight, which get ignored. We then, in a poorly-judged moment, write some rotten joke which echoes round the world. We cannot control this. We cast bloggy bread on the waters, and wait to see what comes back to us after many days.

You will see, for example - if you use the desktop version of this site - that one of the seven most popular posts we have ever issued has as its subject the Uke Chords for the song on the "Girl on the Platform Smile" advert. This is not the core stuff of this site. We do not lust after that girl and play the ukulele. Well, actually, Burton does. But let's ignore that. The point is - we are into religion, science and a bit of occasional barcoding. G****e has decided we are experts on the subject. G****e runs the world, decides what is authoritive, interesting and important.

Either that, or there's a lot of frustrated blokes out there with ukuleles.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Quick Heresy Joke

I have suffered a truly depressing meeting with the self-styled "Archdruid" while on my prayer-walk around the village.

She told me that to celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, she has been playing Victoria's Missa Gaudeamus. She says it is a marvellous example of Renaissance polyphony.

Typical. You start off with with Roman Catholicism and where do you end up? The Mormons.

We are All Heretics

There's nothing makes me so keen to believe in things like the Assumption of Mary so much as a webpage that describes it as a "damnable heresy". Frankly, my rule in general is never to agree with a web page that's in Man Utd colours, and the mis-use of the word "heresy" is astounding.

See, I don't see how the word "heresy" can be used in a Protestant environment. The Wiki definition of "heresy" is "A Heresy is any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs." Which seems very fair, but of course the definition of Protestantism is that you can't really have established beliefs. The very start of Protestantism was when somebody decided the (Roman) (Catholic) Church had got something wrong, and then other Protestants disagreed with him, and others with him. Basically, if you judge that any man or woman able to read the Bible can come up with their own interpretation - and rejection of a central Church authority certainly does mean that, at root - then you can't have heresy on that interpretation.

But heresy - αἵρεσις - apparently means choice. I'm no Greek scholar, but it strikes me that if that's the root of the word then there's a problem for Protestants. All Protestants have to make choices. Given there is no magisterium, they must try to find truth out for themselves. Some may believe that the Bible is God's word, but they only have the Bible to tell them that. They can't trust anyone else. They all have to make choices - how to interpret any given phrase, whether to believe the KJV is the only authentic Bible or whether others are equally acceptable. They are all heretics. When the author of JesusIsSavior describes something as "heresy", what he is really saying is that he doesn't agree with it - based on his reading of a book that self-describes as the word of God (and even then only based on his own personal interpretation of that book.

So my conclusion is obvious. On that basis, we are all heretics.

By the way, I am aware that there is a danger that the whole website is in fact a spoof, written by someone who is wanting to make us all laugh at what these wacky fundamentalists get up to. But I take comfort in the fact there's tons of this stuff on that website. This gives me some confidence that it's in earnest. After all, who would spend years putting material on a website if the whole thing were just a giant parody?

The Heavenly Birthday of the Mother of God

There's a nasty habit some people have of analysing things to death:

"Do you love me?"

"Of course I love you."

"Do you love me a lot?"

"Of course a lot."

"How much do you love me?"

"Lots and lots."

"More than you love football?"

"Well, I'd need to think about that."

"You don't love me more than football?"

"I didn't say that. I said I needed to think."

"How can you not love me more than football?"

"Well, it's two different things, isn't it?"

"But there's me and there's football - aren't I more important?"

"Well, obviously...."

"You do! You love me more than football!"

"Yes, I do."

"Would you crawl over glass for me?"

"I suppose so."

"And walk over burning coals for me?"

"Is that the time? MK Dons kick off in half an hour..."

You get the idea.

Sometimes there are mysteries you don't want to poke around in, as a wise man once said to me. There are dogma you don't need to lay down too much, arguments you don't need to have, definitions that didn't really need defining. Stories that give a truth without needing too much elaboration.

Happy heavenly birthday, Mary, Mother of God. Pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Trolling for the word of God

It only ever happened once, and it was many years ago - in the days before the concept of a "troll" could have been used as it was before the World Wide Web appeared - we're probably looking late 80s or early 90s here. But I was once trolled in church.

It's sadly now closed, I believe. The old Holy Trinity, Marylebone Road. In those days when I hung out in those notorious Bridge clubs in Fitzrovia, I would often find my way along for Holy Communion. The good old C of E* was still using the ASB, and I believe it would have been the old Prayer 3 they used. Although I could be wrong - it was all a long time ago.

And I was wandering back out after Mass towards the front half of the church - which was the old SPCK bookshop, as some may remember, long and merry ago now. And I was politely stopped by a sharply-dressed and quietly-spoken young man who asked me if I came every week.

And with some diffidence (for I was an Extremely Primitive Methodist, and unsure if I was receiving the sacrament under false pretences, so to speak, and he could have been carrying out an audit for the Liturgical Commission or something) I replied that yes - provided I was not involved in trying to pull off a particularly tricky Stayman bid at the time, or trying to remember what bid meant "I've got four Aces and the Queen of Diamonds" - I would indeed be indulging my spiritual wants in that place.

And he replied, "So you just say it all the same every week?"

Yes, I assured him, we did. Albeit the readings were different.

"So you reject the word of God then - it's all just empty words."

"No, it's full of the word of God. Loads of the word of God. All that liturgy..."

Liturgy! The devil's work! Not a translation of the word that I was familiar with, but that was the problem. Liturgy. He explained - with, I am sure, infinite kindness and concern for my soul, that Liturgy was the problem. It was not God's liturgy - it was the work of men. I tried to reason with him, but to what avail? He had chosen his own battle ground, and his own weapons, and was not going to listen to anything I had to say.

Naturally, I felt we needed to find some common ground. But when someone is so truly deaf to reason and incapable of real argument what can what one do? So I snatched a hardback copy of "The Myth of God Incarnate" from the nearby "Hippy Theology" shelf and smacked him just above the eyebrow with it**. Rejoicing that he had been treated as had the prophets before him he staggered out into the Marylebone Road - presumably to a more godly establishment where he could receive the laying-on of hands for healing.

But he changed the way I thought of Liturgy from that day. Whenever I went along to that little church, heard the two readings plus Gospel, joined in the Agnus Dei and the Sanctus - I reflected that somewhere in London there was a bloke who rejoiced in the Word of God, and yet never heard as much of it as I did.

* (c) The Church Mouse
** This was wrong of me. You should not hit fundamentalists with books of liberal theology.
That's what Barth's Church Dogmatics is for.

Service for Introverts

Setting

The congregation can slip into their seats while quiet music is playing - something a bit uplifting, but not too pushy.

Procession

The Leaders (not that they'd want to go calling themselves that) amble in from various doors, at fairly random intervals, and sit down without drawing too much attention to themselves.

Books
 
Books may be distributed. These can be spiritually uplifting, encouraging, thoughtful or The Road Less Travelled. If you feel the need to read 50 Shades of taking Advantage of Another's Low Self-Esteem, you'd be better off with it on Kindle. As if you'd only draw attention to yourself with the book. Better still, read something else.

Liturgical Dance

Are you having a laugh? Just watching the dancers at the Olympic Closing Ceremony made us wonder how they coud do that.

Sermon

The Sermon will be renamed "The Talk". And then "The Chat". And then "Some random ideas - just a few thoughts - of course, just my opinion." The preacher will then decide that, on the whole, she'd rather stay where she is - there's a nice bit on St Benedict in the book she's reading.

Hymn

Methodists in the congregation may belt out "And can it Be". Methodist introverts are not affected with introversion during hymns.

Dismissal

The leaders may sneak out, mouthing "bye" to a few very close friends - but ideally only if they don't catch their eyes.

Thinking About Bog Bodies

Thinking about Bog Bodies is something which I do from time to time.

You know, those characters like Lindow Man that are dug up by people excavating or cutting peat. Peat marshes being an acid, anaerobic environment these bodies can be amazingly well-preserved - skin and all - even the sadly demised's last meal. Which was always some kind of porrige. Clearly Iron Age mothers didn't warn their sons enough - "if you keep eating that muck you'll end up beautifully preserved in peat, with your head bashed in and a garotte round your throat."

Oh yes, traditional Celtic worship in all its glory. No bhodrans, tabors, tin whistles or dancing around with your arms by your sides. No "brother Sun" and 'sister Moon" and "great-uncle squally showers". Nope - a bash over the head, a knee in the spine, a spot of light garotting, throat cut and thrown into an acrid, dark pool as an appeasement to the Wicked Witch of Winter. A dreadful end. Although, after 2,000 years of peat's tanning effects, a lovely finish.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Surprise Omission From the Beaker Cricket Team

Yes, I was expecting a bit of fuss over my dropping Hnaef from the Beaker Folk XI for Saturday's crunch 17x17 match against the Guinea Pig Folk of Stewartby. But there's a very good reason for it.

He blames his socks. He reckons that since last year, in order to give him better protection when diving hopelessly after a ball in the outfield, or getting himself out for a romantic 16 or 17 runs when the opportunity's there to go and make a big score, or reverse-sweeping bouncers outside leg stump (a shot that  brought him three boundaries and five broken bones last season, he has bought himself thicker socks.  He reckons the thicker socks are definitely the problem. Hnaef says that, had he known how much trouble the socks were going to give, he would have bought thinner ones. He says thick socks mean his feet are squeezed just that bit too much to be able to give 110% when he's in the pavilion texting the opposition.

It's a theory. I can see it could be socks. But personally I reckon that's just a superficial answer. The problem is much more fundamental than that. I reckon he's just too big for his boots.

Group Exercises

Sometimes you wonder why we bother. I knew everybody would be a bit low - and that was before they saw the Olympic Closing Ceremony. But I tell you, what with the weather and everything the atmosphere has been as fraught as a Spice Girls reunion.

So I figured we'd have some group work at this morning's Pouring out of Beakers. We'd moved the ceremony from the traditional 8am - I put this down to something to do with the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, but in fact it was because I suspected a few Beaker People had celebrated the Ceremony with some considerable vigour.

So we broke everyone into six groups, and gave them 30 minutes to tell us the best things about the Life of Faith. Then we asked each group to nominate a spokesperson.

Then, on the grounds that by definition the spokespeople would be the most annoying extraverts, we said we would give them five minutes in the quiet of the Doily Shed to prepare their presentations. Complete lie, of course. Hnaef locked them in so we could hear what everybody else had to say.

I should say that we had hand-picked each group to have similar characteristics. So Group 1, the "Thinkers" (notice the quote marks) played back to us that they couldn't decide whether they should be discussing the Life of Faith, or whether it was the Life in Faith. Or maybe the Life to Faith - reflecting that faith is a movement, not a point of stasis. This was all accompanied by about 25 pages of flip charts, proving that the Life to Faith isn't going anywhere.

Group 2 was the Doers. They suggested that the Life of Faith is about Changing; Doing; Renewing: Reviving: Enthusing: Trampling on the Deeds of the Dark One and Dancing on Injustice. They then did a haka before running round the Moot House, whooping. I've never understood why people would want to dance on injustice - I reckon it would be pretty bumpy.

Group 3 was the Emoters. They expressed the Life of Faith by telling us we don't know what it's like - we wouldn't organise group exercises if we really understood them. We - the rest of the world - just skip around in a state of ignorance of how utterly demanding the Life of Faith is if you really live it.

Group 4 had spent the half-hour discussing how they felt they related to the task. That's the last time I accept a booking from a bunch of Anglican ordinands.

Group 5 quoted the Church Fathers on the matter. So profound, theologically sound and almost completely impractical if your problem is really that you can't get a 3G signal to pick up your morning cyber-liturgy.

Which just left Group 6 - the people who just want to get nice feelings out of their religion. I'll be honest, they didn't show any evidence of wrestling with the subject. But they did draw some lovely kittens.

So all in all I like to think we learned something. And that was - don't do group exercises. Although Group 3 did assure us that we'd been on a journey with them. Albeit, not a nice journey.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Business of Religion

It's always been one of those debates - to what degree should the church act like a business? There are those who say we should use our resources efficiently, identify and expand our core markets and maximise our USP. Whereas others say Jesus didn't create a franchise - he started a family.

Well, my Spiritual Director has totally blurred the line, hasn't she? Got herself paid via a Jersey account and then, when she knew my spiritual health was heading downhill, flogged off the shares in my well-being before making the announcement to the City. She was in the Caymans before trading opened.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

25 Signs You're Behaving in Real Life Like You're on Social Media

After my "If Real Life were like Facebook", I thought I'd expand the subject a little. After all, you'd expect that your Social Media life would reflect who you really are...

1. You still keep in touch with people you went to school with.

2. A minor disagreement over the expression "Communion of Saints" in the Creed leads to you pushing a tract through your neighbour's door every five minutes, and telling everyone that goes to his church he's a heretic.

3. When people in your workplace try to be your friends, you just ignore them because you don't really know them.

4. When  having a quiet drink with friends, you insist on repeating, so the whole pub can hear, every funny thing anyone says.

5. You've been banned from church after throwing a cow at the vicar.

6. Your farm is growing marvellously - mostly due to the high-quality fertiliser you make from dead, cute sea-life.

7. In the office and at business meetings, you'll only talk to people more important than you are. Unfortunately, they'll only talk to people more important than they are.

8. When you over-emote and spill all the details of your private life and spiritual feelings, people follow you around and like what you're saying. Whereas what they'd normally do is run away screaming.

9. Every time you get to your house, you shout "Who's the Mayor? Who's the Mayor?"

10. That minor issue over your neighbour's late-night DIY only ended when you burnt his shed down.

11. Every wall of your house is covered with an inspirational, cute or witty poster.

12. Your cats have left home, fed up of having to be amusing to order.

13. You find yourself shouting contrary comments at House Group to everything everyone says, just to get attention and a reaction. (NB - you may have been doing this already, long before Social Media was invented).

14. You only appear in public dressed as a giant mouse.

15. You have the irrational need to tell everybody at work what you're doing, all the time. "I'm using the stapler now... Going to the drinks machine!... Off to the loo... Back from the loo... Sitting in my chair... Wishing I was scuba-diving now..."

16. Your children have moved out because you keep announcing to visitors how much you love them.

17.  You all sit around in the pub, trying to find amusing jokes for "#marsupialfilms". Mostly in silence.

18. You've been told to stop shouting "Like!" during the sermon. [Thanks, Erika]

19. You're walking down the street and people keep running up asking if you'd like to play crappy games with them.

20. You open your diary and find that somebody has cut out all the dates, and rearranged them into themes.

21. You are followed everywhere you go by young women in bikinis - but behind their smiley faces, they're actually robots.

22. All the 50-year-old women you know look 27, and are 4 stone lighter than they were last month, due to one weird tip.

23. You can never go to bed in case somebody says something about you after you've gone.

24. You see someone famous in the street and think you can just go over and shout at them.

25. Your husband suggests that particular shade of green in your dress doesn't match your hair. So you slam the bedroom door in his face and report him to the police as "spam".