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Sunday, 30 September 2012

GodBaby

Godbaby 
Much chattering among the Twittering Classes  - and twittering among the Chattering Classes - over the concept of "God Baby", a white-faced (but, at least, brown-eyed) Baby Jesus coming to a poster near you.

It's not that I can't understand the ironic intent (after all those years studying Ironic Theology I ought to). And you might want to read Simon Jenkins's blog on the matter. But there's one fatal flaw, in my mind. To illustrate, imagine a bus stop on a Home Counties former-council-estate:


Small, sweet girl (sorry, it probably won't be a boy. It's a doll.) : Ooh! Look! What's that!

Theologically uneducated mum: I dunno, it's a bit scary...  Godbaby?

Girl: Can I have a Godbaby for Christmas?

Mum: I don't know.  There's no price on it, or where to buy it.

Girl: But I love Godbaby!

Mum: Yes. But we'll have to see if Santa can afford a Godbaby.

Girl [sobbing]: Want a Godbaby for Christmas!

Mum: We'll have a look on the Argos site when we get home.....

So follows an evening looking at Argos, Tesco Direct, JLP, Hamleys - all to no avail. In desperation Mum follows an obscure Google link she's been avoiding all night, to a Church website.

Mum: Amelia (or, as it may be, Rose or Sarah-Jane or Jamie) - that Godbaby....

Girl: What? You've found one?

Mum: I'm sorry, no. You see - the Godbaby doll doesn't exist...

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Defining a Christian

I'm having a bit of a ponder on this, Michael Servetus's birthday - as well as the feast of the archangel for whom presumably he was named.

I start from Servetus himself. As well-put here, he was not a martyr for science. He was executed (by the Calvinists, just to prove they could do some pretty good persecution themselves when they put their minds to it) for heresy. In short, going beyond the Protestant heresy (as Catholics saw it), he denied the doctrine of the Trinity.

He's not the only one, of course, to have denied this doctrine during history. Yewtree gives us the example of the Unitarians, in her interesting post "What is a Christian?"

And in a similar, yet more contemporary and maybe more nuanced example than Servertus, we have the case of Youcef Nadarkhani. Complex and ironic, because so many people prayed for him when he was a Christian suffering for the name of Christ, and yet he suddenly became a Oneness Pentecostal who denies the Trinity when he was freed.

I think evangelicals are in an interesting place here. I can understand a Catholic (Roman or Anglo) or member of the Orthodox Church saying that somebody is not a Christian because they deny the Trinity. After all, the Trinity was defined in Ecumenical Council, by the whole Church (apart from the ones who disagreed, and they were wrong, by definition). But can an evangelical do the same thing? The evangelical tradition holds that tradition is not a basis of faith: it is only Scripture that defines these things.  But Scripture nowhere mentions the Trinity. Even the parts of the Bible that most clearly seemed to refer to the Trinity turned out not to be part of the Bible at all. Unless you're Drayton Parslow, in which case they still are.

So it seems to me that, read back through Church tradition, the Trinity is clearly in the Scripture - the Three Strangers at Mamre, the Gospel of John, the voice and action at the Baptism of Jesus; "before Abraham was, I am". But if you started from the Bible ab initio, accepting that the Bible was the literal word that God composed, and read it in isolation from the Church - you might not find the Trinity there. Which is why after the Reformation, when people started reading the Bible and trying to understand it for themselves, they came up with all sorts of ideas which were at variance with the "orthodoxy" of their time.

But can we give Servetus, the Unitarians, Nadarkhani Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses the name Christians?

To go to Yewtree's comment - that Christianity does not imply the Trinitarian doctrine, but "the name "Christian" does encapsulate a doctrine: it expresses the view that Jesus was Christ." She goes on to examine what it means to be "Christ" - and whether there are many Christs.

Being the thoroughgoing Trinitarian Wesleyan magpie that I am, clearly there is one definitive Christ - Jesus of that ilk. Albeit "Christ" is not a surname, it's a job description. But the concept of theosis (so much nicer than the Latin equivalent word) would say that Christ did indeed come to make more Christs - that God became human, that we might be made divine - heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ.

But back to the question - can we call them Christians? Not Trinitarian ones, not Nicene ones - but Christians?

The name "Christians", we are told, was first used in Antioch, by other people, to refer to this strange group who claimed that Jesus "Christ" had risen from the dead, and was the fulfilment of the promises God had made. My assumption is that the young Church had decided that Jesus was "Lord", and that the resurrection proved he was God. They knew that the Holy Spirit was a new experience of God. But the concepts of perichoresis, the single or double procession of the Holy Spirit, the dual nature of Christ - these may have been dimly anticipated, but they hadn't sat down and had a full-blown Oecumenical Council about it yet. They were still too busy discussing whether they really needed to agree to that happening with a flint blade, and wondering whether black pudding was an acceptable food.

In fact, I reckon if you gave St Paul a copy of the Nicene Creed and asked him to affirm it, his response might have been "why"? Most of the Church's doctrinal differences of 300 years later would have seemed fairly unimportant, compared to the more serious issues of preaching a Gospel they were still working out and worshipping God in Jesus. These people were Christians, and they hadn't got round to defining what "Trinitarian" meant. But they were prepared to go to the cross for it.

Which brings me back to Servetus, and to Pastor Nadarkhani. Christians? Yeah, I reckon so. If that is the word they would use of themselves. Of orthodox theology? Nah. But then, half the people sitting in the pews of England tomorrow morning, should you question them closely, are probably more implicitly docetic, or Arian, or Unitarian, than the more orthodox pastors might like to think.

So to answer that great Evangelical question "are they saved"? I dunno. And I reckon there's only one who does. Personally, I'm just glad that One is merciful.

Excitement at the Michaelmas Celebration

Oops. Stacey just fell off "Dragon Hill". And the rain-making machine landed on Burton, who was being "Donald Sutherland" for these purposes. Though he wasn't doing a great impression, to be fair.

The Glastonbury Dragon landed beautifully in the Duck Pond, but unexpectedly set fire to the creosote seeping out of the old railway sleepers we made "Duckhenge" from. It looks rather lovely. I can't wait for sunset.

Michaelmas

I love Michaelmas.

The Feast of St Michael and all Angels is a wondrous thing. A reminder that there really is a battle, and it's already won.

It's not accidentally placed in the year, in my opinion. Just as the days are shortening quickest, we are reminded of the Battle in Heaven. As the Gibbon Moon Folk start to wonder if it will ever be light at 9pm again, we need a reminder of that victory which resonates from one end of time to the other.

So yesterday we had the JCBs in, creating replicas of St Michael's Mount, Mont St Michel, Glastonbury, and Dragon Hill in Uffington. On the first three of these, Beaker People will be hurling flaming Dragons off and trying to get them to land in the "Lake of Fire" (or "bonfire", to be more accurate). On Dragon Hill, Stacey Bushes will be recreating Kate Bush's video for "Cloudbusting". It's gonna be a great event. As long as none of the dragons sets fire to the rain-making machine.

How the Selection of the Archbishop of Canterbury Works

There's a lot of excitement in the Christian Twittersphere (but nowhere else) about the appointment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury. And I realise that those with a more democratic system for selection of church leaders, or a less Established Church, may be confused.

The first stage in the process is the Public Auditions. This is where anybody who's already a Bishop and may want to do the top job, gets to do a two-minute unaccompanied "slot".

There are some hilarious moments when we realise that some bishops can't sing at all, and Simon Cowell starts to worry about the number of dance troupes.

Based on their first-round performances, the judges divide them up into four sections for the Boot Camp - Men over 45, Women over 45, Under-45s and "Groups". Or, as it turns out, just the one section.

Each candidate then has to come back week after week, to preach a sermon according to that week's "theme". This may be "Spurgeon", "Aquinas", "Wesley", "No relation to the real world" or "Denying a major article of faith". The last one is a trick round, of course.

Once the candidates are whittled down to just two, they have to perform in front of the Prime Minister. The excitement continues, as even when one is clearly recognised as the winner, the PM can decide "William (or, as it may be, Walter or Wallace. But not Wendy) , it won't be you."

The winner then gets a £200 book-writing deal, and the next big royal gig at the Abbey.

Or perhaps they're all praying about it, looking for the Spirit's will in all this, or even going through the Admin. Let's all calm down.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Top Ten Most Humble Christians on Social Media

Obviously, this is a subjective list. There is no official grading system for humility. It's not like "page views" or "followers".

But it's important we know. After all, if the first are last (and vice versa) then the most humble are the most important.So who are the ten most humble Christians on Social Media?

Burton has worked out some algorithms for me, and I've come up with the following:

1. Archdruid Eileen
2. Noah's Apprentice
3. Revpamsmith
3.Eddie Arthur
4. Batty_Towers
5. Andy
6. Simon Robinson 
7. Bertie Wooster
8. CS Lewis
9. Gurdur
10. Phil Ritchie

Obviously, it's subjective. And one of these people is dead. And one doesn't identify as a Christian. Or, indeed, appear to fit any of the criteria.  And some are imaginary. If you think you're actually one of the ten most humble Christians on Social Media, please let me know and I'll add you to the list. On the other hand, if you don't think you ought to be on the list, let me know and I'll move you up the list.

Ambition

My little joke regarding who gets the Canterbury gig got my thinking yesterday.

See, in the rest of the world, ambition is generally seen as a positive thing. In the old days, you used to see job adverts for "Young, ambitious COBOLwright" or whatever. The assumption being that though the young person was merely hewing Invoice Passing applications from the codeface today, given the ambition he or she displayed at interview then, in a few short years, he or she might have been a business analyst or - ultimately - a Technical Support Manager.

The world has changed now. You can't ask for "young" candidates anymore. You need to say "Ambitious Health and Safety Advisor who has no memory of Duran Duran", or something like that*.

But the point is, as Gordon Brown proved to us, mere ambition is no measure of ability. Those sad wannabes who cannot hold a note, yet queue up outside X-factor rehearsals convinced they're gonna be the next Maria Carey - they've boundless ambition. Their ambition reaches as far above their ability as the sky is above the earth.

No, it's not really ambition the employers are after. They're really wanting the readiness to work hard in pursuit of that ambition. Those people are desirable - because hard work is a substitute for ability, and without all the grief that true creativity might bring to the organisation. Hard working, ambitious people are those still Blackberrying highly important (if totally unnecessary) emails in the middle of the night, while less ambitious ones are still sleeping or out having a good time with friends or family.

Personally, if I believe that one of our junior Heirarchs, Novitatives or Oblates is showing ambition, I take a keen interest. After all, uneasy is the head that wears the pointy hat. I tend to promote them to our exciting North Midlands venture, the "Tar Pit Folk of Tarporley" What they don't realise is that everybody there is marked down as a potential promotion candidate - and therefore dangerous.

Every month, the Tar Pit Folk of Tarporley look forward to the email I send them on "Organisational Changes." They're all convinced that this month they are going to have caught my eye, and be promoted to Deputy Sub-Druid.

Every month I email them the same Organisation Chart. It's got all the important people at the top. And Jesus at the bottom. The document is headed "those that are first will be last, and the last first". They've not taken the hint yet. But as long as they're all still stuck out there, I know I can continue to be least in the Kingdom of Husborne Crawley in complete safety.

*to my knowledge, nobody using "Duran Duran" in this way has ever lost an age discrimination case in the European Courts. Especially if using the "Cultural fit" excuse - eg "He was a poor cultural fit for our company, which has an under-40s culture."

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Slow Archbishop of Canterbury Joke

You've got to figure there's a certain frustration for C of E bishops.

I mean, you might reckon the equivalent level in a secular organisation would be a board director - or at least, in a retail company, a regional director. And if you're a director in such a company, the CEO typically turns over every three years. And if it's never your turn to get the top job, at least you can jump ship to another place.

The chances to jump ship for an Anglican bishop are limited. And the money's not great in the alternatives (albeit the money's not really what it's about). So you can shuffle around dioceses a bit, but once you're a diocesan bishop there's only two real promotions, and they only come round every ten years or so.

So if you keep your nose clean, and have a certain charisma, the job eventually becomes vacant. And the press mention your name, and you're at 11/2 in William Hill's. And it's not that you're ambitious, but maybe you hope you might be called.

And then the name is announced. And it isn't you. So you pack up your troubles and think, well maybe in another ten years - but you'll be too old by then. So you're left with your dreams - your "what-ifs" and your mitre beens.

Liturgy for the Collation and Publication of the Church Magazine

Archdruid: The "View from the Manse Window" has been written.

All: And all the swear-words removed.

Archdruid: The ads from the undertakers have been pasted into their proper places.

All: And the details of the Jumble Sale are on the back cover.

Archdruid: The month's meetings have been ordered into their own schedules.

All: For to each meeting there is a time and a season.

Archdruid: A time for the Men's Group, and a time for the Women's Group.

All: A time for the Big Boulders Weight-loss Dancersize, and a time for the Little Pebbles' meeting.

Archdruid: A time to print newsletters, and a time to distribute them.

All: A time for doing yoga.

Archdruid: And a time for banning yoga.

All: A time for the choir to practice anthems, and a time for the congregation to run away.

Archdruid: The Bible Study has been written by the only volunteer we could get.

All: Which is why it's so fundamentalist it could have been conceived in Westboro.

Archdruid: And now we pray for the resilience of our laser printer.

All: For it was donated when Burton got a decent one, and he'd been given it by his work when it was getting on a bit.

Archdruid: And it's a bit wonky, and it overheats.

All: And the paper gets chewed up, like unto what happens when the wolf gets into the fold.

Archdruid: But still, though Malachi might not approve, it's cheap.

All: And the toner faileth not.

Archdruid: Even though I walk in the shadow of a great pile of print-outs, I will not fear.

All: For we are the people on the folding rota, and we've had a lot of practice.

Archdruid: My stapler is ever near me.

All: And the address list is before us.

Archdruid: But given there's about five hundred people on that list,

All: We may dwell in this vestry forever.

Jeeves and the Cycling Chief Whip

I am glad to welcome, for a second time, Bertram Wooster Esq to comment on the news of the week. I am very fond of young Bertie, though I wish he would get out of the habit of referring to me as "Auntie Eileen".

"Crikey, Jeeves," I said, sipping the healing oolong as I lounged, refreshed, after the morning bath. "I see that Whippy Mitchell is in awful trouble with the boys in blue. Corky Cameron is absolutely livid."

"Indeed sir. Apparently Mr Mitchell has been reported as calling one "a pleb"."

"Not very noblesse oblige, Jeeves."

"Indeed not, Sir."

"Indeed, in my salad days a Boat Race Day barely went past when I did not remove the lid from one of the rozzers. A healthy, sporting tradition. But Whippy had not indulged in this passtime?"

"Thankfully not, Sir. Many members of Her Majesty's Metropolitan Constabulary are armed, especially in the vicinity of Whitehall. Mr Mitchell could have ended up with a sub-machine gun being pointed at him."

"Crikey, Jeeves. Armed police? It's got so one can hardly lift an antique cow-creamer from the drawing-room of a Justice of the Peace without putting oneself in mortal danger."

"Quite so, Sir."

There was silence for a moment as I pondered the new state of affairs. Jeeves dunked a Bath Oliver in the tea for me, and passed it to my mouth in the filigree biscuit spoon.

"Jeeves, just one thing concerns me in this story. What was Whippy so upset with this guardian of the peace for?"

"The young person in question had prevented Mr Mitchell from cycling through a gate, Sir."

"Sounds terribly unlikely, Jeeves. A Minister of the Crown cyling around the place?"

"It is something he does a lot, Sir."

"Yes, Jeeves. But I would understand it if he were doing so naked, while singing excerpts from Gilbert and Sullivan. Or perhaps, after an altercation over a meat pie, the residents of Downing Towers were all locked out in their nightwear? Was Whippy cycling to Market Snodsbury in his pajamas to get the spare key from Clegg, the Butler? Was it necessary to do this to ensure a reconciliation between Oofy Osborne and Baroness Warsi?"

"Apparently not, sir. It is popular with many young gentlemen about Government these days. They believe it makes them look environmentally friendly. Mr Fink-Johnson...."

"Jeeves, Boris Fink-Johnson needs a bicycle at all hours, in case he is chased by an angry husband. That is why he has bicycles scattered all over the Metrop."

"Indeed Sir. I see Yvette Cooper has been on the Televisual apparatus this morning, saying that it is the Government's upper-class, Bullingdon-Clubbish behaviour that is provoking unrest and resentment in society."

"Jeeves, Yvette Cooper thinks that the stars are God's daisy chain, and the rabbits on the lawn at Totleigh Towers are secretly trades unionists. Her opinion is not one worth considering."

"Very good, Sir. Now, the shell suit today, or the smart-casual?"

"I am going to be meeting a group of City Bankers today, Jeeves, to tell them to stop paying themselves large bonuses. So I suppose it'd better be the sack cloth and ashes. After all, we're all in this together."

"Very good, sir. And the white mess-jacket and top hat? We can't let ourselves look too down-at-heel."

"Right-ho, Jeeves."

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Bad Science - the Sanex Ad

The Food Hospital on C4 - the opportunity for the advertisers to pummel us with adverts for cosmetics, baby milk and health foods.

So I've just had the misfortune to see a Sanex ad proclaiming their product contains "a reduced number of chemical ingredients". This is meant to be a good thing. Well, quite. After all, who wants to go using a multitude of chemical ingredients? I mean, take Arsenic. A block of arsenic contains only one chemical ingredient. That's gonna be fewer than in any Sanex product. How pure could you get? But's it's a really bad idea to rub it under your arms.

So they're trying to tell us something else. Maybe it's fewer artificial "chemical" ingredients? That is - ingredients that are, as it were, artificially created using actual chemistry.

Like laurel leaves, for example? They're purely natural. Obviously, they're poisonous. But they're natural.

So I don't know what they're trying to sell me. But take my advice. Don't assume that if something is "pure" or "natural" that means it's good for you.

New Models of Church - as Retail Destination

My previous models of church have generally had a common assumption, I realise. The Church  Service Provider and Book Club have both taken "the Church" to be the whole group of people that are gathered together. The provision of baptism and burial services required specialists within that group, but otherwise the group as a whole is taking its part as active players.

And then there's the Heritage Society - which is likewise fundamentally about active membership as well as leadership. Take the Sealed Knot. I'm not sure why, when discussing the Church, a group of people who wear odd clothes and like to pretend they live in the past should spring to mind. But let's go with it. They have officers and organisers. But the re-creation of the Battle of Naseby is a clearly group activity. Together they stand and fight. Collectively they pretend to die. Almost as one man, they wonder why they can't seem to find girlfriends.

The Church as Heritage Society I perceived as, likewise, a group-based activity like that. But it can shade into something else. Let's go from Civil War recreation to a Railway Restoration society. Sure, they let the punters sit on their trains. They drag you up and down between Minehead and Taunton, or - as near here - between Chapel Brampton and Chapel Brampton. But actually get in the cab and drive it along yourself when they're not looking, and they get all humpty with you. There's a firm demarcation between the Society Specialists and the punters. Likewise, some theatres are a kind of Heritage Society. The keenies keep the place running, while the rest are relegated to well-wishers and customers. You jump onstage and start to sing a part in "Oh Calcutta" and they'll call the rozzers. Especially if they're putting on a JB Priestley at the time.
When the Church fades across into this model, it stops being in Heritage Society mode and has started adopting the model of Church as Retail Destination.

So a common assumption - explicitly in some comments on my "Not going to church" post, but normally implicit in Worship Planning meetings - is that if a church provides hard seats and boring worship, then it should be unsurprised if Christians don't attend. They'll all be up the road at the Church of the Exciting Jesus, where the seats are plush to the bottom and the coffee is nice.

I would like to refer you at this point to the spectacularly inappropriate and uncharitable comment I found on a curiously - almost synchronistically - pertinent post from Vic the Vicar.

And so the definition of roles shifts. The Vicar, Minister, Father, Archdruid, Pastor, Deacon, Local Preachers and an unspecified number of other leading lights are the board and employees of a retail organisation. And the rest of the congregation, like the great floating mass of punters "out there" (whereever "out there" is) are all just customers - actual or potential.

And so the question becomes - is our brand significant? Do eight out of cats owner's prefer BCP or a hymn sandwich? Where the Church as Heritage Society sticks to BCP, Calvinism and holes in the roof because they're authentic - should I be adopting a Vineyard approach? Should I try to discern God's will, and try to stick with I have received - or should I assume God's will is whatever people "out there" do?

Do I adopt that old retail adage that it's more effective to keep your existing customers than to grow new ones? It's cost-effective - but if I were a wheelwright, for example, or the Guardian, I'd have to recognise that the product I offer will eventually leave me with no customers. So do I try and persuade the Government to subsidise me - effectively become a Heritage Society again - or do change the product?

Do I adopt a different marketing technique? Do I recognise that it's easier for Marks and Spencer, for example, to steal customers from Waitrose than from Lidl, and work out a strategy to nick punters from the fellowship up the road? If they've a modern band, let's get into hip-hop. If they just think they're modern, like most "modern" church music, let's get into the Carpenters. If they're Goth, let's get Goth-er! Buy the minister a tattoo and a tongue piercing! Sure, he's 71, but you're never too old for a new experience.

And so the Beaker Folk have embraced this attitude whole-heartedly. Our chairs are plush as a sofa in a lounge in Purley. We have snake-handlers, scented chandlers, chainsaw-jugglers, Holy Clowns and weight-lifters. Gay rights, women's rights, wheelwrights, tea lights and, in the group that meets very quietly on Sunday afternoons, complementarianism and the need for women to be quiet in church. Amazing how popular that is for women, oddly. I don't go, but it's got its place in the market. Sorry, I mean it meets a need...

Our four-worship-format on Sunday morning means you can "drop into" Celtic, Beaker, Extremely Primitive Methodist or Grime services.

Our spiritual souvenirs run from pebbles and doilies, through rosaries, to our Holy Piercings shop, where you can also be tattoed with your favourite quotatons from the Bible, Marx, Robbie Williams or Teilhard de Chardin.

You can buy the Beaker Common Prayer in calf-bound, half-bound, parchment, papyrus scroll, real vellum, fake vellum or download.

We're working hard to be become the perfect one-stop destination for all your spiritual needs. And at some point, when our Focus Groups tell us people want that kind of thing, we'll probably see if we can introduce some kind of references to God.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

New Models of Church - as Heritage Society

On Tuesdays, of an autumn evening, we like to take part in the Beaker Heritage Service.

It's the time of year when I insist that Drayton Parslow's Funambulist Baptists get out of Bogwulf Chapel, so we can have a really good time.

So every Tuesday from mid-September to Advent Sunday, we hold a Harvest Festival service. We switch off the electric lights, and use only candles (OK - tea lights. But some habits die hard). We carry butternut squashes, pumpkins and strings of tomatoes on the vine and lay them on the communion table, just as they have done since Hawker invented the Harvest Festival in Victorian times during the Middle Ages.

Then from Advent Sunday through to about 15 December, we celebrate Advent Services. These consist of us singing Adam Lay y-bounden repeatedly while people with bouffant hair styles set fire to themselves with candles. It's an odd tradition, but we like it. And "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", of course.

This then gives way to just the kind of Christingle Service that they used to hold before Henry VIII cancelled Christmas. Probably. Proper nativities, celebrated with squabbling kids, cattles lowing, pigs in the stable, kangaroos and a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Mary.

During this period,. we also like to erect a thermometer outside the chapel. It's too far from the road to see it, and in any case there's no shortage of funds to keep it in exactly the kind of decrepitude we like. You'd not want it done up too much - it's meant to be an old chapel, for goodness' sake. But still, a thermometer gives you that lovely, warm "going to a proper church" feeling.

The rest of the year, we just don't bother with Bogwulf Chapel. What's the point going to a proper church the rest of the year, when the season and weather aren't atmospheric? Evensong in early December - that's proper atmospheric, that is. But in April? Who thought that was a good idea?

New Models of Church - the Church as Book Club

We are a narrative society. If you read a BBC or Daily Mail scare story, the pattern is always the same:

1) SCARY HEADLINE

2) Boring stats (ideally just the scary ones)

3) Lots of human interest stories of people who have indeed drowned because of Global Warming / been infected by a disease that makes them sound like Lloyd Grossmann / met an Internet troll in an unlikely co-incidence / been exorcised by the Ovalteenies.

It's the narratives that grab your interest. You can see it in what people preach on. Nearly always the Gospel, sometimes a juicy adventure from the Old Testament. Very rarely (except at Westboro Baptist Church, perhaps) from the Levitical Holiness Code. In these post-modern, plot-driven times, even Paul's letters get little attention in sermons outside of some more evangelical churches. Who wants 20 minutes of closely-argued reasoning on what it means to be yoked with unbelievers when we can imagine what it's like to be swallowed by a giant fish, or wave-tossed in a boat, or pouring perfume over Jesus' feet? Doesn't compare, does it?

So here at the Beaker Folk we've accepted this, and gone in for Book Club Church. We're sending them away this evening to read the story of Zaccheus, and asking everybody the really important question - who actually was short? Jesus or Zaccheus? As we sit in our mootly circle tomorrow, everybody will be invited to bring their view, and all views will be given the same amount of respect that mine are accorded in the average sermon (let the Reader understand).

If it works, I may experiment with letting the Beaker Folk have their own opinions on other things. But I'll be honest, I'm not holding out much hope.

New Models of Church - the Church as Service Provider

It was a comment by Erika on "Not Going to Church" that made me ponder this one. She got me thinking about a Model of Church - as Retail Destination, providing a product and hoping people will buy it. And this led me on to thinking about othern modern Models of Church. Which leads me, naturally enough, to the model of Church as Service Provider

This model sees the Church as a provider of services in the same way as the Council.
Think of those key points in your life - when a child is born. First stop in the official identity-creation of your child is when you visit the Registrar to fill in the birth certificate. Then, when you've scraped enough together, you hire a pub for a party, and hire a vicar for the baptism. It's all part of the service. The vicar has the advantage that, like other public servants, his/her services are free. But like your trip to the Registry Office, the certificate will often cost something.

In the world of weddings, the Church is increasingly entering the world of "Retail Destination". It has competition from ivy-clad castles, holiday destinations and football stadia. In this Retail Destination model, we need ministers who will go the extra mile - wearing Jacobean costume, providing dancing girls and throwing in the organist for free.

Not so much with funerals, as people don't normally go in for ploughing through the Internet looking for that perfect converted Georgian manor house hotel for their final act on this planet. Here, the church is again firmly in its "service provision" role - the figure of the Establishment, within the tight confines of a 20-minute slot, confirming that the deceased is indeed, for all legal and social purposes, no longer with us.

There are other services that, increasingly, the Church will provide. In these dark days, these are getting beyond those formal ones I've mentioned above into other areas where they have been pushed back (or retreated) in years gone by as the State has become the all-in-one Provider of First Resort. Now, however - food banks, counselling, schools - a whole area of service provision is opening up, for those with the time and energy to provide it. And that may be that vast army of early-retired Middle Class people the church currently has so many of.

In this allegedly "all in it together" Big Society, with its complex ecosystem of Government and Voluntary Sector providers however, there is an ongoing tensiom between the Government's agencies and the Churches. Currently, for example, I believe that only Registry Offices can conduct Civil Partnerships. I've a feeling that, under EU Law, if the Unitarians or the Quakers launched a case under "restraint of trade" they'd have a pretty good argument.

But of course, that last point cuts both ways. Some would argue that ATOS are even now doing work that follows directly on from that of Our Lord. That is, going round the place telling sick people that they're well.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Nothing to do with Us

Danny from the Evangelical Alliance pops in to set the EA's story straight on the story of the Gay Conversion and the Protestant Pope. Basically, Danny's absolutely right. When contacted by the BBC, the Evangelical Alliance had no comment because it was nothing to do with the Evangelical Alliance. They are an umbrella group representing (not overseeing) some evangelical Christians in the UK, and had no reason to comment in any way on the story.

The BBC article's comment that the EA "did not wish to comment" is therefore factually accurate, and yet misleading by omission. By stating that the EA did not comment, it is being lined up with all those public bodies that decline to put forward a spokesperson when a disaster has happened, a vulnerable group has been let down or a serious procedural issue has been found in a Civil Service Department. But the BBC reporter might as well have asked the RAC, the Campaign for Real Ale or the Ovalteenies for an opinion. All would have had no comment - because it has got nothing to do with them.

All in all, the irony is that the involvement (or lack of it) of the Evangelical Alliance in a BBC story reminds me of a BBC spoof of a BBC programme. I hope you can see the connection. But if you want to blame Christians for oppressing homosexuals - can I emphasise this has got nothing to do with me.

Autumn Thoughts on a Dark, Rainy Monday Morning

Autumn is a time of two kinds of weather. One has the sharp, clear nights and sunny days when "Septembre aux grands soirs équivoques Glisse partout ses feuilles d' or." When we linger outside, enjoying the half-light of a perfect autumn day until the chill drives us inside, to a crackling fire of sticks and a cup of cocoa.

Today hasn't got that kind of weather.

Round here, the weather comes from Leighton Buzzard as a rule. Not today, though. The rain pushed up from the South, weeping over Tilsworth, Tebworth and Toddington, while the wind is blowing in from over the Amazon warehouse.

It's a time when leaves are blown off the still-green trees, joining unripe Cox Pippins and Ashmead's Kernels on the Orchard grass. The rivers rise in the meads like some Teutonic river-deity, invoked by Thomas Hardy to invest his prose with a grandeur his readers could not hope to comprehend. Rabbits scurry, drenched, through the undergrowth, building up fat reserves before the days go truly dark and the Cold is here.

And the hole in the Moot House roof is letting in water again.

We put a bucket under it during Pouring Out of Beakers. But the "ping" of water on Zinc quite distracted us. We wanted to put a few paper towels in to deaden the sound, but we couldn't find any. So we got Burton to stand under the drip - only temporarily, you understand - he's got drains to unblock today. When we realised the pail would fill quite quickly, we put it in a washing-up bowl, to retain the overflow. The washing-up bowl is now standing in an old tin bath. If we don't think of some clever way to use the regularity of the water dropping to earth as a meditational aid, I think I'm going to hold the rest of today's Worship Progamme outside.

You know, it's times like this that remind me of how quick we are to call too much of a blessing a curse. Those on a muddy pitch in Newcastle will pray for sun and sand - while in the Valley of the Shadowless Death, they pray for thunderclouds and rain (let the Reader understand).

So I shall rejoice in the soaking, and sing in the rain. I shall dance in the deluge. But maybe later. Hnaef's just come in to tell me that the Mystic River has risen once again, and the pilgrims have started jumping into it and carrying out arcane purification services. I may need to let them know that's a drain blocking up, not a supernal spring.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Some New Ideas in Creative Worship

People are always saying there isn't enough alternative worship material out there - things that really push the liturgical envelope, as it were. It sometimes feels like it falls to the more traditional fellowships like ourselves, to pull the leading edge back to the correct position to stay aloft.

And so, for those who are looking for a more traditional form of alt.lit, I'm happy to offer up to you these few Husborne Crawley favourites.

"The Chinese Lanterns of Praise" - Get everyone to write a prayer of praise and adoration on a treasury tag, tie each tag to a Chinese Lantern, and then let them off just as dusk is falling. You will get that lovely gooey feeling that you're sending your prayers straight up almost to heaven. And when the farming community to the east have put out the barn or the vet carries out the post-mortem on the cow, and reads the praises attached to the charred and blackened metal, they're gonna be so blessed.

"Icon-painting by numbers" - Everybody loves icons. They're so gold, and shiny, and kind of sad-looking with their big eyes. What could make somebody happier than painting their own icons? And conveniently we have a load of "Ikon by numbers" boards and some pots of gold paint in the Beaker Bazaar. It's more of a workshop than an item in a service - but whoever sweeps the floors, as for thy laws and all that.
After a trip to Husborne Crawley, one of our Spanish pilgrims announced she was so inspired, she'd be going home to continue to develop her skills. We're really pleased with the results.



"Prayer Dumplings" - a large pot of stew is kept simmering at the back of the Moot House. Each time -somebody wants to offer a physical demonstration of prayer, they put a dumpling into the stew-pot. At the end of the service, the leader offers up a prayer over the dumplings, and then takes the stew home for Sunday dinner.

"The Sinful Tea Set" - the Community brings along all its chipped cups, cracked dishes and such like from the crockery cupboard. A large dustbin is provided. Wearing appropriate safety equipment (goggles, crash helmets, protective gloves) the Beaker Folk may sling their broken earthenware and china - representing their sins (or, for less judgemental fellowships, just general failings) into the dustbin. Hint - it is a good idea to shut the dustbin lid quid after chucking the crockery in. Otherwise some bone china splinters can be awful sharp. At the end, the Archdruid takes a crow-bar and smashes all the broken cutlery into tiny pieces. This has no symbolic value, but tends to reduce the stress levels on everyone else for the rest of the day.

"Spin the Liturgical Bottle" - the Community sits round in a circle, and the first person spins a bottle round. The person it points to has to come up with a wise saying, snippet of poetry or liturgy, or searing theological insight. This continues until everybody has run out of inspiration, or somebody quotes "Footprints".

"Biblical Mornington Crescent"
 - Everyone shouts out the name of a place in the Bible lands in turn. When someone says "Morning Crescent", they are the winner. Based on these two rules, this game can go on a bit.

Bagpipes in the Music Group - Will improve the general sound of at least 50% of all music groups.

"Radical confession"  - With the onset of the "confessional" style of TV and increasing airing of dirty linen in public - make the prayers of confession "open" like you've been unsuccessfully trying with the prayers of intercession all these years. With any luck, the incentive of featuring on YouTube will ensure you get some really juicy stuff.

Autumnal Liturgical Colour

Just a reminder to all Beaker People that we've switched to "Autumnal" hi-viz colours. That's orange, red or yellow, collectively to create a "fallen leaves" look.

Some have complained that I've a lovely new brown hi-viz, and pointed out that wearing brown hi-viz is intrinsically self-defeating, it being quite a muted colour and not at all reflective. But the point isn't about Health and Safety or consistency on this one. The point is that, as the leader of worship, I am a walking liturgy. By wearing the colours of the season, in a strange way I become the season. And it was cheaper than the hazel.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Top Tips for Last-Minute Sermon Preparation

It's a common problem. People assume that Archdruids, clergy, Local Preachers and all the rest enjoy endless leisure for research and preparation for their Sabbath discourses, expository exhortations, homilies, "thoughts" or, to cut a long story short, sermons. They believe we enjoy the perfect sermon preparation weeks, little knowing the real story.

The Perfect Sermon Preparation Week:

Monday: Checking out the lectionary, ensuring it's not a special Saint's day and they're not transferring the Equinox to the Sunday or some other such special occasion.

Tuesday: Reading the passage in nine or ten different English versions. If the preacher is planning to base her/his words on the Old Testament, then also the Hebrew and Septuagint. If the New, then the original Greek and Syriac. Maybe, if discussing Jesus's wife, Coptic.

Wednesday: Day off - allowing the Holy Spirit to pour out her holy wisdom into the situation.

Thursday: Consulting the Authorities. Early Fathers, Wesley, Augustine, Luther, Spurgeon, Tom Wright or David Icke according to theological inclination and traditions.

Friday: Weaving all these diverse threads into a seamless and colourful tapestry of pure theology and down-to-earth wisdom.

Saturday evening: After a brief perusal of the latest Dr Who and a lavender-scented bath, the purveyors of sermons take themselves off to early bedtime, to be vibrant and holy in the morning.

Sunday: Preaching the perfect sermon.

The Real Story:

Of course, this perfect week doesn't happen. If a Local Preacher under 65, the chances are there was a day-job or child-rearing or some such to deal with. If the preacher is a full-time clergy, the chances are the week consisted of a blizzard of visits, appointments, committees and putting-off-the-sermon-preparation.

Either way, come Saturday night they're still looking at a blank computer screen, or a blank piece of paper, with a blank expression. Dr Who and QI XL have failed to bring any inspiration; the children are still running up the walls at 10 o'clock and it is time to face facts. The sermon is going to have to be written now, or you've got a very early morning tomorrow. The options are as follows:
  1. Beg a sermon. Somewhere on Twitter there will be a generous clergy or member of the allied preaching trades with a sermon. They can be induced to email it to you. You have to be a little careful - some people preach quite personal sermons. It's no good talking about your time at King's, Cambridge or how your youngest, Philibert, is doing at his 6-a-side macramé club, unless these things are actually true. If your sermon appears to have created a complete alternative life story, or you have changed race, denomination, faith or gender for the purposes of its delivery, you probably haven't checked it over properly. Similarly, preaching one of John Wesley's sermons will only work if the congregation are fluent in Georgian English and don't think the "Spirit of Bondage" is something to do with "50 Shades of Grey".
  2. Steal a sermon. You know that smug clergy in your Circuit who's always got his sermon written by Tuesday? Break into his house and nick it. Obviously, you'll leave him yours so as to make it technically just an involuntary swap rather than burglary. OK, your sermon will consist of  the words "Jesus is good; Greatest in the Kingdom; Maybe quote "Footprints"?" - but at least he'll have something to work on.
  3. Reincarnate a sermon. Check your files for the last time you preached on the passage. If you're a full-time clergy of more than 3 years' standing, there's a good chance you'll find it exactly three years ago. As with the "begging" option, be careful. References to the Berlin Wall coming down, the latest Human League single or the invention of the '45 rpm single may clue people in to this not being so original.
  4. Trust in God. Just go to bed. In the middle of the night, you will awake with a fully-formed three-point-sermon in your head which you will write on the notepad you keep by your bed. In the morning, you will discover that you have written "1. Jesus is good. 2. Greatest in the Kingdom. 3. Maybe quote "Footprints"?
  5. Consider an alternative approach. If you think quickly on your feet, and your church members are relatively assertive, ask what they think in the morning. Read a poem - "Footprints" is always popular. Or hand everyone a pebble and just play some nice Palestrina.
  6. Blag it. Go into the pulpit, read the passage very slowly from a different translation, then nod sagely and say "I think we can all go home and learn something from this." Then get on with the tea lights, Creed or next hymn, according to tradition.
  7. Preach last week's sermon, and hope everybody falls asleep after the introductory joke.
  8. Ask yourself the all-important question - what would Jesus do? If you find the answer is, "have a row with the forces of authority, upset the chief priests and get nailed to something," ask yourself a different question.
  9. Set the alarm for 5am. Lay awake, tossing and turning and worrying, until 4.45. Then just as you hit that perfect state of R.E.M. sleep, awake to your iPhone displaying its new ability to play songs as an alarm. Ask yourself what on earth you were playing at, choosing Motorhead's "We are the Roadcrew". Go downstairs cursing your lot. Make stupidly strong coffee. Still in a semi-dreamlike state, conjure up something that appears to make perfect sense. Preach it at 8am, 9.30 and 11. On each occasion, receive the comment, "Lovely sermon" from people at the door on their way out. Go home, have a nap, and then read the sermon over. Discover you have exhorted your hearers to pledge allegiance to Lord Squiddy, the King of the Sea-People, have said the Gnostics were small green aliens from the planet Argos and have confused Judas Iscariot with Jude the Obscure. Reflect that it's not the worst you've written.
  10. Just read out "Footprints".

Gay Conversion Therapy and the Protestant Pope

I'm just reading this BBC article on Peterson Toscano, an American who went through years of attempted conversions to cure his homosexuality.

The article seems oddly written. For example:
"Whether called straight to gay, conversion or reparative therapy, the practice... purports to help individuals change their sexual orientation."
Is it just me, or is "straight to gay" the wrong way round for what the therapy claims to be doing? Is this the reason it's been such a failure for him? Surely what they were aiming for was more "gay to straight"?

And then there is the word a gentle Englishwoman uses to describe what happens when the gay demons leave the body:
"...all right the demons are ready to come out now, all you need to do is take a very deep breath out and poof. There they go".
Could the BBC author maybe have suggested she used another onomatopoeic word representing exhalation? As it is, there is just a suggestion that she was actually being gratuitously offensive. (Don't blame me, I'm just quoting).

But I'm glad if Mr Toscano is happy now. And what I was really interested in was the description of the Evangelical Alliance as the body which "oversees the UK Evangelical community".

Oversees? As in "episcopal"? This must be a shock to UK-wide Evangelical community. If such a community really exists - which, frankly, I doubt. The definition of a "community" would seem to go against everything implied in "UK-wide" and "Evangelical". But the if "Evangelical community" exists - and the E.A. oversees it - they must be in the position of the Curia. In which case Steve Clifford is presumably the Protestant Pope.

Steve Clifford is nothing of the sort, of course. He is the director of an organisation that represents the UK's evangelicals. Not all of them, though. Some of the UK's evangelicals would not want to belong to anything as liberal as the Evangelical Alliance. And I believe the EA is in the habit of expelling member bodies occasionally when the organisations' views differ. So the EA is the body that represents some of the various UK evangelical communities that mostly subscribe to its general. Which isn't anything like as exciting or all-encompassing. No wonder it didn't want to comment on Mr Toscano's case. Some of its member bodies would definitely have disagreed. And we wouldn't want an Evangelical schism, would we?

[Late edit: Peter Ould, who is quoted in the BBC piece, has commented on it himself. And he's not very happy about it either. Rightly so, by the sound of it.

Was Jesus from Leicester?

Our ideas about the origins of Christianity could once again be turned on their head - for the third time this week - after the latest astounding manuscript find. A fractured fragment of parchment, found in a leather pouch on the newly-rediscovered body of Richard III under a car park in Leicester, suggests that Jesus may have spent his formative years in the English East Midlands.

One clue in what is being called the "Groby Gospel" comes in the Calming of the Storm. Jesus, wakened by his terrified disciples, greets them not with "O ye of little faith". Instead, "He looketh out at ye tempest and saith, 'Looks black o'er Bill's mothers.'"

The story of the feeding of the five thousand contains another key phrase. When asked what food they can find, it turns out to be "five cobs and two haddock". "Note that it is haddock," said Dr Publicity Hunter from the University of Oadby, "- if it had been cod, Jesus could conceivably have come from Northampton or Peterborough."

The Calling of the Disciples in this version also gives a clue as to Jesus' origins - "Follow me, me ducks." But what Dr Hunter says is the clincher, is in the Miraculous Catch of Fish. Where Peter jumps in the lake to get to Jesus, the Groby Gospel adds "but John stayed in the boat - because it was cold and he was a bit nesh."

"The best explanation for why Jesus was raised in Leicester comes from the early chapters of the Gospel," said Dr Hunter. "Knowing Herod is looking for the Baby Jesus, we are told that Mary and Joseph "fled to Enderby."

Yesterday on the street in Leicester, reaction was mixed. Many people that reporters asked said they were quite proud that Jesus was a local lad. But others asked us why the reporters were going around with a copy of the Bible which they had clearly written on with a green crayon. The debate continues.

Friday, 21 September 2012

The Starkadders Return

Well that be why I do never let the blogs I really love, disappear from the blogroll.

As the darkness sets in, as the storms do gather round the little manor house in which we dwell, as Fenris Wolf do stir and start to howl - Judith Starkadder do finally break off from a summer spent wishing the plants would grow, to let us know that Autumn be as bad as ever. And the earth may burn but we will quiver.

It's not blogged often, but I love it when it appears. Beyond the Woodshed.

Not the Equinox Sermon

I think it was the Duke of Wellington - or possibly it was the philosopher Spinoza - who famously told us that "stuff happens."

Not all things in life are fun. Not all things that are planned go to plan. As the poet Balmford told us:

"So 'tis with Christians, Nature being weak
While in this world are liable to leak."

And so we find ourselves standing in this blessed corner of the Manshead Hundred, nestled between the rolling acres of Woburn Abbey and the rolling roadworks of England's most dug-up motorway junction.

We have festooned ourselves with strings of conkers: woven wreaths of ivy and chamomile and made little hats out of those large, flat mushrooms that grow in Creepy Copse. And we are here to mourn, in the words of Isaiah:

"The summer is ended, and we are not saved."

And it's only now - now that we've got our "sad" faces on, and we've sung "Summer is y-going out" - that we discover the Autumnal Equinox isn't until tomorrow.

It would be easy to blame Hnaef. But what I say is, why look a gift horse in the mouth, when you can get it off to the knacker's yard, butchered and then sell it as "authentic Beaker auroch-style burgers" at 3 knicker a throw?

It was Hnaef who upgraded his iPhone to IOS6 yesterday. His "Seasonal Astronomical Festivals" alarm then went off a day early, thus causing us all to be stood here now surrounded by.all the gloom of this still-late-Summer day. It has also informed him that Milton Keynes is in Texas, decided the word for today is "chelate", played a load of Buck's Fizz hits at him instead of his regular alarm and in trying to get him to George St, Luton, instead left him, confused, in a cul-de-sac on the Moon.

And I trusted Hnaef. I said, when Burton first raised the possibility of this being the wrong day, that if it wasn't the Autumn Equinox I would eat my hat. But while some trust in horses, and others in Apple, Burton will trust in an enormous astronomical table. Which turns out to be right.

And so I am going to finish this not-Autumn-Equinox sermon by saying - Rejoice, for it's earlier than you think! Gather ye rosebuds while ye may! Party like it's 1999! The Summer of  Wonder is still with us, and the Isle is full of noises! Let's face the music and dance! Say I'm mad, but also add - Jenny kissed me! The night is young, the moon is mellow, and there's music in my ears! I am the walrus! Who's David?.......

The Archdruid is wheeled away until tomorrow, when the effects of eating her hat have worn off.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Midweek Europa League Service

It being a fairly low-key, mid-week Occasion, I lined up the youngsters, nearly-folk and has-beens for this evening's Occasion. It's an idea I stole off Brendan Rodgers. Obviously I don't have the resources to operate a rolling rotation system - unlike some better-resourced, more Scottish archdruids whose services go on an extra 10 minutes if nobody's gone forward for the altar-call after normal time - but I don't want any of the key personnel to pull a hamstring or sustain a nasty tea light-related burn or contusion.

So today's line-up for Filling-up of Beakers was as follows:

Chief Beakerite: Charlii

Boutrosifer: Burton Dassett

Beakerettes: Ogbert Carragher; Osric Pacheco

Pourer-in: Skolzi

Mandolinier: Chaffinch.


Personally I didn't "travel with the team" - but I did record the whole thing on Webcam, and having just played it all back my notes are as follows:

Charlii: Promising performance, distribution a bit wayward in the second half.

Burton: Useless. Couldn't even hold a pebble straight.

Skolzi: Meant to be there to provide a bit of experience - an old head on old shoulders. Didn't expect him simply to rush down the aisle and kick Osric in the back of the leg like that.

Chaffinch: Can't actually play the mandolin. In retrospect, I may have been putting a square peg in a round hole.

So all in all, a mixed evening. The young ones showed promise, but the ones that should have taken responsibility just seemed a bit off the pace. Still, the Hnaefs and I will be well-rested come the weekend.

iOS6 Upgrade

Much excitement around our Community over the iOS6 upgrade. So much so, I've realised I can charge extra for bandwidth. The Apple and Beaker community have two things in common - they both have no problem with spending extra money if they think it's going to make them better people. And, after spending all that extra money, they're not better people.

Speaking for myself, I've been able to set my phone's alarm to be a song since about 2009. And, if my phone's maps application is a bit dodgy (and it is) I use the "stop and ask someone App". Although, if the person I ask immediately takes an iPhone out of their pocket, I just run over their feet and clear off. In those circumstances I'm probably better off taking my chances and guessing.

Personally if I can afford their ludicrous revenue charges I'm going to put out my own "My m-place in the Un-i-Verse" Apple app, specially tailored to their users. They'll be able to upload their image straight to a point in virtual space labelled "Axis of Rotation".

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Do Androids Dream of Silicon Heaven?

I feel like the Inspirational Hamster-Bot is gone but not forgotten.

I was just walking down the corridor to my suite, and I swear I heard the words of "Footsteps".

The Inspirational Hamster-Bot Strikes

It's been a fairly wild evening. Why Young Keith thought it was a good idea, I'll never know. I reckon  he just had time on his hands when Charlii was out at the "Messy Compline". But he says he was just doing a survey of quotations from Wesley, Lewis, Herbert and the rest, and wondered about the best way to bring some inspiration into the life of the Community. So he knocked up a little API that was able to wander the back alleyways of the Internet looking for happy thoughts, mostly provided by Twitter Vicar Bots and Happy Funereal Thoughts websites and then - and this is the bit that eludes me - downloaded it into a suitable receptacle.
A Go-Go Hamster with an embedded chip, wireless-enabled and running Android.

The first I knew about it was when the furry little beggar ran up to me, squeaked "You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body". Then bit me on the ankle. A real shock, I can tell you. Not to mention totally heretical. But I was slow to react. After all, you don't expect to find a hamster quoting cod theology at you of a Wednesday evening.

It then tore half a dozen pages out of the Wee Beaker Book of Worship, ate them, excreted them in the form of The Little Book of Calm, and squealed "Yesterday is dead and gone. And tomorrow's out of sight". Then chased Grendel the Community Cat round the living room.

It then ran a couple of circles round me, and yipped out, "The quality of mercy is not strain'd. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven". Then nipped outside and killed a blackbird. I could see something was deeply wrong.

There was clearly only one thing for it. I hid behind the door, with the Slazenger V400 in my hand ready for action. How did I know it could move so fast? As it hammered back into the Great House, the bat smacked into the ground a good yard behind it. The Go-Go Hamster tore across the floor, up the bannister, then leapt from the first floor onto Burton's head, with a cry of "they will soar on wings like eagles!" As Burton scrabbled to keep it from its eyes, it bleeped out, "Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God.". Which gives one pause for thought. Is it right to kill a robot that is fluent in Holy Writ? But, cute and devout as it was, we still need a treasurer. Although Burton didn't thank me for the method I used to save him - which mostly consisted of hitting him with the bat, in the hope I might connect with the hamster occasionally. The hamster ducked behind Burton, shouting "There are no such things as strangers. Only axe-murderers you haven't met yet."

The other Beaker Folk rallied round, and the next thing I knew there were twelve or so of us hunting the little polyester monster round the place. "Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident," it burped in its weird monotone, and ate Arfur's trousers. it was all going terribly badly.

It was brave of Hnaef. He attracted the hamster's attention by shouting Smiths lyrics at it - like a red rag to a bull when dealing with a platitude-wielding electronic rodent - and then rushed into the Armoury. The hamster tore in after him, but Hnaef had the 12-bore ready. Pieces of man-made fibre and silicon chip in all directions. After that immense report from the shotgun, there was a terrible pause.

And then from the Library, where evidently the voice synthesiser had been blasted, we heard, "Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away to the next room." And then silence.

I think we're safe now. But it was quite a fraught half-hour. And, in its way, quite inspiring.

Jesus's Wife - a Radical Proposal

I've been pondering the way news stories work when it comes to anything to do with ancient archaeology and texts - especially in the Holy Land, largely in the Middle East, but also maybe more generally.

So when Atlantis was found using Google Ocean - note that the Telegraph here is using what I like to think of as the "Distancing Question Mark". So newspapers saying "Lady Gaga Stole and Ate A Horse" are at danger of libel action. Whereas, the theory goes, if the headline is "Did Lady Gaga Steal and Eat a Horse?" - hey presto, free from any need actually to be factually correct. Note also that the Telegraph uses the standard geographical size for any medium-sized entity - i.e. "the size of Wales".

But I digress. The "Atlantis Found" story was printed, quite straight, quoting Atlantis "experts". The fact it was, if we believe the Telegraph datelines, debunked the same day - proves just what a well-researched story it was. But Atlantis is sexy. Atlantis sells. If we ever do find Atlantis, I expect to see, on a stone tablet, a copy of the Atlantis Telegraph, saying "Sea Level Rise - a Left Wing Scam?"

In the same way, "more old scrolls found showing consistency with know Gospel versions" is not news. "Gospel of Judas shows he was a good bloke" - now that's news. Basically every time we find a Gnostic Gospel, somewhere under the sands of the desert or in some pot, the whole of Biblical scholarship is going to be "overturned". It's always a "bombshell". It always turns out that Jesus didn't have a real body, or he was married to Mary Mag. Or his dad was a Roman. Or he was in a civil partnership with Peter. Or all sorts of other things.

All based on - generally speaking - one scroll. Or as in the "Gospel of Jesus's Wife" - a few words on a parchment.

So here's my thesis - radical it might be. But I'm going to stick my neck out here.

Based on four Gospels (five, if you include Thomas) and the rest of the New Testament and other early writings, and on the general agreement of those parts of the Church that had no vested interest in trying to synthesise the Apostolic tradition with Greek philosophy - I propose:

  • That Jesus was probably not married (though it wouldn't matter all that much if he did, as it wasn't a sin), 
  • That he never went to India, nor Glastonbury.
  • That he had twelve close apostles - none of whom, as far as we can tell, were female or gay lovers of his. He had lots of other disciples - men and women.
  • That one of his apostles betrayed him to an alliance of the Romans and the Jewish leaders.
  • That he died, and was buried.
  • That on the third day, he rose from the dead.
  • That all the graves in the Palestinian territories and Israel marked "Jesus" are other people
  • That he didn't leave any living descendants (although it wouldn't matter much if he had - as he had totally normal human DNA).
  • That the church went and preached much of what I'd said above.
  • That the Gnostics made stuff up to try and fit Jesus into other philosophies. Because they were so odd, and because the tradition said otherwise, they didn't last.

By the way - is it Jesus' or Jesus's? I realise I could just go all 19th Century and say Jesu's but that's just cheating.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Gospel of Jesus's Wife - Filling in the Gaps

Oh yawn. Received a link to this piece on "The Gospel of Jesus's wife".

The earth-shattering news, in a document written in Coptic, is that it appears to mention Jesus having a wife, subject to all the gaps in the narrative. Obviously, this document fulfils all the necessary criteria for being an earth-shattering challenge to Christian orthodoxy.

That is, in line with the "Hermeneutic of Saleability":
a) It's not referred to by any other contemporary document.
b) We don't know which community produced it.
c) It's written 300 years after the original Easter so almost completely irrelevant as a source.
d) You can make out it's a challenge to what Christians believe.
So here's the fragment as we have it reported:

"not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe]
The disciples said to Jesus,
deny. Mary is worthy
of it
Jesus said to them, “My wife she will be able to
be my disciple
Let wicked people
swell up
As for me, I dwell with her in order to
an image"

Thankfully, we have the original, which I picked up on a Nile cruise a few years ago. I'm glad to fill the document in for you, to explain the context. The text above is in black - the missing words in red.

"James and John - they're handsome single blokes. Women pay a lot of attention to them," said Jesus,  "but not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe] and now Joseph's gone I need to look after her."
The disciples said to Jesus, "you have a great mum - that's something you can't
deny. Mary is worthy to be counted blessed by all generations. That's the end 
of it."
Jesus said to them, “My wife, if she existed, would be a very disappointed woman. If  any woman thinks I'm a good catch, let her look at the way I live. Then  
she will be able to to see that anyone wanting to
be my disciple has to be a bloke. Mary Mag is just a good friend.
Let wicked people in later years try to overturn the truth, as written by young Mark here in what he seems to be calling his "Gospel". 
Their heads may well swell up when they grab a few verses of an obscure document and try to make something special of it - when it's just talking about how I look after my mum.
As for me, I dwell with her in order to look after her - until John has to do the job for me.
In years to come, my mother will be the most famous woman in the world. There won't be a Catholic church without an image of her."

Here is the News, and this is Twitter reading it

First thing in the morning, I really don't like noise very much. And this tends to limit my acquisition of the news of the day.

Classic FM is very nice to wake up to - there is always the danger that Radio 3 will play something "challenging" or "modern". But Classic FM's bulletins are brief.

Radio 4's presenters get my goat. A bunch of privileged lah-di-dah types, constantly harping on from the Left as if they are the harbingers of a forthcoming revolution in which they will almost certainly be first up against the wall. If I wanted to be subject to Toynbeeisity first thing in the morning, I'd ask Polly herself whether I can come round to her French villa for breakfast.

And then there's Radio Bloke. Last time I listened, Nicky Campbell was trying to stir up a fight between a posh General Synod woman and the very polite man from Stonewall who desperately avoided calling her a bigot, no matter how much Nicky Campbell encouraged them both to fall out. It was like an audio-only version of the Jeremy Kyle show. So at least, I suppose, it was a lot better than the Jeremy Kyle show.

So these days I prefer to work out the news from the ramblings of those on Twitter. It has the advantage that, despite its name, it is completely quiet. And, as I try to weave the news out of the complex strands of chunter and counter-chunter from left and right, I feel like I'm doing a kind of textual analysis. It's like being one of those scholars who construct a complete annual religious cycle for Israelite Baal-worship from the Psalms, or make up the book "Q".

This morning, for example, I learn that William Rees-Mogg is planning a cage-fight against Mitt Romney.

Michael Gove is going to have to do all his governing under exam conditions from now on. He won't be doing any of it as homework, in case he gets a load of help, or he Googles it. But he is also introducing a new exam in the music of Burt Bacharach. Not before time in my opinion.

Tuberculosis in Anglesey is not caused by badgers. Unsurprising in my opinion, as I don't see how they could get into the blood-stream. And imagine how painful the vaccinations would be. Although using Anglesey as a test case for the rest of the UK seems unscientific. If it was any way typical of the rest of the country, I'd be living in Huddsborne Llrawlley. And Ridgmont Railway Station would have a much longer sign.

The Police are seeing if they can get away with picking a scapegoat and not looking too hard at themselves as an institution. How things have changed since Hillsborough.

And there seems to be some royal story about. Apparently somebody who took a photograph of Kate Middleton is going to be buried under a car park in Leicester. I presume this is going to be Wills's next lad's night out when he gets back from Afghanistan?

Monday, 17 September 2012

Revised Rules for Counters

It is my duty, as Treasurer of the Beaker Folk, to be responsible for the accurate counting of all attendees at Occasions, Ceremonies and other similar gatherings-together.

People have often asked me - since there is no centralised levy based on attendance, why is all this counting necessary? To which I reply - you have to count things. If nobody ever counted things, how would we know how many there are? I think that is pretty well unanswerable. As a great man once said, "Ha-ha-ha! I love to count!"

Of course, if I am present at the Occasion myself, I will normally do the counting. However there are times when I will be at work, particularly if delayed due to a serious discrepancy in the number of tractors, chickens or marbles, and it will be necessary for me to delegate the counting role. I will of course carry out intensive training in this case - but I hope what I list below will be a handy ready-reckoner.

(a) At any given Occasion, count each person only once.

(b) If somebody is leading an Occasion, do not count them, as they are not attendees - they are leaders.

(c) If two people are co-leading an Occasion, simply subtract one from the total number present. There can only be one nominal leader, no matter how co-operative and un-hierarchical we think we are.

(d) If somebody goes in and out, do not count them twice. If you are not very good with names and faces, it may be necessary to write on their hand with indelible ink to ensure they are not recounted.

(e) If somebody gets marked with indelible ink one day, the chances are that they will still be marked the following day. That is what "indelible" means. It is therefore a good idea to have a marker in your own special indelible ink colour, to avoid this becoming a major problem.

(f) If somebody attends twice in one day, only count them once. If you are not doing the counting at the second event, give the counter at the second event a complete list of who was at your event. If you aren't very good at names (see (d) above), it is probably best if you simply mark everybody with indelible ink, and tell the second counter what colour you are using.

(g) If you aren't very good with faces and names, and somebody else is counting the Occasion before you on the same day, ask them to mark everybody with indelible ink. Or, if you find out too late that they have not done this, ask for the list of names they took and get everybody who attends to tick their own names on the list, to indicate they have been at a previous Occasion on the same day and therefore don't need to be counted.

(h) If you are counting twice in two days, and you aren't very good with names (or even if you are and you're just avoiding counting people who've wandered in and out) you will need a different coloured indelible ink.

(i) Don't forget to count yourself - unless you are leading as well as counting. Since you will probably remember who you are, you will not need to mark yourself with indelible ink, whether you wander in and out or not, and no matter how bad you are with names.

(j) Enter the numbers attending into the four age-related brackets: Under 18; 18-40; 41-60; 61 upwards. If in any doubt as to which age group a woman falls into, guess the lower one. DO NOT ASK.


If this system does not work, I have plans to RF-ID tag everybody in the Community. In this case we will install electronic Beaker Folk counters. However all the rules above will still apply to visitors. It is still regarded as very bad form in this country, to put a micro-chip into the back of somebody's neck if they are just visiting.

Morning Liturgy in the Wooster Tradition

Welcome

Song: Four-and-twenty Ginger-headed sailors

Archdruid: What ho, old beans!

All: Top hole, Eileen all girl!

Archdruid: Let me tell you the story about Minnie the Moocher.

All: She was a real live hoochie-coocher.

Archdruid: Does anyone know what that actually means?

Confession - each Beaker person turns to the chaps (or chapettes) nearest and says:

All: Oh, I'm most dreadfully sorry, old chap / old girl. No idea what came over me.

Response: Quite all right, old chap / girl. Could have happened to anyone.

Song: Pale Hands I loved Beside the Shalimar

A competition of Scriptural Knowledge (to be won by Young Keith, who frankly cheated.)

Exclamatiions of Delight in Creation: May include one or all of the following :

The stars are God's daisy chain
Gravel soil, Company's own water....
Every prospect pleases and only man is vile
It's a beautiful world, PK Purvis!

Closing Song: Sonny Boy.

Closing Song: Sonny Boy.

Closing Song: Sonny Boy.
 
Closing Song: Sonny Boy.

Oranges may be thrown.

Archdruid: Bung Ho!

All: Tinkerty-tonk!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Afterglow

This is a simple proposition. 99% of readers of this web site will disagree, and I don't care.

The song "Afterglow" by Genesis is the best short piece of music that was ever written.

The chords aren't  just "nice".  That descending sequence puts a feeling of the most profound melancholy straight into your soul. And the lyrics create an ache in your soul that never goes away:

"Oh but I would search everywhere
Just to hear, hear your call
And walk upon stranger roads than this one
In a world I used to know before 
- I miss you more."

And just the title itself resonates. "Afterglow". The arc of light left in the sky after the sun has already set. A metaphor for where we live, with respect to the high-point of modern culture. We watch the pinking-in of the sky every evening at "Filling up of Beakers", and we realise the truth of this. Every day, just after sunset - there's the realisation that there is a time that is too late. A time when the sun has gone. No more direct light; no more warmth. Just an Afterglow. And that's when we feel that yearning. A yearning for something that's lost. Even if we don't know what it is.

As I say, I'm sure everyone will disagree with me. I don't care.

World, Shut Your Mouth

I've been impressed by all the Twitter Vicars from mainstream denominations today, talking about their sermons on James 3 this evening. And so we're having a "Taming the Tongue" service at 6pm. Which will be an hour of silence (on the principle that if you can't say anything nice...) interspersed with the following hymns:

Bigmouth Strikes Again

Don't Come the Cowboy with me, Sonny Jim

That Joke isn't Funny anymore

Silence is Golden

All I ever wanted


Not Going to Church

You know how it is.  It's early-ish in the morning. The alarm's gone off. And you lay there thinking "do I really want to go?" And if you think it's bad for you - how do you think the Beaker Folk feel? We have Ceremonies and Occasions at all hours of the day and the night, every day of the week. I tell you, it's like being in a mediaeval monastery. Except without the drink and sex.

That's where our "Not Going to Church" checklist comes in. As you go through your favourite Sunday morning excuses, you can check against the list until you find your own.

1. I'm tired.

Yes, we're all tired. But you were the one playing "Black Ops - Zombies" until 4am..

2. It's the BCP Communion this morning. I won't understand it.

Yes, the confessions are a bit wordy and involved. But you've been attending BCP Communion since 1951. Which means you've heard it more times than Cranmer. I suspect you're probably fine with it by now.

3. Old Mr Williams is preaching. The sermon's going to be long, and surreal.

But God will still be God. And if Old Williams preaches that bit about how firing rockets into space is a bad idea because God lives there, you can zone out and improve your "Black Ops - Zombies" strategy.

4. Nobody will notice if I'm not there.

You're the one on opening-up duty this morning, and it's pouring with rain. If you don't turn up then everyone's gonna notice.

5. I don't like the other people in the Church.

You're not required to like them. You're supposed to love them.

6. I can worship God in my garden just as well.

(A) no you can't. Your little solitary prayers in your flowery bower are no substitute for joining together in Jesus's name - although they're a great supplement to it - maybe you could do that this afternoon? (b) take the morning off church and you ain't gonna be in your garden. You'll be back on "Black Ops - Zombies". Just as soon as you wake up at lunchtime.

7. I'm in a bad mood and I won't be very Christian.

I see your confusion. You think this is the Premier League, where you practice all week and then "perform" for 90 minutes* at the weekend. No. This is the other way round.

8. I don't even believe in God.

You're not the only Minister to have this problem. Wesley said you should preach faith until you receive it. To which I should add, that people looking at an empty pulpit for 15 minutes is going to be pretty surreal.

9. I get frightened in crowds.

You're a member of a village URC chapel.  You're clutching at straws now, aren't you?

10. The coffee's rotten.

Good point. I suggest you show a bit of initiative and bring your own. Just ask for a cup of hot water - milky if that is your preference - and put in a spoonful of posh coffee or a coffee bag according to choice. Going farther down this line, why not start a campaign to have decent coffee? The extra costs are marginal in a church budget and - who knows - other whingers like you might start attending.

11. There's a bloke in the church who keeps sitting next to me, talking to me after the service and following me home.

He's your husband. It's the only time he gets to see you when he's not working or clearing out the garage..

12. The pews are hard.

Then bring a cushion. Do you give up all your initiative and independent thought when you go to church? Actually - forget I asked that.


* oo-er, Missus.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Ornamental Pond of Faith

The trouble with the "Sea of Faith" movement?

It was too big. Too modernist. A whole sea? The whole point of a sea is that it's effectively boundless (unless it's the Caspian sea). A sea is a dangerous thing. Paddle out on to it on a lilo and next thing you know you're drifting past the Goodwin Sands and brushing up on your French. No, a Sea of Faith was always going to be too big.

And so we are glad to introduce the "Ornamental Pond of Faith" movement. It's a simple concept. You can keep your own beliefs, lose them, or never have started with any. Which is, let's face it, what the Beaker People are all about. But you need never worry about getting out of your depth. The "Pond of Faith" is, frankly, pretty shallow to begin with. The fish are pretty boring, sure. But in the spring the Tadpoles of Faith frolic around, occasionally being eaten by the Dragonfly Larvae of Doubt.

If you throw a stone into the Sea of Faith, the ripples are lost - overwhelmed by the Waves of Worry, or blown to pieces by the Sudden Squall of Uncertainty. Not so in the Pond of Faith. Drop a stone into the Pond of Faith, and the ripples retain their integrity - drifting out to the far edge, and never coming back.

Indeed, so many pebbles have now been thrown into the Pond of Faith that it is possible to walk across it, with your feet barely getting wet. The ripples aren't so great now, but we're thinking of installing a Fountain of Faith - solar powered, of course. And as the pebbles continue to go in over the next few weeks, we realise what we're really creating is a Water Feature of Faith. Which is like the Pond of Faith, but even safer. And quite nice in a Church of English Country Garden. We might even put in a Garden Gnome of Gnosis.

SPCK / SSG

Not much for me to say here - full story over at the SPCK / SSG blog. We didn't do anything in this, apart from "support Dave Walker". But some people did some good work in the face of legal threats and bullying. Of course, many people still suffered and lost their jobs. With this and Hillsborough, it feels like a good week to post the following:

And his mercy is on them that fear him : throughout all generations. 
He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 
He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel : as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.

A Breakdown in Relations

I'm not very happy with people this morning.

Hnaef ignored my clear instructions yesterday evening, and brought me a cup of a powdered energy drink. When what I said was that, being very tired as I was, it would be really nice if he could organise Compline.

Young Keith responded to my very reasonable request that he should get up by 4am and paint the Moot House into its liturgical Camouflage colour ready for Autumn, by saying "I'll do it later."

I also shouted at Burton yesterday morning (in between Pouring Out Beakers) for being completely out of touch with his emotions, unable to deal with human beings and obsessed with counting money, train-spotting and keeping things organised. I told him if he didn't sharpen his ideas up, I'd be hiring an accountant with a personality. But instead of responding positively, he went quite white and spent the whole of the afternoon organising the books in the library by ISBN number.

Drayton Parslow from next door annoyed me yesterday as well. For goodness' sake. Accusing me of being "wrathful" and "vexatious". Just because I hit him with that fence post for wishing me "good morning".

Then there's the florists I'm trying to get sorted for Keith and Charlii's handfasting next year. What is their problem? I emailed them at 11pm last night to ask which precise species of jonquil they are likely to be using next April, and they've still not got back to me.

And I'm sitting here now in the dining room, and four different people have brought me cups of tea. And do you know what - not one of them has worked out that I want an Earl Grey not a Darjeeling. 

Honestly. Sometimes I reckon there must be a common thread to all these bad relationships. If only I could find it.

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Small Ads

Found in Surrey -  Fake American accent. Appears to have been used by a worship leader.

Wanted - Church Treasurer. Job would suit Accountant who can't get enough of the day job. No need for competency with large amounts of cash.

Lost. All the pews from our church. I say "lost". I mean "callously removed from the church by the minister and her evil henchpeople, the Church Committee". I'm bereft. I mean, my great-gran used to sit in one of those pews. Of course, I don't go there myself. I don't really go in for that kind of thing.

Found - 80 copies of Sounds of Living Waters. In a church in Cambridgeshire. And they're still using them. Can you believe it?

Are you Mark Driscoll? I seem to have found all your respect for the text and context of the Book of Esther. If you want it back, write to me enclosing a self-addressed, small padded envelope. And a matchbox. You don't want it getting any more dented.

Guitar for sale - good condition. Only four chords used.

We are a church in a small Oxfordshire country town, looking for new members of the choir. We are looking for Sopranos, Altos and Basses. But not Tenors. Oh no. We don't want tenors. Not after last time.

Having narrowly rejected Resolutions A + B, this parish is looking warily for a new Priest in Charge. The new incumbent could be a man or woman but, in order to keep the peace round here (s)he will ideally be quite tall, with a beard. Some of our members are keen to stress that having a good chance of fitting into our (male) village rugby team would be good - it is important to stress the manly side of Christianity, isn't it? Maybe being able to take the bass part at the annual Christmas concert would be good, too.

Found - young person in Church. Any idea how that happened?

Wanted - organist. Able to take orders gracefully, manage a large and rebellious choir, and accept that the minister picks all the hymns. Actually, scrub all that. Wanted - CD player and collection of praise CDs.

Wanted - large cork. Must fit the end of a tenor saxophone. No questions asked.

Are you a supernaturally gifted preacher, pastor, children's worker and administrator? Can you stop time, thus fitting more hours into the week than anyone else? Do you hear "Sabbath" and think "Five hours' sleep a night is enough for anyone"?  Are you able to raise large amounts of money, apparently effortlessly and without all those fraud charges the last minister had to endure? If so, please contact us for our Parish Profile.  Now we've written it, it turns out you're just the person we're looking for!

Wanted - Junior Church leaders. You need to be able to spare c 10 hours a week in preparing the teaching material, and then sit around on Sunday mornings hoping some children turn up. Incredibly you do exist, and it's a miracle.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Liturgy for the Passing of Derek Jameson

Introduction

Song: "Shrimp boats are a-coming" (A Cogan)

Archdruid: Mornin', mornin'

All: Jameson 'ere.

Valediction

Archdruid: We remember the passing of Derek Jameson. The "Sid Yobbo" of that Private Eye, which is very droll but inclined to think working-class people are a bit funny just because they're working class and didn't go to Eton.

All: Or even unto Harrow.

Archdruid: And so we remember a man who overcame a difficult childhood to become a household name, much-loved and an inspiration to all those who, from humble beginnings, aspire to present a Radio 2 Breakfast Show or edit a newspaper. But not that newspaper. Not this week.

Song "I remember you-oo" (Frank Ifield)

Archdruid: You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:  in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. (Ps 90)

Sid Yobbo: Do they mean me?

All: We surely do.

Recessional: "Butterfly" (Val Doonican)

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Justice awakening

23 years since Hillsborough. And finally we start to see justice. 23 bloody years.

A report that says what we all knew, and yet nobody in authority wanted to admit.

The Police lied. Their lawyers told them how to lie. The Sun published lies and claimed it was the truth. The Government was complicit.

How could it be the Police at fault? Clearly the Scousers were drunk, reckless criminals - trampling on and desecrating their own dead. So the lie ran.

23 years. Through all those years that their relatives, friends and fellow Liverpool fans campaigned for them, they never walked alone. So it's not justice for the 96 yet. But maybe it's awakening.