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Thursday, 31 January 2013

On the M1 at a standstill, somewhere near Lutterworth

It's easy, stuck at a standstill, to pity yourself.

The stress of a missed liturgy. Letting down the Little Pebbles' Evening Event.  An hour of your life spent looking at the iron wall of the trucks on the inside, swearing at the gormless twit swerving from lane to lane at 2mph to steal - ooh, three yards - on the lane he just left.

But somewhere up ahead, maybe someone's hurt. Maybe someone's dead. Maybe someone, somewhere else, will be mourning tonight. Then there are the paramedics, the coppers, maybe the firefighters dealing with the aftermath - and dealing with their own aftermath of the aftermath.

So we can sit quiet, stay warm, give thanks for smartphones and Radio 4 (though not the Archers - only Hnaef likes the Archers). And say a prayer for those ahead.

At least we'll be home soon.

Lord of the Dance - the Test Case

I should first of all say that I will be defending the case in court, should it come to it. I know Sukebine says she's definitely going to sue, but I reckon she's just taking a bit of a punt with that solicitor's letter.

In the first case, I was completely unaware that "Lord of the Dance" was played within the Community. It's been two years since we declared ourselves a Sydney Carter-Free Zone.

I realise that it is incumbent on us, in keeping Sydney Carter-Free certification, that we have strict policies in place to ensure no Sydney Carter works are played under the authority of the Moot. We do have an exception for "Every Star Will Sing a Carol", but that is only ever used under controlled conditions for experimental purposes.

To that end, the leader of each Beaker Occasion is under the obligation to keep a record of each song used. Burton enters these records into the worship database, and I can confirm that there are no entries on the summarised list between "Carpenters" and "Cash, Johnny".

What I suspect has happened is that Sukebine has taken part in an underground "Folk Worship" session. I had my suspicions last week when I thought I heard Mrs Hnaef humming "One More Step Along the World I Go." I don't want to pre-judge anything here, but I have taken the precaution of issuing a swift Banning Order on chunky-knit sweaters, any religious music written between 1950 and 1985, and tambourines.

If she has been attending underground Folk Worship sessions, Sukebine has been at unregulated and - frankly - dangerous events, and the Beaker Folk will accept no liability for her psychological damage, or indeed the physical damage she sustained in banging her head against the wall "until the evil stopped".

Furthermore, if she was indeed at one of these events, she has broken the terms of her Beaker membership promise ("Rule Number 1 - No Sydney Carter") and I will be counter-suing for the time we have spent over the last week counselling her after her bad experience. Not to mention the value of the strong, sweet tea she has consumed.

The Draw of Ancient Liturgy

As part of "Ancient Worship Week", yesterday we were immersing ourselves in the wonders of the Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark "heroine-worship" tracks. Pandora's Box, the Joan of Arc duology - three tracks obsessed with unconventional womanhood.

I'm afraid that Charlii was a little overcome by the example of the Maid of Orleans, however. Grasping a rosary, she declared her intention to free Milton Keynes from the English and disappeared into the countryside. Ah well, it was time somebody liberated it.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Liturgy of Valediction for Mario Balotelli

Archdruid: Today we bid "farewell" to Mario Balotelli. Mario has been staying with us occasionally, as he says we make him feel like he's not as odd as people say. Which is lovely, as he only originally popped in to use the loo.
But Mario has decided to "swim the Po" and join the Truly Extraordinate of Milan.

Hymn - Who ate all the Calzones?

Offertory - in which fivers may be handed out to random people.

A Psalm of Lamentation: "Why Always Me?" (Goodall)

The Grand Arrival of Mario

An expensive car crashes into the wall of the Moot House.

Mario (staggering out of the wreckage): You only pay attention to me because I'm famous.

Archdruid: I'm sorry, Mario. We're going to have to keep you on the "bench". We've enough acolytes this morning.

Mario: No worries. I'm going to light the fireworks for the grand finale. And I can always join another sect. Have you met my mother, by the way?

Young Keith: Oops, I appear to have shot the tea-light bearer in the bottom.

Archdruid: OK. Forget the bit where we flood the Moot House and take gondola rides. Let's cut to the end....

Mario may use fireworks to blow up a bathroom or, as it may be, a Ferrari.

Closing hymn: O Solo Mio

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The "Are you a Beaker Person?" Quiz

1 - When faced with a glorious sunset do you
a) Rejoice in the value-free spiritual thrill?
b) Look for a beetle to squash?
c) Slap on a load of sun-block?
d) Blame the Catholics?
e) Wow! Look at that sunset! It takes 9 - minutes - which is 9 followed by no zeroes minutes - for the light from the sun to reach us! Can we get a good shot with me looking at the sunset?

2 - Are you mostly a good person?
a) Yes, but I believe we should love ourselves as much as others.
b) Yes. Good people hate beetles, don't they?
c) Sorry. Missed the question. I was busy eating celery.
d) Of course. do you think I am a Catholic or something?
e) I'm made of a million - million - million - million - cells - each with its own mitochondria - and I'm pretty good-lookin', at any rate.

3 - How do you think the universe came into being?
a) God - a scary, hard-to-pin-down, completely un-cuddly ground of all Being is behind the wholly implausible events that created the world.
b) Evolution proves that we are superior to beetles, because mostly we squash them and not the other way round.
c) We are the product of exploding stars! Which were probably caused by global warming.
d) Completely randomly, a load of value-free stuff came from nothing. Best be nice, eh? Not like the Catholics,.
e) A million - million - million - million - million - (melts down into a singularity)

4) What causes all the sadness and pain in the world?
a) Human free-will and random chaos, which we can call "the Devil" if we're being all scary and anthropomorphic.
b) Beetles.
c) Eating meat.
d) Roman Catholics.
e) I would say "entropy", but being a particle physicist I'm not really good at explaining it. Can we get a shot of me looking all sad, at a volcanic explosion? On my good side...

5) Religion is rubbish, isn't it?
a) You may loath religion, but I prefer to talk of "spirituality".
b Beetles don't have any concept of God, and it doesn't do them any good.
c) The whole world is screaming with Mother Gaia.
d) Yes. And so are girls. They don't like me at all.
e) It's a load of woo. People should be looking at me. Look - I'm gorgeous, and I know about Physics.

RESULTS

Mostly a) - You're probably a Beaker person. You're handsome, spot-free and well balanced. Well done, you!

Mostly b) I'm guessing you're not a 6-legged member of the order Coleoptera?

Mostly c) You're 50% Beaker person, 50% Tofu. Please could I ask you for a voluntary "offering"?

Mostly d) I'm guessing you wear an anorak and collect train numbers. But you can't be me, because I don't blame the Catholics.

Mostly e) You're Prof Brian Cox and I claim my £10.

High Speed in Reverse

I am grateful to Mike Peat for highlighting many of the follies of the HS2 rail route.

There are indeed many reasons why the High-Speed route from London to Birmingham and Manchester is not a good idea. I hasten to add that in saying this I am not endorsing Archdruid Eileen's view that "what's the point of running trains at high-speed to Birmingham? Who's gonna want to get there in a hurry?"

No, there is the point that £33bn could be spent upgrading schools, eliminating poverty, or dredging the country's canals. We could re-open dozens of branch lines - run the Varsity Line all the way from Cambridge to Oxford and put back Husborne Crawley Station. We could extend the Northampton and Lamport Railway all the way from Northampton to Market Harborough again, and keep the bicycle path alongside so that Dave Warnock can still go on cycling trips to London.

But ignoring the alternatives, the greatest folly is clear for all to see.

If a train is travelling at 200mph - how would we be able to collect the number?

Quick Student Responsibility Joke

Even thirty years on, the embarrassment lingers.

As a young, enthusiastic undergraduate, I agreed to do the job when I was told the JCR needed an "Ents Rep".

What a fool I was. It wasn't so much the watering and applications of liquid fertiliser that got on my nerves. That was tedious but worthwhile.

It was having to spend all that time listening to how Saruman had stitched them up. You can only have so much sympathy. I tried to hint that they were very boring, but you'd never believe how thick-skinned they were.

"And a Sword Will Pierce Your Own Soul Also"

I wonder what the sword will be, that pierces my soul?

Every first-born son will do it in the end: or even do it often. 
The casual forgetfulness; the blithe disregard.
Forgetting his mother in the first joy of  new love,
newly married and with cares of his own. 
A birthday missed, or a sadness overlooked. 

But here, while his life is young, he is the one that needs love - clinging, crying, feeding.
And while I hold his hands and coax him to walk, and help him turn those babbles into words
- he'll need me then.

Will he need me again? When the sword pierces my heart - will he still need me then? 
Or will the need be all on my side - his life opening up, while mine shuts down?

I wonder what the sword will be, that pierces my soul?

Pieta from Wikimedia Commons

Litany of Un-marking the Life of a Departed Celebrity

It's a fact that we've become frit of marking the passing of any popular household name. We used to have a ceremony to mark their going, using their catchphrases or popular song lyrics as appropriate. But now we daren't. The chances of their lifetime of hidden wrong-doing being dragged up are just too high. As a result, we end up missing a lot of good people so as not to celebrate the lives of random (and unsuspected) bad apples.  Such are the high costs of Spiritual Health and Safety.

So instead we've produced this Litany of Unmarking a Life. In the event of any departed celebrity being posthumously hauled before the Court of Public Infamy, we will use this to rectify our previous Marking ceremony:

Inasmuch as the departed N has now been tried and posthumously found guilty of nefarious wrongdoing, crimes and various kinds of awfulness, we hereby declare our former marking of hes/her life to be unmarked.

We recognise that s/he was not, as we previously said, a national treasure, champion of the faith, star of the political firmament, wise old soul or celebrated eccentric.

Rather s/he (but probably he) was a strange individual, a nasty piece of work [specific alleged crimes may be mentioned] and we've not heard the last of it, mark my words.

And, now we think of it, we realise that we actually suspected s/he was a bit - you know, kind of creepy - all along.

And so we strike the account of our former Marking of their Passing from our Book of Occasions with the Big Marker Pen. Let the Marking be as if it never was. And though we won't say we want to consign him/her to the Smoky Place - for that is not ours to wish - we will pray that God is more merciful than we would be. Or s/he deserves. Or we would allow.

Monday, 28 January 2013

"Pointless" 10 Commandments

Archdruid Eileen: ....and so, Burton, I'm afraid that "Neither a Borrower nor a Lender be" is not one of the 10 Commandments. Young Keith?

Young Keith: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart?"

Archdruid Eileen: Well, the very, very best of luck...

<<< Sad, plummeting noise >>>

Archdruid: Richard?

Richard: I'm sorry, Keith. I think you'll find that's actually from Deuteronomy 6.

Young Keith: Rats. I should have gone with "...not be found out."

Stacey Bushes: No! I was going to say that!

Archdruid Eileen: I wouldn't if I were you...

Stacey: OK then - "Do not covet your neighbour's ass, or ox?"

Archdruid: Well, the very, very best of luck...

<<< Exciting board goes all the way down to the bottom >>>

Archdruid: Brilliant - a pointless answer!  Richard?

Richard: Very, very well done. Out of the 100 people asked, not only did none of them mention "do not covet", but most of them refused to believe it was a commandment even when we told them. "What's wrong with a nice bit of coveting?" was what one of them asked.  Among other answers we rejected, however, were "don't walk on the cracks in the pavement", "never give a sucker an even break" and "always look on the bright side of life."

Archdruid Eileen: So, having done well at "The 12 disciples" and the "Tribes of Israel", it's Stacey and Marston who go through to the prize round. Now some people have accused me of being mean in the past, but I can guarantee that whoever finds a pointless answer to this question will win £20,000. Richard?

Richard: Yes, all you have to do is find that pointless answer. And the question is - "7 Dwarfs." Can you find a member of Disney's 7 Dwarfs that nobody out of 100 people named....?


Feast of Artificial Additives

Today we celebrate the Feast of Artificial Additives.

May our praises be as saccharine as a late-80s praise 'n' worship cassette. may we be as monosodium glutamate and Cola Lite to the world.

May we see the Sunshine Yellow rise for us, and we'll have the aspartame of our lives.

As the Psalmist put it: In the front are the singers, after them the musicians, and then come the girls with the Tartrazine.

Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we dye.

This afternoon we will be observing the Ceremony of Palpitations.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Wonders of Life

Watching the new Prof Cox vehicle and wondering why they didn't get a proper Chemist or Biochemist to present it?

Simple. Even in the world's most exotic, tropical locations, they wouldn't take their anoraks off.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Doing the Numbers

Major victory of mine at the Moot today. I've had it agreed that any future vote on Male Archdruids, or any vote on changing the rules on voting for Male Archdruids, will require a 3/2 majority to be passed. Those people who thought they were voting for a liberalisation of the rules, assumed it was a misprint and I meant 2/3.

Those who worked out what I was up to complained afterwards that there's no way you can get a 3/2 majority. Which is rubbish - that's exactly what I got when I was elected Archdruid in the first place.

Tricky Churchy Words - a Few Definitions

Apocalyptic:  A genre of literature for the dispossessed, appropriated by the wealthy.

Apologetics - Giving answers to questions nobody's asking.

Celtic Tradition - A contradiction in terms.

Creed - A group of propositions, read out with varying degrees of conviction.

Evangelical - A group of people united around a love of chunky sweaters, with a tendency to smiling unnervingly often.

Evangelism - Telling people who don't have a concept of "sin" that they can be saved from sin, by a process they don't understand called "repentance", which brings into play something they won't have heard of called "redemption" and thereby unlocks a state of being they won't know about called "atonement".

Exegesis - Working out what we'd like to get out of the Bible (see Old Testament Law).

Hermeneutics of Suspicion - A German with a doubting attitude.

Incarnation - A long, strange word we use to obscure the most exciting truth in history.

Intelligent Design - Not something that would have ended up with humankind, that's for sure.

Liturgy- The tracks that keep the worship-train moving in the right direction.

Modern Worship - Singing songs in a musical style popular c 1967.

Old Testament Ceremonial Law - The bits we don't want to believe in any more.

Old Testament Moral Law - The bits we do want to believe in. Except the punishments that are to be applied. We don't want to keep those. Well, maybe some people in Tennessee might.

Orthodoxy - What We believe.

Outreach - Dividing the community into "us" and "them", and then trying to do something about the division.

Penal Substitution - What some people think is the only way of explaining something which should be looked at in lots of different ways.

Perichoresis - In its modern expression, a way of explaining the Trinity - which many church people don't understand - by reference to dancing - which is something else that many church people don't understand.

Regeneration- More exciting than the one Dr Who experiences, but not normally so outwardly.

Reincarnation - Not to be confused with "Resurrection".

Renewal - The church experiencing the unity of the Spirit, in a series of events that can often cause division.

Resurrection - Not going to heaven when you die, because it's already come down here.

Righteous - Like Us.

Sermon - A talk which ministers must assume will be boring, so they try to make as short as possible -despite the fact that people actually want to hear what they have to say,

Spontaneous Worship - You wouldn't turn up with a bunch of bricks to build a church, kick off without a plan, and assume Divine guidance would ensure the building didn't fall down. That's all I'm saying.

Theology - Something that is only for the clergy, with no connection to real life. Apparently.

Transubstantiation - Far more reasonable than most people imagine. Not in any way incompatible with chemistry.

Like the Dew Before the Sun

As I watch the snow melting away on the lawn, an old south Midlands saying, "like dew before the sun", comes to mind. And, like many such sayings, such as "frit" for frightened, or "spawny get" for a lucky person, we seem to be the poorer for their passing or lessening.

It strikes me that we are all like dew before the sun. As the day wears on, we  stealthily slip away. And so we are gone - our hopes and fears, struggles and sorrows and successes all now unremembered, like dew before the sun.

Of course, the dew has not ceased to exist. It has merely changed its state. Perhaps there's a metaphor in there somewhere.

Inspirational Thoughts for Today

We should live in "today". Yesterday is dead and gone. And tomorrow's out of sight.

 If you can do a good deed for someone who doesn't like you, they'll be really grumpy and confused. But your reward will be in heaven. So you win twice.

 The one who prays for an hour will be closer to God, happier and an hour older. Whereas chocolate is much quicker.

 There is no "I" in "proofreadng".

 If the mountain looks too high for you, do not despair. Use a Landrover.

 Today is the first day of the rest of your troubles!

A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. Unless it were called "Stinkblossom". That's bound to affect your judgement.

Just when you think the night is darkest, is when you realise it's because of a power cut and your freezer's defrosting.

Consider the lilies of the field. All wiped out with glyphosate so you could have cheap  vegetable oil. So much for parables and genetic diversity.

At the centre of every life is a God-shaped hole. Some find filling it with donuts works for a while.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself. And disease, of course. Breakdown of civilisation- that's got to be scary. And climate change. And freak accidents involving tumble-dryers falling out of air-planes. And fear itself.

Never say to yourself "what's the worst that could happen?" It's more dreadful than you think.

If you dislike someone, try walking a mile in their shoes. Unless you're a 17 stone  welder and they're into really tiny stilettos. Unless you like wearing really tiny stilettos.

Do not be hasty to judgement. If you stick around and look into it, you'll probably find something even juicier.

People who live in glass houses should buy some curtains before taking a shower.

If the day is sunny, be glad of the sun. When rain falls, remember it makes the flowers grow. If the roof caves in under the weight of snow, pray you remembered to renew the insurance.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Throwing the Toys out of the Pram Day

I do hope this works. Today we celebrate the day when Beaker Folk are allowed to strop, sulk, flounce about and generally go off on one. It's an idea based on the "world upside down" theory. Idea being that anyone can say rude things, get airyfied, or hand in their resignations on the spot. And then in the morning we all get up, pretend it never happened, rescind all resignations, and get on with life - everybody calmer for a cathartic experience. I do hope this works.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Church Meeting Warning Symptoms Guide

SymptomDiagnosis
Overwhelming sense of futility.Fund-raising committee's report.
Delusions of grandeur, alternating with isolation.You're probably the pastor.
Droning noise.Treasurer's report.
Hypothermia.Meeting has entered second hour.
Strange belief that you have empty pockets.You are giving the Treasurer's report.
Overwhelming sense of deja vu.Completely natural. Nothing to worry about.
Rough, dry skin on your back.You have been sat down too long, and stuck to the canvas back of the chair.
Backside has gone numb.Meeting has entered third hour.
Unusual pain in the knees.In a state of complete panic, the minister has suggested prayer.
Sharp pain in the hand.You've stabbed yourself with your pen to keep yourself awake.
DehydrationMeeting has entered fourth hour. Desperate urge to visit pub.
Sharp pain in the thigh.Obviously stabbing yourself in the hand didn't work.
Repeatedly wondering "what's the point?".County "Churches together" report.
Pain in the forehead.You've dropped off, fallen forward, and bashed your head on the chair in front.
Pain in the neck.Somebody insisting we continue to use the 40 year old "modern" hymn book.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Holy Truth Evasion

It's a commonly-enough noted thing - that when you're asked how you are at Church, the correct answer is "I'm fine." Obviously, it's a default response at the best of times in the secular world. And these days it can be supplanted by the odd-sounding "I'm good." But when you're at Church, it needs to be accompanied by that slight shiny-ness of the eyes that reveals the glowing joy that clearly lies within.

To be fair, Murtle took it too far on Sunday. Doing that tap-dance on the Worship Focus Table, to prove that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, she had been healed of her broken leg. She's made an awful mess of that plaster cast in the process, and broken any number of glass tea light holders.

But Murtle was only displaying the extreme, physical manifestation of this problem. Whether it's because we feel that to be sad, or sick, or lonely is a symptom of weakness - or it shows a lack of faith in our God's ability to heal - or just a lack of that faith that means we're happy all the day, and that we're never going to have a care as long as we trust and obey. Because if we believe that - really believe that - then surely when we don't live up to it, it must be our fault?

So we are shiny, happy, newly-minted people. Even when we are claiming, yet again, to be healed of our stress, or wiping away the tears from the bust-up in the car on the way to Church and proving what a happy family we are.

I mean, obviously I'm not suggesting we should all come sobbing and wailing into the Moot House like a bunch of emotional incontinents the whole time - we are British, after all. And Princess Diana didn't change everything. And we don't all aspire to win the X-factor.

But if we are to see what we do as, in a spiritual, emotional and even occasionally physical sense, healing - then shouldn't we see that as an ongoing process, where new wounds can also be healed, and the possibility that we're not completely happy can be contemplated. Not least because, if we accept that up front, it doesn't become such a great shock when somebody does break and decides to announce that, in fact, everything is currently hellish.

Which brings me to the other way in which we occasionally like to kid ourselves. Now in many ways I blame myself here. It was me who thought that, whenever someone gave a testimony, it would be fun to have a jury to decide how uplifting the testimony was. And to give prizes each year to the best we've heard in the last twelve months.

But whether it's just a natural tendency to exaggerate, or whether I have indeed upped the odds, we're hearing some startling stories. Because if it's important to say how great life is in the oh-so-save "now", we really have to pump up how bad things were in the past.

Take Burton's testimony the other week, for example. The fact that he was once tempted, to save space on a set of accounts, to knock the pence column off the stock valuation of a jewelery shop is not, to my mind, a great sin. His description of the week of sleepness nights, the anxious fears for his soul, the great weight he carried - until St Matthew appeared to him in a vision and told him all his debits had been turned to credits - verged on the melodramatic, for me.

And then Roddnie's account. I knew him in the 90s. He lived quietly in a house in Hillyfields in Dunstable. The assertion that he lived a rock 'n' roll lifestyle, out till the early hours of every morning and sometimes losing whole fortnights at a time, is refuted by the way he won "Prize Pumpkin" in the Caddington Open Gardening Festival three times running. You can't live a life of debauchery and grow prize-winning pumpkins. You have to choose one or the other.

And I was with Lubert in the Moot Houuse at the time when he "saw the light" at that Festival of Flowers we held. I can tell you that he was not "prostrate before the Lord for three hours" during the service. He had a cup of tea at the end, and told me he had a few things to think about. Which I thought was nice. But the sudden jump to his 3D, Technicolour, Surround-sound salvation was quite startling when I heard it.

So these are all for the best possible reasons. But maybe we just need to stay a bit grounded.
The fact is, what God does for us is extraordinary in itself. The depths are quite low enough, and the heights are quite high enough, and the journey between is twisty, often quite gradual, and sometimes even apparently in the wrong direction. Let's accept each other's help to limp and stumble along it - and not pretend we can fly. After all, you can't all have gone from juggling wine bottles in a Filipino bar to raise the money to pay for a chorizo addiction, to the knowledge of having undergone sanctification and being completely saved, like I have. But then we can't all be Archdruids, can we?

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Are you a Celtic Christian? The Self-Diagnosis Guide

Let's face it, it's a debilitating life-style. But many people who think they may be secretly Celtic are trying to pretend to themselves that they're not. So here are the ten questions that give away your secret Celtic-ness. If you can answer "yes" to six or more of these questions, you should probably think about a religion with a bit more doctrine in it.

1. Has the organ in your church been replaced with a stone cairn and a pile of seaweed?

2. Despite working in the City and living in Croydon, do your prayers often refer to "sister Moon" and "the  wind blowing o'er the heather"?

3. Does the road always rise up to meet you on the way to Church?

4. Have you ever accidentally (or deliberately, for that matter) chosen an Enya track as one of the songs for Sunday worship?

5. Do you ever find yourself praying while up to your neck in the North Sea, while a sparrow nests in your ginger beard?*

6. Do you find yourself listening to "The Old Rugged Cross" and thinking "a bit of jig music between verses would cheer it up a treat"?

7. If you hear "Be Thou My Vision" in 3/4, do you fall over while trying to clap along because it's like walking down one more stair than is actually there?

8. Do you have the weekly urge to bash a bodhran over a bodhran-player's shaggy-locked head?

9. When you ask yourself "what would Jesus do?" do you suspect the answer is, "support Celtic and enjoy the craic with Andrew and Peter?"

10. Do you have more friends called Kevin that is strictly necessary?

* Beard strictly optional.

Annual Winter Safety Warning

Every year, there's a few days of cold weather and the same kind of foolishness breaks out. It's like the snowy excitement and the winter-wonderlandiness of it all makes everybody lose all semblance to common sense.

So - please can all Beaker Folk keep off the thin place, and keep your dogs off it as well. Last time someone tried skating on the thin place they dropped straight through to the Astral Plane and it was only by sheer good luck that we noticed and managed to drop a rope down to them.

A very quiet morning service

Can't believe the excuses people have given for not making it to "Pouring out of Beakers" this morning:

"Car won't start"
"Phobic about snow"
"Roads are icy"
"Chased by a yeti"
"Need to look after pet shark, which has gone into a torpid state"
"Weather forecast said only travel if necessary."

Which might be reasonable, if they hadn't all come from people who live in the Community. They've not even got to go outside.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Blandings

I really don't like the new Blandings series.

PG Wodehouse is one of the most supreme moulders and crafters of the English language, and the best creator of lightly humorous characters, that has ever existed. But this series just seems to be wrong. The actors qua actors are great - who could ask for a finer cast? But they seem to have the balance all wrong. Jennifer Saunders seems OK as Connie, but the Earl of Emsworth is too un-boneless, and too clever by half. Beech is hamming it up too much. Freddie is, incredibly unlikely as it may sound, too much of an upper-class twit.

I'm no expert on pigs, but I hear that the Empress of Blandings is in fact the wrong breed. Plum would shudder.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Irony and the Sorrow

A nice little blog-post from Kelvin (yes, I find the pop-up annoying as well, but the blog's worth it) on should churches use email - or indeed blogging?

What worried me was the comment " The blogs that are lasting are, unsurprisingly, those where the author has a clear idea of what they are trying to communicate."

The problem is that, after approximately seven years of this blog's existence (including the first 12 months or so, which were lost in the Time Wars) - on reading Kelvin, I wasn't sure I had the faintest idea what this particular blog is trying to communicate. The first blog post (which survives, expanded, fairly roughly in "An oasis of fuzzy thinking") was meant to be a searing critique of "Celtic" Christianity (I never know which word to put in inverted commas - it depends upon the context, I guess), but you can't make a career out of insulting "Celtic" Christians. Apart from anything else, you'd be surprised how much money they can pump into litigation, and they have some particularly aggressive lawyers. Those little books of home-spun liturgy mustn't half sell.

Above all, I suppose, what I am trying to communicate is - why not send me some money? It's completely tax deductible, at least until the Charity Commission launches another politically-motivated attack. And I promise I won't spend the money on land-mines, bombing countries we should leave well alone, or MPs' duck-ponds.

Or, if you won't spend the money, maybe what I try to communicate is this - there's an irony at the bottom of everything. Beneath our hapless beliefs that we will achieve Nirvana if we vote for this or that political party, or if we buy a particular brand of deodorant, or our conviction that driving the right 4x4 will cause our partners (and others') to become more sexually attracted to us - is the irony that it's all useless. As Ford Prefect put it, "burn down all the trees!"

This species may have a few million years left - or possibly less, the way it's going - and all the great things to which it aspires: all the high-rise tower-blocks, all the job promotions you might think about going for, all the cereal-advert lovey-dovey families you can only dream of; all the glossy houses with 10-acre grounds and heated swimming pools you might want to buy; all the friendly, funny, wacky neighbours you see in sitcoms that you wish you had, instead of the grumpy, unfriendly ones who get so shirty when you move the boundary fence a mere 6 feet closer to their house than yours; they'll all be nothing one day soon. All your dreams and visions are as the mere wind, which blows the sawdust into your face from the fence post you're cutting back to size, before your neighbour gets yet another lawyer involved in your already over-litigious life and you have to put the best smart suit on yet again while the deeds are checked in court.

So you work 20 hours a day to prove how good you are at your job, and a stroke stops your career in its tracks. You take the experts' advice and create a gravel garden to tolerate the globally-warmed future, and the snow that you thought was never going to fall again has killed the bloody olive tree and the yukka and the bay laurel. And a freak hailstorm puts dents the size of tea cups in the roof of your new Audi that you spent five years saving for and twenty years dreaming about.

But underneath the irony, underneath the futility, way below - where the bitter laugh of the icy wind blows through the holes in the tatty jeans of your self-stitched yet oh-so-trendy philosophy, there's something else. Gazing up through the sorrow, from the bottom of human existence, where the irony is so deep that you can't even see what could be funny any more - are the sorrowful eyes of the man of sorrows, the One who sees the deepest irony of all.
"Man of Sorrows"  from wikimedia commons.

That the Divine could descend to this - that the One who brought stuff into being should become stuff. That the source of Life should die - should descend to the death that Life never conceived - that the one who gives light to all humans, should have his light extinguished - that the one who sits surrounded by angels should be surrounded by thieves and murderers, Roman oppressors and grovelling, conquered, toadies - if you want irony, that's as far as you can get. If you like irony, what more irony could you want?

I've come a long way away from Kelvin's blog, Apart from the jumping-off point, perhaps. This blog is dedicated to the communication of the simple fact that this universe - glorious, ordered, terrifying, and apparently eternal - is - at heart - flawed, broken, incomplete and - ultimately - ironic. And in that irony, is its salvation.


Annotating Season's End

We've had a busy day. Using Young Keith's patented time machine we snuck back to the dressing room of a university student union venue c 1988, and left the following message. Let's hope we got there in time to prevent Marillion embarrassing themselves....

Getting close to season's end
I heard somebody say
That it might never snow again
In England
Yes. But they were wrong. They confused climate with weather, I suspect. You want to be careful about your friends' habit of indulging in hyperbole. I mean, you think of all that "Script for a Jester's tear" stuff. You sure it wasn't Fish giving you this weather forecast?
Snow flakes in a newborn fist
Sledging on a hill
Are these things we'll never see In England?
I rarely see newborns with snow in their fists - as I say, you seem to have some strange friends, if they go around shoving snow into the hands of small babies. But I saw an awful lot of sledging on hills today. In fact, I'm sick of snow. If only you still had Fish, you might be able to burn enough aviation fuel on world tours to prevent the current white-out in Husborne Crawley happening. But no, you had to let him go off and make all that pretentious stuff solo, didn't you? Though, to be fair, not as pretentious as this.
We'll tell our children's children why - we grew so tall and reached so high  - we left our footprints in the earth And punched a hole right through the sky
Yes, but now you're talking about the ozone layer. Which, although CFCs are apparently a strong greenhouse gas component, is not the same thing at all.

We'll tell them how we changed the world And how we tamed the sea 
Look, you can't go combining breast-beating, mean culpa-eco-doom with hubris like this. Either we can wreck the climate or we can tame the sea. If we could genuinely do the latter (and the recent evidence is that we can't) we could probably do something about the former.
And seasons they'll never know in England
Too right. "Summer", we called it. It used to be a week of sunshine between Spring and Autumn. Now we just have an eight-month "rainy season", followed by Winter.
So watch the old world melt away
Not being funny - have you considered investing in shares in a salt mine? Will make you a fortune in years to come.
A loss regrets could never mend
You never miss it till it's gone
So say goodbye, say goodbye
OK goodbye then, Marillion. Although, in 25 years' time, you'll still be with us. As, indeed, will snow.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Answering those hard questions

I realise that, unusually, we've not posted any news from Husborne Crawley for 24 hours. Well, it's been a hard, questing, struggling time in the Community. We've struggled with some really hard questions. But I feel we've come on a journey.

I must admit, I thought our "Asking the Hard Questions" session would be the usual thing - "what colour tea lights should I use in Spring?" type of stuff. Well, some of them were. But others were much harder. We had to break people into groups, hand out Post-its, get people to report back. And then when the groups realised they had to get someone to report back to the whole group, that generated other questions and we had to answer those. So some of the questions may seem a bit inward-looking. But I would argue that it's only when we look inward that we see things as they are.

In any case, we divided up into four groups, which were allowed to pick themselves. The first group consisted mostly of the leadership, as it turned out. The second and third groups divided along mostly male/female lines. While group 4 was mostly, as you may gather, the younger men.



Stones or Tea Lights?

Group 2 - Stones.

Group 3 - Tea Lights.

Group 4 - Scones?

Group 1 - In a very real sense, it's not so much an either/or as a both/and kind of questions...



If Christianity is all about Jesus, why do we all get into arguments about sex the whole time?

Group 1 - Christianity's about Jesus? What dangerous new teaching is this?

Group 2 - Christianity is about being built into Christ in a new life. So we are looking at the whole man - not just some spiritual element. That's why sex matters. Just like poverty, justice and physical well-being matter.

Group 3 - What's with those "whole man" business? In Christ there is no Male or Female. So this should be the "whole person". Not least because, men being emotionally incoherent and obsessed with sex, a more appropriate image would be, if it must be gendered, "the whole woman".

Group 2 - Are you suggesting men are incapable of expressing themselves?

Group 3 - Men resort to violence far too easily. And if you don't believe that, come over here if you think you're hard enough.

Group 4 - Sorry, we heard the word "sex" and we've not been able to stop laughing yet.


Where is God in a matter like the Algerian hostage crisis?

Group 1 - Being the ground of all being - especially our own - God is everywhere in the crisis.

Group 2 - Ooh look, snow.

Group 3 - God is with the powerless in this situation. God may not help very much, but is surely present.

Group 4 - Yes, but Group 3 are right! Look! Snow!

{3-hour snowball fight break}

What is the Beaker Community actually for?

Group 1 - To be made in Community is to reflect the triune nature of God. Alone we are incomplete. No man - sorry - no person is an island. And the Beaker Community builds itself in an authentic reflection of age-old truths that bring us back to our real natures.

Group 2 - Our "other halves" told us we had to be here. And it's snowing, so there's no golf.

Group 3 - We see this as, deep down, a place where we can meet our friends and organise things.

Group 4 - Sorry, we thought about when you said "sex" earlier, and it started us all off again.


What is the best kind of rock for pebbles in worship?

Group 3 - Surely the question is really about what is the best pebble for each individual? It's how we relate to the pebble that matters.

Group 4 - Ones that roll well. Then we can entertain ourselves during the boring bits. i.e. all of it.Group 1 - In the end, the type of rock doesn't matter. It's the solidity that is important - the having a lump of something natural, ageless, timeless and pebbly.

Group 2 - Obsidian is pretty. But quartzite can be gneiss.


Under what conditions should men be allowed to be Archdruids?

Group 4 - Why can't men be Archdruids? After all, they can drive trains, win the X-factor - we've even had a male Prime Minister.

Group 3 - There's nothing wrong with men being Archdruids.

Group 2 - Except for the obvious fact that they're useless, you mean?

Group 1 - We have here a prepared statement from Archdruid Eileen. In it she sets out the "quadruple lock" on men becoming Archdruids, which are that the following four conditions:

a) Hell freezing over;
b) A blue moon;
c) When she sees an elephant fly;
d) Over her dead body.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

50 Ways to Leave Your Church

There are really good reasons why people leave church fellowships. I understand that. It's a hurtful process. Sometimes there are people hurt on just one side. Sometimes both sides. Sometimes there's pride involved - sometimes prayers, sometimes anger. Sometimes a deep, prayerful, conviction that this route is right. It can even involve the loss of a livelihood. Healing can take years - if it ever happens.
But we can leave that to one side for now, I hope. This is a Paul Simon tribute list.
1. Don't make a fuss, Gus.
2. Blame it on heresy, Chrissie.
3. Say it's not on, John.
4. Can't take the incense, Clarence.
5. Sermon's too short, Mort.
6. Go out the door, Gore.
7. Swim the Tiber, Ivor. (Yes, I'm sorry)
8. The worship's too high, Si.
9. The bishops are all blokes, folks.
10. Say you've been led, Jed.
11. Don't tarry, Gary.
12. Join the Baptists down the lane, Jane.
13. Become a pagan, Hadyn.
14. Get into lace, Grace.
15. Believe in Adam and Eve, Niamh.
16. Don't say "sorry", Morrie.
17. Fancy the wrong fella, Della.
18. Don't be so square, Claire.
19. Say it's just wrong, Yvonne.
20. Say there's no malice, Alice.
21. Just hear the call, Paul.
22. You're just not growing, Owen.
23.  Communion daily, Kayleigh.
24. Grab your mantilla, Stella.
25. Get out the pew, Hugh.
26. Walk down the aisle, Kyle.
27. Fall out with the rector, Hector.
28. Worship more highly, Kylie.
29. Get into mission, Titian.
30. You're just bored, Claude.
31. Time to go, Flo.
32. Want marriage justice, Eustace.
33. Prefer Geneva, Eva.
34. Follow the Pope, Hope.
35. Take all the blame, Graeme.
36. Read the pre-Reformation canon, Shannon.
37. They're just too cliquey, Ricky.
38. Don't act too merry, Kerry.
39. Say it's the Wardens' fault, Walt.
40. Blame the guitars, Lars.
41. You're getting nothing back, Mac.
42. Don't demur, Fleur.
43. Believe in Darwin not Calvin, Melvin.
44. Become a Unitarian, Simeon.
45. Get caught out on the raz, Chas.
46. Object to the organ, Morgan.
47. Need to be brave, Maeve.
48. Off in a huff, Brough.
49. It's not your choice, Joyce.
50. Climb up the candle, Randle.

Stressy Church - A Pastor's Guide

It's not everybody who inventts a whole new model of Church. But we seem to have managed it for the 44th glorious week. And so
we have the joy of announcing the invention of "Stressy Church".

Now, the rules for Stressy Church are simple:

Ask everyone who's ever been hurt in any way to come to the front for prayer. If anyone is left in the congregation, accuse them of having "hearts of stone", and ask them to come to the front so they can receive a "heart of flesh".

Tell people that everybody else thinks they're no better than they should be.

Announce that you need a volunteer to assist with Junior Church. Say if they don't get another helper in the next ten minutes, they'll have to bring the Junior Church in with everyone else. Point out that little Merlot has been eating blue Smarties from her 43rd Xmas selection box since 6am.

Treat every liturgical act as if it's a performance. There's no better way of getting the people taking part to be really stressed.

Tell everyone that feeling bad is a sin. Tell them that worrying about difficulties shows a lack of faith. Then ask randomly God-chosen volunteer-victims to come down the front, and ask how they're doing spiritually.

Announce you're publishing the secret list of gift-aided monthly donations. Make it clear that you won't name names. Instead you'll describe each giver in terms such as "spotty bloke who clearly isn't the bank manager he claims to be, to judge by his so-called tithe."

Announce that the next verse is to be sung by "just the left-handed baritones."

Declare you've had a vision that one of the members of the congregation has a secret sin. Point out that the doors are locked, and nobody goes home until someone fesses up.

Introduce Archie, who's going to do the next reading, "but he's very nervous, so try not to notice if he's hyperventilating."

In the notices at the start of the service, mention the ancient sandstone mine under the chancel/Moot House/choir balcony that geologists say will collapse in about an hour.

Hold the Doily throwing service on the same night as the Mega-tea-light ignitathon and the Ritual Refilling of Lighters.

Break the congregation into groups of four, then give them ten minutes to write the next hymn. And then perform it.

Introduce the "Alphabet of sin". Going round from A to Z, ask everyone in turn to suggest a sin that starts with that letter. NB when I say "suggest", I don't mean "suggest doing that sin". That wouldn't just be stressy church. That would be wrong church.

Tell everyone, "Now we're friends, I'd really like to share my inmost feelings about you."

A Momentary Loss of Irony

I read yesterday a claim from someone (forget who, but suspect it may have been a Labour supporter) blaming the Government for the problems at Comet, HMV and Jessops.

Clearly the loss of jobs is bad news, and redundancies are terribly bad personal news. But I notice that the person complaining wrote a tweet. Presumably on the grounds that the quill, parchment and carrier-pigeon industries all went to the wall under the Thatcher government.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Real World "Goes into Administration"

It has been confirmed today that the Real World has gone into administration.

The Chief Executive, God, told reporters, "The Real World really suffered over the Christmas period. By comparison with using Android tablets to play Angry Birds, or being virtual friends with imaginary buxom Eastern European females, why would anybody want to go out into the Real World? In the Real World, you've got to go down the shops, visit relatives, maybe go to work. If you hold conversations with people, you can't just wander off when they stop being interesting. And the people you meet in the Real World just aren't as pretty as the ones you can download.

"It doesn't help that, in the Real World, rents are so high. All the places that you want to visit have real market values. Whereas on Facebook - you can have your own farm for nothing! And some parts of the Real World are a long way away - whereas you can get a pretty good idea what they're like through Google Earth.

"Obviously, there are some people for whom the Internet has been invaluable in opening up a whole world of interaction that they couldn't otherwise have. And the convenience is clear for all of us - we can Skype that relative who owns seven cats, without actually having to go round them. But the Real World did offer real advantages in terms of actually seeing real people. Although we've also suffered from people who go out to the Real World, check out the kind of friends they might like, and then get the same kind of friends with less emotional expenditure on-line. It's a really worrying time."

There are still hopes that the Real World can be saved. However in the meantime, the people that live there face a worrying few weeks, as God works out what can remain as a viable operation, and what will have to be closed down.

The Foolishness of applying Science without Intelligence

So Burton's "Winter Wake-up" service was a bit of a disaster.

Burton extrapolated all the global warming projections of the last 25 years, and decided that the weather today would justify a water-based event. Hence, at great cost (personal, I hasten to add) he hired a load of punts, and encouraged us all to join in a chorus of "Jolly Boating Weather".

Well, the only members of the Community thay appreciated hopping around on freezing-cold punts on a frozen Duck Pond, in a light shawl of freezing fog" were ourr enclosed order of penguins, "The Little Sisters of the Holy Herring". Several of the human Beaker People ended up with borderline hypothermia.

I have explained to Burton Dasset the concepts of "scepticism", "sense" and "margin of error". But I think he's written too many computer programs in his life for any of these ideas to make any difference.

You are what you eat....

Which is probably why I'm a little hoarse this morning.

It's an interesting news story, that people eating some burgers have unwittingly been eating horses. Not least for the "urgh, I've been eating horse" reaction.

The French are renowned for eating horse, with few ill effects other than having permanent sneers and an interest in philosophy. There's nothing wrong with eating horse qua horse.

No, the problem is with traceability. If horse is getting into burgers without anyone knowing anything about it, then what else is? it's a bit like worrying that you swear a bit when you're bitching about your mates behind their backs. You can test for the DNA of a horse or a pig easy enough, but I suspect identifying the DNA of an old animal, or a sick one, is a different matter entirely.

We know what'll happen next, of course. Tesco will trace back down the supply chain, find the problem, stop it happening again. But the complexity of modern life is such that, in twelve months' time, there'll be another, completely unrelated, scare. People will ask why lessons weren't learnt, and the answer will probably be that nobody could imagine whatever happens next time, happening. A bit like, with current processes, nobody could imagine horses ending up in beefburgers.

It's a symptom of millions of human beings, with trillions of individual daily interaction, all getting on with things in an imperfect world. The cults of the Manager, and of Government, tell us that all things can be managed so that nothing goes wrong, if only the right places. In fact the world is complex, unpredictable, and prone to human fallibility. The best we can ever do - and it's worth doing - is try to limit the damage. In my case that means randomly checking the meals that Bernie serves us, for badger and/or fox DNA. Something like horse would be a refreshing change.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Yesterday's News

Surely the example of the 650-year-old New College, Oxford should have been the warning? Sticking "new" on anything is a guarantee of anomaly.

I thought this today as I reflected that the original "New English Bible" was a hostage to fortune. In 500 years' time, remaining copies will still be so-called, even though they won't be. "Hymns for Today's Church" is now "Hymns for the 1980s Church". The original C of E "Hymns Ancient and Modern" should now be renamed "Hymns Ancient and Old".

The "Revised Standard Version" was quite well-named - being a revision of the Standard Version. But when they revised that, did they go with it, calling it the "Re-revised Standard Version? No, they didn't. And now the "New Revised Standard Version" stands, as our language changes and research continues, to become the "Slightly Archaic Revised Standard Version".

And don't even get me started on "Today's NIV", or "Good News for 1970's Modern People".

We seem unable to realise that we are just at one point on the time continuum. It is special, because it is "Now". But in years to come, "Now" will just be another point in the ever-circling years. "New" is always relative, and treating it like it is absolute is a mistake. Blimey, even "Shine, Jesus, Shine" was new and exciting once.

Now I've noticed how, if you want to get a lot of Web traffic, it's important that you randomly attack some minority group. So this morning I would like to have a go at the Catholic Apostolic Church, or "Irvingites". As I recall the story, when the Catholic Apostolic Church set themselves up, they appointed some to be Priests, some to be Bishops, some to be Angels - and then they decided they wouldn't need to appoint any more Angels (the people who could ordain other ministers), as the End was coming. The Irvingites are no longer invited to Churches Together meetings, as they have all died out.

They confused the specialness of "Now" with it having infinite significance, didn't they? All Adventist groups do - all Doomsday cults, all who think that "Now" is so special, because we live here, that everything of significance must happen now. Our now-things become "New" things because who's gonna think about the New things to come next? What could New Labour brand itself, once it was as old and shabby as the old model? The Seekers became the New Seekers. And somewhere out in a Butlins or at the end of the pier in some British seaside resort, they're probably still going. Unless, as sometimes happens with old acts, they've had a bit of a schism and the "New New Seekers" are playing one venue while the "Original New Seekers" play another one.

Ah me, the world turns and all things are new - and then they're not.  The shiny snow of yesterday becomes the frozen death-trap of this morning - and the mucky slush of tomorrow. "Carpe Diem",  say I. Enjoy the new - enjoy the now - but know that tomorrow it will be old.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Into each life a little snow must fall

And so we can celebrate - just about - the first Snow Ceremony of the year.

For the Beaker People, snow is like life. The promise of new snow is exciting. We peek out in the dawn light, anxious to know whether it is a deep carpet or just a dusting.

We rush out, child-like in our joy, to dance in the new-found beauty of the suddenly-discovered, mysteriously-changed landscape.

But our hands freeze as the ice melts through our inadequate gloves. The Ford Focus of our hopes sklds on its way to the Tesco of Destiny, as it loses purchase on the frozen drive of despair.

And then the pure,white, pure-white snow turns to mush and slush, fit only for adding tooth-rotting syrup and selling to children as a novely drink. The magic is gone, as white, crisp snow turns to brown, wet gunge. Our hopes are at an end.

"Oh who can save us from th'inevitable Thaw of Life?" we ask ourselves.

But perhaps we are looking too far ahead. Gather ye snowballs while ye may, should be our motto. Seize the Day! Let joy be unconfined and snowpeople spring up all over the Beaker lawns! Snatch at the magic, for the Thaw cometh.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Common People Like Us

It's always such a problem for the Beaker People - or those of us who try to lead the worship - this time after Solstice and Christmas. Everybody's all partied out, it's still three weeks to Imbolc, and it's still dark in the afternoon.



I gather that those who keep to the mainstream lectionaries are celebrating the Baptism of Christ this Sunday. Which we tend not to observe. It's too hard for us. The Beaker Folk don't do theology that raw.

Because I've tried in the past. After all, a baptism involves water, which can be poured out of beakers. And so the baptism ceremony per se  is very much in our sweet-spot. Although I've had to put my foot down with those people who asked if they could be baptised every week, because they enjoyed it so much the first time.

We find that whenever we focus on the specific things Jesus did or said, rather than just telling ourselves how lovely he was, we get these kinds of problems. He isn't always as straightforward a God's Son as we want. He's often kind of spiky - being rude to people; getting angry; going off and getting killed. And then you get this whole baptism of Jesus business, and it just doesn't work for Beaker Folk.

For starters, not one of the Gospels-writers tells us what Jesus was wearing. I mean, you'd think that for your baptism you'd want to make sure you've got some nice clothes - maybe a decently modest white gown, with lead sewn into the hems to keep it down. But then the he's being baptised in a river, so the danger of getting a muddy best gown has got to be there.

And again, we're given no details of any pre-baptism testimony. I mean, normally we'll get ten minutes of how the candidate was sunk in sin / lost without hope / without any knowledge of God / on a slippery slope / a Tory MP, and then they saw the light / found Jesus / their chains fell off, their hearts were free, as the sage wrote. But presumably Jesus couldn't say how far he'd fallen (he hadn't); couldn't go into the exciting details of his obscure non-existent drug habit, couldn't say how he'd rebelled in his teenage years. So his words before the event appear to have been restricted to telling John to get on with it, when the Baptist very reasonably asked him whether this all should be the other way round.

And so we're left wondering why he did it. Was baptised, that is.

Baptism is, among other things, a symbol of washing, and one of death and resurrection. We plunge down into the depths of the water dead and dirty, and then rise again to light and life, and we're clean. Jesus didn't need to be made "clean", but he chose to go through this symbol of washing. He didn't need to die to sin - but he was going to die because of sin. So he went through with this enactment of death - in the same way that three short years later, he refused to call a legion of angels to avoid his very-real death.

It's a solidarity thing, innit?  He didn't need to go through this, because he didn't need forgiveness. But he's standing alongside. He's sharing the experience. He's showing he's one of us - not like some publicity-seeking politician, living on a fiver a day for a fortnight, but like the saint who gives up a middle-class home and an easy life to live alongside the people on the streets. As St Jarvis put it about his rich girlfriend, if you want to live like the Common People then you've got to:
"Rent a flat above a shop, cut your hair and get a job.
Smoke some fags and play some pool, pretend you never went to school.
But still you'll never get it right, cos when you're laid in bed at night,
watching roaches climb the wall, if you call your Dad he could stop it all."
The Baptism is Jesus saying that he won't call his Dad and ask him to stop it all. He's gonna receive the Spirit, get on with his job, face the demons in the desert, pick up his yoke, and turn his face to Jerusalem. He's gonna sing along with the Common People - all the way to the end.

Of course, I couldn't explain all that lot to the average (and they're very average, let me tell you) Beaker Person. So we sang "If I were a butterfly", and moulded papier-mâché into the shapes of our spiritual states. A lot easier to understand.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Sinners of Sodom

Here at the Beaker Folk, we tend not to think too much about serious moral issues if we can help it.

I mean, obviously I give my fortnightly talk on the love of money being a root of all kinds of evil. But we prefer to stick to the fluffy-bunny kind of general well-meaning vagueness rather than real, specific, life-changing moral thinking. I say it's because we like people to make their minds up, but it's really because we have no real desire to make them better people. After all, if the Beaker people start having moral compasses, we're never gonna have a quiet moment.

But I was brought up short by the suggestion from somebody today that the sin of Sodom was homosexuality.

See, let's have a look at the passage in Gen 9:


"The two angels entered Sodom at sunset while Lot was sitting in the gate area of the city. When Lot saw them, he got up, greeted them, bowed low with his face to the ground and said, “Look, my lords! Please come inside your servant’s house, wash your feet, and spend the night. Then you can get up early and be on your way.” But they responded, “No, we would rather spend the night in the town square.” But Lot kept urging them strongly, so they turned aside and entered his house. He prepared a festival and baked unleavened flat bread for them, and they ate. Before they could lie down, all the men of Sodom and its outskirts, both young and old, surrounded the house. They called out to Lot and asked, “Where are the men who came to visit you tonight? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!” Lot went outside to them, shut the door behind him, and said, “I urge you, my brothers, don’t do such a wicked thing. Look here, I have two daughters who are virgins. Let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them whatever you wish, only don’t do anything to these men, because they’re here under my protection.” But they replied, “Get out of the way! This man came here as a foreigner, and now he’s acting like a judge! So we’re going to deal more harshly with you than with them.” Then they pushed hard against the man (that is, against Lot), intending to break down the door. But the angels inside reached out, dragged Lot back into the house with them, shut the door,  and blinded the men who were at the entrance of the house, from the least important to the greatest, so they were unable to find the doorway."


Thing is, it strikes me that, even if the Bible were generally opposed to homosexuality - and it doesn't seem that interested, compared to its views on real sins, like greed - and even if you personally think homosexuality is sinful, this passage isn't actually about anything of the kind. The people wanting to rape the angels wouldn't have related to Dorothy, listened to Abba or developed an urge to grow impressive moustaches. They wanted to rape the foreigners as an act of power, oppression - keeping the strangers in their place. The story of the destruction of Sodom has got nothing to do with God wanting to teach gay people a lesson. It's about God hating oppression, loathing the unjust power that the strong have over the weak.

Now you may think God's gone a bit over the top here, wiping out several towns as a demonstration of his anger. But my personal suspicion is that maybe God was a bit of a big-hammer man in the Old Testament. His aim's improved, since he tried things out on a human scale himself. These days he'd prefer a surgical strike that merely took out the odd suburb.

Or am I confusing God with America here?

Friday, 11 January 2013

The Inexhaustible Brightness of Being

After this morning's Being Very Nice, this afternoon's Bright Hour got very much into its stride.

Mabel Whimsey's Crochet Corner filled the first twenty minutes. It's hard to know what to say, really. I mean, crochet is a traditional craft, and therefore a Good Thing under the meaning of the Act. But there's no getting away from it - 120 slides of old tea- and egg-cosies take some viewing. And Mabel's script could do with some tweaking. There is, after all, only so many times you can make the joke about the egg being "nice and cosy in there".

And then we moved onto Gladys's World of Crumpets. And again there were good and bad points. If she'd actually brought some in and toasted them, this could have been a great session. But no. A slide show.
Of course, in the glory days of Methodism this would have been a "Ladies' Bright Hour." But we've changed this on the grounds of inclusivity, sexist terminology, inaccurate demographics (most of the "ladies" were not members of the aristocracy at all) and - most of all - people's inability to put the apostrophe in the right place on the notice sheet.

The down side of opening the Bright Hour up is that men can now attend, and even do presentations - naturally I don't allow them to teach or preach, because of the innate disconnect between their emotional intelligence (I use the word loosely) and what they say.

And so we got Burton Dasset's Cornucopia of Railway Tickets. I'll say this for Burton, he's given us all a great grasp of the length of eternity this afternoon. But there was a lovely moment at the end when he dropped the entire box of tickets. It's gonna take him ages to get them back into alphabetical order.

Being Very Friendly Day

Could all Beaker People note that today is Being Very Friendly Day. This is when, to lighten up the Friday in the first full week after Christmas, when it's still dark and we're all a bit down, we make sure we're nice to everyone we meet during the hours of daylight.

I think I may lock myself in my study and come out at dusk, frankly.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Liturgy for the Birthday of the London Underground

Archdruid: Move well down inside the Moot House, please. Stand clear of the doors.

The Moot House Doors Close

Marston Moreraine: Ow! You trapped me in the doors!

Archdruid: Well, it's not really a tube train, is it? It's a Moot House.

Burton Dasset: Actually, if we're celebrating the birthday of the Metropolitan Line, which technically we are, it's not a tube at all. The Met was constructed on the cut-and-cover principle....

Archdruid: MIND THE GAP!

Burton: Which gap?

Archdruid: The one between everybody else's reality and yours.

Hymn: Going Underground

Archdruid: Actually, that's not about the Tube at all, is it?

A Prayer for Tube Commuters

Teach us, O Lord, so to number our stations,
So that we may not wake up in Barking or Amersham.
Forgive us the elbows that we shove into other people's ribs
As we fail to forgive those who shove their elbows in ours.
Keep us from showing any facial expression
Protect us in the morning with the Metro
And in the evening with the Standard
And deliver us from amateurs who want to strike up a conversation.
Preserve us from those who want to stand rather too close when they don't need to
And remember those so short that they always end up with their noses in someone's armpit.
Guard our goings in and our goings out
That we may not be crow-barred into carriages like the Black Hole of Calcutta
Nor be shot out onto the platform at Kings Cross like corks.
For thine is the Kenton,
Tower Gateway and the Archway
Forever and ever.
Amen.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Religious and Definitely Not Spiritual

Just a few days after my remarks on "Religious but not spiritual", Chris Kidd draws our attention to the "UK's first atheist church". To which a local Catholic priest responds, "“How can you be an atheist and worship in a church? Surely it’s a contradiction of terms."

Well, I dunno. In the first place, some nonconformist ministers seem to have done that years ago. In the second, some religions such as Unitarianism are very welcoming of atheists. (In practice, any believing church ought to be, of course, as well). They're also happy to have non-believing ministers, I believe (which the C of E, for example, is at least nominally against).

And let's list the things that are good, that a non-religious church brings:
1. Community
2. Ritual
3. A rhythm to life
4. Space to think
5. Ability to consider meaning
6. Time to draw breath
7. A time to get in touch with spiritual things

Yeah, go with it, I say. It might degenerate to number 7, but worth the risk, surely?

Modern Worship Olympics - Final Results

Guitar Virtuosity
1 - Randolf (5 chords)
2 - Morgwyn (4 chords)
=3 - Every other member of the music group (3 chords)

Complementarian Pancake Race
1 - Drayton Parslow (Marjorie ran it in 2 min 22)
2 - Young Keith (Charlii ran it in 2 min 46)
3 - Buckhorn Weston (Edith ran it in 3 min 21)
Disqualified: Hnaef (Daphne made him "cook your own bloody pancake")

Hazelnut Archery
1 - Eileen (20 direct hits on Mother Julian's nose)
2 - Geardwulf (14 hits)
3 - Bhodrum (8 hits)
DNF - Burton (got hazelnut stuck in nostril)

100m with your hands raised and your eyes closed
1 - Chelsii (29s)
2 - Kerri (59s)
3 - Arbuthnot (2hr 22min)
DNF - Burton (fell into the baptistry)

Remembering the 2nd Verse of "Shine Jesus Shine" 
1 - Morgwn ("Consume")
2 - Jargo ("radiance")\
3 - Marston ("Lord")


3 Minute Hug-of-peace
1 - Young Keith (47 hugs)
2 - Kylie (44 hugs)
3 - Kayleigh (35 hugs)
DNF - Eileen (refused to get involved)
Disqualified - Burton (tongues)


Liturgical Dance
1 - Charlii (7.9)
2 - Stacey (6.4)
3 - Jazminn (6.1)
DNF - Burton (Sprained Ankle)

Playing the Tambourine
1 - Hnaef (244 bpm)
2 - Young Keith (221 bpm)
3 - Charlii (209 bpm)
DNF - Burton Dasset (sprained membrane)

Saying "We just want..." in an act of non-liturgical worship
1 - Wayne (345 times)
2 - Dwayne (245 times)
3 - Geraint (226 times)

Escaping from the Privet Labyrinth
1 - Charlii (2 min 22.4s)
2 - Eloize (2 min 28.9s)
3 - Gawain (2 min 44.1s)
Disqualified: Eileen (use of a petrol-powered hedge-cutter)

Cairn-building
1 - Charlii (378 stones)
2 - Hnaef (226 stones)
3 - Young Keith (189 stones)
Disqualified: Burton Dasset (caused avalanche)

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Nothing New Under the Sun

The glories of "crowdsourcing", whereby the power of the Twitter hive-mind are well-known. It's a good thing. You can chuck an idea "out there", people come back with their individual sparks of brilliance or otherwise, and some will be good.

But there's a down-side to that power. I was talking with Burton Dasset the other day. Well, I say "talking  with". Burton was regaling me with a whole load of unnecessary information about the beer-making process, under the impression that this was what human beings call "communication". But he said one thing that was interesting.

Did you know that a traditional method of clearing the yeast and muck out of beer in the brewing process is to use the swim bladder of a sturgeon, chopped up and dissolved in acid? All of Burton's friends - if I can stretch the meaning of the word "friends" to that degree - will have shouted "yes, we did". Further, they will have added to themselves the extraneous and unnecessary information that it is called "isinglass".

Well, of course, Burton's comment interested me strangely. For I had the makings of a "Quick Middle-Earth Brewing Joke." To wit, "How do hobbits clear their beer? - Isengard finings." I rushed to the Blogmobile to get my wit and wisdom out to the masses.

But I've been fooled like this before. So before I shared my inspiration with the world, I googled "Isengard finings". And what did I find? I found this on Twitter:


Well, I mean - what?

So I suspect the truth is that there is nothing new under the sun. Any new idea we've had, somebody has had it already. The Internet has won, and all human creativity has already been indexed. Even all the Googlewhacks have ceased to be Googlewhacks, as the moment you put one out in the open it gets indexed and ceases to be one.

As the man said, of the making of blogs there is no end. But those blogs will recycle themselves endlessly. In the past there would be no thought, no emotion, no experience that someone else had not already had. Today, not only have they shared those experiences - they've blogged or tweeted them, or Pinterested them. Our race is over. There is nothing more to say.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Meeting Our Waterloo

Still trying to sort out the mess from yesterday evening's guest preacher.

What is it with visitors? I guess it must be something to do with the lack of accountability, and being able to create your own persona free from people who actually know what you're like. Starting with "My name's Mrs Archibald, but you can call me Juli" had a certain direct familiarity about it which startled some people. Startled me even more, since his name's Arnold Grainne.

Then this thing about getting people to turn round to talk to the ones next to them - why do people ever do that? He told us all to discuss the worst thing that had happened last week, and the best. We all agreed the worst thing was being made to talk to the people next to us, and the best was that he would go away shortly.

And then the sermon itself - a discourse on "The Christian Pilgrimage", illustrated through the medium of Abba. Now, quoting the works of the Swedish Supertroupers would have been one thing. Maybe playing snatches of their songs would have been OK. But singing them, backed by a karaoke machine? However I do now know that the Lord asks us to "Take a chance on me"; that it's damaging to my soul to long for "Money, Money, Money"; that those that put their hope in the Lord will fly, fly, like a bird in the sky - like an Eagle; that sanctification is "the Name of the Game"; that we put our hope on our "Super Trouper", as we're glad to hear he's coming - we suddenly feel all right.

He told us that there was a simple three-step path to salvation. Your first step is "I have a dream"; then you realise your fallen-ness and send out an SOS; and then you end up looking into Angel Eyes.

And then he closed the sermon with a series of indoor fireworks, let off from the back of the bull he was riding in circles round the Moot House, while the string quartet he'd brought played "Thank you for the music" and cages of doves, peacocks and - inexplicably - chinchillas were released. At least I could understand why his expenses were so high.

Arnold/Juli tells me that he's only ever written one sermon, which he takes from guest spot to guest spot. Originally it was just a simple homily on "resisting temptation", but he thought it was a little dull and he's been "adding improvements" ever since. On the bright side, we've heard it now. So at least that's it.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Dealing with Off-Beat People

Nice to have that outbreak of clapping-along during a couple of songs this morning. I mean, obviously it's not what you normally expect during the "Sanctus" from Berlioz's Requiem, but whatever.

However it has shown up that not all people are alike. I would say that most people clapped - correctly, as God intended - on the first and third beats of the bar. But some others - a very small minority, but very evident - were clapping on the second and fourth beats of the bar.

What to do about this? Obviously people who clap on the off-beats are God's people as well, but they are clearly different. The people who clap on the on-beats are complaining that the people who clap on the off-beats are putting them off.

Obviously we can't tell people who clap on the off-beat not to come to our Occasions. But equally clearly we can't have them confusing everyone else. I can only see one resolution. We're going to have to ask them not to clap.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

A Long Way Home

When you think of a pilgrimage, you only ever think about where you're going, and the journey there. Nobody every thinks about the journey back. The pilgrims at the Tabarb were on their way to Canterbury when they met up. Frodo took two and a half books to get to Mordor, and about five pages to get back again. The Magi saw a star - followed it - detoured to Jerusalem - found their way to Bethlehem - bowed down and worshipped - and then "having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road."

Half a sentence to cover the journey home. It would be no less distance, going back. No less arduous - a little lighter on their animals, I suppose, what with the treasure chests having been depleted - money for their food and lodgings, gold for the baby. Incense doesn't weigh too much, of course. But, ahead of them, no star.

And how would they feel on the long way home? Confused, perhaps - they've seen a child in a scruffy house with his parents, not a king in a palace surrounded by flunkies. Enlightened, maybe - they've seen God on Earth, God-with-us - a living demonstration of the Creator's love for his world.  Or else empty; deflated. The magic has gone. The moment has passed. They've glimpsed the face of - well, of what exactly? They've left their gifts and they're going back to live out their lives far away.

We'll never know this side of glory, but the point of a pilgrimage is to come home changed. Let's hope - for they made great sacrifices - it was for the better.

Grander Designs

(Tall man from Dunstable is driving a Range-Rover down a starry lane, talking to a camera and apparently oblivious to the road)

KMc: Imagine a building project so vast that it involved the creation of the entire universe. And yet somebody believed that they could do it - bring it in on budget - and, even more unlikely, do the whole build in 6 days. Well, today I'm going back to see how it's all got on since the project finished.

Tall man and Divine Being gaze out over the majesty of the whole universe, through the self-cleaning, automatically-opening windows of heaven.

KMc: Nice to see you! And you're not looking a day older!

DB: Well, I've rested since we finished the project, of course.

KMc: So, this is all a lot better than when you started?

DB: Oh yes. It was chaos. The first major job after getting the lighting sorted was putting in the firmament between the heavens and the earth, of course. And once that had happened we could really start to see the wonders of the place.

KMc: Well, it's certainly a creative use of Space!

DB: Thank you. Obviously, I always planned to live up here, and pop down now and then to see them, but it never really worked out.

KMc: So the children all live down there, and you're living up in the loft conversion? Aren't you a bit worried they're going to make a mess of the place?

DB: Oh they do. All the time. In some respects that's why I stay up here, out of the way. But my Son did take a fairly extended stay down there, a while back - to see if he could show them how to get their act together.

KMc: So how did he get on?

DB: Well, let's put it this way. He came back pretty quickly. Some people said they'd do what he wanted, try to tidy things up - but even they just seem to sit around talking about sex, and there's all this poverty and injustice just laying around everywhere... Most of them don't even appreciate that it's me keeps the whole thing going.

KMc: So you're just going to hang on up here forever, then? Maybe just call round and complain if they leave old sofas and rubbish lying around in Space?

DB: Well, let's say we're very much keeping an eye on things. I've still got my Representative on the ground.

KMc: And any more Grander Designs in the pipeline?

DB: Oh yes. That's the great thing about being your own Property Committee. I can't tell you when it's going to happen - it would spoil the surprise. But when they least expect it - I'm going to take Heaven and Earth, give them a thorough renovation - and then I'm going to knock them through into one.

Friday, 4 January 2013

A Barrier to Logic

I must be missing something in this report on the engineer who wants a new and improved Thames Barrier.

Engineers are, of course, intelligent and yet fundamentally simple folk. They see a situation in quite a binary manner. There could be a flood, therefore there should be a better barrier, is Dr Bloore's attitude. Normally I'd write that off as one of those charming One-or-Zero attitudes from an engineer, and ignore him.

But it's the report from the Environment Agency that worried me:

"It also said major changes including a new barrier were unlikely until 2070 as a one-in-1,000-year flood would not occur until then."
Or is it just me?

There are 53 years until 2070. That's not 1,000 years. But that's not how one-in-1,000 works. That says to me that, ignoring back-loading of risks due to global warming (and they seem to be ignoring that anyway) there's a slightly more than 5% risk of a one-in-1000 year flood. Or to put it another way - if the value of damage to London of a one-in-1000 year flood is 20 times more than the cost of an improved barrier, then we ought to get on with the barrier.

I reckon we need a bigger barrier.

Religious but not Spiritual

Dearest God-lovers, as others have endeavoured to comment on this subject, then why shouldn't I?
The proposition is that people who claim to be "spiritual but not religious" enjoy worse mental health than those who claim to be religious. Causality is a hard thing to prove - did the Invoices Shed go alight just before the audit because somebody applied a match, or did somebody apply a match because the shed was full of invoices? So I shall ignore unscientific ponderings as to causality (although someone with more time should definitely get a grant) and explain my take on the matter.

Here at the Beaker Folk, we are very keen to embrace people who claim to be "spiritual but not religious". I find they tend to have very high discretionary spending levels, on things like self-help books, rosaries, tea lights and aromatherapy oils. Importantly, they aren't often involved in regular standing-orders to religious organisations - which can be so tedious to transfer across - especially without asking them.

So when they say they're spiritual but not religious (or SBNR) we nod wisely, and say we understand. Then we tell them that Pouring out of Beakers is at 7am or sunrise - whichever is later. That Filling Up of Beakers is at 7pm or sunset - whichever is later. That they need to be up for Full Moons, New Moons, Equinoxes, Solstices, Eclipses, Cross-quarter Days, Saints' Days, Diwali, Celebrities' Birthdays and whatever other festivals seem attractive. Then we give them a Standing Order and Gift Aid pack.

And because all those rituals are hedged around with pseudo-spiritual words and numinous terminology, what they totally fail to notice is that the Beaker Folk are - deep down - Religious but not Spiritual (RBNS). The thing is, I know some people say it's not the rules 'n' ritual, it's the spiritual attitude that counts - but that's like arguing you don't believe in keeping the Law, but you do have good intentions. Which was a line of argument that totally failed for Young Keith when he fought that speeding fine.

But the ritual and religion has an interesting effect. After a month or so of attending Pouring out of Beakers, people realise they are actually capable of getting up in the morning. They are more regular, more awake for the rest of the day, more reliable. I find that this brings with it the benefit that over time the Standing Orders get better.

Of course, we wouldn't like to come down all heavy and modernist. If people want to go mooching around believing that the stars are God's Daisy Chain, they can do that in their spare time. That's fine by me. And we let them know when their spare time is, so they never miss it. We recommend that they write in their "precious times" in their "Spiritual diaries" (aka "diaries") so they make sure they get them every day. That's what being RBNS is all about. Getting your free-form, free-roaming  spiritual nature under control.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

A Few Reasonable Demands

I note that the Argentine president has asked if we can give the Falkland Islands "back". An interesting concept, as the UK were governing the Falklands before the actual country of Argentina existed.

Now some might see this as a piece of opportunism. And I say, thanks for the idea. Because, the Beaker People descending from the ancient pre-Christian people of these islands, I am hereby putting in my demand to have the following ancient religious locations, which were formerly Beaker, returned to us:

The Rollright Stones
Stonehenge
Glastonbury (city and Tor. You can keep the Abbey - the maintenance bill must be awful)
Buckfast Abbey (the wine can pay for the maintenance)
Primrose Hill
Old Trafford (we'll knock it down and sell it off for chi-chi housing developments)
Arbor Low
Dunstable Priory Church
Soho Square

It sounds a lot, I know. But they are ours. And we'll negotiate if we have to.


Reconciling Creation and Evolution

And so the Little Pebbles are into the second day of Hilary Term this morning.

We are very keen that the Little Pebbles learn to think for themselves. And that is why yesterday, as they were still hyper from coloured sweets and marzipan, we kicked the term off with the annual "Reconcilathon" for the older Pebbles.

Put simply, we read out the first few chapters of Genesis, then we explained the Theory of Evolution. Then we told them they're both true, and asked them to explain how.

Some of the explanations are probably worth listing out:

"Adam killed all the dinosaurs because he was angry because he kept treading in the droppings."

"Are all the extict animals God's mistakes?"

"How come, if the unicorns all died in the Flood, they're in the book of Job?" (This from a child whose parents used to attend the Bogwulf Funambulist Baptists, and still cling to the KJV.)

"I reckon the Flood isn't one story. It happened lots of times. Only my Auntie was flooded out, and she lives in Northampton."

"Eve and Adam eating the apple were being selfish. Just like it says in Evolution. Maybe Adam and Eve should have been called Selfish Gene and Selfish Jean?"

"So if Evolution is true, how come we've still got One Direction?"

"If it's Survival of the Fittest, why does the Government try to stop obesity? Surely they're fighting against nature."

"So what are wasps for?"

"How come humans and animals are made in a different order in Genesis 1 and 2?"

"These are three or more different ways of explaining the state of things. Why do I need to reconcile them?"

This last one shows dangerous signs of independent thinking. She'll go far. I think we may have identifed the next Archdruid.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Consider the Heavens

Get outside now. (If you're reading this in July 2014, don't bother). If the sky is clear, and you're in the Northern hemisphere, round about the Greenwich meridian - look south. Sirius, Orion's belt, Jupiter, Aldebaran and the Pleiades are all - very roughly - in a line. It's gorgeous. Go look. Nuff said.

Resolution Desolation

So I've blown three of my blogging resolutions already this year. Especially the one about Feedjit. With the use of the new data projector I bought Young Keith for Christmas, we were able to screen a real-time feed of traffic to the site onto a cloud last night. It's a bit shiny and blue up there now, so we've redirected it onto the outside of the Moot House, and I now know if I have blog visitors at any moment of the day when I've got line of sight.

Now all we've got to do is switch sound on and plug it back into the Moot House PA system, so I can be aware of new traffic wherever I am. We tried it earlier, but we realised we need to re-do it with some kind of over-ride. Everybody at Pouring-out of Beakers went four feet up in the air when we had a visitor from Sutton Coldfield. Which, to be fair, is what happens in real-life as well. But the short-term hearing loss was no fun for anyone.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Every Christmas Eve, I start re-reading Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree. And every new year, in the first week or so, I finish it.

Hardy's more intelligent country-folk are endued with what sometimes seems like near-miraculous powers. The Yeobrights in Under the Greenwood Tree are able to find their way across the heath, in total darkness, able to tell where the path is simply by the feel of the ground under their feet - even with their shoes on. And this is not an asphalted or paved path, do not forget - merely a rabbit-path, or one occasionally traversed by walkers.

In the first page of Under the Greenwood Tree, we are presented with something equally super-human. I quote Tommy H himself:

"To dwellers in a wood almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature.  At the passing of the breeze the fir-trees sob and moan no less distinctly than they rock; the holly whistles as it battles with itself; the ash hisses amid its quiverings; the beech rustles while its flat boughs rise and fall.  And winter, which modifies the note of such trees as shed their leaves, does not destroy its individuality. 
On a cold and starry Christmas-eve within living memory a man was passing up a lane towards Mellstock Cross in the darkness of a plantation that whispered thus distinctively to his intelligence."

So the folk of Mellstock can tell what type of tree it is, by the sound it makes as the wind passes through it. To one of those dandified pen-and-ink-bottle London types who read Hardy's work, it probably sounded totally plausible that these peasants, suckled at Mother Nature's bosom, and rising each day with the lark and the daffodowndilly, were able to know trees by the noise they made.

But I wonder. Young Keith was born and raised in Husborne Crawley. Yet it doesn't seem to have made the slightest difference, judging by the way he walked straight into the brook last night on the way back from the White Horse.

But if Tommy H were with us today, what activities would he describe in such a way?

"So accustomed to the keyboard on a netbook was she that she could, in the dark and by the light only of a few copies of The God Delusion flickering on the fire, touch-type her blog at 50 words per minute."

"He was long familiar with the sounds of each motor car that passed within the walls of the garage. So that, without even lifting his eyes from Page 3 of the Sun, he could recognise which make, and which model, was the car that pulled up outside. And even, from those little irregularities in cars that he had previously serviced, he could tell the registration number."

"To those less familiar with clerical wear - a Methodist, or maybe a Congregationalist - such nuances would have gone unnoticed. But so attuned was he to the changing of the liturgical seasons, the subtleties of incense use and additional candles, that he could tell the red from the purple chasuble in the darkness of the vestry, with no artificial lighting, by the gradients in their smell."

"He could break an entire corporate accounting system into its 3rd Normal Form Entity Relationship Diagram, simply by looking at a couple of journal entries and passing his hand over a report of the previous week's idoc failures."

"So perfectly tuned was he to the finesses of the religious Social Media milieu that he could detect several forms of 3rd Century heresy simply by the "beep" noise Tweetdeck made when the tweet appeared."

"After 15 years working on the checkout, she no longer needed to look at the products - knowing from the bar code exactly what the price was, and what the customer was buying. Sometimes a new product would come along her conveyor belt. Holding the product up to the light, to see those 13 digits better, she would nod and quietly say, "I'll remember 'ee, next time.""