Monday, 30 November 2015

Struck down by the Power of Rod

I am a firm believer in the power of the Spirit. Indeed I remember an occasion many years ago when a friend at a prayer meeting in an Anglican church was so smitten by the awesome presence that he lay down on a table tomb for two hours in a divine trance. We had to use him as a coffee table.

But sometimes the Spirit's not willing. And human flesh is weak. All that pushing people over or laying hands on so hard they keel over doesn't work when you have the body of a woman and only the heart and narcissistic tendencies of a man.

We did experiment with getting toddlers to crawl behond people and crouch behind their knees. Thus it was just a quick shove in the chest to deliver a satisfactory spiritual experience. But then I discovered the Little Pebbles had developed a whole new religion on the basis that pushing people over gets you to heaven, so we had to knock that on the head. Caused carnage in Dunstable Quadrant one Saturday, they did.

And so in a feat of combined spirituality and engineering, we cannibalised an old lane "bumper" from a ten-pin bowling alley. Connected it up via a relay to the mixing console, and sunk it into the floor around the Worship Focus in the Moot House.

Now at the touch of a button the rod flips up and we can give six or seven people a simultaneous "unexpectedly slain" experience. Looks very impressive when they all go down together.

This afternoon I managed to catch the plumber with it when  he came in to make some mibor changes to the baptistry. That's the third tradesman we've converted this month.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Congregation at Trumpton Church

Pew, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb

Averting One's Eyes from the Naked Bishop

I have had it brought to my attention that the Church of England has appointed a Naked Bishop. I have posted the link as it was supplied to me by Young Keith, the son of the soi-disant Archdruid Eileen. I have not followed the link as there is a severe danger, as it seems to me, of a picture of the Naked Bishop being shown on the computer screen. Since I have eschewed modern technology, and am still using a PC running Windows 3.3 to access the Internet, you might argue that the resolution would not be such as to have a degrading effect on a respected and mature Independent Baptist minister. But I should not take the chance. After all, were I to catch a glimpse of a Naked Bishop I would have to destroy the browser history on my Netscape Navigator.

Young Keith is no stranger to encouraging nudity, I should point out. Every winter, he convinces a group of the Beaker Folk's deluded pilgrims that dancing naked on Aspley Heath is a key part of the Beaker religion. Every year his uncle, the police officer, has the job of rounding them up, threatening them with criminal charges, and then releasing them on the grounds that it "will not stand up in court." This makes Young Keith laugh, although I do not understand why. He is maybe nervous about discussing such matters. Understandable. I do not feel comfortable, myself.

Keith tells me that the Daily Mail quotes Rev George Curry, as saying that nakedness is to be kept within man and wife except for medical emergencies. I would however disagree with this  esteemed churchman. For why single out emergencies? Either nakedness is required in a medical situation or it is not. The only situation I can imagine where full-scale nakedness might be involved in a medical emergency - and not a medical non-emergency - is one where man and wife were involved in the first instance. I will say no more. Though I may go for a brisk walk.

I need hardly remind my readers that naked bishops, like any other kind of naked person, are an offence unto to the Lord. For was David's naked dancing not accounted naughty unto the Lord? At any rate, his wife was offended by his nudely cavorting, and if his behaviour was such that the Little Woman considered it wrong, then we can assume it was at the very least not edifying. For does not the Book of Proverbs not teach us that women, albeit kept under strict regulation as to their spheres of influence, can have judgement and discernment?

I should stress that, even between man and wife, since Eden nakedness should have been strictly on a limited basis. For Adam and Eve were alone in the Garden - and yet they were already ashamed of their nakedness. So in order not to be an offence unto my eyes, Marjory has ensured that I have not seen her naked since we were married. Indeed, my concern regarding the Lord's loathing of the naked form is such that I ensure I wear a bathing costume in the bath, lest even the Divine Eye  should look upon my form and be displeased.

In short, the appointment of a Naked Bishop - and a woman at that - is just the kind of liberal, godless, pagan action I would expect from the Church of England. I am told that the Daily Mail is not specific on the circumstances under which we would expect this Naked Bishop to be naked. Which I infer to mean that she will be naked on a fairly regular basis. I suppose she will keep the rules of the Church of England with respect to liturgical wear, however. It would be entirely in keeping with the Anglican Church's mixture of heathenism and Popery for her to be fully dressed in Papistical finery for liturgical activity, and naked for weekday events.

As I say, I am not surprised. The rot started when the Puritans were excluded. Naked Bishops are just the latest inch down the Slippery Slope. Oh Cranmer, you would weep.

Lots of Little Apocalypses

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  (Luke 21)
The Book of Revelation. Much beloved of mystics, losers, dreamers, people who can't cope with the modern world and want it all to end. And I'm quite fond of it too. Isaac Newton was a big an of predicting apocalypses. He spent more time trying to work out when the End would come than doing Physics, I think it's fair to say he wasted his time. I wish he'd done more Physics. Maybe if he'd read that bit where Jesus says nobody knows the day, he wouldn't have spent all that time on it. Anyway, old Isaac reckons the world will end in 2060. Which, with current pension conditions, will be just about when I retire.

And as the evil beggars of ISIL killed a Norwegian and a Chinese hostage - as if to draw the nations of those two poor men in - and as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom works to ensure we can get our share of the bombing in, I remembered the words - as I do every few weeks if I'm honest - of Revelation 16:16: "And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon."

"They" in this context being frog-like spirits from the mouths of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet. And "them" being the kings of the earth. That's the trouble with this kind of writing. It's all about context.

This passage where Jesus talks about the End occurs in all three Synoptic Gospels. And it seems to be mixing up two events. One is the one that has happened - the Jewish Revolt which led to the Fall of Jerusalem. This happened within the lifespan of some of Jesus's hearers. And must have seemed like the actual End to a lot of them.

The other is vaguer, stranger, more pictorial. Jesus doesn't separate them - maybe, incarnate, having given up all but love - maybe he doesn't see it so clearly. He tells us that the day will come when the Son of Man will return, in clouds of glory.

There's no timescale, no calendar, no clues. And the great story of Apocalypse is - you never get any firm dates. That's maybe because the dates are unknowable. Maybe they're outside time. But because they're undatable, because they're cast in pictorial, mythical language - they're reusable. To repurpose the language of code development, they can be repurposed.

And so through the ages generations of Christians have been able to see signs of the times, lift up their heads and know the End is near. The Christians of Constantinople when it fell - they must have believed the Day was upon them. For many it was. The people who lived through the Plague that repeatedly struck - sometimes taking a third of the population - we know they did. Every time a Christian group of people suffer persecution - the Day is drawing near.

Then there are the rich, oppressing, comfortable Christians that stock up with guns and get ready for the End to come. Dunno what they think God will do for them really. Free them from their oppressors? Imagined or otherwise? And if they think the thing to do in event of Jesus's return is to head for the hills with a machine gun - what do they think Jesus is going to return as? A fur trapper? As Peter Cook said in the sketch, as his disciples went up on the hills -  the hills will be safe as houses.

I do believe that Jesus will come again. But I'm not going to predict how, and I'm not going to predict when. I believe the whole Creation is waiting to be repurposed - not going to use that word again now - recreated, renewed, resurrected. And on the grand scale of things I believe that may take longer than most who predict the end of the world are prepared to wait. And I also believe in lots of little apocalypses - not the one people are constantly ready to predict will take place next Wednesday or whenever. That whenever God's people are at a crisis - and wherever - these words of Jesus are true once again. That whenever God's people are persecuted, fleeing and threatened - then Jesus is once again drawing near.

There's something written in our hearts that keeps telling us the world is supposed to be fair. I even remember one lady saying to me, when it was diagnosed that her cancer had returned - "I suppose I must be a right evil bugger to deserve this." We ache for meaning in the things that life throws at us - even if that meaning implies we have caused our own misfortunes. "Serves 'em right", we say, when somebody we think deserves their comeuppance gets it.

Of course, this deep feeling that the world is fair is contradicted by everything we know about the world. Bad behaviour - even evil, spiteful, vicious behaviour - sometimes brings its rewards. If the world handed back what people deserved we wouldn't need police and armed forces - people would know not to be evil because they'd know the consequences. But I do believe that's the thing that is just a sign, just a clue - not a proof - that the world is designed for good. Against all sense, we believe that the world ought to be fair, if it's not. That people ought to get what they deserve, even if they don't. That a world where the best and fairest that it ever produced gets hung on a cross, is not living up to what we expect. And that's a belief that starts with the story of Adam and Eve, and goes all the way through to the Revelation of John.

The promise of Advent is that in fact this is written in our hearts. That one day the hungry will be fed forever, the lonely comforted, the sinful forgiven and the whole broken family of God will be drawn together from far and near. That beyond the endless battles, the pain and fear and woe and darkness of this world, there's a light dawning. That the world is struggling, yet pregnant with the promise of a new hope.

And we wait for the Lord to come. Not daring to guess when, and not knowing how, but believing that the work he completed on the Cross will be made clear in the earth and heavens, when we see God as he sees us, when the water of the Spirit pours out across the world as healing streams, when a cross is transformed to the Tree of Life for the healing of the nations.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Though All Hopes Fall to Dust

An Advent Poem
As a man waking in a dark night
runs to the window, and there afar 
sees the first gleam of dawn
and the morning star.

...a woman struggling, as she grows,
feels the first birth-pangs, sure, though fearing
that through more pain to come
child-dawn is nearing.

And a world grown old in sin and blood
yearns for an answer and hopes so long
though all hopes fall to dust
hears an angel song.



This post free to use Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike

It is Wrong to Shoot People in Clinics

Somebody has been arrested after killing people in a Planned Parenthood clinic in the USA.

We don't know why, as far as I'm aware. It could be because he is murderously anti-abortion. Or he could be someone whose girlfriend aborted a child and he is angry. He may be a Christian, or not. But some people have taken other people's tragedy as a chance to make snarky remarks. (It's not the original here that counts as snark - probably irony to make a point -  but you can check out the replies).

So if anyone was in doubt, I'm a Christian. And I think shooting people in Planned Parenthood clinics is wrong. God does not approve. I don't normally claim to speak for God as God is cleverer and more compassionate than me. But on this occasion I'm risking it. God gets angry when people murder other people.

As Inspiral Carpets nearly sang, "this is how it feels to be Muslim".

Friday, 27 November 2015

Don't Let's be Beastly to the Syrians

This is not a pacifist blog. I'd hope it's a pacific one however, except obviously when the Moot House dissolves in ashes. And I notice that the Labour leadership is not totally pacifist, either. The Shadow Chancellor, for example, has previously indicated he doesn't mind people bombing, for instance, the British army or shoppers. Although apparently these days he prefers throwing Chinese-made books at people.

But the pressure is on to bomb Syria. Even Hillary Benn seems to think it's a good idea. His dad would be so proud. But David Cameron is determined we should do our bit.

David Cameron was also determined to do his bit two years ago, when he wanted to bomb the other side. Or, at least, one of the other sides.

It's really complicated, as shown when Turkey (anti-ISIL) shot down a Russian (anti-ISIL) plane for allegedly straying into its airspace. Turkey doesn't only want to hit ISIL - it also keeps attacking Kurds. And it wants Assad gone. And Russia doesn't only want to bomb ISIL - it also wants to bomb the people who want Assad gone. Though it doesn't want to bomb Turkey. Not yet.

So with all this bombing going on, and Syrian airspace thick with the aviation of all nations, David Cameron thinks that there needs to be a bit more bombing. It's like, "there's enough munitions in the Syrian air to blow Raqqa into tiny pieces. Every legitimate target could have been destroyed months ago. What could possibly help now? Chocks away, Ginger! The Brits are coming!"

The only way, it seems to me, that ISIL is going to be properly driven out of Syria is by really well-equipped, well-disciplined soldiers on the ground. But Turkey wouldn't want them to be Kurds or Assad's army. And Russia wouldn't want them to be an army that would then take on Assad. Nobody wants it to be an affiliate of Al Qaeda. And the West won't put up with another round of British or American body bags returning from a foreign field that is forever Armageddon.

So chuck a few more bombs in. If there's one thing Syria can use right now, it's a few more bombs. But of course these will be British bombs. They'll make all the difference, won't they?

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Bishop of Greater London

Edit - after this post was written the Telegraph article was rewritten to remove the Bishop of Greater London and make it clear that Bp Croft thinks the "ban" is silly. There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repents or one journo that corrects a story...

Utterly intrigued by the discovery, courtesy of the Telegraph, of Jonathan Blake, "Bishop of Greater London".  Interestingly the Telegraph lists him alongside Stephen Croft, Bishop of Sheffield, as attacking the Church of England "Lord's Prayer" ad.

It says something for the religious illiteracy of the Telegraph that it takes this comment from Bp Croft:
And The Rt Rev Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield, said it was hardly surprising that the Lord’s Prayer had been banned “in the boardrooms of consumer culture” as it promoted everything global corporations were against.
as an attack on the ad, not on corporate culture. But let's leave Bp Croft aside. His point is well-made (if badly understood by the reporter, Victoria Ward, who is presumably hoping that if she writes a really good article she won't have to write in pencil any more.) And we've heard of the Bishop of Sheffield.

The Bishop of Greater London. I'd never heard of him. I mean, it doesn't sound like a proper title, like "Archdruid of Husborne Crawley", a post going back in its current form to 2000 AD and before the interruption due to the evil Celts to 4000 BC. Although I once met the Archdeacon of Charing Cross and that sounds pretty unlikely as well. Very Barchester.

What Victoria Ward fails to mention is that the Bishop of Greater London is not a Church of England or Roman Catholic bishop. He is a bishop, according to Wikipedia, of the Open Episcopal Church. And so entitled to that title. And according to their front page he is very much an action-bishop.

I don't quite understand the point the Bishop of Greater London is making in his comment on his own web site about the Lord's Prayer controversy, where he appears to be saying that identifying God with Jesus is wrong. But then he fell prey to that mistake of typing " fell pray ", so it could just be poorly wordsmithed.

So that's the Bishop of Greater London. I hear he has an Archdeacon of Fulham Broadway and a Dean of Staples Corner, and his cincture is technically called the M25, but that's just a rumour.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Richard Dawkins Commentary: the Child Jesus in the Temple

When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[Luke 2:41-49] 

Yet another young boy getting credit for his so-called "intelligence" and "originality". And what exactly was he doing, this prodigy? "Listening" to the teachers and "asking them questions". Is there anything so remarkable about that? Had he invented a new language? No. He was just using the same Aramaic words everybody else used, and re-arranging them. I hardly call that "understanding". If he were so "understanding", he would have created a new  language of his own and asked questions in that - not just copied the same old language.



And what questions was he asking? Were they important ones such as what kind of genius would popularise a meme, or had the teachers of the Law heard the terribly witty thing that Sir David Attenborough once said to him? No. Again, he was almost certainly asking questions about God. And who would be in the best position to ask searching questions about God? His Son, obviously. So in astonishing everyone with his supposed understanding of God when in fact - let us face it - he had already got all the information he needed from the Godhead Himself, Jesus was frankly cheating. His Father had already given him all the answers.

Jesus lived in the Land of Milk and Honey. Yet at no point in any of his journeys across the borders of Judea, Samaria and Phoenicia was his honey confiscated. Which is yet another blatant example of religion receiving privileges.

Somebody else said something terribly apposite about religion to me once. But she wasn't very famous, so I can't remember what it was.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Why the Widow Gave Her Mite

Thanks to the eloquent and prolific Bosco Peters, I've been fretting away about the text of the widow's mite. Bosco Peters has an interesting, challenging and, I suspect, correct view on this story.
The problem - the bit where we get it wrong - is where we break the text up into chunks rather than seeing it as a whole piece. Here it is:

The Widow’s Offering (Mark 12: NIV)
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said,“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
And, concludes the preacher, Jesus commends the widow for her whole-hearted giving. Because she alone understands that what God is doing is calling for whole-hearted sacrifice - giving all she has to the service of God. What a great example she is to us.

See, what we've done there is rip a gobbet of Scripture out of context and used it to justify what we want it to say. And the sub-headings in our Bible and our chapter divisions let us do it.
Let's take the headings and chapters out and put the context in.
As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said,“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
“Do you see all these great buildings?”replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”'
In that context, the moral isn't about whole-hearted sacrifice at all. It's about a futile act. The widow has invested her money in something that won't last. The rich men have thrown their money as well for the same lost cause, but then they can spare it. And they got the benefit of being known benefactors. They have received their reward on earth, at least.

And giving to the Temple isn't, strictly speaking, giving to God even if it were going to last. We refer to the Temple of Herod as the Second Temple but it's actually more like Temple 2(b). Herod the (so-called) Great was rebuilding the Temple to the Glory of God, and his own glory as the half-Jewish puppet king. And it was a nice little earner. The priests had the money to be proper players in the Judean power games. Until the Zealots went over the top and the roof fell in on the whole thing.
So the thing she's given her money for isn't gonna last 40 years - if she's a young widow she might even see it fall. And she's given her money because she's been conned into a corrupt scheme where the priests can wield patronage with a vicious Gentile occupying power - propping up a scheme that should, if the priests really read the prophets, be giving money to her.

The widow was conned. She should have spent her mite on a bagel. You reckon Jesus commended her? I expect he wasn't angry with her. But I bet he hated the system

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Evolution of a Modern Controversy



Those Banned Church Media Ventures in Full

Congratulations to the Church of England in finally getting something banned as being disturbing to people waiting to see porn, torture, films involving adultery or science fiction franchises in which whole planets are destroyed. The C of E has worked hard enough at it. But it's the first real major public success.

The "Lord's Prayer" advert is just one of many attempts to get something Christian banned in this country's media. The Millennium Prayer, for instance, was still played on the BBC and made it to Number 1 despite being absolutely shocking. But here we remember just a few of the Church media endeavours over the year that got banned, yet never made the headlines.

"Robbie says Relax, Don't Do It" (1984)  - The then-Archbishop of Canterbury's attempt to discourage active homosexuality was always doomed to fail.

"Don't let's be Beastly to the Liberals" (1994) As the tide turned in favour of Evangelicalism, Noël Richards wrote this satirical song about the need to respect those who didn't really believe in the Bible.

"The Romans in Britain" (1980)  - Accidentally showing this biography of St Augustine of Canterbury instead of Howard Brenton's play, the National Theatre quickly corrected its mistake.

"Ebeneezer Good" (1992) This attempt to raise awareness by an Independent Baptist chapel in Buckinghamshire was sadly eclipsed by the Shamen hit of the same name.

"Never Mind the B*ll*cks, Here's the Church of England" (1977) - When the youth of the country were wearing strange clothes and complaining they were marginalised, misunderstood and nobody liked them, the clergy of the Established Church didn't understand why they didn't fit into the same category.

"A Clockwork Orangeman" - Never caught on in the Republic of Ireland.

"Glad to be Gray" (1977) - the attempt by the Methodist Church to celebrate the average age of their congregation fell foul of the BBC's attempts to court the youf market. Janet Street Porter was concerned that this was a direct attack on her hairstyle.

"Je t'aime.... le bon Dieu" (2012) - The duet between Gary Barlow and Susan Boyle was banned because of the heavy breathing.

"God save the King/Queen" (1744)  - A recording of the National Anthem that was rejected for being "overtly political" and "supporting a feudalist and Caledophobic narrative". Had to be trimmed to the first verse before it was acceptable for singing. And even now, cinemas refuse to play it before every show.

"I Vow to Thee, My Country", "Lord of the Dance", "Imagine" - Not actually banned. Just should be.

Liturgy for an Advert for the Lord's Prayer Being Banned

Archdruid: The chains Odeon, Cineworld and Vue

All: When faced by the Lord's Prayer know exactly what to do.

Archdruid: They won't show it cos it might offend their gentle little flocks

All: Let's face it, they can't cope with such terrifying shocks....

Archdruid: As forgiving people and obeying God's law

All: When they're waiting to watch the next sequel to "Saw".

Chant

Archbishop: Arun Arora is a marketing genius!

All: Arun Arora is a marketing genius!

Dismissal

Archdruid: Pa-pah pa-pah pa-pah-pa-pah pa-pa-pah.

All: Pa-pah pa-pah pa-pah-pa-paaaaah pa!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Stirring Up

Brilliant. Got to Tesco to get the ingredients for the Stir Up Sunday pudding, and the last raisins had apparently been snatched up by a Baptist minister. Ended up at Denbigh in search of them.

Yes, all over the country, the old tradition of Stir Up Sunday is being revived. Kids all over the place are having a Sunday off normal church in favour of getting their hands into raisins, flour and eggs - all the earthy stuff that is brought together to make a pudding. No electronics, no data projection, no twitterfalls. A gritty, resistant, stodgy, incarnational activity. God was made human, and we make a cake.

It's a brilliant concept.. People coming together in a shared endeavour. Having fun, rejoicing in the real, enjoying our sheer worldiness. In denominations far beyond the Anglicans it originally made sense to.

It's so much fun, maybe one year we might even have a crack at the Collect.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Happy Birthday, St Edmunds

A slightly odd thing I've just discovered. St Edmund Hall, Oxford, is not named after 'Bury' St Edmund, but after St Edmund of Abingdon. Who was named after St Edmund, King of the Angles, whose feast is today as the anniversary of his martyrdom.

And St Edmund of Abingdon didn't even have the surname 'Hall'. A trick missed there I reckon.

I wondered for a minute whether this was an awkward day in Heaven, as St Edmund of Abingdon blew out his candles and King Edmund says thanks for the reminder. But that is to forget.

The martyrdom of a Christian is, in fact, a birthday. The Lamb of God, slain from the beginning of the world, welcomes them into his kingdom and recognises that they are as he is.

We rightly fear death - it is the ancient enemy, the one that declares all our hopes and dreams do not last. It separates us from our loved ones here and ruins the weekend. It's often painful. What is happening to the Christians of the Middle East is shameful and yet it seems nobody wants to protect them.

But it also sets us free from the circles of the world as it is. Free from fear and pain, the heaviness of this fallen place. Through the pain of martyrdom St Edmund saw his Saviour, and was welcomed as a faithful servant.

Happy Birthday, Saint Edmunds.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Preparation for Morning Devotions

Having conducted a rapid 7-year "Shared Conversation" on the experiences of people who fit spiritual devotions into their morning routine, the Beaker Liturgical Group are pleased to share these experimental rubrics for devotional preparation.

The Pre Preparation

At the sound of the alarm, the worshipper may press the "snooze" button.

At the sound of the second alarm, the worshipper may swear fluently.

[If the worshipper shares their room with a spouse, partner, sibling or other (who are we to judge) the following may be used:

Worshipper: N (or, as it may be, "Sweetie", "Hon", "Bae" or "Me'Duck", do you want a coffee?

N: I do.]

Liturgy of Multitasking

The worshipper may start the bath running, go downstairs to the kitchen, plug in the iron and switch on the coffee machine [Methodists may put on the kettle and put some "instant" in a cup, as may Catholics since Vatican II]

Discovering they have forgotten to bring their blouse/shirt down with them, the worshipper may run back upstairs,  to discover their smartphone alarm is now going off.

Going back downstairs the worshipper realises they were distracted by the phone and forgot to get the shirt/blouse.

The worshipper retrieves the shirt/blouse to discover they forgot to switch the iron on when they plugged it in.

Ministry of waiting for the iron to warm up

During the waiting time, the worshipper may feed the cat or switch the TV on briefly to check out the news.

A Time to Move Swiftly

Noticing water coming through the ceiling, the worshipper will run upstairs very quickly.

A Time of Mopping Up may be introduced at this point.

A Time of Completion

The worshipper irons the blouse/shirt, pours out the coffee [Methodists etc pour boiling water on coffee granules making a vile brew] and takes the coffee and shirt upstairs.

Full Immersion

The worshipper may run enough water out of the bath to accommodate their own volume, in accordance with Archimedes' Principle.

Revelation

The worshipper realises the smartphone is still on the dressing table.

A time of improvisation may take place, until the worshipper realises they have left the iron on and switched off the freezer instead.

From an original idea by Paul Stead

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Wise Words from Oscar Wilde

"Religion comforts you in your illness. But antibiotics make your better"
- Oscar Wilde

Being David Walker

In a world containing billions of people, it's not surprising that some people have the same first and second names - the premise on which the entire book "Are you Dave Gorman?" was based.



But there's only one famous Dave Gorman (two - if you include the erstwhile assistant manager of East Fife). But a name that is statistically slightly more common, apparently has a much greater success rate in people of moderate celebrity.

There's
This is quite a selection. I have only met one of them (David Walker). However I do wonder. Is the Walker clan unique in that all its members called "David" are successful? Or is there a simpler explanation? Is David Walker simultaneously the Bishop of Manchester, a Catholic bishop, a cartoonist, a rock singer, an astronaut, a 19th Century Civil Rights activist and Polly Toynbee's accident-preventing partner? 

Nah, probably not. Nobody could cope with the pressure, surely. Not even David Walker.


Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Football is Defiance

People think football is a religion, and supporters worship players.

I've never seen it that way, and I think Nick Hornby put it best when he said that footballers are our representatives. That's why we are so rude when they don't perform.

Our respective French and English representatives did us proud this evening. Here are some symbols of defiance against darkness:

The sun rising
Forgiving
Baptism
Loving somebody from another religion
Thinking things will be better this time
Trying again
Kicking a football when some loser tried to bomb the last game.

The darkness has to be defied. Ever since Michael threw Satan out of heaven.

The darkness has to be defied. That's the only positive thing it's for.

(Title taken from Hugo Lloris's post-match interview).

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Can't Take it With You

A really interesting session this afternoon with the Little Pebbles, looking at the story of the Rich Young Ruler.

We spent a while working out how you'd get a camel through the eye of a needle. The Tardis being the best suggestion, in my opinion. And then some lovely imaginative stuff about what we thought happened the Ruler after the encounter with Jesus.

Smirffette suggested he maybe just went off to count his money and make himself happy about his decision.

Dreyland said maybe after he'd thought a bit more about it, and joined the church later on, becoming a prominent backer after Pentecost.

But Eustace suggested that the Rich Young Ruler "died of sadness." You know, I reckon he may well be right.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Just the Birth Pains

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs. (Mark 13:1-8)
The people of Paris - the ones indirectly affected, not those who are grieving or injured or worrying for loved ones - the vast majority of the people of Paris, I guess, feel much like I did 10 years ago. 10 years ago when a bunch of fantasist losers killed dozens of people in London. That numbness, the anger because - whether we like it or not - we kind of hanker after revenge and there's none to be had when the emotionally-stunted adolescents who committed the crimes have always intended to die in the act.

And now it's happened again, like in Mumbai, like in Westgate in Nairobi, Kenya. Like in Beirut, or Baghdad, where it was Muslims killed not Christians or Hindus atheists or death-metal fans. Like in Oregon last month where the narcissistic loser looked for eternal life on the Internet, not with a bunch of alleged virgins.

I don't blame Islam - don't blame "Muslims" - for what's happened in Paris. Like I don't blame Christianity for the endless series of massacres in American schools and workplaces. Like I don't blame atheism for the purges of Stalin, Lenin and Mao. I do wonder about the selection criteria used by Islamists middle-management for people on suicide missions - they must have a particular combination of moderate ability, expendability and gullibility. You wouldn't, if you were a murderous co-ordinator of an evil cell, want to throw away your good people, or your genuinely intelligent ones. Islamism - as revealed by the vile organisation of losers and murderers and liars called Da'esh - that's nothing in common with the talented, peaceful Muslims I know. You might as well say I am in alignment with an American "prepper" or Anders Breivik.

In the reading, Jesus is in the area round the Temple. Remember what happened just before? Everyone's been putting their cash in the collection boxes. The loadsamoney collaborators with the Romans have been waving their wads about, and dropping them in - conspicuous contribution. The widow has put her two penn'orth in the box. Jesus has been indefinitely angry about the situation.

And when the disciples tell Jesus - "look at this lovely building" - this building which is still being built, on the boasts of fat-cats and the last hopes of widows - look how it's going up - what a beauty!

And Jesus tells them - not one stone will be left on another. You; the rich kids; the widow with her mite - they're all investing in a failed venture. The widow should have spent her mite on a decent bagel. The rich kids could have thrown their cash out  the window to the poor, or chucked it down the drain, for all the difference it makes. This temple will be gone in a generation.

Reminds me of Ford Prefect, in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, when he realises the thing that nobody else stranded on Earth, two million BC, knows. As they try to work out what colour the wheel should be, and how people might relate to fire, and they burn down the forests to stop their currency (the leaf) depreciating, Ford loses his temper, and delivers the following speech:
"I have got news for you. It doesn’t matter a pair fetid dingo’s kidneys what you all choose to do from now on. Burn down the forests, anything. It won’t make a scrap of difference. Two-million years you’ve got, and that’s it. At the end of that, your race will be dead, gone, and good-riddance to you. Remember that. Two. Million. Years."
To which the captain, who's spent the entire trip to Earth and the time since they landed, in the bath, responds: 
"Just time for another bath. Pass me the sponge somebody will you? 
Actually, the captain's not so wrong. If you know you've only got a limited time, might as well make the most of it... Jesus is telling them that temple has a limited shelf-life. No point investing time, money or awe in it.

And every violation of peace in this world is a reminder that the things we are tempted to put our faith in, have limited shelf-lives. The Twin Towers - those symbols of capitalist confidence. The temples of Palmyra - smashed up by the same satanic narcissists who apparently sent those stupid narcissists to Paris this week. The statues of Stalin that were smashed up as people celebrated the end of the Iron Curtain. The Temple of Jerusalem went because a bunch of bunch of Zealots - Jewish revolutionaries - became convinced they could throw off the oppression of Rome. They couldn't. The Romans took terrible revenge. Not one stone left on another? Not quite - the Western Wall still remains, a place of sadness and remembrance. A reminder that things that look like they might last forever - don't. Sometimes peace is good, sometimes it's oppressive. But always those who say "peace, peace" discover there's no peace.

And for 2,000 years we've known there is no peace. Thomas Hardy was satirical and spiky in his poem "Christmas: 1924" - reflecting on the war that had recently been fought. A few lines so appropriate today:

"Peace upon earth!' was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We've got as far as mustard gas".
We don't stop fighting, we just come up with new ways to do it.

Jesus effectively said - this is the way it's gonna be to the end. The wars and rumours of war will come. Nations will fight. The earth will shake. But none of these mean the end is here. Fools who think they're going to kill their way to heaven, and fools who want ten minutes' fame on Facebook, will murder innocent people. Politicians who think they're doing the right thing - or just want their moment of glory - look to foreign fields. And they always have. People who think that their latest system will last forever will be sadly disappointed.

130 deaths in Paris seem pointless - a murderous interruption of a Friday night out. 8 fools who never grew up, taking out their adolescent angst, their loser mentality, on better-balanced, more successful, all-round nicer people. How's that fair? A cyclist out for a ride on a country road is wiped out by a driver who's not looking where he's going - how's that fair? The American-led coalition tries to hit Taliban soldiers and instead wipe out an MSF hospital. How on earth is that fair?



These are just the birth pains.

Love is cast like a thread of gold through the blood and dirt. The Parisians last night had a hashtag - "Porte Ouverte" - offering a place to stay to those who couldn't get home. Those of us who love freedom mourned for the dead of another country. The ones who have Muslim friends love them no less today than we did yesterday. I remember the man who tried to kill Pope John Paul II - whom the Pope forgave. I remember endless stories of German and British soldiers who, after the war - sometimes long after - came together in friendship.

The Kingdom doesn't come in violence and hatred. It comes in love. It comes in those who mourn. It comes in knowing that, though this world is a bloody, bitter, unreliable place - though men (nearly always men) do evil things - the world is conceived in love and held in love and has love shot through it. It comes in believing that a coherent story is woven into the chaos of the threads of pain and war.

The Kingdom comes when an innocent man, who preached peace and loved foreigners and women - against all the local social rules - is nailed to a cross and dies in front of a baying mob. How was that fair? Our religion is centered on a meaningless, unfair tragedy. And in the middle of that tragedy, he says the words, "Father forgive them - for they don't know what they are doing." And he turns our self-justification and our claims of revenge and our victim mentalities upside down.

These birth pangs may last a very long time. We don't currently know whether they're proper contractions or just Braxton Hicks'. We can't predict when the Kingdom will finally arrive in its full glory. But we can live on its borderlands and be true to our King. Love our enemies, give to those who have nothing, offer shelter to the alien and forgive.

The Temple didn't last. Our Western civilisation won't last. ISIS - that evil, vicious combination of victim mentality and teenage narcissism - won't last, either. Our structures, our companies, our political systems, our world for that matter - won't last. Love and hope remain. The things we cling onto, against all sense. The things that stop us hating others, if we only stop and think and reflect. The things that make us get up in the morning regardless - that get the sun up in the morning. God is eternal, and his eternal love is woven through all things.  Through revenge, through senseless tragedy, through pain and hate and despair. Through to when the birth pangs are over and the new world is born. Love still remains. Love still remains.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Prime Ministers' Question Time

Speaker: The Prime Minister!

David Cameron: Is the Prime Minister aware of the appalling effect of austerity cuts on the services provided by Local Government? I have been speaking to a council leader in Oxfordshire who is unable to provide front-line services.

DC: Look, we all know that the Right Honourable member has opposed everything this Government has had to do to clear up the mess the previous Government left. Councils will have to find savings in administrative posts, and greater efficiencies.

DC: It is typical of the Prime Minister to blame the previous Conservative Government for everything. In my own constituency, cuts have been so severe that the entire Environment, Social Services and Lighting departments are run by one woman, a Mrs Goggins who also runs the sub-post-office. Is the Prime Minister prepared to come to my constituency to see for himself the damage his policies are causing?

DC: I am pleased to say I very recently visited the Right Honourable Member's constituency. I spent a Saturday afternoon in an antique shop and a tea room, and then left one of my children in a pub in Stow-on-the-Wold. And neither my family, the shopkeeper nor the Portuguese waitress in the tea room complained about a lack of social services. At least, I presume the waitress didn't. She was speaking Portuguese. But I promise the Right Honourable Gentleman that she is just the kind of hard-working person that we will be stopping accessing any services at all once we have completed our negotiations with Europe.

Speaker: The Right Honourable Jeremy Corbyn!
(Cries of "God save the Queen", "Did you kiss her" etc)

JC: I have a letter from Tracy in Amersham. She asks, "Please could you play Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade, and can you say hello to my sister, Angela who's just starting work..."

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Happy Christmas, Mr Starbucks

There's been a lot of fuss about nothing over the Starbucks Xmas cup. Apparently having no Xmas-related imagery on it is rejecting the whole feast and with it Christianity, motherhood and apple pie.
Whereas obviously putting a snowflake, reindeer or penguin on the cup is just like having the lickle baby Jesus in the room with you. Which of course, in a very real sense, he is. Though he's not the hipsters behind the counter. Except in a very real sense, obviously.

The good news is, it looks like Christians are getting their rebuttals in early to prove we're not all idiots. In fact, I reckon Starbucks, being sellers of coffee, are under no obligation to do anything "seasonal" at all with their mugs. We don't expect restaurants to change all their crockery to feature nativity scenes every November, after all.

But the logo is still on the mugs. And as that link shows, the logo is meant to be based on a siren. That's right, a vicious woman who sits around looking attractive and singing seductive songs on rocks, and then destroys the sailors who are lured into her clutches. Though these days she sits on a cardboard cup on the premises of a purveyor of average-quality coffee, luring hipsters and office workers into telling the barista what their name is. Which, if you think about it, is basically a gigantic, low-tech phishing exercise. She must feel she's come down in the world.

But look at it another way, O people who like to feel more Christmassy. Maybe, like many of these things, the whole "pagan" link is a lie. This is, after all, a woman with a star on her head, with watery associations - at Christmas. .And Starbucks are encouraging their customers to scribble on their cups.

I suggest when you go Starbucks, if that's the kind of thing you do, you tell the barista that your name is "Stella". And then grab your green pen.... 



Surely what they've actually done, unknowingly, is paid their respects to "Stella Maris", the Star of the Sea - a title of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Even if it's not, let's face it, we're good at repurposing pagan ideas. We've been doing it for 2,000 years, apparently. So that mug's a bit more suitable for Advent, innit? Happy Christmas, Mr Starbucks!




Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Bling it On

Now it's Christmas, the Beaker Folk have been asking me what precisely they are allowed to use in a festive manner, from what date.

I should say I'm not a keen celebrator of early Christmas. Partly because I appreciate liturgical cycles, and partly because of that time eight years ago when I tried to pull down the bling from the then-Moot House and ended up in MK General having thatch removed from various awkward locations.
Still, Guy Fawkes is over now. And the Diwali celebrations are going to be muted now our trained monkeys are working in the Labour PR department. So we may as well remember the reason for the season. Which is, of course, having vague feelings of goodwill with no moral or eschatological implications.

9-14 November "Season of Pre-selling"

Decorations in designated commercial areas (Beaker Bazaar; Offering Plates; Canteen)
Woolly hats, fleeces with images of penguins, polar bears, reindeer, Bambi.

15-30 November "Little Bling"
  • Lights on all available roofs, in trees, on walls and shelves. But, only in red in keeping with the liturgical season. We're not evangelicals, after all.
  • Mince pies
  • Wall-to-wall Xmas films on the Beaker TV channel.
  • Santa hats, but not full outfits. 
  • Mince pies
  • Sweaters with pictures of holly
  • "Spaceman came travelling" by Chris de Burgh
  • Xmas trees on desks, in the Beaker Canteen and the Moot House.
"So that the villagers can say, 'The Church looks nice' on All Saints' Day"
31 November (Delayed Halloween)

During this conceptual period between two real dates, we will light candles in punkies and hang them in trees to scare off evil spirits. Also eat Christmas puddings.

1-12 December ("Greater Bling")
  • Violet or bright blue LED bling
  • Slade
  • Dancing reindeer
  • Singing snowmen,
  • Ties with festive pictures
  • Santas, 
  • Fully-decked trees.
  • Christmas jumpers
  • Reindeer onesies
  • Full Santa outfits
  • "It's a Wonderful Life" loop on the Wonderwall.

13-24 December (proper Christmas)
  • White LED bling (and blue, red, yellow, green)
  • Frankly, anything vaguely Christmassy you like.
  • Life-size Stephen Fry suits
  • Massive baubles the size of beach balls
  • Dressing up as holly bushes
  • Nothing but Kirsty & the Pogues
  • Crocodile onesies
  • Ronnie Corbett masks

25 December onwards (Easter)
Creme eggs
Buying bling in the sales

Monday, 9 November 2015

Marriage in the Image of God

Somebody linked to this article on "Marriage is a Mirror" (of God's nature presumably). Which was interesting. It's apparently published by the "Gospel Coalition", but I'm guessing the Liberal Democrats weren't part of this particular coalition.

It's mostly interesting for being an example of arguing backwards from what you've decided, to how you'd like God to be. Its basic argument being that (heterosexual) marriage is what God wants, and anything else probably isn't. Apparently, "among God’s people marriage is no longer a battleground", which will be a bit of a shock to Drayton Parslow and Marjorie. Although, to be fair, their marriage is not so much a battleground as a massacre. Marjorie owned that relationship a long time ago. Let's pick some bits out.
"There’s a tendency to jump straight to the hot-button issues of headship and submission when considering a passage like Ephesians 5." 

Yes there is. But the passage does that by tucking the hot-button issues firmly away under the category "ultimate goals", while doing a bit of theology.

There's stuff that I agree with  - our identity isn't rooted in our sexuality. Although sexuality is a part of our identity, it is just part. Albeit if you're not straight and married, it's still going to be the part some people in the Church focus on more than others. Which will always make it more of your identify than you really planned.

But then there's a non-sequitur. If being created in the image of God grounds our identity (I think it does) then how does that suddenly jump to God designing "marriage to be the lifelong union of one man and one woman working toward a shared goal"? Where is the logical step between those two? If it is that God made us all, male and female, in the image of God - then there might be some logic to that. If it wasn't for everything that follows.

This is what does it for me.
"The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in a permanent, plural, equal, complementary, ordered, and loving union. And since we’re created like God, we thrive in marriage relationships that mirror his trinitarian union."
Since we are created in the image of a God who is in three persons (all of whom, according to this article, are implicitly male) we thrive in a marriage relationship that mirrors God's union - as a pair, one male one female.

Is it just me?

I'd like to take the following statements slowly. Here we go.

"Since God is permanent, he designed us for lasting marriages, not divorce."
Except that God is eternal, and Jesus makes it quite clear that our marriages will not survive the resurrection. I like CS Lewis's attitude to this (apologies, I forget which book, and I'm not going to look it up at this time of a Monday night), where he suggests that marital love will be caught up into the universal love that is what makes up life in heaven.
"Since God is triune, he designed us for marriages of intimate companionship to counteract loneliness." 
So to be unmarried is to have greater loneliness than to be married. This may or may not be true. But it does go against the statement that "Christians celebrate the dignity of childhood and celibate singleness and widowhood". Because if marriages are what makes us more like the image of God, then clearly any other state makes us less like God. Doesn't it?
"Since God is three equal persons, he designed us for marriages in which husbands and wives are equally dignified." 
I don't want to be crass. But the arithmetic is awkward here.
"Since God is diverse and complementary, he created marriage to be diverse and wonderfully complementary within a heterosexual union, not a homosexual union."
Not once in this passage does the Gospel Coalition attribute feminine characteristics to God. And yet apparently God's diversity (which is, I really do believe, expressed in the three persons) is only reflected in the human diversity of having different sexual organs.

I mean, I say what? We as humans are diverse in all sorts of ways. We are different heights. We are male and female. Black and white. Some girls' mothers are, apparently, bigger than other girls' mothers. I have no idea what Morrisey meant like this, But it does emphasise the intrinsic truth that even women who are mothers have diversity. I have a love for words, theology and molecular biophysics. You may be a guitarist, or a certified accountant, or posses an FLT licence. You may be good at football - I was always fond of hockey. Our diversity is manifold and often unexpected. To reduce that to the possession of XY vs XX chromosomes is a bit reductive, isn't it?
"Since God’s Trinity is ordered (the Son and the Spirit gladly submitting to the Father), he designed all human relationships—including marriage—with authority to be exercised lovingly and submission to be given willingly without any implication of superiority or inferiority." 
OK. We've got to that hot button now haven't we? The Son and the Spirit gladly submit to the Father. Two (implicitly male) persons in the Trinity submit to the Father. Which makes them "equal" and yet, as it turns out, subordinate.  I'm not sure there is any Biblical authority that says "women submit to your husbands, just as Jesus submitted to his Father." If you want to find the Biblical warrant, it is that the Church submits to Jesus. That is, as we say these days, problematic, although it opens up all sorts of discussions about sacrifice - about the way Jesus actually put the eternal life of the Church above his own life. Personally I'd say that Paul is arguing from the present reality of married life as lived to the way God is.  But the idea that the relationship of Jesus to the Father is like that of a woman to a husband - nowhere. The concept that a woman is to submit to her husband like the Spirit obeys the Father - nowhere.  And to jump from that to the following: "a woman may exercise loving authority over her children or her colleagues—or willingly submit to the authority of her employer, church elders, and husband". That's dangerous. To willingly submit to the authority of any of them is to open her up to the possibility of spiritual or other abuse. To take the employer as an example - we don't "willingly submit" to our employers. We negotiate a contract. We expect respect, and reasonable pay, in return for doing what we're told. And if what we're told to do is unreasonable, we're legally allowed to refuse it. That's not submission - that's negotiation.

I'd like to leave you with the Athanasian Creed here. I find, apart from the anathemata and the repetition, it tends to help.
"And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped." 
It's in worshipping the diverse Trinity as the full diversity of humanity - male, female, black, white, brown, able-bodied and with disability, gay, straight, struggling and sure, emotional and intellectual and autistic and logical and irrational and utterly incoherent - that's where we reflect the Trinity. We don't reflect God's diversity by just having two different sets of genitals.

And yes, marriage is a great thing. And yes, when it works and it's loving and sacrificial and relationally creative and fulfilling it tells us something of the Trinity and something of God's love. But it ain't everything.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Jonah and the Owls

Jon 3:1-5;10. Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
Obviously, that version of Jonah was in our reality. Jonah hasn't done much really to get his message a hearing. After all the refusal to go and preach, after all the being eaten by a giant fish, he's just walked a day into the great city and shouted out "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown."

Maybe the people of Nineveh were in a very edgy mood for some reason. Maybe the beat groups playing rock and roll that had made God, when he heard it, say "Bless my soul" - maybe they'd stopped the cheery rock and started down a more bluesy theme. And the Ninevites were just ready for Jonah's message.

We know that the decisions we make can be very borderline. I mean, I remember when we did the "Jonah man Jazz" at St Mitholmroyd's School for the Children of Distressed Gentlefolk. I really wanted to be Jonah, but my friend Sue got the part. Apparently the reason she did so well at audition was that she wore tennis pumps, whereas the rest of us were in standard strappy sandals.  These are the narrow lines that divide major decisions. I was relegated by a pair of plimsolls to singing alto and plotting revenge.

So maybe there was another dimension where another Jonah turned up to another Nineveh. But in this Nineveh, the beat groups were still playing a rock and roll and the good times were still rolling, and when Jonah turned up he got different responses.

"Overthrown? By what agency? The Babylonians have been in a right mess, ever since the plague struck. We've thoroughly discounted the risks of global warming on account of our lack of cars, coal-fired power stations and airplanes. We're nowhere near any volcanoes. There was an earthquake three years ago, but our best seismologists have slaughtered a chicken, and according to its entrails there's no danger of another for thirty years.

"Also - we've had a whole series of prophets over the last few years. That Hammurabi Camping - he threatened a disaster of " Biblical proportions. " Well, we pointed out to him that any disaster is gonna be of Biblical proportions. We are, after all, in the Bible. Then someone threatened another flood, and we explained to him that Noah's Flood is a creation myth shared by many Ancient Middle Eastern cultures - or, as we call them, Modern Middle Eastern cultures. And so we see it more as a metaphor for an angry, irrational deity than as a real climatological threat. Somebody said we are in danger of being invaded by Luxembourg. So, anyway, we've taken to just locking them all up in the rooftop cell of Nineveh police station. "

By a coincidence or maybe not - it was as Jonah passed his fortieth day on the rooftop - arguing with Hammurabi Camping as to whether the world would end with a bang, or a whimper - that Nineveh was overthrown by the attack of a large flock of blood-crazed owls.

It's so fine, the balance of our decisions. The Church of England has apparently published research saying that the last thing you should do, if you want people to know about Jesus, is tell them anything about him. Unsure if they have any further advice on how we should fulfil the Great Commission in that case. Maybe print the Sermon on the Mount on a set of coasters or buy one of those toasters that burns an image of Jesus's face onto the bread? But the point is - it's not an easy thing these days, telling people about your faith. I mean, with 40 days to go, Jonah could hardly have started a Church of England school and hoped that, after 5 or 6 years of singing Lord of the Dance in assembly, the word of the Lord might have seeped into the population by a process of osmosis.

No, it's a hard thing to do, sharing God's message - whether a nasty one, like the one for Nineveh or good news about Jesus.

But it seems to me that it's about our own closeness to God in the first instance. You can only share what someone is like if you know yourself. You can only be sure of God's love and Jesus's being alive, if you're letting the Spirit rest in you. You'll know better when to share and better when to be quiet. And if you're spending time in proper prayer - prayer where you accept that God can change you to be as God wants, not necessarily just change the world to be as you think it should be - then maybe some of God's love will flow out in a natural way, without you putting on the beaming smile and shiny eyes and silly voice to tell that simple truth that Jesus loves you.

And sometimes we share a message that can simply be rejected. There's no shame or harm on that for us. We have stood on a watchtower, done our job, been faithful messengers and we can move on. Other people have a right to make their own minds up - to welcome the action of the Spirit in their own spirits, or not. In our dimension, Jonah sat under a marrow plant and fumed that Nineveh had repented. In that other dimension, he laughed as the sinful city was torn apart by the Owls of Destruction. Although, as the few survivors fled the city, he panicked as he remembered he was locked on the roof.

It doesn't matter. Unless you are locked on a roof while homicidal owls swoop around, thirsty for blood. Then you've other things to worry about. But you've done your job. As St Francis definitely didn't say, preach the Gospel. If necessary, use lemon drizzle cake. As Our Lord said, if the  message isn't received, shake the dust from your feet and move on.

And look out for owls.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The John Lewis Christmas Ad - or - an Introvert's Nightmare






The Real Purpose of the Pyramids

Ben Carson received ridicule this week for saying, apparently on the basis of the story of Joseph, that the Egyptian pyramids were grain stores.

It's worth remembering that this is not, by a long chalk, the silliest thing a US presidential hopeful - even a Republican - has said. Some are against gun control, for goodness's sake.

I often find the story of Joseph problematic, as the buzz word is. I presume that all the stuff with the coat of many colours and the hungry years must have happened in the period when he fled to Egypt with Mary and the Holy Infant, as otherwise the chronology makes no sense. Unless Joseph did his stuff with Pharaoh first, then married Mary and then he knew where to go when they had to run away from Herod. I guess that works better, but typical of the Bible to offer such discrepancies.

I digress. It seems clear to me that the grain stores theory is wrong. The buildings are the wrong shape and they have internal rooms that would stop the grain flowing down to the bottom.

No, the pyramids were in fact just the first stage in an elaborate plot by a race of hyper-intelligent, pan-dimensional alien beings. The creation of the pyramids - which they encouraged by appearing in front of the Pharaohs with fake noses, pretending to be the god Thoth - was the setting of the seed in the hearts of men and women. But mostly men.

The final stage is being played out now, on the screens of the History Channel. All over the world, capable middle-aged men are lured into watching endless programmes on the mysteries of the pyramids. Trendy young archaeologists pout to camera as they detail how the unknown Pharaoh Tutankhameron is depicted in an unthinkable act on the walls of the tomb, thanks to the work of an evil servant who was passed over for promotion.

For make no mistake. These aliens plan imminently to invade this world for its plentiful supplies of bagels. The need for a reliable supply of bagels has, indeed, caused more and more terrible wars than any other cause. The galaxy has now been swept clean of its formerly rich bagel planets, formed in the depths of cosmic time. But these aliens, monitoring a small subjected race in a corner of ancient Egypt, saw that they had discovered the concept of the bagel and foresaw, with ineffable alien foresight, that one day this product would be available across the whole Western world.

And so now, as they prepare to invade and strip our lovely blue-green planet of its bagel riches, they are attracting the aging male population to watch pyramid mystery programmes so as to engage the people who could resist their evil invasion. For the aliens fear none of our weapons - no rockets, no nuclear bombs, no ring of cold steal. But they fear carpentry.

Yes, carpentry. There's nothing scares the average alien as much as a good dove-tail joint. And with all the ageing men in the front room, pondering the mystery of the tomb of Pharaoh Aniseed III, they know they will be safe from reliable joinery.

Friends, I beg you. Petition your local TV providers to show more programmes about the destruction of the Minoan civilization, and fewer about Ancient Egypt. Only by getting the old blokes of our planet off their sofas and out into their toolsheds can we hope to save our planet's bagels.

Friday, 6 November 2015

2 Years Short of a 4 Pack

I must admit, I was quite surprised when Droleen told me how of a 1662 fan she was. Said she was a great traditionalist, and that when we chase the Spirit of the Age we are soon lost in heavy going over the hurdles.

I was quietly impressed though. Hadn't realised she was so serious and spiritual.

Although I was enlightened later when I saw her hanging onto the gate while trying to focus on the fireworks over Aspley Guise way.

1664. She's a big fan of 1664. She was only two out.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The Homophobic Verses

A minister who helped out at a prison has resigned after complaints that he read out a "homophobic" verse from the Bible.

The verse concerned is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:  "neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor coveters, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the Kingdom of God"

Now it's a short article in the BBC. We aren't told if Mr Trayhorn then expounded upon the passage. I guess he might have,  as he says " I...do not believe it is right to alter the Christian faith so as to tailor it to any modern view of sexual ethics."

Now I guess we're all in our own ways inclined to tinker with the ethics (sexual or other) in the Bible. If I ever meet a Midianite, I always resist the urge to kill them and burn their village down, sparing not even the sheep. If anyone with crushed testicles wants to join the Beaker Folk, I won't ban him from entering the Moot House. And black pudding - banned in the New Testament as well as the old - is in my view a tasty snack.

But however we look at it, the Bible is still the Bible. We can't edit out the bits we don't like. We can't just change the Bible itself. You have to deal with it as it is, even if you make of it what you want or believe you should. Maybe you do believe we need to read it in the light of modern sexual ethics. Or maybe you think all gay people should repent and settle down with people of the alternative genital grouping. But the text you start from is still the text. You can't edit out bits about sexual behaviour any more than you can take out St James' s warnings about speech or give Samson a happy ending, where he and Delilah make up and all their kids go to Oxford.

In other news, the Governor at Littlehey is considering separate complaints from drunkards, thieves, coveters and extortioners. Apparently a few of them were in the congregation as well.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Sung Eucharist

Walked past a church advertising its regular Sunday service, "Sung Eucharist". And wondered.

If they'd just said "High Mass", non-churchgoers would have a rough idea what they meant. They might or might not like it, but they'd know roughly where they were.

If they'd said "Sunday Service", the Communion part of the service would probably not have been a surprise. Though anyone wandering in expecting a Morning Prayer might have wondered why it was so long, they wouldn't have been shocked.

If they'd said "Lord's Supper", non-regulars might have wondered why it was in the morning.

But "Sung Eucharist". A Greek word attached to an English past tense. It's an odd concept. Says "something you don't understand is in the past. In the passive voice."

I dunno. It's very intellectual. But I'm not sure it helps.

The Alternative Service Book Society

On this day in 1980, the ASB was born.

An exercise in the elimination of poetry, the ASB encapsulated modernity. That is, it was well-meaning but ugly, and soon obsolete.

We in the Alternative Service Book Society have the following Rule:

1. To use the ASB once a month, so we remember why we shouldn't.
2. To turn Anglican members of the ASBS in to the police, to remind them why religious establishment is a bad idea.
3. To wish it was still 1967.
4. To regret allowing that Anglo-Catholic Eucharistic Prayer in. It only encouraged them.

The Alternative Service Book Society (a sod-all-ity) meets fortnightly in a brutalist cubic church made from asbestos sheets and reinforced concrete, in the outskirts of Harlow.

We have no idea why.

It only gets us down.

Gathering Together at Armageddon

Downing Street denies the PM has shelved plans for a second vote on bombing Syria.

The PM's office says we will definitely bomb Syria, just as soon as he's decided which side to bomb.  We've ruled out the Americans and Russians, but there's just so many other options, aren't there?

Sunday, 1 November 2015

The Highest Aims

Two sprained ankles, one toppled-over and bashed their head.

Two hyperventilations and four cases of exhaustion.

You know, I think we're getting better at the "Hopping Gloria".

The Over-long Procession

You know how it is. We wanted to do something proper liturgical for our All Hallows/ Saints/ Souls/ Halloween Mash Up Service. Something like a proper church.

And our plan was to have a procession. A proper procession. Not just the usual one where the Druids and the Acolytes follow the Tea-Light-Bearer along the Corridor of Uncertainty, walk up to the Worship Focus and plonk themselves down on their bean bags.

No, I wanted to go for a proper procession. One where we did a figure of eight, passing through between the Beaker Circle for numerous different directions to do the whole "Pretending to be in a Cathedral" thing.

Except we didn't rehearse it, did we? It's been a long week. And the procession had too many members for the manoeuvre we were trying. As we realised when the front of the procession was about to intercept the middle of the procession, in the middle of the Moot House.

Full marks to the Folk in the procession. The early ones just timed their steps to alternate their way through. And then the fitter ones, who had experience in gymnastic liturgical dancing, managed to leap over the people coming from the other direction. Bad news for Zyril, who vaulted over little Demelsa then realised his arthritis wasn't as quiet as he'd thought. There's nothing puts you off worship so much as a bloke screaming and holding his ankles.

But the real problem came when the Acolytes realised they weren't totally in control of their Heelys. Dreadful, dreadful braking technique. Smashed straight into each other. Then Raderick ricocheted off and ran over Zyril's wrist.

It was, it's fair to say, a bad day for Zyril.

So I feel we've learned a few things today.

First up - measure the length of processions. Then don't let Zyril do anything acrobatic. Do not issue Licenses to Acolyte until the people concerned have passed their Heely Proficiency Test (Grade 3) with at least a Merit.

And finally, never never never think you're a cathedral. It's only asking for trouble. Unless you have a very good gift shop with St Albans fridge magnets. Then you'll probably be OK.

A Mourinho Liturgy

Introduction

Archdruid: Peace be with you.
All: We have nothing to say.

Archdruid: Don't you think it's a wonderful world?
All: We have nothing to say.

Confession:

Archdruid: Let us confess the naughty things we have done in this naughty world.

All: You think we have done wrong things?

Archdruid:; Maybe made the wrong decisions?

All: We can't say anything about the decisions.

Responsive Reading (Book of Jose)

Archdruid: May they be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Ever spotting Lucas's 2nd yellow, but never noticing Costa's nasty kick in the ribs.

All: We never saw it. We cannot comment.

Affirmation of Faith (according to the new experimental texts)

Archdruid: Do you believe in God and, you know, stuff like that?

All: We have nothing to say.

Archdruid: Do you reject doing naughty stuff?

All: We did not see anything wrong. It was all down to something that happened that we cannot mention.

Archdruid: Will you try and do good stuff?

All: You said this service would last 30 minutes. It is now 30 minutes and 35 seconds. These things only happen to us.

The Peace

Archdruid: Let's share a sign of peace together.

All: If we don't want to shake hands, maybe we don't want to shake hands.

Dismissal

Archdruid: Let us go in..... hang on, where are you going?

All may walk abruptly up the tunnel

Samhain in the Air Tonight

Bit of a challenging Samhain last night even by Beaker Folk standards, then.

I'm not going to beat about the bush, there's a reason why we've always banned badgers from Beaker worship. They're vicious beggars that eat hedgehogs. And all the Beaker Folk are scared of them.

So when two of them wander into the meadow while we're just about to light the Wicker Person, it's not gonna be a great start to the proceedings.

In the panic as everybody scarpered from our barcode-impressionist friends, there was a minor issue with the winner of the Giant Pumpkin competition. Inasmuch as Morbit's finest ever specimen was knocked loose from its moorings and rolled down the drive towards Drayton Parslow's cottage. Drayton, about to head out on his annual circuit of the village warning trick or treaters of the fires of hell, was astounded to be hit amidships by a 220lb vegetable. And ended up covered with pumpkin flesh and rind, and unable to see where he was going. Wandered out into the road, narrowly missed a passing van, and terrified the kids having a party down School Lane.

So we abandoned Samhain for the day. Unfortunately, according to Beaker rules, we can't move it to another feast day that's already booked. And we already had a lot of feast days booked - we get a bit bored if it's not a special occasion. So today's out (All Hallows). Tomorrow's All Souls. Tuesday is the Nativity of Ludovic Kennedy. And you may not think the latter is more significant liturgically than All Hallow's Eve, but we've already baked the cake.

So Halloween this year for the Beaker Folk will be November 31st. Yes, I know that day doesn't really exist. But what can we do? Between midnight on the 30th and midnight and a little bit on the 1st December, we will light the Wicker Person and celebrate the ancient autumnal feast of it being a bit closer to Yule than we really expected. And we're gonna sweep the field for badgers in advance.