Saturday, 24 February 2018

Emma Chambers - 1964 - 2018

Pure brilliance.

Rest in Peace.


Disgusted with Tunbridge Wells

What on earth is it with Tunbridge Wells? Home of the Ordinariate priest who got excited over the love life or otherwise of the Bishop of Grantham. He also suggested that +Grantham's domestic arrangements could "stretch the the fabric of the C of E to beyond breaking point." Personally I reckon that happened years ago. At any rate, the fabric of the C of E seems pretty much like it was in 2016 when I first commented on the matter.

Now Peter Sanlon tells us that, since the Diocesan Director of Ordinands* in Southwark Diocese is a lesbian, it's likely that straight men will never be selected for ordination training. Which makes you wonder how she ever got the job in the first place. If nobody ever selects somebody of a different gender, or a different sexual orientation, why hasn't every priest always been a married man like St Peter? How did the Southwark DDO sneak in, in the first place, if that's how it works?

Or maybe Peter Sanlon is suggesting that lesbians all hate men. That would be ridiculous, to suggest he stereotypes like that. But then he has previously seemed to equate paedophilia with homosexuality. So, you know.

He also tells us the problem with bad shepherds is that they go around whitewashing things:
It is a perennial temptation for  shepherds – that is ministers and lay leaders like us – to hope futilely that a lick of whitewash will cover over the fatal  structural flaws we are sitting on
Now I don't know about you, but I'm shocked to hear that's what shepherds do. They may use a bit of sheep dip. They used to use reddle - and maybe still do in parts of Wessex for all I know. Whitewash? While sitting on a a sheep with fatal structural flaws? What kind of shepherds are these?

It could be that Peter Sanlon has just mixed his metaphors. But best play it safe. If you're a Kentish sheep farmer and you see Peter Hanlon heading for your flock with a pot of white paint, get them safely in. That's my advice.

* Official potential vicar talent-spotter



Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Gentle, Folksy, Genocidal Beaker Folk

So the votes are in on the Beaker occupation of the British Isles. And, let's be frank, it ain't pretty.

Turns out that the arrival of the Beaker Folk coincided with an abrupt decline in the population of the indigenous people. I say "coincided" as the scientists are careful not to say the Beaker Folk just wandered in and ate them all. Perhaps, like the European colonisation of the New World, it was just an unfortunate importation of new diseases the original inhabitants had no immunity to.

And, of course, a fair amount of genocide.
"Yeah, we wiped out the energy of our entire race and got invaded.
But at least the Sun God was satisfied with our work."

What it all means is that we are all the descendants of immigrants. Not one of us can seriously claim to be mostly descended from the people who walked across from the continent in the days when a prehistoric Nigel Farage was wondering how he was going to take control of the border with Doggerland. So anybody who says immigrants should go back where they came from, should start checking the flights to Poland.

I have to take issue with the comments that the pre-Beaker people were the ones who "built Stonehenge", however. I mean, yes. They started it. But if their population was declining from 3,500 on, then they weren't building Stonehenge III were they? Unless that was what wore them out. There are many mysteries to solve as now the dating suggests that either a weakened, depopulated Great British population still managed to build a huge stone monument, or in fact the Beaker Folk rocked up from the Continent. mopped up the locals, rolled up their sleeves and started shifting giant sarsens around - all in a century or two.

So there are many mysteries yet to sole. So I can keep making stuff up with ritual effect. Bradford University's Ian Armit's comments worry me though...
"In the centuries after the Beaker burials the DNA shows that the earlier Britons did not just come slipping back out of the woods."
Does he mean... they're still there?



Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Billy Graham is Dead, Matthew Avery Sutton Not Yet

If it wasn't CS Lewis, then it was somebody who did an awesome impression of him at college, who told us that the problem with the present time is that it assumes everybody else was wrong, and the current bunch are right.

And so Matthew Avery Sutton, not even waiting till Billy Graham is cold, stomps in to tell us that Graham was "on the wrong side of history".

Which reveals that Dr Sutton has a pretty poor concept of what "history" means. Or, more importantly, that he doesn't realise it hasn't ended yet.

What side is history on? Ultimately, history is on the side of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Of futility, failure, decline and death. Viewed from the end of history, we will see that pretty much everything was a waste of time - a chasing after the wind. That the victories that were won, were short-lived. That joy is fleeting, and the best any of us can hope for is temporary bubble of stability and happiness in the midst of despair.

In this respect, Billy Grahams' view of history was more consonant with the reality of things than any progressive view on life. If he thought you should do what you could, while knowing that true happiness only comes at the restoration of all things - then he was at least 50% right. Maybe 100%. Whereas Matthew Avery Sutton's view of life is doomed to utter failure, and we all know it.

What really upsets Matthew Avery Sutton seems to be that Billy Graham's solutions to problems weren't statist. "Individuals alone can achieve salvation; governments cannot. Conversions change behaviors; federal policies do not." It's a fundamental rift in outlook this. And I probably need to use an insight from CS Lewis again to consider it.

If Christianity is true, then states and governments are temporary whereas individuals last forever. On the other hand, (my words) if Christianity is false, then both are temporary so what the hell. Who cares? Let's eat drink and be merry and relatively kind to each other, for tomorrow we die.

Worth remembering that, whatever his political influence, Billy Graham was a churchperson not a politician. So when Matthew Avery Sutton complains that Graham "criticized civil rights activists for focusing on changing laws rather than hearts" - well, yeah. What Sutton is saying is that he'd rather the law made people behave well than that they wanted to. Which, yeah, is pretty indicative of a statist view of life. Of course, the thing about states is they're not all as nice as the one M Sutton thinks we should have. Some states are frankly a bit crappy. Wouldn't it be nice if we all loved each other?

In the end, Matthew Avery Sutton's piece basically tells us the important piece of information that he didn't agree with Billy Graham. But only one of them, as of today, is dead. I wonder about the piece - did Sutton write it ages ago, and then wait for Graham to die? Or did he write it in a hurry, asked to knock a few hundred scathing words out? I hope it was the latter. Sutton has an excuse for its laziness and unexamined assumptions if it were the latter.

But I'll tell you this. A liberal deciding who is on the right side of history, two years after the Brexit vote and 15 months after the Trump one, with Putin in the Kremlin, Assad in Syria and Erdogan in Turkey may wonder where history is. And when the newspaper publishing his piece has a failing business model and is losing money hand over fist they may also wonder which way that arc is bending. Personally I'm more on the liberal side. But the idea we're heading for a liberal utopia strikes me as being as unrealistically eschatological as anything you're likely to hear.

So Billy Graham is dead, and Matthew Avery Sutton isn't yet. One day we may (or may not) find out what side history is on. But if your view of the Kingdom of God is that it's coterminous with the State, I'm guessing it's not on your side. States are temporary. Individuals last forever.


Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.

Generating Sermon Ideas

You know how it is. It's Wednesday. Prime day for panicking about Sunday. You're a preacher struggling with a sermon. We all do it. And you need an illustration but you're out of inspiration. How are you gonna enlighten, educate and entertain without at least one enlivening anecdote?

Fear not, little ones. Follow any of the steps below and your sermon will be improved. And lengthened by anything up to five minutes.

- Go for a journey with the bare minimum of fuel. NB this journey must be on God's Work. Otherwise your just limping home with a teaspoon in the tank will be a mere coincidence.

- Feel a bit sad. And then feel a bit better again.

- Develop an illness. Bear it bravely.

- Be rude about UKIP. You're vanishingly unlikely to be complained about at hustings. Next time.

- Go down to your local car park. Drive around praying for a space. Eventually your prayer will be answered. NB for best results, do not close your eyes while praying.

- Have lots of friends who don't mind you sharing their personal situations.

- Find a random word in the passage. Doesn't matter which. Wring every possible meaning and ambiguity out of the word's meaning in the original Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek; its usage in Middle English; that odd little second meaning of its translation into Latin; the way that in the Tagalog they had a bit of a problem with translation; the way the King James Version translates it as something totally different and is clearly correct.

- Recount the one time you were both witty and holy. Again.

- Walk up to 1,000 people and ask if they want to be saved. One may well say "yes".  They may have said the same to those Mormons yesterday, as they just like pleasing people. That doesn't matter. If you're really lucky the police will stop you for causing a disturbance. And now you've got a sermon illustration and you're a news story.

- Remember that time you went to a Billy Graham mission.

- It must be some kind of anniversary of Princess Diana? Mention how great she was.

- Explain why God is a bit like something God really isn't much like.

- Explain a difficult concept  (eg the Trinity) by analogy with a concept you don't really understand  (e.g. the 3rd Law of Thermodynamics). Pray there are no physicists in the congregation.

- Have a child so you have a source of amusing stories. If you're in more of a hurry, borrow a pet. Pets are less likely to hate you for it when they grow up.

- Throw in a hideously heretical analogy for the Trinity. Thus distracting attention from the thin-ness of the rest of the sermon.

- Complain how everyone on trains is looking at their phones and avoiding human interaction these days. Neglect to mention what the Evening Standard* was basically  invented for.

- Go for a walk in the countryside but forget to take your map. Thus enabling you to explain how you trusted God and got home safely. Ideally do this somewhere safe, like Buckinghamshire or Suffolk. Not Yorkshire where you could fall off a cliff in the dark And people would instead use you as a sermon illustration to needing a light unto your feet.

* Metro, Telegraph, Beano according to local conditions. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, 19 February 2018

The 6th Day of Lent

Just want to calm Beaker Folk down. They were panicking that possibly the Woodwose had gone feral again.

It's just Marston Moretaine going through Lent. Three years ago he gave up meat, and put on 2 stone by eating crisps to compensate.

Two years ago he gave up meat and crisps - and put on 2 stone by eating chocolate to compensate.

Last year he ate about 6 hundredweight of peanuts making up for not eating meat, crisps or chocolate.

So this year he's given the peanuts the push as well. And it takes a horrendous amount of cheese straws to make up for that loss of snack-based calories. Four packs a day, as it turns out.

Trouble is, all those cheese straws seem to have affected his biochemistry. Eight inch long body hair. And howling at where the moon would be, were there a moon.

It's only 6 weeks till Easter.  And we're all counting the days.



Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

A Clear View

 At that time Jesus came from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the place where John was. John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.  When Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven open. The Holy Spirit came down on him like a dove.  A voice came from heaven and said: “You are my Son and I love you. I am very pleased with you.”
 Then the Spirit sent Jesus into the desert alone.  He was in the desert 40 days and was there with the wild animals. While he was in the desert, he was tempted by Satan. Then angels came and took care of Jesus. (Mark 1:9-15)

What I am about to describe is illegal. Please don't do this.

Everyone has done this.

You're on a long journey and you're driving along quite happily and you discover that there's just a bit of dirt on your windscreen - just a bit, not like the scene in "Back to the Future" where Biff drives into the manure cart. And you try and wash it off and you discover there's no washer left in the wash bottle in the car. And the wipers just spread the dirt around a bit but not - you know - too much. So you're still driving happily but you have got a bit of a grubby windscreen. Which is annoying.

The correct thing at this point is to stop at a handy services, petrol station or supermarket and fill the wash bottle up. Then drive on, happy in the knowledge that you can see through the windscreen. That is the right thing to do. It's the legal thing to do. I would be failing in my duty of care were I not to point out that this is the legal and safe thing to do.

Some people at this point might drive on.

And there's a bit more dirt around on the roads, or they've been gritting and the other cars are kicking it all around a bit. And now you can't actually see out the screen much anymore. But you can see one little clean spot. And it's only 120 miles to Halifax. So you peer through the clean spot and crack on.

This is illegal. Please don't do this.

You really need to stop. And clean the screen. Because otherwise you might miss the thing up in front that you need to avoid. You might even, while peeking through the little clean bit in the screen, miss the fact you should have turned off at Junction 26.

Lent is a recognition that we can get a bit busy - a bit distracted - our view can get a bit obscured.

(Be aware this video has a rude word. You can guess which one.)



We get into the stuff in our life. We look too much at small stuff. We let worries and little niggles - or even good things - get in the way of seeing the important things. We need to stop. Clean off the windscreen. Get a proper view of life.

Jesus was coming out from his baptism. And he would have been full of adrenaline. Excited - flushed with the revelation that his Father had made about his nature. Easy in those circumstances to just plough on and start preaching, you'd have thought.

Instead Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. And there he was tempted by Satan. We know what the temptations were from the other Gospels: the desire for power; to make life easy for himself; to do the spectacular stunts instead of the work that his Father had sent him for. He had to get it straight in his mind - he wasn't on this earth to be a conquering warrior. He was here to be a suffering servant.

That's where Lent comes from for us. It's not about joking around about the fact you've not had a bar of chocolate for 4 weeks. It's that in looking to be simple - in giving up some everyday things that we don't need but quite like - we can keep reminding ourselves that there are more important things. The point of Lent isn't that we learn to live without Ferrero Rocher. It's that we give ourselves the space to make things clear.

There's a trap in project management. Some people don't understand what project managers are for. They, after all, don't produce anything. I've never understood what they achieve by their existence in organisations. What do they do? And yet, if you ever see a project that runs without any kind of person who's been given the job of checking progress - it tends to run into the sand. Project managers are the ones who, while chasing to ensure the small stuff happens, have the ability to stand back, look ahead, and see what the real objectives are all along. I think Lent's a bit like that.

But Lent is important because it also guards us against spiritualising our bad behaviours. A few weeks ago I was rude about the title of Eve Poole's book, Leadersmithing. And Eve was gracious enough to send me a copy to read. There's a lot of good insight in there - insight for business leaders but actually others as well. And quite a bit, surprisingly perhaps for a business-focused book, which is spiritual.

Eve points to a misuse of the idea of "kenosis". Kenosis in reference to Jesus is the idea of emptying - of giving up his divine rights. Charles Wesley said Jesus "emptied himself of all but love". So in the desert, the deceiver is trying to persuade Jesus to claim his divine rights - put on the full magic show. While Jesus is determinedly setting himself on the path of servanthood, of service, ultimately the path that leads to the cross. Of sacrifice.

But Eve points out that for many church leaders, that idea can become destructive. Because that sacrificial idea becomes a kind of pride. "I've been to seven meetings today and now I'll have to write my sermons in my day off" becomes, not a warning sign, but a badge of honour. Eve's writing for "leaders". I'd say that can be all of us. When Jesus's call to follow him somehow becomes the route to doormatdom. To being proud of our busy-ness, our tiredness, the fact that some how despite being in a whirl of activity, we've got nothing done. Or we've been in the office early and got out later than everyone else - been to a dozen 121s and team meetings and progress meetings - and yet the inbox is just a day longer. Yet that makes you feel good. Because aren't you dedicated?

Lent, like Sabbath, is a guard against that. A reminder that sometimes the most productive thing you can do is nothing.

......................

After the devil left him, the angels cared for him. And Jesus left the clear air of the desert, and headed into world of humans again. He'd taken time out - faced the things that were important. He had a clear view.

Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.

Friday, 16 February 2018

The Scandal of Halal Easter Eggs

Once again the racists of the Interwebs are claiming that Cadbury's eggs are "halal certified". As usual, at this time of the year, backed up by the claims of twerps such as Godfrey Bloom, that Cadbury's have stopped calling them "Easter" eggs.

And so the Birmingham Mail carries an article on the subject of "Is Cadbury Chocolate Halal?"

Well, if you're a Muslim who's wandered over here, please check with your local imam. I'm just an archdruid. But this is my view on the matter.

Most chocolate is halal. Not because a special prayer has been said over it. You don't have to slaughter little chocolatey creatures in a ritual way. But because chocolate is, fundamentally, vegetarian. Or, at least, lacto-vegetarian. Milk, cocoa powder, sugar - they're all halal. By definition. So most chocolate eggs likewise. Only if the chocolate contains gelatine does the halal or haram nature of the chocolate come into it.

So Cadbury's Easter eggs are halal by definition. If you're the sort of pea wit that boycotts halal products on some kind of twisted principle, feel free. But be aware that, on the same basis, the following products are generally halal:

  • Baked beans
  • Milk
  • Bread
  • Flat caps
  • Union jack flags (should you choose to eat one)
  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Flour
  • Pizza bases
  • Pitta bread
  • Toast
  • Onions
  • Tap water

Basically, if you want a non-halal diet, you need to stick to vodka and bacon. Which sounds attractive but may not be sustainable long-term.

That photograph of "halal certified" Cadbuy's chocolate? It's from Malaysia. A Muslim country. They probably like to be careful over there.

And the idea that Cadbury's are taking the Easter out of the Easter egg? Well, a new discovery has recently been uncovered in the Egyptian desert, from a tomb just outside the Valley of Kings:

Inscription from an Egyptian tomb (4th Dynasty) -
"Thoth complains that Cadbury's have removed the word "Easter" from the egg"

They've been moaning about it a long time.



Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.

Beaker Tips for a Plastic Free Lent

Following on from the Church of England's advice, here's some tips of our own on a plastic-free Lent:

Many modern steam irons are made with large amounts of plastic. Just have creased clothing instead.

If you are a regular user of medical syringes - why not buy your own reusable syringe, crafted from bull's horn or mother of pearl? Unfortunately the current syringe sterilizing equipment has a high percentage of plastic, but scientists are already working on a bamboo version.

Does your mobile or "smart" phone have plastic in it? Why not replace its telephonic operation with shouting? Or drive or fly to see the person you want to talk to. Instead of using it for Social Media, just go to the Houses of Parliament and shout abuse at politicians.

Re-use the plastic windows in any mail that gets past your Junk Mail ban by gluing together and using them as home-made condoms (may not apply to Catholics)

The modern Cybermen contain more plastic than their 1960s ancestors, who were basically wrapped in tin foil and wearing their pants on their heads. Only watch old episodes of Dr Who, which you will have to wait to see on some kind of UK Old type channel. Don't buy the episodes on videos or DVDs, which contain plastic.

Local Authorities provide plastic bins for recycling purposes. Bury them in the garden and use wicker instead.

Bottle openers and corkscrews often contain plastic parts. Instead of buying them, open beer bottles with your teeth and push the corks into bottles with a (bamboo not plastic) chop stick.

Remove all the televisions in your house and dump them outside a farm gate. Replace them with a nice bamboo-framed picture - but make sure the painter didn't use plastic handles on their brushes.

Many cars have plastic trim. Rip it out and replace it with hand-tooled leather or walnut. Ideally, organically-sourced walnut from a sustainable walnut forest. Don't be content with only doing this to your own vehicle. Flag down passing cars and refit them as well. Explain to the owners that it is for their own good.

Does your bleach come from the supermarket in a plastic bottle? Insist instead that the retailer pours it into your cupped hands, and carry it home.

Replace all the plastic plant pots in your garden with nice terracotta ones. Ideally hand-cast somewhere they don't have plastic. There is a real danger of the pots picking up microplastics in a non plastic-free environment.

If your church's Communion set is made in Tupperware, why not use gold or other precious materials instead? Try not to catch the eye of the redundant Tupperware representative as they queue up to receive.

Instead of plastic dog-poo bags - consider having your favourite pet stuffed. Also far better for the environment without all that meat consumption.

Burn your old vinyl record collection in your solid-fuel stove. Saves on the gas bills and there's no way that plastic is ending up in the stomach of a squid.

Embrace "Curate Living". If your house has UPVC double glazing, consider instead ill-fitting glass Georgian sash windows.

Instead of using a plastic remote controller, change the channel on your bamboo-framed picture with a snooker queue.

Plastic is frequently used in electrical plugs. Next time you buy electrical equipment, insist they use plugs made from aluminium. Aluminium is lightweight and easily recyclable. OK, it is not an electrical insulator. But you can't make omelette without electrocuting some eggs.

If in searching your kitchen you find thousands of plastic drinking straws, stick them together to make a model of Boris Johnson. It's bound to be at least as plausible as the real one.

Baptism frees you from original sin. So if your clothes contain plastic fibres, just go around in the nude. As recommended by the Bishop of Sherborne.

Feel free to listen to the 1977 Punk classic, "Ca Plane Pour Moi". Turns out there's no Plastic in it.


Cyberperson from Wikiemedia Commons
By Chris Sampson - 270811-041 CPS, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58531999


Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.