Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Folding Pastoral Cycle

Brilliant new bike I've bought for when in London.

It folds up, and it's really handy for cycling from declining congregations to thriving churches where everybody smiles and all the leaders wear chinos.

That's right.

It's a Brompton.
By Jim.Henderson - Own work, Public Domain,

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Welcome Notice

Hello!

Delighted to have you drop in! Please try and shove a couple of quid in the money chest. All major currencies are accepted although , f you must donate sterling, can you also drop a few Euro cents in. We're hedging against an SNP-LibDem-UKIP coalition.
Please note there are no valuables left in the church. The last vicar made off with all the silver.

Harmonium

Please do not play tunes on the fine 19th century harmonium. You'll only upset Elsie. 50 years she's been playing hear on Sundays and we're yet to recognise a hymn.

Postcards

If you want to pay for postcards - yes we know they're dog eared. If you'd hung around this damp  building for years so would you be. Have you seen the vicar? Sorry state

Guest Book

There's a guest book on the postcard stand. Feel free to leave us a note. But out of courtesy, and to help us with our fundraising and communications, could you follow a few guidelines.

Keep your handwriting neat. Some people's writing looks like a spider has fallen in an ink blot and staggered across the book. And that does occasionally happen. The biro's unreliable and we've some big spiders.

In the column that says "Address" please put your address. Not some comments about your feelings on entering the building. "Peaceful" may well be a place in the United States for all I know. But without a Zip code it's just a feeling. And we're not really interested in your feelings.

If you are from Abroad please enter your full name and address. This is definitely because we want to keep you in touch. I cannot stress enough that we don't have a team of international jewel thieves, specialising in houses whose owners are away. Definitely not.

Bats

Don't be disturbed if you hear scratching from the bats living in the roof space. They will almost certainly not  fly down en masse and cling on your face, biting and scratching in a blood frenzy. Honestly, it's been weeks. You might want  to use an umbrella. That's to avoid droppings. And very rarely to keep the bats at bay while feral badgers invade the church and chew your shoes.  Note that bats are protected species. So should you succeed in killing one, can you stick it in the chute marked "solid fuel". Costs a fortune heating this place.

Spirits

If you sit in any of the pews, don't be surprised if the ghost of a former parishioner appears to tell you it's their pew. If you've accidentally sat in Norm Lyvington's seat, please note the box on the pillar, bearing the message "break glass for exorcist." If you're lucky you'll be able to get help before you find yourself unaccountably complaining about the repeal of the Corn Laws.

Green Men and Gargoyles

You will find a number of fascinating grotesques and other images around the place. If you see one with a spectacularly ugly face and wide-open mouth, that's Major Dumpling. Just beat him away with one of the bat umbrellas.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Last Rites of Spring (this year)

A lovely map from i100 of the ways different languages say the word that means "Easter".

You will notice that all the countries around the Mediterranean - the place where Easter was first celebrated, use a word that approximates to "Pascha" - coming from "Passover".

You may also be aware that the earliest celebrations of the feast were in the Mediterranean world, and no later than the 2nd century.

You will note that as the English used the word "Lent" from Anglo-Saxon - which was a month name meaning "Opening up"  - so they used the word "Easter" - which was also a month name.

There is only one logical conclusion.

The early Church adopted a pagan festival from Germany. They then completely removed all clues that it was pagan by attaching it to a fictitious story about a man being executed - and unexpectedly rising from the dead. They further removed its pagan clues by changing its name from that of a pagan goddess to that of a Jewish festival that fell at the same time.

They then further covered things up by decreeing that nobody was to mention Eostre's hare / rabbit for 1,000 years. They kept the eggs, though. Because once they'd kept quiet about the rabbit they knew nobody would guess where the eggs came from.

And that is how a totally pagan feast, with a totally pagan timing, became the central feast of the Christian faith. Christians. eh? They'll believe anything.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Venerable Bede Discovers Eostre

Bede: So, these wild Anglo-Saxon months! Blood month; First Yule; Second Yule; Holy Month! But what does "Eostre-month" mean?

First Angle: Erm.... it's named after something...

Bede: Sounds like "East". Is it named after the East?

Second Angle: Maybe. But - if we say it's just named after the East, that's pretty dull, ennit?

Bede: True. Hardly an exciting mythological explanation. Just because it's the time of the year when the sun rises in the due East....  Can you give me something a bit more mystical and pagan?

First Angle: Some kind of goddess?

Bede: Like it. Like it.  What's she like?

Second Angle: Ooo! I know! She's fond of rabbits!

First Angle: Or maybe of lagomorphs in general?

Bede: I don't want to be splitting hares...

First Angle: Even today, in the 8th Century AD, that is not a new joke, Ven.

Bede: Fair do's. So she's the goddess of the dawn. And of rabbits.

Second Angle: Rabbits that lay eggs.

Bede: WHAT!!!!!

First Angle: Well, she is a goddess. Surely rabbits can lay eggs?

Bede: No idea. How do rabbits produce other rabbits?

Second Angle: Has anyone invented that joke about...

First Angle: Yes.  Like rabbits. Brilliant. .We all know it.

Second Angle; OK. Well, she's got egg-laying rabbits, and Austria will be named after her.

First Angle: And the hormone oestrogen

Second Angle; And Estragon, in "Waiting for Godot". 

First Angle: And the supermarket, "Asda".

Bede: You're just making this up, aren't you?

First Angle: Well, you started it...

Saturday, 15 April 2017

The Grim Inevitability of Death

Sad news from Italy, where the oldest human being on the planet, Emma Morano, has died. 117 years of age. Whenever the oldest person dies - which is, after all, quite frequently, what with them being old - we hear about their advice on how to live a long life. "Her doctor for 27 years, said Morano rarely ate vegetables or fruit. “When I first met her she ate three eggs a day, two raw in the morning and then an omelette at noon, and chicken at dinner.”"

Well no wonder she died, with that kind of diet.

There's a grim inevitability about death. You read the accounts of the patriarchs in the book of Genesis: you know, the ones that lived for five or six hundred years, long enough to beget the next in line and other sons and daughters - and then it always says "and then he died." Drives it in. Even the mythical heroes of the past, who lived great long lives, are dead.

There's a scene early in the sit com series, Red Dwarf. Dave Lister has been awoken from suspended animation - all the other crew having died in a radiation leak on their space ship. And the computer, Holly, is trying to persuade Lister that everyone else has died, but Lister can't get it: 


Lister: Where is everybody, Hol?
Holly: They're dead, Dave.
Lister: Who is?
Holly: Everybody, Dave.
Lister: What, Captain Hollister?
Holly: Everybody's dead, Dave.
Lister: What, Todhunter?
Holly: Everybody's dead, Dave.
Lister: What, Selby?
Holly: They're all dead. Everybody's dead, Dave.
Lister: Peterson isn't, is he?
Holly: Everybody is dead, Dave.
Lister: Not Chen?
Holly: Gordon Bennett! Yes, Chen, everybody, everybody's dead, Dave!
Lister: Rimmer?
Holly: He's dead, Dave, everybody is dead, everybody is dead, Dave.
Lister: Wait. Are you trying to tell me everybody's dead?

Thing about death - we know it's utterly natural. An inevitable result of the way our bodies work. The result of the way the universe works. Everything dies. It's how it is. And yet - it's always a shock. The discovery that a loved one has terminal cancer. The news that people have died in a terrorist attack. Even the death of an old, old woman like Emma Morano - we know deep down that, however much this may be how the world works, it's not right. Someone who laughed, danced, cried, hugged us, loved us - they are no more. And there's a hole where love should be. And it's not bloody right.

Early on a Sunday morning, a grieving woman called Mary goes down to a tomb. Her teacher, her leader is dead. And it's not bloody right. But even so she's going to do what needs to be done - to dress his body with herbs and then leave him until the flesh is gone from his body. The Jews didn't flinch from death - they would return after a few years, take the bones and put them into an ossuary - a bone box - where they would take up less space.

These days they're always getting dug up in Israel and Palestine in archaeological digs, ossuaries. Every year or two somebody will dig an ossuary up and find it's got the name "Jesus" on it and get over-excited in the press for a day or two. But it doesn't mean anything. Being called "Jesus" in 1st Century Judea and Galilee was like being called Harley or Kylie today. They all were. Well, a lot of the men at any rate. Not Kylie. Jesus.

But that's the precise point here - the Bible makes the claim that when Mary went down to the grave, there was no body there. The rock - put in place to make sure nobody could steal the body - is out of the way. The guards - well, they've run away to make up stories to cover their respective backsides. Ideally a story that doesn't involve the awful, shocking news that the one they were supposed to be keeping neatly stacked away, had decided to go for a walk in the dew of that first morning of the week. Because death is shocking, but this life is even more so.

Mary's not stupid. She knows that people don't just go rising from the dead. Not a normal activity. Especially not from a bloody, hideous, thorough death like being flayed with a Roman whip and then nailed to a cross and left there till everybody knows you're dead, then stabbed in the side with a javelin just to make sure. Nobody who's been through that is going to be running around the garden in the cool of the day. So this bloke hanging around must be the gardener, mustn't he? The one person he can't be is Jesus.

And he says just her name, "Mary", and she knows who he is. Despite the fact that it's impossible; despite the hideous cold finality of death. This is her Lord. And he's calling her.

And the world changes.

It's not that death becomes less ghastly. It's an outrage - a hideous outbreak into the way we believe things should be - and we know it. It's not that disasters are less terrible. Not that injustices are less unfair. The 96 of Hillsborough, the refugees car-bombed in Syria, the trafficked innocents drowned in the Mediterranean - they are all dead, and their deaths call out to heaven. And we can't undo them by wishing.

But it offers hope through the valley of the shadow of death. It says that when an evil empire and a cabal of powerful men got together - when the Devil himself thought he had won - that their vision was too weak. The bounds of their vision were those of death. They did not see that justice would outlast injustice, that love could be stronger than death. 

In his death, Jesus Christ - the Son of God - descends with us into the depths of our human experience. His pointless, evil, cruel death is just one more in the litany of evil that starts with the death of Abel and goes all the way up to the Copts that were murdered at their Palm Sunday service last week. There's no distance down that we might encounter, that Christ has not descended with us. He's gone there all the way with us.

And as he rises from the tomb, he drags us back up from Hell with him. His arms - shattered on the cross - are still strong to lift us. His back - torn by the whip - is able to carry us. And all things are changed. Death is still death, but it's not final. Evil is still evil, but love wins in the end. And we wait, and hope.

Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. 

One Tiny Resurrection at a Time

28 years ago, 95 Liverpool fans were killed - another died later - at an FA Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough. The Sun newspaper at the time blamed what it described as drunken Liverpool fans. It claimed some Liverpool fans had urinated on, or stolen from, the dying. Years later, after endless campaigning and fighting, it is agreed that the Sun had lied - apparently, in part, to cover up for the incompetence of the police operation. The Sun Editor - a man of so apparently little principle that he changed the football team he supports after they were relegated - was Kelvin MacKenzie.

This Friday, the Sun published an opinion piece in which the Everton footballer Ross Barkley was insulted. Barkley had, apparently without provocation, been attacked in a night club. The Sun's opinion piece said that Barkley was stupid and compared him to a gorilla.  It also said that Barkley earned a similar wage packet to drug dealers in Liverpool (Everton, for those that do not know, are the third most famous football team in the city of Liverpool). The columnist who wrote this piece of filth has been referred to the police amid claims that the "gorilla" slur was racially motivated. That columnist? Kelvin MacKenzie. The Sun has suspended him as a columnist. One wonders why the editor did not read the piece before it went out.

In this vale of tears that is our world, I find it hard to believe that 96 innocent Liverpool fans died, while the one who lied about and abused their friends and fellow-fans is still able to find work as some kind of journalist. I find it hard to believe that as the anniversary of Hillsborough came round, MacKenzie could decide it was time to slime the city of Liverpool again. I imagine he does not care, and will not care about the upset he has caused. On this world, in this time, he will never truly pay for the hurt and damage, the lies and abuse. He is rich, and comfortable, and arrogant.

Holy Saturday is a strange day. That first Holy Saturday would not have been like the others. The disciples and their friends had no idea that they would see Jesus again. He had died - like so many others - at the hands of the Romans. It had been an outrage, an injustice. If Kelvin MacKenzie had been on the books at the Jerusalem Herald, he would no doubt have said that Jesus was a thug, a troublemaker, a delinquent with a known track record of turning over tables and chasing money-changers with whips. The disciples saw no hope, no future, no resurrection. They weren't waiting, as we do, knowing that it all changes on Sunday.

One day, it will all be different again. The day when the dead rise like their Lord, the injustices are overturned, wrongs are all righted and every tear is wiped from the eyes of those who mourn. One day, that first Resurrection will blaze back into this world to bring about every resurrection.  In the mean time, let's fight injustices one at time. Counter each lie with truth. Each act of hatred with love. From now to the Great Day may be a long time. But we will get there - one tiny resurrection at a time.

Friday, 14 April 2017

On Golgotha

In pain we lose touch with the world.

Searing pain - flesh torn apart; head ripped with thorns; wrists and feet pierced with iron spikes. The pain should drag you away from this world, as your life - first borne by that woman who weeps - pours into the Judean dust.

Darkness. But the darkness of death or of the skies that mourn? Or are they the same, in the faintness of this hour?

Rejection. The crowds that laughed and then grew bored. But your friends - gone too. And the Father? Where is he as you hang in the darkness? Can you see him? Do you hear him in this dark place, as you did by the sea?

Your compassion. Yes, my teacher and friend - I will take her as my mother. Care for the one who cared for you. Watch over her through her Passion. When you are gone she will still have a son.

It is finished.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

I Believe in the Resurrection

Peter Ould does some analysis and Ian Paul does some commentary on the BBC's shock-horror "3/4 Christians believe in the Resurrection" story.

I must admit I was surprised anyone was surprised at that figure. And astounded by Peter Ould's calculation that among active churchgoers the figure is actually over 90%.

I mean, did the authors of "Myth of God Incarnate" write all that drivel for nothing? Did John AT Robinson write a book that was utterly incomprehensible to normal human beings, so that people could go on believing  the Creeds?

Why did the "Jesus Seminar" put such weight on a document that may never have existed, and go to such trouble to make up ground rules that suited their intent, if people just read the Gospel like it's truth?

Why did liberal scholars suffer their sinecures and college dinners for so long, if their conclusions that none of the Bible can be trusted and their jobs are pointless, are ignored from Brompton Road to Watford Gap, and even in the savage areas beyond?

Well, the only liberals that can take comfort from this poll are the ones in the Church that claims many of the "active" Christians and nearly all of the "inactive" ones. The Church of England.


Monday, 10 April 2017

Re-accommodating to the Modern World

Bit of a disturbance at today's "Fig Monday" service. People thought we were offering free figs and we had hordes of fig-lovers turned up.

Four more than we had seats, as it turned out. Hnaef, Keith, Charlii and I emerged to discover that our druiducal seating had been appropriated by random proles.

So, in accordance with the old saying that  "the last will be first", we asked that the people in our chairs move. No response.

So I started hitting them with my cricket bat. Well, you get over-excited don't you?

I'm pleased to say we had enough chairs in the end. And I'm really grateful to the Beaker Folk we had to re-accommodate to make this possible

I hope they wake up soon.