Friday, 17 November 2017

Talents

Getting my thoughts together on the Parable of the Talents.

And the often-excellent Roots on the Web site is focusing on the ideas of risk-taking. What is it worth risking, what is the reward? The question we all ask ourselves all the time - albeit quite often with very poor analysis. Take voting "Yes" to Brexit. The risk - is - trashing the economy and upsetting all our natural allies, leaving ourselves friendless in a world that increasingly is dominated by big players like the US, China, India. The reward was sticking fingers up to all the career politicians running the country, and all the establishment businesses - thus seeing us run by a different bunch of career politicians, while the establishment businesses head abroad taking jobs and taxes with them. You can see why it was attractive.

But then we do it in other areas. We know that driving is more dangerous than staying at home. But think the reward of getting to work is greater than that of starving to death. Statistically, cycling everywhere is safer than driving everywhere. But we think about the danger of an "accident*" and get in the Prius.

And in Church?

There's always a safe option. Get those talents nice and safe. Stick to what we do. Maybe tweak what we do, better to accommodate those who already do what we do. Clean the monuments, buff up the woodwork. Keep everything tidy, ready for when the church is ready to be just visited as if it were a museum, looked after by a trust and never open on Sunday. Nice and safe. But it's the route to death.

The alternatives can be - alternative. Maybe you need to do what you do, but better? Though you might upset those who always liked it as it was. Not too challenging. Not too much change. Excellence is awful.

Or maybe the right thing to do would be completely to change. Get rid of the Latin Mass and replace it with Messy Church. Or vice-versa. Depends on the locale, dunnit? Chuck out, or bring in, the electric guitars. Introduce long, disturbing times of silence. May  not attract the crowds- but maybe some people will be closer to God than they were when it was all words, words, words.

Or have an art exhibition, a drop-in centre, a food bank, a place where people can just sit about. They may bring their problems. They may fail - some things do. But you're offering a place of connection. A hope. A use of your talents, whatever they may be.

Or maybe just throw it all up in the air and go and tell people what Jesus means to you. That, regardless of what smug positivists (who were debunked by the people who invented their stupid philosophy) may say, there's reality in God. That you can touch the divine if you take the time and set aside the space and just bloody look for something beyond the mundane. That if you get past everything reductionist, there's something that embraces the universe waiting for you.

They're high risk strategies. But I'd compare them to cycling. Statistically, cycling improves your life expectancy. Sure, if you take a chance, you run the risk of getting run over. But then what's the alternative? Sit there. Sit there safe. Don't do anything too much. And let yourself run gently down. Run gently down. Run gently down.

And die.



* act of stupidity by a motorist



Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Comfortable Ecumenical Service

Thanks to all the various groups that attended our non-offensive ecumenical service this afternoon. We were really keen, at the planning stage, that we should not include anything that could cause anyone to take offence or be uncomfortable. So we put together a really comprehensive service and then allowed people to say if they had any concerns.

The Lord's Prayer had to go, as we couldn't agree which version. The Nicene Creed because we divided into three groups - "Filioque", "Non-filioque" and "Compromise Nobody Likes." All the other creeds were rejected as not containing enough theology to be worth agreeing on.

"Onward Christian Soldiers", given we're just past Remembrance, had been kicked out by half of them because it was too militaristic, and by the other half to avoid offending any that didn't identify as Christians.

The actual legal form of "In Christ Alone" caused discussion because of the lines that preach substitutionary atonement:

"The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid"

So the alternative "the love of God was magnified" because how can you magnify something that is already infinite? Three weeks of mathematics went into that debate. While the alternative "the love of God was ratified" was rejected because nobody else could work out what it meant.

A confession was a no-go. Because one of the priests of Catholic persuasion wanted to pronounce an absolution and the Plymouth Brethren wanted to know why he thought God would let him have that right.

Then all responsive liturgy was rejected by non liturgical churches. Written prayers by the Methodists. Ex Tempore prayers by everyone else. And there was no way even the Sermon on the Mount would get past that vetting committee uncut.

So anyway. The service ended up being quite short. Just the Grace. Sure, the Christadelphians walked out over the Trinitarian formulation. But it didn't matter, as everyone else was heading out for coffee.



"Complaint about Remembrance of the Year" Competition Winners

And so we reach the end of that blessed time when good patriots have an excuse to do what only Labour politicians and student radicals do the rest of the year - complain other people are doing everything wrong.

Some of the complaints below were really made.

Some of them may have been.

And some of them, you can feel free to use next year.

You're welcome.

1. "I timed the Silence and it was only 1 minute 47."

2. "Her poppy leaf was at half past 10, not 11 o'clock."

3. "If the Queen could not get herself down to the Cenotaph she should be charged with treason."

4. "One of the Scouts clearly had a woggle askew."

5. "A baby cried all the way through. He should have more respect."

6. "There were Polish people there. What do they know about the War?"

7. I stood on the M1 at 11am trying to get the traffic to stop and would they?"

8. "Michael Foot didn't even bother to attend this year."

9. "I saw some people still wearing poppies on the day after Remembrance Sunday. Do they have no respect?"

10. "Marks and Spencer had Christmas advertising up. A tableau of the Somme would be far more appropriate."

11. "Despite in being Remembrance Sunday, the Vicar still insisted on preaching about a "Prince of Peace." What sort of traitor is she?

12. "Silence started 4 seconds early. They should have used my Atomic Clock."

13. "I wear my poppy from Michaelmas onwards. Why does everybody else have such a slack attitude?"

14. "I insist the BBC present nothing but poppy-based programming for the whole of November."

15. "Don't Beavers learn to drill these days? Those 6 year olds were terribly sloppy on parade.

16. "Not only did we not sing "Onward Christian Soldiers." We didn't even get "Don't Let's Be Beastly to the Germans."



Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Amazon Tolkien Leaked

Amazon to produce a "prequel" to The Lord of the Rings. Which presumably doesn't mean they'll be recording The Silmarillion, as the Creation would be so tricky for CGI - but more likely something just after The Hobbit. Which is another prequel to Lord of the Rings.


Bilbo: Bit of pipe weed, Gandalf?

Gandalf: Don't mind if I do. Your birthday tomorrow, isn't it?

Bilbo: Yeah. 98. No bigs.

Frodo: Uncle Bilbo - can you show us The Ring of Power again?

Bilbo: No, I've just wrapped it up. Drop of ale?

Frodo: OK.

Sam: Broccoli's got whitefly again, Mr Bilbo.

Bilbo: Blow some weed-smoke on it, Sam?

Sam: Right you are, Mr Bilbo.

Frodo: You heard from Saruman lately, Gandalf?

Gandalf: Yeah. We made up a four at bridge with Elrond and Galadriel.

Frodo: Nice.

Gandal: Yeah, but I really don't get on with the way Galadriel uses a weak 2 opening. Not the Stayman I grew up with.

Bilbo: Anything on the palantir?

Gandalf: Game of Thrones.

Frodo: Can we watch it?

Bilbo: No. You're too young.

Gandalf: Got to be more exciting that this though.



Greggs Hits the Offence Jackpot

You can't knock Greggs. It's practically impossible to go in to buy a lukewarm VAT-free cheese and bacon puff without luring yourself into buying a slightly-above-room-temperature sausage roll to go with it. It's a kind of universal law. Even if you walked in to Greggs to identify to police the bloke who just mugged you in Taunton Castle Green, you'd be hard-pushed not to walk out clutching a cheap and cheerful sausage roll to accompany you on the way to give evidence.

But they've really gone for it. Jesus as a sausage roll. I can only assume this is simultaneously offensive to three religions - Christians (for whom God can only adequately be represented in bread and wine); Muslims (as Jesus is one of the prophets of their religion) and Jews (as Greggs have, when all is said and done, managed to represent the most famous Jew that ever lived as a non-kosher pastry-based product).

I shall shrug and assume it was a terrible mistake by some 12-year-old marketeer who hadn't thought very much. But maybe keep a wary eye out. If they decide to crucify bunnies on Hot Cross Buns next spring, we'll know it's deliberate.



Monday, 13 November 2017

New Dress Code for Beaker School Children

The Daily Mail reports that boys will be allowed to wear tiaras at school. Reading the Church of England's actual report, it is clear that this is part of Church of England guidance on reducing bullying on the basis of real or alleged gender and sexual orientation.

I won't bother to tell you much about the Mail's article - you can read it if you really want. But it's using a scare headline, obviously. And then sets out bullying of minorities against the C of E's rules on marriage. As if it thinks the ban on gay people marrying each other somehow means beating up gay children is alright.

The actual C of E report is here - but in order not to be trashed by the Daily Mail, we have decided to create a new dress code for the Little Pebbles so they can avoid any kind of gender confusion.
Boys' Uniform 
Hobnailed boots, camouflage trousers, tops in the style of an appropriate masculine super hero (Superman, Spiderman, David Davis etc).  Caps in association with appropriate football teams.
Girls' Uniform 
Sparkly shoes - high heeled, as they may as well get used to them early. Outfits to be either Elsa or Anna from "Frozen". Tiaras.
Gay Children 
As for their identified gender, but with an appropriate triangle.
 Transgender Children / Those with indeterminate gender
To be taught in a special room on their own, so as not to confuse anybody else.
I hope this is clear. We will not tolerate bullying under any circumstances. So it is important we are rigidly clear in our definitions, so we know what bullying we are not tolerating at any given time.


Sunday, 12 November 2017

Atheist Convention Cancelled Due to Lack of Interest

Apparently the 2018 Global Atheist Conference has been cancelled.

Questions that spring to mind from the cancellation page:

Why did the Victorian Government think it was a good idea to invest in a clearly sectarian event that was on unsure financial foundations?

Given their not being sure about when people get refunds - is the Atheist Foundation of Australia a bit short of the readies?

What are all the atheists that have paid for their air fares gonna do in Melbourne for 4 days? (I say "all", I realise that there's a good chance that's "both").

Did the normal attendees' mums say they weren't allowed to go all the way to Australia?

Was the cancellation just an unfortunate event? Was it incompetence? Or was it an act of God?



The Faces of Wisdom

Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her. One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for she will be found sitting at the gate. To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding, and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought. (Wisdom of Solomon 6.12-16)
Bit of a reflection on Wisdom, if you don't mind.

Wisdom is found in the Old Testament, and in the Apocrypha, as a person. A female character. The sort of woman that can keep people on the straight and narrow, by teaching them how to live. Wisdom popping up as a kind of divine personification is quite odd, as the Old Testament isn't always that keen on having entities that look a bit like gods. So you've got to presume that she's like a metaphor, to the Jews at least.

And for the most part, the way she tells us to live is: calmly, being rational, keeping your nose clean, being prudent but also generous. Guarding what you say. Worshipping God. Quietly. Like being a good Anglican really.

Jesus takes the idea of Wisdom further - the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes (Blessed are the...) are the same concept of what do you have to do to be blessed. But he kind of expands out from the calmness of it all - blessed are those that hunger and thirst after righteousness is a lot less moderate.

Now the Greeks had a concept called the Logos - the rational thought behind the Universe. And there was a Jew called Philo, who looked at the Greek Logos and described it as a first-born of Creation. St John in Chapter 1 of the Gospel equates Jesus with that Logos.

And St Paul equates Jesus with Wisdom: "But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption - that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16).

So if you know true Wisdom, you know Jesus. And if you know Jesus you are in a relationship with the Logos - the One who is God, and is with God, and was with God in the beginning.

The Wisdom of Solomon tells us how to know Wisdom. Get up when it's quiet. Wisdom will be waiting at the gates - not in the noise and bustle of the town. You will meet need, and human connection, in the town. Or the Internet. Or the news on telly. But when you get pace and quiet you can hear God's Spirit whisper.

The Psalm says, "They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep." Again sometimes you need to be away from the bustle to hear God's Wisdom.

Doesn't mean you should forsake the towns and the company of others forever. Or you can't love your neighbour. But sometimes to find Wisdom you have to get away. Clear your brain. Pray and be rested. Jesus, after all, did much the same.

And if you take the time and space, and meet with Wisdom, that logic that founded the Universe and keeps every star in motion and the heart of every child beating you find that's not just a disembodied principle. God's Wisdom is the Son of God - and you meet with him in prayer and in God's word.

So seek Wisdom. Not the world's, which tells you to pile up riches and stay forever young. But God's, which stays with you forever and is your friend, your companion and your Saviour.




Saturday, 11 November 2017

Funeral for a Dead Laptop

A laptop hath but a short time to live, and is full of whirrings. It booteth up, and is powered down, its hard drive grindeth like a mill, then it never continueth one day when thou needest it most.

In the midst of operating life we are in risk of viruses: of whom may we seek for succour, but of AVG, who poppest up annoying ads and is most displeased with our browser histories?

But if we are wise and take aforethought we shall have made backups, and the My Documents folder will live once again. Or if we kept everything on OneDrive then we need not fear laptop death. As long as we remember our password.

Or else we may end up faffing around with cables and unusual interface connectors, and trying to get data off the device that caused all the trouble in the first place.

And we shall always feel guilty we didn't recycle it properly. But we would have worried then that someone was finding out our innermost secrets.

Forasmuch as it hath pleased us to find a replacement for the laptop here departed: we therefore commit its pieces to the landfill; rare earth to earth, Windows to darkness,  bus to dust; in sure and certain hope of the new one being quicker; whose grubby casing  shall be replaced with a shiny new model. or maybe just a tablet. After all, who needs an actual keyboard these days? You just want to be able to get on Facebook when you're sitting on the couch.