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Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Origin of Life's a Beach

Been intrigued by a group called the Sea People of Sheerness. An odd bunch. They like to walk along the beach, looking in rock pools and claiming none of the shell fish can have evolved - instead the originals were created 6,000 years ago.

That's right. They're Biblical Littoralists.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

When You're Not Growing in Your Church

I regret to let Beaker Folk know that Smilmir and Jezborough are no longer worshipping with us.

They've written me a very nice letter in which they tell me they don't think they're "growing" in our fellowship. Which I do take some exception to. Thanks to Bernie's highly nutritious repertoire of roadkill three meals a day, Jezborough in particular has been growing steadily since the day they joined the Community.

They do have some specific complaints. Apparently the sermons aren't challenging or Biblical enough. Well, yeah. I mean if the sermons are Biblical and challenging, the rest of the congregation walks out. What's an Archdruid supposed to do?

I guess we could split the sermons into two streams: "Biblical and Challenging" and "Folksy and Comforting." But then where would we stop? We'd have to have "Intellectual" and "Barely Sentient" study groups. "Devout" and "Sanctified Gossip" prayer groups. And "Needy" and "Non-needy" fellowship groups. Actually, scrub that. We'll just stick with "Needy".

Anyway. Smilmir and Jedborough leave with our blessing. And a reminder that, under the terms of Beaker membership, their direct debit will continue to be due each month for the next six months.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Ministry of Reconciliation

I would like to thank the Beaker Folk for their overwhelming support for me in this weekend's Archdruidical election. An  amazing 7,129 votes to 49! Even more amazing when you consider the membership of the Beaker Folk was, until recently, only 50. Just shows the great leap forward in democracy since we opened membership up to people who once viewed the Facebook page.

I would like to assure the losers and their friends not to expect an Inquisition after my great triumph. Indeed, to help with the process of healing I will be instituting a Ministry of Reconciliation  (MiniRec) - dedicated to truth and harmony. And as soon as I have established the truth of who voted against me, I will be increasing harmony by moving them to the "Stables". This sounds like one of those cutesy rustic names given to annexes at all the best rural retreat houses.

Doesn't it?

Sunday, 25 September 2016

A Wandering Aramean, I

Deut 26:    When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket......
Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders.
He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household. 

 The Hebrews could have thought that by making their offerings in the Temple they were bribing God. A kind of "look after us, God, and we'll see you all right. They could have thought of it as a bargaining chip. But they didn't. They'd grasped what God was like. You couldn't bargain with God offer God his cut, in exchange for a decent harvest next year. The opposite of the film, the Wicker Man. Not the recent American remake. Nicholas Cage's acting in that film is terrible. And its general unrelieved appallingness is such that you end up wishing he did his own stunts in the leg-breaking scheme. But I digress. In the Wicker Man, the gods demand a sacrifice so the year's harvest will be good. It's like the gods themselves are weak - they need feeding up. You can only get something from them if you give them something first.

The Wicker Man was based on dodgy reconstructions of Celtic mythology, sure. But you can see similar attitudes in the rituals of the other religions of the ancient Near East. When Elijah has his run-in with the prophets of Baal, the prophets cut themselves to make themselves into blood sacrifices. When the King of Moab is up against it in a battle, he makes his eldest son a burnt offering to his god. They're offering something to their gods, to get something back - treating them like a retailer of blessings. And a retailer can't exist without our paying. If you go to Sainsbury's and ask for all your shopping free, it won't happen. Even their free gifts are there to encourage us to pay.

But then this passage puts us in our place. The offering of first-fruits is made not to bribe God, not to feed God - but to give thanks. And it starts with this wonderful expression: "My father was a wandering Aramean..."

A foreigner, even to the Hebrews. An exile. A man with no land to call his own - not even, as we are reminded on one occasion - with a family to pass his portable wealth on to. A man totally dependent upon God - and therefore, as it turned out, one who saw God.

The prayer goes on to remind the Hebrews - that their existence as a nation was precarious. That they went down to Egypt. That it was in prayer to God that their voices were heard - and that it was God who heard their prayer and brought them home.

And so for anything we give to God. We have no rights with God. We have no strength outside God. As Paul says - quoting a pagan - "In him we live and move and have our being." We are nothing without God. We have nothing except what God gives us. Anything we bring may be an offering - but it is actually more like a thanksgiving. All that we have is God's. And we are only giving back what we were first given. The whole creation is grace - given freely to us.

And if the whole creation is grace, its fulfilment is grace piled upon grace - a pouring out of Gods' love in an offering so great the universe could not hold it. Only the womb of a young Jewish woman, freely given could hold that much grace.

The ultimate gift of the God who gives us life, and breath, and a world in which to be, is the gift of his Son. Given to the world, freely. Offering God's love, freely. Expecting nothing in advance - because nothing we gave in advance could ever be good enough to earn God's love. It's the lesson we hear in Deuteronomy 26, where the harvest gift is a thanksgiving for what God has done. God gives to us freely. God's love cannot be earned, bargained for or counted. It can only be received.

And then we give thanks. It's exactly 3 months to Christmas Day. So I reckon I can get away with a few words from Christina Rossetti.....

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Liturgy for the Retirement of the Midsomer Murders Dog, Sykes

Archdruid: To everything there is a season.

All: Turn, turn turn.

Archdruid: A time to throw sticks.

All: And a time to chase them.

Archdruid: A time for walkies.

All: And a time to have a nice sit down.

Archdruid: A time wonder why Barnaby always leaves his missus to do all the dog walking.

All: And a time to wonder how fast everybody would leave Midsomer if it really had that crime rate, but only two murder detectives.

Archdruid: A time to investigate dodgy new age communities.

All: A time to wonder whether the planning permission at the Grange has pushed the incomer businessman over the edge.

Archdruid: A time to be a sinister vicar.

All: And a time to be a really sinister vicar.

He's in the shady ground behind the East Transept.
"Evil vicar"

Archdruid: A time to have a chat with the friendly barmaid down at the Cricketers' Arms.

All: And a time to discover she's done in the leader of the Mothers' Union with a snooker cue.

Archdruid: A time to be a friendly dog who steals the kid's favourite cuddly toy.

All: And a time to have a nice quiet sit by the fire in a house where someone will look after you through your autumn days.

Archdruid: May the blessing of a dog be with you.

All: Fur ever and ever.

Sykes By Miyagawa - Own work, CC BY 3.0

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Liturgy for the Move of Great British Bake Off to Channel 4

A statue of Mary Berry is placed on the Worship Focus.

All: Quick! Turn the laser eyes off!

A statue of Mel n Sue is placed on the Worship Focus.

All: Doncha love them? Pure, beautiful and yet oddly good at a nice double entendre.

A statue of Paul Hollywood is placed on the Worship Focus.

All: Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss Judas! Judas! Judas! Judas! Judas!

A tin of Val's Rock Cakes is distributed.

Archdruid: OK, guys. Let them go.

Feast of Autumnal Equinoctialness

A murmuration of starlings murmurs above, to be summarily terminated by a murder of crows.

HYMN: Last day of Summer  (MacColl)

Archdruid: As the world turns.

All: And summer turns to autumn.

Archdruid: All the leaves are brown, and the skies are gray.

All: Easy, tiger. It's only just autumn.

Archdruid: Oh first day of autumn and equinoctiality! Oh liminal, limonescent liminality!

All: Oh it's not another liminal thing?

Archdruid: Obviously. This day of cosmic balance and liminal drizzle cake....

All: Is Hnaef gonna do the tightrope walk or not?

Archdruid: Let us celebrate this most balanced of days - where day and night are so evenly matched, as the world circles like a circle, like a wheel within a wheel...


Hnaef: Aaagh!

Hnaef falls into the Duckpond.

Archdruid: Right. That's a murmuration of starlings and a flock of Aylesburys we've lost. Doing well, for a world-affirming theology. Bring on the badgers.

The badgers approach the worship focus.

All: Aarghh! Badgers!

All may leave through the mush of falling apples.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Brexit Means Wrecks It

Hot off the press. News that Theresa May has selected a crack team to deal with the European Union in the Brexit negotiations.

They will be prepared to compromise as long as none of the red lines are crossed. They are trained in negotiations in fine detail that last long into the night. They are able to spot the weaknesses in any argument put against them. And they will have a strong hand because if after all that, they still don't get what they want, they will be prepared to walk out of Europe unilaterally and leave the EU to deal with the consequences.

Yeah, you're probably ahead of me. She's given the job to a Church music group.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

A Sudden Lack of Interest

What we said was, we'd have a midnight wait for autumn every day up to the 21st. Every day we'd play some autumny music (Autumngirlsoup by Kirsty, Forever Autumn by the pretty one out of the Moody Blues you know the kind of thing) and sit around surrounded by all the "autumn leaves" we'd created by drawing round our hands and feel all autumnal. You know, a bit melancholy but also a bit "oo isn't red and brown a nice palette" and a bit "nip in the air, nights drawing in, soon be Christmas." Everybody said it would be great. Everybody said they'd be there. Everybody said it would be brilliant.

So here I am.

In the Moot House.

On my own.

With a dry ice machine, a load of crappy "leaves" that look suspiciously like people's hands and Earth Wind and Fire's "September" on the PA.

Happy bloody autumn.