The Colours Purple

A long evening.

Having received an email from the vicar detailing the Advent programme, I got straight on the phone. Three hours, trying to put him straight.

The candles in the Advent Wreath are often in the  combination of three purple, one pink and one white (we will ignore those traditionalists who insist on 4 red). When they purple / pink variety is in use, the correct combination in which to light them, week by week, is purple – purple – pink – purple.  And then white for Xmas.

There are some odd people who insist on lighting the pink one fourth – claiming that it’s for the Blessed Virgin.

It’s not. Pink is not the Blessed Virgin’s colour. The generally recognised colour of Our Lady is blue. The pink candle is for the third, “happy”, Sunday when we have a bit of a relax in all the apprehension and foreboding. It’s not the candle for the Mother of God. If you think it is, you’ve got it wrong.

I know that, midst debates over gay marriage, women bishops and the possibility that one day we might all love one another, this may not seem very important. But compared to all the other issues, it’s easy to fix. All we need is for the manufacturers of Advent candles (there can’t be that many, let’s be honest) to number the candles – 1 to 5. That’s it. It’s all they need. Anyone can work that code out, surely?

Except, of course, for those who wonder where the other 20 numbers are. But you wouldn’t be able to help them.

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Beating People up in Asda, and Swords into Ploughshares

Isaiah 2.1-5

This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
In the last days the mountain of the LORD’S temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more. Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.”

They’ve got a new excuse on the trains. London Midland was using it just tonight. “Poor rail conditions”. That’s what they said. “Poor rail conditions”. What, you may ask, does that mean? I asked London Midlands. They took a while to  comment. I thought it might be the same as the “slippy” rails that have brought other parts of the Midlands to a complete standstill. Burton Dasset phoned me, all of a dither, the other day to tell me that East Midlands had “poor rail conditions” when he went into London for a mass sad-in the other day.  East Midlands wouldn’t tell him what they meant, either.

The funny thing is, normally at this time of year they blame “leaves on the line” and we all laugh at them. But this year there’s been no mention of “leaves on the line”. Just “slippy rails” and “poor rail conditions”. What were these exciting new slippy rail conditions? In the end, London Midlands admitted it – it was leaves, all along! Nothing new! Just leaves. New, shiny name though.

As one desperate commuter asked, how can “slippy rails” break the Midlands? Are these people children? Are they goldfish? Every year, every Fall – I prefer the older, now mostly American word, so much nicer than the Latinate “Autumn” – down come the leaves, onto the tracks, forming a mushy sludge, and in this century when we can watch people in Australia eating cockroaches live on TV, you’d think we can do something about it. Yet every year we fail, and the Midlands break and all the commuters get home for tea late.

I’ve been reading about the plans for the High Speed Rail Service, HS2, which have been delivered to councils on the route to read. They’ve got 58 days to read and respond to the plans.  Which is just as well, as it’s quite thick. 28,000 pages thick. Although, to be fair, the technical documents haven’t been issued yet. They’re going to be 33,000 pages thick. The complete set stands 9 feet tall, and weighs getting on for a ton.  To build HS2, they’re going to move 92m tons of earth. 125 miles of cutting, 107 miles of embankment, 40 miles of viaduct and 50 miles of tunnels will be built. 1,180 buildings to be demolished, 9 rivers to be diverted. I thought at first this was just to get the planning document assembled, but it turns out that in fact this is for the railway itself. All to move people from London to Birmingham, 10 minutes faster. And it will take just one windy November day to blow the whole setup back to 1854.

Meanwhile, in ASDA, a marketing stunt copied off the Americans goes wrong. An attempt to kick-start Christmas with a “Black Friday” sale ends up in  riots across the country.

In an Asda store in west Belfast there were claims that heavily pregnant woman had been pushed and shoved and pensioners had been knocked to the ground. A spokesman from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service had confirmed that they were called to the store to attend to a woman with a suspected broken arm.

“It was just a free-for-all. It was frightening,” said one woman who witnessed the scenes at the Westwood Centre. “People were getting trailed to the ground. People were arguing with people. Two of my friends were injured.”

The woman claimed her friend was kicked in the stomach by a shopper trying to take a TV from her. “The other one, who is disabled, was actually kicked to the ground and trampled on and now has a broken arm and is waiting to hear if she is going to need surgery next week,” she said.

Similar reports have emerged from stores in Liverpool and Bristol, with eyewitnesses reporting in the latter store that a man had to be restrained by security guards after becoming annoyed that he could only buy a single TV.  (The Independent)

I say, “went wrong”. I bet somewhere at Asda Towers, somebody in Marketing was figuring that this much publicity was great news for next year’s “Black Friday”. Imagine the publicity shots, last payday in November next year – people lining up outside Asda in the small hours, tooled up with baseball bats and cycling helmets – it’ll be quite the party atmosphere.

What’s wrong with us? What causes normal people – probably quite sensible the rest of the year – to go and kick a disabled person to the ground to get a good sale bargain? We can map the human genome, we can watch a comet crash into the sun. But we can’t control ourselves when there’s a telly going cheap, and we can’t even stop leaves stopping trains. The greater we think we are – the better we are at falling. And even good, middle-of-the-road Anglicans or Lib Dems, who basically think everybody’s got the potential to be nice and Charles Manson was just a misunderstood hippy who needed attention – even they have to stop every now and then and realise that what Francis Spufford calls the HPtFtU is alive, and well, and living in all of us. That we act on a gigantic scale but behave like incompetent children. And not nice children. Those nasty children from that council estate you warn your children to stay well away from. Because if you keep your children away from those children, then they might grow up to be respectable people – local politicians, or Methodist Ministers, or in charge of major banks or…. tell you what, let’s not pursue that line too far, eh? Send them down the estate to play with those kids. It’ll be safer in the long run.

And in the middle of that, in 8th Century BC Judah, as the Kings are running the shop as tyrants – and the country swings from good to bad, from Baal to Jehovah, as the nations around them gather for the next pop, with the Assyrians breathing fire and the Babylonians waiting in the wings, just over the North/Eastern horizon, Isaiah stands up and says – One Day.

  • One Day, the Lord’s Temple will be raised up above everything else.
  • One Day, everyone will see the light.
  • One Day, people will stream to worship God
  • One Day, they’ll all climb up on God’s mountain, to worship him there.
  • One Day, there won’t be fights in Asda over cheap tellies
  • One Day, there won’t be any more leaves on the line.
  • One Day, bureaucrats won’t produce 60,000 pages of documentation about a train line nobody in their right minds would want to build if their folly and pride wasn’t higher than the pile of railway specs.
  • One Day, people won’t need to go to Birmingham.
  • One Day, people won’t even make cheap cracks about Birmingham, like I just did.
  • One Day, things will be good, and human’s won’t mess the place up, and we will have ploughshares not swords – and we’ll have stopped David Cameron beating the ploughshares into rails, for his silly railway scheme.
  • One Day, all things will be well.

One Day.

Today probably isn’t One Day.

But it’s a day.

We can work towards that One Day. We can beat our own swords – the small, personal stabs we give to other people, the anger and the petty hatreds – into tiny ploughshares that break up the stony ground of poor relationships and allow seed to grow. We can look up to the Lord. We can raise him up in our hearts. We can set out to climb that mountain of the Lord – knowing that it will be One Day before we get to the top.

Or, at the very least, we can avoid punching people in Asda. Surely that’s not much to ask?

It’s not One Day. But it is, at least, a day.

Reasons to be Fearful (on a bike)

It’s normality a right-wing paper that pulls this trick.  Some member of a minority explaining how they’re all right,  it’s the other members of that category who are dreadful. Gay men explaining how they love football and death metal – it’s the other ones who are too gay. Black people stressing their stable marriages while bemoaning gang culture. I’d be surprised if, in the 1930s, the Daily Mail didn’t have an article by a bacon-eating Jew, remarking that his co-religionists are just so Jewish.

And so we find a new example of the genre in “Why I loathe other cyclists” in the Express. It’s pure click-bait, so don’t go there if you are of s sensitive nature.

I mean, as a cyclist who tries to keep the law, I tend to tut when another cyclist jumps a red light or rides on a pavement. But on the grounds that they are only a genuine danger to themselves, while daily deaths caused by motorised vehicles in the UK are frequently in double figures, I can’t raise myself to “loathe”. After all, where would that leave me to go for the genuinely evil? Nope, “love the cyclist, hate the cycling” is my motto.

It strikes me that Alex Rawlins is a liability on the road, in fact. In between gawping at red-light-jumpers, criticising people’s dress sense and hating bus drivers – not to mention confessing to using language unsuitable even for a cycling Cabinet Minister – it’s a wonder Alex has any time to look at the road or other vehicles at all. And his self-confessed traffic light-counting concerns me as well.  If it spreads to other pieces of road furniture, he’ll be all over the place.  The suggestion of “neon” clothing worries me as much as it confuses. Cycling is hard enough without connecting oneself up to fluorescent tubing and electric power supplies. There could be some nasty lacerations if you fell off.  Or if Alex Rawlins rode into the power cable – then you’ll be guaranteed a four-letter tirade.

But what really terrifies me is the comment from “maryjane” below the line.  Obviously, “maryjane” doesn’t understand that “road tax” doesn’t exist, and that electric and hybrid cars don’t pay the VED with which we try to encourage “maryjane” to stop polluting our atmosphere. So far it just goes with the territory.

But what really worried me is that “maryjane” has made all his comments in capital letters.

Just think about it. “Maryjane” is considered grown-up enough to pay Vehicle Excise Duty, and drive a car. But he doesn’t know how to operate the “shift” key on his computer.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t make me feel safe on the roads.

Daily Expressing Yourself in Worship – or – The Charismatic Gift of Overhead Projection

“Churches ditch a traditional Christmas: Hymns books are shelved for karaoke-style carols” says the Express. They reveal that churches are jettisoning the traditional paper-based worship to move to electronic projection of actual words of songs onto overhead screens.

Well, I nearly spat my gruel out. Imagine the words of hymns appearing on walls like that. What a miracle. Frankly, it’s a wonder nobody got burnt as a witch.

I remember the first time I saw the use of overhead projection in a worship service. It must have been 1989. It was a church at 2 Mile Ash in Milton Keynes, and some kind of combined ecumenical service had been taken over by the headbangers of Furzton Church. Equipped with two guitars, a bass and an overhead projector they were tearing the place. up.

I remember the operator – a chunky, balding young bloke with – as it turned  out – clerical pretensions. Clad in a red tea shirt and jeans – in Church! Can you imagine?  No three-piece suit? – he was doing his best to stay up with the music group.

The music group leader – a chunky, balding bloke in a sweater – a sweater! Not tweed! – had a habit of repeating verses or choruses, switching songs, jumping up keys and generally doing his best to be led by a combination of the Spirit, on-the-hoof creativity and sensitivity to the congregation. Through it all, the overhead operator – working on acetates with handwritten words, remember – stayed with him. Up to the point at which the worship leader said “and now we’re going to sing that great old song, “Alleluia”. He had a Cockney accent, like many in MK. His overhead-working friend pulled out a fistful of acetates with songs that started with “A”, and another bunch that started with “H”, and looked at him askance.

But my point is – that was the 80s. And even then, admittedly in avant-garde, cutting-edge places like Milton Keynes, they had the technology to project the words of hymns onto a screen or a wall. The acetate-jockey was generally recognised as having the spiritual gift of Overhead Projection, but this was not because he had any great technical know-how – it is because he had the ability to work out what the worship leader was going to do next.

And, when you think about it, when all is said than done, moving from acetates to Powerpoint (or “an iPhone App” – shock horror) is just as big a leap technologically as from hymn books to overhead slides. Goodness knows what the Express would have said if it had existed in the 15th Century (which, if you think about it, it couldn’t – at least not straight away), or when they brought in the new Psalter, or when modern technology changed other aspects of our life…

“Churches ditch a traditional Christmas as illuminated scrolls are ditched for Hymn Books”.

“Churches ditch a traditional Christmas as Sternhold & Hopkins are ditched for Tate & Brady”.

“Churches ditch a traditional Christmas as begging for alms is ditched for Social Security”

“Churches ditch a traditional Christmas as central heating replaces freezing in a hovel”.

You see, I don’t know about you, but when I think about a traditional Christmas: the candles, the nativity, the carols, the donkey, cow, sheep, ox, alligator and wolverine in the manger – mum cooking the turkey for a month to avoid food poisoning and the sozzled aunties and the Queen’s Speech and re-runs of seasonal editions of Last of the Summer Wine on Gold (same as the rest of the year, actually, that one) – and midst the caroling in frost air, the shiny things, the tree, the presents, the decs, the fake snow, the bling, the Dorchester hotel, the girls in slacks – sorry, wandered off onto a Betjeman theme there, centre, Eileen, centre – in amongst all that, I don’t think to myself – “you know, the thing that would really make this Christmas – a real, traditional Christmas – like Dickens wrote about – the one I thing I really need, is to read the words of the carols off a piece of dead, pulped, reconstituted tree.”

No. The materials used to present the words of the carols to my eyes are a very secondary matter. In fact, remembering that dreadful Advent carol service – long and merry ago now – when a young woman from my college set her big 80s hair alight while trying to balance a lighted candle, a hymn book, a service sheet, her handbag and the collection plate – I’m inclined to think that the fewer things we hold in our hands during worship, the better.  Obviously, you’d want to keep the handbag and the lighted candle. Otherwise some odd beggar might want to hold hands you during the Peace, and then where would you be? And let’s not forget that there are people – especially at Xmas – who don’t know how to operate hymn books, service sheets and – worst of all – the Common Worship book in all its hideous complexity. For them, the OHP screen is a blessing sent from the realms of glory themselves.

Overhead projection works for me. And the good news is that, in these Cromwellian parts, thanks to our Puritan forebears, we have whitewashed walls in our churches. I loathe the Roundheads with everything that is in me, but at last I have something with which to respond to the old ditty – “Civil War – huh – what was it good for?”  Old Ollie, the evil murdering get that he was, got something right. And four hundred years later, we can rejoice and save the money of a projection screen when modernising our churches. The people of past generations with the charismatic gift of Overhead Projection would have wondered what they’d been given it for. Their time has come – let’s enjoy it.

It’s The End of the World As We Know it – Because we’ve seen it Before

And so the ever-circling years have circled again, and the circle is completed.

In the myth-time, there is a Creation, and an End. God or the gods act, decisively, things start and then finish. We go from Eden to a New Jerusalem; we go through Ragnarok to the time when the All-Father sits down to feast with the warriors at rest.

But within the great Prince 2 Waterfall of Myth, there are embedded the workpackages (or, if you prefer, “sprints”) of time. Each just one year long, in which mythic time is recreated in little – birth, growth, death. The yearning, the arrival of Messiah, the working-out, the death and the new life, poured out abundant. The excitement of change, and the drudgery of living out life in  mundanity. The children of Adam and Eve are born, they reproduce, they die, and the world turns. And so the days they turn into years, and still no real tomorrow appears.

It’s the dilemma that the much-reborn Doctor faces. 12 – or is it 13? – regenerations now.  Yet still he is tied to the circles of the world. He comes back to life – he makes friends. He fights unthinkable foes, we are set up – yet again – for one last Battle to end all Battles. Skaro rises and falls. Gallifrey is threatened – is fallen – is hidden – is back again. The Daleks are wiped from the face of the universe, order is restored to the twisted skein of Time. And again the Doctor regenerates, and again the Master and Davros wait. For they know that, in this world or a parallel one, their time will come again. And again. And again.

For the Doctor, as for the Christian, the big day never really comes. We create it afresh – with new configurations – time and time again. We light the Advent candles, and wait for the End to come. And we know it’s coming soon – but just as the Doctor is trapped in an eternal circle – as long as there’s one last shark to jump, one final enemy come back unexpectedly through some implausible deus ex machina – so we know that, when the last candle is lit, and the nativity set is put away again, we’re back on that long, long haul towards another Stir-up Sunday. 

He’s not really the Messiah, he’s just like us, really. But we have this great advantage – we can be set free from the circles of the world. We know we will one day step out of the circle – break the cycle – jump out of the spiral and into the great Myth – the one where there are no more loops to loop, no more reappearing enemies to defeat – no more Definitely the Last Battle to end All Battles This Time. It’ll be good to get there. We could all do with an End, in the end.

A Wedding in the Offing

Bloody Young Keith.

Yes, jumping over a broomstick, or a handfasting, is fine for the punters. And when I thought it was a relatively temporary measure, best resolved through patience and non-legal ceremonial, I was quite happy.

But this is another matter entirely. Luckily I live in a part of the world where shotguns are quite easy to access. Although, in a breach of tradition, I’ll be pointing this one at my own son if he doesn’t get his act together.

I’m not sure I’m old enough to be a granny.