Actual moral guidance from St John sub Castro’s Sunday sermon

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of St John sub Castro church in Lewes (c) March 2015

St John sub Castro, one month before major renovations

This was the fourth church in my mission to witness, as an outsider, what ‘the competition’ dished up on Sunday mornings. Aside from obligatory visits when I had been in the Boy Scouts, weddings and the occasional funeral, I had never previously attended any form of church event. When I began these visits, I was writing a comedic book of moral philosophy, intended for the bourgeoisie of Brighton & Hove, for them to read on their kindles when commuting to their posh jobs in London. However, that project was abandoned due to a series of personal disasters, including gaining a job, losing it in a mass lay off and nearly becoming homeless. These events came in quick succession and derailed my deadline of publication six weeks before this year’s general election.

It seemed unfair to publish blog posts about some of my local churches and not others, so I have assumed the burden of continuing the project. When I’ve been to them all, I’ll publish a summary of the whole lot.

Although my plan had been to quietly attend, sit on a back pew and keep out of the proceedings, that has not proved possible. An Archbishop cannot attend church without causing a stir. Furthermore, it is impolite to talk to people who warmly greet you without telling them of your intentions. So there’s been a lot more conversation than I had intended.

Although I reckoned myself an outsider, the fact is that I carried my prejudices into each consecrated building. I had expected some specific moral instruction at each church. There was no such thing, at least not in any form I could recognise, in any of the first three churches I visited. A friend suggested to me that the Church of England had shied away from publicising any moral prescription these days, preferring instead to offer one-to-one practical moral help. Since she is a church-goer, I assume she knows what she is talking about.

However, St John sub Castro appears to have no such hangups. The service comprised of a series of little speeches from John, a retired vicar, and some members of the congregation. It was Mothering Sunday and the theme was love. By the end of the morning, the congregation of 25 souls had been given example after example of how to show true love by sacrificing our own wants for the sake of others. The business of being in Jesus’s fan club hardly got a look in. We were challenged to accept we were imperfect and asked to consider some form of self-improvement.

The singing was accompanied by a pianist but the communion of voices was muted to say the least. At the end we were all given flowers and invited to have a cup of tea. The atmosphere was convivial, engaging and constructive. This isn’t a competition but if it was, this church would be leading by a country mile by now.

Battery, audio and camera failure: Sony Xperia Z1 within 2 years

This is a message which I attempted to send to Sony UK using their broken contact page. So instead, I’m tweeting them this post and will post their reply here.

Dear Sony,

I bought my Xperia Z1 direct from you soon after you launched it onto the market. Within an hour of receiving it, I flashed a new operating system onto it  ~ CynaogenMod ~ so I know I have broken the guarantee! However, the handset has developed three issues recently which I believe are problems with the handset itself. One is obviously a physical problem (a charging issue), one is described in forums by people who have not changed the operating system (it no longer functions reliably as a phone – the caller’s voice frequently drops out) and the third is that there are two pixel failure clusters appearing in every photograph.

Regarding the charging issue, I also bought a Sony charging dock. This worked fine until the end of last year when the handset stopped charging. So I switched to USB charging but, despite hardly ever using the USB port for either charging or file transfers, it is unreliable. My phone frequently doesn’t charge when left plugged in overnight.

Regarding the audio issue, I have not been able to hear a caller for three months now. I’m sure I need not point you to any of the online conversations about this issue. You will be aware that various people claim the problem temporarily disappears by switching the loudspeaker on. That isn’t much of a solution, since the primary purpose of a phone call is to have a private conversation. My phone is running on Android 4.4.4.

Scrapper Duncan's photograph showing a pixel cluster failure on a Sony Xperia Z1 (c) March 2015

Sony Xperia Z pixel cluster failure

Regarding the pixel cluster failure, you can see the issue clearly here in a picture I took of my knitting. You can see that in the top half of the photo there are two dark marks. Here’s the full pixel version of the pixel cluster failure again, for your closer inspection.

Scrapper Duncan's photograph showing a pixel cluster failure on a Sony Xperia Z1 (c) March 2015

Sony Xperia Z1 pixel cluster failure

Whilst my handset is no longer guaranteed, I would be interested in paying for its repair. We can’t keep filling the world up with new things for no reason ~ let’s be green where we can! Previously I was a Samsung customer. I changed the operating system on their phones too and they repaired one for free, after I had rooted it, ‘reflashed the rom’ with CyanogenMod and I had even opened up its innards (what a tightly packed jigsaw that turned out to be) and substituted some of the printed circuit board with a 3rd party product I bought on eBay. I’m not expecting you to follow suit.

My handset’s IMEI number is 356535055581594. I’m asking for confirmation that there are known issues with this handset and that you will repair them for a price. I’d like to know what that price will be?

Do not underestimate the power of Aduki Beans

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of his computer's innards (c) March 2015

My first and favourite fan

As a man of the cloth, it is my duty to share with my flock all the wonders of creation, including humble little beans which the average Lewesian sadly overlooks. Yet proof of their miraculous power ~ if such a thing be even possible ~ fell into my hands this morning, when two of these tiny red wonders fixed my computer all by themselves.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been juggling the competing demands of my new-found hobby of knitting and the calling to visit all the churches in Lewes to witness one of their services as an outsider. Both ‘lessons’ are on Sunday mornings! At the same time, my computer treacherously broke down and steadfastly refused to come back on again.

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of a secret cavity in his computer (c) March 2015

A secret cavity

Well, being a brave soul, I took a screwdriver to it to see what it looked like. Five years ago I watched a friend build the damn thing. The innards resembled the outside of the cement factory near Dunbar in Scotland, where my Grandparents used to live. It was filthy and not in a sexually erotic way either. No Sir!

So I took a hoover to it and sucked most of the crap out. Then I screwed it back together but then the screen wouldn’t come on and there was a loud rattling noise, just like when you leave a pound coin in your shirt’s top pocket and then bung it in the washing machine. ‘That don’t sound good,’ I told myself. I’m technically minded, see.

So this morning I opened it up again and applied the hoover some more. Then I swapped the hard drive over for a new one, lest that the old one was worn out by five years of constant spinning. It had only been guaranteed for two, apparently. Even after two hoovering sessions it was still as dirty as a clergyman’s sordid affairs but I resisted the urge to splash soapy water over the whole thing. I get those urges in all sorts of situations. I used to talk to a therapist about them but she said I was beyond therapy. Anyway, I digress.

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of Aduki Beans installed in his computer (c) March 2015

Magic beans

Then I remember the humble Aduki! Of course, that is the answer. So I popped one in and rested it on the slot for the RAM. And then another, to keep it company. Then I screwed the whole thing back together, switched it on and Hey Presto! It did claim it had no operating system but I wasn’t going to let two little beans be humiliated by such a pathetic excuse so I reinstalled Linux and here I am, once more your favourite blogger, keeping the faith.

And if anyone says that my computer’s restored powers have got nothing to do with the beans, don’t listen to them! They can take their rationality and shove it where the sun don’t shine. I’ve got my proof and that’s all I need. And it’s all you need too. That, and a couple of Aduki Beans. Never leave home without them.

The doctrine of the happy commuter (by train)

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of London commuters (c) March 2015

Here's a quiz for all my commuting readers, to test your theoretical and practical knowledge on the Doctrine of the Happy Commuter. Is this a philosophical school you are familiar with or is it but a distant concept, rather like Salisbury ~ you know it exists, that it may well be a very pleasant place but you haven't yet found any reason to go there? It's not a complicated quiz. It'll take you about five minutes to complete.

Hopefully it will make you think about how you live out your life and make you a better person. If that's too much to ask for, perhaps it will just make you envy the gurus of the doctrine of the happy commuter and wish you were a better person, like them. Failing that, you it might make you smile a little on your way to work, which can't be a bad thing, can it?

If you're thinking, "Yes, it can," in answer to that question, perhaps this quiz isn't for you. Perhaps life isn't for you, or at least not the one you're living. Please remember this is only a quiz, it's only a bit of fun. Getting the wrong answers doesn't mean you're unworthy of a place squeezed into an overcrowded train aisle and your life is meaningless. Both those things might be true but neither are the fault of this quiz. Nor might they be your fault. Take it easy on yourself and think through your options after a good night's sleep and a walk in the fresh air well away from any cliffs.

1) Which of the following philosophical statements most closely describes your journey to work?

2) Which of the following activities dominates your commute?

3) Which of the following best describes your journey home from work?

4) What is the correct amount of eye contact with strangers on the train?

5) You can catch a train if you run. Which of the following do you do?

6) Which of the following do you regard your time at work as?

7) Which of the following trains do you take to work?

8) Which is your favourite philosopher?

9) A man is shouting into his mobile phone. What is your preferred response?

10) In the UK, most people commute by which of the following method?

South Malling Parish Church Sunday service

Scrapper Duncan's photo of South Malling Parish Church (c) February 2015

South Malling Parish Church

Yesterday morning, I attended the service at the church of St Michael the Archangel, in Lewes. This was my third theological fact finding mission. With each, I’ve been keen to report the first impression of an outsider to the service on offer. First impressions are usually a dangerous thing but I don’t want to make the commitment of regular church attendance. First impressions guide many people, so hopefully these reports will educate the churches themselves as to how they appear to strangers.

South Malling got off to a flying start with an easy to navigate and clear website, albeit one which was evidently unfinished. When the Acting Assistant Vicar, the Reverend Jeremy Bamber reads this, here’s a tip: don’t include a page which is obviously going to be completed later on. Just add it in when the job is done. Otherwise it looks half-hearted. No-one could accuse you of being that in your church. I was mightily impressed when you rushed over to welcome me to your congregation of 35 souls, whose smiles, nods of hello and occasional words were similarly welcoming.

After I had introduced the Reverend Bamber outside Southover Church for the Bonfire Remembrance Service in 2014, I felt embarrassed listening to his sermon. No-one could claim that bonfire boyes and belles are an easy crowd to preach too, least of all me. I know all too well how hostile they can become and have the battle scars to prove it. However, his sermon on that occasion was so poor that I nearly emailed him with some tips on how to make a public speech. Yet yesterday morning, on his own turf, I could hardly believe he was the same man. His sermon was crystal clear, constructive and contained much food for thought.

It was all about the difference between being a mere believer and a disciple of Christ. Disciples, we were told over and over, loved Jesus more than anyone else:

“There is a priority order to our allegiance because we have been designed that way.”

We had to deny our own wants in order to love Jesus more and we had to count the cost of that love. Much of then sermon concentrated on the second theme, which concerned how we measured that love. The message was surprisingly simple: it was easier to count it up in cold cash than by any other method. The regulars ~ visitors were specifically excluded ~ were given three weeks to pray for guidance on how much cash they would donate on a day called, “Giving Sunday.” An unnamed preacher was quoted:

“The last part of a Christian to be converted is his wallet”

Alone, I sat at the back and watched ‘the gig’, somewhat mystified about all that talk about loving Jesus and stewardship without any detailed moral guidance at all as to what that actually meant, apart from the bit about donating money to the church.

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of South Malling Church (c) February 2015

Quiz: which is older ~ tree or church?

My close knit community in Lewes

Scrapper Duncan's first row of knitted half-stitches in forty years (c) February 2015

Stitched up

Forty years after I last picked up cheap yarns, I have begun to knit again. I was never an expert knitter like my Mum. This morning’s post is about this new thread in my life, with which I’m being woven further into the fabric of Lewes life. Two Southover Bonfire Society members have decided to teach some of us how to knit, so that we can make our own guernseys. The first lesson was on the morning after Valentine’s Day. We all know how depressing the evening of that day is when we are single and without a date but… Believe me, there is nothing that will concentrate a man’s mind so much as knowing he is going to attend a knitting class in the morning.

During a misconceived attempt to learn to play the guitar during childhood, I went along to a Grade II guitar exam. We arrived at a really posh house and were shown into a sitting room to join a collection of Mothers and nervous looking sons. No-one spoke. We all strained to hear the bad strings from the examination room. My Mum got her knitting out. After ten minutes pierced only by the clicking of her needles, another lady leaned over the coffee table and said to my Mum, “You’re Scottish, aren’t you?” My Mum exclaimed, “Yes, how did you know?The lady replied, “Because of the way you knit, with your little finger.” Apparently there are two basic techniques, varied to taste by each individual knitter. One is called The English Technique and the other, used by everyone else in the world, is called The Continental or Scottish Method. Essentially, the English are slower.

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of his knitting teacher (c) February 2015

Knit ready for this

We’re learning the English Technique because that’s what our teachers use. This is my esteemed teacher, Serena. She’s wearing a cardigan she knitted herself. After our little class divided into two, Serena took the group including me and Sarah took the other. We fell into such studied silence that Sarah stood up and announced, “I have never known Duncan become so quiet!” I don’t know how her group fared. James McCauley can make his own report. My comrades all seemed to struggle as much as I did with the collection of apparently contradictory microscopic actions that comprise knitting. Within five minutes I had slipped into a catatonic state. My struggle was as nothing compared to my friend Paul, who bravely began to learn a right-handed technique despite being left-handed. My stasis ended only when Serena’s patient explanations eventually made me understand that the stitches must come off the needle as well as go on.

We were suddenly asked to start again so we could learn a proper knit stitch. Everyone except me. I had got stuck because I had accidentally ignored the instructions I thought I was following and had slipped straight into a full stitch, as half a lifetime’s muscle memory had unstretched itself in my clumsy hands.

A swift one in my local church

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of the clock tower on Southover Church, Lewes (c) February 2015

For whom the bell tolls early on a Sunday morning

My second fact finding mission to the churches of Lewes took me to my local. Expecting to find friends in the congregation at Southover Church, I arrived only a couple of minutes before the ten o’clock service kicked off and sat in the back row, so as not to embarrass them.

I had been briefed as to what to expect, with warnings of homophobia. I had been inside the church before, at the funeral of Lewes’s best loved homosexual, Keith Austin. He also told me that he didn’t like the vicar’s sexual prejudices. Some churchmen do like to bang on about gay people and extra-marital sex. But I heard no such talk from the Reverend Steve Daughtery last week.

The vicar himself was as engaging leading his service as he was in person afterwards, when one of his parishioners made a point of introducing him to me. He chatted to me for longer than I deserved, enthusiastically, even when he heard I was an unbeliever, a blogger and intending to write about all the churches in Lewes. He conceded that one of his clergymen’s reference to Genesis got the story wrong without any sense of needing to dress up the mistake in the clothes of an excuse. Though he compounded the error by saying that Adam and Eve, “ran away from the Garden of Eden.” The story is that they were expelled. Not sure what to make of that divergence?!

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of Southover Church graveyard in Lewes, showing dozens of parked tombstones and only one rent paying tenant (c) February 2015

Who paid the rent?

We were treated to live easy listening music, a big screen hanging down with the words of the sermons, prayers and songs. There were comfy chairs. It was a little chilly but that was mainly because the door immediately behind me kept opening and letting the frosty air in, along with more people. Unwittingly, I had attended a ‘family service’, so I guess much of it was aimed at children. From my disadvantaged viewpoint, I could not see how many kids sat on the floor at the front. There were roughly 200 souls gathered. An impressive turnout.

I guess this is what people call a happy clappy church. Though there was no actual clapping, some did wave hands in the air a bit. I was even tempted to sing along to this song, which reminded me of my time in Wales. However, I didn’t enjoy the music. It didn’t move me. But it moved the regulars and the organ did not perform the function of drowning out mumbled singing. They sang along with enthusiasm.

The theme for the morning was not being spiritually hungry and there were constant references to bread. All in all, it was an easy service to understand, I felt very much included and I was impressed with the number of references to Jesus feeding the physically hungry. Yet when I looked at the box for donations to the local food bank, only three tubs of margarine had been given. This is a congregation with plenty money. Perhaps they don’t really understand poverty?

A lowly soul goes to a high church

Scrapper Duncan's photo of St Anne's Church in Lewes (c) January 2015

The oldest church in Lewes

A few weeks ago I went to church. Apart from weddings and funerals, this was my first church attendance this century.  Irregular readers may be confused as to how a man of the cloth, such as myself, can have avoided the communion of Christians on a Sunday morning. The answer lies in the fact that I am a Bishop of Lewes Bonfire. For more information about that, please read my Tourist Guide To Lewes Bonfire. I went to church that morning because a dear friend asked me along and she’d just given me breakfast, so it seemed the decent thing to do.

Thus, I went to St Anne’s Church on Lewes High Street, where I received an incredibly warm welcome. The first thing the Reverend Canon Richard Moatt said to me when we stepped inside was, “I’m sorry about the heating, the thermostat is broken.” Churches have heating nowadays?! When I went along with the Boy Scouts, they were cold, draughty, uninviting places. St Anne’s that morning was so hot that I genuinely thought I might pass out. If you can’t afford to heat your house in Lewes, you can definitely warm up there. What was the temperature up in the rafters? It must have been hotter than the Sahara.

I sat through the service in the spirit of open-minded interest. It comprised of a number of parts, some recognisable, others obscure to me. It began with a welcome to the newcomers. I was the only newcomer but Moatt didn’t address his welcome to me. He looked over to his regulars instead, which I found off-putting. For his sermon, he came down from the alter section and stood amongst his congregation, who were mostly sitting at the back of the building. Away from the ferocious heating. They were small in number. Just two dozen souls gathered.

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of the metal graves in St Anne's Church in Lewes (c) January 2015

Shoes the lucky fellows?

It was unlikely I’d be wowed by rhetorical flourishes worthy of the ancient sophists, especially not with so few people in the flock. However, I’m very sorry to report that the sermon was tedious to the point of being embarrassing to listen to. It was little more than a series of glib remarks about gift-making. Afterwards, the congregation donated Christmas gifts to be distributed amongst those fortunate in life than they. Everyone except me gave something. Their generosity moved me considerably.

There was some singing, some praying and a ritual where everyone except me trooped up to the front, knelt down for a bit and did something with Mr Moatt and his assistants. All religions have rituals, even the pagans; I recently attended a pagan ceremony which was equally strange to me.

St Anne was the baby Jesus’s grannie, according to the New Testament Apocrypha. I wonder what she would have made of the proceedings? After the formulaic welcome, the banal speech and the dreadful music, I didn’t feel like going back. Though it was warmer than my home, it felt like a closed group experience.

An undercover clergyman

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of an anonymous church somewhere (c) January 2015

A building surrounded by dead bodies

This weekend I travelled to see some friends who are social media refuseniks. So I can’t tell you anything about my visit because they are strict with information. All I can say is that I was in or around Chipping Norton, the stamping ground of our Prime Minister and his ilk. My hosts informed me that I missed a glimpse of Rebekah Brooks speeding past in her car because I had bent down to photograph a snowdrop.

On Saturday I visited a church which one of my hosts had repaired. Obviously I can’t tell you which church or where it was. I photographed it and was proud of my shot framing but I can’t show the photograph either. So today’s cartoon is my artistic impression of a church which looks a bit like it. Suffice to say that it is a very old church.

My hosts’ child scampered around inside the church looking at the seats and so on. When she got to the stairs to the pulpit, she readily ascended them. A few steps up and she was in the preaching position. “What’s this Mummy?” My friend explained that it was a pulpit, from which a vicar would talk about God. By way of further explanation, she said, “You’ve got one of these, haven’t you Duncan?

Yes,” I replied, “but mine is outdoors and considerably larger.” An elderly couple in the church had wandered close by us at this point. These remarks caught their attention. Later on I noticed them scrutinising me curiously. I don’t suppose they’ve seen so many clergymen looking like me, with an army great coat, shaved head and a generally menacing look about them. Perhaps they went home and looked up outdoors pulpits on the internet. Or perhaps not. Sometimes it is better not to know.

Anyhow, it gave me an idea. I rarely step inside churches. Our Society has surely evolved far beyond the point of Engel’s description of their role as the opium of the masses. Mostly they are irrelevant to our modern concepts of sin, morality, heaven and hell. As my most attentive followers will know, I am shortly about to publish a book on moral philosophy, to put everyone straight.

As they stand, our churches do provide a social service of sorts for a particular sort of person. In many instances it is fairly specific sort of person. All of them wish to recruit from there wider community. I’m part of that community too! So from here on, for the next few weeks, I’m going to visit a different church every Sunday, incognito, and publish my report here.

Despite my reputation as a militant atheist, I will offer up my words of wisdom with the attitude of constructive criticism and, where appropriate, praise. Actually, I’ve already visited one such church, where my welcome was warm. Rather too warm, as it happened. Not what I’d expected from the Church of England. More of that in future weeks. When this Archbishop goes to church!

Is the Green surge meaningful?

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Jason Kitcat waving an apocalypse button around in Brighton Town Hall (c) March 2014

Jason Kitcat in his dreams

The big political news last week in the UK was that the Green Party was recruiting more members than any other party, by a country mile. They are said to have overtaken the Liberal Democrats in overall numbers and not be far behind UKIP. If ever there was a sure indicator that British politics is in for a big change, it is the sudden decision of lots of previously non-political people to actually join a political party. UKIP had a similar surge earlier in the year. They’ve been joined by lots of old people previously disinterested in politics. The Greens have been joined by lots of young people who are just entering the political arena for the first time.

I’ve been a Green Party member on and off for the last ten years. (I’m currently not.) My ex-wife talked me in originally. The on-the-ground politics of the party talked me out. I rejoined when Caroline Lucas got elected and left again when ‘her’ local councillors appeared to be unable to consistently endorse progressive political values. Brighton & Hove City Council’s Green leadership lacks a majority on the council but it also lacks moral backbone. Their leader, Jason Kitcat, has privatised part of his local NHS, provoked the classic political disaster ~ a refuse collector’s strike ~ and generally been about as right-wing as a Liberal Democrat. His old party, in fact.

The Greens are using the surge in their membership to argue that they have become a major party and should be included in the national leaders’ debates on telly. Ofcom and the broadcasters decide who is a major party. The test the Greens must pass revolves around the number of votes they can muster, not the number of members they can collect.

When I first joined the Greens I argued that the party should set massive membership growth as one of its key targets. The local activists were mystified as to why. They’re not now. It is well known that there are only a certain number of would be political activists in each generation. If they join one party instead of another, they shift the parameters of the debate towards that party. Double our membership and swing the debate, I said. We don’t think so, they said.

This isn’t about me, it’s about the Greens. We live in a society in which many people regard clicking on a like button or signing a petition as active community involvement. Thatcher’s children are not self-employed business people, they are passive consumers. The question is whether all these new members intend to become political activists or whether they are happy to blindly support what their new found political leaders say, for a while? I hope it is the former. I hope they get stuck into policy decisions, turn up to meetings and express their views. Only then will the Greens’ reactionary members be overcome. Currently they run the roost and Caroline Lucas is little more than a figurehead for change.