The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, August 9, 2019

Bishop Bartholomew B. Battybabbler and his Big Bad Bash

The Right Reverend Bartholomew B. Battybabbler had been very self-satisfied on the day he was consecrated bishop of the Diocese of Neo-Soho. Ever since he graduated seminary with his Doctor of Untraditional Ministry Backed by Advancements in Sacred Science degree, he had been looking forward to the day when he would finally be in a position to enact all the exciting new ideas that had been implanted in his brain. As, upon his enthronement, he took his episcopal vows with fingers firmly crossed behind his back, Barty, as he insisted that everyone, whether friend, family or foe, call him, thought back upon his seminary career and remembered his professors with fondness and gratitude.

Barty recalled how naïve he had been during his undergraduate days before he entered the Wellhausen-Schleiermacher Seminary of Theology. At the time he still held to a literal understanding of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds that he had been taught as a child and to an outmoded view of morality based on the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. When, towards the completion of his BA, he had settled upon the ministry as his vocation, he at first considered enrolling in the traditionalist Seminary of Hooker-Andrewes-Laud. Then he met Lucy. (1)

He was sitting in the university library, filling out his application to HAL, when a man who had been sitting at the next table came up to him. He had a pony tail and a goatee and was fashionably and immaculately dressed and groomed, although he wore his hat tilted very low so as to cover up his entire forehead. He introduced himself as Lucy. Barty wondered at the name, but out of politeness neither laughed nor asked questions.

“I see you are filling out a seminary application” Lucy observed. “Is it your wish to become a clergyman?”

Again, politeness prevented Barty from saying “no, I am entering seminary in order to become a travelling vacuum cleaner salesman” so he simply said “yes”.

“I commend you. It is a career that will enable you to do a lot of good – as long as you don’t become one of those reactionary, fascist, type priests who do nothing but perpetuate those old superstitions and myths that are holding the world back from achieving progress.”

Barty was not sure what exactly Lucy was talking about but it didn’t sound good so he said “No, I don’t want to be anything like that.”

“I didn’t think so. In which case, have you considered Wellhausen-Schleiermacher? They are a very progressive theological institution. All of the best sort of right-thinking priests come from there.”

Lucy pulled a brochure out of his jacket and gave it to Barty.

Barty took and read the brochure, threw away his application to HAL, and entered Wellhausen-Schleiermacher instead. He would be forever grateful to Lucy for his guidance. His professors had taught him that it was rank superstition to believe the Creeds literally, that the Bible should be valued as a literary work rather than an authoritative text, that the stories it contains of supernatural intervention by God in the affairs of people must be regarded as belonging to the same genre in which Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm wrote, that enlightened and advanced ethics had moved far beyond the Ten Commandments or even the Sermon on the Mount, and that the real essence of the Christian message was the revolutionary social change that would bring about the radically egalitarian society that Jesus meant by the “Kingdom of God.” To promote that change, Barty had been taught, was the Church’s true mission, from which it had long been sidetracked by all this talk about the Trinity, Original Sin, Redemption, the Final Judgment, Heaven, and Hell, and it was the job of progressive young clergymen like himself to finally get the Church back on track.

Enthroned as Bishop of Neo-Soho, Barty proceeded to do just that. In his visitations to the parishes of his diocese he preached sermons that promoted social justice, wealth redistribution, and environmental awareness and condemned the sins of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Above all else he condemned fundamentalism, by which he meant all traditional, orthodox, theology, mentioning it negatively in every sermon, even if it had no apparent bearing on his main topic.

He encouraged his clergy, who had quickly gotten the picture that liberals would receive the full support of their new bishop whereas traditionalists would be ostracized and shunned, to discontinue traditional catechism and Sunday School and to hold sensitivity training workshops instead.

Barty knew, however, that to make his mark for the cause of progress, he would have do much more than this for any other liberal bishop would have done the same in his place. So he began a series of his own innovations, determined that the Diocese of Neo-Soho would be the most forward-thinking, progressive, denomination in the entire Church.

First, he set out to eliminate agism in the ordination of clergy. Taking Isaiah 11:6, “and a little child shall lead them”, as his motto, he declared that he would accept candidates for ordination without any artificial and discriminatory limitations based on age. So it came about that when the rectorship of the parish Church of SS. Peter, Paul, and Mary opened up he ordained and installed Tommy the Toddler as the new incumbent.

“This is the wave of the future”, an extremely proud Barty told reporters at the press conference after the ordination. The following Sunday, the new rector preached his first sermon with the title “You’re a Doody Head.” When his parish broke out laughing shortly after the title was announced, he sat down in his pulpit and began to wail, after which he took his toys and went home to his mommy. One of the reporters who had been at the press conference was in attendance and tried to contact Barty but was told that no further comment was available at this time.

Barty’s next ordination was of Melinda Meangirl, the queen bee of the most exclusive high school in the city. Barty was particularly pleased with this ordination because he felt it was a blow that struck against both agism and sexism. He held off on holding a press conference after appointing her to her first parish, however, and this proved to be a prudent move for, although Melinda’s social organizing skills were a boon for the first few months, rumors began to filter back to Barty that she had established a clique in the parish, with rather strict appearance based criteria for inclusion, and that those who didn’t make the cut were being branded as losers. Then, when the time came to renew the parish directory, she had the bright idea of creating a slam book and while Barty praised this as innovative, it proved extremely divisive.

Having eliminated agism, Barty next set out to combat discrimination in the administration of Holy Matrimony. “It is unacceptable”, he told his clergy, “that in this advanced day and age, the Church is still violating the principles of fairness, equality, and social justice by reserving Holy Matrimony to human beings. If we continue to practice this sin of speciesism we are no better than Donald the Orange.”

Donald the Orange, since his rise to power, had become as much the focus of Barty’s rage as fundamentalism.

To set an example for his clergy, Barty held a wedding ceremony at his Cathedral in which he married a bull terrier to a shih tzu. Throughout the ritual the sound of barely suppressed laughter could be heard arising from the congregation as the inevitable joke about the progeny of such a match made the rounds. As a precedent-setter, however, it appeared to be successful, for Barty started receiving calls from people asking him to marry their own pets. Then the zoo summoned him and asked him to marry their lions and tigers and bears. “Oh my” was Barty’s response. Soon, people stopped calling in advance and just showed up at the Cathedral with their pets. There were cats and rats and elephants and, sure as you are born, well, okay, there were no real unicorns, although someone did try to make a couple by gluing horns to the heads of his ponies.

As elated as Barty was to see his exciting vision become reality it could not escape his notice for long that church attendance and revenues were dwindling. It was apparent that unless there was a turnaround soon the diocese would be in severe financial difficulties. Barty couldn’t understand it. With all of his fresh new ideas every pew in every parish in the diocese ought to be packed and overflowing every Sunday. Instead they seemed to be leaving in droves. Even when he introduced his third major innovation, “hash hosts”, that is to say, communion wafers containing a strong dosage of tetrahydrocannabinol which was now legal thanks to Captain Airhead, for whom Barty thanked his higher power every day, this only slowed the exodus rather than halting it altogether.

“The Diocese of Paleo-Middlesex does not seem to have this problem”, Barty noted with some bitterness, for the bishop of Paleo-Middlesex, the Right Reverend John Keble Waterland, was a traditionalist, the kind whom Barty always called a “fundamentalist”, and whom he suspected of having a less than completely negative opinion of Donald the Orange.

“Their church attendance and donations are both way up and they will be ending the year in the black. This year I had to advise all of my clergy to cut three quarters of the funding to their music programs. Waterland had enough funds at his disposal to commission Danny Elfman, the Chuck Norris of composers, to write a brand new Mass setting which will be premiering at their Cathedral this fall. How do those reactionaries do it? What is their secret?”

Barty was turning green with envy.

Nevertheless, he still had an ace up his sleeve to play, when it came to balancing the diocesan books. Every summer he hosted a fundraiser party on board his yacht on Lake Wootiewappy. This year he would crank it up a notch and throw the biggest, most fabulous, party of all time. His friend Saucy Sam of Saucy Sam’s Salad Bar and All You Can Eat Barbeque Buffet had agreed to donate the catering and all of his friends in the local arts, music, and theatre community had agreed to contribute their talent to what promised to be a very entertaining program. Everybody who was wealthy and important in his diocese had received an invitation and they had all RSVP’d. Bishop Waterland had also been sent an invitation and lo and behold he was the first to show up.

“Thanks for the invite, Barty. It looks like you have a great evening planned for us.”

“Thanks, John.”

“Do you think you will raise enough to get your diocese out of the red?”

“I hope so. We had to make some pretty painful cuts this year.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. It is always difficult to know what to let go, when you are in strap, financially. What did you decide upon, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Well, we had to cut our music programs down to a quarter of what they were.”

“Oh, oh!”

“Why are you giving me that look?”

“Are you sure that was a wise thing to do?”

“We had to cut something. Why not music?”

“I take it you haven’t been following the latest research in behavioural genetics.”

“No, and I am rather surprised that you have.”
“Then you haven’t heard about the Kappa Rho Alpha Zeta Upsilon chromosome?”

“Um, no. I’ve heard of the X and Y chromosomes.”

“Those are the chromosomes that determine sex.”

“What is this crazy chromosome that you are talking about and what on earth does it have to do with my music program.”

“There is a genetic component to our talents, abilities, and behavioural dispositions. Not that these are entirely genetically, determined, mind you, but genes play a role. Scientists have isolated the genes that predispose someone to become a church musician, especially an organist and choir director. These are located on the Kappa Rho Alpha Zeta Upsilon chromosome.”

“Fascinating, but I still don’t see what the problem is.”

“Well, the genes that predispose someone towards piracy are located on the same chromosome.”

“What?”

“It would appear that the church musician genes are the stronger of the two sets on the chrosome. What this means is that an individual with the Kappa Rho Alpha Zeta Upsilon chromosome will be most strongly inclined to become a church musician, but if that opportunity is taken away from him, he will be inclined to fall back upon piracy as his second choice.”

“That has got to be the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.”

“I’ll send you a copy of the scientific journal in which the research was published. It is quite fascinating. At any rate, you can see why I bring it up. Drastic cuts to your music program will mean a lot of church organists will either be let go or forced to moonlight in order to survive. Piracy will be the first thing that pops into their head.”

At this point, other guests started to arrive and Barty turned to greet them. He thought it over and chuckled over it a little latter.

“I hadn’t realized how much stress Waterland must be under. He must be on the verge of snapping, buying in to silly theories like that.”

Much later that evening, after everyone was well fed, the first half of the entertainment program was over and they had entered into an intermission. During the break everyone came up to Barty to congratulate him on the success of his event. While this was going on a loud boom was heard.

“What was that?” several people asked.

“Do you have fireworks planned for us, Barty?” asked the dean of his Cathedral.

“No”, answered Barty. “At least I don’t think so.”

All of a sudden a second boom could be heard. This time something came flying towards the yacht and smashed into the deck making a big hole.

“That was a cannon ball!”

Everybody on board the yacht turned in the direction from which the ball had come. There they could see another boat approaching. It was armed with cannons and was flying a flag, a black flag with a grinning skull and crossbones.

“That’s the Jolly Roger! We’re under attack by pirates!”

The pirate ship pulled up next to Barty’s yacht, and every organist and choir director in his diocese began to board the yacht. Some swung over on ropes. Others came across on planks they placed down from deck to deck. On the yacht, some of them went from guest to guest, demanding that they hand over their wallets and jewelry at cutlass-point, others cornered Saucy Sam and absconded with all of his delicious food. Needless to say, the yacht’s ample supply of liquor was taken, the rum going first.

“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you, Barty!” the Right Reverend Waterland said to his host as the cathedral’s own organist put a pistol to his head and ordered him to hand over his episcopal ring and all other valuables.

“Oh shut up” said Barty.

Once they had stripped the yacht of everything worth taking, the organist pirates ordered everybody to the far side of the deck, and made them walk the plank. Barty was the last to go.

As he walked the plank and plunged into the water, Barty was extremely thankful that Lake Wootiewappy is no more than five feet deep at its deepest.

(1) Lucy first appears in Lucy's Day In Court.

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