Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Church of England vs Russell Brand

Some Church of England clergy are in a lather over UK comedian Russell Brand’s urgings for young people ‘not to vote’ in the forthcoming election.

Lining up alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Norwich Graham Jones - who believes Christians ‘have a duty to vote’ - is trying to counter the ‘profound effects’ of Russell’s comments, which have apparently been endorsed by heiress Jemima Khan.*

Russell Brand

So who’s right? The established Church of England? Or the alternative (and often controversial) comedian, Brand? Whose views are most in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ?

If you really want the answer, check out Jesus’ own words at John 17:16 and John 18:36. By his actions, Jesus also showed his determination to resist political involvement  – John 6:15. And he identified the real ruler of this world in John 14:30.  (See also 1 John 5:19).

According to The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries – Augustus Neander (translated by H J Rose) “The Christians stood aloof and distinct from the state, as a priestly and spiritual race, and Christianity seemed able to influence civil life only in that manner which, it must be confessed, is the purest, by practically endeavouring to instil more and more of holy feeling into the citizens of the state.”

Nice one, Russell!


Saturday, 7 February 2015


Coming up to an election, it’s remarkable how very nice many of the candidates appear to be. Approachable, generous, principled, passionate, caring and, above all, sincere. Being easy on the eye certainly helps, although once enthroned - either in politics or religion – people with power are automatically imbued with the charisma to match. An airbrush of fame works wonders for the complexion!

And because ordinary mortals desperately want leaders they can trust and admire, years may elapse before those feet of clay poke out from under the mantle.

Take Nero, for instance.

Believe it or not, before starting to barbecue Christians, Nero seemed a decent young cove, a promising ruler who would unite the people and help Rome to flourish. His first five years as emperor were marked by modesty, generosity, compassion, and help for the poor, enhanced by his strong sense of justice. In The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, historian C Suetonius Tranquillus, described Nero as a man of good intentions who abolished or reduced taxes, gave the Praetorian guard a monthly allowance of free grain (on top of their wages, no doubt!) and subsidised senators of little means with an annual salary.

“He let slip no opportunity for acts of generosity and mercy, or even for displaying his affability

Nero was affable, greeting men of all walks of life, even remembering their names! So approachable; he allowed common people to watch him exercising in the Campus and to listen to his poetry recitals both in private or at the theatre. If he lived today, he'd probably be a boozer schmoozer; blokily propping up a bar, downing pints with the lads and slapping a few backs! 

He was a generous patron of the arts and provided plenty of distractions with drama, spectacle, sports, chariot races and gladiatorial combat, much to the delight of the bloodthirsty crowds. The populace also benefited from his generous hand-outs in times of need - bread and circuses kept them happy.

And, believe it or not, for a God-Emperor Nero was surprisingly modest. When the senate proposed thanks to him, he replied, "When I shall have deserved them." Merciful too: ‘When asked according to custom to sign the warrant for the execution of a man who had been condemned to death, he said: "How I wish I had never learned to write!"

Of his outrageous treatment towards Christians later in his reign, no more needs to be said. Yet despite his descent into paranoia and persecution, he remained popular with the poor until his suicide at the age of 31.



Gilded youth is a fair description of King David’s astonishingly handsome son who would stand at the gates of the city, hugging and empathising with every citizen nursing a grievance. He definitely had the 'Princess Diana' factor! 
A consummate politician, Absalom feigned deep concern for the people while inferring that his father was disinterested in them. In this way, he quickly won hearts and a formidable following which led to civil war.

Pride, ambition, murderous hatred and treachery were Absolom's hallmarks……and his undoing!

Herod the Great

Early in his rule, Herod rid Judea of robbers and set up remarkable building projects, including the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, along with theatres, amphitheatres and hippodromes. In common with Nero, he was an enthusiastic patron of the arts and instituted Greek and Roman games at the amphitheatre in Caesarea.

He must have had great charm and awesome diplomatic skills; having started as a supporter of Julius Caesar, he managed to align himself with the emperor’s assassin Cassius, yet later won over Caesar’s avowed avenger, Mark Antony. Switching allegiance yet again, he sided with and was forgiven by Antony’s enemy, Octavius (Augustus) Caesar and became his friend, likely with the aid of generous bribes!

He referred to the Jews as “my countrymen”, despite being a proselyte with no interest in the religion – in fact; he was hated by Jewish religious leaders. He did, however, manage to appease ordinary people by lowering their taxes, providing relief in times of famine, and persuading Augustus to grant privileges to Jews throughout the Roman Empire.

All in all, a solid, all-round politician. Had he not murdered his beautiful wife Mariamne, 3 of his sons, his brother-in-law, grandfather, several former friends and all the under-2-year-old boys in Bethlehem, he could have gone down in history as a rather ‘nice’ chap!

Henry VIII

Another ‘paragon’ who fell short of his early promise. Tall, handsome, athletic, artistically gifted, pious and charismatic, Henry could have had the world at his feet – well, England anyway. But his persecution of Catholics and abysmal marriage record went against him in the end. And, like so many privileged people who are continually fawned over and made to feel omnipotent, power went to his head!


Hailed as a saviour, it seemed Adolf could turn Germany’s fortunes round, and be a real force for change. Sadly, it was another kind of ‘force’ he had in mind entirely!


With modern media and spin doctoring, politics in the 21st century is ever more reliant on outward show - the charisma, charm and graciousness of viable candidates. Let’s hope the next world leaders will truly be as ‘nice’ as they appear!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Racism: Who or what is to blame?


       If ever there was an argument for Creation, the idea that humans just evolved - some races more gradually than others – must take the biscuit.  Dismissing the belief that ‘mankind’ was made in God’s image surely led to the atrocities of the slave trade, undertaken by so-called godly men who claimed their captives were ‘not quite human’.  (How they squared that with the Book of Genesis, which says we all descended from Adam and Eve, has never been explained.)

       Adding insult to injury, Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution led to his cousin Francis Galton developing the concept of eugenics, so favoured by Hitler and the Nazi regime with catastrophic results.

The Bible?

       On the other hand, racism – especially against Africans – has been blamed on the Bible which, they say, condemns black people to slavery. The scripture most commonly used to support this travesty is in Genesis 9:25 where Noah is quoted as saying: “Cursed be Canaan. Let him become the lowest slave to his brothers.”  However, this verse doesn’t mention skin colour. Instead, the curse was made against Ham’s son due to a shocking act which he perpetrated against Noah while the older man was inebriated.

       It helps, of course, to identify who Canaan’s descendants actually were. Not black, but with paler complexions, Canaanites settled by the Mediterranean in land later occupied by Israel and surrounding Arab nations. They eventually came under divine judgement because of their depraved practices and rites, including child sacrifice. Most were wiped out by the Israelites, and those Canaanites who survived were forced into labour by their conquerors, so fulfilling Noah’s curse.
       As for the black races, these did not descend from Canaan but from another of Ham’s sons,  Cush, whose own offspring included Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah and Sabteca (Gen 10:6,7) When mentioned in later portions of the Bible, the term Cush corresponds to Ethiopia, while Seba refers to people in Eastern Africa.

       The Bible offers no basis whatsoever for racism or apartheid in any form. On the contrary,  in Acts 10:34,35, the apostle Peter states that “God is not partial, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Friday, 16 January 2015

Anti-Semitism: How did it originate?

Hundreds of French Jews moving to Israel in wake of Jihadist attacks; 6,000 Jews emigrated in 2014.
Jewish schools close in Belgium and Holland after terror alerts
54% of British Jews feel they have no future in Britain; 45% feel their families are threatened by Islamic extremism
35% increase in anti-Semitism in Britain
45% of Britons agreed with at least one ant-Semitic statement put to them during a YouGov pol such as “Jews chase money more than other people” (endorsed by a whopping 25%), and “Jews’ loyalty to Israel makes them less loyal to Britain than other Britons” (20%)
White House voices alarm at surge in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe
According to one American Evangelist, even “the institutional church has sinned through much of its history and has much to answer for at the Judgment, especially for the anti-Semitism practiced against the Jewish people.”
Why is there so much hatred towards the Jewish race? Some might point to modern Israel’s role in the Middle East, particularly in view of recent bloodshed in Palestine.
But anti-Semitism goes beyond politics and present day conflicts. Hatred of the Jewish race has been raising its ugly head for centuries. So let’s examine why many people feel justified in holding anti-Semitic views.
Jews killed Jesus
Some so-called Christians blame the Jews for Jesus’ death. However, the New Testament reveals that Jesus was greatly esteemed by the ordinary people. Opposition to his teachings came almost entirely from religious leaders such as the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus was particularly hated by Israel’s High Priest Caiaphas, whose hypocrisy Jesus exposed and who no doubt suffered financial loss after Jesus threw the money-changers out of the temple.  
Alarmed by the crowds who listened to Jesus, Caiaphas also feared this man’s teachings would be viewed as insurrection by occupying Roman forces, provoking armed intervention and a subsequent a loss of power for him and his cohorts.  The die was cast. Eventually, following a mockery of a trial at the Sanhedrin, Jesus was handed over to the Romans for execution.
How ironic that it was his genuine popularity with ordinary Jewish people that led to Jesus’ death. Significantly, most of his followers were Galileans warm, humble people who were subject to prejudice from the highly educated, haughty Judeans of Jerusalem. So who were the hordes clamouring for Jesus death?
Matthew reveals that the crowd was incited by “the chief priests and older men.” (Matthew 27:20) What lie could they have told to whip up such hostility? Perhaps it was the lie earlier presented at Jesus’ trial and repeated during his execution - that Jesus threatened to destroy the temple. (Matthew 26:60,61; John 2:19-21))
Careful examination of the Gospel accounts clearly proves that the Jews as a race were not to blame for Jesus’ death. As usual, it was the politicians and religious leaders of the day who found his teachings ‘inconvenient’!
Jews caused the plague
Another old chestnut involves the Bubonic plague which ravaged Europe in Medieval times. In her book ‘Invisible Enemies’, Jeanette Farrell writes: “The plague gave this hatred an excuse, and the hatred gave people’s fear of the plague a focus.” 
As a result of this hatred, entire Jewish communities in Spain, France and Germany were slaughtered, even though the real cause of the disease was rats.
Germany’s WW! Defeat
During the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War II, while Rudolf Hoess, Nazi Commander of Auschwitz concentration camp said: “Our military and ideological training took for granted that we had to protect Germany from the Jews.” (The Holocaust also gave Nazis an excuse to loot wealthy Jewish families)
Similar beliefs continue with ‘Jewish’ conspiracy theories throughout the US and, of course, the Middle East – although criticism of Israeli policies are not at issue here. Disagreeing with Israel’s policies does not make someone anti-Semitic.
So what does? Where did this hostility originate? There is an answer, one which may surprise you.
The ‘Seed’ – The real reason
The first prophecy ever uttered at Genesis 3:15 speaks of “enmity between (Satan) and the woman (God’s heavenly organisation) and between (Satan’s) offspring and (the woman’s) offspring.” Eventually, the woman’s offspring (Jesus) would put an end to Satan and all his followers.
In Luke 4:6, 7; John 14:30 and 1 John 5:19, Satan is identified as the ruler of the world. Bearing in mind that his greatest enemy is Almighty God, it’s hardly surprising that Satan hates anyone who loves God and supports His sovereignty.
Foremost amongst these is Abraham – a man so faithful he became known as “God’s friend.” Because of Abraham’s faith and unbreakable loyalty, God promised that the Messiah would come through his line via Sarah - and the Jewish race was conceived to become God’s fleshly nation and a “people for his name”.
A direct descendant of Abraham and Sarah, Jesus could trace his lineage through Judah, Jesse and King David, while all the prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures - including the year of his arrival in 29CE (Daniel 9:24-26) - have proved beyond doubt that Jesus was the Messiah and the foretold King who will ultimately “crush Satan in the head”…….

A Jew!

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Aladdin and his crew hit the sticks in Derbyshire!

"Just a few lines to say a MASSIVE "Thank You Very Much" for the 
BRILLIANT panto last night.
Everyone REALLY enjoyed it and we are full of admiration for your 
excellent and talented actors. How hard they worked with setting up, 
acting, singing, dancing and all the costume changes.
Please give our grateful thanks to everyone involved. 
How lovely it was to have a happy, family production with no swearing
and dreadful innuendos.
WELL DONE!!" – Linda, Community Centre Member

Cast of Aladdin and the Meanie Genie with fans
(L-R) Catherine Lakenby, Kirsteen Riddell, Rowen Cameron, Lee Farrell, James McCready
That's quite a review! Me? I'm relieved and delighted that the audience at my local community centre seemed to enjoy Act One Production's latest family panto: "Aladdin and the Meanie Genie".

Relieved? Well, as the writer of the original script, I do feel partly responsible for the end result. It's also nice to get some credit - though truth be known, Jule (our artistic director) penned a few gems herself before including our technical director and tour manager Nathan Turtle in the process. Jule has to keep on the right side of Nathan. He's the one who creates the magical special effects.  

In fact, as soon as the script was completed in March 2014, Nathan began working on the sound, lighting, scenery, music…..the lot! It's one thing for airy-fairy writers and imaginative directors to come up with gigglesome gags, bits of business and  mind-boggling stunts, but Nathan’s the person who makes things WORK! Fortunately, he's a Maestro, totally dedicated to his task, despite being an entertainer in his own right. Poor chap hadn't had any time off since March and was looking forward to just a couple of days before it all kicks in again for 2015! 

Jule's no slouch either. As a theatre director she is certainly inventive, wildly creative and occasionally off-the-wall. The rest of us merely run UP it - especially when she insists on not just one but THREE elephants, a talking Dandelion,  and the now ubiquitous donkey! Arrrgggghhhhh! Yet somehow, it all comes together.

Another gift Jule possesses - talent-spotting. Auditions can be fraught with actors' schedules and tricky travelling arrangements (after a disastrous 'virtually' casting session last year, Skype is no longer an option except in extreme circumstances). Yet, every year, Jule finds just the right people....usually young, enthusiastic and brimming with bravado. Well, they have to be brave with some of the stunts they’re given to do! They also have to be in-tune with Jule's vision, and each actor is encouraged to bring their own ideas to the pot, so every production is a joint venture.

The cast and crew (i.e. Nathan) for Aladdin were amazing. (I'm using the past tense as, by the time this blog appears, they'll have completed the tour and gone their separate ways....hopefully towards other excellent roles in the future). To my mind, panto is perfect training for actors, demanding physical skills, mental dexterity, the ability to improvise and perfect timing. The five professionals chosen for Aladdin were excellent singers too.

Aladdin is the first panto to be stage in my own neighbourhood....and Derbyshire folk are not the easiest audiences to please. Fortunately, after a brief jollying-along by Nathan, my fellow citizens and their tots got into the swing of things, the only glitch being when the Dame stuck a sink-plunger on a man's head. Although the guy himself didn’t seem to mind, his protective pre-school daughter objected in NOOOO uncertain terms! 

For me, the highlight was a marionette scene when Ebanazer pulled invisible strings to make the beautiful Princess Jasmine dance! Inspired!

My young friend Tyra (aged 10) and her grandma were equally impressed, especially on learning that the amazing flow of characters were played by just FIVE people - a technical feat in itself!

And everybody clapped! Phew! Thanks to Nathan's wizardry and the cast's terrific performances, I can really hold my head up in the village!

Thank you Act One Productions. I'm SOOOOO proud of you!

Contact: Jule Watson at Act One Productions

Artistic Director: Jule Watson
Technical & Tour Director: Nathan Turtle
Cast: James McCready, Kirsteen Riddell, Rowen Cameron, Lee Farrell, Catherine Lakenby

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Why the Pope? Is Christendom's clergy scriptural?

       “Pope Francis is a humble man who believes he is infallible” – Professor Garry Wills
      Soon after the present Pontiff was elected, religious writer Professor Garry Wills claimed on BBC Radio 4 that there’s no scriptural basis for the Pope - or, for that matter, any Christian clergy.
       He should know what he’s talking about. As a Roman Catholic, educated by Jesuits, Garry once considered the priesthood himself, but settled instead for academia, eventually becoming Emeritus Professor of History at Northwestern University.  His controversial new book “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition” questions the supposed line of descent from the Apostle Peter whom may Catholics claim was the first Pope, quoting Matthew 16:18 as their basis:  “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”.
       According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, however, the term used for ‘a mass of rock’ is the Greek word ‘Pe’tra’ (feminine gender) which denotes a mass of rock rather than ‘Pe’tros(masculine gender) meaning a detached stone or boulder that can be thrown or easily removed:  “Here  the distinction between Petra, concerning the Lord Himself, and Pe'tros, the Apostle, is clear.”
       Another Bible commentator writes, “That the apostles did not understand Jesus’ statement to signify Peter was the rock-mass is evident from the fact that they later disputed about who seemed to be the greatest amongst them. (Mark 9:33-35) There would have been no basis for such disputing had Peter been given the primacy as the rock-mass on which the congregation was to be built.
       ‘The scriptures clearly show that as foundation stones, all the apostles are equal. All of them, including Peter, rest upon Christ Jesus as the foundation cornerstone. (Eph 2:19-22; Re 21:2, 9-14) Peter himself identified the rock-mass (pe’tra) on which the congregation is built as being Christ Jesus.” (1 Pe 2:4-8)
       Having originally believed Peter to be the ‘rock-mass, even ‘Saint’ Augustine (354-430 CE) later changed his view, saying: “The rock is not so named from Peter, but Peter from the rock (non enim a Petro petra, sed Petrus a petra), even as Christ is not so called after the Christian after Christ.  For the reason why the Lord says, ‘On this rock I will build my church,’ is that Peter had said: ‘Though art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On this rock which thou hast confessed, says he, I will build my church. For Christ was the rock (petra enim erat Christus), upon which also Peter himself was built; for other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” – Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Mt 16:18 ftn, p.296) Translated and edited by P. Schaff, 1976.
       A further line of argument against a clergy class, mentioned by Prof Wills, is that by giving his life ‘once for all time’ as the ultimate sacrifice (He 9:11-14) Jesus became the sole mediator between God and humans, abolishing the need for a priesthood to offer sacrifices for the people on a regular basis.
       But perhaps one of the most telling comments is by Jesus himself who, in Mt 23:6-10, puts himself at odds with many religious leaders, ancient and modern:
       “Do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the Heavenly One. Neither be called ’leaders,’ for your Leader is one, the Christ.” 


Saturday, 13 December 2014

Is Catholic vow of celibacy scriptural?

       Australian Catholic Church claims priests’ vow of celibacy may be linked to child abuse.
       26 Italian women in loving relationships with Catholic priests urge Pope Francis to relax the celibacy rule.

       No doubt about it, the papal view of celibacy has caused misery for many people over hundreds of years. But is it scriptural? Does God really demand that priests (and nuns) forego the natural joys of marriage and parenthood? A simple view of the Bible and early Christian teaching will answer these questions: 
Doctrine from devils?

       According to the New Jerusalem Bible: “The Spirit has explicitly said that during the last times some will desert the faith and pay attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines that come from devils, seduced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are branded as though with a red-hot iron: they forbid marriage and prohibit foods which God created to be accepted with thanksgiving by all who believe and who know the truth.” (1Timothy 4:1-3)

Doctrine from Jesus?
       Even Pope Paul VI, a pontiff not generally noted for liberal thinking, admitted in his encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (Priestly Celibacy, 1967) that “the New Testament which preserves the teaching of Christ and the Apostles….does not openly demand celibacy of sacred ministers…..Jesus Himself did not make it a prerequisite in His choice of the Twelve, nor did the Apostles for those who presided over the first Christian communities.” – The Papal Encyclicals 1958-1981 (Falls Church, Va.; 1981), p.204.

Doctrine from Peter and apostles?

       Considering that Simon Peter** was married (Mark 1:29-31) as were the rest of the apostles along with Jesus’ fleshly brothers and first century ‘bishops’ (1Corinthians 9:5; 1 Timothy 3:2), then the Catholic church has no real basis for insisting that priests should be celibate, a doctrine that must surely be partly responsible for the shocking incidence of child abuse by various clergy.

The Apostle Peter, thought by Catholics to be the first Pope, was a married man
Doctrine from Paul?

       Obviously, Christian teaching has never endorsed celibacy except when freely espoused by its adherents. The apostle Paul, while outlining the benefits of singleness, also advised it was “better to marry than to burn.” (1 Corinthians 7:9) The ultimate authority, of course, was Jesus Christ who described singleness as a ‘gift’ for which “not all men can make room.” (Matthew 19:11)
       “Celibacy was commonly practiced before the Christian era by Buddhist priests and monks, and even earlier by the higher orders of the Babylonian priesthood” – The Two Babylons by A. Hislop. P.219
*See also:

**Peter was also known as Cephas – (John 1:42)