The Love of Christ, all the year round

‘Tis the season of make-believe and especially in the realm of Christmas letters. Through the door they come with the Christmas cards - letters fat with falsehood, exuding an air of superiority. It is the supercilious smile of English success as one by one, correspondents detail the perfection of their lives and cast an unwelcome shadow over already dark wintry days. It is not envy you feel at their happiness, but sheer disappointment that people you had thought of as friends have communicated nothing whatsoever of themselves. It is all externals and conformity, the sun ever shining on a catalogue of births and marriages, holidays and achievements. It produces the impression that anything real - from problems at work to sickness - would be construed as failure and so must not be shared.

Do we pretend back and try to make the best of a lousy year with our own synthetic letter or do we tell the truth? Some would say, Who cares - no one is honest in Christmas letters anyway. But that misses the point. 

People who paint their lives to others in such ideal Christmas hues, so often tell the same fairy story to themselves the rest of the year. Everyone they meet is a new friend. Everything they do is a triumph. They are not only untouched by common miseries, but untouchable. They are immune to your problems. Tell them, when next they ask how things are, tell them about the death in the family, that your clients won’t settle the bills until New Year, that a criminal syndicate has ruined your town, that your neighbour was the victim of a hit and run but could herself be charged with dangerous driving. They will not really believe you. Life is not that bad. Society is not so wicked. They do not hear the details, but rather suspect that you have a bad attitude and attract trouble. They draw away from you because your observations on reality upset their ability to believe in a happy fantasy, that if you “do the right thing” you will receive all the blessings in the world. More karma than Christianity.

This is English Humanism in its Sunday - or rather its Christmas - Best, seducing men with the lie that the world is all right, that most people are jolly decent, that there is honey still for tea. 


Life hurts. A lot. One Christmas card this year was annotated with the words, “I hope life is treating you well.” It came from a retired minister who should have known better, who should have known that all things that happen to us come by God’s permission, that God’s children are never tempted above that we are able to bear, but that it may be within God’s Providence to refine us in the fire.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Romans 8.35)

Why did the Apostle Paul ask this, if Christians are entitled to lives of total domestic tranquility? Thankfully, he answered his own question. The solution is not the removal of all problems but the sure knowledge that even the worst event cannot separate us from the love of God.

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8. 37-9)

Christmas letter writers may know and believe this. But they apply the principle in the wrong direction. To them, the woes that come to man are things that happen to other people and so they build their lives around an organised effort to support those who are in distress. They volunteer for children’s groups and women’s charities, help the elderly exercise and knit for Africa, donate blood and join in the 10K for the hospice. Through these avenues of formalised altruism they gain reassurance of their own good works towards those less fortunate than themselves. But they also put themselves in a category of “doing fine”. They do not expect trouble in their own lives or those of their friends and family. They do not live as though trouble will come or as though sin is any worse than a bad cold. They find it almost impossible to slip alongside a friend and just be quietly understanding because their good works are reserved for their inferiors, people in a box labelled “Needy”. They cannot adapt their condescension to kindness towards their equals. Neither can they trust their friends with their problems. They will not shed honest tears and ask others for help them. They are modern-saviours who make the world a better place and modern-saviours do not bleed. If problems come, then their reaction is a juvenile insistence on being happy in adversity. They do not allow you to express sympathy, love or concern, for they retain their superiority at all times. They still believe that they can make the world a better place in the midst of their problem and wonder why you doubt it.


That nothing can separate us from the love of Christ is good news. With this in our hearts, we can pray for the strength to endure new problems and face old battles. Whatever comes, we do not face it alone, because the Lord Jesus Christ is with us even unto death. 

But we should still feel the problems as problems. Our hope in the resurrection of the saints does not lead us to enjoy death. The knowledge that the Lord will not forsake us does not remove our responsibility for conducting our affairs with decorum. Fire will burn us. And fear will plague us. Knowing ourselves in the midst of such turmoil should leave us with softened hearts to know how to weep with those who weep. Our comfort is that the worst things in life could happen to us and we would still be the Lord’s. It does not mean that we are naturally resilient at the prospect of persecution and the sword. It does not mean that we do not react physically and emotionally to confrontation.

We live in a dangerous and evil world. We are not above the battle or immune from it. We are sinners too and we are only more than conquerors through him that loved us. We are not super-charged people who can save others. We cannot even save ourselves. All is of grace and knowing this we should be humbled enough to be a little bit useful, weak enough to seek another’s strength. We need to hear the admonition of the Scriptures to Be strong and of a good courage because we are all cowards, unless the Lord makes us brave.

Christmas letters therefore throw us off balance. They put an illusion before our eyes and dare us not to believe it. Ironically, given the name of the season, it is the temptation towards Humanism - a love of the things of this life, belief that we can have heaven on earth, a longing for perfection where we have no right to any such expectation. The English adore the conformity of Christmas-time. They take comfort in the idea of ritual eating, light hanging, present opening and boozing. Just for once, so they imagine, everyone is peaceful and the brotherhood of man is achieved. We know it is not true. We never thought it was. And yet the idea that it ought to be is a seed of doubt, of dissatisfaction with the way that the Lord God has arranged for our salvation. It festers just below the surface of our thoughts, so we feel guilty if we “do” Christmas and worse if we don’t.

Christmas is a depressing time because it asks us to believe this lie. It takes us away from the plain reality of a world that needs the real Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ - needs him for the forgiveness of our sins, for hope after death, for hope even in life. And there is good news. It is simply this: nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not even Christmas.

Modern Music vs. Good Music

I noted this week that one of my former professors in composition and orchestration died last spring. It was not unexpected, after suffering a stroke in 2013.

I met James Wishart on my first tour of the university and listened to a presentation he delivered on composition. On that occasion he had forgotten to bring a CD of his own music and so I had no opportunity of knowing his style, namely what he called good. I could not have guessed how ghastly his modernistic compositions sounded. Instead, I heard him speak of being a grand encourager to every young composer and I looked forward to his support in starting my own career.

My own experience was very different. He ridiculed the first composition I presented to him in front of 25 of my peers, during our weeks of getting acquainted. During two years of supervision (in both composition and orchestration), he invited me to one tutorial to discuss the progress I was making in my coursework. And, when I arrived, he cancelled it because he had a headache.

As a class, we made allowances for our professor out of pity because of his immense size. We even opened the windows before every class to minimise the aroma. In other words, we made allowances. But he did not meet us halfway. He made no rapport with any member of my class and seldom made eye contact, especially with female students.

How did we expect to learn anything when communication skills were so entirely absent? By osmosis of greatness to students? Hardly. For James Wishart was not great. His potential had been recognised but stalled along the way. He was in a cocoon at the university but he was not setting any example, let alone supporting young composers.

It is deemed unbecoming to speak ill of the dead, but my respect to James Wishart was demonstrated by not making these reflections while he was living. He did not show similar respect to a late Prime Minister of the U.K., Margaret Thatcher, in 23 Songs for a Madwoman.

Wishart’s name will forever be twinned with his satire on Margaret Thatcher, which he published 7 years before her death. It is a bitter, angry work, made all the more poisonous by employing the grotesque lie perpetrated against King George III by Peter Maxwell Davies in his own “Mad Songs”.

You do not need to be a fan of the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to see that the crudeness of Wishart’s 23 Songs for a Madwoman was as vicious as it was futile. If music can and should be used for such ends, it was too late.

There is mental havoc wreaked on the young mind by having someone like James Wishart in a position of authority who fails to nurture and instead causes harm. It took me years to recover my musical balance. It is not just about the notes that we put on the page, although Wishart did his best to make me afraid of writing any music. It is the bullying that can take place in any walk of life and is more paralysing when it is connected to something as personal as musical composition.

Validation in the sphere of classical music comes through being adopted by people like James Wishart, who can induct a new composer into the respectable circle of modern music. Take, for example, Marco Galvani. When he was just a boy at my father’s school, I answered his questions about writing music for film. But he did not need me. He was already taking classes with Emily Howard, who led him to have classes at university with Robert Saxton (who had also taught Emily Howard and himself had been taught by Benjamin Britten). By something less than a miracle Galvani was offered a publishing deal by Edition Peters and receives commissions from reputable performers to play in musical palaces.

By comparison, those of us who found the chain to greatness broken - by men such as James Wishart - have to submit, be rejected, tout for work, handle criticism and prove ourselves with every job. We were not “called” so we are not deemed to be artistic.

I no longer regret that the road which opened before a composer like Galvani remained closed to me. Had James Wishart been more interested and more supportive, I might have been tempted to join his world of modern music, thinking to change it when of course it would have changed me. And I would not have been able to laugh, with Denis King (composer of the theme for Black Beauty) at the total absurdity of modern music and the tragic folly of the people who believe in it.

Answering Criticisms of my Review of Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts"

In December 2016, I received a lengthy comment on my review of “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. I chose not to publish the comment at that time because to do so would have required a response. I was not sure how to approach the commenter and therefore put it aside. But I never forgot the comment's opening words:

Firstly, it's not a book of theology. 

My original review was written nearly 4 years ago and in that time I have given little thought to Ann Voskamp and her large number of followers. This week I revisited her website to see how things had changed. Less than one week ago and to coincide with Easter, she had published an excerpt from her new book. It started thus:



The blog post ends in the same words:

Voskamp 3.jpg

This is theology. Even the author of the comment would find it difficult to deny. And so, I returned to Voskamp and finally answered the comment.

Why Jesus did not die of a broken heart

In her 30th March 2018 blog post, Ann Voskamp writes:




Wrong. One thousand times wrong.

The Son of God became man in order to die for us. His death had to be public so that there would be witnesses. He endured torture and agony for our sakes. He even suffered the loss of God’s presence for a short time, as expounded in the first half of Psalm 22. But the Lord Jesus Christ was a willing sacrifice for us. Long before the Romans expected him to be dead, he had voluntarily separated his soul from his body. The Lord Jesus Christ did not die a passive victim. He actively gave his life for us. He was not broken. He was valiant. 

And there is more. For the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Not passively. He was not risen like a puppet from a box. He arose. He was and he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He vanquished death, conquered sin and is now exalted. He is not impotent in the affairs of this world. His will is being done. And he is a terror to his enemies, even if they do not know it yet, as we read in Psalm 2:

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. (verse 12)

This, the Almighty Son of God, commands and demands our praise. By contrast, Voskamp promotes a wilting Jesus onto whom we can project our sorrows and shower our pity. 

If Voskamp had wanted to show the lovingkindness of God towards those in the midst of life's problems, she could have done so by continuing through Psalm 22. Everything changes in verse 21 (“Thou hast heard me”). Then we read:

Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. (v.23-24)

Here is encouragement for the broken and grieving! Here is promise for those who are afflicted. And what is the reason for our comfort? On what grounds can we believe the promise? Read on in Psalm 22:

The kingdom is the LORD’s: and he is the governor among the nations.

All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.

A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.

They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

The Psalmist says that the Lord is King. He is Governor among nations. He is to be worshipped. We are to bow before him knowing that we cannot keep our lives without him. We are to serve him and be his. It is because he is so far above us, transcendent in his majesty and authority, that we can trust in him no matter what the world says. The comfort we have in our sorrows and suffering lies in his omnipotence, omniscience and breath-taking condescension in hearing our prayers. We fear, praise and glorify him. 

Why I do not worship Ann Voskamp

Now for belated replies to the comment left on my original review. For ease of answering I have separated it into portions. (Quotes from the comment have a white background.)

 comment by reader, H.D.T.

comment by reader, H.D.T.


The Lord Jesus died so that we might be justified.  Those who have been justified are adopted into God’s house and are to be sanctified in this life. Sanctification is not completed in this world. It is a growing up to perfection so that we can keep the commandments and walk undefiled in the law of the Lord.

You expect tranquility on this side of Heaven and make the term inclusive of healing, restoration and wholeness. I do not recognise these terms in the Christian sphere; they seem to belong more to the language of mental health. Our peace with God, our joy in his service, is not defined by how we feel or what happens to us in this world. We are not told to seek tranquility or our own well-being. The longer we live for God, the less we should be looking at ourselves. 

 comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.


Her relationship? I do not have a relationship with God. I might be in a relationship with a man. I might have a good relationship with my Mum and Dad. I do not have a relationship with God. It implies a familiarity that must be reversible: that God has a relationship with me.

Job was a righteous man. There was none like him in all the earth. He had endured an extended trial. He was soon to be blessed abundantly. After God had spoken directly to him (towards the end of the book), Job said: “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee?” (Job 40.4). Job did not "have a relationship" with God. He humbled himself as a creature before the Creator, as a sinner before his Judge, as a servant before his Lord. 

You say that One Thousand Gifts "was never written to teach Biblical doctrine on ways we can give thanks". The problem is, that Voskamp presents us with a doctrine. And if it is not Biblical, then what is it?

According to you I am not allowed to “assume” that Voskamp has made up her own doctrine and does not follow the Bible. But you know “undoubtedly” that what she says comes from a “life lived from Biblical principles”. That is double standards.  

I know that she has gained cult status for some Christians but that does not mean that we must all adore her. Which begs the question: Why does it matter to you that I have written a negative review when thousands of people have written positively about Voskamp's writings? Why do you feel the need to defend a woman who is more than capable of speaking for herself and does so often? 

 comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.


I am not denying that we should live prayerful lives and express our total gratitude to the Lord for all his daily mercies to us. But I object to the commercialised rosary that Voskamp has invented. It is a gimmick whereby people are encouraged to look for the good when we might be better to see things as they really are. 

The Book of Psalms is God’s appointed means of us offering praise to him. The Psalms teach us to avoid being overly familiar, as though God is our “mate”. They turn our eyes towards him so that we will then see the world more by his light. We are not connected to God’s heart (a strange idea, to say the least). His Holy Spirit communicates to us through the Word of God. We may see blessings in the ordinary things of life - of course we must. But we must not attribute to those ordinary things direct communication from God, as though the Lord speaks to us and gives us a new word through a sunrise or a toaster. 

The poetical style of writing is not incidental and certainly not irrelevant. Since the dawn of romanticism, Christians have been led astray by the allure of finding spiritual good and spiritual truth in material things. Flowery writing has been one of the standard traps so that people like the sounds of the words and the air of authority in them, and overlook the heresy that is sitting on the page. 

 comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.


I will tell you precisely what is wrong with having a unique way to love God. 

Joseph Smith.

Brigham Young.

Charles Finney.

Henry Ward Beecher.

Charles Taze Russell.

Shall I go on? Everyone who ever started a heretical cult began with a “unique way to love God”. Once people become separated from what Scripture says, they are on a slippery slope to believing anything. If you truly believe that we can express our love to God in any way we choose “as long as our heart is towards Him” then I fear for you. It is the Devil’s own argument right from the Garden of Eden, “Has God said?”

 comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.


I’m sorry, but I’ve seen too many crocodile tears. Do you not know that the easiest way to make people trust you, is to show them a scar. Engage their sympathy. Capture their pity. She’s just like us, you say. She may have a publishing empire and a fortune, but she’s down to earth and just like me. She understands. 

Watch "Elmer Gantry". 

 comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.


My problem is not with the idea of turning our thoughts more towards God. My problem is that Voskamp’s idea of God is twisted and that a religion that leads to "personal healing" is not Christianity. We are supposed to meditate on his Word, not invent our own Bible on a daily basis. God's will has been revealed to us already. 

 comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.


Joining in the "pity party"? Are you serious? The Lord Jesus Christ knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead and yet he wept at his grave. Was he joining in the "pity party"? What did his tears "achieve"? Did it actually overcome anything? Voskamp (according to your reading) would have encouraged him to find the beauty instead - correct? Such flippancy and irreverence.

We do not react to real life in a particular way in order to produce a “desired outcome”. I actually find that deeply offensive and inhuman.

God speaks to us in his Word. The heavens do declare the glory of God, as the Psalmist said. But that does not mean that we identify God with his creation. You try to prove that God "does speak through nature" by appealing to the assumption that God speaks "through humans". I think here we finally see the difference between our religious beliefs. You defend Ann Voskamp because you believe that she has spoken God's words to you. I do not. The godly minister is commissioned to preach God's Word and in that high role he may be blessed very much in his labours, by the Holy Spirit. But that you, or I or Voskamp should be the mouthpiece of God is heresy. And that is why we will never agree: you feel honour bound to defend your idol and hope that she will impart grace to you in every word; I will hold tight to the Scriptures and pray for the end of such heresies.

Propaganda and the BBC's war against Christianity

If a nation is founded on Christian principles and consists of individuals bound by a confession and taught a creed, they are unlikely to be swayed by a story, a film or a piece of music that contravenes those standards. The English surrender to the Arts appeared as Christian belief declined. It has produced a society that is susceptible to be influenced through artistic channels, as expounded in Music Mania.

In Germany, society was controlled by music. In France, by paintings. The English have a most particular weakness for stories. And this weakness was deliberately exploited through Dr. Finlay's Casebook (1962-1971). The programme was well-developed before the propaganda started. The characters were well-known and eminently likeable. Dr. Finlay, hot-headed, impetuous, always learning something. Dr. Cameron, wise, loveable, trustworthy, always inclined to drink something. And Janet, so faithful, so safe and pure, as the housekeeper.

 Dr. Finlay, Dr. Cameron, Janet the housekeeper

Dr. Finlay, Dr. Cameron, Janet the housekeeper

Belle: A Call for Legalised Abortion

Things changed in 1965 with an episode called Belle by Rosemary HillIt was a deliberate attempt by the BBC to promote the need for legalised abortion, 2 years before the law in England was changed. Belle is a back street abortionist, who lures desperate women to her rooms and treats them abominably in return for money (not that doctors work for free!). Some of the women are badly injured in her hands, some die. The doctors are left shaking their heads and given the words (in paraphrase):

What are we supposed to do? The women come to us and we can do nothing to help them? Our hands are tied. So they seek help from someone who can do something. But what a mess. If only the law could be changed!

The young women are treated as victims of circumstance. Their condition is nothing to do with them. They are as innocent as if they had all been raped.

Happy Release: A Call for Legalised Euthanasia

In 1967 there is Happy Release by N. J. Crisp. This time we are treated to euthanasia. A man, who once was a chemist, is looking after a wife with terminal cancer. She is in such pain. She wants to die. Can he not help her? Is there no way? The lady dies far quicker than expected and the doctors are thrust into a moral dilemma:

She is dead. Her suffering is over. If her husband had helped her die, then it was only a mercy. Poor woman. She was so brave. It would not have been anything other than an act of love if her husband had killed her. Who could blame him? Who cares? Perhaps if a doctor could help. Who knows? 

Suicide or murder. Neither would have a stigma. The only possible judgment would be on someone who did nothing and thereby was complicit in causing her agony.

The Conscience Clause: A Call for Compulsory Vaccination

The intention to propagandise was confirmed by the third episode in this style: the 1968 episode The Conscience Clause by Elaine Morgan. Dr. Finlay vaccinates a child against smallpox. She did not want her child vaccinated as she had listened to a local lawyer who is not pro-vaccination (he had been vaccinated as a child and then caught the disease badly). Dr. Finlay persuades her to have the injection. The little baby girl is the beloved first child for the couple. Her father is away at sea and looking forward to meeting her. But before he returns, the child has died in a gruesome, gangrenous way - not fit to be seen - only a few days after the vaccination was administered. Dr. Finlay reproaches himself throughout the episode. Dr. Cameron's character is vehemently pro-vaccination. He expresses little concern for the bereaved parents or for the suffering of the baby. He wants to vindicate the necessity of vaccination through a post-mortem. So, the writer pulls a rabbit out of the hat. It was congenital syphillis. What do you know? The vaccination was just a coincidence. It was all the parent's fault, anyway:

Bernard Shaw says that vaccinations are dangerous.

What medical qualifications does he have, Doctor?

None at all, man.

Then how can he know more than you, Doctor?

How indeed, man!

In Conclusion

It is not that other episodes of Dr. Finlay's casebook are without problems. The premise of Dr. Finlay's world is insidiously subversive because we have all the trappings of a sweet old Scottish town without the Church. Oh, there is from time to time a minister. He is sometimes a cross man who beats his daughter, other times he's an idiot. He is never a respectable, admirable man. And that leaves a void for the doctors to fill. Time and time again, the doctors face a moral dilemma in the lives of their patients. In reality - in the 1920s - the Church was central and the ministers would have known everyone in their parish. They would have been involved in the lives of the people and available to support, advise and counsel. In their absence, the doctors offer a ministry of medicine. They do not always know the answers, but what would we do without them? The legacy of such shows is a nation that adores the NHS to the point of aggressive idolatry today.

As for the propaganda to promote abortion, euthanasia and vaccination, that was a deliberate subversion. A story may be set up in such a way that the characters can only reach the conclusion designed by the writer: that is the point. Back people into a corner so that they will conform to a new standard, as influenced by the television, until they enforce one another into believing righteousness is error and principle is cruelty. Cut off from a Biblical worldview, separated from the Church, and divorced from the law of God. Damned. 

Postscript: 8th September 2018

It is interesting to note that the final (8th) series of Dr, Finlay's Casebook was a total disaster. Some of the writers are otherwise competent, if not brilliant, in their craft, but it could not have been worse if they had each produced their scripts while under the influence and the Script Editor had gone shopping. The programme loses all sight of the medical emphasis in favour of soap opera style melodrama. The writers change the characters in order to serve their own script, often contradicting traits which had been well-established in the series.

1. A Late Spring by Donald Bull

This is the most successful of the stories in the final series because the romance of Finlay's father is self-contained and both neatly handled and acted. The audience might have hoped instead for some resolution to Finlay's everlasting boyhood, not least because the actor (Bill Simpson) is looking his age and it is ridiculous to have him still posing as the young doctor. 

2. Comin' thro' the Rye by Anthony Steven

This is a strange story concerning sickness associated with a mill. While ergot's poisoning is well documented, the writer used it as an excuse to do what he wanted. So some of the people poisoned are bed-bound, with an old lady taken very poorly. One young man thinks he can fly. Dr. Cameron, meanwhile, thinks he is 17 again. Such dramatic expediency is embarrassing and illogical. The denouement is not with the miller who had caused the contamination by being criminal. No, it is with the baker whose wife had used the contaminated flour and thought it looked funny, but had still told her to use it. So Cameron lets the baker think that he has eaten scones baked with the same flour. It is unbecoming in Dr. Cameron and out of all proportion to punish the baker for his poor judgment.

3. Not Qualified by John Pennington

This is absolutely the most depressing episode of Dr. Finlay's Casebook to survive. It concerns a couple who live in an isolated cottage. He is very possessive. She is inclined to hypochondria. Finlay interferes and there is nothing wrong with that because the series relies on him getting out of his depth. But in this case he precipitates a crisis in a relationship that was unhappy but stable. By his interference, the woman  tries to leave the man (who is not really her husband). He pursues her and after a long chase, kills her quite savagely. The doctors visit him back at the cottage. He is calmer than they have ever known him to be and acts as though his "wife" is still alive. He has lost his mind completely, a long shadow from his war experiences perhaps. But they are left looking for a body, having done nothing but harm their patients.

4. Dorrity by Owen Holder

This is a most unwatchable piece of television. It concerns a wild young woman called Dorrity, whose father dies in the wilderness of Scotland. Dr. Cameron had visited him and the scenes of his journey there are hard to endure, as the actor is too old to be put through such rough terrain. (Perhaps it was intended to be Dr. Finlay's role and Simpson's drinking was causing a problem?) In any case, Dr. Cameron will not leave the orphaned young woman alone and takes her back to his home and he puts her to bed. The housekeeper, Janet's confusion at this situation is understandable. What then follows is not. Dorrity is a free-spirit whose name should not be mispronounced as Dorothy because she is not a gift of God. She does not believe in God. She does not believe in wearing decent clothes, or eating meat, or behaving with propriety. In fact, she is everything two bachelor doctors should hate. But they do not. They come to believe that she has the power to heal by touch and they want her to train as a doctor. Although she has only had a rough education, they secure her a place and the funds to train! Then she is deposited back home by a fellow-student because she does not fit. She had argued with every professor and learned nothing. Instead of being cross that they had been played / stupid, the doctors just shake their heads that Dorrity is too wonderful for words. She is not. She is an untamed and uncivilised woman, unfit for society and unwilling to learn, right in her own eyes. It is unbelievable that Dr. Finlay the arch-sceptic should fall for a faith healer or that Dr. Cameron, with his years of wisdom and experience, should surrender his house and love to a woman of no charms whatsoever.

5. The Honeypot by Stanley Price

Continuing with the theme of the doctors not actually doing anything medical and no longer being under any pressure to look after patients at all hours of the day and night, this episode's distraction is an American who calls round to buy Arden House, the doctors' residence. He offers a lot of money for the property and says that he wants to ship it brick-by-brick back home to the states as it was his ancestral home. The doctors are indecisive. Meanwhile, two warring sides of the a family try to get the American to buy their homes, on a similar basis. They patch up their differences long enough to make a concerted effort. The dumb-Yank-abroad act is spoiled by the fact that he is really a con-man, who is spreading the rumour of his wealth just long enough to get a local businessman to give him £500. Then he leaves town. It has nothing at all to do with the main characters or medicine. It is a filler at best.

6. A Good Prospect by David Hopkins

This is a story about boxing. The doctors reveal that it had never occurred to them that boxing could result in brain injuries! We are braced for something significant to happen in this regard, as we watch the up-and-coming boxer choose to fight against the wishes of his fiancee. Family quarrels ensue. He does not want to be like his father (who actually seems a very nice old man and his words - in front of his father - seem cruel in the extreme). He meets an experienced boxer who has lost a few marbles. There is a sub-plot involving two established characters who are against gambling and then become compulsive gamblers in connection to boxing. It makes no sense. Dr. Cameron gets a cameo looking at an injured fighter and Dr. Finlay takes on the unlikely role of boxing trainer. But it is essentially a story about boxing and as boring as that sounds to those for whom it holds no interest at all.

7. Responsibilities by John Pennington

This episode is about a father and son. The mother died 6 weeks after the boy was born, but she had already dedicated him to become a doctor. He is now on the verge of going to study. He has a secret girlfriend and his father a secret fiancee. The father will not tell his son about his step-mother-to-be in case it distracts him from getting the gold medal in his medical training. But of course it comes out and the son is soon ill. Very ill. His girlfriend visits. All secrets are in the open. Dr. Finlay believes the sickness is very serious. So Dr. Cameron calls with his own gold medal and lets the boy hold it, like you would with a three year old. The young man dies and his father is superstitious enough to believe that it was because of the stress of finding out his father was going to marry. The wedding is cancelled. Then, in the last scene, he is kind to the lady again. The end. If the boy's mother had died in childbirth, then her husband might have blamed himself for her death and it could have cast a long shadow of guilt that has become focused on the son becoming a doctor and his mind snaps at the disaster of his son's sickness. But nothing so coherent. The characters behave irrationally and it is unsatisfying to watch.

8. A Question of Values by Martin Worth

This story sets rich vs. poor. In the poor family we have a sick daughter who has either asthma or emphysema, depending on the scene. She needs good food and fresh air. Her brother wants a revolution. Her father needs a job. Dr. Finlay is called from the rich family's party to attend to the sick daughter in the poor family. When he returns to the party he has lost his appetite, gets drunk and behaves boorishly to his hosts for being rich. It transpires that the poor father inherited a broken clock that he loves. It is worth a fortune. Will he sell it to the rich man in order to give his family a better life? He will not because he loves the clock and would rather be poor with it and have life worth living. His son leaves in disgust, so there is no income coming in at all. The poor man gets a job with the rich man and then, for no real reason, lets him buy the clock. We finish with a charity auction at which the rich woman manipulates her friends to help the poor, although she does not like the poor in person. The poor man has bought his family a better house and has £30 left which he uses to buy a violin made by Dr. Cameron. So the poor family have material comfort, and a father scraping a violin upstairs. That's it. Another tale in which Dr. Finlay and Dr. Cameron are bit-players in a false drama, where characters say and do what is necessary to reach the end point, however implausible and unenjoyable it is to watch.

Such poor writing is not accidental. The actors were good, but they cannot do anything with the material. The series which had become a tool of propaganda ended by not being able to tell a simple story any more.

Songs for suffering hearts

As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart. ~ Proverbs 25.20

When Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America, many of the artistic types in my social media feed merged into a single repetitive voice: On the one hand, they thought the world had come to an abrupt end; on the other hand, they believed that the inevitable misery would be good for Art.

You see, they believe that Art comes from suffering. (By having their will crossed in a political verdict, they think they are suffering.) They also believe that, if they make music, recite poetry and tell stories in the face of evil, then their Art will atone for the sins of the world. 

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The Search for Happy Music

Some years ago I signed a contract to become a library track composer for a company in New York. They wanted one thing: happy music.

The task did not seem too difficult. I had written happy music before. Unfortunately, such works had always been in conjunction with visuals or words, which tended to inform the listener that the music was happy. So, while I attempted to produce such stimuli for myself, the resulting compositions were not really "happy". There was melody, sweetness, sincerity, harmony, beauty, but happiness proved elusive.

Since then, I have scored many promotional films. The nature of film production inevitably includes some stages of revision, but the only suggestion ever made for my music is that it should be more upbeat / happy. These two experiences - in promos and library composition - have aroused my curiosity about what precisely makes music “happy”.

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The Lost English Accent and Style in Singing and Composition

No one asks why Adele speaks like a Londoner and sings like an American.

I once put this down to the obvious commercial reason that to sing in a manner that pleases American audiences is to make your music potentially more successful on the worldwide stage.

But that is too simplistic a solution. Writing Music Mania: How the Victorians joined the cult of Classical Music and why England has never been the same since, made me think about about the effect of accent on musical style. For instance, listen to this:

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Christopher Robin and the Canon of Composers

The Canon of music is not an organic process by which talent is filtered. In Music Mania I show how the Canon is deliberately controlled to produce and promote a particular type of "new music". The musician may be:

  • a) Remembered with reverence and cherished in memory
  • b) Forgotten completely, buried while still alive under change of style
  • c) Remembered with derision as an example to others

Group (a) are the Canonical composers (from J. S. Bach to David Bowie). Group (c) are mocked as composers of Light Music - no matter how well they wrote (from Johann Strauss Jnr. to Ron Goodwin). Group (b) is less easy to characterise by dint of their obscurity. We might say that Vera Lynn is unfairly idolised compared to Gracie Fields, who had a much longer career and did a lot to support the troops. (Ask the generation who are now in their 80s and they smile at Gracie's name.) But there are people even more forgotten. I have given them a voice in Music Mania. We meet G. H. Clutsam, Stiles Allen, Frieda Hempel, Reginald Somerville, Hubert Bath, Ivy St. Helier, Thorpe Bates and Harold Fraser-Simson.

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How the Death of Charles the First changed the Victorian Church

Before the Victorian rediscovery of Christmas, there were two special non-Sabbath days in the English calendar: Easter and January 30th. If the former is obvious, the latter is more obscure. It was set aside in memoriam of Charles the First, 30th January being the date of his execution. (Historians tell us that this was for the rarity of "regicide", although Kings like Richard III were killed in battle. In terms of the execution of a monarch, we need only look to Queen Anne, second wife of Henry VIII. She was given a coronation in her own name and would have been Queen in the event of Henry VIII's death. If Charles I was the victim of regicide, then Queen Anne was even more the victim of regina-cide.)

But what does this have to do with music?

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Review of “Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson” by Daniel Mark Epstein

A biography of such an unusual person was never going to be a straightforward task and Daniel Mark Epstein successfully portrays her life.

We begin with Aimee Kennedy and rehearse the stories that she herself told about her childhood. We observe the transformation first to Aimee Semple, the wife of a Pentecostal missionary; then to Aimee Semple McPherson, the housewife who will not be tied down and leaves her husband to embark on her own evangelistic tours. Between the large-scale events at Angelus Temple, we examine her mysterious disappearance, the breakdown of the relationship with her mother, her daughter’s divorce, Aimee’s short-lived third marriage, the law suit with her daughter until the rather sudden ending - she took too many sleeping pills and never woke up.

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The Triumph of the Musicians (over Donald Trump)?

The scope of Tim Blanning’s The Triumph of Music is to show the musician at one time a patronised servant of his rich masters becoming (in the 20th century) lord of all. Blanning illustrates that the musician's shackles were cast off by people like Bono, who have the ear of politicians and Elton John, whose homosexuality was once counter-cultural and now is not. It is a book that thinks itself far cleverer than it really is, for Blanning is merely repeating the accepted narrative that has been imposed on the history of music. He disregards any history that has not already been told ad nauseam. We might be lulled into believing the model by the simple fact that we have heard the tune so many times before. But it creaks under the scrutiny of a few counter-examples:

  1. Is the signed artist today really so free from the shackles of patronage that he can say what he wants? No. If he oversteps the boundaries of “modern values”, he will be unsigned and out on his ear. So he is not free. 
  2. Is the unsigned but successful artist free? No. Because if he says something that offends his fan base, they will damn him to musical oblivion.
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Why Torrey & Alexander attracted thousands

In writing Music Mania I came across Reuben Torrey & Charles Alexander, noting on p.165:

In 1905 Torrey and Alexander (a preacher-singer combination in the style of Moody and Sankey) took over Albert Hall Mission for 85 consecutive days, performing to 10,000 people every day!

Today they are certainly less well known than Moody and Sankey and their revival missions (held around the world and in major the cities of the United Kingdom) have been overlooked. I have just concluded reading a 1905 biography on the pair.

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The Devil's Tunes? Black Sabbath and Birmingham Cathedral

This week a new work was released after collaboration between Birmingham Cathedral and Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. The Dean of Birmingham selected the words (based on Psalm 133) and the choral arrangement was by Paul Leddington Wright; but it is Iommi’s name that is attached to this work. 

We might wonder why. After all, fans of Black Sabbath are unlikely to be interested in Christian-themed choral music, whilst regular attenders at Birmingham Cathedral are - hopefully - even less likely to be fans of Black Sabbath, with their occult and horror themes.

Such a collaboration is not only acceptable today, but it is immune to criticism. In Music Mania, we discover the roots of this modern attitude through events that took place in 1875.

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The BBC, 90 years of subverting Christianity in England

John Berger's life and death are being celebrated by the BBC today. His Ways of Seeing programme joins the BBC litany of works that "changed British culture".

The BBC's apparently guileless reporting disguises that fact that from its conception it sought to change British culture. In Music Mania I show how, 1 year after it was granted a Royal Charter, the BBC squandered £2,000 of public money to perform a work by Schoenberg. English composers were aghast that a German composer should be promoted instead of native talent. The amount of money was deemed obscene but was necessary to perform a work with 8 flutes, 5 oboes, 7 clarinets, 10 horns, 5 trumpets, 7 trombones, 6 kettle-drums (and other percussion), 4 harps, full strings, 5 solo singers, 3 male choirs and an 8-part mixed choir. In spite of criticism by the public, the BBC produced another Schoenberg work in 1930, even though in the eyes of the British public his name was "mud".

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The Romantic: Someone who looks for spiritual truth in material things

Since most people are unaware of their own “Romantic” attitudes, the following definitions have been prepared to bring home the practical outworking of Romanticism in our lives today. Anyone who would like to understand the origins of Romanticism should read Tim Blanning’s rather uncritical work, The Romantic Revolution. In Music Mania I demonstrate how music became the exclusive domain of the Romantic movement.

This philosophy appears to be innocent and inoffensive but over time it perverts our perception of truth and destroys our ability to find truth outside of material things. For the Christian this engenders a change from living by faith through the Word of God, to trusting the Art of Man and therefore living by the senses.

If you had once walked in Christendom as “someone who expects to find spiritual truth in material things” you would have been deemed an idolater. After all, what does the idolater do that the Romantic does not? Either you make art or you purchase it from someone else, with the goal of gaining spiritual enlightenment outside of God’s appointed means. 

Not everyone will demonstrate every aspect here defined because people are never consistent. However, Romanticism is often stronger in women than in men, giving rise to a dislocation between the sexes that was unknown before the Enlightenment. Then the difference between the sexes was one of roles in the world - now we have communication problems based on a woman’s desire to live in a Romanticised bubble and a man’s inability to make it happen.

In broader terms, Romanticism encourages people to live selfishly and diminishes their capacity to judge other people’s needs. (The Romantic person will be moved by a television appeal for famine relief in Africa but will be unable to see the mum struggling to afford the weekly shop at the next checkout.) Therefore it has dulled our characters and left us as wraiths. We are sometimes awoken to reality by the magnitude of problems we cannot avoid (sickness, death, tragedy) and it is at such times that we realise the inadequacy of the Romanticised mind. If we cannot find a way to feel good, then who are we and what is left of our lives? Therefore Romanticism is nothing more than well-dressed Humanism, ivy climbing around the tree of our faith, to sap our hope in Christ and make us glad of the ivy’s supportive embrace. 

Life and Death: A Children's Guide

There are times when we are happy and there are times when we are sad. We don’t mind happiness. We don’t stop and worry what it means or whether it will end - we are simply happy. But it is different when we are sad: we want it to stop hurting; we want to feel better. But there is no magic wand. Some people drink too much and take drugs to stop themselves knowing they are sad. But they still feel sad next morning.

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Feel Good Christianity

In late 17th century Scotland, a young farmer waits to meet his fiancée. She is a maid in the nearby hall. Today she is late, so the young man takes out his Bible and leans against a wall to read.

A party of soldiers crosses the bridge, leading to the farm. They are paid by the Crown to hunt down Covenanters. Right now they are searching for the two sons of this farm. Their eyes land on the young farmhand. He looks about the right age to be one of the sons. And what is that in his hand? No one but a Covenanter would read a Bible! The soldiers approach the young man and shoot him dead.

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"Inside Out" Reviewed

Like all films with a fantastical element, Inside Out establishes its own rules. In this case, it sets out that people’s behaviour is governed by their emotions and specifically: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Hate and Disgust. Which raises the first question: why these emotions?Why have fear but not courage? Why have hate but not love? The answer is obvious enough - that for the plot to work, Riley’s character must face a crisis if Joy is lost. For her to be this mentally fragile, she must have mainly negative emotions, which are usually kept in check by Joy.

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"Doctor Barnardo" Reviewed

This is not really a biography of Thomas Barnardo. It does include material related to his family background, but the only further information is notice of his marriage and the births and deaths of his children. Neither is it a detailed study of the work done by the Mission. The author does not discuss the practicalities of day to day running of the homes from the perspective of child or guardian. Instead, he looks at the work through the challenges of organisation, administration and finance.

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