Supporting vulnerable children still a priority
People around the world seem to be thinking more about the welfare of others and less about themselves – particularly at Christmas.
That’s the positive finding of a new global survey, which reveals two thirds of adults are trying to help the most vulnerable members of their communities over the festive season – particularly less well-off children.
According to the international charity, World Vision, six-out-of-ten respondents said they would prefer to receive a meaningful gift that would enable them to help someone else.
Spending time with family and friends was also cited by 70 per cent of participants as offering them hope.
“This year has been a difficult one for all of us, and vulnerable children have been especially affected,” commented Andrew Morley, World Vision President and CEO. “It's heart-warming to see the giving spirit is still alive globally, and encouraging to see how much people want to help one another.”
The same survey also discovered most respondents felt the worst of the current COVID-19 crisis is now over, and 2021 will be a far better year.
Our top 10 films for Christmas
It’s one of those subjects that is highly, err, subjective – yet can have us debating the pros and cons for hours. Yes, it’s time to run through Sorted’s favourite Christmas films of all time…
We make no apologies for listing this films in their positions, and we are sure you’ll have a view, good or bad, with our selection. So here goes…
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol… this is a festive frolic you simply cannot beat, and we promise you’ll be chuckling away from start to finish. Guaranteed.
2. Die Hard… Bruce Willis encounters a ruthless villain in Jeremy Irons and has a city to save. How could you not have this in your top two favourite films of all time, let alone Christmas?
3. A Christmas Carol… the vintage Charles Dickens novel that has brought the tale of Scrooge into the lives of us all. An unmissable classic.
4. It’s A Wonderful Life… James Stewart stars in his finest film, one some commentators believe is the greatest Christmas flick of all time. We beg to differ. But it’s a cracker nonetheless.
5. Gremlins… beware strange alien things with pointed ears that can wreck your lives. They’re little devils in this take of young Billy who doesn’t do as he is supposed to, with big consequences.
6. Love Actually… Okay, so who thinks Hugh Grant would make a better Prime Minister than Bo Jo? Answers on a postcard, please. In the meantime, get on to Sky or Netflix and watch the Four Weddings star give a statesman-like performance in Richard Curtis’s festive favourite.
7. The Nightmare Before Christmas… Tim Burton and Catherine O’Hara star in this hoot of a tale as Santa Claus is abducted.
8. White Christmas… Bing Crosby lets us all dream again of a white Christmas, as his crooner voice belts out the classic tune from this hit from the 1950s. Still a great film, more than half a century on.
9. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service… Christmas isn’t Christmas without a bit of Bond, and while there is no better 007 than the late, great Sean Connery, we think it only fitting the often maligned George Lazenby gets his place in the sun. This year, at least.
10. Krampus… based on an Austro-Bavarian character from ancient folklore, this is a film well worth watching.
Heroes of Faith: Johann Sebastian Bach
Why Bach has still got plenty of bite
His music has been appreciated in the world’s grandest halls of cathedrals and palaces – and it is as popular today as it was when it was first written more than 300 years ago. In the first of a new series, the evangelist J. JOHN looks at the remarkable works and life of JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH and reveals the German composer’s deep faith and conviction were the driving forces behind his greatest masterpieces.
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685, and was part of a remarkable German musical dynasty. His world was shaped by the theology of Martin Luther, a great church reformer but also a man who saw music as a gift of God.
Steeped in music from birth, Bach progressively mastered techniques and instruments until he became a composer and church music director. He also studied theology and in his Bible, still preserved, we can see his careful annotations. After a number of short-lived appointments he found a home in Leipzig where for thirty years he controlled music not just for the churches but also the court and society. He died in 1750, leaving behind an unparalleled legacy of music.
Of Bach, the man, we know little outside his music. The sparse correspondence we have preserved from him is typical of church musicians of every age and denomination: he defends his music, grumbles over standards and pleads for more resources. We know that Bach suffered many tragedies. He was orphaned as a child, returned from a trip away to find his beloved wife not only dead but buried, and twelve of his children died in childhood. When Bach’s music touches on sorrow, you know he’s been there.
Bach’s music is awesome in terms of both quantity and quality. Quantity? Well, if you want a complete collection of everything he wrote – orchestral, keyboard, cello, violin, flute and the vast body of church music. Quality? Bach had an effortless technical mastery of every intricacy of music. Yet although he was capable of writing works of dazzling mathematical complexity, they are always music to be enjoyed and never simply a show of academic brilliance.
Approximately three quarters of Bach’s music was written for the church.
In the Lutheran church of his day, services (which could be up to four-hours long) had a substantial musical composition – a cantata – in the middle. For soloists, often a choir and a range of instruments, the cantata was usually around twenty-minutes long; it reflected on the Bible reading and prepared the congregation for the sermon. The church calendar required cantatas for seventy occasions a year and, in one of the greatest sustained feats of creativity in history, for three years Bach created a new cantata every week. This meant that each week he had to set a German text to music (often writing parts for a dozen soloists and players), have the scores copied, rehearse the work and, finally, direct it on the Sunday. Despite the obvious temptation, Bach rarely repeated himself and consistently generated fresh music of extraordinary impact and beauty.
But it was Bach’s faith that drove so much of his work. In some ways Bach can be seen as a theologian and preacher who communicated in music. In writing a church piece Bach frequently began with the abbreviated prayer J. J. (Jesus help) and ended with the initials S.D.G. deciphered it read: “Soli Deo Gloria – To God alone be glory.” Bach wrote that “the aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul”, and his intention to praise God and encourage his hearers is there throughout his music.
Of the many things that can be said about Bach, let me mention three I particularly appreciate.
First: I’m impressed by how Bach saw his work as worship. Yes, church music paid his wages but even when he was writing compositions every week there is no evidence that he was ever just doing his job. He worked for God and God deserved his best. Many of us face the draining burden of having to do things repeatedly. May we stay as fresh and inspired as Bach.
Second: my heart is warmed by Bach’s profound Christian faith. The fact is that Bach, following Luther, understood the heart of the gospel to be about how sinful men and women are made right with a holy God through Christ’s death on the cross. We too must never lose sight of this truth.
Finally, as an evangelist, I am encouraged by the way that in his church music, Bach doesn’t simply describe the truth, he preaches it. He invites a response, seeking to draw his hearers from being merely spectators of the truth into being those who can claim the truth as their own. Over the years Bach’s music has proved to be very dangerous for atheists.
In his final years Bach created a work that was meant to be his testament to the world; the B Minor Mass. Unusually, Bach chose a Latin text, probably so that his work might go out beyond Germany and into the world. The final chorus Dona nobis pacem is a prayer for God to grant us his peace.
A very fine modern performance, done in a way that Bach would recognise, is available on YouTube, and you can watch it here. It’s directed by the Japanese conductor and supreme Bach interpreter, Masaaki Suzuki, who, as a committed Christian himself, understands not just the music, but the faith which created it.
J.John is a UK-based evangelist and the author of several books including That’s A Good Question.
Our Top 10 festive foods
If you and your family are anything like the gang at Sorted, you are not going to let what is happening in the world right ruin your Christmas.
We are all unapologetic foodies, and we love to tuck-in to as much Turkey and as many sprouts as our stomach will allow. And we’re confident some good Christmas grub will put a smile on our faces.
But, being helpful souls, we thought we might share our thoughts on what the best nosh will be this Christmas, so you can have as much merriment as possible. So here is our festive top 10 of the best things to get your gnashers into during the next couple of weeks.
1. Turkey… still the staple food at Yuletide, and quite rightly so in our opinion. We love having leftovers – because it makes a fabulous curry on Boxing Day.
2. Chicken Wellington… a great alternative to Turkey on Christmas day. Made just like its beefy big brother, and something different and impressive for the dinner table.
3. Battenburg Cake… something special for any marzipan devotee. Quite rightly a solid performer in the top three, in our humble opinion.
4. Sprouts… these much-maligned fellas need your support. They’re versatile, and they taste great deep-fried. If you don’t believe us, just ask any self-respecting Glaswegian.
5. Bacon and Egg sandwich… the perfect way to start off proceedings on the big day itself – and the aroma from the cooker ensures everyone in the house rises early.
6. Cauliflower Cheese… the perfect accompaniment to any main course. It goes with anything, tastes delicious (but make sure you use good quality Cheddar Cheese) and is easy to make.
7. Roast leg of Pork… we are feeling hungry just thinking about it, and a fight is on the verge of breaking out over who gets the crackling. Make sure you make plenty of stuffing to go round – and have some sweet-tasting apple sauce at hand.
8. Nut roast… perfect for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. This is a wonderfully tasty dish that will quickly be polished off, particularly if the greedy boys are in town.
9. Sherry Trifle… no excuses, this has got to be on the table as one of your Christmas Day desserts, even if it is only for the benefit of Auntie Enid.
10. Apple Strudel and homemade custard… as soon as it comes out of the oven, you’ll be singing Edelweiss and reaching for your nearest copy of the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen. And you’ll also be after second helpings (don’t deny it).
Facebook’s Zuckerberg finds faith
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and top man at Facebook, has revealed he has become “more religious” in recent years.
The creator of the world’s most popular social media network made his confession this month, when he admitted: “The last few years have been really humbling for me. I've become more religious.”
Zuckerberg and Facebook have faced government investigations in the US and UK in recent months over the way potentially harmful material can be easily published on the network – without it being approved or verified.
Not wishing to get bogged down in this debate, Zuckerberg declared it was important to believe in something ‘bigger than ourselves’, his family would always be more important to him than his work – and “you have to believe in things that are bigger than yourself”.
Speaking to a local US media outlet, Zuckerberg added: “We all need to feel like we're part of things that are bigger than ourselves. I try to put my girls to bed every night; I don't always get to do that but that's important to me.”
And while talking directly to a Facebook user, who had asked if he was still an atheist, Zuckerberg admitted his views have changed significantly.
The caring ways of a reformed Sex Pistol
We've probably heard the word ‘care’ mentioned more than most during 2020 as COVID-19 has gripped the world.
Care homes; care for the elderly; care for those with mental health issues as a result of the pandemic; and care for ourselves and others as we went, and continue to go about, protecting ourselves from its consequences.
Care comes from the most unexpected areas and that it should emerge from a guy who was once seen as the most anti-establishment figure of his generation – the punk icon and founding member of The Sex Pistols, John Lydon – is deeply encouraging. It shows that even in an increasingly selfish world, love and care are still an integral part of our DNA.
Dubbed “Johnny Rotten” in his punk hey-day, 64-year-old Lydon displays these qualities as he cares for his wife, Nora Forster, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
In the 1970s and 80s, Lydon was the antithesis of all things rebellious. Move on to the present day and he is now devoted to nothing else but making his 74-year-old wife as comfortable, contented, happy and cared-for as possible in the twilight of her days.
“Love is all you need,” as Jesus Christ declared all those years ago.
In a newspaper interview recently, he explained: “We’ve lived together for 45 years. We’re well and truly attached at the hip.
“She knows bits of her memory are going all the time and shows me in her eyes that she’s frightened, but she’s ever so brave and brilliant and beautiful about handling it. She’ll forget many things, but she won’t forget me. Although she still thinks the other John – the younger one – is much better looking than this one.”
As a fulltime carer, Lydon is part of a large, invisible and often unsung army.
Carers UK, a charity dedicated to supporting them, estimates 4.5 million people have become unpaid carers during the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to the 9.1 million Britons who already care for friends and family.
Sports fans are the big COVID winners
We might not like being denied the opportunity to watch live Premier League football – but there is one positive outcome from the COVID crisis: fans of all 20 top-flight English clubs have saved four-figure sums by staying at home and watching their heroes on TV.
The biggest winners from the nine-month live match ban are long-suffering fans of Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United. For while they may not win trophies on the hallowed turf of St James’ Park, away from the pitch, the average Magpies fan is more than £1,800 better off.
Not far behind are supporters in the south-east who follow the fortunes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Brighton, for they are all more than £1,500 better off due thanks to the impact of the current pandemic.
“We crunched the numbers and found the average Premier League fan will be making a 70% saving by simply staying at home and watching games on the telly,” revealed Peter Watton, a spokesperson for the company that commissioned the research.
Obviously, most fans would gladly sacrifice their hard-earned cash for an opportunity to return to the terraces and cheer on their beloved team.
But with that unlikely to happen again now for several months, at least the average supporter has got something to cheer about. After all, clubs are criticised every year for the cynical exploitation of their most loyal supporters.
But, right now, that is something that is not happening. Far from it.
According to the research compiled by Peter Watton’s team, even the fans who are saving the least are more than a grand better off.
Midlands clubs Aston Villa, West Brom and Leicester City fare the worst from the research – yet even the average Villain fan is £1,017 better off.
“That’s almost enough for us to buy two centre forwards,” commented one humorous Villa fan on social media when he heard the glad tidings.
Narnia classics all set for Netflix treatment
Let’s be honest, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Narnia and its creator – the great CS Lewis – somewhere in the mix.
It doesn’t matter whether you have read his books, or not, just about every one of us is familiar with his tales of good versus evil, magic wardrobes, lions that can talk, and the central characters of Lucy, Peter, Edmund and Susan.
So it’s great to hear Netflix, the digital entertainment giant, is teaming up with The CS Lewis Company and committing to a series of films and other projects that will all be based on the authors wonderful collection of novels.
Netflix has access to all seven of the Narnia books. This means some of the later works that have never been adapted for screen might be made into blockbusters that will appeal to all ages.
And speculation is mounting that actors like Mark Gordon, Douglas Gresham and Vincent Sieber are all being lined up to be involved with upcoming projects.
Lewis, of course, is recognised as one of the greatest thinkers of the Christian faith, even though he was once an avowed atheist who admitted in his book Mere Christianity that he was the “most reluctant convert” in the world.
He is now immortalised not only through the Narnia Chronicles – but through some of the most convincing books and quotes ever written about Christianity. Here are just five of his most famous sayings:
- “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
- “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
- “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”
- “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”
“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance.”
Ex-man Watson calls time on politics
Former Labour Party deputy leader, Tom Watson, walked away from politics after the 2019 general election defeat and admits he couldn't be happier to have done so.
With that lost election behind him and COVID on the way in, he told the latest edition of Sorted: “I've never been more relieved that I left politics when I did.”
The unraveling crisis has demonstrated Watson’s point that it is “virtually impossible for a public policymaker to make the right calls on a fast moving situation like the spread of a global pandemic.”
Now well into a new career as an author, he said: “[The government are] making huge calls that impact of millions of people's lives and cost the taxpayer billions.”
As a former member of the subcommittee that dealt with Avian Flu, he has personal experience of the issues involved in fighting a crisis such as the one the UK is currently attempting to combat, and he added: “I realise how making those early decisions can have a dramatic impact on the number of cases that develop.
“Not having a track and trace system in place earlier has slowed our ability to be resilient and personally I'd have probably involved public health bodies and local authorities more in the development of it.”
That won't happen now as one of the Labour Party’s most popular figures of recent years has no intention of returning to the corridors of national power, explaining: “There's nothing more ex than an ex-MP. I've given 30 years to the Labour Party and public life, and you've got to know when to go.”
● You can read Tom Watson’s full interview in the latest edition of Sorted, which is available now in newsagents throughout the UK.
In the new exciting edition we chat to Hollywood A-Listers, Sporting Superstars, Action-man Bear Grylls plus the greatest team of columnists ever assembled Are you...
People around the world seem to be thinking more about the welfare of others and less about themselves – particularly at Christmas. That’s the positive...
It’s one of those subjects that is highly, err, subjective – yet can have us debating the pros and cons for hours. Yes, it’s...
Why Bach has still got plenty of bite His music has been appreciated in the world’s grandest halls of cathedrals and palaces – and it...
If you and your family are anything like the gang at Sorted, you are not going to let what is happening in the world...
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and top man at Facebook, has revealed he has become “more religious” in recent years. The creator of the world’s most...
We've probably heard the word ‘care’ mentioned more than most during 2020 as COVID-19 has gripped the world. Care homes; care for the elderly; care...
We might not like being denied the opportunity to watch live Premier League football – but there is one positive outcome from the COVID...
Let’s be honest, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Narnia and its creator – the great CS Lewis – somewhere in the mix. It doesn’t matter...
Former Labour Party deputy leader, Tom Watson, walked away from politics after the 2019 general election defeat and admits he couldn't be happier to...