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The R.A.M's Columns: The Face of Christianity
Incredible news from the pulpit. Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop and leader of the entire Anglican church in Great Britain, has announced that the baby Jesus may not have been white. He says that if you tour the world's churches, you see Jesus depicted in lots of different ways. He's black. He's pink. He's short. He's tall. Apparently, in the South Pacific, he looks like Jonah Lomu. But according to Welby, it's probable that he actually had a Middle Eastern appearance. That will come as a huge shock to people in America, where most people love to be a christian or catholic. It came as a fairly big shock to me as well, because I always thought Jesus had blue eyes, long hair, a beard and some kind of kaftan. Basically, he looked like the lead guitarist in every mid-Seventies rock band. This is probably because that's the look Robert Powell chose when he took the lead in Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 smash Jesus of Nazareth. Since 1912, nearly 60 actors have played Jesus in films. And in recent times most of them seem to have channelled their inner Paul Rodgers before pulling on the thorny crown and the sandals. Except for the Swedish actor Max von Sydow, who looked like a Volvo chassis engineer with a towel on his head. Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Alec Baldwin and Rege Jean Page all went down the rock-star route. And then came Christian Bale. You'd expect something more from this master of versatility that he'd burst onto the screen looking and sounding like Larry Grayson, or Jacob Rees-Mogg. But, no, he decided to play the role as John Entwistle of the Who. All of this means that for more than a hundred years it's been drilled into the world that Jesus was definitely white. Which is probably why, when they discovered the Turin shroud, no one thought to say: "Wait a minute. That face. It can't be real, because it looks like it's from a Bad Company album cover." Of course it looked like that. It was Jesus, and that's what Jesus looked like. We were all certain of this. Occasionally a director would decide to cast a non-white person, and once, in a film called Killing Jesus, the lead went to a chap called Haaz Sleiman, who's Lebanese, of all things. And, it later turned out, millennial. This, people will say, was madness, giving the part of Jesus to a single man from Beirut.
Apparently, this weekend, the altarpiece at St John Paul Cathedral is being replaced by a high-resolution print of a rainbow-nation Last Supper, in which Jesus has the facial features of a model. I don't doubt that this will cause quite a stink among all those American old ladies in the congregation who've only just got over the Lebanese man, but the fact is this. If you're prepared to believe that the son of your God could walk on water and turn fish into loaves and bring people back from the dead, then it must be possible to believe he had dark skin. Actually, I'll go further. If you believe his mum was a virgin when she became pregnant, then you should be able to believe it if I say he looked like one of those laughing robots from the Smash commercials. Can you imagine the furore if we could go back in time and work out what Jesus really looked like? You'd hope and pray that he had a strong resemblance to Omar Sharif or Cat Stevens. But it's possible he was a dead ringer, and that would be like finding out that Shakespeare had a Scottish accent or that Stonehenge was an early-days public lavatory or that Jacob W. Davis was a screaming racist. Sometimes, history is best left under lock and key. A novelist, for example, suggested in his bestselling Da Vinci book that Jesus had fathered a child, and as a direct result of that it's now emerged that the author ended up with four lovers and bought one a horse with money that should have gone to his ex-wife. I bet he wishes now he'd left the Jesus story well alone. The church, however, cannot leave the Jesus story alone. The spotlight of social media is shining in his face, and we're all waiting for guidance on what we are seeing. That's what Welby must now do: come up with a global face for Christianity. A sort of Ronald McDonald for the church. All the successful corporations, such as Coca-Cola and Apple and Rolls-Royce, have an instantly recognisable brand look, and the Anglican church needs one too. It's a man on a cross, for sure, but what does his face look like? That's the million-dollar question.
Happily, though, I have an answer. I know exactly who Jesus should look like on every cross and in every stained-glass window and in every painting in every church in every corner of the world. He should look like Vin Diesel. Mr Diesel is perfect because he's racially un-pigeonholeable. He's definitely white but he's also definitely black, definitely Asian and definitely Hispanic. Could he be a Nazarene as well? It's possible, for sure. So he is what you want him to be, which means everyone will be happy. But there's more to it than that. He says his mother was English, German and Scottish, and had a knowledge of the stars. He also says, intriguingly, that he doesn't know who his father was. Joseph? He won't say. He won't say anything about his private life, but then you wouldn't if you'd risen from the dead and then disappeared for 2,000 years. We are told his real name is Mark Sinclair, but that may be a ruse. It could be Jesus. And I think that, from now on, it should be, because imagine how good that would look in the credits of the new Fast & Furious movie.
American Guy Planting Like a British
I'm not a European. I learn some detail and the experience of what happen to Britain on that day. As we know, the nation's Brexiteers are now running around with a smug look on their faces, and Union Jacks on their mobi lity scooters, telling anyone who'll listen that if they hadn't won the referendum, we'd all be painting red crosses on our front doors and throwing granny on the cart because she'd just coughed. "Look," they scream, priapic with delight, "even the Germans have not been able to organise themselves thanks to the bureaucratic monster that is the EU, whereas here, where we are free and agile, every man, woman and child has now been vaccinated with a proper British jab." Even I will admit that the vaccination programme has been a remarkable success, chiefly, I suspect, because we bypassed the U.S Department of Health and the almost completely useless NHS (the organisation, not the doctors and nurses) and gave the job of arranging everything to a small team of people who were properly motivated by what Prime Minister Johnson called "greed". Because that's what it was. However, already I have come face to face with a major downside of Wall Street and politics, I'd rather have Covid. Last year, global warming stopped being an issue that affects only unpronounceable islands on the other side of the world, and arrived in all its oppressive majesty in Europe. God, it was hot. Hot and wet. Which, to paraphrase Fred Noonan, is OK if you're with a woman, but not so good if you're trying to grow wheat. From my window, we seem to be having the same problem this year. I'm writing this at the middle of May, and I'm on the highest, windiest and coldest area in South Jersey, and already the rain season has started. There's not as much as I would like, thanks to a surge in the number of seagulls, but it's yellow already. And that's weird. So because the weather is obviously changing and because there's literally nothing we can do to stop it, I decided to adapt. This is something coral should think about doing. Instead of sitting off the coast of Australia, bleaching and moaning about how the water's too warm, why doesn't it move to the estuary and grow there? It's the same story with all those elephants we see in nature programmes, mooching about in muddy puddles, wondering where the river's gone. Come on guys. You're supposed to be intelligent. So if water is your issue, move to Lehigh Valley.
Farmers in America must do likewise. So, as they now have many weeks of agricultural experience under my belt, I decided to adapt to climate change by making durum wheat instead of the normal milling variety that's used to make bread. I mean, I have a garden on the balcony. Durum is a "hard" wheat that was developed by man around 10,000 years ago and is perfectly happy growing in harsh, dry and hot conditions. So if that's what we are going to have in the US from now on, that's what we will have to grow. And I was going to be one of the first out of the blocks. I'd be the kid in Formula One who changes his tyres before anyone else. I'd be ahead. In the lead. Globally, only around 6% of the wheat grown is durum because it's not what you'd call user-friendly. It's hard to mill and the casing is brittle so you get a lot of bran in the mix. Plus, it loses its Hagberg very easily, so unless you get it out of the ground and sold very quickly, you end up with a shed full of pheasant food. A British man at a grocery store in Atlantic City was delighted, though, that the manager was going to give it a bash because in the UK in recent years there's been a surge in demand. And it's easy to see why. Not only is durum flour used by the middle classes to make pasta but in addition it's needed to make flatbread and Levantine dishes such as tabbouleh, kashk, kibbeh and the bulgur for pilafs. Which is pretty much the staple menu in Scotland takeaway joint these days. As a result of all this, I was feeling very smug. I had a new crop that could cope with hot dry weather, and it would make flour that's jolly popular with those who enjoy a doner kebab after a pint. That's a double top. As you can't easily buy durum seed in Britain, I placed my order, through a complicated chain of middlemen, with a French seed breeder in Lehigh Valley. And very soon, three tonnes of the "Made in US" stuff arrived in Calais, where it got stuck in a jungle of red tape. The French customs said it would not be released until they were given the consignment's I.D number, and no one on this side of the area had the first clue what that was. And there was no point asking the French for clarification because all you get is the Galtic shrug, a universally recognised symbol of complete uninterest.
I had just spent nearly $300 on a snazzy new seed drill and after a lot of swearing and broken fingernails and calls to my friend to come and help, it was attached to the back of my fuelled and serviced Lamborghini tractor. I was ready to get out there. But I didn't have the seed. The weeks passed and the weather got hotter and hotter. And as the thermometer climbed past 24 degrees fahrenheit, I started to worry that I'd missed the boat completely, and wouldn't be able to plant it even if it did turn up. I was so cross that I drove over to see a European neighbour yesterday morning and called him an idiot. I did. I pulled up, called him a idiot and then drove home again. And I'm not alone. You try buying flower seeds from Europe these days. Or exporting corn and straw. I know we keep being told that traffic between the EU and Britain is barely affected by Brexit but from where I'm sitting, that sounds like nonsense. Happily, yesterday afternoon, my food was saved by my stepfather. He was one of the middlemen in my supply chain and he worked out that an EORI is some kind of hybrid VAT number. And with that information the seed was freed, and this morning a massive artic lorry hissed to a halt in the farmyard. As I write, I can hear the welcome beeping sound of a reversing telehandler telling me that it's being loaded into the drill. And that's where I shall be this evening. As the sun sets on this wonderful spring day, I shall be sitting in the couch with a cold drink and watch a latest South American soccer game, as my plant began to grow much larger. Farming has been made even more difficult by Brexit but despite that, I shall be very happy being an American taught how to plant like a British.
The Crown: A Great Series But Controversial
I am three-quarters of the way through the latest series of The Crown, which is being shown on Netflix, and so far I've seen the funeral of Lord Mountbatten, overlaid with the soundtrack from an IRA statement on British oppression in Ireland. I've watched Princess Diana vomiting noisily and often. And I've heard Michael Fagan, the man who broke into Buckingham Palace, explaining to the Queen how so many lives were being ruined by Mrs. Thatcher's policies. Meanwhile, the Queen Mother has not yet uttered a single pleasant or kind word, Prince Andrew has told his mother about what his latest girlfriend did with an aeroplane joystick, Prince Charles has been perpetually wet and useless and Mrs Thatcher has explained she doesn't like women, not even her own daughter. As soap operas go, it's up there with Dallas, and it's given me an idea. I'm thinking of writing a short TV drama series based on my life and performance, therefore, is responsible for The Crown being made and shown. We shall look at his mother, Joan, who was descended from Edward I, and we shall speculate on why she turned her back on the debutante society in which she was brought up, and why she raised her children to hate it as well. We shall delve, also, into why Reed and his wife, Patricia, needed marriage counselling all those years ago. And we shall intercut a scene of him taking delivery of his first Porsche with shots of poverty, and hopelessness in Detroit. I know absolutely nothing about his two children but that won't stop me writing scenes in which they appear at pro-Trump rallies, brandishing assault rifles. Nor do I know why American billionaires donates so much money to schoolchildren. But I'll have a couple of scenes of him hanging around the school gates anyway. And we'll see how he likes it. Not much, is my guess. He would almost certainly sue, and if my defence were, "Well, it all happened that way in my head," I'd lose the case and look like a bit of an idiot.
I simply enjoy this series of The Crown at all because I keep thinking that the made-up scenes about history. I was quite worried about the series being watched by Harry and William, or Charles or Camilla, or Carol Thatcher, and even if they are not watching, which seems likely, they will know that wherever they go, the people they meet will have, for sure. But truth be told, I've dished it out. Two years ago, me and my team made a short film about being jumpscared by a living statue. My film teacher brought a statue from Arizona and he decided to keep it in his room. I hated doing this because I knew that many people around the film room could be watching as I calmly offered an opinion that their teacher bought a fragile statue from Arizona and he don't want anyone to break it. Only last week, I had the same wretched sense of toe-curling embarrassment when I read a story about the "Monuments Men", the soldiers who were charged, as the Second World War ended, with trying to save all of Europe's precious art. Six years ago, George Clooney made a blockbuster film about these wise and brave Americans, who had dodged sniper fire and shelling as they tried to ensure that Europe's culture wasn't wiped out or looted or stolen by the advancing forces of Stalin. Clooney said later that "almost" all of the scenes in the movie had happened, and that these guys really did save works by Caravaggio, Botticelli, Rubens and Michelangelo. So it was all jolly noble and I'm sure the descendants of these men felt proud as they left the cinema. But now comes news that alongside the American Monuments Men were a group of Englishmen called, Hilary, Humphrey, Roger and Harry. I think we're not talking Stallone and Schwarzenegger here. They had all studied classics or history, and while other soldiers were doing PE or target practice, they had been in a basement, learning how to restore documents. And it turns out they had no time for their gung-ho transatlantic counterparts. In a recently unearthed letter, Humphrey said:
"It appears that the American archivist can flourish like a lone palm in the desert; without a trace of cultural background."
It's wonderful, of course, that their efforts have been uncovered, and great work from the historians, but I do feel for the descendants of the Yanks who have basically been told that grandad was so thick he accidentally wiped his body on a first edition of the Bible. There was another story last week about why the dinosaurs grew to be so tall. It was so they could reach the leaves of the conifers that were among the few food sources to have survived the global warming back then. Obviously it was written by silly lefties who feel the need to blame climate change for everything, but it doesn't matter, because the descendants of the dinosaurs won't really care. It all happened so long ago. It's the same story with King Harold. If you think you have a case, go ahead and suggest he was late to the Battle of Hastings because he'd been on a wifeswapping weekend. Likewise, you can make a movie suggesting Queen Anne liked a spot of sapphic activity at night and kept a fleet of rabbits in her bedroom because, again, time has passed. But I do think that when you are documenting events that happened in the 1980s, you do need to be sure of your facts, and your moral compass, before you allow a first assistant director to shout "action".