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Rebels and prophets

King Arthur the road protestor

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To illustrate the importance of standing up for justice and what is right, even at the risk of being thought mad or bad.

Preparation and materials

  • For emphasis, the different phases of this story could be read by different people. For example, a change of reader could occur after the second paragraph. It could also be presented as a news report, including interviews and an assessment of the character. Some of the information for this collective worship was given to the author by King Arthur himself. 

Assembly

READER: This is a true story. Once there was a teenager who got into trouble for drinking and brawling. He was 16 and the magistrate hearing his case said that if he joined the army he wouldn't have to go to prison. So he joined the paratroop regiment. He had a great time until, during one jump, he landed in some trees and his arm was very badly smashed - and it stayed permanently shorter than the other. 

Discharged from the Army, he became a Hell's Angel. He loved bikes! He used to earn money as a construction worker, generally working on road building schemes. He got married, got a mortgage and bought a house. One day he realized he was no longer the free spirit he had been. He and his wife split up. He got on his bike, left the keys in the door and rode away. He lived in squats in London. It was a bit of a low period in his life. 

His friends used to call him 'King John' (John being the name on his birth certificate) but one day someone said he should be called 'King Arthur'. He thought maybe there was some truth in what his friend said. He rode to Stonehenge and there he had a vision: a raven flew past him, brushing his head with his black wing. He suddenly saw himself as the reincarnation of King Arthur. So he changed his name by deed poll to Arthur Uther Pendragon. He threw away his biker gear and started to wear white druidical robes. One day he saw a gigantic sword in a blacksmith's shop. It had been made for a film called Excalibur. There was a note by it saying that the blacksmith would give it to the legendary King Arthur if he ever returned to collect it. Arthur went in, showed the official documents proving that he was Arthur Uther Pendragon - and came out with the sword. 

Arthur realized that, just as the first King Arthur, had defended this country against evil (e.g. dragons, renegade knights etc.) so he, the latest incarnation of Arthur, had to do the same. It was the time of Margaret Thatcher's Poll Tax, a tax that many saw as grossly unfair. As a member of a religious order (the druids) he refused to pay - anyway he didn't have any money as he didn't work and he wouldn't claim any state benefits. He was jailed. It was the first of many similar experiences. 

Things are the same whenever Arthur is sent to prison: when on remand he refuses to wear a prison uniform as remand prisoners are meant to be allowed to wear their own clothes. For some reason the prison authorities don't like him walking around in the prison dressed as a druid, even though those are the clothes that he always wears. Generally he ends up naked in the punishment cells, where you sleep on a concrete bed and the lights are on 24 hours a day. 

Arthur has been involved in many other struggles leading the British people in their fight against modern dragons. He was at Newbury trying to stop JCBs ploughing through our country's beautiful landscape. They throw him in prison - and when he gets out he goes straight back into battle. More recently, he was one of the main protagonists in the attempt to get access to Stonehenge on Midsummer dawn. He no longer believes in motor bikes - or petrol engines of any kind - and he quite fancies getting a horse so that he can ride, like his predecessor, into battle. When not on active service defending the country he lives in a caravan at Glastonbury. 

What do you think? Is he mad? Is he bad? Perhaps you quite like the idea of driving around in fast cars and disagree with the stand he takes on, for example, the Newbury bypass. What should be done about him? Perhaps a lunatic asylum might be a more appropriate place to put him than prison. Could you live like him? He never knows if he'll have food from one day to the next, because he is dependent on what he is given. Perhaps, in your heart of hearts, you really do want to live in a nice comfortable house - with car, colour TV, microwave, mobile-phone... and all the other 'stuff' that is thought to be necessary today. 

There have always been people like Arthur. Today we think of the Church as a fairly respectable organization, but ironically many of the people venerated by the Church would have been viewed as madmen and troublemakers like King Arthur by their contemporaries. The prophet Ezekiel lay down in the dirt, 150 days on his left side, 40 days on his right, then chopped off his hair with a sword and divided it into three piles - all to make various points about the suffering that the people of Israel would bring upon themselves. Jeremiah took his loin cloth, hid it in a crack in a rock then, when it was half rotted away, brought it out as a sign that God would spoil the pride of his people. Hosea even married a harlot to make a point about how bad the people were for worshipping false Gods. You can read about them in the Old Testament. In comparison King Arthur looks altogether sensible. 

And what about Jesus? He didn't have a job. Half of his friends seem to have been undesirables. He was given to acts of symbolic violent direct action such as throwing the money-changers out of the Temple. What would he have made of King Arthur? 

Here's a thought-experiment. Imagine that the local vicar lived in a caravan, didn't have a salary or claim benefits (but relied entirely on the generosity of his congregation) and walked around the streets dressed in his full ecclesiastical regalia. News comes that the authorities are about to take communal land to build a new motorway and supermarket for private profit, so the vicar (still dressed in his robes) climbs up the tallest tree and chains himself to it. He is duly arrested and jailed (and he serves his sentence naked, because he refuses to wear prison uniform). 

What would you think of him? An idiot? Or someone who lived in a Christ-like way? Would he have been more sensible to have used his influence and worked quietly and steadily - organizing petitions, speaking at meetings, lobbying local councillors and the builders of the road? People who do crazy things are often just seeking attention - and quiet, steady lobbying does sometimes change things. Maybe there aren't many prophets around these days because we live in a democracy and have more control over our lives than they did in Old Testament times? Or maybe we are living in an age when we need more prophets, not fewer? What do you think?

Time for reflection

To underline the point that Jesus was a disturber of the peace read Luke 4:14-29. This passage shows Jesus identifying with the prophetic tradition (Elijah) and also the degree of animosity that he provoked: 'they got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.' (NIV)

In a time of quiet ask the pupils to think about the society they live in. What are the good things about it? What are the bad? How do they think Jesus would have responded to these things? How do they think Jesus would like them to behave?

Music

'Foot of Pride' - Bob Dylan in his post-conversion prophetic mode - from The Bootleg Series, volume 3, track 13.

Publication date: January 2014   (Vol.16 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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