Rebels and prophets
King Arthur the road protestor
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage the students to consider the place of protests and lobbying.
Preparation and materials
- To add interest, the different parts of this story could be read by different people. It could also be presented as a news report, including interviews and an assessment of King Arthur’s character.
- Some of the information was given to the author by King Arthur himself.
- Have available a copy of the passage Luke 4.14–29 (NIV) to read in the ‘Assembly’, Step 12.
- Also have available the song 'Foot of pride' by Bob Dylan, on The Bootleg Series, volumes 1–3, volume 3.
- 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 a paratroop regiment. He had a great time until, during one jump, he landed in some trees and his arm was very badly smashed. It healed, but it was permanently shorter than the other.
- Discharged from the Army, he became a Hell's Angel – he loved bikes! He earned money as a construction worker, generally on road-building schemes. Then he got married, got a mortgage and bought a house.
- One day, he realized that he was no longer the free spirit he had been. He and his wife split up. He left the keys in the door, got on his bike 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 that 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 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 (in the form of dragons, renegade knights and so on), so he, the latest incarnation of Arthur, had to do the same.
It was the 1970s, 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 were the same whenever Arthur was sent to prison. When on remand, he refused to wear a prison uniform as remand prisoners are meant to be allowed to wear their own clothes. For some reason, the prison authorities didn't like him walking around the prison dressed as a druid, even though those are the clothes that he always wears. Generally he ended 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 to lead the British people in their fight against modern dragons. He was at Newbury when the M3 was developed, trying to stop JCBs ploughing through the beautiful landscape. Each time the authorities throw him in prison, but, when he gets out, he goes straight back into battle. He was one of the main protagonists in the attempt to get access to Stonehenge for the midsummer dawn. He no longer believes in using motorbikes – or petrol engines of any kind – and he quite fancied getting a horse so that he could ride, like his predecessor, into battle. When not on active service defending the country, he lives in a caravan in 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 took on, for example, the Newbury bypass. What should be done about people like him?
Perhaps a lunatic asylum might be a more appropriate place to put them than prison. Could you live like he has done? He never knew if he’d have food from one day to the next, because he was dependent on what he was given. Perhaps, in your heart of hearts, you really do want to live in a nice comfortable house – with a 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 many of the people venerated by the Church would have been viewed as madmen and troublemakers like King Arthur by their contemporaries.
For example, 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 on themselves.
Jeremiah took his loincloth, 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.
You can read about these and other prophets in the Old Testament. In comparison, King Arthur looks pretty sensible.
- What about Jesus? He didn't have a job. Half his friends seem to have been undesirables. He was given to acts of symbolic violent direct action, too, such as throwing the moneychangers 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, relying entirely on the generosity of the congregation, and walked around the streets dressed in 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 the robes) climbs up the tallest tree and chains him- or herself to it. The vicar is duly arrested and jailed.
What would you think of that? Would you think the vicar was an idiot? Someone who lived in a Christlike way? Would it have been more sensible for the vicar to have used his or her 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? Maybe we are living in an age when we need more prophets, not fewer?
What do you think?
- 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 (in this case, 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' (Luke 4.29, NIV).
Time for reflection
After a few moments of quiet, ask the students 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?
'Foot of pride' by Bob Dylan