The Poor Old Bible!
An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To reflect on the 'problem' of the Bible and whose 'problem' it is.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and four volunteers. It will work best if you can have a rehearsal prior to the assembly.
- The volunteers – the 'voices' – are to stand at the front of the assembly space.
- The leader will need to know the names of one of the set books for GCSE English in each of Years 10 and 11.
- You can choose some mood music to play as the students come in to assembly or as they leave or as a calming device near the start, but the music should be modern (a current hit song, perhaps) to deliberately dispel any ideas students may have of the Bible being old-fashioned. Alternatively, you could choose a piece from Jesus Christ Superstar or Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, for example. Ensure you have the means to play the music during the assembly.
The leader makes no announcement about what is to follow.
Voice 1: Well, good morning everybody (give a toothpaste grin). Welcome to the GlitzyAd Advertising Agency.
Voice 2: Where every smile has a purpose (also give a toothpaste grin) – to sell things people don't really want to buy.
Voice 1: To people who can't afford them anyway (give a toothpaste grin again).
Voice 3: At GlitzyAd our motto is, 'Smile for a while and the money will pile!' (Voices 1, 2 and 3 all give a sustained toothpaste grin.)
Voice 1: What's our first commission this morning? (Voices 2 and 3 keep grinning).
Voice 2: Our client wants us to sell the Bible to Key Stage 4 students. (The other two drop their smiles.)
Voice 3: They WHAT?
Voice 2: Yes, they want us to persuade Key Stage 4 students that the Bible might not be what they think. Ideas, please, team.
Voice 1: Stop calling it the Bible. Rebrand it. Call it 'Just Seventy' (this must be spoken clearly) and give away a magnifying glass with each copy to read the small print.
Voice 3: Sex! Get some of the narratives and put them into pictures – David and Bathsheba, Judah and Tamar, the woman caught in the act of adultery – only let's do the equal opps element and present the man caught in the act! Let's show the real action!
Voice 2: Who are all those people?
Voice 3: Don't you know? Maybe you've read the wrong Bible bits!
Voice 2: Well, I never thought of sex being in the Bible.
Voice 1: Let's go for horror instead of sex! The Battle of Armageddon! Agag being chopped into pieces with an axe! The Flood! Not the cuddly Key Stage 1 stuff about animals going into the ark two by two, but the really epic stuff – the waters coming over the Earth and wiping people out. It could make Titanic look tame!
Voice 2: We could always rewrite the Bible to make it more modern. 'In the beginning was chocolate . . . or alcohol . . . '
Voice 3: Well, there's that narrative about Noah being drunk after the flood was over . . .
Voice 2: I've never heard about that bit.
Voice 1: Team, we're not getting it yet! The thing is, is the Bible the problem or are we?
Voice 3: How do you mean?
Voice 2: Well, a lot of people think the Bible is a book that tells you what to believe and what to do and they don't want a book like that. They want to decide for themselves. Let's do a consumer survey and find out.
Leader: Either ask the assembled group to discuss in pairs what they think the reasons are for hostility or indifference to the Bible (and, in a multifaith group, ask whether or not they think this extends to other religions' scriptures and why/why not) or get everyone to answer by means of a 'hands up' vote.
Then sum up the various answers, such as problems with the language used, it seeming to be out of date, hard to believe, only for Christians and so on.
When you think about (name the set books for GCSE English in each of Years 10 and 11), you know whether you like them or not because you've read them, probably more than once, done homework and assignments on them, perhaps seen a TV or film dramatization of them, even learned quotes from them by heart for tests or exams. Compare that to the Bible. How much have any of us read of that? Do we know very much about it? Do we have opinions about it based on fact or are they really prejudices?
Oh, by the way, we're not going to end with a predictable thing – a Bible reading – we're going to listen instead to TV personality Jeremy Paxman, writing in 1998, in a passage adapted from a book he wrote about the English as a nation.
Voice 4: The Bible was translated in 1611 into what was then a state-of-the-art English-language version. It gave an ethnically mixed English nation a common book in a common language. Not only that, it gave ordinary people the right to read it and interpret it for themselves. The Bible was believed to offer a direct link to God without popes or priests or bishops and in seventeenth-century England people really did begin to talk about it and to argue about it and to interpret it for themselves. It set them free from being told what to believe.
Leader: ‘It set them free from being told what to believe.’ (Pause.) Why do we often see the Bible as something we aren't free to discuss or interpret? Does that say something about the Bible or does it say something about us and our attitudes?
Chosen music (see ‘Preparation and materials’ section)