by Laura Sheppard of Petersfield’s 'Shine Radio’, about his anthology of progressive Christian poems
The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, University of Oxford.
Quentin Letts, English journalist, writer, critic and broadcaster. Political sketch writer for The Times and a theatre critic for The Sunday Times, UK, after 18 years as a Daily Mail journalist. Prayer Book enthusiast and disillusioned Anglican. Author: ‘50 People Who Buggered Up Britain’
There is in my poems an emphasis on the teaching of the historical Jesus while rejecting nature miracles, the virgin birth or his bodily resurrection. Jesus was divine in the sense that we see God in him in the same way, though to a greater degree, we see God in the lives of all holy men and women, and each other if we look closely enough.
The social issues of the day are equally avoided by the Church as it still battles with how human beings manage their relationships. Marriage after divorce, women priests and Bishops, accepting sex by unmarried couples, homosexuality and other expressions of human sexual life and the LGBTQ community continue to occupy the minds of Church authorities today as the population walks on by without a glance in their direction.
At school assemblies for four decades, after reading a passage of Scripture, I asked the question not “Did it happen?” but “What does it mean?” The fact that Scripture is written in such a way that the reader, especially the young reader, is expected to take it literally does not clarify the real intention of the Gospel writers. I appreciate that to the academic theologian my poems may be a little naive. However, the academic theologian already understands the ‘meaning behind the miracles’. I write for the man in the street who should be the man in the pew.
These are poems of post-modern progressive Christianity with a rebellious tone, demythologising much of Christian theology to challenge literalism of doctrine and scriptures to disclose hidden truths still valid. It is my disillusionment that provides my motivation to write. My words are offered as a small corrective to the unknowing of church believers, and those outside the church, who deserve better. I fully expect to join my heroes and be ignored, but like them I do believe. I believe in creation (who can’t believe in creation?) and in the Christ, whose message of agape for the world can’t be ignored and for which the world is in desperate need.
The origins of the angels, dreams, the guiding star, Bethlehem , the birth to a virgin, the shepherds, the nasty king and the Wise Men with their gold, frankincense and myrrh, all reveal their hidden origins in the stories of the Old Testament. This nativity discloses their story.
In this Christmas story the familiar and favourite characters from our traditional school nativity play slowly unfold from the pages of the Old testament. This is why our production is called “Christmas Past, Christmas Present”, to show how the old stories and characters from the past have been used in the Christmas story to tell us something important about Jesus, in the present day.
The early Christian writers wanted to say something special about the baby Jesus, and his growing into an adult man who became Our Lord. So they took characters and sings familiar to the people of their day and wove them into a new story about Jesus, trying to impress on the people his significance. Bible teachers today believe that an understanding of the Old testament is essential if we are to understand what the story of Jesus in the New Testament is all about.
Some of the “miracle” stories were written in the same style, with the writers expressing their belief in Jesus’ abilities with stories which had a hidden meaning. Sadly, today, many of these stories have been taught to be taken literally and historically, rather than as symbolic.
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the grey-bearded prophets, Mrs Manoah, Joseph and his colourful coat, Moses in the bull-rushes and the very first census, the Psalms of David, Jeremiah’s shepherd’s, the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, the wicked Pharaoh; they are all here in this nativity, gradually appearing from the Old Testament – to tell the Christmas story.
My special thanks to Katie Harris, Headteacher at Preston Candover Church of England Primary School, and her creative staff, for her skill and experience in turning the words of the play into a real production – for the first time in 2006. I await the publication of the script to be used as a multi-themed resource in schools.
“This is a story about the peace and quiet of the countryside. About village life, farm life and church life. It is about surviving in the goldfish bowl of the countryside having moved from the anonymity of the city, swapping the urban jungle for the country lane."
Actually, no, it’s not. It’s about ambition, hatred, wickedness, ego-mania, intolerance, greed, power and never ending gossip, and that’s just in church. Let’s get this right at the very start; it’s about social climbing.
It is also about nasty people. It is especially about nasty people in the, so-called, “peace and quiet” of the country. The nasty people who inhabit the rose-covered, chocolate box cottages. Sometimes it is about really nasty people. Sometimes it is about unbelievably nasty people. There are nice people about, but this isn’t about them (very much). Oh, yes, and a bit of adultery (actually, come to think of it, quite a lot really), and scams to get rich quick and… well you get the idea.
In every small rural community I’ve ever lived or worked in, one thing dominates life both in church and village - getting the better of somebody else. Ideally this should be an incomer, one of the nouveau rich, social climbing, upstart townies coming to show us what to do and how to do it. Sometimes it’s the new know-it-all, seen-it-all, been there, got the T-shirt trendy vicar trying to make us do things his way and, horror of horrors, actually change the way we have done things for generations : “We tried that in 1948 Vicar, it didn’t work then either!”
I’d like you to read on, but I am still working on the final draft for the publisher....