Tony Jordan, streetwise writer of East Enders, Life on Mars, Hustle, etc, has scripted the BBC’s Nativity, to be broadcast this week.
I would guess that lots of sermons this Christmas will talk about this – and may well use his story of a journey to belief through the making of the programme. Jordan says that he didn’t have a religious background, left school at 14, was nobody’s fool, and had ‘discounted’ the nativity, until he started to work on the script three years ago. Like many, when he gave the subject some serious thought, it all began to make sense. “I didn’t believe it…But now I do.” Here’s the killer quote:
“The only thing I know for sure is that the words I read as coming from Jesus Christ are the most truthful thing I have ever heard. As a blueprint for mankind it is so smart that it couldn’t even have come from a clever philosopher.”
Excellent fuel for our annual attempt to convince our infrequent worshippers to come to church a bit more often, and I’m thrilled that such a writer has come to this view. But not all the news is good. He has no time for the church whose central message this is. “I have a distaste for organised religions” – apparently because they mess with the stories to suit their own ends. Couldn’t agree more. And then this about church services:
“I have a distaste for people who say to me, if you come through these doors, walk down this aisle, sit on that wooden bench and sing these hymns in this order, I have got God in a little bottle under my pulpit and I’ll let you have a look. I don’t think that was God’s intention”
Hmmm. On one hand, a man who has made his living telling us to sit down in front of our TV’s at a particular time each week to watch a programme which he has scripted in withering detail to create an effect only he knows about can’t have it both ways. When the church worships it does it in a way which has been thought about and planned. If it was ‘unscripted’ it wouldn’t be any good. The difference between my services and his scripts is that the church’s worship is a public offering, planned by more people than me, with agreed elements coming together in a public offering to which all contribute. If anyone has something “in a bottle” it’s the scriptwriter of East Enders, who has to pull a surprise out of a hat several times a week. Our stuff is everybody’s property.
But: if we give the impression that we are the jealous protectors of this amazing truth, then we are getting it wrong somehow, and we need to enable our services, and our conversation about God, to be open and inclusive. I despise the notion that I as the priest have “God in a bottle”. I want to be the orchestrator of a public celebration of a truth none of us can encapsulate, but within which all of us are included.I have to be able to receive much more than I give, to be affected much more than I affect in worship.
Note to self then this Christmas: be amazed at the wonder of the incarnation. Don’t claim to know it all. Let everyone have a go. Success will be when everyone says, as Tony Jordan does about Jesus: “Wow! That’s pretty cool.”