Thought for the Day with Rt Rev Graham James

Good morning. Earlier this week I was chairing a forum about the future of children’s media. In our digital age there is a great deal more of it – on television, radio and online. The UK has a lot of inventive people working in this field but it was also reassuring to discover some classic storylines and characters still retain their appeal.

This weekend in London there’s a big celebration of one of the oldest traditions in children’s entertainment – the Punch and Judy Show. In his diary in May 1662 Samuel Pepys records seeing an Italian puppet play outside St Paul’s Church at Covent Garden, “the best I ever saw”. This is the first mention of Mr Punch, as he became, in Britain. It was then adult entertainment. The traditional storyline includes wife beating, a hanging and baby battering. It’s had to be toned down a good deal over the years.

It seems to have been the Victorians who turned Punch and Judy into seaside children’s entertainment. Even if the plot has been rendered less violent over time Mr Punch remains subversive and a bit of a rebel. Children seem to enjoy anarchy. The Lord of Misrule has a long pedigree.

We’ve become much more sensitive as a society about the protection of children from harm, whether from violent images, pornography on the internet or abusive adults. These have been good developments, though the recent reports of young girls in children’s homes being abused by gangs of men show there’s a lot more to be done. But we also know that young people mature by sorting out what’s harmful from what’s not. Making good judgements for ourselves and others can only happen when we discern what’s dangerous. There is such a thing as a perfectly proper loss of innocence.

There’s a famous passage in the gospels in which Jesus places a small child before a crowd and tells everyone “unless you become like a little child, you will not enter the Kingdom of God.” It’s often assumed that it’s child-like innocence of which Jesus approves though he doesn’t say as much. More likely it’s a child’s trusting nature which is needed to enter God’s Kingdom. In their own way children are often rather sophisticated. They can frequently see through what’s phoney or false. As I was reminded earlier this week children make a demanding audience. On another occasion Jesus says of a group of children “the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these”. If children have a lot to learn from us and deserve our protection, we’ve still got some way to go as a society in discovering what we’ve got to learn from them.

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