I have to confess, if that is the right word, that I am a real fan of Tom Hollander's BBC2 series Rev, the penultimate episode in the series, the last one is this evening, actually reduced me to tears, and I know that I am not alone in that. I consider the current series (3) to be the best so far, it has been heart warming, challenging and gut wrenching, it has shown not only the humanity of the clergy but also the struggles, the very real struggles that many of us face.
Cleric and Author Stephen Cherry says this;
It started as a sit-com, but has become, according to some, a compelling social commentary. It’s always been compelling for me – but the latest series of Rev. has proved to have more of a Marmite quality, sharply dividing opinion. Comments from the Archbishop of Canterbury and Dr Tim Stanley are probably the tip of an iceberg of discomfort: ‘vicars should not be like this’ – and anguish – ‘goodness, some are’.
Why do I find it compelling? Not because of Adam’s personality or his performance in role. If he and I were colleagues I can only imagine it going badly. Adam should get himself sorted out – that seems plain enough. But in this he is no different to Fr Ted or the Vicar of Dibley. You don’t make good entertainment out of perfect exemplars.
What’s compelling about Rev. is the clinical way it depicts the actual, improbable but apparently intractable situations that fill ministrial days and minds. The tragedy is that some of the situations are avoidable and others are manageable.
The thing about Adam is that he makes good mistakes – the sort that we (the real people who watch the fictional him) can feel something about and learn from.
The great thing about Rev. is that it brushes nothing under the carpet. In fact, it lifts up the carpet and exposes all the dust and dirt that has been swept there. That’s why it’s uncomfortable and unbalanced, but also why it is good watching for Lent, and compelling matter for reflection in Holy Week.
Provided we don’t think it’s just a matter of Adam getting a grip.
"Provided we don't think it's just a matter of Adam getting a grip", for me that is where the wonderful, freeing, miracle releasing, resurrection affirming possibility of the whole story turns, and it is so easy to miss that. In today's Gaurdian James Mumford offers a critique of the programme, claiming that it undermines the Church of England, I don't agree, Mumford states that Rev goes nowhere near the supernatural and asks why the drug adict Colin has not been miraculously, or otherwise changed by his encounter with the church. He ends his critique by proposing a scenario;
Let's imagine a plot line that has a woman knocked over over on Shoreditch High Street. Her spine damaged, she comes to St Saviour's and asks for prayer. With low expectations Adam agrees but suddenly she claims she's been healed and runs down the aisle. Adam wife Alex invokes the power of suggestion but parishioners think it a miracle.
Now, that would be interesting, even funny. But don't expect it in Rev. Denying the insider view denies the rich diversity of the church in England. This is both a lack of creativity and a failure of representation.
He seems to think it unlikely that the programme would tackle such a theme because it steers well clear of the supernatural. I don't agree with his critique and here is why, I see subtle and wonderful signs of God at work through the script, I do see transformation, perhaps not so much in Colin, though I would argue that there are signs of grace at work in Colin, but also in the once very cynical Archdeacon, and even in the character of Adam himself. These changes are subtle changes and as I have already said, subtle changes are easy to miss, but I believe that subtle changes are often the sign of something going on deep in the soul of a person, something vulnerable and valuable, something of God. It may be that Hollander himself is not aware of what impact simply writing this series is having upon him!
Now don't get me wrong I am not criticising the more Charismatic part of the church, infact I have been the witness to and even more amazingly the vehicle for healing prayer and for that I can only thank God. I am not someone who claims that spiritual gifts are not valid in the church today and I would encourage folk to seek them and again I thank God for them. I do believe in the resurrection, and the virgin birth, and I do believe that God is alive and active in the world today, and I know this because I know that I am unable to get it together, I need to know the power of God at work in and through me.
I cannot do it, that is my not so secret, secret, and I truly relate to the Adam who having carried a cross through the streets of London finally admitted to God that he was struggling to keep something precious alive, and to the Adam who pleaded with the Bishop to let him go.
He had reached the end of himself, and I am more and more convinced that it is when we reach the end of ourselves that true resurrection life and power can be made known in us, and that is because we need to let go, we need to let go of our crazy notion that we can serve, please or earn something from God, we need to let go of the notion that we deserve something, and that any of this wonderful life of faith is down to us. The power comes in the surrender and it all begins inside, in the doubts and fears and the dark, and often those doubts and fears are all tied up with the fear that we are not enough to be loved by God.
To accept that we are loved, valued, treasured and wanted by the God who knows our name, the God who will come alongside us when we reach the end of ourselves and gently squeeze our shoulder, look deeply into our eyes and utter the freeing words " I understand, and remember I am always with you" is perhaps our greatest challenge. To accept that nothing can seperate us from that love means accepting that neither can anything take us deeper into it either, we don't have to get it right, we don't have to understand, we don't have to earn it, we are loved because we are loved, plain and simple!
I don't know what resurrection will look like for Adam, or if there will even be one in this evenings episode, but this I do know, as I begin to accept God's very real and deep and totally overwhelming love for me I find myself being transformed. Hehas not worked in the way that I might have expected, or even the way that at points in my life others have demanded. Resurrection "magic" does its own work, because it comes from God, and his love, not my own effort, nor the demands of others is what makes the real difference.