The Something of God
Nigel would not have approved – calling it a Christmas special but putting it out before Christmas Eve. But then Nigel never approves. He suffers from appreciation deficit – that’s what we all appreciate about him so much.
I’m talking about ‘Rev.’ the TV programme here. The second series ended tonight (20.12.11). If you missed it try: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0178fhq
They are dangerous, though, Christmas specials. As dangerous as Christmas itself. And there was real danger on Rev. tonight. On the doorstep the danger was physical – and it happened. In the church the danger was that chaos would erupt – and it did. And there was the deadly danger for Adam of too much to do and not enough time to do it in – and so he failed to be in the right place soon enough. The episode was as rushed as any vicar’s Christmas.
One well-meaning Christmas I arranged for one of my churches to be a shelter for the homeless. It was all right: the church was closing anyway. There was no need for it as a Church. It had been built by the Victorians for the people who lived in terraces and worked in factories. It was being made redundant. Like the people who worked in the factories. All fair and square.
But the shelter was a fiasco. It had to be closed down when two nearby off-licenses went into a cost-cutting war to get the best of the very considerable trade. I myself found it all quite moving and significant. I am sure plenty of people thought me sentimental. And maybe they were right. No real harm was done – but probably not much real good either; though it was good for a few headlines in the local paper.
When the first episode of Rev. was shown our grown up son phoned and said, ‘Put the telly on, now! There’s a programme called Rev. It’s just what it was like’. The ‘it’ was growing up in a vicarage – not in inner city London but in a market town in Leicestershire. The odd thing was that the vicarage was more inner-cityish than the neighbourhood. The events, people and issues that condense in inner cities seem to find clergy homes to be their local magnet. The doorbell would go at all hours. I wish I could say it was always answered. But it wasn’t. The diocese tried every known security device to make us feel safe. But they didn’t. Nothing really nasty ever happened. But it always felt as if it might happen one day soon. There were too many close shaves. In the end we moved out. At Christmas our new neighbours invited us into their homes. That had never happened while we were living in the vicarage. We had no neighbours. The same son – younger then – was disturbed. ‘It’s just so normal here.’
For me the saddest thing that happened tonight was not that Adam arrived at his visit too late or had an ‘episode’ in Church but that Colin head-butted him. I felt that. But it was great when Adam showed his anger and distress in the turning the other cheek scene. It reminded me of when I once chased someone down the street because, having cadged some money from my wife who was home alone, he then bumped into me as I was returning and cadged some more, hiding the fact that he had just had a hand out. But there were lovely moments too. One man came back with a brown paper bag ‘for the Reverend’. It contained some new and still-in-their-cellophane ‘M and S’ underpants. ‘I have sinned,’ he opened. ‘And this is a gift to say I am sorry for using the money he gave me for drink. I was given these,’ he held up his offering, ‘but I never bother with them.’
And it was great too that Adam grudgingly forgave him. Grudging forgiveness is forgiveness of a sort and so not to be sneezed at. It certainly worked for Colin.
And then there is the spirituality of it all. At one level there are Adam’s voice-over prayers: naïve, honest, basic and mostly believable. At another level are moments of what I want to call – in vicar speak – ‘the sacramental sublime’. I am talking about the deathbed scene at the end of the first series. And Colin’s baptism. And the address in the school after the teacher died. And the disappointed individuals all wandering into the church at the end of last week’s all too very true selection/preferment episode. And yes, Christmas lunch which was more like the Last Supper than the bacchanalian chaos of the night before.
It’s hard to get the grace of this across on the telly, just as it is hard to get the truth of vicarage life across on the telly. But my hunch is that something has been communicated here. And that something is what, for me, is at the heart of true ministry.
Thanks to Rev. we are becoming more familiar with the plot. The minister – representing the whole local church – bumbles along well-meaningly and in some anguish while manifesting just as many flaws and weaknesses as anyone else. So the good old – or naive young – minister plods along life’s way as if walking through bog in the fog. And then, just as the deepest and bleakest darkness descends, and it gets as bad as we thinik it can get – it gets worse. All hope is eclipsed. And then, and only then, something else begins to emerge. And that something has a quality of peace, of community and of silence, actually. For it is the something of God. The most wounded, ordinary and broken ones find themselves participating in that something of God which is both utterly ordinary and at the same time entirely transcendent.
As I say. It does not quite work on the telly. But Rev. got frightening close. And it pointed us in the right direction.
And that, essentially, is the best any of us can do when we see something full of grace and truth. We can just point.