Monday, August 18, 2014

heroes and villains

Theologian, broadcaster, songwriter, worship leader - not to mention Wycliffe Hall alumna - Vicky Beeching came out as gay this week.

It's been a bit of a thing.

She has quite a high media profile. Here's a picture of her on Sky News. The article that announced her sexuality was in the Independent. There are rumours she'll be a Songs of Praise presenter. She was on Channel 4 News.  She was on Stephen Nolan's show on BBC5 Live.

Most Christians who come out don't get that kind of coverage.

It's been an interesting experience, watching & listening. She talks of the fracture between who she was inside, and who she needed to be outside in order to have the life & ministry - and indeed simply the faith she wanted to have in the part of the church where she belongs. And yet that fracture made her very ill, and the time came where she had to do something to put it right. She chose health.

I think that this is something which huge parts of the church still don't quite get. When you are a (vast) majority, you don't get the pressure you put on a minority. You don't get how it feels to be in that minority and to want with all your heart to conform - but for it to be impossible. And when the majority tells you it's a matter of choice, or prayer, or maturity in Christ - and you find it's simply not possible, you do all that's within your gift to live a life that looks like the one you are supposed to be having.

This is the road to disaster.

Well done, Vicky for the honesty to stop the lie.

I posted on my facebook wall about this. And I was astounded by the response. It came in two ways. There were those who opposed my support of Vicky; and one in particular was strong in their condemnation of Vicky's stance and in their propounding of what, for them, are traditional Christian values. They unfortunately chose to be a little ungenerous in their tone, and I removed a couple of their posts as a result. I didn't remove them because I disagreed with their viewpoint but because of the aggressive way it was delivered. I welcome debate; spoken kindly.

There were others who spoke of their own journeys, where the unkindness of Christians had been so hurtful that church had become hard.

Let me say this, and say it clearly:

I know what you mean. I've been there. I've felt it. I've felt every cut of every thoughtless word. In a church where I was serving & giving myself beyond myself, I stood with two people one day in conversation, and one of them said: "At least we'll never have a gay vicar, eh?"

This was not a bad person who spoke these words. This was a good person. A person I cared for very much. A person I depended upon. A person I regard as a godly, caring, prayerful person.

What do you do in the light of that?

Well, I went through my own illness eventually. But I came through the other side because Jesus is wonderful, and he loves us all very much. Me included. And there came a point when I realised that having a life where I didn't need all the fingers on one hand to count the people who knew about me was never going to work; so I started to tell friends and family, and that was scary, but good. I came through the other side because people in the church were terrifically caring and believed in me more than I did. It's important to say that. Sometimes the story sounds a bit lop-sided - I think Vicky will look back on some of these interviews and agree she didn't say everything she should have.

The thing is - and despite her media blitz, Vicky Beeching has yet to discover this - I'm afraid there is no end to coming out. It goes on and on and on. You get 'coming out fatigue'. I'm not terribly demonstrative as a person; so it's not easy for me to stop someone in mid-flow and say - "Oh you have quite the wrong impression, I'm as bent as a three pound coin." My usual phrase, if I get there at all, is "Sorry. Not exactly the straightest arrow in the quiver".

And it is upsetting beyond words when you do that and find that someone who ten minutes ago would have said you had a wonderful and Spirit-filled ministry is now calling you names and accusing you of selling people down the river to hell; but I have learned that when grace and kindness have left the room the only thing to do is to bring them back in. And it is wonderful when you start to speak with trepidation and find more affirmation in those minutes than you'd ever imagined possible.

I hear dear friends say they would leave the church over "this issue", and I tell them that I am bemused as to why they would leave the church over me. Over my ministry. Over my commitment to the Scriptures and to worshipping Jesus and to bringing people to faith in him. We belong together. I am, politically, a Unionist. I believe in bringing all sorts of unlikely folk into a shared space and asking for grace to find the best in our shared lives. Isn't that New Testament church? I want to belong to the same church as the person who thanks God they'll never have a gay vicar, because (thoughtlessness put aside) I like this person enormously and I am less without them. And they are less without the gay vicar, it turns out. (As, subsequently, they have themselves pointed out.)

We are not heroes and villains, we are children of God, brothers and sisters in his family. We will disagree, it's what happens in families. And yet we are family. So we should find a way to love, and to speak, and to speak when speaking is hard, and to avoid name-calling and to think about each other and of finding ways of expressing value and -

of being kindly Christian. It has to be possible. It has to make a better, more Biblical way of life. For us all.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

three things

What to do in the face of the unbearable?

Every day, Canon Andrew White's facebook page brings fresh horrors. At last, the newspapers are catching up to the shock of what is happening in Iraq, and the US are there in military force. Britain is offering humanitarian aid.

What can we do?

Three things:

1. Pray.
It's always the first. When we sink beneath the waves of life, we find Jesus' arm lifting us up. We look to Jesus. We call to him. He is our first, our last, our middle, our beginning, our end, our journey. If we don't pray, we are practising atheists.

What do we pray for?
For those who have nothing. For those who are dying on mountainsides. For those who have been turfed out of house and home. For hope in despair. For material relief. For those who have to help those who have not.
For change.
For mercy.
For those with military power, that it gets used wisely and not ultimately to everyone's detriment.
For those who are right now making the world a terrible place: they are people too. We pray for them.
We pray for ourselves - that we might not be impotent, and that we might somehow help.
And we pray that we might forgive & be forgiven, and that in our lives, where there are poor and forgotten people, we would reach out and remember and do something - or our tears over those far away are unconvincing.

2. Speak.
In these last weeks, many folk have been speaking on the internet and in private to people who are more powerful than you and I, and though it has taken time - now things are happening.
We carry on.
In whatever pulpit you have, speak.
Speak so that people hear the voice of those who are being silenced.
Write to your MP (or equivalent).
Participate in online conversations.
Talk about these issues - and be informed. Read newspapers, follow Andrew White's page & blog, as unbearable as it it. Tell others.

3. Be Generous.
This is practical love.
The UK government has pledged £8M of aid - that sounds a lot, but when you see the numbers of displaced people already, and the money it takes to get the aid there, this will go quickly.
Support our fellow Christians who have had their lives destroyed.
Read the Barnabas Fund page & give; they are constantly helping persecuted Christians all over the world. Iraq is their front page right now. Or if you prefer, give through the Christian Aid appeal, or the Red Cross.

We get faced with unbearable news stories. But we aren't living in the middle of these stories. So we aren't actually feeling the waves crashing over us: others are. Let's pray in every way we can, speak of their plight to those with the power to do something, and give to those who are going out there and making their lives that but better.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

no pun in ten did



  1. She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still
  2. Sign on the lawn at drug rehab centre: Keep off the grass
  3. A midget fortune-teller escaped from prison. Police are looking for a small medium at large.
  4. A soldier who survived mustard gas & pepper spray is a seasoned veteran
  5. In democracy, it’s your vote that counts; in feudalism, it’s your count that votes
  6. When cannibals eat a missionary, do they get a taste of religion?
  7. A vulture boards a 747 holding 2 dead racoons. “Sorry sir,” says the stewardess, “Only one carrion per passenger”
  8. A dog that gave birth to puppies at the roadside was cited for littering
  9. A hole has been found in a nudist camp wall. Police are looking into it.
  10. A man sent a list of amusing wordplays to all his friends in the hope that at least one would make them smile. No pun in ten did. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

success rate

Earlier this week I was having one of those competitive conversations clergy have with each other when I was asked:

"Which are you better at then - weddings or funerals?"

I replied straightaway:
"My success rate for funerals is far higher."

The other cleric looked bemused and said:
"I'm sorry, what?"

"Well," I explained, "I have to confess that not every person I have ever married has remained married. But EVERY person I have buried..."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

where is the west?

A fourth century monastery in northern Iraq, home to a small community of monks, has become the latest Christian outpost to receive the anger of the forces of ISIS.

These few monks, begging to save some of the monastery's relics from its long and varied history, were told to leave in the clothes they wore and allowed to take nothing else with them according to witnesses.

The monastery of Mar Behnam is a few miles from Mosul, which last week received the ISIS ultimatum for its Christian residents to flee, pay tribute, or die by sundown Saturday. It is reported that this Sunday was the first since Christians first resided in the town, near the start of the Christian story, that there was no Christian congregation in Mosul. Perhaps this is not true yet, perhaps a family was left which dared to pray together. Many times has the passing of Christianity been proclaimed; and yet there is resurrection.

The UN is accusing IS (as ISIS is now being called) of war crimes. Nearly 6,000 Iraqis have been slaughtered by them this year.

And yet - where is the West?

Where is our outrage?

If a Mosque were destroyed, if a Hindu Temple were desecrated, if the holy place of another religion that bore hundreds of years of culture and faith and human and spiritual value, we would look at it in horror and cry for justice.

Entire Christian communities are being destroyed, and their churches, many of them far older than anything we have here in our own country, are being ransacked and desecrated, and where is the West?

I ask not for bullets and bombs and reprisals but for justice and peace and hope and homes and strength to stand up for those who are treated as less than human by bullies who shout faith when they abuse that cry.

We who bear the name of Christian stand shoulder to shoulder with those who today have no home, no belongings, no past, no future. We are family. We will cry with you and cry out for you. We will make our voices heard so that your voices may be heard.

Where is the West?

We are here; we are with you; you are not alone.

Monday, July 21, 2014

a walk in the park

Tom Benyon is at it again.

Every year he puts himself through misery for the sake of his charity ZANE - Zimbabwe, A National Emergency. He walks the length, breadth, depth and whatever other dimension of the country he can think up in order to raise funds for the numberless people he helps through his astonishing work.

This year, it's Ambleside to Oxford. In case you don't know Tom, I should add that he's of an age where most men are well retired and only creep out for the occasional foray onto the golf course. But increasingly well into his eighth decade, he insists on trekking with his wife Jane and their dog for God and for their fellow human beings who need their help.

Today their walk brought them onto my patch. The least I could do was to eat lunch with them, and then walk them through the wild fields of North Aston Parish and the gentler roads of Steeple Aston.

Eventually they arrived at the Deddington Arms (just north of my patch, but still a decent pub), where Richard, their faithful support driver was leafing through the sports pages of the Daily Telegraph and recounting the criminal lack of good pubs open at lunch times "in the north". Jane & Tom were accompanied today by a goodly legion of family members, as this is pretty close to their own home in Bladon. So there were two daughters (Millie and Clare - herself an Anglican cleric and well-known in these pages) and three grandsons (Clare's boys), which perhaps excused the late-running of the morning session.

Many Moules later, we were ready for the off.

Tom has a curious gait. He waddles with the grace of a man who expects to find a horse between his legs. It is a triumph of his determination to serve his Charity that he finishes these walks - by nature I am not convinced he is built for long daily strolls up hill and down dale. He uses two sticks as he walks, and their constant 'clack-clacking' on any footpath or road surface is fair warning of his approach. He retains stealth mode only when crossing fields and in virgin woodland. (Which is a fair part of the daily fare, if what I encountered is anything to go by).

Also - though Jane has a GPS device hanging from her neck, this is only any good if the paths on the maps exist. Which they didn't as we left Deddington. Still, fields are fields, and I knew where North Aston was. Even a herd of marauding cows couldn't put us off. Tom's sticks were very useful there. One of the grandsons took to hiding in a tree for a moment, but all was well. Even the sheep parted to let us through.

Eventually - North Aston. One of the residents of this most blessed of England's villages once said to me, "I don't understand why anyone who lives in North Aston would ever want to visit Italy". Given the culture, the art, the food, the weather, the architecture, the history and the scenery available on a day like today, it is almost possible to agree. If only there were a Vivoli's in North Aston!

The good people of the village greeted us with refreshments, chairs, embraces, and donations to ZANE. It was very moving - all the more so as we swapped grandchildren; some left, others joined, and both Clare & Millie departed for home.

We walked on through the parkland belonging to North Aston Hall, and down the lane to Middle Aston, before reaching Steeple Aston, where Harry the Springer joined the merry band.

I'm not sure how many clergy have walked with Tom on this journey. He & I talked at great depth about perceptions of right and wrong, the mistake of avoiding responsibility for sin and an understanding of freedom as choosing obedience. With a little more time, I think we would have had a five-point plan for Israel and Hamas, but alas, Tom needed a little time to get his thoughts in order for the Woodstock Rotarians.

It was a privilege to escort these remarkable people who burn with passion for others so maltreated by fortune and their fellows that they have nothing and can do nothing in a country so far away. It was a privilege to step on the edge of their journey as it brought them into the heart of my own. It was a joy to see my own patch from their perspective and to see the love and generosity of people here serving our guests. I was proud to be Rector of such kind people.

Tom keeps a blog through his walks. This journey finishes for him and Jane tomorrow, but the blog is always there, as is so much more. Do drop by. They've done hundreds of miles over these last three weeks, and thousands in total; it's not just a walk in the park - it's a life of commitment to changing lives, and I commend ZANE to you.



Tuesday, July 08, 2014

ever rolling stream

Is it the process of ageing that makes us stop and appreciate each passing moment, that allows us the ability to press the pause button of life and remain within the moment in order to enjoy, to cherish, to be grateful and express the gratitude for what is happening here and now?

In youth, time flies. We spend it like the money we don't have. We will always be able to pay back later.

And then...

The currency gains in value. I intend to spend a lot more of it yet - though the years tell me I may already have spent more than remains; and the experience of the years tells me to value the currency, because who knows what lies ahead?

So we gathered to celebrate Mum's 80th Birthday. I drove up from Oxfordshire, Gill & Ben flew in from Florida. We had a party; it was a blast. Lots of friends and family and laughter and Mum loving every minute. I took her to a concert in Manchester - Wynton Marsalis & the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Excellent. The encore, just Wynton Marsalis & the rhythm section extemporising for ten minutes, will remain in my heart for ever as one of the musical highlights of my life. Mum adored it. She said she felt drunk on the music - which is perfect; as it should be. We were on the second row, and time stood still. I say it was ten minutes - I actually have no idea how long it was. It was an eternity, it was a second, it was glorious.

Gill and Ben then came and stayed with me at my place in the shire. We travelled on what was actually the 20th anniversary of my ordination. How grateful could I be? To be bringing Gill & Ben home, to be welcoming them here, to share a few precious days together.

We live a long way apart; we live very close. Life has lots in store for us yet, and yet we begin to make plans for what the future may hold.

Another musical highlight: years ago I took Gill to see Madama Butterfly at Covent Garden.  This year, on a whim whilst in Manchester with Mum, I rang the box office at the Royal Opera to see what was playing whilst Gill was with me. I took Gill & Ben to see Tosca - Placido Domingo conducting, Bryn Terfel as Scarpia, and the glorious Sondra Radvanovsky as Tosca. I've seen this opera a hundred times; I've never seen it done better. We had a terrific time, made all the better by tea beforehand with cousin Louise & Selihah at Delaunay's.

The weekend came around, and with it a service to mark that 20th anniversary.

At first, I'd wondered whether I would publicly mark this moment. And then I had to. I had to because I am simply so grateful to be here. I wanted to take the moment, to live in it, to say thank you to God and stop time and stand still and be thankful. I am here because of his faithfulness. I am here because of the friends and family who carried me through dark days. I am here because of everything, despite everything, and with great, great joy.

I couldn't say it quietly in a corner.

It was a terrific day - and I was thrilled to see friends from years gone by and friends from places far and wide in church. Welsh connections, Wycliffe people, St Aldate's friends, both couples for whom I have been best man, and in Joe Martin a US friend and the purveyor of the best excuse for being late I ever heard anywhere. Clare Hayns preached beautifully.

A good group stayed for lunch on the Rectory lawn, and it seems that for this week Champagne has replaced Coke Zero as my standard beverage.

In the service we sang an anthem, a piece I wrote for Geoffrey & Jeanette Cotterill's wedding in June 1989. We sang it again in the evening at a service where they gathered former St Aldate's music group members to lead worship in their current church. The photo could be from 1989 or so, with a little ageing added to it. Very bizarre.

And that's the gift. For in the pausing to remember, to enjoy, to be grateful, to thank God and to love people, the ever rolling stream goes back and forward and cuts in and out and stops in its tracks as we take time to enjoy time and refuse to be its prisoners. It is another of the Lord's marvellous gifts. And maybe it is in possessing and having been possessed by so much more of this gift, that the open thankfulness for past and future are what make this moment also feel like such a present.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

holy holy holy

Trinity Sunday. Every preacher's favourite moment. All I need to do is find words to describe the indescribable without lapsing into heresy.

Hmm.

This is a great YouTube clip. I like its sly look at the usual illustrations and it's assessment of their failures, but its final work through what the Trinity is leaves me baffled.

So instead, I'm returning to an idea that dear Gill Tuck in Pontypridd put in my head a few years back. I don't remember whether she said this, or whether her sermon simply gave me the idea, but I'm crediting her with it because her Trinity Sunday sermon remains the best I've ever heard.

This is a time to look at the big picture of God. The whole picture of God.

So often we focus on details, on moments, on ideas, on facets of God through the Scriptures. This Sunday asks us to stand well back and for a moment dare to take in the whole view.

I don't know about you, but when I see a great painting, often I focus on a detail. Annigoni's St Joseph in San Lorenzo, Florence, is one of my favourite paintings. I'm drawn initially to the light embracing Joseph from above, wing-like, radiant. The Spirit empowers the scene, gives it grace and movement, but the light carries through to the wooden plank resting on the table, and hints upward into the sky, and suddenly that embrace is a cross. Light and dark, glory and pain. Spirit and desolation.

Then I see Jesus, the child in the workshop. I've never noticed his face. I've never objected to his fair hair, which I hardly see. All I see are the nails in his hands. He plays with nails on his father's bench. Long, cruel, carpenter's nails. A child, just a child, with no idea what they will mean. Or does he know? Does he feel it? Is his innocence touched with understanding?

And Joseph. The father who is not the father looking at the son who is not his son. His face I see every time. Pain and sadness and love and pride and blessing, and a hand that would stop what the child is doing (nails in the hands) and will not stop, cannot stop. The son will choose. The father will love.

And then, when I'm in San Lorenzo, and sitting in that beautiful building in front of this immense canvas, I forget the detail and let the whole work overwhelm me.

It's too much. I am numb with awe. I have no words anymore. Tears replace them.

I'm reminded of something I wrote on this blog six years ago:

This morning, the Wednesday Congregation asked for Isaiah 40.12-17, 27-31. I know, I know, but that's what the lectionary does - bleeding chunks. So I started with a reference to... looking at the whole of God, which is a big ask. But if all we see is the bigness of God (vv12-17) we haven't seen the whole of God, for in vv 27-31 we find the Creator who touches the weak and gives them strength.

The transcendent God who becomes immanent.

Which are big theological words for the Mothers Union: so I found myself retranslating and, on the hoof, describing the pleasure, the wonder and the paradox of these verses as "the God who is really huge is also the God who is really here". 
And then he was. In the silence, in the awe, in the midst of those dear, dear people with all they face, we waited upon him and felt ourselves soar awhile.  

Holy, holy, holy. Sometimes I think it's more a response to seeing God than a description.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

lifestyle choices

My good friend Tom Fuerst has blogged about the debate in the US about NFL player Michael Sam. Most UK readers won't know the first thing about Michael Sam; it's a sport that most of us know little about, and many of its characters remain a mystery to us.

Michael Sam is the first openly gay player in the NFL. It's as if we had a Premiership footballer come out; it's that story.

If you haven't read Tom's blog, do so now. Tom writes well on any number of issues, and his blog is always worth a visit for his insight and his humour.

After I read the piece, I messaged Tom with a few comments, and he asked me to post my thoughts as a blog so that we could have a public conversation.

This (slightly adapted) was my response to Tom's article...


As you know this is a subject I think & write about, and I’m always interested in what others are saying. We find ourselves in the middle of a debate, and one of my concerns is that whatever position we hold in that debate we do so with generosity and kindness. Tom, you do that really well - thank you. It has to be the way forward for all of us.

I’d like to reflect briefly on one of your points, if I may?

‘Gay Lifestyle’. Thanks for raising this issue. I see this term more in US writings than in UK works, but we get it here too, and I often feel the urge gently to challenge it. A gay friend of mine describes his ‘gay lifestyle’ as: go to work, watch TV, shop at Walmart, catch the occasional ball game & then church on Sundays. That kind of lifestyle is pretty dangerous... he needs to get out more! 

One of the issues at play here is the minorities question. This also speaks to the justice issue, the lifestyle/habit descriptor and the raising of the gay question to such prominence in current evangelical thinking.

Evangelicalism can have a tendency to see itself as a persecuted minority. The few. The narrow gate. When there are too many of us, we fight amongst ourselves so that it’s clear that somewhere there really is a righteous minority. Minorities always end up being defined by their differences. Make up your own list - but (simplistically) people need community and that means finding sameness with their own and that means finding difference from the majority. The majority is very good at enforcing the latter (‘first openly gay footballer; in case you’d forgotten what makes him special’).

‘Gay lifestyle’ doesn’t mean going to work, shopping at Walmart, catching the occasional ball game & then church on Sundays. It means Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend on TV. If it had been a girlfriend there would have been no comment. But difference is a neon sign, a billboard, the amplifier of minority turned up to eleven. 

These words can be a symbol of pride or a source of contempt but either way they are a mark of difference and a schism in the fabric of humanity. Usually difference ends up being harmful; the majority likes to win. Normally everyone loses. Whoever wanted there to be a ‘culture war’? Someone who wanted to beat someone else. 

So what do we do?

I’m working on Galatians as a way into this at the moment, and it’s slow, and I don’t want to go too far into it, but here’s the crazy notion:

We are called to put the things that make us the same in the spotlight, not the things that separate us.

But there are things that separate us! Hmm. I’m just not sure about that. The Judaisers in Galatians felt it, of course. If the Gentiles didn’t become Jews first, they couldn’t be Christians. Why not? Because of food laws? No - because Gentiles were simply sinners. The Bible said so. They were sinners because they were idolaters. It was because they were idolaters that they practised all kinds of dodgy moral stuff - from free love to shocking food, via no concept of holy days and the all-pervading presence of God and his wonderful Law. So make them Jews, and then they could follow Jesus. 

It’s great logic; great, but wrong.

It’s wrong because it clings to a concept of a two-tiered humanity, and St Paul drives a coach and horses through that. In Romans 1 he points out how idolatry pushes Gentiles to lose themselves in sexual (including, but not exclusively homosexual) sin; in Romans 2 he points out how idolatry pushes the Jews to the great sin of the exile - adultery; in Romans 3 he couples these together and declares that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. One humanity. One fallen humanity needing one saviour.

In Galatians he finds the new humanity - one redeemed humanity in Christ. No male or female, slave or free, Gentile or Jew, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. 

The work I am doing at the moment is looking at a comparison of our current debates and Galatians, because though we are looking at the gay question as ‘grieving over sin’, so (I suggest) were Paul’s contemporaries over the position of women, slaves and (vitally) Gentiles. And in the end, Paul argued for differences to be put away (you make a terrific point about how we all have a tendency to talk down our own sins but talk up the sins of others) as the spotlight hit instead the things in common. Jesus. All have sinned; all are justified freely. God showed his love for us in this: it was while we were yet sinners...

For us all. We were all.

We are the same.

One fallen humanity needing a Saviour, one redeemed humanity worshipping Jesus. 

Of course, though my application of a text may be interesting, useful, and even right, it’s not new. The fact is that people are people and as such as varied as the colours of the dawn. Do we begin our theologies with a grace-shaped positivity toward humanity (made in the image of God, loved by God) or with a sin-focussed outlook (aware of the fallen-ness of humanity, broken & sinful)? When we see Michael Sam do we see a human being loved by God or a gay man perverting the natural order of God’s world? As I get older, it’s not that I see both outlooks as ‘Biblical’. I see them as human, and as human, valid outworkings of human-ness in attempting to understand the Scripture. 

The debate isn’t about Michael Sam or really about the gay issue at all; it’s about us. Christians. How we view the world. How we read the Scriptures. Where we start and where we finish, and the fact that for some of us the Bible is a book best read on a long journey with a Friend and not as a ‘technical manual for life’. This helps me be kind when someone says something thoughtless about the minority that strangely I belong to, even without really knowing very many of my fellow travellers. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to return to my lifestyle. So far today I have shovelled five tons of gravel, mowed half an acre of grass, planned a funeral and still have a sermon to get right for the morning... I may yet need to reach for the Laphroaig.

Friday, May 02, 2014

When 'Rev' lost the plot...

I have mixed feelings about the third series of Rev, the BBC's clerical comedy. Let me explain.

I mean, I suppose (with others) I worry that faith has very little to do with the whole show; that community is thin; that the comedy value of the weaknesses of people serve to illustrate one man's journey, when that one man's journey ought to be about strengthening his flock, not just watching them flounder. But it's a comedy, right?

And yet...

Sometimes I stare at the screen in disbelief because certain moments hit a little close to home.

People often ask - is it really like that? I was asked this week at the choir in Steeple. I reply: on the whole, I think it's on a par with the Vicar of Dibley. Pretty wide of the mark. It's not about the church, it's about the underdog versus the institution, and that theme is universal. The setting is almost irrelevant - that's why it works. The politics, the failures of others, the surprises and occasional victories are stock-in-trade for this type of tale.

And yet...

The final two episodes of this third series dealt with Adam having a kind of breakdown, making a decision to leave behind being a priest, and then starting to find himself resurrected again.

This is where it gets personal for me. And hard to write about. But let's have a go.

I'm hardly alone in the clerical world in sharing Adam's experiences of breakdown for real. It was strange watching what took eighteen months for me (longer, much longer if we include the whole road back) play out over two half-hour episodes of a comedy. It was doubly strange because although many of the characters and events of my story were here seen in caricature,  yet here they were.

When the archdeacon sat in my kitchen and discussed how employable I would be beyond the church, I'm glad to say that he was a good deal more positive than Adam experienced. But we had that meeting. In that place. And my archdeacon (unlike Robert) was right: a good parish priest doesn't look employable - you have to work hard at the CV, and at getting through the interview door, but the skills we have are enormous. This made me very cross as I watched the TV show's very negative version. If someone was going through that now - if I had been going through that and saw that programme, the damage it might have done me... A vicar is a very skilled person. I've been both sides of the work divide. We have gifts others can only dream of.

When my bishop asked me not to resign, I was not in his home. He was in mine. And I was in the very fortunate position of having the Archbishop of Wales as my diocesan bishop. He was terrific. He couldn't solve my problems, but he supported me at every stage. He supported me as I hit a brick wall; he supported me as I coped with being knocked out; he supported me as I made the decision to stop - though he pleaded with me not to stop; and he supported me through the time away, offering counsel and helping me eventually find my way back into ministry. I wouldn't swap Barry Morgan for Ralph Fiennes.

It was painful watching all of Adam's close congregational friends turn on him. My experience was that it genuinely felt like many people turned on me. That feeling is a terrible part of what happens when you break. The truth was mostly very different, I guess, but even now at this distance I still have some trouble fully understanding everything. I also know I gave myself (even when falling apart) for others, only wanting to do good, and yet truthfully I fear that what I wanted to do and what I did were not always the same. Ah well.

That's what happens: you lose your reality - and I think the TV show put this across well. A small example of how the crash affected me: I never swear. Never. My grandmother washed my mouth out with soap when I was seven (truly). That stopped me. Yet when I was falling, something clicked, and I swore constantly for a while. It wasn't that a veneer of politeness cracked and the reality beneath seeped out; it was that I was broken and I had no idea how unlike me I had become. Afterwards, I didn't think about putting that right when I got better, I didn't consciously check my language. I just healed; I became me again.

Adam loses himself for a while in the penultimate episode. And in the midst of that, he finds God (Liam Neeson), who tells him - I understand.

I never saw Liam Neeson. I did find Jesus; constantly; surprisingly; wonderfully. And those two words - I understand - were stunningly powerful words I heard - felt - in my own journey. That felt very real as I watched. My story.

It hurt to see Adam quivering in bed. I remember those days. No - I remember that there were those days. I don't remember the days themselves with any clarity at all.

Two half hour episodes miss out so much. Concertina so much. Include so much. Make me remember so much.

And then Easter.

Let me be clear: though I had a crisis of me, I never had a crisis of faith. I never lost Jesus. I never doubted God. (I guess I did fall out of love with the church for a while.)

But there was a resurrection, a raising up, a restoring, a renewing, a bringing to a new life afterwards, and for me too it was at Eastertime.

I wondered for a long time if I'd ever be in full-time ministry again. And then I took an Easter service, and as I stood at the altar in front of the congregation I felt myself raised up with Jesus. He'd been with me in the depths, and now he was lifting me up again. I think back to that Easter service; it was extraordinary. For a moment I was a fish back in water - and in the moment I understood I would soon be swimming again for good. I speak in a different way now of the power of resurrection from the hundred little deaths that beset us when life lives us down, because I know it. It changed me. He changed me.

Watching when 'Rev' lost the plot was rather emotional for me, because it was a tremendously moving reminder of how Jesus never stopped writing my story.