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.


J Stephens said...

You gave us sooo much. I have benefitted enormously from the years I shared in our b studies and services. Sharing in the music all enriched my life which I thank you for. pleased to see you settled again...Very moving to read this account ..

Revcindy1 said...

Thanks for sharing this story with us - and for the Happpy Ending. I wonder whether Adam's will be the same.
Revd Cindy

Jon Kuhrt said...

Thanks so much for your personal reflections - this goes so much deeper than 'another review'. Thanks for your truly hope-filled sharing of your challenging journey.

Marcus Green said...

May thanks to all who have contacted me over this. I'm a bit taken aback - but mostly I'm glad to say a few words of hope to any who may be struggling right now.

I was fortunate in many ways. Above all, because I didn't travel alone. Sure, it felt very lonely at times, but I really did seek out help, and I advise this above everything. Friends matter; but more: my bishop, my archdeacon - they were terrific. Early on, Abp Barry provided for me to take a month away and stay at Asbury Seminary where I benefitted from a healthful mix of the kindness of friends and professional help. (And that was Barry's second go at finding professional help for me - the first attempt was a failure, a chap I couldn't speak to, so we tried again and had real success.) That gave me a road map for the whole journey. When I took time out of ministry, I ended up living in a parish in a diocese where I was cared for beyond belief - Bishop Nick was superb, and my parish vicar, John Walker, was an astounding pastor to me, caring for my needs and very, very slowly drawing me back to ministry.

It's a huge temptation to do it all alone: a ministry breakdown is an enormous emotional and psychological prison. In 'Rev', Adam is very lonely, and I have to say I think that's very, very unhealthy. Absolutely I felt let down by the church; absolutely the church rallied round and made all the difference.

Chris Chorlton said...

When I remember you it is in the St Aldates evening service Band singing "all through the storm - your love is the anchor".
Glad to see that is still true!