|Courtesy of the Guardian, a paper that I do read|
I saw an article yesterday from that paper I don't ordinarily read, the Telegraph (The Daily Star is about my level), where it criticised the comedy series Rev. for promoting a Christianity = Being Nice model, and promptly blasted it for that. Read the article here. The author of the report, one Dr Tim Stanley, stated in clear terms that the church should "shake things up a bit" instead of being nice in the Rev. style.
Wah wah oops!
The thing is, Dr Stanley, you are totally missing the thrust of the humour in Rev. and let me tell you why. I am vicar in the same-ish tradition as the Rev Adam Smallbone, the character in question. My parish is growing (quite fast actually). I am the vicar in the same diocese as the portrayed parish in the comedy series which is, yes, growing. But the series Rev. just isn't about what Adam Smallbone is busy doing outwardly, which is the premiss for the comedy, but is entirely focussed (in my modest opinion) on what is going on within the principal character.
What is going on is not nice-ness, though you may be fooled into thinking it is - no, it is about the constant wrestle that humans have when they inhabit the robes and ministry of God's Holy Priesthood. I can identify with the lead character in such an acute and accurate way that it makes my eyes water. Dr Stanley's argument is precisely the same as complaining that Top Gear's central modus operandi of the portrayal of the hedgerows along Britain's roads just isn't pro-hawthorn enough!
Today I, along with hundreds of other clergy, crammed into St. Paul's Cathedral to renew our ordination vows. I was sat near the centre, right under the apex of the famous tower and as I looked up it struck me once again how unworthy I am to deign to stand there, dressed like that, bearing the precious responsibility of ministry in my chapped weather-worn hands. I felt the same crush of worthiness-anorexia that Rev Adam Smallbone is constantly enduring in the aforementioned programme. For my part, I am an averagely educated mortal male, flawed and foolish, barely theologically literate and only marginally spiritually gifted. Yet there I was, in one of the most famous churches in the world re-affirming my acceptance of God's call upon my meagre existence.
No wonder ordained ministry is the raw stuff of comedy - but it is God with the bizarre sense of humour. Me, a priest - snigger!
So, if I can identify with Rev. and mine is a growing parish where needless niceness is not my forte (I am a fairly direct type, truth be known) in a growing diocese where boundaries are daily tested, you can take your assertion, Dr Stanley, that it is the 'fifth gospel" of our "liberal tradition" of some outdated quasi-English niceness and ... pray about it at your leisure.
Niceness be damned. Adam Smallbone and all priests are not in the least bit fussed about niceness - we are too busy fighting the battle within ourselves in order to shine the light of the gospel on a world that would seem to not want to see!