I have written before about the brilliant observation and humour of Rev, and 5 episodes in it is still good. It isn’t rip-roaring, but it meanders through story-lines in an intentional manner, devoid of canned laughter or more poignantly sometimes, canned tears. But there is an issue: as one vicar-friend pointed out, though Adam’s humanity is portrayed excellently, is there any sense that he has something others do not? His prayers are wonderfully honest; but are they ever answered? Is the God he believes in actually real?
Maybe the issue can be explained like this. Often I am asked by people without my faith “what made you become a vicar?”. Maybe because I am young, unexpected-looking, or a bit rubbish at my job. Anyway, they ask, I answer. When I am feeling mischievous, I answer with “God”. God called me. This is usually met with a slightly confused look, which I allow for a while before I rescue them from the religious lunatic they just awakened and say something safer. They often understand things like ‘calling’, or ‘I enjoy working with people’, or ‘I like the variety’. They don’t understand that God essentially dragged me unwillingly into it! Or that I don’t like church. Anyway…
The simple answer “God” is more uncomfortable because it has a huge and treacherous unspoken background – that this person believes in God, that they believe God speaks and is real and is actually involved in ordinary everyday life. It is a little… specific. What they prefer is a safer, less specific vicar who keeps things nice and vague, speaks about God not Jesus and preferably actually just church, and who is prepared to do God (or rather, religion) on behalf of them so they don’t need to.
In Rev, I think the thing that will always be missing (for some), but is to be expected and maybe even endearing, is that Rev is the portrayal of a Christian as understood by people who aren’t, but who are sympathetic to the idea. He is what sympathetic people think we are. So Rev understands the idea of calling, of earnest faith, of talking to God – and understands lots of issues vicars face – but it falls short of actually understanding faith, because the faith is not real. It cannot be, because it is a sitcom and not a documentary; it is acted, not real.
So Adam has a deep sense of calling, and an earnest faith. But that faith will always be a bit non-specific. And that is what most people (outside church? inside church?) want from their vicar – earnest, busy and committed, but safe, non-specific and spiritually undemanding. He is enthusiastic about church and about people and about ‘making a difference’. But is he enthusiastic about people meeting and being transformed by Jesus? Is he himself transformed by Jesus, in the sense that he is given supernatural patience to manage the crises that come his way? You decide.
So I think Adam portrays the closest people can come to understanding a person of faith, if they themselves do not share that faith. Again, he is what people think we are. Scary thought! And he is believable. Focusing on the humanity rather than the spirituality means more people can relate to him; otherwise it would become even more like an in-house training video for clergy or a promo for following Jesus and no-one would watch it. It is a sitcom after all. And maybe we should all be show a bit more humanity…!
I am therefore intrigued to see what a crisis of faith looks like to people with this understanding of faith to start with… apparently this is the theme of the final episode, which I await with anticipation!