broad church, broken world

22 04 2013

On the face of it it was just another detective story. There are so many on TV it’s as if creative drama ideas have gone into a double-dip recession. And unusually for ITV, it wasn’t a Morse spin-off. But Broadchurch has surprised me – ITV-drubbing snob that I am – by holding my attention across all 8 episodes. 

** plot spoilers ** don’t read if you haven’t seen it yet!!

Broadchurch got better with each episode, as it exposed the flaws in the characters and peeled back the hidden layers. And the final episode was extraordinary, I think, for a 2013 drama. It was told simply, powerfully. The ‘reveal’ was patient, and even though I had guessed who it was 2 episodes ago (never trust the minor character with a speaking role) it actually didn’t matter. This was no Poirot-style shallow quick-fix nonsense, nor was it cliche-driven histrionics.

Paedophilia. There is nothing – nothing – that lights the touch-paper in our culture quite like it. Rarely is the subject covered in anything other than a sensationalist way.  Rarely do we get an insight into the gradual beginnings of unhealthy relationships. Rarely do we get a chance to catch our breath before the mob are shouting about the categorically evil ‘other’ who can do this sort of thing. 

Real life is complicated. Real relationships are complicated. Real life doesn’t contain the simple black and white categories our (predominantly) unthinking culture (and media) would like us to have. Real life is a broad church of broken and breaking people, of healed and healing people, of people with hearts of glass who shatter and cut and who can be – really can be – restored, though always scarred. The scars are important. 

The broad church that we try to be, to hold together, following Jesus in our own uniquely broken ways, this broad church is one in which we sob with the broken. When worlds fall apart, whether through bad decisions or external circumstances, we try to be the ones who find a way to sob too. Sadness is universal. Broadchurch showed families torn apart, and maybe it got to me because that is what I see. 

Broadchurch left me sad, but it did not leave me feeling hopeless. Not just because for once the vicar wasn’t the easy target. But because the story did not end with mob justice, but a community of broken people standing together (I know it was cheesy, but we needed something!). And there was no easy resolution between the two families, because there is no easy resolution in real life. Rarely is a series able to hold these two in tension. Rarely are we, the people, given the trust in ourselves to be able to see this. 

“You wanted easy answers, and scapegoats, and bogeymen. The world’s more grey.” [DI Hardy]

Following Jesus means that we cannot mete out cheap justice. Following Jesus means that we face impossible situations head-on. Following Jesus means that we shoulder the burdens of the world but we do not do it alone. Following Jesus means that we see into the hearts of all people and by the grace of God we can carry on, we can even find love for those we understand the least, for those we want to hate, for those who confuse us because they do not fit, and those who make us angry because, as the question was asked twice: how could you not know? 

Evil is not ‘other’, darkness is not ‘over there’. But in the darkness – from within it, not from outside of it – shines the light. From within the darkness there is always hope for – and even from – a broad and broken world, and a broad and broken church.   

I have written previously about a more personal encounter with this subject in reputation





the lament of mrs vicarage

13 11 2011

And so it’s return was as good as I had hoped – a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy of awkward moments, insightful arguments and exaggerated characters that makes the BBC’s Rev so good to watch. Ricky Gervais, your domination of painful ‘real-life’ comedy is well and truly over.  

In episode 1 Rev managed once again to squeeze depth into it’s little band of characters, from the terrifying Archdeacon Robert to the amorous Adoa to the “we’ve all got one” Colin and the new slightly sinister Bishop of London. But most of all Adam himself.

No,  actually even more most of all, Mrs Vicarage herself, Alex Smallbone. When she went into her diatribe a few minutes in, I could hear vicar’s wives (and yes, vicar’s husbands) everywhere shouting at the telly – go girl, you tell ‘em!

Watch the diatribe here, or read below:

Do you know the last time I had a whole weekend with you Adam all to myself? Er, no neither do I because oh yes that’s right, it’s never happened!
I’m sorry, what’s the matter?
What’s the matter? I’m fed up with never seeing you, that’s what’s the matter. I’m fed up with your congregants saying what a shame Alex couldn’t come today like they’ve got some masters degree in passive-aggression just because I happen to have been busy at work. I’m fed up with coming home from work and only to make yet another mushroom stroganoff for some sodding church meeting of pedantic bores who want to sit around in my home discussing how to put in a fire exit or whatever. I want to have a child with you because I don’t just want to be a solicitor all my life but you don’t shag me enough…
Erm, I do… don’t I? Really..
No, because this house is permanently full of people making unceasing demands on your time because they’ve got nothing else in their lives…

As the role of vicar has changed beyond recognition in recent years, so has the role of their partner, and not just because there are now an increasing number of vicar’s husbands. There are also an increasing number who work full-time themselves; and an increasing number who don’t want to be seen as the ‘also comes with’ to the vicar, but as a person in their own right. So, if you bake, then bake, but not because you are married to the vicar. If you like having tea with old ladies, then do it, but not because you’re the vicar’s wife.

To me, the vicar’s wife or husband is the background hero of parish life, no matter whether they bake or host or do the traditional thing or not. It’s because they answer the phone and are expected to be the adminstrator, secretary and vicar’s GPS; they are expected to attend church and be friendly and know what’s going on and so often be the buffer between ‘the people’ and the vicar. And most of all because they love us, and have agreed to give up a ‘normal’ life for a definitely abnormal one, putting down roots and making friends in someone else’s community knowing the pain that will come when you are uprooted again and again.

For us, we have always been lucky. In the 2 parishes we have been in, the lovely Fran has pretty much always been treated as Fran, and still is. Thank you for that. I couldn’t do what I do or be what I be (!?) without her.

So Mrs (and Mr) Vicarage we salute you. We hear your lament, and we are sorry for all the times we put life before you. And Rev, may you continue to point out, with humour and pain and poignant conversations the mystery of life that is one lived in a vicarage.

Read the point of view of a real vicar’s wife on the Vicar’s Wife blog.








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