Sunday, March 13, 2011

When The Called Feel Uncalled

(The final episode of Rev. in a nutshell.)

The story begins with the remembrance of a war that is not remembered. The reverend and his sidekick stand silently at a graveside as a gang of teenagers loiter in the graveyard. One of them pokes fun at the two churchmen, asking, “Someone died, have they?” The sidekick has lost his patience: “Millions of brave men and women died for you, so that you could ride your bikes ‘round here and drink Fanta.” The reverend stands idly by, cracks beginning to emerge. His faith in people is dwindling, and very soon so too is his faith in himself. He receives the following review on a church ranking website:

Length of sermon: 2 minutes

Which was three minutes too long.
The Reverend Adam Smallbone talked to his tiny and lifeless congregation about Jesus curing the blind man. He somehow tried to link this story to how people wear masks at the Notting Hill Carnival. It was without scholarship or insight, and the Reverend seemed as bored by his own words as the congregation.
He may have been hungover…

“Why do I bother?” he asks. His questions inevitably turn on God:
“Are you there, God? If so, just a couple of questions. Why do you allow there to be kids who don’t know what World War II is? Why did you send that reviewer on my one bad day? Is that what I deserve? Why is the graveyard strewn with litter? Why do Nazis always live till they’re 96? Why are there no more bumble bees? Why do African women get raped every day by boy soldiers going to get water for their starving village?”

His wife presents a solution: Become agnostic. “All the good priests are; you’ve been agnostic for years, really”. “No I haven’t”, he replies, though he fears he may be heading that way. His wife then presents a second solution: Take the day off. This won’t do either. His life is a calling, and he can’t be “uncalled” for the day. So to the school assembly he goes, awaiting cross-examination “by a whole load of atheist nine-year-olds.”

He asks another question, this time to his young congregation: Who came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments? The only answer forthcoming is “Baby Jesus”. He tells them that it was in fact Moses, but one of the kids “thought the answer is always Jesus, sir”. “No Jesus is not always the answer!” he says, to himself as much as the kids. The cracks are wide open now.

The questions now turn on him. “Are you a vicar?” He is, but for the rest of that day he decides to blow off hospital visits and instead sits on his couch drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and watching a channel 5 show where Louise Redkanpp helps farmers choose a wife. He even steals a packet of biscuits and tells his wife that he won “60 quid on poker party by bluffing every hand”. She wonders if these things have restored his faith in God. “No, they haven’t”.

He sits in a pub with one of his congregation, looking like misery incarnate. “I’m experiencing a large amount of ontological despair.” He tells his drinking buddy that he feels like “a remnant”. “A remnant of what?” “Of an illusion that people used to believe in.” He goes on:
“I know deep down, of course, that if God made his existence clear and irrefutable it would overwhelm us and deprive us all of free will and independence, but right now, just for once, now I feel like being overwhelmed. Because I am underwhelmed by everything else. By the thoughtlessness and carelessness and neediness of everyone else. If I had been in charge of creation I think I’d have…kept the flowers and the waterfalls and the butterflies and Louise Redknapp, and I’d have left out the malaria, aids, earthquakes, cancer and dementia. Quite frankly I think I’d have done the whole thing a damn sight better.”

His faithlessness escalates to getting drunk at a vicars and tarts party and making a pass at the school headmistress. In more colourful language, his wife tells him to go home, hoping that in the morning he will have recovered from his “biannual crisis”. On his meander back to the vicarage he comes across the gang of teens and picks a fight with them, only to be interrupted by a policeman. “Are you the parish vicar here?” he is asked once more. “Of course I’m the bloody vicar! Why don’t you stop asking me that!” He barely believes his own answer now.

He thinks he is being arrested, but he is actually being taken to a hospital to give a dying woman her last rites. He doesn’t feel up to the task, but the policeman will not have it. “Are you her vicar or not?” he is asked, this time the question assuming personal significance. The reverend pauses for a moment, and then says:
“I heard the voice of the LORD saying ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us?’ And then I said ‘Here I am. Send me.’”

This passage from Isaiah 6 was read at his ordination. At his breaking point it has come as a fresh call. He gives the dying woman her last rites.

Looking out over London from a hospital balcony, he reflects on all that has transpired, and contemplates his future as one who believes that God has sent him to this place, to these people. The policeman walks over to him and offers him a drink from his hipflask.

“I’m fine, thanks.”

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