Thursday, February 5, 2015

Grantchester: What a Fake Priest Reveals About Being Real Christians

A fictional character who seems real has me thinking about how much we play characters in our real life.

I recently started watching the PBS series Grantchester. I have a weakness for British dramas and mysteries and Grantchester is both. But what drew me to the show was a description I read that went something like "Sidney Chambers is a priest who loves God, jazz music, a good pub, and solving murder." When I read the description to my wife, she said, "It sounds like you, except for the solving murder part." (My half-joking response: "Maybe one day...")

What my wife said, however, was exactly what drew me to the show. "It sounds like you..." I've mentioned before in my blog my frustration with Hollywood typically portraying clergy as dangerous fanatics or clueless goodie-goodies. (And always men! Dear Hollywood: Women can be clergy, too!) But Grantchester was describing a priest that talks and acts like a real person. Here is a priest that actually sounds like me and most of the pastors I know.

Sidney Chambers goes to pubs, parties, and picnics. He does manual labor, has conversations where he is both compassionate and uncertain, has a complicated love life, and struggles with writing his sermons. In one conversation in episode three, he shares with a priest in training that "this job is difficult" because "most things aren't black and white; a lot of life is gray areas." While it's not a perfect show or a perfect reflection of my experiences as a pastor, it is the closest portrayal of a real life clergyperson I can think of seeing on screen. They are at least striving for authenticity.

That issue of authenticity in a fictional priest has got me thinking about authenticity in my real life job because as much as I dislike the stereotypes of pastors on tv, I know many stereotypes have some small grain of truth in them. Perhaps pastors are portrayed as defenders of spiritual certainty and moral purity because that's how we treat our jobs.

I know I often feel pressure (From myself? Culture? The Church?) to have a simple, clear answer to any situation and I can be afraid of appearing like I don't know for sure. After all, I'm supposed to be the authority on God, right? If I don't have faith all figured out, does that make me an imposter or a failure?

Despite my fears, however, I've often found that the richest and deepest conversations I've had with people have often been from sermons or Bible studies where I've risked saying, "This is hard for me to understand. I wrestle with making this fit my own life." (The most read blog article I've ever written was one where I shared my discomfort with the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son.) In other words, when I've been more authentic myself, it's given permission to others to be more authentic in their faith.

And that permission giving is important because I think all of us have something in our lives where we fear authenticity. It may be related to our social group, our faith, our parenting, or our job, but I'm guessing there's at least one spot in our lives where we're afraid to do or say anything that might show we "don't know" or "don't fit in." Instead, we play stereotyped versions of ourselves, hoping we won't reveal we are imposters.

As Christians, though, we are called to be about the truth. Jesus says, "Let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no'" (Matt. 5:37) and promises "the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). God's truth doesn't set us free so we can become stereotypes, but so we can grow in the image of God. And growth is much stronger when we are able to admit the places where we need help and make ourselves vulnerable enough to create relationships that can grow with us.

I am a pastor that loves God, music, a good pub, and solving murder mysteries (on tv, at least). I don't have a perfect answer for every faith question or Bible story, but I pray that being my authentic self and inviting others to do the same will create a community where God's truth is revealed to us all.

From the Gray,
Pastor Ari

(As a side note, I don't think authenticity is the same as "letting it all hang out." I've heard of pastors swearing in the pulpit or oversharing personal details to the point of making people uncomfortable. The authenticity I'm thinking about isn't self-serving ["Here I am! Deal with it!"]; instead it creates a space where you and I can be imperfect together.)

“I stole my personality from an anonymous source.” -Hockey, “Song Away”

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