We have a magazine rack in our bathroom. I’m not proud of it but it is what it is. I could pretend that it is there to provide reading material while I luxuriate in the bath by candlelight while I sip a glass of wine. However, I never actually do that. (Does anyone actually do that? I always find that the thought of it is so much better than the execution. The water goes cold and unpleasant really quickly)
Anyway, last week The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass appeared in the rack and it turned out that FOW1 had found it on his bookshelf and transported it to the bathroom, to help with his ablutions or whatever. I have not read The Secret Diary for years. I have read lots of other Adrian Plass because he’s a really good writer but I think this is more or less where it all began for him. It’s easy to underestimate this book because it’s so funny but it had a profound effect on me at the time. For those Christians who have been orbiting the earth in a spaceship with no windows for the last umpteen years and don’t know about this book, it had a huge impact when it was published. Written, I am assuming, as a deliberate parody of the Adrian Mole diaries, it concentrates on the a fictional Adrian Plass, his wife Anne and son Gerald. He’s a Christian who keeps getting it wrong, despite his best intentions and it is, quite simply, very funny. Anyone who has been a Christian for more than twenty minutes will recognise plenty of the characters in the book. Mr and Mrs Flushpool were particular favourites. They were Christians who felt very strongly that even though we are called to live in a sinful world, the best way to approach it was to turn your nose up at anything sinful. This included sport, cinema, drinking, laughing or anything else not deemed essential to making sure you were on the right side of history when the final trump sounded. The clever thing about the book was that we all knew people like that in church and, in my particular church, they had a lot of influence. I remember being very intimidated by them when I was a teenager and worrying that my clothes would come up to the desired standard on Sundays and not be too sinful. Adrian Plass blew all this away. He questioned their right to do this, swept their influence aside and affirmed again and again that relationship with God was a positive, loving thing. I think the Sacred Diary was the first place I ever read that God LIKED me.
So last week, I pinched it from the bathroom and put an evening aside to re-read it. I did it in one sitting and it wasn’t difficult because it is written so beautifully and it is so funny. I was also struck once again by how much heart there is. Adrian’s friends are all over the place but each weakness and failing is surrounded by the grace and support of the church. It is life affirming.
I went to see him live once. He seemed quiet and quite shy but again very funny. I remember he started off by asking us to turn to the person next to us and swap clothes with them. If you’ve ever had to squeeze your bottom very tight because the vicar has insisted that you turn to the stranger next to you and shout “YOU ARE AWESOME!” then you will understand how funny this was. I remember thinking that I was in safe hands.
We probably underestimate the power of humour. I remember seeing a preacher once who said that all Jesus’ shepherd parables were actually the First Century equivalent of Irish jokes. (Although I understand that it is not politically correct to say so) Shepherds were generally considered to be a bit stupid so when Jesus told stories about them leaving all their sheep to go and find a lost one, people would have been holding their sides laughing about how dim they were. It must have been very powerful when Jesus turned on a sixpence and quietly explained that this was how God was.
Sometimes living a Christian life is upsetting. Sometimes it just seems ridiculous – the people you meet, the things you are expected to do, the times when the whole thing seems to be spirit numbing. It takes a very special kind of person who can prick the Christian pompous balloon that may be weighing us down but do so in a way that is so kind and full of grace that you understand the motives of those you struggle with making you more able to deal with them. Adrian was as hard on himself as he was on anyone around him but he still ends the book secure as a God-loved person.
If you haven’t read it, you should maybe think about it. It’s still on sale virtually everywhere. You can’t borrow mine though – it’s going back into the magazine rack of shame – right next to where people can read it while having a nice sit down.