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Male Spirituality and The Fall and Rise of Reginald PerrinBy Dave Scheider
As a young seminarian in my early twenties, I loved the BBC comedy The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. In this hilarious satire, Reginald dismantles his life as a successful businessman. The lines between his fantasies and his reality become blurred to the point where Reginald starts saying and doing things that are increasingly outrageous. Then Reginald fakes his own death and begins an alternate life free of responsibility and social convention. At age 23 I often wondered why this series delighted me so very much.
I am in my late 50s now and finally understand how The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin connected with me so powerfully. Richard Rohr, my favorite Christian interpreter of C.G. Jung, charts the path of male spirituality in his book The Wildman’s Journey. In this model, the early years are spent on the journey of ascent until the ego or identity is firmly formed. Reginald illustrates the formation of his ego in his roles as a husband, homeowner, businessman, and other socially acceptable roles for a male in 1970s Britain. Certainly there are benefits from those roles, but they come at a price. Like a knight wearing armor all day, he longed for freedom from carrying the weight of self-imposed, socially acceptable facades.
In Rohr’s model, the man who achieves ego identity will eventually have an experience that shows his limitations. Often that experience comes as a crisis or other type of loss. After facing the shame of limitation and lack of power, he can choose to ignore the event and continue blindly upward to achieve more goals, or he can choose one of two other paths. The worse of the two paths is to become a bitter, old man who blames circumstances or people for his limitations. The better of the choices is to begin the journey of descent. Here the spiritual journey becomes one of self-emptying or kenosis. Reginald precipitates his own crisis and voluntarily takes on the path of descent. He chooses roles, such as a pig tender, that are the opposite of middle class values for his culture.
Richard Rohr’s model provides encouragement for all who wonder how long they need to continue juggling roles and keeping up facades. According to Rohr, the good news is that a crisis, our personal wilderness journey, will come to relieve each of us of the expectation that we are omnipotent. If we take the road of descent, we can begin to divest ourselves of the unnecessary parts of our ego’s expectations and reduce our roles to those that are most authentic, creative, and life giving.
At the end of the first series, Reginald and his wife are reunited. Several more series follow with them trying out various creative endeavors that unfortunately lead to more success. As much as they try to fail, success hounds them until Reggie begins to fantasize about running away again, only this time with his wife who he now realizes he truly loves.
Dave Scheider is the Director of the Loise Henderson Wessendorf Center for Christian Ministry and Vocation at Seminary of the Southwest. Prior to joining the faculty of Seminary of the Southwest, Dave served as an Army Chaplain for 25 years.
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