Monday, August 21, 2006
"A Christian believes that he or she is responsible to God" The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, recently gave an interview to the Dutch newspaper Nederlands Dagblad. Obviously, Wim Houtman, the religion editor, first asked Dr Williams about unity in the Anglican Communion and the distressing potential for permanent rifts and endless lawsuits. But I was most intrigued by his very last questions and how Dr Williams answered them. I also wonder if an American journalist would have asked these questions or continued to focus on ecclesiastical politics. I excerpt from a English translation (hat tip: Thinking Anglicans) below (Houtman's queries are in italics): What would you say makes the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian? "A Christian believes that he or she is responsible to God. That may sound harsh, in terms of judgment and so on. But it is what Scripture says: we shall have to answer for our words and our actions. Therefore Christians ought to be distinguished by their willingness to repent. A Christian will always be ready to revise his actions and his own image of them, to make peace, to ask for forgiveness from God and other people. You find a living Christian community mostly where people help each other in their failings. Because everybody knows their lives are open to God. That means for example a greater willingness than is shown in our culture today, to reconsider what you perceive as your needs, emotions, instincts, and bring them under the scrutiny of Christ. In the international arena a Christian will always have reconciliation as his priority, and refusal to retaliate. Not because mistakes don't matter, but because he is aware of his own need to repent and to be reconciled." There is a hunger for spirituality in today's world and yet the Church doesn't seem able to connect. Do you have any idea why? "Maybe because in the West we have perceived Christianity as a system rather than a life. That is one of the things I have learned from my contacts with the Eastern Orthodox Church: belief is first of all a life and then a system. It begins with a renewed relationship with God as Father through Jesus Christ; we express that in liturgy and out of that comes theology. People find that in Taizé for example: faith is being lived there in a pattern of prayer and discipline. A second cause is, I think, that as a society why are so scared of commitment. We have such short term horizons, in almost everything. The notion that you commit yourself to Jesus Christ and to a community, for life and beyond, is very strange. People say: what do I get out of that? The gospel rather uncomfortably says: no, I'm sorry, the question is: what will you give? That is a big threshold. It is the same problem we face when it comes to marriage. People don't join political parties. So there is an enormous gap with culture. And the only way to bridge that gap - apart from the integrity of our own discipleship - is to convey that faith is an immense mystery, so mysterious and so rich that it will take your lifetime and longer to live into it." What do you mostly pray for these days? "For myself, for discernment, and honesty. It is very easy in a public function, to think that you have done what you can. But how deeply have you really engaged, how justly have you acted? Again it is this willingness to repent. (Laughing) Fortunately there a quite a number of people in the Church that are more than ready to tell me about my mistakes when I make them; I have to regard that as a gift from God, though not always welcome. At Lambeth Palace we begin each day with prayer, my staff, the two nuns who share our life there, and myself - first in silence, then Morning Prayer and Holy Communion. That is the anchorage of every day. And also every year I take at least a week to pray in silence in a monastery, to reconnect with myself.'' What would you like to preach about next Sunday? "I would normally always preach about the gospel of the day. Preaching from the gospels is I think what I like best. Two weeks ago I had the privilege of preaching - in Welsh - in a small Congregationalist chapel where I have family connections. Romans 8 was the reading of the day, so I talked about the prayer 'Abba, Father' and the power of the Spirit. Being a Christian means to be given the freedom to say 'Abba, Father'. That transforms all your relationships, with yourself, God, other people, and the whole Creation. That is something I would like to preach about, and again, and again."