Clash of cultures

Just back from our diocesan clergy conference. It was just 24 hours, which was not long enough for me. Although I find myself resenting having to rearrange my diary, I know that on these occassions, the thing that matters most is meeting people and there was not quite enough time for me to feel that we had done enough of that. I’d have liked us to discuss something that mattered, and I’m not sure we did.

We had good input though. The headline speaker for Wednesday was Lorna Finley, who came and spoke to us about dealing with the media. Her party-piece was a series of imagined headlines from newspapers reporting on the story of the Prodigal Child. Excellent.

Today the headline act was Rowan Williams. He spoke to us of poetry.

One frustration that I found was that it started to feel to me as though quite a few of my colleagues were frightened of the media but much more accepting of poetry. Rowan William’s experience of the firestorm over Sharia Law earlier in the year was very obviously in our minds. That kind of effect inevitably induces fear. It felt as though people felt much more comfortable listening to RW talking about medieval Welsh poetic structures. (And here, I must  admit that RW was the best speaker on the structure of medieval Welsh poetry that I’ve ever heard at a clergy conference).

The thing that troubled me was that we never seemed to connect the two. I’m a person who lives in a soundbite, internet-driven, headline culture. And I love it. What none of us seemed able to vocalise during the conference is that this same culture is the most successful, witty, influential poetic culture that the world has ever seen. We turn our backs on it at our peril.


  1. Robin says

    Rowan Williams and poetry? The only poem I associate him with, since his betrayal of Jeffrey John, is Browning’s “The Lost Leader” –

    Just for a handful of silver he left us,
    Just for a ribbon to stick in his coat . . . (etc)

    How could you bear to sit and listen to him, or even be in the same room as him?

  2. Kelvin says

    Hello Robin

    Thanks for your comments.

    I had lunch sitting next to Rowan Williams as well as bread and wine with him at the Eucharist. (Eating lunch and sharing Eucharist are the same thing of course, the difference is in the degree to which we are aware of the sacrament we are sharing).

    Although I fundamentally disagree with RW over the direction he is taking, I was happy to share communion with him. I don’t really understand those (particularly in the Primates’ Meeting) who are refusing to sup with him because they disagree with him. Its Jesus who invites and all are called whatever they have done. Just because others have abandoned that faith seems no reason for us to do the same. It was and is a faith in a God worth believing in.

    I think it is more important to expose Rowan William’s ideas to scrutiny.

    Particularly at the moment, we need to keep reminding others who hear him that justice delayed is justice denied.

    His take on the communion at the moment is to ask those whom he characterises as wanting radical change (ie those who support full LGBT inclusion in the church) whether we want to move forward ourselves or wait to take the whole church with us on that journey.

    Now, that sounds more reasonable than it is. There is no other issue on which I would want the church to wait awhile and wallow in the gutter ethics of the Church of Nigeria until some consensus magically appears so I reject the suggestion that we should do so about this one. We also need to keep on challenging the idea that LGBT inclusion is particularly radical.

    Compared to either the right and proper ordination of women (which we did not hang around waiting for worldwide consensus for), the consecration of divorced people as bishops against clear biblical precedent or even the lay presidency nonsense of Sydney diocese, LGBT inclusion is small beer.

    I don’t think Rowan is a bad person, he is just someone who has made bad choices and given poor leadership. It is those choices that I want to attack, not the person who made them.

    I don’t claim to find that an easy position.

  3. Interesting to read that Kelvin. I must say, the fact that evangelical/conservatives still regard Rowan as overly liberal and accomodating makes it clear who the “extremists” in this debate are.

  4. John Penman says

    To be asked to wait until other, culturally more conservative, Provinces are ready to move is galling but unsurprising. However, RW has a virtually impossible task in holding the shebang together. What needs to be discerned is the nature of Anglican Communion we want. That it will/must change is a sine qua none: the debate to be had within the SEC is as to whether we want a more centralised disciplinary and confessional approach as the Global South seem to be seeking or whether we want a looser Federation. The trouble as I see it with the Covenant as proposed is that it sees the Anglican Communion as a Church, whereas my thinking is that we have always claimed only to be part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I don’t want us to move into being another type of Ecclesial structure looking more like the RC Church.

  5. Kelvin says

    I think that the shebang went bust when primates refused to commune with one another and RW.

    It was at that time (February 2005) that the communion as we knew it ended.

  6. Robin says

    You’re a better man than I am, Kelvin. I would avoid getting into any situation where I was in the same room as Rowan Williams, because I couldn’t even bring myself to shake his hand.

    You say that you don’t think Rowan Williams is a bad person. I think he’s a very bad person indeed, who betrayed his friend five years ago and has gone on betraying people ever since without the slightest sign of penitence or regret. The likes of Peter Akinola or Henry Orombi are at least sincere. They believe in something, however objectionable I may find it, and I respect them for this. For Rowan Williams I have no respect. As far as I can tell from his words and actions, he is a man without principle, without belief and without conscience – in short, a disgusting human being.

  7. Christian says

    “wallow in the gutter ethics “… “presidency nonsense”???

  8. Eamonn says

    Robin, with respect, we can’t complain about the intolerant mindset of conservatives if we behave in the same discriminatory way and use the same aggressive language. Kelvin is absolutely right about the sharing of Holy Communion – and agape.

  9. Robin says

    Eamonn, what I object to about Rowan Williams is his insincerity – the way he said one thing and did another, and betrayed first Jeffrey John, then all the gay people who had looked to him for succour and finally Gene Robinson.

    I would gladly share Holy Communion with Peter Akinola and Henry Orombi (sincere men with whom I disagree, but whom I believe to be doing their utmost to follow Christ), but not with Rowan Williams, who has committed the sin of betrayal and has shown no signs of repenting of it.

  10. I’ve always taken some comfort that the story that we have been spun is that Jesus shared bread with Judas even knowing he would betray him.

    Indeed, as the Gospel of John is so strangely ambivalent about the Eucharistic actions, one could surmise from chapter 13 that sharing generously with someone whom you know will betray you is within the essence of the sacrament itself.

    What was good enough for Himself is good enough for me. And anyway, every time I eat the bread and drink the wine at communion, I’ve no notion that I do it only with those present. I do it in the company of the saints in heaven and the saints on earth.

    Sinnners all.

    Isn’t that the point of it all?

  11. Robin says

    As I’ve said, you’re a better man than I am, Kelvin. Rowan Williams’ conduct has filled me so full of horror and disgust that I simply couldn’t go to Communion were he there – the problem being the state of my own soul, because in his presence I would not be in any fit state to acknowledge the Lord.

    I think Rowan Williams is the only human being living who would have this effect on me. I simply don’t have words to express my revulsion from someone who could behave in so insincere, cynical and callous a way without showing any sign of repentance or even regret.

  12. Obviously I wasn’t privy to private conversations between Rowan and Jeffrey John, but I thought it had been reported that the latter (although obviously not happily) had accepted Rowan’s actions as being the price he pays for fufilling the demands of the Job. Surely Rowan wishes the likes of Akinola didn’t exist? I of course think he could be doing far more than he is to bring justice to LGBT people, but do think it sensible to take evangelical threats to reallign and send quota elsewhere seriously. Although it’s perhaps sad and cynical to appraise a Bishop in such “Clinton is better than Bush” terms.


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