Friday, April 22, 2011

Power Constantly Needs to Be Reminded of What It’s for.

Archbishop Rowan Williams

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the Anglican Church, made a striking sermon. Perhaps like no other modern thinker Williams is able to formulate challenging ideas in such a way that abstract issues of spirituality and ethical behaviour suddenly link to the practical matters of everyday life or to current affiairs.

This is what he said, in part in yesterday's Thought for the Day devoted ostensibly to the Royal Maundy, a curious survival of the medieval tradition when the British monarch distributes 'maundy money' to the poor on the Thursday before Good Friday:

The one big thing that Christianity had brought into the world of human imagination... was – and is – the truth that power constantly needs to be reminded of what it’s for. Power exists, in the Church or the state or anywhere else, so that ordinary people may be treasured and looked after, especially those who don’t have the resources to look after themselves. The Bible is crystal clear that this is the standard by which the gospel of Jesus judges the powerful of this world.
Which makes you wonder…What about having a new law that made all cabinet members and leaders of political parties, editors of national papers and the hundred most successful financiers in the UK, spend a couple of hours every year serving dinners in a primary school on a council estate? Or cleaning bathrooms in a residential home? Walking around the streets of a busy town at night as a street pastor, ready to pick up and absorb something of the chaos and human mess you’ll find there especially among young people?
I’ve no doubt some of our public figures do this sort of thing privately, and good for them. But maybe having to do it, to do it in public and not to be able to make any sort of capital out of it because they had no choice - ? It might do two things, reminding our leaders of what the needs really are at grass roots level, so that those needs can never again be just remote statistics; and reminding the rest of us what politics and government are really for.
Rowan Williams is known to have a life-long interest in Russian culture and ideas. His student thesis was on the Russian religious thinker Vladimir Lossky. He published several books on the subject, including Lost Icons (Amazon) and, most recently, Dostoyevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction (on Amazon).

Read the BBC Russian service interview with Rowan Williams and their review of Dostoyevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction (both in Russian).

Listen to Williams' Thought for the Day in full:

Photo of Rowan Williams: Brian

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