Sunday, 3 October 2010

Rowan Williams on the bittersweet gifts of the job

So for now a final quote from Rowan Williams in Silence and Honey Cakes. This is his answer to the penultimate question posed to him when he gave the lectures almost 10 years ago in Australia. As I read it I wondered how he would answer it now and thought of the continued pain of being in the role of leader while being drawn to contemplation. I thought also of the easy attacks on him by the press over recent years and how he tries in a very real way to stay true to himself.

Reading what he writes here also surprisingly made me think of my father - a little incoherently but in my head in hangs together - about his role as teacher - the pupils at school called him "Goofy" - and also his role as local politician and leader. Being all over the local paper every week. You make decisions in the spotlight of debate but also you just get on and live your life. He kept on keeping on, he didn't give up in opposition or in power. He often said that chairing the Labour group meetings on the council while being in power was more difficult than the full council meeting. Internal opposition and consensus building is harder than facing the supposed "real" opposition.

Two of the chapters of Williams book on the wisdom of the desert are called "fleeing" and "staying" - so do we stay with our role accepting it will not always be understood by others or do we flee? I also asked myself what did I leave to be in the role I am now and coming to any kind of concise and self-aware answers like Williams does may take me considerably more time than the week's holiday I have left.

What were you leaving when you became a bishop?

"All sorts of things: peace and quiet for instance! On one level, I felt I was leaving behind a sense of innocence. not that the academic world is all that innocent, but as a bishop you have to make decisions that need to be clear and can be hard or hurtful. You are a public person in a way that means you will be misunderstood and you can't explain yourself; if you try, you are into teh heavy burden of self-justification with a vengeance. Put bluntly, I think I was being asked to leave behind an environment where I could feel more pleased with myself than bishops normally can. That is one of the bittersweet gifts of this job, which you must get used to. But of course it's true for anyone in various ways. The gospel may lead you into a role where you can have a life in other people's fantasies and you can't do anything about it. It can hurt and feel imprisoning, yet this is part of the price you pay for the reality you are trying to minister or mediate as a pastor. Perhaps i was being pushed into another level of understanding my priesthood in becoming a bishop - even more in becoming an archbishop." p.115