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A Prayer For This Web Site
Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices; Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"For those who Influence Public Opinion,"
Book of Common Prayer, page 827

In our church, neither a person's gender nor their sexual orientation matter; what does matter is how they serve Jesus Christ as Lord.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Our Life and Death is With Our Neighbour

Originally posted on 22 August '06 in Theology and the Spirit.

Note to readers:
A guest commentary today from Not Too Much a blog presented by James and Brian, a gay Anglican Christian couple in Canberra, Australia. This blog entry discusses a series of talks given by Rowan Williams entitled "Silence and Honey Cakes; the Wisdom of the Desert". I hope you will enjoy reading it.


I've been studying Rowan Williams' Silence and honey cakes: the wisdom of the desert, a series of talks that draws on the wisdom of the desert fathers and mothers. Perhaps one reason why people are reluctant to be witnesses to the gospel is a perception that they should not impose themselves and their views on others. In Silence and honey cakes, Williams shows that this non-imposing attitude is precisely what is needed to win others to Christ, which is central to our own relationship with Christ.

Indeed, awareness of our fallibility and imperfection is indispensable to getting alongside our neighbours. If church people feel tentative about asserting their beliefs, that is exactly the right attitude to carry into a winning relationship with the neighbour, an attitude of journeying together. Failure will not come from a lack of dogmatism, but it will come if we fail to listen, be with and attend to the neighbour as she or he is.

Here are a few extracts from the first of Williams' talks in his book, called "Life, death and neighbours." Williams quotes a saying of St. Anthony, "Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we win our brother, we win God. If we cause our brother to stumble, we have sinned against Christ."

(Here to 'win' is not about succeeding so that other people lose, but about succeeding in connecting others with life-giving reality.)
Living in the Christian way with the neighbour, so that the neighbour is 'won' -- that is converted, brought into saving relationship with Jesus Christ -- involves my 'death'. I must die to myself, a self understood as a solid possessor of virtues and gifts, entitled to pronounce on the neighbour's spiritual condition. My own awareness of my failure and weakness is indispensable to my communicating the gospel to my neighbour. I put the neighbour in touch with God by a particular kind of detachment from him or her. And, the desert writers insist, this is absolutely basic to our growth in the life of grace. . . .

Everything begins with this vision and hope of putting the neighbour in touch with God in Christ. On this the rest of our Christian life depends, and it entails facing the death of a particular kind of picture of myself. If I fail to put someone in touch with God, I face another sort of death, the death of my relation with Christ, because failing to win the neighbour is to stand in the way of Christ, to block Christ's urgent will to communicate with all. ...

The desert monastics are keenly interested in diagnosing what sort of things get in the way here, what things count as blocking someone else's relation with Christ. They seem very well aware that one of the great temptations of religious living is the urge to intrude between God and other people. We love to think that we know more of God than others; we find it comfortable and comforting to try and control the access of others to God. Jesus himself speaks bluntly about this when he describes the religious enthusiasts of his day as shutting the door of the kingdom in the face of others: 'You do not enter yourselves, and when others try to enter you stop them.' (Matthew 20: 13) ...

To assume the right to judge, or to assume that you have arrived at a settled spiritual maturity which entitles you to prescribe confidently at a distance or above the sickness is in fact to leave them without the therapy that they need to their souls; it is to cut them off from God, to leave them in their spiritual slavery -- while reinforcing your own slavery. Neither you nor they have access to life. You have shut up heaven for others and for yourself. But the plain acknowledgement of your solidarity in need and failure opens the door: it shows that it's possible to live in the truth and to go forward in hope. It is in such a moment that God gives himself through you, and you become by God's gift a means of connecting another with God. You have done the job you are created to do...

The church is a community that exists because something has happened which makes the entire process of self-justification irrelevant. God's truth and God's mercy have appeared in concrete form in Jesus and, in his death and resurrection, have worked the transformation that only God can perform and told us what only God can tell us: that he has already dealt with the dreaded consequences of our failure, so that we need not labour anxiously to save our souls and put ourselves right with God. The church's aim is to be to be a community that demonstrates this decisive transformation as really experienceable. One of the chief sources of the anxiety from which the gospel delivers us is the need to protect my picture of myself as right and good So one of the most obvious characteristics of the church ought to be a willingness to abandon anything like competitive virtue (or competitive suffering or competitive victimage, competitive tolerance or competitive intolerance or whatever). The church appoints to the all-sufficiency of Christ when it is full of people whose concern is not to separate others from the hope of reconciliation and life by their fears and obsessions. A healthy church is one in which we seek to stay connected with God by seeking to connect others with God; one in which we win God by converting one another, and we convert one another by our truthful awareness of frailty. A church that is living in such a way is the only church that will have anything different to say to the world ...


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