A few years ago when I visited Cambodia with a team from church, I read Mike Higton’s excellent but demanding little book called ‘Difficult Gospel – the theology of Rowan Williams’. It really is full of profound insights and commentary and hightly recommended. I re-read a bit of it today (pg. 17-18) and share it here – wonderful stuff:
“We are all of us precarious creatures. We live in environments we cannot control, and are hedged about by limits we cannot overcome. We face frustrations, we face competition for scarce resources, and we are jostled in a confined space by the egos of others
There is only limited difference that we can make, and we have only a limited control over even that difference; our actions are inevitably shaped by what others have done to us, and they mix uncontrollably with the actions of others and the unpredictable resistances of our environment, and they escape us.
Our unavoidable dependence on and involvement with others is distorted by their selfishness, and the inevitable dependence of others on us and their involvement with us is distorted by ours. And in the midst of all this, we constantly invent ways of pretending that all of this is not true, or of refusing the responsibility with which it leaves us.
We inherit and invent endless ways to deny our finitude. We ruffle our feathers to make ourselves big enough to scare the world; or we try to move the world to pity us. We try to force the world to feel its moral obligation towards us, or we try to make ourselves so small the world will not notice us.
We pretend that we can shape the world to our will, or we despair and assume that we make no difference at all, and that we are therefore not responsible. We are finite, we are mortal, we are weak – and in the absence of any sure foundation, these truths are too bitter for us, and we hide them behind layers and layers of fantasy and illusion.
We try to persuade ourselves that there is some territory in the world, or some core to our selves, in which we alone are in control, in which we alone get to define what is valuable. We scratch away at the world to produce some space in it that is definitively ours, that we can defend against all comers – knowing that, deliberately or inadvertently, imperceptibly or violently, others would colonize it if they could.
‘The Gospel’, says Williams, ‘frees us from fear and fantasy… it is the great enemy of self-indulgent fantasy.’ The Gospel is the message that we are held in a loving regard which we cannot coerce or fight off, and which has no shadow of selfishness about it – no shadow of our being so-opted into someone else’s strategies, somebody else’s fantasy. And so it is the message that we are set free to see and accept our finitude, our limitation, our mortality, and to surrender that limited, mortality to the love which upholds us.
Because the Gospel assures us that we are held by a love which invites us to truly be ourselves, we discover that we do not need to carve out, fence round, and defend any other kind of space in the world; we do not need to throw up walls to keep out the barbarians. . . . . learning to hear the Gospel calls for a readiness to be ‘questioned, judged, stripped naked and left speechless’. By asking us to forget that we ‘have a self to be shielded, reinforced, consoled and lied to’, it calls us to let that old self die.”