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The ‘wisdom of the world’ …

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Tuesday 22 January 2013

As it has been a while since the last posting here, I am going to reflect back on some of the events which have happened between then and now, and I am not going to mention the snow.  Quite enough has been said about that already!

Since I last blogged, the primate of the Church of England, Rowan Williams, has stepped down from his role as Archbishop of Canterbury and a new archbishop, Justin Welby, is about to be formally enthroned in this ancient role.  I remember very clearly the day when Rowan Williams visited Bennett  for our Founders’ Day just over two years ago.  We have had a number of senior clergy people and other dignitaries visit the school in the near decade I have been headteacher, and a certain amount of ‘fuss’ and preparation inevitably precedes such a visit.   We are often told about aspects of the planned programme which the distinguished visitor will like and will not like, and adjustments and special arrangements always follow; when the day arrives, there is a degree of tension and anxiety lest any problem arise with the carefully laid plans.  I would have to say that the visit of Rowan Williams was the most straightforward one I have been involved in.  It was made completely clear from the start that he would want as few special arrangements as possible, and that he would be perfectly happy to move informally around the school chatting to as many individual students as he could, and certainly did not want carefully chosen discussion groups or pre-prepared and ‘vetted’ questions.  He was quite relaxed about fielding any questions which our teenagers wanted to put to him.  I know I have mentioned this on this blog before, but these words he spoke in the service itself have stayed with me: he said that amongst all the special designations schools have these days, being a school which specialised in people was the truest mark of a Church school.

Rowan Williams did not always enjoy a good press.  I think in some ways that is because he did not fit what the media expect of a ‘celebrity’. I detected an undertone of almost ridicule amongst some sections of the press whenever they covered his comments, and were always gleeful when they could selectively quote, or misquote, him to provoke further indignation.  Partly also the attitude of the media, and of wider society, to Rowan Williams was conditioned by the increasingly secular tone of our public life, where to take a Christian perspective, particularly expressed in academic terms, is one which is increasingly less well received.  It is useful to remember, as Christians, in this context how our predecessors, the earliest Christians of the New Testament and the early centuries of Christianity, experienced something similar.  Not only did they enrage, scandalise and disgust both the Jews and the wider population of the Roman Empire, but they also knew, as St Paul made clear, that their central teaching seemed incomprehensible and foolish to many, precisely because it turned the wisdom of the world on its head.

In our media dominated age, it is very easy to lose perspective, and get caught up with the idea that what most people think, what political correctness demands  and what the media relentlessly throws at us, must be right, and we are even tempted at times to try to make our faith fit this model.  But we need to be open to the notion that want everyone else seems to think is right may not be, and we need to be prepared to ‘turn the wisdom of the world on its head’ and take a view of some of the issues of our day which to others seems counter-intuitive and illogical.  I will leave readers to identify those issues for themselves, but there are in my view many of them.

I have just finished reading Rowan Williams’ last recommended ‘Lent book’ (a bit early, I know!).  It is ‘Abiding’ by Ben Quash (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Abiding-Archbishop-Canterburys-Lent-Book/dp/1441151117/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1358852943&sr=8-1).  I would add my own humble recommendation to that of Rowan Williams.


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