Tuesday, September 06, 2005


The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has just returned from holiday with an interesting piece on Urbanisation, the Christian Church and the Human Project in this week's Church of England Newspaper. Unfortunately it cuts off the last sentence (unless they have corrected it by the time you read this). Among the issues he raises is the question of spirituality in the urban environment.

"[T]he education of the spirit is inseparably bound to highly practical challenges. We still treat separate zoning as unquestionable; we still design residential areas without visible points of focus, as if they were just an assembly of individual residences; we still struggle to get spiritual health onto the agenda of groups planning and discussing regeneration. We have some way to go.

"We need to rescue ‘spirituality’ from some of the ways in which it has been domesticated, even trivialised, in recent years. A popular and a vague word, it demands – especially for the Christian – an anchorage in some specific convictions about human beings and their possibilities. Without this, it becomes only a code for techniques of making people feel a bit better about themselves; whereas the life of the spirit ought also to make people uncomfortable about themselves and their environment, critical and creative, open to things being different. [my emphasis and links added]

"The image of the City of God makes some sense. To the extent that urban life represents, in the history of human culture, a move beyond the sheer struggle for self-sufficiency, a move towards diversified community and a sharpened sense of the variety of goods (material, intellectual, imaginative) that people can exchange with each other, it is an appropriate metaphor for Christian community."

This is good stuff. But confronted with the squalor and division that has recently been unmasked in New Orleans, it still looks like a rather polite 'progressive establishment' take on things. For a gritty, complementary exposition of the challenges arising from the conflictual side of city life, a crucial issue for any spirituality that takes the disturbance of Jesus seriously, see also Kenneth Leech's talk on Ministry, Marginality and Mammon. For those who may not know, UNLEASH is a churches' homeless action network operating across London.

[The skyline depicted is New York's, from where Rowan Williams began to sift ideas for his superb meditation, Writing in the Dust, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. He was a block or two away when the planes struck.]

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