The poet at Lambeth Palace

July 15, 2011

When the T-Mobile royal
wedding video
went viral (look-alikes portray the principals and dance down the
aisle), much was made of the impressive stand-in for the Archbishop of
Canterbury. But the genuine article is no less delightful: the real Rowan Williams
might not bust a move while coped and mitred at Westminster Abbey, but his
words dance and sparkle whenever he reaches for his theologian-poet hat.

Playwright David Hare recently
spoke to Williams for the Guardian. It's
an uncommonly interesting interview--due in part to Hare's skillful write-up
but especially to Williams's boldness and good humor. A highlight:

The
archbishop is clearly resigned to the inevitability of being misrepresented
("Did you know the editorial [you wrote recently] would excite the
press?" "I had a shrewd suspicion." "Are you now
immune to it?" "Not entirely, but I'm inured to it"), but on
occasions, I suggest, it happens because he lifts the knife, then fails to
plunge it in. When he observes that economic relations as they are currently
played out threaten people's sense of what life is and what reality means,
surely what he's really saying is that capitalism damages people. To my surprise,
he agrees. Does he therefore think economic relations should be ordered in a
different way? "Yes." So is it fair to say, then, that he's anti-free
market capitalism? "Yes," he says and roars with laughter.
"Don't you feel better for my having said it?"

And:

"You know that
scene in the Woody Allen film where they have an argument in a cinema queue
,
and Marshall McLuhan is standing behind them and
able to interrupt to settle the argument? Woody Allen turns to the camera and
says, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if life were like that?' Well, no Marshall
McLuhan will ever step forward in the queue and say to Richard Dawkins, 'The
archbishop's right.' It's not going to happen."

And:

"Herbert's
very important to me. Herbert's the man. Partly because of the absolute candour
when he says, I'm going to let rip, I'm feeling I can't stand God, I've
had more than enough of Him. OK, let it run, get it out there. And then, just
as the vehicle is careering towards the cliff edge, there's a squeal of brakes.
'Methought
I heard one calling Child!/And I
replied My Lord.'
I love
that ending, because it means, 'Sorry, yes, OK, I'm not feeling any happier,
but there's nowhere else to go.' Herbert is not sweet."

"And you like
that?"

"Non-sweetness? I
do."

Some liberal Anglicans would love to see Williams leave his ecclesial
position. That's a topic for another post, but speaking selfishly as a
non-Anglican, I wouldn't complain if Williams were to spend less of his time
trying to hold together a fragile communion and more of it sharing his sharp
mind and quick wit with the world.