Does it matter who we are?
One of my favourite poems is ‘Strong in the Rain’ by Japanese poet Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933). The translation of the poem I like describes the life of a man who follows a distinctive path of simplicity and service. It includes these lines:
“If there is a sick child in the east, he goes there to nurse the child.
If there’s a tired mother in the west he goes to her and carries her sheaves.
If someone is near death in the south he goes and says, ‘Don’t be afraid’.
If there’s strife and lawsuits in the north he demands that the people put an end to their pettiness.”
In reading about this exemplary life we may be surprised (and then likely unsurprised upon further thought) when the poet says:
“Everybody calls him ‘Blockhead’.
No one sings his praises or takes him to heart.”
In a wonderful twist the poem ends with the line:
“That is the sort of person I want to be.”
What I take from this poem is that the person described is being authentically himself– living his life’s purpose despite what his community, who clearly have different values and priorities, thinks.
At time, we can feel discouraged expressing our identity and purpose when the wider world thinks it’s odd or doesn’t understand who we are and what we have to offer.
I suspect that for some time now Anglicans have felt inclined to downplay our particular identity and purpose. In recent times, as the idea of Christian denominations has fallen out of favour and we have been in decline we have sought to be as generic as possible. There may even be times when we think, “Who cares about being Anglican? Just be Christian!”
This idea, however, is deeply naïve. What it means to be Christian in any context emerges from how people collectively understand scripture, history, tradition and many other things.
Imagine if someone said, “Forget your personal identity: just be a human.” Do I then deny everything that makes me a particular kind of person – my experiences, my history, my values, the things I’ve learnt, my relationships, my scars, my failings, my successes? It’s all these things, among others, that make a person who they are – that make them unique and wonderful.
Imagine a world without different kinds of Christians? We have much to learn from the different perspectives that Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Quakers, Pentecostals and every other denomination bring. Likewise, they also have great stuff to learn from us.
Maybe for too long we have tried to hide who we are as an Anglican Church and in the process forget about our unique identity and purpose?
What is uniquely valuable about the Anglican Church is not going to be expressed by hiding who we are just because we are worried that other people may call us “blockheads”, or something worse.
I think it’s time for us to recapture our Anglican identity and purpose. To do the work of remembering. To put ourselves back together, so that we might embrace our identity –warts and all – and play our part in the world authentically. To live out the good stuff in our rich and diverse tradition and to celebrate what it means to be Anglican. The world needs what we have to offer, and God is calling us to live out our unique identity and purpose.
So where can we start? Well, I think there are some questions that we each need to ponder, such as:
- What makes the Anglican Church different to other denominations?
- What is the Anglican way?
- What do Anglicans have to offer?
- How might we express what it means to be Anglican, including in the wider community?
If we can answer some of these questions, or at least consider them, we may well be on our way to more courageously embracing and expressing our unique identity and purpose.