Last November, N.T. Wright spoke at a Laity Lodge retreat. I had the privilege to conduct an extensive interview with him on a wide variety of issues. Excerpts from this interview are now available at The High Calling of Our Daily Work, a website affiliated with Laity Lodge. I’ll put up the first part of this interview here. You can click on the link at the bottom to finish reading at The High Calling.org. (Many thanks to my colleague, Marcus Goodyear, for his outstanding editing of this interview.)
What does it look like to be “Simply Christian” outside the professional church from 9 to 5?
It looks like a million different things. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in eyes and lovely in limbs, not His.” In a sense, when you become a Christian, you become your genuine self. You’re called into that fresh selfhood. God made each of us to be really quite different and to reflect in a million little glittering diamonds that sense of the differentness of Jesus. Jesus looks like one way in this person and another way in that person. Ordinary people develop skills and talents which are peculiar to them. Then they bring those gifts to the church—gifts of art, gifts of leadership, gifts of craft, gifts of service of all sorts. You will see a rich variety develop.
Just as an interesting aside, our local culture in the north of England is a working-class culture. For generations and generations, everyone has lived in these little row houses like in the mining or steel communities. At the end of the village, there is one big house, which is where the owner lives. He tells everybody what to do, and they do it. He pays them, and they go and have a beer. That’s it. They don’t have any decisions to make except which pub to visit at the end of the day. That is still how a lot of people approach the church. We don’t expect to think. We don’t expect to make decisions. That’s what the Vicar is for. We expect the clergy to tell us what to do, and we don’t want to think for ourselves. I want to say, “No, you’ve all got to be individuals and do your own thing.” Actually, I think that’s part of the Gospel.
How do Christians glorify God in their daily work or does our work have some other, more nuanced, purpose?
There are all sorts of different jobs. George Herbert’s famous hymn, “Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, makes that and the action fine.” It’s a very important principle of Christian service. Now, it’s much easier, no doubt, to think of yourself as doing important Christian work if you’re preparing sermons or being chief in a music band in church or whatever. But actually, the guy who sweeps the step is doing just as much good as you are, maybe more. I am delighted when I go to a church and see people doing mundane things with a sense of pride, because they’re doing them for the love of God and the body of Christ. I love those people. Nobody knows who they are; nobody knows their names. As a bishop, I try to go around and thank them because I can see they’re doing a good job. Of course, we’d all like to be the architect who builds the cathedral or the composer who writes the symphony or whatever. But most of the time, we do what needs to be done. Christ shines out of the way we work, not so much what we do, but how we do it.
How does one’s work fit into the overlap of Heaven and earth?
If it is true that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then each Christian is a place where Heaven and earth overlap. C. S. Lewis said, “Next to the blessed sacrament, your Christian neighbor is the holiest object ever presented to your senses.” In Christians, the true Christ should be truly present. From that point of view, what you do as a Christian should embody that overlap of Heaven and earth. But we often think of Heaven in such grandiose terms, often platonic terms, and we just see that Heaven and earth are meant to go together. They were put together in the first place in Genesis 1 in the garden.
For the rest of this interview with Bishop Wright, click here.