In the newest In Conversation: Rowan Williams and Greg Garrett (Church Publishing, May), writer Greg Garrett, professor of English at Baylor University and a theologian in residence at the American Cathedral in Paris, discusses faith, politics, art, writing, and culture with Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury.
What was it like to have your conversations with Rowan Williams made into a book?
Rowan and I were pen pals for a couple of years before meeting face to face in 2008. On that occasion, we talked about literature, life, writing, and our families. We never talked about his day job, which of course was archbishop of Canterbury. I knew that my engagement with him was not about that. Our friendship grew out of that first conversation, [and] I think of this book as a “greatest hits” album. We were able to come back to things that matter to us the most.
What are some recurring themes and how did they come about?
When I think about Rowan, I think about someone who is phenomenally gifted as a thinker, who is passionately interested in a number of things. We are both omnivorous in interest, and we care about a lot of different topics that are woven together. The central thing is that we are people of faith, and faith cannot be separated from the other things we’re passionate about: politics, consumption of literature, culture, spiritual practice, and family life. We came back to questions about who we are, what we’re supposed to be doing, who God is, and how we learn from each other.
How do you think social media has changed conversation?
Much of what happens on social media creates echo chambers. I think social media has been divisive, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. One of the really conscious decisions I made about my Facebook page is to have people from across the political, religious, and cultural spectrum. I set up ground rules for conversation. ”Everybody in this conversation matters and this is going to be a safe place. Please do not denigrate anybody based on who they are.” And if they disagree, I ask that they do it with love.
What is the most important thing you want readers to learn from this book?
That conversation is a central part of what it means to be human. Rowan and I have many things in common, but we are also crazy different. He grew up in Wales, he is the baron of Oystermouth, he sits in the House of Lords. I grew up in a lower-middle-class family of farmers, ranchers, and oil field workers. Yet we find points of connection through conversation, through listening and valuing the other person. This is a book of conversation about conversation that can spark conversation.
Today, 2:30–3:30 p.m. Greg Garrett will sign at the New Title Showcase (1057).