I was charged with writing a bit for the community letter this month. I was pretty pleased with it, so I decided to expand the ideas a little.
In the ancient church, communities called one another "resident aliens" as they wrote to encourage, correct, and share stories. As in, "the Colony of Resident Aliens, God's people sojourning at Corinth, to the Colony at Philippi," that sort of thing. Diogenetes wrote about how even while Christians do obey local laws and follow local customs, they have a different citizenship -- they find their self-identity not in their political circumstances, but in their allegiance to Jesus. Colonies in the Roman world existed as outposts of imperial power and civilization in "barbarious" lands. The appearance of a colony (just as in the Americas) meant that the imperial power was moving in to take ownership, and soon enough would remake the place according to its own will.
There is a certain irony, then, that Christians considered themselves to be colonists for the Kingdom of God in the Roman Empire. These communities understood that Jesus was Lord and Caesar was not. The emperor would find this out soon enough, but in the meantime, converts to Jesus would no longer treat the State or any earthly citizenship as being a meaningful catagory. They would of course pay dearly for this refusal to participate in the imperial cult.
(I could go on, but many of you know where this would go. If you'd like to see me chase it, see the articles under Patriotism: Before the Altar of Caesar on the right sidebar.)
I try to keep these ideas before me, and it helps that in Britain I am a stranger twice over, and I remember this every time I misunderstand an accent or eat a funny meal. Make no mistake, I enjoy the hospitality and friendship of many people, and consider myself to participate fully in the life of the college, but I am a stranger.
I'm not British. But then, in terms of the things that make me me, I'm not really American, either. In the Church of Jesus Christ, and in light of the coming Kingdom, it's simply not a meaningful ontological catagory.
I belong, therefore, in the context of the Church, and the world that God is colonizing. But this affirmation also runs counter to the gospel of modern religion, which has told me that I am an individual, autonomous self, who makes decisions with myself as a primary reference point. That's just not true.
I am baptized into Christ, and a member of the Church catholic. I share this life with the Vine and Branches in the Eucharist, common prayer and hospitality. We do not live together as a community because we have the same hobbies, or because we agree in our theologies down to the last detail. Hell, I'm not even on the same continent! We are a community because God has called us together as such, to bear the life of the Risen Christ together in the world around us. Our choice to love one another - to struggle with that and to learn what it means - is our response to God's gracious call.
Even on the other side of the world, I am supported by the love and care of God's new community, both within and outside of that particular fellowship. I am bound to my friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, by our baptism, shared allegiance to Jesus, and in prayer. This is not mystical and abstract, but mystical and concrete. This reality has lots of faces and voices. They speak in unity a promise from God that I do not stand or fall on my own, and I never will.
Paul's Writing Assignment
2 weeks ago