Saturday, November 29, 2008

Living life in the diaspora

A diaspora is a scattered people. The word has been commonly used of the Jewish people who for centuries have been a minority group in nations around the world. In most European countries, the USA, Australia and even New Zealand, Jews live and work, often participating as full citizens of their host nations. The explosion over the last century of global migration has meant that Jews are no longer unique in being a diaspora. Now Europeans, Africans, Asians, Indians, and Pacific Islanders are found throughout world in nations in which they are resident aliens. However much a first generation migrant to a new country tries to assimilate and adapt, she will always be aware of difference. There will be cultural and social norms in their new country that just dont come naturally; stories, beliefs and attitudes that are integral to the host nation but that are foreign to her, and vice versa.

But with each generation those distinctives must be held tightly or the host culture will eventually absorb its immigrants. Many migrant communities hold tightly to their identity and often get criticised for failing to adjust to their new country. In cities throughout the world you will find communities of ethnic minorities that are attempting to maintain their ethnic identity without any change at all. Who can blame them? If they dont they will be completely absorbed in a couple of generations and they will have lost their identity. The middle ground between absorbtion and stuborn refusal to change is a hard place to live. Identity is easy to maintain when you refuse to accommodate yourself to your new country. As soon as you start to make accommodations for your host's culture you are constantly having to draw lines around which parts of your ethnic identity need to be maintained and which can be adjusted to context.

Living in this middle ground, as a distinctive minority who yet engage their host culture, is the task of the church. When we fail to draw those lines well we end up with the crusades, or the inquisition, or George Bush jnr. These failures are the result of absorbtion, a failure to maintain our distinctive identity. But where accommodation is not made at all the church becomes an exclusive ghetto unable to fulfill her mission to bring God's peace, reconciliation, and love to the world.

The task of the church is to maintain our identity and connect with the country in which we are resident aliens. The task of theology is to draw lines in some places and enable accommodation in others. This is done by reading the Bible carefully and respectfully, aware that it, and we, are in a strange land.

1 comment:

  1. It is a fine balance. The book The Reformers and Their Stepchildren examined this as well. The untold story of the Reformation is the constant action/reaction between the reformers and the "stepchildren", each side moving to more extremes in order to distance itself from the other.

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