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Hallo again to all.

In his most recent book, Why Study the Past? The Quest for the Historical Church, Archbishop Rowan Williams writes: 'It is noteworthy that the earliest martyr narratives, usually letters from one local church to another, regularly begin with the formula "The ekklesia of God living as resident aliens in X to the ekklesia of God living as resident aliens in Y"'. Resident aliens on the move

In the first centuries of the Church, Christians identified themselves with what they were not: subjects whose first loyalty was not to the emperor, but rather to a King in another country, 'distinguished by no special ethnic costume or alien language but by their allegiance and their consequent behaviour, at home everywhere and nowhere'.

On this Trinity Sunday we find ourselves longing a clearer sense of being amongst a company of displaced persons throughout the world, called Christians. So often in these days it seems we draw lines and hunt shibboleths to determine just what sort of resident alien another is. We have our own sorts of means tests, it seems, to develop our own taxonomy for determining just which Christians we want to be alien with. And being alien is hard work, when much of Christianity -- at least in the developed world -- seems to be about fitting in, achieving worldly success (as a sign of God's favour), and sharing in all the delights of this world.

It is easier to be a resident alien, of course, when one is part of a group fighting against the world. A young upstart organisation rather than an established one is more likely to find itself outside. In a post-Constantine church, structures, hierarchies, rules, boundaries — things imaged rather than unimaged, if you will — edge out the untidy and ambiguous; language and costume become codified; and those in and around the edges become the establishment. Much is lost when we lose our sense of 'otherness', which surely most of us in developed countries misplaced long ago.

As the church in the Western world becomes more of a marginalised organisation (and whether this is good or bad thing is for another letter), we Christians may once again have the chance to be more obviously resident aliens in a society defined by values that are not ours. Regaining a sense of our true homeland — and with the sure conviction that no matter how different the views we hold on aspects of our faith, we all of us are companions and pilgrims journeying to the same place — might help heal the divisions that have grown up amongst us.

See you next week.

Cynthia's signature
Brian's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 22 May 2005

A thin blue line
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