Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Christian Identity

When I was writing my thesis for my undergraduate degree, I wrote and read a lot about LGBT identities. How would Christ, in becoming human, take on his identities? He was a Jewish male living in an occupied country and was not of the political, economic or religious elites. For some feminist writers, a male Christ is a fundamental roadblock to relationships because he was, well, male. As a male, he enjoyed male privilege, so how could he truly understand the problems facing women? It's a topic that feminist theologians have been working with, and faithful women will probably be working with the problem for a long time.

Since the gospels don't present us with a straight Jesus (I'm fairly certain the Spirit had something to do with that), gay theologians can play around with Jesus' sexuality and overcome those roadblocks. It was fun and fascinating to read of how theologians would wrestle with Jesus' sexuality, but I really think that work can be missing the point.

Instead of looking to Christ's identity to see our own reflected, why are we not as quick to see Christ's identity reflected in our own?

As God Incarnate, Christ had to straddle the divine and human, somehow united both in his person. How do we do that? How do we reflect his human identity? In baptism when we are united with him, how do we reflect his divinity?

A sermon by Br. Mark Brown, SSJE tackled Christian identity:

Personal identity can often seem in flux, and yet as Christians we have a place to come back to. We’re called back to a sense of being grounded in Christ’s own being. How we understand, how we appropriate our personal identity in Christ is a highly individual thing. We may grow in this understanding over time, in incremental ways. It may come to us as an occasional insight in moments of spiritual clarity. We may experience considerable confusion as we navigate between our various identities. And yet the center is Christ himself.

Now there’s nothing wrong with any of our particular identities, whether they be national or professional or relational or whatever. They are perfectly natural. The problem with these identities is 1) they are unstable and 2) they are too small. Even national identities are unstable and change over time. What it means to be American today is not what it meant fifty years ago (tell that to the Tea Party). What it means to be English is not what it meant fifty years ago, let alone what it may have meant to St. Bede. Professional and relational identities are notoriously unstable, they are shifting sands.

It is only Christ himself who can give us an identity large enough. Only Christ can bestow upon us an identity expansive enough for the fullness of our humanity. And so he calls us to something new, something large. Something new and always renewing; something large and always expanding. Only that which is newest and most expansive is good enough for the Kingdom. And so, what he calls us to is his own being, his own essence. Into his marvelous light, his own self. (Link to full sermon)

I encourage you to read the sermon. It's good, and it's right on. All of our identities are unstable (which was a huge part of my undergraduate thesis), so all the human identities that Christ took on are also unstable too. The only identity that really matters and the only identity that is unchangeable is the one given in baptism. We are one in Christ Jesus, and all the rest, at the end, don't really matter.

If we cling too tightly to our identities, demanding that they be part of the 'diversity' of God, then we are in danger of idolatry. It is very easy to demand that God be in our own image. That said, we are all called to use our whole selves, including these identities, for the service and glory of God.