Friday, July 9, 2010

Communities of the Diaspora

In the final volume of his trilogy on Christian theology in a North American contest, Douglas John Hall quotes comments of Rabbi Dow Mamur of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto about Christians and Jews meeting one another:
They often come from the same realization that our society is, alas, no longer dominated by Christianity but by the neo-paganism that goes under the name of secularity. Both Christians and Jews find themselves in the Diaspora; because of their history, Jews are better equipped to live in it.

Not long ago I spent an afternoon with a group of Bishops talking about want it is like to live in the Diaspora. It brought home to me the truth of how much we need each other - not for conversion but for comfort; not for politics but for testimony. This is, indeed, a time for all women and men of good faith to stick together.
While I am not at all sure that our North American societies were dominated by Christian faith, but rather by the ideology of Christendom, I think Rabbi Marmur is right that Christians have a great deal to learn from Jews about living in the Diaspora. In fact, I think that embracing our vocation as communities of the Diaspora is necessary if we are to be faithful. Nostalgia for the time when belonging to a church was normative in American society will do us no good. Even though there are mega-churches with thousands of  worshippers each Sunday, if we are at all honest we know that churches and other religious institutions are no longer as important to society as thy were fifty years ago.

Living in the Diaspora involves hard work, the hard work of thinking about the Christian faith, about ethical decisions, about how our faith shapes our life in society. This is the kind of work that Jews have done for centuries, the work that was necessary if they were to avoid being crushed by Christendom. This is the kind of work that Christians need to do if we are to withstand the temptation of conformity to the world's standards. The Christian faith, like the Jewish faith, is counter-cultural. We are called to stand against the world for the sake of the world, to bear witness in the world to the Good News of God's love for the world. That has been, I believe, the witness of Jewish people for centuries. That is to be our witness now as marginalized communities of the Diaspora.

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