“There is a wrong way of staying in the world and a wrong way of fleeing from it. In both cases we are fashioning ourselves according to the world.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
What makes for a good disciple? What makes for a good citizen? In my earlier post, I commented on the nature of the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world. In this post, I want to narrow down the focus and try to describe discipleship that is occurring today, in light of the growth of the EU and its implications as a supra-national organization. I hope to explore the questions I’ve just posed, as well as a third: which identity comes first?
For most of European history, to be a good citizen meant belonging to the church. After Constantine, Christianity structured itself imperially, and eventually the imperium was structured eccelesiologically. To belong to a community and to the emerging nation-states, persons had to declare an allegiance of faith — to Rome, or to otherwise. Throughout the enlightenment and still today, faith has had a shaping role on the European geopolitical landscape (but again, that’s another post).
But today, there is another player on the field. With the rise of the EU, what it means to belong is brought into question. There is freedom of religion, and this is an amazing thing, but with the growth of a European identity, traditional borderlines are breaking down and opening up new spaces to explore identity.
There is the rather philosophical question concerning identity here: what is its origin? Does my family, or language group define me first? As I grow up, do I escape the constraints of these natures or nurtures? Or am I forever condemned to only the first possibilities I ever had? This last question is a red herring, since to be human is to be infinitely possible; we are open to the world, to experience, to change. Little to none of what we are is concrete: we are always in flux.
Finally, to get around to the questions. Discipleship is the process of growing in faith and following more closely after Jesus and the principles of the Kingdom. Nation-states have co-opted these principles throughout history (to the benefit of many, and to the harm of many), but within the structures of the EU, there is a new possibility to explore discipleship. At the heart of the European project is a change that forgiveness is possible. That peace is possible. Let love wins. Christians, disciples, should strive to live out this heart, for we are not merely citizens of a Kingdom that is coming, but we live in the here and now, and we strive to make this a better world, to let the Kingdom come. We need to reach out to both of our identities, and with God’s help, hold them together, so that the world can be a better place.
So, I pray for the EU. I pray for her citizens. I pray for her leaders. I pray for all Christians living and working within her structures. If forgiveness, peace, love and openness can be realized at the heart of the EU, then the Kingdom comes that make closer. And if it is disciples realizing these things, then God comes that much closer to all of us. Or rather, we come that much closer to God, for at the center of God’s heart is perfect forgiveness, perfect peace, and perfect love.