Dale Appleby

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Weekly Reflections

Who am I? 1 Feb 15

Who am I?

The church is obviously a mixing pot of all the different groups of people who live on the face of the earth. Although mixing pot may not be the best way to describe it. “Mixing pot” implies a kind of confused mess, a bit like the youth group game I heard of once where everyone brought a tin of food with the label removed (back in the days when there were removable labels). All these tins were opened and put into a single pot – baked beans, peaches, peas, beetroot, soup, apricots … and that was supper that night!

But each of us values the things that give us our identity. Perhaps it is our ethnic heritage, perhaps something in our family history, maybe our education, or experiences, or gender, where we live, or where we were born. There are many things that go to make up our identity.


In different contexts some identity markers can be more significant than others. Groups, or the society in which we live, can put more value on some things than others. This may give us high status, or low status, in that society or group.

The society or culture that we are part of may disapprove of some of the identity markers that we value very highly and so try to force us to the edge. Or try to force us to conform to its way of thinking. Much modern theology has tried to adapt the faith to the values that the culture thinks are important. The trouble is that the culture keeps changing its mind.

One of the difficulties with this is that we can feel that we need (or want) to privilege some markers over others. Noel Pearson has suggested a helpful way of looking at the problem. He prefers “layers of identity”. In this way he thinks that the different things about us that define who we are (ethnic background, gender, social status etc) can be held together without one being isolated as the main one.

Paul had a slightly different idea. He thought that all our identity markers were included in, and placed under, Christ (Gal 3.28). “In Christ” is our primary and all encompassing identity. Because of this our other identity markers no longer need to be the things that distinguish us from other people.

And Christ also becomes the permanent challenge to the changing whims of our culture.



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