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The question, “Where are you from?” is a loaded one. If I get asked where I’m from when my spouse is sitting next to me, she jumps up and says, “She’s from South Africa!” 

The place where I was born and where my parents lived for ten years is one of the most interesting things about me, says my spouse. 

If I get asked where I’m from when I’m on my own, I will often say, “from Calgary”, the place where I grew up. 

And, if someone from North Van asks if I’m from around here, I’ll say, “In a way, yes.” 

I’ll go on to talk about my auntie on Bowen Island who sponsored my family when we came to Canada in 1991. I’ll talk about how returning to live on the West Coast 30-odd years later has, in a way, been like coming home. 

The question “Where are you from?” is not always a welcome one. Sometimes it’s used to confirm an unconscious bias. Ssonia and Kev, two Asian-Canadian social media influencers, had this to say on Instagram about the question: “Where are you from?”

“As an Asian Canadian, ‘Where are you from?’ can be a complicated question” they say.

It’s not that I’m confused - Kev and I have lived in Canada our whole lives (besides a short stint in the US for school). The question is what the person really wants to know and why. If it’s a friend who is asking, my ethnicity is a way to connect and know me better. If it’s a stranger, it’s a way to categorize me within the context of their stereotypes. My parents are immigrants from Hong Kong and Kev’s parents were born in Malaysia. This is what most people want to know and that’s fine. These are facts. But the reality is our parents are our only ties to our ancestral countries, whereas our language, culture and lifestyle are decidedly western. I’m proud of my Chinese heritage and I’m comfortable with my dual cultural identity. I consider it something to be celebrated.

The question “Where are you from?” is a loaded one. In the gospel reading from this morning, Jesus returns home. And, even though he’s home, everyone around him seems to have their own idea of where he’s actually from. What follows is  basically the biblical version of, “Does he even go here?”

Some are saying he’s fresh from the psych ward—using that age-old tactic of calling someone “crazy” in order to dismiss or delegitimize them. Others are saying he’s from the devil! Calling the healing ministry that Jesus has been doing an act of Satan, as opposed to one from God. Then, Jesus’ mother and brothers show up.

“He’s with us!” they say, making the ultimate claim on where Jesus is from.

Unsurprisingly for Jesus, he rejects all of the claims made about his origins—even the one from his immediate family!

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asks.

Then, pointing to the disciples gathered around him—men, women, and children of many different origins—he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother!”

Jesus isn’t from the psych ward—though that’s a place he probably hung out pretty regularly. Jesus isn’t from the devil—though talking with evil spirits and convincing them to move along was something he was familiar with. Jesus isn’t even from his own family—though he was born of a human mother and lived and played and grew up with human siblings. Where, then, is Jesus from? 

It might seem like a straightforward question; in fact, it’s one that the Church has wrestled with for centuries. Take, for example, the collection of creeds that we say throughout the year here at St Clement’s. A creed is a statement of faith, an attempt to say as best as we can where this Jesus we believe in is from and why it is we follow his teachings. 

In the old days, creeds were the primary means for ‘handing down the faith’, of reminding one another and the next generation where our beliefs come from. Funny story, one of the reasons we have creeds is because there was a time when the priest used to say the Eucharistic prayer, the prayer over the wine and the bread, in an inaudible voice as though it were some kind of secret between the priest and God! As a result, the people in the pews needed some way of learning, reciting, and passing on the tenets of their faith! And so, we have creeds. 

It’s in these statements of faith that we find some of the most ancient debates about Jesus’ origins. Fair warning: this is about to get real nerdy, but I promise there’s a point! 

In 1978, at a meeting of the Lambeth Conference—where all of the bishops of the Anglican Communion gather—there was a statement published about something called: the filioque clause (say that three times fast). In a nutshell, the debate was about a line in one of our creeds that talks about where the persons of the Trinity are from—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It says in one of our creeds that the Son is from the Father, and the Holy Spirit is from the Father, with the implication that the Father is the origin point in the Trinity from which the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed. You can imagine how all kinds of debates stem from this. When you have a religion that is based on having God the Father as primary, it makes changing things around gender and all sorts of other problematic hierarchies really difficult to do. 

So, at this conference in 1978, the bishops of the world talked about whether they should keep a clause that some churches have, which says that the Holy Spirit ‘comes from’ not only the Father, but from the Son, also. The idea being that there is a much more egalitarian relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If you want to know where the Anglican Church of Canada landed, you can look up the Nicene Creed sometime in the green book in the pews. Not now—because you’re too focused on this incredibly interesting sermon!

I promised you a point to all this. Here it is: the question of where Jesus is from—his origins, who his mother and his brothers and his sisters are, his humanity and his divinity—these are questions that have been alive in the church for a long, long time. At this very moment, there is a war going on, on the other side of the world, and for many, that war revolves around the question of where Jesus is from. Is he Palestinian? Is he Jewish? Please God let there be a way for him to be both. 

Since we are made in the image of God, I wonder if the question “where are you from?” is tricky for us to answer sometimes, too? It was a point of pride for my grandmother to say that my family is descendants of Captain Cook, the great English explorer who “discovered” parts of Canada. When I returned to BC 7 years ago, I learned that “discovering Canada” meant displacing people from their homes, displacing entire nations from where they were from and paving the way for British imperialism and colonialism. Suddenly, where I was from became a whole lot more complicated. It’s not that I look on my heritage with shame—shame isn’t all that motivating, to be honest—but I do look on it with more curiosity than I used to and a desire to tell the whole truth of where I’m from. 

Another example: if you were to ask me, this being Pride month and all, where I’m from when it comes to the LGBTQ alphabet, I could give you a letter. But, I would also want to tell you that it depends on the context and that there’s a whole lot more to the story than a letter. Maybe that’s something you can relate to, as well?

So, the question I want to send you home with today is this: When someone asks you “Where are you from?”—what does that mean for you? If it feels complicated, or like a question you shouldn’t have to answer, or a question you can't wait to answer, know that you’re in the company of Jesus. Amen.

Works referenced and further reading:

Notes on the Nicene Creed can be found in the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, The Book of Alternative Services (Toronto, ON: 1985), p. 176.

Sarah Coakley, “The Spirit in the Trinity”: Mystical Theology,” a lecture delivered at Vancouver School of Theology, accessed by audio recording.

Coakley writes: “The project of this lecture is a bold one: it argues that the divisive problems over the filioque might never have arisen if the Holy Spirit’s radical equality with the Father and Son had not been already implicitly undermined by the historic, conciliar treatment of the Holy Spirit as ‘third’. But another approach had always stood over against this, one in which a priority given to the Spirit in ecstatic, charismatic or contemplative prayer resisted such subordination of the Spirit, and so cut behind and beyond what would later become an entrenched division between ‘East’ and ‘West’. Extending and enriching her earlier work on this theme in *God, Sexuality and the Self*, Sarah Coakley presses key questions about a distinctive ‘participative’ trinitarianism in the monastic and ascetic traditions of the medieval and early modern periods (both ‘East’ and ‘West’), and about its contemporary ecclesiological and personal significance.”

Ssonia and Kev, “Where are you from,” accessed on Instagram

See Frances Somerville’s meditation on the Apostles’ Creed. Read her biography at the Archives of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster and Provincial Synod of BC and Yukon.