St. Paul's letters
Having looked at this Sunday's readings, I decided it was finally time to confront my ambivalent feelings toward St. Paul. I'm not an expert; I can tell from his letters that Paul was a crucial figure in spreading the word of Jesus and establishing the early church, yet I also know that Paul's writings have been used to justify sexism, misogyny, and homophobia. At times, Paul seems less like an ambassador for Christ, and more like a petty man out to judge and condemn. In light of this, I felt it necessary to crack open a book that had been gathering dust on my bookshelf: Paul Among the People, by Sarah Ruden. In it, Ruden takes an in-depth look at Paul's writings in their original Greek, and analyzes them in the context of the (often bawdy) literary writing of the time to provide a greater understanding of what those words might have meant at the time they were written.
The picture of Paul that emerges from this analysis is one of a man who is very misunderstood and whose words are misrepresented in modern English. I ended up gaining a much greater admiration for Paul's courage as he went from city to city, spreading a message of love. It was a message that was beyond radical in a Greco-Roman society that valued men of status using barbaric expressions of power to exert their dominance over those deemed beneath them.
Today's reading from Acts offers a behind-the-scenes look at Paul's work, and is one of the most significant moments in Christian history: Paul has a vision that inspires him to go to Europe to spread the good news. He does so at great peril, and in fact, just a few verses later, we see Paul and Silas beaten and jailed.
I think about Paul's early evangelism in the context of what it means to be an Episcopalian today. At the 2018 Diocesan Convention this past November, a gathering of clergy and laity adopted a resolution endorsing Bishop Curry's "Way of Love." A key aspect of the Way of Love is evangelism, yet that is a word and a concept that I think makes a lot of us uncomfortable (at least I know that's how it makes me feel). Evangelism is something we mentally reserve for "those Christians," the ones who seem to spend a lot of time shouting, and judging, and condemning, much like I once imagined Paul doing. When we walk out of St. George's, it can be easy to want to keep our faith in our hearts, and out of our mouths, lest we risk offending a secular world or being perceived the wrong way. But if Paul can have the courage in his faith to run off to Europe, risking life and limb, I think that we can at least have the courage to be unapologetically Christian in our daily lives as we do our best to live out Jesus' teachings and values. The Way of Love is powerful, but only if we ensure that it does not become misunderstood and misrepresented in our modern world. I cannot think of better people to spread that message than the people I see every Sunday at St. George's.