Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Conversion of St. Paul

There are times when I intensely dislike the Apostle Paul -- his wordiness, his tendency toward braggadocio, his scoldy schoolmaster tone. I think, if I met this guy at a church conference, I would do whatever it took to get away from him. I suspect that, up close and personal, he was what a friend of mine calls "one of the high-eyebrow people" -- intense to the point of creepiness; a little whoo-hoo. I'm disappointed by what I read as his concessions to the mores of the dominant culture that seem to go against his own vision of the Reign of God.

On the other hand, I sometimes feel sorry for him. It turns out that a lot of Scripture that's been attributed to him -- a lot of the misogynistic stuff that Paul-haters like to quote in order to prove what a jerk he was -- probably wasn't written by him at all. I think he gets quoted out of context; I think he was probably much more socially radical than what he gets credit for. Evidently he lived with a fairly serious physical or emotional problem that caused him anguish.

Sometimes I admire Paul. I admire his grasp on the concept of God's grace, and his chutzpah in arguing for full inclusion of Gentile Christians in the nascent Christian community. I admire his relationships with female leaders in the Christian community; revolutionary stuff for a former Pharisee. I admire his rhetorical skill, as when he addressed the Athenians.

And sometimes, when I think about the things that annoy me about Paul, it occurs to me that many of them are the same things that annoy me about...me.

Today's the day to think about Paul -- another forgiven sinner-saint, saved by the grace of God, called to proclaim the Good News, empowered to be a minister of reconciliation: As we celebrate his conversion, we pray that we may follow his example and be witnesses to the truth in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

"The Conversion of St. Paul," Lucas Cranach the Younger Posted by Picasa

2 comments:

Tom in Ontario said...

I think a lot of the things that annoy me about St. Paul are the kinds of things that sometimes annoy me about Luther. I think they both shoot from the hip at times.

The trouble with both of them is that they never got down to formulating a systematic theology. All we get from Paul are letters. They're letters that address particular situations, particular communities, and from them we have to try to piece together his theology.

I think it's the same with any pastor. Someone might read the sermons I write for the particular community I serve and they wouldn't have the same impact in their community. I might preach differently for their community. Underneath it all I would hope one will find the thread of the gospel, of grace, the thing that would be in common through them.

Paul wrote some awesome things about grace, about reconciliation, about love, about unity, about freedom. The other stuff is in the canon too, and we have to deal with it in some way or another, but the thread of the gospel holds it all together.

SkittishKat said...

From a Lutheran of another variety(same boiler plate disclaimer). {Ponder: Is agreeing with an ELCA a sin?}
I get the same sense from Paul, he can be a trifle irritating and dismissive especially when he's discussing the 'pillars of the faith'in Jerusalem. Do I get a whiff of jealousy on the air?
On a lighter note, enjoy your blogspot. I'm also an active church member and often wonder if the establishment 'gets' what the church is.
Stop by by blogspot sometime.
My latest scribble is on fellowship.
I have you and several of your commentors bookmarked.
Skittishkat