Religious Cult(ure), Pt 3: Romans 3 – 6

The Nature of Righteousness.  

“Someone might argue, ‘If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?’”
Romans 3:7 (NIV)


This is the third and final part of a three-part entry, told intermittently throughout the course of the past year. It refers to a renowned church leader named Frank who ended up committing evil against our community. I recommend reading part one and part two before diving in.


Frank did not contest the charges set out against him – the evidence had piled up so high and so fast, we could imagine him thinking: what was the point? It was strange, seeing the mug shot of our charismatic leader, the favorite of all the kids throughout the years, now plastered on the internet paired with graphic descriptions of his crimes. The experience felt like a personal 9/11 – one of those world-flipping scenarios, but on a much smaller scale. But still, it seemed as though a layer of paint had been stripped on the walls of my childhood, and some ugly varnish was all that was left behind. I knew Frank to be good, and it turned out he was a menacing evil. How do you live in such raucous uncertainty?

The news reports were blunt – a little too much so. It was enough to hear personal accounts from friends and family, recounting what they thought happened in general terms, and now here we had some journalist spelling everything out in clinical language. The evil became palpable in such a vicious way. Suddenly, it felt immediate – the locations were divulged, and the details provided the entire context. The victims, although nameless in identification, were obvious in description. It felt too heavy. Nothing like this was ever remotely imaginable.

There were a handful of victims – I personally knew two. Both remained devout in their faith. Both spoke out openly about the experience. They gave speeches. They spouted their belief in God as a binding factor, something that held them together during the “tough time.”

I didn’t get it.

God does not promise utmost protection for His followers. He warned that he would open Paul up to martyrdom with regards to his actions, and we all saw what happened to Jesus at the height of his ministry. The Bible is clear: Christians will face persecution at a continual pace. We may have eternal safety, but the temporal is not guaranteed.

As Paul says:

“…We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (5:3-4) 

How do you look in the face of such insurmountable evil and determine that, “well, at least there was some good that came out of it”?

With a tremendous amount of faith.

Clobber Me, Pt 2: Romans 1 – 2

The Jew. The Gentile.

(This is the second part of a two-part entry about the Romans “clobber passage.” Check out the first part here)

I ended my entry yesterday with a question. After reading the context around the infamous anti-homosexuality verse in Romans, it became abundantly clear that Paul’s intentions were to push us away from judging others and instead focus on ourselves. Even with that thesis, though, is it still possible that Paul believes homosexuality is a sin?

Of course. Paul most definitely thought it was a sin.

Perhaps it is my narrow-mindedness, but I find it difficult to believe that any individual at the time would have any understanding of homosexuality as we know it today. To Paul – and to everyone at the time – people truly chose homosexual desire. It was born out of a depraved mind and an active rebellion against God. It says it right there in the clobber passage we discussed yesterday: “Men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.” (Romans 1:27a) I have to say, talk to any gay man on the streets of Los Angeles, and ask them if sex with a woman feels natural for them.

You don’t have to go back 2,000 years to see people who misunderstood homosexuality. How about 30 or 40 years instead? According to a Gallup poll taken in 1977, only 13% of individuals believed homosexuals were “born that way,” meaning that the vast majority of the population understood it to be a choice or based on environmental factors. Sure, if you think that there is this wild pack of men, running around and just fooling around for no real reason, then maybe I might take issue with it as well.

Source: http://www.gallup.com/poll/1651/gay-lesbian-rights.aspx

Source: http://www.gallup.com/poll/1651/gay-lesbian-rights.aspx

http://www.gallup.com/poll/1651/gay-lesbian-rights.aspx

http://www.gallup.com/poll/1651/gay-lesbian-rights.aspx

“Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?”
Acts 2:25-26

Here, he refers to an ongoing argument about whether a person must be circumcised in order to be saved. His viewpoint, which is revolutionary at the time, is that the content of a person’s heart matters to God more than something physical, for if someone keeps the Law, but happens to be uncircumcised, why would God hold that against him? It’s almost like Paul is saying, “I think God can see past a silly little ritual and into the hearts of man!”

  • That’s why Christians don’t tell consumers of rare steak that they are going to Hell (Acts 15:20).
  • That’s why divorcees aren’t lambasted in our culture (Matthew 19:9)
  • That’s why churches do not receive punishment for putting up pictures of Jesus everywhere (uh… the Second Commandment).

Because we believe in a God that “gets it.” He understands intent and knows when hearts are set for evil and when they are aimed for good.

So if you are divorced and eating a steak under a portrait of Jesus – and you still believe that two faithful men who are married are going to Hell – then count yourself lucky. Your sin doesn’t seem to count.

Clobber Me, Pt 1: Romans 1 – 2

They. You.

Let’s just dive in, shall we? 

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Romans 1:26-27 (NIV)

I once had this verse shouted at me, or rather near me, from a zealous person to an adjacent gay man. Their disagreement had reached the point of no return.

I am gay.
That’s fine, but you can’t act on it.
But it is love. Love is love.
Not all love is equal. Homosexuality is unnatural. 
It feels natural to me.
God doesn’t want it.
Then why did He make me this way?
And so on…

From bornlikethis.org

  From bornlikethis.org

Once you reach that level, the only thing left to do is pull out the Bible and see what it says. And as you can read above, the Bible seems extraordinarily clear. This is not Leviticus, where we ignore lots and lots of rules. This is not Sodom and Gomorrah, where we can blame inhospitality and rape. This is the freaking New Testament, people. This is what counts (although there are still some laws in this half of the Bible that we, I promise, do not follow).

Paul goes further than merely condemning our sexual immorality. He extends past this passage into a full on rant against society. He goes on to say that they have “every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” These people “are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.” He continues, calling them “gossips, slanderers, God-haters” who are “insolent, arrogant, boastful” with “no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.”

Oof, I would say that Paul is turning into quite the rage monster here, going after every inclination that a man might have. He ends the first chapter of Romans on a dour note, surmising that they “deserve death.”

How then does he continue his 16-chapter sermon?

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself.” (2:1)

Paul performs gotcha journalism at its finest. In the entirety of the first chapter, he uses the pronoun “they” when referring to a group of people that the Romans considered to be extraordinarily dangerous and worthy of judgment. Throughout this section, Paul is setting up the Romans for a tough realization, getting them riled up about all the evil that surrounds them, before laying down the hammer.

You agree with me, right? You think these are depraved individuals and we ought to bring God’s hammer of justice done on them, right?

But as he quickly explains, that was never the point. Paul argues now that the Romans ought to stop judging others and take a hard look in the mirror. When Paul says, “God gave them over to shameful lusts,” he speaks from the perspective of the judgmental Romans, who he then lambasts in the next chapter. He refers to “your stubbornness, your unrepentant heart.” He describes the Romans as self-seeking, followers of evil, rejecters of truth, thieves, adulterers, and idol-worshippers.

It’s all about pronouns.

Chapter 1They are evil. They are despicable. They deserve no mercy. Am I right?
Chapter 2: No, no no. You are judgmental if you say these things. Do you have any excuse?

They v. You.

This is not a passage about homosexuality. This is a passage about followers of Christ judging others, and how abhorrent that is in the eyes of the Lord. When you, as a Christian, use this passage to clobber homosexuals into submission, you become the evil that Paul so clearly despises.

Now, having said all of that, does Paul agree with the standards that he chastises the Romans for having?

In other words… Even though we are called to be non-judgmental, does he still believe that homosexuals sin against God?

That, my friends, is the question for tomorrow.

Foreigners: Acts 27 – 28

Paul on the Sea. A Storm Halts Their Plans. A Shipwreck at Malta. Arrival in Rome.

Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.

Acts 28:1-2 (NIV)

The more I read the Bible, the less politically active I think Christians should be.

That is some major shade to throw in the first sentence of an entry, particularly after my uplifting experience with a highly political Christian in Jimmy Carter. So let me cycle this back and explain my point.

The finale of Acts sees a sharp change in the post-Christ landscape. The Jews in Israel do not seem to be taking this little Christianity movement very seriously and threaten to put Paul to death (by crucifixion or perhaps just boredom from a series of never-ending trials). When Paul admits that he is actually a Roman, they decide to leave well enough alone and just ship him back to his homeland and let Caesar deal with it.

And off they go on a ship, and as you probably could guess, it is not long before they run into some serious issues. The weather takes a rough turn, leaving the ship and its hundreds of travelers at risk. An angel promises Paul that not one life will be spared, and soon, they crash land in the city of Malta. Immediately, the indigenous men and women show favor to the soggy survivors, boarding them for days as Paul performs miracle after miracle. Upon his exit, it appears that the Christians have grown in followers, adding in these once secular inhabitants.

This is a theme in Paul’s travels. Some people open their arms to him, and some shun him, driving him out of town. This is a secondary occurrence of a theme previously discussed in the Bible – inhospitality. We all know that the grievous sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitality (and maybe some man-on-man action). It seems that God, from His time ruling the Jewish people and now with the added Gentiles, does not take too kindly to those who turn a sour face to foreigners.

Why then are conservative Christians overwhelmingly in favor of deporting illegal immigrants?

Donald Trump’s emergence as the Republican frontrunner has brought this conversation to the forefront of our discourse, showcasing a deep split in ideology on how to deal with illegal immigrants. Deport them all, build a wall, and then start to allow legal immigration. Without getting into any sort of discussion on logistics, I find it utterly shocking that so many Christians support this plan, often under the auspice that Mexico is not “sending us their best.”

But when God so clearly begs us to act kindly to our neighbors, to show them unending (yes, unending) hospitality and resource, then where is this disconnect between belief and behavior coming from?

I wish I had an answer, but really, all I can posit is the question. The more I read the Bible, the less I believe that Christians should be so politically active. Because frankly, the core tenets of Christianity are about hearts and minds, not behavior and action. And if you are to love your neighbor unconditionally, to love God unconditionally, and “not worry about tomorrow,” then where is the political zealousness coming from exactly?

Again, I don’t know.

Yeah, tomorrow is Romans 1 – 2. Strap in folks. Next stop, clobber passage – the final one in the Bible.

As far as I know.

Sunday School with the President: Pt 2

(This is the second-part to a two-part entry about my Sunday School experience with President Jimmy Carter. Check out the first part here)

I don’t know what we were expecting – a Secret Service announcement, trumpets playing fanfare, or a swirling siren’s call – but I never thought Jimmy Carter would just wander in a side door. He walked up from around the seats and stood before us, idling less than a foot from my knees and asked us where were all from. “Indiana!” Someone yelled. “Indiana…” he echoed. “Alabama!” And then his reply, “Alabama…” I threw in mine. “California.” He looked down, “California…” The organizers told us that this was a tradition by which he started each Sunday School teaching. “If he says your state,” they told us, “then no one should go around saying the same one again. He doesn’t like that.” I remembered the other rules – make pictures for the first minute and then put away your camera, don’t applaud, don’t stand, don’t put your hands in your pockets, don’t mention his condition or the cancer, no well wishes.

“We’re praying for you President Carter,” someone shouted up. I guess we were just ignoring that last rule.

For a11902329_981906041850840_4934700025932738928_nbout ten minutes, he just stood there, responding to any comment thrown his way by the audience, smiling wryly the whole time. An older gentleman yelled up that had also attended Annapolis. Mr. Carter asked which year, and the conversation ended. Another man said that Carter’s cousin had delivered the baby of one of his family members. The former President just nodded and smiled. A woman in the front row asked about Rosalynn, President Carter’s wife. He replied that she was “just fine”, saying they had just celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary. We wanted to applaud that but didn’t. We remembered the rules that time.

And then, CNN (who broadcast the whole thing) insisted they start Bible Study, and without any sort of goodbye, he left.

We got what we wanted. We had sat before the former President of the United States.

He began Bible Study with a brief update on his condition. They got all the cancer in his liver – it appeared – but it had spread to his brain. He was beginning treatment on that. And then, to end it, he said, “That’s enough on that topic.”

IMG_7061His talk focused on friendship, frequently invoking the tenet of Christianity that we ought to “love our neighbor,” which he defined as the person standing in front of you. He spoke about disagreements, which he casually called “differences of agreement,” an idiosyncratic term I had never heard before. He said men and women must struggle all the time to look at others and empathize, even if we differed on core points. It was not about agreeing – no, it was about understanding. He said that he and Rosalynn, while they frequently disagreed, never go to bed misunderstanding one another.

He finished the lesson after a brisk 45 minutes, announcing that he needed to head off to the local high school to “do this a second time” for the others who could not be fit inside the church. He would be available for pictures afterwards, and we were all instructed to come up in groups. “If you come up alone,” he said, “That’s okay, but I’ll wonder why you have no friends.” With the quip, the President left the area.

Jimmy Carter’s presidency ended in a rough state. With a middling economy and the heightening of the Iran Hostage Crisis (and a failed attempt to liberate the victims), he was voted out of office in a landslide election in favor of Ronald Reagan. I grew up under a cloud of conservatism, so Jimmy Carter wasn’t an admired POTUS. He has had an active post-White House career, which culminated in a Nobel Peace Prize in the early 2000s. Time will tell his legacy – whether he was a good President or merely just a good man.

None of that mattered to me. I saw Christ in his eyes. And when he left, I longed to see it again. His message of pure love – just loving the person in front of you – resonated deeply. Maybe that is all we are supposed to do. Maybe that is the calling of the men and women of this world. To love. And maybe, if God is so great and the Holy Spirit is so present, that the details on behavior and attitude will grow implicitly within us as a product of that love. Maybe it is just that simple.

And with that, a non-religious experience became spiritual. And I’m waiting, now, for what grows implicitly from it.

Sunday School with the President

Two weeks ago, a friend told me that we ought to take a trip to see former President Jimmy Carter teach Sunday School at the Maranatha Baptist Church. I grew up “non-denominational” (a fancy term for “generic Christian” with no stance on sectional beliefs), so my thought was, Oh, so a bunch of children sit around Mr. Carter while a bunch of adults watch him teach some basic lesson. I quickly learned that “Sunday School” for Baptists was an adult Bible Study, taught from a quarterly book released to all the churches throughout the country. This would not be songs and coloring activities – this was a 45-minute in depth scriptural conversation that just so happened to be taught by a President of the United States. Then, a week later, news broke that Mr. Carter had developed liver cancer that had subsequently spread to his brain. The stakes seemed high, and well, how could we put off making the journey? The time was upon us.

IMG_0696We knew it would be packed, so we got up at 3:30 am and drove three hours from Atlanta to the little town of Plains, GA. We thought the 6:45 am arrival would guarantee us one of the 300 seats, but upon swinging into the parking lot – set across an open field padded with the edge of a forest – we saw a line that stretched down and around the darkened church. Everyone stood patiently with a warm smile, exchanging stories with adjacent travelers. Buzzing gnats and mosquitos swarmed, settling down onto anyone staying still. NPR and AP reporters went up and down the line looking for interview subjects. Everyone had a story; most had stayed in hotels nearby, some flying in from far away states just to witness the event. It felt historic and yet ordinary. Here was a group of individuals, some of whom were not even remotely religious, queuing up for hours in moist heat to listen to a Bible Study. Someone asked one of the organizers if they had any plans to expand the church, so they could house all the future patrons who would undoubtedly flood in during the coming weeks. She chuckled: “Are any of you coming back when President Carter no longer teaches?” We all knew the answer. “We will never expand,” she concluded.

IMG_0695We didn’t make it into the sanctuary. Ultimately, we were among the “first losers.” When they finally closed the doors, announcing there was no more room left, my friend and I were second and third in line. We had to settle for the first row of the “fellowship hall,” where we could watch a closed circuit feed of the Bible Study in the next room. A few people behind us in line grumbled about line cutters who had jumped in front of us upon seeing the congestion. It was true; my friend and I saw some folks who had snuck their way in, taking advantage of the breezy atmosphere and humble setting. What could we do though? The doors were closed. And ultimately, we were lucky. There were some 400 people behind us who were jammed into a high school auditorium off campus. And then a ton of folks behind them were turned away outright.

Yup. We were lucky.

The church organizers certainly knew how to build anticipation. Secret Service stood at every entry and exit point. They disallowed anything besides “cameras, keys, and money for the offering;” I saw them use a metal detector wand on a two-year-old. I guess when it comes to the President, you can never be too careful. Then, an endearingly blunt woman stood in front of us to go over the “rules.” Mr. Carter would stop by to say hello to us for an extended period of time before going to the sanctuary. No one was to mention his cancer – no well wishes or offers of pity. Positivity would be much more helpful to his recovery. We were not to applaud his arrival or departure or give him any kind of standing ovation – a personal request straight from the man himself.

Mr. Carter’s intention was simple, delivered from him to the organizers to us: we were to listen to his teaching on Christ and apply that lesson to our daily lives.

I thought back to the question from earlier… Will you expand the church? All of us – save the 31 weekly members – were there for a singular reason. We wanted to see the President. We wanted to savor this opportunity. We wanted to get our picture with him, to see the myth of the man, to revel in his person at this difficult and uncertain time.

And so I had this sneaking guilt… What did it say about me, that my intentions upon entering this church were so… non-religious?

And then Jimmy Carter sauntered in a side door, startling all of us, and shouted, “Good morning!”

More tomorrow.

A Set Up: Acts 22 – 26

An Impromptu Sermon. A Defense. Paul Moves. Another Defense. Paul Moves Again.

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
Acts 26:28-29 (NIV)

I read my requisite two chapters tonight, plugging along towards the end of Acts. In those passages, Paul was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, just as had been done to Jesus earlier, to see if his “crimes” justified a death penalty. He tells his story – the blinding light, the voice from God, his conversion from Saul to Paul. They move him from Jerusalem to Caesarea while a plot to kill him formed.

I read that and reread it, looking for something to pick at and pull apart. Nothing came to mind.

So I kept reading. Two more chapters.

In Caesarea, Paul meets with the Governor Felix. He provides the same defense – light, voice, Saul to Paul. For two years, the Governor leaves him in prison until his successor is appointed – Porcius Festus. Now Paul defends himself before him. But Festus seeks advice from a man named Agrippa. The same story comes again – blind, God, conversion – and now Paul moves to testify for himself in front of this Agrippa fellow.

Two more chapters – read and reread. And still nothing. I added one more.

I am just going to stop right here and tell you, the last chapter did nothing to jumpstart my brain.

I mean that without any judgment against the passage. It reads like a fairly standard courtroom drama – a martyr prepared to die espousing his beliefs – a plot to kill him – political posturing – but for some reason, it did not resonate in any meaningful way to me.

Because I am quite distracted. I went to church for the first time in long while today. I drove from Atlanta to Plains, GA to hear our former president Jimmy Carter teach Sunday School in a tiny Baptist church – three days after he told the world that he had advanced cancer. He is a Democrat and a devout Christian. A friend asked if I wanted to go. I felt like… well, I just had to. What an amazing opportunity.

And so, while reading the Bible today, nothing stuck. Because all I could think about was church.

This entry is a cop out, a set up for tomorrow’s entry, which is also a cop out since it will have nothing to do with this passage.

Tomorrow, I will talk about church with President Jimmy Carter.

Nothing to Lose: Acts 20 – 21

Backpedal. Parting Words. Entering the Lion’s Den. Paul Arrested.

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
Acts 20:24 (NIV)

Forgive the title to this entry. “I have nothing to lose” is a line typically spoken by a protagonist midway through some action-thriller. It usually comes after the line “They have taken my wife/child/domestic partner/prized possession so –.“ It is certainly a cliché, reserved for the most heroic, the most altruistic, and the most desperate amongst us. In order to have nothing to lose, you must believe that life no longer has anything to offer you, or perhaps that you have hit absolute rock bottom and the only direction to go is up. This can lead a soldier into a battlefield to save a friend or a severely depressed person to make an irreversible decision. A person with nothing to lose is either extraordinarily contented or nihilistic.

Both are a little scary to me.

My experience with nihilism is tied to my fear of eternity. As I tend to do, I over intellectualized the concept at a young age, and that initial conceptualization really dug into my fiber. My thought process went like this:

We believe in God and go to Heaven.
We live forever in Heaven, eternally in bliss and one with God.
If that is the case, then the minute details of day-to-day life here do not really matter.
They don’t matter, because as long as we believe, the rest washes out.
With eternity to spare, then nothing really matters in Heaven either.
The first thousand years in Heaven will not affect my life a million years from then.
And THEN that million years – !

[Cue panic attack]
And so on…

You can see how someone without any ability to rationalize could get caught in that train of thought. I realize now that very few people like thinking about eternity. When I brought this fear up at church, hands shot up around the room: “I get that sometimes.” “I just don’t think about it.” “I just tell whoever I am with to distract me.”

What is so terrifying about it? Is it just the idea of going on and on and on? That we can’t properly picture it? That it seems so esoteric and vague? That it threatens the devaluation of Earthly life?

Paul has a moment of duty – his disciples tell him to avoid Jerusalem, the zealots want to arrest him. He says he does not care – life means nothing to him.

There is no fear or wavering for him. What quality is under that mindset? Is it faith? Contentment? Ignorance?

I just don’t have that, and I don’t know how to get at it.

The One Way: Acts 18 – 19

Corinth. A Schism. Further Travels. A New Baptism. Demons Retaliate.

“But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them.”
Acts 19:9a (NIV)

Paul hits a rough patch in his ministry that perfectly symbolizes the state of the modern church. In Ephesus, he encounters some disciples of John the Baptist’s, asking if they have received the Holy Spirit. They haven’t, not even aware of who this being is – then Paul realizes the fault. They were baptized by John the Baptist, not in the name of Jesus Christ. Paul dunks them, and they accept the Holy Spirit.

This comes directly after a schism between him and his fellow disciples. We learn that Silas and Timothy antagonize Paul, leading him to abandon them to preach alone in Corinth for a year and a half.

There is but One Way – salvation thru Jesus Christ. Disagreements in theology mean schism.

We have seen a ton of churches split over the years (and a great amount of this blog has been dedicated to the little disagreements that have resulted in separate sects). Some disagree about what exactly “The Way” is; others argue about rules and regulations, the most relevant to this site being LGBT-acceptance. In many ways, this epitomizes the conflict between liberalism and conservatism. The former believes in “Many Ways” – that the less judgment on the journeys people take, the better. The latter wants something closer to “One Way,” a moralistic pathway for everyone to follow.

I empathize and understand both. Life can be a simple joy if everyone agrees on the same moral ground, but with increasing connectivity, a person’s individual idiosyncrasies are broadcast. Difference was not tolerated in an age long ago, because people could not understand what a “homosexual” or a “feminist” looked like from afar. It was not until a person in their house, or in their neighborhood, or state, on a friend on Facebook announced it. Then, empathy kicked in.

Is there One Way? Yes and no and maybe. Jesus is a key factor. He may be the only factor. But the Way to him? Is there only One Way?

Yes and no and maybe.

Paul runs into some more issues on the road. A group of citizens begin panicking over a public conflict, involving one of the most sincerely revered deities in the area:

The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. (19:32)

So a riot breaks out within the walls of a theater over the divinity of the goddess Artemis. People are shouting and throwing things, causing violence, and most of the people did not even know why they were there?

This is my concern: that many jump in without any knowledge. They go the way of Christianity, because it was told to them. When I first started writing this blog, my mother took heart in the fact that I had already given my heart to Jesus, and salvation was a one-way street. I prayed the prayer at 6-years-old. A decade later, I was baptized in a warm lake amongst others my age.

But it always felt like a riot, and I had jumped in with everyone else.

And it’s well worth the effort to see what exactly I stand for – especially after another decade to ruminate.

Travels, Pt 2 : Act 16 – 17

Derbe. Lystra. Macedonia. Philippi. Thessalonica. Berea. Athens.

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
Acts 16:31 (NIV)

Paul heads off on quite the journey of his own, touching on at least seven different cities in a relatively short amount of time (are Bible chapters an appropriate way to measure distance and time?). He is joined, at least part of the time, with Timothy and Silas, although I will be honest, I am not entirely sure who either are and how to distinguish them from another. I know that Paul’s recent travel buddy Barnabas left the group after a falling out. They disagreed about where to go next – bound to make any road trip couple fall to pieces. We have not heard from him since.

First, Paul gets a vision of a man in Macedonia who begs him to come and preach the word of God. He does, meeting a woman at the city gates of Philippi – who humbly accepts the good news. Then, a fortune-telling woman with an evil spirit begins shouting to everyone: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” (16:17) So, they exorcise her and move on, but the crowd grabs Paul and Silas and throws them in prison. That does not last though, as a giant Earthquake rocks the foundation and crushes the locks on all the cells. The doors fly open, freeing everyone. They leave, moving on to Thessalonica. Jewish officials, jealous at the persuasive nature of these men, drive them out of town. They move on, this time to Berea, who receives the good news with excitement. But the crafty Jews from Thessalonica chase after them and stir up trouble, sending Paul for the door (leaving behind his compatriots). Now, Athens. Upon entering, he distresses over the abundance of false idols and mounts a pulpit to ward them away from such practices. Some believe, some don’t. He moves on.

Visions. Earthquakes. Exorcisms. Evil spirits. Mobs. Idols.

Quite the road trip. Paul may have me beat in terms of downright excitement.

Prior to reading the New Testament this time around, I remembered a great deal about Jesus and his ministry – not surprising considering the sheer volume of sermons about Jesus versus anything else. Most of the stories felt familiar and personal, and I think part of it might be his personality. Jesus struggled in a palpable away, even for being the Son of God – which you think would make him completely inaccessible. Paul, on the other hand… I remembered nothing. I knew he did a ministry; I knew he was once named Saul. And that’s it.

I think myths inspire some, while people inspire others. Paul’s little road trip is truly mythological in scope, complete with spiritual warfare and miraculous events. He stands on pulpits and preaches, to either the dismay or encouragement of the locals. And then something supernatural happens. And then he moves on.

Paul is a myth of a man, almost infallible – like David or Noah or Moses. Some find these archetypes helpful in guiding their paths.

But I don’t. I want my heroes dirty, digging through life like I do.

Paul had a mission. I want a wanderer.