This morning, as I began to work my way through the introductory readings assigned for my course about the Epistles, I came to a sudden realization — I have an obsession with the Apostle Paul.
Odd choice considering who I am, and an obsession that has been until now completely in the buried regions of my subconscious, but an obsession none the less. And after reading my first assignment, the article by Robert Wright, “One World Under God“, from The Atlantic (April 2009), I understand.
Paul and I have a lot in common. No, I’ve not gone off the rails — Paul and I have a lot in common. Well, maybe the I-that-I-am-becoming has more in common with the writer of Epistles than the current evolution known as me, but you understand what I mean. Maybe.
Let me try again. Paul and I have a lot of common interests, and I have a lot to learn from him, from his work, and from his mission. Hence, the obsession.
If I really think about it, this obsession with Paul had a lot to do with my desire to go to Istanbul. And being in Turkey, seeing what remains there of the ancient Byzantine church, that experience only deepened the obsession. And let’s not forget that, when asked to choose from a list of Biblical passages for my very first (and so far only) sermon project, I chose Romans 8, a choice that made my pastor fear for my good sense.
But suddently it is all clear to me. Right now, before I get started on this in-depth study of his writings, I think of Paul as the prototype for a life lived answering the call of spirit; I think of Paul as a model missionary, a model teacher, an amazing writer, and perhaps the greatest salesman the world ever knew. He was someone who, through their writings, attempted to model for his contemporaries (and unwittingly, for centuries of believers yet to come), what it meant to live a life in Christ, to live and grow a community based on the teachings of Christ and the teachings of those striving to spend each day listening to what they can hear of the voice of God, barely audible above the din of the world.
While Mr. Wright’s article may, at times, seem a little too pragmatic and earthly for the “true believer”, his historical understanding and comparison is so to the point that its truth is inescapable: we are all called to be as the Apostle Paul in our present day, when the world we live in is changing so rapidly around us, when technology both shrinks and expands our world all at once, when people and ideas can move around the globe in the wink of an eye, when community no longer means the place we were born but the family that we gather around us. Now, even more than then, we desperately need to embrace Paul’s teachings on love, inclusiveness, and faith.
So the truth is right in front of me: I am a Paul groupie. Right now, I can’t wait to read everything I can get my hands on, and I am looking forward to long hours getting to know Paul better through his own writings. And no, I’m not really bothered by the more “controversial” writings of Paul, because, well, I understand historical context, and I also understand what it means to search for the message that will convey the real meaning, and I understand that sometimes, first you must meet people where they are in order to invite them to a new place and a new understanding.
See, Paul was like you and me. He was just a guy, with a story to tell. He had some organizational skills, he liked to travel (well, he travelled, he might not have liked it), he could write (which in his day was a big deal), and he had a vision. But mostly, he was just trying to share his story, help the people he met, and give life to the call that tugged at him constantly. Just kind of a regular guy, after all. A regular guy with a lot to teach me. A regular person a lot like me.