“The Good Wife” and life’s sudden changes #goodwife

March 25, 2014

Among the many unwholesome habits that drag my soul down to the depths, television gluttony is near the top. It is a moral cesspool, and open sewer of depravity. If you have not pulled Sunday’s episode up for viewing, stop here. Major spoilers to follow.

There is HGTV, Hell’s Kitchen, Survivor, Chicago PD, Chicago Fire, and maybe next year it might be time for Chicago radio! Ah, but that was back in the day! The Good Wife seems to be culturally hip, even featuring an openly bi-sexual character. The mythical attorneys and their clients live in a make-believe world of privilege and power. The heroine, Alicia Floric played by Julianna Margulies, is constantly faced with personal reinvention and extreme multitasking.

The writers have put together plots which are often wrapped up in ways that we would not expect and the humans are very human. This part, it seems to me, is the most appealing aspect of the series. Nobody turns out to be completely good or bad. Just like in “real life,” they are all a misshapen fallen mix of various qualities.

The scenes around the break-up of Lockhart-Gardner are classic suspense. The scripts are typically fresh and devoid of cliché, and so it was with the demise of Will Gardner. From another court room, we hear shots, many shots, ring out as Will’s client faces his own uncertain future. It all comes down to a shoeless corpse in a draped area of a hospital emergency room. No matter that it was an expensive shoe and the corpse is impeccably attired for the day’s work. The perfectly tied knot would be the last knot for the named partner. The expensive shirt is now nothing but evidence. Life thrives brilliantly one moment and is ungraciously extinguished in the next.

The Book of Common Prayer petitions, “Make us, we beseech Thee, deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of human life.” (1928, 316) While entirely fictional, Will Gardner’s life was certainly short, but he had no idea what uncertainty might await. A missing shoe says it all. Perhaps unknowingly, the writers have focused on an essential part of understanding our own lives. We are not in control.

Faithful Christians are reminded of the last four things; death, judgment, heaven and hell. Mr. Gardner, being the product of an active imagination, faces none of the above, but each is a sure future of our final encounter. Christians believe that there is a personal judgment immediately after death. If there is not an element of dread involved here, you have not been thinking about it.

If this were a moment for blowing dust of the volumes of books with page upon page of lined columns and each infraction noted with date, time, and place, each one of us would be damned. Ps. 130 cries out to God that, he he marks our inequities, no one can stand. God is not the head bookkeeper, unless you insist on it. Followers of Jesus depend on grace, that is God’s unearned favor. Judgment involves faithfulness in following Jesus. It is a measure of the required cross carrying. The judgment recorded in Matt 25 revolves solely around our recognition of Jesus in fellow human beings. Following Christ is not about rule keeping, but allowing our lives to be so completely altered that rules become unnecessary.

The Great Litany of the Anglican tradition pleads,

  From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death,
Good Lord, deliver us.
(1928, 54)

A thoughtful question about God and violence

March 21, 2014

It was my great privilege to speak to the Growing in Grace (GIG) addiction recovery group at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Little Rock about a week ago. I write the messages to be applicable both to people dealing with this huge problem and folks in the mainstream that have similar difficulties. This talk concerned how we often feel lonely and confused in times of trial. You can listen here.

I went to the flood story in Genesis as my starting point. By way of background, it was observed that the catastrophe was provoked by mankind’s rampant corruption, especially violence. It seemed fairly obvious and straightforward to note that God hates violence. In fact, one of my most perceptive listeners had a serous question about my casual observation.

If God hates violence, why does he use it so much? Darn. I just hate it when that happens. Let’s see if it is possible to make sense of this apparent contradiction.

What follows here is not an original idea. In fact, I am partially borrowing from Jonathan Edwards and I hope that what follows is stated correctly. God has certain preferences, like peace. God wants humanity to get along. God demands that we not kill, or, as Jesus proposed in the Sermon on the Mount, not even be angry. Jesus was silent before his accusers, and did not retaliate, God forbids us from taking vengeance.

But God killed untold numbers in the flood. He slaughtered the first-born of Egypt. The Almighty stirred up all kinds of military enemies to do harm to Israel. And there was the directive to kill all the residents of the promised land – every man, woman, child, and animal. That is a fairly nasty rap sheet for Somebody who claims to oppose violence.

The long-term plan for mankind is an unending time of peace. Isiah has a view of old men leaning on their staffs and sitting under trees, and children playing in the streets. Scripture tells us that even the animals will be reconciled with mankind. (Isiah 65:17-25) What could be more wonderful than the vision of the river that flows past the Tree of Life, and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb? This is the future.

In the present, it would seem that God is content to use human institutions to subdue human nature. This is why God seems not to worry about a little war here and there, God knows that tanks are rolling in the Ukraine. That is the way of the world.

A candidate for congress in the Chicago area believes that God is angry about America’s moral condition and is actively doing something about it.

Susanne Atanus, of Niles, Ill., garnered 54 percent of the vote in her Tuesday win over David Earl Williams III.

“I am not in favor of abortions, I am not in favor of gay rights,” Atanus told the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago newspaper, in January.

She blamed natural disasters and mental disorders on recent advances in LGBT equality and legal abortions.

“God is angry. We are provoking him with abortions and same-sex marriage and civil unions,” she said. “Same-sex activity is going to increase AIDS. If it’s in our military, it will weaken our military. We need to respect God.”

I am not exactly sure what the candidate has in mind here, but I do know that God does not get angry in the same way as humans. There is a reference to this in my latest talk to GIG noted above. The Almighty does control everything, his general rule seems to be allowing people to make their own grief. God is very much opposed to many aspects of American life, including rampant individualism and the worship of material goods. We worship consumption and ignore the poor. You bet God is against that! I tend to think that if God was messing with the weather, we would get the message pretty darned quick. Could the candidate possibly be referring to climate change?

While the creation groans in expectation of ultimate restoration (Rm 8), God allows his human creation to use violence. It is part of our free will and, it must be admitted, sometimes part of God’s plan. In the end, when we see God face-to-face, there will be no place for coercion or any type of force among the holy people.

Bill Maher attacks Noah’s Ark story

March 19, 2014

We are lucky to have Bill Maher and probably luckier to live in a country that still allows his brand of hard-nosed criticism of big-shots just begging to be knocked down to size. Maher recently took on the upcoming film that deals with the biblical flood. That is a topic I approached here a few days ago. The story about Maher’s’s epic, if somewhat wrong-headed, take-down was in Daily Kos. The link is below. It includes a complete transcript and video.

Bill Maher attacks Noah’s Ark story.

Just a couple of thoughts.

Maher, an obviously well-educated man, seems to have deliberately made himself oblivious to the Ancient Near East custom of exaggerating the age of rulers. This may be the case with Noah. I do not pretend to know. It is reported that one guy back in ancient times was said to have lived 40-thousand years. Now, that is some kind of tall tale! There are flood stories in many of the old cultures and the version found in Genesis bears little resemblance to the Gilgamesh epic.

The more serious contention is that God is some sort of mass murderer and tyrant. This is not going to please Bill Maher, whom I respect and with whom I frequently agree, but, not one single innocent person perished in the Genesis flood. God is all knowing and sees the hearts and desires of every human being. The Lord spared eight people and wiped out the rest of civilization. That’s his call. He owns the world and everything in it. He owns the animals and the people. The Almighty is not afraid to deal with humanity on the same terms that we use on one another. I have no business judging God, and neither does Bill Maher.

When such an important man calls God into judgment, it is a tremendous misunderstanding and injustice. God will not tolerate that kind of misplaced boldness forever. That is why guys like me and Mr. Maher are well-advised to pay attention to these ancient narratives that reveal the character of God. He will punish, if necessary,. In the meantime, he is patient and loving toward lowlifes like me. He offers salvation from the rightful consequence of our rebellion, the end of which is eternal destruction. God loves Bill Maher and gives him as much time as all the people who drowned so long ago.

About that flood, Mr. Noah …

March 12, 2014

In preparing a talk  for the recovery meeting at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Little Rock, I started playing around with the theme of coping with the difficulties that are part of dealing with addiction. Of course, there is also a need to widen the scope to include the rest of us who are in trying circumstances.

The story of the flood has many of the characteristics faced by those who are being treated for substance abuse. One feels isolation, for example, and a sense of being deep in unfamiliar territory. During the preparation process, there was a question that hit me hard. Can I really expect to be taken seriously if I talk about a universal deluge? Good question.

Th editors of the 1928 American Prayer Book were so concerned about the same issue that they dropped Martin Luther’s “flood prayer” from the Baptismal rite. My goodness, one cannot expect modern educated people to believe such nonsense. But what would one expect from people who do not believe in miracles?

There is no expert opinion here, and that is part of the purpose of this little note. Yes, God does what he darned well pleases and the worldwide flood covering the tops of mountains is possible. If you can’t tell, I am having trouble with this one. Resolving this issue will demand serious reflection.

To begin, Noah’s flood is a part of sacred scripture. It is an ancient tale that is handed down to us. For thousands of years, believers have accepted this story as part of God’s word for man. That counts for something. The biblical account found in Genesis informs us about the character of God and a bit about man too. The text is very rich with important information. For example, Noah and his three sons each had a single wife. Worth noting.

A much larger question enters the mind. Who are you or I to question the biblical text? Of course, careful students and scholars are always looking for the messages locked inside the Bible, but the text is the text. One of the greatest scholars of all time, Jerome of Jerusalem, observed that some texts are difficult because the scrolls have been damaged or we cannot correctly understand the language, but back there somewhere is a message from God. The great mystery is that God does not reveal himself, or his truth, all at once.

The modern mind believes that it sits in sovereign judgment over everyone and everything. I am sometimes guilty of the gross arrogance. Humans are not the final judges. It would be better to observe that humanity is in rebellion against God and his ways. We are broken and without his generous gift of grace, hopelessly lost. None of us have nay business nitpicking the Almighty. Without making the sacred page into an idol, one must take it as is.  Take the hard along with the easy, and the pleasant with the unsettling.

The serious reader approaches the Bible with humility and open ears. One prays for divine guidance and learns as much as a small mind will permit.

Donnie and Frances Swaggert explain the Trinity to you!

March 6, 2014

One of the more fascinating developments in the wide world of commercial preachers is the rise of an older and more mellow Jimmy Swaggart. The Sun Network is on Uverse and the Swaggarts seem to be producing several hours of original daily “live” programming. When Fr. Mitch is done on EWTN (solid but not nearly as entertaining), the resourceful viewer can scoot across the channels to Frances and Friends, hosted by Mrs. Jimmy Swaggart.

On Wednesday morning, Frances, son Donnie, and a number of associated biblical scholars were reading emails from viewers, Take it from this little Anglican boy in Arkansas, nothing on earth sells like Catholic baiting. The question arose as to why Roman Catholics refer to the Blessed Virgin Mary as “Mother of God.”

Frances takes the lead against the nefarious papists exclaiming that she just can not figure out what is so complicated about this thing. Mary, according to Swaggart’s comprehension of doctrine, was only the mother of Jesus the man. That is completely different from Jesus, second person of the Trinity and eternal God. Somehow the discussion moved around the Eastern Church practice of calling the BVM “theotokos.”

Memo to Frances: Not wishing to be critical, but when one enters a public discussion of such an important topic as the nature of Christ, it is really a good idea to learn how to correctly pronounce all the important words. That’s “God bearer,” not “God barrier.” While you, Mrs. Swaggart, may not have any problems understanding the Trinity and Christological doctrines, the undivided church could not get everything nailed down until 451 AD.

Although the informed viewer always hates to appear cranky, if one remembers the Tome of Leo and the Definition of Chalcedon, Jesus is very, eternal God and entirely co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This detail is important because, first, Jesus must be fully human so that he can experience real temptation, suffering and death. Because he is the perfect man, he is the perfect atoning sacrifice for sins. Because Jesus is divine, he may enter the holiest place and present his sacrifice to the Father. It might be good to footnote here that such terms as “Father” and “Son” are analogies in human words and represents the God-head in ways mere humans can never fully understand. That’s why I am not mad at you, Frances. Honest.

The most interesting part of the televised conversation, however, came when Donne realized that, while enjoying a good old fashioned anti-Catholic spasm, they had all slipped into Arianism. For just a moment, Frances and Friends was preaching the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fairness to everybody, Donnie came to his senses and quickly rendered the correct “orthodox” understanding of Christ’s dual nature. The exchange was amusing because of the gymnastics used to avoid becoming accidental Roman Catholics.

It is my personal opinion that calling Mary “Mother of God” is a bad practice and leads to confusion, even though it is capable of a correct theological understanding. Even more so is the Eastern Church expression for the God Bearer. Since Jesus is fully human and fully divine, Mary most certainly is the bearer of one who shared human and divine natures at the same time.

I hope that helped.

Arkansas Episcopal diocese deals with transgender priest

February 28, 2014

An Anglican website reports on a transgendered priest who, until recently, served at an Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff.

The Rev. Greg Fry, priest-in-charge at Grace Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff, told his congregation Sunday morning that he is transgendered and identifies himself as a woman, apparently becoming the only working member of the Episcopalian clergy in Arkansas ever to make such an announcement.

Arkansas Episcopal Bishop Larry Benfield announces that the pastoral relationship between the priest and Grace Church has been dissolved. Benfield observed, “I hope that we never reduce the struggles that we all face in our lives to snap judgments that are best suited to sound bites, just as I hope that we do not make decisions based on fear of the unknown.”

If I may be allowed an observation, and these are my personal opinions, it might be good for everybody to take a long deep breath and try to remember that we profess to be followers of Jesus. Let us presume, for the sole purpose of making a point, that the minister being discussed is the rottenest, low-down, depraved sinner on earth. Would it not follow that he is most in need of our prayers? Are we not required to help restore sinful people to a right relationship with God? Or does that apply only to people with whom we are comfortable?

The reporter notes, “a transgender person is one who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one that corresponds to the person’s sex at birth. Transgender orientation is independent of sexual orientation.” This is a somewhat technical matter and one must presume the general accuracy of the definition. All stories have space limitations and every reporter has a deadline. News is never comprehensive.

There is, I think, I general misconception that gender identity at birth is always a matter of instantaneous observation, but there are a surprising number of cases in which determination of gender is not at all straightforward. There are medical experts who routinely deal with such cases. Moving on from that starting point, it is not difficult to imagine that an individual might be misidentified from the earliest stages.

We all need to understand that there is a difference between gender “dysphoria” (the predicament of the priest in Pine Bluff) and cross-dressing. The former is a condition of gender confusion. I learned all this during my almost 40 years in radio, but am by no means an expert. So far as I can tell, the situation this young man finds himself in is yet another symptom of the Fall. Paul reminds us in Romans 8 that the creation is groaning in expectation of a coming time when everything will be back in a proper relationship with God.

Whether this individual should be in public ministry is another question altogether. I am not part of the Episcopal diocese, so it would be wise to show some restraint. As a traditional Anglican, I have nothing to brag about. Our bishops have shown themselves to be broken men. We all struggle against our fleshy nature. None of us have any right to do anything other than pray for the Episcopal Church and get on with the business of spreading the gospel to those who need it most.


The Brewer veto and religious liberty

February 27, 2014

There has been a good deal of crazy talk and harsh words cast about concerning the now vetoed Arizona legislation that would have defended individual religious liberty. Personal attacks (“bigot,” etc) are the typical tolls of those who have no real argument. Although I am not expert on the matter, my inclination is to back the proposed law and to bewail Governor Brewer’s executive action which killed it.

This does not make me a “wing nut” or some kind of social extremist. Anybody who knows me would find such accusations to be almost hilarious. The fact is that I have been subjected to a certain amount of criticism by my Evangelical brothers and sisters for not holding a more vehement and hateful position toward homosexuals. But how could I? The fire-breathing stuff is fairly easy for those who don’t get out much, but I know plenty of gay folks and, so far as I can see, most are fine people.

My wish is that they would “repent.” That is a biblical word that actually means “change.” Now, that is certainly not as easy as it sounds and one must appreciate the power of such factors as sexual desires. Just look around and tell me if you honestly think gay people are the only ones who should change. It is my opinion that homosexuality is “hard-wired” into the personality and that I should be very understanding of other people. In other words, one should get the two-by-four out of your own eye before fishing the speck out of the other guy’s (Matt 7:3-5). Call me a bigot, but that means exactly nothing.

Gay people deserve to have jobs and all the other necessities of life and the rights of citizenship. I do not happen to think that this extends to the recognition of “gay marriage,” but I am in the minority on that. I am not entitled to personally belittle gays any more than the majority is entitled to call me ugly names. Do not, under any circumstances, compare me to the KKK. Those people have a historic reputation as murders and domestic terrorists.

This brings us to the Arizona legislation. It is not an extremist rant to suppose that people have a right to act on their religious beliefs. It ought to be pretty obvious that this does not extend to rationalizing away criminal acts or depriving anybody of the rights associated with property, life, and citizenship. If the baker opposes gay marriage and backs it up by not accepting the wedding business that might come from it, so be it. It is a question of conscience and religious practice, which should generally trump just about any other interest. Our founders were familiar with real religious persecution and had a fear of what might come from religious passions.

A good deal of the dumb stuff in this supposed conversation has come from my side, so let’s get a few things straight here. The definition of “Evangelical” is of no relevance to the discussion. Whether or not Lydia (a wealthy woman in the book of Acts)  sold anything to pagans matters nada. I imagine that Paul probably sold one or two of his tents to scoundrels. Let us not loose sight of the crucial issue.

Those who lack of sense of history fail to recall that the governing documents in the old Soviet Union granted freedom of religion. The thing they prohibited was the actual exercise of religion. It is exactly the same issue faced by Arizona lawmakers and Governor. It is the same thing, an identical denial of personal religious freedom.

I mean no harm to gay people -ever. I regret those self-proclaimed religious authorities who do wish ill for their fellow human beings, all created in the image and likeness of God. Our mutual failure to deal with this important issue bodes nothing but evil.



A cold night in Arkansas

February 21, 2014

Homeless folks lost a devoted friend in the early hours of Thursday as Dennis Beavers departed this mortal life. I only met him once or twice, but my wife Marie (who is a devoted advocate for the homeless) knew him better. Dennis was the kind of man who could be called out any hour of day or night to bring a pair of shoes to some stranger who also happened to be so unlucky as to be without a regular address. He was tireless in pursuit of an exhausting ministry.

Maire is a regular volunteer at the Arkansas Dream Center. She organizes the clothing good people donate for fellow human beings who have fallen through the so-called “social safety net,” Marie is part of what Little Rock politicians and business types sneeringly refer to as the “homeless community.” The unspoken implication is that, if are are in need, it’s your own damn fault.

It is an odd thing that those who so easily and bluntly criticize those without possessions or influence are, at the same time, incapable of self-criticism. “It is not my fault that some people are having a hard time. Maybe if they would clean up and get a job (like me!) things would go better for them.” Around these parts, we prefer to never look at the homeless and there is certainly no place for them anyplace worthwhile people might visit.

It was on one of those untypically bitter cold nights that I spent a little time down at the Arkansas Dream Center near downtown Little Rock. Around one-hundred people were able to enjoy a hot meal, take a shower, get some warm clothing, do some laundry, watch a movie and spend the night in a warm safe place. We take a lot for granted. We expect the closets to be full of perfectly fitting  clothes, the furnace pumping out warm air all the day and night. Did I mention the refrigerator? There is another nicety the homeless cannot even imagine. Some of the individuals so easily tossed aside are children. They should find jobs, I guess. Most of us would lose our minds by the second day of doing without, but things run smoothly where the poorest come together.

There was an elderly black man spending this particular night indoors. Well spoken and accustomed to work, he related the story of a recent eviction. It was a mistake, a miscalculation. Too many months behind on rent, and there will be consequences. This gentleman gave his age as 72 and recounted some of the small jobs recently held. Blame? This worn out man put it all on himself. It was a mistake. It was the kind of thing that, for most of my friends, would be quickly corrected by a few strokes of a pen or keystrokes on a computer. A little carelessness can be a death sentence if you are extremely poor, so be careful.

Imagine being in your early 70s, and still looking for little jobs to pay the bills and keep a roof over your head. The gentleman did not complain. Mistakes are made and those little errors have consequences. He should have planned better, no doubt. This fellow probably has another job by now and maybe even some sort of cheap set of rooms. Many of the homeless people have jobs, but struggle with medical bills and the needs of small children. Yes, they should have planned better. Not everyone is as intelligent or doggedly ambitious as the self-made individuals who run this world.

During the recent cold, a man froze to death under one of the bridges, but it is said that many of the homeless like living that way. Who could possibly deny such worldly understanding? Dennis Beavers, from an unworldly perspective, gave of the most precious things he possessed in service of a class of people generally considered to be despicable. He gave his own life energy and personal devotion, always seeing the divine image in every human being. To say that he will be missed would be a cruel and meaningless cliche.

Even though Dennis tried, no one person can do it all. He leaves so many gaps to be filled, but it may be that this need is his bequest to those who knew him well and those who admired his tenacity from a safer distance.

   May thy rest be this day in peace, and thy dwellingplace in the Paradise of God. (1928 BCP, 319)

The Sacred Page: The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple: Thoughts on the Sunday Readings

January 31, 2014

Sunday is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Commonly Called The Purification of St. Mary the Virgin. In the traditional observance, this day has precedence over the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. Since probably neither of the two Anglican churches in Little Rock will be celebrating this liturgical event, you might well wonder, why bother?

Of course, it’s not a heaven-or-hell kind of thing, but the church calendar has a particular richness that instructs the believer in the Christian faith. It is the old Anglican idea of lex orandi, lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of belief. This is one way liturgy teaches theology. It cannot go without saying that good liturgy teaches good theology, and poorly conceived liturgy teaches poorly conceived theology. My Roman Catholic neighbors do a better job of presenting liturgy.

John Bergsma over at the “Sacred Page” blog has a comprehensive commentary on the feast day. He is a Roman Catholic scholar, but his lengthy essay contains nothing offensive. The readings in the Roman Missal turn out to be the same as the traditional Anglican lectionary. Dr. Bergsma’s excellent piece does suffer from a small imperfection in the biblical citation of Luke 2:22. (A PhD theologian makes a typographical error! Thank you, Lord!) Read it all at the link below.

The Sacred Page: The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple: Thoughts on the Sunday Readings.

Conversion: bolt of lightning, or a slow wearing down?

January 24, 2014

Tomorrow (Jan. 25), we recall the Conversion of St. Paul. He is struck down on the Damascus road and blinded by a heavenly light. Jesus, the light of the world speaks to him out of that divine brightness. The story is in Acts 9. For Jesus, the systematic oppression of Christian believers is more than an attack on the righteous. It is personal. Paul is attacking the Anointed One that had been so earnestly anticipated.

He travels on to Damascus where a disciple named Ananias had a dream in which the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16) That is some fine recruiting technique. Forget about the fringe benefits and golden parachute. Come to work for me and suffer. Paul, or course, goes for the deal. What is he supposed to do? The man who will soon deliver the good news to the Gentile world is now convinced that Jesus is the son of God and the Messiah.

There is a little business here about God’s choice. As usual, the divine selection appears absurd. The Almighty gets a kick out of disproving human presumptions by picking out the most unlikely people. God chooses the smallest insignificant nation, the younger brothers, and the least powerful in order that he may draw attention to the unknowable wisdom that resides above the small-minded human perceptions of how things should be. Taking this into account, there is no more qualified spokesman for God’s wonderful plan to bring all mankind to himself than the preeminent tormenter of God’s people.

Laying hands on the blind man, Ananias.pronounces God’s healing. “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. (9:17-19)

Ananias has two objectives; physical healing and imparting the Holy Spirit. If we follow what happened here, it may tell us something about the conversion experience. First of all, the would=be persecutor has accepted the core of the gospel message. Jesus is divine and he is the one who will save us from the fallen state that has separated human beings from God. Now, follow the verbs. Paul regained his lost sight. Paul, being justified by faith, is now restored to the proper condition for which humans were created.

Paul rose and was baptized. Perhaps this is a bit too ambitious of an interpretation, but the connection of baptism and rising is too obvious to be ignored. Baptism represents our death to sin and resurrection to eternal life. One sets aside the old man and becomes a new creature in Christ.The believer puts away the past failings and is directed to the heavenly city. Baptism is  typically associated with the Holy Spirit. He is the “seal” of our inheritance in that eternal kingdom. (Eph 1:11-14)

God provides the daily bread, the strength required for ministry. We have human bodies and reside in a material world. The creator knows the strain of living in the real world. In order to be “strengthened,” it is important to deal with the spiritual and material requirements. Readers of the Acts text are told that Paul spends time being instructed by the disciples in Damascus, and readers of 2 Cor 12 understand that, at some point, Paul receives a vision of heaven. We do not know if these events happened in the same time frame. Afterwards, Paul begins preaching to the local congregation. Yes, it would be unusual for such a new believer to take on such a big responsibility, but the special circumstances speak for themselves.

Paul’s conversion is dramatic and very much different from our experiences. It is, however, similar in the elements. We are called, believe, are justified, receive baptism and the Holy Spirit, and are equipped for the ministry of Christian living. For those who personally witnessed Christ’s earthly workings, conversion was surely a process. One of the apostles demands to see the risen Lord’s crucifixion marks up close. Peter and Paul are still squabbling after Pentecost. (Gal 2:11-14). Struggle is part of being human.

For Paul, the experience of being slammed against the roadway worked well. He has the correct background and education (Phil 3:4-8) to recognize his own misunderstanding of the scriptures. Despite his own bloodthirsty rage against followers of The Way, this man turns out to be the perfect candidate for an important mission.

The rest of us have questions. We suffer from a lack of knowledge, which leads to a faltering faith. Which one of us has not already sold out to modern life and the presumptions of material “success?” Does the American Christian really desire commitment to a “turn the other cheek,” and “give all you have to the poor” kind of religion? Remember that Paul, having been knocked to his knees, took the whole deal, including the suffering.  For the rest of us, this will require a little working through.

O GOD, who, through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Saint Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world; Grant, we beseech thee, that we, haying his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same, by following the holy doctrine which he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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