On Paul

Like many “progressive Christians” I too went through a “Paul Sucks!” phase, and I think I’m finally coming to the other side of it.

Now, I kind of want to do an entire preaching series on St. Paul and how, in spite of his social ethics having aged like milk, he actually had some astounding breakthroughs and I don’t think it’s right to jettison him completely.

For example, Colossians 3.23:

“Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.”

Colossians 3.23, NRSV

Yes, it’s in the middle of a passage that was used to defend chattel slavery for 400 years in the Americas.

And at the same time, it’s also an explicit articulation, in Christian scripture, of the entire message of the Bhagavad Gita, namely, “do what you do and surrender the fruit.” It’s karma yoga. In fact, this passage and its parallel in Ephesians can be understood as karma yoga. It’s remarkable.

That said, I believe all of St Paul’s messiness and pettiness is part of the package. All of the dark uses of that passage are its shadow. But the shadow can never be exorcized; it has to be integrated.

To wit, I think that a symptom of our great sickness is our insistence on complete purity of thought and ideology, a kind of ersatz orthodoxy (and social media is no comfort on this point).

But that’s also the gift of social media, too; it puts our shadows on display for all to see, so that we can be called back to ourselves more easily. It all belongs.

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