Speaking to the Soul: Defending yourself

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by Leslie Scoopmire

 

Galatians 1:11-24

As part of my seminary training, I took a class this past spring in Biblical Studies entitled “Paul and His Interpreters.” We read the epistles actually believed to be written by Paul, the epistles written in the name of Paul, and the Book of Acts, where Paul was introduced in the New Testament. At the end of the class, the students in this class were required to meet with our professor to talk about what lessons in ministry we had learned from our study of these works. My answer began with “Never write a letter or email when you are angry and send it before you have a chance to cool off.” It also included, “Don’t try to constantly defend yourself, or you will never get anything done except talking about yourself all the time.” Both of those statements were lessons I absorbed from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

 

Last Sunday, the Revised Common Lectionary began a series of weeks devoted to the Epistle to the Galatians. It’s an unusual letter that violates most of the rules of the letter form used in the Mediterranean world at that time. As we heard on Sunday, it starts out with no personal greeting, no real thanksgiving or flattery. It just slams into rebuking the Galatians for abandoning the message Paul felt he had planted among them for a “perverted gospel” brought by others. It is obvious Paul also feels betrayed, and he lets that come through forcefully. This next Sunday, we will hear Paul’s long justification of himself and his bona fides as a Jew and as an apostle—twenty-four times we will hear Paul refer to himself as either “I” or “me” in Galatians 1:11-24. In this coming Sunday’s readings, Paul will attempt to emphasize the zeal that has characterized his life—first as a Pharisee, then as an apostle who, although not one of the original twelve, carved out a vital mission as the apostle to the Gentiles. This initial three year missionary journey helped those in Jerusalem accept the reliability of the conversion of one of the most notorious enemies they had thought they had among Jerusalem’s Pharisaic authorities.

 

One has to wonder if Paul’s relationship with the Galatians ever recovered from the forceful criticism and palpable anger that radiated from the opening verses of this letter. I imagine it probably never was the same—and I wonder if he ever regretted sending that letter. If the Galatians had already been persuaded by other evangelists, being angrily and bitterly denounced by someone who spends thirteen verses talking about himself right at the get-go is probably not going to make the Galatians smack their foreheads and admit that he had a point, human nature being what it is. One usually cannot persuade people by attacking them.

 

Defending himself is important to Paul in these verses. I was thinking about how ironic that fact was, in light of the fact that many Episcopal churches will also be talking about gun violence this Sunday as part of the call from leaders of Bishops United Against Gun Violence to wear orange on June 2 and June 5 and engage in conversation (and hopefully conversion, in some cases) regarding our moral obligation to address the scourge of gun violence roiling our country. The actions of some Episcopalians this Thursday and Sunday is part of a broader Wear Orange movement for Gun Violence Prevention Day on June 2. Many of the tragic incidents with gun deaths in our country begin with an avid proclamation of the right of people to be able to defend themselves, too—using not words, but personal weapons.

 

We began this week by remembering, on yesterday, Memorial Day here in the US, all those who have given their lives in defense of our country. Yet, according to statistics from Everytown for Gun Safety, in the seven days between the start of Memorial Day and the end of next Sunday, 637 people (91 people a day) will likely die as a result of the use of a gun. Forty-nine of those people will likely be teens and young children. Adding further to the carnage, more than 1200 people will be wounded by guns but survive during that same week. How better to end the week than by remembering all those whose lives have been taken through senseless although often willful violence, made deadly all too easily through ready access to machines designed solely to kill other human beings? Sadly, and all too often, we see guns used not to defend one’s self from harm, but being used in suicides (two-thirds of all gun deaths), domestic violence, drive-by shootings, and incidents when children not only are the victims (about 100 a year) but also sometimes the shooters themselves, often of friends or loved ones.

 

Defending ourselves is a natural instinct. But when that instinct leads to far more harm than good, we need to try to find another way to feel safe—a way that doesn’t increase the danger that originally caused us to be afraid. The debate over guns in our society needs to be just that—a debate, with the willingness to listen. Too often, tragedies happen at the end of a gun barrel, and how many of those times would the people involved give anything to take back what had happened? Too often, like Paul with the Galatians, both sides have been prone to attack first and intractably defend their positions, rater than listening or seeking common ground. Let us try to reason together, starting with an acknowledgement that each of these precious lives lost through gun violence was entirely preventable. Then let us pray and work together for real transformation this week, and in the days thereafter.


 

Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She attends Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, MO. She is seminarian-intern at Church of the Good Shepherd , Town and Country, Missouri, in the Diocese of Missouri, and tweets daily prayers and news of note @Scoopexplainsit. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.

 

Image: Leslie Scoopmire

 

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Alvah Whealton
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Alvah Whealton

"Let us try to reason together, starting with an acknowledgement that each of these precious lives lost through gun violence was entirely preventable"

"Reasoning together" seems to equate with an admission from the outset by those not in total agreement with us, that they are wrong.

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Rev. Bill Christy
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Let us not lose sight that worship service is ALL ABOUT worshipping God. We need to leave political issues at the door! Wrapping up our political issues in faith in an attempt to make it more palatable and introducing them into the worship service pollutes our pure worship of God. Outside the worship service, feel free to "chase your tail until the cows come home" as a political activist, but let's keep our worship of God pure and undefiled!

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Jon White
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Jon White

Bill, I can never really understand calls like yours to keep our worship "pure and undefiled." Where does such an idea even come from? That we could encounter God in any other way than as humans, mired in oftentimes difficult and human-y ways is a preposterous notion. Didn't God become incarnate to show us the importance of this existence - in all its messiness? I believe that, as Christians, we are called to emulate the example of Christ in our own lives. Could you point to some words or actions of Jesus that support worshiping in a pure and undefiled way? I see lots of stories of him meeting people where they were in their brokenness and oftentimes proclaiming quite boldly in word and action the injustice of the world and demanding we act in opposition to that (moneychangers, anyone?). What good is it to carry that cross around if we're supposed to politely set it aside at church?

Our salvation isn't individualized, but communal. We are called as a people to be Christ's body - his literal self - in this world and to continue to proclaim boldly in words and actions the good news of our God's opposition to sin - which means injustice and violence to one another.

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Gwen Palmer
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Gwen Palmer

I kind of wish Rev Christy had not used those trigger words "pure and undefiled" because, sure, human life is messy and nothing human beings do is "pure," but he has a good point. I can't see anything in his comment that indicates he doesn't support active opposition to injustice and violence. Calling for worship to be worship doesn't oppose activism.

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