Last Wednesday, a small group of Friends folks and I began a study on the life and letters of the Apostle Paul. This mid-summer bible study has become a tradition that I’ve enjoyed offering the last few years. We’ve had some great conversations over texts as diverse as Romans and Leviticus, but this year are taking a wider view than just one book, and looking at Paul in all his depth and complexity.
For many of us, Paul and his writings provoke some complicated feelings. He wrote some of the most beautiful and rich passages in the bible—his meditations on love in I Corinthians, his assertion that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Romans—are a balm in times of joy and sorrow. But his writings have also been used to exclude and condemn some of us; women have been told that their call to proclaim the gospel and serve God’s people is not valid, based on a reading of some of the writings attributed to him. Those of us in the LGBTQ community have been told that we are not worthy of grace, that we don’t belong in God’s kingdom. Suffice it to say, Paul can be complicated.
Which is exactly why I wanted to explore him and his writings together with my Friends Church family. Scripture—not just the writings of Paul, but all of it—can be like that. Beautiful, terrifying, complicated, frustrating. Which is why we need to wrestle with it, plumb its depth, seek to understand—together, in community, hearing and sharing our experiences and learning from one another. In the United Church of Christ, we like to say that “God is still speaking,” and one of the ways we hear that divine voice is in community as we share with each other our own learnings, experiences, and questions.
That wrestling and struggling, seeking to hear the divine voice and receive a blessing, was my experience with Paul and other bible passages when I was coming out. I read and prayed, I listened to what others had learned and discovered, and I ultimately came away with a new understanding of these ancient texts and what they had to say to us today. Like the patriarch Jacob after his night wrestling with an angel, I came away with a limp, but with a blessing—to share the radically inclusive love of God with everyone.
So if you’re uncertain, struggling, asking questions—or if you’re secure and certain in your faith and understanding—wherever you are on the journey, you belong. Join us on Wednesday evenings at 7:00 to share and learn if you’re able, but know that your story matters. One of our Pilgrim forebears, John Robinson, told the small band of settlers in Massachusetts Bay in 1620 that “God hath yet more light and truth to break forth from his holy word.” There is always more that we have to learn, more light and more truth. Together, let us listen for the still-speaking voice, through the bible yes, but most of all, through each other.