It dawned on me this week that Paul in Christian scripture was probably awkward. He was Jewish, Roman, and a follower of "The Way." (Early Christians did not call themselves Christians -- they were followers of The Way.) Paul sits at this point of being in three different circles. That is hard! And it gives Paul a different perspective than many of the other early followers of Jesus. No wonder he said,
19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. (I Cor 9:19-23)
I wonder about the intersection of being all these things. Jewish, Christian, Roman. At some point, Paul made the decision to use his multiple identities to further his evangelism efforts. I wonder what we can do with our multiple identities!
I think when we consider using our own identities, we should probably be more cautious than Paul was. I think it is very important to be authentic and to understand what our intersections mean. If I say that I am Western European American, Christian (contextually), Progressive, Female, Parent, Bisexual, and a Child of Alcoholics, those are very big identities with different impacts. They also bring with them baggage and privilege. I need time to know what my triggers are and what my blindspots are. I have them both. Nobody is the product of one identity.
Given that, some identities carry more privilege than others due to historical forces that work in their favor. Western-European-American has more privilege than African-American. Male has more privilege than Female. Christian has more privilege than Pagan. And it goes on.
Taking Paul's list of identities-Jewish, Roman, Christian, and Male (I have to add that one!), he has a 2/2 score. Roman and male were the thing to be in his culture. Jewish was outside the walls of being favored. Christian was two score outside the walls of being favored. Paul frequently used his Roman-ness and maleness to get to places he could not enter and to get out of punishments. That is pretty smart!
On my list of privileges, there are three that work to my advantage and open doors in the PacNW: Western European American, Progressive, and Parent. These three identities have opened doors. The question becomes, what about the other things. What about being Christian, Female, Bisexual, and a Child of Alcoholics? Each of those brings with it some baggage and sensitivities. But when I take the time for appropriate self-care, they become strengths. I use privilege to create space to discuss difficult issues and to make change for the positive.
Paul used his privilege to much the same, although he does it WAY different than I do! He used his Roman-ness to go to places like the marketplace in Athens. There, he took the time to speak about Christ. That led to him being carted away and defending himself at Mars Hill. So he had privilege and used it to transform the lives of people who listened. Not too bad.
Rarely do we look at Paul like a person with a timeline. We spend so much time reading his letters, we lose sight of who he was. Stepping back and seeing him as a person with multiple identities inspired me to relate to Paul in a different way. It seemed to inspire a view of seeing him as a person who dealt with all the things that we deal with. That is good no matter how you feel about Paul!
Maybe if we took the time to wonder about the other people we see, it would inspire us to enter into their story and to try and understand them. It would slow down judgement and speed up loving kindness.
Shalom and Amen!