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Logic & Experience

Our reading from the Narrative Lectionary this week is from Acts 17:1-9.  Paul comes into a new town and begins teaching about Jesus in the synagogue.  He teaches for three weeks in a row and converts many, but upsets the religious leaders.  When they see his success they create a mob and try to arrest Paul.  When they can't find him they arrest the owner of the home he was staying in. 

What struck me this week is the dedication and love Paul had for the Jewish communities he had grown up in.  At this point he already had much more success and had more in common with the gentile believers, but he was consistent about going to the Jews first, and he only stopped trying to convert them after being forced to by law, or physical force. In a time when it is a cultural norm to hop from church to church over minor theological differences, musical tastes, or social circles, this is a message we desperately need.

Paul did not give up on his faith community, he worked to be the change he wanted to see.  He was criticized and abused for it, but the church as a whole is better today because of his efforts.  He didn't simply start a new church, he used the scriptures to make logical arguments, and he used his own experience to share anecdotal evidence.  The Jewish leaders were stuck in their ways and refuted both, and we should learn from their mistake, but we often recreate the same church culture that beat Paul nearly to death several times. 

Since many of us choose a church that fits our beliefs and tastes best, we are surrounded by people who think and believe like us.  This creates long standing tradition and thought echo chambers.  When a new idea is presented with logic, we argue "God's ways are not like our ways", or "Man's wisdom is foolishness to God".  When confronted with examples of personal experiences that question our traditions or deeply held beliefs, we ignore them as the "logical fallacy of anecdotal evidence".  We note that it is our responsibility to protect the flock from false teachers and wolves in sheep clothing.  I imagine the Jews from Thessalonica thought they were offering a similar service to their community. 

It is this type of thinking that has kept churches progressing slowly on issues like women & LGBTQ leaders, as well as any form of modern scientific symbiosis. Hearts have been hardened and lines have been drawn in the sand.  Churches have divided and created their own echo chambers on both ends of the arguments.  We have lost the diversity within the individual bodies that once allowed us to sharpen one another. 

Churches need to begin drawing their circle of who is welcome much larger, to adopt a generous orthodoxy, our faith has a long tradition of it.  We don't need to agree to belong.  Individuals on the fringes need to stay in place and help be the change they want to see instead of creating new echo chambers.  Those in the accepted orthodoxy need to let their defenses down a little and listen to the stirring voices in their community, they are prompting you towards progress, and they are part of the body too.       


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