Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Acts 15:1-12:

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.

I had a flashback to a very sad story from my high school years. I am going to change her name in this story to Leah in order to protect the innocent, and I don't know where her life took her after these 30some years, and she deserves her privacy.

Leah and I became friends right about the time I got my drivers' license. Her father was a police officer in town. Leah and I were into reading books and having big discussions about the places we wanted to go in our lives. Neither of us came from families where going to college was routine. We both had things we wanted to move beyond in our family lives. So a natural part of this interaction is we would hang out together, at the Dairy Queen, or at my grandparents' house, or out on the steps at lunch at school or after school. So it is no surprise she invited me to come over to her house. I have no idea to this day what it was about our conversation that made the ensuing events take place--maybe I had said something to the effect of, "I'm not putting up with the crap my folks put up with at home with each other," or "I'm not going to live like that,"--who knows. Or maybe it was something she had said to me. But I became relatively suddenly aware that her dad, who was kind of lurking in the background in another room, was watching me like a hawk. I remember being a little creeped out by it, but since he kept his distance, I really didn't think too much of it.

A couple days later, I saw Leah at school and she had bruises and marks on her face. As I approached her and said, "What happened?" she began to back up from me and say, "Nothing, nothing." Then she said, "You can't come over to the house anymore."

I looked at her and said, "Did your dad do this to you?" She started crying and said, "Please. Don't say anything. Just leave me alone."

And God forgive me, I did exactly as she asked. Maybe it was because I was 16 years old and didn't know any better. Maybe it was because I knew my dad would tell me to stay out of it, as he made it very clear to me that attracting the attention of cops was a bad thing (which had to do more with his feelings about police, not mine.) Maybe it was because I immediately saw it as dumb 16 year old kid vs. the entire local police dept. Or maybe it was simply because I somehow felt bad, that I had "caused" her to be beaten by something I said or did. To this day it haunts me, and sometimes when it pops up again, like now, I pray that somehow her life is better than it was back then.

But this was followed by a few months of her dad stalking me in his police car and pulling me over for every BS thing under the sun--not coming to a complete stop, going one or two miles over the speed limit, tail light out, etc. etc. etc. But he never ticketed me. Mercifully, he always stopped me in plain sight and never stopped me in a scary place where we would have been alone. But he would look at me and say, "I should ticket you, but we will keep this between us. We have an understanding."

Again, I never told anyone. I wasn't going to tell my parents or grandparents--I feared they would cross examine me about being stopped by a cop--after all, if I were stopped, I must have been doing something wrong, right? I didn't want to admit to anyone that I knew about domestic abuse in someone's family because I also knew in my own family, in many places, our sins were ever before us. I simply suffered in silence to no one but God.

After a few months, Leah and her whole family moved away. I always wonder what precipitated that, but who knows. To this day, I don't really know where she ever ended up.

When I read this story in Acts, I think about what all must have been happening before Paul and Barnabas came to town in this episode. The Pharisees, although they had been converted and were believers, for some reason still needed to feel the upper hand in the early church. They still needed to be in control of the family. One of the ways they figured they could control these new Gentiles, to put them in line, was to teach them the ultimate reminder of what being a Jewish male was all about.

I wonder. Did any of them approach Joe Gentile and say, "Well, you know, REALLY, if you want to be a believer, this is what you have to do...but well, it's really painful...but I won't make you do that right now. We will keep that between us." I wonder if this was a way they made women feel they were 2nd class believers--after all, if this was the requirement of being a true believer, well that just automatically cut out the 50% of the population with the wrong parts, now, didn't it?

I wonder if they were hoping when Paul and Barnabas came to town, and it became apparent they were preaching a message of hope and love and inclusion and equality, that these Pharisees stood up and said, "Hey, wait a minute? What about the circumcision thing? How are we going to know who's a believer and who isn't? Yeah, ok, they confessed their sins and say they are followers of Jesus--but how do I know they really mean it? That might be enough for some people, but that's not enough for me."

Sadly, I also wonder who got beaten up after Paul and Barnabas left town.

But maybe that didn't happen. Maybe the community saw this message of inclusive love and when Paul and Barnabas left, they stood up to the abuse they had been getting. Maybe they said, "Yeah, I used to feel that way, but I don't think that is what this church is supposed to be all about. We think it's the other way around--If YOU want to stay, Pharisees, you are going to have to give it up and love us uncircumcised bozos as is, and treat the women the same as the men."

But then I wonder who sat silently in the corner who had been bullied by the Pharisees into circumcision, his boy parts still aching from the event, thinking, "Why did they make me do that? Why didn't God stop them? Why did I fall for this crap? What did I do that was so bad, to put me through this? Why didn't I tell on those guys sooner? I just wanted to be loved by God, and look where it got me." I hope the other members of the church community put their arms around him and loved him, and said, "It's all over now. Let's break bread together. I'm sorry you suffered in the name of the church. I know you're hurt, I know you're angry. But let's do communion together and let God sort it out, not us."

Fast forward 2000 years or so to what seems to have captivated the Anglican Communion, all the recent hoo-haa about Mitregate. I really have held my tongue on this one until now. I have watched my blog friends all be brave and post. But something in me, something old and broken by my own growing up experiences kept saying, "Don't spread crap about the family. Just sit still. Maybe it will blow over. Don't air crap about the family in front of everyone." But it was this Scripture from a recent set of readings from the Daily Office that unlocked my conscience. It's wrong to force other Anglican bodies to accept one Anglican body's interpretation of Holy Scripture. It's wrong to make special deals for one group and not the other. People have been hurt in many ways in the name of this. It's time to accept we should just shut up and share the Sacraments and let God sort it out, not us.



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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