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A SAINT’S MISTAKE: A POEM OF ST PAUL

06 Dec

[It’s arguable that tradition is wrong and St Paul never quite maintained what is popularly believed as regards “homosexuals” and “homosexuality” – words not used in his time. But belief about what he famously or notoriously wrote in Romans still has effects. Yet if the Apostle did say things along the line attributed to him,  both popular and scholarly understanding does not consider the evidence for  an element within Pauline experience which suggests the possibility of real error in his outlook in this area, one divinely anticipated and disapproved. Within poetic limits that difficult and controversial point is addressed. Related notes add a little more. Ideas for the poem came to me after reading the  outrageous extent of homelessness of gay people in America as a result of some ongoing conservative Christian attitudes]

Conversion

(The Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus, by Caravaggio c. 1600)

A SAINT’S MISTAKE: A POEM OF ST PAUL

From birth those energies defining life
May be transformed but keep their force,
There’s limit set upon the chance for change.
The angry youth may live to father revolution
But, lifelong, yearning visionaries may never
Grasp all truth; the times, society, a weakness of
The vehicle determines where and how each will
May grow. Light can enlighten when not blind,
But sight may need what’s heard to truly see.
Let eyes be opened, ready for the sun
Of Truth, but still recall that Logos speaks
Across the universe of space and time
Through ages, not one age alone which ends,
As ours, its spiritual life enfeebled,
Lacking true prophetic view, even
Ignoring such as you, St Paul, wilful,
Doubting or perhaps confused, refused
The words of Agabus. [1]
Upon Damascus road met by great Light,
You saw, you gazed, you fell and then
Three days remained alone in darkness, blind,
Till, helped by human hands, scales fell like leaves
From off your eyes. But what was that your ears
Had heard? Your mind in shock no doubt turned much
Upon a sacred history, ancient Law,
The Lord, but had you in that solitude
Absorbed the fullness of the uttered words
And even when preaching soon the Christ as
Son, repressed and left unlearned what echoed
Through the flashing of celestial light?
Even God had seen you on the road
Not just as Jew devout to last extremity,
But kin to pagan Pentheus face set against
The worlds of women and of difference
And spoke to you the words of question and
Rebuke once given by Agathon’s lover to the god
Of ecstasy and the flourishing vine.[2]
Of this, though Christ alone is truly he,
The shadow also speaks to depths of mind for
In yourself and God a Gentile dwells as
In the Gentile there’s a Jew. To soul within
And world without your call was to a wider field
Than even you would quite allow, lands and lives
Not only to address with a new gospel
Of deliverance and transcendent Law
But in their essence to reclaim. Such would require
Not only persons of the Way not fall sad victim
To persecutions of your policy
But – what and who are more remote to
The conservative, devoted mind – also
Minorities, the outsider, the enslaved.
The stubborn ox resists the goad, so hard
It is for even the good to heed God’s voice;
But harder life then weighs on many more
If that same voice is disregarded or misheard.
It drawsa canker to redemption’s rose,
It hid a poison in the new and good,
And justified whole centuries of harm,
Of inquisition, secrecy and dull despair
Of suicide, of souls denied the family home,
Of youth made objects of improper cure
Confused by a false loathing of the self,
Lives lived as though beneath a curse,
And so because you never learned, not even
From Jeremiah in his difference,
That never the leopard lost his spots
Nor did the Ethiopian his skin.[3]
The pedantry and prejudice of one once
Proudly Pharisee, stayed blind to what
In nature, art, and even just humanity
Might teach. You failed, as even great Luther
Later failed the Jews. [4]
Within a Roman world whose ruling might
Your angry will alone could hope to oppose,
Scarce noticing the slavery and pleasure
Taken in refinement of all cruelties,
You made a scapegoat and the symbol
Of most vice and sin, (almost the fall
Of this whole world and worthy of death itself),
Those whose eros and whose loves inclined them
To one side, their own, by this made
Enemies of a “Law” – transcended and fulfilled,
You taught – yet holding you still much in thrall.[5]
Not only was the scapegoat harmed but also
Spiritual lives identified most narrowly
With nature’s way. [6] Vague rumour, petty hate
In place of information or of love, worldly
Obsession with oppressive law and politics
Sometimes rank violence on the streets,
Such was and is the legacy to those
Whose loyalty is wholly to “God’s word”
And your authority, all ignorant
Of just how little the Spirit spoke
To you on the contested theme but
Rather echoes of Apocrypha, pressures
And customs of your familiar world.[7]
Like Peter struck with vision by the sea
But who denied the wisdom shown because
It seemed to oppose a written source, [8]
Likewise idolatry of tradition and of text
Chokes inspiration of the Living Word.
Oh Spirit who should lead to Truth and who
In your own being is the Truth, descend
Upon the human mind that thought
May rise to judgements on a higher plane,
Not timeless only but aware of time, its cycles
And those changes they intend. [9] Together let
Inspiration, scriptures and the kairos speak,
And not one source alone lest faith’s whole vessel
Run aground or sink.
No theory, no philosophy, no abstract
Statement of a rule will summarize
The Spirit’s truth whose will embraces
Situations and hurt souls as even
Holy Law was forced to do for daughters
Of Zelophehad.[10] Alas that Tarsus
Was the home not just of you, St Paul,
But to that Stoic thought defining
Nature, pleasure and a universal law
Too abstractly in the face of plain
Reality and human need. How hard
It was for you to accept the nature of
Even that youth, the gospeller Mark. [11]

11

These facts despite, the Good can redirect
And heal what harms. But wrong’s a wild weed
Reproduced and strong, and stronger still
When unacknowledged where it grows. Within
The fields of faith yet worse than choking weed
Stands visible and alone the bending,
Stricken tree of noxious fruit. It should
Be left to perish in its place, but those
Encircling it for its defence as though to guard
A relic’s power, and then their foes (seeing
More the persons than the tree), both these
Partake in what corrupts at root and branch.
Truth is feared and inconvenient to both;
Those who defend the tree will not admit
Beyond all claims of justice and of evidence
Their saint and scripture might be wrong – even while
They do not dare to cite them now on
Due obedience of slaves. They are themselves
Enslaved to Paul, so much they’ll even join
Their voice and vote with unbelievers in Christ’s
Name if only still to impose their way. [12]
Their mouths speak lies and foolish summary:
Difference becomes but “lifestyle” and a “choice”,
Let none admit it should exist lest youth be
Tempted to perversion. talk of discrimination,
Harassment can be ignored, just as indeed
They always were, the righteous mute before
While witness to a thousand wrongs, even
Approving marriages in name alone
(But these deemed holy –  other kinds impure).
This way “the unnatural” could be simply
Punished or erased and heaven’s blessings,
Not its wrath, shower down upon a Pauline
World sore needing knowledge more divine
Of being and persons in themselves. For
Grace itself is para physin – Paul
Deemed it work against the natural. [13]

Those who attack tradition’s tree and tribe
Are but soul brothers of their tyranny.
They’re almost what was so long feared
Or banned or damned, emerged like hell’s
Own self to manifest in monstrous style
A beast conformed to worst imagination.
Revenge lends savour to its policies
And once again an abstract value – now
“Equality” – spreads widely a new chaos.
The sacred, soon a target for the secular,
The atheist and hedonist demand full
Equal rights for ceremony and employ
All places from the college class to
Altar’s rail. Appeals to conscience, failures [14]
To welcome well or grant request,
All can be deemed new forms of insult
Or discrimination, grounds to pursue
A case at law, if need be, ruin livelihoods
And lives. For now what’s spiritual seems only
False and what is ethical but relative
Though what is sexual can seem true –
Even honest as pornography,
Itself a model for new modes of life.
It’s why beyond love’s rights, sometimes
Demanded with fanatic zeal, too often
Lies what’s scarcely more than sex as sport,
And heartless exploitation of the young.
And while the theorist and the litigant
Hold forth, indifference meets the
Youthful homeless and perplexed. But then,
Beyond “acceptance” at all costs, what
Will the monster’s tribe provide for life
And health beyond its empty round of
Party revel or narcotic haze?

III

Enough! The false can only bring forth
Lies again. The conflict of inflexible minds,
Harms everything and everyone, disturbs
The life of faith and human rights alike
With argument too close to cavil and to kvetch. [15]
Both parties see repeatedly but
One another to their shame in that dark
Mirror of St Paul. [16] In him, amid
Deep revolutions for the mind and age
And strivings with a hostile world, what seemed
Like sordid issues round the few, bore little
Weight save something to dismiss, deride,
Though history would prove that wrong
Like any utterance on a theme
When one admits to “think”, not fully know,
Just what the Spirit of God declares [17]
Or by pure silence does not judge. Even so…

Unless to say it can be that the first
Are last [18], amid the sufferings and long
Martyrdom of life, let none too quickly
Judge the words of you, St Paul. For scarcely
Will the saint or sage (and others less)
Attain full knowledge with perfection.
Each soul needs a Damascus with its light…
Yet there, let even saints not only see
But hear what makes for life and should set free.

NOTES

[1] Acts 21:10. The prophet Agabus warns Paul against going to Rome and the Christians beseech him not to go but he goes anyway. It is not clear how much he believes the forecast and how much God is understood to give a choice in the matter through the warning, but anyway Paul remains adamant. He had always intended or wanted to go to Rome (Acts 19:21) though it is not specifically stated the Spirit told him to go there as opposed to Achaia.
[2] Jesus is self-described as the true vine (Joh 15:1) so by implication the vine god, Dionysius (whom Gentiles believed was the God of the Jewish Temple) is the false. However the archetype is still relevant. We now know even pious Jews attended the pagan theatre and there is reason to suppose both Jesus and Paul could have known the celebrated Bacchae of Euripides (“the lover of Agathon”, Agathon being one of Athens’ most beautiful men). In the play Dionysius manifests like Christ to Paul, to accuse Pentheus of disregarding and persecuting him…”a man defying god”. Although Acts 24:16 says Paul heard  in Hebrew, the apparent quote from Euripides’ Greek is exact. It has unnecessarily kept the dramatist’s plural form of kentra goad/necessity (which would fit rather with a common proverb in the singular) that Euripides employs when Pentheus says,  “You disregard my words…and kick against necessity/the goads”. Euripides has only pluralized to make his poetic metre go. It is also important to note that the necessity/the goad could have sexual implications which the KJV bible’s “kick against the pricks” accidentally reflects. Though I don’t accept theories Paul was a closet gay, it’s possible the conversion narrative contains a hint Paul needs to examine his sexual being and attitudes at deep levels, as otherwise they could affect his teachings, treatment of people and understanding of what Jesus himself is like.
[3] Jer 13:23, On the basically gay/queer character of Jeremiah see for example Chapter 8 of my Cosmic Father: Spirituality as Relationship. It is beyond present scope but contained in my writings that some persons do, or appear to make, at least partial change from their orientation. There are reasons for this but in most instances persons are what they are and remain what they are  from childhood.
[4]  Luther reformed much and lit a torch for liberty in Europe generally, but his record of anti-Semitic prejudice (he proposed synagogues should be burned down) left a legacy in Germany facilitating Nazi attitudes centuries later, a case of a great man making great mistakes.
[5] It could be that Paul’s famous/infamous Romans 1 describes male prostitution, paedophilia, recreational bisexuality or just blasts the extreme indulgence of ancient Rome. Practically however, this is rant influenced by the Apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon on sex and idolatry. But by referring to whatever precisely same sex as “degrading passions”, “shameless acts” “degrading of the body” etc “for which they deserve to die” this part of scripture works out as hate speech and a life sentence if not a hell sentence for anyone remotely same sex attracted. It is what makes for a great proportion of the homeless of America being gays thrown out of the house by “good” Christians. Christian rejection was the reason of the now eternally remorseful Linda Robertson’s son took to drugs and overdosed at eighteen. Romans 1 would have been better never written and it should be excised from our bibles for the damage it does. For vastly less good reason even the sola scriptura Luther declared the epistle of James “an epistle of straw” that should be censored from our bibles. At the same time, it must be allowed Paul and Christians past and present have a perfect right to maintain that “homosexuality” like heterosexuality can be the basis for excessive, immoral, decadent behaviour (such as really does exist in America as in ancient Rome) It is troubling that the defence of gay rights now so often today also seeks to indite all and any criticism of gay behaviour as “homophobic”, even an indictable offence. Queer theory doesn’t accept the notion of morality in any normal sense and there is much to legitimately question in the work of leaders of gay/queer theory.
[6] i.e. associating sex with nothing but reproduction like the pagan Stoics which is scarcely biblical – Paul seems not to have read or absorbed the Song of Solomon..
[7] Paul’s diatribe is owing to the Apocyphal Wisdom of Solomon and is not untypical of his society and times – numbers of pagan writers like the satirist Juvenal spit out hatred of effeminates or any male who seems “different” from some militaristic masculine norm. The subject was confused by various class and military factors that no longer apply today. Any male passive towards another male was disgraced, the reason sodomy was used on prisoners of war. Masters could use slaves sexually. Doubtless because so many non gay persons were made to function that way that St Paul confuses values to this day by talking about “and such were some of you” ( 1 Cor 6:11) still the scriptural basis for praying or exorcising the gay away.
[8] Acts 10:14. Peter wrongly rejects the vision given him (three times!) because it contradicts or modifies scripture.
[9] The point is little stressed hence unfamiliar, but that the Spirit is God as Truth is indicated by 1 Joh 5:6. It is suggested here that the Spirit oversees/interprets the ages and cycles of time which promote changes and the new which are meant to be accepted.
[10] Numbers 27 recounts how these women petitioned to have the inheritance laws changed. This would imply the Law, (apart from core covenant with its Ten Commandments), is not written to be and beyond questioning and negotiation. All secondary law is besides for organization of the society of the covenanted Jews. It is not presented as any universal prescription and it is controversial if St Paul (and various Popes and councils) privilege and universalize only items almost at random following generalizing philosophical principles which is what Paul does re laws even his Jewish contemporary Philo believed applied to sacred prostitution.
[11]  St Paul did not get on well with the young John Mark, probably because his character was different in some way – perhaps gay/queer. Various controversies around Mark like The Secret Gospel, however heretical nonetheless likely reflect traditional suspicions around this gospeller’s character.
[12] In India minority Christians have successfully joined with Muslims (who elsewhere persecute their faith), to campaign for a recriminalizing of homosexuality laws against which were repealed in 2009. In 2014 conservative Christian pastor and politician Danny Nalliah who has been constantly opposed by or opposed to Muslims in Australia has recently supported them in opposition to gays.
[13]  Paul fails to see the irony that at the same time as he will approve whatever is unnatural, God works against his nature (his perfection) in grafting Gentiles onto the tree of Israel and salvation. Rom 11.24
[14]   Politically correct Gay/Queer rights are theoretically inclusive of atheist or libertarian gays having the right to teach religion classes or run church and university religion clubs etc or, in some radically liberal churches, to be priests without beliefs or usual  moral standards. While religious people can be blinkered bigots,even the individual bigot may still appreciate and support a larger community sense of the sacred which the rationalist libertarian may not. A community should have the right to retain what makes for the sacred, and arguably the owner of property (such as a hotel) should have some right to set the rules which may include a preference against gay couples? Conscience should be educated rather than state  coerced by laws, and where gays conspire to coerce Christians they are not better than those they oppose. Presently churches  are just being split apart and charity services curtailed due to arguments and court cases over gays and their rights.
[15] kveth is Yiddish for ceaseless outlandish complaining, grumbling, blaming. It is suggested St Paul somewhat indulges this in Romans 1
[16] St Paul famously states we see through a glass darkly (1 Cor 13:12), a principle forgotten when writing on things and persons “unnatural”!
[17] 1 Cor 7:39. It seems controversial that in pronouncing on marriage and divorce St Paul can only say he “thinks” he has the Spirit of God on the matter. He should surely know in making rules so vital to people’s lives, though one could say it’s liberating in that it leaves the door open for alternatives and exceptions. But if he only “thinks” re divorce, how much more likely is it he would have “thought” what he claims about same sex loving and lovers about which even just humanly and socially he would know so much less?
[18]  Matt 20:16

 

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1 Comment

Posted by on December 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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One response to “A SAINT’S MISTAKE: A POEM OF ST PAUL

  1. TruthSeeker

    December 7, 2014 at 1:20 am

    Reblogged this on truthcking.

     

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