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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Acts 21:1-39

I can certainly empathize with Paul in today’s passage from Acts – for in that passage Paul faces the challenge of balancing his personal beliefs with the beliefs of those in a community. That balance can be tricky.

One of my experiences with that came early in my ministry back in Aurora, CO. The city council had a tradition of asking ministers from local churches to say an opening prayer at each city council meeting. I personally am uncomfortable with the practice of public prayer at civic events since such a practice can be used to diminish/discount people of other faith traditions.

When I first got the request, I felt as if I was in a bind. Do I hold to my personal belief and turn down the request; or do I accept it and offer an interfaith prayer that was both respectful and inclusive of other faith traditions? After much thought and prayerful discernment, I decided to accept the request and offer a sensitive and inclusive prayer.

In today’s passage, Paul was faced with a similar dilemma. He personally didn’t believe that the observance of specific behaviors was necessary to be in right relationship with the God revealed through Jesus – and yet some local believers wanted Paul to support the efforts of some men to be circumcised in order to show folks in Jerusalem that Paul was indeed supportive of such a practice.

Paul could have drawn a line in the sand and refused on principle. Instead, he realized that living into one’s faith often requires living into a delicate balance between living out one’s personal beliefs and creating room for others.

We modern folks in the United States live in a culture that suggests, “It’s all about us.” Our first instinct in situations where our individual preferences are at odds with the communal preferences is frequently to go with the individual desire. At such times, I remember Paul’s example and try to bring the two into balance.

So how successful are you in terms of living into this balance? Do you view your personal faith as permission to demand things on your own time and terms; or does your faith sensitize you to other people and their beliefs in such a way that you can respectfully live together?

Til next time…

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