When the last thing you want to do is write, that is when you should write.
I’ve been very frustrated with Paul as of late. The writer, not the actor in Cool Hand Luke. I’m sure you were confused until I clarified.
I am not a confrontational person. In fact, I will go very far out of my way to avoid conflict, even as far as Ohio. If you know me then you know that to be true. I do not like tension in social situations; honestly I don’t particularly like social situations in general. I could very easily slip away into obscurity with a book, maybe some good music, a pot of Folgers and a Moleskine with which to jot little notes to myself that I will probably never use. Like quotes from NPR interviews or detailed descriptions of how the room smelled a particular shade of calm that day.
And let’s not even talk about relationships.
Let’s talk about relationships. One time when I was dating a girl in college, I practically broke up with myself to escape the awkwardness of the relationship. There’s an incredible amount of pressure in the beginning stages of a dating a girl to do things well and with class. Class is not my middle name. I fumble with my words. I sweat in awkward amounts. I try to act in a way that is sophisticated and impressive like Steve McQueen but it always ends up coming out like not Steve McQueen. More like Steve Martin but without the charm, so actually not like Steve Martin at all. Basically I am very awkward.
This tendency to avoid conflict is not a strength, at least I’m told that it isn’t. I can read a lot of the Scriptures and not feel uncomfortable because some of it doesn’t involve conflict. James, for instance, doesn’t upset me at all. He seems very practical and peaceful. I think that James and I would be very good friends. But then I read other portions of Scripture, and I get upset, even a little mad at times, at what some of the authors say. I usually feel bad for this.
Paul, in my opinion, said some really hard things to accept. Lots of people say they believe things because the Bible says so, but I’ve always had some trouble with believing an idea simply because someone wrote it down. I’m not saying that I doubt the validity of Scripture or its divine inspiration, but things aren’t always as black and white to me as they are to other people.
And so Paul has been frustrating me, and maybe that has come out of lack of understanding, or maybe because he seems so confident, and I rarely feel confident about much at all. Some of the things he wrote about women absolutely baffle me. Some texts we seem to take quite literally, but the phrases and commands around them we don’t follow as a whole. He wrote with authority in his literary voice. Spirituality holds the greatest mysteries within its foundations, and so any sort of writing with authority has always had this stigma to it. It’s not that it’s bad; it’s just difficult to swallow at times.
So I’ll read Paul, and I’ll get frustrated. Maybe at him. Maybe at myself. I don’t think that’s all that important.
But then Paul goes and writes something beautiful like
And now I will show you the most excellent way …
(That is my favorite line in all of the Scriptures.)
If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body [to hardship] that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:1-7, TNIV).
And then I’ll think to myself, Where did that come from?
It is as if a voice of grace calls out to me, a voice of patience that asks me simply to be and to wade through the things I find difficult, and to trust that it’s all under control. Yes there is conflict, but it’s going to be OK. Tomorrow is still going to come.
Love will always be a redeemer for me. It somehow brings me back from tension to a place of peace, in much the same way that a certain aroma can take you back in your memory to your childhood to a very specific moment and space, where cares were less and trust was more.