PHILADELPHIA—I take the train to the Kermit Gosnell trial and it’s a half-hour commute, so it’s a good time to read the Bible, but not a good time to haul my large hardbound version. I carry a French Bible published in 1859 because it’s portable and because I find it helpful to occasionally read the Word of God in a language that will surprise me.
I happen to be reading—and rereading—the Thessalonians and Timothys, and their message has dovetailed with my experience in court in a way that makes the past couple of weeks seem like a ribbon of two strands interwoven. I feel I “get” Paul’s words in a way I didn’t before. Lest you think by “my experience in court” I am referring to the goings-on of the Gosnell case, I need to clarify that I mean the drama on the other side of the rail, in the press box and in my soul.
For in the press box there have been, since early in the trial, a collection of people such as I never rub elbows with—from NPR’s WHYY affiliate, from Philadelphia’s NBC 10, from the Philadelphia Inquirer,and from Philadelphia Magazine. And then there is yours truly from a Christian publication. And in such company, if one is not careful of one’s heart, there is the tendency to desire the respect of the world—or at least the avoidance of ostracization.
But I find, lo and behold, that Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians and Timothy are much about ostracization, and Paul’s layered exhortations to not mind it at all, and to persevere in being bold even if you are not liked.
I used to read 1 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy narrowly as epistles about persecution with a capital “P,” which rendered them nearly unprofitable for me, since I have never been bodily thrown out of a synagogue, flogged, or thrown in jail, such as Paul was just prior to being in Thessalonica, or on the occasion of writing 2 Timothy.
But Paul’s urgent communiqués become helpful when I realize he is talking about the pain of not being welcome in what C.S. Lewis called “the inner ring.” They become personal when I realize he is addressing that universal Christian experience of telling an urbane journalist that you write for a Christian publication and finding yourself thereafter subtly snubbed.
Note to self: Don’t waste time thinking about such petty matters as being in the inner ring. As Paul exhorts, keep being yourself, not shrinking back or watering down or succumbing to temptation to seek popularity. For what do they have? Ours is “le Dieu vivant et veritable” (1 Thessalonians 1:9), the God who is living and true.