When the Local is Not Global (Day 29 Audioblog)

A reading of Romans 13–15

In a nutshell: Paul closes his letter with an appeal to greater tolerance within the community that has rallied around Jesus as God’s anointed king. He especially emphasizes flexibility around other people’s spiritual and religious practices.

I myself have come to believe that you all are filled with good intentions, well furnished with knowledge of every kind, and quite capable of providing one another with good advice.
—Romans 15:14

It’s Day 29! Just one more day to go in our 30-day challenge! Today is the conclusion of the long letter to the Romans. Tomorrow’s reading is a brief letter of recommendation that may have accompanied the longer letter.

think-local“Think globally, act locally.” Paul’s global attitude pops up regularly in his advice to local communities. Paul’s advice is usually to do what he is doing: to think and act globally. He pushes locals to continually think more expansively and universally about their relationships with others and role in ultimate reality.

That was my reality for about ten years of intensive intercultural and interfaith work. I’m still completely engaged in that work, but my reality has shifted. “Universalism” no longer means seeking to make everybody else intercultural and interfaith. HR analyst Josh Bersin underwent a similar reality check in 2013:

While we certainly live in a highly interconnected world, the business world is not as “flat” [a metaphor for viewing world commerce as a level playing field where all competitors have an equal opportunity,] as Thomas Friedman once predicted. Quite the contrary in fact. There is no “global market” for goods and service, rather there are now a set of globally connected “local” businesses.

We are just completing a year long effort to study best-practices in the structure of Human Resources. What we found is that while companies want order and consistency around the world, the highest-performing companies don’t standardize everything:  they localize.

We can see this mentality in Paul, to a point. He still believed that he had a universal message that could bind everyone together. While I still agree with Paul that flexibility and tolerance are vital to community survival, nowhere is the death of the metanarrative more painfully obvious to me than in my attempts to read and interpret Paul’s letters.

Paul tried to make a local god universal. Unfortunately, that particular project has no relevance to my life, nestled in the high desert foothills of Idaho. As for the stories of the Bible, a collection of often profound books written by people who, like me, were looking for ways to survive in a desert climate and taking lessons in wisdom from that harsh terrain—those do have relevance for my life. Paul is a companion, a visitor from out of town. He reminds me that the local can be stagnant when not injected with new vision from time to time, and for that I extend him a hand in gratitude.

Does this mean the lack of a universal story that gives all humanity something to unite around means we must walk in hopeless circles going nowhere? (This is the pessimistic definition of postmodernism.) I like that Paul reminds us to “pursue what makes peace possible and what is constructive for all of us” (14:19b). That’s not possible unless you actually immerse yourself in a real community, get to know its concerns, and let it be personal. If I may be pardoned an utterly non-scholarly soccer reference in the wake of the World Cup:

You’ve got to risk being completely devastated if you don’t achieve your dream.

For some additional insights from the perspective of intercultural and interfaith work, along with some comments about how this whole issue fits into Paul’s broad goal of uniting the nation of Israel with other nations as the people of God, listen to the audioblog below:

Questions for the Road:

  • Why did you read Paul’s letters? What personal or communal concern drove you to stick with this challenge?
  • How do you balance universal and local concerns? What aspects of Paul’s advice do you find helpful for doing so?

Letters of Paul small squareThanks for reading this entry from the #30DaysofPaul reading challenge. We’re reading the seven undisputed letters of Paul in 30 days: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, Romans. Why not join us? Download the reading plan, which is based on the work of the Westar Paul Seminar as published in The Authentic Letters of Paul.

Cassandra FarrinCassandra Farrin joined Westar in 2010 and currently serves as the Marketing & Outreach Director. A US-UK Fulbright Scholar, she has an M.A. in Religious Studies from Lancaster University (England) and a B.A. in Religious Studies from Willamette University. She is passionate about books and projects that in some way address the intersection of ethics and early Christian history.

6 thoughts on “When the Local is Not Global (Day 29 Audioblog)

  1. Romans 12 and 13:8-15:6, a paraphrase: Following the pattern of his other letters, Paul now presents a lengthy section on the behavioral expectations for Christ followers.

    Abide in God’s compassion. Demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about worship by sacrificing yourselves to the ways of the world and renewing your minds for perceiving what is the perfect will of God. Have a sober judgment about yourself and think about your cooperative sharing and love for one another in Christ’s body, each with his own gift: prophecy, teaching, giving… to contribute to the association. At the same time there are behaviors common to all: hate evil, show honor, be ardent in service, rejoice hopefully, suffer patiently, persevere in prayer, be generous to the saints, welcome the stranger, bless whoever persecutes you, share in another’s joy, weep with the grief-stricken, befriend the lowly, be humble about insight, don’t repay evil for evil, promote peaceful living, do not be vengeful, be kind to the enemy. Judgment lies in the hands of God.

    The only thing you owe each other is love. This fulfills the Torah completely. And you know the time, the nearness of the Day of salvation. So put on Jesus Christ and live in the light; the dark deeds of the flesh, like drunkenness, debauchery, and jealousy, have no part in the light.

    Be sensitive to differences in practice and beliefs. There are big differences among us, such as, can we eat anything or must we limit ourselves to vegetables. Also, must we celebrate certain holidays, or may we refrain. The intentions of those of either persuasion are good, we all intend to live to the Lord. But it is also a practice of mine that the strong must support the weak and not lead one to contradict his own conscience. Do not pass judgment, the judgment seat is God’s. Resolve not to put a stumbling block in another’s way. I personally don’t think that any food is unclean, but others do think that. Do not injure or ruin a brother by setting an example that he cannot accept. Pursue peace and mutual upbuilding. The kingdom does not depend on the contents of the stomach. Have your own convictions, but don’t weaken a brother by throwing them in his face, for he will not respond out of trust but out of doubt and that is sin. Our example, Christ, did not act to please himself; our job as servants, to the steadfastness and encouragement of our God, is to put up with failings and to build-up others.

    Cassandra writes: “…nowhere is the death of the metanarrative more painfully obvious to me than in my attempts to read and interpret Paul’s letters.
    Paul tried to make a local god universal. Unfortunately, that particular project has no relevance to my life, nestled in the high desert foothills of Idaho.”

    Comment: On the matter of universalism, I must insist on making distinctions. There’s the universalism of Hitler’s Aryan race and there’s the universalism of the equality of all people. Then there’s universalism in the context of an imminent second coming, which 100% colors all of Paul’s choices and emphases. Paul did not preach across the world to impose his will on the nations, he preached across the world to bring the full number chosen by God into the circle of the Anointed. After the Day of judgment, whatever the word universal means would be the natural condition of existence. Now an analogy that might fit today would be a modern day Paul traveling the world to highlight the judgment and grace of the planet on human decision making, we either pollute to our destruction or conserve and manage to our glory.

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  2. Having had the opportunity to listen to Cassandra’s interesting audio, I offer a few more reactions to the localism and globalism dynamic. Perhaps we’ve all experienced times in our lives when the need to submerge oneself locally and maximize the opportunities there takes top priority; life has to be that way, really. That can’t happen to maximum efficiency and fulfillment, however, without the guidance of universalism. Many have observed that the one message the great religions of the world have in common is the equality of all persons before God. I would suggest that one can be effective and fulfilled locally because there are universal and global imperatives that must prevail: the equality of men and women in all the benefits of society and culture, including career opportunity and wages, the abolition of sex and slave trafficking, the abolition of female mutilation practices, holding men equally responsible for out of wedlock pregnancies and the consequences thereof, the elimination of factors which encourage substance dependence. The list could keep going.

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  3. Gene, today’s blog post will definitely respond to the distinction between a Hitler-esque universalism and Paul’s idea of it more fully. Thanks for putting me onto the topic! It’s definitely a needed follow-up.

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