The Slow, Painful and Essential Work of Building Community (Or, “St Paul, Were You Drunk?”)


Bronwyn Lea -St. Paul Were You Drunk3

“Pinterest, are you drunk?” I mutter.

I mean it as a joke, of course, but jokes always have an underbelly of truth. “Are you drunk?” is something I mutter under my breath when I see anything that feels like an impossible ask: the school sandwiches cut with personalized cookie cutters and lovingly placed in a bento box; the house on the next street which is ridiculously overpriced, the fact that scrunchies apparently are back “in” as a hair trend. And in moments like this, I mutter: Are you drunk? I can’t even. Seriously? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

There’s a meme for every madness.

But then there came a day when, in the wake of grizzly elections and the world gone mad with grief and bombing and refugees and hatred, that I was reading Ephesians 4, and my unfiltered self read Paul’s words and thought:

Paul, are you drunk? Because surely this was an impossible ask: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” —Ephesians 4:1-3

Surely Paul couldn’t mean this. Unity? Peace? Between us? Now? How is that even possible when church can feel so fractured by class, ethnicity, political affiliation, and socioeconomic divides. How is that possible when the church universal is split up into denominations each staking out their space on the corner, with carefully articulated reasons why they are the “us,” and others are “them.” Surely Paul’s plea was naïve: the apostolic equivalent of Miss Universe wanting “world peace.” How ridiculous. How jejune. Paul, are you drunk?

And yet, to take this line is to fall into the classic hubris of history: thinking that our society and its problems are significantly different to all those which have come before. They’re not. People are people, and sin is sin. Bias is bias, and love is love. Paul wrote his letters to communities of newish converts, brought to a common faith out of a deeply divided society, pockmarked by hatred in its own terrible ways. Slaves made up a third of society. The church was comprised of people who owned vast amounts of property, and of people who were property. Women were property. Rome ruled with an iron fist. People who had been taught their whole lives that Gentiles (technically a descriptive term, but no doubt also an ethnic slur) were unclean, unholy and unchosen, were now being asked to welcome these same people into their homes, their families, their lives. I wonder, too, if the Ephesian church heard Paul’s letter first being read and thought: Paul, are you drunk?

No. Paul was not drunk. He was Spirit-filled. And his appeal to the Ephesians is a challenge and rebuke and a rousing anthem to me and to us, just as it was to them. For we, too, are Jesus’ Spirit-filled body. We are not called to create unity—we are called to keep the unity that already exists by the Holy Spirit. 

For all the divisions and fractures and schisms we feel and fear and bleed through: we are still one in Christ. One body and one Spirit. Called to one hope when we were called. We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism into him. We call on one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. —Ephesians 4:4-6

And so I read and re-read Paul’s words with new lenses: I am to be humble, gentle, patient and bear with others in love. God knows how much I need Him just to scroll through my Facebook feed with a good attitude. I am to take this posture and make this effort not because I’m building community, but because in Christ we are community, and this is the slow, hard work it takes for us to become what we already are.

This is the calling we have received: oneness in Christ.

And so I urge you, sisters, let’s live a life worthy of that calling. Patiently. Gently. Humbly. Bearing with economic and political and ethnic and social tensions … in love. We don’t get to opt out. He’s extended an invitation to people from every tribe, tongue, party, and demographic and he’s called us all in … so let’s be all in. All in for solidarity. All in for unity. All in for the inexorable and eternal call to be His Own. Together.