Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The mechanics of conversion (Acts 9)

Perhaps the most famous conversion story in all of history happens in this chapter. An angry young rabbi who is trying to stamp out this new Christian sect has an encounter that changes his life -- and ours -- forever.
Act 9:1,2 Saul ise Rab'bin öğrencilerine karşı hâlâ tehdit ve ölüm soluyordu. Başkâhine gitti, Şam'daki havralara verilmek üzere mektuplar yazmasını istedi. Orada İsa'nın yolunda yürüyen kadın erkek, kimi bulsa tutuklayıp Yeruşalim'e getirmek niyetindeydi.
Act 9:3 Yol alıp Şam'a yaklaştığı sırada, birdenbire gökten gelen bir ışık çevresini aydınlattı.
Act 9:4 Yere yıkılan Saul, bir sesin kendisine, "Saul, Saul, neden bana zulmediyorsun?" dediğini işitti.
Act 9:5 Saul, "Ey Efendim, sen kimsin?" dedi. "Ben senin zulmettiğin İsa'yım" diye yanıt geldi.
Act 9:6 "Haydi kalk ve kente gir, ne yapman gerektiği sana bildirilecek."
A few words:
  • birdenbire gökten gelen bir ışık çevresini aydınlattı. -- suddenly, in a moment / from heaven / coming / a / light / around / shone. (the lovely Turkish greeting Gün aydın! wishes you a bright and shining day.)
  • neden bana zulmediyorsun? -- for what reason, why / Me / are you (singular, intimate) persecuting?
  • Ey Efendim, sen kimsin? -- O / my Lord / you / are who?
  • Ben senin zulmettiğin İsa'yım -- I / who you / persecute / Jesus am.
In America, we've developed an efficient, mechanized process for mass-producing imitation conversions. A trained orator fiddles upon the raw, exposed emotions of a largely adolescent crowd, until their reserves break down, and they comply with the expected rituals. They "go forward" to the front of the church, recite, or are coached through, a brief liturgy, then are baptized. A few years later they disappear from the church, often feeling vague resentments towards those who played such "head games"[1] with them.

Real conversions, OTOH, tend to be unique events. Although people can be instantly gulled[2] into doing things against their better judgement[3], true transformation is a longer-term process. Quite often, those who are most desperately and insanely passionate about an issue have nagging doubts they are trying to shout down. We know that Saul "consented to" the murder of Stephen. The primary witness against an executed felon threw the first stone, then gaurded the coats of the others. The synagogue that started the case against Stephen contained men from Kilikya -- Saul's home town. They were frustrated because they could not win fair arguments with Stephen, and therefore resorted to force. Imagine a highly-trained rabbi of impeccable Jewish lineage, unable to counter the reasonings of this guy from out of town, with a Greek name.[4]

Stephen was dead, but his arguments lived on. The miraculous vision of Jesus catalyzed events already in process. Interestingly enough, Saul (who later became Paul) seems to have stepped into Stephen's shoes. A number of Stephen's issues (care for the poor, eloquent public proclamation, getting stoned) became Saul's issues.


[1] A bit of late 60's argot. So I'm a reformed hippy ...

[2] To gull means to deceive. The verb form of the far more common adjective gullible. Several characters in Shakespeare's plays are introduced as "gulled gent."

[3] A technique frequently used by unscrupulous sales people in the USA is to offer some kind of "free gift" to those who are willing to sit and listen to a sales pitch. You go, with larceny in your heart, planning to glom onto the gift and turn a deaf ear to the pitch. However, your own ethical compromise gives the skilled huckster the leverage he needs to talk you into something you never intended.

[4] Στέφανον is Greek for Crown.

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