Saturday, September 11, 2010

Acts 17 -- the world turned upside down

When the surrounded British army surrendered to the upstart colonials at Yorktown, Virginia, the imperial Darth Vader was unhappy. Lord Cornwallis -- a strange guy with a harem of boyfriends who sometimes rode horseback through the troops in his altogether -- was mildly put out. Claiming illness, he sent his sword to George Washington by the hand of a servant. As the British forces stacked up their Brown Besses,[1] the musicians played a tune The World Turned Upside Down.[2]

Ah, but where does that phrase come from? Today's chapter of Acts, of course!
Act 17:6 Onları bulamayınca, Yason ile bazı kardeşleri kent yetkililerinin önüne sürüklediler. "Dünyayı altüst eden o adamlar buraya da geldiler" diye bağırıyorlardı.
Act 17:7 "Yason onları evine aldı. Onların hepsi, İsa adında başka bir kral olduğunu söyleyerek Sezar'ın buyruklarına karşı geliyorlar."
Interestingly enough, this riot happens in the birthplace of Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, Selanik. Paul and his team show up, and begin teaching at the local synagogue. People are excited by the message. The Jewish leaders are driven insane with jealousy, and haul several of the prominent members of the new faction before the city court. Their charge is intriguing:
  • Dünyayı -- the world
  • altüst eden -- they invert
  • o adamlar -- this men
  • buraya da geldiler -- here, indeed, they have come
  • Onların hepsi -- They all
  • İsa adında -- Jesus by name
  • başka bir kral -- another a king
  • olduğunu söyleyerek -- he is they say
There are several different ways to spin this story. A tradition in fundamentalist Protestantism "gets off on"[3] wallowing in guilt. The apostles turned their world upside down, you see, and if we were any kind of Christians, we'd be doing the same. Well, there might be something to that woeful plaint. Jesus assured his disciples that they could expect hostility -- and if life is too good, are we truly living our faith?

As I age, however, I tend to see things more frequently in holistic, whole-system terms. Yes, Paul was a dynamic, charismatic speaker who provoked strong reactions. To put an end to riots, the disciples had to ship Paul out of town, again and again.[4] Yet, would he catalyze such violent turmoil in normal times? The key issue was one of authority. The peace of Rome was brutally instituted, brutally enforced. Yet Caesar did provide a real peace by exterminating brigands on the amazing Roman roads, and pirates on the seas. Underneath this superficial tranquility, however, other trends were in motion. Resentments simmered. A sense that all was not well with the world needed only something concrete to crystallize around. In this case, the proclamation that another King ruled, one to whom even Caesar owed fealty.

It took a few hundred years, but Caesar did eventually bow before Christ. And the message of the gospel -- a Great King sits enthroned in heaven, and rules today -- still resonates with those who seek a better way.


[1] A .75 caliber gun fires a 3/4-inch diameter bullet. Since F=MA, it took a sizable slug to do the job at the relatively slow acceleration you get with black powder.

[2] Click on the link to enjoy the tune and read the complete ballad. The first verse is as follows:
If buttercups buzz'd after the bee,
If boats were on land, churches on sea,
If ponies rode men and if grass ate the cows,
And cats should be chased into holes by the mouse,
If the mamas sold their babies
To the gypsies for half a crown;
If summer were spring and the other way round,
Then all the world would be upside down.
[3] A little hippy lingo, an idiom that was contemporary 40 years ago. To "get off on" something meant to become affected by it, and usually referred to drug experiences. It might take repeated exposure to pot (marijuana), for example, before the desired effects happened. Before you got off on the drug.

[4] "Sooner or later, you have to shoot the engineers and start production," goes a manufacturing aphorism.

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