How to Steal the Pax Romana

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Here’s a mind-blowing revelation for you: ministry is not without its stressors.

In my previous post, I listed some of the experiences a typical small church youth pastor has in a year of ministry. Some are good, some are bad, but all are spiritually strengthening and uplifting if looked at from the right perspective.

I’ve decided to spend some time studying Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (written from a friend’s house in Corinth in the winter of AD 57). I chose this for myself at this time because the context from which it was written seems to be appropriate for the stress, disillusionment, and questions a young pastor (and any committed follower of Jesus, for that matter) might have at any given time. Just try to picture Paul, as he dictated this letter to his friend: as he paces the room, his gait is labored from multiple beatings over his lifetime. His scarred body and face, just like Forrest Gump’s shoes, tell tales of where he’s been – but his eyes and spirit tell where he’s going. It’s that kind of optimism that I, and I’m sure many others, can use.

If you can relate with the first century Christians who felt beat down, weathered, marginalized, and perhaps forgotten, then I’d encourage you to spend some time in the book of Romans. If you lack knowledge, Paul’s magnum opus acts as an informative manifesto of the Church’s (capital C) essential doctrine. If you lack courage, you will learn to sympathize with the letter’s original recipients, and your confidence will be restored.

romanroadstructureBut first, some context. The first two centuries of Roman rule after the birth of Christ are referred to as the Pax Romana (“the Roman Peace”). At this time, Rome had turned her gaze away from international conquest and more toward building up her internal power. The term peace is actually a bit misleading, though. Many people are aware that ancient Rome is famous for her elaborate highway system. These roads, many of which are still intact today, enabled the Empire to quickly mobilize armies to respond to insurrection, often with an impressive amount of bloodshed. In fact, it was common for insurgents to be crucified alongside these roads to be left as a warning to other rebels.

Now hold that thought.

Michel De Certeau was a French scholar whose work focused mainly on psychology and social sciences. In his famous work, The Practice of Everyday Life: How Culture Works, he categorizes culture into three elements: disciplinary powers (the map makers), strategies (how map makers organize things for us), and tactics (how the rest of us exercise or own agency within the maps made available to us). It’s the latter that I want to focus on for now.

Tactics are what we use when we take advantage of materials made available to us, and use them for our own purposes. It’s what happens when you do pushups in your hotel room because they don’t have a workout facility – in other words, the map makers did not provide you a facility in which to work out, but you exerted your own agency so that you could carry out your own purposes within the maps provided to you. We use tactics every day of our lives. (De Certeau refers to this as “la perruque,” or “the wig.”)

Now back to the Pax Romana.

romanroadThe incredibly durable and well-patroled highway system in Ancient Rome not only gave the Roman government a way to quickly mobilize troops, it also paved the way for the apostle Paul and his crew to reach unprecedented amounts of people in their missionary efforts. Paul jumped on the opportunity to employ a tactic and use these roads as a means to travel safely and quickly. In fact, he circled the Eastern Empire not once, not twice, but three times in fifteen years (that’s more than twenty thousand miles, traveled mostly on foot). All of this was made possible by a system of roads built for the purpose of maintaining and protecting an Empire that was decidedly unchristian.

So the ironically named “Peace of Rome” became part of the map on which Paul and his crew employed their tactics to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to more people than ever before. What an incredibly encouraging example for world-weary Christians!

So how will you employ your tactics within the maps provided to you?

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