Imaginative theology

Some of the homework tasks we are being set are really good fun. Class time is also stimulating. I do realise that we are beginning gently and our first module is introductory so it will become more challenging but so far I have had to write a letter to a church who are struggling to look outside of themselves and I have had to imaginatively enter into the life of either a domestic Roman slave or a business woman in Philippi. I have also learnt my Koine Greek alphabet to a little ditty which has been rather irksome for my family, although it is quite amusing to hear my four year old go around the house singing 'ep-si-lon'.

I have written as if I were Lydia, and I wonder if you have any extra details to suggest to aid verisimilitude!


It is AD51. My name is Lydia and I live in Thyatira. I am a Gentile and a business woman, recently widowed and childless, although I have a busy household with a number of servants.

Since my husband died, I have managed his purple dye business. Purple cloth is highly desired by those who like to be highly desired! I am near exhausted by the demand for my dye. It is intensely physical work producing enough of it to satisfy demand. However, I cannot complain because my business is thriving. It enables me to be a blessing to others. I own a large dwelling, which had become somewhat irksome because it only served to remind me of my loneliness.

I want to tell you about how my life has been quite changed. One day, by the riverbank, as I sat resting in the shade after a particularly busy day with some friends and my waiting women who were washing the cloth ready for dying, we were greeted by some travelling missionaries.

I have always been a worshipper of God and I have picked up many ideas about God from my Jewish friends at the synagogue but this Jesus Christ, well, when I heard about who he is and what he has done from these tired travellers, I near thought my heart would explode within me. A travelling missionary called Paul, accompanied by Barnabas, came also to the river to refresh their dusty feet that day, thanks be to God, and they sat amongst us to tell us the reason for their travels. On hearing about Jesus, I felt such a bursting of joy and was so overcome by the Holy Spirit, it became quite quickly evident that I should be baptised in water, for surely I had already been baptised in God's Holy Fire.  I was baptised right there and then in the very river at whose banks I had been resting. So too were my maid-servants and my husband's cousins.

So grateful to Paul and his entourage, I insisted that I help them with their ministry by offering my premises as a place for rest and nourishment, knowing that my household and I must learn more about this Jesus Christ, in whose death they boasted.

We now meet weekly. My premises are large enough so that I might host many people in the Atrium. I have much to offer, I am able to demonstrate my fine cloth, feed and give rest to the travelling missionaries who are spreading the news of my beloved Saviour and have no-where to lay their heads at night. I share what I have learnt with others when they are unable to join us. Once a week we gather here intimately to break bread and drink wine and feast heartily both on the news of Christ's marvellous deeds and on the delicious dishes prepared by by good friends Euodia and Syntyche, who are also new to the faith and daily being transformed by the Way.

Paul has told us of the many signs and wonders that the Lord is doing. He really has been used by God to open 'the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27). Not all who have heard have been transformed, though. Many have been confused, thinking these acts the result of the missionaries having taken on Zeus or Hermes in human form. In fact Barnabas was thought to be the great and lofty Zeus and all had been chaotic where they had preached before they sat at the river that day. Not everyone has eyes to see or hearts to understand. But, as for me, well, the veil has been torn. I know in whose name these wondrous acts are done and Paul preaches only of Christ crucified and neither speaks nor boasts of anything else and oh, how my heart warms within me when I am taught about the grace of my Lord.

At last now I can put my good fortune to use. There are few more comfortable abodes than mine. And if after rested and fed, my great friends have the energy to reach even more people with the news that God's Kingdom has indeed come in the shape of his Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, then I too contribute to this Kingdom-building project. I feel more happy and affirmed than I have ever felt in my life. For no amount of riches compares to the treasure that I have found in Christ and I would give it all up before I would turn away. However, he does not require that of me, but in his grace has enabled me to use what I have refresh those who will travel with the message of his love. As for me, I will continue to evangelise my friends and the other people I know. I have many contacts in business and my opinions are respected and my house group is becoming ever more popular week by week.

I am already starting to see many results. Such transformation! This is particularly evident in the lives of Euodia and Synteche, who were once so overcome by rivalry and are now such sisters in Christ. You would never have guessed that at one time they would have only ever spoken about one another and not lovingly towards one another. Synteche, so depressed by the death of her only child, was so desperate for healing that she quite exhausted the keepers of the shrines to Asclepius with her protests that the plaster had not been swept and the peeling paint had not been replaced. Now she visits that shrine no longer but worships instead at the foot of the cross of our Lord and Saviour, quite in the raptures of the Holy Spirit. She is gently being restored both in health and mental state by the grace of our dear God. Jesus Christ has quite released her from the grip of her anxieties and he has indeed swallowed up all her angst.

So women now meet alongside men to celebrate our new found freedom, no longer are we defined by our worldly status, our husbands or our ability to give them the sons they crave. The Son we all crave is Jesus Christ and we are liberated in him to grow in grace and form a community of disciples who try to share all that they have with one another. It makes me so happy to give away what I have, just so that I might glorify my Lord in everything that I do.

There are struggles to accompany the joys. I have faced persecution, as have Paul and his companions. Many of the plebians suspected that they were a band of travelling cynics, what with their cloaks and their tattered sandals but they are not at all worried about receiving from me and enjoying the momentary comforts that I can provide. They make no protests about receiving in abundance from the abundance which I have been so fortunate to have been given. They rest well in the fine beds which I offer them and eat heartily knowing that Christ would want them to be refreshed and healthy so that they might face the many trials they will encounter because what they are saying is so counter-cultural and subversive. I fear that they will not escape the authorities for long. They have already been beaten by the authorities for their deliverance ministry, but protesting their Roman citizenship, they were released but came to me with open wounds for dressing, which left me quite shaken.

It would seem that I shall suffer too. My outer pillars have already been desecrated but even now, this is but fabric, for I am storing up treasures in heaven and life eternal and cling little to the passing pleasures and securities this world affords.

From 'God-fearer' to 'God-lover', my life has a purpose now that it has never known – oh praise my great and wondrous Saviour! Praise my Lord and may he preserve my life in the Way until I come to rest with him eternally.

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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions