The year was 387 and Irish pirates were plundering the Scottish coast. There they captured a young man named Maewyn and carried them back to Ireland where he became a slave. And there, Maewyn began to talk to God, and as the story goes, God began talking to him.
God instructed Maewyn to flee to the coast where the boy found a boat bound for Scotland. He was reunited with his family after many years. Then God spoke again, coming to Maewyn in his dreams. God wanted him to return to Ireland. Maewyn entered theological training, and at the conclusion of his studies, took the Latin name, Patricius. We know him as Padraig or Patrick.
When Patrick arrived in Ireland as a Christian missionary he had a decision to make about how to do his work. It was the custom of Christian missionaries – then and for the next 1500 years – not to introduce others to Jesus, but to make them citizens of the Empire.
A culture was “Christianized” not when it conformed to the words and ways of Jesus, but when it submitted to the rule of the Roman Caesar or the conquering king. The local culture was eradicated, replaced by that of the conquerors, and Christianity was used as an instrument in that process.
But rather than imposing an imperial faith on the Irish people, Patrick met them where they were and let faith erupt naturally. He did not overpower, he obliged. He did not impose, he invited. He did not attack, he adapted. He came in humility and simplicity, attempting to foster faith, not force it.
We still have much to learn from old Patrick: Vulnerability. Service. Humility. Meeting people where they are. Treating neighbors with dignity and respect. Honoring the lives and stories of those we encounter – plain civility – may be the only way to keep a society from devouring itself.
When we live with a no-compromise, never give-an-inch, militant attitude, and meet every person outside our circle with distrust, it creates a divisive, violent, negative, attack-based culture with an atmosphere of hateful rhetoric and suspicion. It destroys a community.
Of course, we could imitate St. Patrick by taking the way of peace, love for neighbors, welcome and inclusion. Living this way will end of the world as we know it as well – but it might be the kind of end that gives rebirth to the world.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.