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A Pentecostal Revolution

It’s the Eve of Pentecost, when the Great Fifty Days of Easter are drawing to a close. I’m thinking of many things—language and its privileges; numbers and their deceptions; Empire and its disruptions; fear-soaked rooms and the gift of breath.

I’m thinking, in short, about the revolutionary character of the Feast so many will celebrate tomorrow with, perhaps, a contained exuberance that ought to be unleashed, for an upending revolution for the people. For all creatures. For the planet.

The Pentecostal revolution in brief:

Language. As a cis-gender, white, gay male who identifies as a Myers-Briggs INFJ, I would have written the Pentecost story differently. To preach the Gospel to a wildly diverse collection of domestic and international travelers to Jerusalem (as Luke portrays this in Acts 2), I would imagine that whole vast crowd suddenly understanding Aramaic when the disciples preached (likely their native tongue). That seems neat and tidy to me.

But, no. Luke tells of all those diverse peoples hearing the Gospel in their own native tongue, from people who never studied their language. The “miracle” of Pentecost is not a mono-language or universal code; it’s the honoring of cultural difference. And I want desperately these days for “language” to stand for more than human speech. Other animals are speaking Gospel to us; will we listen?

Or how about this more crude query: English-only America? Oh, please. Live with me for a day on my block in my California town. Pentecost happens here every day.

Numbers. That “upper room” where the “disciples” gathered and where the Spirit blew like a flaming tornado—just eleven, right? Twelve original apostles minus Judas. Not according to Luke. Read Acts 1 and 2 together and it would appear that at least 120 people were gathered on the day of Pentecost receiving the divine breath to speak Gospel boldly.

This actually matters if it wasn’t just eleven men who were possessed by the Spirit on that day. It was men, women, and children—just as the prophet Joel described (as Luke has Peter declare in Acts 2). More than this, Pentecost, and thus the Spirit of God, is for all, everyone, no exceptions.

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“Holy Spirit Coming,” He Qi, 2009

Empire. The very last thing imperial institutions of power want, what they dread, is solidarity. The only way empires can sustain their control is by dividing and segmenting the populations they want to rule. White against black. Straight against gay. “Gainfully employed” against the “welfare queen.” The list is endless.

Not just on the Day of Pentecost but throughout Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, the earliest Christians break down the walls of fragmentation (or try to) for a vision of divine solidarity. That might help to explain why so many of them are thrown in jail in nearly every other chapter of that biblical book.

Fear. My own life of faith changed dramatically, years ago, when I stopped worrying whether doubt would destroy my faith. Doubt is not the opposite of faith; fear is. Because nothing can unravel the intimacy of trust and the rootedness of faith more quickly than fear. Very rarely do the gospel writers portray Jesus as saying, “don’t doubt”; mostly he says, “have no fear.”

After Jesus had been executed by the State, his friends and disciples gathered together in shared fear; his fate might soon be their own. In John’s resurrection accounts, Jesus appears among these fear-ridden friends and says, “receive holy breath” (20:22). “Breath” can also be translated as “spirit” in ancient Greek.

Perhaps the Feast of Pentecost is, above all else, the celebration of fear’s banishment. We no longer have anything to be afraid of—though we will surely experience anxiety and trepidation and paralyzing fear on occasion. But in the end and through it, the Holy Spirit, the Divine Breath, will respirate with us, bringing our shallow, gulping gasps into rhythm with God’s own loving and confident beat.

The implications of a Pentecostal revolution seem endless to me. They include: dismantling the racism of mono-lingual cultural diatribes; exploding the male-dominated hierarchy of so much of institutional Christianity; refusing the machinations of Empire (nation-state) that would divide and fragment us; and breaking the chains of fear that enslave all of us in countless ways, short-circuiting our dreams and paralyzing our actions.

It didn’t take long for the institutional church to canonize Luke’s spirited account of the Gospel and sequester the Spirit’s holy disruptions in creeds and catechisms. We, the people of this peculiar Christian faith, must reclaim Pentecost for what it is: a vision, a call, an empowerment for revolution.

But not revolution for its own sake. Luke has Jesus announce his ministry with words from the ancient prophet Isaiah, with these marks: good news for the poor, release for the captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed (4:16-18). And Jesus announces this as the work of the Spirit.

May it be so for us.

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Sleepwalking through a Cataclysm: A Pentecostal Wake-up Call

“I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,” God declares, “and your sons and daughters shall prophesy.” Many Christians heard that biblical text yesterday in church, for the Feast of Pentecost.

Prophecy only occasionally has anything to do with predicting far-off future events. Biblical prophets more often see the present with vivid clarity and then say uncomfortable things about it. That clarity of vision sometimes happens in a dream but mostly we have to be awake, with our eyes wide open.

As I thought about prophesy on Pentecost, here’s a short list of what came to mind: intractable social problems; dysfunctional political parties; erosion of the common good; a whole generation or more without any grounding in a religious tradition; and polar bears swimming for their lives without any ice in sight while poachers profit from slaughtering elephants. The list would be longer if I were more awake.

I believe most citizens of the North Atlantic (myself included) are sleepwalking through a cataclysm. I’m not sure what will wake us; perhaps only divine intervention can interrupt our somnambulist delusions.

Sound alarmist? A current catalogue of crises would begin with these:

  • About ten days ago this planet registered over 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a level not seen for roughly three million years, even while we frack for more gas and scrape the bottom of oil-sands barrels; the irreversible tipping point for global climate change swiftly approaches and we may have just passed it (here’s a startling graph of the problem).smokestacks2
  • We now live with the most severe gap between those who control not only national but global wealth and resources and those who have virtually nothing; even conservative economists consider that gap unsustainable and it maps closely to the widening gap in education.
  • Yet another gap widens with alarming speed, the one between ideology and facts; just witness what happened to Bill Nye (the “science guy”) when he noted for a Texas audience that the moon actually reflects the sun’s light (he was booed) or what a Christian pastor said about Christianity as the founding religion of the United States that now stands at risk from homosexual activists (this matters because that pastor is now the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor of Virginia).
  • All the boring stuff about infrastructure will soon seem far less boring when this nation’s duct-taped electricity grid crashes, or when the more than 4,000 dams at risk of failure actually fail, or when the next 70-year old gas pipeline explodes; the American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave the U.S. infrastructure a grade of D+.
  • The wildly disproportionate number of African American men incarcerated in the U.S. strongly suggests that Jim-Crow culture never really ended but merely changed tactics, which includes keeping the poor in poverty and restricting their access to education.

I imagine most people think about that catalogue of socio-political problems as discrete items on a check-list. Most of us likely recognize some of their intersections and overlaps. Relatively few, however, would include all of those and more in a description of a single event, as the word “cataclysm” suggests. But that’s precisely what I now believe we must do.

I believe we are witnessing in slow-motion a singular, cataclysmic unraveling of community, of the social bonds that have for millennia enabled humans to survive and thrive. Those bonds now include the indispensable relationships with varied ecosystems, both  local and global. To be sure, many of us enjoy resilient, thriving communal bonds, even if only in our households or neighborhoods. But this is not enough, not by far, not in an era of global commerce and planetary-interdependence.

Most of us are happily sleepwalking through this cataclysm, though mostly through no fault of our own. The very conditions that set the stage for this unfolding disaster have ingeniously hidden their mechanisms from view behind a screen of comfort. As I write this, I sit in a beautiful backyard garden surrounded by budding fruit trees next to a house with an affordable mortgage. Very little about where I sit would encourage me to wake up.

bible_us_flagMany would of course lay the blame for our sleepy state at the feet of religion, especially Christianity. And they wouldn’t be wrong. Marcella Althaus-Reid (one of the more traditionalist and therefore queer theologians I know) argued that Western Christians have been lulled into a compliant sleep by adopting Western cultural sensibilities as benchmarks for Gospel values. That wedding of modern Western culture and institutional Christianity may well qualify as one of the biggest blunders in Christian history, perhaps second only to the quasi-official adoption of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century.

To the many solutions Althaus-Reid proposed to this quandary, I would add this: divine intervention. I do not mean the kind Cecil B. DeMille imagined in his silver-screen Bible epics. Divine intervention will look today like it always has, vividly illustrated by Pentecost but without the special effects. Luke’s biblical account of the earliest Christians in his Acts of the Apostles relies on very few divine pyrotechnics. He portrays instead completely ordinary people doing wildly extraordinary things, all of them inspired and cajoled by the Spirit. Luke describes that Pentecostal effect: Christians turned the world upside down (17:6).

In the midst of an unfolding cataclysm, we need some world-changing prophecy. I’m actually very hopeful that the Spirit will do today what she has done so many times before – wake us up to see the world with prophetic clarity.

When that happens, we will need another gift from that same Spirit: the ability and willingness to understand one other beyond the many linguistic and cultural barriers that divide us. And still another gift: the love that makes friends from enemies and family from friends. And yet one more, perhaps above all the others: courage.

"Holy Spirit Coming," He Qi, 2009

“Holy Spirit Coming,” He Qi, 2009

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Apocalypse Kind-of-Now: A Brown Green Season?

Ecological “issues” are an annoying interruption of the stuff that matters now. I don’t really believe that, but my blog posts would suggest otherwise.

I had a plan. Write about the war on women’s bodies in Lent and write about ecology in Easter – the new creation, totally tied to women’s bodies and gender. Lovely plan, but current events intervened.

And that is precisely the problem.

I totally support full marriage equality for all couples; the end to poverty and racism; full agency for women in decisions about their bodies. So why does the very framework that makes any of those possible in any way get such short shrift? I mean the planetary environment upon which each of relies for every breath.

Here’s the thing: “Apocalypse” is nigh; if not “now,” then soon, within my lifetime (if I’m lucky enough to live another 30 years). Hyperbole? Not really. Read just this one among many accounts of what we’re facing right now (here’s the lede of that story, which you shouldn’t read if you are prone to insomnia because of fretting: “The Earth is within decades of reaching an irreversible tipping point that could result in ‘planetary collapse’, scientists warned yesterday.”) Read yet another alarming account here.

Important digression: I adore my ten-year-old godson (oh, God, could he just say ten forever? No…not good. But he rocks my world right now). Okay, my point: Will he be able to live on this planet 30 years from now? Probably, but not likely in the same comfortable way that I am living on it now. That breaks my heart.

But let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that my adorable godson is not the only reason why any of us should care about the environment, and passionately, with urgency. So why should we?

In some Christian circles (very similar to the one in which I grew up), there is no reason. We actually don’t have to care. The theological logic goes basically like this: God created a good world; humans screwed it up; God sent Jesus (oh, after that Israel interlude, of course) to save us; those who believe all this will go to heaven, a literally disembodied, unearthly place where we don’t have to fret about things like nuclear power plants, plastic choking our oceans, massive extinction events, or potable water.

I’m really not making this up. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians of a certain type truly believe that Earth is disposable; God will create a new one.

Let me be clear: I have no desire to set up an “us versus them” scenario here in which us good liberal Christians save the planet while those fundamentalists destroy it. That would be easier to write about, frankly. More accurately, there are some Evangelical Christians who are far more passionate about the environment than many of the liberal, “progressive” Christians I know.

Now that’s peculiar. And I take a great deal of hope from it. Decades ago Lynn White, Jr., wrote a devastating essay about religion and its deleterious effects on the environment (read about it here, and yes this is a Wikipedia link). Taking his critique seriously means that we need compelling religious and theological reasons why priority #1 right now is the planet itself. Thankfully, those reasons are ready-to-hand. (Check out this, and this, and this.)

But we do have a problem: current events will always interrupt us. The latest sound bite, the latest outrage about women’s bodies, LGBT people, the economy, war….all of these will always interrupt what we need to do and say right now about where we live, right now.

I don’t have any solutions to the problem of compelling interruptions. I issue only a plea: Let us please figure out how this long “green season” in the Church year after Pentecost can inspire all of us finally to do something about a planet that is dying, right now – our planet, this “fragile earth, our island home” (The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p. 370).

Come on. Let’s figure this out – for my beloved godson, your grandchild, your niece, your neighbor, the puppies your dog is about to have, the litter of cougar cubs that will be born this year, the salmon spawning in our rivers, just take your pick  – let’s figure this out for all of us, for all of them, for all.

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Stop Making Sense

Ever talk so crazy that people thought you were drunk? Ever babble out a fantastic idea so quickly that it sounded like gibberish and your friends thought about calling for an ambulance? Ever said something or done something while you were so terrified to do it that you thought you might be crazy?

Hold that thought for a moment and think about politics and social policy. Democrats generally think Paul Ryan’s budget proposals are just plain nuts. Republicans generally think that President Obama’s approach to health care is certifiably loony. But Rep. Ryan thinks his budget makes perfect sense; President Obama believes the Affordable Care Act is at least a step in the right, sensible, sane direction.

Most of our political, economic, and social policy debates transpire with the assumption that the most rational, sensible, and logical position should win the day. For many, that is clearly not true. For some it is. I can scarcely believe that western civilization now needs to debate what “reasonable” or “sensible” or “logical” actually means. But here we are.

So, unless we’re ready to spend the time, energy, and expense to recalibrate an entire country’s understanding of what a sensible analysis of the facts might actually look like (and I can’t imagine what that even means), then I say it’s time to stop making sense entirely. (And yes, I’m inspired here by a great song by that wonderfully quirky band, The Talking Heads.)

It seems to me that Christians might have something to offer to all this political brouhaha about the eminently sensible adoption of the genuinely nonsensical. It seems to me that Christians might have something to say about the abundant life that issues from claims that sound so terribly irrational. It seems to me that Christians might actually bear witness to the transforming power of visions for a radically different kind of world – even if, and especially if those visions just don’t make any sense.

It seems to me that when Christians talk so crazy that people think they’re drunk, well, something like the Spirit might be at work. Something like that happened to the earliest Christians during a moment that Christians will celebrate tomorrow: Pentecost. I think it’s high time for some more of that outrageous crazy-talk from Christians and Christian communities. It’s time to turn the world upside down (that’s how the biblical writer of Acts described what the early Christian community did – 17:6). It’s time to stop making sense.

If you don’t think the world today needs overturning, here’s a short list of a world gone off the rails: an unprecedented gap between the filthy rich and the dying poor in the U.S. and around the world; legislation everywhere limiting a woman’s choices over nearly everything about her own body; “fracking” this planet for natural resources with earthquakes as the “cost of doing business,” not to mention polluted drinking water that you can actually ignite with a match; obscene displays of white supremacy among politicians, religious leaders, neighbors, a resurgent KKK; LGBT teenagers killing themselves because of self-righteous clergy who prefer worshipping the sanctity of maleness rather than God. Oh, the list goes on and on.

It is way past time to stop making sense. It is way past time to reject all these sensible proposals for economic stability. It is way past time to interrupt rational discourse with visions.

We need Christians who talk so crazy that people think they might be drunk. We need Christians who live so crazy that their friends and families suggest psychotropic drugs. We need Christian communities with such crazy visions that the news media call them for interviews, and city councils worry about what happens in church buildings on Sunday mornings, and the Department of Homeland Security opens a file on them for fear of sedition.

If you think any or all of this sounds just plain nuts, read the biblical “Acts of the Apostles.” Want a blueprint for a Christian revolution? Ever wonder what the Christian “gay agenda” looks like? Read Acts.

I recently read this wonderful description of Pentecost from Richard Rohr:

We have been waiting for what will come… It is the day we are always waiting for but are never prepared for… It is that day when we can speak and be understood at last, the day when we can babble incoherently and people do not laugh, when it is okay to love God without apology or fear, when we know that all of the parts are different and yet all of the parts are enjoying one another.

That’s one of the best summaries of Pentecost I’ve ever read – and it’s totally bonkers. And I think it’s high time Christian communities today articulated something – anything — with the same visionary power.

Of course, this is hard work. There’s lots of practical stuff we need to address here, lots of strategizing to be done, lots of rational, common sense, logical planning. But I firmly believe that even the best strategy will stumble and fail if there’s no vision animating it.

So, what’s your vision for the world? What’s your vision for your city? What’s your vision for your family, your life? Can we finally stop talking about “sensible” budgets, policies, and rules and finally start talking about the kind of world we want to live in? Can we finally start speaking out loud our visions for the world we want, no matter if it sounds crazy?

Paraphrasing Forrest Gump here, crazy is as crazy does; so let’s get crazy.

Happy Pentecost!

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Green (Hornet) Grace

Welcome to the Green Season, when the polar icecaps are melting, the oceans are dying, and the air we breathe grows more toxic every day! The crafters of the Christian liturgical calendar didn’t have any of those climate catastrophes in mind, of course. They were literally unthinkable until recently. Yet the tragic if unintended liturgical irony persists.

Traditionally, liturgical vestments are green in this long season that follows the Feast of Pentecost and runs all the way to Advent (often the last Sunday in November). In the northern hemisphere, that color makes sense as crops are growing, fruit is ripening, and harvest is peaking up over the horizon. So also for the Church – Pentecost prompts growth, the blossoming of the Spirit’s work, and an anticipation of the divine harvest at the end of time, celebrated on the first Sunday of Advent.

Sounds great, but last month, just twelve days after Pentecost, a report was presented to the United Nations declaring that a massive, oceans-wide extinction of marine life is now underway and is all but inevitable. This should have been even more newsworthy than marriage equality in New York – we can protect the kids of gay and lesbian couples with the benefits of marriage but will we give them an inhabitable planet to live on?

There’s more at stake here than whether we should eat salmon. Think of the oceans as your own cardiovascular system – without it, you’re dead. And that report to the U.N. was just the latest of the “oops, it’s worse than we thought” reports about the devastating changes through which this planet’s climate is currently lurching. (Read about that report and others here.)

The planet is dying. Why aren’t we in the streets protesting vociferously the absurd policies of our world’s governments? Are we preaching about this from our pulpits?

So, green for this season? Really? What’s the color of sludge, or dead fish, or torpor?

No, none of those despairing colors will do, not even now, not if Pentecost is still worth celebrating. I’ll still go with green for this long season if it can stand for a vibrant hope. Yet even that needs a caveat. As some in President Obama’s own party have been reminding him lately, hope is not enough. And as Harvey Milk once said, “It’s not that we can live on hope alone, but that without it, life isn’t worth living.”

Maybe the Green Hornet can energize the hope of this season into action. I’ve always liked this about that fictional crime fighter: he doesn’t have any superhuman powers like Spiderman or Wonder Woman do. He was just an ordinary guy who grew sick of political corruption and rampant crime, someone who refused to believe that there were no solutions; he became a solution himself.

That sounds a least a bit like Pentecost. The Spirit doesn’t just snap her fingers and make things happen. She empowers people (and often the least likely by most standards) to transform, renew, heal, and generally “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). (Read my take on the “Peculiar Pentecost Agenda” here.)

We need to tap that world-changing energy again, especially given modern western Christianity’s abdication of nearly all environmental responsibility and its acquiescence, especially in the United States, to the beguilements of corporate profit in the name of religious patriotism, which have nearly eviscerated any traction the Gospel might have had for our current crises.

And I’m pointing that finger at myself. I’m no less culpable than anyone else for the planetary mess we now face. I still drive my car whenever I please, buy way too much useless stuff, and rather naively trust that “good” politicians will sort this all out.

Here’s the thing: They won’t. It’s up to us, all the ordinary, unremarkable but fabulous creatures of God, empowered by the Spirit, to turn this dire tide. Because of the hope that Spirit inspires, I refuse to believe that there’s nothing to be done – but what do we do?

I honestly don’t know. I do know that I need lots of “Katos.” The Green Hornet needed a companion, just as the so-called “Lone” Ranger did.

I can’t change the world by myself. The earliest Christians couldn’t, either. They needed a community. And so do we, especially in this “green season” when the icecaps are melting, the oceans are dying, and we’re choking on the air we make by just driving to work (if we’re lucky enough to have a job).

So, how should we do it? How can we make the green of this long season more than a liturgical color? Where do we find the Green (Hornet) Grace we need and what do we do with it?

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Sacred Scandal

I don’t care very much about Anthony Weiner’s, um, wiener. But the “flame-stream” media can’t seem to get enough of it. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, count your blessings.) What a tragedy that a congressman can get far more media attention with his genitals than he ever could with his passionate work to end poverty, provide access to health care, and rein in the military-industrial complex.

I am so tired of media flare-ups over the sex lives of our politicians. Sure, those lives are riddled with stupidity, but have you peered over the fence into your neighbor’s life lately? Tracked your teenager’s texting trail? Watched nearly any Hollywood movie? Read any issue of People magazine? American culture is simultaneously enthralled and repulsed by sex, and that surely contributes to the unending appetite for scandalous news.

In a bloated world of 24/7 instant media, there’s no better way to secure market share than fanning the flames of outrage; and sex scandals are the best fuel for the fire. But where’s all the outrage over the scandal of a dissolving social safety net, or the scandal of wasted lives in an endless war on terror, or the scandal of treating women’s bodies as pawns in a game of political brinkmanship, or the scandal of decimating the environment on which all of us depend for life itself?

That’s just a short list of the scandals that everyone, but certainly Christians ought to find outrageous. Sadly, the only time most people read the words “scandal” and “church” in the same sentence is when they’re reading about the latest case of clergy sex abuse.

If flame-stream media want religious scandal, let’s give them Pentecost, which many Christians will celebrate tomorrow, June 12. I mean something more than a neat and tidy liturgy done decently and in order (though there’s nothing wrong with that).

In the biblical account of Pentecost, previously fearful disciples of the risen Jesus are dramatically empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach good news to a whole bunch of diverse people who may not have known they needed to hear it. The disciples were so outrageous about this that some observers thought they were drunk (Acts 2:13).

The courage to be outrageous came from the Spirit, who rested on the disciples’ heads like tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). And these fired-up disciples did more than preach. They rearranged their households, disrupted local economies, challenged both religious and civil authorities, and shattered social and cultural taboos. Read all twenty-eight chapters of Acts – it’s not a story of respectable, law-abiding, church-going folk. Propelled by the Spirit’s queer energy, they “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

That’s what I call a queerly Pentecostal agenda, which is still fueling world-changing work. The project currently underway for the blessing of same-gender relationships in the Episcopal Church is one example. So is the Fellowship, a multi-denominational network of congregations and clergy devoted to the radical inclusivity of the Gospel, linking amazing worship with transformative social ministries. The Bay Area Coalition of Welcoming Congregations is yet another. But that queerly energizing Spirit also shows up in less “churchy” locales too — among the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in San Francisco, for instance, or in theatrical performance artists like Peterson Toscano.

Those are just a few among many examples – and all of them are certainly more newsworthy than a lusty congressman.

If flame-stream media won’t cover the sacred scandal of Pentecost, then it’s up to us. Let’s make sure the queerly Pentecostal agenda goes viral. Facebook it, tweet it, blog it. And if you’re going to church tomorrow, wear something red, not just to commemorate an event of the past. Wear red as a sign of your commitment to turn the world upside down today.

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Peculiar Pentecost: An Agenda

The tide is turning. Can you feel it? Newscasters and sports figures alike are “coming out.” Marriage and/or civil unions are taking root in more and more jurisdictions (the latest polling numbers now show a majority of Americans supporting marriage for same-sex couples). The Presbyterians will welcome openly gay and lesbian clergy. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed and the U.S. Justice Department won’t defend the “Defense of Marriage Act” in court.

That’s pretty heady stuff. The prize, it would seem, really is within reach.

But I’m not popping the champagne cork just yet. Sure, backlash is a real possibility. But I worry more that the sights are set too low. Legislative and judicial victories rarely change hearts and minds, for example. And changing an ordination policy doesn’t automatically change congregations. And what kind of change do we want, really?

A similar dynamic seems to have seized the first disciples of Jesus. On the brink of the risen Jesus’ ascension, they ask him whether that profound moment of resurrection signaled at long last the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:6).

The disciples’ question is not quite so random as it might appear. The “kingdom” they had in mind was the only benchmark they had ever known for the good life. Surely in that moment, when even crucifixion can’t thwart God’s mission in the world, it’s time for the “happily ever after” moment and roll the credits. I mean, really, after death is conquered, what’s left?

Quite a lot, apparently.

Here’s the peculiar part: the resurrection of Jesus was not the end of the story, not by far. According to Acts, those disciples still had an amazing adventure stretching before them. The Spirit they received on Pentecost empowered them to take up the Jesus-revolution where Jesus had left off – and take it even farther.

A short list from Acts offers a glimpse of what that looked like: overturning economic systems that keep the poor in poverty (4:34-35); resisting institutional authorities jealous of their own power (5:17-26); dissolving social and class boundaries (8:25-40); and reshaping cultural and religious standards of propriety (10:9-30). In what is perhaps the best shorthand description of what a peculiar faith can do, Acts declares that those early Christians turned the “world upside down” (17:6).

That’s pretty heady stuff, too – and that work isn’t finished yet either, not by far.

Prior to that Spirit-led adventure, the disciples seemed stuck in a first century version of the “gay agenda.” Since the 1980s, that agenda could be summed up with a single phrase: “demanding a place at the table.” I’ve worked hard on that agenda myself. Yet I’m haunted by that “Holy Ghost” who seems much more bent on overturning tables than adding a few more chairs.

The Feast of Pentecost (June 12 this year) offers a great opportunity for an agenda set by that peculiar Pentecost. Maybe “vision” is better than “agenda” – a vision where not everyone looks the same or acts alike or buys into the institutional systems that are, actually, killing us.

A Pentecostal agenda begins with some peculiar if not impertinent questions: Why are health care and tax benefits attached to marriage at all? When will more of us resist the forces of global capitalism that seek to turn everyone into a market niche so we can buy still more stuff while the planet slowly dies? Why are there so few LGBT-identified people at immigration reform rallies and labor union meetings? Now that openly gay and lesbian people can serve in the armed forces, when will we start dismantling the military-industrial complex that compels so many low-income people to enlist because they have no other job prospects?

Even that short list of peculiar questions makes the so-called gay agenda seem rather tame.

Those first disciples asked the risen Jesus the wrong question (as I’m sure I would have, too). Wrong, because the resurrection doesn’t “restore” anything; but it does make everything new – or rather, that’s the promise. And the promise starts to take root when we hear Jesus say this to his disciples: ”You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8).

Well, power to do what, exactly? That’s the question Pentecost ought to pose to every Christian community. Not every community will answer it in exactly the same way and the peculiar visions that emerge will need the insights from all the others. Those first-century disciples quickly discovered something similar, and something else as well: that peculiar Pentecost turned the world upside down.Thank God.