Monday, May 20, 2013

Out of Uniform

Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied..."  John 14:8

Yesterday was Pentecost.  Contrary to current perception, early Christians did not invent Pentecost.  It was a harvest festival when people from all over gathered in Jerusalem.  Just like yesterday's Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon in Portland:  runners from 10 countries as well as every state except North Dakota and Montana (hey, you Big Sky and Bakken oil boomers, get outta your pickups and run!). 

The suddenly competent and over-reacting Peter gets up and preaches like a pro.  Because there was an outpouring of something like fire and wind.  Then came the water as converts were baptized. 

For two millennia, the church has lumbered along under that supernatural, charismatic experience, at times celebrating it, at other times trying to explain it.  Most of the time, I finally conclude, the church has blown precious time and energy enviously trying to replicate Pentecost in Jerusalem, AD 33.  As we joyously sing its praises, we are forced to sheepishly concede that we can't.  Because it was never about our power in the first place.  As Jesus said, the Spirit, like the wind, blows where it wishes, not when our churchy calendar says so.  Not at 10:30 AM on Sundays because that's when our service is planned.     

Yet, we haul out the trumpets, big choirs, pipe organs, handbells, and all the Western/Northern European tropes of music to celebrate a one-shot deal 2000 years old, all the while sidestepping and avoiding a problem that's been screaming at our faces ever since that BIG DAY in Jerusalem way back when. 

What problem?  This one:  when people start acting strangely because a "spirit" has overtaken them, they give us the willies.  We avoid them like the plague.  Or at least like herpes. 

For good reason.  Since I've spent the last six years of my life rubbing elbows with people who have varying degrees of mental illness and substance abuse issues, I've seen the lines between sanity, mental illness and unhealthy religion almost disappear.  Sometimes, even the lines between healthy religion and mental illness get pretty blurred.   

So yesterday, I did my church thing out of uniform.  I didn't wear my red clergy shirt.  Couldn't go near the "tongues of fire and the sound of the rushing mighty wind."  The sound of the rushing mighty wind belongs in mountains and canyons and gorges, not in meeting halls and unpredictable crowd (mob?) psychology.

Instead, I heard Philip's plea, for once, as a genuine and earnest request:  "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied."  Amen to that.

Jesus, show us your God connection in convincing, genuine ways.  Jesus, show God to us in ways that make sense for here and now, in my life.  Jesus, show me God who meets the struggles I face and in ways that let me "get it" in my head, and my heart, and in my gut.  Jesus, make it real!  Please, SHOW us!  Amen to that. 

Jesus says to look at the stuff he does, why he does it.  He promises, in the way ahead, another "Advocate". 

Advocate?  Absolutely insipid, sterile, inadequate English word for the Greek parakletos.  Other attempts to render this word come out equally institutional:  Counselor.  Helper.  Comforter.  Are we talking lawyer here or a warm bed linen? 

Actual translation:  one who comes alongside of.  Think of someone helping a runner train or bringing them hydration and cool packs to fight heat stroke. 

Better yet, think of the Central Washington University women's softball players who came alongside the injured Western Oregon University player Sara Tucholsky a few years back. 

They came and carried her through what she could not do herself because she was unable to walk or even crawl around the bases.  They did it at great cost to themselves:  they eliminated their own team from the playoffs by helping the injured girl who had hit the ball out of the park but could not run the bases. 

No tongues of fire...  No sound of rushing, mighty winds...  Just the sound of cheering fans and players who were witnessing a spontaneous act of grace and kindness that meant more than any victory over an opponent ever had--because it was the right thing to do.

It was a Pentecost moment in the present.  The best kind.  Not pre-meditated.  Unmistakable. 

A God picture that left people speechless just like Jesus' best parables.  The kind that Philip and you and I can get in our gut.  Substance, not show.

Oh, and it was the injured girl who wore red.  The "advocates", the players from Central Washington "who came alongside of?"  They wore black.  And white.  No red. 

The "helpers" were out of uniform according to church tradition that is too often backward looking instead of forward.  And they were perfectly suited for the job.       

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