What If: The Birthday of the Church is My Exit Party?

Today is Pentecost. Pentecost is considered by many modern Christians to the birthday of the Church. According to the Biblical account in the book of Acts that is traced to this day, the original followers of Jesus (including the disciples) were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. As the story goes, there was a rushing wind that came through the crowd and caused them to speak in different tongues. It was Peter, one of the twelve, that then explained that it was not drunkenness, but the Spirit of God that had come upon the people. He retold the prophecies that called for such a day. He told of the work of Jesus as a savior who was raised from the dead. In this moment, the more than 3,000 came to repent and believe in Jesus and were baptized. Around the world, this day is celebrated with Confirmations and recommitments to the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. While there is certainly a different feeling to this Pentecost in many churches today, it is certainly a feast day of celebration for those that follow the rhythms of the story of the Christian faith.

As I have done with so many things in my journey of questions, I began to look at this story as I approached the end of Eastertide and this writing journey. Just like most parties, we each approach a celebration differently. I can’t imagine the scene in Jerusalem that day, but I can imagine it was a bit more chaotic than what I long for when I gather a few friends for a holiday celebration. The fire and tongues and mass baptism only adds further drama to the occasion. As I have reflected on this day that I have long touted as a beautiful visual of God’s presence in the world, I realized that the actual depiction in Scripture is the very scene that repels me from mass faith gatherings, even today. If I had been there and 3,000 people came forward to an altar call, my skeptic mind would be in overdrive. That’s just the truth.

It only further intrigues my questioning heart that this expression of the birth of the Church is enabled and motivated by one of the most deeply personal and tender aspects of faith for me today. The Spirit is something that I cannot deny. I believe in the mystery of the internal nudgeing of Spirit. I long for those moments, when in ways that I can’t explain or understand, the Divine is able to connect with creation. And at my core, I know that the Holy Spirit did not come into existence that day. The Spirit was and is and is to come. The Spirit is and can and does. It always has. Sure, the image of the comforter that comes to connect to humanity after the earthy life of Jesus ended is the common mold of expression in understanding the Spirit, but I believe that the great mystery of the presence of the Divine cannot be separated from Spirit, so from the beginning, so has Spirit been.

What I know for me today is that I’m not interested in the mass movements of religious expression. I am not motivated or stirred by anything that could even appear to be orchestrated group think. Should I encounter a group that I perceive to be drunk in words, actions or behavior, I’m not sure that I would even look long enough to hear the “explanation” of the situation. I am a doubter of the act. What I have realized is that in so many ways, the story that is the example of the birth of the Church is the very reason that I’ve lost my connection with the Church.

I have spent my entire life deeply embedded in the Christian Church. I have literally given every aspect of my life to the work of the institution. I have fought and created and tried. I have planted and studied the systems. I have breathed deeply and lost my breath. 13 years ago, I was a part of a team that began a church in League City, TX. Since that time, I have served as a leader, teacher and elder. In mid-March, I resigned from the elder board and at that time, I took a very important step away from the Church. I journeyed though the end of Lent and Holy Week in an intentional aloneness. When Easter came, I realized that the journey of the next season was being revealed in a global pandemic and in a personal internal one. My Eastertide 50 days of writing has been a public honoring of the private journey that I have been on for years. I made an intentional decision to listen to myself and my own journey in this season. For all of the hard, I am more free than I have been in quite some time.

What I am not doing in this season in committing to anything but my own personal journey of today. I am taking a very deliberate step out of Church life, and I don’t know if I will go back. My plan for this morning does not look anything like the Sunday mornings of the last 45 years of my life. If you were to Find My Friend me right now, you would probably see that I am walking a labyrinth. I can promise you that I have already acknowledged the Creator today. I can assure you that my porch and my tomato plants have become sanctuary for me. I am not without a sense of Spirit.

Here, on this day when we remember that a deeply personal revelation of the Divine was integral in the work and the lives of the followers of Jesus, I like to imagine that I am one that was sitting in the garden on the edge of the city wall. This is the same garden that I sat in with Jesus the night that he was taken to his death. That’s my holy space. I don’t need to be in the crowd of 3,000 to experience the wind. I can assure you that the separation from the business and the mass and paperwork and the thinking about all the ways that other people need to experience a gathering is not where I am feeling the work of God today. I am happily sitting outside the gathering, with an open and questioning awareness. And the Spirit of the Divine Gift and Mysterious Wonder that is beyond anything that I could have ever dreamed of, is blowing a new fresh wind into my life.

Advent 2019: Hope

I am a documentary nut. I love to watch them on all the streaming things. Recently, I have watched multiple accounts of the journey of patients with AIDS – both in the early days of the epidemic and the advancements in treating the disease. One of these stories was the account of program that was started in Salt Lake City’s Holy Cross Hospital.

In the mid-80s, these women of faith stood eye to eye with one of the most hope-LESS diseases of our time. With no cure and an almost certain death sentence, they loved and cared and nursed and offered grace in ways that I can almost promise none of them ever intended. It’s almost as if they were open to not-knowing…

One of the sisters, Bernie Mulick said, “It’s part of our mission as Sisters of the Holy Cross to care for those who are poor and sick and needy. We have always cared for the forgotten ones, for the underdogs. They were the railroaders and the coal miners in our earliest days in Utah. During the 1980s and 1990s, individuals with HIV and AIDS were the lepers of the time, and no one else was taking care of them.”

Another nurse, Sr. Linda Bellemore said, “Those were the years of fear about the transmission of this terminal disease resulting in alienation from family, friends and society due to their diagnosis. At the time of their lives when they most needed care and support, how could I not help? The need was obvious, and I am committed to serving people as Jesus did, especially the poor and alienated.”

Watching this film made be want to be that kind of hope dealer. These women were hope with skin. The kind of hope that stands in the face of death and pain and horrible alienation and loves. Because there was no cure. There was no medicine. There was not even a promise of acceptance and basic care. And yet the Sisters offered hope in the midst of the darkest, darkest pain. 

We don’t get to have hope without having seen pain. Hope dares to admit that not everything is as it should be, and so if we want to be hopeful, first we have to walk into the darkness. First we have to see that something is broken and there is a reason we need hope to begin with.

Advent matters, because it’s our way of keeping our eyes and our hearts and our arms all wide open, even in the midst of our not-knowing and darkness and longing. The weary world is still waiting in so many ways, in so many hearts, in so many places, for the fullness of the Kingdom of God to come. 

Advent is for the ones who know longing for that kind of hope.