Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer reads

Here's the Lutheran Confessions contribution to the proliferation of summer reading lists! Long live the life of reading! My summaries below are first impressions of these books. Let me know if you're reading any of them with me this summer, or share your summer reads lists in the comments section.

Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World

Co-authored by a #lutherancreative from California and a pastor and community-organizer in New York City, this book brings community organizing into the 21st century, and re-orients for church mobilization in service to the world. Of course all of us can benefit from some of the more classic secular literature on community organizing (beginning with Saul Alinsky) but this book asks and answer the question: How can we organize people of faith to enable them to contribute all of their unique gifts and resources to the broader movement for justice?



Can a Renewal Movement Be Renewed?: Questions for the Future of Ecumenism

Many are claiming that the ecumenical movement has stagnated. Perhaps it has, or perhaps shifts in global religious culture have cultivated a situation where the renewal movement of ecumenism itself  needs to be renewed. Kinnamon, who has devoted his life to the ecumenical movement, offers an important survey of the current state of the ecumenical movement, and points the way forward on several fronts.



Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now

Brueggemann has written the most non-traditional of works on Sabbath. Rather than offering a prescription for Sabbath observance, or falling into the trap of describing sabbath as middle class wish fulfillment for an adequate vacation and meaningful days off, Brueggemann works the Old Testament fields and considers Sabbath as a form of resistance to anxiety, coerciveness, multitasking, and exclusivism.



On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity

I have been interested in a diaspora understanding of Christianity now for quite some time. And I started reading Deleuze this last year also. This book brings together Deleuze and diaspora in some mysterious and complex ways. I am certain I won't understand this book well on a first reading. I am also certain it will be worth my time to be confused.



Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus

This is an evangelical and popular appropriation of the "slow" food movement as it relates to the life of the church. It's written for a wide audience, and could be a really great summer read for small groups or bible studies.



Extremist for Love: Martin Luther King Jr., Man of Ideas and Nonviolent Social Action

Further proof why Fortress Press is an incredible publisher. They are bucking the trends of the wider academic imprint industry, and are doing very well in 2014. This book, a topic specific approach to King that explores how we wove together his life of the mind and his life of action, can serve both as an introduction to King, or a deepening of our understanding of this great man.



The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade

Philip Jenkins writes the global church column for The Christian Century, and now has written a contribution to the centenary of the First World War. I had never really thought of this war as a holy war, and certainly it hadn't occurred to me that it was a significant shift in warfare because so many Christian countries went to war with each other. This is one of two books I'm reading this summer to better understand the continuing impact of The Great War on our lives today.



The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Return

A young survivor of the Bosnian war returns to Bosnia to confront the people who harmed his family. My wife brought this book to my attention, and said it is an incredible study in reconciliation and forgiveness. I think I'll be using this book for one of our church book groups in the fall of this year.



Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Yes, we live in a new kind of empire. The divide between the rich and the poor has hardly ever been wider in the United States, and shows no signs of slowing. 5% of the population controls over 70% of the wealth, which means most investment in innovation in our nation is now done by a startlingly small group. Given how much this affects our daily lives and future, understanding capital and how it functions in this century is important for all Lutherans who are committed to sufficient, sustainable livelihood for all.



The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer

Yes, a book about soccer. Everybody is watching soccer, but I thought it would be worthwhile to read a global history. When I start coaching again next fall, I don't know whether my team will be interested in tales from around the world, but we can always hope.



The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century

This is the other WWI read this summer, focused on the legacy of The Great War. Lots has been written about the start of the war. This analyzes its effects.



A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Technique

Lacan comes up all over the place as influence on other philosophers and theologians I read, but I've never spent much time learning about Lacan straight-up. Partially that is because he is a post-structuralist and notoriously difficult to understand. This is a popular and helpful summary look at his work and ideas.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Collage Spirituality: Your faith is a mess, but it's what you have to work with

Our religious lives have always been like quilts, sewn together and stitched, never cut from whole cloth. It has been the great goal, perhaps the Holy Grail, of some religions (not to mention their leaders) to gather communities of like-minded believers who adhere completely to their systematic and dogmatically sound teachings.

I think sociologists would argue that even in the best of cases, the purity of faith assumed in the adherents of these traditions is an illusion. Even the most faithful (sometimes especially the most faithful) of any religious tradition are always still syncretistic, weaving into their quilts scraps of cloth dropped from the wagons of other caravans, lost in the busy mess of diverse exchanges and dyed into colors almost beyond recognition.

Collage Spirituality

The argument I'm making here is simple, and has two steps: I'd like to point out that the postmodern practice of spirituality is like collage; I'd then like to emphasize that it isn't increasingly collage-like, but rather illustratively collage, and simply collage in the way postmodern developments make possible in new and intriguing ways.

We can probably mess around with which type of art this type of faith formation is most like. It might be assemblage, composite faith constructed from found objects. It might be pastiche, faith formation in imitation of other faiths. It might even be d├ęcollage, the tearing away or cutting off of portions of faith to make art from what remains. Perhaps most of our faith is a hodge lodge, a heterogenous mixture, confused and disorderly, but really the only thing we have to work with.

However it gets put together, the point is that no faith is systematic, and it is always woven together from almost too many sources to mention. It is in all likelihood passed on from parents and adult mentors. Sociologists like Christian Smith emphasize how traditional young people are, taking on the faith traditions of their parents. Interestingly, however, the children don't adopt the faith tradition their parents think they are passing on. Although the average North American parent thinks they are passing on Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism, in point of fact Smith discovered that they are passing on an assembled, culturally dominant faith Smith titles Moralist Therapeutic Deism.

That, all by itself, is interesting and scary, that whole cultures can pass on a faith without largely being aware of it.

But it gets more complicated than this. We are each one of us individuals, and individually made. In a secularized era, with the emergence of spheres of influence (especially the emergence of the private sphere over against the public) we are each of us weaving together spiritualities influenced by the shared spiritualities of our communities (in North America I would argue the dominant spiritualities are just for the sake of arguments sake--capitalism, athleticism, militarism, and
liberalism--pretty much in that order) and assembled from the unique experiences of our own personal life.

Which is to say that the spiritualities we think we are exercising aren't in point of fact the spiritualities we are exercising. We'd like to think we are Christian first, and only shoppers second, but the truth is quite the other way around. Our greatest liturgies take place in football stadiums, our trust is in a military-industrial complex not God above all gods, and what ties us together are some solid but modified versions of Christian culture that we might loosely label the Liberal worldview.

All of that is contestable. Scholars could argue which ones influence the most, and how much. But what is not arguable is that all those traditions influence our spiritualities in various ways. And that they influence more than we know, are aware, or are willing to admit.

Then there are "traditional" spiritualities, the spiritualities we think we are exercising when we are exercising them--meditation, Buddhism, Christianity, atheism--and then within those traditions--Roman Catholic Christianity, Zen Buddhism, Nietzschian atheism--subcategories we adhere to even when they fail to inform our daily life as much as the latent and more dominant spiritualities that daily wash over us and almost overwhelm us.

Strangely, the faith traditions we self-identify with and adhere to most strongly are typically not the spiritualities that actually form our daily habits the most. We are almost all capitalists, for example. The fact that some of us are Lutherans is a minor point, not something that makes us much different than others as compared to the dominant spirituality of late modern capitalism.

The Individualism of Collage

Robert Bellah identified this phenomenon (of individualism in faith) quite early in his research, noticing that people he interviewed put together individual faith to such an extent that it could be said they practice their own individual religious tradition. Each of us, in this sense, could name our religion after ourselves. I practice Clint-ism. It is an admixture of Christianity, spiritualities I have picked up by being white, American, male, a reader of books, a hipster, educated, midwestern, and more. In one sense it is not my own, because it is assembled from many sources. But the precise way it is is assembled is uniquely mine.

I tend to think all of this is just fine, within reason, because it is really the way it has always been. Israel never purified itself completely of the religions of the place it occupied. There were always altars on the hills to various gods, and the houses remained full of idols other than whatever was designed to worship the LORD. In fact modern scholars don't even think the Israelites went into the promised land and killed off its inhabitants. There seems to be no record of that other than in Scripture itself. In reality, they probably moved in and mixed with the peoples there.

What's remarkable here is how much of a center was held to the Israelite faith even as it mixed with neighbors. One might even argue that it was and is a more resilient and enduring faith precisely for always having been woven together with others. The Genesis narrative is not sui generis, it didn't drop out of the sky. It has resonances and is probably related to the creation stories of other cultures. Yet it is related while different. That's a difference with a difference.

So What?

What all of this does is to legitimize micro-communal faith and bolster meta-resources for faith formation. It may be the case that little local communities of faith (and in the highly privatized modern era, each of us is our own micro-community) are just fine and quite resilient as they weave together their faith. Like quilters, they simply need the right resources, and what is woven together can be quite beautiful even if made from rather random shreds.

Really, there's no way to control this micro-communal phenomenon. Even in eras with high standards of religious conformity, people find ways to rebel. Rebellion may not even be the right word. Think of the Middle Ages. Roman Catholicism thought it was holding the faith together by keeping the Bible in one translation--Latin--and interpreted by trained clergy. Yet when Luther and Melanchthon toured the rural areas of Germany they were appalled not simply by the "ignorance" of the laity but even the ignorance of the clergy. They discovered people believed all sorts of different things, or perhaps believed very little of anything at all.

Melanchthon got to work on a loci communes. Luther got to work translating the Bible. Everybody got to work on various catechisms. They wanted to get the faith out, and also centered in some common doctrinal positions.

Now, in an era of hyper-proliferation of resources, everybody can get busy producing resources for each other and themselves, so the inaccessibility of the Bible has reversed itself, made distant by hyper-proliferation rather than hierarchical or language barriers. Now all the knowledge of the world is at our finger tips, on our phones, but is it accessed? Do the majority of believers actually live as if the Bible were only in Latin, untranslated and so only available through the preaching of a priest?

What I find promising, though, is how many people I know really are on various types of spiritual journeys, and they are finding all kinds of resources to tap into, threads and cloth and needles all over the place with which to quilt. If you've read this far, you're using my blog for this purpose. Earlier this week, I learned one of my parishioners, relatively new to Facebook, had happened upon a series of podcasts I've been doing on the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Bible. She then compared my talk to a sermon by a Methodist preacher she had heard recently. Between that and their Bible-reading, this family was weaving together a faith, podcasts and sermons and mutual conversation and life and more.

These are the meta-resources. We now have access to a cornucopia of resources, so many as almost to be overwhelmed by them, so that the modern priest may actually need to be a d├ęcollage artist, helping us strip away the noise in order to focus on what is central. In an era of proliferation, curators of the essential become important. They are the indie bookstore owners, the magazine editors, the connoisseur, those who help us sort through everything available and create meta-resources that connect us with the right other micro-communities from which we can learn and with which we can network.

Two Worries

I can think of two things about this entire phenomenon that concern me somewhat. For the most part, I'm good with it. I'm so thankful to be able to participate in and contribute to a faith formation eco-system that is so open, distributed, diverse. I thrill to the idea that we might all accompany each other in our movement towards God, and that God accompanies in this movement as well.

I do worry, though, about whether or not the overall postmodern context allows us to be interested without being committed. In other words, I wonder about the social justice component of our new comfort with collage faith. We are free to be the most informed people of faith of any era. But what will we do with this? Will we sit with it in comfort, carefully sewing one corner of the quilt? In our freedom, can we be challenged at all? Can we hear the prophetic voice of someone like James Cone, for example, who argues "the life of Jesus also discloses that freedom is bound up with suffering. It is not possible to be for him and not realize that one has chosen an existence in suffering" (A Black Theology of Liberation, 107). It may be that in our assemblage faith, we have assumed a level of comfort that so distorts faith as to make it unjust and detached.

I also worry about the impact on real, concrete institutions and organizations. There are some things that can only be done when they are done together. Think of hospitals, or universities, world hunger organizations, or your local congregation. In this collage era, the religious can stay at home and still download the sermon, read the Bible off their Kindle, gather with a few like-minded souls Sunday evening to trade casseroles and pray over their meal, and call it good. But the larger social goods that come from the gathering of larger groups--unremarked but incredible goods like church choirs, church suppers, corporate worship, offerings of letters to congress, not to mention dollars donated in the offering plate that build and maintain buildings and pay salaries--may not be goods we want to lose, and it may be that the unanticipated consequence of the combination of collage faith with postmodern meta-resourcification will be a shift to every person a church, and every church a less frequently used but once beautiful building.

This last point is one of the scare tactics of the Luddites, so I mention it with some trepidation. More hopefully, I see all the time how meta-resources can strengthen and build up corporate faith. Small groups I meet with weekly or once a month use social networking tools to support one another in-between meetings. People go back to the sermon on-line to listen later, not as a first-listen, but for review.

And returning to the most basic insight, it has likely been ever thus. Imagine an ancient believer, crossing rocky terrain on a caravan. In the moments available to them, they would have climbed local hills to place rocks at shrines and altars, sought out Asherah-poles, stared up at night into the stars to wonder out their relation to the gods, chatted over campfires about the meaning of existence, shared stories to push back the darkness, quilted together a faith as best they could to warm them through the night, and make beautiful their inner spaces that sometimes peek out into the light of day.





Eleven go-to web sites I wish were more widely known

http://www.brainpickings.org | A human-powered discovery engine for interestingness

https://longreads.com | The best long-form stories on the web

http://www.stratfor.com | Global intelligence and geopolitical news

http://fortresspress.com | My favorite theological publisher (first chapters of books are free on-line)

http://www.lchwelcome.org/spirit/office/office.php | Assembles all the daily prayers for you... daily

http://www.webbyawards.com/winners/2014 | This is a rabbit-hole for amazing web sites

www.elca.org | My denomination, really helps people know who we are in the ecumenical landscape

www.lwr.org | One of the world's outstanding world relief organizations... our dollars go here

http://www.patheos.com | Like Huffington Post but religion-focused

http://www.christiancentury.org | The print religion magazine I read cover-to-cover every other week

http://www.npr.org/series/98679384/first-listen | Before it goes on Spotify, it's often here

What are your favorite lesser-known web sites?


Saturday, June 21, 2014

What the Bible Does | What It Doesn't

1. It liturgizes

2. It starts a theology

3. It models testimony and counter-testimony

4. It tends toward justice

5. Recapitulates Israel in Christ

6. It starts at the beginning and ends at the end

7. It surprises, contains universes, is meaning-generative

8.  Offers chiasm after chiasm

9. Offers a center outside the text in the gospel of Jesus

10. Initiates faith, liberates, renews, sanctifies, enlightens


It doesn't:

1. Stand alone and aloof from history and other literature

2. Claim to be directly handed on by God (except when it does)

3. Preach prosperity

4. Completely cohere

5. Serve as a handbook for life (except when it does)

6. Rhyme

7. Reveal God any more than it wants to

8. Offer a complete systematic or dogmatic theology

9. Dumb things down


10. Offer life without challenge and convicting

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Benefit Churches

A short spot on NPR the other day caught my ear, on what the industry is beginning to call Benefit Corporations. The reporter launched the report with the pithy, A corporation generally exists for one reason: to make money.

Whenever I hear this summary of what corporations are for (and it seems to be the dominant concept), I wonder, "Is that true? Are corporations just money-making entities?

I'll come back around to this in a bit, for now I'd like to suggest that corporations exist not to make money per se, but to create a valuable product the sale of which will be profitable. That's a distinction with a difference. Most corporations I respect are driven by and inspired by their product, and only secondarily by their profit-margins. And corporations that take pride in their product are often profitable.



Returning to the NPR spot, one way a B Corporation leader describes the difference is as follows: Benefit corporations bake their morals and their missions into the DNA of their companies. They want there to be a positive impact on society, employee welfare, and the environment, from their work.

The tension here, apparently, is that shareholders in corporations may be focused primarily on profits (although I actually question whether even that is true--many shareholders hold shares in companies they value for many reasons in addition to profitability). Nevertheless, enrolling as B Corporations frees or energizes corporations to focus on the societal or environmental impacts of their corporate work, and not just profits.

All of this makes me wonder: What would a charter for Benefit Churches look like?

To answer this question, churches would need to clarify some of the bottom-line criterion corporations are so good at clarifying. For example, if the average corporation exists to make money (or to develop products the sale of which is profitable), what does the average church exist for? What is the equivalent to "profit" for the church?

If regular churches exist for something specific (maintenance, space for shared life and worship together of members), what would the addition of "benefit" look like to the title "church"?

In the NPR spot, there was a focus on how the corporations treated their employees. So we might be called to think about how we treat those who work for the church. Does how the members of the church treat its board, its staff, its primary volunteers, match its morals and missions?

A considerable portion of this does end up having to do with profitability, even in the church. The corporations spotlighted in the NPR piece were profitable corporations. They were able to extend benefits to their employees because of that profitability. The argument then goes that this increases the profitability of the company, because the employees are provided a work environment consonant with the morals and mission of the organization. It is, to a certain degree, chicken and egg, but it's worth our attention.

If denominations were to certify churches as Benefit Churches, what would be on the certification? What does societal or environmental impact look like for the church? Lots of churches want to be a church with a difference, but would there be ways to really measure this difference? Imagine if some of our major denominations developed a certification process for benefit churches, and offered incentives in the direction of becoming certified.

Current B Corp advocacy and legislation focuses especially on people and place. B Corporations are focused on creating value for all stakeholders, not just shareholders, and review how people are impacted by the corporate work (everyone, inclusive of employees, the board, and shareholders/members), and how place is impacted by the corporate work (the land and community in which the corporation is actually situated).

I think this movement is consonant with some other movements currently happening in the church, like New Parish and Slow Church models. I'd love to hear from readers what some of your best practices are for baking morals and mission into the actual DNA of your church.









Friday, June 13, 2014

14 Yoga Questions for Christians

One of my favorite theologians and pastors has, in his retirement, continued to serve as the Senior of the Society of the Holy Trinity. Frank Senn's books are models in combining pastoral ministry with faithful theological inquiry.

Disclaimer: I used to be a member of this Society, but unsubscribed almost a decade ago because of a difference of opinion on social issues. Nevertheless, I have been thankful to STS for keeping me on their mailing list, because I learn much from their community and faithfulness.

Senn's most recent column riffs on something he read in Yoga Journal. He has taken up yoga more regularly in his retirement. Senn knows at least some of his readers are conservative enough to question integrating yoga into Christian practice, so he writes, "You may be assured that I continue my romance with Christian orthodoxy even as I learn wisdom from the East."
most recent column in the STS newsletter takes as its launching point fourteen questions from an article in Yoga Journal.

That's as good a way as I know of summarizing open confessionalism. You can remain committed to your own tradition but just so be open to wisdom from other traditions.

The questions themselves are worth pondering, especially in these early weeks of summer. They are a good review of life and faith. So here are they are, reframed for the typical Lutheran Confessions blog reader.

1. Are you committed to daily self-practice?

"Taking classes is not the same as having your own practice." It is one thing to attend worship Sunday morning, or an adult education forum. It is another thing to pursue faith practices and learning for ourselves. Are you intentional about your daily prayer and faith practices?

2. Do you have a great teacher?

"It's so important to have someone you can go to when you need guidance." I often encourage people to surround themselves with different types of mentors. Find at least one person who is "ahead" of you, who you can learn from, someone you hope to emulate. Identify some peers who are to the "side" of you and are at about the same place as you. And ideally, be a mentor for someone else, a neighbor child or a younger colleague.

3. Do you have a meditation practice?

Meditation is a difficult word for some people, it has overtones that make us uncomfortable. Yet the benefits of meditation are immense. Dan Harris's 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story is a spectacular argument for, and introduction to, traditional forms of meditation. But others meditate while walking, or running, or fishing. The point is to have a practice, to take the time.

4. Have you read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali?

I haven't, but now I'm intrigued. For Christians, the question is more likely, "Have you read Romans lately, or the Psalms? Have you read classic spiritual works by C.S. Lewis or Julian of Norwich.

5. Have you addressed your own psychological garbage?

That is a good question for every type of person, from yoga teacher to pastor to blog readers. We need to be in a place, as Senn writes, to not burden others with our own unfinished psychological business. If you need mental health care, get it.

6. Do you have healthy boundaries?

This often means in professional setting healthy sexual boundaries, and the question is definitely directed to that. But boundaries also have to do with self-differentiation, the ability to not let people walk all over you, and to not walk all over others.

7. Can you meet others where they are?

Not everyone is in the same place mentally, spiritually, or theologically. We're all challenged by our own issues, and if we are going to meet people where they are, we're going to need to understand that we come out of a position, and then listen well to the position and perspective of others. I love Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Vintage) on this.

8. Are you still (and always) a student?

"In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind, there are few." You can never know enough, as Senn says, either of your own faith tradition, or of the wider cultural world in which we live. Christian faith is the endless exploration of the meeting place of these.

9. Do you live what you teach?

The integrity of bringing together what you say with what you do is no easy task, because often we can't alway see for ourselves where we are divided selves. Make sure and ask your mentors and people in your life how you are doing at living what you teach. Then ask yourself, "Have you developed ways to be joyful in integrating what you believe with how you live?"

10. Do you share from your heart?

We all wear masks. There's a sense in which we are always cultivating an avatar. But as much as possible, is who we are presenting to the world the authentic self that arises from our heart.

11. Are you able to say, "I don't know?"

Parents are soon trained in this, especially when children learn the "Why?" game. The best experts in any discipline know when to admit what they don't know, and then join the inquirer in the search.

12. Can you accept other teachers and traditions?

Everyone is working out how to be faithful in their own context. Before we jump on somebody else and judge them out of our own tradition, can we adopt a posture of respect, an attitude of understanding that they are on a different journey, but one you could join them in by learning and talking together.

13. Can you laugh at yourself?

Oh my, if we could, as Kierkegaard wanted us to do, will one thing, I think willing to laugh at ourselves would carry us most of the way to holiness.

14. Can you be kind to yourself in your profession?

Many of us carry the burden of our profession, and struggle to hold it lightly. But if we can be kind, we can understand both that we are in the midst of things, that the end isn't yet, that we are still being formed, that we are part of a larger web, and that grace and God undergird all of it.

15. Can you be a responsible member of groups and organizations you are a member of?

Senn adds this question at the end because he wants to remind the Society of the Holy Trinity members to be faithful in their membership responsibilities. But in the modern era this is a good question to ask, period. We need each other, and we need those in our communities to do their part for the community. Even yoga classes. Even churches.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Trinity Explained... Finally

Trinity
Disambiguation notice: If you were looking for an explanation of why some girls are named Trinity, this is not the page. Similarly, if you are looking for more information about Trinity the hacker and computer programmer who escapes from the Matrix and is colleagues with Neo and Morpheus, then this is not the page for you.

If you are looking for a traditional encyclopedia explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, you would be better off reading this:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trinity/

If you think the Trinity is like an apple, where everything is the apple, just some parts of it are seeds, some parts are skin, some parts of meat... well, then you are in good company because the Missouri Synod publishing house publishes a children's book on that topic.



If you think the Trinity must be something like the mind, and want to spend time reading hundreds of pages exploring metaphors and analogies of the Trinity, then I suggest you make friends with Augustine and his psychological model of the Trinity.

And if you prefer to meet the Trinity as a social community in novel form, you still really can't beat The Shack.

But, if you want a very, very simple definition of the Trinity, one you can fit in a tweet or on a business card or memorize for personal use, I recommend two.

The first one is a definition: The Trinity is the way we tell the story of how Jesus Christ is both born of Mary and the Son of God, alive now in God and alive now also in us.

The second one is a liturgical action: The Trinity is the name (Hashem, Tetragrammaton) we speak over people at their baptism, and among the worshipping community when it gathers.






Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Pentecost: Life in the Spirit

An example of a fancy hat
Pentecost is a day on the church liturgical calendar. It is in fact one of the high feast days of the church, ranking with Easter and Christmas.

The sanctuary is dressed out in red paraments. People wear red to church. Some churches set their fonts on fire or wave long streamy banners, or wear fancy hats.

And so on.

This is all fine and good. But it does leave us all wondering what Pentecost is supposed to be other than a liturgical holiday.

My answer: Pentecost is about LIFE.

Of course in one sense Pentecost is the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the community fifty days after Easter.

But the coming of the Spirit signifies something, and the thing signified is life, life in its fulness.

Take the "hearing, each of us, in our own native language" piece (Acts 2:8). The disciples proclaim, and the various tribes and races all hear the gospel in their own language, in a moment not of glossalalia but rather xenolalia.

This moment is about getting the message out to all peoples. It's also an example of crossing a "beautiful wall," as some describe what language barriers are and how we cross them. Languages are beautiful things, and when we learn each other's languages we enter other worlds of humanity.

Life is expanded. When you learn or speak another language, the horizon of your own life is expanded outward into the thought-world of others.

This is what the Spirit is up to. The Spirit adds life to life. The Spirit extends the life of Christ into the life of the apostolic community. The Spirit extends the life of the Father into the life of the Son. The Spirit is the one that connects all this life together in God and between God and humanity and the world. The Spirit even extends life into the future, through promise.

The Spirit sustains and holds together all that exists. The church confesses that without the Spirit, all of creation would collapse, fall into nothingness, end. The reason why moment from moment there are planets, stars, galaxies, trees, humanity, animals, air, matter, is because the Spirit continually sustains and holds all of it together.

So the message of Pentecost is a message of renewed life in its fullness. A community that had been lost, searching, exiled and in diaspora, now finds its home precisely in diaspora as the community that goes out into and seeds the whole world with the message of Christ in the power of the Spirit.

That is Pentecost.

Job 33.4 The spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life

John 6.63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

Rom. 8.2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 
Rom. 8.6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 

2Cor. 3.6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life

Gal. 6.8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit

Rev. 22.17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.