A double miracle

May 26, 2009

Some of us are in Pentecost graduate school. We're seminary-educated and
steeped in the church. We understand the preacher's dilemma when Easter
comes early, before the earth has warmed up enough to take resurrection
seriously, and we've been there, done that when it comes to the mighty
rushing wind that appears seven weeks after Easter with great
ecclesiastical regularity.

Others of us are in Pentecost kindergarten. We are not aware of the church year; we didn't even know the church had
a year. We were not aware that, while from Christmas to Easter our
story is Jesus' story—his birth, his parables, his death, at Pentecost
we switch to the church's story and go until Christmas talking about
ourselves and how we are the body of Christ, the way that Jesus' message
rises from the dead over and over.

This story welcomes all grade levels—in fact it insists on diversity.

Usually,
I am almost jaded about Pentecost: here we go again with the mighty
rushing wind, I think, with people speaking in tongues, with everybody
understanding everybody else. The story of the Holy Spirit arriving and
birthing a church so alive that others think it's drunk can seem pretty
removed from the sober reality of church life. I much prefer the winter
season.

Many of us have searched in vain for a church so on fire
that it looks drunk. We have found way too much sobriety in church. But
something has happened to me this year when it comes to this story: I am
high on it. I am de-jading and returning to a childlike wonder about
Pentecost, thanks to a new interpretation by Eric Law.

Law's
reading of Pentecost comes straight out of the heart of liberation
theology: When the Spirit comes upon us, those of us who have power
become quiet and those who do not have power speak. It's a double
miracle of some speaking and others listening.

You probably know
this liberation yourself. It is the moment when you find your voice in a
meeting and someone responds, "Aren't you new around here? Who said you
could speak?" But you don't care because you aren't new anymore—you spoke. It's the moment in a family's life when everyone in charge finally hears the one who has been shut down.

Some
people do most of the talking most of the time. I used to keep a
personal timer at boy/girl dinner parties and announce the results at
the end of the evening. In my experience, boys talk five times as much
as girls in public groups. Airtime is one of the ways power is defined:
We voice, we name, we define, while other people—those without the
airtime—are named and defined by us.

Some people have a systemic
microphone and others have none. Sexism, racism, homophobia and hate
speech against immigrants arguably have their root in our desire to
silence others. Systemic problems have their solution in another kind of
speech, one in which each person both does some speaking and does some
listening.

The double miracle has to be simultaneous to be
effective—just speaking, when no one is listening, doesn't help; nor
does just listening without returning to speech. Pentecost is a
simultaneous, mutually reinforcing miracle of the ear and the tongue. It
de-jades us, renews us and makes us look like we are drunk.

We
read also this week of the dry bones rattling into life. They too drink
of the cup of liberation, resurrection and the beautiful noise that
rattles among us when we listen and speak fairly. This rattle of bone,
the renewal of Israel, shouldn't surprise us in light of the double
miracle of Pentecost. Israel renews and death is conquered once God's
people all have voices.