Pentecost as a Riot of the Unheard

MinnyBy Ric Hudgens

This Sunday, May 31, 2020, Christians celebrate the Day of Pentecost. It is a celebration rooted in the Hebrew “Feast of Weeks” (Shavuot). Christians around the world observe it on the seventh Sunday after Easter. The Biblical origin of the sacred holiday is the Book of Acts, chapter 2, which describes the “descent of the Holy Spirit” upon the earliest church.

Pilgrims from around the Roman Empire gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish Feast. Followers of Jesus, a man recently executed in public (but whom his followers believed was resurrected), also gathered. Acts 2 records, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

This was such a powerful experience they moved their private gathering to the public square where the ethnically and nationally diverse populace of the Roman Empire could hear. It was a coming-out declaration for the until then hidden church. It mobilized a new social and religious movement and provoked opposition from the powers, resulting in the church’s persecution and scattering.

Tragically, the remembrance of this day became interpreted in a privatized manner with little social significance. “Christianity” disembedded from the grassroots, nonpartisan regarding the poor and welcoming the sword Jesus disavowed, became a weapon of the power it had first opposed. An ally of those who had crucified Jesus.

Consequently, it is difficult for much of the modern church to grasp the connection between what is going on in Minnesota and what happened in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. The church has been a nostalgic defender of the status quo for so long any uprising against “the state” must be against God’s will.

On April 14, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King addressed an audience at Stanford University with a talk entitled “The Other America.” (You can see it here: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/news/50-years-ago-martin-luther-king-jr-speaks-stanford-university)

In his speech, King highlighted the need for economic and social equality and the connection between the ongoing Vietnam War and ongoing poverty: “If we spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an ill-conceived war in Vietnam and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, we can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet, right now.”

He also said: “riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. … But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.”

King’s interpretation of riots as “the language of the unheard” has continued to resonate through the decades. “Our nation’s summers of riot are caused by our nation’s winters of delay,” he said.

I draw this connection between Pentecost and the Minnesota uprising this weekend because if we cannot see their relationship, we betray our privatized, spiritualized, racist understanding of Pentecost (and of much else).

The early Christian movements were rooted in the life and ministry of Jesus and, therefore, rooted in the Hebrew prophetic tradition from which he emerged. The religion of Jesus was never and could not be a privatized experience focused upon spiritual intimacy and personal peace.

The fruit of Pentecost in Acts 2 was the rebooting of Jesus’s mission. This is why the early church took the material form it did, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” They formed small, egalitarian communities; shaped by radical generosity, sacrificial sharing, and the expansion of anticipatory politics among those oppressed by Empire.

They didn’t wait for Empire to bring them a better future but began to act directly, improvising through all the inevitable conflicts and opposition that such direct action entailed.

Jesus had articulated his mission as both a mouthpiece for God and a voice for the voiceless. I point to Matthew 25, where he had said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Aligning God’s voice with the least of these was a radical revisioning of established religion, but it was entirely consistent with the prophetic tradition.

In a nation as unequal as ours (unequal in multiple ways, including privilege, power, education, health care, judicial restraint) the Day of Pentecost remains a call to the church to take material shape around what Jesus called in the language of his day the “kingdom of heaven/God”. Such a vision cannot be confined to speaking in tongues in one’s private prayer closet. Nor can it ignore the social and racial injustice all around us. (Even the original Azusa Street Pentecostals in 1905 understood that!).

If a riot is the unheard’s voice, there must also be a recognition that they are unheard because (as Arundhati Roy reminded us), they are deliberately silenced. Deliberately silenced as the church has historically stifled the emancipatory cries of the poor, and resisted the uprising of the “kingdom” that upsets business-as-usual.

The God of the oppressed will not be silenced.

Ric Hudgens

Pentecost Sunday

10 Ways

MinnyFrom Mark Van Steenwyk of The Center for Prophetic Imagination, on the ground in Minneapolis.

Here are 10 ways to support the struggle for justice in Minneapolis.

1. Add your voice to this list of demands from Reclaim the Block and Black Visions.

2. Support the Minnesota Freedom Fund, a widely respected bail fund for those arrested in protests against oppression. Continue reading

No churchbells here

94240524_246901160023028_5591200460431163392_oa poem for Day House in these days of missing our Sunday evening living room mass
By Kateri Boucher

No churchbells here
this morning
but a doorbell,
yes,
and it sure is
ringing

No wafers,
but hands outstretched
and the five-buck
refrain:
“yeah we got it”
“oh god bless”

And don’t you
smell that Holy
smoke drifting
down the stairs?

And hasn’t this table-clothed
altar presided
over meal after meal after
meal?

If these walls could talk
they’d be singing
psalms
about how much
they’ve seen

And someone said
they heard
those back-door birds
were preaching

Between the bells
and dishes
I lay down on this
worn couch to make
my confession:
I am tired (–
are you?)

Oh beloved home,
wood-creaking cathedral,

Bless this donated rice
and vitamin c,
bless this
coffeemaker,
bless your swinging doors,
bless
our hearts
(aren’t they all
in transition?)

Cast away
cockroaches,
casinos,
quick anger,
uncleaned
dishes

May we be welcomed as
the guests we all
are here

May we live each day
as a prayer

The Wrong Question

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By Deb Watson, flickr, cc

By Kate Foran

“The pandemic has got me thinking a great deal about how the vulnerability our species is experiencing could be an opening to imagining the threat and constriction that is the reality for so many other species and often at our hand. What about the grief in the chestnut blight or salamander epidemics?”
– Robin Wall Kimmerer

At the height of the viral bloom, our travel circumscribed,
we wander with our girls to the patches of woods that still remain
between the housing tracts and industrial parks of our neighborhood.
In the scrubby, choked lot behind the schoolyard where children never go
even when school is in session, the path winds and we stop short

as the leaf litter gives way to green-gold

spring ephemerals, trillium and jack-in-the-pulpit preaching Continue reading

Stop the Bombing

cptA word from friends at Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Stand in solidarity with the members of the “Hear Us Now: Stop The Bombing!” campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Sign this open letter to the Kurdistan Regional Government demanding they take action to stop all cross border bombings and respond to the needs of those affected.

A few minutes past noon on 10 July 2019, 18-year-old Zeitun had just begun to serve lunch for herself and her two brothers, Sirwan (16 years old) and Ali (21), when shells began to explode near the family’s cucumber and tomato fields in the area of the Barbezin heights (in the sub-district of Sidekan, Iraqi Kurdistan). The three siblings had stayed behind working in the field after the rest of the family left to attend a funeral in their hometown of Diana.  Continue reading

Diving Into the Wreck

Catherine

Dr. Catherine Meeks recording the audiobook version of Passionate For Justice, a book she co-authored with Rev. Nibs Stroupe.

A word from Dr. Catherine Meeks (originally posted to social media on May 17, 2020).

These days for me are just like yours, some of them are far better than others. Today is a better day. So I want to share out of that space with you this morning.

I have been thinking about Dr. Vincent Harding, historian, speechwriter for Dr. King and all around holy man and his vision of us  “building up a new world in this country.” These thoughts have been accompanied by my writing and thinking about reparations and all of these thoughts are contextualized by this Covid-19 era and what seems to be a new wave of white violence against African Americans. Continue reading

Today: The 24-Hour Covid Vigil

vigilA Message from Naming The Lost.

As we approach Memorial Day, Americans are mourning the 80,000+ of our loved ones and neighbors whose lives have been lost to COVID-19 (and the hundreds of thousands more worldwide). They are our siblings, our parents, our children, our nurses and grocery clerks, our first responders and teachers, they are the working people who do the essential work of keeping our families and communities safe. Continue reading