I wrote a blog not too long ago critiquing a certain phrase often used by Pentecostals. After advice from my trusted proof reader, I set it aside to let it…“chill”. Apparently it needed some cooling down (disgruntled face). So here I am, round two…okay more like round four. :II
There is a lot that has taken place over the past few months…a lot. Though there is much to be said, this blog was written in response to responses that I have received from many within my own denomination, traditional Pentecostals. The result has been the inability to engage (and in many ways know) me, and in turn, it has left me feeling alone. Though it was born from frustration and hurt, this blog is written now in hope that we (Pentecostals) might find a better way to interpret and engage the lives around us.
“I just didn’t have a peace about it.” This phrase is often used for a number of different reasons from why we didn’t go to Sam’s Club last Sunday to why we did not end up moving to Kansas for that job promotion. Regardless, it usually carries the belief that the will of God is at work in one’s personal lack of peace. And though I could not agree more that our feelings and emotions are a part of who we are as God’s creation and that Christ reveals God’s self through our emotions continuously, the critique of how this phrase is used is that it does not leave room for our emotions to be our emotions and God to be God but rather demands that our emotions are God.
It was not the declaration of Christ in one’s emotion however that prompted this blog but rather the inability for Christ to be acknowledged in reason and the declaration that the discomfort was in fact due to the sovereign hand of God. How does one respond to this notion? Is there anything further to say? Is there anything further to do but walk away…to be left alone? Somewhere along the line it seems that we have created an imbalance, a tendency to allow our emotions to be the driving force of our faith. We run from one spiritual high to the next and often live in fear that the wrong experience will leave us surrendered to an evil spirit that will hold us captive. In doing so we reinforce a hyper spirituality, this idea that the Christian life is that which is immersed in a different realm, the “heavenly realm” if you will. And that this life, this “worldly place” is of the devil. But what of this life? What of the life outside of the hours spent in the “spirit realm”? What of the clamp of our child’s hand around our finger as they take their first steps, the deep grieving after the loss of a loved one, what of the dark places experience in our grieving, what of the newest breakthrough in science, the deep gratitude expressed in the eyes of someone who has just received an act of grace, the cheer of friends and loved ones in a bar, the exploration of answers alongside a friend who just isn’t sure if God exists, the questioning of God our self. Why can’t God exist in these places? Why can’t the act of sacrificed time be the shattering force of the Spirit? Why can’t the freedom to question God’s nature in the midst of a miscarriage be the representation of God’s sovereignty? Why must the Spirit filled life always be the work of the Spirit verses life? Why can’t it simply be the Spirit filled life? The life in which Christ has come, in which the living breathing word of God pulses through our every act of love, sacrifice, grace, suffering, self-control…the life in which Christ is present in us, where we no longer have to live in frustration that God is not present enough but instead in the knowledge that Christ was and is, enough. For a religion in which the peak of the story was the conquering of death, we surely do seem to fear death a lot. Every decision and experience seems to be cast upon the narrow rail of whether or not we, he, she, they will be led astray or not. Maybe, just maybe if we focused more on the acknowledgement of Christ, even in the places of discomfort, we would worry less about “missing the Spirit” “or being “led astray” in our exercise of thought and instead find freedom in the discovery of Christ in life, the life that we have been called to live.
Now I know that this blunder of a toned down vent does not acknowledge much of the good within the Pentecostal tradition, and believe it or not I still find pride in calling Pentecostalism my tradition however, I think that there is something to be heard here. What happens when there are moments and places and people that fall out of the reach of our tradition and faith? We know that God is all knowing and that God is everywhere and yet for some reason it seems that the idea of using reason in the places that are unfamiliar is an area of discomfort for many Pentecostal circles. We do not want to open ourselves to certain ways of thinking or even certain experiences out of fear that we will be deceived. But what of the deception within our tradition? What of Christ outside of what we know? What of those who exist outside of what we know? Are we really to assume that we have it right in every aspect of biblical understanding? Surely we have been entrusted with the ability to think and reason beyond our familiarities.
A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a dear friend who knew little of my life as of late. When I started to convey my frustrations their reply was that surely such a response was not the case. Little did they know of the many who could not read suggested books, found it difficult to hear my story or engage in conversation…why? They “just couldn’t get a peace about it”. And indeed, they didn’t have a peace about it and I can respect their decision. But the fact is, here I am, with few from my own tradition with whom I can have a decent conversation. Yes, my unbalanced leaning toward self-absorption is very present as of late. Nonetheless, my experiences are also real. May we be more than this, may Christ be more than this. May we be able to be Christ to those who are lost and suffering and in doing so do so in the acknowledgement that Christ is greater than our weakness and if anything, has enabled us to be present with one another. As a people who have learned to recognize God in experience, let us be able to experience Christ outside of our places of comfort. May we be thinkers as well as feelers. May we not be afraid to peak over the shoulder of our neighbor. May we always strive to “see” beyond what we know. And may we not be afraid that God will not guide us then as God does now. For we Pentecostals should know, the Spirit is still alive and at work: in you, and in me.