"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Monday, September 13, 2004 You know you're in trouble in a church or religious discussion when someone starts talking about the Holy Spirit ... especially when it involves the words moving, blowing, flowing or anything of the sort.
Not that I don't believe in the Holy Spirit (still definitely a Trinitarian), but it sure seems like everyone and their crazy aunt is invoking the movement of that sucker to justify whatever it is they feel needs justifying.
And there's the problem. We believe in the Holy Spirit. We believe she (and, BTW, the proper pronoun is "she" -- the first instance of holy breath is in Genesis, and the word, ruach, is feminine) is the power of God moving in us, among us and through us so we believe that blowing, moving, flowing stuff actually happens. But the very nature of it is such that she rarely, if ever, leaves a business card to let us know that it is really her.
So we're left with trying to figure out (or, to use a churchy word, to "discern") whether something is of the Holy Spirit or not. And, lo and behold, it just usually works out that when it matches our own personal beliefs and agendas its the work of the Holy Spirit and when it goes against those same beliefs and agendas it's not.
Of course, the big example is the uberbattle over sexuality, which is also an uberbattle over Biblical authority and interpretation in our church. The left (either "progressives" or "revisionists" depending on which side YOU are on!) claims they are only agents of the Spirit. The right (either "orthodox" or "traditionalists" ... take your pick) claims that it is THEY who have the Spirit, and that it ain't blowin' anywhere except back to a time before we made so many mistakes in doctrine!
Big problem here is that for the extreme left, when you push it, defining where the Spirit is present comes down to when something feels good on an emotive level. I'm not opposed to feeling good and don't think God is opposed to it either ... just think it's a poor basis for theology.
And for the extreme right, when you push it, defining where the Spirit is present comes down to preserving in stasis modes of thinking and the cultural assumptions that went with them from hundreds if not thousands of years ago without entertaining the possibility of evolution or continuing revelation.
And the problem for everyone in the middle is that usually all we hear from and about are those on the extremes!
I'm not saying that people are just using the Spirit to add punch to their argument. I think people on each side completely believe the Holy Spirit is on their side. But how can we really tell?
In other words, when is our call to act and become truly from God and when is it not?
So I've been thinking about this. And I don't think there is a clear formula, but I've got some ideas. I don't think they're liable to be too popular, though.
If you want to test whether or not the call you're feeling is of God, see if it involves sacrifice. See if it involves not gaining for yourself but giving up yourself for the sake of others. See if it involves putting Christian discipleship first (and not some smug expurgated version of Christian discipleship that only conveniently includes the stuff you're doing already and eliminates the nasty stuff that might involve things like, I don't know, selling all you have and giving it to the poor) and being convicted by its demands.
Jesus said that if we want to save our lives we have to lose them. If it involves us losing our lives, it might be of the Holy Spirit. If it doesn't ... well ... I'm thinking not so much.
Basically, it comes down to this -- is it about Holiness. And holiness is never about what we get and always about what we give up for the sake of God and God's creation.
It sure is easy to claim the Holy Spirit seal of approval on our agendas ... but is what behind it sacrificial and is what it is calling us to sacrificial? That won't necessarily give us an answer but it should give us a clue as to how to approach these things!
Every morning when I wake up I remind myself that "my life is not my own. I do not own my life." It usually takes me about 3 seconds to forget it and to start acting like I really own my life. But I don't.
Who owns it? Well, my baptism says that God and Christ own my life. My marriage says that my wife and family own my life. My ordination vows say that my church and (in our polity) my bishop own my life.
As a Christian living in three vowed, covenantal relationships, I really don't own my life ... and what is incomprehensible in an America founded on individual rights and freedoms is that that is a GOOD thing. Hell, it's a GREAT thing. Because it gives me a structure of relationships to give my life away, to lose my life in order that I can save it.
It's those three seconds between when I affirm that my life isn't mine and when I forget and act like it is that are my salvation!
So what does this mean for our current situation? Well, not any easy answer ... but maybe a better way to have the conversation.
For the left, is this about getting to do more and fulfilling individual rights (not really sacrificial) or is it about creating space for people of non-heterosexual orientation to enter more fully into relationships that are about self-sacrificial love and giving away of self?
For the right, is this about preserving what is traditional for the sake of a feeling of comfort and/or superiority and about a broader anti-cultural agenda or is it about striving for a church where we all truly submit ourselves to the authority of scripture -- not just in areas where it means someone else needs to change their behavior but in areas where we are called to change our own at the deepest levels.
I think this conversation would be a lot different if we were to have it on the level of talking about sacrifice on all sides. And I think we'd be a lot more hesitant to write the Holy Spirit as a reference on the resumes of our arguments if we did.
| Mike at 9/13/2004 04:20:00 PM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."