The Common Good

Why I Love Fire, Pentecost, and the Beloved Community

This past weekend, Christians around the world celebrated one of our holiest holi-days: Pentecost. Pentecost, which means "50 days," is celebrated seven weeks after Easter (hence the 50), and marks the birthday of the Church, when the Holy Spirit is said to have fallen on the early Christian community like fire from the heavens. (For this reason, lots of Christians wear red and decorate in pyro-colors. This day is also where the fiery Pentecostal movement draws its name).

firephoto © 2007 matthew venn | more info (via: Wylio)

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But what does Pentecost Sunday have to do with just another manic Monday?

What does a religious event a couple of thousand years old have to offer the contemporary, pluralistic, post-Christian world we live in? I'd say a whole lot. Here's why:

Let me start by confessing my bias. Not only am I a Christian, but I am a Christian who likes fire. I went to circus school and became a fire-swallowing, fire-breathing, torch-juggling-pyro-maniac as you'll see here. So naturally, I like Pentecost.

But what happened at Pentecost runs much deeper than fire and wasn't just about speaking in a charismatic "tongues-of-fire" prayer language, as beautiful as both of these may be.

One of the things that happened at Pentecost was a really diverse group of people understood each other as the Spirit of God fell upon them. It was a divine moment of reconciliation among people from many different tribes and nations and languages -- a reconciliation moment that I would say the world desperately needs today.

To understand what happened at Pentecost, we need to look back to the legendary story of the Tower of Babel -- as it sort of paints the backdrop. After all, Babel is where we derived our 6,000+ spoken languages, according to the Bible. You may remember the old Tower of Babel story from Sunday school, or you may have some Bob Marley tunes ringing in your ears about the fall of Babylon, the region around where the tower fell. Here's a brief synopsis. The story begins by saying, "the whole earth spoke one language" (Gen 11:1). The young human species seemed quite impressed with itself and its limitless power, so the people set out to build a tower to heaven. It doesn't seem so terrible in itself, but the scripture speaks of the tower as an idol of human ingenuity, which they built "to make a name for themselves."

God was not impressed. As the story goes, God topples the tower and scatters the people

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