How to Use the Gift of Pentecost

schankz /

schankz /

The issue isn’t that God does not have power; the issue seems to be more that we do not use the power that God gave to us. While we profess to love God and God’s son Jesus, we are all too ready to dismiss what God gave us in, with, and through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. While we say we are Christian, we bypass too often the words of Jesus and latch onto other parts of the Bible, most often the words of Paul. While Paul’s writings have their own power, they do not have the power of Jesus’ words, nor do they carry with them the promise of the Holy Spirit, which does have the power to sustain and strengthen us.


Short Takes: Erika Totten

Rick Reinhard

Bio: Erika Totten is a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in Washington, D.C., and the black liberation movement at large. She is a former high school English literature teacher, a wife, a stay-at-home mom, and an advocate for the radical healing and self-care of black people through “emotional emancipation circles.”

1) How did you get started with “emotional emancipation” work?
Emotional emancipation circles were created in partnership with The Association of Black Psychologists and the Community Healing Network. I was blessed to be one of the first people trained in D.C. I had been doing this work before I knew what it was called. My organization is called “Unchained.” It is liberation work—psychologically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

I want to tell people to be intentional about self-care. Recently, we had a black trans teen, who was an activist, commit suicide. A lot of times you need to see a counselor or therapist, which is often shunned in the black community. Because of racism, we are taught that we need to be “strong.” But it’s costing us our lives. As much as we are dismantling systems, we have to dismantle anything within ourselves that is keeping us from experiencing liberation right now.

2) What does liberation look like to you?
It’s a multitude of things, and it changes every day. But mainly it is having the space to be. To just exist. To not have to perform. It is the ability to exist and live life unapologetically. You don’t have to accept me, but my life shouldn’t be in danger because of my skin. And for my children, liberation means walking down the street and not being harassed. Liberation means living.

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Swingers Club or 'Church:' Who Gets to Decide?

United Fellowship Center in suburban Madison, Tenn. Image via Heidi Hall/RNS.

United Fellowship Center in suburban Madison, Tenn. Image via Heidi Hall/RNS.

Goodpasture Christian School sits on a sprawling, bucolic campus seven miles north of downtown Nashville, where 900 students ready themselves for adult lives of college, career, and loving the Lord.

Right next door sits the United Fellowship Center, a planned church where adults will ready themselves to have sex with each other after enjoying a little BYOB togetherness.

It’s the newest incarnation of The Social Club, a whispered-about swingers club in downtown Nashville that left for the suburbs when a building boom took its parking lot. The community went bonkers after zoning hearings revealed the club’s plans to relocate in a former medical office building in Madison — adjacent to Goodpasture and within a mile of an Assemblies of God megachurch.

After months of debate, an emergency city zoning amendment and a state law designed to stop the relocation, the club’s attorney made an announcement: The Social Club would open in its new location as a church.

Protection via the First Amendment effectively silenced zoning complaints — for now. But it sparked conversations about what it means for a secular organization suddenly to label itself a church, and religious scholars seem no more ready to plunge into that debate than American courts have proved to be.

“When I see this case, I do roll my eyes, but I also know Protestant Christians in America don’t own 'church,'” said Kutter Callaway, assistant professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.

What Struggling Congregations Need to Renew Their Churches

Photo via Goran Bogicevic /

Photo via Goran Bogicevic /

I am in a lovely college town to help a congregation discern its path forward.

It faces challenges that many church leaders will recognize: leadership, finances, isolation from the surrounding community, not enough young and middle-age adults to carry the congregation forward.

It also has pluses. The members aren’t deeply divided or mired in distrust and disdain. They aren’t afraid of change. They don’t bury the future in grand laments about a lost “golden age.”

I think they have a good shot at turning a corner and building a healthy next phase. I hear reports from across the nation that things are improving for Christian congregations. A new generation of clergy is exploring new ideas. Fresh energy is emerging. Denial is losing its hold, as congregations whose average age is 60 to 65 realize they must change or die.

Denominations are slower to adapt, but they, too, are moving forward in practical ways such as training in leadership and stewardship, and flexible deployment of resources.

Yet for this fresh day to last, church leaders will need to embrace a truth that goes beyond organizational development and resolving present issues. It’s a truth that many congregations simply cannot hear.

That truth is this: There is too much shallowness, not enough depth.

Over the years, in a process that isn’t at all unusual, we have equated faith with attending Sunday worship, maybe pitching in on a committee, and forming friendships within the fellowship. People enjoy belonging to the congregation. They radiate a palpable joy in being together. They seem content.

Blaming the Victim

Mindmo / Shutterstock

Mindmo / Shutterstock

WHEN I WAS 15, my church youth group was not a safe place. Like most youth groups, there were college-age volunteers who served as counselors and Bible study leaders.

One counselor, Paul, took it upon himself to constantly tell me I wore too much makeup, my clothes were too tight, and that I was a flirt. These actions took place in public for six months while other counselors and students watched and laughed. The interactions came to a head when he commented on my lipstick color and I snapped back at him. He grabbed me, forced me onto his lap, and told me I liked it.

At the time, I just thought Paul was creepy; I now recognize his behavior was sexual harassment. I also recognize that the other members of my youth group, including the leaders, saw his behavior and failed to intervene. Why did this happen? Both Paul’s behavior and the leaders’ silence belong to a larger set of attitudes in our culture—and churches—that allows sexual violence and sexual harassment to become normal, even expected, behaviors.

This set of attitudes is known as “rape culture.” When we fail to confront these toxic attitudes in our churches, we undermine our love for our neighbors, ignore the Bible, and misrepresent God as misogynistic.

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N.C. Sheriff Bans Sex Offenders from Church

Photo via North Carolina Sheriffs' Association / RNS

Graham County Sheriff Danny Millsaps. Photo via North Carolina Sheriffs' Association / RNS

A sheriff in one of North Carolina’s smallest counties told registered sex offenders they can’t go to church, citing a state law meant to keep them from day-care centers and schools.

Graham County Sheriff Danny Millsaps told sex offenders about his decision Feb. 17, according to a letter the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times obtained March 6. About 9,000 people live in Graham County, which abuts Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee line in western North Carolina.

“This is an effort to protect the citizens and children of the community of Graham (County),” he wrote.

“I cannot let one sex offender go to church and not let all registered sex offenders go to church.”

He invited them to attend services at the county jail.

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

I WAS ONCE told that “racism is our nation’s original sin.” This statement jolted me. While I didn’t dispute its truth, I have come to realize racism is much more complex than this.

In order to dismantle the structural sin of racism, we have to first set it within a larger context that acknowledges racism’s sociopolitical dependency and structural interconnectedness.

First: “race” is not real. It is not a scientific category; biologically, it does not exist. Race is a social construct, something built systematically. It has no inherent value or true significance beyond what we give it. In order for race to have real social consequences—which it undoubtedly does—there must be other phenomena at work that validate, sustain, and reinforce the social significance of race.

As a result of sin in our fallen world, human bodies are appraised and given a value based upon certain criteria. As a result of sin, men are privileged over women, white skin is privileged over darker skin, able bodies are privileged over disabled bodies. Historically, certain bodies are acclaimed while others are defamed. Race plays a starring role in this larger drama of embodiment.

Within this racialized schema, whiteness has evolved into an exclusive fraternity. Whiteness has been judicially regulated, legislatively reinforced, and institutionally endowed with power. Whiteness bestows privileges upon its preordained clientele.

While privilege is only one small part of whiteness, and while not all of these privileges are realized (or even equally distributed throughout its membership), these privileges are uniquely accessible to its members.

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What the Church Can Learn from the YMCA

YMCA as thin place. Image courtesy Pressmaster/

YMCA as thin place. Image courtesy Pressmaster/

Last week I was a little under the weather, so when my husband and kids took off after church for a hike, I headed to the YMCA. It’s only a two minute drive from our house and we’ve been members for nearly 5 years now.

As I sat in the hot tub, watching folks come and go, I had the sensation of being in a thin space. According to Celtic tradition, a thin place is when Heaven & Earth feel particularly close together. Or, as Eric Weiner put it in his New York Times travel article a couple years ago, it’s "where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent."

The YMCA might seem a strange place to behold the holiness of God, but this is what I noticed while I was sitting quietly with the water swirling around my feet:

I heard Mandarin, Spanish, Korean and what I think was Amharic. I heard English, too, of course, and for a brief moment, English with a heavy Nigerian accent. I saw brown skin and black skin, tan skin, white skin, splotchy skin, and smooth skin.

I saw a young girl and her mama soaking together in the hot tub, the mom still fully clothed with her head wrapped. I saw heavily tatooed 20-somethings heading for the steam room. I saw three women, probably in their seventies, with drooping skin and sagging suits, laughing uproariously on the benches near the shallow end of the pool. I saw fat folks, skinny folks, tall folks and short folks.

I saw a middle-aged man limp slowly along and finally sink down into the hot tub. I saw two women walking arm in arm, one obviously leading the other who could not see, to the sauna. I saw two of the lifeguards re-positioning and working with tools on the lift that lowers those who are wheel-chair bound down into pool if they are unable to get in on their own. There was a man sitting beside me at who talked to himself at length.

I was there for about an hour and as I sensed the nearness of God in that space, it occurred to me what I was seeing — I was seeing the Kingdom of God.

Weekly Wrap 10.24.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Black People Riot Over Injustice; White People Riot Over Pumpkins and Football
Title says it all.

2. Where Did Ottawa Shooter Get His Gun? 
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was under criminal prohibition from obtaining firearms because of past convictions. A helpful glimpse into Canada’s system of gun rules.  

3. The Paradox of the Christian CEO
Fr. James Martin expounds on Catholic social teaching to address the difficult question: “The question I would ask Christian CEOs is blunt: What do you want to say to Jesus when you reach the gates of heaven? That you took as much as you could, or as much as the market would bear, because the board okay’d it? Or that you accepted what you thought was just,and understood the needs of your fellow men and women, who may have worked even harder than you?

4. A Sandy Hook Father’s Plea
Mark Barden lost a child in the Sandy Hook massacre. In this moving testimony, he offers a plea that we all do what we can to stop the next school shooting before it happens.

Secularism Grows as More U.S. Christians Turn ‘Churchless’

“Unchurched Adults Are More Likely To Be…,” graphic courtesy of Barna Group/RNS.

If you’re dismayed that one in five Americans (20 percent) are “nones” — people who claim no particular religious identity — brace yourself.

How does 38 percent sound?

That’s what religion researcher David Kinnaman calculates when he adds “the unchurched, the never-churched and the skeptics” to the nones.

He calls his new category “churchless,” the same title Kinnaman has given his new book. By his count, roughly four in 10 people living in the continental United States are actually “post-Christian” and “essentially secular in belief and practice.”

If asked, the “churchless” would likely check the “Christian” box on a survey, even though they may not have darkened the door of a church in years.

Kinnaman, president of the California-based Barna Group, slides them into this new category based on 15 measures of identity, belief and practice in more than 23,000 interviews in 20 surveys.

The research looked at church worship attendance and participation, views about the Bible, God and Jesus, and more to see whether folks were actually tied to Christian life in a meaningful way or tied more by habit or personal history.