holy spirit

The Hidden History of Pentecostal Pacifism

WHEN I FOUND out years ago that most early Pentecostal denominations had been committed to nonviolence—including the Assemblies of God, the denomination of my heritage—I thought it was about the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. Not kill for the United States of America (or any country)?

Then I stumbled upon the Pentecostal Evangel, a weekly magazine of the Assemblies of God (USA), which published these revealing words during World War I:

From the very beginning the [Pentecostal] movement has been characterized by Quaker principles. The laws of the Kingdom, laid down by our elder brother, Jesus Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, have been unqualifiedly adopted, consequently the movement has found itself opposed to the spilling of the blood of any man.

This was new to me. I was reared in a U.S. Pentecostalism that taught intense loyalty to the United States and deep pride in combatant military service. Where did this hidden history of Pentecostal nonviolence come from?

Reading other early accounts of Pentecostal peacemaking prompted me to further examine where it had gone and whether it could re-emerge. It would also challenge and deconstruct my understanding of Christianity.

In the 1930s, the Pacifist Handbook actually listed the Assemblies of God as the third largest church in the U.S. that “opposed war.” Although not universal, Pentecostal conscientious objection and noncombatant service in the U.S. continued into World War II and beyond.

One day when I was at my grandparents’ home in east Texas, they asked me about the subject of my dissertation. With nervous hesitation, I shared that the Assemblies of God used to be a pacifist denomination and that I was researching the history of pacifism’s emergence and eventual decline in U.S. Pentecostalism.

“Well, of course, we know that,” my grandmother responded.

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New & Noteworthy

Hagar’s Story
Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, by Delores S. Williams, now professor emerita of theology and culture at Union Theological Seminary, is a landmark in womanist thought. The recently released 20th anniversary edition has a new foreword by Katie G. Cannon. Orbis

Moving Music
Jon Batiste and his band, Stay Human, have played on the New York subway and in other public spaces in free-ranging, mobile performances they call “love riots.” Their album Social Music offers that same positive spirit and a fresh take on jazz. Razor & Tie

Tears & Fears
Children, sadly, can’t always be protected from loss. What Do We Tell the Children: Talking to Kids About Death and Dying, by grief counselor Joseph M. Primo, offers insights and tools for creating space for age-appropriate grieving and development of coping skills. Abingdon Press

Blows Where It Will
In an overview of church history with her usual eye toward the future, Phyllis Tickle, with Jon M. Sweeney, looks at the power and mystery of the Holy Spirit in The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church. Baker Books

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Strange Fire: John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, the Holy Spirit, and the Satan

Illustration of the Holy Spirit flame, AridOcean / Shutterstock.com
Illustration of the Holy Spirit flame, AridOcean / Shutterstock.com

I first heard about the Strange Fire controversy when my Twitter feed started tweeting up a storm on Monday. The drama centered on a confrontation between two conservative mega church pastors, John MacArthur and Mark Driscoll. Most of my Twitter friends are theological liberals, and we liberals love it when our conservative brethren get in fights.

Woo-hoo! A scandal! 

This scandal, like most scandals, was overblown. Driscoll says that MacArthur and his people were “gracious that they let me on campus at all.” What was Driscoll doing “on campus?” He crashed MacArthur’s conference on the Holy Spirit called Strange Fire to meet with people and hand out free copies of his upcoming book, A Call to Resurgence, which has a chapter on the Holy Spirit. Conference officials told Driscoll he had to stop, and so he did. Driscoll’s books ended up in the hands of conference officials. The drama between the two has to do with whether Driscoll gave the books as a gift to the conference or if conference officials confiscated them.

Like all scandals, the drama distracts us from what really matters, which is the conference theme. The work of the Holy Spirit is vitally important for Christians, yet the Holy Spirit is usually treated like the ugly stepchild of Christian doctrine. (No offense to ugly stepchildren.) I think MacArthur radically misunderstands the Holy Spirit. The conference website provides an overview of its mission, which will help me explain his misunderstanding:

On Scripture: Power of Prayer ... at Kmart

Screenshot from video 'How We Pray'
Screenshot from video 'How We Pray'

When I want to remind myself of the power of prayer, I go to the Astor Place Kmart on the lower east side of Manhattan. Sure, I could read Kierkegaard or Augustine, but I prefer the Kmart. Specifically I favor an area in the far back corner of the basement. It is devoid of windows or natural light with a back wall of clear glass that faces the dungeon-like dark tunnel of the Number 6 subway train. There, you will find the most unexpected of things — like a plant nursery.

Sprouting out of this dreary prison are tender green leaves of ficus trees and the vibrant gold blossoms of marigolds. A tiny plastic tab peeks out of each pot with an image of what that particular plant could grow into if it received proper light and care; a cruel irony, as there is little hope in this place that such care or light will be offered. Even amid the bleak circumstances, these tiny members of creation still struggle, every moment of every day, to tap into the energy around them so that they might grow into that potential.

In short, they pray.

Pentecost and the Sin of Racism

Pentecost symbol, Waiting For The Word / Flickr.com
Pentecost symbol, Waiting For The Word / Flickr.com

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’
Acts 2.12 (NRSV)

Charles Ramsey, the African American male dishwasher who rescued Amanda Berry from captivity preached a transforming sermon when he shared his story about how he helped a Euro American woman in distress escape from 10-years of captivity. Ramsey boldly told the local television news reporter in Cleveland, “Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms.” And later when CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Ramsey, how he felt about being a hero, Ramsey said, “No, no, no. Bro, I’m a Christian, an American. I am just like you. We bleed the same blood …”

Ramsey’s blunt honesty which spoke to the existence of racism and his sincere compassion for humanity was a 21st century mystification; a “radical real lived” theological symbol for the reason, why Christians celebrate Pentecost – the birth of the Holy Spirit and the historic beginning of the Christian Church. Biblical scholars teach us on the Day of Pentecost that a strong wind swept through a house where Jesus’ followers gathered days after he was resurrected from the dead. It was in the city of Jerusalem, where Jewish pilgrims gathered to celebrate Shavuot and people from other cultures who spoke diverse languages — believers and non believers of Jesus, heard about God’s powerful works in their native tongues and felt God’s holy presence.

When the day of Pentecost came, 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 Sprit gave them ability.

Top 10 Things I Learned From the Wild Goose

Wild Goose Festival. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.
Two young boys playing with glow necklaces during a late-night concert at the Wild Goose. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

1) Tune in. Log off. Let go.

Darting fireflies supplied most of the light that pierced the rural darkness when I arrived at the Wild Goose Festival site on a farm in Shakori Hills, N.C., late last Wednesday night. I left my ballast — a huge duffel bag containing a pup tent and enough bug spray to cover a small village, a suitcase full of mostly tie-dyed clothing, a large computer case and a camera bag — in the 15-person van that had spirited me from the Raleigh-Durham airport to the farm about an hour away.

While I’m not exactly known for packing light when I travel, my unusually cumbersome luggage for the festival contained the various gadgets and gizmos that would allow me to work from my campsite on the farm — live blogging about the festival, complete with video, audio and photos, and the help of four Sojourners interns who were set to arrive Thursday afternoon.

I had barely stepped foot on the campground when I checked my smart phone to see if cell service and the festival’s WiFi were working. They were. Good, I thought. All set to work. It would be a hectic few days covering the festival’s numerous speakers and musical performances, but we’d get it done.

Ah, hubris. Humans make plans. God chuckles and says, “Oh, really?”

The Almighty, it would seem, had better ideas for how I should spend my time at Wild Goose, which takes its name from the Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit.

Heat, Hope, & Hootenanny: The Holy Spirit Gets Cooking At Wild Goose

Phil Wyman. Wild Goose Festival. 2012. By Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.
Phil Wyman (center), who helped lead Sunday morning worship at the Wild Goose Festival. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

SHAKORI HILLS, N.C. — On a swelteringly hot solstice weekend in the southeast, a couple thousand folks gathered in the woods of North Carolina to get their collective goose cooked. An early summer camp like no other, this second annual festival invokes a Celtic image of the Holy Spirit and sparks unlikely convergences inside the great emergence of the contemporary Christian counterculture.

The Goose blends the best of an intellectually engaged faith conference and social justice activist base camp with the sonic frivolity of a modern rock festival and stirs all concepts and collapses all constructs in a steamy potluck stew of primal camp meeting and postmodern tent revival. Without a doubt, the blossoming and beckoning of the Wild Goose movement in North America heralds a bright radical future for today’s Jesus followers bringing the kingdom come.

Wild Goose Festival: Sunday Call to Worship from cathleen falsani on Vimeo.

Chasing the Wild Goose

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.

—From “Wild Geese”
by Mary Oliver

Late June. School’s out. The days are long, their pace slowed—languid and languorous, in the best sense of those descriptors. Could there be a better time to embark on a wild goose chase? I think not.

As luck would have it, just after the summer solstice this June, fans of such adventures—devotees of that sacred, untamable squawking bird—will gather on a farm in North Carolina for a weekend’s worth of music, art, the exchange of ideas, and the pursuit of the Spirit at the (aptly named) Wild Goose Festival.

The fest, a cousin of the U.K.’s venerable Greenbelt festival now in its second year on this side of the pond, takes its name from the Irish An Gé Fiáin (“the wild goose,” pronounced “On Geh Fee-an”), which some folks believe is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit traceable to ancient Celtic Christianity.

The idea (and it is a provocative one) is that rather than a dove, the Holy Spirit is more like one of those big, gray geese—wild, unruly, coming and going as it pleases, announcing its arrival with honking, bluster, and ample attitude.

Rather than the gentle dove, this (alleged) ancient Celtic image of the Holy Spirit is raucous—as uncaged as the wind that lifts its muscular wings.

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Grab Your Birkenstocks, Ukeleles and Pup Tents: The (Wild) Goose is Loose!

The Goose is on the loose, ya'll.

Today organizers of the 2012 Wild Goose Festival (June 21-24 in Shakori Falls, N.C.) released a groovtastic video (with special guest apperances by Sojo homies Gabriel Salguero, Lynne Hybels, David Wilcox, Father Richard Rohr, Brian McClaren, Phyllis Tickle, Richard Twiss, Jim Wallis and more!) to whet your appetite for four days of music, art, literature and curl-your-toes GRACE.

Watch the Wild Goose video and find out how to get your tickets, etc., inside the blog....

Waiting to Exhale

Lately, I’ve been holding my breath. It’s actually something I inherited from my mother’s side of the family. Many of my female relatives on the Irish side of the clan have this habit of holding our breath when we’re talking—or rather, listening—or concentrating, or thinking. And especially when we’re anxious.

Stress makes many people turn to comfort food, while others lose their appetite. Some folks chew their nails; some look for relief in the bottom of a cocktail glass; still others lose sleep or sleep too much. Me? I forget to breathe.

When I was a member of a college theater ensemble, our director often focused on the importance of breathing, not only for our physical persons but also for our souls. In the Bible, the Greek word used for “breath,” pneuma, is also used to describe the Spirit—our spirits and the Holy Spirit.

Breathing is, of course, essential to life. The air that moves through our lungs sustains us. But the Spirit also imbues us with eternal life and the true sustenance of our earthly lives.

Before rehearsals or performances, our college theater director would lead us through a series of warm-up exercises, all of them focused on breath. We began by lying flat on our backs with our eyes closed, letting go of all of the physical and emotional tensions we’d brought with us into the room. As we centered ourselves, body and mind, we’d pray the “Jesus Prayer,” silently. It’s a simple yet powerful prayer that comes from the practice of hesychasm, or contemplative prayer, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

It goes like this: (Breathing in) “Jesus Christ.” (Breathing out) “Son of God.” (Breathing in) “Have mercy on me.” (Breathing out) “A sinner.”

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