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Spirit on the Wing II — The High Cost of Flying

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I wrangled with God for decades before I decided to follow Jesus, mostly because I feared God might send me off to Africa to become a missionary. I liked being in charge of my own life, thank you very much, and Africa wasn’t part of the plan.

Now, after several decades of bumbling along after Jesus (including a brief time in Africa working with AIDS orphans and widows), I view my life and God very differently. I have given up the illusion that I’m in charge of anything and have thrown in my lot with a loving higher power who plots goodness for the world and for my life.

There is nothing that gives me more joy than hanging out with other people who embrace the adventure and freedom of searching for and surrendering to the infusing power of Love.

That’s why my annual trip to the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina is so inspiring and refreshing. To be among thousands of truth and justice seekers, all bathed in mud or dust depending on the year, singing and praying and sharing our stories and struggles — well, that is the Kingdom Come for me.

beer and hymns

Nightly beer & hymns

Sharing stories

Sharing stories

It’s certainly not all happy hymns, there is plenty of struggle and sacrifice and pain in this faith journey. Jesus people are asked to step into the uncomfortable and the countercultural, and we don’t even get a pass from the everyday trials and losses; we just get a different perspective on them. And so it is good to come together to bear witness to the joy and sadness of the journey.

goose crowd

Kingdom Come

This year we had two surprise guests at the Goose, one a young African-American woman and the other an eighty-year-old white guy. Both received standing ovations for their courage, and both spoke of the high cost they have paid for responding to the Holy Spirit of Love.

The Courage to Change your Mind (Repent)

If you’re a Christian, you’ve probably heard of author and evangelical thought-leader Tony Campolo. Or you might have seen him on The Colbert Report. While he is viewed as a relatively progressive evangelical, he’s been outspoken in his opposition to gay marriage. In June, he completely reversed that position and said that he had been wrong.

He was immediately castigated by other evangelical leaders, and long-time friends now refuse to speak to him. His 300 speaking engagements for the year dropped to 30 as the “dis-invitations” rolled in.

Ahhh, Christianity at its judgmental best.

The good news is that because Tony’s speaking engagement for the weekend had been cancelled, he was able to come to the Goose where he was warmly welcomed. A huge tent quickly filled to capacity and hundreds stood outside in the sun, fanning themselves as they listened to him tell his story.

Tony said he had always “accepted” gay people as long as they remained celibate, but as he got to know more gay people and their families, he became increasingly uncomfortable with his position.

“We all said, ‘love the sinner but hate the sin,’ but the thing is, Jesus never said that. Jesus said, ‘Love the sinner and hate your own sin;’ I had to look at myself . . . who am I to deny gay people the same joy and fulfillment I have enjoyed with my wife all these years?” he asked. Indeed.

Tony Campolo (left) and Brian McLaren

Tony Campolo (left) and Brian McLaren

He said that he owed the gay community an apology and acknowledged that he and the church have caused gay people and their loved ones a lot of pain. Tony told stories of courageous pastors who have been standing up for their gay friends and parishioners for years and paying high costs. “I’m eighty years old, I don’t have much to lose. Those are the real heroes.”

This being a loving crowd, Tony stuck around for the whole festival and basked in the acceptance and forgiveness of the Wild Goose community, gay and straight alike.

The Courage to Risk your Life

I would have thought that our other surprise guest would need no introduction, but a lot of folks didn’t know who she was. Bree Newsome — ring a bell? She is featured in this blog I posted a few weeks ago.

Bree is the young African-American woman who scaled the flagpole outside the South Carolina statehouse and took down the confederate flag, quoting scripture all the way up and all the way down and as she was led off to jail.

In the name of God , this flag comes down!

In the name of God , this flag comes down!

Bree and her colleague James Tyson almost didn’t accept the invitation to speak at Wild Goose because they have been threatened with violent retaliation and were nervous about standing in front of a big crowd. “But we decided to come because God is a God of peace, not fear,” Bree told the crowd. Still, they were accompanied by eight low-profile security folks at all times.

The day before Bree arrived, there was a confederate flag emblazoned with a skull flying from a tree on the way into the festival. I’m ashamed to say I did not stop to take it down because I knew someone else would.

Bree spoke of her decision to climb the flagpole as a “crisis of faith moment” for her. After meeting with other activists, she went into a back room alone and prayed. “I got the peace that passes understanding, and I said, ‘OK, Lord, I gotcha — I’m supposed to climb that pole,’ but then I got home and there was my grandmother and my niece, and I thought, ‘Oh Lord, what are you asking me to do? I could die.’ I called my sister at 3 a.m. and said ‘pray for me.’ After that experience, you can’t tell me anything. Christ is real . . . Jesus Christ is one of the biggest agitators ever.”

Bree is deep in the struggle with both feet, and I’m sure she scares the pants off of those who don’t agree with her. She is well-educated, well-spoken, poised, fearless, and driven by a fierce and holy hunger for justice.

“Justice is a way of being that fully recognizes the humanity in all beings,” she told us. “The black struggle is part of the overall struggle for liberation to end oppression itself.”

When someone asked her what legacy she would like to leave, she answered, “I’m not living to leave a legacy for myself. I hope I’m remembered as someone who died doing the work of Christ.”

Bree Newsome and James Tyson: The joy of the Lord is our strength

Bree Newsome and James Tyson: The joy of the Lord is our strength

Bree’s words made me think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who was thrown into a concentration camp and then executed by the Nazis for his work against Hitler. He wrote a classic book called The Cost of Discipleship, which was a little heavy-handed for me, but the title raises a question for all of us who call ourselves Christians. What does my faith-life cost me?

See part one: Spirit on the Wing: Scaring the Hell out of Christians

Justice Scalia, Meet Spirituality

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Everybody’s all atwitter, alarmed or amused by Justice Antonin Scalia’s silly suggestion to “ask the nearest hippie” about freedom and intimacy. But I’m more dismayed by his admission that he doesn’t have a clue what spirituality means. Really?

That a Supreme Court justice hasn’t paid any attention to society in the past, oh, four decades, is troublesome — he’s apparently still stewing about “free sex” and “women’s lib.” But that a man who prides himself on his “traditional Christian values” has never in his life bothered to ponder spirituality is horrifying.

Let me back up for those of you who may have been stoned and having illicit sex under a peace-sign-covered VW van instead of following the latest news.

In his dissent last week from the historic 5-4 Supreme Court decision to allow marriage equality for gay people, Scalia took issue with the gay-hippie-liberal-flag-burning lawyers on the equality side who opined that: “The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.”

Scalia’s response to this: “Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.”

So yeah, the hippie reference is funny, the kind of thing your grumpy grandpa might say. But as a follower of Jesus and one who reads the Bible, the spirituality thing sends me over the rainbow, so to speak.

The Spirit of the Bible

I suppose I should not be surprised that Scalia doesn’t get spirituality. He comes from a time period when adolescents simply took the behavioral rules their parents taught them (disguised as values) and their black leather Bibles, and decided they had all the answers they would ever need. About everything.

But the Bible, Justice Scalia, is not an answer book. It’s a story book, part of the story of humans and their God, a story that started long before anybody wrote down the words, and a story that continues today.

In the beginning was the Spirit

In the beginning was the Spirit

Let’s not argue about the inerrancy of the Bible, though. Even if it were an answer book, remember how it starts? In the first sentence of Genesis, it says “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Spirit. Of God.

And the very same spirit that hovered over the waters and that inspired humans to write that beautiful book is still around today! That’s right, Justice Scalia. The Spirit of God is still working. And the story of God and humanity continues to be written every day by every human being who has a longing for peace and wholeness and justice.

So that’s what spirituality is, in my opinion. People of good will — people wanting to bring good to the world, and willing to work for it — seeking a power greater than themselves to give them the inspiration, guidance, and strength to persevere as they slowly bend that “arc of history,” as Martin Luther King said, “toward justice.” Some of these people call themselves Christians, some don’t.

An awful lot of spirit-led people have been hanging on the end of that arc for a long time, pulling and pulling it towards compassion and justice for all people. It bent quite a bit last week.

Speaking of hanging on the arc of justice, did you see this video of Bree Newsome taking down the confederate flag in Charleston? (What a week!) Did you hear what she said? As she hung from the flagpole and removed that flapping symbol of racism, she called out, “In the name of God, this flag comes down today . . . the Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?”

In the name of God, this flag comes down!

In the name of God , this flag comes down!

That’s spirituality, Justice Scalia. Christian spirituality. That, right there, is someone connected to the power and the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Fear of Love

I personally think that the only power strong enough to conquer fear (which leads to anger and hate) is love. Fear comes from not knowing, not understanding, not being in control — many people are afraid of gay people, black people, and even spirituality for these reasons.

The Spirit of God is a fearful thing in some ways. You can’t control it. Like love. (The Bible says that God is love.) As Jesus says in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Our little ego-selves — the defensive shells we’ve built around our vulnerable, loving selves — don’t like this windy spirit one bit. The ego needs to maintain its illusion of control, and to hold fast to its world views, so that it can sit in judgment on everyone else. And have all the answers. Our egos — our “false selves” as Thomas Merton called them — don’t care for authentic spirituality. They prefer religion and its prescriptive rules; it’s easier to control. All in one book. Feels safer.

Why Would Jesus Do?

Turns out, though, Jesus did not come to establish a religion or to write a book. He came to help us better know and connect with God so that we all “might have life, and have it to the full,” a life with the freedom and dignity to be fully who we were made to be and who we already are: beloved children of God, carrying that wild spirit inside us. Yup, even gay people. And hippies.

And speaking of hippies  . . .

And speaking of hippies . . .

Jesus also said that he could help us all be One, reconciled to God and to everyone else through what he called the Spirit of Truth. He told his followers that this spirit would “teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Such as “love your neighbors” and “set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

Something that Jesus never said, by the way, was one word about homosexuality. Not one word. If it were important to him, wouldn’t he have mentioned it?

So my closing argument, Justice Scalia, is that, yes, it’s risky when you acknowledge the Spirit and pay attention to where it might be leading you. It opens you up to all kinds of people who aren’t like you, and you find yourself looking for points of connection, things to love, instead of differences and things that separate you. You might even have to change your mind about some things.

The Bible says that “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

I think those might be nice qualities in a Supreme Court Justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gr-mt1P94cQ

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