The original pentecost in the book of Acts began with God erasing barriers between people and found its soul a few years later as christians learned the importance of surrendering their own comforts for the care of others.
This blog was originally a celebration of Pentecost Sunday, a reflection on the gentle strength and guidance God’s Spirit brings to our journey. It was written, ready to go last week and all I had to do was press ‘Publish’ when civil unrest in Minneapolis escalated into rioting following the death of George Floyd. Since then, violence has spread across the U.S.
The blog I wrote was personal and true but its absurdity screamed back at me as I considered the larger picture. Here I was, writing about a simplistic view of personal and spiritual freedom while so many of God’s children find themselves in very different circumstances.
I invite you to read with today’s headlines in mind. I have kept the picture and first part of the blog intact because I think it’s important to the overall flavour of the blog. The ending has been altered.
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Ever have a song just pop into your head? Appearing randomly, from who knows where, and then just sticking around all day? Or longer?
Well it happens to me all the time.
Last weekend it was Don McLean’s classic American Pie, especially the verse about driving his Chevy to the levy. (Turns out the levy was dry.)
Then a few days ago it was the first verse of Silent Night. (Yes, that Silent Night.)
Late yesterday Leaving On A Jet Plane had a long run in my mind, especially Peter, Paul & Mary’s harmonies in the chorus. (No I wasn’t flying anywhere, I just lived in the 60s.)
Early this morning the sun began to brighten behind the leaves of the trees outside our house and their shadows dappled our fledgling lawn. I sat sipping morning coffee while a cool country breeze sifted through the patio screen. Cheryl had a coffee of her own and she smiled at me as I looked over at her. The aroma of yeasty dough rose from the bread machine in the kitchen. I felt whole.
And a song I haven’t thought of for years invaded my brain from some distant place. I could hear a piano echoing off the walls of an imagined building and the gathered voices of a couple hundred believers began to sing. In my mind, men and women from my childhood could be heard equally, a strong melody pushing the words while scattered harmonies added depth. They were singing an old song written by a dude named Haldor Lillenas.
Glorious freedom, wonderful freedom,
No more in chains of sin I repine!
Jesus the glorious Emancipator,
Now and forever He shall be mine.
And there it was.
I felt free.
Not “You didn’t catch me” free.
Not “I refuse to wear a face mask” free.
Not “I’m right, you’re wrong” free.
Not “I can do whatever I want” free.
But feel-good free – in my being, in my soul.
I don’t deserve a good life, mind you – I’m not that good. I’m not exceptional or driven; I don’t have a string of letters behind my name and I’m not likely to be in history books for any good reason.
In terms of life-goals, most of mine are unlikely now. I don’t have enough hair to be Prime Minister, I’m not a secret agent (or am I?), playing goal for the Leafs is gonna be an uphill climb, and they haven’t invented starships yet. I’m still hoping to write a best selling novel but I’ll soon need to firm up some ideas for a plot and all the characters.
No, it’s not accomplishment, it’s more a sense of wellness, wholeness; the satisfaction you feel when your jigsaw puzzle begins to reveal its central picture. An inner sense that Jesus Is Alright With Me (uh oh, now the Doobie Brothers are in my head …)
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You can see how insensitive it would have been to post the above piece in the midst of the kind of unrest we’re experiencing. My feel-goods now feel limp in the shadow of the social straight jacket others have to wear.
While it is true that my freedom is deeply felt, the reality is that I have done little to deserve it. Yes my parents and grandparents worked hard and prayed for me, but so did the parents and grandparents of millions of people who are still experiencing generational oppression. Is Emancipator Jesus only for people who are like me?
When I see angry white people telling blacks how to act I wonder what it would look like if the tables were turned? Already there are people shouting about how blacks need to act peacefully and respond the way civilized people do, not understanding the generations of injustice that fuel the rage. Not understanding that racism wears different clothing now. Not understanding it is still ingrained in ways we don’t see. And that’s the point – we don’t understand.
I know that categorizes me as a wacky lefty in some people’s minds but during the last few years I’ve been trying to educate myself on civil rights history. I’ve been reading about slavery, Jim Crow laws, economic imbalance, the prison system, and the way that oppression has been built in to society. I haven’t even begun to look at the history of literal slaughter of native people as our nations were expanding. These social ills are so entrenched that the rest of us are blind to them.
To some degree Canadians can frown at the actions south of the border but we’re not pure either. Racism is universal, greed is universal, kneeling on someone else is universal.
I would never have seen myself as a racist but even attitudes I have held over the years have contributed to it. That is a jarring lesson. In our world there are white christians like me who sing about freedom – physical and spiritual freedom – without realizing how connected those freedoms are to the advantages we enjoy.
Remember the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis, chapter four? Both brothers offer sacrifices but only Abel’s receives God’s approval. Cain is upset at this perceived unfairness but God corrects him:
“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (NIV)
Cain refuses to let go of the blind belief that he is not to blame for any of this. He is angry because he sees equality through his own, self-serving eyes.
He later lures Abel to a remote place where he attacks and kills his brother. God comes along again and they have another exchange:
“Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” [Cain] replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Today I read Brad Jersak’s version of what God’s response might be:
“Am I my brother’s keeper?”
“No, you are his brother.”