Category Archives: Spirituality
Where is the Holy Spirit at work?
In the Old Testament, the feminine noun ruach(רוּחַ) is variously translated into English as “spirit,” “Spirit,” “wind,” and “breath.” Is ruachthe wind, the breath, or the Spirit of God that hovered over the waters in Genesis? Yes. It is wind, it is breath, it is spirit, and it is Spirit. It blows where it wills. It/she/he is personal.
The Holy Spirit is not at work in:
- The spectacular or sensational
- The glitz and glitter
- The popular
- The consensuses of opinions
- That which makes us comfortable
- The status quo
- That which does not challenge us
- Wealth, coercion, or power
- Nationalism, militarism, or civil religion
- Those creative unobtrusive souls who habitually and slowly breathe deeply and observe the everyday preternaturalness of life. People who know how to breathe – the quiet spirits, are most often the ones inspired with virtue.
- Those who have a hunger to know Jesus. Those longing to go back to the authentic living Jesus, being with him to learn from him how to be like him.
- Those willing to live in community; those committed to community because the Holy Spirit transcends the individual.
- Those on fire for social justice, who long to set the world to rights on behalf of the marginalized, for it is the elderly, the women and the slaves who are singled out at Pentecost.
- Those who quietly care for “the least of these.”
(Special thanks to John R. (Jack) Levison, W. J. A. Power Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and Biblical Hebrew at SMU School of Theology)
President Trump made what may be a very valid point in the news sound-bite I heard the other day when he said something to the effect of “there will be thousands of suicides” if the populace remains isolated for too long. Obviously, I hope he’s wrong. Suicide is close to my heart. My oldest son died by suicide when he was in high school. The suicide rate among combat veterans is shocking. On average, twenty veterans take their own lives every day. And that number increases dramatically when we include others suffering similar brain injuries and PTSD. Some 45,000 people die by suicide yearly in the United States. As Trump indicated, it is probable that social isolation will exacerbate the issue.
The other side of the current state of affairs, however, is the potential severity of COVID-19. It is deadly. It is more contagious than almost anything out there, and therefore much easier to catch. There is no treatment. There is no cure. There is no vaccine. The only prevention is the tried and true public health method of isolation, quarantine, social distancing. Nothing else can stop the spread of this virus at this time, but social isolation works.
So, the best solution is not to try to make everything go back to normal in a couple of weeks under the guise of the cure being worse than the disease. It is not. If populations do not continue to socially isolate, hitherto unheard of numbers of people will die. They will be people of all ages from infancy to the elderly. As with any pandemic, those with underlying health issues or compromised immune system are most at risk. Carriers who have no symptoms spread COVID-19. Those who defy reality with their COVID-19 parties, beach frolicking, and religious gatherings are not only foolish, they are selfish. They are causing the deaths of innocent people. And, those who advocate the sacrificing of others to “save the economy” are practicing the worst kind of idolatry. They are offering up the lives of human beings bearing the image of God as sacrificial offerings to Mammon.
We must stay in social isolation until it is safe not to, Easter or no Easter. It will most likely be necessary for months. But we must also be mindful of the psychological impact of isolation on those struggling with PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation, and other mental and brain disorders. How are we as God’s people respond? A few ideas:
- Identify the vulnerable around us and reach out to them regularly via video-chat and telephone. Take the initiative. One church I know has divided the entire congregation up into groups of four or five with one member of each group responsible for calling and checking in on the others every few days.
- Evaluate the people we talk to for suicidal ideation. If they express a death wish, have a plan to kill themselves, and have the means to carry out that plan, they are highly lethal – get them to help immediately. Call the police. You can determine lethality by asking pointed questions. Have you thought about killing yourself? If you were to kill yourself, how would you do it? If the answers, for example, are yes, I’d shoot myself, and the person has access to a gun, they are extremely lethal. Get them help whether they want it or not.
- Eschew, hate, have nothing to do with those who propose sacrifices to Mammon couched in “we’ve got to prevent a depression and get this economy moving again.” Keep yourself from idols.
- Love your neighbors enough to not be physically near them, while simultaneously keeping in contact and responding as best you can within the confines of safety measures.
One of the primary gifts of the Protestant Reformation was confidence – confidence that God loves us, chose us, redeemed us, saved us, and will never leave us. For many people, the Roman Catholic Church had lost or neglected to communicate that confidence. People lived with the hope of heaven and the terror of hell. Both were real possibilities. We are grateful for the rediscovery of the biblical truth of confidence in God that came down to us through both Luther and Calvin.
Confidence, properly placed and focused, is a good thing. The surgeon needs to be confident in her abilities to excise disease. The gardener needs to be confident in his horticultural knowledge. The sailor needs to be confident in her navigational skills. A degree of confidence is necessary to complete almost any task successfully.
But there is also danger in confidence. Confidence can easily degenerate into arrogance.
The great gift of the Pietistic Movement in Methodism, the Second Great American Awakening, among some Anabaptists, and, later, in the Pentecostal Movement, was a reinvigorating of the awareness that God has called us to holy living.
Personal holiness is so needed in our culture – a holiness that sets the captives free, loves, cares for, respects, and serves others while keeping oneself unspotted from corruption.
Piety, personal holiness, is a good thing. God designed and redeemed us so we could become free of addiction and sin – good, kind, compassionate, loving, holy people.
But there is danger in piety – piety can become self-righteousness.
The confidence that some of the Pharisees of first century Judea had in their ability to understand and interpret scripture became prideful arrogance. “I thank Thee that I am not like this tax collector.” Their piety degenerated in to legalistic self-righteousness.
Both Luther and Calvin eventually condemned those who disagreed with them and sanctioned violence against them. Both encouraged the brutal persecution of Jews, Anabaptists, and Catholics. Equally confident and pious, the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformationists returned the favor. Everyone thought it their God-ordained duty to eradicate the “pagans” – Moslems, Buddhists, indigenous people groups of all sorts. Popes and pastors sanctioned slavery and genocide.
Today there are seven distinct generations living together in America:
- The World War II generation is now in their late 90s or older.
- The Builders are mostly in their late 70s to early 90s.
- The Boomers are in their 60s and early 70s.
- Gen-Xers are in their late 40s and 50s.
- Millennials range in age from their late 20s to mid-40s.
- Gen Z persons are in high school, college, and graduate school.
- And, finally, we have the Alpha generation kids.
By and large, much of Gen-X and most of the Millennials and Gen Z women and men have rejected the institutional church. Why are the majority of those under 40 turning their backs on church and identifying as “none” on religious surveys?
Many Builders and Boomers blame public education, or the “liberal media,” or “secular humanism,” but secularism is not nearly the threat to Christianity that hypocrisy is.
Too many Americans over 60 claiming to be Christians confident of their doctrine, certain of their salvation, and convinced of their piety, have allowed their confidence to sink into arrogance and their piety to degenerate into self-righteous judgmentalism. They champion civil religion that homogenizes flag and cross, participate in environmental destruction, support wars and capital punishment, condemn the LGBTQ community, stockpile ammunition and weapons designed only to kill other humans, display xenophobia, support institutionalized racism, censure science, resist helping immigrants, the homeless and the poor, think it their duty to forcefully legislate their moral interpretations, and support corrupt immoral (or amoral) politicians. Claiming to follow Jesus, they support policies diametrically contrary of what Jesus taught. Claiming to follow Jesus, they act exactly the opposite of how He acted.
Mega-churches are so 1990s. The future of the church (and I believe the church does have a future) belongs to small communities of genuine faith meeting in homes and coffee shops. Younger Gen-X’ers, Millennials, and Gen-Z’ers are leaving the big institutions in droves; they long for authentic community in which persons care for rather than judge one another, and seek to rectify rather than excuse injustice.
I read recently a Tweet from someone who said he often wondered what he would do if he knew he had only a day to live. Then, he said, it hit him – Jesus really did know that. And He washed feet.