Rev. Jim Ryan, PhD — firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-pastor of Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community
Today is Pentecost, the day of the rushing wind – only this time, this week, the wind carries tear gas in the largest cities of our country. This time the killing of a black man by a police officer has truly kindled the whirlwind.
Recently, a very good friend of mine shared with me that he was driving, as a passenger, with his son who was doing the driving. The son was mumbling something to himself as he was driving. His son has a few deficits in life, of the nondebilitating variety, and my friend asked what he was saying, thinking that he could be of some assistance. His son said, “I’m trying to figure out where I will put my wallet.” My friend, ready to reply with something like, “Well, son, maybe in your pants pocket would be best,” instead, in a moment of better parenting, asked, “Why would that be a concern for you?” You see, for a split second my friend had forgotten, because he loves him, that his son is bi-racial with African American heritage predominant in his appearance. Not so long ago, he had taken his son to the local Police captain in his suburb (himself, a black person) so that the son could have “the Talk.” Would that “the Talk” would have taken place due to the abandonment of his paternal responsibility and the Captain could have had revealed his wide and deep knowledge of all things sexual to my friend’s son. No, “the Talk” is about what every young African American male must know when dealing with the cops.
It is important, you see, to place the wallet in just the best place so that when he goes for it to produce his driver’s license it doesn’t look to the officer who has pulled him over that he is going for a gun and get shot just for being African American. This is the concern of a 16 year old young black adolescent, not how he could impress his first date with his new driver’s license.
This is America wherein the parent of a black child must not miss a beat when it comes to knowing how to keep their son alive in this country of bigotry, racism, and white privilege. Case in point, did you see the sickening smirk on Derek Chavin’s face as he kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s throat for 8 minutes and 43 seconds?
The whirlwind has come back with a vengeance on this country. It is just about too difficult to presume that we can pray for the Holy Spirit to be the rushing wind of justice – not when it has been denied with such regularity in this society that guiltlessly washes itself of responsibility. This is what lily white and squeaky clean means in a culture that labels non-white, low-paid with no health insurance workers – essential. What an accusation by the Holy Spirit against the greedy and amoral lives of our lily white a______es.
I’m a preacher, so I would like to bring a message of hope through this latest American exhibition of its original sin of racism. I think I could say the Holy Spirit deserves no less. I’m of Irish descent and “they” say that the Irish have the gift of gab. In more polite circles they say, “My, don’t those Irish write well!” You see, the Irish write well, in my humble opinion, because of the long history of storytelling and the power of language in its oral shape. Oh yes, there’s the centuries upon centuries of oppression by the British – but who’s keeping score?
Such powers become second-nature to oppressed peoples everywhere. At its best having oral skills to reach back to one’s cultural history and to be able to communicate the finery of such a culture is a strength to be celebrated. Such strength is present in African American culture.
In today’s reading from 1 Corinthians (2:3-13) the gifts of the Spirit include the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues. I understand the gift of tongues to be simply the ability to speak one’s stories – individual stories and stories of a people – and so to be wise in their telling. And the interpretation of tongues is the verification that real, actual dialogue and communication happens in the understanding of the meaning of the stories.
When we share our stories we start on the path of mutual love and appreciation. One of the many reasons that sin has so embedded itself in American society is that too many people only want to tell their own story and could care less if their story relates to others’ stories. How sickening it is to have become saddled with so-called leaders who are so focused on themselves that theirs is the only story that matters because of their inflated view of their own self-importance. And, oh yes the insignificance of your story from their lofty position. Did you see George Floyd’s brother relate that he wanted to tell Mr. Trump of his pain, but Mr. Trump wouldn’t stop talking?
So, the absence of a living wage in this country, the maximum luchre that is forked over to health insurance and pharmaceutical companies, the blood profits that are realized through the hospital industry’s treatment of peoples’ sickness and misery, and the constant pity we must feel for the rich and the powerful since our leaders regularly hand over to them the lion’s share of all those tax cuts because their burden of responsible citizenship is so constricting – all these stories are of the “all about me” variety.
The language of the Spirit – the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues – requires both the storyteller and the one who hears and responds have appreciation of the story told. Those first followers of Jesus did not just preach the Word. The Word was received and lived. Would that such a mutual sharing would become the rushing wind of change in America. Maybe then we would presume to be confident in the Holy Spirit’s presence among us.
A Prayer (JR)
Wind, fire, light – swish your gift our way, Holy Spirit!
We are in such need, you would not believe.
OK, so it’s likely you already know.
You see what’s going on. Shouldn’t we be embarrassed?
We are guilty, greedy, self-aggrandizing, racist, the list goes on….
Sweep your light, your fire, your wind into our hearts and change them.
We cannot do this by ourselves – we’ve had over 400 years of placing people into bondage and subservience to our discredit.
Rather, show us the sin of our ways; keep us humble, let our thoughts and memories form us into a people of renewal.
Maybe we will be honorable in the way that our children will want to remember us and to tell our stories to generations who also need to know people who sought peace so they worked for justice.
Spirit alive, please.