Pentecost was never about something new, but about something very old, ancient in fact. Pentecost was about hearing the good news that God is with us in our original tongue, the language of heart, of soul and of common yet deeply personal humanity.
Pentecost is the day when the Spirit of God became flesh and dwelt among us, but this time not just among us, but in us and among us in others. The birth of the Church was essentially a movement of justice, restoration and repair-ation of dis-integrated and segregated humanity. Pentecost mended together a rent humanity torn apart since Genesis 3. This is very different from what we experience today. Much of white evangelical colonial-consumer Christianity has required the gospel to be spoken in one tongue, its tongue, the tongue of privilege, of repressed emotion. The tongue that has shoes, shirt and therefore gets service. It is the gospel that has overcome little and overcompensates much. It has and still is a gospel that categorically rejects suffering, anger, mourning and cries of injustice, so it categorically rejects the experience of black, brown, queer and female bodies. But this is not the gospel of Pentecost.
When the Spirit comes we are moved to speak old tongues. For those in power, myself included, it is the tongue of the oppressed, which must be the native language of oppressors otherwise we would not cast it so confidently over others. For the oppressed it is the individual and collective cries of oppression. It is the tongue of unbridled rage, and that rage must give back and dissipate what has been forced upon it. As Rev. Dr. King eloquently said, “Rioting is the language of the unheard.” It is a language that is almost unutterable, that is more body than tongue, but is clear and visceral.
Truthfully, America is an anti-Pentecost nation, and white Christianity is its rank and file spouse. We have preached one language, one sexual orientation, one skin color, or at least separate gatherings for each. The Azusa Street revival (a second Pentecost if you will) began in the African American community, but was quickly appropriated by white preachers who made black folk sit in the back, if not outside. I’ve benefited greatly from them. I went to a university birthed from the ignorance and arrogance of these white preachers - Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. I love Lee, but this is my heritage. Like the Egyptians took Moses and raised him as their own, white American Christianity has taken new life, birthed from the long suffering wombs of communities of color, renamed it and raised it as our own.
The message of Pentecost is not only the good news that Jesus is alive in us, but it includes the bad news that we killed him, and kill him often.
This man was handed over to you...and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. - Acts 2:23
Pentecost is about hearing the gospel in the language of our truest humanity. Whiteness is a language, and for me and my white sisters and brothers it is our earliest tongue. It is the language of crucifiers, lynchers, murderers and colonizers. It is the language of passive avoiders, of cynics, victim blamers. It is the language used in worship services singing “out of darkness and into marvelous light” which has yet to sit in its darkness or acknowledge its fluorescent faith. It is a language, a powerful language, a language that damns people while shouting peace! Peace! Like a virus it is not alive, but it feeds off of the life of others. It is not a human language, and I would dare say it is not our original tongue. My work, our work and the invitation of Pentecost for people drenched in whiteness is repentance. It is repentance of our superhumanity that gives us the power to fly over pain, or crush it when it comes too close. It is first ownership that whiteness is ours, that it is grafted into our skin, and that we’ve benefited greatly and often invisibly.
We romanticize the first Pentecost, but even it did not come without a cost. Every Pentecost since, especially this one, only comes through the narrow birth canal of humble repentance. For white people this is like going through the eye of a needle, because there is so much you have to leave behind if you want to enter.
On this Pentecost may the Spirit of God breathe new life into the lungs of all whose breath has been squeezed out. May your words be a mighty wind to corrupt sand castles, and may the Holy Spirit light fires in your heart, and if they go unheard may they pour out on the heads of those who persecute you, for the Lord is with you.
Let these words from the Psalmist, spoken on the first Pentecost, bring you comfort.
I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.