May 31st is Pentecost Sunday but for a number of reasons I have been thinking a lot about Pentecost this last week
First because Saturday is Pentecost Seattle, a gathering of leaders from Mainline, Evangelical, Emergent, Catholic groups co creating an event around the theme of what Faith and Justice looks like in Seattle. We are excited about this event which we hope will catalyze many new ways of reaching out to our communities within Seattle.
However I was also reminded of the wonderful intercultural spirit of Pentecost yesterday as Tom and I met with Terry Le Blanc in preparation for our participation in the NAIITS conference June 4-8th at Trinity Lutheran University BC. NAIITS (North American Institute for Theological Studies)is a non-sectarian Christian organization dedicated to encouraging the Native North American evangelical community to develop and to articulate Native North American perspectives on Christian theology and mission practice.
As we listened to Terry explain some of the ways in which Native American Christians view faith and life I was both challenged and excited by the new perspectives he shared. The week after Pentecost seems a very appropriate time to hold a conference like this.
Pentecost, fifty days after Easter Sunday celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. As the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples, the barriers of language and culture were broken down – not so that everyone thought and looked the same, but so that everyone understood each other in their own language and culture. This festival draws us beyond the resurrection to remind us that through the coming of the Holy Spirit we become part of a transnational community from every nation, culture and social class.
At Pentecost we are reminded that in God’s kingdom community, in spite of our culture differences that often divide and separate us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, our eyes are opened so that we can appreciate and understand each other. The separations of the nations after the building of the tower of Babel preserved the diversity and richness of every culture that God had created.
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit draws us together as a new kingdom culture – not a culture in which the diversity of our separate cultures becomes an amorphous lump of homogeneity, but a new understand and respect for each person made in the image of God and for each culture reflecting something of God’s kingdom culture.
My own understanding of this has been greatly enriched as I have listened to sisters and brothers from other cultures. I was particularly impacted by theologian Tite Tienou from Burkina Faso whom I heard speak several years ago. “All of us are on a journey wanting to understand who our brothers and sisters from other parts of the world are.” he said. He then reminded us that we are all part of the same family – God’s family – and like any family we are called to share life together as sisters and brothers. Learning to share life with people from all over the world means listening to their viewpoints, hearing their struggles and sharing their joys. And learning to share life in this way means walking together on a journey towards a deeper understanding of God’s truth and a stronger commitment to God’s kingdom ways.
How are you planning to celebrate Pentecost his year? You might like to bring together people you know (or even those you don’t know) from as many cultural backgrounds as possible for an intercultural potluck celebration. Get each person to bring food and music from their culture to share and if possible to dress in traditional garb. If you don’t know people from other cultures then get everyone to bring food and music from a culture other than their own that they are familiar with.
Start the evening with a time of storytelling. Get each person to share a story about how their faith has grown through the experiences and witness of people from other cultures. Then talk about the different cultures represented in your gathering. Get each person to share which aspects of their culture they believe bear the fingerprints of God and reflect God’s kingdom culture.