Terry Todd’s riveting post offers a great way to end our Following Jesus colloquy here at Respectful Conversation. The picture of church life he offers is so wildly different from anything else we have engaged, yet there ought to be points of connection and elements of appeal for many of us. I certainly find some of those points of connection and appeal.
Terry tells us about the possibilities of encounter with the Holy Spirit. These possibilities are not only in “altar” experiences of lightning-bolt-like spiritual power. These altar experiences mainly seem frightening to me, in part because being that “out of control” in public is almost the definition of terror to me.
And yet I do remember one time — just one time, in my 42-year spiritual journey — in which the Holy Spirit entered into a room I was in, a room of Christian friends, a room in which I was expressing my tremendous anguish and asking for prayer. The Spirit came that day like a fire. That is the only or certainly the best image for what it felt like to have my personal anguish over work problems transfigured into weeping prayer for other people’s suffering, and in which the resentment in my heart toward a boss at work was quite simply and permanently burned out of me.
“Take off your shoes, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” That is certainly how that room felt on that night. I was always deeply grateful for the Spirit-work that was done in my heart that night, but I will say this — it was terrifying. I have not invited or even hoped for future such encounters because of how terrifying that experience was. So maybe this is one question that Terry’s post leaves me with: Are the rest of us simply terrified by what might happen to us if the Holy Spirit actually were to come our way in power? Maybe we quite prefer an altar that is nice and quiet and under our control??
I want to celebrate the reference to TFAM, Bishop Flunder, and radical inclusion. This is, in fact, another possibility that Pentecostalism/renewalism has always offered and sometimes actualized — a shattering of human boundaries under the power of God’s Spirit. It ought to be the case that when God’s Spirit blazes with holy fire in our messed-up world, our cramped prejudices will be overcome by a much stronger power. The Holy Spirit should be, must be, more powerful than our racism, our sexism, our nationalism, our xenophobia, and yes, our queer-phobia.
But, of course, this is biblical-theological-ethical work, not just experiential work. We need to think our way to radical inclusion, not just feel our way there. My reading of the book of Acts, however, is that sometimes only the radical encounter between us, the Spirit, and the excluded can change our exegeting and theologizing. Peter did not begin Acts 10 ready to think his way to an encounter with Cornelius. The Spirit brokered — and broken open — the possibility.
This Baptist says, thank you to the Pentecostals. This Baptist also says: Come, Holy Spirit, come.