Musing 6.5.20


Last Sunday we celebrated miracle of Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).  The disciples spoke in those jaw breaker languages:  Parthian, Pamphylian, Phrygian, Cretan, among others.   For that reason, the gift of the Holy Spirit is associated with speaking in tongues.  Unfortunately, that is sometimes its exclusive association.

Of course, if someone is speaking, someone else must listen.  What is noteworthy at Pentecost is that those who speak are the powerless, and those who listen are the powerful.  The disciples would have been the outsiders; they were the ones following the crucified, rejected Jesus.  They had no standing.  God empowered the powerless. Those listening were the ones with status and prominence.  What happens at Pentecost is a role reversal.  The social order has been turned upside down.  This causes chaos in the minds of the powerful.  This is why they try to dismiss it as drunkenness.  Pentecost is both a miracle of speaking and a miracle of listening.  It is a miracle of speaking with each other and listening to each other.   That is how the miracle of Pentecost is the miracle of community. 

How speaking and listening usually work is that those who speak have the power; they are in control.  What they say, goes.  Speakers give information and orders.   Speakers tend to be action oriented.  Those who listen are subordinate; they obey.  They receive information and follow orders.  They tend to be passive. They do what the speaker wants.  There is a power differential between those who speak and those who listen.  Those who speak are the subject.  Those who listen are the objects, the acted upon.  Speakers are invulnerable; listeners are vulnerable.  It is about who has rights, privilege, and entitlement.  

An unhealthy community does not allow the listeners to speak.  Speakers seek to dominate and silence listeners.  Speech is restricted in a variety of ways.  Sometimes speakers talk so much no one can get a word in.  Other times voting as a form of speech is curtailed.  Force may be implemented to keep the listeners silent.    If they do speak, they are not listened to.   It is repressive.  Silencing makes inequity, injustice, inequality, and discrimination possible.    In a healthy community there is a give and take, a mutuality, between speaking and listening.  People play both roles. People have a responsibility for both roles.  Everyone has a voice and is empowered by that voice.  Such a situation is just, inclusive, diverse, enriching and edifying.  

Who speaks and who listens is a function  or combination of race, economics, gender, orientation, nationality, language, ethnicity, education, geography, class, age, religion, politics, and more. When it effects all aspects of a group’s existence, we call it systemic.  In the end it is about power and its maintenance.  This is at the root of mansplaining.  I have been told more than once that straight, white males almost always speak first in a group. We expect to be heard.  It is that old joke, you can tell a Yale man but you can’t tell him much.  I discover I learn a lot when I don’t speak first.  

What happens when people can’t speak or aren’t listened to?  They stay silent and fester.  Or they speak louder; they gather; they protest; they act so that the speakers are forced to listen.  This is what happened last weekend.  On Pentecost weekend and this week the mute spoke.   It was a nationwide event of speaking and listening. There was a role reversal.  People claimed their voice and were empowered.  Traditional speakers saw disruption. As the week progressed, we witnessed the movement from violence to actual mutuality of speaking and listening.  Spirit is moving.   It is so hopeful to see the powerful and powerless cross lines, talk, link arms, and march together. It is so encouraging to see the diversity of the marchers.  It is the diversity of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-18).  We are seeing lots of miracles.  This is a great opportunity for our country to begin to come together.  As we tell our children, “use your words.”

There is no reason why Pentecost can’t happen again.  There is no reason why the Holy Spirit can’t visit the church and society to empower listening and speaking.  Come, Holy Spirit, inspire the hearts of your faithful that they may renew the face of the earth.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well amidst the chaos.

I hope you are safe and well.