i can’t do this without you: a sermon on james 5:13-20

I preached this sermon on Sunday, September 27th at Broadway Presbyterian Church in NYC.

Prayer: O God who continually loves us, I am grateful. I am grateful that no matter how we’re feeling, you stay the same. I am grateful at your faithfulness even when we’re not faithful. May your spirit linger in this place and may our hearts hunger after your Word. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Over the years I’ve been part of several denominations, but the one service I attended faithfully until I moved to Philadelphia was a Wednesday Evening Prayer Service. It was a combination of testimonials, hymns, prayers, and something like craigslist. Once I needed a stove, mine was beyond repair, and I didn’t have the money to buy a new one. After I raised my concern, an older couple said they had an extra one in their garage that worked just fine. Other times folks who needed to go to doctor’s appointments would ask those in the service for a ride and rides were offered. That service embodies today’s passage from James.

In the final verses of James’ letter, he spells out what community looks like. He writes, “Are any among you suffering?” “Are any cheerful?” “Are any among you sick?” He implicitly assumes that the answer to these questions is yes. James knows members of communities do not act, feel, or even think in unison.

Because James knows this, after each question he offers a way one can act during the service. For those who are suffering hardships, pray. For those cheerful, sing a song. For those sick, and here James doesn’t give a short response, James writes that they should be anointed with oil and prayed over by the elders of the church. My interaction with these verses was present from birth until my preteens. I attended a church that had an anointing oil odor. And I, at least once a month, was anointed with oil, whether I was sick or not. Now I’m pretty sure this is not what James meant by anointing with oil.

So let’s segue into a quick history lesson into the world of ancient Israel and Judah. Anointing with oil was mainly meant for authority figures. Some prophets were anointed and most kings were. It set them apart. Even the word Messiah and the Greek translation of the word Christ means Anointed One. One of my favorite anointing stories in the Hebrew Bible is when Elisha in 2 Kings 9 gave instructions to a younger prophet to anoint Jehu, who was a macho warrior. Elisha told him to find Jehu in this group of military people, separate him from the group, tell him that he’s going to be king over Israel, anoint him, and then run like hell.

Translating the Hebrew Bible idea of anointing as mainly for kings and prophets, this becomes very peculiar in James’ community. In essence, he’s saying it’s those who are ill in the community that should be treated with the dignity of dignitaries . It’s the ones who are losing their eyesight who should be queens and kings. It’s those who pray for their scabs, their diseases, and their depressions who are royalty among us. Except that’s not how sick people are treated. We hear more stories about people like Martin Shkriel who raised an AIDS and cancer drug from $13 a pill to $750, a 5000% increase.

Yet, in James’ community, healthcare was not based on who could afford it. It was based on who was present. It didn’t matter if you were wealthy, penniless, or somewhere in between. Those who were sick were treated with dignity, respect, and honor.

Through the rest of these verses, we hear a parallel notion about those who wander from the truth. The community is called to bring them back. To bring them back to where they can be themselves: happy, suffering, or sick.

Related, there is this strange little story in Galatians 2 where Paul calls out Peter. The story goes, Paul and Peter are eating together in Antioch with Gentiles believers. When some Messianic Jews from Jerusalem arrive instead of Peter continuing to eat with Gentiles, he eats exclusively with the Messianic Jews. Using the words of James, Peter wandered from the truth of the gospel and Paul called him out and brought him back.

What I’m trying to get at is this: Everyone belongs. Everyone belongs. No matter what. Yet, it’s not that simple.

Belonging to a community requires that we are honest with one another. We are upfront with how we’re feeling. Are any among us joyful? Are any among us indifferent? Are any among us struggling to find your voice?

And in this honesty, we become vulnerable. Sharing with the community our mistakes, our struggles, and our dreams. Are any among us regretting your past? Are any among us afraid of our future? Are any among us not ready to move on?

On the front of the bulletin, there’s a quote by Lilla Watson “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

This, my friends, is community.
This, my siblings, is what James and Jesus are calling us to.
This, my friends, is the gospel.

May we open ourselves in being honest, truthful, and treat one another, especially those society deems the outcast, with love and dignity. Amen.

Later in the service, the congregation participated in prayer stations.

Prayer Stations

jean 3:!6 an exitjesus

I had Jean 3:!6* memorized before I entered second grade. 20 years later, I still hold it dear, but in a much different way. Early in my faith, I thought praying Jean 3:!6 was the first and most important step in salvation. I would pray this verse nearly every Sunday. It was paradoxically comforting and stirred up fear within me (like was this right verse? or was I saying it in the correct word order?).

For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Child, so that everyone who has faith in the Child may not perish but may have life eternal.

/Of course, this translation is my more inclusive translation. Until I was a teen, I only read the King James Version./

I’ve been annoyed lately by the blatant eisegesis done to this verse. Last week, a pastor said Jean 3:!6 was the whole Gospel: God loved the world and sent his son to be sacrificed for it. Also, I heard another pastor say that Jean 3:!6 is the most important verse for the cross. Yet, JEAN 3:!6 NEVER MENTIONS THE CROSS AS A WAY TO SALVATION! But because Christians have read it as such for many years, the cross has become the stick in our own eye (Matt. 7:1-5).

Jean 3:!6, when applying exitjesus**, seems to render the incarnation as the most important scene in the history of salvation. It is not Christ hanging on the cross in agony, saying few words, and bleeding profusely. It is a God who incarnated in the world to teach, heal, exorcise, pray, and set the captives free. Let’s not shove Jesus on the cross, just because his message is too difficult. And churches need to stop placing cross where it is not. It’s a disservice to the Bible and to congregations!

love one another
“Love One Another” by Laura James

*Writing and thinking Jean 3:!6 instead of John 3:16 helped me to set aside some of my own theological baggage and see it anew.

** I’ve heard more than one pastor say exegesis (the process of digging into a text) is exitjesus (destroying anything christological or theological about a text). I’m not trying to do that here though. 🙂 It’s also just ridiculous to think learning more about the Bible strips it of theology.

“no one chooses refugee camps or strip searches”

An accidental forte I’ve developed over the years is not staying in one place for too long. In the last six years I’ve moved over ten times and this doesn’t count the in-between months of staying on friends’ couches. When I visited my parents’ house at the beginning of the summer my dad counted how many times my brother and me have moved. It was a feat. My parents had moved twice since they married in 1983. Although, we went on many road trips across the US to see outstanding landmarks, we were always tourists.

Last year Penguin book released a series titled “Philosophy In Transit.”The concept of the series is to be a good commuter book, as well emphasize movement(s) in philosophy. The first book in the series, Truth, was written by postmodern philosopher and theologian John Caputo. He reveals that the history of the philosophical tradition was very localized yet spoken universally. For example, Immanuel Kant, lived in Königsberg, Prussia his entire life. The problem isn’t that he never moved. The problem is that he taught at least one Geography course a year at the university where he described that those who lived in African countries could not develop intellectually as Europeans because of the warm environment. Disgusting!

I am not trying to suggest that those who live in the same area for their entire lives that somehow are intolerant. With the presence and shared platforms of the internet, social media, and global news, socially and politically aware people show up from everywhere. What I am suggesting though is that one may be limited in experiences with otherness, especially in homogenous areas, which can be a struggle.

No one chooses to be a refugee

The news for these last few weeks has focused on the millions of refugees who have no choice in the matter of leaving their homes. They leave out of desperation, never out of privilege. They are forced out because of violence, war, and drought.

Poet Warsan Shire sums up the conditions of refugees as,

You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land. No one chooses refugee camps or strip searches where your body is left aching or prison, because prison is safer than a city of fire and one prison guard in the night is better than a truckload of men who look like your father.

This is so heartbreaking. Refugees exist because their homelands are unsafe, inhabitable. They seek safety and refuge. Their journeys are full of tears, stress, and the smallest hint of hope for another world. A world where violence no longer exists; where womyn are treated with dignity and respect; where they can practice their faith freely; where children can grow up without fearing their neighbors and government. I pray for this world as well and try to enact it too.

Migration and refugee status is as old as Abram. Genesis 12:10 explains the beginning of his family’s refugee journey: “Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as a refugee, for the famine was severe in the land.” God promised Abram another world, a land full of life, but first he had to become a refugee. I pray for the safety of refugees around the world. I pray for the countries accepting refugees that they may be hospitable and have plentiful resources for all who enter. May perspectives be transformed. May love abound. May we care for another without judgment.

Thomas Merton on Love

boJack horseman and the question of happiness

BoJack Horseman

When I watch cartoons I feel both too late and too old to be doing so. My tastes as a kid changed from watching Spongebob to religiously watching ESPN. SportsCenter with Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, and Stuart Scott seemed more appropriate to me as a 9 year old than Animorphs the animated series. Now in my late twenties, my cultural horizon has widened enough to include cartoons once again. I am overjoyed watching new 10-minute episodes of Steven Universe, Adventure Time, The Amazing World of Gumball, and Regular Show. These shows have helped reshape and understand deeply what it means to be a child and at the same time wish I didn’t give up so early.

Last year, I began watching adult cartoons. This all happened when I came across Bob’s Burgers on Netflix. This led me to Archer, Rick and Morty, and the infamous BoJack Horseman. I binge watched the first season of BoJack Horseman and then watched each episode at least three more times. Each episode has an enormous cultural and emotional depth. In the first season, BoJack questioned if he was a good person. In the last episode, Diane answered BoJack with performativity theory:

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IMG_2011

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The second season of BoJack Horseman continues in depth, but the question has changed. It’s now: “How can I be happy?” This season ends with more closure than the first, but I think still has the possibility for a third season. Overall, the question of happiness has always intrigued me. Like why is it in the US Constitution? Or how does a person measure happiness? My mom will ask me after different life transitions if I’m happy. Maybe happiness and being content go hand-in-hand. That if I am content and feel purposeful, I’m happy. Although, this is not always true.

If BoJack Horseman has taught me anything, it’s to take more risks. To allow yourself to be vulnerable. Disappointment is inevitable, but the point is to put yourself out there enough to feel the depth life has to give. I am often brought back to a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. He thought the new technologies of his day were making people less attune with each other and life itself. To wake them up from their slumber of apathy, he imagined an Enemy who would besiege a safe city.

All of you undisturbed cities
haven’t you ever longed for the Enemy?
I’d like to see you besieged by him
for ten endless and ground shaking years.

Until you were desperate and mad with suffering;
finally in hunger you would feel his weight.
He lies outside the walls like a countryside.
And he knows very well how to endure
longer than the one that he comes to visit.

Climb up on your roofs and look out:
his camp is there and his morale doesn’t falter,
his numbers do not decrease; he will not grow weaker,
and he sends no one into the city to threaten
or promise and no one to negotiate.

He is the one who breaks down all walls,
and when he works, he works in silence.

Take risks.

Be disappointed.

Fight for something or someone.

Life’s too short to be apathetic.

Watch BoJack Horseman? 

reflecting on natural law and culture

I cannot pinpoint the exact moment I recently thought of the meaning of ‘natural,’ but it’s been consuming my thoughts. I guess most recently it was hearing arguments against same-sex relationships. Some claim God made humanity to naturally fit together, one with a vagina and the other with a penis. They just work. Conversely, as I and other proponents of queerness recognize, among other things, that the rest of the animal kin-dom does not abide by this female/male sexual relationships, like giraffes. Bill Nye was asked this question recently and his answer is spot on.

Historically, Thomas Aquinas popularized ‘natural law’ in the 13th century. It has two main parts:

1) everything has a place in the hierarchy of the universe with God governing over all.

2) there are actions that lead to the common good of humanity and the world. If one does not follow such actions they are sinning or going against natural law.

Natural law has persons of color viewed lower in the social hierarchy. Womyn were cast under men as lesser. As well, higher on the ladder of privilege were those in the religious life. Natural law gave rights to patriarchy, slavery, and other oppressive forces.

Here’s an example from Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles,

“for men of outstanding intelligence naturally take command, while those who are less intelligent but of more robust physique, seem intended by nature to act as servants;”

Thus, it’s only natural for the privileged to be the master while the strong not as smart ones be their slave…

Duns Scotus, a contemporary of Aquinas, used natural law to claim that slavery should be abolished. Although, he does not follow his own logic to completion. Since he also wrote, “But nevertheless, once they have been established [slavery], they have to be observed.”1 This was in relation to slavery in Paul’s time. While every person and generation has certain cultural blinders, certainly Aquinas and Scotus could not understand certain emancipatory politics.

I argue and believe nothing is natural, but everything is cultural. With the Pope’s recent visit to a country I deeply love, Bolivia, he ate and drank coca. Coca is used to make cocaine, but in plant form is used to alleviate nausea from the high altitudes and helps the los campesinos have energy to make it through the workday. When I arrived in Bolivia several years ago, my first beverage was coca tea, which eased my stomach. I became angered reading some of the Twitter reactions to the Pope eating and drinking coca. They thought the Pope was getting high. Ridiculous! Anyway, coca in Bolivia is culturally bound and still very misunderstood in the States.

The other night I had dinner with a friend and a comment she made has stuck with me. I shared how I’ve moved up the East Coast for school and have lived in different cities almost every summer since 2009. I asked her if she’s been to the East Coast. She shot back, “Just because I haven’t been anywhere but Michigan, doesn’t mean that I’m not cultured.” In shock, I nodded my head in a more rapid pace than I normally do. In a way, I’ve been a curator and collector of cultures, yet continue to relish in my past cultural habits. I still listen to ska and grunge music on occasion and wear a black shirt almost every day. As well, I continue to have at least one piercing and watch cartoons. The fact we live in a globalized society doesn’t change much of it. My friend calling me out was certainly helpful in making me reflect my own cultural bias.

douglas coupland

black flag theology includes the theologies of postmodern, political, feminist, queer, and liberationist. To understand nothing as natural means we create structures and cultures. Oppression is not natural and therefore does not need to exist. Changing structures, i.e. white supremacy, is not an easy task, but is not impossible.

1 Foucault, Douglass, Fanon, and Scotus in Dialogue: On Social Construction and Freedom by Cynthia R. Nielsen, pg. 129.

love is love and the politics of recognition

Over the past few days, my Facebook newsfeed has been bittersweet. On the one hand, we celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Now queer people of any identity can marry their partner. On the other hand, we mourn the life and service of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine in the AME Massacre in Charleston, SC. He was a faithful Christian and representative, whose life matters.

This distinction heightens my perception of the politics of recognition. 

transheart

The Supreme Court recognizes same-sex marriage as lawful in the US. These couples, theoretically, legally have a say. They can visit their partners in hospitals more freely than before. Queer immigrants across the States can marry, gaining citizenship. Same-sex couples can also be insured on each other’s health insurance.

And I certainly agree with caleb’s sentiments:

We should rejoice in this victory!

Yet, keeping in mind:

  • in 28 States one’s employer can fire one on grounds of orientation.
  • this does not change the hearts and minds of people who oppose and bully queer persons.
  • abuse and murders of Trans Women of Color are still largely ignored by media.
  • this does not magically give homeless queer youth a home to go back to.

While researching these hard realities, I listened to on repeat, Angel Haze’s version of ‘Same Love’:

Here’s a message to the people who just don’t get it
Love is love, there is no difference
Not a medication to fix it, there is no prescription
No rehab to visit, it is not an addiction
It’s love and it’s selfless
It’s yours and everybody else’s
So don’t badger and abuse the solemnly defenseless
See us as yourself, there’s no equality in difference
Until we all get it, we’ll be drowning in the same blood
Despite orientation, we all feel the same love
We’ll be drowning in the same blood
Despite orientation, we all feel the same love

As queer persons are being recognized under the law, black and brown persons who are technically recognized “under the law” are continually treated as second-class citizens. Rampant racist behavior still persists from police officers and white men who are afraid of losing their white supremacist culture and way of being in the world. So I ponder,

When will the Supreme Court let black and brown lives matter?

How soon will it be until the prison industrial complex dissolves? 

Where is the guillotine of justice to destroy white supremacy? 

Those in the AME massacre were killed in the name of white supremacy and racism. Yet, they are resurrected in those fighting against racial inequality. They are seen at bible studies and prayer groups. And lest we forget, the bible was written by people of color!

Remember their names

We should not hold our breath waiting for the US government to end white supremacy. We should not wait for police forces to treat black and brown bodies with respect and decency. We need to celebrate the victory for queer persons in the US and grieve over our steeped racism. #allblacklivesmatter

my abstract for the anarchism and the body conference

I’m extremely excited to be presenting at Anarchism and the Body Conference, June 12-14, at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN.

I present on Sunday, June 14th from 3:40pm-4:45pm. Here’s my abstract:

Weak Bodies, Weak Theology: A Genealogy of Biblical Bodies as Constellations of Anarchism

Body theology, most notably in the U.K., constructs a theology based on the experiences of physical abuse, menstruation, obesity, and the uncontrollability of bodies. Often they begin with our present context, leaving behind any kind of genealogy of bodies. In this paper I will explore an anarchist body theology, paying close attention to bodies throughout the Hebrew Bible and early Christian literature for ruptures of fragile bodies against powerful, strong bodies. I will show how Sarah’s post-menopausal body, well beyond childbearing years, bore a child. How the enslaved bodies of the Hebrews marched out of Egypt liberating their bodies. Moreover, that Rahab, a sex worker, will be acknowledged in the lineage of Jesus. Lastly, how the image of the broken body of Christ is used in Paul’s writings and the Gospel of Mark. These narratives show how divinity changes societal perceptions of the no-bodies into heroes and change agents. Thus, demonstrating it is not through political or state power that one changes the world, but through communities of the neglected.

adventure time as a postmodern book of judges

If you haven’t watched Adventure Time, you’re missing out on a delightful, fun,  philosophical, and always zany cartoon. Finn and Jake, a young blonde boy and a mustard colored stretching dog, maintain the roles as the heroes in the Land of Ooo. They battle against creatures and kingdoms that harm. And uniquely, there are many kingdoms: Flame, Ice, Candy, Lumpy Space, and the list just gets stranger. Yet, Jake and Finn do not inhabit any of these kingdoms.

Finn and Jake

The connection to the biblical book of Judges did not seem obvious to me at first. It was an episode from the current season titled “Walnuts & Rain” that tipped me off. Finn and Jake fall into separate holes somewhere in a forest. At the bottom of the hole, Finn finds himself in the Kingdom of Huge. King Huge eats constantly, fed by the Food Boys. Finn asks politely to leave, but the King has the Food Boys bind him. Finn breaks free with some trickery of his own, but was caught by the King. In the nick of time, Jake falls into the same space. With Finn in the King’s giant hands, he asks Jake, “What are you going to do about it?” He said this unassuming of Jake’s stretching abilities. Jakes makes a fist and stretches it across the King’s face. Finally, Jake and Finn make their way out of the hole and travel back to the Tree House.

Finn’s hole adventure parallels the story of Judge Ehud (Judges 3:12-30). In the story, Ehud makes his way to pay tribute (taxes imposed by another empire) to King Eglon of Moab. The writer notes that Ehud is left-handed. He hides a knife on the opposite side, his right leg. (I guess this was not a place where the Ancient TSA patted). He gives the tribute to King Eglon, who also is a huge man, and then asks if he might speak with him privately. In the room alone, Ehud stabs the King, his guts fall out, and Ehud exits through the bathroom into the sewer.

Ehud
In this medieval painting, Ehud’s garb resembles Finn’s. Coincidence? I think not.

Captivity, plan-making, and King-hurting are present in both stories. While Ehud as a judge identifies and fights for the Hebrews, Jake and Finn represent wandering judges, not bound by place. As well, in the Book of Judges, God raises up Ehud. Finn and Jake have a calling, but no caller. Even Grob Gob Glob Grod, who Ooo deems as a deity, does not call creatures to a purpose. When Finn and Jake embark on their adventures and face disruptors, harmers, and just plain evil (The Lich), they perform justice without a telos other than making sure others are unharmed.

Jake and Finn are postmodern characters because they know no boundaries, walls, or patriotism. They are, in a way, part of every kingdom. Sure, they are called upon by Princess Bubblegum of the Candy Kingdom. And Ice King tries to pry himself into their lives, but it’s not as if they are private contractors for the Candy Kingdom. They are outsiders fighting for a just world. 

 

P.S. I believe the biblical tradition of judges continues with such people as Vandana Shiva, Cheryl Clarke, Cornel West, Naim Ateek, the leaderful movement of #BlackLivesMatter, Evo Morales, Gustavo Gutierrez, and Bill Wylie-Kellermann. 

archbishop oscar romero: a life of solidarity with the poor

Today, May 23rd, in San Salvador, is the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero. I was living in St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality Catholic Worker in Rochester, NY when I first encountered his works and life. It was there I read The Violence of Love and watched Romero.

Oscar Romero spoke out for justice and called out the El Salvadoran government for their violence and even wrote to President Carter asking him to stop sending military aid.

He would often say, “I do not believe in death without resurrection” and “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.” Romero cared deeply for the poor and challenged oppressive systems.

May we continue his legacy

to stand in solidarity with the poor,

to fight for justice,

and call out injustice wherever it may be found.

Here’s a few articles on Romero’s beatification:

Special: Oscar Romero by Telesur

Archbishop Oscar Romero, El Salvador’s most trusted news source
by Linda Cooper and James Hodge

Honoring Oscar Romero of El Salvador by John Dear

The Beatification of Óscar Romero by Carlos Dada

What Archbishop Romero’s Beatification Means For El Salvador Today by Carrie Khan

Here’s a fine documentary on Romero:

Monseñor: The Last Journey of Oscar Romero

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A wonderful friend created this for me and it hangs in my bedroom.

pentecostalism and weak pneumatology

I presented this paper at the Fordham Theological Graduate Conference on May 2, 2015. It was fun to write and think through my family’s tradition. Enjoy!

John Caputo called one Sunday afternoon and said that he wanted to meet me that night at an Assemblies of God church for a revival. I agreed and arrived at the church extra early so I could save a seat for him. Of course, he arrived as the service started and sat in the pew behind me. The organ wailed, some prayers prayed, and tongues commenced. At this point, Caputo leans forward and in a hushed voice says, “It spooks.” Intrigued by this curious phrase, I wait for some explanation, but instead he sits back. A little later in the service, there’s time for testimonies. A mother stood from her pew and shared her thankfulness for the congregation. They had provided her family with meals and kind words, after her daughter died tragically. Caputo hands me a ripped out bible page with the words, “It spooks.” As the sermon started, Caputo got up and left. After the service, he met me in the graveled parking lot outside. He didn’t say a word and so we stood there, people watching. We observed hugs exchanged, hands held, and dinner plans made. I turn around and he’s gone. But on my dirty car window, he had etched “It spooks.” I leave slightly confused and go back to my apartment to think on these things. (for those wondering, this is a fictional story.)

The following presentation is inspired by John Caputo’s recent essay, It Spooks, which uses the language of haunting and spooking to speak of God’s Spirit. I take up the language of spooking throughout this paper because it is a fine conduit between Pentecostalism and weak theology.

Pentecostalism and weak theology represent different poles on the spectrum of theology and practice. On the one pole, Pentecostalism in the US exemplifies the very essence of conservatism, anti-intellectualism, and exclusivism. Culturally characterized as snake-handlers and tongues speakers, they emphasize God’s Spirit as healer, gift-giver, and sustainer of the universe. Far on the other pole, waves weak theology. This was popularized in John Caputo’s book, The Weakness of God, where he writes, “I do not take the name of God to pick out an entity, … but an event, an advent, a future and a promise, a call and a claim, a hope and an aspiration.” (123-124). Weak theology, an arm of postmodern theology, explains that the name of God is found in the event, but is not the event itself. It rejects, or at least, holds loosely, any kind of religious doctrine, recognizing that certainty got us into this mess, and it certainly can’t help what we’re in today. Thus, any attempt to put into discussion Pentecostalism and weak theology, one must carefully not envelope either side into the other. In this paper, I want to demonstrate that Pentecostalism has the tools for revolution, i.e. anti-hierarchical and direct democracy. And here the spirit spooks and the function of this spooking is to suspend binaries of race, class, sex, and gender. But to help sharpen these revolutionary tools, I propose that weak theology encourages novelty in the Pentecostalism Project.

Pentecostalism, from its genesis, found non-cerebral ways to experience the holy specter. Avery Gordon theorizes haunting in her book Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. She writes, “Being haunted draws us affectively, something against our will and always a bit magically, into the structure of feeling of a reality we come to experience, not as cold knowledge, but as a transformative recognition.”[1] In other words, haunting opens new faculties of knowledge, away from the cerebral-only understandings of life. Many Pentecostal and Charismatic worship services are haunted in this way. They are spaces in which one’s theological knowledge is deferred because of the overwhelming experiences of the wholly ghastly. For instance, every Sunday morning of my youth, my great-grandmother would speak in tongues during worship. The holy ghost landed on this woman, who was born and raised in a country trailer park. She had no formal education beyond middle school and this hallowed haunter swept into her during the service without any qualms. She was haunted.

To gain some context, let’s start at the beginning of the Pentecostal Movement. Two ministers helped establish American Pentecostalism. First was the founder of the Bethel Bible College in Topeka, KS and was one of the first preachers to teach about speaking-in-tongues. He was a Southern white man named Charles Parham. He was pastor of the service in January 1901, where speaking in tongues was first inaugurated. A few years later, a young black man, the son of two slaves and blind in one eye, came to hear Parham speak about this phenomenon. He was William J. Seymour. Yet because of the Jim Crow reality, Seymour was not able to sit in the same room as Parham, so he sat outside the door and listened. After spending a few days there, Seymour took up the cause of Pentecostalism and started to preach about it. And he would eventually lead the Azusa Street Revival from 1906-1909.

From the very beginning, Seymour believed that the geist of eternity did not commend social or racial divisions. GastĂłn Espinosa, a Pentecostal Latino theologian wrote that the Azusa Revival “grew precisely because it was a transgressive social space wherein racial-ethnic minorities, women, the working class, and others could cross some of the deeply inscribed unbiblical racial-ethnic, class, gender, and national borders and boundaries of the day.”[2] This revival transcended time and place, growing in number and color.

In those three years, Charles Parham visited the Azusa Street Revival a few times. The last time he attended, he wrote an editorial piece condemning the Revival for its African-American spirituality wrapped up in Pentecostalism. He wrote, “Frequently a white woman, perhaps of wealth and culture, could be seen thrown back in the arms of a big buck [blank] and held tightly as she shook in freak imitation of Pentecost.”[3] Parham’s original vision of Pentecostalism was segregated. Blacks, browns, and whites should not attend the same services. The Azusa Street Revival spooked him and after the editorial, Seymour never publicly wrote of or acknowledged Parham again.

Transitioning to the biblical text, this holy ghost can be found haunting the pages of Christianity’s sacred script declaring an egalitarian religious participation. Paul included a well-known ancient metaphor of the body in 1st Corinthians 12:12-31, which is highly functional: if one is an ear they should do their best to listen well and if one is a foot they should respect their position and walk or run the best they are able. Yet, Paul equalizing this seemingly hierarchical metaphor declares, “But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another” (12:24-25). As a result, the holy ghost’s gifts are for the common good, whether it is wisdom, knowledge, healing, miraculous powers, speaking in tongues, or the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 12:8-10). And these gifts, which are received from the holy ghost are an extension of God’s grace. Thus, what one receives from the holy haunter is for the building up of faith communities and not for personal gain.

This political cartoon takes the interpretative lens of the passage from 1st Corinthians as hierarchical. William Seymour is pictured as the foot inside the church with seemingly all white men, which was certainly not the case historically. Standing outside is Charles Parham with an oversized head and a book of the apostolic faith, which apparently Seymour was not following. This political cartoon is trying to, as Mason in the film Snowpiercer says to those lower class persons in the caboose of the train, “When the foot seeks the place of the head, the sacred line is crossed. Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.”

Moving forward, the holy specter disrupts oppression through haunting. Once again, Avery Gordon lays out a beautifully theological statement:

The ghost is not other or alterity as such, ever. It is pregnant with unfulfilled possibility, with the something to be done that the wavering present is demanding. This something to be done is not a return to the past but a reckoning with its repression in the present, a reckoning with what which we have lost, but never had.[4]

Ghosts, and specifically the holy specter, haunts not so that one becomes fearful of it, but so that it can waver one’s present state of comfort. For Parham, the state of his racism, his sympathy for the KKK, and his pro-Jim Crow attitude shook when he encountered the revival. Potentially, when the ghoulish spirit enters faith communities today, it could shake them of their apathy for the poor, their neglect of the systems of injustice including racism, sexism, transphobia, and so many more I could name. Hence the holy specter does not side with the powerful, but haunts them until they share with those without.

Yet, where might the haunting happen? William Seymour provides for us a response. He wrote an article in 1908, titled “Questions Answered” featured in the magazine Apostolic Faith. One of the questions asked was, “Is it necessary for a person to leave their home duties in order to wait at some place for the Holy Ghost?” He responded, “No; you can wait right in the kitchen or in the parlor or in the barn. Some have received the baptism of the Spirit in their barns, some in the kitchen, some at family worship, some on their porch, some about their business.”[5] The holy ghost can spook anyone at anytime, no where is safe. For the holy ghost is not a kindly Casper the Friendly Ghost, who got along with everyone without any problems. No, this holy specter haunts the world for the common good disrupting the lives of the comfortable and well-off. The holy specter haunts: that one can love better, share fuller, and listen more deeply to the needs of others.

Pentecostalism was one of the first Christian denominations, especially the Azusa Street Revival, to demonstrate equality among all persons regardless of race, class, or gender. Yet, has forgotten its tradition and become crystallized in conservative ideology and rhetoric. Weak theology, seen throughout this paper as constructing new possibilities in pneumatological discourse, haunts one towards justice. Once again, Avery Gordon, our spookologist, writes, “haunting, unlike trauma by contrast, is distinctive for producing a something-to-be-done.”[6] As we heard Caputo in the opening story creepily say and spell out, “It spooks.” Pentecostalism has rendered these words, in some way, for more than a hundred years, but sometimes need to be reminded again and again.

[1] Avery F. Gordon and Janice Radway, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, 2nd edition (Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2008), 8.

[2] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014), 101.

[3] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014), 99.

[4] Avery F. Gordon and Janice Radway, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, 2nd edition (Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2008), 183.

[5] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014), 194.

[6] Avery F. Gordon, “Who”s there?’: some answers to questions about Ghostly Matters., website, October 26, 2007, http://www.averygordon.net/writing-haunting/whos-there/.