Holy Ghost, Philosophy, Politics, Scripture

like any good ghost, the holy ghost haunts the world towards justice #halloweentheology

I wrote this paper a few years back and think it’s good to revisit it, especially on Halloween!

“for in the one spook we were all haunted into one house
jews or greeks, slaves or free
and we were all made to be spooked by the phantasm.”
1 Corinthians 12:13 (New Revised Specter Version)

white ghost outline shapes

In the Pentecostal church of my youth, we read the King James Version Bible, which has sprinkled throughout the New Testament a most halloween-ey phrase, a holy ghost. I witnessed this ghost spook congregations with healings, tongues-talkin’, and spontaneous revivals. Yet, this holy ghost has not stopped frightening me, even outside my Pentecostal tradition! This specter whispers visions of God’s Realm, but it is not able to transform the world on its own; rather, it seeks agency from humans and creatures alike. John Caputo, a self-identified weak theologian, spells out divinity not as a strong force siding with the wealthy and powerful, but as a call, a promise found with the no-bodies and the marginalized. In this way, God intervenes not through economics, politics, or any system where the powerful reign, but as the Scriptures assumes: through sex workers, stutterers, the imprisoned, and a poor Palestinian Jew killed by an Empire. I will focus on two aspects of the holy specter: 1) the equalizing measure of the holy ghost to fall on anyone and the non-discrimination of race, class, or social location. 2) the anti-oppressive spooking found in early Pentecostalism, which still haunts white supremacy today. Like any good ghost, the holy specter haunts and beckons: it calls for justice and equality, expecting humans and creatures to help transform the world for God’s Realm.

Caputo declares that all are subject to the haunting specter. But before we step into the realm or the whisper of the unknown, it would be best to write some about weak or radical theology. This line of thought started with the Death of God theologians, most notably Thomas J.J. Altizer, who claimed God’s death in the 1960’s. Altizer and his ilk exclaimed that the supernatural God found in the holy scriptures no longer existed, if this God ever existed. They insisted that divinity is not above the Earth floating around in the heavens, but is immanent and became imminent because of Jesus. As well, for them, since on Christ’s cross God died, no split exists between the secular and the divine; rather, divinity permeates the universe. Weak theology picks up where Death of God theology left and adds to the conversation of immanence  with Jacques Derrida. For weak theology, God does not exist and instead of taking the Tillichian route of God as existence, takes the less worn road and declares, “God insists. God is neither presence nor absence, but insistence. God does not subsist; God insists.” [1] 

If Caputo is correct, and I believe he is, that the holy specter is haunting all, what might this look like? First off, the negative cultural residue must be wiped away from “haunting.” In Avery Gordon’s 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.”[2] Haunting opens new faculties of knowledge, away from cerebral only understandings of life. Many Pentecostal and Charismatic worship services are haunted in this way. They become spaces in which one’s theological knowledge becomes obsolete because new experiences of the wholly ghastly are overwhelming. For instance, every Sunday morning in 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 above middle school and this hallowed haunter swept into her during the service without any qualms. She was haunted, and I can still see its shadow.

Second, the holy ghost can be found haunting the pages of our sacred script declaring an egalitarian religious participation. Paul, influenced by the specter, included the well-known ancient metaphor of the body in 1st Corinthians 12:12-31. In this passage, Paul wrote that ghastly gifts are all necessary and equal. 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. Then, adding a twist to this seemingly hierarchical metaphor, Paul 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 specter’s gifts are for the common good, whether it is wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues, or interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 12:8-10). And these gifts, which we receive from the holy ghost are an extension of God’s grace. Thus, what we receive is for the building up of our communities and not for personal gain.

Thirdly, since the holy ghost rests beyond our idea of presence or absence, no one or group is able to have a definitive word on this mysterious character. Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz, German theologian, understanding this conundrum writes, “It seems easier to talk about God or about Jesus as the Christ than to try to describe in doctrinal form a reality that encompasses us when we encounter it and evaporates as soon as we try to pin it down.”[3] Like the negative theologians of the past, we are at a loss for words when it comes to this holy specter. We stand on equal footing, knowing that at any time the haunter of hopes can cast its shadow anywhere or at anytime transforming the world all together.

Notably, the Early Pentecostal Revivalist and Reverend William Seymour wrote of the strange workings of the hauntingly specter. In his magazine, Apostolic Faith, he wrote a section in 1908, titled “Questions Answered.” 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 profoundly, “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.”[4] The holy ghost can spook anyone at anytime, nowhere 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, often disrupting the lives of the comfortable and well-off.

For a short time my grandparents lived in North Carolina. They lived on a farm and were faithful members of the Catholic Church. My grandmother will frequently share with me a story about her interaction with the Klu Klux Klan when she lived there. My father was only a few months old, around 1962, and one night she heard some chaos pursuing outside at the farm across the hill. She looked out the kitchen window and sees the KKK dressed in their white robes burning crosses at her African American neighbor’s farm. She calls the police. The police do not show up and the African American family move days later. That story haunts my grandmother because she knows that this was a violent act. Agreeing with our ghostly theorist Avery Gordon, “haunting, unlike trauma by contrast, is distinctive for producing a something-to-be-done.”[5] For my grandmother, she retells this story to haunt her hearers to not be like them.

The haunting that the KKK performs cannot compare to the haunting of the holy haunter. While the KKK burns crosses, kills black and brown persons, and seemingly dress like ghosts. The holy specter calls for justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, hospitality, and love.[6] The specter of specters is heard, but not seen. It spooks. When the holy specter enters a KKK meeting, members repent of their violent ghosting, they burn their sheets, and humble themselves to listen and ask for forgiveness from black and brown families and communities they have harmed.

In the early American Pentecostal Movement, racism was at the forefront. Two preachers founded American Pentecostalism. First, the founder of the Bethel Bible College in Topeka, KS and one of the first preachers to teach on speaking in tongues, a white man named Charles Parham. He was the pastor of the service in January 1901, where speaking in tongues first occurred. A few years later, a young black man, a son of two slaves, and blind in one eye came to hear Parham speak about this phenomenon, his name was William J. Seymour. Because of the racist laws, Seymour was not able to sit in the same room to hear Parham speak, but 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. He eventually led the Azusa Street Revival from 1906-1909.

Seymour as a Pentecostal had the holy spirit as the most important Person of his theology. He believed that the geist of eternity did not commend social or racial divisions. Gastón 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.”[7] This revival transcended time and place. Being is spooked by time.[8] When spaces are smoked with holy fire, time vanishes.

Racism, sexism, and classism are so prevalent in the US then and now. The haunter causes discomfort in the powers-that-be. When Parham visited the Azusa Revival, he condemned it in an editorial piece writing, “frequently a white woman, perhaps of wealth and culture, could be seen thrown back in the arms of a big buck nigger and held tightly as she shook in freak imitation of Pentecost.”[9] Parham’s vision of Pentecostalism was segregated; blacks and whites should attend different services. The Azusa Street Revival spooked him and after this Seymour never publicly wrote of Parham again.

Ghosts, and specifically the holy specter, haunt us not that we become fearful of it, but so it may waver our 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. When the holy ghost enters churches today, it often shakes them of their apathy of the poor, their neglect of the systems of injustice including racism, sexism, transphobia, the prison-industrial complex, and the disregard of single parents sitting in the pews. The holy specter does not side with the powerful, but haunts them until they share with those without. The haunter of hearts does not accept the apathy of the middle class manager, yet spooks them until they have relationships with their neighbors. The holy ghost haunts that we may love better, share fuller, and listen more deeply to the needs of others.

The Christian tradition does not play enough with pneumatology. For example, Augustine wrote that the Holy Spirit is the love between God the Father and God the Son. In this case, God’s Spirit has little to no human contact. Or process theologian, Blair Reynolds, who wrote, “Life in the Spirit means more than merely acting in harmony with or in obedience to the will of God. Because God is not beyond or exclusive of the world but is its receptacle, we are in direct contact with God, hence capable of entering into a mutual relationship with God.”[11] Therefore, it is impossible to leave God’s presence, which may seem logical for panentheists, but without the haunting that I’ve described why would there be a need to be transformed? What I attempted to do in this post is combine popular culture, God-talk, and social justice to sort out a spooktacular pneumatology.

The holy specter cannot be controlled. It can visit us at any moment and it will. It spooks. Or in the words of Caputo, “Specters are highly egalitarian; they disturb everyone.”[12]  It haunts us, calling us to live as if we’re already in God’s Realm.

ghost-clip-art-aieo4bxi4


[1] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 31-33

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

[3] Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz, God’s Spirit: Transforming a World in Crisis (New York : Geneva: Continuum Intl Pub Group, 1996). p. 5

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

[5] 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/.

[6] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 31

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

[8] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 34

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

[11] Blair Reynolds, Toward a Process Pneumatology (Selinsgrove Pa. : London ; Cranbury, NJ: Susquehanna Univ Pr, 1990). pg. 158

[12] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 19


Bibliography

Caputo, John D., Katharine Sarah Moody, Tad DeLay, Ross Pennock, Micah Purnell, John Hardt, Joshua Harris, et al. It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call. Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015.

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

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

Jensen, David H., ed. The Lord and Giver of Life: Perspectives on Constructive Pneumatology. Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

Moltmann, Jurgen. The Spirit of Life. 3rd Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

Muller-Fahrenholz, Geiko. God’s Spirit: Transforming a World in Crisis. New York : Geneva: Continuum Intl Pub Group, 1996.

Reynolds, Blair. Toward a Process Pneumatology. Selinsgrove Pa. : London ; Cranbury, NJ: Susquehanna Univ Pr, 1990.

 

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Christainity, Justice, Liberation Theology

the radicalism of pentecostalism

Pentecostalism has fed the fire of my soul since I was a young boy. I loved, endured, and thrived in prayer services, sermons lasting for hours, speaking in tongues, revivals, and energetic music.  As I got older I wanted more theological substance. Of course, there are plenty of Pentecostals who are informed on the origin of the Nicene creed or can demonstrate a depth of information about the Trinity; this was just not my experience. Since my departure at 16, I have treaded my way through many denominations including Baptist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and currently the United Methodist. John MacArthur

A few weeks ago,  John MacArthur held a conference, Strange Fire. It condemned the Pentecostal Tradition and the millions of people who worship God in this way all over the world. So I need to defend my own.

When I was twelve I wanted to read the Bible by myself. My parents read bible stories to me and my brother every morning before school and I heard many more at Sunday School. Yet, this was a chance for me figure out my own faith. So I started with 2nd Timothy, since I am the second one named Timothy in my family. When I began to read my NKJV on my parents’ bed, I immediately didn’t understand why Paul was writing to Timothy to tell him not to let womyn speak in church. This did not fit my own experience. I knew several women preachers and my great-grandmother spoke in tongues weekly. Immediately, I went out to the garage  and shared my confusion with my father. He responded by saying that this was a temporary and cultural passage. His words have stuck with me.

For Pentecostals, following God is performative. God is moving and we need to catch up. In the opposite direction, John MacArthur’s theological understanding does not allow womyn to preach, and his final Word is his own interpretation of the Bible. Pentecostalism in the US has a reputation of the being fairly conservative. They overly celebrate July 4th and often vote Republican. They evangelize when they meet new people and speak of God as if God is their best friend. Yet, Pentecostalism has not always been this ideologically conservative. I’m not saying that there is pure Pentecostalism; instead, that it has the tools for revolution and equality for all.

Let me break it down four ways:

Pentecostalism as democratizing: The most important theological concept in the Pentecostal movement is that God’s spirit is active and alive. During the church service, the spirit moves among the members and fills people with joy for dancing, speaking in tongues, being slain in the spirit etc. Note: the spirit does not discern whom the spirit speaks through. In my own experience, there were times in church that an interpretation of tongues was more important than the sermon itself. In spiritual-political terms, the spirit needs the people as much as we need the spirit to fully realize humanity. Similar to direct democracy, which is full participation of the people in the governmental experiment. Theologically then Pentecostals speak of the Trinity as economic rather than immanent. The economic Trinity is how the Trinity works in the world, how it interacts with others. The immanent Trinity is eternal, beyond humanity and the world. Thus Pentecostals focus on the economic and participatory elements of the spirit. Full participation in the active life of the spirit is mandatory.

Pentecostalism as anti-racist: The dissertation from Erik Hjalmeby summarizes the early anti-racism movement in the Pentecostal movement:

Apostolic Mission

Leaders of the Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission: a mix of genders and races.

The beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement, within just the first two decades of the 20th century, was one of those rare occasions when black and white  Americans—black and white Christians—came together. At the Azusa Street Revival of 1906, it was reported: “Everybody was just the same, it did not matter if you were black, white, green or grizzly. There was a wonderful spirit. Germans and Jews, black and whites, ate together in the little cottage at the rear. Nobody ever thought of color.” Frank Bartleman, one of the early leaders and historians of the movement, perhaps put it best when he described the situation at Azusa Street in Los Angeles: “The ‘color line’ was washed away in the Blood.

For early Pentecostals, the spirit moved within all people. This lets our guard down and our hearts open to others we encounter. It’s hard to judge others when you know that the spirit moves through them just as well.

Pentecostalism as pro-immigration and anti-gun: In the Acts of the Apostles, the spirit swoops among those gathered for the festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem. When the spirit moved, the apostles spoke in the languages known to those at the festival. The writer of Acts describes the different people groups according to region. They represented a wide range of diversity. The spirit loves diversity, just read the rest of Acts, especially Peter’s vision on the rooftop (10:9-16). God’s spirit in its radical love pushes boundaries and rejects national borders, languages, etc. A few years back, I heard Brian McLaren lecture on the current situation of the global church. He shared a story of going to Brazil and listening to Pentecostals who were combating gun violence. He said they had drop-offs for weapons and cooperated with government and local leaders for gun law restrictions. I have yet to know any Pentecostal church to participate in this way in the US. Again, it is a different context, but Pentecostals in the US have the ability from the life-giving spirit to promote alternative ways of living.

Pentecostalism as feminist and anti-patriarchy:  Spirit and experience are the sources and norms for their theological reflection. They do their best to listen to the spirit to guide their lives. This does not discount the Bible as illegitimate. Yet their interpretation of Scripture is usually not found in a commentary, but in the experience of life. This is why Pentecostals sometimes metaphorize and allegorize Scripture. Growing up this was especially true for war passages in the Hebrew Bible. Their experience just doesn’t fit within the framework of war, but within the spiritual and social struggle of life.

Lastly, the spirit touches and moves all bodies. This is true for the early Acts community and the pre-Nicene church. Womyn were evangelists, preachers, apostles (Thecla) etc. The spirit promotes a radical egalitarian community. The early Pentecostal movement understood that, but as it became institutionalized the spirit was domesticated. The spirit stands on the outside of the institution pushing it towards radical inclusivity. I do not deny the work of the spirit in the church among the people; it’s more that I don’t believe the spirit is bogged down by organizations, rules, or logic!

The spirit is moving, let’s try to catch up!

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Spiritual

spirit of radicalism

For my last semester, I have decided to take a class on the Holy Spirit. I had an opportunity to take this class early in my college career, but I could not handle something so close to my upbringing. You see, I was raised in a Pentecostal home with a family that has several ministers in this denominational persuasion. Hearing many of the same sermons over and over again, and wanted something less experiential and more intellectual, I left my parents church for a Calvinistic Baptist-y church. I learned that all of the answers to the world’s and mine problems were found in Scripture (and with some from Calvin, of course). In changing my environment, I also had to change the way I viewed the Holy Spirit. She was no longer the Person of the Trinity that granted others to speak in tongues, perform miracles, and act in ways that are not socially accepted. Instead, paraphrasing John Dominic Crossan, I did not see a differentiation between studying the Scriptures and praying. The Holy Spirit came the times that I learned something new in theology and in the Bible. That lasted for about six years, until I eventually ended up at an Episcopal church that meditated and practiced Taize. It was here that I found the Holy Spirit in the quiet times and in during times of comfort.

After all of these experiences with the Holy Spirit, which were all in and around my hometown. I went to undergrad for Theology. I still went/go to church every Sunday and have a nice small community who I can share Eucharist with and share ideas with one another. My theology has changed much since I left my hometown. I have dabbled in many theologies, such as Anabaptistism, Radical Catholicism, Liberation, and Classic Liberalism. I have learned through my studying and experiences that I have a wide ecumenical Christian faith. Yes, I am an anarchist, who loves consensus models, potlucks, and community gardens. Yet, I cannot give up on the Holy Spirit for materialism and rationalism, but at the same time, I enjoy the historical-critical method of reading the Bible.

I am a mixed bag. So for me, the Holy Spirit works in the lives of people, liberating them to be more like our brother Jesus. It is this Holy Spirit who I see guiding people in reconciliation and a deeper commitment to discipleship. It is she who transcends boundaries and comforts those in need.

May God show us all the works that the Holy Spirit does and how we may be a community of believers who follow her and are challenged to live fuller lives in the Trinity.

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