A Revolutionary Pentecostalism

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A service at Catch the Fire Church, site of the Toronto Blessing

To be Pentecostal is to be political.

Through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we are immersed into a new reality. We see the governments and authorities around us for what they are, and in us begins a longing for the kin-dom Jesus spoke about, breaking in and spilling over. A new politics emerges in our hearts, one that values others as holy and seeks to create a world where love is the name by which all are known. We stumble into a world where the weak reign and the powerful are humbled, where divinity is found in humanity.

This is the kin-dom of God.

We are overcome by a love that drags us down into its deep embrace and shows us who we were made to be, who we really are. We meet mercy as a dear friend – familiar, intimate. Love was always there, staring us in the face, waiting for us to open our eyes. There were moments where we yielded to love without knowing, our eyes shut tight. But in this baptism, we jump in to seize (and be seized by) God’s kin-dom. We are gloriously devastated. And we see in this kin-dom of God – as it touches the world around us and everything bursts into flame – that we are standing on holy ground.

We know it in our bones. We always knew. When we were baptized in the Spirit, did not our bodies tremble? We were transfigured, and we could not help but babble in Spirit language. We were babies with so much to say, but our words were not enough to utter what stirred within us. We stuttered – our tongues undone. The world heard us tripping on syllables, intoxicated, and counted us fools. But here we are with our feet planted firmly in heaven.

We must not lose sight of that baptism. It was a taste, a first opening, a grand and debilitating invitation to the kin-dom within. We must not be satisfied with that taste. We weren’t invited to visit the kin-dom, but to host, to live in, to embody kin-dom come. We are called to feast.

This kin-dom cannot co-exist with our current governments and authorities, the systems, the powers and principalities. There is no place in the kin-dom for domination, no need of coercion.

So it is through baptism that we enter apocalypse, the uncovering of truth. Our eyes are opened, and we see Love. Our eyes are opened, and we see the devastation of empire. Our eyes are opened, and we know that empire’s time has come to an end. It is finished.

But the Church tells us to wait. That reality, that world – that’s in the future. We have no role in its manifestation, we’re told, so we wait – convinced that this waiting is patience, convinced that we are waiting on God. Tragically, we’re waiting on what is already in us while God waits for us to take hold of it. God calls us – agents of kin-dom come – to break in, to dismantle, to sabotage, to subvert, to find those imprisoned and set them free.

I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

God has been waiting for us to break in and bind the powers of empire – capitalism, white supremacy, the carceral state, every injustice, every evil.

God has been waiting for us to break in and loose those in slavery to empire – the poor, the naked, the hungry, those sick and in prison, anyone hungry for Love.

We are called to fight our way into the future we believe in. To create a world where kin-dom can thrive. To bless, nurture, and build movements of liberation. To participate in them, to join the struggle of the oppressed. To manifest the outrageous empathy and compassion that we met on those sweat-soaked church carpets. Freely we have received, and freely we shall give.

To be a Pentecostal is to be a revolutionary.

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

On Being Friends with Jesus

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“Slain in the Spirit”

I came to know Jesus when I was 16 years old. I was swallowed up by a revelation that sticks me with today: Jesus is God. Before that, religion was forms, it was duty. But then, it became a relationship, a person, a new kind of existence.

When I look to Jesus, I look to God. In this human, I can know God. It was through Jesus that I realized that I could be friends with God.

Newly saved, I would be anxious to get home from school, wanting alone time with God. I would read the Bible for hours, wrestling with the text and demanding wisdom, clarification, answers from God, and sometimes I’d be led to something, and other times not. No matter what, I was just happy to be in God’s presence.

I’d sing to God, dance with God. I’d have fits of laughter that would go late into the night. My mom would come into my room to scold me, thinking I was on my laptop screwing around on YouTube. She’d find me sprawled out, being tickled by the Holy Spirit. Her son, a Pentecostal. Relieved, I’m sure, that I wasn’t on the computer, but mostly confused. She didn’t know what to do with me.

The cheesiest pop songs on the radio – God, even Coldplay – began to mean to something to me. That’s how I felt about God. I longed for God. She was beautiful. I couldn’t get her off of my mind. I loved how she wrapped herself around all humanity, all creation. I love how she made her home in me. She was Love itself. And I was in love. I still am.

All that to say, I love Jesus. God is my friend.

As I’ve come to know Jesus, I’ve come to the humanity of God. The God I met in Christ is the marriage of humanity and divinity. “Fully God” looks like “fully human.”

The life of Jesus is the life of God. And his life wrecks all hierarchies. It dethrones all kings. Even Jesus was dethroned. With a crown of thorns, he took up a cross instead. And he calls us to do the same.

This is what it means to be godly: it is surrender to empathy wherever she leads you. It requires a certain weakness, a humanness, a vulnerability, that makes one take up the pain of others, to join their struggle and lean into solidarity,  fearlessly and shamelessly yielding to the movement of liberation.

By the looks of it, being God is being an accomplice, a comrade in the struggle. If the livelihood and very existence of the oppressed is practically illegal, then we are called to become accomplices. We are called to an existence that rejects and actively combats the false authorities that are imprisoning and murdering God’s image-bearers. Going as far as literally “setting prisoners free.”

Allies are not accomplices. Allies are disconnected from empathy, valuing appearances and gestures over action. Knowing the direction of where justice is calling us to, but limiting their surrender to it. They create no tangible or material change but rhetorically affirm their righteousness. They will not join the struggle of the oppressed but will instead dialogue with the oppressor, believing that they can convince others to be reasonable, compassionate, and perhaps, repentant. Meanwhile, people die.

Their desire for everybody, most importantly the oppressor, to be comfortable is more necessary than the liberation of those suffering. They’re proud to be more progressive and enlightened than others. They believe they see beyond the emotional cloudiness of the oppressed and the ignorant bias of the oppressor. And that they can be friends with both.

But they can’t. When you become a friend of Jesus, you discover he has very real friends, and very real enemies. Ultimately, Christ’s war is against systems and not people, but there are people who enjoy and push forward these systems, and they need to be restrained. These people are not your friends.

When you become a friend of Jesus, you join the struggle of his friends. And his friends are those that bear the Image of God most fully – the oppressed.

In some sense, there is still a hierarchy. We are called to lift up those who have been crushed, to amplify the voices of those pushed out and rejected. They are God’s priority and this is their gospel. In their suffering and denial of power, they know the heart of God. By being willing to do whatever it takes to honor their Incarnation, you become a Christian.

Honoring their Incarnation may call a disciple of Christ to what some may call violent action. We cannot simply dismiss all physical harm done to others for the sake of revolutionary and liberatory purposes as violent, when the ways we are trying to transform society are not working, and people are dying as a result of that.

If your pacifism is merely an ideological value and not a threat to the state and these systems we are called to wage war against, then your pacifism sides with the violence of the state.

The threat of the Alt-Right and the growing number of organized and armed fascists and ultra-nationalists, is a reality the Church is facing and will continue to. Violent political upheaval didn’t climax in Charlottesville, it was simply inaugurated on a larger scale. The original sin of the United States, white supremacy, has become more blatant and spelled out, and as capitalism collapses on society, things in this regard will only get worse.

Such purist perspectives on violence are idolatry. The idea that God is above us and that their instruction is more important than the well-being and lives of God’s children is cruel. This piety is demonic. Any theology that values God above people is false. From experience I can say that as I’ve fallen more in love with God, I’ve fallen more in love with God’s children. Our loyalty to God is found in our loyalty to the suffering. If our loyalty to God leads us to betray or forsake the suffering, then we are deceived idolaters.

Allyship is not enough. The kin-dom of God is not a matter of talk, but power. When God’s love manifests, it turns power upside down. It destroys and creates. It tears down and lifts up. It’s shocking. It makes people angry, scared even. It’s prophetic.

Of course, allies will name the marginalized in their lives as prophets. That is, until they prophesy to them, or their community. When their allyship is attacked, they will shut down these prophets with condescension, with eyes signaling that they’re understanding but words that are really just a drawn out, polite hush. They say, isn’t that a little harsh? Isn’t that taking it a little too far?

Friends of Jesus are accomplices and realize that loving their neighbor looks like something. It looks like solidarity, it looks like mutual aid, it looks like reparations, and, frankly, it looks like revolution. They realize that sometimes loving their neighbor looks like keeping their neighbor from oppressing others. They realize that love for others can put their reputations and lives at risk. They realize that the systems that dictate our lives cannot be reformed or transformed, but need to be abolished. And they act on it. They live it.

God’s kin-dom demands more than allyship – it demands revolutionaries. To be a friend of Jesus is to know him not as a great leader or mighty king, but as a comrade. To be his friend requires becoming an accomplice to the oppressed, to join their struggle. As he was an outlaw for the sake of the oppressed, so will be his followers. He will walk with us, hand in hand, to tear down Empire, and to welcome our kin-dom. It’s in our midst, he says. We just need to be willing to let love unravel in our lives. It’s a daunting task. The systems of the world are built against you, and they will fight you from all sides. Do not fear, though, for he is with us, to the end of the age. Love is on our side.

Set fire to Empire

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Let’s get to the point

To follow Jesus is to build a new world from the ashes of the old. Sometimes, for the sake of justice, we’re called to start the fires that create those ashes.

Last February, Catholic Workers Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya set fire to heavy machinery being used to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline. They were willing to be misunderstood, arrested and imprisoned. They were willing to fight for the earth and for God’s children. These are Christ’s friends and accomplices.

Just as Jesus was criticized for making a mess of the Temple, Reznicek and Montoya have also been condemned. They’re not the first. Christians condemned the Camden 28, a group of Catholic anti-Vietnam War activists who raided a draft board. They condemned participants in the Plowshares movement, the Christian anti-nuclear activists who advocate for direct action that damages weapons and military property.

Jesus’ disciples remember: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Christians would do well to remember that zeal for what God has made – the temples of our bodies, the tabernacle of Creation – is supposed to be a mark of our love by which they will know we are Christians.

This zeal is what makes a revolution. This zeal is love. It drives people to stand up and fight back for the sake of the unheard and oppressed. These are who Christ came for, and this is their good news. People with disabilities, prisoners, the poor – intimately acquainted with systemic violence – they’re at the center of God’s good news, heirs of God’s kingdom.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

If this is our call, then there’s a lot of work to do. People are suffering today. People need liberation today. People are waiting for the Kingdom, and they’re dying. Today. Empire derives its power from the suffering of the oppressed. And it will continue unless we stop it – until we smash it.

The rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world, the spiritual forces for evil in the heavenly realms – this is empire.

Empire is capitalism. Empire is white supremacy. Empire is sexism, homophobia, transphobia. Empire is the cultural systems that crush God’s children, God’s image-bearers. Empire seeks to destroy the very Kin-dom of God.

Empire’s foot soldiers are all who support the status quo, all who can afford to survive the suffering imposed on their neighbors. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. Some do not care because they do not know. Some are unable to care. They benefit by not caring. After all, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for such people to enter the kingdom of God.

We cannot wait for change. Such people cannot change because they are convinced that their freedom requires that others continue to be oppressed.

Jesus fed the hungry. He healed the sick. He rebuked religious leaders and the rich, overturned tables and cleared the temple courts with a whip. He didn’t waste time reasoning. He acted for the people and against the systems that enslaved them.

Where Jesus goes, we must follow. Even with a whip. Also with loaves and fishes. Always in solidarity.

But Jesus is the Prince of Peace, some might say. This is violence.

I disagree.

Violence drives a Dodge Challenger into the crowd. Violence shoots from the thirty-second floor of the Mandala Bay. Violence breaks into a Bible study or a dance club or an elementary school. Violence questions your right to vote. Violence refuses medical treatment, asks you what you were wearing and how much you had to drink and why you were there in the first place. Violence drags you from a desk or tackles you at a community pool. Violence offers you a golf trophy and scoffs at your ingratitude when you ask for clean water.

Violence offers to pray and says it wishes it could do more. Things are going to be different, it promises. You’ll see. Turn the other cheek, it says, just before it turns away.

God’s liberating love demands radical empathy – living in communion with God and with God’s children. This love – Jesus’ love – teaches us how to love, how to be human, even unto death.

God’s Kingdom is a new heaven and a new earth, a place that provides shelter, feeds the hungry, heals the sick. God’s Kingdom springs forth from the scorched earth of Empire – a place that kills the weak, steals from the poor, and destroys all that is beautiful.

It’s time to burn it down.

Sabotage the pipelines that bleed oil into rivers. Tear down the monuments memorializing slave owners and racists. Set free the prisoners. Disarm the police. “Peace, peace,” they say.

So we shall make peace. We will be insulted. We will be persecuted. People will falsely say all kinds of evil against us. But we will make peace.

As white nationalists are emboldened.

As we witness state-sponsored repression.

As people are beaten and bloodied in the streets.

We must ask ourselves: are we willing to act? Will we sabotage the means of oppression? Will we use force to fight for the freedom of fascism’s victims? Will we surrender our sense of propriety, our personal piety, our ethical purity for the sake of God’s children?

Or will we sit in the marketplaces with blood on our hands:

We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;

we sang a dirge,

and you did not mourn.

Empire cannot be reformed or transformed. Instead, it will be shown for what it is. It will be revealed with fire.

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”