Did you know that I speak Russian? It’s a language I learned while in the military during my training as a Cryptolinguistic Translator. That’s a fancy term for spy! During the cold war in the 1980’s I intercepted Russian aircraft communications and translated them to discern the activities of the Soviet Air Force in East Germany. What a ride that was! I always enjoyed learning foreign languages, and would travel Europe speaking French, Russian and German. Many were surprised that a country boy from Ohio could communicate with such a diverse group of people. I loved meeting new people during my travel—and just the attempt I made to speak with them in their own language opened doors for new friendships and experiences.
May 27th is the Sunday we celebrate Pentecost this year, and is always a time when I reflect deeply about the significant events in my life. I grew up Pentecostal. My father was a pastor and evangelist in the Assemblies of God church. And I remember the camp meetings of my childhood where my Dad used to preach. My experiences in the Pentecostal church, although oppressive at times, did introduce me to the excitement and enthusiasm of the Pentecost experience. Yet I am amazed how in the mainline church we are comfortable with Pentecost as a noun. But when you make the word an adjective—Pentecostal, we become nervous. And maybe it should make us nervous. Celtic Christians chose the wild goose as a symbol representing the Holy Spirit. A wild goose is one noisy, bothersome bird. I like this image of the Holy Spirit as a wild goose because it jars us out of our complacency of doing church in familiar and traditional ways.
Years later I was jarred out of my complacency when I left my Pentecostal tradition and started seeking a theology that embraced me as a gay Christian. That search brought me to United Theological Seminary in Dayton, where my time was filled with periods of constructing a new theology while at the same time reclaiming the traditions of my youth. I seriously studied the history of the church and shared my own experiences of exclusion and charted new experiences of embrace. I looked anew at the ancient writings of my faith and discovered layers of learning that emerged once I scratched through its surface teachings and dug deep into its wisdom. I devoured the secrets of an emerging Christian community in my New Testament studies, and was transformed by the care for others as pastor. My embedded theology was questioned and crushed, twisted and turned, prodded and poked as I constantly reinterpreted the symbols of my faith for new contexts. And it’s these new contexts that continue to draw me back to the story of Pentecost—that amazing moment when the Holy Spirit, the wild goose that she is—gave birth to a church of many different languages and cultures.
A part of me wishes that I could have been a part of the church when America was split over the issue of slavery. The Bible was clearly on the side of the slave owner – but the Spirit would not let us stop where the Bible left off. A part of me wishes that I could have been around for the debate about ordaining women where the Bible makes terrible commentary supporting a male dominated faith, but thank God the church remained open to the Spirit and we can now celebrate the ministry of women– something that would not have happened 150 years ago. And I am interested in how we came to have a different understanding and acceptance about divorce, and the reality of broken marriages and the work of God in those very broken places. But I am especially glad to be here during a time when we see the church working through the struggle of embracing the gay and lesbian community as an equal part and voice within our midst. I’m glad to see and experience the tension of the Spirit doing her work again of breaking us out of our homogeneous places and pushing the gate even wider to fully include another part of our community that has been marginalized. The Spirit is forcing us to speak even more languages and to open our gates even wider than we have ever thought before.
I risk coming out as a gay minister every day—wondering if I will be accepted or rejected. But I am committed to being an authentic Christian—one that is not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus. And I can not be attached to how others receive me—only that I share my identity with a sense of wholeness and desire for relationship. Now my idea of the gospel may lean more toward embrace than exclusion—but that’s how I experience God. And that’s how I hope you experience Journey Church.
We are hosting our first membership class on Saturday, May 19th from 10am to 3pm. This will be a very different experience for those of you who have grown up in the church. The theme of the class is “Passport to your Journey” and will be significantly different from what you might expect from a new members class. We will engage our lives together as a Christian community by looking deeply into our own souls to discern what you are here to do in your life and what you can learn from each other. In addition to a short course on UCC History and Polity and the vision of Journey Church, you will be encouraged to look at where you are on your spiritual journey. You will be asked to make a commitment to our work together and also to your own journey of faith. It will be an exciting time together—and it includes lunch! The cost will be $30 per person to pay for your learning materials and for our presenters.
The Pentecost moment means that we often must translate the words of our ancient texts into new contexts and experiences. And like my experience while living in Europe, we have to speak a language that others understand—and once trust in the relationship is established can we then talk about God in new ways of understanding. So listen to the call of the Spirit—that noisy bothersome Spirit that calls us out of complacency and into radical inclusivity. I challenge you, this season of Pentecost—to experience what it means to be Pentecostal. And by that, I mean a church of many different experiences of God, speaking the good news of God’s love and embrace for all humanity—in our own languages.
Invite someone to church this month—seek to speak their language—and then share this inclusive vision of God’s kingdom—God’s reign on earth. Amen!