It is Pentecost Sunday! The day we have been waiting for – for what seems like forever since Easter. This is the day that we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the day we can begin to recover our humanity.
Some things just stay with you for the rest of your life. In high school, every Thursday night, before we played on Friday night, my football team had a Bible Study. Voluntary, of course, but usually about 20-30 guys showed up. It was lead by the local Young Life staff guy, but the head coach was always there. One night, Coach and George (the YL staff guy) got into a discussion and for a good ten minutes the adults were talking and the rest of us were watching. I remember it vividly because it was so extraordinary that they would ignore us like that. They were discussing what it means to be “human.”
Coach thought being fully human was all about our foibles and overcoming them. George thought that our foibles made us less than human and that we only achieved full humanity when we had been fully restored to our perfect created state. Lo these many decades later when George is home with the Lord and Coach is lost in Alzheimer’s, I find myself landing on George’s side of the discussion. We, humanity, are created in God’s image; our foibles reflect our animal nature.
Consider how inhuman and animalistic life has been in the past week.
We had another horrific school shooting on Friday. In a discussion of it, a friend lead me to a 2015 Malcolm Gladwell piece attempting to explain why they are becoming more and more common, comparing them to the same impulses that turn a protest into a riot. The piece is fascinating psychology and centers on interviews with a shooter interrupted in Waseca, MN. Gladwell sticks strictly to the facts and psychology, carefully avoiding any spiritual or metaphysical exploration. The interviewee apparently suffers from a mild form of autism. But autism is about an inability to connect on a human level. People cease to be humans and are at best animals if not simply things. It takes more than psychology to fix something like that.
As I listened to the radio show Friday I was struck by how unavoidable discussions of the alleged Trump scandals are and how little we actually know. It is apparent that regardless of any real misconduct or none, the cloud around whatever happened far, far exceeds the reality. I was overwhelmed with the sense that this was on purpose. The discussion and investigation distracts from the agenda of the administration, regardless of the truth of the matter. So even if there is no there, there it serves the purposes of the president’s political opponents. And yet Jesus said the truth would set us free. When we are obfuscated in this fashion we are being treated as something other than humans entitled to the truth and to freedom.
On Thursday, borrowing from Arthur Brooks, I wrote of the contempt that is so evident in our civil discourse. I analogized it to the hideous travel day I had on Wednesday. But the more I have thought about it the more I think that while what we are experiencing is contemptuous, it is not born of contempt – it is born of the inhumanity inherent in how we do so many things now. My horrific travel day (18 hours NYC to LA [I’ve gotten to Europe from LA in less time] with at least 7 rebooks – frankly I lost count) was driven by people beholden to the computer systems more than they were to the customer. My own frustration only appeared 2/3 of the way through the day when my app and the various terminals around the hub airport shut me out, rendering me utterly powerless over my own fate. When I had no choice but to command someone’s attention everyone I reached out to had their face stuck in a screen and would not address me. The computer systems had officially reduced me to a bit of data and a piece of cargo/meat. In all the discussion of the Foer book and privacy and data, etc. – that is the real existential threat. Big tech threatens to render us other than human.
We can only reach full humanity when we are freed from our foibles and returned to God’s image. Easter, celebrated lo those many weeks ago, completes our salvation but it does not complete our re-creation, our remaking. That remaking is a life long process and it requires the Holy Spirit.
Pentecostals like to focus on the miracles of Pentecost – the languages and tongues. Evangelicals like to focus on how those miracles were put to use – the preaching and converting. But I think we need to look at a much bigger picture. Pentecost is when God said to us, “Alright I have now paid the price for you. Here is My power, dwelling in you, to help you to make the world once again as I created it.” Miracles are a part of that. Preaching and converting is a part of that. But making the world once again as God created it is so much more than that. It starts by discovering and restoring our own humanity and by relying on that power to do so.
We have to recover our own full humanity so that we can touch those that seem untouchable. We must affirm our humanity by constantly seeking the truth even when those charged with giving it to us seem to want to withhold it. We have to throw off our animal impulses so that we tell the computers what to do, not allowing the computers to tell us what to do. That is only possible with the aid of the Holy Spirit. That the possibility now exists is what we celebrate on Pentecost Sunday.