Out of Sorts: Speaking in Tongues with Sarah

Sarah talks this week about her experiences and understandings of the charismatic movement of the Church. With the exception of one service in 8th grade, everything I know about charismatic churches is in this chapter. So I don’t have much to say on speaking in tongues, miracles, and being slain in the Spirit.

But I do know the tendency we have to take the gifts of the Spirit and use them as a way to exclude.

As Sarah quotes Jack Deere (a book I highly recommend for investigating charismatic types of things): It is possible to put any good thing above Jesus Christ.We have an exceptional gift for taking God’s good and beautiful gifts and practices, and using them as a way to decide who is in and who is out.

Part of the reason we get so good at using the gifts of the Spirit to separate, divide, and exclude is because when we deal with the Spirit, we are dealing with a mystery.

And we don’t like mystery. We like categories and patterns and predictability.

So we struggle and search and wrestle with the how, why, when, and where the Spirit moves. Once we “figure this out” we assume we know the way the Spirit works.

We stop being surprised or looking for the Spirit in new places. And eventually, we start saying things like: God doesn’t work THAT way.

Once we start being the ones who know where and when the Spirit moves, the next step is to make sure we exclude the people who say the Spirit moves any differently than we do.

There is a place to wrestle with and try to understand the movement of the Spirit. In fact, it can be very helpful to try and put words onto the mystery of the Spirit. There are moments when someone’s explanations and discussions of the Spirit can helps us better understand our own experiences.

But when our words and understandings of the Spirit become the only way to understand God, we quickly fall into exclusion. In our attempt to understand a profound mystery, we erect impenetrable boundaries between ourselves and others.

We need more fluid boundaries. We need to understand that our ways of naming and trying to grasp the mystery of God do not define the totality of Christian experience. We need to have fluid boundaries which are always expanding and looking for surprises. We need to understand our categories for God and other people do not define reality, but are tools for helping us experience the life and truth of God in deeper ways.

Fluid boundaries allow us to recognize all the different ways people understand God and what it means to follow Jesus and allows us to dialogue with others in order to better do both.

Which is the work of the Spirit.

holy_spirit_fire_1014x1024Pentecost is the story of God giving the Spirit to the Church. In this story, God gives the gift of speaking in tongues to the apostles and people from all tribes and countries begin to hear the good news in their own language.

While there are lots of thoughts about the gift of tongues, we see one important thing in this story: The Spirit fills the people of God and a whole room full of different languages, cultures, genders, and ethnicities are now able to communicate.

The Spirit of God unites all believers. She is the source of our participation in Church. And the Spirit gives the gift of communication across what seem like impenetrable boundaries.

The gift of the Spirit not only unites us but allows us to dialogue across differences.

Often we treat our traditions as if we were the first and only Christians to ever walk the earth. But when we start to understand our history and our roots, as well as the different streams of belief and different cultures in the world, we get a much fuller picture. Christianity becomes bigger and more expansive and beautiful. And as we encounter this diverse group, we get a fuller and more beautiful picture of God as well.

Sarah reminds us that we need all streams of believers. We need a place to belong and call home. We need to know how we connect with God and find a place and community to do so. But we also need the voices and experiences from those outside of where we belong. Because they belong to us as well.

The Spirit of God unites believers across time, across cultures, and across belief systems. When we ignore this unity and don’t dialogue with the diversity it contains, we miss out on so much.

We need the gift of tongues. We need to learn to communicate across boundaries, even when they seem difficult to cross. Because this is what it means to have the Spirit of God.

And the more we speak in tongues, the more we grow and the more of God we get to understand and experience.

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