A Pentecost of Diversity

A Pentecost of Diversity

Most of us will get up tomorrow, go to work, have an exchange with various vendors to buy something we need, and at some point probably peruse some type of media informing us about the news of the day either through social media, print media, television, or Internet news sources. It is very likely that in the midst those daily rituals, we’ll encounter a disagreement with someone that will trigger a modicum of frustration that we’ll try to outsource to the negligence of someone else. In other words, there will probably be some sort of misunderstanding that irritates us.
Perhaps it’s the person whose political views are different than ours and what they said on Facebook. Perhaps it will be the internal dumbfounded gasp we will try to swallow when someone holds a contrary view than our own on subjects such as health care, the economy, or whatever else is in the news. Perhaps we’ll bump into someone who dresses in a manner divergent with our own norms. Maybe we’ll be irritated by a misunderstanding that arises from someone’s accent or the language they speak.

Why Lord couldn’t you have made the world simpler? Why can’t everyone be exactly like me so we could all get along?

Today is the feast of Pentecost. My challenge as a worker in the Church is trying to explain why things that happened 2000 years ago have any relevance today. Hopefully you already know the basics of the Pentecost story. Jesus was gone. The Apostles were scared. The Holy Spirit came. Tongues of fire descended. The Apostles overcame their fear by speaking in other languages and the Church spread.

It was a miracle and miracle stories are always nice to recall. They provide us with reassurance that God has supreme power and having personal knowledge of that power helps to reinforce our own desire to believe.

But there is also peril in recalling miracle stories from 2000 years ago. It can put a distance between us and the historical event and this can prevent us from seeing the miracles happening within our midst. To understand what I mean by this, I think it is important to look at

Pentecost and ask the question, “What could have been different about the story?” One alternative is this. It could have been a story where everyone began to speak the same language. Why were the Apostles’ capacity for multiple languages changed and not those who heard them changing to one language?

Pentecost frequently gets compared to the story of the Tower of Babel in which humanity’s arrogance led the inhabitants of Earth to build a very high tower at which point God curses humanity’s progress by confusing them with different languages to speak. This brought about disunity and prevented humanity from becoming more like God.

Within this comparison, Pentecost is the “anti-Babel” experience, the event when Babel’s curse is undone. But I think that misses a key detail in the story. It isn’t that everyone at Pentecost is speaking the same language so as to return to the way of life before Babel. Rather Pentecost is about the ability for the congregants to understand the Apostles each in their own language.
From that point of view, I think Pentecost is very relevant as a miracle within our daily lives. God isn’t interested in bringing us into some sort of fascist-like conformity. God’s design is not about artificial or forced uniformity. Instead, the miracle of Pentecost illustrates that the Holy Spirit blesses us to find communion amid our differences.

So the next time a co-worker baffles you with his behavior, or you disagree with someone’s politics, or you have an encounter on the street in which someone who you misunderstand because of their culture and language, pray for a moment of Pentecost. The miracle to be found is not in castigating differences into a submissive unity. The miracle to be found is how God blesses those differences and will speak to everyone through them.

Peace found through difference is difficult and that is what makes it miraculous. If we allow the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and transform us, then Peace within our differences is the miracle of a new and immanent Pentecost. It isn’t something that only happened 2000 years ago, but is something that can happen (in small ways and grand) today.

-David Heimann, Pastoral Associate

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