Day of Pentecost
May 31, 2020Revised Common Lectionary
Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.
This week, I’m reflecting on how the Spirit might be changing the world while we are living together in a global “upper room” of sorts.
Arts & Architecture
Joe Grano, Jonny Reinis, Nora & Jim Orphanides,Thelma & Bud Negley,Leftfield Productions / Adam Friedson
Denver Center for the Performing Arts
Website for the Rock Musical: The 12
Go to "First Look" at the 12 under Sights and Sounds tab and watch.
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Current Events & World Affairs
America’s Patchwork Pandemic is Fraying Even Further
Detailed analysis of the varied ways Covid-19 is revealing the patchwork of disparities and differing realities across our country and impacting us in a range of ways.
Read the article in its entirity, if you have the time. Otherwise, read section III, "The Patchwork Legacy."
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What changes are you longing to see in our world?
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
A few years ago, I went to the world premier of the rock musical, The Twelve, which made its debut in my hometown. (See this week’s Arts and Architecture lesson). Writer Robert Schenkkan and lyricist/musician Neil Berg imagined what happened in the upper room, in the hours between Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Pete, Tom, James, John, Andrew, Phil, Bart, Simon, Jimmy, and Tom gather in acute tension and fear hours after Jesus’ death.
Matt bursts into the room carrying Thad, bloodied and nearly unconscious from a blow to the head he sustained from the angry mob outside.
Mary Magdalene explodes onto the scene teeming with the rage born in her experience of witnessing Jesus’ agony by herself to the bitter end.
It was the most authentic portrayal I’ve ever seen of the disciples.
I thought about this scene of the upper room as I reflected on our observance of Pentecost this year. In a post-Hamilton world, we might call it, “The Room Where it Happened.”
It is in this room that the events we celebrate on Pentecost are thought to have occurred. We consider these events to have been birth of the Church. But we hardly mean by that the birth of buildings and budgets and clergy and politics and conventions, though in their best moments, all those trappings have supported the thing we do mean, when we talk about what was born that day. We mean something far less settled; something far more unsettling.
We wear red to signify what we mean. Red for fire, energy, passion. None of which are comforting, really. But a strange gift to those who had been waiting for weeks, as Jesus had instructed them, to receive power they needed for the work ahead.
Before I saw The Twelve, I’d always imagined the Upper Room as a place of quiet, where the disciples were sad, but reverent, speaking in hushed tones. Kind of like a public library. And I somehow imagined them at liberty to come and go at their leisure.
But that musical gave me a far different image to hold. There, the upper room was a crucible for the outworking of their absolute terror, their rage against the injustice of it all, their utter exhaustion, and the breakdown of their trust in one another. Primal fears translated into harsh words. Tensions heightened, betrayals ensued. For a while, it looked like utter chaos with no hope at all for them to move forward.
That, oddly, gives me comfort in these strange new days of ours. In that scene, I can find my own dining room table, my own kitchen counter. The place where I am utterly confined to one small band of people whom I adore while we each wait for our next challenge.
Most of us do not live in hushed tones of silence in our closest relationships. We live, rather, in cycles of faithful acts, joyful lightheartedness, dashed hopes, second guesses, disappointments, and fears, and uncertainties.
One minute, my house can seem like the set of a Gilbert and Sullivan musical, the next like a scene from The Shining, and the next like a long viewing of Waiting for Godot. There are those moments when, like most of you, I wonder what God can do in all this chaos.
I am beginning to discover that redemption comes precisely in these conditions. Here, where we are locked in the upper room together. Creativity does indeed emerge out of chaos. Always has.
I say this, however, not without a qualification. Not every room is one to stay in. Not every room is the upper room. I want to be clear that I am not glossing over the reality that some are in rooms they need to leave–rooms where they are not safe and loved and protected. Those sorts of rooms are not the upper room. If you find yourself in a room where you are threatened by the other occupants, what matters most is getting out. There is no benefit to staying with others who seek to harm you.
The upper room is different. The upper room is a place of anticipating the unknown. It is unsettling, but those within it are not threatening one another. Rather, they are all trying to make sense of a radically altered reality. And they are loving one another in the midst of this terribly difficult work.
If we can stay here, in this place of unknowing–without taking exits when we are a bit bored or irritated or displeased, maybe, just maybe, we can begin anew.
Whether you find yourself in a household of ten or are living by yourself matters not. We are all together in an unprecedented way, with this opportunity for a restart.
We are a captive audience. So, at last, the Spirit has space to work with us. To help us hear and understand tongues that are strange and new to us.
But, honestly, we don’t much want to be challenged to take in new information. So, we look for exit routes.
But I wonder, if we can resist the urge to exit, what we might discover. I wonder, if we could just wait, if we could stay a little bit longer–together, still–what might become possible?
In today’s Science and Nature lesson, Ed Yong details the ways in which resisting our urge to return to “life as we knew it” can help us smooth the “patchworks old and new” that mark our country–a patchwork of disparities that statistics reveal lead to drastically different experiences of this virus for some of us than for others.
We can change the world we have known.
A new fire is kindling.
We long for it, even as we fear the heat.
I suspect we are no different from Matt and Thad and Tom and Pete and Magdalene and Jimmy. What they wanted, we want.
We want the fire to come and set our souls ablaze.
We want change.
That makes this time in the upper room worth the wait.
The world is upside down and inside out.
Everything can change.