The Chase-Dance

The creative process is not for the faint of heart. At the beginning, it seems you’re in control–your mind and hands run the show.  But soon, a tiny, tentative playfulness begins between your heart and your medium (whether it be language, musical notes or strokes on a page) and before long you’re swept up in a dance which seems at the same time yours and yet entirely outside of your control. You swear you never heard this song or learned these moves and yet, here you are, stomping and humming a song from heaven. It may not be perfect but it sure feels right.

This kind of inspiration which refuses to be confined has been likened to a Wild Goose. Like in this beautiful, Josh Ritter song which ends with the question,

Oh what kind of law draws the apples to the ground?
And what kind of love draws the orbits?
And where, oh where, went your wild goose?
And what made you once think you could hold it?

Anyone who has been caught up in a creative moment is familiar with this breathless chase-dance. And anyone who knows that dance and who also has been swept up in the dance with our God, recognizes some common steps. And so it’s only natural that His Holy Spirit has also been called a Wild Goose. So, whether you’re planning a Holy-Spirit themed worship experience or just want to know more about this “Goose God” everyone is talking about, here are a few wild-goose inspired words, sights and sounds to spark your imagination. Is that the beating of wings or the beginnings of a rhythm? Will you dance along? Where will the Goose lead you?

“I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven.” John 1:32

Enjoy Wild-Goose inspired art.

Read Wild-Goose Wisdom
The Celtic Christians had a name for the Holy Spirit that has always intrigued me. They called Him An Geadh-Glas, or ‘the Wild Goose.’ I love the imagery and implications. The name hints at the mysterious nature of the Holy Spirit. Much like a wild goose the Spirit of God cannot be tracked or tamed.
Mark Batterson, “Wild Goose Chase”

Find the hidden Geese on the pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Pray a Wild-Goose prayer
Great Spirit,
Wild Goose of the Almighty
Be my eye in the dark places
Be my flight in the trapped places
Be my host in the wild places
Be my formation in the lost places.
Be my brood in the barren places.
Ray Simpson, “A Holy Island Prayer Book”

Listen to a haunting Wild-Goose song, by Iona.

See geese in flight from the movie, Winged Migration.

Our Wild-Goose God is out of our hands. The best way to learn his ways is by letting him surprise and stretch us. Are we open-hearted enough to join the chase?

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Is your worship unitarian, binitarian, or trinitarian?

One time, I was invited to do some last minute musical worship for a small gathering of church planters. I asked the leader in charge if he had any suggestions as to theme for the evening – a topic around which I could pull together a few songs. After a brief pause he said to me, “Well, how about Jesus? Hard to go wrong with songs about Jesus.”

Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong in singing songs about Jesus. Nothing, that is, unless he’s all you sing about. Why? Because Jesus is one person of a three-personned God. Singing exclusively about Jesus means leaving out two-thirds of God (kind of). I mean, it really isn’t that cut and dried. After all, as Rolf Jacobsen says in today’s quote, our theological language is always running to “catch up” with reality.

Still, wouldn’t it be fair to call those of us who worship only Jesus unitarians? Or, those of us fond of Father and Son, but largely ignorant of the Spirit, binitarians?

We profess to be worshipers of Trinity. In our worship, with have the potential to make reality match our language. To succeed in this, we need to curate (“care for”) our worship content – our prayers, songs, sermons, and readings – with Trinity in mind. We need to find a balance in our address and mention of the three-personned God (if not within a single gathering, then over a span of several). At least, we need to Tri. [oops.]

Is your worship unitarian, binitarian, or trinitarian? In the comments section of this post, tell us a bit about how your congregation recognizes Father, Son, and Spirit week to week and month to month.

Take this week’s poll to help us build a snapshot of where we all stand:

Re-examine the actual prayers, songs, and texts used in your last gathering. Who was addressed or mentioned most often? (choose one or two answers):

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Image © iStockphoto

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Pentecost Changes Everything

This post was written by Patrick Oden.

In our age of hyperbole, it’s not uncommon to run into something that you are told changes the world, or is the best. thing. ever. The newest book will transform your life and you’ll finally find the secret five step plan to accomplishing everything you have wanted in love, money, property and leisure. Here’s a diet that will help you lose all the weight you want, keep it off, all without exercise. Oftentimes, they’re not really all that different from what came before. Even churches get into this sort of attitude, using the buzz words of the day to suggest they’re doing something radically different, even when they’re not.

This isn’t always comparable to re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, because sometimes the ship doesn’t actually sink. Sometimes the “radical” transformation, then, is more like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Queen Mary. It’s not going anywhere, but it’s pretty and it’s historical. For the especially transformational, it might even be like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Queen Mary II, that latest and greatest of ocean liners, which has the latest technology, the most up-to-date amenities, and advanced engineering. But the fact remains that even with all these advances, it’s still basically the same. There’s change, but it doesn’t really change everything.

Air travel was significantly more of a change. If a person wants to get to London or Paris from, say, Los Angeles, they are not likely to choose an ocean liner, except out of nostalgia. What used to take months, or at least weeks, now takes less than a half a day.

That’s change.

Pentecost brought even more change than that.

Pentecost isn’t the equivalent of air travel versus ocean travel. It’s more like a Star Trek transporter. Everything is different. For many, the changes that Pentecost brought are just as much a story of science fiction as a transporter device. Pentecost brings change that is often disturbing or inconvenient, so while we might celebrate it with words, we try to ignore it in how we organize our churches or worship services.

Pentecost changes everything, because with Pentecost we have to incorporate the work of the Spirit in how we gather. The Word, in light of Pentecost, can’t be limited to the Word that is preached or the sacraments that are administered, because that would limit the work of the Spirit to one person, or at the very most a few people, who stand at the front as the representative of Christ to the world.

Pentecost expresses the Word in a transformational, participatory way. Preaching is not the center, just as a single participant is not the center. Nor, however, is preaching dismissed as irrelevant. For those who are gifted, and there certainly are those gifted in proclamation, preaching becomes one among the many expressions that may happen in a gathering. All who gather are expressing the fullness that is Christ to each other and to this world.

The whole gathered people of God speak in many tongues. Indeed, the miracle is not just that of speaking the many tongues, but of people from many nations hearing the one message in their own language. The Spirit works in the preaching and in the listening.

The Spirit is also about more than talk, transforming how we live together. They gave to those in need, they shared meals in festive celebration of Christ’s work of equality, they participated together as a new community. They were not just a big mouth and many little ears. They were a Body of Christ who gathered in holistic participation. This new way of living was a holistic testimony to this world, in this world, for this world.

The work of the Spirit enlivens and renews this world by giving all people hope in new possibilities of living. This new way of living extends itself into breaking down the chains of oppression, resisting the forces of evil, bearing light and healing in communities that are dark and full of sickness.

When the people are given the space for participation, this brings transformation in their own lives, in their neighborhoods, and sometimes might even lead to transformation that changes the face of this world.

If we want the experience of traveling on the ocean, we can take the Queen Mary II. If we want the experience of the old covenant, we can model the church on the Temple or on the synagogue. But if our goal is different, if we seek the transformation that Christ brings, we have to pay attention to what happened on Pentecost. This is the expression of the Spirit, the only substantive source of the expression of the Word, who works in the context of the whole Body of Christ. This changes absolutely everything. Thanks be to God.

© Patrick Oden

Image © iStockphoto


Patrick Oden, blogging at dualravens.com, is a 3rd year PhD student at Fuller Seminary, studying theology with a minor in church history. His first book, It’s a Dance: Moving with the Holy Spirit, explored the topic of pneumatology, using a fictional emerging church as the setting for conversational theology. His latest book is called How Long?: The Trek Through the Wilderness. Patrick’s in-process dissertation focuses on the emerging church in conversation with theologian Jürgen Moltmann, with some liberation theology mixed in for texture. When he isn’t buried in his many books of deep theology, he loves to camp on islands, ponder the activities of local ravens, and spend as much time as possible with his wife of two years, Amy.

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Speaking (Babbling, Really) of Unity and Diversity at Pentecost

Pentecost. It’s about the Spirit. The one poured out in Joel 2. The one Jesus promised upon his earthly departure. Pentecost. It’s about the birth of the Church, the official initiation of our mission in the world as Christ’s body. Pentecost. It’s about God’s desire and plan for unity through diversity.

Wait… Wha?!

Though not usually the first thing we associate with Acts 2:1-13, the Day of Pentecost can be seen as a fresh revelation of unity, especially when interpreted in light of Genesis 11:1-9.

Genesis 11:1-9 contains the story of the Tower of Babel. Here, a relatively new humanity, possessing only one world-wide language, finds a place in the East to build a city. The people intend the city to deter God’s children from being “scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Central to this story is the construction by the people of a tower that “reaches to the heavens.”

Most often, human hubris is associated with this tower tale. In our bad habit of moralizing the scripture text, we call Babel a warning against pride, the kind of pride that finds humans flirting with god-status. After all, God does seem a little nervous as he says, “If… they have begun to do this… nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” (v.6)

But perhaps, as some scholars have suggested, Babel is not primarily about human hubris, but about God’s plan for human unity. From a human perspective, unity and “scattering” are opposites. The divine plan for unity, however, calls not for social similiarity, but for cultural diversification. This is not the first time Yahweh has been seen to act in ways counter to human intuition.

Overlaying Acts 2 and Genesis 11 clarifies even further God’s unique definition of unity. Both stories have to do with communication, confusion, and sending. In Genesis, one language is turned into many, confusion ensues, and God’s plan for humans to ‘fill the earth’ is re-enacted.

In Acts, Galileans who naturally speak a single language, supernaturally speak the languages of “every nation under heaven.” Confusion again ensues, leading to another “scattering” abroad, this time with a redemptive purpose: ‘filling the earth with the kingdom of Jesus.’

In neither story is God pushing for homogeneity. The opposite is true. God is not interested in mono-culture, otherwise, he would have left language alone at Babel. At Jerusalem, he would have displayed the Spirit’s power by teaching all the foreigners to speak Aramaic. Cultural diversity is promoted as the LORD’s personal preference in both Genesis and Acts. Additionally, the granting of the Spirit to the Church – along with the multi-plex of giftings she imparts – further promotes God’s version of unity in diversity.

God, then, is not seeking conformity or uniformity, but affirming variety. Christ functions as the head of a body that breathes and bleeds as one, yet has unique members, each as distinct as toe from tongue and knee from nose.

How would this approach to interpreting Pentecost alter our curation plans? Essentially, we have gained another valid theme for focusing our celebration. This year (or perhaps next, if you aren’t the last-minute type!) you may consider how the theme of ‘unity in diversity’ would take shape in the context of your worshipping community. Consider the following curation ideas a kick-start…

Forget the doves, flames and the color red. What other sorts of visuals will invite the prayerful consideration of multi-cultural validation and spiritual unity? Globes? Multi-colored tapestries? A live, projected kaleidoscope? Maps?

Have a communal meal, a potluck in which each person signs up to bring a dish from a different culture. Talk about the wide variety of tastes and smells. Enjoy the unity that sharing such diverse food brings to those who eat it together.

Emphasize unity through the sharing of ONE loaf and ONE cup, instead of focusing the Eucharist solely on giving thanks for the forgiveness we’ve received through Christ. Use an additional text like: Romans 12:4-8 to connect Christ’s body with both unity and diversity.

Have Acts 2:1-13 read out loud in multiple languages – at literally the same time. In doing so, you illustrate the confusion and chaos that can occur on the surface even when the same “word” is being spoken in agreement.

Offer up prayers for fellow believers throughout the world – including across the street. Pray for cultural validation by missionaries. Pray for unity among believers, especially in locations where persecution is prevalent.

Create some interactive stations based on the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11:1-9. e.g. Invite people to play Jenga while sharing one personal “tower” he/she regularly builds to delay being “scattered” by God beyond cultural comfort.

What ideas would you add?

Image © iStockphoto

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We Believe In the Holy Spirit – A Creed

This creed was written for the “Pentecost/Holy Trinity” Clayfire Collection.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Advocate,
Promised by Jesus,
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

At the creation of the world, she hovered over the waters,
Breathing order into chaos.
She called the patriarchs and matriarchs in dreams and in fire,
And revealed God’s purposes through the Prophets.

The Spirit overshadowed Mary of Nazareth,
Filling her with a new song and new life.
She came upon Jesus at his baptism
As he was named the Father’s beloved.

She came down out of heaven on the day of Pentecost,
Manifest in tongues of flame and of speech.
She preached and healed through the Apostles,
Inspired the Holy Scriptures,
Sustains the Church,
And knits the Community of Believers together into one Body.

She dwells in and with God’s people,
Midwife to our rebirth as heavenly children.
One day she will welcome us home to the City of God,
And wipe away every tear from our eyes.

by Anastasia McAteer, © 2010 sparkhouse

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