Friday, August 14, 2009

A Violent Wind

It was one of those moments. I was yelling at the TV. Not so much in anger as frustration. It was the second Bush-Kerry debate and the question to each concerned the role of faith in their life as a political leader. Dubya went first and talked about his faith as a deeply internal thing. It's what gave him peace in the midst of the trials of being president. It's what I expected.

Kerry went next and talked about his life-long relationship with the Catholic church. And in very similar ways, he talked about his faith as a private, inner thing, something that gave him inner strength and conviction.

I wanted a very different answer from each of them.

Not that I should be surprised. For most of us faith is primarily an internal thing, something that gives us inner strength. In my dissertation research, I am conducting interviews with members from various congregations. One of the interview questions is "As you understand it, how is the Holy Spirit related to salvation?" Every single answer to this point--every single one of them--has something to do with inner peace or strength. Salvation and the Holy Spirit, it appears is my own private possession.

Again, this is not surprising. When you read a book like Charles Taylor's, Sources of the Self, you get sense of just how much Western society has been dominated by notions of a buffered self--or the person as a completely self-contained entity. The personal is the primary horizon of interpretation for most Westerners. We are hard wired philosophically to think of reality as consisting of subjects and objects with self-defining essences and characteristics. A world of subjects and objects becomes also a world of fact/value or public/private splits. And on those splits, faith gets placed on the values and private side of the ledgers. Bush and Kerry were well within the mainstream of Western/American spirituality.

But this is not the only way it has to be. Nancy and I are dwelling in Acts 2 these days. I was struck the other day by the NRSV's translation of the coming of the Spirit as a "violent wind." When the Spirit comes, representing a new age in which the rich will be brought low and the poor raised up, the wind isn't just soothing and peaceful. It is also violent, disruptive, disturbing, commotion causing.

I wanted Bush or Kerry, one of them, to say faith is what keeps me up at night. It's what won't give me rest, keeps me stirred up. It's not my safe-haven from the world, it's what keeps driving me into the world. It's what won't let me rest with my wealth in a world of hunger. It's what is causing me to want me to see the world new each day. It's a violent wind.

I often have people tell me that they know a personal decision they have made is a "God-thing" because they have such peace about it. That might be right. But in a world where we have made such peace with the way things are, it might be a sign of just the opposite. God is just as likely to be in the option that gives no peace.


Mark's Remarks said...


I always enjoy reading your blog. And Congrats on your new position!

Lisa Gonzales-Barnes said...

Hmmmmm . . . I like it. That just may be the reason that I wake some mornings ill at ease. All is well in the daytime, but the Holy Spirit blows at night.

Redlefty said...


All I know is that when a violent wind blows in my bed at night, my wife doesn't let me blame the Holy Spirit! And trust me, I tried.

p.s. -- loved the post

Brad said...

Thanks for these thoughts. Very intriguing and challenging.