Yesterday, I walked from meeting to meeting. I had lunch with a Pentecostal minister; confided with a United Methodist pastor; participated in a planning meeting with a Baptist, a Jew, and a Buddhist; and completed the day conversing with a Roman Catholic layman. It seemed right, this visiting with such a diverse group of folks. My meetings were a “getting ready”… ready to move, to be led by the Spirit to new places of discovery.
Today we have arrived at the eve of Whitsunday (Pentecost Sunday), a celebration Christians call a moveable feast. (Whitsunday is celebrated on the seventh Sunday following Easter. Since the date of Easter changes from year to year so does the date of Whitsunday.) I consider Pentecost a moveable feast for another reason – it is our call to new places, new understanding, new language. Whitsun Walks occur in communities across the world, especially in Europe. These walks, or parades, traditionally take place on almost any day in the week following Whitsunday — but Friday is a favorite. The Whitsun Walks typically end with a community-wide party. You see, Whitsuntide festival is a time of new beginnings — marriages are often are scheduled, crops are typically in the ground and graduation ceremonies abound. Folks are in motion.
Across Europe there are still vestiges of these Whitsun Walks in Italian, British and German towns. Sadly, as commercialism, and its inevitable secular shadow, reach across these cultures, Whitsun Walks have diminished and in many places have disappeared. In Great Britain, such festivities have largely been replaced by a fixed day, appropriately and ironically known as Bank Holiday, which is set on the last Monday in May.
Might we reclaim the week ahead (and the year ahead) as a time of Whitsun Walks? Our world needs to remember the gifts of the Spirit set in motion at Pentecost. We need a time to look around, all around, and see the gifts in the smiles of friends, to laugh, to hear the aria of the nightingale and thrush at dusk, to revel in the rich tapestry of music, language, art and to grow with the insights from multiple spiritual sources.
It was heart-breaking this past week, the week before Pentecost, to see the images in the Holy Land. The celebration of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem this week is a picture that is the very opposite, a reverse image, of the stories we read of the first Pentecost. This week, folks of wealth and privilege gathered to congratulate one another on the opening of the new embassy in Jerusalem. Only a few miles away, others who differ in culture, physical appearance and faith commitments were protesting. There were more than fifty deaths and hundreds of injuries while the elites in power were giving one another high-fives.
Both groups — those protesting in Gaza and those celebrating in Jerusalem are imprisoned. Those in Gaza are trapped by unemployment and horrible living conditions. They are trapped by a history many of their leaders helped create over decades of failed negotiations, broken promises and the heartless oppression from Israeli practices. They are trapped by an inability to move past the physical and ideological fences and barriers that prevent migration to a place of greater security and opportunity.
Those who were celebrating the new embassy are trapped by arrogance and bigotry, horrible theologies and a foolish trust in economic and military power. Some of this bigotry not only condemns all others to hell, now and in the future, but serves to daily undercut, ever more deeply, the prospect for a lasting peace. This trap has become a never-ending cycle of fear, violence and retaliation, followed by new fears.
Whereas the folks at the first Pentecost were able to communicate across divisions that separated peoples in the ancient world, the celebrants at the embassy opening seem to have lost any common language that speaks of hope, vision or the true source of human power.
It is amazing to see “Evangelical” pastors baptizing this embassy with their prayers and simultaneously condemning the rioters only a few miles away — persons they do not know. Do they not know, for example, that there are tens of thousands of the Christian Palestinians in the Holy Land and there are hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Christians in diaspora? (See Richard Mouw’s To My Fellow Evangelicals, Richard Mouw.)
So we pray for peace; but we must also walk. I do not oppose an embassy in Jerusalem — but at what price? The decades of promises of a two state solution, of Jerusalem also being an international city, a capital city for both Jews and Palestinians, may have been permanently erased as a possibility. We not only pray — we must walk — keep moving — keep learning from and about others.
If there was any movement in Jerusalem this week it was in the wrong direction. Tomorrow across the world, Christians will read from the second chapter of Acts, the story that recounts how persons from diverse backgrounds were drawn forward by the Spirit into a new community. These early followers of Jesus were known as People of the Way. Too many of us today have become People of the Fence, or People of my Same-Ole-Stuck Place.
It is a challenge for we humans, who have adapted to the power of fear, to act out of love for the stranger. The early Jesus followers certainly had reason to hide, to protect themselves, to cluster in ever smaller worlds of kinship. However, the hope of the Resurrection or the power loosed at Pentecost required risk. Even when there is not clear path ahead, we walk — by faith more than sight.