Voices, Voices Everywhere

May 31, 2020

Cate Thorn

The Day of Pentecost     Acts 2:1-21     John 20:19-23

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Holy Spirit poured out Pentecost Sunday, poured out on the faithful Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks. The tradition proclaims the disciples gathered were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in languages able to be understood by people from every nation under heaven. We, gathered now, are we also filled, empowered to speak in ways that can be understood by every nation under heaven? If so, what are we doing with this gift? Taking the good news, being witnesses to the ends of the earth, proclaiming a new way of living and being, made real, for this Spirit’s poured out on all flesh? Are we to stay revelling and comforted in the echo chamber of our own rhetoric? Or are we called and compelled to go from here, from ourselves, into the world, for the world, not for us to make the world like us, in our image, according to our liking?

 

For us to do this, to go into the world, we need to know the world into which we go. To see and recognise the world as it is. Be willing to stay with the way the world is, even if we’re not sure we like what we see, even if we’re not sure we can bear to hear the way it is. If we can do this, we give ourselves chance to discern the spirit of our world. We give ourselves chance to discern how we participate and contribute to this spirit and to choose other-wise. After all, it’s a part of us, as much as we’re a part of it. As we pay attention to our intention we become more able to listen, more willing to learn, to grow to understand how the good news we say we bear is good news for those we go amongst. Did not Jesus name the spirit to come the Advocate? The Spirit that pours forth at Pentecost is expressed in every unique language, welling up from the heart it desires to flourish.

 

How are we to gain knowledge of our world? The lock down time gave us many things. It gave us time to attend to our intention – to reorganise, reorder and reflect, to notice what’s important. I read a bit in that time, I listened to voices in and beyond the usual disciplines I explore. With the Covid-19 pandemic centre stage, many of these voices talked to or around the effect of the virus. I was interested in what I heard. Interested to learn at least a bit about the way things are in the world. Disconcerted at times I’ll admit but, heeding my own advice, I tried to stay with what I heard, to discern the spirit in and of our times. I want to share with you some of the voices I heard. As you listen I invite you to keep in mind the challenge before us – what does the good news we bear look like in our time, as Spirit sent people into the world what does an Advocate of good news look like?

 

First the voice of a journalist “The developed world’s response to the pandemic is imperilling health systems, economies and livelihoods already on the edge. … For many of the most vulnerable, the developed world’s cures are proving worse than the disease. At the extreme, families must choose between going hungry and getting ill. And their plight is exacerbated by Covid-style “underlying conditions” – chronic, pre-existing political, security, economic, and climate problems that grow ever more unsustainable. The pandemic is providing cover for malign governments to pursue or accelerate policies that place lives at risk, regardless of Covid-19. Right now, western responses to the virus are imperilling more people worldwide than the virus itself. [1]

 

From a young Pasifika leader: COVID-19 didn’t create inequity. It exposed it. “our decile 2 sch opened today. spent it watching ppl swap leavers notices for CV’s cuz money is low & mouths gotta eat. remembered every joke bout high school dropouts from the mouth of higher decile school kids that didn’t work a day of lockdown. it’s ironic. watched our teachers try their best with what they have while richer schools have unused resources locked away in unused labs. it’s ironic. when lvl 3 came, watched my friends bury their youth in every graveyard shift. day after day they were told they were essential but those chromebooks never came so i guess they were at the bottom of the waiting list. it's ironic. how ppl say “South Auckland broke the lockdown rules the most” when we ask to unarm the police. as if walking outside my house is reason enough to be shot in the street. it’s ironic. how we didn’t break the rules, our mobility rates are so high cuz while u work from home on zoom, we have the most essential workers. packing ur shopping, driving the buses, cleaning ur classrooms. it’s ironic. how Pasifika have one of the lowest infection rates but were put at the most risk. it’s ironic. turned on the TV to hear our domestic violence rates rose, then 5 mins later heard NZQA won’t lower credits cuz the time we have is enough. like any kid wants to write essays when they have to deal with being beat up. it’s ironic. they want us to earn credits but they never give us ours when it's due. it’s ironic. poorer brown kids living the life of the hard knocks, while white girls from Epsom are making racist tiktoks. it’s ironic. & no matter how hard i keep my head in these books, i’m reminded there are things only the streets can teach you. if education is key, why do our locks keep changing? if knowledge is power, why does it come at a price we cant afford? every problem of society taught in class can be found in the hood. 𝔡𝔬𝔫𝔱 𝔫𝔢𝔢𝔡𝔞 𝔡𝔢𝔤𝔯𝔢𝔢 𝔣𝔬𝔯 𝔢𝔪𝔭𝔞𝔱𝔥𝔶. it's ironic. how NZ wants to rebuild, but it's on our backs.” @rascal.gal on Instagram. Shared with permission. [2]

 

I wonder what you’re hearing. I wonder on this first day back in church, Pentecost birthday celebration day whether you’re thinking I shouldn’t be so grim. Maybe you’re right. But I want to invite to reflect for a moment. The voices you’ve heard speak of our world as it is. We live in that world and we happen to be people of enormous privilege by compare. With privilege comes responsibility, there’s something biblical about that, covenant of blessing and responsibility. So we know a little more, what are we to do? Let’s listen some more.

 

Top scientists ask “Regarding the future, should we be depressed or excited? Optimistic or pessimistic? The best approach is to be realistic and pragmatic. It is inevitable that humans will continue to develop technologies, but … we have to put boundaries around them – even though … we will disagree over where the boundaries should be. We need processes that assist us to reach consensus on such matters. … This requires much more sophisticated dialogues than those concerned simply with short-term political expediency. We need to take one of those forms of ingenuity that evolution has given us … the ability to be self-reflective – and synthesize what we can from the multiple of disciplines of science and the humanities to understand out nature and apply our ingenuity wisely. [3]

 

A moral philosopher thinks: “the period we inhabit is a critical moment in the history of humanity. … The next century will be a dangerously precarious one. If we make the right decisions, he foresees a future of unimaginable flourishing. If we make the wrong ones, he maintains that we could well go the way of the dodo and the dinosaurs, exiting the planet for good.

Not a pessimist. He sees there are constructive measures to be taken. Humanity … is in its adolescence, and like a teenager that has the physical strength of an adult but lacks foresight and patience, we are a danger to ourselves until we mature. … In the meantime … slow the pace of technological development so as to allow our understanding of its implications to catch up and to build a more advanced moral appreciation of our plight.

It’s vital that, if humanity is to survive, we need a much larger frame of reference for what is right and good. At the moment we hugely undervalue the future, and have little moral grasp of how our actions may affect the thousands of generations that could – or alternatively, might not – come after us.

Our descendants … are in the position of colonised peoples: they’re politically disenfranchised, with no say in the decisions being made that will directly affect them or stop them from existing. Just because they can’t vote … doesn’t mean they can’t be represented.” [4]

 

Journalists, young leaders voice concern for the disenfranchised, the consequences of choices made. Scientists, philosopher’s advocate for mutuality and accountability, voice whether there’ll be a world to live in depends on the choices we make. Nary a religious word between them. It’s time to wake up. To heed the call to live beyond ourselves, beyond our niches and echo chambers, to take each other seriously. For those of us who find ourselves in religious places like this remember, we are Advocate/Spirit bearers. We go into the world in and with the Spirit - it asks certain things of us, demands certain things be made real. Let the eloquence of a Rabbi speak, “I am disinclined to pessimism. I prefer hope. Love your neighbour. Love the stranger. Hear the cry of the otherwise unheard. Liberate the poor from their poverty. Care for the dignity of all. Let those who have more than they need share their blessings with those who have less. Feed the hungry, house the homeless, and heal the sick in body and mind. Fight injustice, whoever it is done by and whoever it is done against. And do these things because, being human, we are bound by a covenant of human solidarity, whatever our colour or culture, class or creed.

 

These are moral principles, not economic or political ones. They have to do with conscience, not wealth or power. But without them, freedom will not survive. The free market and liberal democratic state together will not save liberty, because liberty can never be built by self-interest alone. I-based societies all eventually die. … Other-based societies survive. Morality is not an option. It’s an essential.” [5]

 

Could it be as simple and as difficult as that?

 

 

 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/03/while-the-west-fixates-on-covid-19-vulnerable-countries-pay-the-price?

 

[2] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12333389

 

[3] Gluckman, Peter and Hanson, Mark. Ingenious. The Unintended Consequences of Human Innovation Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019, 230

 

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/apr/26/what-if-covid-19-isnt-our-biggest-threat?CMP=share_btn_link

 

[5] Sacks, Jonathan. Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2020, x.

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