by Rick Derksen
Several years ago I read Eric Law’s book The Wolf Shall Dwell With the Lamb and was challenged by his power analysis of the Pentecost story in Acts 2. He points out that it was those without institutional and systemic power, those from the margins of first century Palestine like Peter, who received the gift of tongues and began to prophecy (or preach). Those with institutional and systemic power – the Jerusalem temple establishment as well as wealthy pilgrims from other parts of the Mediterranean world – received the gift of the ear and listened to what Peter and the apostles had to say.
In his address to the people of Jerusalem, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit…”
As Demetrius Williams points out in True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary, “The story of Pentecost indicates that the coming of the Holy Spirit represents a new order that is manifested as a leveling power that destroys privilege: the Spirit is poured upon ‘all flesh,’ sons and daughters, young and old, male and female servants.”
There is no doubt in my mind that at this time in the United States this same Spirit has been poured upon the thousands of youth of color who are speaking up and speaking out – speaking out against the violence and injustice of mass incarceration as modern-day slavery, police brutality, the ongoing detention and deportation of immigrants even while we take advantage of cheap immigrant labor, the continued violation of Native sovereignty, Native land, and Native families, xenophobia, homophobia, and the list goes on. Not only are these youth speaking out against injustice, but they are already re-shaping entire communities based on love and justice. I see it happening where I live here in Seattle, and I’m sure that you see it happening in your communities.
The challenge for white, middle-class Christians like myself is to listen, not just superficially, but to listen deeply, acknowledge our complicity in these systems and follow the leadership of movements like Black Lives Matter, the Dreamers, and so many others both nationally and locally, not by inserting ourselves where we don’t belong and taking over, but by organizing our own families, faith communities, neighborhoods, schools, places of work, and larger communities to recognize and support these movements of the Spirit among us.
Give us the clarity to recognize those daughters and sons upon whom the Spirit has been poured in our time and place, the wisdom to get out of the way when that is what we need to do, and the passion to support them in accountable and authentic ways. Amen.
Rick Derksen is a trainer with Roots of Justice and serves on the ROJ board. He’s an antiracism organizer with several Seattle-based activist groups including European Dissent, EPIC (Ending the Prison Industrial Complex), and the Seattle Race Conference committee. His identities include white, male, partner of 40 years, parent, grandparent, ordained Mennonite minister, and part of Madrona Grace Presbyterian Church.