Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Snark vs spirit

About three or four years ago, I decided to do a year-long study of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.  There are three things to say about this project: first of all, I was doing it because I really never got the whole "Holy Spirit" part of the Trinity.  It seemed to me that people in church talk about the Holy Spirt in the same way as your brother-in-law talks about some person named "Sam", like you're supposed to know who "Sam" is, and you're not sure whether "Sam" is your brother-in-law's parent (father? mother?), or ex-spouse, or childhood friend, or what---but your brother-in-law keeps talking about this Sam and you're just too embarrassed to ask, "er . . . remind me who Sam is, again?" and you keep pretending that you know and hoping somehow you'll figure it out from context.  Well, context about the Holy Spirit kept being confusing.  So I decided I'd skim through the New Testament and just stop and pause whenever the Holy Spirit walks into the scene, and pay attention to those parts.

The second thing to say is that my year-long study ended up taking me a bunch of years -- not because I'm super deep or particularly thorough, but just because I wasn't all that consistent about doing my reading on a regular basis.  But at least I did all my reading eventually, and I did take lots of "notes to self" as I did so.

And the third thing to say is that this study has made me really, really think about my life and about my relationship with other people in a different way.  I'm still reeling a bit from it all, trying to incorporate what I learned from this project.

Here are the four things that I learned that surprised me (the last three are the things that most affect me, but the first one is sort of interesting, too).

1.  We keep talking about Jesus being the son of God, but that's not how the birth is described:  he was "conceived by the Holy Spirit".  There was basically this leap-frog thing happening, where the Holy Spirit brought Jesus down to Earth, and then the old H.S. followed him and alit on his shoulders like a dove.  God the Father (as a Father figure) happens later in the story.  Not sure what to make of that, but it was a curious look at theology -- or maybe theo-biology -- for me.

2.  More immediate to the way I live my own life, the appearance of the Holy Spirit is almost always marked by praise.  The "speaking" theme is a big deal here.  When visited by, or full of, the Spirit, people like Simeon the priest, Mary the virgin, and even God Himself just burst into laudatory homage.  This makes me want to talk about my friends differently.  Seriously.  I've started trying to introduce people I know and love to each other using a variation on these words:
This is my beloved son, in whom I take great delight.
This is my dear friend, who I love hanging out with.  This is my brilliant colleague, who I always turn to for advice.  This is my amazing dentist, who I trust with my very mouth.  Just trying to speak about people around me through this template (This  person has a valued relationship to me, and makes me happy in thus-and-such-a-way) has changed my life and my relationships for the better.

3.  In contrast to this, snarky comments seem to be more dangerous and virulent than I had consciously thought about before.  For example, there's this spot in Mark 3 where Jesus heals some dude on the sabbath, and the Pharisees go all troll on him, muttering that his healings and miracles must be the work of Satan.  Jesus responds in this odd way:  "Truly I tell you: every sin and slander can be forgiven, but he who slanders the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin."  Now, it's not like I'm a theological expert, but this passage really made me think hard about my own tendency to snark on others, especially on other people I don't know very well personally. Confronting other people, yes. Calling out injustice, yes.  But I've tried really hard since then not slide down the slippery slope to mockery.

Not snarking is hard.  Really hard.  I fail pretty miserably at the absence of snark, several times a day.  But I feel worse about the snark when I do it, so maybe I do it less than I used to?  Erm?

4.  Finally, the verse that seems to keep rattling around in my head and has started taking over parts of my life is this, toward the end of the fourth book (John 20:22-23).
22 And with that he [Jesus] breathed on them [his disciples] and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
There's more to this passage. But it's significant partly because these are close to being the last words Jesus says before he heads away to join his Dad, and also because of the odd puzzle it presents. If we think of this as advice to all of his followers (and not just to his A-team of disciples), it's just bizarre to think that the Bible is trying to say that God has handed the keys, title, and registration of the Forgiveness Ferrari to his teenager children drivers, who haven't really even gotten their learner's permit yet, much less auto insurance or gas money. And yet the words persist: If you forgive anyone's sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

All I can make of the verse is this. We're commanded to feed the hungry, but we do so with food that God provides. We're commanded to give drink to the thirsty, and we do so with water that God provides. And so maybe somehow we are also the instruments that provide forgiveness to the ones who need it most, but we do so with the mercy God has given us for this purpose. This, this is an awesome responsibility.

I can't think about my interactions with people in the same way anymore. I even look at the Lord's prayer differently now. There's this part of the prayer that says, "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." What bigger temptation is there, than to avoid forgiving others? All of a sudden, having those two sentences in that order takes on new meaning for me.

So, now that I've done this study and tried to use it to think about my own actions, I've become perfect. (There goes the snark again, see? But at least here I'm mocking myself, and I figure that's acceptable). I guess all I can really say is the third point I described above about this project. And that is, that this study has made me really, really think about my life and about my relationship with other people in a different way. I'm still reeling a bit from it all.

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