My Theology professor, in preparation for our lesson on the Spirit, had us read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
I could not understand why. The book tells of the arrival of
Christian Missionaries in Nigeria, and their interaction with an Ibo
tribe. It is not a happy story, and on first read, it seemed to have
nothing to do with the Spirit. The subjugation of blacks to armed
white power seems to be the opposite of Pentecost–the day on which
Christians observe the coming of the Spirit, an event marked by
cross-cultural understanding, and many people coming together.
Of course, I did not see the Spirit in my first read of this book,
because I was looking in the wrong places. I saw that the missionaries
caused harm, and assumed that the Spirit was not at work. Christian
theology, however, teaches that God’s spirit moves in people before
people are aware of it. And clearly, though there were problems,
there was a spirit of love, and of justice moving in the Ibo people.
But there was also human sacrifice and a fear of twins (which led to
their abandonment). And though the coming of Christians was bad for
many Ibo, it did give a community to the twins and other outcasts of
The conclusion I reached from Things Fall Apart is the same one
that can be seen here in Buffalo. The Spirit does not always move in
expected ways. Jesus said that it is like wind–it blows where it
Because of this, institutional Christianity (an oxymoron if there ever was one) has less to say about the Spirit.
What difference does this make to the non-Christian readers of Buffalo
Rising? Even if you do not believe in the Holy Spirit, scripture tells
us that the Spirit moves through people when they don’t believe.
Christians should not dismiss your statements just because you don’t
belong to a church–in fact, we have to hold open the possibility that
God may be speaking through you.
Personally, I’ve been learning a lot about how to build a just
community (which is supposed to be a specialty of the church) from
“secular” groups like the Elmwood Village Association, PUSH, Green
Options, and Buffalo ReUse. I came to Buffalo, like a missionary,
thinking I had something to share. Instead, I am learning how a church
should be from the “non-churchy.”
This Sunday, a church near you is likely celebrating Pentecost (mine
is: 10am at the corner of Lafayette and Elmwood). No doubt, in most
churches, you will likely still see some problems (although hopefully
nothing as bad as the Missionaries in Nigeria), but you may also
discover a community that provides a home for those the rest of the
world rejects. While you are there, God’s Spirit might speak to you,
but it as least as likely (maybe necessary) that God’s Spirit may speak
through you, to us.