Last Sunday (Pentecost Sunday) we moved on from our "Embody" series to, "Spirit-Led." With this series, we begin a conversation on the Holy Spirit and what it means to be a Spirit-led community of faith. I believe central to making way for the transformative movement of the Holy Spirit involves a serious redressing of traditional templates of authority/power in the Church. Letty Russell in her book Household of Freedom develops her ongoing metaphor of “household ” to lay out pathways for liberating communities from long-standing floor-plans of hierarchy and patriarchy in the Church.
Letty Russell offers a refreshing and progressive vision for building up households of freedom by way of 1) relocating the foundation of authority on relational partnerships and 2) subverting the structures of patriarchal domination from the inside out. If traditional paradigms of authority in the Church were represented by the metaphor of a living room and the arrangement of its furniture, then the paradigms of patriarchal domination would be a room with chairs arranged in rows, all facing front and center. There would be one lone seat placed at the focal point and facing back at all the other chairs. In this scenario, the individual in the lone seat would be the center of attention—all people would be looking at this central figure. In a paradigm of partnership, however, all the chairs would be in, what Russell previously coined, an “open circle” (88). All people seated in the group would now be looking at each person in the group face-to-face and speaking from an equal positional location. This configuration would provide more opportunity for the wealth of knowledge and diversity of gifts to flow from many different points.
What Letty Russell is saying to the people and leaders of the church is: “Hey, let’s start moving these chairs!” The act of moving chairs, then, represents the process of subverting structures. Russell proposes that building up the household can and will occur in the midst of structures that are paternalistic and hierarchical. To be bi-cultural is “to live in the present setting but to be constantly living out of an alternative future reality." To be subversively bi-cultural, then, means to get to the living room with a vision for an alternative seating arrangement, and to start moving furniture even against opposition. One practical strategy Russell offers for this room redesign is through practicing “role exchange” which involves those in authority taking on “subordinate tasks” as a rotational discipline.
This Sunday we will be looking at the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 and examine it in parallel to Pentecost in Acts 2. What does it mean that God's leveling of the tower, a symbol of human monolithic power, involves the scattering of cultures and languages in Genesis 11? At Pentecost, the "scattered" are brought together and empowered through the endowment of the Holy Spirit. The Church "Spirit-led" then is a diverse and egalitarian community where the many gifts and voices of the ethnos are brought together in unity, marveling at the Wonders of God.