What Confucianism and Pentecostalism Have in Common
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Dogma, well at least its noted absence, has made its way into two of our recent shows. And it is non-dogma itself that binds two very disparate belief systems. Astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees avoids it, “I am not a person who adheres to any religious dogma.” And so did flamboyant preacher Aimee Semple McPherson as she embraced Pentecostalism, a non-dogmatic and fast-growing denomination of Christianity.
Though himself atheist, Martin Rees notes, “I can see a closer affinity with Confucianism and systems of thought like that.”
Confucianism is seeing a cultural revival in China with schools opening up to full capacity. A 31-foot statue of the ancient philosopher was unveiled a few months ago near Tiananmen Square in China’s capital, and then mysteriously disappeared. Confucian teachings were banned by Chairman Mao during the Cultural Revolution.
Pentecostals, attracting new followers in huge numbers globally, have also met resistance. At least one theological seminary has banned their own from “speaking in tongues” which demonstrates a direct experience of God as a gift of the Spirit.
These are two differing systems of belief from the other sides of the world. Both without dogma, but still with their own doctrine and staying power.
Acting on a Dream
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
There is much to cherish in the latest contribution to the The New York Times’ Modern Love column. And, even as I’m writing this, I’m struggling to commit to a single idea or quote from Kim Barnes’ “That Delicate Membrane, the Heart.”
“At the end of our four-hour conversation, he said, ‘Do I want you to publish this book? No, I don’t. Do I think that you should? Yes, I do.’ It was an incredible gift, a moment of grace I had not foreseen.”
At first glance, these two sentences are the sweet hook — gripping and intimate, paradoxical and human. You see, I gravitate toward deeply flawed characters who are difficult and unwieldy. Characters who are hard to like, impenetrable, with a complexity and depth that surfaces in rare moments of redemption.
But, it’s the following passage about Barnes’ father that reminded me of our mission here, that life-altering moments are often informed through faith and a conviction and willingness to submit to that faith. The lesson and true empathy can be learned in the lead-up to these revealing moments:
“We were living in the woods he loved, in the small, isolated community where he worked as a logger and where our family was deeply involved in Pentecostal fundamentalism. As surely as we believed in God and his Heavenly Host, we believed in Lucifer and his legion.
It was during a time of conflict in the congregation that my father was awakened one night by the suddenly cooling air. What he saw in the doorway, he later claimed, was a demon: darkly cloaked, green eyes gleaming, filling the room with its stench.
It was my father’s violent trembling that woke my mother, his quest for enlightenment that led him to lock himself in our makeshift tool shed, fasting and praying, until he heard the voice of God telling him we must leave the woods and never return. And so we did.”
Her father’s decision to move, based on a dream, lays the groundwork for all the events to come and the development of their relationship.
This narrative reminds me of a conversation Krista had with Mel Robeck in a hotel room in downtown Los Angeles a few years ago. He’s a practicing Pentecostal and church historian who told his own version of a vision that came to him in the night:
Prof. Robeck: Well, at that particular time, I had been elected president of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. It was in 1982. And I was really struggling with what to talk about. I was concerned about a particular split between an older group and a younger group of scholars and how they didn’t value one another. And I had been praying and asking God, “Please help me to give a word that will bring some sense of healing in this rift within the society.” And, you know, I was awakened in the middle of the night with Jesus standing at the end of my bed saying to me, “Mel, I want you to talk about ecumenism.” And I said, you know, “Lord, I …
Ms. Tippett: Which is reaching out to other churches.
Prof. Robeck: Yeah. I don’t know anything about this and how is this relevant? You know, I went back to sleep. And He woke me up again with the same words on the same night, saying, “I want you to speak about ecumenism.” And I said, “Lord, you know what our bylaws say. Here I am in the Assemblies of God, and I’m going to get in trouble if I do what You’re asking me to do.” And I went back to sleep. And He woke me up a third time with the same words. And I finally thought, you know what? Here I call myself a minister of the gospel, and if Jesus is asking me to do something, I’d better do it. I mean, this is what I’m supposed to do, huh? And so I said, “Yes.” And I went back to sleep.
I witnessed this exchange in the hotel room and remembering feeling slightly uncomfortable. Why? Mostly my own failings. Being trained to distrust unverifiable narratives like this with supernatural elements, dismiss them as crazy talk.
But we had an editorial discussion about including this story, a deliberation that has had a tremendous impact on me as a professional journalist and a caring being. In this context, it doesn’t matter whether I can verify his story or whether I even believe it to be true. What matters is that Mel Robeck had this experience. Karen Barnes’ father had his experience. And their unique visions were catalysts that prompted them to act, to move forward in a new direction.
These men acted on their instincts and a willingness to step into the breach of the unknown. They set aside a life of certainty and proceeded without a road map, without the knowledge that things would get better, but with hope that circumstances would change. Those are traits I can admire.
(illustration: Christopher Silas Neal/NYT)
SoundSeen: Singing in Her Native Language
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
I’ve been logging hours and hours of video from our 2006 production trip to L.A. for the Azusa Street Centennial. There’s so much good footage from the parade and interviews that I have to produce some type of short and give you flavor of what we experienced during that week in April.
Many times, we get into the very American “more is more” approach to collecting sound and visuals for radio and online production. So, in a last-minute decision, Colleen and I bolted with a video camera and a microphone to set up inside the convention center. I’m glad we did.
The international appeal of Pentecostalism was undeniable — people from Burkina Faso, the Philippines, Nigeria, and India, to name a few. But, it was this woman and her husband from Zimbabwe that returned the same smile I had two years ago. Near the end of the interview, she was sweet enough to sing us a tune in her native language, which she would lead her parishioners in during worship services.
We bid each other farewell, and several minutes later she returned wanting to share one more song. How could we say no?
Pentecostals Have a Home in Both Parties
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
With all the press that Sarah Palin is getting over statements she made at her former Pentecostal church in Wasilla, I failed to notice that the Democratic Party has its own influential leader in Rev. Leah Daughtry (watch a video report with her preaching), a Pentecostal minister from Brooklyn who was the CEO of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Of course, Krista knew.
We’re continually trying to find new relevancy for programs we felt didn’t get the attention or garner the audience that perhaps they deserved. We did so more than a month ago when Rick Warren triumphantly convinced Obama and McCain to appear jointly on stage in his church — before the nominating conventions. News pegs really do matter, and we wanted to contribute to people’s understanding of this mega-church pastor and his impact on the Evangelical community and politics as well. So, we made a decision to preempt our scheduled programming to rebroadcast Krista’s interview with Rick and Kay Warren, which was conducted in their personal offices at Saddleback Church. The results were tremendous and we were proud to serve you in our distinct way.
The same can be said of this week’s program. We wanted to help you understand the importance of this burgeoning religious tradition of Pentecostalism. Not only did we want to point out that influential Pentecostals are involved in the highest levels of Democratic and Republican Party leadership, we wanted to give you a better understanding of Pentecostalism at its lived center.
Two years ago, we covered the centennial celebration of Pentecostalism, returning to its foundational roots on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Krista spoke to the foremost authority on Pentecostalism’s history and significance, Mel Robeck; she spoke at length with a Latina scholar who brings a fresh set of eyes to the tradition, Arlene Sanchez-Walsh. Both practice the faith they study: Robeck descended from parents who were both ministers with the Assemblies of God — Sarah Palin’s former denomination — while Sanchez-Walsh’s story of leaving the Catholic Church and finding a more charismatic tradition in a small church echoes the experience of many Latinos in the U.S. and in their native countries.
Experiencing Pentecostal worship and approaches to life was somewhat of a shocker for a boy raised in a pretty stiff and reserved Roman Catholic Church in central North Dakota. But, after talking to so many Pentecostals from around the world who told such touching, personal testimonies of how the Spirit changed them and “saved” them, I could no longer be so skeptical, so cynical. Pure authenticity. Now when I pass by that Assemblies of God church on Summit Avenue, I don’t just see a standing-seam metal roof but think of the charismatic worship going on inside and the ecstatic forms of expression and lives being lived more fully, even if I’ll never belong. Maybe this program will help your understanding too.
(photo: Alessandra Petlin for The New York Times)
What Is the Master’s Commission?
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
This video of Gov. Palin speaking at her former Pentecostal church in Wasilla, Alaska has sparked a healthy number of news stories from major media outlets such as The New York Times and National Public Radio, not to mention in the blogosphere.
Despite all the quotes being pulled and examined, I was unfamiliar with the phrase “Master’s Commission” she uses to address a group of students at the service. The Website for the Master’s Commission in Wasilla states:
From watching their promotional videos and reading some other literature, Master’s Commission programs across the U.S. have some variation when it comes to curriculum and schedule, but these full-immersion ministry programs train young men and women (generally 18-25 years old) by emphasizing the memorization of Scripture, prophesying, community service, and spreading God’s word and converting people to be followers of Jesus Christ.
“Master’s Commission Wasilla Alaska will give you a creative opportunity to set yourself aside for 9 months by becoming a 24/7 ministry student, where you will be launched on a journey To Know God And To Make Him Known. This Foundation will carry you for the rest of your life regardless of where you go in God.During your time at MC:WA you will be trained and matured in the prophetic gifts, prayer and intercession. You will experience worship possibly like you never have before. You will be involved in evangelism in many different forms from illustrated sermons to one on one street ministry.”
The ministry program in Wasilla sees the state of Alaska as a land of “divine destiny” and a center for a new great awakening and outpouring of the Holy Spirit in which the state motto (“North to the Future”) is a prophetic indicator:
“Alaska is a mission field within itself, it has over 200 distinct people groups and most can only be reached by air. Flying only a few hours out of Wasilla is like flying to another country just because of the great cultural differences within the different parts of our state.”I’m curious to know more about these types of ministry programs and their impact. I’d love to hear better detail and some personal experiences. Help?
Travel Guide Omission
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer
While on vacation here in Oaxaca I was paging through a Lonely Planet guide on Mexico, trying to see about religious services and what the opportunities are for travelers. I was specifically interested in attending a Pentecostal service as it is the fastest growing denomination in Latin America, and I wanted to see how a service might be different from one in the U.S.
Aside from some general stats in the front of the book, there was nothing more than a museum-style treatment of old cathedrals, e.g. here is where you go to see this colonial-era cathedral, etc. Interesting that the editors would not think that travelers would want information of religious services, though, somebody (probably Zondervan) has that info covered in another guide. If not, there’s an opportunity there, I think.
When I have more time later, I will tell you the story of how our server at dinner last night just so happen to be studying to be a Pentecostal pastor, and he is planning to take us to his church on Sunday. What luck!
Off to sample the chocolate district of Oaxaca.