Shekinah Glory

The Spirit’s Language

Clifford was a real Cajun. Every time that he entered the church he would stick his head into my secretary’s desk and say something in French. Then he would round the corner to pour himself a cup of coffee with chicory that was eternally brewing in our kitchen. Last, he would stick his head into my office and say in a thick accent, “How ya been, boo?”

Clifford lived on a house on the snaking Bayou Teche. The reason that he had chosen this land was so that he would have a place to dock his shrimp boat. Inside two stand-up freezers Clifford had a years worth of food. Wild ducks, shrimp, and redfish were the standard ingredients for any meal in his household and they filled both of these two large freezers. This is the way he had lived for over 70 years and he couldn’t see living any other way. You could tell that Clifford had earned the fear that accompanied him in our leadership meetings. He was a powerful looking man whom didn’t suffer fools.

Janice was very concerned with her status in the New Iberia society. As a retired schoolteacher she corrected everyone’s pronunciations. Her talk was of the proper social circles and how things should be done. She had moved to New Iberia from Ohio and had used her education to become an English teacher in the public school. Janice was the person you went to when you wanted to know what color the shades should be and what silverware was acceptable for dinner. She also let us know if she thought our church was doing something that they shouldn’t. In her mid-70’s she was still a formidable gatekeeper on what should and should not be happening in our church.

Both of these people were on the church’s decision-making body. I had noticed on occasion that they argued back and forth about certain issues. In all of their arguments it was obvious that there was something deeper, some old history of hatred that ran between them. I attributed it to a personality difference. That was of course a much oversimplification of their relationship as I found out in the battle over the olive tree in the courtyard. It began simply in one of our leadership meetings. I was running through the evening’s agenda when we moved to the most thorny part of any church meeting, new business. I asked if anyone had any new business that they needed to bring up and Janice raised her hand.

“I think that we need to cut down the tree in the courtyard. It is a nuisance. The roots from it are effecting the foundation of the church. It has to go.” She said and every word seemed like a lecture.

In the moment it took to blink Clifford slammed his fist down on the table with such force that everyone’s head jerked in his direction, and he proclaimed, “You will cut down that tree over my dead body!” Then he related the most fantastic stories about that tree. How it had been brought from Israel, that it gave off the most wonderful smell in the world and that his children used to hang from its branches.

Looking at the tree in the courtyard I knew that both stories were subject to some embellishment, and that this was an issue that didn’t just originate that night. So, I did what any good Presbyterian minister would do, I set up an ad hoc committee to make the decision. Their decision was to keep the tree, that it was not effecting the foundation and that we didn’t want to lose Clifford as a member.

Janice was furious. In private she told me that maybe she would leave the church, but I knew that she wouldn’t. She was mad, but over the next few weeks I quit hearing about this controversy. Silly little me thought that it was over.

Then one Saturday workers came to fix the roof. I let them and Janice’s husband into the courtyard to work. When I arrived the next day for worship I gazed into the courtyard with horror. The small olive tree was mutilated. Large branches had been hacked out of its center and what was left was a pathetic shell of a tree. In a matter of fact tone Janice explained that the roofers said that it must be cut back to protect the roof. I looked at the tree, imagining how it could have posed a dire threat to our roof, and I braced myself for Clifford.

Mysteriously Clifford was not as angry as I thought, just deeply wounded and sad. The loss that he displayed was something that drooped his shoulders and softened his speech. Taking me aside he promised me that it would take more than a cut down tree for Janice to get rid of him, and cryptically he said, “this will not be the end.” Sadly, I knew that he was right.

In my treating the Olive tree as a young minister I naively thought that this drama was only about a tree. I thought that if we used the democratic process we could solve the issue at hand, but the issue ran far deeper than trees. It interwove culture, history and language. You see Clifford was an old Cajun. He had lived through the attempt by outsiders to eradicate his French Acadian culture and force the population to abandon its 17th century French language. After hundreds of years of peaceful living in South Louisiana the Cajuns found themselves forced to learn English and abandon their rich traditions by new members to their communities in the name of assimilation. Who were the main enforcers of this radical change? It was the public school system. Teachers like Janice were charged with Americanizing this proud and hard headed bunch. Even though most of the Cajuns eventually learned English, they still hold fiercely to their traditions. At the roots of this fight over a tree was a deeper fight over culture, tradition and language, one that would not be resolved by the cutting down of a tree.

Language is deeply enmeshed in the way that we view our world. It would be hard to understand how to process our surroundings without idioms and the particularities. Language makes up the shades of our comprehension. It is a particularly local experience, as well as, a universal experience. We all have particular languages to help explain our common experiences.

In this act of Pentecost we find our hope in turning back the confusion and chaos that accompanies the diversity of cultures, classes and languages. In that brief moment many languages were spoken, but it was in the same Spirit. What was heard that day was the Spirit working about a miraculous linguistic feat. Words were said and understood in the language of a diversity of humans.

Our Pentecost hope is that our language barriers will be crossed with the Spirit’s help. It is a Pentecost desire that years of fighting amongst those in our own faith communities might be replaced with the language of love. That a message of hope might be translated to the immigrant crossing dangerous borders, the refugee might hear salvation while fleeing persecution, that the Jewish settler might hear the cry of the Palestinian, the terrorist might hear the innocents cry, that there might be peace spoken amongst Sunni and Shias, that the disenfranchised living in our midst might be heard in a language that is clear to us. The Pentecost message is of unity, hope and eventually salvation. It is a salvation that that will propel us to stop war, famine and abuse and force us to love the unlovable, because that love is a Spirit’s language.


10 Comments so far
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Good post. Mostly over my IQ, but I think I understood it at a above-Bush level. Your optimism is evident in your view of the world and events between humans. I used to be optimistic. I used to believe social justice was simply a matter of time. I used to believe the Word of the Spirit would be so overwhelming in every language everyone would see.

Today? Not so much.

Is my lack of faith founded? I never used to think so when old me used to encounter people like the current me. They called themselves practical and realistic. I called them cynical.

I feel like the father with the epileptic son: I have seen it not work so many times I have trouble believing it will work. And my son still falls into the fire.

Lord I believe; help my unbelief.

Comment by WhoreChurch

Thanks for the honesty. I have spent most of my life being the most nasty pessimistic person that I know. Yet, the hope contained in the message of Pentecost for me is infectious. My fear is that too often I come across as naively positive, when nothing could be further from the truth. Your prayer is also mine. I think that anyone with an ounce of honesty about our political, environmental, spiritual and social conditions needs that prayer.

Comment by pastorofdisaster


Honesty? I guess. Are you implying I am normally dishonest in the things I write? Hmmmm…

Judge not lest ye be right.

Today is a day I feel like giving up. That’s not a cry for help, more of an explanation. Some of my health problems reared their rear this week and I haven’t felt like working in two months or so. Sigh.

It’s not the dog in the fight, it’s the fight in the Pope. Today I don’t have much fight. I know this will pass, but getting kicked out AGAIN by ANTOHER Christian forum gets old after a while. I may have deserved it. Beats me. When the stupidity gets deafening it’s hard not to cover your ears, scream and go all Jack the Ripper on their asses. Um, I meant go all Jehu on their asses.

I will say that I do know this too shall pass–just pull my finger.

Sometimes the stupidity and/or ignorance of the professed followers of the Christ seems a tsunami of sewage. When my patience is thin, when my energy level is low, when Scotty can’t give me more pw’er cap’n–the engines won’t ‘old it, I don’t write out the inner rebuttal burning in my Jeremiah like heart.

So I sit, stew in my own juices and pray that somehow I can finally find a place in the Kingdom–either now or later. Some days I enjoy the fruit of the spirit–primarily Jim Beam–to numb the reality that is the church. Or my heart. Or both.

Comment by WhoreChurch

Sorry about the health issues. I had noticed that you seemed a bit drained in the comments I have read the last few days. I hope that it turns around soon.

One of my best friends from seminary told me: “Brian, you know why I wanted to be your friend? When you started seminary you sat in the shadows listening to your walkman all the time. So, one time I came up to you and ask you why you weren’t being more social. You said ‘I don’t really like Christians very much.’ That is when I knew I wanted to get to know you.”

Sometimes I still don’t like Christians very much.

I just came back from a Chinese 8 course dinner. The dinner was in celebration of the Golden Gate Bridge. I find it somewhat strange the things that we gather to celebrate here in the D.C. region.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Sometimes I don’t like Christians very much either.

Did you witness to the Chinese people at the restaurant? I used to be a missionary in Hong Kong. The only problem was once you shared your faith with a Chinese person, an hour later you felt like you needed to do it again.

Comment by WhoreChurch

Evening Brian!

Happy Memorial Day to you and your family!

Wonderful story!

Wow…what a “feel” provoking post.

I LIKE that!

When you started to talk about “language” and “communication”…I felt the word LOVE.

And then as I got down towards the end of this post….you DID infact mention the word!

And that’s it!

Love communicates on it’s own…without any need to actually speak.

Your right…”spirit” speaks it!

I have discovered something very valuable in the work that I do as a reflexologist.

The LESS I speak….the more GRACE the client seems to receive.

The times that I thought that I DID NOT help the client….THIS was when they received the most help!

Speaking I have found….gets in the way of “spirit”….so now…I just shut up!

Thank you my friend, for once again giving me a great deal to walk away with here.

Be well,

Comment by ron

You always have such well thought out comments Ron. I really appreciate them.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Hi, Preacher 🙂

Your post is awesome and, as I read it, I heard these words in my heart, “Make EVERY effort to keep the Unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

And I am reminded that Jesus is called the Prince of PEACE…not the Prince of Love, for whatever reason…Not the Prince of Healing…although I believe He personifies all of those things…

But the Prince of Peace.

On the day He was born it is reported that the angels declared, “PEACE” on Earth.

Pastor….how will Believers ever be able to gather together in Unity and in Love, unless there is Peace? And how will the world ever see Jesus – when those that proclaim to know Him are more interested in defending their positions on theology – rather than, say – feeding the children or comforting the grieving?

I (sometimes) believe that Peace must come first to the heart of a wo/man before Love is allowed in.

,,,,could be wrong, too. LOL

Comment by Grace


I think that you are on to something. Love has become such a saturated term that maybe it must be informed by other concepts like peace or mercy.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Hey Brian–
I love this post…of all things–an Olive tree! Speaks to a favorite Sutra of mine–
“Things are not as they appear, nor are they otherwise.”
Peace, Sandy

Comment by myinneredge

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