I was thrilled to be a part of the Awakenings conference in Alexandria this year. It was perhaps the most unique, diverse, and spiritually-rich conference I have ever attended. I was delighted to have a chance to shake hands and talk face-to-face to a number of people I had previously only connected with online including fellow Missio writers Mandy Smith, Tara Beth Leach, and Rich Villodas, as well as many others.
The plenaries and workshops were filled with such great content. If Awakenings was in someway a snapshot of the future of evangelicalism in post-Christian North America, then I have hope for the mission of the church. I appreciate the gender, racial, and ecclesiastical diversity of those who lent their voice to our gathering. I was challenged by women and men, white scholars and black preachers, Pentecostals, Anabaptists, and Anglicans.If Awakenings was a snapshot of the future of evangelicalism, then I have hope. Click To Tweet
I left the conference committed to stay woke, with my head and heart filled to overflowing, but the single greatest Holy Spirit moment came late on Friday night, when N.T. (Tom) Wright led us in singing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind.”
A Holy Spirit Moment
It was Friday night, the second day of the conference. We had already heard from Greg Boyd, Tammy Dunahoo, and we were challenged by Charles Montgomery to “stay woke.” We had dialogued with one another in various workshops, ate dinner, and then listened to Greg Boyd and Tom Wright discuss the important implications regarding the cross and atonement. Then Wright slung a guitar strap around his neck, grabbed a pick, and sang a couple songs, including a couple of Dylan tunes, the most powerful being Dylan’s iconic “Blowin’ In The Wind.”
I was gushing with a strange mix of emotions when Wright first sang Dylan’s “When The Ship Comes In.” I am both a Dylan fan (I named my youngest son Dylan) and I’m a Tom Wright superfan. So when my favorite theologian was singing a song from my favorite singer/songwriter, it was an emotional convergence my heart could hardly contain.
And then he began singing “Blowin’ In The Wind.”
As it is a more familiar song, and because Wright backed up from the mic and motioned for us to join him, this song quickly turned from a performance to a congregational hymn. As we started singing the second verse, the weightiness of the moment hit me. I was singing “Blowin’ In The Wind,” an anthem of the civil rights movement, in Alfred Street Baptist Church, a historic black church, with 1,000 friends, and oh yeah, the most influential theologian of our age! It was magical. It was a true Holy Spirit moment.
How Many Deaths Will It Take Till He Knows
Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” is a spiritual song, a punchy little song bearing all the fingerprints of the spirit of prophecy. Yes you can argue that when Dylan wrote this song in 1962, he was not a believer (yet!). But one would find very shaken ground underfoot if an attempt was made to argue the song itself did share many of the characteristics of Hebrew prophecy. The line that jumped out at me was from the third verse:
Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry
Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The day before the conference I was in Washington D.C. walking through the National Mall for the first time. I had wanted to visit this historic site for sometime, not so much to see the Washington Monument or the temple erected for Abraham Lincoln. Rather I wanted to see the Vietnam Memorial wall. As the son of a decorated Vietnam veteran, I wanted to see that memorial. As I walked pass the World World II Memorial, I made my way along the pebble rock path to the black granite panels bearing the names of over 58,000 men and women who died during the Vietnam War.
As I approached the walI, I knew I could not read all the names, but I was determined to look at each of the 70 panels. I only made it halfway through when I had to stop and wipe tears from my eyes. I continued to ask myself, “Will we ever learn? How many more people have to die, before we will learn the ways of peace?” I found a bench near the statue of the three Vietnam soldiers. I prayed a brief prayer. And I called my dad.Will we ever learn? How many more people have to die, before we will learn the ways of peace? Click To Tweet
Fast forward two days later and I am gathered with saints at the Awakenings conference, singing “Blowin’ In The Wind.” In this act of singing we were praying as the prophetic winds of the Spirit blew through Alfred Street: How long oh Lord? How many times must the cannonballs fly before they are forever banned? How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free? How long do we ignore injustice? How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died? How long will a man turn his head and pretend that he just does not see?
Our Spirit-Empowered Mission
God the Holy Spirit has not abandoned the Church. The Spirit is still empowering the church with grace and life to live as the embodied presence of God in the world. The Spirit is still pouring the love of God into our hearts, forming us into people of love for the sake of the world. According to Wright, “The Holy Spirit is the living presence of the loving God,” a living presence lived out through us, empowering us for mission.The Spirit is empowering the church to live as the embodied presence of God in the world. Click To Tweet
We confess “Jesus is Lord” and we proclaim this good news in and for the world. This gospel of the crucified King is an announcement that the kingdom of God has been inaugurated on the earth. We live as servants and messengers of this kingdom challenging the power brokers of this age with the way, truth, and life of Jesus. We are called, among other things, to speak truth to power, as Wright reminded us, “Our spirit-driven mission includes naming and shaming the powers and holding them accountable.” We not only challenge the powers, but we demonstrate how to live justly and peaceably with one another.
When we confess “Jesus is Lord,” we believe this is a present reality. Jesus is currently ruling the earth from the control room of heaven. If Jesus is not Lord here and now, then we have nothing to say about global terrorism or nuclear threats from places like Iran or North Korea. If Jesus is not currently Lord then we have no good news for the poor, the marginalized and oppressed. However, if Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth with all authority, and if the winds of the Spirit of Jesus are still blowin’ through the church, then the gospel still has revolutionary power.If Jesus is not Lord here and now, then we have nothing to say about global terrorism. Click To Tweet
Thank you Professor Wright for leading us in a prophetic moment at the Awakenings conference. May we continue to kindle the flame of God’s Spirit that we may be the people of God reflecting God’s image in the all creation and reflecting back the praise of creation back to our Creator.