Dear Absinthe

 My Dear Absinthe:

“Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.” That’s a little chuckle we have down here in tribute to your work in the Smith case. Yes, you surely had his heart (and more!) growing fonder for his neighbor. Pity it turned out the way it did what with that confession and absolution stuff. I can remember the days when men willingly went to their graves with things like that on their conscience rather than on their confessor. Ah, give me those days of self- absolution. Trap a man in himself confessing his sins to his god and pretty soon he’ll wonder if he’s just talking to himself. But I digress. As to your question about what to do with Pentecost, all I can tell you is what has worked in the past.

   One option is to get him to ignore the Spirit all together. I can feel you shuddering at this suggestion. It doesn’t seem possible, does it? I mean the fool is always going around muttering, ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” You would think such a one could not possibly ignore the Spirit. Think again.

   Did you ever take a glance at the books he has for his children? Find one on Samson; you might recall he was the one who we got so much mileage out of till the end. Ah, it seems like just yesterday. Anyway. Find one of his kid’s books on Samson. Take a look at him. He looks like he could carry city gates, kill lions, and break chains without the Spirit. What brawn! What muscles! What a crock! Don’t these humans ever read their own Bibles? It says the Spirit coming upon him did these things, not that he was some muscle-bound hunk that was merely motivated by the Spirit. As I recall, he wasn’t motivated much at all by the Spirit. In any event, Popeye cartoons are more accurate. At least his muscles don’t bulge until after he eats the spinach!

You see it’s not that hard to get him to ignore the Spirit. He’s probably pretty much that way right now. A ghoul of your caliber can easily take him the rest of the way. Bit by bit reason, empirical evidence, and official church publications lead him to believe that the power of the church is in organizations, programs, money, or numbers. I know it sounds funny, but you can get him to the point of believing That One told His apostles to wait in Jerusalem until they were organized, had the right program, the necessary funding, or enough people.

   You will make your work all the easier if you can make him think of himself as some sort of motivational specialist or personal manger. (If his church is really big, you’ll have to go the CEO route.) It really doesn’t matter just as long as you convince him that church is about him getting people to do things, him producing results, him growing the kingdom. Use whatever words you like; just make sure he is at the center. As long as he thinks he preserves the church rather than the church him, he is a long way away from the Spirit.

   If he won’t be induced, seduced, or confused into ignoring the Spirit, then I would advise you simply put an = sign between Spirit and feelings. Make him believe that where there is a lot of “feeling” going on there must be a lot of the Spirit too. A very useful tool in this regard is something they call “contemporary worship.” (A little joke that’s been making the rounds down here, (I don’t if you’ve heard it.) is that “contemporary worship” is neither.) It’s not contemporary nor is it worship.

   Contemporary worship is more like Mick Jagger (one of our favorites you know) pointed out about our Majesty. It’s been around in one form or another ever since the Rise. It’s not worship either. What’s at the center of contemporary worship? Praise choirs, some preacher strutting back and forth emoting, or a soloist performing (How I love to hear that word in church.) Yes, Absinthe humans have always been prone to man-centered worship. Why do you think they dress in gowns and stand behind pulpits, lecterns, and altars? They seek to prevent a man from being the focus.

   Contemporary worship is not contemporary and it’s not worship. Really it would be more accurately called “temporary worship.” They go into their sanctuaries to worship That One, and for a time they do, but then the feelings take over. They feel some mighty strong things about That One. Go ahead and let them identify those feelings with the Spirit. They’ll trust them then. They’ll begin to look for them just as they would the Spirit, and now we have them. Once they trust their feelings and seek them out, just as they would the Spirit, it is but a small step to lead them to serve them just as they would the Spirit.

   I’m telling you Absinthe this will not be near as hard as you imagine. You think that you’ll never get your man who is so steeped in historic worship traditions to go the way of contemporary worship. Don’t you see? The whole world is pushing him that way. His people will for the most part cheer him if he does it, so of course will his church body. Anything that produces results (i.e. money and numbers) in the church must be of the Spirit. That’s how they figure. They forget about Aaron’s golden calf and Balaam’s party. Talk about numbers! But I don’t think a golden calf or an orgy would go over big in the case you’re concerned with, although you never can tell. I hear that investments and  estate planning are considered the work of the Spirit by some church bodies and that dancing girls are coming back into the sanctuary via something called liturgical dance.  These humans slay me with their oxymorons.  What will they think of next?  Lay ministers?  O, O how about this one: “Non-communion worship service!”  What in the heaven is that!  I remember now; we use to call them revivals!

   Get him to ignore the Spirit or get him to equate Him with feelings.  These are two possible things you might do this Pentecost.  ONE THING YOU MUST NOT DO.  At all costs, do not let the fool place the = sign between Spirit and Sacrament.  Hear me well Absinthe.  If you do, YOU ARE DOOMED.  I know what you’re thinking.  “What’s the big deal.  So he looks to Baptism, Absolution, and Communion for the Spirit; what could that hurt?”  You fool!  Don’t you see?  The chasm is crossed, the divide bridge, the river forded.  The same blasted thing happened to us once before you might recall.  They call in the Incarnation; we call it the Devastation.  Don’t you remember?  All the fullness of the Godhead came to dwell in That One bodily.  God could be touched, handled, and even tasted.  Their rescue, their salvation, their peace, hope, love, joy and every other cursed thing in Creation was located OUTSIDE of them. What’s worse it was located in God where we couldn’t touch it.

   It’s the same with the Spirit. We can do just about anything we want with a ‘Spirit” located in a man’s heart or head. But what can we do with the Spirit located in the things of God? Baptism brings Him into the Spirit. Absolution is the very breath of the Spirit. And Communion is where That One Himself is given to them. It’s all really very hopeless for us at this point. There’s very little space for us to enter. It’s God’s Words used with God’s elements.

   Unless of course you can successfully deride the visible elements involved. Try things like this, ‘How can natural water, bread, and wine convey anything supernatural? Should the Spirit of God be bound to the words of a man?” This sort of talk goes a long way. Right now look how many churches believe the Spirit cannot be contained in these earthly things. (You’ll recall this is the same argument we used so successfully against the Devastation: “The finite is not capable of the infinite!” What a rallying cry! I’m proud I had a part in that.) Even in the churches where these earthly elements are believed to be Spirit and life, how many sit in pews or stand in pulpits gazing at their navels for signs of the Spirit or think that rushing wind, tongues of fire, or better yet, tongues that babble would really be an indication that the Spirit is present?

   Failing to turn him from putting the = sign between Spirit and Sacrament, make Him turn the arrow around. Instead of the Spirit coming to him in these things make him think he gets up to the Spirit by them. Again this is just a subtle turning easily accomplished because it doesn’t make sense that God the Spirit should come down to this filthy earth, does it? Anyway, make him think he gets up to the Spirit in heaven by means of Baptism, Absolution, and the Holy Communion. (You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? You devil you.) If this is his view, he will become consumed with what he does in these things. There is tremendous room for doubt then. ‘Was I sincere enough during that Baptism? Did I really, I mean really, repent of what I confessed? Was my heart really in that celebration of the Sacrament?” If we get him thinking this way, then once more we’ve trapped him in self away from what God does. He’s cut off from the Spirit, and victory is ours. And the kicker is he thinks he’s being really pious agonizing over spiritual things! Talk about being slain by the Spirit

   I could go on all night Absinthe, but I must run. There’s a big planning meeting for the end of the Church Year…I mean really end it this time. Leave them their Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day, and they’ll be content. I tell you Absinthe; keep them focused on men, and the battle is half over. Write when you have time.

Crudely yours,


 (Originally published in The Bride of Christ, Pentecost, 1998)

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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