Pointy Birds and other Doctrines


Pointy birds, O pointy pointy
Anoint my head. Anointy nointy.
–Steve Martin.

There’s a tradition, going back to pre-Christian years, where the Jewish king-to-be would have a flask of olive oil poured publicly onto his head by a prophet. This marked him as the official “chosen one” to lead the people.

In fact, the word Christ itself comes from a Greek root meaning “anointed.”

Anointed–that’s the word we use, so we don’t have to say, every single time, “the one who had a flask of olive oil poured publicly onto their head by a prophet, thus marking him as the chosen one to lead the people.” Ain’t language useful?

To anoint. That’s the verb. The epistle of James, in the New Testament, prescribes the anointing of the sick. I am pretty sure (though I’m hazy on the details), that a dying Catholic is anointed when a priest administers last rites. I could be wrong. I’m not an encyclopedia on the subject.

In the Christian tradition I was raised, the “anointing” (that’s the noun) was more a symbolic meaning. Believers, filled with the Holy Spirit according to Acts of the Apostles (Chapter 2), receive the anointing. Their acts are sanctified and somehow transformed. Maybe? I had a friend describe the whole process as mysterious. It must be true because it’s still something of a mystery to me.

I say all this because I think the term “anointing” in all its manifestations, is just another attempt to sanctify the lexicon. Although it’s occasionally used in the traditional sense (to pour actual oil on an actual living person), it’s far more likely that it simply replaces the word “talented.”

Sister, you have the anointing, someone will say. What they mean is you have talent. Preach up a storm? Brother’s got the anointing.

Play the piano? You’re talented. Play the piano and move someone to tears? You’re anointed.

You can probably tell by now that I’m working up to something. What bothers me is below.

Now, in the Book of Acts, the anointing–and you may have noticed that the term is now inextricably tied to what my religious culture calls the “infilling of the Holy Spirit”–allowed the Apostles to do things they previously could not do. The apostles managed to heal the sick, raise the dead, propagate their credo to thousands of unbelievers, speak in tongues they did not know(!) I point this out because the anointing, in this sense of the term is near-miraculous. You heard it here first. The saints didn’t just manage slap out an exquisite hambone and make all the sinners cry. And, we are all saints in this christian tradition. We get the added onus of lay service. You’re a saint? better do some work and prove it!

So what has happened, along with the pentematic chariscostals co-opting the term, is this: the Church has managed to poke its saints with a cattle prod.

Let’s say–and I have no experience in this remotely like the example I’m outlining, you can rest assured–let’s say I’m a piano player. Instead of playing 6 church services and events and choir practices a week (because I’m the only player in a given church of 90-odd folks), I decide that I’d rather not play the piano for no compensation. You’re not “using your anointing.” You’re “hiding your light under a bushel.” You’re “ignoring your calling.” The term anointing has lost all meaning, save one: it’s now a technique of coercion. It’s one thing if a peer comes to you and says “you’re an amazing piano player. You should use your anointing during worship services.” It’s another entirely if, say, a deacon or pastor tells you this. Suddenly you’re compelled to play, with all the layers of religious guilt accorded you thereunto.

And why? All because we’ve twisted the meaning of a term from its original intent, jumbled together a half-dozen scriptures and tacked on a few biblical events, made phrases synonymous when they weren’t, and invented a way for ministers to turn lay service into Church doctrine.

Now, I’m not saying that using your talents is wrong. However twisting scripture and tradition to compel people to action is wrong. So if you’re a Christian who regularly attends a Pentecostal (or “charismatic”) church, beware a visit from Steve Martin’s pointy birds. You might put your foot in a big pile of anointing, and not be able to wipe it off.

And just for fun, one more Steve Martin quote:

“What are those assholes doing on the porch?
Those aren’t assholes. It’s pronounced *azaleas*.”

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