Monday, March 09, 2015

Know My Weakness, Know My Voice

I was thinking about Babel today. Like, the Tower of Babel from the story in Genesis. It all started at work, when a sassy little gem of a tiny human came into my corner of the museum, and I pretty much decided right then and there that she's going to take over the world someday.

Possibly, today.

She came over to play with the blocks and the balls and the velvet and nylon scraps of fabric, and asked me if I could speak French.

Nope.

Could I speak Arabic?

Nope.

Only English?

...pretty much.

And then I was pretty ashamed of myself, because for as much as I love to make my words dance, I've limited myself to one language and, admittedly, I haven't really explored the depths of English as ferociously as I could. Additionally, for someone who believes in the importance of communication and collaboration, I've therefore senselessly limited myself to English-speaking people in English-understanding nations.

Like any typical American, I suppose, I shook my fist at the system. Language barriers are so unnecessary and reductive. Just learn another one. Or two. Or three or six or fifty. But my brain is 24 years young and on track to solidify a bit at 25, and I have yet to dedicate time. Real, solid time.

But I cannot change the world if I cannot speak to the world, or allow the world the opportunity to understand my words. Words are powerful, but they need to be selected carefully.

"If I interpreted gone as dead I'd be out of the job; if dead and gone were the same thing, there'd be no UN." -The Interpreter (2005)

Subsequently, my Sunday School training kicked in, and I thought of the story of the Tower of Babel. And since I've been away from church for a while in an effort to actually discover the spirit behind this beautiful life and the people in mine (or, more likely since I'm probably a piss-poor Christian but Jesus is cool with it, okay) I couldn't find my goddamn bible in order give the story a thorough re-read. Obviously because I'm a millennial, I consulted my Bible app. Thanks, technology.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, I will sum up. No, actually, I'll post the entire Tower of Babel story from the eleventh chapter of the book of Genesis, because it's a measly 9 verses long:


Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. TheLord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.


The point of the story, as I recall and as is presented in the text, is to condemn greed. That's how I remember it, anyway. And as archaeologically inaccurate as this story may be, I remember taking it completely at face value and seeing the architects of the tower as selfish fools. As a child, I remember feeling some hardcore fremdsch√§men (hah! A German word!) for the architects, because it was a serious no-no to think that you could be as great as God or that a mere mortal would be capable of building a tower to heaven. And superficially, the lesson is fine enough. Greed leads to disaster. But does it? And if it does, does that really matter? What if there is a deeper problem with this story?

Excuse my role as the Doubting Thomas, but this time, I think that there just may be.

First, I was a little disappointed with the re-read. In all honesty, I was expecting a little character development, some back stories, some motivation, and maybe some foul play and drama. Perhaps some metaphors for corruption in major corporations, or foreshadowing for a nation with a preposterously imbalanced distribution of wealth (ahem), but no. This isn't really a story. At best, it's a few teasing, provocative sentences that leave room for enough interpretation to fill several hundred dissertations in Theology, but I digress.

In the text, the Lord is quoted to allude to the fact that given a proper amount of communication, the members of the city of Babel would be unstoppable conquerors of everything, ever. However, without any evidence to the contrary, these architects seem to be simply looking to achieve something great; something of which they could be proud. In order to stop them from achieving this momentous goal of theirs, God was willing to take away their access to communication and collaboration. Excuse my French (or, apparently, lack thereof) but, what a load of garbage. In my life, the ways by which God has been revealed to me indicate that God is, at very least, not as insecure as a this high school freshman version of God that is depicted in the story. More accurately for me, God has gone in the opposite direction, and has blatantly paved the way for close knit friendships and relationships; most of which were given to me outside the walls of a church. An ethereal entity who delicately weaves people closer together, differences notwithstanding, and encourages that collaboration for the achievement of a common goal for my uncommon growth.

I understand that the point is to discourage greediness and pride. The idea is to remain humble and firmly in one's place in the hierarchy of the universe. To assign glory where glory is due. But why would anyone want to teach that lesson at the expense of collaboration, or really, at all? Why would we limit ourselves, or more importantly, why would we place limits and project insecurities onto God? 

That seems silly to me. This is probably one of those instances during which the New Testament looks like a serious apology for the Old Testament. But, either way, I'm no worse for wear. I'm okay with questions, doubts, and growth; indeed, that's how my spirit learns how to grow. And I don't think it's much of a stretch to suggest that that's how all of our spirits learn to grow. 

So regardless of my silly language barriers, Babel be damned, I'll keep searching for things in this life that are actually genuine enough to transcend those barriers. And keep celebrating the ones that I have found.





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