Friday, November 5, 2010

Babel

Dang! I had a great photo of Iris's response to Election Day, but it wasn't downloaded somehow. Oh well, no matter, I seem to be about 5 days behind in everything, so I'll post it when I get home from this (marvelous, terrific, mind-blowing) conference (in Austin, Texas!).  This is us at the Big Halloween Party on the lake that our friends throw every year (maybe we just love people who live in intimate proximity to water more!).  Oliver was the Grim Reaper (more like, the Earnest Reaper - always with the elaborate explanation as to why it was Your Time to Die); Iris was a Go-Go Pumpkin (who got more and more annoyed with my tag line "The 60s must never die!"); and Eleanor went the road of nostalgia with a pumpkin outfit she has worn since she was 1 (she flirted briefly with SuperGirl, but decided she looked too much like a cheerleader - to unpack!). Mac, my dear rational Mac, was a satyr (he made those satyr pants himself!). I wore the wig the girls said any self-respecting mother should have (and some awesome black and orange striped witchy tights that I would wear every day if I could).  I'll be honest, I like thinking about Halloween more than doing it (the candy stickies everywhere - the agony over the outfit being Not Quite Right!) - but I love watching the kids, watching the world upside down.

When was the last time you read about Babel in Genesis?  It's Genesis 11:5-8 and it goes like this:

5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the
tower which the sons of men had built.
6 And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people,
and they all have the same language. And this is
what they began to do, and now nothing which they
purpose to do will be impossible for them."
7 "Come, let Us go down and there confuse their
language, that they may not understand one
another's speech."
8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there
over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped
building the city.

What was God thinking?  How could He have been so petulant and mean? Moreover: really? There was a time when nothing would have been impossible for humanity? Immediately, I think: we could have had justice and peace and harmony?  What was God worried about? What impossible did He see us reaching for?  There was a very intelligent, brilliant response to this text by a plenary speaking last night in this BABEL Conference I'm attending whose theme is "After the Catastrophe."  This is my own petulant, shocked response.  I've been reading and reading about Jerusalem (in Karen Amstrong's wonderful book) and so have had more of an occasion than usual to think about the desire to have God come down and dwell among us (a desire that the city of Jerusalem has striven and sacrificed to answer for 3000 years now).  And so my childish response is: This guy?  The one who messed everything up for some kind of eternal (and eternally condemning) morality lesson about not being too ambitious? The speaker was careful to remind us that Babel was not Eden - that there's never just one thing that messes everything up (even if that one thing is God).  What I love about this conference is that it takes our raw, corny desire to make the world better through studying medieval culture (don't laugh! that actually unites everyone at this conference, even though it goes unspoken - these are all totally left, community activist, radical thinking medievalists - they do exist, and I'm proud to at least na├»vely count myself among the persuasion that this, plus what I do in my everyday life, might assuage a little suffering, might provide a different enough respective that we don't have to keep talking past each other (thanks, God!) and that we might actually help someone.) Lest you find me unbearable blasphemous here: being angry with God has produced some of the best thinking in all of human history; if I'm not angry with God about Babel, if it's not His fault that we lost the ability to speak the same language, then humanity has all along been built for doom.  Babel before the catastrophe, to my mind, becomes more important than Eden for the human condition. Guess I'll have to read Genesis 10.



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