“Let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth”.
We might be tempted to conclude from this study that cities are inherently bad, but this is not so. God gave Israel their capital city of Jerusalem, and the ultimate abode of God’s people is God’s holy city coming down from heaven (Rev. 21:2). The concept of “city” is not evil, but the pride that we may come to attach to cities is what displeases God (Gen. 19:12-14). We sin when we look to civic triumph and culture, in place of God, as our source of meaning and direction. Bruce Waltke concludes his analysis of Genesis 11 in these words:
Society apart from God is totally unstable. On the one hand, people earnestly seek existential meaning and security in their collective unity. On the other hand, they have an insatiable appetite to consume what others possess….At the heart of the city of man is love for self and hatred for God. The city reveals that the human spirit will not stop at anything short of usurping God’s throne in heaven.
Of course we are blind to this because it is happening all around us. In this day and age for thousands of years. We are still seeking significance and fame apart from God. We disguised it in our quest to honor and worship God through our “offerings”. But He just wants our obedience; nothing that we offer to Him by our own strength can even hold up.
The insidious nature of this is so subtle that we tend to miss. That’s the great work of the devil. It is never the fights on moralistic grounds that he is interested to engage. He willingly allows us to be distracted by it.
How do I counter this? By living with gratefulness. To be blameless when mocked by those whom I’m tempted to please. To allow God’s non-order (the Flood) to overcome my disorder.
And then new creation begins again. As He breathes the Spirit into me.
“There’s an old communication theory that goes: When predictability is high, impact is low. In other words, when the audience thinks they know what you’re going to say, and you go ahead and say it, your words makes very little impact. On the other hand, when an audience is surprised or intrigued, they will think long and hard about what they’ve heard.
The same goes for Christian outreach. Remember that one of the primary acts of the evangelistic believer is the arousal of curiosity among unbelievers leading to questions and faith sharing. Acts of philanthropy and hospitality by Christians today are not unheard of, but neither are they unexpected. If we hear a Christian businessman donated money to a cause, or that a church has opened a feeding program or a hospice, we aren’t intrigued. It is expected. I’m not suggesting Christian philanthropy shouldn’t continue as an expression of the grace offered to us in Christ, but it doesn’t evoke questions the way it might have in the fourth century. Neither does living a fine upstanding middle-class lifestyle in the suburbs. Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t live our lives this way, but if we’re trying to live questionable lives, then cutting the lawn, saying hi to the neighbors, washing our car, walking the dog and driving to the office every day is hardly an intriguing lifestyle.”
Frost’s challenge leaves no room of me to be comfortable. I’m forced to confront the demons of mediocrity (as far as understanding how Christ’s message compels us to live) that has been released by the systems of this world.
This can only be subverted by missional habits cultivated daily to guide me on how to think, feel or act.
This week let me start with Bless.
I’m going to pass on making New Year’s resolutions this time around. Instead, I’ll take Rilke’s famous advice about “living the questions,” and carry into the New Year a few of the wonderings Hillman’s poem evokes in me:
• How can I let go of my need for fixed answers in favor of aliveness?
• What is my next challenge in daring to be human?
• How can I open myself to the beauty of nature and human nature?
• Who or what do I need to learn to love next? And next? And next?
• What is the new creation that wants to be born in and through me?
– Parker Palmer
List out, in one column, the activities from the last month that ‘drained’ you.
List out on a second column which activities ‘filled you up’. Are you in an emotional deficit or a surplus?
List out underneath the line on the left side what activities in the coming month you expect will drain you.
List out on a second column the activities in the coming month that you expect will ‘fill you up’.
Do you anticipate an emotional draining month or an emotionally replenishing month?
List out on a second column the time you spent that you feel were a waste of time or a time sink. That is, what did you consume that made you feel bloated and empty?
List out in one column, the time you spent this past month that you feel, created more time for you. That is, what did you create that made you more productive and more effective?
List out underneath the line on the left side, the time that you know that you will lose in ‘time sinks’.
What time you are setting aside in the coming month to be creative? Itemise that on the right hand side.
Do you anticipate an exciting creative month or a plodding bogged down month?
God spoke: “Earth, generate life! Every sort and kind:
cattle and reptiles and wild animals—all kinds.”
And there it was:
wild animals of every kind,
Cattle of all kinds, every sort of reptile and bug.
God saw that it was good.
26-28 God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself,
and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
29-30 Then God said, “I’ve given you
every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth
And every kind of fruit-bearing tree,
given them to you for food.
To all animals and all birds,
everything that moves and breathes,
I give whatever grows out of the ground for food.”
And there it was.
31 God looked over everything he had made;
it was so good, so very good!
What is clearly evident here is that the Creator of our world moves the world like a verb. Full of vibrancy and every move is filled with glorious purpose, as a certain Marvel villain might say. But unlike Loki, destruction was not to be his goal.
He spoke. And He then acts.
And like a miracle, words allowed worlds to be separated and created. Void and meaningless black holes shudder and stepped aside at Elohim’s proclamation. Flowers blooms, fields were rolling into vast greenery and critters of all kinds roam the earth. And finally, the most glorious of His inventions – Man. Who was blessed and called to rule.
Oh how far I have strayed from this imagination. A glimpse of a world that we could hardly recall, once built into the consciousness of our ancestors. And today, I don’t see life coming out of our speaking. And since when did we ever called forth destiny through our naming? We are more prone to labelling and putting everyone down so that we could feel stronger that way. No, we don’t see things as very good. Not even close.
Suzuki talks about the alarming problem of overpopulation and overconsumption that plagued our earth. But it always stemmed from an underlying problem of evil. Our calamities today is caused by a way of speaking and naming that causes death. I know when I’m pressed hard enough, my words crushes the fragile hopes of people who could hardly hold it together. If only I could remember the old Jewish poem – “The Beginning”. A tale to reframe the way I speak, act and see.
Speaking life. Giving names that calls forth destiny. Pronounce blessings that wills man into his purpose.
And see that whatever grows out of that void, is very very good.
It was based on a true story. On how a musically inclined man had to endure brain tumor. It affected how he remembers things that happened moments ago. Snapshots of his life consumed by the cancer.
His relationship with his dad was strained to the point he left home at an early age. Now that he was found by his family, broken not by the disease but because of being away from the family for so long. The father wants to reconnect. But those time away coupled by bad memories took its toll on those good intentions.
As it turned out, music seemed to turn on a switch in Gabriel’s mind. And that proves to be a vital bridge for Henry to cross. And have a shared moment with his once estranged son.
Today, I met someone like Gabriel. His name is Komeil.
He left his native country Iran to ours in order to seek freedom. A space to express himself. Every time we talk about music, his eyes light up. You could almost feel the beat of his heart resonate to the sound of the tune playing in his mind.
Alas, I worry that Komeil might not be able to stay here for long. And with his departure so goes his dreams of being able to live fully in the art that he loves.
I asked him what song is playing right now in his head. He whispered “Leonard Cohen”. And so I played Chris Botti’s rendition of the haunting “Hallelujah”. Komeil closed his eyes and hummed silently the tune as the rain provided the ambient backdrop. His face glowed just like how Gabriel did when he heard “The Grateful Dead” playing.
Despite what might happened in the future, we had a shared moment there. On a bridge that points the way to hope.