twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Archive for November 2013

journeying through babel: a story of carpentry and redemptive community

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yesterday’s story:
this bookcase had been three days’ work for a team of five. planning, laying out, preparing pieces, squaring each corner, framing the stand, painting and molding. the finished dimensions were over 16 feet tall, 9 feet wide, and 15 inches deep.
at ten minutes after five, we rolled it into the theatre and decided to quickly pivot it from horizontal to vertical so that it’d be ready for the additional work happening this weekend. one final push after a week of working ourselves sick and tired. a weary crew of carpenters gathered around and began to lift.
the scenery began creaking in protestation, but we figured it would settle once it was righted, so we kept pushing.
and magnificently, almost poetically, at the point just before it would tip into place and right itself, the strain became too much. the plywood boxes collapsed into each other like a fragile rectangular card house, and the whole unit flattened itself straight down onto the ground.

everyone walked away uninjured, but you can bet our pride had been put in check. and my mind couldn’t help but wander to the story of the community gathered at Babel.

 

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.  And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.  Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”  And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.  And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

Babel is our story. As I watched the towering scenery crumble, stood in the wreckage of the edifice of our competence, I saw how clearly Babel is our story.  But we were never called to end our stories at Babel, the place where we are confronted with the shame which seeps from seeing clearly our hubris, self-centeredness, and idolatry. We were called to journey through Babel. Babel is a place of “yes, and…” where the “yes” of our failed attempts at eternity meets the “and” of our gaze straight into the source of eternity Himself. Afraid of being dispersed over the face of the earth, the people of at Babel attempted to create their own fortress of power and security. The Lord’s response was to scatter them to the the winds, and remind them that they could not create their own name or hold themselves together. He alone is the provider of rest, strength, peace, and unity, and without Him, we are confused in language and scattered across the globe.

I know this story. Deep in my heart, I have been reenacting this story since childhood. I have built these walls in my life and around my heart. High and wide and deep. Testaments to my strength, accolades to my name, badges which honor collective accomplishments. I have built these walls. For years, every single thing I did with a group of people was only meant to raise my own profile. And I have been so afraid of being dispersed over the face of the earth, forgotten in the margins of history, unable to account for myself or measure up or matter. I know that I cannot find within myself the capacity to create a beauty that is pure and great and true, but something in me aches to be reunited with perfection, and so I replace attentiveness to the great Creator with working extra hours, taking extra projects, accepting additional leadership responsibilities, and caring for more people so that…at the end of the day, I can feel my time has not gone wasted.

When, in fact, attentiveness to the great Creator is the only worthwhile use of time. I don’t mean that every hour of every day should be spend in silent prayer. I do mean that we are called to be attentive to His breath in our lungs, and pour out our praise accordingly. When we rush and bustle and push the margins of our own strength, building towards the impossible goal of “reaching the sky” we are ignoring the power of the only One who can hold us together. Walking with Him through Babel itself  has re-centered my gaze on the only One who deserves my full attention and devotion. I am seeing my desire to recreate Babel in every facet of life, to center my focus on idols, foolish facsimiles meant to  supplant the Creator.

Growing up, Babel was always a bit of a sad story, but rather odd because it didn’t quite seem to impact me directly. What a tragedy, I thought, that these people spent all of this energy building something only to have to abandon it. I learned this week what I had never understood as a child. The tragedy of Babel is not the loss of the citadel. The tragedy of Babel is the loss of community. These people had a gift we can’t comprehend in modern culture (no matter how we strive for it) – complete unity of communication. No cultural barriers, nothing lost in translation, and a completely common vision. Trouble was, they turned their unity in praise of themselves, and their gifts towards creating a place of certitude and permanence on Earth, a promise Adam and Eve lost when they rejected the Creator in Eden. The utopia imagined at Babel was doomed from the start as it was founded on arrogance and lacking in gratitude and respect. In scattering the languages, God erected a barrier to natural understanding between people. He saw our desire to unite with each other in ways that denied our need for Him, and made certain we would no longer be able to confuse perfect unity with one another with the God our hearts were designed to seek and to serve.

But, the beauty of life after Jesus in the second chapter of Acts is the restoration of community. People from every walk of life had been brought to new life in Christ, and “all who believed were together and had everything in common….and day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” The Spirit descended, and speaking in tongues was not a mark of hyper-charismatic spirituality, but a genuine blessing which allowed the disciples to communicate across cultures, creating new families where the generations of divergent cultures had only bred cynicism and distrust, and banishing established dynamics of power and fear. Among themselves, these first disciples saw unity which could only come from a shared understanding of what it meant to once again live at peace with one another.

And He himself is our peace. This incredible unity which once allowed all of humanity to come together on a project through which “nothing they propose to do will now be impossible for them” is once again available. In ourselves, our speech is too confused. There are too many of us, speaking too many different languages. But in Christ, we are not only reconciled to the God we tried to depose in Eden, whose sovereignty we challenged at Babel, and to whose authority we have never submitted quietly. We are reconciled to our brothers and sisters who were standing right beside us as we did so. We who goaded each other on, stacking challenge on challenge, convincing ourselves we could live free of consequence, that we could create our own eternity and immortality. Our actions against God are doubly painful for their repercussions in our communities. When we seek healing in our own hearts, the inevitable consequence is the healing of our communities. And as we learn to center our community life around something outside of ourselves and our own abilities to create perfection, achieve greatness, and support each other completely, our hearts begin to come home. 

I am walking away from the tower I have been building, the places where others keep encouraging me to stack brick on top of brick on top of futile brick in an attempt to reach the sky. I wonder what would happen if we became less intent on reaching the heavens and spent more time marveling at them. If we yielded our desire to control and achieve and perform and stood awestruck at the mere mention of the name that has been whispered directly into our hearts. Hands raised in praise are incapable of doing any competent work. You cannot build a permanent structure with your arms outstretched and your palms empty. But it is precisely this posture of worship into which we must reorient ourselves if we are ever to be a part of the only Kingdom worth building. 

Written by Taylor Webster

November 9, 2013 at 10:00 pm