the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Posts Tagged ‘ministry

journeying through babel: a story of carpentry and redemptive community

with 2 comments

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

praying in pencil

with 3 comments

october second, two thousand and thirteen

I am writing to You in pencil

Not because I don’t believe You are permanent

But perhaps

because I do not desire these thoughts to be

du großes Heimweh, das wir nicht bezwangen

And I am homesick for you

And for the times when I knew what it meant to follow You

And to invite others to join the journey

We used to ask questions

In laughter, tears, arguments, prayer, and LOVE

We used to ask questions

We sought your kingdom first

Hungering, thirsting

And you were found by us, behind and before

du Wald, aus dem wir nie hinausgegangen

Surrounding us, protecting us, providing for us

Even as our gaze shifted

From Your love

To our ability

Competency. Effectiveness. Structure

Restraint & Reserve & Moderation

Watchwords birthed in fear

that You are not what You said

what You have been

what we have known

But that instead You have called your minsters

to be lonely, to be apart

to follow rules & fulfill expectations

to doubt our sanity in seeing clearly

And that you have called your people

to safety and comfort and sameness

and that we don’t have to take You seriously

Because after all what is a minister for

and that we cannot hope for true community

Because haven’t we been hurt

And that we must. be. polite.

If we never see the oceans rage

How can we have faith in the One who walks on water?

If we never dare to dine with the 5,000

How will we marvel at the leftover bread?

And if we never engage deeply with Your word

How can we claim to act in your name?

We used to pray boldly

And the bigger we prayed, the more intimate

our awareness of Your answers became

And we became less afraid to think and say

and feel and do

We made mistakes

laughing and crying and praying

we made mistakes

portals for grace, channels for mercy

we finally. made. mistakes.

Our hearts let loose their silenced hymns

the joy we’d thought preposterous

the sadness we’d thought shameful

Brimming excess, pure emotion
Radiantly, blessedly incompetent

Our imagination’s thirst for adventure satisfied in bread and wine

Our timid hope for a distant future already coming to pass

Our sins of striving and self sufficiency overwhelmed by constancy of grace


With fear and trembling and unbelief
We began to ask questions

Written by Taylor Webster

October 5, 2013 at 9:28 am

a baffling level of other-ness

with 2 comments

As most good things do, this bit of writing was inspired by a surge of brilliance from a dear friend, a welcome moment of clarity in a scatterbrained heart to heart. So, all the credit belongs to H,  for an insight that prompted an extended series of interpretations.

The hardest thing in the world to do is to love someone who isn’t like us.

That’s why we favor cliques and affinity groups and soul mates and best friends. We long to find those who will validate our existence simply by being like us. We shape our careers around those who share our passions and dreams, we build our lives on a foundation of people who know where we’re coming from and want to walk with us into where we’re going. We want to be known and loved and valued and not as different as we know and feel that we are.

And yet. In spite of our preferences and predilections and comfort zones and levels of experience and cultural upbringings. Whatever we have about us that validates us personally, gives us a level of confidence, competence, or certainty. No matter how all-together we feel on a good day.

When we face God, we are all alike in that we face a baffling level of other-ness.  And when he looks at us, He must see creatures that are so woefully unlike Him that they would be completely incapable of carrying on anything resembling a relationship.

In any other relationship, this alone would be cause to have no further interaction. Familiar phrases like…

“He’s not really my type.”
“We just didn’t hit it off.”
“We don’t have anything in common any more.”
“Have you heard what kind of trouble they cause?”
“I can’t believe  they’d say/do/believe something like that.” 

are all accepted as quite valid excuses to cut short our relationships with each other, or never to start them in the first place. When a friend gives us these excuses, we nod and smile and wish better luck next time in the quest to find the perfect friend/mate/community  where they will find sameness and commonality and love…right?

It seems so often we expect the same from God. As though he is standing on some distant pedestal, scoffing at our efforts, waiting until we have it all together and we are enough like him to be worth his time.

And that. That. That is not true, my friends.

God took on the challenge most of us refuse to approach. Looking at us, in full recognition of our otherness and the potential for separation that may cause, He reached across the barrier of our humanity. Unable to wait for us to be enough like Him to be worth His time, He became like us. 100% human.

That is what it took to change everything. The kind of love that abandons right and privilege and comfort for the risks of true connection.

As a twenty-something woman who is single, recently graduated from college, engaged in an ever deepening relationship with my local church, and wondering where the trades of design, carpentry, ministry, banjo music and teaching all collide, let me say unreservedly. I am beyond eager to find others like me.

It seems my particular combination of talents and interests is not altogether common (is anyone’s….?) and I often dream of what it would be like to meet someone who not only thinks my passions are interesting novelties worth contemplating, but vital and important and worth pursuing together. If any of you have already met this clan of smoky-mountain-dwelling, flannel-wearing, book-devouring, folk-music-playing, theatrically minded, local-church-serving, carpentry-appreciating monks and nuns, you let me know.

But  (at least in my two decades of experience) it seems such a perfect community is only reserved for our mental images. So we’ve got to stop asking the real world to be like that. And I think part of that has to be expanding our willingness to engage with the dreadfully frightening “other.”

How would it transform our workplaces, homes, places of worship, if they were not simply safe spaces for like-minded folks to find refuge, but radical communities where those who appear to have nothing in common find love and encouragement at a shared table? What if friendships between the poor and the powerful,  the parents and the childless, the academic and the laborer, the musician and the biologist, the recent graduates and those long past retirement, the athlete and the artist, became not the stuff of fantasy but the fabric of our everyday life?

I had the privilege over winter break to attend a global conference with 16,000 young people where we participated in arena-style worship, sang in multiple languages, listened to testimonies from young and old, students and professionals, missionaries and everyday saints, Kenyans and Brazilians and Canadians. It was a big, crazy mess of people, and my introverted self was often overwhelmed by the sheer size of it all. But beautifully so. Because it was so much bigger than my imagination of what the church could look like.

And what was most wonderful was not the times when I met other people who are the same kind of crazy that I am (though I was grateful to meet other artists, sing some folksy hymns in English, and meet others working in the grad student/faculty sphere). The most beautiful thing was to see God moving across so many languages and cultures and preferences and styles and backgrounds. Chasing us across all the chasms we see dividing ourselves, and calling us back together as one big, beautiful family.

So, friends. Even as we all have unique strengths and giftings that deserve strong encouragement. Even as we all find ourselves in a particular stage of life that demands the support of companions along the way. Even as we are tempted to take pride in our own individuality or despair in our inability to find deep-soul companionship. May we accept the calling to love those who do not appear to be at all like us, reaching into the world as our Father has done, seeing no barrier capable of preventing a new, deep, surprising, and breathtaking love.

And may we find that, as one conference speaker so beautifully put it, that the party we have been long searching for can already be found in the house of our Father. That the hope, encouragement, and support we seek from sameness would be radically multiplied in our interactions with those we see as others. And that those seeking the Kingdom would know us by our surprising love for one another.

Written by Taylor Webster

January 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm