And the LORD said, "There is now one people and they all have one language. This is what they have begun to do, and now all that they plan to do will be possible for them. Come, let's go down and mix up their language there so they won't understand each other's language." (Genesis 11:6-7, CEB translation)
Towers are on my mind. Three of them in particular. One in Babel. One in Vegas. One in Boston.
The Tower of Babel is on my mind because I am on a personal quest to correct how people have interpreted this story for all my life and probably before that. If you have heard the Tower of Babel story, you have probably heard that God destroyed it because people built a tower to try to be God. Nowhere in the story does it say that. That is an interpretive leap, made probably because towers reach toward the heavens, and because God seems to be upset that anything will be possible for us. We (especially Americans) have an infinite hope in humanity that makes it seem like God is being a big ol’ meany, not letting us reach our full potential and all. We read that as a punishment. But what if it is a protection? What if God is trying to protect us from ourselves?
I say that because what do we build when we all speak the same language? We build a city and a tower. A fort, and a means to see enemies coming for miles. We will then have the vantage point, and we can shoot them before they shoot us. When anything is possible for us, we build implements of war. We build things that let us kill people we do not like.
Now you may say, but Michelle, as the story reads, there are no other people. Everyone is gathered in one place. We are all getting along and all is hunky dory! Yeah, how long exactly do you think that will last? Because I don’t know if you have read Genesis lately, but when there were supposedly a grand total of four people, who were all related to one another, one of them killed another one of them.
So God (who actually does not destroy the tower – read it carefully) scatters us. Puts us all on the ground. Celebrates that we are (and should be) different from one another, and yet puts us all on equal footing with one another. That is what God desires for us.
But we keep building towers. We have built a lot of them. There are several in Las Vegas. And a man climbed up in one, shot out a window, and looked down at all his supposed enemies and shot them. Killed them. Hated them and himself so much that he did not see people created in the image of God (which is something else Genesis claims for us) but instead saw enemies. Targets. And he was enormously successful at killing and wounding them. And I will go ahead and tell you, as a survivor of a school shooting, that the news is wrong when they say he injured around 500. He injured at least 22,000. He accomplished his aim of killing his enemies. In those moments, anything was possible for him.
What keeps ringing in my ears are the man’s brother’s words. “He didn’t have any religious affiliation.”
He had no God. No relationship with God. His heart had not been transformed by Jesus. Instead, he had taken up residence in a tower. First a metaphorical one, and then a literal one. And we let him. We let him because we didn’t care enough to show him Christ.
The church as the Body of Christ is supposed to be showing another way of living, a way where we are all on equal footing, all loved for who we are in all our beautiful diversity, all collectively reflecting the image of God. We are supposed to be bringing the world Jesus. But it is because of the third tower in this story that I have begun to seriously question the church’s ability to be that light in the darkness.
The Old South Church in Boston is suing a developer for $19 million because the developer is going to build a tower that will cast a shadow on its church and potentially damage the stained glass. The tower that will be built will house office suites and apartments in the immediate vicinity of the church, and it won’t get as much light as it needs to illuminate the windows and prevent potential damage.
Ah, it reminds me of the words of Jesus: “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and sue your neighbor for yourself.” Wait, that’s not right.
I am sorry, maybe I am missing the point of the Gospel, but I don’t think Jesus gives a shit about the Old South Church’s stained-glass windows. I am pretty sure a church is supposed to shine the light of Christ from within to without. If they burned with the love of Jesus, if Jesus’ light truly shone through them, then their building would not fall into disrepair, because they would remember that the people are the church, not the building.
Now, the church plans to use their $19 million to repair their church and open affordable housing, but am I wrong to think the affordable housing thing is a PR stunt? In context, it feels like a hollow gesture. Even if their intentions are good, they are trying to conscript their own mission and keep it in a neat and tidy haves and have nots box. God, this all feels so perverse.
And here is the reality of this story. This church could have seen this tower as a ripe mission field that was landing in their backyard! I guarantee some of the people living in those apartments and working in those offices could use the light of Jesus breaking into the darkness of their lives. But that church has just pissed away their credibility. You cannot witness to someone you sue. Why do you think we are told over and over in the Bible to get right with each other before we call ourselves church?
So instead of knowing Jesus, the isolation will grow for the people in the tower. Sitting up in that tower, feeling more and more alone, more and more desperate. More and more disconnected from humanity. And should we be surprised that someone without love and without a sense that they are a beloved child of Christ would then pick up a gun from the vantage point of the tower and take lethal aim?
But God forbid they hit a stained-glass window! Now that would be a real tragedy!
Lord, in your mercy…