Friday, October 11, 2013

Monday Morning Meditation #3: Legacies from the Tower of Babel

I have made it as far as Genesis, Chapter 11 (yep, I decided to continue in a sequential fashion, which is very unlike random me) before coming across the story of the Tower of Babel. I had to stop and reflect on that story because had there been no destruction of the tower and scattering of the people, along with confusion of tongues, I would have no employment today. You see, I have worked in 24 (about to be 25) countries as an interpreter, translator, foreign-language teacher, cross-cultural consultant, and language-program administrator. My repertoire of foreign languages exceeds 20 and continues to grow. So, of course, the story of the Tower of Babel caught my attention. Post-Babel, in the world in which we live and the one where I try to bridge cultures, our biggest problem internationally is understanding each other well enough to stop killing each other, or, better, not to start the killing to begin with.

Reading: Genesis 11:1-9

Meditation: In re-reading this passage, I noticed something beyond the outcome, i.e. the scattering of people across the world and the rise of a myriad languages. Something else speaks out from these verses: hubris. One hears overweaning pride and conceit in the words of the people: "Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name." God's response was to prevent this, scattering the people, and making it difficult for them to communicate with each other. It would seem that "making a name" for oneself is not what God considers important, yet how often do we want to do just that? How often do we want our children to do that? How often do we admire those who have done that? How often do we congratulate friends whose offspring have done that? Making a name, it would seem, is very important in American culture.

One of the people I would like to emulate is our former landlord, Ernie Camacho. Anyone who knows baseball probably recognizes that name from World Series XIV, which he pitched, as well as his former pitching for more than one national baseball team. Ernie was a small-city boy, the son of immigrants (friends of ours), who had made a name for himself. The question is: Does anyone know where Ernie is now? He finished his career in the early '90s and returned to the town of his youth, living with his Mexican-Catholic parents (our friends), and working as a high school school janitor. Yes, as a janitor. Why? He started out as a school counselor, but took on the janitor's job because, as he told me, the students opened up more to a janitor than to a counselor; they had nothing to fear or prove with a janitor. As an international educator, I have a long way to go to reach the level of janitor. Maybe I won't make it, but I try. I have come to know many janitors worldwide; they have been good teachers for me. Some day maybe I will be as good a teacher as they. For that, I pray. I suppose I could quit my job and seek one as a janitor, but (1) I am not ready for that because I like what I do and I know that God is able to use us wherever we are (it is, in fact, a job that God has permitted after obviously closing doors to alternatives) and (2) I am not good enough at the skills required of janitors for anyone to consider offering me a job.

And that is far as I can go with you on this Monday morning. I must retire to prayer to ask God for guidance as I continue to try to be an adequate conduit for Him and for my organization in bridging cultural and linguistic differences, to express my regret for each of those instances where I "blew it" because I was not ready to understand "the other" or failed to do my homework in advance of meetings, to give thanks for a lifetime of unexpected and undeserved opportunities to meet representatives of the scattered tribes descending from the days of Babel, and to offer praise to God who understands us even without words. Yes, that is what I will pray for to begin with, but then, I will take up the more important theme, to ask God to show me how to be His janitor, to sweep any sense of my own self-importance under the carpet of fraternal love, and to trash any pride that may remain hidden within me for I do not need it. The latter is, unfortunately, not a one-time prayer. I need to have long, periodic conversations with God about that -- and do.

After that, I will spend some time in contemplation with this wonderful God who loves me in spite of my pride and failures.

I will now leave you to your prayer and contemplation.

If you pick this up as a weekly devotional activity, please share with me and others your own thoughts about the message of Genesis 11: 1-9.

Have a good day and a good week!

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