Archive for the ‘Tower of Babel’ Tag

The Sins of Racism, Nativism, and Xenophobia   Leave a comment

Above:  The Tower of Babel, by Jenõ Benedek

Image in the Public Domain

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For Race Relations Sunday, Years 1 and 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Great God and Father of us all:  destroy prejudice that turns us against our brothers.

Teach us that we are all children of your love, whether we are black or red or white or yellow.

Encourage us to live together, loving one another in peace,

so that someday a golden race of men may have the world, giving praise to Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), 179

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Genesis 11:1-9

Colossians 3:1-11

Luke 10:25-37

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The Second Sunday in February used to be Race Relations Day (or Sunday) in much of mainline U.S. Protestantism.  The Book of Common Worship (Revised) (1932) included four prayers for “Social Justice and Brotherhood,” but Race Relations Day had come into being in time for The Book of Common Worship (1946), with its prayer of “Better Race Relations.”  Meanwhile, The Methodist Church (1939-1968) defined the Second Sunday in February as Race Relations Day in its Book of Worship for Church and Home (1945), which included two prayers for the occasion.

The occasion still exists.  In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) the Sunday preceding the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, is Race Relations Sunday.  The United Methodist Church calls that day Human Relations Day, to call the

Church to recognize the right of all God’s children to realize their potential as human beings in relationship with one another.

The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992), 423

The assigned passages of scripture contradict dominant ways of the world.

  1. The myth in Genesis 11:1-9 condemns human hubris and reminds we mere mortals how insignificant we are compared to God, regardless of how important we consider ourselves to be.  In verse 5, for example, we read of God having to “come down” just to see the city and the Tower of Babel.
  2. The list of sins in Colossians 3:1-11 is hardly comprehensive, but it need not be.  The main idea is not to act as to harm others and oneself, but to pursue Godly, constructive purposes instead.
  3. The scandal of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is multifaceted.  After one gets past respectable, religious people refusing to help the man, one learns that a Samaritan–a half-breed and a heretic–an outsider–helped.  The parable contains layers of meaning; one of them is that we need to look past our prejudices.

Racism, nativism, and xenophobia are examples of hubris, of failure to affirm the image of God in others, of hatred, and of mutually exclusive biases.  Racism, nativism, and xenophobia are also frequently successful political weapons.

May God have mercy on us all.  Even we who decry the sins of racism, nativism, and xenophobia are not exempt from those biases; we generally rein them in within ourselves, however.  We, as members of society, are also partially responsible for the sins of society, and we share in societal punishment.

May God have mercy on us all and lead our societies to repent of these sins.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

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Agents of Reconciliation   Leave a comment

Above:  Isaiah

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF KINGDOMTIDE, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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O almighty and most merciful God, of your bountiful goodness keep us,

we pray, from all things that may hurt us;

that we, being ready both in body and soul,

may cheerfully accomplish those things which you command;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship of Church and Home (1965), page 153

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Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm 33

2 Corinthians 5:17-6:2

Mark 10:28-31

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In Genesis 11:1-9, the story of the Tower of Babel, people are impressed with themselves and their collective accomplishment.  That accomplishment is a tower that God, looking down from Heaven, can barely see because of its relative smallness.  Our accomplishments and might are puny compared to God, as Psalm 33 reminds us.  May we have proper perspective, that is, humility before God.

Humility before God would certainly be easy for one to have if one were in the position of Isaiah, eyewitness to a glorious vision.  Accepting the call of God, as continued in subsequent verses in Isaiah 6, is perhaps a greater challenge.  The consequences can be dire, even to the point of death.  Certainly obeying that call will make one a new creation.  Change–even of the positive variety–frequently scares many people, for it endangers their comfort zones.  God calls us away from complacency and into the unknown.  Sometimes, as in the cases of some Hebrew prophets, God calls us to enter the realm of the scandalous.  Ultimately, though, the result should be the reconciliation of people separated from God with God.

This goal offends many people, including some of the professing faithful.  One might think of the great satire that is the Book of Jonah, a criticism of post-Babylonian Exile excesses.  One lesson from the text is that God loves everyone and wants all people to repent.  God sends the reluctant Jonah on a mission.  The prophet succeeds, much to his dismay.  We have enemies, by whom we define our identities.  If they cease to be enemies, who are we?  The possibility of such drastic change frightens us, does it not?

Will we stand humbly before God and serve as willing agents of reconciliation?  Or will we remain in our comfort zones and function as agents of obstruction?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 6, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

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Unity in God   1 comment

Metropolis Tower of Babel

Above:  The Ruins of the Tower of Babel, from Metropolis (1927)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

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The Collect:

Mighty God, you breathe life into our bones,

and your Spirit brings truth to the world.

Send us this Spirit,

transform us by your truth,

and give us language to proclaim your gospel,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 36

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The Assigned Readings:

Joel 2:18-29 (Protestant versification)/Joel 2:18-3:2 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox versification) (Monday)

Genesis 11:1-9 (Tuesday)

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b (Both Days)

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (Monday)

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (Tuesday)

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May the glory of the LORD endure for ever;

may the LORD rejoice in all his works.

–Psalm 104:32, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The story of the Tower of Babel is a myth, a fictitious tale which contains much truth.  In the brief narrative all humans speak one language and live in one city, which they consider to be impressive.  Hubris is ubiquitous, but God is so far above (literally and figuratively) that God must descend to see the city.  The divine will is that people spread out across the planet and not seek to glorify themselves.  God, therefore, causes languages to arise and people to disperse.  Their vainglorious goal becomes a dashed hope.

One of the principles of the Law of Moses is that people depend upon God for everything and upon each other.  Teachings regarding human dependence on God and about interdependence contradict cherished American cultural ideas about self-made people and leave no room for human boasting.  As St. Paul the Apostle wrote, the only proper boast is in God.

Placing the pericope from Genesis 11 on the day after Pentecost Sunday makes sense, for the narrative regarding that day in the Acts of the Apostles, with all of its poetic language (the sort of language best suited to convey the truth of day’s events), speaks of the reversal of the curse at the end of the Tower of Babel story.  People remained scattered across the face of the planet, but they can understand the message of God in their languages.  The multitude of languages persists, but confusion (at least on that day in Jerusalem) ends.  And all this happens for the glory of God, not people.

The author of the Book of Joel, writing in the Persian period of Hebrew history, predicted a time when God would cease to send punishments and would extend extravagant mercy on the people of Judah again.  Shame among the nations of the Earth would end and the divine spirit would fall upon all flesh.  It is a promise not yet fully realized, but hopes for it are valid.  Such unity in God remains for the future; Pentecost is just the beginning.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 13, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PLATO OF SYMBOLEON AND THEODORE STUDITES, EASTERN ORTHODOX ABBOTS; AND SAINT NICEPHORUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, PATRIARCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT HELDRAD, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINTS RODERIC OF CABRA AND SOLOMON OF CORDOBA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-pentecost-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Paradoxical Power and Glory of God   1 comment

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Above:  But with Her Babe Upon Her Knee, by Florence Edith Storer

Published in 1912

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2010718385/)

Reproduction Number = LC-USZC4-2669

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The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son.

By his coming nurture our growth as people of repentance and peace;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 18

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 41:14-20

Psalm 21

Romans 15:14-21

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Some Related Posts:

Isaiah 41:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/twelfth-day-of-advent/

Romans 15:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/devotion-for-january-27-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/week-of-proper-26-friday-year-1/

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The readings from Isaiah 41 and Romans 15 remind us of the glory and might of God and of the powerlessness of we mere mortals to work anything more than what Lutheran confessions of faith call “civic righteousness.”  It is laudable that we perform good deeds and refrain from committing bad ones as often as we do, but that fact cannot save us from ourselves, from our sin.

Being sure not to detract from divine glory is a recurring theme in the Bible, especially in the Hebrew Bible.  That explains the Tower of Babel, Gideon’s army,et cetera.  Divine glory seems to shine brightly in both grand gestures and in small, unlikely packages.  Such glory is most concentrated in Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnated form of the Second Person of the Trinity.  Among the meanings of the Incarnation is that one should look for divine glory in many places, some of them unpredictable, even mundane.  The paradox of the Incarnation is multifaceted.  One facet is that God, mighty and powerful, assumed the form of a defenseless infant.

So, as we Western Christians prepare for the liturgical celebration of that birth, may we seek and find the glory of God around us, in places expected and otherwise.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 26, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JEREMIAH, BIBLICAL PROPHET

THE FEAST OF ISABEL FLORENCE HAPGOOD, ECUMENIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/devotion-for-tuesday-after-the-second-sunday-of-advent-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Posted July 6, 2013 by neatnik2009 in Isaiah 41, Psalm 21, Romans 15

Tagged with , ,

Metropolis (1927)   Leave a comment

metropolis-1927-shift-change

Above:  Shift Change from Metropolis (1927)

A Screen Capture I Took

METROPOLIS (1927)

Directed by Fritz Lang

Written by Thea von Harbou

To say that Metropolis is a classic and influential film is to understate reality greatly; immediately I recognize echoes of it in the works of James Whale (Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein), George Lucas (Star Wars, sequels, and prequels), and Ridley Scott (Blade Runner).  Scholars of cinema can and do create long lists of influences and subsequent homages.  And to state that those who butchered the movie (even destroying cut scenes) shortly after the movie’s debut were blooming idiots is to claim the obvious as true.  Fortunately, a nearly complete restored version (finished in 2010) is available.

There are versions of the movie available for home viewing.  I have the 2001 restored version (with about 3/4 of the movie present) and the 2010 restored version (with 99% of the footage included).  Alas, two scenes are, to the best of current knowledge, beyond salvage, so intertitles summarizing them will have to suffice.  Each of these versions–the Restored Authorized Version of 2001 and the Complete Metropolis of 2010–has different and helpful special features, so I recommend owning both if one is a cinephile.  The commentary track on the 2001 version is quite informative, for example, as is the documentary included with the 2010 edition.

This is a religious blog, so I choose to leave most aspects of the movie to already extant websites (such as http://www.metropolis1927.com/ and http://www.filmsite.org/metr.html ), which cover that ground quite well as I ponder some of the movie’s spiritual connections.  A film in which a city leader rules from the New Tower of Babel (a reference to Genesis 11:1-9), people read from the Book of Revelation (with references to the Whore of Babylon from chapters 17 and 19), and the leader’s son must serve as the mediator between the head (the ruler) and the hands (the oppressed workers) calls out for theological analysis.

Thea von Harbou’s story is set in an unnamed European city in 2026.  Urban elites live in skyscraper penthouses and play in the Eternal Gardens.  Meanwhile, those who built the city and who keep it functioning live hard lives, work ten-hour shifts, and occupy subterranean homes.  Joh Fredersen, the ruthless industrialist who governs the city, considers this arrangement just; the workers are, he says,

Where they belong.

His son, Freder, is naively unaware of the plight of the “other half” until Maria, the prophet of the working class, brings some of the workers’ barefoot children, clad in rags, to the Eternal Gardens and shows them their

brothers and sisters.

The butler shoos them away, of course.  But Freder begins to search the city in search of the woman with whom he has just fallen in love.  He does find her eventually, but not before he witnesses and experiences the harsh industrial conditions.  And he begins to realize his destiny to function as the mediator who will avert the violent overthrow of his father’s regime and who will create justice for the workers.

Some characters are inexact analogs for biblical figures.

Freder Fredersen is the Christ figure.  Not only is he the mediator, but he is crucified on a clock in one scene in which he takes a worker’s place.

If Freder Fredersen is the Christ figure, his father Joh is the YHWH figure.  If one reads the Hebrew Scriptures closely, one realizes that YHWH is not always nice.  Joh does approve of the workers’ rebellion so that he can crush it, eliminate troublemakers, and rule with an even more iron fist; he is an unsympathetic character.  Meanwhile, back in the Old Testament, depictions of YHWH are sometimes unpleasant; YHWH does send plagues and pestilences upon innocent populations more than once.  (See Exodus 7:14-12:32 and 2 Samuel 24:10-17, for example.)

Above:  Rotwang shows Joh Frederson the “Machine Man”

Rotwang, the inventor and prototypical cinematic mad scientist, is the Satan figure.  He pursues his own agenda and desires to undermine Joh.  Rotwang almost succeeds.

The movie portrays inhumane industrial conditions as idolatry.  In one scene Freder witnesses an industrial accident which claims human casualties.   He imagines the machine as Moloch/Molech, the Ammonite deity mentioned in 1 Kings 11:7 and 2 Kings 23:10, and experiences a hallucination of the machine consuming willing and unwilling human sacrifices.

Alas, the film’s conclusion does seem like a too-convenient deus ex machina, one which leaves the oppressive Joh Fredersen in charge.  But perhaps he will change his ways; nobody is beyond repentance and redemption, right?

Metropolis, despite its inconsistencies, is a staggering achievement and a masterpiece, one worthy of thoughtful appreciation and analysis beyond its obvious technical excellence.  This is not a story of the violent overthrow of the dictatorial and insensitive regime. Rather, the aborted uprising is the work of Rotwang, the Satan analog, who seeks to overthrow Joh, and of Joh, who wants to use the opportunity for his own purposes, only to find that they backfire on him.  So the politics of the film are inconsistent.  One might guess, based on the early scenes, that the ending might be different:  Freder and Maria overthrow Joh, with the screenwriter’s approval.  But no!

Yet the movie is what it is.  And the theme of social justice, especially that of the economic variety, is consistent with the ethos of the Hebrew prophets.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 3, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF EDWARD CASWALL, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD PERRONET, BRITISH METHODIST PREACHER

THE FEAST OF SAINT GENEVIEVE, PROPHET

THE FEAST OF GLADYS AYLWARD, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY TO CHINA