Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Recycling Babel

Continuous globe-trotting has got its own occupational hazards. And it’s not just the jet-lag or the skewed up biological rhythm or the sudden government shutdown in America. You end up tired with a pessimism goading apathy and amplifying adjustment. And inadvertently I become aware that I’m in Babel. Yes of course, the same Biblical Babel in which nobody understands anybody but we're all having fun and think we are going somewhere. On further reflection, I discovered that there are three categories of Babel.
The first Babel is that of English. In India if you say "I am good" you are boasting. In America if you say, "I’m fine," it doesn’t connect. In Britain we call them cutlets but in America you call them hash-browns. In India we call them ear-buds, but in the US they are Q-tips. What you call as ladyfinger, brinjal and coriander in Britain, you call it ocra, eggplant and cilantro in America. When Michael Jackson sings "I'm Bad", it means in Black American slang that he is exceptionally good so as to be unbeatable. Earlier we knew that wicked was someone who was a witch, but now it means anything unbelievably excellent. I thought "throw up" was to aim for the sky but it means to aim for ground or a commode. Its same English, but you can be lost. And I have not even started about Australian English or its accent!
The second Babel is among the Christians. Take for example, the second coming. For some it is a symbolic process which has already happened, for some others it is specific date esoterically revealed; and for yet another group it is unknown and way out in the eschatological future. Or let’s take speaking in tongues. I mean this can literally be babel... pun intended... for some it’s the indication of salvation, for others it is the unconditional proof of the Holy Spirit, for another group it is merely an ecstatic utterance, for yet another group it is just an anthropological phenomena common to many cultures and religions; and for another abomination (oops, I’m sorry, denomination) it is unacceptable heresy meant to be forbidden in church! So, how in the world are we to talk to each other with the same language, and the same words?
The third is the institutional babel. When a woman says she is "fine" it means she is not fine and that she needs attention. And when a man says he is "tired" it means he is upset and wants to be left alone. So, communication becomes complex, and the home can become a vociferous babel. Everybody is screaming and nobody understanding. This screaming whether in the institution of the home, or in the church, or in the workplace, or in the government can be severe enough to bring about a shutdown. That’s exactly what happened in Genesis 11 - complete shutdown on the project of self-importance. And that’s why I don’t even want to attempt the political babel of whether I am a Democrat or a Republican. All I know is that I m a publican, worse than the chief of all sinners. I am what I am only because someone made me clean. That’s why I can have no boast about my being, or my character. My mechanism to communicate, therefore, is to get into the heart of Acts chapter 2 and to speak in a language that I really know so that others will understand it in a language that they know (which I may not know). It is babel reversed, and it is the beginning of community. And if we all could only be a community and cared for each other, then that would be language enough.

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