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Undoing the Curse of Babel

by Peter Thompson on June 01, 2022

In the earliest days of human civilization, the book of Genesis tells us, all human beings spoke the same language. United together by their shared tongue, they accomplished much, building a great city and an even more impressive tower with its “top in the heavens.” According to the story, God became threatened by these human beings and all that they were able to achieve. “Look, they are one people,” God said, “and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech.”

Diversity, God apparently believed, was the key to weakening human beings and dividing them from one another. God seemed to think that, if people were not able to speak the same language and thus not able to communicate or collaborate, their previous achievements would be impossible to replicate. So God brought confusion into Babel, instigating the creation of new languages and scattering the residents of Babel throughout the earth.

Thousands of years later, fifty days after Jesus had risen from the dead, the new languages once introduced at Babel made a joint reappearance in the city of Jerusalem. A sound like the wind was heard, and the earliest disciples of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to speak in a variety of languages, and bystanders from a whole host of different regions could hear what the disciples were saying. While this event is often remembered as a scene of chaos (think of the cacophony regularly depicted at our 9 and 11 am services, when speakers of languages other than English join in the reading of the Pentecost narrative), the bystanders on that original Pentecost morning did not experience the diversity of languages being spoken as confusing. The miracle of Pentecost was that all bystanders could hear their own languages in the middle of the mess. By speaking in a variety of languages, the disciples helped every bystander to understand.

An old Pentecost carol declares that at Pentecost “the curse of Babel was undone.” In Jerusalem, the expression of multiple languages facilitated communication rather than hindered it, uniting, instead of dividing, the people. Diversity was a blessing, not a threat. It strengthened the nascent Christian movement and helped it grow.  

As we begin another Pride month, many still want to live within the Babel story, seeing virtually all acknowledgment of diversity as a danger and a problem. But we have already been filled with the Holy Spirit. We live in an Acts of the Apostles world. Embracing our differences will not tear us apart. It will help us better understand.

This month, St. Bart’s claims our identity as a Pentecost people by participating wholeheartedly in Pride. I hope you’ll take a look at the gorgeous displays of color around our building, attend our Blessing of the Pride Flag ceremony after this Sunday’s 5 pm Contemplative Eucharist or one of our many virtual events, and (of course) show up for Pride Sunday on June 26 and walk with us in the Pride March.

Think of our witness as a continuation of those earliest disciples’ work. By celebrating the diversity of the world around us and by communicating to our fellow inhabitants of that world in ways that they can understand, we show them just how much they matter to us and just how committed we are to working together.

Read the Enews for June 3, 2022

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