Pentecost: no towers here

So many OT themes come together in Acts 2 and one very obvious one is that of the tower of Babel (which then becomes the theological seedbed for an understanding of Babylon – the imperial power that is the antithesis of the New Jerusalem). Genesis 10 expresses the flow of fallenness: ‘make a name for ourselves’, ‘build a city / society’, ‘from here we conquer everything’…

There is such an irony in that chapter. A tower is being built, God the all-seeing one has difficulty in seeing it!

The Lord came down to see…

The tower was designed to be visible even in the heavens, and the one with 20/20 vision has to come down to see it!! Apparently it was not really that impressive and could not be seen from up there. Babel is not a threat to God at any level. It is however a threat to humanity fulfilling its destiny. Destiny is in the heart of humanity, but the direction and effect of the pursuit of its fulfilment is what becomes problematic.

Unity, working together enhanced by linguistic unity was going to be problematic in that context so a restriction is placed on it. Evil can never reach an absolute fullness, that is reserved for righteousness and the One who embodies righteousness. Pentecost is a crazy reversal of Babel. Unity is present, co-labouring together receives the seal of approval. Not only does each one speak but there is the wonder of universal understanding. In the same way that a restriction is placed on Babel’s future a release is given to those of a pentecostal spirit – and by that I mean those who have been touched by Pentecost so that they are not looking to ‘make a name for ourselves’, nor ‘seeking to build a city’, nor ‘looking to conquer everything’. Maybe that might be why we have never seen the full release indicated by Pentecost?

In contrast to building a tower, a city from here to there, we read the New Jerusalem comes down to where we are, it comes from the throne of God. It is not something we build, nor can build. We can help prepare both the ground where it can land and the materials that make it what it is, but build it we cannot do. Pentecost is not a promise of receiving ‘a conquer all’ blessing. It does involve the subduing of the powers that tempt the fulfilment of destiny by a self-promotion path, and certainly involves an authority over the works of the devil but not over people.

The path to Pentecost begins in the subsequent chapter of Genesis. Leave and walk. Leave security, do not bow to familiarity, wander and God will show – even though the sight of what is shown will be partial. That was the pathway prepared, and one that Israel travelled on both with great difficulty and also deviated from. Jesus walked the same pathway, leaving ‘his country’, ‘his father’s household’. We cannot walk the path he walked (his work is finished) but as the Father sent him, so in the same way he sends us, so the pathway cannot be so different and we now have a work to complete. Security and familiarity will not always be our companions on that pathway.

To the hidden ones, the humble ones there is such an implicit promise. If the restriction at Babel was so that they could no longer do whatever they propose, Pentecost is an invitation to abandon all tower building and release imagination about what the future will look like. I wonder if God does not have a vision for the future other than he wants to fulfil our vision of the future. Could be wrong (don’t jump on me – just a perspective!). Could be wrong but I think more right than a hard line predetermined plan. If so a tad frightening but it comes with a huge invitation to all tower abandoning, non-identifiable, meandering pentecostals.

A little postscript: I am not in the habit of dedicating a post to someone, but as Steve and Kathy Lowton have been with us while writing this post I will make an exception as they have taught us a lot about walking away from tower building.

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5 thoughts on “Pentecost: no towers here

  1. Just watched the trailer for the movie Sharkwater Extinction – the continuation of Rob Stewart’s efforts to prevent the extinction of sharks, an essential keystone species that has survived 400 million years and faces extinction due to us. Much due to shark fin soup – a totally non essential food item and other products. Rob Stewart died during the filming in an underwater accident. So this movie is his voice, in it he tries to convince humans to make space on this planet for other species, specifically ocean species, especially sharks.

    The issues of what we do with the space given to us is critical. Do we create space for others, including other species, other aspects of creation to speak and to exist or do we build those controlling towers? I’ve been thinking a long time about what I call an ‘aesthetic of death’. We humans seem enchanted with the power to kill, not just one another, but everything, absolutely everything. We love the sense of control this gives us and the way we grow food, manage the land, arrange our housing and utilize resources all reflects a visual aesthetic of death. We appear to prefer ‘minimalism’, oceans and a landscape uncluttered by life, by other species be they animal or plant or other.

    An example of this need to control everything to the point of killing everything was in a story today in the Guardian. There the new government building which includes a new residence for the leader of Bolivia was profiled. It is literally a tower, plunked down, quite inappropriately, in the middle of an historical city. It sticks out like a very sore thumb. The leader’s living quarters are palatial in a poor country. The building was expensive. It looms over everything providing visible control over the city and its residents. The president of Bolivia has explained that this tower is essential and BTW, he also deserves to remain in power for a lot longer according to him.

    Towers of control in a landscape designed with an aesthetic that screams death vs. oceans and land full of life. Life or death? That is truly the Pentecostal choice.

    1. Your comment Ann about the aesthetic of death had me thinking. You wrote “We love the sense of control this gives us and the way we grow food, manage the land, arrange our housing and utilize resources all reflects a visual aesthetic of death. We appear to prefer ‘minimalism’, oceans and a landscape uncluttered by life, by other species be they animal or plant or other.” Is this primarily an urban thing? Who really controls growing food? I know from my own research that there are different appreciations of what a good landscape is and an landscape untouched by man does not really exist, despite what we like to think.

      To live with other species and still be a food provider though means a lot of extra work. I am not so sure a farmer always thinks about how to control everything in order to produce that food, but rather looks for an easier way out to produce the food that does not leave him or her on the floor with exhaustion. Once people used to go to the countryside in droves to help with the harvest, now the machines do it, or at least smaller numbers of farm workers. The desire to control is the desire not to be working all hours on what can be backbreaking work. When you have done everything in your power to produce food and a herd of deer wanders through and munches on everything, or a herd of wild boar moves through and does a bit of premature ploughing or the insect numbers are up and are busy munching through your profits, I can understand trying to exert a level of control then. However, if there were more people on the land, the chances of some of these happening would be reduced or at least tackled before it becomes a huge problem.

      The desire for cheap food to keep the masses happy, however, is a big driving force and if they ever came together and cooperate, heaven only knows what would happen. I do think there is a level of the aesthetic of death, but often imposed without a real knowledge of understanding of the environment and food production. Would be good to explore that some more.

    2. I have worked with some farmers who are doing cover crops and no-till farming. They are interested in building soil organic matter and not disturbing the underground ecosystem by plowing. The results for most of them are increased yields at harvest, fewer inputs of fertilizer, fewer trips across fields with heavy tractors (using less fuel), less soil compaction and erosion, and seeing the diversity of root systems in the cover crops providing the kind of soil conditioning that promotes water retention and nutrient (nitrogen) capture. These farmers understand that proper stewardship of the soil produces greater results.

      There is a downside: how to terminate a cover crop before precision planting. Some crops can be winter killed by freezing, some can be rolled and planted into; unfortunately, others require a chemical termination. So, a matter of weighing the benefits of healthier soil and increased yields versus adding to the chemical footprint.

      I think of it as an aesthetic of life, while searching for ways to eliminate death. Not there yet, but heading in a good direction.

    3. Hi Joanna:
      A few days ago I had a response all typed out and hit ‘post’ and it disappeared. So to start here is a great article from the Guardian today about meat production done to enhance biodiversity and soil health:
      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/25/veganism-intensively-farmed-meat-dairy-soya-maize

      I think your comments have a lot of merit. However, my concern is not so much with rural populations or small scale producers, it is with the agribusiness of industrial food production and how that has dramatically altered the soil, plant life and landscapes of our planet. It is unsustainable in every way. So somehow, with an increasing global population and decreasing arable land we need to figure out how to feed people without further destroying the soil we depend upon for life. It is a tough question. It requires a radical rethink on many levels. While our current system provides cheap food, much of it then degraded through unnecessary processing, it is destroying the land, the water (agriculture consumes 70% of fresh water supplies), the air, contributes to climate change, and too often insures the destruction of rural communities.

      For me, further, there is a transfer of this aesthetic of managed fields of single crops that is often seen as the ideal in landscape design. The other day I watched a video of a program where a landscape designer was invited to help an interior designer deal with the design of her new backyard. It was an overgrown lot which means it would have been rich in biodiversity. The solution to the problem of all that plant life? They ripped out everything and laid down sod. Really. And it was declared beautiful in the eyes of the commentator on the show. It was awful but it demonstrates how far this aesthetic goes.

      The average designed landscape in urban areas survives about 2 years. Not because it gets ripped up but because it is so badly put together in ecological terms that it cannot survive. Only massive infusions of water and fertilizers (just like much agriculture) keeps it going and looking appealing. To change our approach means challenging the dominant aesthetic. Yes, we will still have control but we need to back off more and let biodiversity flourish in our absence.

      I have an half acre of very biodiverse garden in my yard. It is full of different plants, many native, many wildflowers, many what others would call weeds. I used to pull all the weeds. But I realized that pollinators love them. So now they stay. And this year, after this new ‘back off and let it live’ approach I was rewarded with more birds, insects and small mammals than every before. There has always been an abundance of life in this yard but this year surprised me. I need to sell this home and I dread that someone will come in and rip it all out simply to have that landscape of control with an aesthetic that reflects that back to the new owners. I hope it doesn’t happen.

      I have no answers for agriculture though there does seem to be new/old approaches happening all over, often with amazing results and sometimes not. But we need to give the planet and other species a chance to live, and especially a chance to survive climate change. We can only do that by handing back significant amounts of habitat to them (rewilding). In the meantime, one of the new ways of doing agriculture is in urban warehouses where up to 400 acres of food can be produced on an acre. Or with insects for protein (doesn’t take much space to provide for a whole city). Whatever we do, we need to heal the planet for future generations and feed people well.

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