Tag Archives: Fame

Back to Babel

Back to Babel (CaD Gen 11) Wayfarer

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves…”
The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.
Genesis 11:4, 6 (NIV)

Over the past month, Wendy and I have been listening to a podcast called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The podcast documents the story of a small group of people in Seattle who started a church, which became a movement, and then it was gone almost overnight. It’s also the story of the pastor, a young man who became one of the most famous and influential individuals in Christian circles. Yesterday, while I spent the day driving on a business trip, I listened to a bonus episode about another young man who also became famous and influential at about the same time, and then deconstructed his faith (something of a fad at the moment, FYI) and eventually announced on social media that he no longer identifies as a Christian.

After I returned home last night, Wendy and I discussed the episode. On one hand, there’s a morality tale in the stories of these individuals about the effects of celebrity, fame, and influence. There’s also a larger societal story about our culture of celebrity itself in which an individual can be a famous celebrity without having any particular talent or having accomplished anything other than to have become a celebrity.

Today’s chapter tells the story of the Tower of Babel and is the final story in Genesis which scholars would classify as primeval. It joins the story of creation, the Garden, Cain and Abel, Noah, and the Great Flood as foundational stories of the Great Story. On the surface, the Tower of Babel is intended to describe how humanity went from one people and then was scattered into different nationalities, cultures, and languages. Under the surface, it’s about humanity’s pride nature, and its ends.

Humanity is one homogeneous people group, and they conspire to build a tower to the heavens “to make a name for ourselves.” I thought this a bit of synchronicity in the quiet this morning as my heart and mind continue to mull over the stories I heard in the podcast about two young men who “made a name for themselves” only to find their own lives and the worlds of those who followed them crumble. In the case of the intervie w I listened to yesterday, at least one of the two is still reeling, confused, and lost like humanity itself at end of the Babel story.

But there’s another aspect to the Babel story that I recognized thirty years ago. As my life journey and spiritual journey have progressed, the more important I think this lesson is. In the story, God recognizes that humanity’s capabilities coupled with sinful pride will result in “nothing being impossible for them.” It seems that the narrative of the storyline is moving too quickly for God’s design, and the scattering of the peoples and confusing of the languages appears to be God’s way of slowing the pace of the narrative back down.

My earthly journey has been a fascinating time to live. I’ve watched the dawn of the computer age, experienced the beginning of the internet, I watched it grow, and witnessed how technology has effectively united the globe. Think about the coronavirus, which originates in China where scientists and countries from around the world had invested in woring together on biomedical research in a country who is considered less than friendly. I can’t imagine this happening even a generation ago.

Never, since the Tower of Babel, has humanity been more of a global village increasingly uniting under the umbrella of technology and connected to all countries and cultures through social media. Just last week the Wall Street Journal said that Facebook will soon be the sole news source for 80-90 percent of the entire world population.

I’ve also come to recognize that perhaps, for the first time since the Tower of Babel, we’re living in a generation that can say “nothing is impossible for us.” We can genetically design babies. Scientists hope to birth a Wooly Mammoth in the lab within a few years. W illiam Shatner, at 92, will take a commercial ride in space next month. In the last month I’ve read articles about scientists who are focused on making it possible for humans live forever. Mining asteroids, life on Mars, and now Amazon announced a robot for your home that rolls around to assist you and monitor your home for threats. I can have my own personal Wall-E.

The question, of course, is where does it all lead? What fascinates me the most as I contemplate the answer to this question is that, factually, life on Earth has never been better on the whole. There’s less extreme poverty, less sickness, longer lives, better education, higher status for women, more access to information, better access to clean water supplies, and less starvation and malnutrition. This is true. It is a fact. Read Hans Rosling’s book Factfulness.

At the same time, I observe more and more confusion about who we are. Adults are asking children what gender they believe they are, then arranging to physically alter their biology. Scientifically, there are still just two genders, but philosophically we’re how told that there are endless genders to choose from based solely on my choice to identify in the moment. After centuries of progress towards ending slavery, reducing prejudice, and accepting bi-racial and cross-cultural marriages in an increasingly large global village, we’re suddenly regressing back into racial separation and segregation. What was once good is now bad. What was once bad is now good. What was once regressive is now progressive. Children now make life-altering adult decisions. Adults now chase an endless childhood. I am who I identify myself as in the moment, but that might change. What is important is what’s trending in the moment. What’s not important is anything in the past or that which is not trending.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself fascinated by the world in which I live, where increasingly “nothing is impossible.” I find myself mulling over the possibility that we are in process of building a new Tower of Babel with DNA, 5G networks, stem cells, lasers, robotics and fiber optics. I find myself marveling at a culture that appears to me to be increasingly confused despite all of our knowledge and advancement.

I find myself grateful for my simple identity…

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12 (NIV)

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Success

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them.
Mark 15:15a (NIV)

Last night Wendy and I enjoyed a lovely date at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant that has become a favorite haunt at the lake. During our dinner conversation, Wendy referenced a couple of conversations we’ve had with people recently in which my blog posts and podcasts were referenced. In each case, I received kind words of gratitude.

Wendy asked me if I was encouraged by this. I was, of course. It’s always heartening to know that some seed I scattered sprouted something worthwhile in another person’s journey. This conversation is always a bit of a two-edged sword for me, and Wendy knows that more than anyone. This is why my Enneagram Eight challenger wife brought it up. She is my most passionate cheerleader and high-fidelity encourager.

Here’s what I’ve observed and learned after fifteen years and some five thousand blog posts. Measuring “success” is such a spiritual, emotional, and mental trap. Part of it is just human nature to want my endeavors to succeed. Part of it is a male thing in which grown men have a trapped little boy inside them perpetually playing King of the Mountain. Part of it, for me, is also being an Enneagram Four who naturally sees myself and my world through the lens of dramatic, angsty pessimism and a brooding sense of failure. Then, add-in the world’s definitions of “success” which is measured in large numbers, viral popularity, notoriety, and income.

By the world’s definition, fifteen years and five thousand blog posts should be generating way more than the 54 visitors to my site yesterday. By the world’s definition, it’s abject failure. So, why do it? I like to think I’m compelled, but sometimes I think I might be a little bit crazy.

Three chapters back I mused about the role of “the crowd” in the final days of Jesus earthly journey. It was Tuesday and the crowds were delighted with Jesus’ teaching. Jesus enemies were afraid of the crowd, and afraid of the threat Jesus would be with the crowd behind Him and siding against them. It’s now early Friday morning and these enemies “stir the crowd” to demand the Roman Governor to crucify Jesus. The Governor is a politician, and “wanting to satisfy the crowd” he goes against his better judgment. He condemns an innocent man to keep his approval number high and keep peace with his political adversaries.

Pilate and the chief priests were playing the world’s version King of the Mountain. The Prince of Heaven was showing His followers what the path of success looks like in God’s Kingdom.

Which version of “success” do I really want?

In the quiet this morning, I found myself thinking about two other lessons that I’ve observed about the world’s definition of “success.” First, it’s never enough. It’s a never-ending game of King of the Mountain but the mountain keeps getting higher. The chief priests and religious power brokers were so addicted to their power and influence that they were willing to climb to the pinnacle of conspiracy to commit legally sanctioned murder in order to hold on to it. Second, once the crowd crowns someone with worldly success, the crowd then demands that the person says and does what it dictates. Pilate let the crowd determine his verdict.

Over the past few years, I’ve observed with increasing clarity just how much the crowd fans the flames of public opinion and sways what “successful” people say and do. I find it fascinating how the crowd can lift any obscure individual to the mountain-top of success, and just as quickly push them off popularity cliff.

I submit for your consideration Exhibit A: Jesus, the Christ.

Sunday: The crowd cheers His “triumphant entry” to Jerusalem.

Friday: The crowd screams for His crucifixion.

And so, I’ll continue to scatter my posts and podcasts out into the inter-web in blissful obscurity grateful that 50 or so people stop by on any given day. I’ll continue to follow my spiritual compulsions until the Spirit compels me to stop. I’ll continue to choose to listen to my high-fidelity cheerleader. I’ll continue to tell my human nature, my inner-boy, and my Type Four temperament to chill-out.

Life (without the crowd) is good.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Shameless Audacity

source: Vincent van der Pas via Flickr
source: Vincent van der Pas via Flickr

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.  Luke 11:5-8 (NIV)

Last night Wendy and I were in bed watching one of the late night talk shows. A music act performed and we both thought it awful. The song wasn’t catchy at all but seemed strange and dated. The singer didn’t have a terrific voice but was dressed in some kind of strange outfit and made all kinds of weird movements around the stage. The band was also dressed in silly costumes. What the act lacked in musical talent they more than made up for with spectacle. This is something I have learned along life’s journey about artists in every medium. You will find some who achieve fame because of their talent, and you will find some who achieve fame because of their audacity (and, a few who have both).

I thought of that music act as I read Jesus’ parable this morning of the neighbor with shameless audacity who won’t go away until you loan him some bread. There is something to be said for having the courage to be shamelessly audacious. Dream big dreams, think big thoughts, go big, ask for much, and keep asking.

Good sometimes comes, not to the one who seemingly deserves it, but to the one who seeks after it constantly, asks for it tirelessly, and knocks without ceasing.

 

My Daily Cross Road Blues

Cross Road Blues
(Photo credit: bontxi)

Listen as Wisdom calls out!
    Hear as understanding raises her voice!
On the hilltop along the road,
    she takes her stand at the crossroads.
Proverbs 8:1-2 (NLT)

There was a collision in my head and heart this morning. Literary device and music legend met at the crossroads and slammed headlong into one another.

This morning’s chapter is amazing as Solomon anthropomorphizes (e.g. cloaks an impersonal concept in human form) wisdom. He morphs wisdom into a woman, no less, and juxtaposes her agains the harlot and adulteress described in the previous two chapters. Wisdom calls out, just as the adulteress did, but her message is all together different. While getting entangled with the harlot led to the grave, darkening Wisdom’s doorway ushers a person to life and God’s favor.

How fascinating that Solomon places Wisdom at the crossroads. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of the blues knows that it was at the crossroads where the folk story of blues pioneer Robert Johnson is rooted. The legend goes that at the crossroads Johnson met and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for making him a great blues player. He is known for some of the great songs we still recognize today such as Crossroads Blues and Sweet Home Chicago.

So it was this morning that I stood at the crossroads. I saw Wisdom standing there and heard her calling out, but there I witnessed Robert Johnson making a deal with the devil.

How many times in life do we find ourselves at the crossroads and hear competing voices calling our name, whispering in our ear, and laying before us a choice? How many times today will we find ourselves at the crossroads making a choice between Wisdom and her nemesis?

Robert Johnson sang “Went down to the crossroads, got down on my knee.”

To whom will I bow today at the crossroads?

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 2

The people we idolize. Quit scraping and fawning over mere humans, so full of themselves, so full of hot air! Can't you see there's nothing to them? Isaiah 2:22 (MSG)

The world of celebrity and fame is a whacky place. I never ceased to be amazed at the tabloids that grace the grocery store check out line. I don't know whether to be impressed or depressed that there is actually a market for them. The "legitimate" television news isn't much better. Most recently we "scrape and fawn" over Tiger Woods. His every word, action, and decision is analyzed, scrutinized, and hypothesized by every media outlet. We watch it, read about it, talk about it, argue over it.

Before there was Tiger, there was Brangelina, Bennifer, Michael, and O.J.. You can keep going back, if you want to do so. Every generation has them. Every culture has them. How fascinating that our human nature, throughout history, is perpetually intent on turning normal, flesh-and-blood human beings into "stars," "gods," "goddesses," "icons," and "idols."

Today, I'm mindful of people and things in my life to which I've attached greater worth than is truly merited.

 

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and roobee

Chapter-a-Day Daniel 10

Angelic visit.  "I heard his voice. At the sound of it I fainted, fell flat on the ground, face in the dirt. A hand touched me and pulled me to my hands and knees." Daniel 10:9-10 (MSG)

As a young man, I used to be really intimidated by people of prominence or worldly fame that I had the chance to meet. In their presence, I acted much like Daniel describes his encounter. My heart would race, it would be hard to breathe, and I would feel paralyzed by fear that I would say or do something really stupid.

Then, along the journey, I was given the opportunity to meet and spend time with a few people who would be deemed prominent in certain circles. I was able to hang out with them, watch them, and listen to them. I found them remarkably human. In fact, in most cases I found myself scratching my head and thinking, "why does everyone think this person is so great?"

These experiences really changed my perspective and the way I react to people I meet. However, today's chapter is a reminder to me of a theme throughout God's message. When human beings come in contact with God or His messengers, the reaction is always fear, humility and being paralyzed. Heavenly presence is, indeed, something with which we all will be impressed. In heavenly presence we will all appropriately fall to our faces. It reminds me of Jesus' words:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matt 10:28 (NIV)


Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and loci lenar