15 Responses

  1. Brent Henderson
    Brent Henderson May 16, 2013 at 9:25 AM |


    I wonder if you have given this much thought on a more global scale? Linguists (like myself) have for a couple of decades been decrying the huge loss of language and culture that is currently evaporating from the planet. We estimate at least half and perhaps as much as 75% of the world’s languages will be gone or very nearly gone by the end of this century, and along with them their distinctive cultures (In my SVS talk a couple years ago , I referred to this as the “Global Diversity Crisis.”).

    We can in some ways think of this great conflation as a return to the monoculture of Babel – a refusal to take difference seriously as we join together for a common self-serving cause (in this case, building an incredibly flawed global economic system rather than a tower). This presents, I think, the second question that Pentecost asks us and perhaps the more difficult one. Once we accept that we should be an intentionally diverse body, how do we hold onto that diversity without differences eventually evaporating?

    There is a field of linguistics called ‘language revitalization’ in which we attempt to ensure the sustainability of endangered languages/cultures. We are not very successful in these efforts, mostly because (i) there are so many complex social factors that go into language loss, and (ii) it tends to require a lot of effort and resources. To really sustain a culture requires building social institutions through which people can have their social (economic, political, health) needs met in ways in which not only is their language/culture not a barrier, but in which their language/culture are in fact assets in the process. E.g., (to take an example I’m familiar with), the only way Mayan languages/cultures in Guatemala will survive the next 150 years is if speaking a Maya language actually helps someone get access to healthcare (which is currently only offered in Spanish, which most Guatemalans don’t speak).

    To bring it back to the church, the question is can we really build churches in which diversity is not only accepted but SUSTAINED in life-giving ways? That is, churches where one’s culture/language are ASSETS for accessing what God has to offer? That is, I think, the vision of Pentecost.

    Love the blog! Keep up the great work!

  2. Marc Schelske (@schelske)
    Marc Schelske (@schelske) May 16, 2013 at 10:11 AM |

    Wow… I has never once occurred to me that the Babel story would be used to *justify* segregation and disunity. In retrospect I can see why. But that’s not an interpretation I’ve ever come across.

    From time to time I separate my children because they are having a tough time getting along. But it’s absurd to think that means I *always* want them separated. Every time we celebrate when the reconciliation happens. So weird.

  3. Pentecost Happened
    Pentecost Happened May 16, 2013 at 2:55 PM |

    […] like a more recent one, offered up by Christena Cleveland this week.  She begins by describing her encounter with a student who asserted the following to […]

  4. Bond Hsu
    Bond Hsu May 16, 2013 at 8:24 PM |

    Thank you for this article. Before I was a Christian, I was approached by a predominantly African American church who loved me, sang with me, and taught me the Scriptures. One of our memory verses was Matthew 28:18-20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” I love this verse because it shows that God has a plan to include everyone in His Kingdom.

  5. Dave H.
    Dave H. May 18, 2013 at 7:57 AM |

    “Babel-cursed” is a neologism that has now entered my permanent lexicon. THANK YOU.

  6. Anthony Smith
    Anthony Smith May 18, 2013 at 12:00 PM |


    Thank you for this timely reflection on Pentecost. Sharing with my friends and networks.

  7. jasdye
    jasdye May 19, 2013 at 6:58 PM |

    Interesting. I know much of Genesis is used to justify racial separation (particularly the old stand-by Curse of Ham). Today, I considered to look at the Tower of Babel case as one of anti-Empire (Babel = Babylon), and as Pentecost as a start of a new anti-Empire – an answer to the Tower conflict.

    Self-promotion warning: http://leftcheek.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/the-inclusive-participatory-tongues-of-fire/

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