I’ve found it quite difficult to remain internet friends with people these days (thanks mostly to the DOMA ruling, Paula Deen, and living in the Southeast around the 4th of July). Now, I do realize it can be hard to find another captive audience comprised of your mom’s salon friends, and people you haven’t seen since 10th grade algebra for your late night, horrifically misspelled, and weirdly racist status updates.
And, as I’ve been told time and again, you gotta write what you know.
But it’s starting to get unbearable.
Ironically, even in the midst of grossly inaccurate and unusually vitriolic commentaries on everything from Guantanamo to ill-fitting and late-arriving granite countertops for your McMansion’s new kitchen reno, some unexpected truths have emerged:
1) Facebook is the internet equivalent of an extra-small Ed Hardy t-shirt. In the old days, I might have had to engage in at least a 30 second conversation with someone in order to discover a seemingly bottomless chasm of disgust welling up inside of me. Nowadays I just read my news feed each morning and rant haughtily to my quickly cooling coffee mug like a kept woman in Antebellum Savannah.
“Oh Mr. Beauregard, I DO declare!”
2) The anonymity allowed by the internet (in that we no longer have to physically stare into the eyes of those we accuse of unraveling the fabric of God-ordained human society) is destructive and toxic. So much so that Facebook, instead of being a place where diverse voices are unified and easily accessible the world over, sadly becomes a dumping ground for racism, sexism, targeted ads for ChristianMingle.net, overreaction, and endless Farmville invites from that aunt you haven‘t seen since the Reagan administration.
So, in light of my (and probably your) growing inability to love my internet neighbors:
a few words about order and chaos.
In the opening riffs of our sacred text, “Genesis” for the uninitiated, we happen upon the spirit of God hovering above the chaotic and primeval waters of pre-formed creation.
In Hebrew it describes these waters as:
tohu va vohu
Or, In English:
Formless and void
Shapeless and strange
one Jewish translation even renders it:
wooly and waste.
Upon God’s discovery of the cosmic mess awaiting him in his prehistoric broom closet, another word fittingly describes his actions in cleaning it up.
Once again, in English:
Or, in Hebrew if you like:
Light from Dark
Land from Water
Birds for the air
Fish for the sea
Beards for Heroes.
Following every divine act of organization, like a faithful dog, is the phrase:
and it was good…
This poem, not altogether dissimilar from a good song, builds and builds as we see what starts as a chaotic mass of unformed primordial soup, like a lonely guitar lick, pick up rocks, trees, animals, and streams as it develops and takes shape with the full band. Once the tempo reaches a fever pitch, we find that from the very clay of God’s ordering activities, humanity is created. And, unlike grad students everywhere, these first humans find instant employment:
fill the earth and subdue it
be fruitful and multiply
After which, someone inevitably shouts from the cheap seats:
now THAT sounds good!
(there’s one in every crowd)
According to page one of the Bible, humanity bears the very being of this creator God deep in their dusty bones. Because of this, they’re expected upon getting their sea legs, to keep the family business going. That business being the work of pushing creation forward with their own acts of creativity, growth, and perpetual evolution. We might even say that humans are tasked with bringing order to places of profound chaos and confusion for the purposes of ongoing harmony, grace, and peace in the world God began.
The difficulty comes, obviously, in how one understand the word “order”.
Just a few pages after this opening poem about the Earth’s origins, we meet an organized, empowered, and efficient group of builders whistling while they work to build a tower “to the heavens.” Obviously, we’re witnessing a profound moment of order, ingenuity, and efficiency being undertaken in true edenic fashion by the first humans (it’s even performed in an effort to reach the home of the divine).
What does God do?
God scatters, lays waste, and initiates, much to the chagrin of Amazing Race contestants screaming spanish at their Bangladeshi cab drivers years later, profound cultural and linguistic confusion amongst the builders. Just 10 pages after giving humans the go-ahead in undertaking this kind of work, God sidetracks the whole project. Because shalom, in this encounter with the divine, is found not in the creation of structure, agreement, and divinely sanctioned homogeneity amongst humanity, but in it’s very destruction. Order, in the flood plains of ancient Mesopotamia, is a group of confused, suddenly unintelligible, and empty-handed builders groping around in the dark, lamenting the loss of that which they had given at least a few weekends of their time to building.
I guess you might say shalom is a far humbler task than sky-scraping uniformity.
For many of us, our problem isn’t that we attempt (even with misguided Facebook posts and sophomoric twitter battles) to grapple with and make sense of the seismic shifts besieging the world around us.
This impulse is as old as the universe, maybe older.
Our issue is a far more insidious pull. One that attempts to possess and leverage shalom for ourselves and our tribe to the exclusion of other selves and other tribes. This is the very motivation we hear cacophonously voiced whenever questions about housing, marriage, choice, life, welfare, Medicare, and BCS playoff scenarios surface on social media.
Their weddings or ours.
Their welfare or ours.
Their schools (and kids) or ours.
Their faith or ours.
In a world dominated by suspicion and scarcity someone has to lose, and confusingly the one religion who’s God ends up getting himself killed for his beliefs about inclusion, generosity, and the toxicity of misguided religiosity and violent nationalism, seemingly spends the lion’s share of its time laying waste to everything and everyone else in the name of its own survival.
In this world we’re taught that faithfulness means toiling, sweating, and struggling over our keyboards late into the night, building towers to the heavens and sacrificing all the dangling participles of mystery, difference, diversity, and doubt on the altar of the great unyielding construction foreman in the sky.
Because, as Kevin McCallister’s mom reminds us each Christmas:
“there are 15 people in this house and you’re the only one who has to cause trouble.”
Honestly, we’d all be a lot happier if they just kept quiet.
If they talked, and lived, and believed, and loved, and voted, and married who we thought they should.
If people would just stop talking about it, it wouldn’t be such a big deal.
Perhaps the order we’re in such desperate need of today isn’t all that different from the kind God unleashed on Babel so many years ago. You know, the kind that feels like chaos and destruction and humility and the quiet realization that we’re all probably wrong about a good deal of what we’ve given our lives to creating.
So may you, as you cruise the rhetoric filled dumpster fire that is Al Gore’s world-wide-web. Instead of sacrificing yet another person, or religion, or sexuality, or political party, or economic recovery plan in the name of your worldview’s survival, consider the counterintuitive shalom-producing activities of a scattering God of homeless former slaves and a crucified 1st century rabbi who managed to leave the last tomb an angry mob tried to lay him in.
Or, put another way: if someone has to lose their prestige, power, honor, position, or way of life in order to make space for another, it should probably be those of us who wear crosses around our necks as a reminder of the last time we tried to kill God in the name of God.