A Dream

Man, did I have a strange dream last night.  I seemed to be on the sofa, watching TV as the evening news began and the announcer said something like this…

“…Many in the nation were surprised today by a Supreme Court ruling that the celebration of ‘Christmas’ is a ritual of the largely discredited Christian religion and thus disqualified from public display.  In his response to the ruling, the President stated ‘As this nation emerged – slowly and painfully – from the deeply rooted practice of slavery, so we will survive the turmoil that arises from this painful but necessary decision.  Christian intransigence has forced this nation into a clear and unmistakable response.  Those who continue to embrace a dangerous and hurtful tradition that excludes and offends many of our citizens must be confronted.  Those who would raise their children in an atmosphere of mystical thinking and intolerance must be restrained.  For too long, Christians in America have claimed the right to think and say whatever they want by hiding behind a very un-American tradition.  It is time for a change.’”

“The ruling specifically forbids any observation of the ‘Christmas’ ritual in public and lists both visual and audio indicators which will constitute violation, including manger scenes and several familiar songs.  The American winter holiday, Festivus, is not affected by this ruling.  No word yet on implications of the Christmas prohibition upon observations within private homes.”

“In a companion case, the Supreme Court denied an appeal by Phil Robertson, the extremist jailed three years ago for quoting an unpopular Christian scripture during a media session.  The Court found that the FCC regulation violated by Robertson – which has since become the law of the land – did carry the authority to arrest and incarcerate offenders, even though that clause was appended by federal administrators, rather than by Congress.  Responding to this ruling, the President hearkened back to a major theme of his third election campaign: ‘We remain a nation in transition.  For a brief moment in our history, it has been necessary to increase the protective powers of the federal government in order to guarantee the freedoms of our people.’”

“In other news, the Court upheld the conviction of a Michigan man who, according to NSA records, attempted to transmit an email note stating that ‘Government of the people, by the people and for the people is – right now – perishing from the earth.’”…

Suddenly, the dream was shattered by the sound of my alarm.  Imagine my relief to wake up in the real world.

Living in Babel

I’ve lived in Babel for some time now.  At first, I would just come to visit.  I was excited by the riot of faces and voices and ideas.  When I left, the clamor of the place jangled in my ears for a while and it was good to get away but, over time, I developed a taste for it.  I began to stay longer and when I left it was the quiet that seemed strange to me as if something was missing.  Eventually, I moved in.
And so it was quite a shock last week when a tree limb, bowing under a heavy layer of ice, snapped and fell, dragging a power line to the ground and severing my connection to Babel.  The restless city, to which I was linked through television and radio and computer, fell silent and I was alone with my thoughts, which is to say, quite alone indeed.  This was late afternoon and the brooding sky was already growing dark and, with it, our soundless, waterless and rapidly cooling home.  The darkness and silence felt like an invasion, a blitzkrieg of some foreign power, suddenly cutting us off from the world.
It took a few minutes to recognize how wrong I was, which tells you something about the severity of my condition.  So addicted have I become to consuming the clamor of Babel that I felt lost without it.  Our little house had not moved, nor the sky above.  The quiet and the dark had always been there, though for so long suppressed that they seemed new to me.  The rhythms of the planet, which felt strange and arbitrary, were those into which I had been born.  When Babel fell, the invasion ended and I reentered the real world.  I did not like it.
My television remote and my browser have given me a God’s-eye view of the earth.  I can see almost anything happening almost anywhere.  The world is small, I think.  But I sometimes forget the distinction between observing and experiencing.  Good-looking and intelligent people provide expert commentary on everything under the sun.  I know what’s important, I think.  But I forget the difference between hearing and thinking.  My devices allow me to effortlessly calculate, navigate and communicate.  I am capable, I think.  But I have forgotten the distinction between using and understanding.
When we came to our senses we lit a few candles, huddled on the sofa and read some stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder, soon wondering why we do not do this more often.  C. S. Lewis warned (even before the television and computer era) against “chronological snobbery”: the mistaken sense that we see the world (and ourselves) clearly.  He suggested a regular diet of voices from previous generations to help us see into the blind spots common to our age.  What seems odd about the ideas of Laura, or Mr. Lewis or (far better) the Bible may, in fact, be the shape of a forgotten truth, seen through the distorted lens of our forgetful culture.
I’ve lived in Babel for some time now and I have been changed by it.  When it is taken from me I feel awkward, empty and lonesome –  a consumer made superfluous by the absence of something to consume.  People talk about the tower of Babel but, reading the story again this morning, I notice that the problem was really the city of Babel, that riot of faces and voices and ideas that murdered solitude, excelled at self-congratulation and, yes, sprouted into a tower.  But I don’t think that God was afraid of towers.  He stopped the riot of Babel, as he perhaps stopped my electricity, so we would be quiet for a little while, reenter the world and, possibly, hear his voice.