Can you believe it’s Tuesday again already? We’re back with another Travelin’ Tuesdays post (be sure to check out the rest of them while you’re here!) and an announcement. I know this will be tragic news to some of you, but we’re going to take a brief hiatus from the Tuesdays that Travel during Lent. But don’t worry, there’s good news! Remember my Women of Advent series? It was so fun to research and write and so well received that I’ve decided to bring it back for the next-most-popular part of the church calendar (hint: it starts tomorrow). While the Women of Advent dealt with women who waited with expectation for the Messiah, the Women of Lent series will focus on those women who physically interacted with Christ and gave up everything to follow him (we may also do some post-Jesus, early church type ladies. Haven’t planned that far ahead yet.). Check back tomorrow for our first Woman of Lent: a woman who gave up everything for Christ before she even met him. I can’t wait!
But we still have today’s Travelin’ Tuesday post, which will also be a bit unconventional. This is certainly a story that pertains to travel, though it does not focus on a single Bible character. Today’s story focuses on the development and difficulty of languages- something that I am particularly passionate about.
Last Sunday in church, our pastor briefly told the story of two rural Mexican men. It so intrigued the linguist and language teacher in me that I had to go home and look it up. You can read the article I found here. In short, it tells the story of Don Chilo and Don Manuel, the last two native speakers of a language called Ayapaneco. Evidently Mexico is home to quite a few indigenous languages on the verge of extinction, and anthropologists and linguists have been frantically trying to save the languages by studying them before the last speakers die, and with them, the language.
The interesting part of Don Chilo and Don Manuel’s story is that these last two speakers of Ayapaneco are not on speaking terms. Scholars and reporters have tried to record actual conversations in the language by having the men meet, but they are unwilling. As it turns out, they speak rather different dialects of the language and therefore their conversation might have been confusing rather than enlightening, but really, no one knows. Because they won’t talk to each other.
Their language, their heritage will literally go to the grave with them because of a grudge that they cannot explain.
Isn’t that how it always goes?
Since the fall, our communication has been broken by deceit and gossip and grudges. But just a few chapters later, in Genesis 11, God himself confuses our communication even further at the Tower of Babel. And why?
And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down there and confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.
Was God threatened by humanity? Concerned that “nothing would be impossible for them” and they would begin to play God? I think, in some sense, he was. I think he knew that if we could work together, if we could communicate and pull all of our weight towards one goal (insert image from finding Nemo of “keep swimming down!”), we would be unstoppable.
But why would God want us to be “stoppable”? Why would he not want humanity to achieve more, to do more, to work together towards goals? I think it is instructive here to look at the goal they were willing to work towards together.
Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the earth.
The only thing that could unite humanity after the fall was self-glorification. Because what are we all able to agree on? That, more than anything else, we want to be God. Our world was already broken, our communication already flawed. Uniting to try to overthrow our Good and Loving and All-Powerful creator could not stand. So God separated and divided and confused. And as a result, we have the Don Manuels and Don Chilos and the awkward conversations where I accidentally tell a Mexican man that I desperately want to marry a Mexican (language learning is HARD, ya’ll).
But God is a God of redemption and restoration and all things new. And in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit descends on the followers of Christ, God allows language to be reunited once more. They were able to speak and everyone there was able to understand, despite diverse language backgrounds. Ironically (I love irony in the Bible), when everyone can understand what is being said, they say, “What does this mean?” They don’t understand how they can understand.
Finally, finally, language is being used for God’s glory instead of man’s, and so it was restored. Instead of saying, “Let us make a name for ourselves,” they were saying, “Let us proclaim the name of God,” and God showed up (like he always will). Redemption and restoration and grace upon grace.
Obviously, languages are still split and communication is still broken. But at Pentecost I think we saw a glimpse of what language could be used for and God’s hand in writing the story of humanity from start to finish. More than anything, I think what we see in this story is that our words were never meant for us. Language of Grace and acceptance and love and God’s glory will always survive and unite. Language of self and need and desire and pride will always break and die.
Don Chilo and Don Manuel may speak the same language, but they cannot communicate. May we be people who radically communicate, for the glory of God, despite any language or cultural or geographic barriers. Because God’s Glory unites what has been dispersed.