Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Finding unity, not division in a different tower this Sept. 11

By Griff Martin
Special to the American-Statesman
The Rev. Dr. Griff Martin is the senior pastor of First Austin: A Baptist Community of Faith.

On Sept. 11, it is most natural to be thinking about towers — the towers are our collective conscious this moment. We pause, remember and grieve together. It’s a day that forever changed our world.  

I want to challenge us to remember another tower, the Tower of Babel.

Now, if you were raised in a more conservative faith you were probably taught something along these lines: All the people of Earth wanted to build something grand, thus they build this tower to reach God, and then God destroys the tower. And typically, the teaching implies an angry God who not only destroys something we created but then sends us away with the judgement of different languages, making communication and community difficult. 

What if God wasn’t angry? What if the Tower of Babel is not about an angry God and more about a big God who wants a thousand different languages and a thousand variations of God’s name and a thousand ways of worshipping God and communicating about God instead of just one version of that? A God who is worthy of more than a tower, a God who is too big to fit into any one language, too large to fit in a box, too massive to fit into a simple category and too vast for any one religion. 

It’s how I believe Jesus read this story and how Jesus viewed God, which helps us understand why Jesus so often finds God outside the places one would expect Jesus to find God. 

It’s Jesus borrowing freely from other religious teachings and philosophies when he starts a lesson with, “you have heard it was said….” It’s why Jesus breaks all sorts of borders between clean and unclean, holy and sacred.

It’s Jesus kissing lepers, and Jesus eating at tables with sinners and sex workers and everyone the world excludes. It’s also Jesus interacting with Pharisees and Sadducees and followers of the Torah, Jesus preaching in the temple, and Jesus practicing Judaism. For Jesus, it’s all people and all places. 

Jesus seems to be very content playing a divine game of hide-and-seek, and Jesus often finds God beyond the expected places. The surprise is that Jesus is not surprised when he finds God and goodness in those places; he knows that, of course, he will find God there. Jesus seems to find God everywhere he looks. There are no limits.    

Which makes me wonder, what does God think of a world in which most of our diversity is not celebrated but rather used as the very criteria with which we divide and dismiss one another? Where the name you use for God is more often an indicator of group belonging instead of a celebration of what you know and believe? Where a church like mine, First Baptist of Austin also known as First Austin, has to loudly proclaim that all genders, races, sexual orientations and abilities are welcomed instead of just assuming that church is a place where all belong?  

The Tower of Babel is still true. There is a really big God out there, and that God is too big for any one gender, orientation, faith, language or political party. None of those are huge enough to contain all of God.

Our job, our calling, is to be humble enough to recognize that, to be loving enough to listen, and to find God in places and people and conversations where we never expected to find God.

This is how we heal the world.  

The Rev. Dr. Griff Martin is the senior pastor of First Austin: A Baptist Community of Faith. Doing Good Together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.