Sunday, August 21, 2005
Compassion on Babylon
Now, for all Architects and non-Architects alike out there, imagine what it would be like to actually design a building. The following may sound overly-simplistic, or even down-right obvious (after I explain this, you may find yourself saying “thank you, master of the obvious”), but it is the essence of what happens when a building is made, or comes into being. See, first someone, an artist hopefully (rather than merely a business man) imagines a building. Next, you see, it is actually made, built.
That’s that dichotomy between mind and body, which philosophers have so endlessly discussed through the ages. Emotion isn’t really present until there is a body. You can, in detached fashion, imagine anything, with no emotional or bodily ties to what is in your mind. Once the thing is present in bodily reality, it is subject to physical limits and emotional responses.
If, with this explanation, you are wondering how on earth I, the guy who just explained the process of design and building as “first this”, “then that”, think of the “this” and the “that” as one entity; just think of the simple fact that, when you were “first” imagining the building, it was the very same building that “then” got built.
This idea of the two parts being a whole springs from Holiness, and my quest towards it. Not, of course, my Holiness, but God’s. And also, of course, the Holiness present in the “image of God”. When you realize it was God, who is One (“Hear, O Isreal, the Lord your God; the Lord is One.) who made the image, you reailize it is both the “this” and the ”that” that are interwoven into the “image of God” in which Man is made, together.
Now, let me explain something. This unity, this harmony between mind, body and emotion, which springs from the originally-intended state of wholeness in which we were made, was common in ancient times. You can see it in the Architecture of ancient peoples. I believe that the defining characteristic of Modernity is the separation between these things (the Capitoline Hill has an equestrian statue in the center; St. Peter's square, designed less than 100 years later, after the threshold of modernity, has rather a funeral obilisk in the center), between mind, body and heart. It is not until modernity that you see artists, architects in particular for the purpose here of coherence, arguing about these things. In modernity, one guy says “The intellect is what’s important!” Then the next guy says “No, it’s the body, its craft!” And you can see which guy makes which argument in their actual “body” of Architectural work.
Now, of course, you can see the presence, or importance of the body in the work of the guy who says “It’s the body, craft, that’s important!” As explained, you can’t make a building without imagining it first. What distinguishes this guy from the other, is that you can see that he places his primary emphasis, the primary importance, on craft and the body. Same goes for the other guy who places the primary importance on the intellect. You can see the importance of the body in his work – otherwise there would be no building – but you can clearly see that it is the intellect and the imagination that is of primary importance to this architect.
Now, let me provide examples.
The Athenian Parthenon is the classic example of an ancient building that came from a time before men so separated body and mind. And you can see this harmony, this unity in the building. And it is very beautiful. See:
Now, following is an example of a famous modern architect who most people recognize as someone who places the primary emphasis on the body and craft. The work of Louis I. Kahn, who’s son recently made a documentary called “My Architect”, about his father and his works. See:
The following is an example of a famous modern architect who obviously places the primary importance on the intellect, the mind. The first link is to the famous Barcelona Pavillion, in Barcelona, Spain. The second is a link to the Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Chicago, Illinois. Both are by the famous Mies Van der Roh.
Both of the examples above, I believe show a harmony and a profound awareness of the wholeness both present and needed for the human soul. In the first link, the works of Lou Kahn, you can see the apparent bodily emphasis in how the building is made, it’s weight and very bodily presence. But you can also see in his work a clear and coherent intellectual order and rigor, without which the building would fall apart, both literally and figuratively.
In the second two links, you can see the obvious emphasis on the intellect and the mind. Both the Barcelona Pavillion and the Lake-Shore Drive Apartments are designed on a super-imposed grid. The grid is less obvious in the photographs of the Barcelona Pavillion, but when experienced in person one sees that it is clearly organized around a grid of six cross-shaped posts. Between the posts are various highly abstracted Euclidian planes in space serving as walls, roof and floor. The super-imposed grid is obvious at the Lake Shore Drive Apartments. In both buildings however, in response to and reflection of that grid imposed over from the heights of the intellect and abstract planes in space, are dark colors and very earthly materials and tones. This brings the buildings back into harmony and balance.
[Note: for my reader’s more full understanding, the architect associated with the first link, Lou Kahn, never designed on a grid. Explaining how he did organize his buildings would be a bit complicated; essentially, from the beginning of the “design process”, as the building is coming into fruition, it is the architects intention to let Mother Earth speak for herself, with the assumption that she is Wise, thanks again to that original “image of God” thing – Lou Kahn was Jewish]
If only we all were aware of such highly-needed harmony and balance, and how ever-present is the dis-harmony and imbalance. Following is a link to a very famous building that presents to us an image of profound disharmony, a major kink in the well-oiled machine, if you will. It is the Pompidou Centre in Paris, France, to which many tourists flock each summer, smiling and laughing gracefully. Ironically, the building is intended by the architect to be comedic, but I’ll admit that I have a hard time laughing (or have in the past, at least). I might laugh if others did so with me, but it is rather ignorance that seems to prevail. It is designed through the skeleton of a super-imposed grid, but then it’s actualizaion as a crafted, bodily thing does not seek to reflect against that intellectual grid; it does not seek a restoration of balance from the super-imposed over-emphasis on the intellectual part of the human soul.
Ask this building about harmony between mind, body and emotion, and it’s reply is “What harmony!? I don’t need that. Look at all these laughing people. Why are you so concerned about this anyway! You are weird, and crazy. No one else cares so much about my “harmony”; why should you! Get with the programme, mister!”
My answer to the building is this: “re-read the first paragraph of this blog mister!” My concern is with the Holiness of God himself – mister! The very image in which He made his beloved bride. Further, and in some sense more importantly, the Pompidou Centre is the New Tower of Babylon! [reader gasp…”What? But the Pompidou Centre no tower at all?”]
The Tower of Babylon is a picture of the human soul distorted in a particular way (by the will). It is not only some physical, historical tower that we can locate at a certain point in history and in the scriptures and never have to worry about again. Babylon is the fundamental condition of our culture, and the fundamental problem for modern man to resolve.
It is not only man in which you can see the “image of God,” but in all of creation. If you look closely, you can “see God in everything.” It is as if the heavens and the earth emanate with this image of God, relating to it analogically; and Man, with the gift of voice, is the crowning immanence of this beautiful image. “Then God said…” (Genesis 1: 3). Further, if one does an in-depth study of Genesis, you can see that it is ordered in accordance with that “dichotomy” between mind and body discussed above, as pertaining to the tradition of Architecture. First day: light and dark. Second day, “waters above” separated from “waters below”. Third day: clear distinction of an actual “heavens” and “earth”, later to be related analogically to the “mind” and “body” (how many of us think of our mind as “up there”, while we think of our body as “down here”?). Of course included in that same third day is plants and vegetation springing back up toward the heavens. Man “heads” up toward the heavens, and his feet are “planted” firmly on the ground.
It is no mere coincidence that the vessel of the mind, the “brain”, is housed in the head (imagine if your head were attached to some part at the bottom of your body!). And, it is no coincidence that the head is shaped like the heavens (ever heard of the skull referenced as “your dome”?), whereas the rest of the body is organized in relation to its other parts and in relation to the earth by the right angle, while the square is the traditional symbol for Mother Earth. We stand at a right angle to the earth, and our arms and legs relate to our torso along linear axes
To understand the Tower of Babel, you cannot simply observe the object of the tower; you must get at its very urge, understand. “Let us build for ourselves a great city with a tower that reaches to the heavens – a monument to our greatness. It will bring us together and keep us from scattering all over the world.” (Genesis 11: 4) Why would a tower to the heavens be a monument to our greatness? There is obviously enough of a pre-established connection, from the very foundations of how God created us and the world, between us and the heavens, for a tower built by man, to the heavens to be “a monument to our greatness.” Why, in the first place, did man think to even want to build to the heavens? It is in this spirit that I say that Babylon is the fundamental condition of modernity. Modernity was the building of the Tower (soon I will explain further, via example at least). “Post-modernity” is the separation of languages!
“But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. ‘Look!’ he said. ‘If they can accomplish this when they have just begun to take advantage of their common language and political unity, just think of what they will do later, Nothing will be impossible for them! Come, let’s go down and give them different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other. In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the earth; and that ended the building of the city. That is why the city was called Babel, because it was there that the Lord confused the people by giving them many languages, thus scattering them across the earth.” (Genesis 11: 5-8).
What were the primary topics of discussion in modernity? “Universal truth”, “absolute truth”, many moderns even dared to dream of a literal “universal language.” And what is the primary topic of discussion in post-modernity? “Interpretation”, “context”; the meaning of the text is determined by the interpretation of the reader, each of whom has his own set of background experiences and his own personal context in which he reads the text. In other words, the “text” says something, in one language, but then each reader comes to it with his own separate language. The text and the reader have been “scattered across the surface of the earth”, and we are all speaking different languages. One of the favorite books of the post-modern New Age folks, however, is The Alchemist, which talks a lot about the “silent language”, which we can all understand together.
Now, my intended audience for this piece of writing is my fellow Christian friends. So, please allow me to assume a certain commonality there. I am seeking after the Holiness of God. I am seeking healing from our separation. I recently had an experience of such healing, in a, for me, completely new and unexpected way. See, as I was even realizeing, and learning the things discussed above, it brought me much healing; but there was much left to do. I mentioned earlier that I had a hard time laughing with the Centre Pompidou. That was my lesson recently! Compassion!
I recently got into a huge argument with a very good friend (a fellow-Christian) about politics and the character of our current president, George Bush. This of course brought me a lot of pain, but it also ended up leading to a lot of healing. Before I more fully explain that, however, let me give a little more background information.
Above, I shared some of what I learned while in Architecture school, and thereafter as well. I learned about many other things in parallel with my learning of Architecture. One of the topics I learned a bit about (not as much as Architecture, of course), was politics. Through it all, I came to really question, and even oppose how most of us have habitually come to think of politics. From my vantage point, politics in America, for most people, is a question between Democrat and Republican. Republicans are “conservative”, and typically thought of as more related to the cause of Christianity. Democrats are “liberal”, and less concerned with the cause of Christianity. On a larger scale, outside of our own country, we are all taught that communism is evil, and that, of course, since Christianity cannot even be legally practiced in a communist state, it is obviously opposed to the cause of Christianity.
Well, that view was drastically altered and reformed in time, for me. As I began to behold this beautiful image of God planted in Man, I realized that politics, on both the domestic and global scale, too reflects this “image of God”! And that is even primarily what moves politics, what gives form to different political opinions and views. One political camp (Republican, or “communist”) sees one aspect of God (His central, over-arching position; this is Alexander Hamilton's desire for a stronger central government), and how He made man in His image (that Man has an intellect). The other camp sees another aspect (the humility of Christ, that a man's eyes are only 5'6" from the ground, and see in only one diredction; this is Jefferson's desire for a more localised government). One camp says “my aspect is right!” The other camps says “no, my aspect is right!” [brief side note - as mentioned briefly above with the difference between Lou Kahn and Mies Van der Roh - it is not a question of who is right and who is worng, it is a quest to find God in His proper place, and Man in his proper place] In order to see politics in relation to the image of God, you have to step back and see politics in view of its entire history, from the dawn of time, as best the way God would see it as possible.
From here you see that the very same parts of man (such as body, mind and heart) that make up man and his tradition of Architecture, also of course makes up his tradition of politics. “Point for point, the Founding Fathers’ argument for liberty was the exact counterpoint of the Puritan’s argument for dictatorship – but in reverse, moving from the opposite starting point to the opposite conclusion. Man, the Founding Fathers said in essence (with a large assist from Locke and others), is the rational being; no authority, human or otherwise, can demand blind obedience to such a being – not in the realm of thought or, therefore, in the realm of action, either. By his very nature, they said, man must be left free to exercise his reason and then to act accordingly, i.e. by the guidance of his best rational judgment. And, because man is basically good, they held, there is no need to leash him; there is nothing to fear in setting free a rational animal. This, in substance, was the American argument for inalienable rights. It was the argument that reason demands freedom.” (from: http://www.sullivan-county.com/deism.htm).
Most Christians, as they read the previous quote, if they find anything anti-Christian about it, will point first to its saying that man is basically good, it ignores sin. As I read that, however, my first thought is that the first Babylon is no different from this one. The scriptures say “Let us build for ourselves a great city with a tower that reaches to the heavens – a monument to our greatness.” This places man at the center of the “universe”, which in itself is the fundamental condition of sin anyway. Notice that I italicized where the previous quote on America’s Founding Fathers emphasized reason – the intellect. It was that part of the image of God that moved modern politics into being - the “faculty” of the “intellect”.
It is my position that “the Puritan’s argument for dictatorship”, as much as anything else, came out of an ancient attitude, vantage point, and relation to the body that has been lost in Modernity. It is the body that stands underneath the over-arching view of the heavens, in a position not of authority but of obedience, leaving it to reach for more power (“Let us build for ourselves a great city with a tower that reaches to the heavens.”). It is the intellect that has an over-arching view of many bodies, lending to man a false sense of authority. “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.” The heavens are, ultimately, the place of God. For man’s arts and politics to center themsleves in the heavenly realms of the mind is for Man to steal God’s place from him. So basically, Babylon is the basic political condition of man who is sinful. “Let us build for ourselves…”. Satan is the Prince of this world. This is why, if I have to choose between Mies Van der Roh (the grid-imposer), and Lou Kahn, (who lets the Earth speak for herself) I like Lou Kahn better. And I feel it is no coincidence that Kahn was Jewish, while Mies was basically a classicist (in other words, a “pagan”).
It was in this spirit that I came to seriously wonder about the “Christianity” of America. Why do we think of America as a “Christian” country? I came to see this as deception straight from the Devil. Along the same lines I came to seriously question the “Christianity” of George Bush (for many other reasons also), who supposedly as “professed Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior.” Of course, particularly with my realization that America is not Christian, I experienced a lot of healing, but also a lot of pain. It felt so good to seemingly see the truth. Felt like an exodus. But at the same time it made the pain of the disharmony all the more acute. It stings.
For me, it was with this background that my friends last weekend were discussion the “Christianity” of George Bush. I could tell, of course, by the nature of the conversation, that they were thinking of America as a “Christian nation.” I could tell that, if they were architects, they would be designing some disharmonious machine organized on some super-imposed grid (I could tell that by how they were interpreting the scriptures). I was discusted. All of that pain, along with the hoped-for joy arose in me all at once. I blurted out, from that place of pain as much as anything else, “Bush is a pagan!” Of course that didn’t go over so well. I ended up arguing vehemently with one of those friends until 3 am the next morning. Monday morning I was a bit tired at work.
As I pray and think back on my conversation with my friend that night, during which I got so frustrated that I lost my voice, the thing that sticks out most is how forcefully we were both trying to shove each others’ opinions down each others’ throat. “Let us build for ourselves…”. Thinking back on it, I could feel Satan devouring and choking, deceiving me into placing myself at the center of the world. But this does not mean that I didn’t have a point to make; same with my friend.
He and I met again last night (the next Friday night, or Saturday morning), and talked for five hours. Ironically, the conversation ended at the same exact time as the previous Sunday night (or Monday morning, rather), 2:51 am. This time we had had a week of reflection and prayer. This time we prayed before the conversation. This time we were both quicker to listen than to speak. This time we were “conscious” of placing God as our center, and as the center of the conversation. This time, as I think back on our conversation, the primary thing that jumps out in my memory is the presence of God.
Five minutes before my friend showed up at my house Friday night, I was reading over my journal entries from that week pertaining to our conversation the previous Sunday ngiht/Monday morning; along with the quote above about the primary “reasons” for our country being one of “freedom” and “democracy,” during which I was reminded again that the roots of our government are in Greece rather than Isreal. As we began to talk a bit, I explained to him that I was not testing him. I had prayed that I not ask questions out of my own agenda, but that I truly seek to understand him. So, I asked a few questions, and, randomly, for no reason whatsoever, he starts rambling emotionally for three hours about his unrequited love. Disharmonious overemphasis on reason was the very thing that I had sensed in him the previous week that was so out of wack (both in his politics and in his interpretation of scriptures)! Rather than ask why he brought that up, and interrupt him, I simply, by the urging of the Holy Spirit, listened. And it all came together. I was listening, behind my friend’s words, to the voice of the image of God peeking through, leading itself toward Holiness and healing. Rather than being fixed on what he had to say about politics, I became curious as to what he would have to say about it in a state of emotional health, which I was imagining at some point in the near future.
I listened as he explained that he felt he has once had a chance with his unrequited love, but that he had completely blown it, taking a mile when she gave nothing and by taking nothing when she gave an inch. It was here that it suddenly all clicked, and the healing (for me, and somehow somewhere deep in there for him too) took place. It was an issue of faith, and strength. God had drawn the two of us goofy Nimrods together so that He could heal us together!!! Let me share with you a quote from an email to another friend sometime between Sunday and Friday.
“I've sort of seen all this coming ever since I first met my friend like almost 3 years ago. When I first met him he was always quick to forcefully voice his opinions on stuff (such as politics), and I never said anything. It is all finally coming up. When I first heard him say stuff, before I ever knew him, I could like almost audibly hear in my mind all the crap behind it, his whole framework/system of thought i knew from the moment he opened his mouth. So, why do I say this to you? I'm not sure WHY it's coming up now, in terms of what God is doing. Like, I sense that healing wants to happen for BOTH of us. I mean, why would I not have brought it up then, when we first met? Not really sure where that line of thinking is heading, but...”
My not saying anything when we first met, when I had the opportunity, is no different from my friend’s sitting in a chair half-way across the room from his love rather than in the chair right next to her that she had saved for him! Not that I’m gay (let’s get that “straight”). But I love my friend. That’s the healing! I love him enough to listen to him rather than force my opinions down his throat. He and I are one. And I had fooled myself into thinking that, because of his wacky rationality, modernity and his seeming lack of understanding of the needed harmony between heart and mind (seems he actually understands it quite well if he’s moved to ramble for three hours for no reason about unrequited love), if there is any Christian with whom I have nothing in common, it was him. Right! As if my heart and mind are perfectly conjoined like a good husband and wife! Also if I’m right about this whole Babylon thing, as it pertains to architecture and politics, mind and heart, the image of God, then it will be proven by God Himself in His time! I don’t need to force it down anyone’s throat (David didn’t take matters into his own hands by killing Saul)! And my self-consciousness about forcing it down throats is the very thing that leads me to the weakness and lack of faith that doesn’t let me take the inch given when given, why I didn’t say anything when I first met him.
Maybe rather than carelessly and forcefully blurting out that “Bush is a pagan!”, right smack the middle of a bite of chicken, Bush being a man who has openly professed Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior, I could, for one, at least, take a more tactful approach. Who knows, maybe I can even take a more truthful approach, now that my soul feels cleansed; and I don’t feel the need to force and project my painful experiences onto others so that they will “get it.” Now, when my friend “rebukes” me for slandering a fellow brother in Christ (Bush), I can actually listen, and repent in love. Now, rather than viewing him as a Nimrod Modern (of course I’m certainly not in any way shape or form, in anyone’s eyes, a Nimrod Modern!), I can view him as a bride of Christ, no different from myself, with needs for intimacy and love, healing and wholeness!
By the way, I never did bring up the whole Babylon or “image of God” thing on Friday night. I don’t feel I was given that foot. I did mention that America was founded on reason, which was Greek, rather than on Christ, but that was the inch I was given, and that was the inch I took. And that was it. Nimrod had a heart too. And it felt good. And I felt relaxed afterwards.
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