Today’s subject is a touchy one in our highbrow world…

Echo chamber

A few months ago a young programmer at Google stirred a wild response in the tech industry. If you aren’t familiar I don’t really want to advertise the guy but it was a tirade about, among other things, how women just aren’t built for tech jobs or management because they are too empathic. This, he says, is a kind of weakness, and it was overlooked because Google is too self-obsessed. He termed them an “echo chamber” which, of you aren’t familiar, is an audio testing setup that allows you to test how various sounds behave. It’s a way of saying they were only listening to themselves. The ability to carry that as a serious thought is proof his mind was flourishing in the same echo chamber he accused them of. In fact, I would posit that we all live in our own echo chamber.

Most of us get annoyed, anxious, or angry at the thought of confrontation. We mostly don’t like it, so it is natural that we try to avoid it. That leads us to do a couple things. For one it drives you to make conversations more milktoast; you can’t get in a confrontation if everything you talk about is shallow and widely-held. But the other instinct is that you tend to surround yourself with people that are likely to either not confront you or, better, share your view. Where historically this drive to segregate was based on nation, race, class, or religion we have now moved into a phase not of these -isms, but of conceptism, thoughtism. We dice ourselves into groups based on like-minded thinking in order to have a more peaceful, more manageable life.

But as I mentioned yesterday, the problem with all this watering-down of language and division of groups is that it renders us all isolated, speaking different languages, and, worst, incapable of reaching or being reached by those who need us most.

Babelfish

In Genesis 11 we get the story of early man post-flood. We are told that all the world was of one language and one speech. Those sound the same, but what they mean is that not only did the people use the same words, but they communicated them perfectly; there was no division among them. Now sure, all these people came from the people Noah had with him on the boat, so having the same language makes sense. But sharing free communication is shocking; today most people barely have that kind of communication with their spouse, let alone their entire community.

Because of this synergy the people decide to build a city and a massive tower to ensure they all stayed in one place and of one mind rather than possibly spreading out and settling in different areas where they may begin to divide. They create ceramic bricks, because as one mind their powers of deduction and reasoning were powerful in the way more computers are better than one computer, and they start building. They begin making great progress and the Lord comes down, sees that when acting as a hive mind they would be able to hold this unity forever.

He confounds their speech, meaning that he caused their languages and thoughts to differ, and scattered them across the globe where it says they simply left the attempts to build the tower. The people then name the tower Babel, a name which has caused no shortage of confusion since.

God does not demand His own way

The second quality in 1 Corinthians 13:5 reads “Love does not demand her own way”, so as we’ve been doing we’re trying that description out on God instead of on Love. But we have an immediate problem: I literally just said He does demand his own way yesterday. I mean Christ very clearly said He was the only way. So let’s look deeper at the verse.

In the King James and the Aramaic the phrase is rendered “seeketh not her own”, which seems a radically different meaning. One says you demand others obey your will, the other says you seek others who share your will. One is a tyrant, the other a xenophobe. So which is correct? Well, both. The Greek verb rendered “seeketh” in one and “demand” in the other is ζητέω, zeteo, and it is a bit of a mystery. There is no record of it outside Biblical manuscripts, but in those the meaning, we think, is fairly obvious. There are a few possible roots for the word, but all of them conflict with one of the 119 uses in the New Testament. The Aramaic word, בעא, b’aeh, is just as confounding because it has many known meanings:

  • To seek out something or someone
  • To ask something of someone
  • To wish for something
  • To need or require something
  • To assert something in an argument with someone
  • To be about to do something
  • To investigate something or someone
  • To hold someone responsible for something

That’s a wide concept to cram into one word, and I suggest the reason is that these are all a little wrong. Let me give my take and then let’s take it for a test drive in some verses.

I know you, man… I know what you’re thinkin’

If you are seeking someone you expect you will find them. If you are investigating a thing you are certain you’ll find the answer. When you hold someone responsible it’s because you assume they know their guilt and will accept ramification. When you make a point in an argument you are sure you’ve done so well that person is convinced. We know these things aren’t certain, but our default state is usually belief — faith — that we’re right and will have our expectation validated. We always feel the difference in those times of uncertainty. Stick with me.

Have you ever been sitting on the couch watching a movie with someone and one of you spots an actress and goes “Oh! What else do I know her from?” Happens pretty frequently, right? Sometimes you just know, and you know you know, so you say who she is with definitive confidence. Other times you think you know, but you aren’t positive, so you say it more as a question. Right? That’s two different kinds of assertion. I am saying that pertains to all the acts above: sometimes you know you left your keys right by the table and others you just are pretty sure they are inside the house… maybe.

I think this word denotes the confident expectation kind of action. I see how it can be made into seeking or demanding, but I think the action itself is the act of following through on something known. A simpler way to say it: I think this verb means “to expect satisfied desire of”. That could be in an inquisitive way or a statement way, but it’s what’s going on in your mind that is at work here. So let’s see if that fits.

My way or the highway

Let’s go for the easy pickings: Matthew 2:13 says “for Herod will [seek] the young child to destroy Him.” So that becomes “for Herod will [expect satisfied desire of] the young child to destroy Him.” Or clearer: “for Herod will [expect to satisfy his desire to] destroy the young child.” Works.

Now a tougher one: Matthew 6:33, of course, says “But [seek] ye first the Kingdom of God”. So we’d change that to “But [expect satisfied desire of] ye first the Kingdom of God”. Or clearer: “But [expect to satisfy your desire of] the Kingdom of God first”. I think that’s clear.

How about a hard one from left field: Acts 27:30 says “And as the shipmen were [about to] flee out of the ship,”. We’d say “And as the shipmen were [expecting satisfied desire of] flee out of the ship,”. A little wonky, but to make it clearer: “And as the shipmen were [expecting to satisfy their desire to] flee out of the ship,”.

I think in all 3 cases this new definition gets across that we are talking not about flailing about limply, but about confidently asserting you’re going to get what you expected out of this action. Herod had no doubt as king he would find and kill young Jesus. Jesus was telling us to be emphatic citizens of the Kingdom, to confidently expect Kingdom purpose to be fulfilled, and then we will see the comfort provided by God in this material world; that doesn’t happen if you tentatively look for the Kingdom. The men on the ship with Paul were not panicking for their lives; they were expecting to get off this ship and survive because the ship was a death trap. Paul had to stop them because they were absolute in their desire to abandon ship but it was wrong.

Ok, so the idea works, what now?

Veruca Salt

Back to 1 Corinthians, the question is whether the statement “God does not expect to satisfy His own desires” is valid. I don’t see any evidence that God expects much of anything. He forgives us eternally for doing what is not His ideal of what we should do. He serves us even in moments when He could easily force His will on us. He refuses to force us to follow even when we go astray. I don’t see any evidence that He expects anything, really. He knows what happens, anyway, so I think the statement qualifies as accurate.

But what about us? What about our own behavior? I mentioned Babel earlier as a source of confusion. The name Babel means confusion, so it’s a great name for the place God split us up and made us different. But the true meaning of Babel is “to confuse by mixing“. In other words, the name isn’t because of what God did, but because of what man did to cause God to do what He did. We homogenized; we had collected into one ant hill. Why is that a negative? Why would expecting to have your desires be fulfilled be wrong?

Can’t we all just get along

It’s because we were made for challenge. We grow only through overcoming, and we were made to grow. We can be incredibly productive together as one, but we stagnate. We require confrontation, we require diversity of thought, of personality, of outlook. He split the people at Babel because they were not growing; they were just doing. They had no strife, no difference, no challenge, no confrontation. We need that, desperately, to be fulfilled and to be everything we are meant to be. God separated us as a cultivation measure so we could flourish, but we now separate ourselves as a rejection measure so we can wither and die.

If you ever yelled into a fan as a child you are familiar with an audio effect called heterodyning, whereby two sounds being crashed into each other cause strange audio effects. The closer these sounds are in frequency the more odd the effect. When equal they produce a sound not unlike ringing that is naturally jarring to the ear. The cry today is for diversity, but we have so effectively cut ourselves off from each other that true diversity is almost impossible. Christians seek Christians, Muslims seek Muslims, geeks seek geeks, hipsters seek hipsters. We call it “feeling accepted”, and while sometimes that is good more often than not it is terrible. It creates an echo chamber in which our ideals heterodyne, spinning us off in disastrous directions. We lose perspective of outside voices and we become deafened and dizzied by our own opinions until we collapse.

We need the loud people and the quiet. We need the lazy and the motivated, we need the optomist and the cynic, the rich and the poor, the bright and the dim. It is the diversity of our voices that provide richness and depth to our song. It is in the dissonance that we learn who we truly are and begin to grow empathy, compassion, connection. I implore you today: go to lunch somewhere new, go out with a different friend, watch a different TV show, visit a different church, listen to a different music. Do some or none of these, but one way or another step out of your echo chamber. When you’ve gone I promise you will never look back…

4 thoughts on “What is Love? : Part VIII

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