The term "self-sufficiency" has been bumping around in my head. A comment about language and strangers prompted a sermon about the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. It's an odd little story in a pivotal place between Noah and Abraham; between judgment and promise. It functions as the hinge between Creation and redemption, highlighting the brokenness of human nature that wasn't corrected with the external cleansing of the Flood.
Some look at the "Tower of Babel" story and think it's a commentary on urbanization, a justification for "white flight" and a demonization of the inner city as our urban areas face issues of poverty, homelessness, addiction, and racism, as if God wasn't present and active in our inner cities; as if our inner cities needed suburbanites to impose a solution on the issues involved.
In actuality, the story is a comment on self-sufficiency; the kind of self-sufficiency that says "come, let us make..." and "come, let us build..."; actions attributed to the Creator during Creation, demonstrating a competitive spirit with the Divine. It's a story of unchecked and concentrated power.
Self-sufficiency is deeply engrained in the American culture. Because it is in us, we also bring it with us to church. I also believe that the value of self-sufficiency is (at least partially) fueling the current division between those for and against the Covid-19 vaccine and masks. There may be legitimate medical reasons for some to balk at the recommended solutions to the pandemic, but in many cases, it's also easy to think of our individual selves as islands, unconnected to the community around us.
Our faith points us in a different direction. The story of "The Last Supper" is about foot washing, servitude, loving one another, leaning in on the common good. It's a story that rises above politics and calls us to a different common identity, one that values our neighbor.
As we begin coming back together in person and figuring out what it means to be the body of Christ in the midst of a pandemic, may we be able to discern between our Christian identity and our American identity and rise to the occasion, demonstrating our love of God and neighbor. May we be a counter-cultural witness that points to the difference God makes in our lives.
Rev. Dr. Jennifer Bales
Communications Director &
Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church