Unraveling: part 3

Today, I would like to tell you the story of the Tower of Babel. The twist? I’ll tell you the story of the Tower of Babel from how I was taught in the Southern Baptist Church in Texas.

As a recap, this deconstruction, or as it feels to me as an unraveling, is a modern term that encompasses breaking down the indoctrination and teachings of a house of faith, like the Baptist church.  It’s “waking up” from a nightmare.  But, the process of waking up for me has taken 20+ years.  As I talked about in my last blog found here, Jon Bloom said, “…it’s helpful to keep in mind that a deconstructing Christian is often someone in significant pain.”  

The Tower of Babel.  Let me share with you the text of Genesis 11:1-9 from the New Revised Standard Version:  “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the LORD said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”

I was taught that God brought the Tower down because of hubris. The people believed that they were beautiful and clever and amazing. They believed that they could accomplish absolutely anything. The entire world was within their grasp and there was nothing that they could not achieve. So consumed with self, they believed themselves as smart and capable as God Almighty. When God saw what was going on, he saw their pride and arrogance. Enraged at their self-absorption and jealous that they turned their attention away from worshiping Him to erecting an enormous edifice, God struck down the Tower. In a flash the massive stones of sand and straw were pulverized into bits of rubble and reeds. After obliterating the Tower, God turned His attention to the people. He reached into their mouths and minds and twisted their tongues, unhinged their understanding of one another. The once unified tribe, now confused and incommunicable, splintered and went their separate ways into the darkness.

The church of my childhood taught me that not only did God confuse the language of the people, but that He also changed the color of their skins.  

Black.  Yellow.  Brown.  Red.  White.

Large nosed.  Slanted eyes.  Flat faced.

The human race looked different because God hated what our ancestors had done.

God hated us.

I mean, this makes so much sense when we see the story of Noah and The Great Flood, when He wiped out the entire planet except for 6 people and all the creatures that could fit on a huge boat.

But I digress; that’s another post for another day…

What I was taught, what I was trained to believe, what I was indoctrinated to accept was that God shattered the Tower, scattered the people, twisted their tongues, colored their skins, and sent them into the four corners of the globe so that we would not engage with one another.

Through the story of the Tower of Babel, I was trained that interracial relationships was an abomination, a sin, an affront to the power and love of The Almighty.

I was taught to stay in your lane.  Do not date other races.  Do not marry other races.  Do not mix the blood.  

Do not mix the blood.  

Do not have a mixed-race child.

Do not have a mixed-race child.

And so, how did this play out in my small town of 2,500 people in north Texas?

Let me tell you the story of a six-ish year old girl living at 1302 Westridge in small-town, Texas.  My house was the second house on the right on Westridge.  We played cowboys and indians.  Went to the creek to catch crawdads with bacon.  We played outside until our moms yelled for us, and we KNEW the voices of our each other’s moms.  We also KNEW when our friend’s moms were angry from the pitch of their yell or screech.

I digress…

But I need to show you something first.  We played in the alleys.  The alleys were the second streets, the dirt streets, the ones with all the grasshoppers and dipsy dumpsters (huge gray monstrosities that we climbed on for the best angle during dirt clod fights) and discarded car seats and unusable lumber.  Alleys were better than streets because we didn’t need to look both ways.  Cars weren’t always going to interrupt our kickball games in the alley.  

When I was about six (age is relative when you’re that age…I don’t remember if I was actually six or eight or ten…all I remember is that it was before my dad built the “treehouse”…a tiny 4’x6’ plywood shed on 6’ stilts), there was a family that moved into the house behind mine, across the sacred alley.  They were both boys.  One looked a little taller than me and the other a little shorter than me.  I was so excited to have new friends to play with.  I liked playing with Jimmy and Shaun next door, but new people had new games and strategies.  I watched them put their toys in the backyard.  Everyone had a chain link fence then.  No one had a privacy fence, so everyone could see everyone else’s business.  I was so so so excited!

Mom told me I couldn’t play with them.  They were “new” and I needed to leave them alone.  Let them settle into their house.  I wasn’t, under any circumstances, allowed to play with them.

So I watched them play in their yard as I played in my yard.  I watched them.  Wanting to go talk to them.  They were my un-named friends.  They never looked at me.  We never waved at each other.  But I wanted to. Did they watch me like I watched them?  Did they want to play with me?

I saw that they were darker than me. Their hair was differed than mine. They laughed together and played together. I was an only child and played alone more than I played with my friends. I didn’t have anyone to play with if I had to stay in my own yard. I wanted to play with the boys across the alley.

But I couldn’t.  I wasn’t allowed.

Then one day I went outside in the backyard to play, and all their toys were gone.  The back door was closed.  You could always tell when a door is closed because the screen door turns from dark to light.

And the screen door stayed light colored.

And I never saw the boys again.

They only lived there a couple of weeks, but it was an adventure.  Un-named friends across the alley.

I asked my mom later, when I was older, what happened.  I wanted to know what happened.  Why did they leave.

She told me that the sheriff of my town, the superintendent of the school, and the Baptist preacher — the preacher of the church that I went to — went to their house and told the family that their kind weren’t welcome in the town and it would be in their best interest if they moved away and never looked back.

And I was so stunned by this information that I had absolutely no idea how to respond.  

And this…. this was the beginning of my indoctrination of how to be a human being in the world.  This was the Truth of the Bible that I was taught to believe.  

The Tower of Babel kept us in our own lane.  

Keep the races separate.  

Maintain the “us” and the “they.”

The Tower of Babel was Scripture.  It was the infallible Word of God with every word perfect and flawless and real.  God meant us to be separate.  God meant us to stay apart.  

And if we tried to be friends, the horrific wrath of God strike us, would strike me, and cast me out.

And don’t you dare look at person of another race in “that” way!  That’s an abomination, a sin, against the plan of God.  And “those” people who liked someone of another color were sinners and would burn in hell because they didn’t follow the rule of God.

And another bar was pounded into place, a bar like so many others, that erected the cage of my faith. That established the foundation of my understanding of who God was, what His personality was like, and about His laws.

No wonder I turned my back on such an arrogant tyrant for over twenty years.  But wait, that’s another story for another day.

This is my Juneteenth.  And to the two boys who lived across the alley from me in the mid-1970s:  I hope that you never knew the horror of small-town Texas.  I hope that your parents were able to absorb all the hate masked in the false-face of Christian evangelicalism.  I hope you escaped and have had beautiful lives filled with joy and hope and grace and peace and freedom.

For all the ugliness….  I am so sorry.

For my ugliness…. I am so sorry.

One thought on “Unraveling: part 3

  1. Janie, I was raised in a black church by my grandparents who were half Indian. Grandpa was the Minister, and was “assigned” to the black church as he was not “allowed” to preach to white folks. My inner life was formed by listening to his 2+ hour sermons, while my friends Jacque and Pamela cornrowed my long blonde hair. My grandfather preached that LOVE was God’s answer, and this was pre-Civil Rights in the 50’s, as he crossed the state preaching in historic black communities like Boley and Redbird. He preached that we all needed to challenge our own thinking first, and to always use our experience as well as Scripture to form our individual and fundamental spirituality. (He never knew about Richard Hooker!) He had a third grade education and yet he fully read and researched the Bible eight times in his preaching life, which started when he was in his 40’s. He was a reformed alcoholic. I understood from my white friends at school what it meant to stay in the dominant lane, even if one boy was Jewish! There was only one lane and he knew how to walk it! What a lesson!

    When I turned twelve I wanted a birthday party. (Birthday parties were not the norm!) I wanted to invite Jacque and Pamela and all my friends from Grandpa’s church as well as my white friends. I was told it was not possible in my neighborhood. I was so hurt and confused! But I knew my mother was correct. My grandmother decided to do something! As I was born on her birthday, June 21st, she had the women of the church throw “us” a birthday party! It was three times the size, and fun, as my white birthday party. Lesson learned: Love is our hearts’ response, a celebration, to the horrible trauma of having to live in the “dominant” lane!

    Since then I have always questioned any religious or political figure who tries to tell me to stay “in your lane!” What is my lane? As a 3/8’s Cherokee who was raised to be white but in a black church every Sunday, I learned my “lane” was actually multiple lanes I could use at will! I celebrate that today as I continue to hold truth to power about the thinking that limits instead of thinking that includes! As I continue to walk with my Christian brothers and sisters and celebrate our various lanes, like those of the LGBTQ+, I have also learned that my Muslim friends want the same things for their children that we want, and that my Buddhist friends want the world peace I want. When someone tries to limit our vision, to one lane, we all suffer! Love is in finding ALL the Lanes people use!

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