Babel on the Hill: We All Need an Audience

Zoom-fatigue is real. I need people. These screen and zoom boxes are not cutting it.

This reminds me of a troubling story told in the name of the Besht:

There was a king who loved music but his real passion was the violin. A fiddler was brought to him to play and one particular melody captivated him. He instructed the musician to play this melody several times a day. After a time the musician grew weary of the tune and found it hard to play it with the same passion as before. To rekindle the fiddler’s love for his favorite melody, the king was advised to summons a new audience every day. Strangers were brought into his palace who had never heard the melody.
This arrangement seemed to work. A new audience stirred the fiddler to play with enthusiasm again until there was no one left to invite. What to do?
It was decided to blind the musician so that he never see a human form again. He then sat before the king and whenever the king sought to hear his favorite tune he would simply say “Here comes someone new, One who has never heard you play before!”
And musician would play his tune with the greatest joy.

I will come back to violence another time. But it is clear that we need an audience. It is really hard to perform without one. I was thinking about this when reading John Winthrop’s, oft quoted homily, City on a Hill from 1630. He wrote: 

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.

John Winthrop
Searching for the City on a Hill: Tracing the Roots of America's Metaphor

It is interesting that Winthrop and subsequently America has cast an imagination that the whole world is watching as they build this city perched on a hill. Our civilization is the stage and the world is our audience. It speaks to this basic need to be seen. And yes we will fail, but in having an audience we will always strive to become better.

I was considering all of this when thinking about the failure of the Tower of Babel. There we read:

Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them hard.”—Brick served them as stone, and bitumen served them as mortar.— And they said, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.”

Genesis 11:1-4

I offer for your consideration that they failed in building their Tower on a hill as an exemplary civilization precisely for the reason that ” everyone on earth” was involved in the project. They were all on stage. In not having audience they lacked motivation, inspiration, or accountability.

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