Tuesday, May 19, 2015

You Sound Welsh

I have a problem today.

The best geek illustration of Pentecost—isn't.

Hold still for your injection of
Translator Microbes, sir!
No, they won't do the cuss words.
Now hold still.
When I read the story of Pentecost from a geek perspective, I immediately find myself remembering some of my favorite Star Trek episodes.  Some of my favorite moments from Farscape, and Doctor Who.  And, of course, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I'm talking about the Universal Translator as it appears in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Darmok" and the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Sanctuary."

I'm talking about the way Translator Microbes do nothing to help the rest of the crew understand John Crichton's Earthly pop-culture references.

I'm talking about the wonderful moment in the Doctor Who episode "The Fires of Pompeii" where Donna Noble learns that the TARDIS is psychic and provides translations directly into its passengers' minds.
Quick as she is, Donna immediately understands that while she's speaking modern English, the people she's talking to in Pompeii are hearing Latin.  And then she wonders what would happen if she tried to speak Latin.
So Donna, a modern-day Welshman, approaches the nearest merchant and busts out with  "veni vidi vici!"
To which the merchant slowly and carefully replies, "Me no a-speak Celtic!  No can do, missy!"  And the Doctor adds, "Welsh, you sound Welsh."

And, of course, I'm talking about the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's Babel Fish:

"The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe.  It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier, but from those around it.  It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with.  It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them.  The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language.  The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish."

Maybe some day I'll devote an entry to the philosophical load of dingo's kidneys that is Oolon Colluphid's best-selling book, Well That About Wraps It Up For God.  But not today.  That screwy intelligent design argument against the existence of God isn't my problem today.

My problem is Phlebotinum.

The TV Tropes site describes phlebotinum as "...plot fuel.  Without it, the story would grind to an abrupt halt. It's the science that powers the FTL drive on the starship so the characters can get somewhere...  things unknown to science or magic that do basically anything.  The reader does not know how Phlebotinum would work and the creators hope nobody cares."

Why is this a problem?  Because TV Tropes also accurately describes Translator Microbes and the like as phlebotinum.  And then they go on to cite the power of tongues at Pentecost as an example.

So is that what's going on in the story of Pentecost?  That powerful moment when the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples and they begin to preach to the diverse crowed in Jerusalem—each in their own tongues...  is it just plot fuel?

No.  No I don't think so.

The Holy Spirit is a way more important character than a simple phlebotinum.  And this event is a more important plot point than any Translator Microbes.  It's actually on par with the idea that Han shot first.  If Han isn't a complete amoral scoundrel at the beginning of A New Hope, then it's no surprise when he saves Luke at the last moment in the Death Star run.

Think of it this way:  The Tower of Babel (for which the fish is named, by the way) is when Han shot first.  The gift of tongues at Pentecost is Han saving Luke in the Death Star bombing run.

In the story of the Tower of Babel, humanity is cursed with a multiplicity of language so we cannot work together.  Apparently we were a danger to ourselves and others when were able to put our collective minds to it.

Pentecost represents a reversal of that position.

Because if we use our powers only for good, imagine what we could do if we put our heads together!

Use your powers for good,
Rev. Josh

Lectionary Texts:

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'"

John 15:26-27:16:4b-15

[Jesus said:] "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

"I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.

"Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

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