Smile Politely

C-U Grows Up

The concept of “up” is a strange thing to ponder. For the ancients, “up” was a positive place where the Gods dwelled either someplace in the sky (heaven) or perhaps up on a mountain (e.g. Mt. Olympus), while “down” was a negative place under the earth (hades) where our souls went after death.

This cosmology was prevalent even after such noted scientists as Copernicus and Galileo gave us a more accurate view of the universe. And today in the 21st century, after having ventured a little bit into outer space, we know that “up” is really a relative term. I mean, have you considered that when you are pointing up here in C-U, it is the opposite direction of someone who is pointing up on the other side of the world? Yet many of us Christians continue to speak in spatial metaphors when describing the spiritual realms of heaven and hell.

Nothing brings out this tension for Christians better than our doctrine of the Ascension which we celebrated a little over a month ago at the beginning of May (for the Orthodox Christians, it was more recent on June 5th). The Ascension is simply the story of Jesus rising up into the sky until he disappears. However, now that we know heaven isn’t up in the sky, this doctrine creates some scientific and theological tension (not that the doctrine of the Resurrection doesn’t, either). So there have been all kinds of strange suggestions on how the Ascension could have been accomplished; perhaps Jesus was an alien from another planet and his space ship simply came back and beamed him up.

Up is a fascinating concept both physically and metaphorically. The sky. Space. The Unknown. Freedom. Possibilities. Progress. Up is good. Down is bad.

The mythical story of the Tower of Babel is another one which illustrates humankind’s fascination with “up.” In that story, humans built a tower higher and higher until it almost reached heaven. Then God became angry and confused everyone’s speech so they could no longer understand one another and work together. I am often amused at how childish the Old Testament God, YHWH, could be.

To build something up is a great act of creation. And to knock something down is a great act of destruction. Who, as a child, never knocked down another child’s block tower? Or had your own tower knocked down by another kid? There’s no better way to show your anger than by knocking down something that someone else has built. Terrorists, especially, get this.

There’s something about “up” that is embedded into the human psyche. It is an eternal subject of songs and poems.

I am glad to see C-U is finally growing up and reaching for the sky. From downtown Champaign to Campustown, the buildings are getting taller. This is good. That awful horizontal sprawl on North Prospect has, for me, just become a big migraine that I try to avoid if at all possible.

Up is the way to go. Good job, C-U! By growing up, we are saving good land that could be used for much nobler purposes than simply for another chain store or franchise restaurant.

Let’s just hope some childish God with a temper tantrum doesn’t come and knock all our blocks down.

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