Ezekiel blog: Time to take a breather – it’s just me

Hi to anyone who’s been following this blog. I’ve been traipsing my way through Ezekiel (as in the Book of -) and blogging sort of a mental travel guide as I go. I’ve read the book several times, but it was always with predisposed imagery that had been supplied to me externally.  Nothing like being prejudiced about a work of art, or a piece of music, a subculture, a demographic group, or in this case, a scripture without having seen/experiencing it first hand.

After reading through this book several times though, something seemed to click in my head. I realized there were bigger themes and messages at work here.  More importantly, I became aware that the message was just as contemporary today as it was in the days of Ezekiel.  And I mean contemporary in the sense that it matters today – the message matters, it still matters, it has always mattered.

I was blown away one day, when I read somewhere that Ezekiel was considered a “Closed” book in Christian circles. Really?  How can that be? There is a message there. Several in fact.

I was just sitting out on my back porch thinking about the next chapter and pondering why I seem to be drawn to this writing.  It turns out that in some ways, it’s no different from any other book: I find things in Ezekiel that I relate to or identify with. Sometimes it’s Ezekiel himself as anal-retentive and detail obsessed as he is, he had his whole world turned upside down.  And he turned to his faith to try to make sense of it all and in the process had a whole new concept opened up.  On some levels, I can very much relate – I’ve had my world turned upside down several times. I have had to jump between cultures again and again and translate back and forth between them.  I used to think that it simply pleased the Lord to strip away everything from me so that I could start again from scratch…over and over.

Sometimes I relate to the city of Jerusalem described in the context of the book.  I look at the judgments brought against that city, the portents and the woes; they are all agents of change.  I find that I cling to the disastrous changes that befall me sometimes – revel in the confusion for there is often opportunity in chaos, or what appears to be chaos.  So part of me has come to accept these things that are hard.  I didn’t say I sail through them, or sit peacefully with my chai latte and placidly repeating “God has a plan”.  No, sometimes I’m screaming at the sky, dragging my feet, demanding answers, and being downright unruly.  But in the end I do admit that sometimes I don’t get the work that God is doing, but that His way is Just.  And I plow on. Must be the aries in me.

And so I come back to Ezekiel who against everything he knows so well, brings a message that is utterly confusing to his peers.  He sees the pride and joy of his nation dragged down from its heights. He looks at his fellow refugees and is not able to offer much comfort and certainly no short term easy answers. No platitudes to be found at the corner coffee shop of ancient Babylon.

I find no easy answers as I explore my faith either. I am mystified by those who race through their favorite social media with quick answers and formulas guaranteed to solve everything.  Faith isn’t magic. Faith isn’t a formula. Faith is tough. Faith is hard hard work. Faith gets you dirty. Faith takes you to places that are uncomfortable.  I relate to that. That makes sense to me.

so all we really get from Ezekiel so far are just these four words: God. Is. With. Us.
So much mystery. So much work. So much unknown. Ughh.

Ezekiel blog: and now for a bit of gardening

Taking a look at Ezekiel Chapter 15 – a very short chapter with lots going on.
I wonder what y’all will think of this entry.  Have fun.

Have you ever tried to get rid of a patch of poison ivy vines growing up and around a cluster of trees?   Not fun I can tell you.  You can use various poisons, of course, but their always seems to be another outbreak if you don’t get enough poison to reach all the way down to the roots.  For that matter, even if you get the roots, poison ivy is able to seed new vine off-shoots if it puts new roots down along its path. You have only been successful eradicating the poison ivy infestation if you are able to kill it at both root and end of the vine.

Nice, you say. What’s this have to do with Ezekiel chapter 15,  you say. In Chapter 15, we are given what seems to be a whimsical parable at almost random.  It’s not the usual vision, nor is it a response to the “Elders” of Israel. It’s almost as if Ezekiel was wondering aloud why all of these extreme measures were necessary. Can you blame him?  The answer, of course, is given within the text.  It is the faith, or in this case, the un-faithfulness, infesting Jerusalem that God is objecting to.  And part of the problem was the idea that took hold among the people that they could outlast the judgment and displeasure of God, so much so, that they ignored and imprisoned Jeremiah the prophet.  They were dead set on resisting the guidance to submit to Babylon, regardless of what they were being advised.

Many of the commentaries fall back to looking for analogues between the images of the prophetic oracle, and what we know of the physical world in history, The method in this case is to liken the vines of Chapter 15 to the royal realms of Judah and Israel, etc.

But as I mentioned above, the focus of the chapter is on Faith, something that is hard to quantify or measure in terms of man. From this perspective, I feel that the chapter is more directly describing the society and religious hypocrisy of the day.

Getting back to the vine metaphor then, you have to ask, where does a vine get its support – draw nutritrients?  How and where does it spread? The ills that afflicted Jerusalem, indeed, did not exist in a vacuum any more than corruption (political or otherwise) exist today without networks of support.  Something has to feed it.  We saw in earlier chapters how there was collusion between those of authority – and assumed authority – that enabled a few select to deceive the tender, the vulnerable, the weak, and those who cling to their faith.

So when God tells Ezekiel that he has burned the vine at both ends, God is saying that it was necessary to purge out the root of the vine, that from which it gets its support and strength, and at the same time he has prevented it from spreading further.  Spreading where? To the neighboring nations possibly, to all of the local synagogues through out the twelve tribes possibly, or perhaps to future generations (my favorite). In any case, the spreading had to stop. So the vine was burned at both ends.

And in answer to Ezekiel’s astonishment that what had always been treasured was gone forever, God declares that the vine really has no intrinsic worth in and of itself. It simply wasn’t worth preserving.  The only value that the vine had was its ability to bear good fruit. But Jerusalem had ceased to be a light on the hill, had ceased to be a court of justice, and the temple had ceased to be a place dedicated to prayer and humble offering before the Lord.  There was no more fruit to be had.  And other than that, having a vine laying around is simply more trouble than it is worth. You can’t make anything out of it – only burn it.

This answer to Ezekiel is powerful, even today. For me, it speaks to questions about how we conduct ourselves in today’s world, what we enable, and what we tolerate from those who feel entitled to suppress or deceive others.  This passage, in my opinion, links religious hypocrisy with injustice – social injustice, religious injustice, racial injustice, etc.

Ezekiel’s visions cry out to us as human beings together in a world of fear and pain.  Ezekiel stood against accepted norms that were unjust. And here in the 15th chapter of Ezekiel he speaks of the inevitable end that will come to the vines that grow within our culture that produce no good fruit, but only exist for their own existence. Having no intrinsic worth it is only good for the fire.

For those who consider the Books of the Prophets as having nothing to do with the Gospels which tell of the Christ, consider this:  Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches”.  He did not say Jerusalem was the vine, nor the Temple, nor Israel.  He is the vine that produces good fruit.  And what was that fruit?  It was mercy to the poor, the outcast, those who found themselves marginalized by society. He forgave, He prayed, He healed, He cared, He called others to do the same.

 

 

 

Ezekiel blog: the small matter of four horseman of the Apocalypse…

Before we dive into a section that gets really gloomy, please go back and ready the blog entry before this on the first half of Ezekiel chapter 14. It’s all about hope.

The second half of Ezekiel chapter 14 takes a sudden turn into more ominous territory.  Anyone who has even heard of the Book of Revelations knows about a certain reference to the Dark Horseman.  This image has become so iconic as to almost become archetypal in western thought. In fact, most of us including myself, are too horrified at the thought of these matters that we just avoid sections of scripture like this.

But reading through what Ezekiel has written here sends my thoughts along two different tracks at the same time.  The first is the consistent use of a very important word: “IF”.   The second track is the huge similarity to of imagery to what John wrote in the Book of Revelations – commonly referred to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  The same four dreadful judgments are introduced here in Ezekiel almost a thousand years before Revelations was written. But what does it mean?  And more importantly, what does it mean to you and me trying to figure things out in our lives?

I’m pretty sure I do not possess all the answers, but there are some things that come across.  These judgments come in a certain order for Israel. 1) Hunger and Famine 2) Wild beasts wandering through 3) the sword  4) disease and pestilence otherwise known as plague.  I don’t think this is accidental.  Many commentators think that the wild beasts represent the invading armies wandering unhindered through Israel, going about defiling everything.  This is nothing to God since everything is defiled already by what the people of Jerusalem were already doing. If this is true, then the Hunger and Famine are due to siege conditions with food supplies being “cut off” as is mentioned in verse 13.   The sword falls on those who resist the free movement of the invading “Beasts” in much the same way that any invading army usually makes examples out of the presumed “ring leaders” in every village.  This leaves those who are vulnerable whether by age, or affliction, or injury, or poverty.  These are the ones who have no means to do much more than survive, often having no choice but to exist in the shackles of starvation and poor health conditions.  We see this even today – just by turning on the news.

These are “dreadful judgments” indeed, to use the expression from the verse. But always the work of the prophet is to point out the truth of a situation, and at the same time speak to the spiritual life of a people too.  And we see this by Ezekiel’s reference to Daniel, Job, and Noah; one prophet who led the faithful to life beyond utter destruction, one iconic person of history who endured much tribulation in the name of faith, and one prophet who was with the people right now in captivity.

So when I look at these four judgments, I have to ask myself if I have given my heart to something that leads away from true faith that I now find myself feeling surrounded, walled in, under siege where my spiritual food is cut off and I feel hungered.  Am I letting fads, fashions, pop-culture pear pressure run through my existence like wild beasts.  Do my principles and ethics fall to the sword of the weekly paycheck.  Is my family life withering under the plague of obliterated communication and impatience.  What are we doing to ourselves? Where is our humanity?  Where is our patience and sense of mercy?  Has fairness been permanently evicted from our souls?

Wait.  Wait a minute.  What if there was still room in our perspectives for a sense of community?  What if we heard and responded to a call for justice?   There is that key word I mentioned earlier?     **** IF ****   if, if, if, if

God says that at the beginning of each of the examples of judgment eg. IF I decide to do this, you can not avoid this, etc.   If. Which tells me there is reluctance to take that step if at all possible to avoid.  It now feels like God is begging please, please don’t take things this far. Please don’t make it necessary for me to decide that there is no other alternative way to deal with you.

And that, once again, highlights that we have choice. We have agency. “Choose this day to serve the Lord” is how the scripture goes.  It means choose today, choose tomorrow, think about it again and again and each time choose the path of the disciple.  Choose the path of faith, which is a path of bravery and exploration of things God has yet to share.  Ezekiel had to be brave to meet God out in the middle of the desert – out in open country – to receive the concept that Faith travels, that God is continually with his people. He had to face whole new concepts, pass through boundaries previously imposed by society and religious tradition. It was hard, it was uncomfortable.

Finally, at the end of the chapter, we are directed to observe the children.  God tells Israel in captivity to watch the children and see why the judgments have fallen as they have. We do need to think of our children, of the next generation. We need to pass on the value of Charity, Mercy, Justice, Compassion and inclusive community. Are we doing a very good job?   I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Thanks for checking in on this blog – my travelogue through Ezekiel.

 

Ezekiel blog: there’s yet hope…

Ah, at last we find a brief oasis from the dire verbiage of Ezekiel thus far.  Here in Ezekiel chapter 14 (the first half) things finally come back to home….so to speak.  At least, Ezekiel has concluded his visions about Jerusalem and is now sitting in his house in an interview with the local Elders of Israel in their shared captivity in Babylon.  What, pray tell, could be on their minds?

Imagine you are captive in a foreign land, and you keep hearing from this new prophet with exotic visions that the destruction of your homeland, and everything you are familiar with is a done deal.  Two options come to mind.  1) Fine!  just plug in to the local religions/cults and get back to normal, or 2) Totally freak-out and feel lost with no connection to what you believe is true.  What do you do?

Ezekiel receives a vision from God answering these very human states and it is here that we become familiar with some interesting expressions:  “Idols of the heart” and “Stumbling blocks before their face”.   Rather interesting.

Idols are static representations of human projections of affectionate fervor.  We have these around today, no need to look very far.  We even make fun of it with expressions such as “Teen idol”, or “I have a relationship with my phone”, or “my car is my baby”.  These things are not God and do not have the capacity to LOVE YOU BACK.

The elders of Israel in captivity turn out to be just as human as you and I find ourselves, beset by the same doubts and longings for better times. They fall prey to the same things that make us stumble.  And here is the Spark of Hope I mentioned in the title.

God say to Ezekiel, “I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel,…”   Hearts is the word used here.  Not mindless obedience and not fearful subservience. God, the creator of us all, it would seem, wants His people to respond to Him out of genuine affection and love for the principles He has brought out through the course of these visions.  Fraudulent religious posturing, hypocritical lip service, lack of charity, absence of mercy, no social justice; these are all symptoms of what God did not want and still does not want.

What a mission statement then, for our creator on high:   To recapture their hearts away from the idols they worship.   And to this, Ezekiel is told to proclaim a message that is much like an open door to a people who have been chased away from everything that was most familiar.  It is a simple message, and one that has been echoed by every prophet. It is the olive branch offered to a headstrong people, it is the ray of hope that all is not lost entirely – that there is still yet a way back held open for the willing.

“Repent!  Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices……”

What are idols again?  Things not of God, but made of Man, things that do not LOVE YOU BACK. Things that demand and require all of your energy, but only give you the appearance of a soulful relationship with your creator. Sadly, idols can appear both outside of religious structure and worse, inside the very walls of churches as we see them today. Idolatry happened back in Chapter 8 in the very temple of God,…what would make us so very different today in our high-tech multi-media church buildings made of drywall and fine art?

So ask yourself, in what you do everyday, to the things you pour all of your love and energy into, whether it is church related or not,  does it heal your soul? does is LOVE YOU BACK? Does it engage your heart with Charity, Mercy, and Social Justice?  or…does it require fearful adherance, subserviance, and mindless obediance? It’s hard to admit these things and it’s even harder to let go. I’ve had to face my own idols and come to the conclusion that a great many of them come from my own integration of the expectation of other people’s desires into some core religious and philosophical ideas.  I know this sounds vague, but it true for me.  All I can say is that idols come in all forms, figures, places, times and appearances.  but the true temple of God, ….your heart and my heart….must be swept clean of all of them.  And about those people who can do that,  God tells Ezekiel,  “They will be my people, and I will be their God….”

Keep trying, Keep trying.  This chapter, the first half of Ezekiel ch 14 vs 1-11 is a voice of counsel that it is never too late, especially to those who’ve had their lives completely turned upside down, and where nothing seems to make sense, and where everything that was familiar is now gone.  There is one who stays with us, way out here in open country.