Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 11:10-16) transports me around the globe to the farthest reaches of the earth, where a host of hated villains all make their way to our fair land to engage in battle against the forces of good. There’s the Original Sheik (aka the Syrian Madman) and the Iron Sheik from Iran and Abdullah the Butcher (aka the Madman from Sudan); there’s the German pair Kurt and Karl Von Steiger and the Russian Bear Ivan Koloff, Roddy Piper from Scotland and a Bulgarian giant named Andre. There’s Professor Toru Tanaka from Japan and Superfly Snuka from Fiji. There’s Abe Jacobs from New Zealand and a pair of Royal Kangaroos from Australia. There’s Mil Máscaras from Mexico and dozens more masked men from the proverbial “parts unknown.” All coming to America to wreak havoc on the values of goodness and decency (with the exception of the Jewish Abe Jacobs, who tried, mostly without success, to defend our values and way of life). In case you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, it’s the televised world of professional wrestling of the 60s and 70s which I grew up watching with my grandmother. The foreign heel was a tried and true trope of the genre, reinforcing a sense of the good America verses an evil world of foreigners who could always be counted on to hide foreign objects in their trunks or boots. Aside from the insidious way this shaped my understanding of good and evil in the world, it did have one redeeming quality – it taught me geography, as I would go to school and look on the globe to see where Syria and Iran and Sudan and Fiji were located. It would be much later before I learned that most of those so-called foreign villains were actually Americans with phony accents. Such trivia never interested Granny; she was a true patriot, and the image of foreign villains simply gave her somebody to root against and mouth all manner of maledictions at in between dips of snuff.
I doubt that Isaiah had a globe in his classroom; his pre-Pythagorus and pre-Magellan depiction of the world would have been some kind of flat square surface, with four corners representing the far reaches of the hinterlands. Another difference in his image of the world and the one of my upbringing was that he envisioned the good guys, not the villains, coming from those four corners to battle against the evil that occupied his home land that was supposed to be holy. God, the great promoter in the sky, would recruit and assemble these scattered people and bring them into the squared circle of the fertile crescent for a battle royal against the villainous philistine evildoers plaguing the land. Isaiah engagedin some smackdown talk, prophesying that these good guys from Assyria and Egypt and parts unknown would swoop down on the forces of the west, and plunder the forces of the east. The enemies would be destroyed, and those not destroyed would be made subjects. It all sounds very reminiscent of the kind of trash talking heard in the interviews conducted by Bob Caudle and Les Thatcher back in the day.
Here’s what makes the trash talking of the latter half of Isaiah chapter 11 interesting, if not troubling: it comes after the first half of the chapter, which includes the beatific vision of enemies being transformed into friends, lions and lambs and wolves and leopards and goats co-existing peacefully, led by little children. The cobras and vipers wouldn’t even pose a threat, when the knowledge of God filled the earth as the waters covered the sea. It is like the prophet suddenly switched channels, from righteous peace to revenging plunder, from virtuous co-existence to violent conflict. It reminds me that in those years of the 60s and 70s, when Granny and I were watching wrestling on channel 4, we would switch over during commercials to watch a bit of American Bandstand on channel 13, where kids of all races and backgrounds could be seen dancing together, breaking down all sorts of barriers. At some point in my life, I outgrew my attraction to the good and evil battles of wrestling, complete with evil foreign villains and trash talking, and gained an attraction for the music with a good beat that brings people together. It should not surprise us that Isaiah had access to both channels, and had an attraction to both. We all do. I’m hopeful, though, that faith communities will one day outgrow their attraction toward violence, toward the division of the world into good guys and villains, and will make the switch to the channel of peace, start dancing together, singing along with Barry’s Bandstand Boogie - we’re going hoppin’, we’re going hoppin’ today, we’re going poppin’, the Philadelphia way, we’re gonna drop in on all the music they play on the bandstand.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.