Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Ezekiel 23:20) transports me to the world of 1980s adolescent fun, as Japan’s Shigeru Miyamoto designed Nintendo’s Donkey Kong, the legendary arcade game that became a favorite pastime of adolescent boys and set the video game industry on its track. The game introduced Mario to the virtual world; the soon-to-be Super Mario was in a love triangle, battling Donkey Kong for the affections of Pauline. Shigeru Miyamoto’s name for the title character, a gorilla, was based on his mistaken English translation; he thought donkey meant stupid and kong meant ape. It was neither the first nor the last time that donkeys have failed to get due respect, being the brunt of jokes. Unfortunately, the very name Donkey Kong engendered a whole slew of crude jokes based on phallic humor, another favorite pastime of adolescent boys. Perhaps as a sign that adolescence reaches well into the 20s these days, I can remember a time in my mid-twenties when a seminary friend loved telling a farm animal phallic joke based on Prince Charles and Princess Di playing a game of twenty questions. Suffice it to say that the “bigger than a breadbox” clue was all the Princess needed to solve the riddle.
I don’t know how long the age of adolescence reached in biblical times, but I imagine the prophet Ezekiel had not shed all his teen spirit. In ranting and railing against the idolatry of the Israelites, he couldn’t help but reach into the gutter for some phallic symbolism. Israel and Judah are portrayed as two sisters, slumming down to neighboring countries to find paramours, who, in Ezekiel’s course imagery, had bragging rights as far as size was concerned. The Egyptians’ members, as the English Standard Version euphemistically puts it, were like those of donkeys. What’s the prophet thinking? His rant and rave is essentially a castigation (nearly a castration) of the allurement of phallic-laden world power. The Israelites were toying with an alliance with one of the imperial powers of the day, Egypt, because they did not fully trust God to protect and sustain them. The temptation of imperial military might, with all its size and potency, proved impossible for the small covenant community to resist. The judgment against this infatuation with size and power is harsh – the prophet envisions God calling in other “lovers” from surrounding nations, who will strip the sisters and mutilate them, thus putting an end to the lewdness and whoring in Egypt. Aaggghh. The stuff of teenage humor turns into the stuff of teenage horror flicks. Fortunately, Ezekiel was not the only prophet around, and we have other imagery to draw from, including other donkey imagery. Jesus spared us whatever teen spirit remained in him, and chose instead to channel Zechariah’s parody of the messianic parade with the King riding in on a lowly donkey. The message was the same though, an indictment of trust in world power, in military solutions, and a call to lay down arms and trust a different power, the power of sacrificial love.
Around the same time Donkey Kong was gaining popularity and my seminary friends were laughing at the twenty questions Princess Di joke, the Southern Baptist Convention was proving it, too, had not outgrown its adolescent infatuations. We were in the early phases of Bold Mission Thrust, the SBC mission campaign which the feminist theologians in my circle of friends had plenty of fun lampooning. It didn’t help when the convention met in the late 80s in Las Vegas, and the messengers passed a public resolution expressing appreciation to their Nevada Baptist hosts, encouraging them to continue in the bold penetration of Nevada. Seriously. When you consider the SBC’s move into the world of power politics during that era, the wording of that resolution explains a lot.
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.