Fellow Passengers: Today’s Prophetic Passage (Ezekiel 23) transports me to the jam-packed auditorium of Rockingham County Community College, circa 1990, where the local school board was taking public comment on the banning of a book from the high school library. The book in question was titled something like “Having My Baby” and dealt with teen pregnancy. That the teen in question was making the decision to have the baby and not abort was lost on the part of the crowd who wanted to exercise censorship and remove the book from the shelves. They were honed in on one page, where a description of the heat of passion in the back seat of a Chevy included the girl referring to the guy as her “god.” Conservative after conservative (mostly preacher types) took to the microphone to lambaste the book in general and this page in particular, talking about how our young people should not be exposed to such immorality and idolatry, that our schools should not be promoting or supporting such trash talk. And liberal after liberal (mostly educator types) took to the microphone to extol the virtue of academic freedom. Thirty minutes or so into the debate, I made my way to the microphone, unable to resist the temptation to pull a Will Campbell stunt.
I told the crowd that they had every reason to worry about the morals of our young people, and the book in question was the least of their worries. I had heard of a group of students bringing a book into the school that had far more graphic descriptions of the kind of immorality referenced in the library book. I had heard that some of these students were even meeting together before school to read the book. To illustrate the dangers of this book, I took out a piece of paper that had a selected passage typed on it, and read it to the audience. She became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute. . . There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. . .So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled.
So, I asked the crowd, you’re worried about a girl referring to her guy as a “god” in the heat of passion when our young people are reading this? A school board member was incensed and took the bait, wanting to know what book I was quoting. I told him that it was from the Bible, book of Ezekiel, chapter 23, verses 19-21. I don’t remember exactly how the meeting went after that, but I do remember getting lots of phone calls that week from angry preachers, telling me there was nothing like that in their Bible (to be fair, the Elizabethan English of the King James is not quite as graphic as the NIV).
As entertaining as it was for me, that episode did little to further anyone’s understanding of the prophet’s diatribe. Ezekiel, like Hosea, used the metaphor of adultery to rail against the infidelity of the people of faith as they abandoned trust in the merciful power of God for trust in the imperial power of their neighbors. Time and time again, the covenant people found themselves in the back seat of some neighboring kingdom’s Chevy, calling the boyfriend of the day “god.” Military might had a phallic symbolism even then, with Egypt’s potent prowess in world affairs calling to the prophet’s mind the bragging rights of donkeys and horses.
Whatever Freudian analysis or feminist critique we might want to bring to Ezekiel, his portrayal of the pornography of power is a reality in our world, just as it was in his. People are just as likely to be seduced by the opportunity for military domination now as they were then, and contemporary imagery illustrating that seduction for us makes Ezekiel and his donkeys look tame by comparison. Just check out Rihanna and Jeezy’s MTV video of their top ten hit, Hard, if you want an example. The prophet would say all this speaks to good loving gone bad. The passage tells us in the church that our adulterous affairs with world power, be they military or economic, reveal our basic distrust in the power of God. The prophet calls us out of the back seat and back into the mercy seat.
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