Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Ezekiel 1) transports me to a trip my late friend Carl Harris and his wife Lucille made to our nation’s capital quite a few years ago. Carl, who had been a much-beloved and celebrated professor of Greek at Wake Forest University, was one of the most thoughtful, mindful, caring people I have ever met. In a conversation, you would get the idea that every word was carefully chosen, bathed in kindness, and behind each of those words every idea had been carefully thought through, to clear away any confusion and to communicate grace. He was devoted to the study of the classical thought and the works of people like Origen of Alexandria and Plato. Lucille, a retired professor of music and pianist at Wake Forest, was a perfect match for him. Carl never learned to drive, and one of my favorite stories was of a trip to DC, where Lucille drove into rush hour traffic on the beltway and was engulfed in a stream of fast lane high life vehicles complete with enough chrome rims and spinning wheels to make one’s head spin. In the midst of all this, their car suffered a flat tire. She pulled over to what little shoulder there was, and they simply sat there. A major traffic jam ensued, and finally a policeman on motorcycle made his way through the snarl and came up to investigate the problem. He asked Carl why he was just sitting there, why he was not out changing the tire. Carl explained that he had never changed a tire in his life and wouldn’t know where to start. As the conversation continued, the police officer learned that Carl had never learned to drive. He was aghast, and asked incredulously, How in this world can you get along without knowing how to drive a car? Carl didn’t miss a beat, and answered in that exact way of speaking that he had, Sir, I’m not of this world. The police officer asked for the keys, opened the trunk where he found the spare Goodyear and the jack, and proceeded to change the flat.
Long before the Greek thinkers who captivated Carl Harris lived, the prophet Ezekiel was taken into exile with his fellow conquered Israelites. Like the good professor, he was not of this world. Ezekiel was captivated by a series of visions designed to speak hard truths and breathe hope into the exile community. There in the land of the Chaldeans, close to the center of the world’s greatest empire to date, he had his first vision, one that could inspire the most outlandish of hip-hop fancy wheel drivers. He saw a chariot coming down from heaven, driven by four beasts, each with very distinctive characteristics. But what seemed to catch his eye even more than the beasts were the wheels on this chariot. Their appearance was like gleaming topaz, with wheels spinning within wheels. The rims were awesome, he said, filled with eyes, and each of the wheels could independently turn on a dime. The spirit of these winged chariot drivers was in the wheels. And then the prophet saw the rider of the chariot, sitting on a throne, with fire blazing from his loins. This and subsequent visions would give the Ezekiel’s exile community the courage they needed to renew their faith in the covenant and liberate themselves from the spiritual addiction they had developed toward foreign alliances and world power, which is what got them into trouble to begin with.
MTV’s Pimp My Ride could never compete with the vehicle Ezekiel was envisioning. Our culture does its best to create the illusion of out-of-this-world experiences, through the bling bling of fully loaded Escalades and Maybachs and Bentleys. At the end of the day, though, it’s all just sheet metal and rubber and plastic and paint. I’d rather catch a glimpse of the other world Carl Harris inhabited (and continues to inhabit in its eternal form). It’s the other world Jesus talked about to his disciples. Here, the wheels of justice and love spin and turn in whatever direction the Spirit wills. The chariot of fire is bringing a rider to inaugurate a new kingdom, a new world, where the stranger and outcast and marginalized and second class are all welcome to catch a ride. I’ll bet there’s even a Greek scholar on board, engaged in a mindful conversation with Origen of Alexandria.
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, etc.