Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ezekiel 1-12: Ezekiel Makes a Case for Performing Arts?

So now we skip to Ezekiel.  At this point in my reading, I was relieved because Jeremiah was so depressing, and Ezekiel starts on a high note, what with the awesome visions of God and the cherubim and everything.  But it goes downhill from there.

Okay, so the visions.  There are two of them, and they very closely mirror John's vision of the throne of God in Revelation.  I've heard that ancient Jewish boys were not allowed to read Ezekiel until they were 30 because these visions were considered way too transcendent to be grasped by the young mind or something like that, but I'm not sure if that's true.  Most of what Ezekiel describes, interestingly enough, is not the appearance of God but the appearance of the cherubim.  They are weird freaky creatures!  They have four faces and four wings and are covered with eyes and have something like hands under their wings and there are these wheel things with them that move when they do, and somehow their spirits are contained within the wheels.  It kind of makes me want to try drawing a picture of it just so I can get an idea of what he's talking about, because I'm really not sure how the wheel idea works.  Fortunately, though, I don't have to, because a bunch of other people already did.  I did a Google Image Search for "Ezekiel cherubim" and found some interesting stuff.  Most of them forgot to add the eyes though.

Now when God calls Ezekiel to be a prophet, it's pretty interesting what He says.  He tells Ezekiel to speak to the house of Israel whether they will listen or not (2:7 and 3:11).  But then He says that at some point He will tell Ezekiel -not- to speak to anybody.  Apparently, our responsibility to do what God tells us does not depend on the immediate results we get.

The other interesting thing about these chapters, to me, is the stuff God has Ezekiel do to get his message out. First he tells Ezekiel to build a model of Jerusalem and lay siege against it, to show that Jerusalem will be under siege soon.  Then he has him lie down next to it and not get up for 390 days (he makes food ahead of time), and then again not for 40 days, corresponding to the number of years that Israel and Judah (respectively) have been walking in iniquity, as best as I can figure.  And during that time he's supposed to eat his food baked using human, um, excrement.  Ezekiel is really grossed out by this and God says he can use animal dung instead.  But ew! all the same.  Then later, God tells Ezekiel to pack up and dig through a wall and go out into exile to show Jerusalem that's what's going to happen to him.

Can you imagine if you saw a grown man make a Lego model of your town and then start attacking it?  That would be weird.  Or if he lay in the dirt for over a year, eating only what he had brought with him?  That would be disturbing.  That was Ezekiel's job.

The neat thing about this is that God is using something besides just preaching to get a message across.  He's using visual representation and physically acting out the prophecy in a symbolic way.  Hey, that sounds an awful lot like drama!  Ezekiel has become, in a very weird sense, a performing artist prophet.

This probably isn't the number one thing you're supposed to get out of reading Ezekiel 1-12, but for me, as a performing artist, it really stuck out.  There is a growing movement in the Western Church to use creative elements to worship God or to spread the gospel or to teach a biblical lesson.  I think the reaction to it so far has been pretty mixed.  Drama is probably the most accepted art form (next to music, obviously, although there are denominations which don't believe in using musical instruments); visual art and dance, on the other hand, are a little iffy.  Don't believe me?  Go to a Catholic or high-tradition Protestant (like Lutheran or Episcopal) church and look at how much visual material there is (stained glass windows, etc.).  Then go to a lower-tradition Protestant church (such as Baptist or non-denominational) and look at how much visual material is there - I'm guessing that the most you'll see in the sanctuary is a cross somewhere.  This is, of course, because of the 2nd commandment - don't make an image to represent God so that you have something physical to worship.  Ever since the Iconoclast Controversy in the Catholic church, many Christians have been concerned that all that visual material leads to worship of that material.

Dancing, though, is probably the most iffy art there is for Christians.  For so many centuries it was denounced by the Church or important leaders within the Church, although there were always some who objected to demonizing the art as a whole.  A few years ago I read an article that's actually fairly recent arguing that dance, while not inherently evil, probably always leads to bad things - the author claimed that it was the Israelites' dancing that angered Moses and caused him to break the original 10 Commandments, and even blamed Michal's anger at David's behavior on David!  As a dancer, I found this incredibly disturbing.  Fortunately, I think that with the rise of dance ministries (more than even the rise of Christian dance companies), people in the church are beginning to see dance as simply a visual, physical way of expressing an idea or emotion, and that expression can be worship.

Anyway, so back to Ezekiel.  It's just comforting to see that the things we're just now figuring out, Ezekiel was commanded by God to do.  He was using art, as it were, to tell a story or to present a message.  That is the purpose of art - not to be worshiped or even to draw attention to itself, but to tell you something about real life.  Art has a way of breaking down barriers.  A lot of people will not listen to a sermon, or if they hear something that starts to sound like one, they'll just close their ears.  The arts have the ability to reach beyond our defenses and speak straight to our hearts, sometimes without us even knowing it at first.  That's why they're so powerful, and maybe that's why God had Ezekiel do this.

Or, you know, maybe He was saying it's okay to let your kids play in the dirt.