By Renée Zitzloff
When I was preparing the lesson on Ezekiel 32 I noticed again (I’m great with the obvious) the seeming redundancy of this ancient book. But reading the chapter anew, expecting to yawn profusely, I suddenly was jolted by the graphic nature of the violence being described. I was to study this with young children?
In class I had one of the girls read the first 10 verses, and then I asked the children to repeat just one thing she had read. No one could repeat one word. So much for listening. So I read aloud s l o w l y and with emphasis God’s message through Ezekiel to Pharaoh, tasking the children with repeating their “favorite” verse when I was done:
“You are like a lion among the nations; you are like a monster in the seas…I will cast my net over you…I will hurl you on the open field…and all the animals of the wild will gorge themselves on you…I will drench the land with your flowing blood…I will snuff you out….I will bring darkness over you…”
This time they each remembered a “favorite” verse. To reinforce the unpalatability of the passage I asked them to imagine how wild animals eat. Do they sit down politely at a table using silverware, sipping tea and wearing a pretty bonnet? No, they all agreed giggling at the image. So again, I emphasized graphically how wild animals rip muscles apart with their jagged teeth, how bones are cracked and gobbles, how blood smears over everything and how bad it all would smell to the human nose. I asked the children if their parents allow them to watch violent or graphic television or movies and most remembered something violent they’d seen on a screen. I asked them why such violence is depicted in the Bible, and why their parents would allow them to read such a thing. No one had an answer, so I suggested they ask their parents this question (I love fomenting rebellion).
In emphasizing what is written in the text (not by me!) I wanted to help them pay attention to what they may think is boring and useless (me?). So as we continued I told them I’d help paint a picture of Ezekial and the Pharaoh whom they’ve never met and whom supposedly lived so long ago. I asked them if they knew the names of any rap artists. There was discussion and we settled on Eminem. Then I asked them to picture President Obama speaking happily at a press conference and suddenly Eminem interrupting him with the words of Ezekial: “You are like a lion among the nations; you are like a monster in the seas…I will cast my net over you…I will hurl you on the open field…and all the animals of the wild will gorge themselves on you…I will drench the land with your flowing blood…I will snuff you out….I will bring darkness over you…declares the Sovereign Lord.” Hmm, I asked, would President Obama be pleased to hear these words? Would he be happy and invite Eminem to join him for cocktails in the Rose Garden? Or would he insist Eminem be hauled away by secret service personnel and perhaps be thrown in jail or even be put to death? (It’s never fun to be a prophet, I reminded them, because they all get killed for speaking truth).
At this point I could have guided the class in several directions (or gone home). And though it may be tangential to the chapter I decided to discuss how the world uses killing and death to destroy its enemies. I suggested that the job of the Christian is not to kill but to prepare ourselves to die for the truth. I alerted them that the rest of their lives people would try to involve them in killing as a solution. We talked about the military recruiters who will be present in their high schools (and possibly middle schools) encouraging them to join the army, navy, marines etc. “You can join the military if you choose, I said, but you are not allowed to kill.” I asked them if they knew of any record in the Bible (or outside) of Jesus killing or wounding anyone, or of Jesus advocating war or killing as a solution. Nothing came to mind. We spoke of how Christ could have called an army of men (or women or angels) to annihilate his enemies as he torturously limped towards the cross. Why do we use killing and war as a solution if Jesus didn’t?
As we talked about killing, one boy affirmed that the United States didn’t go to war often. Sad to relieve him of this notion, I cited the fact that in the last two hundred years the United States has been involved in over 150 wars, including the genocides of Native Americans and black slaves. He then proposed that the U.S. only goes to war when someone “picks on us because we are powerful and they are weak.” I invited him to rethink this idea by picturing himself choosing the biggest kid at school and taunting him into a fight. He wisely agreed that he wasn’t likely to do this, although one of the (little?) girls suggested using less of a full frontal confrontation and more of a guerrilla warfare (my phrase) strategy against bigger enemies. She had some good points.
This pretty much wrapped up our lesson for the day. I generally conclude by reminding the children to talk to their parents about what we discuss. I hope they do.
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