An Appalling Sight: Ezra 6 – 10

Clearing the Air. Ezra Facilitates Rebuilding the Temple. Incest and Interracial Marriage. A Feverish Prayer.

When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled.

Ezra 9:3 (NIV)

I admire both of my siblings. As the youngest of three, it was only natural that I would look up to them, especially in pre-adolescence. I glommed onto their friends, for instance, particularly my brother’s since we were closer in age. Younger siblings tend to do that, no matter how their brothers and sisters act. What I mean is… I admired them growing up solely because of their status. They were older than me, and thus they were cooler than me. No effort was required on their part. They were cool based on age alone – end of story.

That attraction towards them wore off with age – as it usually does – but my affection has remained and continues to grow.

My brother is an activist. He believes strongly about gay issues and works to bring LGBT artists into the public eye (Yes, I have a gay brother). His ambition lacks bounds, just as much as his wardrobe has no boundaries (He has a “colorful” style). He has strong opinions (He’s tough), but he also knows how to be tactful (He knows when to keep his mouth shut). And as a left-leaning gay rights activist, he is shockingly tolerant of differing views about homosexuality. Some have commented that I come off embittered towards Christianity, and at times, that feeling does cloud my ability to remain empathetic towards other viewpoints. Over the years, my brother has settled into a very distinct patience, and I admire it.

My sister is a pacifist. I don’t mean with regards to war or violence per se – no, she practices a very devout social pacifism (She is an overall kind person). She has three kids (That might seem unrelated), and it has given her a strong sense for morality and human behavior (So it all connects). Conversations with my sister often evolve into a sort of therapy session (Her listening skills are impeccable). She has an incredibly strong faith that has shaped her into a fine woman and mother, and her ability to listen intently and empathize is unmatchable. And I admire it.

The Book of Ezra comes to a strange close when the namesake himself wanders onto the scene. As an expert-in-all-things-Law, Ezra comes to the aid of the returned exiles in order to see their efforts to rebuild God’s temple to completion. But upon entering Jerusalem, he is deeply troubled by what he sees – specifically, defiling marriages. This appalls him to such a degree that he tears out his hair and rips his robes. What are the natures of these despicable practices? Two specifically get his goat – incestuous and interracial marriages. Both – not one more than the other. Both are appalling.

Many gay men and women are accustomed to having their natures lumped in with thieves, rapists, drug addicts, and child molesters. Opponents often bring up polygamy as a natural cultural progression if our society allows gay marriage. Bestiality and incest make that cut more often than not as well. These comparisons infuriate me – I find them appalling.

So, let’s just say that my blood began to boil when I read about Ezra’s indignation – when forced incest was lumped in with interracial marriage. Didn’t Ruth teach us anything about this, that we are all off God’s “ideal” and exceptions exist?

No? That’s disappointing.

I am angry, and it is becoming much more obvious to my friends and family. I think that anger is a fine emotion for me to feel, but not when it so viscerally takes over my whole existence. My brother told me recently that this is just the stage that I am in, that it most certainly will pass as my senses acclimate to the reality of the situation. Others disagree with me about tons of things – but I need to keep living. My anger is justified and can even be productive, but my bitterness is not.

And so, that makes me very thankful to have a brother and a sister who are so level-headed. I admire my brother’s tenacity and independence. I admire my sister’s understanding and kindness. So who needs heroes? I have them.

Starting Over: Ezra 1 – 5

A Return and Census. To Rebuild. Opposition.

We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, one that a great king of Israel built and finished.

Ezra 5:11 (NIV)

When last we left the chosen ones of God (at the end of Samuel and Chronicles), King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was leading them into exile after a complete siege of their land. The palace and temple both fell along with the people – everything is effectively destroyed.

And now, they return. King Cyrus of Babylon – after seeing the Light of God through the prophet Jeremiah – issues the order to allow them to go back home and aids them in the process. Once in Jerusalem, they begin the painful work of rebuilding, including their holy places in order that they may properly worship their God. Eventually, they get opposition from the King of Persia, but they push on in their efforts. They are the new faces of God on Earth, and a little bit of pushback will not stop them.

This is some of the last history before we move on to the New Testament. Don’t get too excited, there are hundreds of pages of poetry and prophecy between now and then. But I bring this up anyway just to mentally take note of the state of things at this point. So much of the Bible feels so foreign and dead to me, precisely because the culture so radically diverges from our current one. But the New Testament always seemed a bit fresher… maybe that feeling will return once I read it.

So, they start over, and we will see how that goes. I am not writing this entry with any sort of dramatic irony, as I really do not remember what happens between this moment and the arrival of Jesus. Just based on the fact that only a scant few chapters remain, I am making the assumption that it is a little less dramatic than some of the recent stories (that we got to read two accounts of, no less).

Starting anew is an interesting event in most people’s lives, if they have the opportunity, or perhaps are forced, to do it. I have made two huge moves in my life (three if you count college), and neither felt particularly profound at the time. Both instances involved cross country adjustments to foreign places where I held little personal connections, but frankly, neither felt incredibly weighty at the time. It just felt like the course of life.

Some people take these moments to instill an emotional change in tandem with the physical one. What better way to start anew than to get rid of all those bad habits that you swore you would take care of a hundred times over? But it doesn’t always go that way, does it? We promise to be nicer, to be more involved in the community, to gossip less, and entering a new social group often just gives us the opportunity to make those same mistakes again, just with fresh faces.

Because change does not work that way. Entering a new place and just deciding to be different does to often work, because it is a forced entry. It is opportunistic rather than deep. It is not an earned change, but rather compulsory based on either criteria.

So how does change occur? Does starting fresh really ever work?

No dramatic irony here, so no answers. I am enjoying being in the moment.