she died that he might preach

I've been working my way through the Old Testament prophecies of Ezekiel this summer--little bit by little bit--taking comprehension notes (including poignant quotations from my sidearm friend Charles Feinberg) in one column. But then making personal action notes in a second column. Typically I'm several chapters ahead in my devotional read-through as compared to where I'm actually at studying Feinberg's commentary and typing up notes. But this system is working well for me (thankfully), and I feel like I'm digesting it better by reading just the Word first, and then going back to study. Plus, it's so nice to have the chart to look back over.

As I started Ezekiel, I immediately felt a connectivity to this thirty-year-old servant of God (1:1). I too am thirty, and God's been kneading into my heart His calling on my life to be His servant. 

Ezekiel's was a ministry of communicating God's message, both written and spoken, to God's people. And along the way I've jotted down notes regarding communicating: the power of drama to draw in an audience (12:1-16), to illustrate creatively (4:1-8; 12:17-20), to use parables or riddles to peak interest, but then to be sure to clearly explain the analogy (17); that there's a place for repetition, even if it's just because I am overwhelmed with the awesomeness of God's glory (10); and that even my personality is such that God knows will be effective for His purposes for me (3:4-11, God equips to deal with what He is sending His servant to face). 

Over and over again, the theme of God's awesome glory has surfaced--His all-consuming desire that every individual and nation would truly know who He is. Woven into that theme is the seriousness of sin and its impending consequences, as well as the extended and oft-repeated invitation to mercy. I've been amazed throughout the book as I've seen the two great qualities--truth and mercy--kissing

In 11:1-4, it seems that Jerusalem's elders were counseling self-preservation in the midst of impending doom. This was not God's counsel. The only way to save one's life is to give it up, we're told in the NT. And their only hope, as ours, is repentance and forgiveness of sins. God wins at word-play and turns the wicked counselors' metaphor (about the city being a cauldron and the people, meat) back on them, telling them they'll wish they were meat boiled in a cauldron, but instead they'll be taken out of the pot (the city of Jerusalem)--exiled and slain (11:5-12). In the very midst of this prophecy, God strikes one of the leaders dead. And right in the middle of this speech, Ezekiel is completely overwhelmed, again. Right there and then, Ezekiel gives is our example of how we should respond when overwhelmed by God's message: he falls down and cries out to God. "Ah, Lord God! Will You make a full end of the remnant of Israel?" 

And God hears the sincere prayer of His servant. After ten and a half chapters, God offers "the first promises of restoration in the book" (Feinburg). And it's a beautiful passage in which God foretells the recalling together of His scattered remnant back to redeem the desecrated land and promises unity, renewal of spirit and a tender heart. How important it is in the darkest of times to look to the Lord and His promises of "hope and a future."

And I've got plenty of notes that say, "Study this more." 

But I've seen ... The importance of being faithful. The individual responsibility of each soul. The necessary purging of rebellion from each heart. The tragedy of others' sins affecting those around them. These are a few of the lessons I've noted. 

Another: The reality that by sinning--whether it's treating parents with contempt; wronging those who aren't from around here, taking advantage of widows or orphans; disregarding or despising things God has called holy, including the day of rest; committing or commending lewd or impure acts--I am dishonoring God and usually a fellow human being as well. The phrase from "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" comes to mind: "How could I now dishonor the ones that You have loved?" And the reality is, by sinning, I am forgetting God. "Me you have forgotten." (22) 

In that same chapter, God promises that "every heart will melt" ( verse 7), just like "every knee shall bow" (Philippians 2). And I would much prefer my heart melting in love and awe of Him than in the fire that will consume. Think ... the difference between fresh-from-the-oven, golden-brown chocolate-chip cookies ... and a renegade chunk of cookie dough, now indistinguishable, fallen to the bottom of the stove, burnt to a crisp. Which do you long for?

***

But of all the passages that God has moved my heart with this summer, none has equaled Ezekiel 24:15-27

Perhaps part of it is the timing. We celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary this past week. And turning thirty didn't even phase me. But I ran right into this tenth anniversary milestone as if it were literally a slab of granite. "I've been married a third of my life. Wow." (Yes, that's what happens when you get married at twenty.) And I got contemplative. 

In the midst of the contemplation, I dug in here. 

In this passage, Ezekiel's wife dies. Nothing says "Happy Anniversary" like thinking about "till death do us part," right? 

Ezekiel's wife dies as a symbolic lesson for the people of Israel. God gave him the heads-up, sure. But it wasn't like they got a sabbatical to make their final memories. I'm sure they would have loved that had God given them that opportunity. But instead, he preaches in the morning, and that night, she dies. 

I wonder if Ezekiel told his wife that she would die soon. I wonder if she knew, if He told her too. But I have no doubt, either way, she was ready. 

I would love to know more about this woman. Actually, maybe someday I'll get a chance to sit and talk with her, sip some heavenly beverage, listen to her story. I want to hear her side of The Prophecy of Ezekiel ....  

She must have supported and encouraged him through so much. Were they married during that time when he lay on his side for months on end? Did she take his dishes, bring him his portion of "wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt" bread? What cruel things were said to her about her husband as he obeyed God, to communicate His message, through what looked to most like mental illness? His was a difficult ministry. And she was "the delight of his eyes." 

For her life to be extinguished in order for her husband's sermon to hit home--incredible! And we tend to get hung up on his not being permitted to weep. Feinberg notes: "Faced with this directive Ezekiel exhibited complete subordination of his own will and feelings to his prophetic office in the will of God. In spite of the fact that he knew his wife's hours were numbered, he went about the ministry committed to him. What an example of obedience!" But even this was not what gripped me, this time through.

As the wife of a man who is committed to serving the Lord in a teaching/preaching ministry, this particular passage sunk deep in my heart. Alan's ministry will no doubt be a difficult one. He's finishing up his PhD in NT with the hope of equipping African nationals to effectively communicate God's Word in their culture. Our heart is to see God's Kingdom advance in that land and around the world.

And the Holy Spirit questions came: 

As his wife, will you encourage him even in the darkest times when no one is listening? 

Will you be "the delight of his eyes?" 

And the clincher: Are you willing for your life to be extinguished in order for the people to listen to his (My) message?

Missions becomes much less romantic, much less an adventure, and much more a surrender of myself to God and a submission to the ministry God has given my husband, when put in these terms. 

Am I willing?

If this is God's purpose, His will, for us ... am I willing to DIE so that my husband's ministry will be more effective? As a corollary, am I willing to LIVE in such a way that my husband's ministry will be more effective (Proverbs 31:23)? Sometimes, this is harder.

But as it was, Ezekiel's wife died so that he might preach. 

His obedience to God got the attention of the people. They knew by this time that his actions meant something for them. And they understood that just as Ezekiel's wife was the "delight of his eyes" so the sanctuary was their "pride [and] delight." That--and their children--the two things most precious to them--would be taken from them, just as Ezekiel's wife was taken from him. And they, in their captivity, would be given no allowance for the customary grieving process or traditions.

I have no doubt it was difficult for Ezekiel to carry on without his wife. This prophecy and its initial fulfillment in the death of Ezekiel's wife marked a temporary change in the ministry of Ezekiel. Surely any man's life and ministry changes somewhat when his wife passes on, perhaps especially in a sudden moment with little warning, but I would think regardless of the circumstances. And it appears there is a pause for Ezekiel--a muting of his voice for the interim--until he hears from a messenger that the purpose of his wife's death and the further prophecy of the sanctuary's destruction has been fulfilled. Even after, when he starts preaching again, there's been a transition: his preaching for the next significant chunk of the book is directed toward neighboring nations. And I haven't finished studying, let alone reading, the rest. 

But I've had plenty to chew on, things hard to swallow. And it's taken me to my knees. But it's been so good, so rich. And I have felt God drawing me closer to Him, purifying my Oholibah-prone heart.

I pray that while I live, I will be the kind of wife Alan needs me to be--the rib of his side, the fruitful vine in his home, "the delight of his eyes."

And I long for God to use my life--& my death, if He tarries His return--to bring Him glory, to make His message clear to those who need to hear, and to grow His kingdom in our hearts.

Praying for you as you live and love,

By the grace of God,

michelle


*** 

What passage of Scripture has God been using to melt your heart recently? I'd love to hear from you.

Christian resources for Ramadan

Just below "21 Friday" in my Family Planner is marked "Beginning of Ramadan." I don't mind that it's written there. It's a reminder to pray. And it's been on my heart again recently to pray more fervently for our Muslim neighbors. As today starts these days set aside by Muslims for prayer and fasting (and subsequent feasting) known as Ramadan, it seems an appropriate day to encourage one another to pray for the salvation of Muslims around the world as well as in our own country and even our own neighborhoods. And then to engage them in gospel conversations, for their salvation and the glory of God. 


I read Woman to Woman: Sharing Jesus with a Muslim Friend a couple of years ago now. It was on the stack of books to be reviewed in our campus store, and it got my attention.  It's now available for kindle too. You can read my review here, but I definitely plan to read through it again over the next 30 days. 


Another downloadable resource that has been brought to my attention during this present season is from worldchristian.com. They publish a 30 day prayer guide for Christians wanting to learn more about Islam as well as to pray for Muslims during their Ramadan. They also have a kids' version which I would probably be more likely to go with. Just personally. You know you go for kids' versions too. =) These do have a minimal cost. But there are also more resources available at 30daysprayer.com.


And then, Bob Rutledge, over at GFA Missions, has compiled a fabulous collection of resources for engaging our Muslim neighbors in gospel conversations, "equipping Christians to evangelize Muslims." You'll find pamphlets, tracts, books, even a DVD. 


Let's make it a matter of prayer that God would save our currently Muslim neighbors, that we would have boldness and much fruit in this plentiful harvest.


Redeem Ramadan.


For the glory of God, 


michelle

my heart ... and a review of roger rosenblatt's unless it moves the human heart

There's something bonding and wonderful about participating in a writing class. Maybe it's the shared passion for words. Maybe it's the opening of your own heart in transparent communication, that opening up that welcomes peer criticism by those whom who must critique as well. 

I remember touring a replica of James Cook's ship in Australia on holiday with a homeschooling missionary family there. We learned more that day than normal book work. And the tour guide taught us some common cliches' origins. One comes to mind in thinking about critiques: the "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" of shipmen threatened with the cat whip, pledging to go easy on one another if either had to be disciplined. Though, like they, we too have to whip at least hard enough to conceal our secret oath from the captain (the teacher), or we can expect discipline ourselves. And many writing teachers do include your ability to critique your own work as well as that of your peers as part of your grade.

But I've been thinking a lot about the pleasure and challenge of writing classes recently. As Alan finishes up his PhD (Lord-willing this coming school year, though we know dissertations can stretch longer for men working full time), we've been talking a lot about our next step. Many of you know our long-term thought is to train nationals in Africa, the whole reason Alan's getting the PhD in New Testament being to qualify him for teaching on the seminary level. We agree that one parent working on an advanced degree at a time is more than enough for our household. But I was so thrilled the other night when he encouraged me toward an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Creative Nonfiction. The MFA is a terminal degree that allows professorship in a creative field (art, cinematography, writing, e.g.), often in a low-residency model. The ones I've looked at are typically five 10-to-14 day residencies at a specific location, and then correspondence work throughout four terms. The first four residencies are instruction intensive and provide opportunities for interacting with others in the program, while the fifth is a presentation of your major work.

If I were interested in journalism, I'd definitely look into World magazine's Journalism institute (worldji.com). And I'm open to God redirecting, intrigued at their heart to train journalists internationally--first in Africa, currently in India--and then also to place American Christian journalists in international newsrooms. And I love this article on servant journalism--that it's about community and compassion and humility.

But for now, my direction seems to be more toward longer works. I'm looking for the right program, interested in the one at Seattle Pacific University. And would love to hear from you if you know of a program that would be scholastically rigorous (though still meaningful). And I would love it if I could find a program whose teachers had the philosophy of writing for a purpose, to communicate truth to the world. 

My dream? To continue writing and to someday teach writing on the college level. I would love to help train the next generation of Christian communicators. But, having gotten my undergrad in Special Education, I also have a heart to teach remedial writing to those who do not find it easy to express themselves--because I believe writing is difficult for many but that they have a unique perspective that's worth hearing as well; it's just a matter of unlocking it. This dream allows me to marry my love for education and writing. And the MFA seems to be the next logical step in making my dream a reality.

We shall see what God does.



In the mean time, I picked up Roger Rosenblatt's Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing. Rosenblatt teaches in an MFA program on Long Island, NY. And reading his book is participating in one of his writing classes. He thoroughly acquaints you with different types of writers in the student characters in his book. But he also shares insights on teaching writing: these passages were my favorites. 

Here are a few of the passages that stood out to me, and I share them here (since I have to return the book to the library soon and want to be able to review them) and because some of you will enjoy them too, maybe even be interested in picking up a copy for yourself.

He talked about trying to imitate someone else's teaching style and how it was an abominable failure. 
"I actually tried it one year.... I was absurd. The students learned nothing, except, perhaps, the art of ridicule. The method that suits me [and this spoke to my SpEducator heart] is praise laced with broad, and transparently good-natured, insults. The insults merely goad, but the praise is sincere and frequent, and it is more practically useful than it sounds. If you find things you like in a student's work, and you celebrate them, then the things you don't like--the really awful parts--will seem anomalous mistakes uncharacteristic of the writer, ones they can correct. The students will side with you against their own weaknesses. If, on the other hand, they begin to think they can't do anything right, they will get worse and worse. No matter how cheerfully they appear to take your criticism, or how mature their attitude, they will think to themselves, 'I can't do this.' Or they'll write defensively, anticipating your familiar objections, and be dull within safety." (pages 47-48) 
And, I think, he is not just writing for people who want to write but also for people who do write and who teach writing. This passage could be subtitled "The Power of Praise and a Proper Posture in Critique." I'm sure my style will not be entirely identical to his, but I think I could handle his.

"One of the pleasures of teaching writing courses is that you can encourage extravagant thoughts ... in your students. These are the thoughts that will be concealed in plain and modest sentences when they write. But before that artistic reduction occurs, you want your students to think big--to think big and write small. I don't tell them that in so many words. But there's no purpose to writing unless you believe in significant things--right over wrong, good over evil. Your writing may deal with the gray between the absolutes, and all the relativities that life requires. But you still need to acknowledge that the absolutes exist, and that you are on the side of the angels. I have never known a great writer who did not believe in decency and right action, however earnestly he or his characters strayed from it." (60)

"Wordsworth quoted Coleridge as saying that every poet must create the taste by which he is relished. The same is true of teachers. I really don't want my students to write as I do, but I want them to think about writing as I do. In them, I am consciously creating a certain taste for what I believe constitutes skillful and effective writing. I want them to be both clear and wild in their work. The hammer descends on the nail. The nail is driven deep into the wood. And the wood sings." (64)

"The teaching of writing is like publishing something you write. You come up with an idea, and out it goes. Only with teaching you don't get first and second 'passes,' a publisher's term for proofs you can have second thoughts about and correct. You need to be as careful with what you say as a teacher as you are as a writer--maybe more careful, because as soon as you go public with your words, your students will blow them about like rumors. What I teach my students about writing may become writing. I try not to overthink this, because the burden of competence is daunting." (66) 
This is good advice for all teachers, not just teachers of writing. Yours is a powerful role. And parents, you are teachers, whether you have a degree in education or no. Take seriously this daunting burden. But I will add too, as a caution to writers, there comes a time when the editor says no more, the page is set, and it's too costly to revise: make sure you are completely satisfied with your writing before you send it to the editor.

When an MFA graduate gave a reading, "she told the audience that what she cherished most about our MFA writing program is that the teachers made her feel like a colleague while she was becoming one." (69) 
And I remember going to lunch with Mrs. Jamie Langston Turner, my Creative Writing and Poetry Writing teacher at Universtiy. We went to Scholtzsky's on Wade Hampton in what I now realize was the early stages of my novel, though I specifically remember telling her I thought I could finish it in the next week or so. I marvel at my faith (optimism?) sometimes. She was writing a multiple perspective novel too and asked me how I was handling the multiple perspectives. I distinctly remember being awed at that. But it is as we give others that respect, granting that their insights are significant, that we build them up into what they are becoming.

A conversation on the indirect influence of others' writing: 
"'You think the influence of what we read is indirect?' says Ana."'It is for me. When I was writing my ... novel, I was rereading [a specific author] at the same time. I wasn't reading him for purposes of imitation. I never could be directly influenced by [this other author] since he outstrides me at every turn. He is simply too great a writer. But I did like having him at my side as I wrote. He was good company, the best. It was like hanging around a superior mind. You can never equal that mind, but you strive to do your best, and not to embarrass yourself in his presence. I just wanted him in the same room.'" (92) 
I have felt this way, helped along by others' writing styles, how they successfully reach their audience. But actually, this is how I feel about reading my Bible and its Author. I mentioned in an earlier post  how maintaining a devotional walk with God makes all the difference in my writing. And I almost always write with my Bible by my side (or a tab with biblegateway.org opened). Reread this quote with God in mind and you'll know how I feel. 

Other authors/works he mentions along the way:
Montaigne, OrwellG.K. Chesterton, "A Piece of Chalk"James Baldwin, Mary McCarthy, Annie Dillard, TwainDr. Zhivago, The Tempest, King LearYeats, Emerson, ThoreauFrancine Prose, Reading Like a WriterNabakov, satire, The Real Life of Sebastian KnightJohn Updike, The Writing LifeClaude Brown, Manchild in the Promised Land, autobiography presented as fictionFrank McCourt, another MFA teacher at the same schoolEdwin Muir's AutobiographyGayle Pemberton essay "Do He Have Your Number, Mr. Jeffrey?"Virginia Woolf, "Death of the Moth"Max Beerbohm, "On Taking a Walk"The Pawnbroker, story of a former concentration camp prisonerAlfred Hitchcock, Rear WindowJohnson, Gray, Cowper (18th century) "of which I never seem to tire")Tennyson, Joyce, Robert Graves "Ulysses"/UlyssesRichard Wilbur (remember "The Writer"?)Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, George Eliot, Chekhov, Dickens

"'Chaucer was a civil servant, Keats and Joyce were medical students. Wallace Stevens an insurance man. Melville a customs inspector. Nathaniel West was the night manager in a cheap hotel. Frank O'Hara worked at the ticket counter in the Museum of Modern Art. It is common practice to advise young writers to take jobs that have nothing to do with reading and writing, so as to create some space between the real world and the imagined."'We've heard that a lot,' says Imur."'But being a book editor didn't get in T.S. Eliot's way. And writers such as Doctorow, Alice McDermott, Ann Beattie, and Joyce Carol Oates continue to teach writing and literature. The trick is to find your place in the world--your town, your home, your room... After that, the trick is to recognize what you've got once you've got it, and not to let success or ambition lead you away from it." (144-145)
Interestingly, WJI (mentioned earlier) recommends those interested in journalism not major in journalism but major in something else. See their answer to the FAQ: "Should one major in journalism in college?"

"When a writer wonders, 'Will it sell?' he is lost, not because he is looking to make an extra buck or two, but rather because, by dint of asking the question in the first place, he has oriented himself toward the expectations of others." (151)
And there is nothing worse than wondering what you would've written if it were really what was in your heart and not just what you thought other people wanted to read.

See why I felt like I was sitting in one of Roger Rosenblatt's classes? This book was presented in such an enjoyable format and, as you can see, had some great nuggets of instruction for writing, teaching, and life. Review: Loved it. His background's obviously different from mine, his perspective unique, but I felt very much as though he'd found his voice. And I believe I have benefited from reading his book. 

So, what books have you enjoyed recently?
What is your dream? Are you on the path toward it?
And, if you hear of a fabulous MFA Creative Nonfiction program, let me know that too.

Thanks, friends. 

As we continue to find our place, 
may God give peace and grace.

With love, 
michelle