Monthly Archives: April 2014

Can These Bones Live? Part 2

Last week I ended part one of this post with the following:

“Here’s a thought. When asking the question “Can these bones live?”, why not consider the answer, “God only knows.” I’m not implying we should just throw our hands up in the air, sit back and “watch God work,” either. To me that’s not faithfulness, that’s laziness. So what do I mean when I say consider the answer ‘God only knows?'”

In part one I was specifically referring to churches. At the same time, I think you can take the following thoughts and apply them to any number of scenarios.

First, however, I want to back up and stir the pot a bit. When considering the question, “Can these bones live?” I think its important for us to be clear about what it means to “live.” And that definition most likely changes from person to person, relationship to relationship and church to church.

For some people, a church isn’t “alive” unless it’s a certain size, has inspirational music, worship and preaching (and the definition for “inspirational” changes from person to person–trust me). For others, a church isn’t alive unless it has a vibrant social justice ministry. Other folk find “life” in thought-provoking educational programs. For others, a lack of children and youth programming is a sure sign of impending death. For still others, a living church is full of the “Spirit.” In some of these scenarios, this spirit is evidenced through very loud and demonstrative worship, music and preaching (shouting, speaking in “unknown tongues,” running the aisles of the sanctuary, etc.). Without these demonstrations on a regular basis, the church in question is soon deemed spiritually “dead.”

So, think about it. What does it mean to YOU for something to “live”?

Perhaps “living” for one church means meeting in homes for study and support, and then living out their faith through participating in various community projects; while living for another church means worship that rivals a Broadway production. Life for one group may mean an education program that produces some of the best available contemporary theological thought and published works; while for another life means occupying anything and everything that seeks to exclude and oppress anyone. Some communities live through their care and education of the young, while others find life in their care of the elders in their midst. And some communities even manage to do a little bit of all these while not focusing on any one element of community life.

In deciding what it means to live there is only one rule: No one community of faith, religion or denomination defines for anyone else what it means to live. We can offer our thoughts and experiences; still, we don’t issue stone tablets to anyone. After all, remember what happened the last time someone tried that?

Second, I think the answer “God only knows” is somewhat a faith-based response. That is, we admit we don’t know. Rather than assume if only we pour our whole heart, soul and mind into a worthwhile endeavor God will bless us with amazing success, we admit that we don’t really know if the scattered bones of a weary relationship, career or community of faith will fully come back to life. Like the story in Ezekiel the bones might come together. We might even get some muscle and skin on those bones. Yet, is that real life? Still we pour our whole heart, soul and mind into the endeavor–whatever it might be–because we believe its worth the time and effort.

And what happens if the relationship does indeed end, the career path reach an impasse, the church close its doors? Did we fail?

Well, it depends on how you define “failure.” If failure to you means not achieving the desired outcome, then yes, you failed. Failure, however, can carry the seeds of future success–if we learn from our experiences. And if we choose to learn from those experiences, have we really failed? I don’t think so.

Can these bones live? God only knows. Whether or not those bones (be they a relationship, career, church or something else) live, remember these words of wisdom:

“The only real failure in life is the failure to try.”–Unknown

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”–Winston Churchill

Blessings on your journeys!

 

 

 

Advertisements

Can These Bones Live? Part 1

There’s a vision story in the bible’s book of Ezekiel chapter 37 in which the prophet Ezekiel–at God’s request–prophesies to a valley of dry bones (symbolic of the house of Israel at that particular time in its history). As he prophesied, the bones began to do the old “shake, rattle and roll” and came together. Once the bones came together, muscles and then skin formed on them. Still, they did not really live. It took another round of prophesying from Ezekiel before the now corpse-like multitude actually “lived.”

One thing I like about this story is it can be interpreted as a vision of community renewal that occurs in stages. That is, Ezekiel didn’t just say a few words, wave his hand, sprinkle some holy water on the bones and voila–instant healthy, living, loving community! Scattered bones; then connected bones; then muscles; then skin; then life–and it didn’t happen all at once.

Something else I like about this story is what appears to be Ezekiel’s honest assessment of the community. When asked, “Can these bones live?” he replies, in effect, “God only knows.”

Ever have one of those days in your life?

So as I read the story, Ezekiel, while perhaps not totally convinced, was still open to the possibility of his community’s renewal. Starting with “good bones,” so to speak, Ezekiel began the work of renewal. Things began to come together. The community grew stronger and things were looking good (let’s face it; compared to scattered dry bones, flesh and bone bodies–even inanimate ones–were a big improvement), Still, he didn’t stop prophesying until real life was evident in the community.

And I would like to believe the prophesying continued well beyond the initial renewal. It most likely took a different emphasis, too; after all, they were a different community than before their renewal. Perhaps they learned that many of their old ways of doing and being together led to their initial “death,” and that in renewal, they were going to have to change–if they wanted to live, that is.

Can these bones live? It’s a good question for churches of all types to ponder. Citing the growing number of people who claim no religious affiliation, the decline of Christianity of all types (at least in the United States), there is no shortage of articles and books that have already pronounced the church dead–it’s just a matter of time.

Can these bones live? Faced with this question, rather than say, “God only knows,” many religious folk immediately say, “Of course! All we have to do is change our music…or order of worship…or education program…or pastor. We have to learn how to be “cool” so young people will fill our seats. Let’s hang a few rainbow flags and become open and affirming of LGBT folk.”

Or… “Of course! All we have to do is throw ourselves on the mercy of an angry and jealous God because we aren’t paying enough attention to him (and this god is ALWAYS a him). We need to make sure we are doctrinally pure! We have to kick the queers out of church! (unless they’re closeted, musically talented and substantial financial contributors, that is). We have to get “back to the bible.” (whatever that means).

Here’s a thought. When asking the question “Can these bones live?”, why not consider the answer, “God only knows.” I’m not implying we should just throw our hands up in the air, sit back and “watch God work,” either. To me that’s not faithfulness, that’s laziness. So what do I mean when I say consider the answer “God only knows?”

Stay tuned…

Blessings on your journeys!