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?”
Blessings on your journeys!