The dry bones coming to life all around us
April 12, 2017 by Lee Hinson-Hasty
Sometimes stories in the Hebrew Bible feel distant, and difficult to relate to our daily lives.
I wanted to provide you with examples from right here around us how those dry bones can rattle to life again.
We’ll begin with the work of Dori Baker, a senior fellow of research and learning for the Forum for Theological Exploration. She also provides research and co-hosts events for young adults and those who support them in their vocational exploration.
As someone who works with young people, she sees established congregations as “old growth” churches. They’re stable and valuable, and inspiring. “Old growth churches and ministries may be like old growth forests, they have the resources to seed the new growth ministries. Think of the ancient redwood forests in Northern California. They are not places that small growth plants take root, but those that will become the soon to be towering trees find their nutrient rich sold, fertile compost out of which will spout new, green shoots of promise. Their root draw deep sustenance from ancient structures.”
Churches can serve as greenhouses of hope. How?
• See an architecture of possibility within their infrastructure.
• Learn to look and listen closely to their context in order of ground themselves in what is organic and indigenous. Think of emergent communities surrounding the church structure.
• Being attentive to how they provide just the right nutrients for the young lives in their care.
Another example of bones that lived again comes to us from the Rev. Heber M. Brown III, pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore. When he was called as pastor he noticed some unpleasant things that did not make him hopeful. Specifically, he visited church and community members and found a large number of food-related illnesses in his congregation: diabetes, obesity, malnutrition, and substance abuse. He also noticed that the nearest grocery story was almost 20 miles away, 30 minutes by car and almost an hour and a half by public transit. They are sometimes called food deserts. These places are dormant.
So he built an oasis in the food desert. He was one of the founders of the Black Church Food Security Network. This organization has a vision and purpose. It provides eco-friendly, community-centered, local food system supported by Black Churches and led by those most directly affected by food insecurity.
Our seminaries are stepping into the void – seeking ways to make these bones live – too.
The students and Princeton faculty have learned that there is a profound correlation between the character of the agrarian, who cultivates the flourishing of life throughout an ecosystem, and the faithful Christian leader, who promotes wholeness and healing within the world that God loves. Like adept agrarians, Christian leaders must learn the pastoral sensibilities of nurturing seeds, persisting through seasons of slow growth, promoting bountiful harvest, and holding life and death in reverent wonder.
Princeton Seminary believes that the formation of faithful Christian leaders happens most effectively in a residential community of rigorous intellectual engagement. Whether on a farm or in a classroom, we bring together the life of the mind and the practices of faith in anticipation of new life. As students study and tend the soil alongside one another, they experience a deep dimension of Christian community and learn to love God, creation, and one another in new ways.
Columbia Theological Seminary announced a new partnership with the Global Growers Network this spring. Students from SAGE (Shaping Attention to God’s Earth) prepare space by expanding the Community Garden Sanctuary for Global Growers to begin planting their own plots. Columbia Seminary is recreating the community garden into a space of intentional partnership and growth with a ceremonial signing of their agreement during an Earth Day Celebration later this month.
But how does this life-giving spirit and breath reach the bones, the bodies, the selves that form this community that appears to be dead? It is through the prophecy of Ezekiel commanded by God. (נָבָא) nawbaw is the Hebrew word for prophecy. It means to be under the influence of the divine. Ezekiel was told to prophecy to the bones – the framework of the body. And that he did.
I don’t know where the death dealing valleys are for you or your community. I don’t know where those places that need new life are in this faith community nor this presbytery, I suspect you know. If you don’t maybe, it’s time for you to be led to those places by people who do know where death or death dealing ways are killing lives and spirits in communities.
I can speak from my own experience and I have one place to describe. In the next decade over 80% of the currently active ministers in the PC(USA) will be eligible to retire, so our support of future ministers now will provide prophets, pastors, missionaries and Christian educators for the next two or more generations.
The prophet Ezekiel addresses the oracle of the valley of the dry bones read today to a community of cells under stress in exile. He reminds them that the conditions will become more favorable.
I wonder what life God is breathing into you for the next 150 years and beyond of faithful ministry, mission, and deeply faithful action? How will God work with you?