By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston
“God, the Master, told the dry bones, ‘Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!’” Ezekiel 37:5-6 (The Message)
Forty-five years ago, against the advice of his Motown record executives, Marvin Gaye released the song “What’s Going On.”
The world was changing rapidly as the 1960s came to a close and a new decade began. The civil rights movement, women’s rights, assassinations, picket lines, Vietnam – so much was happening as awareness of injustice and oppression grew. But change does not come without push back, and Gaye recognized the timely message that resonated from these song lyrics.
“What’s going on” is not a question. It is a statement. “Mother … there’s too many of you crying; brother … there’s far too many of you dying.” Gaye vocalized the reality of the era, calling into question the problems caused by hate and fear, yet also offering a response that could bring healing and hope. Namely, “Father … we don’t need to escalate. … For only love can conquer hate. … Don’t punish me with brutality; talk to me so you can see what’s going on …”
What’s going on is that we can’t breathe. The weight of oppression and injustice is suffocating. Pressure is being applied to the necks of our brothers and sisters instead of being used to change policies and prejudices.
When our eyes are opened in a new way to the realities of injustice in the world, we have a personal and collective responsibility to put our faith into action. By studying the context, you will recognize that the experiences of others may well be different from your own. We have much to learn by talking and listening to one another rather than speaking in sweeping generalities. If we are willing and open, we will grow. As we reflect on this broadening perspective, the opportunities for action will come into focus. If you want to make a difference, you can’t do it from the sidelines.
Ezekiel, a prophet of God, finds himself surrounded by dry bones. Death and hopelessness abound, yet God’s glory and power are revealed as God brings the dry bones back to life. What once was a place of desolation and despair can be replaced by life and hope if we choose to obey God’s commands.
Our collective memory as a society can be so fleeting. The old adage “there is nothing new under the sun” rings true as we recognize the similarities between what the world looks like now and how it looked half a century ago. And yet, here we are, standing on the threshold of opportunity. The opportunity to influence the culture, to create positive change. The opportunity to allow God to work through us, breathing new life into dry bones.
The time is now. Let us work together, as Marvin Gaye sings, to “find a way to bring some understanding here today.” How will your actions shape the future so that one day soon hate and fear will succumb to the power of reconciliation, hope and love?
The late Rev. Joseph Lowery, United Methodist clergy and former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, often shared this prayer when speaking: “Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for the day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yellow is mellow, when red can get ahead, and when white will embrace what is right.”
Let it be so. Amen.