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Rich Brown: Speak to the Bones

Richard Brown was kind enough to send me a copy of his book Speak to the Bones.  Rich is a member of the Community of Christ (aka RLDS Church) and worked there as a publisher for several years.  He has published this book himself, and the book discusses some of the less well-known stories from the Old Testament.  I believe his title comes from the Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of bones.  Brown introduces it by talking about Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  He tells us that following the battle at Gettysburg, federal troops buried the dead in shallow graves.  Unfortunately (from page 102,)

local residents discovered within a few weeks that rainstorms and scavenging wildlife caused body parts to once more appear above the ground.

Eventually, federal government officials approved a plan to establish a military cemetery for Union soldiers.  Exhuming bodies and reburying them began that fall.  Bodies of Confederate soldiers, however, were dug up and transported to various sites in Southern states, mostly in nearby Virginia.

Typically, victorious armies thousands of years ago simply left the bodies of defeated foes in fields to rot and stink.  Wild animals and birds picked apart the festering skin, muscle, and tissue.  The bones that were left, bleached dry and white in the sun.

This unpleasantness brings us to a remarkable vision given to the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel late in his life.

Brown does on to describe Ezekiel’s vision.  From page 104

Imagine this remarkable vision as a “reverse battle.”  It begins with dry, bleached bones to which sinew and flesh are added.  Here the bones come together with a great rattling noise.  Eventually the prophet sees a multitude of figures that appear to be human.  Yet they aren’t living, breathing creatures.

Ezekiel, not surprisingly, is baffled.  Fortunately the meaning of this amazing vision is made clear to the prophet:

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God; I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.

I’ll stop there.  I don’t want to give away everything, but what I really enjoyed about this book was the fact that Rich made many of these inaccessible stories accessible.  Brown looks at lots of the more obscure prophets like Hosea, and asks good questions.  Why did God ask him to marry a prostitute?  Brown doesn’t just look at obscure prophets though.  Brown notes the god of Elijah is a strange god to our modern ears.  The miracles in Elijah’s life, most notably the showdown when Elijah called down fire from heaven in a miraculous display against the priests of Baal, and then had these priests killed, why did Elijah then have to flee for his life?  Sure this made the queen mad, but if God is on his side, why didn’t God take care of the queen?  It seems rather baffling.  Brown says we should struggle with these strange stories to get spiritual growth.  He also quotes a new word from Dwight J. Friesen:  orthoparadoxy.

“Orthoparadox is right paradox–holding difference rightly.  Orthoparadox seeks to hold difference, tensions, otherness, and paradoxes with grace, humility, respect, and curiosity, while simultaneously bringing fullness to self to the “other” in conversation, not to convert or convince but with hope of mutual transformation through interpersonal relationship.”

Brown notes this corresponds well with Galatians 6:2 to bear each others burdens.  He also tells us that true prophets are champions of the poor and intentionally move ourselves to the margins, taking a stand for the unpopular.  From page 18

A prophetic people would take the next steps and address the larger, systemic causes of injustice, inequality, and idolatry.  In doing so they would invite society’s forgotten ones as equal partners in intentional communities where they feel safe, accepted, and valued.

This really struck me.  I have to admit, intellectually I want to help the poor, but I don’t want to intentionally put myself in the margins.  But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  I feel such a struggle to do this, as I mentioned in my post on my personal Samaritan story.  Anyway, I recommend the book.  It definitely gave me something to think about, and helped me better understand some obscure stories of the Old Testament.  Comments?



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