Jobs can be frustrating for all sorts of reasons. You might work in a toxic environment, with bad bosses, runaway sexism and racism. You might play a role that is under-appreciated. We all like clean spaces, but our culture does not treat those who clean our spaces and remove our waste with the dignity they deserve. Entire essential sectors are treated with such contempt that no American will take the jobs. We would all starve without immigrants, particularly upsetting to me is that the dairy industry is most at risk, which threatens ice cream. We can all expect food to take a much greater percentage of our budgets in the coming years if we continue on the current course.

Jobs can go bad for other reasons. You might find yourself in a field subject to the culture of exceptionalism and complaint, particularly brutal on our teachers these days. You might not have the right tools for the job, be asked to do something that is completely beyond your control, like so many in the human services. Then there are those of us who are called into the breach between humankind and mystery, religious leaders, obviously, but also publishers.

Publishers, you say? Why yes, publishers. What could be more mysterious? They read countless manuscripts and then are asked to figure out which ones will sell, which ones will make money.

Imagine the glorious surprise when an obscure text issued by a specialty imprint becomes a runaway bestseller. Such was the case with Drew Faust’s 2008 “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.” The book is not about the great battles, the great leaders, the struggle for the nation’s soul. The entire book is about death, about bodies. Dead bodies on the cover and dead bodies between the covers.

I was thinking about Faust’s book this week as I read the text from Ezekiel. “The Lord’s power overcame me, and while I was in the Lord’s spirit, he led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones. He led me through them all around, and I saw that there were a great many of them on the valley floor, and they were very dry.”

Or the words of the surgeon Daniel Holt, cited in Faust’s text and written in his journal after the Battle of Antietam, the most bloody day in US military history, with more than 23,000 casualties. A week after the battle he wrote “the dead were almost wholly unburied,” described “stretched along, in one straight line, ready for internment, at least a thousand blackened bloated corpses.”

Gruesome, this being among the bones and bodies. I remember holding it together as I toured the charnel house that is Auschwitz, keeping my emotions in check, a dispassionate observer right up to the moment that I saw the mountain of children’s shoes. Towns, regions, covered in corpse ash. The Armenian genocide. The Killing Fields. Rwanda. The ash-filled sky of 9/11.

Our reading is the third of Ezekiel’s four major visions. He is writing from the Exile, from what is essentially a refugee camp for people displaced by Babylonian militarism, taken hostage. The location is a settlement on the edge of a dry valley.

In translation, we miss something in the text, the fact that spirit, wind, and breath are all the same word, ruah, in the Hebrew. I was in the Lord’s spirit. I am about to put breath in you. Come from the four winds, breath!

The text contains a theological seed, for some Hebrews will come to believe in bodily resurrection, something that carries over into Christianity and becomes conflated with Plato’s idea of the eternal soul, resulting in confusing and contradictory Christian claims about our life after bodily death.

But the Hebrews aren’t there yet. We don’t see bodily resurrection as accepted belief among Hebrews until three centuries later, when an unknown author writes the fiction of Daniel. So Ezekiel, mad priest and prophet, is not being literal. His vision is about the ways that Hebrew life seems dead, about God’s promise that even what seems dead can come back to life.

This was a strong and prosperous people, their crowning achievement a Temple on a hill. Then they started bickering among themselves, fell apart, watched as most of their nation fell to a foreign power, and then, the capitol itself, to another foreign power. The leaders were in a camp in Babylon, the Temple gone, Jerusalem completely destroyed.

And just to be clear, while that beautiful building served as a symbol of their identity, their mourning isn’t just for the building. Buildings can be rebuilt. When the Assyrians conquered and de-populated the Northern Kingdom, there were bodies. There were dry bones, black and bloated corpses, ash-filled skies. When the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom, there were bodies. There were dry bones black and bloated corpses, ash-filled skies.

And there, on the plain between the Tigris and Euphrates, Ezekiel sees dry bones.

Human one, can these bones live again?

A viral story in recent days has drawn attention once again to the frequent disappearance of African-American and Latina teenage girls. The story itself was exaggerated, fake news in that the particulars were not accurate, but it pointed to a real problem, one masked by what the late Gwen Ifill called the “missing white woman syndrome.” For when a wealthy attractive white woman or girl goes missing, it receives wall-to-wall coverage. Those who are not wealthy or attractive don’t get as much attention, if any, and African-American and Latinx families often can’t even get law enforcement to take reports. Thirty-three percent of those reported missing are African-American, while they only represent thirteen percent of the population.

They also represent thirty-seven percent of the population in our prisons, the result of decades of systemic racism in policing and prosecution. We might want to kid ourselves, pretend that we have outgrown our nation’s original sin, pretend that there are no more Carolyn Bryants to there will never again be an Emmett Till, but we are lying to ourselves, for brown bodies are still broken. A broken taillight should not be a death sentence.

Human one, can these bones live again?

The Islamic State, followers of the extremist form of Islam exported by the Saudi dictators, have a new tactic. Almost defeated, they have taken to herding civilians into buildings at gunpoint, then using those buildings to attack Iraqi and other coalition forces, drawing airstrikes. A US airstrike on St. Patrick’s Day killed dozens of civilians, leading many to condemn the military campaign against this group that has used video execution, rape and genocide as a tool, that is responsible for terror attacks that have killed civilians around the world. They are counting on the fact that today’s news cycle of bodies and bones will make us forget yesterday’s news cycle of bodies and bones.

And while the war criminal that controlled Iraq is long dead, the war criminal in neighboring Syria is being restored to power by war criminals from Russia, the same country that invades its neighbors and undermines our belief in democracy, that shot down a Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine killing 298 is fire and ash, bones and bodies.

Human one, can these bones live again?

Our own faith tradition grew out of an age of competing tribes and their competing gods, fueled by advances in agriculture and technology, bronze, iron, chariots, and humans have never looked back. Wars of kings and states, Mosul and Ukraine are simply large scale version of what we can do to one another in our own communities.

The Great Depression forced America to focus on the common good, to build a social safety net. The Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance Program, better know as Social Security, was signed into law in 1935, the first of many programs designed to protect the vulnerable, something we are called to do as Christians, one of the core teachings of Jesus and the prophets. But even as we slowly worked for a common good, the immigrant Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum was already expending her cult of greed and selfishness, and today the common good has been displaced by social Darwinism, by heartlessness and cruelty pursued in the name of that wretched human better known by her pen name, Ayn Rand.

From the Koch Brothers to K Street to the alt-Right and the KKK members who support it, the common good is under attack. Some American politicians have been caught saying that it is okay for the poor to die without healthcare if they don’t have jobs. They pit tribe against tribe. There is a plague of despair. Coke and crack became crystal meth became opioids and heroin, and the bodies pile up.

Human one, can these bones live again?

Since the Enlightenment, humans have learned more and more about our world, undermining myths that gave simple answers to humankind for centuries, for humans want simple answers. Just as Jesus and the Christian tradition told us we are part of something bigger, that we are all inter-connected as children of that mystery we name God, so science has taught us that we are just one part of a web of life on a living planet. Even the certainty of the mechanistic universe conceived by Newton fell a century ago, and while many cling to the hubris of modernism, our path has led us back into mystery, but we never knew how to live in mystery, so we numb our fear.

Many turn to the loudest voices that tell the easiest lies, while others try to consume their way out of fear. Uncertain about God, many turn away from church, and church turns inward, becoming as narcissistic as the culture that surrounds it, and rather than being an alternative to the world it just becomes one more place where people dig in and fight it out. Thousands upon thousands of churches close each year, seminaries close. We have forgotten that God’s way is not our way, have become lost.

Human one, can these bones live again?

And the ruah came.

And Ezekiel prophesied just as God commanded. When the breath entered them, the dry bones came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company.

For we are not the people of a weak, harsh, judging God. We are the people of a divine mystery that is, in the formulation of the late Mennonite theologian Gordon D. Kaufman, serendipitous creativity. This God we claim was the spirit that came to the prophets, that called for justice for the orphan, the widow, the immigrant.

This God we claim was the perfect Christ-consciousness experienced in Jesus, a rebellious reformer who took to the streets with a message of forgiveness and love. This God we claim was the Holy Spirit that taught the Jesus community how to adapt, how to try new things, how to think beyond their rules and how they’d always done it to make room for new expressions of the holy, allowing the faith to spread.

This God we claim is not the God of a broken body rotting on a cross, a sign of human brutality and scapegoating, of selfish power. It is the God of an empty tomb. It is life.

The dry bones came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company.

We are called to life.

And the Spirit moved across the land and around the globe and they stood on their feet on the Mall in Washington, in Augusta and Boston and Los Angeles and London and Sydney in their pink pussycat hats, saying that women matter, stood in the streets of Ferguson chanting “Hands Up! Don’t shoot!” because black lives matter, stood on their feet and pulled out the hand sanitizer and scrubbed the anti-semitic graffiti from a New York subway car because Jewish lives matter. And they stood on their feet and lifted their hands and their voices and declared their cities and churches would be sanctuaries, would remain sanctuaries, in defiance of the forces of hatred because immigrant lives matter.

And the Spirit moved across the land and around the globe and they stood on their feet in Marseilles and Paris and Berlin and Manhattan and said we will not bow to terror, said that fear will not defeat love.

And the Spirit moved and they wrote and called and jammed the phones and in-boxes and mailboxes saying that the elderly and the poor will not be scapegoated and thrown away, that healthcare is bad enough in this country and we will not make it worse by taking health insurance from millions.

And the Spirit moved and we organized, and we held one another, and we told those that are scared that we will walk with them and stand with them, that we will not allow a slow slide into a hate-filled theocracy much like the one in Iran America’s theocrats denounce, that we will resist authoritarian kleptocracy, for only in good governance for the common good, good governance for the poor, vulnerable and oppressed, can we serve our God.

And when those fleeing violence were turned away at our borders, the Spirit moved and hundreds of thousands spontaneously took to the streets, demanding sensible policy not scapegoating.

And the Spirit moved and people came together in churches and synagogues and coffee shops and libraries and planned the ways we will speak out for the poor and oppressed, will speak out for the dry bones, turned to one another for comfort and courage when we ourselves felt like dry bones, felt that we might break.

And the Spirit moved and the bad guys still won sometimes. For now. For those who kill are the bad guys, even if the crime is done with a pen. Those who hate and judge and divide are the bad guys. Those who fill the skies with missiles and smoke and ash, fill our rivers and seas with toxins are the bad guys. Those who think they have done it all on their own, who are pride-filled and truth-emptied are the bad guys. For the Way of Jesus is marked by humility, forgiveness, sacrifice, by redemption, and even the bad guys might yet be saved.

There was a great noise, then a great quaking, and the bones came together, bone by bone.

We are a people gathered because we face that divine mystery, embrace that divine mystery that blows and stirs in the driest of valleys, that can bring life even in a place of bone and ash. It is a mystery that opens the door for repentance, redemption, resurrection, the lower-case “r”s of our faith. And that divine mystery that serendipitous creativity, that holy ruah, is moving, wind, spirit, breath, in this place.

There will be quaking. There will be life. Blow, Spirit! Blow!