When Bones Get Dry
10:15 pm, Tuesday night.
Bob sat in front of his computer terminal, trying to force out a report. The blank screen stared right back at him... It was going to be a long night... The quarterly B.I.C.E.P. newsletter was going to the printers tomorrow - his deadline. His back page column seemed an impossible goal. "How can I inspire the troops," he thought, "if I'm not inspired myself?"
B.I.C.E.P. was started several years ago, after the riot. At that time Bob had been a successful businessman in the suburbs. Watching his city self-destruct on the television screen moved him deeply. For years he had given lip service to Christian mission. As an active churchman, he knew the calling of Christ to be more than just living right.
The words of the hymn sung the day of his baptism were emblazoned on his heart: "O Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end." Yet until that day in 1992, the end to which he promised to serve was not clear.
Moving past his anger at both a nonsensical jury verdict, and the criminal behavior of a mob in response, Bob saw a community in need. "I can't sit back and complain about how bad things are getting," he resolved. "If I'm not a part of the solution, then I must be a part of the problem." On that day B.I.C.E.P. was born.
It didn't happen overnight. Step by step, though, Bob left his suburb and encountered community workers and other concerned businesspeople. Most agreed that merely pouring money on the smoldering ashes would not be enough. If certain parts of town were going to live again, businesses owned and run by local people needed to rise up. But like Ezekiel's valley of dry bones, this wouldn't happen without a breath of fresh air.
Bob convinced many of his colleagues to get involved in working side by side with local entrepreneurs to put sinew to bone in reconstruction. Eventually, an organization evolved to coordinate volunteers, channel money, and handle government red tape. Called B.I.C.E.P., the letters stood for "Building Inner City Enterprise Partnerships."
"An extended arm requires healthy muscles," Bob thought as he coined the acronym. "We'll just keep adding muscles until together we can walk arm in arm." A dream became reality.
2:00 pm, Sunday afternoon.
Mary and the kids had driven off to her mother's after church. Bob would have gone, but there was so much to be done. He could use the day to catch up. Strangely enough, he was getting nowhere. In fact, he hadn't done anything. A batch of phone calls awaited him, followed by paper work. He just couldn't get up off the chair.
Something the preacher said this morning disturbed him. The scripture was about Jesus getting up and going to a deserted place right smack dab in the middle of his ministry to needy people. Entitled, "When the going gets dry, head to the desert," the sermon talked about the importance of what the preacher called "embracing the desert" when the spiritual water tank gets empty.
He spoke of the monastics who went off into the loneliness of the desert for renewal. Relating that to how often Jesus, himself, went off alone to clarify his mission in prayer, the preacher encouraged those in the midst of spiritual dry times to do the same.
Bob wasn't all that sure what it meant to "embrace the desert"; the minister was fresh out of seminary and still learning how to speak English again; but the main thing he got out of the sermon was a name for the beast he currently faced. It was called "Dry."
That's how he had felt for the last year, it seemed ... Dry. Not exhausted. Not burnt out ... just dry. Very dry. It wasn't like he didn't take care of himself, spiritually. He went to church regularly, participated in a men's group. He spent time with the Bible and in prayer daily. Still he felt very dry.
B.I.C.E.P. had been founded not just on good business sense, but on Christian principles as well. Bob's vision was something he considered God given. Though he rarely spoke of it in these terms, B.I.C.E.P. was, to Bob, a "ministry."
Still, he felt very dry. His dryness was not so much over all the difficulties they encountered in rebuilding the inner city. He knew from day one it would be an uphill battle. Some days were just more uphill than others. Still, he felt very dry. He felt so dry, he did manage to get up and get a coke from the fridge. The great thirst quencher ... didn't.
10:00 am, Thursday morning.
Bob's good friend Ted stopped by for no good reason other than to chat. He sat there joking away, as he always did. Comic relief. At one point, Ted grabbed Bob's nameplate off his desk and said,
"Bob, I've known you for what, eight years now, and I still don't know your name. "E. Robert Taylor." What does the "E" stand for?"
"Oh, it's just an old family name. Belonged to some great uncle, three times removed. I don't talk about it because I never liked it."
"O.K., so what is it?"
"Nothing really. Besides, Ted, I need an ear and a friend right now, can we get serious?"
"Of course, talk on, E. Robert."
"Well, I'm not really sure how to put this, but..." Bob went on to talk about his ministry in B.I.C.E.P. and how it was like pulling teeth anymore to get into his work there. Not that he didn't like it. He just wasn't inspired. He wondered whether he was doing more harm than good, being so much less than enthusiastic about it all. He was not a quitter, but things had been so dry for so long, maybe there was a first time.
Ted smiled and said, "E. Robert, I was wondering when you'd ever get around to talking about this. It's not like it isn't obvious or anything. Did you read that report you wrote the other week? Besides saying very little, it virtually screamed out 'Help me, folks, I'm dying of thirst.'"
Bob was speechless. Ted went on.
"E. Robert, my Daddy used to tell me two things. 'Wilbur Theodore,' he'd say, 'In life you've got to know what your project is, and you've got to know what your limits are. If you've got those two straight, you'll go far.'
"Since you and I are both Christians, I can speak this way, E. Robert. I believe that dry times are a gift from God that help us get our lives back in focus. During such times we ask, like Daddy said, 'What's my project?', that is, what is God really trying to do through me? What is my mission, my purpose?
"In dry times, we also explore what our limitations are. God doesn't ask us to do miracles. He's the One who does the miracles. We have limits. We aren't God. We need to learn how to work within our limits...
"I've said more than I should have. After all, you asked for an ear and a friend, not a bunch of advice. I want to be a true friend. If you're willing, I'm willing to sit with you once a week and do more than joke. I have one pre-requisite. You must tell me what "E" stands for."
"Alright, Wilbur Theodore," Bob replied. "Not all that long ago I was baptized 'Ezekiel Robert Taylor.'"
"Well, Zeke, is it a deal?"
"You're on, Will."
8:00 pm, Monday night.
During the B.I.C.E.P. board of directors meeting it was agreed, after much discussion, that E. Robert Taylor would step down as head of the organization for a six month period, formally termed a "sabbatical." During this time he was to consider his family priority #1, and choose some activities that would aid in refocusing his "ministry," and recharging his batteries. He was encouraged to return refreshed. Meanwhile, the board would explore ways of reorganizing to spread out responsibilities.
10:30 pm, Monday night.
Bob opened his Bible and read Ezekiel, chapter thirty seven. As he read, he thought of the inner-city he was helping to rebuild, and the man he had just committed himself to refocus and refresh.
"Our bones are dried up," the people cried... And God said "I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live."
And Zeke said, "Amen."
©1996Peter L. Haynes