Episode 5: Kate Bowler on the presence of God in the face of death

In this episode of “Can These Bones,” co-host Bill Lamar talks with Kate Bowler, Duke Divinity School professor and author of “Everything Happens for a Reason,” about the irony of being a historian of the prosperity gospel diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

Kate Bowler was an ambitious young professor, a mother and an expert in the particular form of Christianity she sums up with the term #blessed. Then she got cancer. In her conversation with “Can These Bones” co-host Bill Lamar, she talks about facing death, her deep sense of God’s presence and her new book. Bill and co-host Laura Everett also reflect on the name of the podcast, and what it means to face one’s own “valley of dry bones.”

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About This Podcast »

Listen to all the episodes and learn more about the hosts.

More from Kate Bowler

Website: www.katebowler.com
Bowler's podcast, “Everything Happens,” available on iTunes and Google Play 
“Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel”
“Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved”
New York Times essay: “Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me

Transcript

Laura EverettLaura Everett: From Faith & Leadership, this is “Can These Bones,” a podcast that asks a fresh set of questions about leadership and the future of the church. I’m Laura Everett.

Bill Lamar: And I’m Bill Lamar. This is the fifth episode of a series of conversations with leaders from the church and from other fields. Bill LamarThrough this podcast, we want to share our hope in the resurrection and perhaps breathe life into leaders struggling in their own “valley of dry bones.”

Laura Everett: In this episode, we’re going to hear your conversation with Kate Bowler, an assistant professor of the history of Christianity in North America at Duke Divinity School. She’s also the author of “Blessed,” a history of the American prosperity gospel.

But Bill, that doesn’t really give us all of what we’re going to hear. Kate’s your friend and a really remarkable person. Tell us about your friend Kate.

Bill Lamar: I am pulling out of my wallet a Kate Bowler fan club card, and I am the president. I have known Kate now almost a decade. When I went back to Duke Divinity School to work at Leadership Education after almost 10 years in pastoral ministry, Kate was one of the first persons that I met, a rising star on the faculty.

And one of the things that you will soon detect from the conversation is Kate’s warmth and her love for God and for people and for learning, for her students. You get a sense of who she is right away.

But let me say just a little bit more. Kate was diagnosed in 2015 with stage 4 cancer at the age of 35, and she got quite a bit of attention. She wrote about it in the New York Times. This juxtaposition of one so young and so vibrant and stage 4 cancer, which we all know is indeed a most serious, serious disease.

She writes compellingly and honestly and openly about the irony of being ill while she’s an expert in prosperity gospel.

She defines “prosperity gospel” as the belief that God gives health and wealth to those with the right kind of faith. And this begs the question, from Kate and others who struggle, if we are not healthy and if we’re not wealthy, do we have the wrong kind of faith?

And so Kate’s own discernment, her own struggle, comes to bear in the beautiful words that she writes, her wicked Canadian sense of humor and ebullience that really shines through.

I was thinking about Kate in musical terms -- and I think often about music -- Erykah Badu, on her album “Mama’s Gun,” has a song entitled “Orange Moon,” and the first line is “I’m an orange moon reflecting the light of the sun.”

And Kate is a bright sun. When you’re in her presence, when you read what she’s written, if you’re a student in her classroom, her light just shines -- so much so that you reflect it. And I’m just so, so grateful that she joined us for this conversation.

Kate’s work [uses] shorthand -- she talks about this whole prosperity gospel and its belief in health and wealth, and she talks often about #blessed.

One of the things that’s also interesting as she discusses prosperity gospel is she never flattens the three-dimensionality or the humanity of adherents of the prosperity gospel. She doesn’t rob them of being real women and real men and real people. She’s able to study something that many people malign in a very human way.

Kate has a book forthcoming Feb. 6 that blends her research on the prosperity gospel and her experience with cancer, and the title itself tells you a lot about Kate. The title is “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved.” Kate is also doing a related podcast.

And it was an honor to hear Kate speak honestly about her pain, but also about the things that bring her joy and what it means to live honestly, not only with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis, but surrounded by a son whom she loves and a husband whom she loves and a group of people who continue to bear witness to life even as she confronts death.

Laura Everett: Oh Bill, there’s so much to dig into here. I want to ask you, though, about having this conversation. Was it hard for you to talk to your friend about her experience facing death?

Bill Lamar: Very, very, very hard, Laura.

Laura Everett: Yeah.

Bill Lamar: Kate is younger than I am, and it was difficult because I felt like she was giving us a window into her struggle. And I did not want to be an agent of exploitation, but I was curious, and she was kind enough to answer questions openly and lovingly and honestly.

But it was difficult. I really am reticent to speak of difficulty from my end, with all that Kate is struggling with, but I will admit that it was tough.

It was fun. It was funny. It was tough. It was experiencing emotions all at once that we often, you know, can take and separate, take them and put them in different buckets or different files.

But I experienced laughter and tears simultaneously. And I experienced being angry as hell at whatever force causes this kind of wickedness to visit people as wonderful and beautiful as Kate. But also I felt a profound joy at the wonderful God who could create one so marvelous as Kate.

Laura Everett: There is a lot of light and joy in the way you speak about Kate, Bill. I’m really looking forward to hearing your interview with her.

Bill Lamar: You’re listening to “Can These Bones.” I’m Bill Lamar, and I have the privilege of talking with my friend Kate Bowler, author, professor of Christian history, who has done great work helping us all to understand the prosperity gospel.

Kate, it’s wonderful to have you this afternoon. Thank you for joining us.

Kate Bowler: Hello, Reverend, so glad to be here.

[Laughter]

Bill Lamar: Cut the formalities, my friend; you know it’s Bill. But so good to hear your voice. It’s been a while. And I just wanted to begin by asking, how are things with you?

Kate Bowler: I’m OK. Yeah. I’m in the managing-illness phase. So it’s a kind of purgatory that I’m learning a lot from, but it’s the endurance phase, I think.

Bill Lamar: Would you like to share any of what it is that you’re learning about the purgatory you speak of?

Kate Bowler: Sure, I guess. I mean, I’m still figuring it out as I go along. And part of it has just been learning to set horizons in a beautiful way. I think part of the unexpectedness of life gives people, I don’t know, maybe more free license to do whatever they want without always imagining the consequence. So it’s been an odd mathematics to live life very intentionally.

And there’s been a lot of theological patience I think I’ve been given, a sense that God is present in the everyday, in a way I didn’t always imagine. And yet I think I miss the days of being bored or just ignorant. I miss, I miss the -- I miss that sense that life didn’t mean quite so much.

Bill Lamar: Well, Kate, I think it’s one thing for someone like me to talk about God being present, altogether another thing for you -- as you have mentioned, the stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Could you say more about what it means that God is present?

Kate Bowler: Well, it was something of a surprise, I think, that -- so I was just kind of a regular ambitious person climbing ladders, dreaming dreams, and then I got a sudden diagnosis.

And then all of a sudden, in the worst moments of my life, I’m thrown into a constant hospital world and an anxious look on everyone’s face and a sense of looming despair.

And weirdly enough, I realized that the new world I was living in was a place where God lived somehow, and I honestly couldn’t quite figure it out. What is this weird peace? What is the sense that God is present in the people who are visiting me, when I didn’t always love the person across the hall that I shared a printer with?

And yeah, it was weird, but now I think almost of God’s presence as, like, a place that I visit. And it was a place I was introduced to in the worst moments of my life, and now it’s a place I have to cultivate.

Bill Lamar: Well, Kate, I’m keenly aware that I’m violating one of the commandments -- we’re not supposed to covet -- but I have always coveted your ability to use language beautifully and economically. So always a joy. What have you been thinking and writing about lately against the backdrop of what you’ve shared?

Kate Bowler: Well, it was a little bit of a surprise that I had so much to say. I thought I was just sort of plodding along. But then last summer I got the chance to take a week and go to the Collegeville Institute in rural Minnesota, where I listened to an outdoor xylophone band camp play and sat in a field and cried a lot over a laptop.

And what it became was a memoir called “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved,” which was -- I think of it kind of like a research memoir, because it takes me back through my time as a historian and an expert in the history of the prosperity gospel and that God wants to give you health and wealth and happiness and every beautiful thing here on earth, and yet confronted with the fact that I’ve always had some kind of perpetual problem. Some kind of arm disability that I had that left me without the use of my arms for a year, and a miscarriage, and then this diagnosis.

So I’ve always kind of been trying to catch my breath, and realizing that I have not been the architect of my life in a way that I’ve wanted, that more things have happened to me than through me, and learning to live with that reality.

Bill Lamar: I was taking a look at a New York Times piece that you wrote a while back about your diagnosis, and the quote that just leapt off the page was this one: “But one of my first thoughts was also Oh, God, this is ironic. I recently wrote a book called ‘Blessed.’”

And I just was really transported by that sentence. Could you say more about the irony of working in prosperity gospel and living in the reality that you find yourself living in right now?

Kate Bowler: Sure. I mean, I spent 10 years with believers and preachers of the prosperity gospel, and saw them in all kinds of places -- in boardrooms and in hospital rooms and in all kinds of situations where I saw them believe, against all odds, that God could make a way no matter what.

And here I was, very often with double arm casts at a healing rally, watching them then turn their theological attention to me, like moths to a flame, and see them openly wonder why was I not healthy and wealthy and whole when I fully understood the principles that they were espousing.

So I’ve always lived in the tension of wonderment at the hope that they experience and yet experience this sort of sharp edge of those theologies, which is that when things don’t go well, the primary person to blame is always you.

So what’s also empowering -- “You can do it!” “Everything can work out!” “Put your back into it!” (is also a song I’ve come to love) -- is also this sort of double-sided nature of it, which is that you are saddled with this awful guilt when you just can’t quite make your life work out.

Bill Lamar: I wanted to ask you, you helped to humanize the folks that subscribe to this theology, that they are hungry for something. You are very -- always very human in your description. You did not lose that. You didn’t allow their humanity to be lost.

Could you say more, not only about the people, the preachers, who are in this theological camp, but could you say something about the people who are a part of this theological movement? Who they are beyond caricature?

Kate Bowler: Yeah, and the caricature is just right there. I mean, you don’t have to make it up -- Creflo Dollar, Cash Luna. I mean, I’d love a name like Cash just given to me as a divine vocation.

So with the jets and the Rolls Royces and the “Jesus would be driving a Benz” vanity plates, it’s easy to get lost in the absurdity of it and wonder then why millions of people sit in the pews every Sunday.

And I found by sitting in these benches with them and watching them live their life just a kind of resilient hope that their circumstances wouldn’t define them. I saw in that a real beauty and kind of playfulness, that every day was an opportunity to see God at work.

So sometimes it was like a little sort of divine conspiracy, like cash-in-every-mailbox kind of hopes that they might have, but mostly it was kind of a theological stubbornness: “God will make a way. There is a purpose and a plan for me that I can see and know and realize.” And I liked the idea that people could expect more from God.

And even though I didn’t always -- I just worried, I just worried about them so much, when, you know, they might believe that a car loan was divinely theirs and maybe not read the fine print, or assume that a new preacher coming to town with a special message of encouragement was actually their answer to their loss of a child or just something really traumatic.

But I did think that over the course of the long hours they spent in the pews, they learned to be patient with God, and that was something I could learn, too.

Bill Lamar: I think we can all learn from that. What are some of those other lies that you’ve loved?

Kate Bowler: Well, I guess I realized very quickly that I just have the worst prosperity gospel of my own. That as much as I reviled others for their easy schemes, that I really, I think -- I mean, within a few days of my diagnosis, I think I realized the absurdity of my own imagination.

I had really thought that my plucky, determined attitude was going to conquer all, and that -- you know, when I was in grade 8, I used to drive my parents crazy by writing the same book report over and over again.

It was always, you know, “Alicia from Poland had three things: wit, determination and a sense of humor. And with these things -- you know -- whatever obstacle was resolved.” I realized how quickly this was my own imagination for my life, that my character was somehow unique to me.

I think, too, I imagined that I was special. I mean, I’m sure we’re all special in God’s eyes, etc., etc., but I think I somehow saw myself as being able to avoid the pitfalls that entrap everyone else. And it was hard being as special as everyone else.

Bill Lamar: As I was reading some of the promo material, I found a phrase that I really liked. You talk about craving “outrageous certainties.” Say more about outrageous certainties.

Kate Bowler: Well, I mean, some of the things I imagined were just so sure in my mind that I would -- you know, I live in professor world -- so I would grow old and have just a very revered dynasty of graduate students, and that I would have an office in a tall neo-Gothic tower.

And that I would always have the same beautiful husband, and more than one child, and I would complain about who they dated and have preferences about their college major, and that I would be able to carefully arrange every aspect of my happiness.

I sort of had this idea of life, like it’s this basket and you have to cram everything into the basket -- like, that’s your job in life. You find all this stuff and then you put it in the receptacle, which is your life.

And I worried about -- you know, I’m Canadian -- what if I never get to move home, or what if I can’t always have the same friendships? And I would have these beliefs that I could somehow be the architect of my own life.

And when I found that I didn’t even know if I’d ever get to go home again, I found that in abandoning so many assumptions, I had to remake what I thought I deserved. And that was more painful than I thought it was going to be.

Bill Lamar: Your most recent writing -- did you find the process hard or cathartic or a little of both?

Kate Bowler: Yeah, I think a little of both, because I didn’t really think so much about audience. I mean, I do now, but I just thought, “I need to try to write until I find the truest, hardest thing.”

So in a way, it was sort of theological surgery. I was trying to get right down to it. And at the same time, it was also a love letter to my son, to my husband, to the people who have contributed to the happiness that I’ve enjoyed.

And at the same time say, “I’m sorry that I was so arrogant in assuming that everything would work out, but I promise I was grateful.”

Bill Lamar: Wow. I remember times laughing with you and sharing with you, and you just always had this boundless energy. And even in the midst of this difficult conversation, I still hear that.

The work that we are endeavoring to do is to think deeply about what it means for resurrection to be real, for individuals, for churches, for institutions. Where you sit in your life, when you think about this really absurd notion of a resurrection, what does it mean for you?

Kate Bowler: Wow. Well, I think there is freedom in knowing our limits, knowing the -- for me, the faultiness of my own body.

And you know, the part that precedes the resurrection is the death, right? And part of the beauty of coming to the end of yourself, and realizing, you know, you might not be quite as special or quite as original as you imagined, is the part where you end and God begins.

And you can say, man, the best part about me is not me, is it? It is this new thing that God is always doing.

And I’m still kind of baffled that this terrible time has been the most important time of my life, that everything felt brand-new again. And so in the midst of decay and terrible and hospital world and needles, there was always the sense that God can make things new with or without me, and I think that’s a lesson I’ll have to relearn again and again.

Bill Lamar: What kinds of wonderful conversations are you having with your son?

Kate Bowler: Oh man, he is totally impervious to my situation. I love it. He is just so complete. I think that’s maybe the best part about being a parent -- is you look at your kid and you’re like, “Oh yeah, you’re you; you’re just all there, aren’t you? All the parts.”

So yeah, I -- it’s definitely shaped my view of parenting. I think I thought my job was to protect him from everything, and then I became the thing that needed him to be protected from. And that scared the crap out of me.

So I don’t know. I looked at other people who do parenting with bravery and resilience, and I realized that the point is not to protect him from all the pain in the world but to help him see the way through.

And so we work on little things. He’s 3, and so we work on, like, “Do you feel sad? I’m sad. Do you feel frustrated?” About Lego or dinosaurs. But raising an emotionally intuitive, brave kid is my plan.

Bill Lamar: Well, I don’t think that that will be a problem with you -- he has your stuff in him. And finally, Kate, you have always been a good friend and surrounded yourself with a wonderful community. What does community mean to you at this point in your life?

Kate Bowler: Oh, man. Yeah, I have been overwhelmed by how much I need others and how much I hate needing others. And so you catch me at a good time, because I’m leaning back toward the heresy of independence.

Man, when I definitely couldn’t do anything for myself, which happened again this summer after a big surgery and I was useless, I found that my -- this is going to sound terrible, but like, my standards went down. Like, I didn’t have quite so many expectations of every single person being, you know, exactly like me in every way.

And the second I sort of changed my own perspective, I have been flooded with appreciation for all the amazing stuff people do. Like, they clean and they bring you cookies and they buy you stupid T-shirts and erasers.

And yeah, so now I’m a huge fan of community on their own terms, and I will learn to accept what comes my way.

Bill Lamar: So much in the world, recent events and political events -- can you point us toward the places of hope, from your perspective, from your vantage point?

Kate Bowler: Well, I do feel a sense of excitement over ministries that emphasize presence in the world -- kind of a higher tolerance for the awkwardness of being around suffering.

And so I find myself encouraged when I read the news or I learn more about ministries of other churches in which they simmer down on the proclamations of why people suffer and lean in to -- so lean away from explanation, lean toward the empathy and the humanity of the person in front of you, when they realize that they are just like you, with the same expectations for a manageable life.

Bill Lamar: Kate, I want to thank you for your time and for your honesty. And I also would like a signed copy of your book to add to the collection of signed Kate Bowler books that I have.

Kate Bowler: It will have many #blesseds on it for you.

[Laughter]

Bill Lamar: Thank you so much, and we’ll continue to pray for you.

Kate Bowler: Thanks so much for having me.

Bill Lamar: Thank you, Kate.

Laura Everett: That was my co-host Bill Lamar’s conversation with Kate Bowler, a professor of Christian history and the author of “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved.”

Bill, this is an incredibly moving story, and Kate had so much that is wise to say about what she is learning in the space living between life and death.

I want to pause before we begin just to say a word of gratitude for you, Bill, and to our listeners. Bill and I are learning how to be good interviewers, and I was struck in that interview, Bill, about how pastoral and gracious you were in letting Kate really lead where you were going in that conversation. Thank you so much for that.

Bill Lamar: Laura, thank you. And you know, I learned from a very wise pastor. He shared that in great moments of pain and difficulty, silence is best.

Kate had much to share, and she was kind enough to engage and allow me to put something in the atmosphere and just to kind of step back and allow her to share her wisdom.

One of the things that you noticed is, I by no means am expert in this kind of difficulty in confrontation with mortality that Kate’s engaged in right now. So I found myself in the posture of student, and Kate, as always, was an excellent teacher.

Laura Everett: So Bill, one of the things that I find that is just going to stay with me from this interview is actually Kate’s book title, “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved.”

That parenthetical at the end, “Other Lies I’ve Loved.” Bill, there are so many lies that I have fallen in deep and abiding and promiscuous love with. And so I’m wondering, Bill, what are some of the lies that you have loved?

Bill Lamar: Oh my goodness, oh, they are legion -- and the allusion to the text and the demonic spirit calling himself Legion, I mean that. I mean, they are manifold. I think …

Laura Everett: And they get under our skin, right? Like, I mean, that’s the thing about the Legion story in the Gospel, that that demon is deep in there. That’s the problem with these lies we love.

Bill Lamar: I think the belief that American democracy will solve all of our problems on some kind of autopilot, without agitation and without a confrontation with the ugliest parts of history. And I think a belief, even when we don’t want to admit it, that good church people really feel like we should be insulated from the vicissitudes of life and from the kind of stinging, nasty pain that Kate is wrestling with.

Just the belief that we deserve something better in our lives than the billions of people in the earth, upon the earth, who live subsistence lives, who are struggling to find clean water, struggling to stay alive, struggling to provide for their children.

I mean, one of the things that it makes me think about is this gospel story that we have staked our lives upon as folks in the church and folks in related institutions, and the fact that God enters history from the underside, from the place of pain, and those of us who live here often are so removed from it.

I wonder how we can proclaim the gospel with fidelity, as comfortable as we are and as deceived as we are by the empire around us.

Laura Everett: Right. I think I’ve bought the lie that if I just do right, people will be grateful and they will respect me.

Bill Lamar: They will love me.

[Laughter]

Laura Everett: They will love me. Bill, that is a lie I have bought hook, line and sinker. And it’s like I’m surprised every time it happens. When I do something that feels like the faithful and right step and I get pushback and I get angry letters and I get people calling, or being called things that are not appropriate for Christian programming such as this …

Bill Lamar: It’s appropriate, Laura. Say it, it’s appropriate.

[Laughter]

Laura Everett: I have been called all sorts of things, and I’m always -- it surprises me every time. But I have loved the lie that I’ve been fed that if I’m a respectable Christian woman that I won’t get burned, that I won’t cause a problem. That is -- man, that is pernicious.

And you know, one of the things that Kate brought up is she talked about her own prosperity gospel, and that really resonated with me. I think there’s a sort of American mythology of meritocracy.

But you know, Kate’s studying a certain subset of Christianity that is believing a particular vision of the gospel, one that I really struggle to wrap my head around. Because I feel very confident Jesus did not promise you a church building, he did not promise you that you are going to be big, and I don’t hear him promising that we’re going to be wealthy.

But Kate really brought up for me the ways in which my own belief is tinged with its own version of a prosperity gospel -- that I will be given full-time employment, that I will have health care, that I will be able to architect my own life.

You know, I really appreciate the self-critique that the studying of prosperity gospel brings to us who don’t practice in that way but, because we are so saturated by an American mythology of meritocracy, [believe that] that if I, especially as a white person, if I just study and work hard, there will be things granted unto me. And so much of what she’s writing and saying pops that mythology.

She uses that phrase a “heresy of independence,” and I’m going to hold on to that for a long time.

Bill Lamar: You know, I’ve been thinking a lot and teaching a lot -- and it’s coming from the things that I’m reading for school -- about market logic in our nation and how market logic dictates how we move and how we breathe and it dictates our being, to take from Scripture. This idea and modality of exchange.

And even in the way that we pray and that we preach, it has found its way into our theology, that we have a market logic as we approach God. That if we do this or if we offer this, in exchange we will receive health and wealth. In exchange.

And this kind of market logic that I think pervades our faith, our prayer, it may even -- and I won’t say may; I believe that it does -- I think it invades our leadership.

That we think if we give goodness, if we give honesty, if we give fidelity, then the institution will offer that back. And I think what, for me, is theologically explosive about crucifixion is that it destroys any kind of market logic.

Because what Jesus gives and what he receives, if you indeed look at it through the lens of exchange, he got a pretty bad deal.

Laura Everett: Yeah.

Bill Lamar: And so what we must understand is the things that we are expecting to get. You know, I was at a seminary recently, and I look at some of these bright-eyed persons, some who are like [I was], in their early 20s, and others who are second-career.

And I just want to say to them, “Do not enter this kind of work, be you in a church or in an institution, with this market logic, but enter it understanding the logic of crucifixion and resurrection, and understand that that will indeed pervade your work.”

And I think this is why we wanted to talk about “Can these bones …?” -- to ask that biblical question. I remember, Laura, when we were trying to figure out what we would name this podcast, we threw a lot of things against the wall. But “Can These Bones” stuck.

This vision from the prophet Ezekiel that there is a valley of dry bones, there’s this huge aggregation of sun-bleached death, and the understanding and the asking of the question, is it possible for some life to emerge from this valley of death?

And that’s what we’re wrestling with here, Laura. What do you think?

Laura Everett: Well, Bill, that Ezekiel vision is something I come back to all the time. You know, part of the narrative that gets told in New England, where I pastor, is about a former abundance, a former greatness, a time when the churches were full.

And the vision in Ezekiel is a battlefield. It’s so desolate that the bones are littered about; they have not even been given the dignity of graves, and all flesh has been picked off.

And so those sun-bleached bones on the parched earth, that even those bones, even that little life -- there is no sinew left on them -- even that degree of desolation, God can bring back life into. And it strikes me, for those of us who are bold to stand in Ezekiel’s footsteps and ask for God’s intervention, it’s not us.

The story of Ezekiel and the dry bones is not about human power or agency. It is a story of the extent and the power of God’s enlivening breath, even in a place so desolate as a battlefield.

When I was spending some time with this scripture, I remembered that the Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel points out that Ezekiel’s vision in the valley has no date on it, because in every generation we need to hear in our own time that these bones might live again.

And so part of the work that we are trying to do in this place is to ask of people in other institutions, in other parts of the church, in other fields, where are they feeling the breath of God move in their community?

Bill Lamar: You know, Laura, you bring up something -- in this kind of biblical literature, in apocalyptic, you’ll have God or God’s agent, an angel or an elder, asking the one who’s the recipient of the vision a question they can’t answer.

So God asks the question, “Can these bones live?” And God says to Ezekiel ...

Laura Everett: [And Ezekiel says,] “Only you know.”

Bill Lamar: [It’s as though God says to Ezekiel,] “Son of man, you know. You know.”

And again, he does not know. But what is fascinating to me, which breathes life into me, and hopefully will breathe life into those who lend us their ears for these podcasts, is this: God speaks to Ezekiel. God says to Ezekiel to speak to the winds, to speak to the situation. And so human agents are used by God in this work of resurrection and this work of bones becoming life. Sinew returning to the bones.

And so for everyone in every church and every little hamlet, every little godforsaken space, in every little difficulty that you experience in church and in institutions, know that you are God’s agent of resurrection. And that is the hopeful note that keeps all of us going forward.

Laura Everett: And dear friends, know that we go along with you. That’s part of the hope of this podcast -- that you know that you are not alone in a valley of dry bones wherever you find yourself.

Because I know I am so grateful to be in conversation with this cloud of witnesses that includes Kate Bowler. Bill, thank you so much for the conversation with Kate today.

Bill Lamar: Thank you.

Laura Everett: “Can These Bones” is brought to you by Faith & Leadership, a learning resource for Christian leaders and their institutions from Leadership Education at Duke Divinity. It’s produced by Sally Hicks, Kelly Ryan Gilmer and Dave Odom. Our theme music is by Blue Dot Sessions. And Kate Bowler’s interview was recorded at Duke University. Funding is provided by Lilly Endowment Inc.

Our next episode is a conversation with Almeda M. Wright, Yale Divinity School professor and the author of “The Spiritual Lives of Young African Americans.” 

Listeners, we want to hear from you. Share your thoughts about this podcast with us on social media. I’m on Twitter @RevEverett, and you can find Bill @WilliamHLamarIV. You can also find both of us through our website, www.canthesebones.com.

I’m Laura Everett, and this is “Can These Bones.”

This transcript has been edited for clarity.