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Do we hear the prophets?

April 30, 2013

This month’s book for The Transit Lounge Book Club was Walter Brueggemann’s Prophetic Imagination.  I was a bit excited to read Brueggemann. I had never read him before and remembered hearing his name at various times throughout my life in Bible classes or in sermons.  I was a little nervous that this text would also be more dense than I was comfortable with (or that this mama brain could process right now).  I need not worried.  I loved the book.  I started marking and underlining, writing in the margins almost immediately.

Mostly, I starred and smiley faced sections, bracketing them and writing exclamation points.  So much resonated with me.  I loved idea of the prophet as one who broke through institutional and personal numbness.  Maybe it’s because I am such a softy, crying over anyone’s pain, but hearing that part of a prophet’s roles was to grieve over people who weren’t able to grieve was reassuring.  While the first edition of this book was published almost forty years ago, the themes are true for us, just like they were true thousands of years ago for the Jews.

As a society, we are numb.  I’m not as familiar with cultures outside the US, but here, there’s definitely an each-for-their-own attitude prevailing.  It doesn’t matter which side of the political or religious spectrum you’re on, people hide behind the secure doors of their houses or churches.  At night we lock our doors, watch the world news and are thankful things aren’t that bad here, then turn off the TV and go back to our soccer practices, our wine with dinner, and our perfectly climate controlled houses.  We listen to music that reminds us that God loves us, God blesses only us, and that pleasure can dull all of those nasty things we only briefly remember watching on the news moments ago.  The song Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd comes to mind.  “I turned to look but it was gone.  I cannot put my finger on it now.  The child is grown, the dream is gone.  I have become comfortably numb.”  As Bruggeman writes, the prophets came to wake societies that had become comfortably numb from their stupor.  It’s just easier to think it’s all to big for us, it’s too far away, it takes much more money than we can give.  It’s all out there and we’re here.  Safe.  Secure.

I wonder who the prophets today may be.  Who am I ignoring who is speaking God’s words to us?  Maybe God’s words to us is more than what we think they are–maybe it’s more than just accepting God’s love and grace.  Maybe that’s not enough.  I suspect though, we often try to silence the prophets around us, because really, when one has gone without feeling for awhile, why would you want to go back to feeling?  I know there are prophets.  I would like to think I would listen when they speak.  But then, I may not hear them, because they may not being saying what I expect them or want them to say.

I don’t know.  What I do believe is true is that as a people, as a religion, we have become one that ignores those that the Bible says we are to take care of–the sick, the widow, the orphan, the immigrants, those who mourn, the poor in spirit, the humble, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, those who work for peace, and everyone else who society shuns as being backward or out of step.  In the desire to connect church and state, to be a Christian nation, we become like Solomon, institutionalizing God, containing God in one large, magnificent temple so we can go about doing what we want.  We are like Constantine’s army, who when they were baptized, held their right arms above the water, so their fighting arms could still belong to Constantine and not God.    If we can combine church and state, we can do what we want and say we are a Christian nation without giving too much thought if that’s really what Christ would have done.  When things go wrong, we can blame those who failed to follow Christ or embrace the Christian state.  Surely, it is not the widespread numbness or governmental systems which are too blame.   Surely, it is not our indifference or our thoughts of superiority that is the problem.  We are a Christian nation.  We can do what we want, attack whom we please, and neglect whomever suits us because on our money it says, “In God We Trust.”

I hope when prophets speak, I hear their words.  I hope I can see their tears as they mourn how separate we are from God.  I hope I can hear their messages of hope–hope that doesn’t lay with a newly elected president, but with a new heaven and a new earth–a new covenant–a new way of doing things, hope that happens here, now in God working through us and not saved for the someday promise of heaven.

I don’t know what this means for me.  I know as I continue my year through the Bible, it will be yet a third lens I look through, looking for grieving prophets, looking for life giving hope.  This struggle though, this wandering away from numbness and beginning to feel again, I continue to figure out what it means.  I’m still waiting for that great calling, that urging.  Until those things arrive, I will keep living, grieving for those who mourn and the world around us, and doing what I can to instill hope in others.   I will try not to be satisfied with how things are and work to imagine the world as God intended it.

This is linked up with Kelley Nikondeha’s Transit Book Club.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2013 2:38 pm

    Wandering away from the numbness and beginning to feel again – I love that. We are becoming more human as we grieve and connect with the grief of others, And those tears can be redeemed into songs, so one day we dance out of the brickyards and across the sea! WB gives us permission to cry and see those tears as a preface to prophetic critique, they matter. So cry, and wait for the time of dancing! But be numb no more, friend!

    Thanks for reading with us and sharing in the conversation!

    • May 1, 2013 7:58 am

      That’s one of the reasons I really enjoyed this book. Anyone who gives me permission to cry I appreciate!

  2. April 30, 2013 3:19 pm

    ‘I hope when prophets speak I hear their words’ – me too. I am from England and our culture is also numbed and I think one of the numbing mechanisms is the sheer volume of noise out there: so many voices, so much chatter. I am making this my prayer now, that I will hear God’s prophets and poets. Thanks for writing this – it is so good to be reading along in community.

  3. April 30, 2013 7:53 pm

    I am anxious to reread the books of the prophets in the Bible again, looking for the grieving and the hope. It’s definitely a fresh perspective. I’m intrigued by your referral to a “third lens.” What are the other two?

    • May 1, 2013 7:56 am

      Solomon is coming up in the next couple of weeks in my readings and I am excited to read about him a little differently this time. My other two lenses? The first was designed in part by Peter Enns in his book, Inspiration and Incarnation. He wrote about reading the Old Testament realizing that it identified our need for Jesus and provided lots of references to Jesus we may miss. I am reading the OT looking for those things. The second lens was shaped by Rachel Held Evans’s book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I am looking for more of the women in the Old Testament and finding all sorts of women I had missed in the past. Over and over there are women, named and unnamed who are unsung heroes–saving families, individuals, communities and Israel over and over. It’s nice to have things to look for as I read the OT, it makes it more manageable and less overwhelming (although it still is at times).

      • May 1, 2013 8:29 am

        Thanks for the response. I need to read Enn’s book, still. Library didn’t have it so I’ll have to find another option. I appreciate the clarification because what is reading through 3 lenses for you is what I have called reading without lenses, so to speak. Because it gave the freedom and opportunity to look at things a different way. But I guess it’s not really possible to read without a lens so I like your description. Also, have you read Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne? That shattered another one of the old lenses I used to read through.

      • May 1, 2013 8:36 am

        I haven’t read Jesus for President, but I am slowly working my way through Claiborne/Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Revolution. I agree with more or less everything they are saying, however, living out that agreement is a whole other story (and so much harder to do than just saying I agree). I’ll need to look into Jesus for President.

  4. April 30, 2013 9:59 pm

    Such a great question, “who are the prophets today?” This theme of walking out of the numbness seems to be one that has resonated with so many of us. Must be something there…

    • May 1, 2013 7:57 am

      Numbness seems to be so prevalent in our culture today. It is just easier to maintain sometimes, because otherwise, we may have to change or do something about what we see or feel.


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