Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

More on Prophetic Faith

I urged previously that faith traditions “make room for the prophetic.” I need to acknowledge how difficult this is. In the first place, prophets tend not to be easy to take: Hosea giving his kids names that would embarrass a rock star. Isaiah walking butt-naked around Jerusalem for three years to emphasize the coming destitute refugee status of his fellow citizens. Ezekiel going beyond “sackcloth and ashes” to put poop in his hair as a sign of repentence–these aren’t folks many of us would invite home to dinner!

Modern prophetic figures are equally flawed and uncomfortable figures: Dorothy Day had a heart for the poor like few others, but her demanding judgmental spirit was hard on those who lived in community with her. Yet, along with Archbishop Romero and the Berrigan brothers, Day is surely one of the most prophetic figures in contemporary Catholicism–and is being considered for sainthood.

In addition to his now well-known adulteries (and offstage chain smoking) , Martin Luther King, Jr. shows some signs of what we today would call “bi-polar” syndrome, moving quickly from manic activity to depression. Yet I believe the great Rabbi and Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel was right to tell a group of rabbis one month before King’s death that the living voice of the Hebrew prophets spoke through King as in no one else in the America of that day.

Let’s face it: It can be hard to make room for prophets even when we want to. I worked for two years as Outreach Coordinator for Every Church a Peace Church. Our board and Speaker’s Bureau had at least 2 individuals whose insights were so deep that I recognized the charism of prophecy. They were like oil and water and could barely stand to be in the same room with each other–and both quickly tried my patience. Making room for them, welcoming them, encouraging their gifts was difficult–especially for someone whose job was to grow the organization. But I did not wish to quench the Spirit by shutting these prophets down.

I don’t have a checklist to help folk easily recongize the prophetic voices in their midst, nor a 3 step guide to making room for the prophetic and allowing it to renew your faith traditions. I do believe it to be necessary. So, sisters and brothers, I can only recommend familiarizing yourself with the biblical prophets and prophetic figures throughout church history–then seeking discernment through prayer and community consultation. Not every “odd duck” who makes us unconfortable will be a prophetic figure, but welcoming and including every “odd duck” will give us much practice when prophets are raised up among us.


August 11, 2006 - Posted by | progressive faith

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