Thursday, January 26, 2017

Reclaiming Prophecy in Troubled Times

I had the honor of moderating a conversation between the Norwalk Policy Chief and representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement at a breakfast held on MLK Day. The event was full of speeches and prayers and singing. In introducing me to the audience the Rev. Dr. Jeffery Ingraham the pastor of a large Baptist Church in Norwalk, lauded my handling of a contentious public hearing on white privilege but said in researching our denomination found that we could not be farther apart theologically. He cited a billboard from one of our churches that read “More Curious Than Certain”. He was certain Jesus died for our sins, we, he implied, considered that Jesus was a matter for further consideration.

As we worked together, of course, we could put aside those differences for the common cause we made to remember and learn from the prophecy of Dr. Martin Luther King. I reminded him later that King’s oft used line “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice” was in fact, first penned by our own Rev. Theodore Parker, a staunch abolitionist and Unitarian minister. The point I hope to make was that in the words of Dr. King, “we may have come on different ships but we are all in the same boat now.”

In other words, we need to see the deep seated call for all people of faith to reclaim the prophecy of Dr. King and so many others for what it can teach us about how to live in this broken world. Prophecy is an often misunderstood as some kind of fortune telling, confusing its truth telling for a foretelling, like a tip on which horse to bet on.

A Medieval prophet prophesied to a king that his favorite mistress would soon die. Sure enough, the woman died a short time later. The king was outraged at the prophet, certain that his prophecy had brought about the woman's death. Word spread through the kingdom and soon got back to the prophet. The King summoned the prophet and commanded him: "Prophet, tell me when you will die! “The prophet realized that the king was planning to kill him immediately, no matter what answer he gave. The prophet thought for a moment and said: "I only know that whenever I die, the king will die three days later." source:

We are all in lamentation, even amidst our abundance. Life itself is finite, the world has struggle and now, especially we may feel lost and not yet found. The ancient Hebrew  prophet Amos speaks a timeless truth when he says of those in power:
“Take away from me the noise of your songs, I will not listen to the melody of your harps. Let instead justice roll down like waters and righteousness and mercy like an ever flowing stream..” (Amos 5:24)

The lamentations we may be feeling will lessen (but like grief never fully close) when and if we dedicate our lives to something larger than ourselves. This is the prophetic tradition we own. We need hope here, I agree, and we need reliance to reclaim the prophetic tradition that is ours stretching back to Amos, through Jesus, through the loving ministry of Clara Barton, through the Waitsail and Martha Sharpe through Dr. King and onto such luminaries in our times such as Christopher Reeves, Maya Angelou and Mary Wright Edelman, through the lights of those still to come, Corey Booker, Nina Turner and the young Unitarian Universalist minster in Bismarck at Standing Rock, Rev. Karen Van Fossan.

We have a deep and hope filled pool of prophecy that is ours to claim. And I am proud that hundreds of thousands of women and men, girls and boys marched for justice after the inauguration. We will need to march again and again.

As I thought about this passage from Amos, I could imagine the world he was railing against. Long gone were the glory days of Saul, David and Solomon. Israel had split into its own version of the red and blue states; a civil war had divided the land into to two states; Israel and Judah with the power resting in the Southern half of the land. The Jewish empire was faltering under its own weight, made sleepy by its wealth and arrogant by its belligerence. Amos, as all good prophets should, was telling the haughty leaders that false piety wasn’t enough. That prayer in schools wasn’t going to save them, that flag waving, scroll thumping sacrilege was a lost cause. That making Israel great again rings hollow.  Only justice and righteousness will save them; in fact that is only offering God really wants from his people. Our journey is only beginning but I take courage that it is the way of tyrants to fall. It always has been.

With Grace and Grit, John