Friday, March 14, 2008

prophecy

The other day in meeting for worship I was thinking about the role of prophecy, and felt led to speak about it, so here (in a nutshell) is what I said, and then some more thoughts about it.

"Who among us is a prophet? Is prophecy just a vocation for a few who God calls to speak out in unusual ways?

"I think prophecy is simply speaking the truth, and living with obedience and faithfulness to the leadings we hear from God.

"In the Hebrew Scriptures the prophets speak out about following the ways of God rather than the rules and laws that have grown up and made a religion out of the truth. "Sacrifices and offerings I do not desire," says God, "but I desire that you seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with me" (Micah 6:6-8).

"We are all called to this life of faithfulness and obedience, to act justly and mercifully, to walk in God's ways and in God's presence. The world sees this as prophecy, because this way of living breaks the norm of the world, but it should be nothing extraordinary for those of us following God.

"The thing is, not many of us have the strength to be prophets on our own...at least I don't. I want to live a life of faithfulness and obedience to the truth I know, but we need each other, we need community. Hopefully Friends can be a community of prophets again."

I don't know about you, but I don't often feel like a prophet. At least, I don't feel like a true one--sometimes I feel like a false one. I talk a lot but what am I actually doing that's abnormal to American mediocrity and pompous comfortability? Not much. It's hard to even know where to start--what issue to focus on.

I wish Friends would get together and decide on one issue that we're really going to tackle together, and that we're really going to put our money and our energy where our mouth is. Maybe we mostly agree that "War is not the answer." Good, fine. But why are we still paying taxes that go to war (FCNL says 43% of our taxes go to war this year). Why are we still driving around in cars that take oil which causes war? Why are we still buying stuff made or grown in other countries where people are being paid money that is not a fair wage, leading to strife and conflict because of lack of ability to feed their families? We talk a lot about war, but what are we doing? (I include myself in this criticism!)

What could we do like the nineteenth century Friends who wore undyed clothes so they didn't have to support slavery? We might have to look different, we might have to take a stand that people would notice. We might get thrown in jail or made fun of or any number of persecutions. But wouldn't it be worth it for standing up against injustice, for making sure the "widows and the orphans" had food on the table, and didn't have to be afraid of being shot or bombed anytime soon? Why do we think it's OK to provide for "me and mine" and then, if I have any energy left over, to help others a little? Sure, we have to take care of ourselves, but I think we get so tied up in taking care of ourselves that we never actually help those who REALLY need it. I'm not talking doing volunteer work at church/meeting, because although that's all well and good, most of those people don't really NEED anything (except maybe sleep and love). But stepping outside our comfort zones and really addressing needs of those who truly need something, that's a lot harder and a lot scarier. Or maybe it's just me...

I didn't say all that in meeting, luckily, but I wonder what the role of a prophet really is in our time. Is it to sit in a comfortable home complaining about the state of the world? Or could we all work together and DO something to change things, like our spiritual forebears did?

8 comments:

cath said...

I think one of the roles of a prophet is to be perservering. It's not often that speaking truth to power or bringing a straightforward (and perhaps uncomfortable) message to folks will be heard the first time around.

And that's the part that seems to frustrate us when we feel led to speak or act prophetically.

For many years, I was an activist to abolish the death penalty. Once a week a small group of us would stand in front of the statehouse in a silent witness. Most of us could not get members of our Meetings and churches to join us. Many weeks went by before we had a chance to engage in productive and courteous conversations with a passerby. And the death penalty is still the law of our state.

But we perservered. A few of us have since discerned new ministries (and mine in particular no longer allows me to be free on the day of the witness); however, one woman has remained, in all sorts of weather, sometimes standing alone.

She sends out a reminder email to many people, and still has a small group of revolving members join her. But she is the *only* one who is there rain or shine.

Now that's real dedication.

It's easy to get angry because people do not immediately--or by next month ;)--grasp our messages. It's easy to give up and label people as "not open." It's much harder to calmly go about our leading to prophecy, despite the appearance of no progress.

I think this is just as important, sometimes, as the message, itself.

cath

Swallowtail said...

I don't want to discount perseverance. In fact one of my favorite quotes, attributed to Calvin Coolidge, is: "Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelict. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

However, I've come to realize that many ways of the past that people have persisted in are not going to make a significant difference. Yes, it's possible that one or more people can eventually be reached, and that is important. Another great quote is from Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

I believe that we can change the world in significant ways if we persist. The question is how. I have occasionally stood with the people who stand in silent witness against war and for peace. I think that weekly gathering is an important contribution by those who dedicate themselves to it. But I don't believe that type of action is the best way for me to change the world.

My persistence is in forever seeking the truth and finding ways to share that truth so that others will believe. That is not an easy task but I am constantly learning and discovering that I can make a difference through my blog. I have also realized that, as a planning student, I can make a difference in shaping the world (or at least my local world) by learning how to frame the truth so that people see it. Another quote I'll inflict on those reading this is from Albert Einstein: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

I believe in persevering to continually find new and better ways of reaching people. Change is necessary to make progress, but change is often hard for people to accept. It is usually easier to continue doing what is already known and familiar. And I think that gets to the heart of the problem. It takes much effort to learn and change, but I have learned that hard work is almost always necessary to be successful.

~Kurt

Anonymous said...

Cherice, I suppose not all of our spiritual forebearers were John
Woolmans, but some certainly were, and your message is challenging. You
know, of course, that Nonna and I paid no war taxes for three years in
the early Reagan years, but the end result was that the government of
course divided the portion we did pay to include the war percentage,
then when they collected the back taxes they applied a penalty, meaning
we actually paid more than we would had we not withheld. Of course we
could theoretically have reduced our income below taxable level, but
our consciences wouldn't allow us to pay nothing for schools, roads,
and the many other benefits.

The bottom line, I guess, is that we should do what we can to be
Christlike, but in this fallen world we sometimes cannot have
everything our way, even if it is Christ's way.

I wish I had been in Meeting and heard you. Jesus speaks through you
beautifully. Love you!

Gr. Ralph

Aj Schwanz said...

I was listening to the "A Sustainable Faith" conference podcast, and Shane Claiborne made a comment that really stuck with me: he said that his faith community didn't pick a cause or issue to fight for; rather, they picked a people group, and then the causes became obvious. For example, they felt called to champion for a certain group in the inner cities, and then the causes of poverty and welfare and medical care became obvious to them.

So, I wonder if Quakes picked a people group, what would happen?

cherice said...

AJ, that's a good idea--so who would we choose?

Anonymous said...

I happened to be looking at John 15 just before reading your rant…uh…thoughts. I noticed it says “You are the branches…” Okay, you’re the Greek student, so is my guess right that Jesus was talking to the group and not an individual. So the community of believers is the branches and Jesus is the vine. And it turns out that we can’t do anything…bear any fruit…make a difference in the world…unless we…all together…are abiding in the Vine. So I really agree with you when you say that we need each other in order to be prophetic.

But here’s what I wonder. I wonder how often folks sit in meeting and prayerfully wait for God to speak to them. I wonder if they’re thinking “What does God want to say to me today?” and they’re sincerely listening for that, but they’re not asking the question, “What does God want to say to us today?” You want to be a part of a community that is energized and moved by the Holy Spirit. I wonder if an important piece of that needs to be an attitude that we bring to meeting in which we understand ourselves to be the branches together, and that together we’re listening and abiding, and together we’re hearing, and together we’re moving. I am suspicious that there is a lot of individualistic spirituality out there that causes us to lose spiritual vigor and vitality.

Another thought…sort of in response to Ralph’s work in resisting taxes, is the Peace Tax effort. Those folks keep going at it. I got an email from them the other day that said for the first time they hired a lobbyist. I don’t know how much you’ve checked into that, but they seem to have done some good thinking and work. They’re a long way away from their goal, but gathering more and more support can’t hurt.

Will T said...

Cherise,
It may be that God is not calling all Friends to the same work. But we are all being called to some work. Thomas Kelley talks about how having a concern organizes our life because it shows us it both leads us to do certain things and also shows us what things we can leave for others.

When people are actively organizing their life around what they hear God calling them to do, they can be supportive of others similarly called but doing completely different work. That is because the primary task is to be faithful and people focused on that lift each other up in ways that do not happen with people motivated by guilt or good intentions or because it is the cause of the day.

Being faithful in what we are given also raises our sensitivity to the world around us so we may see more clearly the brokenness of the world even if we are only working to heal one particular break. After all neither war nor poverty nor environmental degradation exist in isolation. They are all related to each other and they all have their root in our brokenness and the brokenness of the institutions we have created.

And in all of this, remember that one of the things we do to make a better tomorrow, that no one else can do, is to raise up our children to be loving, caring and faithful.

Will

Joanna said...

Thanks for a powerful post. I am struggling with the balance between going forward in faith and staying connected to community. It seems to me that prophets are alone, at least in the beginning; sometimes their people joins them in their convictions, but not always. I believe that it is important to begin, to work toward integrity in resolving the contradictions in my own life whether or not a larger group agrees with me. And then the trick is not to shut others out in bitterness or self-righteousness; and not to cling desperately to them either.
And I've never really had to go alone. When I found that I was called to live below taxable level, to try to live an alternative to the consumer economy and culture, and to do some kind of outreach to people on the bottom end of the economy, my mother and brother came with me. I don't know if I would have had courage to move into a new life without them. We keep working on how we receive guests--on not clinging to them and trying to make this life attractive for them because we are lonely or because we could do so much more with more people; and not getting impatient with them if they are defensive; and really hearing when they see truths that we miss.. on seeing them clearly and letting ourselves be seen clearly and trusting God for the rest. Perhaps that's all we can do.