Tag Archives: Prophets

The Prophetic Imagination Pt. 2: Criticizing and Energizing

Here’s part two of my re-posting of my original reviews and reflections from Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination. You can find part one or my original post here. I originally discussed the difference between the royal consciousness and the mosaic alternative community and that the prophetic role is call people to that alternative community when the royal consciousness has undermined God’s agenda for His people. Brueggemann writes,

“The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing. The same royal consciousness that makes it possible to impleement anything and everything is the one that shrinks imagination because imagination is a danger. Thus every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing alternative futures to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.” (pg. 45)

Remember as I write, that the “King” does not necessarily mean a literal King or an equivalent like the President of the U.S. It is a symbol, a representative of the politics of power, a symbol of those who have versus the have nots, a symbol of those who have power versus those that do not. That this royal consciousness can be very much alive and well in the minds of ministry leaders and spiritual authorities is a given, such was the reality frequently in the Old Testament.

I find Brueggemann’s analysis of the prophetic role of criticizing to be fascinating. As mentioned before, he identifies 2 primary prophetic roles: criticizing and energizing. There might be various imagery that comes to mind when thinking about prophetic criticism, but Brueggeman asserts that this prophetic ministry is achieved primarily through the leading of the community towards an engagement with their grief. The royal consciousness needs to be challenged and even undermined first and foremost by public displays of grief and suffering that bring reality into the forefront of people’s minds. He writes, “It is the task of prophetic ministry and imagination to bring people to engage their experiences of suffering to death.” This, he argues, is what exposes the “royal numbness” (51) and announces it’s sure end.

The other aspect of the prophetic ministry is energizing which he argues simply as the task of being a voice of hope to the community with attention being given to the hope that is found in God’s alternative kingdom. These two tasks, Brueggemann emphasizes as the core of prophetic ministry.

What I would offer as a possible test to determine the degree to which the prophetic voice or ministry is active or permitted in your community is as follows (based on Brueggemann):

  1. Is your community an environment which is comfortable with the language and experience of grief? Is grief permitted or silenced?
  2. Is there a strong vision of how your community exists as an alternative community to the world?
  3. Do the leaders of your community keep power to themselves or do they seek to give it away for the sake of those under their leadership?
    (Or do your leaders embrace the worldly hierarchies of authority in order to feel secure in their leadership?)

Brueggeman’s work and analysis of Old Testament prophetic ministry as well as that of Jesus indicates that the above questions can shed great light into whether our communities of faith have benefitted from the prophetic ministry or whether they are in desperate need of the prophetic voice.

This post was originally posted August 22, 2007.

The Prophetic Imagination

I’m going through The Prophetic Imagination again this month and over the next two days I’m going to re-post two of my original reviews and reflections focused on the book.  This is one of the largest influences on my spirituality and leadership philosophy so if you’ve never heard of it maybe this will get you interested.

Here’s Part One:

One of the books I’ve enjoyed the most over the past month has been Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination. I was first exposed to Brueggemann while we were attending Peninsula Bible Church in Cupertino, CA during my time doing ministry at Stanford University. I noticed that one of the pastors, Brian Morgan, continually referred to Brueggemann as a source for some of the ideas in his sermons on the Old Testament. As I’ve come been immersing myself in my free time into systems theory, the prophetic ministry is an aspect I am quite intrigued by and I thought Brueggemann’s book on the prophetic imagination might spur some new thoughts or ideas.

His thesis is this, “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. (pg. 13)”

Much of this book is examining the dominant (or royal) consciousness in contrast to the alternative consciousness which is the embodiment of the Kingdom of God in this life. The prophetic imagination is that ministry which seeks to “nurture, nourish, and evoke” this alternative consciousness in the context of a dominant culture that is diametrically opposed to such a consciousness. Brueggemann uses Moses’ as the symbolic type of alternative consciousness while he uses Solomon as the symbolic type of that which represents the dominant or “royal” consciousness.

He writes that, “the dominant culture, now and in every time, is grossly uncritical, cannot tolerate serious and fundamental criticism, and will go to great lengths to stop it.” (pg. 14) The prophetic ministry has a criticizing as well as energizing function in the context of the dominant culture to awaken it to the alternative Kingdom community. I’ll post more on those two functions of prophetic ministry, but this is what Brueggemann writes of Moses’ counter-cultural revolution of Israel’s Egyptian tyrant, “his work is nothing less than an assault on the consciousness of the empire, aimed at nothing less than the dismantling of the empire both in its social practices and its mythic pretensions.” (pg. 19) Prophetic ministry undermines the dominant culture by exposing the inadequacies of the royal consciousness and by capturing the imagination of the people to embrace a genuine alternative community that builds the dignity of “the least of these” as opposed to protecting the power of the “have’s” in society.

I’ll end with this quote on the alternative community patterned after Moses,

“That prophetic tradition knows that it bears a genuine alternative to a theology of God’s enslavement and a sociology of human enslavement. That genuine alternative, entrusted to us who bear that calling, is rooted not in social theory or in righteous indignation or in altruism but in the genuine alternative that Yahweh is. Yahweh makes possible and requires an alternative theology and an alternative sociology. Prophecy begins in discerning how genuinely alternative he is.” (pg. 19)

Prophetic ministry is not just about disagreeing with the dominant culture. All of us could claim that at one point or another. It is about seeing and acting from a profound insight and vision into how God’s Kingdom is to be on this earth and how the dominant consciousness has built community and society based on false ideas.

This post was originally posted on July 23rd, 2007.

Things Are All Better Now…Really?

I just signed up for the daily comic strip at Dilbert.com.  My dad got me into it and now I’m hooked up for daily laughs.But usually there’s sad truth behind some of what is so funny and here’s a good example:Dilbert.comIt’s truly a sad thing when people/leaders find comfort or even self-validation just because they got rid of the people who see what’s wrong or maybe even see through them as leaders.

Prophetic Heartbreak (Why I Follow Jesus)

It’s Good Friday and I want to step outside of my general practice and share more personally about what I’m thinking about this Easter season.  One of my pet peaves is being at Christian “outreach” events in which a guest speaker speaks and does a Q & A and then in about two thirds of the time some Christian, usually with a customized Christian t-shirt, asks the question, “What is your favorite Bible verse?”  I’m not sure why that bothers me so much, but it does even though I often know it’s coming.

That being said, even though no one is asking, I’m going to share what has been my “favorite bible verse” for several years now.  This is where I go when I find myself disillusioned or feeling spiritually distant.  It is Matthew 23:37-39 and you can read it as follows.

37“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’[d]

This passage as provided me some of my greatest motivation to follow Jesus and draws me towards him with even greater reverence and awe.  There are plenty of scenes in the Scriptures where you see Jesus doing amazing things and teaching powerful truths, but there’s much fewer examples where we get a window into Jesus’ own psychology, actual expressions that reveal the depths of his compassion, vision, and grief.  In this passage, which follows in context the many woes on the Pharisees, justice and compassion and mercy are represented in full.  The backdrop of what is coming for Jesus looms over this passage and provides an added dimension as well.

How often in the Scriptures do you see a first-person expression of Jesus actually “longing” for something.  He “longs” to gather his people together, including those who have been hard-hearted and who have rejected him, and he is genuinely heartbroken by that rejection.  Some might see this passage as just another message of woe and impending doom for those who rejected Jesus, but the longing tells the story – because with the longing comes the grief, (O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…) at those longings that are unrealized.

This is one of the most compelling images of Jesus for me – the Jesus who longs to gather all to himself, who deeply grieves when those children reject him, and who also stands on the side of justice and hope.  This is why I follow Jesus, why I do what I do.  I can only hope that the heart and vision Jesus reveals in his lament for Jerusalem would become more and more present in my own life.

As I often blog on themes like prophetic functioning in systems and communities, there is much to take away as well.  People who would claim to be prophets are not just those who claim special knowledge, have a view of justice, or present an alternative voice to wayward regimes.  True prophets “long” for their communities to enter into the full embrace of the arms of Jesus and not resist the calls to love, justice, and repentance.  Prophets are not agents of judgment, but are agents of hope fueled by compassion and “longing” rather than anger and superiority.  Prophets without “Prophetic Heartbreak” are not prophets at all.

Now, you might not find this passage as compelling as I do.  But for me, seeing Jesus’ longing in this kind of vulnerable and heartbreaking lament shows me that he is worthy of trusting and following.  If only the world could see in clear and powerful ways what Jesus is truly longing for in the depth of his being!Happy Easter all!

Matthew 23:37-39 from The Message37-39“Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Murderer of prophets! Killer of the ones who brought you God’s news! How often I’ve ached to embrace your children, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you wouldn’t let me. And now you’re so desolate, nothing but a ghost town. What is there left to say? Only this: I’m out of here soon. The next time you see me you’ll say, ‘Oh, God has blessed him! He’s come, bringing God’s rule!'”

Prophetic Hope

I found the following reference that speaks to a common theme of this blog…prophetic functioning in leadership and community:

“In response to the lack of faithful living, the prophets in their teaching bring a message of hope, anger, and courage that the great North African teacher Augustine described: “Hope has two lovely daughters, anger and courage.  Anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they need not remain as they are.*”

Pazmino, Foundational Issues in Christian Education, pg. 33 & 34

The first thing I thought of in this reference was my reading of Bill Hybel’s Holy Discontent.  Hybels focuses on developing passion and nurturing conviction in a way that coincides with how God has made you and what experiences have formed us.  The concept of prophetic hope is much broader than that in my opinion.

Prophetic hope is that which is inspired as a result of a righteous anger at the injustice and demonstrated courage to show the world that things need not remain that way.  Those two things bring hope.   If you think about it, how much hope has ever been inspired in dire times without righteous anger and courage?

Now Pazmino highlights a small piece that often is not talked about – that is that the prophets were educators. Not only did they take courageous stands and proclaim truth, but they were often teachers passing on God’s Word to future generations in ways that would keep hope of God’s redemptive and restorative work alive.   As an aside, some lone ranger cynics may self-identify as prophets or the lone voice of reason, but one way of assessing legitimacy of insight is whether someone is pushing their own agenda and that alone or whether there is an investment in passing on authentic hope for both the present and for the future.

*may be part of an oral tradition assigned to Augustine, quoted in Wilbert J. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research and Theory for College and University Teachers, 9th ed. 1994.  pg. 384.

Beware the Monoizers

Thanks to Brueggemann in his book Texts That Linger, Words That Explode: Listening to Prophetic Voices I have a new term in my vocabulary – “monoizers.”(mono-izers)  You can check out my first post related to this book here.

In his essay entitled “Exodus in the Plural” based on Amos 9:7, he writes about the propensity of social groups to retreat into what he calls mono-ideology.  There are times where groups in the face of a diversity of ideas begin to retreat into a very strict and unyielding ideology. There are times in which this is necessary – Israel’s identity as a people was at times saved by a fierce commitment to a focused ideology.  However, there are times when the external enemies of God subside and the efforts to preserve a people become more an effort to control the people.

Brueggemann writes, “The mono-propensities that sound most orthodox may be desperate attempts to reduce Yahweh to safer proportions.” (pg. 101)  Essentially, he is theorizing that often those who try to establish a strict or overly dogmatic theology or ideology are doing so out of their own fear and insecurity (or anxiety for fellow systems’ readers out there) – they need to set up clear lines and categories to feel better about themselves and about their future.  Those who cannot sit in the ambiguity of an unknown future try to control the present. They use stronger language, create extra rules, and work harder to get people to fall in line with their own adopted view of reality.

Brueggemann writes,

“I am sure there is a need for ‘monoizing’ that arises from time to time in the church.  But it is not a given that monoizing is in every circumstance the proper work of the church.  There are also occasions when monoizing is an act of disobedience, when in God’s time pluralizing is required.  If both practices on occasion are congruent with God’s will and purpose, then we may now (and in any time) have a conversation about which is our appropriate posture, without monoizers assuming that they automatically hold the high ground, high ground that seems almost always to be congruent with vested interest.” (101)

Those who “mono-ize” out of fear strike me as being akin to the “poser prophets” I’ve drawn attention to.  They use control and spiritual rhetoric to preserve their own reality as oppose to fuel the alternative kingdom of God in the face of worldly culture and powers.

Brueggemann concludes some of his reflections here powerfully as he writes, “In our struggle with the matters that preoccupied Amos, it is important to ease our desperate need for control enough to be dazzled at the Holy One of Israel, a dazzling that outruns our need or capacity for our particular mode of coherence.” (102)

What great wisdom during times when bureaucracy and politics so often ends up dictating spiritual formation!

Prophets or Posers? – Watch Out!

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

Matthew 7:15 – 23

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

I’m not going to offer detailed analysis here, but I thought I’d include a few of Jesus’ original thoughts related to the theme of “prophets or posers?” He thought of that first 🙂

Some of what I’ve been doing this series is trying to illuminate false ways in which some of us can try to legitimize our own opinions and perspectives and increase our authority in community. However, Jesus points out that there’s one thing that generally illuminates whether someone is doing and/or voicing the will of God or not – are they bearing fruit?

This doesn’t exactly provide a clear rubric to analyze every person’s claim to be following God’s word in their words and actions, but it does get to the heart of the matter. What is the fruit of their life and work? Are they sowing the word of God into situations that produce redemptive solutions or are they leaving behind a trail of bad and rotten fruit? Are they working for themselves or for the good of all?

Prophets or Posers? Fallacy #4

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

Here is the 4th prophetic logical fallacy in the series I’ve been doing on “prophets or posers?”:

“I’m functioning prophetically because I’m cutting edge and the people around me are old school and behind the times.”

Counterpoint: You might just be heading the wrong direction in a faster and more fashionable or trendy way.

It is quite true that groups, systems, organizations, or churches are often slow adapters in maintaining a healthy relevance to the psyche and needs of the current generation and era. As a result, early adapters or those who tend to be more cutting edge when it comes to ideas and methodologies get pushed out eventually via discouragement and lack of innovation or they choose to head elsewhere out of frustration. Yet that doesn’t make this usually talented, creative, and passionate type of person prophetic in how they are functioning.

This kind of person could potentially function prophetically as it relates to how attitudes and methods of the past are hindering God’s will from being made manifest. However, it’s quite possible that someone from a more traditional mindset could function prophetically as to the dangers that particular technological or creative advances might be hindering God’s will being made manifest. The key to the prophetic voice is not “new” or “old”, but it’s related to God’s will and the degree to which people in power and community are bringing their lives, relationships, and work under the will of God.

Cutting edge folk are vital to healthy creativity and progress for organizations and ministries, but just because new ideas are new doesn’t mean they are prophetic. I like C.S. Lewis’s term for this type of thinking. He called such glorification of the “new” to the detriment of the past as “chronological snobbery.”

We should all aspire to be early adapters and to some degree “cutting edge,” but if we lose the humility that comes with being attentive first and foremost to the heart of God then we’re running the risk of arrogant posturing and self-promotion.

Prophets or Posers? Fallacy #3

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

Here is prophetic logical fallacy #3 in the series I’ve been doing on “prophets or posers?”:

“Since God ‘anointed me’ or placed me in the position of leader, then my convictions and insights about reality and truth have more authority and weight to them (in terms of being right, not in terms of their impact on other people).”

Counterpoint: You might not be a prophet, you might be squashing them instead.

Organizational and spiritual authority should not be confused. I’m well aware that various traditions and even cultures will place different values on hierarchies and structures. I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater in this assertion, I’m just saying that spiritual authority and the voice of God does not flow through you just because you’re in charge. Just because you’ve got position and power doesn’t mean that your power is coming from God.

This gets at the “divine right” theology that so many kings and queens embraced in years past. I see some of this play out today on smaller levels. I’ve heard plenty of stories about pastors and I’ve seen other examples related to teams or organizational situations. It always creeps me out when I hear someone that it is in charge with significant organizational weight and power proclaim that they think they are gifted as prophets and function prophetically in the context of them being in conflict or disagreement with others. It’s not that this couldn’t be the case as examples from the OT show us, but prophets in the Scriptures tended to be more separate from power structures. Either way, when people in power self-anoint themselves as prophets it’s bad news. They tend to leave a wake of destruction behind them.

There is a reality that God, in his sovereignty, has put people in leadership and we’re called to respect and follow that leadership. I’m not challenging that. But I am challenging the perspective that just because someone has more power or clout in a spiritual community, that they therefore are the necessarily the mouthpiece of God.

People end up being leaders for a lot of reasons, some of which I long to have a big sit-down about with Jesus in the life to come. It’s tricky territory for sure to figure out how to honor and follow spiritual authority when our organizational leaders and the true Head of the Church are in great conflict with one another. That’s beyond the scope of what I’m trying to do here. The main point here is that it is a logical fallacy that one’s positional or organizational power serves as evidence to validate one’s perspectives, opinions, and judgments. I’m reading a lot of the Gospels right now and parables and this is part of what Jesus shreds the religious rulers of the day for.