I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of the prophet lately. For one thing, it’s Advent, and we’re about to get our annual shout from John – the Baptist, the one to whom Lutherans don’t generally give a lot of airtime.
In the absence of credible Christian prophets these days, we have some thoroughly secular folk taking on the cause of waking us up. There’s the Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping warning us of the Shopocalypse, and plenty of environmentalists telling us to wake up, and quick.
I am sympathetic to these messengers, and like to think that I am pretty awake myself, on my better days. But the pastoral side of me wonders about the long-term effects of fire and brimstone. I suspect that some people enjoy getting a good beating on a Sunday morning, feeling bad for awhile and thus being certain that they’ve done their emotional penance. Then they go back to sleep.
Or, there’s the effect Janisse Ray wrote about recently in
Orion, in which the true believers gather, tsk tsk at all those who are deaf to
the message, and then head home, ignoring any further changes they may personally need to make. What if “the choir” is not really doing that much better than
Here’s the irony: many of these “prophets” have long since eschewed any semblance of religious faith. In fact, many of them assume that churchgoing Christians like me are the opposition rather than allies. If you asked them about matters of heaven and hell, personal righteousness or eternal judgment, they’d probably insist that they don’t believe in judgment. But they sure as heck use the language of guilt, sin, shame and, sometimes, fear – as well as and sometimes better than street corner prophets. Walter Brueggeman argued in Sojourners recently that Rev. Billy is most definitely using the methods of Old Testament prophecy (e.g. performance art) in his Starbucks tirades. These prophets believe firmly in the end of the world as we know it. They just think God has no part in it.
I’m pretty sure that the end of the world as we know it will come about through human hands. We can create a shopocalypse, an end to oil, a global climate crisis without any intervention at all, thank you very much. But I’m also pretty sure that sustained, hopeful, joyous resistance to the status quo needs something more than my humanity – it needs my trust in a God more powerful than my own sleepy soul.
What wakes us up best – the screaming smoke alarm or the sounds of nature? I’m not sure either one works perfectly for everyone. For some the rude awakening just arouses anger at the source of the noise; others are just too darned exhausted to let anything wake them.
It’s been years since I needed an alarm in the morning. I have something much better now – my children. Their voices are insistent, piercing and still beautiful. And they need me, now more than ever, to wake up.