Theme:
Prophets: Part Two

Prophets: Part Two

Summary, Sunday, July 7—Friday, July 12, 2019

The biblical notion of justice, beginning in the Hebrew Scriptures with the Jewish prophets—especially Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea—is quite different than retributive justice. If we read carefully and honestly, we will see that God’s justice is restorative. (Sunday)

A prophet is one who keeps God free for people and who keeps people free for God. (Monday)

Prophets, by their very nature, cannot be at the center of any social structure. Rather, they are “on the edge of the inside.” (Tuesday)

When the priestly/institutional and prophetic/movement impulses work together, institutions provide stability and continuity and movements provide direction and dynamism. Like skeleton and muscles, the two are meant to work together. —Brian McLaren (Wednesday)

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. —Walter Brueggemann (Thursday)

Following Christ is a matter of engagement in this world, “living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think is faith, that is metanoia.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Friday)

 

Practice: Divine Obedience

The most important word in our Center’s name is not Action nor is it Contemplation, but the word and. If your spiritual practice doesn’t lead you to some acts of concrete caring or service, then you have every reason not to trust it. While many argue that spiritual teachers shouldn’t get involved in politics, even the Hebrew prophets and Jesus critiqued their leaders and practiced civil disobedience. There is no such thing as being non-political! So, I encourage you to practice a contemplative, compassionate politics. The Barmen Today statement is one way to do just that.

“Barmen Today: A Contemporary Contemplative Declaration” was developed by several of our Living School students to recognize the importance of this moment in history. As in 1934 when the original Barmen Declaration critiqued Christians’ endorsement of the Nazi party, we are at a crossroads. We must choose: Will we remain silent when we see injustice? Or will we speak truth to power?

Leslye Colvin, one of the Barmen Today organizers, writes:

Responding to the signs of the times, people of goodwill have historically raised their voices on behalf of the common good. How the voice is raised—whether literally or figuratively, individually or collectively—is determined by a number of variables including the challenge and the desired outcome. Examples of these efforts include Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, Marian Wright Edelman’s Children’s Defense Fund, Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative, and women religious’ NETWORK. . . . Depending on the circumstances, speaking truth may be accompanied by the grave risk of physical harm or death. In spite of the risk, people of goodwill are duty-bound to speak. [1]

I invite you to join us in standing in unanimity and nonviolent resistance to forces that threaten our common good. With one voice, we speak out against systems of oppression and call forth love, compassion, healing of division, human dignity, and care for creation.

We commit to nonviolently reject and resist the marginalization of any color, class, race, religion, disability, gender, or sexual orientation. We reject and resist words, policies, and actions of exclusion, denigration, and nationalism. We reject and resist that which threatens the health and resilience of creation.

Listen to Living School alum, songwriter, and regenerative farmer Alana Levandoski’s song “Divine Obedience”—hear not only the music but your heart’s call toward compassion. [2] Then read the powerful Barmen Today statement and consider how you will do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. [3]

References:
[1] Leslye Colvin, “Barmen Today: An Act of Divine Obedience,” April 8, 2019, https://networklobby.org/20190405barmentoday/.

[2] Alana Levandoski, “Divine Obedience,” https://www.alanalevandoski.com/sundaysongandrumination/divine-obedience-a-song-for-the-barmen-today-declaration.

[3] Read and sign the Barmen Today statement at bit.ly/barmentoday.

For Further Study:
Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd ed. (Augsburg Fortress: 2001)

Robert Ellsberg, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1997, 1998)

Brian D. McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian (Convergent: 2016)

Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018)

Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), CDMP3 download

Richard Rohr, Scripture as Liberation (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2002), MP3 download

Image credit: Deborah Under the Palm Tree (detail) by Adriene Cruz. Used with permission of the artist. See more of Cruz’s work: adrienecruz.com.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: A prophet is one who keeps God free for people and who keeps people free for God. —Richard Rohr
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Prophets: Part Two

Engagement
Friday, July 12, 2019

We live by responding to the word of God . . . since this word is addressed to our entire life, the response, too, can only be an entire one; it must be given with our entire life as it is realized in all our several actions.­ —Dietrich Bonhoeffer [1]

The German Lutheran pastor and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), who was executed at Flossenburg prison camp, could be considered a modern prophet. I personally believe that the Catholic Church should canonize Bonhoeffer a saint—of the first magnitude. Robert Ellsberg writes about Bonhoeffer’s impact over time and his invitation today.

[Bonhoeffer’s] witness has inspired other Christians wrestling with the ethical dilemmas of responsible action in the face of oppression. Through most of his career Bonhoeffer had espoused a pacifist position, and he never ceased to believe that violence was inconsistent with the ideals of the gospel. In the end, however, he believed that the crisis of the times was so grave as to require that certain Christians willingly compromise their purity of conscience for the sake of others. . . .

As a theologian, Bonhoeffer’s reputation rests largely on the vision forged in the confinement of his last years and disclosed in letters smuggled to his friend, Eberhard Bethge. Here he outlined the need for a new “religionless Christianity,” a way of talking about God in a secular language appropriate for a “world come of age.” Traditional religious language tended to posit a stop-gap deity occupying a “religious” realm on the boundaries of day-to-day life. Instead, Bonhoeffer wrote,

I should like to speak of God not on the boundaries but at the center, not in weaknesses but in strength; and therefore not in death and guilt but in [humanity’s] life and goodness. . . . God is the beyond in the midst of our life. The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village. [2]

In the postwar decades these writings helped inspire a broad range of Christians seeking to overcome the gulf between the churches and the secular world. More recently . . . theologians have highlighted a more radical insight in Bonhoeffer’s writings: “It remains an experience of incomparable value that we have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed and reviled, in short, from the perspective of the suffering.” [3]

And it is perhaps in this light, in which he came to see the identity between the cross of Jesus and solidarity with the oppressed, that Bonhoeffer offers such a poignant model of contemporary holiness. After the war some German Christians were reluctant to call him a martyr, since he had been executed for political rather than “religious” charges. This attitude, which would set the “holy life” apart from the world and its concrete demands, exemplified the religious mentality that Bonhoeffer rejected. For him, following Christ was a matter of engagement in this world, “living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think is faith, that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a [person] and a Christian.” [4]

References:
[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, trans. Neville Horton Smith (Touchstone: 1995, ©1955), 219.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, letter to Eberhard Bethge (April 30, 1944), Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge, rev. ed. (The Macmillan Company: 1967), 155.

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “An Account at the Turn of the Year 1942–1943,” Letters and Papers from Prison (Fortress Press: 2015), 20.

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, letter to Eberhard Bethge (July 21, 1944), Letters and Papers from Prison (Macmillan: 1967), 202.

Robert Ellsberg, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1997, 1998), 161.

Image credit: Deborah Under the Palm Tree (detail) by Adriene Cruz. Used with permission of the artist. See more of Cruz’s work: adrienecruz.com.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: A prophet is one who keeps God free for people and who keeps people free for God. —Richard Rohr
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Prophets: Part Two

Imagination
Thursday, July 11, 2019

In his classic book, The Prophetic Imagination, theologian Walter Brueggemann gives voice to the role of the prophet in honoring the ministry of imagination. Brueggemann writes:

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. . . .

The alternative consciousness to be nurtured, on the one hand, serves to criticize in dismantling the dominant consciousness. To that extent, it attempts to do what the liberal tendency has done: engage in a rejection and delegitimizing of the present ordering of things. On the other hand, that alternative consciousness to be nurtured serves to energize persons and communities by its promise of another time and situation toward which the community of faith may move. To that extent, it attempts to do what the conservative tendency has done, to live in fervent anticipation of the newness that God has promised and will surely give. . . .

Our sociology is predictably derived from, legitimated by, and reflective of our theology. And if we gather around a static god of order who only guards the interests of the “haves,” oppression cannot be far behind. Conversely, if a God is disclosed who is free to come and go, free from and even against the regime, free to hear and even answer slave cries, free from all proper goodness as defined by the empire, then it will bear decisively upon sociology because the freedom of God will surface in the brickyards and manifest itself as justice and compassion. . . .

Here is it enough to insist that Moses, paradigm for prophet, carried the alternative in both directions: a religion of God’s freedom as alternative to the static imperial religion of order and triumph and a politics of justice and compassion as alternative to the imperial politics of oppression. The point that prophetic imagination must ponder is that there is no freedom of God without the politics of justice and compassion, and there is no politics of justice and compassion without a religion of the freedom of God.

The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. 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 implement 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 futures alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one. . . .

Reference:
Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd ed. (Augsburg Fortress: 2001), 3, 8-9, 40.

Image credit: Deborah Under the Palm Tree (detail) by Adriene Cruz. Used with permission of the artist. See more of Cruz’s work: adrienecruz.com.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: A prophet is one who keeps God free for people and who keeps people free for God. —Richard Rohr
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Prophets: Part Two

Compassion, Not Sacrifice
Wednesday, July 10, 2019

In his book The Great Spiritual Migration, Brian McLaren writes about the possible meaning behind Jesus’ cleansing of the temple (see John 2:13-17):

Perhaps it is not merely the cost of sacrifice that Jesus protests. Perhaps it is the whole belief system associated with sacrifice, based on the fundamental, long-held belief that God is angry and needs to be appeased with blood. Perhaps Jesus is overturning that belief right along with the cashiers’ tables, right along with the whole religious system built upon it. . . .

More than seven hundred years before Jesus, Hosea dared to say that God desired compassion, not sacrifice [see Hosea 6:6]. . . . Around the same time, Isaiah dared to say that God found sacrifices disgusting when people weren’t seeking justice for the oppressed (Isaiah 1-2). And centuries earlier, the poet-king David made the audacious claim that God takes no pleasure in sacrifice, but desires a “contrite spirit” and “truth in the innermost being” (Psalm 51). In other words, . . . when [Jesus] said sacrifice wasn’t necessary . . . he was siding with the prophetic and mystical/poetic traditions within Judaism, even though that set him against the traditions of the priests and scholars. . . .

When the prophets Amos, Isaiah, and Micah come along, they don’t advocate rejecting religion and culture, even though they are highly critical of its spiritual hypocrisy and social injustice. They want their religion to expand, to evolve, to learn and grow. The same is true with Jesus. He came, he said, not to abolish or replace, but to fulfill what came before him [see Matthew 5:17]. . . . [Or “transcend and include,” as Ken Wilber would say.]

The spirit of goodness, rightness, beauty, and aliveness, Jesus said, is always moving. Like wind, like breath, like water, the Spirit is in motion, inviting us to enter the current and flow.

The problem is that we often stop moving. We resist the flow. We get stuck. The word institution itself means something that stands rather than moves. When our institutions lack movements to propel them forward, the Spirit, I believe, simply moves around them, like a current around a rock in a stream. But when the priestly/institutional and prophetic/movement impulses work together, institutions provide stability and continuity and movements provide direction and dynamism. Like skeleton and muscles, the two are meant to work together.

For that to happen, we need a common spirituality to infuse both our priestly/institutional- and our prophetic/movement-oriented wings. The spirituality will often be derived from the mystical/poetic/contemplative streams within our tradition. Without that shared spirituality, without that soul work that opens our deepest selves to God and grounds our souls in love, no movement will succeed and no institution will stand. . . . It’s the linking of action and contemplation, great work and deep spirituality, that keeps the goodness, rightness, beauty, and aliveness flowing.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian (Convergent: 2016), 27, 28, 103, 180-181.

Image credit: Deborah Under the Palm Tree (detail) by Adriene Cruz. Used with permission of the artist. See more of Cruz’s work: adrienecruz.com.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: A prophet is one who keeps God free for people and who keeps people free for God. —Richard Rohr
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Prophets: Part Two

The Edge of the Inside
Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Prophets, by their very nature, cannot be at the center of any social structure. Rather, they are “on the edge of the inside.” They cannot be full insiders, but they cannot throw rocks from outside either. A true prophet must be educated inside the system, knowing and living the rules, before they can critique what is non-essential or not so important. Jesus did this masterfully (see Matthew 5:17-48). This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. taught the United States, what Gandhi taught British-occupied India, and what Nelson Mandela taught apartheid South Africa.

Only with great respect for and understanding of the rules can a prophet know how to properly break those very same rules—for the sake of a greater purpose and value. A prophet critiques a system by quoting its own documents, constitutions, heroes, and Scriptures against its present practice. This is their secret: systems are best unlocked from inside, and not by negative or angry people.

Holding the tension of opposites is the necessary education of the prophet, yet Christianity has given little energy to what Paul says is the second most important charism for building the church (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). Prophets must be skilled in nondual thinking, but churches have primarily trained people in the simplistic choosing of one idealized alternative while denigrating the other. This has gotten us nowhere.

After Christianity became the established religion of the Empire in the fourth century, the priestly mentality pretty much took over in both East and West, and prophets almost disappeared. When the Church held so much power, prophets were too threatening to the status quo. The clergy were at the top of the hierarchy in the full company of their patrons—kings and princes—and even began to dress like them. Emperors convened and presided over the first seven Councils of the Church. What does this tell us?

For the next 1700 or so years, most of the preaching and interpretation of Scripture was from the perspective of power, from primarily European, educated, quite comfortable, and presumably celibate males. I am one myself, and we are not all bad. But we are not all—by a long shot! Where are the voices of women, people of color, LGBTQ folk, the poor, and differently abled? How would they read the Gospel? Without these voices included, even central, I see little future for Christianity.

My spiritual father, St. Francis of Assisi, saw this problem in the thirteenth century and called people to live on the edge—of the Church, of the dominant economy which always protects the top, of patriarchy, of the “system”—through universal solidarity and chosen simplicity. Pope Francis is evoking the same Gospel spirit, and I pray for his success and protection. What a surprise that the ultimate establishment figure took the name of such a radical saint. It shocked the world because we do not expect prophecy from popes. There is hope!

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Way of the Prophet (Center for Action and Contemplation: 1994), audio, no longer available;

Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), CDMP3 download; and

Scripture as Liberation (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2002), MP3 download.

Image credit: Deborah Under the Palm Tree (detail) by Adriene Cruz. Used with permission of the artist. See more of Cruz’s work: adrienecruz.com.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: A prophet is one who keeps God free for people and who keeps people free for God. —Richard Rohr
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Prophets: Part Two

Liberation
Monday July 8, 2019

A prophet is one who keeps God free for people and who keeps people free for God. Both of these are much needed and vital tasks. Without the educated gift of prophecy, God almost always becomes imprisoned and made inaccessible, and far too many people have been shamed and taught guilt to keep us clergy in business. We saw our job as “sin management.”  That is not just being clever. I believe we religious leaders actually thought that. Sadly, the laity fully bought into this negative story line. That is what happens when priests are not informed by prophets.

The priestly class invariably makes God less accessible instead of more so, “neither entering yourselves nor letting others enter in,” as Jesus says (Matthew 23:13). For the sake of our own job security, the priestly message is often: “You can only come to God through us, by doing the right rituals, obeying the rules, and believing the right doctrines.” This is like telling God who God is allowed to love! The clergy and religious leaders, unintentionally perhaps, teach their disciples “learned helplessness.”

The prophets spend much of their time destroying and dismissing these barriers and trying to create “a straight highway to God” (Matthew 3:3). Both John the Baptist and Jesus tried to free God for the people, and it got them killed. The other half of the prophet’s job is to keep people free for God. We get trapped in chains of guilt and legalism, focusing on our imperfect church attendance and inability to live up to the law’s standard; as if the goal of religion is “attendance” at an occasional ritual instead of constant participation in an Eternal Mystery! Prophets turn our ideas of success and belonging on their head, emphasizing God’s unconditional and unmerited love in response to our continual shortcomings. God is always breaking the approved “rules of God” by forgiving sinners, choosing the outsider or the weak, and showing up in secular places. Please check the Bible if you doubt me!

Our job is to love others the way God has loved us. In my life, I’ve experienced God’s unearned love again and again. God has persistently broken the rules to love me at the level I needed, could receive, and was able to understand throughout my life. The magnanimous nature of divine love keeps liberating me at deeper levels, and then I think that newly discovered level of love is the deepest. But it’s a journey that never stops giving. Why wouldn’t everybody want that? But many actually fight it.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Way of the Prophet (Center for Action and Contemplation: 1994), audio, no longer available; and

Prophets Then, Prophets Now, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), CDMP3 download. 

Image credit: Deborah Under the Palm Tree (detail) by Adriene Cruz. Used with permission of the artist. See more of Cruz’s work: adrienecruz.com.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: A prophet is one who keeps God free for people and who keeps people free for God. —Richard Rohr
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Prophets: Part Two

Justice in the Scriptures
Sunday, July 7, 2019

Let me expand on our secular and limited definition of justice which for most Westerners is merely retributive justice. When people on the news say, “We want justice!” they normally mean that bad deeds should be punished or that they want vengeance. Our judicial, legal, and penal systems are almost entirely based on this idea of retributive justice. This much bad deserves this much punishment; this much good deserves this much reward. The rational, logical, tit for tat, quid pro quo system makes sense to most of us. It does appear to be holding civil society together at some level, and seems to be the best our dualistic world can do.

I certainly recognize there are many early passages in the Bible that present God as punitive and retributive, but we must stay with the text—and observe how we gradually let God “grow up.” God does not change as much as human knowledge of God evolves. A sole focus on divine retribution leads to an ego-satisfying and eventually unworkable image of God which situates us inside of a very unsafe and dangerous universe. Both Jesus and Paul observed the human tendency toward retribution and spoke strongly about the limitations of the law (see the Sermon on the Mount, Romans, and Galatians).

The biblical notion of justice, beginning in the Hebrew Scriptures with the Jewish prophets—especially Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea—is quite different. If we read carefully and honestly, we will see that God’s justice is actually restorative. In each case, after the prophet chastises the Israelites for their transgressions against YHWH, the prophet continues by saying, in effect, “And here’s what YHWH will do for you: God will now love you more than ever! God will love you into wholeness. God will pour upon you a gratuitous, unbelievable, unaccountable, irrefutable love that you will finally be unable to resist.”

God “punishes us by loving us more! How else could divine love be supreme and victorious? Check out this theme for yourself: read such passages as Isaiah 29:13-24, Hosea 6:1-6, Ezekiel 16 (especially verses 59-63), and so many of the Psalms. God’s justice is fully successful when God can legitimate and validate human beings in their original and total identity! God wins by making sure we win—just as any loving human parent does. The little “time outs” and discipline along the way are simply to keep us awake and growing.

As Isaiah says of God, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). Yet I am afraid we often pull God down into “our thoughts.” We naively and erroneously think fear, anger, intimidation, threat, and punishment are going to lead people to love. Show me where that has worked. We cannot lead people to the highest level of motivation by teaching them the lowest. God always and forever models the highest—love—and our task is always to “imitate God” (Ephesians 5:1).

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 77-79.

Image credit: Deborah Under the Palm Tree (detail) by Adriene Cruz. Used with permission of the artist. See more of Cruz’s work: adrienecruz.com.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: A prophet is one who keeps God free for people and who keeps people free for God. —Richard Rohr
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