How annoying! The speaker is proof-texting. She should know better. She is a professor of religion speaking to a lecture room full of ordained ministers. She should know better, and she should know that we know better.
Maybe she doesn’t know better? Maybe she doesn’t think that we know better? That would be insulting. No, she doesn’t come across as condescending.
My guess is that she doesn’t consider what she is doing to be proof-texting because her interpretation of scripture follows a hermeneutical model, and as long as her use of scripture is consistent with the principles of that model then she assumes that her interpretation is correct and reflects the true message of scripture.
She’s been yammering on while I’ve sat here fuming, and I’ve completely lost the train of her argument. She’s quoting from a book I don’t know, Prophets: Words of Fire by Megan McKenna--
Prophets are difficult to talk about because they are not like us at all. They suffer terribly. They live on the outskirts. They live as strangers even to those they love most dearly. They cause dissension. They are intent on making us see the truth about ourselves, which can result in our feeling humiliated and shamed. We slink away from such a glaring eye or are enraged beyond words, thinking only how to silence that person forever.
She’s got my attention now. These ARE words of fire!
Their styles are unique and diversified, yet they all attack with a similar intensity. They never let up until we change, or until we make a choice, or until we attack back, or until what they say comes to pass on us-- or until they disappear or die. When they denounce, they go after everyone indiscriminately, but especially governments, the economy, the military, leaders, priests, other prophets, other countries. Then they turn on us as a people and on each of us as individuals-- there is no escape or rationalizing. Their words sting us-- as individuals and a people-- into a recognition that we are the absolute worst of the lot and should know better. They remind us over and over again by their presence that their prophetic word comes out of our sin, our evil, our injustice, our collusion with systems and authority that do harm, our insensitivities, our absorption with ourselves. They lay our lives bare, down to bone, marrow, and soul. They try to break through our well-planned and smoothly functioning worlds to say that we are the problem. We’re the product of our systems. We’re immersed in their values. We typify the systems that grind down the majority of the world. We are self-righteous and without religious sensibility, either in relation to God or morally in relation to one another, especially those who are brutalized by our injustice and lack of concern.
My heart is pounding. My face feels flush. I’m remembering the call of Isaiah. lips touched by a burning coal.
Prophets don’t just go after the system or the politicians or the rich and powerful-- they go after us all. Either we are among the poor-- those who, while money is being wasted, cry out, are hungry for food, decency, and shelter, who are caught in cycles of violence, and who suffer from lack of medicine-- or we are among those who are profiting from the system and the labor and suffering of the poor. The problem is not the government or the church-- it’s us! And one is only a prophet when one is cast off, outside the system, hidden among the voices of the silent, the mute, and those stunned by evil. Many of us in the church today would be seen and revealed as armchair critics, whiners, individuals and groups set on bettering our own positions in society and church, who are paid for praying, teaching, going on retreats, seeking spiritual direction, theologizing, and so on, making sure the system continues to function and making sure that knowledge and information do not convert, cut to the heart, and move us out of our safe positions to stand over there-- there where every word burns, where every word tells the truth, and where every word puts us further outside what is acceptable and allowable. Yet the Jewish tradition that birthed prophets as wild offspring would say that life is never so full as when you stake your life on it, even if you lose your life doing it.
My ears are ringing. I’m holding my breath. There is power in these words. My body reacts to that power even as my mind quiets down. I want to understand. Understand what these words and my reaction to them mean. I want to understand but I don’t. Coherent thoughts won’t form. Only single syllables like “Wow” and “Oh” will form.
The prophets ached over injustice and were torn to shreds by it. They had no life but God’s honor-- which was the only hope of the poor. They were reminders in the flesh of that honor-- painful, angry truth-tellers who knew what was wrong. They made people nervous, sick to their stomachs, vicious, and self-righteous. Or worse, after all the reactions, the prophets were ignored-- the people didn’t change, didn’t convert. And then the prophets’ words came to pass: the warnings, the threats, and the punishments that were the natural consequences of people’s behavior came about. The prophets were, after all was said and done, people who knew the truth, who spoke it, and who effected it in their words. They had to speak, whether people responded to them or not.
The speaker stops reading. She looks at the audience and asks, “So, who wants to be a prophet?” My hand shoots up as I think to myself, “Are you kidding me? Of Course I would! Who wouldn’t want to be a prophet? That would be amazing.”
There are nervous snickers from my colleagues. I’m the only person with a hand up. It was a rhetorical question. I heard a call. I had not heard the sarcasm. I was not in on the joke.
I lower my hand. The speaker is going on with her lecture. It has nothing to do with the Megan McKenna quote. I tune her out and reflect. What was that? One minute I’m annoyed, the next I’m inspired, now I’m confused.
First Moral of the Story-- I had been too quick to dismiss the speaker. She did have something of value to share with me after all.
Second Moral of the Story-- The ministry of the prophet speaks to me. This experience is further proof that my hunch is right. Advocacy should be considered one of the Wesleyan means of grace even though Wesley did not include it in his list of Instituted and Prudential means. Now I need to turn my hunch into a well-reasoned argument that is backed by evidence from Wesley’s publications. Can do.