A question asked yesterday on our TMN Webinar: What’s Happening was: “Where are the prophets today?” Part of it was about who can guide and point us to the way ahead in this strange unraveling of our world. In a book I wrote in 2005, The Sky is Falling: Leaders Lost in Transition I described something of the roles of leaders in terms of poets and prophets. The one really requires the other. I’ve shared below a bit of what I wrote back then about the prophet for those who might be interested. One thing that’s important to note – the work of the prophet is one of deep love for their people. The prophet isn’t one who shouts out “I told you so!” or “You’re just getting what you deserve because you didn’t listen to me” The prophet moves in a very different direction. Here’s a bit of what I wrote:
Alongside the poets, there are the prophets, whose focus and desire are for God’s people to rediscover God’s story as the center of their common life. They want to re-make the common life…around faithfulness to that story… Liminality, the “we had hoped” space of the Emmaus Road, is the space of prophetic imagination. People know they’ve lost their world, their connection with their most determinative hopes. Prophets know that in this loss is the possibility for the re-making of God’s people. Their work is in addressing this social and theological reality. In this sense Jesus, on the Emmaus Road was functioning as a prophet as he connected the despair of these two disciples to God’s great story.
The prophetic desire, at its core, is to lead God’s people into a re-engagement with God’s story… Like the two on the Emmaus Road, in their confusion they’ve lost the ability to recognize the alternative story that lives in Scripture. The work of re-centering Christian community within God’s story in these spaces of “but we had hoped” is the enormous task of the prophet …
During the exile the people were confronted by the painful reality of their myth’s failures and their own forgetting of God’s story. In those years they had to re-enter God’s true story all over again. This time from a radically different place—the loss, confusion, and despair of a world that had ended and a framework that had failed them. This was the central work of the prophet — to reconnect them with God’s true story for them.
The prophet doesn’t blame for failure or develop strategies for returning to the past but cultivates environments that invite people to re-engage God’s narrative from within their “but we had hoped”. This story-recovering role is shaped by the impulse to form a people who engage their neighbourhoods from the perspective of God’s story. In this sense, the prophet, like the poet, indwells the tradition, but also points to its eschatological reality in the call to live out the present by dwelling deeply in the local and every day. This is how we come to discern God’s work in our own present…
Prophets connect the dots between “we had hoped” and God’s radical invitation to join the eschatological Spirit in their neighborhoods… This act of joining God creates new social possibilities in a world of crisis. Isaiah declares: “Behold, I am doing a new thing,” addressing a people consumed with their old world, sitting in self-pity, loss, and confusion. It is a declaration of imagination and hope, spoken when there were no markers on the horizon to substantiate the announcement. The prophet discerns a world almost no one else sees.
The prophet is given for in-between times when we want to cry out “…but we had hoped” by calling back into memory the stories of God’s presence in the new, disorienting spaces. At the center of the prophetic perspective is this odd and passionate need to articulate a world in which God is at the center of the story and in the confusion, not our own human identity.