Discover more from Contents and Containers
A cup of tea with the prophets
I have some really smart friends. They are much smarter than I am and they were talking the other day about how to solve a complicated legislative problem (I didn’t say they were fun, by the way). Like I’ve said before, they seemed to have no good options at their disposal. They were engaging in some uninspired compromise. Every option the state in its current political economy was offering them was woefully dissatisfying.
I think that’s a scenario that we often find ourselves in. I think this weekend’s inauguration is the culmination of uninspired compromise. For the state, love is down and hate is up. It’s very distressing. My word to you today is to continue to hold on to your ideals. Some people argue that ideological purity leads to extremism, and I agree. But if that ideology is baptized in the Holy Spirit, I think it offers us something else.
I’m inspired lately by Abraham Heschel, a Jewish scholar who specialized in the works of the Old Testament Prophets. Heschel argues that the Old Testament Prophets were in the lonely position of never engaging in compromise. They did not need to engage with complicated political decisions that the state’s lust for power brings to the forefront; they certainly weren’t engaged in modifying the chief social agent, the state (as Daniel Bell says in the Economy of Desire), into the best “liberal” democracy it could be. The policy problems that befuddle Christians (like Evangelicals voting for Trump for the sake of a Supreme Court Justice) were not of concern to the Prophets. These remarkable men and women were not merely microphones for God; they not only delivered his logos, but his pathos. When God delivered a word to them, it was happening to them and in them. Their strong declarations against Judah were personal and theological. They came from God through them and to the people. Because they were so idealistic, they were hyperbolic in their criticism of the Kingdom and the King. One of the best things about the recorded prophecy in the Old Testament is that it was kept, despite its critique of those in power (this puts it in contrast to many other contemporary prophetic corpuses).
Nevertheless, they were so idealistic that the smallest offense became the greatest problem. They didn’t tolerate any wickedness at all. No political compromise. They were messengers from God who siphoned out any sin of idolatry against the Lord. What would they say to us today? The words of Amos still apply (and do to any society), from chapter eight:
Hear this, you who trample on the needy and destroy
the poor of the land,
“When will the new moon
be over so that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath
so that we may offer wheat for sale,
make the ephah smaller, enlarge the shekel,
and deceive with false balances,
in order to buy the needy for silver
and the helpless for sandals,
and sell garbage as grain?”
Because they were upholding God’s righteousness, what they say is often germane to us. I hope we are still listening. Three pieces of advice:
Our job, as Christians, is not to ensure that the political economy functions. The moral compromises we may invariably make when we are sorting that out may be inevitable, but our hope is not in them. It can be grueling to
sort through it as if our hope does. Paying attention to the pain in the world can be helpful, but take a break from it if you’re that kind of person. Your Facebook feed may be depressing you. It’s OK to turn it off and do something positive. Make a cup of tea, eat an apple (or a cupcake), read an encouraging story, sing a song, say a prayer. Don’t let Trump or the burdens of liberal democratic grandiosity steal your joy.
But use your God-given, Spirit-inspired wisdom to incisively point out the evil in the world. Stand with those who suffer, and suffer alongside of them. It’s also OK to be disturbed, like I was about the detained refugees in U.S. airports last Saturday at our Love Feast. Call out the evil in the world. If the Lord gives you a prophetic word, speak out loud (not just on Twitter, but in real life too).
Finally, remember, you’re not an architect of the state or only delivering God’s judgment, you end it all with compassion. Despite their calls for justice and chastisement, the Prophets always end in compassion. The fullness of that compassion and inclusion is Jesus. They led the way for him. Despite their incisive criticism of the world around them, they offered God’s compassion and grace. Despite being beholden to the law of God, God’s love is greater than his law. Hope springs beyond our inevitable failing. There is room for you in the Kingdom.
In sum, have a cup of tea, speak the truth, and make a new friend even if they don’t match all of your God-given convictions. We’re on a journey. Today, I’m inspired by the Prophets.