"The world is a proud place, full of beauty, but the prophets are scandalized, and rave as if the whole world were a slum." - Rabbi Abraham Heschel
Several months back, I threw out a seemingly simple question to a small group of us gathered in the fellowship hall: "Who are our prophets today?" I was hoping for a quick rat-ta-tat-tat of names from the group, a list of erstwhile voices, artists, and writers who serve as the bur in our cultural saddle and whose voices serve to wake us up. Instead, I got a lot of blank stares for about thirty seconds, followed by a list of a few names here and there.
Well, I pose the question to you. Who are our prophets today? Do we still have them? Are there any voices in our world who can help clear our foggy vision and help us to see both the grandeur of God and the holy, terrific state of our world?
Not too long ago, I would say the voice of the prophets was strong. The turbulent times of the 1960's produced a new generation of prophetic voices and imaginations. The prophetic voice even filtered down to the realm of popular music with everyone from Bob Dylan to Marvin Gaye to the Beatles speaking out. Today, most musicians shy away from addressing large social ills or injustices, although there are some who are not afraid to speak truth to power (like "The Boss"). Still, most of the prophetic voices live on the margins in America, their voice truly a "voice from the wilderness." Shane Claiborne speaks and witnesses from the urban deserts of an exiled city just like Jeremiah. Wendell Berry cries out like a modern day Amos, a mere farmer who proclaims God's word to the nations.
Most telling, though, is that today we cannot point to any significant prophetic voice. No Mandela. No Ghandi. No Martin Luther King, Jr. Not even a Doris Day. What does this say about our society? Does this mean that we live in a just and equitable world? Does this mean we've moved beyond idolatry and slavery?
What do you think? Have we moved beyond the time of the prophets? Are they too archaic, too scandalizing and zealous for our modern, global world? If anything, our most recent global prophet was the late Steve Jobs. But his visions were of utopia through technology, not through moral conversion and social reform.
For that matter, what do you think of the prophetic books in our Bible? Do you read them? Like them? See truth and relevance to our own day and age in them?
Beginning this Sunday in The Word Before Worship, we're going to begin looking more closely at the prophets of the Old Testament. One of my hopes is that by reading the rants and passionate poetry of the prophets, we'll come to discover all over again why prophecy is such a critical part of God's word to us and why Jesus' earliest followers saw him not only as Savior and Resurrected Lord, but as a prophet - a prophet in the tradition that goes all the way back to Moses.
For now, though, I'll leave you with the question again: Who are our prophets today? Think about it. Maybe there are more than we first recognize, and maybe their voices still hold worth for us today.