Richard Rohr – Who Would Want to Be a Prophet?

By definition, the prophet has to be on the edge of the inside of institutional religion. It’s a hard position to hold, and it must be held both structurally and personally, with wisdom and grace. There are many times it would be easier to leave the system or to play the company man/woman and just go along with the game. Jesus understood this. He loved and respected his Jewish religion, yet he pushed the envelope wide open. He often healed people on the Sabbath, which was a deliberate statement against making a practice into a dogma that was higher than human need (Matthew 12:1-8). Yet he honored the same Jewish establishment by telling some he had healed to “go show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14). Jesus walked the thin line of a true prophet, or what Ken Wilber so wisely names as the central principle, “transcend and include.”

Being a prophet demands two seemingly opposites: radical traditionalism and shocking iconoclasm at the same time. If people see just one of those first, they’ll presume you’re only that. “Oh, he’s just a pious little Christian boy” or “She’s an angry woman!” They cannot imagine that those two can really coexist, tame, and educate one another. Holding the tension of opposites is the necessary education of the prophet, and the Church has given little energy to it. Frankly, it takes non-dual thinking to pull this off, and we have pretty much trained people in the simplistic choosing of one idealized alternative while denigrating the other.

To put together these two immense opposites demands a good deal of human maturity, groundedness, spiritual intelligence, and readiness to not be liked–even by good people whom you really respect. You must be willing to believe that God is calling you to do this, that God is using you, and that you are an instrument. But don’t believe anyone who is wearing the loud badge of a prophet; it is never anything anyone should or would want to do, it seems to me. It is a calling, and often for only one single issue or time.

Ironically, a prophet must be educated inside the system in order to have the freedom to critique that very system. You have to know the rules of any tradition, and you have to respect those rules enough to know why they do exist–and thus how to break them properly, for the sake of a larger and more essential value. This is what Martin Luther King Jr. taught America and what Gandhi taught the British. Here is the key: you can only unlock systems from the inside. A prophet critiques a system by quoting its own documents, constitutions, heroes, and Scriptures against its present practice. That’s why they eventually win, but at a huge price to themselves.

Adapted from Way of the Prophet (no longer available);
and Prophets Then, Prophets Now (CD, MP3 download);
and Scripture as Liberation (MP3 download)
Gateway to Silence
Welcome, uncomfortable truth!

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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