SOUL MATTERS, January 2017: What does it mean to be a community of prophecy?


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Our times ask us to exercise our capacity for prophetic witness, by Prophetic witness I mean our capacity to see what is happening, to say what is happening and to act in accordance with what we know…. Prophetic witness …is the ability to name those places where we resist knowing what needs to be known.

-Rebecca Parker, UU theologian and minister

“I am not crushed. I am awake.”

– A liberal activist interviewed about the presidential election

Prophets are known for their condemnation. Images of an angry bearded man shouting and predicting God’s judgment come to mind. But for Unitarian Universalists, the prophetic voice has always been less about shouting “You’re evil!” and more about pointing out “We’re all asleep!” The prophetic message, for us, is not so much “Repent!” but “Wake up!”

Recent political events are relevant here. On election day, many of us realized we had been living in a bubble. We existed in an echo chamber but told ourselves we had a clear picture of the world. Whether it was class, condescension or comfort, something distorted many people’s view.

And so if Election Day was about realizing we were asleep in a bubble, the question on Inauguration Day becomes, Are we ready to wake up? And let’s be clear: this is not a politically partisan thing; liberals and conservatives both have a ton of waking up to do. One unemployed Michigan factory worker was quoted after the election saying, “I vote Republican because I won’t vote for anyone who doesn’t see and respect me.” On the other side of the political fence, black, Latino, Muslim and LGBT families are struggling with real fear about what’s been unleashed and what may be unleashed against them. And they are wondering if this country will wake up to and take their fear seriously.

Bottom line: we need prophetic communities now more than ever. As Rebecca Parker says, we need circles of brave and bold people who are willing “to see what is happening, to say what is happening and to act in accordance with what they know.” Which means that being a community of prophecy is not just about helping people wake up to each other’s realities and fears; there is also the matter of waking up to and being wide-eyed about the need for resistance. Most of the time, holy work is about finding common ground among differing worldviews. But sometimes, holy work is about prophetic judgment and knowing when some views need opposed. As that activist said, “I am not crushed. I am awake.”

So many ways to wake up. So many people who need us to do so. Sleep is no longer a luxury. In the end, maybe that is the most prophetic message of all.