Can I Get a Witness?

person walking at a junctionTransitions are opportunities to let go of what was and embrace a preferable future.  We find ourselves in a sea of transition at this moment in history, the likes of which most of us have not experienced before.  Even for those among us old enough to have lived through war and other pandemics, the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and global communications have never provided such access during a time of crisis. This is new, and it provides new opportunities to revolutionize the world as we know it. In times of transition we are called upon to play two competing roles: We have to be thoughtful and compassionate in attending to what’s dying  – we must be good hospice workers, and we have to be celebrants of new life. We must be experimenters, pioneers, edge-walkers.  Playing these dual roles is never easy, even so we are brave enough to do it.  With every season of uncertainty people of faith have risen from among the voices of doom to lead the church and society forward toward human flourishing.  This time of transition is a season of prophetic possibility.

One definition of the prophet is a person who threatens culture’s power structure by holding up a mirror to its folly and showing where such folly leads (Pearce 2002, 167). However, showing where the folly of power leads is only the beginning of the task of the prophet, a cultural critic can do that work without prophetic impulse. The prophet, different from the cultural critic, seeks to paint a new world with the toolkit of spiritual imagination rooted in the gospel narrative (III 2015, 12). With keen intellectual investigation, the prophet not only points out the problems within the power structure, but sagaciously points to the realm of solution.  Prophetic critique can be defined as a principled public criticism of and opposition to systemic injustice. However, the prophetic portion of the critique shows it is not enough to cease to do evil – one must also learn to do good (Hendricks 2011, 21). The task of ministry particularly in this moment cannot be content to interpret the tradition in order to make the tradition relevant for contemporary culture. We must be primarily engaged in being self-consciously constructive, willing to think differently than the past (McFague 1987, 21)!

As we live through the destabilization of our institutions the prophetic opportunity is easy to see. The broken healthcare system in America is no longer debatable, the task of the prophetic voice of the church is now to point the way to a system based on the ethic of neighbor love that favors the vulnerable and provides for the least of these. Not just in our healthcare systems, but the truth is that in most of our institutions existential democratic practices are perennially crucified only to be resurrected by truth speakers, once again to be betrayed by false prophets, demigods, plutocrats, oligarchs, and grand inquisitors (West 2002, 9). Our education system destabilized is an opportunity for voices from the margins to point to the reality that the dominant culture is centered in the academy in ways that damage and dehumanize marginalized people. The prophets are needed both to call our institutions of higher learning to task on the imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy that dominates the narrative, but also to offer instruction on decolonization, crip theory, anti-racist practice, and a host of other potentialities. Every institution that makes up our society is up for interrogation in this time of transition to see what ways it dehumanizes or leads to human flourishing. This interrogation includes the church while the church must at the same time be the place from which this critique takes place.

The church must move into a prophetic mode of being. As we navigate the present we must move to become the epicenter of the progressive vanguard, calling forward the best of humanity. We who are theologians and ministers must become filled with the prophetic impulse.  We will carry with us what we have learned and the values and practices that feel essential to the commons, and together we will unpack judgments and assumptions often limit our ability to see new possibilities. Crisis calls forth prophets. A crisis strips away comforting delusions and sharpens our blurred perceptions (SJ 1996, 10). This is a moment that invites the ethic and work of liberation. An ethic of liberation arises out of a new sense of love, for ourselves and for humanity (Williams 1993, 154). The voice of the liberator speaks to us of emergence from any form of bondage or exploitation (Heagle 2010, 4).  I wonder who among us feels deeply the prophetic impulse of the times? Who will rise to the occasion and speak truth to power? Who will be a witness?

Non schola, sed vitae,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin - Signature

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Interim Director of the Doctor of Ministry| Assistant Clinical Professor 

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Heagle, John. 2010. Justice Rising. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Hendricks, Obery. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

III, Otis Moss. 2015. Blue Note Preaching in a post- Soul World. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Pearce, Joseph Chilton. 2002. The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Rochester: Park Street Press.

SJ, Patrick J. Howell. 1996. A Spiritguide Through Times of Darkness. Kansas City: Sheed & Ward.

West, Cornel. 2002. Prophsey Deliverance: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity . Louiseville: John Knox Press.

Williams, Delores S. 1993. Sisters in the Wilderness . Maryknoll: Orbis.