One of the speakers at the Festival of Homiletics was Karoline Lewis, a Lutheran professor of preaching at Luther Seminary.
Here’s the summary version of something she talked about that caught my attention.
- Prophets are truth tellers of the present – that is how they can predict the future. When we speak of the truth of the present, we can point to what the truth of the present will lead to, inevitably.
I really like that definition. It moves us away from the idea that prophecy is just a prediction of the future. It focuses more on the present and says “hello people, this is what is going to happen if you continue on this course.”
When I think back through biblical prophecy with this in mind, it changes up so much of the prophets message for me. And it is actually very encouraging. It moves us away from the soothe-sayer model or the doom and gloom modern day end-times preachers like to use. Often I wonder if that type of preaching is really about selling more books or other things so you can be “prepared” for the coming destruction.
No offense, but if everything is going to be destroyed, then you really don’t need anything – you’re just screwed. If they really bought into the idea of end-times destruction, they should be urging their followers to sell everything and sit by waiting patiently. But then again, where’s the fear in waiting patiently right? You can’t manipulate people’s emotions when they are calmly waiting can you?
Here’s what I see. Fear and anger have a firm grip on people around the world. I’m not sure why really. Maybe this isn’t even really accurate. It’s the common thought of today, but I wonder if it is something different.
I wonder if it’s really the other way around. Are we, as a people, gripping onto fear and anger – holding onto these things tightly? Fear and anger don’t exist on their own. They have no power or life just existing in the ether, floating around deciding who to strike. No, rather fear and anger have to be grabbed at and pulled in to ourselves. We have to consume them. Yet, my question is this – why would we do this?
I think there are a few answers. Our world is in the midst of some serious changes. There is uncertainty (not that there was certainty before, but now the uncertainty can’t be avoided). People don’t know the answer to the question of what life is about – they have no answer right now. There is a serious lack of leadership and vision. And there is a great deal of anxiety – which is not helped by the 24-hour news cycle which has to find things that pass as news. I’m sure you could add to this list.
Fear and anger are raw emotions. I wonder if people grab onto them because both fear and anger provide something that people aren’t getting somewhere else. I wonder if the fear and anger give people the feeling of being alive, which gives people a sense of certainty in one are of their life – They are certain they are alive. They may be really upset about it, but they are alive. Everything else in their world is changing and fluid, yet the fear and anger is like a last defense ensuring that those who grip onto fear and anger know that they are alive and have not changed. The anger and the fear immobilize a person from changing or thinking differently or acting differently. When your whole world changes around you, it impacts your very identity and how you relate to the world. If you didn’t go into the changing world willingly and with an open mind, what would you expect would happen? You’d resist anything that “forced” you to change, rather than changing the world around you.
In a sense, I get the fear and anger of Americans – we’ve been sold a lie that tells us that we are the center of the universe and everything else will change to meet our desires and wishes. And here we are finding out the truth. We aren’t the center of the universe, we never were. And we want someone to pay for the lie. Which is still believing the lie to some degree.
So, where does this all lead. If we continue holding tightly onto fear and anger, it leads to war. There are several nationalist politicians that are winning elections in the world. Nationalism doesn’t have room for peace or diversity or a range of thinking. Nationalism is the sin of believing that “we’re exceptional” which means everyone else is not. My question is how long will it be until we find ourselves in a war? We are repeating history yet again. And we are going into the same cycle gladly, waving the flag as we go – ready to spill blood. But for what?
Fear and anger lead to death. They are not life-giving. Fear and anger are insecure and miserable. And we know that misery loves company. Fear and anger love to divide and determine who’s in and who’s out. Fear and anger love to scapegoat enemies – someone has to take the blame and God forbid we look at ourselves and our clenched hands holding so tightly onto fear and anger as if they were security blankets that could keep us safe.
This is not a good way to live. And we don’t have to go down this path. God has given us the ability to let go of the fear and anger in our lives. Yes, it might be a bit scary, but let us go forward in uncertainty rather than certain death.
As for me, I refuse to live in fear and anger. Even though the world around me changes, I will remain calm. I will continue to change as well. I will remain calm. Change is the only certainty in this world. I will embrace it calmly knowing that I am not the center of the universe.
We need people who can be a calm presence. We need people who can take a breath and put a hand on a neighbor’s back and ask them to take a breath with them. The way past fear and anger is to make eye contact with those that are gripping tightly to fear and anger. It’s to move them from constant anxiety to taking a breath. Fear and anger are irrational. Taking a breath may seem automatic, but not when someone is fearful and angry. Take a breath. A deep long breath. One where you can feel the air going throughout your body. One where you feel alive. And let go of the fear and anger. Embrace the uncertainty. That is where is where God is. That is where we find our meaning. That is where we can walk together. That is where life is. Breathe.