As we enter the political season we will have to again endure a barrage of rhetoric. Candidates will mostly tell us what is wrong with their opponent. New candidates will denigrate the current conditions, blaming them on the policies of the incumbents. And incumbents will laud their accomplishments, assuming that they have any, and will defend their party’s policies.
What we need more than political verbosity is a prophetic voice. In her book The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris provides a succinct description of the role of the prophet. “A prophet’s task is to reveal the fault lines hidden beneath the comfortable surface of the worlds we invent for ourselves, the national myths as well as the little lies and delusions of control and security that get us through the day.”
The clouds of dust that enveloped Manhattan on 9/11/2001 served as a warning that the Emerald City was vulnerable. What was at the heart of this attack? Why would anyone hate the home of freedom and the free market? How did America contribute to that hatred?
We needed a prophetic voice. Instead we got a lot of political bravado. National leaders sounded like Mohammed Ali taunting our new enemies with flair. And then we got sage advice like this from New York’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani, “Show your confidence. Show you’re not afraid. Go to restaurants. Go shopping.”
Ken Myers, editor of Mars Hill Audio Journal, observes, “False prophets assure us of peace when there is no peace. True prophets have the annoying habit of insisting that there is no peace just when we have convinced ourselves that everything is running smoothly.”
There’s the rub. Most of us don’t want to hear the prophetic voice because it challenges our self-constructed security. We are more prone to listen to the false prophets, because their message is less annoying, less disturbing, less uncomfortable.
Wearing the prophet’s mantle in the ’70’s, Francis Schaeffer, theologian, philosopher and author, said that personal peace had emerged in the Western world as a leading value. He defined personal peace as living “one’s life with minimal possibilities of being personally disturbed.” Not wanting to be disturbed, we put up with vacuous political oration, maybe even liking it, rather than tolerating the provocative message of the prophet.
For example, a consumer-based society like ours continues to thrive only when money flows freely. When people begin to save their money (critics call this “hoarding”), inventories back up. Like clogged expressways, the money flow slows down. That produces panic among investors, leading to market decline.
Experts tell us this scenario is bad for the economy, and what is bad for the economy is bad for us. They tell us that everything is fine with the system that a few minor tweaks won’t fix. They tell us that we don’t need to change any of our habits, as long as we keep spending freely.
Reality would argue differently. We are currently suffering the effects of an economic crisis. Unemployment rates have reached alarming levels. People are suffering the loss of income. Everyone was spending freely, but maybe some were spending too freely. The system seems to have developed huge cancerous areas that need more than a tweak.
This has brought out the prophetic voices. The prophets of the government tell us we need to raise taxes to enable the government to bail out individuals and corporations in their time of need. Different prophets announce that we need to value the relationships of community, where family and neighbors provide the financial assistance to help those in need. Some may have to reduce their level of affluence to assist others, but the peace that comes from sharing will overwhelm the false peace of possessions.
Which voice issues from the true prophet? Which one disturbs you the most? Which one exposes the little lies, delusions and national myths? Which one announces there is no peace as long as you keep thinking you don’t have to make any personal changes? These questions might help you separate the false from the true.
But who wants to be told that there is something wrong with us? Wouldn’t it be simpler just to be told what is wrong with the other candidate?