Witness

A Memo to Languishing Prophets

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My dear, disillusioned ones,

I see what you want for the world.
I love how you care.
When folks ask how you are, you answer in big ways:
How your heart breaks for the brokenness,
How your spirit longs for all that is missing.
You want to see healing but it’s never enough.

May I remind you of your childlike self?
How you dealt with the depth of emotion?
You weren’t crippled by the two sides of your experience.
You found joy even as you waited for joy,
Signs of change, even as you waited for change.
You weren’t afraid to live into things you didn’t yet see,
Weren’t ashamed to cry or dance.
Weren’t too proud to say aloud, “I hope . . .”

I love how you reach to draw heaven to earth,
Strain to bring healing, to see life and wholeness and beauty.

But it’s never enough, is it?

You know the story:
In this life you will not see heaven in its fullness.
But you will see miracles:
Even in a greedy world
There are people still giving.
In an anxious world
There are people still trusting.
It defies logic that in ugliness there is any sign of beauty,
In hate there is any sign of hope.
In chaos there is any piece of order.
Someone is planting a garden in desolation.
Someone is painting in a war zone.
Someone is building with rubble.
Someone is making a feast in scarcity.

It’s a miracle that, thousands of years after Jesus
There are people still preaching about him,
Still waiting for him.

Even as you lament the dimness of the light,
Fan into flame any flicker you see.
Even as you lament the smallness of the choir,
Begin the song, feeble though it may be.

Keep seeing all that is lacking
But don’t let it blind you to all that is growing.
Don’t let your desire for more heaven
Make you languish.
Don’t let all that is missing
Make you believe that I am not at work.

Do you think that you love and long more than I do?

Here is my best work:
To call you now to action.
Not because you feel great
But because the longing in you is my longing.
Not because you know exactly how to act
But because I am already at work.
I don’t send you out alone.

But it may feel like it.

I call you to dance where there is desperate seriousness.
I call you to break into song where there is despair.
I call you to discomfit those who have surrounded themselves with all good things.
I call you to comfort those who have nothing.

Read the prophets.
Remember how strange they were:
Performance artists, speaking words of peace in war, words of challenge in false peace.
I called them to do things that were ridiculous.
They didn’t want to do them.
But from them the people saw that something was at work,
Something that defied logic, something wondrous and terrifying.

You are waiting to see dancing and singing and disruption?
Perhaps you are the one to begin it.
Then all who are waiting will see it.
In you.
You will feel alone.
You will feel strange and awkward and self-conscious.
But you are not alone.
If you will begin it you will see how many are waiting.
And as others join in your dancing and singing and speaking and working,
You will see what has been true all along:
That I began the dance and the song.
That I am at work in this world.

Your part is to let your body express what your heart aches to see,
Let it take on human flesh.
And as you see what you’re longing to see,
It will fulfill the longing in me.

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6 responses to “An Open Letter to Pastor-Theologians

  1. Thanks for this piece. I appreciate the spirit from which you write. I think the issue for me is the order one arrived at being a pastor-theologian. Theological study first? Pastoral ministry first? I think the order does impact one’s perspective. I was a pastor before I did my PhD in Biblical Studies. I did the PhD because there was a need for me (I emphasize that the need started with me) to have as much biblical depth as I was able to get because despite the needs you mention, people also need to understand the importance of being able to explore the Scriptures for themselves. Good teachers help people to do that. In the current climate of “everyone’s an expert because they have a blog,” we pastor-theologians need to help people be grounded in the Word. Personally, some of us (me included) need to be in the office more! We need more time to read, reflect, and [maybe] write. People’s needs are ever-present but we each also need to love the Lord with our whole mind (as well as heart and strength).

  2. Wow, thank you so much for this. Particularly this part:
    “If there is any “academic” task, it’s just that: creatively articulating, contextualizing and embodying what it looks like to participate in cruciform self-giving love.”

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