Three new books by modern prophets remind me of the day I got a call from a young man who was cycling across Ontario to raise awareness of environmental issues. He wanted to park the small trailer he was towing on our church property and pitch his tent on our lawn for the night. I put in some calls to key church members.
"Would it appear as though our church is endorsing his cause if we allowed him to camp out on our lawn?" said one.
I mentioned the cyclist's Web site and phone references, adding that maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if the church was perceived to be endorsing his message.
"If we let him camp out on the lawn, we're setting a precedent. What if other people want to do the same? This is a church, not a campground," said another.
"What if he's a wing-nut?" said a third.
The list of concerns grew longer with every call I made.
"What if he vandalizes the church grounds?" was the straw-breaking question.
I gave way to exasperation. "The guy just wants to sleep on our lawn for six hours. What is everyone afraid of?"
In their recent writing, Silken Laumann, David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis boldly and courageously take hold of the prophetic mirror. With stirringly honest personal anecdotes and informed insider information, they alternately plead and warn as though the fire in their bones burned the words onto the page.
"Children have no time for unstructured play. They are disconnected from their families and their communities. Their fitness level is abysmal and our lifestyle is putting their health at risk," says four-time Olympian Silken Laumann in Child's Play, a call to intentionally develop community-mindedness in order to reinstate freedom to play.
"Pesticides, the logging industry, merciless development, and the attitude that natural resources are limitless are eating away the lungs of the earth," says environmentalist David Suzuki. His early experience of racism in British Columbia, divulged in his vulnerable memoir David Suzuki: The Autobiography, has resulted in a lifelong lack of ease and a desire to succeed.
"The international community's incompetence and the wealthiest of countries, the IMF and World Bank's indifference to the AIDS crisis in Africa have resulted in grandmothers assuming the role of parents, children raising children and the deaths of thousands. I have spent the last four years watching people die," says Stephen Lewis, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa in Race Against Time, a transcript of his Massey Lectures.
Yet the three aren't all doom and gloom. They don't simply voice a problem, they articulate a variety of solutions, all of which involve a shift in corporate and individual mindsets.
Despite the acknowledged weight of dislocating minds and hearts, they hope against hope. Time, however, is of the essence to a prophet.
"Now is the time," says Laumann. "We're running out of time," says Suzuki. "We're racing against time," says Lewis.
Laumann, Suzuki and Lewis have devoted their lives to simultaneously living in the moment and defying it. If we choose to contest time with them, it is likely because we know and respect them.
But there are prophets among us who have never competed at the Olympics, who don't hold a bag full of honorary doctorates or work for the United Nations. Their passion is suspect. While we don't know who they are, we recognize them for what they've become - possessed. In a polite, reserved and highly self-interested culture, to completely give ourselves over is irrational, unconventional, out of control, suspect, crazy.
So the prophetic voice is often dismissed before it can be discerned, in ourselves, in others. And yet if honest appraisal and prophetic truth-telling are saving and redeeming, if they are a holy necessity as in Judah and Jerusalem, then we should equip ourselves to recognize and consider the prophets when they come calling - as Laumann, Suzuki and Lewis have. And we should be working to seek out the lesser-known, the ones who walk the streets among us or who ride alongside us on 18-speed bikes decked out in reflectors. Perhaps we could even offer them a lawn on which to pitch their tent.
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