What is a prophet? Society has changed and updated the understanding of a prophet over time. A modern definition from vocabulary.com is “someone who can predict the future” and someone who sees beyond the foggy mystery “to speak about what’s to come. A fortune teller…” Thesarus.com lists these synonyms: clairvoyant, forecaster, predictor, seer, soothsayer, sorcerer, tea-leaf reader, witch, and wizard. These do not sound like noble and religious endeavors. I visited Salem, Massachusetts a couple years ago and this sounds like the people that were persecuted a few centuries ago by the “religious.” Why would anyone want to be a prophet?
But what was a prophet 2,000 plus years ago in scripture? Well-known Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann in his book The Prophetic Imagination defines the prophet’s role: “Prophets help the community see through the present, to recognize God’s action breaking into our life. The difficulty of this ministry is rooted in the nature of the present – all the duties, delights, and distractions that fill our day. The present absorbs our attention: the good we are doing and the troubles we are avoiding conspire to consume us.” What stands out for you?
What stands out for me is three things. The first is community. “Prophets help the community…” Prophets are an integral part of the community. They are not outsiders trying to sell something. They are in the community, helping the community. Second is present time. Prophets are dealing with the present, not predicting the future. They are helping the community understand God’s actions and words and how those effect their personal lives. The final call-out for me is related to the second, working in the present and the associated busyness in our daily lives. Prophets require quiet time to meditate and pray. Prophets work through current events with an eye to the past, present, and future to help explain God’s actions and words. That requires time for deep thought and reflection.
The community also needs quiet time for meditation and prayer. The community needs time to listen to the prophets and bring the teachings into their personal lives. Where is this quiet time going to come from? With our gadgets, gizmos, and constant connectedness; with our careers demanding more of our time; with kids’ activities; and with our own activities; who has the time? If it is truly important, and I think it is, we must make the time. It is vital to the survival of ourselves, our communities, our planet, and our universe.
Where do we find these prophets? I don’t recall seeing “Professional Prophet” on any career aptitude test or seeing any posts on Monster or Indeed for such a position. Facebook and LinkedIn don’t have groups for prophets. We are all called to be prophets as part of our baptism. Our anointing signifies that we are joining Christ in His threefold mission of prophet, priest, and king. Prophets can be found in our daily lives, as a part of their daily lives. I started watching God Friended Me on CBS last fall. The main character has a podcast titled The Millennial Prophet. That podcast title befuddled me until I looked more closely at the definition of a prophet. His father is a minister and his mother was killed in a car accident when he was a little boy. As he has grown, he has trouble accepting religion because his Mom was taken away, and why would God do that? (I can relate as my Father passed away when I was four years old.) He is working in the present, trying to make sense of God and religion.
As farmers, are we sometimes guilty of seeking “prophets” to tell us where the crop and livestock markets are going to be in the future? Don’t we even pay for these “prophets”? I have seen many advertisements for Market Analyst and for many selling their services. And yes, there are groups on both Facebook and LinkedIn. But these aren’t prophets because they are looking into the future based on the past and present; instead of looking at the present based on the past and future.
I think our most critical need is for ecological and environmental prophets. We need prophets that listen to creation and nature and apply God’s teachings in working for the betterment and repair of the world around us. This is especially relevant in the current condition of our society and the environmental changes brought on by the actions of humans. Two prophets for me are Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry. Who are your prophets? Who do you believe and trust to help us change the environment? I encourage you to find your ecological and environmental prophets and spend time in meditation and prayer listening to their words and the word of God. It is critical to our survival, the survival of our communities, the survival of our planet, and the survival of the universe.
— Duane Short is a lifelong agriculturist and Master degree student. He and his family live in Hamilton County, Iowa.