Prophetic imagination is risky for the church. It threatens our security and stability. Prophetic words shine like light seeping through boarded up windows. It illuminates our hearts and spirits. Prophets see the light and want more. They move to rip down these boards and let the light shine through. A singular prophet gives us direction. However, it takes more than one to get the work done.
Paul shares this message with the Corinthians. What needs to be done is best done together. Speaking in tongues requires an interpreter. Prophets require other prophets. The truth of a prophetic word is never easy to hear. It should be shared and interpreted in community.
We should celebrate prophetic imagination. Often, we don’t.
We wouldn’t consider ourselves prophetic in the beginning. The spark we experienced was born of frustration rather than epiphany. Nonetheless, it was a spark. Our first glimpse of light came from an offhand comment. It was said with equal parts seriousness and jest. Yet, it shone bright enough to grab our attention. Released into the room, the words made us curious. We began interpreting and supporting what we heard.
Judy was one of our key leaders. She was part of our Session, and the person we called when the building needed to be locked or unlocked. Judy also had a background in property management and development. Sometimes disconnected things collide to create something new. Judy’s story included one of these moments. Like many new things it began with a call.
Only this call was from someone trying to use the church building. They were locked out and needed someone to unlock the doors. Judy was first on the list.
On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
I Corinthians 14:3
“It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing futures alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.”
Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination
Right before they called, her daughter lost a tooth. It was a family moment that needed her attention. Judy remembers calling the music minister to see if they could cover for her and open the building. They both lived about the same distance from the church. For whatever reason, the music minister refused.
So, Judy packed up her daughter and drove to the church. Blood dribbled down the front of her daughter’s shirt. She opened the door with a tight smile, careful not to show her frustration. Judy’s a practical person who prefers action to contemplation. She knows what she wants, and what she likes and dislikes. Moreover, she’s not afraid to say something.
We’re not sure she would consider herself a prophet. Judy was inconvenienced and tired. She was frustrated with the way things were. However, she wanted something to happen. Complaining gets you nowhere in her mind. Action is what matters.
There’s a reason many of the Hebrew prophets sound so angry. They probably were. Much of what they shared came from frustration with the world and the people around them. A prophet experiences their righteous anger as an opportunity to get creative and seek change.
That is the purpose of a prophet and prophetic imagination. It’s calls attention to neglected spaces and people. Prophetic words shake foundations and pull us into relationship with God. Prophets don’t just tear things down. They call attention to what could be built if we weren’t attached to what already is.
Judy’s prophetic moment came in a retreat. When ideas about the future of the church were being batted around, she simply said, “We should tear it all down and build affordable houses.”
We know prophets aren’t invited to a lot of parties. They make things uncomfortable, but they also make them interesting. Prophets are often creative and imaginative. They draw connections between what is and what could be. A prophet make things exciting, but they also cause a great deal of grief.
Prophetic voices are all around us. They point out when change is needed. Before we can hear them, we must admit that things need to change. If we are comfortable, then a prophet annoys us.
However, if take the chance to see what they see, then we may find ourselves wanting more. In those moments we won’t be satisfied with cracks of light. We’ll find ourselves clamoring to rip the boards away and let the light in.