Thursday, 13 December 2007

Just what is a prophetic voice?

I have been intrigued by this notion for months because I don't think I know what it means in this context especially as it seems to bear a close relationship with that tool 'hindsight'. The more I consider the concept the more elusive it seems though its use seems to be a way of enhancing the spiritual value of what is said or being said. Can anyone help me understand this as I feel that there is a danger that a set of assumptions about what is, and what is not prophetic, could be created against which statements/ministry etc. is/are weighed and we could end up blinkered and not open to leadings which do not fit into the appropriate box?
I can understand how we can have a Quakerly voice rooted in the past, and growing, experiences of Friends but can we claim to be prophetic? In part I know that my problem may be rooted in my university studies of history but it is also rooted in my 19/20 years in membership. I feel uneasy and the recent questionnaire has only served to increase this unease as it appears to be an initial design for potential blinkers. Years ago I encountered an yogic expression of how we should approach life: 'Everything is important but nothing matters. Nothing is important but everything matters'.
We don't know what is to come but we can develop so we be flexible enough to respond but are we in danger of losing sight of that and taking on board aspects of managerialism which have blighted so much of recent life?


Martin Kelley said...

Hi Peter: it sounds like maybe you're mixing the notions of gospel prophecy and the more common definition of a kind of fortune-telling prophecy.

My understanding is that the prophetic voice has little to do with predicting the future but instead is a kind of discourse. The Bible's prophets were those who warned the Jewish people that they were off course, had stopped listening to God and needed to reconnect and recommit. It's an unpopular kind of message and they tended to be unpopular, figures of derision more than respect. The modern prophetic voice is the same. It asks hard questions and redirects us to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

The managers have always been trying to take over the temple. Statistics, history and surveys can be important ways to understand ourselves and rethink our work but in the end we need to put them aside and ask God what He wants of us.
Martin @ Quaker Ranter

Peter Lawless said...

Dear Friend in considering your differences between the two notions I feel that are already prophetic voices within Friends about Friends but these have not been necessarily been heeded. As a consequence a number have resigned - a course of acton which I believe cannot have been easy. In this I refer not only to the universalist position which I can accept but the position as regards humanists and athiests. It feels as if those who question and speak out are regarded as 'stick-in-the-muds' or to use the managerial terminology 'resisters to change', - a position which regards all change as good (until the next one)but disregards the human aspect of it.
It seems that we are viewed as in danger of being seen as a liberal lefty social club but there is more to Friends than that surely? If these voices are not prophetic what are they? Are they prophets in their own land with the fate which that brings?
How can you tell a people that they have stopped listening to God when they are working from the assumption from the position that there is no God anyway? Buddhism is a route to Friends but there is no god in Buddhism. In Buddism we work towards an escape from re-birth even when considering the words of the last Buddha but in this case which way are we looking?

Thank you for your words Martin
In Friendship

Tmothy Travis said...

Oh, Oh!

Just going right to the hard questions, eh?

Where is that prophetic voice coming from, anyway?

How can one be seeking the will of God if one does not believe in It? Wrestle with that until your hip is out of joint.

There are all kinds of voices that we hear and just because they are spiritual doesn't mean they are from God/the divine/whatever. Mara/the Devil/Id screams at us every day, urgently.

The key is what I hear in the words of a contemporary prophet, that were written, as I heard the tale, before he was baptized in Pat Boone's swimming pool:

"I cannot think for you, you will have to decide,
Whether Judas Iscariot,
Had God on his side."

I used to think that if the voice was speaking to me about me then it was God, but if it spoke to me about others it was not. But that doesn't say much for Amos or Ezekiel, does it?

I heard a dharma talk once in which the speaker said that a thought bubbled up out of his psyche and I thought, "Ha! It did no such thing, it was the voice of God you heard." But in coming to that conclusion I almost missed the voice of God in his words that followed the attribution of them.

Whether someone "believes" in God or not it is my experience that "God" believes in all of us enough to speak through all of us, to each of us, at times.

What is the fruit of the words? Even if I am an atheist and deny that God speaks to or through me, where does my ministry take me or take others? (Don't have a ministry? Really? How many moles do you have on your back of which you are unaware?)

It's a religious society--not an ideological movement. Perhaps the "ism" on the end of Quaker misleads some of us most comfortable with Christian symbols into the kind of "Christianism" with which evil can do so much work.

It doesn't matter the package, I am thinking/knowing, so much as whether, under the ribbons and bows (or the dirt and grime), one finds that which the Christian tradition describes in Galatians 5:22.

Whether I/we am/are inclined at the moment to "work" to escape rebirth (polishing that mirror, are we?) or seeking everlasting life our "success" is described in that passage, our failure described in the passage above it. We live between two lists (whether we think they come from God or from our "reason and experience" as human beings)-- both speak to and through us. Turn down the one, said Mr. Penington, and turn up the other. OK, OK, he said to beat down the one...but "beating" is so violent and we are so...

In the words of that same contemporary prophet I quoted above

"Tie yourself to a tree with roots,
'cause you aint goin;' nowhere."


Gordon Ferguson said...

Peter, as I am constantly going on about prophesy on this blog, I should add my comments.

In a comment on Craig's "The Emperors Nose", I suggested a reading of 1 Corinthians 12-14, a favourite bit of the bible for me on 'Right Ordering' in Meetings/Churches (except for the misogynistic nonsense that Paul lets in). This talks about the importance of 'prophetic ministry'. Paul rightly does not say what it is, or we really will go down the wrong road that you mention of having 'a set of assumptions about what is, and what is not prophetic' - another example of Martin's 'managers' running the show.
BUT, Paul does tell us what the impact or outcome of prophecy is, and I quote again here: (1 Cor, 14:24,25:) "But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth."

What Martin said, really.

Almost all the ministry I come across in Meeting for Worship is 'rooted in the past, and growing, experience of Friends' - i.e. usually the life and witness of the person giving the ministry. This is vitally important, and edifying for us all (Ephesians 4.12): for the building up of our spiritual community.

I have suggested in 'Politics and Community' that Meeting for Sufferings has two important roles. The first is the supporting of the Quaker community (or local communities), and, in the local meeting, this is indeed what this type of ministry does.

But we, and those visiting us, also need 'conviction, conversion and commitment', not just once when we first start coming to Quaker meetings, but continuously, as the circumstances of our lives change, and as we realise how much more we need to plumb the depths of spiritual experience, and realise our own needs and potential.

I am convinced that just about any strand of ministry on a Sunday morning could be accompanied by a 'prophetic' understanding, which leads those in the meeting who need to hear to a deeper place of understanding and thence to the need for renewal in their lives, through this process of conviction, conversion and commitment.

However, we all (me too) like to stay in our comfort zone, so no one really like prophetic ministry. We like to think all the conviction we needed occurred in our younger days, and we are now settled in the Quaker way.

We have just studied William Penn on this, from '21st Century Penn' - from 'Primitive Christianity Revived (in the faith and practice of the people called Quakers)', Chapter 1, point 4. I commend this to all, and this truly excellent 'translation' by Paul Buckley of Penn's profound words. And here is what Penn has to say about what happens when we ignore this prophetic principle:

‘Indeed, the reason there is so little religion among those who call themselves Christians – so much superstition instead of devotion, so little enjoyment in practicing their faith, and so little real change in their hearts – is that people overlook and neglect this principle in their religious lives. They claim to be faithful without it, and to be Christians without it, but without it, they are neither.’

Penn goes on in the same vein, and a few words later, refers to a list similar to Galatians 5.22: ‘holy, humble, patient, meek, merciful, just, kind, and charitable’ - right on, Tmothy:

Penn lived in his times, and so equated religion with Christianity – today we can expand this to any religion or spirituality, or to any one or any group attempting to live lives of truth and integrity, whether they believe in God or not.

Likewise, but at a different level, our political witness in the world will be transformed by the addition of a 'prophetic' understanding that leads those with political power to a similar conviction of the need for them to change their ways - which we hope will lead on to conversion and then commitment to a politics that might actually work in the world we find ourselves in today.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Timothy as we know sometimes even that president of the United States has to stand naked while that masters make the rules for the wise men not the fools. At the moment while in the street Frank's dog is barking and this day is getting dark and my voice questions is this what eternity is about after a while I still have problems because of Fox's basic question 'What sayest thou?' on this issue.
Gordon perhaps I have to read Penn but does he really need translating? I will struggle further with this but I can't help feeling, in my heart, that there is something here in this statement which I feel is very problematic and that is the word 'prophetic'? As you say Paul does not define it but I don't care about his words so much as about my unease. We'll speak soon face to face and then t may help me undertad afer all we are spose to be humble learners are we not?
Peter Lawless