Spend any time around religious folk and you’re bound to hear the term “prophetic” now and again. Prophetic imperatives, prophetic leadership, these times call for prophetic voices,…yada, yada. Beyond religion, commentators are now calling presidential candidate Bernie Sanders prophetic and John Boehner is calling out the “false prophets” of his political party.

I’m grateful that I’ve had occasion recently to reconsider the true meaning of this term. At a workshop last month, the facilitator shared these words from prophecy expert Walter Brueggemann:

The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us…Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate despair so that new futures can be believed in and embraced by us.

This quote reminds me that prophecy is always a dual task. Prophets do not just call out brokenness, they call forth possibility. They don’t just deal in critique, but are also called to invoke alternatives. Brueggemann writes, “It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination.”

I fear we have atrophied the muscle for the dual task of prophecy, focusing almost exclusively on shortcomings and inadequacies. We have to re-member to exercise the other part of prophecy, reactivating our imaginations for what’s possible, not just what is.

More from Brueggemann:

The prophet engages in futuring fantasy. The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before the implementation.

These words bring to mind the clear, true prophets of Octavia’s Brood, those awe-inspiring speculative fiction folks who are futuring transformation.

Now that I’ve encountered this way of understanding prophets, I’m listening for them differently.

Who do you hear speaking of hope?
What are you prophesying?


image credit: top “kid with binoculars” by id iom
all Brueggemann quotes from The Prophetic Imagination