Sunday, 11 January 2015

“A prophet is not without honour....

....except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”

Okay, now I'm ticked. Again. For the same reason as always. 

Allow me to explain. I've long felt that if I have a spiritual gift, it's the gift of prophecy. Now before you phone me up for tips on lottery ticket numbers, I hasten to add that I'm not referring to the ability to foretell events. The future is as murky to me, in terms of specifics, as anyone else. 

No, I'm using another meaning of the term. Often the distinction is made between foretelling and forth-telling. I believe that I have abilities in the latter category. To me, a prophet as forth-teller draws upon the following:
  1. An independent, sophisticated understanding of principles and/or events. I wanted to include 'objective' understanding, but the truth is that no one is entirely objective. Knowingly or unknowingly, everyone has a worldview shaped by a host of factors, including upbringing, culture and subculture, education, experience, extent of exposure to a variety of points of view, deeply held beliefs, an inclination to conformity versus non-conformity, and so on. But to the extent that we recognize what these factors are, and how they influence the ways in which we regard ourselves and society, we can attempt to be objective as we consider the world around us. Given the fact that most people grow up immersed in a certain culture, rising above a worm's eye view of the world is a challenge.
  2.  The creativity to see how principles should affect behaviour and decisions if the person who claims to hold to these principles is attempting to be honest, unselfish, and consistent in so doing. 
  3. The ability to distinguish between the logical application of principles and the concomitant results, with what is actually going on. In other words, if a person or group who espouses certain principles routinely applies them in ways that are really a corruption of the intent of those principles, then the results will be nothing like what would be expected if the principles were used in an honest, logical way. A prophet can see this gulf clearly.
  4. Sufficient insight to see where a continuation of the wrong behaviour/decision-making is likely to lead if not altered. 
  5. The courage to draw this inappropriate, uninformed, or corrupt application of principles to the attention of the perpetrators, and to challenge them to mend their ways.
Watching the riveting television program The Book of Negroes last night on Mother Corps (The CBC) reminded me again of how biblical principles (including the equality of all people) based on God's love, mercy, justice, and grace were so corrupted by  professing Christians that blacks were treated in the barbaric way they were by believers who argued the merits of slavery with a clear conscience. It took God's prophets generations of marginalization, abuse, even death, to bring an end to its legal practice, first in the British Empire and later in the U.S. Of course, racism continues to this day despite those same biblical principles.

Moderate Muslims similarly assure us that the principles of Islam, properly understood and applied, do not allow for the horrific practices perpetrated by ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and the Taliban. Nevertheless, these latter groups routinely say that they are the true representatives of their Prophet. Thus we witnessed the recent (from our point of view, wholly cowardly and obscene) attack on the French publisher Charlie Hebdo, resulting in a dozen deaths. ISIS lauded the attackers for honouring God through this slaughter.

But let's look at something far less dramatic than slavery or terrorism. It's easy enough for most observers to see the wholesale violation of principles in these cases. But take something much closer to home. My wife hails from the Old Order Mennonite branch of Anabaptism. Had her father, Jacob, not had an encounter as a teenager with a traveling evangelist and joined an evangelical church, my wife might have looked much like the women depicted on the left, cooked on a wood stove, and ridden everywhere in a horse-drawn buggy. Mennonites of this heritage comprise a goodly percentage of the population of Waterloo County, Ontario.

I and a cousin of my wife's were comparing the descendents of these Mennonites, who arrived in Ontario from Switzerland and Germany by way of Pennsylvania, with another brand of Mennonites in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. These latter people came from the same theological stock but their journey was from Holland and Germany to Russia (at the invitation of Catherine the Great), and eventually to Canada, particularly to the prairie provinces and British Columbia. I mentioned to him that the Mennonites here in BC primarily vote for center-right conservative political parties. He was gobsmacked. "Here in Waterloo County we tend to vote for the (socialist) NDP because of their commitment to social justice."

Presumably these two companies of Mennonites are drawing upon the same biblical principles, their interpretation and application coloured by their Anabaptist heritage. Yet they end up at opposite ends of the political spectrum. [There is another group of Mennonites here in BC that don't vote at all.]

All of the above is to say that the clear-sighted ability to identify, interpret, and apply fundamental principles--including faith-related ones--is notoriously difficult, which is probably why we tend to fall back on whatever the prevailing culture believes, or on rigid rules that eliminate the need for discernment.The prophetic task is to call people who claim adherence to certain principles to eschew both of these approaches and to become principled decision-makers. It's very hard to get people to do this, and ends up being a rather unappreciated task.

This is not supposed to be a self-absorbed boohoo session. I'm drawn to this type of life while fully admitting to having a dozen blind spots of my own. But people tell me that I've opened their eyes in some cases.

But if you are actually still reading, you may be asking, "What is Sutherland on about? Why is he bringing up this matter at all, unless out of some sort of vanity? What does it have to do with the purpose of this blog, which purports to address so-called 'life' issues?"

Very fair observations. If you can manage one more post, I'll tell you why I'm ticked.