Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bishop Gene and Obama

I have to post this from + Gene Robinson's blog. It is an awesome commentary on the events of yesterday. Also, pick up the youtube of +Gene at

Wasn't yesterday amazing?! A new day -- for all of us. Here's what it was like from my perspective.

Mark and I arrived at St. John's Episcopal Church early in the morning. Waiting in the security line, I greeted Pastor Rick Warren, who couldn't have been more gracious. Once inside, we were seated in the fifth row, with a perfect view of the service participants, and eventually, the President-Elect himself. This is not a man who fakes a faith, but one who is clearly motivated by it.

Dr. T. D. Jakes gave a magnificent sermon, based on the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, being thrown into the fiery furnace. Some of his points, on which he elaborated brilliantly: "there is no light without heat"; the three Hebrew boys were saved because they stood up! it's time we ALL stood up for what is right and good; King Nebuchnezzar (sp?) turns the furnace up to seven times its normal heat, more than the furnace or its contents can bear -- pointing out the ways in which the economy, war, health care, etc. have deteriorated beyond what we can bear; and finally, when the King looks into the furnace to see the boys' destruction, instead, they are intact, and there is a FOURTH figure -- the Spirit of God which has seen them through and preserved them. You can imagine the rest. It was SO powerful.

I met some wonderful people. Sat next to the new Securities and Commodities appointee, who later introduced me to the new Treasury Secretary and his wife. Oprah was there (sitting BEHIND us, I might add!). Most of the cabinet. Other denominational leaders.

Then, we were bused to the Capitol. Mark and I split up, because I had been invited to sit on the Presidential Platform. Through several security checkpoints in the bowels of the Capitol. Al and Tipper Gore left their entourage specifically to greet me -- a real honor, given the magnificent contributions he's making to our common good. Then, we walked down the series of hallways/steps that the new president would walk down in a few minutes. I entered into the light of day and the Presidential Platform, just behind Newt Gingrich and Rick Warren. I told Pastor Warren that I would be praying for him. Again, he was most gracious.

Coming out onto the platform was overwhelming. Not only would I be mere feet away from Barack Obama when he took the oath of office, but the view from the platform of the millions of people on the Mall was awe inspiring. It was a solid mass of humanity for as far as the eye could see, all the way to the Washington Monument, and then all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, where this weekend's journey had begun for us. The air was electric, the joy palpable, and the momentousness of the occasion solemn. I was seated in the sixth row behind the president, beside Federico Pena (who was delightful), directly behind Gov. Warren Dean (chairman of the Democratic National Committee). General Colin Powell was also in the next row in front of me -- we greeted each other with the secret Episcopal handshake. In front of him was Aretha Franklin (you gotta love that hat, eh? it takes a substantial black woman to wear a hat like that!). Senator Judd Gregg (Republican from NH) came over to chat. I also spoke for a while with Senator Joe Lieberman. Pretty heady stuff for a Kentucky country boy, who grew up in poverty and never thought he'd live to SEE a real president, much less be invited to sit where I was invited to sit.

And then, as you all saw on TV, each of the principals entered. To see the military personnel salute their about-to-be Commander in Chief made me cry. As always, Obama seemed natural, calm, confident-but-not-cocky and present to the moment. I've said it before, but it was never more evident than yesterday -- I've never seen someone so comfortable in his own skin. And then the oath of office, the moment when America changed.

Leaving the swearing in, and still separated from Mark and Ella, I had some alone time to try to absorb what I had just been a witness to. It is still hard to find words to describe it. But you know what we were all feeling. Waking up this morning felt different somehow, didn't it?

After the parade, home for a nap. Then off to the lgbt ball at the Mayflower Hotel. When I walked in, Rufus Wainwright was dedicating a song to me. (He's one of my faves!) He was then joined for a couple of songs onstage by Cyndi Lauper. Then I was introduced to the crowd of several thousand. I got to introduce Mark and Ella to them, and say a few words. The crowd was overwhelming in their kind and generous response. Then I posed for pictures with, oh, six or seven hundred of them. Nearly exhausted, we left for the live Daily Show broadcast, with Jon Stewart.

It's always difficult to do such a show from a remote location. I can only hear what is going on in my earpiece, and am talking into a black camera screen. But it went well, I think. He started in with a joke (this IS Comedy Central, after all), and miraculously, I was able to respond with a joke in return. I don't think he was expecting it, and he nearly fell off his chair laughing. Later, after the show, he told me it was the best line of the show. Amazing praise from a brilliant comedian who is SO good at what he does.

The best part of that was, he had done a joke, and so had I, and then the rest of the interview was serious. I was moved that HE had seen the connection between the inauguration of an African-American and the hopes of the gay community, and asked if it had raised my hopes that one day, perhaps a gay or lesbian person might become president. He had read my thoughts -- and I suspect, the hopes of so many of us.

It is a new day in America, thanks be to God! I was overwhelmed all day by the sense that God is still alive and well and working overtime in our great nation, bringing about things that could have never even been dreamt of a few years ago. Join me in giving thanks to our great God for loving us as we are, and loving us too much to make us content with staying as we are.

I have been carrying all of you in my heart these few days. So often during this time, I have reflected on the many, many blessings that are mine. To serve the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire is a holy and awesome gift to me. To feel your love and support during these momentous days calmed my heart and brought me great joy.

In a day or two, once we "break into" Ella's camera, I will post on this blog a few pictures that you've just GOT to see. But thank you for traveling this path with me, and know that I give thanks to God for you every day.

Today, I return to New Hampshire, back to my "day job" which I love. Tonight, life resumes with the ordination of Madelyn Betz at St. Thomas, Hanover. Ordination of someone to the priesthood is one of the most awesome and wonderful tasks assigned to Bishops -- and I can't think of a better way to re-enter the "real world" of my life in the Diocese of New Hampshire. I look forward to seeing you soon!


Monday, January 19, 2009

Religious Leadership

Joan Chittister has come up with another wonderful story to define what leadership is. It is a story from the Hasidim:

“The Jews of a small town in Russia, the story recalls, were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the rabbi. Since this was such a rare event the townsfolk had spent a great deal of time preparing the important questions they were willing to put to such a holy man. When the rabbi finally arrived and met with them he could sense the tension in the assembly as they froze in place to listen to his words. But, sensing the situation, the rabbi said nothing at all. He simply gazed into their eyes and began to hum a very haunting melody. Soon everyone there began to hum. He started to sing and they sang along with him. He swayed and danced in solemn, measured steps. And the congregation swayed and danced as well. Soon they were all so involved in the dance, so absorbed in its movements that they were lost to everything else on earth, completely centered on that moment, and, at the same time, completely lifted up beyond it, as well.

It was nearly an hour before the dance slowed down and came to a halt. Then the rabbi spoke the only words he pronounced that entire night. “I trust,” he said, “that I have answered your questions?” And then he disappeared into the dark, not to be seen in that place again for years. But it was all right that he was gone because those people had learned that there was a great dance in life that they could dance themselves.”

Most clergy are not given much education in what it means to lead. Part of it is because leadership is not a quality that can be studied and learned in an academic way. Religious leadership is even more difficult to learn because the line between religious leadership and demagoguery is so fine. It is so easy in the pastor/parishioner relationship to end up being parent, especially when we call our clergy “Father” or “Mother”. It is title I have always been uncomfortable with because it has so often fostered parent-child transactions between rector/pastor and the laity.

When I was newly ordained, I though it was incumbent upon me to set the rules for the community. I was too blinded by my newly-confirmed authority to see that the congregation already had some order already in place. There is also a temptation to think that a parish needs to start at ‘square one’ with each new pastor. Good leadership is to take what is working well and use it even if it is not familiar and to give attention to the areas that are not working well.

After a life-time in religion, I am willing to recognize that I have very little to teach my parishioners about God. They already know God and God makes God’s-self known. Most of the time they want to know how to dance, how to use their experience of God in their daily lives so that their faith can serve the transformation that Christ is calling them to. The rub comes when clergy have lost touch with the dance themselves—when the ministry has become a job rather than a gift from God. I have met many clerics who have tried to pattern their ministry after the jobs of their congregants because it is so hard to define what they do. We make contracts to appease ourselves, our judicatories and our parishioners. But it doesn’t say anything about the dance.

The emerging Church that is coming into being at present is going to provide the world with new ways of relating to God and society. There will always be a need for a type of clergy. There will always be people needed to invite others to the dance with God. How that Church is going to be configured, I don’t know. Hopefully it will not be rule makers which forces faith into the observance of law rather than living in a spirit of gratitude and joy. But the dance will continue. Sometimes it will look like STOMP, sometimes it will be Bolshoi, and sometimes it will be a mere shuffle. But the life of God-with-us can only be lived out when we are willing to be free enough to dance.

"A Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama"
By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


Thanks, Gene. Too bad that it was cut from the the tv coverage. But your presence speaks louder than tv coverage.

Monday, January 12, 2009


The TED prize is an award of $100,000 given to three people who wish to change the world for the better. In 2008, one of the recipients was Karen Armstrong, one of the writers and speakers I attend to in my attempts to live out my faith in God. Her works have not only given me a better understanding of other faiths, it has widened my relationship with the God who gives meaning to my life.

Her beginnings in Roman Catholic religious life mirror my own. Her autobiography, The Spiral Staircase, provided me with some insight in my own pilgrimage of faith. But it has been her dogged academic research that makes me pay attention to her work. This acceptance speech brings to light understandings of words that most of us take for granted. Her unpacking of the word BELIEF helps me to understand how we have become in our own day so distracted from the real meaning of faith. It confirms for me what it means to preach and teach the love Christ came to exemplify in his life because I cannot teach doctrines any longer. I cannot uphold confessions or creeds that cannot spell our our compassion that we must hold for one another.

Do I repeat the Creed in worship? Of course. It is one of the historical elements of what it means to love God. I stand in the line of Western Christianity and upon the shoulders of those who have witnessed to the ancient creeds. Do I 'believe' the creeds? Yes, but in ways that have evolved over two thousand years of Christian history. But for me, 'belief' has to do with the relationship I have with the God who loves me more than life. And it is in that relationship that I have meaning and God has meaning. This speech is one of the pieces of theological development that helps me to articulate the faith of a God who is personal as well all-encompassing. I hope others find it as inspiring.

Well this is such an honor. And it's wonderful to be in the presence of an organization that is really making a difference in the world. And I'm intensely grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today. And I'm also rather surprised, because when I look back on my life, the last thing I ever wanted to do was to write or be in any way involved about religion. After I left my convent I'd finished with religion, frankly. I thought that was it. And for thirteen years I kept clear of it. I wanted to be an English literature professor. And I suddenly didn't even want to be a writer, particularly. But then I suffered a series of career catastrophes, one after the other, and finally found myself in television. I said that to Bill Moyers and he said, "Oh, we take anybody."

And I was doing some rather controversial religious programs. This went down very well in the UK, where religion is extremely unpopular. And so, for once, for the only time in my life, I was finally in the mainstream. But I got sent to Jerusalem to make a film about early Christianity, and there, for the first time, I encountered the other religious traditions, Judaism and Islam, the sister religions of Christianity. And while I found I knew nothing about these faiths at all despite my own intensely religious background, I'd seen Judaism only as a kind of prelude to Christianity and I knew nothing about Islam at all. But in that city, in that tortured city, where you see the three faiths jostling so uneasily together, you also become aware of the profound connection between them. And it has been the study of other religious traditions that brought me back to a sense of what religion can be, and actually enable me to take a look at my own faith in a different light.

I found some astonishing things in the course of my study that had never occurred to me. Frankly, in the days that when I thought I'd had it with religion, I just found the whole thing absolutely incredible. These doctrines seemed unproven, abstract, and, to my astonishment, when I began seriously studying other traditions, I began to realize that belief, which we make such a fuss about today, is only a very recent religious enthusiasm. It surfaced only in the West, in about the 17th century. The word "belief" itself originally meant to love, to prize, to hold dear. In the 17th century it narrowed its focus, for reasons that I'm exploring in a book I'm writing at the moment, to include -- to mean an intellectual ascent to a set of propositions -- a credo. I believe did not mean "I accept certain creedal articles of faith." It meant, "I commit myself. I engage myself." Indeed, some of the world traditions think very little of religious orthodoxy. In the Qur'an, religious opinion -- religious orthodoxy -- is dismissed as zanna -- self-indulgent guesswork about matters that nobody can be certain of one way or the other but which makes people quarrelsome and stupidly sectarian.

So, if religion is not about believing things, what is it about? What I've found is that, across the board, religion is about behaving differently. Instead of deciding whether or not you believe in God, first you do something, you behave in a committed way, and then you begin to understand the truths of religion. And religious doctrines are meant to be summons to action: you only understand them when you put them into practice.

Now, pride of place in this practice is given to compassion. And it is an arresting fact that right across the board, in every single one of the major world faiths, compassion -- the ability to feel with the other, and the way we've been thinking about this evening -- is not only the test of any true religiosity, it is also what will bring us into the presence of what Jews, Christians and Muslims call "God" or the "Divine." It is compassion, says the Buddha, which brings you to Nirvana. Why? Because in compassion, when we feel with the other, we dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and we put another person there. And once we get rid of ego, then we're ready to see the Divine. And, in particular, every single one of the major traditions has highlighted -- has said -- has put at the core of their tradition -- what's become known as the Golden Rule. First propounded by Confucius five centuries before Christ, "Do not do unto others what you would not like them to do to you." That, he said, was the central thread that ran through all his teaching and that his disciples should put into practice all day and every day. And it was the Golden Rule would bring them to the transcendent value that he called rén, human-heartedness, which was a transcendent experience in itself.

And this is absolutely crucial to the monotheisms, too. There's a famous story about the great rabbi Hillel, the contemporary of Jesus. A pagan came to him and offered to convert to Judaism if the rabbi could recite the whole of Jewish teaching while he stood on one leg. Hillel stood on one leg and said, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor -- that is the Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and study it."

And "Go and study it" is what he meant. He said, in your exegesis, you must make it clear that every single verse of the Torah is a commentary, a gloss upon the Golden Rule. The great Rabbi Meir said that any interpretation of scripture which led to hatred and disdain or contempt of other people -- any people whatsoever -- was illegitimate. Saint Augustine made exactly the same point. "Scripture," he says, "teaches nothing but charity, and we must not leave an interpretation of scripture until we have found a compassionate interpretation of it." And this struggle to find compassion in some of these rather rebarbative texts is a good dress rehearsal for doing the same in ordinary life.

But now look at our world. And we are living in a world that is -- where religion has been hijacked. Where terrorists cite Qur'anic verses to justify their atrocities. Where instead of taking Jesus' words, "Love your enemies, don't judge others," we have the spectacle of Christians endlessly judging other people, endlessly using scripture as a way of arguing with other people, as a way of putting other people down. Throughout the ages, religion has been used to oppress others, and this is because of human ego, human greed. We have a talent as a species for messing up wonderful things.

So, the traditions also insisted -- and this is an important point, I think -- that you could not and must not confine your compassion to your own group, your own nation, your own co-religionists, your own fellow countrymen. You know, you must have what one of the Chinese sages called rén ài, concern for everybody. Love your enemies. Honor the stranger. We formed you, says the Qur'an, into tribes and nations so that you may know one another. And this, again -- this universal outreach -- is getting subdued in the strident use of religion -- abuse of religion -- for nefarious gains. Now, I've lost count of the number of taxi drivers who, when I say to them what I do for a living, inform me that religion has been the cause of all the major wars in world history. Wrong. The cause of our present woes are political. But, make no mistake about it, religion is a kind of fault line, and when a conflict gets ingrained in a region, religion can get sucked in and become part of the problem. Our modernity has been exceedingly violent. Between 1914 and 1945, 70 million people died in Europe alone as a result of armed conflict. And so many of our institutions -- even football, which used to be a pleasant pastime -- now causes riots where people even die. And it's not surprising that religion, too, has been affected by this violent ethos.

There's also a great deal, I think, of religious illiteracy around. People seem to think -- now equate religious faith with believing things. As though that -- we call religious people often "believers," as though that were the main thing that they do. And very often, secondary goals get pushed into the first place in place of compassion -- the Golden Rule. Because the Golden Rule is difficult. I -- sometimes, when I'm speaking to congregations about compassion, I sometimes see a mutinous expression crossing some of their faces because religion -- a lot of religious people prefer to be right, rather than compassionate.

Now -- but that's not the whole story. Since September the 11th, when my work on Islam suddenly propelled me into public life in a way that I'd never imagined, I've been able to sort of go all over the world -- and finding, everywhere I go, a yearning for change. I've just come back from Pakistan, where literally thousands of people came to my lectures because they were yearning, first of all, to hear a friendly Western voice. And especially the young people were coming, and were asking me -- the young people were saying, "What can we do? What can we do to change things?" And my hosts in Pakistan said, "Look, don't be too polite to us. Tell us where we're going wrong. Let's talk together about where religion is failing." Because it seems to me that with our current situation is so serious at the moment that any ideology that doesn't promote a sense of global understanding and global appreciation of each other is failing the test of the time. And religion, with its wide following here in the United States -- people may be being religious here in different way, as a report has just shown -- but they still want to be religious. It's only Western Europe that has retained its secularism, which is now beginning to look rather endearingly old-fashioned.

But people want to be religious and religion should be made to be a force for harmony in the world, which it can and should be -- because of the Golden Rule, "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do to you": an ethos that should now be applied globally. We should not treat other nations as we would not wish to be treated ourselves. And these -- whatever our wretched beliefs -- is a religious matter, is a spiritual matter. It's a profound moral matter that engages -- and should engage us all. And as I say, there is a hunger for change out there. Here in the United States, I think you see it in this election campaign: a longing for change. And people in churches all over -- and mosques all over this continent after September 11th, coming together locally to create networks of understanding. With the mosques, with the synagogue, saying, "We must start to speak to one another." I think it's time we moved beyond the idea of toleration and move toward appreciation of the other.

I'd -- there's one story I'd just like to mention, and this comes from the Iliad. But it tells you what this spirituality should be. You know the story of the Iliad, the ten-year war between Greece and Troy. In one incident, Achilles, the great warrior of Greece, takes his troops out of the war, and the whole war effort suffers, and in the course of the ensuing muddle, his beloved friend is killed -- and killed in single combat by one of the Trojan princes, Hector. And Achilles goes mad with grief and rage and revenge, and he mutilates the body -- he kills Hector, and he mutilates his body and then he refuses to give the body back for burial to the family, which means that, in Greek ethos, Hector's soul will wander eternally, lost. And then one night, Priam, king of Troy, an old man, comes into the Greek camp, incognito, makes his way to Achilles' tent to ask for the body of his son. And everybody is shocked when the old man takes off his head covering, shows himself. And Achilles looks at him and thinks of his father. And he starts to weep. And Priam looks at the man who has murdered so many of his sons, and he too starts to weep. And the sound of their weeping filled the house. The Greeks believed that weeping together created a bond between people. And then Achilles takes the body of Hector, he hands it tenderly to the father, and the two men look at each other, and see each other as divine. That is the ethos found too in all the religions: it's what is meant by overcoming the horror that we feel when we are under threat of our enemies -- beginning to appreciate the other.

It's of great importance that the word for "holy" in Hebrew, applied to God, is kadosh, separate, other. And it is often, perhaps, the otherness of our enemies that can give us intimations of that utterly mysterious transcendence which is God. And now, here's my wish:

I wish that you would help with the creation, launch, and propagation of a Charter for Compassion -- crafted by a group of inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and based on the fundamental principle of the Golden Rule. We need to create a movement among all these people that I meet in my travels, that you probably meet too, who want to join up, in some way, and reclaim their faith, which they feel, as I say, has been hijacked. We need to empower people to remember the compassionate ethos, and to give guidelines. This Charter would not be a massive document. I'd like to see it -- to give guidelines as to how to interpret the scriptures, these texts that are being abused. Remember what the rabbis, and what Augustine said about how scripture should be governed by the principle of charity. Let's get back to that, and the idea, too, of Jews, Christians and Muslims, these traditions now so often at loggerheads, working together to create a document which we hope will be signed by a thousand, at least, of major religious leaders from all the traditions of the world. And you are the people. I'm just a solitary scholar. Despite the idea that I love a good time, which I was rather amazed to see coming up on the -- I actually spend a great deal of time alone, studying, and I'm not very -- you're the people with the media knowledge to explain to me how we can get this to everybody.

I've had some preliminary talks, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for example, is very happy to give his name to this, as is Imam Faisal Rauf, the Imam in New York City. Also, I would be working with the Alliance of Civilizations at the United Nations. I was part of that United Nations initiative called the Alliance of Civilizations, which was asked by Kofi Annan to diagnose the causes of extremism and to give practical guidelines to member states about how to avoid the escalation of further extremism. And the Alliance has told me they are very happy to work with it. The importance of this is -- that this is -- I can see some of you starting to look worried because you think it's a slow and cumbersome body, but what the United Nations can do is give us some neutrality, so that this isn't seen as a Western or a Christian initiative, but that it's coming, as it were, from the United Nations, from the world -- who would help with the sort of bureaucracy of this.

And so I do urge you to join me in making -- in this Charter. To building this Charter, launching it, and propagating it so that it becomes -- I'd like to see it in every college, every church, every mosque, every synagogue in the world, so that people can look at their tradition, reclaim it, and make religion a source of peace in the world, which it can and should be. Thank you very much.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Prophecy is Not a Luxury

What this world needs most right now is a new generation of prophets. The problem is that we have lost all respect for them. In fact, we may not even recognize them when we see them.

Yet, it was precisely for times such as ours that God sent the prophets. It is surely time for this generation to rediscover them.

We aren’t, after all, the only people who have gone through such social disorientation, such moral confusion. We aren’t the only people in history who have put down our ideals in favor of our desires. We aren’t the only people in the world who have wanted more comfort than challenge, more money than community, more power than equality.

The word “prophet” rings with a hard edge these days, a memory of denunciation that comes with a shudder and the urge to take a step backwards. We shrink from the very idea of the prophetic dimension of religion or, at best, relegate the idea of it to times past when God bent stiff necks with mighty swords. We shrink from the very thought of raising our voices above the crowd. We want a religion that chants but never howls, that prays but never brings the foolish standards of the Gospel to the issues of the time.

What a shame. All we prove in our sterile dash to be “polite” and “civil” and “reasonable” about faith is how little we know of prophets and prophecy these days. How little we understand the role of gospel critique in a world where people expect to talk religion but not to do it, who will define religion but do not want to steer by it, who will argue religion but do not want to apply it to the here and now, to the this and that, to modern life as well as to ancient myth. Prophecy we assume for times of mystical allegory but not for moments of major upheaval in our own worlds, great and small, public and personal.

We like to separate the prophets of the church from the people of the church. We like to separate ourselves from the demands of greatness. But the prophetic dimensions of the church, Scripture demonstrates in its greatest prophetic figures of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, and Ezekiel, are simple souls just like us: ordinary citizens, compassionate lovers, justice-seeking and persistent idealists who move with courage into places that everyone else takes for granted, and speak God’s word in the midst of human chaos loudly, clearly, courageously, whatever the levy it imposes on their own lives. Prophecy, in other words, is not a luxury; it is an essential dimension of the Christian life. We will not be forgiven our disdain of holy risk in the name of weakness.
–from the Introduction to The Cry of the Prophet: A Call to Fullness of Life by Joan Chittister

Comments: Joan Chittister is one of my heroes. She speaks truth to power better than anyone I know. She is the Catherine of Sienna of her day. I doubt if the Vatican can hear Sr. Joan’s call to return from their present “Babylonian captivity” but that is what prophets are for. God sets the standard; prophets remind us of how far we are off the mark.