By Bill Mefford
The prophet Jeremiah was not a man with a cheery message. Jeremiah promised Israel an impending disaster in part for their mistreatment of the poor and lack of authentic devotion to God (the two of these usually went together). The chief priest at the time, Pashur, did not take kindly to Jeremiah or his message and immediately had him imprisoned. While I remember staying up at night some times when I heard someone say something unkind about one of my sermons when I was pastoring churches, Jeremiah was imprisoned.
Credit Jeremiah for being either stupid or bold, upon his release Jeremiah doubled down on his call for Israel to repent and he predicted the coming Babylonian captivity. Thus begins the tension between Jeremiah and Pashur that runs throughout this book. Pashur was one of many palace priests, so named for where not only they are housed, but also for where their allegiance is, who were fed up with the doom and gloom message of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah is a challenging book for me to read so I rarely read it. Jeremiah is unstinting in his critique. He is boldly and unequivocally committed to proclaiming God's truth no matter how harsh it is and no matter the consequences for himself. And if there was ever a prophet who was a total downer it was Jeremiah. There is a reason why Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet as many believe he dealt with some form of depression.
Reading from the prophets such as Jeremiah it is easy to see how popularity and prophecy are worlds apart. Yet, I find being prophetic to be increasingly seen as cool. Rail against corporate greed all the while sipping on a five dollar latte before you run to the nearest tattoo shop to add another one to your collection.
Even more, having spent most of my life working in various levels and positions in a denominational church I have far too often seen local or national bodies supposedly charged with being the prophetic arm of the church spend the majority of their time trying to figure out how to sound prophetic without being offensive. In other words, they wanted to sound prophetically cool without focusing first on being authentically or actually prophetic.
Seriously, I have lost so many hours of my life being instructed by groups and "leaders" to word-smith statements in an effort to find words or phrases that would cue certain reactions from fellow Christian liberals that would also not arouse the rage of the conservative right. And we so we usually ended up sounding exactly like what we were: canned empty phrases adding to the sound and fury but signifying and symbolizing nothing. We mobilized no one to do anything and we reaped exactly what we sewed: cool websites, slick graphics with lots of Facebook and Twitter likes for our heavily word-smithed, non-offensive statements, but no actual change. Injustice continued largely unabated, but at least we had some cool headshots!
There seems to be a growing a prophecy industry and way too many of us have bought into it.
The prophecy industry seems to aim at being cool and young. Now, there is nothing wrong being actually being cool or young (both of which have long escaped me I am afraid), but there is something wrong with being fake and that is the one thing that the prophetic industry cannot adequately manufacture.
And getting out of the prophecy industry is hard. I still struggle with how cool or slick I can be before I have lost my soul and I end up becoming Pashur or one of his palace priests; a heart committed to God outwardly, but one actually committed to promotion of the self. And I definitely continue to struggle with weeping Jeremiah and his never-ending obsession with being the biggest downer of a human being in history. No one likes being around people like that, but I still opt for Jeremiah over Pashur because Jeremiah was true.
I would hate to think we have to choose between being cool and being authentic and perhaps we don't. But I literally cringe when something unjust happens and all of the "social justice" organizations whip out their statements and begin to hit us up with their petitions or statements for us to sign (which are only intended to build their email lists), because I cannot help but feel that I am being played; that someone's bullshit agenda is taking center stage at the expense of real harm and suffering that real people are experiencing and all of the "social justice" organizations are as far away from the actual harm and suffering as the ones who caused it.
I just want to be a part of something that ends the harm and suffering. It doesn't have to be cool or hip. It doesn't have to be slick and they sure as hell do not have to have the coolest headshots.
I just want to be part of something real and something that effectively stops unnecessary suffering and injustice. If you call that prophetic then I am all in. If you con't call it prophetic I am still all in.
That's why, in the end, I love Jeremiah. And that is why I cling to what Jeremiah says to Pashur after being locked up:
Lord you have enticed me and I was enticed; you have overpowered me and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak I must cry out. I must shout, 'Violence and destruction!'
For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, 'I must not mention him or speak anymore in his name,' then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary from holding it in, and I cannot. (Jeremiah 20:7-9)
I pray we let the fire burn fully, and not hold it in any longer.