This is the second part of a post that I began a few days ago. In the last post, I told the story of my moment of faith/obedience in the desert of Iraq in 2009, and ended with my vision and specific call in my living room.
It took me a few days to complete this post. I was pretty close to deleting the first post, and scrapping this idea completely. A big part of the reason is the sheer hubris of declaring yourself a prophet, especially in today’s world. It’s the sort of thing a hyper-religious fanatic might say, and it doesn’t feel or sound right coming from the mouth of a guy who has yearly experiences of atheism.
But, after thinking about it for a few days, I realized that all of my concerns were kind of reasons supporting the blog post. Yeah, it’s ballsy to call yourself a prophet – that’s kind of the point. Prophets, historically, don’t rise up in times of peace and prosperity. They exist for times of conflict, injustice, oppression, apostasy – apocalyptic times. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and apocalyptic times call for apocalyptic people: people willing and ready to call for complete and total undoing and change.
And, it might sound like hyper-religiosity and fanaticism, but let’s be honest: I’ve already demonstrated both on the blog. My religiosity might look a little different than the Fundamentalist Christian, but there should be no doubt that I am absolutely in love with the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. And, I’ll take the charges of fanaticism that go along with that love, that commitment. I am absolutely fanatical about non-vi0lence, justice, freedom from fear, and freedom from sin.
And, I don’t have any delusions of grandeur. After the vision and spiritual experience that I described in my last post, I was utterly convinced that I had finally had my long-awaited complete psychotic break. But, other than the fact that I was having religious visions, I didn’t show any signs of psychosis (that’s a huge qualifier to anyone who isn’t religious.) So, once I was at least relatively sure that I still had a grip on reality, I decided to research what it might mean to be a prophet.
I turned to Google, which is like the Bible for Millenials. And, I found a great deal of stuff to read, most of which was from – you guessed it – my old stomping grounds, the Charismatic movement.
First, “Prophet” is not a title, it’s a specific office within the church. You don’t get to be Prophet So-and-So, unless you’re part of the LDS Church. So, as much as I’d enjoy being “Prophet Michael”, I’m going to have to stick with “Mike”.
Prophets don’t have an easy time of it. It was stressed, in every description that I read, that the office of prophet was typically reserved for those whose lives have been a veritable sh*tstorm of adversity. The reason should be obvious: as the most contentious of the five ministries, a prophet is going to face a lot of adversity after their Calling. The adversity before is just a preparation for the adversity after.
(Authorial note: At this point, it would be easy for a lot of skeptical people to throw their hands up in the air and say, “Well, of course you want to be a prophet. It’s the best way to explain how difficult your life has been, to give meaning to otherwise meaningless pain.” I’m not going to debate that point, because you’re absolutely right. It does bring meaning to pain that had, up to that point, seemed meaningless. I’ll counter that a lot of people, regardless of religious belief, find ways to make their pain meaningful – we just have a specific justification in our belief system.)
Prophets don’t have the option of being silent. Man, this one sucks. As much as I love to talk and give opinions, there are some things that I just don’t want to get into. I don’t really want to get into arguments about guns. While I feel strongly about racism, I’d rather avoid the topic, because I have family and friends who think that the whole thing is a sham. There are actually loads of topics that I’d like to avoid. But… I’m not given a choice. The office, the Call, demands my voice. Now, there are definitely some things that I just don’t talk about. I’ve come to believe that prophets get called to speak to very specific issues, or to very specific groups of people. For me, that issue is violence, and any issues relating to violence. Unfortunately, that one issue covers a great deal of other issues, as violence isn’t confined to the physical. So, something happens that touches that issue, I can’t be silent. My Call, my office, compels me to speak or write. To not speak or write would be to deny and repudiate what God has called me to do. I can’t do that.
Prophets wrestle with God. This point, when I read it, brought about some vigorous head nodding. I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t wrestling with God. I’ve always had this strong desire, almost a compulsion, to believe… but, I’ve always had trouble with the details of believing. I jokingly spoke about my yearly atheism experience. It really does seem like, every year, I reach a point where I’m not even sure if I can believe in God. This is normally due to an event that is so earth-shattering in its awfulness that I can’t just shake it off. I have to shake my fist at Heaven and shout, “Where are you?!”
I’ve always been ashamed of these times, but I’ve come to realize that they are really vital times in a prophet’s life. Accepting the Call to prophetic office means accepting a tremendous burden: to carry the weight of the world’s dysfunction on your shoulders. You’ve got to feel it to speak it. And, carrying that much weight is going to lead you to question the purpose of it, and question the One that you think put that weight on you in the first place. It’s going to eventually make you wonder why you couldn’t have gotten the Call to be a pastor, or a teacher, or an evangelist, why you have to do the ministry equivalent of cleaning the bathrooms with a toothbrush. Pretty soon, you just drop the load and tackle The Man. You wrestle around, The Man leaves you with some bruises, you catch your breath… and you pick the load back up again.
That last part is what keeps me encouraged when I feel ashamed. You pick the load back up again. I might experience these times in my spiritual life where I Can’t Even… but, if it weren’t for social media, no one would know that I was in those times. I just go MIA for a month or two to have my Cage Match with the Almighty. Then, I get right back to it. Every freaking time.
Prophets are without honor in their homes. That’s kind of a direct rip-off from Jesus, who said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his home.” Thankfully, this doesn’t include my actual home, as in the house that I live in. My wife shows me pretty great honor. (In fact, she made coffee for me this morning, thus enabling me to Even.) My second son has a hard time showing me honor, but that’s because he’s 5.
But, sometimes the honor escapes me in other arenas that are close to home. I have a few “home towns” in this modern and hyper-connected age: I have the “home town” of the veteran community, the “home town” of the Interwebz, the “home town” of my church… lots of places to live without honor. It’s not a hard and fast rule: there are several people in all of these “home towns” that do me plenty of honor, at least on a personal level. But, that doesn’t mean that they want to hear what I have to say. That doesn’t mean that they won’t mock what I believe, even if it’s not “to my face”.
This just comes with the territory . You go outside your sphere, people will love what you have to say. But, inside the bubble that you’ve always lived, they just want you to be the guy that they remember you being. They want you to stay in your place. “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” Trying to speak a stern message to people in your “home town” will bring about that kind of talk. “Who the hell does this guy think he is? I remember him as a wild kid, an arrogant teenager, etc, etc.” If you’re looking to make your family and friends proud, go be a pastor. (That’s not a dig on pastors, BTW.) The office of prophet is reserved for those who can stand being thought of as an idiot.
You work amongst the people, but you live in the wilderness. This was the inspiration for the title, “Called Out Of, Called Into.” I was called out of the wilderness of a combat zone (a literal desert), and called into a different wilderness. I’m a man who prefers solitude, who is called to speak to multitudes. (Thank God for the Internet, where you can speak to multitudes while in solitude.)
But, I have been given opportunities to exercise my office “incognito”. This could be a point all its own, but prophets won’t have a lot of luck being professional clergy. So, if you want to work in the church, you’re going to have to take on roles that are not your “specialization.” That doesn’t mean that you can’t still work within your Call. This prophet is a youth pastor, and on most Sunday evenings, I take the opportunity to exercise my Call in a public setting.
Any exercise of the office is exhausting for me, but especially public exercise. So, I often wander back into the wilderness of my own home, my personal cave. I’m married to the bird that feeds me… alright, this metaphor just got exhausted. The point is, I have to let God minister to my spirit. I have to allow myself time to recharge. This is true of any minister, no matter the office. But, the stories of prophets in the Bible almost always include times of reflection and rest. Jesus Himself had to go away from the crowds, even sailing out into the middle of a sea, just to recharge His batteries. If the Son of God needs it, then I definitely need it. And, I probably need longer or more frequent periods than Him.
This is tough in a hyper-scheduled culture, because we’re always expected to be doing something. Another area in which I’m fortunate is my financial situation: I’m a medically retired, disabled Army veteran. So, I can devote my time to mission and ministry. But, for people who don’t have the luxury of being me, it can be crushing. You’re at work, you’re with the family, you’re taking care of the house. When do you have time to recharge? I don’t have the answer to that. I just know that it’s absolutely necessary for anyone who has accepted the Call. Live in the wilderness, work among the people.
That’s the story of my Call, and my thoughts on what it all means. If I’m any kind of an expert, it’s only by moderate experience.
I don’t regret my acceptance of this office. I might call myself “The Unlikely Evangelist”, but it’s more accurate to call myself “The Penitent Prophet.” If anything, this weighty office has made an arrogant, wild kid into a humble, introspective man. I used to think that I was the sh*t; now I struggle with thinking that I am sh*t.
I used to think that it was all about me. Now, I’m constantly reminded that it is about everyone except me. I’m a messenger, but the message isn’t mine. And, other people can give it – are giving it – if I decide to go False Prophet/Cult Leader.
I used to think that people should listen to me, no matter if I was right or wrong. Now, I pray that people won’t listen to me if I’m wrong, that any incorrect statements or messages will fall on deaf ears. I feel privileged and responsible at the same time. If I’m charged with bring God’s Word boldly to people, it’s going to be bad for me if I bring it the wrong way.
But, ultimately, you’ve got to take the chance. While I worry constantly that the way I interpret the message is wrong, I can’t allow it to paralyze me into inaction or silence. That’s part of the office: accepting the consequences of getting it wrong.
Alright, I’m going back to my cave. I’ll see you all in a week or so.