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How long must they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look? – Redemption Song Bob Marley 1976
And the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls – Sound of Silence Simon & Garfunkel 1964
“You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing”. - Jesus Christ Luke 13:34
Earthquakes and shifting tectonic plates are a formational fact of life in Aotearoa New Zealand, causing structural damage, heartbreak and testing times. Christchurch is still in recovery.
The political, sociological tectonic plates have been shifting in equally dramatic and anxiety provoking ways - with Brexit, Trump, the rise of the Far Right and Climate change.
From these significant landscape convulsions, cracks have opened, and out of the bowels has spewed a liquefaction of fear, prejudice and scapegoating. The big question is where will all this take us? I’ve been alive a fair while now but I’m not sure I’ve witnessed the world feeling quite so twitchy, polarised and angry for a long time.
Music has a tradition of singing poetically and prophetically into the ‘zeitgeist’ – the spirit of the age, with singing minstrels asking us to ‘imagine all the people sharing all the world”. Painting pictures in word and song, of how we can play the human symphony more beautifully than we do right now.
Prophets are vital because they unmask the cultural illusions and delusions of the age. They point us to a better reality of what it means to be human. Prophetic voices cry out in the wilderness, to remind the world of ‘where and how’ it’s lost its way, and the call for all that is ‘just and right’.
Back in the early 1960’s, we saw one of the most inspiring examples of the musical prophetic voice, captured in one of the greatest songs of all time, astonishingly written by a young man of just 21 years of age.
It’s a song that asked the questions we’re still asking today.
How many roads? How many deaths? How many times? How many years before we know?
I’ve always loved the work of Bob Dylan, but in his song ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, there’s a raw ‘psalm like’ simplicity that became a clarion call in the midst of tumultuous times. Inspired by the non-violent resistance teachings of Jesus Christ, and with immense courage and wisdom, Martin Luther King Jnr was attempting to lead the American people into a new way of seeing and being. The core issue at stake, was basic human rights for black people.
How long must they kill our prophets? sang Bob Marley and it’s a pertinent question.
A quick look at the bible, and it’s clear that being a prophet is not exactly a career move.
As Jesus said to the religious authorities, “you’ve killed all the prophets’ - and of course the next prophet they killed was Jesus, for daring to say such truthful things about the treatment of prophets. Jesus wasn’t killed because he was a nice man going around saying 'peace and love brother'. He was silenced because he challenged and confronted the systems of exploitation and domination. He dared to call it for what it was. Like the Old Testament Prophets, Jesus courageously called out for an alternative world of compassion, justice and peace, undeterred by the threats and resistance
Maybe this explains why, despite the perilous and urgent times we live in, there’s a puzzling spirit of inertia in the hearts of so many. Like the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights, as the speeding vehicle of catastrophe hurtles toward us, we appear paralyzed by the complexity of the challenge. For me as a flawed but hopeful follower of Christ, I feel the urgency of the need for the Church to turn up the volume of its own prophetic voice.
There are many good souls in churches all around the world, quietly and faithfully living out the gospel song of mercy and compassion. Taking the sad songs and trying to make them better in communities that are hurting and broken. But sadly, the media will always gleefully play the song belonging to the shrill, discordant, life-denying voices of the self-righteous.
Who are the prophetic voices today in any arena of life?
As I posed that question to myself, it was interesting to note, that the first two that came to mind was two young women.
Firstly, the gutsy Swedish Greta Thornburg, who at age fifteen began protesting outside the Swedish parliament, about the need for immediate action to combat climate change. She has since inspired millions of young people to turn up the volume on Government apathy and vested self-interest.
A few years previous in 2012, Pakistani Malala Yousafzai incurred the cowardly wrath of the Taliban in the form of a bullet to her head, for daring to vocalise that education for young girls is a good thing. After recovering in my hometown of Birmingham, she did what the prophets always do, inspire many others to speak out for truth. At aged seventeen, she became the youngest Nobel Prize laureate and is still at the prophetic forefront in her work as an activist for female education through the Malala Fund’s Gulmakai Network.
The possibility of God moving in surprising people and surprising ways to bring transformation and restoration, has always intrigued and excited me.
‘The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”* said Jesus Christ. “The answer my friend is blowing in the wind”, sang Bob Dylan.
As a musician and songwriter, my plea and prayer is for anyone involved in the Creative Arts to be a louder prophetic voice in the world. To sing the kingdom justice song of transformation:
The captives are set free - The hungry are fed - The broken are made whole -The marginalised are included - The dividing walls of hostility are dis-mantled
It’s a succinct and stirring reminder of the call for our times?
For every one of us, whatever our belief system, to speak out and stand up for what is ‘good and just’ and to ‘dare greatly’ in the everyday business of our own lives. It doesn’t have to be on the world stage. Let ‘the words of the prophets be written on the subway walls’ of all our hearts and imaginations, because we all have the choice to choose the script, by which we choose to live our lives.
*Redemption Song Bob Marley *John 3:8 *Redemption Song Bob Marley *John 3:8
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