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Priests, Prophets, and Process

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radio tower photo taken looking up from inside
Photo by Lukas Bato on Unsplash

“ . . . courage shall fail the king and the officials; the priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded” (Jeremiah 4:9 NRSV).

I don’t remember how I ran across those lines from the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, but they ring true—fearful, appalled, astounded . . . kings, officials, priests, prophets. Sounds like the headlines, though prime ministers and presidents are more in line for failing courage than kings these days.

Looking at the daily apocalyptic headlines, it’s easy to blame abstract “principalities and powers” as Paul had it in Ephesians:

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (6:12 NRSV).

But as a Humanist, I don’t blame it on gods, devils, the zeitgeist, or any other other-worldly powers. Nope. We — human beings — broke it; we’ve gotta fix it. “It” being . . . oh, let’s see . . . liberal democracy; the economy; war; world political stability; the climate; the planet. Stuff like that.

I’ve chatted with a lot of folks recently who have expressed extreme anxiety about the future. In answer, I’m tempted to say, “astounded, appalled, failing in courage — we’re all kings, officials, priests and prophets like that.”

Where’s the hope? In realizing that all we humans ever truly have (or have ever had throughout human history) is process. Consider: none of us were consulted about inventing the internal combustion engine; none of us — most likely — will be here when the last oxygen disappears into the fire.

Nope. None of us started the fire; nor will we live long enough to snuff it out. We’re in the process. None of us will ever know how — or if — it all works out.

That doesn’t, however, excuse us from doing our part.

A book for our time is Charles C. Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet. Mann looks at two geniuses, William Vogt and Norman Borlaug. William Vogt played a large hand in creating the contemporary environmental movement. He saw the planet as finite and human desire infinite. What to do? Conserve! Vogt is the “prophet” in the title.

By contrast, Norman Borlaug was all about the ability of science to maximize grain production to save the planet’s human population. And he showed us how. He’s the “wizard” in the title.

Which has time proven “right”? That’s the genius of the book: time has proven both the wizard and the prophet right and wrong.

Lesson: learn to love the process. Because that’s all we get. There is hope in the story The Wizard and the Prophet tells. The hope is in the processes the wizard and the prophet employed.

King, official, priest, prophet, or wizard, what we get in our lives is process. What we do with that fact is our lives. And perhaps a future for our planet.

Tune in to First Unitarian on Sundays.

Theology with a Humanist twist.

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