This semester I’m teaching a spiritual formation class—we meet in the local Episcopal church. It’s a small church but it’s a place to light candles, pray, and look at icons. The front of the church has these beautifully painted icons of Jesus and a crew of the usual suspects. John the baptist is there, all disheveled and crazy eyed. Very prophetic looking. There seems to be a movement in Christian circles to give John the baptist a hair cut. You know, clean him up a bit. Give him a suit and tie, or at least ripped jeans a t-shirt and hipster glasses.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez wrote a piece addressing the domestication of the prophetic—give it read. Increasingly, as the Christian community falls in love with power, wealth, and being an “influencer” the question has to be asked: what’s really being changed? Who’s being influenced? The gospel message of “fearing not” and “not worrying” or even giving all we have to the poor is being replaced with a “you can do anything for Jesus!”—as long as we don’t upset the powers that be. Money, the last universal truth in our capitalist, postmodern, culture, is really what makes the world turn. “Do not fear” is replaced by “Make more money”—or at least don’t piss off the people who have it.
What does the new and improved John the Baptist look like? Well, calling people a “brood of vipers” is out—too polarizing. Telling people that if they have two coats they need to give one to someone else—that’s out too. How will we teach people to be responsible? How will they cultivate good stewardship? Developing a program that leads to less prison time and not losing one’s head—that’s the new and improved prophetic.
Maybe Jesus is right—maybe it’s impossible to serve two masters.