Voice of the Prophets

In class we’re just wrapping up the prophets. This has probably been my favorite part of the class because it’s been so educational. I’d never given much thought to the prophets before and mostly considered them to be boring, but class has provided some fascinating historical and theological context to their existence.

Prophecy is something I grew up believing doesn’t exist anymore. But now I wonder if that comes more from a misunderstanding of what it means to prophesy. We have this idea of predicting events well in the future, but the prophets actually spent very little time predicting – and many of their predictions about the coming invasions of Assyria and Babylon didn’t take much supernatural power, given those powerful empires were already marching against and overwhelming Israel’s neighbors.

More often, the Old Testament prophets were simply called to tell hard truths to generally unreceptive audiences, trying to convict people to work harder to bring God’s kingdom into this world. Our professor emphasized this point by playing one of my favorite songs, the above-shown “Cash Cow” by Steve Taylor, a satirical exploration of commercialization and consumerism in modern American culture, tying it to the golden calf of Mount Sinai. Taylor, our professor noted, was a prophetic voice during his time as a recording artist – and he still fulfills that role in his current ventures, such as producing Blue Like Jazz.

As I thought about other people I might consider prophetic voices – if not prophets, per se – I realized many of them are musicians or other artists. Maybe I’m wrong, but there seems to be something about the artist’s brain that makes them more receptive to hearing and transmitting God’s message. Certainly Jeremiah, a performance artist if there ever was one, fits that bill.

So what artists and songs do you think capture the prophetic voice in today’s culture?

Here are a few I’ve come up with:

Keith Green

There are so many of Green’s songs during his brief career that called his fellow Christians to be salt and light to a dark world, songs like “The Sheep and the Goats,” which essentially retells Christ’s “least of these” sermon in Matthew 25. But “Asleep in the Light” really convicts me.

“The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can’t fight because it’s asleep in the light. How can you be so dead when you’re so well fed? Jesus rose from the grave. You can’t even get out of bed!”

The Resurrection Band

Formed in 1972 and disbanding in 1997, REZ (as they were popularly known) was one of the founding bands of Christian-themed rock and metal. They also talked about social justice decades before that phrase became trendy. They were ahead of the curve in condemning South African apartheid with their song “Afrikaans” in 1979 (“God makes the color, but the color doesn’t make you God,” and, “You say, ‘Republic!’ I say, ‘Blind man, it’s a cage.'”)

But their descriptions of poverty, and their call for Christians to do something about it, were timeless – they could have been written in 2011 as easily as 1981 or 1991:

N.Y.C.” (1980)

Out on the curbside, another victim sits.
Her life was lost from being tossed down streets of trash and brick.
It ain’t nice in the city when it’s time to turn the trick.
When the fence is late, the pimp will wait,
And you know you’re getting sick.
No twinkle, twinkle little star,
No one to wonder who you are.
We’re all deserting for bigger boys, the zone.
Like Jack and Jill, we’ve fallen down,
We’re bruised and battered, tarnished crowns –
No water in the well to carry home.

“Stark/Spare” (1981)

Stark, spare and barely there,
The ghetto moves beyond the knowledge
Or even consideration
Of the upper-middle riddle
That just don’t care. …

Slumming ain’t the answer to the cancer, poverty
That so many of the poor have slipped into degree.
Jesus walked among them, pausing to refresh,
Finally giving to the point of blood to share their emptiness.
Mark and Teresa, godspeed to you,
Suffering in love when you don’t have to,
And God have mercy on the rest of us, too,
‘Cause when we shut out the poor, Lord, we’re shutting out you.

Finally, “Fiend or Foul,” (1989):

I beat the dead, they don’t fight back.
They have no need, they have no lack.
They bear the marks of my attack.
I beat the dead, they don’t react.

I rob the poor. They don’t mind.
I take whatever I happen to find.
It’s never much at any one time.
I rob the poor – it’s not a crime.

I kill the children before they’re born,
Before their feet begin to form.
Don’t buy them shoes, they won’t be worn.
I kill the children, I am not scorned.

Call me fiend, or call me foul.
Throw me to the dogs that bite and howl.
Before you point your finger, or cry an empty tear,
Get yourself an alibi, buy yourself a mirror.

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