Minding the Messengers

In the section of Antifragile about “skin in the game,” Nassim Nicholas Taleb defines prophets and their task:

Prophecy is a pledge of belief, little else.  A prophet is not someone who first had an idea; he is the one to first believe in it– and take it to its conclusion.

Earlier in the book, Taleb looks at the linguistic and historic roots of the word, from Hebrew and through Islamic religious significance concerning the spokesman and the messenger.  He writes:

the prophet is precisely someone who deals only with the One God, not with the future like a mere Baalite.

We too often think of prophets as those most concerned with the future.  They predict the dystopian future.  But based on what Taleb understands of the role, it’s more about the present (and in a religious sense, our faithfulness to God Himself).  And so, as “in the Greek tradition, we find the same focus on messages, warnings about the present, and the same punishment inflicted on those able to understand things others don’t.”

Definitely something to think about, particularly in Our Current Moment, when there are so many voices saying so many different things.

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Yesterday I wrote a little about a Mark Galli article about the pastor as chaplain as opposed to a pastor who is more of a leader or a CEO or a visioneer or something.  It makes you wonder about the possible connections between the prophet and the pastor.  It’s something I hope to pick more on next week.  But I wanted to say something about the “messengers” in my own life that can’t necessarily be said of pastors.  This can be a dangerous place to exist, I think, as the pastoral role is vital to the health of the Christian and the church.  There is still something to be said of the messenger, though.

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I’ve been blessed over the last few years to gather a “collection” of writers and professors and thinkers (and, yes, pastors) who take on the role of messenger for me.  Sometimes its more about education.  Other times its about something like spiritual direction.  Sometimes, these messengers overlap.  A few years ago, I was able to spend time at a retreat with two such figures, James K. A. Smith and Alan Jacobs.  And both of them have had interactions with others (obviously Rod Dreher comes to mind).  Many of these figures come at faithfulness from different directions, which might frustrate them but is a blessing to me.  This recently came up in a past over at Jacobs’ Snakes and Ladders site.  The post, titled “Learning from Rod Dreher,” is an honest look at the way the two friends simply see the same world differently.  Dreher writes about the fear of a “soft totalitarian” state for America in the coming years that many might not see.  From Jacobs:

I think this is a story that Christians ought to be interested in, whether they agree with Rod’s politics or not. Every thoughtful Christian I know thinks that the cause of Christ has powerful cultural and political enemies, that we are in various ways discouraged or impeded in our discipleship by forces external to the Church. Where we differ is in our assessment of what the chief opposing forces are.

Instead of a “soft totalitarianism,” Jacobs sees a real struggle with what he calls “metaphysical capitalism.”  But then he is quick to acknowledge this:

But we all agree that the Church of Jesus Christ is under a kind of ongoing assault, sometimes direct and sometimes indirect, sometimes blunt and sometimes subtle, and that living faithfully under such circumstances is a constant challenge. Why wouldn’t we want to learn from people who faced even greater challenges than we do and who managed to sustain their faith through that experience? Isn’t that valuable to all of us?

The post ends with a quick consideration of Jonah, the Old Testament prophet . . . messenger . . . to Nineveh, and whether Jonah being the wrong messenger made him the right messenger.

It is good to consider the messengers we listen to most, to look for common threads and points of connection even as we discern how radically different they many be.  It’s not just good fodder for conversation, it’s also a way of helping us articulate a picture of necessary faithfulness in Our Current Moment.

This entry was posted in Books, Faith, Life in the Fifth Act, Notes for a World's End, Scripture, Teaching and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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