Yesterday I began re-reading The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann. I was captivated to the point of distraction from scheduled tasks because this book is just that good.
My mental play list for the rest of the day, as if on endless repeat, were his words on the role of criticism in prophetic work. Criticism (combined with energizing) empowers prophetic motion; it changes the reality on the ground in our communities. But not mere ‘carping and denouncing’ he warns, rather the kind of criticism provoked by grief possesses the power to transform.
In social media circles I notice much criticism arise as we converse about things that matter (or not). There’s a controversy de jour. Many friends weigh in with passion, thoughtfulness, point and counter-point. These exchanges absorb time and energy – to read, respond and remain engaged as the stream of conversation continues through the day. It’s all quite energizing – or exhausting.
So I decided recently not every topic requires my engagement or comment. Not every link-up is a mandatory writing prompt. I gave myself permission to opt out of conversations where I had little or no interest or any wisdom to contribute. I gave myself a pass on even reading some very hot posts and comment strings, because my energy might be needed elsewhere.
And maybe that’s part of this process for me, I want to reserve my energy for the conversations I want to have and the words I might need to share in due season. For what matters, where the energy surges up like a geyser, I hope to be ready to write with enthusiasm and stamina. So maybe like a runner, I’m pacing myself in this robust on-line community.
And then I read about prophetic criticism and it began to click into place for me. I don’t want to carp or denounce or comment just to remain in the fray. I don’t want to waste my prophetic potential, to be honest.
In a great act of mindfulness I want to pay attention to moments and movements of grief within me. I want to be alert to those times when I sense in my bones that things aren’t right. And from that place I’ll offer my critique. But let it be a criticism for the sake of a community, a criticism to be a catalyst for healing or change or toward freedom.
I long for my criticism to be along the prophetic arc, not contending for relevance in matters that aren’t mine to shape. I hope my words, well stewarded, will matter. So I’m practicing restraint and discernment to allow my reservoir to gradually fill. I won’t weigh in thoughtlessly and find myself a clanging symbol; I’ll wait till the words reveal love.
“In the narrative criticism moves and builds.”
I want my criticism to move us toward freedom. I want my criticism to build His Kingdom of justice. Then my critique will be in the prophetic tradition, engaged in shaping an alternative community rooted in the God who is free, who delivers us from oppression and is at work doing new things in the world.
A reflection upon reading Chapter One of The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann as part of the #transitlounge book club.