What text messages would he have sent to the cell phones of the apostles and his other followers? Would he have had a Skype account so he could have shown up live talking with people on computer screens all over Jerusalem?
I raise these anachronistic questions because Christianity requires its followers to speak prophetically in all places and times. This mandate has almost nothing to do with predicting the future but, rather, with trying to help repair the world and to remind people of the way God wants us to live — to love God and love our neighbors, in other words.
From the ancient Hebrew prophets to Jesus himself to the apostles, this requirement could not be clearer.
Over the centuries, Presbyterians have been fair-to-middling at developing and using our prophetic voices — though, to be frank, our history is decidedly uneven. But in our best moments, we have both spoken and acted to protect children, to abolish slavery, to restore the earth, to oppose injustice of many kinds, and to offer a model of a world in harmony with John’s vision of a “New Jerusalem” in Revelation.
But as we all know, we have entered an era of niche communications when the means for mass communication have become fragmented. The newspaper industry in which I have spent my career is just one of those channels of information undergoing major and distressing changes. Will printed papers disappear in my lifetime? Maybe.
So the question for Christians is how we can prepare ourselves in this new era to speak with prophetic voices in ways that will allow us to be heard.
I’ve decided to gather some folks around me July 13-19 at Ghost Ranch, the national Presbyterian conference center in northern New Mexico, to seek some answers. I’ll be leading a seminar I call “Your Prophetic Voice: Writing to Repair the World.” (See the catalog at www.ghostranch.org.)
My hope is that class participants will choose one or two areas — from racism to environmental concerns to economic justice issues — about which they feel passionate and then learn how to write clearly and how to employ communications tools to speak prophetically and to encourage themselves and others to act.
Can this be something as simple as writing a cogent letter to the editor of a newspaper or a magazine? Yes. But it also can mean creating a blog or using the booming number of social networking tools.
For more than four years now, I have used my blog (address below) to talk about the issues of faith and the ways in which people of faith can make a difference in the world. When I began, most people in my church seemed baffled even by the word blog. But now my church has its own Facebook page and the staff regularly e-mails both the church newsletter as well as a weekly illustrated memo about church activities.
Speaking of rapid change: When I was a boy in the 1950s I lived for two years in India. My parents, both Presbyterian elders, were not missionaries. Rather, my father was part of a University of Illinois agriculture team. I have inherited the 10 large metal boxes of slides that my family took then. Slides. Who shows slides anymore? So to preserve our family’s India photo record, I’ve acquired a machine that turns slides into digital photos on my laptop. Those slides contain an important message about the way my own parents spoke and acted prophetically. But unless I adopt new technologies, my children and grandchildren will never hear (or see) that message.
I cannot even imagine what kinds of new communications channels will open in the years ahead. But I do know that if our prophetic voices are to be heard, we must keep up with the way people get their information.
Bill Tammeus is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog at http://billtammeus.typepad.com. E-mail him at [email protected].