On Prophets, Prognosticators, and the Race

11/07/2016 09:36 am ET

In these last days of the presidential race, it feels like we've heard everything there is to hear. Tune into a morning news show or political channel, and it is non-stop polls and prognostication--who is up and who is down, who will be in and who will be out. The pressing question about our future, it seems, is the outcome at the polls November 8th and so the most important task for our public voices is to predict who the winner will be.

But polls and pundits aren't addressing the real questions about our future. For that we need prophets, not prognosticators.

Prognosticators, of course, simply try to predict the future. Prophets point to the future that love and justice demand and look at the where we are and where we need to go, measuring both against that standard. Prognosticators--and pundits--can profess or attempt neutrality, objectivity: they aren't supposed to be pulling for a particular outcome or trying to change what will occur. True prophets, by contrast, are partisan--that is, they are on the side of the Eternal, on the side of justice, on the side of those who are poor, oppressed, marginalized, left out and left behind by society, calling us to change to get to where and who we are meant to be. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Heschel,

"All prophecy is one great exclamation: God is not indifferent to evil! [God] is always concerned. [God] is personally affected by what man does to man. [God] is a God of pathos. This is one of the meanings of the anger of God: the end of indifference!" (The Prophets, New York: HarperPerennial Modern Classics, 2001, p. 365)

Does our fixation on predictions and polls reflect our passive acceptance of--even collusion in--the dumbing down of our responsibility as citizens, moral agents, people of faith? Because if assuring our collective future is narrowed to the right political pick, we just have to bet on the "right" candidate and then watch what the odds-makers are saying as the race enters the home stretch.

How much easier that is than listening for--and becoming--the prophetic voices who proclaim that hope for our future doesn't lie in the outcome of a political race. Because the prophets tell us we need to get to work to create the future of love and justice--it's on us. The prophet Jeremiah (often derided as the "weeping prophet," he knew the need for lament, the experience of grief) offered this word from God to Rachel who mourned her children, "refusing to be comforted because they are no more":

"Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future, says the Lord, your children shall come back to their own country." (Jeremiah 31:16-17 NRSV)

This has been a political season and year--and for some a lifetime--of heart-broken weeping, to be sure. Weeping for children killed by guns--the equivalent of a classroom full every three days. Weeping for women, men, and children of color killed by police officers, weeping for police officers killed by others. Mourning the loss of jobs, houses, health, a sense of security. Weeping from hunger, from poverty, from abuse, from addiction, from racism. Tears of fear, confusion, anger, dislocation.

But we can't weep and speak out for justice at the same time. When our eyes are filled with tears, it blurs what we are seeing. And so after the lament, the call is to keep our voices from weeping and our eyes from tears so that we can see and proclaim what may come from our work: a restoration of community, a return of our children to safety.

From whose work? Oh yes, from our work. The public derides Congress and its infighting, bickering, and lack of progress on almost all substantive policy issues facing our nation. In fact, public opinion concerning Congress is at one of the lowest rates ever. But if we're looking for accountability, then we should be viewing our culture, our collective voices, our refusal to vote, and our individual actions. Accountability for legislative success or failure can't rest with one senator alone, it doesn't even rest with the one hundred: it rests with us. What is each one of us doing to "vote" with our advocacy, our voices, our visits to members of Congress to help inform their opinions, shape their decisions, keep them accountable month in and month out, year in and year out?

Once legislation passes, even that is not the end of our work. Families whose children are eligible for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, or the Children's Health Insurance Program may not know it is available or how to apply until someone reaches out to them and helps them enroll. Hardworking parents whose income is so low they don't owe any income tax might miss out on the Earned Income Tax Credit unless a volunteer at a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) site helps them prepare their taxes. Children in poverty, dependent on free and reduced price lunches during the school year, may not have a place for a reliable, nutritious meal during the long summer months unless congregations or community groups host sites for the summer food program. We have work to do.

Is that spectator seat watching the morning pundits looking more tempting than ever? Because the prophetic work of calling for and creating the future of love and justice God intends is just that: work. It can be demanding, scary, discouraging. It opens us to doubt and despair and vulnerability even as it calls on our hope and commitment and courage. But it is worth it.

It is essential to vote...and it is equally important to keep working for justice and compassion long after election day.

The reality is that the polls and prognostication will come to an end on November 8th, their value evaporating with the conclusion of the presidential race. But the real race--for meaning and purpose, to create a future of justice and compassion, worthy of our hope and our work--continues. A traditional spiritual implores, "Guide my feet while I run this race, for I don't want to run this race in vain." Will each of us recognize that we are in this race?

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