Prophets Then, Prophets Now.
by Art and Marianne Mertens
We were privileged to attend a conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico June 29 - July 1 entitled Prophets Then, Prophets Now. The main speakers were Richard Rohr, OFM, and Joan Chittester, OSB. The conference was sponsored by the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. Father Rohr is the founderof the Center,an organization that has as its purpose the development of Christian activists nourished by prayer and contemplation.
The opening talk was given by Joan Chittester, who mentioned major Hebrew prophets, indicating the political, social,and religious conditions in which each lived.Perhaps not surprisingly these conditions sounded all too familiar to those of us living in these troubled times. She concluded each summary with a thunderous proclamation - But we don't have Jonah (or Amos, etc.), all we have is you and me."
Richard Rohr, too, spoke of the need for modern prophets. He said a prophet is one who sees reality in the largest frame of reference, who gets the "big picture". A prophet is not one who foretells future events, but one who sees what is happening with great clarity. A prophet is one who sees an issue clearly and completely and feels a compulsion to communicate this vision to others. Often a person serves this function only briefly, perhaps only once in a lifetime, for one particular situation or cause. Prophets are usually not leaders or organizers of an organization or society.They are insiders, but on the edge of the inside. A prophet has no credentials but his or her lifestyle. A Sufi saying has it, "If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much room."
Prophets speak God's truth in troubled times. Often their reward is death. Martin Luther King and Gandhi were modern prophets. Both were killed as was Oscar Romero. A notable quote from Gandhi was given, "All religions save one know that Jesus taught non-violence and lived non-violently to his death." Do we know which religion was the exception?
Each day started with a 25 minute silent meditation. Over 1200 participants from 40 states and five foreign countries were in attendance and the experience of being united in silent prayer with so many individuals was, in itself, most powerful. It was also a great joy to meet and talk with so many like-minded folk and hear what is happening in many places.
On Friday we were treated to a visit with Dorothy Day as portrayed by Sharon Halsey-Hoover. The characterization included a quote from Day, "War is murder wrapped in flags."
On Saturday, Al Staggs, a Baptist minister for 27 years, gave a dramatization of Archbishop Oscar Romero as he delivered one of his last sermons. That, too, was very well done and the material of the sermon spoke to us as he urged his listeners to speak out for justice and for the poor. Saturday afternoon was devoted to workshops on various topics.
Reuben Garcia, founder of Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, spoke on his 29 years of experience in offering hospitality and assistance to refugees. 90,000 refugees have passed through the doors of Annunciation House, from 40 countries. Perhaps the conference program says it best: "As the US
environment becomes increasingly hostile towards immigrants, the voices of the poor in migration have become a prophetic voice, born of injustice, demanding a response from people of faith committed to the principles of justice and human rights." Reuben stated that the average undocumented worked pays $1200 more per year to the system in taxes and social security than they take out as social services.
Brenda I. Fox gave a presentation that included a documentary film about three Dominican nuns who were convicted and sentenced to federal prison for their non-violent protest at a Minuteman III missile silo in Colorado.
Chuck O'Herron-Alex gave a presentation regarding his 3 year old program of providing self-contained gardens to residents of a colonia in Juarez, Mexico. The colonia is built on an old city dump and has no usable clean soil for growing food. Chuck takes 8' x 8' wooden boxes to them which are divided into compartments and filled with soil. He lets the residents select their own seeds. The program has been successful in providing families with fresh garden produce, a welcome and inexpensive addition to their diet.
The conference also included two memorable liturgies. Saturday night a liturgy of lamentation was held for victims of war, death, and injustice. Music and dance helped create a setting in which the entire gathering cried out to God. Opportunity for personal expression of grief was also provided.
Sunday morning participants were united for the last time in a Eucharistic celebration that concluded the conference and sent us forth with renewed hope to
work for peace and justice.
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