One of the highlights with every cohort cycle we run at Isiphambano Centre for Biblical Justice is our final session where we invite the participants to engage in an exercise of what theologian Walter Brueggemann has called prophetic imagination.
Prophetic Imagination is the call to move beyond the world as it seems to the world as it might be. God’s vision for the world as it might be.1 The task of prophetic imagination is two-fold. Firstly to critique and expose the dominant powers thus creating among the “hearers” a profound dissatisfaction with the prevailing status quo or the “way things are”. Secondly, it is to energise, or stir to hope and action, the imagination of a different reality and vision for the world shaped by the vision and values of the Kingdom of God. 2
Over the last few weeks, Isiphambano has been publishing a number of these contributions. Read this lament from Beth Barthelemy a foreign cross-cultural worker, seeking to make sense of her context and the history where she works, envisioning shalom breaking into her community.
A Lament for the Place That Proclaims Your Word:
O, Father, you know my heart, you know my fears and worries, you know my disappointment, my temptation to give in and give up.
You are the Creator of these people, in this, your world; you are the Creator of me, in this, your world.
You ordain steps, and you’ve brought us here; and yet you know my heart full of questions. You hem me in, behind and before, and your hand is upon us (Ps. 139:5).
Why, O LORD, do you allow this brokenness to continue, in this place that proclaims your Word? Why do the factions still exist, where we call ourselves family? I know and believe you can heal the wounds of the past, you can heal the hearts of the broken, you can bring people together anew.
Why, O LORD, do you let us sit in feigned unity, content to exist on the surface, to smile and nod and keep our hearts and dreams and fears to ourselves? How long must we continue to pretend we have brother-and-sisterhood, yet understand deeply how much we are missing? How do I, the foreigner, contribute meaningfully to this pursuit? Am I the only one who desires this? Is this not also your heart for us, O God?
You know, Father, how we are the face of hurts we did not inflict; we inherit the history of many before us; you know how we are deeply grieved, and how this broken history affords us a comfort it cannot to others. We are walking on the backs of others, and we do not know how to stop. Even in this place, especially in this place that proclaims your Word, the history is tainted; is it unredeemable? Am I naïve to hope for healing, for unity, for shalom?
You know, Father, how we have wondered if we should be here; if we are only perpetuating the problem; if we are only valued for resources, if we are only in the way. We have asked you to show us, and yet you’ve brought us to this place again, this place that proclaims your Word. You know we are willing to step back, to step out, if that is what is right and good and necessary. Is there a place for us here yet? Are we naïve to hope to be faithful in this context?
But here we are, Father, still here; and we are asking for your mercy in this broken place that proclaims your Word; I’m asking for your wisdom in my broken life. Your heart is full of mercy and you are wisdom personified. In humility, may my heart be open to others, may my life be open to others. Give me ears to listen, a humble heart to seek understanding, and a willing spirit to follow rather than lead.
You are exalted in justice, and you show yourself holy in righteousness (Is. 5:16). You say “I am doing a new thing” (Is. 43:19) and we believe, we trust, that even now shalom is breaking into this brokenness, that you can and will bring new growth where there were once ashes. We believe, we trust, that even now you can bring unity where there is distance, that you can open hearts that are closed, that you can and will knit us together in Christ.
And so I wait, seeking my posture of humility, for true reconciliation, for true relationship, for true unity. My vision for this is weak, but I am asking you to strengthen it. What you have for us next is unclear; but what is clear is your heart for this world you’ve created, for these people you’ve created, for shalom to reign on earth, in Africa, in KZN, in their hearts, in my heart, and especially in this place that proclaims your Word.
Come, Lord Jesus, our eyes are fixed on you.
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