In this season, we are trying to unpack what it means to be called to speak with a prophet’s voice in our city, joining God as he brings his wayward people back to him. The more I think about this call, frankly, the more impossible it seems.
How can we speak truths that others may not be ready to hear? How can we proclaim to our culture the ways in which we have collectively wandered from the life God has in store for us?
One answer is through art. (Here’s your disclaimer: yes, I’m an english major who went to a liberal arts college!) In a famous poem, Emily Dickinson wrote: “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” She isn’t suggesting lying, exactly. She’s agreeing with Jack Nicholson’s character from A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth!” She says that the reality of who we are and where we stand in the world is a truth that’s “too bright”for us to look at directly. She suggests that poetry, fiction, music, visual art–and surely many other forms–have the capacity to captivate us with a message we might have otherwise rejected.
Amy read the parable of the good Samaritan to us last week. Jesus probably wasn’t going to affect any hearts and minds among the religious elite by stating explicitly: “Hey, your religion is fatally flawed and even your worst enemies know more about pleasing God than you!” He didn’t picket the Pharisees or boycott the scribes–he told them a story. By the end of the story, even those most likely to be offended had gotten the message.
Jessamyn West put it like this: “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” We live in our immediate, time-bound reality every day–a reality cluttered with laundry, bills, and traffic. There’s not much opportunity for perspective. It’s hard to see the ways we’ve compromised while we are living through it in the here and now. Art shows us our lives from the outside looking in, disarming the defense mechanisms that default to making excuses, assigning blame, or comparing our lives to others.
For me, The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis will always be my favorite personal encounter with the prophetic voice through art. This little allegory always riles up my emotions–I get so frustrated as characters turn down the offer of grace and joy in favor of petty power. And sometime before the end of the book, that exasperation hits home, and I see the ways in which I sidestep God’s plan to give me a flourishing life following him.
We hear the prophet’s voice in lots of ways. This week, think of the ‘slanted’ ways you’ve encountered a truth that you needed to hear. Perhaps there’s a song or movie or book that always surprises you with the light it sheds on your own heart. Maybe post a quick review or recommendation on a social media outlet so that someone else might experience that same moment of clarity.