The Center for Prophetic Imagination exists to nurture prophetic witness. And one of the ways we do this is through our two year Certificate in Prophetic Spirituality.
Do you long for a just world? Do you believe that it is the Spirit that has put that longing within your soul? Now, more than ever, the world needs prophetic voices. We’ve created our Program in Prophetic Spirituality for people like you.
Maybe you’re a young adult that is struggling to find your niche in the world. Or you’ve been working in ministry or activism for a while, but feel on the edge of burnout or simply recognize that you need to make changes in the way you are living out your vocation.
There are two ways to engage in our Program in Prophetic Spirituality:
Folks who complete all five intensives and the two online courses will be awarded a Certificate in Prophetic Spirituality, even if they don’t taken them in sequence.
By participating in our Certificate in Prophetic Spirituality, you will:
Reclaim a Christianity where justice and spirituality are one.
Discern a deeper sense of vocation.
Experience the Spirit of God in a deeper, transformative way.
Understand the interconnection between God, the land, and humanity.
Receive validation that you aren’t alone.
Find new courage to take the lead in reshaping or challenging unjust systems.
Cultivate new practices for integrating spirituality and action.
Earn continuing ed credits.
The emphasis of our Certificate in Prophetic Spirituality is the work of prophetic ministry–that work that exists at the intersection of deep spirituality and radical praxis.
Our program has been designed with two complimentary constituencies in mind: faith leaders who long to go deeper into the practices of prophetic action and activists who want to anchor their work in deep spiritual vitality.
Our program draws upon the wisdom of spiritual directors and activists, scholars and storytellers, wilderness guides and urban artists.
The five core intensives of our two year certificate draw upon a significant time in the life of Jesus:
Jesus in the wilderness (intensive one)
Jesus in the countryside as he heals the sick and casts out demons (intensive two)
Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (intensive three)
Jesus in the Temple (intensive four)
Jesus’ death and resurrection (intensive five)
Two online courses supplement these intensives with deeper study in the history of radical Christian spirituality as well as the nature of the oppression with which we struggle.
Together, we will embark on a journey of transformation that will re-shape our way of seeing and engaging the world so that, like the prophets, we might become people of action who are deeply rooted in the presence of God.
What is Radical Discipleship? This used to be a fairly simple question to me. Now? Not so much.
Fifteen years ago, with the confidence of a late 20’s white seminarian, I “planted” a church whose only real mission was to take Jesus seriously. Soon, that new church experiment mutated into a full on intentional community, a sort of hybrid between a catholic worker house and a hippy Mennonite Church. We called ourselves the Mennonite Worker.
At our most active, we were two dozen active Workers spread out between three houses of hospitality with up to a dozen guests at a time. Fueled by stacked boxes of dumpstered foodstuffs, we kept a nightly pace of community meals. Driven by a vision of Jubilee, we recklessly offered hospitality beyond our mental and emotional capacity. Inspired by prophetic legends, we marched and protested and disobeyed. Our weekly worship services were filled with laughter and hope, anxiety and discouragement, and above all, longing for a better world.
During our busiest years, I was helping throw radical conferences, editing a radical webzine, producing a radical podcast, and traveling the country talking about radical Jesus. Sometime in there my wife and I had a son and I became frustrated how it slowed me down.
I was driven. To me, being a radical disciple meant trying my hardest to be like Jesus, or at the very least I’d settle for John the Baptist.
It was John who said:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7b-10)
Being a “radical” disciple meant confronting and opposing Empire. It was an inner scream against injustice. It meant uprooting oppression. And being a radical “disciple” meant doing that first bit like Jesus.
Predictably, I was on the fast track to breakdown. And it didn’t come all-at-once. It was a four year process of crisis and exhaustion from which I’m still recovering.
You see, I kinda had it wrong. I thought “radical discipleship” was a performative thing. Something you strive for. Something external to me to which I must conform. It was work, exhausting work, and I assumed that if I pushed hard enough, it would all click.
Somewhere in the early days of burnout, when my soul knew it was starving, I read these words from Simone Weil: “Whoever is uprooted himself uproots others. Whoever is rooted himself doesn’t uproot others.” (from the The Need for Roots)
I knew what I was experiencing was a deep feeling of uprootedness. I didn’t feel firmly planted. I was spiritually malnourished. I was trying to live up to a radical blueprint, one that had been reinforced by hundreds of stories about radical heroes. I was trying to conform to an image outside of myself.
And I was falling short. I wanted to embrace simplicity like Saint Francis. Welcome the unhoused like Dorothy Day. Protest like a Berrigan. Organize like Dr. King. And, in all things, love like Jesus.
But you can’t make yourself into these things. Instead, I found myself increasingly resenting the affluent, hiding in my room from house-guests, becoming cynical about activism, and unable to even really love myself.
I wish I knew as a late 20s seminarian, what I know now: to be a radical disciple is to be rooted like Jesus, rooted IN Jesus.
A radical discipleship that is merely performative, one that is animated only by a desire to do everything right and oppose everything wrong is an uprooted discipleship. Radical discipleship needs deep roots. It must be animated by the Spirit, who give us life.
Please understand. I’m not saying (as so many do) that the struggle for justice is secondary to our personal spirituality. Nor am I saying that attending to our spiritual life, by some divine magic, will automatically transform us into radical practitioners.
No, what I am saying is that our radical discipleship must be transformative, not just performative.
Radical discipleship is about discernment, not following a script.
Radical disciples aren’t simply trying to be LIKE Jesus. Rather we try to do the work along with Jesus.
Radical discipleship flows out of love of God, the land, and people (including ourselves) for these are where we put down roots.
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The Politics of Jesus 6: Objections to a Radical Reading of Scripture
There remain many open questions. My point here isn’t so much to defend a radical read of Scripture as much as it is to give a sketch of the possibilities. We read Scripture in ways that support authoritarianism because we learned how to read Scripture in authoritarian contexts. Once you start pulling the loose threads, you begin to find the whole authoritarian fabric unraveling. For sake of brevity, I’ll address the two most commonly raised passages against Christian radicalism.
The first is Romans 13, where Paul tells his readers to “submit to the governing authorities”:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
When interpreting this passage, there are several things that one must keep in mind:
1) This passage occurs immediately after Romans 12, where Paul challenges his readers to bless persecutors, live peaceably, never avenge, feed enemies, and overcome evil with good. By clear implication, the “governing authorities” are persecuting enemies whose evil needs to be overcome with good. Given that Paul is likely drawing directly from Jesus’ teachings, it may be best to interpret the call to “be subject” as an application of the call to “turn the other cheek.” It is not a call to mere obedience or happy citizenship.
2) Jacques Ellul suggests “the passage thus counsels non-revolution, but in so doing, by that very fact, it also teaches the intrinsic nonlegitimacy of institutions.” In other words, the very fact that Paul has to argue, in light of enemy-love, that the people should forsake (violent) resistance reveals that the “governing authorities” are, in some sense, worthy of revolt. Just like Jesus’ call to turn the other cheek recognizes that, under normal circumstances, one would hit back. To refrain from violence is a testimony to the the Roman Christian’s goodness, not the goodness of Rome.
3) Some scholars have (rightly) challenged translating the Greek word tasso as “instituted.” Rather, they argue that a better translation would be that the authorities are “restrained” by God. Therefore, Paul could be advising his readers against revolt since God is already restraining the rulers.
4) Due to the nature of translation and the dualism in our modern imaginations (separating spiritual from political realms), we don’t often recognize that Paul’s language around the “powers” blurs the distinction between political and spiritual realities. When we read words like “authorities” or “rulers” or “powers,” Paul may be talking primarily about spiritual realities, political realities, or (most likely) both at the same time. This adds complexity to what would otherwise seem like a straight-forward challenge to be “subject” to the “authorities” because, elsewhere, such “authorities” are enemies to Christ.
5) It is a mistake to take Romans 13 as a universal message of how Christians everywhere ought to relate to government. Wes Howard-Brook states:
We can say, though, that whatever Paul meant to convey to the Christians at Rome in the 50s, it was not a general principle of subservience to imperial authority…we’ve seen how Paul’s letters regularly insist on attributing to Jesus titles and authority that his audience would certainly have heard as “plagiarized” from Roman sources…The most likely explanation of Romans 13 is that it was a message addressed to specific concerns of Roman Christians under Nero.
And so, from Paul’s perspective, the Christians in Rome in the 50s should not revolt. Rather, they should love their oppressors and leave wrath to God. This wasn’t because the Roman government was good, but because followers of Jesus are called to the way of love. Furthermore, God has restrained the authorities and will judge them.
Much more could be said about what such teachings could mean for us. At the very least, it encourages us to trust God and love our enemies. While Paul argues against violent resistance, his words leave room for nonviolent struggle. It would be foolish, I think, to extrapolate universal principles of governmental engagement from this passage. Nevertheless, once we understand Paul’s sentiments, we can better discern how to express the love of God in our own contexts.
Tied for the most referenced pro-Rome passage is Mark 12:13-17:
Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to trap him with his own words. When they came they said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and do not court anyone’s favor, because you show no partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But he saw through their hypocrisy and said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” So they brought one, and he said to them, “Whose image is this, and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.
Clearly they were trying to trick Jesus into publicly picking sides either would be dangerous. If he sided with Rome, he’d lose the support of the people. If he denounced Rome, he’d be a marked man. The fact that Herodians and Pharisees are working together against Jesus is telling; Jesus is so offensive that enemies have put aside their differences to resist him. What is remarkable about this passage isn’t so much that Jesus is clever. The implications of his statement are remarkable.
Are the implications that we should be Augustinian, creating a distinction between church and state? Or even separating them into two separate kingdoms with different claims as Luther or some Anabaptists have advocated? No. This is a very smart slap against Caesar without simply denouncing Caesar. By pointing to their coin (no good Jew should have a graven image like a coin in their pocket to begin with), Jesus is exposing idolatry and saying that such things belong to Caesar already, not God. If you’ve got any Caesar-stuff, it should be rendered accordingly. But what is God’s belongs to God. Or, to quote Dorothy Day, “If we rendered unto God all the things that belong to God, there would be nothing left for Caesar.”
Lest you think that such approaches to scripture are a recent innovation, I direct you to Irenaeus. Irenaeus was a 2nd Century bishop on the fringes of the Empire in Lugdunum, Gaul. He was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John. In other words, he was removed from Jesus by two generations; he was a friend of a friend of Jesus:
The Lord himself directed us to “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and to God the things which are God’s,” naming Caesar as Caesar, but confessing God as God. In like manner also, that which says, “You cannot serve two masters,” he does himself interpret, saying “You cannot serve God and mammon,” acknowledging God as God, but mentioning mammon, a thing also having an existence. He does not call mammon Lord when he says, “You cannot serve two masters,” but he teaches his disciples who serve God, not to be subject to mammon nor to be ruled by it…
In other words, Irenaeus believed that the thing we should render Caesar is our renunciation. Caesar’s lordship is comparable to that of mammon 11. He is only your lord if you are his slave.
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The Politics of Jesus 5: The Radical Thread in the New Testament
Let’s jump right into the origin story. Luke tells the story of Jesus birth. Jesus’ mother, while Jesus was still in the womb, said the following words while filled with the Spirit:
[God] has demonstrated power with [God’s] arm; [God] has scattered those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts. [God] has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of lowly position; [God] has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty.
Jesus grows up. He starts his ministry and is tempted by the devil in the wilderness. The temptation of Jesus by the devil reveals the manner in which Jesus understands his authority. Jesus’ sense of authority bears little to no similarity to kingly authority. In the wilderness, he is tempted politically, economically, and religiously to assert his messiah-ship. But he refuses. The diabolical nature of his temptation isn’t due to the source of the temptation—that the offer of political, economic, and religious power comes from the devil instead of God. Rather, the temptation concerns the sort of reign Jesus should pursue. Jesus is the unking.
Later in Luke 4, right after his trial and baptism, Jesus goes to his home town (Nazareth) and gives a political manifesto of liberation for the poor and oppressed, essentially announcing his messiah ship and the coming of Jubilee (the “year of the Lord’s favor”). Provocatively, Jesus seems willing to include oppressors in the kingdom. Which is why his hometown folks—who most likely knew him well—try to kill him.
Just to jump ahead a bit, in Luke 17:21 Jesus says (in words that would later inspire the development of Leo Tolstoy’s anarchism): “The kingdom of God is within you” (or among you). In the context, it seems to be a way of suggesting that the kingdom of God isn’t a place, a demonstrative regime change, or a clear event. Rather it is here. Now.
Later, when Jesus heard his friends arguing amongst themselves the pecking-order in this kingdom (Luke 22:25-26) he tells them: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”
Jesus is asking his friends to rethink everything they know about socio-political realities. The next time you read the Gospel of Luke, try to read it through the lens of Jubilee—where the ones who have accumulated have to give up and the ones who have lost receive. Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell everything and give it to the poor. He says the same thing to his disciples, by the way.
In case you think only Luke is quotable for radicals, the Gospel of John is also juicy. For example, Jesus calls Satan the “prince of the world” which is likely a way of referring to the Roman Empire.
In John 18:36, in a conversation with Pilate, we learn that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Actually, it is perhaps better translated as “not from this world.” Usually, this is interpreted as saying that Jesus’ kingdom is spiritual or heavenly. However, the way such dualistic language worked in that time makes such a meaning unlikely. Rather, Jesus is saying his kingdom is different. It is something entirely new. It is a gift from God–it comes from God.
After the resurrection, we read of an account of civil disobedience in Acts 5. When the disciples were ordered by authorities to stop their teaching, they answer: “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” Here’s what most people hear when they read that: “We must obey God rather than any human authority in those rare circumstances where there is a clear and obvious contradiction between what the law says and God says, since God’s laws trump human laws.” I’m not so sure. If you believed that your messiah was a socio-political/religious unking who died and then rose from the dead (and then mystically poured his Spirit out upon you), then you might simply mean “we must obey God, not any human authority.”
This helps us understand the way in which the early church practiced community. They were encouraged, among other things, to work out their issues internally rather than appealing to the courts. In Romans 12, Paul argues that his friends in Rome should “not be conformed to this present world [read: empire], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God.” This is, again, often read as a call to be spiritual or heavenly minded. But, given the larger context, it is perhaps better to see it as a challenge to stop being so Roman-ish and, instead, pursue the way of love.
I am often asked to justify my anti-imperial reading of the New Testament. After all, the word “empire” doesn’t appear in the New Testament. Well. Here’s the thing. The early church was sneaky. They didn’t want to sound overtly treasonous. So usually we have to try to inhabit their context with our imaginations to see Rome closer to they way they saw it. And no writing is as anti imperial as, perhaps, John’s Revelation. Read Revelation 13, 14, and 17 for a not-so subtle picture of oppressive Rome.