Friday, September 16, 2011

prophecy comin' atcha, frat boys!

A group of Christian ministers crashed a few tailgating parties at Vanderbilt recently. Check out the video.  I'm surprised the preachers didn't get the beat down from these flip-floppin' frat guys who came to heckle, paper cups in hand, tanking up for the big game. 

Prophetic rhetoric in the literature often trends left. I'm thinking here of Jim Wallis and Cornel West who emphasize a prophetic vision more in line with liberal-to-left ideologies about poverty, tolerance, and war. Isaiah, it is said, spoke truth to power, and the truth was that power was sinning by grinding the face of the powerless and grinding the plowshares into swords. This is one popular understanding of prophecy.

Another, though, would open the genre to any ideological critique, any calling on an audience to repent and return to God or the forgotten divine principle. In The Prophetic Tradition and Radical Rhetoric in America, James Darsey argues that prophecy brings crisis and judgment on a people who have lost a common faith. Prophetic rhetoric is not civil; it rudely interrupts the amnesiac reveling of the culture to throw down transcendent mandates. Though Darsey isn't concerned with religion in his book, his framework is completely appropriate for analyzing what's going on in that video clip of the Vanderbilt Isaiahs.

And of course this kind of bold repent-shouting happens all over College America. Every spring at the state university where I went to graduate school, Pastor Jim would blow into town from somewhere in Missouri and set up shop next to a large grassy hill to tell the undergrads how swiftly and surely they were truckin' to hell. The crowds gathered. He put on quite a show for the bemused students who saw him as an extraterrestrial circus, spouting passionately in a language they did not understand.

Prophecy is always a few short steps away from crazy. That's what gives it its power and also its inappropriateness--and I mean inappropriate in a rhetorical sense (te prepon): ill-fitting for the situation. The prophet refuses to play nicely with other children. No one wants their house party interrupted by a sermon. And yet the prophet is motivated by an intense concern for the souls he/she preaches to, or maybe we could say an intense concern for the collective soul. Frat boys included.    


  1. You oughta check out a recent volume of poetry by Robert Fanning-- "American Prophet."

  2. Poetry? Blech.

    Just kidding. Thanks for the tip--I'll check it out. Every time I hear (rather than read) the phrase "American prophet," I'm always looking for the double entendre. Indeed, America loves its prophits.

  3. "Prophetic rhetoric is not civil; it rudely interrupts the amnesiac reveling of the culture to throw down transcendent mandates."

    Do Mormon (I'm not typing the whole name out) prophets fit this bill? I always felt that General Conference was more epideictic. Perhaps on occasion it "interrupts the amnesiac reveling of the culture," (recently Packer, or Julie Beck in October '07...and those seem like stretches..and Sis. Beck isn't technically one of the 15 prophets) but not regularly. But perhaps this is just a distinction between "prophet" and "prophetic rhetoric."

    I'm sure, though, that this is the approach you take with your calling, right? That demographic always responds well to authoritarian confrontation.