News of the infamous Washington, D.C., whistleblower floods our headlines, adding new divisions to our already chopped up political discussions. It's a Ninja-warrior battle between team "snitches get stiches" versus team "if you see something, say something."
In the end, maintaining a hopeful imagination seems to be getting harder, with cynicism looking inevitable.
Part of the challenge stems from our culture's free fall descent from truth. News stories are so easily dismissed or ignored: climate change, mounting racism, partisan saber rattling, income inequality and widespread international unrest.
Speaking words of hope, which cultivate an awareness of where God is at work, becomes difficult. The problem is that words of hope often sound unsettling. Hope disrupts our expectations. Authentic hope often disturbs the status quo, turning the preacher from shepherd into whistleblower. The difference, of course, is that the government allows whistleblowers to remain anonymous. Preachers do not get that privilege, but instead must proclaim God's word to people they know and who know them.
And that is the dilemma. As much as we want to live in a world where speaking truth is valued, the harsh reality is that snitches do indeed get stitches. Or fired. Knowing this, preachers may avoid whistleblowing. Understandably, many of us will often choose a less demanding sermon strategy, opting for less vinegar and more sugar.
Yet the Old Testament is filled with images of prophets whose messages were predominantly aimed at proclaiming the truth of God's justice. Nathan points his finger at King David, decrying the king's sin. Jeremiah proclaims judgment and the promise of God's covenant. Amos calls for justice to roll like mighty waters.
The prophets blow the cover off religion that has ceased to be in relationship with the ever-renewing purposes of God. Likewise, John the Baptist becomes a whistleblower in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord. Our faith is informed by the faithful witness of whistleblowers.
This is not news to those congregations whose preachers have been following the Revised Common Lectionary the past few months. The lectionary has plowed a long row through the book of Jeremiah this past month, leaving some preachers to wonder if they may find a warning sign affixed to the pulpit: "Warning! The surgeon general has determined that prolonged exposure to Jeremiah may result in depression."
Whistleblowing is dangerous, and sometimes even depressing work. That thought led me to spend some time revisiting Walter Brueggemann's classic work "Hopeful Imagination" recently. His insights seem particularly fresh in this moment. Jeremiah's lesson for ministers, notes Brueggemann, includes a poignant invitation to reconsider our calling. Have we sought a life of ecclesiastical and social equilibrium, or have we listened where God has called us to experience the "pain, rage, and dis-ease" in the manner of the prophets?
It's sometimes hard to know.
Perhaps the answer comes in acknowledging that whistleblowing is only one aspect of the pastor's job, and that preachers have been called to a task wholly (and holy) different from government whistleblowers. The prophets did more than decry individual acts of injustice. Their messages molded the people's imaginative response to God.
One of my tradition's favorite ordination vows captures that idea. Presbyterian pastors, elders and deacons are asked if we will seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. There's no promising we'll say what everyone will always want to hear, but we do promise to say it in love.
Keating serves as pastor of the Woodlawn Chapel Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church, USA) in Wildwood. He is a regular Faith Perspectives contributor to STLtoday.com/religion.