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  • Helms Jarrell

Prophets of a future not our own

Updated: Apr 13

Yesterday, Greg, Ben, and I were co-writing a OpEd we'll be sending to the Charlotte Observer. (We'll see where that goes.) As we were writing, I came across a quote that struck me.

I've been thinking a lot about the future lately. Let me correct that- I think about the future all the time. So much so, that it has become a burden. Not too long ago, I took the Strengths Finder Test and the results were not surprising. My strong characteristics are: Strategy, Futuristic, Responsibility, Development, and Empathy. Put all these qualities together and mix them up with my Enneagram type 8 characteristics and there you have me. Add a world economic crisis and pandemic and you've got those qualities and characteristics on overdrive. I'm a hyperactive, hyper vigiliant, obsessive visionary prophet over here. My go-to crisis mode qualities look like: plan for the future, direct others, sound the call, make strategic moves, find allies, pack your go bag, ask for commitments, name what the future could look like, plant the garden, find an escape route, and take everyone with you.


There's a thing called a Vent Diagram. It was created by educator E.M./Elana Eisen-Markowitz and artist Rachel Schragis, two queer white jews in Brooklyn in their 30s.   

They define a “vent diagram” as a diagram of the overlap of two statements that appear to be true and appear to be contradictory. They purposefully don’t label the overlapping middle.  I have found the Vent Diagram to be very helpful in these days of mixed complexities and reality.


One of my vent diagrams has one circle that encompasses "I am gifted and skilled at leading and cultivating a future for the common good. I want to use my gifts to build a little village of abundance where all may flourish. I have many capacities that enable me to do so and I will use them well and often. I want to do good and important work. I want to work with others toward mutual aid and covenant community" The other circle says, "I am freaking tired of being the prophet here. Folks don't listen to prophets. I'm doing all of this for what? I am super capable of naming what's possible and what's good, but if no one is going to listen or join in, then what is it for? Plus, I'm tired and want to stop."


On March 12th, I started blogging. On March 13th I sounded the call to others via text, email, phone calls, and blog. "Join me. Let's make a plan. Let's get together. We can figure this out. And fast. We have what we need. We just need to get together." I imagined folks making a pact, a commitment to each other. I imagined us combining our resources and coming together on shared land to create a communal refuge. I was thinking about how if we worked fast, we could get together and be ready.


I look back and think to myself, if folks had gotten together, we could have covenanted to be sheltered in place together. We wouldn't be isolated from one another. We wouldn't be wondering when was the next time we'd see each other. We could have figured it out. We could have created a whole new thing.


But, it didn't work. They didn't answer the call. No one joined the call.


Another vent diagram. 1st circle = we missed our chance to build a village of abundance and mutual care. 2nd circle= we still have time to build a village of abundance.


Sometimes I worry that I am a prophet of a future that I won't be able to be a part of. I don't mean to sound cocky when I call myself a prophet. Walter Bruggemann calls prophets "poets, artists, and rag tag hopers." He says prophets are

“Those who refuse, deny, or doubt the totalizing claims and who continue to keep imagining and attempting alternative modes of life, and who keep experimenting with the strange virtues of justice that take various forms of neighborliness." [God, Neighbor, Empire]

This next sentence is going to sound really surreal, but it is true. Last week, Greg and I were on a zoom call with Ruby Sales and Cheryl Blankenship. Ruby and Cheryl are a part of The Spirit House Project which uses the arts, research, education, action, and spirituality to bring diverse peoples together to work for racial, economic, and social justice, as well as for spiritual maturity. At some point in our conversation, Ruby was reminding us that no human is disposable and that we must not cast off our brothers and sisters.


Here's the part that got prickly: something she said reminded my of my bitterness toward folks who think of themselves as white. I have become so accustomed to and liberated by being immersed in a black neighborhood, black church, black families that I have oft times thought to myself that I do not want to have interactions with white folks anymore. [I know how silly this sounds. I am white. My family of origin is white.] What I mean by white is about whiteness, white supremacy. [Ok, I admit that I need to find more language here, but right now I'm not going to.]


I realized, as Ruby was talking about humans not being disposable, that sometimes I have committed the sin of believing that humans are disposable. I admitted as much on our phone call saying, "this reminds me of the many times I have considered starting a church, but have decided not to because I believe so deeply in the leadership of People of Color. Especially, because I believe so deeply in the person of Jesus who was a person of color. And therefore I have oft times sloughed off the notion of starting a church because I did not want to be a part of a white led church." (me, I'm the white leader I'm talking about)


Ruby stopped me mid-sentence and said "Please start a church. The church needs you."


Another Vent diagram: Circle 1- I don't exactly know what to do with all of this. I have these prophet-like tendencies. I am a visionary and a future thinker. I have a calling and a sense of direction. Circle 2- And I also have so many flaws. I am white...meaning, for me, the lie of whiteness and white supremacy is something I have not overcome. And also, I'm tired. I'm tired of sounding the call and no one responding. I'm tired of laying out a vision and people thinking I'm nuts. I'm tired of doing crazy things and at the time folks just look and raise their eyebrows, then months later folks catch on but by that time I've moved on to whatever's next.


Another Vent diagram: Folks didn't respond to the initial call. I shouldn't keep asking. I should just stop. But, I won't. I don't really want to. I think there's still possibility and hope. I think we can still come together to make something big and beautiful and hopeful and abundant happen. Not sure what it is. That must be what's in the middle of the two circles.


Another vent diagram: Kingdom come. Kingdom realized. Seeing a future that is prophetic. Being a prophet of a future we will not see. Both are true. Both are beautiful and excruciating.


Hey, and just a reminder, readers. These are first thoughts. In process. Not perfected. And I'm a little tender right now. So, I don't need a whole lot of "you should really do such and such" or "let me say this thing to you to make you feel better" or "you're not thinking or doing what I think you should." Not right now. Maybe later. Thanks.






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