What follows is the text of a talk delivered at the Sojourners Summit for Change earlier this year. This transcript has been lightly edited for online.
The Book of Ecclesiastes records these words from a wise teacher in Jerusalem many years ago:
“The more words you speak, the less they mean. So what good are they?” (Ecclesiastes 6:11)
I don’t know what was in his mind, but I guess he’d seen lots of debates about peace in the Middle East.
The great Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann once observed that when you look at the Hebrew prophets, you find almost all of them were poets. Not just preachers, but poets … poets who wrote with a prophetic imagination.
Poets don’t just say more words.
They imagine the world differently.
They imagine possibilities beyond others’ imagination.
They create a new way of seeing things.
They call a new creation into being.
Moses called the Israelites to imagine freedom and a life on the other side of the Red Sea. Jesus called people to imagine a kingdom built neither by the force of empire (of Rome) nor the force of nationalism (and Jewish zealots).
But how can we bring the prophetic imagination to the debate on ISIS and the Middle East?
I want to suggest three ways, and then share a poem.
First, we bring a prophetic imagination to bear when we start not with top-down geopolitical solutions, but the grassroots things that make for peace like safe homes, good schools, [and] secure jobs.
Second, we bring a prophetic imagination to bear when we break away from thinking the solution to violence is more violence.
Third, we bring a prophetic imagination to bear when we put ordinary people at the centre of the story: for example, seeing ordinary Syrians not as victims or villains but as heroes and agents of change.
I want to illustrate that with a poem … a digital poem.
It’s called ‘Miracle Baby,’ and it’s about the White Helmets, a non-violent, non-sectarian group of Syrian emergency workers who have saved the lives of more than 18,000 people.
And in a small way, a very small way, I think it this shows one way we can change the debate with the prophetic imagination.