Reflections on Re-hiring a Police Chief: The Dynamic Triangle of King, Prophet, Priest

Tomorrow Minneapolis is set to decide if it will rehire it’s police chief, as well as several other important figures related to civil rights and the legal system.  Last week, as part of that process, I went to give testimony before the City Council Committee charged with making that decision. It was a fascinating experience.

In a government room filled with the symbols of history and power, the City Council members, and the mayor, sit behind a huge wooden array of desks, more of a barricade than a piece of furniture.  All of the political figures past and present come to give their support, to pay homage, payment for their spot at the table.  Then there are those there in protest, those who speak out for the wrongs done to the people who have no voice.  And of course, there are the cameras, and reporters.  It’s designed to be intimidating, and it works.

Sitting there listening and watching, I could not help but think about the view of society presented in the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament.  In story, song, and wisdom parable, those pages present a vision of a social order held together by the interaction between King, Priest, and Prophet.  Each has their own role in the formation and stability of the social order, and the people, who hover somewhere outside this dynamic triangle, rise or fall depending on whether these relationships move towards Good and Wisdom or Foolishness and Ego. Ultimately all three of these roles are responsible to God for their decisions, and they forget this at their peril, although it is always the lowest of society who suffers most when they ignore their divine mandate.

Kings and Priests are tasked with stability of the social order.  They are the ones focused on rules, and regulations, and the smooth working of the common sphere.  In the testimony in favor of the Chief, people talked a lot about safety and order, and processes and procedures.  Prophets, on the other hand, are the disrupters.  They are the ones called to point out when order has become oppression, when regulations do not serve common good, but rather serve to enrich the court and the temple.  The cry against our prison industrial complex is such a prophetic witness.

Each role also has its inherent strengths and weaknesses.  The insulation of the high courts can lead to blindness towards injustice, even as the people who are attracted to such roles are often those who can ‘get things done’ and create the systems of function that a society needs to run well.  On the other hand, the emotionality and passion of the prophet is attractive and has a heart for justice.  Yet prophets are notoriously bad at doing much of anything concrete, and they often fail miserably or loose interest when given a seat at the table of power.  It is hard to imagine John the Baptist running a City Council Committee.

Somewhere, out of sight in the metaphysical dust of the universe, God hovers around these trifold relationships.  In the Scriptures we are told that God has all the answers.  If King, Priest, and Prophet would truly listen to God, then a good social order would arise.  But we wonder if such a Divine reality is true.  The speed of our interactions, and the ego needs of greed and self preservation dull our senses and prevent those in the roles from seeing clearly.

As I listened, it occurred to me that it would help to see and understand these roles better, to appreciate each one, to see the value, and necessity, and danger inherent in each.  When someone rises to speak, we often ask about their skin color, or background, or class.  What if we also asked:  Are they a King, a Prophet, a Priest?  This might help us better understand where they are coming from.

And of course today, who are these roles?  They are Queens – Hilary’s cry of “I can get things done,” they are the entertainers and purveyors of myth and story.  They are the queer, the trans, the oligarch, the radio host.

On balance, the Scriptural witness tells us that society is always failing those on the margins.  The King and the Priest are always falling short in their job, for the human being sides with themselves at least as much as they live in service to others.  The Prophet, although a bad bureaucrat, is the one who draws society in the direction of the Just Kingdom.  They pull the triangle in the direction of God and it is the job of the Kings and the Priests to recreate the new systems that become progressively more inclusive.

Whatever gets decides tomorrow, I hope that greater Wisdom prevails sooner rather than later.

The cruel paradox of stock market decline

Stocks are sinking again.  The market has just experienced the worst month in years and one of the most volatile weeks in history.  Oil is down, commodities are down, trillions of dollars in paper wealth is gone.  People are freaking out.

At the same time, North America is on fire.  The Arctic ice is vanishing.  Millions of people are on the move, disrupted by war or famine.  Coral reefs are dying.  For the first time ever there are three category 4 hurricanes in the Pacific, a ‘monster’ El Nino is brewing beneath those storms, and California waits to see if this abnormal event will save it from a drought that threatens the water supply of 53 million people.

Yet generally the public seems unaware of the cruel paradox embedded in the relationship between these two sets of phenomenon.  Certainly our presidential politicians are doing little to help educate or reflect upon the deeper truth that perhaps we could be confronting as we experience these disruptions.

For why is the market sinking?  Because supposedly growth in China is slowing.  We are using less oil.  We are consuming marginally fewer resources.  And for an economy based upon consumption and growth these are all bad things.  Thus the markets go down, people lose their jobs in factories and Walmart.  Target Canada goes bankrupt and closes hundreds of stores.  There are fewer off-gassing fires from oil drilling in North Dakota because the wells are being capped.

Yet these economic undertakings are the same activities that drive global warming.  One less oil well pumping is actually a good thing from the point of view of someone living on low lying costal land.  We should be welcoming the fact that we are using less oil, spewing less CO2 from a factory, gobbling up less ore from the ground.

But we are trapped.  Our material wealth is created by the same process that is making our home unlivable.  Burn less, get laid off, but also get a habitable planet.

What are we to do?

For one thing we should be talking a lot more about this problem.  And not just about global warming, not just about the economy, but about their interconnection.  Of course there is such conversation going on in places, in small niches.  But rarely in the mainstream.  Rarely on the campaign trail.  Very rarely in the halls of Congress.  Or in churches.

In North Dakota and across America, the majority opinion has been that the oil boom is a good thing.  The money it brings in is a good thing.  The jobs are good, the wealth is good.  To suggest that we shouldn’t drill another oil well anywhere on earth ever again is heresy or lunacy or both.

This problem we have gotten ourselves into is no small conundrum.  When someone loses their job it’s a bad thing for them, their family, their community.  The idea that millions have to choose work and livelihood over a livable planet is indeed a deal with the Devil.

It would take a long time and our best minds and efforts to transform our current mode of existence such that we can both live and live harmoniously with nature.

Thus every minute we waste is precious.

Religious people often seek ‘signs’ from God.  Much of the time these efforts can appear to boarder on the magical or ridiculous or trivial.  When we hear that Jesus said you cannot worship both God and money it is generally within the context of a church stewardship drive.  But what if the true signs were right in front of our face?  What if these patterns of economics, climate, and social disruption were the signs?  Were God speaking to us?

At what point do you think we will start to listen seriously ?