On becoming a [p]rophet (small “p”)

Stephen MarshMormon 10 Comments

I often meet two kinds of people.  The first has a voice that others hear.  The other has a desire to be heard, but they don’t know how to bridge the gap, how to become a prophet (that is Prophet with a small “p”).  That is what this essay is about.

Part of writing this post is facing my own failures.  Part of it explaining what the cost is to achieve a voice that is heard, something I have done in the past and have seen others do.  Part of it is lessons learned.

  1. You have to have a focus.  You need a single topic, or tightly related set of topics.  In my own case it was ADR.  In Suzette Haden Elgin’s case it was verbal violence.  In Dr. De Mars case it is tribal ethics.  I would note that Dr. Elgin is a wonderful author of feminist fiction, an artist I respect (I have some of her work) and has other accomplishments.  Sorry, she only has a strong voice in her primary focus.  Dr. De Mars is a well regarded professor of advanced statistics and a world judo champion.  Her voice that matters is in ethics.
  2. You have to accept costs in pride.  To be heard clearly you have to choose accessibility in your communication.  That means that a certain group will disparage you and, if you do it well, the rest will think that anyone could have written or said what you had to say.
  3. You have to take time to learn the area you want to have a voice in.  It takes two thousand hours to gain solid understanding.  Ten thousand hours of applied practice and study to gain mastery.
  4. You have to accept collateral demands as well.  Carla Bateman, who had a voice locally for many, many years, probably spent thirty or more hours in selfless volunteer service doing things she could have been paid for (she was and is a nurse).
  5. If you want a voice in any community of faith you have to respect its norms, have knowledge of its core and maintain spiritual resonance.  If I wanted a mainstream LDS voice I would need to shave my beard — which would make Win and my employer sad, though my ten year old would be happy.

When you look at Area Authorities in the Church you will see people who have given thousands of hours of service, who observe norms, who spend time in prayer, study and focus.  When they speak they are easily understood.  If you want a voice of that type or greater, you have to accept a level of cost at at least that level.

Finally, the sixth point (and I know the rule of fives, but obviously, as I’ve noted, I have my failures), you have to embrace humility.  If you can’t embrace loving humility, true patience and kindness, then no matter what you think about what you have to say, you are ready to be the one to say it. (cf Numbers 16:10).

You have to decide if what you have to say is worth it.  With ADR I’ve said what I had to say.  I guess I should go back and clean up typos, do some editing and rewriting and such (that is part of the work and humility that would be part of having and keeping a voice), fill in gaps in material and such, but I don’t see a need, you can tell I’m not willing to pay the price.

That decision, and acknowledging it, and the elements of the real price, goes into deciding if you really want to have a voice, if you really want to be a prophet, someone who speaks on an issue and who is really heard.  Dr. Elgin decided to pay the price.  She has sold millions of volumes, changed many lives for the better. I consider her one of the saints of God.  I have not done it, yet I have reflected on my failures, and I hope my reflections and thoughts will aid those who desire to have a voice and who are honestly willing to do what it takes to be a [p]rophet.

Comments 10

  1. I disagree that you’d need to shave your beard. Unless you aspire to certain callings (such as area authority or temple worker). But you can be heard with the beard.

    Great post.

  2. It is a hard road to walk, I admit. Frankly, I’m not sure why we do it so much. I think, on the whole, it is for the better, but it certainly has led to many conflicts and problems. And when I think of the number of lives lived in pursuing some ideal, I can’t help but wonder if they missed a large part of life along the way.

    I dunno, ultimately I think the most important thing to do is to allow people to do what they think is important. If that means standing up for a cause, then great. If it means leaving one’s tribe to pursue what makes them happy, then great. I honestly can respect both positions.

    I wonder, if perhaps, the belief in an afterlife in any way influences our decision of whether or not to become a prophet. That is to say, maybe some people, who, if they knew this was it, would choose to live life more for themselves, introspecting rather than merely trying to help. Maybe the belief in an afterlife makes us feel like we have another shot at it later, or that it’s more important to help others than to live one’s own life.

  3. For an LDS example, it is impressive to look at Jack Welch and FARMS. It all started when he was reading the Book of Mormon and outlining it like he would legal cases. That made Chiastic patters jump off the page at him. Then he noticed the quoted sermons — over and over again they are poems. Then he did some research to figure out what he was seeing. Then he learned about Chiasmus, then he published a little, etc.

    Funny, some of the cliques in Utah complained that he and those around him had not “paid their dues” — they had not been subservient to the coffee klatch crowd. But they had earned a voice through scholarship published in non-LDS venues and by thoughtful, intelligent analysis that represented thousands of hours of work.

    For the longest time FARMS was just a table in Welch’s office in the law school. He was humble, self-effacing and diligent.

    A good example of someone who gained a voice who was heard on an issue.

    But Nibley was fading. His desire to write had started to wane, he was calling people to repentance, (I was present for a couple of the talks he gave on that topic) and his essays and books were going out of print.

    For a long time, FARMS was a collection of photocopies of Nibley articles. Then humble collections and editorial support for someone else’s work.

    And none of them had beards 🙂 — at least back in the day.

  4. I think there is an important difference in speaking prophetically in terms of quality and in terms of quantity. Your post speaks correctly to the latter point, but I think God also has in mind the many more who are supposed to do the former

    Consider the example of Abish, who learned to hear prophetically so that she could speak prophetically the one time it mattered enough to be recorded. Consider even more the completely unnamed individual who had an impact on Abish. Was he or she any less of a prophet?

    There are places and times where we will all have the opportunity to speak or act prophetically. Preparing for that time can take many forms, but I certainly concur with the OP that the preparing is important.

  5. FireTag, you make excellent points.

    Another blogger posted on how she was talking to a counselor who asked her why she just did not become a prophet. A Prophet is one who speaks for God. The Prophet is the one who speaks for God to the Church. A [p]rophet is one who speaks with a voice of authority that [some] others listen to.

    There are many issues that people want to be heard on. There are ways to be heard on them and ways to end up ignored. Jack Welch had something to say on a specific type of poetry and he also felt that a specific kind of doctrinal and religious learning and analysis needed to be preserved and nourished in the Church. He was heard, and there is a legitimate and educated intellectual approach to the Church that is sanctioned, approved and even financed by the Church and that has a home at BYU (in a rather nice building, especially compared to an old table in the corner of an office).

    Think of all the people who blog, have issues and want to be heard, or what I’ve heard referred to as “coffee klatch crowds” of people paying their dues in social interactions with each other in order to have a voice (so they can complain that Dallin Oaks doesn’t appreciate their academic credentials as a basis for them to give him spiritual advice — thinking of one example).

    Anyway, I read that essay and decided to post this rather than the material I wrote last month and still have not posted.

    Maybe in my Thursday afternoon slot next week 😉

  6. For me, personally this is a very timely post.

    One way to be ignored is to have unorthodox beliefs on hotly debated subjects like the Kirtland Egyptian Papers/Sensen papyrus and Book of Mormon Geography, and be 180 degrees from the scholarly orthodoxy. And you have an inner drive to want to get your research on these subjects “out there” and be accepted by those who you would hope would be your colleagues.

    Then you have Big Scholars try to silence you on those points by using ad homeneim and other logical fallacies. And then you don’t have a very thick skin and have a shy personality to begin with, and not being blessed with the most stable emotional state. That pretty sums up where I’m at, and why I’m unable to be a good advocate for my points of view.

  7. Oh hey, while I’m at it, I’ll just say that I’d like to be contacted by anybody who is a researcher/scholar that believes that Cumorah is in New York and Land Southward is in Mesoamerica, or that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers represent a real inspired translation by Joseph Smith of the Sensen Papyrus. If you have either of these beliefs and you are a faithful researcher/scholar, or even if you are a NOM and you possibly incline towards either of these points of view with any of your beliefs, please contact me. I’m looking for allies that may want to help in the research on these subjects, and hey, who knows. Maybe eventually we will create an apologetically inclined research group on these subjects that is allied with FAIR, of which I’m already a member.


    Ed Goble

  8. Scratch that. I’m leaving apologetics and FAIR because of lots of issues, and not seeking contact anymore. Sorry for posting that.

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