Opinion: Finding the big picture

Richard Rohr on ‘The supreme unifying force’

Big Picture Thinkers

In a 2006 CAC conference, Richard Rohr identified the prophet as one who places issues in the context of the “big picture”:

What is a prophet? Let me try this as a definition: one who names the situation truthfully and in its largest context. When we can name the situation truthfully and in its largest context, it cannot get pulled into interest groups and political expediency. I was preaching in Atlanta, and I went for the first time to the Martin Luther King Jr. exhibit. It’s so obvious that he was a biblical prophet. I stood there and heard the addresses right in his very church, Ebenezer Baptist Church, where they play his preaching constantly. I realized how he was always putting racism and segregation in the big context of the kingdom of God. And then he kept going and came out against the Vietnam War. He is said to have lost at least one-third of his own followers because he placed the issue in too big a frame.

We don’t want the big frame. No one wants the big picture. I’m convinced that Jesus’ metaphor and image for what we would simply call the big picture is the reign of God, or the kingdom of God. That’s Jesus’ way of describing a phrase we used to say in Latin [sub specie aeternitatis] which means, “In light of eternity.” To consider things in light of eternity is a great clarifier. Maybe it comes to us on our death bed, when we think to ourselves, “Is this going to mean anything? Does this really matter? Is this little thing we’re upset about now and taking offense at going to mean anything in light of eternity?” The prophet or prophetess speaks truthfully and in the largest context. [1]

In Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, he spoke from the “big frame” to call for a revolution of values based on love:

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all [humankind].… When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another, for love is of God. And everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.… If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and [God’s] love is perfected in us” [1 John 4:7–8, 12]. Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. [2]

Monday, January 16, 2023 —  Martin Luther King Jr. Day


One thought on “Opinion: Finding the big picture

  1. Bev Floyd

    Speaking this morning on social media to a professor at an English University who says Qantum theories are generating some astonishing ideas. I don’t fully grasp these new ideas, but it is possible (like the notion of evolution) they might impact on the big picture.

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