On Saturday night I had the opportunity to listen to Cornel West (Professor, Historian, Philosopher and Social Activist) wax eloquent about the work of Rabi Abraham Heschel, and how it fertilised the soil of his imagination.
For West the kinship with Heschel transcends their shared Judeo-Christian roots, rather it is in the subversive prose that Heschel authored. West felt a rhythm and cadence when he first read Heschel that gripped him as being deeply poetic. West is convinced that poetry and poets are the invisible legislators of our world, they speak into the wind, they exist in the realm of imagination and beckon us toward an alternate vision of reality. (Every warp and woof of West’s language has obvious loops of artistic appreciation woven in. During his presentation he would seamlessly transition from Anton Chekov to John Coltrane, from Descartes to Toni Morrison.)
West’s speech was not linear, but there were points where pathos took a back seat to hardboiled registry. The three points I remember scribbling were Heschel’s thoughts (as interpreted by West) on the
as vehicles of change within dominant structures in society. Piety – an acute remembrance of history that humbles and boldly proclaims a new world. Prophecy – speaking truth to power in love. Poetry – the seedbed of change and subversion. West also bore witness to a shared pessimism with Heschel in their commentary of society. They are both prisoners of hope that speak out on issues of justice regardless of foreboding circumstances or censure. West spoke for 90mins without notes, his mind is encyclopaedic in retention and powerful in delivery, I barely scratched the surface in the above summation. I will end with a phrase that West delivered and I hope to live –
“Justice is what Love looks like in Public.”
*End note: In the past 6 months I have heard N.T Wright, Walter Brueggemann and Cornel West speak in Seattle, although they traversed different topics, they are all soul mates in subversive biblical imagination, and advocate for the arts to be attendant with theology. The journey has been fresh and challenging, and leaves me hope-full in Jesus. With this newfound imagination I am excited in partnering with God in His activity in my church and city.