February 2020 - Revolutionary Roots

Dear friends

Before Christianity was a rich and powerful religion, before it was associated with buildings, budgets, crusades, colonialism, or televangelism, it began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society.

Brian Mclaren

What happens to revolutionaries and revolutions when the opposing side has given way, or the persecution has been assuaged? Castro, Gaddafi, Pinochet, Franco, Mugabe: all began with the unlikely mission to change the world, or at least their bit of it. Small people with big dreams. But once in power, they became the very thing that they were fighting against – oppressors and oppression.

Really, is Christianity so very different? Or perhaps we might challenge the institution of the church rather than the faith it is intended to carry and foster. From revolutionary beginnings, it has morphed into a global institution (one that continues to provide health-, elder-, child- and other kinds of care, including many of the foodbanks, for sure), that has been shown to create its own rules and protect the organization. Where can that original revolutionary impetus still be found?

Money, sex and power are three of the great drivers in human society. The nightly evening news will tell you that in the first five minutes. Never bad in themselves, but, as our revolutionary friends discovered, power can corrupt quickly. Money, sex and power are part of all our lives (budgets, colonialism, and more), and perhaps the church, like all other institutions, struggles continually to be true to its founding vision.

True subversiveness is difficult to find, but sometimes it is hidden in plain sight. What could be more within the institution of the church than monks and nuns? But their traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are direct challenges to the corrupting influences that exhibit in everyday life, and at their best they do this without denying the truth of our experience, or claiming that money, sex and power are negatives. These hidden lives become truly counter-cultural. If the 'love of money is the root of all evil', then embrace poverty. If power corrupts, then commit to obedience. 

The nonviolent Jesus movement was a challenge to empire. Empires don't like challengers, and few things will get you killed more quickly. This month the church embraces Ash Wednesday, so called because of the physical imposition of ashes on the penitent. Not as a symbol of sadness, but as a sign of humility, of embracing our own mortality and death (dust to dust). In our modern society, obsessed with image, wealth and status, perhaps a smudge of dirt on the forehead is the church's attempt to return to its revolutionary roots. Not imposing the violence of religious colonialism, but subverting the story and returning to the margins, to its roots where it belongs.

For us, the question might hang: What is our first love that we have deserted and to which it is now time to return?

Nick Bird

Your Parish Priest

This letter from Revd Nick Bird appeared in the February 2020 issue of The Grapevine