News: The Risks of a Revolution

“Revolution is not a dinner party, not an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly and modestly.”
– Mao Tse-Tung (a founder of the Chinese Communist Party, a group now ironically tied to the humanitarian crisis and failed revolution in Burma)

“When you invite people to think, you are inviting revolution.” —Ivana Gabara

Forrest Gump continues to ruminate on his life stories as bench-mates come and go. At one point, he recalls his decision to become a shrimp boat captain, birthed from his promise to Bubba, a Vietnam War buddy. Stumbling into remarkable success, the shrimp haul continues to grow and a good friend decides to watch over his financial affairs. Gump puts it this way: “Lieutenant Dan got me invested in some kind of fruit company. So then I got a call from him, saying we don’t have to worry about money no more.” I remember the letterhead Forrest pulled from the mailbox—a colored apple is centered at the top of the page. This “fruit company” in the fictional movie continues to lead the way in technical innovation in real life. In 2006, Apple sold 39.4 million iPods, and this number continues to rise. The Shuffle, Nano and Classic have been redesigned numerous times, further adding to sales. And on June 29, the company introduced the iPhone: One million units sold in 74 days. The iPod and iPhone have been deemed revolutionary.

An ancient proverb states, “Revolutions never go backwards.” But as my eyes look to the small nation of Myanmar, I begin to question the staying power of this statement. Frustrated and fatigued with the ruling military junta, Buddhist monks turned to the streets, deciding to protest. Numerous marches have taken place and civilians took notice, even joining the spiritual leaders. Unfortunately, soldiers and riot police are initiating a crackdown; the official death toll is 10, but citizens think it is higher. An article recently published in TIME is entitled “Anatomy of a Failed Revolution.” Writer Andrew Marshall spent time in the country during the protests and documented his experiences. What stays with me from this article is the mantra the monks continued to repeat, so simple, so powerful: “Let everyone be free from harm. Let everyone be free from anger. Let everyone be free from hardship.”

The humanitarian crisis is deepening as malaria deaths grow, malnourishment spreads and residents struggle to live on less than a dollar a day. International pressure is mounting and the seeds are planted. Perhaps this revolution is simply undergoing a hiccup. Internationally recognized Buddhist leader Thich Nhat Hanh says, “It is already a success because if monks are imprisoned or have died, they have offered their spiritual leadership. And it is up to the people in Burma and the world to continue.”

When I truly ponder the word “revolution,” violence is the first synonym I think of. Looking back into history, I remember the American and French Revolutions, the Bolshevik and Civil Rights Revolutions. While the struggle for blacks to gain equality under the law is often deemed a “movement,” violence was commonplace, and thus, in my belief, it is a revolution. The word, even when spoken, has the sound of might surrounding it. But it is always refreshing to study revolutions without the sword, the firearm. Consider the Industrial Revolution or the Information Revolution [Enlightenment], the Hippie Revolution or the Green Revolution currently on the upswing. Unlike trends, though, revolutions are not faddish and do not fade after fickle early adopters or leaders look to emerging ideas. Revolutions incite change for the long term.

Consider the importance of living “greener.” Understanding the ramifications of energy consumption is of deep importance. Why? What do we wish to bequeath to our children? What legacy do we wish to leave? Dirty air, zero trees and unnecessary waste? I know I don’t. I am already amazed at the advancements: hybrids, solar power, wind power and light bulbs capable of lasting five years. Caring for the planet is not just the responsibility of tree huggers.

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Not surprisingly, “revolution” is also a word used within the Church. I sporadically hear pastors invite members to initiate one in the community, in the state, in politics, in relationships. What intrigues me is this word appears only once in the Scriptures. In context, Jesus is speaking about the temple and the coming time when “every stone will be thrown down.” He tells His followers to not be afraid even when they hear “of wars and revolutions.” As for Jesus, He was deemed a revolutionary, a man who would not stop disrupting the spiritual status quo. Accordingly, enemies temporarily joined forces and commissioned His execution. As some saw it, He died a nobody, a lunatic full of pipe-dream ideas. But others began to say He was walking the streets once again. Their courage intensified as the Romans began to violently lash out, destroying the temple in the year 70. And more people continued to be part of this community.

I have decided following Jesus is the best way to live and enjoy being part of this community despite the stereotypes and shortcomings. While many will think that this decision is silly, that my beliefs are unfounded and that God is simply the invention of man, I choose to believe otherwise and orient my life around this belief. In other words, I choose to study the words of Jesus and practice them. And what I discover in the teachings of Jesus are the seeds of revolution, not a movement with swords, but mercy, clothing the poor, providing food to the hungry, restoration to the displaced. In fact, a recent poll I looked over noted that people find deep satisfaction in helping others. Go figure. The teachings of Jesus are countercultural: forgiving when it is not merited, assisting when it is easier to keep driving, paying when the wallet is lean already. I continually discover that when one chooses to help another, the act returns in full, many times when it is least expected. It seems the teachings of Jesus are revolutionary.

According to the dictionary, “revolution” means “a turn around.” And while many think revolutions begin with the masses, they tend to start with one person deciding to choose otherwise. On the brink of America’s forthcoming independence from England, Patrick Henry uttered a revolutionary comment in front of the Virginia House of Burgesses: “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” A friend of mine always closes a seminar he gives about Rosa Parks and her decision to choose otherwise. Refusing to give up her seat, she is told by the bus driver that she will be arrested. Firm and prepared, she echoes the words of Henry: “I knew someone had to take the first step, and I made up my mind not to move.”

I have discovered the power of this resolve in my own life. If I wait for others to take the first step, it may never happen. Pride keeps people from moving forward; they look to others and think it is incumbent upon them to “blink” first. Ironically, while this approach to life seems arrogant, I see inherent humility. While the decision to live as a person of change is bold, understanding the risks should no doubt increase the awareness of the possibility of failure. Deep wisdom comes through failure, though. Revolutions, like Burma, may “fail” for a season, but the seeds are in the earth and in the minds of onlookers. And amazing change comes in good time.

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