You Say You Want A Revolution

I had a teacher who used to say revolution is impossible in a capitalistic society because any countercultural idea will quickly get bought up and mass-marketed and next thing you know Che Guevara T-shirts are going for $8.99.

I found the above quote from a sports article about the Super Bowl (which I can’t find  now), but I think it applies to the prospect of transforming our lives and churches. Namely, our need for change and the attraction to change may actually inhibit change. Change cannot be bought or sold. The currency of real change is intangible, invisible. Revolution is a quiet storm.

And yet, those of us who want to see change cannot help but to pitch it as though it were a product, as though it could be had easily, as easily as reading a book or meeting with fellow minds. Can we consume inspiration? without being consumed ourselves? I think those interested in emerging church are cautious of the commercialization of revolution, yet ironically are being accused of it.

It is audacity to claim that it is high time for revolution, without providing the plan for it — a business plan, a marketing plan, a strategy, an apologetic…whatnot.

But that defeats the purpose. They’re not selling a revolution or a reformation. They’re just blowing the whistle on the rest of the church that has already bought into the notion that technique, specifications, and presentation are the end of it.

We are at an unbelievable level of Christian industry with corporate worship music publishers and songwriters, and leaders’ and pastors’ conferences, but whether or not revolution can borne in that environment is questionable. Our very culture of consumption co-opts our ambitions for revolution.

Jerry Seinfeld said once in an interview that for all the conferences for comedians that he attended, he would’ve liked to have saved everyone a bunch of time and money by telling everyone to just go back to work. The only way to learn comedy, says Seinfeld, is to go do the hard work in the comedy clubs, not by making yourself feel better about how hard the work is with all these other cats who can’t make it.

That is not to say that stand-up comedians can lead revolution, but I see an acknowledgment there that something is carved out in the midst of putting one’s life on the line. Instead of approaching the act of ministry as public art, we somehow assume that we can separate ourselves from that process. We approach our context heavy handed with a finished product and have people sit through our 45-minute infomercials on a Sunday morning. You don’t know what this can do for you! It chops! It slices! And you get a two-for-one deal this morning! Look at what it’s done for me! I used to be forty pounds lighter!

No, revolution, even a personal one, is not cheap. Revolution leaves a man ruined. And there are a lot of casualties. You can’t sell that. And even as I understand it from where I’m sitting…it’s too much for me to grasp and I can’t let go. God help me, I can’t let go.

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Comments

  1. josh says:

    brilliant. and cutting.

  2. John Lamb says:

    My favorite sermons teach via the testimony of the speaker – not the person’s salvation story necessarily but last week’s stories. Seinfeld’s principle in church takes away the formula and inserts “God-in-us-right-now-and-here’s-how” as life lesson. Papa Don does this almost exclusively. I’ve seen few others do it at all.

  3. charlestlee says:

    well said.

  4. daniel so says:

    David — “Revolution is a quiet storm” — great insight. There is so much paradox inherent in what it means to love and follow Christ. Please email me as soon as you figure it out — we’ll put together a book proposal 🙂 Seriously, though, I’m going to be thinking on this one for awhile…

    By the way, here is the link to that article 🙂
    http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/columns/story?columnist=adande_ja&page=Suns-080206

  5. elderj says:

    The problem with revolution dear chingu, is that it is inherently destructive and almost always becomes as oppressive as the regime, be it civil, social, or religious, that it sought to over throw. It is also always anti-authority, the very notion of which should be anathema for a Christian. We are after all people who insist on authority – whether or scripture, tradition or ultimate allegiance to Jesus. Revolution fails ultimately because it destroys its own foundations

    Of course everyone says that they want change; we have politicians whose entire campaign is based on “Change.” In these cases change itself becomes a marketing angle or worse yet a product to be bought sold and consumed with no thought as to what is being changed, how, and whether such change is even desirable. Such hard headed devotion to change is I think symptomatic of a society so fascinated with innovation and deaf to the lessons of history that it believes “change” can be secured by purchasing the latest i-blank, upgrading to the most recent software, attending the latest seminar, or simply meeting in an unfinished warehouse with stage lighting and round tables and calling it church.

    As you say, change is really much more a product to be bought and sold and in that way we are much like the people in scripture who were always wanting to “see some new thing” without there being any fundamental transformation in the ways in which they ordered their lives. Of course “change” as a mantra is always more popular than a 10 page policy paper on what needs to be done differently and how, which is unfortunately why the American political system and the church is reduced to making decisions based on charisma, inspiration and feel-goodism.

  6. David Park says:

    thanks daniel for finding the article! i knew it was on espn somewhere.

    elderj, while we are painting in broad strokes here, i have to disagree with the notion that revolution is inherently destructive or always anti-authority. while i may support you on your notion of depravity, and certainly your cynicism of the politics of change, i am hopeful that revolution is possible, constructive and even necessary — but not without a cross. i believe that the protestant reformation was a necessary and constructive event, and had a positive effect on the Catholic church, despite the schism. and i also would point out that the civil rights movement was another type of revolution that was overdue, but absolutely necessary and admirable in its correction of authority.

    your critique of experiments in church formats is particularly striking because well, church in many corners of America reflect privilege and power. while many a church has a great inheritance to bestow upon its children, can we say that it has done so with integrity without itself being co-opted by the powers and principalities of the world? the experimentation with the form and the disorientation it creates with regards to the traditions of the church is a welcome one in my book; it can be a constructive revolution and not merely a trend. you are right to criticize those who are doing it for marketing purposes only, but there are others who are asking timely questions and critically processing through the faith.

    there is a difference between miles davis and chet baker, john coltrane and kenny g. and again, not for the sake of innovation, but for the sake of the art…the soul. of course, the real point of my post, and i continue to wrestle with this, is that personally i am not ready for that deep and profound type of revolution. as another disciple once replied, “this is a hard teaching.” i can hardly stomach a revolution in my own life, much less the life of the church. so for what it’s worth, i want it but i don’t want it…heard that before?

  7. elderj says:

    Thanks for the pushback David; it forces some clarity that was lacking in my initial comments. When I mention the inherent destructive nature of revolutions, I am thinking of the signature revolutions of the modern era: The French and the Bolshevik (Russian), both of which were revolutionary in a way that the Reformation or Civil Rights movement were not. I think they more properly fit under the rubric of reformation, in that they utilize and in many ways accept the current forms, frames, or philosophies and radically reshape them towards ends that are (ideally) more in keeping with the original intent.

    So the Civil Rights movement was not revolutionary as much as prophetic in that it called Americans back to honoring the spirit of the original “covenantal” documents i.e the constitution and declaration of independence. Likewise the Protestant Reformation is deemed that because the intent was to bring the “church” back to a purer, more authentic form. Neither of these movements were inherently anti-authoritarian; they rather took a high view of authority.

    My critique of the revolutionary ideal as expressed in contemporary American church (and politics) is that it is often reflexive, reactive, and disrespect of authority in a way in which the Reformation or the Civil Rights movement was not. Rather than calling Christians and the church to do and to be who they are in their essential nature, there is far too much dismissal and frankly dissing of church and Christians under the guise of critique.

    What is far more radical than simply joining with others of like mind and starting afresh would be to demonstrate the kind of radical counter-cultural discipleship they espouse within the current structures and then pay the price of doing so; a type of ecclesiastical civil disobedience. So doing would either force a reordering of the current structures along more authentic and hopefully godly lines, or it would result in the expulsion of those radical disciples thereby demonstrating the corruption and inauthenticity of the current structures in a prophetic way. This is what happened in both the protestant reformation and the civil rights movement. In the former case, the reformers were expelled. In the latter case, the systems themselves demonstrated flexibility and changed.

    I fear that currently many want to “have their cake and eat it too” by stepping outside the structures to critique while inuring themselves from the negative consequences. One cannot be truly prophetic while operating entirely outside the structures one seeks to transform.

  8. David Park says:

    Thanks for extrapolating more elderj.

    I think the key word you bring up is prophetic. Prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel in particular, really internalize the lament and the sins of the people. Often they exhibit outwardly, with very strange presentations, but primarily they are operating as you say, completely immersed within the structure for the transformation of the whole.

    I don’t think we’re talking about the same “many” here, but I believe a strong and valid criticism of church, especially in America, is that the church has often stood with empire, with privilege, with power, with economies of scale, and with the majority. The black church of course, has not stood with this notion of empire, and thus were able to speak prophetically and correctively to American church at large. However, I think what is happening now is some self-reflection, a questioning, an awareness of the historical relationship between church and empire. Now, here’s is where we see how some of the church crowds differ…some get it, and others are perpetuating the notion that church and its industries can create “revolution” (read revival), and the other side understands that revolution is largely a politically loaded word and any commercialization fails because of it. While they or we may not know what true revolution could look like, it’s a healthy skepticism while trying to be present in the world. You know also that a posture the church has often taken in our society is separatist which is wholly un-prophetic, which means it is far from revolution in the “turn the world upside-down” sense.

  9. Letitia says:

    Awesomely powerful. Thank you, David.

    I linked up your post to my comments on my blog today.

    Cheers,
    Letitia

  10. David Park says:

    thanks Letitia.

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