Emerging revolution – the church should watch and learn


Kester Brewin has posted an interesting article on his blog today about the part that social media is playing in contemporary revolution – both inside and outside the church:

….change occurs when normal people are given the opportunity to communicate with one another, unmediated by the powers that be. It is irrelevant whether that is Twitter or Facebook or otherwise. What is important is not information dissemination, but shared conversation. Not about ‘this is the news’ but ‘this is where we’re going to meet to make the news.’ Mubarak was toppled because people spoke to one another and decided together that enough was enough. If power-politics is about ‘Divide and Rule’ then social media is the antithesis of this. It is about ‘Unite and Change’ and though these networks themselves did not bring down the government, they facilitated the huge protests and encampments that did.

This, I believe, is how we can see a line joining the revolution in Egypt to the whole emerging church movement: things happen within seemingly dead and immobile institutions when people begin to talk to another and believe that a new way is possible. I don’t believe that it is coincidence that the rise of the internet was paralleled with the rise of the emerging church movement. It wasn’t that the internet made a new way possible, but it did give permission to new forms of connection and communication: people were able to disseminate ideas and discover that they were not the only ones feeling a particular way.

I think this has always been the case, and part of the core code of the gospel is this base-level communication. Jesus didn’t send out edicts or write proclamations. He simply walked around and spoke to people. The message of Pentecost is not about fire-power, but simply this: speak to one another in language you can understand.

I’m optimistic that social media – if it can escape the grip of promoted tweets and constant advertising (which I’m not sure it can) – will continue to be a powerful tool to make powerful structures more accountable. Not because information will be shared, but because people will simply be able to share how they are feeling, and work to act together.

I think he has something here. Revolution is by nature a bottom-up rather than a top-down phenomenom. Real change cannot be forced on someone, it has to come from within them.

In the 1962 film of The Birdman of Alcatraz, Burt Lancaster plays Robert Stroud, a convicted murderer who is in prison for life. The film to some degree focusses on the relationship between Stroud and Harvey Shoemaker, the Warden – played by Karl Malden. After 35 years in prison, Stroud has seen what justice and rehabilitation in the penal system is all about and he writes a book which Shoemaker finds in his cell.

They then have a conversation about what rehabilitation means and Stroud says this:

“I wonder if you even know what rehabilitation means.  The unabridged Webster’s International dictionary says that it comes from the Latin root word ‘habilis’, which means to invest again with dignity.  Do you consider that part of your job, Harvey, to give a man back the dignity that he once had?  Your only interest is in how he behaves.  You want your prisoners to dance out of the gates like puppets on a string with rubber stamp values impressed by you, with your sense of conformity, your sense of behaviour, even your sense of morality and that’s why you’re a failure, Harvey, because once they are on the outside they are lost souls, just going though the motion of living, but underneath there is a deep, deep hatred of what you have done to them.  So the first chance they get to attack society they do it and the result is that more than fifty percent come back to prison”.

Stroud recognised something significant.  Edicts from above can change and condition your behaviour, but they can’t change your heart – make you do, feel and believe what is right and just.

Only a change of heart will impact your worldview – and that has to come from within you.

This is just as true in a secular context as in a church context – and it is this change of heart, when it occurs in a ‘critical mass’ of people, that can start the chain reaction and leads to the ‘tipping point’ of revolution.

To quote Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does”

The problem is that so often revolution takes place as a result of anger, hate and the desire for revenge – and these are not good characteristics on which to found a vision for the future. For reformation to follow revolution then the anger needs to be replaced by a common sense of purpose and shared identity that is inclusive of all – a true sense of ‘communitas’ if you like, the compassion and intimacy that develops amongst people who share an experience of transition and vulnerability.

This is my prayer for Egypt, as well as my prayer for the church – hopefully with social media fuelling the spread of fresh ideas and new ways of thinking.

In the one case, my hope is that it will result in equality, equity and lasting peace for the Middle East, and in the other, lead to revival.

Read Kester Brewin’s full article here.

2 thoughts on “Emerging revolution – the church should watch and learn

  1. Thanks, Dave. I would like to say I discovered the Birdman illustration myself, but must admit that I got it from a Skye Jethani sermon I listened to ages ago :)It is a good one though – really hits the nail about the contrasting effect of law and grace on the human condition 🙂


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