We have a propensity to glorify revolution. We want to label things as revolutions whether they are revolutionary or not. Perhaps this is because we view ourselves as the by-products of a revolution. We love to celebrate rebels who overthrow and overturn the felt tyranny of the old existing order. This is right and good to a certain point, but revolution has a dark side, too. It is rare however that we pause to reflect on the negative consequences of revolution.
I like to tell my students that revolution is like a boulder perched on the edge of a steep slope with a village at the bottom. Various factors have brought that giant rock to the edge, and now people who are looking up see it, recognize its danger, and demand it be brought down. But once the bolder has begun to move, what can make it stop? It is true that there is no such thing as a “little” revolution. Revolution always goes further than the radicals who began it intended. They are lucky if they can escape the fate of those who started that most famous of all revolutions. It was said of the French Revolution, “La revolución devora a sus propios hijos”—that it devoured its children. Those who were friends and supporter of the revolution one moment were its enemies and victims the next.
This is the dark secret of revolution. Revolutions destroy, shatter, and obliterate. Theirs is not the sharp scalpel of the surgeon operating on the diseased body of a society but the uncouth blast of the shotgun. Sometimes the shotgun is what is needed; sometimes the society that exists is so rotten that all that remains is to put it out of its misery and start afresh. But when we do that we don’t need to fool ourselves: we lose. We lose many of the things the old society had produced and accumulated throughout its long existence.
500 years ago this month one of the great revolutions of world history began. It began like almost all revolutions: by not trying to be one. An unimportant professor at a backwater German university posted a list of academic arguments about a rather obscure theological point. There is no need to get into all the details here, but make no mistake: Martin Luther started a revolution. His stand before the forces of the Catholic Church tore the one thousand years of Christian unity in the West into numerous pieces, and Luther’s revolution, like so many others, quickly moved far beyond what he intended.
I am not here to argue that Martin Luther was right or wrong; what is done is done. As we sit here almost exactly 500 years later, most of us who stand has the heirs of his revolution will hear his praises sounded. The rebel who stood up to the vast corrupt giant of the Renaissance church with a hammer, nail, and ninety-five thesis is worthy of our praise and remembrance, but this time should also be tinged with sadness at the destruction that his revolution wrought.
Rather than celebrating the event that divided the body of Christ, it is just and appropriate to spend our time reflecting and praying for a resurrection and a renewal of that universal body. This is the intention of a group of Christians from various traditions who have organized and devoted their time and energy to a Unity Prayer Service happening at 6:00 P.M. on October 19 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The interdenominational gathering is the work of Jon Jones, among others, who for the last year has been planning and organizing this service as a way of using the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to remind us of vast amount of common beliefs that we share as Christians even while acknowledging the very real differences that continue to divide us.
Jones and others have reached out to every church in the area through letters and personal visits. They have also run a social media campaign to raise awareness for the event. Numerous local businesses have donated to make the event possible. The service will see Protestants and Catholics united in prayer and son, and reflection will, at least for a brief moment, remind us of what things were like at the best of times before the revolution and what they will be again one day when all of God’s people are united.
For more details about the Unity Prayer Service, RSVP to the Facebook event.
Kevin Vailes teaches whatever they ask him at the Augustine School in Jackson, though if he had his choice he would spend his time ruminating on the intricate complexities of the classical world and trying to get his Latin students to study their vocabulary. Kevin grew up in and around Jackson and went to Union University where he met his best friend and wife Elizabeth. They live in the Jackson’s historic LANA neighborhood in a 100+ year-old bungalow with their five children. He believes that stories are what bind us together and cause us to love and care for something, and he hopes that in sharing Jackson’s stories with you, you will fall in love with Jackson and care about it too.