I've been reading a book on John Brown. If you're not familiar with him, Brown was on the forefront of the abolitionist movement. His methods included inciting slaves to riot and carrying out a bloody raid on the frontier of Kansas, murdering several proponents of slavery. The book's chilling title is John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War and Seeded Civil Rights. Brown undoubtably did as much or more to propel the cause of the slave to the forefront of the northern states' agenda as any other man. He is simultaneously admired for his ideals and vilified for his methods.
Reading all this, it's made me thing about the nature of revolution. It seems every revolution needs a lunatic such as Brown. For an institution to die and another rise up, there must be at least one wild haired, wide eyed dreamer who so loves an idea or hates a reality that he is completely numb to convention. That man, a hero, becomes almost a pawn to his own destiny. His contemporaries usually make him out to be a villain. Even those who benefit from his zealous wholeheartedness distance themselves from his methods and rants...but history marks that lunatic a hero, albeit often a dark one.
One generation removed from the bloody beginning of a revolution, you will find a class of people who never knew bondage or tyranny. Those are the ones to judge heroism. In their minds, the price paid was a worthy one. The only question they ask is why the bulk of their forefathers were never willing to pay it.
What makes a John Brown? Aside from the Calvinist answers about him not having any choice...what makes a man do desperate things on behalf of change? I'm coming to the belief that heroes are most often normal people who just happen to realize the ship they are standing on is going down fast. It may be listing starboard, and part of the ship may stay afloat for some time, but the hero recognizes that the water is rising in relation to the safety rail and decides it's better to find out what's next than it is to handcuff one's self to the brass. No amount of bailing, creative seamanship or collective denial will change the fact that this boat will not float long.
The revolutionary, lunatic hero leaps into the sea, more content to go it alone than to die with a group in the soup below. To be fair, most heroes operate under a certain measure of delusion. It takes that to jump ship, especially when life on the ship is all you know and all your friends are still gathered there on the deck, dying but not lonely.
The hero who survives is the one who heads for shore. The common mistake is to think that once you're clear of the sinking ship that you're home free...but it's not so. There are sharks in the water, looking for solitary heroes. These sharks have eaten other heroes and they like the taste. Heroes , the sharks tell us, taste strangely like chicken. Sharks can barely tell the difference. The surviving lunatic is the one that realizes he can't stay where he is - he must swim for the rocky coast. His ship needed replaced, not merely abandon.
For every lunatic hero who jumps ship, one hundred stay behind, self-handcuffed to the rail. For every one who stumbles ashore, a hundred more were eaten by sharks...but invariably, one gets through. He lands on new ground, infinitely safer than he was on board, even though he's cold and wet and hungry. That lunatic hero builds a fire, dries his own clothes, and has the fire roaring for the others as they stumble ashore.
It's interesting...when your ship sinks and you wash up on land to a warm fire, you don't remember much about how you regarded the lunatic who jumped ship to begin with. To those who warm themselves in the new reality, he becomes a gallant genius. One generation later, their children are retelling the story as if it were their forefathers who willingly jumped ship to begin with.
Why all the thoughts on heroism this morning? Because I believe church as we do it is a sinking ship. The first few over the rail will be regarded as lunatics, as wild men and women, rebels who don't know what's good for them. Some will think that by making it off the ship first, they've got it made...and a shark will eat them. A few will make it to a new shore and start a fire. Many will join them. In 30 years, the fire on the shore will look like the most reasonable answer to the predicament to those who judge it in context of history.
Of course, right now, anyone jumping ship looks like a lunatic. Later, they'll be regarded as a hero. The truth lies in both opinions. It takes one to become the other.