The day after the French National celebration of Bastille - and I am reminded of what that moment symbolises.
Some see the French Revolution as a blood bath of selfish greed. Some find a romantic strand of love, passion and justice. Some see it as a precursor to greater things, a declaration of human rights that would form into a worldwide legal statement in future years. And some find a narrative that seems irrelevant to our modern lifestyle and engagement with politics.
For myself, my initial connection to the French Revolution came through the study of Methodism. I have sometimes referred to the early days of that religious movement as a revolution - an alternative disturbance of the norm, challenging society to rethink each persons responsibility to the other and creation. For example, their activism that developed alternative schooling, healthcare and workers rights.
In my mind, I had always seen it as the better revolution ( as it ran concurrently with growing unrest within France ). One that provoked change whilst avoiding destruction of life and self centred agendas. Yet maybe that is a bit unfair.
Both revolutions had their so called high points, moments of hope that you could touch in your daily life. Those tangible dreams soon moved into the praxis of nations, laws and standards that we still benefit from today. Their low points also shared a commonality. Even though Methodism didn’t share the streets of blood narrative; vested interests, bias’ and power grabs all scuppered a work that was crafting out a new way of living. When I leave aside my unhelpful bias of trying to declare a winner of the best revolution, I see another dimension of commonality that brings relevance to my present day life.
The Bastille structure represented a system that oppressed opposition. It was a symbol that spoke of a clamp down on artists, storytellers, activists ( to name a few ) who dared to critique the present through a declaration of an alternative future. The use of force to suppress prophetic economies echoed the power grab by land owners and their oppression to those who lived upon their land. The storming of the Bastille on the 14th July 1789 represented more than an anger towards a building. It was a show of disgust to a system that was unjust, propelled by a voice that was active within the shadows and cracks of the political norm.
England had its own Bastille. Although not a building, the 18th century was rife with a system that made it hard to protest and live out an alternative to the political structure. It also favoured land owners with laws and processes that cemented their thrones of power in business, property, politics and education.
The Methodist voice was more than a preach upon a hill or street corner. A revisit of their early sermons and locations of mission, and you see a voice and action that declared an alternative local economy. One that taught peaceful ways of protest and business relations - a precursor to a Trade Union operation. Financial structures for schooling and health support. Encouragement for women to enter into lines of work and community activism that was predominately geared towards the male agenda. And the list can go on.
Over 200 years have passed, and I find the tale of these two revolutions still relevant today. The argument over land distribution. The political force to uphold a way of living that benefits a few. A clamp down on alternative economies and educational possibilities. And in amongst all this - voices and actions crafting out a new future within the highways and byways, cracks and crevasses of the expected norm.
My personal challenge today? One that is directed at myself.
Where am I positioned - in the Bastille, or alleyway?
I would like to say alleyway, but its not an easy choice. The Bastille offers comfort. Although fake and empty, its system tempts apathy and self interest to ignore the reality of how empty its shelves of commerce really are. And then the alleyway is a bit more awkward. It’s harder to live there because self is exposed. Apathy turns to active engagement into crafting an alternative way of living. It requires an adjustment, but the fruit of that choice is an abundant harvest of living well.
The morning after Bastille Day, and I challenge myself yet again to choose life. A message I have read many times in a book I cherish about a Saviour who I think is the ultimate revolution.