Summer Reading: Mutiny!

As protest movements multiply and the global economy lurches from crisis to crisis … it seems that we actually need the pirate spirit of Roberts, Teach and Fly to rise strongly again and come to our aid. (37-38)

IMG_20140721_224814 - Version 2Mutiny! Why We Love Pirates and How They Can Save Us may very well be the book of 2014 for me. I’m enthusiastic about an author who can tilt her/his head sideways to look at the world askew and connect dots across the breadth of our collective & individual lives. Author Kester Brewin examines the histories and mythologies of pirates, notes our continued fascination with and animation of them (Jake and the Neverland Pirates, anyone?), and ventures to ask why pirates remain essential to our social landscape.

In doing so, Brewin doesn’t stop with pirates of lore but rides a wave across events both recent and historic, fact and fiction — from unsanctioned British publishers of the early 18th century to Arab Spring protestors ignited by the death of Mohamed Bouazizi in the 21st century, from the tales of Captain Hook to the adventures of Luke Skywalker. Dare to tilt your head with Brewin and witness the patterns of death imposed — not by pirates, as we are so often taught — but by systems of power & wealth. Dare further still to hear and delight in the tales of pirates who laughed in the face of death-by-system, choosing to live defiantly in new and more equitable ways.

It’s worth clarifying for us church types (who should all go read this book right. now.) that pirates are not the equivalents of prophets, a descriptor used frequently — and too loosely, imho — to proclaim ourselves bold for preaching an uncomfortable word to the comfortable or daring to name a “political issue” from the pulpit. Prophets and pirates risked far more than we, but to my point, the two are distinct in their relationship to those systems of power & wealth. Prophets envision and announce a new system, while pirates could care less whether the old system continues or dawns anew; pirates create their own just, inclusive communities outside of the system entirely.

This, then, is what we can take ‘pirate’ to mean: one who emerges to defend the commons whenever homes, cultures or economies become ‘blocked’ by the rich. … What makes pirates so frightening to the powerful [is that], rather than challenge them to a fair fight like good revolutionaries should, pirates raise two fingers to the whole charade. (47, 50)

Mutiny! is worth the read if you are passionate about social justice … but Kester Brewin doesn’t limit himself to observations of society and systems; he ventures into the deep waters of psychology, religion, faith, and (a good preacher’s thesis) the ever-important question, “What are we going to do about it?” Spoiler alert on piracy and Christianity: yes, Jesus is a pirate — How did I never before connect Golgotha to the Jolly Roger?! “Place of the Skull” + cross/crossed bones?! — but how exactly Jesus achieves his piracy may be less obvious and worth reading to discover!

But the particular religious kernel I’m still savoring is Brewin’s take on the parable of the prodigal son. Hint: it’s a tragedy, not a happy ending. Hint: the wandering younger son came this close to being the parable’s pirate/hero. Hint: oh my gosh, you need to read this book because I will never see the prodigal son parable in the same way again! I won’t even hold you to agreeing with Brewin’s interpretation, though it is brilliantly twisted and insightful.

I am setting down Mutiny! with a sigh to continue on to another book on my summer reading list, but I am (as evidenced above) a completely convicted fan of Mutiny! Watch for pirate references and images to begin sneaking into my work. 🙂

The skull and crossed bones does not just mean ‘we are bringing you death’; rather it announces, ‘we are the dead.’ We, the shat-on, the abused, the flogged, the ones you treated as less than human, have escaped your power, have slipped away from the identity you foisted onto us … and thus [are] free of all fear. (53)

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