By David Moe.
On New Year’s Eve, Burmese pastors normally read Isaiah 43:18-19—“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing.” Emphasizing verse 19 as a fundamental text for a New Year’s resolution, they encourage church members not to remember the past. But for me, it is important to review an old year with gratitude and to envision a new year with hope because our past is the clue to our identity. Without the memory of our past, we cannot form the present, and envision the future. In short, history is our identity and future is our destiny.
As 2015 comes to a close, and a new year 2016 dawns, I reviewed the former with gratitude and envisioned the latter with hope. The years both 2015 and 2016 are significant for Myanmar. The year just finished was significant for two reasons. First, the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by the Lady Aung San Suu Kyi won the military-backed ruling party Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in a historic election held on November 8, 2015. The election motto of the USDP was “time to move forward,” whereas the election motto of the NLD was “time to change.” This I called apocalyptic Myanmar. The NLD won the USDP with 77 percent. 2015 was a significant year because the NLD dethroned the USDP, which ruled and ruined the country for half century.
Second, The Economist, the British weekly magazine, recently declared Myanmar as a “Country of the Year 2015” (December 17, 2015). The magazine chose to honor Myanmar as a country of the year for two main reasons. First, in considering a timeline of Myanmar’s history—from 1948, the year she gained independence from British; through 1962, the year the military took the power; to 2015, the year that the NLD dethroned the ruling party—the magazine recognized Myanmar as a country of the year that has made a world a better place. The second reason was based on the current government’s willingness to transit power to Suu Kyi’s party, which will take place in April 2016.
For Myanmar, 2016 is a significant year mainly because the Burmese will reap the fruits of election that they sowed on November 8, 2015. Buddhists call this karma. Karma means the link between act and consequence; the deed returns to the doer. At the celebration of her victory in election, Suu Kyi said to her NLD supporters that their victory in election was the fruit of the supporter’s karmas. Karma can also mean “belief,” which motivates Suu Kyi in her struggle for liberation of Myanmar. 2016 will be a year of change and hope for Myanmar. While real change is still pending, hope is on the rise; already Burmese from all walks of life are smiling.
Real change will happen only after the military-backed government’s official transit of power to Suu Kyi’s party in April 2016. For a smooth transition, Suu Kyi has already met with the president, army chiefs, and former dictator Senior Gen. Than Shwe in the past weeks. This is part of her reconciliation with her enemies. During her separate meetings with the military leaders, they vowed to facilitate a peaceful transition. Despite the hope of a peaceful transition, the prospect of Suu Kyi’s becoming president is unsure because her late husband was British and her two sons are foreigners. But the famous statement she made before the election—“I will be above president if my party wins”—remains alive at the heart of Burmese. According to this statement, she, along with an unknown president from her party, will be leader. She will focus on national peace, national unity, and social-economic development. On top of that, she will push the practice of rule of law.
The NLD-led new government will accomplish those aims, but new challenges and opportunities await. A raft of issues awaits the peace process, including the ailing crony and military-dominated economy and education. While optimism is on one side, pessimism is on the other, in part because the country’s constitution with a quarter of seats in Parliament remains, in part because the ranks of the Buddhist nationalist group “Ma Ba Tha” grow. It is natural that people are both optimistic and pessimistic. Jürgen Moltmann distinguished between optimism and hope. Both have to do with future expectations, but the two are different. If the prospects are good, we are optimistic. Optimism depends on the condition of future prospects—this is what Moltmann called futurum. Hope, on the other hand, does not just depend on the condition of future prospects. When we hope, we may also be pessimistic. For instance, we may also hope for cool breeze to freshen up a hot summer day. Raining in a summer time is unusual, but it may happen unexpectedly.
As Christians, we are still hopeful even if the prospects are not good because we believe that hope comes from God as a surprising gift; Moltmann called this adventus. The “God of hope” (Rom. 15:13) is beside us as the Divine Brother in our despairs, and before us as a warrant for the future in which God will transform the future world. But God will not transform Myanmar without us. God will change it through us. All Burmese, regardless of religions, are God’s agents of change for Myanmar. The task is urgent for Christians, Buddhists, and others to cooperate in sharing common hopes of change.
In her New Year speech, Suu Kyi said, “All Burmese citizens have the duty to change Myanmar with the united mind of love in 2016 ahead.” The real change depends on how people put their faith and hope for change into the practice of struggle for social justice. As the current government’s term slowly winds down, Burmese have new hopes for a New Year. We hope for a new day to dawn, after a dark night of dictatorship, as we believe that the sun of democracy will rise. As a Buddhist, Suu Kyi believes in karma with the habit of meditation and praxis, so Christians believe in eschatos with the ethics of faith and work. Democracy will come in its time. Let us envision eschatos with hope, remember chronos with gratitude, and change kairos with the ethics of faith and praxis.
Task unfinished, yet, “Faith, Hope, and Love abide!”
David Thang Moe is a Burmese scholar, doing a PhD at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, KY. His research interest focuses on public theology, postcolonial theology, and Christian and Buddhist dialogues on sin and suffering.