An Unexpected Revolution

Gerard_van_Honthorst_001.jpg
Gerard van Honthorst, The Nativity

By Elizabeth Stoker-Bruenig

This post is offered to explore how diverse religious traditions intersect with the politics of systemic social and economic justice. DSA’s Religious Socialism Commission will launch its own website in February. For more information about the Religion and Socialism Organizing Committee, write to maxine.phillips@gmail.com - Eds.

“Christmas,” Swiss theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar wrote, “is not an event within history but is rather the invasion of time by eternity.” The improbability of eternity disrupting time itself is the principal upending in the long list of unexpected reversals that characterize the Christmas story.

Startling events set that story in motion: a young woman of no special social standing is visited by an angel, and in short order the virgin is pregnant. Her betrothed, who, according to custom and religious law, has every right to send her away or have her executed, instead goes through with the marriage. Underneath a star so bright it is visible in daylight, the couple travels to another city and finds not a single room available for the mother of the Son of God. Thus, the Messiah is born and laid in a manger, a trough reserved for animal feed.

It’s very strange, a series of incongruities. Underscoring all of them is the notion that God would want anything to do with humanity.  This, Søren Kierkegaard writes, is the core absurdity of Christianity itself: “Christianity teaches that this individual human being — and thus every single individual human being, no matter whether man, woman, servant girl, cabinet minister, merchant, barber, student, or whatever . . . . exists before God, may speak with God any time he wants to, assured of being heard by Him — in short, this person is invited to live on the most intimate terms with God! Furthermore, . . .for this very person’s sake, God comes to the world, allows himself to be born, to suffer, to die, and this suffering God — he almost implores and beseeches this person to accept the help that is offered to him! Truly, if there is anything to lose one’s mind over, this is it.”

Kierkegaard is right: there is a note of madness in the idea that, for so many average folks and motes of dust in sunbeams, God – the creator of the universe, infinite and omnipotent – would submit to human flesh and an earthly life. In that sense, Christmas is the introduction to a totally astonishing plan. 

And yet too often, Christian thought is sterilized and diluted until it resembles little more than popular wisdom, or worse, common sense. “The summa summarum of all human wisdom is this ‘golden (perhaps it is more correct to say ‘plated’) mean’,” Kierkegaard writes, “ne quid nimis [nothing in excess]. Too little and too much spoil everything. This is bandied about among men as wisdom, is honored with admiration. . . . But Christianity makes an enormous giant stride beyond this ne  quid nimis into the absurd; that is where Christianity begins…”

Christmas is where Christianity begins, and, as Kierkegaard observes, it is rife with the strange and unexpected. Optimally, then, it should serve Christians as a time to mine tradition and practice not for their most tired applications, but for those that are unexpected and those that lead us in our pursuit of the unexpected.

There is, after all, something revolutionary in Christianity – a tendency to upend, reverse, and radically transform. In Mary’s magnificat, the song of praise she offers at her meeting with her cousin Elizabeth, she proclaims, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant […] He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” This list of upsets issues from the mouth of a peasant girl who has been promoted to an almost unimaginable status. That the radical reversals of Christmas are enumerated to us by a young woman of no particular social standing is itself an incredible bit of turnabout.

The revolutionary character of Christianity is usually washed out and mostly confined to specific political moments when it’s useful to refer to it. But this selectivity, too, should be upended. Christianity is at all times concerned with the poorest, the most vulnerable, the most oppressed; it is permanently interested in reversing this order, in aiming at and accomplishing the unexpected. Christmas, the moment when time is invaded by eternity, is the moment when the reversal of all oppression becomes not possible but necessary. The unlikeliest upsets of order become, in the moment of Christmas, the beginning of Christianity itself, and remain essential to its character.

There is no Christianity, therefore, that is not revolutionary. It is possible to construe Christmas as another one of those soothingly cozy Christian celebrations, but it is more accurate to construe it as a call to revolution. From this moment on, nothing of the old order can be left intact: Christ has come to uplift the poor and bruised, and his example is Christianity’s command.

Elizabeth Stoker-Bruenig is a PhD student at Brown University and a member of the organizing committee of the DSA Religion and Socialism blog that will launch in February.

Grassroots Fundraising: Paying for the Revolution (9pm Eastern)

June 23, 2017
· 46 rsvps

Are you new to socialist organizing? Or after many years do you still struggle, raising money from members when you need it but without a steady flow of income or budget to plan ahead? Are you afraid to tackle fundraising because it seems so daunting or you are uncomfortable asking people for money?

In this webinar, you will learn why fundraising is organizing, and how to do it – face to face, through fundraising events, and other ideas.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

Instructor:

  • Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

Training Details:

  1. Workshops are free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have preferably headphones or else speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt talt@igc.org.
  5. If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt schmittaj@gmail.com 608-355-6568.
  6. Participation requires that you register at least 21 hours in advance -- by midnight Thursday for Friday's webinar.

NOTE: This training is scheduled for 9:00pm Eastern Time (8pm Central, 7pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific, 5 pm Alaska, 3 pm Hawaii).

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

June 27, 2017
· 68 rsvps

Join DSA activist Judith Gardiner to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 9 pm ET, 8 pm CT, 7 pm MT, 6 pm PT.

Data Security for DSA Members

June 27, 2017

Ack! I googled myself and didn't like what I found!

WHAT: A DSA Webinar about "Doxing"
WHEN: 9PM EST, 6PM PST

We're proud of our organizing, and chapter work is transparent for both political and practical reasons. However, there are basic precautions you can take in this time of rapid DSA growth to protect your privacy.

Key Wiki is a website that meticulously documents DSA activity and posts it for the world to see. If you're an active DSA member, likely your name is on their website. This is an example of "doxing".

As DSA becomes larger, more visible, and more powerful, we might expect that more websites like this will pop up, and more of our members' information might be posted publicly on the web.

Join a live webinar on Tuesday, June 27 with data security expert Alison Macrina, to learn:

  1. what is doxing? with examples and ways to prevent it
  2. how to keep your passwords strong and your data secure
  3. where to find your personal info on the internet and how to get it removed
  4. social media best practices for DSA organizers
  5. what to do if you've already been doxed

Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/9173276528

Call-in Info: +1 408 638 0968
Meeting ID: 917 327 6528

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 8 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.