“Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.”
“It is we the workers who built these palaces and cities, here in Spain and in America and everywhere. We, the workers. We can build others to take their place. And better ones! We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth. There is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts.That world is growing in this minute.”
“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”
When she talks, I hear the revolution
In her hips, there’s revolution
When she walks, the revolution’s coming
In her kiss, I taste the revolution
People are always quick to remind us that radical ideas can never work out in reality. They blame all the deaths on the revolutionaries and forget the sanctioned violence of the status quo. Those who were already starving are forgotten and their existing miseries are heaped upon the movements trying to remember them. By taking up the cause of the foreigner, the fatherless, or the widow (literally those who were disconnected from the means of survival), we announce our hostilities to the powers of the existing order. The Rich Fool from Luke 12 claims that we are impinging on his freedom to build another storehouse, all while his workers are starving and homeless. How are the elites even supposed to signal their obvious moral and intellectual superiority if they can’t flaunt their affluence? Somehow the chosen people Isaiah was speaking to had so little faith in YHWH’s propositions of economic mutuality that they chose to live in defiance of the justice and righteousness they were called to. Is the ever-escalating inequality and subsequently inescapable annihilation of society really predestined as our inheritance?
The prophets in the Hebrew scriptures are always misunderstood. For some they are too utopian, for others too critical. Are they simply fortune tellers that confirm our preconceived notions, or just like contemporary SJWs, complaining about the bad things. Walter Brueggeman says that we need to understand prophets as both critics and imagineers, not just throwing stones, but building a better house: criticize and energize. Isaiah’s opening chapter gives us a great example: Everything sucks because you forgot where you were headed. You forgot that [God] can’t even hear all the pomp and ceremony unless you are also pouring your life out on behalf of the oppressed.
Rabbi Tarfon says in the Talmud, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.” In describing the Sabbath, Abraham Heschel says that maybe the whole point is that we get to practice living in the coming new world – one day a week – without the pressure to make the rest of the world perfect (because it is already made so!). Only then can we remember where we are headed.
But what is the point of utopia if everytime I take a step forward, it seems to retreat just as far?
Eduardo Galeano says maybe it is just for the walking. “When she walks, the Revolution’s coming,” screams Kathleen Hanna. It is in this walking – toward New Jerusalem and a renewed heaven and earth – that these radical ideas have already won. They have won inside of each of us, every time we get the chance to live them.
Ben Swihart is a community organizer, church consultant, writer, institutional pyrotechnician/arsonist, and slowly recovering perfectionist based in the Chicagoland area.