A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Monday, October 31, 2011

"Why Will YOU Occupy?"

I've been increasingly drawn to the Occupy Wall Street movement. In fact, Sheri and I even talked about heading to Wichita for a day to join the movement happening there, but so far we haven't got beyond talking.

There's a neat website that daily posts new pictures (I think Sheri posted the link in her blog post, The global 99%)) of people briefly describing their circumstances in a handwritten note on plain notebook paper. The intro blurb reads thus, "We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to chooose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we're working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent. Brought to you by the people who occupy wall street. Why will YOU occupy?"

Here are three representative notes from this site:

"I graduated from a top university and struggled to get a part-time job where I'm working less than 25 hours a week. I don't have enough money for rent, but somehow, I am one of the lucky ones. I am the 99%."

"I have a good job, a paid house, savings and a master's degree. However, I earn my wealth, I don't merely speculate on other people's activities. I don't gamble other people's money, lose and get tax payers to contract a debt to bail me out and assume my losses. I don't claim millions of dollars for myself by shorting the commodity market while others can't pay rent. I work and I actually produce value, creating a 'bigger pie' for us to share, instead of greedily focusing on getting a larger share of the current pie. I don't take millions of dollars in bonuses for sitting behind a desk with a title. I actually deserve the share of the collective wealth I am getting. That share is proportional to my personal contribution. That contribution is real and useful. I am the 99%."

"I am 39 and have a goob job. My husband goes to school and takes care of our 14 month old after losing his job in 2008. We have no savings and drive old cars and owe his parents over $25,000. We will not be able to buy a home until our parents die - what kind of American dream is that?! We are getting by = we are lucky. We are the 99%."

I read a bunch of these vignettes, and interestingly the scripture that started to echo in my mind, was Marys' song from Luke. "He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 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. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever (Luke 1:51-55)."

The Bible resonates with this occupy movement. The movement is working to keep its distance from both political parties, recognizing both are a large part of the current problem. It is working to be inclusive, welcoming people from all walks of life who see the injustice in our financial systems and want to voice their displeasure. It's message is simple, it is not right for 1% of the people in this country to claim this disproportionate amount of the wealth while so many of the remaining 99% struggle to pay for food and other basic needs. Who is going to disagree with this?!

There's a companion website for the wealthy 1% that everyday posts their own notes claiming sympathy and respect for the occupy movement. This site says simply, "We have more than we need, while the 99 percent struggles to survive. This has to change. We believe in an equitable distribution of wealth." Here are two representative notes from this site:

"Because the Bush Era tax cuts were extended, my family will pay no taxes on a $4 million inheritance. We have more than enough already - safe, high-value housing, excellent health care and plenty in the bank for retirement and school. We should be taxed. I am the 1%. I stand with the 99%."

"I made millions studying the math of mortgages and bonds and helping bankers pass the Chartered Financial Analyst Exam. It isn't fair that I have retired in comfort after a career working with financial instruments while people who worked as nurses, teachers, soldiers, etc. are worried about paying for their future, their healthcare, and their children's educations. They are the backbone of this country that allowed me to succeed. I am willing to pay more taxes so that everyone can look forward to a secure future like I do. I am the 1%. I stand with the 99% (Which equals 100% of America)."

These cries of both the 99% and the 1% echo throughout the pages of scripture. Last week's lectionary passages profile just two of the many, many examples we could pull on from both testaments. Micah 3:5-12 and Matthew 23:1-12 are anti-establishment. Micah covers the whole shebang of society - political, judiciary, religious, economic. Matthew zeroes in on the religious establishment. In both cases, the dominant religion has chosen to align itself with the powers that be rather than with the power of God.

In Matthew 23, Jesus indulges in a chapter-long tirade against the Pharisees. It goes on and on. Here are a few of the accusations: the Pharisees exalt themselves and usurp the rightful place of God; they make sacred their affection for gold; they obsess over the trivial details of law while neglecting the weightier issues of justice, mercy and faith; they are hypocrites (Jesus calls them hypocrites in this chapter no fewer than six times); and worse than all else - they put to death those prophets who dare speak truth to power.

Micah is even more graphically to the point. Verses 1-3 in chapter 3 basically say it all. Quoting now from Eugene Peterson's The Message Bible, "Listen, leaders of Jacob, leaders of Israel: Don't you know anything of justice? Haters of good, lovers of evil: Isn't justice in your job description? But you skin my people alive. You rip the meat off their bones. You break up the bones, chop the meat, and throw it in a pot for cannibal stew."

I found a round table discussion hosted by Religion Dispatches magazine. The contributors were theologians, religious authors and journalists. It was difficult to keep straight who said what, but here are a few of their observations about the occupy movement.

"The occupiers want to smash the golden calf of our nation: greed and the worship of Wall Street. But perhaps we're also guilty of making an idol out of religion. In the oft-quoted words of Jewish theologian, Abraham Joshuah Heschel, 'Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods.' Too often religion is limited to spiritual narcissism, the worship of a dead god for our self-pleasure. The living God transcends the coziness of our churches, mosques and synagogues, and transcends the prayers and ceremonies performed as ends in themselves rather than vehicles for transforming our world. It's time to quit worshipping our golden calves."

"The occupiers are creating an unusual social space where everyone is welcome on an equal footing and where everyone can become sanctified - can be made holy - during a time of great extremity and privation."

"These people long for an end to what is literally unbearable and what cannot go on indefinitely: the secession of the successful and the arrogance that goes with that, the betrayal of the poor and the contempt for workers, the violence of American empire, the ravaging of the planet, the rewarding of what amounts to criminal activity by many bankers and other one-percenters, and the subservience of the political class to the 1%."

One of these contributors offered a tantalizing thought. What would happen if the occupy movement crept its way into the western Christian Church?

I'll close with Micah 3:5-12, taken from The Message Bible. If you read closely, you'll see I've taken a few liberties with the text in order to make it....well.....a little more contemporary shall we say.

Here is God's Message to the prophets, the preachers who lie to my people:
'For as long as they're well paid and well fed, the prophets preach,
'Isn't life wonderful! Peace to all!';
But if you don't pay up and jump on their bandwagon,
their 'God bless you' turns into 'God damn you.'
Therefore, you're going blind. You'll see nothing. You'll live in deep shadows and know nothing.
The sun has set on the prophets. They've had their day; from now on it's night.
Visionaries will be confused, experts will be all mixed up.
They'll hide behind their reputations and make lame excuses to cover up their God-ignorance.'

But me--I'm filled with God's power, filled with God's Spirit of justice and strength,
ready to confront Washington's crime and D.C.'s sin.

The leaders of America and the leaders of corporate America are
leaders contemptuous of justice, who twist and distort right living,
Leaders who build America by killing people, who expand the U.S. by committing crimes.
Judges sell verdicts to the highest bidder,
priests mass-market their teaching, experts preach for high fees,
All the while posturing and pretending dependence on God."
'We've got God on our side. He'll protect us from disaster.'
Because of people like you, America will be turned back into farmland,
D.C. end up as a pile of rubble,
and instead of the capitol encircled by bright city lights,
a few scraggly scrub pines will mark the spot."


Sheri Ellwood said...

I wanted to click the Amen Sister button at least twice. We need to get our protest signs made:) It would be good if this movement could creep into the church but I think we need to take part as servants more than as leaders. The church has been complicit with the powerful too often. So, I have been contemplating how the church can humbly yet boldly support the Occupy movement. Sounds impossible perhaps but God often works through paradox. Perhaps through public confession and repentance of too often neglecting to stand where God calls us to stand: namely with the 99% for the sake of 100%.

Wanda Nelson said...

This makes me think of the women and peace movements in warring, chaotic nations in Africa. They made their protest signs in Liberia; they may have even been servants, but if they were, they were bold servants. They relied on the protection and power of the Lord. These grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins used Occupy tactics and made them count. "No more! No more! No more!" was the cry. Have we ever told our politicians, our judicials, all who sit in offices and think they have power over the people, "No more! No more! No more!"? God help us.

Lynn Schlosser said...

I think maybe we've forgotten how powerful the voice of "the people" is - even more so when we witness with a bold but peaceful resolve. This is democracy (little d) at it's best.

Anonymous said...

My problem with the Occupy movement (or maybe the press coverage of it) is that the protesters don't say what they want someone to do about all their various issues. All I understand is that they want jobs and money. Nothing new about that. I don't think that many would argue against the point that the world would be better if no one struggled to make ends meet. The question is, "How do we achieve that?"


Sheri Ellwood said...

If I didn't have a couple of friends who were following the Occupy stuff on facebook, I doubt that I would know it was going. So, coverage is a bit lacking. Here is a quote that I think helps explain what the movement is about: "They actually have a pretty clear and focused message: There are deep but resolvable cracks in our system of governance, which has artificially rigged the possibility of extreme profit at the expense of the greater good. The most articulate spokesmen identify a single, most pressing need for action: that Congress reinstate HR1489, the Glass-Steagall Act, set up in 1933 and repealed in 1999, removing conflict-of-interest safeguards between investment and commercial banks (this doesn't make for vivid evening news video-clips, so you'll have to Google/Wikipedia it. )" This is from this post by Daniel Simons http://www.episcopalchurch.org/80050_130158_ENG_HTM.htm
My understanding is also that they are trying to avoid a list of demands and encourage conversation so that they can't be pacified by some half way measures. I am not expressing that very well. It is not a movement that is easily pinned down which is confusing but probably to their credit as well.