I’m honored to have guest blogger Jeremy John contribute this post to OccupyEvangelicals. Thanks Jeremy, and keep up the good work for Occupy (OccupyDC) and for the faith.
The occupation is like Jesus’ parable, where a king invites all of his privileged, first-tier guests to the wedding. But nobody came. So the king takes the invitation out to the streets, inviting all who would come, the good, the bad, the homeless, and those with homes. And they came.
For it is written, God can make children of Abraham from the very stones of the earth. If the Christians will not occupy, God will make into his children the anarchist and the hippie, and whoever will answer his call.
The Lord’s Prayer calls us to participate in a movement confronting the dominance of Christ’s ancient foe, the love of profit above the needs of people, Mammon, in our own selves and in our government and economies.
But, again, if we do not answer, others will come to struggle for a world that is rational, that does not rape the earth and the poor. But will they struggle for a world that is loving? Do we?
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
But how will we struggle? Will we struggle in nonviolence, as the lamb marches to war, with love, conquering repenting darkness with forgiveness? We need Christians in the movement who care about not just the souls of the 99 percent, but the those of the 1 percent. Because the 99 percent is mobilizing, and their anger is righteous, like the prophetic anger of Amos. Our movement has and is choosing peace and nonviolence. In a nationwide, long-term movement, there are only a few isolated instances of violence, breaking our commitments. We are a movement that seeks reform, not revolution. So far.
But the world is writhing in the grip of a terrible nightmare. A tiny elite dominates our economies, while billions across the globe scratch for a living in the gasoline-sodden muck, fired when their factory employers have used up their bodies, perhaps even infected by AIDs or malaria. Medicine for them is too expensive because of drug patents. And anyhow, factory wages are too low because multinational corporations can shift from country to country when unions begin to form. And we are destroying the world, heating it with our carbon emissions. Soon, we will see even greater signs and portents as creation herself struggles against our bonds.
Americans ignored this problem as long as money and goods flowed freely into their homes. Until, of course, the Wall Street speculators inflated the price of housing in this country, then tanked the economy, sending America’s own children onto the streets, homeless. There were plenty of problems before, but suddenly, we care.
So when will we practice stewardship of the environment? When will we take care of the poor? When will we forgive the debts of the least of these? When and how will we, as the body of Christ on earth, begin to work towards meeting the material needs of the poor, and, in the process, save ourselves?
I believe that Christians are called to occupy in two ways, as priests, and prophets.
Give us this day our daily bread
Occupations across the country are caring for the homeless in ways I never thought I would see. In Occupy DC, nobody is turned away from the encampment. They have food, shelter, free tents and tarps, and, most importantly, community. Last Friday near the prayer tent, at the occupation, my wife overheard this conversation between two men who appeared to be homeless:
“This is your home. Welcome home, man.”
“Oh man…” he says, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Isn’t it great to have a home?”
“Yeah, it’s so great to have a home.”
And we are brothers and sisters together in making the daily camp decisions according to an adaptation of Quaker decision-making, formal consensus. I will not trumpet, as some have, formal consensus as the answer to our problems. I love it, but in my life of consensus evangelism I’ve also seen it break down in sad ways. It is an incarnation of a radically inclusive force, but it has its flaws, and can be a long and difficult process.
This is where Christians are called as priests and chaplains, to participate in caring for the material and mental health needs of a community that lives out of doors among (and including) homeless people, some of whom are mentally ill or drug-addicted. And because our occupy community believes in love by inclusion, we cannot turn them away. The occupy movement cares for its crazies, as we call them. The church has been caring for the spiritual and mental needs of her own, now let us care for the needs of the poor.
Thy kingdom come
Christians must also play the role of prophet, both to the powers, and to the movement itself. To the powers, our message is that we will no longer tolerate a political process where the needs of large-scale investors are put before the needs of ordinary people. Instead, we will support a system that values the voices of even those who have nothing, materially, to offer. A system where we can make decisions about what is really best for people in our society without the suborning influence of lobby monies.
Deliver us from evil
Getting elected is a powerfully thirsty business, money-wise. Few make it without selling out. Later, politicians take care of their friends. Some lobbying efforts pay out as high as $220 for each $1 spent, a wise investment by any standards. When political clout can be purchased, what happens when there is a conflict between public interest, the interests of ordinary people, and alien-minded transnational corporations? Who has more access to the levers of power? Who will hear the still voices of the poor and marginalized, both nationally and abroad?
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
We need Christians that can speak from the near-forgotten sabbath economic values that caused Jesus to drive the moneylenders from the temple with a whip of cords, an act that led directly to temple authorities handing him over to the Roman establishment for crucifixion. We need to speak our Jubilee values and act from the Lord’s prayer which exhorts us to forgive the debts of others. We need Christians who have read but didn’t somehow miss the witness of the twelve prophets and the Psalmists in advocacy for the poor and environmental stewardship.
We also need Christians who are spiritually grounded in hypomone, that virtue of Revelation’s church in crisis which translates as the ability to retain your beliefs while sustaining blows, or, “iron intransigence,” which comes from a Greek verb root which can mean “to dare to do.” which has been translated, rather limply, “patient endurance.”
But we don’t need Christians to come and convert us to a gnostic, hyper-spiritualized brand of Christianity that forgets Jesus’ messages to the poor, equating Christianity with assent to a proposition of belief or even a simple acceptance of Jesus into your heart. An apathetic, intellectual faith that will not interrupt the worship of the self, if it stops there.
We need Christians who share in a prophetic anger that calls for a repentance not just in the 1 percent, but in our selves. Because I believe, as the scripture teaches, that we ourselves, just like the powers and principalities, are created good, have strayed from our original inherent goodness, and are in need of redemption.
We need people among us who live out the Gospel, whether they identify as Christians or not.
The movement, as an institution, is a child. It’s still navigating it’s identity. But as I hear the way people talk about greed, I believe that occupy is the site of a kind of remembrance of our humanity. A place where people come together, in real space and time, to forge real relationships and to articulate the particularity of a grievance that we collectively share: that corporations have robbed something precious from us, a portion of our humanity. Now is the time to hear, as in the indigenous traditions, the story of each person, and to value our identity as a group, where we come from, our faiths, and our journeys, and through it, share in the holy Eucharist of community.
And thine, oh God, is the glory, the power, and honor, for ever and ever. And when we affirm this we affirm that Caesar and his money are neither masters of our hearts nor this earth.
This post is my response to an editorial on Forbes.com. entitled I Am Proud to be a Member of the Demonized 1%.
Let me begin my response to your post by saying that I’m happy for your success, and even though I’m involved in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, I’m probably more sympathetic than you would think to a lot of what you’re saying. I do feel constrained to “fact check” what you’ve said though – but I do so in a particular tone. You’ve made some good points, and there is nothing disrespectful about your approach. I offer my comments in the same manner, and I’d like them to sound like one friend challenging another.
1. Your story is not the “real story” of the 1%, anymore than Michael Bloomberg’s story is the “real story.” The 1% is comprised of a variety of individuals who have a number of stories – some of privilege, some not; some of unscrupulous, illegal, heartless deeds, some not, some involving privilege or luck, and some not. Your story is just one story of the 1%. This becomes important in the light of my next point.
2. You’re right, it’s only a percentage of the 1% that should really be targeted. It’s probably only 350-400 individuals – and even when we speak like that we generalize. Many of these people have not “created most of the jobs in our economy.” Many of them have enriched themselves at the expense of the multitudes. Many of them can not honestly attribute their success to just working harder 0r being smarter or more determined. These are the 1% that people like me in the Occupy Movement – and elsewhere – are calling out.
3. If the media isn’t telling your story fairly, well, join the club. Occupy has that problem too. And ask the Republican hopefuls whether they think the media is telling their story accurately, for instance. Or ask President Obama. (And in all fairness to the media, who would listen if they tried to do really nuanced and thorough coverage? Is there a market for that … besides NPR, I mean?)
4. If the “American Dream” allowed you to become rich after poor beginnings, that’s great, and you deserve a lot of credit for your hard work, willingness to sacrifice, and tenacity. Even if you did have a yacht or a plane, I certainly wouldn’t condemn you for that. As you argued, one of the great things about our country is that people have to right to enjoy what they earn. (If there are Occupy people who want to level everyone by taking from the rich, they’re certainly in the minority.) The Movement won’t criticize you or condemn you because you’re successful. I hope you realize though, how many people got the education, worked the long hours, made the kind of sacrifices you mention, etc. – and still don’t share your success story. You just may be taking too much credit for your superlative success – and assuming that if others don’t have it, it’s their fault for not doing what you have done, not trying as hard as you have tried, not being willing to make the sacrifices you have made. (Psychologically, the benefit of such an approach is that it absolves you of any need for sympathy toward those others, or of feeling that perhaps you need to help them.)
5. It’s also great if you’ve created businesses that have put people to work, especially if you’ve paid fair wages, treated workers with respect, and allowed them to share in the success of the company – for instance, at least by providing health insurance and reasonable benefits. These days, this happens less and less. (I’m sure you’re familiar with “permanent part-time employees” – you know, the kind without any benefits?) Many businesses don’t share the wealth – even a little. How many times have we seen massive layoffs at some big corporation and a huge pay raise to the CEO at the same time? It’s that kind of behavior, which people these days find repugnant, and that the Occupy Movement wants to “demonize” and “denigrate.” It might not be illegal, but it certainly seems reprehensible, and you can hardly blame people for saying they want to end it.
6. It’s true that tension between the extremely rich and the poor is growing in the U.S. I guess it’s fair to call it “class warfare.” To be accurate though, that small percentage of the 1% has been waging an economic war on the 99% for a long time, and the 99% is only now beginning to fight back. We’re not motivated by “envy” or “greed” – it seems like that would be Wall Street you’re thinking of – we’re motivated by the desire to be treated fairly in the marketplace – not to be exploited as wage slaves or like sharecroppers, or treated like just so many cogs in a machine that makes piles of money for someone else.
7. You don’t have a lobbyist, or a banker or congressman in your pocket. You’ve not making huge contributions to political campaigns to buy influence. That’s all well and good, but others are doing all these things. You surely must understand if we can’t just sit idly by and accept that. In fact, maybe there is room for some common ground between you and Occupy here. If you made your money through honest hard work, without morally disgraceful and illegal means – then I can’t see why you wouldn’t agree with us, that those who haven’t should be criticized and stopped from doing it (at the least) and penalized whenever possible. (What’s so unreasonable about asking why no one has gone to jail for their part in crashing our economy?)
8. You say that no one has ever given you anything. Fair enough. But what about having a heart for the less fortunate? I don’t know about you, but I’m a Christian. The Bible encourages and commands me to help those who oftentimes can’t help themselves – this doesn’t mean hand-outs for people who won’t work. (Under the leadership of Captain John Smith at Jamestown, when some of the settlers refused to work, and threatened the survival of all, they made a rule, “He who will not work, shall not eat.”) I get that. But God cares about the downtrodden and disadvantaged. The Bible even uses “caring for widows and orphans in their distress” as the definition of “pure and undefiled religion.” What this means is that each of us ought to have a heart for those who are downtrodden, poor, immigrants, widowed, orphaned, etc. When we have such a heart, we will show grace, compassion and kindness to others in need. Life is about more than just climbing to the top of the heap and beating everyone else to the brass ring. It’s the “human” race, after all, and such grace and compassion towards others is a big part of what it means to be human. We can debate about how to show this compassion, but I would hope that we all want to see it happen.
9. To me, your article reads too much like a resume of reasons, not only why you are successful, but also why you deserve to be successful. Did you ever see the yearly issue of Time Magazine where the cover features what people around the country do and what they make? Only a little exposure to one of those issues will send you away with the conclusion that how hard people work, and what they make, often have almost nothing to do with one another. You know how hard the guys in my neighborhood work to roof a house? They start really early, finish really late, and never stop moving in between. They really hustle. It’s completely impressive. They don’t make much, and maybe some of them sleep in the truck as their bedroom at night. Is it really only that you have worked so much harder, or could it be that you have been “blessed” in many ways – ways that allowed you, with all of your hard work and determination – and some luck – to succeed as you have? Isn’t that possible? After all, you had a father, you got a college education, you haven’t suffered from a debilitating disease, you were born with all your limbs and your right mind, you parents didn’t sadistically abuse you, your neighbors didn’t shun you because of the color of your skin, the police didn’t stop and frisk you several times a week because of the neighborhood you lived in. Right? Like you, I’m a white male, born to loving parents and educated in decent schools, born in the 20th century. I was taught good morals, and surrounded by many loving family members and friends. I was born in the United States and therefore able to enjoy all the freedom and opportunity that entails. I am in the 1% of the richest people who have ever lived on the face of this earth. I would never dream of pretending that I haven’t enjoyed the luxury of a privileged life – compared to many others – to the other 99% of people who have ever lived. I would never dream of pretending I owe my success (which is nothing like yours) only to myself. And I hope that I always remember just how privileged and even lucky I am as a person. No man is an island, and perhaps it’s the most successful among us that stand in the greatest debt to others in this way. I know you were defending yourself in your article, and you might not have expressed much humility for that reason. But no matter, in my opinion, humility is definitely indicated. (And once humility grips you, because you realize how fortunate you have been, your heart will be softened towards others – and that’s indicated too.)
10. Finally, you say that “Just like millions who came before me, our sacrifice, discipline, personal financial risk, and unmatched work ethic has made America into the greatest country in world history.” I agree. But we’ve lost our moorings. We’ve drifted from our values. Capitalism and unbridled Capitalism are two different things. Like people, businesses and corporations need to be checked by legislation – and most of all, by morality. Morality isn’t working too well anymore, and when that happens, it’s basically impossible for legislation and law enforcement to make up the difference. That’s the sad state of affairs today – and the solution to it is surely just not more of the same me-first, others-be-damned kind of Capitalism.
Hope that things can change was the reason I became involved in the OWS Movement in the beginning. If you’re one of the good guys, we’re not against you no matter what your percentage is. If you’re in the upper one percent, and not an exploiter of others, a law-breaker, or someone buying political influence – then we’re actually protesting for you. We’re looking out for your interests. I don’t imagine that you’ll be bowled over with appreciation, but I hope I’ve freed you from feeling persecuted by the Occupy Movement. We’re not ignorant or mean. We’re just terrified as we look into the future.
I had a dream last night
What a lovely dream it was….
Why did everybody laugh
when I told them my dream?
I guess they all were so far
from that kind of scene.
For Christmas my son gave me a copy of The 99%: How the Occupy Wall Street Movement is Changing America. The book includes articles, transcripts, photos and interviews, all attempting to make sense of the Occupy Wall Street movement which was in its infancy when the book was written. I was only twenty pages into the book when I read Roseanne Barr’s address to OWS at Liberty Plaza on September 19, 2011:
“I WANT A NEW capitalism. Not fueled by wars. One that doesn’t pass on its wealth to a handful of white guys and call that free trade. One wherein the elderly actually get paid their retirement monies. We’ll have capitalism, but we’ll also have socialism. And education and basic compassion and healthcare I’m talking about a system that rewards hard work and ambition, but cares for its weakest child …. We will simply combine capitalism and socialism and create people-ism, where ideas work for a functional system. No one will cling blindly to single, unyielding ideology …. We will actually compromise, adjust and make reasonable choices. We will have common-sense solutions.”
What I love most about Barr’s comments is her “dreaming outside the box.” Some may laugh scornfully, but I believe we have enough cynicism to go around already – I see it in myself. But I don’t want to be so negative, so pessimistic, so cynical, so locked into what is known and taken for granted about “how it is”, so “sophisticated” and “intellectual” that I can no longer hope, imagine change, or dream of something much better.
Barr’s article is set up by Lynn Paramore’s Introduction to the book. She also imagines …
“a world where students are not crushed by debt, where the elderly do not choose between food and medicine, where wars are not waged for profit, where we care together for the Earth and for principles like acceptance and nonviolence, where the people control the political system and where human values drive our society instead of corporate greed.”
Sandwiched between these two women’s articles is an article by Arun Gupta, a founding editor of The Indypendent newspaper. He wants us to envision the realization of “… a society based on human needs, not hedge fund profits.”
I just wanted to go on record as saying that I’m responding to the call. I will hope. I will work. I will learn, and I WILL DREAM. Nor will I be limited in my dreaming by what I’ve known, what seems feasible, or by what history, my peers, or the experts tell me must be. I won’t limit God’s ability that way, or disrespect humanity, made in his image, as though it couldn’t possibly rise to a moment of greatness.
I’m a dreamin’ man,
yes, that’s my problem.
I can’t tell
when I’m not being real.
I’ll always be a dreamin’ man
I don’t have to understand.
I know it’s alright.