Archive for January 2012

Guest Blogger Jeremy John “The Occupation of the Lord’s Prayer”   1 comment

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.

Amen

Posted January 31, 2012 by occupyevangelicals in Uncategorized

Dr. King’s Legacy, Evangelicals, and Occupy Wall Street   Leave a comment

Shortly after the Martin Luther King holiday, the Washington Post ran an article about the African American church’s support for OccupyDC. I would like to comment on a few statements made in the article by some of the pastors quoted there, because I think in a very short space, they covered a lot of important ground.

Rev. Graylan S. Hagler of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Northeast Washington, said  “This is the continuation of the [civil rights] movement. It was the economic movement that King was killed for.” I think what Rev. Delman Coates, pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton said, clarifies what Pastor Hagler meant by “economic.” Coates said, “When Dr. King was killed, he was . . . fighting for the rights of sanitation workers. It is critically important that we relate our faith to issues of economic justice and systemic inequality.”

Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, who ministers to many in the Maryland suburbs, and co-founded Occupy the Dream with former NAACP leader Benjamin Chavis said. “I think the Occupy Wall Street movement has held the legacy of Dr. King and has brought the church back into accountability. … Dr. King would be here today.” Speaking of the church, Rev. Jonathan Weaver, founder of the Collective Banking Group,  said, “Overall, people have reached a level of complacency, and that concerns me. There is a growing sentiment that much more needs to be done well beyond worshiping on Sunday morning and getting people engaged.”

I’ve been comparing OWS to the Civil Rights Movement for some time, so I’m glad to hear these pastors doing it. I’m sure they have a much better understanding than I do, and more credibility. It’s an important point. We may not know what exactly is ahead for OWS – how long it will last, what techniques it will use, how extensive its influence will be – but there is no denying that their concerns about “economic justice and systemic inequality” are those of Dr. King. Someone said to me that “Occupy Wall Street was destined to be a footnote in history … but no more.” Time will tell, but the footnote should at least read that individuals in the 21st century claimed and championed the legacy of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. If all it amounts to is a footnote – and I pray that won’t be the case  –  it won’t be because today’s protestors weren’t true to King’s courageous legacy. It won’t be because they weren’t willing to raise their voices or enlist their bodies in the fight. It won’t be because they didn’t care enough to face down the police and be arrested.

Again, like Doctor King, these pastors relate their OWS activism to their faith. This also is an important point. There is no dichotomy here between faith and works, between the “gospel” and the “social gospel”, between issues of “justice” and “social or economic justice.” Pastor Bryant says that Occupy Wall Street “…has brought the church back into accountability.” I don’t know how he might elaborate on that exactly, but I think he means that OWS is reminding the church about it’s rightful role in the world. I think he means that OWS has created a situation where, if the believing church doesn’t step up and do the right thing, that it will be obvious – and odious. The implication is that the church has forgotten part of God’s call, and that the mostly secular OWS group is not only reminding the church of God’s priorities, but making it very difficult for her to go on doing business as usual. Pastor Weaver speaks of a “level of complacency” in the church, and this is part of that. How can we look at what’s happening in our nation, and be content with just “… worshiping on Sunday morning?”

Only one pastor quoted in the article had objections to the church’s involvement in Occupy. Rev. Joe Watkins, pastor of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Philadelphia, said that churches should stick to their primary mission. “The role of the church is to lead people to Christ and to tell them the good news and to live the good news.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Pastor Watkins that the church is to “lead people to Christ” so that they will “live out the good news.” But his comment begs the question, and raises so many other questions. For instance: What is the “primary mission” of the Church? What is the “good news?” What does it mean to “live the good news?” Can the “primary mission” be reduced to just one or two tasks? Does “living the good news” involve mission work, educational ministries, worship, and an emphasis on prayer in life and ministry? If not, then in my opinion, it’s reductionistic and unbiblical; and if so, then it doesn’t necessarily rule out other Biblical tasks being added to this list – like a concern for social justice – that is, justice. (Can you imagine the God of the Bible making a difference between justice and social or economic justice – a distinction where one mattered to him and the other didn’t? I can’t.) Is the “good news” only about forgiveness for me, and then me telling others how to be forgiven, so they can tell others, and etc.? No more than that? Clearly no, and Pastor Watkins own remarks make this evident. We have to “live out” our faith, he says. Can you imagine Moses, the prophets, Jesus, the Apostles Paul or John, or James (who provocatively measures true religion by care for widows and orphans) – can you imagine any of them suggesting that “living out” our faith didn’t include caring about justice in our world and attempting to do something about injustice? I can’t.

One of the most prominent topics in the Scripture is God’s concern for the poor, and consequently his expectations for his people to be his hands in caring for them. If this is at the heart of the Bible, and so prominent on the heart of God, it must be at the heart of our mission. We are to “lead people to Christ”, and then what? Many things – worship, witness, growth in faith and virtue, discipleship of others, hospitality and caring for those who are disenfranchised, disadvantaged and downtrodden (widows, orphans, foreigners, etc.) There’s really nothing on this list we can leave off – and if we do, at that point we have forgotten our calling.

My point is not that the Evangelical church has to support or become involved with Occupy Wall Street – although I think that could be mutually beneficial. My point is that the church can’t afford to continue in it’s “level of complacency” in this regard. (If you and your church cannot support OWS to address these issues, then what will you do instead?)

Our nation stands at a crossroads. This is the time to act. Of course, injustice is ever-present, but in our nation now, it’s tearing us apart. It’s not only bad for us as individuals (including congregants in your church), but it’s wrong. It’s offensive to God and to his glory. An overstatement? I don’t think so. When someone made in his image is treated like a slave or sharecropper, when the weak and poor are exploited by those who are obscenely rich, when speaking “truth to power” is enough to get you beaten up and locked up by the authorities – then God is not only angered, but his image or glory in those abused individuals is attacked. That’s why Jesus could say, “… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (In the context he’s talking about the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the one needing clothes, the prisoner.)

The Evangelical church can do better. In the past it hasn’t always been as it is now. We just need to rouse ourselves, listen for his voice (in his Word and in our world), and follow where he leads. To do otherwise won’t accomplish anything. To do it for Dr. King isn’t good enough. To do it out of guilt isn’t good enough. To do it solely to help the needy isn’t good enough. But to do it in response to God’s great love for  us – a love which we then extend to others –  and ultimately for his reputation – to make him known as the glorious Savior God, that will be a good thing, and only that will be enough.

Fact Checking “Proud to be a Member of the 1%”   1 comment

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.

Posted January 11, 2012 by occupyevangelicals in Uncategorized

Shameful Intolerance at the Rose Parade   Leave a comment

It was a beautiful day for the Parade of Roses in Pasadena, California this year, and also a day that gave the Occupy Movement an opportunity to share their passions and complaints with what was perhaps a new audience. Unfortunately, the otherwise great day – both for the parade and for Occupy, couldn’t overcome the ignorance and even hatred of a small percentage of the onlookers. Even sadder, was the fact that some of the hatred was coming from those claiming to be Christians.

Let’s start with the locals. I suppose they came for one experience, and ended up with an additional experience. It wasn’t a “bait and switch”, it was only an unexpected ending to the event. (The Occupy protestors with their police escorts, followed in the trail of the floats, and didn’t interrupt the parade in any way.)

Maybe that caused bouts of irrationality. In any case, many people in a youtube video who voiced an opinion about the Occupy protestors didn’t really rise to the occasion. One guy in an LA Dodgers shirt shouted “Stop complaining and start working!”, and another gave the “thumbs down” sign. Another older guy with a sinister grin just gave the cameraman the finger. Another using a rolled up newspaper as a megaphone yelled, “Get a job!” Yet another held up a sign “Obnoxious, Whiners & Slackers.” Warren Jensen, actually gave a brief interview: “I think it’s ridiculous. They should put as much effort into getting a job as they’ve … out here not working. [The ellipsis is his, not mine.] I think they’re spending a lot of time wasting time getting out of doing things instead of doing things they should be doing.” Well put Warren! I couldn’t have said it better myself! (Well, actually, I wouldn’t have said it, and I do have some problems with what you said.) For instance, what makes protesting problems in our society so ridiculous? Is that what you said during the Civil Rights Movement? Is it time “wasted” to try to communicate with people (like you) who apparently don’t know what is going on, just what IS going on? Suppose there is actually a problem – or even quite a few problems in our beloved country. Isn’t it good if someone makes some noise about those problems?  And why do you and the shouters assume that the protestors don’t have jobs? You’re not working either at the moment – does that mean you don’t have a job? What “should they be doing” instead of this “waste of time” that would please you? Maybe they should have just stayed home on their fannies watching the Rose Parade on television. Would that be considered a better use of time by you? Have you thought lately about what it means to live in a democracy?

I wish that were the worst of it, but on top of being disappointed by someone from my home state of Ohio, I was grieved  by others claiming to share my faith – claiming to be Christians. (They were dressed more like Hell’s Angels or Guardian Angels – some kind of angels, but they didn’t act like angels, or Christians, or even nice people. They acted like ignorant, hateful bigots, and in the process – even though they were a small minority of the people present, made me and every other person who professes faith in Jesus Christ look bad.

This is what the “angels” spokesman was yelling, “You guys are nothing more than communist revolutionaries. The jig is up. We know who you are. You people need to occupy a jail cell.” On their t-shirts the message emblazoned, “JESUS said, he that believeth not shall be damned.” Really “believeth”? That’s how you tough guys talk?

Now, Christians do believe that people need to believe something and in someone – yes, actually Jesus. But most Christians believe in showing respect to others in the process, speaking to them in a gentle, respectful, considerate, caring way. Along this line, the Bible instructs Christians to  always [be] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (If that’s not the way Christians have treated you, I apologize for them as well.) If these shouters had read even one book in the last 25 years about speaking to others about their faith, they would have known that their approach was block-headed, shameful and doomed – doomed, not only to be ineffective, but offensive and counterproductive. What they did brought shame, not only upon them, but upon the church of Jesus Christ at large, and that’s just sad. (I had a Christian friend who would wear a t-shirt somewhat like these guys were wearing. It said, “Turn or Burn!” I always thought that it was more about his pride and (immature) zeal than about any real concern for others. He wasn’t effective either – but he didn’t care. Probably another point of contact with the L.A. “angels.”)

I have to end with just a few more questions for these men with the shirts and signs. Are you so all knowing that you can see there are no Christians among the protestors? And who made you the judge? And what about not throwing the first stone – or trying to remove a speck from someone else’s eye when there is a plank in your eye? (Jesus warned against that.) In other words, take a look at your own behavior and be humbled before God, and let that humility inform your approach to others. And what makes you think you can tell that the Occupy protestors are communists. Again with the bigotry and ignorant slurs – but even more than that, since when did being a communist in this country become a crime? Your assumptions show us all “who you are” and it’s your “jig” that is “up.” You apparently want a country where everyone has to believe like you do – or else be jailed. As I asked Warren Jensen, “Have you thought lately about what it means to live in a democracy?”

Can you hear the “Lord Jesus Christ” (whose name is written large on your signs) weeping over your behavior? Just listen.

Evangelicals, Humility & Modern Political Debate   Leave a comment

I’m reading through the book The Dissenters, and was fascinated by the brief chapter on John Brown, the abolitionist who was hanged for his attempts at freeing slaves in the 1850s. The book has a transcript from his interrogation after he was caught, as he lay seriously wounded in the armory at Harper’s Ferry on October 19, 1859. I think his reply to one of the questions put to him is instructive:

Mason: “How do you justify your actions?”

John Brown: “I think, my friend, you are guilty of a great wrong against God and humanity – I say it without wishing to be offensive – and it would be perfectly right for anyone to interfere with you so far as to free those you willfully and wickedly hold in bondage. I do not say this insultingly.” (And this is his attitude consistently through the interrogation.)

I was taken aback by the humility of his response – the “politeness” of it. Today, in our political discourse, when again there are grave differences of opinion about what is right and what should be done, the level of disrespect, general nastiness, arrogance, and even hate is often appalling. To read the posts on Facebook and Twitter you would think that everyone is an expert, every issue is easily parsed, and everyone with a dissenting viewpoint is a fool, a pawn, or has been bought.

Back to The Dissenters again, for there you can also read Jefferson Davis, the eventual President of the Confederacy during the Civil War. In his defense of slavery he explains that if the South must take up arms it will “… invoke the blessing of Providence on a just cause.” (my emphasis)

What is my point in all this? I suppose I have four:

1) That good men will often differ on what is the noble and necessary action to take in great and urgent matters. And if they believe in God, they will differ too on whose side He is on. (What army ever went to war doubting that God was on their side?) It wasn’t only John Brown who believed in his soul that he was taking up a just cause and trusting God to help him. The same could be said of Jefferson Davis.

2) That when such men take opposite approaches, in direct conflict with each other (e.g., “keep the slaves” v. “free the slaves”) they both can’t be right. And while they both can’t be right, they certainly both can be wrong.  For instance, there may be some middle ground or third approach suggested from some other corner which would be more just and wise. Or maybe even though their cause is just, their motives may be unjust – or perhaps in their action they’re missing the mark because their methods or timing is premature or otherwise ill conceived.

3) That when you’re in the middle of such debates – or battles –  you often don’t have the objectivity to see your own limitations, pride, miscalculations and impure motivations – all of which may be apparent to others – or like in the case of Andrew Jackson, may become evident in time. (And, yes, I know I write as a Northerner.) All arrogance springs from a lack of awareness of one’s limitations in this way.

4) Humility therefore is mandatory, and should characterize what we say and write, and how we treat those with whom we differ. The fact that “this is not how we do it these days” only makes change in this regard more urgent. We need a revival of civil discourse. (A few members of Congress have taken hold of this need lately, and have joined together to create the “Civility Caucus.“)

I believe my appeal so far applies to everyone – bloggers, journalists, candidates – anyone with an opinion. Look at all the issues out there these days – internet freedom, free trade, immigration, educational reform, global warming, growing economic disparity, tax reform, the global economy, big v. small government, religion and politics, abortion, gay marriage, causes of poverty, the death penalty, the welfare state, Israel, the Tea Party v. Occupy Wall Street, etc. Do you spend most of your time each week reading on both sides of all these issues? Do you have the seasoned maturity of at least a sixty to eighty year old? Are you of exceptional intelligence and the product of some great educational institution, so that you’re able to flawlessly parse all the issues? Are you less affected by the time and place you live in, your life experiences, and your peers and prejudices than, for instance, Andrew Jackson? I doubt it, and in my opinion, you should too.  It was no less than Albert Einstein who said, “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” Look to yourself first, and let it control your (best case scenario) righteous anger – and your words. “Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.”, said Thomas a Kempis. Perhaps dialing down the anger could be beneficial to all. It certainly would be an appropriate display of humility.

My appeal to the Christian community – and to Evangelicals –  is based on the Bible and Christian commentary on it. The Bible states that, “ … with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2) In it we are told to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another because “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)  Finally, our faith requires that “ … in humility [we] consider others better than [our]selves.” (Philippians 2:3)

St. Augustine called humility “the foundation of all the other virtues.” Charles Spurgeon and others  humility as simply having “… a right estimate of one’s own self.” John Calvin insisted that the key to such an appraisal of ourselves would come as we first “… look upon God’s face and then descend from contemplating him to scrutinize” ourselves.  In his Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards wrote that humility was one of the “virtues where the beauty of a true Christian is seen most clearly.”

If the actions and words of others should be characterized by humility, how much more so then, those of the Christian? Like John Brown did in his response, we can point to a better way.

I remember a quote I found more than 30 years ago: “The man with one watch always knows what time it is; the man with two is never sure.” Maybe you’ve had this experience. Either way, you know it’s true. Dylan’s lyric, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” was written by a young man – but one who had already learned that with maturity, often many things that were settled become less obvious and certain.

I love John Ortberg, and consider him an almost unparalleled guide to the spiritual life (that is, to life). He jokes, “We’d like to be humble … but what if no one notices?” Don’t worry, if you’re truly humble, in all the power and beauty of it – like John Brown before his accusers – others will surely notice. And if you’re really lucky or blessed, they will be impacted and influenced by you, and if you’re really lucky, they won’t tell you.

I end with the prayer of Peter Marshall, former chaplain in the U.S. Senate,

“Lord, where we are wrong, make us willing to change;

where we are right, make us easy to live with.”

or better yet, with that of St. Francis of Assisi:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

Dreamin’ Man   Leave a comment

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.
Feeling mean.

John Sebastian

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.

Neil Young

.

Posted January 3, 2012 by occupyevangelicals in Uncategorized

Michael Bloomberg – The ‘Imperial Mayor’ of New York City   2 comments

I’ve been calling him this for some time. I don’t know whether I’m the first to do so, but I hope so. I hope it can be my small contribution to Michael Bloomberg’s legacy. I used to like him. I don’t know if I just wasn’t paying that much attention, or if Occupy Wall Street just hadn’t made him finally show his true colors.

At around 7:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, while many gathered in Times Square to bring in the new year, about 500 Occupy protestors gathered again in Zuccotti Park. NYPD members and “security officers” from Brookfield Properties stood guard nearby. The evening started peacefully enough, but then a mother and her two young daughters made the mistake of putting up a small child’s tent (about two feet tall). The police “stepped in”, the Occupiers eventually removed the troublesome tent, and the first crisis of the night was over. At about 10:50 p.m., some protestors and police wrestled over some of the metal barricades that surround the park. Police charged into the park, and at least one man was arrested, but again the tensions subsided. Then, just before 1:30 a.m., for a reason that is unclear in the New York Times article – unless there actually was no legitimate reason – the police descended:

“… security guards and police officers entered the park, where only about 150 people remained. A line of officers pushed protesters from the park and led about five people out in handcuffs. One officer used two hands to repeatedly shove backwards a credentialed news photographer who was preparing to document an arrest.

“A police commander announced through a megaphone that the park, which is normally open 24 hours a day, was closed until 9 a.m., but did not provide a reason. A few moments later, officers told the crowd that had just been moved from the park that the sidewalks surrounding Zuccotti Park were also closed, and directed people across Broadway.

“Just before the park was cleared, about 200 protesters marched north through SoHo and into the East Village. At 13th Street and 2nd Avenue, officers surrounded dozens of protesters walking on the sidewalk around 3:00 a.m. and began arresting some of them.”  (Actually, about 50 people were eventually arrested.)

This report will shock few, but that only makes it worse. In just these few paragraphs we have an outline of what has become a template for NYPD handling of mostly peaceful Occupy Wall Street protestors – and a template that is being more and more embraced across the U.S: unchecked and unnecessary force, cavalier disregard of laws and ordinances by the police themselves, mass arrests apparently intended to dissuade constitutionally protected protest,  and an attempt to squelch freedom of the press. (Even making a list of these objections by now seems tired, but I ask your forgiveness for it. If we accept these tactics, only more outrageous ones will follow.)

The context of this clearing of Zuccotti Park is obviously the now infamous cleansing of the Park on November 15, 2011. To later complaints the ACLU, numerous media organizations and journalists about Mayor’s Zuccotti “frozen zone”, which included attempts to freeze out journalists, Bloomberg answered, “The press made a big deal that they, you know, were denied their rights.” Obviously, he doesn’t think so, and he said so: “You don’t have a right as a press person, I don’t think, to stand in the way just in the interest of you getting a story.” He added that no one had been prevented from reporting – a patently false claim. He explained further in his weekly radio address on WOR-AM:

“In the middle of any police action, you just can’t let another group get in and get in the way of doing something, … It would also not be fair to the protesters, because then you’re running around, you’re working around things; it’s hard to find out what’s going on, hard to communicate, and then people can get hurt as well.” He was very clear that when it comes to the media, “They just had to stand to the side while the police did their job.”

This seems like quite a novel interpretation of what the freedom of the press entails, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, and the representative of Lower Manhattan, thinks so strongly enough to call for a federal investigation of the previous police action at Zuccotti Park. In his letter to Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the U.S., Nadler says, “This City indeed has a duty to protect the health and safety of all those who live and work in Lower Manhattan, as well as their right to the quiet enjoyment of their community, but that duty must always be discharged with respect for the fundamental First Amendment right to free expression, and to assemble peacefully and petition government for redress of grievances.”

On the specific concern of NYPD preventing journalists from doing their job, he states:

“In addition to my concerns about police misconduct with respect to OWS protesters, I am especially troubled that during and after the November 15th eviction from Zuccotti Park, the NYPD aggressively blocked journalists from reporting on the incident, and in some cases, targeted journalists for mistreatment.  Individuals without press credentials were also blocked from filming events, and were, in some instances, arrested apparently for taking pictures.  According to news reports, and a letter from the major daily newspapers and other major news outlets and organizations representing journalists, at least ten reporters and photographers were arrested while trying to report on the incidents at Zuccotti Park.  The NYPD forced journalists to leave Zuccotti Park, prevented members of the credentialed press from being present during the eviction, and used intimidation and physical force to prevent reporters and photographers from carrying out their journalistic functions. Many of those arrested were not charged with any offenses.  Additionally, the City reportedly closed the airspace above the area in order to prevent news helicopters from recording the actions.”

” In response to [these] widespread reports of altercations between press and police and the documented efforts by mayors in New York City and Los Angeles to strictly limit press access during raids on Occupy encampments, journalism organizations like Free Press, the Society for Professional Journalists, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the National Press Photographers Association have been working to defend journalists. In New York City, thirteen major news organizations came together to demand an immediate meeting with the NYPD to address their concerns.” Police commissioner Raymond Kelly promised afterwards that things would be different, but that never happened, and the NYPD  continue to block and intimidate reporters – with today’s incident in Zuccotti Park being only the most recent example.

Congressman Nadler’s response to other comments by the Mayor on this score are also worth noting:

“… Mayor Bloomberg has responded that reporters were restricted for their own protection.  This justification appears to have little merit.  Journalists enter war zones to inform the American people about the status of those conflicts.  I think they can be trusted to assume the risks associated with covering a non-violent protest.  The actions of the NYPD to prevent the press from covering the protests and the eviction affect core First Amendment values, not just the right of the press to report, but also the public’s right to be informed on matters of great civic importance. Given the importance of freedom of the press to our First Amendment protections, the need for the public to know how their government is discharging its duties and the City’s apparent lack of a credible rationale for taking these actions, these incidents are particularly disturbing.”

According to a publication by the Department of State, freedom of the press “… applies not just to a single person’s right to publish ideas, but also to the right of print and broadcast media to express political views and to cover and publish news. A free press is, therefore, one of the foundations of a democratic society….” [my emphasis]

It’s undeniable then, that the concern about Mayoral imperialism, now rearing its ugly head in the policing of Occupy Wall Street, is an issue of great import. It’s also clearly not a partisan concern. Eventually, whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent – or something else, your circumstances are likely to make you great appreciate these first amendment rights. Nor is this only a New York City issue, for it’s clearly something that is spreading across the country. Finally, to my religious friends who may feel that there are “bigger fish to fry” than those that we hear about from the Occupy Movement, or who are unsympathetic to the Movement and therefore not that upset about these abuses, I can only ask, “When the police enter your church to sniff around and see if you’re doing something they don’t like, will you be concerned then? Just asking, because that’s happening now too. (I might also add that clearly, the Golden Rule pertains here. You shouldn’t have to wait until it’s your rights being trampled upon before you become involved.)

These freedoms we enjoy and take for granted were secured at great cost to others. If we intend to keep them for ourselves and our children, we will have to do our part. Once they’re taken from us, it may be too late to act. You remember that Martin Neimoller quote, right?

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