Tag Archives: protests

Would Jesus Occupy Wall Street? (The Answer Might Surprise You)

I have been asked a lot lately about this issue. People both within the Occupy Wall Street movement and without come to this question assuming that Jesus would basically be doing whatever they want to be doing. Those on the Occupy side tend to believe that Jesus would Occupy Wall Street just as Jesus “Occupied” the temple in Jerusalem, flipping over tables and the like. Those who are opposed to the Occupy movement usually say that Jesus was completely non-political, that Jesus was only political in regards to bringing more people to correct religion, or that God is in control and thus protesting the way things are is protesting God. Thus they would say Jesus would surely not be Occupying Wall Street. After giving it some thought, I think I have the right answer.

No. Jesus would not be a part of the current Occupy Wall Street movement.

That might shock some of you, and yet lull others into a false sense of being right. So let me explain. If Jesus somehow were to have come now to the world rather than 2000 years ago, he certainly would have some things to say about our current system of oppression. But, Jesus would not have waited for the middle class to get upset before he acted. Jesus would have been at the forefront of protesting (or non-violent social action) long before Occupy got its momentum. Jesus would have been at the forefront of teaching and growing the Kingdom of God movement. Perhaps it might have been called the Party of God, the Nation of God, The Community of God, the Dream of God, etc… but it would have addressed both the religious and the social climate of our day, as it relates to God’s will.

Perhaps it is backwards to ask whether Jesus would join the Occupiers, and perhaps more appropriate to ask if they would join him?

Remember, in the culture of Jesus, faith and politics were impossible to separate. So what happened religiously affected the political and social lives of the everyday people, and vice-versa. Therefore, when Jesus was talking about the Kingdom of God, was he talking about sphere of faith/religion or the socio-political sphere? Both. They were the same thing then. How then are we to think of how Jesus might address our current crisis? Would Jesus, as many of my good friends suggest, simply deal with the spiritual lives of people today, ignoring the socio-politics of the 21st century? Or, as many of my colleagues from the opposite end of the spectrum suggest, would Jesus simply address the socio-politics, and leave the religion behind as less important? I suggest these are false premises. Jesus, if his earthly life before was any suggestion, would have addressed both.

This might come as a surprise, but God is concerned about what people do, even if they are not followers of God or never will be.

God is concerned about Justice, whether or not it involves people being in “right relationship” with God. A few scriptures here might help.

Amos 9:7 reads, “Are you not like the Ethiopians to me,
O people of Israel? says the LORD.
Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt,
and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?”

The Philistines were the religious and political enemies of both God and the Hebrews, and yet God shows his hand in helping them similarly to when he helped Israel. And even while the Ethiopians were not Hebrews, God likens his relationship with Israel to them. You see, God is concerned with more than just “Christians.” A second scripture:

Ezekiel 49-51 “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. Samaria has not committed half your sins; you have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed.”

Here, the scripture states (and this should settle the homosexual issue regarding Sodom) that Sodom’s sins were pride, having too much food, prosperity, and not helping the poor and needy. I’m sorry, but Sodom wasn’t Hebrew, right? They didn’t have a “love relationship” with God, right? And yet God still cares whether or not they do justice? God still cares if they have too much food and wealth, and don’t aid the poor?

I can’t be the only one who sees this as a picture of how America is acting, right? Since many would claim, rightly or wrongly, that America is a Christian nation, would it not fall even more heavily upon us to take seriously the charges God leveled against a non- Christian nation? They hoarded wealth and did not help the poor and needy. Enough of that. If you won’t see it now, you likely don’t want to, and not amount of exegesis will help that. So back to Jesus.

Now that we have established whether God cares about things beyond the spiritual realm (and whether we should act for justice even apart from religion), we can turn to Jesus’ acts and teaching.

Jesus’ Teaching on the Rich

First, is it not interesting that Jesus does not address the rich, except in discouragement?
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.””

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

[This one isn’t about all rich people, just religious people who don’t concern themselves with the poor, only with “getting people into “right relationship” with God] “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (contrary to popular interpretation, this was a condemnation of a system that placed tithing above a person’s ability to survive. This is not an example of how the poor should give)

Mary, singing about what God is doing through Jesus: “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.”

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”

“God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

The story Jesus tells about the rich man and Lazarus should scare us, because it has nothing to do with religion, but only about how a rich person is rich, and a poor person is poor.

The story Jesus tells about the sheep and the goats is loaded with people who are “in a love relationship” with God, but in the end, are rejected and judged because of “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these.”

“There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. (for those who are eager to dismiss this verse as simply this man’s greed being the reason for Jesus’ words, you might want to look deeper. This man was violating a commandment. The command in Deuteronomy 15, “There need be no poor people among you…If anyone is poor among your people in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.”)

“How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

Jesus’ Teaching on the Poor

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” It is interesting that Jesus addresses the physical ailments of these folk. Lame = walk. Lepers = cleansed. Deaf = hear. Dead = raised. poor = raised out of poverty…er… wait, why would Jesus help everyone else, but leave the poor with a message of post-houmous salvation? I respectfully submit that the “good news” may be about more than spiritual matters, but indeed included helping the poor out of their poverty.

“For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” Jesus hearkens back to Deuteronomy 15, where the law clearly states that if they desire it, there does not need to be any poor people among them. The idea that their generosity should be so great that the poor from other places are flocking to them, creates this effect of the poor “always being among them.” Shame on you for using the words of Jesus to justify not doing more!

“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (once again, Jesus points religious people to the statute of helping the poor in Deuteronomy 15. It is not the need for a deeper spiritual life that Jesus is addressing in the man, but the plight of those around him that are suffering.)

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.” (Wait, Jesus, you don’t mean to say that wealthy people aren’t paying their fair share, right? They keep the economy of the temple afloat! Surely this poor woman shouldn’t get a temple handout on the backs of the wealthy donors!)

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” (err… Jesus, don’t forget about the rich, now. They need spiritual help too…. huh? The “gospel” isn’t just “spiritual?” That doesn’t make any sense. Now you better preach to the rich too, or we’ll sue…)

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.”

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” (try preaching on this text on Sunday. Talk about a quiet room….)

“‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’” (what is this referring to? the wedding feast for the King’s son…)

“Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.” (what? salvation came to the house when he gave the poor handouts? He gave them 4 times too much! Salvation should have come when he called on Jesus, not when he was unfair to himself by giving to the poor out of his abundance!)

Now, that certainly isn’t a comprehensive list. Most, if not all of the parables of Jesus contain economically subversive statements that take up the cause of the poor.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (this should only take a minute. What is the Kingdom? It is very neatly explained in the following words. The Kingdom of God is where God’s will is done. That is why Jesus prays that God’s Kingdom come ON EARTH as it is in Heaven. You see, the message of Jesus isn’t escaping to heaven at the end of our lives, but transforming this Earth into Heaven as much as possible. Is there poverty in heaven? No. Is there greed in heaven? No. Is there injustice in Heaven? No. Therefore every step we take, religiously or not, towards making earth more like heaven, we are participating in the Kingdom of God)
Give us this day our daily bread. (this sounds like the prayer of a poor person, eh?)
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (contrary to popular usage, the greek word refers to debts, not sins. Ergo, Jesus is saying that if people forgive others their economic and social debts, God will forgive them their debts to God)
And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. (dear God, we can’t afford to go to jail, even if we can’t pay our debts, please keep the taxman and the rich landowner away for a little while longer)
So what?

To say that Jesus was not political is simply very poor theology, verging on outright heresy. I am not claiming, now or ever, that Jesus was not concerned about spiritual matters such as teaching, prayer, scripture, sinning, forgiveness, worship, and the rest. That would be heresy as well. But to claim, as many Christians do, that Jesus is somehow apolitical and simply cares about our spiritual lives is false.

Still, I advocate that Jesus would not join Occupy Wall Street. If they cared about the poor and injustice, the Occupiers would join him, just like justice-minded people joined MLKJr, whether they were religious or not. He was about bringing this world closer to the kingdom of God, whether people knew it or not. Whether they cared or not. Whether they appreciated it or not.

A more practical question, though, is whether or not the followers of Jesus should join Occupy Wall Street and its affiliates. Based on everything above, and based on the fact that the church simply does not have the reputation for fighting injustice, and based on the fact that so many Christians are downright hostile to the poor, or those advocating for them, then I would say that unless you are doing something equally beneficial on behalf of the poor, oppressed, or hungry, then we should have a moral imperative to support the movement, even if we may not be able to be Occupying with them. To those who think that this movement is non-Christian, and therefore think that Christians should not support it, I would point out that tacit Christian support of America’s current policies are far more un-Christian than Occupy, and downright damaging to the conditions of life for others. Do you drink soda? Live in America? Own a computer? Ate candy lately? Wear clothes from a chain store? Cheered for a professional sports team? Then you have ALREADY participated in practices VASTLY more evil and destructive than Occupy could ever be.

Occupy wants to help. They are democratic to a fault. They reflect the vastly different groups of people that are a part of them (as does America at its best, no?). They don’t have it all figured out yet. They have a lot of growth to do. But they will do so, with or without Christian influence, as long as so many Christians shun them. Even if you consider them evil, or bad, or the enemy, how often have you loved them? How often have Christians taken them supplies they need? How many of us have fed them? Does not Jesus say to love our enemies? If you can’t even get it right on how to treat non-violent enemies who are doing YOUR job by advocating for the poor, then how do you really expect to get anything about Jesus right?

It appears we are unwilling, not unable, to see Jesus for who and what he was. Not simply a spiritual guide, filled with some vacuous Christ-conciousness. Not some kind of a Savior of our souls so we can escape this world and go to a better one. Not an absentee king who gives us pretexts for wars and exploitations in the name of the kingdom of God. Instead – A revolutionary, a brilliant tactician for the underdog. A flag-waver for the losers of the world. A son of God who tells us what is really important, and let himself be killed so the whole world would know that just because someone says they bring peace (Pax Romana), doesn’t mean that they won’t kill you in order to force it on you. And then rises to show us that we have nothing to fear by following God, because they can do their worst, kill us, and it will be ok, because God has that covered.

 

My Experience with Occupy Dallas

First, some housekeeping. If you want to know why I stand in solidarity with the 99%/Occupy Wall Street movement, you can click here for some reasons that convinced me. If you want a small list of what the movement might like to see as far as meaningful change, you can click here. However, just know that any movement which places people over profits, values the whole over a few individuals, is willing to start conversations and act, and is willing to use non-violent action to do so has my sympathy already.

Now, last Friday at around 6pm, my pal Scott and I took the train from Fort Worth to Dallas. We decided to participate in Occupy Dallas rather than Occupy Fort Worth because the Dallas crowd is bigger and our thought is that we could do more good initially as a larger, unified crowd. Plus, at the time, the Occupy Fort Worth group was rather small and seemingly non-committal.

While on the train, we discussed our reasons for joining up, and lamented how so few of the Christians we knew were willing to get involved. As I have been tweeting and Facebook-ing over the last few weeks, we have noticed a few varied responses from our Christian friends about the Occupy movement.

The first response is probably the expected one. Ignorance. Many Christians don’t know what the heck the movement is, where it came from, what it wants, what it is doing, or nearly anything else about it, besides what they might see on Fox news or some other news channel. Second, those who are against it. Many of these also fall into the ignorant category above, since they don’t have an accurate view of what the movement is, again, probably from watching only a certain brand of news channel. But, there are those that have equated their Christian philosophy with that of capitalism, and thus see any threat to economic-anarchy as bad. Third, there are supporters. Those who, in spirit, are sympathizers. However, for any number of reasons, have chosen to not get involved. My BFF Mike is one of these. He simply doesn’t have the time or the clarity at the moment to be able to read and research all he can about whether or not he wants to throw in with this lot, but from what he has heard, he is very sympathetic and cautiously supportive. There are others who are all on board with every thing they hear. They know what the movement is and they hope it succeeds. But they don’t want to personally get involved. Lastly, there are the ones who took the step to actually join up. That group included Scott, myself, and the Methodist chap we met on Saturday. There is one more group, but I will get to that in due course.

On the train, there was a girl sitting behind us, probably mid-twenties, with her little girl, about 4 years old. She was well dressed, and very attractively so, as if she wanted to impress someone. She was having a slight bit of trouble with her child. About half-way to Dallas, the lady asked me if she could use my phone. I hate that. I am a mild germophobe, so I don’t like people I don’t know touching the things that I put close to my head. Anyway, since once in a while I let the Holy Spirit win, I let her use my phone. After a minute, she gave it back to me, frustrated. Scott and I continued talking, and about five minutes later, she asked again to use my phone. All in all, she used my phone about 5 times during the train ride. She never seemed to get ‘hold of who she wanted. As we stepped off the train, I noticed her looking around, dragging her daughter, and I so I went up to her and asked her if she needed to use my phone again. She said yes, and so we waited for her. She once again was disappointment. It was now about 7pm and Dallas was dark. We made to leave, but my conscience would not let me leave this woman and her child alone in the middle of Dallas at night. So I asked her if someone was picking them up, and if so, would she like us to wait with her. She said yes to both, and we gathered she was waiting for some dude to come get her. We followed her all around the train station, looking for her ride, but there was no one around. I played with the little girl, whose name was Marrissa, for a good long time, and bought her some starburst to give her mom a break, while Scott went back and forth from the information counter, trying to find out train schedules for her in case she needed to go back, getting the guard to unlock the door for Marrissa and various other things.

All in all, we waited for about 3 hours. Eventually, the guard asked us who the girl was. We said we just met her on the train. Shocked, they asked us why we were trying to help her. We told her it was just the right thing to do. Then she asked us where we were staying. We told her, “in the park.” She replied, “are ya’ll here for the protest thingy?” We told her, “yep.” She then informed us that we don’t look like we belong there. We look respectable. We took it as a compliment, since neither one of us particularly wanted to look like a cliche hippy. But she was just shocked and, as a result, wanted to know more about what we were doing.

At around 10:00, the dude finally calls me on my phone and comes to get her. Homeboy walks in, must be early twenties, in a basketball jersey, looks at her and throws up his hands, like, “what?” She thanks us, and they head off. I am being judgmental, but she could do better.

We arrived at the tent camp just as things were winding down. Everyone was quite welcoming, and after a 5-block trek to the bathrooms at McDonald’s (down with corporations! Can I use your bathroom?), we began to settle in. The first thing I noticed was how hard it was to tell the difference between the actual group and the homeless folk around. Homeless folk would come up and grab food, and hang around the group at all times. It was unsettling to me, but no one ever said anything. They treated these homeless folks like anyone else. Served them, answered questions, and were even educating them on what they believed. I haven’t seen Christians in a position like that for some time. They offered us tents to sleep in, but when we went up, all of the tents were occupied, so after sitting in on a brief and spontaneous teaching session about corporate evil and non-violent activism, we unrolled our sleeping bags and nodded off under the stars. Oh! I forgot to say, the tents were in a graveyard! How cool is that? We slept outside in a graveyard!

I have to say, as the first time I have slept literally under the stars, it wasn’t bad. The only problem I had was when I was awoken at 2:30 by an argument going on. Now, my vision was hazy, but what I saw was a white, twenty-something, attractive woman with an open-back shirt accompanied by 4 Latino youths speaking in a rather “street” lingo. I’m so hip. Anyway, the boys took turns swinging on the bronze bull statues in the park (making quite a racket, and doing the one thing the police asked us nicely not to do) while the woman was arguing with two young white guys with mild facial hair. She sounded like a Ron Paul infomercial and the two guys were trying desperately to get her to leave them alone. She wouldn’t stop though, and demanded them to explain how she wasn’t right about her assertion that the economy isn’t bad because of bad laws and greed, but because there is no gold standard anymore. After she started talking about Jesus, the two young men simply walked away. Then the Latino youths and her walked away. Weird. Back to bed.

I awoke refreshed, if a little sore. And I went to explore the camp in the daylight. There was a library tent, full of various books on revolution, marxism, government greed, etc… I was impressed by the graphic novel section, which was stocked with V for Vendetta, Transmetropolitan, and a few others. Also, I found a few Shane Claiborne books, too. Hmmm. A Christian has been somewhere….

There was also a little tent that had the words, “Occuplay” on it. It was a tent set up for kids to play in and was attended at all times by a sort of chaperone. The need was obvious. There were little kids running around everywhere. Lots of hippy kids. Lots weren’t.

One of the tents that really impressed me was the tent that was labeled”Cancer Diabetes Cure Tent.” There was medical staff there, along with supplies to help those with cancer and diabetes. These were free services, offered by the community to those who needed it, regardless of how they could afford it. Not sure where the staff or supplies came from, but I was damn impressed.

Next to that was an art tent, where one could make their own art, protest signs, paint your body (as a few did), or pick up and use some of the art that had been created. Scott picked up a protest sign which he used the rest of the day.

The food tent was pretty large. It had a few people manning it, but anyone who wanted food could get it. They gave away whatever people wanted. There was always a place to make sandwiches and grab water, and while the coffee always took too long to brew, it was always brewing.  All of the food was donated by various groups. No Churches that I know of, though.

We were informed that there was to be a march to Goldman Sachs at 1pm, so we had a while to go. I spent some time smoking my pipe while making my own protest sign (see at top of post). Afterwards, Scott and I went to the corner and held out our signs for an hour or so. It was rather hot, but we did get some attention, and lots of people taking our pictures. Almost all of the feedback I received from passersby, on foot and driving by, was positive. Lots of thumbs up and honking friendly faces. The very few negative remarks I got were telling me to get a job. I already have a job. Surely the economy won’t be helped if I get a second job and take one away from the unemployed, right? Sigh. Some people. I met a lot of really cool people, including a man in a wheelchair and long hair. i would have thought that he was homeless, but when he started speaking, I was ashamed that I had labelled him in my head, because he was clearly much more elegant a speaker and much more passionate about this than I was. One day I will learn.

Around noon, lunch was brought out by the local Hare Krishna group. They served hundreds of people for free. It was vegetarian and delicious. They gave liberally, and were all very kind. Now, I don’t know how wealthy the Hare Krishna groups are in Dallas, but surely the churches have them beat financially. But I have yet to hear about any churches stepping up to supply food of any kind or any other help or aid. Now, before you get uppity, remember what Jesus said. You don’t have to agree with these people in order to help. You might hate what they stand for and think that this movement should die a painful death. But… “love your enemies…. do good for those who curse you…” kinda has a haunting effect at the moment, doesn’t it?

At 1:00, the march was on. There was a great deal more people that showed up to march than were staying at the camp. All in all, I would say about 400 people showed up to march. I should stop here and say that the police were rock stars. Very professional, very nice. They even stopped at one point to hand out water to us as we were marching. I must admit that I though Dallas would have the most aggressive cops, but I was wrong. So far, these women and men of the DPD were as classy as hell.

Along the way, we did get a few hecklers. People mostly shouting “get a job.” I wonder if that was in a memo or something. “Make sure you use the phrase, ‘get a job’ when you yell at the protesters.” It must be coming from somewhere, because it was like a mantra for the haters. Anyway. I couldn’t help but notice that those haters didn’t stop for the woman whose tire was flat. We did, though. She had her spare installed in no time and was on her way. Made me feel good to be a part of something that generative.

A little ways into the march, I did meet another Christian. I could tell he was a Christian because of the sign he was holding up. Of course, I don’t begrudge him for putting religious things on a protest sign. I did, after all. But his wasn’t a protest sign. It was a message from God. I know this was a message from God because, as luck would have it, I was able to sit next to this man on the way home from Dallas. More on that lovely experience later. His signs read, “Jesus says: I never knew you Get away from me.” and “Condemned to die because of sin.” I tried to engage him a few times to no avail.

Once we got to Goldman Sachs, we looked pretty impressive. It was there that I met the other Christian at the rally (besides the messenger). He was a Methodist chap, and the back of his shirt read, “Separation of Church and Hate.” Well done, sir. As the rally got going, there was a bullhorn present and anyone who wanted could grab the mic and start talking. I didn’t see anyone refused, no matter how dumb they sounded. And I’ll be honest, there were some stinkers. There were many times I wanted to go up and talk, but I honestly just chickened out. I made Scott promise to shove me forward next time. There were union leaders, anarchists, teachers, organizers, and a few loose screws who got up to talk. My “favorite” was the guy who kept saying, “I don’t mean to sound racist, but…” and then immediately would say something racist, lol. My favorite moment at the rally happened behind the scenes. Scott and I were right behind the speakers and the “messenger” was holding up his Godhate sings for all to see. A gentleman next to us saw the sign and immediately looked around indignantly. He said, “Do you see that? He is some kind of religious zealot! We have to stop him. Grab his sign. He is going to ruin things!” He finally went up to one of the folks who was loosely organizing things, and again started saying, “do you see that? we have to stop him!” The organizer, wearing a sweet Guy Fawks mask, just said, “Freedom of speech, dude.” The upset man said again, “but he will spoil our message.” The reply: “Freedom of speech, dude.” Once again, the man said, we have to get that sign down. The organizer lifted the mask from his face and said, “Freedom of speech, dude.” And left the bewildered man with nothing more to say. Scott and I agreed that was hardcore.

As we walked back to the park, we shouted various phrases. “We. Are. The 99%.,” “Banks got bailed out. We got sold out,” “People’s needs, not corporate greed,” “End the war, feed the poor,” “I got Jesus, yes I do, I got Jesus how ’bout you?” Just kidding about that last one. As we marched, I realized that I left my cool jacket and my sleeping bag out in the open. I was concerned. When we got back, I was sweaty, but thankfully, there were more people who had donated very yummy flavored water to help quench our thirst. I grabbed my jacket and my bag, and said my farewells, since I had to teach at church the next morning.

As I went back to the train station alone, I had some time to think. I was very pleased that I had participated. This was not a monolithic thing. There is a reason that there are mixed messages coming out of these groups. They have no ultimate authority. They are strictly egalitarian. Everyone is equal. Therefore, they all have different opinions, and the movement doesn’t suffer for it, it is better off. The way they decide to do something is through a vote. They have “general assemblies” twice per day, and they vote. I am frustrated that there are no Christians involved for two reasons. One, it makes it seem like we don’t care about the 99%. The loudest Christian voices are coming out in support of either the status quo, or the corporations, banks, and politicians themselves. Second, if no Christians are involved, they will have no voice in this movement, for good or ill. They will be, like we are to nearly everything else these days, simply irrelevant. That is not acceptable to me.

As I got on the train, I was soon followed by the messenger, who sat next to me. I engaged him in conversation, but I was sort of thwarted by his very thick German accent. He often did not understand certain words I was saying. He explained to me that he was not a missionary, and he didn’t want to change anyone’s mind. He simply was told by God to tell people that vengeance was coming. It is really a shame, because he was really a sort of nice, humble man one-on-one. I probably could have had a great conversation with him, except that another gentleman started talking to him, too. His starting line was, have you heard of Yahweh-shua? The messenger simply couldn’t understand what the guy was trying to say. The guy said that Yahweh-shua was Jesus’ original Hebrew name. He said there was a conspiracy… blah blah blah. Finally, they both start talking about the gays and how everyone is going to hell, and they start getting on fabulously. I simply can’t ramp up the energy at this point to argue with the messenger in broken English and the Pentecostal Yahweh-shuist from the wannabe messianice Jewish congregation. So I moved.

My phone died on the way. I got off on the wrong stop going home. My brilliant wife saved the day. My daughter was glad I wasn’t arrested. She wants to come with me next time. My wife made me promise that we would train our kids in experiencing Jesus as much as social activism. I started to argue my case that they were one and the same, but I saw the look that told me to stop.

I went to bed happy. Christians, pull your head out. Now. Don’t sit on the fence any more.

 

 

 

 

MLK Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign and Occupy Wall Street #OWS

This coming Sunday will mark the official dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. While inclement weather ruined the first day originally scheduled in August, Sunday’s ceremony will come in the midst of a stormy political climate, I would say, that shares in part with the non-violent spirit of MLK Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign. Before I was invested in the intersection of theology and economics, I was a teaching assistant for a course on the Economics of MLK Jr. in seminary. Although I was not a registered student in the class, I still joined in the conversation with the professor and my peers by doing the weekly readings.

As I remain ever self-critical of my own theological and political commitments, I will have to say I have come back to reading a little bit of MLK Jr.’s works. He is more than just that one speech you play during the MLK Jr. Holiday. His writing style, his interpretation of Scripture, and his sermons reflect influences of his Christian upbringing and his education. It is King Jr.’s assumption of a common narrative with his white neighbors that I believe differentiates his Poor People’s Campaign from the Occupy Wall Street movement. In what I consider to be a thorough orthodox and progressive interpretation of Paul’s Letter to the Americans Ephesians, MLK Jr. preached a sermon, assuring whites that Negroes were not out to get revenge or embarass them, but to remind U.S. American Christians of their religious heritage: “The Christian owes his ultimate allegiance to God, and if any earthly institution conflicts with God’s will it is your Christian duty to take a stand against it. You must never allow the transitory evanescent demands of man-made institutions to take precedence over the eternal demands of the Almighty God.” Another significant point that MLK Jr. makes is that it is not capitalism that is inherently evil, but that it is misused:

“All of this is marvelous. But Americans, there is the danger that you will misuse your Capitalism. I still contend that money can be the root of all evil. It can cause one to live a life of gross materialism. I am afraid that many among you are more concerned about making a living than making a life. You are prone to judge the success of your profession by the index of your salary and the size of the wheel base on your automobile, rather than the quality of your service to humanity.

The misuse of Capitalism can also lead to tragic exploitation. This has so often happened in your nation. They tell me that one tenth of one percent of the population controls more than forty percent of the wealth. Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. If you are to be a truly Christian nation you must solve this problem.”

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shares in the very Pauline theo-logic of Ephesians 2, that Christ Jesus had eliminated all walls of hostility, in order that we may reject the I-It dialects of capitalism and socialism, but seek to implement personalism, justice, and human dignity into our economic systems, whatever shape they come in.

For all the flack that the OWS has taken over the past couple of weeks, what is needed is a particular set of policy suggestions, more than just the vague “raise his or her taxes” or eliminate capitalism. What I am calling for is in the mold of MLK Jr.’s PPC, concrete calls to justice, and not just abstract tantrums and pouting. To participate in movements of liberation also requires that one embrace responsibility for one’s own actions, and this should include cleaning up after your own messes, kindegardeners. OWS should not give Satan any room to speak ill of them, no room at all.

In MLK Jr.’s final Sunday sermon, on Passion Sunday of all mornings, he preached an interpretation of Revelation, “Behold I make all things new” along with the story of Rip Van Winkle, who went to sleep when King George III was king, only to wake up when George Washington was President. The sermon was entitled, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. was a Christian and a patriot, a lover of God, and his country. It was his version of American exceptionalism that is dredfully missing today, the idea that “the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India, and every other nation.” It was the potential for the U.S. to win the War on Poverty which made it the greatest nation on earth, for MLK. The purpose of his Poor People’s Campaign was embodied in these words, “We are not coming to engage in any historionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty.”

My hope is that #OWS and future movements like it will learn from the wisdom of the past so that we can all work toward a better future.