God, Occupied

Social Justice — By on October 28, 2011 at 7:00 am

The Occupy Movement has gotten the attention of many as this movement continues to spread to cities around the world.  What started as a single site protest in New York City, known as Occupy Wall Street, has become a worldwide phenomenon in a span of weeks.  Just a week ago I was looking at a photo spread from The Atlantic of Occupy protestors from Stockholm to Tokyo and Hong Kong and London.  It has become a global movement.

Where is God in this movement? Is he to be found there and if so, how and why? Should Christ followers be paying attention or throwing our support to this movement? Should we join it?

I’ve attended a couple of marches here in Portland.  The fervor and energy of the thousands I marched alongside was peaceful yet fervent. “Show me what democracy looks like!” I chanted in unison with the throngs. “This is what democracy looks like!” the crowd shouted back in sing-song fashion of the call-and-response declaration.  People were in the streets calling  for justice and the restoration of economic equity in our financial, governmental, health care and education systems. There is, from my estimation, a prophetic sound emerging from this movement.

Like many Christians, I have prayed and fasted for revival to come to America.  I have cried out to God more times than I can count for a spirit of repentance to visit our land.  I never imagined it would look this way.  The revival of my prayers I imagined was  behind the four walls of steepled buildings, packed pews of the contrite with heads hung low, weeping guilt-driven prayers for sins to be washed away.  I did not envision grandmothers, baristas, hippies and hipsters taking to the city streets to decry the sins of the nation.

When I marched across the Broadway Bridge spanning over Portland’s Willamette River, I paused from shouting to lean in and listen.  I prayed new prayers with my feet; I listened for God’s voice not just from the heavens but from my neighbor, from the war veteran marching behind me and the young mother with her children beside me.

“What do we want?” they shouted. “Justice!”

I remembered the words of Jesus who said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.” Righteousness is one of those Bible words that also means justice.  I reflected on this as my right foot prayed forward and my left foot as well, my northwest rugged bootwear keeping step with the sneakers, loafers and Doc Martens stomping around me.

Signs and banners hailed the sins and grievances of the nation. “They got bailed out, we got sold out,” read one sign in reference to the banks rescued in the 2008 meltdown.  “It’s easier to buy a gun than my education,” read another carried by a scruffy looking twenty-something.  One disturbing sign read, “My CEO makes more in three hours than I do in one year.”

Economic injustice and disparity is the prevailing theme of this movement.  It’s not anti-government, nor anti-wealth. It is decidedly  anti-greed and anti-injustice.  Occupiers across America and beyond are calling for a time out from business as usual.  This is the job description of prophets, those Old Testament figures that admonished the people to forsake their sins and return to a path of righteousness.  The role of the prophet is to recalibrate a people, to set the captives free from lies and indulgence that have overrun the image of God each person bears.

Jesus said of himself, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…. Is not this the same Spirit at work among the Occupy Movement?  The cry for justice from town squares on Main Street to Times Square on Wall Street is a collective wail for the oppressed and from the oppressed.

Everyday citizens, such as librarians and baristas, bus drivers and factory workers, waitresses and teachers, are collecting together to occupy public spaces in solidarity against corruption and greed.  And it’s inspiring change (which is a modern way of saying repentance).

Last night a business owner in Portland told me he that he was planning to close his bank account and put his money in a local credit union.  This is an act of repentance, not for his sin, but for the sins of the moneylenders and financial institutions that have become corrupt with greed.

Could this be the ghost of Jesus going after the moneychangers again?

The Occupy movement is not without its problems. The occupy site in Portland has had issues of drugs and drunkenness as some revel in the occupation like it’s a frat party.  Guidance is needed each step of the way to keep the movement on point.  That guidance is manifesting in different ways such as the emergence of protest chaplains in different cities.  Interfaith groups are springing up with clergy uniting to provide sacred space and spiritual nurturance for those who seek it.  My friends Donna Van Horn and Angie Fadel, pastors at The Bridge here in Portland, were headed downtown today to help in that effort.

“Mostly we’re there to listen,” says Angie.

“I don’t agree with everything, but I do agree about justice and peace which is what most people are down there for,” says Donna.  Today the pair headed downtown to help lead a chapel service at the occupy site.

It remains to be seen whether or not the Occupy Movement will burn brighter or smolder to cold ash.  Whatever may happen, I like to think that this worldwide trend is indicative of a Spirit-inspired shifting of consciousness.

I like how Reverend Bill Haley put it in a recent Washington Post essay,

If we can hear the echo of God’s heart for those on the margins through the voices of the Occupy movement, it will be a mighty movement indeed.

Indeed a mighty movement, a move of justice on the human heart, any heart, is a revolution.

Show me what revival looks like. This just might be what revival looks like as occupiers pray with shouts and marches through the cities of the entire earth.

Curious to know more: Here are some resources:

Pam Hogeweide is a writer and blogger from Portland, Oregon. Her first book, Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church is due out in February 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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    36 Comments

  • lori says:

    Really well thought out and written, Pam. I wish our political right brothers and sisters could understand this part.

  • Tana says:

    This article gave me goosebumps a few times. Great article.

  • @Jo, thanks Jo!!! Has the Occupy movement hit your area yet??

    @Lori, thanks for reading. It’s a messy protest movement but so is anything going against the grain. WE live in interesting times!

    • Jo hilder says:

      We’ve had protests in Syydney and Melbourne, which have been widely misunderstood by the public, and dealt with very disproportionately by police, which is unfortunate. However a couple of leading economists are both supporting the movement and criticizing politicians, which has been encouraging. I still think the impa of the GFC has not been as great in Australia which is why the reaction to Occupy has been quite polarized in Australia, or it could be because Aussies really are just too laid back by our collective nature.

  • @Tana, thanks so much for reading Tana!

  • It hasn’t come to Starkville, MS yet, but I’ll be there hoping and praying for a Spirit-led shift in consciousness! Thanks, Pam.

  • I am not deeply involved with the movement here in Portland, but I am keeping tabs on it and praying for wisdom, safety….since this article was written there were violent clashes with the police in Oakland. Youtube it. Bewildering….I am reminded that those of us who long for a better world betray that we are not meant for this world (a cs lewis quote i believe). but meanwhile, here’s where we are and definitely some things have got to change.

    Next week people will be moving money out of big banks to local banks and credit unions. This is one small and doable change to challenge the Goliath of greed.

    There are hashtags on twitter to follow and websites that offer up-to-date info on Occupy activity around the US and beyond.

    The times they are a-changing….to quote Brother Bob!

  • Hannah says:

    And yet the worship of wealth continues as Barbara Walters interviewed four of the wealthiest American’s who came from nothing on last week’s 20/20. She sat with them in their lavish wealth; so ostentatious it was disgusting, the only “un-ostentatious” billionaire she interviewed was the founder of zappos who, after he sold his company to Amazon, agreed to stay on as CEO for a mere $36K year(his asking price).

    I like your idealism Pam, but we live in an entirely broken world which is just as evident in the occupy Portland encampment and the crime that is taking place there. My husband has expressed the opinion that it sounds more like the typical American entitled sentiment than it does a cry for justice. Furthermore, I am frustrated by the fact that still the 99% of people who are working here in Portland, are providing the encampment with security from the PPB, through their tax dollars – Maybe those tax dollars should go back to mental health services? If these folks want justice, it might be worthy activity to go into the hoods of North Portland, Inner Gresham and SE and start building relationships to address the issues of Poverty and gang violence, sex-trafficking etc. through a grassroots movement. I know, I know, that is an entirely different subject. It just seems that sitting around all day with signs, and not going out into the “fields” to work toward justice is counterproductive. However, it’s easy for me to say this as an armchair activist.

    • Barry says:

      “I am frustrated by the fact that still the 99% of people who are working here in Portland, are providing the encampment with security from the PPB, through their tax dollars ”

      Who is providing security? It’s not the police, who are as likely to attack as to protect.

      “Maybe those tax dollars should go back to mental health services?”

      This would be nice indeed; please ask your local politician to do that. Occupy Portland doesn’t need such ‘help’.

    • Hannah, I just re-read your comment. I’m not sure which specific wealthy persons were interviewed by Walters in the TV program you are referring to. But your disgust with their opulence got me thinking. Not having seen the show, I’m going to guess that what you mean by opulence. If I am wrong in the details, it doesn’t really affect my main point, so please follow me.

      Rich celeb “X” buys large LA-are mansion. It needs work, so he hires contractor “A”, who employs Employees B, C, and D to come do the work. They knock out walls, put up sheetrock, install cabinets, apply paint, etc. Meanwhile, X also hires E, a 19-yr-old male who’s working his way through college, to handle the outside work in the garden, lawn, etc. for the estate. Finally, X hires E’s older sister F, who’s a single mom, to handle housekeeping duties.

      While we judge X for spending his newfound millions to have much more house than he needs, we decide, on X’s behalf, that he should instead donate the bulk of his money to charity.

      X refuses to take our advice on how he should spend his money, and the beneficiaries of his decision are A, B, C, D, E, and F, who are hard-working people who make normal wages and feed their families with those wages.

      I point this out not to say that materialism is a positive characteristic. But neither is short-sightedness, and certainly, neither is judgmentalism. For every yacht, chandelier, or indoor bowling alley owned by a person of wealth, there are hard-working people who are able to put bread on the table.

  • Hannah says:

    I guess what I’m looking for is action put to words. Not just moving around from park to park, but actually making the rubber meet the road. As the old saying goes: “Actions speak louder than words…” And the other: “Preach Christ always, if necessary use words…”

  • One can say that it’s not about envy or class warfare, but as I read what has been said by those involved in the OWS movement, it seems to be exactly that. The whole thing saddens me, actually.

  • Nathan Bubna says:

    The financial industry on this planet is corrupt, selfish and dangerous. Protesting them is good. Taking your money out of their accounts is even better and speaks much louder. If you haven’t moved your money yet, you have no business protesting. Do the important piece first.

    But i take issue with the idea that we deserve more of what they have, which many seem to be demanding. Let’s be straight, we deserve nothing. All we have is gift and blessing from God. More would be great, i don’t oppose that.

    I love justice and mercy. But i don’t believe inequality is by definition injustice. Political bribery is unjust, as are the political favors in return. Risking other’s savings and livelihoods for profit is unjust, as is predatory lending and even hoarding. But there’s no injustice merely in the 1% having more than the 99%.

    But if you disagree, if you insist that the unfairness and inequality of our wealth distribution is inherently unjust, you need to start with the man in the mirror (thank you, MJ). MILLIONS OF PEOPLE ARE STARVING IN SOMALIA. Billions live without adequate food and water and medicine. I am as upset about my rising health care costs and falling equity and 401k as anyone. But i am still filthy stinking rich. As a middle class person in 21st century American suburbia, i have more than 95% of the planet today and far, far more than 99.9% of most people who have lived and died in the last few thousand years.

    You are right to seek justice. You are right to protest the de facto fascism that has arisen in our country in the last 40 years and hurt so many in the last 5 years. But you are not the 99%. Don’t lose sight of that ever. We are privileged, blessed, wealthy, first-world citizens. So fight to make things better, but guard your perspective, contentment and gratitude fiercely!

  • Hannah says:

    Barry:

    http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2011/10/portland_chief_mike_reese_says.html

    I also find it interesting that you assume the Police are just as likely to attack the campers at O.P. when clearly there has been a Police presence since camping began and no out of hand incidents by police reported, just by campers. Things that make you go hmmmmmmm….

  • Thanks all for adding your thoughts and perspective to this conversation.

    Just yesterday I had an opportunity to be of service at a meal for those who live outside (non-OP’ers). As I sat quietly on a church stoop I listened to the chitchat swirling around me from those who are veterans of the streets. Everyone was talking about Occupy Portland. I asked two guys what they thought.

    “I think it’s good. I like what they’re doing, but I don’t think they’ll make it through winter with the cold and rain coming.”

    A lot of the folks we served yesterday have been zigging and zagging in the camp. And I heard yesterday from one of the protest chaplains that two feuding street “families” from downtown Portland have called a truce in a show of solidarity for OP.

    Another friend of mine, barely off the streets and living indoors, goes down everyday to the site.

    “How come?” I asked. “What do you think of the Occupy movement?”

    “I don’t know. I just go down there and talk to people. It’s some place to go.”

    For him, and likely many other marginalized citizens of Portland, the public Occupy space is morphing into a community center of sorts, a drop-in center for people to have some company. Makes sense to me. What else are Occupiers going to do all day?

    Sitting in the rain is not going to change the world. But in all that sitting there is a lot of reflecting and dialog of Portland citizens with diverse backgrounds. Like my friend Donna who is a chaplain down there. She lives indoors (as do I) and lives a moderate American lifestyle (as do I). She is rubbing elbows and listening to citizens who are not as we are. I have no idea what it is like to be unemployed, chronic health issues with no insurance and unstable housing. Much of the world endures these kinds of problems and worse, yet in America, the affluent nation that we are, there is a temptation to trivialize our issues in face of daunting global crisis such as widespread hunger on the African continent.

    But this is our context. And this protest against greed and economic injustice is resounding in Western nations all over the world. This is not an American temper tantrum.

    Winter is coming. (Game of Thrones reference!) It is coming and like the guys said yesterday, it will test this public protest.

    So what about you? Has anyone engaged in any Occupy activities or marches?

  • I really like this. I tweeted it and put it on my facebook. I agree with 99% of it :-)

  • Thank you for reading and passing it on Carole. Has the Occupy movement reached your town??

  • A.J. Swoboda says:

    Pam.

    Well said. I just wrote a post on the same topic. Similar reflections.

    http://ajswoboda.com/blog/text/13436143

  • Matticus says:

    I’m a college minister in Eugene OR, and I have to admit that I don’t have many good things to say about the Occupy Movement. First, it calls for un-constitutional taxation under the false premise that wealthy people pay less taxes than the lower and middle class. I file my tax returns correctly, and get most of what I pay back because of how little I make.
    The uber-wealthy (Zuckerberg, and Gates) receive tax breaks because of massive donations to charity (things which bolster the needy), and investment into the stock market(that thing that bolsters our economy).
    But I think what is more to the point is the mere notion of Americans complaining about financial hardship. We can hold the signs all we want….be we do so drinking specialty coffee drinks, then get in our cars, and go home to watch TV or surf the internet (things which are still net readily available in places like India). I do think there is some merit in pointing out corporate ties to politics, but the solution to that is not the “occupation of wall street” it’s occupying a voting booth….electing a candidate who’s campaign isn’t funded by labor unions (the guys that really skim your paycheck), and oil magnates. It’s working in the world with integrity, and not asking for more than you’ve earned.

  • @ A.J. I am going to read it!! Thanks for the heads up!

    @Matticus, there are lots of perspectives on the Occupy movement. Thank you for sharing yours here.

    Here’s another perspective from well-known Christian activist, Shane Claiborne, who is much more eloquent and insightful than I have been here.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shane-claiborne/a-devotion-for-wall-stree_b_1030532.html

  • Paul Blais says:

    I read your post and found it very interesting. There are many injustices in the world that do need to be dealt with. I do not believe that we are seeing at this point in the occupy movement is what you are calling a revival. This would be more appropriately called a rebellion or revolution, but not revival.
    The movement is decrying the sins of others. The signs are words of anger at perceived injustices. They want change at the top of the ladder so life at the bottom can be better.
    Revival is not a blame others game. It is a look at one’s self and seeing the aweful condition of me. Then the person repents and cleans up their own life and turns from their wanton ways. This person tells others about the love of God, and how his life has been changed. A revival is when masses are doing the same.
    Also, you miss applied the words of Jesus. “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness ro they shall be filled.” The word righteousness in this context has nothing to do with justice. Many words do have multiple meanings and context is everything. If I say “cool”, you need to know the context or you have no idea what I am talking about. If you know I’m talking about the weather, then you would not say that I was saying something is sweet, or likable, or “cool”.
    The word righteousness is not in the context that Jesus is talking about justice. It is specifically refering to the definition “a right standing with God”. Blessed are those the hunger and thirst for a right standing with God for they shall be filled.
    Occupy is not longing for a right standing with God. It is demanding for the top 1% to have a right standing with the 99%.
    I don’t even want to deal with the other quote of Jesus saying The Spirit of the Lord… Suffice it to say that it has been butchered out of its context and pressed into the movement. I don’t think Jesus was ever into any movement while He was here on earth. In fact, He specifically avoided any and all political movements. Not that He didn’t care for those that were in it, for He did. But, He was never a political figure. Never.
    The occupy movement has its points and its weaknesses. I do hope that some of the injustices are ended. I also hope that the wrongs of the haves are not brought to justice by the wrongs of the have nots. And mostly, I hope that we do not turn the movement into a religous fervor suggesting that God is in it and moving the people on ward. Taking the Bible out of context to justify our behavior will be a worse sin than the hording of the wealthy.

  • GREAT reflections Pam!!

    Cornelia

  • @Cornelia, thanks for reading!

    @Paul, thanks for slicing and dicing my essay under a microscope. Here’s a link of a list of parallel Bible passages where some translations have opted to use the word “justice” instead of righteousness. I didn’t make it up.

    Old Testament prophets often announced the sins of the land in public forums. Not their own, but the sins of the nation. This was my point.

    I am hopeful that revival is being birthed, but of course, this is hope mixed with hyperbole.

    I appreciate you voicing your take on my essay. I don’t see the Occupy movement so much as a political movement as a protest movement against economic injustice in our affluent western societies which affects the rest of the world. There are political ramifications and there is a political process, but it is not a political party nor are the grievances of this movement aimed at particular political positions (in general). It may evolve into that…however, just because Jesus was not political does not mean Christ followers are to avoid politics. But I digress.

    At the very least, the Occupy movement has raised awareness on a global scale of the oppressive results of unbridled greed and economic disparity. I find this compelling. Time will tell what direction the movement will go, and surely as human beings are dysfunctional, it will be a mess….but it is something to pay attention to. And I do like to think that the presence of Jesus is in attendance….

  • The resident chaplain here in Occupy Portland has written an amazing post about the tension and difficulty of those who live outside joining the occupy site and the challenges it brings. Great, provocative piece.

    http://chaplainsoccupypdx.blogspot.com/2011/11/reflection-what-unites-or-divides-us.html

  • I find it a bit odd that after having pretty much zero respect for organized religion of any sort, I have recently run into two people who are causing me to rethink my position. You’re one of the Pam. Thank you for that if nothing else.

    `Jeff

  • Hi Jeff,
    Thanks for reading. I just bookmarked your #Occupy webpage.

    I am so humbled by your response here. Wow.

    And I’m so curious : who’s the other person? :)

    I don’t know how you found me or this article, but thank you so much for adding your voice. Check out my blog. Poke around. You might like some of it, though I haven’t posted anything on Occupy yet. I have a book deadline to make!

    See you around the blogosphere…and Twitter!

    http://www.godmessedmeup.blogspot.com

  • You can certainly see your enthusiasm in the paintings you write. The sector hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart. “We are near waking when we dream we are dreaming.” by Friedrich von Hardenberg Novalis.

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