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I have been now been participating in the Occupy DC movement for 19 days. I thought that it was time to put onto a blog a few of my reflections over that time. It has perhaps been the most important and seminal part of my ministry thus far. I’ve participated in conversations with people of no faith and with those of a variety of views of God during my tenure here in McPherson Square. We have had the Jewish, Muslim, Franciscan, Unitarian, Quaker, AME, Wesley Seminary, Presbyterian, evangelical prayer groups, seekers, TM and occult support. In each and every spiritual conversation I have attempted to humble myself and listen to not only their economic, but spiritual concerns during this time.
We have had conversations comparing the sharing of resources to the feeding of the five thousand, about those who have been kicked out of their church for asking too many questions, to those who feel that God is in nothing, a great lesson on Sodom’s sin of “What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours”, a prayer vigil for those killed in Rome, a conversation over my head of God being in quantum physics, to an individual concern about cancer. In between I have shared in this community’s concerns, fears and joy. There has been an unspeakable amount of joy and acceptance of difference under non-violent guidelines of respect. This has been striking and transformative. I have no doubt that whatever happens to these Occupiers they will be changed by their experiences here in the park.
It is not all idealism and utopia. This community has had many struggles to keep its consensus form of community intact. There have been many debates at General Assembly and online about the future and actions of this community. It is my prayer that their community guidelines always keep them practically and relationally grounded.
So, what is the church’s role in this national and international movement? I have not been surprised that the cruise ship called the church is finding it difficult to steer in a direction that is helpful in this time of crisis for our nation. We are still fighting factional and to a large extent geographical fights over process and social issues that have sociologically passed us by. The questions of representation in the church are questions of if and in these movements they are questions of how. How do we include Tea party people, how do we show concern for our GLBTQ friends, how do we let the people south of Anacostia know that they are welcome, how do we make sure our language is not sexist and how do we get the church to be a part?
There were a couple of startling lessons that I learned very quickly about the change sociologically amongst the generations. Whereas many of the people who came from an older generation wanted leaders, clearly defined declarations, largely planned events and centralized fundraising this was not the ethos for a new generation of leaders. They are patient, methodically listening, carefully incorporating and technologically savvy. To say that the next generation strives for more egalitarianism is an understatement. Sometimes to its own detriment there is a wonderful democratic notion of every voice mattering. It occurs to me that if in the church we count on hierarchical committees and structuralism to transform the church for this generation we will already be irrelevant. This will take some tough soul searching to understand that our “democratic” structures are corrupted by nepotism, insider groupings and a lack of equality. All of us inside the church have seen how a lack of transparency and gaming the system has worked through the years. Even amongst people who are of good will inside our systems there is a malaise against seeing it dominated by certain ethnicities and generations. If we are to have a hope of representation to a waiting generation we will have to reform our structures far more radically than we had imagined.
The next thing that I have noticed is that they are absolutely receptive to people of faith who are not trying to convert them. There has been an openness to discuss spiritual feelings and ideology as long as they don’t feel they are being manipulated. This is why I am understandably pessimistic about church’s paternalistically hiring experts to brand and market a church to a new generation. Younger generations have been inundated by marketing for their entire lives and it will be met with cynicism. This means that theologically the church will of necessity reach beyond limestone walls. I believe this is God’s witness to us of divine freedom and that God will institute the church where ever God intends it to be located. This will mean that intergenerationally people will have to reach out relationally beyond the structures that are increasingly becoming chapels. Do not be afraid. There is a receptive church waiting for you outside of comfort and safety. Remember that if your faith is transforming your life there is always someone worthy of sharing transformation with as well.
Finally, pray for this occupy movement individually and corporately. The lack of religious voices here has left that essential voice absent from this democratic movement. The least we can do is hold up these people in our prayers. The winter is coming and that will be a test. Many of us are very concerned. There has been sickness and a lack of hygienic conditions. Sometimes it has been a shortage of supplies. Yet, every time there is a shortage someone has been willing to step up. Keep those of us in the faith community in your prayers. Many of us are feeling the pressures of work and service. Pray for me. My prayers have been to increase in humility and not to answer my ego over my service to others.
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