Thursday, January 5, 2012

Occupy the Church

December 2011

Published in the December issue of Voices and Silences

Okay, so “Occupy the Church” sounds a bit radical.  But how else can I express how important I think it is for us as United Methodist clergywomen to support this fledgling peoples’ movement and to speak out and embody hope for the kind of radical systemic change that will make a just, peaceful, and sustainable world possible? 
            In October I spent two weeks at Occupy Wall Street in New York, and I am currently immersed in helping to lay the groundwork for our fledgling “Occupy Nevada County and to support the Occupy movement as a whole.  I don’t plan to give the details here.  You can read about my experiences in New York and my ongoing reflections at  The first blog, “Why I’m Going to Occupy Wall Street explains why I’m so involved and how it relates to my faith. Here I will relate a couple of scriptural passages to the Occupy movement today.
            Two years ago I went through a thirty-week guided intensive practice of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, through Mercy Center in Auburn, California.  As you may know, the Exercises involve employing the imagination to enter deeply into different biblical passages, to bring them to life.
            One morning in prayer I entered into the scene from Luke 19:41-44.  I walked beside Jesus as he rode on a colt on his way to Jerusalem.  Suddenly, to my dismay, he started weeping.  Then he addressed the people and it was as if he was speaking directly to me:
            “If you, even you (even you, Sharon) had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will build up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side.  They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
            I was stunned, shaken to the core.  I wept with Jesus, and I wept for my children and grandchildren and for the state of the world. 
I was relieved a few weeks later when I returned to that scene and Jesus (in my imagination) assured me that yes, I was starting to get it.  But I know today that I cannot rest on my laurels or take anything for granted.  Knowing the things that make for peace and recognizing God’s presence is a discernment process that requires ongoing spiritual work.
Why was Jesus weeping?  And what are the things that make for peace?  I understand it as an inner peace of mind, of conscience, as well as peace with justice in the outer world.  When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, he was not just weeping for his followers, but for the larger community, for all the people.  He could see the disaster that was coming and it caused him to weep.
After this scene, Jesus went directly to the Temple, and “began to drive out those who were selling things there.”  He used the words of Jeremiah in saying that they had turned God’s house into “a den of robbers,” thus bringing to mind the prophet’s distress at the coming disaster and his critique of the prophets and priests of his day:  “You have treated the wounds of my people as if they were not serious, crying ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace.” 
Jesus’ nonviolent direct action in the temple challenged the economic system of the temple and the stability of the religious establishment’s collaboration with the Roman occupation of Jerusalem.  Note that Jesus not only drove out the people who were selling things, but he and his many followers occupied the Temple:  “Every day he was teaching in the temple,” to the dismay of the chief priests, the scribes, and the so-called leaders of the people.  At night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, but “all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.”
According to Luke, up until then the leadership had been hostile to Jesus, grumbling, ridiculing, and cross-examining him, but after this confrontation their opposition escalated and they began actively planning to kill him.  They were hampered, for a time, in their plot because “all the people were spellbound by what they heard.” 
            How are we, today’s prophets and priests, treating the wounds of God’s people?  What is the peace of Christ that we are offering?  Is it sufficient and relevant for our day?  Are we recognizing the signs of God’s visitation today?  It may be that the Occupy movement is such a visitation, a movement of Spirit rising up just in time to bring hope and transformation to the world in place of the disaster that is surely coming if we do not repent/ turn around.
            It would be easy to criticize this movement and to stand on the sidelines until we see how and whether it progresses and matures into something we can support.  But what alternatives are out there?  Most of what we hear in the mainline media and (sadly) from most of our elected representatives falls far short of what is needed.  People are finally rising up and challenging the assumptions upon which the dominant system has been built. Here is one of many articles about United Methodist involvement in the Occupy movement: /news/methodists-increasingly-involved-in-occupy-movement-61360/.
            I feel called to offer whatever gifts I can to help this peoples’ movement mature and succeed in its quest to initiate social, economic, and global transformation through the process of direct democracy, and to learn what I can in the process.  I am also challenged, as always, to maintain balance, clinging to Christ, practicing the presence of God, and trusting that I am growing in my ability to recognize the things that make for peace. 
            Sometimes I still weep when I consider the direction we are headed as a species, but more often now I am exhilarated and hopeful.  After many years of working on these issues, it’s as if people are waking up, not just to the many interrelated crises we face, but to the power we have when we join hands and work together for the common good.  It’s not time to be timid in our preaching or in our actions, so let’s offer what we can to the Occupy movement, occupy the church, and boldly proclaim and embody hope for God’s intended, compassionate future.

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