Let’s be clear at the beginning that in order to understand the OWS movement fruitfully in the light of God we are not going to talk about either one in a religious way, but rather politically.
In the gospel of Mark Jesus proclaims the jubilee reign of God, and Peter, Andrew, James and John immediately respond politically, that is, by releasing their property to the nascent movement and following Jesus. They don’t at first set to praying, studying scriptures, and choosing places of honor. They don’t work out new theologies or ethics. They don’t explore their feelings about God and Jesus. Those will all come later. The first thing they have to do is to act, disposing of their possessions in a radical new way. Politics is the determining of who gets what, when, where, how, and why. Jesus’ proclamation is resolutely and thoroughly political.
To theologically literate Christians it is well known that nowadays a political understanding of the gospel is quite hard to achieve and carry out. We have so many centuries of history of boxing the Church into the role of chaplain to the System. Likewise, it has been difficult for commentators to understand OWS in a political way, because we have all become so conditioned to think of politics as the mere struggle between two political parties to gain temporary control of the levers of state power, and then to turn that vast machine toward their respective ideological and policy goals. In such a context the OWS movement is supremely frustrating in that it doesn’t offer commentators and politicians the satisfaction of puking up a tidy list of policy demands/requests that the parties can then adopt, ignore, betray, or subvert as they please.
What the OWS movement does brilliantly and superbly is to allow ordinary people to put the radical question: Who is occupying whom? (I am using the word ‘radical’ here not in the sense of ‘far-out’ or ‘extreme,’ but in the original sense of ‘rooted,’ ‘fundamental.’)
The Washington/Wall Street System’s politics-as-usual has so thoroughly colonized our hearts, minds, lives, houses, culture (including religion), media, bodies, and even Earth itself that we don’t even notice the colonization. We learn to see ourselves as so dependent on the System that no other way of life can be imagined. While we can remember when things were different (in grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ time), we know that we are well past those times, and we also know we’re supposed to be grateful that we’ve left them behind, because the System now supplies us with so much better stuff. The Ministry of Truth (“Minitrue, in Newspeak”) of Orwell’s 1984 could not have more effectively re-wired us to doublethink.
So the Occupy Wall Street name is a shock, a necessary one that reminds us that in the real world where the big money boys play and their paid politicians obey, it is either occupy or be occupied. Either they will rule us or we will rule them. Now that the financial protections of the 1930s have been either canceled or mostly gutted, they mostly rule us. OWS tells us that it is now time for us to rule them.
Such is the strangeness of my mind that this immediately makes me think of Jesus Christ and his movement. His Reign of God movement is nothing other than God’s Occupy Earth movement (or GOE – elegant, isn’t it?).
Consider the following evidence: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself with be with them;…” (Rev. 21:3).
Or again, “Jesus came down with [his disciples] and stood on a plain, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them” (Luke 6:17-19).
Or again, “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed (or cancelled) every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet…. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24f, 28).
Or again, “Mature love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). And I could go on at much, much greater length.
This list seems almost random. Yet these verses are all united in that in an astonishing variety of ways they all proclaim God’s nonviolent, truth-based occupation of our hearts, minds, lives, houses, culture (including religion!!), media, bodies, and even Earth itself. It’s not enough for either Jesus or for us to just talk about it or think about it or feel about it. God has to occupy all of it and us. For the System is fully intent on doing just that.
(Note to the liturgically-minded: This is also why the sacraments are so vitally important. In them Christ is occupying us with and for the Reign of God which occupies him.)
So my sisters and brothers in Christ, have some sympathy with the OWS movement and listen to it. Perhaps you don’t consider it to be related to Jesus’ Reign of God movement. And there may be some truth to that. After all, Jesus’ movement is far deeper and higher, far more ambitious. But if you think the two movements have no relationship at all, then permit me to submit to you that the OWS movement may, like Balaam’s ass, be braying God’s truth to us just when we are determined to ignore it.
Part of what hurts about the sign the young man is holding here is the truth that the Church has been a major part of making the people fall asleep. So far as we have been the apologists and chaplains for the System, we have allowed it to take over. So far as we have imagined that the System is what is really real and God’s Reign is less real, or merely imaginary or ideal, then we have missed God’s whole point and have helped the people do the same.
The System needs us to fall asleep. Through the gospel God is waking us up.
Mark Rich is pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Holland MI.