Justice: On Occupying Possibility

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This post is the fifth in our series this month on the spiritual practices of activism that are rooted in and enhance our faith lives.

“Who do you say that I am?”

So much hinges on our answers to this question as communities of faith. There are as many ways to answer this question as there are communities on the planet. Do we see the Christ as some far away apparition that sits somewhere in heaven? Is the Christ one who resides in our mechanical recitations of our credal formulas? Is the Christ one that mysteriously helps grow our financial investments according to the content of our faith? Is the Christ found walking amongst a list of moral codes that keep us pure? Is the Christ one that gives us a Sunday boost to inspire us to make it through our mundane weekly activities? Does the Christ represent the best ethical code?

During Occupy DC I was smoking with the Ben who ran the “Give a smoke, take a smoke” part of the camp. I had donated a few cartons of Native Spirits cigarettes and had been pronounced to be the coolest minister ever. In the midst of our conversation Ben revealed that he had grown up Presbyterian.

This piqued my interest and this twenty something man talked about his agnosticism and disappointment with the church. We sat and watched as people streamed into the camp with donations of food, bottled water, cigarettes, tents, blankets and tents. In the course of our conversation he perked up and said, “Pastor you know what Occupy reminds me of?” I answered, “No, what?”

“This reminds me of the feeding of the five thousand.” I quietly agreed and realized that the Spirit had so much more to teach me.

Witnessing the messy nature of radical community of Occupy necessarily transformed many of us spiritually. What is it that I learned about Christ during those crazy, hopeful, depressing and meaningful days at the camp as Occupy DC’s protest Chaplain? Here are a few things that I took away from my experience and I am still learning.

• Faith in the Christ is not an individualistic endeavor as the predominant evangelical ethos has culturally taught all of our churches. One must have trust in things that our society does not value. We must trust others, we must listen, we must give away our power, we must serve the community, and we must deflate our egos for a greater salvation.

• God is in control and not those who serve God. One thing many of of us learned during the heady days of Occupy was that the Christ becomes something that is out of our control to define. The ex-presbyterians who are atheists and agnostics taught me more about serving Christ than I found in the Church. They pushed me, asking why the Church cared little about such great moral injustices, and they supported me when sometimes the institutional church abandoned me.

• Our only hope of glimpsing the Christ is to seek refractions in the ones we consider least. Instead of paternalistically trying to save them I must see them as my salvation. They have something that I need and not the other way around. Though I may give them food, clothes, money and companionship, what they have to give me is infinitely more important.

• Humility is the only way to truly serve others. It is the only way that we can have solidarity with those who differ from us substantially, whether it is sex, ethnicity, class or sexuality. • It made me look at others as my brother, sisters, mothers and fathers in the redefinition of family that only the Christ can do when we are engrafted into the ekklesia that the Spirit is calling us into. Our institutions and building are not church, and it takes radical movements of the Spirit to remind us that safety and security are not a calling, but faithfulness is central to our identity.

• Finally, I believe that we have been called to a radical revaluation of our only recently acquired capitalistic stewardship principles. These are not Christ’s economy, but one being pressed into our aging, affluent and power seeking congregations. It is time to see our “assets” as something other than life. If they are potential to help our larger community they can and should be reallocated in the community at large. Too long have we made profits off of the banking industry and the stock market and called it good. These two institution’s complicity in the economic calamities of so many people is no longer an ethic that we can ignore as people of faith. We must not gain our budgets off the suffering of others and call it sustainability. It is time for a radical change. These touch on the surface of wisdom I continue to glean from the movement and work.

Mostly, I have been grateful that the Spirit has used me to interact with so many people that refuse to let cynicism and apathy be their future. As we would chant quite often, “We are unstoppable, another world is possible!”

20140611-075553-28553879.jpg Brian Merritt is a Presbyterian minister in Chattanooga, TN. You can follow him on Twitter here.