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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gratitude

 By Chris Saxton

 It is Christmas this week and I am not looking forward to it. What fuels my despair this time of year for me is the thought of having to write thank-you letters. This was always a time of tears and conflict between my parents and me during my childhood. There would be the joy of the tree and the stocking, the delight of un-wrapping presents and then… a day or two later, my mother would ask the dreaded question: “have you written your thank-you letters? You know you wont get any presents next year if you don’t write those thank-you letters.” And then I would be forced into my room to write the letters. They never came easily. I mean, once you have written, “Dear Auntie Janey, Thank you sooooo much for the Back-Hoe Digger Truck. I like it very much.” What else was there to say? How many ways can you say thank you when you think the best way to show you like your present is to get outside and dig up the garden… how do you fill the page with your feelings? It was torture for me. How many ways can you say “thank-you? It is perhaps why every time I sit down today to write an essay or a homily, the empty page fills me with dread.

When I think about gratitude, I am reminded of the story of the healing of the ten lepers in Luke’s gospel.
“On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean.” Luke 17:11-14 
“They called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’” All ten utter the same prayer. You don’t pray and call out for help unless you really feel your need. And sometimes the hardest thing about need is recognizing it…putting aside ego…putting aside self will…having the humility to say I need help. I can’t do it alone. But the loneliness and the pain of their disease were evident to these ten lepers. They knew they needed help and there was none to be found except maybe in this one called Jesus, whom they heard healed the sick. So they cried out for mercy.

Although there are ten of them, it is such a lonely and personal cry, this cry of help me… this cry of I am at the end, there is nothing more I can do alone. I need help. I’m done…I surrender. The cry of the psalmist: “ My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” These are lepers. They were filthy, broken, deformed, hideous, miserable distortions of the human condition with their cries of "Unclean! Unclean!" And they had been pushed out of their communities for fear of contagion and pollution and left to wander beyond the care of others, beyond the border of family and friends. Beyond hope… Beyond reason… Beyond any expectation of mercy. Shunned. In a group of others like themselves, but so alone. Can you smell them? It is the smell of the homeless, the smell of life on the margin. It is a smell that chokes with despair and hopelessness. For those of us that sometimes lose the humanity of Jesus in the glory of his divinity, I would point out that even Jesus keeps his distance here…

The lepers are so far gone that they ask the unreasonable. They ask for the miraculous. They ask not for healing but for mercy. They pray for transformation.
“When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’” Luke 17:14 
What a miracle. Can you feel their wave of not wanting to believe… the wave of unbelief… the self-protection of not wanting to be hurt again – not wanting to be disappointed again. And then, they slowly come to belief. They feel the lesions heal. They feel tight healthy skin form. They feel sensation return to dead nerves. They begin to smell something beyond their own decay. Is it any wonder that when Jesus told them to go and show them selves to the priest so that they could be certified as healed and rejoin society, rejoin their families that they did as Jesus bid and rushed off. They must have been overwhelmed with gratitude. Inarticulate with joy. How can you thank someone for such a gift? Only by living, by returning to life and society. And that’s what they rushed off to do. Isn’t that the best way to show gratitude?

"Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back." Turned back from going his own way, from self-justification, from the protection of distance, this Samaritan leper, this outsider of outsiders, lay at Jesus' feet. And there he proclaimed his ultimate dependence on God.

I would like to be able to tell you that if I was in the story, that I would be the Samaritan leper at Jesus’ feet in gratitude but I know that at many times in my life I would be with the nine… have been with the nine. I would be very grateful to be cured and I’d be rushing off to do the next thing ‘cause isn’t living the life that God gifted you the best way to say thanks?

Isn’t playing with the toy in the garden the ultimate show of thanks? Gratitude is hard. Gratitude requires us to say, “Of myself alone, I am nothing.” Gratitude asks of us humility, and that is hard. True humility is one of the hardest ways of being that we can undertake. It is fundamental surrender of self to Jesus, to God, to our neighbours. Really, how do we love this lover back, we ask? How am I to be worthy to be ransomed by him? We could start by being grateful.

Gratitude requires us to be amazed! Gratitude is not just “doing.” Gratitude is not just “saying.” Gratitude requires us to stop!

Gratitude needs us to be present… to be a 100% present and aware. Gratitude is being as a child crossing the street – we stop, look, listen… look left and look right and look left again… we see where we are in the world and with others. We are to be present and to be amazed by the present. We offer thanks…

Saying a prayer before meals quietly or with others acknowledges that my life depends on God's bounty and on all of the people who grew, processed, distributed, prepared, and served the food that gives me nourishment and delight. Saying a prayer by a hospital bed or in the dentist’s chair admits that my health rests in God's love as well as the skills of dentists and physicians and nurses and researchers, and a host of people who maintain these places of care.

And, yes, even sending a thank-you note, as my mother insisted (I still hate it when she is right!), is far more than social convention, it is an awareness that the best gifts, and much of the joy of life, are not things we can give ourselves but the things that come from beyond us. Gifts are an expression of love, and they are especially an invitation to love. Each thank you becomes a way to practice gratitude so that more and more our lives are weaned away from the myth of entitlement and the arrogance and isolation of independence. Each thank you becomes a way to practice gratitude so that more and more our lives are shaped by the truth of our belonging to others, of our belonging to Christ.

In the end, gratitude is an expression of our need for others, of our need for God. We cannot live at a distance and be truly healed at the same time. We are not really entitled to health or to joy or even to righteousness. Like the food that nourishes our bodies, these things do not grow up independently within us, but are literally foreign, alien to us, gifts from beyond ourselves that lure us into a recognition of mutual interdependence with all others who have been embraced by a God who reached beyond the boundaries that we and the world have established to tell us we belong.

I have gotten better than I was when it comes to thank-yous. I am not perfect but I try to remember those times in my life when I have been like one of the lepers and have prayed, “Have mercy.” And, I have been granted it in my life. So, next week will find me with notepaper writing my thank-yous. And as I say thank you, it will be an outward reminder that God's love is God's ultimate action in the world and in us. God's love is given human form in Jesus Christ, and if God can invest himself in the unlikely form of a man born of woman, who suffered as we suffer, and died as we shall die, dare we invest less in our humanity than God does?

How do we love this lover back? I think it begins with gratitude. Should we not stop and be amazed? Ought we not take the sign of God's love for us in Christ as a sign that we are loveable and the world is worth loving and be in wonder and awe of that? We can be grateful. And, if we can be grateful and live in gratitude, can there be any possible limit to what we can attempt as God's representatives in the world. And by God's amazing love for us in Jesus Christ, as it did for the lepers, we are become in ourselves, in our own persons, and in our daily work acts of God's love.

Chris Saxton is in his final as an year MDiv student at Trinity College, Canada's oldest centre for theological study in the Anglican Church of Canada. Like the college he is liberal and catholic in his views, and also rather old coming to Divinity after a long career as a sommelier, and a wine educator. You can follow him on Twitter at @ckwsaxton

Friday, December 23, 2011

Trust Women. God Does.

By Caryn D. Riswold

"As the father of two daughters, I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over the counter medicine.” 

So ran President Barack Obama’s recent defense of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ first-ever-in-history overruling of the FDA decision to allow over-the-counter sale of Plan B, the emergency contraceptive pill, invoked his role as father-in-chief. 

Mr. President, we do not make decisions about the accessibility of medical care based on our feelings as parents.

We make them based on science.  Just like you said we should.

To be sure, the idea that a thirteen-year-old girl is in need of emergency contraception after unprotected sexual intercourse is not something anyone wants to believe is true.

It is.  13% of American teens have had sex by age 15, and the average age for having sex for the first time is 17.  The teen pregnancy rate had been dropping in the U.S. until it rose for the first time in more than a decade in 2006.  The New York Times reported that “some experts speculate that the rise in teenage pregnancy might be partly attributable to the $150 million a year of federal financing for sex education that emphasized abstinence until marriage, avoiding all mention of the possible benefits of contraception.”  It’s not working.

Consider the actual reasons why a thirteen year old girl would need easy access to Plan B.  None of them are what we would like to be true.  Maybe she has a “boyfriend.”  Maybe she was trying to act like a grown-up.  Maybe he won’t stop coming into her room.  Maybe she didn’t know she could say no.  Maybe she is scared to tell her parents.  Maybe her parents are part of the problem.

Feminist social ethicist Beverly Harrison discusses the multiple scenarios possible when a woman is pregnant and does not want to or did not intend to be so:  coercion or assault, lack of knowledge about sex, failure or inability to use effective contraception, or actual failure of said contraception.  In each case, Harrison asks if forcing women to carry a pregnancy to term is in fact the most desirable outcome to enforce on all.  On the contrary, she argues, “we must always insist that the objective social conditions that make women and children already born highly vulnerable can only be worsened by a social policy of compulsory pregnancy.”[1]  Preventing greater access to emergency contraception, which is what Sebelius and Obama have now endorsed in direct opposition to federally funded scientific research, disproportionately affects those women and girls who are already the most vulnerable and on the margins of in our communities.  Continued restriction of Plan B to “behind-the-counter” age-restricted status will affect poor women and women of color much more than thirteen year old white girls.

Not trusting women has consequences for the ones on the margins.

The Christian tradition reveals that trusting them does too.

I rarely read genealogies in the Bible (because, really, who does?), except for the one that mentions five marginal women.  Matthew’s gospel opens with a genealogy of Jesus designed to tie him closely to the Jewish tradition, dating back to Abraham, and pivoting at two crucial points in Hebrew history:  King David, and the deportation to Babylon.  What interrupts the typical patrilineal “father of … father of … father of …” pattern is what makes it interesting.

Perez and Zerah by Tamar.

Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab.

Obed by Ruth.

Solomon by the wife of Uriah.

Mary “of whom Jesus was born.”

Entire libraries have been written about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and many of those volumes by feminist and other women theologians wrestling with the complex legacy of a “virgin mother.”  Nadia Bolz-Weber’s recent post on Sojourners’ God’s Politics blog says, among other things, “I’m not convinced that she was perpetually full of nothing but virtue, virginity and pure receptivity…That yes she gave was fierce.”  Maria LaSala says of the Annunciation story “I also hear in this well-loved scripture text the story of a God who understood that Mary could have a choice. It seems important to God that Mary agree to this pregnancy, that it not be forced upon her.”  But Mary is only one of the marginal women in Matthew’s first chapter.

These five are vulnerable women on the edge of society.  They are not the relatively empowered matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, or even Hannah.  They are women who engineer their own survival and the survival of their people despite the odds against them.  They do what it takes, even if it means sleeping with the father-in-law denying you your rights.  Or lying to protect spies who strike a bargain with you.  Or letting another woman raise your child because she has status and you do not.  Or doing what it takes to survive when the king demands to have you.  Or offering a fierce yes to God’s call.

None of the women are in situations that are ideal:  widowed, unmarried & pregnant, a public woman.  None of them are what we’d like to claim as mothers of the faith.  But they are.  God trusted them – women on the margins of social and sexual acceptability.  They made decisions and engineered their lives, all in less than ideal situations.

When Secretary Sebelius and President Obama tell thirteen year old girls that they don’t think they can use Plan B properly, they are disregarding the FDA studies using “adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and science-based evidence [showing] that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential.”  They are relying on paternalism (they can’t understand the label!  FDA studies have already shown otherwise) and parental wishful thinking (I’d like to think they would come talk to me!  Maybe.  Maybe not).

They don’t really trust women.  Or girls.

But we might remember that God does.


[1] Beverly Wildung Harrison, “Theology and Morality of Procreative Choice,” in Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics.  Boston:  Beacon Press, 1985.  115-134.

Caryn D. Riswold, Ph.D., is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is a professor of religion and chair of gender and women’s studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois. Her latest book, Feminism and Christianity, is now available for Kindle, in paperback in the U.S. and U.K., and via your local bookstore. You can follow her on Twitter @feminismxianity.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ringing in a New Year

By Becky Garrison
Originally posted 12/19/11 at Believe Out Loud

As reported by The Huffington Post's Gay Voices section, “The Salvation Army's Red Kettle bell ringers have become a truly iconic part of the holiday shopping season. However, many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocates are now calling for shoppers to skip the donation buckets due to the organization's conservative view of homosexuality."

Here I find myself a bit torn—I volunteered with the Salvation Army's Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) during the 9/11 recovery effort and was pleasantly surprised that they accepted volunteers and even hired some staff who did not follow their Salvationist teachings. So, I developed a soft spot of sorts toward those wearing the Salvation Army aprons.

However, as I continued my service and training with EDS, I began to notice a gradual shifting in their personnel policies. Over time, the calls for volunteers stopped coming and eventually my Salvation Army badge expired. While I was never told explicitly, I was no longer welcome, I soon realized I would need to be a Salvationist if I wanted to have any long-term future within this organization.

Hence, I sympathize with those in the LGBT community who feel excluded from the Salvation Army over their stance of LGBT rights that affirms the dignity of all people but draws the line at “homosexual” conduct. This debate remains at the heart of evangelical theology whereby even in seemingly progressive evangelical settings, they can affirm LGBT folks as children of God but not grant them the same rights and rites granted to everyone else.

Following Sojourners decision to reject an LGBT welcome ad from Believe Out Loud in May, I found myself spending a good chunk of the past seven months unpacking what I termed the Sojourners snafu. At the Ship of Fools website I note that while some shifting has transpired in the past 20 years, the evangelical world continues to lag way behind not only their mainline brethren but the secular culture at large when it comes to welcoming LGBT people and advocating for their rights as part of our shared humanity as global citizens on this planet.

Over at Killing the Buddha, Kristin Rawls lays bare the discontent I’ve been experiencing for some time with emergent and progressive evangelical Christians. At the core of this debate lies the premise that despite our theological differences, we must come together in unity because “we all love Jesus.” Rawls keenly observes the key flaw with this kumbaya crud.

“Notwithstanding the fact that “love” is perhaps the vaguest, most unhelpful political prescription of all time, this kind of thinking removes any analysis of power from the conversation. It falsely presumes that we all enter the conversation on equal footing. Indeed, everyone is so busy preaching “unity” and “loving one another” that there is never any interrogation of privilege or power.”

As we head into 2012, I confess to a weariness regarding battling those evangelicals who keep ringing the same old “love the sinner, not the sin” tune while the rest of the world marches to a different drummer.  Hence, I chose this year to tune out the Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign, as well as all other fundraising campaigns that do not treat all of us as children of God.

For those who feel called to help those without homes but also want to support LGBT equality, why not make a New Year's resolution to stop supporting shelters, drop-in centers and other programs run by organizations like the Salvation Army whose policies discriminate against the LGBT community. Instead, look for those places that welcome LGBT teens like Broad Street Ministry's Q Spot in Philadelphia or Trinity Place, transitional shelter run by Trinity Lutheran Church on New York's Upper West Side and recipient of a Union Square award in the social justice category.

Along those lines, for those in faith communities who do not fully embrace LGBT people in all areas of the church's ministry, consider making a New Year's resolution to find a local faith community that affirms LGBT equality. In Ancient Future Disciples, I profiled a number of radically inclusive Episcopal congregations. GLAAD maintains an ongoing database of congregations that support marriage equality. Collectives like the Yes! Coalition Philly list welcoming congregations in the Philadelphia area. Also, check out Occupy Faith to connect with those faith-based communities looking to impact systemic change.

Becky Garrison is a panelist for The Washington Post's On Faith column and contributes to a range of outlets including The Guardian, The Revealer, American Atheist magazine and Religion Dispatches.. Her books include Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ, Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church, and Ancient Future Disciples: Meeting Jesus in Mission-Shaped Ministries.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Saving the Corporate Soul

By Jeff Fulmer
Originally posted 12/19/11 at Elephant Journal

No longer content to be cryptic stock symbols resigned to the back of the business section of the newspaper, corporations are coming out, and they’re loud and proud.

When the Supreme Court removed all financial limits on their right of free speech in Citizens United, we knew we would be hearing more from our corporate brethren. Even Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, recently stood up for these misunderstood bastions of capitalism by boldly declaring “Corporations are people!”

Some may be uncomfortable with the notion of multi-conglomerates as their next-door neighbors, or fearful of the kind of influence these behemoths could wield.  However, this could be a terrific boon for churches, which have been suffering from declining memberships and contributions.
If corporations are considered people, this opens up a whole new mission field of souls that need to be saved – and these souls come wrapped in expensive suits with big budgets and disposable incomes.

Converting these souls may be a challenge however. The book and documentary, The Corporation, makes a case that corporations are so driven by self-interest that they behave much like a psychopath.  For the record, psychopaths or sociopaths are often very good at getting what they want from other people, even though they actually have no actual feelings toward anyone.

Similarly, the bottom line dictates every decision a corporation makes, often at the expense of their workers, the environment and society at large.

So, how can we evangelize a “person” with psychopathic traits?

When you peel back the corporate logo, lo-and-behold, you do find real live people. While I’m sure there is a fair share of ambitious managers at the top, they are not intrinsically evil. At the very least, they want the world to be a better place for themselves and their children.
Jesus gives us some simple words of advice that might be applicable here.
“If your brother sins against you, go, show him his fault just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”  (Matthew 18:15) 
Unfortunately, showing someone the error of their ways does not ensure they will change them.
But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by two or three witnesses.”  (Matthew 18:16) 
Bringing others to the table supports your case and raises the stakes, whether you are asking a company to stop polluting the rivers or price gouging customers or exploiting children in foreign countries.  But what if the CEO (who took home twenty million dollars last year) cannot find it in the budget or his heart to change his ways?
Jesus goes on to say, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”  (Matthew 18:17)
In other words, Jesus advises us to make the entire church aware of the malfeasance in an effort to shame the offending party into doing the right thing. If that doesn’t work, we are finally told to put the person out and turn your back on them. While it might be a stretch, this could be interpreted as not having anything to do with said corporation – or what it sells. And that sounds a lot like a boycott.

Like any respectable sociopath who is only concerned with his own well being; the corporation will want to avoid any negative publicity and lost revenues that could result from a boycott. Even fringe groups like the Florida Family Association made Lowe’s pull their advertising from a reality TV show that featured Muslims in a relatively positive (non-terrorist) light.

If corporations are willing to pander to racists, you might think they would be willing to listen to well reasoned, ethical arguments. There is, of course, a good chance you would be wrong.

Even if you have the high moral ground and the public is behind you, the corporation may still decide not to listen. While you may lose the battle, it’s important to keep your eyes on the big picture and support policies that will restrain the more sociopathic tendencies of a corporation or an entire industry.

For example, most people agree that Wall Street could have benefited from more government regulations prior to mortgage debacle. Yet, even now, there are politicians who want to strip oversight agencies like the SEC, as well as the EPA, and at least two or three other federal departments.

Attempting to evangelize a psychopath, or anything that acts like one, can be a dangerous proposition. And yet, it is impossible to ignore these omnipresent, bigger-than-life personalities we’ve grown dependent on for our most basic needs.

I hope corporations or, more accurately, the people who run them, will look into their hearts and realize that they should be doing what is best for everyone, not just themselves.  Otherwise, Christians may have to take it upon themselves to save their souls, and that might not be good for business.
Jeff Fulmer is the author of the book "Hometown Prophet."

The Tension of Christianity

By Christopher Saxton

I remember when I was a child, I loved to play on the swing set. The thing I loved most of all was to begin to swing to see how high I could go and then launch myself into space at the top of the arc. I would lean back in the swing and stretch out, then pull myself upright increasing the arc and then swing backwards, and then lean back again stretching out with my toes to reach the sky and get to the top of the arc and swing backwards. Each cycle of stretching my toes to the sky and relaxing backwards would increase the arc and I would swing a little higher each time. Once I had reached the terminal point where I couldn’t swing any higher…when I reached the place where there would be that moment where the swing chain would slacken and then catch again, I would prepare to let go. I would take one final swing, and then at the top of the arc, with toes pointed to the sky, I would force myself to let go. I would have an eternity of terror as I let go of the security of the swing and would hang for a moment between the two forces: the force of the swing carrying me up and forward and the force of gravity pulling me down. I would be suspended between two worlds.

To me, this is the hard question of being a Christian. Are we of this world or not? Do we keep our eyes only heavenward or do we engage with the world? And this is the tension that Jesus speaks of in John’s gospel, in his final prayer for his disciples before going to the cross...This tension of being suspended between two possibilities.

One of the most difficult aspects of this is the issue of "the world." Jesus makes several points about relationship to "the world" which we might keep in mind. From the perspective of the biblical text, the world signifies the origin of the disciples. They did not come from outside of society but from inside of it, from the everyday people. However, in belonging to Jesus, the disciples have been separated from the world. Still, they must continue to do ministry in it. As must all baptized Christians…we are caught at the top of the arc of the swing and are in the air… in the tension of being of, and yet not of the world.

This is one of the greatest tensions of Christianity: “they are not of the world as I am not of the world,” says Jesus in his prayer. But he also says earlier “yet they themselves are in the world.” How do we deal with this contradiction? One view of this conundrum is that held by some, that this world is some sort of necessary evil that we must pass through as untouched as possible in order to go to eternal glory in the bosom of our creator. The idea here is to try to keep ourselves as separate from the prevailing culture as possible. That society is of this earth and we (Christians) are separate from it. We seek a moral purity that comes from a “rising” above the world. Are we to rise above the mire of society convinced that we are not of the world?

If our eyes are too firmly pointed towards heaven how can we see the light of Christ in those around us, or those half a world away? A couple of years ago an ELCA bishop sadly and wisely commented: "I don't know if our people understand the radicality of the Gospel in terms of how counter-cultural it is.” Or in the words of a tweet about the “#occupywallst” movement: do we remember that the one who died on the cross must be remembered as a “wrongfully executed socialist?” In our desire as Christians to be not of this world have we forgotten the truly radical message of Jesus Christ that we must love our neighbours as ourselves?

So, does Jesus call us to muck in…to be in, and of this world, in messy and concrete ways…to get dirty and uncomfortable to seek to transform this world? It is so much easier to follow the call to be not of this world. But I believe that Christianity is a social religion concerned, at its core, with the quality of human relations on this earth. A hundred years ago, Canadian social gospel leader J.S. Woodsworth preached, "You can't separate a man from his surroundings and deal separately with each…Christianity is not merely individualistic, it is socialistic…the work of the church is not merely to save men; it is to redeem, to transform society.” Are we in, or not in this world?

How often I wish that God would give me the resources to take people “out of their world”: out of homelessness, jails, nursing facilities, cycles of abuse or addiction. And yet, he doesn’t. Instead, he tells me to go into their world and be present through the despair. You and I are called to bind hopelessness and offer all that we have: two eyes, two ears and often, too little time. We are rarely called to show up with solutions, but we are called to show up. Nothing seems to keep away evil more than the friend who consistently “shows up,” who stands in witness. And we stand in witness. We do what is possible and turn to God for the impossible; but above all else…We show up.

And this is not easy. It is terrifying. It is radical. It is counter-cultural. It is against the world. We Christians are not of this world. Everything we claim to believe is at its core in opposition to what the society surrounding us espouses. We love our neighbor whether we know them or not, whether they are like us or not, knowing that our neighbor is also our stranger. Our successes, our failures are judged by standards not of this world…they are counted in terms of love, in terms of justice, in terms of sacrifice, in terms of standing in witness. We do not count financial success as success. We don’t count our sheep, instead Jesus asks us to feed them.

Tension? You bet! As Christians, are we on the swing or rooted to the earth? Well yes, we are both, and...

Being the disciples that Jesus prays us to be, requires us to hold perhaps the most subtle and yet most difficult tension of all: the tension between reality and possibility. Hanging like Jesus on the cross we are called to that terrible tension of being in this world, and of living in it by different rules. Called to engage with the world, and seek to transform it as our love of neighbor calls us to do.

When I was on that swing, getting closer to letting go, I would feel my throat close and my heart pound. My mouth would dry up and my stomach clench. I knew that there was danger approaching…that I could crash and burn…break bones…bloody my nose. My hand would clench the chains and I would be unwilling to let go, unable to take the leap. There was danger and terror and excitement and the unknown. And then there would come a second when I would trust…when I would let go. And then there was a glorious moment that lasted for an instant, and forever, and I would hang suspended between the swing and the earth. No longer in either world, the worlds of the swing or the earth but hanging suspended. In both worlds…and in neither. The tension we are all in as Christians, the tension of taking the leap, the tension of showing up, the tension of following the one we love, and the terrible, the wonderful, tension of the cross…Hanging in that terrible tension, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are both of, and not of this world.

Chris Saxton is in his final as an year MDiv student at Trinity College, Canada's oldest centre for theological study in the Anglican Church of Canada. Like the college he is liberal and catholic in his views, and also rather old coming to Divinity after a long career as a sommelier, and a wine educator. You can follow him on Twitter at @ckwsaxton.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

99% (The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film)

By Stephen Dotson 

As I Occupied in Philadelphia, I came to believe that the People's Mic is a blessed tool of the Holy Spirit. I cannot think of anything more humanizing and compassionate than being willing not only to listen to one another, but to literally lends one's own voice to amplify the message of another. As a Quaker I've participated in many consensus-like group decision-making events, but none that demonstrated such faith in the gathered body. Today, I work to capture that experience of the People's Mic (and so many other moments) into the People's Story thru film, and to do so in a manner congruent with the spirit of those General Assemblies. Now, when people ask me if Quakers make oatmeal, I get to say, no I make movies, wanna help?

99% - The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film is a feature length documentary film made collaboratively by more than seventy-five (and growing) independent filmmakers, photographers, videographers and editors across the country. We have come together and pledged our time, skills and energy to cover the events taking place in NYC and around the country as they happen. We are crafting this film with many diverse voices to tell a cohesive story about the Occupy movement, how it began, the people who are part of it and the economic, social and political environment that fostered and sustains it.

This film will be a compelling, cinematic, and honest portrait of the Occupy Wall Street movement, told from many perspectives, but unified and woven into a single, resonant portrait with a collaborative ethos that mirrors the movement itself. I became involved by sharing one small clip of 20,000 people in Times Sq. on Oct. 15th, lifting up a message of Light and hope in defiance of the lustful consumerism that surrounded us:


What do you have to share? Can you give a minute of footage? Can you give $10?

We will only do this together. Founded by filmmakers Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites just weeks after the first encampment in Zuccotti Park, New York City, 99% - The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film now involves scores of filmmakers, editors, producers and many with other important skills from around the country. We were deep in the democratic processes of Zucotti Park when it was in full swing; we were there when tear gas canisters rained down in Oakland. We were there during the evictions in LA and NYC; we were there as thousands marched, prayed, and were arrested for the sake of their conviction. We have talked to organizers, economists, veterans, clergy, and followed individual stories throughout the tumultuous and important first months of this historic movement.

99% - The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film will strive to capture the big picture of a movement that is one of the most important in generations and create a film that can reach across America and beyond. I would never have imagined that I would be involved in something like this, but it feels exactly right, and so I continue to walk, trusting that God will guide my steps along this mysterious and adventurous path.


More info is available here

Stephen Willis Dotson is a member of Goose Creek (Va.) Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). He does youth ministry among Quakers in Philadelphia, is a volunteer videographer for the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), and serves on the boards of Friends Publishing Corporation and the Global Nonviolent Action Database project of Swarthmore College.

Monday, December 19, 2011

You Did For Me

By Tom Altepeter
Originally posted 12/17/11 at Maranatha

Why do you worship Him? Do you really think He needs that?

No. I do.

How many times have I examined the heart of another when it's my own that needs examination? How many times have I assumed that God is trying to work in the life of another when He's been trying to work in my own life? How many times have I withheld something from a brother or sister believing it was not what they needed when it was not for me to determine but only for me to give freely?

If others had waited to help me feeling that, upon examination of my heart, I needed to learn some lesson because of my brokenness, because of my lack of relationship with God, or because it might "enable" me in some way, I know where I would be. And, it wouldn't be here. And, it wouldn't be with Him.

Our purpose here is not to be God. He's got it covered. Our purpose here is to love others as God loves us. He doesn't need it. We do.

Below are some verses to ponder and some questions to answer. 

*****

I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. ~ Psalm 140:12

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. ~ Deuteronomy 15:7

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. ~ Proverbs 31:8

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. ~ Matthew 5:42

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. ~ 1 Timothy 6:18

He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward him for what he has done. ~ Proverbs 19:17

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. ~ Matthew 19:21

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. ~ Proverbs 14:31

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? ~ 1 John 3:17

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. ~ Matthew 6:24

*****

Which verse stood out the most for you, and why?

Why should we serve those in need?

What is getting in the way of you serving those in need?

How have you served, could you serve, and will you serve those in need? 

Jesus junkie, husband, and father, Tom Altepeter is a former elementary school principal and present middle school assistant principal in Loveland, Colorado. He is passionate about God, family, intercultural responsiveness, and social justice. He blogs at Intercultural Responsiveness, Maranatha, and Tom's Posterous. You can follow him on Twitter @tomaltepeter (http://twitter.com/tomaltepeter).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holy Mess: Faith and Spirituality at Occupy Boston


For seventy days and nights, activists occupied a patch of greenway in the heart of downtown Boston's financial district, as part of the global Occupy movement. In this encampment, a community of faith and spirituality took root, in prayer and worship, meditation and yoga, communion and conversation. This documentary provides an interfaith space for the voices of "Protest Chaplains," prophets and solutionaries, a poet-evangelist, and many others.

Monday, December 12, 2011

John Standridge: I am the Religious Left

All religions, including Christianity and Buddhism, can bring one to an elevated awareness above and beyond a dualistic conception of reality, or idea of “pairs of opposites,” such as being and non-being, good and evil, or right and wrong. Joseph Campbell quotes in the preface of The Hero with a Thousand Faces: "Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names."

In the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal that I choose to believe in God, therefore I am not an atheist; but I respect and I am fine with those who choose not to believe in God. I also choose to deal with the subject of the existence of God, therefore I am not agnostic; and of the many names I could use to reference the unknowable and indescribable force, the name I choose to use is “God.”

I choose to believe in God because it is unacceptable to me to believe that mankind represents the ultimate truth, the finest moral fiber, and highest intelligence of our universe. I prefer to believe that truth is universal and that we humans have some capacity to glimpse this larger truth on occasion, and the capacity to tap into some mystical reservoir of a higher intelligence and, indeed, morality. Upon some inner reflection, it appears that I can no longer deny the existence of good and evil, although linking God to morality is tricky and unessential for me. My God is the life force of a complex nature and all that that implies.

I find spiritual wisdom in Jesus' affirmation, especially to the marginalized and oppressed of the world. I think highly of the Sermon on the Mount, and it would please me if Christians did also. Jesus taught, “You are the light of the world.” Everyone, each one of us, is precious. Unitarians call it, “Affirming the Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person.” The broad tent of Unitarian Universalism reflects the widest possible view of that plurality and acceptance. As religions go, I like it that Unitarian Universalism has no dogma; and I smile smugly that it offers universal salvation.

Religion is a search process: a quest to achieve enlightenment. One may be guided by notions of what is right and true, the way one is in thought and spirit, but one must travel with keen awareness of one’s true self and the good companions of God, intellectual honesty and freedom, and with the creative life force of a complex nature, and go with Love. 

My name is John Standridge, and I am the Religious Left.

Donald Vish: I am the Religious Left

I confess: I am a member of the Religious Left. 

Why?

Because, according to the Wikipedia article discussing this loose association of Christian believers, I am a member of the Episcopal Church and devoted to the work or ideas of the poet William Blake, the anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori, the architect and preacher of a consistent ethic of life,  Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, and the social reformer Leo Tolstoy. 

The Religious Left has a choir, a creed and a catechism.  

The choir has voices with different vocal ranges encompassing many notes, tones and timbres.  Its choral harmony comes from its creed: faith.  Its distinct melody comes from its catechism: justice. 

In its unity there is much diversity.  In my theology as a Christian leftist:

•    I embrace Cardinal Bernadin’s ‘consistent ethic of life’ that holds that issues such as abortion, capital punishment, militarism, euthanasia, social justice and economic injustice all demand a consistent application of moral principles that value the sacredness of human life.   

•    I aspire to the Epistle of James that emphasizes good works and the gospel of Matthew that expands Luke’s list of blessings to include those who hunger for justice.

•    I subscribe to Montaigne’s philosophy of action and I hope to preach sermons that will pass Napoleon’s test:  what has he done!  

•    I borrow without collateral or entitlement the dictum of the Dalai Lama to say: My religion is kindness. 

I confess my personal religion thus far bears a relationship to Dante’s pagan Virgil.  I have earned the right to wear on my forehead the seven Ps: peccavi, peccavi, peccavi, peccavi, peccavi, peccavi, peccavi, I have sinned.

My name is Donald Vish, and I am the Religious Left.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What Churches Can Learn from Occupy Wall Street

By Jeff Fulmer
Originally posted 12/8/12 at Faith Forward
 
Occupy Wall Street has quickly grown from a single protest at Zuccotti Park in New York to over 900 cities around the world.  There are several reasons why the Occupy Movement has experienced such exponential growth in only three months, but the primary one is that they boldly seized a cause that was crying out for a champion.   There was, and still is, a groundswell of people who desperately want to restore balance to a fundamentally unjust economic system.

While more Americans than ever slipped below the poverty line in 2011 (46.2 million), the wealthiest 1% now controls 40% of the nation’s wealth.   That kind of disparity is wrong by any standards, and is an injustice that falls squarely with the church’s domain.   Some pastors have been fighting the good fight for years; however, many are strangely silent when it comes to getting actively involved in shaping policies that help the sick, hungry, and poor (aka “the least of these.”)   Not wanting to create a riff in their congregations or upset contributors, they tend to shy away from the “controversial” issues.

2000 or so years ago, a radical preacher and healer spoke out against the powers of his day.  “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:4)  Jesus was speaking about the Pharisees, but he could have easily been talking to business people who have exploited the public, as well as the politicians who protect them.  He also had some pretty harsh things to say about money and those who hoard it.  (Matthew 6: 24, Matthew 19:23, Luke 12: 13 – 21, Luke 16: 19-31)

Besides tapping into the discontent of many Americans, Occupy Wall Street is doing some other things churches would do well to emulate.  For instance, #OWS is very decentralized and democratic.   While they have organizers, they seem willing to put everything to a vote, including what and where to protest.   Listening to their members and empowering them to take up the banner in their own communities has helped the movement spread like wildfire.   And when the press and celebrities show up at their rallies, they are greeted without fanfare and treated like normal people.

While it often feels like Washington only listens to people who can afford lobbyists, church leaders can be just as guilty of cozying up to the rich and powerful.    “… they love the places of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplace and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ (Matthew 23: 5 – 7)  Big denominational organizations pronounce official edicts on morality, and mega-churches put their charismatic preachers on pedestals.   These top-down hierarchies can often rob the church of the untapped potential in their pews.

From the beginning, #OWS has been fiercely anti-advertising and anti-consumerism.   Inspired by the protests taking place in Egypt, it was Adbusters who originally floated an email about a march on Wall Street.   (Adbusters produces ads that challenge misleading corporate messages).    For many of us, the notion of not selling out is appealing… After a lifetime of being told that happiness can be ours for the price of a cell phone or car, many are no longer buying the lies.

People are hungry for an alternative to the never-ending cycle of consumerism, and churches can draw a starker line between the love of God and love of the world.  Christmas is the most obvious way religion has been co-opted by capitalism, but money finds many more subtle ways to creep in and corrupt the most well-intentioned plans.   Jesus never seemed angrier than when he drove the moneychangers from the temple. (John 2:14 – 16) That’s a pretty strong message that God will not be bought.

Finally, Occupy Wall Street is using peaceful methods to protest the powers that be.   The fact that they have been evicted from various public areas only makes them more sympathetic.   And when they are willing to go to jail or endure physical hardship (such as the Marine, Scott Olson), it engenders respect.   This is essentially the same method that Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi used to protest – both of whom were influenced by Christ and his peaceful (except for the moneychangers) ministry.

When was the last time Christians came together and linked arms to protest anything?   Many of us have missed meaningful opportunities to let our voices be heard.  While martyrdom isn’t required for most modern day believers, we are called to make sacrifices. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Matthew 9:23)  Not only is speaking out being true to your convictions, it also offers a beacon of hope to others.   The world is attracted to people who are passionate enough to live out their beliefs in the open and out on the streets.

It can be dangerous to paint all of Wall Street with the same brush, just as the Tea Party does more harm by vilifying all things government.   While I’m reluctant to embrace everything about #OWS, I certainly hope they will bring about positives changes.   Even if I don’t Occupy Wall Street, or even my hometown of Nashville, there are endless opportunities to make a difference.   After all, as Christians, we have been called to occupy the nations and lead the way to a better, more just world.

Jeff Fulmer is the author of the book "Hometown Prophet."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

We Are Gulnare Free Will Baptist

By Katelin Hansen
Originally posted 12/4/11 at By Their Strange Fruit

When Stella Harville recently returned from college to visit her hometown church, Gulnare Free Will Baptist (GFWB), she brought her future husband, Ticha Chikuni with her. Shortly thereafter, the congregation voted to prevent the couple from ever becoming members of the church. The resolution states that interracial couples "will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services or other church functions." 

It's tempting to shake our heads and dismiss this situation as an extreme exception to Christian love. After all, only 15 people even participated in the vote out of a congregation of ~40 people. In total, it was nine people that voted to pass the resolution. Surely nine crazy folks can just be dismissed as terribly misguided...

But we have to remember that we are One Body, and we are responsible for the actions of our sisters and brothers in Christ. As representatives of Christ, if we claim His name, while allowing disenfranchisement of His children under that same name, we blasphemy the Good News. 

Notice Harville's reaction to the resolution: "Whether they keep the vote or overturn it, it's going to be hard for me go back there." This is about more than the actions of nine people. This is about the image of Christ. 

We know Americans aren't so good at distinguishing a religion from its extremists members. Alvin Sanders at Reconciliation 101 recognizes that "this is the type of thing that shames the whole Body of Christ, as many unbelievers lump us all together regardless of denominational affiliation." No matter how hard we try to distance ourselves from GFWB (as the pastor and national leadership of the church have tried to do), Christ and Christains are already inextricably caught up in it as far as the World is concerned.

So what if, rather than trying to distance ourselves, we instead took responsibility? What if we as Christ-followers owned up to the fact that we have done a poor job of acting for justice and reconciliation, and that as a result, the Church has once again been a source of pain for those seeking fellowship? 

Where were we during the spiritual education of our siblings in Christ? How is it that our stance for justice is meek enough that this incident is even possible? How is it that GFWB's actions actually confirm unbelievers' suspicions, rather than serving as an exception to our undeniable steadfastness for others?

The truth is, GFWB simply put into writing what many other communities still believe in practice. We are all subject to the same set of prejudgments that converged to create this particular situation. The rest of us are not necessarily any more enlightened than GFWB, we are just more careful about which prejudices we hold, and how we express them.  Ask any multiracial family searching for a church home, it doesn't take long to discern the true unwritten racial policy of a given congregation (see previous post: Interracial Relationships in the Church). 

So rather than waving our hands and sucking our teeth, let's own the responsibility for our sisters and brothers in Christ. Let us take this incident as a reminder that there is much work yet to be done. Let us begin with a careful examination of our own prejudices and sticking points. Can you honestly say, 'all are welcome here?'
  • Who might have trouble gaining acceptance in your own church? How would a pregnant teen be welcomed? A youth in baggy jeans? Someone off the street? 
  • If these folks make it though the lobby, what does your body language tell them about your hospitality? 
  • What if Spanish were incorporated into your weekly worship? What about hip-hop, or a black gospel choir? What would your congregation's unspoken reaction be?
Follow more conversations about racial justice and Christianity through our RSS feed.

Katelin Hansen (@strngefruit) is the editor of By Their Strange Fruit (BTSF), an online forum to facilitate justice and understanding across racial divides. BTSF explores how Christianity's often-bungled relationship with race and racism affects modern ministry and justice. Recognizing that racial brokenness hinders our witness to the world, BTSF strives to increase the visibly of healthy and holy racial discussion by approaching justice and reconciliation from a Christ-minded perspective.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Antisocial, Maladjusted, Occupier Jesus

By Garrett FitzGerald 
December 7, 2011

CNN's Belief Blog is playing host this week to a particularly galling bit of revisionist hermeneutics authored by conservative poster-boy Tony Perkins. Perkins' editorial, titled "My Take: Jesus was a free marketer, not an Occupier," treats the reader to a crash course in the sort of anachronistic proof-texting popular among contemporary conservatives attempting to project their own social and economic values back through time onto the life and teachings of Jesus.

Before we get into the content of the article, let me just take a moment to familiarize you with Tony Perkins. Tony Perkins cut his teeth in Louisiana state politics, where, while serving as a campaign manager for Louisiana state legislator Woody Jenkins, he paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,000 for his mailing list and was subsequently fined $3,000 by the Federal Election Commission for attempting to keep the transaction a secret. Perkins later spent time as a state representative authoring such worthwhile legislation as the nation's first covenant marriage law and the American History Preservation Act, which "prevents censorship of America's Christian heritage in Louisiana public schools." Perkins currently serves as the president of the Family Research Council, which was declared a hate group in 2010 by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its "[denigration of] LGBT people in its battles against same-sex marriage, hate crimes laws, anti-bullying programs and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy."

Nowhere in that sterling résumé is there anything to suggest that you should take Tony Perkins' word on matters of faith or scriptural interpretation. As friend-of-the-site Curtis observes in his response to Perkins' article,
"Tony Perkins is a career politician and now a lobbyist. He is not educated in theology, homiletics, hermeneutics, or any other subject that would help him expound upon what Jesus meant..."
And yet for some reason CNN sought the editorial opinion of this very same Tony Perkins on why Jesus probably would have preferred free market capitalism to...well, to whatever it is that the Occupy movement wants. Perkins doesn't seem all too clear on that point. 

Suffice it to say, Perkins' take on Jesus' support of free market capitalism is wrong in pretty much every sense that you can imagine. First and foremost, it is wrong in the literal sense. Perkin's begins his article by explaining "One of the last instructions Jesus gave his disciples was "Occupy till I come."" And while this message might indicate to the uninformed reader that Jesus was indeed more Occupier than free marketer, Perkins quickly sets the record straight. According to Perkins' rendering of the original text, "the Greek term behind the old English translation literally means "be occupied with business,"" and it's business, as we all know, that lies at the heart of free market capitalism.

Now, a quick disclaimer: when you spend a few years at divinity school, you tend to encounter more people familiar with New Testament Greek than you're otherwise likely to meet. And while the inclusion of the word business in Perkins' translation would certainly seem to lend credence to Perkins' claims about Jesus' pro-capitalist message, Perkins' Greek should be taken with a Dead Sea-sized grain of salt. The ancient Greek term in question is πραγματεύσασθε. Now get ready, all you language nerds. When it appears in the Gospel of Luke, πραγματεύσασθε is written in the plural, aorist tense, middle voice, imperative mood - and translates most accurately as "to keep busy," and not necessarily with business, as Perkins would have his reader believe. 

But my purpose in responding to Tony Perkins' article is not to quibble over ancient semantics, although given Perkins' past business dealings with David Duke it's certainly plausible that he may harbor some latent anti-semantic attitudes. Questionable though Perkins' rendering of the passage at hand may be, it's the underlying assumptions he brings to the passage and the eventual conclusions he draws from them that demand a response.

For starters, take Perkins' bogus equation of the situation of the servants in the Parable of the Minas to the free market capitalism he champions. I'm willing to overlook the fact that, according to Perkins, Jesus' parable relies directly on an anachronistic appeal to economic principles that won't even be given names for another sixteen centuries. Not too many chapters after the Parable of the Minas, Jesus goes on to conquer death itself, so let's assume that presaging Adam Smith's theories of economics by over a a millennium and a half is not off the table. 

However, in support of his explicit claim that "Jesus chose the free market system as the basis for this parable," Perkins characterizes the nature of free market capitalism as follows: 
[Each] of us is given the same opportunity to build our lives, and each of us shares the same responsibility to invest our lives for the purpose of bringing a return and leaving a legacy.
At what point in time since the birth and death of Jesus of Nazareth has the world that Tony Perkins envisions in that sentence ever, ever been realized? The rosy, egalitarian social order imagined by Tony Perkins and equated with free market capitalism is a complete fabrication, a conservative trope routinely trundled out to lend moral support to a morally bankrupt economic model. This is the sort of malicious, fictitious, level playing field, equal opportunity, up-by-the-bootstraps, Puritan work ethic nonsense that conservatives routinely rely on to demonize those less fortunate than they for their lot in life. Free market capitalism has always been implicated in the perpetuation of deep-seated social and economic disparities, and as we're about to see, it's precisely that sort of injustice that gets Jesus pretty riled up.

Before launching into his warped interpretation of the Parable of the Minas, Perkins asks his reader a string of rhetorical questions obviously intended to serve as straw man arguments: "But just what does Jesus' order to occupy mean? Does it mean take over and trash public property, as the Occupy movement has?"

Perkins considers the answer to be an obvious 'no' based on his dubious reading of the Parable of the Minas, which is itself based on the dubious connection that Perkins draws between the parable and the utterly fictitious construction of free market capitalism he provides. But if Perkins had read just a bit further in his Bible he might have come away with a different response entirely. 

A scant seventeen verses after the conclusion of the Parable of the Minas, Luke relates the incredible scene of the cleansing the Temple. In the scene, Jesus enters the Temple in Jerusalem on Passover, which is about the busiest religious and commercial location you could find in ancient Israel, and proceeds to violently chase the money changers and vendors of sacrificial animals out of the Temple. Later in both Mark and Luke, Jesus further explains his anger at the Temple authorities whose business he so spectacularly disrupted, accusing them of "devouring the houses of widows" in the name of profit.

Although Mark has Jesus and his disciples leaving the city again that night, in Luke's account of the cleansing, which, again, appeared only a handful of verses after the parable cited by Perkins, we can see just what an occupier Jesus truly was:
 45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46saying to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer,' but you have made it a den of robbers."
 47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.
Although I disagree profoundly with Perkins' reduction of the Occupy movement to "[taking] over and [trashing] property," in the episode of the cleansing of the Temple we are treated to the incredible image of an enraged Jesus doing precisely that. If the image of masked youths setting up makeshift barricades on the streets of Oakland gives conservatives the shivers, what on earth would they make of Jesus walking into the headquarters of Goldman Sachs or Bank of America, flipping over their tables and desks, and then refusing to leave for days on end, all the while preaching a message of justice for the poor and vulnerable? 

(Note: for a particularly poignant reading on the similarities between the message and the means of the Occupy movement and Jesus' cleansing of the Temple definitely check out Terry Eagleton's analysis of the temple cleansing in the context of Occupy London's encampment on the grounds of St. Paul's Cathedral.)

And what about the second of Perkins' intended rhetorical straw men? Does Jesus' exhortation to occupy "mean engage in antisocial behavior while denouncing a political and economic system that grants one the right and luxury to choose to be unproductive?"

Ignoring another of Perkins' rosy glosses of free market capitalism and his dig at the productivity of Occupiers, if being well socialized in Perkins' mind means unquestioning acceptance of a social and economic order built upon structural inequality, the clarion call for justice at the heart of Jesus' messages demands that we be antisocial. 

What is the good of so-called social behavior when the society which sanctions it is so fundamentally implicated in the perpetuation of social and economic injustice that it makes selling sacrificial pigeons at a mark-up seem about as cutthroat as Ayn Rand running a lemonade stand? 

By attempting to embody a more just society, what our author Erik Resly refers to as "rehearsing the reality to which they aspire," Occupiers are actively redefining what it means to be social in a way that intentionally minimizes the sort of inherent oppression wholly ignored in the systems and practices endorsed by well-socialized people like Tony Perkins.

What's more, when the Occupy movement is viewed in the context of the prophetic tradition - which I firmly believe it embodies - its supposedly antisocial behavior finds even more compelling context. You would be hard-pressed to find a more antisocial group of people than the prophets of the Old Testament. We are talking about a group of people who were routinely harassed, threatened, beaten, imprisoned, and even killed for reminding people of how unjust they had allowed their societies to become, for how routinely they mistreated the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, the stranger. And, lest we forget, Jesus himself was put to death as an enemy of the state for his own  tendency toward profoundly anti-social behavior.

I am reminded of a speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Western Michigan University on December 18th, 1963. In the speech, Dr. King reflects on the buzzwords used to dismiss movements for social justice and the people who comprise them as deviations from societal norms. The word on Dr. King's mind in this instance was one such buzzword, the term maladjusted, but in the following powerful passage one can easily imagine substituting Perkins' antisocial:
There are certain technical words within every academic discipline that soon become stereotypes and cliches. Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word "maladjusted." This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.

But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence.

[...]

In other words, I'm about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment--men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos. Who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation would not survive half-slave and half-free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery would scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions, "We know these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator certain unalienable rights" that among these are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth who could say to the men and women of his day, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you. Pray for them that despitefully use you." Through such maladjustment, I believe that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice. My faith is that somehow this problem will be solved.
We should all aspire to be as maladjusted to the injustice of our times as Jesus was to the abuses of his own. We should aspire to be antisocial in a society that places the pursuit of profits over the protection of its most vulnerable. We are not instructed to occupy ourselves in the absence of Jesus, but called to Occupy in his presence. At the heart of the good news is the promise that those who labor for justice will never labor alone.
 
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