Archive for 2011 – Page 3

Occupying My Life – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #36

Dear friends in Truth,
This month, I have been deeply involved in the Occupy movement here in Washington, DC. We launched Occupy DC at the beginning of October, and the following month has been one of strengthening, developing, and seeking to unify the movement into an effective force for change. My role in this process has changed over time. Early on, my focus was primarily on the work of facilitation – ensuring that our decision-making process was functioning properly. Once we got the facilitation team stabilized, I shifted my energies to outreach. I worked to develop ongoing efforts to reach out on behalf of Occupy DC, especially through direct leafleting on city streets.
In recent weeks, my role has shifted again: I have become increasingly involved in outreach to people of faith, especially Christians. This began in collaboration with Brian Merritt, a Christian pastor who was involved very early on in developing space for people of faith to gather and support one another. We hope that people of faith will help ground the movement in the peace and stability that only God can provide.
We have participated in gatherings of religious leaders who are seeking ways to be supportive of the Occupy movement. I have also begun to give talks to Quakers in the DC area about the nature of the Occupation, and how Friends can get involved. This looks to be an ongoing effort, as these grassroots efforts for change are only intensifying.
Perhaps the most visible thing that we Christians at Occupy DC have done is to erect the Prayer Tent. Complete with an altar, religious art and furniture, we have established a small chapel in the midst of the camp, which serves as the base of operations for the ecumenical Christian presence in the camp. We have begun to hold weekly worship services on Saturday afternoons, and we are doing our best to be available on a daily basis to our fellow occupiers. The Prayer Tent presents a great opportunity to practice a ministry of presence and listening.
A big priority for us is getting folks to take a shift sleeping in the chapel at night. This is extremely important given that the Prayer Tent has been abused repeatedly in our absence. We need a continuous presence to preserve the space, and would welcome anyone who feels able to come out, whether for a few hours or to spend the night. For my part, I plan to sleep out this Wednesday night with another member of Capitol Hill Friends.
While the Christian presence at Occupy DC is still struggling to take its first steps, the Occupation as a whole is growing up fast. With perhaps thousands of individuals participating on some level, and many hundreds showing up for actions, Occupy DC has reached a delicate moment in its development. While most of the occupiers are people of good will, there is a small minority that is more concerned with expressing pent-up rage and aggression than with advancing the cause of truth. This is a huge challenge for us as a movement, since we have no centralized leadership to impose order on the various tendencies that are now found under the Occupy DC umbrella.
On Friday night, we had a very successful march and demonstration at the Washington Convention Center, where the Koch BrothersAmericans for Prosperity was holding a gathering for their supporters. The action overall was solid, but there were some individuals who were taking actions that were more aggressive than most of us were comfortable with. While we were able to mitigate their impact to some degree, we had a number of people who were behaving rudely, even aggressively.
To be clear, Occupy DC committed no acts of violence or vandalism. On the contrary, the only violence Friday night was that which was perpetrated on us by others. Nevertheless, it is clear that some of our people overstepped the bounds of civil discourse. This saddens me on multiple levels. As a supporter of this movement, it seems tragic that the good work of so many might be undercut by the lack of discipline on the part of a few. As a Christian, it is disappointing that some of us are not yet ready to return love for hate, forgiving those who sin against us.
The Occupy movement is not perfect. It is made up of a huge assortment of individuals, some of whom hold worldviews that I find false and life-denying. Nevertheless, I still believe that the Occupation on the whole is coming from the right place. We have the opportunity to stand as a prophetic voice in a country that for too long has ignored our own arrogance and greed. Yet, we must be wary of the temptation to give ourselves over to our own arrogance and short-sightedness.
My prayer for this movement is that we might move beyond the need to prove ourselves with blustery words and grandstanding. Instead, I hope that we will stand humbly, with a simple message of repentance for a proud nation. This is all I have to offer.
With all the energy I have poured into Occupy DC, I have grown increasingly aware of the need to take extra time out to focus on nurturing Capitol Hill Friends. In the last week or so, I have been re-orienting my life to balance the needs of both the Occupation and of Friends in the local church.
I feel like I am reaching an equilibrium. After a month and a half of disorienting novelty and change in my daily routine, a new “normal” seems to be emerging. It is a life in which my attention and energy are split between family, the Church and the Occupation. Fortunately, there’s a fair amount of overlap. My understanding of ministry has been greatly enhanced by the organizing I have done for Occupy DC, and I value greatly the new relationships I am building with church leaders here in DC.
Perhaps the hardest thing for me to balance so far is my need for ongoing study and prayer. While I have kept up my usual prayers and Scripture reading, I often feel very accelerated and unfocused. It is hard to stay grounded and aware of the Lord’s presence when there is so much to do. Especially in a movement like this, where the details unfold at the speed of Internet. Sometimes, I just have to unplug.
I have been grateful for all of you who have been praying for me during this very exciting, stressful time. I feel like my life is in a momentous transition; everything is changing. I need God’s help to stay rooted in that life and power from which all positive change emerges. Please continue to pray for me, and for all of the brothers and sisters here in DC.
Your friend in our Lord Jesus,
Micah

How We Can Help Occupy

I am very proud of my mom. When Occupy Wichita got started, she was there; marching on the streets of downtown Wichita, Kansas. I really respect the fact that she was not afraid to get out early and raise her voice about the economic inequality and injustice that is rampant in our nation. Despite the fact that the Occupation was labeled a “youth movement” early on, my sixty-plus mom had the courage to take a stand with the Millenial riff-raff.
My mom is a very practical woman. She understands how people operate, what their needs are, and how to empower them. So, when she wrote me recently with advice about my blog, I took her seriously. She pointed out that in my calls for engagement on the part of the Church, I had not been very specific. I had not given details about practical ways that folks could get involved with the Occupy Movement. She was concerned that, without details, most folks would assume that the only way to be involved was to camp out, which most of us are not in a position to do.
This made a lot of sense. There are millions of people who support the Occupy Movement. According to a recent survey by CNN, thirty-six percent of Americans “agree with the overall positions of Occupy Wall Street, while nineteen percent say they disagree.” Thirty-six percent! That means roughly one hundred million Americans support the movement. Yet, those who are actively involved in occupations nationwide number merely in the tens of thousands. Why such a great gap between sentiment and action?
Mom must be right. Most of us cannot take off work to camp out full time; and many of us simply are not comfortable making such a public stand. However, that does not mean that the more than hundred million Americans who support us have to stay on the sidelines. There are many ways to get involved. Let me mention a few possibilities:
  • If you have your money in a major bank (Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank, etc.), you could consider moving your funds to a local bank or credit union. When you do this, you could also write a letter, explaining why you are closing your account.
  • If you have financial resources, you could make a donation to your local occupation, either in money or equipment. Right now, many occupations are gearing up for winter. Contact occupiers in your area to learn about specific needs.
  • Come and participate in a General Assembly meeting. Learn the process and take part in the decision-making of the group.
  • Join in a march or action that is organized by your local occupation. Many of these happen on weekends or after working hours.
  • After you get a chance to visit an occupation, share with your family, friends and faith community about what you have seen. Dare to be openly supportive of the movement.

In these, and many other ways, each of us can become a part of the call for change that is rising around the world. The Occupation is not limited to those who are camping; nor is it restricted to the young, the politically progressive, or any other sub-group that we have constructed in recent decades. The Occupy Movement is open to everyone who sees that we are called to live out of faith instead of fear; generosity rather than greed; principle, not politics.
Young and old, employed and jobless, right and left – we can find a better way together. With the gifts that you have, with the resources at your disposal, with the faith of your heart – join us!

Time To Choose

Since the early days of the Occupy Movement, I and many other scattered believers have been calling on the Church to throw our support behind the call for economic justice and global repentance. Some Christians have been openly involved from the very beginning, and more of us become involved every day.

The Occupy Movement continues to gain momentum, a month and a half later. There is now widespread support for the sentiment expressed by the hundreds of occupations in cities around the world: That corporate greed and the hoarded wealth of the richest 1% are unjust, and that the world needs a new, sustainable economic model that is based in the needs of all people, not just the wealthy few.
Anyone who read the Sermon on the Mount could have told you that. So why has the Church remained silent for so long? The followers of Jesus should be at the forefront of movements for economic justice and sustainability; yet, the Church has largely remained on the sidelines.

In London, the Occupation is taking place on the grounds of St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of the crown jewels of the Anglican Church. Though this presented an opportunity for the Church to provide both material and moral support to the occupiers, St. Paul’s Cathedral has instead joined in a lawsuit to remove demonstrators from church grounds. The result of the lawsuit could be the forceable removal of the occupiers. This decision has percipitated a serious split among cathedral officials, with several resigning in protest.

The public division within the Church in London is emblematic of the dilemma facing the entire Body of Christ. In the face of rising poverty, systematic injustice and a corporate takeover of the political system, how are we as Christians called to respond? Will we cling to the imagined security of this present order, or will we stand openly with the thousands of women and men who are putting their bodies on the line to call for a more just society?
So far, most of us have yet to make a clear choice. Much of the Church stands on the sidelines, waiting to see which way the wind will turn. God hates this. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus speaks to the fence-riding Church, saying: “…because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.”(1)
How long will we remain a Laodicean Church? How long will we sit comfortably on the sidelines while the poor are oppressed and the needs of ordinary people are trampled upon by faceless powers and principalities? Will we keep our hands clean from the messy business of social justice when this is precisely the work that our Lord Jesus calls us to?
God is calling us to make a decision. There is still time to stand on the side of the outcast, the homeless, the working poor and the tightly-squeezed middle class. There is still time to add our voices to those who have already raised theirs, calling for a changed heart in this land.
But time is running out. As my friend Noah writes, “…this opening to choose won’t last forever. In faithfulness, timing matters as much as showing up.” Our day of visitation is here. Will we respond in faith, or will we shrink back and take the wide, easy path that leads to destruction?
1. Revelation 3:16-17

Bless the Police

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. – Jesus in Luke 6:27-28

After more than a month of systematic police brutality across the nation, police in Oakland, California ratched up the repression of peaceable assembly and free speech. Using tear gas, rubber bullets and flash grenades, police in riot gear brutally dispersed nonviolent demonstrators. Among those injured in the attacks was Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old veteran of the war in Iraq, who was critically wounded when a police officer shot him in the head with a tear gas canister.

Here at Occupy DC, we have been extremely fortunate in our good relations with the several police services that operate in our city. Our interactions with police have been generally cordial, and we have not felt threatened in any way. The police violence that our friends in Oakland – and many other cities – are suffering stands in stark contrast to our experience here in DC.

Nevertheless, the crack-down in Oakland has struck a nerve here. We have seen images out of Oakland that make us wonder about the direction our country is choosing. For many, these images have reenforced preexisting wounds (literal and figurative) and anger surrounding police. Many of us are very angry.

This came to the surface on Wednesday night, when folks at Occupy DC rallied in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Oakland. Folks at the rally were fired up, furious about what had gone down in California. When the police arrived, some of our young men had to be physically impeded to keep them from picking fights with the officers. Lots of emotion; lots of testosterone.

As the repression of this movement grows more serious, it is crucial that we re-commit ourselves to unconditional nonviolence as a movement. The nonviolent occupations around the world are a severe challenge to the powers that be; however, any hint of violence on our part will undermine all the gains we have made. Our moral authority depends on our willingness to be struck rather than to strike; to receive injury rather than to injure. Ultimately, our authority can only be founded on truth and love.

We occupiers are really good at the “truth” part. Most of us have highly developed analyses of the problems facing our country. We do a good job at pointing out what is wrong. But love is harder. Love requires us to lay down our own selfish interests and act for the sake of others. It means seeing the reality of God’s love for others, even those who want to do us harm. Real love goes far beyond strategic nonviolence.

When we are grounded in love, we seek the spiritual and physical wholeness of every person. Love empowers us to see the broken humanity of each individual, and to have mercy on each one for Jesus’ sake. When we are living in both love and truth, we are able to stand firm in the face of violence without needing to retalitate. We recognize that the violent person is sick – alienated from the love of God – and that we are called to reach out to them with mercy.

To be loving, however, does not require us to be naïve. We understand that the police – and, more importantly, the powers that give them orders – are not seeking our best interests. We understand that the powers are trembling, and that they are willing to do us harm in order to maintain their privilege. We have no illusions about the ultimate allegiance of the police.

But we must love them. It has been pointed out that police are also part of the 99%. Far more important than this, police officers are also children of God. Just like us, they are in desperate need of God’s mercy and love. I pray that rather than falling into the trap of fear and hate, we will imitate Jesus who prayed for those who crucified him: “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing.”

The Emerging Kingdom

I think about emergence a lot. To emerge means new life and vitality; fragility and tenderness; new perspectives and openness. Emerging means transformation: of body, mind, spirit and community. The call to emerge is at the heart of our life as spiritual creatures.
Emergence recognizes that there is a problem; to emerge, we must emerge from something. As a member of a new Quaker church in the heart of Washington, DC, it is not hard to identify things that we are called to move out of: We witness daily humanity’s greed and lust for power; we feel the pressure to lead accelerated, over-burdened lives; we are lured by materialism and spurred by ingratitude. We are beset on all sides by attitudes, situations and structures that we know to be contrary to God’s intention, yet are unable to remedy through our own efforts.
In our context, to emerge means holding a space for transformation. In the truest sense of the word, our little church is emerging. Through our prayers and faith God is creating an opportunity for something radically different to come to life in our city. We are a becoming a channel through which the Kingdom of God can be born.

The Witness of Beauty at Occupy DC

Occupy DC received a visit last night from Quaker musician and poet Jon Watts. In the shadow of a horse-mounted General McPherson, Jon played a short set, including many of the songs from his latest album, Clothe Yourself in Righteousness. He also shared a brand new song, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Playing an impromptu concert in McPherson Square is challenging. Jon had no amplification, and was forced to compete with the chaos of police sirens, traffic noise, a nearby drum circle and repeated “mic checked” announcements from other occupiers. It took Jon a while to navigate these obstacles, and the beginning of the set was really hard. By the end, though, Jon was able to capture the mood of the crowd and speak to their hearts in a really beautiful way.
Ever since traveling to New York City almost a month ago to participate in Occupy Wall Street, it has seemed to me that what we need more than anything in this movement is beauty. The chanting of slogans has its place, but the shrill voices of street protest can never win our hearts.
Through Jon’s faithful musical witness, there were moments last night when I felt we began to discover the true Source of our unity. Jon’s poetry came alive in a new way in McPherson Square. His art emerged from the theoretical confines of digital recording and was birthed into the living struggle for love and justice.
Jon had never played for an audience like this one. He is used to playing in meetinghouses and at Quaker events, where he can count on his audience being quiet and attentive. At Occupy DC, Jon had to fight hard for people’s ears. The occupiers had to be convinced by the beauty of Jon’s message.
Many were. The music that Jon played and the words that he spoke hit home with power and depth. The challenge was greater than ever before; but so too was the reward.
I am grateful for the ministry that Christ is doing through Jon’s musical and poetic witness. I pray that the Lord will continue to bless this movement with beauty that blesses and calls us deeper into the transformation that God is asking of us.

The Occupy Movement Needs A Prophetic Church

In many ways, Jesus was alone in his mission to a confused and rebellious world. Even his own disciples did not understand his purpose. Jesus provided guidance and direction for his disciples; but he himself had no one to rely upon except his Father(1). Jesus had none of the advantages we enjoy today. As the pioneer of our faith, he blazed all the trails for us, showing us his new Way.

Since Pentecost, when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to unite and guide us, we have been able to draw on the shared wisdom, faithfulness and experience of the Church – the community of faithful believers in the world. While no longer physically with us, Jesus is present in our midst.
Weeks of intense involvement in Occupy DC have reminded me of my own need of his presence. Just as Jesus withdrew on a regular basis for prayer, I have been careful to make space for time alone with God. I seek to continously wait on the Holy Spirit to direct my steps throughout the day. But I know that I am not as strong as Jesus was. I need more than solitary prayer – I need the support of Christian community.

The Occupation is a broad movement that brings together individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds, faiths and worldviews. The goals of the movement are couched in largely secular terms, and decisions are typically made based on human wisdom rather than a search for God’s guidance.

It would be easy to lose perspective in such an environment. I could easily start believing that I am in the streets to promote “democracy,” demonize the rich, or oppose capitalism. In order to stay grounded in the Truth, I need help from the community of disciples here in DC. The Church and our witness need to be the primary reference point in my life.

There are many Christians involved in Occupy DC – I discover more all the time. Nevertheless, the overall culture and worldview of the Occupy movement is a lowest-common-denominator, generally left-wing set of assumptions. So far, almost all of the discourse at Occupy DC has been about “restoring democracy,” “building power,” or the plight of “the 99%.” I have not heard anyone – including the folks whom I know are Christians – talking about the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ mission to liberate the poor and oppressed.

I pray that the Body of Christ might rise up – not only through the hidden faithfulness of thousands of individual Christians, but also through the explicit engagement of our local congregations and denominational bodies. I, and the countless other individual Christians who are already engaged in this movement need the support and guidance of the rest of the Body of Christ.

How long will we as the Church take refuge in our respectable Sunday services and lukewarm sermonizing? How long will the Church wait before we have the courage to risk our comfort in this struggle for justice? What will it take to unleash the prophetic voice of the people of God?

1. For a good example of Jesus’ isolation and reliance on his Father, see Matthew 26:36-46