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Archive for OccupyChurch – Page 2

Diversity in the Body

Now… if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. – 1 Corinthians 12:15-20

As a grassroots organizer within the Occupy movement, it is easy for me to get carried away. There is an intensity in my sense of calling to this work, and a part of me insists that everyone should be involved. And there is some truth in this. I do believe that we are all called to the struggle for greater love, truth and justice in our society. We all have a responsibility to hear and respond to the Spirit’s movement in our hearts, however we are directed. But responding faithfully looks different for some than for others.

For my part, I have felt drawn into the kind of grassroots organizing that we do in Occupy Churchand Occupy Our Homes DC. Rather than primarily seeking policy changes, or reform within the financial sector, I feel called to pursue direct engagement with families and communities. I feel that I can be most faithful by helping to develop grassroots networks that empower ordinary people to have a voice in the way local communities are impacted by the big banks, big government, and the interests of the wealthiest 1%.

But there is more than one way to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. This grassroots action that I have been called to is important, but there are other, complimentary ways that we are engaging simultaneously. We need the folks who are laboring tireless for policy reforms to curb the abuses of the financial sector. We need the courage of those who are working within multi-national corporations and big banks, to take the risk of advocating for more just and sustainable policies within their organizations. We need lawmakers who are responsive to the needs of their human constituents – not only the demands of their corporate creditors. There are many ways that we are working for justice, and each of us is called to be faithful in our particular role.

The work that I and other grassroots organizers are doing fit into a larger picture. Our efforts are crucial, but we cannot succeed alone. Rather than insisting that everyone engage in the same way as me, I must learn to cooperate with those who are seeking to be faithful in a variety of different contexts and callings. If we hope to see real change in our society, we will need the cooperation from all our parts. We cannot heal the body by hacking off limbs. We need restoration, not amputation.

I seek to stay open to all those who are working for a more loving and just society, even when their forms of engagement look very different from my own. Rather than demanding that others engage in the same way that I am called to, I will honor the varied roles and responsibilities that have been given to different individuals and communities. I will be the feet. Will you be the eyes? The ears? The mouth? The hands?

This American Spring

Here in Washington, the winter is over. Cherry blossoms are in bloom, birds are singing, and folks in my neighborhood are already mowing their lawns. Spring is always a joyous time, a relief after several months of darkness and cold. It is as if the world had fallen asleep, and is just now waking up.

This spring is particularly special. We just marked six months since the beginning of Occupy Wall Street. The Occupy movement was an autumn counterpart to the Arab Spring that swept across North Africa and the Middle East last year. We sought to participate in a living, grassroots democracy where each person has a voice, regardless of the size of our wallets. Yet even as we occupied public spaces across North America and the world, we knew that the fall was just the beginning. Even greater things were in store for the American Spring.

Now, spring has arrived. What does this American Spring look like? In a word: different. The initial groundswell of spontaneous demonstrations, encampments and direct action is giving way to new strategies and tactics. Encampment, street protest and rallies – these all have a place in our toolkit. But in Occupy 2.0, we are working to develop organization that can sustain a long-term movement for justice. The American Autumn was an expression of our passionate refusal to cooperate with unjust structures, and the American Spring is about developing positive alternatives to those structures. We are not merely protesting – we are organizing.
One of the most common critiques of the Occupy movement this fall was that we refused to have “demands.” Rather than attempt to promulgate a list of policy positions for the movement, we focused on a very simple message: “A small group of wealthy individuals and giant corporations are dominating civic life and political expression, and we will accept nothing less than the restoration of a government of the people, by the people and for the people.” This was exactly the right tone to set in the fall. It was a stroke of collective genius that we did not attempt to nail down specific policy objectives to deliver to lawmakers. That would have played right into the hands of a corrupt system that has long experience in dealing with idealistic troublemakers.
As we emerge into the American Spring, our simple message of economic democracy has resonated throughout the culture. Talk of “the ninety-nine percent” and “economic inequality” has become a staple of our public discourse, and the Occupy movement is part of the national narrative. The work of the American Autumn is complete. Occupy 1.0 was successful in delivering our very simple message of grassroots democracy and economic justice. Now comes the hard part. It is no longer enough to sound the alarm about the threats facing our democracy and the lives of ordinary working people. Those with ears to hear have gotten that message. The time has come to mobilize for specific objectives and concrete victories.

The Occupy Church is embracing the American Spring by focusing on a few areas where we believe we can make a real difference. One example is our partnership in foreclosure resistance with Occupy Our Homes DC. Working alongside homeowners and tenants in Prince George’s County, we have already helped to ensure that Bertina Jones – an accountant, grandmother, and pillar in her family and community – will be able to stay in her home, despite the unjust dealings of Bank of America and Freddie Mac. And we are just getting warmed up. Our ultimate goal is to build a base of ordinary citizens who are equipped to stand up to predatory banks.

Another way we are moving forward is by developing materials to help congregations, organizations and denominations invest their funds in institutions that do not exploit the poor. We are in the early planning stages of a program to equip the Christian community to engage in stockholder activism, and to move its money out of the most exploitative banks and into local banks and credit unions.

One unique way that Occupy Church is participating in the American Spring is through the development of a theological basis for this movement. As Christians, we feel called to participate in the Occupy movement because of our commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, who began his earthly ministry by declaring that he had come to bring good news to the poor. We understand the Jubileetradition of debt forgiveness as being central to Jesus’ message. As we develop a scriptural understanding of how God is at work in the lives of the poor, we are discovering how the Holy Spirit calls us to the work of reconciliation and economic justice. In addition to individual writing and study, we are exploring whether Occupy Church might release a declaration outlining our sense of how the Spirit is speaking to the churches in our present context.

If the American Autumn was about raising awareness, the American Spring will be a time of building on that basic awareness and moving into a positive program for change. While Occupy 1.0 was primarily centered in public encampments, the next phase of this movement is playing out in offices and living rooms, coffee shops and schools. This spring, we are rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty in the messy business of grassroots organizing.

We are just getting started. The events of the last six months have raised up countless new leaders with a huge range of experience, skills and spiritual gifts. This spring, we will begin the process of nurturing these emerging leaders, equipping ourselves for the work that God is calling us into. We know from first-hand experience that the Lord calls the most unlikely of people to do God’s work in the world. As unworthy as we are, we in the Occupy Church pray that Christ will walk beside us and teach us how live into this calling. We trust in his promise that he will never leave us, even as he invites us into work that we are incapable of doing on our own.

What is your sense of our next steps as a movement for economic justice and freedom? What are some concrete actions you feel called to this spring? How can we move into this American Spring, embracing a long-term struggle to make visible the Reign of God?

Growing in Trust – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #40

Dear friends,

It is shaping up to be a beautiful spring here in Washington. Even as God guides me into new and challenging work, we are experiencing the Lord’s presence and blessing in our midst at Capitol Hill Friends. Lately, we have had quite a few new attenders, and our community feels like it is growing in strength. I am constantly giving thanks to God for my brothers and sisters at Capitol Hill Friends, and for the ways that I see us growing together in maturity – both individually and as a Meeting.

The beauty of the spring is all the more radiant for me because of how challenging the winter has been. From November through February, I felt almost overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. The process of looking for a home in the DC area left me gasping for breath. The Occupy movement began its transition to a post-encampment stage, and for a couple of months it felt like everything was falling apart. As new homeowners, many new expenses emerged and stress over finances grew.

I got very anxious about how we were going to be able to pay the bills, living in one of the most expensive cities in the country. With a mortgage to pay and a combined household income less than a starting schoolteacher’s salary, I felt the pinch that is familiar to so many of us right now.
I began to succumb to the temptation to put financial security above obedience to God’s leading. In all my anxiousness around money, it was hard for me to hear what God was truly calling me to do. I wanted to feel in control, to have a sense of security in my finances. I felt tempted to abandon the work God was calling me to in order to get a job that paid a livable wage.

Ultimately, I needed to get out of DC in order to get my head on straight. In mid-February, way opened for me to make a visit to Friends in Philadelphia. I had opportunities with a number of folks who were clearly putting God first, allowing the Spirit’s leading to shape every aspect of their lives. In some cases, this had profound financial implications. I was inspired by the example of Jon Watts and Maggie Harrison, who are focusing on the ministry that God has given them to do. They are demonstrating their faith in the Lord in very concrete ways.

Instead of working for money and giving God whatever time and energy they have left over, they are setting their sights first and foremost on the mission that God has for their lives. They are seeking first the Kingdom of God, and its righteousness – trusting that God will provide for all of their temporal needs as they are faithful in the work. Rather than getting unrelated jobs, Jon and Maggie are exploring ways to make this work financially sustainable.
This was a huge breakthrough for me. I came to my senses, and realized that Jesus wants me to be focused on the work that he is calling me to, and to trust him to provide for my needs. My tendency is to tell him, “Yes, I will follow you. Only first let me go and make sure my bills get paid.” But Jesus tells me, “No; let the dead bury the dead. I will provide you with everything you need. But first, follow me.”

In the last several weeks, I have begun to understand that what God is requiring of me at this moment is to focus my attention on the Occupy movement. In particular, I am feeling God’s call to throw myself into full-time organizing for the Occupy Church, an ecumenical Christian witness for economic justice in our local communities. One concrete way that I and other Christians are bearing witness is through our partnership with Occupy Our Homes DC.

As part of Occupy Our Homes DC, we are resisting the unjust and illegal lending practices of the big banks. We have already claimed our first victory in the case of Bertina Jones, who was going to be thrown out of her house despite her willingness and ability to pay the mortgage. As a result of our direct action at the offices of Freddie Mac, who presently own her mortgage, we were able to secure a committment from Freddie Mac and Bank of America (the original lender) that Bertina would be able to stay in her home and resume her mortgage payments.
As we continue to nail down the specifics of a final deal in the case of Bertina, we at Occupy Our Homes DC are ramping up our engagement in Prince George’s County, where thousands of families live under the threat of eviction. We are canvassing neighborhoods, showing up at foreclosure auctions and meeting with local community leaders in order to build a broad base of support for a just resolution to the foreclosure crisis.

Occupy Church has a particular role to play in all of this. I, and other Occupy Church organizers, are working to develop relationships with clergy and members of area churches with the ultimate goal of building a coalition based in the local community that can stand up to the abusive lenders that are forcing families out of their homes. In the months ahead, I will be focusing much of my energy on this effort, as we seek to stand with the families that are being ruined by the callous greed of the big banks.

I am still surprised to be involved in all of this. Six months ago, I had little interest in activism. I was mostly focused on nurturing my local Christian community and sharing the gospel as best I knew how. But now I am convinced that this form of engagement is what Christ’s gospel requires of me. I have been astonished as God has clearly called me into this work, despite all my protestations and anxiety. With every day that passes I am all the more aware of my weakness and inability to accomplish anything on my own. Yet, I am convinced that God is directing me in this work, and I have to trust that the Lord can use even me.
God has a long track record of using the young, the inexperienced, and the weak to bring God’s plans to fruition. I have decided to step out in faith, despite my trepidation, and to trust God to provide for my needs. With divine assistance, I pray for the courage to seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. I want to follow Jesus, even as he takes me far outside my comfort zone.
I am grateful for the way that the Spirit is helping me to grow in trust. Through much wrestling and prayer, the arc of the last month has bent towards courage. God has been at work in my heart, releasing me from fear and inviting me into the risky work of the Holy Spirit in the world.
Thank you for your ongoing prayers and encouragement. May the blessing of God’s living presence be with you and your communities.
In the light of Christ,

Micah

Occupy Our Ideologies

I was at an organizing meeting recently where we were discussing our vision for moving forward a particular campaign. Our group had already experienced some major success, and we were considering how we could take these efforts to the next level, and what our shared objectives might be in the long term. It had the potential to be a good discussion, to clarify how we wanted to work together to achieve concrete goals.

Instead, we engaged in a mostly fruitless debate about macroeconomic principles. We had among us moderate supporters of the Democrat party, Libertarians, Anarchists, Socialists and Christians. Each of us had a different take on what an ideal world would look like. Rather than focusing primarily on the specific objectives that we as a community could accomplish, we were sucked into an airy discussion about how to landscape utopia.

For those of us involved in the Occupy movement, it is easy to get seduced by ideology. We are idealistic people, and sometimes we simply assume that everyone else in the movement shares our own particular ideals. But in reality, the Occupy movement is made up of all sorts of people. We embrace a huge variety of dreams and visions. This ideological diversity can be frustrating, and it is easy to fall into an endless debate about what the world should look like someday. There is a temptation to try to hash out ideological uniformity before moving forward.

Yet, it is a temptation. If we choose to go down the road of ideological purity, this whole movement will stall out. The participants of the Occupy movement come out of a variety of irreconcilable worldviews, and we are not going to harmonize these views by talking through them – much less convince everyone to adopt a party line. If we attempt to do so, the Occupy movement will disintegrate into theoretical squabbling that distracts us from the real business at hand – making concrete gains for ordinary working Americans.

None of this is to say that ideology is bad. We all need a vision to help keep us on track, and many of us are part of communities gathered around a specific vision. These groups can help to empower the whole movement. But the Occupy movement is not primarily an ideological movement. Certainly, there are certain broad principles that occupiers everywhere hold to – that 1% of the population should not control most of the wealth and dominate public discourse, for example – but the Occupy movement does not represent a monolithic vision for what, exactly, a just and democratic society should look like. We are part of a broad movement, encompassing a whole spectrum of ideologies and organizations.

I say all this as someone who has a definite ideological bent. There are certain ways that I would like to see our society run, and I hope that the Occupy movement will move our society closer to that vision. Nevertheless, I recognize that there are other perspectives within the movement, many of which are sharply at odds with my own. Despite these differences, we can work together harmoniously when we focus on concrete actions, rather than some distant, philosophical endgame. Today, we are making practical gains for justice. We can continue to do so, despite our disagreements about what utopia looks like.

As a Christian, my ultimate desire is to see all people living in the peace and beauty of God’s power. I want to see the fearless love and radical justice of Jesus fill the world and transform our whole society. Yet, I recognize that this kind of total transformation comes through small acts of practical faithfulness – caring for modern-day orphans and widows, and seeking liberation for the oppressed. I trust that if I am faithful in the work that I have been given today, God will take care of tomorrow. Rather than trying to determine what the whole structure will ultimately look like, I can be most faithful – and, ultimately, most effective – by simply picking up the brick that I have been given and setting it in place.

A Step Forward Towards Justice for Bertina

On Friday, I shared the story of Bertina Jones, a resident of Bowie, Maryland, whose home was auctioned off by Bank of America. She lives under the threat of eviction by Freddie Mac, despite the fact that she has done everything she was told to do and has the ability to make her mortgage payments. Despite her desire and financial ability to remain in her home, the banks have refused to listen. They thought they could ignore her and take her home away.

Until yesterday. On Monday, folks from Occupy Our Homes DC showed up at Freddie Mac’s offices in downtown DC to insist that this government sponsored bank be responsive to the needs of ordinary citizens. Bertina Jones, along with a few community representatives, entered the offices and attempted to deliver a letter to the executives inside. Meanwhile, we rallied outside the entrances to the office complex. We chanted, we sang, we performed street theater.

We did our best to let the public know how Freddie Mac is taking advantage of ordinary citizens, throwing them out of their homes. Above all, we made sure executives at Freddie Mac know that we see what they are doing, and that we will continue to disrupt their business as usual until they make it their business to seek justice for the needy.

I am pleased to say that the Occupy Church was out in force, playing our own particular role in this important action. We began our vigil in McPherson Square, processing through downtown DC with a paper-mâché golden calf on our shoulders. Robed clergy carried the cross ahead of us as we walked through throngs of office workers and men in expensive suits. Our best song was definitely the foreclosure resistance remix of “Down By the Riverside,” with lyrics such as, “We’re gonna call out predatory banks, down by the riverside… And live in debt no more!”

After a long procession through the city, we arrived at the demostration fashionably late. It seemed as though our arrival had a positive effect, and we were grateful to be able to lift up the Church’s witness that God stands with the poor and those who are struggling under heavy burdens of debt. I was reminded of Jesus’ words in Luke 18, where he observed that even a corrupt judge will listen to those who agitate with persistence. How much more will God listen to we who cry out to him day and night for justice?

“I tell you, God will see that [we] get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:8). Sometimes a lot more quickly than we expect. Almost immediately following our mid-day action downtown, Freddie Mac promised to work towards a “positive resolution,”which would allow Bertina Jones to remain in her home. This is potentially a huge breakthrough, showing that the corrupt judges that reign over our financial sector can indeed be swayed by our incessant cries for justice. If we keep up the pressure, we may be able to rescue many more homes from the clutches of foreclosure-happy banks.

It is important to remember, however, that the battle is not yet won. Bertina’s home remains in jeopardy until the ink is dry on a contract which guarantees the just reinstatement of her mortgage. Until we have legally-binding guarantees from Freddie Mac (and, perhaps, Bank of America) that Bertina’s home is safe, we cannot let up the pressure. We will not be distracted by empty words and false promises. Even as we hope for the best, we are prepared to defend Bertina from eviction. If the big banks want to take her home away, they must be aware that we will not go quietly.

We will continue to cry out for justice, trusting that God hears our voice – and that, eventually, the rulers of this world will, too. We know that there are thousands of people just like Bertina here in the DC metro area, and we will not rest until the big banks have heard their cries for justice. This is just the beginning.

Foreclosure Resistance: An Answer to Prayer

Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked;
preserve me from violent men,
who have planned to trip up my feet.
The arrogant have hidden a trap for me,
and with cords they have spread a net;
beside the way they have set snares for me.
-Psalm 140:4-5

Bertina Jones lives in Bowie, Maryland, in a home that she purchased in 1997. She is a professional accountant and makes a liveable income. However, like millions of Americans, Bertina has been affected by the economic crisis. In 2008 she lost her job of 17 years and fell behind on her mortgage payments. Thankfully, she was able to find work again within several months.

Once Bertina had secured a new job, she contacted Bank of America and asked for a loan modification, and Bank of America eventually consented. The terms of the new agreement included an initial payment of over $12,000, and the reinstatement of regular monthly payments. Bertina paid Bank of America the huge lump sum, and resumed her regular payments. All the papers were signed, and everything seemed to be in order.

But Bertina’s nightmare had just begun. Though she had done everything that was asked of her, Bank of America repeatedly lost Bertina’s paperwork. Each month, she sent in her monthly mortgage payment, and whatever paperwork Bank of America asked for. Mysteriously, the bank always promptly cashed Bertina’s mortgage check – but they always “lost” her other paperwork.

I say to the Lord, You are my God;
give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O Lord! […]
Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked;
do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted!
-Psalm 140:6,8
Bertina worked in good faith with Bank of America, dutifully filling out whatever paperwork they demanded from her, but it was always “lost.” Finally, one month, the bank returned her mortgage check to her. They informed her that her loan remodification was no longer valid. Bank of America was going to foreclose.
Bertina soon learned that her house had been put up for auction. Though she makes just enough money to be ineligible for legal aid, Bertina cannot afford a lawyer. She tried to resist the auction of her house, filing the legal paperwork herself. She spent her precious free time in the Annapolis law library, trying to figure out how she might prevent Bank of America from selling off her home, but her efforts were unsuccessful. The auction went through, and her home was sold out from under her.
I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
and will execute justice for the needy.
Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name;
the upright shall dwell in your presence.
-Psalm 140:12-13

Today, Bertina’s home is owned by Freddie Mac, an enormous, government-sponsored mortgage bank. While an eviction notice has not yet been issued, it could come any day. Bertina lives each day under the shadow of eviction, the possibility that the corporations that have already taken so much will rob her of everything she has left.

Bertina has worked hard her whole life. As a single mom, she has struggled in ways that many of us can only imagine to raise her family. Today, she is nurturing her adult children and their families, even while continuing to work as an accountant. Her home represents her life’s work. And as Bertina nears retirement, it also represents a possibility of aging with dignity. Everything is at stake.
Apparently out of options, all Bertina has left is prayer.
We’re not about to lose my home. I’m believing in God, to tell you the truth. – Bertina Jones
But God is responsive to the prayers of the oppressed. In recent days, Occupy Our Homes DC has partnered with Bertina to resist eviction and seek a just conclusion to this shameful chain of events. Bringing together citizen activists from across the DC metro area, we are standing together to ensure that Bertina is able to stay in her home.
The Occupy Church movement is throwing its weight behind the effort to resist unjust foreclosure. In some small way, we are seeking to be an answer to Bertina’s prayers – to become a concrete expression of God’s love for the poor, and for those who are having their lives torn apart by entrenched, systematized greed.
We are learning to put flesh and bone on our prayers. We are praying with our eyes, really seeing the damage that predatory banks are doing. We are praying with our lips, bearing witness to the way in which mechanized corporate greed is stealing people’s homes out from under them. We are praying with our feet, rallying to draw attention to Bertina’s situation – and, by extension, the suffering of thousands of families who are in a similar spot. We are praying with our whole bodies, preparing ourselves for the possibility that we may be called to physically stand in the way of this unjust order, defying the legalized theft of Bertina’s home.
How is God calling us to stand with those who are being exploited and marginalized by our economic systems? How can we be faithful to the mission of Jesus, who preaches good news for the poor, liberation of those in bondage and the forgiveness of debt? Do we hear the Spirit’s invitation to convert our prayers into action, demonstrating God’s love and justice in the world?