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The Ministry of Occupy Wall Street

Full Transcript:

The Occupy movement exposed Wall Street and by extension our entire economic system as one of exploitation, as one that God does not approve of and that God is calling us to change.

The Ministry of Occupy Wall Street

My name is Micah Bales. I live in Washington, DC. I’m a part of Friends of Jesus Fellowship and I was one of the organizers of Occupy DC.

An Apocalyptic Movement

An authentically prophetic spirituality is going to be one that’s apocalyptic. The word apocalyptic, when I say that many people are going to think, “He’s talking about a nuclear war or climate change making the planet uninhabitable or a dramatic cataclysm.” That’s the popular use of the word, but historically and in scripture “apocalypse” comes from the Greek “apocalupsis”, which means unveiling; taking the veil back and seeing what’s actually hidden behind the curtain. It’s like when Dorothy goes to the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz and she looks behind the curtain and sees that its just this guy talking into a machine. It’s not actually this powerful, God-like figure.

The early Quaker movement was an apocalyptic movement, a movement that deeply referenced the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic writings and interpreted them in a deeply spiritual sense. When we read about wars and conflicts and tribulations in the book of Revelation and other places in scripture, its not simply talking about the kind of wars that we humans are used to, it’s talking about an inward and spiritual warfare that’s happening between all the ways in which we enslave ourselves and those forces of spiritual darkness, and the power of God to redeem and heal.

An Unveiling

In the Occupy movement I saw an apocalyptic unveiling of – symbolically – New York city, but really of the entire economic system that we live in in this world, and especially in the first world, in the developed world.

This economic system that makes many people very, very rich, but at the cost of the lives of so many, that builds up luxury but deprives people of basic necessities.

The Golden Calf

When the Hebrews were in the desert after they had left Egypt but before they had gotten to the promised land, while Moses was away, the Hebrews got together and took all of their gold jewelry and made it into an image of a golden calf, and they bowed down to the golden calf and they worshiped it.

What was going on here was the Hebrews had just left everything they knew and they were scared and they didn’t know whether they were going to be able to make it out on their own, and so they worshiped a God of wealth and prosperity.

One of the coolest actions that we took part in as a part of Occupy DC and Occupy Church was to take a golden calf – a paper maché golden calf – and we marched it up Capitol Hill to the Capitol Building where congress meets and we delivered it to them.

The Fall of Babylon

In the book of Revelation, the city of Babylon is a code word for the city of Rome, which was the capital of the greatest empire the world had ever known, and the empire in which everyone was living. In the Book of Revelation, it talks about the city of Babylon (that is the city of Rome) being on fire and the smoke rising up to heaven.

There’s an image of all of the merchants of the Earth weeping over Babylon and weeping over the profits that would be lost and all the beautiful merchandise that was burning up and all the trade that would no longer happen. Included in that trade – there’s actually a list of all sorts of things that they were trading, and the list ends with, “…and human lives.”

Somehow – and I don’t think this was planned from the beginning – the Occupy movement unlocked a real need that we had, not to list demands, not to say what needs to come next, but instead to say, “Look at this burning city of Babylon. Look at the smoke rising up to heaven. Look at the utter destruction of this city.” And we’re living in it.

This video and transcript was produced by Jon Watts for the QuakerSpeak project. You can view the original posting here.

Occupying Our Faith

And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

One of my most distinct memories of Occupy DC is sitting in the Prayer Tent in McPherson Square one day in late October. Over several weeks, the encampment had grown to take up most of the park. As I sat in the midst of our little tent city, I felt moved to open my Bible and re-read the final chapters of Exodus, which describe the early days of the Hebrew’s sojourn in the wilderness.

The twelve tribes of Israel wandered in the desert for forty years. It was a time of purification – transitioning from their old life under Pharaoh to a new life under the direct reign of God. They were accustomed to having human rulers boss them around and give structure to their lives, but in the desert God began to teach them a new way.
In this new order, God taught the Hebrew people to rely directly on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. God drew nearer to them than the Hebrews ever thought possible – or even desirable! Indeed, one of the major themes of Exodus is the plea of the people that a human leader – Moses – play go-between for the congregation and God. Our spiritual ancestors were too afraid to approach the Lord themselves; they much preferred to have a human ruler to mediate divine authority.
Nevertheless, God found ways to interact directly with his fearful people, and over time the Hebrews learned to follow him in trust. We read at the very end of Exodus how the Lord gave the people a visible sign of his presence – a cloud during the day, and fire at night. The Hebrews learned that when God’s tent – the Tent of Meeting – was covered with the cloud, they were to stay where they were. But when the cloud rose from the Tent of Meeting, the people knew that God was calling them to move on, to explore new territory.
Eventually, the Hebrews settled down in the promised land, and after a while they insisted on having a human king. They did not trust God to lead them directly, preferring old Pharaoh’s system to God’s direct reign. Though God warned them that a human monarch would make their lives miserable, the people insisted – they wanted to be like the other nations, having a human king to fight their battles for them.

As predicted, this did not go well for Israel. Though there were some good kings, the legacy of human monarchy was appalling. Over the generations, Israel came to be dominated by its neighbors. The people of God were repeatedly conquered and cast into exile. Most of the Hebrews were scattered abroad by foreign conquerers, never to see their homeland again. By the time of the New Testament, Israel was a backwater province under the iron fist of Rome, the most powerful human empire the world had ever seen.

In first-century Judea, there were many groups vying for supremacy. Preeminent among them was the Herodian puppet government, driven by selfish greed and subservience to Rome. There were also the Sadducees, who sought to maintain the Temple cult at all costs. Then there were the Pharisees, who believed that national restoration would only come through a strict, legalistic application of the Torah. And there were the Zealots, who looked back to the Maccabeesfor inspiration; they were committed to fomenting a violent revolution which would break the Roman yoke and restore the Davidic kingship. Yet, despite their claims, none of these groups presented a real alternative to Empire. At best, these groups offered a Hebrew Pharaoh in place of a Roman one.

It was in this period of national humiliation and despair that the Lord once again provided Israel an opportunity to experience his direct rule. God would once again dwell among the people, and this time God would go one step farther than before. Rather than revealing his presence in a burning bush, a cloud of fire, or within a tent made with human hands, God would take an inconceivable step to show his solidarity with us. He would be conceived.

The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. God dwelled among his people in human form, submitting to our struggles and limitations. In this consummate act of solidarity, God demonstrated once and for all that he would not stand aloof while his children suffered; he became one of us, sharing our human experience and demonstrating in his own body the way to true liberation. Even today, through his resurrected presence, we experience God as dwelling immanently among us, guiding us directly. Because our world has been occupied by the grace and truth of Jesus Christ, we are freed to walk in his life and power, rather than in bondage to the empires of our day.

Which brings me back to the encampment at McPherson Square. Though Occupy Wall Street was a human movement, there are ways in which it reflected God’s character. It was particularly striking to me how the Occupy movement sought to incarnate new life and expanded imagination in the streets of our cities, which had previously been the exclusive domain of Empire. Sitting in the Prayer Tent at Occupy DC, I could not help but remark on how the Holy Spirit continues to move among the people, inspiring us to imitate the God who pitches his tent among us.

What does this mean for us as Friends of Jesus? How do we make sense of our heritage as the people of the God who encamps in our midst? How is the living Spirit of God moving among us today, calling us into risky action and shared sacrifice? How do we know when the cloud has lifted, that the Lord has called us to take up our tents and follow him through this desert? Are we ready to trust him, to love him, to honor him as our only King?

Written On Our Hearts

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not posess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts… – Romans 2:13-15
When we are faithful, the Church has good news to share. But we are not always so faithful. Often, the gospel is crowded out by human ideologies. We proclaim a Liberal Jesus or Conservative Jesus, an Evangelical Jesus or Social Justice Jesus. The Church has bought into the false dichotomies of the “culture wars” hook, line and sinker. Our worldviews are often rooted in forms of black-and-white, us-versus-them thinking that has brought us to the brink of self-annihilation.

When we are captured in this way by our surrounding culture, we fail to proclaim the radical truth about who God really is. In Jesus, we encounter a God who is not like us. God is not a Republican or a Democrat. Instead, in Jesus Christ we come face to face with a Being whose love and justice transcend any of our normal catagories. In him, it is always “yes.” God is strong and gentle, loving and just – blessing us with freedom and responsibility.

God is not boxed into our narrow frameworks. The Holy Spirit blows where it will, and it is present in each of us. All we have to do is listen to the gentle whisper that breathes in every heart. God is spirit, and those who worship him will worship him in spirit and in truth. God is not confined to temples or hierarchies or rigid belief systems. Who you are or what you call yourself presents no barrier to this relationship.

God is equally real in the heart of the illegal immigrant and the wealthy Anglo. The Word of God is alive and active in the innermost parts of the gay atheist and the straight Christian fundamentalist. The living witness of God is present in the Occupy activist and the Tea Partier. The Spirit blows where it will, and Jesus does not show partiality.

But will we listen? Are we awake to the Spirit’s promptings in our hearts? Do we see Jesus in the poor and those that the wider culture chooses to ignore? Are we ready to offer up our lives and reputations for those who have the least? Do we recognize the voice of our Shepherd when we hear it?

My greatest joy and challenge is to see how God is active among other “flocks” – groups of people where I would not have expected to find God at work, guiding and blessing. One of my surprise encounters with the God of the Margins has been within the Occupy movement. Occupiers run the gamut of beliefs, from committed Christians to dogmatic atheists, but many are quasi-agnostic, “spiritual-but-not-religious” types. They can sense that there is deep truth out there somewhere, but they haven’t determined yet what to call it, or how to relate to it. These are people of deep moral conviction who have rejected the rote religion of past generations and are seeking out the truth on their own terms.

Since they are involved in the Occupy movement, it is not surprising that most of these folks find expression for their commitment to truth and justice through social activism. They live out the light that they have been shown through their struggles for grassroots democracy and economic equality. Just like the Gentiles who do instinctively what the law requires, many Occupy activists act naturally out of their own interior sense of justice.
In the process, they fulfill the “law” far better than many Christians! Though the Scriptures callus timeand timeagain to work for justice, many Christian congregations and organizations are more focused on preserving their own privilege and comfort. The Church is often the “hearer of the law.” But many of those whom the institution has rejected obey the law that the Lord has written in their hearts.
This “law,” the inward voice of Jesus that calls us to the work of justice and reconciliation in our society, is the Cornerstone that our religious builders have rejected. While we in the Christian Church have kept all sorts of superficial rules and regulations, we have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness. We have strained out a gnat but swallowed a camel!

I want to walk with whomever is listening and obeying the inward promptings of God. Some of these people are Christians, and I praise God for their witness. But God is speaking through many who are outside the gates of the city, wandering in the wilderness following a pillar of cloud and fire whose name they do not know. I want to follow this wild, uncontainable God with them, even if it costs me security and my already tenuous sense of certainty. Will you walk with us?

Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. – Hebrews 13:12-14

A Baptism of Humility

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:2-6

Last Friday, I had the privilege to speak on a panel at Virginia Theological Seminary – the largest Episcopal seminary in North America. The panel discussion was entitled, “Occupy Faith: Leadership for the 100%,” and included three other panelists – all distinguished members of the Episcopal Church: George Packard, a retired bishop and Occupy activist; Jim Cooper, the rector of Trinity Wall Street; and Barney Hawkins, the Vice President for Institutional Advancement of VTS. It was humbling to be invited to speak with these respected leaders within the Episcopal Church, and I was grateful for the opportunity to observe another Christian community wrestle with the challenge and opportunity that the Occupy movement represents for us as followers of Jesus.

Occupy provides an opening to reexamine the basic teachings of Jesus, rediscovering the radical call to economic justice and self-sacrificial love that is at the heart of the gospel. Too often, we ignore the radical implications of Jesus’ message, preferring to focus on esoteric theology or narratives of personal fulfillment. Whether consciously or not, we distract ourselves. We would prefer almost anything to a Savior who calls us to abandon all worldly security, following him with single-minded passion and reckless abandon.

So often, we Christians flee from who Jesus really is. He loves us deeply, and he walks alongside us in the way; all of this is true. But his is no cheap grace. Following Jesus does not mean security in any normal sense. Rather, being a disciple of Jesus Christ is an invitation into a world turned upside down – a world in which our old ideas of security and success no longer apply. As we discover who Jesus is, and begin to grow more like him, we discover that our wealth, status and privilege are all stumbling blocks that get in the way of real love. We begin to see that, if we want to be like Jesus, we must imitate his humility.

I saw a glimpse of this kind of humility on Friday afternoon. I watched two men who have been on opposite sides of an ideological battle stand together and celebrate the Eucharist – the Episcopalian rite of reconciliation and communion in Christ. Despite their serious public disagreements – even legal disputes – these two Church leaders were able to re-affirm their bonded relationship as followers of Jesus. I pray that these two leaders might receive the full spiritual meaning of this ritual, and that God will strengthen them to serve together as examples of humility and mutual submission to Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we can never allow our own ideas to be at the center. When we open ourselves to the living work of the Holy Spirit in our midst, we find that all of our competing agendas are relativized. We have ceased to insist on getting our own way, instead praying as one Body, “not our will, Lord, but thy will.” When we are baptized into this kind of corporate humility, Christ leads us into the radical, surprising life of service that has been waiting for us all along.

None of this is simple. It often seems impossible for us to drop our baggage and simply wait together on the Spirit to guide us. And yet, what is impossible for men and women is possible for God. Can we bring ourselves to pray for this baptism of humility? Will we ask God to humble us and bring us into unity, transforming us into the people that we were created to be? Are we ready for real change – not just for others, but for ourselves as well?

The Spirit of the One Percent

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12

Who is the One Percent, anyway? A recent article in the Washington Post sought to answer that question – not merely with statistics, but through interviews with DC-area folks who fall within the top 1% of the income range. In Washington, DC it takes an annual household income of $617,000 to qualify. With the charged debate taking place about income inequality and corporate power, the Post reports that, “Some local millionaires… feel unfairly targeted.” One wealthy individual characterized the Occupy movement as being, “one class of people driving another class of people against them… That’s the most anti-American thing you can do.”

I do not really know what qualifies as “American” or “anti-American,” nor am I sure that it matters. However, I do think it is worth asking another question: How does the langauge of 99% and 1% relate to our faith as followers of Jesus?

Does the language of 99% and 1% dehumanize the super-wealthy? It certainly seems to have that potential. During my involvement in the Occupy movement, I have heard people say hateful things about other groups of people – whether it be police, politicians or the One Percent. These expressions of hate and dismissal – treating others as irredeemable objects of frustration – are clearly out of line with my Christian faith. Jesus laid down his own life for those who hated and oppressed him, and as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I am called to pray for those who persecute me.

At the same time, Jesus stood up against the predatory lenders of his day. He called out the abusive religious elites who lorded their status over others and took advantage of the poor. Jesus loved everyone he met – and he forgave those who were ready to receive forgiveness – but he did not give a free pass to those who neglected their responsibility to care for the needs of the poor. The truth is, those who had the most consistently rejected Jesus.

And yet, our struggle is not against the particular individuals that make up the wealthiest 1% of the United States. Demonizing other human beings and directing our anger at them does not address the underlying issues at work. Our fight is not with human beings, but with the dark forces that keep us all enmeshed in a system that develops our most twisted and selfish inclinations. Rather than choosing to hate the “one-percenters,” we must recognize that the spirit of the One Percent is alive within all of us.

Much of the economic elite does not believe that they are that well-off.  Many interviewed by the Post, “were quick to point out that, in an area with the country’s eighth-highest cost of living, they didn’t have as much left over for luxuries as those in the 99 percent might imagine.” One family described their lives as “typical, stereotypical… very normal, upper-middle-class…” Another interviewee said, “Once you pay for a house, a car and child care, it’s not that much money. … [We] feel like regular middle class people.” There are many, it seems, who are leading “very normal” lives in their “very normal” million-dollar homes.

When I read these interviews, I can barely contain my anger. How can they not see their own privilege? Do they not realize that most people in DC live on a tiny fraction of what they do? If their salaries feel like “not that much,” imagine what the rest of us feel like in this economy! It is easy for me to feel infuriated at these clueless rich folks. Until I realize: I am just like them.

My wife and I share a personal automobile. We own a house with running water, electricity, heating and air. We have internet access in our home, and we never go hungry. We have both been nurtured by relatively stable families, and we have never experienced the threat of war. Still, with our combined income, we often feel like we are just barely scraping by. DC is indeed a very expensive place to live. And yet, especially by national standards, we are in a better financial situation than many.

And then I think of my trip to East Africa last summer. I think of the material deprivation of rural Kenya. I remember the dirt floors. I recall that most meals there are simply ugali (sort of like grits) and greens – you are lucky to get protein once a day. I think about how between the members of my nuclear family we probably own more books than the library of Friends Theological College, the premier Quaker seminary in East Africa.

One of those interviewed by the Washington Post said that he already drives a Jaguar, but he does not consider that a sign of true wealth. His dream is to be able to, “drive by the Ferrari store and say, ‘I want that red one,’ and just buy it.” When I first read this, the man’s lack of perspective simply blew me away. How could he not see the obscenity of his greed?

But then, he became a mirror. How many times have I said to myself, “I wish I did not have to worry about money.” Me, with my house and a personal automobile. Me, with clean water to drink and a refrigerator full of food. Me, with access to good hospitals and skilled surgeons. Me, a citizen of the wealthiest empire the world has ever known. How silly is that? I worry about money.

I believe in the struggle for economic justice and grassroots democracy represented by the Occupy movement. I believe that the corruption of the wealthiest elites must be exposed and challenged. I believe that the poor and middle classes  – the 99% – must join together to push for a moral economy. Yet, I also recognize that our problems run far deeper than the personal failings of the economic elite. We are all caught up together in this culture of self-centered greed.

How can we take responsibility for our own participation in a culture that worships money and cultivates fear of deprivation? How can we root ourselves in the Spirit that frees us from greed and pride, hunger and fear? As we work together to forge a moral economy rooted in our faith as friends of Jesus, can we confess our own need for changed hearts and lives?

Ordinary Faithfulness – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #41

Dear friends,
With spring in full bloom, this past month has felt alive with possibility – and with work! Exhilaration and exhaustion alternate as I seek to be faithful in my ministry with Capitol Hill Friendsand to get equipped for my work within a grassroots movement for economic justice. While there are many challenges, the overall direction of the last month has been positive. I continue to find way opening for Spirit-led service within the Religious Society of Friends and in the wider community.
These last few months, I have developed many new relationships and have begun work with others to build organization and make practical gains for justice. My most energetic involvement continues to be with Occupy Our Homes DC, as we work to promote a society in which individuals and families are able to secure decent, affordable housing – a society in which the big banks are not permitted to throw honest, hard-working people out of their homes.
We won our first victory in late February, when we worked with Bertina Jones – an accountant and grandmother – to obtain a loan modification, despite the fact that Freddie Mac and Bank of America were dead set on kicking her out of her house. After raising public awareness of the issues – and the fact that Bank of America’s dealings with Bertina were probably illegal – the two giant banks backed down, and the foreclosure on Bertina’s home has been reversed.
Last week, we won another victory when we worked with DC tenant Dawn Butler to help her stay in her home, despite an imminent threat of eviction. Dawn’s landlord had been foreclosed on some time ago, but in DC tenants have the right of first refusal – if they want to buy the house they live in, they are first in line. Unfortunately, JP Morgan Chase calculated that they could make more money by throwing Dawn out on the street. Apparently breaking the law and manipulating the courts, JP Morgan Chase had successfully obtained an eviction order. The US Marshalls were on their way, literally to throw Dawn’s belongings out on the street.
Fortunately, we at Occupy Our Homes were able to mobilize very quickly, blockading Dawn’s house while she went down to the courthouse to seek a stay of eviction. The courts had ignored her request before, but now they knew that the community was ready to stand in the way of eviction. We would not go quietly. With the pressure on, the judge granted Dawn a stay of eviction until her next court date, later this month. We feel confident that Dawn has a strong legal case, and will eventually be able to purchase her home. But we intend to keep the spotlight on until we know for sure.
Behind these exciting actions lies an increasing depth of organization. Much of my time has been taken up this past month with committee meetings, telephone calls, and outreach to the wider community. One of the most exciting ways that I have been able to reach out more broadly has been to get involved in a weekly pastors’ breakfast, attended mostly (though not exclusively) by African-American ministers. It is a time for these pastors to come together, support one another in prayer, sermon and song, and to share their thoughts with one another about the latest happenings in the city. It is a real blessing for me to be able to take part in this gathering, and I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with so many seasoned leaders from the African-American Church here in DC.
My work in the wider community is complimented by an ever-deepening involvement in the ministry of Capitol Hill Friends. I have felt blessed this past month by regular mid-week meetings of the members. We gather to check in, do business, and support one another spiritually. It is a vital time for me to touch base and hear how the Lord is speaking to us in our individual lives, as well as in our shared ministry.
This past weekend, we held our Spring Retreat in Barnesville, Ohio, together with Friends from Detroit and Philadelphia. This is our third retreat since Capitol Hill Friends and New City Friends formed a network of mutual care and accountability. The gathering included not only members of our two groups, but also a like-minded friend from Philadelphia. We hope that as this network continues to evolve it will be a source of strength and encouragement for many local Meetings, as well as individuals who would benefit from the support and care that our network can provide.
It felt good to have our retreat in Barnesville. Roughly equidistant from DC and Detroit, Barnesville is also the hometown of Ohio Yearly Meeting, and functions as a sort of “Mecca” for Christ-centered, unprogrammed Quakers. Both New City Friends and Capitol Hill Friends have had significant involvement with Ohio Yearly Meeting, and our faith and practice is deeply influenced by their witness. It felt somehow right to me that we root our new Christian community in the same physical space as the ancient Ohio Yearly Meeting. It is my prayer that our emerging network will absorb many of the valuable traits of our Conservative kin, even as we seek to be faithful to the distinct call that God has for us as fellowship.
Life is vibrant for me right now, alive with an immediacy and urgency that feels both pregnant with possibility and grounded in responsibility. I find myself being called into new, risky action – both within the Quaker community, and in my work for economic justice. At the same time, I am pulled into a deep grounding in place and community. I feel increasingly accountable to Capitol Hill Friends, and to our wider network, and I am settling into a long-term commitment to a new neighborhood and community here in DC.
I never expected radical faithfulness to look so… Ordinary. I used to think that “freedom” meant not being constrained by anything but immediate, fiery revelation from God. I am beginning to see that what faithfulness looks like in my life right now is quite different from that romantic vision. Rather than becoming less entangled in the world, God is calling me to engage deeply in this human existence. I am to build a house and dwell in it; to plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
God calls me to show my commitment not by freeing myself from the conditions of everyday life, but instead by entering more deeply into them. Rather than taking me out of the world, Christ is guiding me into a life of deeper, inextricable involvement. Jesus challenges me to be part of not only a city on a hill, but also a city in the trenches. I feel God calling me to a witness that is anything but aloof – one that is revealed in its profound identification with the daily struggles of the human community.
The daily grind of ordinary faithfulness is harder to talk about than the exhilaration of big actions or gatherings. It is easy for me envision the Kingdom of God as existing in a daring, decisive moment – heroic, charged, picturesque bursts of clarity, beauty and power. Such moments do exist, and it is a blessing when they occur. Nevertheless, the foundation of all God’s work is steady, hidden faithfulness in ordinary time. I pray for the Holy Spirit to teach me humility and singleness of vision to dwell in the divine ordinary, to embrace the simple pains, pleasures, duties and delights of life – all to the glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
May his life and presence be with each of you, today and always.
Micah Bales

British Quakers Support Occupy – Can We Go Further?

I learned recently that Quakers in Great Britain issued a statement expressing their support for the ideals of the Occupy movement. My first reaction was, “well, it’s about time!” On further investigation, however, I realized that Britain Yearly Meeting issued their statement back in November. A pretty rapid response from a national religious denomination!
I am grateful for the willingness of Friends in Britain to embrace the message of economic justice that has been trumpeted by occupiers across the globe. This should be a no-brainer for us as Friends. Quakers have a long track record of at least paying lip service to the need for a more equitable economic system, and making a statement of support for the ideals of Occupy is a fairly small ideological leap.
The greater challenge is actually doing something about it. We Quakers talk a good game about peace, equality and economic justice, but we often lead lives that are fairly typical of the middle class of our respective nations. Many of us are well-informed, responsible citizens within the safe confines of bourgeois respectability; fewer of us have found ways to live into the more radical modes of engagement that our spiritual forebears have modeled for us.
I applaud Friends in Britian for publically minuting their support for the ideals of the Occupy movement. That is more than most Friends bodies have done. Yet, it is easy to write minutes and issue statements. Words come easily, but concrete commitments are more challenging.
What are ways that we as the Religious Society of Friends can move beyond words, committing ourselves to the radical social justice message of Jesus? How can we move beyond the mere affirmation of ideals and get our hands dirty in the messy business of the gospel? Expressing our ideals is important, but putting our faith into action requires much greater bravery. As we open ourselves to the Spirit that inspires all courage, we will receive strength to change our lives, putting flesh and bone on this vision of justice that we have talked about for so long.