Tuesday, October 11, 2011

#OccupyWallStreet and Colonies of Heaven

I am not sure what to make of the #OccupyWallStreet movement that continues to spread throughout the country. On one hand, their message and mission resonates with my socio-economic concerns and even appears to move in rhythm with the prophetic pathos of the biblical witness, especially as incarnated by the person and work of Jesus. The Scriptures are chalk-full of attestations to the imbalance of financial power and the unjust distribution of wealth that distort God's divine intentions for a good and beautiful creation and humanity. For example, many have noted the prescribed year of Jubilee as a reaction to, better said, preventative measure against pervasive poverty among a newly liberated Hebrew people (Lev. 25). This Jubilee became, at least as illustrated by Luke, a platform for the gospel proclaimed by Jesus (Lk. 4:16ff), inaugurated in his Messianic vocation, and lived into by the earliest Christian communities that occupied the Roman Empire (Acts 2:43ff; 4:32ff). One of the ancient mantras of these communities, as spoken by Jesus, could be recognized as, "the first shall be last and the last shall be first" (Mt. 20:16). This eschatological hope gave birth to counter-cultural praxis that announced the Messianic alternative to an unjust society. In essence, the imperial concerns of the #OccupyWallStreet movement are sure to be shared by ancient Christians scattered throughout another empire.

Jim Wallis writes:
"Here are a few things I do know about the Occupy Wall Street protesters:
When they stand with the poor, they stand with Jesus. When they stand with the hungry, they stand with Jesus. When they stand for those without a job or a home, they stand with Jesus. When they are peaceful, nonviolent, and love their neighbors (even the ones they don’t agree with and who don’t agree with them), they are walking as Jesus walked. When they talk about holding banks and corporations accountable, they sound like Jesus and the biblical prophets before him who all spoke about holding the wealthy and powerful accountable. Pray for those out on the streets. Think of ways that you or your church can be Jesus to them.
" [1]
Said differently, "Whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40).

On the other hand, caution is to be raised in regards to #OccupyWallStreet. The church must refrain from a reliance on political protesters and social movements in the pursuit of social change. Even more, as viable and prophetic as these protests may be, the Church must refuse to wait for these movements to begin to incarnate kingdom ethics on earth as they will be in heaven. John Perkins says it best:
"The test will be to see if these trends are more than a movement. Don't hope for a movement!...We must have some people who will keep moving after the movement dies, after it is no longer popular to do what is right."
In other words, colonies of the kingdom of heaven must continue to occupy earth in their prophetic concern and faithful witness that provokes contemporary Aristides to say to today's political leaders, "This, O emperor, is the rule of life of the Christians, and this their manner of life... And see, because of them, good flows on in the world!" (Apology 15, 16). [2] This must be "kept up" even long after social movements tire.

This has rang true of the church throughout history, and if we have the eyes to see and ears to hear, it rings true of particular ecclesial incarnations today. Again, John Perkins:
"There are people moving toward developing church communities, not just for themselves, but for organizing their resources around areas of need. There are Christians seeking and searching for ways to develop the church as the Body of Christ and to equip the saints with the gifts of the Spirit for real service to people. With these trends, I believe that we are quickly moving to a position where we can begin to really preach the gospel in a way that makes reconciliation and love meaningful to all people." [3]
As said in a previous post, these Christian communities are on-earth colonies of the kingdom of heaven, who live into the new creation already here and yet-to-come.

Colonies of heaven occupied Philippi.

Colonies of heaven occupied Rome.

Colonies of heaven occupy the Abrams Morgan section of Washington, D.C. [4]

Colonies of heaven occupy Kensington and Center City Philadelphia. [5]

Colonies of heaven occupy Wall Street.

Colonies of heaven gather and scatter around the globe. Yet I am conviced we are neither to take our cues from political protestors, nor to stifle their warranted cries for justice. Instead, we follow Jesus who is Lord over all systems, powers, financial institutions, and any and all who sustain and promote oppressive economies- to include you, me, and even those who protest along Wall Street and City Hall (Colossians 1:15-20) [6].

As we follow, we may discover the cries of protesters echo the cries of prophets. We would do well to listen. We may notice the aspirations and incarnations of social movements reflect the economy of God and the mission of the Church. But we will never know unless we follow Jesus and sit alongside our occupying neighbors ...which a few friends and I will do tomorrow...

Here are a few photos from that day:

[1] From a great article by Jim Wallis: http://blog.sojo.net/2011/10/04/in-case-you-missed-it-occupywallstreets-official-statement/
[2] A Previous Post: Aristides and Youth Ministry
[3] This comes from A Quiet Revolution, as cited on Church of the Saviour's "Inward/Outward": http://www.inwardoutward.org/
[4] If you have never learned of, visted, or encountered the ministry of Church of the Saviour and founder N. Gordon Cosby, stop reading my blog and visit their website: http://www.inwardoutward.org/page/who-church-saviour. they are by far one of the most faithful representations of the missional church and what it means to be a colony of heaven occupying earth. Youth from Imago Dei Youth Ministry spent a week with their Potter's House community in 2009.
[5] The Simple Way and Broad Street Ministry are also places and communities to check out.
[6] Another article to read that engages the #OccupyWallStreet protests:http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/octoberweb-only/occupy-wall-st.html

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