Sunday, November 20, 2011

OWS and Matthew

So, one of my major problems with Occupy Wall Street is it's tendency to make the 1% an Other, the Them against Us. As a Christian, I have a problem with the thought of making anyone an Other. If we have two primary commandments, Love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, and mind & Love your neighbor as yourself, then making anyone Other says unhealthy things about our obedience to Part 2. It says that either 1) I have a problem with an explained-in-next-couple-verses, expansive view of neighbor, obeying the commandment to love them, and by extension loving *all* people or 2) because I don't love and appreciate myself as a whole child of God, I don't have a problem not loving someone else and making them an Other. Both of those are legitimate issues. Actually, I think both of those are perfectly human issues – we have a tendency to not always like ourselves, and we have a tendency to organize into tribes of Us and Them. One of the points of Christianity, though, is to help us overcome those natural, destructive human tendencies. The vilification of the 1% as inhuman, objectivist, and/or evil, is not healthy. It has the potential to eat away at our souls, to cause us to be petty or mean to another child of God. I'm pretty sure that's not the point of the movement, though.

What I hear as a point is that those in power remember the “least of these” from this morning's lectionary. In Matthew, it's the last reading before we begin the passion narrative. It's the final public teaching of this rabbi who is finding himself persecuted by power and authority, knowing he's about to die of his words.

You know, I'm just going to quote the whole thing. It's one of the most powerful pieces of scripture I know, and informs my faith, and hopefully my practice of faith.
Matthew 25:31-46
25:31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Yeah, that final justice? Is a long way off, at least for a lot of people. And that justice being standard in the corporeal world* is what I hear as one of the goals of Occupy – that the hungry be fed, the homeless, sheltered, the sick, tended. That the least of these be cared for and loved and appreciated as the child of God that they are, as the human being that they are. That we love our neighbor as ourselves. What I hear as the danger is that by our anger we forget that every member of the 1% will, at some point, be a stranger in trouble, needing the help of people they have never met. It is hubris, to put ourselves in the place of God in judging the worth and worthiness of our neighbor. And if we say of the people in that upper niche that they don't deserve our help when they are in need, we have lost something of our own Christianity.

This is not to say that we should not condemn actions that are counter to bringing justice for all into the corporeal world. As much as our brethren to my right have co-opted the phrase “hate the sin, not the sinner,” it's still a biblical truth. It's also against human nature and extremely hard to actually pull off. (Christianity ain't easy on a good day.)

Protest is a good thing. Notifying those in power that this is Not Right, that we have Noticed, and we're going to stay here until you Make It Right is epitome of the Occupy movement. We're supposed to tell our brethren when we feel we have been sinned against, so that they may have the opportunity to correct their error. Sometimes we need to tell them very loudly, or with witnesses. If they still don't listen, we are commanded to tell them this isn't a Christian way to act, we forgive you for failing the ideal, but please come back when you are ready to make amends. Forgiveness is not forgetfulness or acceptance of behavior patterns. It is what has been done that is the wrong, the person/actor is still a child of God, worthy by definition of our love, because they are worthy of God's love, and He's got a bigger grievance list than we do. On the other hand, my church's theology says that even God has standards for rejoining the community, even as He loves those who have moved away from it. Those standards are that you have to really understand what has been done is wrong, that you are sincerely sorry that it happened, and that you ask forgiveness of the people you wronged, always including God.**

At this point, I see the Occupy movement as sitting at part two, starting towards three. In general, Christians have a really, really hard time with part three in-community. I don't know if the clergy of those in power (who may have a better chance of being heard as reasonable people or authority figures) have talked to their congregants about the behaviors that got us into this situation, and the consequences in this world for oppressing those their faith enjoins them to lift up. The fact that few of the clergy of those in power have come out saying “this is wrong, and I've told them that this is wrong and not Christian behavior” is suggestive, and that saddens me for the faith of all those involved. Clergy have the mandate even more than laity to speak truth to power. And not everyone who is responsible for this mess is even a Christian, to be rebuked by the Christian community. However, many profess this as their faith, which means that *I* am required to tell them that I think they're really, really, really wrong.

Hopefully, OWS won't have such a hard time succeeding at part three in the governmental sphere, though I would hope that as a people the focus is less on “throw the idiots, criminals, incompetents out!” than “Let us try to solve the problem.” The first again makes an Other, implying that the speaker has never been and will never be wrong, the second looks towards solutions that include everyone. Acknowledging that the problem is huge, beyond what any one person could solve enables us to find people who are trying or who will try if given power their level best to seek justice for “the least of these”.

*Long standing pet peeve. God and Religion should not be visited on Sunday morning and left behind in that building when you go home. There is not a Secular world and a Sacred world. And if 'material world' and 'real world' didn't have so many other anti-religious connotations, I'd use them.

** also, notice that forgiveness on the part of the community is necessary before it's asked for, otherwise the non-forgiveness can have toxic effects on the rest of the community.

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent essay. Your observations on Mathew are right on. This would be an excellent sermon. You are a very good theologian.