(Editor’s Note: The meaning of the Occupy movement, along with other protest movements that have been springing up, holds great significance for our church communities. It is a cry for justice – for the world to be made right and to be made new. You may or may not agree with this form of activism as a means to effective change but one thing is for sure – this cry for justice and reform is a deep-seated longing for the day when Jesus will renew our broken world. In this post our friend Ragan reflects on the injustices of our economy that the Occupy movement is calling into question and he invites us to imagine GOD’s kingdom alternatives.)
The Occupy movement has been at it for two months now and there have been many days when I’ve wanted to pitch my tent with them. I am someone who likes to “do something” and always have to remember the words of Daniel Berrigan–”Don’t just do something, stand there.” But standing there is what the best of the Occupy movement has been about—a refusal to answer a demand for proposals, a clear statement that sometimes we can just stand and say “this is wrong and it doesn’t matter if we don’t have a replacement.” We do not want a replacement for the current system of global capitalism, we want something altogether different, something that is hard to imagine in the midst of Empire. If only there had been the chance in this Twitter laden, news dominated society to spend these last two months in complete silence. Imagine for a moment if no one said anything; if a thousand people sat on Wall Street day after day in silence. How disturbing to the structures of power would that be? How deeply the protesters would have grown as people prepared for this other world that is possible.
We can only wish; there is no possibility to discipline a movement of so many, and it is only my hope that the vast majority of protesters who are acting in peace will be able to preserve their hold on non-violence in the midst of a tense police presence that is ready for battle. The expected exchanges must be disrupted, but the Powers seem to understand that their best hope is in the provocation of violence, to get a few news clips for the evening news. So far the Occupy movement has been able to resist this tactic and has been able to show us all the incredible level to which our police forces resemble paramilitaries. As one Twitter post stated recently, “I never realized there was an ‘Oakland’ in Syria” after news reports told of yet another incident of police brutality against a peaceful protester.
So other than following the “Occupy” excitement from the comfort of an iPhone twitter feed how are we to respond to the questions posed by the movement? I have no comprehensive answer, but recently a passage of scripture came to mind that says something about resisting the economies of Empire: Revelation 18:1-19:10. I have been reflecting on this passage, off and on for years now (I wrote a paper on it in college), and I think it has a great deal to offer to us now. To shed some light on the passage let me offer a Targum—an interpretive paraphrase that translates both context and meaning:
I saw an angel coming down from heaven with great authority
and out of the darkness and confusion of the world everything was made clear in his presence.
In a mighty voice he proclaimed—
“Fallen, fallen is the Economy,
It has become the dwelling place of demons,
a place where everything evil and violent makes its home.
For all of the nations have lost their senses drinking of its promises,
The politicians and CEOs have given the Economy their souls,
and they have grown rich from the power of her luxury.”
Then another voice came from heaven saying,
“Come out, divest yourselves, sell your stocks and bonds,
escape from the Economy so that you do not take part in her sins,
or suffer the punishment that is coming—
global warming, peak oil, the proliferation of disease.
The politicians and CEOs
they are mourning the downfall of the economy,
but don’t join them.
They mourn because they can no longer trade
and cheat their way to wealth,
they can no longer hold onto their goods that only have value
in an economy of scarcity—oil, water, commodity crops, even human lives.
“The luxuries for which you sold your soul have gone,
all of the treasures you stored up on earth,
have disappeared in a matter of hours.”
Then I heard another sound—it was praise music!
People were singing to God, giving praise for the fall of the Economy
These were the people who were cheated of a living so that some could be wealthy
The earth itself seemed to join in the chorus as it sighed relief from the burden of its slavery.
“May the Economy be gone forever! May we no longer feel the pain of her oppression!” the song went out.
“Let us rejoice they said, because a new world has come in which peace and justice and goodness will reign—where abundance and sharing will be the standards and good work will be rewarded. Let God rule us in goodness now that the Economy has been given her just punishment.”
Read Revelation 18:1-19:10, consider this interpretive paraphrase. “Get out of her my people.” What does this mean for us now? I am not sure, but I am certain that it is something bold, something beautiful, something so much greater than we can imagine as long as we mourn the death of an Economy built on exploitation, scarcity, slavery and destruction. Let God’s Kingdom come!