A Holy Occupation: On Occupying Wall Street/Nashville

October 4th marked the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi—the celebration of a “holy fool” who believed with every fiber of his being that following Christ meant denouncing wealth (and even private property) and embracing a life lived in community and voluntary poverty. For St. Francis, it was a sin to hold tightly onto one’s money and possessions while living among those in need.

St. Basil of Caesarea, an early predecessor of St. Francis, once wrote, “When someone steals a person’s clothes, we call him a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to those who need it; the shoes rotting in your closet to the one who has no shoes. The money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.” Pretty fiery words for a “preacher,” don’t you think?

St. Francis and St. Basil were not socialists or communists, but they definitely weren’t capitalists, either. Just like the Jesus they followed, they didn’t fit into such paradigms and were often criticized (and even feared) by the powerful.

October 6th marked the first “Occupy Nashville” protest, an off-shot of the Occupy Wall Street protests that have been going on for the last several weeks. There were a number of “holy fools” (in the best sense of the phrase) present at the Occupy Nashville protest. The group that gathered seemed to echo St. Basil: “The money which you [corporations and the wealthy] hoard up belongs to the poor.” Protesters denounced greed, militarism, corporate personhood, and a society where the bottom line is monetary gain rather than the well-being of its people. They mourned the loss of a representative democracy and decried the reality that in the U.S., money, lobbyists, and corporations now yield more political power than the people.

Some Christians may consider these protests “too political,” but the message of Jesus is nothing if not political. The message of Jesus is far from safe and its implications cannot be confined merely to the personal or private spheres of life. For far too long, Christians have domesticated the gospel. If Jesus wasn’t perceived to be politically subversive, he would not have been crucified by the Roman Empire. While it certainly isn’t the case that in order to be a Christian, one must attend the Occupy Wall Street/Nashville protests, perhaps we have something to learn from those who are standing up to the “powers that be” and calling for a re-evaluation of our country’s values. Perhaps we may even see in them something of the Jesus we worship–the one who stood up to the false powers of the empire by standing alongside those who were pushed to the margins of that society.

Consider the words of Jim Wallis:

“We will likely see images and hear things from Occupy Wall Street demonstrators that will offend us and some that will inspire. We’ll hear demands that we agree with and some that we don’t. And that’s OK… There is a lot of speculation as to who the ‘Occupiers’ are and what they might accomplish. There is much I still don’t know about the movement, but undeniably it has caught the imagination of a generation — and that matters. 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.”

And yes, if we’re more offended by the slogans and signs we see and hear at these protests, perhaps we should consider the words of the apostle James: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.” (James 5:1-6)

If you’re interested in learning more about the Occupy Nashville protests or the national movement, you can visit these sites:
The Tennessean article covering the protest on Oct. 6th
Also, www.blog.sojo.net has some helpful articles, videos, and resources posted on their site.

As Oscar Romero, the archbishop of El Salvador who was assassinated because he stood with the poor, once said, “A church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a word of God that does not get under anyone’s skin or a word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed: what kind of gospel is that?”

Let us be people who do not conform to the destructive patterns of our society.

Let us have eyes to see and ears to hear.

And let us heed the words of St. Francis: “While proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.”

posted by Lindsey

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