Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Recovering the Commons, Part III: Occupying Advent
“And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.”
In my previous posts published at The Episcopal Café here and here I began teasing out a concern for economy that does not have many takers in our American two-party increasingly unregulated market system. This concern veers both left and right, being concerned for both the personal-local and the social-global. It cannot easily be classified as either Republican or Democrat—indeed, radically criticizes the sycophantic, greedy corporatism of both parties. It cannot readily be classified as capitalist or socialist, noting that each expression has tended to turn over an ever-increasing authority to the state or the state in collusion with transnational corporations to the detriment of freedom that is not merely individual and individualistic, but rather personal-communal-ecological/cosmic and that touches not just on political rights but on economic rights, and indeed, on the rights of our fellow creatures and creation.
Benedictine, Roman, and Anglican Catholics of other times, giants really, such as T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, J.R.R. Tolkein, Dorothy L. Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Hilaire Belloc, F.D. Maurice, Samuel Taylor Coleridge were involved in similar searches, often quite Biblical in their vision, drawing on the positive aspects of Medieval and monastic existence, as well as insights of capitalism and communism to propose third ways that honor the legitimate value in our past scrubbed of romantic notions because lest we forget serfdom actually carried the day for most in other times, that takes care to note what is positive in both markets and the social, and in our time, I dare add ecological.
Their search was deeply rooted in the Incarnation, Holy Communion, the Body of Christ (the Church), and Creation. Almost without fail, a radical and Biblical Christocentric-Trinitarianism pervades their thoughts. And rightly so. A Christian concern for the economies of earth will orient itself to and within the Economy of God as the centering Relationship.
As a poet and theologian who views the world through the lens of radical and Biblical Christocentric-Trinitarianism, I cannot help but follow the lead of my High Church ancestors in faith as I look at the current economic situation, a situation I will dare say is in this moment at odds with the Economy, the Household, of God revealed in Christ Jesus.
Knowingly and unknowingly, the Occupy movement brings this into the open. As Christians, we ignore this to the detriment of our vocation as witnesses to God's Word.
I have read a lot of criticisms of the Occupy movement. Some are more valid than others. Reading between the lines, most of these criticisms tell me that many of us have not yet experienced the full horror of what our current economy can mete out upon us if we fall behind, fall between the cracks, or fall out of the net all together. Indeed, I sit writing this from a heated office, drinking a cup of hot coffee with milk.
Whatever else the Occupy Movement may be, this movement brings into the open and into sharp relief, the brokenness of our economy, an economy that is the expression of how we relate to one another personally-communally-ecologically/cosmically, an economy that commodifies everything and everyone and everybeing:
Resource. Mine. Self. Me. Hoard. Produce. Consume. Job.
This brokenness is not new. Riding CalTrain past US 101 many years ago on my way to my field placement at Stanford, I remember observing the tent cities hidden away beneath the overpasses. But things were good then. For many of us. It was the last years of the Clinton Era. So many didn’t have to pay attention.
Many did not notice where Jesus was at work, where Jesus dwelled, where Jesus was crying out, pitching himself still among those our own worldliness would rather enough forget and doom to the underside and death.
Most of us will not remember or perhaps even know about Hoovervilles. But the Reaganvillages, Clintoncamps, Bushburgs I and II, and Obamavilles have been with and are all about us.
Now that the middle classes and the educated classes themselves are under threat,
Occupy forces us to reevaluate our own dance with worldliness;
Occupy pushes brokenness into the social center, the common ground of the various public plazas, circles, squares, and parks;
We can no longer avoid our mess and complicitness and vulnerability and fragility;
We have to confess that we interdepend on one another and the whole of creation.
Meandmine stepped too near the ledge and fell off on Wall Street. Most of us went along for the ride, participating in ways great and small, failing to notice who was getting bilked and who we’d left behind. The bandages of the past, labor movements and government safety nets and the like, may not be able to put Meandmine back together again.
Even amidst what may be problematic about Occupy, including hints of utopianism, the tents sitting in the midst of us bring a word to us of what has gone ignored for a very long time. And, indeed, as Christians we are called upon to interpret in that word what the Word is saying to us by these bodies pitching their tents among us.
For, as one of us, a creature of earth, God choses to home with us in the Incarnation. God does so because God loves and desires to be with us and all the creatures throughout the far flung cosmos.
God comes to us not as an alien invader, but as One coming to and being with God’s own creation, a creation radically off-kilter, alientated, because we human beings have a tendency to turn everything to our self-interest alone, eschewing the call to be tillers and caregivers and wild-respecters and most of all, reverenters, venerators.
Precisely as one of us, Jesus Christ, God cannot in loving us, help but also enter the depths of this tendency. God liberates us for the good, “by means of Himself,” to quote St. Irenaeus.
And God brings into being a Body who is called to witness to wherever the Word is at work in general society, though hidden, unknown, forgotten, despised, even amidst all of the worldliness—especially our own.
We call this God’s Economy.
So, let’s turn things to God’s Economy, God’s Relating to us, for a moment, a relating that is very much concerned with the beings and being of earth. Indeed, this is unavoidable because we Christians proclaim the Incarnation, Emmanuel, Jesus. In him, precisely because he was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to play on William Porcher DuBose, every being and all of the cosmos is encompassed potentially, that is, with the promise and hope of the Consummation when God shall be All In All. A promise we receive really in Holy Baptism, not for ourselves, but that as in the Gospel according to St. Mark, we would go forth and proclaim and witness to the Gospel to every kind, to every creature.
God makes home with us, as one of us, a creature of clay, and freely gives to us, sharing with us God’s goodness and bounty and health, just as it was in the beginning when God began to create:
Gift. Share. Us. Work. Create. Forgiveness. Together. Joy.
These are the language of God’s Economy precisely emerging through and with and by the Incarnate One, Jesus Christ, who is the fullness of God’s vision for us as human beings with one another—not just the Church, but all of general societies.
While the media portray the dangers of disease and unruliness of Occupy encampments, what goes uncommented upon is a relational criticism of the status quo, of the unruliness of those who crashed the system and left the rest of us to carry the burden for generations to come, of a growing disparity between the extremely wealthy and the growing poor, of the degradation of earth, of the disease of greed, exploitation, and domination that touches us all.
What I have not heard about in our media is that precisely in Occupy encampments, those who have been without easy access to services, sometimes for years, can find a meal, a bed, a clinic without stigma.
What of the free library at OWS providing reading for those who can no longer accessed our many closing libraries?
I won’t romanticize Occupy, for that is the danger of flitting with utopianism, and I will nevertheless suggest this movement is a strong criticism of the wealthiest nation on earth in our exploits here and abroad. And it is a criticism framed not largely as a series of demands, though they do exist contrary to media claims, but as a collection of tents, a community of bodies.
I do not have easy solutions to the problems of our broken economy, an economy steeped in the vices of self-interest alone.
Perhaps sitting with the brokenness and being with one another is the one thing most needful, learning to:
Gift. Share. Us. Work. Create. Forgiveness. Together. Joy.
This sociality on the level of human beings correlates to God's Economy in refraining from more than need as each requires in her or his body and for sharing of her or his gifts, skills, and talents; being a self-for-with-by-others to accomplish life together, being-in-doing; spacious time; and most of all, being present to one another in our brokenness rather than escaping.
I do,suggest that as we move into Advent, that a season of examination, confession, preparation, refraining, and witness to God’s Economy is appropriate for we who profess Jesus Christ as the One Who Causes To Be, as the One Who Saves—that is, as Lord.
How will you, how will we be occupying Advent?
How will you, how will we Gift, Share, Us, Work, Create, Forgiveness, Together, Joy?