Occupy New York

October 7, 2011 @ 02:55 pm by Jacqui Lewis


One of the reasons I am passionate about Middle Church is that we have been addressing economic justice for more than 50 years. Olga Downey was an older woman who helped start the clothing closet. She got her clothes from that closet, saved her money, and left us an endowment that funds our children's ministry to this day. Lucille Bodden followed Olga in running the closet for a long time, and on a fixed income, was always faithful and generous in giving money to fund the ministries she loves. And now, due to some wonderful volunteers, our closet is getting boutiqued in a larger space so that our clients can feel clothed also with care. We feed close to 1,500 people each month with lunches in the park, bags of food to take home, and warm meals on Sundays. We also partner with New Alternatives and Momentum to feed homeless LGBTI youth and people living with HIV/AIDS. Generous people: people of means, people who struggle, people who give time, and people who give funds make ministry happen at Middle Church.

It is also true that our investments--Olga's fund and Collegiate investments--fund more than 75% of our ministry. That means Wall Street is a partner in our ministry.

I want to change the conversation, Middle family. I am bored with political rhetoric about class war fare. I want us to talk about class collaboration. I grew up in the Black Church, where the milkman and the accountant sat together on Sunday, taught their children to lead on Wednesday, marched for justice on Saturday, and gave what they had in time, talent, and treasure to make the church run. Once enslaved Africans were free, there was always an economic gap. But folk did not forget from whence they came, and they reached back and pulled someone up and helped someone out. The early church was like that, learning from its Jewish leaders, including Jesus himself, that in God's Economy, the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, the sick, and the lame were the responsibility of the community.

Class collaboration means that a faithful coalition of people realize that they can have a greater impact toward a more just society when they pool resources, enact strategies, build bridges, challenge the status quo, and speak truth to power. The early church learned that some have gifts for prophetic speaking and others have gifts for making sure people got fed. I think we need to resurrect these ideas and ideals and not waste time on us-versus-them tactics.

People of faith know that God's Economy does not have to be a dream; it can be a reality in this time and place. This is, to my mind, what it means to be faithful. How do I care for my family, save for our future, and help others care for their family and future as well? How do I share of myself and my resources for the greater good of humanity? On several occasions, Middle members have made donations directly to Middle Church to benefit someone else. "Give this to someone who really needs it..." This is the kind of partnership I want the Church to explore. Can we adopt a family or a classroom or create a scholarship fund or mentor children so they are ready for college?

I must admit, I am outraged at the state of our economy. It is not acceptable for a nation with this much wealth to have people living on cardboard outdoors, to have children who only get one meal a day at their school and that one meal threatened with tax cuts. It is outrageous to have older people have to choose between medication or food. Even still, I am less concerned about how we got here, whose fault it is, and whether someone else could have done it better than I am with what can we do now and how will we pull together to do it!

I want Middle Church to keep on feeding and clothing those who need our help. And I want us to change the story and the conversation as we work for a more just society in which food, clothing, clean water, shelter, and health care are guaranteed for everyone in this nation, everyone on our globe. This means coordinating work with other partners. This means marching and writing and blogging and talking about solutions to these systemic issues. This means asking the hard questions, holding leaders accountable, and being willing to be part of the solution. I don't think any one person can fix this thing, but I know by God's Grace and Spirit, WE can fix it together!

Several of our Middle family have been connected to the Occupy Wall Street movement since it began on September 17. Some have been organizing on line, some have been at the scene downtown. On Wednesday, some of our staff and lay leaders participated in the march on Wall Street. As we were standing and waiting, singing and strategizing, there was a great brass band rocking tunes that reminded me of a cake walk in Louisiana. There were union guys in purple shirts, dreadlocked children with their parents, and cameras everywhere ready to capture the moment. In my head, Gil Scott Heron's "The Revolution will not be televised" was playing, because in fact this is a revolution and it is being televised and You Tubed and blogged and tweeted.

A crowd of thousands in business suits and bandanas, sweat pants and saris, clergy attire and mohawks moved and pulsed like one body. This is what America looks like, we chanted, claiming our 99% status and in our great diversity of person and perspective collaborated on at least one message: This ain't working so well and we have to change it. I heard another song in my head, a spiritual: Hush, hush, somebody's calling my name... Oh my Lord, oh my Lord, what shall I do?

God is calling us to God's way of thinking, to God's Economy. You may wonder what that looks like. Jesus tells a story in the gospels (you heard it in September in worship) in Matthew 20:1-16. Workers who are hired early in the morning to work in the vineyard get the same pay as those who came at the end of the day. There is something about the way God loves us that is about ALL of us having what we need! Enough food, warm clothing, safe places to live, a living wage, affordable healthcare, access to education for our children. These are not luxuries, people of God. And there are enough resources in these United States to take care of all of us and then share with the world.

People of faith: wealthy people, middle class people, working class people, and poor people--we need to UNITE in our common call to be the people God created us to be. We are responsible to and for one another, we have to do this better; it is our watch and we must take care of business!! We must partner with one another, reach across the aisle as necessary, find partners, and build bridges so we can heal this land.

It is too simplistic to demonize all of the people who make more money than we do. Good people with wealth share it every day. Look at Steve Jobs and the legacy he leaves with us, rest his soul. The problem is a system that allows lobbyists to protect corporations from the appropriate tax; the problem is a tax code with loopholes that poor people will never find or fit through; the problem is that people of faith often don't dare even whisper, "I wonder if we can take this on, demand something different, build a bridge over which the poor can walk toward a better life?"

Middle is going to stay connected to this movement, just in case this is the revolution we have been waiting for. I am not looking for us to throw verbal bombs or to participate in vitriol and hatred. And I know that we who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes. Let's turn our restlessness into revolution, our anger into action, our despair into demonstration. And let's never forget the Power at work within us that is able to do more than we can ask or imagine--that Power is Love.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Cowardice asks the question - is it safe? Expediency asks the question - is it politic? Vanity asks the question - is it popular? But conscience asks the question - is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right."

On Sunday, after we have worshipped our God, after you have had some brunch and talked a bit with your neighbor about the economy, after our volunteer training, Trish and John will lead a coalition downtown. They are taking sandwiches and Spirit with them; they will sing and offer hope and prayers...

Because it is right. And we've got the Power!

Love and Light, Jacqui

For a list of Occupy Wall Street solidarity events and Facebook pages, click here.

About This Blog

Preparing ethical leaders for a just society. Posts by Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister.

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