While we were out on a preaching mission at UW campus on Saturday morning, we happened to displaced by an Occupy Madison demonstration. I’ve heard some chatter about these “Occupy” things, but this was my first real encounter with the movement.
Despite the fact that we had to cut our preaching a little short in deference to crowd approaching down State St., it was not an altogether unpleasant encounter. One of the leaders of the demonstration—a guy dressed up like “V” from V for Vendetta—approached us quite courteously to ensure that they weren’t interrupting anything. We told him that they weren’t (not altogether true, but it didn’t seem particularly prudent to attempt to squat in an outdoor pulpit surrounded by fifty-odd people with a different agenda) and we went on to converse a little about the basics of the movement. He seemed to express some interest in what the Church might have to offer their particular crusade.
It was an encounter that prompted me to wonder who these people are, what they are doing, and what they are asking for. After a little Google work, I think I got the gist of their message.
My first and dominant thought was, “What a tremendous ministry opportunity.” I wish that I had the freedom to drop everything for a while and go serve as a sort of “chaplain” among them.
Of course, this is not to comment on the particular political and economic philosophy of the movement. (I don’t think this is necessary for a chaplain; whose first role in my mind is more of a “spiritual medic” than an “ideologue.”) The issues they are engaging with are a bit beyond my depth. Although I share in our culture’s vague angst at the manifest problems within the system, and do consider the government to have a role and responsibility in redressing them that it usually ignores or abuses, I am not sufficiently familiar with the situation to sign a blank check to the bold claims that they are making. (Nor, for that matter, would I endorse any such blanket assertions.) And (to be a little ironic) I think I stand with the 99% on this one. Most of us are too busy struggling to make the most of what we’ve been dealt to throw our whole hearts in with the latest, greatest new ideology, whatever it promises.
But what interests me about this movement is not what they think, but how they live it. These people are struggling with their whole selves to find and to demonstrate a more humane way to be human. This is beautiful. The Church needs to affirm the reality of both the strength and the struggle of this kind of radical action with its presence and its prayers. The Church, moreover, needs to watch these kinds of margins: because when the world changes, it is through such movements. And, at the very least, “going to all nations” and “preaching the Gospel to all creatures” undoubtedly includes taking up residence in the tent cities of the radicals.
Naturally, such a chaplain would need to be both very sensitive to the concerns of the movement, and solidly, immovably formed in the Christian faith, such that their work could be both resourced and critiqued by the Faith once delivered. But to make a wild leap as to our message to this movement as the Church, perhaps it would be something like this – You are free to occupy whatever you wish; and God bless you in so doing. But above all, let the peace of Christ occupy your hearts. (…And while we’re at it, why not try occupying church for a change?)