“We're being herded like sheep now,” James Rose said as police moved people out of Zuccotti Park. “But this is so not over.”
According to reports, Rose, 39, had been in the park for a month when he found himself locked out by the barricades. New York City Police say they are temporarily clearing the park to clean it.
Coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests has dominated the national media and blogosphere since it erupted two months ago. The activists have both fans and critics, those that champion their cause and others that dismiss the activists as naive, leaderless and ineffective, or denigrate the participants as ungrateful, uninformed malcontents. As the occupiers disperse and the news cycle exhausts what can be said about the protests, I think it’s worth asking: Is James Rose right or not? Is it over?
I don’t think so. Protesters may scatter but their actions over the last two months hit something hard and deep in our collective psycho-social-economic lives, like the chunk of concrete in my yard left by the guys who poured the fence posts. We don’t yet know the size of what they’ve hit, what it’s made of or what it will take to move it.
How are we as Christians to make meaning of all this?
Karl Travis, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Ft. Worth, Texas nailed part of it for me in a sermon last week at Austin Seminary. He took Amos 8:1-12 as his text, one in which the prophet proclaims in the streets that the people have trampled on the needy by practicing deceit with false balances (read the whole sermon, “Bulls, Bears and Baptism”). Here's what made my spine tingle:
“It just may be that the words of the Lord aren’t erupting from our sanctuaries but rather from our streets. That the church goes silent does not mean the Lord does. Is it possible that we do not so much go to the protesters with the word of the Lord so much as to hear it already there?”
“Be silent,” Amos says. Listen. If indeed we hear the word of the Lord in the outrage against income inequality, what shall we do?
That is a painful question.
We see the horizon beyond Zuccotti Park. It’s Zion, the City of God where everyone has what they need and more to share, just because generosity brings real joy. But how does hope from the City of God occupy our cities here? The question twists us up as leaders of institutions because it is so hard to know what to do and then to actually do anything.
There is so much we do not know. The systems and structures of Wall Street are complex, inaccessible, nearly incomprehensible. The Occupy movement is disparate, fluid, not wanting institutional support. Do you know a person in either sphere who would go to coffee with you? With you as a pastor?
There is so much we cannot do. Church institutions and congregations are not in the business of politics or community organizing for political action. And we don’t have money with which to buy influence. Do we have a public voice that is heard beyond its echo within our own networks? Are we just talking to ourselves?
What shall we do? For me, first, I have to remember that my hope for the mending of the world rests on God’s doing, not on me getting this place straightened out. I’m not sure what’s next. I will learn more, get out of the house and try to pay attention to what God is up to in the world.
This is so not over.
Melissa Wiginton is Vice President for Education Beyond the Walls at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.