Salvation Moment by Moment
I'd like to start by finding out how many of you are staying up to date with the Occupy Wall Street movement and to what degree. Please keep your hands down if this is the first you've heard about it. Raise your hands high if you're a part of the OccUUpy group on Facebook and check for messages over lunch on your phone's web browser. And somewhere in the middle if you're somewhere in between. Thank you.
For our nation and our world, this Occupy movement is timely, if not entirely overdue. On a personal level, it could not have come at a less opportune time. While trying to study and prepare for this interview, I have been riveted and driven to distraction by this movement's presence and its way of being in the world, and by the brutal responses from established powers.
I believe my attraction is because the occupy movement is so closely aligned with our UU principles and values. At a recent #OccupyWallSt General Assembly, they proposed a draft for a vision statement so rich and compelling (and unreported in the news),.... I'll devote some time today to share it: We envision:  a truly free, democratic, and just society;  where we, the people, come together and solve our problems by consensus;  where people are encouraged to take personal and collective responsibility and participate in decision making;  where we learn to live in harmony and embrace principles of toleration and respect for diversity and the differing views of others;  where we secure the civil and human rights of all from violation by tyrannical forces and unjust governments;  where political and economic institutions work to benefit all, not just the privileged few;  where we provide full and free education to everyone, not merely to get jobs but to grow and flourish as human beings;  where we value human needs over monetary gain, to ensure decent standards of living without which effective democracy is impossible;  where we work together to protect the global environment to ensure that future generations will have safe and clean air, water and food supplies, and will be able to enjoy the beauty and bounty of nature that past generations have enjoyed. [PAUSE]
I say this movement reflects us politically from our first principle to the seventh. Dignity, right relations, spiritual growth, search for truth, democracy, community, and our Earth. The movement and its process is both life-affirming and energizing—Rev. Jeremy Nickel of the Mission Peak UU congregation in Fremont, CA had this to say about his first experience at the Occupy Oakland general assembly: “What I experienced was something so much deeper and more meaningful than I could have ever expected. For the first time in my life as an American I experienced true democracy. The work had gotten underway about an hour before I arrived. Thousands of people gathered peacefully, centered on a raised area where one person at a time could speak. And since the crowd was far larger than the small speaker system could reach, all the words were repeated by those close enough to hear, and so they radiated out in a slow, gentle echo, a system called "the people's mic." It truly is the sound of people hearing each other.” Nickel later continues: “These General Assemblies are radical little incubators where hundreds of new ideas are being proposed, debated and researched. I have no doubt that a lot is going to come out of this. New people are being motivated and encouraged to participate in our democracy and that can only be a good thing.” [PAUSE]
In my view, this movement is seeking the realization of our Universalist theology. In the 19th century, Christian Universalists such as Hosea Ballou argued about the shape of universal salvation after death—whether everybody would be immediately saved, or whether there would be a limited period of punishment prior to salvation. In the early 20th century, Universalists like Clarence Skinner began moving the conversation away from “otherworldliness” toward a universal salvation during life. This matches my understanding of Jesus' message, “I have come that they may have life more abundantly.” And now as part of this centuries-long process, there is a new movement discovering its new message—and establishing a new voice—trying to democratically create a heaven on earth with room for everyone.
[slow] In stark contrast, we presently have heavens and hells side by side. Like John Calvin's theology made manifest before us, only an elect few enjoy an expanding abundance, while the rest of us are left behind with scarce jobs, wage slavery, and pervading anxiety. As Clarence Skinner wrote: “Vampires still live and grow fat on the blood of human beings—throwing the anemic, skeleton forms into the teeming city to crawl out a wretched 'death-in-life.' All this is hell—-social hell—-men suffering from instituted customs and practices for which society is responsible, which can be eradicated out of the world.”
The people of this occupying community are seeking to change the paradigm from singular competitive personal heavens marked by economic division and individual isolation to a cooperative universal heaven where we realize the interconnected unity of our shared fortune. The Occupiers choose to visibly not participate in an oppressive system reliant on economic and political abuse. That non-participation is a vitally important rejection of the paradigm. It's part of the process.
And process matters! I believe it's important that this movement doesn't miss the mark by seeking redress only for economic issues that generally affect us all. These words from Malcolm X serve as notice of loooongstanding economic oppression: “'Brainwashed blacks'...were raised to believe [in] pie in the sky…while right here on earth, the slavemaster white man enjoyed his heaven.” [fast] I believe Occupy is happening now because the recession and the class oppression are finally causing turmoil in white communities that formerly enjoyed more privilege. As near as I can tell, this movement does not commonly work to address oppressions specific to communities of color.
Until the stories of those long-oppressed are heard and brought to the center, the movement will not be democratically multicultural, and will be weaker as a result. I don't mean this as a condemnation of mistakes. I mean this as a process—an opportunity for learning and for practicing a beloved community with improving character. Unitarian Universalism is familiar with this story. We struggled in the civil rights era, and still do. Over time many of our congregations have begun the work of becoming anti-racist institutions. I believe that growing our anti-oppressive voices into the conversation—both as allies and people of color—will strengthen the movement and allow for a more diverse unity, and a wider heaven truly for ALL.
Because what is at stake? The very future of a common heaven. And the force of the Occupy movement is under attack and threat from several angles. Of course it is. The corporate system of power, greed and corruption will use every tool available in its arsenal to reassert itself. With militarized police, it attacks protesters and tears up camps that often include the only homes of some otherwise homeless people. It focuses its mass media on spin and PR, ignoring authentic conversation. It changes laws to push the struggle to its favor until the lie shines through.
Anti-oppression training teaches us that after a change agent or insurgency asserts itself, established power will reassert itself to clarify its values as primary. I hope with my heart that the Occupy movement is poised to reassert itself again and again through any means available. I look forward to bolstering their strength. I want to negotiate for the restoration of a loving mended fabric of connected humanity, fit considerately onto the natural fabric of this world. We stand to gain the realization of ancient dreams coming alive in our world....
In the words of author Charles Eisenstein, in his essay Who Will Collect the Garbage?: “One characteristic of this world will be that each person will have recovered a very basic, simple birthright: to wake up in the morning excited and happy [smile with eyes] about your work for the day. We will be in love with what we do; in other words, we will all... be... artists.”
In closing, I pray that we may each find our art and make it our livelihood. And may we find common ground to stand together. And may we see one another eye to eye [eye contact] in a diverse and loving community based on siblinghood and sustaining joy.
Amen, and blessed be.
pax hominibus, agape to all, joel