Sunday, October 28, 2012

From other steps: what I said at Yale


Yale Divinity School

From the panel on Faith and the Public Square, Yale Divinty School Convocation, October 24th.

Let me first say that it is an honor to be on this panel. Even though I fall slightly beyond it’s  boundaries. But then I thought,that’s a place where I often find myself...

It is also significant that we are having this panel just two weeks before our presidential election. I am the pastor of a small urban church in New York City. Even though our first presentation this morning was on the Occupy Movement,I feel I need to come at it again from  a slightly different angle. We live in a  time of kairos,and the Occupy phenomenon was a visble sign of the time we are now in, of that kairos. 

Following the eviction at Zucotti, our congregation hosted over 100 Occupiers for several months. Living with them day to day, I got to know them as people I lived with. People with names. Histories. We were in relationship. 

Ultimately, Occupy was/is not so much a movement as a space. My first visit to Zucotti, I felt that Occupy was equal parts protest and performance art. There was humor, creativity, optimism and hope, if not also naivete and innocence. 

What else was different?  Most " movements" of our time have had a specific objective. End this war, pass or remove that law, respond to some specific incident experienced as grossly unjust and/or paradigmatic. 

OWS was more global-- a spontaneous combustion response to a system, a worldwide system,  that simply doesn't work anymore. That is broken. Or more accurately, fixed. It was the first mass action since Martin Luther King/Ralph Abernathy’s abortive Poor People’s Campaign to raise seriously class issues. And it’s concerns were both political and social. 

As I lived with OWS ( and apparently Homeland Security) one of our social workers described the group like this:
*1/3 idealistic youth who'd left whatever they had to come be part of what they saw as a moment of kairos
* 1/3 "lost souls," IE, young people who had left home for multiple reasons:
   Significant numbers who were  victims of abuse
   LGBTQ youth who had aged out of the foster care system
    People with serious  substance abuse problems
    Mental illness and
*1/3 hardcore homeless, who were, as was reported by the Daily News, pushed into Zucotti.

It was what Kelly McGowan, who had observed our church encampments, called the the Poverty diaspora of America.
What society had failed to deal with in a humane and positive way, OWS had the moral courage to seek to respond with inclusion and care. Where all were unconditionally accepted and every voice valued. What the church was supposed to be about at its heart. More than one person said to me, this is the first place I have ever felt at home.
And for awhile it worked. In all honesty, it was ready to implode before the eviction. The questions they raised were profoundly spiritual: 
  Leaving everything and sharing in common
  Radical inclusion
  The nature of humanity. As I said to one Occupier friend:You've just discovered what we call original sin--you moved from the garden to the fall pretty fast...that image of a better world didn't last long.

Occupy was macro. But let me say a word or two about micro. The campaign for a Sweatshop Free Upper Westside. This campaign’s coalition  includes:
  Undocumented immigrants
  Union workers
  Political leaders
  Faith community people
  Community residents and most strikingly, over 60 small businesses. The demand is simple:
   Just obey the law. Pay the workers their due,with papers or without. 

It is a project seeking to build justice on one issue in one  neighborhood with a replicable model. And a way to make plain  that economic justice does not just come from Capital Hill or City Council. That every decision we make works for or against justice. 

Yes, this is a time of kairos.The empire is over. We live in a global economy in which everything is connected. Models must be holistic. 

The mainline church as we have known it is over:  we're living in the postlude. Yet our church structures continue to govern themselves and their mission by no longer viable corporate models. Models that came close to destroying the US economy if not the world economy. 

And I reluctantly must say that in this moment of kairos, our biggest problem may be the liberals. Can I agree with Christopher Hedges that liberalism is essentially done? The end of liberalism as a contending alternative has been hastened by a practice of apriori acquiescence seeking to ameliorate those who by primary identity can not compromise.  Because no dialectic is ever drawn, the discourse has moved steadily to the right until the real space of political discourse has narrowed to irrelevance. 

In my own deeply divided New York City Presbytery, the division is  not ideological or theological but big, white and rich vs small, colored and poor. These are faith communities of privilege,power and control, are inclusive of and advocate for women and the lgbtq community and at the same time protective of the entitlement of privilege. Their supportive client relationships with small ethnic congregations do not represent a commitment to social transformation but the a new form of ecclesiastical colonialism. 

We need to stop worrying about institutions that are dying and engage ourselves in the work of building good ministries on the ground, at the grass roots level.  

The signs of transformative, faithful,ministry will be grassroots coalitions, collaborations, partnerships and networks that will show these marks:
  *Global in perspective
   *Interfaith as way of life
   *Practitioners of what my friend Sekou calls an organic theology, IE,rooted in community and exegeting the 
ongoing life and experience of that community.

Wherever I go, the discourse of progressive faith has moved beyond liberation to transformation. We need to move beyond a critical analysis expressed primarily in materialist terms to one  that is holisitic. One that:
  • Understands evangelism and social justice to be integrally related
  • Understands the practice of ministry to be rooted in relationships
  • Seriously engages issues of race and class 
  • Lives at the intersection of beauty and justice, ethics and aesthetics
      And....most of all a commitment to build a community based in radical hope and to live out in joy that emerges from struggle with the full and  certain knowledge that,as Archbishop Tutu said long before apartheid fell, we have already won. 

Bob('75) and panel chair Chris Glaser ('76)

No comments:

Post a Comment