by Linda Lauretta
“As people of faith called to embody radical love, Protest Chaplains – NYC commits to being more deeply and intentionally present at protests and people’s movements for justice. We are grieved by the ways religion has been misused to support violence, greed, and exploitation of poor and working class people, people of color, immigrants, women, people with disabilities and queer people. We offer a listening ear and a ministry of prayer, presence and support to all people engaged in the difficult task of crying out against injustice and living out their deepest commitments”
So reads the bio for The Protest Chaplains of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in New York City, an interfaith chaplaincy for a peaceful revolution demanding economic justice and equality. On my second visit to the ‘tent city’ at Liberty Plaza, I was fortunate to be there for one of their Interfaith services. The encampment had just survived an early snowfall on October 29th and the seizure of their generators, used for heat, on a night when the temperatures had dropped to 26 degrees. There are so many words I can use to describe the scene there that day. The campers, day protestors, tourists and ministers shared a sense of elation, commitment, cooperation, efficiency and TLC for everyone present and mostly for a way of life devoid of exploitation of any person or resource. If this sounds Utopic to you, then you should know that what is happening there, as well as at the over 1600 other Occupy camps, is a shining example of what a compassionate, non-violent and mutually-respectful community can be. No wonder that in less than a month, they attracted a multi-faith chaplaincy that recognized a spiritual movement developing and grasped the opportunity to lend their support to the struggle.
The interfaith ceremony was conducted in the same way any of the group’s general assemblies occur, with no amplifiers or loudspeakers, just the cooperative effort of everyone present to repeat in synchronized waves, the speaker’s words. With great patience and respect, we all echoed each minister’s message, regardless of personal faith traditions. The speakers were varied and represented Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, followers of Malcolm X and other much less traditional organizations. They, or we, are all in this together; strikingly apparent, when we were led in singing “We shall not be moved,” a literal call for these protestors who regularly face eviction. A multi-faith, racially mixed, economically diverse America seems to have found its voice here.
I don’t know if I can identify a specific turning point or event as to why this revolutionary movement has caught on at this time, in this country. There are many precursors. The Arab Spring, gross economic disparity, unbearable debt levels for student loans, mortgages and credit cards accumulating due to poor regulation and blatant abuse of lending practices, lobbyists influence in government, endless and unaffordable wars, unchecked and unsustainable destruction of our environment and on goes the list. Maybe we just hit a tipping point or critical mass of despair. Maybe we are just waking up to the notion that our lives should be about more than consumption and the recognition that uncontrolled greed threatens to usurp our collective soul. Maybe we have finally realized that corporate greed has taken precedence over human need and not one more step can be taken in this direction. Clearly, we know that we must act together for lasting change to occur. Have we all heard the call?
Symbolic of the economic struggle, and the spiritual crisis, if you will, was a golden replica of the charging bull that stands on Wall Street. It was labeled “The Golden Idol” and was carried above the crowd during the interfaith service. Its message was lost on no one. Whatever your economic status, spiritual tradition, race or nationality, etcetera, we all know greed to be the destructive force that threatens to strip us of our humanity. Will we stand together, as one human family in the conviction that economic justice is a human right? Will we allow this new found collective voice to carry this message to a victorious outcome? Will we, the URI-North America family, lend our support to this movement which mirrors our aspirations for a just world? As people of faith, who embody radical love, can we support all people engaged in the difficult task of crying out against injustice and living out their deepest commitments?
Tags: Occupy Wall Street
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