The greatest occupy story ever told

By Dan Webster
Posted Dec 16, 2011

[Episcopal News Service] The Occupy Baltimore encampment was dismantled recently. Police in riot gear evicted 40 or so protesters. There were no arrests. It was a peaceful end to a mostly peaceful demonstration. What the Occupy protests are about has confused some, but TIME magazine seems to think these demonstrations, coupled with the Arab spring events, are important enough to make “The Protester” its person of the year.

In church, as in society, there have been mixed reactions to the Occupy protesters. Some have called them hippies, bums, or worse. Some said they should spend their time getting work, becoming productive members of their communities. Others said they had no idea what moved folks to take up residence on the streets, some for months, to make their point. To be clear, economic justice is the reason for these Occupy protests – as was much of the ministry of Jesus.

Many efforts to end these protests took place during our celebration of Advent. We have been waiting, anticipating, hoping for one more time to get it: what does it mean for God to occupy human nature? This incarnation of God in human form is the heart of the Christian story and that calls us to live our lives differently.

Biblical accounts around Jesus’ birth focus on peace and good will or glad tidings. Sometimes overlooked is that the first witnesses were shepherds, a lowly and somewhat despised class of folks. It was a wandering couple seeking shelter to have a baby that an innkeeper directed to a barn. The creator of the universe begins occupying human form in a dirty, dusty, unsanitary stable. Certainly an inhospitable birth place for any human, let alone the savior of the world. Or so we think.

Throughout his life, Jesus identifies with the poor, prisoners, the oppressed, widows and orphans. His visit to a Nazareth synagogue early in Luke’s gospel gives us a pretty good indication where his heart was when he chose to read from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Lately I’ve begun wearing my red “Solidarnosc” lapel pin from the Polish trade union uprising in the ’80s. I see this as a way to be in solidarity with those who have occupied city parks and streets to call attention to economic injustice in the world. I see it as a way to support clergy who have been chaplains to the protesters. And it makes me think at this time of the coming Incarnation of God that Jesus would be with those who do not share justly in God’s bounty.

As Christmas comes again, I think we need to ask ourselves where Jesus would be in our community today. Where would Jesus choose to become incarnated? And how should we be in solidarity with Jesus; the Jesus born in a barn, who always championed the poor and oppressed, who overturned tables protesting a Temple system discriminating against those who had little?

If we claim our role as Christ’s hands and heart in this world, if we allow Jesus to occupy us body, mind and spirit, then maybe we should not be afraid to champion the cause of Occupy protesters and find Jesus this Christmas with those seeking an end to economic injustice in our world.

— The Rev. Canon Dan Webster is canon for evangelism and ministry development in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.


Comments (4)

  1. Steve Grech says:

    I have been an Episcopalian for over 30 years. It is this kind of drivel which is causing the Episcopal Church to lose members and become irrelevant. A few points:
    1. The shepherds were working! They weren’t hanging around chanting silly slogans. The shepherds had responsibility unlike the protesters who had the means to do absolutely nothing for weeks on end and still be supported (anyone know about the pizzas shipped into Zuccotti park? How about the donated latrines? etc).
    2. Sorry, Reverend, but Jesus also identifies with the rich, the homeowners and the business people, not just what you consider poor. Jesus came to ALL PEOPLE. In your little world described above, you place Jesus in a nice little box.
    3. You wear a pin from the Polish uprisings to show commonality? Are you kidding me? Let’s see, the occupiers in the US have raped women, shot each other, threatened reporters and spouted numerous anti-semetic rhetoric. Lech Walesa, the father of Solidarity, is a staunch Roman Catholic and very pro life. Hmmm maybe you should rethink the whole “pin thing”.
    4. Economic injustice? Who is holding those kids back? I say kids because they are immature like children. They can go to work just like everyone else and work their way up. I’m sure they are able to search for jobs on the mac books and i-phones they were using.
    5. Your thesis limits Jesus to the occupiers. How about the businesses which were shut down? Wouldn’t Jesus be walking with them? No? Why not? The business owners are employing people and were forced to lay those people off because of your occupiers.

    Bottom line is this Reverend: Jesus is for all-not just the politically correct. The sooner you and the Episcopal Church realize this the sooner relevancy will return.

    1. Steve Marlow Macon-GA says:

      What Steve G says is true. If more pastors and church workers had to provide for themselves as the Apostle Paul did to keep himself fed and clothed as a Tent Maker, there would be more sympathy for the middle class who are able to borrow from the rich to start their business, to enlarge their business, to employ those who are willing to learn the skills needed to be employed. It is not the fault of the rich or the middle class that people make wrong choices in learning the wrong things that make them useless to a potential employer. In Jesus’ time, even the Priests had to learn a trade, develop work skills, in addition to book learning. The disciples knew the craft of fishing, business; Jesus knew carpentry and stone mason work. These OWS people need to go back to school, learn a vocational trade, and get into the work force, and get off this “welfare attitude of everyone owes me a living”, and expect everyone to provide them a living while they are in the parks living in squalor with their laptops, i-pads, and cellphones. The Episcopal Church and others in the Religious community should be promoting “we will help you learn a trade if you want free food”. Nothing wrong with that. The Salvation Army says If you want a bed and supper, you have to go to chapel first. And it works for them and no one has a line of lawyers at their door protesting. Should work for us in the Episcopal Church.

  2. Doug Desper says:

    Not long ago Canon Webster asserted in essence that Jesus changed his mind about the worth of a person by the continued insistence of the pleading Canaanite woman. During the commentary it was asserted by Canon Webster that Jesus began referring to the woman as like a “dog” but then became more enlightened as He got to know her. (That reading of the Scripture was perplexing by its first assumption that Jesus began as a bigot, became enlightened, and change then His mind. – BTW: Could it be instead that Jesus tested the faith of the woman by referring to her in terms that she was already used to, and then showed how instead the Son of God embraced her?) Canon Webster’s reading of Scripture again today suggests that one begins with human experience which will then illuminate Scripture, even to the point of defining God, which is a dangerous and often erroneous and misleading. Looking at other comments here I would add that in the rush to listen to the culture some of us have often fallen into the mire of what Jesus Christ came to redeem us from. I am fairly sure that while Jesus would identify with those who want greater justice He would likewise rail against those in the Occupy Movement who: defecate on the streets, steal from each other, abuse drugs, rape and molest, yell at parents with children as they try to inch their way to Wall Street daycares, and on it goes. Listen to the culture, yes, but do not fall into the mire that needs to be redeemed.

  3. Doug Desper says:

    Ms. Kopec,
    Are these the types of people that do NOT make up the Occupy Movement? (Read on) –

    By NBC News
    Story updated 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, January 29th:

    Oakland officials on Sunday were inspecting damage inside City Hall that was caused by about 50 Occupy protesters who broke in and smashed glass display cases, spray-painted graffiti, and burned the U.S. and California flags.
    The break-in on Saturday was the culmination of a day of clashes between protesters and police. At least 300 people were arrested on charges ranging from vandalism and failure to disperse.
    At least three officers and one protester were injured.
    Mayor Jean Quan said Occupy protesters have caused an estimated $2 million in damages from vandalism since October. She said the cost to the city related to the Occupy Oakland protests is pegged at about $5 million.

    OK – are they part of the Occupy Movement or not? Just some usual Oakland street activity? Hardly. Sounds like a lot of anarchists more intent on destruction than anything else. How can Occupy claim that they are speaking for and helping the 99% when the actions of the Occupy Movement are costing the 99% millions in fees, resources, taxes, and destroyed property? I think that the Prayer Book quotes the 10 Commandments, especially…”Thou shalt not steal”. I can think of no greater theft in Oakland yesterday than for Occupy to pick the pockets of the community to pay for the destructive self-indulgence by the ones who are “just there to help”.

Comments are closed.