Wednesday, November 16, 2011
A Call to Occupy the Church
My phone, inbox on Facebook and email has been buzzing about the concept I placed on my Facebook wall-Occupy the Church. It’s intriguing that most agree that the Church, for the most part, has morphed into a monster that we would rather refrain from being a part. The truth is, if not for my role as a pastor, it would be difficult for me to find a place that fits my spiritual needs.
My evangelical, conservative friends will tell me that the Church can’t be defined by those who claim faith, but rather is rooted in that big book we call the Bible. They also remind me that the Word, as they put it, is the same yesterday, today and forever. In other words, there is no place for the consideration of context or culture.
I find myself incredibly frustrated due to the absence of critically thinking, progressive minded folks who have made a decision to use their gifts of time, talent and money to press an agenda that connects each of us to the maladies of others. I have come to the Church due to a past filled with anguish and irritation caused by my own actions.
The Church became my healing station. I found comfort in the words of a compassionate Christ. I was inspired by words like “if you are without sin, throw the first stone.” I needed forgiveness in my life. I found in those words the solace needed to overcome being abused, using and dealing drugs and using women and sex to cover pain.
I was moved by the movement toward the liberation of those devalued by systems of evil. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. stirred me to walk within my dream. I discovered the teachings of Howard Thurman, a great mystic, theologian and visionary, who taught me to be a disciple of Spirit. The Church helped shape the man I have become. With that being said, something left the Church as I made my way toward rediscovery.
I’m not alone. Others feel the same. They say they don’t want to go back. There’s too much entertainment there. All of that talk about the streets paved with gold keeps them disgusted due to a lack of gold to pay their bills. They’re asked to pay more, to bring a seed offering, a tithe and more and more, to assure their blessings on this earth. They are reminded that their lacks are correlated to their lack of faith and failures of participation in the work of the kingdom.
Love walked out the back door. Hate walked in to take its place. Judgment took the seat once occupied by love. Those in search of unconditional love and acceptance are left hungry and depressed by constant reminders about why they feel the void.
I stand before the people every Sunday. I’m mad because those who need the message of love are not there. Why? Because they are fed up with the Church and refuse to give it another chance. They desire a place to ponder the voice of their inner spirit, but can’t in the Church. They have been told that everything they need is relegated to words in the book. The canon is closed. God has spoken; thus, our responsibility, as advocates of truth, is to live the words as written. Is that all!
They say no to that claim. There is more to the tug at their spirit than the simplistic messages laced with cute phraseology and a loud shout at the end. They have questions. Pray harder, pay more, come every week and trust the Lord in all things, they are told. It’s a formula to emptiness and people want more.
I have committed myself to stand with those who walked out when love left. I have made the shift toward being present with those who want to form a relationship with themselves, their neighbors and the Spirit they seek to discover. They want to hear Spirit in nature. They want to listen to the journeys of others devoid of judgment.
My message to those committed to the Occupy the Church movement is to shut up long enough to listen. God is speaking. You can’t listen because you are trapped in the assumptions of your claims. If you are willing to go back, to OCCUPY what rightfully belongs to us, then let’s move in that direction. Find a place to explore the movement of Spirit. You can come to OCCUPY at Compassion. You may seek another Church or another spiritual tradition. It doesn’t matter where you go, just go.
Why is it important that we go? Because we have stories in common begging to be shared in a way that moves us past our divides. I am more than a Christian. I am more than a man. I am more than an African American. I have waded through the water of discovery and re-discovery. I seek places to share my own journey. I need - I must have a place to listen to how those same waters cleansed the agony in your life away.
Now, the ten guiding principles of the Occupy the Church movement. They are for those prepared to go back intentional about reclaiming our rightful place as people bond by Spirit. I will be at Compassion Ministries on Sunday. I will occupy at 8am the space shared with Calvary Ministries (304 E. Trinity Avenue). If not with me, find a Church, a mosque a synagogue or a temple.
I will be calling the disciples of the Occupy movement to join me in group discussions down the road. I will be asking each of you to share the stories of your spiritual voyage. Will you please join me?
My mama used to sing, “I will not, I will not be moved…”
1. We promote an authentic embrace of different spiritual views.
2. We are willing to hear the spiritual stories of those who have encountered faith from a cultural perspective different from our own.
3. We are open to encountering God by listening to and responding to voices uncommon to the presuppositions of our own.
4. We seek to find the humanity in those who respond to life and faith different from the common views of our faith traditions.
5. We denounce all efforts to deny the spiritual claims of those rejected due to the common claims of our faith traditions.
6. We seek to respond to and seek to defeat all systems that deny the humanity of those created in the image of God.
7. We will celebrate the face of God in all we meet.
8. We will not be defined by the strapping of our institutions. We will seek spirit beyond our buildings, our liturgy and the particularity of our congregational norms.
9. We will be molded and defined by a love greater than our differences
10. We will ponder the assumptions of our privilege and seeks ways to transcend how we define our value based on those assumptions