Archives for the month of: December, 2011

Jim Keane, SJ, in America:

Most of us are familiar with some variation of the King James Bible’s translation of John 1:14:  “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  If one looks at the original Greek of the Gospel of John, however, one finds that “dwelt among us” doesn’t quite capture the true meaning of the phrase.  You can see the original Greek variants here (sorry, I couldn’t get the fonts to work to show it here).

It’s the phrase “kai eskenosen en emin” that is translated “and dwelt among us,” a phrase that the translators obviously thought made more sense in our culture (and that of King James) than what the Greek actually says:  “and he set up his tent in our midst.”  It’s been rendered many times, many ways over the years, as he “tabernacled among us” and more, but that’s the basic sense of it.  But how can this be?  What kind of people set up tents among us?  Is this Jesus as Occupy protestor?

Too much of a stretch, to imagine Christ on the side of the tent-dwellers in so many of our public spaces this fall protesting economic injustice and plutocracy?  Then remember some of the words Mary sings when she discovers she will give birth to the Messiah:

He has shown the strength of his arm,

he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,

and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

-Luke 1:51-53

Happy Christmas Eve.  Occupy Earth.

Tom Beaudoin has a great new post up at Rock and Theology on the Occupy movement’s dispute with the Episcopal Trinity Church in New York.  Beaudoin writes:

It seems to me that in the midst of all this, a theological matter has arisen that has perhaps not gotten enough attention: a theological interpretation of private property – especially the private property of a Christian church.

Often Trinity’s defenders phrase their defense of their space as a defense of the church’s private property. I think, however, that Occupy is challenging (mostly implicitly) the assumption that one can speak of the “private property” of a church…

At the risk of sacrificing nuance, and for the sake of brevity, let me be succinct: I think we have a very important theological matter before us when Occupy, through its religious-leader allies, is saying to Trinity Wall Street: We in Occupy — as a multifaith, interreligious, spiritually pluralistic movement that is also and equally a nonreligious, secular movement — can better meet your mission as a Christian church in this particular time, and this particular place, with negligible negative financial impact (Trinity is a very wealthy community), and with a rare and time-sensitive influence, by using this particular private property to host the next stage of Occupy Wall Street, and let’s meet to talk about the liability issues and any other concerns you have, let’s have that dialogue starting immediately, but in principle we have a substantial theological point worthy of your consideration.

The presumption in this theological claim, which I think is correct, is that no Christian church is – on the very terms of its theological existence – permitted to fall back on the mere invocation of “private property” without also a theological conversation about the spiritual significance of what that concept means and how it is being used.

Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete at ilsussidiario.net:

The question must be raised as to whether American democracy has begun to reach the degree of ideological secularization which “stakes everything on formal procedures to guarantee their own survival?”

At the present time I do not feel capable of answering this question, although I am convinced of the importance of asking it. We need an American version of the famous Ratzinger-Habermas dialogue.

Again in the words of Prades, “it is necessary to resume a cultural work that starts precisely from the malaise. We must understand the nature of it, for…it is not just socio-political, as politicians and commentators tend to think; nor is it just cultural or moral: it is ultimately anthropological and religious…our leading role must be first of all educative and cultural. The hypothesis we propose is that unease is the inevitable symptom of that ‘set of needs and evidences’ that forms every individual. If, in fact, we failed to perceive our own unlimited need for justice, truth or goodness, we would not identify any trace of it in the protesters and we would inevitably tend to propose social measures or employment policies in answer to their unease…”

Here in America, it should not be difficult to find our Habermas thinkers, but where are our Ratzingers?

Part 2 of Kathryn Anderson’s series at Rock and Theology (see part 1):

I want to engage the Occupy Movement critically and challenge it to be more articulate or consistent. It’s because I firmly believe that our economic system is unjust and must be transformed and because I believe in the power of the Occupy Movement to affect positive change that I want to offer criticisms of the theology the movement expresses and challenge it to be authentic — in order to be truly transformative.

First, I believe that the Occupy Movement is right to identify massive injustices in our economic system. I understand why the protesters feel disaffected. Three years of faithful payments have gone since I finished grad school, and the amount I owe on my student loans is still greater than my yearly salary. But I know that my case is hardly the worst of it. Many families are faring far worse. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development offers an excellent resource on the difficult decisions that families at the poverty line face each day. For many families, economic hardship predates the current recession — it’s just a fact of life.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops and the Vatican have not been silent. In their 1986 letter Economic Justice for All, the U.S. Bishops demanded a moral voice that guides for our economic system, one that will safeguard the well being of the poor and uphold the value of human life and dignity. The Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace echoed that sentiment in their October 24th, 2011 statement: “The economic and financial crisis which the world is going through calls everyone, individuals and peoples, to examine in depth the principles and the cultural and moral values at the basis of social coexistence.” The Council maintains that the current economic crisis comes from a failure of moral vision and a failure to place human life at the center or our economic system.

And Catholic Church leaders remind us repeatedly that the increasing wage gap amounts to a structural sin. The chasm that separates the rich from the poor isn’t unfair; it’s sinful. A sinful structure is like a web, a system that keeps us from doing good, that violates the common good systematically, that stifles authentic human development, and is contrary to the will of God.

My friend once made a t-shirt with stick-on letters that read, “You can’t serve God and corporate interest.” That shirt didn’t pull any punches, and it speaks to structural sin. Corporations are legally bound to seek the best interest of their shareholders. Even if they are well-intentioned, the board and management are obliged to steer the company in a direction that will maximize profit, even if the choices they make oppress the poor and violate the common good. This is a structural sin: despite best intentions, we have made it impossible to do good.  This sin must be repented of and atoned for. In drawing attention to it, the Occupy Movement is a prophetic voice.

From the USCCB:

WASHINGTON—Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), urged bishops and other Catholic clergy nationwide to bring the issue of poverty into their homilies.

He also underscored the need for educational and advocacy efforts on behalf of the poor and jobless.

Archbishop Dolan made the appeal in a September 15 letter to the nation’s bishops at the urging of the USCCB Administrative Committee. The Committee oversees USCCB work between plenary sessions and met in Washington, September 13-14.

“Widespread unemployment, underemployment and pervasive poverty are diminishing human lives, undermining human dignity, and hurting children and families,” he wrote. “I hope we can use our opportunities as pastors, teachers, and leaders to focus public attention and priority on the scandal of so much poverty and so many without work in our society.” The entire letter can be found at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/economic-justice-economy/letter-to-bishops-on-economic-situation.cfm

Archbishop Dolan added, “Sixteen million of our children (almost one out of four) are growing up poor.”

“It is especially disheartening that African-Americans and Hispanics live with unemployment and poverty at far higher rates than others. Immigrant workers are especially vulnerable to exploitation and unfair treatment. These realities contradict our national pledge of ‘liberty and justice for all,’” he said. “They also contradict the consistent teaching of our Church. Our Catholic tradition begins with respect for life and the dignity of all, requires a priority concern for poor and vulnerable people, reflects the ties and bonds of solidarity, respects the mutual relationships of subsidiarity, and promotes the dignity of work and protection for workers.”

Holy Mess: Faith and Spirituality at Occupy Boston from Grace Egbert on Vimeo.

In Oregon’s Catholic Sentinel:

Occupy Wall Street and its sister occupying groups like Occupy Portland have been portrayed as disorganized and unfocused but a closer look reveals a highly organized and evolving structure that operates outside the familiar world of old-time organizers and their critics. Absent is single issue organizing with clear goals that are both winnable and easily defined by leaders who are visible and ready to speak for the cause. But that does not mean that the Occupy movement is without merit. Occupy is a different kind of organizing for a new generation of socially aware people and they have something to share. Their “mic check” system of delivering messages allows for greater participation and demands succinctness. Their committees with open membership and facilitators who refuse to speak for everyone until everyone has agreed on what is to be said are a model of participatory democracy for people who have lost faith in the ability of elected leaders to represent them. The variety of issues reflects whole-system thinking — for certainly the issues are related.

Young people have mobilized through Occupying in a way that has not been seen for some time. Increasingly the next generation is realizing how few opportunities they have for employment and the middle class lives of their parents. Young families who bought homes at the height of the market a few years ago are now experiencing foreclosure or underwater mortgages. Children, along with public employees, are challenged with furlough days that mean fewer hours of instruction and less pay. There is a sense of betrayal by the system and a growing desire for change that the Occupy protestors have brought into focus.

It is no wonder that the Occupy encampments attracted the street poor who have long been denied public places to sleep. And it is no surprise that the Occupiers were unable to address the issues the street population brought with them. The social service system is overwhelmed as well. Rather than dismissing the Occupy campers, their experience should have revealed again the great need in our state. Catholic social teachings would seem to support the work that this new way of protest has highlighted.

The preface of a report from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, “Towards Reforming The International Financial And Monetary Systems In The Context Of Global Public Authority” states: “The economic and financial crisis which the world is going through calls everyone, individuals and peoples, to examine in depth the principles and the cultural and moral values at the basis of social coexistence. What is more, the crisis engages private actors and competent public authorities on the national, regional and international level in serious reflection on both causes and solutions of a political, economic and technical nature.”

In this perspective, as Benedict teaches, the crisis “obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future. In this spirit, with confidence rather than resignation, it is appropriate to address the difficulties of the present time.”

Something new is happening. Perhaps the churches should lend support.

A report from Catholic San Francisco:

Wearing the garments of their respective faiths, a rabbi, two Protestant ministers and a Franciscan friar set aside theological differences on a December afternoon to lead a march – sponsored by a broad coalition of community and labor groups – down Market Street in San Francisco to the Occupy San Francisco encampment at Justin Herman Plaza.

They were united in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s main rallying cry against inequality, recession, high unemployment and unaffordable health care.

These conditions and the economic system behind them, they say, are in opposition to the Gospel and Catholic social teaching.

“If you look at the life and teachings of Jesus and how the early Christian community was laid out,” said Franciscan Father Louis Vitale, “you see that they lived so that nobody was in need and nobody had an abundance. It was all done in community.”

Joined by Rabbi Jane Litman, Rev. Carol Been and Rev. Israel Alvaran, Father Vitale marched along Market Street holding a banner that read, “People of faith for a moral economy.” They followed four marchers bearing a litter carrying the statue of a golden calf. A sign attached to the litter read, “Stop worshipping money.”

Kathryn Anderson of Centro Altagracia de Fe y Justicia at Rock & Theology (see also part 2):

Recently, I joined my coworkers from a Jesuit community organization in Northern Manhattan in a march called “End to End for the 99%,” a day-long campaign to rally support along the length of the island for the Occupiers at Zuccotti Park. We joined the march at 181st Street and carried our banner down Broadway, stopping in Harlem at 125th Street; passing through the throngs at Times Square at 42nd Street, and finally arriving at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan just as the sun set. For much of the march, I felt proud to be calling attention to economic injustice. As I cheered for democracy and for the 99%, I felt part of the movement. But as the afternoon wore on, I stopped hearing the breadth and expansion of “We – are – the 99 percent!” and I started hearing the line between 99 and one, a shift that left me deeply troubled. As I walked, I wondered how a theology of Occupy Wall Street could clarify our purpose and ideology, while inviting Catholics and other people of faith to engage with the movement with confidence and conviction. This post offers the beginnings of a theology for the Occupy Movement. It aims to identify the theology expressed by the movement as it stands and proposes a more consistent, authentic theology that Catholics can use as a resource to open conversation and to guide their decision-making.

Of course, it’s impossible to speak of everyone in the Occupy movements as if they all think alike. They have a variety of motivations and convictions.  Still, there are plenty of ideas that can be identified with the movement in general. The movement proclaims the dignity of the poor, the unemployed, and the voiceless. The movement also proclaims the value of human persons and human lives over corporations. Two signs that I saw at the march or at Zuccotti Park expressed that conviction: one said, “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.” The second sign, more pithy, read, “Love People Not $.” At Zuccotti Park, the Occupiers were working in teams to manage food preparation, sanitation, public relations, and other tasks. They recognize that each member of the movement has something to contribute. Both the statements the Occupiers make and the way the camps are organized express a theological anthropology that is primarily positive (in other words, a theological system that claims the fundamental goodness of human persons).

What’s inconsistent about this theological anthropology is what’s implicit in the chants and signs: it’s the 99% who are fundamentally good. Bankers and financial workers are vilified. A friend said to me, in jest, “Jesus loves the 99%;” the “Occupy, Catholics!” blog has a tag line that reads, “We are the 99%, made in God’s image.” Those statements are meant to counter the prominent mindset, whether it’s expressed in advertisements or our tax code, that money confers worth. They’re not meant to imply that God doesn’t love the 1%, but not all of the Occupiers understand that nuance, I’m afraid.

Furthermore, there have been a handful of signs calling for class warfare. I felt a militant tone that at times settled over the march along Manhattan; one of my fellow marchers had signs calling for the overthrow of our government and claiming that the war had begun. These signs and chants betray a theological anthropology that is not fully positive.

However, the Occupy Movement is committed to subsidiarity and participation. An initial criticism of the movement was its failure to produce any particular demands; its supporters countered that the point was democratic process and participation; in other words, dialogue was the demand. Because of their vast holdings, large banks wield tremendous power to shape not just conversation but our economic landscape. Simply by being present in Lower Manhattan and, later, other communities worldwide, the Occupy Movement serves as a forum to open dialogue and democracy in a setting that leaves too many voices out. The Occupy Movement is embracing participation and subsidiarity by opening this forum, and its strength is in inviting others to the conversation.

“A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Revelation 12:1

Loving Mother of the Americas, may our eyes rest upon your image and be opened to your love and compassion, and may we be strengthened and encouraged to live out that love and compassion in our daily lives.

We humbly request your intercession as we pray for today’s peaceful protests against the poverty, pollution, greed, and exploitation being caused by the current conditions of the U.S. port industry.

Blessed Mother and Teacher, we pray that the dignity and rights of workers shall be respected and upheld, and that all workers be granted just wages and safe, clean working conditions.

Surround us with your Most Holy Maternal Love and Peace, that we may stand in solidarity with all workers and with all people suffering from exploitation, and that all people taking part in the Occupy the Ports actions remain safe and under your protection and the protection of your son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.