Everyone’s talking about the Occupy movement, even in theological circles. Some of us are asking ourselves whether this has theological undertones, and what they might be. Some are asking where Jesus might stand on the various Occupy issues today. Others are comparing and contrasting the Occupy movement with the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1950s and 1960s.
The civil rights movement’s most well known and admired leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, was a Baptist minister. His most moving speeches were like sermons. He spoke of a dream, of going to the mountain. High hopes of a promised land. So far, we haven’t seen anyone like that emerging, in the Occupy movement.
We thought we’d go see for the heart of the movement, Occupy Wall Street, (and then a quick train ride to Occupy Boston since we weren’t that far away). We were looking for any theological undercurrents… and we found one in New York: a shrine.
This shrine, pictured above, spoke to the underlying hope that perhaps prayer can be of some help. Perhaps we need something greater than ourselves to help guide us in more fruitful directions. The shrine was a hodgepodge, including votive candles, Buddhas and a Quan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion.
The participants in the Occupy movement I met included many passionate Americans from all age groups and demographics. There were also a few homeless who found the environment safer and warmer than their lot elsewhere. Some see them as hangers-on, but since this downturn created more homelessness, and since America doesn’t have much political will to help the homeless, perhaps it’s fitting they’re there.
I met folks with many agendas, ranging from joblessness, rising inequality, and a perception of unfairness and bias and even corruption of systems that they seemed to hold dear. There was also a frustration with leaders for failing to work together to solve the country’s problems, even though polls indicate that the majority of Americans want them to do so. Even with their frustrations and complaints, they’re still invested in change. They haven’t given up; they feel that this Occupy movement will result in… something. Yet so far I was unable to discern a strong, positive agenda describing what that “something” would be. My traveling companion Cristina Parvu wrote an insightful blog on that very subject recently, noting that they also are missing the musicians that brought home the message so well in the 1960s.
Americans have always been a hopeful, optimistic people. The hope for lasting, positive change was an undercurrent of the 1960s, and at least during the days I visited Boston and New York I felt the same sort of hope. The weekend of my Boston visit coincided with an historic Nor’easter, the biggest October storm in living memory, and yet those occupiers remained determined. It remains to be seen whether the participants in “Occupy” will have an impact, or what that impact will be. We are heartened that prayer is a part of the process.