Friday, March 30, 2012

British Quakers Support Occupy - Can We Go Further?

I learned recently that Quakers in Great Britain issued a statement expressing their support for the ideals of the Occupy movement. My first reaction was, "well, it's about time!" On further investigation, however, I realized that Britain Yearly Meeting issued their statement back in November. A pretty rapid response from a national religious denomination!

I am grateful for the willingness of Friends in Britain to embrace the message of economic justice that has been trumpeted by occupiers across the globe. This should be a no-brainer for us as Friends. Quakers have a long track record of at least paying lip service to the need for a more equitable economic system, and making a statement of support for the ideals of Occupy is a fairly small ideological leap.

The greater challenge is actually doing something about it. We Quakers talk a good game about peace, equality and economic justice, but we often lead lives that are fairly typical of the middle class of our respective nations. Many of us are well-informed, responsible citizens within the safe confines of bourgeois respectability; fewer of us have found ways to live into the more radical modes of engagement that our spiritual forebears have modeled for us.

I applaud Friends in Britian for publically minuting their support for the ideals of the Occupy movement. That is more than most Friends bodies have done. Yet, it is easy to write minutes and issue statements. Words come easily, but concrete commitments are more challenging.

What are ways that we as the Religious Society of Friends can move beyond words, committing ourselves to the radical social justice message of Jesus? How can we move beyond the mere affirmation of ideals and get our hands dirty in the messy business of the gospel? Expressing our ideals is important, but putting our faith into action requires much greater bravery. As we open ourselves to the Spirit that inspires all courage, we will receive strength to change our lives, putting flesh and bone on this vision of justice that we have talked about for so long.

11 comments:

  1. Scott King Chattahoochee Friends MMFriday, March 30, 2012 at 7:34:00 PM EDT

    You have to ask yourself if Britain YM has a publicly confessed record and statement that they seek how the Holy Spirit directs us in knowing Jesus the Christ's perfect desire for us or not...you have to weigh that maybe other YM's discernment is keener perhaps? Just the possibility...unless you think that BYM hears more clearly from God than other YMs? Lauding BYM for willingly participating in or endorsing any movement raises questions on many layers for some of us...if they are so discerning and standing squarely in the Light of Christ, then how could they be so wrong about fundamentals of our faith???

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    1. Mark Loclwood (Chichester Quakers)Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 1:27:00 PM EDT

      This rather random comment on BYM's level of discernment rather reflects a lack of your own discernment.

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  2. Thanks for this very positive article. There is an epsitle from Quaker in Occupy - an unofficial group at http://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=154702121317803&id=211509828866178

    In Friendship
    Nik

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  3. Words like "words come easily" come easily... but other words don't. These other words may not be an adequate embodiment of the difficult agreement that went into them.

    but they are a necessary embodiment. Agreement has to be breathed into words so "concrete commitments" can have a form to be poured into.

    The "radical social justice message of Jesus" was the product of the radical spiritual grounding of Jesus. Any attempt to build that message without its foundation is an exercise in sand castle architecture.

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  4. I don't believe I have actually seen a statement of the "Occupy" movement's ideals. Economic justice is like peace in that it's putting the cart before the horse. Since Jesus is often cited as a revolutionary for social justice I would just like to point out that at Mat_16:26 He is quoted as saying "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" When people look out for their soul they can become more loving citizens of this planet and will do naturally what the "occupy" movement would seem to want government to legislate. This is what the early Quaker businessmen in England did. They realized their responsibility to those with less and acted in a way they thought God would have them act. Our businessmen today are motivated by greed more than love but will these "occupiers" be any better? Are they looking for social justice or just an opportunity to gain entry to the 1% club? I'm waiting and watching. When there is a specific goal I will consider supporting it but I am not going to support an undefined agenda under the guise of social justice. Jesus calls us to be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents.

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    1. I believe the "specific goal" might be best be put as: "All you who are running this economic system, and through it our government, at our expense-- have broken it. Now fix it."

      If you tried to make the basic message more specific than that, you'd risk losing sight of the underlying premises, their connecting rationale, and the basic justice of what they're calling for.

      The following may help clarify the situation this movement is a response to:
      http://michael-hudson.com/2012/03/functional-finance/

      Agreed, the basic problem will not resolve without a widespread spiritual awakening.

      But there have been times-- certainly within our lifetimes-- when the goods God provides for everyone's benefit were not so cruelly misappropriated from everyone who needs them (and certainly not so much stolen from the people working to produce them) to maintain such a useless gang of swindlers in excess. Whatever gets legislated, can be legislated away when people have forgotten its purpose-- as many 20th Century advances were. But this doesn't mean we shouldn't seek to legislate whatever mitigation is possible.

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    2. I guess my problem is I believe that the solution to our present epidemic of greed is to live a more simple and frugal life style. I am going to check out Shane Claireborn's site and see what he thinks of the occupy movement as I personally haven't investigated them as much as I would before endorsing them.

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  5. I tried to write a comment the other day but maybe I didn't manage to confirm to publish it, and lost it, as I forgot to save the text into my own comments file. I'll try to write something again, and apologies that it might be rather long. This stuff is so clear to me, but I don't know if I will get the right words to reach others. I have a vision of what the gospel looks like in this age, which I am working towards the best I can, but I don't know if others will see it the same way. Maybe it's too obvious, or too crazy, but I have to try to write what I can see.

    Material help, as well as a listening ear and prayers for our friends and neighbours. I understand our physical and spiritual needs as indivisible: Jesus feeds and heals as well as teaches. Plant gardens, cook the food, build a hen house, keep a goat, learn to sew and mend, or spin and knit or weave or do carpentry, learn to make shoes even. Meet people's real needs in a new way, reach right across the barriers of race and class. Create a community through sharing skills that meet desperate people's material needs, go out on to the street and ask "What does God want us to eat and to wear?" alongside your hungry and ragged neighbours, and follow the answers that you are shown, step by step. Let us be known as the early christians were known, for providing substantial material care to those in need, those who were abandoned and sick. We need a foundation from which to provide: God is showing us how to dig in, and learn to live within the earth's ecological limits, so we have food and clothes to share as well as care and prayers and discernment and thanksgiving for each other.

    The way I am seeing it, being a listening christian starts to look different pretty fast. Our clothes might be few and have patches, because we are moving towards real value and a global fair share, but maybe we're getting to the point where we understand enough to throw wide the doors and invite everyone we meet inside a food system that can support human beings even now we're past the age of cheap oil. Each step leads us out of the belly of the industrial machine, so vast in this age that we need God's leadings to even find the edge. Our food might not be as tasty as some processed thing designed by committee to taste the best and satisfy the least, and with an advertizing budget of millions, but instead it builds healthy bodies and healthy soil and sound relationships and leads us that next step into the right relationship with God's body, getting off the backs of those pressed down by the industrial system: it's a new kind of economy.

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    1. The problem's too complex for us to solve with our own minds, but sinking down into the Holy Spirit's well of deep peace and compassion, I believe we are each being led into the action that is required uniquely of us. There are a thousand skills to learn, to take back the earth from the system of industrialism and global exploitation and oil, and God will tell us each which ones to study. I have a sense that the harvest is standing in the fields, and all that's wanted are the labourers to bring it in - so few of us who yet have joined in the labour. God's peace and justice can show us how to live differently in every material aspect, it's a real escape from the machine that is squeezing the life out of so many.

      The more of us begin to live differently, to build up our strength and skills in this new way of living, the more we are all set free from the bad system: two or three can grow some food and share some skills, and twenty can do more, and three hundred can probably learn all the skills to run a village economy beyond oil. How can we oppose war over oil resources when we have not begun to find the ways to live without oil, in every way from our food to our buckets, our clothes, our transport? Being willing to be shown how to set an example means meeting our real basic needs in a new way, and that way has to be learned and worked at, against the grain of consumer society that tell us that work is bad and getting dirty is a sign that we have failed in the system of competitive exploitation.

      Britain Yearly Meeting found a commitment last year to live as a low carbon community, to reduce our dependency on oil, even though we are not totally sure what it will look like. We might start on this road with protest or by convincement, but that to me is a gateway into a new kind of living. God is making a new thing, and I am learning as fast as I can, just starting on this road, and I want to encourage others to see the road as well, to learn alongside and share skills. Children who are properly fed, who have adequate clothing and shoes, good water to drink, and who are learning skills for a constructive adult part in a working human ecology - that's what I think the gospel looks like.

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  6. As Forrest suggested I have actually made my comments into a blog post over at QuakerQuaker . But I wouldn't have found the words if it wasn't for the context and the questions you are asking here Micah, hope you like.

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