Why I'm Joining the Occupation
I never would have chosen the name "Occupy" to brand a movement. "The 99 Percent Movement" works a lot better for me. But I'm glad I didn't get to choose, because I notice the term "occupy" is kind of growing on me.
What I don't like about it: it sounds aggressive, like the (to me) ugly and unacceptable language of "taking back the country." For a movement to avoid violent actions, it needs to avoid violent rhetoric as well, as Jesus made clear in the Sermon on the Mount. And deeper than rhetoric, it needs to be careful with the narratives it taps into. A case in point: "taking back" (to me) walks the line of a revenge narrative, implying that the country used to be "ours" and "they" took it away. That scenario is problematic for a number of reasons, so I'd rather steer clear of that kind of thinking—and language—entirely.
A term like "occupy," then, must not be employed unadvisedly or lightly. Its strength must be tempered and its potential downsides managed. And so far, that seems to be happening (here in the U.S., at least).
I was thinking about all this last Saturday while I was participating in the local occupation. About 300 of us walked down the sidewalk on both sides of our little town's main street (we wouldn't all fit on one side). Occasionally some chanting broke out, but for most of the time, we marched in silence; I would use words like reverent and pregnant to describe it. (One observer described it as "charged with secret extremity and transcendence.")
As we walked along, I kept thinking about Jesus' use of the term "kingdom of God." I've been fascinated by the term for a while now, devoting a whole book to it in 2006 (and then revisiting it in a 2008 release). Like "occupy," kingdom of God was a dangerous term for a nonviolent movement. It borrowed the language of the Roman empire whose pax was maintained by slavery, militarism, public torture, and frequent executions (i.e., crucifixion). It was overtly provocative—bursting out of the private sphere of spirituality into the public world of kings, lords, and laws. It threw down a gauntlet before the powers that be, challenging their legitimacy with a higher authority.
If I had been around, I would have counseled Jesus' against using the term.
Once again, I'm glad I wasn't consulted. It's rather obvious now that Jesus knew what he was doing. "The occupation of God has begun" might inspire the same fear and hope among people today as "the Kingdom of God is at hand" inspired in the first century.
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders. Among McLaren's more prominent writings are A New Kind of Christian (2001), A Generous Orthodoxy (2006), Everything Must Change (2009), and A New Kind of Christianity (2010). His lastest book, Naked Spirituality, offers "simple, doable, and durable" practices to help people deepen their life with God.