Luke 19:10 offers an interesting perspective on the word “occupy” because this is where Jesus tells the parable of the talents. A master hands over some money to various servants and tells them to “occupy” (King James) until he returns. Then, of course, some do that well, and bring the master a return on his investment, and others, not so much.
“Occupy“: to fill or take up space. The word can mean many things I suppose, and there’s a sense to which the occupy movement is giving us a literal fulfillment of that definition as it appears that nearly every city in the nation presently has an occupy movement, the practical effects of which are to fill some public (or private) space, with people protesting the state of things, especially in increasing disparity of wealth. Things have gotten nasty recently, at least here in Seattle, and there are signs that the movement is running into a brick wall.
That might be a shame at one level, because there are so many fundamental flaws that remain in our country. Last week’s cover story of Time magazine shared the realities that we live in an increasingly inequitable country. Whereas in the 1970’s corporate executives earned about 40 times as much as the lowest paid worker, in the present that ratio has increased to 400 and is still climbing. Money is flowing out of the middle and into the wealthy few, the 1% as the occupiers like to say. In believing that this is a profound problem, I stand in solidarity with them. In believing that sitting in a public park and holding a sign is the best use of theirs, or anyone’s time – well, I’m not so certain.
While the occupy movement has been unfolding over the past weeks, I’m thinking about people I’ve encountered in my pastoral work who are occupied in very different ways:
1. I did a film shoot yesterday for an upcoming sermon series entitled “Every Square Inch” about a Christian’s calling to be a blessing to our world by living into our vocation, and living right in the thick of our culture. I visited a teacher who is part of our congregation and she’s filling her days, her life, with 6 year-old children. She’s busy teaching them to be civil, curious, hard working, bold, relational. She’s doing it with such grace and skill that I, watching from the back of the classroom was in awe – not only of her skill, but of the realization that what she’s doing is being replicated hundreds of thousands of times every day by people who are investing in the future by teaching children well. She’s already occupied.
2. Several people in my congregation are battling illness. Their battles with cancer have, of course, turned their world upside down, changing the price tags on everything. Two of things whose value elevates in such times are one’s faith and one’s friends. Thankfully, these folks are rich on both counts. They have friends who are praying, bringing meals, sitting with them through treatments, and just sitting with them period. They’re occupied.
3. An artist friend of mine will release her book on drawing this weekend. It’s an important work that shows why we, as a culture, desperately need to learn how to stop and pay closer to attention to the real world because we’re so bombarded and overloaded with images that we’ve basically stopped paying attention. This numbness, though, can be arrested, she says, if we’ll slow down and pay attention. She’s throwing a party for her book, and I’m looking forward to celebrating. She’s occupied.
I could go on – people applying for work, fighting fires, performing surgery, overcoming addictions by working on their stuff, sitting with sick children in the emergency room, stopping to converse with a homeless person, volunteering in shelters, making music, building houses, starting businesses. Four scientists will be answering questions tomorrow night about science and faith because I’m doing a sermon series on that subject in my church. This is time out of their already very full lives. They’re all occupied too.
All I’m saying, and it’s so obvious as to nearly not need saying at all, is that nobody is “the other 99%”. Those 99ers are, millions of them (in fact the majority of them), living very full lives – blessing the world through their vocations and living within their means, serving the poor and marginalized, and giving generously from their middle class incomes. They’ve no time to carry a sign.
Others of the 99ers desperately need a meaningful life, but the government’s not going to fill the void in their soul, and until that’s fixed, nothing much else will matter. The news flash, again so obvious that hardly bears repeating, is that this anger over inequity is a song that’s been replayed endlessly throughout history. When the music dies down though, sometimes after bloodbaths and revolutions, what Jesus said is still true.
Do we need to fix our desperately broken political system? Of course. And we also need a way out of our present angst and mess that isn’t tied to simply more shopping as the panacea, a subject about which I’ll write next week.
But know this – it’s the stuff that isn’t on the news that give me hope. People living into their calling, working on the marriages, blessing their children and aging parents, being faithful friends when they’re needed. And this, at least in my little corner of the world, is happening everywhere I look, every time I open my eyes.
People are occupying, even without raising a protest sign, because their hands, and lives, are already full. May their tribe increase.