Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Pastoral Response to the Occupy Movement

Tomorrow evening, my friends and I will go to Occupy Boston in Dewey Square. Our goal is to serve hot cocoa, and offer free dream interpretation* to the people who have been camping there for weeks. We have checked with them, and found that our visit will be welcomed, and should not be a problem with law enforcement - though Dennis is not worried about potential arrest - he likes adventure.

As far as OccupyWS goes: today is a day of action in New York. There is a live feed of arrests going on, and at this moment (10:00am) there are more than 20,000 people viewing the live feed of what is happening in New York. Today was a call for non-violent action and a show of solidarity after the recent eviction from Liberty Park a few days ago.

This movement doesn't seem to be going away, and driving them out of the parks across the nation hasn't seemed to end its momentum. There is a need for pastoral response, because this is worldwide now, and is on our doorsteps. My little city of Salem, MA (pop. 40,000) has a tiny but existing Occupy Salem group. Your city might well have one too.

Occupy Wall Street started as a call to bring economic justice to a corrupt system. The bankers have acted corruptly with the blind help of the government, and then get bailed out of financial trouble. Their debts are erased. They get bonuses. The small guy on Main Street keeps his debt. They are too big to fail. We are too small to be concerned about. Or so, the thinking goes with many of the people who are part of the protest happening with Occupy Wall Street.

On the flip side violence has been occurring - on both sides. Police brutality is being regularly broadcast on YouTube, and Occupy protesters have similarly been acting out. Of course, the problem is that all the police get accused of the wrong from a few bad actions, and all of the protesters are accused of being in the wrong because of a few trouble makers, who may not even be with them in many cases. This is a mess, but then righting the wrongs of a corrupt system almost always requires messy action.

So, what do we as Christians do? These are my thoughts:

1) support justice - if it is on the part of the police I support justice. If it is on the part of the protesters I support justice. The problem now is that it is often on the side of both simultaneously, and thus we fall into a conundrum. Who do we support?

2) support the oppressed - God does, and so should we. The protesters are responding to the fact that the person on Main Street has been losing their shirts to the people on Wall Street. Could it be that public opinion and democracy (rule of the people - even though we are a modified democracy run through a federalist system) is calling the federal system into accountability? Could it be that we have been stolen from? Are our taxes going to things we don't approve of, thereby creating the same struggle which started our nation - taxation without representation? This is how people are beginning to feel. Whether we agree or not, we should stand with them in their concern, or find a way to minister with them in their fears.

3) support the right to speak up and take action - as long as violence is not the goal, our support should be behind honest public expression, in both public assembly and protest against injustice.

4) support truth - which means you will have to dig a little and have on open mind, because in a war of words everyone is saying they hold the truth, and the people you disagree with may have valid points you should hear.

5) This may not mean I have to set up my tent in Boston, Portland, New York or MyCity USA; but it does mean that we should seek to understand - even if we disagree. Our battles are not with this world. Sometimes the battle does go to the streets, like it did for the civil rights movement. Sometimes it does not. Where you stand in this movement attempting to create a non-violent worldwide protest is your decision. Coming to an unbiased desire to understand what is now becoming a worldwide movement is our necessary destiny as followers of the Prince of Peace.

Those are my thoughts. Probably will get me some flack, but then again we are not here to run away and hide, but to be salt and light. Sometimes both hurt a little - like salt to a cut on the lip, and bright light to eyes just waking up.

* As far as the dream interpretation: This is something we do in Salem, MA through the year, but especially for the tourists who come to Salem by the hundreds of thousands each October. We figure if was an ability and gift used by Daniel and Joseph that God is still capable of using His people to do it today.

Friday, November 11, 2011

11-11-11, and my thoughts on the date

Yesterday was my birthday. Today is a date people are excited about because the numbers all line up like planets from the edge of our solar system towards the sun, or ducks in a row in a carnival shooting game.

Many people are excited because they see it a a sign of a new beginning.

Here is what the numbers mean to me:

11-11-11 is the day after my birthday, so today just might be a new beginning. It is a new year for me, and the beginning of the "rest of my life" as my good friend Hope called it. Last night, Chris, who is one of the more prescient people I know (I made up a new word and called him a "premonator") said that he felt that this was going to be a year of...

Pause to mention: (and as I now glance at the clock on my computer it says 3:33)

...very good and new things. Melissa spoke a blessing to me, and said, "May this year be a year of surprising new adventures for you." Darn, she knows how to speak to my heart! She nailed my greatest hopes for the life of faith.

Now all those things speak of new and wonderful beginnings, just like the numbers do. So, I certainly hope that it all comes to pass. Especially as this new year following my birth-day initiates itself with these magical looking numbers - that would make a great story to write about next year.

Yet, being the skeptical follower of Jesus that I am, I do not give much credence to numerology. As Laura, one of my Witch friends said about the dating of the return of Christ, "That sounds like some of the goofy stuff we do." Even she acknowledged the superstitious nature of making numbers into some holy edict or premonition. That's a silly form of magic, like the daily horoscope in the newspaper.

On the other hand, it is possible that God can use numbers to capture our attention, but if we are looking for it like lonely souls running to a dating website (sorry, if that sounds too personal for some of you, I really am not meaning to meddle in your affairs, just making an illustration from life) then likely we will see things which God is not saying, and turn the numbers into superstitious magic.

So, for me this is what the 11-11-11 means today: It is the day after my birthday, and in that sense a new year for me. It is also November eleventh. Well, and that's about the depth I gather from it, but who knows maybe God is speaking something to me, but I am not going to hang all my hopes on 11-11-11.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Guest Post by John Morehead: Who are the Cultural Creatives, and why should Evangelicals Care?

In 2007 I was nearing the end of my seminary training in intercultural studies and I needed to complete my thesis. I had been working in new religions for many years, and studying in Utah it would have been natural for me to focus on something related to Mormonism. But I had, and have, diverse interests, and I wanted to do something different for my MA thesis, something related to my interests in religion and popular culture. Burning Man Festival, a festival and alternative cultural event held in Nevada each year, had been on my radar for some time, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for research and writing. It also gave me an opportunity to attend the event so as to have the experiences necessary to compliment my other research.

Readers might assume that many Evangelical stereotypes about Burning Man were confirmed in my participation in the festival. As one Evangelical website described the event:

The Burning Man is a no-holds-barred New Age “Woodstock” style festival, where neo-pagans, wiccans, transvestite entertainers, and back-slidden Christians go to trance, perform rituals, burn sacrifices to pagan gods and goddesses, dance in the nude, engage in sex, and otherwise “express” themselves and become one with Gaia.

My experience at Burning Man, and subsequent research revealed that this characterization is inaccurate and unfair. Indeed, something culturally and spiritually significant is taking place at Burning Man, and many other Transformational Festivals in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. And they involve a group of people that the church in the West needs to be aware of, engage, and even learn from: the Cultural Creatives.

Many of the participants at Burning Man come from a significant subculture known as the Cultural Creatives. This label is taken from the book of the same title by Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson (Three Rivers Press, 2001). Ray and Anderson argue that the Cultural Creatives represented “less than 5 percent of the population” in the 1960s, but that since that time they have grown steadily to “26 percent of the adults of the United States,” representing some 50 million people who “have made a comprehensive shift in their worldview, values, and way of life – their culture, in short.” These Cultural Creatives are expressed in two different segments, with the smaller Green group being “more secular and extroverted,” and the Core segment representing “the creative leading edge of the subculture” that includes “[a] huge proportion of published writers, artists, musicians, psychotherapists, environmentalists, feminists, alternative health care providers, and other professionals.” This second segment is more active than the first, and is “concerned about both social justice and the development of an inner life” with an emphasis on “self-actualization, and spirituality.”

The paragraphs above help us understand who the Cultural Creatives are, but for Evangelicals a more pressing question is one of relevancy: why should we care?

First, the Cultural Creatives represent a significant aspect of American and Western life. For those Evangelicals who recognize the need to be culturally aware, as well as relevant, the Cultural Creatives must be understood as an import part of contemporary culture.

Second, the presence of the Cultural Creatives has much to tell us about the nature of the spiritual quest in the Western world in the twenty-first century. In late modernity or postmodernity, there has been a shift in religious meaning-making outside of traditional religious institutions and new structures are being created. Evangelicals who believe the gospel has something meaningful to say within such new spiritual outlets will need to engage the Cultural Creatives.

Third, and perhaps most difficult for Evangelicals to hear, the Cultural Creatives have something to say back to the church in critique that can be constructive for those with ears to hear. If Burning Man Festival can be understood in part as the festive immolation of modernity and Christendom culture, then perhaps it might provide motivation for Evangelical churches to be critically self-reflective. As a result, we might experiment with new forms of community life, artistic expression that speak with renewed credibility, relevancy, and prophetic vision for those seeking new understandings of self, explorations of spirituality, and alternative community.

John W. Morehead is the Director of the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies. He blogs at Morehead’s Musings, and is the author of Burning Man Festival: A Life-Enhancing, Post-Christendom “Middle Way” (Lambert Academic Publishing, 2011).