It was just yesterday that I started this blog. My intention was to write occasionally about random things–an image that caught my eye or a phrase that captured my imagination or maybe an incident from the day that inspired me. You know . . . everyday things that might be thought-provoking.
But today was no ordinary day.
At 10:30 this morning, across the country, clergy of different faiths gathered with protesters in the Occupy movement. In many cities they marched alongside the protesters, often in clerical garb, to be a visible show of support from spiritual leaders.
That’s not what it looked like in New Haven this morning. There was no marching, no chanting, no drumming. Instead there was conversation. We met some of the 75 occupants of the New Haven Green, and we prayed with them. We listened to their stories. They gave us a tour of their encampment of tents, pavilions, and tarps–the comfort station, the food center, the neighborhood (complete with “streets”), the arts and crafts area, and the library and study hall. They told us how they have organized themselves into working teams. They told of those who have harassed them and those who have thanked them. They told us of their needs (“Blankets, blankets, blankets!”) and how they were forced to make two people leave because they were using drugs on the premises (“We just can’t have that here, dude!”).
They are a diverse group. There was the young Caucasian man in the North Face jacket with a nice haircut and that carefully groomed unshaven look. Beside him was a man whose unshaven appearance was a bit less tended. There was Joe, an African American man who appeared to be about sixty years old, who said he has lived on the New Haven streets for five years. Jennifer, who is transgendered, spoke with a great deal of passion about the absence of detox and rehab centers. Amanda, nicknamed “Hugs,” told of how afraid she was the first night she came because she only knew one other person in the movement. “But everyone was so warm and friendly, and I felt so safe. Not one of these people would hurt me or steal from me. We’re family.” Some of them have jobs; some of them are homeless; some of them are clearly educated; some of them are street smart. All of them are passionate.
They also are generous. New Haven has a large homeless population, and some of them live on or around the Green. So of course they come to the Occupy tents for help. If the occupiers have food or blankets to share, they share them–in exchange for just a little bit of work. “You want a hot meal? We’ll feed you. But first we need your help moving this tent.”
Before we left, Johnny, our tour guide, thanked us for coming. “I’m not a religious person,” he admitted, “but that prayer touched me. Can I have a copy of that? I may need to be reminded.”
Do I agree with everything about the Occupy Movement? No, I do not. I often don’t agree with the way large groups of people behave in public. But my presence on the New Haven Green this morning was not about supporting a particular movement. For me, it was about supporting individual people who are willing to take risks–uncomfortable, inconvenient risks–for something they believe in. After all, we as Christians are called to do the same.
But my presence on the Green this morning was also a way for me to acknowledge and confess that greed is sin. Throughout our Scriptures, this message is clear. I find it disturbing that so many Christians are focused on sex–about which Jesus said very little–and completely ignore greed, about which Jesus had a helluva lot to say.
Not everyone in our church would agree with what I did today. We, too, are a diverse group, with strong and different opinions on a wide range of topics. But I think everyone would agree that as Christians we are called to put feet to our faith; we are called to take stands; we are called to stand up for the disenfranchised. After all, Jesus said, “What you have done unto the least of these my children, you have done unto me.”
So my post today was not what I intended to write for my second post on my new blog. But I am trying to trust. I am trying to trust God’s leading, and I am trying to trust the people in my church to know that if I err, I will err on the side of justice.
Today I met Jesus on the New Haven Green. Tomorrow I will take blankets.