We Are the 100%

(A sermon. Not a story. Sorry, but it has to be done. A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?  -Amos 3:8)

I have intended to visit the Occupy Wall Street encampment since it was established, but have not had a free day to do so. I did visit the Occupy Philly encampment with my son-in-law, way back at the beginning, but now the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park has been dismantled by the police, and I never got there.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know how deeply I value love of neighbor, and its outward expression as community. Knowing that, how much distress must I feel being part of a society that encourages the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few, while allowing many to suffer from deprivation, and many more to suffer from a precarious existence. So, of course I was excited by the emergence of a spontaneous movement to address just that concern.

(This blog is about love. This post is not a political op-ed, its is a sermon.)

The OWS movement took as its motto, We are the 99%, to stress just how perverse, unjust, and cruel our society has become. The defenders of the status quo responded by calling this attempt to rebalance society “class warfare”. I think it goes without saying that this is a rhetorical excess; no warfare at all is involved, not even in a metaphoric sense. Furthermore, it is disingenuous to lay this charge on OWS when the wealthy and the powerful have themselves initiated this conflict by transferring more and more wealth and power to themselves, from the rest of us, since the time of the Reagan presidency. A destructive ideology of selfishness has made the country a plaything of wealth. (Read this summary of Objectivism, the philosophy underlying American libertarianism and political conservatism, provided by its proponents; scroll down to the section on ethics.)

But, this criticism of OWS, in spite of all the dishonesty heaped atop it, contains a grain of truth. The OWS movement does recognize divisions in society, and does promote the interests of part of society — the 99% — over the interests of the rest. Can we do better? Can we see our country — all of it — with only love?

Not to change the subject, but do you know much about Quaker worship? We are a peculiar people, a contrary people even. Because we hold that the Divine is present and accessible to all people, our traditional worship forgoes any appointed clergy, but assigns that duty to all, according to their gifts. Traditionally, we also do without any liturgy, gathering in worship to sit together in silence and “wait upon God”. The silence is an active silence, a mix of meditation and prayer — the phrase contemplative prayer seems right — and we often feel God’s presence, sense God’s leading, guidance, or support.

Sometimes, what comes to us from this active and engaged silence is a clear insight, and part of the insight is an awareness that what has come to us is a message that is meant to be shared. And so, we rise and speak our message clearly, plainly, and briefly.

This past weekend, I attended a gathering of Friends (Quakers) from all around New York state and environs. On Sunday morning, about fifty of us gathered for worship in a small, wood-panelled room with a fireplace, sitting in chairs arranged in a semicircle. My friend, John Edminster, who I often mention, and whose blog (among Friends) I often link to, was sitting across the semicircle from me.

Deep into our hour of worship, John rose, quoted from Isaiah 61, and gave a message linking this Bible passage to the message of Occupy Wall Street. He noted that this passage from Isaiah has particular significance to Christians, because Jesus began his active ministry by reading these lines aloud in the synagogue in his home town, then saying , “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”.

On hearing John’s message, I felt as if an electric current was flowing through me. The opening of Isaiah 61 is one of my favorite passages; indeed, several months ago, I was moved to “preach” this passage during worship in my home meeting. But as John spoke, many of the thoughts and concerns that had been swirling in my mind and heart for some time gelled into a simple message, and I found myself on my feet, speaking; not in the careful measured, tentative tone of most messages given in meeting, but in the full force and power of the Spirit.

Do I need to mention that I can scarce remember what I said? I have pieced it back together as best I can, and offer it here again, slightly enlarged upon, and with my faulty rendering of Isaiah’s words mended:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord … To comfort all who mourn …. 

This passage from Isaiah explains centuries of Quaker peacemaking and social action. When we gather in worship to wait upon the Lord, we find that God’s spirit does indeed come upon us, and it prompts us in the same ways that it prompted Isaiah and Jesus, and we go out into the world proclaiming with them, The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me … the Lord has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted.

That Spirit is at work in the world today. It is speaking in lower Manhattan, in cities across the country, and around the world as demonstrators speak for the afflicted, the brokenhearted, and all sorts of captives. Their slogan, “We are the 99%” unites the poor and the comfortable, with near-prophetic vision; they’ve got it almost right — 99% right.

But they still fall 1% short. For all of humanity is one, indivisible and inseparable in the love of God and in the love we feel for all through our unity with the One. And just as we call on the rich and powerful to act with tenderness and compassion for all of God’s creation, if we are truly to bring good news to the afflicted, and bind up the brokenhearted, we must remember that the 1% are also afflicted, as their hearts are broken by greed, power, and arrogant pride. If we are to serve the poor, we must also heal the rich, for our lives are lived in unity. This was the essential message of Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, and Dr. King.

We are the 100%.

Force may subdue, but love gains.  -William Penn, 1693

The Community of God shall be built by those who can suffer and forgive and love, and overcome evil with good.  -Emil Fuchs, 1949

****

All are welcome: Friends will gather in worship and ministry, under the care of 15th Street Monthly Meeting, at the southeast corner of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, this Sunday (Nov. 20) at 3:15, and the third Sunday of each month, until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

6 responses to “We Are the 100%

  1. Paul, thank you so much for your faithfulness in proclaiming this truth! Both proclaiming it at last weekend’s Quaker gathering in upstate New York, where I was privileged to be given the lines from Isaiah 61 that released the powerful ministry that came through you, and proclaiming it again in this blog piece! I hope that your readers read all the way to the end, and saw the notice that Friends (Quakers ) are gathering for worship at the Southeast corner of Zuccotti Park tomorrow, and plan to continue on the third Sunday of every month, until further notice. All are welcome!

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  3. Dear Paul:
    Shalom
    Your sermon was brought to my attention by our mutual friends, Sylvia and Ross. They hold you in the highest regard. If this sermon fairly represents your condition and being I can see why. I think your simple insight is inspired genius. You are blessed.

    Jon Karsemeyer

    • Jon,
      Thank-you for all this. I hold Sylvia and Ross in the highest regard, although Sly spends far too much time on Facebook.
      We are all deeply blessed, if only we can see it.

      Regards,
      Paul

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