Spiritual Side: Occupy Church? - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Spiritual Side: Occupy Church?

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Steve Hammer

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Posted: Thursday, November 3, 2011 4:33 pm | Updated: 1:20 pm, Wed Oct 10, 2012.

On Sept. 17, a group gathered in Zuccotti Park in the financial district of New York. The rally, promoted by the anti consumerist Adbusters Media Foundation, was intended to draw attention to and cause separation of money from the American political process. It has had a life of its own. In the words of Stephen Stills' tune, "There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear."

Occupy Wall Street continues, and it has spread to nearly every major city in the country, college and university campuses and to cities around the world. The occupy movement has been criticized for not having a clear focus, but some have stated that the lack of focus is part of the point. There is an amorphous disenchantment around the world that has, at least in part, something to do with wealth and power and the way they tend to dictate public policy. One persistent theme is the disparity between the wealthiest 1 percent of the population and the rest of us.

In 1970, in the midst of another social tumult, I discovered philosopher Sam Keen through his book, "To a Dancing God." It was a reassuring read; reassuring in the sense that my own dis-ease was reflective of a cultural dis-ease that was pervasive whether or not it was acknowledged. Could the occupy movement be a manifestation of a widespread dis-ease? Eight years later, after attending his lecture, I met Keen. He was stimulating, challenging, even a bit disturbing, but I began to sense that asking questions may be more enlightening than finding answers.

Forty years later, his shoulder-length curls are gone (mine too), but Keen is still writing, still probing, still questioning. In his essay, "Radical Questions for Critical Times," he writes, "We dwell securely within the garden of the protective myths, values, and paradigms of our society; our questions are about making a living, purchasing the things we have been taught to desire, raising our children, and keeping up with the neighbors. But times of crisis challenge our comfortable assumptions about who we are and force us to ask more radical questions."

Although I deplore the violence that has visited some parts of the occupy movement, it seems to me that at the heart of it, the radical questions are being asked. Who are we as a people? What is the proper role of government? Is there a deeper meaning to our lives? How does wealth liberate and/or enslave? How shall we live together?

It also seems to me that houses of faith should be the place where we can ask those questions in safety, within the nurturing embrace of community. Could we recommit ourselves to the value of the conversation and the process and the possibility that others - even those with whom we seem to disagree - might lighten our load along the way? Was it not Jesus who offered comfort and acceptance to those in distress and challenge to those who boldly claimed to have everything figured out?

Maybe what we need to occupy is the places where questions are welcomed, differences accepted and hope is proclaimed. As Keen concludes, "Your question is the quest you're on. No questions - no journey. Timid questions - timid trips. Radical questions - an expedition to the root of your being. Bon voyage."

• Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.

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