Occupier and Ostracized: exclusion and embrace

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Recently, condemnatory remarks about Occupy Wall Street were made by Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA) including “I am increasingly concerned by the growing mob occupying Wall Street and other cities across the country”, and by Rush Limbaugh who asserts that Occupy Wall Street people are “stupid”, and by Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain who said “if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself”. These contemptuous and callous statements demonstrate an utter disregard of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the sufferings of common people who by their very presence are resisting systems of powerful corporate and political domination and exclusion. Rather than be present to the people of Occupy Wall Street, to empathize with, to embrace them, and commit to standing and working with them, these three men have distanced themselves by dismissing and asserting exclusion of the suffering masses. 

The Yale theologian Miroslav Volf states in his book by the same title, that Exclusion & Embrace are intentions and acts that all of humanity – including Mr. Cantor, Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Cain – may choose to take toward one’s fellow human beings. To embrace, Volf asserts, we “must cross a social boundary and move into the world of the other, to inhabit it temporarily” so that truth and trust – that is relationships – may exist between and among people and communities. Without embrace rooted in trust, there can be no community. Conversely, exclusion is both will and act that destroy community, build enmity, create an imbalance of power and can lead to abusive, unilateral domination. Grave societal and economic degradation follows the denigration and exclusion of suffering people; casting them as a mob, stupid and asserting that their poverty is their own fault. Is empathy no longer a quality of leaders? Importantly, there is a distinction to be drawn between the powers of exclusion and embrace.  

In ancient Palestine, Jesus (and vicariously his followers) was on trial in which neither his accusers nor judge cared for the truth. In the judge’s question, “what is truth”, it becomes clear that, as Volf states, the Empire and its powerful elite were interested only in the “truth of power” (power over another). Reciprocally, Jesus peacefully argues for the “power of truth” (relational power among) that transcends and universally trumps the powers of Empire. Over two thousand years later, the story continues. Jesus offers embrace; however, his accusers prefer to ostracize and unsuccessfully exclude the power of his truth.

 

The communities of commoners (the 99%) represented by Occupy Wall Street and related gatherings, those who are being factored out of austerity budgets and impoverished by the insatiable affluence of a controlling moneyed elite (and their well-lobbied politicians and public policies), are expressing their pain and peacefully resisting further exclusion.

Interestingly, the Occupy groups resemble those of civil rights activists of the 1960’s who were also maligned as a mob, stupid, incapable and unworthy. Much like the activists of the past, Occupy Wall Street and Rebuild the American Dream stand with and for the common good of all Americans: speaking the power of truth in search of equity and embrace.

Fare well, Communities

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A CCDA Café (Christian Community Development Association meeting) took place on June 29, 2011 in Richmond, Virginia. I participated in this wonderfully diverse group of people that came together from around the city for one purpose: to work collaboratively for the well-being (shalom) of Metro Richmond. From across our variations in faith perspectives, congregations, neighborhoods, political points of view, gender, employment, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds, we came together in unity for the common good of our communities.

 I was in Washington D.C. on June 16, 2011 with a group of interfaith clergy leaders that gathered from across the United States to advocate in the U.S. Congress and the White House for something that has not been done in 46 years: a complete evaluation of the entire U.S. criminal justice system that will include recommendations for improvement of this costly, vastly complex, and extensively broken system. We were and are advocating for the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2011 (S.306) – NCJCA. From across our differences in geographies, faith traditions, gender, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds, we came together for a unified moral purpose: to voice our support and advocacy for justice and mercy via the National Criminal Justice Reform Commission Act.  

We all have some stories to share about our various communities working and advocating for the co-creation of common good; however, especially in America today, the win-lose battles being fought in the states and at the federal level threaten to severely cripple and perhaps to destroy the common good and the good will extended to America. The congressional volleys appear more like bullying tactics than civil discourse and mutual agreement for the good of “all”. Clearly, the legion gridlocked battles are primarily the result of unilateral “power-over” politics rather than attempts to achieve policies roted in “shared power”. I believe that our nation’s Founders would be outraged at the current state of bickering, divisiveness, and power-wielding bullying that result in disunity, inequity, anger, fear and ever-deepening isolationism and classism. It is not the kind of community – not the kind of “United States” – that I believe the Founders had in mind.

 In the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution appear these words:

 We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The word “Welfare” conveys the cognitive assent and practical actions necessary to “fare well” or to live in a state of well-being. Welfare is not a pejorative term even though it has been used to stereotype the poverty-stricken. Rather, welfare may be translated “well-being”. Furthermore, well being is a semantically accurate though incomplete translation of the community, individual and societal assent and acts of wholeness conveyed by the Hebrew word “shalom” (see Robert C. Linthicum on shalom). As evidenced in Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, mutual provision for the well being (shalom) of all – with special emphasis upon the poor – is essential to the life and sustained success of the entire society (Deuteronomy 15:7-11, Jeremiah 29:7, Proverbs 28:27, Acts 20:35, Matthew 5:7).  Why are we not endeavoring to achieve well-being for all?

 Why in the name of Economics are powerful policy-makers, organizations and institutions failing to see, hear and respond to the agonizing cries of the suffering masses who are jobless and underemployed; who are physically and spiritually hungry; who live in the woods because their homes have been foreclosed; who are imprisoned by a grossly engorged criminal justice system; who have lost faith, trust, and their investments in equity-producing systems and programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc) that were established by a past generation for future well-being?

Why in the name of Human Life are the factorings of federal and state budgets producing bottom lines that afford abundant benefits to the powerful, the wealthy, the influential, the elite, well-fed, well-housed, and the well-insulated; while unilaterally consigning the vulnerable masses to struggle and suffer in a sea of scarcity?

Why in the name of Politics are we so complacent, so accepting of inequity, so comfortable, so isolationist, so quick to judge, so cocksure, and so angrily limited in mercy?

 Why in the name of God are we not unifying with mutual empathy across our many differences to form interdependent communities of well-being (shalom) that collectively build, rebuild and sustain the common good?

In recovering from the Civil War, to restore after the Great Depression, for rebuilding after World War II, to liberate incarcerated minds, hearts, bodies, economies and relationships in every community, America has been successful because of its unity, empathy and shared power (resources). Now, in the wake of the Great Recession, at a time when hope, empathy, unity, and mutual power are necessary for achieving the common good, America has again arrived at a time for recovery, restoration, rebuilding, and liberation: a tipping point!

Will cocksure political and economic power result in a distant, passing wave of farewell to the struggling masses in our communities? Or will Americans unify in our collective recovery, restoration, rebuilding, and liberation?

The U path: a spark ignited in Yarrambat.

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In a recent blog entry, “Where does the time go”, I mentioned my wonderful experiences with the slower pace of life in community at the edge of the “bush” in Yarrambat, Victoria, Australia. There is much more to the story.

It was mid November, 2010 when a group of people from diverse backgrounds and geographies gathered for two days in Yarrambat to, well, to be creative; to get to know one another; to enjoy some scones, jam and tea; to listen carefully; to be present to one another; to share our stories and our wisdom; to reflect upon why, how and where community forms and sustains itself. One of my roles in this gathering was to share my experiences in Asset Based Community Development as a shalom-maker (co-creator of community well-being).

Our gracious host for the gathering, Adrian Pyle, invested over a year in planning, inviting and bringing together this diverse group: no surprise since he has the very cool title and role of Director, Relationships Innovation with the Uniting Church in Australia. In planning the gathering, Adrian adapted a model known as Theory U, developed by MIT professor Otto Scharmer, and applied the path of the “U” to inform and shape our community time. As Adrian puts it:

The path of the “U” as I am using it can be seen as a general spiritual path, giving access to a life of “earth community” rather than empire. A range of spiritual traditions, philosophies and models can be seen to give access to the path… it [the U path] is like an inviting campfire, around which are drawn various parties interested in ideas of post-colonialism and non-violence and from backgrounds across, organizational development, community development, faith development and national and international development.

And, so it happened last November. We dipped into the “U” and emerged with fresh new connections and concepts that bridge across our various communities. Participants of various faith traditions and professional disciplines were profoundly moved and felt the synergy to continue conversations, connections, and plans; even across the planet.

From the spark ignited at Yarrambat, and continuing on the U path, community is both expanding and converging. As social entrepreneur, writer, teacher and developer Gail Plowman writes in “Dealing with social problems that get stuck” and “The Church – a ‘presencing’ body for advancing sustainability”, the transformational processes of community-building are taking place in ways and locations previously unimagined.

As sparks ignite in our communities, like Yarrambat, it is vitally important to our collective future to attend to and follow a U path for the common good of our neighborhoods, our neighbors and our planet. Adrian Pyle writes:

Creating conditions for more people to follow the “U” path therefore means creating the conditions where truly unique neighbourhoods can develop in every place and time. Nurturant, local neighbourhoods are the spaces which can be made safe enough for the true selfhood of the individual to emerge. This means that there must be heightened awareness of the educational, organisational, philosophical, spiritual and political conditions which create such neighbourhoods.

Where is your community on the U path?

N. David (Dave) Cooper, MDiv, MSW, CPM of Shalom-Makers: enlarging the circle of community.