Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupying My Street

So the other day a good friend of mine was trying to help me understand the motives and endgoal of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Since I tend not to watch the news, I had only a general sense of what was going on and what this protest was all about. But as he explained to me the injustice of corporate greed and unjust labor practices and the importance of government intervention, I couldn't keep my mind from wandering away from the details of this particular situation and asking...where is the mercy...where is the grace...where is the humility?

It seems like everywhere I look, we are becoming people who blame rather than seek reconciliation...who avoid accountability rather than accept responsibility...who expect others to make things right rather than do the work to make ourselves right. I see it everywhere from for-profit companies to non-profit organizations and from checkout lines to church parking lots. And yes, I see it in the Occupy Wall Street movement and in the talking heads that debate (and report on) the movement. But the irony of it all, is that I see it in the mirror too.

Of course, like so many things, we were warned that this would happen. The Author of life new all too well the inevitable consequences of sin in our lives:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-- having a form of godliness but denying its power. (2 Timothy 3:1-5a)

Keep in mind the above is not end-of-the-world, Armageddon hype....this is just human nature. This is in all of us...in small ways if not big ways. This is who we are left unchecked...left to our own devices. And so that's why I think the world (and Wall Street) would be infinitely better if before we started blaming others for the injustice we see around us (or that is leveled against us), we first look in ourselves...look our lives...and root out the arrogance and selfishness and greed in ourselves. I'm not sure any of us can really claim to be that different from those we so quickly identify as evil. Even my friend acknowledged during our conversation that eventually sin (though he didn't call it that per say) wins out...the goodwill we muster deteriorates...corruption begins anew within.

And therefore the solution can't be...at least not in the long term...to force (whether by government law or violence) everyone else to behave better. That is just a band-aid...because eventually a new injustice will rear its head because left unchecked, selfishness corrupts. No...the solution has to be for each individual to accept responsibility for making themselves behave better. That is our only chance of true, lasting revolution. But I know many would quickly describe this as being pollyannaish. Certainly not everyone will do this...or could do it. And maybe that's true...but I think we have to look at the real reason most won't commit to this sort of self-protest...and that's because it's hard...and requires sacrifice...and it means the denial of self...of self-interests. It means letting go of what we want. It means putting others ahead of ourselves. And it may mean...at least in the short-term...living with injustice...allowing ourselves to be treated unjustly. This kind of self-examination...and self-transformation...is painful...but it is powerful.

And so, much to the chagrin of my friend, the takeaways from our talk were less about the evils of Wall Street, corporate greed, and government corruption (which of course I think are all wrong indeed), but more a reminder of how easily we all find it to blame others, to expect others to fix things for us, and to generally expect the world to change with the least possible pain for ourselves. I see all this in myself. When I forget something important I was suppose to do, it was because someone didn't remind me. When someone at work makes a mistake, they need to fix it. When I see a behavior in my wife that annoys me or even hurts me, I demand that she change. None of these things are my fault...so that means changing the situation is someone else's responsibility.

But...I know there are things I can do...things I should do. I need to take the time to make lists and write myself reminders when I know there is something I can't forget to do. I need to understand that my colleagues have a mountain of things "to-do" too, and so I can show some mercy when a document comes back to me needing edits and just make them myself. And when I see a behavior in my wife that annoys or hurts me, yes I can talk to her about it, but before that I need to do the internal work of understanding why it annoys or hurts me and what I can do to view this behavior differently and/or react differently. You see, we all have a great power at our disposal...the power to choose how we behave...how we think...and how we see those around us. We are not helpless to change the situations we find ourselves in...it's just that often the change has to come from us and we don't like that...because change hurts.

In the end, I get that Occupy Wall Street is about broad, big picture change...and we need to fight for things that are right and fight injustice...but I just think that before we go off to battle Wall Street, we should probably spend some time occupying our own internal street and seeing what evils we can root out there. It will hurt a little more and it will take a little longer, but in the end, we just might have that better society we all say we want.

1 comment:

PRForgette said...

I have been thinking about me and how I can improve my grace towards others. Your musing is timely and I thank you.

Yes, we are not in the "end days." We are just experiencing human nature. There is a need to look at ourselves and take responsibility for our own actions. Not an easy task and one that requires me to concentrate and pray.

“If my faith shifts as temporary waves, rush to my rescue without any hesitation,protecting others from my fleeting frailty. May Your Presence always be lively enjoyed, enabling me to shine as a flame of my faith."
Brother Paul