Children, Occupy, & the Church

Children

My 50-something body aches and has sharp pains from spending more than 8-hours a day with two-year-olds. (I could list the aches in order of their annoyance value but then I’d sound like a crochety old man.) My body also aches because I didn’t get enough rest over the weekend, spending time at Occupy Portland when I “should” have been resting.



But it is my heart that aches the most. My heart aches because of the emotional energy it takes to meet the needs of children whose families are undervalued. Children need my presence and compassion. I give what I can but I can only do so much. We have a systemic problem.


Because children in our country are themselves undervalued, the societal priority is not on children’s needs but on keeping costs low. Parents can’t afford to pay the true cost of quality child care, they can’t afford to stay home, and so we end up with programs that hire under-qualified and under-resourced adults struggling to support their own families. 


Occupy

The Occupy movement is about reforming the economic injustice that harms the children with whom I’m spending my days. It is about overturning the plutocracy that harms the vast majority of Americans (and people around the world). This is what the movement is referring to when we talk about the 99% and the 1%. The 1% represents the plutocracy, the wealthy who rule, and the 99% represents the rest of us who are struggling in various ways to get by financially.



I am tired because the disregard for the U.S. Constitution, for civility, and for citizen redress of grievances is discouraging. Heck, it’s deeply troubling and it should disturb anyone who believes in our nation’s professed values whether one agrees with the particular views of the movement. 


The coordinated assault on Occupy camps across the country is an indication that plutocrats and governments (politicians) are perceiving a threat. My heart aches because it is not just the protesters but our children who are being violently abused by an unjust economic system that favors those at the top. Why else would our Congress be seriously turning back school lunch nutrition guidelines because, “the federal government shouldn’t tell children what to eat”? (Huffington Post, Congresses Pushes Back on Healthier School Lunches


The Church


Amos prophesied in the mid-eighth century. It was a time of security and prosperity–for some classes of people. A thriving commerce and trade created a context in which“an affluent society composed of a small, wealthy upper class [whose] vast accumulation led toa luxurious life style.” (2)


The prophet chastises the people for their hypocrisy. Worship had become about them.  “The essence of Godʼs demand [in Amos]” is not on sacrifices, tithes, and offeringsbut in the “moral and ethical spheres of life.” (3)


So, it is today. Many churches busily talk about changing worship, making it more upbeat and relevant. That’ll bring folks back, they say. But the church has lost its way if it focuses on worship at the expense of justice. Amos was not opposed to worship itself but contended that by using worship as the litmus forbeing right with God, it was impossible to be right with God. Worship is celebrated toalleviate the worshipers feelings, to meet their needs to feel pious. (4) 


So, where is the church in this time of economic injustice, in this time of plutocratic abuses worldwide? In fairness, some of us are involved in justice but all of us need to be involved in God’s justice and compassion or our worship is hollow.


In the eighth century Amos called the people of the northern kingdom out for their elaborate worship while they ignored the great issues that were important to God. The church today, sitting in aging buildings or in new state-of-the-art facilities, seems to deserve some of Amos’ mocking sarcasm and threatened action:


Hear this word, you cows of Bashan
   who are on Mount Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
   who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’ 



Therefore, thus I will do to you, O Israel;
   because I will do this to you,
   prepare to meet your God, O Israel! 



–Amos 4:1, 12 NRSV (Click here to read these verses in context.


God of All,


Show us our failings,
as we worship without acting on your behalf.


Move us to get out of the pews,
that we might fight for justice for the oppressed.


Move us to give up our comforts,
that all might have what they need.


Envigorate us with your love,
that we might be your loving arms and hands of justice in the world for all.


Amen




Footnotes


(1) Marvin A. Sweeney, The Twelve Prophets (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000), 191-192.


(2) Shalom M. Paul, Amos: A Commentary On the Book of Amos, ed. Frank Moore Cross (Minneapolis:Fortress Press, 1991), 2.


(3) Shalom M. Paul, 139.

(4) Jörg Jeremias, The Book of Amos: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 139.






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