Occupied

Joshua 3:7-17

 

Occupy our hearts,

Holy One,

be our preoccupation

that we might learn

how to inhabit our planet,

our relationships,

our commons.

 

May Wisdom

occupy our ideologies;

may Love

occupy our need for power;

may Humility

occupy our need to be right;

may Empathy

occupy our tribal prejudices,

may Justice

occupy our instinct to dominate.

 

Occupy our hearts,

Holy One.

Be our preoccupation.

Amen.

 

If the story of the Hebrews crossing over the Jordan and taking possession of foreign lands were taken literally, it would qualify for what biblical scholar, Phyllis Tribble, calls “a text of terror”. As such, it portrays the so-called “conquest of Canaan” by the Israelites as sanctioned, supported, and enacted by God. It is the story of a violent occupation of other people’s land, a blueprint of sorts for colonialism. The story and its core metaphors would eventually serve as a core narrative for imperialist expansion and the occupation of indigenous people’s lands.  Led by Joshua, the waters of the Jordan part, hearkening back to the parting of the Red Sea at the time of the Hebrew’s escape from slavery in Egypt.  The people cross over to occupy—that is, seize by force—the land of its inhabitants.

But we’re not actually dealing with historical events, and it’s a serious mistake to take this legend in a literal sense. For example, shortly after they enter the Promised Land there is the story of the Hebrews laying siege to Jericho.  The trumpet sounds “and the walls came tumbling down”…  You may remember singing the song yourself in Sunday school. But there is not a trace of archeological evidence for any such siege. The same is true of the rest of the story of the occupation of this part of the world. It is legend, not history. Historically, this was at a time when the Egyptian Empire was breaking up, so that control of their foreign lands was waning. This led to a redistribution of the land to various tribes, including the tribes of Israel.             

Fundamentalist Jews historicize this legend in order to justify the occupation and settlement of Palestine. God, they claim, gave this land to them. Many will kill and be killed on the grounds that stories such as the one we heard this morning are historically true and religiously accurate depictions of reality. 

But let’s not take this story literally. Let’s allow it to be what it is: a story that is attempting to represent the intuition of an oppressed people that God abhors injustice and oppression, and longs for liberation and a homeland for all peoples. As such, the crossing over into this land of promise is the culmination of the story of the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery to the Egyptians. It is told from the perspective of an oppressed people, and constitutes oppositional truth, as opposed to propositional truth. Taken as such, it is a story of liberation that reveals the Heart and Will of the divine for our one Earth community. It is a subversive story of reversal. The occupied rise up and occupy. The truth of the narrative lies in its intuition of God’s will that there be a place in the world for the disenfranchised.

But we can use another strand of Jewish tradition to help us shift the meaning of occupation. In this tradition, God forbids them to be an occupying power in the style of the Egyptians. Jewish people are forbidden to treat others as they had been treated when they were slaves in Egypt. It’s at the heart of their teaching to love one’s neighbour and extend hospitality to the stranger. This is a core teaching of the Torah. Within this strand of the tradition think of occupation as the way in which one would take possession of a house and occupy it. This would involve cherishing it, and making it truly a home. So it is that we are called to occupy Earth, our cities, our bodies, and our relationships: in a way that reflects the loving, cherishing, and delighting heart of the divine. 

You may have guessed where I am going with this. The Occupy Movement that gained a surprising momentum around the world, including Vancouver, fits this latter definition of occupation. It consists of a representative sampling of the so-called 99% who are acting on behalf of the whole Earth community to signal that for too long we have been occupied by a power that is misaligned and out of balance. I choose to locate that power in an ideology called neoliberal economics[1], rather than in particular people. This is a form of economic fundamentalism that has pre-occupied economists and political leaders for the past couple of decades.  The way that this ideology primarily shows up in the world is through mega-corporations. Neoliberal economics is characterized by a very strong bias against market regulation, (a bias that is upheld only so long as it is in our own economic interests), low taxes for the wealthy, and an ideological belief that the market itself is “rational”—that is, if left to its own devices it will fairly represent the interests of all the people. The result, as a recent New York Times article[2] put it, is that

“The top 1 percent of earners more than doubled their share of the nation’s income over the last three decades. (This is according to a new report out of the Congressional Budget Office. It is [3] likely to figure prominently in the escalating political fight over how to revive the economy, create jobs and lower the federal debt.

According to this same report, the top 1% of American wage earners took home more income than the entire bottom 40% in 2007. [4] There is over $9-trillion stashed in the offshore, tax free accounts, of the very wealthy. Tax this money at a modest 11% (a fraction of the tax that is actually owed on it) and it could have almost paid for the bail out of Greece. The U.S. Congress revealed that there are 94,000 people with earnings over $1-million a year who pay lower taxes than their secretaries. [5] Warren Buffet is one of the richest men in the world. For years he has been trying to convince the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to collect more taxes from him. He is one of those whose secretaries pay a higher percentage of taxes.  And he is embarrassed and offended by it.

 

“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”) 

                                                –Plutarch, Ancient Greek biographer (c. 46 – 120 CE)

 

This neoliberal economic philosophy functions the same as religious ideology and doctrine that does not evolve. It blinds those who believe in it to the inherent violence it is enacting upon Earth—a shrinking middle class, who are increasingly unable to consume goods and services, a frayed social safety net for the poor, and the devastation that an unregulated market is causing to Earth’s resources.  Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, would not have recognized this economic theory, which dissenting French economists now called the Autistic Economics. It is “autistic” in its claim to be an objective, mathematical science, unrelated to morality and politics. Until the 1870’s economics was an offshoot of moral philosophy. Adam Smith believed in a capitalist economy grounded in a non-capitalist morality. For him, “honesty, thrift, discipline, cooperation, and not consumption and unbridled self-interest were the keys to happiness and social cohesion.”[6]

The best example of occupation today, arises not in the tent cities springing up all over North America. It is how this neoliberal, laissez-faire, economic philosophy has occupied the White House, and emboldened corporations and their CEO’s with an unprecedented sense of entitlement. Today, the average American CEO earns 350-400 times the salary of the average worker in the corporation, compared to 40-50 times in the decades from 1950-1980.[7] Nobody begrudges CEO’s a higher salary that reflects an increase in responsibility. But the gap has now become unconscionable. Just because the market bears this arrangement doesn’t make it just. The market is not moral.  

When state policy-makers are no longer able to regulate corporations, then the economic interests of an elite have effectively occupied a nation and a planet. It is a sign of how profound the ideological occupation has been that virtually nothing changed after the last economic crisis. The same architects of the crisis ended up being the President’s economic advisors.

But it’s not just the White House that has been occupied. This economic philosophy has gone global. It has become the core unconscious assumption of what constitutes rational economic policy for the global economy (with the exception of China and a couple other nations). The commons has been occupied. The natural world and other-than-human species are subject to this occupying power.  The economy is no longer serving us. We are serving it.

The economy is meant to be a means to an end, and it has become an end in itself. We are all expected to be the servants of an economic philosophy, for example, that does not account for costs to Earth. These cost are “externalized”.  I am heartened to see former Prime Minister, Paul Martin, extolling the virtues of “natural capitalism”.[8] It means that the message of Amory Lovins and Paul Hawkins (who wrote a book with the same title[9]) is finally being taken seriously. The only real capital is natural capital—clean water, clean air, clean soil, and thriving forests. When economic policy is not in service to this fundamental principle it is an abstraction, a dangerous and violating abstraction. Economic ideology has seized control of Earth and her resources, and that includes us. It is time to reclaim our natural inheritance.

Those who are participating in the Occupy movement are part of the information feedback system of our one Earth community. They are offering a gift of information to our policy makers that neoliberal economics is not working. It is ignorance and not evil that has seized our collective imagination. Ignorance is the ultimate form of occupation. In our ignorance, we become preoccupied with the wrong priorities. To be preoccupied is to be unconsciously distracted in such a way that we are unable to be present to reality. When we are pre-occupied by wealth accumulation, everything else is in service to this god, as Jesus taught.

 This grassroots, classless, leaderless, non-partisan, and radically democratic uprising, is the way that the single intelligence of our Earth community is attempting to awaken us from mass delusion and rebalance the system. It is an attempt to wake us up from our pre-occupation so that we can return to a more humane and balanced way of life. This movement is serving the function of the Jewish people in scripture, who are divinely called to be a holy nation, a light unto to the nations, and to point us all toward a deeper integrity.

The movement isn’t perfect. It’s messy. Yes, the movement is a bit of a catch all for every cause under the sun. And no, not all of its representatives are as articulate as we’d like them to be. On the other hand, the congregation I serve invited Eric, a thirty year-old unemployed man with a graduate degree, who was living in a tent at the Occupy site in Vancouver. The only way that Eric was able to find work was to leave off his degrees from his resume and apply for construction jobs. Eric was articulate, reasonable, and for the first time in years, filled with hope. His depression had ended.

Eric is us, the 99% who know intuitively that our current system is leveraged to serve the interests of the1%. Wealth is not trickling down to the masses. It is migrating toward the wealthy, in an unprecedented redistribution upward. But let us also acknowledge that many of us have done pretty well by the current system. We are not unfamiliar with the greed that motivates the 1%. We all, in our own way, strategize to tilt the universe in our favour. Both Eric and the greedy capitalist co-exist within our own psyches.

In an evolutionary paradigm, everything that has ever arisen in human consciousness, the good and bad, the virtuous and the evil, is enfolded within our very beings.  All of this intelligence, the imbalances of our current economic and political systems, and the desire to re-balance them, constitutes our own psyche. We are the presence of that tension. It is better to own and hold that tension before we attempt to resolve it by blaming and demonizing.  I think it’s healthy that at most of the Occupy sites, there is a group of meditators simply holding this space that includes the polarities of that tension.

From an evolutionary point of view this creative tension is required for leaps of consciousness to a new order of complexity to take place. It can be very uncomfortable, but also very exciting. Consider the possibility that we are living at the very time when a new order is being birthed. We need to learn the art of holding ourselves in this tension long enough to receive its evolutionary blessing. Many people, including our own mayor and others who are dealing with this occupation on the eve of an election are overly anxious to resolve the tension and remove the occupiers. How long have we been occupied by an economic system that is clearly serving the 1% at the expense of the middle class and the poor? I hope the Occupy movement holds us in the creative tension long enough for us to learn the lesson of our days, and to allow something new to arise from the fire of this age. Something is broken. We have the power to fix it.  Something is emerging. We have the power to be that that wants to emerge.

For those of us who have a Christian identity, the primary occupation that we need to concern ourselves with is the occupation of our hearts by the divine energies of love and compassion. This gives rise to what Jesus called the Realm of God, which in his day was what the world and our lives would look like if Love and not Caesar reigned. God’s Kin(g)dom is what our personal lives would look like if love reigned, and what our relationships would look like if we had time to orient around loving kindness, and what our relationship with Earth and other-than-human creatures would look like if we realized our kinship with all, and what our social systems would look like if they were oriented around justice.  Imagine living as occupants of this one Earth community in this manner! This is our preoccupation, our divine vocation, and each of us is invited to the practice of being occupied today by the presence of that future.

One of our members, Eileen Stephens, was telling our bible study that she was watching television coverage of the Occupy movement in Vancouver. The people living in tents needed to be raised up off the ground when the rains came. She realized that she knew somebody who had a supply of wooden skids. Eileen called him, and they took a load down. She said that it felt to her like the waters had parted and she crossed the Jordan and entered into the promise of what life could be like if we were occupied by divine love.

May the waters part for all of us.

 


[1]
                        [1] See Globe and Mail, Focus, October 15, 2011, Economics Has Met the Enemy and the Enemy Is Us, by Ira Rasen, for a summary of the history of this economic theory.
                http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/economics-has-met-the-enemy-and-it-is-economics/article2202027/page5/

 

[2]
                        [2] New York Times, 10-25-11

[3]
                        [3] http://cbo.gov/ftpdocs/124xx/doc12485/10-25-HouseholdIncome.pdf

[4]
                        [4] http://inequality.org/tilt-top-deepest-stats/

[5]
                        [5] We Need a Global Army of Tax Collectors, Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, Editorial and Comment, Focus Section, October 15, 2011

 

[6]
                        [6] Globe Focus, ibid…October 15, 2011.

[7]
                        [7] http://books.google.ca/books? id=-mf3QqAW654C&pg=PA243&lpg=PA243&dq=ceo’s+salary+comparisons+for+last+three+decades&source=bl&ots=pDVUnrQxez&sig=sBcJELj0nvUWFQX-41mM41mu0yc&hl=en&ei=2mmtToyKAaqIiAKBjKSbCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CEcQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false

[8]
                        [8] http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2011/10/28/paul-martin-on-natural-capital/

[9]
                        [9] Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins, and Paul Hawkens, Natural Capitalism, The Next Industrial Revolution, Earthscan Publishers, London, 1999.

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