This afternoon I and four other friends from seminary attended an event called Occupy Palm Sunday. This event, sponsored by four congregations in Logan Square, talked about housing, immigration, healthcare, and food justice from a Christian community perspective. United together, we sang songs, broke bread, and learned about different ways we can be involved in creating equality within our home.
I’ll be honest, in general I’m not someone who totally get’s the whole “Occupy” movement. I admire the goal to help bring awareness to the difference between the 99% and the 1%, and my heart simmers with joy at knowing that people are trying to find away to work together. However, the deepest recesses of my identity recognizes I am a planner. When I look at the overall “Occupy” movement, I get overwhelmed with knowing how to move from information sharing to the next steps of problem solving. I see the people camped in tents and want to know their plan, even as I recognize that for some “Occupiers” their main plan is to inform.
This past January when I was in El Salvador, I was granted access into the cathedral in San Salvador which was at the time occupied by a para-military group. This cathedral is the Catholic Church’s Salvadoran epicenter, the place where the Archbishop of El Salvador resides and works. This space is also important because the mausoleum of Archbishop Romero is found inside its basement.
The January occupation occurred by people who fought in the civil war. The war had ended with the signing of the Peace Accords. 20 years later aspects of that agreement had not been upheld by the current government, resulting in ex-soldiers and their families starving to death. They tried to negotiate change peacefully, but 20 years later were still starving. So in January, with firepower, they forced the Archbishop out of the space and closed the cathedral off from the community. The occupation prevented anyone from the community to enter to worship. The occupation caused pilgrimages hoping to visit Romero to cease. Yet I, a privileged US citizen, someone whose income would place me in the 1% if I was a Salvadoran, was invited into the cathedral where native citizens could not go. Granted, there were shotguns pointed at me the entire time I took pictures in of the tomb, and I was unable to leave until I heard the para-military groups demands. But the fact remains that because I came from a place of privilege I was safe in God’s house when people of the community were not.
Since that day, I look at the word “occupy” quite differently. I now recognize that at any moment I could slide between the barriers between the 99% and the 1%. At any moment I could be the oppressed or I could be the oppressor. I could be the person who needs to be uplifted or I could be the person who steps on others as I rise the top. That experience also showed me that sometimes the separation between church and state also have barriers that slide back and forth. It was a para-military group that stopped the Salvadorans from worshiping in their Cathedral, and in the United States the limitations of our laws at times are what stop us from being able to provide care to all who need it.
This afternoon, a speaker mentioned that to live in Chicago, the average person would either need to work 81 hours a week at a minimum-wage job or get paid over $18 an hour at a 40-hour-a-week job to be able to afford housing. I know I don’t get paid anywhere near $18 an hour at either of my jobs or even work close to 81 hours a week, and I consider myself secure in my middle class status. Then again, I am fortunate enough to be in school and receiving scholarships, and my home parish helps to cover some of my tuition. Where would I be if this was three years down the line and I was still at the same jobs at the same rate? I know where I would be — homeless.
Knowing that the barrier between safety and insecurity can so easily slide back and forth for any of us, noticing that the separation between church and state is not as stable as I once thought, I need to have a plan. I need to know that there is something secure to set my sights on, something that will stand the test of time and the roller-coaster of our economic system.
That something is the love of Christ, and my plan is never to forget that love. It is through the love of Christ that I have people helping to support me while I am in seminary. It is through the love of Christ that my income comes from my employment in serving a Christian parish and serving a Christian periodical. It is through the love of Christ that I was able to car-pool with fellow students to worship in the square with four very different congregations. It is through the love of Christ that today each person who was able brought a few snacks to share and we not only fed the large crowd but had leftovers.
I “occupy” because the message of the good news of God’s love for us transcends the limitations of our barriers. This message and sacred love is what gives us the fuel to keep striving for justice, learning how we can work with one another so that we all can feel as fortunate as the 1% of the community. I “occupy” because my God loves me so much that even in my darkest hours I am never alone, and this is a message too good to keep to myself.
This Palm Sunday, my occupation is one of praise and thanksgiving to the one who rode into our midst to transform our lives.