04 November 2011
Occupy’s imaginative space
In a country where the pay gap is widening to Victorian levels, where the estimated corporate tax avoidance is £35 billion, where the executive pay rise is 49 per cent and child poverty levels are considerable, some live in the best of times while others live in the worst of times.
In the midst of this 'tale of two cities' people concerned about the values and direction of our society have set up camp, awakening a dialogue about how we can live more justly. They don't have the answers but certainly have the questions. The protest is part of an international phenomenon that has come alive in more than 900 cities worldwide. Though vulnerable, in our time of economic shaking, these transformational moments have the potential to lead to radical, biblical propositions.
The case for a more just division of resources is argued at this week's G20 as well as on the streets. In the midst of the dominance of the City and in a culture of captured imaginations, people of all faiths and none do some imaginative work. The existential questions vocalised by the Occupy crowd resonate with many, and reflect a search for a more (economic) just and loving way of life. Sadly, the opportunity on St Paul's doorstep turned into a crisis. For as Luke Bretherton asks: "What is a Cathedral meant to be but a place where people can come and experience a different time and space, can live, if only for a moment, in a vision of a different future, and thereby have reality re-framed?"
Sitting on the steps of St Paul's, I think of Jesus' engagement with a question from the crowd: "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." Following a warning about greed, Jesus' parable about living selfishly or living richly towards God seeks to draw the hearers into the story to enable them to see life differently. Jesus' parables are designed to shake up and reconfigure how we intersect with the world. Having told the story, he draws out lessons for the disciples on life's worries, divine provision, generosity, and our responsibility to the poor, seeking first God's Kingdom and guarding our heart. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12).
Listening to the debate on the streets, I see charity workers, pensioners, students, lecturers, political groups and families with children mix and mingle in the debate. The 'What would Jesus do?' banner is an open door to weave in the testimony of Christ. The Sermon on the Steps brings the pulpit to the pavement. It's the stuff some dream of.
The Archbishop's timely advocacy for the Robin Hood Tax coheres with the Church of England's longstanding commitment to justice. St Paul's and its Institute will continue to foster an informed Christian response to ethical and spiritual issues of our times: among which financial integrity and the meaning of the common good. The way is open for a meaningful engagement with its neighbours. A crisis turned into an opportunity.
Here and imaginably on every doorstep, the life of Christ awakens a consciousness, disrupts routine and deepens insights. It inspires a commitment to live justly and gives hope for the renewal of all things. May we all live richly towards God.
Marijke Hoek, coordinator Forum for Change