Friday, November 25, 2011

A Congregation Occupies Advent

The theme for Advent this year at Church of the Pilgrims (PCUSA), in Washington, DC, is "Occupy Advent: The Beginning is Near." As you might guess, we really like this idea.

The following is a newsletter article for written by the Rev. Ashley Goff, Minister for Spiritual Formation and Director of The Pilgrimage at Church of the Pilgrims. We commend it to you as an excellent reflection on Advent. Thank you for these words, Pastor Goff.

On September 17th, a handful of people occupied Liberty Square in Manhattan to fight against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process. Since September, Liberty Park has become home to hundreds of people and the Occupy Movement has spread to over a hundred cities, including Washington, D.C., where McPherson Park is now home to 150 people.

I have visited McPherson almost weekly for the past two months, aligning myself with a group of clergy that has organized themselves as protest chaplains. Like the Occupy movements themselves, protest chaplains have popped up throughout the U.S. and abroad to listen, pray, be a presence and be transformed by these alternative communities which speak truth to power.

If you haven’t been to McPherson Park, you should go. There is a kitchen serving 1,500 meals a day, an aqueduct system created from drinking fountains, a library, a prayer tent, and a compost and recycling area. Occupiers gather everyday at 6pm for their General Assembly, where the leaderless movement makes decisions about political actions and community life through a consensus model. When I’m in McPherson Park, I worry less about the strategy of Occupy. What are their demands? Do they have a method to the madness?

Instead, I take in an alternative landscape that has become a consciousness-raising experience for me. The community is a testimony to the brokenness of our economic system. As Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, said, we are part of a “dirty, rotten system.” McPherson breaks into that reality and has built a powerful community that is thriving on the norms of consensus and sharing.

Occupy is like a crack, breaking into the fa├žade of economic injustice and corporate greed. So is Advent. A big part of our Advent story this year focuses on that wild man named John the Baptist. Jesus’ cousin walked through the city of Jerusalem, barely clothed, eating locusts, and invited people to journey with him to the wilderness. The wilderness was no safe zone; the wilderness was a wild place. Rome, the dominant political system of the time, had a cosmology, a world view, that was logical, orderly, and based on the power of Caesar Augustus. Rome’s cosmology applied to everything but the wilderness. The wilderness was the anti-thesis of the Pax Romana and ignored by the powers-that-be.

For John, the wilderness was the place to receive the waters of new life and transformation. The wilderness was where you went to be outside that dominant space of the Pax Romana. People went to the wilderness to be baptized, repent, and turn away from Roman ways in order to embody the ways of the One to come. After the wilderness experience, they were to look at the world and Rome’s power structures in a new way; they were to go back to the city and do differently.

Advent is the birth of an alternative; it ushers in a new realm, a new cosmology. Occupy, as an alternative community, is doing the same.

Our theme at Pilgrims for Advent is Occupy Advent—making the connection between this burgeoning movement of alternative, political space in cities and the alternative, political land of the wilderness created by John the Baptist. Our hope is that our sanctuary will become an alternative space, a space where we hear and respond to the stories of Advent and go forth to proclaim a new way of being, seeing and doing.

How do we create a wild space, a wilderness so people can see the world in John the Baptist’s God-given cosmology vs. the cosmology of domination?

How does Advent take us to a wild, earth space where we remember our baptisms, the call to repent, and head into the city in a new, powerful, alternative way?

What parts of our lives need to be occupied so we can be and do in the ways of Jesus? What in our lives, in church, and on God’s planet needs be reclaimed, to be occupied, so we live as if a new beginning is near?

Advent begins on November 27th. As one body, let us Occupy Advent together.

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