Tuesday was a day in which I witnessed first-hand the Occupy community of Seattle undergo a rebirth, a baptism of sorts, as well as possibly one of the most atrocious acts of brutality against demonstrators during which many non-violent demonstrators were indiscriminately pepper-sprayed including a blind woman, a priest, a non-denominational chaplain, a pregnant woman as well as friends and acquaintances caught in the cross-fires.
Although I was blocked off from being able one of those caught in the fray due to an ill-timed restroom break, when I was able to catch up to the group the first thing I saw was people corralled between Battery and Wall Street on Third Avenue and the first person I met coming out of that was Reverend Rich Lang of University Methodist Temple in the University District; the same man I had been walking alongside earlier as an individual clergy person representing my own gnostic, religious tradition of Thelema. His face was red and tears were coming from his eyes and he was still determined. It was later that I would find out exactly what happened, but seeing his dedication and witness made a very clear impact on me.
The next morning, I woke up and read the following missive that he had written in response to the events that transpired that day, A Pastoral Lament For My Country:
“I praise the courage and compassion, the discipline and the decency of the Occupy Movement. Out of the rag-tag mob came help, grabbing my hands, leading me (I was blind by then) to the wall and administering care and concern for my well being. The protesters were assembled around all the wounded, and maintained the discipline of nonviolence (granted the nonviolence was in behavior but not language). And they were not afraid. The spraying had been a baptism sealing them into the security of knowing that their prophecy of repentance was indeed the Spirit-Word through them --- it is as if they did not prophecy their very bones would melt within them. Against the wall in increasing pain and burning I realized I was in the midst of church.”
Reverend Rich is but one of the chaplains and religious who were pepper-sprayed that day, the other being Tsukina Blessing, amidst many others of varying religious and non-religious stripes gathered as a community to demonstrate against this country’s grave social and economic inequalities. In the course of that baptism by pepper-spray, Occupy ceased being a group of rag-tag demonstrators and transformed into an ekklesía - a community of believers – indeed, a church.
Although some may object to my overt use of religious language in describing Occupy, the fact is that we are all here in faith that we can restore some level of sanity to this country that has for too long strayed away from its true course and which we are all determined to bear witness to and restore to the brightness and wholeness that is capable of being – in Christian terms, “a city on the hill” for all to see and share in its blessings. In Occupy I have seen proof that in this movement there are many mansions to be found in every tent and every committee meeting and there is room at every table. This is what America can look like and what we are all fighting for.
Rev. Rich and Tsukina are true spiritual warriors, among the many participating in Occupy across the country. They are inspirations of endeavor and I admire them and all clergy, chaplains and participants in Occupy. Their demonstration of peace under fire is something, I think, all occupiers can learn from and put into practice and something that will make the movement succeed and prosper even more.