Portland

SHHH God, You Are Bothering Me

This article, by Rev. Maggie Sebastian, first appeared on revmother.
I hate when that happens.  When I get all self-righteous and decide how I'm going to think or believe about something, and God sticks God's nose into my business.  Such a nuisance. Shhh God, I just got this figured out.

Here's the background:  After some "should I or shouldn't I" this morning, I decided to attend church once again at First Christian Church, Portland, OR.   I wanted to stay home under the covers in this grey place I've moved to.  I thought about visiting the Metropolitan Community Church again, having had an amazing worship experience there last week.  I finally talked myself into attending FCC again. It IS the first Sunday of Advent after all.

FCC Portland is a beautiful, modernized old church in the heart of downtown.  It is space to be envied. People have been friendly and welcoming the few times I have visited, but . . .  I don't know.  I am struggling with what I think the church should look like, sound like, be like these days.  FCC is very traditional in many ways.  Is this where I am supposed to be?  What does church mean?

And then there's the whole Occupy Portland thing.

I have not been "on the ground" much at Occupy, but my husband is a member of the Occupy's  Interfaith Chaplain Guild.  I believe that this movement is just beginning.  I believe in the basic premise that there is an unjust distribution of wealth that needs to be corrected. I believe that we are in the midst of cataclysmic change and none of us know what the end product will be. A few congregations have been openly supportive of  Occupy PDX - FCC not being one of them.  I admit that I've been disappointed by this; however, I've been no more personally involved with the church than I have been Occupy, so who am I to criticize or push?

With all that as background on how God stuck God's nose in my business this morning, let me try to find the point.  I arrived at church just in time as is my pattern and sought out a seat by myself.  Very quickly an elder of the church and leader of the denomination greeted me and asked to be my pew buddy.  Nice.  I like pew buddies and particularly this man.  As we rose to sing the first hymn for the hanging of the greens, he leaned in to point out "the gentleman in the bright tie" walking into the sanctuary- the chief of police for the city of Portland.  My elder companion expressed his compassion for this member of the congregation who had had a rough few weeks.  I could see the Chief's stress on his face.  Crap. Shhh God. You are SO bothering me right now.

For the rest of the service, God and I argued.  Mainly I listened, and God pointed out the obvious.  We are the One Body of Christ.  One.  That means the 1%, the 99%, and those caught between rocks and hard places. We are all the One Body.  Vilifying the man sitting behind me was not productive nor was it remotely in keeping with the Gospel message.  The Chief had come to worship the Christ he loves just as I had.  And in good Disciple tradition, we don't have to agree on our beliefs, but we are called to love one another.  Shhh God.  Stop bothering me.

If I could chat over coffee with the Chief, there would be many things that I would want the Chief to explain to me, to acknowledge, and to hear from me.  I think that there are things that need explaining.  But the Christ whose birth we anticipate, tells me that I must address this man as Brother.  The ideals of the Occupy movement, as I understand them, call for us to care more for each other than profits and to eschew dehumanization.  Shhh God.  It was so easy a few moments ago.

At the conclusion of the service, my elder friend introduced me to Chief Reese and his wife.  The elder had blogged about the Occupy and gave the Chief the web address.  Although the elder said words of encouragement to Chief Reese, the Chief's eyes seemed to dart between the elder and I as he quickly tried to explain (?) apologize for (?) the situation.  I probably didn't help when I mentioned Tim was an Occupy Chaplain.

In front of me stood a Brother in Christ whose fatigue and stress were obvious.  Mistakes were made by both sides here in Portland and those responsible need to be held responsible.  If the Occupy Movement is to maintain its passion, its mission, and its credibility, we must continue to reach out to each other to find peaceful ways to protest injustice.  If the police are to maintain their community trust, they must use restraint and when protesters "must" be arrested, they absolutely must be treated with dignity.  Last Sunday was an excellent example as leaders of Occupy worked out with the police how our march would be conducted.  Portland police basically left "policing" of the march to the the Occupy "safety team" which worked splendidly.

God bothers us.  Continually.  As God yearns for us to move closer to God, God bothers us to love one another as God loves us.  God bothers us to love police and protesters.

Wait - you don't suppose God expects us to - yikes -love  bankers, too?  Shhhh Shhh Shhhh God. You are really bothering me now.

Where Are We Again?

This article, written by the Rev. Maggie Sebastian, originally appeared on her blog, revmother.com.  It is reprinted here with permission.

I hadn't intended on doing it.  I was tired - day four of a five-day week that was going to end in a 24 hour shift.  I wanted to be home.  It was cold and rainy; I was in Portland.  I got off of the #8 bus and looked down the street.  #N17.  Occupy the Banks.  The chants of the crowd down the street acted on me like a siren.  Toting all my junk on my shoulder, I walked towards the protest with curiosity, expectation and some fear.

With each step I saw them.  On horses, on bicycles, on motorcycles, in SUV's, on foot.  Cops in riot gear.  Cops fitted for violent response every where I turned.  I walked as far as I could.  The police stood shoulder-to-shoulder, batons in hand, zip cuffs on their belt, blocking the street.  This was real.  This wasn't some distant news report, but right in front of me.  I questioned my decision to investigate.

So many cops in riot gear.  They were everywhere.  And here I was, much like the 81-year-old man in town that had his head slammed on the ground last week,  just wanting to observe.    Was I going to get accosted as well?    The scene was chilling and more than sobering.  It was out and out frightening.  What country am I in again?

I wound up standing behind the "front line" of protesters facing the police.  The protesters chatted happily amongst themselves - not about hatred or violence - but about the Constitution and American History.  "You know nowadays, the Founding Fathers would be classified as terrorists for what they did to the tea."  "Do you know the exact wording of the First Amendment?  It goes . . ."  I understood that in part their conversation was supposed to be overheard by the police officers in front of them.  Hey, friend.  You are one of us, really.  We are all Americans.  One young fellow tried to start the chant, "You're sexy.  You're cute.  Take off your riot suit," but he couldn't quite pull it off and dissolved into giggles.

When I turned around to head back to my bus stop, I saw a young man with a homemade sign.  He was a little taller than me with wire-rimmed glasses, a long reddish beard, and a few extra pounds.  "Bookish" came to mind.  His sign had a message of social justice.  I can't remember the words exactly, but I remember thinking, "Yeah, we should actually live the Gospel.  What an idea."  I told him that I liked his sign and unexpectedly, he asked me where I worked.  "I'm a chaplain at the VA."  Then this young man's face lit up.  "I am studying to be a spiritual director."  I told him about the Chaplains Guild for Occupy Portland, and gave him a "cool to meet you."  He wasn't a "dirty hippie" that should "get a job," but a person of faith trying to make a difference.

Some people refuse to get it.  They are frightened by what they don't know, by change, by what they perceive might threaten their status quo.  Consequently, they vilify the Occupy protesters without hearing the overarching narrative:  The scales are lopsided and there is suffering.  No more. Many have suffered from our social/political policies in the last 30 years, and shame on us for just now taking to the streets.  No more.

Seems simple enough to me.

Only 43% of these protesters are 25 or under.  The other 57% are older with a good 12% eligible for an AARP card.  They are from all walks of life, beliefs, and ideologies.  And yes, there are some who are "high" or looking for confrontation.  But this hodgepodge of people understand something that most people in the pews don't grasp or refuse to grasp.  Justice happens when all of God's people are cared for, not just "me."  Capitalism is not Christianity.  Justice happens when we actually follow the lessons of the prophets and Christ and are willing to stick our necks out a bit.  Most of the protesters don't have a clue on how to fix what is wrong, but they are no longer willing to sit back and be silent.  They are boldly naming the ills - prophets in their own rights.  And much like the Biblical prophets, some are paying a heavy price for their efforts.

I hiked back up the street to wait for my bus.  I could have grabbed a bus as I walked but a line of police on horses blocked my way, so I walked all the way back to where I started.  As I stood in the rain and cold there was sudden movement.  State troopers marched up the sidewalk eerily reminding me of some bad movie about a lawless future America.  They boarded specially equipped SUV's so 10 or so rode on running boards.  The mounted police moved out.  What was going on?

I realized later that I had apparently just missed being in that place and at that moment of the pepper spraying.  Pepper spray against loud but peaceful protesters who up to this point have not broken one window.  Not in New York  Not in Chicago.  Not in Portland.  Where are we again?