Last week (November 3) the Anglican churches commemorated Richard Hooker (1554-1600), one of the most prominent authors of the “Anglican Way”. Last year we wrote about the historic significance of him and his work. But does he also have significance exceeding the history of the church alone, in context of the challenges that we are struggling with now? Does Richard Hooker have something to say to the activists of the Occupy Movement? Can the church which looks for its place in times of crisis learn something from him? For if commemorating our ancestors in faith has any sense at all, it is that they should be important for us now, in the circumstances we live in, in the face of the challenges we struggle with. If it isn’t so, there is nothing left but to agree with Thomas Merton, who said: “I’m tiered of those baroque saints.” Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkowski attempted to read Hooker anew, at the same time observing and taking part in Occupy Oakland…
Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Church History at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (Episcopal Church) and a member of the Core Doctoral Faculty at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. His primary areas of research are the history of Jewish-Christian relations from the fourth to twelfth centuries, comparative theology between Judaism and Christianity, and Anglican history and ecclesiology.
1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16
“Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:4)
We are living in times of crisis.
Now, I could stand here and direct our attention to the crisis in the seminaries or the crisis in the shrinking numbers of Episcopalians.
But I want to speak tonight about the crisis beyond our walls.
There has been a growing sense in this country that something has gone wrong in our economic and financial systems but nothing was being done to fix it.
I am speaking about the sense that our systems, our policies, and our government have failed the average citizen.
I am speaking about the sense that the privileged and connected profited while others fell between the cracks has simmered for years.
All this came to a boil this fall with the Occupy movement.
Starting first with Occupy Wall Street in mid-September, the movement has grown nationally and internationally so that small towns and metropolises are witnessing citizens giving voice to the brokenness of our common life.
It might be rightly said that the movement as a whole does not have a clear voice or its message is too amorphous.
But it has provided a way for people to speak into the whirlwind of this crisis.
The cry “We are the 99%” is the cry of those who feel swept up in the whirlwind of greed, corruption and power wielded by the 1%.
And this whirlwind has come to our own doorstep at CDSP.
The Tuesday of reading week, I was riveted to my computer.
Sitting comfortably in my home I was reading Twitter reports of protestors being tear gassed.
I heard of rubber bullets being fired.
I watched video shot from helicopters of humans being scattered by riot police.
The crisis had come home.
The crisis came home to me in a way that compelled me to look more closely at Occupy Oakland.
And so yesterday I marched peacefully with other members of this community as part of the General Strike in Oakland.
And the crisis came home again in a new way.
While thousands marched and demonstrated peacefully, not all were committed to the path of nonviolent protest.
It angers me that a small group of people sought out conflict with police and willfully engaged in vandalism yesterday.
Just as the Occupy movement is speaking in a time of crisis, it itself has reached a crisis point – will it stay unified around non-violent protest or will it be fractured by a splinter group that pays no heed to the common good?
How can the demand for economic and social justice that I saw yesterday at the Occupy Oakland and the problem of the violence around its edges be understood in light of the wisdom of God revealed to us in Christ?
I think it is appropriate to meditate on the meeting of the Church with the Occupy movement on this day.
It is important because Anglicans in the United States, Canada and England have been drawn into the Occupy movement.
In New York City, Providence, and Boston, Episcopal clergy and parishes have been actively ministering to those encamped.
We read reports of clergy going into Occupy encampments to be confronted with the question: “What took you so long to get here? “
The poor are being fed and the sick cared for while the Church sits on the sidelines.
In London, protesters at the London Stock Exchange have pitched their tents in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
In turn, the leadership of St. Paul’s at first sought to evict the protestors and now have reversed themselves.
Where is the church in this crisis?
It is appropriate to meditate on this meeting between the Church and the Occupy Movement on this day because Hooker was not someone removed from the events of his time.
On the contrary, Hooker himself lived like us – in a time of crisis.
The end of the Elizabethan reign when Hooker wrote his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity was a period of crisis in which the future of the Church of England was up for grabs.
Indeed, the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is a response to crisis between promoters of the Church of England and Puritans who sought to fundamentally remake it into the image of Calvin’s Geneva.
Hooker wrote passionately and polemically.
He took a stand and staked his claim.
Hooker spoke against the drive advocated by Puritans to create stark differences between a pure church and heretical churches.
For Puritans there were the winners and losers, those who possessed God’s truth and those whom Puritans sought to dispossess of a share in that truth.
But Hooker emphasized a unified vision in which all creation shared in God’s truth.
As in Psalm 19, Hooker understood that all creation is revelatory of God as creator.
Indeed the ordering of the cosmos itself reveals God’s eternal truth.
For the people of Israel and for Christians, God’s ongoing revelation in creation is heightened and deepened in God’s unique revelation in the Scriptures.
It is out of this revelation that Christians can say with Paul, “we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages” (1 Cor 2:7).
This revelation culminates in the Christian’s participation in Christ, and thus in the very life of God (John 17:21b).
According to Hooker, it is by the Christian’s participation in the life of God, particularly through the sacraments, that we can again say with Paul that “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).
All Christians in all churches, whether rooted in Canterbury, or Rome, or Geneva, or Wittenberg, or Lagos, or Singapore, or New York, all churches participate in God’s work in the world.
For Hooker, the church exists specifically for the ordering of the common good of the society in which it finds itself.
The Church exists not to sustain itself but to minister to all people.
And here we have come back to the question of our time of crisis –
How can we as church speak to, be with, witness among, the Occupy movement and those who gather at their General Assemblies, their strikes, their days of action?
Now keep in mind, although Hooker speaks of the importance of the common good, he was no democrat.
As a good Anglican of his time, he was a staunch monarchist and no fan of lay control of the life of the church.
Nonetheless, his vision of the unity of all creation leading to the fullness of participation in God through Christ Jesus lays at the center of Anglican thought and from it emanates the intertwined paths of our theology and social teachings.
It is here that we encounter the truth for the collect of this day – that we are to pursue “comprehension for truth, not compromise for peace.”
That is, if we have indeed put on the mind of Christ and are driven to seek the common good of all for the sake of God’s vision of the unity of all creation, what are we to do in the face of the crisis before us?
It is a national crisis.
We are faced with massive income inequality,
we are faced with profiteering,
we are faced with a corporate and political culture that is increasingly callous towards the poor and working families.
What are we to do?
Ordinary people of their own accord have organized and declared themselves as the 99%, as the voiceless themselves who will no longer stand for the greed and depredations of the 1%.
And what will we do?
Some among the 99% themselves act violently and refuse to uphold the common good.
And what will we do?
If we really want to honor the memory of Hooker and honor the best of our theology and social teachings, I say we should be Church and wade into the midst of those who occupy.
And then we will be honest.
We will be honest in the way that Tripp Hudgins, a doctoral student in liturgy here at the GTU who has become part of our community, has been honest in a recent essay for Sojourners in which he declared that we all are the 100%.
I would put it this way.
If we are honest, we will say:
We are the 99%.
We are the 99% —
we have within us those who have lost much,
those who have lost homes,
those who have lost jobs,
those who were born on the margins and struggle from there,
those who live from paycheck to paycheck,
those burdened by debts that might never be repaid,
those who feel powerless,
those whose voice is discounted by the powerful,
those whose thirst for God’s justice has not yet been quenched.
If we are honest, we will say:
We are the 1% —
we have among us those who have profited from the global economy, turning a blind eye to the economic exploitation,
and greed that service our companies’ balance sheets and our retirement accounts.
We have among us those who live in privilege and do not see it.
Those who cling to their privilege mightily and will not acknowledge it lest it slip away.
We are a church that mourns for its lost position of privilege while being dragged by the Spirit into the mission of God.
And if we have the mind of Christ, we will say:
We are the 100% —
We are rich and poor.
We are sinful and righteous.
We yearn for justice and we look out for ourselves alone.
We seek to bring in all the brokenness, all the truth, all the anger, all the healing.
We seek the good and the true that ultimately rest in God alone.
We will say this if we have the mind of Christ –
to be Church is to be the 100% —
to contain both the 99 and the 1.
And to have the mind of Christ, to seek the unity of God’s creation, means sometimes to stand as the 100% for the 99%.
It means to stand for those who have been victimized and exploited and to require justice from the 1% among us who will not surrender their privilege.
It is right to stand amid the 99% and witness to the way of Jesus, past revenge to the way that shows God’s desire to reconcile all people.
It is right to call the 1% to repentance for the sake of the 99% so we may be the 100%.
And so I end by saying that if Hooker is right,
if Scripture is true,
if God desires the unity of all creation in the Word that pitched its tent among us,
then we will go beyond these walls to the tents pitched in our midst
and be Church among them
for the sake of the 100%.