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To Occupy, Liberate, and Love

2011 October 17

Although I am late to the game, I have recently started watching through the newer seasons of Doctor Who. The Season 3 episode “Gridlock” has been haunting me since I watched it. In this episode the Doctor and Martha Jones visit New New York in the year 5 Billion and 43 where they find an underground world consisting of one massive traffic jam. In an overpopulated world, underworld families live in small flying cars on a deadly polluted underground highway. It can take years to travel a few miles, and so they exist isolated in their cars as they inch forward through the gridlock. The commuters have hope that the police will one day open more lanes or solve the traffic problems and they then take comfort in the moment by singing nostalgic but meaningless hymns (like “The Old Rugged Cross”) during broadcasted daily reflection moments. The Doctor steps into this world and breaking all established rules of traffic discovers that the overworld has been wiped out leaving the commuters stuck in hopeless and pointless gridlock. He subsequently flings open the doors to the overworld, showing them the way out if they are willing to simply fly themselves out into the light.

The episode is a beautiful incarnation story and has repeatedly popped into my mind as I reflect on the current Occupy Wall Street protests (yes, this is the way my mind works). There is no precise correlation, but I couldn’t help but notice similarities. In our isolated attempts at living the American dream according to the rules the system imposed upon us we know there are problems, but there is a tendency to assume that some authority will somehow eventually fix our problem for us. So we wait patiently, abiding by the rules, taking comfort in our sweet but impotent religious rituals, dying slowly as we come to mistake the rat-race for reality. A few of us might get ahead, moved to the fast lane so to speak, which we take as a sign of hope that the system is working and that one day we might actually arrive. We might talk about freedom, and love, and justice, and mercy as if they are some ideal we can strive towards – a better world we can hope to someday arrive at – but they aren’t reflected in the shape of our everyday lives. That is consumed with inching forward in our individual existence.

So when something like Occupy Wall Street comes along it challenges the status quo. And if our hope is in the fulfillment of the status quo, a challenge to that makes us fearful. What if we lose our place? What if all the time we have spent was wasted? Shouldn’t we just wait for the people in charge to figure it all out and get us all running smoothly again? What is scary to some about the Occupy movement is that instead of giving comfort in the moment or hope in the continued status quo, it is calling for liberation. Perhaps that is not the message of every voice or even of the details, but the collective message is one calling people out to a different way. It is a message that the system is broken, we are hopelessly stuck, and we need to find a way out.

There might not be a TARDIS to incarnate the Doctor into our particular moment, but for the sake of liberation perhaps we are the one we have been waiting for. Liberation is the result of the event of love. Not a vague hope in the idea of love, but the event of love entering into and utterly transforming the tragedy of the status quo. As Jurgen Moltmann wrote about this love,

It is not the interpretation of love as an ideal, a heavenly power or as a commandment, but of love as an event in a loveless, legalistic world: the event of an unconditioned and boundless love which comes to meet man, which takes hold of those who are unloved and forsaken, unrighteous or outside the law, and gives them a new identity, liberates them from the norms of social identifications and from the guardians of social norms and idolatrous images. … [But] Just as the unconditional love of Jesus for the rejected made the Pharisees his enemies and brought him to the cross, so unconditional love also means enmity and persecution in a world in which the life of man is made dependent on particular social norms, conditions and achievements. A love which takes precedence and robs these conditions of their force is folly and scandal in this world.”

The impulse toward freedom, toward liberation, is slowly awakening across the nation. The doors have been thrown open; we now have to choose if we will drive out into the light. The protests are, of course, not perfect. There are the dangers of creating new constraining status quos, of corruption, or simply the re-iteration of the same status quos with new faces at the helm. These are the typical demons that prey upon those embracing the event of liberating love – demons that the guardians of the current status quo are sure to parade about in attempts to scare the timid away from joining the movement towards freedom. But love always involves risk. Freedom from the conditions and gridlock of this world is always tied to the ongoing event of love. Love – that unconditional event that liberates for the shalom of the whole – is not an ideal but that ongoing way of life. It takes work to live into a new identity – to figure out how to live differently. The call to occupy isn’t for a quick fix (which I sincerely hope it doesn’t settle for), but it is instead the call to usher in an entire new way of being that requires us all to drastically change as we enter into the difficult work of liberating love – despite obstacles, despite opposition.

It’s hard to speak of a different way in our world today. Perhaps all I’m doing is just reflecting on a good story here. But maybe it’s a parable, or better yet, a dream. And the world is waking up and sometimes dreams do come true.


4 Responses leave one →
  1. Lara Helfer permalink
    October 17, 2011

    Wow. I’m not a follower of Christ. I am a Unitarian Universalist Candidate for ministry, which means i’m in my last year of seminary (at Claremont School of Theology in California)and ready to seek ordination in fall 2012. I wish to say that I was moved by your post and resonated strongly with it. I preached on this very topic yesterday — Jesus as a prophet/teacher, the connection of his actions to Occupy (he’d be out there protesting, speaking the truth), and finding that internal g-d light within each of us that both connects us and helps us to change the world. I look forward to dialogue with you.

  2. November 21, 2011

    “So when something like Occupy Wall Street comes along it challenges the statuts quo. ”

    Yes it does. The status quo says to go get a job, not squat in public parks, assault uniformed police officers, and in general make yourself as obnoxious as possible.

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