Who Occupies Your Heart?

On Friday, as I walked onto UC Berkeley’s campus and toward the nocturnally abandoned remnants of the Occupy Berkeley cardboard protests, the seriousness of the movement struck me for the first time. Now, I am not saying that I agree with all the rhetoric, the hype, the tactics being used, or even the philosophy underlying Occupy Wall Street (if there is one such philosophy). What I am saying is that there is a reason it has become a movement: it resonates with something beautiful in the souls of human beings.

As I wade into the deep and turbulent waters of commenting on the Occupy movement, I am painfully aware of something: Like most contemporary issues in my beloved country, this one divides people. Many people are either for it or against it. They hold their positions with a kind of ferocity, and they express their opinions with a sharp injection of venom. Even those who “don’t care” seem zealously apathetic, annoyed by the hype, and not interested enough to clarify their confusion.

Consider this an invitation to none of these positions.

In one sense, the Occupy movement encourages me. In it we can see that not even the often self-centered, intentionally ignorant, materialistic culture we live in can stamp out the common human dream of justice. There is something inside us that wants to see the world set right, and something inside of us still believes it can be set right. Why else would we campaign to make it so? Why would people endure being beaten with night sticks or pepper sprayed? (To be clear, I’m not commenting on police procedure. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see if there were inciting incidents. I just think it’s notable that people have subjected themselves to this kind of treatment for a cause.) If the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, if some powerful people are taking advantage of the powerless, then I am glad our country’s conscience has not been so clouded as to remain completely silent.

However, it seems to me that a fundamental flaw in the movement (at least what I have seen of it) is an “us vs. them” attitude. The 99% percent against the 1%. The 1% use their financial and political power. The 99% use their numerical power. It’s a kind of war. Not only that. It’s being waged as a kind of “holy war.” I don’t mean to say that it’s violent. I mean that there is a clear sense in the movement of the occupiers’ own social righteousness as they vehemently shout down the unrighteousness of the 1%.

That reminds me of a story Donald Miller tells in Blue Like Jazz. As he is protesting against President Bush, big business, and lack of Third World labor rights (which he views as all connected), something begins to dawn on him. As he waves his sign high so that the President can see it, he feels like somebody in his heart is waiving a sign at him.

The problem is not a certain type of legislation or even a certain politician; the problem is the same that it has always been. I am the problem. I think every conscious person, every person who is awake to the functioning principles within his reality, has a moment where he stops blaming the problems in the world on group think, on humanity and authority, and starts to face himself. I hate this more than anything. (p. 20, emphasis added)

Put another way, N.T. Wright says, “The line between justice and injustice, between things being right and things not being right, can’t be drawn between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ It runs right down through the middle of each one of us” (Simply Christian, 6). In other words, we would like to fancy ourselves only Dr. Jekyll even though Mr. Hyde lives in every human heart.

If we truly understood our own flawed selves, we wouldn’t shout so much about the flaws of others. Yes, truth needs to be spoken to power, but even power ought to be spoken to in love. Otherwise, we simply assert our own form of power and perpetuate the cycle.

According to John Ames’ character in Gilead, there are two kinds of people in the Bible who chastise others: scribes and prophets. The difference between them is that prophets love the people they chastise. In that, they display the very character of God.

You see, God isn’t happy with the way the world is either. However, he doesn’t just use his insuperable power to squash the unjust (good news for each of us!). The Christian message was that God took on human flesh in order to set the captives free, release the oppressed, absorb our injustice, and to gather up our just punishment to himself on the cross. His resurrection, the central event of the Christian story, tells us that this injustice was put to death, and the potential for a fresh and beautiful way of life rose in its place. The resurrection not only gives us the spiritual strength to pursue this way of life here and now, but also guarantees us that God himself will someday set the world right.

N.T. Wright writes:

…all people know, in cooler moments, that this strange thing we call justice, this longing for things to be put right, remains one of the great human goals and dreams. Christians believe that this is so because all humans have heard, deep within themselves, the echo of a voice which calls us to live like that. And they believe that in Jesus that voice became human and did what had to be done to bring it about (SC, 15).

That voice occupies Christian hearts and gives us our marching orders: Speak up for the poor and oppressed, but love the oppressor because every victim of injustice has been its agent as well.

As Christ, full of both grace and truth, occupies our hearts by his Holy Spirit, we can move past the polarizing rhetoric toward true and lasting progress.

3 Responses to Who Occupies Your Heart?

  1. Brent Pollema says:

    Great post Kyle! I agree, it starts with looking at yourself and making the changes needed before you can help someone else change.

  2. Kathleen says:

    I agree! Great post!

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