It was Friday before a typically busy, full weekend. In my heart and mind, throughout all the important agenda items that justly fill my thoughts, I had been brooding about Occupy. Then I got a call asking how I might react to the possibility of the Episcopal Churches in San Francisco providing respite care for the Occupy San Francisco protesters so that the violence that erupted in Oakland would not be repeated in San Francisco. Obviously I said that we would help.
I immediately wrote all the vicars and rectors in San Francisco, and in Oakland, and said that I hoped we could help, and that I wanted their ideas, and the ideas that emerged in consultation with their lay leaders, and out of conversation with the Occupy protesters.
What happened next is Beloved DioCal, or, Occupy San Francisco/Oakland::Open DioCal. I got immediate responses, overwhelming responses from most of the vicars and rectors. They were talking to their vestries and bishop’s committees, they were getting up and going down to the encampments and protest sites and talking with the protesters, they were expressing their immediate willingness to respond in compassion, and they expressed it thoughtfully – “We can mobilize volunteers, but is respite care what the protesters want and need? I’d like to find out from them and evolve a response from among ourselves with them” – that response was repeated in different words by many.
On Wednesday a group of DioCal clergy and lay people traveled from San Francisco to Oakland to be part of the general strike called for by Occupy across the United States by the Occupy Oakland protesters. Here is what one of them wrote to me:
“It was a really invigorating protest, with only a little bit of property destruction (broken windows at banks, tags sprayed on buildings including the Cathedral of Christ the Light and Whole Foods). The VAST majority of the protesters where calling the violent folks out and insisting they stop. I had a few conversations with people, mostly folks who came in for the protest and march. There were two little girls with bundles of sage and an older Latino man was showing them how to bless people with the sage - I was blessed by a girl with blue braids woven in her hair. There was some loud conversations between protesters and observers, I think about the property damage. The press is reporting about 3500-4000 protesters, and honestly I couldn't tell if it was more or less - people were spread out all over the blocks around Frank Ogawa Plaza.”
Not two weeks ago I expressed my continuing belief that God has made the Diocese of California a place of the greatest possibility, and that for that possibility to come into being, for Christ to continue to incarnate among us, asks for openness from us, the intentional opening, moment by moment, of our hearts. This response from our diocese came to me as blessing of affirmation of my faith in God working among us.
My friend, the Rev. Daniel Simons, recently of All Saints Company in DioCal and now at Trinity, Wall Street, says there is no 1% and 99%, but only 100% - we are all in this together. This is a truth that overlights but does not erase tensions, differences, and even injustices. One reason I have been brooding about Occupy is that I know numbers of wealthy people in DioCal who are so committed to using their wealth to create fairness, eliminate suffering, address the root causes of poverty. The role of the Church is to make sure that no one is reduced to a statistic, a percentage. Rather, we are called to create contexts for conversation, for understanding, and so for conversion and transformation – on all sides.
On October 31, Sheila and I traveled to New York for a diverse series of meetings. I wrote Daniel Simons before we left and asked if he could make time to talk with us about his experience with Occupy Wall Street. We had an extraordinary day on Tuesday talking with Daniel, going to Zuccotti Park, talking with protesters at Charlotte’s Place, and with the director and staff there. In my next dispatch on Occupy I’ll report on the visit to Occupy Wall Street.