Over the Thanksgiving weekend I was with my family in New York City, thinking about the sermon for the following week, and the familiar figure of John the Baptist.
You can still find plenty of people in and around Zuccotti Park, off Wall Street. The signs are back up, and young people, some of them a little unkempt, are hanging out, at least in the daytime.
And I thought, channeling the voice of my father – “They dress funny. They eat funny. “ Not camel’s hair-and –locusts-funny, but still. There are pots of communal soup, shared granola bars. I could hear my father’s voice, because I’ve been hearing it since about 1968, and I grew up just over the hill from Berkeley. “Why don’t they get a job, what are they doing hanging out and camping in the park. . . God, it smells. . . and what is their plan anyway?”
But come to think of it, John the Baptist didn’t have a plan for restructuring the political and economic systems of first century Palestine . He didn’t have a plan for fixing the institutional religious bodies of his day either --he just knew something was wrong. This was fairly typical for the prophets of the Old Testament. They complained a lot, about corruption and injustice. But they really never had a plan. John was louder in Matthew and Luke but it’s clear even here, his job was to open up a space, based only on the insight that all was not as it should be and that a new age needed to dawn. You could tell me that John wasn’t talking about social and political change when he was asking people to repent of their individual sins but you know – Mark is clear, John got himself killed because his little project there in the desert was sufficiently threatening to the king. Getting people to repent and tell the truth was going to rattle all the social arrangements. It always does.
Because something is wrong, I too am ready to join the Occupy movement though I don’t have a roughed-up flannel shirt, and I am a little picky about what I eat. That children are sliding into poverty here and around the world in such astonishing numbers, that 1 in 6 Americans live below the poverty line. That there are lousy schools and falling-down bridges, and you know all the rest. You don’t want me to suggest an economic plan. . . I haven’t balanced my checkbook since 1987 – but I still think it right to once again gather the people and say, “I’m not okay, – things here are not okay,” --and make space for another word.
Sometimes it’s all you can do. It’s all you can do even in your own life. You don’t have an answer, you don’t have a solution, all you can do is name what is wrong, and open up a space for thefor the next word to be heard. Dissatisfaction. . . it is a beautiful thing, a necessary thing. And sometimes, it’s all we’ve got.
Taryn Mattice, Chaplain
The Protestant Cooperative Ministry at Cornell