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Monday, December 19, 2011

No Time for Anglican Circumspection

'Peaceful demonstration', please, before 'Litigation'
On Saturday, December 17, during the attempted occupation of Duarte Square (the property owned by Trinity Wall Street and desired as a location for encampment by the protesters of Occupy Wall Street) I was in contact - through cell phone and prayer vigil - with my dear friend and clergy colleague, the Rev'd Michael T. Sniffen.

Michael is 31 years old, recently married, a doctoral student at Drew University, and is priest-in-charge of the Episcopal Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Brooklyn, New York. It is my continued great joy and delight to hear him introduce me as his mentor.

This is a complex and complicated situation with some astoundingly simple solutions - if there are those with the mind and heart to believe that the heart of the Scriptural message is hospitality and welcome to the "stranger" - with all the risks and entanglements involved - and that the heart of the message of Jesus is repentance so that we might turn toward the justice of God's Realm.

We've heard from the Bishop of NY and the Presiding Bishop on this matter. We've heard and seen Bishop Tutu do a rare but very telling flip-flop in his statements. We've also heard - and seen - the retired bishop of the Armed Forces, Bishop George Packard who has tried to negotiate between the OWS and TWS folks.

ENS has a wonderful, balanced summary of the day's events, reported by Sharon Sheridan. Please do go to this link and check it out.

You might also be edified by a letter written by another one of the protesters, Rev'd John Merz, to his bishop, the Rt. Rev'd Larry Provenzano after his release from jail for civil disobedience.

I urge you to read it in its entirety, but would like to highlight this paragraph:
There is no need any longer to publicly critique Trinity Wall Street for their track record. I promise for my part that I will not dwell there, but rather to move on with these parting notes:

Publicly they need to preserve face as they understand it according to their varied interests. Privately I must remark on the shocking dissonance between their professed support, their vast resources and power and the things they provided: leaving a drop-in center open, allowing group meetings in other space literally a handful if not less of times, deleting posts on their blogs that enjoined them for basic relief of human needs (porta-potties). It pains me to experience this disconnection, as they never intended to connect, listen to, and support this movement in any real way. It is a rehash of their 9/11 record (many know the real story there) locally in times of social crisis. They do the right thing only if self- preservation (image) requires it and even then only haltingly. There is no amount of explanation that can dissuade me of that. I do hope that I can forgive them. Perhaps one day they will also understand and forgive me for my challenging comments since this started the first weeks of OWS. Time will tell. But to devote another second to them would be a second wasted.
I think it's safe to say that the future of the church is in good hands.

Michael and I spoke briefly on the phone last last night as he was walking home after being released from jail. He wrote this to me early this morning, before going to preach and preside for his congregation. He has given me permission to share it with you. Indeed, he has asked me to help him "get the word out".

I am nothing if not a grateful evangelist for the ongoing revelation of God's Word.

Please take all these things and, like Mary, ponder them deeply in your heart.

Because, like Mary, the time is drawing nigh for us to take action.

Here's what Michael had to say:
After many hours in jail, the NYPD was good enough to release me along with Bishop Packard, The Rev. John Merz, The Rev. Dr. Earl Kooperkamp, other clergy, nuns, students, hunger strikers, parents, grandparents, and people of goodwill who committed the awful crime of stepping onto church property in solidarity with the poor, the least and the lost.

I did not plan to climb the fence, but I could not watch as officers used their knees and other human bodies as weapons against peaceful protesters. I am no hero, but I am a human being.

I naively thought that in this season of Advent, when we prepare for God's occupation of the world in Jesus Christ, that my brothers and sisters at Trinity Church would not direct the police to arrest me for standing in a vacant lot which they happen to own.

I was wrong.

Where were the Trinity clergy as police threw young women to the ground and stepped on them? Were they practicing a "ministry of presence" with their PR team? I hope not.

As I was having my mug shot taken, the flash of light reminded me of the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary in today's gospel passage from Luke.
With God all things are possible.

May God grant us courage and wisdom. We cannot sit in our studies and offer commentary as God's people suffer. That is sinfulness, plain and simple.
Anglican circumspection will not do in this season. We have had more than enough time to discern what is right.

In this season, we join The Blessed Virgin Mary in saying "Be it unto me according to thy word" and we suffer the consequences and experience the deep joy that a living faith provides.

As we broke bread in our cell with a hunger striker who had not eaten in 15 days he spoke these words, "It is an honor and a privilege to break bread with you today, my friends."

Sweet sacrament divine, sweet sacrament divine.
It's all about the Incarnation, my dears.

Always has been.

Always will be.

Or, as the OWS occupiers chant: "We are unstoppable, another world is possible."

Sounds like a great Christmas message to me.


Bill said...

Ah Michael, another seminarian who turned out well. Is he really only 30 or are we aging too rapidly.

JCF said...

Another Amen!

Muthah+ said...

The beat goes on. Bravo for +Packard and Sniffen and all who witnessed to the support of the poor.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bill - he is and we are.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, JCF

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah+ It does indeed. I'm amazed by the buzz among clergy and some folks who say they are "for" OWS but "against" this demonstration. So, not only are they fighting the good fight but they are doing it without the full support of Christian community. It was ever thus, I suppose

Joe B said...

So wonderful to see this mutigenerational crowd of clergy standing in solidarity for what's right. And I'm really touched -- but not surprised at all -- that good leaders like Elizabeth have influenced those they have touched and guided so obviously well.

Allen said...

I'm glad that Michael mentioned my rector, Earl Kooperkamp. We at St, Mary's Manhattanville (West Harlem) have been involved one way and another in Occupy from the beginning in September,

Frair John said...

who committed the awful crime of stepping onto church property in solidarity with the poor, the least and the lost.

Damn. I read that part out loud and thought about what a friend of mine said: "When we say that Jesus 'sittest at the right hand of the Father', the hierarchy mutters, 'where he belongs.'"

That risen Lord leading us to do things that good WASPS and upright Middle Class people shouldn't be doing.