“Occupy” is certainly the protest verb of the season. Nonetheless, I was utterly surprised by the #OccupyAdvent hashtag in a friend’s Twitter stream. I have long shared frustration with the economic disparities that sparked OccupyWallStreet – and OccupyDuluth. I also share the odd liminal state of those Occupy movements. We can see the inequalities, we know they need to change. But what, exactly, is the next step? #OccupyAdvent captured it for me.
Why I resonate with #OccupyAdvent
On the one hand, the irrational exuberance (remember Alan Greenspan?) that produced so many bubbles in the last decade was really only irrational for the people who believed that they could move into the top tier with high-flying investments, cheap credits, and unbelievable mortgage rates. Those folks – Occupy calls them the 99% – lost much or all of their savings, their homes, their jobs. The process was not so irrational for many in the financial sector: their salaries and bonuses continued unabated.
The Christian message of Advent is one of watching and waiting, of realigning our actions towards the authentically and the real. We watch and wait for the coming of Christ in our lives, in our families, in our communities. The spirituality of Advent is the antidote to the spending frenzy that is tempting many – even in the midst of unemployment and foreclosure – back into the glitz of big box stores to buy a 42″ television or stuff more fashionable clothes into our closets.
Advent needs to be Occupied
As long as I have been a Christian, pastors have been preaching homilies urging us not to be overtaken by consumerist Christmas during Advent – that the preparation should be in our hearts, not in a growing stack of wrapped boxes. It’s largely been a losing battle, as even gas stations and drug stores begin to sell Christmas decorations around Halloween. While we resonate to homilies urging us to pray, fast – not just from food – and give alms and help to the needy, those messages can be drowned out by commercial jingles.
Americans’ other source of moral statement – economic pundits – tell us that our spending in December is what keeps stores alive and growing. For the good of the nation, they say, we should rush out and spend money. Most of the hype – and spending – does not support the small local businesses that truly do provide a lot of jobs. The big purchases in big box stores will, for the most part, take our money out of town.
How to Occupy Advent
Advent is an open space, a spirituality ready and waiting to be taken up again. We will each move into it – occupy it – in creative ways. Certainly, the traditional practices of silence and prayer help us to unhook from the commercial frenzy. Almsgiving, in modern terms, might be volunteering – not only in food pantries and shelters but, in many cities, volunteers are keeping libraries, parks, rec centers and other functions going. These are the beginnings of rebuilding community and economy at the local level – creating true value.
Do we give up Christmas to Occupy Advent? I don’t think so. Instead of spending hours rushing from store to store, we may spend time writing notes, baking cookies, making small gifts (it really is the thought that counts!) – all the while waiting, watching, hoping for the new life that is coming.
Founders of the #OccupyAdvent movement say: “I encourage you all to “like” Occupy Advent on Facebook and follow it on Twitter. During the Advent season, reflect on the thoughts posted there. Share and retweet the posts with your friends and followers as way of spreading the movement of peace and reflection this Advent.” You can read an interview describing how the idea sprang up.