We've been thrilled and overwhelmed by all the warmth and excitement we've received in the last few days. Our group is trying to sort through emails right now in addition to keeping the Spirituality tent up & running and scheduling the beautiful variety of services being held at the tent. If you've emailed us, we WILL get back to you!
Clergy and laity from all over the country are asking how to create Protest Chaplains at their own city's #Occupy movement, and since August, we've intended for the Protest Chaplain concept to be something easily picked up, adapted, and used by anyone, wherever.
To that end, and while we try to sort through emails, here's what you can do:
1. Set up an email for your city. "OccupyXXSpirituality@whatever.com" works. Post it in the comments. That way people can start finding each other directly.
2. Grab your friends. Make some signs. Show up at your local event. People will find you. Collect email addresses. Make a facebook page and/or Twitter account. Then email us and we'll make a page of local Protest Chaplains/Spirituality groups.
3. Host a discussion about Occupy Wall Street at your church, synagogue, community center, etc using this guide from the Interfaith Worker Justice folks. All you need is one gentle person who is a strong discussion facilitator. It's amazing how much emotion there is surrounding this protest.
We're working on getting some guidelines/collected wisdom of experience so far/resources together, but in the meantime, this ought to be enough to get you off the ground.
WHAT WE'VE LEARNED SO FAR
The big lesson we've learned is that showing up matters. Here's how we see that working.
1. Religious symbols are still amazingly powerful. If you're clergy, wearing your gear and showing up is basically all you need to do. Some folks might think it's a "costume." This is both hilarious and sad: one guy told us in New York that we were the first Christians he'd ever seen at a protest - at least, on his side. Then be prepared to listen. (See more about listening below.)
2. Every city is different. What you & your group can & can't do is going to depend a lot on the physical space. In New York, where no tents are allowed and the cops are always cracking down, the Chaplains' presence had to be mobile: we wore albs, carried a cardboard processional cross, and sang. In Boston, we have an interfaith spirituality tent, which functions as organizing center and opportunity for silence amidst the city noise. Consider what's most useful in your city.
3. Humor covers a multitude of sins. Plenty of people have been burned by religion. Many of us have too. One of the ways people will figure you out and decide whether you're "OK" or not is by poking at you a bit to see how you'll react. Please don't get all weird and authoritarian. Get your Beginner's Mind on. Religious folks have more to learn from OWS than OWS has to learn from us. If you don't take yourself too seriously, you'll build trust. Which leads to #4:
4. YOUR JOB IS NOT TO DEFEND YOUR RELIGION, SO DON'T. Even in the most aggressive, unfair criticisms of any particular religion, there is a legitimate concern underneath. If this comes up in conversation, acknowledge it. You probably agree anyway. If someone tries to engage you in an argument, don't take the bait. Practice nonviolent communication and active listening. Ask the person how they describe their most closely held beliefs, hopes, griefs. Focus on practice. How do they find quiet and recharge when they get burned out? We've found these conversations to be incredibly moving. You'll hear a lot of "how religion screwed me over" stories. You might be the first "religious" person to ever listen compassionately to these stories. We've been stunned at how intense a need there is for this kind of listening. It's a huge gift you can give.
5. Sing, don't shout. It's almost impossible, especially if you're organizing as Christians, not to sound like an angry lunatic even if you try to do even the gentlest of "readings." Unless, of course, you're able to organize a service. For services, have one person volunteer to be the greeter as people come by and want to know what you're doing. That way everyone will be welcomed and the service can go on uninterrupted. Oh, and SMILE. This is fun, remember?
6. DO NOT PROSELYTIZE. That's not OK. That's not what chaplains do. The Occupy movement is about working together despite the fact we all have our single issues and existing organizational work etc. Not only is proselytizing obnoxious, it's detrimental to the movement. (And we won't claim ya.)
7. Be a resource. Do you have info for mental health crisis resources/shelters/foodbanks? That will be helpful. People who are disoriented/lost/high/upset etc will quickly get referred to you if you have a visible presence. Make friends with the medics - you'll need to work together.
8. Let what happens, happen. We have a word for this anyway: faith. The first night of Occupy Boston, before we even had a tent, we hadn't even finished laying out some camping pads and battery-operated candles before random people sat down & started meditating. If you build it, they will come. It's beautiful. Give thanks. And don't pretend for a second that you have any control over any of this. Enjoy the ride!
9. Chaplains don't work alone. Neither should you. Can't find anyone? Try posting on Craigslist. Or, just show up with a sign, and see who finds you. Let the Holy Spirit do her thing.
10. Be rhetorically sensitive. Try to consult people who have done interfaith work about language for God/the sacred/what you hold dearest. We did an Inter-And-No-Faith Dinner Blessing in NY and even that bit of irreverence made it not scary for people who can't stand religion. After that, one woman approached us and said this was the first time she had seen religion do something positive. It's about the welcome. We're not trying to create divisions, but uncreate divisions.
Now go forth in the name of peace and enjoy this wild moment in history! Alleluia! Let us know how it goes!