Saturday, October 8, 2011

Thank you! Welcome! You can do this too!


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. "" 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.


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!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

For We Wrestle Not against Flesh and Blood

A post from Protest Chaplain Kevin Vetiac:

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places".
Ephesians 6:12

This Scripture came alive for me as I attended the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City on Saturday, September 17. It was my first protest ever, but I can easily say I will never be the same. I went with a group of 9 other Christians as the Protest Chaplains. We were there to be a specifically Christian witness against corporate greed and excess and the exploitation of the poor. It was absolutely wonderful to stand in solidarity with the protesters! We sang, we prayed, we gave out about 500 granola bars and we had many conversations with many wonderful people.

One of the things I remember most is seeing the bronze statue of the bull for the first time. It was barricaded and there were police standing around it to protect it from protesters. I was disgusted! Seeing police officers defend this idol, this symbol of the false god of money devouring human lives in order to make a profit, made me want to vomit. It was then that I became aware that we were confronting evil. This protest wasn't just a social battle it was a spiritual one. We joined the people and we marched around the bull several times holding up a cross and I felt God marching with us. My eyes are tearing up just thinking about it. The atmosphere was intensely charged. I felt this surge of energy and the conviction that darkness cannot overcome the light. Evil will never conquer good. Justice can be delayed but it cannot be stopped. This bull and all who swear by it will fall.

This was the first time that I realized that being a follower of Jesus in this present time meant being an activist. When huge banks and corporations seek to devour the soul of America, highjack our political and economic systems and reduce democracy to a historical artifact, Christians must not lock themselves in their churches. We must follow Jesus out of our churches and into the streets to stand in solidarity with all who fight for justice, fairness and equality. Our faith never tells us to run and hide from evil, but to confront it head on with the knowledge that evil shall not prevail.

It is not enough for the church to say "Blessed are the poor". What are we doing to help them? Do we dare speak the truth to power in love? Are we willing to lay aside our comfort and complacency to be a voice for those who are trying to be silenced by systems of oppression and exploitation? Let's not just say what Jesus said. Let's do what Jesus did and is still doing today: setting the captives free. Let us turn our prayers into action. Let us follow Jesus, the Liberator; the Jesus who was never ok with anyone being mistreated and stepped on, especially the poor. This protest gives me an opportunity to do just that and I am going to follow this Jesus with all that I have within me. I hope you will join me.

Following the Way,

(follow Kevin's personal blog at

The Example of Peace, Respect, and Democracy

Jesus said: "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." John 13:15

What is your position? Why are you doing this? What is the point? Aren't you just causing trouble? These are the same questions that Christ faced during His ministry. And He often frustrated the questioners by confusing them further, with parables or His own questions. Then He went back to being a teacher and exemplar, just as much in what He did as what He said.

We're following Christ in this way, as are many of the Occupation. The point isn't to demand something, get it, and then go home. The point is to show people the Way to live that gives us life, joy, and allows us to flourish as who we all are: the children of God. And that Way is lived, as Jesus shows us over and over again.

He turns no one away, and neither does the Occupation. He fed everyone, and so does the Occupation. He proclaimed love and non-violence, and so does the Occupation. He healed the sick, spoke with everyone, heard their stories, shared their lives, and stood in defiance against those who hid behind the law in order to harm and exclude. So does the Occupation.

An update from Protest Chaplain Julia Capurso:

Yesterday was the first time I shouted, "This is what democracy looks like!" and felt that I was truly living that democracy, not just shouting it.
After squatting at Occupy Boston Friday night, I awoke into a democratic, egalitarian community. Our sacred space, which began as a spread of blankets and sleeping pads, has been upgraded to a large tent. The space is now collectively held as truly sacred through prayer, meditation, yoga, reiki healing, chant, song, reflection, laughs and tears.

For me, this is the opportunity of a lifetime -- to live into my social, political, and economic ideals through nurturing and participating in the diverse spirituality expressed by so many others.

I hope that those of you who have not had an opportunity to become part of this community do make the time to experience the love here. The tent alone is not a sacred space, though it takes only one person sitting in prayer to provide silence for another.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Kingdom of God Is in Your Midst

"Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed,  nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Luke 17: 20-21

An update from Protest Chaplain Dave Woessner:
Just got back from a wet, cold night at Occupy Boston. I have some new ideas as to why this is so difficult for the mainstream media to understand: this is real community.  
What does that look like? There is free food for all. There is emergency medical care for all. There is the "really really free market" of clothes and supplies. There is a media team. There is a logistics team. There is a sacred space..., open to all, offering prayer, meditation, yoga, and talks from specific traditions (maintained by the Protest Chaplains). Everyday there is a general assembly. At this event, the community discusses what we stand for. Imagine that! A discussion with real debate, real voting, and real democracy. There is no crime. People help one another and smile, though there are serious differences in our beliefs. The fact that the media keeps asking for one demand, one leader, etc. is a sign that they've forgotten that democracy is a process and not a totalitarian framework.
And it just *feels* good. For your soul. No snarkiness, no hubris, no irony, a little bit of anger, but a lot more peace. And hope. It's really all about hope.  We're here because we think that Christ calls us to live into the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven.  But you can come for your own reason.  Stop by and check it out. It'll do you good.

Monday, October 3, 2011

We Are All One!

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -- Galatians 3:28

The love of Christ calls us to pursue God's justice for all people.  But the love of Christ sees no distinction.  We're protesting on behalf of all humanity: the poor and the suffering first and foremost, as we are called by Christ.  But we also protest on behalf of politicians, bankers, tycoons, cops, soldiers, TEA Partiers, criminals, terrorists, middle-class Americans, Union members, the Koch brothers, and on and on.  This action is about WAKING UP.  We can no longer found our justice on absolute isolation masquerading as freedom.  We need to found our justice on true freedom: absolute love.  That love knows no boundaries.

And it's contagious.  Here's a post from Protest Chaplain Julia Capurso:

This awesome cop coached our sidewalk protesters.
"They need practice!...Stand together so you look stronger...Keep your feet movin'..."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Protest Chaplains Occupy Boston! Join us!

"It seems to me that here we should admire above all Mary's obedience. And so we should be ready to obey too. This obedience is very revolutionary, because it's obedience to love. Obedience to love is very revolutionary, because it commands us to disobey everything else."    -- Comments on the Annunciation from Alejandro, a Nicaraguan fisherman who worshiped at the lay monastery at Solentiname.

We're in Dewey Square in Boston, just outside of the Federal Reserve, part of the Occupy Boston Faith and Spirituality Group.  We're praying, singing, meditating, and chanting our message of peace, reconciliation, and reform.  Come down and join us!

Though we're unabashedly Christians, people from all faith traditions (or none) are welcome to join us in this action.  We are all sisters and brothers united by love.  If you can, wear your liturgical garb: albs, robes, choir robes, prayer shawls.  Bring the sacred into the heart of the protest.  We're standing on the side of love.  How about you?  

Here's an invitation from our very own Marisa Egerstrom: