Typically, the “Spirit Biographies” will profile the spirituality of someone in the Lehigh Valley. But this week, my work took me to New York City, and I thought this was a great opportunity to profile the spirituality of two people at the Occupy Wall Street event. The participants of Occupy Wall Street – along with sister events in cities across the country, including Allentown – has been much noted, talked about reviled, praised, and mocked. So who are they, what do they really think?

I went down there to find out. I walked through Wall Street itself first, which was packed with police. Since 2001, there has always been a large police presence on Wall Street, and with good reason, but the number of vehicles and officers there this week really takes one’s breath away. The NYPD’s motto is “Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect”, and most officers really lived that motto. I know there has been much attention given to episodes of police brutality – and I’m sure there are bad apples in every bunch – but given the kind of stresses they are under, it’s impressive watching them carefully do their work in the heart of the world’s always-simmering melting pot.

Then I arrived in Zuccotti park, main scene of Occupy Wall Street. I was there a little before noon. The mood was relaxed, thoughtful, and festive. Lots of people there: protestors, curious tourists, reporters bearing various devices, police, WTC construction workers on their lunch break. There were very creative signs on display. Here’s a video of some of them, that gives a flavor of what the park’s atmosphere is like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaihNYwXTeE

Below are brief excerpts from two interviews of people I spoke to at the event.

 John

John, as you can see from his sign, is a 63-year-old combat vet. He lives a couple of hours from New York City. He runs a small business that, in his words, “pays more taxes than General Electric.” After watching the protests develop for a couple weeks, said he told his girlfriend, “hey, we need to go to that!” So they both drove up for the day. John decribes his spirituality, with a genial smile, as “Bu-Jew-Ca Pagan” (Buddhist, Jewish, Catholic, Pagan). He described how his spirituality affects what he’s doing.

How does your spirituality influence your activism?

It has to be calm, it has to be steady, and it has to have a little bit of hope to it – otherwise, the despair takes you over. And I’m a combat Vet, I’ve seen a lot of shit in my life. And if you focus right on that, then you get suicidal. Because then you start taking it on yourself. But if you try to help other people, and just do what you need to do and keep doing it steady and slow, then there’s some hope in it.

And this is most hope I’ve seen in a long time. I was at yesterday’s thing, there had to be twenty to thirty thousand people. And it was amazing to me, with that many people – union people, students, gay, lesbian, everybody. And they were really enthusiastic. And that’s hopeful. Really hopeful…

Whatever’s good that comes from any religion, I sort of glom onto it. And Ignore the bad. Because I’ve been with Jesuits, Buddhists, other Christians…I went back to Vietnam in ’97,and it was an amzing trip. Because they’re so calm, they don’t even hold anything against us.

What’s it like to be here, having been in Vietnam?

You mean here, right here?

Yeah, I guess so.

I think right now it feels hopeful. I’m just happy to be in this little oasis of people that recognize that we’re in a pile of shit. I mean, we gotta do something, as a people, and not just sit at home and piss and moan about it. We gotta do something. So I’m here, and I see lots of other people here, and yesterday there were 20,000 people here.

Jesus

I knew a man holding a sign saying “Even GOD hates Wall Street” would have something to say about spirituality and protest. He gave his name as “Jesus”, but added quickly, “not Christ though”. When I asked him if he believed Christ was here somewhere, “Oh yes, the Holy Spirit. Yes.”

How does your faith call you to be here?

As a Catholic, first and foremost is to render worship to the holy Trinity – the Father, Son, and Holy  Spirit – and to love your neighbor as yourself – to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

And I’m here protesting the wicked institution of called Wall Street. I’m not referring to any individual, but the institution as a whole. I think the people on Wall Street are guilty of pernicious crimes against humanity, and since the US Justice Department will not prosecute them, I would like to see maybe the world court or the international court of the UN issue arrest warrants’ for the heads of the companies who have caused so much suffering, poverty, deprivation and misery to millions of people, billions of people, and they’ve been getting away with it for 60-70 years now. Every 10 years, there’s a new money crisis in America stemming with its origins in Wall Street. You know, there’s the junk bond scandal, the savings and loan scandal, currently the securitized mortgages scandal stand where they bundled together hundreds, thousands, millions of toxic mortgages, and sold them off to unsuspecting investors…

All 50 states are suffering because of the greed on Wall Street, everyone from the children going to school who no longer can receive lunch program, all sorts of cutbacks, to even inmates in prison – we are all suffering because of the greed of Wall Street.

And there’s a huge prison business, isn’t there.

Yeah, yeah, that’s another aspect, there’s a prison business that Wall Street is gung ho to implement across the country, private corporate prison operations. But for the most part, we’re dealing with the pernicious, nefarious, insidious, irretractable  bastards on Wall Street that are that are hell-bent on making money at everyone else’s expense.

What got you personally to say, “I need to be involved in this.”

Well I’m a social justice activist, and this is a major social justice concern. Both political parties are courting the Wall Street money-men, and there’s been no real prosecution. There’s been a few prosecution off Wall street of bankers, but they usually under-prosecute it. So that’s my concern.

And how does your Christianity influence how you approach this?

Well, I’m a sinner, we’re all sinners. But I’m trying to bear witness, and just point out the horrible, pernicious crimes that are going on in Wall Street. That’s why we’re here.

 

Well, that’s all for this Friday, but stay tuned – next week, real, live Leigh Valley residents! If you know of someone you’d like to see featured here, or would like to be featured yourself, please  post a comment or email me at lehighvalleyspirituality@gmail.com. Thanks!

Four dance partners twirl in beauty:
Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring.

Across the necks of three, holidays glitter as pearls,
enticing from a distance, and up close,
experienced as joy.

These jewels cover no flaw,
only accent the uniqueness of each’s perfection,
although frustrated suitors grumble otherwise.

And then there is Summer,
sun-freckled, lovely,
molasses in motion,
the delight of the evening sky.

To adorn such a face
would be as foolish
as playing conductor
to a cricket symhony.

(wish I knew Latin, I’m sure it would sound SO much more dignified. Here’s to the holiness of summer!

One of my favorite things about Lehigh Valley in the summer – other then the Fests and the Fairs – is our front porch culture. The Lehigh Valley is one of those places where people not only hang out on their front porch, they talk to each other as they’re strolling by. Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton all have neighborhoods where you can find somebody in a rocking chair to say hello to.

I grew up in New England, where “how are you doing?” is considered an overly personal question. So it took me a while to adjust to the Lehigh Valley and the way perfect strangers will talk to you, simply because you’re both human beings. Add to this fact that I’m also an introvert. So if I ever won the lottery, the idea of building a giant house in the country, where I could avoid ever having to interact with anyone, would have a certain appeal to me.

But I couldn’t do it. I love our front porch culture just too much. Someone saying “hi” to me, and saying “hi” back, is an even better pick-me-up than really good coffee. It’s an affirmation of our mutual humanness, a spark of what Jewish mystic Martin Buber called the “I-You” relationship. The universe, he declared, is fundamentally relational. Nowadays, chaos theory is confirming this to be true.

It’s lovely having neighbors. I wasn’t a big Mr. Rogers fan as a kid, but as an adult I definitely am. Not everyone knows that Fred Rogers, who came from Western Pennsylvania and died in 2003, was an ordained Presbyterian minister. So when he sings:

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

He’s not just thinking it’s a cute song kids will like. No, Mr. Rogers is trying to get across to kids how important it is that we see each other as fundamentally related beings, who share this amazing thing called a neighborhood.

Anyway, enough writing. I got a few more beautiful days out there, I’m going to sit in  my rocking chair and see who comes by. Soon, it’ll be too cold – and time to get the porch ready for Halloween. Won’t you be my neighbor?

I invite you to consider where your “front porch space” is – the place where you can interact with others whil feeling at home. If not a porch, could it be a coffeeshop, at the water cooler, or on Facebook? Or is front porch space a state of mind? And if so, how are you called from the inner chambers of your soul, so to speak, to your front porch space? 

 

The Lehigh Valley has a little of everything. You can start your day being woken by a rooster on a farm – and after a few minutes drive be at any one of our three cities. You can have lunch at the Vietnemese restaurant and dinner at the Diner. And as you go about day you’ll interact with all kinds of different people (because we Pennsylvanians, unlike some areas of our great nation, tend to talk to each other). We are all different races, college students and car mechanics, libertarian and librarian. Somehow, more or less, we all get along fine.

There’s also great spiritual diversity in our region. We are “spiritual but not religious”, Christian of all denominations, Jewish, Wiccan, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Unitarian Universalist, Sikh, pagan, atheist, agnostic, and who knows what else. We have different beliefs about the sacred, different spiritual practices, and different responses to the great opportunity of being alive.

My intention in creating this blog is to celebrate this diversity, exploring spirituality from a local perspective. While spirituality is, arguably, universal to the human spirit, it is also local in the sense that our spiritual lives take shape in the concrete nature of our daily lives. Spirituality can be a nameless, wondrous feeling within us – but that feeling is stirred by the sight of the sunrise from a Nazareth apartment, or the sound of children in Cedar Crest Park. If you are interested in spirituality, and love the Lehigh Valley, I warmly invite you to this blog. Thank you for visiting.

I intend to start with two regular weekly features. “Monday Meditation” will be a reflection, written every Monday. I’ll write several of them, but I hope to include guest writers of various faiths, and none. Often the reflection will include reference to something specifically Lehigh Valley (though I must warn you, as a spirit-led being, I don’t always follow my own rules, nor do I ask the same of my guests!). On Fridays, I’ll post “Spirit Biographies”, which will be a transcript of an interview with ordinary Lehigh Valley residents. Ever wonder what the retail sales clerk at your favorite bike shop, or your accountant, or the Gracedale resident you smile at each Saturday, actually thinks about the world? Here’s your chance to find out.

In addition to the regular posts, there may be occasional “extras”. and I hope to add in additional features as I have time – starting with a weekly account of a visit to a congregation, yoga center, or other spiritual group.

Please feel free to comment, or to email me at lehighvalleyspirituality@gmail.com.

I hope you will find something in this blog that noursihes your spirit – or if “spirit” isn’t an alive term for you, something that you find insightful. Thank you again for being a guest here, I’m grateful for you.