The Common Good

Jubilee on Wall Street: Reimagining God's Vision in Action

All the ruckus on Wall Street has created an incredible moment for the kingdom of God. Across the planet folks are asking questions like: "Can the world afford the American dream?" "Does God's vision for the world look like Wall Street's?" "Will the world ever be safe as long as masses live in poverty so that a handful can live however they wish?"

No doubt, many are taking great courage from the promise that we are not to worry about tomorrow, nor to build storehouses for the future, but to rest in the assurance that God takes care of the lilies and the sparrows who shame even Solomon in all his riches.

It warrants us take a closer look at the fragile world in which we now live. As we read the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other, it is amazing to see how timely these ancient words are -- from Daniel's vision of an imperial statue that falls because its feet are brittle to John's revelation of the fall of Babylon as the world watches in awe (after all, the word revelation shares the root "reveal" and invokes the idea of an "unveiling", or a ripping away the veil to show what lies underneath it all ... sort of like in the Wizard of Oz). And of course, perhaps more than ever before, we see an urgent, desperate need to reimagine and invoke God's vision of Jubilee -- a systemic dismantling of inequality by which debts of the poor are forgiven, property is redistributed, and slaves are freed. What would it look like?

A couple of years ago, two things happened. First, we won a lawsuit over police misconduct in New York City. The police had been arresting homeless people for sleeping in public and charging them with disorderly conduct. Hundreds of folks rallied to bring attention to this situation, and many of us slept outside to express our feeling that it shouldn't be a crime to sleep in public. I was arrested one night as I slept. Through a long legal process, I was found not guilty, and then I filed a civil suit of wrongful arrest, wrongful prosecution, and police misconduct. And we won, in addition to a legal precedent, around $10,000. But we figured the money didn't belong to me or to the Simple Way but to the homeless in New York for all they endure. It was their victory.

The second thing that happened was that after our study of biblical economics, we were given an anonymous gift of $10,000, money which had been invested in the stock market and now was being returned to the poor.

So $20,000 was enough to stir up the collective imagination. What would it look like to have a little Jubilee celebration today? The idea rippled far beyond the Simple Way, and before long, friends from all over were thinking about it, with smiles on their faces. Where should we have it? Where else but on Wall Street, in the face of the world's economy? We also decided that this was not a one-time celebration but an ancient celebration, going back to Leviticus 25, and an eternal celebration of the New Jerusalem. We decided to send $100 to a hundred different communities that incarnate the spirit of jubilee and the economics of love. Each $100 bill had "love" written on it. And we invited everyone to Wall Street for the Jubilee.

After months of laughter and dreaming, it really happened. It was a big day. And we were ready (though we still had butterflies in our bellies). About 40 people brought all the change they could carry, more than 30,000 coins in bags, coffee mugs, briefcases, and backpacks. Another 50 people would be meeting us on Wall Street. A dozen "secret stashers" ran ahead hiding hundreds of two-dollar bills all over lower Manhattan-in parks, napkin holders, phone booths. At 8:15 we started trickling into the public square in front of the main entrance to the New York Stock Exchange. We deliberately dressed to blend in; some of us looked homeless (some were), others looked like tourists, and others business folks. Word of the redistribution had spread throughout New York, and nearly a hundred folks from the alleys and projects had gathered. We had choreographed the celebration like a play production, making Wall Street the stage of our theatrics of counter-terror. At 8:20, Sister Margaret, our 70-year-old nun, and I stepped forward to proclaim the Jubilee.

"Some of us have worked on Wall Street, and some of us have slept on Wall Street. We are a community of struggle. Some of us are rich people trying to escape our loneliness. Some of us are poor folks trying to escape the cold. Some of us are addicted to drugs, and others are addicted to money. We are a broken people who need each other and God, for we have come to recognize the mess that we have created of our world and how deeply we suffer from that mess. Now we are working together to give birth to a new society within the shell of the old. Another world is possible. Another world is necessary. Another world is already here."

Then Sister Margaret blew the ram's horn (like our Jewish ancestors used to) and we announced, "Let the celebration begin!" 10 people stationed on balconies above the crowd threw hundreds of dollars in paper money, filling the air. Then they dropped banners which read, "Stop terrorism," "Share," "Love," and "There is enough for everyone's need but not enough for everyone's greed-Gandhi."

The streets turned silver. Our "pedestrians," "tourists," "homeless," and "business people" began pouring out their change. We decorated the place with sidewalk chalk and filled the air with bubbles. Joy was contagious. Someone bought bagels and started giving them out. People started sharing their winter clothes. One of the street sweepers winked at us as he flashed a dustpan full of money. Another guy hugged someone and said, "Now I can get my prescription filled."

The police had come in full force but were quite disarmed by the fun (hard not to smile at bubbles and sidewalk chalk). One of them later told me he was ordered to "get rid of them," but he couldn't tell who "they" were. Laughing, he said next time we have a jubilee, we could do it outside his station.

It worked. We had no idea what would happen. We knew it was dangerous, intentionally bringing God and mammon face to face. But this is precisely what we have committed our lives to. It's risky, and yet we are people of faith, believing that giving is more contagious than hoarding, that love can convert hatred, light can overcome darkness, and grass can pierce concrete

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