The Common Good

#OccupyWallStreet: Playing with Fire and Corraling the Golden Calf


"The Lord said to Moses, 'Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!' ""

-- Exodus 32:7-8

Last Sunday morning, I worshiped with six other Sojourners interns at my home congregation, Judson Memorial Church, in New York City. The Rev. Donna Schaper, along with the Rev. Michael Ellick and others, stood before the parishioners and prayed those words from Exodus.

As they prayed those ancient words, an elevated life-sized golden effigy of the Wall Street Bull stood behind them, poised to charge, as musical director Michael Conley improvised ominous melodies on the piano.

I don't know what it was, exactly -- the scripture, the hovering golden bull-calf, the creepy music, or the combination of all three -- but something clicked for me in that moment. A fire was kindled.

Later that day, dozens of church members marched with the papier mache golden calf to Zuccotti Square where they participated in a prayer vigil with faith leaders and faithful (of various religious traditions) from around the city.

If you've been following #OccupyWallStreet, you may have heard of this, seen the pictures (or the video above). It was quite a spectacle -- of biblical proportions, you could say.

And the biblical allusions were clear, even to those who hadn't attended the church service at Judson beforehand: Wall Street (with its massive, raging bronze bull) is the idol of the day, and people of faith stand in solidarity with those who have had enough of such idolatry.

In her sermon, Schaper, Judson's senior minister, went a little deeper. The Golden Calf is not only Wall Street, she said, but also all of capitalism. And we, the people, have helped erect this massive false god with our own treasures -- the best and most valuable parts of ourselves.

We have given ourselves over to ruthless competition, and the idea that success is measured only in wealth and job titles.

We have lived with shame about our alleged failures -- our isolation, debt, joblessness.

We have forgotten and forsaken our God, who loves the poor and the meek, and who frees the oppressed.

For whatever reason my soul had been on autopilot for the last few weeks. Yeah, I'd been tacitly following coverage of #OccupyWallStreet demonstrations, nodding along with friends and family who expressed hope and excitement for change.

But deep down I was skeptical. I was tired. I felt burnt out.

On Sunday I got a wake up call. We feel "burnt out" because we strive to feed a fire that is selfish, greedy and, like the golden calf, will never be satisfied, even if we give it everything we've got.

(Watch the Rev. Michael Ellick speak about the interfaith march to #OccupyWallStreet and the golden calf HERE.)

As Christians we have a decision to make. In times of hopelessness and long periods of waiting for things to get better, will we let ourselves be cast into the all-consuming fires of idolatry?

Or, will we stand up against the false gods and catch the flame of the Spirit in our hearts and minds?

Our nation may very well be on the threshold of a crucial change. Who will you be standing with?

As we waste time fanning capitalism's raging inferno, the best parts of ourselves remain frozen.

"We're not burnt out," Schaper said. "We haven't even been lit yet."

Anne Marie Roderick is the Editorial Assistant at Sojourners. She recently returned from a weekend trip to her parents' home in New York City with other Sojourners interns.

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