The Common Good

The People's Prayer Breakfast: “I woke up this morning with my mind set on justice...”

“I woke up this morning with my mind set on justice...”

So sang Sweet Honey In the Rock’s Dr. Ysaye Barnwell this morning. And, sitting in a room with hundreds of activists, occupiers and people of similar persuasions, it was hard not to embrace that mindset.

Maybe it’s a failing of my own, and a comment on my devotion to the 24-hour news cycle, but recently I have lost sight of the excitement and intent that the Occupy movement originally injected into the psyche of the nation.

Blessedly, this morning’s gathering, in the welcoming environment of Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, D.C., was an opportunity to hear once again words of hope, energy and defiance. The People’s Prayer Breakfast was everything I hoped and expected it to be.

It was friendly, optimistic and (as there should be at any good breakfast meeting), there was food aplenty for everyone in the bustling hall beneath the church — a mishmash of young, old, people of different faith traditions and various cultures. A large contingent of students from a local Quaker school injected a youthful optimism into the morning (filling the energy gap that even a strong coffee could not supply at 7:30 a.m.)

The atmosphere was one of peace and contentment. And yet, at the same time, there was urgency in the voices of those who addressed us.

This urgency recognized that this is an important moment for Occupy DC, Occupy Faith and for every person ready and willing to grapple with the issues that have been thrown up by the movement – justice, equality, dignity. As one speaker noted, it was “a serious occasion, but also one of joy,” to celebrate the opportunity to gather together for a time of refueling (spiritually and physically) and encouragement.

The breakfast easily could have descended into mud-slinging against those meeting at the National Prayer Breakfast nearby. Thankfully the discourse rose above such divisive and unhelpful temptations. It was not a platform for divisive or overly combative language directed toward the attendees of the “sister” prayer breakfast hosted by President Obama for other leaders a few blocks away, as some had predicted. In fact, there were few direct references to the National Prayer Breakfast.

The clear hope of Occupy Faith is that the prayers and actions of Obama and his guests would be similar to their own. Occupy Faith recognizes and affirms the need for a spiritual intervention with the political and economic systems that catalyzed the Occupy movement. Occupy Faith wants to affirm the dignity of each and every person, regardless of worldly status or power. But in reality, the prayers and petitions of the Faith Occupiers are not all that revolutionary.

They would neither (I hope) shock those meeting at the National Prayer Breakfast, nor appear outlandish. The preeminent call that I heard articulated this morning was simply that we must ensure there is “enough for all.” The room in which we ate, talked and listened together was decorated with artwork and placards calling for basic dignities for all, reminding us of the things that “everybody needs” — a warm bed, a decent education, clean water, a roof over one’s head.

The language of the breakfast also kept decidedly away from the labels of the “1 percent” and the “99 percent.” A wonderful Jewish confession was offered as a prayer for all of us to speak — recognizing that we have all acted selfishly, “betrayed our potential, our families” and our God. In this confession, we recognized that we all have a shared responsibility to each other. We all are called to be neighbors — to talk to each other, hear each other’s’ stories and by doing so, help meet one another’s hopes and needs.

Dr. Ysaye Barnwell sings at the 2011 Search For Common Ground Awards/Getty Image
Dr. Ysaye Barnwell sings at the 2011 Search For Common Ground Awards via Getty Images.

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I am hopeful that similar discussions took place at the National Prayer Breakfast as well. If they did, then there is hope yet that out of the mess of selfishness, greed, inequality and suffering will come justice, equality, dignity and a world that reflects more and more God’s kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.

Jack Palmer is a communications assistant at Sojourners. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackPalmer88.

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