Spiritual Occupation: a book review

The Occupy movement offers criticism of business as usual from the Left. The past few weeks the Tea Party flexed its considerable political clout in bringing the leader of the free world to an absolute standstill. Two years ago the Occupy movement were poised to do the same. Now the movement seems to have all but petered out. Many wonder if there is still an Occupy movement.

Enter Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox. Both these men are activists, authors and advocates of contemplative spirituality.  They would both describe themselves as Christians, but the spirituality they advocate for in Occupy Spirituality is much broader than their own religious heritage.  Fox is a former Dominican turned Episcopalian most noted for his Creation Spirituality (a pantheistic Christian mysticism which emphasizes Original Blessing over Original Sin).  Bucko is a  Polish born anarchist and activist who works with homeless youth. Both men  are excited by the younger generation’s stand against economic and political injustice.

Occupy Spirituality is a dialogue between these two thinkers. Because the tone of the book is conversational, its organization is broadly circular. Nevertheless there are broad themes covered in each chapter.  In chapter one, Fox and Bucko argue that it is time to replace ‘the God of Religion’ with the ‘God of Life,’ meaning a spirituality that is more personal than institutional (institutional means bad). They lift the phrase from a quotation of Howard Thurman’s (the African American theologian and civil rights activist). From there, their discussion covers new avenues of spirituality, their personal histories, the meaning of vocation, spiritual practices, intergenerational wisdom, and new communities and the New Monasticism. Bucko and Fox also pepper their prose with quotations from co-conspirators and fellow activists.

There was something compelling about the Occupy Movement. Institutions, business and politics have hurt people, especially poor people. Economic injustice is a reality in our country and in our world.  People who stand at the margins and take a prophetic stance against power structures remind us of our interconnection and help lead us to strive for the common good.  While occupiers  may be dismissed as ‘lazy opportunists’ or ‘naive idealists,’ there is a part of their message that we need take to heart: Capitalism is not a benevolent force.   So I was interested in hearing what Fox and Bucko had to say about economic injustice and what to do about it.

They certainly affirm that economic injustice is bad and that we should oppose it.  But they weren’t as interested in speaking about practical solutions and approaches. Their attention was mostly turned to what spiritualities nurture activists in their fight.  Personally I was not enamored with their approach. I call it, ‘lowest common denominator spirituality.’  Christ ceases to be God in human flesh and becomes instead a ‘Christ Consciousness’ on the same level as a Buddhist awakening.  Fox and Bucko draw on the Christian mystical tradition, and a good many other world religions to frame their thoughts on spirituality Certainly I think you can gain some insights from their discussion but I find this nebulous, ill-defined \spirituality’ which underpins all religions a little bit boring and unhelpful.  Jesus speaks to the realm of injustice precisely because he laid down the rights of Godhood to experience suffering and injustice at the hands of the powers of his day.  Fox and Bucko’s version of spirituality might be personally nurturing, but I think it soft peddles the gifts of a distinctly Christian spirituality to stand against injustice.

This is illustrated by their appropriation of  MLK and Thurman to provide the spiritual underpinnings of their movement. This is hardly surprising. MLK and Thurman were at the center of the Civil Rights movement and fought against segregation and racial injustice.  But Fox and Bucko’s clipped quotations  and brief references don’t do justice to the legacy of these men.  The ‘God of Life’ versus ‘the God of Religion’ reference comes from Thurman’s The Luminous Web. Thurman spends the greater part of that essay urging Christians to recover the message of love at the core of Jesus’ teaching. MLK’s beloved community did the same. Yes, both of these theologians urged universal brotherhood and have broad ecumenical appeal.  But there is an emphasis in the writings of both men on the life and teachings of Jesus. Bucko and Fox rob King and Thurman of their Christological content and turn ‘the God of Life’ into mere subjective spirituality (i.e. what is personally meaningful, life giving and helpful). Subjective experiences are important, but not what Thurman and King were talking about.

So I was somewhat disappointed with this book. I give it two stars but I think this book would be of interest to those curious about the occupy phenomenon.

Thank you to SpeakEasy for providing me a copy of this book.


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I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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