Union University
Union University Dept of Language

Evangelogia



Blessed are the Protesters

by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship

January 2, 2012 - Although unlikely to grasp their significance apart from a perspective afforded only in the eschaton, journalists and pundits rush to notify us of seismic shifts in the grand sweep of history, which (luckily for journalists’ ongoing employment) occur about every 15 minutes.  Thus, the sagacious editors of Time magazine, apparently having followed the tweets, have named “The Protester” as 2011 Person of the Year.  Conveniently, the abstraction is a placeholder for a number of particular protesters (ignore the grammatical problem) ranging from Mohamed Bouazizi who literally ignited Tunisian protests after he lit himself on fire to a random assortment of “Occupy” malcontents.

The inclusion of the Occupy agitators in Time’s annual honorific category ironically entails that almost everyone qualifies as 2011 Person of the Year.  After all, it’s a virtual tautology that most are part of the 99%.  “The Protester” as 2011 Person of the Year is thus a celebration of the spirit of rebellion in us all.

The acclamation of rebels professing to represent Everyman is an occasion for reflection on at least two levels.  For starters, it is worth asking whether protesters moved by compassion for the genuinely oppressed belong in the same category as those potentially motivated by envy.  Of course, if Chesterton is right about the modern revolutionary, only the posture of rebellion matters.  So, perhaps, it is more important to reflect on the extent to which protest against the 1% undermines one’s capacity to grasp the wondrous absurdity of blessing. 

By their very nature, blessings are absurd.  Consider one line from a traditional Irish blessing.  “May the wind always be at your back.”  Any distance runner knows that short of running circles in a tornado, a headwind is inevitable.  The blessing is absurd.  But the absurdity of blessing is essential to the unsurpassable delight experienced in its unexpected fulfillment.

The Occupy movement would have us believe that 99% of us are at least relatively poor and that we should share in the material security enjoyed by the 1%.  Whether either of these claims are true, it is worth noting that the desire to be in the 1% - to enjoy the security of amassed-wealth or the protections of an omnicompetent state - renders the capacity to grasp the absurdity of blessing more difficult, if not impossible. 

Jesus made this clear when he employed the Occupy-calculus in talking about sheep.  The good shepherd leaves the 99 in search of the 1 lost (Luke 15:3-7).  For the one sheep, like the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22), seeks to place himself beyond dependence, beyond thankfulness, beyond the absurdity of blessing.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).  Jesus’ blessing is absurd.  Yet, if we are to experience the unsurpassable delight of its unexpected, yet longed-for, fulfillment, we must not aspire to the solitary ingratitude that belongs to those sheep beyond the need of a shepherd.  For as the parable suggests, the desire to belong to the 1% is a desire to be lost. 

Related Web Resource: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell