"It is not a person's fault because they succeeded. It is a person's fault if they failed. And so this is why I don't understand these demonstrations and what is it that they're looking for."
GOP Presidential Candidate Herman Cain, Wall Street Journal, 10/05/11
He is right.
It is our fault.
We have failed.
We have failed to grasp that human beings do not exist in isolation. While we are created with the blessing of liberty, we are not created alone. With the freedom given to us by our Creator, we can choose to move graciously in relation to one another, moving mindfully and righteously and kindly. That is the purpose for which we exist.
But we are free. Freedom is a part of our nature. From that freedom, we can also choose to tear at each other, seeking power and material wealth at the expense of the other. In this generation, we have chosen the latter.
Our choice to walk the path of self-seeking power and the concentration of wealth is not a new choice. It is an ancient one, a mistake we have repeated over and over and over again throughout our blighted history as a species. Within the sacred narratives of the tradition from which I spring, that casting-out-of-balance has happened again and again.
We who keep and teach that story remember it.
Two and a half milennia ago, it happened just as it happens now. Seeking power over other nations, the people cried out for a king. The prophet warned them: the king will amass wealth, taking more and more for himself, until everything you have belongs to him. All will fall out of balance. And yet the people ignored the voice of the one who spoke for our Maker.
And things fell apart. Wealth yearns for wealth, as power yearns for power. The son of the first King began it, gathering in the gold and the fruit of the land, and placing the great golden bulls on the altar of the shining temple he built. The son of the son of the first King, the taste of gold in his mouth, doubled and redoubled his demands upon the people, wealth seeking wealth, power seeking power. And the kingdom fell apart.
When finally a wiser king sat on the throne, the Sacred Law was rediscovered. Written into the Sacred Law given to the people was the demand: keep things in balance. Never let the wealth of the people become fixed forever in the hands of the powerful. The purpose of this law was simple. When things fall out of balance, if you do not make an effort to set things back in balance, covenant fails. Community collapses. The people will no longer be at one, standing equal before their God as is their Creator's desire, but will be slave and master.
Following the death of the wise king, things collapsed again and again, as the centers of power drew in and sought more power and wealth. Prophets spoke against it, reminding those in power of the purpose of the Creator. Sometimes they were heard. More often, the siren song of wealth rang too strong in the ears of the wealthy.
And so the story has gone, telling itself over and over again.
So to answer Herman Cain, what are these demonstrators looking for? Many things. So many things. But many things are broken.
Mostly, they are crying out that things are out of balance. There are words for what they want, words I know well. Justice is one such word. Though most of the protesters would not name it as such, from the old, old story comes the word Jubilee, the year of setting things right.
When things fall out of balance, that becomes the yearning of the people.
It's a yearning and a message I know well. I teach it every Sunday.
Pity so few of our leaders seem to have been exposed to it.