Pastor Rich Lang of Ballard's Trinity United Methodist Church speech on hope and purpose at this year's Washington Physician's for Social Responsibility fundraising dinner. Transcript below (with permission).
This is no time to sleep dreaming of what was once long ago. We must awaken to the seriousness of this moment and awaken further into the opportunity of this moment to radically change the world, to alter history’s script, to rewrite a vision of what is possible and what is desirable. This is our moment to reclaim the glory of our mortality even as we limit and tame and reduce the immortality of Corporate Persons so that they begin to serve human need, and earth’s fertile, fruitful evolution. This is our moment to organize for freedom: to organize around a new vision of human being, and a new possibility of living cooperatively. It is not the time to shy away from liberal progressivism and creation-centered values. Rather, it is the time to ramp it up and become even bolder, certainly more creative, and absolutely more persistent.
NOW IS NO TIME TO SLEEP: Why We Must Re-create the World(PSR Keynote: 11/14/10)
(Ezekiel 37:1-6) The hand of God came upon me, and brought me out by the Spirit and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. The Spirit led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. The Spirit said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O God, you know.’ Then the Spirit said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of God. Thus says the Spirit to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I AM!’
*************** We are here for hope. Ezekiel, in the passage just read, was out of hope. All was lost, he and his people were exiled into Babylon, the Temple where God lived had burned to the ground, which meant that their God had either been defeated or that there was no God, and history was just a bunch of power struggles between bullies, bullies who had come in and devastated his country. My bet is that most of us can relate to Ezekiel. We are a lot like Ezekiel. He was a priest in the Temple, which meant he was part of the establishment, a person who benefited from Israel’s prosperity. Just like us, we who can afford to attend this fund raising dinner, just like Ezekiel, we are watching the bullies brutalize our country.
But, I want to speak of hope. I want to talk about where we go from here. Because, just as those dead bones were not the end of the story, so too the current plight of our planet, the current plight of our nation, is not the end of the story. The moral arc of history tells us it never is. I’m here to breathe fire into the bones. I’m here to say that these bones will rise again, they will live again, they will lead again, and they will prosper again. I’m here to say that these dead bones will resurrect the future. These dead bones ARE THE FUTURE. These dead bones are not shaking and rattling in vain. But these dead bones are being given new life, new instruction, new purpose, new meaning, new destiny. And you are those bones and this IS our finest hour and for this moment we have been made. So take hope, gird yourself with courage, prepare your hearts, because tonight is not simply a feast to eat, tonight is meant to spark the flame of renewal within you and amongst you. As a people we need a new word that will reanimate and re-inspire and re-imagine a future worth living. What I want to say to you is this: it is for now, it is for this very moment that you have been made, not in vain, but it is this very moment for which you are needed, for which all of your skills, and all of your talents and all of your time and all of your treasure has been made, this very moment, this very moment is the beginning of liberation, a moment of awakening, a moment to return to our senses, to restore our destiny, to bring us back to our original purpose: to care for creation and to help life grow. There is no better moment to be alive! And there are no better people than what’s in this room: Jesus had twelve, we have more. The revolution starts now!
So, I have hope today. I have hope that as our nation rocks bottom there is a growing cry for deeper meaning, and deeper purpose. I have hope today that our nation will soon begin to see that we belong to each other, that we need each other, that it really is US --- “we the people” who must become an US to fight back and reclaim the high calling of our heritage. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal, that all are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among human flesh and blood, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
A heritage rooted in the idealism of self governance, an idealism that all are created to be free from slavery to corporations and kings, that all are free to pursue their happiness, that all are free to love the “other”, the “stranger”, the one who comes to our shores “poor, tired, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free:” Our heritage as a city on the hill, a beacon of light, a sign of hope that Pharaoh is dead and we the people live …corruption and politics are dead but we the people, we the neighbors, we the decent and loving and caring --- WE LIVE! That’s why we’re here tonight. That’s why you’ve come. Because your dead bones are shaking and awakening from slumber. Despite it all your DEAD BONES LIVE!
Turn to your neighbor and say ---- “I’m glad you’re here” ---Turn to your neighbor and say “ it gives me hope that you are here” ---- turn to your neighbor and say --- “together we are better” --- turn and say --- “together we’re gonna make things right”. ***** So what do we need to do to make things right? What do we need to do to give birth to hope in such a time as this?
Now I’m a preacher so I want to speak my own language first. I think most of us grow up with an image of God as an object “out there”; just like mommy and daddy, sister and brother are objects “out there”. And the notion of God as an object … God as Creator not dependent on creation is comforting because that means that God is outside the process and can’t be captured by creation, can’t be captured by Rockefeller or the Koch brothers: God is free. That’s what transcendence means … the ability to rise up out of the pit, the ability to open the shackles that bind you. God is not limited by the constraints of a body, or of time or of space. God is not bound to those who have resources. But the downside to such an understanding of God is that the world quite often makes no sense. There are too many Haiti’s, too many Katrina’s, too many slaughters and massacres. There is too much grinding poverty and disease --- what good is a Creator who is free of the creation if the creation is suffering and hurting and without hope?
There is another image of God that is paradoxical but increasingly an image that I find fertile, fruitful and fulfilling. I have begun to think of God (the Creator) not so much as an object out there but as a process that is both relational and dialogic. I have begun to understand that what I mean when I say God is the experience of creativity, the experience of insightful imagination, the experience of getting up when I get knocked down, the experience of compassion, the experience of a heart warmed with affection towards another even when the other might be a tree, or a river or a sunset. When I talk about God I’m talking about certain human experiences that are universal and common to us all. So when I say that the first step of hope is an openness to God’s Spirit moving within history towards new promise and possibility; what I’m not saying is that you should all become Christians like me. What I am saying is that there is a universal connection, a universal commonwealth that summons us to care for each other and to care for this earth, a universal summons to help life grow and evolve. That summons, a summons rooted in universal human experience, a summons acted out through human agency, IS GOD at work and play in our daily lives.
As a Christian preacher when I say to my church, “return to God”, what I’m saying is “return to our humanity, our universal humanity, our universal connection as living, breathing creatures. We are but mortal, body bound and time limited, but it is our mortality that is our glory. We are chapters in a book but the book is deeper and bigger and asks us to contribute to a far larger and more complex adventure. And here is my point: the spirit of God, the spirit of breaking free into new possibility, new imagination, new creation emerges not from a revelation that falls down out of heaven, but it emerges from within us as we resist the forces and powers of death that try to separate us one from the other.
After countless meetings and strategy sessions, and trainings, years and years of this, but when Rosa Parks sat down a ready people stood up and broke apart the structure of apartheid in this country. When pockets of ordinary people (the Nuclear Freeze movement) politically agitated against the rhetoric and the reality of nuclear war, the rhetoric changed and the powers of death alive in our government stood down and gave us breathing space to rethink the world. When awakened women met in Seneca Falls, to insist on their equality they started on a long journey that eventually resulted in the vote, and there’s still a long way to go but the Day is closer now than it was then, and nothing would have happened unless ordinary women took the risky and courageous first step of acting on their imagination for a better world.
We’re living in dark times and I think it’s going to get darker. These next years are going to be astonishingly cruel. Bad things are going to happen. The powers of Death are deconstructing the creation. On a practical, pragmatic level we are in a global class war of a wee tiny elite stepping up to crush the vast majority: in Biblical language a new Pharaoh has been unleashed, and we are all enslaved into the Pharaoh’s permanent warfare debt economy. In political language, the separation of powers (of checks and balances) has collapsed and we are now living at the very beginnings of a post-democracy. In the poetic language of the street, “we’re fucked”.
There is a growing hunger in my soul for revolution. I don’t like the American way of life: I don’t like an economy rooted in permanent war that pillages other nations for their resources and strategic value, strategic for Corporations and the profit of a few. I don’t like a nation that bloats its military budget beyond all rationality while homelessness increases, well over 15% of the population remains unemployed, Soup Kitchens, Food Banks and shelters become growth industries, and a very few (1% of the population) increase their financial power in a time of economic crisis for the many. Such a way of life is death. And we can feel this death in the hardening of the hearts of our fellow citizens: a hard rain of decreasing compassion is falling on America: there is a spiritual death moving amongst our people and its end will be the destruction of many. The cynicism of our politics and our increasingly bleak view of the future are symptoms of this. I hunger for revolution because I desire a new world.
In November of 2000 this country experienced a legalized coup-de-tat that was further enhanced through the events of 9/11, that unleashed the imperial hungers of our military-corporate elites, the manufactured economic crisis of October ‘08 cemented the coup and the Citizens United decision crowned a new king … that is, the only citizen of any significance anymore is the Corporate Citizen. Until we come to grips with this reality: that we the people are no longer sovereign, and that we the people have little influence in official decision making, until we come to grips with how severely democracy has been damaged and atrophied, until we realize we have become slaves nothing of any political significance or hope will materialize. We’ll keep sleeping in the dream that we are what we were and what we were was a nation of vision and idealism, a nation that thought itself to be kind and caring, with a universal desire that all nations not only survive but thrive. We thought ourselves benevolent. This idealism was our strength but now it has become our weakness because we keep getting played by both political parties, each Party dancing to the tune of their corporate-military owners.
I could say that the way out of this trap is to build a new political party, a strong Working Class Party with its own media, and a willingness to feed and clothe and shelter its members who get left behind --- such a political party of both politics and welfare could be a reforming game changer in America. I could say that we need to organize into multiple movements directed toward the legal dismantling of Corporate charters to bring them back under the control of we the people --- a much needed, necessary reform. I could say that we need to withdraw our money from Corporate banks, and we need to stop shopping at Corporate stores, that we need to focus on building a “local economy based” sustainable living alternative --- a crucial and practical revolt against the elites. I could say that we need to organize to elect a new state legislature whose members would charter a Washington State Bank (like in North Dakota) and to pass laws that redistribute wealth via the agency of a progressive tax structure --- hallelujah! I pray that day will come. I could say all that and much more --- ideas are the easy part. But the serious work and the hard work and the difficult work, the work that will breath re-inspiration and re-imagination into the dead bones of our neighbors and our nation, that work is going to take a whole bunch of ordinary folks like you and me. We’ve lost hope because we no longer have a vision we can believe in: and we can’t believe in visions because the messengers of those visions are all corrupted, the visions are shadows on the wall. The revolution we need won’t fall out of heaven and won’t come through messiahs, it won’t develop from movements led by prophets like a King or a Chavez, the prophet only comes when the people create her. … But today, the revolution we need will be something new in history.
Friends, listen to me. We’re in trouble. We’re in deep trouble. These are not ordinary times. The pendulum may well sweep Democrats back into office in 2012 (or not) but the Democrats are dead bones that are no longer shaking and rattling. Dead, meat-addled bones dragged to the kennel by corporate dogs too proud and oblivious to respond their masters – we the people. They have no vision, no message, no courage, no new creation. They bend the knee to Pharaoh not to “we the people”. Renewing the Democratic Party is a dead end. Our time calls us into greater complexity, a far more profound universal summons to re-distribute the assets of creation so that the earth itself is afforded the rights of citizenship. So that economies (and therefore ways of life) are rooted in sustainability and the limitation that is the glory of our mortality. There are “fair markets” but not “free”, there is a limit to what can be consumed, and a limit to what ought be made. Our times call us to build relationships structured around cooperation not perpetual competitive warfare. If we do not change the human heart, both the individual and social human heart, that is, if we do not lift up a vision that will reorient our desires then human life, as we now know it, and most certainly the future of democracy, as we once experienced it, will be forever extinguished from the pages of history. What is happening to us is not partisan politics, it cannot be healed through policies and brokered compromises through elected elites. What is happening to us is profoundly and deeply spiritual: it cuts to the core of what it means to be a human being. It calls us to ask anew, what is the meaning and significance of our life, of our moments on this earth, this garden, this faithful abundant habitat now under assault and siege?
Friends, listen to me. We are made for this moment. Within the glory of your mortality you are given time and talent and treasure. For this very moment your assets are needed. There are no insignificant people anymore. We truly need each other. We need to birth the best from each other. The Body Politic is under assault by an alien entity, a predator life form that consumes human flesh and earth’s resources, this artificial life form, this Frankenstein monster now loose from its laboratory, this Corporate Person well armed with weapons of mass destruction, this abomination of Death is seeking to enslave us. In Goethe’s words: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” But we are not created as slaves for other masters. We are created to be free. We are created to resist the forces of destruction. We are created to sustain and nurture the evolution of life. We are not created to be assimilated into a Corporate Borg, we are created to be a diversity set free to roam this earth and to pollinate possibilities throughout the nations.
Friends, in ways large and small we must open our life to creative, courageous resistance and revolt against this Frankenstein. This is no time to sleep dreaming of what was once long ago. We must awaken to the seriousness of this moment and awaken further into the opportunity of this moment to radically change the world, to alter history’s script, to rewrite a vision of what is possible and what is desirable. This is our moment to reclaim the glory of our mortality even as we limit and tame and reduce the immortality of Corporate Persons so that they begin to serve human need, and earth’s fertile, fruitful evolution. This is our moment to organize for freedom: to organize around a new vision of human being, and a new possibility of living cooperatively. It is not the time to shy away from liberal progressivism and creation-centered values. Rather, it is the time to ramp it up and become even bolder, certainly more creative, and absolutely more persistent.
Tonight we are here to sustain and renew and build the PSR network. But each of us belongs to other networks. Our task this coming year is to connect our networks together for the purpose of a coherent strategy to resist that which is, as we advocate for that which ought to be: the deconstruction of our permanent war economy, the redistribution of wealth so that all survive and thrive, the commitment to articulate the ethic that earth has its own rights to live free of pollution, exploitation and rape in all its forms. These are values worthy of our time, talent and treasure. They are life values and are worthy of our sacrifices.
America has become a valley of dry bones. But it is not our destiny to remain parched, nor to turn to dust. For the Spirit compels us to prophesy: to say to these bones, “You shall live again”. To say to these bones, “you will prosper again.” To say to these bones, “rise up, knit together and organize again.”
Things were tough in the Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th Century. Things looked bleak back then too. But extraordinary folks like Eugene Debs had the courage of his vision, and with others behind him he stood his ground. From Debs and others in the Progressive movement they started out as small little insignificant ants irrelevant to the Powers That Be. But in the end their witness and action gave birth to the possibility of FDR’s reforms. Remember, the Constitution gave no right to work less than 12 hours a day, no right to a living wage, no right to safe working conditions. Workers had to organize, to go on strike, to boycott, defy the law, the courts, the police. Workers had to make noise and be disruptive and bear the psychological costs of being called communists, of being slandered by neighbors and misunderstood by friends. Workers had to organize together and look out for each other’s families together, to practice solidarity in thought, word and deed. But in the end, fascism was defeated, not just over there in Europe, but also right here in our homeland. We are not the first generation to fight the “moneyed interests”. But it is our time now, and the question is, “are we up for this fight?”
I want you to know tonight that this is no time to sleep, no time to duck and cover, no time to run and hide. Now is the time for you to come fully alive, for now is the time you are fully needed.
(Ezekiel 37:7-10) So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. The Spirit said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Creating God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ I prophesied as the Spirit commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
THIS is your future and your destiny. You shall live again in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Make it so.