FCNL’s Amelia Kegan delivered this address at Annual Meeting 2017.
I want to first say thank you to every one of you for being here today. I know it is no small thing.
I asked my husband, who teaches American history, how do you cover hundreds of years of history in one semester? His answer: “I can’t. I don’t. There are some moments we have to skip over.”
Let’s be clear. This moment is not a skippable moment. This is history growing.
So I like to run ultramarathons, which also serves as a wonderful analogy to this work.
You know the number one reason why people don’t finish a 100 mile race? It’s not their fitness level. It’s because they mess up on their nutrition. They don’t take in enough calories. And without that nutrition, your body cannot sustain you through 100 miles.
What is your nutrition strategy for this work? Remember, we’re just 10 months into this administration. There are 38 more months to go. Look around. We are wired for community. It is community that will nourish and sustain us through the ultramarathon of social justice advocacy.
We are in the midst of an all-out effort to reshape government, revamp priorities, and redistribute power and resources away from those who have the least towards those who have the most.
Example 1: That never-ending, zombie-rising health care repeal saga. If passed, we would’ve decimated Medicaid, threatening the health and lives of poor kids, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Would’ve rolled back protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Then cut taxes for insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and wealthy individuals.
Example 2: The forthcoming tax bill. Trillions of dollars of unpaid tax cuts. 80% going to the top one percent. Then, when Congress starts freaking out about magically appearing deficits—what gets cut? Not the pentagon. We just saw this play out not six years ago. Out of 168 programs serving low-income individuals, 135 have been cut over the past seven years. 54 by over 25 percent.
Yet as we stand here today, Congress is trying to pass major tax cuts for those who don’t need them, further bloat a pentagon that doesn’t need it, yet fail to invest in education, housing assistance, job training, employment services, reentry services, environmental protection, and international peacebuilding claiming that we don’t have the money. Really?
Listen, over the next couple months, Congress is on a collision course to decide some of the biggest issues facing our country today—taxes, health care, immigration—and major, lasting budget priorities.
How will this story end? The pages are being written right now. Your job is to become the authors in this ending.
A year ago, I flew down to Arizona to run a race in the desert. Now I grew up knowing Chicago winters and I studied law in the rains of the Pacific Northwest so the desert, was new.
I expected to see only sand, heat, and sun. But in this place my inexperienced mind assumed was simply sand and death, I saw life and beauty all around. Green shrubbery flourishing. Cacti prominently asserting their survival. The most radiant sunrises to ever glorify my eyes.
And I began to see why in scripture God repeatedly uses the desert as a place of transformation. It is through the exodus from Egypt, bringing the Israelites through the desert, that God performs one of His greatest miracles in the Old Testament. We see David flee to the desert twice to preserve his life—escaping King Saul and his son Absalom and writing some of scripture’s most beautiful psalms.
Because sometimes, we have to trudge through pathways of death and decay to find life. Sometimes those desert moments are what bring transformation, bring renewed life. Sometimes waking up to a desert moment on November 9, 2016 is what stirs the embers to wake up on January 21, 2017 to hundreds of thousands of people showing up and marching on, in an awaking of political action not seen in a generation. We may be walking through a desert of executive orders opposing diplomacy plans and embracing Muslim bans, but alongside that desert walk has come a new outpouring of advocacy as congressional offices can’t handle the onslaught of phone calls, emails, letters, and lobby visits.
We may be walking through desert moments of historic hurricanes but more and more members of Congress are no longer willing to sit by and deny, but must profess and address the reality of climate change.
We’ve got desert moments of people of color being over-policed and over-incarcerated, yet prominent athletes are standing up by kneeling down, forcing this issue in a venue nearly as sacred as church—Monday night football.
Yes, it feels as though we’re wondering through a desert of dried up compassion for the stranger, forgetting that Jesus himself was once an undocumented child, brought by his parents to Egypt as a baby, fleeing the violence of an oppressive king—yes, Jesus, was a Dreamer. It is in this desert moment of border walls and DACA repeal, a new urgency has been forced upon Congress to do what it should have done 15 years ago—pass the Dream Act.
We might feel we’re walking through a desert of an ever-bloating Pentagon budget despite the fact that we’re spending more than the height of Vietnam and the pentagon can’t even pass its own audit. But today. 450 of you have come from around the country to fiercely demand this madness finally face some limits. We might be living in a desert moment but this desert moment is also a moment of profound transformation. It is on us to transform this desert landscape into a landscape of new life and new hope.
But it’s not easy.
In the desert, there are no trees. No shade. You are exposed. Vulnerable. But vulnerability can be what fosters connection. And isn’t it in times like these that we feel a stronger longing for connection? A heightened desire for community? A need to come together, work together, live together, pray together, kneel down together, act up together to create that vision of the world we KNOW is possible.
Desert moments can force us to collective action. And collective action drives historic change.
So I ask you now: do you have your nutrition strategy? I’ll tell you my nutrition strategy. It is the interfaith community in which I work and Sunday morning church community in which I worship. It is my husband and my women’s Bible study. It is Jose Woss and Hannah Evans and Emily Wirzba and Julia Neumann and Ruth Flower and Diane Randall and the entire staff at FCNL. It’s Beth Reeves and David Bantz and Jose Mejia and Rick Herbert and all of you who are here today.
This is not a skippable moment. This desert moment is a transformation moment. Isaiah reads: God is “about to do a new thing; now it springs forth.” To “make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43.19).
It is in this moment that God is using U.S. to transform the fear and suspicion, the hurt and despair, the racism and nativism into a NEW thing, coming together in community to build a better society, a better country, a better future for our world. So let God pour out His Spirit upon us here in this moment today. Let us be what John Lewis calls the headlights of righteousness, beaming forth the path of love and justice leading the history classes of tomorrow to look back at this moment, seeing a trail of constituent advocacy illuminating a pathway to power, as a country transformed to be unabashedly, prophetically more directed towards the world we seek.