This is the text of CYNTHIA McKINNEY’s remarks to the National Hip Hop Political Convention held in Las Vegas, NV on August 3, 2008.
They say that emulation is the best compliment. And so, on this Sunday morning, I’d like to emulate one of the best sermons I’ve heard in my life. Now, I’m not going to get preachy on you, I’m know I’m not a preacher. However, I hope that after you’ve heard the message, that you will be as invigorated in the struggle for justice as I am.
The sermon began at First Samuel, the first Chapter, the Fifth verse. It is the story of Hanna who had been given a double portion. Hanna was rich, with a faithful husband. Hanna had good health. Hanna had been blessed by the Lord. But even in her blessing, Hanna still had an emptiness in her heart. Hanna wanted a son. And so, Hanna went to the altar and prayed. The pastor who gave this sermon called it, “Have You Been to the Altar?”
While at the altar, Hanna prayed and prayed. But when the priest, Eli, came by and saw her, he thought she was drunk. And so the priest called out to her to stop her drunkenness. But Hanna called back to the priest and said, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.”
The Pastor then explains that religion today has become a perversion. That some people think that they have to go to a certain church and hear the word from a certain pastor and that while in Church they have to act a certain way, so as not to bring attention to themselves. He tells us that the story of Hanna should remind us that God doesn’t need perfect circumstances in order to do what he wants to do. The Pastor reminds us that people usually find God when they’re in tragedy. But Hanna was neither sick nor broke. So what was her tragedy? Hanna had something inside of her that was not satisfied.
The Pastor then reminds us that many of us, too, have something inside of us that is not satisfied. That emptiness, we try to fill with things, without looking deep inside us, to understand the source of our emptiness. Instead, we’ll settle for substitutes. And then we’ll look around us and see others who have what we want and some of us will fall into the trap of angry jealousy. The Pastor warns us, don’t become jealous. And really, we shouldn’t become angry either that we don’t have what our neighbors have; we should just remember that we, too, can get what belongs to us. He reminds us that jealousy is for hopeless people and we must not be hopeless. The Pastor reminds us that we don’t have to be like other people, either, we only have to be like we are. The Pastor says, “I don’t have to be like others; I just have to be like me!” He then instructs the Congregation to repeat: I am not hopeless!
Hanna was not hopeless. She was asking for something more. But the Pastor warned us of the pitfall of settling for less than what we deserve. He gave the GLAD example: Good Looking at a Distance. We think we are incomplete and that another person, a partner, will complete us. So we settle for the person who is good looking to us, but only from a distance. We tolerate bad manners, disrespect, maybe even domestic violence, but because we’ve made the calculation that something, no matter what it is, is better than nothing. The Pastor warns us that no matter how many things we accumulate—no matter how much we settle for less than what we truly deserve, there will still be a part of us that will remain unsatisfied. And so, Hanna decided to confront the emptiness in her life. She remembered that God had promised her a son, and so she decided to not only acknowledge the source of her emptiness, but to go after the son that she still did not have. Hanna didn’t pout—pouting is for children. Hanna didn’t throw a pity party; Hanna didn’t mope around; Hanna didn’t complain. The Pastor reminds us that going to Church every Sunday isn’t the answer, the Church must be inside of you. So, Hanna decided to go and get what she needed.
And then the Pastor delivered the real meaning of his title: When Hanna confronted that which truly made her unhappy, she set about a plan to get what she needed for happiness. She went to the altar and prayed about it. But she prayed in such a way that the priest thought she was drunk. She was unconventional in her praying. She was atypical at the altar. But this is exactly the quality that the Pastor admired about Hanna and wanted the Congregation to share. Hanna was not afraid to be radical.
The Pastor reminded us that when folks try to fit in, not rock the boat, conform and be like everybody else, you won’t get because getting takes being radical.
The Pastor reminded the Congregation that when we screamed and shouted and boycotted, we got.
And then, in another pearl of wisdom, the Pastor reminded us not to settle. He warned us not to lower our expectations just to fit in and and be perceived as typical.
The Pastor reminded us that we have no jobs because we settle for no jobs; we have no health care because we settle for no health care, we have poor educational opportunities for our children because we settle for it. We have lowered our expectations so much that we don’t go out and get what is truly meant for us. But when we go after it, we can get it.
He told the Congregation to stop accepting stuff; it’s time to be radical.
The Pastor then asked, who in the Congregation was radical enough to save our children? Who will be radical enough, to save our streets? Who will be radical enough to demand that the emptiness inside our community be filled? Who will be radical enough?
He asked the Congregation to shout, Radical! Radical! Radical!
He then asked the Congregation to repeat, “Either you wait for something to happen or you make something happen.”
He then instructed the young people in the Congregation to be radical enough to be different.
He reminded us that we need not care about how we look when we’re going after what we need. He said, when you’re desperate, you get radical. You don’t mind acting different when you’re desperate. You can’t act typical if you’re desperate. So we need to act atypical. The Pastor then said “I’ve seen too much pain and injustice, children dying, people eating out of our garbage cans to be typical. I refuse to be typical; I’m thirsty for justice.”
The Pastor concluded by saying to the powers that be: “I can’t fit in your box; I can’t be who you want me to be.”
By now the Church was up on its feet, but just imagine what happened when he dropped this next wise word. He said, “Please hear me.” The Church got pin drop quiet. Then, he added, “When you’re hungry enough and you can’t be put into anybody’s box, don’t apologize for being free.”
Finally, he took us back to Hanna. When the priest, Eli, told Hanna that she would get what she needed, Hanna held her head high and walked from the altar already pregnant in her faith.
The Pastor told the Congregation to “Blow the dust off your dreams. Don’t be typical. Are you desperate enough to be different, to not be typical? Let somebody think you’re drunk, crazy; ask not have not. You have not because you ask not. Come boldly; blow the dust off your dreams your destiny, your possibilities. Get radical. Believe, refuse to give up, refuse to quit. Is anybody radical in here? We believe what you said.”
The fact that you are here at the National Hip Hop Political Convention indicates to me that you don’t mind being radical. You know something is deeply wrong in the communities across our country and in our world. You know that it will take the work of those who are thirsty for justice, not afraid of being called names, not afraid to appear desperate, to change the conditions in our community. Rosa and I and all of you, we blew the dust off our dreams. We’re no longer typical. We refuse to give up and we refuse to quit. Thank you National Hip Hop Political Convention for standing strong and for being free. Don’t ever apologize for being free.
I’ve been a lifelong Catholic, and I’ve never heard a priest deliver that kind of sermon. I took a membership card from an usher and whispered to Father Michael Pfleger that I was going to become a member of The Faith Community of Saint Sabina. Father Pfleger’s sermon is posted on Saint Sabina’s website. If you’re so inclined, I encourage you to listen to it.
When was the last time you went to the altar?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY is the Green Party’s nominee for president.