Editor’s Note: This week I have collaborated with my neighbor and friend, Mark Docken. He offers us an opportunity to connect our recent celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday and legacy with our launch of Black History Month. His post offers a deeper and personal way of considering what Dr. King’s Beloved Community is and might be. The horrific images of the beating and murder of Tyre D. Nichols in Memphis reinforce the call to each of us to live in a way that advances the beloved community.
As we enter Black History Month, we hear the echoes of Martin Luther King’s call for a Beloved Community. Throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, Dr. King preached a deep connection between God’s love, “beloved community,” non-violence, justice, and peace. In a time of world conflict and daily struggles to see each other as beloved brothers and sisters, Dr. King’s words offer us a road map.
“But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.”[i]
Mark believes that to achieve the beloved community begins with embracing our own “beloved-ness” and opening our eyes and hearts to the “beloved” that surround us. In what follows, Mark offers his reflections on how recognizing and committing ourselves to the beloved community offers us hope to move beyond our culture wars and racial injustices closer to a world of peace and justice for all:
I believe that Beloved Community arises when our belovedness echoes in the depths of our spirit. This belovedness is woven into the very fabric of creation. I believe a voice from the depths and breadths of creation promises: “You are my beloved child, in whom I delight.”
That voice laughs and giggles with delight: “You are my beloved child.”
That voice whispers into the silence: “You are my beloved child.”
That voice cries into the suffering: “You, oh my dear one, I’m here for you, my beloved child.”
That voice booms into all the cosmos: “You are my beloved.”
I believe at the heart of all creation, within Existence itself, Love speaks this promise to all: “You are my beloved.”
I have been fortunate to experience moments of belovedness in my life.
When I was sick as a child at night, with my head hanging over the toilet, my mother would somehow know, come, and cradle my forehead tenderly in her hand–You are my beloved.
In times of joy and sadness, I have experienced unconditional acceptance in moments of silent knowing with my wife—You are my beloved.
These are precious and varied experiences, but I believe that even more deeply and more pervasively, the One I call God, bestows the gift of belovedness unconditionally upon us. Even in times of suffering and alienation—most especially in those times– God’s suffering love embraces us as beloved children. This happened most intimately for me in receiving the Lord’s Supper at the hospitalization of our severely ill two-year-old son and hearing, “given and shed for you.”
Hopefully we have all felt beloved in our lives–when the veil fluttered and we glimpsed t the oneness of Love’s embrace.
We are all given that gift of being beloved. And so we are free to share this belovedness with others. We are called to be co-creators with God to create a beloved community of justice and peace; to lift up everyone’s belovedness to each other; to delight in each other’s differences; to enter into the suffering of others and weave God’s beloved promise of justice and peace into that suffering.
And so the work of beloved community may begin with serving at a soup kitchen; or advocating for affordable housing; or helping sponsor an Afghan family; or listening to the story of another that challenged your life story; suffering with another at the margins of society; or repenting (turning around) from our own racism and working toward being anti-racist.
It is a joy to be able to share belovedness with one another!! As the Dali Lama says: “Love and compassion are the true religions to me.”
Yes, belovedness is who we are. It’s our very Being. But it is also our Becoming—We get to live into that belovedness. It is born, ever more deeply into each ordinary and extraordinary moment of our life.
Every moment is becoming beloved community—becoming open to hear the stories of those invisible and oppressed because of gender, race, or class. We become beloved community to truly empower the voice of those who are not being heard; to encourage conversation across divides, seeking to learn and be changed by those different than ourselves. It is becoming a beloved community as suffering servants who never tire of seeking justice in the earth.
Dr. King’s friend and co-leader John Lewis spoke frequently of the beloved community, echoing his mentor: “We’ve come a long way, but we still have a distance to go before all our citizens embrace the idea of a truly interracial democracy, what I call the Beloved Community, a nation at peace with itself.”
As we celebrate Black History Month in February, may we live ever more deeply into the promise of “You are my beloved.” And may we live that out ever more broadly into the promise of Beloved Community.
[i] “The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma,” Address Delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on 25 April 1957 at the Conference on Christian Faith and Human Relations in Nashville
So thoughtful and beautifully crafted. A message we should all hear everyday. Thank you.
Thnaks Don, indeed. I find myself more likely to bring my and other’s beleovedness into front of mind thanks to Mark’s refelctions. Peace,
So happy to see a reference to Syracuse on the poster. I started my own peace journey with the Beloved Community when I was a teen, volunteering at the Syracuse Peace Council to protest our involvement in Vietnam….
Thanks Sally, glad to connect with your justice roots! Tom