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Beloved Community

On first hearing these two words together, I thought ‘beloved’ seemed too intimate for my ‘community’.  Later I realized the power of these words even as the word ‘community’  implies something too complex to be ‘loved’.

What is love anyway? Eros, the romantic exclusive love is what we are most familiar with, but there are other expressions of love.  ‘Philia’, the love of family and friends, and ‘agape’ the inclusive love for humanity. Beloved refers to that which is greatly loved.

The phrase “Beloved Community” was popularized by Dr. Martin Luther King who envisioned a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of one's fellow human beings. (Ritterman, The Huffington Post. January 19, 2014). I heard it from a UU minister.

While capitalism exploits love for the sale of diamonds, chocolates and roses, and politics corrupts tribal love for war, King managed to address what he hoped might bring us back to a reverence for life itself. 

Different reasons have brought people to the BC island of Gabriola. Some have come to get away from the city for a peaceful, quiet retirement, some seek a deeper community than the consumer based suburb surrounding a shopping mall.  If there is any value we share, my guess would be the wish to preserve beauty and the peace to enjoy it.  

“Beloved community” is not an optimistic sentiment or a new religion. It is the planning, planting, building, investment of time and energy into something we value.  The question is how do we achieve this with a constituency of diverse interests? How do we communicate to people with different capacities? The mind of a lawyer is trained differently from the mind of a nurse. The knowledge and discipline of an economist is entirely different from a high school teacher. Yet we share the same planet.

As a species we have evolved with such highly distinct vocabularies we have created the impossibility of a shared solution. I suspect we know this, collectively, on a deep inarticulate level, and the brutality exhibited by those who seek to force their “Solution” is the result of madness: the mind falling into pieces before the heart can rescue it. 

On this island we have many gifts, assets and services we couldn’t live without. Some are paid, but most of this wealth is sustained through millions of volunteer hours never counted on the stock market.  

This is what beloved community looks like to me. It’s noisy, exhausting and sometimes irritating. It asks more from those who give and nothing from those who don’t. It’s emergent in design. It requires more learning than we would like – mostly about the human capacity to care. What propels people to give so much to community? Where do they find their rewards? Sharing in the joy of others?

Thich Nhat Hanh writes “A lot of suffering is born from the discrimination between self and others and our notion of a separate self.” The Buddhist teaching of “nonself” far from being a nihilistic escape, is an insight into how we are all connected whether we want to be or not. The threat of an oil spill is a great example of this.

How much more “news” do we need to understand that our future is fragile, because decisions made in offshore board rooms where we have no voice, could lead to our own demise.

The narrative of global politics focuses on conflict between separate identities: nation against nation, faith against faith, left against right, but ignores the work of villagers who know that clean water, air and food, must be sustained through community dialogue and engagement. This is why the arts are essential.

Beloved community is a radical departure from top-down authority in what Hannah Arendt saw as a world of lonely consumption, where people have forgotten how to work together in trust. (Duncan Cameron, It is a determination to not turn away when the structures that govern politics and business are no longer working, an integrity that enters the unknown refusing to despair.

It’s not love that we should fear, it’s the gap between what is and what we have to lose that shakes us out of complacency. 

(First published in The Flying Shingle  July 7, 2014, and first posted on this blog in 2014)


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