I’ve been thinking a lot about “beloved community” lately, rereading the stories of Martin Luther King, John Lewis, and the civil rights movement (where the phrase gained prominence) and reflecting on my own experience in building community over the last 40 years on the west side of Chicago.
King became convinced that love, transformative love, was the key to moving toward that beloved community. In the face of the hatred and violence, he said, “We’ve got to love people no matter what …love the unlovable. Love the hell out of them.” The Montgomery bus boycott was the catalytic experience, a chairos moment that crystallized his thinking. “We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization,” he said in calling for a boycott of the buses. He went on explaining that the boycott was but a means to an end. “But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community.”
This rings true with my experience in community. The times we were fueled by our faith, stretched to think bigger and bolder than our prune-like minds could fathom, and yes, the times when there was a threat, an external challenge to be overcome, were indeed the times when we had little experiences of the beloved community.
What a world it would be, if we could take this as our new/old motto and approach the so-called enemies and bad guys in the world with the energy to “Love the hell out of them” … it would take a boldness and confidence to try. But what do we have to lose? The path we are currently on as a nation is deadly, dead-ended, creates more enemies every day, and makes us an unloved nation. Anyone want to join the new offensive?
Mary Nelson is president emeritus of Bethel New Life, a faith-based community development corporation on the west side of Chicago. She is also a board member of Sojourners/Call to Renewal.