Now that Christmas has led to Epiphany, we find ourselves in a season for being awakened as a people who are fully alive to what brings joy to the Beloved Creation around us and within us.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used the language of Beloved Community to articulate his understanding of God’s dream for the world. Drawing upon the work of the philosopher and theologian Josiah Royce, the Beloved Community was Dr. King’s way of talking about what the Gospels called “the reign of God” or “the reign of heaven.” The Beloved Community is a global vision in which all people share together in the wealth of the earth. It’s about our ability to respond to conflicts nonviolently. It’s about mutuality-becoming mutual caregivers. It’s about the beauty of each of us discovering the ways our gifts and skills fit with the wider hunger and need of all of Creation. The Beloved Community is more than a vision of a world without racism; it is a vision of the love of God come to life among us, the Word of God made flesh.
This vision for a Beloved Community is a theological vision about our life together. As much as it is an antiracist vision, it is an ecological vision. Ecology deals with the relationships of organisms to each other and their surroundings. Seen this way, Beloved Community names a vision of ecosystems at peace. It is a vision of humanity living with a deep reverences for our place within the web of life as mutual caregivers, neighbors, and co-habitants. Beloved Community, in other words, articulates a vision for God’s Beloved Creation.
Beloved Community is both a vision for a healed Creation and our calling to fully live into our own creatureliness – reconnecting with how God’s Beloved Creation yearns to come alive within us.
In the Gospel of John, we read about the disciple Nathanael’s first Jesus moment. Nathanael responds to Philip’s praise about Jesus with skepticism: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” The irony, however, is that at Jesus’s response, Nathanael is an instant believer. Jesus calls him a “person without deceit,” and it is as if Nathanael has heard his life’s story told back to him. Nathanael responds, “How is it that you came to know me?” This was a thing with Jesus— especially in the book of John—where Jesus speaks a word or two and people feel like he has just laid bare the secret to everything inside them. Perhaps, it is because Jesus was speaking to Nathanael not as just another external voice. Unlike all of the other religious authorities looking to turn him into someone he was not, someone different, or better, Jesus connected with a voice speaking from deep within him. It was a voice calling him to be the person he was born to be, as Parker Palmer puts it, “to fulfill the original selfhood given…at birth by God…To accept the treasure of the true self (he) already possesses.”
Palmer says that as we grow into our authentic selves, “we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks—we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.” The joy we were created for is not the joy of becoming what we think the world wants us to be, but by knowing that we are here on earth to be gifts God has offered for the sake of the rest of Creation.
To make his point, Palmer shares a Hasidic tale: “Rabbi Zusya, when he was an old man, said, ‘In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?'” The Beloved Community is not made up of people striving to be their favorite heroes or conforming themselves to some abstract moral code. The Beloved Community is a vision about us finally learning to be ourselves by discovering our deepest identity in Christ. Not “Why were you not Jesus? Or Dr. King?” But “Come, be your authentic self. The Beloved Community awaits.”