You are on page 1of 2

Outside These Walls By Robin Barraza

The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. coined the term “beloved community” during the civil rights movement to talk about a higher call for humanity. I hear this term thrown around all the time in Unitarian Universalist circles. It’s kind of a buzz phrase I got sick of after awhile, actually, in that way that phrases lose their meaning if they are tossed around too much to mean too many different things. I hear Unitarian Universalist churches themselves described as “beloved community” a lot…that it should be our goal to create a beloved community here in our churches. I want to suggest that this should not be our goal at all. I want to suggest that if this is our goal, we don’t fully get what this term “beloved community” means. So let’s talk about what it means, and then let’s talk about what a church’s role might be in helping to realize it in the world. Behind King’s conception of the Beloved Community lay his assumption that human existence is social in nature. He said: "We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality." This was a way of affirming that human beings—all human beings—not just the ones who show up in our churches—we’re all dependent upon each other. Whatever a person is or possesses he owes to others who have preceded him. Therefore, practicing the ethics of Beloved Community building means treating oneself—and each and
every person one meets as though they are precious and beloved, worthy of respect and dignity, containers for God. We must treat one another as though our lives depend on their lives. If we treat people that way—not just with polite distance—but as though we know how much each person we encounter matters—each person no matter how foreign, how rich, how poor, how different than us— each person matters—is beloved—we will be practicing the ethic of beloved community. The ethic Jesus commanded us to follow when he said to love your neighbor as yourself.

And we can start practicing this ethic here and now—today. We can practice in our churches an in the streets. That’s the good news. We can practice this here and now because every time two people are in the room you have diversity. Each of us has a story to tell about who we are that is capable of transforming who WE are. Our tender listening to the stories of other human beings we encounter and our willingness to find ourselves in all of them…the humility it takes for us to allow ourselves to be transformed by

these stories…this courage and humility and tenderness is already practicing the ethics of building beloved community. This is hard work. We are so lucky that we know that this battle is uphill because nothing worth doing isn’t uphill. We are so lucky that we have a theological tradition that informs us of this inescapable web of mutuality that looks a lot like love, and that assures us of forgiveness when we fail (because we will fail). We are so lucky to be part of a tradition that is living—that can be transformed in the interest of those who inhabit our churches now, and those who have not yet come through our doors. We are so lucky to be part of a tradition that allows us to change the liturgy to reflect who we want to be and aren’t yet. We are so lucky to be part of a tradition that allows us to change the music to reflect who we want to be and aren’t yet. We are so lucky to be part of a tradition that allows us to change who stands in front of us; who tells us their stories. And yes, we are so lucky that we have each other. But if we are only practicing this ethic in our churches, we are missing the point. The church’s end goal cannot be simply to build beloved community within our walls. No. The church must be a microcosm of the outside world itself. A microcosm that reflects the diversity of the human species. And it must be a microcosm not so we can all hang out in Utopia on Sunday mornings. Our churches must reflect the world we live in so that we might—as effectively as humanly possible--practice the ethics of beloved community here for use OUTSIDE THESE WALLS. For use in the grocery store. For use in the picket lines. For use in the workplace and the libraries and the schools and the town hall meetings and the voting booths and for use in the public discourse and for use on the highway and for use in the hospitals and workplaces and subways and for use in our travel to countries were we don’t speak the language. For use in our families. For use in our government; God we pray. We are here to practice…not to hide. We are here to re-imagine ourselves as saints ready to bless the world…not to be saints ready to bless only one another. Our church should reflect the world we dream about. The world needs us to practice. Dear God, may Sunday morning become the place where your beloved community is represented, ready go out and do your work of love in the world. Amen.