the beloved community

“People who think nonviolence is easy don’t realize that it’s a spiritual discipline that requires a great deal of strength, growth, and purging of the self
so that one can overcome almost any obstacle for the good of all
without being concerned about one’s own welfare.”
Coretta Scott King

On the property adjacent to Ebenezer Baptist Church stands The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (“The King Center”). Conceived by Coretta Scott King to be a living memorial, the Center bears a mission to “prepare global citizens to create a more just, humane and peaceful world using Dr. King’s nonviolent philosophy and methodology” (https://thekingcenter.org/).

Dr. and Mrs. King lie entombed at the King Center, in the center of a reflecting pool with Martin’s prophetic words cascading down:

“We will not be satisfied
until justice rolls down like water
and righteousness
like a mighty stream.”
(based upon Amos 5:24)

On display are items as personal as Martin’s small leather suitcase – the one he took with him on all his travels, including his final journey to Memphis; a wooden valet box, with his collection of tie tacks, cuff links, tie clips, and several keys; his Nobel Peace Prize, and the evening gown Coretta wore when he received it. Also on display are the Six Principles of Nonviolence – the philosophy and theology of love in action to which both Martin and Coretta dedicated their lives.

justice rolls down

The King Center is more than a museum; more than a display of historical artifacts and timelines.  It is a place that means to change lives – to educate, challenge, and activate young and old alike.  The ultimate goal of the King Center is the creation of the Beloved Community; to train a critical mass of people to embrace an unshakable commitment to nonviolence. In support of their mission, I include here Dr. King’s six principles and six steps of nonviolence through which Dr. King believed the Beloved Community could be achieved (source: https://thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy/).

SIX PRINCIPLES OF NONVIOLENCE
Fundamental tenets of Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence

described in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom.

PRINCIPLE ONE:
Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.

It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

PRINCIPLE TWO:
Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.

The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community. 

PRINCIPLE THREE:
Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people.

The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil not people.

PRINCIPLE FOUR:
Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation.

Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous
educational and transforming possibilities.

PRINCIPLE FIVE:
Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body.

Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish and creative.

PRINCIPLE SIX:
Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.

Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice.

 

SIX STEPS OF NONVIOLENT SOCIAL CHANGE
The Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change are based on
Dr. King’s nonviolent campaigns and teachings that emphasize love in action.
Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence,
as reviewed in the Six Principles of Nonviolence,
guide these steps for social and interpersonal change.

  1. INFORMATION GATHERING: To understand and articulate an issue, problem or injustice facing a person, community, or institution you must do research. You must investigate and gather all vital information from all sides of the argument or issue so as to increase your understanding of the problem. You must become an expert on your opponent’s position.
  2. EDUCATION: It is essential to inform others, including your opposition, about your issue. This minimizes misunderstandings and gains you support and sympathy.
  3. PERSONAL COMMITMENT: Daily check and affirm your faith in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence. Eliminate hidden motives and prepare yourself to accept suffering, if necessary, in your work for justice.
  4. DISCUSSION/NEGOTIATION: Using grace, humor and intelligence, confront the other party with a list of injustices and a plan for addressing and resolving these injustices. Look for what is positive in every action and statement the opposition makes. Do not seek to humiliate the opponent but to call forth the good in the opponent.
  5. DIRECT ACTION:  These are actions taken when the opponent is unwilling to enter into, or remain in, discussion/negotiation. These actions impose a “creative tension” into the conflict, supplying moral pressure on your opponent to work with you in resolving the injustice.
  6. RECONCILIATION: Nonviolence seeks friendship and understanding with the opponent. Nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent. Nonviolence is directed against evil systems, forces, oppressive policies, unjust acts, but not against persons. Through reasoned compromise, both sides resolve the injustice with a plan of action. Each act of reconciliation is one step closer to the ‘Beloved Community.’
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a drum major for justice

We began our journey in Atlanta – traveling from Ambler on an overnight train.  Our first stop was Ebenezer Baptist Church, the congregation where Martin Luther King, Jr. was raised.

It was here, Martin received his call to ministry.  Here, he served alongside his father “Daddy King” as co-Pastor.  Here, his funeral would be conducted when he was assassinated at the age of 39.  Here, his mother, Alberta King, would be shot and killed on June 30, 1974, at age 69, while she sat at the organ.Ebenezer Baptist Church
The congregation calls the old sanctuary their “Heritage Sanctuary”.  It has been turned over to the National Parks Service to help tell the story.   A recording of Dr. King’s sermon, “Drum Major Instinct” – delivered in that place on February 4, 1968 – plays in the background. Dr. King concluded that sermon by imagining his own funeral:

Urging the congregation not to dwell on his life’s achievements…King asked to be remembered as one who “tried to give his life serving others” …He implored his congregation to remember his attempts to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort prisoners. “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” King intoned. “Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter” (https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/drum-major-instinct).

Two months later – to the day – he would be dead.

In 1999, the congregation built a new sanctuary – located directly across the street from the old – their Horizon Sanctuary.  Today, Ebenezer Baptist Church is a vibrant congregation of over 6,000 believers.  On February 16, 2020, when I attended worship there, the room was filled with members and visitors.  The family who joined me in the pew had just arrived from Germany.  On the other side of the sanctuary sat a large group of youth and adults who had traveled from Rodeph Shalom, a synagogue in downtown Philadelphia. 

Ebenezer Baptist Church’s visionary ministry to the community and the world continues.

 

 

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begin here

“I had learned so much, I just had to think about it all for a while.”
Lynda Blackmon Lowery

It began three years ago, when the women’s ensemble I had sung with for almost 20 years took itself apart.  After the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, we had stumbled into some difficult conversations about race.  Powerful words, not carefully chosen, resulted in painful injury and broken relationships.  Two members of the group left.  Six remained.  In the months that followed, it was unclear whether we would be able to learn from our mistakes, find our way through the mess, grow in intellectual and emotional honesty and repair the damage.

For me, one of the consequences of this experience was the clear awareness that, as a white woman, I needed to learn more.

Waking Up White

A starting place was Debbie Irving’s book, Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race (Elephant Room Press, 2014).  It was recommended reading for our group, as we sought to put ourselves back together.  It invited me to step into a stream of learning that was historical and political and deeply personal.  To face into the stories of how systemic racism is woven into the fabric of the United States.  To learn about how governmental policies frequently perpetuated the oppression of people of color.  And to become more aware of and honest about how I have benefited from these inequities.

These last three years have been a deepening journey impacting the books I read, the films I watch, the podcasts I listen to, and my decision to undertake a sabbatical pilgrimage along the American Civil Rights Trail.

The six remaining women from our vocal ensemble chose to remain together – after a whole lot of work.  We are not the same group.  We have been changed by our experience.  We talk more, and sing less — and we move forward together with both accountability and grace.

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rain

We’ve stopped in Vicksburg, Mississippi — at a hotel directly across the street from the Battlegrounds.  The sky is gray, the wind whistling; it is pouring down rain outside.  It will rain like this for hours, the forecasters say.

We are in a high place here, so no danger of flooding where we are – though the “blue-highway” route we took from Meridian yesterday included some disturbingly high water.  I’ve never driven over bridges when the water was rushing just beneath them before.

I know they’ve seen more than their share of rain here.  But I am strangely grateful for the weather.  It provides a welcome excuse to pause in our journey for a time.

There’s an expression I’ve heard that speaks to me now: “waiting for our souls to catch up.”  This pilgrimage along the Civil Rights Trail has been powerful, sorrowful, inspiring and deeply sad – all at once.  Right now, it’s hard to imagine ever being able to speak about it with any real facility.

So in the meantime, I am waiting for my soul to catch up.

 

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mending

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once,
but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estes

mending

  • replace elastic waistband of black skirt
  • repair seam of brown top
  • replace elastic waistband of flowered skirt
  • repair seam of black and white top

It’s day 42 of my sabbatical… and this is my first blogpost.  I thought I would have written earlier, but my words seemed all used up.

That’s not to say I haven’t been doing anything with this generous gift of time.  I’ve been working my way through a big pile of mending, for starts.  Some of the items have been in the pile so long I forgot I had them. 

There’s something deeply satisfying to me about mending; repairing; restoring something of value.

My body, mind, and spirit have been mending too – as best they can in these days of wrenching national strife.  I’ve been going to bed early.  Getting up late.  And napping.  Lots and lots of napping.  I never used to be good at that, but I seem to have mastered the art.

We’ve been waiting for Rob’s eye to mend.  Yesterday, the doctor said it has (thanks be to God).  So on Thursday we board a train for Atlanta – our first stop on the Civil Rights Trail, and the next phase of our sabbatical journey.

There is much to mend in this world.  Relationships.  Trust.  The body politic.  The Hebrew phrase tikkun olam means to mend (or repair) the worldTikkun olam expresses the notion that it is every person’s responsibility to work towards repairing the world’s brokenness.  In days such as these, that responsibility can feel either hopeful or overwhelming.

In those moments when I am overwhelmed by the world’s darkness, I am heartened by the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her “Letter to a Young Activist During Troubled Times”:

My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times.

I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world right now. It is true, one has to have strong cojones and ovarios to withstand much of what passes for “good” in our culture today. Abject disregard of what the soul finds most precious and irreplaceable and the corruption of principled ideals have become, in some large societal arenas, “the new normal,” the grotesquerie of the week. It is hard to say which one of the current egregious matters has rocked people’s worlds and beliefs more. Ours is a time of almost daily jaw-dropping astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people…

You are right in your assessments.  Yet…I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope.  Most particularly because, the fact is – we were made for these times.

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency too to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails. We are needed, that is all we can know…

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.[1]

And all God’s people said, “Amen.”

[1] Clarissa Pinkola Estes, https://www.mavenproductions.com/letter-to-a-young-activist

 

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what shall i give him?

 

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother;
and they knelt down and paid him homage.
Then, opening their treasure chests,
they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2:11

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a band of wealthy scholars from the East arrived in Jerusalem, having observed a star that signaled his birth.  They followed that star to Jerusalem and after a brief encounter with the jealous King Herod, they set out toward Bethlehem to find the child.[1]  The star appeared again, leading them along their journey until it hovered over the place where the child lay.  They entered the house; saw the child in the arms of his mother, Mary; and were so overcome with joy that they knelt before him and worship him, offering to him their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The Greek word which is translated in our text as “wise men” is magoi.  It’s the same root from which we get the word “magic.”  These wise men were scholars of the stars, probably from Persia-Babylonia (which is present-day Iraq).  They were astrologers; they may have been magicians; they may have been Zoroastrian priests.  Whoever and whatever they were exactly, we’re not sure.  But they were most definitely outsiders; non-Jews.  They were folks who were not supposed to be alert to the coming of the Jewish Messiah.  And yet there they are: the ones to show up with precious gifts in their hands, ready to worship he who has been born “King of the Jews.”

It has become so commonplace for us in the church to find these magi in the manger that we forget how odd it is for them to be there.  We no longer see what they really are or what they represent.  We’ve become so accustomed to their presence that we don’t even pay attention anymore to how scandalous it is for them to be there at all.

Herod, himself, is surrounded by “chief priests and scribes” – learned scholars who know the scriptures well.  But the ones who show up to worship the Messiah are foreigners and Gentiles – they are not even what some would call ‘true believers.’

Matthew is good at that.  He’s good at shaking things up in his gospel.  You can almost see him chuckle with satisfaction as he records this story – making sure that he tells us earlier in the gospel about the surprising lineage of the Messiah.  He wants to be sure that we know that Jesus’ lineage includes 5 women you just wouldn’t expect to be on the guest list of anyone’s party let alone in the genealogical chart of the Messiah.  Matthew must have really enjoyed making it clear that God’s designs for humanity included unexpected guests that force us to deal with our prejudice and hypocrisy.

The gifts they brought the baby Jesus are famous now: gold, frankincense, myrrh.  But their real gift was that they knew Him.  They followed the signs and found Him and when they did they fell down and worshiped Him.  It’s a lot more than some people did – or still do for that matter.

Whenever I study the Gospel according to Matthew I turn to a commentary written by a guy named Dale Bruner.  He translates one part of this story in a way I’ve never seen before.  He says, that “When they saw this star, they felt the deepest and most profound joy.  And when they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary his mother, they fell down and worshiped him.”

“They felt the deepest and most profound joy.”  It’s a small part of the story really, but what a wonderful notion.  The star that led them to the Christ-Child caused them to feel “the deepest and most profound joy.”  The search for the Manger was joyous.  Led by the light of a star, they followed a path leading to the Christ – and that path gave them the deepest and most profound joy they had ever known in their lives.

It sounds to me like a wonderful description of the spiritual journey.  It sounds like the kind of spiritual journey we all want to be on.

Christina Rossetti was a poet who crafted the words for the hymn, “In the Bleak Mid-Winter.”  One of the lines most beautiful says this:

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb:
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him —
Give my heart.”

Like the Magi in this story, we could offer Christ our gifts most rare and precious.  We could follow Him, and recognize Him, and fall down and worship Him.

Or, maybe we could be like the Star instead – shining its bright light right over the place where the Christ-child lay.  Maybe our gift could be just that: to live our lives in such a fashion that we lead others right to the place where Jesus is.  Maybe our job is to live in a way that points to Him; to speak in a way that honors Him; to show others the way to Him.

That, it seems to me, is a treasure far beyond gold – and one we are called to share.

 

[1] Obery Hendricks, “The Politics of Jesus,” Kirkridge Retreat Center Epiphany e-mail, 1/1/10.

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trusting in the Lord

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.”
(Luke 1:68)

When an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah to tell him that his wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son, Zechariah was skeptical.  Elizabeth was “advanced in years” and until this time she had been unable to conceive a child.  Zechariah didn’t jump for joy when he heard the good news.  He didn’t even buy it right away.  The penalty for this disbelief?  He was struck silent.  Speechless.  Maybe God is trying to tell us something about the value of keeping our mouth shut when we try to steal God’s glory.

By the time Elizabeth had given birth to a healthy son (John the Baptist), Zechariah had come around.  When the next test of faith came he passed with flying colors – and God opened his mouth and loosed his tongue.  The first words out of his mouth were these:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.”

To be redeemed is to know the saving love of God; love that restores broken hearts and broken spirits to wholeness.  To be redeemed is to know that God has made right something that human sinfulness made wrong.  To be redeemed is to know that we are washed clean of sin; the burden we have been carrying has been lifted, and we are able – with Zechariah – to sing the praises of God.

It’s not unusual to feel skeptical about God’s promises.  It’s not abnormal for our trust in God to falter from time to time.  But the Holy One desires to bring us closer and closer to His kingdom and His mercy so he will seek us out.

You never fail us, O God.  You never fail to astonish us, to perplex us, to lead us to wonder, to cause us to trust in You.  Seek us out, when we falter.  Draw us near when we wander.  And open our hearts and our mouths that we might proclaim your glory to those who need to hear.  Amen.

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