Beloved Community

[This is the Sunday service, presented at the Second Ward Community Initiative this morning.]

Prelude Music: “This Land is Your Land”, by Woody Guthrie (Asch Recording)

Welcome: …to DUUF, to the SWCI, to these beloved communities. …to refreshments and conversation after the service. All are welcome here.

Call to Worship & Lighting the Chalice: Discipline, by Nita Penfold, from Hunger Enough: Living Spiritually in a Consumer Society

Opening Hymn: #123, from Singing the Living Tradition, Spirit of Life

Children’s Poem: Ways to World Peace, by Miriam Ben-Yaacov, also from Hunger Enough

Sharing (Joys and Sorrows)

Teaching: Beloved Community

What it’s not:

Stranger danger
Divide & conquer
Marketing to children (which is a form of divide and conquer)
Rugged individualism
Putting on of airs, masks, armor
White supremacy, patriarchy, imperial hierarchy

What it is:

We’re stronger together
The power of We
We’re all in this together
No distinction between step- family and kin
The Great Turning
A circle, with the center being the focus

…not all-inclusive, but a representative sample.

Three perspectives on Beloved Community, starting with Martin Luther King…

The Beloved Community” was coined in the early 20th Century, and it was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who popularized it and invested it with a deeper meaning.

For Dr. King, The Beloved Community was not a lofty utopian goal to be confused with the rapturous image of the Peaceable Kingdom, in which lions and lambs coexist in idyllic harmony. Rather, The Beloved Community was for him a realistic, achievable goal that could be attained by a critical mass of people committed to and trained in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence. He saw the Beloved Community as the natural consequence of nonviolence.

He saw it as a global vision, in which all people share in the wealth of the earth. In this Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency won’t allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice are replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. International disputes are resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust triumph over fear and hatred.

Dr. King’s Beloved Community is not devoid of interpersonal, group or international conflict. He recognized that conflict is an inevitable part of human experience. But he believed that conflicts could be resolved peacefully and adversaries could be reconciled through a mutual, determined commitment to nonviolence.

He said in a 1956 speech, “the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

Dr. King ardently studied the life and teachings of Mohandas Gandhi, and was much impressed with the Mahatma’s befriending of his adversaries, most of whom professed profound admiration for Gandhi’s courage and intellect. Dr. King believed that the age-old tradition of hating one’s opponents was not only immoral, but bad strategy which perpetuated the cycle of revenge and retaliation. Only nonviolence, he believed, had the power to break the cycle of retributive violence and create lasting peace through reconciliation.

In his book, Strength to Love, Dr. King addressed the role of love in struggling for the Beloved Community. “With every ounce of our energy we must continue to rid this nation of the incubus of segregation. But we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege and our obligation to love. While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community.”

One expression of love in Dr. King’s Beloved Community is, of course, justice–‘love writ large’–not for any one oppressed group, but for all people. As he often said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He felt that justice could not be parceled out to individuals or groups, but was the birthright of every human being in the Beloved Community. “I have fought too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concerns,” he said. “Justice is indivisible.”

Paraphrased from, where you can also learn about The Triple Evils of poverty, racism, and militarism, plus the Six Principles of Nonviolence and the Six Steps of Nonviolent Social Change.

The second perspective, from Dr. Jeff Ritterman, MD

Back in the beginning of 2014, Dr. Ritterman wrote an article for the Huffington Post, entitled “The Beloved Community: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Prescription for a Healthy Society” Dr. Ritterman was VP of the Board of Directors, San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

And he says, “Fundamental to the concept of the Beloved Community is inclusiveness, both economic and social. The notion that all can share in earth’s bounty describes a society in which the social product is shared far more equally than it is in today’s world. The Beloved Community also describes a society in which all are embraced and none discriminated against.

Economic and social justice are the twin pillars supporting the Beloved Community. These twin pillars are also necessary for a healthy society.” And then he asks, “What would be the health impacts of living in such a society?

Those of us lowest on the social pyramid have the highest stress hormone levels.

Social status is the most powerful determinant of health

It’s not only where we find ourselves on the social pyramid that matters, it also matters how that pyramid is shaped.  In countries with relatively gentler hierarchies and more income equality, health outcomes and social well-being are generally quite good.

In highly unequal countries, like the United States, health outcomes and social well-being suffer.

Greater inequality of income leads to a generalized societal dysfunction. We correctly perceive that we are not all in the same boat, and we are more likely to view the world as a Hobbesian struggle for individual survival and advantage.

While social class is the primary determinant of health outcome, racism has a detrimental impact over and above that of low social class.”

And then he focuses with surgical precision on hypertension and how it disproportionately affects African Americans. “Given that racism permeates our social environment, the brain of a person suffering racial discrimination sees hypervigilance as a necessity in order to be able to cope with any challenges that may arise.

That hypervigilant state comes with a price.  Chronically elevated blood pressure has a weathering affect on the heart and blood vessels.

The physician who treats the hypertensive patient unwittingly performs the social function of normalizing the status quo by ignoring the root cause of the high blood pressure and focusing exclusively on the patient’s response to drug therapy. … The terrible irony is that the patient’s brain felt it “essential” to maintain the blood pressure at elevated levels to deal with the chronic stress that is racism.

The medical world’s response to this phenomenon of stress-induced hypertension, in this case due to racism, is to treat each individual patient with multiple medicines. Controlling blood pressure with medications is an enormous challenge. The brain controls blood pressure.  When the brain senses that the social environment is threatening, the blood pressure goes up. The doctor prescribes medicines aimed at interrupting the various neuro-hormonal messages that the brain sends to the heart, blood vessels and kidneys to maintain this elevated stress-induced blood pressure.

The doctor typically prescribes a beta-blocker to counteract the effects of the adrenaline system, thereby decreasing the rate and strength of the heart’s contraction, and lowering the blood pressure. The brain, still aware that the social environment is threatening, counters by having the kidneys hold on to more fluid — driving the blood pressure back up.

The doctor responds with a diuretic. The brain, not to be outdone by the doctor, increases the hormone angiotensin, leading to blood vessel constriction and again driving up blood pressure. The doctor has a medication for this too. She prescribes an ACE inhibitor and perhaps nitrates. At this point the patient’s blood pressure may be controlled, as long as the patient can tolerate the expense, the inconvenience and the side effects.

But unless the structures that perpetuate racism are removed, the next generation of African Americans will meet the same fate and they, too, will need to be treated for high blood pressure.  This may be good for “fee for service medicine” and for the pharmaceutical industry, but it will never lead to a healthy society.”

Ritterman concludes, “a society that maximizes empathy, compassion and love, also leads to health and well being.”

The third perspective is actually a set of short reflections, I’ll call them voices… from Justice on Earth: People of Faith Working at the Intersection of Race, Class, and the Environment, edited by Manish Mishra-Marzetti and Jennifer Nordstrom

As we’ve heard, social justice is focused on the economic and the political. Environmental justice, on the other hand, brings the rest of the world, and our relationship to it, into focus as well. It’s the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental. I like to imaging them as a three-legged stool, on which the beloved community can sit.

Intersectionality, Jennifer Nordstrom

“When we focus our justice work on a single type of experience without an intersectional analysis, we limit ourselves and other people from living whole and connected lives.”

She says, “The core of my being is connected to the larger systems of life, and I feel them tug at me to be part of moving my own life, my community, and humanity back toward right relationship.” (The job of the Right Relationship team at GA is to ensure that the GA microcosm is a beloved community. They work to make everyone who attends feel welcome!)

“We do the work together so we can encourage each other and help each other watch out for cliffs and boulders. We learn how to share the task, recognizing that our intersectional analysis is bolstered by people who experience the world through different identities. We help each other understand the world and our varied perceptions of it.

Ecotheology, Sheri Prud’homme

“the intertwined devastation of the Earth and dehumanizing living conditions for the most vulnerable people, often women, children, and peoples of color, are morally and aesthetically ugly. Both justice and beauty are violated when what is inherently valuable is devalued, defaced, or destroyed.”

Resilient Community, Peggy Clarke and Matthew McHale

“Instead of making demands on existing power holders to do what we want them to do, we’re going to do what needs to happen, in a way that articulates its righteousness as action and its beauty as vision,”

And what are they doing??

“…congregations should be centers of hope and resilience. Our religious communities have the potential to become models of the future we want.” That’s what we’re doing here, now.

“The same thing that makes folks poor is the same thing that screws up the atmosphere – and the same problems that come with being oppressed make climate problems worse. A key way to make sure that you are living in harmony with your ecosystem is to make sure that everyone is taken care of.”

Contemplative Practice (fueling environmental activism), Kathleen McTigue

“We are part of an immense, living reality, and the choices we make have an impact on that reality far beyond our small field of awareness….

We create communities of care and resilience that support our work in the world. When we bring a perspective of gratitude and appreciation, the community and the work become more enjoyable. Rather than being something we do out of obligation, it becomes something we do because we like it. More people show up more often. We are nourished by the work instead of drained by it. Or, in King’s words, “Exuberant Gladness!”

Congregational Transformation, Pamela Sparr

“We must transform our denominational culture in at least five ways:

  1. Offer a bolder prophetic imagination.
  2. Develop the courage and capacity to talk religiously. (To know God is to Do Justice!)
  3. Get out of our silos and off the farm.
  4. Engage in radical relationship building.
  5. Become more countercultural.

There is an urgent need for all of us, especially as UUs, to change our relationships of privilege and power to other people.”

Holding one of our Sunday services here, at the Second Ward Community Center, with the Second Missionary Baptist Church across the street, is a step in that direction.

Bryan Stevenson urged us in the 2017 Ware Lecture at our New Orleans GA, saying we need to get proximate with injustice and oppression.Brittney Packnett confided in her 2018 Kansas City Ware Lecture that what she really wanted of us is to be accomplices, and not just allies.



We need to get out of our comfort zones, wittingly or unwittingly normalizing the status quo, and dive into–or at least lean into–the vibrancy of frailty, the courage of vulnerability, the beloved community!


Closing Reading: The Artisan’s Prayer, author unknown, from Churchworks: A Well-body book for Congregations, by Anne Odin Heller

Benediction: By Frederick E Gillis, also from Churchworks

Postlude Music: Give Yourself to Love, by Kate Wolf