Building Beloved Community despite the Cold

At Lewis University, today was scheduled to be the start of Diversity Week, an annual tradition scheduled near Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  It draws attention to numerous forms of exclusion and oppression.  Many presenters invite attendees of the various talks and events to be part of the solution.  Such would have been my focus when I gave my (now cancelled) talk on Beloved Community today.  Allow me to offer a few take-aways from the talk so that this important topic gets part of its due.

There are numerous quotes of MLK and descriptors about Beloved Community out there, particularly on sites dedicated to sustaining King’s legacy.  One of those is the following:

But 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 opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding (and) goodwill for all men (sic). It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men (sic). This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization. ~ from King’s speech, “The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma,” 1957

There are many other scholars, writers and non-violent practitioners more sagacious than I, like Michelle Norris, James Cone, bell hooks, Rev. Dr. Bryan Massingale and Nelson Mandela, who frequently inspire us to look deeply at our own prejudices and consciously choose to dismantle those ideas and actions that detract from human community and compassionate service.  I encourage others to join me in exploring the importance of Beloved Community and seek ways to contribute to its growth and vitality.

I’ve discovered an interesting exercise, an idea I got from an article by Michelle Norris where she talks about her efforts toward dismantling racism.  One step in that process involves naming the racism or marginalization that we’ve fallen victim to or participated in.  She has initiated The Race Card Project in which participants are asked to offer a feeling, experience, or idea around racism or other form of oppression in EXACTLY 6 words.  Try it.  Mine might be something like this: Slave-owners’ descendent; recovering racist; determined peacebuilder.   The addition I was going to offer attendees to today’s talk was a plea to also fill out a Beloved Community Card.  On this, one would write EXACTLY 7 words explaining one way each could be a non-violent, dedicated part of the solution.  Here’s mine: Compassionate catalyst for transformative change through service.  Try it for yourself and join me in building beloved community.  Submit Race Cards to me or on Norris’s website: Feel free to share Beloved Community Cards with me at  Dream big and believe that peace is possible.

About Dr. Christie Billups

Dr. Christie Billups is an assistant professor of Theology, Director of Pastoral Ministry, and Director of Service Learning at Lewis University. She has co-founded and co-directs the new Peace Studies Minor. She has been a practical, pastoral theologian in both academia and ministry in schools, jails, parishes, and hospitals. Some topics may include ministry with LGBT youth, juvenile justice, confronting racism, restorative justice and prison ministry.

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