Lenten Series: Give It Away

A friend recently asked an innocent question that completely floored me. “I hear you Christians talking about racial reconciliation and Beloved Community, but what does it mean?” We were in a casual conversation – no time to grab Martin Luther King Jr.’s meditations off the shelf, no time even to reach for the scriptures. I had to get quiet and speak what is most true for me, not as a theologian or church leader, but as a child of God and follower of Jesus.

“Beloved Community is what forms,” I said after a good long pause, “when you and I are as committed to each other’s flourishing as we are to our own. It’s the community where my first instinct does not need to be protection of myself, my group, my turf, my perspective, because I trust that you and others are already holding me and my community as sacred. That leaves me free to cherish and nourish the other and what she holds sacred. Beloved community is a mutually deferential community that isn’t driven by ego and the desire to guarantee my own flourishing; it’s driven by the desire to participate in a diverse community of peoples who yearn to see each other grow into all that our Creator made us to be … together.”

Especially in these waning days of Lent, I see in Beloved Community the fruits of Lenten virtues like humility, simplicity and what the ancients would term “kenosis.” The kenotic path assumes we give something of ourselves away – some privilege, some piece of ego – in order to make more room for God and ultimately to enter into sweet communion with the Holy One. It is the Way Jesus himself paved, as we see in Philippians 2:5-9, known as the “Kenotic Hymn”:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name …

When my friend asked about Beloved Community, I didn’t replay images from a Coca Cola commercial featuring multi-hued people holding hands and circling the globe. I pictured Jesus on the cross, arms stretched wide, aching with the effort to remain open even though everything in him must have screamed, “Enough! Close up. Walk away. They don’t get it and they never will.” I recalled this Ephesians passage and thought, “This self-giving love is what makes Beloved Community possible. Why else would we step from small circles of safety and privilege to a new circle where we’re deeply uncomfortable? Why else would we care enough to suffer for God and our neighbors? Why else would we listen and ache and even give up some of what we’ve understood to be central to our own being? The only reason is if you’re consumed by kenotic love.”

I believe this love was moving in our church during General Convention last summer, whether we knew it or not. People’s hearts were broken and our eyes were opened, and we seemed to grasp the need for a fundamental shift in order to move, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has said, from the nightmare of this world to the dream of God.

That impulse led us to pass a host of resolutions concerning racial justice and reconciliation, and I pray that we follow through on every one of them and then some. I hope we take up a new round of trainings to dismantle racism, not just to check off the box but because we want to be fully, powerfully equipped to be reconcilers and repairers of the breach. I hope we prioritize the practice of sharing our own most vulnerable stories and listening deeply to the other, recognizing Jesus in the one whose life may be so different from our own.

I hope we set aside the need to master or dominate other cultures or peoples, and instead learn to rejoice in saying, “I have no idea!” or even “That’s not what I would choose, but seeing your love makes me love it, too.” And I hope we will utilize our church’s extreme privilege in order to dismantle systems built for one group’s flourishing, and redeploy those resources so that all might flourish.

These are the practices that mark Beloved Community: mutual deference, deep listening, lifelong learning, and kenotic love. May the same mind that was in Christ Jesus be in us – may the same love that was in Christ Jesus be in us – so we can then give it away for love of the other.


Additional Information:

The leaders of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops and House of Deputies March 12 issued a letter “to welcome sisters and brothers in both Houses and ultimately all Episcopalians to join us” in the ministry of racial justice and reconciliation, as called for last summer by General Convention in Resolution C019. Read the full letter here. 

This is the sixth installment of the EPPN’s Lenten Series “Engaging the Beloved Community.” You may find the previous reflections here. If you would like to have each week’s reflection sent to your inbox, go here.