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Beloved Community

The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but noncooperation and boycotts are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.

Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957

What does the Beloved Community look like as it sits between the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systematic racism? Do we need to redraw the boundaries of Beloved Community to include more people awakening today to the moral injury they have caused or victimized them? At the center of it all, the aim is still to bring people together through this century’s pandemics and into liberation’s light. She has not dimmed. I want us to be in Beloved Community. And I want us to move towards freedom together. And I want us to know that freedom is not “over there,” but instead, freedom is at hand, in hand, and as close as your heart is to you. Freedom is at the center of it all, and at every step in this journey, we must recalibrate as often as the news brings us worse and worsening news.

I want you to know Beloved that this moment is the only one you get, so you must use your gifts now and not delay them. You must understand that if in whatever moment you find yourself in, if it doesn’t feel like you have a praise report today, a stockholder’s meeting with God, to share today the dividends with God on God’s investment, if you can’t say to those new on the road to freedom, the coordinates of your freedom road, then you are not present in this moment. But all is not lost. What is pleasing to God in the middle of twin pandemics is that you experience God’s peace today, experience God’s love today, and experience God’s justice today. This is pleasing to God. You must be the peace, the love, and the justice, and you must inspire other people to peace, love, and justice, for this is pleasing to God.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. Isaiah 55:10-13

At the center of it all, like everyone else, I just want to bring people together in Beloved Community. My job is to help people to interpret this moment through both trauma-informed and joy informed lenses. We miss out on the promise if we unearth trauma and not unearth the joy that sits directly beneath it, ready to be excavated. And at the center of it all, your flight, or your fright response, God is walking with you through whatever moment whispers to you in the quiet hours.

For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Did you leave the sanctuary in joy? Has that joy carried you through these four months of the pandemic? At the center of it all, like everyone else, I just want to bring people together. And make sure that we are grounded in this moment. Make sure we are not romanticizing the past but being present and shaping a future. A New York Times article came out three days ago with the headline: Churches Were Eager to Reopen. Now They Are Confronting Coronavirus Cases. It said, “More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them erupting over the last month as Americans got back to normal.

I have known that the architecture of our church’s sanctuary, and the rituals we perform on Sundays, are the optimal conditions for the virus to spread. I’ve known that I have been grieving the loss of the congregation as I knew it, the pulpit as I knew it, the podium as I knew it, the microphone as I knew, the choir as I knew it and the band as I knew it. I have known that it will be hard to bring people to think that Facebook Live is what “bringing people together” means. I have known that “online” had to take on new meaning. I have known that I had to take on a new meaning. I have had to shapeshift before. I have had to call myself something else when I was called worthless and lucky that I could get any kind of love, let alone the one I desired. Then I realized that the charge has not changed. And that this moment was not wrong, church was not wrong for moving from unsafe to safe, and our rituals were not suddenly wrong or weakened because we are online. Being asked to believe in a God that “will punish us if don’t go back to worshipping as normal” or believing that a “God will protect us if we go back to worshipping as normal” is wrong.

God says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater” and that means that you should not wait, water the earth beneath where you stand. Be the praise, and do not wait for the praise. Give the seed, which replicates your joy, to the one who is joyless and gives the bread of your efforts to a hungry world. And now, every time I hear someone say, “Let’s get back to normal.” I hear, “Let’s Make America Great Again.” I hear, “Who I am only fits who I was.” And I ask, “Who benefits from ‘normal’ and who benefits from that ‘greatness’?” You are not normal if you come to GLIDE.

The article said that the outbreak, “happened in churches that reopened cautiously with face masks and social distancing in the pews, as well as some that defied lockdowns and refused to heed new limits on numbers of worshipers.” One pastor said, “in his own church, congregants were social distancing and mostly wearing masks. And he had live-streamed services initially on Facebook, but some congregants begged to return to church, and others did not have reliable internet access.” Another pastor whose church was a virus ground zero, said, “…we had people who were away from fellowship for so long and in isolation. They were hurting. We just got to a point where we thought, we need to have normal church services.” They acquiesced, they gave-in, they broke, and the virus swept through their churches. There is a truth in begging.

People fear for their spiritual lives more than their physical lives, no matter how many times I tell them that, “to be absent from the body, is to be present with the lord.” No matter how many times I say, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” But the questions, “How do we learn to live with COVID?” And “How do we adapt?” But the questions, “How can we live in fear of the virus?” and “Is the virus bigger than God?” are interesting to me, because we are not saying “Under no condition, will I stop shining my light because of COVID.” I am a black man, which meant that my mother lived concerned, because of the expectations. I have always been aware that the dreams often end prematurely. These experiences make me feel deeply about the new national worry that COVID surfaces. I worry about your cancer. I worry about your AIDS. I worry about your age. I worry about your lack of sleep. I worry about you being alone. I worry about your financial state. I worry about COVID and how it could be a devastating last straw. What I realize at this moment is that church is a microcosm of the global conversation in these twin pandemics of COVID and Racism: The disparities in treatment between rich white churches and GLIDE.

The church’s COVID 19 conversation is about safety and what equity looks like. It is definitely and always a spiritual conversation because it is a conversation about culture and community care and the diminishing spirit and spirituality of our people. And it is about reimagining this moment. Yes, it is about the economy restarting, and it is so much more. It is about getting the hope going- that a spiritual economy restarted inspires. It is getting the cultural economy restarted. It is about getting our community’s community pride economy restarted. It is about the economy of black children’s dreams restarted. It is about getting the inspiration that comes uniquely through the creative economy restarted.

We need what religion and spirituality is offering in this moment. We need to point to our sacred text and lift the stories to let the world know how to persist, and how to get off the grind and have some leisure time, how to rally courage, and how to find the deepest wells of power (even when the well has run dry). We Need that! We Need the church! The news is getting worse, how do we reimagine what we need for these times? What negative messages do you think our families are receiving today? When everything we do and invite people to do has to be reimagined…

  1. Connection
  2. Handholding
  3. Hugging
  4. Singing and Shouting
  5. Moving
  6. Dancing
  7. Sweating
  8. Passing and sharing food, and printed matter

And now we know that “closed spaces are the virus’ favorite space to be.” 650 cases. So, “No, not yet. No in-person service.” I hear you begging for normalcy, and I know the hurt from being separated from the community you love, and that loves you. But no, not yet. One day. Okay, what is the center of my joy and my belief? Okay. Love. And do I believe that I still preach joy and love without a physical church? Okay. Yes. And is love bigger than our building? Yes. At the center of it all, I just want to bring people together. I just want to remind you that you are the Word of God, and that should animate you exactly where you stand, and you should kiss it up to God. God is expecting you to open your gifts. This completes God. So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Our love of what we do is exhibited in the church and arena, but the church and the arena do not generate the love. Our congregation and visitors bring it, and it is just more visible because of the numerosity, the number of folks that are gathered.

So, we are in our 5th month of our “Sunday Celebration Online.” We stream live twice every Sunday from the eight different remote locations of our participants, and we mix it together with historical clips of the choir singing. Love in the time of Corona says we have to be like the entrepreneurs in tech, because this is a season for reimagining. This is the part in the story where your multi-million-dollar start-up tanked, and you aren’t defeated, because the idea is still good, and how you do it, how you remember the lessons, and how you start again, just has to be imagined differently. God is still good. Your dreams are still valid. You are not off course, off base, too late, or too early. You are not behind on your payments. At the center of the church experience is the self’s transformation through an encounter with the spirit of love that gets exhibited when two or two hundred or more are gathered. And lastly, I know that we have to have a plan. We cannot just “open back up.” But I also know that we cannot allow ourselves to be “shut down,” creatively, emotionally, or spiritually either.

Amen