As the new Becoming Beloved Community Coordinator, I’m so thankful for the opportunity to explore the meaning of Becoming Beloved Community through the Big Read—an experience I’m especially grateful to be doing together, as a diocese.
To help me understand the connections between the Big Read and Becoming Beloved Community, I reached out to Rev. Karl Stevens, who is leading the Big Read. In the spirit of being together on this journey, I’m sharing a bit of this exchange in hopes it might shed invite conversation among us.
Amy: I’m looking forward to exploring the meaning of Becoming Beloved Community as I participate in the Big Read. Thank you for your earlier post; I found it helpful as I work to make these connections. Something you wrote really struck me:
“And we will read the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles together as a diocese from this coming Advent until Pentecost, because the work of reconciliation and love that we’re undertaking as we work towards Becoming the Beloved Community requires a spiritual revolution within ourselves, a process of profound conversion that will help us set aside the fear and joylessness that keeps us from entering into loving fellowship with each other.”
I’m wondering what this “spiritual revolution” of Becoming Beloved Community will mean–for me personally, for our churches, for our communities. Can you say more about how you understand this kind of revolution?
Karl: If I may bring a quote from the Dalai Lama into this, he said that “although attempting to bring about world peace through the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way.” I think that’s true of reconciliation as well. In order to reconcile, we have to repent of our prejudices, our need to dominate and control, our desire to feel protected, and many other things as well. Repentance means “being of a new mind.” So we don’t just need to get rid of old ways of being and thinking, but we need to adopt new ways of being and thinking as well. I’ve been reading Gerard May’s The Dark Night of the Soul, and he says that we can’t just seek freedom from attachment, we need to seek freedom for love. We need to transform our prejudicial, fearful, dominating minds into minds that are deeply attuned to God’s love for the world.
Fortunately, scripture and the contemplative tradition give us some rich descriptions of what that love is like. Saint Paul says that love does not insist on having its own way. So a transformed church and community would be full of people who are willing to hold their own plans and desires pretty lightly. The beautiful thing about this is that if we loosen our grasp on our own agendas, we’re able to combine pieces of what we envision with the visions of others, and something larger and more wonderful is born. Saint Teresa of Avila says that the important thing is not to think much, but love much, so we should do the things that most awaken us to love. So often our communities are full of people who are pursuing duty as a form of drudgery. What would it be like if a church or community was clear with people that they are free to pursue the things they love? It sounds risky, because we’ll always need someone to serve on the finance committee. But of course, there are people who love that, too. Anyway, I’m going on too long, but I think I can sum up my answer by saying that a community that has gone through a spiritual revolution is one in which people celebrate and take joy in each others’ efforts, ask humbly how they can add to them, and always ask whether the things they’re doing cultivate love.
Amy: Thank you for these practical examples of how Becoming Beloved Community might be manifested in our lives. I wonder, will we encounter examples of Becoming Beloved Community–in the form of reconciliation and love–in the readings?
Karl: Luke and Acts are full of examples. In Acts, this happens at the Council of Jerusalem, when Paul asks the community of Christians to expand their love to non-Jews. The Prodigal Son leaps immediately to mind as a story of reconciliation. Many of the parables are about sloughing off the old mind so that we can align ourselves to love more fully. These are often strange and disquieting, because they expose how deeply we’re caught up in the mind that dominates and controls. I’m thinking of the parable of the dishonest steward, the parable of the wedding banquet, the camel through the eye of the needle, and others. I think that reading Luke enacts a process of transformation in itself. We read these parables and stories that are often like Zen koans, and we struggle with them, and in the struggling the resistant parts of us are brought to light, and, ideally, fall away. Then, after the resurrection at the end of Luke, we’re shown what the transformed life is like. The beginning of Acts continues this description of the transformed life, and grows it, so that Acts becomes the story of the things that communities need to come to grips with before they can be transformed.
Amy: You reference the importance of joy and compassion in both the readings and in Becoming Beloved Community. I’m especially interested in the role joy plays in Becoming Beloved Community. For you, why is joy important?
Karl: Joy is a tough one, since it’s so hard to define. It’s almost easier to define it by what it’s not. It’s not simple happiness. It’s not the high you get from an accomplishment. I want to describe it as a response to grace – our gasp of wonder as we experience God. To me, that’s why joy is so important. The whole point of all of the transformations that Luke and Acts take us through is the cultivation of our ability to see the world in the way that God sees it. When we truly align our souls with God’s love and compassion, that’s when we know joy. So in a way, the feeling of joy tells us that we’ve undergone some small transformation, and that our way of being in the world is altered because of it. That’s why the angels declare news of great joy to the shepherds at Christmas. They are declaring a world-altering grace.
Amy: It strikes me that compassion leads to joy. If we consider the meaning of compassion, it seems particularly tied to the journey of Becoming Beloved Community. The etymology of “compassion” is Latin, meaning “co-suffering”, so that when we can experience the suffering of our neighbors as our own suffering, we also find joy—and as you mention, transformation.
Thank you for this, Karl. Here’s to continued conversation as we move into the Big Read and Becoming Beloved Community.