Sunday, May 12, 2013

Beloved Community?

My mother, who lives in a senior community which is a ministry of the United Methodist Church, told me today that she had a religious question.  What, she asked, was the meaning of the term "Beloved Community?"  It seems that this phrase is turning up all around her and she doesn't really understand what is being described, is not sure she will approve when she knows and is feeling generally cranky about the whole thing.   Forgetting something which I used to know, which is that this is a term that Martin Luther King used to describe a community in which people were treated fairly,  I blithered a bit about beloved community being a community where people were good to each other, took care of each other, and so on.   She was all for that sort of thing, but hated the term and wanted to know if I used it.

As a matter of fact, although I hear the term a lot, I am not particularly comfortable with it either, but I had never stopped to ask myself what my problem was and finally said,  "I guess I just think it's a bit over the top."  My mother liked that.  "I'm glad to make friends here," she said,  "but 'beloved'....really...that's my husband."

I think she has a point.  This big of jargon might be best used only with church leaders who can appreciate its history and unpack its meaning.  Less committed folks might feel like they are being sucked into something more than they bargain for or, alternatively, may discover that the church actually can't promise them the level of help and intimacy which is implied by that term, "beloved."

In the same vein, I counsel the leaders in my church to be very careful when they use the word "family" to describe the church.  While it is true that people take care of each other here, sometimes to an almost "family" extent,  for most people in this large church, their relationships here are "neighborly" not "family-like", and to wax too eloquent about family is actually pretty scary to lots of folks and misleading to others.  It's no accident of economics that most people don't live in large extended families any more; we escaped them gladly, by and large, finding them suffocating and time consuming and not really worth the energy.  I'm always touched which I see evidence that the church has become family for some people, but I don't want to promise, and I don't think that that is what most people want from church.


5 comments:

ogre said...

And yet...

Depending on someone's religious context/background, I've explained beloved community as another way to express "the kingdom of god." Which also is problematic and laden....

I'm so with you about the overblown use of "family." But Iam not sure that we so much fled extended families (despite their human-riddled flaws) as that we were lured out of them. The breakdown of the extended family is very much hand-in-glove with the rise of the mobile, industrial society. The nuclear family was more convenient for industry. The... denucleated individual, barely connected, is even more convenient.

I suspect that this also explains the eager use of the church as family metaphor. We're pack animals, and we miss the pack. Even a loosely connected pack feels like a real one if one's been so deprived, for so long....

UU Clicker said...

At the country club, you pay your dues for the privileges of using the facilities, attending the programs, and associating with like-minded people. There's no reason for the organization to concern itself with your life. I would hope our churches are more than country clubs.

GertieCranker said...

As a member of a UU congregation, I am uncomfortable with the term 'beloved community', which our minister uses rather unstintingly.I hadn't really thought through the source of my discomfort, but as I consider the phrase--thanks to your blog--I find it feels too inclusive, facile, smarmy, even. Do I value my UU community? Of course I do. Is it 'beloved'? No. My aging grandparent is 'beloved', my children are 'beloved', my music is 'beloved'. My UU community is a source of inspiration, examination, intellectual unrest, friendship. But those roles, while cherished as a source of personal challenge and growth, of necessity don't carry the respite and stasis implied in the term 'beloved.'

Rev Jo said...

Yes!

My attempt to unpack it a little:
http://bootsandblessings.blogspot.com/2013/05/beloved-community-now-and-not-yet.html

BobR said...

I agree with "Ogre" with my reservations about the breakdowns of the extended family structure, a development which MAY have contributed to the weakening of our American sense of community within our towns, states, nation and World. Our materialistic and often insular mentality in the U.S. has, I believe, helped set the stage for the worship of wealth we find in high (and low) places in our country. From what I've been reading recently, the sense of "social contract" and our fundamental interdependence is now much higher in Europe than it is in our country.