I recently had my spirits raised when my daughter’s school put on a production of “Urinetown”, that reminded me of a part of me, long-ago forgotten: as a Utopian. In 1978, when I was a freshman in college, I discovered the lifestyle that I thought I would live forever. Quiet, communal living, sharing a house with a bunch of people, not having many needs and so not having to work that hard, but building up the world until it was right and free and loving. I would later learn that I believed in Martin Luther King’s “Beloved Community”.
Even then, the beliefs were labeled something like “socialism” or “communism”, by people who believed in those things, and — later — by people who hated those things. The community of early Christians in Acts 2 was labeled as “communism” or “socialism before Marx”. But, having thought about it for 40 years now, it misses the point. “Communism”,”Socialism”, and “Capitalism” (which I’ve never believed in) all miss the point. They are about economics. They are about money, and — for years — they have been about anger. Communism is a critique of capitalism, Capitalism is a critique of communism, both think they know about socialism, and neither really do.
The early Christian community in Acts 2 was not about anger, criticism, or critique of the social or political or economic order (though many of my friends believe otherwise). It was about living toward the good. It started with the question, “What if we believed in love for all of humanity?” “What if everybody deserved to eat and have a place to be with God, and took care of each other”?. It wasn’t so much about arguing with the culture as it was about trying something new, living a life based in Jesus’ teachings. Nowhere in the text does it say, “F–k the empire!” or “Jews are inherently racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-immigrant and so on”.
The community in Acts wasn’t about the Jews or the Romans or the Egyptians or anyone else. It was about Jesus and how he would have us be toward each other. I have been in that community. I have experienced that community 2,000 years after the people in the early church did. I have experienced Deering. My love for Virginia Satir’s work came out looking for healthy community, not out of anger at unhealthy or dysfunctional forms of community, but in seeking a place where community was good, where we had hope, with or without money. Chasing things that mattered rather than being what Jackson Browne called “caught between the longing for love and the struggle for the legal tender”.
Loving one another, valuing one another, treating each other kindly, and living simply in God’s world. Those were my goals, because, as I understood it, those were Jesus’ goals, which brings us to someone else trying to live Jesus’ goals: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. My Deering utopia and Dr. King’s beloved community were cut from the same cloth as I understand it. Gordon Sherman had gotten the directorship at Deering because he was tired of teaching Sunday School as an intellectual exercise and one day thought to himself, “What if I actually tried to live this way?” King’s words were him asking the same question of all of us.
Ten years before I went to Deering, I heard the words of Martin Luther King, and felt their call to act and speak and be in a certain loving, active, open, non-violent way. After hearing the words of King, and Dick Gregory, and Andrew Young, it was impossible to believe that Black was anything but beautiful. After hearing King, it was impossible to believe that African-Americans could be un-educated, violent people. It was impossible to hear his soaring voice and believe they weren’t spiritual or strong or brave or living Jesus’ faith. When he was killed, I didn’t understand why anyone would want to do that to him. I was 8 years old and knew nothing about politics. I knew nothing about racism or sexism or classism except that they were wrong because God loved everybody.
After attending Deering, I knew that King/Jesus’ vision could be real. It was a few years after screaming with Peter Wells, “I am somebody! You are somebody! Together, we are somebody!” that I learned he stole that from Jesse Jackson. Peter and Jesse came from the same cloth as Gordon and Martin and Jesus. I like to think I do, too. I like to think everyone else does, too.
That’s what I believed in 1979, and what I remembered profoundly in the last month or so. With that memory, though, life in America makes less and less sense. It has made less and less sense for almost all the time between 1980 and today. I don’t understand why people would hate their neighbors, or hate their sisters or brothers or anyone else. I know that the Beloved Community can exist because it has existed before.
I know, over the years that I have become bitter and angry at times, both ironic and cynical. Mostly, though, I am sad. I would never have believed that Martin Luther King’s message would be forgotten that day, April 4, 1968, when he was shot. I would never have believed that a bullet could end a trajectory of history. I would never have believed that, given the choice, that they would choose to be against equality, that they would choose to fear people they didn’t know, that they would be openly hostile to women, and be actively against them, rather than simply loving them and wanting the best for them.
As I typed this, a White man came in and said he’d been attending an AME (African-American) church in the South when another AME church people were shot at a Bible Study in South Carolina. He was embarrassed to go back to worship with them, because he didn’t know what to say to them. They were gracious and wanted to talk to him. That’s Martin’s community and the choice to live his way.
Today, America is living on hatred, led by a hateful man, who seeks money, power, and fame without anything like searching for a soul. We produce more and get less for it, unless we’re rich, and therefore “special”. We are anti-intellectual and have been pro-gun. Our authorities beat up, or kill, people because of their skin color. Our leaders “put up with” a woman who spoke for hours and hours in defense of women’s health rights, so that they could move on to “real business”. We play with people’s lives and citizenship as though it was of no consequence. We ask about people’s religion to separate ourselves from “them”. Every day brings more news of the choice to hate. We have a whole TV network that sells hate as though it were the heroic thing to do.
A few years ago, we had a vice-Presidential candidate say about Hope and Change, “How’s that working out for ya?”. She chose to be against hope because her racism against the man who suggested it got in the way of her having hope. So, today, I say to her, and the people at Fox, and the people at the NRA, and the people in Congress on both sides, “How’s that hate working for you?”. It’s not — not for you, not for any of us. Hate, cynicism, worshiping race, or sex, or power, or money, or anything other than love, is a choice that’s killing us — and you, and everything America was known for. We are number one, alright, for making bad choices.
We can choose the Beloved Community, non-violence, and love or we can choose chaos, violence, and hate. Having experienced the first, I don’t understand why anyone would choose the second . I remain grieving for Martin’s dream. I miss Gordon and I wonder what Jesus it is that Trump is worshiping because it’s not anyone I recognize, and doesn’t yield anything I would want.
Hatred, ignorance, and lies are the choices people seem to make. I don’t want to know why. I just want them to do something else.
Resisting with Peace,