I once worked with a team of people coming from sixteen different nations. The food was amazing; the companionship even better; the work we did, extraordinary! At the time, we had no idea how unique we were. It was for us a living experiment of what John Lewis called beloved community. We took as our mandate his wisdom: “I discovered that you have to have this sense of faith that what you’re moving toward is already done”; that is, you have to live and behave as if beloved community is already reality. So, that is what we did. Of course, this was all before the angst of our present context. I look back and wonder if such diversity would even be possible today… and then, I remember John Lewis’ mandate: act as if it is “already done!”
“I discovered that you have to have this sense of faith that what you’re moving toward is already done.”John Lewis
To be sure, there were challenges. For us, there was a humbling, tender sense that only grace could have made our fellowship possible. Our practice was to us was to welcome the stranger on a daily basis; not necessarily to make the stranger one of us, but to afford the space where they might find the space to discover what made them alive—fully alive!
We didn’t try to smooth over our differences. Instead, we focused on what we could agree upon: our shared call to “renew the ruined city” in which we were located. To the degree that we focused outward, we were united in our desire to restore and renew.
Unity in Diversity?
Anthropologist Arrien Angeles in Working Together reflects on the many names by which diversity is made known: “Pluralism, unity, harmony, tolerance, inclusion, conflict mediation, facilitation, equity, intercultural understanding, anti-bias, multicultural education, equal employment, affirmative action, cultural competence, global competitiveness, social justice, racial understanding and being politically correct.” Some of the descriptors she notes have become (at least in some circles) “bad words.” Others feel shallow, reflecting the limits of our language in this time of discontinuous change. It has been said that, in times of rapid change, what you know can mislead you. I wonder if this is the case with regard to embracing our unity of diversity in the 21st century.
The Practice of Community
As I read the list, I am given an answer to my question as to why is unity in diversity so hard. Simply put, living in intentional community is hard—especially in changing times. Arrien believes that the intentional practice of community requires four very particular practices:
- Showing up and choosing to be present.
- Paying attention.
- Telling the truth.
- Surrendering an attachment to a particular outcome.
Peter Block found her practices so compelling that he wrote a book called The Structure of Community. In it, he suggests that we approach our shared life narratively; that is, that we write “a new story based on restorative community: one of possibility, generosity, (and) accountability.” As one who is drawn to the power of narrative, I find real invitation in Block’s suggestion.
How are you being called to celebrate unity in diversity in this disruptive time?
You might want to think about joining us for a Social Action Pilgrimage in Minneapolis on the anniversary of George Floyd’s death (for more information: https://poetsprophets.net/lets-go-on-a-pilgrimage/). Registration opens in Janaury 2021. Or join the folks @LeaderWise for Conversations on Race (https://leaderwise.org/conversations-on-race). Or participate on an online journey with @OkokonUdo on UnMasking (Wednesdays in January from 5-6pm; https://poetsprophets.net).
Is beloved community even possible today? Yes, I believe it is… more so today than ever before, because we are writing the new story, born of the old, old story of possibility, generosity, and accountability.
Is beloved community even possible today? Yes, I believe it is… more so today than ever before, because we are writing the new story, born of the old, old story of possibility, generosity, and accountability.Tweet
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