A New Welcome for the Table:
Reimagining the Beloved Community
April 15, 2018
Rev. Doris K. Dalton
Westchester MLK Jr. Institute for Nonviolence,
Luke 24:13-49 (The Message)
and "Dialogue Decalogue,"
the Ten Principles of Dialogue.
This is a useful resource for us to consider how we have hard conversations with those who are not already at the table for a reimagined Beloved Community.
Beloved, it is my honor to be with you this morning. I bring you greetings from Memorial United Methodist Church in White Plains, where Siobhan Sargent is the pastor. I am the appointed Deacon to this Memorial Family. I also bring you greetings from the Board of Directors of the Westchester Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute for Nonviolence, where it is my joy to serve as Executive Director. I also bring you greetings from the First Baptist Church of White Plains, where my best friend, Tim Dalton, is the pastor and where I am known as the First Lady. Finally, I bring you greetings from my children, Evangeline and Isaac. I am thankful for the ways they graciously share me with other communities. Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that we are standing together on the traditional lands of the indigenous Lenape people. If there are any Lenape elders with us today, I seek your forgiveness for standing and speaking in your presence before you were given an opportunity to stand and address us all. We cannot be a whole people until we recognize the most disenfranchised and forgotten among us. It is my prayer that the words of my heart and the meditation of my spirit are pleasing to God, will be received into the spirits of all who are gathered, and will gain acceptance into your hearts as we explore how we can dismantle racism together.
On April 4, we paused to remember Dr. King on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. In these last 50 years, we have seen the rolling back of almost all of the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement era. Voting Rights has been taken apart due to gerrymandering and legislation aimed at voter suppression for persons of color. The achievements of the Fair Housing Act are being reversed right now, before our eyes by the current administration. The desegregation of schools is also being reversed, through the use of charter schools and the perpetual underfunding of public schools. Fifty years ago, we had so much hope that our nation would learn to love and serve their neighbor, and then the lights went out. Mourners filed by his coffin at his funeral, and walked out the door, down the street, and began to talk amongst themselves as they went. They walked away from Jerusalem, towards Emmaus, discussing the events that had just occurred. Beloved, we as a nation are still on that road to Emmaus. We have not yet found a way to that table of possibility and new reality in Emmaus.
I envision the Beloved Community gathered around a table set by our Creative God, festooned with enough food and water to nourish and satisfy everyone who is seated together. At this table, we are learning to love each other for our uniqueness, despite our differences, and through our disagreements. At this table, we find comfort in our common humanity, and are constructing new bridges to meet each other when our communication breaks down. We stand up for each other, we defend one another, we are in solidarity together. There is space for compassion, forgiveness and grace for all of us, even the worst of us, because we know that sometimes the worst can be found deep inside of us. At this table of the Beloved Community, no one is left out, no one is more powerful than the other, we are all at the table equitably and equally. At this table, we see the risen Christ blessing our bread, breaking it and offering it to us bread, and realize that we don’t have to be bound by the old paradigms of empire and oppression, but we can be FREE knowing that there is new possibility, and a new reality with each other and for each other. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Do you want to be at that table? I do too.
The Beloved community is a concept that was first offered by theologian and philosopher Josiah Royce, who later founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Dr. King was a member of that Fellowship, and he caught the vision of the Beloved Community. Dr. King took the vision of the Beloved Community farther than it had ever gone through his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement.
But I believe that the two men on the road to Emmaus were among the first people to catch the vision of the Beloved Community, before Dr. King, before Josiah Royce. They first began to realize this possibility when they sat down at the table with a stranger, and shared bread. Suddenly they saw they had been living as if the paradigm of empire and oppression was still a reality, when the new paradigm of a risen Christ broke through their understanding. Beloved, hear the good news! Christ has risen! The vision of a Beloved Community is no longer an impossibility!
Though not an impossibility, we must acknowledge where we are getting it wrong. Dismantling racism is a hard, slow work that requires patience, dedication and commitment to the slow work of God. I have seen many different attempts to do it, to fix it and address it. Every attempt has been an unfortunate band-aid or a cork in the leaking bucket. We are busy doing something, but we aren’t actually solving anything. Here are three challenges that apply to our struggle:
1. We need an accurate analysis of the root of racism. You may say, of course we do! Yet, this work of dismantling racism is wearisome, because though we have made our best attempts at it, we keep falling back into old habits, or produce partial results. The majority of our current solutions are trying to address symptoms of racism, but not the root problem. For example:
- If we just put different people in a room together, they will be able to solve the problems of racism.
- If we just tell people they are racist and racism is a sin, they will repent and become anti-racists.
- If we just have white people say they are sorry, racism will stop.
- If we just make a black man the president of the US, everyone will realize racism is over, and we will be fine.
You have seen this, and much more. These little corrections and amendments do not dismantle racism, because they are only trying to make corrections on top of a foundation that remains corrupted. They cannot change the actual foundation of racism. They only exacerbate the root cause, which is this: racism was created as a justification for the guardians of white supremacy to secure their economic prosperity through possession of native lands and slavery of Africans. These actions were sanctioned by the government and encoded into our nation’s DNA. We continue to viciously circle each other around this toxic reality because we have never, ever had the dialogue of WHO we mean when we talk about “We, the people.”
2. We need relevant, contextual solutions to address the root causes of racism. The Civil Rights Movement ended almost 50 years ago. It was largely successful because the strategies and tactics had never been tried before and no one knew what to expect. No one had ever seen thousands of African Americans peacefully marching in the street. No one had ever seen white people marching with these African Americans. No one had ever seen interfaith and interracial coalitions walking in the street with thousands of African Americans. Since 1968, our nation has changed, the racial landscape of our country has changed, and racism in the US has changed. Yet, our solutions to dismantling racism have largely remained unchanged. Now, we see these types of marches all the time. We have seen them this year, we have seen them every year, yet racism persists. We keep trying to use a 1968 framework to address 2018 racism, and it isn’t working. Racism today is intersectional, it is #MeToo and #TimesUp. Racism is queer, it is differently abled, and it is hearing impaired. Racism isn’t just about the “poor black Americans” either, because the largest segment of the economically oppressed today are white people (*“The Souls of Poor Folk Audit”). In the age of Oprah, Beyoncé and Obama, we need to expand our vision for the Beloved Community to include our Native, Middle Eastern, and Latinx families. Racism is not a black and white issue, yet the majority of our anti-racist conversations are focused on a black and white framework. This means we are leaving out a lot of people from joining us at these new tables. Our tactics need to strike at the root of our problem, not make corrections and amendments to satiate each other or justify our work. Which leads me to my final point:
3. We need to reimagine the Beloved Community, to give us a new vision and a new table. 1. When Christ broke bread at the table, Cleopas and his friend suddenly saw what they could not see before. They were in the midst of a new paradigm! The empire was not victorious, and love and community are stronger than violence and hate! This inspired a new vision, spurring them to courageously do things they had never done before. We are standing together at the precipice of a new age, a new possibility. Beloved, the risen Christ has already broken the bread at the table, but our vision is still clouded over with the oppression from the empire. We are tempted to see only our brokenness rise in front of us, and not look through our brokenness to see the endless possibilities that lay before us. Beloved, we don’t need to gather our wounded warriors around any more around tables of capitulation or justification. We need to arrive at new tables built for our mutual liberation, with our personal work of healing in process, and supported by a network of allies and mentors. We need to arrive at these new tables with the intention of deep listening to the unlovely other, with open agreements that we will try to see God in every person. Because here is where it gets really tough: what if our old tables of justification were also justifying why we leave out the homophobe, the racists, the misogynists? As much as we don’t want their weapons at the table, we still need to send them the invitations, because it isn’t the Beloved Community until we are ALL able to dismantle racism for everyone. I know, I am asking a lot; why would you want to sit down with people who hurt you? But here is my final question to you: Beloved, what if one day, you win the justice you have been seeking. Yet, your neighbor still hates you. Did you really win justice? Did you really create peace?
I don’t want a table of justification, I want a table of mutual liberation, for ALL of us to be liberated together. That is the vision of the Beloved Community. A place where radical transformation can take place in all of us, even the worst of us, whether we find the worst of us out there, or here, within ourselves. And if we can know there is a place at the table for us — broken us, hurting us, beaten down us, judgmental us — then there is a place at the table for those who are at their worst among us.
This is hard work! Does this mean we don’t try? Absolutely not. We try. We work. Because we have been on the road to Emmaus, we have been at the table with the risen Christ, and we have received bread from him.
My final comment and then I will take my seat. In the moment they realized they were with Jesus, the two men were awake AND they were woke! Immediately, Jesus disappears from their vision, but the realization remained, widening their universe, pushing back the boundaries of their understanding. Their world had been disrupted again. Did they sit at the table and wait for Jesus to return to answer more questions? Did they decide to stay at that table, pray, hold a worship service, maybe even build a church on that spot? No, they did none of those things. They got up from the table, and hurried back to Jerusalem, two hours in the pitch dark, with the express purpose of inviting others into this new reality.
Beloved, set the table. Send out the invitations. There is work to be done.
Copyright © 2018 by Doris K. Dalton.
All rights reserved.