In the weeks since the recent passing of Vincent Harding (1931-2014), Mennonite historian, religious scholar and social activist, I have been reflecting on the life and teachings of his mentor, Martin Luther King Jr.
Though less remembered than his work in the American civil rights movement, King spoke widely about economic justice and the “Beloved Community” — a global vision in which all people share in the good things of the earth. Rather than an unattainable utopian delusion, King believed the beloved community was an achievable goal, and a social necessity. Especially for the privileged, however, the idea of the beloved community can be a challenge. It seems we’re comfortable remembering the legacy of a great man that fought for equal rights, but are disturbed by his insistence on radical economic justice, and we tame his legacy accordingly.
It’s important to remember King’s vision as we dream about what a better future looks like here in our own community. This is an exciting time, as a myriad of groups work on economic development, social betterment and ecological sustainability, proving that the fires of innovation in our community are burning brightly. In his book “Blessed Unrest,” Paul Hawken calls our time the “largest social movement in history.”
As a result, I’ve never been more hopeful in our capacity for building the beloved community. There still is, however, a chasm between capacity and willingness. I believe we should be judged by whether our work brings life, empowerment and rejuvenation to those on the margins.
A few months ago, several colleagues from New Leaf Initiative attended the Global Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley and were shocked to see the economic disparity and inequality that exists in the so-called “capital of innovation.” It was apparent that even in the home of our shiny gadgets, innovation was for some, not for all. As we work to create a better future, is it not important to ask if each step is moving us closer to, or further from, King’s vision?
Building the beloved community requires solidarity and deep understanding across lines that typically divide us as communities. We must reach across barriers of race, faith, age, economic status and occupation. I believe our work requires interconnectedness to all parts of our community, or we work in vain. “Innovation only for some” results in moral bankruptcy.
This month I urge you, reader, to step across a dividing line yourself. With a listening posture, visit a prison; volunteer at the homeless shelters; attend an interfaith event; learn from someone who is different from you. Allow yourself to be changed by the experience. As we work in all sectors of our community to innovate and create positive change, may we remember these interactions. A better world is possible.
May the Beloved Community exist in our time.