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There was a few movies I loved that show heaven. I loved one in particular What Dreams May Come, which I recommend the book as well. I don’t want to give spoilers, but it shows heaven as a place where people can be themselves. I watch What Dreams May Come for its artistry, its exploration of the human condition, existential crisis and glorious depiction of love. It has the full range of human emotions.
With regards to heaven, growing up Roman Catholic it was depicted much in the fashion of Dante’s Inferno. Clouds, and paradiso. The realm of the divine, a realm in the skies and yet another dimension. Yet one major thing which drew me to Unitarian Universalism, was combining Christian and Humanism into the beloved community. The beloved community, the idea that we can make a difference to our world, transform it to a world free from oppression in all forms, free to explore yourself, explore your dreams, and live life to its fullest. Over the last eight years it has been central to my faith. The idea that we can make paradise on Earth, heaven on Earth, the Kingdom of God on Earth a reality. Meanwhile in that time as a Unitarian Universalist, I went from pagan, to atheist to pantheist. Each with combinations of various aspects of different faith traditions. It’s why I am proud to say I am a man of faith. In one of the Robin Hood movies, the character Friar Tuck said he wasn’t a fire and brimstone kind of Friar, but a live, drink and be merry kind of Friar. Celebrating life to its fullest. It’s a model of ministry I aspire to. Yet in my quest for justice and prophetic witness, I find myself sometimes forgetting that paradise can happen.
Paradise on earth in my opinion, it is the culmination of all UU the principles
I get fired up about it, center of my faith it’s core. I can talk about how it is possible theologically, I can talk about how it is possible politically, I can engage with it all day.
I talk about the beloved community and I hear the manifestation of all my hopes, purpose, meaning, all my dreams made manifest where fantasy and fiction have been made into reality.
The beloved community, in my mind takes a certain shape. It engages in creative tension, a spiritual conversation merging idealism, realism, all philosophies of the church universal, a world without empires, colonies, where people can be whatever sexuality they are in safe space, a place where race is non-existent because we are all so multiracial, multi ethnic, multicultural there would be no misappropriation only spiritual deepening and personal aesthetic expression. Where there is no room for the four horsemen of the apocalypse, hunger, war, disease, and unnatural death. Unless of course we succeed with Taoist immortality. No poverty, or barriers to fulfill your dreams, and no barriers to maintaining relationships with your self, family, friends, community, and the world.
Certainly there will be an abundance of love, and abundance of food, and abundance of wealth materially, spiritually. Where the only poverty, will be of those grieving, those in mourning. It would not be an issue of homelessness, it would be an issue of do I want to stay in one place, do I want to experience a different climate, a different language, a different aesthetic norm, a different way of doing things. There are already more homes in this country than there are homeless.
I imagine a week where there are three days of work, which would include commute time. I imagine the fourth day as a day of public service, where we would all be maintenance, sanitation, farm work, factory work, where people would all help to clean a different home once every few weeks. I imagine a fifth day of public leadership, where we would all partake in a grassroots committee body for a community governance. On that day also, I feel everyone should be polled. And I mean, that we hear statistics where samples of thousands are used to represent millions, and I say, why? Everyone could be asked at some point in the year how they feel, perceive, experience etc any topic. I imagine a sixth day of personal hobby and relaxing, the proverbial me day. I imagine half a day where it is dedicated to family and community, it would be a day of spiritual practice, for at least an hour or so. Prayer, meditation, chanting, choir practice, journaling, hiking, sculpting, painting, coffee hour with a topic of conversation. The possibilities can go on and on and on and on. So like the music group Journey, Don’t stop believing, hold on to that feeling!!!
The paradise of beloved community, would have figured out the best, most fun way to do school while maintaining strong academic excellence. It would allow all to pursue the path people wanted to be as they were kids, and allow flexibility to take jobs that needed to be filled and provide extra education on it. It would have free healthcare, free housing, at least a studio. It would have free education up to a doctorate, whether of philosophy, juris, or medical. There would be free food, at least a healthy version of fast food. There would be jobs for everyone. Especially if you have everyone contributing to the well-being of the community. There are certain jobs machines won’t be able to do, like care for people, like program themselves (maybe). There would be solar panels, no need for competition, unless people wanted to place bets with each other for bragging rights. There would be no redundancy because there would be communication, coordination and team work.
Rebecca Ann Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock, have written much on the idea of paradise and its connection to imperialism in the book Saving Paradise: how Christians traded love of this world for crucifixion and Empire. I had the good fortune of having a class with Doctor Brock, and Rebecca Ann Parker is a UU Minister and former president of the UU Seminary Starr King. The idea of the beloved community made manifest came from the idea of heaven on earth, paradise on earth as a quasi mystical place on earth that we could go to if we could. In Ancient Sumer it was a land to the Far East. It may be difficult to understand in a modern context, but travel wise, it would be like going to the Moon, Mars, or the moons of Jupiter, the stars. Sure people can go there, but good luck if you are not an astranaut! Wherever it is, we are talking a global unification of humanity that can be had. The possibility of true global community.
Which is why I love Star Trek. It’s continuing mission, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no human has gone before. Cue the theme! The original series, next generation, deep space nine, voyages, all showed the possibilities of existence to the lived realities of our 7 principles. Sure they weren’t perfect but what imagination it took to envision a reality that could happen. It is a manifestation, showing the beloved community as a future. Yet even then, it tragically only became a reality after a third world war
And it’s the beautiful thing about movies, especially in my opinion, the beauty of science fiction fantasy. The dreams and myths, take shape, we can witness fantastical things. As Carl Jung, the famed psychoanalyst says, we are every age we have ever been. The beloved community must appeal to our inner child which society and cognitive development tries to destroy. It must appeal to us in all our life stages. The childhood fantasy making, the cognitive development which causes rebellion but requires safe space, it requires it to respect that parenting is a full time job, and taking care of elders is a full time job, that being healthy throughout our lives takes work! It must allow us to choose to work or not work if we want to in retirement.
Yet the reality of paradise will take different forms throughout the world and that tension must be engaged. So when I talk about the beloved community, I talk about a concept which in different minds, different communities, even different religions, each have their own perspective or dissent on the beloved community. The world community after all will not be determined solely by us, but in conversation, in relationships.
To me it is my core spirituality, as a Unitarian Universalist, I feel it holds the seven principles as it’s foundation. I mean I have worked out the Unitarian logic to it, but talking about I become an evangelical Universalist! I’m ready to like the Pentecostals talk in tongues, I’m ready to meditate on the image of paradise, I’m ready to pray to the divine and from its internal spiritual context out into the universal oneness. Ritually in my imaginary sanctum of the church universal I would have to get some coconuts to split as “sacrifices”, incense burning, the procession would have tree statues, scenic paintings. It would contain sand from the ocean, sand from desert, salt water, river water, candles, electric ball things that you touch and electrical stream is at your fingertips. Because that imaginary temple, is my internal vision of the beloved community that I carry with me.
Community is a wonderful dream. And our principles make it possible, they are aspirational and we must strive to make it a reality. The beloved community. It has the inherent worth and dignity, it has justice., equity and compassion, it has room for people to responsibly seek truth, the beloved community accepts people and does so democratically, it has the global community with peace, liberty, some more justice, and it is the reaches the cosmos, as far as humanity can extend it to the interconnected web of existence.
Yet it is a dream ,and the reason why I’m Unitarian Universalist, the reason why I am a man of faith, the reason why I am a minister the reason why I have hope, the reason why I am spiritually nourished, is this possibility of the beloved community made manifest. And the actions it takes to do so. The beloved community requires internal transformation, the beloved community requires justice in the public square, it requires much.
It breaks my heart when people say that all I talk is politics. For me the spiritual and political are joined in a quest for the beloved community. But the dream of the beloved community requires political reform, it requires economic reform, it requires individual and therefore a social and cultural revolution.
The beloved community was something near and dear to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He said society needed a radical revolution of values. He believed it would happen when the issues of poverty, racism and militarism were dealt with, and they could not be addressed separately as they were so interconnected. He also believed that this requires a new and unsettling force that can only happen when people across all lines of division unify. This may sound political. But this is in fact a spiritual conversation. The beloved community will be helped by prayer, it will be helped by meditation, it will be helped by love. But it will become a reality when we act on the side of love, made manifest in our lived institutions and cultural norms. When we put our faith into action. The beloved community is a dream passed down by countless generations, if not directly than by a sacred spirit encountered by many. Join me on this journey joyful with jest, justice and jamming. Jamming Bob Marley style, with soul. Jamming with paradise, the spirit and spirits of life here in this room in solidarity with the universe, in communal action with the world can make manifest the beloved community.
So I ask, when is the time to make the beloved community reality? What will the beloved community, paradise on Earth look like to you? How does it fit with your theology, how does it fit with Unitarian Universalist principles? What do your own sources of faith say about the idea of love incarnate, and life after the end of oppression? What does your faith say about the process towards the beloved community?
There are a multitude of sources of faith for the beloved community. The reasons why I love Process Theology and Liberation theology is that both are explicit about co-creating the world. Both show love as manifest in our lived realities and not just in our dreams. Whoever you are, whomever you love, the beloved community will welcome all without fear. There is a lot of fear these days, what causes that fear? It is those fears, and the reasons thereof that are obstacles to the beloved community. It is engaging these obstacles that I would pray to Ganesh, some say he is the most popular Hindu deity, the Hindu deity of obstacle removal. Both in our hearts and in our lifes. Yet in this sense, I would say removing the obstacles to the beloved community qualifies. Learning about Ganesh, was a blessing that I’d like to thank my fiancée for as her family is Hindu. I am learning what I can culturally and spiritually as I hope they learn from me. Even the humanist manifesto tals about making the world a better place, free from oppression by virtue of the inherent worth and dignity of all people. Oppression does not recognize people’s values. Judaism idea of paradise was the sacred story of Eden, and the temple in Jerusalem tried to model itself off of it. It’s a reason why Jesus flipped a table, he did not appreciate that paradise and its manifestation had been defiled by greed and materialism. Our hymnal Singing the Living Tradition first introduced me to the concept of beloved community. We Unitarian Universalists have a history of pushing back against the idea of selective salvation, that not all are deserving of heaven and paradise. Especially our Universalist heritage. And we must continue to push back in our spirituality, if we are to make the beloved community a reality.
In my work with the Poor People’s Campaign and in work at homeless shelters I have spoken to the homeless at great length. Some say that the homeless are that way because they are mentally ill, or that criminals steal because they are greedy. Those I have met are not. Some were hopeless, while others were hopeful. Some were aggressive, others were lethargic. Some organized other homeless, while others could not be bothered talking to people. In college I met many homeless students, who could not afford debt but hoped to get a good job after education, nor could they hope to get a job at that moment that could support rent payments. When we guarantee everyone quality of life, which eliminates the need to steal a loaf of bread, or homeless because of expensive rent, or other reasons for destitution. When we guarantee life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, when we guarantee that all’s inherent worth and dignity are respected systemically. Only then can we say that homeless are mentally ill, take them to get care, that criminals are greedy, give them materialism addiction treatment, only then can we take a step back from making paradise a reality.
In the meanwhile, beloved community starts right here in relationship building and transformation. This congregation has been engaged in beloved conversations. The healing of spirits one on one, the healing of society as a whole, and the work of transformation all have a few things in common. Listening, empathy and solidarity. We must listen to our consciences for transformation, we must listen to those we talk to in healing work and in the work of justice. Empathy and feeling what they feel, engagement in emotional attunement especially in their suffering our in the work of transformation, our own suffering. And we must be in solidarity, with people as they are, with ourselves from 2 year old us, to our ages in between and now. I have faith that the power of relationships, is the first step in the creation of the beloved community. Whether the longing for family like Anastasia, friendship or intimate love. And so while movies like What Dreams May Come may show the afterlife paradise, it in particular showed the power of love, but I don’t want to give any spoilers.
To close, I feel compelled to quote the musical Les Miserables “To love another person is to see the face of God”. So dearly beloved, the beloved community is about making love a lived constant in our lives holistically, in the lives of our children, and in my mind when humanity makes star travel a reality, we will bring that love into the stars. It certainly brings the term universalist into a whole new level.