When asked what one thing people can do to make a difference in the world, author Paul Born tells them, “That’s simple. Bring chicken soup to your neighbor.” “Really? [That’s it?]” is the typical response. Born says yes, then adds: “‘The answer is simple. But the act of bringing soup? That takes work.’
“How so? It requires that you know your neighbor. It requires that you know they are not vegetarian and like soup. It requires that you know them well enough and communicate regularly enough to know they are sick. Once you know they are sick, you must feel compelled to want to help and to make this a priority among the many calls on your time and energy. Your neighbor must know you well enough to feel comfortable in receiving your help. And you must have enough of a relationship to know what they prefer when they are sick, whether it is chicken soup, pho, chana masala, or even ice cream.
“So, you see, the work takes place long before you perform the act of bringing soup.” (Deepening Community, Paul Born)
Creating beloved community…sounds simple, doesn’t it? All three words leave your insides feeling warm and fuzzy–creating…beloved…community. Yes! Creating beloved community is exactly the thing churches should be doing! Let’s do it! Let’s create beloved community! Here in our First Congregational community and in the wider community. Creating beloved community is what it’s all about! Let’s get to it!
The answer to healing the world? It’s simple: create beloved community. The act of creating beloved community? Yeah. That takes work.
My gut reaction to a short video capturing a woman’s reaction to the guilty verdicts in the Derek Chauvin murder trial reminded me of just how hard it is to create beloved community. In 1995, I waited in a packed lecture hall at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta for the verdict in the O J Simpson murder trial. I’d say the crowd was 50/50 Black/white. I was stunned when OJ wasn’t convicted. I was even more stunned–and, maybe, bewildered–by the reactions of the Black people in the room: they erupted into cheers.
I didn’t get it for a long time. I realize now that I had been approaching that event with the assumption that the justice system treated every person the same. Now, after reading tons of books and talking with others here at church and especially with friends in the Black community, I see how the justice system has been skewed from the beginning against people with Black skin.
I have been working hard to wake up to my own participation in white supremacy. As a mostly white congregation, many of us have been doing that work together.
Which is why I was devastated by my gut reaction to the video I saw in the paper Wednesday morning. At the end of the clip, a woman–her face full of emotion said, “We matter.” Then she straightened and said it again. “We matter.” It was simple…and profound. After centuries of living in a society that, at every turn, screams to them that they don’t matter, finally, the system came through for people with Black skin. Finally, a verdict came that affirmed their humanity. “We matter.”
When the video ended and froze on the woman’s face, I stared at it, the woman’s words ringing in my ears: “We matter.” As I contemplated the woman’s face, it hit me: Now, she matters more to me. Now, because of this verdict, I see my fellow human beings with Black skin differently. I see them as more whole. I see them more equitably.
The realization devastated me. I thought I’d already worked all that through and was already seeing every Black person as a human being, as a beloved child of God. Of course, of course, I believe that Black Lives Matter! Of course, I do! But that woman, all the emotion on her face, I realized that, suddenly, she now mattered more to me…which meant that before the verdict, she had mattered less. In that moment, I recognized the deep-seated racism still roaming around inside me. As a daughter of the South, I learned my lessons well. Some vestige of my slave-holding ancestors still resides in my DNA.
With that insight, I recognized again how difficult it is to really know another person, especially someone who’s life experiences are different from your own. So often we think we’re doing community well–we establish a whole range of chicken soup ministries–but, in truth, we don’t even know if chicken soup is what is needed. We don’t know because we haven’t taken the time to know each other…or the people outside our community we’re trying to act into wellbeing.
If today’s Scripture reading sounds familiar, it is. We heard the same text last week, the passage that introduces the idea of koinonia, community. There is within our Christian tradition a spiritual practice called lectio divina, sacred reading. When engaging the practice, we spend time focused on one passage of scripture, sometimes even on just one verse. So often, we consume the Bible. We quickly read through passage after passage without ever giving ourselves the chance truly to encounter it or, more importantly, to encounter God in it.
We’re going to do a little lectio with this passage. I’ll read it slowly, with pauses. In the pauses, you’re invited to reflect on the words you hear in the context of our First Congregational community. When you hear about breaking bread together–how has that happened in our community? How might it happen in the future? How might we deepen our work of creating beloved community here at First Congregational? How might we expand our work of creating beloved community into the world beyond First Congregational? Hear now a reading from Acts.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship… to the breaking of bread and the prayers… Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles… All who believed were together… and had all things in common… they would sell their possessions and goods… and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need… Day by day… as they spent much time together in the temple… they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts… praising God… and having the goodwill of all the people… And day by day… God added to their number… those who were being saved.
Take a minute and gather your thoughts. What jumped out to you in these verses? If ideas for how to deepen our First Congregational community emerged, write them down! We don’t want to forget them!
At the heart of Paul Born’s description of community–bringing chicken soup to your neighbor–is relationship. Creating beloved community begins with relationship. How can we act others into wellbeing if we don’t know them? My reaction to the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial showed me that I have a lot of work to do in building relationships with people in the Black community. The focus of the Scripture passage we’ve been looking at has been relationship–when we spend time together, worship together, study together, eat together we get to know each other. When we get to know each other, we’re better equipped to act each other into wellbeing.
So…let’s do a little more lectio this morning. Let’s listen to the five people who are formally joining our community today. I didn’t ask them whether they like chicken soup, but their answers to the questions that were asked will, I think, teach us a lot.