Welcome to the ‘Beloved Community’

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We will not evolve into the future with closed minds.

And nothing closes the human mind — either individually or collectively — like the weapons of war . . . and the freedom to use them. Step one: Dehumanize those you’re about to kill (i.e., accuse them of being the worst of who you are, as exemplified by, among so many others, our old pal George W. Bush, who declared that America’s enemies “view the entire world as a battlefield” and proceed to turn the entire world into a battlefield).

But there’s a far deeper irony here as well — a positive irony, according to Martin Luther King. Consider the fourth of his six principles of nonviolence: “Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.”

This is not yet a principle that has entered the collective human consciousness. It is not a principle at the core of mainstream news coverage of conflict, which remains binary in its scope: who’s winning, who’s losing. This is the case even though King’s nonviolent civil rights movement structurally transformed racist America. It defeated Jim Crow not by killing the segregationists but by . . . caution: this is going to sound crazy . . . not by fighting back but by loving back.

“While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist,” he said in a 1963 sermon. “This is the only way to create the beloved community.”

The “beloved community.” No one talks about this — certainly not at the level of politics and national or global power. The point I’m struggling to make at this moment is that love — in the deepest possible meaning of the word — is more powerful than growling dogs and firehoses and jail cells. It is more powerful than burning crosses. It is more powerful than 2,000-pound bombs. It is the force that is able to embrace conflict and transcend it — and it should be at the core of how we envision the human future.

There are three kinds of love, according to MLK. There’s romantic love (eros) and affectionate or friendship love (philia), and then there’s agape love, which he has described as, “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all, an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative . . . the love of God operating in the human heart.”

Why is love generally reduced to a geopolitical sneer word? In war reporting, it’s flicked away like an annoying mosquito. But perhaps it’s the most powerful force on the planet — and we have access to it.

In King’s words: “Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people. . . . It begins by loving others for their sakes” and “makes no distinction between a friend and enemy; it is directed toward both. . . . Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community.”

This is a world with a $2.4 trillion collective military budget. It’s a world with some 12,000 nuclear bombs (implements of mutually assured destruction). It’s a world obsessed with what it hates, what it fears and what it wants to control. Yet what makes life possible is community, which is an organic structure. Why are we much more interested in the destruction of communities than their creation?

“The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption,” King noted. “The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. The aftermath of violence is emptiness and bitterness.”

And yes, the Beloved Community is an endless, ever-evolving, organic creation. It is not declared by fiat. We all play roles large and small in creating and sustaining it. And suddenly I’m thinking about an incident that happened to me about a dozen years ago, one night after I’d gone bowling with some friends. My driveway was inaccessible because an accident a few days earlier had damaged my next-door neighbor’s garage, so I had parked a few blocks from my house and was walking home.

What happened was that three, or maybe four, boys came running at me out of nowhere – out of a “hole in the night,” as I later called it. One of them punched me, knocked me down. All the while, they were having a helluva good time. They wouldn’t let me get up. I called for help, braying like a goat (so it seemed). They ran away. I was left with a bruised cheekbone but hadn’t been robbed. That was it. I walked home.

Beloved community? Yes, yes, it was, and is, present in my imperfect, Chicago life. I was very much involved in the concept known as restorative justice – a unique way of connecting with people, which I have written about numerous times over the years. We sit in a circle; everyone has a chance to talk: to tell their stories. It can be, simply, a means of getting to know people, but primarily it’s used in the aftermath of harm or wrongdoing, as a means of healing.

A few days after the attack, some of my friends in the Restorative Justice community held a healing circle for me. We sat in loving connectedness and everyone talked about times they had been afraid, times they had been harmed, how they had transcended the moment. Oh my God! I was not alone. We sat for two sacred hours. I was almost in tears.

As I wrote in my journal the next day: “This feels so much bigger than the occasion that brought us here.” I later thought of the circle as a form of alchemy, a means of creating gold out of harm. If my attackers had been caught, oh, I would have loved to hear their stories and understand why they did what they did (and know they learned the affect it had on me).

“Real power occurs in silence,” I wrote, “the silence of reaching out, listening, understanding. And as I talk to people about my encounter, as the flow of love begins to heal the emotional rift, I feel a silent determination grow inside me to stay the course of peace.”

As I say, this was over a dozen years ago. That sense of determination, the belief in agape love and the ongoing creation of a beloved community, both locally and internationally, is still fully alive in my soul.

Robert Koehler (, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor. He is the author of “Courage Grows Strong at the Wound,” and his newly released album of recorded poetry and art work, “Soul Fragments.”