I thought of talking about how revolution too often spurs reaction and turns dancing in the street to rioting throughout a city. We’ve all seen that. We’re seeing it right now. Many of us fear that more is to come, even that more must come.
I don’t think so. That’s the way of ruin. Didn’t the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., show us that?
What am I going to talk about, then?
I’m going to talk about something that’s been on my mind during my long trip from Phoenix, AZ, to get here, to address this Beloved Community today here in Ojai, CA.
I’m going to talk about how grateful I am that my dad beat me, constantly, at the drop of a hat. Not because he was right or I deserved it, or that I excuse him. But because my journey has allowed me to understand him now, to forgive him. Because he showed me what authority can do when it acts in fear against individuals and against community.
What the Reverend Dr. King knew so well is that our job is not to react in kind, eye for an eye, but to respond with a fierce and loving kindness that looks the oppressor in the eye — to respond with a willingness to regard ourselves with the self-esteem not only that we want from others but that we must extend to others, regardless of color, creed, or character.
You remember Dr. King talking about character? Of course, he meant that he wants each of us to be valued for ourselves, for our conscientiousness and gifts rather than for our appearance and origins. But I think he also meant that each of us must look within to the quality of the character we bring to any event, any dilemma, every interaction. For in doing this, in bringing our best to bear, we recognize and acknowledge and allow the best in others.
And thus we build a better community — not on creed, not on dogma, and not on the exploitive ideologies that sell themselves to us as a means of security or protection or salvation. We build a better community — not even on belief. We build a better community through the action of what I want to call allowance.When I was a child living in various parts of the south — Kentucky, Virginia, god help me Texas — there was an intense imperative to “tolerate” one another: I “tolerate” you. Doesn’t that have a sound of condescension? Like I’m doing you a favor. Like I’m letting you be even though, somehow, I object to you — your blue T-shirt or your way of praying or the color of your skin?
Toleration does not build community, though it’s a start. I never made friends by tolerating them. I made my friends by seeing them, accepting them, acknowledging them — even, and especially, in the differences that meant they had something to show me, to share with me, a world of character beyond myself.
And when you do the math — when you multiply tolerance by acknowledgement — you know what you get? You get this grand affirmative experience of allowance. As with the eastern phrase Namaste: the greatness in me greets the greatness in you.
The greatness in you. We all want affection and affirmation and security and protection — and sometimes we call that salvation. And too often we sell short our greatness for all these things. Too often we sell our very salvation for affection and affirmation, for security and protection.
But, my friends, as you will hear and see time and again today, in the good company of this astounding group of speakers and sharers and allowers — Salvation in an inside job.
The teachings of all the great leaders and visionaries and holy men and sainted women of the world have to do with this principle, this notion of allowing the greatness within yourself and within everyone you meet.
Who were MLK and Coretta Scott King — Mahatma Gandhi and his wife Kasturba — Jesus and his two Mary’s on either side — Sojourner Truth — Harriet Tubman — ?
Who were these but people, in all their human frailty, who acknowledged and allowed the greatness within to stand forth, to shine forth, to inspire greatness in word, in deed, and in community with others?
The greatness of the principles they attested to and exampled must lead us.
Not the administration of those principles. Not the capturing of these principles in a doctrine or a dogma or any one system that insists it has all the answers against all other ways — and thus not only forgets the crucial questions we must daily ask, but makes enemies of the crucial friends — with their crucial differences — that inform our questions and lend crucial information, crucial participation, crucial inclusion, crucial character to any answers we might attempt to enact.
God Is One, many arguing clerics tell us, as they argue over which God to worship. But God is everything, and thus pathways to God are as many as the people seeking an experience of divinity. I suggest that, in this respect, God is a question. And what is our most crucial question?
To love one another. To allow each other.
To help every one of us to navigate this joyful suffering of soul in body — not to make ourselves right, to attain to salvation, to deny our embodied experience, which may be so painful yet is so glorious because it is a gift from and back to divinity. Our divinity.Thus, our question is our answer. To remember that we are right. We are from divinity, and we bring that divinity — if we choose — right here and now. As friends. As a belovéd community of friends.
To remember that when we allow loving kindness rather than objection and rivalry — over your blue T-shirt or your way of praying or the color of your skin — to remember that when we embody compassion — Namaste — we can relinquish rivalry, and the damnable insistence on mere agreement, for understanding.
For understanding is not agreement, it is the basis for agreement. Understanding sometimes means not seeing eye to eye yet looking another in the eye and having the fortitude to relinquish the impulse to eye-for-an-eye.
And that requires, I think, my willingness to allow the love within to acknowledge and celebrate difference. To move from tolerance, which is a start, to acknowledgement — which means so much, of which just a little goes such a long way.
As when MLK acknowledged the fear at the heart of the hatred of our oppressors. And did he respond in kind? Or did he show that fear was useless, pointless, powerless, in the face of fierce love that acknowledges its own worth, that stands up in its own fierce power, that allows all the many means of expressing love — in color, in creed, in character — and finds common cause in our shared desires for affection and affirmation and security and protection.
Our craving for salvation. Without selling our worth and our love, our principles and our character, for all these things.
Our love. We must, as a famous man once said, be the love we seek.
I am living proof that we must relinquish our need for love to be our love. And let everything become love. Because my daddy beat me not from a lack of love without. But from a lack of love within. And I realized — years later, long after he died having never seen me again once we escaped from his tyranny — I realized that I could take his punishment. That I could transmute his punishment. Because it wasn’t about me. It was about the pain at lack within him. A lack I did not have. And do not have. Because I did not let his punishment of the love I feel — I did not let his oppression of the love I feel within — diminish the love I share. Standing here with you today.
I am proof of love. Come talk to me. I have some stories to tell you. And I bet you have, right within you, if you allow it, different yet shared stories of the same revelation. You are about to hear many today. Join your stories to these, and help us build a beloved community of knowing, of acting, of allowing harmony within diversity, unity within difference, character within conflict. And watch everything respond to the love within you.
Let everything become the love within you. Let the love within you becomes the salvation you seek. Isn’t that what we were shown by the man and the idea we celebrate today?
Let’s us, my friends, celebrate.