Building Beloved Community in a Wounded World

By Jacob L. Goodson, Brad Elliott Stone, and Philip Rudolph Kuehnert. Cascade Books, 2022. 180 pages. $40/hardcover; $25/paperback or eBook.

This is a dense book with some important ideas. Written by two academic philosophers and a retired Lutheran pastor—each of whom writes individual chapters—the accessibility varies depending on the reader’s interests and knowledge.

The “wounded world” of the title is painfully obvious to all of us. Yet each author pens his opening chapter by referencing different thinkers: Josiah Royce, William James, Sidney Hook, Miguel de Unamuno, Cornel West, and many others. The common theme is that there is a cacophony of cries from the multitude of wounds.

The second section has a chapter by each author and addresses the question of beloved community—a concept more often given lip service than carefully defined. Two of the authors are primarily interested in the beloved communities that temporarily occur in our lives, sometimes for only the duration of a project or a retreat, sometimes longer. One definition offered is beloved communities are “voluntary, fallible, experimental” “non-universal communities of ‘us’ . . . gathered to address specific problems and achieve specific, concrete goals.” However, the third author’s chapter deepens the definition with insights that might help Friends build lasting beloved community in our local meetings:

The vibrancy of the beloved communities depend on their ability to provide a place where the gifted, the mediocre, and the not-abled are equally celebrated. Where they not only have a place, but their cries are heard, valued, and responded to—their unique cries adding to the richness of life for all.

He warns, however, the community must be well-aware of its limitations and not be held hostage to the cries of the world or of their members. In a crisis, paradoxically a community must protect itself because within it are the seeds of healing.

As third author Kuehnert digs into the dynamics of a close-knit planning group he came to identify as one of his beloved communities, it sounds similar to Friends’ small spiritual growth groups. Pitfalls include blurring the boundaries between self and the needs of others, and not allowing the group to end when its work, however defined, is finished.

Part 3, “The Current Situation,” has final chapters from two of the authors and is excellent: informative, provocative, and definitely worth reading. Stone, at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Calif., takes on White supremacy and privilege with references to James Baldwin and others, while Goodson, at Southwestern College in Kansas, picks up on Baldwin and summons Immanuel Kant. These two chapters are critical reading for all Friends and meetings working on antiracism. Kuehnert writes a valuable conclusion that begins with “the five Hs—honor, heroes, health, healing, hope,” and ends with a summary list of suggested minimum requirements for a healthy, functioning beloved community.

While participation in most mainstream Protestant churches and Quaker meetings has been steadily declining, these congregations are among the very few opportunities to find real community that provides a positive sense of belonging, purpose, and hope within a commitment to love and care for one another. The authors challenge us: “redemptive hope involves directing our future hopes not in politics alone, but mostly in our friendships and the relationships that constitute our everyday lives.”

Marty Grundy is a member of Wellesley (Mass.) Meeting, part of New England Yearly Meeting. She has been a hopeful participant in a variety of small group communities over the years.

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