I wrote about what happens inside a chrysalis in my last post because I needed that metaphor a couple of weeks ago. I had been with leaders in one of our congregations. They had asked me to help them choose a social justice issue their congregation could focus on collectively. I grounded that conversation in a vision of the world as it could be – “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible” – Beloved Community. I quoted Dr. King – “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend” – and Grace Lee Boggs – Beloved Community “is now the indispensable starting point for 21st century revolutionaries”.
“Yes,” said one of the men. “But I want to know what we’re going to DO.”
“Yes,” said another, “Look at what the Koch brothers are doing. How can we stop them?”
The desire to make the problems and the “problem people” disappear is very strong. So strong that we tend to skip over the dream we are trying to live into. But getting rid of the “problems” does not make community. Removing the “problem people” or shutting them down is not going to bring us peace with justice. People with the power to systematically exploit and abuse are not the barrier to what we want.
They are part of us. Like the caterpillar that becomes a butterfly, the process requires transformation – not elimination or destruction. Creating the “better world” we long for starts right now – not after we’ve eliminated the problems, the barriers, the enemies. The truth is, whatever “evil” we see in our “enemy” already exists in us. We are each other. Every one of us has the same capacities for causing harm and for generating good. “Nothing human can be alien to me” wrote Terrence. If another human being has done or is doing it, then it belongs to me, too.
Beloved Community is grounded in the awareness that the caterpillar and the butterfly are the same creature. Without caterpillars there are no butterflies. Our desire for power is a gift if we agree with Paul Tillich that power “is the drive within everything living to realize itself with increasing intensity and extensity.” As with the egg that hatches into a caterpillar that transforms into a butterfly, everything living seeks to emerge into its fullness. When that drive overtakes us, we move toward creating empire.
Only love – “the drive towards the unity of the separated” [Tillich again] – keeps our desire for self-realization in check when our primary goal is toppling the empire. Beloved Community does not arrive when we obliterate the powerful. It is present when we work together to balance power and love. If the only awareness we bring to the work of transformation – within and beyond our congregations – is a political orientation in which the powerful must be brought down, we risk causing further separation, becoming the oppressive force that requires others to live by our rules.
When I wrote in my last post that there’s a war going on inside the chrysalis, I was not describing a process between two separate entities. The battle is within the self – individually and collectively. There is no “us” and “them.” This is a spiritual truth, even if it is not a political reality. Unitarian Universalism at its best seeks to embody that spiritual truth. But first, we have to believe it.