Friday, May 28, 2010


bethel center building

Joel David Trout used to pastor North Park Apostolic Church, where I heard his dynamic exposition of 2 Kings 2. The particular topic of Bethel related well to Maundy Thursday as it eased into extremely early Good Friday when I started this blog post eight weeks back; the tripartite triduum liturgy had begun a few hours prior to then—here's Bethel, extrapolated and interpreted for here and now.

So you've (we've, I've) just been to Gilgal, the place of rolling away doubts, pasts, fears, transgressions, regrets and anything else that's been getting in the way. But now we need (I need, you need) to get to God's House, to Beth-El! During my undergrad years I was involved in a church that was part of an urban homeland mission and we met in a building called Bethel, though the congregation itself had a different name. During January I blogged some reasons for taking your offspring to the services of God's house; they equally apply to everyone, every age and every circumstance. At church we hear, learn and begin living the story and the stories of the covenanted people of God; we start making the old stories our stories and practice telling the stories.

At the services of God's House we celebrate and participate in the Eucharist, God's eschatological feast of justice, reconciliation, forgiveness and inclusion for all creation. This is God's manner of making new beginnings that's also a living sign of God's promised end, the welcome table of "go and do likewise." We learn to be prepared to forgive and to be forgiven... learning to live every moment "wet behind the ears" again with baptismal water, committed again to Good Friday and to Easter, constantly recovering in Walter Brueggemann's words, "...the focal drama of baptism, which is a subversive act of renunciation and embrace summoning us 'From our several enslavements ... to a common, liberated obedience.'" Something expressed so well bears repeating often!

But what else happened at Bethel for me? I began learning how to take care of the neighborhood's people and infrastructure with political action and community organizing. I enjoyed reading some Paul Tillich and Thomas Merton, although Paul of Tarsus and especially Romans overwhelmed me. We worshiped together and studied scripture and theology alongside each other. We shared meals—part of our general economic style included barter and exchange. I did homework on the roof with friends while we listened to the radio and talked; I did some art, some music and a little writing; during the summer I loved driving friends to beaches along the north shore and sometimes down route 3 to the south shore.

leaving bethel
After a season at Bethel, learning the joy and craziness of community along with its shared tasks, frustrations, anxieties and sometimes surprising hope, it's time to move on. After Bethel we need to reach Jericho, the place of radical, unquestioning, liberating obedience that continues preparing us for a together (in more than one sense) future.

(This image of the street alongside the Bethel Center in my old neighborhood shows how it is, as the street curves away from the ethnic, student, yuppy semi-ghetto – remembering "nothing much goes in or out of it that wasn't there the day before" to explain ghetto – toward commercial financial downtown City of History, but back in my days, if you didn't take the underpass walkway between the mainly residential neighborhood and downtown, you'd walk right into the central artery that now is way far gone, the result of an extravagantly expansive and $14,600,000,000 worth of "expensive" public works project, The Big Dig.)

And after Jericho? Going to Jordan... the place of boundaries between old and new, borders between strange and known, stranger and friend, barriers between where we are and where we need to be, what we have and what we want. Going to Jordan, the place of baptism for Jesus and the paradigmatic location of our baptism, too.

From Gilgal to Bethel into Jericho, all of us take along stuff – goods, bads and some indifferents – from previous locations. At Jericho we're in the place of often counter-cultural, counter-intuitive obedience and radical trust to the point of not daring question or ask a "why" out loud. At Jericho we're preparing for Jordan, for "...the focal drama of baptism, which is a subversive act of renunciation and embrace summoning us 'from our several enslavements ... to a common, liberated obedience.'"

From Gilgal to Bethel, to Jericho, to Jordan... and then to?

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