Sara: Hey, everyone, and welcome to New Way, the podcast of the 1,001 New Worshiping Communities movement. I'm your host, Sara Hayden.
Bethany: I work in a seminary. I went to seminary. I have a PhD. I have educational background, and I think we undervalue the kind of learning and gifts that are more embodied, and less verbal.
Sara: My guest today is Dr. Bethany McKinney Fox. Bethany is the co-founder of the Beloved Everybody community, an ability-inclusive church in Los Angeles, that just celebrated its one year anniversary. She is also the author of the new book, Disability and the Way of Jesus, which comes out this spring. Congratulations on that, and thank you so much for being here, Bethany.
Bethany: Thank you. Yeah, it's wonderful to be ... When I realized we were meeting for a year, I was like, wow. That's a great milestone, so thank you.
Sara: It's so huge. You have made the point that just speaking of church, and thinking about it, that so often people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are considered objects of ministry, rather than co-laborers in the work of the gospel.
Sara: Could you say more about what you mean by that?
Bethany: Totally, so I feel like for a lot ... This is true. Christians, this has been true for Christians with a number of groups, but especially people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Somehow especially in the church, it's tended to ... I have a lot of kind of theories of why this might be, but I feel like for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in particular, and maybe it's because we have such a strong emphasis on intellect, and words, and in certain kinds of ... Especially in reformed traditions, we tend to be really word-based and belief-based, and so for people who may not work that way, we kind of feel like, oh, our job is to kind of help them along, and we don't necessarily recognize their gifts as readily, because they don't come in the form that we tend to normally associate with leadership in church, or something like that. Because we think of leadership and gifts as, oh, you're like a Bible scholar. You can give a really charismatic, articulate explanation of theology, and because those aren't the gifts that we find in many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we tend to feel like we can't ...
Bethany: We kind of just ignore their gifts, and so in that way, we think of them as people we can kind of care for, and in some ways, people ... Adults with intellectual disabilities get treated like children, and we kind of just feel like they exist for us to kind of help them, and feel good about ourselves for helping them, which ... They need help, just like we all need help with different things, but the issue really is that they just get pigeonholed into being people who receive and not people who give, and who we realize are people who can be co-laborers in the work of the gospel.
Sara: Absolutely, and your work ... didn't just start. Working with adults and collaborating with adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities did not begin when you founded Beloved Everybody Church. This has been a theme and a commitment to your way of living out community in your life.
Sara: Would you talk a little bit about, yeah, where that came from, when that started, how it's been nurtured.
Bethany: Yeah, absolutely. It really started when I was in high school. My story is that my parents had gotten a divorce when I was about 12, and I'm an only child, and at that point in life, my mom ... I was with my mom, and she kind of was really struggling, and so I think, when you're a kid, you don't really know how to cope necessarily super well. You're still developing ways to deal with things, so I think my way of dealing with that situation was to really separate my heart and my head, and to become very cerebral, and very disconnected from my feelings and emotions. Fast forward a few years. I'm in high school. I have become a peer counselor, and as part of that, we were ... If we wanted to, we could spend a day or two a week in the special education classroom at our high school. For some reason, and I really think in retrospect that it was the work of the Holy Spirit that even gave me that initial push to be interested in that option, so I did kind of start going to the special education class a day or two each week.
Bethany: While I was there, I became friends with a student named David, and he ... While at the time I'm kind of in this very emotionally cut off place, he was very emotionally integrated, and expressive. When he was happy, he would laugh, and smile, and when he's sad, he would cry, and snot everywhere, and just be sad, and when he's angry, he'd bang the table, or just be mad. I think there was a sense of real freedom, emotional freedom that he had that I didn't have at the time, and I wouldn't ... As a 16-year-old, I wouldn't have been able to articulate the ways that that friendship was healing for me, but looking back on it, it really, I think, was an important moment in my life, and I was even just thinking this morning about ... I think people who know me would tend to ... I think a word I get a lot is that I'm very authentic, or that I have a lot of authenticity. I was thinking about how that has not always been true, and that I really do think my relationships with people with intellectual disabilities have taught me how to be authentic, and how important their gifts have been in my life, and how grateful I am for that.
Bethany: Yeah, and I think the important thing about that relationship with David, that friendship, was that it wasn't ... It was helpful to me to receive his gifts, but he also received my gifts, so it was like, there were certain things that were a struggle for him, that I was able to kind of give input on, or help with, so it was really this relationship of mutuality. I think it was important, what I was saying about objects versus subjects of ministry, I think it was really important that my first real relationship connection with somebody with intellectual disability was this kind of in a friendship, and it wasn't like I was there to help him. It really was like, we just ... Me, and him, and my other friend Julie would just have lunch together a couple days a week, and it was just a friendship. I think that's why, over time, as I continued to develop relationships and friendships with people with intellectual disabilities, I got to know people who were complex humans, with gifts, and with challenges, like all of us have.
Bethany: I think I began to be ... I would get very annoyed. First, I just felt like, where are these folks in our churches, number one. Number two, realizing that our churches are incomplete and less whole without these gifts that, to me, have been so enriching in my own life. Also realizing that the ways I heard other Christians talking about people with intellectual disabilities as either little angels, or, yeah, just in ways that really made them seem like children, or like they didn't have complex personalities, or were somehow less than fully human, it really rubbed me the wrong way, so I kind of felt like, look, I really want people to perceive our brothers and sisters, and kinfolk with intellectual and developmental disabilities rightly, and so that was kind of the beginning of that. It really is just ... Community is where there are people with intellectual and developmental disabilities present, it just changes how the shape of the community is. It changes the sense of welcome. It changes ... I can't even describe all the ways that it changes a community, for the better. If they're truly welcomed and celebrated, it makes everybody else more welcomed and celebrated, too. It's like an incredible gift.
Sara: Such an incredible gift. You've been talking about the intellectual kind of cerebral way of speaking, and living out, and communicating the gospel, and also the gift that David gave to you in that season of your life, of being someone who was really emotionally integrated and expressive. Do you feel like not only in this sector of the church we're talking about, but also in general, in the American church, that there is a devaluing of the emotionally expressive over the cerebral? Do you see that in, without regard to intellectual or developmental disabilities, but just in general.
Bethany: Yeah, and I think this is ... I've tried to be careful, because I feel like this is something that's really different, depending on somebody's tradition. I've been in churches that are super emotionally expressive, so Pentecostal churches, or some African American churches that I've been a part of have space in them for emotional expression that isn't always true in some traditions. I'm just aware that culturally, denominationally, there is a ... It's a different vibe, but I would say that yeah, especially ... I work in a seminary. I went to seminary. I have a PhD. I have educational background, and I think the values, or even the idols in an educational system, do kind of seep in to all the churches, because you will still kind of get a sense of hey, you should really listen to this guy, because he's got a PhD, or something like that. There is this ... Look, I have a PhD. I value education, I think.
Sara: You worked hard for that, yes.
Bethany: I think it's not a useless thing, but I do think that there's a way that we undervalue the kind of learning and gifts that are more embodied, and less verbal, maybe. Preaching is really like, in most Protestant services, the sermon, and this is true I think across, even in more emotionally expressive settings, the sermon is always the pinnacle of the worship service. People will say that it's not. People will be like, no, no, it's the communion, or the Eucharist, or whatever. They'll be like, that's really the point, but when everybody talks about a service afterward, they're almost always going to comment on the sermon, what was said.
Bethany: And so ...
Sara: I think that's fascinating. Yeah. I was just thinking, when we leave the church, a lot of times there's this line, and people kind of beeline to the talker, or to the person that offered the sermon.
Sara: The exchange that happens about the sermon itself, that it was a great sermon, or what you said really touched me, but there's not a lot of space in some of the congregations I've been a part of where people are getting together, and expressing in some way either during the service or after the worship service, that this is how I felt connected to God during this other aspect, like during the process of partaking in the Lord's supper, or in ... When we did this activity together, this is how God spoke to me. There's no design for that, almost.
Sara: In a lot of contexts.
Bethany: No, I totally agree, and I think that issue then, with that, is that being a talker gets ... Being a pastor gets associated with being a talker, and so being a good pastor means you have to be a good sermon giver, because that is what most people think of as the highlight of their Sunday morning experience. That has been something that ... The reality is, so two things happen, is one, we are definitely uplifting a certain kind of giftedness as what a pastor looks like, and as what really, really matters, or what a leader, a worship leader needs to be like. It just creates an atmosphere where there is a hierarchy of gifts, and kind of that ability to be articulate, and to kind of be charismatic, and be funny, or whatever your kind of own tradition ... Different traditions prioritize different things. Some of them are more tell a hilarious story, and others are more like, quote some fancy theologian, but whatever your kind of community is all about, that's kind of what people drill into. That's actually been a super interesting part of our church, is that we don't have a sermon at all.
Bethany: I think that's been a really interesting, both for me, thinking about, am I a pastor? What's happening here? Am I pastor if I'm not standing there for like 20 minutes, telling them what I think Jesus was talking about? Am I still a pastor, and is what we're doing still a worship service? What does that look like, so it's been kind of ... It's been interesting both thinking through my own identity, and in being open to the movement of the spirit in our midst, and to realizing that it's actually kind of awesome that I am not the only one who is expected to bear some theological truth to the community, but it's like, there's space for everyone to share at various points. The idea is, well, there might not be one sermon coming through me from the front, but people ... Everybody is saying or doing different things, or motioning, or being expressive in different ways, so people are going to be able to get a Word from God, or have God speak to them, or learn something through everybody. There doesn't need to just be me. I'm kind of like the facilitator, but it's not really accessible for a lot of our folks with intellectual disabilities to have some kind of abstract, 20-minute lecture about the Bible.
Sara: You're just hitting on something so huge, I think, because I think a lot of us involved in the inauguration of new communities, starting new communities, are going through that process of, well, okay, I learned in seminary, huge part of my curriculum was in the spoken word, and the focus of the sermon, and how to exegete and communicate the text verbally, and talk about it, and then that's so rarely a part of how communities start. In your case, you're intentionally going about it a different way, right, because of a sense that this is not how people are going to be equipped, and it's not meaningful. That feeling of pastor associated with being a good talker, versus pastor, or if any of that's important at all. You see yourself as a facilitator.
Bethany: Yeah, I guess so. At this point, that's been mostly what it is, but it's like ... It's kind of like a pastor in the sense of, I don't know. I've been thinking about it a lot. I kind of took a while to feel ... It wasn't until somebody who came to the church was like, you're a good pastor, that I was like, am I a pastor? What's happening here? It's hard to feel like, when you're not doing ... Just like what you were saying, when you're not doing things in the typical, conventional church model. I'm not presiding in a super official way. In what way am I a pastor? What's happening here?
Sara: Do you see yourself as a pastor at this point?
Bethany: I think I go back and forth with it. I think I do, and I think especially after having a couple of people call me that, I was like, well, if somebody else is saying that I'm being a pastor, then I guess I am. I've always ... I joke with some friends of mine because in the Presbyterian ordination process, the last phase is Certified Ready to Receive a Call, and so I've been in that phase for like 12 years, because ... This goes back with the pastor thing, and partly it's because I have this value for uplifting the gifts of lots of different kinds of people, that I was like, I don't know. I feel weirder that I would be ... Have this special designation, because I have certain ... Because I have a degree, or have passed some exams. That felt kind of bad to me, so I think that's why ... It's not like I've been looking for a call this whole time. I haven't been, and so because of this discomfort, kind of, I felt with, what does it mean to be a pastor versus not, but I do think in the sense that if being a pastor means that I get to kind of help bring people together, and make space for them to exercise their gifts, that feels better.
Bethany: That feels good to me, so I haven't really seen a lot of pastors lead in that way. Normally when I think of a pastor, I do think of someone who is like a focal point in a certain way, that they are kind of a charismatic figure who ... Not in a bad way. These are people who are gifted, and whose ... I've been really moved and discipled through sermons in my life, and I've seen less of it being someone who really intentionally is making space for other people's voices. To me, it's been hard to kind of feel like what I'm doing is pastoring. I think that it is, because especially when I think of literally pastor, and sheep, and all that stuff, I'm like, we are just a bunch of sheep, and I'm kind of trying to ... I don't know. It's hard. I don't know where I'm going with that analogy, actually, but-
Sara: One thing that strikes me is that role of, your role is not being conveyed on you through, primarily through a certification process, but it's through relationships you have with people, and the commitment you've made to them. They're coming up to you and saying, "Well, you're our pastor. Bethany, she's our pastor," because of the experience they've had in church, in your presence.
Bethany: Yeah, and that's-
Sara: Which is a very powerful thing to me.
Bethany: Yeah, me too, and it's ... I'm not sure everyone even would use the language, because we have people in our community who are not super churchy, and so ... I guess in terms of, what does it mean for me to own that? I don't know, I guess I'm still wrestling with that. Is it important? Obviously in my 12-year long being certified, ready to receive a call situation doesn't make me really super into jumping in with both feet, into this pastor designation, but I am ... Yeah, I'm wrestling with it, thinking about what it means, and realizing that I wish I had more models for other kinds of pastoring.
Sara: Absolutely, and I think part of why I am excited that we're having this conversation is that they're ... Maybe you're out there listening to this, and thinking, "Well, thank God that we're talking about this." Bethany's having this experience, and it's something that is noteworthy in the lives of someone who's listening right now, and saying, "I see that, that sense of commitment, and that yearning to be a part of a community that has a different take." One of the things I appreciate about you is that you're not putting down other ways of becoming, and living out a pastoral identity. I think we know in this movement that there's a mixed economy. Healthy ecosystems thrive when there is diversity, diversity of models.
Sara: We're coming into this place in the church where there's all kinds of models in this movement, all kinds of models, but as you said, we don't have a lot of this model, and it's great that you're out there living this out, and talking about it, because many of us are drawn to that through your humility, and your attention to doing this in an authentic way for yourself, and your community, and your calling.
Bethany: Thank you. Yeah, I have thought a lot about how pastoring an established church is hard, and starting a church is hard, and they're just hard in different ways, and at the end of the day, it's like, where is the Holy Spirit moving in your heart, and where are you being called, and follow that.
Sara: I'd actually love to hear a little bit about ... You said pastoring a church is hard. Can we talk a bit about ... Beloved Everybody started about a year ago. What were you doing two years ago, roughly, as it relates to Beloved Everybody?
Bethany: Yeah, that's a good question.
Sara: Was there a seedling, or a notion of this happening?
Bethany: Yeah, that's good, so it started ... Yeah, like I said, back to my really long process of being certified ready to receive a call. Part of that means that every single year, I meet with my liaison, a person assigned to me to just talk about where I'm at in my journey. Every year I had to be like, yeah, still plugging along. [laughs] Still certified ready to receive a call, but it meant that I thought about my relationship to ordination, and I had to keep thinking ... Part of that time I was doing my PhD, so it's not like the whole time I was just like putting it off or something. I was doing other stuff. But at some point, it had to be like, why am I so resistant to this ordination thing, and part of it is that I do have a number of friends. When you go to seminary, you have a ton of pastor friends, who are pastoring in established churches, and doing amazing work, and beautiful work, and hard work, and I would just notice what they're doing, and what they were spending their time doing. I was like, man, I don't want to do that. I don't like that.
Bethany: I kind of just ... That's part of why I kept putting it off. Somehow, I don't know how the conversation came up, but I came across Cyclical LA, which is like a presbytery around here. Their church-starting website, and I was like, oh, starting a church, and that kind of awakened a little, tiny spark in my mind and heart, and just the idea of ... I think part of what really, I was not ... I've worked in established churches, too. I've been on staff before, and I just know how long it takes to change anything. Most of the time, even the smallest thing, and I just kind of wasn't ready to do that. That wasn't where I felt called, or where I felt my gifts were, so thinking about the idea of being able to lay groundwork from the ground up, especially when it comes to accessibility, because churches, and church services are just not created with people of all abilities in mind, so to make a church go from what it's doing now to super accessible, it would just take probably four lifetimes of mine. I don't have that much time.
Bethany: I only have one lifetime, so that's why I kind of thought, maybe I just need to start from the ground up, where we can just model this from the beginning. It's kind of that thing between, you know Walter Brueggemann's prophetic critique and prophetic energizing? I think about that a lot, and especially these days. There's a lot of prophetic critique happening, which is super necessary. In the church, in the community, in the political sphere, everywhere, but I don't see as much political, I mean as much prophetic energizing, and that is where people are building things that we can say yes to, and laying out, what is a new vision for how to be in community together? I think for me, when you're working in an established church, there's a mix of both. You kind of have to say, "Look, guys, we need to let this thing die that's no longer working over here, and we need to birth this new thing." It's like a kind of mix of no and yes all the time, and I really felt called to just being in a place of yes, and saying, "What are we gonna build? Let's build a new thing. Let's just be in this yes mode for a while."
Sara: I love that. This was, you came across Cyclical LA. Talk about starting a church, and kind of awaken in you the sense that wanting to be a part of energizing something prophetically rather than just critiquing it, what was the next step for you? You're thinking about it, getting excited. You sense something. Where do you go from there?
Bethany: Yeah, so I got involved with ... Cyclical LA has monthly gatherings for people discerning whether they wanted to start a church, so for me, that process of connecting with other people to process this with was really important. I think also, personally, I just struggle with confidence, and insecurity, and so I feel like having other people, even just on ... I feel like on Facebook, I posted: hey, everybody. I'm thinking about the possibility of starting a church, so can you tell me some church plants around that I could go visit, just to get an idea? A lot of people were like, oh, my gosh. You should totally do that. That's awesome. And I think even though in an ideal world, my calling would come ... Maybe I would have a deep, internal sense of calling within myself, that I wouldn't need other people's push, or affirmation, I think that helped me to have people who were in my community, and then even in this new collection of people who were discerning being church starters, and people in the presbytery who work with church starters to say, "Hey, we think that this is something that you might be able to do, and that you might be gifted for."
Bethany: Being in that community was really helpful as the next step, and then I did 1001 apprenticeship over the summer, and took that intentional time of discernment. Again, for me, it really was all about community, and connecting to other people who were interested in doing this work, and sharing our stories, and encouraging each other, and having accountability to take some next steps, and have a coach, and all those resources were totally part of the journey for me.
Sara: Yeah. I think your experience in some ways dismisses this notion that church planting is for those who want to go out on their own, pioneer, renegades who do their own thing, but your process, at least, was it was necessary to be in community for you.
Sara: It was healthier to be in community for you, and more generative.
Bethany: For sure, and I think ... It still is. I still go to monthly gatherings of people who are starting churches, because it is a kind of unique journey, but then it's also ... Yeah, it's good to know that I'm not a lone ranger. It's a unique journey, but it's like a bunch of us are on this unique journey, and it can be uniquely difficult, so it's nice to have people who can resonate with what the difficulties are, and just commiserate sometimes, and celebrate each other, but the commiserating honestly is what I need more often.
Sara: Yeah, we joke in one of our cohorts that one of us out of 11 people comes to the cohort meeting, and says, "I can't do this anymore. I quit." If it's a good cohort, by the end of the meeting, they're like, okay, I'll do it for another month. It's like the person that quits rotates. It's like, I want to just say out loud that I'm done with this, and everyone say, "No, you're doing great. You know, keep going."
Bethany: Yeah. Absolutely.
Sara: The first gathering of Beloved Everybody, would you tell it was like, the week leading up, how you felt, what you did that first gathering?
Bethany: Yeah, that's a good question.
Sara: Do you remember it?
Bethany: Of course I remember it, because it was so stressful. For me. I think other people were like, didn't ... They were like, this is so nice, but I'm like, oh, my gosh. I'm so stressed out. [laughter]
Sara: This is horrible. [laughter]
Bethany: There was a lot of prayer going into it. I think ... I will say that this whole journey of starting a church has underlined my need for being connected to God like nothing else in my life has before, and so I guarantee that the week leading up to it was many times of desperate prayer occurred, and yeah. I think we hadn't ... I hadn't totally figured out where we were going to meet, so we just ended up meeting in a park that time, and brought some food, and had just a little gathering. It was nice. We acted out a scripture together. We sang some songs. People brought photos of themselves. We were trying to really do a mix of, and we still do this, where we try to do a mix of verbal things, and ways that people who are not, who don't use spoken language can also participate. We had people share photos of themselves, to get to know each other a little bit, and then we just did a little bit of music, and it was super ad-hoc, a little bit, in the sense of ...
Bethany: We had a plan. I had a whole thing written out, but it was very ... We're just random people in a park, reading about Jesus feeding the 5,000, and one person volunteered to be Jesus. Somebody with disabilities, who was then enacting compassion, and I think the funny thing is, and this has been true of a lot of the gatherings. I felt really stressed out, but then there were a few people there who were like, yeah, this is the first time I've been to church in a few years. I was like, wow. That's really great that they're calling this church, because I'm like, we're just sitting in the grass in a park, and eating pizza, [laughs] but I'm glad that they're feeling like this is their return to church, and so that was nice, to kind of feel like, I don't know what we're ... Because of my own, I really care about it, and want it to go well, I can get a little overly fixated on just wondering how things are going, or wanting things to go perfectly, and I feel like that's gotten better over time, but definitely in that first gathering, I was highly attuned to, is this going well?
Bethany: Are people getting things out of this? Is this good? Is this connecting? A lot of stressful questioning, and it was nice afterward to just have people just confirm that it felt nice, and that they liked being there, that they felt like they met God there, and I was like, okay. I guess that's good, even if in my own mind I can't always see the beauty of what's happening because I might be feeling stressed or something. Getting feedback that people are experiencing something of God in our midst is, that's great. That's what it ... That's the whole thing.
Sara: Yeah. Yeah. Speaking of ecclesiology, or what the church is, why it is, what is exists for, do you ... Has that first gathering where you heard people say, "I haven't been to church in a while," and then you realized, oh, they're saying that this pizza gathering in the park where we acted out Jesus feeding the 5,000 was church, what would you say church is, at this point, after doing this for a year, or do you have a statement that you feel like is the church, or what it exists for?
Bethany: I don't, but I will ... Our mutual friend Nick Warnes always corrects people whenever they say the church and mean a building. He's like, that's not the church.
Bethany: I think that's been drilled into my head enough that I'm able to know that the church ... I guess, for me, the church is just a movement. It's what the ... It's the followers of Jesus, following Jesus together. I don't know. I don't have a better definition than that, and sometimes it does mean that we're gathering as a group to kind of come together formally, but I don't ... Yeah, I think ... I have thought a little bit about what makes some gathering church, and some gathering not church, that feels like church, too, and I don't think I have a good ... I don't have a developed definition at this point. I mostly just have continued to blur all the definitions I've ever seen.
Sara: Yeah. I want to ask you about the gospels. You have a new book that's coming out this spring, which is calledDisability and the Way of Jesus, and it's taking a look at the Gospels themselves, and how you've been reading them, and what it's told you about who Jesus is, and I'd love to hear you talk about what you find powerful, particularly in the Gospels these days. What's speaking to you as it relates to our lives, or your life?
Bethany: Yeah. It's a good question, because I was just thinking about this yesterday. I've been thinking about this for the past many days, because my final book edits were due on Monday, so ...
Bethany: ... I've been thinking about it pretty fervently, but I think one thing ... Whenever you write a book, it's like, now that I'm at the point where it's like, I'm not allowed to change anything ever again, I'm like, oh, no. I want to change this. Why didn't I include this? One thing I think I've thought about that I didn't include, kind of overtly, but that I think about is ... Because the book is all about Jesus healing ministry, and the reason I wrote it is that I love Jesus, and I have ... My life is utterly different than it would be had I not met Jesus. At the same time, there's ... He spends all this time healing people, and then I see people in churches today wanting to follow Jesus and His way of healing, and it ends up really hurting people with disabilities half the time, or more than half the time. I'm like, that seems bizarre, that Jesus would have been healing people, and now people are getting wounded by people who are saying they're following Jesus, so I wanted to dig in, kind of more deeply into those texts, be like, okay, what does healing really mean?
Bethany: What does it really mean to heal in the way of Jesus today? Whatever, the book goes into all of that, but one thing I've been thinking about was, just about the fact that Jesus did spend so much time doing that in a time, so ... This, I think, is the part that I didn't include, but have been thinking about, is that at the time of Jesus, in the area where He was, there was a lot of political tension, and fears ... Different feelings about revolution, fears of violence. There was a lot of just ... It was a little bit of a tense time politically, let's say, not unlike our current time, and so that's what I think I've been thinking about, is that they were in this ... A lot of scholars will talk about how the kind of political atmosphere at the time of Jesus was tense, and then I've been like, well, that's nothing different than now. Thinking about, well, what did Jesus spend His time doing? Obviously He spent His time doing lots of different things, but I'm like, one thing he did spend a ton of time doing was encountering people who were sick, or had different disabilities, and offering them healing, and welcoming them into the community.
Bethany: I was like, that's interesting that ... Obviously I'm not again ... I think we should be politically involved, and work on lots of different levels, but I'm like, I wonder in what way can we think about Jesus' work of welcoming in people who had been excluded from community as an important work, as an important part of this revolutionary work, in a time of tension, and fear, and pain. Why does this work in particular, how is that speaking to this moment? You know what I mean? How was it speaking to the moment then? Why was that ... I feel like it goes with the prophetic energizing piece, right, that Jesus is not just saying, "No" to empire the way that it was, but he was saying, "Here's an alternative way of living," and so I think that's something that's been giving me a sense of purpose in life as we're doing what we're doing at Beloved Everybody church, is that ... There are times I'm like, maybe we should be doing more official things to address all these five million political issues.
Bethany: Which, there might be times when we are called to officially act on a specific thing, but more often, I'm just like, ugh, we're not really addressing a whole lot of things. We're just doing our thing, and sometimes it feels too small, but then I think, well, this was something that Jesus really prioritized in his time, too, and I think that us doing this work, and prioritizing it is also doing something to kind of say, "Hey, everybody. Here's a different way. We don't need to live in competition with each other. We don't need to live where we're keeping some people down, or not valuing the gifts of everyone. We can actually live in a way where we can celebrate each other, and recognize each other as beloved, and live in that way as community across differences of all kinds.” To actually embody that, there's something powerful about it, that I think can get lost when I'm like, well, what are we really doing, but that I feel encouraged when I think about how Jesus enacted revolution, that that was one of the ways He did it as well.
Sara: Do you have a favorite Gospel story these days?
Bethany: I love the Gospels, and I guess if I could pick one to talk about, that I think is really meaningful to me, or has a turn in it that's really important to me, it would be Bartimaeus in Mark 10, and that's because when we think about healing stories, we tend to think that it's Jesus heals this one person, and then what's different is that ... When you even ... Even the story of Bartimaeus, if you look in your Bible, and you know how Bibles have those headings sometimes, of what's this next section about, so it'll be like, “healing of blind Bartimaeus,” or something like that. For a lot of people, they're like, well, what's this story about? It's like, oh, well, there's this blind guy, and then he can see at the end, and praise God. Which yes, that is a part of the story. I think there's so much more to it, because it's like, if that's all the story was about, it could be like one verse long. There's no reason to include all this other information if healing, if the only thing that mattered was some kind of physical cure.
Bethany: In this story in particular, Bartimaeus is sitting at the side of the road, and calling out to Jesus, "Have mercy on me." Then the people who are standing all around are telling him to be quiet. I think it says they sternly ordered him to be quiet, so the people are being jerks, and trying to put him in his place, and say, "Hey, dude. Shut up. This is like, an important guy. He doesn't wanna hear from you." Then Bartimaeus shouts even louder, even though the people are totally hostile toward him, he shouts louder, and then Jesus says, "Bring him to me," to the people. The thing that I think is so ... This is Jesus being Jesus, which is super wise, is that by Jesus telling the people to bring Bartimaeus to him, the people had to be transformed, because they're coming from this hostile group of people, to now Jesus ... Jesus could have gone over himself to Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus is blind. It might have even seemed like a nice thing for Jesus to do, to not ... To accommodate him, but instead, Jesus tells the people, "Bring him to me."
Bethany: In the next moment, you see the people going up to Bartimaeus, saying, "Take heart. Get up. He is calling you." I'm like, dang. If you want to talk about what healing happened in this story, the transformation in the crowd's attitude towards this man is profound, and I think that when I think about healing, I can't ... Gospel writers almost always include how the crowd responds, and realizing that how we connect with people with disabilities, them being quote unquote "healed," whatever that might look like in our time, a lot of it has to do with how, what is the crowd like? How are the people around them receiving them? The real healing sometimes, and the real transformation that has to happen, is the people around, and not just ... I don't know. Does that make sense?
Sara: Yeah. It is super powerful, and I think super exciting, this idea that by hearing and enacting something, that the transformation occurs. Have you guys acted this story out in the Beloved Everybody?
Bethany: We haven't. We haven't acted out. We totally should. We've only acted out one healing story, which is the woman, the bleeding woman. We did that one a couple of months ago, but we haven't done ... Maybe it's because I'm so into the healing stories that I'm like, kind of checking myself. “Bethany, we can't do a healing story every time” [laughs] but it might be ... That's a good idea. We totally should do it. That's a great idea.
Sara: I just think what you're doing is so powerful, and it's moving to talk to you about it. It's moving to hear stories from your community, and stories from your book, which I'm really excited about. I think it's going to be a powerful, an instructive piece for all of us as we think about the church, and what it's becoming.
Bethany: Oh, thank you. I hope so.
Sara: Is there anything you'd like to say, or anything you'd like to say to those out here who are listening, and thinking about this type of work, or thinking about the church?
Bethany: I think if I could say anything, it's just really to be open to all the gifts that are in your community, and especially to people who might not have the kinds of leadership skills that have been most uplifted in our communities, but to really appreciate and center people, and their gifts, and know that leadership comes in lots of different forms, and to celebrate that, and be open to the voices and leadership of everyone in our communities.
Sara: Thank you so much, Bethany.
Bethany: Yeah, absolutely. It's been great to talk to you.
Sara: You can find Bethany's work online at bethanymckinneyfox.com. Her new book, Disability in the Way of Jesus, can be preordered now through IVP Academic Press. Special thanks to the forward thinking leaders of the Presbyterian Church USA who first launched this movement, and to the Presbyterian Mission Agency and leaders like you for your support. Thank you for listening to New Way, podcast of the 1,001 New Worshiping Communities movement. Our producer is Marthame Sanders. You can visit our website, newchurchnewway.org. Catch you next time.