By Joe Werdan
What is Bethel? Merriam-Webster defines it as the house of El (“El” meaning God). This is the most important meaning for us –– for Bethel –– because we literally believe it. We consider Bethel a place of worship. We understand ourselves as God’s people. That Bethel is the place where God dwells doesn’t just mean God is here — it means, too, that God is with us. It means we encounter God in our community — in and through relationship — and this is what makes Bethel the house of God. It means we see God, know God and hear God speak.
That question brings me to the one thing I feel like I have to talk about most — the rock. Perhaps the rock outside Kresge Courtyard isn’t where you think of God being. Perhaps you know and are known by God most intimately in Chapel, a residence hall or on the disc golf course. What comes next is not to say that God does not speak in any of those places. Rather, it is to say that, as well as we might know this God, this God who is in Christ is also hidden. So perhaps we ought to look again. And perhaps the place to start is the rock.
Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. “Black Lives Matter.”
This is what it reads. Each name is painted in red over the blackness of the rock. But what does it say to us? What does it mean? On the surface, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” might read as Black lives matter more than white lives. Or, worse, it might come off as saying white lives don’t matter at all.
However, this isn’t what “Black Lives Matter” is trying to say; it isn’t what it means. If the words themselves could speak –– and I think they do –– they would say something quite different to us. These words are more than symbols and sounds. They are stories. And when spoken, these stories take on life; the words come alive. They cry out to us. We cannot ignore the rock.
We must listen.
What do we hear when we do? We do not hear, as some claim, that Black lives matter more than other lives. Rather, we hear that “Black Lives Matter,” as my friend Kadrian Chambers puts it, means that “of all lives, Black lives have never actually seemed to matter.” That is what it means. It means that Black lives are and have been devalued; that they have been stripped of their life; that, as much as we say “All Lives Matter,” even in good conscience, it simply is not the truth.
And it cannot be true until Black lives truly matter, until they are seen and heard and we hear those words as truly living. That is what the rock says.
“Black Lives Matter” –– that is the Truth. Those names painted in red within hearts of gold are full of life and are living. The rock, for us, is God’s very Word. It encounters us with truth and judgment and demands we hear its voice. This very stone cries out. It is speaking to us.
Will we listen?
Illustration by Aimee Kuiper