Stories from the Community: How we got here
My journey to Wood Hath Hope began when Jerry, my wonderful step father, started telling me about Tony's book Virtually Christian and explained how he was teaching a new way of studying the Bible and seeing the true non-violent God. He invited me to a study.
My first study was an introduction to the mirror neurons and how humans learn. I felt for the first time I would be receiving a well rounded study of the human experience and how we connect to our journey with the Bible and Jesus.
The final experience that hooked me was when I attended a bible study Tony led at a local church out side the normal study group. Here he taught about the human desires in relationship to the Bible and interwove the old and new testament to bring it alive again. It was a new way of studying God's message and for the first time it became alive.
I have always known Jesus in my life but didn't feel connected to the Bible because prior studies didn't look at the whole story in the non-violent way of the Wood Hath Hope community. I am
grateful that God led me to a Christian community that focuses on God's true message of non-violence, to following the teachings of Jesus' Love of ALL God's children and Total Forgiveness.
Through Him all this is possible.
I came to my first bible study meeting at wood hath hope 12 years ago. My husband and I were just married, having our first baby and we had moved in next door to the Bartlett family. I remember that I liked the music & singing. The study was on the gospel of Matthew. We would read a few sentences each week to chew on slowly. Tony was unpacking the scripture, the words, the language, and the meaning. I began a process of unpacking my whole life. My relationships to god, Jesus, my family, church, religion. I started to unpack my relationship to authority. Authority as I had experienced as something external, patriarchal and 'backed up' by the threat of violence, fear. The Bible, Tony said, was revealing an authority of love for us to follow. The Bible had often been used as a weapon by people who took it seriously, but not here. My heart was drawn in.
'Authority' as I experienced Christianity, came directly from my maternal grandma “Grama Willo” who was a strong and charismatic Pentecostal. She was filled with the love of Jesus, the holy spirit and also, at times, some of the violence that fuels the authority of fundamentalism. She loved Jesus immensely, she loved me immensely, I loved her immensely, but I could not give my whole heart to Jesus before I came to WHH bible studies. I couldn't find the kind of love that flowed from my grandma's heart. I hungered for that love, but it escaped me. In a nutshell, I was walled off towards Jesus' love.
I had embraced a new-age-feel-good universalism and a liberal world view that came from my privileged college education and spending a year in a Hindu ashram. While it was important for my growth, this was in total contrast to Grama Willo's whole life and experience. She was poor, uneducated, suffered domestic violence. It was her faith in Jesus, her baptism of the Holy Spirit that saved her and gave her life meaning. She was a source of life for all who knew her. I walked through life with a moral superiority. I looked down on Christianity and my new age approach allowed me to come to some inner peace. My motto was “it's all good.” Despite my knowledge and self-discovered moral superiority I still craved the love the Grandma Willo had so easily given to anyone who asked. I sought a faith like my grandma’s, like one who was starving. The tension was personal and real and I was struggling with it.
As I began to understand more of Renee Girard's theories about violence and scapegoating, a whole new world opened up to me. My big issue questions like: 'what kind of a god would send someone to hell? Why would god demand his only beloved son to be sacrificed? Were finally answered during our Friday night bible study and discussions. No one was condescending or patronizing. Each question I had was taken seriously answered through reading, thinking and discussion. I felt I finally had answers that made sense in Girard's understanding of victims and how our society keeps 'order' by sacrificing powerless victims. Jesus who is the true human being and, a model for us. He is a forgiving victim when he goes to the cross. That's the big deal! 'forgive them father, they know not what they do'. Everything for me turned on its head with these revelations. I began to want more and more in relationship with this person Jesus. A way was opened up towards Jesus that I had seen in my grandma, but without the violence.
In this community I was given time, space and love (3 must haves for healing). I am so very grateful that my heart led me here. I have been given so much more than a new perspective. I've been shown Jesus' powerful authority over all forms of violence and death which gives me true hope. I've been given a way to really love people as they are. I've had a desire to want to give my life to him, to follow Jesus because I've been able to learn here that I can trust him. No one loves me more than he does. The fact that I can come here on a Friday night and be with people who are all in different places on this path is a beautiful gift. Being able to speak freely without the fear and the clamp down of 'Authority' is a very precious gift to me. It's like a blossoming flower that needs to be nurtured. I pray that Bethany House and the people who are drawn here be willing nurturers of this amazing love.
I had just retired from serving as pastor of a rural, family-centered congregation and was attending liberal, suburban, mainline church where I sang in the choir. Though the two congregations were very different, they shared a traditional mid-American style of worship, a superficial approach to studying the Bible, and a disinterest in its radical message that calls into question the American way of life. The decline of membership and vitality in these and most mainline Christian churches in the West made it clear to me that they are not addressing the challenges of the 21st century nor serving the spiritual needs of most people of this time.
Searching the internet for "emerging" or "emergent" faith communities in central New York, I was directed to the web site of Wood Hath Hope. I started attending the Friday night Bible study, and the challenging insights of Rene Girard's anthropological model caught my interest. Tony Bartlett's use of the Historical Critical method (the one I was trained in) for understanding the Biblical materials and his explicit use of the Girardian lens were refreshing and revealing. I've stayed with the group for six years now!
The community itself has been very welcoming and supportive. There's lots of singing, which I love! Spiritual practice and growth are important aspects of our worship, and the group shares a level of mutual accountability that is serious but not oppressive. We are committed to putting the insights we gain in our study into practice in our individual lives and our life together.
The Bethany House community is exploring and trying to model a new way of being human, without the coercion and violence that are central parts of most cultures today and through history. It looks to me like a promising path into the future of Christianity for the rest of the 21st century.
I came to WHH out of a long wandering spiritual journey. I had come through a personal tragedy and in the process I questioned everything I'd ever been taught or believed. An experience like that unhinges one a bit and I was looking for somewhere to land. I was looking for a space where I could learn about and talk about Jesus, without all the legal formality of an institutional church.
That need was answered when a friend of mine called me up one weekend and said that she had just come from the most amazing bible study she had ever been too and I had to go with her next week. I did and I haven't stopped going ever since.
The first WHH bible study I ever attended was on the Wedding at Cana in the gospel of John. For the first time in my entire Christian experience, I heard a study on Mary and the women of the bible, without the caveat of submission and second class citizenship, that I was so used to in my growing up years of conservative Christianity. It rang true and continues to ring out truth each week. Being in this community causes me to find some new discovery about God or myself, which leads to immense gratitude.