Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: June 2013

1+1=2…OK, but have you met my friend Math?

I went for a walk yesterday through our neighborhood on South Broad Street.  I wanted to be a good neighbor and actually meet some of the people here.  I was particularly interested in meeting some of the business owners.  It’s the right time to meet them.  I can say “Hi, I’m a new pastor at Circle of Hope, what’s going on?” (I always like to have an excuse to strike up conversation)

The first place I went I met a man who when he learned I was a pastor was very interested in sharing with me about his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness.  I listened politely for a while but grew tired as he continued for, like, half an hour.  Finally I got a word in edgewise and I said, “I’m very impressed with your Bible knowledge.  You have really studied and memorized a lot of scripture–much more than me, but I have to ask-why are you telling me all this?”

His speech was mostly about facts.  It was kind of a demonstration of what he knew about the Bible.  I was impressed but discouraged that he didn’t want to make a relationship.  His response to my question was more about the Bible and not much about him.  I pointed this out to him and described how what we were trying to do at Circle of Hope was different.

My friend said that he had a responsibility to let people know the truth.  He said, and I quote, “You know, 1+1 is 2 and 2+2 is 4.  It’s like that.  People need to know these things otherwise they’re in trouble.”  My response to this oversimplification was, “Well, using your metaphor, I would say,’OK, 1+1 is 2 and 2+2 is 4.  You know that, but do you know my friend Math?  I know him.  I have a relationship with him and he’s changed me.’  I don’t think knowing facts about the Bible is nearly as important as knowing Jesus and I have a responsibility to Jesus and to those who don’t yet know him to help them see him for who he truly is and to make a connection.”

It’s not about the Mathematical facts it’s about Mathematics.  It’s not about Biblical Principles, it’s about relating to God.  But relationships are hard, but not hard like concrete–much to intangible for some.  Memorizing how many verses are in the Bible (as my friend had–7958!) is just so much more concrete.  I think that’s what Jehovah’s Witness’ have going for their movement.  They have a concrete way of being and believing that only requires a “yes” or “no.”  It’s as clear as 1+1=2 and they’re ready to tell you why.  But life is so much more complex and God became a human being in Jesus (a fact the JWs do not believe) to enter into our complexity.

I believe I am sent as a witness to enter into the complexity of this neighborhood and this city and help those who hear his voice, soften their hearts to him and let him in.  They’re letting me in, even in the storefronts on Broad Street, and I pray that’s a good start.

Cultivating HOPE

HOPE at Clark Park with Shalom House 6.22.13 002

The Hope sign hit the streets this Saturday.

I had this idea that I wanted to try because I thought it was fun and because I wanted to make new friends.  Plywood in my basement, a jigsaw from my local tool library and presto I had HOPE! (It was a pretty hopeful thing to do so I guess I had hope in my heart and a plywood manifestation of it on my lawn)

I took my sign to the Uhuru Flea Market in Clark Park with Shalom House.  The Shalomers asked people what we should do with $10,000,000 to help our community.  They were asking people to dream up some better ideas than the US Government’s $10,000,000 idea to build a drone command center in Horsham, PA. (This Fox report hails it as good news).

HOPE at Clark Park with Shalom House 6.22.13 011

I asked people to participate in my communal art project.  Pick a color (or 6) and make your mark on HOPE.  We were cultivating hope right there in our communal garden of Clark Park.  My friend said he just liked how big the sign was.  It yelled “HOPE!”  And he wanted to hope.

I was pleased with how many people wanted to know what we as a Circle of Hope were all about and how many people were willing to get messy for a minute and make something beautiful together.  Jesus offers us that messy sort of hope.  He came into our midst and offered us himself to us in our messy humanity and now he sends us his Spirit to keep the hope within us alive and growing in the midst of our still very messy humanity.

HOPE at Clark Park with Shalom House 6.22.13 006

Hope springs up from beyond our capacity.    It is best when it gets pollinated and hybridized through mutual sharing.  Following that metaphor, maybe my work as a pastor is to be the bee of hope–listening to many stories, making many friends, sharing in many lives as I buzz from flower to flower spreading hope.  In our modern era we’ve figured all this out.  We have super high speed high resolution digital cameras that can document the pollination that bees do but in Jesus’ day the growing of seeds and their plants’ fruit was more of a mystery.  In Mark 4 Jesus tells this parable:

HOPE at Clark Park with Shalom House 6.22.13 020

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Bees aren’t really aware of how important they are to the life cycle of many plants.  I am a bit more aware, but I still can’t dissect hope and tell you how it grows.  It seems I can participate in it, but I do a lot of sleeping, and yet this newness seems to grow.  Many new things happened on Saturday.  I met new people.  I heard new ideas and I got a new sense of what God is doing through me now–and my hope got bigger.

Wiffle Ball, Rainbows, Promise

circleofhopemc

Circle of Hope Marlton and Crescent
(In South Jersey)

I went over to Pennsauken last night to be with Circle of Hope Marlton and Crescent.  I was sharing with them some of my experience in finding freedom in being limited.  They’re working through Paul’s letter to the Galatians which is all about freedom.  I brought up these verses from Galatians 6.

“If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else”  The insight I had was that we shouldn’t deceive ourselves by comparing ourselves to others and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves by comparing ourselves to the image we have of ourselves–which is sort of a composite of comparisons of others (which are odious).  The American definition of freedom is to have our desires unhindered by any impediment.  Sprint is spending millions to convince us that we ought to be unlimited.

I admit, I can be seduced by being unlimited, but then my church planting mission depends on my being supremely capable and so charismatic as to win everyone I meet over to Christ by sheer force of personality.  This isn’t reality and the desire for it to be true actually makes me more limited than I really am.  If I cling to this image of myself, I deceive myself and my experience has been that that deception saps my energy in a cycle of disappointment.  

I’m choosing to receive the freedom that Christ gives me to be my self as I really am–limited me.  This Lent, Circle of Hope’s daily prayer blog was instructing us to  pay attention to our thoughts and feelings in order to get to the heart of who we really are in Christ.  Following the lead of a 4th Century Monk named Evagrius we were rediscovering “an important secret to help us love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. We can only grow to our fullness in Christ if we do the spiritual work of examining our thoughts so that we can know that our thoughts, feelings, and even our behaviors are not the sum of us; they are not our essence.”  I thought this sounded a lot like the testing that Paul is exhorting us too in Galatians 6:4.  

rainbowwiffleballI have been encouraged through this practice to offer myself as I am to the mission, today.  No need to wait until I’ve got it “figured out” or I’ve achieved some semblance of the self I think I ought to be.  I am empowered by the Holy Spirit and what effect my efforts have is dependent on the Holy Spirit’s action.  I am not responsible for how other’s respond to me and my message.  I am responsible as one of Christ’s witnesses to be an opportunity for someone to respond to God in a new way.

The congregation at Marlton and Crescent is trying a new thing that is akin with this sort of freedom.  They’re throwing a party at the 7 pm in hope’s of meeting some new friends.  Last night was wiffle ball and the Sand Lot.  As if to make the blessing explicit, there was a full rainbow for the first pitch.  Here’s a picture of God’s symbol of promise as it faded and the game got going.  Let’s keep leaning into that promise.

Hoping the rain away

A couple of great ideas got postponed yesterday because of the threat of crazy rain and the reality of some rain.  It seems that new ideas for how we at Circle of Hope might meet people are bubbling up all over the place.  My friend Howard cooked up this great plan for public worship involving fiddles, flash mobs and fun.  That’s happening next Thursday, thank God.

My idea was a public art project.  I cut the word “hope” out of a piece of plywood.  I painted it white and bought a bunch of colorful paints.  The idea was to take it to the Dollar Stroll on  Baltimore Avenue last night and invite people to make their mark on HOPE.

hope

I’ve learned that hope is not an inexhaustible resource.  It is not a quality that a person has.  It is not a matter of will or positive thinking.  It is gift that needs to be tended and maintained.  At Circle of Hope we have organized ourselves to receive that gift from God on the regular and tend it together in our various circles.

Our art piece is a symbolic working out of who we’re trying to be.  We’ll be reaching out and touching hope.  We’ll be making our mark on hope.  We’ll be identifying ourselves in hope (our finger prints and all). We’ll be receiving hope in different ways as we smile at new faces and have fun while the new thing is created. We want people to know who we are and how we relate to Jesus.  We believe that God might lead us toward those who are looking for us.

And now, because of the rain, we’re waiting in hope to do the whole thing…

Making Friends on Passyunk Avenue

Passyunk and Tasker (a photo I did take)

Passyunk and Tasker
(a photo I did take)

So, I’m discovering the skills I’ve gained as a hospital chaplain over the past few years are really helpful (not surprising but refreshing).  I spent Saturday afternoon on Passyunk Avenue seeing if I could make some friends and I think I did… wow!  It felt a lot like I was on the 3rd floor of the hospital meeting all the new patients and keeping up with those who had been there.  I’ve spent a good chunk of my time striking up conversations with strangers and going deep.  I wasn’t sure if that could work on the street, but essentially, I’m deploying the same strategy.

While I worked at the hospital I developed my thinking about  myself and my work at the hospital.  Clinical Pastoral Education or CPE requires you to do this and I’m glad because the theory is mapping onto my new calling.

I wrote:

“I have developed my own theory of pastoral care, or at least my own image of pastoral care. Robert Dykstra wrote, “Having access to a variety of metaphors for ministry provided a modicum of courage and guidance when … I could not possibly have known what I was doing.” (Dykstra, Images of Pastoral Care, 2005 p.8) To the many of the metaphors he compiles in this book, I have added the image of myself as friend.

I connect it with Jesus’ command to his disciples in John 15. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:15-17)

I have taken my needed “modicum of courage and guidance” from Jesus himself. This image lines up exactly with my values, basic assumptions and personhood. I value Jesus above all else and I live out of his love to the best of my ability. Psychologically, it seems I am especially wired for relationship and much of my motivation for a lot of what I do stems out of my desire to be accepted and loved by others. I desire to do with those I encounter what I most deeply desire to receive.”

I went out and did this on Saturday afternoon.  Looking for people who wanted someone to listen and offering my love and friendship to them.  There were several who wanted to connect.  The best story was this guy who collects old bottles.  He digs most of them out of the ground and knows tons about Philadelphia history and the history of bottle manufacturing.  We talked for a while and I was completely fascinated.  Eventually I shared that my grandfather owned a bottling company in Southern California called Bireley’s… and then BAM!  Dude pulls out two Bireley’s bottles and straight up gives them to me.  Talk about receiving!  This is the sort of blessing that needs to be told far and wide.  I love this guy now!  I love Passyunk Ave. (such a cool place with lots of cool people)!  I love Philadelphia and all the potential friends she offers me!

“Good Morning” means something… I hope

I stood outside in the rain today for an hour to see who would talk to me.  Between 8 and 9 in the morning, especially when it isn’t raining but even when it is, South Broad Street’s sidewalk is a river of people streaming to work.  This morning, the bells of St. Rita’s started and ended my morning discipline with bright sense of determination that contrasted with the gray day.

I just started my work as the Development Pastor at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington.  I’ve been charged to lead the charge in our next era of church planting.  Circle of Hope is one of the best kept secrets in town.  We need to get out there to find the next 100 people who want to partner with us  and Jesus in our mission.

It was not an ideal day to hit the street, but I had a good umbrella.  I had to use the time I had while I have it.  I stood in front of our building at 1125 S. Broad Street and I said “good morning” to people.  This is already an act of revolution unfortunately, but I wanted to go deeper.  I wanted to see if anyone would actually talk to me.  I wanted to see if any of those 100 partners were walking down Broad Street this morning.  I started out the hour thinking it would be great if people were interested in the flyers I was holding in my hand but by the end it dawned on me that these people would be back on Monday.  I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we created this sort of morning community  right here.  I could be that guy who smiles and says hello.  I might even be more intriguing than my brightly colored flyers, and certainly less disposable.”

This strategy comes from our proverb: “Our deliberate attempts to make disciples are “incarnational,” friend to friend, so we accept that what we do will almost never be instant.” (link)  I’m making friends on South Broad Street.  I pray that Jesus be here with us.