Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: August 2013

Holy Mischief at Philadelphia University

It’s the first week of school!  Everyone’s got their new sneakers on and they’re trying to figure out where they fit in at a lot of the university campuses.  I’m hoping that some of them will fit in with us at Circle of Hope so I went to University of the Sciences and Philadelphia University on their first day of school to see what was up and let people know we were looking for them and they had a place with us and with Jesus.

labyrinthAt Philadelphia University I was surprised to find a beautiful stone labyrinth on a path between the main campus where a lot of the classes are held and the Ravenhill campus where a lot of the freshman live.  I had to walk it right then and there and as I did I was inspired to share this opportunity with the people who were there.  I wanted to say “Look what you have here!  Do you know how great this is?”  I suspected not for many, so I decided to make a sign to install there the next day.

I made a sign that said this:

“A labyrinth is an ancient form of meditation famously appropriated by Celtic Christians to symbolize the spiritual journey.  Follow the path and follow the twists and turns of the journey to the center.  It’s an active way to slow down and reflect, to get your body involved in prayer.  It’s an opportunity to be led by God.  It’s meant to be repeated.  It’s the same coming out as it was going in and yet also different.  Taking an intentional walk on this labyrinth every day could be a discipline for your spiritual growth.

Circle of Hope is a church community in Philadelphia that is committed to preserving the old ways of worship and inventing the new.  One of our proverbs says, “We stretch ourselves to worship with diverse styles. God is transnational, transcultural, even transhistorical.”–  learn more at www.circleofhope.net”

labyrinth signI had it laminated and I put it on a stick to plant in the ground by the labyrinth pointing to this great resource.  Someone told me it was weird that it had our info on it- like I was taking credit for Circle of Hope that was not ours to take.  It did feel a little mischievous, and that was half the fun, but I don’t think it is wrong to follow the path that was laid for me.  I was taking advantage of what God was already doing on campus.  This labyrinth had been done.  I claimed it for Jesus and His mission among us.

I was very encouraged to spy on the sign after I placed it and see people stop to read, and to see security guards walk right by it without a second glance.  It was for all the time that I was at Philadelphia University yesterday.  I hope it’s still there now.  I hope that people are intrigued about their own spiritual growth and about us.  With prayer, fun little seeds like this will bear fruit, either remotely or in person as we continue to frequent these campuses and make relationships.  I’m on Penn’s campus today looking for friends and softened hearts.  Thanks for being with me in prayer.

Being There- Why you have to show up

I was lying on my couch reading Game of Thrones on Monday afternoon when I heard the megaphone start blaring.  “Oh yeah, it’s the protest.  We’re shutting down Woodland Ave!”  I grabbed Oliver, my 2 year old son, and we ran down the street to join the crowd.  We were blocking Woodland Ave. to send a message to those in power that we would not turn a blind eye to the closing of Wilson Elementary School, the local relatively well performing school that was among the 23 schools that are closing.

woodland ave with the guysOf course the situation is complicated.  All the dots don’t connect.  You can make a cogent argument for school closures, yes, but we must agree that something is fundamentally wrong when we’re building a $400 Million prison in Philadelphia while closing schools and slashing support staff in our public schools.  One of the folks I ran out onto the avenue to stand with got it right on his sign (pictured here).  “Invest in a child’s education not the projected benefit of their incarceration.  Save our children.  Save our schools!”  At first I was the only white guy in the crowd.  The rhetoric was heavily afrocentric but I tried not to feel excluded.  I would have liked to send my child to this school too.  This is however an overwhelming black issue as this infographic so clearly portrays.  Schools in predominantly white neighborhoods do not get closed.  There’s something wrong with that, so I had to stand with my neighbors in the middle of the street.

I’m not at all confident that our protest will do anything to reopen Wilson School but I am really glad I was there and Oliver was there with me.  I have four reasons

woodland ave with Ollie1) I wanted to teach Oliver that he should do something about convictions.  They mean nothing if they stay in his head.  (He did not want to be there so this was a hard fought lesson)

2) I know that my responsibility to Jesus is not about success but about witness.  Many of the speakers who got on the megaphone were Christians and their faith was not checked at the door.  They had a sense of themselves as prophets calling out truth to power and God was on their side.  I agree.  We’ll keep working to be effective but being faithful in our word and deed does not require our success.

3) I am with these people.  These are my neighbors and I wanted to demonstrate with them.  Their cause is my cause, even if the way they express it is not exactly the way I would.  My block captain invited me and I said I would be there, then I was there.  She was impressed.

4) I made friends.  I met more people on my block and I’m praying God gives us the opportunity to share our lives together.  God might make us partners in more causes, even his cause at Circle of Hope.

If I had stayed on the couch I wouldn’t have been able to be all these things that afternoon.  I don’t have any very new ideas here, but I do have a new experience that backs up the ideas.  I had to show up.  I had to be there with Jesus and with his people.

Pray for Campus Deployment

cori and benI really want to have a good idea for a flyer but it’s really hard.  My friend Jonny, who blogs at jonnyrashid.wordpress.com, made these really great flyers based on our conviction that we are part of the trans-historical body of Christ.  Six heroes of the faith have become our poster icons.  Here’s a picture of me and a friend posting them and here’s a link to more about them on our website.  No one is going to come to know Jesus through a flyer but they might be tempted to get to know me, or maybe they’ll be a step closer to knowing me and my people because they’ll know a little bit more about Circle of Hope, or maybe they’ll just know that Circle of Hope is anything at all.

We want people to have that opportunity.  We think we’re a good opportunity too.  Not because we’re all that great on our own (though most of us are really great) but because Jesus is among us.  It’s happened often enough now for me to expect it- if someone spends some time in our community they are likely to meet Jesus.  So we can say with confidence that we are an opportunity to explore and express God’s love.

deploymentLast night a few of us met at my house to figure out how we might use flyers and other means to connect with college students in our area.  We were thinking especially about uArts, University of Pennsylvania, University of the Sciences, Drexel and Philadelphia University.  Our cell groups, these circles of ten that are designed to be points of inclusion, are made for places like university campuses, where folks are looking to connect and become something new.  In the first weeks of school we have the best chance to meet new friends because their schedules and allegiances are still uncluttered (except for classwork).  We are getting ready.

Please pray for us in the coming weeks as we look for our next partners.  I really feel that God wants to do something new.  The fruit is in the bud, so to speak.  May we be there to help it grow.

Divided Diversity Defied

August 18, 2007Last time I went to Sacks Playground I think it was my friend Zack’s 8th birthday party (but that was only a couple of years ago).  A woman I talked to at this playground on Monday hadn’t been there in a while either.  Our similarly aged boys were playing with each other so we were chatting.  She said, “I think I see my family over there, but I’m not sure they’ll even recognize me because I don’t come down here like that, you know?”

“Where do you live?”  I asked.

“Oh, I live up on 17th Street,”  she answered.

She lived 12 to 15 blocks away- a 25 minute walk – a 9 minute bike ride – an 8 minute car ride – a 23 minute bus ride (thanks, Google maps)… And yet that distance had separated her from her extended family.  Certainly there is more going on in her family than I know, but I thought this anecdote illustrative of the division that Philly is unfortunately famous for and the way that division was being defied at this interestingly diverse event.

sacksI went to the kick off event for National Month Out, an expansion of the national event, National Night Out.  The focus is safety and “taking back the night” from unsavory characters.  I heard about it from Passyunk Square Civic Association so I thought I would be a good neighbor and show up.  City council people, and firemen and police officers were there.  Mayor Nutter mad an appearance and there were representatives from crime prevention and youth engagement organizations–but I was most impressed by the diversity I encountered.

I was invited by a mostly white organization (though I’m sure they would object to that classification justly) and they were there, the playground was full of children shouting in Spanish, the black kids were on the basketball court, a rapper was singing a duet with his son (very sweet), a drug prevention program called Shalom Inc. was represented by a middle aged Jewish woman, the mostly white fire engine crew was showing off their shiny rig… It was fascinating!

philip-and-the-eumuchOne of our pastors at Circle of Hope was talking at our Public Meeting on Sunday reassuring us that the Holy Spirit has gone before us and is at work before we get to where we are going.  He told some stories, among them the story of Phillip in Acts 8, who was moved by the Holy Spirit to go and stand by a chariot that just so happened to be occupied by someone who was interested in the meaning of Isaiah 53– which is a very powerful prophecy pointing to Jesus.  Great things ensued- receptivity, boundary crossing, baptism and more.

I went to Sacks playground to be a good neighbor and to stand by a chariot so to speak.  Nothing so dramatic as Acts 8 occurred but I did see the Holy Spirit at work before me in the way our incredibly diverse neighborhood came together in an uncommon way.  I pray that our divided city would continue to come together and that the Holy Spirit will continue to be a part of making that happen.