Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: October 2013

I’m that guy with the sign

At one point this week I was having a conversation with 3 new acquaintances simultaneously about 1) good and evil 2) greek tragedies, 3) vampires and 4) the broken Democratic machine in Philadelphia.  My “Tell Me Your Story” bench kind of blossomed on Monday afternoon.  That wasn’t the only multi-person conversation I had either.  I’m trying to be “that guy with the sign” and it seems to be working.

I’m trying to make some new friends at the University of Pennsylvania.  I’ve still got my toes in the water at University of the Sciences and Drexel, but I’m hanging out mostly at Penn.  I think that among the 11,000 undergraduates there are some who want to explore relationship with Jesus.  The problem I had when I had this idea is that I didn’t really know anyone at Penn.  I had to break the seal between me and the thousands of people walking down Locust Walk.

So I found a bench on the walk, held up a sign that says “Tell Me Your Story”, and waited. (I’ve told you some of this before)  Today I have a strategy about the waiting that I wanted to articulate.

Not only is the sign itself with its unexpected invitation disarming enough to stop someone in their tracks upon first seeing it, but it also has a cumulative effect.  Someone came up to me last week and said, “I’ve seen you here before.”  Yes!  I want the people walking down Locust Walk to gain a sense of familiarity with me.  Why would they come and talk to me?  Hopefully because they’ve seen me so many times and they’ve seen other people talking to me.  They always liked the idea but they would never just, like, talk to a stranger.  But I’m not a stranger anymore–I’m that guy with the sign!

I think Jesus held up a similar sign of sorts when he told his parables-those amazing word pictures he was always painting.  My favorite definition of a parable is C.H. Dodd’s “At its simplest, the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.” I’m teasing the minds of those who see me into active thought.  I’m arresting them with my strangeness.

And yes I’m doing it for a reason.  That’s the first thing people ask me when they come to my bench.  I tell them “I’m a pastor at Circle of Hope and I want to know you and be known.  I’m looking for friends.” (Also, a pretty arresting thing to say).  Usually people who have already come over won’t walk away after I’ve told them what I’m doing, but it has happened.  I’m offering them myself, and that is a little too intimate for some.

I think that is what Jesus is doing in his parables.  He’s not serving it up to us in some very concrete way, maybe because it cannot be expressed concretely or at least should not be, but I think also because he wants to offer himself to his listeners.  He’ begging their questions.  He doesn’t want them to just get his ideas, he wants them to get him and relationship with him.  Too often Christians have sold Jesus as an idea.  They react to me that way.  One woman actually said, “Oh, is this the part where you try to sell me something” when I mentioned Jesus.  But I’m looking for people to share a life with me in Christ.  I want t be known as Jesus wants to be known.  To get there with the people of Locust Walk at the University of Pennsylvania I’m being that guy with the sign.

tell me your story

I’m expanding the idea with a group tonight at 8:30pm in Houston Hall (3417 Spruce).  Please pray for me and my new partner, Saul, as we seek those who want to connect with us and Jesus.  At the very least tonight will be a good time of prayer for me and Saul.  At the very most God will start something new that impacts Penn in astounding ways.

Take a look at this again- Circle of Hope Daily Prayer

This past week I’ve been working this post out. Giving words of encouragement and caution to Jonny Rashid, one of our pastors; having a creative dialogue with my coordinating group; and getting in some real conflict with a friend and working to reconcile. This post from Circle of Hope Daily Prayer deserves a repost.

What are we known for? What is Jesus known for?

At a job I had many years ago I discovered at some point that I was known as “that crazy christian guy.”  The person delivering this news to me was not trying to hurt me so I wasn’t offended but I did consider being offended. I didn’t like being called “crazy” and I didn’t like having a reputation I didn’t know about.  After I got over my initial surprise I actually settled comfortably into the epithet.  My christian-ness could be the craziness, and in that very post-christian place I was pretty weird to be such a Jesus-y guy.  I probably set myself up for the reputation from square one when the interviewing committee asked me why I wanted to do this work and I said that Jesus compelled me to work for justice (it was a justice focused non-profit).

please sign gun violence petitionI’m thinking of this because last week I gave a similar answer when my new friend, Nick, from CeasefirePA asked me why I was interested in gun violence prevention legislation.  I told him that Jesus told us to love our enemies and I want to make it harder for us to shoot them instead.  I kind of put my Circle of Hope peeps on the line, but it’s okay because I know what sort of people they are.  I told him that we were 600 people who wanted to do something about what Jesus said about peacemaking.

I was meeting with Nick to deliver some petitions that I had gotten signed at a community event at Chew Playground (19th and Washington) a couple of weeks before.  It was “Family Fun and Safety Day” on Washington Avenue.  I decided to rep Circle of Hope by asking people to sign petitions designed to move the Harrisburg legislators to make gun violence prevention a priority in Pennsylvania.  Everyone in Point Breeze and beyond wanted to sign it.  I told them about Circle of Hope’s and Jesus’ desire to be peacemakers and invited them to our meetings.

I want us to be known as peacemakers.  I want Jesus to be known as a peacemaker.  That’s so much more attractive than his more common reputation among those not connected to him.  People who aren’t christians think Christians are 1) judgmental,            2) hypocritical and 3) obsessed with how people do and do not have sex.  You could parse those three issues out forever, but I want the transformative power of Jesus to be known in our world, and I’m sick of fighting about those three things with Christians and non Christians alike.  I want peace for one thing!  And I want so much more beside!  Can’t we steer the conversation some and let people know what Jesus and his people at Circle of Hope are really about?

Circle of Hope is starting a discernment process for what specifically we feel God calling us to do in 2014 and beyond.  I am feeling more and more strongly that we need to be known for our compassionate work.  We need to make sure Jesus gets the credit for the good work we do and we need to conspire to do goodness in his name that will attract people to our cause, which is Jesus’ redemption of the world.