Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: November 2013

Creativity, the Holy Spirit and Everything in Between

In my job as Development Pastor at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington I am always on the hunt for a good idea- a new flyer idea, an idea for an event that could attract some new friends, a new idea for how to engage someone at an event in the city.  Doing so much brainstorming and so much listening to God has me thinking about the creative process.  What’s me and what’s God and does it matter?

A professor of mine at Princeton Theological Seminary, Robert Dykstra, said that in writing a sermon a pastor ought to plan to reach the edge of him or her self–the limits of his or her capacity for boredom–and in that place he or she would experience the best environment for God to speak.  I still remember what Chris Falson said at a worship conference at Circle of Hope more than a year ago: when he writes a song it’s a meditative experience.  He’s just jamming for a long time, almost turning off his mind, waiting for the song to emerge (he probably said more than that, but that’s what I remember).

I think what Dykstra and Falson are describing is an emptying process.  The Christian artist is not interested in filling up the world with self expression, but in filling up the self with God.  This is what we mean when we of Circle of Hope say in our proverbs, “Since we are each and all temples of the Holy Spirit, art among us is never merely a matter of “self-expression.”  This is not only a commentary on the prevailing philosophy in the art world, but a proclamation of freedom for those who wish to create.  I’m hearing it as good news today.

I know I’m not reaching the limits of boredom or meditating my way to many of my ideas these days.  I wish I had enough time to do that, but usually I’m just going with whatever idea comes up first.  I guess this blog post could become a lament for how my creative process is less developed than it should be, but I’m not going there.  I am receiving the free gift of the ideas that I do get blessed with, and even more so I am praising God for the good work he has done with my under developed ideas.  I am free from the demand to produce for my own glory and the subsequent burden of scrutiny that the creative process  inevitably yields when the work is shared.

My creativity is all about sharing.  I am trying to find new ways to connect with people, so everything I do is designed for someone to see.  It has me feeling vulnerable and pretty used up.  When I find myself in that condition–begging for some new ideas, I’m really begging for God to fill me up.  So pray with me today for time to spend being filled by God.  I pray that for you too.

 

 

For All the Saints

Tractor battery? Check!  Current inverter?  Check!  Slideshow of awesome Christians?  Check!  Partner in crime?  Check!  Let’s do this!

I got pretty stoked about infiltrating First Friday with some saints–the occasion of First Friday falling on All Saints Day (November 1) won’t happen again until 2024.  I rigged up a tractor battery with an inverter to run a powerpoint of saints on a projector right there on 3rd Street.  ben and vanessa at first fridayI got my church planting partner, Vanessa, to come along.  She brought her baby, Leo.  It was going to be fun.

The powerpoint was pulled from Circle of Hope’s blog celebrating the transhistorical body of Christ [link]. The flyer I made for the event said, “Circle of Hope looks to the great ones of the Church throughout history to inspire us and lead us to acts of great love and resistance.  We are part of the transhistorical body of Christ.  We are convinced that Jesus has always found ways to move His redemption project forward in all kinds of circumstances.”

When we got there I learned First Friday has attracted a lot of street vendors, most of which are as unsanctioned as my slideshow.  So my subversive sense of what I was doing was a little undermined.  Nonetheless we set up shop, made friends with our neighbors and as it was getting dark we fired up the projector.  Subsequently the bulb blew out and our whole big thing became a much smaller thing.

I was disappointed but being there with Vanessa, intrepid mother and effusive optimist, salvaged the fun.  We made some more friends, talked about the great saints in our slideshow and passed out a bunch of flyers.  It was a good learning experience.  I learned what First Friday was like these days–who comes, when do they come where they go.  I learned how to use an inverter and a battery to power electronics.  I learned how to fail.

I had spent a lot of time and energy making this idea work- probably too much.  To not get to see if it was even somewhat fantastic was a real bummer.  However, Vanessa and I agreed that it was better to dream big and do something than to think small or to do nothing.  Trying and failing unlocks me from a pattern of high expectations for myself.  I can be stuck in a desire to achieve something great and do nothing for fear of not meeting my own expectations.  Not doing anything fails to meet those same expectations but in a way that allows me to believe in the hypothetical success of my ideas.

resist

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of our saints, and author of “The Cost of Discipleship”

Talk is cheap.  It doesn’t cost anything to have an idea.  Doing something in this case cost me some of my most valued currency- my sense of my own capacity.  Fortunately my valuing something and its being valuable are two different things.  Messing up, or burning out bulbs or whatever other perceived failures we experience can be rich investment in heavenly treasure.  Receiving the good gifts that occurred despite my unmet need for fantastic success was a good thing to learn to do.  It frees me up to try with lower stakes.  By God’s grace it loosens me up to be more creative.  It’s not an act of my will or my power.  Nothing works but God.

And of course I’m praying along with all of you for those I did meet–for the cool flyers sitting in their car, or on their kitchen table, or in their pants pocket–to be noticed again and reconsidered. Pray with me that they would join this part of the transhistorical body of Christ and be saints (holy people) with us.

Why are you doing this?

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on my bench on Locust Walk at the University of Pennsylvania holding my “tell me your story sign”.  It turns our it was parent’s weekend and I got two stories from proud Penn parents.  One man, D, came up to me and said, “Ok, you’ve piqued my interest.  I’m not going to tell you my story but I would like to know why you want my story.”

logoI answered, “I want to meet people and I think that telling stories is good for us.”  He probed further addressing the Circle of Hope logo I had drawn on my sign, “This ‘circle of hope’ looks rather sinister doesn’t it, with this menacing black circle.”  I got a little defensive, but backed down from the direct conflict, “Well, I didn’t design it.”

“But you did make this sign and you couldn’t change it?  See that’s the sort of thing that religion is always doing.  Obedience is demanded and you’re either in or you’re out depending on whether or not you obey,” D responded.

“Now hold up a minute!” My dander was up, “That’s putting something on me that I did not say.  I want to use this logo because I am Circle of Hope.  This symbol has value to me because it has a history and a cache that I have been a part of and I don’t want to lose.”

D appreciated my push back and we proceeded to have a very interesting discussion about the language of commercialism and the concessions one makes to participate in the system of marketing, logos, etc. D’s claim was that a logo at it’s essence is manipulative.  It may be, but I said I have to speak the language of the culture.  I have to do something to make a relationship, and if that means I have to get my hands dirty in some imperfect communication, so be it–because I must communicate my hope.

benchD seemed to appreciate my passion and he actually went on to tell me his story of life in the church as a boy and his teenage disillusionment.  He said, “Well look at that, you did get me to tell you my story!”  I got to share with him my desire for the promises of Jesus to be true and my experience of living out of that desire as a sort of loop that fueled the desire and my trust in the promise more and more as time goes on.  He liked that and seemed genuinely pensive about the whole conversation which contrasted with his initial aggressive posture.

Why am I holding a sign that says tell me your story?  Because me asking you creates a space in which we can be real with each other.  I’m not responsible for what happens next.  I have hopes.  I am looking for friends, and I am finding them.  I want to share my hope in Jesus with anyone who wants to have it with me, but I also think that the storytelling has its own value whether not I make a friend or Jesus’ story makes its way into the conversation explicitly.

To close I give one other story.  I met a woman, R, who was walking up the walk.  She looked at my sign.  I said, “hi” and “how ya’ doing?”

“Not so good,” she replied.

She then tearfully explained to me a difficult conversation she had just had with a dear friend.  This friend had believed a lie about her that a third person had told her.  She thought that their friendship was primary enough to trump any other person’s influence.  She had invested a lot in building that sort of intimacy and trust and based on her friends reaction it seemed that that sense of connection and investment was not mutual.  She was heartbroken.

After telling her story and shedding her tears with me right there in public, she walked away thanking me for listening.  I was so awed, I didn’t even give her my card.

There are many reasons to hold my sign.  I’m grateful for what God is doing with it.