Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: January 2014

How do I escape the stereotype?

I got stuck on the trolley for about 45 minutes last week. I also got stuck being a Christian.

Where much of my conversation occurred- 40th and Woodland

The trolleys were broken down in the tunnel and we were beyond the diversion point. We just had to wait it out.  Instead of being consumed by my fantasy novel I struck up a conversation with the man who sat down next to me. It started with our common inconvenience- a trolley in front of us was broken down in the tunnel and we were stuck behind it and very late for work (we weren’t stressed about it because it was the day after the big snow and we were already heroes for showing up at all). It went deeper when I simply asked him “what are you reading?”

I might have been leery to ask this man this question- he seemed a bit eccentric and I could tell by the titles I spied on his photocopied reading material that his interests were a bit weird too. He was excited to tell me that every clergy person was a charlatan and religion was just a power grab.

I listened and agreed with some of his points- scientists could now describe the forces at work which caused the sun to rise or the moon to be eclipsed which made ancient stories about gods and their daily celestial responsibilities seem false. Religious people had leveraged their spiritual power throughout history to control unlettered people groups.

My new friend considered himself very lettered and he was sure that if we all just thought about things for ourselves logically we would reach the same conclusions that he had reached. I held my tongue as he insulted all religious people but eventually got a turn to speak. I contended that his evaluation of logic as the utmost criteria for reality was not unassailable- how do you logically describe love? I rejected his overly individualistic approach to truth and pointed out that it was just as much an inheritance of the western philosophical domination system as all the other homogenizing force he decried. And I told him that I trusted my own experience of God and appreciated how the stories that had been passed down to me resonated in my heart and with my desire.

stereotypes

As soon as I expressed my faith I was lumped into a category. I was foolish and beguiled.  I was a bleating sheep.  We danced around our points for a while but I don’t think I swayed him. He did concede to me that I wasn’t stupid, just that I had made a choice based on criteria which he had chosen as less important than his own criteria. We parted ways with a smile and a handshake which I consider a victory. At the very least he met a nice articulate Christian who took him seriously.

But afterward I was discouraged.  Maybe I should have just read my fantasy novel.  I didn’t like being lumped.  At one point I said, “Listen, you don’t know me, you can’t put that on me.”  He was putting all the deceit and power of Christian history on my shoulders, but more so he was insisting that my faith was blind.  The moment I have faith I am deceived.  I don’t think there is a way to win that argument.  If I had the opportunity I would just have to prove to him that I wasn’t what he thought I was.   Arguments won’t win the day- only time, relationship and love.  That’s why Circle of Hope organized ourselves into cell groups- so we could create spaces for someone like him to have that opportunity.  God will have to work with this guy a bit more before he’s ready to get into a cell but if he did, it would be great fun!  Let’s pray for those we know like him and pray for more opportunities to make a way for people to get in or at the very least to have the conversation.

Going it together

I went to King of Prussia for lunch today.  My friend Phil works in a business park.  I had never been to a business park before.  It was very interesting.  It got me thinking about how incredibly astute we need to be at our isolation to remain separated they way we are.

Glaxosmithkline was across the street (it’s a bit shinier)

Out of the manicured wilderness spring dozens of big 1970s buildings.  Brick and bulbous yet nondescript on the outside, the inside of Phil’s office was bright with color and full to the gills with people.  I broke onto the cubicle floor with little resistance in search of a bathroom as I waited for Phil.  Cubicles are half walls now, so you could see everybody on the floor.  The bathroom was bustling with people amicably talking about sports and other acceptable topics of conversation.

When I got back to the reception area I sat across from the sandwich lady.  I noted the lack of eatery options in this sprawling facility.  “So do you take the food around to the people in your cart?” I asked her.  I had seen stuff like this on TV!

“No, Diane, the receptionist, sends an email, but there’s no Diane, so there’s no email.”  She answered.

The room full of hungry people did not know her bean salads had arrived because Diane wasn’t there to send an email to announce the bean salad’s presence.  It was interesting how together everyone was, and how very not.  An outpost of teeming humanity in the once teaming with game no-longer-woods outside of Philadelphia held together by email alone despite the borderline absurdity of this concentration of bodies in this should-be-secluded locale.

Phil and I crossed the parking lot to eat at a cafe in another building.  We were meeting up to talk about including people in Circle of Hope Broad and Washington.  Of course, Phil had a regular lunch crew that he had to let know he wouldn’t be there.  My observations about these people’s separation are mostly artificial, but the setting was too fascinating not to report and to correlative to our conversation.

Let’s not be this (I don’t think we are)

In thinking about the people that Phil knows and reflecting on our own experience as Christians, we lamented the isolation of faith into our very private lives.  Thoughts about the meaning of life are hard.  Thoughts about death and the afterlife cause a lot of anxiety.  Thoughts about confronting our limitations are painful.  If we are to follow some of the prevailing wisdom of our age, we should figure these things out by ourselves.  Regardless of what conclusions we are leaning toward, that’s hard!  But for many reasons it is in fashion to come up with everything out of our own head for it to be valid.  Why do we have to go it alone?

Phil and I were figuring out how to help our friends “go it together”–with us.  We wanted to be with them in their struggle and be sensitive to the pain they’ve experienced, but without cutting the part of us off that gives us meaning.  We don’t want to convince them that their isolation is wrong.  We want to convince them that we love them. Sometimes it seems like we have to censor our hope in Jesus to do that, and maybe we do at first, but sometimes our hesitation to be ourselves in Christ is more about how similar our pain is to those who have,  facing similar circumstances, decided to abandon the faith, nominal or otherwise, of their family of origin than it is about protecting those we are trying to love.  We need to revisit that pain with God and be healed.

All the commands that Jesus gave us are impossible to achieve without Him.  The Holy Spirit enables us to do what we are called to do by healing our past wounds, giving us courage, and even the words to say in those perceived as delicate moments of conversation.  It’s all about trust.  Our faith stays so small if we give it zero exercise.  Relying on God is really hard to do just in our heads.  We need to risk something to be saved again.  We need to die to something to experience the power of the resurrection now.  We need to “be with” as God is “with us.”  We need to “go it together” with those who are following Jesus and with those who are not.

 

Invitation

 In Circle of Hope we say our vision for fulfilling our mission is this:

“We create an environment where people can connect with God and act for redemption. Responding in love to our thirsty region and fractured society, we are birthing a new generation of the church to resist and restore with those moved by the Holy Spirit”

Here's a PM a while back

Here’s a PM a while back

We are the environment.

We are temples of the holy spirit (1 Corinthians 6).  We designed our Public Meetings to be an expression of the gospel by the community that embodies it.  We are inviting people into a relationship with God expressed among us.  We want to respond to Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28).

The people we know may notice our good behavior, but our morality little distinguishes us from a secular humanist, a muslim, a sikh, or a jew.  But really, I don’t think they are paying that much attention to you to even notice that you’re good.  If we want to make disciples we are going to need to do more than just be ourselves among them.  We need to create opportunities for those around us to see our faith embodied.  One of the best ways to communicate our faith to them is to invite them into a cell or a PM.  You may have experience with coercive street preachers, or over-zealous youth group leaders in your past but the overwhelming majority of people do not.  Being invited to a meeting is not as weird as you think, and if you can’t be convinced that it isn’t weird, it’s time for some exposure therapy.  The best way to get over your aversion to inviting people to your cell or our public meeting is to invite them to your cell or our public meeting.

What prevents us from invitation and why we need to stop being prevented

We have acquiesced to the cultural rules about politeness and religion.  We believe that people think Christians are pushy and we shouldn’t be like that.  We believe that religion is a private matter that every one discovers on their own, in their own personal way so we should not impose our process onto someone else’s.  We don’t always have a sense of ourselves as the light of the world and the salt of the earth that Jesus told us we are.  We are not always convinced that everyone needs Jesus or that we are probably the best chance they will get to meet Him.  Finding the words, the story, the way to shine your light, Christ’s light, is the point of Circle of Hope’s existence.  Some of those words are “Will you come with me?”

mouth

Personal invitations work best

Charles Arn, a church growth researcher, asked more than 50,000 people why they came to church, and between 75 and 90 percent of respondents say, “I began attending because someone invited me.”  I have spent some of my time as Development Pastor getting the word out in other ways- internet, stickers, posters, flyers.  Maybe I have prepared the way for some, maybe I have wasted a lot of time.  Either way, I am ready to see how many people I can get to come to our Public Meetings in 2014.

I want to create some excitement around our Public Meetings because I think they are really great.  A lot of us put a lot of work into them and I am often very aware of God’s presence among us.  Everyone I know who has become a Christian in Circle of Hope has come around us and been among us for a while before they made an explicit decision to follow Jesus.  I want to invite more people into that process.  Some of us are thick into this struggle and this is not a new challenge.  Others of us could benefit from a reboot or a group of people who are dedicated to this task together.  I thought it would be a good idea to gather a group to pay attention to the PMs.  Are you one of them?  Are you one who wants to join me in the invitation? Call me.  Or are you one who wants to receive this blog post as your invitation?  See you at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington, 1125 S. Broad Street on Sunday at 7pm!