Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: February 2014

How slow is too slow?

When I was in third grade my music teacher, Ms. Smedley, taught me all kinds of ridiculous songs that I for some reason remember all the words too.  One of them was this little calypso/reggae jam with two verses that had the same melody but two different rhythms that reflected their dichotomous lyrics.

“Hurry, hurry, hurry come on the run/ Hurry, hurry, hurry, no time for fun/ Hurry, hurry, hurry, here comes the sun/ When we are finished there will be time for fun.

Alright I come now, alright I come/ No need to hurry, no need to run/ It is too early where is the sun?/ I am so tired that I cannot run”

This is exactly like the one I have- they’re still selling it on amazon

She also gave me a plastic bust of Beethoven that I still have, but that’s not really what I want to talk about.  This song came to mind because I’ve been having discussions with some of my partners about evangelism and urgency.  How quickly should we move on from those who are not interested in Jesus and our church?

One of my friends was saying that there is no game but the long game with some people.  They are so burned or so antagonistic that the only way they are ever going to follow Jesus is after a long season of loving by the Christians in their lives.  There’s a hefty hunk of truth in my friend’s discernment, but I’m not ready to settle into that arrangement yet.  I’m singing the first verse of the song.  I have more urgency.

My urgency is rooted in my belief that the Son of Man will come like a thief in the night.  Jesus may come back tomorrow (and I hope he does) and I want as many people as possible to recognize and embrace Him when he does.  I have a sense of responsibility to the charge that Jesus gave us to go and make disciples of all nations, and I am acutely aware of how limited I am in time and capacity.  I want to make my efforts count.

There are hundreds of thousands of people within a couple of miles of me who know very little about who Jesus actually is.  The argument could be made that any Usonian today has heard the story of Jesus so the basic urgency we see in Acts and the rest of the New Testament is not really applicable to our situation.  Our culture is post-Christian as in “totally over Jesus”, which is quite different fro the pre-Christian culture of the 1st Century Mediterranean.

But I don’t think the facts as filtered through modernism, sarcasm and even the dead churches so many of us were exposed to as children are really the Gospel.  That story of Jesus is not the Gospel.  The Gospel is Jesus Himself and Jesus is alive in us in a way that many have not experienced before.  Taking ourselves that seriously may be the hardest step to take, but once we do our evangelism strategy is just a matter of how heavily we lean into that truth.  Peoples’ bad experiences with the Church, or even just their bad impressions of the Church can be overcome.  There is still Good News that is actually news to a lot of people.  Circle of Hope’s strategy to include folks before they make a commitment to follow Jesus allows for this news to be seen and heard.  We need to experience the power of God among us for our doubts and our wounds to be assuaged and healed.

The question “How slow is too slow?” comes down to how insistent I am in trying to include my friends in our community before they are Christians.  How many invitations is too pushy and how quickly will they write me off if I “cross the line”?  I don’t think it’s my job to worry about that.  I want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to be in a life giving relationship with Jesus, and God wants that too.  Protecting friends from my deepest fulfillment is crazy.  If they are offended by my joy, so be it.  Of course this attitude could quickly slip into an off-putting arrogance that is typical of many evangelists (and I am probably more prone to that than some), but I think the invitation can be made in a way that actually protects a person’s dignity, especially when they know I’m a Christian and they know it’s really important to me.  Someone may filter me out of their life because I am too “up front” about Jesus, but I prefer that to filtering Jesus out of my life–my life which is nothing more than my relationships and conversations (i.e. If I’m not bringing Jesus into my everyday conversation does He still have a place there at all?)

The classic slow cooker

Patterns of relating around things other than Jesus are quickly established because Jesus is a taboo subject.  It’s hard to break out of those patterns once they are established because the build up to the “reveal” of Jesus brings with it more anxiety.  The more we allow Jesus to remain in the margins of our relationships and the conversations within them the harder it will be to get Him into the center of someone’s life.  All this being said, I have had several long term relationships that have eventually resulted in a person becoming a Christian.  I’m not writing anyone off, I’m just being ready for them to write me off.  I kept Jesus at the center of our relationship (and it wasn’t that hard).  I regularly invited them to Circle of Hope events.  I told them about my relationship with God.  I shared with them the work I was doing.

So I err on the side of “hurry, hurry, hurry” instead of “alright I come” because 1) Jesus is coming back tomorrow, 2) The effect of marginalizing Jesus in my everyday conversation, marginalizes Him in my heart, and 3) It’s okay if someone doesn’t want to be a Christian and doesn’t want to relate to me because I am.

P.S. Bringing it all together – Radiolab did a story on how Beethoven may have wanted his music played much faster than we ever heard it

I won at Quizzo and you can too

The whole "Rhythmic Quiznastics 2016" Team (*name subject to change- every time)

The whole “Rhythmic Quiznastics 2016” Team (*name subject to change- every time)

Last night after literally months of toil, my Quizzo team won a $50 bar tab at New Deck Tavern for our first place finish.  We were very excited.  We were VERY EXCITED.  I was also excited because everyone on the team was a stranger to me a few months ago.  Making friends is hard and it’s at the core of Circle of Hope‘s strategy for making disciples so it’s worth thinking about for a couple of minutes.  We think that Jesus is best revealed incarnationally- as in through our relationships- human to human- flesh to flesh- carne to carne.  But when was the last time you made a new friend?

Some of you will say, “yesterday and last week and this morning.”  Others will say 5 years ago or college or “I don’t really have that many friends.”  I looked at my life about 6 months ago and realized I might have made acquaintances at the “yesterday and last week and this morning” rate but I wasn’t really making very many new actual friends at all.  Whatever the reason for our relative isolations (and they are as numerous as we are), we need to get with Jesus in order to overcome our hang ups to meet the next person and expose them to what God is doing in our life together.  If you can first get over the hang ups you may have about being intentional to share Christ in your relationships then you might want to get down to business and figure out how to make some new friends.

What I’m thinking we have to do is very practical so I made a list (they happen to alliterate so I’m obliged to title them Practical P’s):

1) Prioritize

If you do not make time for new people and new environments you will stay in your rut.  We are creatures of habit, and though many of our habits are very good, we will have to not do some things in order to the other things we have prioritized.  Figuring out how to make time for some new people takes dedication, deal making with family members, and follow through.  Make a plan and do the plan.  Whatever will be what it was before forever.

2) Pray

Making friends is good for anyone regardless of the reasons.  I’m making friends because I want to give people a chance to meet a Christian like me.  I also have a desire to be known and to share who I am with people and for them to share that with me.  We’re wired for it (me especially).  So our prayers are for the fulfillment of our desires as human beings and the fulfillment of our mission as Christians.  It’s neat how there’s no need for compartmentalization.  We pray because we know that we are only scattering seeds, God makes faith grow.  We pray for those who might receive us and we pray that we will have the courage to risk being received and also rejected.

3) Pay attention

Listen to others, see what they are interested in, see where they are hurting and needy.  Bless them with your presence.  By the power of the Holy Spirit we can perceive what many who are consumed in themselves cannot.  I was surprised and subsequently honored by the opportunities I had to listen to my new friends just by making myself available.  I’m convinced that we are all much more isolated than we appear from the outside.  If we listen and look closely, we will find those who are ready.

4) Pursue

It seems we are trained to bounce off of each other.  Hanging out at a bar could easily be ephemeral- a fleeting moment of connection.  But you can look someone up on facebook, or ask them for their number or email.  The tricky part for that for me is that it seems that doing that implicitly expresses a sexual desire in most societal circumstances.  Yeah, it’s just weird- we’re weird and we’ll have to get over it and do the weird thing.  I think that most people feel locked out in that way though.  The opportunities for intimacy are relegated to sexual encounters- and what paltry opportunities most of the time!  It’s hard for a lot of people to connect.  So blurt it out- the worst thing that happens is that you never see them again, and that was going to happen anyway.

I’m not sure God is as unsure of you as you are of yourself

No, I’m sure- God knows you are capable of all kinds of awesomeness– much, much more awesomeness than you currently think.

whispering_overview “prosthesis for whispering to myself / wearable rapid prototype / 2006”

Our experience of ourselves is so limited isn’t it?  For starters, my voice sounds completely different inside my head than it does in your ears.  That’s why it’s so weird to hear a recording of yourself.  And that’s just the aural nature of echoing head cavities – my voice sounds completely different than the thoughts bouncing around between my ears.  Vocalizing our thoughts out loud or even writing them on paper slows things down , or hardens things up, or breaks things out.  Giving voice to what’s going on inside changes what’s going on inside.  Jail-breaking our thoughts transforms them and allows us to see them in a new way.

Here’s a story that brings that all together-  I was on the trolley (I guess all my stories happen on the trolley now) and I ran into my friend who was headed to therapy.  He told me that he regularly records his therapy sessions (with his therapist’s permission) and listens to them for further insights.  He is consistently shown how little he listens to what the therapist says because he hears himself ignoring her all the time.  He’s amazed at how much good stuff he misses from her and he is awed by his experience of himself in the third person.  He of the past is frequently foreign even to himself in the present.

I told him that that could be a pretty freeing thought.  My experience of reality and even of myself is so limited for any number of reasons, that humility comes easy.  I am small in the world.  I am even small in myself.  So I might as well get over my tiny-ness and do something great that God is calling me to do.  Of course its efficacy will not be rooted in my capacity- but if I am rooted and established in love I may together with all the saints grasp how wide and deep and high and long is the love of Christ and I’ll probably be pretty darn good at sharing that width and depth and height and length with the world–and you will too!

All this came to mind because I was reading Acts 7 where Stephen (the church’s first 300px-MosesMosaicmartyr) was preaching to the Sanhedrin.  In Acts 7:22 Stephen describes Moses as one “trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and powerful in word and deed.”  But in Exodus 4:10 Moses gets in an argument with God about how poor of a speaker he is! “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”  And that was after God showed Moses how to turn a staff into a snake and back!

Thankfully Moses’ legacy as a leader is bigger than his stubbornly small experience of himself.  Hundreds of years later Stephen knows that Moses was “powerful in word and action.”  That’s the story he heard about Moses.  Good thing Moses didn’t control his own legacy! God equipped Moses to do the things he was called to do.  Moses didn’t have to have all of the stuff to do what he was told before he started doing it.  God helped him along the way to become the sort of leader that would be remembered as Stephen remembered him.

So be small, but don’t be too small.  Humility is about being rightly sized.  Your right size is determined by God not by your limited view of yourself.  Trust me, you can trust in that–just try it.