Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: April 2014

Philadelphia Schools and Judas’ Kiss

meandmuralistsIt’s Maundy Thursday, I’ll spend the evening washing feet.  I spent the morning getting paint on my hands at GW Childs School.  The two go together for me.  Maundy is an old word that comes from the Latin mandatum which means “command or order.”  It refers to   the words spoken by Jesus to his disciples after washing their feet at the Last Supper, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.(John 13:34)

I went to GW Childs school because I am on the “For Love of Childs” Compassion team that my fried Megan started.  Circle of Hope organizes ourselves to fan the sparks of passion that our members have.  Bands of compassionate people get together to follow Jesus’ commandment.  For the Love of Childs has supported the Art Program, Hosted a Block Party, Started a Library, and planted Gardens in cooperation with various local partners.  I’m inspired to be part of some really good things that are happening.  As often as I am able and there is an opportunity, I am at Childs.  I joined the team to do the Maundy all the time.  I did it for more than filial duty though.  I did it because I need to do something personally to respond to the mess that those who run the school system in Philadelphia have made of these kids’ education.

And here is the other Maundy Thursday correlation.  I can’t hep but note the similarity between Jesus getting betrayed with a kiss by his once friend and disciple, Judas Iscariot, and the kids in Philadelphia getting betrayed by those entrusted with the job of educating them.  

The biggest Judas is probably Governor Tom Corbett (though that’s an over-simplification). Here are just a few reasons I am tempted to say that Satan has entered Tom Corbett (ref Luke 22:3) from

  • While Philadelphia schools are in a financial crisis created by the state, Pennsylvania is spending $400 million on building a new prison in Philadelphia.
  • When Mayor Nutter asked Pennsylvania for $130 million in additional state funding, Gov. Corbett delivered only $16 million
  • The impact fee for natural gas producers is the lowest in the nation. If Gov. Corbett modeled the West Virginia tax on fracking, $205 million in revenue could be generated.

This is a betrayal of our children.  The list on is a lot longer.  As I read it I started to tear up.  I cannot believe it.  Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest!  We’re building a pipeline from cradle to jail.  This is something to die for, certainly to suffer for.  Who’s with me?beautiful sky in philadelphia

It feels so horribly inadequate now, but I painted a mural with some 6th through 8th graders today on the roof top gym at GW Childs.  As we painted we talked about their families and what they liked to post on instagram.  I told them I liked to post pictures of the sky (I posted this one in their honor).  I also told them and their City Year mentors about Circle of Hope and the other Maundy things we do.  I’m praying that my little goes a long way in God’s hand.  I don’t have much more hope than that.


On Dying with Jesus

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”Philippians 3

It’s not exactly good advertising: COME DIE WITH JESUS!  That’s one reason people aren’t flocking into the Church these days.  We’re currently interested as a culture in mastering death; have you seen the trailer for Johnny Depp’s new movie?  It comes out April 17–just in time for Easter.  Who needs resurrection when you have Transcendence [link]?  My biggest fear about this movie is that it doesn’t seem too far fetched that we could some day map the electronic patterns of the brain, digitize it and have a consciousnesses that could live forever.  I pray that it is impossible, but I am not confident it is.

But this coming week at Circle of Hope and at many churches around the world is all about death, more specifically, Jesus’ death.  Let’s not reduce it to storytelling though.  Holy Week, the week we remember Jesus’ last days before his death, is not just about Jesus’ death, it’s about ours too.

At the beginning of Lent many of us marked ourselves with ashes under the evocation “Remember you are from dust and to dust you shall return.”  We’ve spent weeks remembering our frailty, recognizing our need, and longing for the Resurrection.  Lent is about finding the parts of us that need to die.  It’s a quarantine from business as usual designed to give us some perspective on ourselves and our condition.  We fast to create some artificial suffering that could help us “participate in his sufferings” as Paul writes in Philippians.  The fasting also reminds us of what we are doing.  It gives us small opportunities to turn to God in our need.

The practical “lynchpin” of Christian theology is that we are freed from caring if we die.  Eternity is an everyday necessity for those who follow Jesus.  Hopefully (and probably) we won’t all become martyrs but it is the fear of death, the most basic human fear, that leads to any number of theological and practical concessions.  When Paul says in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” he does not mean that God will eliminate all who come against us, he means that our ultimate safety is secure.  We are called to lean into this ultimate security in order to avoid making personal and familial security paramount.  This conviction is the only way we can obey Jesus’ teachings on enemy love and peace making, but it is also pretty important in following Jesus in his special concern for the poor and not worrying about tomorrow, clothes and food.

We are saved from fear by Jesus’ promise of abundant and eternal life.  Personally, I have further uncovered the truth  that my basic human fear of death is integrally linked with my understanding of my own limitations and frailty.  To trust Jesus unto death allows me to trust him unto moments where I need to die to myself and the myths I make for myself about my own capacity.  This is taking up my cross and dying daily.  This is dying with Jesus.