Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: May 2014

Yes, I will have 320 hot dogs. Please and thank you.

This blog post is brought to you by our generous sponsor, Hatfield Hams.  They’re giving us a case of beef franks for our Summer Block Party on Sunday June 22nd from 2-6pm.  Isn’t that nice?  Why would this vegetarian want 320 hot dogs you ask?  1) Because even I know that hot dogs are actually quite delicious and 2) I’m pulling out all the stops to have a “big thing.”  Nothing brings people together like food- especially free food- and no one is more interested in bringing people together than Jesus.

Every day I hear a story about the great things that God is doing among his people at Circle of Hope.  Yesterday it was a married couple with two small children who had organized the end of their week for them to both go on a 24 hour personal retreat in Aston, PA at the Franciscan Spirituality Center.  Now those are people who are meant to go deep with God!  Both of them have recently taken on new leadership roles among us so it is well timed for them to find some time with God.  Those are the type of Christians that are growing up at Circle of Hope.  Such is the life in Christ that we are calling people together to see.

alter street

Here’s the plan for June 22nd

A block party is not a retreat but it is a great way to love people, and know them and have fun with them.  That’s the first step in them connecting to the power of God at work among us like it is in the family on retreat.  On June 22nd there will be hot dogs, of course, and sodas, and probably other summer treats, but also a moon bounce, face painting, games and music.  I hope at least 150 people come (otherwise we’re going to have a serious hotdog surplus), so I’m telling you now.  Put it on your calendar.  The Circle of Hope Summer Tour stops at the 1300 block of Alter in a few weeks and I want the whole neighborhood and you to be there.

Introducing the Circle of Hope Summer Tour

It’s the Circle of Hope Summer Tour ya’ll!  We’re showing up where Philly gathers.  At the Night Market in Old City last night a few of us showed up with like 10,000 other people.    ben taco night marketI waited in line for 15 minutes to get this taco!  But it was a lot of fun.

The whole point of showing up where Philly gathers is that we are putting ourselves out there because we think that God wants to use us to reach all of philadelphia (and beyond).  When there’s a big group of people gathered it’s an opportunity to influence them for their good.

To do this we have to get over a few things:

1) Our squeamishness about influencing anybody.  We’ve been taught that influence is kin to cultural imperialism and borderline violent.  To influence someone is to trample upon their rights to choose for themselves and create their own ideas and thoughts about the universe or just their own persons.  If God exists he gave each of us the right to decide for ourselves, which God did, but this has come to mean that each individual is supposedly free from influence that might taint their individual process.  Hogwash!  We are all inundated wih influence.  The story of our individually pure volition is a thin veneer over the influence of any number of sources but mostly our families of origin and advertisers.  We are very influenced and if we let those who are unsqueamish about influence (who are primarily interested in getting our money or getting power over us) get all the airplay, then we’re doomed.

flyer nightmarket2) Our fear of being scrutinized.  I put some claims on a flyer that might not hold up under intense scrutiny.  This flyer says: “Cynics and skeptics welcome.  We admit that the last century has made a lot of people skeptical of Christians.  Do you want to try something new with us?”  The skeptical question from anyone who might give this flyer to someone is “Are we really new?  Or are we not that different from whatever burnd people in the past?”  My answer: “We better be!”  Otherwise all is meaningless.  And that is the doubting counterpoint to my entire faith, around which I have organized my life.  The only options are that we are dillusional or that God is indeed making us new.  I’m banking on newness and it keeps proving true even when it isn’t as good as I want it to be.  We’ll have to be good enough with God’s help.

3) Doing something uncomfortable.  I’m a very outgoing guy but I still feel wierd when I’m handing out flyers.  When people say no, or ignore me it gets at me.  When I stop in the middle of the crowd and start doing something that might impose on someone or spoil their good time I’m tempted to feel like a jerk.  When I don’t see francesca and friends at night marketinstant results I wonder why I’m doing it anyway.  It is uncomfortable and I get to pray about that while I’m doing it.  I get loosened up and I get on a roll.  If one person takes it a stream of people behind them take it too.  I don’t know how effective it will be, but last night at least I didn’t see anyone throw it away in the trash can a few yards to my left.  God’s going to have to land that flyer in the exact right hand for the flyer to really make a difference, which is not impossible, but in the meantime Circle of Hope get’s our name out there and maybe more importantly, we get out there and get over this stuff.

Because if we get over this stuff in this fun way with strangers, we might be more ready to do it with our friends.  If we expose ourselves, out ourselves, be ourselves in Christ, we might be more effective in sharing our faith and including people in our community, which is our goal as a people and the work our leader gave us.



International Joy Share

I had a great time with some young people from Canada, Nigeria, Guatemala, Tunisia and Hong Kong on Saturday.

Niagra Christian Community of Schools (NCC) is a Brethren in Christ affiliated primary and secondary school in Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada.  It has a very diverse student population and a really good choir.  I spent the day with them on Saturday and I had a blast because these kids are awesome.  Proof of their awesomeness is that they weren’t afraid to bless the city of Philadelphia with some joy songs (as seen in the video above)- singing their hearts out in the middle of Center City!

Their leader, Julie Willms, got connected to us through the Brethren in Christ denominational network.  I didn’t meet her until the other day, but we were already family because we’re Brethren in Christ.  She asked me to help her plan the day.  We did some historical and touristy stuff but the meat of our time together was a performance at Tucker House a nursing home in Philadelphia’s Poplar neighborhood and a prayer walk I designed to help the kids engage with the “big stuff” that affects our city.

It was easy to do because there were so many compassionate things that Circle of Hope is involved in.  I walked through the neighborhood and easily dreamed up things to pray for and ways that Circle of Hope was engaging them.

1) We prayed at Tucker House for those who live there and worked there, for those without healthcare and for those who make laws about healthcare.

2) At 11th and Wallace, in a vacant lot we prayed for the Land Bank and the work of our pastors, Jonny Rashid and Rachel Sensenig with Take Back Vacant Land coalition.  We prayed that profit would not be the only driver in our city’s redevelopment.  We prayed for children to experience nature and for homes for those without them.

3) At 11th and Mt Vernon, the site of demolished Ruffin Nichols Memorial African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, I told them about the history of Richard Allen and his followers and we prayed about the continuing institutional racism and for the revitalization of our churches.  I told them here that they were a demonstration of what God can do to bring us together.  They are so diverse and they literally spend time in harmony.  If God can bring them together, then God can continue to bring others together as well.

4) At 11th and Spring Garden we looked up the street to Gaudenzia House- An Addiction Rehabilitation Center- we prayed for those suffering from addiction, for the Narcotics Anonymous group that meets in our space at Broad and Washington an we prayed for those caught up in drug trafficking.

5) At 10th and Spring Garden we visited the Closed Collisimo’s Gun Shop (and the “Gun Academy” that survives next door).  We celebrated the victory of Heeding God’s Call, a coalition of faith groups that put public pressure on a gun shop that was notorious for selling guns that ended up being used in violent crime.  Circle of Hope members still participate in Heeding God’s Call an we prayed for their continued efforts. We also prayed for the families of the 70 people who have died from gun shot wounds in Philadelphia this year (as of March)

5) At 10th and Callowhill we looked west toward the State Building, a possible site for a new Casino.  We talked about the motivations for gambling and the argument that gambling is a legitimate source of state funding of underfunded social programs (like Tucker House for one).  I shared with them the work that Circle of Hope had been involved with in hopes of stopping Sugar House.  We prayed against the Casino’s success and we prayed that our own treasures would be stored in heaven.

6) Our last stop was at 10th and Pearl where I encourage the kids to care about all of these big things because in engaging our hearts in the impossible hope for change of these big evils we exercise our citizenship in the Kingdom of God.  Just like the Pearl of Great Value in Matthew 13, the work of calling the world to The Way is very costly but the alternative is deadly an not near as beautiful.

Here’s our prayer for Hope and for God’s will to be done On Earth (in Philadelphia, in Fort Erie, Ontario and all the places all over the Earth) as it is in Heaven

Our Father, who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come;

Thy will be done;

In Philadelphia as it is in heaven- (call out other places we want God’s Kingdom to come)

On Earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil;

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,

forever and ever.  Amen!

About Circle of Hope Dessert

This past Monday a few of us got together to talk about Circle of Hope at my friend Katie’s house.  She has a cute little place in Point Breeze with matching cutlery, candles and poundcake, but more so she has the gift of hospitality and the guts to take herself seriously as a Christ follower and leader in the church.  She is great and she made the meeting greater than it might have been.  But the meeting is pretty great.

Circle of Hope is one of my favorite subjects, and at this meeting I get myself going to articulate that and to eat sweets (that’s why we have to have one as soon as Lent was over).  Maybe the two go together well because I always leave the meeting amped up about who we are and what we’re doing.

I shared our vision and mission statement with the newly connected folks who were interested in what made Circle of Hope Circle of Hope.

The Vision: Who we want to be
We are a circle of hope in Jesus Christ
A network of cells forming congregations
A people called to reconciliation
An opportunity to explore and express God’s love

The Mission: What we want to do
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

I am convicted again and again that cells are a great way to preach the Gospel.  They are not a class for content they are the content.  Life in Christ is life in a real body with real bodied people.  We are called to reconciliation with God and called to be ministers of reconciliation.  The best place for both sorts of reconciliation to occur is in community.  Reconciling with God- God’s grace and forgiveness- can easily remain abstract when not experienced in human relationship.  To be forgiven and to forgive is the best way for us to know God’s love (See 1 John).  Life in a cell is the proving ground for our faith and for our life in love and grace because we don’t just think about them, we use them an depend on them to knit us together and lead us on.

Some of our missionaries

Some of our Circle of Hope missionaries

Likewise the mission we feel called to is the best way for us to grow in our faith.  Going deep as a Christian is not about becoming an expert in theology or the Bible (though why wouldn’t you do that too) it’s about going far with God- out past our natural abilities and preferences and into difficult territory.  I said in the meeting that the best way to grow as a Christian is to make a disciple and teach someone else how to be a Christian with you.  That’s what we are called to do and I am encouraged that so many people continue to want to do it with us.  10 people from Circle of Hope Broad and Washington signed up as partners at the Love Feast last week (See 1 Corinthians 11).  7 people were in Katie’s living room.  God is good.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;/  Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.

Psalm 34:8

…tastes good, like Katie’s pound cake good (ok, even better).