Puppies’ sole purpose in the universe is to be dressed up and piled on top of one another for the cuteness of the internet. The internet has a lot of nasty stuff in it and puppies serve as a necessary ballast of cuteness to keep the whole thing afloat. We’re tapping into the cuteness of puppies this season in Circle of Hope because for many of us, puppies evoke a tenderness in us, and the thing about tenderness is that the same tenderness we see in puppies resides in the tender parts of our own selves. Puppies work their way past or around our tough defenses and get to our hearts. Some of us know that puppies are really quite a pain with all their indoor urination and false identification of everything as a chew toy, but let’s suspend our disbelief together and let the tenderness angle win the day–or at least the moment.
We need puppies or some other puppy like creature/substance/force to remind us of who we really are and engage us in the soft underbelly/heart depths where we can relate to God. Jesus really is the ultimate puppy in this sense but that argument is too silly. Puppies are in fact very silly so they work much better as the vanguard of our evening public meetings at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington (1125 S. Broad Street at 5 and 7 pm). We need to be loosened up, softened up woken up (maybe). We come together like a pile of puppies every week as an exercise of trust. We are making the safe place where we can explore and express God’s love. It’s not really that safe because we are that safe, certainly not because there are puppies on the screen and in the program, but more so because God is making it safe. He is making the teammates who make the event safer people as we grow in Christ, yes, but God is present, shaping the actual few hours we spend together, because God cares about what we are doing and the people we are welcoming into our space.
So let’s engage God in that puppy-like comfort. Let’s be together. There won’t be any literal dog piles but there will be togetherness–and that togetherness is what we all need to become our true selves. We have to risk the trust of community to be fully known by others and also by ourselves. We are made for each other and we prove it to ourselves every week. You can join us. Your friends can join us. But leave your dogs at home, even if they’re puppies, sorry.
Summer’s not really over yet, but the season changed at Circle of Hope’s Public Meeting last night and I’m ready to move into the fall. Sorry to those of you who haven’t gone on vacation yet. I feel a bit like the guy who asks “How was your weekend?” on Sunday afternoon. Forgive me.
I spent the Pentecost season off of Facebook (and this blog, instagram, tumblr, twitter etc.). It was a communal experiment among the pastors and a few other leaders at Circle of Hope. We wanted to unplug to see if our disconnection hurt us at all. Does facebook as a medium actually help our cause, or do we spend a lot of time shouting into the void when we could be making real-er connections? We want to be the media which for me means I want to know people and I want people to know me. I believe that in a relationship with me or someone like me people have the best chance of meeting Jesus. This summer I wanted to see how the virtual relating of facbookland worked by letting it not work for a while.
The most notable changes occurred within me and my habits. Without the distraction of facebook I was more productive. I read more books. I started a new cell and hung out with those new people in my life. I got out into Philadelphia on the Circle of Hope Summer Tour and I didn’t worry about the storytelling of the experience before the experience was over. I was in the moment, relating to the people around me as I was with them. I did not triangulate a thousand people into our interactions. I have to admit that I am an image conscious person. I worry about what people will think. Facebook plays into this character trait by encouraging me to manage a virtual image of myself; and because I am a leader of a community, I manage an image of Circle of Hope too.
Image management isn’t all bad. I want to be received well by all sorts of people so that I might speak into their life after earning a place of trust. I want to be a conspicuous force for good in the world so people will see my good deeds and glorify my father in heaven. I know for certain I can do these things without facebook, but I’ve decided to do it with facebook again because it’s a way that people relate and it’s the only way I relate to some of the people I barely know or knew well before they or I moved away.
Facebook is a very dangerous tool. It can suck me in and begin to make me who I am. I can begin to be an image of myself rather than the me I really am now. This is the easiest way for the enemy to undermine me. If I can’t do it to a perfect standard; if I can’t be the person I wish I was, then I might as well wallow in my sin, or my ineffective strategy, or whatever else is currently unhealthy in my life. That’s enough reason for me not to go back. Put that on top of the image that the marketers are making of me–the detailed niche market of Benjamin White that has extended from ads to the actual news feeds of my friends. I now only see what they want me to see from private users too. Everything filtered, manicured, marketed and algorhythm-ed for my viewing pleasure and for facebook’s maximized profit. A dangerous tool indeed. But I’ve read the instruction manual, I’ve got my safety goggles on, a bit clearer now after a season away and I’m ready to relate again there too. I’ll probably see you there but let’s not keep it there. okay?