Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: September 2014

Do what you can now, rather than what you should never

we-are-hereLast night we gathered in Germantown with some folks who were new to Circle of Hope.  We were casting the vision and inviting them into partnership in our work for God’s redemption project.  Our goal is to create an environment where people can connect with God and act for redemption.  This is unique.  we cultivate our community to be the modus operandi.  Our effective strategy is to be a sort of people, rather than say a certain thing, or do any number of right things.  We are the message.  That inherently includes saying and doing, but it is much more than that.  We are not just teaching principles from the Bible or culling out moral lessons from Jesus.  We are resisting the temptation to reduce our life in Christ to mental ascent.  We are an environment–an environment that is transforming lives.

When we bring it all together like that it gets real quickly.  Rachel Sensenig, our host for the evening and a pastor in our network, recently described her first meeting at Circle of Hope.  “People were talking about their real problems from the front.  It was raw and a little awkward and so…human, and that seemed ok…”  She said something similar last night.  Someone was even tearing up at that meeting…from the front!  That environment existed then and it exists now.  You can get into the circle as you are and because we our primary function is not behavior management or thought policing you can be yourself.  We’re especially interested in being a safe place for those who haven’t figured it all out yet–folks who aren’t sure about their faith but know they are welcome.  I encouraged those entering our community who were at the meeting to do what you can now, rather than what you should never.

So much of institutional Christianity, especially in 20th century America, has been about getting it right.  Maybe it’s the Puritanical roots of the first European settlers, maybe it’s modernistic thinking, maybe it’s a post world war superiority complex–whatever it is it leaves us destitute.  Our culture’s spiritual poverty is apparent enough with just a passing glance around Philadelphia.  If we insist on getting it right ourselves we will be out in the cold forever.  Circle of Hope is designed to be a place where anyone can get in and being in can receive from God what they need.  Many folks who come know they need a circle- they long for a community; and they know they need hope- a universally desirous virtue; but many are poisoned to Jesus, or maybe a version of Jesus filtered beyond recognition of the real man.

I’m praying for those who manage to get in with us before they know explicitly what Jesus is doing and what Jesus did.  Even those with tiny little baby faith are able to contribute to the project.  Many of those who have been at it a long time still have tiny little baby faith.  That was Jesus’ pet name for his disciples- oligopistos- tiny-faiths.  The disciples, yes, the Bible ones, were tiny-faiths, and they were in with Jesus if anyone was.  We are then “in” too because Jesus welcomes us and Circle of Hope is all about extending that welcome to the next person.

What sort of self do you have?

A Balkan born theologian and philosopher, Miroslav Volf, knows how to write a cogent argument!  I’ve copied a rather lengthy quote because it just had to be shared and I think it speaks to our work of inclusion as a community on mission.exlcusion and embrace

“Through faith and baptism the self has been re-made in the image of “the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me,” Paul writes.  At the center of the self lies self-giving love.  No “hegemonic centrality” closes the self off, guarding its self-same identity and driving out and away whatever threatens its purity.  To the contrary, the new center opens the self up, makes it capable and willing to give itself for others and to receive others in itself.  In the previous chapter I argued that Paul locates the unity of the church not in the disincarnate transcendence of a pure and universal spirit, but in the scandalous particularity of the suffering body of God’s Messiah.  Correspondingly, Paul locates the center of the self not in some single and unchangeable–because self enclosed–“essence,” but in self-giving love made possible by and patterned on the suffering Messiah.  For Christians, this “de-centered center” of self giving love–most firmly centered and most radically open–is the doorkeeper deciding about the fate of otherness at the doorstep of the self.  From this center judgments about exclusion must be made and battles against exclusion fought.  And with this kind of self, the opposition to exclusion is nothing  but the flip side of the practice of embrace.” -Miroslav Volf p.71 Exclusion and Embrace

We are prone to exclusion as a way to preserve our identities.  Some post modern people might claim that the self doesn’t have a center.  Volf argues that it most certainly does but that the center of the self is not as important as what sort of self we ought to have.  His argument is that our selves need to be de-centered by the presence of Christ inside us.  The point from this hefty paragraph that most struck me was that pursuit of self enclosed identities “drive[s] out and away whatever threatens its purity.”  Especially in the church, we are with purity.  We want to maintain the good that we have and–mostly unconsciously– exclude those trying to get in.  Much of our identity formation as individuals, and as groups, is in some way violent.  This is as true in Volf’s Balkans as it is in any high school, and even within our church.  We can’t help but keep people out.  Including people then is an expression of Christ inside us and a way to keep the binary star system of our interior universes properly balanced.Binary-stars

Only a de-centered-by-Jesus self can open and include as naturally as we need to in order to grow into the next generation of Circle of Hope.  I am thankful for how God has achieved this in us to a degree and hopeful for how God will proceed.

How do you guard your identity?  How does your self’s center respond to threats against its primacy?  How might we act to be more de-centered?  How will this effect us as a people?  These aren’t rhetorical–let me know what you think!