Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: October 2014

Reminder: Do not to snuff out the fire of God burning in your heart (because you can do that)

Dear friends and followers of Jesus (and those listening to me even though you aren’t Christians), you are beloved of God.  Your heart burns within you all the time and you know this.  Jesus is with you exposing the negatives of your experience.  Wait for the picture to emerge.  Don’t despair.  There’s a fire in your eyes, the Lord is fanning into flame the gifts he gave you.  Here’s a prayer I wrote for Fire Day at the Circle of Hope Public Meeting on Sunday.  Here’s a chance to pray it again or for the first time if you weren’t there.

The Lord said on that mountain of fire to his people long ago: Be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen

Fan into flame the gifts we received Oh God

Don’t  let the light, the warmth fade from your heart as long as you live.

Fan into flame the gifts we received Oh God

Teach them to your children. Teach them how The Lord spoke to you, yes, you.

Fan into flame the gifts we received Oh God.

Was it in the earthquake? Was it in the fire or the mighty wind. Was it in a whisper- even yours in a child’s ear.

Fan into flame the gifts we received Oh God.

A surprising word spoken so truly you couldn’t say how strong it was in the cell meeting.  A song that sang your heart and a hundred people singing along.  A timely verse delivered to your inbox on the Daily Prayer.

Our God is a consuming fire

A sleepy moment in the morning when you sat to listen.  A hurried prayer in that moment of danger.  A thankful breath before the feast.

Our God is a consuming fire

Be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen

Our God is a consuming fire10556258_10152377130006733_3476734518944049798_n

The broken gray of morning clouds, pierced with brilliant light.  A mirror of blue splashed in the gutter reflecting heavenward.  The moon in daylight.

Our God is a consuming fire

The gentle pull of love, gentle and consistent.  Gentle and strong.  Pulling you back to the center.

Our God is a consuming fire

A center of burning love, love for you, love for me.  Love for all.  A never ending, never stopping, center of the universe kind of love that desires us.

Our God is a consuming fire

Gentle fire of Jesus, burning in our hearts and leaping from our hearts to our eyes and mouths, shining out and into the world.

Our God is a consuming fire

Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,

Our God is a consuming fire

What I whisper in your ear, shout from the rooftops

We need to pray more.  Everyone is shouting something from the rooftop and volume will tattoo-designs-for-earnot remedy the situation.  If we’re going to meet the next 50-75 people we need to multiply our congregation at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington,  we’re going to need to make ourselves available for a lot more whispers in our ear from Jesus.  Because in the rooftop noisescape of Philadelphia their is a desperate need for something new.  The next generation that we have designed Circle of Hope to include is closing its ears to rooftop communications of all kinds.  They have been marketed to by so many people, for so long, in so many ways that they are experts at tuning out.  If we’re going to get them to hear what we have to say we’ll need to hear from Jesus first.

Many of us are just as expert at tuning out at as the rest, and our sensibilities prejudice our actions.  We’ll tune ourselves out before we even say a thing.  If we can convince ourselves that our words are not just our own but they are the words of Jesus to those around us, we’ll make it a lot further toward actually communicating some piece of our hope.  What is Jesus saying to me that he needs others to hear?  Who needs to hear what I have heard?  Am I turning down the volume on myself or is it Jesus I’m tuning out?  It may be Jesus.  To get a handle on Jesus’ words to us we’ll need to get good at listening.

Prayer is a lot of listening you know?  Somehow it got the rep that it was all about asking God for stuff, but it’s much more than that.  Prayer is communion with God.  When I spend time with God in the morning I can tell the difference later in the day.  I don’t go up on the roof very often, but how I am myself feels more purposeful, more directed.  I have never heard an audible whisper myself, but ideas come easier, intentional acts of love seem more natural-it’s like I’m aligned as I should be.  Time spent soaking in God’s presence becomes a keel that keeps me straight in God’s waters.

howard on the roof

Howard on a roof

But being attuned  to God’s whisper is not just a solitary practice.  I can feel God’s presence in community- in my cell meeting on Thursday nights and in our big meetings on Sunday nights too.  Jesus has communicated pretty clearly to me that he is present in our community, and in our embrace many will come to a real encounter with him.  The whisper we need is not always a new revelation; it is more often a renewal of the same deep truths.  “God loves you.  God loves the people you will meet today.  God wants to bring us all together in Christ.  God is with you.”  It’s easy to forget and sometimes hard to believe in our hearts even when we know in our heads that it’s true.  Jesus whispers to us everyday to encourage our rooftop declarations.

So let’s pray more, let’s incline our ears and respond to when they are perked.  If you hear something, say something, at least to your cell if not from some 21st century version of the rooftop.  Censoring yourself may be censoring the very words of Jesus.  Can we have that much seriousness about what we have to say and how Jesus is using us in the world?

Money Talks- Anecdotal Evidence from life in Philly

Woodland Ave. at Markoe in Southwest Philly.

Woodland Ave. at Markoe in Southwest Philly.

“This isn’t really a customer service call it’s more of a PR consult.”  That’s what I told the customer service rep for Republic Bank when I called the 800 # this weekend.  A developer is constructing an apartment building across the street from the Circle Counseling office, but it’s been a giant hole in the ground for the past 8 months.  They dug the foundation, poured in the concrete and left it to be a mosquito ridden, rain filled, 2 story deep swimming pool for my neighborhood children to drown in (no one has drowned yet).

I have called License and Inspections about this property and reported it on the 311 app a number of times to little avail.  I’m not sure how a company can get away with this, but apparently it’s legal.  So, on a whim as I walked by on Saturday, I called Republic Bank who had their banner on the property’s chain link fence.  I described the dangers I saw and wanted them to know that the neighborhood might get a bad impression of Republic Bank if they were associated with this construction site.  I left my name and number because anonymity isn’t my style.

Yesterday I got  a call from Gary Jonas who referenced my telephone call that weekend.  I explained what “they” were doing at the construction site.  Then he surprised me by saying “When you say ‘they’ it’s me.  I own this property.”  I was a bit taken aback, but I pressed on with my complaint and asked him when he planned to remedy the situation.  He was defensive but apologetic in the end.  The situation was not ideal for him either but his major concern was his own bottom line, not the inconvenience and safety of the neighborhood.

I was struck by the conversation- less by its results than by the immediacy of action effected by my call to the bank.  Money talks.  Money makes things happen- much more than any other systems in Philadelphia.  Dang.

I lament this because my elected officials should be protecting me and creating systems that support the common good above the private individual.  License and Inspections should protect me and my neighbors.  They don’t.  Republic Bank is holding Mr. Jonas more accountable to his neighbors than the city of Philadelphia.

And this is the future many of the country has dreamed of– an economy unfettered by regulation, a plutocracy in which real power is wielded by those with the most money, power and influence are cash and wire transfers.  The pursuit of happiness is dollars and cents.

We the people are shouted down by citizens united with more money than us.  My disorganized neighborhood association was entrusted with holding this developer to agreements, and because the group is ineffective the agreements are essentially with no one.  The city is just as ineffective and just as interested in Mr. Jonas’ bottom line as he is.  Development and economic growth without end!  Little old Southwest Philly better get what piece of the pie we can because nothing is going to change.

I’m looking up from the crumb scrambling to ask, “Why don’t we all have a seat at the table?  Why is the host of this party being so rude?”  I know a solution will be hard to come by, but my main point is this:  I don’t want Money to be my master, or our master.  I think it’s messing us up.  And as a student of history and a believer in God’s promises I know this system will pass away in this age or the age to come.

Hear the ancient poet, Isaiah

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
    to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
    and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
    and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
    when disaster comes from afar? (context)

My preferred pie (seasonally appropriate)

The day of reckoning will come by some drastic shift in power (Empires do not last by definition) or by Jesus’ return (Yes, I went there).  Part of the Good News is that the corruption of our human systems will not last forever.  The humans who make them and participate won’t either.  I’m not hoping for their destruction; I’m hoping for the New Creation beyond the destruction of all things as we know them now, including my own persistent corruption.  My lament ends in the promise that Money will be silenced and abundance will be shared by all.  In one turn of the phrase, yes, my pie is in the sky, but it’s not just about what will happen in some cosmic future as that phrase often connotes.  Jesus broke the static nature of the present.  The future has broken in on the now.  Participation in Christ brings hope to me know, even hope for a corrupt and feeble city government.  I’m patiently impatient for the pie now and I’m going to bake all the approximations of the promise I can.  With the help of Jesus they might be enough for now.