Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: March 2015

Dialogue keeps us connected and protects our gravity

Praying for our new bishop

This weekend I went to the meeting of the Atlantic Conference of the Brethren in Christ (the denomination of which Circle of Hope is a part) and I was reminded of how strange and beautiful the people called Circle of Hope really are.  I live in a trust system and I regularly have dialogue that is uncomfortable and/or unresolved all the time. We don’t agree to disagree, we agree to agree- constantly striving to be of one mind even when we have to hold our disagreements in tension for a while. We are bound together in love, not in a common thought system or ideology. This love takes mutuality and time, which our current strategy for conference meetings does not give us.  The meeting is way too short for the 300 or so people who were there to connect in any real way and the topics of conversations were too minute for us to have any room for meaningful dialogue.  We weren’t asking the sort of questions that could unite us in a common cause.  We weren’t figuring out how to do what God was calling us to do. We were showing up out of fealty to an organization we love.  That’s why I went–not because I felt it was vital to our mission, but because I felt a sense of duty to the Brethren in Christ.  I think we can make those meetings vital to our mission. Just add a whole lot more dialogue.  Here’s what Circle of Hope says about dialogue in our proverbs.

Dialogue keeps us connected and protects our gravity

  • Everyone is recovering from the sin addiction; expect conflict.

  • We want to achieve our way through the danger and opportunity of conflict: being affirming and assertive, concerned with relationships and goals.

  • Forgiveness is the root of our love; because we are flawed, loving each other is not always easy. We practice Matthew 18. Our body is held together by a dialogue of love.

  • Truth without loves kills, while love without truth lies.

  • Engaging in healthy dialogue is what keeps us real. We want everyone among us to experience respect and understanding as they explore what they think and feel.

  • Jesus is living the greatest mutiny ever – we should not waste our rebellion on each other.

  • Everybody gets listened to, but people who make and nurture disciples and who make love happen get listened to more.

Sunrise through the snowy mist

In my new role as pastor of Circle of Hope at Marlton and Crescent I am searching for ways to make dialogue happen. I see our sense of ourselves as a team increase when we get together to tackle a task, whether it’s fixing the roof, multiplying cells or making our Public Meetings incredible spaces for encountering God. I have witnessed my new congregation already adeptly living this out and I’m looking for ways to help us do it even more. This probably means more meetings.  Meetings get a bad rep because its easy to think that talk is cheap, but if we remember that in authentic dialogue we are making real connections with others and protecting our gravity we can rescue meetings from that bad rep. Can we be so bold as to say with Paul in Romans 1:11 “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong–” If this were the thought of each of the delegates of the Brethren in Christ Atlantic Conference (which I think it is for most) and we had enough time to express that to one another (which is not the case) then the drive across half the state would continue to entice me, and for better (and more sustainable) reasons than the ones with which I went.

(BONUS- we did get to express our mutuality in prayer and support of Bryan Hoke- our new bishop, and I was up early enough to see the sun explode the snow in a beautiful misty sunrise over a Lancaster County field)

Jesus is Still Best Revealed Incarnationally

IMG_4867You’re the best Bible most folks are ever going to read.  That’s true if you are a follower of Jesus, even a “bad” one in your own estimation, because most people are NEVER going to read the Bible.  Even though a majority of Americans believe in God and even though there’s still a “Bible-Belt” where most people do go to church every Sunday, a Christian doing the things that are recommended, commanded or described in the Bible is still a much better for someone to meet Jesus than most other ways.

In Circle of Hope we say we must be doers of the word because we want our community to be an environment in which people get to know Jesus in the flesh- our flesh.  So we are serious about all the stuff that’s in the Bible, especially the stuff Jesus said- even the hard stuff like loving our enemies, confessing our sins to one another, forgiving 70X7.  Of course we don’t do this perfectly–we don’t even do it well sometimes, but we have created a system that consistently engenders people to try.  Jesus responds to our intention by giving us the Holy Spirit when we come up short.

There was evidence of this on Monday night when 35 people came to Pennsauken to study our Cell Plan together.  I was inspired by the amount of interest in creating little discovery zones for people in our region, and hopeful for what God might do with the group of people who gathered.  During the training, I gave a little explanation of this chart.

presentation evangelism vs incarnational mission

There is room for you before you “get it” or even “get with it.”  It’s not our job to judge you.  We are not even supposed to judge ourselves if we follow the example of Paul (1 Corinthians 4:3) and John (1 John 3:20).  I don’t know how you can follow the presentation evangelism model and not judge people before they can get in.  Some folks are trying to do something different but end up doing the same thing only now without a tie.  Coming at evangelism like the collumn on the left is like putting up a wall.  Jesus is a stumbling block for a lot of people!  Their hearts are hard and often for good reason.  Demanding allegiance before they can feel it is just a bad idea, and the proof is in the pudding as the Bible Belt cinches smaller and smaller so to speak and the “nones” (those who claim no religious affiliation) grow.

So yes, Jesus is still best revealed incarnationally.  Circle of Hope is proof of that.  I’m trusting he will be revealed in my cell tonight.  It’s in Barrington, NJ, want to explore?

Waking Up- Using Lent as a Season of Examination

Antibodies-attacking-a-virus1I find there is great comfort in specificity. So much of what pulls my heart around is more a general sense of something, a nagging disease with some unidentified something, a cloudy shadow of something.  But what is it?!  Why do I find myself sighing sometimes, or fearing sometimes, or discovering new unhappiness sometimes.

It’s good to ask with the psalmist, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?”  The psalmist goes right on to hope but I like to wait there for a good long while.  I need to be undisturbed.  I need to get to the specific things that are causing these feelings.  Sometimes it’s impossible.  Sometimes I don’t have patience to get there, but Oh, when I do, specificity is hot cocoa and a fireplace on a heart’s wintry night.

During Lent at Circle of Hope we are examining these things which generate so much turmoil for us.  We’re waking up to the darkness around us and with in us. We’re holding off the judgment and letting Christ’s resurrection life raise us from the dead–we’e letting Christ’s light shine on the untouched coldness of us and our world.

The specifics of Lent are of the body- like the human body.  The real wounds of Jesus are the nail holes in his hands, his speared side, the gauges in his head, and the lash marks on his back.  We identify with that suffering for forty days, not in a grotesque or morbid sort of way as some have in my opinion, but following our connection, even body to body.  We take on disciplines which remind us in our body to connect with God.  Fasting, feeling hungry.  Praying, living on more than bread.  We take communion every week to ingest something of God symbolically, and to be an actual people united in the remembrance.  It all couples very nicely with my call to specificity in the face of angst.

My body is like Jesus’ body.  But I eagerly await a new and resurrected body.  My hope is not pie in the sky. It is a new left forearm with no screws in it.  It is a right ear with no throbbing behind its infected drum.  It is illness free and soft skinned.  It is glorious and beyond my imagination.  I have a specific hope.  Jesus made the way for that hope through a specific time and place and a very specific death.  I want a world in which there are no more tears of sorrow.  I can name a million things that make me cry.  I will spend eternity remembering millions of things that no longer do, and I will rejoice.

So I want to be that specific now.  I want to start the list during Lent and mourn the broken, dark somethings that would usually beg to be ignored.  We are reminded in 1 John that  “God is light;in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”  Walking in the light is not ignoring the things that are in the dark.  I imagine myself strolling around my heart as a glow-in-the-dark version of myself illuminating all the corners of my interior house.  Or walking across a map of the world or just our region and leaving iridescent foot prints.  And of course, the light is God.

At the Public Meeting on Sunday night I was thinking about how are bodies get specific. The leukocytes attack infection and one type takes samples from the invading pathogen and takes it back to a lab where other cells make antigens for it.  The antigens are specifically designed for that particular pathogen and thus very effective in subduing it.  I promised to post this video which had me amazed out how well our bodies can work, even if they are suited for a hostile world. My prayer is that we might be so amazing in our battles against the darkness. It’s work. God help us.