Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: April 2015

Circle of Hope Summer Tour: South Jersey Style 2015

Circle of Hope is going to show up where South Jersey gathers. There are people around who want to know what we are doing and they even want to do it, but they don’t know about us. So we need to get out there and be noticed. The first thing I know to do to get noticed is to hand out flyers.  Luke Bartolomeo designed this funky one for us.  I like. It might catch an eye or two. But really the flyer is best used to start a conversation. I was trying this out at the Camden County Community College Spring Fling yesterday.IMG_5332

One guy considerately gave me back my flyer saying, “I don’t want to just throw your flyer away, maybe someone else wants it.”

I pushed back, “That’s okay maybe someone else you know wants it. You can throw it away though too. It’s all good.”

“No I’m Wiccan. I’m not interested.” He answered.

“Oh, well I’m interested in that! Tell me more.”

After a five minute conversation he decided to keep the flyer. He said most Christians he has known wouldn’t have responded to him the way I did and he might like to check out the church if I was the pastor. He gave me his cell phone number too so we could keep in touch.

That was interesting! How easy is it to make a connection?! How many people are actually interested in a Christian who isn’t going to judge them at the door, or even the handshake. This guy is young and he’s trying to figure life out. He’s finding some truth in Wicca right now, so be it. If he’s friends with me he might find some truth in Christianity that he thought wasn’t there in his previous investigations. The bar is very low it seems for exceeding many people’s expectations of what an actual Christian looks like.

Even if it’s too awkward to have a conversation with people like the one I had, I think it’s still a good idea to show up where a bunch of people are gathered and be a conspicuous presence, even if it’s just with flyers. I think it’s God’s favorite scene to work in obscurity. God’s chosen people are a tiny insignificant nation in the grand scope of civilization’s history. Jesus showed up in a shed on the outskirts of town in a colonial backwater and when he grew up he always begged people to keep a lid on his true identity.  Paul’s disciples in Corinth are ordinary people “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” Circle of Hope may follow in that tradition.  I promise you, I won’t be on TBN, ever. But I also hope that even the flyers we distribute can carry that mantle.

Despite all that obscurity in God’s story, Jesus is known all over the world, including in South Jersey where we find ourselves so many years later. Who knows what some half sheet of paper could do. It could connect a partner that becomes the next pastor of our movement! It could find it’s way into the purse of the sister of someone’s friend who is on a spiritual search and just so happens to know your coworker. Did that even make sense? It might not but we don’ have to make sense of it, we just have to get out there and enjoy our people. Someone might want to be a partner and get to know Jesus too.

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Hope Bigger Than Just Hype

jjandeI believe that a coffin sized rectangle of reclaimed lumber in the front yard of Circle of Hope’s repurposed firehouse in Pennsauken will change the world. We put some fresh soil in it and we’re going to grow some food then offer the produce free to passersby. This will destroy the forces of evil. Sounds grandiose, right? It is, and it’s overblown, but it’s our only hope.

It’s our only hope because in order to do anything at all (and the things we do are often small- like planting a raised bed in our yard) we need to have hope that it matters to something bigger. I think transcendence is a basic human need. We are built to desire a connection to something greater than ourselves. We all hope in some way that our tininess contributes to a bigger whole, like when Mother Theresa said “We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”

Our 20 or so square feet of garden will change the world because it is a drop in an ocean of goodness that has its source in Jesus’ redemption project for the world. We are participating in a future that has already been promised by the most trustworthy of promisers, God himself. The world is going to change one way or another. My hope is in Jesus’ return and his establishing a new order that blows all our best guesses at heaven out of the water, but in the mean time the world will change because we are not alone in our tiny acts of hope. The inevitability of the peaceable kingdom that is promised to us in the Bible works its way under my fingernails in the dirt of our garden to be and deep into my heart in my practice of hope.

It’s so much easier not to try after all. There are a lot of reasons not to. The impossibility of the task- it seems like it’s the ocean against our little drop. We’re more worried than ever about being consumed because that is what we are most interested in doing collectively as a culture. So even when we are inclined to put our hope into action, we are often defeated by anti-hope forces like our own cynicism, the immensity of the domination system, and fear. Last night at my cell meeting we were kind of overwhelmed by the question “Do we have to change the world?” I think most of us hoped the answer was no. We don’t want that responsibility and we certainly don’t want to be judged for not caring.

These sort of discussions in abstract always seem to devolve into shame and apathy. We think we should be successful at anything we attempt, and if the prospect of success is slim to none we’d usually rather not try. But if we change our ethic from one of success to one of witness we’ll have a much better shot even if the numbers haven’t budged. Our metric for success can be faithfulness to the certain hope of the future of the Kingdom of God. Then it matters what we actually do and how we actually do it. It’s about what is real and not as much about an abstract evaluation of it’s effect.

So I planted a raised bed with my friends. It’s going to change the world- maybe just by maintaining our own capacity to hope, maybe just in sharing some locally grown veggies for no reason but love, maybe just by pointing to a future in God’s Kingdom in which everything has changed.

To serve or not to serve?

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Here are some servants from our neighborhood cleanup on Saturday

To quote the bard (not that one, Dylan), “You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame, You may be living in another country under another name. But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes”

If we listen to Bob the question in the title of this blog may be irrelevant. Bob just wants us to choose who we’re going to serve. His options are “the Devil and the Lord”, and maybe our existence boils down to that dichotomy, but I think it’s more complex and thus worth asking the question.

For most of the Christians I know, especially my partners in Circle of Hope, it’s not really of question of whether or not they will serve but how they might serve. In Circle of Hope there are tons of ways to be involved! Cell leading and hosting, Public Meeting teams, maintaining our building, taking care of kids, counting money, compassion teams… I haven’t listed them all but you could pretty much fill up your whole schedule with “doing stuff.”

Someone who finds themselves in that predicament might ask the question “to serve or not to serve?” I’m not trying to give you an answer but I will give us 4 filtering questions to consider as we answer the question for ourselves.

1) Can anyone else do it? Jesus said “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.” This is a promise as much as it is a prophecy of the inevitable. If you demonstrate your capacity in one thing you will be asked to do other things because others have seen how available and capable you are. You could say yes to every need but you might also consider how you could train someone else to do one of your things. Can you replace yourself? This could be an opportunity for discipleship. If no one else can do it, then you probably should, even if you don’t want to do it that much. Our collective need is an important factor in your decision I hope. Your gifts were not given to you alone. (Romans 12)

2) Do you like doing it? Our desires are not inconsequential. We will do what we love the best just because that’s the way we work. Some tasks are, however, not very lovable. There are those weird people who really enjoy the satisfaction of mopping floors. If that’s you, then you should probably join our cleaning team because you are a rare bird. Figuring out how to like your task even if it isn’t a natural “fit” for you is important too. Choosing to enjoy something is not a popular notion, nor is it an impossible one. You can choose to serve in way that is not ideal for you. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9) The last part of this verse is the most commonly quoted, but I want to highlight the first part. We can decide in our hearts what to give of ourselves and be content with that. This verse implies our active role in the decision. That’s what I’m hoping to stir up in this post.

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This servant is a personal favorite of mine (my son, Oliver)

3) What is the need? At our Circle of Hope outpost in South Jersey there is plenty of need. We have an awesome building that is well situated in our target area but it takes work to have a big property like ours (snow removal, weeding, roof fixing, litter clean-up). We also have a lot of big ideas about how we want to be the church- artful Public Meetings which require lots of attention and creativity, and cells that all have at least three leaders- cell leader, apprentice and host. You may be in a season in which you feel like you want to hang back–you’re tapped spiritually and emotionally–there’s too much to be involved in–“Do I have to do it all?” You may ask.  The answer is, of course, “No.” There are any number of good things you can do with your time, but I’m banking on the fact that you want Circle of Hope to thrive and you are taking the needs of the community into account along side your own needs. Again, you’re not in this alone.

4) Does God want you to do it? This is probably the most important and probably the hardest to answer. The temptation is to get caught up in our human relationships and the human organization. It’s easier to react to people who are right in front of you than attune our spirit to God’s voice. Our initial reactions to being asked to do something or our consistent resistance to doing what we really want to do could just be the noise that drowns out what God is saying.

Blessings as you discern how you will use your gifts for our common enterprise!

Energy Teleportation and New Life in Christ

A few months ago scientists were able to transfer information stored in a photon across a distance of 25 kilometers. I can’t totally understand what the science communicators are trying to tell me despite some significant head scratching. Here’s a link to one of the articles I read [link]. Just the idea that information is regularly transmitted via photon is mind blowing to me. This is the basic of quantum computing research.

The quantum computer, following the laws of quantum physics, would gain enormous processing power through the ability to be in multiple states, and to perform tasks using all possible permutations simultaneously. Current centers of research in quantum computing include MIT, IBM, Oxford University, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Source [http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/quantum-computing] 

Oliver in his Bike Parade splendor

Oliver in his Bike Parade splendor

This is probably just a very over-wrought metaphor I’m spinning here, but I felt like a quantum computer on Sunday, in a good way. It was Easter and we were celebrating the Resurrection. We get up early on Resurrection Sunday in Circle of Hope to greet the Risen Lord at the break of dawn just like the women did in the gospel accounts. I rode my bike with my friends in our annual “Jesus is Risen Bike Parade.” Oliver came along.

After a feastly feast for brunch the only predictable thing to do would be to take a glorious Lord’s Day nap. Instead I went to our Public Meeting space at 3800 Marlton Pike and tore the whole place up in a flourish of creativity. I hadn’t planned to redesign our meeting space.  I had wanted to do it but had done little to make it a practical reality. Nonetheless I felt crazy enough to go for it and with the help of some unsuspecting friends who just happened to be there we made a big change in our meeting space and added some much needed extra space in our meeting room for the 30 people we plan to include this year. It was tons of fun! A bit of a mad dash, but all the more exhilarating for it.

Now I am a naturally energetic person, but this was uncanny even for me. I felt the New Life of the Resurrection making me giddy with my hair-brained scheme. There was no immediate need for this change, but it was such perfect timing with our liturgical season that it felt like it had to be done- and it was done.

It’s easy to depend upon our own meager resources in this crazy hair-brained scheme called the Kingdom of God. We can be discouraged, or limit ourselves based on the evidence of our previous experience or just our tiny faith. That’s not an insult, it’s just a fact. Our faith is tiny. Our hearts are weak. Our bodies are even weaker. So be it and so it is. Jesus’ faithfulness survived death. Jesus’ love is greater than our hearts. And Jesus’ body is resurrected! He is all we need.

There were no quantum physics involved in the energy transfer I experienced on Sunday but the feeling of extra juice was more than a sugar rush. Our joy is in Jesus and he does make himself known–and across a much greater distance than a mere 25 kilometers.