Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: July 2015

Ambition like Paul’s

Paul says in Romans 15:20 and 21, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.  Rather, as it is written:

“Those who were not told about him will see,
    and those who have not heard will understand.”

Paul sees himself as integral to fulfilling the prophecy from long ago about the many nations who will be touched by the suffering servant in Isaiah 52. He is sent to those who were not told and those who have not heard. He hopes to help them see and understand. He’s got pretty big goals, but they are given to him by God.

Can we see ourselves in the same way that Paul sees himself? Are we not surrounded by a nation that hasn’t been told and hasn’t heard? Maybe they’ve been told a little or heard a little but many have not seen or understood. They haven’t been told enough or heard enough, or they’ve been told and heard too much of the wrong thing. There are many, many people in our area of South Jersey who have not been introduced to the real Jesus in a way that they could see and understand.

The best way we as Circle of Hope tell our story is by including people in it. Our community gives people in our region of South Jersey a unique opportunity to see and hear. We really do believe that in relationships with real Christians, being real with each other, people grow in their faith and come to faith for the first time. Jesus shows up when we show up. He shows up in other ways but we’ve seen him do it enough this way to build our whole strategy around it.

The Circle of Hope Summer Tour is headed to Cinnaminson tonight. There’s a concert in Wood Park. I have not been anywhere in Cinnaminson off of 130. It’s new territory for me. I feel a bit like Paul trying to get to Rome and then to Spain where he can build something on no existing foundation. Circle of Hope doesn’t have any people in Cinnaminson, but Cinnaminson has a bunch of people. We’re going to show up and see if we can’t find a friend or two in the little time we have. I don’t know what God will do but I know that God is doing, and people do want to be a part of that, even if they’re not sure they would say it that way just now. Let’s expand the territory. Let’s test our ambition.

You may not be the type to just show up at a public event and see if you can make a friend. Of course that’s okay. But pray for us who are giving it a shot, and take courage when you find yourself meeting someone who hasn’t been told and hasn’t heard. They could see you. They could understand you. And if they know a real Christian living his or her real life in a real community, they might see and understand Jesus too. I think there’s a pretty good chance in fact.

Love is at the center of every cell

My cell is about to multiply and we’re making the new teams that will lead the two cells that come out of the old one. We’re so into the organic metaphor that we call the leadership team of the cell the nucleus. There’s a leader, an apprentice leader and a host. Each person has an important role to play but the relationships within the team are probably even more important than the functions of each player. The love at the center of the cell is what holds it together.

But it’s not like me and my new team have known each other forever. This love did not grow completely organically for the normal reasons that human relationships grow and develop. We are choosing to love each other. It’s fairly artificial and could pretty easily be phony if Jesus weren’t at the center too.

The nucleus of the universe, so to speak is God and even within God’s self there is a loving community.  Theologians call it the immanent trinity–that which is happening within God’s self. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit express God’s relational nature. It’s an incredible presumption but it seems like a good way to understand the way God reveals God’s self to us in scripture. Not only do we relate to God in these three ways but the persons of the Trinity relate to one another. It’s the Divine Community. God doesn’t only relate; God is relating. God doesn’t only love; God is love (And John backs me up on that!)

A fancy word for how these paradox works is perichoresis.  It’s a theological term that describe the mutual indwelling of each of the persons in the Trinity.  They are separate persons but not in our modern individualistic sense.  Their common eternal love binds them in such a way that they are one.  Thus Jesus can be God and not God the Father.

They are separate but not separate.  And they aren’t static.  There is no space within God that is owned by one person autonomously.  Jurgen Moltmann describes perichoresis as an eternal dance of love.  Perichoresis is a compound word. Peri means “around” (think of the word perimeter). Choreia shares the a root with “choreography.” It means “to dance.” Taken together, the word literally means “to dance around.”  The Divine Community is a dance.  It’s not a thing or a group of things or people.  It’s an action.

And for it to be any fun you have to get on the floor and dance. Our flash mob choreography in Circle of Hope is the Cell Multiplication plan. We form a nucleus that has our dancing God at the center of it. We can depend on the power of our ordinary human relating to bind a larger group together because God is in our relating. Often we start relating for the sole purpose of our common mission. It’s almost mechanical, like we’re just doing the practiced steps that we said we would do in our cell multiplication plan–like it’s a waltz and this is ballroom dance lessons, but soon we feel the music and really dance–God really happens–now we’re really dancing.

I’m already sorely missing my cell as it is now for a couple more weeks, especially my nucleus, Pat and Jenny. I really do love them, and we’ve only been leading a cell together for 5 months. But that’s how it is with God. I’m grateful for partners like them and the rest of my cell. I’m excited to start the dance all over again with my new teammates, Nicole and Lauren, and confident that God will expand our community as a never ending source of love between us.



Beach Reading: Good Christian Fiction

Summer is for many of us a time to unplug and relax. Tons of people love a good beach read. But let’s be honest, most of us aren’t reading several different books at a time. We’re reading one book at a time and it might take us a while to get though it. There are ways to unwind and relax, but at the same time learn and grow. Why not read a book that edifies your soul on the beach? Why not let your imagination be filled with the depth of human experience and the often untouched longing for God? Sounds great, right? But too much of media labeled as “Christian” is heavy handed or cliche. I’ve found some legit English literature for your summer reading list. Here’s my top 3 authors:

1) Marilynne Robinson: I have fallen in love with the town of Gilead, Iowa. Marilynne Robinson has written three novels about the complex interior lives of 2 families living in a small town in Iowa in the 1950s. The families are led by two pastors. Rev. John Ames and Rev. Robert Boughton. The New York Times Book Critic A.O. Scott said in 2008, “Gilead” (2006) and “Home” (2008) stand together, in part, as twinned portraits of these godly, elderly patriarchs.” The stories of the 2 novels occur during the same chronology but from completely different perspectives and are filled with beautiful language and sage observations of life with God. The third novel, Lila (2014), tells the story of Rev. Ames’ wife. It superbly describes the fear and shame of being known by an intimate partner and by the Intimate Partner.

2) Penelope Wilcox: You may have heard one of the pastors at Circle of Hope demanding that you read the Hawk and the Dove trilogy (which now has nine volumes). The Hawk and the Dove centers around a 14th century monastery in England and the men that work and pray there. The main character, Father Peregrine, who is known for his hawkish severity, learns through tragedy the gentleness of the dove and of Jesus. The love he learns to kindle in his community is tearfully brilliant.  Penelope Wilcox really gets the human heart and the heart of Jesus. Not as masterfully written prose as Marilynne Robinson, but more explicitly Christian. She says, “My aim in writing is to make goodness attractive.”

3) Flannery O’Connor: She is probably best known for her short stories, which may be the perfect beach read because they do not require a prolonged attention. The themes in her stories revolve around morality and Jesus, but in a strange and revealing way. The feel is often dark and the meaning is not always clear but she is definitely tugging on the strings of the heart and soul. She captures the terrible beauty of many points of Christian Theology. “The River” which can be found in the collection “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is probably one of my favorite stories, but its goodness is too hard not to spoil. Just read it! If you must have a novel, her novel “Wiseblood” is on my list for beach reading next week. I’ll tell you how it goes.

Happy Reading!

You Have Enough – And Other Unpatriotic Sentiments

I recently learned that the location of our sharing garden in front of Circle of Hope at 3800 Marlton Pike in Pennsauken, NJ is where a war memorial once stood. In front of the fire house the patriotic firemen had installed a plaque to honor the war dead for the sacrifice on the altar of freedom. It was the “Highland Honor Roll” listing men from the area who died in World War II.  I love how we have superimposed sharing vegetables over top of that site. I don’t know what happened to the memorial but it never could have stayed on our property. Not because these men were dishonorable but because the cult of war is inherently anti-Christ.

Chris Hedges explained why very well in his 2002 ought-to-be-classic book, “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”,

“In the beginning war looks and feels like love. But unlike love it gives nothing in return but an ever-deepening dependence, like all narcotics, on the road to self-destruction. It does not affirm but places upon us greater and greater demands. It destroys the outside world until it is hard to live outside war’s grip. It takes a higher and higher dose to achieve any thrill. Finally, one ingests war only to remain numb.”

The US public is addicted to war and it’s underlying myth of redemptive violence because changing our minds would cost the legacy of the men of the Highland Honor Roll too much. We have written a story about them that requires the virtue of their death in service to our freedom as its primary moral. Whatever other meaning they may have made in their living pales in comparison to the death they gave. And there are enough of these little plaques all over the country to build a giant temple to the god of war who demands our allegiance like heroin demands an addict’s vein.

On the Fourth of July we are reminded to revere these lives for their participation in this addiction. I revere them for their belovedness and the tenderness that they demonstrated in their death. They remind us that no matter the reason war is about killing. They motivate me to find other ways to make the world a better place. Can we work just as hard at peace as the governments of the world do at war?

The sharing garden is an anti-war, pro-Christ sign of goodness in the world. We have enough to share just for sharing sake. We want to be known for saying “there is enough.” There is enough for you–there is enough for me–there is enough for everyone in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the anti-demand, the anti-addiction, the anti-destruction because he is the invitation giver, the satisfaction provider, and the creation starter and finisher.

This ends up being incredibly unpatriotic because we have decided as a nation to make our addiction around a very fragile lie. If I say there is enough then we don’t need another fix. If I share instead of protect what’s mine I refuse participation in what defines us as a nation. Of course I’m not alone in sharing. I’m not alone in saying “there is enough.” Others may say this but I think the only sufficient underwriting for those claims is the promise of God’s Kingdom fully come. Because the world is complex. Many do not have enough. Our government is not poised to change its central myth and we will need to deal with that messy reality for now.

That’s why the sharing garden is just a sign–a symbol of our allegiance, and thus worthy of a pledge, or a fireworks show, or a memorial. Thankfully it points to a reality much more substantial than the meaning drawn from the veins of soldiers. The promise is real. When Jesus says “that’s enough.” It’s enough.