Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: January 2017

I’m back on campus

Camden County College, Tell Me Your Story

Me and my new friend, Yelitza in the Cafeteria at Camden County College

Some of you heard the story of how I got kicked off Camden County College’s Blackwood campus last November for holding my “Tell Me Your Story” sign.

It caused a bit of a stir among my friends and people I didn’t even know. Someone egged me on to enroll in a class because the security official who booted me said I would be welcome only if I were a student. A bunch of people quickly helped me reach the $500 GoFundMe campaign goal I started (Thanks again!) and now I’M BACK ON CAMPUS!

My first day was Thursday. After my Digital Photography class (It’s basically just Photoshop 101 which I am totally interested in and it could come in handy as I communicate Circle of Hope’s unique vision) I went and sat in my old spot with my sign. Within 5 minutes I was having a great conversation with a new friend about his long distance relationship. Within 15 minutes I was confronted by security… again.

I thought last time it was the head of security, but this time it was actually the head of security. A guy named Steve. Nice guy. I’m not sure why they need to come out with the heavies, five deep to have a conversation with me, but that’s how they roll, I guess. Steve asked me if I was a student. I whipped out my shiny new student ID and John, the not head of security who I had spoken to before asked me if I attended classes. I told them how excited I was about learning Photoshop. Steve thought it was actually pretty great that I went and did what John had suggested, but he wanted to give me another hurdle. I had to go and talk with the Dean of Students to get permission to do my project.

The Dean, Jackie, was nice but in a hurry, so she asked me to send an email. This is what I wrote her:

Dear Dean Tenuto,

Thank you for seeing me in your office on Thursday to talk about my idea to listen to people’s stories on campus. You asked me to tell you why I wanted to do this.

It’s basically an expression of who I am and a gift I have to give to the campus. I always wanted to bring the power of a non-anxious presence “to the streets.” There’s something special about a non-judgmental ear with a stranger. I discovered this as a hospital chaplain, a career for which I am highly trained but no longer employed in full time. I recently moved to Camden County (I live in Haddon Township) and I thought the Blackwood Campus was one of the few places around that had a high enough concentration of available people to try my idea.

My plan is to sit in the “quad,” or whatever we call it outside” the Connector” building, with my “Tell Me Your Story” sign once a week for an hour or so. I did this a lot last semester on Wednesdays (before security asked me to leave) and it was a lot of fun. I only got positive feedback from the students. Now that I am a student, myself (I enrolled in a photography class mostly in defiance to the strange experience of being kicked off campus for what I thought was a beautiful thing), I think this exercise doesn’t really need sanction because it is a peer to peer connection that enriches the community and builds connection and kindness on campus. However, I submit to the request of campus security as I did in November.

Will you now give me permission to do this, please? Thank you.


Ben White

And I got permission! Now I’m free to do my beautiful thing and hopefully keep making friends. I was there yesterday but it was raining, so I was in the cafeteria. I’m looking for people who want to be the alternative with me. Jesus is building a Circle of Hope in South Jersey. I’m looking for those who want to expand our Good Story Telling and break down as many barriers between neighbors, classmates and even security officials as possible.

I actually hit the ground running

  1. It didn’t rain on the 4th day of January (today) so I went for a run. It IS New Year’s resolution time and all. I always take an opportunity to start or renew my discipline because I always need a chance to start again.

You may be like me. I’m an “all in” kind of guy. If I’m not going 100% toward my goal, if I fall off the wagon, if I don’t do what I said I was going to do perfectly, if I miss one day… I might as well just quit. What’s the point if it isn’t perfect? Hopefully you’re not like me, and hopefully I’m not like me this time either.

I was telling folks at our Sunday meeting at 3800 Marlton Pike this past Sunday, that we often aim for the wrong thing when we’re making resolutions. If we aim to BE something that we are not, we will probably never hit the mark, and we will probably quit quickly. But if we aim to DO something and get good at doing it we will be in better shape. BUT… the real spiritual genius is the person who aims to get good at not quitting. When we don’t do the thing we resolved to do and return to the discipline anyway. This is an area in which I need improvement. You might, too.

Didn’t make it this far (Cuthbert Blvd.) Tomorrow is another day!

Today I went running and, confession time, it totally sucked. I’ve been too long out of the habit. Mind you, I’ve run the 10 mile Broad Street Run in the past. I might have told you in the past that I actually like to run. Well I didn’t like it today. I ran to the Cooper River from my office in Pennsauken and back. It was two miles and I had to walk a couple times. I could be tempted to call this a total failure, not because it was, but because that’s the kind of guy I am (see above). But in those moments when I decided to throw my pasty legs back into a trot from a walk I felt a tiny triumph. I need to remember that triumph for next time so I’m writing a blog about it. I hope you can relate.

Rob Bell likes to talk about Hebrew words a lot. One of them he mentioned on his podcast again this week was T’Shuvah. Which often gets translated as “Repent” in English. But T’Shuvah comes from the Hebrew root that has to do with turning. It’s more like “come back!” than “Repent!” (i.e. “Stop sinning” or “Change your mind”). Returning is the key to spiritual discipline and discipline of any kind. You don’t need to succeed at your discipline every time. Be good at straying from your plan and returning to it. We need as many New Year’s days as we can get.

Remember (which is another way to return), you don’t need to become someone you are not, you need to return to who you really are. This body of mine can run, and I am returning to that. What can you do that you would like to return to? God is saying, “come back!”