Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: February 2017

Eulogy for the Pinelands

Today I wept tears as I saw the writing on the wall of the Crowne Plaza Ballroom in Cherry Hill. So many of us were there to say “no” to a proposed pipeline conceived to send freshly fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania through the Pinelands to a coastal power plant in Egg Harbor Bay; and yet I knew that the commissioners of the New Jersey Pineland Commission were going to say “yes.” Yes to bottom lines and short term gains. I had my two sons with me. Two boys who I am currently trying to teach how to love the woods. Oliver, 6, asked me when we left before the vote was cast (He had to go to afternoon kindergarten). “What are we going to do if they say “yes.” I told him, “We’ll just have to keep saying ‘no.”

The pipeline is going under a road or in the shoulder for much of it’s 22 mile encroachment in the preserved area. It is likely that much of this landscape of my adopted state will remain preserved during construction, at least until the pipe leaks. I will be able to teach Oliver and Theo how to love the woods there still, but I feel weak against the logic of consumption, and the potential meaninglessness of my “no”– of our “no.” The forest will survive this, but I still feel like something or someone is dead. The foolishness of this vote brings to mind 1 Corinthians 1:18. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I’m smelling some perishing. There is rot in the air. I’m worried it’s in me, terrified it will be in my boys, certain it is in this decision and most of our governments decisions, and slowly becoming resigned to the reality that it is in New Jersey’s Pinelands.

And so I offer this poem as a eulogy and a prayer for the Pinelands:

The sandy soil soaks up sound,
And the needles in the trees don’t shake.
The stillness there is haunting
So bring out your Devil stories.

But the stillness is a welcome cure
To city folk like me
Who need some quiet whispers
And tannin tea stained shorts.

At the summit of a hill named after pie,
Where the sky and trees are endless,
I can smile and in my smaller way can say
That so am I

The Devils live in bottom lines,
Spreadsheets and excellent lies
Of those who should say no
But die instead with yes.

I pray with all the people
Who want more than just what’s theirs;
Who want what’s ours and what’s my sons’:
Trees, water, birds and air!

May your no be no,
And your yes be yes.
You said these words yourself.
Jesus, this time my no is no.

Cells are Resistance

Cells are my resistance movement. And this moment in time demands resistance. I’m pretty sure I would be in utter despair if I didn’t have a cell. Circle of Hope organizes into circles of ten we call “cells” where we do the actual work of being Christians together- loving, laughing, lamenting and including the next person. Cells teach me how diverse people can actually love each other. Loving across boundaries is something I witness and practice, not just something I believe in. If this were all just an intellectual exercise, fueled by the power of my own conviction, I would be depressed. Many people I know are depressed. I think they need a cell. They need a place where God does the miraculous work of knitting us together in love. We participate, mind you; our mutuality is hard won. We have to trust each other with our guard down long enough to acclimate to our togetherness. Humans are tempted to default to separation, self-protection, bald categorization… but in cells we resist that temptation and our resistance can transform the world.

Everyone is talking about xenophobia this week. Some are on the defensive against the accusation. ¬†Others are on the attack, accusing someone else. It seems we’re all thinking about our fear of¬†strangers (xenos=stranger in Greek). Donald Trump’s executive order has suspended immigration from countries said to be full of dangerous strangers. And it has pushed the country’s conversation from seething disagreement to shouting freak-out.

I am amazed at how foreign many of my neighbors have become to me in the short aftermath. How did YOU get caught up in the wisdom of “America First”? Really, YOU’RE into this too? Why does Trump’s rhetoric appeal to YOU? I’m trying to nurture surprise and curiosity rather than outrage. If I plan on loviing someone long enough for them to trust me, I can’t start with outrage (but I do understand why some folks are leaning in to that anger right now.) I’m trying to live out the reality that our common humanity unites us. Jesus came to teach us exactly what that looks like, which is love for people who are radically different. He crossed boundaries, included strangers, and told us to do the same, explicitly. So I’m practicing loving refugees and people who are scared of refugees.

The goal is loving well. We do not need to have a refugee live in our home to be obedient, though that would be a sure-fire way to ace the test (if it were a test). We can love the people we are actually with. We can hold our hands at our sides even when our instincts are telling us in error that we are certainly going to get punched in the face. We need to be saved form our certainty that the other wishes to do us harm. We need to resist the division in our hearts that is getting built into massive walls. Cells are a place to do that for real. Our cells are a resistance movement. Yes, go to the marches if you need to, but don’t think your normal togetherness is not revolutionary. Let’s not get divided up. I defy the empire that wishes to divide and conquer us. I will love and be loved even when it’s hard to do that. Jesus will help. This is my primary form of resistance.

My cell meets on Thursdays in Gloucester City, NJ. HMU if you want to get in on it.