Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: December 2019

Top 5 Posts of 2019 on “Today, if You Hear My Voice”

Dear Readers,

The year, of course, is winding down so let’s look back on the past twelve months of “Today, if you hear my voice:” I named my blog after Hebrews 3 in which the author meditates on the necessity to tend our hearts to keep them soft. It seems that hearts harden so quickly. I’m looking for people in South Jersey who have soft hearts — those who have been softened by Jesus already and are looking for ways to stay soft, and those who are softened by their circumstances or their psychologies or by the Holy Spirit before they can even name that. I love telling stories about who I’m meeting and what I’m doing with the softhearted crew at Circle of Hope, 3800 Marlton Pike in Pennsauken, NJ. The discipline of reflecting and amplifying my experiences helps me  tend my heart as much as I hope it helps my readers know God and act for redemption.

Here are the top five read posts I wrote in 2019. I’ll give you a little context and a quote if you’re just scanning, but I’d love to hear from you about what has been most stimulating or helpful to you.

“If/When” album cover art by Kendra McGowan

1. Call God the Pulse: New Language from a New Album 

A couple of Circle of Hope’s resident musical geniuses (yes we have many), Dan and Pat McGowan released an album in July called “If/When” with their band, The Tea Club. It has been amazing. When they played “Creature,” the almost thirty minute track that this post walks through, at their penultimate show of their US Tour at Underground Arts in Philadelphia, I wept worshipful tears of joy with my hands raised in praise. “All will be revealed/All will see the wisdom/All will be restored/All will know forgiveness/All your creatures long for the new creation/Where boundaries of death are ever failing.” My Advent hope for Jesus’ deliverance and ultimate return to set things right in this ruined age swelled to brimming.

2. Nobody Wants to Deny the Flesh: Audre Lorde and Jesus on the Erotic 

By chance I ended up at a lecture at Uncle Bobbie’s coffee shop in Germantown, Philadelphia. I was struck by Adrienne Maree Brown‘s book-long riff on an essay Audre Lorde wrote in the seventies.  “All that is erotic has been defined as sinful, probably because not enough men gouged out their eyes or cut off their members. Instead they controlled women and denied the potential erotic in themselves because it came less naturally and because it was harder to share the feeling and not just use others.” I have been tuning in to the erotic, rightly defined, as a source of natural revelation. Enjoying pleasure as a gift from God is a better way to master sin that simple abnegation.

They are superimposed together in this image — perfect.

3. Bieber and Sheeran Channel Our Loneliness to Number One 

Remember “I Don’t Care” this summer? “I don’t like nobody but you 🎵”  I’ve always loved the phenomenology of pop music. Pop is our modern day hymnal. We worship unconsciously, but it definitely gets to the core of our cultural desire, every . single. time.  “We are all suffering from this unquenchable longing yet we are all surrounded by other people who we know are just like us. We are all led around by the same thirst. And no one is pouring any water! Everyone is hoarding it in some sort of mass prophetic performance of the future wars we will wage for H20! ”

Breathe by McKayla Smitson

4. Bible Verse for When I’m Feeling Down?

I wanted to give some practical advice. I should probably try that more on this blog. If you’re having a problem what do 90% of people do first? They google it. A bunch of the top results for this google search term are terrible, ad riddled, and simplistic. I think scripture is better breathed than brained. We need to feel God’s love. Slice off a little nub of Bible and chew on it. Make it into a little mantra that you can put on repeat. One of my favorites is from Romans 8:38 “Nothing can ever separate us from the love of God.” It’s a mantra if you can breathe it. Breathe in “Nothing can ever separate us.” Breathe out “From the love of God.”

Mt. Katahdin’s Knife Edge

5. Yo, Mountains are Big, Even Bigger Than Me

A coffee shop date with a friend led to some big insight. “Scott was hiking Mount Katahdin’s Knife Edge Trail in Maine where at several points the passage is not quite 24 inches wide with shear cliffs on either side. I was on Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park which winds across the Continental Divide at Logan Pass in a dizzying feat of engineering. Scott is objectively cooler, but I had a five year old in my party, sooo…  Despite the difference in transport, our experience of scale was the same. We were acutely aware at the regular smallness of our usual existence when we found ourselves in wild places where sky and stone are indomitable. We were resized in our own estimation by the magnitude of inhuman proportions.”

BONUS: A Paean to “A.D. Kingdom and Empire” on Netflix 

Also, 29,000 people read a post I wrote about my love for “AD: Kingdom and Empire” on Netflix in August, 2018. It got discovered by Google’s algorithm at the beginning of 2019 and by Easter it was being read by thousands each month. Search “AD Kingdom and Empire” and I’m the fourth page. We are all searching for a season two of this show. #BringBackAD ! Lots of love in the comments, too!

Thanks for reading. Again, send me some feedback. I’d love to hear from you. Tell me what to write about, tell me how my writing has effected you, tell me your story. tell me what you think. I would SO love any and all of that.

 

Try as you might, you can’t take Christ out of Christmas (so don’t worry about it)

(This post was originally posted at circleofhope.net on our main blog) Have you noticed that they keep churning out Christmas movies that make no mention of Jesus? America’s holiday gods have a different mythology, but I don’t think they have escaped the Good News despite their best efforts. No matter the situational comedy of the film, the message always has something to do with longing and mystery. The “magic of Christmas” as portrayed in our current myth-makers’ minds has something very much to do with desire. And that desire is very Jesus-y.
Netflix, the perhaps preeminent myth-maker du jour, has a new ret-con of the origins of the Santa Clause myth. With Klaus they have done it again. The title character is motivated by his longing for the wife he lost. The joy of the children’s wishes and his fulfillment of them brings him a sense of satisfaction that keeps amplifying him into ultimate immortality, it seems, by the end of the film. This is another telling of the America holiday gods myth, which might make you squirm if you are a confessing Christian, but I think it can be redeemed. The presence of Christ in the lingering longing I see in our culture’s iconography ( the traditional or conventional images or symbols associated with a subject and especially a religious or legendary subject) hit me last night when my cell was listening to Christmas music on YouTube while we packed holiday gift boxes for local elementary kids. The YouTube Christmas mix started playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I said out loud, “Oh! Christmas is about longing! I get it.” I wish that our culture hadn’t forgotten that Jesus is the fulfillment of our longing, but I don’t think folks are too far from the root when they wake up to their longing. There IS something more, and everyone feels that. Wham! has been singing the anthem of non-Christmas, Christmas longing for almost my entire life. “”Last Christmas” was released in 1984 and it is still number four on the iTunes most played holiday songs this year. I’m not sure I can redeem that one, sorry. But at least “Christmas” is in the title. How did Judy Garland and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” get in here?
Wouldn’t it be better to long for something more than a better lover this year, someone more special? Then again, who is Jesus but the best lover? And he is even bigger than your personal longing for companionship and specialness—he is the lover of the whole world and its deliverer from all things that steal love. Whoever stole George Michael’s heart, too. Of course, the America holiday gods have another “cure” for that wistful feeling. They are experts at implanting and intensifying that longing in their quest for you to buy your happiness. It has worked to the tune of billions of dollars for billionaires and the dangerous deadening of real hope. If my satisfaction is in things, I become a thing. I become a cog in the great economic wheels that survive only by our investment in the lie that things will ever satisfy.
Instead, in Circle of Hope we are holding on to that longing. We are recognizing what it’s for; it is not the survival of the world economy—neither are we. You are not a thing, so things will not satisfy you. You are a human being and that longing is there in you because Jesus put it there. You can’t take him out of Christmas no matter how hard you try. He is here. He is God-with-us. God with us in our longing. We were made to find ourselves as who we are and whose we are in the revelation of Jesus. He is behind the “magic of Christmas.” The myths work as well as they do because we know there is more. Jesus longs for us to find him at the root of that feeling. The myth-makers didn’t make that feeling, it was there at the beginning, and Christ was there with it, and he is still with us now.

Long for the Light Like a Marine Iguana Must

My family has a tradition of writing Christmas stories. Here’s one of mine from a few years ago.

Christmas in Cold Blood

Santa Fe Island in the Galapagos 4:48am GALT (GMT -6hrs)
An hour and five minutes before sunrise on December 25, 2011

The sun is rising.  It is still dark but he knows the sun is rising.  Soon the dark horizon will blue at her edge and the lowest stars will begin their daily dim.  The slow breath of his brethren presses against his flanks.  The very slow breath of his very cold brethren can not be heard, only felt under the roar of wave on rock that surrounds them.

He lies there motionless as the darkest hour begins to pass.  Tangled together with the rest in a heap on the rocky shoreline, he anticipates the blood that will flow.  Through his limbs it now trickles but soon it will course.

He understands the light.  He knows to wait.  This takes time.  He cannot rush it.  After all, he has no choice but to wait, but though he is old now, he has not yet grown accustomed to this morning ritual–this longing for first light.  It happens this way always, and yet it happens that he always fears in the final hour.  While all his brothers and sisters sleep in torpor he wakes and waits.  He understands the light, it’s effect on his cold blooded body, but he has also understood the darkness.  He had been created to miss this hour of cold in slumber as his snoozing family brethren always do, but for reasons he does not understand, he always wakes.  He experiences each morning trapped in his frozen body. Fully aware.  So he is the only one who knows that the sun is rising.

“It must” he thinks, “Or I will die.”

As he works through his regular morning anxiety, the earth spins, and the waves crash, and the light grows.  Below the sky’s black melts some blue, and just above the water-lined horizon an orange seeps upward–a very deep, reddish orange that sings in heraldry of great light.

“Aah.  At last!” he sighs to himself.  “It comes.”

But the wait is not over.  The sun is a slow one.  At least to him.  Though it is quite fast in the grand scheme of things, he perceives it as slow because he is trapped in the darkness and has been so all through the long night.  And in the darkest hour, frozen and alone in waiting for his cold death the grand scheme seems irrelevant.  The grand scheme is irrelevant to the one who lays dying.  And, though it happens this way every morning, he has never shaken those death thoughts.  How can he forget with his heart beating this slowly, with his lungs inflating this little, and yet, his mind so alert?

But he understands the light.  He recognizes its effect on his body and he waits for his frozen feet to be warmed.  He waits for the sun to activate his receded self.  The deep orange has now climbed a quarter of the sky.  The blue has taken the rest and only the brightest stars still shine through the veil of dawn.  Below the orange, there is more red and the wisps of clouds high above in the blue reflect back this redness in pink.

Already he is thawing, but the wait is not done.  How he wants to flick his tail, to grip the rock beneath his feet, to be unlocked! He aches for it to be done.  And then, it is.  The sun jumps over the horizon with a dazzle of rays that hit him with a jolt of pleasure.  Each one of his black scales squeals in delight.  He is the first to raise his head to meet the long expected light.  His brethren follow and form a chorus of attentive faces turned to greet the morning.  The long darkness is over and their bodies will soon spring into action.  His core of heart-beating, lung-expanding warmth spreads through him from the center.  The light penetrates him and awakens him fully.  His blood is warming.

Some time basking in the sun passes and his body is now sufficiently warmed for his charge.  He climbs out of the tangle, tromping on heads, shoulders and tails to the edge of the rocky cliff where they have spent the night.  His blood is coursing now.  He’s as hot as he can be–enlivened, fear gone, ready to do what needs to be done, which is to dive into the breakers to forage algae below.  The island is so scarce that the sea bed is the only place for food. Even though it means braving the tumult of waves, the jagged rock, and, worst of all, the freezing ocean current that chills him to the bone., just like the infinite night  He can only withstand ten minutes in the frigid depths before he must fight his way back to shore.  Somehow this cold is invigorating, while the cold of the darkness is frightening.

“I guess it’s because I know it’s right there.” He reflects as he looks over his shoulder at the shining sun and hoists himself back onto the rock.

He lies down spread eagle on the rocks to be re-warmed so he can digest his belly full of food.  He is reassured by the warmth on his spiny back.  He is safe underneath a blue sky lit by a great light.

“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
  have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
  a light has dawned.”

Beloved, may you long for the Christ light this year as much as I imagine marine iguanas long for the dawn.  May you understand the Light of the World in your hearts, yes your blood pumping hearts.