Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: May 2020

A Friday Poem (and an endorsement for the Comfort Retreat)

Some context

I wrote this poem at the Comfort Retreat last year. We spent a good part of the day groping inthe spiritual dark for something to hold on to. We found it in each others hands and our own hearts. we found it in shared songs and stories. We found it in showing the tenderest parts of ourselves to the Light and expecting the healing that is promised there.

The original draft had the word “pinkening” in it. As in “turning pink” but I decided not to be so bold as Billy Shakespeare and invent another word. My first audiences, couldn’t get the context of the vision of a lake at dusk, unleashing its vapors as the temperature changed. I hope you can fit this poem into your context, and that you sign up for the Comfort Retreat on June 6, at circleofhope.net/shop. Our friends, Angie and Jordan, have ways to lead us through a morning together. We won’t be on zoom the whole time, of course. They will help us choose and create a space for time alone with return to the larger group online.

Learning What I Don’t Know
(At the Comfort Retreat)

This evening pond now pink with eyes aloft
Pours whispers up from dreams I had put down
Like days disappearing into soft, soft
Uncreased sheets of darkest blue from which sounds
Don’t come but in which presence whispers true.
Now rising endless up above the trees,
Unmaking what I see and hear and do,
And showing more than eyes and ears perceive —
A wafting more than anything. Unsaid,
Unheard and yet the truth of you and me;
Somewhere between the living and the dead,
Someone repeating sweet things on his knees
I look at more than could be rightly here,
I feel at what I love and hope and fear.

 

You can listen to me read it here

The Mental Health Benefits of Circle of Hope

It seems to me that it is common to separate the mental health benefits of participation in our church from the other things we do to gain and maintain our mental health. We go to therapy, we practice mindfulness, we exercise, we do yoga, we journal… oh! and I guess there’s church, too. I don’t think most of my incredible partners would ever say, “Circle of Hope is not a benefit to my mental health.” By no means! They would say the opposite if asked. But I don’t think we are always asking. Church is not part of the mainstream conversation about good mental health regimens. This blog post aims to make what is implicit and fairly obvious, explicit and very obvious.

by Chloe Cushman

Why don’t we think of church as part of our mental health?

  1. Church is less marketable – It’s not like people haven’t tried (and succeeded) at making a lucrative business out of the Gospel. But true discipleship doesn’t really sell that well. Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you, share everything in common, discipline your appetites. These are not blockbuster sentiments. It’s hard to sell a free gift. And really, it’s things that are bought and sold that get the world’s first attention. If the church is not on the open market it must not be important. I don’t think it will be too hard for us to resist this temptation, but we must accept that ours is a quiet revolution — unlikely to be televised and trumpeted by those whose eyes are trained on the big money.
  2. Because it is not a technique – One way “Self-Help” and other beneficial practices like mindfulness and yoga have gotten onto the tips of our tongues when we think about our mental health is that they are techniques that can be mastered and practiced, and they have been marketed as such. There is great appeal to learning the moves, and conditioning our minds. These are good things to do, but they center the individual as the master of their fate. Take your life back. That sounds like winning! The messy, and often difficult, way of living and loving in Christian community doesn’t seem nearly as easy — and it’s kind of all over the place. There might be a thing or two we can learn form the clear paths that have been made by folks who teach these techniques, but maybe not. Our question is “How can the most excellent way of Love, as Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 13, be lifted up as the most excellent way to mental health?” I think love in Christian Coimmunity definitely leads to mental health, but it is a way of life, not a technique; and it can be somewhat unwieldy.
  3. The cure is communal and cannot be done in isolation – It’s being together that really has the biggest impact on our mental health. We are part of a community that cares about us. Our cells and congregations are sized so that you can be known face to face.  You can find acceptance for who you are right now. But, of course, that requires the risk of being with others. You could have any number of reasons why that is hard for you. I say it’s worth the effort and the risk, and the faith it takes to trust others is the same faith it takes to trust God. The community is a proving ground for our trusting and a place for healing hearts that have experienced a lot of broken trust.
  4. Mutuality is required and requirements are hard when you are hurting – In Circle of Hope we help one another process the inevitable conflict that comes with being closely related. We are taught to relate in ways that help us recover from trauma. And if you are hurting, the mutuality that can be such a source of healing can seem like an impossible demand. It’s hard. I can’t say it isn’t, but I will vouch for its efficacy.

  5. Somewhere along the lines church and psychology got in a fight – I don’t know enough about it to expound upon it, but somehow a significant number of Christians decided that psychology was against God. I still meet people who have been told that to seek the help of a professional therapist is a faithless act. Ugh. We are doing our best to de-stigmatize professional counseling and we dedicate a significant portion of our budget to subsidize counseling at the counseling center founded by one of our pastors. Circle Counseling is amazing!

So if you are working on gaining or maintaining your mental health (especially in quarantine)…

Invest in the church! Invest in your relationship with God! Of course Jesus can heal you in supernatural ways, but the simplicity of life together ought not to be overlooked. The Church is  a great source of mental health resources. I am particularly glad that Circle of Hope is trying to be a psychologically healthy church. And to that end we have compiled a list of resources for you and our community wayofjesus.circleofhope.net/wind/mentalhealth.  May we find our way together through this mess and beyond.

How Does a Christian Celebrate Memorial Day?

During the Covid 19 pandemic should we hit the boardwalk or stay at home? Are the CDC and the government our only authorities? What does Jesus say? And in any Memorial Day, how do we relate to those who died in war and their families while also resolving to decry the existence of war? Jesus makes our purpose more clear when it comes to war than when it comes to the pandemic, but it all requires resolve and dialogue — and above all, LOVE.

 

Forcing It – a Friday sonnet

My poet’s pen is a bit dried up of late. Not sure why.  This poem form last year gets at some of the feelings of trying to make something happen that isn’t happening. I like the suggested submission to the concrete shards on the urban beach most. Something about smoothed over brokenness seems to be needed right now, at least in me.

Forcing it

I threw a rotting catfish from the shore
Beneath Tacony and Palmyra Bridge
Because I didn’t want the fly and gore
Assault on my contriving hermitage —
Of rivershine views from my driftwood seat
With bright sun strobing off rippling peaks.

My pen is poised on journal page to mete
Out ev’ry chance sublimity I seek.

The rounded concrete shards, a pebble beach
Below me, listen for a word from God,
But they are better chosen for the speech –
My thoughts are gravely too, but broke for laud.

This poem cannot make the river wide,
And that flung fish will come back with the tide.

September 2019

 

 

Poem and image by Ben White

What if online church sucks?

This is objectively not the same

What if online church sucks? I don’t think there is any question that this sucks. I know, I probably shouldn’t say “sucks”, but if you just want to suck your teeth at the prospect of your next zoom cell meeting, or live stream Sunday meeting, trust me; you are not alone. I think a lot of my friends are feeling the suck, the sap, the drain of church in the Quarantimes.

Quarantimes Church Timeline

The past 50+ days have gone something like this for me:

  1. What, the church is going to meet on YouTube live?! Ew, gross! That goes against the whole point of being the church. How can we be face to face through a screen?
  2. Whoa, that wasn’t as bad as I thought. I actually felt something when we prayed/worshiped/chatted in the comments. I wasn’t expecting that.
    2b. But also whoa, what am I supposed to do with my kids when this thing is happening?
  3.  [Raising fist to the sky defiantly] I ain’t gonna let no virus separate me from my community. How many apps can I download? What is Marco Polo? Oh, this is cool. Hi friends!
  4. It’s Holy Week! Yes! We’re actually doing this thing. #sacredspot is really cool and I am actually doing this breath prayer thing. I feel connected.
  5. Resurrection! Missing out on Easter traditions is a major loss, but Jesus IS still alive, I’m holding on to that.
  6. Ok… now what? This isn’t over yet? Dang.
  7. “Zoom Fatigue,” “The Great Disruption,” “#Classof2020”
  8. I haven’t really “done church” for a while. And I don’t want to.  Lemme just hunker down.

I think there was a flurry of enthusiasm at the beginning (or was that just me and my pastor friends who were animated to meet the challenge?) And now the reality of another month of shelter in place, and maybe going through the end of the year without meeting in large gatherings — this is hitting hard. How can we make it through this?

Let’s just name it and trust God

You don’t really have to overcome your fears. Not everyone is David slaying a giant. You don’t have to become a hero and triumph over all these icky feelings. The way you feel is the way you feel. There is, however, a kind of subtle shift that can happen when we name those feelings and hold them with Jesus. Taking the pause to reflect and describe the feelings clearly makes space between our selves and the feelings themselves. That little gap is big enough for the Holy Spirit to get into. The feelings don’t go away, but the presence of Jesus gets in there, and then — the subtle shift. Then comes the ability to persevere, the extra well of gentleness and kindness for yourself and others, the joy despite your consideration of all the facts, the peace that surpasses all understanding. The Holy Spirit is like a dandelion, only needing that small crack to grow roots in and eventually spread on the wind to ever greener plot of grass on which you cast your eyes.

Because, again, this does suck

I’ve said for years that the pilgrimage we take to show up at our cell meetings, and Sunday meetings is so significant. “You made it!” is such a shout of victory sometimes. That embodied togetherness does so much for us, and those who are part of a church have come to rely on it. I give my one friend a hard time because she always answers my “How ya doing?” with “I’m here.” I always wanted more of an answer — more than just her presence. but now, in the Quarantimes, I am elevating her former “here-ness” for sheer lack of it. In our collective absence from one another, “I’m here” would be great — and not just for me and my need for connection, but for her and all the unconscious ways our togetherness buoys her and her faith.

We have to do everything on purpose now

Much of what happened before our separation could happen implicitly. A gentle shoulder squeeze as I passed by could communicate more than a million zoom calls. Being together on a screen, either at the Sunday meeting or in a cell meeting, now requires a lot of will. We are still creating a new habit, for one, but we are also relating in an environment that demands cognition almost exclusively. We are talking, and listening mostly — tasks which are harder in this context. All of our energy is getting sucked out by the mental processes of this foreign form of communication. Don’t they say that body language is more than half of communication? Well, we’re only half talking then. We’re only half together. Overcoming that limitation is really demanding. if you’re feeling it, I’m feeling it with you. Our bodies aren’t breathing together. Our spirits aren’t feeling each other. There is so much that happens when humans are in the same room.  And now we are not in the same room with anyone but our families. And for those of us who live alone, it’s no one, EVER.

We have to do our relating on purpose. We have to focus so much on just being present when we are relating on a screen. We can’t depend on our physical presence to communicate our love to others. We can’t enjoy the power of just showing up to communicate something about our faith to ourselves.

But it’s worth it. Do it with me, please

I want to have a church when this is over. I am almost positive we will, but the threat is real. Falling out of practice, is falling out of faith. Practice and faith — the two go hand in hand. The new habits required to be the church require a lot from all of us. In the grand scheme of things, though 50 days feels like forever, it is a relatively short period of time. We have not been able to adjust to this way of relating. For most of this thing, we have held out hope that it would soon be over.  For the past few weeks at least, I have been settling into the fact that it will not soon be over. Restrictions may ease, but I do not foresee Circle of Hope meeting at 3800 Marlton Pike for several more months if not through to the beginning of next year. With that immediate future stretching out before us (and praying for the shorter end of the prognosis), we must learn these new ways of being the body. Yes, they are not as good. No, I do not like them either.

Let’s name the problems and get practical about solving them. Let’s lament the loss and allow the Holy Spirit to get between us and our sorrow to make something new. Let’s tune into the joy of our community’s creativity and perseverance. Let’s do our purpose on purpose, because that’s how we have to do it now. There are so many ways we are being the church in spite of this separation. Tell me a story in the comments or email me. How are you seeing the church be the church in the Quarantimes?