Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: February 2021

Knowing the Good

South Jersey Mutual Aid in Pennsauken’s 1000th delivery celebration

When the South Jersey Mutual Aid in Pennsauken Compassion Team gathered to celebrate their 1000th delivery last week I led them in a ritual of naming the Good. Of course we know the work we are doing is good. We organized with the wider South Jersey Mutual Aid Network at the beginning of the pandemic to offer solidarity not charity. We say that food insecurity is not a just matter of individual scarcity; it is a matter of unbalanced distribution of food abundance. And that is a community problem, not just an individual problem. I say to all the people in our network who I call back from our google voicemail box, “Somos vecinos!”(we are neighbors!)

That little sign-off, “Somos vecinos!”, is the same sort of naming the good that I was leading the team to do at our Zoom celebration. Our relationship needs a name. It is good that we are together in this. We must do what little we can to reshape the narrative about the common good. The more mutuality, the better, but it is hard to move against the current of other stories about what is good like “self-reliance”, “individual responsibility”, “the private pursuit of happiness.” I’m not saying those things are not good in and of themselves, but that they are too loud in my context; they are drowning out alternatives — alternatives which are badly needed in our delivery area, Pennsauken and Camden, NJ.

What we know about doing good gets lost under the noise.

I’m tying myself in knots trying to describe what is good. There are competing claims, many stories. All have merits but none matter as much as actually doing good. We know what is best by doing, not by saying. This, I think, is an obvious human characteristic; but it’s so obvious it is easily forgotten. We are attracted to the complexity of expertise, the power of a well crafted argument, the boldness of a brilliant speaker. We are bombarded by too many champions of too many causes. Many of us have become adept at ignoring each other — simply for self protection, not apathy. The habit bleeds over into actual relationships until we never answer the phone and rarely read our emails or even texts. Isolation was a pandemic before Covid-19. What we know about doing good gets lost under the noise.

That’s why the ritual with the Compassion Team was so important. We needed to feel the basic wisdom. We are doing! And there is valuable information in that experience of doing which needs to rise to the top of our experience. We don’t want it to be buried under the noise. The knowledge of doing breeds more peace of mind and longer endurance when it is necessary. The work we do on the South Jersey Mutual Aid in Pennsauken Compassion Team does, indeed, require endurance. It is constant. Week by week we field phone calls, gather donations, pack boxes and deliver enough food to feed families as big as 11 or 14 for four days.  if we don’t feel the intuitive knowledge of doing we won’t last long.

Knowing the good in the moment is rare and requires celebration.

There is a difference between knowing what we are doing IS good and knowing the good as we do it. Knowing the good in the moment is rare and requires celebration. Otherwise we get stuck in the argument, or we forget to make the connections between our ideas and our experience. If we don’t savor those moments of knowing the good is good, of participation in the Good, we will burn out.

So name the good, yes, and do the good, and then notice the feeling of the doing. This is a way to BE good in a way that does not require proof. You’ll know and that will fuel more than any claim ABOUT you or what you do.

We’re learning something old.

Jesus put it this way in Matthew 21:28-32 (The Parable of the Two Sons)

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

I am very grateful for a group of passionate people, some of them Jesus followers from Circle of Hope but many of them not. I think we are learning this basic human wisdom alongside each other. You know something when you do it, not when you say it. The sons figured this out. The tax collectors and prostitutes figured this out. It was the religious people whom Jesus was talking to that forgot it. I’m motivated to keep going in what I’ve been given to do because, at least to a degree, I am finding the joy of this wisdom, too, and it is giving me LIFE. I am looking forward to more good, and I am confident because I trust the Source of Goodness, Jesus him-living-self.

WORD-ing

I have successfully kept one of my New Year’s resolutions to my birthday. It feels good. I describe the resolution in this video I shot for Circle of Hope’s midweek reflection #sundaysarenotenough.

WORD-ing makes things more real. It makes my insides more real to me. It makes me more of who I am, and better, it makes me more of who I want to be. My imagination shapes my direction, which points my present. George MacDonald is my literary and spiritual hero. I call him my grandfather, so my New Year’s resolution was to spend the year WORD-ing with him.

Each morning (or afternoon or evening) I write the words of the seven line poem he wrote for every day of the year and published in a collection called A Book of Strife in the Form of a Diary of an Old Soul.  Then I reflect on what the poem says to me, or just try to give shape to what is happening inside of me or in the life of my community.

George MacDonald’s WORD-ing

Here’s an example from February 19, 2021

Here’s what Grandfather  MacDonald said that day

Lord, in thy spirit’s hurricane, I pray,
Strip my soul naked—dress it then thy way.
Change for me all my rags to cloth of gold.
Who would not poverty for riches yield?
A hovel sell to buy a treasure-field?
Who would a mess of porridge careful hold
Against the universe’s birthright old?

My WORD-ing

And here’s what I had to say. You might notice that the two do not have much to do with each other, but the rhymes and the bowl borne food. Yeah, that’s how it is. This was about feeling kind of sleepy and struggling to remember my dreams in hopes that they were theophanic. It was also about being hungry and wanting to be satisfied by something other than food, as the MacDonald poem clearly suggest — so I guess there is a real connection. You can listen to me read my poem on my soundcloud where I have recorded all the poems that appear on this blog.

February 19 

Still hoping breakfast breaks benighted limbs
So locked in an unconscious grapple hold —
A wrestling rest with someone — could be him
Who wrenched the hip of Jacob so it’s told;
If only trust for dreams uncontrolled
Could pierce the soul of my confusing, dim
And dumb born dawn, here in my breakfast bowl.

I wrote this poem before breakfast but made sure that my breakfast was out of a bowl. It was a grapefruit. Thanks for reading. Maybe you’re inspired.

SHARING OUR RESOURCES BRINGS FREEDOM AND UNLEASHES POWER!

ALL CAPS!

SHARING OUR RESOURCES BRINGS FREEDOM AND UNLEASHES POWER!!!

I’m excited to FEEL how true this is once again after spending 90 minutes with my Circle of Hope partners last night at a Gifts for Growing event I organized with Jane and Scott Clinton. We had a simple plan: make a space where it was safe enough to ask question, and share resources about money and our relationship with it, and ask the Holy Spirit to make something good in that space. Guess what, it worked!

We were asking, “Is having and generating wealth okay?” Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:10,  “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” but it often gets misquoted as “Money is the root of all evil.” And then we think we might get dirty if we use it  wisely. Jesus does make it clear that wealth is a spiritual danger. And the love of money has certainly wreaked havoc on much of human history. Our goal last night  was to simply shine a light on money and the power it has over us. We said, with John in 1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Our goal was to put money in the light so we could make sure it stays in it’s right place. It will only stay a tool and not make us its tool if we watch it together regularly.

Jane and Scott got us warmed up with stories about their financial upbringing and history. They were very transparent and engaging. Their heart for sharing has grown as their personal resources have increased. At one point not too long ago, Jane realized that if they increased their monthly sharing by about $30 they would be sharing more with their church community than they were paying on their mortgage. Jane loved that upside down comparison and made it happen.

This kind of transparency about money is not at all common. It requires a trust that is beyond human capacity. I saw the Holy Spirit moving in Scott and Jane. Two other people shared about how they had spent several months sharing all of their financial information with a group of people in the church — every dollar of income and every cent of expense –every bit of debt and every hope for the future. It was an astonishing feat of faith and trust. Sharing our resource really does bring freedom and unleash power! It also deepens faith and makes love grow in ways it never would as the world would have it.

We keep pushing money back into its place with conversations like this one, but the general consensus was that we need much more dialogue. Many were inspired to keep stoking the dialogue.

Financial resources forum at wayofjesus.circleofhope.net?

Here is one more concrete vision for what might come from our dialogue

Finances can be such a big and overwhelming topic. Let’s make a website with trusted resources so people can just click and go. Sometimes you just need a push like that, “Here’s a trusted resource, I’ll try that!”

Putting a financial question out there on one of our listservs might just seem too  risky or embarrassing, or maybe too much work, so let’s make another forum for asking financial advice — a place on our Way of Jesus website dedicated to finances with a forum type component. Anybody want to be part of moderating such a dialogue?

Things we need:

  • Making a Will (“I used so-and-so to help with my will”, “Everence has a credit to help pay for the cost of making a will”)
  • List of trusted local banks/lenders
  • How do mortgages work, where does the interest money go?, what banks might be best to bank with in order to keep more money in our local communities?)
  • Who have our trusted partners used  for Financial Planning?
  • What kind of investing is most ethical? Who can I trust?
  • Which locally owned and personally connected small businesses are we supporting, promoting, and encouraging?
  • What kind of debt is good and what kind of debt is bad?
  • How do you understand, build or repair your Credit Score?
    What about Student Loans (for former students and for prospective students and parents) How might we be paying, consolidating and avoiding them (with more access and information about scholarships etc.)
    Giving – Why share? Stories of  blessing/benefits. And stories of receiving (How about a place to post stories of gratitude from the mutuality fund and other sources? Could be anonymous if you want.)
  • Consultations on specific financial opportunities. 

Does this excite you? Talk to Mark Mumbauer. I can help connect you. My email is [email protected]

Circle of Hope’s Proverbs

Here are Circle of Hope’s Proverbs which informed this dialogue. Each is a little poem in itself, and I’ll let you inpack them if you wish.

SHARING OUR RESOURCES BRINGS FREEDOM AND UNLEASHES POWER

  • We share our resources of time, money and love person to person, with the leaders, between congregations.
  • All our money belongs to God; the percentage we share in our Common Fund reflects our mutual commitment to be an authentic church.
  • Minimally, members of our covenant share in our public meeting times, participate in a cell, express themselves in service and contribute to our Common Fund.
  • As part of our obligation to mutually share resources with the poor and lost, we invest at least 20% of our Common Fund income in causes beyond our basic common needs.
  • We live out our goals according to what we have, not what we should have. Don’t try to live off the holes in the Swiss cheese.
  • We are called to owe nothing to anyone but love. We are determined not to be debt slaves and determined to share with abandon and fully participate in the imagination and responsibility of partnership in Christ.

 

Two Recent Sonnets

When I go on retreat, which I try to do quarterly, I like to review my journals. This is a common practice for journal keepers. It’s easy to forget where God has been, or to have missed how present God was in a previous moment when you were mired in the vagaries of that moment. In a recent review, I found my New Year’s resolutions from January 2020 . They included having people over to dinner twice a month. Ha! They also included that I would post a poem on this blog once a month. I did not do that. So here is a remedy. Two recent sonnets I wrote;

Seagulls are almost raptors

Could Be a Raptor
A Sonnet for Birders

O fix your eyes on a heavenly host–
Those wind-hovering ecstatics of sky,
Held up by figures of physics and ghosts,
By feathers canting “Wonder!” “How?” and “Why?”

May your own neck ever swivel for wings,
And long gaze ever rest right where you saw
Up there! and right there! something, O! — something
That’s swooping down, talons open towards awe.

May trust in each potential eagle spied;
In every would be hawk that is a crow;
In seagulls, yes, take them, wings open wide,
Half raptor beauties, all gripping air’s flow,

Make hearts rise with all the birds you have dreamed–
And soar on lift of desire’s thermal streams.
__________
Walking on Collings Ave, January 12, 2021

You can listen to me read it here.

 

The bay at Sunset, Margate, NJ 2/4/2021

Earth’s Most Careful Feet
for the Browns

Declaring absolution for shells crushed
Beneath my feet, I walked the glittered sand
Too littered full with shining treasures flushed
From gentle rush and pull of ocean’s hands
For Earth’s most careful feet to miss them all.
It is decided—crushing shells can’t be
A sin, and if it be, then sinner I shall
Go on being—so going by a sea
Now emptied by the cold but golden faced
From sun’s thus angled gilding of the tide
In patterns left like slips of satin, lace
Retreating, leaving fringe on edges’ glides
I wonder again if footprints belong(?)
No, not unless God’s tide had pulled you strong.
__________

Walking in Margate,  February 5, 2021

You can listen to me read it here.