Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: July 2021

Making a splash in my neighborhood (You can too!)

Putting Circle of Hope on the Map in OUR Neighborhoods

This month, Circle of Hope sponsored the West Collingswood Extension Civic Association newsletter. That’s my neighborhood. It’s a wonderful, weird little slice of South Jersey. It is part of Haddon Township, but separated from the largest chunk of this patchwork township by Collingswood. AND my zip code always comes up as “Oaklyn, New Jersey” on my weather app. Very strange. This all goes to show that the lines that cut up the megalopolis are incredibly arbitrary. I’m glad Circle of Hope crosses almost all of them.

And yet, the West Collingswood Extension DOES have a sense of itself. It’s 16 residential square blocks that you can snake your dog through, walking every street, in 30 minutes. The West Collingswood Extension Civic Association has been in existence since 1939. The first Fourth of July Parade took place in 1943, and it has continued every year since! I think it was in the 1950s that everyone in the neighborhood pitched in to DIY-refurbish the old West Collingwood Train Station building which is now the headquarters of all our events and available to rent for parties.

I kind of put my foot in my mouth when I volunteered Circle of Hope to sponsor the printing of our July Newsletter because I had no idea how much color copies cost! It ended up being almost $300. I had to get permission from the other Circle of Hope pastors to foot such a bill out of our Common Fund budget’s outreach line, but thankfully they said yes.

Introducing the Neighborhood Love Project

But let’s keep being a tangible blessing  in every slice of South Jersey we live in. When you have an idea for how Circle of Hope can support you in blessing YOUR neighborhood, it would probably be better to know the cost BEFORE your promise any money on our behalf. I don’t think the $300 was a waste however, because Circle of Hope needs to get into a lot more neighborhoods. We need to literally put ourselves on the map as the West Collingswood Civic Association Vice President did in the July Newsletter.

I am convinced that there are a lot more people looking for the next generation of the church in our region than we yet know. We need to “let our little light shine” a bit more because there are a lot more people “down in the valley trying to get ho-o-o-ome” as our sisters sang at the At-Home Sunday Meeting a few months back (sing along). Let’s find them in our neighborhoods. If you have an idea for how to bless your neighbors with a little bit of money please submit your idea via email at [email protected] and put “Neighborhood Love Project” in the subject. Include a description of the project (and the cost!) Take pictures of whatever happens and I will tell the story on “Today, if You Hear His Voice.”

Highlights from July 4 with the West Collingswood Civic Association

Here are some more pictures from the Fourth of July parade. I got to emcee and host the games rocking my Circle of Hope swag ( Oliver and Theo were in the bike parade bringing their peacemaker alternatives to the nationalism.

Hope to hear form you soon!

Loosestrife: A Sunday Sonnet

for Oliver (“peacemaker”), Theodore (“Gift of God”) and Lysimachus (Not the warrior of Third Century Thrace but the proto-botanist physician of minor Fifth Century renown and the first Western identifier of the lythrum salicaria plant commonly known in English as Loosestrife)

An etymological blunder brought
This blood beknighted flow’r upon my banks
Lysimachus who found it, someone thought,
Was not himself a name for English thanks.
“Exotic” Greek’s extracted fools gold ore
Gave name to flow’r it never meant to mean:
Lusís – loosen; makhē – akin to war –
Now “loose-strife” dons our death in purple, green.
And shall their beauty battle other plants,
As noxious weeds along my very creek,
I might decide that all names can incant –
For how else could this naming truth bespeak?
And then a grateful sigh for naming sons
For “peace” and for “receipt of what God’s done.”

July 25, 2021

You can listen to my read it here

Are You Compromising for Love? :: A report From Getting to Know the Bible

Getting to Know the Bible

In Circle of Hope we say in our proverbs “The Bible should be known and followed, and that is a group project” and one of the ways we are doing that is our “Getting to Know the Bible” dialogue series. The pastors and their friends are leading 90 minute zoom sessions to help anyone who wants to join get a few more handholds in their own Bible reading climb. It is one of our many Gifts for Growing. The next Getting to Know the Bible is on Romans and Galatians on August 11th at 8:00 pm.  Sign up now!

This post is a bit of a debrief from our last Getting to Know the Bible event on Paul and his letters to the churches that my friend Scott Shannon and I led. Of the 21 Epistles (fancy word for letters) in the New Testament, Paul wrote 13 of them. Nine of the epistles that Paul wrote were written to churches and four of them were written to individuals. We brought a storytelling approach which put Paul’s letters in the context of the stories Luke tells about him in the book of Acts. We want to interpret not just what Paul said, as has often been the pitfall for many theologians throughout the centuries, but also what he did. We began to wonder why he did and said what he did and said. Who is this guy, and what was he like? Appreciating him as a whole person, a lot like us, helped us relate to him as a brother, and not a dusty old jumble of words and ideas.

All Theology Has an Adjective

To Scott and I, it seems that much of what Paul was doing was very contextual. No surprise there since everything everyone does is contextual. Nothing can be done or said out of context. The fallacy of too much of Western theology in previous centuries was its claim, at least implicitly, to be a-contextual. I love how Pete Enns and Jared Byaz from The Bible for Normal People put it, “All Theology has an adjective.” Two big problems with much of the Bible reading that I have seen is that it 1) doesn’t fully understand Paul’s context and 2) it does not acknowledge its own. But here’s the thing: I don’t think anyone can adequately do number 1 and most people, if they are humble enough, will also admit they can’t do number 2 either. Most of our lives have a “you-had-to-be-there” quality to them. The more we show up to the depth of our own experiences, the better we can empathize with Paul’s who lived in such a different time and place. Our added benefit is that we have Jesus uniting us across that great chasm. Do not be afraid to apply your own understanding.

How Do Paul’s letter and the Book of Acts Line Up?

So here’s how the story about Paul lines up with his letters — what he did and what he said in one neat (and very undetailed) table.

Acts OutlineActs 1:8 Jesus’ map for the church

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1. The Church In Jerusalem (Chapters 1-7)
2. The Church in Judea and Samaria (Chapters 8-12)
3. The Church in Gentile Territories (Chapters 13-21)

1st Missionary Journey.

Then Jerusalem Council in chapter 15,

Then 2nd and 3rd Missionary Journeys.
Paul goes around planting churches and then he writes to them.

Acts 13:13-52 Paul preaches and the Holy Spirit comes down in Antioch. Titus is said to have been from Antioch.

Acts 14:1-7 Paul meets Timothy in Lystra — a kid in one of the first church plants. (1 and 2 Timothy) Later a pastor in Ephesus (Ephesians)

Acts 16:1-5 Paul and Timothy in Galatia (Galatians)

Acts 16:11-40  In Philippi (Philippians)

Acts 17:1-9 In Thessalonica (1 and 2 Thessalonians)

Acts 18:1-17 In Corinth (1 and 2 Corinthians)

It is generally assumed that (Philemon) lived in Colossae; in the letter to the (Colossians), Onesimus (the slave who fled from Philemon) and Archippus (whom Paul greets in the letter to Philemon) are described as members of the church there.

Colossians is conspicuously not mentioned in Acts.

Hebrews was traditionally believed to be written by Paul but this is generally assumed to be unlikely. Pseudepigraphy was common in the ancient world (“pseudepigraphy” means writing under someone else’s name — though Hebrews never claims to be written by Paul in the text and lacks any of  Paul’s personal flair.)

4. Paul’s Trials and Voyage to Rome (Chapters 21-28) Back to Jerusalem and the powers-that-be in order to get to Rome.(Romans) Paul writes ahead of his journey there.

He ends up imprisoned by the Roman Empire. He writes many of these letters while in prison or on house arrest. (Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon)

Paul’s Two Tiers

Scott and I had the group considering Paul’s context and our own. It seems that Paul often talks out of both sides of his mouth. What does he really mean? Is he contradicting himself? Which paul is the real one? We have a helpful way to think about that — we call it a two tiered approach. Check out “Paul’s Two Tiers and Social Action” on Paul’s first tier is a word from the Lord, a basic new thing that Jesus reveals. It is the heart of Christ’s new creation. The second tier is a brainstorm of how one does that in their real life, what it means to keep revealing this in the world in our time and place. Paul was empowered to give it a try in his context and many of the things some of my friends bemoan him for were actually more revolutionary in their moment than we can rightly understand in ours. The best way to tell the difference between the two tiers is to relate to Jesus yourself. It’s a vibe. You’ll know it when you know. Sorry, I do think it is really more like a feeling than something I can tell you. And sorry if you think that’s dangerous. 

It was much more dangerous for Paul, whatever our current consequences. Scott and I thought that much of Paul’s second tier teaching was consciously holding back on the throttle of status quo in order to keep a fragile new movement alive. Paul was cautious to not shatter all the conventional wisdom in one fell swoop. Or he might have been scared, too, though that seems unlikely given his unprecedented courage and boldness demonstrated elsewhere. Or he might have just not gotten to it. He had a plan to keep things moving and stretched people only so far as he thought they could go, and then he got killed. Or he just couldn’t see the full-scale societal transformation that the Gospel anticipated because he was too much a man of his own time. I don’t know for certain, of course, if it was any of these things, but I can understand if it were any of them or all of them. But, again, I think Paul was making concessions for a very real existential threat — living past tomorrow might have been the church’s best move which required some preservation of an incomplete social order.

Decadence is Our Existential Threat

But we are not under that same threat. Our choices in the United States are not “do or die,” but our faith may be dying or dead instead. Scott liked the word “decadence” for our own existential threat. We are so accustomed to the hollow husk of Christendom, so in love with the myth of a Christian Nation, so fat and happy on our spiritual junk food, that we have lost our way and our connection to The Way, Jesus himself. Too often we find churches designed to continue instead of to follow Jesus. “Keep calm and carry on,” is not a church slogan, especially not for a church sent into a rapidly changing world.

This moment for the Church in the United States ought to demand the creative thinking and inventive theological compromising that marked Paul’s relentless adaptation to his circumstances, but we are bloated with the demands of the past and of our own comfort and it seems unlikely that the whole Church will change before its already dead on the inside. (Parts of the body are definitely already necrotic.) 

What Would You Compromise for Love?

In the face of the existential threat of decadence we asked our participants, “What would you compromise for love?” Here is some of their wisdom:

  • In Circle of Hope I’ve had to evolve my thinking about LGBTQIA issues. It happened in community with LGBTQIA folks. 
  • My sense of theological purity. Every moment does not demand that i state my objection. I don’t have to set myself apart. I can even participate as who I am in Christ without public caveat, and I have found that beautiful things happen when I do.
  • Giving up conviction as a motivator for action. I desire black and white ideas to feel secure and powerful. I give that up to work in the gray of my real life with the real people I know. 
  • My anger, my vengefulness.
  • My own comfort.
  • Family traditions or rules.

What would you compromise for love? What does your context demand? Do you know your context well enough to discern? These questions are all great places to start. I pray that Jesus, the Way is with you on your way and you know it.

A Christian Pledge of Allegiance


I wrote this prayer for our Sunday meetings. I started with this image I found around Memorial Day and kept going from there. It helps me put the holiday in perspective. I’ll be raising money for my local civic association and watching fireworks (my favorite fourth of July activities), but I will not be celebrating the same way everyone is. I think Jesus calls me to something much bigger than American citizenship

Pray with me

We pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ and to God’s kingdom for which he died, one spirit-led people the world over, indivisible, with love and justice for all.

Let freedom ring

We pledge allegiance to God-almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and every beloved creature, especially the siblings we have all over the world, both in Christ and in the whole human family.

Let freedom ring

We pledge allegiance to forgiveness, love for enemies, the weak and the oppressed, the outcast and the despised, the powers-forsaken but God-remembered, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and imprisoned.

Let freedom ring

We pledge ourselves to others, casting off the self-centered cares that would try to bind us only to I, me and mine. Our freedom is connected with many more than those to whom the powers-that-be have bound us. We reach out beyond the boundaries of  blood, country, tribe, language, ideology, race and all other separating powers and principalities.

Let freedom ring

We pledge allegiance to the way of Jesus, to his abundance and not our scarcity, to his power and not our own, to his impossible way of resurrection made possible in his victory over death.

Let freedom ring

We pledge that we will continue to give ourselves to others, for we did not create these persons we call “I”. We receive our lives as gifts and not as rights. We receive the rights the powers give us for others. We pledge allegiance to interdependence.

Let freedom ring