Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Author: Benjamin White (page 2 of 17)

We Know More Than We Comprehend

I was on retreat trying not to question my instincts too much, because retreats are basically practice for listening to the Spirit and your instincts and the Spirit often sound the same. Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” came to mind. I’m a big Gerard Manley Hopkins fan and there are kingfishers on the lake near the place I was retreating. I pulled up the poem and decided to memorize it. I sat in front of a window and watched the sun set into complete darkness as I read and repeated my way through the poem.  By the time I went to sleep that night I had it in my heart.

In the morning I made some coffee and went down to the deck on the lake where the kingfishers live and I recited the poem to the waking day.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

This guy describes it so well on Youtube

There was an exhileration to preaching this sermon to the lake, trees, stones and birds who stirred in the early morning. I felt like I was really selfing, as the poem proclaims all mortal things are made to do. I might have even been justicing as the just man, or dare I say Christing as the one in whose face Christ plays. It felt true what John said in the beginning of his gospel; that without Christ, nothing was made that has been made. There is a completion of purpose in enjoying the world as it is — with it’s beautiful sounds resounding in wells, and love resounding in faces. Christ plays through it all. I was feeling that as I recited Gerard Manley Hopkins words and it inspired me to fill my heart up with more.

So I decided to memorize the prologue to John. Only the first 14 verses would fit on the piece of paper on which I neatly wrote it out so I stopped at “Full of grace and truth”

In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God,
And the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning;
Through him everything was made.
Without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life,
And that life was the light of humankind.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John
Who came as a witness to testify about the light,
So that through him all might believe.
He himself was not the light;
He came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone
Was coming into the world,
And though the world was made through him
The world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own,
And his own did not receive him.

But to those who did receive him —
To those who believed in his name,
He gave the right to become children of God,
Children born not of natural descent
Nor human decision or a man’s will
But born of God!

The word became flesh
And made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory,
The Glory of the one and only son,
Full of grace and truth.

I learned this poem before the thin paper was completely soaked with sweat, as I was holding it in my hand puffing up Mt. Tammany in the Delaware Water Gap as fast as I could. Maybe the heavy breathing and cardio impressed the words deeper into my heart than usual, but it has had a powerful impact on me. It was like I was full of grace and truth too. It was like the glory I was seeing on that beautiful day was the Glory of the one and only son. It was like my body bounding up the rocks was part of it all.

Getting scripture down into me feels more like communion than regular Bible Study. Choosing a passage like John 1:1-14 was probably a good idea because I’m not sure it is best to comprehend. It is designed for an understanding of a different kind. Want to join me in my memorization project. Let’s fill our heads and hearts with the grace and truth God filled Jesus with!

Here are a few other passages I recommend memorizing

Ephesians 3:14-21

John 15:1-17

Genesis 1:1-31

Psalm 23:1-6

Luke 2:46-55

1 John 3:1-24 (I’m working on this one next)

 

A Vocabulary of Blessing

It’s the end of Spiritual gifts month in Circle of Hope; what did we learn?

Many of us learned what spiritual gifts were for the first time. There are 23-25 spiritual gifts described explicitly as gifts  in the New Testament (depending on how you slice it). Circle of Hope Daily Prayer gave us plenty of insight into the nature of each gift. You can read them again at circleofhope.net/dailyprayer by searching “spiritual gifts” in the search bar or you can see them on this google doc.

Personality or Gifting?

This paragraph from the July 30th entry was especially revealing to me:

Many people think considering our personalities is the same as considering our spiritual gifts. But the sorting does not come from the same source. Psychology can be practiced in the Spirit and spirituality can be psychologically informed. But, in general, “personality” is thought of as something coming from the inside out and spiritual gifts come from the outside in. Our personalities are the receptacles and vehicles for the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul calls us “clay jars”—very humble, everyday dwellings for the glory of God. Be in awe of that miracle.

My personality has historically driven me into much of what I do. I run on high octane conviction about my sense of self and my purpose in the world. Who I am is very important to me. I have submitted my personality in many ways to Jesus over the years. I made Jesus a feature of who I am by becoming a Christian and taking radical discipleship seriously. But this paragraph from the daily prayer hit me at the beginning of the month in that special way. You know what I’m talking about? When you read something and you notice it — maybe you highlight it in a book, read it out loud to your spouse or friend, or post it on your Facebook wall (that’s what I did). I realize, now at the end of the month, how the meaning of this is working itself out for me.

Mariko the Theremin

My lesson is this: Making Jesus a feature of my personality is not the same as receiving Jesus’ Spirit in my heart. I think the latter has happened in my life and the former is not inherently bad, but they are definitely not the same. During spiritual gifts month, that distinction became apparent to me. It happened at 2007 Frankford Ave when Mariko Snook, one of our brilliant Art Directors, was reading our questions.

She had asked us to write down whatever question was resonating with us. My question jumped out of me and felt true when I wrote it down, but when she read it in sequence with the questions of others I was strangely disconnected from what I had asked. This was due in part to the theremin-like vibration of Mariko. She was tremulous in her feeling — in OUR feeling really. It was a communal exercise. The questions of others spoke directly to my own. Our frequencies bounced into harmony. She channeled each person’s heart, reverberating with the vulnerability. Her eyes sparkled with welling tears lit with the great spotlights they have in that space. She brought us with her on that journey, and in the synchronization, I learned that what jumps out of me is not always who I am, even if it feels good coming out.

Later reflecting on the dissonance of that moment, it was the desperation of my question that couldn’t resonate with the deepest part of me. Taking time to pray about it later, I was aware of what had been poured into me. Jesus is firmly seated in my heart. His love did not resonate with the blurted despair of my question, “When is this going to work?!” Which was to say, “When will I get what I want, which i have equated with what You want?” There was no answer to this question, but a clarity about who I really am. Jesus is not a feature of my personality. He is present in my heart in a special way through the gift of faith that the Spirit has poured over me.

Keep asking the right questions

At the Spiritual Gifts Intensive, the Leadership Team formed the core of our mutual discernment. The main agenda at the Saturday morning part of our two day event was group time. We got in a group and they told us what they felt our Spiritual Gifts were, based on their long time understanding of us, or their vague impressions depending on the various pairings of people. Then we did it again with a new group. We were all flexing our discernment and building a common vocabulary of blessing. I hope we keep asking and suggesting, “What has God given you?” and saying “Maybe you have the gift of…” That we might be as pulsing amplifiers of the Spirit for each other.

You can start by answering the 125 questions that make up the sorter we used. Find it here on wayofjesus.circleofhope.net. Thanks to my friend, Joshua, for turning it into an online format. Which spiritual gift corresponds to HTML?

Yo, Mountains Are Big, Even Bigger Than Me

A warped sense of scale and control

People who live most of their lives indoors have a warped sense of scale and control. We who live in cities and towns and spend much of our time outside traveling from one building to another have grown accustomed to an environment that is catered to the shape and size of a human person. Being in a building all the time shapes our minds in ways I don’t always consider. My friend Scott uttered this prophecy just this morning, and like most prophecy it deftly sparked the ready tinder in my own mind and heart. I was excited by this revelation as we sipped coffee on couches in a building on Haddon Ave in Collingswood — a very walkable avenue I’ll have you know — similarly proportioned for ease of use by a human body — prejudiced toward the bodies not encased in air conditioned boxes on wheels to boot.

From Logan Pass

Put simply again, we humans have created safe places in which to live and these places have shaped who we are and how we think. My friend Scott and I knew this to be true again because we were both recently on top of mountains. 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 wer resized in our own estimation by the magnitude of inhuman proportions.

We need to get smaller

Even our grandest buildings, museums, skyscrapers and cathedrals are dwarfed by the almost incomprehensible size of many of the mountains in Glacier National Park. This is not news to you, I know, but it is 100% forgettable and thus needs to be news every day in some way. It needs to be felt in your feet — in your lungs — in your eyes — and, I don’t know, in your inner ear. Vertiginous heights are corrective for any human body. We need to stand in the proximity of something really, really big again and again if we will escape the mental encasement residual of our literally sheltered status quo. We must  with some regularity return to the high places, or the wide places where our vision can expand sufficiently to recalibrate our scales.

We need to get smaller. It’s dangerous to be too big. It’s dangerous to live in a human scale mental landscape. The pilgrimage to the big places in my world is made for right sizing, which is to say diminishing me. The physical space of the impossible scale robs me of my illusion of control in a happy way. Tilting at the windmills of control in our hyper-complex, consistently desperate, unrelentingly demanding society burns me out.  The architecture of my life is under-girded by more than the commodious avenues and couches on which I walk and lounge; I am taught to be larger than life and fuller than Google with knowledge and wisdom.

A scrap of my native sky

Two ways to be overwhelmed

Ironically this demand also makes me feel small. It might make you feel smaller than you are. Being overwhelmed by the magnitude of a mountain is helpful because it is concrete enough to be definitive. The mountain requires nothing and our relationship is not debatable. It’s the vagueness of the demand of our societal myth-makers that is so uncomfortably overwhelming.  Living under the spell of my infinitely potential control is exhausting.  I cooperate with this story pretty actively I am discovering. I inadvertently end up consumed by my own power, simultaneously hoping and despairing in another kind of vertigo. But it’s hard to stand across the valley from Jackson Glacier and maintain my own personal aspirational magnitude. In an instant I remember, “No,  I really am small. And that’s okay. I’m small like a sparrow or the hair on my own head.” This incantation produces a momentary vacuum, left from my sudden shrinking, which inhales God’s love instantly. It’s the care of my Creator who made me this size that alone makes my tininess bearable.

Dear God! Look up!

When I can’t take the two week trek to the wilds of America’s west or the slightly closer drive up to the center of Maine for a jagged hike (which is now on my to-do list) I can always just look up. It takes some more concentration for the scraps of sky I always live by to achieve the desired result, but they do the trick. I take pictures to amplify their efficacy. Sharing my sights seems to extend them and with them my precious and ever receding smallness.

 

 

 

Bieber and Sheeran Channel Our Loneliness to Number One

I Don’t Care” is at the top of the billboard charts this week and it’s no wonder. A song about escaping a place you don’t want to be without leaving it ought to be the expected ear worm of August 2019. So many of us long for the power to disappear. Can we just not have to deal with any of these demands? It’s about agency. It’s about loneliness. It’s about apathy. It’s about loss.

Most of my friends who keep up with pop music don’t examine the lyrics too much. They say “I just like the beat,” or “It’s just so catchy”, or, maybe, “I don’t know, I just feel it.” But pop music is regularly very deep. Number one songs regularly channel what everyone is feeling. The lyrics probably matter a lot more than we usually realize. Our ears long for something that resonates. It’s like a body with a vitamin deficiency — something in our animal brain knows what we might not be able to say and we are drawn to Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber (again) saying what we don’t know we want to hear.

“Don’t think I fit in at this party
Everyone’s got so much to say (Yeah)
I always feel like I’m nobody, mmm
Who wants to fit in anyway?”

WE ALL DO, Ed and Justin! WE ALL WANT TO FIT IN! And of course, they know this. That’s why the song works. 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! The scope of togetherness is narrowed to one person, a sexual partner, who is the only one — a classic love song trope.

“I don’t like nobody, but it’s like you’re the only one here
I don’t like nobody but you, baby, I don’t care
I don’t like nobody but you, I hate everyone here
I don’t like nobody but you, baby, yeah”

But the 2019 twist is the emphatic apathy. I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. The not caring is what shines in the song, not really the connection. I think that’s because the connection is week. As much as we long for water, we mostly want the wanting. It’s maddening. I feel it too. Our eyes, hearts and ears are thoroughly leashed to the search for satisfaction. We can’t connect even with those we are connected because everyone is intermittently available, vaguely present, or drowned out by all the noise.

In an interview by Krista Tippet with Esther Perel on the OnBeing podcast, the guest described this inability to connect as a cultural phenomenon. Borrowing from Paula Boss, she describes the disassociated norms of 2019 as a form of “ambiguous loss”

To explain: ambiguous loss, for example, when a person is still physically present but psychologically gone, as if when they have Alzheimer’s, for example. Or if you have someone who disappeared, they are physically gone but psychologically present. In both cases, you cannot resolve the question of mourning and loss, because you don’t know, are they here, or are they not here?

When people describe to me being put on pause in a conversation or lying next to someone in bed who is scrolling through their Instagram feeds and is physically present but psychologically gone or is having literally another life with their phones, what they’re describing is not the physical isolation of loneliness. They’re describing a loss of trust and social capital that they are experiencing next to the very person with whom they should not be feeling alone. That’s ambiguous loss.

I think Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber found the vein of golden ambiguous loss in the bedrock of the American mind. While they cash in on our loneliness we raise a glass to the anthem of our peculiarly 2019 loneliness.

This is why I’m a Christian. I need more than a good diagnosis of the cultural phenomenon of ambiguous loss (though there is incredible power in properly naming the problem).  I need a solution. Jesus is a reason to connect with the people I am with. Jesus is a reason to pour some water. Jesus is a reason to love the people at the party. Jesus is a reason to put down the phone. And I need a really good reason to do any of that. The tide is so strong. The animal instinct is so  overwhelming at times. I need a rescuer, and a reason to do something different.

I have found that loving others is more fulfilling than satisfying my needs. I am more able to receive love when I love. And my ability to love is easily stunted by refusal to love. It’s like it’s all or nothing — like the tap is on or off. So being at a party feeling like Ed and Justin, would cancel my ability to love anyone, even the ONE who is better than all these around me at the party. I could only take from anyone if I refuse to ever give — if I only embrace my desire — if I chronically control my engagement in any given space. I could only satisfy. I could only drink. And I will consume it all!

Jesus fills me up and sends me out as an overflowing cup instead of an insatiable hole. He is an infinite well, and no one else is.  He is a reason to care, in a world that persistently pulls me, and you, and Justin and Ed, towards “I don’t care.”

Call God the Pulse: New Language from a New Anthem

My friends Dan and Pat McGowan have created a masterpiece. The newest album from their band, The Tea Club (Pat McGowan, Dan McGowan, Jamie Wolff, Dan Monda and Joe Dorsey), is a gift to the world. I can’t stop listening to the almost 28 minute final track, “Creature.” This post is an unauthorized interpretation of that song. One of the cool things about art is that it can speak to me differently than it speaks to you — a multiplying resonance of meaning bouncing through all of our ears, brains and hearts. But I’m telling you, you have to let this album speak to you. I think I’ve picked up some of what Pat and Dan are putting down. I know them well, but my interpretation is based on my own experience of the song, from hearing it live a few months ago to listening to it four or five times in the past three days since the album was released. Buy the album at theteaclub.net.

A new Oracle

Psalm 35 of The Tea Club
A Song of the Sons of Patrick
(with interlinear interpretation from a very minor director of music, Ben White)

“Call me the pulse and I will fill your veins
Turn with me, stay with me, rich in my blood
Against any reason other than I may fill you again

Cast me in stone and I will weigh you down
Knuckles white, carry on
Resigned to wander, without any longing other than
I may flow through you again”

Call God the Pulse, don’t cast God in stone. God is alive and is life. There is no life through which God does not flow. I meet so many people who are struggling with language for God. People in recovery, people burned by the church, people who have been taught that God is just another fairy tale, people who don’t have the prescribed experience with God but are having some kind of experience with Something. We need new language for God because we are having new experiences. Cast God in stone and it will weigh you down. Circumscribe God to only “Jehovah Jireh,” or “King of Kings,” or some other ancient, often unintelligible metaphor and miss out on the richness of God in your blood, heaven-bent on filling you again.

You can keep your white knuckle grip on language and experience that doesn’t work for you, and have a faith that is only as strong as those fingers of yours. This is true, not just for religious people who are steeped in the old language and thus find comfort in it, but also for those who are wandering alone, white knuckling their life as the nexus of their universe, desperately trying to be their own life. They intend to hold their own comfort together by the power of their own invention. You might be either/or. You might be both/and — probably the later,

Call God the Pulse and God will fill your veins. These words and melody flow through the song as a sort of key to the triumph of the anthem. We sing with the band through the journey of this song. There is an explicit drama in the song. Can this Truth prevail? Will the Pulse win our hearts?

“Unwinding of the thread
The needle of the curtain
The hour of the glass
The forest of amorphous
All your creatures long for the new creation
Where boundaries of death are ever failing”

Here is the new anthem: “All your creatures long for the new creation/ where the boundaries of death are ever failing.” The kernel of this wheat is in Romans 8:19-23:

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

The lofty melody speaks to this aspiration, this desire, as much as the borrowed words from Paul. We need an anthem to hold on to this hope. Ironically the way we hold on is not with an iron grip, but with a loose hand and loose body swaying — swaying to the music — floating and flowing — remembering who God is “Call me the pulse and I will fill your veins” again and again.

“Cast me in stone and I will weigh you down
Knuckles white, carry on
Resigned to wander, without any longing other than
I may flow through you again

Call me the pulse and I will fill your veins
Call me the pulse and I will fill your veins
Call me the pulse and I will fill your veins
Call me the pulse and I will fill your veins.”

But can we rest in that? The music fades and gentles us in a deep breath. I will be still and know who you are, God. I will be still and know who you are, Pulse. Breathe. But can I keep breathing? A scratching, technodystopian noise starts to disturb our peace. Dissonant chords lurk at the edges and start to threaten. But breathe, maybe we can stay here even as the other things that grip us whisper.

No, we must face reality, too. This journey is not just a bliss-out. There is another place we can go. It’s where we live most of the time. In minute nine of “Creature” there is a dramatic shift in tone that grew on us like fungus. How long have I heard that knocking?

“How
How long
In the dark?
I close my eyes
I hear that noise
How long have I heard that knocking?
How long have I heard that knocking?
How long have I heard that knocking?
How long have I heard that knocking?

Do you dare enter this place?
You wanna meet the devil face to face?
Do you hear what I hear now?
Well these fucks laugh at everything
Hey hey hey, No mercy
They’re screaming ‘til their throats are ripped and raw
They’re screaming in the name of God
But these fucks laugh at everything
No mercy in this place
Somebody needs to put them down
Like a wounded animal out of their misery
Hey hey hey
No mercy in this place
Somebody needs to put them down
Like a wounded animal out of their misery
Hey hey hey, what do you say?
You wanna meet the devil face to face?
You wanna watch your show about the living dead
well I can introduce you myself”

An intense, caustic struggle with the reality of the hell in which we live bursts in. The option to laugh it all off is real. A death-obsessed culture striving for immortality in eleven different ways at every moment screams at the door of any peace we find till their throats are ripped and raw. Our longing for a New Creation might just be a joke. That Something we felt was just something else. How interesting, your belief in God is. Maybe I’ll make a meme about it. These fucks laugh at everything. Next channel, please. The caustic solution of the hell in which we live will dissolve you.

But   the struggle continues in this song journey.  In minutes eleven and twelve, these forces throw their weight around, quickening their pace and wrapping their tendrils around our hearts. But in minute thirteen they shut up for a second and we can look at the hellscape from a different perspective. The New Creation melody reminds us again of who we are and who the Pulse is. We can sing the same sad, angry words with some more understanding — maybe it’s compassion that saves us from the fray, and thus the infected wounds that come with it.

“Do you dare enter this place?
You wanna meet the devil face to face?
Do you hear what I hear now?
Well these fucks laugh at everything
No mercy
They’re screaming ’til their throats are ripped and raw
They’re screaming in the name of God
But these fucks laugh at everything”

The words of the third track on the album come in (there are echoes of the whole album in the complex melodies interwoven in “Creature”). There is not enough time to convince the world I’m not crazy.  I don’t have to have every fight. I can be still and know.

“I’m just being realistic, I’m not hoping for a cure
Soon there’ll be no time to laugh away our sorrows anymore
No time to flow like water or lay down in peace.”

The rest comes back in minute fifteen with Dan’s amazing falsetto oo-ooh-ing and Joe’s piano flowing like water underneath him. The Pulse flowing through us again, perhaps. And here the drama is all melody. At minute sixteen, the fungal infection tries to creep back in with dissonant synth sounds. Here is your moment to ponder. Where will I live? In the technodystopian hellscape or in the promised future? Who will I listen to? The Pulse or the whispers of the snickering world?  Hope is now on the doorstep, trumpeting in and ultimately prevailing in a new iteration.

“The Chime of the Age of Gold has called all creatures bold
The seeds in the water have burst
The tentacles reaching out
Arm after arm after arm
Each one a different dance
No longer wound like a thread
They reach for a beckoning stream
Now they flow through it again…”

There is nothing we can do to stop the New Creation. Like thousands of jellyfish in a red tide swarming the shores. The spring has sprung and its unraveling whether we accept it or not. Strange, sometimes dangerous beauty is at hand. Can we dance with it? Creation has accepted the Pulse’s flow and shows us the steps of the new. But will we accept it too?  Will you see the writing on the wall and step into the new age of hope, through death, mind you, into the Age of Gold. The Pulse melody helps us along.

Now, a more devotional, personal assurance. We speak directly to the Pulse with some hesitation. Three lines of “If” but no, this is not IF –“I say if, I mean when.” This swelling confidence in the face of all we have been through (in our lives and in this song) has made me weep every time I’ve listened to this song so far.

“If the time of my age has come
If you’ll call this creature home
If I learn to lift up my eyes
Or If the When tells the Why
If you’ll flow through me again
I say if, I mean when
I say if, I mean when”

The New Creation is coming. Say yes! Then build it up. Make your “yes” loud. The new anthem brings all the promises of Jesus to our lips. This is who we are and this IS who we will be. Thank you, Tea Club! The boundaries of death ARE ever failing.

“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
All your creatures long for the new creation
Where boundaries of death are ever failing”

Then as the swell subsides and the melody reverberates into the quiet places inside us, a final threat makes a futile attempt. Minutes 25 and 26 may be my favorite moments of the song. A subtle thing you might miss with out a deep listen or these notes. There comes a static ringing, the musical representative of that knocking that invites me to the other place. It tries to swell back but abruptly stops at 25:30. The anthem melody echoes though slightly unfaithful to the original — just like our faith — like our memory of every swell that uplifted us. How soon they fade! How soon the notes fall! The struggle is always real. The limping melody resolves and at 25:45 and in its aftermath the static ringing builds for a frightening few seconds but does not prevail.

Dan breaks in with the gentle morning song that began the album, “The Way You Call,” giving one more blow to the creeping dissonance at 26:08. The If is defeated by the When, and the When’s song is sweetness — 

“The way you call, as if I don’t already know
The morning sun can share a cup with this child
The way you call and shed a tear with my own
And though it’s far when I believe it’s like Home, Home
And in the heavens there’s a fire returning my friend
Melting away the ruin of another age
We cried at the Lion and swam against the stream
To flow like water and lay down in peace
Hear my prayer, remember it when I am gone.”

I am your child. You share your goodness with me. You share my sadness with me as well. Jesus, the fire that consumes this ruinous age, the Lion who gives us courage to persevere against the current, the Pulse who flows through us and helps us flow in peaceful waters, to you I pray, remember me. This is our prayer. Amen.

How do Christians work? Is that even a thing anymore?

This blog post was co-written by Ben White and Jonny Rashid after our church hosted a meeting for theological thinkers and seminarians on developing a theology of work.

The problem of work in the 21st Century United States

France has a law that prohibits an employer from Emailing her employees after hours. They are enforcing “work/life” balance. Amazon warehouse workers are timed for how long they are in the bathroom. Speaking of Amazon, U.S. postal workers are being pushed to-the-max in order to keep up with the market driven by the supercompany. Meanwhile, our politicians keep promising us jobs and telling us how much they value the American worker. Amazingly, despite the flack they get from their parent’s generation, millennials are the hardest working generation—bordering on workaholism.

The meaning of work, it seems, has changed. In the United States, with many manufacturing jobs gone, we have an increasingly “knowledge-based” economy. It requires an education to enter, hence all the hullabaloo about free college and student debt cancellation from the rotating cast of presidential nominees. Work has taken up more of our interior lives by nature of this shift. “What is work?” is more of an internal question, and less of material one. The lessening of the physical materiality of work gives us a new problem. Work isn’t just about labor, it’s not just a means to an end, it’s something more—like religion.

Among our generation, people are trying to find existential fulfillment from their jobs. It’s only natural considering the above mentioned trend. But seeking fulfillment through such a limited medium isn’t working. Not for our friends, anyway. The pull, however, toward such patterns of thought, is present in us too. Our jobs aren’t meant to offer us the sort of vocational fulfillment we seek from them. But convincing serfs that their work for their lords is their ultimate calling is a great way to get good work out of earnest people. This is both true of folks who want to rise fast in their company, and those who serve in a helping profession.

Don’t let the existential dread set in

When thinking is work, it’s hard to think about work

That pursuit, despite being fundamentally flawed, isn’t too far from what Christian vocation may look like. Jordan Burdge recently offered us a reflection on vocation drawn from the inspiration of the Middle Ages in Europe. Check out the whole video here. He summarized vocations for Europeans as the choice between being a priest, nun, monk, or being married. Those where the basic options they had. Today we have so, so many more options. It’s really hard to sort through them all. So when our endless appetites meet the myriad options it’s pretty easy to make unhealthy choices.

Vocation is a popular idea in the United States and the Christian church that lives here. Not only are we sold the lie that we can become anyone we want to be or do anything we want to do, we’re often told we have to figure out that one perfect thing we are meant to do. And Christians are as complicit in this behavior as Americanists are. Our calling from God is much more universal than specific. You aren’t necessarily destined to do the work you do for money. Your satisfaction does not have to be dependent on the perfect fit in your employment. Paul was called to be a missionary, for example, not to be the tent-maker that sustained him. Same with Jesus as a carpenter, and the fisherman who left their family business to have a New Family business. Again, we are working on understanding work in a difficult era for such thinking.

The culture of work in the United States is so messed up, that it may be tempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Work may have been so corrupted by our economic forms that developing a theology of Christian work might be too much to consider. But Miroslav Volf took a shot at a Christian theology of work  and we would like to endorse and propose his core ideas as basis for our Christian understanding.

Volf highlights the challenge to think of these things because work is now by-and-large “knowledge-based,” and so “thinking” is working (as we said above). Space for contemplation, which may be seen as unshackling our minds from thoughts, in order to truly experience God, is taken up by “thinking as work.” There is rarely a moment in the day in which our minds are not fully engaged with work. We have to snatch every moment of mind to rest while our computer loads a file or we’re standing in the grocery line or we get no rest at all. It’s not all or nothing, but it seems like it is⁠—like the only way to get any rest is to unplug and go to Bermuda, and who can afford that with all these student loans, right? Somewhere along the line the only people who could live a life of contemplation became those who left the world and lived as a hermit or something. It was the Ancient Greeks who drew all these lines between things, but it was us who agreed not to cross them. An active life and a contemplative life are not polar opposites. They actually harmonize quite nicely. Though varying in degrees of importance in different times and circumstances, they actually work together to complete the other.

Volf focuses on eschatology and pneumatology as his sources of understanding work. The work of the Christian is known in doing whatever it is that helps to bring about the Kingdom of God or New Creation which will be fully revealed at the eschaton or last day (that’s the eschatology). The work of the Christian is also known through the spiritual gifts, or charisma, we have been given (that’s the pneumatology). Christians, then, need to work to find their gifting in order to cooperate with God’s plan of bringing the Kingdom of God into its fullness. Volf says, “When people work exhibiting the values of the new creation (as expressed in what Paul calls the ‘fruit of the spirit’) then the Spirit works in them and through them.”

Seeing Christian vocation through a glass darkly

We think our work is neither “sacred” or “secular,” but that our cooperation with God is something that happens across our lives and not just in the confines of our “spiritual life.” In fact, we reject the notion of “work/life balance” because it distinguishes work and life, as if you aren’t alive when you are working, nor are you working when you are living the part of your life for which you don’t get paid. These incessant dichotomies belittle our full personhood. We are called to cooperate with God in the ways that the Spirit has gifted us.

Of course, this is hard too. Especially in the United States. The guiding philosophy we described above is imposed on us with strident force. Work is imposed upon us as a source of meaning, whether we like it or not. If we are not actively examining our lives it will almost certainly happen automatically without our consent. But we believe that we cannot find meaning in our work apart from the Holy Spirit and cooperation with God. This isn’t just a problem in our neoliberal political economy. It’s a problem in any competing economic form. The Kingdom of God, as demonstrated by the church of Jerusalem in Acts, and all over the Bible, really, is showing us another way to live and to work no matter where or when in world history we seek some understanding.

It is hard to remember who we are and what we believe unless we are living it out in some kind of new environment. Our attempt in Circle of Hope has been to create an environment where people can discern their own spiritual gifts and apply them in service to the church, and use them in every arena of their life. Your spiritual gifts are not just for the church, and your education is not just for your job. Your natural talents and proclivities are good signposts for what God has for you to do, but there are many ways to express our gifts, and one might be your ability to not get exactly what you want. You might give more from your understanding of what the community needs. Keep discerning what is best in community and hold your opportunities for service lightly, and you will be fine.

Paul is plain about how important the different parts of the body are. Unfortunately, our stratified society has made a sort of preference for certain roles and not others. Our job is to honor everyone in the body so that they are rewarded with gratitude and love for their service, no matter what they are bringing. Monetizing work may be a necessity, and sometimes may be a good incentive to work, but we admit it’s not the ideal way to honor work. Instead, love, respect, and appreciation are more in line with our kingdom aspirations.

You can see the environment we are creating best by being in our community. Sunday meetings and cells are our primary places to do this work. Serving and worshiping in these meetings is the best chance we have to offer for you to exhibit the values of the new creation and experience the Spirit working in you and through you. They might be the invitation to a life of cooperation with God. Check one out on our website. But if you’re far away, get connected somewhere where the demands of your life don’t end at your own, and the people you love have space to earn your trust and help you see your gifts.

“West Pennsauken South” is the best

I’m a transplant to South Jersey so I look at maps often. (Or maybe I just like maps) This means I might know the contours and boundary lines of all our municipalities more than many native South jersey folks. All the towns seem to blend together as you drive up or down Rt. 130 or Kings Highway or Delsea Drive. or either of the Horse Pikes. My attention has yielded an awareness of one of the most oddly shaped municipal boundaries I have yet seen: the tiny strip of town between West End Ave and 42nd Street at Federal Street that connects the lower part of Pennsauken to the upper part.

Circle of Hope’s building at 3800 Marlton Pike is in that lower part of Pennsauken, On the east side of Rt. 130 is a neighborhood called Bloomfield which has Browning Rd and Lexington Ave as it’s thoroughfares. On the West side of 130 is a little slice of Pennsauken that many people is part of Camden. I think we should call this neighborhood “Pennsauken South” or “West Pennsauken South.” Neighborhood names are often the schemes of real estate developers, which I am certainly not, but wouldn’t a church be a much better instigator of community than somebody just looking to make a buck?

West Pennsauken South is a distinct little community with well kept lawns, narrow streets and tons of charm. When Gwyneth and I were moving to South Jersey we looked at a few houses in the neighborhood, but couldn’t find the perfect one available (though I’m sure the perfect one might still be here, but whoever owns it knows how perfect it is and won’t let it go).

Marlton Pike has promise

We’ve got great neighbors like The Work Group who run a job training and educational program taht gives young people a chance to earn their high school diploma and launch them into achieving their professional goals. They do their induction ceremony in our space, and it is always so inspiring!  Plus they mow our lawn 😉 We’ve got a bunch of small business owners like Francello’s Pizzeria, who just donated all the pizza for the “School’s Out” party we threw for all the kid’s getting out of school. We’ve got tons of diversity (at least five native languages on our block that I know of and probably more). We’ve got a bunch of people who care when caring is hard. We’ve got a bunch of people who love where they live and Circle of Hope is happy to “live” here too!

Plus we are right at the heart of the region across which our cells are scattered. All roads lead to the Airport Circle (where 38, 70, 130 and Admiral Wilson Blvd converge). This is good for our church planting efforts because we want to be a regional force for transformation. Our cells allow us to be local right here in West Pennsauken South (one of our cells meets right here at 3800 Marlton Pike — Shout out to Donna!), and we can be local in a lot of other places at the same time. However, Circle of Hope’s South Jersey Headquarters is in West Pennsauken South (let’s make that a thing! … maybe even start an official neighborhood association — I’m talking to people about it).

So let’s be neighbors! We’re glad we are, let’s do it well.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

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

Learning new things at Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books

I went to a book reading at Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books in Germantown, Philadelphia last month. Adrienne Maree Brown was reading from her new book Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good.  It was a fascinating time with a very diverse crowd of people. I kind of stumbled into the crowd, having not planned on going to the event, but I’m very glad I went because I have been stimulated by it ever since. Brown attributed the thesis of her book to Audre Lorde’s paper presented at the Fourth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Mount Holyoke College, August 25, 1978 that was later published as a chapter in Sister Outsider, 1984 Audre Lorde and The Crossing Press. Brown got permission to reprint the entirety of the essay as the prologue to her book. Her book is essentially a creative elaboration on Lorde’s thesis in a series of essays.

In many ways (though not exclusively), Lorde and Brown  work to deconstruct the religious hold on sexual expression in American society. This deconstruction is what culture warriors who dominate Evangelical Christian discourse have been defending against since the sexual revolution began in the sixties (and maybe before). Today, the established sexual norms and mores of one hundred years ago and earlier have almost completely lost their potency. Many Evangelicals and other traditionalists (often labeled “Conservative” by themselves or others) lament this loss. I can see why they might lament, but I am not interested in the power they had or perceived to have, which allows me to consider this shift with a little less subjectivity.

Audre Lorde and the erotic

I have a different subject. I am looking for the Holy Spirit’s movement in all things and can see it in this loss of power. Getting the Christian  Church of the hook of morality policing is a potential opportunity for us who would share the Good News with a post Christian world. Audre Lorde is helping me see a better way to continue our conversation about human sexuality that departs from much of how the conversation has been framed. Her words resonate deeply with my experience of my self, my life, my art and my relationship with God (something I wish I could talk to her about because I have a feeling she might have objections. Alas, she died in 1992.) Her observation that the slanderous conflation of the “erotic” and the “pornographic” was a ploy of the domination system designed to relegate an inherently feminine power to the realm of the obscene was like a lightbulb in a dark room for me. Lorde defines pornography as “a direct denial of the power of the erotic, for it represents the suppression of true feeling. Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling.” Yes! Uncovering the good that has been subsumed by bad is resurrection. There is life in these words even if I don’t follow Lorde to all of her conclusions.

Lorde further defines the erotic as “a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various source of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. ” This is true. She doesn’t need my affirmation, but I give it. She was speaking to a group of women but I believe this is true for men as well. I may not be able to access the same female plane she describes, but it makes sense to me that the overlapping space of the sensual and the spiritual is at the heart of all human flourishing. And, yes, that space she calls the erotic, has been erroneously buried under another source of knowing and power that is much more male, intellectual and sterile (as in not fruitful, not fecund, not capable of creating life or speaking to the deepest parts of life).

Again, Lorde writes “we have attempted to separate the spiritual and the erotic, thereby reducing the spiritual to a world of flattened affect, a world of the ascetic who aspires to feel nothing. But nothing is farther from the truth. For the ascetic position is one of the highest fear, the gravest immobility. The severe abstinence of the ascetic becomes the ruling obsession. And it is one not of self discipline but of self-abnegation.” This distinction between self discipline and self abnegation is what shines brightest for me in Lorde’s paper and brings me to Jesus. who had some things to say about self discipline and self abnegation.

What should we cut off? What should we grow back?

“If anyone wishes to come after me, they must deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) What does Jesus mean by “deny yourself”?  I think it has something to do with what Lorde describes as the proper use of erotic power. “The erotic functions for me in several ways, and the first is in providing the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference. ..[And it underlines] my capacity for joy.” She later adds, “To share the power of each other’s feelings is different from using another’s feelings as we would use a kleenex. When we look the other way from our experience, erotic or otherwise, we use rather than share the feelings of those others who participate in the experience with us. ” Jesus might say that it is that type of using that needs to be denied. The self that cannot be shared because it belongs too much to its owner is only capable of using and thus incapable of the real joy God made us for. Listening to Audre Lorde or Adrienne Maree Brown I felt like they had accessed some of that joy.  And that joy is very attractive.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”  (Matthew 5:29-30) This is not as attractive to modern readers. Jesus was serious about mastering our sin. And we who follow him cannot just  embrace all of our desires as if they are good by nature of them being our desires (I think this might be Brown’s perspective and the new orthodoxy of American society). The tension between satisfaction and denial of our desires needs to be more active than it is. It seems their are two poles of action: deny the flesh and all the joy it might bring or embrace it as the best source of meaning in a Godless world. Neither option is satisfactory but the seeming dichotomy comes from this denial of the erotic which Lorde so well defines. But we have poorly defined sin and cut off a part of our humanity in the imposition of the bad definition.

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. St. Augustine of Hippo will go down in history as the reformed womanizer whose personal process of self abnegation became cosmological fact and defined hundreds of years of theology and subsequent societal views on the erotic. He was awesome in a lot of ways, if only he hadn’t been so influential in this regard! Disastrous!

The erotic within us can be redeemed and this is not just a matter of sexual ethics. Again, Audre Lorde: “the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone… [because] once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.” This sounds a lot like picking up your cross and following Jesus to me.  We must deny the part of ourselves that is so hell bent on using others. But we do not need to deny the erotic itself. Previous generations, in their zeal, cut it off, but it can grow back.

Free to consider the erotic with Jesus

I think we need to listen to Adrienne Maree Brown and Audre Lorde because they are excavating a part of us that we need for the abundant life Jesus offers us. But I don’t want to follow them where they lead. I think Adrienne Maree Brown exercises another kind of imprudent zeal in her pendulum swing away from the erotic’s encasement in traditional sexual morality and the power structures that enforced it.  I am not cutting off sexual morality as if it were a member or an eye that caused me to stumble. I want to follow Jesus .When Paul says in Galatians 5:24 “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” I can’t believe he means all pleasure, but I can’t deny that he means some pleasure. Not all desires are good.  And not all good is always good. But the source of good, the Father of Jesus Christ gives good gifts to those who ask.

With the door to the erotic, which had been slammed shut and bolted, successfully propped open, we can consider our potential for shared feeling and joy it affords. I think we need to evaluate our desires more in line with this rubric of sharing joy that Audre Lorde describes than with legislation, religious or governmental.  This requires the Holy Spirit in community. We say in Circle of Hope, “How we relate sexually is a spiritual, communal matter and can’t be reduced purely to a discussion of private expression or individual rights.”  This is a needed addition to Lorde’s rubric, but not a negation of her beautiful reflection on what it means to be a human being. Jesus’ project is to make us become fully human as he was. And yes, Jesus was erotic, even if not sexually. We are being made perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. All parts of us are subject to that perfection if we allow them to be. So smell a flower, write a poem, make something, make love (to your spouse!) — enjoy what God is giving you and practice sharing that joy in community.

 

 

So I Started Writing Sonnets

“As poetry moved slowly off the tongue and onto the page the visual appeal of an approximately square field of black text on a sheet of white paper must have been impossible to resist.  Which is what the sonnet is, first and foremost: a small square poem. It presents both poet and reader with a vivid symmetry that is the perfect emblem of the meaning a sonnet seeks to embody… so a sonnet is a paradox, a little squared circle, a mandala that invites our meditation.”

— Don Patterson
via Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons

The beginning of my sonnet craft will forever be inextricable with the sonnets of Malcolm Guite. He is my muse and my mother, feeding me inspiration and strong food. Publishing these sonnets here is an invitation to you into my mandala, and a prayer for improvement for me. Please give me feedback if you are so inclined.

I enjoy the order of it, the game of saying something just so while striving to say something more than fun. Am I just clever or have a dug a little deeper than rhyme and rhythm? Have I said something worth saying? I’m still unsure, but it IS fun! And often it is revealing to me. The meditation of the making is more than enough to keep going. I hope you enjoy.

 

Blue Whale Buffet
(For Rod)

Blue whale, biggest ever born behemoth,
Whose bite’s much softer than all those who prey,
Whose song sends echoes far below green froth,
And whose serenity seems to us say,
“Can you have trust as one so big as I
Must have to grow so large off tiny krill?”
You, whale, so massive, look me eye-to-eye,
And share with me a portion of that which will
From remnants grow beyond the dinosaurs.
Give me heart beats for miles that thrum with hope–
Mine and ours, as we float and one day soar.
For now, receiving with more “thanks” than “nope”
All that’s given from your creator’s hand,
And not despising when we can’t or can.

 

Moo-oo-oon, God
(January 21, 2019 After the Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse)

Did you realize you made this pink moon trick?
And is it blasphemy to wonder if
The God of all the universe might pick
The constants, hold their decimals from shift,
Then let the rest unwind so unimpinged?
Are you allowed to be surprised by all
You’ve made? Like this moon now shown blood tinged?
Would that offend someone who couldn’t call
Themselves a Christian, or do only those
Self-proclaimed comprehenders really know
Why you designed eclipses white or rose?
Creation made but un-enjoyed — a show
That could be pure delight but willed by most
To be dumb fact or some machine-god’s ghost.

 

Being Seen Seeing

I caught your eyes on me when my own eyes
Were curiously cast and caught on you,
There seated by whoever was that guy
In whose car you o’er the river flew.
And two lanes to your right I glanced across
To see your pretty brake light tinted face,
That’s when perhaps you knew and so you tossed
Your own inquiring look that shrank my grace.
But not before we shared a second locked
As one in two, disarmed and not unsure
Of being seen seeing and yet un-shocked.
I know because you looked again once more.
On eastward slopes of Whitman’s river span,
We knew in silence what no mind could plan.

 

Prohurus’ Pen
(Prohurus is the legendary assistant to John the Revelator)

His words came slowly from a twisted face,
Shaped not by pain but by un-quenched desire.
With all his might he fought to find the space
In which the words and visions would conspire
To full reveal the depth of what he saw
When darkness burst with shining and he went
With Him who called him by his very awe,
On up to where the veil between was rent.
But how to say it well when now was here
And then was all of it in instant blast?
The seals, the lamps, the bowls and holy fear
The beast, the fire and all the crowns off-cast.
John wrung the words from dreaming, shaped them hour
By hour, and we, the channel of this pow’r.

 

Beside Interstate 90 Outside of Sioux Falls Almost Twenty Years Ago

I’m going back to South Dakota soon,
To see the prairie’s amber waving grain,
To stand beside the road and sing a tune
Of ocean’s swirling down history’s drain
But leaving here these waves, this roar and span
For eyes to cast across and somewhere lose
Their place to find it ‘neath their feet again—
Where Earth is solid but she wants to choose
A much more liquid state – to come alive
And shake me off my feet. Do you want to dance?
Shall I fall down on my knees? Should I strive
For footing in these waves or lose my stance
To swim in wonder and Dakota soil –
To dive down deep below this standing’s toil?

 

Haddonfield is Flooded

A geyser of the sweetest joy had built
And built the pressure under their school floor
Until it burst at three oh three and spilt
Across the street and into all the stores.
The flood of smiling children gushing out
Undid whatever dams or dikes inside
Me still intact to hold it back – my spout.
So when their Friday faces were untied
My own resistance too was overcome.
Surprised by joy again with old C.S,
Surprised this could amount to such a sum,
Suburban streets could yield from me excess.
A single tear enough for evidence
That life was better than my darkened lens.

 

I Guess It Was the Spirit

“Why did you talk to me?” Ty asked my friend Tre over text later that afternoon.

Tre answered, “We prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide us and that’s what happened.”

Well, Tre, that’s not exactly what it felt like.  But why wouldn’t it be true? What does my feeling have to do with the reality? Why am I praying for that (because I definitely did pray for that) if I don’t think it will happen? Why do I wonder if it did happen the way I asked for when it happened? Tre was teaching me something about life in the Spirit.

Thanks, Tre

Tre is 25 (more than 10 years younger than me) and he is my teacher. He is on staff with Intervarsity, a parachurch college ministry that wants to help evangelize campuses across the country. He was heavily influenced by Intervarsity’s work when he was a college student (not that long ago) and now he has dedicated his life to starting new chapters in our South Jersey Region. He started one at Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC). I’m helping him start one at Rowan College at Gloucester County College (RCGC) . And he has designs to start one at Camden County College in the fall. I love this guy!

He recently wrote, “A question for us to bring to the Lord is ‘Lord, what is it you want to do at RCGC? What do you want to do through us? God, give us a authoritative vision for how to mark your campus. Give us courage to act, the power to love, and unity in purpose.” That’s a good prayer! Have you ever prayed anything like that?

Our confidence does not come from our confidence. Our courage does not come from our courage. The places we inhabit are not our places. It’s all God’s.

When I walked up to Ty in the cafeteria I didn’t think about it too much. He was sitting by himself and did not have earbuds in or even a phone out. He seemed available and approachable so I gravitated toward him. We kind of freaked him out because it seemed so timely. He had been thinking (even dreaming) about his relationship with God a lot recently and he wasn’t sure what all that meant. Ty (whose name I changed for this story) didn’t really connect to the Bible Study that Tre and I  started, but his response to our invitation has me thinking about the stories I tell and the possibilities of the Spirit that I might be missing.

How The Bible Tells Me So

Here’s a favorite story about evangelism in the Bible:

Acts 8:26-38 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

These fantastic things get told in such a matter of fact way. There isn’t much editorializing. Luke (the writer of Acts) doesn’t say, “And Philip was freaking out” or “He wasn’t sure what to make of this strange urge to go stand by a chariot on the side of the road.” It is simply “The Spirit told.” That’s how Tre tells stories, too!

How I Tell Me So

I want to believe that Philip’s experience with the Spirit is very similar to mine. My experience is fairly ordinary — I prayed with Tre, then I walked up to the first person who seemed approachable and talked to them about this Bible study I wanted to start and we got into a pretty cool spiritual conversation that the person really needed to have. If I were in Philip’s place I might of told the story like this:

Best version of Philip yet from “AD Kingdom and Empire” #bringbackAD

Ok, so the Angel thing was undeniable. I can’t describe him to you, but he was like a man, but obviously not. When he spoke his lips didn’t move but it felt like the words spoke me. So I knew what I had to do.  I went where I was sent. (Having a sense of our sent-ness is really important, right?). When I got to the Gaza Road I had barely been walking for 20 minutes when this whole entourage of important people came rolling out of the city. I figured this is what I had been sent for so I walked beside the chariot as close as I could and when he started reading Isaiah out loud I was like, “Of course!” And then bing, bang, boom — first non-Jewish follower of Jesus. Whaaat?!

That’s how it feels for me. When two of the eight or so people who came to our Bible Study this semester decided to follow Jesus for the first time, I’m like “Whaaat?!” It shouldn’t have “worked.” It wasn’t that good. I didn’t have this dynamite sense of God’s power rushing through me the whole time. (BTW Have I ever felt that?) It doesn’t all make sense, so it must be the Spirit.

Be Sent

I got sent to RCGC. Tre really just pulled me all the way in before I could really talk myself out of it. And I’m so glad he did because I got to participate in some real Spirit stuff. RCGC is God’s. People there are looking to make a relationship with God. I don’t know what is going to happen next. This is fun! Pray for what happens there next semester.

And pray that you might feel sent somewhere yourself. Not just to start Bible Studies or one of Circle of Hope’s Cells but to bring whatever you’ve been given to where you find yourself. It is your sense of sent-ness that I desire most. Your home with your kids all day, your lunch break at the falafel truck, your early morning weeding at the community garden Wherever you are, be sent.

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