Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: cells (Page 2 of 2)

What is the meaning of life and what if there is an answer other than 42?

In Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the super computer, Deep Thought, takes 7.5 million years to find the answer to life, the universe and everything, and the answer is 42. Those who receive the answer aren’t pleased.

“Forty-two!” yelled Loonquawl. “Is that all you’ve got to show for seven and a half million years’ work?”
“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”

So when we asked “What does this mean” with the disciples of Jesus in the book of Acts last week as we celebrated Pentecost we were wrestling with what the right question might be.  The story goes that the disciples of Jesus were waiting in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit. A wind came through and there were tongues of fire descending on their heads and they were enabled to speak in languages they didn’t understand.  After this experience there were two responses:

Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Acts 2:12-13

The scientists who created Deep Thought didn’t know what question to ask. 42 is the answer to a question that people like those who accused the disciples of drunkenness would ask.  They are looking for an explanation that computes within their understanding of the world.  They are closing themselves off from the possibility of a meaning beyond their experience or understanding.

The best question to ask–and I’m talking about life, the universe and everything– is “what does this mean?” The meaning of life, the universe and everything is being open to asking this question and its precursor being open to amazement and perplexity.

In Circle of Hope we create think tanks, so to speak, for amazement and perplexity–for asking the questions that bubble up and for seeking the answer.  They are cells. We live our lives together enough to have a sense of each other’s lives. Consequently, the question “what does this [experience, feeling, situation, absurdity, fear, doubt, joy, love] mean?” actually has a shared meaning.  Plus, we live in community not only with each other, but with the Holy Spirit, who stokes the amazement, perplexity, questions and then even answers.

But if you’re not open to the question– if meaning is calculation and the universe needs to equal out– the minutia of each human life is inconsequential.  The oppressive demands for a balanced equation weigh us down and squash our spiritual imaginations before they can even emerge. I don’t think it all has to work out.  Not even the stories in the Bible demand some reasoned exactitude provided by a consistent system of thought.  Many Christians have been demanding that of their faith and understanding for a long time and I think that way of being Christian is collapsing under it’s own weight.  That way of living with God gets you answers like “42” and “they’re drunk.”  The living God is unpredictable but reliable to answer when we ask “What does this mean?” when he amazes us again and again.

Relating with Jesus is Contagious

Cells 5.1.15One of the most exciting things I did this week was create this map of our cells in South Jersey. I circled the area we want to impact in a brave flourish of hope and probably a bit of foolishness.  There are 571,192 people living in the towns inside my circle. I’m praying for every single one of them, but especially those who are lonely or searching for meaning (which could be the majority of them at this point). I know that our cells would be a great place for them. I have seen the power of even casual connection to a micro-community gathered around Jesus. We call our micro-communities cells because we want to be an organically growing movement of Jesus followers.

We are inviting people to be a part of something small and real. God grows us into relationship with each other and with Jesus. I tell my cell every week that Jesus has shown up. He is here and we can actually experience his presence in our relating. And that relating is contagious.

Here are four examples from the cell I just started in Barrington NJ.

  1. A couple decided together to be a part of the cell and it came at a perfect time for them to express their partnership as husband and wife. They were coming out of a rough season in their marriage and this common mission united them in some really great ways.
  2. One guy came to our first meeting pretty ambivalent about his faith, not sure if he would ever make cell a part of his life, he said on that first night, “Yeah, I’ll probably come when I have time for it.” A couple months later he was noticing the change. “I went to church last week, I haven’t done that in years. It’s pretty cool how I just want people to be a part of this cell. I was telling the Frito Lays guy about it at work yesterday, and afterward I was like ‘What is happening?’”
  3. A friend reported to another mutual friend that the cell has inspired him to explore his spirituality in art. The mutual friend who has known this guy for years said “I had no idea this guy would be interested in a cell.”
  4. church shitOur cell has an idea for another Circle of Hope T-Shirt. “Circle of Hope, pulling Church Sh*t since 1996.” That’s what one my cell mates’ friends call it when she is kind, or has a real conflict, or intercedes to bring about peace. “Oh come on with the church sh*t all the time!”  They tell her. Among her friends, who she’s known since before she became a Christian in a Circle of Hope cell a few years ago, she is known for her connection to Jesus. She told us how she recently pulled some “church sh*t” on her friend who was kind of becoming a frenemy- she had her over for coffee and said “Listen, you got beef with me that’s fine. Whatever I did, I’m sorry, but I am not going tit for tat with you. I’m gonna love you even if you decide to keep hating me so deal with it.” That’s some serious church sh*t. One person in our cell is not a huge fun of cuss words so we get to work that out too. It’s great fun. It’s alive because Jesus is actually alive among us.

I’m super encouraged by these tiny transformations I get to witness in the cell, and I am confident that many of those 571,192 people inside the circle on the map want to do that too. Our cells will include them, because that’s what cells do and then they will multiply and we’ll get to put new little blue arrows on the map.  I can’t wait!

A New Cell is Born

cell1Out of nowhere, we were sharing our struggles and gathering around Jesus!  A couple of weeks ago I met up with my friend Pat and convinced him we should have a cell in his house.  Last night we met for the first time–seven of us in his comfy living room, eating and not eating cookies (Lent!) and forming a cell.

A cell is the basic building block of Circle of Hope’s body, just like a human cell is the basic building block of our bodies.  For many of you that’s old hat.  But for quite a few people at the meeting last night it was news.  It was wonderful to try to express the beauty of what some of us had experienced and present this way of being the church to a new audience.

We believe that in relationships that form in cell groups we actually get to be Christians.  Anonymity is impossible in a circle so small and people get known.  People’s loveliness gets known and their not so loveliness.  We get the opportunity to speak the truth in love and not just wait for someone to change on their own, or go away if they’re bothering us or if they’re damaging themselves.

One woman told a recent horror story of a family member’s experience with a church.  When she was in a very delicate state the leader blasted her and talked badly about her behind her back.  I blurted out in response, “This is why people aren’t Christians!”  Again and again I hear stories of people being side by side in a church and they never get to know each other, they never have a conflict, they never love each other until some precipitating factor ignites the tinder and hearts are broken–sometimes faith is lost.

I keep coming back to Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians:

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” (Phil. 2:1-2)

If we are actually connected to the living Jesus then we need to do what it takes to be connected to each other.  We have to listen and feel each other out so that we can say with certainty that yes, we are of one mind and one spirit.  The equation can be turned around too.  If we are not of one mind and one spirit are we united with Christ?  I know that Jesus can reach out to us in our isolation–that’s what he has been doing since he was born–but once we become Christians we bear a hefty responsibility to work this stuff out in love.  It takes work.  The cell is a great vehicle for that–it is a weekly discipline that we can build into our lives.  It is costly to our schedules, no doubt, but worth the cost by far.

Last night we were just sharing something about our days and another woman shared what was happening with her and it was instantly recognized as “heavy”.  Her pain was acknowledged and the isolation that she might have felt (because we all feel isolated to a degree- even in a group) melted and started to drip.  God was doing something.  We gathered around Jesus and good things happened.  I’m excited for next week and who we will include in that love.

Yes and yes and yes: Partners old and new are to be found

I asked God, “Does anyone want to do this in South Jersey?”

diego rivera

Note her hands

I breathed deep and felt the room beyond my closed eyelids expand with my diaphragm.  The people seated in a circle with me withdrew.  In my mind’s eye, the distance grew between me and Kim who sat cross legged on the couch across the rug from me.  Like a balloon filling with air, like an eternally exploding universe, like rising dough—the space between us got bigger—not in an isolating way, not in an outstretched hand and slow motion “noooo”, but in a long sigh of contentment as we became supple clay in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  I got bigger too as I breathed deep again.  My closed eyes saw my hands had inflated too.  They were Diego Rivera paintings- comically thick and stubby.  It was as if my cells were making room for God.  I breathed again, spread wide and open to hear the “yes.”

Bryce led us to ask God our question again.  “Does anyone want to do this in South Jersey?  Does anyone want to plant and multiply cell groups that include new people in circles like this one where God stretches us out and pours himself in with sweet soul honey that makes your lips curl as you breathe love deep, drink love down and melt into it a little more each time?”

The answer was still yes.

A third time, Brother Bryce, instructed us to ask God our question.  A third time I asked, “Does anyone want to do this in South Jersey?” … and I hesitantly, meekly added a quiet “with me?”  A third time, “Yes.”

It was a deep down in between my cells affirmative.  A beautiful exercise from Bryce led me down into a sorely needed confidence as I teeter on the rim of a new canyon adventure, crossing borders and finding fresh places for the Spirit to move.  The movement started its freshening in me, splashing through the narrows of my heart in that tiny moment of perception in a circle with the partners I already have.  Their yes readied the next.  Their dedicated leadership is a foundational yes for our cell movement, which stands to expand this year as we as a Circle of Hope are entering our Second Act as a church.  Bryce, Kim, Nate, Joel, Sara and Donna.  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

Many of them joined in the raucous chorus of yes we celebrated at the Love Feast a few weeks ago.  Again I was asking the questions, this time after the words of Brother Paul in Philippians 2.

The Love Feast

The Love Feast

“Do we have any encouragement from being united with Christ?” I asked.

“Yes, we are encouraged” the reply was a boom that shook my heart.

“Any comfort from his love?” I asked them

“Yes, we are comforted” even more joined in with emphatic enthusiasm.

“Any common sharing in the Spirit, any tenderness and compassion?” third ask.

“Yes, and yes, and yes” 200 or more sang three yeses back.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been getting a lot of yeses from partners new and old.  I’m running around the camp finding out for sure who is with me and I am encouraged.  The answer is yes!  People aren’t just saying yes to me, though it does feel good on a personal level to receive that yes.  They are saying yes to Jesus and his mission here.  There are people we don’t even know yet who will say yes if we ask them.

“Do you want to do this?  Do you want to create an environment where people can connect with God and act for redemption.? Do you want to be an opportunity to explore and express God’s love?  Do you want to be a circle of Hope?”


And God says to their yes, “But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”  (2 Corinthians 1:18-22)

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