Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: circle of hope proverbs

Knowing the Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re learning something old.

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

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

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

SHARING OUR RESOURCES BRINGS FREEDOM AND UNLEASHES POWER!

ALL CAPS!

SHARING OUR RESOURCES BRINGS FREEDOM AND UNLEASHES POWER!!!

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

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

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

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

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

Financial resources forum at wayofjesus.circleofhope.net?

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

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

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

Things we need:

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

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

Circle of Hope’s Proverbs

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

SHARING OUR RESOURCES BRINGS FREEDOM AND UNLEASHES POWER

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

 

Elephants can swim and other surprises

Yeah, elephants can swim. Who knew right? Maybe you did, but I didn’t. It’s incredible that this 4 ton creature is even buoyant, but it’s true.

Some scientists believe that long ago elephants may have swam the 40 miles from the Indian mainland to Sri Lanka. I think this is crazy! What would possess an animal like an elephant to swim for it through the ocean?!

I’m imagining the first group of elephants that came to the edge of India and waded into the surf. Let’s assume that this is how it happened, because the other theory is that a land bridge (called Adam’s Bridge or Rama’s Bridge depending on who you ask) existed into the 15th century. But let’s just say they had to swim. “We know how to swim,” they said, “But we’ve never swam that far. We can see that there is land out there, across the ocean, and this land over here is getting crowded. We need more food.  We need to move on to what is next. But can we swim that far? Will the current be too strong? Will the little ones make it? Will there be food there? Is it impossible?”

This is the type of uncertainty that is par for the course when you start working with God. We say in Circle of Hope  “We are called to move with what the Spirit is doing next.” The next thing is not always easy to do or even easy to see.  It takes a disciplined ear and an openness to the Spirit to discern what is next. It’s often a lot easier to settle into what is. Changing meets a lot of resistance every time.

But God is relentless. Constantly calling us forward into something new. Some new territory, some new cell, some new team, some new experience. God is the opposite of static. I think this is because the world is so complex and God is forever gauging our actions for ways to bring about the future he has promised. We see it time and time again in the Bible- an elephant-swimming-from-India-to-Sri-Lanka type leap in how God is relating to people.

When I read the Bible as if I was one of the people in it I find myself saying “Are you sure that’s what you wanted to do there? Are you sure, God, that this is what you had planned?”  Yep, elephants can swim and God is even more ridiculous sometimes.

The crazy leaps, the surprises, the next-ness of the New Testament is inspiring to me. Nothing is final. Your estimation of yourself is almost certainly undervalued. The world is a crazy place but God is faithful- marvelous in the true sense of the word.

The marvel that I am basking in this week is that my friend Adam is alive. He said it best as quoted in the Inquirer article about his near drowning after having a seizure and driving into the Cooper River, “It didn’t make sense,” said Nicely, … “Maybe it’s a miracle. I can’t imagine dying that way. It seems silly.”

The neighbors, strangers, and Police Officers who played roles in saving his life were incredibly quick to respond. It does seem like a miracle–a great surprise. But the surprises have kept on coming this week.  Adam and his family are flooded with support from the whole region- Collingswood neighbors, to well-wishing strangers- to Inquirer authors.

But aren’t all these people are just like the swimming elephants. Elephants have been able to swim for a long time — long before I knew about it. These people were already great at loving a needy man and his family — I just didn’t know them. That unveiling of joy and goodness is heartening to me as we move into what is next. If these other people are capable such marvels, how capable then must we be as well? The uncertainty of what is next is lessened by experiencing the faithfulness of God wherever we can find it. You can count on being amazed.

What did you say about sex?

“How we relate sexually is a spiritual, communal matter and can’t be reduced to a discussion of private expression or individual rights.” I used this proverb from Circle of Hope’s collection in my talk at our Sunday meeting as an example of the type of unity and vulnerability to which we aspire. I was saying, whoa, if we want to go that deep with each other, we’ll have to go pretty deep with God too. The only way to trust each other that much is to trust God.

After the meeting, my cell mates (people who are in my cell) were like, “What were you saying about sex?” I hadn’t really unpacked the proverb. I thought others might be just as mystified by my lack of explanation.

When Jesus said “the two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:8) he was expressing something about how God designed sex. It’s true because God said so, and because we can see how it is true from our own experience. Harville Hendrix, a psychologist, wrote a book called “Getting the Love You Want,” which describes a way of relating to a spouse that considers the deep emotional nature of sex. His theory is that we are working out some of our basic unmet needs of childhood when we are having sex. Sex is an activity that is so primal it gets down to the core of our pre-conscious selves. Hendrix calls this our “lizard brain” –our primordial selves. Sex gets us into the depths whether we know it or not. This is why most people grow out of random sexual encounters and long for monogamy. They are waking up to the hollowness of meaningless sex. They are learning that sex is a door to a part of themselves that is often untouched. Touching it unconsciously leads to many unpredictable and undesirable results. The best environment for it, says Hendrix (and Jesus), is in a life long commitment because it might take that long to work that stuff out, and the type of safety needed for that intimacy zone is best achieved through marriage.

So at the very least, sex is deeply psychological, but I don’t stop there. When we get into that realm of who we are, we are talking about spiritual matters as well. It is in these deeper parts of ourselves that God needs to heal us most and where God often connects with us. “Deep calls to deep,” says the psalmist. Sex is spiritual. I think that most people believe this, even folks who aren’t Christian. Perhaps sex is overly spiritualized by some, and it is definitely worshiped by others (Like Wild Beasts in their song Mecca), but the fact that it is spiritual remains. (Do you agree?)

And who we are spiritually matters to the spiritual community. Our collective body is driven by the Holy Spirit and our connection and submission to the Holy Spirit effects the spiritual health of the body. “If one part suffers, we all suffer” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Our cultural tendency to keep our sex private is not misguided. Certain traditions of modesty help maintain the special relationship spouses have in their love making which I think needs to be protected. However, our brotherhood and sisterhood ought to make room for relationships that help make those relationships healthy and strong. That’s hard to do in isolation. Sex needs to be discussed at times, especially when there are problems in the relationship or the sex is occurring outside of marriage.

Reducing sex to a matter of individual rights is not deep enough. It does not acknowledge the depth of human experience, and the depth of God’s design for sex. Some groups have, because of oppression, responded to the powers by demanding their rights related to human sexuality (I’m thinking women and homosexuals). This was an understandable (and life saving in some cases) response that has begun quite a bit of societal change, however I don’t think it needs to re-categorize sex within the realm of rights forever. I hope it doesn’t. I understand historically why that has occurred but I’m praying that a couple more decades will reveal a society in which sex can escape the polemics of rights it has occupied in our cultural consciousness and get back down to the deep place God designed it for.

In the mean time Circle of Hope will continue to wade through the messy, God-inspired vulnerability of life in the Body of Christ, where how we relate sexually is a spiritual, communal matter and can’t be reduced to a discussion of private expression or individual rights. It’s difficult but God will help us.

Dialogue keeps us connected and protects our gravity

Praying for our new bishop

This weekend I went to the meeting of the Atlantic Conference of the Brethren in Christ (the denomination of which Circle of Hope is a part) and I was reminded of how strange and beautiful the people called Circle of Hope really are.  I live in a trust system and I regularly have dialogue that is uncomfortable and/or unresolved all the time. We don’t agree to disagree, we agree to agree- constantly striving to be of one mind even when we have to hold our disagreements in tension for a while. We are bound together in love, not in a common thought system or ideology. This love takes mutuality and time, which our current strategy for conference meetings does not give us.  The meeting is way too short for the 300 or so people who were there to connect in any real way and the topics of conversations were too minute for us to have any room for meaningful dialogue.  We weren’t asking the sort of questions that could unite us in a common cause.  We weren’t figuring out how to do what God was calling us to do. We were showing up out of fealty to an organization we love.  That’s why I went–not because I felt it was vital to our mission, but because I felt a sense of duty to the Brethren in Christ.  I think we can make those meetings vital to our mission. Just add a whole lot more dialogue.  Here’s what Circle of Hope says about dialogue in our proverbs.

Dialogue keeps us connected and protects our gravity

  • Everyone is recovering from the sin addiction; expect conflict.

  • We want to achieve our way through the danger and opportunity of conflict: being affirming and assertive, concerned with relationships and goals.

  • Forgiveness is the root of our love; because we are flawed, loving each other is not always easy. We practice Matthew 18. Our body is held together by a dialogue of love.

  • Truth without loves kills, while love without truth lies.

  • Engaging in healthy dialogue is what keeps us real. We want everyone among us to experience respect and understanding as they explore what they think and feel.

  • Jesus is living the greatest mutiny ever – we should not waste our rebellion on each other.

  • Everybody gets listened to, but people who make and nurture disciples and who make love happen get listened to more.

Sunrise through the snowy mist

In my new role as pastor of Circle of Hope at Marlton and Crescent I am searching for ways to make dialogue happen. I see our sense of ourselves as a team increase when we get together to tackle a task, whether it’s fixing the roof, multiplying cells or making our Public Meetings incredible spaces for encountering God. I have witnessed my new congregation already adeptly living this out and I’m looking for ways to help us do it even more. This probably means more meetings.  Meetings get a bad rep because its easy to think that talk is cheap, but if we remember that in authentic dialogue we are making real connections with others and protecting our gravity we can rescue meetings from that bad rep. Can we be so bold as to say with Paul in Romans 1:11 “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong–” If this were the thought of each of the delegates of the Brethren in Christ Atlantic Conference (which I think it is for most) and we had enough time to express that to one another (which is not the case) then the drive across half the state would continue to entice me, and for better (and more sustainable) reasons than the ones with which I went.

(BONUS- we did get to express our mutuality in prayer and support of Bryan Hoke- our new bishop, and I was up early enough to see the sun explode the snow in a beautiful misty sunrise over a Lancaster County field)

Jesus is Still Best Revealed Incarnationally

IMG_4867You’re the best Bible most folks are ever going to read.  That’s true if you are a follower of Jesus, even a “bad” one in your own estimation, because most people are NEVER going to read the Bible.  Even though a majority of Americans believe in God and even though there’s still a “Bible-Belt” where most people do go to church every Sunday, a Christian doing the things that are recommended, commanded or described in the Bible is still a much better for someone to meet Jesus than most other ways.

In Circle of Hope we say we must be doers of the word because we want our community to be an environment in which people get to know Jesus in the flesh- our flesh.  So we are serious about all the stuff that’s in the Bible, especially the stuff Jesus said- even the hard stuff like loving our enemies, confessing our sins to one another, forgiving 70X7.  Of course we don’t do this perfectly–we don’t even do it well sometimes, but we have created a system that consistently engenders people to try.  Jesus responds to our intention by giving us the Holy Spirit when we come up short.

There was evidence of this on Monday night when 35 people came to Pennsauken to study our Cell Plan together.  I was inspired by the amount of interest in creating little discovery zones for people in our region, and hopeful for what God might do with the group of people who gathered.  During the training, I gave a little explanation of this chart.

presentation evangelism vs incarnational mission

There is room for you before you “get it” or even “get with it.”  It’s not our job to judge you.  We are not even supposed to judge ourselves if we follow the example of Paul (1 Corinthians 4:3) and John (1 John 3:20).  I don’t know how you can follow the presentation evangelism model and not judge people before they can get in.  Some folks are trying to do something different but end up doing the same thing only now without a tie.  Coming at evangelism like the collumn on the left is like putting up a wall.  Jesus is a stumbling block for a lot of people!  Their hearts are hard and often for good reason.  Demanding allegiance before they can feel it is just a bad idea, and the proof is in the pudding as the Bible Belt cinches smaller and smaller so to speak and the “nones” (those who claim no religious affiliation) grow.

So yes, Jesus is still best revealed incarnationally.  Circle of Hope is proof of that.  I’m trusting he will be revealed in my cell tonight.  It’s in Barrington, NJ, want to explore?