Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: circle of hope proverbs

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)