Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: evangelism (Page 2 of 3)

I won at Quizzo and you can too

The whole "Rhythmic Quiznastics 2016" Team (*name subject to change- every time)

The whole “Rhythmic Quiznastics 2016” Team (*name subject to change- every time)

Last night after literally months of toil, my Quizzo team won a $50 bar tab at New Deck Tavern for our first place finish.  We were very excited.  We were VERY EXCITED.  I was also excited because everyone on the team was a stranger to me a few months ago.  Making friends is hard and it’s at the core of Circle of Hope‘s strategy for making disciples so it’s worth thinking about for a couple of minutes.  We think that Jesus is best revealed incarnationally- as in through our relationships- human to human- flesh to flesh- carne to carne.  But when was the last time you made a new friend?

Some of you will say, “yesterday and last week and this morning.”  Others will say 5 years ago or college or “I don’t really have that many friends.”  I looked at my life about 6 months ago and realized I might have made acquaintances at the “yesterday and last week and this morning” rate but I wasn’t really making very many new actual friends at all.  Whatever the reason for our relative isolations (and they are as numerous as we are), we need to get with Jesus in order to overcome our hang ups to meet the next person and expose them to what God is doing in our life together.  If you can first get over the hang ups you may have about being intentional to share Christ in your relationships then you might want to get down to business and figure out how to make some new friends.

What I’m thinking we have to do is very practical so I made a list (they happen to alliterate so I’m obliged to title them Practical P’s):

1) Prioritize

If you do not make time for new people and new environments you will stay in your rut.  We are creatures of habit, and though many of our habits are very good, we will have to not do some things in order to the other things we have prioritized.  Figuring out how to make time for some new people takes dedication, deal making with family members, and follow through.  Make a plan and do the plan.  Whatever will be what it was before forever.

2) Pray

Making friends is good for anyone regardless of the reasons.  I’m making friends because I want to give people a chance to meet a Christian like me.  I also have a desire to be known and to share who I am with people and for them to share that with me.  We’re wired for it (me especially).  So our prayers are for the fulfillment of our desires as human beings and the fulfillment of our mission as Christians.  It’s neat how there’s no need for compartmentalization.  We pray because we know that we are only scattering seeds, God makes faith grow.  We pray for those who might receive us and we pray that we will have the courage to risk being received and also rejected.

3) Pay attention

Listen to others, see what they are interested in, see where they are hurting and needy.  Bless them with your presence.  By the power of the Holy Spirit we can perceive what many who are consumed in themselves cannot.  I was surprised and subsequently honored by the opportunities I had to listen to my new friends just by making myself available.  I’m convinced that we are all much more isolated than we appear from the outside.  If we listen and look closely, we will find those who are ready.

4) Pursue

It seems we are trained to bounce off of each other.  Hanging out at a bar could easily be ephemeral- a fleeting moment of connection.  But you can look someone up on facebook, or ask them for their number or email.  The tricky part for that for me is that it seems that doing that implicitly expresses a sexual desire in most societal circumstances.  Yeah, it’s just weird- we’re weird and we’ll have to get over it and do the weird thing.  I think that most people feel locked out in that way though.  The opportunities for intimacy are relegated to sexual encounters- and what paltry opportunities most of the time!  It’s hard for a lot of people to connect.  So blurt it out- the worst thing that happens is that you never see them again, and that was going to happen anyway.

How do I escape the stereotype?

I got stuck on the trolley for about 45 minutes last week. I also got stuck being a Christian.

Where much of my conversation occurred- 40th and Woodland

The trolleys were broken down in the tunnel and we were beyond the diversion point. We just had to wait it out.  Instead of being consumed by my fantasy novel I struck up a conversation with the man who sat down next to me. It started with our common inconvenience- a trolley in front of us was broken down in the tunnel and we were stuck behind it and very late for work (we weren’t stressed about it because it was the day after the big snow and we were already heroes for showing up at all). It went deeper when I simply asked him “what are you reading?”

I might have been leery to ask this man this question- he seemed a bit eccentric and I could tell by the titles I spied on his photocopied reading material that his interests were a bit weird too. He was excited to tell me that every clergy person was a charlatan and religion was just a power grab.

I listened and agreed with some of his points- scientists could now describe the forces at work which caused the sun to rise or the moon to be eclipsed which made ancient stories about gods and their daily celestial responsibilities seem false. Religious people had leveraged their spiritual power throughout history to control unlettered people groups.

My new friend considered himself very lettered and he was sure that if we all just thought about things for ourselves logically we would reach the same conclusions that he had reached. I held my tongue as he insulted all religious people but eventually got a turn to speak. I contended that his evaluation of logic as the utmost criteria for reality was not unassailable- how do you logically describe love? I rejected his overly individualistic approach to truth and pointed out that it was just as much an inheritance of the western philosophical domination system as all the other homogenizing force he decried. And I told him that I trusted my own experience of God and appreciated how the stories that had been passed down to me resonated in my heart and with my desire.

stereotypes

As soon as I expressed my faith I was lumped into a category. I was foolish and beguiled.  I was a bleating sheep.  We danced around our points for a while but I don’t think I swayed him. He did concede to me that I wasn’t stupid, just that I had made a choice based on criteria which he had chosen as less important than his own criteria. We parted ways with a smile and a handshake which I consider a victory. At the very least he met a nice articulate Christian who took him seriously.

But afterward I was discouraged.  Maybe I should have just read my fantasy novel.  I didn’t like being lumped.  At one point I said, “Listen, you don’t know me, you can’t put that on me.”  He was putting all the deceit and power of Christian history on my shoulders, but more so he was insisting that my faith was blind.  The moment I have faith I am deceived.  I don’t think there is a way to win that argument.  If I had the opportunity I would just have to prove to him that I wasn’t what he thought I was.   Arguments won’t win the day- only time, relationship and love.  That’s why Circle of Hope organized ourselves into cell groups- so we could create spaces for someone like him to have that opportunity.  God will have to work with this guy a bit more before he’s ready to get into a cell but if he did, it would be great fun!  Let’s pray for those we know like him and pray for more opportunities to make a way for people to get in or at the very least to have the conversation.

Going it together

I went to King of Prussia for lunch today.  My friend Phil works in a business park.  I had never been to a business park before.  It was very interesting.  It got me thinking about how incredibly astute we need to be at our isolation to remain separated they way we are.

Glaxosmithkline was across the street (it’s a bit shinier)

Out of the manicured wilderness spring dozens of big 1970s buildings.  Brick and bulbous yet nondescript on the outside, the inside of Phil’s office was bright with color and full to the gills with people.  I broke onto the cubicle floor with little resistance in search of a bathroom as I waited for Phil.  Cubicles are half walls now, so you could see everybody on the floor.  The bathroom was bustling with people amicably talking about sports and other acceptable topics of conversation.

When I got back to the reception area I sat across from the sandwich lady.  I noted the lack of eatery options in this sprawling facility.  “So do you take the food around to the people in your cart?” I asked her.  I had seen stuff like this on TV!

“No, Diane, the receptionist, sends an email, but there’s no Diane, so there’s no email.”  She answered.

The room full of hungry people did not know her bean salads had arrived because Diane wasn’t there to send an email to announce the bean salad’s presence.  It was interesting how together everyone was, and how very not.  An outpost of teeming humanity in the once teaming with game no-longer-woods outside of Philadelphia held together by email alone despite the borderline absurdity of this concentration of bodies in this should-be-secluded locale.

Phil and I crossed the parking lot to eat at a cafe in another building.  We were meeting up to talk about including people in Circle of Hope Broad and Washington.  Of course, Phil had a regular lunch crew that he had to let know he wouldn’t be there.  My observations about these people’s separation are mostly artificial, but the setting was too fascinating not to report and to correlative to our conversation.

Let’s not be this (I don’t think we are)

In thinking about the people that Phil knows and reflecting on our own experience as Christians, we lamented the isolation of faith into our very private lives.  Thoughts about the meaning of life are hard.  Thoughts about death and the afterlife cause a lot of anxiety.  Thoughts about confronting our limitations are painful.  If we are to follow some of the prevailing wisdom of our age, we should figure these things out by ourselves.  Regardless of what conclusions we are leaning toward, that’s hard!  But for many reasons it is in fashion to come up with everything out of our own head for it to be valid.  Why do we have to go it alone?

Phil and I were figuring out how to help our friends “go it together”–with us.  We wanted to be with them in their struggle and be sensitive to the pain they’ve experienced, but without cutting the part of us off that gives us meaning.  We don’t want to convince them that their isolation is wrong.  We want to convince them that we love them. Sometimes it seems like we have to censor our hope in Jesus to do that, and maybe we do at first, but sometimes our hesitation to be ourselves in Christ is more about how similar our pain is to those who have,  facing similar circumstances, decided to abandon the faith, nominal or otherwise, of their family of origin than it is about protecting those we are trying to love.  We need to revisit that pain with God and be healed.

All the commands that Jesus gave us are impossible to achieve without Him.  The Holy Spirit enables us to do what we are called to do by healing our past wounds, giving us courage, and even the words to say in those perceived as delicate moments of conversation.  It’s all about trust.  Our faith stays so small if we give it zero exercise.  Relying on God is really hard to do just in our heads.  We need to risk something to be saved again.  We need to die to something to experience the power of the resurrection now.  We need to “be with” as God is “with us.”  We need to “go it together” with those who are following Jesus and with those who are not.

 

Invitation

 In Circle of Hope we say our vision for fulfilling our mission is this:

“We create an environment where people can connect with God and act for redemption. Responding in love to our thirsty region and fractured society, we are birthing a new generation of the church to resist and restore with those moved by the Holy Spirit”

Here's a PM a while back

Here’s a PM a while back

We are the environment.

We are temples of the holy spirit (1 Corinthians 6).  We designed our Public Meetings to be an expression of the gospel by the community that embodies it.  We are inviting people into a relationship with God expressed among us.  We want to respond to Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28).

The people we know may notice our good behavior, but our morality little distinguishes us from a secular humanist, a muslim, a sikh, or a jew.  But really, I don’t think they are paying that much attention to you to even notice that you’re good.  If we want to make disciples we are going to need to do more than just be ourselves among them.  We need to create opportunities for those around us to see our faith embodied.  One of the best ways to communicate our faith to them is to invite them into a cell or a PM.  You may have experience with coercive street preachers, or over-zealous youth group leaders in your past but the overwhelming majority of people do not.  Being invited to a meeting is not as weird as you think, and if you can’t be convinced that it isn’t weird, it’s time for some exposure therapy.  The best way to get over your aversion to inviting people to your cell or our public meeting is to invite them to your cell or our public meeting.

What prevents us from invitation and why we need to stop being prevented

We have acquiesced to the cultural rules about politeness and religion.  We believe that people think Christians are pushy and we shouldn’t be like that.  We believe that religion is a private matter that every one discovers on their own, in their own personal way so we should not impose our process onto someone else’s.  We don’t always have a sense of ourselves as the light of the world and the salt of the earth that Jesus told us we are.  We are not always convinced that everyone needs Jesus or that we are probably the best chance they will get to meet Him.  Finding the words, the story, the way to shine your light, Christ’s light, is the point of Circle of Hope’s existence.  Some of those words are “Will you come with me?”

mouth

Personal invitations work best

Charles Arn, a church growth researcher, asked more than 50,000 people why they came to church, and between 75 and 90 percent of respondents say, “I began attending because someone invited me.”  I have spent some of my time as Development Pastor getting the word out in other ways- internet, stickers, posters, flyers.  Maybe I have prepared the way for some, maybe I have wasted a lot of time.  Either way, I am ready to see how many people I can get to come to our Public Meetings in 2014.

I want to create some excitement around our Public Meetings because I think they are really great.  A lot of us put a lot of work into them and I am often very aware of God’s presence among us.  Everyone I know who has become a Christian in Circle of Hope has come around us and been among us for a while before they made an explicit decision to follow Jesus.  I want to invite more people into that process.  Some of us are thick into this struggle and this is not a new challenge.  Others of us could benefit from a reboot or a group of people who are dedicated to this task together.  I thought it would be a good idea to gather a group to pay attention to the PMs.  Are you one of them?  Are you one who wants to join me in the invitation? Call me.  Or are you one who wants to receive this blog post as your invitation?  See you at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington, 1125 S. Broad Street on Sunday at 7pm!

Subvertising: let’s use advertising to supplant advertising

I remember seeing these weird stickers and spray painted stencils of Andre the Giant when I first moved to Philadelphia in 1996.  I was just a kid and Circle of Hope was just an idea.  Now Shepard Fairey’s OBEY design is almost 25 years old and it’s on a T-shirt worn by what seems like 1 in 10 of the college kids I’m seeing these days, and Circle of Hope is very much more than an idea and into it’s 17th year.  I’d like to see these parallels converge a bit more as I work to develop our mission.

Shepard Fairey’s “Endless Power” Design

Shepard Fairey is a subvertiser.  He’s managed to get really mainstream which is sort of weird but he’s one of the most well known subvertisers I know of. Wikipedia’s article about subvertising says “the key process involves redefining or even reclaiming one’s environment from a perceived corporate beast.”  I don’t know if Shepard would be so direct but one of the recent designs on his website obeygiant.com speaks that sort of language.  He takes an obvious message- “we are going to run out of gas” and makes it look cool.  He puts a funny mustache on the image of the emperor and it sells like hotcakes.  I do believe that he is not at this just to get rich (I think he’s doing that though) but he’s also hoping that his message is noticed on the shirts of all those college kids regardless of why the individual is wearing it.

Jesus is interested in reclaiming our environment from the corporate beast too, so I think we ought to figure out how to do it.  Of course we wouldn’t advertise (some of my friends in Circle of Hope can’t even stomach saying the word in the context of our mission) but we would subvertise and we ought to think hard about how to get our name and even our “brand” associated with resistance and restoration, questioning the powers that be, and liberation from oppression.  This is the message that is resonating with those who are buying the OBEY brand if only subliminally for some.

We want to do more than wear T-shirts though.  We want to supplant advertising and fuel the rebellion that Jesus is leading.

Another thing that I think is interesting about Shepard’s ideas is his popularization of the phrase “the medium is the message.”  It was introduced in Marshall McLuhan’s most widely known book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964.  Though not exactly a corollary, our incarnational approach to evangelism is akin to McLuhan’s and Shepard’s idea.  Our medium for transmitting the gospel is the community.  We are the gospel as much if not more than we preach it.  This has it’s roots in Anabaptist theology, yes, but more so in the message and modus operandi of Jesus.  He said, “I am the Way” –it’s me.  He went around preaching about other things too but he makes it clear in all four of the gospels that the most important thing is not a thing or idea at all–He’s Jesus.  The promise from Jesus is “trust in me and I will give you all I have from the Father, including eternity.”  When I say “we are the gospel” I’m not supplanting Jesus but I am being like Him.  No, I am not the Way but I believe the best way to communicate Jesus to those who do not yet know Him is to invite them into a way of being.  We say “We create an environment where people can connect with God and act for redemption.”  The medium, us as followers of Jesus and temples of the living God, is the message.

Unfortunately, just being who we are does not suffice in a world of noise and isolation.  If anyone is to be exposed to who we are we’re going to have to be conspicuously.  I think a really good way to do that is subvertising.  Let’s supplant advertising by using the medium, speaking the first language of our consumerist culture and see if anyone will notice. I’m praying they will.

Some ideas

  • Manifestos like this one printed on newsprint and inserted in the free papers like Citypaper and Philadelphia Weekly (if they live off of sex advertisements I think we can exploit them for Jesus’s cause)
  • Book marks in the books sold at bookstores or mock subscription postcards in magazines (I think I should probably be kicked out of UPENN’s bookstore, don’t you?)
  • Mock customer appreciation cards like this one

Print

  • Stickers like these
Stickers from the Street Team's "We Agree" campaign

Stickers from the Street Team’s “We Agree” campaign

Circle of Hope has a Street Team led by Luke Bartolomeo who designed this cool stuff.  We’re interested in these ideas.  Would you like to join us?  Let me know.

Benjamin White
267-825-5348
[email protected]

Dear Philly University Students : an open letter (it’s about Jesus, ok?)

Dear students,

Welcome to Philadelphia!

I want to be your friend.  What is your name?  Will you escape your own personal zone long enough to connect with me?  Most of you won’t, but that’s okay because I’m pretty sure some of you will.  But really, those people who are ready to connect are the anomalies so don’t feel weird if you think I’m weird.  I am weird.  So I’ll just go for it…

Don’t you think that Circle of Hope is a perfect place to dedicate your energy and creativity to Jesus?  Ok, you’re not that religious or you’re not that religion’s religious, but you do have energy and creativity and you’re looking for a way to use it aren’t you?  Why not Jesus?

  • It’s a real shame that the Church has been co-opted by the institutional passion-sappers of our society.  I don’t blame you for being suspicious, especially if you have a bad experience with the church or some pseudo experience with a pseudo church person (like on TV).
  • It’s a real shame that our prophetic voice has been silenced by things like student loans, international threats and fears of international threats (and threats of fear of international threats).  That which cows us under the pressure just to make it is that which we need to make our lives about unmaking.
  • It’s a real shame too that we’ve made it rude to talk about Jesus anywhere but in a Church’s building.  My private faith is meaningless.  When we trapped it in our heads we cut our own capacity to transform the world right out from under ourselves.

eastern fair

But Jesus is saving me from shame, so I’ve been working on having real experiences, unmaking ungodly powers, and being so rude as to talk about Jesus in public. I went to a bunch of student activities fairs on your campuses this week (Philadelphia University, uArts, Penn and Eastern).  Here’s a picture of me and Jonny at one today.  I was struck at how many of you (students) were interested in Jesus’ mission in the world.  Some asked me what we do in Circle of Hope and I said we resist and restore.  We say “Jesus is living the greatest mutiny ever – we should not waste our rebellion on each other.”  Too many of you have seen us wasting our rebellion on each other.  Let’s turn our focus on those forces which are hellbent on dominating us.  We have a common cause.  I’m offering you a common community and a common hope. 

Someone told me yesterday that they were excited about the revolution I hoped for but that it was a shame that it had to be about Jesus too.  I told him that I couldn’t do it without Jesus.  I’ve learned too much about what humanity is capable of.  I’ve failed to stop wars with the best of them.  My hope in humanity gets dashed even within my own life.  People betray me and lie to me.  I let myself and others down too.  I can’t be as ambitious as I need to be if I don’t have some sure hope–something, or better yet someone, bigger than myself.  “I’m doing this with Jesus,” I told him.  “Because I can’t do it without him.  If you try, you’ll come up against your own limitations too.”

The safest thing to do is to keep your head down and fit into the tiny space the economy has carved out for you.  Life with Jesus is not necessarily safe, but it is worth your life’s devotion– all your energy and creativity.  Circle of Hope is looking for you as a partner.  We will be safe for you to explore while you’re figuring it all out.  But if you get next to Jesus, you can expect an adventure at the least, a life worth living that is a threat to all that oppresses at the most.  Call me back.  I’m on your phone I’m at your door.  Find me, I’m looking for you.

Peace,

Benjamin White
[email protected]
267-825-5348
circleofhope.net
 

Pray for Campus Deployment

cori and benI really want to have a good idea for a flyer but it’s really hard.  My friend Jonny, who blogs at jonnyrashid.wordpress.com, made these really great flyers based on our conviction that we are part of the trans-historical body of Christ.  Six heroes of the faith have become our poster icons.  Here’s a picture of me and a friend posting them and here’s a link to more about them on our website.  No one is going to come to know Jesus through a flyer but they might be tempted to get to know me, or maybe they’ll be a step closer to knowing me and my people because they’ll know a little bit more about Circle of Hope, or maybe they’ll just know that Circle of Hope is anything at all.

We want people to have that opportunity.  We think we’re a good opportunity too.  Not because we’re all that great on our own (though most of us are really great) but because Jesus is among us.  It’s happened often enough now for me to expect it- if someone spends some time in our community they are likely to meet Jesus.  So we can say with confidence that we are an opportunity to explore and express God’s love.

deploymentLast night a few of us met at my house to figure out how we might use flyers and other means to connect with college students in our area.  We were thinking especially about uArts, University of Pennsylvania, University of the Sciences, Drexel and Philadelphia University.  Our cell groups, these circles of ten that are designed to be points of inclusion, are made for places like university campuses, where folks are looking to connect and become something new.  In the first weeks of school we have the best chance to meet new friends because their schedules and allegiances are still uncluttered (except for classwork).  We are getting ready.

Please pray for us in the coming weeks as we look for our next partners.  I really feel that God wants to do something new.  The fruit is in the bud, so to speak.  May we be there to help it grow.

Seizing Opportunities for Joy Sharing

BohnanzaSmash Up and Pig Pen.  Those are the three card games I played on Saturday night at Circle of Hope’s Monthly “2nd Saturday Game Night Extravaganza!!!!”   I won in Bohnanza growing rows of beans-green beans were my cash crop.  I won in Smash Up too with a group of Zombies and Pirates.  I lost in pig pen despite having two buckets of super feed- but 2 out of three ain’t bad.

I only played 3 games because I was more interested in helping people connect and meeting new friends (my favorite thing to do).  I was amazed at the diversity of people who were there.  I was surprised that so many were there at all!  Apparently there aren’t a lot of opportunities in the Philly area to play games, especially weird bean farming games like Bohnanza and unpublished indie games like Pig Pen.  It was fun to make a space for community to be cultivated.

By the time I finished Bohnanza there were about 50 people there.  There weren’t enough tables!  I had to take the opportunity to tell them who we were.  I wasn’t really sure what I was going to say when I called for everyone’s attention but this is essentially what came out.  “Hey everybody I just want to welcome you, my name is Ben White, I’m one of the pastors here at Circle of Broad and Washington, the church that meets here in this space.  We’re glad you’re here because we like to have fun.  We want to share our joy and yeah, that’s it.  Thanks for coming.”

I probably could have thought of something better but I had this sense of urgency that the opportunity needed to be taken.  I wanted us to be known.  I wanted our new friends to know that we liked board games and we liked them.  I had to seize the opportunity to do that.  Being a Jesus follower is kind of like these card games I was playing in that it’s often a lot about opportunity.  The old adage, “You got to play the cards your dealt,” proves true in these newer card games, and in sharing the truth about Jesus.  Having an elaborate long term strategy is a good way to lose, especially if you pass up present opportunities for a better one that only might come.  If you’re with 50 people in a Circle of Hope space, it doesn’t matter that much what you say you got to make yourself known and share your joy.

So I’ll take another opportunity here on this blog:  Jesus brings me great joy.  He gives me a purpose that is hard enough to dedicate my life to it, but easy enough in the end to not be afraid to fail.  He forgives me and provides me with a reason and a way to forgive others which clears the way for unhesitating connection and real community.  He loves me enough down deep to help me be vulnerable in sharing my joy at all.  I get excited about that and I want others to take the opportunity He is and receive all these things and more.

Trying to be question marks on July 4th

ontheparkway When you wear a sandwich sign some people will yell across a crowd to you.  I learned this and a lot of other things at the Party on the Parkway on July 4th, this past Thursday.  The first person to yell across the crowd got my attention by reciting what he had memorized of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (My sign asked, “are any truths self evident?”)  The reciter, whose name was Anthony, felt a little like he was being quizzed when I asked him, “So what does that mean to you?”  I assured him, there wasn’t a right answer and he loosened up a bit.  He gave me his email address later because he was interested in what we were doing as a Circle of Hope.

 

questions

Four friends and I decided that since our fair city was throwing a party on the Ben Franklin Parkway and thousands of people were going to be there, we ought to be there too.  But how do you engage with people in a crowd?  How do you break the wall of isolation between strangers?  We thought we’d try a sandwich sign.  I made three signs with three questions lifted from the language of the Declaration of Independence.  “What is liberty?”  “Who is deaf to the voice of Justice?” and “Are any truths self evident?”  The back of the sandwich sign said “#declareyourself” (our tweet hashtag that we thought we invented but was already in use by this organization).

The questions turned out to be way too deep or esoteric for many people to engage with.  One young lady just wanted to sign the Declaration of Independence.  A lot of people were ready to declare themselves in some way and we were ready to listen to them.  That was what we wanted to share: We are Circle of Hope and we want to listen to you because as one of flyers said “You Matter“.  signingdeclarationWe also wanted to be known as a people who want to do something about the systems of injustice.  Putting question marks after “liberty” and “justice” and “self-evident truth?” is a subversive act.  Many people felt this and immediately wanted to know what we were protesting.  I had to refrain from my ready diatribes and answer, “We’re here to meet people and hear what you have to say–what do you think we should protest?  Oh, and hi, my name’s Ben, what’s yours?”

I got yelled at across the crowd two other times.  Once by a group of girls I had met earlier, who yelled my name in celebration when they saw me again.  That was fun.  The last time was by a woman who applauded our question mark after “liberty.”  She went on about how the 4th of July was a sham and we aren’t really free, and neither were the original declarers even after they won the Revolutionary War and certainly not oppressed people of that time.  I enthusiastically agreed with her.  She was having fun with this.  Then I told her we were Circle of Hope, a church that was trying to help people get really free.  She let out a sigh of disgust and said, “Nope, I don’t do religion.  I’m free from religion too.”  I agreed that religious people had done a lot of oppressing but I could not convince her that Circle of Hope might be different.

Disappointing as that exchange was, she did confirm why we were there.  We needed to put a question mark after a lot of things, most importantly, after the preconceptions people have about the Church.  We’re working with a legacy of oppression.  She’s not the only one who thinks she needs to be free from religion.  I’m working to be the sort of religious person who challenges people’s notions of what it means to follow Jesus, who can be in and who can’t, and what Jesus is really up to in the world.  I’m praying that our question marks erode the resistance that is hardening the hearts of many.

 

1+1=2…OK, but have you met my friend Math?

I went for a walk yesterday through our neighborhood on South Broad Street.  I wanted to be a good neighbor and actually meet some of the people here.  I was particularly interested in meeting some of the business owners.  It’s the right time to meet them.  I can say “Hi, I’m a new pastor at Circle of Hope, what’s going on?” (I always like to have an excuse to strike up conversation)

The first place I went I met a man who when he learned I was a pastor was very interested in sharing with me about his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness.  I listened politely for a while but grew tired as he continued for, like, half an hour.  Finally I got a word in edgewise and I said, “I’m very impressed with your Bible knowledge.  You have really studied and memorized a lot of scripture–much more than me, but I have to ask-why are you telling me all this?”

His speech was mostly about facts.  It was kind of a demonstration of what he knew about the Bible.  I was impressed but discouraged that he didn’t want to make a relationship.  His response to my question was more about the Bible and not much about him.  I pointed this out to him and described how what we were trying to do at Circle of Hope was different.

My friend said that he had a responsibility to let people know the truth.  He said, and I quote, “You know, 1+1 is 2 and 2+2 is 4.  It’s like that.  People need to know these things otherwise they’re in trouble.”  My response to this oversimplification was, “Well, using your metaphor, I would say,’OK, 1+1 is 2 and 2+2 is 4.  You know that, but do you know my friend Math?  I know him.  I have a relationship with him and he’s changed me.’  I don’t think knowing facts about the Bible is nearly as important as knowing Jesus and I have a responsibility to Jesus and to those who don’t yet know him to help them see him for who he truly is and to make a connection.”

It’s not about the Mathematical facts it’s about Mathematics.  It’s not about Biblical Principles, it’s about relating to God.  But relationships are hard, but not hard like concrete–much to intangible for some.  Memorizing how many verses are in the Bible (as my friend had–7958!) is just so much more concrete.  I think that’s what Jehovah’s Witness’ have going for their movement.  They have a concrete way of being and believing that only requires a “yes” or “no.”  It’s as clear as 1+1=2 and they’re ready to tell you why.  But life is so much more complex and God became a human being in Jesus (a fact the JWs do not believe) to enter into our complexity.

I believe I am sent as a witness to enter into the complexity of this neighborhood and this city and help those who hear his voice, soften their hearts to him and let him in.  They’re letting me in, even in the storefronts on Broad Street, and I pray that’s a good start.

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