Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: HOPE

To the Graduates of 2021

This is to the graduates – college grads, high school grads, other kinds of grads, too. In my neck of the woods I’m talking to Camden, Pennsauken, Collingswood, Cherry Hill East and West, Haddon Township, Gloucester City, Audubon High Schools, and more. I’m talking to Rutgers, Rowan, the community colleges in Camden, Burlington and Gloucester Counties and more at that level, too. (Much love to the universities that made my home turf, “University City”, in Philly as well). To ALL the graduates, I’m sending you love. What a time to start out with something new! What a time to step into your agency! How much you have had to face! How different were your last two years of school than you had ever expected! What is it like to face THIS world into which you are delivered? Note that last sentence has a question mark and all the others were exclamations. These are my reflections for you but I don’t really know what it’s like. I can only imagine. 

Campesinos and Coffee

When I was 18 I won the oratory competition for my senior class. I delivered a very practiced speech on the injustice of the international coffee trade which featured a campesino in Colombia I had completely invented. I vowed to only ever drink fair trade coffee (And this was when fair trade coffee wasn’t even very much of a thing… AND, and I write this while sipping Dunkin Donuts.) I was very idealistic, and I hadn’t had much time for compromises yet. I’m not recommending compromises to you; I think that vow was better than my current convenience, but it happens. And I’m telling you that it happened to me so I don’t come off as just another old guy pontificating (even if that’s unavoidable).

I also bring up the oratory award because way back then, it triggered a nudge from my class’s sponsor to enter another speech competition to determine who would give the “class address” at our graduation ceremony. This was a separate speech from the “valedictory address” given by the valedictorian and the “Parents Acknowledgment” given by the class president (There were a lot of addresses). So I decided to enter that competition at the last minute, but I needed a speech.

Dad Said Get Mad

I have a vivid memory of sitting on a stool in our basement as my dad cut my hair and asking him what he thought needed to be said. I’m doing the same thing now as I write this blog. My dad said something like, “I think you should acknowledge the anger. There are all kinds of problems you’re inheriting and those in power don’t seem to care at all.” It resonated with me. 

It sounded like a punk anthem my brothers and I were always playing in the car:

KLOVEROur Way (1995)

“We’re the radiation generation
When we was born I wish iId known
Mom and daddy got the meat
And we got the bone”

I felt that jilted. WTF mom and daddy! Punk may be kind of dead so I went looking for a contemporary example, and it wasn’t hard to find.

AJRWay Less Sad (2021)

I wake up and I’m not so mad at Twitter now
Livin’ sucks but it’s suckin’ just a little now
And I don’t wanna cry no more
So I set my bar real low

Don’t you love it, don’t you love it?
No, I ain’t happy yet
But I’m way less sad

Dang! It’s got that same clear-eyed understanding of how jacked up the world is 25 years later, but so much more resignation. AJR is setting the bar real low with a happy vibe that is dripping with irony. I think that irony is a response to the same anger I was vibing with 20 years ago. Yes, I am officially THAT old, but I don’t think my class has organized a 20 year reunion. By the way, a four year old shouted “old man” at me to his mother’s horror today as I left the Dunkin Donuts. It was too fitting because I had already begun this reflection. In response to her apology I said, “It’s ok, he’s right.”

It’s True, I’m an Old Man, but Can I Be Mad with You?

But this old man still feels jilted even though I have fully arrived at the power position our culture bestows upon me. My dad was less than ten years older than I am right now when he advised me in the basement to express my generation’s anger. That’s sitting heavy on me, for sure, but back to the story…

So I slapped a speech together for the selection committee of the class address. It wasn’t nearly as polished as my coffee speech, which I had delivered dozens of times during Academic Decathlon competitions, and I ended up bombing the delivery. I was not selected, but the class sponsor commended me for the honesty. It was not optimistic mountain climbing success delusions expected at such things. I like to think it was a prophecy. I can’t remember if it actually was.

But there are still many reasons to be angry, my graduating friends. I don’t need to tell you that, but I’d like to be another old guy telling you you’re right. I’d like to be another person listening and nodding their head at least. But more than that I would like to be someone who listens to you and follows, someone who hears the perennial prophecy of June for the same damn problems and does something that makes change. At the very least I would like to change. 

Even though… … … …

It might be impossible, but don’t set the bar real low. Even though there’s no certainty a college degree will get you a job. Even though trade careers are hard to find without some piece of paper or a family connection. Even though crippling student debt is still a sound piece of advice. Even though the racial reckoning that began last summer is resulting in ideological bickering that effectively avoids actually doing anything to address racial inequality. Even though climate catastrophe has moved from the prevention phasee into the adaptation phase. Even though gay folks your age still take their own lives rather than face their community’s refusal to help them know that they belong. Even though no, you “ain’t happy yet,” and “Why would I be happy?” seems like a very reasonable retort. Is it possible not to set the bar real low? You can give up on old guys like me, but don’t give up on yourself. There is a future.

And it doesn’t have to be you. 

There is a future, and it doesn’t have to be you… but it can be. 

But Also Jesus

I believe the future is inevitable and it is good. Even if we leave the bar on the floor, there’s more than what we hope for, whether it’s low or high. Don’t give up on the future. One way to keep caring, and I would recommend it, is to follow Jesus, who’s got this whether we do or not. Jesus is doing something bigger than mountain climbing optimism or soul crushing acceptance of inevitable disaster. 

I think Jesus can help you become old and still love it when the young people are mad. Maybe you won’t compromise on fair trade coffee, or whatever else you care about. Maybe you will. But a better “maybe” would be that you get bigger than whether you get it right or not. Maybe that.

Maybe there’s more than meets the eye, especially your eyes in the mirror. I can assure you the world is not getting better, but you might be. There is a future, and it doesn’t have to be you all by yourself. But the world could use you just as you are right now — whether you care a lot or a little, whether your bar is low or high. I’ve found it works best with Jesus and his people. With them I have made it 20 years without giving up, and hoping for 20 more.

God bless you, graduates. Congratulations on living through impossible times. I think you’re doing great. And I’m listening.

 

A Shirtless Dancing Guy for Your Joy

Min 0:00 Just a shirtless dancing guy

In 2009, on Memorial Day Weekend, there was a music festival in the town of George in the state of Washington. And at this “Sasquatch Festival” a shirtless man started dancing. But his dance solo became an irresistible dance party in a matter of minutes and some blessed person captured it on video for the rest of the world’s much needed inspiration.

I can’t stop watching it because as a Jesus follower I feel a lot like a ridiculous shirtless dancing man when I am doing half of the things I do.  Sometimes that feels good — “Yeah! Take a look at my freak flag flyin’!” Sometimes that feels terrible — “This is ridiculous! What am I doing with my hands? Where is my shirt?”

But I think that the almost 22 million people who have watched this YouTube video are attracted to this dancer because they long for that kind of  transformational moment to happen to them. The courage, faith, hope, influence, passion, fun and togetherness we witness when we watch him being himself becoming a raucous throng brings me joy every time I watch it (and I have watched it at least a dozen times.)

The first time I watched it I actually cried. Maybe it was the longing to be together like that. The contrast between then and our Covid-19-isolated-now is almost too much to bear. Maybe it was just the longing for a post-Covid-19 future, but I think it was more. I long for this kind of joy to spread in the world. I long for this kind of success, honestly. As I persist in my faithfulness to Jesus, I want the fruit of an uncontrollable party.  Let this video be a parable that inspires us to not give up. Also, let it be to me (and maybe you, too) a reminder not try so dang hard. Please watch the video, I loved it so much, I thought it needed a play by play on my blog.

Min 0:20 Green shirt guy joins in.

Maybe the videographer started a little bit in ridicule? — “Hee, hee, look at this crazy guy!” But the power of the moment quickly transcended any shred of potential ridicule. Because this shirtless dancing guy’s energy spreads.

The first disciple shows up at min 0:20 of the video. Green shirt guy runs the risk of stealing shirtless dancing guy’s spotlight. Is green shirt guy ridiculing him too? No, he can’t be, because shirtless dancing guy welcomes him to the party of one. They clasp hands for a moment. Shirtless dancing guy loves having a partner. We don’t know if his intention was to start something, but he does. I tend to think he was just being himself and then something beautiful happened.

Praise God for green shirt guy and for everyone like him. The ones who will join in on the crazy, the early adopters, the ones who were looking for a party. Bless them. Shirtless dancing guy is not an incredible dancer. He doesn’t care. Green shirt guy is even worse, but that does not matter. he somersaults and cartwheels poorly. He shakes his booty and starts making a movement where a movement may have never happened.

I can think of a couple people in my life who gave me the courage to keep dancing. The little ember of my energy needed someone else to burn. There have been moments when I thought I might just burn out. I needed a green shirt guy and I am forever grateful for all the one’s who have joined me.

Min 0:54 Black shirt guy shows up.

The second disciple arrives. At min 0:54 black shirt guy gets in on the action and now it’s really getting fun.  They dance and fall down together. Praise God for all the black shirt guys of the world. The ones who see what is happening and get happening with it. Now it is apparent that there is a welcome in this group. Black shirt guy thinks, “Green shirt guy was welcome so why shouldn’t I be welcome?” That’s all they needed. Green shirt guy opened the door and black shirt guy walks right through it without hesitation.

It reminds me of the first disciples of Jesus in John 1. The first thing Andrew did after joining Jesus in his dance party was to find and include Simon (later named Peter by Jesus). The first thing Philip did after joining the dance troupe was to find Nathanael.  Andrew and Philip are green shirt guys. Simon and Natanael are black shirt guys. I’m so glad they joined the Jesus dance party because it eventually spread to me and now I get to dance too.

Min 1:15 The tipping point.

The avalanche begins at min 1:15. A whole group of people hop into the dancing and then the rest of the video is just a growing joy. What started as just a shirtless guy letting his freak flag fly became something so much more than I imagine he had ever imagined.

I am encouraged by this because as much as I want to make an avalanche of love like this happen among the people around me, I have no idea what little pebble will start the big rocks to rolling. This is much bigger then shirtless dancing guy and the things I do are so much bigger than me. If I controlled the world, my avalanches would regularly be the disasters to which this metaphor owes its origin. Why would I want to burry people in the rubble of what I alone think is best?

And yet that is what I want. I really, really want my proverbial dancing to spread. But I must learn to give my gifts in the humility of shirtless dancing guy. I do not know what is best. And if you have ever been to a music festival you know this: there is always a shirtless dancing guy. Not every freak-flag-flying fest results in an avalanche of joy. “Is that okay?” I ask myself. If I’m honest, my answer is “No,” and I think that “no” is a cap on the outlet of my purest and best energy. Striving for more than enjoying the music of life with God, I know this in my spirit, tamps down my creativity and all that might be  planted in me that is as irresistible as shirtless dancing guy’s power.  Sometimes there is an avalanche. Sometimes there’s just a shirtless guy dancing. Keep dancing.

Min 2:30 Out of control dance party

By min 2:30 people are running across the lawn to get to the dance party. It is out of control. The spark lit by one shirtless dancing guy’s passion has grown into a wildfire from which I hope you can feel at least some of the heat, across the decade since this was filmed and among the millions who have basked in its warmth across the YouTube screen.

At min 2:52 a person behind the camera says in amazement,  “How did he do that? How did he do that?” Perhaps she was the one who began her video with maybe a little bit of ridicule. Whether the video ended like it did or not, she would have been filming greatness, but she didn’t understand it when she hit record. I haven’t brought any more understanding to it with my play by play. My sole aim is appreciation and inspiration. This is not a “how to spark a revolution or a revival” post. I join her in her amazement — “How did he do that? How did he do that?”

And though I don’t know all the answers (I might not know even one), I am filled up to overflowing by this video so much that I had to share it with you. May it be a blessing for your hope. May it be a spark of joy that gets you through today, through the hesitation that keeps you from your own best kind of dancing, through the darkness of terrors in this benighted world, and through to a glimpse of Jesus dancing, as I am sure he does often.

Watch it again! https://youtu.be/GA8z7f7a2Pk

 

Hope From a Couple of Poets

Where is Jesus?

Poetry helps me reach into and beyond reality. The news out of Louisville, Kentucky this week hit hard for me and my friends. Breonna Taylor’s murderers are not held accountable and it is all very legal. The worst part for me was that so many Christians I know were  running to defend the rule of law as if it were any kind of legitimate justice. It made me cry. What is religion if it produces “law and order” acolytes alone? What is religion if hearts and bodies are far from free? Where is Jesus?

Here is One of Isaiah’s Poetic Answers

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

— Isaiah 58:6-9

Here is One of My Poetic Answers

A couple of weeks ago I spent a day and a night at the Villa Pauline Retreat and Spiritual Center of the Sisters of Christian Charity in  Mendenham, NJ. I rambled all over their property which was a grand estate in a neighborhood of grand estates. In response to the question that came up in my heart as I walked and later wrote in the poem below, I have a strong sense that many of the sisters who live there would definitely want Jesus, hidden in the children of the neighborhood, to use their snowy hills for wintry fun, but I doubt it ever happens. There are definitely litigious obstacles — liabilities and lack of indemnities. There are also communal obstacles — more exactly  the lack of it. In a land of gated estates, I wonder if any child would ever wander to the sister’s perfect hill and try to sled. This poetic vision helps me meditate on the deeper, beyonder realities of Mendenham and my current despair. There is a way-it-could-be better than the limits of our religious devotions, civil and otherwise. In this poem I am digging for hope. I need to rend the veil of our reality and its many, many obstacles. I need answer for “Where is Jesus?” And on this day, on retreat I saw him in snow pants.

The Convent Hill

The truest mark of true religion’s trust
Is whether children are allowed to sled
The convent’s perfect hill. Forget those musts
And shoulds and oughts, and all those clanging dead,
And tell me if there’s cocoa on the porch.

What else could that steep green slope be for
But Jesus wearing snow pants launching forth
And at the bottom sure there’s time for more?
“Again!” Toboggans full of windy tears,
“Again!” A downward rush of icy spray,
“Again!” Wet laughter’s leap right over fear,
Until the darkness overtakes the day.

So can this be or will my vision fail?
May children use your hill to rend the veil?

—–

You can listen to me read it here.

Photo and poetry by Ben White

 

Hope Bigger Than Just Hype

jjandeI believe that a coffin sized rectangle of reclaimed lumber in the front yard of Circle of Hope’s repurposed firehouse in Pennsauken will change the world. We put some fresh soil in it and we’re going to grow some food then offer the produce free to passersby. This will destroy the forces of evil. Sounds grandiose, right? It is, and it’s overblown, but it’s our only hope.

It’s our only hope because in order to do anything at all (and the things we do are often small- like planting a raised bed in our yard) we need to have hope that it matters to something bigger. I think transcendence is a basic human need. We are built to desire a connection to something greater than ourselves. We all hope in some way that our tininess contributes to a bigger whole, like when Mother Theresa said “We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”

Our 20 or so square feet of garden will change the world because it is a drop in an ocean of goodness that has its source in Jesus’ redemption project for the world. We are participating in a future that has already been promised by the most trustworthy of promisers, God himself. The world is going to change one way or another. My hope is in Jesus’ return and his establishing a new order that blows all our best guesses at heaven out of the water, but in the mean time the world will change because we are not alone in our tiny acts of hope. The inevitability of the peaceable kingdom that is promised to us in the Bible works its way under my fingernails in the dirt of our garden to be and deep into my heart in my practice of hope.

It’s so much easier not to try after all. There are a lot of reasons not to. The impossibility of the task- it seems like it’s the ocean against our little drop. We’re more worried than ever about being consumed because that is what we are most interested in doing collectively as a culture. So even when we are inclined to put our hope into action, we are often defeated by anti-hope forces like our own cynicism, the immensity of the domination system, and fear. Last night at my cell meeting we were kind of overwhelmed by the question “Do we have to change the world?” I think most of us hoped the answer was no. We don’t want that responsibility and we certainly don’t want to be judged for not caring.

These sort of discussions in abstract always seem to devolve into shame and apathy. We think we should be successful at anything we attempt, and if the prospect of success is slim to none we’d usually rather not try. But if we change our ethic from one of success to one of witness we’ll have a much better shot even if the numbers haven’t budged. Our metric for success can be faithfulness to the certain hope of the future of the Kingdom of God. Then it matters what we actually do and how we actually do it. It’s about what is real and not as much about an abstract evaluation of it’s effect.

So I planted a raised bed with my friends. It’s going to change the world- maybe just by maintaining our own capacity to hope, maybe just in sharing some locally grown veggies for no reason but love, maybe just by pointing to a future in God’s Kingdom in which everything has changed.

Why are you doing this?

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on my bench on Locust Walk at the University of Pennsylvania holding my “tell me your story sign”.  It turns our it was parent’s weekend and I got two stories from proud Penn parents.  One man, D, came up to me and said, “Ok, you’ve piqued my interest.  I’m not going to tell you my story but I would like to know why you want my story.”

logoI answered, “I want to meet people and I think that telling stories is good for us.”  He probed further addressing the Circle of Hope logo I had drawn on my sign, “This ‘circle of hope’ looks rather sinister doesn’t it, with this menacing black circle.”  I got a little defensive, but backed down from the direct conflict, “Well, I didn’t design it.”

“But you did make this sign and you couldn’t change it?  See that’s the sort of thing that religion is always doing.  Obedience is demanded and you’re either in or you’re out depending on whether or not you obey,” D responded.

“Now hold up a minute!” My dander was up, “That’s putting something on me that I did not say.  I want to use this logo because I am Circle of Hope.  This symbol has value to me because it has a history and a cache that I have been a part of and I don’t want to lose.”

D appreciated my push back and we proceeded to have a very interesting discussion about the language of commercialism and the concessions one makes to participate in the system of marketing, logos, etc. D’s claim was that a logo at it’s essence is manipulative.  It may be, but I said I have to speak the language of the culture.  I have to do something to make a relationship, and if that means I have to get my hands dirty in some imperfect communication, so be it–because I must communicate my hope.

benchD seemed to appreciate my passion and he actually went on to tell me his story of life in the church as a boy and his teenage disillusionment.  He said, “Well look at that, you did get me to tell you my story!”  I got to share with him my desire for the promises of Jesus to be true and my experience of living out of that desire as a sort of loop that fueled the desire and my trust in the promise more and more as time goes on.  He liked that and seemed genuinely pensive about the whole conversation which contrasted with his initial aggressive posture.

Why am I holding a sign that says tell me your story?  Because me asking you creates a space in which we can be real with each other.  I’m not responsible for what happens next.  I have hopes.  I am looking for friends, and I am finding them.  I want to share my hope in Jesus with anyone who wants to have it with me, but I also think that the storytelling has its own value whether not I make a friend or Jesus’ story makes its way into the conversation explicitly.

To close I give one other story.  I met a woman, R, who was walking up the walk.  She looked at my sign.  I said, “hi” and “how ya’ doing?”

“Not so good,” she replied.

She then tearfully explained to me a difficult conversation she had just had with a dear friend.  This friend had believed a lie about her that a third person had told her.  She thought that their friendship was primary enough to trump any other person’s influence.  She had invested a lot in building that sort of intimacy and trust and based on her friends reaction it seemed that that sense of connection and investment was not mutual.  She was heartbroken.

After telling her story and shedding her tears with me right there in public, she walked away thanking me for listening.  I was so awed, I didn’t even give her my card.

There are many reasons to hold my sign.  I’m grateful for what God is doing with it.

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
benjamin.p.whit[email protected]
267-825-5348
circleofhope.net
 

Grace says they don’t want to talk to you

A three year old is holding his mother’s hand in one hand and a much too real looking toy handgun in the other.  A well dressed dad and ballet dancer daughter emerge from the subway.  He drops her off at the dance school and returns toward the subway.  A tiny girl, hair dangling what seems like hundreds of white beads, races up the steps alone.  Moments later her probable grandpop follows, almost dies when she’s not there, then sighs in relief, hand on his chest, when she shouts boo from her hiding place.  They hold hands as they cross the street.  A group of six women walk north in a sort of flock headed toward work.  What brought them together, I don’t know, but they’re together every morning.

A few mornings a week I stand in front of the building where Circle of Hope Broad and Washington meets and I say “good morning” to everyone who walks by.  After a few weeks of this discipline I’m noticing the regulars, I’m noticing these scenes of connection, and I’m noticing some stuff in me.

It’s interesting how people respond to me.  A few expect me to say hello at this point and preempt me.  A man today responded to my “Good Morning, Sir” with an aggressive “What do you want?”   I smiled and said, “Just saying hi.”  Then he said “Nobody just says hi.  you want something.” and he walked away. He was right; I did want something–connection.  He scared me a little bit though and I wasn’t sure I wanted to connect with him.  God forgive me, maybe.

However, the majority of people don’t respond to me at all.  So many passersby are completely plugged in and I’m unable to even get their attention.  The other day I had made a friend while she waited for our landlords to open their check cashing place.  Her name was Grace.  She was either a little bit crazy or too old to care about decorum.  She witnessed me saying hello to several people who did not respond to me at all, either because they couldn’t hear me or didn’t want to be bothered.  Each time Grace guffawed.  She thought it was ridiculous that people wouldn’t even acknowledge me.  She said, “They don’t want to talk to you.”

I’m glad Grace is there with me to back me up because this is a really good illustration of what we are up against as a church.  We’re trying to make a connection with people who, intentionally or not, live in isolation, even walking down a busy street.  But I am encouraged by these scenes of human connection that I see.  People are not completely isolated.  Many do find their allies, many do touch, and I am hopeful that many still want to connect with Jesus through us.

My morning discipline on Broad Street is a nice prayer exercise for impatient, action-oriented me.  I have to spend an hour waiting, watching and praying.  I say hello and try to be in a way that is open to the next person.  People look at me then they look at our sign–I think they are noticing us more than they may have before.  I am making friends.  I have met a dozen or so people who actually stopped to talk to me.  And some good stuff is happening for me too.

  1. I have a discipline- which gets me to work on time (I am largely self-supervised)
  2. It grounds me in the Holy Spirit- the hour is very passive- it’s an exercise in waiting for God to drop someone into my lap.  Without the work of the Holy Spirit I am lost.  I need to start my days in recognition of that.
  3. It opens my eyes to the beautiful, lovable people of our neighborhood.  As I watch them and pray for them I learn to love them.

God, please bless Broad Street and her people.  May Circle of Hope be a place for them to connect.

Cultivating HOPE

HOPE at Clark Park with Shalom House 6.22.13 002

The Hope sign hit the streets this Saturday.

I had this idea that I wanted to try because I thought it was fun and because I wanted to make new friends.  Plywood in my basement, a jigsaw from my local tool library and presto I had HOPE! (It was a pretty hopeful thing to do so I guess I had hope in my heart and a plywood manifestation of it on my lawn)

I took my sign to the Uhuru Flea Market in Clark Park with Shalom House.  The Shalomers asked people what we should do with $10,000,000 to help our community.  They were asking people to dream up some better ideas than the US Government’s $10,000,000 idea to build a drone command center in Horsham, PA. (This Fox report hails it as good news).

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I asked people to participate in my communal art project.  Pick a color (or 6) and make your mark on HOPE.  We were cultivating hope right there in our communal garden of Clark Park.  My friend said he just liked how big the sign was.  It yelled “HOPE!”  And he wanted to hope.

I was pleased with how many people wanted to know what we as a Circle of Hope were all about and how many people were willing to get messy for a minute and make something beautiful together.  Jesus offers us that messy sort of hope.  He came into our midst and offered us himself to us in our messy humanity and now he sends us his Spirit to keep the hope within us alive and growing in the midst of our still very messy humanity.

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Hope springs up from beyond our capacity.    It is best when it gets pollinated and hybridized through mutual sharing.  Following that metaphor, maybe my work as a pastor is to be the bee of hope–listening to many stories, making many friends, sharing in many lives as I buzz from flower to flower spreading hope.  In our modern era we’ve figured all this out.  We have super high speed high resolution digital cameras that can document the pollination that bees do but in Jesus’ day the growing of seeds and their plants’ fruit was more of a mystery.  In Mark 4 Jesus tells this parable:

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“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Bees aren’t really aware of how important they are to the life cycle of many plants.  I am a bit more aware, but I still can’t dissect hope and tell you how it grows.  It seems I can participate in it, but I do a lot of sleeping, and yet this newness seems to grow.  Many new things happened on Saturday.  I met new people.  I heard new ideas and I got a new sense of what God is doing through me now–and my hope got bigger.