Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: incarnation (page 1 of 2)

We Know More Than We Comprehend

I was on retreat trying not to question my instincts too much, because retreats are basically practice for listening to the Spirit and your instincts and the Spirit often sound the same. Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” came to mind. I’m a big Gerard Manley Hopkins fan and there are kingfishers on the lake near the place I was retreating. I pulled up the poem and decided to memorize it. I sat in front of a window and watched the sun set into complete darkness as I read and repeated my way through the poem.  By the time I went to sleep that night I had it in my heart.

In the morning I made some coffee and went down to the deck on the lake where the kingfishers live and I recited the poem to the waking day.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

This guy describes it so well on Youtube

There was an exhileration to preaching this sermon to the lake, trees, stones and birds who stirred in the early morning. I felt like I was really selfing, as the poem proclaims all mortal things are made to do. I might have even been justicing as the just man, or dare I say Christing as the one in whose face Christ plays. It felt true what John said in the beginning of his gospel; that without Christ, nothing was made that has been made. There is a completion of purpose in enjoying the world as it is — with it’s beautiful sounds resounding in wells, and love resounding in faces. Christ plays through it all. I was feeling that as I recited Gerard Manley Hopkins words and it inspired me to fill my heart up with more.

So I decided to memorize the prologue to John. Only the first 14 verses would fit on the piece of paper on which I neatly wrote it out so I stopped at “Full of grace and truth”

In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God,
And the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning;
Through him everything was made.
Without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life,
And that life was the light of humankind.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John
Who came as a witness to testify about the light,
So that through him all might believe.
He himself was not the light;
He came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone
Was coming into the world,
And though the world was made through him
The world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own,
And his own did not receive him.

But to those who did receive him —
To those who believed in his name,
He gave the right to become children of God,
Children born not of natural descent
Nor human decision or a man’s will
But born of God!

The word became flesh
And made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory,
The Glory of the one and only son,
Full of grace and truth.

I learned this poem before the thin paper was completely soaked with sweat, as I was holding it in my hand puffing up Mt. Tammany in the Delaware Water Gap as fast as I could. Maybe the heavy breathing and cardio impressed the words deeper into my heart than usual, but it has had a powerful impact on me. It was like I was full of grace and truth too. It was like the glory I was seeing on that beautiful day was the Glory of the one and only son. It was like my body bounding up the rocks was part of it all.

Getting scripture down into me feels more like communion than regular Bible Study. Choosing a passage like John 1:1-14 was probably a good idea because I’m not sure it is best to comprehend. It is designed for an understanding of a different kind. Want to join me in my memorization project. Let’s fill our heads and hearts with the grace and truth God filled Jesus with!

Here are a few other passages I recommend memorizing

Ephesians 3:14-21

John 15:1-17

Genesis 1:1-31

Psalm 23:1-6

Luke 2:46-55

1 John 3:1-24 (I’m working on this one next)

 

Nobody Wants to Deny the Flesh: Audre Lorde and Jesus on the Erotic

Learning new things at Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books

I went to a book reading at Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books in Germantown, Philadelphia last month. Adrienne Maree Brown was reading from her new book Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good.  It was a fascinating time with a very diverse crowd of people. I kind of stumbled into the crowd, having not planned on going to the event, but I’m very glad I went because I have been stimulated by it ever since. Brown attributed the thesis of her book to Audre Lorde’s paper presented at the Fourth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Mount Holyoke College, August 25, 1978 that was later published as a chapter in Sister Outsider, 1984 Audre Lorde and The Crossing Press. Brown got permission to reprint the entirety of the essay as the prologue to her book. Her book is essentially a creative elaboration on Lorde’s thesis in a series of essays.

In many ways (though not exclusively), Lorde and Brown  work to deconstruct the religious hold on sexual expression in American society. This deconstruction is what culture warriors who dominate Evangelical Christian discourse have been defending against since the sexual revolution began in the sixties (and maybe before). Today, the established sexual norms and mores of one hundred years ago and earlier have almost completely lost their potency. Many Evangelicals and other traditionalists (often labeled “Conservative” by themselves or others) lament this loss. I can see why they might lament, but I am not interested in the power they had or perceived to have, which allows me to consider this shift with a little less subjectivity.

Audre Lorde and the erotic

I have a different subject. I am looking for the Holy Spirit’s movement in all things and can see it in this loss of power. Getting the Christian  Church of the hook of morality policing is a potential opportunity for us who would share the Good News with a post Christian world. Audre Lorde is helping me see a better way to continue our conversation about human sexuality that departs from much of how the conversation has been framed. Her words resonate deeply with my experience of my self, my life, my art and my relationship with God (something I wish I could talk to her about because I have a feeling she might have objections. Alas, she died in 1992.) Her observation that the slanderous conflation of the “erotic” and the “pornographic” was a ploy of the domination system designed to relegate an inherently feminine power to the realm of the obscene was like a lightbulb in a dark room for me. Lorde defines pornography as “a direct denial of the power of the erotic, for it represents the suppression of true feeling. Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling.” Yes! Uncovering the good that has been subsumed by bad is resurrection. There is life in these words even if I don’t follow Lorde to all of her conclusions.

Lorde further defines the erotic as “a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various source of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. ” This is true. She doesn’t need my affirmation, but I give it. She was speaking to a group of women but I believe this is true for men as well. I may not be able to access the same female plane she describes, but it makes sense to me that the overlapping space of the sensual and the spiritual is at the heart of all human flourishing. And, yes, that space she calls the erotic, has been erroneously buried under another source of knowing and power that is much more male, intellectual and sterile (as in not fruitful, not fecund, not capable of creating life or speaking to the deepest parts of life).

Again, Lorde writes “we have attempted to separate the spiritual and the erotic, thereby reducing the spiritual to a world of flattened affect, a world of the ascetic who aspires to feel nothing. But nothing is farther from the truth. For the ascetic position is one of the highest fear, the gravest immobility. The severe abstinence of the ascetic becomes the ruling obsession. And it is one not of self discipline but of self-abnegation.” This distinction between self discipline and self abnegation is what shines brightest for me in Lorde’s paper and brings me to Jesus. who had some things to say about self discipline and self abnegation.

What should we cut off? What should we grow back?

“If anyone wishes to come after me, they must deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) What does Jesus mean by “deny yourself”?  I think it has something to do with what Lorde describes as the proper use of erotic power. “The erotic functions for me in several ways, and the first is in providing the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference. ..[And it underlines] my capacity for joy.” She later adds, “To share the power of each other’s feelings is different from using another’s feelings as we would use a kleenex. When we look the other way from our experience, erotic or otherwise, we use rather than share the feelings of those others who participate in the experience with us. ” Jesus might say that it is that type of using that needs to be denied. The self that cannot be shared because it belongs too much to its owner is only capable of using and thus incapable of the real joy God made us for. Listening to Audre Lorde or Adrienne Maree Brown I felt like they had accessed some of that joy.  And that joy is very attractive.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”  (Matthew 5:29-30) This is not as attractive to modern readers. Jesus was serious about mastering our sin. And we who follow him cannot just  embrace all of our desires as if they are good by nature of them being our desires (I think this might be Brown’s perspective and the new orthodoxy of American society). The tension between satisfaction and denial of our desires needs to be more active than it is. It seems their are two poles of action: deny the flesh and all the joy it might bring or embrace it as the best source of meaning in a Godless world. Neither option is satisfactory but the seeming dichotomy comes from this denial of the erotic which Lorde so well defines. But we have poorly defined sin and cut off a part of our humanity in the imposition of the bad definition.

All that is erotic has been defined as sinful, probably because not enough men gouged out their eyes or cut off their members. Instead they controlled women and denied the potential erotic in themselves because it came less naturally and because it was harder to share the feeling and not just use others. St. Augustine of Hippo will go down in history as the reformed womanizer whose personal process of self abnegation became cosmological fact and defined hundreds of years of theology and subsequent societal views on the erotic. He was awesome in a lot of ways, if only he hadn’t been so influential in this regard! Disastrous!

The erotic within us can be redeemed and this is not just a matter of sexual ethics. Again, Audre Lorde: “the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone… [because] once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.” This sounds a lot like picking up your cross and following Jesus to me.  We must deny the part of ourselves that is so hell bent on using others. But we do not need to deny the erotic itself. Previous generations, in their zeal, cut it off, but it can grow back.

Free to consider the erotic with Jesus

I think we need to listen to Adrienne Maree Brown and Audre Lorde because they are excavating a part of us that we need for the abundant life Jesus offers us. But I don’t want to follow them where they lead. I think Adrienne Maree Brown exercises another kind of imprudent zeal in her pendulum swing away from the erotic’s encasement in traditional sexual morality and the power structures that enforced it.  I am not cutting off sexual morality as if it were a member or an eye that caused me to stumble. I want to follow Jesus .When Paul says in Galatians 5:24 “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” I can’t believe he means all pleasure, but I can’t deny that he means some pleasure. Not all desires are good.  And not all good is always good. But the source of good, the Father of Jesus Christ gives good gifts to those who ask.

With the door to the erotic, which had been slammed shut and bolted, successfully propped open, we can consider our potential for shared feeling and joy it affords. I think we need to evaluate our desires more in line with this rubric of sharing joy that Audre Lorde describes than with legislation, religious or governmental.  This requires the Holy Spirit in community. We say in Circle of Hope, “How we relate sexually is a spiritual, communal matter and can’t be reduced purely to a discussion of private expression or individual rights.”  This is a needed addition to Lorde’s rubric, but not a negation of her beautiful reflection on what it means to be a human being. Jesus’ project is to make us become fully human as he was. And yes, Jesus was erotic, even if not sexually. We are being made perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. All parts of us are subject to that perfection if we allow them to be. So smell a flower, write a poem, make something, make love (to your spouse!) — enjoy what God is giving you and practice sharing that joy in community.

 

 

Why Bother Being One Church in Four Locations?

One of the most ambitious things Circle of Hope does is stick together across our wide region. We are one church in four locations. From Suburban New Jersey, all over Philadelphia, and into the Pennsylvania suburbs. We are not multi-site in the way that many churches have been trending. No pastors get beamed from one site to another. We aren’t expanding a brand. We are curiously not uniform, but we are doggedly united. It’s ambitious because our region is very diverse and our congregations reflect that diversity. However, we believe that we are better together, especially because we are different.

The limits of orthodoxy

Establishing a unique orthodoxy is a common way to be a cohesive people. Most church websites feature their “Statements of Beliefs” as their defining characteristics. “Orthodoxy” etymology: from Greek orthos “right, true, straight” + doxa “opinion, praise,” from Greek dokein “to seem,” from Proto-Indo-European root *dek- “to take, accept.” Uniformity of thought creates definite boundaries around who is in and who is out. Christianity has often been reduced to a series of yes or no questions about the nature of the universe and God. What you believe makes you a Christian or not. Since the Reformation (and even before) very specific thoughts about God have divided the church into ever sharper and smaller splinters of “correct thoughts” about God, Jesus and the Bible.

I am interested in orthodoxy. I’ve studied and continue to study theology and the Bible, but it is not the tool we choose to use to bind us together most. We choose a dialogue of love and a common mission for that. Instead of a “Statement of Beliefs” on our website we have “proverbs”, the communally gathered convictions that drive us. Our proverbs are dialogical. They do not spell out everything you have to believe, they are more focused on how we express our beliefs in our context than what those beliefs are, and they themselves are subject to change as we continue the dialogue.

We must love each other for real

Learning how to be included in communal decision making seems elemental to being a Christian (or maybe better, doing Christianity). Paul’s appeal to the Philippians to be of one mind is a brilliant mechanism for actually loving one another. Agreement about what we think does not necessarily yield love, and nothing matters more than faith working itself out in love. Participating in a dialogue of love requires setting aside personal opinion to a degree. Listening to understand is better than speaking to be understood. That simple distinction takes all kinds of real faith to enact. How can we learn not only to defend our position as a means of identity formation? This question is at the center of Jesus’ call for us to die to ourselves. Luke 9:23 “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

The covenant at the center of Circle of Hope is the place where this dialogue of love occurs. Each person who makes a covenant commits to this unity, even if they’re not sure how they will achieve it or if they are sure of everything. They want to move with the body our communal mission and we don’t demand they sign a belief statement on some dotted line. They commit to love us, be loved by us and love the next person. They commit to Jesus as Lord, because nothing works without Jesus at the head of it (a very orthodox statement), and we want to do Jesus’ work together. That has a lot of different expressions even within our church.

Covenant Party 2018

Julie honors the new covenant members

Last Friday the Coordinators and Pastors invited all the new covenant members from 2018 to a party to more firmly establish that love between us. The unity we aspire to requires us to be face to face often because that’s how love works. It is not an abstraction. We spread out across the region into dozens of cells gathered into four unique congregations, but return often to the dialogue of love to keep us from diffusing into nothingness. We do not have the concrete creed to abstractly unite us, but we do have a common mission emanating from a common love. That love needs to be tended as often as possible. As we grow, we will continue to need creative ways to be together. It might seem easier to splinter off, but we are too committed to the fruit of our ambitious togetherness. Each of gets the chance to love across real and perceived boundaries (rivers, municipalities, states, political affiliation, theology, and sensibility). We think that people are looking for a people like us in all of the nooks and crannies of the region, and we think that the gospel is expressed in our together. We are the content, right down to the way we hang in there together despite our diversity.

 

Giving Thanks for Friends We Don’t See As Much As We Used To

Recently I got a group of people together who had been planting the church together for ten years. Our congregation in South Jersey is ten years old (What a wonder!), and we marked the occasion with a time to remember where we have been and consider where we are going.  The time reminded me of Thanksgiving Dinner — a big long table, family, good food, storytelling… bad memories, tension, irritation. The people we love have so much power over us! And we have so much power together to make light and life in the world.  I’m so grateful these folks stayed together even when everyone didn’t stay. But I’m also grateful that they let me and others in and didn’t stay together in exactly the same way–if they had, I’m not sure they could have stayed together at all.

My Brother and Me

When I was 12, my family moved to a new house and my twin brother, Joel, and I ended up in the same room again after a four year hiatus. Our new room somehow inherited my parents old record player and their old records. That summer The Mamas and the Papas’ album “Deliver” became a permanent part of my neural net. “We both knew people sometimes change, and lovers sometimes rearrange, but nothing’s quite as sure as change.” Joel and I share a love that is deeper than some siblings because we are twins. I may be romanticizing our 9 months together in the womb but there’s a comfort that transcends the rearranging of our lives. Joel moved out of our shared room again after a guy that had moved in with us to help plant Circle of Hope moved back to his hometown. Joel found a different friend group in high school, maybe because too many of mine were degenerates and maybe because he just liked video games more than I did. Regardless, our connection persists even if he lives in his own separate house.

I’m sure there are plenty of bad memories, tension and irritation from that moment in our shared history, but they’re not coming to mind right now. We’re brothers, and that doesn’t change.

Being together for a long time means being together in different ways

Our brothers and sisters in Christ are a little more tenuous. Of course we are family with all those who call on the name of Jesus around the whole world, but we organize in bands of partners called churches to be and do specific things and  that sense of brotherhood and sisterhood can be lost. It’s better if it can change. One person said that they had been part of several church plants and none of the founding members ever stuck around at all. The fact that so many people who started Circle of Hope in South Jersey are still a part of the mission was pretty amazing to him. I have no frame of reference for this so I’m taking his word for it. I noticed at the dinner that the group was not at all the same as when they started together 10 years ago, but they were still together.

They had gotten married, had children, lived in community, bought and sold houses, and even divorced.  They had planted, multiplied, killed and resurrected dozens of cells. They had fought each other, reconciled, suffered loss and celebrated many milestones in life, mostly associated with young adulthood. But not only had they changed individually, their relationships had changed. They were not as close as they all once were. They were not all at the center of the church leadership. Many others had joined the church and they were dispersed among them in new relationships, carrying their founder fire to the whole body.

Relational Evangelism requires letting go

It was tempting to be sad. Things were not the same. Their togetherness was not the same, but they were together, nonetheless. That togetherness is enough, I think. The alternative is a dissatisfying comparison with the past and a choice for what was. A desire to go back to the way things were, or even a forced fossilization of what is, will grind the wheels of our church planting engine to a halt. It hurts some to keep moving, knowing that your brother is way over there across town rather than right below you on the bottom bunk, but we must trust the binding that God has done. We cannot demand forever intimacy with everyone or no one new will ever be able to enjoy the friendship we offer in Christ.

Relational evangelism brings with it the occupational hazard of having to let go. I don’t think this means we forget the brothers and sisters we have made. We might need to be more intentional about catching up (and I suggest you do that because I need to do it too) but we cannot cozy up in the comfort of what was. We cannot maintain every relationship equally. We cannot demand that our togetherness stay the same. It cannot withstand the weight.  We can be bound by common mission, common history, and a chosen family bond that will play like a pleasant song in your mind and heart–  and last into eternity.

When you go to Thanksgiving Dinner treasure the Togetherness

So at your actual Thanksgiving table, whether you are with blood family, friends family or family in Christ (probably a mix of that). Treasure the togetherness. Marvel that anyone is together at all. Delight in the quirky constellation of people that have gathered to thank God in feast form. It’s not the same as it ever was. Families rearrange and relationships suffer and change. There is heartache and joy all around. Tell the truth. You will be tempted to dwell in the tension, but you might marvel in the longevity of those relationships and wonder what may come next from this foundation.

“Keeping it on Chop” or NOT committing…ever

I may be on the cusp of a linguistic breakthrough because I was hanging out with teenagers yesterday and one said that she and this guy were “keeping it on chop.” She sad her friend had used that phrase to describe a relationship status akin to “just talking.”  I looked up the phrase on urban dictionary and there wasn’t an entry. Am I one of the cool kids?

It amazes me the creative energy we are putting into describing various statuses of romantic or potentially romantic relationships. Keeping things on chop means you could cut it off no problem at any moment. But of course there will be problems. Their relationship continues without definition or intention and “chop” might be the most appropriate word because it’s going to hurt when one of them gets chopped off. I don’t think this is the case in this relationship (thankfully I’m pretty sure) but this arrangement whether it is referred to as “on chop” or not gets a lot more complicated when the parties are having sex. The “chop” is then loaded with all the spiritual and physical attachment of sexual intimacy.

I got real with the teenagers for a minute and told them that the best way to have unprotected sex is to not have any definition or intention in their relationships. My parting words to them were “have sex on purpose.” The best way to have purpose in sex is marriage, but I was prepared for lesser goods in their lives. Am I being too realistic?

They assured me that sex was not a possibility at the moment and I assured them that it was. I’ve been a teenage boy trying not to have sex because of my commitment to obedience to Jesus and I know how hard that was. Take out the commitment to obedience and it becomes very easy. Christians dating is hard whether you are a teenager or an adult, but this slippery trend toward non commitment is making it even harder.

Christian young people could do themselves a big favor by defining and intending from the beginning of their relationships. Being honorable is a dying aspiration but I think we should keep it alive in Circle of Hope. It just so happens that we are swimming in a stream in which sexual honor has been completely deconstructed. Yes, it has a negative legacy attached to the patriarchy, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Each partner has dignity to bring to the relationship and communication about our intent is essential to achieving the honorable relating I desire for my dating couples.

My teenage friends’ Christian parents stop the conversation at “Don’t!” I’m continuing the conversation because I think it requires a lot of communication. Dialogue protects the gravity of a couples’ intentions. That conversation needs to start from the get-go. But it’s so hard to speak your heart or even have a conviction these days. This is why I love the show “Jane the Virgin” because the title character is figuring out how to be chaste (notably for nothing-to-do-with-Jesus-reasons). She wrestles with it in her relationship and demonstrates that it is a constant struggle.

Much love to my friends in the struggle. I pray you get married soon. My teenagers, wait until you finish college if you can. 🙂

Jesus, My Twin

I was so moved by the documentary “Twinsters” I needed to tell you about it. “Twinsters” is the story of two identical twins who were born together in South Korea but quickly separated and adopted by parents in different countries, and how they find each other through the internet. Samantha Futerman, the twin protaganista and director of the documentary is an actress who lives in L.A. Anaïs Brodier, her twin sister who was raised in France but moved to London to study fashion, heard from a friend about a woman on YouTube who looked exactly like her.

Anaïs reached out to Samantha on Facebook and the love story was off to the races. They meet and make a connection that is beautiful. I was watching this documentary on my weekend away. It was the second movie Of the day. I was certain I would fall asleep, but the story was so engaging and the connection between these two women was so real, not only did I stay awake for the whole movie, shedding a few tears of joy, but I stayed up afterward to read more about what the two sisters were up to since the end of the film’s timeline.

It might be that I am a twin and I am very soft to the premise of the story–my heart was pre-warmed so to speak–but I also saw a great parable of God’s redemption project in their reunion and subsequent relating. I’ll tell it Jesus style:

How shall I describe the Kingdom of God? A certain woman was adopted by parents who loved her well and provided for her in a way that her birth mother couldn’t. The woman, though she was successful, had a longing in her that she could not explain, a dislocation deep inside of her. This feeling is common among adopted children, so I’m told. They often have what feels like a built in longing for connection to their roots, to the blood from which they were brought into being and fed in utero. That unresolved dislocation must often be appropriated when birth parents cannot be found or do not want for whatever reason to connect with their birth children. This certain woman had all of those feelings, which influenced her personhood in good and bad ways. And then she found her Twin on YouTube and they got to meet and even craft a life together. The pain of separation from their mother was still real but they had each other. Their thirst for blood family was satisfied. Such is the one who finds the Kingdom of God. Even if that longing for connection with some unknown parent was untouched or unseen it is born in every heart because you are born of God.

I have always loved the playful and at the same time sorrowful deconstruction of God as Father in Rainer Maria Rilke’s  poem “Unde meine seele ein wieb vor dir” from “The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

Rilke looking intense (he was)

His tenderness burdens us like an incubus,
his voice weighs on us like a stone–we mean
to wait for his words to come and wish to listen
but hear only half, and fail to understand them,
for all that background drama from the past
makes such a shrill clamour in our ears;
we notice his lips, their shape, dropping
syllables that fall by the wayside. So
we are estranged, further than far apart,
even if love still loosely knots our lives;
only when death takes him do we grasp
that here, on our own star, he had thrived.

So do we see a father. And–am I
to call you father?
Though it would sever us irretrievably?
Rather my son. I shall acknowledge you
just as one does an only beloved son
when he is a man, even an old man.

Rilke projects his relationship with his father, and what he imagines is a common relationship between children and their fathers, onto his relationship with God. I don’t know if I let as many of my own father’s syllables fall by the wayside as did Rilke, but I do understand the inadequacy of our language about God and a longing to express the deep way God quenches our thirst for mutuality.

When I watched “Twinsters” I found a variation on that theme. God is like a long lost twin. Not that I am identical with God, but my innate sense of dislocation is satisfied so completely in Him. And in Jesus we are being made like him. Perhaps Jesus will be my twin. John said in 1 John 3:2 “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” and Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:12 “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Jesus came to fully identify with us–from our dislocation to our satisfaction–from our alienation to our finding a connection like a home deeper than the home we’ve known. We will see Jesus like Samantha saw Anaïs. If you watch the movie I hope you can see Jesus in it.

My prayer is:

Jesus, my brother,
my twin brother,
you have found me,
and I am found by you.

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?

A Week of Being Jesus

In Circle of Hope we say Jesus is best revealed incarnationally- Here’s a little newspaper of how that worked out for me this past week (spoiler- it did!)

photo 4Monday Afternoon–  When the Compassion Core Team heard about the #ReclaimMLK march happening in Philadelphia they mobilized 200 people from Circle of Hope to show up and join the thousands who marched for fully funded, democratically controlled schools; $15/hr minimum wage and the right to form unions; and a fully empowered, independent police review board and an end to “Stop and Frisk.”  We were acting to resist and empower.  We were calling out our national sin of racism on the prophet Martin’s day.  Circle of Hope has resistance and restoration at the heart of our mission and our peeps responded to the call.  It was a joy to be with so many of my comrades.  Let’s keep marching.  Jesus is with us.

Monday Night– We gathered to approve our plan for the first year of our “Second Act.”  Afterward, the coordinators of Circle of Hope offered me the position as pastor at our congregation at Marlton and Crescent, right off of 130 near the old airport circle.  The “interview” was more of a time for affirmation and exhortation.  I was so grateful to be partnered with such an amazing group of people among whom speaking the truth in love is common place.  They knew my number to 2 decimal places!  They knew me for who I was, strengths and growing edges, and they desired with me the New Self I am becoming in Christ.  I attribute this to years of loving each other but also to the discernment in the Spirit to which they had committed themselves.  I was challenged and encouraged, and warned and loved.

photo 5Wednesday- On Wednesday morning i met with a cell leader at 7:00am in Old City (THAT”S RIGHT 7 AM!)  We drank really good pour over coffee at Minagerie and dreamed about what was next for our mission in Collingswood, NJ; and we got to know each other a bit better–because we’re drawn together not by affinity or even proximity (he moved from far away to be with us), but by our mission and our unique expression of Jesus in the Philadelphia metro.  He’s awesome.  The bike ride was cold.

photo 1Thursday- My Cell group was meeting and my car ended up being a bus.  Everyone piled in as we collected folks from around West and South Philly. It was a fun ride.  One of our cell mates led us in considering Judas’ betrayal.  Another worried about the curses he was reading about in Genesis and we encouraged him with the truth that Jesus has broken every curse.  I have a note card in my pocket with a prayer request from another cell mate (we all swapped them as another cell mate led us to do)  He’s traveling across the country and is thinking of his family here in Philly.  He’s on my mind and on my heart.

photo 2Saturday- At the Love Feast this weekend, our uncommon culture of vulnerability and trust was demonstrated as 13 people joined in our covenant.  At the heart of our church is a group of folks who have explicitly agreed to be a people.  We are dedicated to our common mission and strategy and we hold the whole thing together by our bonds of love in Christ.  At the risk of sounding grandiose, we hold the forces of evil at bay with our bonds of love too (check out the Book of the Dun Cow and the Book of Sorrows by Walter Wangerin for an awesome fictional exploration of this truth.)  When the congregation sang together the room was brimming with the Holy Spirit.  My heart was full, my ears were full, my chest was full.  It was powerful.

photo 3Sunday Afternoon-  My cell and I showed up to help our new friends from Cincinnati move into their new home.  Even though most of the crew was too late to help– because the early birds like me were way too strong and fast :)– I was touched by my cell groups readiness to be there for these folks we barely knew.  Seriously though, how much would it suck to move all your stuff by yourself- that does not happen in community- period.

Sunday Night- The Public Meeting, our weekly party, was full of love too.  The band led us in singing songs, 6 out of 8 of which written by one of our musicians or one of our close allies.  The creativity among us is evidence of Jesus’ Spirit enlivening us, as was the artful presentation and ways to engage that the team designed for us.  Epaphroditus gave us reason to consider what really being uncomfortable might be like (Check out Philippians 4).  And lots of connections were made with new and old friends.

This may be my longest post to date, which is evidence of how much God is doing among us–and this is just my experience!  What’s yours?

Welcome, Jesus, to the world and South Jersey

We really got ourselves into a mess recently at Circle of Hope.  God afflicted us with this surprising idea to shift our church planting staff around.  Nate Hulfish is moving into an Adminstrator/Communicator role for the whole church and I am moving into the role of Pastor of Marlton and Crescent.  I never would have expected this for myself, but the strange attraction to this region–this new territory where I would go as pilgrim and stranger–is sticking with me as we move forward with the plan.  It’s poetic to experience the conception of such a strange and wonderful  idea when we remember the strangeness and wonder of Jesus’ conception and the mess into which he was born.  I was dreaming a week or so ago about what it might be like.  So I went as a stranger and a pilgrim to the land of jug handles and a hundred little towns–South Jersey within 20 minutes of our outpost at Marlton and Crescent, and I found a welcome sign for each of those towns (40!).  Welcome, Jesus, to the world and to South Jersey.  Welcome, me, too.  I’m coming with Him.  Check out the slideshow of my adventurous day below.

Do what you can now, rather than what you should never

we-are-hereLast night we gathered in Germantown with some folks who were new to Circle of Hope.  We were casting the vision and inviting them into partnership in our work for God’s redemption project.  Our goal is to create an environment where people can connect with God and act for redemption.  This is unique.  we cultivate our community to be the modus operandi.  Our effective strategy is to be a sort of people, rather than say a certain thing, or do any number of right things.  We are the message.  That inherently includes saying and doing, but it is much more than that.  We are not just teaching principles from the Bible or culling out moral lessons from Jesus.  We are resisting the temptation to reduce our life in Christ to mental ascent.  We are an environment–an environment that is transforming lives.

When we bring it all together like that it gets real quickly.  Rachel Sensenig, our host for the evening and a pastor in our network, recently described her first meeting at Circle of Hope.  “People were talking about their real problems from the front.  It was raw and a little awkward and so…human, and that seemed ok…”  She said something similar last night.  Someone was even tearing up at that meeting…from the front!  That environment existed then and it exists now.  You can get into the circle as you are and because we our primary function is not behavior management or thought policing you can be yourself.  We’re especially interested in being a safe place for those who haven’t figured it all out yet–folks who aren’t sure about their faith but know they are welcome.  I encouraged those entering our community who were at the meeting to do what you can now, rather than what you should never.

So much of institutional Christianity, especially in 20th century America, has been about getting it right.  Maybe it’s the Puritanical roots of the first European settlers, maybe it’s modernistic thinking, maybe it’s a post world war superiority complex–whatever it is it leaves us destitute.  Our culture’s spiritual poverty is apparent enough with just a passing glance around Philadelphia.  If we insist on getting it right ourselves we will be out in the cold forever.  Circle of Hope is designed to be a place where anyone can get in and being in can receive from God what they need.  Many folks who come know they need a circle- they long for a community; and they know they need hope- a universally desirous virtue; but many are poisoned to Jesus, or maybe a version of Jesus filtered beyond recognition of the real man.

I’m praying for those who manage to get in with us before they know explicitly what Jesus is doing and what Jesus did.  Even those with tiny little baby faith are able to contribute to the project.  Many of those who have been at it a long time still have tiny little baby faith.  That was Jesus’ pet name for his disciples- oligopistos- tiny-faiths.  The disciples, yes, the Bible ones, were tiny-faiths, and they were in with Jesus if anyone was.  We are then “in” too because Jesus welcomes us and Circle of Hope is all about extending that welcome to the next person.

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