Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: incarnation (page 2 of 2)

About Circle of Hope Dessert

This past Monday a few of us got together to talk about Circle of Hope at my friend Katie’s house.  She has a cute little place in Point Breeze with matching cutlery, candles and poundcake, but more so she has the gift of hospitality and the guts to take herself seriously as a Christ follower and leader in the church.  She is great and she made the meeting greater than it might have been.  But the meeting is pretty great.

Circle of Hope is one of my favorite subjects, and at this meeting I get myself going to articulate that and to eat sweets (that’s why we have to have one as soon as Lent was over).  Maybe the two go together well because I always leave the meeting amped up about who we are and what we’re doing.

I shared our vision and mission statement with the newly connected folks who were interested in what made Circle of Hope Circle of Hope.

The Vision: Who we want to be
We are a circle of hope in Jesus Christ
A network of cells forming congregations
A people called to reconciliation
An opportunity to explore and express God’s love

The Mission: What we want to do
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

I am convicted again and again that cells are a great way to preach the Gospel.  They are not a class for content they are the content.  Life in Christ is life in a real body with real bodied people.  We are called to reconciliation with God and called to be ministers of reconciliation.  The best place for both sorts of reconciliation to occur is in community.  Reconciling with God- God’s grace and forgiveness- can easily remain abstract when not experienced in human relationship.  To be forgiven and to forgive is the best way for us to know God’s love (See 1 John).  Life in a cell is the proving ground for our faith and for our life in love and grace because we don’t just think about them, we use them an depend on them to knit us together and lead us on.

Some of our missionaries

Some of our Circle of Hope missionaries

Likewise the mission we feel called to is the best way for us to grow in our faith.  Going deep as a Christian is not about becoming an expert in theology or the Bible (though why wouldn’t you do that too) it’s about going far with God- out past our natural abilities and preferences and into difficult territory.  I said in the meeting that the best way to grow as a Christian is to make a disciple and teach someone else how to be a Christian with you.  That’s what we are called to do and I am encouraged that so many people continue to want to do it with us.  10 people from Circle of Hope Broad and Washington signed up as partners at the Love Feast last week (See 1 Corinthians 11).  7 people were in Katie’s living room.  God is good.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;/  Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.

Psalm 34:8

…tastes good, like Katie’s pound cake good (ok, even better).

 

 

 

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]

Holy Mischief at Philadelphia University

It’s the first week of school!  Everyone’s got their new sneakers on and they’re trying to figure out where they fit in at a lot of the university campuses.  I’m hoping that some of them will fit in with us at Circle of Hope so I went to University of the Sciences and Philadelphia University on their first day of school to see what was up and let people know we were looking for them and they had a place with us and with Jesus.

labyrinthAt Philadelphia University I was surprised to find a beautiful stone labyrinth on a path between the main campus where a lot of the classes are held and the Ravenhill campus where a lot of the freshman live.  I had to walk it right then and there and as I did I was inspired to share this opportunity with the people who were there.  I wanted to say “Look what you have here!  Do you know how great this is?”  I suspected not for many, so I decided to make a sign to install there the next day.

I made a sign that said this:

“A labyrinth is an ancient form of meditation famously appropriated by Celtic Christians to symbolize the spiritual journey.  Follow the path and follow the twists and turns of the journey to the center.  It’s an active way to slow down and reflect, to get your body involved in prayer.  It’s an opportunity to be led by God.  It’s meant to be repeated.  It’s the same coming out as it was going in and yet also different.  Taking an intentional walk on this labyrinth every day could be a discipline for your spiritual growth.

Circle of Hope is a church community in Philadelphia that is committed to preserving the old ways of worship and inventing the new.  One of our proverbs says, “We stretch ourselves to worship with diverse styles. God is transnational, transcultural, even transhistorical.”–  learn more at www.circleofhope.net”

labyrinth signI had it laminated and I put it on a stick to plant in the ground by the labyrinth pointing to this great resource.  Someone told me it was weird that it had our info on it- like I was taking credit for Circle of Hope that was not ours to take.  It did feel a little mischievous, and that was half the fun, but I don’t think it is wrong to follow the path that was laid for me.  I was taking advantage of what God was already doing on campus.  This labyrinth had been done.  I claimed it for Jesus and His mission among us.

I was very encouraged to spy on the sign after I placed it and see people stop to read, and to see security guards walk right by it without a second glance.  It was for all the time that I was at Philadelphia University yesterday.  I hope it’s still there now.  I hope that people are intrigued about their own spiritual growth and about us.  With prayer, fun little seeds like this will bear fruit, either remotely or in person as we continue to frequent these campuses and make relationships.  I’m on Penn’s campus today looking for friends and softened hearts.  Thanks for being with me in prayer.

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.

Making Friends on Passyunk Avenue

Passyunk and Tasker (a photo I did take)

Passyunk and Tasker
(a photo I did take)

So, I’m discovering the skills I’ve gained as a hospital chaplain over the past few years are really helpful (not surprising but refreshing).  I spent Saturday afternoon on Passyunk Avenue seeing if I could make some friends and I think I did… wow!  It felt a lot like I was on the 3rd floor of the hospital meeting all the new patients and keeping up with those who had been there.  I’ve spent a good chunk of my time striking up conversations with strangers and going deep.  I wasn’t sure if that could work on the street, but essentially, I’m deploying the same strategy.

While I worked at the hospital I developed my thinking about  myself and my work at the hospital.  Clinical Pastoral Education or CPE requires you to do this and I’m glad because the theory is mapping onto my new calling.

I wrote:

“I have developed my own theory of pastoral care, or at least my own image of pastoral care. Robert Dykstra wrote, “Having access to a variety of metaphors for ministry provided a modicum of courage and guidance when … I could not possibly have known what I was doing.” (Dykstra, Images of Pastoral Care, 2005 p.8) To the many of the metaphors he compiles in this book, I have added the image of myself as friend.

I connect it with Jesus’ command to his disciples in John 15. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:15-17)

I have taken my needed “modicum of courage and guidance” from Jesus himself. This image lines up exactly with my values, basic assumptions and personhood. I value Jesus above all else and I live out of his love to the best of my ability. Psychologically, it seems I am especially wired for relationship and much of my motivation for a lot of what I do stems out of my desire to be accepted and loved by others. I desire to do with those I encounter what I most deeply desire to receive.”

I went out and did this on Saturday afternoon.  Looking for people who wanted someone to listen and offering my love and friendship to them.  There were several who wanted to connect.  The best story was this guy who collects old bottles.  He digs most of them out of the ground and knows tons about Philadelphia history and the history of bottle manufacturing.  We talked for a while and I was completely fascinated.  Eventually I shared that my grandfather owned a bottling company in Southern California called Bireley’s… and then BAM!  Dude pulls out two Bireley’s bottles and straight up gives them to me.  Talk about receiving!  This is the sort of blessing that needs to be told far and wide.  I love this guy now!  I love Passyunk Ave. (such a cool place with lots of cool people)!  I love Philadelphia and all the potential friends she offers me!

“Good Morning” means something… I hope

I stood outside in the rain today for an hour to see who would talk to me.  Between 8 and 9 in the morning, especially when it isn’t raining but even when it is, South Broad Street’s sidewalk is a river of people streaming to work.  This morning, the bells of St. Rita’s started and ended my morning discipline with bright sense of determination that contrasted with the gray day.

I just started my work as the Development Pastor at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington.  I’ve been charged to lead the charge in our next era of church planting.  Circle of Hope is one of the best kept secrets in town.  We need to get out there to find the next 100 people who want to partner with us  and Jesus in our mission.

It was not an ideal day to hit the street, but I had a good umbrella.  I had to use the time I had while I have it.  I stood in front of our building at 1125 S. Broad Street and I said “good morning” to people.  This is already an act of revolution unfortunately, but I wanted to go deeper.  I wanted to see if anyone would actually talk to me.  I wanted to see if any of those 100 partners were walking down Broad Street this morning.  I started out the hour thinking it would be great if people were interested in the flyers I was holding in my hand but by the end it dawned on me that these people would be back on Monday.  I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we created this sort of morning community  right here.  I could be that guy who smiles and says hello.  I might even be more intriguing than my brightly colored flyers, and certainly less disposable.”

This strategy comes from our proverb: “Our deliberate attempts to make disciples are “incarnational,” friend to friend, so we accept that what we do will almost never be instant.” (link)  I’m making friends on South Broad Street.  I pray that Jesus be here with us.

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