Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: making friends (Page 2 of 2)

Circle of Hope’s Public Joy

I was driving down the Broad Street on Sunday when all of a sudden I had to pull over abruptly in the center “parking lane.”  My friends, Forest and Ben were playing guitars in front of the library at Broad and Morris!  It was a beautiful morning and these beautiful people were making some beautiful music in Circle of Hope Broad and Washington’s beautiful neighborhood.  I made a video of it.

Happening upon them where I found them was really cool because we had just been there the Sunday before at the AMPM (the morning Public Meeting designed to include children and family.  We played games, ate snacks and told stories in DeSilvestro Playground (behind the libray).  Here’s another video of Tracey and Moses telling a story about peace making goats in English and Runyankole (from Uganda).

Circle of Hope is getting out on the street in new ways.  This is one example of our public joy.  Those who read my blog know that I stand outside of our space at 1125 S. Broad Street a few mornings a week and say “hi” to people.  A couple of weeks ago I met with a guy who was in a tough spot.  I listened to him tell his story of active drug addiction and childhood abuse calmly and also unreservedly.  By unreservedly I mean I didn’t hold my tongue.  When he asked someone if he could buy a cigarette I said, “Are you crazy? You just told me you have $11 to your name and you’re buying cigarettes?”  He laughed.  Later in our conversation he got someone to give him one and as he puffed he asked me, “Man, are you high?”

“What?  Why do you think I’m high?”

“I dunno, you’re just so like peaceful and calm.  You’re funny man.  I’m telling you all this stuff and you keep listening.”

“No man, I’m not high, that’s just the peace of Jesus.”

That’s what we’re doing, friends.  That’s what Jesus is offering: Peace in the midst of crazy, uncomfortable stories and joy all over the place–the kind of peace that get’s noticed if we give Jesus the opportunity to get out in public by getting us on the street, especially right in our neighborhood and it’s “Main Street”, South Broad Street.

Being There- Why you have to show up

I was lying on my couch reading Game of Thrones on Monday afternoon when I heard the megaphone start blaring.  “Oh yeah, it’s the protest.  We’re shutting down Woodland Ave!”  I grabbed Oliver, my 2 year old son, and we ran down the street to join the crowd.  We were blocking Woodland Ave. to send a message to those in power that we would not turn a blind eye to the closing of Wilson Elementary School, the local relatively well performing school that was among the 23 schools that are closing.

woodland ave with the guysOf course the situation is complicated.  All the dots don’t connect.  You can make a cogent argument for school closures, yes, but we must agree that something is fundamentally wrong when we’re building a $400 Million prison in Philadelphia while closing schools and slashing support staff in our public schools.  One of the folks I ran out onto the avenue to stand with got it right on his sign (pictured here).  “Invest in a child’s education not the projected benefit of their incarceration.  Save our children.  Save our schools!”  At first I was the only white guy in the crowd.  The rhetoric was heavily afrocentric but I tried not to feel excluded.  I would have liked to send my child to this school too.  This is however an overwhelming black issue as this infographic so clearly portrays.  Schools in predominantly white neighborhoods do not get closed.  There’s something wrong with that, so I had to stand with my neighbors in the middle of the street.

I’m not at all confident that our protest will do anything to reopen Wilson School but I am really glad I was there and Oliver was there with me.  I have four reasons

woodland ave with Ollie1) I wanted to teach Oliver that he should do something about convictions.  They mean nothing if they stay in his head.  (He did not want to be there so this was a hard fought lesson)

2) I know that my responsibility to Jesus is not about success but about witness.  Many of the speakers who got on the megaphone were Christians and their faith was not checked at the door.  They had a sense of themselves as prophets calling out truth to power and God was on their side.  I agree.  We’ll keep working to be effective but being faithful in our word and deed does not require our success.

3) I am with these people.  These are my neighbors and I wanted to demonstrate with them.  Their cause is my cause, even if the way they express it is not exactly the way I would.  My block captain invited me and I said I would be there, then I was there.  She was impressed.

4) I made friends.  I met more people on my block and I’m praying God gives us the opportunity to share our lives together.  God might make us partners in more causes, even his cause at Circle of Hope.

If I had stayed on the couch I wouldn’t have been able to be all these things that afternoon.  I don’t have any very new ideas here, but I do have a new experience that backs up the ideas.  I had to show up.  I had to be there with Jesus and with his people.

Divided Diversity Defied

August 18, 2007Last time I went to Sacks Playground I think it was my friend Zack’s 8th birthday party (but that was only a couple of years ago).  A woman I talked to at this playground on Monday hadn’t been there in a while either.  Our similarly aged boys were playing with each other so we were chatting.  She said, “I think I see my family over there, but I’m not sure they’ll even recognize me because I don’t come down here like that, you know?”

“Where do you live?”  I asked.

“Oh, I live up on 17th Street,”  she answered.

She lived 12 to 15 blocks away- a 25 minute walk – a 9 minute bike ride – an 8 minute car ride – a 23 minute bus ride (thanks, Google maps)… And yet that distance had separated her from her extended family.  Certainly there is more going on in her family than I know, but I thought this anecdote illustrative of the division that Philly is unfortunately famous for and the way that division was being defied at this interestingly diverse event.

sacksI went to the kick off event for National Month Out, an expansion of the national event, National Night Out.  The focus is safety and “taking back the night” from unsavory characters.  I heard about it from Passyunk Square Civic Association so I thought I would be a good neighbor and show up.  City council people, and firemen and police officers were there.  Mayor Nutter mad an appearance and there were representatives from crime prevention and youth engagement organizations–but I was most impressed by the diversity I encountered.

I was invited by a mostly white organization (though I’m sure they would object to that classification justly) and they were there, the playground was full of children shouting in Spanish, the black kids were on the basketball court, a rapper was singing a duet with his son (very sweet), a drug prevention program called Shalom Inc. was represented by a middle aged Jewish woman, the mostly white fire engine crew was showing off their shiny rig… It was fascinating!

philip-and-the-eumuchOne of our pastors at Circle of Hope was talking at our Public Meeting on Sunday reassuring us that the Holy Spirit has gone before us and is at work before we get to where we are going.  He told some stories, among them the story of Phillip in Acts 8, who was moved by the Holy Spirit to go and stand by a chariot that just so happened to be occupied by someone who was interested in the meaning of Isaiah 53– which is a very powerful prophecy pointing to Jesus.  Great things ensued- receptivity, boundary crossing, baptism and more.

I went to Sacks playground to be a good neighbor and to stand by a chariot so to speak.  Nothing so dramatic as Acts 8 occurred but I did see the Holy Spirit at work before me in the way our incredibly diverse neighborhood came together in an uncommon way.  I pray that our divided city would continue to come together and that the Holy Spirit will continue to be a part of making that happen.

Praise for Random Connection

loveparkphotoLast week before I went on vacation I was in Love Park in that blistering heat that Philly was suffering through.  Kids were playing in the fountain and tons of people were still stopping by the LOVE statue to snap a photo.  Here’s a photo of photo taking.  Even in the disgusting heat I couldn’t help but be content in my city of brotherly love.  When I went to live in Mexico for a year between my sophomore and junior years of college I was advised to take gifts to my host families that represented my culture.  I was so glad when I realized I could give them a little replica of the LOVE statue instead of the Liberty Bell.  The Liberty Bell was too patriotic even though it was very Philly.  Being known for love is pretty cool.

I was at Love Park that Thursday at noon because we were creating missional space.  We meet in Love Park every Thursday at noon to see if there is anyone we need to meet, and to practice our connecting skills.  My friends and I were looking around at those braving the heat and wondering how we might make friends (something I am often doing now).  Just then a woman walked into the park who I “knew” from my morning disciplines on Broad Street.

cohsignbroadstreetA few mornings a week I stand in front of Circle of Hope’s building at 1125 S. Broad Street and I say good morning to those walking up and down the street, and I pray.  I had said good morning to this woman for several weeks.  She was one of the people who did not ignore me.  I asked my friends if that was enough reason to go and talk to her.  They said, “What’s the worst that could happen?”  I agreed and I went up and talked to her.  It turned out we had some mutual acquaintances and she lived around the corner from Circle of Hope’s meeting space.  She might be interested in checking out one of our Public Meetings and she gave me some contact information.

I was excited by how my two very random exercises, standing on Broad Street and hanging out in Love Park, coalesced and I made a new friend.  I see God at work in that.  I pray that God continues to work though me both randomly as he did in this instance, and more according to plan as I hone my church planting strategy to focus my efforts.

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.

 

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.

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.

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).

HOPE at Clark Park with Shalom House 6.22.13 011

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.

HOPE at Clark Park with Shalom House 6.22.13 006

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:

HOPE at Clark Park with Shalom House 6.22.13 020

“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.

Wiffle Ball, Rainbows, Promise

circleofhopemc

Circle of Hope Marlton and Crescent
(In South Jersey)

I went over to Pennsauken last night to be with Circle of Hope Marlton and Crescent.  I was sharing with them some of my experience in finding freedom in being limited.  They’re working through Paul’s letter to the Galatians which is all about freedom.  I brought up these verses from Galatians 6.

“If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else”  The insight I had was that we shouldn’t deceive ourselves by comparing ourselves to others and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves by comparing ourselves to the image we have of ourselves–which is sort of a composite of comparisons of others (which are odious).  The American definition of freedom is to have our desires unhindered by any impediment.  Sprint is spending millions to convince us that we ought to be unlimited.

I admit, I can be seduced by being unlimited, but then my church planting mission depends on my being supremely capable and so charismatic as to win everyone I meet over to Christ by sheer force of personality.  This isn’t reality and the desire for it to be true actually makes me more limited than I really am.  If I cling to this image of myself, I deceive myself and my experience has been that that deception saps my energy in a cycle of disappointment.  

I’m choosing to receive the freedom that Christ gives me to be my self as I really am–limited me.  This Lent, Circle of Hope’s daily prayer blog was instructing us to  pay attention to our thoughts and feelings in order to get to the heart of who we really are in Christ.  Following the lead of a 4th Century Monk named Evagrius we were rediscovering “an important secret to help us love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. We can only grow to our fullness in Christ if we do the spiritual work of examining our thoughts so that we can know that our thoughts, feelings, and even our behaviors are not the sum of us; they are not our essence.”  I thought this sounded a lot like the testing that Paul is exhorting us too in Galatians 6:4.  

rainbowwiffleballI have been encouraged through this practice to offer myself as I am to the mission, today.  No need to wait until I’ve got it “figured out” or I’ve achieved some semblance of the self I think I ought to be.  I am empowered by the Holy Spirit and what effect my efforts have is dependent on the Holy Spirit’s action.  I am not responsible for how other’s respond to me and my message.  I am responsible as one of Christ’s witnesses to be an opportunity for someone to respond to God in a new way.

The congregation at Marlton and Crescent is trying a new thing that is akin with this sort of freedom.  They’re throwing a party at the 7 pm in hope’s of meeting some new friends.  Last night was wiffle ball and the Sand Lot.  As if to make the blessing explicit, there was a full rainbow for the first pitch.  Here’s a picture of God’s symbol of promise as it faded and the game got going.  Let’s keep leaning into that promise.

Hoping the rain away

A couple of great ideas got postponed yesterday because of the threat of crazy rain and the reality of some rain.  It seems that new ideas for how we at Circle of Hope might meet people are bubbling up all over the place.  My friend Howard cooked up this great plan for public worship involving fiddles, flash mobs and fun.  That’s happening next Thursday, thank God.

My idea was a public art project.  I cut the word “hope” out of a piece of plywood.  I painted it white and bought a bunch of colorful paints.  The idea was to take it to the Dollar Stroll on  Baltimore Avenue last night and invite people to make their mark on HOPE.

hope

I’ve learned that hope is not an inexhaustible resource.  It is not a quality that a person has.  It is not a matter of will or positive thinking.  It is gift that needs to be tended and maintained.  At Circle of Hope we have organized ourselves to receive that gift from God on the regular and tend it together in our various circles.

Our art piece is a symbolic working out of who we’re trying to be.  We’ll be reaching out and touching hope.  We’ll be making our mark on hope.  We’ll be identifying ourselves in hope (our finger prints and all). We’ll be receiving hope in different ways as we smile at new faces and have fun while the new thing is created. We want people to know who we are and how we relate to Jesus.  We believe that God might lead us toward those who are looking for us.

And now, because of the rain, we’re waiting in hope to do the whole thing…

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