Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: Mischief

Camden County College Hates Me

I’m sorry, I don’t follow the rules. The Public Safety Office at Camden County College clearly told me that I was not welcome on campus unless I was a student or an authorized guest. I went anyway. Again, I’m sorry, but it’s a place to meet 10,000+ young people from all the local area high schools. I have to at least put up flyers on the first day to at least let them know that Circle of Hope exists. At most, I would love it if I could hang out there and make relationships. I can’t shake the need to broadcast to them that there is an alternative to the hypocritical, judgmental church they imagine from national media or know from personal experience. At most, I want them to have a transformative experience with the living God. I can’t shake the desire to share this joy.

I wasn’t trying to go unnoticed

Jesus wants to unlock people at Camden County College for selfless love which is freedom and joy in serving others. They need to know that Jesus wants to help them let go of the lies they are fed about carefully guarded personal satisfaction and its perennial shadow, an overwhelming sense of personal responsibility to make and maintain the world as they know it. Camden County College needs, at the very least, a couple hundred pink flyers posted on every possible bulletin board that there is a community nearby that is re-centering itself around something (and someone) who can actually do something to change the world.

But Camden County College wants me to know that I am not welcome there. A security officer called to let me know that I had broken the rules. It wasn’t hard for him to get a hold of me. I had put my number on all the flyers. But the rules are the rules and he was just doing his job. There is no solicitation at Camden County Colleges. Once again, I’m sorry. I had indeed seen the notice on the bulletin boards that said that any posted flyer not approved by the campus life office would be removed, but I just thought, “OK, remove it, maybe someone will see it before they do.” I also knew that flyers I posted last semester had gone un-removed for months, cuz I’m persistent like that. They asked me not to come back (again), but I’m probably going back. I’m wondering if my flyer shouldn’t say, “They told me not to post this.”

I admit, my ire is up. I could just rebel for rebellion sake because I really am a rebel at heart. But I’d like to make a bigger point about the rules. The rules are designed to protect young people from any influence. According to the rule makers, overt influence is violence. All of our opinions, motives and desires are spontaneously generated from our deepest personhood, or so they would have us believe. When in fact the opinions, motives and desires of a whole generation have been sacrificed to the gods of industry. Our hearts have been claimed by what we consume and those who sell it to us. It is best for the rule makers that everyone believe they are self made in every respect, so that the reality of our unprocessed opinions, motives and desires be otherwise un-engaged and thus more easily shaped and manipulated by the rule makers.

The incoming class of freshman have no personal recollection of the events of September 11, 2001. They were babies or not yet born. Instead they have grown up in the culture of fear that the rule makers have built ever since. They have grown up under surveillance. They have grown up on display, submitting to voluntary surveillance on social media. They have grown up knowing that only the government will keep them safe, and just barely. This ever present, vague sense of threat has shaped them. It has shaped all of us. This threat is excellent for the rule makers. It keeps us in line, in our own lane, and unaware.

Jesus undoes the rules, not necessarily the Public Safety rules of Camden County College, but those rules that keep us locked up in self protection and in fear of what might happen if we mess up. He makes us aware of that which we can’t see without him. He lights up the dark, un-examined opinions, motives and desires that make us who we are, and mostly make us unhappy. He invites us to lose that life so we can find a new one in him. He breaks most of the rules that make our lives such drudgery. He influences us. But that influence blasphemes the other gods who reign over us, and i refuse to pretend they don’t exist.

I’ll have to deal with the consequences of returning to Camden County College when I do, but my decision will not be based in fear of what the rule makers will do to me. I’m being specific about the real threats at Camden County College, and they are not my pink flyers. I’d like to convince a few more students to break the rules with me and influence people for good rather than leaving it to those who will only take from them.

Other gods only take. Jesus gives. I’m praying to help many people at Camden County College receive from him.

 

 

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.

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.