Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: neighborhood adventures (page 1 of 2)

They Called the Cops on Me

They Called the Cops on Me

I was putting door hanger flyers on doorknobs in the Bloomfield section of Pennsauken this morning. The streets were pretty deserted at 9:30 am most people had already left for work. A few retirees were giving their spring lawns their first mow. And I was walking the relatively sprawling neighborhood (in comparison with my West Philly row house roots) being a menace to society, apparently. All of a sudden two police SUVs rolled up to the corner I was on. Three officers hopped out of their vehicles responding to a call someone had made about a suspicious person “looking confused and walking up and down the street.” I turned on my charm and, let’s be real, my whiteness and smiled at them, unthreatened.

I said, “I’m not confused. I know exactly what I’m doing. I want everyone in this neighborhood to know about my church, Circle of Hope. I’m the pastor.”

One of the officers spoke into his shoulder walkie-talkie, “It’s a pastor handing out flyers for his church,” apparently calling off the SWAT team or something. The officers took down my name, address and phone number which I gave to them without protest. Though, thinking back on it, I probably had at least a little reason to protest.

“Should I not do it?” I asked with only a little guile

“No, no,” said the senior officer, “You got to remember, this is Pennsauken. You walk onto someone’s porch and they’re going to call us. There are a lot of break-ins around here.”

I was Up to… Good

In some sense I WAS trying to break in. Hanging flyers on door knobs is mostly an excuse to pray that God breaks us into relationships with people we don’t already know. It’s very unlikely that someone is going to get a Circle of Hope flyer on their doorknob and come to a Sunday meeting. It’s a big leap. They have to be looking for us already. There’s no way a piece of paper can do much more than tip an already weighted scale or break an already over-burdened camel’s back. The Holy Spirit has already been casing the spiritual house of the person who will eventually respond to one of our flyers.

It was kind of exciting to be a part of something so potentially dangerous. Our immediate neighbors are so suspicious that they called the cops on me. Some folks are so not ready to let us in that we will probably never know them. I guess that has to be okay, but it’s telling–it’s really hard for us to break in to relationships that don’t exist yet. The Holy Spirit is going to have to break down some barriers. We’re going to have to do a couple of things that are so strange people immediately assume menace.

crazy ish in actsCrazy Ish in Acts

Dan McGowan and I recently read the book of Acts together and we were, again, blown away by the crazy stuff the Holy Spirit had to do to bust the earliest version of the Jesus movement out of the tiny confines of its original context. Great resistance required great response from God. The power of our movement is still dependent on God breaking in to new places. Of course, there was evidence even in my mostly lonely walk through Bloomfield that Jesus was already there. Blessings in gardens and elaborate devotions to Jesus’ mom. Even after my run in with the 5-0, and maybe more so because of it, I am hopeful that Jesus might want to use me and Circle of Hope there. But I don’t pretend to know how. That’s why I think the arbitrary dissemination of flyers on a few blocks in Pennsauken is a good use of my time. I’m like that crazy farmer in Matthew 13 that sows all over the place, even in places where folks are closed off by fear. And for good reason, the world is full of suspicious people, and we are fed continuous stories that fuel our fears.

But if the Holy Spirit whisked Philip from some desert road south of Jerusalem all the way out to Azotus (Acts 8), someone might just be whisked across Rt. 130 from Bloomfield to meet with us on a Sunday on Marlton Pike, right? Here’s hoping (and praying–I pray a lot when i do this sort of thing.)

hands up don't shoot

In Ferguson

But What if I Were Brown?

One last thing that must be said, of which my friend Matt who works as a  corrections officer was sure: If I were not white I would not have been able to be typing this for you now. I’d be tied up in some bureaucratic detention process at besr, or, at worst, in the hospital. You might think I am being sensational, but I believe this. I definitely wouldn’t have been so bold as to insist that the officer keep my flyer because he was invited too. I’ve heard enough stories from brown skinned people to know that the fear that precipitated my encounter with the police would be exponentially amplified if I myself were brown skinned. I have not been abused by the police, ever. I have not been fed infinite images and stories of people who look like me as mostly criminals. From square one, it was laughable that me and my flyers were any sort of real threat.

I kept walking the neighborhood for another half hour. I was deemed as not dangerous. I doubt someone who looks different from me would be allowed to continue menacing, scouting with the Holy Spirit for spiritual break-ins. I can’t help but imagine that the officer would be touching his gun when he met me. And if I didn’t have a generally positive experience of the police, a story not commonly afforded to non-white people, I can’t help but imagine myself in that situation feeling completely threatened  I imagine I would be scared for my life. But I wasn’t. I was fine. That’s hard for me to deal with.

So We Have to Pray

So I’m praying for more than just Circle of Hope in Bloomfield. I’m also praying, as we all need to every day for the overwhelming power of racism in our cities and towns. There is never a headline that goes, “White guy sorts out misunderstanding in 30 seconds, carries on with his Jesus business.” But there is often, so heart-breakingly often, a headline like this real one from this month: “Police Fatally Shoot a Brooklyn Man, Saying They Thought He Had a Gun.” Please don’t parse the details of that article–it’s just a recent example in a slew of way too many. Praying about impossibly consistent imbalance in policing outcomes is similar to praying for new relationship in a world closed off by fear. They both inevitably bump into danger, resistance and, often, despair. Can any barrier be broken? Can any stronghold–can racism–be torn down? Jesus’ hope in our circle of hope helps us to believe in God’s “yes” to these questions, no matter how shut the way appears. Will you join me in praying this week?

How, Oh How Can We Be New?

Dan and I spent two hours Tuesday morning walking around our Pennsauken neighborhood hanging flyers on our neighbor’s door knobs. We wanted them to know that we’re trying to do something new by starting two new Sunday meetings, one at 10:30 a.m. and one at 7:00 p.m. Afterward I marked out the area we had covered on a map of our target are in the gathering room at 3800 Marlton Pike. On that big map, the streets we canvassed in two hours were about the size of a dime. Phew! This is going to take a long time! It takes some work to be new.

But every time I walk around the neighborhood I realize that we’re newer than we think. This week we met people who are new to the neighborhood who have never heard of us. We also met people who grew up in the neighborhood but they were still new to the knowledge that “Oh Circle of Hope is a church?! That’s not a firehouse anymore?!” We’re newer than we thought even before we started two new meetings.

The energy of the new meetings is a lot of fun. The teams that have gathered around them are the best part. On Sunday mornings we stand in a big circle at 10:00 a.m. and pray for all the people who might be on there way. Then we snap into action and we’re ready for them when they arrive. Many hands, light work… light work, good vibes. In the evening, the team turns our garage bays into a living room, moving almost every piece of thrift store furniture we have collected in the place. Folks that come for the first time are getting in on the action when it’s time to move it back. We’re making something together. It feels good.

And the goodness is spreading. The cell leaders are getting in on the action by hanging the same flyers on door knobs in the neighborhoods where their cells meet. We’re spreading out across the region. Planting seeds, maybe in areas not bigger than dimes on our map, but so be it–the seeds are sown. We’re doing it together. That’s the whole point.

Honestly, it’s not that grandiose. By doing something new I think we’re getting back to basics. It’s a lot simpler and, as a result, older. The church has been regular folks living life together for a long time. Our simple vision is an old vision. Acts 20:20 says that the disciples in the early church met “in public and from house to house.” That’s our Sunday meetings and cells. It doesn’t take much more than sincere participation in these simple gatherings to be a real Christian. The meetings need to happen because they need to be made. Christians are makers and we want to be good at making something with Jesus. Space needs to be made for the next person because we need to love them intentionally. Christians are lovers who love without exception. That’s it! Make something with love! Each person brings their gifts, their love and their mustard seed of faith that any of this matters and the miracle of the Church gets born every day. We’re new, yes. We’ve always been that way.

Check out our facebook events for details of our Sunday Meeting After Party on September 10th and or come to our Family Dinner for More Than Just Family on September 3.

Circle of Hope, I can count on you

prayer for justice rally

Photo cred: Fatimah Burke

On Saturday, December 13th at 1pm,  I helped organize an event called the Prayer for Justice Rally.  Circle of Hope was a big part of the crowd.  We must care about justice.  My friends Gene and Fatimah from LookUpRadio.com spearheaded the effort to get a diverse group of Christians together to pray about what is becoming known as the #blacklivesmatter movement.  I was excited to be part of such a great idea.  Let’s get Christians who are black and Christians who are white and Christians who are brown, and Asian and as many other Christians as possible together to pray for the state we find ourselves in: the abjection of no indictment for police who killed black men and boys; the brokenness of a world so entrenched in sin we regularly call evil good and vice versa; the corporate oppression of racism and the systemic ways it damages all of our hearts and destroys lives, especially black lives.  We had to cry out with Isaiah for the freedom of the oppressed.  We followed Isaiah 58-6-8:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

We wanted to declare our hope in God’s promise and unhinge the heavy gates that separate us from one another.  We wanted to be together in solidarity–demonstrating our hope to the world.  We wanted to express our pain and ask God to heal us.  The injustices are painful to any lover of justice.  They are painful to God.

We gathered at the Municipal Services Building’s courtyard.  We used an over-sized fallen domino as our stage.  Our own Ra Mendoza (also repping Mission Year)  Pastor Cean James of Grace Christian Fellowship, rallied us to our common cause.  Joezier (truPoet) Antoine stirred us up in expressing his indignation.  I led the group in small group and corporate prayer.  We joined together saying “We raise our hands.”  Marquita Danzy got us singing “Our God” and she didn’t need a mic!  Finally Ra sent us on our way to carry the fire to all our corners of the city.

The only down side of the event was the turn out.  It was a blustery cold day and I understand there were some things stacked against us, including the fact that Gene told me about this idea only a week before, but I was hoping for 200 and there were 40.  I’m not sure how I expected 400 to show up, but I learned a lesson in organizing- you better know who is coming.  I wasn’t, however, surprised that a third of the crowd was from Circle of Hope.  We are a faithful people.  We’re dreaming about doing big things like this next year and I’m eager to see what our collective “show up” capacity is.  If we can be the biggest group when I barely put the word out among us, how big will our presence be when we all put our back into it!  Let’s do it!

Circle of Hope, I can count on you.  Thanks.

Money Talks- Anecdotal Evidence from life in Philly

Woodland Ave. at Markoe in Southwest Philly.

Woodland Ave. at Markoe in Southwest Philly.

“This isn’t really a customer service call it’s more of a PR consult.”  That’s what I told the customer service rep for Republic Bank when I called the 800 # this weekend.  A developer is constructing an apartment building across the street from the Circle Counseling office, but it’s been a giant hole in the ground for the past 8 months.  They dug the foundation, poured in the concrete and left it to be a mosquito ridden, rain filled, 2 story deep swimming pool for my neighborhood children to drown in (no one has drowned yet).

I have called License and Inspections about this property and reported it on the 311 app a number of times to little avail.  I’m not sure how a company can get away with this, but apparently it’s legal.  So, on a whim as I walked by on Saturday, I called Republic Bank who had their banner on the property’s chain link fence.  I described the dangers I saw and wanted them to know that the neighborhood might get a bad impression of Republic Bank if they were associated with this construction site.  I left my name and number because anonymity isn’t my style.

Yesterday I got  a call from Gary Jonas who referenced my telephone call that weekend.  I explained what “they” were doing at the construction site.  Then he surprised me by saying “When you say ‘they’ it’s me.  I own this property.”  I was a bit taken aback, but I pressed on with my complaint and asked him when he planned to remedy the situation.  He was defensive but apologetic in the end.  The situation was not ideal for him either but his major concern was his own bottom line, not the inconvenience and safety of the neighborhood.

I was struck by the conversation- less by its results than by the immediacy of action effected by my call to the bank.  Money talks.  Money makes things happen- much more than any other systems in Philadelphia.  Dang.

I lament this because my elected officials should be protecting me and creating systems that support the common good above the private individual.  License and Inspections should protect me and my neighbors.  They don’t.  Republic Bank is holding Mr. Jonas more accountable to his neighbors than the city of Philadelphia.

And this is the future many of the country has dreamed of– an economy unfettered by regulation, a plutocracy in which real power is wielded by those with the most money, power and influence are cash and wire transfers.  The pursuit of happiness is dollars and cents.

We the people are shouted down by citizens united with more money than us.  My disorganized neighborhood association was entrusted with holding this developer to agreements, and because the group is ineffective the agreements are essentially with no one.  The city is just as ineffective and just as interested in Mr. Jonas’ bottom line as he is.  Development and economic growth without end!  Little old Southwest Philly better get what piece of the pie we can because nothing is going to change.

I’m looking up from the crumb scrambling to ask, “Why don’t we all have a seat at the table?  Why is the host of this party being so rude?”  I know a solution will be hard to come by, but my main point is this:  I don’t want Money to be my master, or our master.  I think it’s messing us up.  And as a student of history and a believer in God’s promises I know this system will pass away in this age or the age to come.

Hear the ancient poet, Isaiah

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
    to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
    and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
    and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
    when disaster comes from afar? (context)

My preferred pie (seasonally appropriate)

The day of reckoning will come by some drastic shift in power (Empires do not last by definition) or by Jesus’ return (Yes, I went there).  Part of the Good News is that the corruption of our human systems will not last forever.  The humans who make them and participate won’t either.  I’m not hoping for their destruction; I’m hoping for the New Creation beyond the destruction of all things as we know them now, including my own persistent corruption.  My lament ends in the promise that Money will be silenced and abundance will be shared by all.  In one turn of the phrase, yes, my pie is in the sky, but it’s not just about what will happen in some cosmic future as that phrase often connotes.  Jesus broke the static nature of the present.  The future has broken in on the now.  Participation in Christ brings hope to me know, even hope for a corrupt and feeble city government.  I’m patiently impatient for the pie now and I’m going to bake all the approximations of the promise I can.  With the help of Jesus they might be enough for now.

 

Yes, I will have 320 hot dogs. Please and thank you.

This blog post is brought to you by our generous sponsor, Hatfield Hams.  They’re giving us a case of beef franks for our Summer Block Party on Sunday June 22nd from 2-6pm.  Isn’t that nice?  Why would this vegetarian want 320 hot dogs you ask?  1) Because even I know that hot dogs are actually quite delicious and 2) I’m pulling out all the stops to have a “big thing.”  Nothing brings people together like food- especially free food- and no one is more interested in bringing people together than Jesus.

Every day I hear a story about the great things that God is doing among his people at Circle of Hope.  Yesterday it was a married couple with two small children who had organized the end of their week for them to both go on a 24 hour personal retreat in Aston, PA at the Franciscan Spirituality Center.  Now those are people who are meant to go deep with God!  Both of them have recently taken on new leadership roles among us so it is well timed for them to find some time with God.  Those are the type of Christians that are growing up at Circle of Hope.  Such is the life in Christ that we are calling people together to see.

alter street

Here’s the plan for June 22nd

A block party is not a retreat but it is a great way to love people, and know them and have fun with them.  That’s the first step in them connecting to the power of God at work among us like it is in the family on retreat.  On June 22nd there will be hot dogs, of course, and sodas, and probably other summer treats, but also a moon bounce, face painting, games and music.  I hope at least 150 people come (otherwise we’re going to have a serious hotdog surplus), so I’m telling you now.  Put it on your calendar.  The Circle of Hope Summer Tour stops at the 1300 block of Alter in a few weeks and I want the whole neighborhood and you to be there.

International Joy Share

I had a great time with some young people from Canada, Nigeria, Guatemala, Tunisia and Hong Kong on Saturday.

Niagra Christian Community of Schools (NCC) is a Brethren in Christ affiliated primary and secondary school in Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada.  It has a very diverse student population and a really good choir.  I spent the day with them on Saturday and I had a blast because these kids are awesome.  Proof of their awesomeness is that they weren’t afraid to bless the city of Philadelphia with some joy songs (as seen in the video above)- singing their hearts out in the middle of Center City!

Their leader, Julie Willms, got connected to us through the Brethren in Christ denominational network.  I didn’t meet her until the other day, but we were already family because we’re Brethren in Christ.  She asked me to help her plan the day.  We did some historical and touristy stuff but the meat of our time together was a performance at Tucker House a nursing home in Philadelphia’s Poplar neighborhood and a prayer walk I designed to help the kids engage with the “big stuff” that affects our city.

It was easy to do because there were so many compassionate things that Circle of Hope is involved in.  I walked through the neighborhood and easily dreamed up things to pray for and ways that Circle of Hope was engaging them.

1) We prayed at Tucker House for those who live there and worked there, for those without healthcare and for those who make laws about healthcare.

2) At 11th and Wallace, in a vacant lot we prayed for the Land Bank and the work of our pastors, Jonny Rashid and Rachel Sensenig with Take Back Vacant Land coalition.  We prayed that profit would not be the only driver in our city’s redevelopment.  We prayed for children to experience nature and for homes for those without them.

3) At 11th and Mt Vernon, the site of demolished Ruffin Nichols Memorial African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, I told them about the history of Richard Allen and his followers and we prayed about the continuing institutional racism and for the revitalization of our churches.  I told them here that they were a demonstration of what God can do to bring us together.  They are so diverse and they literally spend time in harmony.  If God can bring them together, then God can continue to bring others together as well.

4) At 11th and Spring Garden we looked up the street to Gaudenzia House- An Addiction Rehabilitation Center- we prayed for those suffering from addiction, for the Narcotics Anonymous group that meets in our space at Broad and Washington an we prayed for those caught up in drug trafficking.

5) At 10th and Spring Garden we visited the Closed Collisimo’s Gun Shop (and the “Gun Academy” that survives next door).  We celebrated the victory of Heeding God’s Call, a coalition of faith groups that put public pressure on a gun shop that was notorious for selling guns that ended up being used in violent crime.  Circle of Hope members still participate in Heeding God’s Call an we prayed for their continued efforts. We also prayed for the families of the 70 people who have died from gun shot wounds in Philadelphia this year (as of March)

5) At 10th and Callowhill we looked west toward the State Building, a possible site for a new Casino.  We talked about the motivations for gambling and the argument that gambling is a legitimate source of state funding of underfunded social programs (like Tucker House for one).  I shared with them the work that Circle of Hope had been involved with in hopes of stopping Sugar House.  We prayed against the Casino’s success and we prayed that our own treasures would be stored in heaven.

6) Our last stop was at 10th and Pearl where I encourage the kids to care about all of these big things because in engaging our hearts in the impossible hope for change of these big evils we exercise our citizenship in the Kingdom of God.  Just like the Pearl of Great Value in Matthew 13, the work of calling the world to The Way is very costly but the alternative is deadly an not near as beautiful.

Here’s our prayer for Hope and for God’s will to be done On Earth (in Philadelphia, in Fort Erie, Ontario and all the places all over the Earth) as it is in Heaven

Our Father, who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come;

Thy will be done;

In Philadelphia as it is in heaven- (call out other places we want God’s Kingdom to come)

On Earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil;

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,

forever and ever.  Amen!

Philadelphia Schools and Judas’ Kiss

meandmuralistsIt’s Maundy Thursday, I’ll spend the evening washing feet.  I spent the morning getting paint on my hands at GW Childs School.  The two go together for me.  Maundy is an old word that comes from the Latin mandatum which means “command or order.”  It refers to   the words spoken by Jesus to his disciples after washing their feet at the Last Supper, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.(John 13:34)

I went to GW Childs school because I am on the “For Love of Childs” Compassion team that my fried Megan started.  Circle of Hope organizes ourselves to fan the sparks of passion that our members have.  Bands of compassionate people get together to follow Jesus’ commandment.  For the Love of Childs has supported the Art Program, Hosted a Block Party, Started a Library, and planted Gardens in cooperation with various local partners.  I’m inspired to be part of some really good things that are happening.  As often as I am able and there is an opportunity, I am at Childs.  I joined the team to do the Maundy all the time.  I did it for more than filial duty though.  I did it because I need to do something personally to respond to the mess that those who run the school system in Philadelphia have made of these kids’ education.

And here is the other Maundy Thursday correlation.  I can’t hep but note the similarity between Jesus getting betrayed with a kiss by his once friend and disciple, Judas Iscariot, and the kids in Philadelphia getting betrayed by those entrusted with the job of educating them.  

The biggest Judas is probably Governor Tom Corbett (though that’s an over-simplification). Here are just a few reasons I am tempted to say that Satan has entered Tom Corbett (ref Luke 22:3) from www.fundphillyschools.org/the-facts

  • While Philadelphia schools are in a financial crisis created by the state, Pennsylvania is spending $400 million on building a new prison in Philadelphia.
  • When Mayor Nutter asked Pennsylvania for $130 million in additional state funding, Gov. Corbett delivered only $16 million
  • The impact fee for natural gas producers is the lowest in the nation. If Gov. Corbett modeled the West Virginia tax on fracking, $205 million in revenue could be generated.

This is a betrayal of our children.  The list on fundphillyschools.org is a lot longer.  As I read it I started to tear up.  I cannot believe it.  Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest!  We’re building a pipeline from cradle to jail.  This is something to die for, certainly to suffer for.  Who’s with me?beautiful sky in philadelphia

It feels so horribly inadequate now, but I painted a mural with some 6th through 8th graders today on the roof top gym at GW Childs.  As we painted we talked about their families and what they liked to post on instagram.  I told them I liked to post pictures of the sky (I posted this one in their honor).  I also told them and their City Year mentors about Circle of Hope and the other Maundy things we do.  I’m praying that my little goes a long way in God’s hand.  I don’t have much more hope than that.

 

Helping kids find their voice with Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss was a prophet.  The Lorax is a creation care manifesto, The Butter Battle Book is a telling allegory of the cold war, The Sneetches is about racism, Horton Hatches an Egg tells the story of a nonviolent sit in.  I love Dr. Seuss.  So I jumped at the chance to participate in a Dr. Seuss Day this week.

G.W. Childs Elementary celebrated Dr. Seuss day with school wide readings of Horton Hears a Who.  The Neighborhood  Association started by my friend Megan, Neighbors Investing in Childs Elementary (NICE), donated copies of the book to the school for the occasion.  Horton Hears a Who is prophetic too.  I wasn’t as familiar with it but after reading it three times to three different classes I am.  Horton hears the people of Who-ville that live on a tiny dust speck and goes through great lengths to protect them from a band of monkeys and sour kangaroo who don’t believe Who-ville exists.  The town of Who-ville is at the brink of destruction at the hands of its naysayers and they all have to make as much noise as possible in order to be heard by the weak eared kangaroos and monkeys.  They cannot be heard until the mayor discovers the smallest Who in Who-ville, a little boy named Jo-jo, shirking his noisemaking responsibility.  The mayor gets him to join his voice with the noise of the town and together they are finally heard.

ben dr. seuss dayWhat a great message to be sharing with children!  I was tasked with sharing this story with two eighth grade classes.  (I also had to wear this ridiculous hat.  The children’s book, the hat… it was a tall order.  Eighth graders are notorious.  But the kids really responded.  I got them to think about the people and the systems in their lives that refuse to acknowledge their existence.  We talked about city government, giant corporations, the prison industrial complex and more.  Horton’s refrain is “A person’s a person no matter how small.”  I convinced them that smallness wasn’t just about size but about power.  They had power together but they needed to be united to be heard by those trying to destroy them.

The sad truth of the matter is that the powers that be do not doubt these young people’s existence the way the monkeys and kangaroos of the Jungle of Nool do.  The powers know these people exist.  They market to them and they use them in their power consolidation.  The allegory breaks down a bit because the monkeys and kangaroos repent of their destructive direction as soon as they hear Jo-jo and the rest raise their voices together.  Our powers aren’t repenting.  Maybe because they know we don’t have enough power and maybe because they aren’t bothered very much by the relatively quiet ruckus some of us are causing.

Horton Hears a Who could be reduced to looking out for the little guy, but I think it’s more about the little guy finding a voice and using it for self preservation.  I’m praying some of those kids do, cause I’m going to shout with them.

Isaiah 58: 1 Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.

 

 

What are we known for? What is Jesus known for?

At a job I had many years ago I discovered at some point that I was known as “that crazy christian guy.”  The person delivering this news to me was not trying to hurt me so I wasn’t offended but I did consider being offended. I didn’t like being called “crazy” and I didn’t like having a reputation I didn’t know about.  After I got over my initial surprise I actually settled comfortably into the epithet.  My christian-ness could be the craziness, and in that very post-christian place I was pretty weird to be such a Jesus-y guy.  I probably set myself up for the reputation from square one when the interviewing committee asked me why I wanted to do this work and I said that Jesus compelled me to work for justice (it was a justice focused non-profit).

please sign gun violence petitionI’m thinking of this because last week I gave a similar answer when my new friend, Nick, from CeasefirePA asked me why I was interested in gun violence prevention legislation.  I told him that Jesus told us to love our enemies and I want to make it harder for us to shoot them instead.  I kind of put my Circle of Hope peeps on the line, but it’s okay because I know what sort of people they are.  I told him that we were 600 people who wanted to do something about what Jesus said about peacemaking.

I was meeting with Nick to deliver some petitions that I had gotten signed at a community event at Chew Playground (19th and Washington) a couple of weeks before.  It was “Family Fun and Safety Day” on Washington Avenue.  I decided to rep Circle of Hope by asking people to sign petitions designed to move the Harrisburg legislators to make gun violence prevention a priority in Pennsylvania.  Everyone in Point Breeze and beyond wanted to sign it.  I told them about Circle of Hope’s and Jesus’ desire to be peacemakers and invited them to our meetings.

I want us to be known as peacemakers.  I want Jesus to be known as a peacemaker.  That’s so much more attractive than his more common reputation among those not connected to him.  People who aren’t christians think Christians are 1) judgmental,            2) hypocritical and 3) obsessed with how people do and do not have sex.  You could parse those three issues out forever, but I want the transformative power of Jesus to be known in our world, and I’m sick of fighting about those three things with Christians and non Christians alike.  I want peace for one thing!  And I want so much more beside!  Can’t we steer the conversation some and let people know what Jesus and his people at Circle of Hope are really about?

Circle of Hope is starting a discernment process for what specifically we feel God calling us to do in 2014 and beyond.  I am feeling more and more strongly that we need to be known for our compassionate work.  We need to make sure Jesus gets the credit for the good work we do and we need to conspire to do goodness in his name that will attract people to our cause, which is Jesus’ redemption of the world.

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.

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