Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: neighborhood adventures (Page 1 of 2)

Making a splash in my neighborhood (You can too!)

Putting Circle of Hope on the Map in OUR Neighborhoods

This month, Circle of Hope sponsored the West Collingswood Extension Civic Association newsletter. That’s my neighborhood. It’s a wonderful, weird little slice of South Jersey. It is part of Haddon Township, but separated from the largest chunk of this patchwork township by Collingswood. AND my zip code always comes up as “Oaklyn, New Jersey” on my weather app. Very strange. This all goes to show that the lines that cut up the megalopolis are incredibly arbitrary. I’m glad Circle of Hope crosses almost all of them.

And yet, the West Collingswood Extension DOES have a sense of itself. It’s 16 residential square blocks that you can snake your dog through, walking every street, in 30 minutes. The West Collingswood Extension Civic Association has been in existence since 1939. The first Fourth of July Parade took place in 1943, and it has continued every year since! I think it was in the 1950s that everyone in the neighborhood pitched in to DIY-refurbish the old West Collingwood Train Station building which is now the headquarters of all our events and available to rent for parties.

I kind of put my foot in my mouth when I volunteered Circle of Hope to sponsor the printing of our July Newsletter because I had no idea how much color copies cost! It ended up being almost $300. I had to get permission from the other Circle of Hope pastors to foot such a bill out of our Common Fund budget’s outreach line, but thankfully they said yes.

Introducing the Neighborhood Love Project

But let’s keep being a tangible blessing  in every slice of South Jersey we live in. When you have an idea for how Circle of Hope can support you in blessing YOUR neighborhood, it would probably be better to know the cost BEFORE your promise any money on our behalf. I don’t think the $300 was a waste however, because Circle of Hope needs to get into a lot more neighborhoods. We need to literally put ourselves on the map as the West Collingswood Civic Association Vice President did in the July Newsletter.

I am convinced that there are a lot more people looking for the next generation of the church in our region than we yet know. We need to “let our little light shine” a bit more because there are a lot more people “down in the valley trying to get ho-o-o-ome” as our sisters sang at the At-Home Sunday Meeting a few months back (sing along). Let’s find them in our neighborhoods. If you have an idea for how to bless your neighbors with a little bit of money please submit your idea via email at [email protected] and put “Neighborhood Love Project” in the subject. Include a description of the project (and the cost!) Take pictures of whatever happens and I will tell the story on “Today, if You Hear His Voice.”

Highlights from July 4 with the West Collingswood Civic Association

Here are some more pictures from the Fourth of July parade. I got to emcee and host the games rocking my Circle of Hope swag ( Oliver and Theo were in the bike parade bringing their peacemaker alternatives to the nationalism.

Hope to hear form you soon!

Knowing the Good

South Jersey Mutual Aid in Pennsauken’s 1000th delivery celebration

When the South Jersey Mutual Aid in Pennsauken Compassion Team gathered to celebrate their 1000th delivery last week I led them in a ritual of naming the Good. Of course we know the work we are doing is good. We organized with the wider South Jersey Mutual Aid Network at the beginning of the pandemic to offer solidarity not charity. We say that food insecurity is not a just matter of individual scarcity; it is a matter of unbalanced distribution of food abundance. And that is a community problem, not just an individual problem. I say to all the people in our network who I call back from our google voicemail box, “Somos vecinos!”(we are neighbors!)

That little sign-off, “Somos vecinos!”, is the same sort of naming the good that I was leading the team to do at our Zoom celebration. Our relationship needs a name. It is good that we are together in this. We must do what little we can to reshape the narrative about the common good. The more mutuality, the better, but it is hard to move against the current of other stories about what is good like “self-reliance”, “individual responsibility”, “the private pursuit of happiness.” I’m not saying those things are not good in and of themselves, but that they are too loud in my context; they are drowning out alternatives — alternatives which are badly needed in our delivery area, Pennsauken and Camden, NJ.

What we know about doing good gets lost under the noise.

I’m tying myself in knots trying to describe what is good. There are competing claims, many stories. All have merits but none matter as much as actually doing good. We know what is best by doing, not by saying. This, I think, is an obvious human characteristic; but it’s so obvious it is easily forgotten. We are attracted to the complexity of expertise, the power of a well crafted argument, the boldness of a brilliant speaker. We are bombarded by too many champions of too many causes. Many of us have become adept at ignoring each other — simply for self protection, not apathy. The habit bleeds over into actual relationships until we never answer the phone and rarely read our emails or even texts. Isolation was a pandemic before Covid-19. What we know about doing good gets lost under the noise.

That’s why the ritual with the Compassion Team was so important. We needed to feel the basic wisdom. We are doing! And there is valuable information in that experience of doing which needs to rise to the top of our experience. We don’t want it to be buried under the noise. The knowledge of doing breeds more peace of mind and longer endurance when it is necessary. The work we do on the South Jersey Mutual Aid in Pennsauken Compassion Team does, indeed, require endurance. It is constant. Week by week we field phone calls, gather donations, pack boxes and deliver enough food to feed families as big as 11 or 14 for four days.  if we don’t feel the intuitive knowledge of doing we won’t last long.

Knowing the good in the moment is rare and requires celebration.

There is a difference between knowing what we are doing IS good and knowing the good as we do it. Knowing the good in the moment is rare and requires celebration. Otherwise we get stuck in the argument, or we forget to make the connections between our ideas and our experience. If we don’t savor those moments of knowing the good is good, of participation in the Good, we will burn out.

So name the good, yes, and do the good, and then notice the feeling of the doing. This is a way to BE good in a way that does not require proof. You’ll know and that will fuel more than any claim ABOUT you or what you do.

We’re learning something old.

Jesus put it this way in Matthew 21:28-32 (The Parable of the Two Sons)

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

I am very grateful for a group of passionate people, some of them Jesus followers from Circle of Hope but many of them not. I think we are learning this basic human wisdom alongside each other. You know something when you do it, not when you say it. The sons figured this out. The tax collectors and prostitutes figured this out. It was the religious people whom Jesus was talking to that forgot it. I’m motivated to keep going in what I’ve been given to do because, at least to a degree, I am finding the joy of this wisdom, too, and it is giving me LIFE. I am looking forward to more good, and I am confident because I trust the Source of Goodness, Jesus him-living-self.

Laughable Abundance: A Story for Your Buoyancy

Dear Friend,

Times are tough, right? Sorry, I don’t know how to say anything that doesn’t sound inadequate so I’ll leave that question there. I have a story that really helped me float through a day that started chin deep in the toughness of the times. Spoilers: nothing changes in the times, those of the world or the ongoing narrative of my life, but it seemed like God had a mind to inflate me that day. It all had to do with an abundance of milk that just kept making me laugh. Here’s the story:

The other morning while praying with Circle of Hope’s prayer team on a zoom call I was sitting in front of my house watching a young goose waddle along with its left winging hanging by its side. My heart went out to the gangly goose, black head feathers only just faintly beginning to plume, life expectancy flopping down with the injured wing. I was so moved by the sorry sight that I asked those gathered on the zoom call to pray for this goose. It seemed silly but since the Lord sees every sparrow I am sure this goose is in his care as well. I like to follow those little spurts of compassion no matter where they are splashing. But in my prayer, I was also seeing myself in the all-but-a-goner goose.

Adult Canada Goose with broken wing

I was feeling broken-winged, and I thought that Circle of Hope was looking a little broken-winged, too. I am charged, with the other pastors, to lead our church to discern together about our common direction next year, and that morning, it seemed to me that it wasn’t going that well.  I was fielding disagreement, dissatisfaction with the process, and my own mild despair that I wasn’t up for the task. It is really hard to make a group decision at any time, but especially during a pandemic when our only face time is on a screen. I was feeling separated. Our cultural conversation is co-opted by simplistic ideological purity tests which constantly tempt us. I was feeling divided. My heart was sore from some personal stuff that was weighing on me. I was feeling heavy.  So I prayed.

And this is how God responded:

A few weeks before, I had signed up to receive vegetables, milk, cheese and meat for 50 families through a connection with the Kingdom Builder’s Anabaptist Network and Mennonite Central Committee Philadelphia Program Coordaintor, ChiChi Oguekwe. ChiChi is my friend and I try to do whatever she says. I had a good idea for distributing the food through the South Jersey Mutual Aid Compassion Team that folks from my Circle fo Hope congregation had recently started in response to the pandemic, but I did not have a good idea about much else… apparently.

Problem #1 – I showed up to 50 boxes of vegetables and 50 boxes of milk, four gallons in each box (Thank God the cheese and meat was not delivered!). The stack of food was ridiculously too big to fit in my Toyota Prius. I told ChiChi with not a little embarrassment that I could not take all the food and to give some of my allotment to another church that had room to haul it. I bet my friend Juan a dollar that I could fit 75% of the boxes in my hatchback. I would have lost that bet I found out but not before ChiChi solved the problem and cancelled the bet. She produced a new friend named Alex who had come with a minivan that was going unused and he was willing to drive a load of boxes to Pennsauken. God bless Alex! God is good! I laughed out loud as I cruised over the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge.

Problem #2 – I arrived to 3800 Marlton Pike still praising God that Alex was there to help. (Side note: On the way back I listened to the newly discovered podcast of a hero of mine, Miroslav Volf — the day was really turning around). When we arrived, a whole squad from the South Jersey Mutual Aid Compassion Team was at the building packing delivery boxes for that evening, people I had never met before included! I had no idea they would be there. They helped unload the boxes from our Prius and minivan and helped to fully assess the immensity of Problem #2. What were we going to do with all this milk? I really just hadn’t thought about all of the implications of accepting this donation. I was expecting 50 gallons total and we got 200 gallons! We have one fridge at 3800 Marlton Pike in Pennsauken which was at the moment full of apples (from a previous moment of laughable abundance which could probably be its own tale of buoyancy).

Lauren Smith, the leader of the team snapped into action. Calling another leader in the church who had his own mini-mutuality network in Gloucester City to which he could distribute some of the milk that would not fit in the fridge, even after we had emptied out the apples and very creatively stacked and shoved the fridge full of gallon jugs. Lauren, strapped her two young children into her Rav 4 and we loaded up her trunk with spoils of milk that would not (not on our watch) go spoiled, but would nourish a family or forty.  God bless Lauren and her team! God is good! I laughed out loud as I stacked full boxes of milk five high and shoved them against the fridge to make sure that the insulating seal wasn’t broken by the bulging milk within. Lauren stood by approvingly. Ha!

Problem #3 – We still had a lot of un-refrigerated milk. We earmarked as many 4 gallon boxes for folks in our mutual aid network who were slated to receive food deliveries that day. We figured the milk would be fine for a couple more hours, but that was only 18 families. It was 72 gallons of milk but that was not enough!

Here’s some more fun: It also happened to be election day, and don’t take our Anabaptist card, but we host the election at 3800 Marlton Pike. The firemen from whom we bought the building always used to do it and I thought it would be a good way to be known in our neighborhood. One of the election poll workers, Dolores, got looped into this problem (It was a super slow voting day since everyone got a mail-in ballot in NJ). She called up her church’s food pantry team leader who definitely wanted some milk. He came an hour or so later with a truck and took 40 gallons with him. God bless Congregación de Yahweh in East Camden. God is good! I laughed at the line-up of need and need, and the new friend, Pastor José Martinez of this Messianic Jewish congregation around the corner.

Problem #4 – We still had about 20 gallons of un-refrigerated milk and I had to leave. This whole debacle had been scheduled for a couple of hours of my day and it was already running at 100% more time than it got budgeted. I told Delores, and her sidekick, Deb, to offer a gallon of milk to everyone who came to vote for the rest of the day. “I’m counting on you for this, okay?” I said with another laugh as I slung my bag over my shoulder and retreated. When I came back five hours of later, all the un-refrigerated milk was gone! God bless Delores and Deb! God is good! I laughed as I gave an air high-five to Dolores from across the room.

And all of this buoyant laughter was essentially precipitated by my broken wings. Either by distraction, or incapacity, or lack of foresight, or any number of deficiencies to which I could assign my name, I had created a problem that ate up more of my day than I had planned. It was my fault. But God brought me through it with so much more joy than seemed possible as I pitied that broken bird in the morning and worried about how painfully apt my prayerful metaphor really was. I still have a lot to learn about team building, and delegation, and appropriate planning, and any number of gracefully describe “growth edges” to which I could assign my name. I still don’t know all the answers to my problems, and I am even more aware of how much I get it wrong sometimes. But God made me lighter that day. And God is enough. And God makes me laugh. And God is good! May you receive the flotation flowing your way today, or tomorrow, or whenever it comes (but it is coming!).

“West Pennsauken South” is the best

I’m a transplant to South Jersey so I look at maps often. (Or maybe I just like maps) This means I might know the contours and boundary lines of all our municipalities more than many native South jersey folks. All the towns seem to blend together as you drive up or down Rt. 130 or Kings Highway or Delsea Drive. or either of the Horse Pikes. My attention has yielded an awareness of one of the most oddly shaped municipal boundaries I have yet seen: the tiny strip of town between West End Ave and 42nd Street at Federal Street that connects the lower part of Pennsauken to the upper part.

Circle of Hope’s building at 3800 Marlton Pike is in that lower part of Pennsauken, On the east side of Rt. 130 is a neighborhood called Bloomfield which has Browning Rd and Lexington Ave as it’s thoroughfares. On the West side of 130 is a little slice of Pennsauken that many people is part of Camden. I think we should call this neighborhood “Pennsauken South” or “West Pennsauken South.” Neighborhood names are often the schemes of real estate developers, which I am certainly not, but wouldn’t a church be a much better instigator of community than somebody just looking to make a buck?

West Pennsauken South is a distinct little community with well kept lawns, narrow streets and tons of charm. When Gwyneth and I were moving to South Jersey we looked at a few houses in the neighborhood, but couldn’t find the perfect one available (though I’m sure the perfect one might still be here, but whoever owns it knows how perfect it is and won’t let it go).

Marlton Pike has promise

We’ve got great neighbors like The Work Group who run a job training and educational program taht gives young people a chance to earn their high school diploma and launch them into achieving their professional goals. They do their induction ceremony in our space, and it is always so inspiring!  Plus they mow our lawn 😉 We’ve got a bunch of small business owners like Francello’s Pizzeria, who just donated all the pizza for the “School’s Out” party we threw for all the kid’s getting out of school. We’ve got tons of diversity (at least five native languages on our block that I know of and probably more). We’ve got a bunch of people who care when caring is hard. We’ve got a bunch of people who love where they live and Circle of Hope is happy to “live” here too!

Plus we are right at the heart of the region across which our cells are scattered. All roads lead to the Airport Circle (where 38, 70, 130 and Admiral Wilson Blvd converge). This is good for our church planting efforts because we want to be a regional force for transformation. Our cells allow us to be local right here in West Pennsauken South (one of our cells meets right here at 3800 Marlton Pike — Shout out to Donna!), and we can be local in a lot of other places at the same time. However, Circle of Hope’s South Jersey Headquarters is in West Pennsauken South (let’s make that a thing! … maybe even start an official neighborhood association — I’m talking to people about it).

So let’s be neighbors! We’re glad we are, let’s do it well.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

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 best 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 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!

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