Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: neighborhood adventures (Page 2 of 2)

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

  • 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 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.

Pray for Campus Deployment

cori and benI really want to have a good idea for a flyer but it’s really hard.  My friend Jonny, who blogs at, made these really great flyers based on our conviction that we are part of the trans-historical body of Christ.  Six heroes of the faith have become our poster icons.  Here’s a picture of me and a friend posting them and here’s a link to more about them on our website.  No one is going to come to know Jesus through a flyer but they might be tempted to get to know me, or maybe they’ll be a step closer to knowing me and my people because they’ll know a little bit more about Circle of Hope, or maybe they’ll just know that Circle of Hope is anything at all.

We want people to have that opportunity.  We think we’re a good opportunity too.  Not because we’re all that great on our own (though most of us are really great) but because Jesus is among us.  It’s happened often enough now for me to expect it- if someone spends some time in our community they are likely to meet Jesus.  So we can say with confidence that we are an opportunity to explore and express God’s love.

deploymentLast night a few of us met at my house to figure out how we might use flyers and other means to connect with college students in our area.  We were thinking especially about uArts, University of Pennsylvania, University of the Sciences, Drexel and Philadelphia University.  Our cell groups, these circles of ten that are designed to be points of inclusion, are made for places like university campuses, where folks are looking to connect and become something new.  In the first weeks of school we have the best chance to meet new friends because their schedules and allegiances are still uncluttered (except for classwork).  We are getting ready.

Please pray for us in the coming weeks as we look for our next partners.  I really feel that God wants to do something new.  The fruit is in the bud, so to speak.  May we be there to help it grow.

Divided Diversity Defied

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

“Where do you live?”  I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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