Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: public worship (page 1 of 2)

Top 5 Christmas Songs Ever (Objectively Subjectively)

I love Christmas Music! I say bring it on Thanksgiving Day, and keep the best ones in your playlist all year long. Jesus is with us! We need the soundtrack of our lives and hearts to celebrate this as much as possible.

In honor of Christmas Music that Doesn’t Suck Part II (this Sunday, December 23rd, 2018, at 6:00 pm at Circle of Hope, 3800 Marlton Pike in Pennsauken, NJ) I decided to compile a list of my top five favorite Christmas songs. This list is definitive of course (and subject to change as my heart demands😜).  Some made the list for their novelty, some for their theological brilliance, some because they have a special place in my experience and some just because they are my jam.

In No Particular Order: My Top Five Christmas Songs Ever (Objectively Subjectively)

1. “If You Were Born Today” by Low LISTEN HERE

The song starts “If you were born today/ We’d kill you by age eight/Never get a chance to say… ” And then it lists a whole bunch of incendiary and beautiful things Jesus said.  The haunting harmonies characteristic of Low are perfect for this haunting song about the war torn reality of Jesus’ homeland in the present day. Jesus was dangerous, he lived in a dangerous world, as dangerous as the world we live in, and his words are still dangerous. “Peace on Earth” is an assault on the money making war makers who make our world go ’round. The whole Low Christmas album hits the right notes about who Jesus was and is and how much we need a savior. Waiting for Jesus is dark and definitely stormy. the song is jarring and somehow nostalgic at the same time. It strikes the necessary longing in me for the fullness of the Kingdom of God to be made complete.  Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

2. “Light From Light” by Andrew Yang LISTEN HERE

Andrew Yang is a Circle of Hope member who writes astoundingly beautiful songs. They are clever and catchy and they capture the heart and nuance of Biblical theology in fresh language. He is the Charles Wesley of our century (!), teaching the gospel in song so it can be sung into our hearts. I remember vividly the moment I first heard “Light from Light” on the newest album release form Circle of Hope Audio Art.  I was standing  in the parking lot of our building in Pennsauken looking at the sky, earbuds in my ears, tears rolling down my cheeks. “Wrapped tight in cloth a babe fresh from the womb/One day be bloodied and wrapped for the tomb.” That line broke my heart with gratitude for the reality of Jesus’ love for us — to live that fully human life — birth through death — all for us. I was also overjoyed that my friends could make something so well and so beautifully. The heart breaking gratitude was for them, too — all the musicians, technicians and producers who made us that album just for love.

3. “A Christmas Song (You Are Here)” by Angie Backeus LISTEN HERE

Angie Backeus and Rod White debuted this song at a Christmas Eve Vigil (come to this year’s Christmas Eve Vigil at 1125 S. Broad Street, 2nd Floor, at 10:45 on December 24th) as a duet many years ago. They sang us the first verse and chorus, then the second verse and chorus, then the last verse, and then finally invited us to sing along in the final chorus. Each chorus changes person. The first time they sang it Jesus sang his reassurance “I am here, my love, I am here/I’m the child for the child who lives in fear/and I am here, I am here.” The second time they sang it the angels sang it to us with delight, “He is here, my love, He is here/He’s the child for the child who lives in fear/and he is here, he is here.” By the time we got to the final chorus I was bursting with feelings and choked out through my tears, “You are here, my love, you are here/You’re the child for the child who lives in fear/and you are here, you are here.” I felt him there with me in a special way that night and ever since this song has the power for me to access that sense of connection and comfort with Jesus, who is with me, a big man who is often a scared little child. An added layer of beauty came this year when at the Advent Worship Relief at 2007 Frankford Ave in Philadelphia, the leaders invited us to sing the second chorus to each other. I sang “My love” right into the eyes of another covenant member with whom I do not spend a lot of time, but I meant it. She is my love because we are united in the love of Jesus. In that moment it was not just an idea or a conviction, I felt love for her in a special way then, too. Beautiful. Thanks, Angie!

4. “White Horse” by Over the Rhine LISTEN HERE

Advent is not just about remembering Jesus’ first Advent (“Advent” means “arrival”) but this wonderful season leading up to Christmas is also about waiting for Jesus’ second Advent — when he comes again. Revelation says that Christ will come on a white horse and set everything right. Everything that is still so painfully wrong in this world will be made right. Creation will be restored, wars will cease to the ends of the earth, every tear and every sigh — all of it will be addressed. “(Hush now, baby) Someday we’re gonna ride (Hush now, baby) Your white horse through the sky.” Yes, baby Jesus, the world into which you are born, the world in which you are God-with-us, Emmanuel, now — the one we all live in and too many die in — is splattered with woe, but you’re coming back. Yes, he’s coming back. Not many Christmas songs get at this hope the way this one does.

5. “Hark the Herald” Angels Sing by Carrie Underwood LISTEN HERE

Of course there are other and probably better versions of this song, but Carrie Underwood stole my heart (or gave me a bigger one) on B101 as I was driving home from the hospital the day after my first son, Oliver was born. It surprised me like an actual host of herald angels were singing to me — Jesus had come for Oliver too. God sent his son for my son. I think it was that moment I actually became a father because it was suddenly true that I was not my own. I felt the weight of my responsibility to Oliver in a way that changed me forever. I had given myself to Jesus in baptism. I had given myself to my wife, Gwyneth, in marriage. I had an idea what it meant to belong to someone, but I didn’t really know what it meant until Oliver was born and Carrie Underwood was singing this song on the radio. Oliver had made no choice as I had when I dedicated myself to Jesus’ Way or a life with Gwyneth. I belonged to him, and Gwyneth and I were responsible for that, not him. I was his in a way I had never been anybody’s, really. The terror of that never fully registered in me because the reality of it struck me in this overwhelming moment of gratitude that Jesus was Oliver’s too. I understood what it meant in another beautiful song found in Philippians “by taking the very nature of a servant,/being made in human likeness./And being found in appearance as a man,/he [Jesus] humbled himself.” Oliver humbled me, and at the same time helped me to take a step closer toward having  “the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

 

Well, that’s my list! Thanks for reading (and hopefully listening). Add your favorites in the comments!

 

Why Showing Up is Even More Important in Advent

Ordinary Pilgrims

One of the simplest and best reasons to have a Sunday meeting is that we need to show up. We need to do something with our bodies to give substance to the faith we profess or it will shrink. Getting up, dressing the children and piling them into the car on Sunday morning, or missing the evening football game, or scheduling to get off from shift work during the commercial high-gear season are all great acts of faith. The importance of just making it to the meeting should not be underestimated. It does something to us to do something. Getting in your car and driving to the meeting (I live in South Jersey so for many of us that’s the only way to get there) is a pilgrimage worthy of appreciation.

Jesus’ Specifics and Ours

We especially need to do something in Advent, the season of expectation before Jesus finally comes on December 25th. Advent is all about the Incarnation — God made flesh. Jesus is moving into our actual neighborhood — Pennsauken, Collingswood, Oaklyn, Moorestown, Gloucester City, Buena, Haddon Township, Mullica Hill … the list goes on in our wide South Jersey region. Jesus first came to a specific place and time — a little Palestinian town called Bethlehem (where Christ followers have a hard time following Jesus these days).

All the practicalities of his birth were no small feat. His parents were pushed around by a powerful empire even during the very physically delicate moment of pregnancy. So Jesus was born in Bethlehem and not his home town of Nazareth to fulfill two prophecies about where the Messiah (God’s anointed one) was from (Micah 5 and Matthew 2:23). We know all about the people who were there and the family into which he was born, and even the stars that were in the sky. It’s an incredible amount of detail that Luke discovers in his careful account of Jesus’ birth. From the names of the rulers, to the impromptu crib, it all matters.

Advent Details

Our details matter too. How we schedule our weekends could take on a heightened sense of importance during this season as well. A way to really prepare for the baby Savior would be to show up every Sunday in Advent (10:30 a.m. and/or 6:00 p.m. at 3800 Marlton Pike, Pennsauken, NJ on December 2, December 9, December 16, and December 23). You can also show up to our Advent Worship Relief events, concentrated times of worship and prayer to welcome this strange baby and embrace our own peculiar selves (7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, December 4 at 5720 Ridge Ave, PHL; Thursday, December 13th at 2007 Frankford Ave, PHL; and Wednesday, December 19th at 3800 Marlton Pike, Pennsauken, NJ)

The Unbearable Loneliness of Being Anyone at All

When you show up, there will be ways to connect your heart, soul, mind and strength. Our theme is “Welcoming the Stranger.” Jesus is paradoxically the stranger who needs our welcome and the strange one who welcomes us into our own strangeness, ready to meet us there. We want to embrace our own strangeness because we all feel so peculiarly ourselves, which can, at times, feel incredibly lonely. Jesus felt this too and entered into the fullness of human experience (part of that being the sometimes unbearable loneliness of being anyone at all). Being somewhere specific like a Sunday meeting, for a Godward purpose, enunciates that human experience and gives it more meaning. The fact that Jesus crossed time and space to be with us as a human baby (and then man) elevates our own human experience. This strange reality we live in was embraced in all its detail by God as one of us. We need to reenact that every year, at least. It’s too wonderful and strange not to easily lose hold of.

We Need To Practice

We want  to practice overcoming our resistance to who Jesus really is (and who we really are in Christ). He was not everything the people he came to wanted. If we are honest he is not everything we want either, but we believe that deep down we crave the simplicity of his birth, right down to all the specifics of it.

The Design Teams at 3800 Marlton Pike have turned our meeting space into a nursery of sorts which the children will help us deconstruct week by week. All the gadgets and “necessities” of many modern babies need to be stripped away. This will mirror the process of stripping away the expectations, fears and resistance on our insides that we need to acknowledge. Artistically and liturgically externalizing that process is why we need to be there together. That’s hard to do alone. We want to break down the barriers between us and Jesus (and subsequently ourselves and others), so we can better welcome the strangers in our lives (Jesus, refugees, our own hidden parts and more).

So show up! You need the drama. You need the real thing. I know God will be there. Will you?

The Dangers of Teeth-Brushing Christianity

Among many other odd and troubling things about the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings last week was a comparison between church attendance and brushing your teeth. On one hand, I admire the regularity of his devotion, but on the other hand the comparison is dangerously close to just going through the motions.

I don’t know Brett Kavanaugh, so I’m not really evaluating his faith (and even if I did know him, that’s not really anybody’s job but Jesus). Because he is a public figure now, his story has a magnitude that transcends the individual, and there are other very valuable conversations that he and Dr. Ford are bringing up for all of us. Sin is run amok, and it’s so clear to me again. I’m tempted to despair when I see in Washington what the Teacher in Ecclesiastes saw in his time,

In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
    in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

Maybe everyone is just brushing their teeth with religious affiliation instead of being cut to the core by the extent of the wickedness all around us.

The world needs better Christians

We need to create an alternative. We need it badly. Brett Kavanaugh, and 82 of the 100 Senators claim Christianity too. We need to do better, and I’m not talking about starting to floss. We don’t need to get better at what is–brush our teeth more often, or use the right toothpaste–get the right people in power and find the scriptural magic bullet for all of the policy debates. If Christianity is what we see in this political fiasco we need something else. If disempowering millions of women in the name of one powerful person’s reputation is brushing your teeth, then we need to grow some baleen and start straining krill from seawater. We need to do something completely different.

Circle of Hope was designed to do and be something different but I am fully aware of how easy it is to not do that. I get how Brett Kavanaugh could describe going to church like brushing his teeth. It easily can be just something you do, and if you’re like me and most of my friends, you don’t really need just another thing to do. We need to know the living God, to breathe the breath of life, to trust tomorrow to tomorrow, to make a way where there was no way before.

Here are a few ways we can avoid teeth brushing Christianity

1) Find out what moves you

Be curious about yourself. We might think we have to have it all figured out, especially ourselves. It’s very easy to quickly codify our experiences as settled law isn’t it? “That’s not my thing.” “I’m not into that.” “I’m not a church person.” “I suck at prayer.” Some of those things might be true at times, but don’t count yourself out of everything. You’re not the same person you were last time that happened. Maybe what didn’t work for you will work this time. Worship, prayer, singing, silence, scripture, dialogue. When were you moved? It doesn’t have to be in a church setting. When did something happen inside. I don’t know how to describe it too clearly without poetry; I hope you know what I mean. Follow that, drop into that gear when you meet with the church, pursue that experience. If you’re not expecting it again, or asking God for something, it is less likely to happen. Thankfully you could be moved despite yourself.

2) Say no to your resentment (out loud)

Anything we do regularly becomes routine (that’s the definition). There is a lot of potential growth in keeping at your routines even when you don’t feel like it. But if you dwell on how much you hate what you have to do the whole time you do it, of course it will be miserable. I could hate the dentist every time I brush my teeth for what s/he might say to me if I don’t–as if the dentist were responsible for my dental health. It helps me to say stuff like that out loud (or type it to you because I actually do hate brushing my teeth). Name your resentments. They’re nothing to be ashamed of. They aren’t who you are; they are just thoughts. You can put them on loop or say “no.” Sometimes I just say (or yell depending on where I am) “NO!” to the thoughts I don’t want. I’m at this meeting with the church because God has done something in me that I can’t deny. Jesus is inviting the whole world into unimaginable newness. I want to keep tasting that and extend that invitation to others.

3) Aim for something new

We don’t really need the same old thing, even though that’s very comfortable and effective for some people. We need to aim for something really new, not just the old thing slightly rearranged. We are not called as a Circle of Hope to feel different by comparing ourselves to other churches (something we are prone to if we aren’t careful); no, we are called to be different from the world–a peculiar people that demonstrates the foundation of love in which God establishes us. Our existence puts a question mark behind all of our culture’s conclusions just as Jesus’ did and does. it’s hard to escape the boxes we are put in by others or the ones we build for ourselves, so we must always be aiming to do what is new, what is next. Maintaining an institution is a common motivation for slowly accommodating ourselves to wickedness. Let’s trust God beyond our institutions. if it all comes tumbling down, God will make something new in the rubble. That’s been God’s MO from jump street, hasn’t it?

And… St. Francis

It’s October 4th, so I must conclude with a shout-out to our favorite Friar from Asissi, St. Francis. He exemplified these three things and many more. When the institution of the church was full of wickedness he made something new. I doubt he ever brushed his teeth(it was the middle ages 😉). learn more about him at our Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body of Christ page.

Why is worship relief?

Encounter with the living God

On Monday night many of the leaders of our Sunday meetings gathered to think together about how we lead people to encounter God. It’s a pretty grandiose endeavor, right? “Now I will lead you to have an encounter with the living God.” Who says stuff like that? A lot of people in Circle of Hope apparently. 134 people in Circle of Hope are on a team that helps make our Sunday meetings happen. Some are musicians, some are artists, some are technicians, some are hosts, some are caregivers for children. Each one matters because together we can say “Now we will lead you to have an encounter with the living God.”

Ain’t it wonderful, how the light shines?

To close our meeting with the leaders, we created an encounter for ourselves. I asked my friend, Jess, what her favorite song we sing was. She said “Walking in the light” (Here’s a bunch of people singing it). Then I asked the group what we should do with the song. It’s a very simple chorus that’s really easy to get into. It seemed right to stand up and walk, so our footfalls on the carpet at 2214 S. Broad made the beat. We sang the song quietly and let the Spirit lead us and something happened to us.

Our bodies moved together. Our breathing synced up. Our hearts got moving in the same direction. We were actually together in God’s light. We were having an encounter with the living God. Folks were free to sing out over the choir we had formed with their heart songs. There was time to proclaim what this light that we were singing about really was. Some just stepped and swayed I/m sure. This good feeling was from God. Our eyes were brightened by the love we were feeling. It was like when you close your eyes for a long time on a sunny day and then open them. The world looks different. Blues are brighter and greens are cooler. Our eyes were receiving that sort of boost. “Ain’t it wonderful, how the light shines?” Yes it is.

Worship relief

We want everyone to experience something like I was feeling in that moment with those leaders. We want to create a space in which people feel free to express their deep desires, embody their pain and celebration, exhale their worries and inhale God’s peace. What we do on Sundays is made for that but we were wanting more. So we designed another time, special for Lent. Rest for Our Weary Souls: Worship Relief was conceived as an extra time for anyone to encounter the living God, see in new light, sing and pray and receive from God whatever they needed.

But why is worship relief? Why does it feel so good? And what if it doesn’t?

We are made for transcendence. Everyone is looking for something worthy of devotion. We all want to be seen and known and free to be ourselves. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. But many would disagree that worship is how we get there. It’s actually a big old ball of anxiety. I’m with you. It can definitely be that. There is an incredible pay off on the other side of that anxiety if you can get over, around or through it, though.

I believe you can enjoy the sweetness of connection to others and to God, because I believe it is what humans are meant to do. But even if you can’t right now, there are benefits from just showing up. Breathing the spiritually charged air, feeling the sacred beat, watching others connect — all this will help you connect. You might not feel it like I did on Monday (and I don’t always either) but something is happening that we don’t always see. You can trust that. And when you do, it will be a relief. God, who is bigger than anything (AKA transcendent) wants to connect with you.

The worth of showing up

Worship is about declaring the worth of someone or something (think “worth-ship”). If you want to connect with God, just making the time and showing up is already an act of worship. This connection you seek is worth your time and energy and money (for gas or bus fare). If you come to Worship Relief at 3800 Marlton Pike in Pennsauken on Wed. March 7, or at 2309 N. Broad in Philly on Wednesday March 14, or at 5720 Ridge in Philly on Thursday March 22nd, you will already be worshiping when you arrive. Setting your intention for the special time can yield new results. You may be stuck in some groove of which you are unaware. You might need something special. So we made something special. I hope you can try it, because I want you to encounter the living God.

All Hands on Deck

“All hands on deck” is an example of a synecdoche.

Synecdoche : nounRhetoric. 1. a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part.

The captain calls, “All hand on deck!” and, of course, he is not calling the whole crew to lop off their hands and throw them to the deck of the ship. The hands are the part of the person he needs at that moment–he needs hands for pulling ropes and hoisting sails. “Synecdoche” is one of those strange words that got caught in my head via a handmade poster on the wall of Ms. Clock’s freshman English class at Central High School in Philadelphia. Synecdoche–the part and the whole speaking for each other. It sounds like the body of Christ, right?

We’re at an “all hands on deck” moment in the life of Circle of Hope in South Jersey. We’re trying something that we have never done before, and honestly, we have probably just enough hands to pull it off. It’s close. We are starting two new Sunday meetings on August 20th– one at 10:30 a.m. and one at 7 p.m. Each has it’s own flavor; each is going to be awesome.

The best reason to do something like this is precisely the difficulty of it. For me, one of the best reasons to be a Christian is the big project Jesus gives us. The world redemption project into which we are conscripted as Jesus followers is worthy of all my talent and ability. I have a purpose that makes life fun. I’m not just clocking in and clocking out; I’m living a whole life with my whole self and it’s a whole lot of fun.

young people smiling

here are some good hands.

i was telling one of the leaders of the new 7 p.m. meeting that the best things we have going for us are all the people who are making this thing happen. And the best thing we have to give them is an opportunity to make something happen.

We live in a world that makes us feel incredibly small. We’re always getting dinged for something, from parking tickets to hidden fees. We’re always being watched–by our employers, the government and especially the marketers. Things are set in motion by giant institutions that are so complex it seems futile to even understand them, let alone change them. People tell us that pure scientific facts are the only things that are real so we are just molecules in a swirling universe–our fates long set by physics equations in a distant star. Despair grows well in such tiny hearts.

So let’s make something–not because we have to but because we CAN! I told that same leader that we don’t have to do any of this. We could do nothing or anything else. This is incredibly freeing. We are part of something already. That is a fact worth living into. Jesus has included us. We’re not in jeopardy of being out. We can actively exclude ourselves if we choose, and Jesus’ is gentle enough to let us pull away, but let’s not. Our hands are useful. Our hand make stuff. Our hands are part of the whole. We are part of the whole.

Dan McGowan is a Good Bet

Dan McGowan begins on Monday as our New Meetings Launch Coordinator.

We created a position to help us make this daring transition from one meeting to two.  In August we will move our existing 5pm meeting to 10:30am and start a new meeting at 5pm. Today, the Leadership Team Core approved the position. We are taking a risk because we think two meetings will help more folks get to our Sunday meetings at 3800 Marlton Pike in Pennsauken.  But we don’t have the people right now to pull it all off with only volunteers, especially when the meetings are separated by 5 hours. So Dan will help us do it. We’ve never done anything like this before.  It’s not guaranteed to work, but I think Dan McGowan is a good bet.

We need more opportunities for people to connect

God is doing great stuff in our community. People are finding healing and hope in our cells. We create unique opportunities every Sunday to grow and connect with God and each other. Pray with me that that an extra meeting in the morning means more people connecting to us and to Jesus. Even if you’re not so sure about Jesus, you might like to see what Dan and his team have to offer. It’s better than what you may have experienced before and more accessible than you may have imagined.

Dan’s Unreleased Worship EP

Dan is a gifted musician and he is passionate about Jesus’ work in Circle of Hope. Let this little “EP” of his worship song demos speak to his ability, faith and leadership (all of these songs were work shopped with other members of Circle of Hope design teams).

 

  • “Even if I Fall,” reflecting on Peter’s water walk in Matthew 14 and ours.
  • “The New Old Song,” a reinterpretation of the classic hymn, Be still my Soul.
  • “Then a Wildfire Grew,” a perfect Pentecost anthem.
  • “Resist Our Selves,” a Lenten lullaby.

South Jersey is Different

My Newjerzaversary

Yesterday was the one year mark of my New Jersey home ownership. July 9th will be my residential anniversary (my newjerzaversary). I moved to Haddon Township to get deeper into the region that God called me to as the pastor of Circle of Hope’s South Jersey Congregation. A lot has changed for me and my family in the last two and a half years (since I became pastor)! Our life is very different, because South Jersey is very different from Philly.

One of the things I love about God sending me to South Jersey is that my wife and I are really rather rabid Philadelphians. Moving out of our beloved city of brotherly love reminds us every day that we did something pretty huge for God. It was hard, and how God has brought us through that hardness puts a wondrous grin on my face every time that change hits me.

It hit me again this morning when I read a philly.com article about Philadelphia area fireworks displays. The South Jersey towns were included way down at the bottom of the article below several ads. Pennsylvania was first with a whole bunch of Pennsylvania suburbs listed. Some of them were up to 45 minutes outside of the city, but Jersey was separate, below the digital fold. Audubon, Barrington, Haddon Township, Collingswood, Gloucester City, and more all have pretty decent fireworks displays. You can see a fireworks show in South Jersey within 10 minutes of Philly every night through next Tuesday starting tomorrow. Check out the kids activities blog Kim writes for if you really love fireworks, seriously. After I read the philly.com article I had to call her to commiserate with a South Jersey native to say, “Wow, they really don’t care about us at all, do they?” I have become part of the “us” that is South Jersey. I am Circle of Hope in a very symbolic way. Our “we” crosses the Delaware. We are not respecters of divisions and categories that separate us.

How did the love grow?

This love for South Jersey did not happen because I love jug handles, or tiny municipalities piled on top of each other, or high property taxes, or even a great neighborhood school for my kindergartner. It happened because I love the people. I love Circle fo Hope and I love the people to whom God has called us to express his love.  Becoming a “we” and maintaining the “we-ness” is a big part of what I do as the pastor of Circle of Hope because we really think that it’s how we love each other that best shows the world who Jesus is and what his life among us does. I am grateful to God that he has included me in a “we” even bigger than our expression of the Church. The contrast is still very stark for my Philly-boy eyes and I’d rather it never fade, because it motivates me to get out there into all these tiny towns and the intricacies of the beautiful lives of the people who live there.

Circle of Hope’s Sunday meeting in Pensauken is moving too (in August)

We’re on the move as a congregation too. We’re still meeting at 3800 Marlton Pike on Sundays but soon we will be meeting at two different times. 10:30 am and 5pm. We think that more of those lovely people will be able to connect with these opportunities than two evening meetings like Circle of Hope’s Philly congregations have always done. The dry run of the newly designed evening meeting was this past Sunday. I was so excited to see a group of people who are mostly younger than 25 getting serious about how to make church something in which their friends actually want to participate. Take it from me, the change ends up to be very fun, even if it doesn’t seem like it will be at the outset. God moves with us when we move and we see him in new ways when our routines and daily routes change. Moving our meeting to 10:30 am and making way for a new group gathering at 5 :00 is an opportunity for God to move in a bunch of new ways among us. I’m praying that in the near future we will look back together on the hardness of this big change with a wondrous smile.

Time for Problems

At 3800 Marlton Pike, we’ve decided to move our current Sunday meeting from the evening to the morning. This is causing a lot of problems. I love problems and I think some people find this a little annoying. If there’s a problem, at least then we know for sure what needs to be done! If you know me (and most of the people reading this know me) I like to DO stuff; so having a ton of stuff to do is comforting to me. But not everyone is like me (thank God!), and thus there are a lot of different ways we are responding to the problem of starting a second Sunday meeting.

Some are ambivalent, we haven’t talked about it enough yet for them to have an opinion. Some don’t like it at all because they have shaped their life around an evening meeting for years and changing is a lot of work. Some are enthusiastic, they’ve been trying for years to get that one friend to come to a meeting but they can’t make it work with their schedule. Some are worried, we don’t have enough people on the teams that pull off the existing meeting. Some are suspicious, what makes you so sure changing the meetings will make room for new people?

All these responses are totally legit. We don’t need to have our feelings validated because they are inherently valid, but I want to acknowledge them just the same. I want to acknowledge these feelings I’ve mentioned, the ones that I am aware of through conversations with you, but also the ones of which I am unaware. This change is arbitrary. it’s mostly an excuse to have some new problems instead of our old ones, and an excuse to be new in how we are expressing what God has given us to give to the world. I think this will be very good for us and our plan to be an environment where people can know God and act for redemption.

Here’s an adorable grumpy toddler

The biggest problem that we solve with a morning meeting is the proliferation of grumpy toddlers in South Jersey. I just don’t think the world needs any more of those. But there are tons of them in all the parks I go to and all the preschools that are everywhere around here. Their parents might want to know Jesus and we’re a really good place fo them to do that. But no one I know is going to mess up their toddler’s bed time routine to check out a Sunday meeting. The reasons the parents of toddlers among us are a part of our Sunday meetings is because A) they were part of us before said toddlers existed or B) they were looking for a church just like Circle of Hope for a long time and then they made it work. Our evening time frame screens out any casually interested people. You have to really want to do it to do it at 5 if you have young kids.

Fortunately we will still be doing it at 5, just also at 10 (or 10:30- what do you think?). Dan and Pat McGowan are leading a team of folks who want to connect a whole new group of people to our Sunday meetings. They have an innovative plan that they are going to try out this Sunday (June 25th at 7pm). Invite your friends to it. It’s an open meeting even if it’s a dry run. Everyone who shows up is a founder! If you won’t be there, pray for them (I guess you should pray for them if/while you’re there too).

Prayer is the best thing to do with your problems in general (that sounds like a cliche and it is) but a common byproduct of my prayers is dialogue. If I talk to God about them, I’m more likely to talk to others about them. Once I articulate them to myself and to God I can better work them out on the team or with the person who might be the source of the problem. We’re not making this big change yet. We’re thinking August, so we have time to face all the problems. Let’s sort them out together with God and each other.

Palm Sunday at Midnight in Washington DC

Washington DC is not solely responsible for the numbed-out, gotta-buy-my happiness-and-can’t, bickering-by-default, coercive domination we all suffer as 21st century human beings. Our despair about the way the world is going wasn’t born in the Capitol building, but it is a big bright target in the skyline of our thinking and feeling that is worth some of our spiritual energy. (Other targets include Wall Street, wherever the pornography mecca is, and the Executive Offices of Time-Warner)

praying at the capitol in Washington DC

Jerome Stafford, one of our pastors, leads in porayer

When Jesus went to Jerusalem back in 33 AD (or whenever) he was finally showing himself to the authorities after building a movement that he thought could survive what was about to happen next. On Palm Sunday he rode into Jerusalem to say to that powers, “Here I am!”

We went to one of our seats of powers and made a house of prayer there. Adapting one of our favorites from the Psalters, five us sang on the Capitol steps, “Many are those who pray, crying out at midnight in Your name./And You, Oh Lord, are a shield to all who suffer/Give us our daily bread/Rise up, Lord. Rise up! And deliver us from all that oppresses.”

For me, this tune has always been charged with the full circuit breaker of my conviction, yet somehow, now that it’s been channeled through this experience of praying on the Capitol steps at midnight, it is even more electrifying.

Jane and Scott Clinton were staying with friends near DC, so they were the first to join my cause. One friend who was supposed to come with me wasn’t able to, so I went to 1125 S. Broad Street as their 7pm meeting ended to find a replacement. Gift Koama lived up to his name and said, “I love adventures.” Then Jerome Stafford called me and said, “Don’t leave without me!” It was a bona fide road trip!

MLK Memorial Mountain of despair

The moon from the “mountain of despair” at the MLK memorial

We got to DC in time to make a quick pilgrimage to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, something I’ve wanted to do since they built it 6 years ago. It was like a warm up for my heart. The “mountain of despair” we exited through was very appropriate. Washington is the source of much despair, but we are a circle of hope!

We went to the steps and found Jane and Scott, then we prayed that the people who worked their would find ways toward peace and mutuality. We prayed for impossible things because that’s what hope and prayer are for. It was invigorating.

I bring you back my hope in these words we read from Colossians Remixed

“In the face of the empire
in the face of presumptuous claims to sovereignty
in the face of the imperial and idolatrous
forces of our lives
Christ is before all things
he is sovereign in life
not pimped dreams of global market
not the idolatrous forces of nationalism
not the insatiable desires of consumerist
culture”

Christ is before all things. Christ is all and is in all. He was in us as we prayed on the steps. He is in you as you read this post. He is in those who work at the Capitol. Yes even in that broken system. But He is sovereign over it. All things have been placed under his feet and he loves us and serves us from that place of power. The powers in Washington will never wield their authority like Christ, but we, as a circle of hope, will. We have power to grasp how wide and deep is the love of Christ, and death has been disempowered over us. So we face the seat of empire with Jesus unafraid and full of hope.

Come to 3800 Marlton Pike tonight at 7pm for the anointing at Bethany! Full details at circleofhope.net/holyweek

The Jesus Story Line

At Circle of Hope this season we’re trying to see Jesus in the everyday. And it’s hard. You might think it’s impossible. But it’s not.

I’m pretty confident about this mostly because I have heard enough stories from enough people from different walks of life and in different circumstances. They’re seeing Jesus in all kinds of ways. I’ve heard enough to trust my own experiences with Jesus. Jesus IS alive and at work in the world. We made the Jesus Story Line to share that reality with each other. Call 856-720-0724 and leave a message with a short story about how you saw Jesus at work in your life. We’re trying to lower the bar on what is acceptably deemed “A Jesus Story.” No need for certainty, no need for the fantastic. The more mundane the better. Check out some of the stories we’ve gathered so far right here.

Our Jesus Story Line Booth at 3800 Marlton Pike

We’re sharing these stories because we need practice seeing and saying. We’re not used to it. We’ve kind of divorced ourselves from our own experience in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to faith. We think our experience is suspect because it’s not verifiable. It’s not authoritative. We’re not experts. There’s a bunch of reasons we doubt our experience.

I think that’s a mistake. We ought to elevate our experience, talk about it so we can trust it. How can we do that in our own heads? We need to tell the story to check it out. Maybe Jesus isn’t showing up in our lives as far as we know because every time he does we jump to another way of explaining our experience. I think that happens a lot but probably what happens more is that we don’t experience much of anything in our lives. We consume it. We let our lives happen to us with little to no reflection. We frame our experience moment by moment, by pleasure or pain, and let each moment pass.

Making meaning out of our experience takes some reflection. Telling stories and listening to other people’s stories is one way to do that. Join us in it! Call the line or come to the meeting, Sundays at 5. If you’re going to be there already, bring someone with you!

« Older posts