Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: public worship (Page 2 of 2)

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!

Energy Teleportation and New Life in Christ

A few months ago scientists were able to transfer information stored in a photon across a distance of 25 kilometers. I can’t totally understand what the science communicators are trying to tell me despite some significant head scratching. Here’s a link to one of the articles I read [link]. Just the idea that information is regularly transmitted via photon is mind blowing to me. This is the basic of quantum computing research.

The quantum computer, following the laws of quantum physics, would gain enormous processing power through the ability to be in multiple states, and to perform tasks using all possible permutations simultaneously. Current centers of research in quantum computing include MIT, IBM, Oxford University, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Source [] 

Oliver in his Bike Parade splendor

Oliver in his Bike Parade splendor

This is probably just a very over-wrought metaphor I’m spinning here, but I felt like a quantum computer on Sunday, in a good way. It was Easter and we were celebrating the Resurrection. We get up early on Resurrection Sunday in Circle of Hope to greet the Risen Lord at the break of dawn just like the women did in the gospel accounts. I rode my bike with my friends in our annual “Jesus is Risen Bike Parade.” Oliver came along.

After a feastly feast for brunch the only predictable thing to do would be to take a glorious Lord’s Day nap. Instead I went to our Public Meeting space at 3800 Marlton Pike and tore the whole place up in a flourish of creativity. I hadn’t planned to redesign our meeting space.  I had wanted to do it but had done little to make it a practical reality. Nonetheless I felt crazy enough to go for it and with the help of some unsuspecting friends who just happened to be there we made a big change in our meeting space and added some much needed extra space in our meeting room for the 30 people we plan to include this year. It was tons of fun! A bit of a mad dash, but all the more exhilarating for it.

Now I am a naturally energetic person, but this was uncanny even for me. I felt the New Life of the Resurrection making me giddy with my hair-brained scheme. There was no immediate need for this change, but it was such perfect timing with our liturgical season that it felt like it had to be done- and it was done.

It’s easy to depend upon our own meager resources in this crazy hair-brained scheme called the Kingdom of God. We can be discouraged, or limit ourselves based on the evidence of our previous experience or just our tiny faith. That’s not an insult, it’s just a fact. Our faith is tiny. Our hearts are weak. Our bodies are even weaker. So be it and so it is. Jesus’ faithfulness survived death. Jesus’ love is greater than our hearts. And Jesus’ body is resurrected! He is all we need.

There were no quantum physics involved in the energy transfer I experienced on Sunday but the feeling of extra juice was more than a sugar rush. Our joy is in Jesus and he does make himself known–and across a much greater distance than a mere 25 kilometers.

It’s Dr. King’s Birthday- Man, do I wish they hadn’t murdered him

My old pal, John Francis, got it so right when he wrote this song “Kill the Dreamer” back in 2007.

“Oh, say can you see

things are not as they seem

from sea to shining sea

Dr. King, Dr. King I know you’re listening.

they can kill the dreamer but they cannot kill the dream

there was a great proud nations

there was a great proud nations

100 years from now they’ll be thumbing through the page

the history books will tell of our mistakes

She fell asleep and watched the people bleed

She fell asleep and watched the people bleed

And on that day on her headstone the epitaph will read

She died of lust and greed.”

I’m not sure if there ever was a great proud nation called the states but I think Dr. King thought so.  He often revered the constitution as a great document which ought to live up to its true potential.  I’ll go with him on that, as Wendell Berry said “Denounce the government and embrace the flag.  Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.”  But at the rate we’ve been going for the past 47 years since they killed him, I’m not sure our history books will be as insightful as John Francis believed they would be by 2107.

We’ve domesticated Dr. King. In death he has not been able to defend his legacy. I was reminded by the Circle of Hope pastors today in there “Someone Asked” vlog Continue reading

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.

Togetherness: What’s with all the puppies?

Puppies’ sole purpose in the universe is to be dressed up and piled on top of one another for the cuteness of the internet.  The internet has a lot of nasty stuff in it and puppies serve as a necessary ballast of cuteness to keep the whole thing afloat.  We’re tapping into the cuteness of puppies this season in Circle of Hope because for many of us, puppies evoke a tenderness in us, and the thing about tenderness is that the same tenderness we see in puppies resides in the tender parts of our own selves.  Puppies work their way past or around our tough defenses and get to our hearts.  Some of us know that puppies are really quite a pain with all their indoor urination and false identification of everything as a chew toy, but let’s suspend our disbelief together and let the tenderness angle win the day–or at least the moment.

sharpe puppiesWe need puppies or some other puppy like creature/substance/force to remind us of who we really are and engage us in the soft underbelly/heart depths where we can relate to God.  Jesus really is the ultimate puppy in this sense but that argument is too silly.  Puppies are in fact very silly so they work much better as the vanguard of our evening public meetings at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington (1125 S. Broad Street at 5 and 7 pm).  We need to be loosened up, softened up woken up (maybe).  We come together like a pile of puppies every week as an exercise of trust.  We are making the safe place where we can explore and express God’s love.  It’s not really that safe because we are that safe, certainly not because there are puppies on the screen and in the program, but more so because God is making it safe.  He is making the teammates who make the event safer people as we grow in Christ, yes, but God is present, shaping the actual few hours we spend together, because God cares about what we are doing and the people we are welcoming into our space.

So let’s engage God in that puppy-like comfort.  Let’s be together.  There won’t be any literal dog piles but there will be togetherness–and that togetherness is what we all need to become our true selves.  We have to risk the trust of community to be fully known by others and also by ourselves.  We are made for each other and we prove it to ourselves every week.  You can join us.  Your friends can join us.  But leave your dogs at home, even if they’re puppies, sorry.


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!

Movie Bible Explosion

God miraculously stops cars from working, a young man faces off with Hercules dressed as a philosophy professor, and one of the two african american characters in the film calls himself “G-Dog”.  These are some of the things “God’s Not Dead” had going against it.  A lot of my friends on the internet are panning it because it isn’t well made.  I went to see it on Friday night and I agree with them- it’s all plot with little character development, the characters as they exist are mostly stereotypes, the plot is 100% transparent, and yet it worked for me.

god's not deadGranted I am a fan boy, but not of the christian pop subculture that took center stage in this film- I was spared from much immersion in that by being a part of Circle of Hope since I was 12- I’m a fan boy of Jesus and he shows up in the movie.   People find faith through crazy channels, like a philosophy lecture given by an 18 year old, a Franklin Graham podcast, and a Newsboys concert.  And despite the cynicism we are all programmed with now days I was moved by the conversions stories on screen.  I actually shed a couple of tears.

I’m concerned about what one blogger described how the film “fetishizes persecution.”  For the record, Usonian Christians are not persecuted, and trying to legislate your way out of being aliens and pilgrims is against the teachings of the New Testament.  I’m concerned about the poor standards that are associated with Christian film.  One of my friends said he was offended as an artist after seeing the trailer because it looked like it was an after school special on ABC Family.  I’m also concerned that the most important debate for many Christians seems to be whether or not God exists, as if God’s existence were the Gospel.  Jesus did get professed in “God’s Not Dead” but He is rivaled by the god of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism– the true American Religion that masquerades as Christianity.

Despite all these concerns I was able to rejoice in the last scene with the Newsboys and all the people in the theater who were excited by people coming to know Jesus.  It seemed that everyone there was already converted (there was shouting and applause) but a group of kids that looked like they were in a youth group was in the lobby taking their picture together afterwards and I know that these sort of experiences are shaping their nascent faith as they are becoming adults.  They may have professed faith in Jesus but they are still becoming Christians- they are still deciding who they will be.  This movie got them excited about people coming to know Jesus too.  That’s good.

I was invited by some friends who are pretty into the pop Christian sub culture and I invited a friend of mine who is not always sure he believes.  He has doubts about the plausibility of the Bible and is searching for a way to be faithful and be a scientist.  We made jokes together about the impossibility of the script but in the end we were both impacted by the film. bible boom I think this is a credit to what God is doing in us.  Our hearts are so easily hardened by cynicism, preference and preconceptions.  My Christian friends who were in really “churchy” churches as kids are so bristled by something like God’s not dead.  To them I say the capacity to go with the good in something especially when the good is explicitly God and sometimes even Jesus is a gift we should develop.

So when you go see “God’s Not Dead” or “Noah” or “Son of God”, the chain reactions in this little movie Bible explosion we’re experiencing, soften your heart, take a friend, have fun and see what good may come.


 In Circle of Hope we say our vision for fulfilling our mission is this:

“We create an environment where people can connect with God and act for redemption. Responding in love to our thirsty region and fractured society, we are birthing a new generation of the church to resist and restore with those moved by the Holy Spirit”

Here's a PM a while back

Here’s a PM a while back

We are the environment.

We are temples of the holy spirit (1 Corinthians 6).  We designed our Public Meetings to be an expression of the gospel by the community that embodies it.  We are inviting people into a relationship with God expressed among us.  We want to respond to Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28).

The people we know may notice our good behavior, but our morality little distinguishes us from a secular humanist, a muslim, a sikh, or a jew.  But really, I don’t think they are paying that much attention to you to even notice that you’re good.  If we want to make disciples we are going to need to do more than just be ourselves among them.  We need to create opportunities for those around us to see our faith embodied.  One of the best ways to communicate our faith to them is to invite them into a cell or a PM.  You may have experience with coercive street preachers, or over-zealous youth group leaders in your past but the overwhelming majority of people do not.  Being invited to a meeting is not as weird as you think, and if you can’t be convinced that it isn’t weird, it’s time for some exposure therapy.  The best way to get over your aversion to inviting people to your cell or our public meeting is to invite them to your cell or our public meeting.

What prevents us from invitation and why we need to stop being prevented

We have acquiesced to the cultural rules about politeness and religion.  We believe that people think Christians are pushy and we shouldn’t be like that.  We believe that religion is a private matter that every one discovers on their own, in their own personal way so we should not impose our process onto someone else’s.  We don’t always have a sense of ourselves as the light of the world and the salt of the earth that Jesus told us we are.  We are not always convinced that everyone needs Jesus or that we are probably the best chance they will get to meet Him.  Finding the words, the story, the way to shine your light, Christ’s light, is the point of Circle of Hope’s existence.  Some of those words are “Will you come with me?”


Personal invitations work best

Charles Arn, a church growth researcher, asked more than 50,000 people why they came to church, and between 75 and 90 percent of respondents say, “I began attending because someone invited me.”  I have spent some of my time as Development Pastor getting the word out in other ways- internet, stickers, posters, flyers.  Maybe I have prepared the way for some, maybe I have wasted a lot of time.  Either way, I am ready to see how many people I can get to come to our Public Meetings in 2014.

I want to create some excitement around our Public Meetings because I think they are really great.  A lot of us put a lot of work into them and I am often very aware of God’s presence among us.  Everyone I know who has become a Christian in Circle of Hope has come around us and been among us for a while before they made an explicit decision to follow Jesus.  I want to invite more people into that process.  Some of us are thick into this struggle and this is not a new challenge.  Others of us could benefit from a reboot or a group of people who are dedicated to this task together.  I thought it would be a good idea to gather a group to pay attention to the PMs.  Are you one of them?  Are you one who wants to join me in the invitation? Call me.  Or are you one who wants to receive this blog post as your invitation?  See you at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington, 1125 S. Broad Street on Sunday at 7pm!

Circle of Hope’s Public Joy

I was driving down the Broad Street on Sunday when all of a sudden I had to pull over abruptly in the center “parking lane.”  My friends, Forest and Ben were playing guitars in front of the library at Broad and Morris!  It was a beautiful morning and these beautiful people were making some beautiful music in Circle of Hope Broad and Washington’s beautiful neighborhood.  I made a video of it.

Happening upon them where I found them was really cool because we had just been there the Sunday before at the AMPM (the morning Public Meeting designed to include children and family.  We played games, ate snacks and told stories in DeSilvestro Playground (behind the libray).  Here’s another video of Tracey and Moses telling a story about peace making goats in English and Runyankole (from Uganda).

Circle of Hope is getting out on the street in new ways.  This is one example of our public joy.  Those who read my blog know that I stand outside of our space at 1125 S. Broad Street a few mornings a week and say “hi” to people.  A couple of weeks ago I met with a guy who was in a tough spot.  I listened to him tell his story of active drug addiction and childhood abuse calmly and also unreservedly.  By unreservedly I mean I didn’t hold my tongue.  When he asked someone if he could buy a cigarette I said, “Are you crazy? You just told me you have $11 to your name and you’re buying cigarettes?”  He laughed.  Later in our conversation he got someone to give him one and as he puffed he asked me, “Man, are you high?”

“What?  Why do you think I’m high?”

“I dunno, you’re just so like peaceful and calm.  You’re funny man.  I’m telling you all this stuff and you keep listening.”

“No man, I’m not high, that’s just the peace of Jesus.”

That’s what we’re doing, friends.  That’s what Jesus is offering: Peace in the midst of crazy, uncomfortable stories and joy all over the place–the kind of peace that get’s noticed if we give Jesus the opportunity to get out in public by getting us on the street, especially right in our neighborhood and it’s “Main Street”, South Broad Street.

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