Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: team building

I won’t agree to disagree with you

I won’t agree to disagree with you. I will not codify our division. I am not my thoughts and opinions and neither are you. So though we are currently disagreeing about any number of things, I will not agree to it. I will not content myself with that separation, especially if you are a part of Circle of Hope. Sorry, that’s impossible. I already agreed to agree, so we’re going to have to keep working toward that.

Greg Boyd describes our problem so well

I think we, culturally Americans at least, are much better at disagreeing these days. I don’t think this is a new insight. In fact, Greg Boyd just said it super clearly last week on his blog:

MRI tests have demonstrated that when people confront alleged facts that challenged their deeply held beliefs, their amygdala, which is in charge of their “fight-or-flight” reflex, kicks into gear, and their pre-frontal lobe cortex, which is in charge of reasoning, tends to shut down. On the other hand, when people encounter alleged facts that confirm their deeply held beliefs, the pleasure centers of their brain gets activated, and their pre-frontal lobe cortex again tends to shut down (see: here). This is why it is very difficult to think objectively, or talk rationally, about beliefs we are passionate about.

Well, “back in the day” we had three television Networks, and it was in the interest of all of them to report the News with as little bias as possible to attract the widest possible audience. With the advent of Cable News, however, people are able to watch the filtered version of the News that they agree with and that therefore activates the pleasure centers of their brain. And when liberal and conservative minded people no longer have to try to see the world through each other’s eyes, they get hardened in their perspectives. In time, they lose the willingness, and then the ability, to understand the perspectives of those who fundamentally disagree with their deeply held beliefs. Those who oppose them, therefore, can’t possibly be doing so on rational or moral grounds, which means they must either be stupid or immoral. They therefore cannot be reasoned with. They must simply be defeated.

Greg Boyd describes our problem so well. More and more opinions are potentially deeply held beliefs. And deeply held beliefs are becoming more and more atomized identities. We’re pushing the limits of what can be existentialized–that which is essential to our being. More and more our thoughts and opinions are who we are. My identity is that I think this about that. Dialogue cannot happen if we don’t undo this problem.

They sold us our false selves

As far as I can tell, this is mostly a clever trick of people who sell stuff. They have successfully turned niche markets into identities. “Niche” comes form the Latin word for “nest”, after all. Why not have our children born into a nest of security in a completely seamless environment? Maybe there is a future in which no one ever shops, only buys. I can’t imagine Jeff Bezos hasn’t dreamed that. Opinions are just the newest product large corporations have taught us to buy. It was a brilliant move because the alchemy required to transform opinions into identities is even easier.

“I am an android person and not an apple person.” This is how we are taught to talk. This is what our grandchildren might read about the Great Smart Phone War on whichever kind of device wins said war. “I cheer for the red team in the quadrennial sporting event called Presidential Elections.” My personhood is defined by the thoughts and opinions that make me feel comfortable. Light up those pleasure centers, please! Make me feel like who I am!

We agree, that’s who we are

I have been having conversations recently in which there are disagreements. (Note the passive voice). I am taking a wide circle around actively disagreeing with anyone because I’m trying to live into this conviction to agree to agree. Transcending the encampments is a freedom song I sing with Jesus. YES! I can love you. I can love you even as we are disagreeing, but disagreeing is not who we are. We agree, that’s who we are.

I admit this sounds ridiculous. It is. But I need something foolish to counter the wisdom of the world. The world is teaching me that I must succeed in all I do, and make all the right decision or something terrible will happen. Now my consumer choice has the future of humanity riding on it, too. In Circle of Hope, we call this “empire” thinking. “Either we think we have the power to get everything right and deserve it to be that way. Or we think we have to get it right or something terrible will happen or we will be severely punished by ‘the way things are.'” Ok, I’ll disagree with THAT! Jesus saved me from that. I’m not going back.

Love will bind everything together

I’m trying to get creative about doing what Paul says in Colossians 3:14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. I believe this. Love WILL bind everything together in perfect harmony… eventually. We have forever to figure this out. This allows me to creatively disagree with you for a really long time but not forever. Because eventually we will get set straight. I’m sure we will both need a course correction when we see Jesus face to face. In the mean time, I feel responsible to you and to the gospel to never end the dialogue with a codification of disagreement–an encampment in our lovely, pleasure-center-sparking nests.

We’ll need love to be real, active, vital. We’ll need Love to live among us, convict us to forgive regularly and push us in new directions. We’ll get to where we need to go more often if we agree to agree. The stories we tell ourselves about who we really are really matter. Because they are telling us something else. If we actually say what they want us to say, like out loud, it doesn’t ring true. If we put that lie in the light as I’ve tried to do in this post, it does look like darkness. Let’s be scouts for reconciliation, together. that’s who we are. We are ministers of reconciliation. We’ll need love to cast out our automatic fear. So let’s put love on every day and trust Jesus to make something better than we think is possible.

How to stay married (at least how John and Sherry did)

333 years of marriageOn Sunday, July 15th, John and Sherry Londres were interviewed at our evening meeting at 3800 Marlton Pike. The title of the interview was “How to stay married for 33 years” but John objected to the title, wisely. “This is what worked for us but I don’t know if it will work for anyone else. In fact I know that if they do exactly what we did they will certainly fail, because every couple is different.” John is exactly right but we have to give some authority to those among us who have made it so far in marriage. John and Sherry are rare birds, so we watch them, holding our breath at their beauty as we peer through the jungle of divorce and disillusionment to behold them. To honor them and learn form them I distilled three lessons they taught us.

Use your whole brain

In 1994, John learned about the concept of right brain and left brain. The right brain is more thinking and reasoning and the left brain is more emoting and intuiting. (This is an oversimplification but John had a simple point). Sherry had put his ring on his left hand when they got married 10 years before. The only reason he had heard for the left hand placement was the left hand’s proximity to the heart. John realized that his left brain love for Sherry would ebb and flow but he could trust it. He didn’t really need a left brain reminder to love her. He needed a right brain reminder. He needed a reminder to be intentional about loving her. He couldn’t forget to feel for her, but he could forget to love her well. He wanted a reminder for all the intentions he had for relating to her. So after 10 years of learning what he needed to remember, John switched his ring to his right hand and has worn it there ever since.

I think this is a great example of how to use our rituals. To stay married for 33 years and longer you will have to reappropriate the symbols you have inherited. You must make them your own and even if the first time you weren’t just going through the motions, you must make new meaning of them as you go along. I love the left to right hand switch that John did. I can imagine many places in my life that need a switch to intention. I can depend too much on passion and conviction for motivation to do a lot of the things I do. Making a plan and reminding myself to stick with it will be good for my marriage and many other parts of my life (including planting the church).

Enjoy becoming

Sherry described herself as steady. I’ve only known her for a third of her marriage but I agree. She might be content to just keep it simple, stay close to home, not surprise anyone. But she surprised John a lot when a few years ago she said, “I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with you!” John is known as the wild adventurer, and Sherry has been content to see him when he gets back. But a couple of years ago they went together to Tanzania and summited the highest point in Africa. Sherry did much better with the oxygen deprivation. If Sherry hadn’t been there to strike out ahead of him when the going got tough, who knows if John would have made it. He would have made it somehow, but Sherry was the somehow this time. When you go together there’s no way of knowing what would have been. Some other how is not necessary.

“John gets me out of my box.” Sherry said. She’s done things she never thought she would do, but it’s kind of silly to make a clear distinction between who she has become with John and who she was before they were married. We become who we are because of who we’re with among other things. This is true for friendships as well as marriages. Deciding to go together and trusting to stay together fundamentally changes who we are. If we accept that becoming as a natural part of life and reject the lie of individuality and self reliance, we can enjoy it. John and Sherry have grown together without significant friction because they weren’t really organized to defend those supposedly essential selves. We are not who we are forever. Thank God, we change. You can enjoy that.

Be a fool

John ended the interview with a song. And John is NOT a good singer. He sang “I Do It for Your Love” by Paul Simon so terribly there weren’t very many dry eyes in the house. And Sherry loved it! Love requires you to make a fool of yourself, and to love the fool you’re with for their foolishness. We need to remember who we are and what better way than to make a scene, damn the consequences, scorn the shame. I love how beautiful John’s bad singing was. He loved the complexity of Paul Simon’s sentiment. “It felt like us,” he said. Sherry loved him for being a fool. No one who is there will forget the moment. People are still talking about the last time he did it!

You can listen to John and Sherry’s full interview with me at

Jesus Won the Super Bowl

Today, an estimated 4 million people are descending on South Philadelphia and Center City because THE E-A-G-L-E-S ARE SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS OF HEAVEN AND EARTH!!!

(…too much?)

Okay it is, but I don’t want the moment and all its incredible communal feels to pass without Jesus getting his due. At a big moment in their life, celebrities are often quick to give glory to God for the amazing thing they are experiencing. I hope that when you’re part of something that big, whatever faith you have gets ignited too. I suspect it will. maybe it will happen just being part of the celebration today in Philadelphia (or whatever other glorious thing you’re close to today–there’s always something glorious).

But srsly, Jesus won the Super Bowl, ya’ll.

The Eagles beat the Patriots because they were united. All the players don’t have faith but this article in Relevant Magazine is just one among many articles written by Christian and “secular” publications alike about the faith present in the Eagle’s locker room. Trey Burton, the 4th-and-1 miracle making tight end who threw a touchdown to Nick Foles (watch it here until the NFL finds it), has baptized five of his team mates. In the “Relevant” article he is the designated “Team Pastor.” The Inquirer, also, last weekend had front page spotlights on the team chaplains, a local pastor and a local priest.  Nick Foles, Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson might have had the most opportunity to give God the glory. I saw a video of Doug leading whoever wanted to join in the Lord’s Prayer on game day. Doug gave it up to his ‘Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ in front of millions watching as he received the Lombardi trophy.

Some might want to dismiss these rich dude’s faith as posturing or counterfeit. It’s easy to be an NFL player or coach and praise God, right? Is that really faith? And what does Jesus care about football? Great questions. I don’t think Jesus cares about who won the Super Bowl too much, but I know he cares about Trey Burton, Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Doug Pederson and every individual who cares about football as much as they do or even a little bit. Because he cares about all of us–so much. And because they receive that care form Jesus, I am confident they are better at relating, and thus better at being a team, and thus better at WINNING THE SUPER BOWL!!!

(…too much again? sorry)

The Eagles are such a good football team because they are such a good team. All the sports radio guys agree at least. And Jesus makes us better at teaming. He leads us in humility and putting the interests of others before ourselves. The Eagles locker room is uncannily connected. Doug’s players love him and he loves them. And they love each other. Even those who are not Christians feel that connection and benefit from it. It’s a stark contrast with the Patriots and the controversy between one-man-show, Tom Brady, grizzled barker, Bill Belichick, and Patriots owner, Robert Kraft. Google the drama, cause there is drama. Tom Brady couldn’t be found for the traditional good-sportsman handshake with Nick Foles after the game. He’s not humble, and maybe he doesn’t think he has to be because he has achieved so much on his own. That’s bad teaming.

The Eagles won with the second-string quarterback and without the benefit of some of their best players due to injuries. Doug Pederson was coaching High School football not too long ago. It is all very unlikely. Jesus helped them do the very unexpected.

BTW Carson Wentz’ organization “Audience of 1” kind of misses his own genius. Carson’s idea is that he’s just doing his best for God, who is the One of Carson’s audience. But it’s bigger than that. Carson’s audience is at least the 52 other guys on the roster. But it’s bigger than that–it’s the whole Eagles organization. But it’s bigger than that–the whole parade today.

Jesus does his biggest stuff in teams. He built a Church as his main project. We are Jesus’ team. We perform for each other and this pleases God. I think the Eagle’s playing for and with each other is what won the game. It was their edge. It was the odds overcomer. It was the underdogs’ power. We can do the same in Circle of Hope. None of us are good enough, talented enough, capable enough to do everything we’re called to do. But I guarantee you are tempted to do it by yourself, either because it’s too late in the game of whatever you’re trying to do, or you’re getting unconsciously stuck in that old way of Tom Brady thinking. Let’s resist our temptation to be a one person show. Let’s celebrate the Eagles and Jesus in them. He’s doing the same with us.

Jesus, save us for each other. Amen!