Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

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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.

Saving our Imaginations from Fortnite

I am reading A Wrinkle in Time to my son, Oliver, who is 7 years old. One of my goals is to teach him to use and develop his imagination. I actually stop as we’re reading to encourage him to be still and actively imagine what he’s hearing. It’s hard for him to not fidget with something or even be drawn to other books and images in his room. I remind him, “We’re being still and practicing seeing the story in our minds. What does Calvin look like?” (I’m really glad he hasn’t seen the movie). On our family vacation this summer we listened to the Chronicles of Narnia in the car and he claimed to be able to read his book about dragons and listen to the story on the car speakers at the same time.

I think I’m a bit like Oliver sometimes. Paying attention is a difficult task. I spend a lot of time on my computer and always have way too many tabs open in Chrome. I am prone to popping between tasks and too often lack the stillness for the clarity of thought I desire. I want to listen to God and engage my own imagination in any number of creative tasks, but I am, as I think most people are, chronically distracted.

fortnite and coopted imaginationA big new distraction the gaming industry recently cooked up is Fortnite. It’s a shooting game where players skydive onto an island and gather resources to kill each other. Some kind of plasma storm forces them into a tighter and tighter circle and they can build platforms and ramps out of the resources they gather (that’s the “fort” part I think).

I found out about Fortnite through my nephews earlier this year but when I heard this incredible episode of On the Media about Twitch, the social media platform for gamers, I took a deep dive to find out why and how so many people are interested. If you are an elementary school kid like Oliver it is one of the top topics of conversation. Millions of people watch professional gamers play this game. There are tournaments with prizes in the millions. The most famous professional gamer in the United States is Ninja AKA Tyler Blevins. He reportedly earns a million dollars a month. He got really, really famous when, in April of this year, he played with Drake. Seven million people have watched the YouTube video of their game so far.

I want to save my son’s imagination from Fortnite. Imagining violence is the biggest reason. I don’t want him to be desensitized to violence by repeated cartoonish head shots and rocket explosions. I don’t want him to dream about how to kill anyone, even if only in a game, but it’s more than that–I fear the overwhelming swell of enthusiasm for this game will steal his imagination. Instead of imagining anything, he can see it all. It’s loud; it’s fast; and everybody loves it. He loves it and he has never even played it. It IS indeed creative, but too complete, I guess. There’s not much room for his brain to do anything because it has all been done for him. The artist who made Fortnite are not giving an invitation into anything. They are as 20th century writer George MacDonald said in his essay, “The Fantastic Imagination“, writing “THIS IS A HORSE” on their art (and on our minds).

Don’t mess with this dude, George MacDonald

“Suppose my child ask me what the fairytale means, what am I to say?”

If you do not know what it means, what is easier than to say so? If you do see a meaning in it, there it is for you to give him. A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean. If my drawing, on the other hand, is so far from being a work of art that it needs THIS IS A HORSE written under it, what can it matter that neither you nor your child should know what it means? It is there not so much to convey a meaning as to wake a meaning. If it do not even wake an interest, throw it aside. A meaning may be there, but it is not for you. If, again, you do not know a horse when you see it, the name written under it will not serve you much. At all events, the business of the painter is not to teach zoology.

As admirable as the creatives responsible for Fortnite are (I love their worldwide campaign with the llamas), the main force behind Fortnite is not art but business. Companies are going to great lengths to tap the veins of a generations’ desires as they have with Fortnite. But instead of awakening something in their imaginations, they feed us back their desire like a soon to be foie gras duck. If they find something we want, they slap a “THIS IS A HORSE” label on it and shove it down our throats in every conceivable medium. They took our dreams, made them very real, and then edged out the competition by dominating our imaginations for as long as possible.

Imagination is key to being a Christian. The cooperation of mind and heart with God takes contemplation, stillness and creativity. It is not always so clear what God might do next and we who are committed to following that next thing must have unclaimed space in our heads for the project. Other things crowd it too–worries, earning a living, etc.–but Fortnite is the most recent in a string of increasingly demanding and enticing competitors for our hopes and dreams. You might have a future in professional gaming, son! Maybe Fortnite is your ticket to the big time! Lord, save us.

Lord give us space, rest and real hope. Awaken us to what is already in us and where you already are. Stoke our imaginations and make something new. 

 

 

Camden County College Hates Me

I’m sorry, I don’t follow the rules. The Public Safety Office at Camden County College clearly told me that I was not welcome on campus unless I was a student or an authorized guest. I went anyway. Again, I’m sorry, but it’s a place to meet 10,000+ young people from all the local area high schools. I have to at least put up flyers on the first day to at least let them know that Circle of Hope exists. At most, I would love it if I could hang out there and make relationships. I can’t shake the need to broadcast to them that there is an alternative to the hypocritical, judgmental church they imagine from national media or know from personal experience. At most, I want them to have a transformative experience with the living God. I can’t shake the desire to share this joy.

I wasn’t trying to go unnoticed

Jesus wants to unlock people at Camden County College for selfless love which is freedom and joy in serving others. They need to know that Jesus wants to help them let go of the lies they are fed about carefully guarded personal satisfaction and its perennial shadow, an overwhelming sense of personal responsibility to make and maintain the world as they know it. Camden County College needs, at the very least, a couple hundred pink flyers posted on every possible bulletin board that there is a community nearby that is re-centering itself around something (and someone) who can actually do something to change the world.

But Camden County College wants me to know that I am not welcome there. A security officer called to let me know that I had broken the rules. It wasn’t hard for him to get a hold of me. I had put my number on all the flyers. But the rules are the rules and he was just doing his job. There is no solicitation at Camden County Colleges. Once again, I’m sorry. I had indeed seen the notice on the bulletin boards that said that any posted flyer not approved by the campus life office would be removed, but I just thought, “OK, remove it, maybe someone will see it before they do.” I also knew that flyers I posted last semester had gone un-removed for months, cuz I’m persistent like that. They asked me not to come back (again), but I’m probably going back. I’m wondering if my flyer shouldn’t say, “They told me not to post this.”

I admit, my ire is up. I could just rebel for rebellion sake because I really am a rebel at heart. But I’d like to make a bigger point about the rules. The rules are designed to protect young people from any influence. According to the rule makers, overt influence is violence. All of our opinions, motives and desires are spontaneously generated from our deepest personhood, or so they would have us believe. When in fact the opinions, motives and desires of a whole generation have been sacrificed to the gods of industry. Our hearts have been claimed by what we consume and those who sell it to us. It is best for the rule makers that everyone believe they are self made in every respect, so that the reality of our unprocessed opinions, motives and desires be otherwise un-engaged and thus more easily shaped and manipulated by the rule makers.

The incoming class of freshman have no personal recollection of the events of September 11, 2001. They were babies or not yet born. Instead they have grown up in the culture of fear that the rule makers have built ever since. They have grown up under surveillance. They have grown up on display, submitting to voluntary surveillance on social media. They have grown up knowing that only the government will keep them safe, and just barely. This ever present, vague sense of threat has shaped them. It has shaped all of us. This threat is excellent for the rule makers. It keeps us in line, in our own lane, and unaware.

Jesus undoes the rules, not necessarily the Public Safety rules of Camden County College, but those rules that keep us locked up in self protection and in fear of what might happen if we mess up. He makes us aware of that which we can’t see without him. He lights up the dark, un-examined opinions, motives and desires that make us who we are, and mostly make us unhappy. He invites us to lose that life so we can find a new one in him. He breaks most of the rules that make our lives such drudgery. He influences us. But that influence blasphemes the other gods who reign over us, and i refuse to pretend they don’t exist.

I’ll have to deal with the consequences of returning to Camden County College when I do, but my decision will not be based in fear of what the rule makers will do to me. I’m being specific about the real threats at Camden County College, and they are not my pink flyers. I’d like to convince a few more students to break the rules with me and influence people for good rather than leaving it to those who will only take from them.

Other gods only take. Jesus gives. I’m praying to help many people at Camden County College receive from him.

 

 

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.

A Paean to “A.D. Kingdom and Empire” on Netflix

They Cancelled This Show in 2015
…but I Just Found Out

When NBC cancelled A.D. The Bible Continues, I had no idea it was a thing, but now, three years later, I’m heartbroken. Now I have watched all 12 episodes of A.D. Kingdom and Empire (it got renamed for it’s Netflix Release) and I am very sad that the Roma Downey and Mark Burnett produced adaptation of the book of Acts is not continuing.

So this is my eulogy for “A.D. Kingdom and Empire” AKA “A.D. The Bible Continues” and my contribution to the googleverse in hopes of a reboot some day soon, and a motivational essay to read the book of Acts again this week.

Peter praying to stay the Holy Spirit’s hand

The Holy Spirit is No Joke

In Acts 5 we find the troubling story of Ananias (Peter De Jersey) and Sapphira (Indra Ové) who held back some of the money they got from selling their house but said that they gave it all to the newly born church. In A.D. Kingdom and Empire blood comes out of their eyes and they die for lying to the Holy Spirit in a very scary scene. How could any TV producer skip such a gruesome moment in history? Acts 5:11 says “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”

Um… yeah! Great fear seized me when I first heard this story, too. If I’m honest, there’s still a tinge of fear in me as I reflect on it now. The Holy Spirit is no joke. God was trying to do something that required the utmost seriousness. The new movement was not for spiritual tourists who could move on to what’s next after the high wore off. This movement could not peter out (poor Peter!). If the Church of Jesus’ first followers didn’t survive, thrive and bust out of the confines of Jerusalem, God’s plan would not have happened. Desperate times call for desperate measures, it seems — even the confounding sudden death of two would-be-followers. The way this story is portrayed in the show brings the immediacy and the meagerness of the movement to light in a compelling way. Peter (Adam Levy) gets why they are dying but he is freaked out, too. I love the confusion that streaks through the faces of the main characters. They are not yet saints, wise in their remote spaces in history. They are living, failing, God-trusting people just like us. In a later episode of the show, the Holy Spirit almost kills Simon Magus (Stephen Walterswho tries to pay Peter for the Holy Spirit but Peter begs God in the thundercloud to spare the foolish new disciple. It didn’t happen just like that in Acts, but it made for good TV, and it communicated the live-wire wildness of the moment.

Procla, Pilate’s wife (as the story goes), is a Saint in the Greek Orthodox Church

The Resurrection Had Political Consequences

Four of the main characters of the show are Pontius Pilate (Vincent Regan), his wife Claudia (Joanne Whalley), Caiaphas (Richard Coyle), the high priest, and his wife, Leah (Jodhi May). They are not just the evil ones, they are real people with real pressures of their own. Each are tempted to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, especially Claudia and Caiaphas. The political intrigue is not historically accurate, but it could have been! How would the Jesus movement know that Pilate’s wife had dreams about Jesus (as in Matthew 27:19) if she did not one day become a Christian and tell them her story?

From Wikipedia: “In the 3rd century, Origen suggested in his Homilies on Matthew that the wife of Pilate had become a Christian,or at least that God sent her the dream mentioned by Matthew so that she would convert. This interpretation was shared by several theologians of Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The apocryphal Letter of Pilate to Herod, dating from around the 3rd–4th century, names Pilate’s wife as Procla and connects to the story of Matthew 27:19.”

The show writers had a lot of opportunities to incorporate other legends and speculations from the early church but didn’t do so, however, they did take the opportunity to highlight the political consequences of the resurrection. Jesus disrupted the political potentates of his day, and he continues to do so. The power to kill is the source of all political power. When you boil it down, that’s it. The state’s ability to kill and the permission the people give it to kill is the only real ultimatum. Violence is the source of state power. Read the first two chapters of William Cavanaugh’s book “Migrations of the Holy” if you need to be convinced of this. There are other places to find this argument too. But, for now, it suffices to say that the foundation of any governmental power is death. And if Jesus rose form the dead then he is not subject to any power. Pilate and Caiaphas, and Claudia and Leah, as portrayed in the show, are obviously threatened by this. How we respond to Jesus’ anarchic resurrection will dictate how we relate to government. Are we subjects of the Kingdom or the empire(s)?

Chipo Chung as Mary Magdalene

They Don’t Know What They’re Doing Either (But the Women Knew Better)

After Jesus’ death, the disciples have no idea what to do. Only Mary, Jesus’ mother (Greta Scacchi), remembers what Jesus said. She is stone-faced and sad after watching her son die but she refuses to give up as many of the men are doing. She is waiting for the third day. Mary Magdalene (played by Chipo Chung), who is the first apostle of the resurrection in the Bible, also gets her proper place in the show. She sees Jesus, and we get to see her as one of the most important characters in the show (because she IS one of the most important people in history). The men defer to her, she makes converts, and she’s always part of the dialogue about what they need to do. Twelve disciples would be too many characters for drama so only a few disciples are dramatized. It’s unclear what happened to the rest of the twelve in the show, but Mary Magdalene takes one of their places.

They muddle through the amazing things that happen. From the resurrection, to Pentecost, to persecution, to new believers who aren’t Jewish, they are stumbling through an incredibly disorienting ordeal. Can you imagine what it would be like? I can, but not so well as they creators of this show have done for us!

It is helpful to read through scripture with our imaginations. What was it like? What were the smells? What did you see? How did you feel? Art like this show, all the many, many paintings, and the other films that were made about these stories from the Bible help us feel our way into the story even more. John, the Beloved disciple, may always be a slow to speak, dark skinned African man (Babou Ceesay) in my imagination. And I am forever grateful for that. 

I need to feel my way through these stories and find myself in them because reading the Bible at a distance just doesn’t work. The point of reading the Bible is to relate to Jesus and find myself in his story. Art helps me do that. It will help you, too, especially when the artists assume that these people in the Bible were a lot like us. We don’t know what we’re doing a lot of the time either.

“The Road To Damascus” Episode 108 — Pictured: Joe Dixon as Phillip

Those Baptisms Though

The formula for baptism in the show is backwards into the water for like a three second count — in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is a good ritual! I love that they stay underwater for as long as they do because it is really symbolic of the death they are dying with Christ. When we baptize people in Circle of Hope we do it three times, bowing forward in submission to Christ. Some folks I have baptized are pretty scared about going under, and I assure them that is the point. We are going through death with Christ and coming out on the other side with him. Staying under, though? Holding your breath for a moment until you get pulled up? That is pretty cool.

Paul wrote in Romans 6:3-5

“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

This show gets that. These early Christians were serious about what Paul said even before he wrote it. Paul codified the ritual in Romans but it meant something before he said that. It meant death and resurrection, and you can SEE that in the show, even if it isn’t said. That is what ritual is all about. It is an enacted truth that often goes deeper and truer than words ever can.

Saul was initially devastated by Jesus’ appearance to him.

Paul Really Was a Badass from the Start

When Saul has his Damascus Road encounter with Jesus in the show I was unimpressed. Unfortunately I’m not a huge fan of how they portray Jesus in the show at all. But the aftermath of the encounter was awesome. Saul’s agony and redemption mediated by someone who isn’t sure of what they saw (it was an Angel — who is also totally badass). Then Saul comes back to the disciples in Jerusalem and demands forgiveness.

Peter and Saul have a one-on-one conversation. Saul is under tons of suspicion. He is trying to make Peter and the disciples trust him but Peter is slow to do so. Saul says to Peter,

“This is all a bit ridiculous, surely. I know what I’ve done, Peter, but listening to you all downstairs it’s like you had forgot that Jesus taught you forgiveness. I mean you lived with him — you know his message — so, so, sorry but I’m confused.” Saul of Tarsus got swagger! And that is why God chose him! I love how Emmett J Scanlan gets that across in his Irish brogue. Saul’s confidence, his arrogance even, was what God needed! You might have something in you that doesn’t seem like a gift. You might have done things that are hard to forgive. You too are chosen by God for a purpose. And a lot of what you see as useless, God can use. You might not receive such a direct address from Jesus as Saul did, but if you listen you will know.

In Conclusion, Bring it Back For Season Two!

I could go on and on about this show (and I already have), but please, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey of Lightworkers Entertainment, please bring back this show! I hear you’re working on an end times story instead. No thanks. I want more of these characters and the imaginative plot twists that your writers have supplied already. What if the stories of all these unsung heroes really did weave together in this way? Some of my Christian counterpoints are up in arms that you did not “stick to the Bible.” To them I say “p’sha.” You got it. No, it was not exact, but you got it. If they demand some fastidious recreation of only what is in the text 1) it’s bad TV, bad drama, bad art and 2) they are just way too uptight. Jesus likes this show, mkay? Well, I guess he’ll tell us whether or not he does some day, but I really, really like this show, mkay? So can we get a Season Two of A.D Kingdom and Empire? Lord, hear our prayer.

And if you made it this far, you must like to read. So keep reading. Read the book of Acts. Imagine, pray and listen right through the whole epic story. We’re living the 29th Chapter.

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 circleofhope.net/messages

The Gospel Must Begin with Love

Where does your gospel start?

The gospel does not begin with condemnation. It begins with God’s love. Why then do I know so many people who really want me to condemn them and the people they know? I have been accused as a pastor of not enforcing the rules effectively. They tell me I let people get away with a lot of stuff. As a pastor I do want to help people see their sins but I do not believe this is my primary purpose as an evangelist. In fact, I think the over emphasis on condemnation among Christians is one of my biggest challenges as an evangelist. Ask an average American who doesn’t regularly attend church what they think of Christians and “condemnation” tops the list. I’ve heard that Christianity’s main tenets are 1) hatred of gay people, 2) hypocrisy and 3) condemnation. Christians make people feel bad way too often (and they take pride in it). Why did we decide it was our job to tell people they are wrong? I take a more, shall we say, patient approach. Like the Mississippi, start small, it’s all downhill to the Gulf of Mexico, if you’ve started flowing with the Spirit. We are going to make it. God is going to move. And that’s not up to us.

Why is it gospel (Good News) that I am bad?

There is a strong segment of the Church that spends most of their time being barely saved from their sins. The sweetness of their salvation is mostly confined to Christ’s gruesome death on the cross as their atoning sacrifice. They are unworthy of such a gift, and they are happy that God gave it to them anyway. No falsehood in that narrative — Romans 5:8 “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” But why must we sing about it ad nauseum every week? Why is it gospel (Good News) that I am bad?

I think we find perverse comfort in being incapable. I understand this personally. I really thrive when I’m given an assignment. The threat of a bad grade (now given only in my imagination) motivates me more than I would like. My internal motivation ascends as my need for external confirmation and reassurance descends. Do you feel me on this? Isn’t it comfortable not to have any agency? Wouldn’t it be nice to be a kid again and just do what you’re told? In the Church, when it comes to spiritual matters, this often happens. We are encouraged to get in line behind someone else and think the way he (it’s usually a he) does. Some rebels resist this for their own gratification, but I say we must resist it so we can actually enjoy God.

We don’t have to to be so weak that the best we can do is not go to hell.

Some theologians codified it as “utter depravity.” Even after I have a life altering experience with Jesus and decide to follow him, I cannot help but do evil. Sticking in Romans, Paul describes his experience with sin in Chapter 7. He knows what he really wants to do, but there are other desires in him that also have pull. He is aware of the struggle and spends much of his time in all of his letters trying to help his people turn to their deepest desire to follow Jesus — to live as a new creation, to live out of your love for God.

I think Paul believes that we can do this (with God’s help of course). He does not end his argument in chapter 7. “O wretched man that I am (Romans 7:24) is not the end. Only a few verses later in Romans 8:1-2, he takes it a step further saying “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Paul notices the duality inside himself, as I am sure many of you have noticed inside yourselves, but then goes on to declare that one side of the duality has surely won. Christ has the victory inside you, over your sin and death.

It’s bigger than just that one verse

We have a problem with how we often read the Bible. We might pluck out Romans 7:24 to support our argument for feeling bad about ourselves, when in fact Romans 1-8 is one sweeping argument that culminates in the final verses (which you ought to memorize)

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:37-39

Through Him who loved us

My Gospel starts with God’s love. Yes, I am a sinner, but I am also a saint. Jesus is winning inside of me. I’m getting better. I am not stuck. When I mess up, my friends and partners forgive me and God makes something good out of the best we can muster together. My approach as a pastor is to get people into a relationship with Jesus so he can win in them too. And I trust that he will, as I have seen him do it before, many times! Get into the Body, be with God’s people, use the faith you have and Jesus will help you figure out what to do. I don’t want to be another man you get behind to escape your God given capacity. You can choose what’s best as you listen to the Holy Spirit. I do not want to control your behavior. I want to create an environment in which we have a common project of transformation, and behavior control will inevitably come with that. I give you what I’ve got, my love, and a community that I help keep together which is founded on that love.

 

 

Starbucks’ Implicit Bias is Our Bias

starbucks implicit biasToday Starbucks closed all of it’s coffee shops in the morning to train their employees on implicit bias. I want to talk about this too, though I think my tiny blog might get lost in the internet noise. I have friends (mostly white) who are interested in this conversation because it seems to highlight a construct that divides people instead of unites them. Why would we dig around in our experience for negativity? Isn’t the world already negative enough?  I was inspired this weekend by John A. Powell’s gentleness in approaching the conversation. I think he’s on to something and I want to run with what he’s given us.

John A. Powell was interviewed by Krista Tippett on her radio show/podcast “On Being” in 2015. You can read the full transcript or listen to it HERE. He spoke about the basic human need of belonging. “The human condition is one about belonging. We simply cannot thrive unless we are in relationship. I just gave a lecture on health. And if you’re isolated, the negative health condition is worse than smoking, obesity, high blood pressure — just being isolated.” This resonated with me deeply 1) because I am a human being and 2) because Circle of Hope, the church of which I am a pastor, believes that belonging is the core of the Good News that Jesus brought us. Belonging to one Body, interconnected and so not alone we are the “anti-alone-ness”, is the destiny of  humanity and the fullness of Creation’s purpose. When that dependence on togetherness becomes part of a public conversation, my ears perk up. Dr. Powell had much to say that I think you needed to hear, but I’ll quote just a few paragraphs.

How do we make [belonging] infectious? How do we — people are longing for this. People are looking for community. Right now, though, we don’t have confidence in love. You mentioned love earlier. We have much more confidence in anger and hate. We believe anger is powerful. We believe hate is powerful. And we believe love is wimpy. And so if we’re engaged in the world, we believe it’s much better to sort of organize around anger and hate. And yet, we see two of the most powerful expressions, certainly Gandhi, certainly the Reverend Dr. King — and I always remind people he was a reverend. It wasn’t just Dr. King. Even though he came out of a violent revolution — Nelson Mandela — he just — again, I met him personally — he just exuded love. And as you know, he had a chance to leave prison early. He refused to unless it included structuring the country. He actually tried to actually lean into a notion of beloved community. He actually didn’t want the blacks to control or dominate the whites. He wanted to create — so his aspiration — and he’s loved. Even today, he’s loved in South Africa, and he’s loved around the world.

morgan freeman even though he's sleezyIn Circle of Hope we have received this message. We believe in the power of love, or at least we have declared this when we pledged allegiance to Jesus who, as God, is love. The one who died for all was showing us what love was. 1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” We have become not only advocates for this new perspective on love, but also demonstrators of it. Circle of Hope is a living experiment designed to prove the power of love. The way John A. Powell speaks, at least in my earbuds, exudes love too. Later in the conversation he makes it clear that he is not a theist, but his attraction to this love pulls him toward its source. He is a co-conspirator with Christ if not yet an avowed participant in Christ’s resurrection life.

Powell’s approach is inherently generous. Gandhi’s, King’s and Mandela’s love as individuals has been deconstructed. Hero worship is not allowed anymore, which is fine, but leaves us with no champions for love, except for Jesus I guess. I like how Powell steps around Mandela’s violent beginnings. Just watch “Invictus” to get some warm feelings for Nelson Mandela (I hope the warm feelings can transcend the fact that newly exposed Morgan Freeman is the actor). Mandela was incredibly creative and persistent in uniting post-apartheid South Africa. No political conflict of which I am aware has been more creatively transformed.

These political titans, Gandhi, King and Mandela, are good to mention because they are well known. They are well known because they changed the world in big ways. But they were successful because they were able to build a movement. This seems obvious but must be said because, today, it seems hard for any of our conversations to coalesce into anything. Every individual has their own opinion and experience which is infinitely valuable. That is a critique and a statement of my truest belief. Yes, every individual is infinitely valuable and their experience matters. This is true because God loves them, but also because I do. I do not have infinite capacity to demonstrate that love to them or to even know them, but I’m following my leader. To have a movement that transforms the environment as much as it needs to be transformed we will need to follow some sub-God level leaders. This will require the generosity that Powell extends to his heroes. It will require enough of us to follow someone who is close enough–someone whom we can get behind enough to make something happen. They will not reflect every one of our beliefs or speak to every one of our experiences, but if we are to harness our belonging to make a world in which we want our children to live then we must go with someone for the sake of a cause.

Starbucks is not an adequate leader and their training today is mostly a publicity stunt in my opinion. But the writing is on the wall, corporations will be the moral leaders of the future. I can lament this even as I accept that far less than optimal future and find brands to buy from which reflect my values (this may be more valuable political action than most people think). If rich people are running the world, and politicians continue to sell themselves for the privilege to unleash corporations on us, then I would like a corporate leader who might do some good. Thus, implicit bias training is border-line good.

John A. Poweel is gentle

John A. Powell

But I have friends who think it is far from good. Again, they believe that this emphasis on bias might actually instill in us the negative biases it intends to address. Which came first, the bias or the bias training? John A. Powell spoke about this with Krista Tippett,

It’s sort of unfortunate we call it “bias” because it’s really — implicit means unconscious or not fully conscious. And the reality is everyone has that. That’s the human nature. And what’s in our implicit biases are social. They’re not individual. So in a society where we treat blacks a certain way — and we’ve done this. We looked at 11 million words that most people use over their lifetime. How frequently do you use “black” with negative? And it’s very high. It’s like 40-50 percent of the time. So all the time. That’s what you hearing, that’s what you’re seeing, that’s what you’re hearing. It’s the air that we breathe. You breathe that until you’re an adult, you’re going to have those associations. Whites will have them. Blacks will have them. Latinos will have them. If you have negative associations in a society about women, men will have them and women will have them. But they’re social. So we have negative associations in this society about Muslims. They don’t have those negative associations in Turkey. So those associations are social. So part of it means that we have to look at what those associations are and where they come from. And we can create some prophylactic thing. But ultimately, we need to change the environment itself.

The question is not “Am I biased?”; the question is “Is there bias?” This is a very important distinction for anyone who reacts negatively to the idea of implicit bias training. This part of Krista Tippett and John A. Powell’s conversation comes after a well made case that human beings not only long to belong but they inherently belong. Our togetherness is automatic, not only psychologically but socially. We are connected whether we like it or not, but luckily most of us do. The narrative of separateness is not as strong as we have made it to be. For 1) it breeds loneliness like the plague, but 2) it tries to erase something un-erasable – our brain’s demand for patterns and our heart’s desire to belong. So when we evaluate something at an individual level, no generalization is true.

Some white person might say “I am not biased about black people” which, ironically, is basically a racist thing to say in some company. And now the conversation is about finding the bias that this bias-denier has. That person is not getting with the neo-orthodoxy so they must be against us (the orthodox). John A. Powell steps around this horrible foundation for a conversation by evaluating the environment, not the individual. This is not about you, this is about the environment. And if you discover you have bias, fine, but we all agree there IS bias, and until there isn’t WE have a problem. It’s a very communitarian way to have this conversation. It saves the individual from guilt which often derails the conversation (Guilt is never good motivation to do anything), and it unites us in the WE of which we are a part already and which we all need to become more aware.

I welcome this direction and I think we Christians are especially well suited for it because we are explicitly connected. Our explicit bias is for connection and welcome, whether we actually achieve our desires is up for debate. Nonetheless, we know what we want and what Jesus wants, to be One body in Christ. The earliest description of the church in Acts 2 (shout out to Pentecost, the most underrated Christian Holiday!) says that they shared everything in common. I don’t see why we can’t hold these biases in common too.

They Called the Cops on Me

They Called the Cops on Me

I was putting door hanger flyers on doorknobs in the Bloomfield section of Pennsauken this morning. The streets were pretty deserted at 9:30 am most people had already left for work. A few retirees were giving their spring lawns their first mow. And I was walking the relatively sprawling neighborhood (in comparison with my West Philly row house roots) being a menace to society, apparently. All of a sudden two police SUVs rolled up to the corner I was on. Three officers hopped out of their vehicles responding to a call someone had made about a suspicious person “looking confused and walking up and down the street.” I turned on my charm and, let’s be real, my whiteness and smiled at them, unthreatened.

I said, “I’m not confused. I know exactly what I’m doing. I want everyone in this neighborhood to know about my church, Circle of Hope. I’m the pastor.”

One of the officers spoke into his shoulder walkie-talkie, “It’s a pastor handing out flyers for his church,” apparently calling off the SWAT team or something. The officers took down my name, address and phone number which I gave to them without protest. Though, thinking back on it, I probably had at least a little reason to protest.

“Should I not do it?” I asked with only a little guile

“No, no,” said the senior officer, “You got to remember, this is Pennsauken. You walk onto someone’s porch and they’re going to call us. There are a lot of break-ins around here.”

I was Up to… Good

In some sense I WAS trying to break in. Hanging flyers on door knobs is mostly an excuse to pray that God breaks us into relationships with people we don’t already know. It’s very unlikely that someone is going to get a Circle of Hope flyer on their doorknob and come to a Sunday meeting. It’s a big leap. They have to be looking for us already. There’s no way a piece of paper can do much more than tip an already weighted scale or break an already over-burdened camel’s back. The Holy Spirit has already been casing the spiritual house of the person who will eventually respond to one of our flyers.

It was kind of exciting to be a part of something so potentially dangerous. Our immediate neighbors are so suspicious that they called the cops on me. Some folks are so not ready to let us in that we will probably never know them. I guess that has to be okay, but it’s telling–it’s really hard for us to break in to relationships that don’t exist yet. The Holy Spirit is going to have to break down some barriers. We’re going to have to do a couple of things that are so strange people immediately assume menace.

crazy ish in actsCrazy Ish in Acts

Dan McGowan and I recently read the book of Acts together and we were, again, blown away by the crazy stuff the Holy Spirit had to do to bust the earliest version of the Jesus movement out of the tiny confines of its original context. Great resistance required great response from God. The power of our movement is still dependent on God breaking in to new places. Of course, there was evidence even in my mostly lonely walk through Bloomfield that Jesus was already there. Blessings in gardens and elaborate devotions to Jesus’ mom. Even after my run in with the 5-0, and maybe more so because of it, I am hopeful that Jesus might want to use me and Circle of Hope there. But I don’t pretend to know how. That’s why I think the arbitrary dissemination of flyers on a few blocks in Pennsauken is a good use of my time. I’m like that crazy farmer in Matthew 13 that sows all over the place, even in places where folks are closed off by fear. And for good reason, the world is full of suspicious people, and we are fed continuous stories that fuel our fears.

But if the Holy Spirit whisked Philip from some desert road south of Jerusalem all the way out to Azotus (Acts 8), someone might just be whisked across Rt. 130 from Bloomfield to meet with us on a Sunday on Marlton Pike, right? Here’s hoping (and praying–I pray a lot when i do this sort of thing.)

hands up don't shoot

In Ferguson

But What if I Were Brown?

One last thing that must be said, of which my friend Matt who works as a  corrections officer was sure: If I were not white I would not have been able to be typing this for you now. I’d be tied up in some bureaucratic detention process at besr, or, at worst, in the hospital. You might think I am being sensational, but I believe this. I definitely wouldn’t have been so bold as to insist that the officer keep my flyer because he was invited too. I’ve heard enough stories from brown skinned people to know that the fear that precipitated my encounter with the police would be exponentially amplified if I myself were brown skinned. I have not been abused by the police, ever. I have not been fed infinite images and stories of people who look like me as mostly criminals. From square one, it was laughable that me and my flyers were any sort of real threat.

I kept walking the neighborhood for another half hour. I was deemed as not dangerous. I doubt someone who looks different from me would be allowed to continue menacing, scouting with the Holy Spirit for spiritual break-ins. I can’t help but imagine that the officer would be touching his gun when he met me. And if I didn’t have a generally positive experience of the police, a story not commonly afforded to non-white people, I can’t help but imagine myself in that situation feeling completely threatened  I imagine I would be scared for my life. But I wasn’t. I was fine. That’s hard for me to deal with.

So We Have to Pray

So I’m praying for more than just Circle of Hope in Bloomfield. I’m also praying, as we all need to every day for the overwhelming power of racism in our cities and towns. There is never a headline that goes, “White guy sorts out misunderstanding in 30 seconds, carries on with his Jesus business.” But there is often, so heart-breakingly often, a headline like this real one from this month: “Police Fatally Shoot a Brooklyn Man, Saying They Thought He Had a Gun.” Please don’t parse the details of that article–it’s just a recent example in a slew of way too many. Praying about impossibly consistent imbalance in policing outcomes is similar to praying for new relationship in a world closed off by fear. They both inevitably bump into danger, resistance and, often, despair. Can any barrier be broken? Can any stronghold–can racism–be torn down? Jesus’ hope in our circle of hope helps us to believe in God’s “yes” to these questions, no matter how shut the way appears. Will you join me in praying this week?

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.

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