Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: broad street

Intimacy on screen fuels compassionate hearts

“I always tell them ‘when you hear shots don’t look around to see where it’s coming from- just get down… I never thought I’d be coming out here for my child.”  These are Chris “Quest” Rainey’s words from a short film by Jonathan Olshefski that was screened on Saturday night at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington.

Quest-PJs Story About 20 people gathered to watch the premier/rough draft screening of “Quest: PJ’s Story”  PJ is Quest’s daughter who was shot in the eye by a stray bullet in June, 2013.  The story itself is enough to make you cry, but especially so because Jonathan told it in a quiet, unadorned way that brought each person’s humanity and dignity to the forefront and held it there gently with honor.  Tiny details in focus as the bigger story unfolded.  His filmmaking freed the audience to connect with the characters on a deeper level than the sensational surface- a beautiful girl caught in the cross fire in “mean North Philly.”

Those gathered learned afterward in a Q&A session with the Rainey family that this intimacy on screen has its source in the intimacy off screen.  Quest was telling stories of Jon and his friendship over the past 8 years.  Quest welcomed Jon into his world, an underground hip-hop recording studio, and Jon invited Quest into his world, including a wild time at warped tour a few years back when Jon left Quest stranded in New Jersey because Jon left the show in an ambulance to go and get some stitches for his mosh pit injuries.  I was moved by their friendship and hopeful about what God will do in our future.

gun violence prevention sabbath

I put together this film screening with Jon because I had to do something personally to respond to gun violence in our city.  I am torn up about the prevalence of our gun culture and the casual violence it precipitates.  It was a good timing too because Mennonite Central Committee, our international advocacy and development organization, was getting us involved with the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend– a time to focus communities of faith across the country on our increasing culture of violence.

The forming Circle of Hope Gun Violence Prevention Compassion Team hosted the event and I am hopeful that as this group takes shape we will find more ways to share the human stories that stem from easily accessible guns and our country’s idolatrous fascination with firearms.  In the process Circle of Hope will be known for the people of compassion who follow the source of Compassion, Jesus the Christ.  And that is what I am all about.

Invitation

 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?”

mouth

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.

Grace says they don’t want to talk to you

A three year old is holding his mother’s hand in one hand and a much too real looking toy handgun in the other.  A well dressed dad and ballet dancer daughter emerge from the subway.  He drops her off at the dance school and returns toward the subway.  A tiny girl, hair dangling what seems like hundreds of white beads, races up the steps alone.  Moments later her probable grandpop follows, almost dies when she’s not there, then sighs in relief, hand on his chest, when she shouts boo from her hiding place.  They hold hands as they cross the street.  A group of six women walk north in a sort of flock headed toward work.  What brought them together, I don’t know, but they’re together every morning.

A few mornings a week I stand in front of the building where Circle of Hope Broad and Washington meets and I say “good morning” to everyone who walks by.  After a few weeks of this discipline I’m noticing the regulars, I’m noticing these scenes of connection, and I’m noticing some stuff in me.

It’s interesting how people respond to me.  A few expect me to say hello at this point and preempt me.  A man today responded to my “Good Morning, Sir” with an aggressive “What do you want?”   I smiled and said, “Just saying hi.”  Then he said “Nobody just says hi.  you want something.” and he walked away. He was right; I did want something–connection.  He scared me a little bit though and I wasn’t sure I wanted to connect with him.  God forgive me, maybe.

However, the majority of people don’t respond to me at all.  So many passersby are completely plugged in and I’m unable to even get their attention.  The other day I had made a friend while she waited for our landlords to open their check cashing place.  Her name was Grace.  She was either a little bit crazy or too old to care about decorum.  She witnessed me saying hello to several people who did not respond to me at all, either because they couldn’t hear me or didn’t want to be bothered.  Each time Grace guffawed.  She thought it was ridiculous that people wouldn’t even acknowledge me.  She said, “They don’t want to talk to you.”

I’m glad Grace is there with me to back me up because this is a really good illustration of what we are up against as a church.  We’re trying to make a connection with people who, intentionally or not, live in isolation, even walking down a busy street.  But I am encouraged by these scenes of human connection that I see.  People are not completely isolated.  Many do find their allies, many do touch, and I am hopeful that many still want to connect with Jesus through us.

My morning discipline on Broad Street is a nice prayer exercise for impatient, action-oriented me.  I have to spend an hour waiting, watching and praying.  I say hello and try to be in a way that is open to the next person.  People look at me then they look at our sign–I think they are noticing us more than they may have before.  I am making friends.  I have met a dozen or so people who actually stopped to talk to me.  And some good stuff is happening for me too.

  1. I have a discipline- which gets me to work on time (I am largely self-supervised)
  2. It grounds me in the Holy Spirit- the hour is very passive- it’s an exercise in waiting for God to drop someone into my lap.  Without the work of the Holy Spirit I am lost.  I need to start my days in recognition of that.
  3. It opens my eyes to the beautiful, lovable people of our neighborhood.  As I watch them and pray for them I learn to love them.

God, please bless Broad Street and her people.  May Circle of Hope be a place for them to connect.

1+1=2…OK, but have you met my friend Math?

I went for a walk yesterday through our neighborhood on South Broad Street.  I wanted to be a good neighbor and actually meet some of the people here.  I was particularly interested in meeting some of the business owners.  It’s the right time to meet them.  I can say “Hi, I’m a new pastor at Circle of Hope, what’s going on?” (I always like to have an excuse to strike up conversation)

The first place I went I met a man who when he learned I was a pastor was very interested in sharing with me about his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness.  I listened politely for a while but grew tired as he continued for, like, half an hour.  Finally I got a word in edgewise and I said, “I’m very impressed with your Bible knowledge.  You have really studied and memorized a lot of scripture–much more than me, but I have to ask-why are you telling me all this?”

His speech was mostly about facts.  It was kind of a demonstration of what he knew about the Bible.  I was impressed but discouraged that he didn’t want to make a relationship.  His response to my question was more about the Bible and not much about him.  I pointed this out to him and described how what we were trying to do at Circle of Hope was different.

My friend said that he had a responsibility to let people know the truth.  He said, and I quote, “You know, 1+1 is 2 and 2+2 is 4.  It’s like that.  People need to know these things otherwise they’re in trouble.”  My response to this oversimplification was, “Well, using your metaphor, I would say,’OK, 1+1 is 2 and 2+2 is 4.  You know that, but do you know my friend Math?  I know him.  I have a relationship with him and he’s changed me.’  I don’t think knowing facts about the Bible is nearly as important as knowing Jesus and I have a responsibility to Jesus and to those who don’t yet know him to help them see him for who he truly is and to make a connection.”

It’s not about the Mathematical facts it’s about Mathematics.  It’s not about Biblical Principles, it’s about relating to God.  But relationships are hard, but not hard like concrete–much to intangible for some.  Memorizing how many verses are in the Bible (as my friend had–7958!) is just so much more concrete.  I think that’s what Jehovah’s Witness’ have going for their movement.  They have a concrete way of being and believing that only requires a “yes” or “no.”  It’s as clear as 1+1=2 and they’re ready to tell you why.  But life is so much more complex and God became a human being in Jesus (a fact the JWs do not believe) to enter into our complexity.

I believe I am sent as a witness to enter into the complexity of this neighborhood and this city and help those who hear his voice, soften their hearts to him and let him in.  They’re letting me in, even in the storefronts on Broad Street, and I pray that’s a good start.

“Good Morning” means something… I hope

I stood outside in the rain today for an hour to see who would talk to me.  Between 8 and 9 in the morning, especially when it isn’t raining but even when it is, South Broad Street’s sidewalk is a river of people streaming to work.  This morning, the bells of St. Rita’s started and ended my morning discipline with bright sense of determination that contrasted with the gray day.

I just started my work as the Development Pastor at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington.  I’ve been charged to lead the charge in our next era of church planting.  Circle of Hope is one of the best kept secrets in town.  We need to get out there to find the next 100 people who want to partner with us  and Jesus in our mission.

It was not an ideal day to hit the street, but I had a good umbrella.  I had to use the time I had while I have it.  I stood in front of our building at 1125 S. Broad Street and I said “good morning” to people.  This is already an act of revolution unfortunately, but I wanted to go deeper.  I wanted to see if anyone would actually talk to me.  I wanted to see if any of those 100 partners were walking down Broad Street this morning.  I started out the hour thinking it would be great if people were interested in the flyers I was holding in my hand but by the end it dawned on me that these people would be back on Monday.  I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we created this sort of morning community  right here.  I could be that guy who smiles and says hello.  I might even be more intriguing than my brightly colored flyers, and certainly less disposable.”

This strategy comes from our proverb: “Our deliberate attempts to make disciples are “incarnational,” friend to friend, so we accept that what we do will almost never be instant.” (link)  I’m making friends on South Broad Street.  I pray that Jesus be here with us.