Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: incarnation (page 1 of 2)

Why Showing Up is Even More Important in Advent

Ordinary Pilgrims

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

Jesus’ Specifics and Ours

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

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

Advent Details

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

The Unbearable Loneliness of Being Anyone at All

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

We Need To Practice

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

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

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

A Week of Being Jesus

In Circle of Hope we say Jesus is best revealed incarnationally- Here’s a little newspaper of how that worked out for me this past week (spoiler- it did!)

photo 4Monday Afternoon–  When the Compassion Core Team heard about the #ReclaimMLK march happening in Philadelphia they mobilized 200 people from Circle of Hope to show up and join the thousands who marched for fully funded, democratically controlled schools; $15/hr minimum wage and the right to form unions; and a fully empowered, independent police review board and an end to “Stop and Frisk.”  We were acting to resist and empower.  We were calling out our national sin of racism on the prophet Martin’s day.  Circle of Hope has resistance and restoration at the heart of our mission and our peeps responded to the call.  It was a joy to be with so many of my comrades.  Let’s keep marching.  Jesus is with us.

Monday Night– We gathered to approve our plan for the first year of our “Second Act.”  Afterward, the coordinators of Circle of Hope offered me the position as pastor at our congregation at Marlton and Crescent, right off of 130 near the old airport circle.  The “interview” was more of a time for affirmation and exhortation.  I was so grateful to be partnered with such an amazing group of people among whom speaking the truth in love is common place.  They knew my number to 2 decimal places!  They knew me for who I was, strengths and growing edges, and they desired with me the New Self I am becoming in Christ.  I attribute this to years of loving each other but also to the discernment in the Spirit to which they had committed themselves.  I was challenged and encouraged, and warned and loved.

photo 5Wednesday- On Wednesday morning i met with a cell leader at 7:00am in Old City (THAT”S RIGHT 7 AM!)  We drank really good pour over coffee at Minagerie and dreamed about what was next for our mission in Collingswood, NJ; and we got to know each other a bit better–because we’re drawn together not by affinity or even proximity (he moved from far away to be with us), but by our mission and our unique expression of Jesus in the Philadelphia metro.  He’s awesome.  The bike ride was cold.

photo 1Thursday- My Cell group was meeting and my car ended up being a bus.  Everyone piled in as we collected folks from around West and South Philly. It was a fun ride.  One of our cell mates led us in considering Judas’ betrayal.  Another worried about the curses he was reading about in Genesis and we encouraged him with the truth that Jesus has broken every curse.  I have a note card in my pocket with a prayer request from another cell mate (we all swapped them as another cell mate led us to do)  He’s traveling across the country and is thinking of his family here in Philly.  He’s on my mind and on my heart.

photo 2Saturday- At the Love Feast this weekend, our uncommon culture of vulnerability and trust was demonstrated as 13 people joined in our covenant.  At the heart of our church is a group of folks who have explicitly agreed to be a people.  We are dedicated to our common mission and strategy and we hold the whole thing together by our bonds of love in Christ.  At the risk of sounding grandiose, we hold the forces of evil at bay with our bonds of love too (check out the Book of the Dun Cow and the Book of Sorrows by Walter Wangerin for an awesome fictional exploration of this truth.)  When the congregation sang together the room was brimming with the Holy Spirit.  My heart was full, my ears were full, my chest was full.  It was powerful.

photo 3Sunday Afternoon-  My cell and I showed up to help our new friends from Cincinnati move into their new home.  Even though most of the crew was too late to help– because the early birds like me were way too strong and fast :)– I was touched by my cell groups readiness to be there for these folks we barely knew.  Seriously though, how much would it suck to move all your stuff by yourself- that does not happen in community- period.

Sunday Night- The Public Meeting, our weekly party, was full of love too.  The band led us in singing songs, 6 out of 8 of which written by one of our musicians or one of our close allies.  The creativity among us is evidence of Jesus’ Spirit enlivening us, as was the artful presentation and ways to engage that the team designed for us.  Epaphroditus gave us reason to consider what really being uncomfortable might be like (Check out Philippians 4).  And lots of connections were made with new and old friends.

This may be my longest post to date, which is evidence of how much God is doing among us–and this is just my experience!  What’s yours?

How slow is too slow?

When I was in third grade my music teacher, Ms. Smedley, taught me all kinds of ridiculous songs that I for some reason remember all the words too.  One of them was this little calypso/reggae jam with two verses that had the same melody but two different rhythms that reflected their dichotomous lyrics.

“Hurry, hurry, hurry come on the run/ Hurry, hurry, hurry, no time for fun/ Hurry, hurry, hurry, here comes the sun/ When we are finished there will be time for fun.

Alright I come now, alright I come/ No need to hurry, no need to run/ It is too early where is the sun?/ I am so tired that I cannot run”

This is exactly like the one I have- they’re still selling it on amazon

She also gave me a plastic bust of Beethoven that I still have, but that’s not really what I want to talk about.  This song came to mind because I’ve been having discussions with some of my partners about evangelism and urgency.  How quickly should we move on from those who are not interested in Jesus and our church?

One of my friends was saying that there is no game but the long game with some people.  They are so burned or so antagonistic that the only way they are ever going to follow Jesus is after a long season of loving by the Christians in their lives.  There’s a hefty hunk of truth in my friend’s discernment, but I’m not ready to settle into that arrangement yet.  I’m singing the first verse of the song.  I have more urgency.

My urgency is rooted in my belief that the Son of Man will come like a thief in the night.  Jesus may come back tomorrow (and I hope he does) and I want as many people as possible to recognize and embrace Him when he does.  I have a sense of responsibility to the charge that Jesus gave us to go and make disciples of all nations, and I am acutely aware of how limited I am in time and capacity.  I want to make my efforts count.

There are hundreds of thousands of people within a couple of miles of me who know very little about who Jesus actually is.  The argument could be made that any Usonian today has heard the story of Jesus so the basic urgency we see in Acts and the rest of the New Testament is not really applicable to our situation.  Our culture is post-Christian as in “totally over Jesus”, which is quite different fro the pre-Christian culture of the 1st Century Mediterranean.

But I don’t think the facts as filtered through modernism, sarcasm and even the dead churches so many of us were exposed to as children are really the Gospel.  That story of Jesus is not the Gospel.  The Gospel is Jesus Himself and Jesus is alive in us in a way that many have not experienced before.  Taking ourselves that seriously may be the hardest step to take, but once we do our evangelism strategy is just a matter of how heavily we lean into that truth.  Peoples’ bad experiences with the Church, or even just their bad impressions of the Church can be overcome.  There is still Good News that is actually news to a lot of people.  Circle of Hope’s strategy to include folks before they make a commitment to follow Jesus allows for this news to be seen and heard.  We need to experience the power of God among us for our doubts and our wounds to be assuaged and healed.

The question “How slow is too slow?” comes down to how insistent I am in trying to include my friends in our community before they are Christians.  How many invitations is too pushy and how quickly will they write me off if I “cross the line”?  I don’t think it’s my job to worry about that.  I want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to be in a life giving relationship with Jesus, and God wants that too.  Protecting friends from my deepest fulfillment is crazy.  If they are offended by my joy, so be it.  Of course this attitude could quickly slip into an off-putting arrogance that is typical of many evangelists (and I am probably more prone to that than some), but I think the invitation can be made in a way that actually protects a person’s dignity, especially when they know I’m a Christian and they know it’s really important to me.  Someone may filter me out of their life because I am too “up front” about Jesus, but I prefer that to filtering Jesus out of my life–my life which is nothing more than my relationships and conversations (i.e. If I’m not bringing Jesus into my everyday conversation does He still have a place there at all?)

The classic slow cooker

Patterns of relating around things other than Jesus are quickly established because Jesus is a taboo subject.  It’s hard to break out of those patterns once they are established because the build up to the “reveal” of Jesus brings with it more anxiety.  The more we allow Jesus to remain in the margins of our relationships and the conversations within them the harder it will be to get Him into the center of someone’s life.  All this being said, I have had several long term relationships that have eventually resulted in a person becoming a Christian.  I’m not writing anyone off, I’m just being ready for them to write me off.  I kept Jesus at the center of our relationship (and it wasn’t that hard).  I regularly invited them to Circle of Hope events.  I told them about my relationship with God.  I shared with them the work I was doing.

So I err on the side of “hurry, hurry, hurry” instead of “alright I come” because 1) Jesus is coming back tomorrow, 2) The effect of marginalizing Jesus in my everyday conversation, marginalizes Him in my heart, and 3) It’s okay if someone doesn’t want to be a Christian and doesn’t want to relate to me because I am.

P.S. Bringing it all together – Radiolab did a story on how Beethoven may have wanted his music played much faster than we ever heard it http://www.radiolab.org/story/269783-speedy-beet/

I won at Quizzo and you can too

The whole "Rhythmic Quiznastics 2016" Team (*name subject to change- every time)

The whole “Rhythmic Quiznastics 2016” Team (*name subject to change- every time)

Last night after literally months of toil, my Quizzo team won a $50 bar tab at New Deck Tavern for our first place finish.  We were very excited.  We were VERY EXCITED.  I was also excited because everyone on the team was a stranger to me a few months ago.  Making friends is hard and it’s at the core of Circle of Hope‘s strategy for making disciples so it’s worth thinking about for a couple of minutes.  We think that Jesus is best revealed incarnationally- as in through our relationships- human to human- flesh to flesh- carne to carne.  But when was the last time you made a new friend?

Some of you will say, “yesterday and last week and this morning.”  Others will say 5 years ago or college or “I don’t really have that many friends.”  I looked at my life about 6 months ago and realized I might have made acquaintances at the “yesterday and last week and this morning” rate but I wasn’t really making very many new actual friends at all.  Whatever the reason for our relative isolations (and they are as numerous as we are), we need to get with Jesus in order to overcome our hang ups to meet the next person and expose them to what God is doing in our life together.  If you can first get over the hang ups you may have about being intentional to share Christ in your relationships then you might want to get down to business and figure out how to make some new friends.

What I’m thinking we have to do is very practical so I made a list (they happen to alliterate so I’m obliged to title them Practical P’s):

1) Prioritize

If you do not make time for new people and new environments you will stay in your rut.  We are creatures of habit, and though many of our habits are very good, we will have to not do some things in order to the other things we have prioritized.  Figuring out how to make time for some new people takes dedication, deal making with family members, and follow through.  Make a plan and do the plan.  Whatever will be what it was before forever.

2) Pray

Making friends is good for anyone regardless of the reasons.  I’m making friends because I want to give people a chance to meet a Christian like me.  I also have a desire to be known and to share who I am with people and for them to share that with me.  We’re wired for it (me especially).  So our prayers are for the fulfillment of our desires as human beings and the fulfillment of our mission as Christians.  It’s neat how there’s no need for compartmentalization.  We pray because we know that we are only scattering seeds, God makes faith grow.  We pray for those who might receive us and we pray that we will have the courage to risk being received and also rejected.

3) Pay attention

Listen to others, see what they are interested in, see where they are hurting and needy.  Bless them with your presence.  By the power of the Holy Spirit we can perceive what many who are consumed in themselves cannot.  I was surprised and subsequently honored by the opportunities I had to listen to my new friends just by making myself available.  I’m convinced that we are all much more isolated than we appear from the outside.  If we listen and look closely, we will find those who are ready.

4) Pursue

It seems we are trained to bounce off of each other.  Hanging out at a bar could easily be ephemeral- a fleeting moment of connection.  But you can look someone up on facebook, or ask them for their number or email.  The tricky part for that for me is that it seems that doing that implicitly expresses a sexual desire in most societal circumstances.  Yeah, it’s just weird- we’re weird and we’ll have to get over it and do the weird thing.  I think that most people feel locked out in that way though.  The opportunities for intimacy are relegated to sexual encounters- and what paltry opportunities most of the time!  It’s hard for a lot of people to connect.  So blurt it out- the worst thing that happens is that you never see them again, and that was going to happen anyway.

Going it together

I went to King of Prussia for lunch today.  My friend Phil works in a business park.  I had never been to a business park before.  It was very interesting.  It got me thinking about how incredibly astute we need to be at our isolation to remain separated they way we are.

Glaxosmithkline was across the street (it’s a bit shinier)

Out of the manicured wilderness spring dozens of big 1970s buildings.  Brick and bulbous yet nondescript on the outside, the inside of Phil’s office was bright with color and full to the gills with people.  I broke onto the cubicle floor with little resistance in search of a bathroom as I waited for Phil.  Cubicles are half walls now, so you could see everybody on the floor.  The bathroom was bustling with people amicably talking about sports and other acceptable topics of conversation.

When I got back to the reception area I sat across from the sandwich lady.  I noted the lack of eatery options in this sprawling facility.  “So do you take the food around to the people in your cart?” I asked her.  I had seen stuff like this on TV!

“No, Diane, the receptionist, sends an email, but there’s no Diane, so there’s no email.”  She answered.

The room full of hungry people did not know her bean salads had arrived because Diane wasn’t there to send an email to announce the bean salad’s presence.  It was interesting how together everyone was, and how very not.  An outpost of teeming humanity in the once teaming with game no-longer-woods outside of Philadelphia held together by email alone despite the borderline absurdity of this concentration of bodies in this should-be-secluded locale.

Phil and I crossed the parking lot to eat at a cafe in another building.  We were meeting up to talk about including people in Circle of Hope Broad and Washington.  Of course, Phil had a regular lunch crew that he had to let know he wouldn’t be there.  My observations about these people’s separation are mostly artificial, but the setting was too fascinating not to report and to correlative to our conversation.

Let’s not be this (I don’t think we are)

In thinking about the people that Phil knows and reflecting on our own experience as Christians, we lamented the isolation of faith into our very private lives.  Thoughts about the meaning of life are hard.  Thoughts about death and the afterlife cause a lot of anxiety.  Thoughts about confronting our limitations are painful.  If we are to follow some of the prevailing wisdom of our age, we should figure these things out by ourselves.  Regardless of what conclusions we are leaning toward, that’s hard!  But for many reasons it is in fashion to come up with everything out of our own head for it to be valid.  Why do we have to go it alone?

Phil and I were figuring out how to help our friends “go it together”–with us.  We wanted to be with them in their struggle and be sensitive to the pain they’ve experienced, but without cutting the part of us off that gives us meaning.  We don’t want to convince them that their isolation is wrong.  We want to convince them that we love them. Sometimes it seems like we have to censor our hope in Jesus to do that, and maybe we do at first, but sometimes our hesitation to be ourselves in Christ is more about how similar our pain is to those who have,  facing similar circumstances, decided to abandon the faith, nominal or otherwise, of their family of origin than it is about protecting those we are trying to love.  We need to revisit that pain with God and be healed.

All the commands that Jesus gave us are impossible to achieve without Him.  The Holy Spirit enables us to do what we are called to do by healing our past wounds, giving us courage, and even the words to say in those perceived as delicate moments of conversation.  It’s all about trust.  Our faith stays so small if we give it zero exercise.  Relying on God is really hard to do just in our heads.  We need to risk something to be saved again.  We need to die to something to experience the power of the resurrection now.  We need to “be with” as God is “with us.”  We need to “go it together” with those who are following Jesus and with those who are not.

 

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.

Subvertising: let’s use advertising to supplant advertising

I remember seeing these weird stickers and spray painted stencils of Andre the Giant when I first moved to Philadelphia in 1996.  I was just a kid and Circle of Hope was just an idea.  Now Shepard Fairey’s OBEY design is almost 25 years old and it’s on a T-shirt worn by what seems like 1 in 10 of the college kids I’m seeing these days, and Circle of Hope is very much more than an idea and into it’s 17th year.  I’d like to see these parallels converge a bit more as I work to develop our mission.

Shepard Fairey’s “Endless Power” Design

Shepard Fairey is a subvertiser.  He’s managed to get really mainstream which is sort of weird but he’s one of the most well known subvertisers I know of. Wikipedia’s article about subvertising says “the key process involves redefining or even reclaiming one’s environment from a perceived corporate beast.”  I don’t know if Shepard would be so direct but one of the recent designs on his website obeygiant.com speaks that sort of language.  He takes an obvious message- “we are going to run out of gas” and makes it look cool.  He puts a funny mustache on the image of the emperor and it sells like hotcakes.  I do believe that he is not at this just to get rich (I think he’s doing that though) but he’s also hoping that his message is noticed on the shirts of all those college kids regardless of why the individual is wearing it.

Jesus is interested in reclaiming our environment from the corporate beast too, so I think we ought to figure out how to do it.  Of course we wouldn’t advertise (some of my friends in Circle of Hope can’t even stomach saying the word in the context of our mission) but we would subvertise and we ought to think hard about how to get our name and even our “brand” associated with resistance and restoration, questioning the powers that be, and liberation from oppression.  This is the message that is resonating with those who are buying the OBEY brand if only subliminally for some.

We want to do more than wear T-shirts though.  We want to supplant advertising and fuel the rebellion that Jesus is leading.

Another thing that I think is interesting about Shepard’s ideas is his popularization of the phrase “the medium is the message.”  It was introduced in Marshall McLuhan’s most widely known book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964.  Though not exactly a corollary, our incarnational approach to evangelism is akin to McLuhan’s and Shepard’s idea.  Our medium for transmitting the gospel is the community.  We are the gospel as much if not more than we preach it.  This has it’s roots in Anabaptist theology, yes, but more so in the message and modus operandi of Jesus.  He said, “I am the Way” –it’s me.  He went around preaching about other things too but he makes it clear in all four of the gospels that the most important thing is not a thing or idea at all–He’s Jesus.  The promise from Jesus is “trust in me and I will give you all I have from the Father, including eternity.”  When I say “we are the gospel” I’m not supplanting Jesus but I am being like Him.  No, I am not the Way but I believe the best way to communicate Jesus to those who do not yet know Him is to invite them into a way of being.  We say “We create an environment where people can connect with God and act for redemption.”  The medium, us as followers of Jesus and temples of the living God, is the message.

Unfortunately, just being who we are does not suffice in a world of noise and isolation.  If anyone is to be exposed to who we are we’re going to have to be conspicuously.  I think a really good way to do that is subvertising.  Let’s supplant advertising by using the medium, speaking the first language of our consumerist culture and see if anyone will notice. I’m praying they will.

Some ideas

  • Manifestos like this one printed on newsprint and inserted in the free papers like Citypaper and Philadelphia Weekly (if they live off of sex advertisements I think we can exploit them for Jesus’s cause)
  • Book marks in the books sold at bookstores or mock subscription postcards in magazines (I think I should probably be kicked out of UPENN’s bookstore, don’t you?)
  • Mock customer appreciation cards like this one

Print

  • Stickers like these
Stickers from the Street Team's "We Agree" campaign

Stickers from the Street Team’s “We Agree” campaign

Circle of Hope has a Street Team led by Luke Bartolomeo who designed this cool stuff.  We’re interested in these ideas.  Would you like to join us?  Let me know.

Benjamin White
267-825-5348
[email protected]

Seizing Opportunities for Joy Sharing

BohnanzaSmash Up and Pig Pen.  Those are the three card games I played on Saturday night at Circle of Hope’s Monthly “2nd Saturday Game Night Extravaganza!!!!”   I won in Bohnanza growing rows of beans-green beans were my cash crop.  I won in Smash Up too with a group of Zombies and Pirates.  I lost in pig pen despite having two buckets of super feed- but 2 out of three ain’t bad.

I only played 3 games because I was more interested in helping people connect and meeting new friends (my favorite thing to do).  I was amazed at the diversity of people who were there.  I was surprised that so many were there at all!  Apparently there aren’t a lot of opportunities in the Philly area to play games, especially weird bean farming games like Bohnanza and unpublished indie games like Pig Pen.  It was fun to make a space for community to be cultivated.

By the time I finished Bohnanza there were about 50 people there.  There weren’t enough tables!  I had to take the opportunity to tell them who we were.  I wasn’t really sure what I was going to say when I called for everyone’s attention but this is essentially what came out.  “Hey everybody I just want to welcome you, my name is Ben White, I’m one of the pastors here at Circle of Broad and Washington, the church that meets here in this space.  We’re glad you’re here because we like to have fun.  We want to share our joy and yeah, that’s it.  Thanks for coming.”

I probably could have thought of something better but I had this sense of urgency that the opportunity needed to be taken.  I wanted us to be known.  I wanted our new friends to know that we liked board games and we liked them.  I had to seize the opportunity to do that.  Being a Jesus follower is kind of like these card games I was playing in that it’s often a lot about opportunity.  The old adage, “You got to play the cards your dealt,” proves true in these newer card games, and in sharing the truth about Jesus.  Having an elaborate long term strategy is a good way to lose, especially if you pass up present opportunities for a better one that only might come.  If you’re with 50 people in a Circle of Hope space, it doesn’t matter that much what you say you got to make yourself known and share your joy.

So I’ll take another opportunity here on this blog:  Jesus brings me great joy.  He gives me a purpose that is hard enough to dedicate my life to it, but easy enough in the end to not be afraid to fail.  He forgives me and provides me with a reason and a way to forgive others which clears the way for unhesitating connection and real community.  He loves me enough down deep to help me be vulnerable in sharing my joy at all.  I get excited about that and I want others to take the opportunity He is and receive all these things and more.

Trying to be question marks on July 4th

ontheparkway When you wear a sandwich sign some people will yell across a crowd to you.  I learned this and a lot of other things at the Party on the Parkway on July 4th, this past Thursday.  The first person to yell across the crowd got my attention by reciting what he had memorized of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (My sign asked, “are any truths self evident?”)  The reciter, whose name was Anthony, felt a little like he was being quizzed when I asked him, “So what does that mean to you?”  I assured him, there wasn’t a right answer and he loosened up a bit.  He gave me his email address later because he was interested in what we were doing as a Circle of Hope.

 

questions

Four friends and I decided that since our fair city was throwing a party on the Ben Franklin Parkway and thousands of people were going to be there, we ought to be there too.  But how do you engage with people in a crowd?  How do you break the wall of isolation between strangers?  We thought we’d try a sandwich sign.  I made three signs with three questions lifted from the language of the Declaration of Independence.  “What is liberty?”  “Who is deaf to the voice of Justice?” and “Are any truths self evident?”  The back of the sandwich sign said “#declareyourself” (our tweet hashtag that we thought we invented but was already in use by this organization).

The questions turned out to be way too deep or esoteric for many people to engage with.  One young lady just wanted to sign the Declaration of Independence.  A lot of people were ready to declare themselves in some way and we were ready to listen to them.  That was what we wanted to share: We are Circle of Hope and we want to listen to you because as one of flyers said “You Matter“.  signingdeclarationWe also wanted to be known as a people who want to do something about the systems of injustice.  Putting question marks after “liberty” and “justice” and “self-evident truth?” is a subversive act.  Many people felt this and immediately wanted to know what we were protesting.  I had to refrain from my ready diatribes and answer, “We’re here to meet people and hear what you have to say–what do you think we should protest?  Oh, and hi, my name’s Ben, what’s yours?”

I got yelled at across the crowd two other times.  Once by a group of girls I had met earlier, who yelled my name in celebration when they saw me again.  That was fun.  The last time was by a woman who applauded our question mark after “liberty.”  She went on about how the 4th of July was a sham and we aren’t really free, and neither were the original declarers even after they won the Revolutionary War and certainly not oppressed people of that time.  I enthusiastically agreed with her.  She was having fun with this.  Then I told her we were Circle of Hope, a church that was trying to help people get really free.  She let out a sigh of disgust and said, “Nope, I don’t do religion.  I’m free from religion too.”  I agreed that religious people had done a lot of oppressing but I could not convince her that Circle of Hope might be different.

Disappointing as that exchange was, she did confirm why we were there.  We needed to put a question mark after a lot of things, most importantly, after the preconceptions people have about the Church.  We’re working with a legacy of oppression.  She’s not the only one who thinks she needs to be free from religion.  I’m working to be the sort of religious person who challenges people’s notions of what it means to follow Jesus, who can be in and who can’t, and what Jesus is really up to in the world.  I’m praying that our question marks erode the resistance that is hardening the hearts of many.

 

Hoping the rain away

A couple of great ideas got postponed yesterday because of the threat of crazy rain and the reality of some rain.  It seems that new ideas for how we at Circle of Hope might meet people are bubbling up all over the place.  My friend Howard cooked up this great plan for public worship involving fiddles, flash mobs and fun.  That’s happening next Thursday, thank God.

My idea was a public art project.  I cut the word “hope” out of a piece of plywood.  I painted it white and bought a bunch of colorful paints.  The idea was to take it to the Dollar Stroll on  Baltimore Avenue last night and invite people to make their mark on HOPE.

hope

I’ve learned that hope is not an inexhaustible resource.  It is not a quality that a person has.  It is not a matter of will or positive thinking.  It is gift that needs to be tended and maintained.  At Circle of Hope we have organized ourselves to receive that gift from God on the regular and tend it together in our various circles.

Our art piece is a symbolic working out of who we’re trying to be.  We’ll be reaching out and touching hope.  We’ll be making our mark on hope.  We’ll be identifying ourselves in hope (our finger prints and all). We’ll be receiving hope in different ways as we smile at new faces and have fun while the new thing is created. We want people to know who we are and how we relate to Jesus.  We believe that God might lead us toward those who are looking for us.

And now, because of the rain, we’re waiting in hope to do the whole thing…

« Older posts