Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: John 1

Caring About Climate Catastrophe, Like a Chump

Paper or Plastic?

I walked  into my local coffee roaster on Earth Day and discovered that they had switched their bean packaging from paper to plastic. I know and love these people so I did not hold back my protest with the barista who rang me up.  “Yo, tell the owner [name redacted because this isn’t really about his decision] that I object to the new plastic packaging. ”

The barista then told me, and he was correct, that the responsibility for climate catastrophe was foisted upon the consumer. The real culprits in this crisis are major corporations. I said, “I know, you’re right, I’m down for advocacy, but I’m going to do my part too. Give your boss my message, I’m serious.”

Later on that day as I was praying through Psalm 24 with Jesus Collective, I reflected on the encounter and the overwhelming cynicism that had already flooded the barista and was well past the banks in me. Can I make a difference? Do my choices matter? Can I get out of caring about paper or plastic? I keep finding myself caring and I was wondering why. Should I take the smart barista’s out, or stay on the hook?

I have decided to stay on the hook. But not at all because I think my actions will end the end of the world we humans are so diligently working on.

Fools for Christ and the Forces of Evil

I want to be a fool for Christ. I want to do the thing that does not make sense to the world or to me. By “the world” I mean those organized against the Truth in Jesus Christ in any number of ways — exclusively scientific rationalist philosophers, pocket lining lobbyists, profit driven vaccine executives, anyone who is decidedly unkind, unapologetic white supremacists — just a few examples.

The forces of evil are more organized, I suspect, than we usually give them credit for. The world is actually organized against the truth in many ways. Some of it happened gradually, other parts were decided emphatically. But the way we experience that organization is mostly unobtrusive. It’s the white noise of how we are together as humans, and much of it remains unexamined. One really good way to tune our radio-hearts to these interfering frequencies is to do something that just does not compute. Let us be as discordant with that underlying sound as possible and we will discover where the distinctions are. Let us be fools for Christ.

Who I Am and Who I Want to Be

I rely very much on my own power for any number of things in my life. I’m a big guy, with a big personality. My personal power has achieved much in my life. Add that to my positional power as a white man born in a country grasping to maintain its empire status and you can see how easy it would be for me to trust my own ability more than anything. I often do this, Lord save me. I like getting stuff done. I like believing that my decisions matter. It’s a tempting myth to live by. If we all just get together and push in the same direction, we can make all the changes we need.

Thank God for you,  Greta Thunberg, I will show up again to your Climate Strikes, I will vote for candidates that shake your hand to honor you. Thank God for big ideas like the Green New Deal. Yes, it seems wise to me to do something that drastic to stop this madness, even if it’s risky enough to potentially bankrupt the country . Thank God for the barista who knows his stuff, and can site the historic moment the oil companies began to shirk their responsibility.  Again, you’re right. But in this gratitude i do not find my hope.

I’m turning my cynicism on its head in order to trust the Truth instead of just some truths as far as I can discern them to be true and influence others to think the same. I’m saying, I don’t care if I’m wrong. How could I be right to say, “Unless someone like me cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better, it’s not”? How could I know if enough people will ever care? How could I be right about that? The only thing I can be right about is trusting Jesus. I cannot love my right action so much that I begin to trust it over him. I want a paper bag for my coffee beans because I want to care — when it matters and when it does not matter. I’m not protecting myself anymore from being a chump.

I could be wrong, I could be right. I love Jesus through whom everything was made that has been made. In him is life. And that life is the light of all humankind. It lights me up! And I want to do something diligently to celebrate his beautiful life as i see it in so many wonderful ways. Even if it doesn’t “work” to save the world, it will continue to work to save me.

A Shirtless Dancing Guy for Your Joy

Min 0:00 Just a shirtless dancing guy

In 2009, on Memorial Day Weekend, there was a music festival in the town of George in the state of Washington. And at this “Sasquatch Festival” a shirtless man started dancing. But his dance solo became an irresistible dance party in a matter of minutes and some blessed person captured it on video for the rest of the world’s much needed inspiration.

I can’t stop watching it because as a Jesus follower I feel a lot like a ridiculous shirtless dancing man when I am doing half of the things I do.  Sometimes that feels good — “Yeah! Take a look at my freak flag flyin’!” Sometimes that feels terrible — “This is ridiculous! What am I doing with my hands? Where is my shirt?”

But I think that the almost 22 million people who have watched this YouTube video are attracted to this dancer because they long for that kind of  transformational moment to happen to them. The courage, faith, hope, influence, passion, fun and togetherness we witness when we watch him being himself becoming a raucous throng brings me joy every time I watch it (and I have watched it at least a dozen times.)

The first time I watched it I actually cried. Maybe it was the longing to be together like that. The contrast between then and our Covid-19-isolated-now is almost too much to bear. Maybe it was just the longing for a post-Covid-19 future, but I think it was more. I long for this kind of joy to spread in the world. I long for this kind of success, honestly. As I persist in my faithfulness to Jesus, I want the fruit of an uncontrollable party.  Let this video be a parable that inspires us to not give up. Also, let it be to me (and maybe you, too) a reminder not try so dang hard. Please watch the video, I loved it so much, I thought it needed a play by play on my blog.

Min 0:20 Green shirt guy joins in.

Maybe the videographer started a little bit in ridicule? — “Hee, hee, look at this crazy guy!” But the power of the moment quickly transcended any shred of potential ridicule. Because this shirtless dancing guy’s energy spreads.

The first disciple shows up at min 0:20 of the video. Green shirt guy runs the risk of stealing shirtless dancing guy’s spotlight. Is green shirt guy ridiculing him too? No, he can’t be, because shirtless dancing guy welcomes him to the party of one. They clasp hands for a moment. Shirtless dancing guy loves having a partner. We don’t know if his intention was to start something, but he does. I tend to think he was just being himself and then something beautiful happened.

Praise God for green shirt guy and for everyone like him. The ones who will join in on the crazy, the early adopters, the ones who were looking for a party. Bless them. Shirtless dancing guy is not an incredible dancer. He doesn’t care. Green shirt guy is even worse, but that does not matter. he somersaults and cartwheels poorly. He shakes his booty and starts making a movement where a movement may have never happened.

I can think of a couple people in my life who gave me the courage to keep dancing. The little ember of my energy needed someone else to burn. There have been moments when I thought I might just burn out. I needed a green shirt guy and I am forever grateful for all the one’s who have joined me.

Min 0:54 Black shirt guy shows up.

The second disciple arrives. At min 0:54 black shirt guy gets in on the action and now it’s really getting fun.  They dance and fall down together. Praise God for all the black shirt guys of the world. The ones who see what is happening and get happening with it. Now it is apparent that there is a welcome in this group. Black shirt guy thinks, “Green shirt guy was welcome so why shouldn’t I be welcome?” That’s all they needed. Green shirt guy opened the door and black shirt guy walks right through it without hesitation.

It reminds me of the first disciples of Jesus in John 1. The first thing Andrew did after joining Jesus in his dance party was to find and include Simon (later named Peter by Jesus). The first thing Philip did after joining the dance troupe was to find Nathanael.  Andrew and Philip are green shirt guys. Simon and Natanael are black shirt guys. I’m so glad they joined the Jesus dance party because it eventually spread to me and now I get to dance too.

Min 1:15 The tipping point.

The avalanche begins at min 1:15. A whole group of people hop into the dancing and then the rest of the video is just a growing joy. What started as just a shirtless guy letting his freak flag fly became something so much more than I imagine he had ever imagined.

I am encouraged by this because as much as I want to make an avalanche of love like this happen among the people around me, I have no idea what little pebble will start the big rocks to rolling. This is much bigger then shirtless dancing guy and the things I do are so much bigger than me. If I controlled the world, my avalanches would regularly be the disasters to which this metaphor owes its origin. Why would I want to burry people in the rubble of what I alone think is best?

And yet that is what I want. I really, really want my proverbial dancing to spread. But I must learn to give my gifts in the humility of shirtless dancing guy. I do not know what is best. And if you have ever been to a music festival you know this: there is always a shirtless dancing guy. Not every freak-flag-flying fest results in an avalanche of joy. “Is that okay?” I ask myself. If I’m honest, my answer is “No,” and I think that “no” is a cap on the outlet of my purest and best energy. Striving for more than enjoying the music of life with God, I know this in my spirit, tamps down my creativity and all that might be  planted in me that is as irresistible as shirtless dancing guy’s power.  Sometimes there is an avalanche. Sometimes there’s just a shirtless guy dancing. Keep dancing.

Min 2:30 Out of control dance party

By min 2:30 people are running across the lawn to get to the dance party. It is out of control. The spark lit by one shirtless dancing guy’s passion has grown into a wildfire from which I hope you can feel at least some of the heat, across the decade since this was filmed and among the millions who have basked in its warmth across the YouTube screen.

At min 2:52 a person behind the camera says in amazement,  “How did he do that? How did he do that?” Perhaps she was the one who began her video with maybe a little bit of ridicule. Whether the video ended like it did or not, she would have been filming greatness, but she didn’t understand it when she hit record. I haven’t brought any more understanding to it with my play by play. My sole aim is appreciation and inspiration. This is not a “how to spark a revolution or a revival” post. I join her in her amazement — “How did he do that? How did he do that?”

And though I don’t know all the answers (I might not know even one), I am filled up to overflowing by this video so much that I had to share it with you. May it be a blessing for your hope. May it be a spark of joy that gets you through today, through the hesitation that keeps you from your own best kind of dancing, through the darkness of terrors in this benighted world, and through to a glimpse of Jesus dancing, as I am sure he does often.

Watch it again! https://youtu.be/GA8z7f7a2Pk

 

We Know More Than We Comprehend

I was on retreat trying not to question my instincts too much, because retreats are basically practice for listening to the Spirit and your instincts and the Spirit often sound the same. Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” came to mind. I’m a big Gerard Manley Hopkins fan and there are kingfishers on the lake near the place I was retreating. I pulled up the poem and decided to memorize it. I sat in front of a window and watched the sun set into complete darkness as I read and repeated my way through the poem.  By the time I went to sleep that night I had it in my heart.

In the morning I made some coffee and went down to the deck on the lake where the kingfishers live and I recited the poem to the waking day.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

This guy describes it so well on Youtube

There was an exhileration to preaching this sermon to the lake, trees, stones and birds who stirred in the early morning. I felt like I was really selfing, as the poem proclaims all mortal things are made to do. I might have even been justicing as the just man, or dare I say Christing as the one in whose face Christ plays. It felt true what John said in the beginning of his gospel; that without Christ, nothing was made that has been made. There is a completion of purpose in enjoying the world as it is — with it’s beautiful sounds resounding in wells, and love resounding in faces. Christ plays through it all. I was feeling that as I recited Gerard Manley Hopkins words and it inspired me to fill my heart up with more.

So I decided to memorize the prologue to John. Only the first 14 verses would fit on the piece of paper on which I neatly wrote it out so I stopped at “Full of grace and truth”

In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God,
And the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning;
Through him everything was made.
Without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life,
And that life was the light of humankind.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John
Who came as a witness to testify about the light,
So that through him all might believe.
He himself was not the light;
He came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone
Was coming into the world,
And though the world was made through him
The world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own,
And his own did not receive him.

But to those who did receive him —
To those who believed in his name,
He gave the right to become children of God,
Children born not of natural descent
Nor human decision or a man’s will
But born of God!

The word became flesh
And made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory,
The Glory of the one and only son,
Full of grace and truth.

I learned this poem before the thin paper was completely soaked with sweat, as I was holding it in my hand puffing up Mt. Tammany in the Delaware Water Gap as fast as I could. Maybe the heavy breathing and cardio impressed the words deeper into my heart than usual, but it has had a powerful impact on me. It was like I was full of grace and truth too. It was like the glory I was seeing on that beautiful day was the Glory of the one and only son. It was like my body bounding up the rocks was part of it all.

Getting scripture down into me feels more like communion than regular Bible Study. Choosing a passage like John 1:1-14 was probably a good idea because I’m not sure it is best to comprehend. It is designed for an understanding of a different kind. Want to join me in my memorization project. Let’s fill our heads and hearts with the grace and truth God filled Jesus with!

Here are a few other passages I recommend memorizing

Ephesians 3:14-21

John 15:1-17

Genesis 1:1-31

Psalm 23:1-6

Luke 2:46-55

1 John 3:1-24 (I’m working on this one next)

 

There is Beauty We Don’t See

Sunday night turned was poetry night at Circle of Hope’s 7pm meeting on Marlton Pike in Pennsauken. Joyce Fazio and a team led us to consider how poetry can tap us into a deeper connection with ourselves and reality.

Words! “Words are a super power,” Scott Sorrentino said. Jesus, in John 1 is named the Word, the Logos. God incarnate was and is the Word–the organizing logic, the naming of all things, the content of everything, the initial act, the speech coming from the Source and the Source spoken–yes, the Word. And we have words. And we too can name, and speak, and reason, and act.

We can word too.
We are word-ing when we meet together with Jesus.
Then for sure, yes,
Certainly then, at least,
If not always, but then, yes,
when we are with Him so purposefully.

I love birds because they can fly. I cannot fly but when I discovered Gerard Manley Hopkin’s poem, the Windhover, I thought that my ability to word could come closer to flying than I had previously realized. In this poem, Hopkins names the thing I longed for in flight more skillfully than I may ever achieve. He writes about a flying bird and marvels at “the achieve of, the mastery of the thing” in a way that made me marvel at his own “achieve of, the mastery of the thing.” His word-ing of flying demonstrated mastery in two directions. I wanted to share it with you (I had to).

On this site some of his arcane language has easy footnotes: poetryfoundation.org/poems/44402/the-windhover
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
    dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
    As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
     
   No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
Hopkins gets to the title of this blog post in the last three lines. He describes in great detail the moment that stirred his heart; when he noticed the Windhover, or kestrel, and intensely enjoyed it for what it was. The naming of its beauty intensified it. Realy experiencing beauty may be as much naming it as perceiving it. Words make reality more real, if only because they are shared, and maybe only with your self-same ears is enough. Like praying out loud when you’re alone. Word-ing is worth the time and energy (maybe all time and energy). There is so much hidden, unnamed beauty. We could spend our lives looking for it and never find it all (thank God). “The world is charged with the grandeur of God” Hopkins says in another of his famous poems .The stirring of our hearts is just the occasion of our knowing and engaging fully with what is always infinitely present. It’s “no wonder” this bird so enchants him, because even dirt is shiny beautiful when turned out of the packed field (sillion is a very rare, old word for the mound made by dirt turned up by a plow). And because even wood turning to ash dies in flamboyant brightness. There is so much beauty to see and to name.
We gather on Sundays to see it and name it together, among other things. Hope to see you there soon.