Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: pennsauken

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?

I actually hit the ground running

  1. It didn’t rain on the 4th day of January (today) so I went for a run. It IS New Year’s resolution time and all. I always take an opportunity to start or renew my discipline because I always need a chance to start again.

You may be like me. I’m an “all in” kind of guy. If I’m not going 100% toward my goal, if I fall off the wagon, if I don’t do what I said I was going to do perfectly, if I miss one day… I might as well just quit. What’s the point if it isn’t perfect? Hopefully you’re not like me, and hopefully I’m not like me this time either.

I was telling folks at our Sunday meeting at 3800 Marlton Pike this past Sunday, that we often aim for the wrong thing when we’re making resolutions. If we aim to BE something that we are not, we will probably never hit the mark, and we will probably quit quickly. But if we aim to DO something and get good at doing it we will be in better shape. BUT… the real spiritual genius is the person who aims to get good at not quitting. When we don’t do the thing we resolved to do and return to the discipline anyway. This is an area in which I need improvement. You might, too.

Didn’t make it this far (Cuthbert Blvd.) Tomorrow is another day!

Today I went running and, confession time, it totally sucked. I’ve been too long out of the habit. Mind you, I’ve run the 10 mile Broad Street Run in the past. I might have told you in the past that I actually like to run. Well I didn’t like it today. I ran to the Cooper River from my office in Pennsauken and back. It was two miles and I had to walk a couple times. I could be tempted to call this a total failure, not because it was, but because that’s the kind of guy I am (see above). But in those moments when I decided to throw my pasty legs back into a trot from a walk I felt a tiny triumph. I need to remember that triumph for next time so I’m writing a blog about it. I hope you can relate.

Rob Bell likes to talk about Hebrew words a lot. One of them he mentioned on his podcast again this week was T’Shuvah. Which often gets translated as “Repent” in English. But T’Shuvah comes from the Hebrew root that has to do with turning. It’s more like “come back!” than “Repent!” (i.e. “Stop sinning” or “Change your mind”). Returning is the key to spiritual discipline and discipline of any kind. You don’t need to succeed at your discipline every time. Be good at straying from your plan and returning to it. We need as many New Year’s days as we can get.

Remember (which is another way to return), you don’t need to become someone you are not, you need to return to who you really are. This body of mine can run, and I am returning to that. What can you do that you would like to return to? God is saying, “come back!”

You Have Enough – And Other Unpatriotic Sentiments

I recently learned that the location of our sharing garden in front of Circle of Hope at 3800 Marlton Pike in Pennsauken, NJ is where a war memorial once stood. In front of the fire house the patriotic firemen had installed a plaque to honor the war dead for the sacrifice on the altar of freedom. It was the “Highland Honor Roll” listing men from the area who died in World War II.  I love how we have superimposed sharing vegetables over top of that site. I don’t know what happened to the memorial but it never could have stayed on our property. Not because these men were dishonorable but because the cult of war is inherently anti-Christ.

Chris Hedges explained why very well in his 2002 ought-to-be-classic book, “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”,

“In the beginning war looks and feels like love. But unlike love it gives nothing in return but an ever-deepening dependence, like all narcotics, on the road to self-destruction. It does not affirm but places upon us greater and greater demands. It destroys the outside world until it is hard to live outside war’s grip. It takes a higher and higher dose to achieve any thrill. Finally, one ingests war only to remain numb.”

The US public is addicted to war and it’s underlying myth of redemptive violence because changing our minds would cost the legacy of the men of the Highland Honor Roll too much. We have written a story about them that requires the virtue of their death in service to our freedom as its primary moral. Whatever other meaning they may have made in their living pales in comparison to the death they gave. And there are enough of these little plaques all over the country to build a giant temple to the god of war who demands our allegiance like heroin demands an addict’s vein.

On the Fourth of July we are reminded to revere these lives for their participation in this addiction. I revere them for their belovedness and the tenderness that they demonstrated in their death. They remind us that no matter the reason war is about killing. They motivate me to find other ways to make the world a better place. Can we work just as hard at peace as the governments of the world do at war?

The sharing garden is an anti-war, pro-Christ sign of goodness in the world. We have enough to share just for sharing sake. We want to be known for saying “there is enough.” There is enough for you–there is enough for me–there is enough for everyone in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the anti-demand, the anti-addiction, the anti-destruction because he is the invitation giver, the satisfaction provider, and the creation starter and finisher.

This ends up being incredibly unpatriotic because we have decided as a nation to make our addiction around a very fragile lie. If I say there is enough then we don’t need another fix. If I share instead of protect what’s mine I refuse participation in what defines us as a nation. Of course I’m not alone in sharing. I’m not alone in saying “there is enough.” Others may say this but I think the only sufficient underwriting for those claims is the promise of God’s Kingdom fully come. Because the world is complex. Many do not have enough. Our government is not poised to change its central myth and we will need to deal with that messy reality for now.

That’s why the sharing garden is just a sign–a symbol of our allegiance, and thus worthy of a pledge, or a fireworks show, or a memorial. Thankfully it points to a reality much more substantial than the meaning drawn from the veins of soldiers. The promise is real. When Jesus says “that’s enough.” It’s enough.

 

Why not the Whole Delaware Watershed?

 We live in the megalopolis- the swath of concrete dominated land that stretches from Washington DC all the way up to Boston. In my neck of this urban and suburban mass of human concentration, the boundaries slip and slide like hikers boots on wet, mossy rocks. One minute you’re in Haddon Township, the next minute you’re in Haddon Heights, cross the street and you’re in Haddonfield. I can say now, after 3 months on the job (Monday was my 3 month-a-versary as Pastor of Circle of Hope Marlton and Crescent- woot!) that I’m getting the hang of how these municipalities work. I’m probably more attuned to the boundaries then most people who have lived here all their lives. It’s kind of like when I learned English grammar by learning Spanish. All the grammatical rules which I had intuited in my mother tongue needed a name and a category when I had to memorize them in a second language. Folks who aren’t so new to the area are often not as interested in where exactly all the borders are. Their lives have their beaten paths and it’s not really important that the coffee shop is in Pennsauken and the Wegman’s is in Cherry Hill.  I’m taking a lesson from this indifference to boundary lines when it comes to Circle of Hope.

Circle of Hope exists over and across a lot of different borders. The one I am most attuned to in my new role is the Delaware River that is a state line and major psychological boundary for a lot of people. Living on the Eastern banks of the Delaware means I do not live on the Western banks; this is an inescapable fact. But Circle of Hope as a movement scoffed at the mighty Delaware’s capacity to divide us when we planted a church in South Jersey 7 years ago.  And this is really great.

A friend of Circle of Hope creates cool maps and I bought the one pictured above last week because I was inspired by the Delaware River.  I had this fun thought. We’re all part of the same movement, AND we’re all part of the same watershed! The Delaware drains our creeks and gutters to the sea. We share a vital resource and the earth channels us together. We have three congregations in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey, but we have 4 in the Delaware watershed!

This excited me enough to trace the path of the Delaware up to Delaware County, New York where the Eastern Branch of the Delaware and Western Branch of the Delaware flow together to form OUR Delaware River. What if we, as Circle of Hope set our sights on expanding throughout the Delaware Watershed. The Megalopolis is too big and it’s borders are arbitrary. The Delaware has changed but it takes her a lot longer. There’s a stability in her flow that seems more substantial than any of the other borders I know. And if we see her as a point of unity for our movement we could be directed by her. Maybe I’m just geeking out on my new map, but if we want to spread the love of Jesus throughout our watershed, it would take Circle of Hope to Reading and Allentown, and Trenton.  It takes us not to New York City but Binghamton, New York. Then Philadelphia is our biggest city (as it should be!) and Circle of Hope in most of the other towns we make it to looks a lot like what we’re trying to do in Pennsauken- draw people together for Jesus sake across a lot of dividing lines. I think our united watershed would be another fun way to bring us together for our common cause, and to spur us forward in our ambition to see God’s redemption project advancing.