Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: philadelphia (page 1 of 2)

Hitchbot is Dead. Long Live Humanity!

I made a vow to pick up every hitchhiker I  ever find after receiving a number of rides from strangers when I really needed it.

When I was 19 I drove with my brother and  a couple of friends up to Mount Desert Island in Maine to spend a week camping in Acadia National Park. Unfortunately our transmission fluid was leaking all twelve hours of our drive and the transmission died just outside the park. Fortunately, one friend had AAA which could tow our 1991 Toyota Camry the 40 miles to the nearest Toyota dealership to replace the transmission (Ka-ching!) and we broke down directly outside of a private campground. We were in Maine without a car for at least 5 days. It was only a few miles in to Bar Harbor, the town on Mount Desert Island, so the next day we decided to walk it. Not long after we started walking it started to pour. There was some debate about it before we did it, but not long after it began to pour we had our thumbs out. We were hitchhiking!

It was astonishing how easy it was to get rides on Mount Desert Island. My friends and I had met in a Philadelphia public high school which taught us geometry and street smarts in disproportion favoring the later. How was this happening? We explored a lot of the park and even went into town one evening expecting to get a ride out of town when we were ready to go back to our camp. We carried a notebook with us and scribbled our desired destinations in bold lettering on the pages counting on someone to take us there. AND THEY DID!

I didn’t hear about hitchBOT until he was “destroyed by Philadelphia” but when I learned about it I was equally ashamed and proud of my Philadelphia brethren. I have a soft spot in my heart for hitchhikers, even semi artificially intelligent hitchhiking robots, and I didn’t like the bad press that was being heaped on the city I love with loads of references to the irony that this could happen in the city of Brotherly Love.

The hitchBOT website reported:

“Unfortunately, hitchBOT was vandalized overnight in Philadelphia; sometimes bad things happen to good robots.  We know that many of hitchBOT’s fans will be disappointed, but we want them to be assured that this great experiment is not over. For now we will focus on the question “what can be learned from this?” and explore future adventures for robots and humans.”

I was struck by the existential flare of the post. “Bad things happen to good robots” and “Explore future adventures for robots and humans.” It seems that this robot was going to teach us something about ourselves as a human race. “Kindness” was presumably the most attractive element to the fans of the experiment designed by a couple of social scientists, but that kindness, in my opinion, was wasted on a robot. The kindness I received on Mount Desert Island was real, and random, and beautiful because it was human to human. HitchBOT lacks that connective capacity because it was a machine.

HitchBOT is a symbol for the increasingly virtual way humans relate. It was yet another digitized triangulation of human connection. Yes, it was cute, and mostly fun, but for the sake of Philadelphia and for the human race, I choose to praise the vandals that unwittingly prophesied against the technocracy, and helped Philly live up to it’s name. It is the City of Brotherly Love- brother to brother- human to human- an art that is conceivably in danger and in need of no digitized competition. If an out-of-towner asks me what I love about Philly, I always say, “It’s the f*** you attitude.” It’s strangely charming, maybe because it’s so real and raw.  It’s human at the other end of the spectrum from kindness, but, nonetheless, very human.

HitchBOT is dead. Long live the humans. In Circle of Hope we are creating a space for anyone and everyone, from people who give rides to strangers to people who give middle fingers to strangers. It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you are at, with God, yourself or whatever. There’s room in the car. We’ve been on the side of the road too.  We’re driving the car, but we didn’t buy it. Jesus gave us the keys. Get in… if you’re human.

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.

Helping kids find their voice with Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss was a prophet.  The Lorax is a creation care manifesto, The Butter Battle Book is a telling allegory of the cold war, The Sneetches is about racism, Horton Hatches an Egg tells the story of a nonviolent sit in.  I love Dr. Seuss.  So I jumped at the chance to participate in a Dr. Seuss Day this week.

G.W. Childs Elementary celebrated Dr. Seuss day with school wide readings of Horton Hears a Who.  The Neighborhood  Association started by my friend Megan, Neighbors Investing in Childs Elementary (NICE), donated copies of the book to the school for the occasion.  Horton Hears a Who is prophetic too.  I wasn’t as familiar with it but after reading it three times to three different classes I am.  Horton hears the people of Who-ville that live on a tiny dust speck and goes through great lengths to protect them from a band of monkeys and sour kangaroo who don’t believe Who-ville exists.  The town of Who-ville is at the brink of destruction at the hands of its naysayers and they all have to make as much noise as possible in order to be heard by the weak eared kangaroos and monkeys.  They cannot be heard until the mayor discovers the smallest Who in Who-ville, a little boy named Jo-jo, shirking his noisemaking responsibility.  The mayor gets him to join his voice with the noise of the town and together they are finally heard.

ben dr. seuss dayWhat a great message to be sharing with children!  I was tasked with sharing this story with two eighth grade classes.  (I also had to wear this ridiculous hat.  The children’s book, the hat… it was a tall order.  Eighth graders are notorious.  But the kids really responded.  I got them to think about the people and the systems in their lives that refuse to acknowledge their existence.  We talked about city government, giant corporations, the prison industrial complex and more.  Horton’s refrain is “A person’s a person no matter how small.”  I convinced them that smallness wasn’t just about size but about power.  They had power together but they needed to be united to be heard by those trying to destroy them.

The sad truth of the matter is that the powers that be do not doubt these young people’s existence the way the monkeys and kangaroos of the Jungle of Nool do.  The powers know these people exist.  They market to them and they use them in their power consolidation.  The allegory breaks down a bit because the monkeys and kangaroos repent of their destructive direction as soon as they hear Jo-jo and the rest raise their voices together.  Our powers aren’t repenting.  Maybe because they know we don’t have enough power and maybe because they aren’t bothered very much by the relatively quiet ruckus some of us are causing.

Horton Hears a Who could be reduced to looking out for the little guy, but I think it’s more about the little guy finding a voice and using it for self preservation.  I’m praying some of those kids do, cause I’m going to shout with them.

Isaiah 58: 1 Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.

 

 

For All the Saints

Tractor battery? Check!  Current inverter?  Check!  Slideshow of awesome Christians?  Check!  Partner in crime?  Check!  Let’s do this!

I got pretty stoked about infiltrating First Friday with some saints–the occasion of First Friday falling on All Saints Day (November 1) won’t happen again until 2024.  I rigged up a tractor battery with an inverter to run a powerpoint of saints on a projector right there on 3rd Street.  ben and vanessa at first fridayI got my church planting partner, Vanessa, to come along.  She brought her baby, Leo.  It was going to be fun.

The powerpoint was pulled from Circle of Hope’s blog celebrating the transhistorical body of Christ [link]. The flyer I made for the event said, “Circle of Hope looks to the great ones of the Church throughout history to inspire us and lead us to acts of great love and resistance.  We are part of the transhistorical body of Christ.  We are convinced that Jesus has always found ways to move His redemption project forward in all kinds of circumstances.”

When we got there I learned First Friday has attracted a lot of street vendors, most of which are as unsanctioned as my slideshow.  So my subversive sense of what I was doing was a little undermined.  Nonetheless we set up shop, made friends with our neighbors and as it was getting dark we fired up the projector.  Subsequently the bulb blew out and our whole big thing became a much smaller thing.

I was disappointed but being there with Vanessa, intrepid mother and effusive optimist, salvaged the fun.  We made some more friends, talked about the great saints in our slideshow and passed out a bunch of flyers.  It was a good learning experience.  I learned what First Friday was like these days–who comes, when do they come where they go.  I learned how to use an inverter and a battery to power electronics.  I learned how to fail.

I had spent a lot of time and energy making this idea work- probably too much.  To not get to see if it was even somewhat fantastic was a real bummer.  However, Vanessa and I agreed that it was better to dream big and do something than to think small or to do nothing.  Trying and failing unlocks me from a pattern of high expectations for myself.  I can be stuck in a desire to achieve something great and do nothing for fear of not meeting my own expectations.  Not doing anything fails to meet those same expectations but in a way that allows me to believe in the hypothetical success of my ideas.

resist

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of our saints, and author of “The Cost of Discipleship”

Talk is cheap.  It doesn’t cost anything to have an idea.  Doing something in this case cost me some of my most valued currency- my sense of my own capacity.  Fortunately my valuing something and its being valuable are two different things.  Messing up, or burning out bulbs or whatever other perceived failures we experience can be rich investment in heavenly treasure.  Receiving the good gifts that occurred despite my unmet need for fantastic success was a good thing to learn to do.  It frees me up to try with lower stakes.  By God’s grace it loosens me up to be more creative.  It’s not an act of my will or my power.  Nothing works but God.

And of course I’m praying along with all of you for those I did meet–for the cool flyers sitting in their car, or on their kitchen table, or in their pants pocket–to be noticed again and reconsidered. Pray with me that they would join this part of the transhistorical body of Christ and be saints (holy people) with us.

Why are you doing this?

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on my bench on Locust Walk at the University of Pennsylvania holding my “tell me your story sign”.  It turns our it was parent’s weekend and I got two stories from proud Penn parents.  One man, D, came up to me and said, “Ok, you’ve piqued my interest.  I’m not going to tell you my story but I would like to know why you want my story.”

logoI answered, “I want to meet people and I think that telling stories is good for us.”  He probed further addressing the Circle of Hope logo I had drawn on my sign, “This ‘circle of hope’ looks rather sinister doesn’t it, with this menacing black circle.”  I got a little defensive, but backed down from the direct conflict, “Well, I didn’t design it.”

“But you did make this sign and you couldn’t change it?  See that’s the sort of thing that religion is always doing.  Obedience is demanded and you’re either in or you’re out depending on whether or not you obey,” D responded.

“Now hold up a minute!” My dander was up, “That’s putting something on me that I did not say.  I want to use this logo because I am Circle of Hope.  This symbol has value to me because it has a history and a cache that I have been a part of and I don’t want to lose.”

D appreciated my push back and we proceeded to have a very interesting discussion about the language of commercialism and the concessions one makes to participate in the system of marketing, logos, etc. D’s claim was that a logo at it’s essence is manipulative.  It may be, but I said I have to speak the language of the culture.  I have to do something to make a relationship, and if that means I have to get my hands dirty in some imperfect communication, so be it–because I must communicate my hope.

benchD seemed to appreciate my passion and he actually went on to tell me his story of life in the church as a boy and his teenage disillusionment.  He said, “Well look at that, you did get me to tell you my story!”  I got to share with him my desire for the promises of Jesus to be true and my experience of living out of that desire as a sort of loop that fueled the desire and my trust in the promise more and more as time goes on.  He liked that and seemed genuinely pensive about the whole conversation which contrasted with his initial aggressive posture.

Why am I holding a sign that says tell me your story?  Because me asking you creates a space in which we can be real with each other.  I’m not responsible for what happens next.  I have hopes.  I am looking for friends, and I am finding them.  I want to share my hope in Jesus with anyone who wants to have it with me, but I also think that the storytelling has its own value whether not I make a friend or Jesus’ story makes its way into the conversation explicitly.

To close I give one other story.  I met a woman, R, who was walking up the walk.  She looked at my sign.  I said, “hi” and “how ya’ doing?”

“Not so good,” she replied.

She then tearfully explained to me a difficult conversation she had just had with a dear friend.  This friend had believed a lie about her that a third person had told her.  She thought that their friendship was primary enough to trump any other person’s influence.  She had invested a lot in building that sort of intimacy and trust and based on her friends reaction it seemed that that sense of connection and investment was not mutual.  She was heartbroken.

After telling her story and shedding her tears with me right there in public, she walked away thanking me for listening.  I was so awed, I didn’t even give her my card.

There are many reasons to hold my sign.  I’m grateful for what God is doing with it.

Tell Me Your Story, Penn

My friend, Howard Pinder, came up with this great idea.  The “Tell Me Your Story” sign.  I’ve been emulating him at the University of Pennsylvania this week.  It’s pretty fun! People look at me when I’m holding the sign, many look away when I meet their gaze, they look away and smile.  Many give a thumbs up or say they like my sign, only a few tell me their story but enough people do for me to be excited about doing it again.

I even ran into my old friend Stephen, who was in town for like 12 hours.  How rad!

I even ran into my old friend Stephen, who was in town for like 12 hours. How rad!

I’m breaking down the barrier between us.  I’m inviting people to escape their cynicism and fear for a moment.  I’m doing something weird that breaks the monotony of those who are just passing by.  Those who stop to talk are interested in why I’m doing this.  “What is this for?”, “Is this for a class?”  Nope, I’m just a local pastor looking for friends.  I think everyone has a story worth telling because everyone is valuable in God’s eyes.  You’re important so what happens to you is important.  I want to listen because I think it’s good for me to honor your importance and give you my ears as gifts.  I usually tell people about Circle of Hope because they want to know what sort of church has a pastor that does this sort of thing.  It’s a great opportunity to meet the next partner.

5 stories I’ve heard:

1) A man from India is here visiting his niece.  He runs a green technology company in India that makes less money than his old company but he is more satisfied with the more meaningful work.  His Hindu faith influenced him passively by instilling in him a reverence for nature that he wants to protect with his business.  He told me how he decided to change his vocation after a conversation with a friend.

2) A first generation immigrant from Afghanistan lost her dad to cancer 2 years ago when she was a freshman.  She realized then that there is more to life than economic success and being “the best.”  She wishes more of her peers at Penn would learn this because she is sick of the elitism she perceives among them.

3) A woman grew up on a farm in South Dakota with her 10 younger siblings.  She was sort of Mom #2 to her youngest siblings.  One morning, one of her brothers busted a gash in her other brother’s forehead with a golf club.  The whole clan climbed into the van and went into town to get him stitched up.  It wasn’t a big deal to her–a real pioneer!

4) At his senior show, a guy got a few friends to sing “I get by with a little help from my friends” by the Beatles with him.  Thy all sang to another friend who was part of the show too.  It sounded like an episode of “Glee”

5) A woman waxed nostalgic about watching boys play football on her street in Detroit.  She misses the strong sense of community she experienced as a kid. She feels a bit isolated in her current circumstance.

People are looking for connection.  People have a story to tell.  I make the cell group I lead about telling our stories all the time.  In telling our stories we get to listen to ourselves tell it.  Our fears often feel less frightening once externalized.  Our hopes often feel more real when shared.  Taking the risk to connect, especially with people we don’t know or with whom we don’t have an automatic affinity is one way that we can experience Jesus’ love.  Uncanny bonds and unexpected discoveries are made on a regular basis in places where Jesus is at the center.  A sense of belonging comes quickly and a warmth that defies easy explanation.  That’s the “safe place” we say we are.  That’s the “safe place” next to Jesus.  I felt some of that even with strangers on Locust walk this week.  I wonder how deep this will go.

[Check out tellmeyourstoryphilly.com for some of Howard Pinder’s collected stories]

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]

Dear Philly University Students : an open letter (it’s about Jesus, ok?)

Dear students,

Welcome to Philadelphia!

I want to be your friend.  What is your name?  Will you escape your own personal zone long enough to connect with me?  Most of you won’t, but that’s okay because I’m pretty sure some of you will.  But really, those people who are ready to connect are the anomalies so don’t feel weird if you think I’m weird.  I am weird.  So I’ll just go for it…

Don’t you think that Circle of Hope is a perfect place to dedicate your energy and creativity to Jesus?  Ok, you’re not that religious or you’re not that religion’s religious, but you do have energy and creativity and you’re looking for a way to use it aren’t you?  Why not Jesus?

  • It’s a real shame that the Church has been co-opted by the institutional passion-sappers of our society.  I don’t blame you for being suspicious, especially if you have a bad experience with the church or some pseudo experience with a pseudo church person (like on TV).
  • It’s a real shame that our prophetic voice has been silenced by things like student loans, international threats and fears of international threats (and threats of fear of international threats).  That which cows us under the pressure just to make it is that which we need to make our lives about unmaking.
  • It’s a real shame too that we’ve made it rude to talk about Jesus anywhere but in a Church’s building.  My private faith is meaningless.  When we trapped it in our heads we cut our own capacity to transform the world right out from under ourselves.

eastern fair

But Jesus is saving me from shame, so I’ve been working on having real experiences, unmaking ungodly powers, and being so rude as to talk about Jesus in public. I went to a bunch of student activities fairs on your campuses this week (Philadelphia University, uArts, Penn and Eastern).  Here’s a picture of me and Jonny at one today.  I was struck at how many of you (students) were interested in Jesus’ mission in the world.  Some asked me what we do in Circle of Hope and I said we resist and restore.  We say “Jesus is living the greatest mutiny ever – we should not waste our rebellion on each other.”  Too many of you have seen us wasting our rebellion on each other.  Let’s turn our focus on those forces which are hellbent on dominating us.  We have a common cause.  I’m offering you a common community and a common hope. 

Someone told me yesterday that they were excited about the revolution I hoped for but that it was a shame that it had to be about Jesus too.  I told him that I couldn’t do it without Jesus.  I’ve learned too much about what humanity is capable of.  I’ve failed to stop wars with the best of them.  My hope in humanity gets dashed even within my own life.  People betray me and lie to me.  I let myself and others down too.  I can’t be as ambitious as I need to be if I don’t have some sure hope–something, or better yet someone, bigger than myself.  “I’m doing this with Jesus,” I told him.  “Because I can’t do it without him.  If you try, you’ll come up against your own limitations too.”

The safest thing to do is to keep your head down and fit into the tiny space the economy has carved out for you.  Life with Jesus is not necessarily safe, but it is worth your life’s devotion– all your energy and creativity.  Circle of Hope is looking for you as a partner.  We will be safe for you to explore while you’re figuring it all out.  But if you get next to Jesus, you can expect an adventure at the least, a life worth living that is a threat to all that oppresses at the most.  Call me back.  I’m on your phone I’m at your door.  Find me, I’m looking for you.

Peace,

Benjamin White
[email protected]
267-825-5348
circleofhope.net
 

Being There- Why you have to show up

I was lying on my couch reading Game of Thrones on Monday afternoon when I heard the megaphone start blaring.  “Oh yeah, it’s the protest.  We’re shutting down Woodland Ave!”  I grabbed Oliver, my 2 year old son, and we ran down the street to join the crowd.  We were blocking Woodland Ave. to send a message to those in power that we would not turn a blind eye to the closing of Wilson Elementary School, the local relatively well performing school that was among the 23 schools that are closing.

woodland ave with the guysOf course the situation is complicated.  All the dots don’t connect.  You can make a cogent argument for school closures, yes, but we must agree that something is fundamentally wrong when we’re building a $400 Million prison in Philadelphia while closing schools and slashing support staff in our public schools.  One of the folks I ran out onto the avenue to stand with got it right on his sign (pictured here).  “Invest in a child’s education not the projected benefit of their incarceration.  Save our children.  Save our schools!”  At first I was the only white guy in the crowd.  The rhetoric was heavily afrocentric but I tried not to feel excluded.  I would have liked to send my child to this school too.  This is however an overwhelming black issue as this infographic so clearly portrays.  Schools in predominantly white neighborhoods do not get closed.  There’s something wrong with that, so I had to stand with my neighbors in the middle of the street.

I’m not at all confident that our protest will do anything to reopen Wilson School but I am really glad I was there and Oliver was there with me.  I have four reasons

woodland ave with Ollie1) I wanted to teach Oliver that he should do something about convictions.  They mean nothing if they stay in his head.  (He did not want to be there so this was a hard fought lesson)

2) I know that my responsibility to Jesus is not about success but about witness.  Many of the speakers who got on the megaphone were Christians and their faith was not checked at the door.  They had a sense of themselves as prophets calling out truth to power and God was on their side.  I agree.  We’ll keep working to be effective but being faithful in our word and deed does not require our success.

3) I am with these people.  These are my neighbors and I wanted to demonstrate with them.  Their cause is my cause, even if the way they express it is not exactly the way I would.  My block captain invited me and I said I would be there, then I was there.  She was impressed.

4) I made friends.  I met more people on my block and I’m praying God gives us the opportunity to share our lives together.  God might make us partners in more causes, even his cause at Circle of Hope.

If I had stayed on the couch I wouldn’t have been able to be all these things that afternoon.  I don’t have any very new ideas here, but I do have a new experience that backs up the ideas.  I had to show up.  I had to be there with Jesus and with his people.

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