Young and Restless (and other semi-useful categories)

While you certainly can’t be defined by mere data, it is interesting to sift through it from time to time just to see what you can learn about yourself and others. I’ve been specifically wondering where to meet people who want to form the next church in South Jersey. Sometimes it sounds crazy, but I think it’s possible to form a people who care about each other and the world around them, who want to seek peace and justice, who care about the poor and disenfranchised, and who want to take what they’ve been given and make a difference for God’s sake. This tool struck my fancy late last night…

The Esri Zip Lookup is an attempt to show people what their zip code says about the average demographic, culture, and lifestyle of the people living in their area. Of course they’ve classified everything into 67 manageable categories using their “Tapestry” technology and reinforced imaginary boundaries and that has it’s own problems. You can probably tell that I’m not much of a fan of classifying everyone according to data or respecting arbitrary lines. In fact, around Circle of Hope we often say, “We are diverse in many ways and we will cross boundaries to become more so. Don’t bean count us.” So take all the following bean counting information for what it’s worth. We’re trying to do something in the world and the information is a useful tool. If nothing else, it’s simply interesting.

Take Pennsauken, for instance… it’s where Circle of Hope has a meeting space… the physical building is in the purple shaded check-mark shape ( √ ) – below…


By clicking on the different demographics, you can see a summary of the type of person Esri’s geographic data says you are.

For Pennsauken, 36% are labeled as “American Dreamers,” who are described as “foreign born, diverse, young married couples” who moved out of the city for “more affordable housing and open space.”  The other two “tapestry” categories for Pennsauken are “Parks and Rec” (most of the region has this category in the top 3) and “Urban Villages”. You might want to check them out on your own.

pennsauken 2

Nearby Maple Shade (you can see where Circle of Hope is in relation below, look for that check mark shape, again) is heavily “Young and Restless.” 39% of the people in that zip code are Millennials coming into their own: young, diverse, well-educated, and working. They “can’t live without their cell phones”, are likely to shop online, and “buy natural/organic food, but will also go for fast food.”

maple shade

There are overlays for Income, Age, and Population Density… all fascinating data points.

I’m learning and re-learning, teaching and re-teaching about how to view and engage the region. If you’re a part of Circle of Hope already (specifically Marlton and Crescent), give the site a look-see… what are you learning? If you’re in the region and want to do something meaningful, let’s connect. It doesn’t matter what category you supposedly fall into… or what zip code… Jesus is into connecting. I am too.

Twenty-one Minutes is Not Enough

In 1998, I got introduced to the concept of “third places” through Ray Oldenburg’s work – The Great Good Place (my copy is not on my shelf, so if you borrowed it, let me know… it used to be right next to Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone). I read the book the summer after my freshman year in college and allowed his ideas to stew for a number of years. They came to mind this morning as I was planning to gather with my cell tonight.

Oldenburg’s basic contention is that third places such as coffee shops, community centers, bars, hair salons, and bookstores are fundamental to a community. We spend most of our time at home (albeit mostly asleep), thus home is our first place. We generally spend the second biggest block of time at work, our second place. The third place is that space where we are given the opportunity to have meaningful interaction with “regulars” while still keeping the door open for “newcomers.” When we put ourselves in third places we benefit from broader interaction (our first and second places have relatively constant populations). Among other things, Oldenburg argues that third places make people feel at home, nourish relationships and a diversity of connection, help create a sense of place, allow people to relax and unwind, encourage social interaction instead of isolation, and generally make life a lot more colorful. Really great third places are free or relatively inexpensive, they have food and drink available, they are highly accessible (walking or short driving distance), and are welcoming and comfortable. These are the places where we can find new and old friends.

That particular thing – finding new and old friends – is the thing that I am chiefly interested in. Especially in my slice of the Philadelphia metro (South Jersey). I think being Circle of Hope is worthwhile and I want as many people to get in on it as possible.

Leisure time” – the time that we don’t spend working, sleeping, or doing basic necessities – is when most third place interaction occurs. According to the most recent American Time Use Survey, the average American daily spends about 8 hours sleep, 9 hours working, 1 hour eating (total for the day), and 1 hour doing household activities. This leaves approximately 5 hours of the day for “leisure.” Around 80% of employed people are in bed by 11pm. The peak time for leisure and sports (see chart below) takes place around 8pm-10pm.

To me, it would stand to reason that the best place to meet new and old friends in a third place would between 6pm (after work and household activities are done) and 11pm (when most people go to sleep). Those five hours of “leisure” are where it’s at. However…

The television. Ah, yes… the TV.


Almost three of those five hours are spent in front of the TV! And… after we’ve “socialized and communicated” (read “talked on the phone and sent text/email messages”), and… after we’ve “played games or used the computer for leisure” (read “played Xbox and trolled the web/Facebook”), and… after we’ve put in our almost 20 minute workout (11 minutes short of what’s recommended, but we’re trying)… we’re left with just under an hour (56 minutes) for everything else. If we actually read everyday (a good thing to do) and chill out long enough to think (also arguably good), that 56 minutes gets shaved to 21 minutes. Not a whole lot of meaningful third place interaction can occur in 21 minutes, if you ask me. Twenty-one minutes a day isn’t a real big window if you’re trying to meet new friends and keep older relationships connected. How could you possibly even actually get face to face? I can’t even even enjoy a beer or a coffee (I like both strong, dark, and bitter) in that short time span!

Added to all of that… Many coffee shops in the region (legitimate third places) close by 7:30p (including my favorite one) and the whole nation has seen a decline in bookstores as genuine third places (thank you amazon and e-books). It’s an uphill battle.

Is there a way to get face to face in third places? It is, afterall, much better for us than isolation. What can we do?

1. Cut back on the television (and the internet) (and the smartphone). I know it sounds preposterous. There are so many “good” things on TV. There are so many things to find out on Facebook. But if we really only have five hours a day of “free time”, it’s a shame to waste 60-75% of it in front of a screen. Shonda Rhimes (one of TIME magazine’s Top 100 people who shape the world) has tricked you into thinking it, but the world isn’t going to end if you don’t know what happens on Scandal… just saying.

2. Find at least one evening to intentionally spend face to face. My cell gathers at 7:30p every Wednesday night at Irish Mile in Westmont, NJ. We spend about 90 minutes connecting deeply (talking about real life issues) and usually another 90 minutes just being humans (last week we learned how to play darts… I won). The almost 3 hours that we spend is always better than watching TV. Every week we meet new and old friends. Not everyone stays late, but the option is there… and all of us at least quadruple the twenty-one minutes we supposedly have to connect. We happen to meet in a third place, but meeting at someone’s home is great, too.

3. Be a “regular” in a third space. It could be a bar, a restaurant, a coffee shop, or the Dunkin’ Donuts. The diversity of connection and overall color that is added to your life when you frequent somewhere enough to be known is worth it. Just last week, I took my children out to eat at one of the places where I’m a regular and low and behold friends of ours walked in and joined us for dinner. That hour of connection, storytelling, and laughter made my whole week.

Third places are where we let down our guard, and where core issues of life are likely to be part of conversation. It’s no wonder Jesus took such an interest in third places. If we are too busy in the protected spaces of our homes, jobs, or even churches, we’ll never be able to actually practice the presence of Christ in a space where the aroma of Jesus can be sensed. And if we’re going get out there, it’s going to take more than twenty-one minutes a day. Let’s figure out how to do that together.

Jesus in the Cities and Villages

GC signA bunch of us moved into Gloucester City prior to planting Circle of Hope in South Jersey (circa 2007). We wanted to live in an urban outpost in the shadow of Philadelphia where we could be real Christians and struggle with big issues: racism, community, poverty, relationships, addiction, disappointment, and whatever else came our way. In the middle of settling into our little experiment in incarnation, we got inspired to plant the church together, too. It was a second experimental front. Realizing that we needed to be a regional connector, we planted outside of Gloucester City; existing in Camden, Collingswood, and finally resting in the borderlands of Pennsauken (easily accessible to everyone). More people moved into Gloucester City over the next few years, but more importantly we steadily connected others throughout the entire region. The dual experiment… being the church in Gloucester City (where I live) and forming the church in the region (where I live) has been exciting. If you live in my neighborhood, are a part of the Marlton and Crescent congregation, or are a part of Circle of Hope in general, you’ve been a part of the excitement. I’ve been forever changed by the experience.

This week, I’ve been trying to interpret some data that came out. I haven’t fully processed it all, but thought it was worth sharing.

For starters, the number of educated young adults that have moved into the Philly metro increased by 22% over a decade span. Center City has felt the most increase, which is great for what Jesus is doing with Circle of Hope… but arguably the whole region has experienced the growth effects of young people moving here. People are moving into South Jersey, too… especially along the transportation routes. The PATCO stops in Camden, Collingswood, Westmont, Haddonfield, and the Voorhees region continue to be up and coming places to live in the region. My prediction is that the River LINE stops in Pennsauken, Palmyra, Riverton, Cinnaminson, and Riverside aren’t far behind. And if that River LINE extends into Gloucester City, Woodbury and all the way down to Rowan (see my blog from last week)… those places will experience growth as well. I also think (if the data is right) the whole little South Jersey region we’re in (along all those public transit lines) is going to see a trend of moving millennials who want to raise families in the Philadelphia region but not actually in Philadelphia.

Then last week, two of the towns/cities in the region cracked the top 15 of “towns on the rise” – Haddonfield and Gloucester City. Between 2009 and 2012 [the actual data is here], both towns saw increases in median income (Gloucester, a 17.25% increase and Haddonfield a 4.25% increase). Of the top 10 cities on the rise, only Gloucester City saw a slight decrease in younger workers but it’s overall growth remains impressive. The mayor was quoted as saying, “Good things are happening here. And this is a great location across from Philadelphia.” He’s right, and when I look around the neighborhood, diverse young people are moving in. I think my friends and I were on the cutting edge of the movement… more people are going to come.

It’s a great opportunity to keep wresting with all the deep issues, and great opportunity to meet he next person. I told my congregation the other night that if Jesus is doing it, giving it a try is a good place to start. One of the things that I see Jesus doing is traveling the transportation lines (a great benefit of the so-called Pax Romana of his day) and connecting to all of the little cities and villages. He meets people, calls disciples, and and brings foreshadows of resurrected living as he heals and brings wholeness. I want to do that, too.

I’m thankful this morning for the brave friends that I have who are living purposeful lives in the region, figuring out how to be the church in the towns/cities they live and in the region we share. As we travel throughout the whole region, planting cells and connecting new friends, I’m excited for the next wave of people who need a Circle of Hope. You’re out there, right?


Bridging the Division

It’s no secret that it’s hard to connect in our slice of South Jersey. The whole region is cut up into little fiefdoms where local politicos vie for relevance. Highways and imaginary lines keep people separate. There’s a long history of separation and atomization. Everything is divided up.

Infrastructure Divides Us
Camden County received millions of dollars in stimulus money a few years back, and as a result, for the past 2 years, it has been nearly impossible to travel. They are perpetually fixing bridges everywhere. And that’s a good thing, I suppose. 11% of Camden County bridges are structurally deficient (yes you read that right… 11%). The biggest one being the Walt Whitman Bridge, which sees about 200,000 cars go over it daily (by the way at $5/car, if half of those cars are going into Philadelphia, that sucker makes at least a half million dollars a day!). Where Route 130 crosses Cooper River (the big mess up by Village Thrift and the driving range), the bridge was over 50 years old. It’s not a bad idea to replace it despite the inconvenience.  If you drive around here, I’m sure you’re dealing with delays all over the place. I feel like I’m constantly getting detoured. The other day on my short trip from my house to my office (usually 10 minutes), two different detours made the trip 30 minutes. I know the region really well, and I can’t navigate it because the bridges don’t work and the roads are shut down. All of that makes our region feel, at least right now, even more divided than it already is.

Municipalities Divide Us
Of course, all of the municipalities are a major factor in the division as well. The South Jersey region Circle of Hope exists in is a lot like Philadelphia in terms of geographic region. It’s roughly the same size with way fewer people… which actually makes the region feel bigger because people are more spread out. The difference, of course between Philadelphia and this side of the river, is that this side of the river ultimately developed local independent municipalities. So rather than one city with outlying suburbs that are within city limits, along the river you have several little cities… and then inner ring suburbs… and then outer ring suburbs.

It wasn’t always like that. In fact, at one point in time, this whole region was called Newton Township. Newton Township was established in 1695 (so that’s 80 years before the Revolutionary War). It was a part of Gloucester County before Camden County even existed. In fact, the city of Camden itself was established within Newton Township in 1828. Post Civil War, on February 23, 1865 (about 150 years ago), Haddon Township was established using a little bit of Newton Township… and by March 7, 1871 , Newton Township was officially dissolved. When it was dissolved, what remained were individual municipalities that once made up the larger one – Haddon Twp, Gloucester City, Camden, Collingswood, Audubon, and Haddonfield. Virtually simultaneously, neighboring Delaware Township was dividing into Cherry Hill, Merchantville, and Pennsauken. Those are all the major parts of the region we live in and love. And those municipalities, like the rest of the municipalities in our region, are divided in all sorts of ways. They have their own fire departments, they have their own police forces, they have their own local politicians, they have their own rules and regulations and inspectors for those rules and regulations, they have their own ethos. And I think they work really hard to keep their sense of municipal identity.

Some of that’s OK – but it does cause division. And I think that division is especially noteworthy when we’re trying to figure out how to be the church in the region. Not only are we doing the huge thing as Circle of Hope – crossing the divide of the Delaware River and the bridges to be one church, but we’re also trying to figure out how to cross those municipal divides to be a particular congregation. That’s a big deal.

Highways Divide Us
And then there’s the highways as another major contributor to division in our region. My friends in college used to make fun of NJ, saying that it was nothing but highways. And of course I defended NJ’s honor… but they were sorta right… there are a lot of highways. And our region is fascinating when you think about it in terms of highways: Route 130 (aka Crescent Blvd), Rte 168 (aka Black Horse Pike), Rte 30 (aka White Horse Pike), Rte 41 (aka King’s Highway), Rte 70 (aka Marlton Pike), Rte 38 (aka Kaighn Ave), Rte 73, I-295, I-676, the NJ Turnpike…all right here – within five miles of where I sit… in fact 130, 30, 38, and 70 all basically pool right here at  doorstep of Marlton and Crescent. Rte. 130 is a drastic dividing line… it divides the inner ring suburbs from the urban areas of Gloucester City, Camden, and Pennsauken… all the way up to Willingboro and Burlington City… and all the way down to Woodbury and beyond.

And those obstacles are not easy to overcome: failing infrastructure which makes it difficult to connect, paired with municipal divide (especially in terms of ethos)… which then gets combined with a highway system that allows you to pass through municipalities without actually being in that municipality. It’s a wonder that we’re connected at all! So much is trying to keep us apart, trying to keep us in our pod, trying to create barriers that divide us.

Another Division
Give that divisive context, you can imagine why I was so disappointed this week to hear that we hit another snag in the plan to connect Camden and Rowan University by light rail. The River Line which presently runs from Camden to Trenton has been a brilliant way to connect the region. Over the last 10 years, connection has been made easier, especially for a vast majority of people who are pinned against the Delaware River by Rte. 130 and who do not have access to to personal vehicles but rely on public transportation. The River Line is quick, easy and affordable. The plan is to extend the River Line all the way down to Rowan University… basically connecting all of Western South Jersey. But more division is holding it all up. Not surprisingly, politically motivated entities don’t want to take responsibility for keeping the project on track (pun intended). And so yet again, we remain divided.

Bridging Divisions
Jesus is breaking down barriers and bridging divisions. Paul tells us:

Ephesians 2:14-16…
Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.

So here’s a list of ways to join with Jesus in our region.

First, embody peace.

Paul says, Christ is our peace. We are tied to a faith tradition that actually values peace. And I think it is to our benefit to really embrace that! In a world that is perpetually at war, in a country that admits to 4,700 deaths via secret drone strike, in a region and in a city where the murder rate per capita is among the highest in the county – peace needs to be embodied. We ought to be on the frontlines of prayer for the region. We need to be actively speaking out for gun control. We need to be talking about our drone President. We need to be engaging in opposition to police corruption, in opposition to the drug trade in the region, and in opposition to all kinds of violence perpetrated on women and children in the region.

Christ is our peace. We ought to be peace in our region. That’s basic discipleship.

Second, be incarnate. 

Paul says, with his body. The incarnation is a fusion of the sacred/secular, spiritual/political, heaven and earth. We ought to have a physical presence in the region. Fusing what God is doing with what’s going on. Our actual bodies ought to be showing up all over the place. I got to see a beautiful picture of this on Saturday when so many people from Marlton & Crescent showed up at the Collingswood Book Festival. People came out to support local authors, ignite connections, and make the best of a rainy day. I met a ton of people I didn’t know… several because a friend introduced me. Jesus actually calls us his body. And as a body we ought to be incarnate all over the place. Join a team, take a class, go to the event, be a regular somewhere.

Jesus got rid of barriers with his body. As his body, with our bodies, we ought to be doing the same. Again, basic discipleship.

Third, stop playing by the rules.

Paul says, he canceled the detailed rules of the law. I think the rules in our region dictate some of the divisions that exist. Rte. 130 is a barrier, so we’re told. Collingswood is different than Pennsauken, so we’re told. Camden doesn’t have anything good going on in it, so we’re told. Cherry Hill is the suburbs, so we’re told. And I don’t think we should be buying into those narratives. They exist to keep us a part and to allow the powers that be to remain in power. I don’t want to play by those rules.

Like Jesus, we ought to play by the rules that make sense to us and to the mission of God. That’s what will create a new humanity in the region. That will make disciples.

The way I’ve been imagining Jesus reconcile the region is by getting rid of the barriers and looking for the spaces where natural relating occurs. I want to connect. I want to help people connect. I want to champion things that make it easier to connect. Who’s up for that?

The Investigator

Years ago, before blogging was even popular, I blogged a lot. In fact it was long enough ago that I still had to explain what a blog was to people when I talked about it. People certainly didn’t have their whole life mediated by a screen, yet (the iPhone wasn’t even out… that’s hard to imagine). But at the time, my blog had a little traction, some people were following me, and getting my thoughts out there was really good for my soul. Good for my soul in some unexpected ways, actually. Myers-Briggs says I’m an ISTP. I’m a “5″ on the Enneagram. Both of those designations indicate that most of my world happens in the privacy of my head. I think to arrive at my feelings. I don’t verbally process too much or too well. Blogging was always an exercise in getting my process into the mix without a filter. Even right now, I don’t know what I’m going to write next. Blogging’s saving grace is that it is “hands on” enough to be something I need to figure out. I have to take it apart so I can put it back together even better.

When we planted Circle of Hope in South Jersey, my habit fell by the wayside in favor of a hands on application of the many things I had been writing and dreaming about. That was six years ago. The world changed. iPhone 6 just came out, btw.

Over the last few years, I’ve pondered getting the old blog going again but I couldn’t convince myself that I actually wanted to do it (and I don’t like doing things out of obligation). I like my interior world. The discipline of sitting down and writing publicly about the things that are awakening in me seems like it could drain me and I naturally resist that… my life feels draining enough! (that’s a mantra I’m working to overcome). I also don’t like the part of blogging nowadays that seems like “self-promotion.” Back in 2005 when I first got going in the blogosphere, Facebook wasn’t even mainstream… not many people were telling the world about the burrito they ate, the celebrity they hate, the way that they vote or the blog they just wrote. The world changed. I didn’t change with it (at least not that way).

But, recently several friends all said some version of the same thing: “You know, you have to start putting yourself out there a bit more if you want to effect change.”

So… here we go. I’m repenting in a way. I’m changing my mind. The blog is back. I’ll even say “look at me” on Facebook. If it’s a way to defeat the powers that be in the world, it’s probably worth investigating again. So my investigation has begun.

What I Learned from the Cloud: Dorothy Day

On Thursday (November 29th) Dorothy Day will have been dead for 32 years.  There is a lot to learn from her…

Her life blended together the deep spirituality of one grateful for God’s love with an activism that served her neighbors and sought a better world.  She said: “The most significant thing about the Catholic Worker is poverty, some say. The most significant thing is community, others say. But the final word is really love.  We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love each other, we must know each other.  We know God in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore.”

A life breathing in God’s love as she knelt in prayer and engaged with Jesus.  A life breathing out God’s love for the poor and a passion for peace through bread and shelter, through protest and confrontation.

You might just want to breathe in and breathe out for a few minutes this day.  With Day, breathe in God’s love, breathe out God’s justice and peace.

What I Learned from the Cloud: St. David of Wales

What I learned from David of Wales, filtered through Paul’s writing to Timothy…

Have something to say in the face of the lies of the culture.
Saint David took a stand against the heresy of Pelagianism.
Paul wanted Timothy to know what he was talking about – read 1 Timothy 1:3-7

Following Jesus in the days that we live means being a student of what’s going on around you.  Having a wide view of what’s important and what’s being talked about and having something to say on just about every topic out there…what you say doesn’t have to be profound…it doesn’t have to get you installed as the next leader in the church…but it might…and that would be OK. 

Know who your partners are.
Saint David famously encouraged the Welsh to wear leeks in their hats to they could tell friend from foe on the battlefield.
Paul goes to great length to teach Timothy the difference between partners and antagonists – read 2 Timothy 4:9-13

I think there’s something to wearing leeks.  We just need to figure out how to do it in our day.  A lot of times, I just like to put it out there…especially with people that I’ve just met or that I barely know.  So many times, so many people that I meet act like they could be following Jesus…I usually just ask them…I say, “you sound like a person who is actually following Jesus…are you?…because I am.”  You’d be surprised at the number of times that the response has been, “Yes” or “I’m trying.”  And when the response is “No,” usually it’s totally cool.  I’ve actually found that people are pretty flattered when you compare them to Jesus, even if they’re not into him.  I think it’s OK to put yourself out there…we don’t have a whole lot to lose.  It’s good to have a sense of who’s rolling with you.

There’s value in having good mentors.
Saint David’s last works were, “Be joyful.  Keep the faith.  Do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.”
Paul says the same thing to Timothy, reminding him to keep the faith and continue in the pattern he’s seen demonstrated – read 2 Timothy 1:13-14 and 2 Timothy 3:10-15

I learned from David that I need to pay attention to who is influencing me and what I am being influenced to be and do.  I can only follow so many people well…and I ought to know who they are.  So I have a list of mentors.  People that I see and interact with with some regularly; people that I see and interact with rarely but specifically; and people I don’t know but who have written extensively, who I dedicate large chunks of time to learning from; they are all my mentors.  As I make disciples, I need to be discipled.  And I apply myself to that.  If I want to be joyful, if I’m going to keep the faith…I have to follow the example that’s gone before me.