Monthly Archives: March 2013

March 28, 2013

The Power of Discipline

I really don’t want to write right now.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to say (those of you who know me know that I always have something to say), it’s just that I don’t feel like saying it right now. Or, more to the point, I don’t feel like writing it right now. I’d much rather invite you over for a beer and a chat, or get up and share my thoughts in front of a group of people. It’s the writing that feels like a chore. I want to be a writer, and as a pastor without an office of a faith community without a building, writing is an important part of how I do what I do. I know this. I just don’t feel… inspired. Which is precisely why I’m sitting down to write before the end of my Thursday deadline instead of moving into the other room to watch the end of the Wichita State game (go Shockers!). I’m working to develop a discipline.

Discipline. Whenever I hear the word I think of nuns with rulers (whoa, where did that come from? I don’t think I’ve ever even met a ruler-wielding nun!). I think of coercion and harshness and outside expectations and control, all of which I give me hives. perhaps that’s why I’ve pushed back my whole life on being a disciplined person.

The problem is, I want to grow. I am at an age in my life where, though I like who I am, I’d like to learn new things and improve on the things I do now. And, I’m beyond the age where new things seem to come naturally to me. The truth of my life these days is this: it is not too late for me to grow, but it’s going to take work.

It’s going to take discipline. Not the coercive kind, but the kind that involves intentional, methodical practice. That kind that involves developing practices that I do even when I don’t feel like it. Like getting up early to run. Some mornings I feel energized and all I want to do is hit the pavement, but more often than not I wake up feeling groggy and stiff. True physical transformation will only come through running when I really feel like it and when I really don’t.

True transformation takes discipline.

That’s true whether we’re cultivating a skill, like writing or a physical attribute, like fitness. It is also true of cultivating a spiritual life.

Whether it is daily prayer and meditation, weekly participation in a spiritual community, regular service of others, sharing what we have as a reminder that people are more important than things, or sharing our joy and enlightenment with others, cultivating a spiritual life takes regular practice and commitment. If we want to grow beyond where we are right now it requires discipline.

So where are the places you’d like to grow in your life? Are you content with where you are on your spiritual journey or do you believe that there is more out there for you to discover, encounter, become? What practices might stretch you and strengthen you? What disciplines might help grow you into the person you’d like to be?

I hope you’ll share your reflections with us, and consider joining us as we search for the disciplines that are meaningful to our community. I’m excited to see who we might become.

March 21, 2013

The Hard Work of Discovering What Really Matters

I deeply appreciate Holy Week. I don’t think it would sound quite right to say I “love” it or that it’s my favorite part of the Christian liturgical cycle, but I appreciate it. We spend the season of Lent preparing for Holy Week, stripping away those things that distract us and separate us from God and our neighbor. During Holy Week we are faced with dealing with the deep realities of our lives and our world. No longer are we focused on giving up coffee, or social media, or taking on a new spiritual practice, we are pushed to go deeper than that: we must deal with injustice, suffering and death.

The story of Palm Sunday, Jesus’ “grand” entrance into Jerusalem is the beginning of the Holy Week narrative. Jesus’ followers and those who lined the streets for what actually wasn’t such a grand entrance, believed this was a new beginning. And it was a new beginning, however, it was a beginning to a story that had a different ending from the one they expected.

Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was a joke compared to how a Roman official would enter a city. Their entrance would have been in true opulent fashion, with armed soldiers in a show of prominence and imperial power. So, Jesus’ entrance is meant to be ironic. He comes in on a young horse (donkey in other gospels) with his ragtag bunch of followers, mocking the roman processional. He’s the humble king, riding into town, not as a military ruler, but as the Messiah, the anointed one, who fights the battles of the world with love, humility, healing, compassion and restorative justice.

We spend so much time in our lives trying to attain that prominence and power, looking to find the next best thing, upgrading, getting a promotion or that big break. The more status we attain, the more stuff we get, the happier we will be; that’s what the world tells us, anyway. However, Jesus’ processional reminds us that it’s not about how flashy our stuff is, but it’s about the values we carry with us.

I’ve been intrigued lately by stories of people and businesses who are moving away from a “profits first, ask questions later” model and are working to build companies and products and cultures that benefit our lives and our world. There’s this story of an entrepreneur and millionaire who, after selling two luxury residences, now lives in a 420 square foot studio apartment because he found it was love, not stuff, that made him happy. Or this story about companies who intentionally pass up higher profits because people and the environment are just as important as making money. These stories are only possible because people were willing to ask the hard the questions and make meaningful changes. Sometimes, you have to walk through the darkness to find the light.

The Holy Week narrative will continue, recounting what happens when love goes up against violence and injustice. Initially love will not win and there will be intense suffering and darkness. There will be questions of God’s justice and goodness. There will be grieving and hope will be a far off fantasy. The Christian story would not be compelling if it ended there because all too often we hear that story, we live that story, where darkness crushes the light, where hate wins out over love.

So we remember that the story never ends there because when we strip away all of those things that we think we need, we uncover something new, things we didn’t think were possible: love, compassion and humility, true meaning and value. It is then that we glimpse the image of God that sits at the core of our being. It’s an image that is buried under so many misconceptions of who we are and what makes us happy, buried under so much pain, suffering and hopelessness. But it’s an image filled with so many possibilities of hope that we find on Easter morning when we discover the tomb is empty. Until we get there, though, we must continue to journey inward, to strip away, to empty ourselves so we can discover those things that really matter.

March 14, 2013

Cognitive Dissonance and the Journey to Becoming

Before I ever went into professional ministry, my degree and my vocation were in Social Work.

I often joke that having a Bachelor’s of Social Work (BSW) is a lot like knowing CPR: you know just enough to understand how bad a situation is and how much worse you could make it by trying to help.

There’s a lot of truth to that statement, But the fact is I learned a great deal in my time as a Social Worker that continues to inform my work as a pastor, including the notion of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance occurs when our actions are not in keeping with our understanding of who we are. For example, a woman who thinks of herself as kind while recognizing that all of her friends live in fear of her constant ridicule, or a man who thinks of himself as loyal even though he is cheating on his partner are folk living with cognitive dissonance.

As a minister, I often hear one of the most common criticism leveled at church folk – hypocrisy – as an issue of cognitive dissonance. Folk hear the church talking about love and forgiveness while they see it practicing active discrimination and condemnation. Folk hear the church talking about care for those who suffer while we spend most of our time and our resources serving our own members and servicing our own buildings. As a representative of the church I recognize these critiques as valid and well founded. We have a lot of work to do in order to live into the church God is calling us to be.

As Rob and I have gotten to know the vibrant, creative, life-giving community of Downtown Phoenix we have also encountered cognitive dissonance. Every day we meet generous people who care deeply about the service organization in their community but who don’t donate money or volunteer their time. Every day we meet deeply spiritual people who have no spiritual practice, no spiritual community, or no understanding of spirituality that challenges them to grow and thrive. This cognitive dissonance doesn’t make these people any less vibrant, creative, or life-giving – IT DOESN’T MAKE THEM BAD PEOPLE – it just means that they are not living fully into who they want to be in the world.

Think about that for a moment. Are you living fully into who you want to be in the world?

If this resonates with you there’s good news: as a people of faith we believe that it is never too late to grow into who you are called to be. Even better, City Square wants to help you do just that!

See folks, the church has been struggling for centuries with the cognitive dissonance that exists between the ideal God calls us to and the imperfect people we are and, while we’ve yet to get it right, we have gained a great deal of wisdom about what it means to live in this tension that might be useful to you in your own journey.

So if you’re a thinking person think about it, and if you’re a praying person pray about it. Who are you? Are you a kind person? A loving person? A brave person? Are you a person who takes time to care for others? Are you a person who takes time to care for yourself? Are you generous? Are you spiritual? Are you a leader? Are you a person of peace? Would the people around you recognize those things about you? What do you do each and every day to become a little more the person you want to be?

As you wrestle with these questions I hope you’ll share your reflections with us and help us hold a mirror up to ourselves so that, together, we can become more intentional about growing into who we are called to be as a community.

Welcome to the journey. Welcome to City Square Church.