Monthly Archives: April 2013

April 25, 2013

The Importance of Getting to Know Our Neighbors

There’s something that bothers me about seeing neighbors gathering in the streets to celebrate things like the killing or capture of our national enemies. Why does it take tragedy and violence to bring us out of our houses to meet our neighbors through mourning or rejoicing with them? How do we move to a place where we celebrate in the street with our neighbors just because it’s something we practice regularly as a community?

I moved to Phoenix a little less than a year ago, just before starting my work with City Square Church. We looked at a few different houses, but settled on the one we ended up buying because we liked the feel of the neighborhood. It was quiet, yet you could easily walk to a nearby intersection that had various cool restaurants, coffee shops, a gym, and much more. We could take the kids to a nearby park and walk/run on the nearby canal path.

Now, when you move to a new neighborhood, in Phoenix, at the beginning of summer, it’s unlikely you will have much interaction with your neighbors. During our brutally hot summers we tend to stay inside or scurry from one air conditioned place to another.

But when the heat broke, in the fall, we began meeting a lot of our neighbors. We were invited to a few neighborhood barbecues and block parties and found that most of our neighborhood was made-up of families with young children, just like us. Now, when we go on our evening walks with our kids we run into our neighbors. Sometimes we stop and chat for a few minutes, other times we exchange a wave and a hello.

A few months ago our house was broken into and the intruder stole some things from our bedroom. The next day I walked around our block and notified my neighbors, many of whom I had yet to meet, of what had happened. They appreciated knowing about the robbery but I also ended up having more in-depth conversations with them, adding a silver-lining to an unfortunate event. I thought to myself, though, that it shouldn’t take my house getting robbed to get out and get to know my neighbors better.

Recently, I learned that a 2009 Gallup poll found only 12% of Arizonans believe the people in their community care about one another (For this stat and a ton of other good information about Arizona, check out The Arizona We Want 2.0).

In other words, at best, people don’t think their neighbors care about them and, at worst, we don’t think our neighbors trust us and/or we think they hate us.

It’s no secret we have trouble being neighborly, here in Arizona. Suburban sprawl creates cookie-cutter communities with two car garages, high walls and the lack of places for the neighborhood to gather. Freeways and un-friendly streets for bikes and pedestrians discourage walking and biking. All of these things create fewer natural interactions for people to have with one another. In addition, many of our laws promote a self-preservation/no trespassing/I can shoot you if I fear you mentality. We especially fear immigrants and just about anyone who doesn’t look or think like us.

I believe, however, that we can do better than 12% of us who think our neighbors care about us, and we can start by finding out who are neighbors are. In Luke 10:25 a lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers with “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” But the lawyer isn’t satisfied so he pushes more, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus then goes on to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. During Jesus’ time, Samaritans were considered anything but neighbors as they were seen as unclean and inferior. Yet, Jesus tells a story where those who society considered to be upstanding citizens and righteous religious leaders pass up a man who has been robbed and beaten and is lying in a ditch. But it’s the Samaritan who comes along, helps the man, and turns out to be the hero. In a scandalous reversal it’s the last person that anyone expects who Jesus identifies as the “neighbor” in the story.

It doesn’t matter who we are, we are all called to be good neighbors. It doesn’t matter who our neighbors are, if we don’t get to know them, we’ll let our stereotypes and misconceptions get the best of us.

If our neighbor is everyone and we are called to be good and compassionate neighbors, ourselves, we don’t have to go far to meet them. Your neighbor lives next door to you, sits in the office down the hall, is sleeping on the sidewalk tonight, comes from another country and might look different than anyone you’ve ever met.

Why do we need to get to know our neighbors? Because if we don’t, when people are in trouble, when they are disillusioned, when they are broken, they may have no one else to lean on. When we don’t know our neighbors it’s easy for distrust to take hold, for our fears to get the best of us and see our neighbors as “the other.” But when we know our neighbors fear and mistrust turn to love and compassion, and those are things worth celebrating in the streets.

So what are you waiting for? Go meet your neighbors.

April 18, 2013

Becoming Comfortable With Evangelism

This week’s post is a guest post and comes from City Square Church member, Claire Brown.

A series of events the last few days have taken me back to my thoughts on the topic of evangelism. They came off of a very high moment thinking about the next liturgical season coming up, Pentecost. In sharing a preview with some young people I spend my Sunday mornings with, I reflected on how exciting the energy around Pentecost can be and how I’ve never made that connection. Maybe it was the contrast of how underwhelmed 11 year old girls can be but it hit me like a wave. We at City Square are being equipped in many ways to excite others in growing our faith community and I feel very energized.

Then the events at the Boston Marathon happened bringing another wave of emotion; Sadness, hopelessness. I can easily name these familiar feelings after the fresh traumas of the loss in Aurora, Newtown, Sanford, Tucson and other cities… Intense excitement rooted in pain and fear that seems to keep repeating.

In many ways, the word evangelism tap dances on that emotional button of pain and fear, too. It was never clearly defined by my church growing up, allowing for other experiences from peers at school or by watching TV define it for me. I learned that ‘evangelism’ is a forceful and uncomfortable word that can be un-affirming, shaming and sometimes threatening. It’s not defined in the Bible clearly either. I recently learned, from a lecture, presented by Claremont School of Theology’s professor of evangelism, Dr. Jack Jackson, that the word was used maybe 10 times by John Wesley, though he seemed to be walking the walk and talking the talk.

Dr. Jackson also invited us to think about the Protestant church and its history as it is becoming a thing of the past. Our post-modern lives are not satisfied with ‘church’ as we know it. Where are going wrong? Is being a church just about membership and who’s sitting in a pew on a Sunday morning? Is it because of the decline of the ‘franchise’ church (the standardization of the protestant religious experience: pews, choirs, power points, praise bands, 20 min sermon packed into an hour of God a week) the reason for total chaos unfolding around us? The un-churched are outnumbering the churched so we must evangelize – sinners be damned! Is that the evangelical message of the 21st century?

Dr. Jackson’s lecture reminded me that religion manifests in human relationships. If this is true then we as a church are missing the point. So much so that Methodists (and Protestants generally) have created a culture of unauthentic experiences of God that we are running scared away from the truths that come from being connected deeply with one another. The church and our history cannot survive if we do not own ‘evangelism’ as a part of our own story. We need to name it and define its power as the Holy Spirit – a power that comforts and rests. That uplifts and empowers. This requires us to move out of our comfort zones and own our faith as a collective truth so that others may connect to God’s unconditional love through us.

If you’re wondering what the definition is, here is how I define it: Evangelism is a calling and gift to share unconditionally. To share the Good News of one very inspirational human story of the life of Christ. To share and grow with others so that they may know what kind of message is truly out there together – not in a teacher/student way but in a student/student way that is dynamic and meaningful, something more authentic than what there is offered on a Sunday morning in any congregation. Yes, we know where to congregate but do we know how to talk to one another?

We are called to show up to what is real and happening in a time of personal and national chaos whether it be as joyous and challenging as spending time with 11 year old girls or as horrifying as terrorism on a steady rotation. Evangelism is not comfortable but it can affirm, nurture and heal if we enter relationships with our neighbors and friends who might not trust what’s happening within the familiar four walls under a steeple and cross. In fact, John Wesley modeled evangelism by spending years with people before they called themselves Christians one-on-one. Wesley showed his community what it means to be purposeful Christians by providing relationship opportunities – opportunities to share doubts and receive affirmations from one another. ??Hate is not authentic Good News – do not be fooled. But joy is authentic. Peace is comforting when it’s authentic and love is real. We as City Square Church, as a movement, are being called to reach out with authentic intentions to transform ourselves and the community. To accept the gift(s) the Holy Spirit brings us so that we become a testament to hope for others to share infinitely.

April 10, 2013

Our Limits, and Beyond

Tonight, below the window of my 1st Ave. and Adams apartment I overheard two people shouting at each other. That happens sometime, the (additional) price you pay for living in the heart of downtown, but tonight I heard words that alarmed me: hit, scared, get away, don’t touch me. Now, I’m not the kind of guy who thinks he’s tough enough to step into any situation, but I couldn’t ignore this one so I pulled up the non-emergency police number on my phone and I headed downstairs.

It was ugly. A man and a woman, close to each other and off to one side of the sidewalk, like folk only get when they know they’re being inappropriately intimate or aggressive with each other in public. Their voices were low and angry, escalating into shouting then self-consciously dropping back down into strained, hushed tones. From the street I heard another word that put the whole scene into context for me: drunk. She was drunk. He was drunk. They were clearly drunk.

I’ve worked with enough hard-living folk to know better than to engage people when they’re drunk but I also know that sometimes drawing a private moment of anger out into public can embarrass even drunk folk into deescalation. I asked them if everything was okay.

“Yes, everything’s fine.” Him.

“No, it’s not okay.” Her.

“Do you need me to call the cops?” Me.

“No.” Her.

“Sure.” Him.

“Yeah, go ahead.” Her.

For the moment we were all in agreement. I called the cops and then hung out for about 10 minutes waiting for them to show. He’s feeling pretty smug. She punched him in the face and he’s going to find witnesses. He rides off and she tells me he has her keys and she’s afraid to go home, and by the way, she needs a shot if I’m drinking tonight. I’m not. He comes back. They fight about who’s house it is that he has the keys to. She pays the bills. He buys food. She bought the dog. He pays for it with love. I’m not judging. He rides off again. She asks about nearby bars. I express sympathy for what appears to be a bad night. He comes back and claims not to have her keys anymore. She stomps off toward home. He stays and smugly tells me he’ll wait for the cops. He gets bored, tells me his name and says he’s going home. He rides off. I walk to the corner and can no longer see either of them.

Epic fail.

I stepped out of my house and into other people’s business so I could try to keep a bad situation from getting worse and in the end I accomplished absolutely nothing. They’re both still drunk and angry, only now they’ve presumably gone home to fight rather than doing it where someone my be able to intercede. I feel… awful.

So what do I do? I walk back to my apartment, head swimming with all the ways I’ll intervene more effectively next time (“If you’re scared he’ll come to your house do you have a safe place you could go instead?” “If you think this is all because she’s drunk, do you have a place you can go tonight until you both sleep it off?” The list goes on) and I do the only thing I know to do when I’ve failed. I pray.

Believe me, I’m not the kind of guy who asks God to step in so I don’t have to. I’m not a passive pray-er. I am a roll-my-sleeves-up-and-get-in-the-mess kind of guy but I’ve been doing this long enough to know that more often than I’d care to admit their comes a point where I have to recognize my own inability to effect change in a situation. I hate it, but there it is, none the less. I am infinitely fallible.

If you have ideas about how I could have handled the situation better, I do too. I’d love to hear yours. Also, if you’re in an unhealthy situation in your home and need some support please contact our friends at Sojourner Center (www.sojournercenter.org). They’re fantastic and they’re ready to help. But if you’re just like me and you regularly find yourself in situations where you come face to face with your own limitations, know you’re not alone. I’m right there with you, along with every other social worker, nurse, chaplain, paramedic, teacher and anyone else who cares enough to help all the way up to that point where they can’t help anymore. And God is with you too.

It’s a humbling experience, but it’s pretty good company to keep.

April 4, 2013

Giving Away What Really Matters

In my last post I wrote about the difficulties associated with journeying through the darkness to find those things that give life and those things that matter most to us. When we truly discover those things, however, we will still question ourselves. We will quickly look for certainty. Is this who I really am? Is this what I’m really supposed to do?

Faith, is about giving up certainty.

I meet so many people who are looking for work or are unhappy in their current job and just want to follow their dreams and passions. In fact, I go to bed at night thinking about these folks and praying for them. When I wake up in the morning I often ask myself, am I doing enough to help them? But then I doubt. I doubt that there’s anything this terribly flawed pastor, husband and father can do to help others. There’s not enough opportunities out there, not enough time, not enough money. There’s jobs but not the “right” jobs.

Faith, is about giving up certainty.

And then there are the folks who aren’t working, on purpose. Well, sort of. They’ve left corporate jobs, jobs that allowed them to sock away enough savings that, just when those jobs had sucked the last bit of life out of them, they were able to walk away and spend a year or two following opportunities they were passionate about. Yet many of those opportunities don’t exist, they must be created, they must be fought for because our own minds and our world will fight against them. It’s hard to push forward when you start to doubt because you’ve heard “that will never work,” for what seems like the ten-millionth time.

Faith, is about giving up certainty.

Traditionally, the Gospel story that we encounter the week after Easter is the story of “doubting” Thomas. The disciples are huddled away in a room somewhere, heart broken over Jesus’ death and terrified that they may be next. Suddenly, the risen Christ appears to them, only for a few moments, but long enough for their hope to be restored. But everyone wasn’t there. Thomas was out grabbing a bite to eat, or something, and when he returns and hears what should be good news, he’s skeptical. Clearly, his friends are delusional. Thomas must believe without seeing. He must have faith. But he only believes when Jesus reappears, a week later, and Thomas can physically touch him.

Thomas is all of us. We have to see and touch in order to have faith. We have to know something will work, will be successful, profitable or meaningful. We can’t take that first step without certainty.

Faith, is about giving up certainty.

There are days when I’m terrified because I don’t know what’s going to happen a few years down the road or even a few months down the road. I worry about my career, my reputation and I worry about my family more than anything. I want certainty and I want to do whatever is necessary to hedge my bets, to create a safety net and to ensure my future and my family’s well-being in case I fail. I can’t give my time or talents to anyone or anything else because I’m not certain about my own life. Sorry, friends, but you’re on your own.

Okay, so those are my worst days. On my best days I’m that guy who can’t stop thinking about all of those people who just want to follow what they’re passionate about.

The disciples were pursuing what they were passionate about: God’s kingdom made fully known and present on earth; peace, justice and well-being for all of creation. Yet those hopes and dreams were shattered with the death of their leader. It would be faith that would move them forward, faith that is not immune to doubt, but the faith that if we give ourselves away, we will eventually realize the dreams and goals of the kingdom.

Even though Lent is over and we are early into the Easter season, let’s give up one more thing, let’s give up certainty. Let’s have the faith that if we work for the needs of others, that if we help other people follow what they are passionate about, that the rest will be taken care of.

So call that friend, family member or acquaintance and tell them you are here to help. Volunteer at that charity or non-profit that you’ve always been meaning to help with but just couldn’t find the time to (and to read more about the benefits of giving of your time and resources, check this article out),

Give up certainty.

Embrace fatih.

Follow your passion.

Change one life.

Change the world.