Monthly Archives: May 2013

May 30, 2013

Listening to our Own Stories

Brian's Green BibleThose of you who have read my blog entries here may have picked up on a theme that has been working on me during my time with City Square: spiritual practice. While most churches I’ve encountered tend to speak often about belief, I have encountered countless folk who aren’t sure what they believe but know they feel called into a different way of life. I’ve also encountered a number of folk who claim to believe all the right things but whose lives and actions seem unaffected by that belief. Spiritual practice has been working on me both as an opportunity for folk to to have a first-hand encounter with the divine (don’t take my word for it!) and as a way for those who profess faith to see their lives transformed in response to that faith.

In my experience, one of the most common spiritual practices within the contemporary Christian community is Bible reading or Bible study. It also seems to me that this is one of the most poorly used spiritual practices within the contemporary Christian community. Every time I hear someone quote a line of scripture to support their personal or political opinion I cringe, not only at the (often) misinterpretation of the text, but at the intention of taking something intended to transform you for God and instead using the scripture to transform God for you.

This is perhaps my greatest fear as I prepare to reenter the life of a weekly preacher. For the past year City Square Church has been deeply contextual, seeking God in the community around us and asking God wherever we find Her to transform us. Now, as we prepare for to launch weekly worship on September 8th of this year (shameless plug) we move from primarily listening to the community of Downtown Phoenix into an ongoing conversation with the community of Downtown Phoenix, seeking to teach even as we continue to learn. While I believe this is an important and exciting step in our faith community becoming a legitimate partner in the greater Downtown area I am also concerned about the ease with which so many pastors slide from seeking God to finding God right where the want Her.

This week, however, I was reminded how this particular spiritual practice is meant to work.

First off, I began preparation for this upcoming service on Sunday, June 2nd at the Phoenix Center for the Arts (work it, work it!) almost a month ago by deciding what I wanted to preach on (The reciprocal relationship between a faith community and its surrounding community) and then picking a scripture that I though would allow me to make my point, in this case a text from the 4th chapter of the gospel of John which many people refer to as the story of the woman at the well. I know, I know! My approach was flawed from the beginning, but stick with me. This is the good part!

As I worked on my sermon over the past few weeks I felt pretty good about it but some pf the parallels just weren’t coming together like I had hoped. Like any good preacher, I went back to the text, paying close attention not to any assumed moralistic teaching, but rereading the story. What I found there was an entirely different message! Here, a few days before I’m supposed to preach a sermon that I’ve been working on for nearly a month I find a new lesson in this old familiar story!

Needless to say, what sucks for planning (want to see what eventually comes out in this week’s sermon? Me too!) is exactly what is meant to happen when approaching sacred texts: rather than me shaping the story, the story continue(s)d to shape me.

For those of you who are people of The Book, I pray that the next time you turn through those old familiar pages in search of a god who affirms you that instead you find a God who transforms you. For those of you who are not people of The Book and who are deeply skeptical about how you have experience scripture in the hands of self-proclaimed believers, I pray that the next time you encounter those sacred words that you have the chance to hear the stories. Whether you believe in them or not, their really is no substitute for encountering the stories of faithful people and allowing their lessons to become our own.

May 24, 2013

Introducing the Official City Square Church Website

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One of the things folks have asked us most about is our website. For the past several months we’ve offered a beautifully designed landing page with links to all of our social media sites. A couple of months ago we re-enlisted the services of downtown Phoenix based eeko studio to design and develop a fully functional website that would feature all of our events. Well, like they did with our logo, landing page, and other branding, the folks at eeko studio knocked it out of the park. Our new site offers an easy way to get information about and RSVP for all of our events. You can read our welcoming statement, learn our story, and find out more about our pastors. You can catch the latest posts on our blog and support the work of our ministry through our “Give” page. We hope you’ll take a few moments to explore all of the beautifully designed pages of our site. We’re excited to offer a world-class web site as we continue to ramp up to our public launch on September 8, 2013!

May 12, 2013

A Dream of a Happy Mother’s Day For All

julia_ward_howe_2An 1870 Mother’s Day Proclamation by Julia Ward Howe, author of the famous Battle Hymn of the Republic, in response to the carnage she witnessed during the American Civil War. Happy Mother’s Day, y’all!

                                                                          Pastor Brian

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From
the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice.”

Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons
of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a
great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the
means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each
bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a
general congress of women without limit of nationality may be
appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at
the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the
alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement
of international questions, the great and general interests of
peace.

May 9, 2013

Can Anything Good Come Out of Downtown Phoenix?

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Photo: Kelsey Wong, Design: Little Giant Design

Have you ever kicked yourself for standing on the sidelines too long? Have you ever failed to follow your heart or your gut and then missed out on something special? In my lifetime I have probably done that more than I like to admit. One of the biggest risk I’ve taken, though, is City Square Church, and it’s been far more rewarding than I could have ever dreamed. City Square, however, was a great risk to take only because Phoenix was, and continues to be, a great risk to take.

This past Sunday I preached at our first ever Sunday morning worship service, or what we new church start pastors call a “preview service” (We’ll have more previews on June 2, July 7, and weekly in August as we head towards our public “launch” or “grand opening” on September 8, 2013).

During the sermon I posed the questions: “Can anything good come out of downtown Phoenix?” and “Can anything good come out of religion?” My answer to both of these is an enthusiastic “yes!”

But we have to go beyond just agreeing that these things, can be, and are indeed, good. We have to be active in making Phoenix and religion good, even if they aren’t perfect and even if they are risky.

When it comes to Phoenix, we have to keep the momentum going in downtown, we have to spread the word about downtown, and we have to bring people downtown so they can experience what is good.

For those who consider themselves religious and who are specifically followers of Jesus, we can’t just talk about what a nice guy Jesus was, we have to live his values of love, compassion, justice, mercy and forgiveness on a daily basis. These can’t just be values we hold, but a way of life through which we transform our community and the world. We have to show that churches and religion aren’t aging buildings or a set of rules and judgments, but are a people who live into the loving and compassionate people God calls us to be.

Most importantly, we have to share and live this “good news” together.

So, if you missed our preview service, I want to extend an invitation to you to join us on this journey. We’re entering an exciting time in the young life of this faith community and we want to include everyone we can. If you’ve been on the periphery waiting for an opportunity to jump in, this is a great time. If you want to know what the next steps are or just want to hear more about who we are and where we are going, join us for “Coffee With the Pastors” at Songbird Coffee & Tea House on May 19th.

I don’t want to end with a selfish invitation to join my “thing,” though. Whether or not you’re ready to take a risk on religion, I want to invite you to help make Phoenix awesome. Phoenix needs not just your presence, but your ideas, your creativity, your passion, and your compassion. So much is already happening and will continue to happen as this city comes alive. So, whether or not you ever step foot into a City Square Church program or activity, please join me and many, many, others in making Phoenix, especially downtown, a great place to live, work, play and be in community with one another. If you’re standing on the sidelines, right now is the time to step into the game. Take a risk on Phoenix, you won’t be sorry.

May 2, 2013

We’re All in This Thing Together

A friend of mine from far off places wrote me this week to tell me that she’s recently found a church, she reads this blog (Woohoo!), and she’s wrestling with something she’d like some thoughtful reflection on. Essentially my friend was wrestling with why folk choose to follow God and whether that decision should be an altruistic one or if, at its core, it is always a selfish decision.

What a great question! Seriously, it hits on many of the things we wrestle with as people of faith and as folk considering whether or not to begin a journey of faith. First off it touches on the question that Rob and I have been asking since we began in Phoenix: “in the midst of all of the amazing work that is occurring in the downtown area and beyond, what value do we add to the lives of the people we’re seeking to serve?” Second, it touches on the issue of hypocrisy, a critique often leveled at the church these days, by putting our claims of altruism up against the view that we really do what we do in order to reinforce our own worldview and make ourselves feel better. In this sense my friend’s questions feels very relevant to City Square’s work in downtown Phoenix particularly and to the work of the Church in the world today generally.

In order to reflect on this question in a meaningful way I need to explain my cosmology, why and how creation functions the way it does. I believe that God created us to be loved by God and to reflect that love back to God, out to each other, and onto all of creation, thus connecting us to God’s infinite work in the world. I believe that at some point we began to think of ourselves more individualistically, not a bad thing in and of itself except that apart from God’s infinite work in the world we feel small, insignificant, vulnerable, fearful, etc. We built walls to protect ourselves, literally and figuratively, disconnecting ourselves from God, each other, creation, and subsequently our purpose, eventually looking for new ways to feel powerful and important. Finally, I believe that God’s work in Christ was to become human, inextricably reconnecting us to our creator, and that our work in Christ is remembering how to allow ourselves to be loved so that we in turn might remember how to love God, love each other, and love creation as part of God’s infinite work in the world.

Okay, so back to my friend’s question. My reflection on whether or not our work as Christians in the world is altruistic or selfish is that I believe it to be both. On the one hand, what could be more selfish than seeking our own purpose in life, remembering how to be loved, and reconnecting with infinite life and power?

But instead of the pop-culture love that’s all about emotions and butterflies in the tummy, substitute the kind of love that says, “we’re all in this thing together,” and, “I can no longer ‘win’ if it means you lose,” and suddenly everything changes. Imagine eternal life not as the continuation of me in perpetuity but as a connection to something beyond myself and the whole paradigm shifts. Sure, love still benefits me, but it also forces me to think beyond myself. Power and eternity still give me comfort, but it’s a comfort that rests in others rather than comfort from the struggles of others.

I believe when Christ followers really find the heart of the Good News it is simultaneously the most selfish and the most selfless work they can ever be about, because it can’t really be Good News unless, at it’s root, it’s Good News for everyone. Now don’t get me wrong, that means much harder work than merely finding a path that makes me feel good about me or, better yet, makes me feel okay regardless of how I live in relationship to God, others, and creation, but the payoff is much bigger as well. In the end, I believe it’s the only payoff that will ever make us feel truly fulfilled. After all, it’s what we were created for in the first place.

So friend (and other friends who are walking this path with us, virtually or in-person), thanks for asking good questions. Thanks for engaging in the process of growth, both your own, and ours collectively. Thanks for reading the blog (Woohoo!). Most of all, thanks for engaging in a process of becoming who you were created to be, because the closer you get to self-realization, the more you help the rest of us get there, and I’ll take all the help I can get.

I’m selfish that way.