Monthly Archives: June 2013

June 24, 2013

Phoenix, Faith, and Adaptive Reuse

One of the most interesting things about downtown and Central Phoenix is the practice of what’s called “adaptive reuse.” Arizona is one of our nation’s youngest states, meaning we don’t have a lot of old historic buildings. The ones we do have aren’t that historic by East Coast historic standards, but if something’s been around for a while, here in the desert, there’s a pretty big and vocal group of folks who do their best to preserve it. One of the ways they do this is to encourage reusing a building for a new purpose or business instead of bulldozing it for new construction. This has become a popular option for many locally owned restaurants and coffee shops that have brought new life to some of our older and unique buildings.

These projects are probably not as cost effective as demolishing the original building and then re-building, but they help maintain some uniqueness and history in a metro area infamously known for it’s urban blight and whitewashed urban sprawl. In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting in the new indoor seating area of Shine Coffee, here in midtown Phoenix. This is what they call their “living room,” which is a redesigned and repurposed space in an older building that once served as a dentist’s office where the dentist and his family lived upstairs. It’s one of the most comfortable coffee shop seating areas I’ve experienced and the environment is helping spur my thinking and creativity. There are also plans to add a “pocket park” space outside and plans for a wine bar in another vacant part of the building. It’s things like adaptive reuse that makes Phoenix attractive to creatives who think outside of the box and see possibility in an old vacant building or empty lot and not another opportunity to build a Dunkin’ Donuts.

As I’ve been reflected on our first year of existence, in a way it feels like City Square Church as been an adaptive reuse project. We’ve taken something (religion), that many thought had already made it’s statement, had fallen into disrepair, and by all means should probably be demolished because it doesn’t have much left to offer the world. We’ve taken those bones and we’re trying to breathe new life into them. Our vision has been to preserve the beauty, the uniqueness, and to tap in to what Christianity was originally supposed to be, while at the same time re-invigorating it with new possibilities.

There’s a lot about church that we’ve held on to. We still have small groups that do bible study, encourage accountability, and whose members pray for one another. We’re putting the finishing touches on our Sunday morning service that has the bones of thousands of other Christian worship services, including great music, preaching, and holy communion. We’re proclaiming our love of God and of neighbor and reclaiming that early Methodist spirit of a church not bound by walls and a faith that is personal but equally social.

We came downtown, though, not just to build another church, but because we saw some pretty great things beginning to break through the surface: The arts, the food, ASU, entrepreneurs, community organizing, and exciting new development. Our intention has never been to fix or to rescue Phoenix, but to help in the work that’s already being done. Yet, what we felt might be missing is a public space for faith and spirituality that was as unique and exciting about everything else going on in the core of Phoenix. Well, after a year on the ground we feel like our assumptions were correct.

We’ve met all kinds of people in the community who never thought they would ever explore the topics of faith and spirituality ever again, outside of their own thoughts or private conversations. These are folks who now gather to discuss religion and spirituality every second Sunday evening of the month at Angel’s Trumpet Ale House and those who come to our “Community & Contemplation” service at the Icehouse to be led in a “spiritual but not religious” form of prayer and meditation. Then there are those who have joined us for one of our Sunday morning worship services and confessed that they never thought they would willingly attend a service ever again in their lives. Many folks may still never attend one of our groups or services, but we’ve heard from those who feel that our work has enabled them to re-claim Jesus from a judgmental and hurtful past.

But like any old building, even though you’ve given it new plumbing, electrical, structure, and a face lift, it can still have unexpected issues and needed repairs. It also needs to live in to it’s new vision and purpose. And this will be our work for our second year as a church. There will be some unexpected quirks and growing pains. There will be new choices, challenges, and opportunities placed in front of us. There will be temptation to fall back into old habits and to focus inward on ourselves. Yet, if we remain faithful to God’s call and the spirit’s work in the community, we will remain, facing outward, ready to serve those who are not a part of us. We will not see them as strangers or as things to be collected, but as neighbors and partners in the work that lies ahead. May we do so in the name of the one who came to lay his own life down for others and calls us to do the same. Amen.

June 7, 2013

Creative Blocks, Car Repairs, and The Search for Meaning

This has been a very strange week for me. Sometime, around the beginning of May, I realized my creativity, ability to generate ideas, and create any kind of sensible workflow was basically non-existent. After trying to push through my funk I realized I wasn’t going to get anywhere unless I took a few steps back. I thought it might be a good idea to take a week where I could spend part of my days resting, getting some projects done around the house, and also taking some time to go to different parts of town to explore and work on my writing.

Well, we all know how the good ole “staycation” works out. I’ve put in more hours than I planned with work, unable to pull myself away from the phone and e-mail. But the most frustrating thing has been trying to fix the air-conditioning in my car, something I originally thought might take an hour or two. I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop, near my house, after dropping my car off at the mechanic for the third day in a row. This ongoing car repair saga has not been helpful for my stress level or my bank account.

My own inconveniences were put into perspective the other day, though. A colleague/friend/mentor of mine has been struggling with her health over the past couple of years, but I was still shocked to get an e-mail informing me, and others, that she had experienced a major stroke and was lying, unresponsive, but in stable condition, in the hospital. This comes on the heels of another good friend and colleague who just underwent brain surgery and was diagnosed with a malignant tumor. To be honest, I feel a deep sadness over both of these situations.

Over the years I’ve stopped asking God, “why do these things happen?” I don’t think it’s in God’s nature to give people massive strokes or cancer. Instead, I believe that God calls us to be an extension of God’s healing presence when others are suffering or are in need. I’ve found it far more helpful to be present with those I care about and to do whatever I can to relieve even a fraction of their suffering. Yet, sometimes, even us pastor-types still don’t understand pain and suffering.

In the New Testament, Luke’s gospel tells the story of a mother who was grieving the death of her only son. It’s a story that will be read in many churches, this Sunday. As Jesus and the disciples arrive at the mother’s village, Jesus stops those who are carrying her son’s body and says to the mother, “do not weep.” He then goes over to the man’s body and tells him to rise. Miraculously, the young man rises, speaks, and is reunited with his mother. Those who witness this then rejoice and praise God for what has happened. (Luke 7:11-17)

Normally, I’d probably offer some in-depth analysis on this passage and explain to you the symbolism and meaning of this miracle in the larger narrative of Luke’s gospel. However, this week, I just can’t intellectualize this story. I need the hope that this story offers. I need to believe in the new life that Christ gives us in every moment. I need to know that healing and life will ultimately overcome illness and tragedy.

This week, I need to bring it all to Jesus and I need to hear him say to me, “do not weep.”

May the God of love, healing, compassion, and of the peace that surpasses all understanding be with us now and forever. Amen.

-Pastor Rob