Category Archives: Guest Posts

May 19, 2015

City Square: Cool people, good message

By Kara Kahnke

Each month City Square member Kara Kahnke profiles an individual who has found a home at City Square Church.

karadebi3Debi Brady first came to City Square through the invitation of a friend. She grew up Methodist, and described feeling like she had to go to church when she was younger and do activities such as choir and youth group. She stopped going after high school when she no longer felt obligated to go with her family, but said she wanted to give it a try again as she got older. She now describes herself as spiritual rather than religious.

She noted that she comes to City Square because of the people. “They are all normal people who don’t pretend that they are super pious and don’t do anything wrong. They are who they are.” She praised the church for being accepting of everyone.

Debi said she also enjoys the small groups outside of church that allow her to socialize with others. She is currently part of the Creative Writing group and Painting group. In addition to the small groups, she said she appreciates that the church gives money to various charities throughout the community to help make it better.

Debi pointed out several reasons why someone might consider giving City Square a try. “It has cool people, great music, a good message, no pressure, and a causal atmosphere. Overall, you’ll leave with a good feeling.”

May 14, 2015

Moral Courage #4: Standing Up to Racism

Want to be a part of this growing progressive faith community, that is making a positive impact, in Phoenix? Come visit us on a Sunday morning, follow us online, and/or make a donation.

Recorded on May 3 – Dr. Matthew Whitaker (Guest Speaker)
Dr. Whitaker is Foundation Professor of History and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, winner of the 2014 Arizona Diversity Leadership Alliance Inclusive Workplace Award. He earned a BA in sociology and a BA in history at Arizona State University, where he also completed an MA in United States history. Whitaker earned a PhD in history, with honors, at Michigan State University. He specializes in U.S. history, African American history and life, civil rights, race relations, social movements and social movements. Whitaker is the editor of three books, including Hurricane Katrina: America’s Unnatural Disaster, and he is the author of Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West. His new book is Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama winner of Tufts University’s Center for the study of Race and Democracy’s Bayard Rustin Book Award. He has also authored a number of award- winning journal articles, numerous encyclopedia essays, and over 20 opinion pieces. Whitaker has won over 30 awards for his research, teaching, and service, and has given motivational speeches and lectured in nations throughout the world, including Australia, Canada, China, Czech Republic, England, Ghana, Ireland and Liberia. His commentaries have been featured on CNN, NPR, PBS, WVON, KEMET, and other media outlets.

May 14, 2015

Moral Courage #3: Standing Up For Education

Want to be a part of this growing progressive faith community, that is making a positive impact, in Phoenix? Come visit us on a Sunday morning, follow us online, and/or make a donation.

Recorded on April 26, 2015 @ 10:00am

Guest Speaker Stephanie Parra – Stephanie is the Board Member for Phoenix Union High School District’s Governing Board in Ward 3. Stephanie is an educator committed to improving public schools in Arizona. A first generation American citizen, Stephanie was born and raised in Yuma, AZ and is a product of Arizona public schools. She is passionate about ensuring every student in Arizona receives an excellent education and is adequately prepared to succeed in college, career and life. As one of the first in her family to attend college, Stephanie understands the power of a great education. Stephanie holds a Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies, a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and a Master of Education in Higher and Postsecondary Education from Arizona State University. Stephanie is currently the Executive Director for the T.W. Lewis Foundation overseeing the Foundation’s annual giving budget with a focus on education, children and families.

May 7, 2015

Phoenix Pride: A Reflection

City Square Pride

This is a guest post from City Square Church member, Tiffany Brown

The morning of April 12 was a morning of celebration. The City Square logo received a colorful Phoenix Pride Parade-worthy makeover and our t-shirts served as symbols of alliance and solidarity. Lisa and Everett Van Aller showed up with a wagon of supplies, City Square-stickered candy to hand out, and baby Elliott in tow – clearly the cutest member of our group. We broke bread and took communion in a Phoenix park-and-ride lot before joining the masses of feathers, leather, glitter, and happiness ready to walk – no, strut down 3rd Street.

Ben and Teneia Eichelberger saved the day, morphing a mic stand into a banner holder. Sam Richard served as our unofficial hype man, handing out candy, running the lines giving high fives, and “getting low” to the club music that poured out of the double-decker bus in front of us. We all made jokes about the possibility of getting lung cancer from the smog billowing out of said bus, but made those jokes while smiling and still committed to walk, our health be damned! I passed out blue feather boas and participated in a dance party or five on the sidelines of the Phoenix Pride Parade as we walked for equality and understanding.

But I dreaded the last quarter of a mile of the parade, that wide, slow turn onto Indian School, because that’s where anti-gay protesters were set up, shouting hurtful rhetoric through megaphones, boasting neon signs that proclaimed people would go to hell, simply for falling in love. The church-affiliated demonstrators quoted Leviticus between their hateful slurs, trying to make scripture stick to rainbow balloons and furry go-go boots. It all seemed so strange against the backdrop of even louder dance music, its volume strategic, trying to drown out the hate.

Our group stood there for awhile in front of the protesters, holding the City Square banner high, taking a stand and showing these picketers that there is place for all of us in religion, faith, love, and peace, because these concepts are not independent of each other, but rather intertwined pieces of a meaningful life, a life everyone should be allowed without prejudice or judgment.

I thought to myself, What are these protesters experiencing? And seriously, what do they hope to gain?

Looking back, I would imagine they were feeling frustration, anxiety, and intolerance?all of those troublesome emotions you generally experience when trying to convince someone that you’re definitively right?simply because your paradigms don’t match up.

I asked myself more questions are I watched them scream and taunt everyone who walked past, trying desperately to be heard.

What good can be found in tearing down others instead of trying to understand them? What good can be found in condemning love in a world that desperately needs all the love it can get? What would these protesters feel when they went home that night?

I suddenly, and gratefully, realized that I would never know the answers to these questions, because City Square is a faith community that would never dream of being on the other side of the barricades.

Instead, we’re a faith community built on the values of acceptance, equality, love, and compassion – a community that doesn’t need a megaphone to be heard – a community willing to walk a mile in another person’s stilettos to show our unity and alliance – a community that accepts every single person trying to figure out this exhausting, joyful, fleeting moment in the sun called life.

And that’s when I felt true pride that day, walking away from the shouts of misunderstanding and unhappiness, leaving it behind and moving forward with my brothers and sisters in faith toward the light.

April 13, 2015

City Square: Genuine people leading by example

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Church member Theresa Thomas (left) poses with author Kara Kahnke.

 

By: Kara Kahnke

Theresa Thomas has been part of City Square from the beginning. Her friend Allison invited her to a book study group that Pastor Brian had started. Eventually, the small book club helped Pastor Brian and Pastor Rob realize that there was a greater need in Phoenix. What began as a book club grew into City Square Church.

Theresa said she couldn’t be happier to be a part of it. She grew up Chaldean or Iraqian Catholic, which is similar to Roman Catholicism. Although allied with the Roman Catholic pope, they have a different leader. Theresa noted that Catholicism was heavily ingrained in her culture growing up.

Theresa said she never quite felt at home in a Catholic church. In college, she began attending a non-denominational church, which helped her feel like she was better able to build an individual relationship with God. City Square has helped her continue this pattern. “You build your relationship with God, and you’re going to do that with people who are also building a relationship with God,” she said.

In fact, the people are what Theresa enjoys most about City Square. “Everyone here is just so genuine,” she said. “They are genuinely excited to see me inside or outside of church. They’re not one thing on paper and a different thing in person.”

Theresa said she loves that City Square sometimes pushes her out of her comfort zone. She has a big personality that helped Brian and Rob recognize her natural leadership qualities. She currently serves as the Chair of the Leadership Committee, which means she helps by directing meetings and bringing issues to a vote.

Theresa wants other people to know that City Square is a church that leads by example. “It’s a church that’s giving Christianity a good name again,” she said, noting that the church always follows through on its mission in a positive way. She is happy and proud to share City Square with others.  Most importantly, Theresa knows that she will always feel accepted at City Square. “The church recognizes that whoever I am is enough.”

Want to be a part of this growing progressive faith community, that is making a positive impact, in Phoenix? Come visit us on a Sunday morning, follow us online, and/or make a donation.

March 9, 2015

Supportive Community, Charitable Outreach Help Make City Square Home

Janet Seely (back) poses for a photo with Kara Khanke (front).

Janet Seely (back) poses for a photo with Kara Kahnke (front).

Guest Post by: Kara Kahnke

Janet Seely recalled growing up in a fundamentalist background that focused on specific rules and tenants of belief in God. She said that this background taught her that asking questions about God demonstrated a lack of faith. Her college experience began to change her perspective. College encouraged her to ask questions and explore different ways of understanding her faith. She said that City Square fit in well with this new way of understanding.

Janet came to City Square shortly after moving to Phoenix. “The first time I came, I knew this was the place for me,” she said. “At City Square, it’s more about what you do than what you believe. It’s about how you live out your faith.” Above all, Janet noted that City Square is about accepting everyone. She said this level of acceptance is much more important than a check list of beliefs.

Despite asking questions at times, Janet noted that her Christian faith has always been important to her. She said the strong community at City Square helps enrich her understanding of God. “I couldn’t stop being a Christian if I wanted to, and I don’t think you can do that alone.” She said this shared sense of support, accountability, and motivation toward spiritual practice, are all part of what inspires her to call City Square her church home.

Janet said one of the most positive aspects of City Square is the way the community challenges her to take everything a step further. When she mentioned to Rev. Rob Rynders that she enjoyed reading “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road,” Rob encouraged her to start a study group about the book. Janet continues to participate in various City Square groups including the Creative Writing Group, Spiritual Formation Group, the Leadership Committee and the Mission Committee, which chooses City Square’s charitable partners.

Janet stated that City Square’s charitable outreach is another aspect that attracted her to the church. City Square tithes 10 percent of all donated funds back to community partners it believes are doing positive work. “It allows us to be good stewards,” she said. “By contributing to these organizations, City Square makes a much stronger impact than what we could ever do as a church alone.”
To people who are thinking about attending City Square for the first time, Janet encouraged them to give it a try, noting that City Square is better when experienced than when explained. “You can start as big or small as you want,” she said. “You’ll find a place to fit in here.”

December 1, 2014

Chureca (or, Why I Believe in God)

This is a guest post from City Square member Nathan Rosswog

Chureca 3

If I believe in God, it’s because of a garbage dump that smells like shit.

In the summer of 2008, my friend Clay and I backpacked through Central America for three months. We had no structured itinerary for our trip, but our goal was simple: Our desire was to meet people we had never met, to hear their stories and look into their eyes, and find connection between all of humanity. Truthfully, we wanted to find God in a way and place we had never found him before.
Though our trip was well-intentioned, it was poorly planned. In fact, the night before our departure from Florida to Guatemala City, our contact in Guatemala called to say he couldn’t meet us at the airport, but would send his friend Carlos to pick us up instead. Which was great, because we had no idea what Carlos looked like.

That vignette served as a microcosm for our entire trip: any flimsy planning we attempted to do was quickly blown away by the winds of travel, unexpected circumstances and Latin American instability. Still, despite the setbacks-Clay losing his passport, staying in an extremely dilapidated and sketchy hotel in San Salvador, wandering around aimlessly in Guatemala City for hours after taking a “short walk” and getting lost- I have never experienced God more clearly than on that pilgrimage.

I saw God everywhere.

I saw God in the natural beauty of Guatemala and Nicaragua; in the chiseled mountains and rolling fields and rushing, crystal waters.

I saw God on the top of the mountain in Guatemala where we were living and
working: He was in the strength of quiet and serious women who carried baskets of fruit on their heads every day; He was in the dedication of the calloused machete men who went into the fields to work the land, and of course he was in the laughter of the children as they played soccer.

I saw God in the funeral processions for loved ones, complete with pinatas, banners, and flowers; and I saw God in the general commitment to relationships and people that is lacking here in the United States.

I saw God in conversations, in lifestyles, in the street and on the mountaintop, in
the alleyways and hotels and buses and smiles and tears.

I saw God everywhere.

But mostly, I saw God in La Chureca, a Nicaraguan garbage dump community that was home to over 800 people. It was hell on Earth.

On the first day that Clay and I ventured into the dump, I noticed a blackened, soot-filled Teddy Bear that was suspended by its neck with wire hanging over the entrance. Below the bear fires burned, and the smoke that rose from these burning pyres had darkened the Teddy Bear’s coat to a deep soot-grey. I couldn’t help but ruminate on the imagery: though an ominous welcome, the blackened bear was an appropriate portrayal of the brokenness and death that lay inside. Once inside, my suspicions were confirmed: one quick glance revealed three-legged dogs that scoured for food, heaps of trash that burned incessantly, creating a canvas of ash and soot that blanketed the community, and children who, despite their surroundings, used the mountains of trash to play King of the Hill and Hide and Seek (children are the best of every culture, aren’t they?) People’s eyes were downcast and lifeless, shoulders were heavy from the weight of the discarded garbage and discarded lives. Literally, the place I was standing had “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I was in hell.

The questions began immediately, and furiously: Where was God in this place? If these people are in Hell now, what kind of God would send them to an eternal one? What does salvation mean to these people? What relevance does church have in this place, when survival is the goal and trust is unknown?

Though most of my questions weren’t answered and many of them rage to this day, I began to see clearly -probably for the first time- that all of my preconceived notions about Sin, Hell, Salvation, Heaven and God were rapidly dismantled. It was unsettling to realize that Sin was tangibly real, and not simply a vague theological concept: It was clear to me that the greed and selfishness that created this dump, and the structures in place that perpetuated it, were nothing short of an abomination before God. Hell was real: I was in it. Salvation was real: In a palpable and desperate way, this place needed saved.

Oh, but the joy I felt when I realized that if Hell was real, Heaven was too! As I spent time with the people and heard stories of hope, of families sticking together, of neighbor helping neighbor, I knew all was not lost. As I spoke with the children about their dreams for the future, I knew that Death had not completely won, and that Life was still breathing there, though softly. I knew, or rather I choose to believe, that God hears the prayers of the nine year old girl there who prays every night to be a doctor, and that one day he will take the bones of poverty and sin that reside in that dump and breathe life into them until they are dancing upon the injustice that they now know. I choose to believe.

I believe in God, and it’s because of a garbage dump that smells like shit.

March 10, 2014

Love Wins at City Square Church

The following is a personal reflection/testimony by Kara K., a member at City Square Church.

On the nightstand by my bed, I keep letters and quotes that dear friends have given me over the years. They speak of hope, courage and love. If any day seems like it has been extremely difficult, I read through the stack to remember how strong I am and how much I’m loved. I recently added this to the stack. It’s a quote from the book “Love Wins” by Rob Bell.

“May you experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been yours all along. May you discover that this love is as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in your heart that no one else knows about. And may you know, deep in your bones, that love wins” (p. 198).

Pastor Brian recommended I read “Love Wins” when I told him I wanted to learn more about his understanding of God. I’ve thought a lot about my faith lately. Although I believe in God, I’ve been slowly frustrated, disillusioned, and ultimately heartbroken by what seems to me to be a narrow understanding of who God is and how he chooses to interact with the world. I object to how some people understand God because I feel like they emphasize following directions in just the right way in order to earn God’s love. If God truly loves us, should we really be concerned about how he might punish us for our sins against him? People who hold this view are perfectly entitled to their opinion. The right to hold differing views on this matter is what the freedom of our country allows. I don’t claim to understand God better than anyone else. But I believe that God doesn’t run an exclusive fraternity to which we must earn admission. I believe, when it comes to God, love always wins.

I have a physical and visual disability that sometimes makes it difficult for me to navigate to various places. I see God in the love that is extended to me each week by the various people who meet me at the light rail station to make sure I get to church safely. I see God in the love between a father and son as the son joyfully asks questions to learn about the world and the father patiently nurtures his curiosity. I see God in the love that’s invested in the hours of band practice to have beautiful music at church. I see God in the love behind the foresight to print a statement of inclusion in the church bulletin that states that everyone is accepted regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, political ideology or mental and physical ability. I’ve seen all of these things at City Square Church.

I originally came to City Square to hear my friend play in the band. I stayed because I found the presence of love and God to be undeniable. I feel so blessed to be part of such a wonderful faith community. For whatever negative experiences I’ve had regarding my faith in the past, City Square is patiently and lovingly healing the cracks in my heart.