Tag Archives: Religion

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.

May 9, 2013

Can Anything Good Come Out of Downtown Phoenix?


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.

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.