Kids Camp Reflections

Weird Animal Kids Camp was a BLAST.  We had a dozen kids from City Church and 59 others from Lafayette Elementary School (where we worship).  We laughed and played and danced and ate and petted weird animals (including the 12 foot python below).  It was a picture of God’s kingdom coming here on earth – with tons of love and healing and new friendships and connection with our heavenly Father.  The pictures tell the story well…
Python Picture IMG_1901 IMG_0294

Why We Do Kids Camp – Bill White

A dozen of us from City Church got to volunteer at our local school (Lafayette Elementary) on Tuesday for their end of session carnival, along with some city personnel.

I was struck by how freely these kids interacted the adults. Fifth grade girls squealed with excitement as two Long Beach Firemen raced through the obstacle course that the kids had set up. Kids shared “What’s up?” jokes with Jason Brown and gave high fives to Greg Suzuki and chatted it up with Rick Macias.

Carnival time: Jason Brown vs. one of the teachers

Carnival time: Jason Brown vs. one of the teachers

But there was another side to it also. There was the girl who shared with me that her grandma is going deaf, and the boy who said he watches TV all day, and the little girl who started shaking and broke down in tears when she saw that police officers were there volunteering – who knows what had happened in her family the last time she’d seen the police.

In Jesus’s world, where no one gave any attention to kids, he said, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them.” They mattered to him. So we’re trying to let them matter to us, too. Our Kids Camp won’t be particularly fancy, but there are 25 volunteers who are going to pour themselves into serving, loving, laughing with and teaching the kids of our community.

Why I Like Ant Attacks in My Home – Bill White

Spoiler alert – I actually don’t like ant attacks. I wish I didn’t live on a giant anthill.  They make me squeamish, and I’m embarrassed to post this blog because I worry you won’t want to come into my home.

But I’m going share anyway because ant attacks have come to represent something that I appreciate.  Here are the last three ant attacks.

The Friday Attack – Location: behind the chair in the big room, by the power strip.  Number: Less than 500.  Target: who knows, but probably some food item that fell off of one of the teenagers’ plates at our Open House the night before.  Ant attacks are one of the costs of having 36 people at your house for dinner. (Hmm… seven of them had never been in our home – maybe it was their fault)  I wish I didn’t have to pay that cost, but oh well.

The Monday Attack – Location: the kitchen counter. Number: 2,500 for sure.  Target: See’s Candy peanut brittle.  The peanut brittle came from a friend, Michael as a thank you to me and folks at City Church.  I’d been at his final presentation for his graduate level class at Pepperdine when he choked up as told his professor and other students that at as an irreligious person he was shocked to come to City Church and to be so welcomed.  His group had studied the inner workings of City Church to recommend some much needed strategies to help us run better, but he spoke most eloquently about how he’d had a spiritual experience unlike anything in his life the night he’d come to our home.  I don’t think that’s usual for graduate student business presentations.  We loved the peanut brittle he gave us.  So did the ants.

The Tuesday Attack – Location: the dreaded kitchen counter again.  Number: less than 300 (early detection at 6am this morning).  Target: Persian dessert pastries.  I love Persian dessert pastries.  Just because they were in a closed container, that doesn’t stop ants.  I need to remember that. They were left over after last night’s discipleship huddle.  People don’t sign up for food, they just bring it.  We talked last night about grief, and where is God in the midst of grieving.  We spent a long time praying for ourselves and friends who are grieving. And we ate yummy things.  I awoke and grieved the ants.

This morning, after carrying my beloved Persian pastries out to the trash, Caris walked by and said, “When are you going to get a professional to do this? It’s not going to stop because we always have people in our home.”


This Blog Doesn’t Have a Naughty Word in It – Jason Brown

Last week, Bill blogged about a conversation he had with a neighbor. In that conversation, he said that all-too-often Christians are No Bad Words___________ (you can read last week’s blog to find out the answer since this week’s blog doesn’t have a naughty word in it).

For the record, I fully endorse the post. And, here’s something interesting. More people read that post than any other post we’ve written – by far. I suppose some of that could be attributed to the scandal of a pastor using a naughty word publicly. But, I don’t think that’s the main reason. I think it’s because it resonated with lots of people.

Here’s something Jesus said to religious folks like me:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land  and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”

I think the descriptive word Bill used last week is roughly equivalent to the phrase Jesus used two thousand years ago.

At the individual level, the goal of Christianity cannot be to make someone more spiritual, more devout, more holy, more religious or more likely to go to heaven (unless we’re willing to redefine these words). The goal must be to make someone a better human being.

I’m Going To Get In Trouble For Saying This – Bill White

I met my neighbor, David, out walking one day and he and I and a few other neighbors got together recently to play A Game of Thrones board game. For Memorial Day, they brought their families over to my house for a barbeque, and then we played games afterwards.Jesus Jerk

As we were swapping stories over burgers, someone asked how we met, and Katy shared how I invited her to a bible study back in the day when she was a beer-drinking rugby player. After some laughter, one woman (whom I’d never met before this night) looks at me and timidly asks, “Are you a pastor or something?” Oh boy, now it’s on. “Yes, I am,” I said, and I asked if she’d had any experience with religion.

She talked some about growing up in Southeast Asia and then mentioned that she knew some Christians.

“Oh,” I said, “Is that good or bad?”

She asked what I meant, and here’s my honest reply: “Well, it seems like a lot of Christians are assholes.”

A couple of the guys set down their beers to laugh out loud and comment, and one of the wives gave a mischievous look at her husband, who threw up his hands saying, “I didn’t say ‘asshole’ – he did!” His look at me suggested he was quite glad I had.

“Yeah but you were thinking it!” his wife said. “I know you’re thinking of my mother!” At which point he freely confessed that yes, her mother came to mind.

“Well,” she paused, “she IS an asshole. And the biggest hypocrite I know. I can’t believe she says she follows God but has so much hate in her. She’s told me three times I’m going to hell.”

Thus began a fabulous conversation with lots of honest sharing about people’s experiences with religion and about how radically different Jesus is.

I suppose I shouldn’t have said the “a——” word (especially since my mother reads these blogs), but it’s the honest truth. The more we admit that Christians are messed up, too, the more real our conversations will be about the spiritual journey.

I Wanted to Write a Blog that Warranted the Use of this Picture – Jason Brown

So, I was at the office (Starbucks on Willow and Long Beach Blvd.) yesterday.Owl

Next to me was George. He was having trouble with his computer. I’m no computer expert, but maybe I give the vibe I am. Sidebar: To all my friends, if I have given any of you the sense at any point – perhaps by my dress or behavior – that I actually am a computer expert, please, PLEASE let me know so I can have more honest conversations with my therapist.

Anyway, George asked if I could help get all the “cookies” off his computer. If you don’t know what “cookies” are, well, I’m not the guy to tell you, but I know it has something to do with visiting websites and accumulating residue on your computer as a result. So, I was spending time doing the little I knew in order to help George. I asked him where he was from and what he was up to. He returned the favor, “So, what do you do?” I answered, “I’m a pastor.”

This caught the attention of the couple on the other side of George. I glanced over and saw a Bible open on their table. Sadly, I wasn’t sure if this was a good or bad thing. I wish I could say I was immediately encouraged, but the truth is that my first thought was, “Uh oh.”

The man at the table, Frank, asked suspiciously, “What do you think it means to be a Christian?” Here we go . . .

“Well, right now, I think part of it has to do with me helping George with his computer.”

Frank pounced, “That’s what anyone would say. They could be a Muslim or a Buddhist and they’d say that. Helping George with his computer is just about being a good neighbor. That’s not what it means to be a Christian.”

I timidly offered, “Didn’t Jesus talk about loving your neighbors?” Frank lectured me for the next five minutes, pausing twice to ask questions I answered incorrectly. Just then, I wanted to do some un-pastorly things.

For all I know, Frank could be a decent human being, but that experience was terrible. So, why am I blogging about it?

Part of it is to process my anger at the fact that Frank is my brother in Christ. I want to distance myself from him – write him off – but somehow we’re on the same team. This is just confusing to me. I also know that I need as much mercy and grace as Frank does.

I suppose the other thing is that I want to say, “I’m sorry,” to anyone who has felt what I felt yesterday. I’m sorry that we Christians have done stuff like this to you. I’m sorry we haven’t bothered to get to know you, we’ve utterly failed at loving you and we’ve told you how wrong you are. I’m so sorry.

The Class I Never Took in Seminary – Bill White

I – Bill – never took the class in seminary on how to buy cars for people in your church, but I should have.

Erycah with her Honda!

Erycah with her Honda!

There are a couple of women in our Open House who are single moms, have decent jobs, and whose cars have just died (as in, left in the baby’s preschool parking lot for dead). Decent jobs are tough to come by, so it seemed wise to help these two women keep theirs – and that meant helping them buy cars. For one, it seemed the Jesus thing to do.  For another, it seemed cheaper than dealing with whole families now without income.

So after a few conversations in and out of City Church, a little sweat and some financial sacrifice from the two ladies, we came up with $6,000 for each.  We spent hours and hours, along with other folks from City Church, going to car lots, going with the ladies on test drives, and following up Craig’s List posts.  After a couple of weeks, we got our first real break and found a Honda Accord in great shape (125,000 miles) for just over $6,000 cash including tax and title – a miracle.  Erykah couldn’t have been more thrilled, especially since she found the car herself.

Having bought her car, Erykah focused on finding Monica one.  And she did – a Toyota Corolla with 130,000 miles in incredible condition for $5,000.  One of the guys from the church looked it over and drove it, as did Erykah and Monica – and then we bought it.

Perhaps the most fun in the process was in one of the test drives with a woman from Hermosa Beach. I showed up first to look at the car she was selling, then Monica, then Erykah and her son.  We all crammed into the car for a test drive, and this woman (who was a single mom herself) was having the hardest time doing the math on us.  After a few minutes she said, “You mean you’re from the same church!? What kind of church does that? I want to come!”

Posting a story like this is always a risk. First off, it makes it sound as if City Church is special. We’re not. We’re just a church and there are lots of churches, followers of Jesus and other people doing far more impressive things than helping a couple of single moms buy a car. Obviously, too, we’re not advertising ourselves as The-Church-That-Helps-Anyone-Who-Needs-A-Car-Get-One! I wish we were this good, but we’re not.

Nevertheless, this is the kind of stuff the Spirit has been doing at City Church . . . and it’s worth celebrating!