Archive for July, 2009

Worship in Front of Ducks

// July 29th, 2009 // 4 Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

Worship is what defines us as a community of faith. Is is that which marks us as distinct from a book club, a social network, a band of artists or activists. Of course we can be all of those things, but a central part of our mission at Church in the Cliff is their integration into our worshiping core. We strive to be a church where you can bring your intellect, your passion for human rights, your creative practices into the worship space. And I am convinced that we are all enriched by each others’ gifts in these areas and that when we bring our authentic selves to worship that God meets us there.
What does it mean to come together, Sunday after Sunday, and to worship? What is really happening in that space that we claim as sacred? During this summer we have taken some creative license in defining spiritual practices that nourish, and will continue to do so (have you seen what is on deck for the rest of August?) But worship as a spiritual practice is undeniably one of the great consensus points in Western Christianity. It matters that we gather together with the understanding that somehow, through the mysterious flow of the Spirit, we are transformed.
Now, I have attended worship services that are less than transformational. A lot of them. Worship services where you check your watch during the sermon, where you look around, see people sleeping, and wonder “what is going on here?” While that is less likely to happen in our services – hard to sleep when you are singing Sly & The Family Stone or making meaning during the Conversation time – we are vulnerable to our own set of obstacles to encountering God in the worship space (every congregation is.) And I hope to open up that topic a bit tonight.
Yet, I love worshiping at Church in the Cliff. I celebrate that our worship space is in a community center overlooking the pond. We don’t have the privilege of retreating to four walls which are all our own. And so we worship, right there in front of other people, in front of those who come in just wanting a drink of water, or to play a pickup basketball game. We sing in front of the geese and the morning mommy walkers. We break bread and drink coffee and sometimes have a shimmering transcendent experience of the Divine. All right there in the Kidd Springs Recreation Center.
For me, the fact that we worship in such a venue foregrounds that our church is more a collective practice than a place. And all are warmly invited to join us even if you are not quite sure that church is your thing. Come this week if you need some uplift or some peace or some good coffee and snacks. Bring your whole selves, questions, doubts and all as we explore worship as a centering practice.

En Paz, In Peace,

The Art of Cultivating Relationships

// July 22nd, 2009 // 1 Comment » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

The inspiration for this summer series was in part the twelve to fourteen spiritual disciplines central to the Christian life– things like prayer, study, service, worship. While not all of the disciplines are claimed by everyone (fasting, and confession perhaps the most controversial) I am drawn to them as a beautiful example of the wisdom of our tradition. These disciplines are things that people on the Way of Jesus have done for hundreds of years as a means of cultivating a more intimate relationship with the Divine. In designing the Centering Summer series we hope to ground these ancient disciplines within the specific resources and practices of our community.
There is also another stream to our thought as an “ecu-mergent” congregation, and that is the Emergent Conversation. For those of you who are new to emergent vocabulary, I invite you to spend some time exploring Emergent Village. (I particularly like the Post-Conference Reflection with Phyllis Tickle — she was my intro to emergent at the conference in Memphis this past fall). Anyway, in emergent circles, relationality is very important. Relationality is one of those great words which I am convinced is made up in graduate school (sister words include historicity and religiosity). Relationality is the art of cultivating relationships. While it may be those on the emergent spectrum that really give voice to relationality and friendship as a spiritual practice, people on the Way have been doing it since the beginning of the Church –and have also have been humbled by the task.
We humans are a prickly bunch. We are sensitive about the things we hold sacred. Ironically, this can make building relationships hard to do in the very place where we need them the most, with our fellow sojourners in our community of faith. Please join us this week as we ask what does it mean to be church together? To love each other? To listen deeply to stories of longing for truth, for beauty, for God, for wholeness?
Tonight we hope to cultivate good conversation as we eat some fancy pizza at Scott and Lisa’s (221 S. Edgefield Ave., 6:30pm). New folks and old friends are warmly invited to come and to worship with us Sunday morning as we explore the ancient craft of relationality.

En paz, In Peace

New Leadership Team at Church in the Cliff

// July 22nd, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

We would like to congratulate the new Board, which was elected unanimously a few weeks ago.  The Board members are:
Ross Prater, Moderator
John Means, Treasurer
Kristin Schutz, Clerk
James Fairchild, Trustee
Cara Stoneham, Trustee

The Board met for the first time last Monday, July 13th and is off to a great start.  The board will be posting bios on the website soon and communicating a status report including financial update via an all church letter in the next week or so.  The Board will be thanking our Transition Team and Nominating Committee for their service to the community at the end of worship this Sunday, July 26th. Please join us!

Iranian Art Show Update

// July 22nd, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

First, just an update from last week. Scott, Kristin and I have been prayerfully considering how our community could support Fereshteh and the other women in the Iranian Democratic Society who approached us about a potential speaker series/photo show. After hearing more of their story and reflecting on the very tight time frame (they hope to put this together for next month or so) we feel that the human rights/amnesty international community at SMU is a better fit for this year’s event. Kristin is working with them to leverage her relationships at SMU to hopefully open some doors.
Fereshteh was thankful for our time and attention and says she looks forward to collaborating in the future. Her message is posted below:
Dear Friends at Church in the Cliff,
Thank you so much for the opportunity to meet and know each other.
After talking to Courtney Sunday afternoon and understand that we may not be able to work together for our event, still we wish for future opportunities for some joint event and collaboration . Kristin, as Courtney suggested, Pari will contact you and see if we can get some help from Amnesty at SMU.
Best Regard and Peace and Justice for All,

Each week I post one entry that relates to our ongoing conversation about how to love the world back to life. One of the joys of pastoring a church such as Church in the Cliff is how engaged this community is in social investment of various forms. We give money, we organize, we volunteer, we help each other, we enter into relationship with the poor, locally and globally. Please post comments or suggestions here. Thanks, Courtney 

Tragedy and transcendence

// July 16th, 2009 // 1 Comment » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

In looking for art this week, I find myself pulled toward one of my favorites: Jean Michel Basquiat.  Basquiat was a painter in the 1980s whose work was infused with music.  Early in his career, he was in several bands in New York’s new wave/no wave scene.  Many of his paintings revered the giants of the be-bop era.  Like some of those giants – the ones he identified with most – his life was cut tragically short by a heroin overdose.

One of those heroes, Charlie Parker, achieved a kind of transcendence in his music.  As I understand it, Parker’s music takes known melodies and combines and reframes them as an improvisation.  He takes the musical landscape and reshapes it through his own identity.  There is no plan or program, just you and the music flowing through one another.  Parker was also a heroin addict, who died at the age of 35.  I wonder if his use of heroin and other appetites was an escape from or a search for that transcendence outside of music.  Perhaps he looked into the face of God and saw no other way to live.

Basquiat’s intense appetites had a different character.  Like Parker, Basquiat took the culture around him and sythesized it through his own identity.  The interesting thing was that Parker’s life was a part of that culture and identity.  That is, Basquiat’s identity included ideas from the culture at large about the tragic artist and what it means to be black in America as well as a consciousness of that identity.  His slow heroin suicide was, in part, a program – a game of sorts – for the art world.  That is what they expected of a young black man with talent, so he gave it to them and more.  His paintings were a spiral of meaning, with identity and culture and self-consciousness swirling back on each other.  They were brilliant, but they are filled with a fatalism and nihilism, a tragic destiny.  Basquiat won the game, but lost his life at the age of 27.  There is no transcendence for him except that of reputation and history.

Less often, Basquiat painted Max Roach, another hero of the be-bop era.  Roach was a pioneer on the drums, inventing ways of playing that virtually every drummer takes for granted today.  But he didn’t just come up with a brilliant idea long ago; he kept going.  He worked into the 21st century, embracing new forms of music that came along.  Only illness and age stopped him.

I wonder if Roach represented a hope for Basquiat.  He was a living hero, someone that went to the mountain top and survived.  The music compelled him to make more music, to seek out new kinds of experiences that orbited that center.  Imagine what great things Basquiat could have done if he had not given into the expectations of the world and, instead, patterned his life after Max Roach or Dizzy Gillespie or Art Blakey or any number of others.

As we continue looking at centering practices this summer, I hope that will continue to look for those practices that sustain us and around which our lives as individuals and as a community can revolve.

Iran Art Show and Twitter

// July 15th, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

This week Scott, Kristin and I met with a group of Iranian American women who are human rights activists and survivors of political imprisonment. They are organizing an upcoming art show and speaker series to commemorate the thirty years which have passed since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and to tell the story of human rights abuses in that country, especially the 1988 Iran Massacre. These are heavy subjects. We met at Bolsa and I felt the tension as I sipped my iced tea in air conditioned comfort and listened to Mitra tell of her eight and a half years as a political prisoner while a young woman.

Scott, Kristin and I are prayerfully considering how CityGallery and our church members can best support this group of women. (City Gallery is a fine art gallery with a long history of relationship to Church in the Cliff/City Church, with an emphasis on supporting new artists, fostering spiritual development through the arts, and bringing together the Christian and artistic communities in Dallas.) 

Mitra, Fereshteh and the other organizers contacted us because CityGallery hosted an art show for them two years ago showcasing a different artist/political prisoner and they are looking for help securing a venue and advertising this event, to be held in August or September. I am moved by the timeliness of their request given the current political tensions in Iran and wonder if our Twittering Church could in some way stand in solidarity with the young people of Iran and these survivors of human rights abuses. If you are interested in helping to organize this project, please contact Kristin at or Scott at

Each week I post one entry that relates to our ongoing conversation about how to love the world back to life. One of the joys of pastoring a church such as Church in the Cliff is how engaged this community is in social investment of various forms. We give money, we organize, we volunteer, we help each other, we enter into relationship with the poor, locally and globally.

Music as Meditation

// July 15th, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

Our resident rock star, Paul Semrad, will be leading us this week in a conversation about how music can function as a form of meditation. Paul has been organizing our music team the past several months at CitC and incarnates the search for God in both the sacred and the secular.  His mother was the music director at a local church so he grew up, starting en utero, with the hymns and other sacred music of the Christian tradition. He then spent the bulk of his early adulthood as a rock star in the Dallas band, Course of Empire. No, I’m serious. Check him out in these videosI spent a good chunk of the morning enjoying their music online and perusing their Wikipedia page. All rock stars, wannabees, and the rest of us are invited to join Paul this week as we consider how making music and appreciating music can draw us into a centered space with God.


Please join us tonight at 6:30 at Wes and Teri’s place (1406 Eastus Dr. Dallas) to eat some quesadillas and maybe even to make some music together!  En paz, Courtney

Social Investment: City Gardens and the Working Poor

// July 8th, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

good-shepherd-illustrationEach week I post one entry that relates to our ongoing conversation about how to love the world back to life. One of the joys of pastoring a church such as Church in the Cliff is how engaged this community is in social investment of various forms. We give money, we organize, we volunteer, we help each other, we enter into relationship with the poor, locally and globally.

Scott and Lisa both shared with me this link to a article on city gardening. We had an energizing conversation at the end of last week’s wed night community dinner about our ongoing relationship to the Good Shepherd in West Dallas. Scott, Lisa and I are interested in opening up a conversation with them about fresh produce. Rather than bringing canned goods or collecting donations for them to buy food through the North Texas Food Bank as we have been doing, we want to bring fresh produce if they think that would work for their families. (The Good Shepherd Community Center provides quality child care to low-income families and has an on site food pantry that we support). I love the thought of us getting a tighter relationship with this organization and see this as a first step. I also know that food banks almost never provide fresh produce and think this season of bounty would be a great time to begin. Could be simple to start out with– bringing a flat of whatever fruit or veg is in season from the farmers market to the center. Then we could maybe even explore the idea of gardening with them, or sharing food from our home gardens with them. If you are interested in going to visit the center and being part of this conversation please see me or Lisa or Scott.

Fasting and Failure

// July 8th, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

So it is 10:35am and I have already broken my planned day long fast. Well, actually I broke it even earlier. Here is what happened: I woke up and had to parent my toddler. We are “potty-learning.” This is intense business. And I found myself less than loving and engaging in multiple power struggles until I realized I was hungry, and needed my AM cup of tea. So…. I ate some oatmeal and cantaloupe and it tasted really good.  I think fasting may be one of the most complex spiritual disciplines. It stirs up a lot of questions for me, including wondering if it is just an example of a kind of “body-negative” attitude which is so often woven into the Christian tradition. However, I tend to not want to dismiss ancient practices of the mystics, and fasting definitely falls in that category. I also know many who have fasted and found it to be a powerful means of connecting with God and feeling lighter. I think this particular spiritual practice is a good moment to focus on the theme for our centering summer series: experimenting with practices that nourish. Not necessarily succeeding, or knowing exactly what we are doing, but trying on a practice to see how it fits, to see how it works, to see if God meets us in it.

How does one experiment with fasting? This past Sunday in worship we talked about hunger and how rarely we truly feel it. Some members discussed the realization that most meals they eat would be considered a ‘feast’ meal by the bulk of the world’s inhabitants. So we talked about waiting until you experience hunger before eating, each time, as a spiritual practice, which is what I am trying to do this week. I think there may be other ways, simple ways, to tap into the spirit of fasting and I encourage you to experiment with them. Maybe not eating a regular snack, or cutting a meal in half, or eating no meat, or no dairy. Maybe rather than fasting we should talk about this as a practice of destabilizing regular food habits in an effort to connect ourselves to our bodies and to experience gratitude for the gifts of food and drink. I hope that our experiments may open up new thoughts, new prayers, a new sense of connection to others living in the world and to Yahweh, who loves us all, fasters and mothers and believers and questioners and questioning believers.

Fox 4

// July 7th, 2009 // 4 Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

So Scott Shirley and I will be on Fox 4 news tonight at 5:30 talking about how we use social networking in our church. They wanted to see me in action in my regular life, so it was pretty hectic as I was the parent volunteer in our Montessori Coop this morning. And baby Perl had to go to the emergency room last night b/c of a bad fall on her head. She is ok, but I’m still sleep deprived and traumatized since I let her fall out of bed. So we will see how well I did describing our ecu-mergent bunch and how we use twitter and face book to communicate. We are a complex story to tell in one interview. Watch and see what you think! Maybe it will drive more folks to our site who are interested in being church with us.

en paz, Courtney