Archive for December, 2009

Wisdom on the Dance Floor

// December 30th, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

The Eve of the New Year is upon us and so I thought it a good moment to lift up one of this week’s lectionary readings from the Wisdom tradition.  Sirach (sometimes called the Wisdom of Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus) is a collection of sayings, similar to Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, full of advice for sound living.

And what does Wisdom have to say? In the opening section of Ecclesiasticus Wisdom reminds us that she has been here from the beginning and that God, the creator, pours her out for all who love God (1:9-10). I could use some warm Wisdom poured over my head, dripping down and covering me and all my questions.  


What questions linger for you at this close of 2009? What Wisdom do you seek as you travel into a new year?


I sense that we are all blessed to be part of this Church in the Cliff Community, for surely this church is a vessel for wisdom. The more stories I learn about City Church and her unlikely founding (as an art church funded by foreword-looking Baptists, led by a woman, and situated in Oak Lawn!), the more relationships I experience, and the more fruit I observe in people’s lives — the more beautiful a dance partner this church becomes.


Dance may be a good analogy for Wisdom. Unlike knowledge– which requires you to take first step, to be certain, to push forward– wisdom is more about being led. Dancing with Wisdom requires a willingness to go backwards when you can’t even see who is behind you and to learn the moves as you go- knowing you will never be left alone on the floor.


So where does this Wisdom touch down in regular life? You tell me… I know I need Wisdom more than knowledge to raise my kids. To figure out how to respond to a friend who is deeply hurting. To figure out how to renew myself even as I work and contribute in different roles and spheres. 


These are fun things to ponder as we approach New Years Eve, the fulcrum of the Twelve Nights. I encourage you to bring your questions related to the end of one year and beginning of another into the context of Christmastide. Play Christmas music. Light a fire. Go be with friends for time of rest and re-creation. Or sit quietly and recollect each month from the past year; then think ahead and ask how you would like each one in the new year to be different – or perhaps the same?


Then take the hand of Ms. Wisdom and let her lead you lightly across the threshold, to a new dance floor buffed and ready for 2010.
Joy and All Good Things
PS No Wed night meal tonight but join us for a joyful service on Sunday and Epiphany party next Wednesday, Jan 6th at Wes, Teri, and Kristin’s place, 1406 Eastus, 6pm.

Joy and All Good Things

// December 23rd, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized




Isaiah 9: 2-7  (Inclusive Text)

The people walking in darkness are seeing a brilliant light-upon those who dwell in a land of deep shadows light is shining! God, you have made the nation greater – you have brought them abundant joy! They celebrate in your presence as with the harvest celebrations, or as warriors celebrate when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them, the weight on their shoulders, the rod of their oppressors – you have shattered it, as you did at the defeat of Midian. For every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak that was dragged through blood, is now used as fuel for the fire. For a child is born to us, an heir is given us, upon whose shoulders dominion will rest. This One shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Strength of God, Eternal Protector, Champion of Peace. This dominion, and this peace, will grow without end, with David’s throne and realm sustained with justice and fairness now and forever. The zeal of YHWH Omnipotent will accomplish it!



Merry Christmas to you all! I hope for you a long string of days of rest and beauty. And I invite anyone in town to join us Sunday, especially if you are one, like me, who can feel a little low on the 26th wondering what to do with all the longing and desire you got in touch with over Advent. We have been waiting in the darkness just before dawn for the past four weeks and now on Christmas Eve we slip into another liturgical moment as we are invited to ‘taste and see the goodness of God.’ 
Thankfully we have twelve holy days and twelve starry nights to grasp this mystery of the incarnation– God dwelling among us. It is a powerful moment which reminds us that it is good to be human, good to live on this earth, good to have a body, because God in Jesus chose and said “yes” to our humanity.
As a child I saved my most important prayers for Christmas eve, sensing that it is a ‘thin place’ in the tradition, a moment where God feels more accessible, more intimate. Even as an adult I have often longed for the power and the holiness of the Christmas Eve candlelight service to continue into the new year.
Let us take advantage of these twelve holy days to be awake to God’s advent or coming into the world. Let’s allow them to cover us like a holy blanket, and to poke our eyes out from under them like children waiting for Christmas morn each and every one of these days. Perhaps then we will get a glimpse of the deeper mystery– beyond the joy (and pressure) of gift-giving, beyond the experience of a full of belly during this feast. What will we discover on the other side if we allow Emmanuel, God-with-us, to minister to us and to satisfy the deep longings of our heart?
Please join us this Sunday and next as we revel in the beauty of Christmastime. This week have opened the floodgates and celebrate with multiple Christmas hymns and the reading of treasured Christmas scripture, like the one from Isaiah above. Join us next Sunday (January 3) as Scott leads the conversation and on Wed (Jan 6) for a special epiphany party.
Joy and All Good Things
PS No Wed night meal tonight or next week.
PPS Check out Scott’s tips below for last minute Christmas gifts. I’m heading to Make later on today to pick up a present for Richie’s sister.


Alternative gifts

// December 16th, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

Art Conspiracy was fantastic. Congratulations to Sarah Jane and all her co-conspirators. There was a strong CitC presence at the event, which felt good. Thanks for the opportunity to contribute, SJ.

A couple of weeks ago, Courtney shared Advent Conspiracy as an alternative to rampant consumerism. This week, I have a couple of ideas in that vein.

First, Changing the Present is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit website offering gifts that change the world. Browse their causes to find gifts that make a difference, or search for your favorite nonprofit to make a donation. You can share these gifts with your friends and family, or use them for your own nonprofit giving. Their gifts are a great alternative to that bath set or novelty sweater you were planning to wrap up this holiday season — just choose “Create A Card” from the shopping cart to send a personalized greeting card announcing each gift you donate in a friend’s name.

Second, in this world of mass-produced plastic junk, there are still people that make things with their own hands, one piece at a time. There is love in these things. Each piece is unique, sometimes with small flaws that add to the beauty and character. When you give these, the receiver will know that you picked that one thing just for them. Check out Etsy online or Make in Bishop Arts for tons of handmade goodness.

Claiming the promise

// December 16th, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

I’m listening to Christmas music as I write, trying to get in the spirit. Some of this stuff is awful. It’s trite and saccharin-sweet. When someone does try a fresh take, it usually goes horribly awry. (“Deck the Halls” on pan flute, anyone? A punk rock “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear?” No.) I have Sufjan Stevens (because I’m cool like that), but I don’t expect “Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!” to reach classic status. But every now and then something beautiful comes on, like John Lennon’s modern classic “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” that reminds us what it’s all about.

The Magnificat, our scripture for this week is one of those beautiful moments. Mary is filled with exuberant joy. She affirms the promises God has made to her people and rests in the hope of their fulfillment in her child. To do this, she pulls from centuries of tradition, stealing lines from the prophets and the psalms of her people, phrases that could easily become dead cliches after that long wait for the Messiah. Mary claims those lines as the truth of God’s presence in her life.

I’m starting to feel it. I want to borrow from Mary what she borrowed from those who came before her. I want to claim those promises as my own: “You, Almighty, have done great things for me.” And I want to make good those promises for others: “You have filled the hungry with good things.”

But let’s be clear: this is not the one time of the year we are nice to each other, but the renewal of our spirits so that we might live differently throughout the year. The presence of God in our lives is not one day, but the great pattern of history. Every day, every week, every month for years and decades and centuries, God is there with promises and hope and the chance to heal a broken world.

We’ll celebrate our community meal this week at Wes, Kristin and Teri’s and talk about the truths and promises we can claim for God in this season of joy. We’ll keep it easy with some pizza. If Jesus calls you to donate or bring salad or dessert, by all means take heed. Please call the church number at 214. 233-4605 if you need directions or more info.

Finally, please pray for Courtney’s rest and quick return.


Art Conspiracy

// December 9th, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

Sarah Jane shared with the group last Wednesday night more about Art Conspiracy, a powerful event this Saturday December 12th in which many in our community participate. Come buy some art, hear some live music, and raise money for Resolana, a non-profit that works with incarcerated women to transform themselves (check out their great video). Need more info? read on….
Art Conspiracy is Turning Five
December 12th event is equal parts off-the-grid art show, concert and fundraiser

What started off as a “one time only” fundraiser has become one of the most anticipated annual art events in Dallas.  On Saturday, December 12, starting at 7:00 p.m., Art Conspiracy will mark its fifth year of bringing artists and musicians together to “conspire” for good causes.

This year’s Art Conspiracy will be held at 511 West Commerce in Dallas. Once again the Art Conspiracy crew will transform an empty warehouse into a one-night-only art gallery and performance space. The event will feature music from Telegraph Canyon, The Crash That Took Me, The Boom Boom Box and RTB2, video installations from Edward Ruiz, art from 150 Dallas area artists and emcee, Paul Slavens, host of KERA-FM’s 90.1 at Night.
Art Conspiracy differs from other arts fundraisers because the artists do their work on site the day before the event. On the eve of Art Conspiracy, artists work in shifts to fill 150 18 x 18 plywood canvasses. During the actual event on Saturday, December 12, all pieces will be sold in rapid-fire live auctions. Starting bids for all pieces is $20. 

 Art Conspiracy Details:
Date: 7:00 p.m., Saturday, December 12
Location: 511 W. Commerce, Dallas, TX 75208
Participants: 150 Dallas Artists, 4 Bands
Admission: $10
Benefiting: Resolana

Richie and I hope to see you there!

Bear the Fruit

// December 9th, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

Luke 3:7-18  (Inclusive Text)
John said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him,
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to escape the wrath to come? Produce good fruit as a sign of your repentance. And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Sarah and Abraham as our mother and father,’ for I tell you that God can raise children for Sarah and Abraham from these very stones. The ax is already laid at the root of the tree; every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and tossed into the fire.”
The crowds asked John, ‘What must we do?’
He answered,
‘Let the one with two coats share with the one who has none;
let those who have food do the same.’
There were tax collectors too who came for baptism, and these said to John,
‘Teacher, what must we do?’
John said to them,
Exact no more than your fixed rate.’
Some soldiers asked him in their turn,
‘What about us? What must we do?’
John said to them,
‘Do not bully anyone! Do not accuse anyone falsely!
Be content with your pay.’
A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people,
who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ,
so John declared before them all,
‘I baptize you with water, but someone is coming,
someone who is more powerful than I,
the strap of whose sandals I am not fit to undo.
‘This one will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
‘A winnowing fan is in his hand to clear the threshing floor
and to gather the wheat into a barn;
but the chaff will be burnt in a fire
that will never go out.’

So I’m falling in love with John the Baptizer this Advent season. His message seems as severe and wild as the desert he inhabits. I am hungry for a tradition that asks something of me as a practitioner-and I join in with the crowds, with the tax collector, with the soldiers asking ‘what then should I do?’
And the baptizer delivers. He demands radical re-orientation, metanoia, and a rupture in the routine of everyday life. He reminds all who have ears to hear that from the moment we pass through the baptismal waters the mark of Christ is upon us. And that life in God bears fruit. God is the sap which rises up within us and feeds every limb.
John provides a graphic image of the ax at the base of the tree. It is a fierce one, but it makes me ask, what might I be capable of, what might we all do together if we carried less dead wood? If every cell of our body was humming with the energy and potential that comes with being awake to the moment and loving the Christ in all we encounter?
This third week of Advent we light a candle for joy. How are we to connect joy with these themes of repentance and the urgency of John’s message?  
I tell you I am ready to be delivered from the ‘pursuit of happiness’ which characterizes our country. It is tiring to try to stay happy.  I am starting to suspect that there is a different way of living and that it is available to me in the here and now. I find it when I wash the dishes to wash the dishes, rather than speed through so I can enjoy a cup of tea with my husband. Or when I love the loud children who fill my home as if they were my own-wiping their noses, gathering and washing their dirty socks, rinsing another sippy cup. Sometimes in these moments when I don’t chase my desire for some experience beyond the one I am currently having, joy is available to me. I wonder if maybe it is there all along. To pick up on John’s metaphor of the tree, joy is a gift from God drawn up through the tap root. It is not something to pursue rather it is found in embracing the humble particularities of the life we are called to live. And on this Way of Jesus, there are a thousand callings and ways to live marked by generosity and gentleness, but they all lead us deeper into the heart of community.
And so what if you can’t find your joy this season? What if you feel heavy with dead wood and no sense that the sap is rising? Rupture is painful. And at times the rich darkness of Advent can seem to carry more pain than good: memories of childhood Christmas seasons full of family tensions, or maybe a current-day experience of longing for something more.
It is this pain which also rightly draws us to participate in communities of healing and to become communities of healing. God breaks into the world anew each time we tend to another’s wounds. One should never sit alone in the darkness of metanoia. God is there in the desiring of something different, in the shifting of perspective and the seeing anew of a familiar landscape. And God is there when we hold each others’ hands and trust the beauty of the process.
Please join us tonight for good food and conversation and Sunday for the simple pleasures of worship and companionship during this Advent season.
Joy and all good things,

Wes, Kristin, and Teri host Community Meal Tonight (1406 Eastus, Dallas, not far from Kidd Springs Rec Center.) All are welcome to come and eat tasty Indian food! If folks could bring some dessert to share that would be great. Please call the church number at 214. 233-4605 if you need directions or more info.

Secret Doors

// December 2nd, 2009 // 2 Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

Pendent Advent Wreath 
This week we encounter the Advent mantra, ‘Prepare the Way of the Lord,’ in Luke’s gospel. What does it mean to prepare the way for God’s fuller movement into and through our lives?
Frequently I feel that I am wading in words, ideas, and emotions when I really long to be swimming in the Mystery. Yet I am discovering, through a messy process of trial and error, that there exist secret doors which open and deposit me in God’s presence. Maybe you have some of these intimate practices?
A few years ago I participated in an Advent Wreath workshop at our church in Boston. Well, actually I didn’t even have time to participate in the workshop before church (sound familiar?), but thankfully someone put a little kit in my hand as I walked out of the worship space. It contained the makings for a very simple wreath of beads strung on cord surrounding a tile base and five candles. 
During hard years of graduate school and all the transitions of last Advent, including the death of a dear mentor, I lit candles and held these beads in the growing winter darkness. Sometimes it was all I could do. 
I am starting to suspect that preparing the way for God may be more about these simple practices and less about getting all of our thoughts and feelings in order. (Or maybe the process of centering in God organizes our thoughts and feeling naturally.) There is actually a robust conversation right now in the Church about the need to enlarge our paradigm from orthodoxy — right thinking, right believing — to orthopraxis –right living, right practices. Shane Claiborne talks about it in The Irresistible Revolution-a great read.
I hope the advent mantra, prepare a way, continues to work on you and through you this week. Consider it an invitation to create a small, beautiful action which reminds you of God’s presence during this season, like this photo of a
home-crafted advent wreath I share here.   
Peace to you this winter day,
Community Dinner Tonight at Casa Semrad. 108 S. Rosemont Dallas TX 75208. Join us for coconut-milk lentil soup and conversation. We may get crafty and make some advent wreaths out of recycled materials. Join us!