Archive for April, 2010


// April 28th, 2010 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

John 13: 31-35  (Inclusive Version)  

Once Judas left, Jesus said…  “My little children, I won’t be with you much longer. You’ll look for me, but what I said to the Temple authorities, I say to you: where I am going, you cannot come. I give you a new commandment: Love one another. And you’re to love one another the way I have loved you. This how all will know that you’re my disciples: that you truly love one another.”

I just got off the phone with Bill. The MRI results came back early and no brain tumor. The relief in his voice came pouring through the phone line: he seems buoyant. We talked about how this whole experience of living with the fear of a very serious diagnosis has left him alert to life and grateful for its many gifts.
We all retreat, from time to time, to a space where we are looking out at life as if through thick, dirty airplane glass. We see outside, but feel no wind on our face and hover with some distance above the particulars of the daily journey.
The words ‘possible brain tumor’ are powerful enough to startle any one of us back to a space of noting the wind on our cheek and giving thanks for caring relationships. Bill was so appreciative of all of the prayers over the past two days and kept calling us ‘God’s angels on earth.’ 
The more time I spend in and with this community, the deeper I sense the connections that are here. The power of long-term friendships and the ways that unfolding, tender new ones can give profound encouragement and hope. The mystery of relating to people, with all their particular bumps and bruises, yet somehow also participating in the body of Christ. Bill offers us all a simple reminder which echoes the scripture passage of the week: to love one another fiercely is our work. 
In this week’s passage from John, Jesus didn’t have time to mess around. Normally one to wrap complex lessons in tight little parables, in this moment — with Judas en route to give away his whereabouts — Jesus tells it like it is: Love One Another. Love, he says, will mark you as students of mine. Love will be your witness to the world.
He articulates the message in a way a child could understand and yet there is a spiritual depth to this directive which humbles the lifetime practitioner.
As I prayed for Bill and Willie yesterday, I rested in the knowledge that many others were carrying them in their hearts and abiding with them in the pain of not knowing. It feels so good and right to be part of a community whose members give one another the gift of accompaniment, to help keep the worst of the fear and darkness at bay.
Church really is a simple project and our foundation is love. Yes, at our ecu-mergent artsy church, we celebrate creativity, enjoy good music, and food. We engage in interactive meaning-making in our worship services and give careful attention to the selection of life-giving theological paradigms and inclusive language. All of these practices point the way. And indeed comprise the Way. But the gift of sitting with each other at our most exposed and vulnerable, while not flashy, or postmodern or particularly hip, is undeniably central to being the community Jesus calls, even commands, us to be. 
This week we continue our Eastertide book study with chapters 11-15 of take this bread by Sara Miles. In this section Sara wrestles with herself and her new congregation as she organizes a neighborhood food pantry hosted out of their sanctuary. The pages full of political intrigue, sneaky and screwy power plays, and raw emotions as a church cracks itself open to a new vision of participating in God’s work. Indeed, Sara herself seems to be coming undone in the process and lets us inside her ongoing transformation:   

If my carefully calibrated difference from others wasn’t the vitally important thing about me, then my identity was going to be bound up with all kinds of other people at their most vulnerable and unattractive. If I wasn’t busy scoffing at believers for their gullibility, and I wasn’t afraid of being sentimental and pious; if I didn’t mind looking stupid or being a sucker for a hard-luck story, then I was probably going to cry when someone else showed me, even for a few minutes, her own weakness. It was my own weakness, my own confusion and hunger; it was everything I couldn’t be sophisticated and together about. Of course I was going to weep, and pray, with her (132).

Join us this evening and Sunday as we talk about coming undone and redone for Jesus! as well as share some good food. (Indian Food tonight, Casa Semrad. 108 S. Rosemont. 6:30pm) 214. 233.4605 for more info.

Peace to you,

PS Alan continues to host the drop in book club Sunday at 10 am. He is making the coffee; bring your questions and together look for answers.

Safe from Snatching

// April 20th, 2010 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

John 10: 22-24, 27-30  (Scholars Version/adapted)
It was the Festival of Lights in Jerusalem and it was wintertime.
Jesus was walking around in the temple area,
in Solomon’s Porch.
The Temple Authorities surrounded him, asking
“How long are you going to keep us in suspense?
If you are the Anointed, just say so.”
Jesus replied…
“The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I provide them with real life.
They will never be lost and no one will ever snatch them from my hand.
Abba God, who gave them to me,
is greater than anyone, and no one can steal from the Holy One.
For Abba and I are one.”

My cousin Chuck passed away on Friday and I’m headed to his memorial service tomorrow so the blog post comes early this week. I’ve been remembering Chuck in little passing moments since I heard the news. Chuck enjoyed his life and his enjoyment rubbed off on other people. A big man, he would don a silly hat with a pig snout on it, a family tradition, and preside over the auction/fundraiser at our annual reunion with a grin and booming voice. He proudly held up and sold off handmade quilts, quarts of pear preserves, and other goodies contributed mostly by the old-timers and bought by the younger generations to pay for the weekend.
He didn’t have much of a taste for organized religion, but he loved to fly and I wonder if he encountered The Mystery out in the open sky. He got connected to a humanitarian organization that did relief missions and volunteered his plane and his services as a pilot dozens of times to deliver food and medicine to hurting corners of Latin America. He was a loving father and son as well as a doting grandson, always teasing my Granny and making her smile.
Also, Chuck liked to cook meat. Most years he would anchor the potluck at the family reunion with a huge slow-cooked brisket, carrying it in with a smile and a flourish. I like to remember him through this lens– as one who, like Jesus, enjoyed feeding others and wanted to share the juicy, tasty bits of life with the ones he loved. 
This week we continue our Eastertide book study with chapters 6-10 of take this bread by Sara Miles. In these chapters Sara reminds her readers that the Bible invites everyone ‘to taste and see’ and asks us to consider the relationship between the Eucharist and ‘real’ food, between faith and ‘real’ life.
I like the translation of this week’s scripture passage from John where we hear Jesus saying, “My sheep recognize my voice. I know them and they follow me and I provide them with real life…” Now some translations say ‘eternal’ life, but this translation, from the Jesus Seminar, uses ‘real’ life.
How does it change things to consider Jesus holding out his hands, ever the good shepherd, and offering us the fullest possible life, starting now?
Eastertide is a good time to ask these questions. During this season we celebrate that Jesus ultimately rests in the hands of God, not in the hands of the emperor or the hands of death. So too we can celebrate the claim that we are in Jesus’  hands and we are safe. What could it mean to trust that space? To feel claimed and held by God rather than adrift in existance? How then are we equipped to become the hands of Christ in the world?
Join us tomm evening and Sunday as we consider these questions and share some good food.  (Wed Night Community Gathering, Casa Semrad. 108 S. Rosemont. 6:30pm) 214. 233. 4605 for more info.

Peace to you,
PS Alan is hosting a drop in book club again this Sunday at 10 am. He is making the coffee; everyone is invited to bring questions and together look for answers.


 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 enter into relationship with the poor, locally and globally, and we help and love each other.   
Richie shared this story with me from the newsletter of the North Texas Food Bank. It is a speech from a leader in the food banking world who basically says that at the beginning of the anti-hunger movement in this country they thought it was the churches who were going to make it possible to feed people. Now they realize that actually churches don’t really abide by the ‘feed my sheep’ directive in scripture and they have to work ‘to reform the churches in order to serve the poor.’ 
Provocative stuff… Watch it and post comments on site or let’s talk about it!
This spring we continue with a paradigm for worship and study launched in the fall at Church in the Cliff called Feast on the Word: Savoring Scripture in a Twitter World.
As part of this practice we draw our scriptural lesson from the revised common lectionary (which provides four lessons for each week). The worship team commits to engaging the scripture and seeing what speaks to the life of our church and all are invited to join in the conversation through our worship planning meeting, the Community meal, worship, and by posting comments online at our Church in the Cliff website. 
Worship Team meets Mondays 6pm at Beckley Brewhouse, 1111 N. Beckley, Dallas 75203. All are welcome. We are a community which strives to blend the arts and justice-seeking action into our worshiping core.  We would love your ideas and creativity. Join us!
Church in the Cliff Board 
Ross Prater, Moderator
Kristin Schutz, Clerk
James Fairchild, Trustee
Cara Stoneham, Trustee

Please contact Kristin Schutz, clerk at or moderator Ross Prater, at with any questions or feedback.

Fish in the Pan

// April 14th, 2010 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

So earlier this week I was going to a familiar dark room, perhaps similar to the one the disciples inhabited when Jesus made his first and second appearances and they were there with the door locked in fear. In my familiar dark room I look around at my life and say, am I doing enough? I know that we are through Lent and should be putting to bed this ‘enough’ theme but it reappeared, unresolved for me on Monday.

Sometimes I feel so fragmented as I strive for integration of my roles parenting, loving a partner, hosting a pre-school coop, and pastoring this beautiful community of artists, intellectuals, activists, and folks looking to live with integrity and grace.

This week we will discuss the first five chapters of take this bread by sara miles. Like many of us, she is a woman looking to integrate her passions, striving for balance and relevance. The first part of the book traces her early life: growing up in Greenwich Village, going to a crazy Quaker experiential college in Mexico, and settling into work as a journalist and a cook to pay the bills. She also talks about the war years spent following the violence and political evolutions in the eighties of places like Nicaragua, El Salvador, and the Philippines.

Sara is not someone who has it all figured out, which is probably why I like her. And yet she comes to realize that God can use all of her parts, even the disparate roles that don’t seem to go together. And that she does have a common thread to her story, even if she didn’t recognize it at the time. She is, and always has been, a feeder of people. And she realizes that in all of her travels; it has been food that connected her to people. We all eat, we all get hungry, and time and time again she has found people who share with her what they have.

She explains: ” The impulse to share food is basic and ancient, and it’s no wonder the old stories teach that what you give to a stranger, you give to God. When I first read about the Prophet Elijah – who was fed in the desert by ravens and in the village of Zarephath by a starving widow – I suddenly got a picture of that story, repeated over and over, tumbling down through thousands of years, repeating at every turn: That’s like the time we found fruit in the forest. That’s like the woman who made me tea in the town. The fact is, people feed one another constantly from their own bodies, their own plates, their own inadequate stores of insufficient food. Food is what people have in common, and it is, precisely, common (49).”

I love this description of the same story spilling down through time. How do each of us participate in that unfolding story of feeding and being fed?

Now we can talk about literal food, and I think we should because it is a beautiful and important daily practice. But we should also be open to discussing food as metaphor, because language about hunger can express other visceral needs. As a wise bishop tells Sara, “There’s a hunger beyond food that’s expressed in food, and that’s why feeding is always a kind of miracle(23).”

What lines can be drawn between the disparate dots of one life when it seems that we just really don’t cohere? And what and who feeds us as we figure the rest of it out?

For me it is hanging with my fam, tasty green smoothies, and time spent reading on my porch. What is feeding you? I know for Paul and others it is music, both creating and consuming it. I also think of Genny and her long-distance running out on Katy trail, Janie growing her radish tops and Ross hanging out with his boys. Some of you I am just getting to know what feeds you, and I’m interested to hear more of your stories. For there is a collective wisdom in all of our stories of where and how we are fed which function like a map in the wilderness. Which is why it is good to tell these stories and listen carefully to one another. I’m full of quotes this week. In my Monday slump Richie shared this one with me from a career coach he worked with in Boston: “Don’t try to figure out what the world needs. Figure out what makes you come fully alive. Because what the world needs are people who have come fully alive.”

Sara Miles is on that journey toward ALIVENESS. And it turns out it is the same journey we all share, and thankfully one that is full of places to share some fish over a campfire along the way. I invite you to join us tonight for Asian fare at the Semrad’s 108 S. Rosemont. Drinks and desserts always welcome. We will also have copies of take this bread available to buy.

Peace, Courtney PS if you didn’t see the Eastertide prayer flags raised on Sunday be sure to come to worship in the next few weeks as we celebrate that our Good Friday prayers of longing and desire have been transformed into symbols of hope and beauty.


On Sunday we discussed the compelling video (set to accordian music!) of the St. Gregory food pantry Sara Miles organizes in Take this Bread. Enjoy!

Resurrection Breath

// April 7th, 2010 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

John 20:19-23 Inclusive Text


In the evening on that same day, the first day of the week,
the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were,
for fear of the people.
Jesus came and stood among them and said to them,
‘Peace be with you,’
and showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples were filled with joy when they saw The Risen One,
who said to them again,
‘Peace be with you. As God sent me, so I am sending you.’
After saying this Jesus breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.
For those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’

Resurrection Breath
“Jesus breathed on them” (v22). This verse has me wondering…what did the Risen One’s breath smell like?
Did it smell of springtime and fragrant buds? Or was it otherworldly, some new scent they had never before encountered? Did his breath still carry a trace of the rich spices with which he was anointed for his burial? The gall of the cross? Or was there still something of the tomb which clung to him now, even as he stood before them so wonderfully alive?* 
Welcome to Eastertide. Thankfully we have fifty days starting with Easter Sunday to rest in (or wrestle with) the mystery of the Resurrection. The story of the stone being rolled away from the tomb continues with this week’s passage from the Gospel of John. Here Jesus appears in a house locked with fear to speak new words of peace. Imagine Jesus appearing at his own wake, showing the wounds in his hands and side. Through his presence he speaks to God’s truth: death doesn’t win. The humiliation, violation, and torture we bring upon one another cannot stand as the Final Word. Jesus is rewriting his future story, and in so doing inviting us once again to allow ourselves to be released into love. 
He so clearly loves those locked in fear in a little room. He feels such compassion and hope for the lot of them… believers, questioners, questioning believers. Sounds like a familiar posse.
Everyone is invited to rest in the good stuff during these great fifty days of Easter. Totally working out your belief system vis-à-vis the bodily resurrection is not a necessary pre-requisite to get in the mood for mystery. (Though it certainly can be fun and engaging conversation!) Easter, similar to other beautiful experiences in life, may be like a butterfly which when pursued continually evades our grasp but sit quietly and she may just alight upon your shoulder.
So what are Easter practices? Are we merely to sit quietly or is there more? Based on the scripture today, taking deep breaths seems to be a foundational Easter practice: inhaling the sweet scent of spring, of rich soil, of freshly growing salad greens, basil and other herbs. Inhaling our days… noticing the smells of the people we spend time with and the places we inhabit: of hospital hallways, of university classrooms, of children when they first wake up. The scent of a candle lighted in prayer; of a new house we have not yet made our own, of the library stacks, or a favorite dog. Where do you live your life? Where do you breathe in this breath of life?
And also, the important second half of the question, where and how do you exhale? In the scripture passage for this week it is clear that inhale and exhale are linked. The pnuema, or breath, of the Risen One, is offered not only to nourish the disciples but to equip them to participate in God’s unfolding work in the world. So as these deep breaths of Easter nourish and center us they also invite us to reflect on how we share the life-giving pneuma with the world. 
Sara Miles, in her book Take this Bread, provides one fresh example of sharing life and bread and body in unconventional ways. She leads her congregation to convert the communion table to a weekly distribution center which feeds the dispossessed, the immigrants, and the hungry of their city. Not a program of the church ‘for the poor’, instead the St. Gregory Food Pantry becomes a living Eucharistic community which organizes and feeds the most vulnerable.
Join us tonight at the Semrads (108 S. Rosemont Ave, 6:30pm) to buy a copy of Sara’s book ($11), eat some pizza and crack open the conversation. There are good times to be had this Eastertide and I look forward to enjoying them with all of you.

Peace of the Living Christ be with you this day,
*I am indebted to John K. Stendahl for this reflection in Feasting on the Word (2009)



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 enter into relationship with the poor, locally and globally, and we help and love each other.   

DART Stations of the Cross
DART Stations of the Cross was a soulful experience on Good Friday. We had about 40 people participate, including a dozen or so from our sister emergent church Journey. We also collected over $200 to go to the Stewpot’s Open Studio program for homeless artists. If you were not able to make it but would still like to participate please join us tonight and/or Sunday and you can purchase remaining devotional card packs for a suggested $5 donation to go to the Stewpot. Tonight we also will be finishing our art project of ‘upcycling’ prayers of longing and desire from Good Friday into a string of prayer flags to be hung throughout the great fifty days of Easter. All are welcome! and congratulations to Scott for overseeing the DART project. He is already dreaming about next year…