Archive for June, 2010

Holy Vulnerability

// June 30th, 2010 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

 After this, Jesus appointed seventy-two others, and sent them ahead in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them…. “Be on your way, and remember: I am sending you as lambs in the midst of wolves. Don’t carry a walking stick or knapsack; wear no sandals and greet no one along the way. And whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace be upon this house!’ If the people live peaceably there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you, for the laborer is worth a wage. Don’t keep moving from house to house.”  Luke 10: 1, 3-7

Sent out in pairs they go walking along a dusty road: no stick for security, no purse for carrying or collecting money, no sandals even to come between their feet and the hot earth. This image from Luke’s gospel really moves me. Luke is the only one with such an expansive commissioning. Sure, like Mark and Matthew he also describes Jesus’ commissioning of the twelve and sending them out to extend his ministry of ‘word and deed.’ But Luke being Luke, he gives a shout out to the women and others who were involved in supporting Jesus and his teachings; reminding the reader that like the seventy, we too are sent out into the world to prepare the way for Jesus’ love and healing.

But how does it really work to embrace this invitation to go ahead? Jesus is rather particular in explaining the role: it is one of intentional poverty. He goes on to say that you stay with one household, and eat whatever they give you. I also appreciate the mutuality and dependency of his instructions. You don’t go barging out into the world proclaiming your unique appreciation of Jesus and his wisdom and demanding that others fall in line. As disciples, or students, of Jesus we are totally dependent on being received and fed by others even as we do our best to share a word of peace.

Naked but with a word of peace on our lips:  that is a beautiful descriptor for the journey of faith. This ‘peace’ on our lips is more than just a word, more even than a blessing. It is an embodiment of God’s shalom – the unfolding mystery of the reign of God. Those who accept the invitation to prepare the way for Jesus first travel down the social latter. Don’t sign up because you want to be ‘in the know,’ want to have some of Jesus’ superstar status rub off on you, or to be associated with an elite club of like-minded believers.

For here Jesus says clearly, the insiders are the outsiders. The ones on the Jesus Way make a conscious decision to forgo the world’s status symbols and to willingly travel in a posture of humility and dependence.
In one week we go to New Orleans to work with children in the lower 9th ward. I find myself considering them in little moments throughout my days: these kiddos I have never met. What are their stories? What has life looked like through their lenses? Where were they when the waters were rising after the levies broke? Who grabbed them and lifted them up? Who loves them fiercely and who do they love?

We will only get a few days with them but in that time we are putting on a one act play with some collaborators from Grace Church in Alexandria. The play is about Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit. There are going to be lots of good old-school, kid-crafted costume and set designs: think Egyptian’s wearing cuffs and collars made of construction paper covered in tin foil, the Israelites with red prayer shawls and kerchiefs in their heads and all their belongings in brown paper bags, and then the ‘sea’ people with big blue fabric for making waves and hand-held sea plants and creatures. Members of Trinity River Folk, our home-grown band will be providing music. Chloe, our fearless thirteen year-old trip leader, will be coaching the kids in good projection and other theater tips. Perl will be running around like only an almost two-year old can. And the rest of us will be doing whatever we need to do to help channel the energy of forty plus elementary-age children as we prepare for the big day: performing in the Sunday morning Eucharist service at our host church, All Soul’s Episcopal Parish and Community Center.

I ask for your prayers and I rest in the comfort of knowing that there are many who support us from afar. Pray that we can travel with the peace of Christ on our lips. Pray that we will eat what is before us. Pray that we might learn something useful to God and to ourselves and our community through an experience, however brief, of ‘intentional poverty’ as we sleep on floors and foam-mattress bunk beds. Pray that we listen deeply to the children, laugh often, and take our sandals off to feel the dusty road beneath our feet and to know that we walk on holy ground.
Peace to you this day,
PS We are still accepting financial contributions for our trip. Anything we collect above basic expenses we will donate directly to the All Souls Episcopal Church and Community Center along with a cello and viola we are giving to their music program. Checks can be made out to Church in the Cliff with ‘New Orleans Mission Trip’ in memo line and given to Lisa or mailed to PO Box 5072 Dallas TX 75208.





Love Slaves

// June 23rd, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

OK, sometimes the Bible can be a little kinky. I am really enjoying this week’s passage from Galatians, chapter 5, “For you were called to freedom, sisters and brothers; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Who has ever been a part of a community that bites and devours their members? That is some pretty strong language. Yet when I reflect on conversations I have had with people involved with Church in the Cliff I think that many of us carry bite marks from previous communities, even (maybe especially?) from other communities of faith. These old wounds are made worse by the fact that the parts of ourselves we presented upon joining said groups were often our most tender bits. For it is those tender parts of our bodies and souls which, like the canary in the mine, first alert us to our need for fresh air and new life.   
Let me offer an example. I spent a couple of years in Nicaragua in my mid twenties, living on the side of a volcano. Most of my days were spent with women and children from the community, Mansico, where I lived. We did a lot of talking, sharing ideas, and slowly organized some grassroots banking co-operatives.
In Nicaragua they have a saying, “Hay mas tiempo que vida” or “there is more time than life.” People spend a lot of time waiting for stuff: for the bus to come chugging up the dusty road, for an appointment at the health clinic, for the teachers to make it up the rocky trail to start class. I did my share of waiting too: for community meetings to start, for a local leader to stand up and speak, for the carrots in my parched garden to grow.
In the midst of all this waiting, God started to haunt me. In the potent silence of the in-between times God was busy nudging me into reconsidering my next steps. Ultimately after a couple of years of ignoring Divine promptings I gave up. I came to see that the career I was planning in law and non-profit management was about to take a big turn. And that the kind of justice-work that most inspired and interested me was in fact dependent on my participation in spiritual community. I came to trust that whatever I could contribute to and learn from this hurting world would be richer and more impactful if I could do it as part of a group of people who were hungry for the same things: meaning, traction, growth, even love. In short, God helped me recognize that I was not done with the church as I thought I might be.
So, with all this hard fought spiritual wisdom I applied to Divinity schools. That is where Part I of the story ends and another story begins. Let us just say that the small and growing edges of my soul watered in the silence of Nicaragua had a hard time finding a home in the competitive world of graduate school. And some very yucky internships again made me doubt the beauty and integrity of church life. So, like many among us, I am familiar with what happens when you present your most vulnerable, growing edges to a community and someone takes a big chomp out of them and it really hurts.
Which is why Paul reminds us in this letter to folks in Galatia that the stakes are high. Church is to be the wading pool for an even bigger experience of the Divine, not a place that makes us retreat from whatever individual truths we have gleaned through reflection and hard life. We are scripturally mandated to be each other’s love slaves because we need an experience of God manifest through flesh and blood if we are to continue to live deeper into the vulnerability modeled by Jesus. It is scary to trust our inner canaries and the still small voice of God.
This summer we are creating space to listen to each other’s stories about church. About what we have learned and about where we hope we are headed. Join us tonight and Sunday as Jen and Alan and others with Bible Church/Church of Christ experience give voice to what they love, what they choose to leave behind, and what they draw from their traditions which helps them articulate the church they want us to be.
Joy and All Good Things,
PS Paul is making a surprise dish sponsored by Jen tonight. Drinks and dessert welcome. 108 S. Rosemont Ave 75208. 6:30pm



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.

Chloe, Ross and I had a wonderful recon trip to New Orleans. Photos will be posted on Facebook and the All Souls Summer Camp blog tonight (Teri is going to help me 🙂 We now have one dozen Church in the Cliff folks going, which as Ross pointed out, is a pretty great ratio– one third– when you consider we usually have thirty-six in worship on Sunday.  Thank you to all who have generously contributed to support our work so far. Chloe, Ross and I feel so energized by what we saw on the ground and cannot wait for our community to participate further. If you would like to make a donation, please make a check out to CitC and write ‘New Orleans Mission Trip’ in the memo line. Checks can be mailed (PO Box 5072 Dallas TX 75208), put in the offering basket, or given directly to Lisa Shirley. Thanks!

Baptist-Flavored Broth

// June 16th, 2010 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

A seminary professor of mine, Stephanie Paulsell, once talked about a dilemma she experienced as part of the diverse worshiping community of Harvard Divinity School (HDS). HDS is both an ecumenical and a multi-faith environment, and every Wednesday we would gather to create ‘suspended space’ and to worship together. At times it got confusing and awkward, as you would imagine, but other times it was powerful and unexpectedly beautiful to be interpreting our traditions to one another. (Just to give you an example, one week worship would be led by Harambee, the black student union, with lively hymns and preaching and the next week by the HDS Islamic community, who prepared and shared with us all a traditional meal to break the fast of Ramadan and gathered in a corner of the cafeteria to face Mecca and pray, kneeling again and again in a beautifully fluid motion to rest their foreheads on the ground.)
Stephanie noticed an unusual phenomenon within herself related to these Wednesday worship services: the more different a tradition was from her own (Stephanie is a Disciples of Christ pastor) the more willing she was to cut them some slack.  She would pretty much happily do whatever was asked of her (cover her head, speak, not speak, eat, not eat, sit on the floor etc) to get to participate in a worship experience from another religion. However, she said the hairs on the back of her neck would rise and her indignation with it if a Christian denomination asked women to sit in the back or cover their hair, so much so that it became almost impossible to even sit through the worship service, much less actually use it as a time to commune with God. ** Now just to
clarify, neither Stephanie nor I really can abide women being put in an inferior position in any tradition, but read on for her broader point. ** 
Stephanie named this phenomenon ‘The challenge of the proximate other.’ i.e. the more different someone is, the easier in some ways it can be to create space for mutual engagement, relationship, and dialogue. However, if someone is really similar to you (or to your group) and uses mostly the same vocabulary, tells the same stories, etc. but is not exactly the same then all those specific differences are brought into relief. And often used to define one group against another (baptism by ‘sprinkling’ verses ‘immersion’ comes to mind.) 

Tonight we start the first of our summer series exploring the various ‘flavors’ that comprise the broth of Church in the Cliff. Last week we talked about the unique history of the church as an urban and welcoming place started by a visionary female pastor and generously funded by three area Baptist churches. So it makes sense to start with the Baptist denomination as it was foundational to the church, even as we recognize that folks from a dozen or more traditions make up the Citc community today.
Each week we will ask roughly the same questions of those who claim a certain identity either as their church of origin or as an important identity to this day. The questions are: 1) What do you love (about your tradition), 2) What have you chosen to leave behind? and 3) What do you think your tradition contributes to the unfolding identity of Church in the Cliff?
Join us tonight for Baptists, baked beans, and Paul’s homemade mashed potatoes. All are welcome to participate in what will likely be a lively conversation!


Filling the Church-Shaped Hole

// June 10th, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

Theologians talk about a ‘God-shaped hole.’ I wonder if most of us don’t also have a specific ‘church-shaped hole’ that we long to fill with intimate, life-giving community. As we move through life we look for safe spaces to bring our weary souls and for circles of people to trust to teach us more about the wisdom of Jesus.
Jesus was many things: prophet, social critic, healer. He was also undeniably a cultivator and organizer of community. He points people back to one another, again and again. He reminded his students that simple acts of love offered to neighbor, other, even enemy, can have the startling effect of drawing us deeper into the presence of God.
This summer the worship team invites all of us into an intentional time of telling and receiving stories about being church: stories about the varied traditions we grew up in as well as the identities we claim to this day (and why they are not always the same). Stories from those who grew up heavily ‘churched’ and those who grew up outside the church and what draws us all together in this place. Stories about what we have carried forward, and what we have left behind.
We will also talk about what we love from other denominations (Barbara Brown Taylor calls this ‘holy envy’) and the work we do to redeem the tricky bits of our own communities of origin (Kathleen Norris calls this work ‘holy wickedness.’) The worship team recast it as ‘sneaky redemption.’ Either way it points to the creativity involved in acknowledging the brokenness of the theology and/or the practices of communities from our past. And yet somehow continuing to be present to the life-giving pieces we inherit from them and making something new out of all these lessons.
So starting next week we are going to explore a flavor of the week. By our count we have almost a dozen denominations represented as well as folks who grew up outside a church but with all sorts of other valuable experiences. We are sure we left someone out but here is the list in progress of traditions from whence our peoples come: Baptist, Bible church, Catholic, Disciples of Christ, Fundamentalist, Jehovah’s Witness, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, and Quaker.
So here is the open invitation. Please get in touch with me if you would enjoy sharing your story one week alongside other folks with a similar background. (We will likely group a couple of the closely-related affiliations together in the same week). And then we will end with the affiliations that many in our church claim or see as important for our future and get the folks who are most committed to them to tell us about them: Alliance of Baptist, United Church of Christ, and Emergent (which is should be pointed out is not a denomination but a ‘conversation.’)
Wed nights will award us more time to share tales, but every Sunday we will also open our Conversation with a different testimonial as well as incorporating some features of the ‘flavor of the week’ into our design of worship. The lectionary supports our series by providing a summer full of scriptures (from Galatians and Colossians) directed to people struggling to be church in their time and place.
The worship team fully anticipates that this may be awkward. We will probably have to define our ‘churchese’ vocabulary for one another. But we hope it also might be fun and reveal something about the people we are even as it points us in the direction we want to go as a church body.
Join us tonight as we get the ball rolling over Paul’s skillet-fried corn and other summer treats. And email your ideas my way.
Joy and all good things,
PS call 214. 233-4605 for direction’s or more info about our weekly community meal at 6:30pm. Paul’s address is 108 S. Rosemont and he says bread and dessert is welcome.


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.
Sign up this week for our first ever Church in the Cliff Mission Trip. Inspired by Chloe, a powerful 13 year old who has grown up in our community, we are headed to New Orleans to work with kiddos. Join us in a trip to the lower 9th ward as we partner with All Soul’s Episcopal parish/community center that hosts a summer camp and music program. Dates: wed July 7- sun July 11th.
If you are interested we will have detailed info/forms available tonight and Sunday and I can email them about upon request. Please just let me know of your interest this week so we can reserve our housing.
Also, Chloe is going to be taking some pictures of folks who want to support the trip and making a collage of their faces to take with the group. She is also accepting donations for the trip fund.