Archive for June, 2011

Filling the Ark

// June 29th, 2011 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

We have a week to go on our Heifer mission project and we are over half way there, having raised $2, 664.66 — a testimony to faith and hard work in a church of our size. Now it is time to share Iris’ vision and our story with a broader audience and to invite others to partner with us! We have one of every animal on the ark. lets see if we can get the pair!

Below I include our fundraising letter. My hope is that we would all personalize it (feel free to edit as needed) and send out via facebook and email to our respective networks. We now have a link for online donations through the secure heifer website. 

Also I invite everyone in the CitC community to prayerfully consider making a donation– whether a first donation or a second “extra mile” donation to help us fill the ark.

Sunday please join us for a special service as we bless and send forth the mission team and also say goodbye to Adam and Stephanie as they leave for New York.


June 29, 2011
Dear friend,

Church in the Cliff is raising funds for our summer mission project with Heifer International and are reaching out to our friends, neighbors, families and broader community to help us buy an Ark. We are a small community and each year we support a mission project as a way of recognizing the child/children who are coming of age in our community. This year we are inspired by Iris, age 13, quoted below:
I chose Heifer as a mission/fundraiser because we’re not only helping people in a developing country by giving them the gift of animals but we’re also getting to experience what they experience and have a fun trip together as a community.  I’m looking forward to the trip and getting to know the other people going better.  I’m excited about getting to experience surviving on our own in a difficult situation and getting to take care of the animals.
Iris has recently stepped from childhood into her teenage years yet retains a heart as wide and open as the sea. And she instinctively gets what so many of us learn to forget: that God is not only manifest in our relations with other people, but rather God is alive and accessible though all of creation—especially animals we interact with on a daily basis.
Iris’ vision leads us into a partnership with Heifer International—a grassroots organization that empowers families to feed themselves and lift themselves out of poverty through the donation of quality livestock and training. This is a special kind of summer mission project—rather than fundraising for a whole group from our community to travel to another site to do mission work, each of the participants are totally paying their own way to go to Heifer Ranch July 8th-11th. Heifer Ranch offers a unique program called ‘Global Village,’ an experiential learning opportunity in which nothing – shelter, food, water or cooking fuel – can be taken for granted.
Participants prepare a meal with limited resources and sleep in simple housing. Heifer Ranch is also a farm complete with gardens and animals including water buffalo, camels and traditional farm animals such as pigs, goats and more. Iris and other participants will learn more about the issues surrounding hunger and poverty, Heifer’s sustainable solutions and what they can do to help.
By paying their own way on the trip, our youth hope to encourage our community to channel our fundraising efforts directly to support poor families around the world. Specifically, Iris’ love of animals has inspired us to take on Heifer’s ultimate challenge: raising $5,000 to purchase a Gift Ark. This gift provides livestock—two of each of pigs, cows, trios of rabbits, donkeys, beehives, sheep, llamas, flocks of geese, goats, oxen, flocks of chicks, trios of ducks, trios of guinea pigs, water buffalo, camels, pigs and training for struggling families worldwide.
Please join us on this journey and help us buy an Ark in honor of Iris! Our youth have been so active this spring : staffing tables at community events and educating countless people about Heifer’s grassroots movement to end hunger. They also have crafted and distributed numerous thank you gifts for donations including crocheted heart coasters and hand-drawn note cards with animals from the ark. Church in the Cliff community members (including Iris’ parents) have also rallied to the cause: hosting a concert/fundraiser, making and selling tee shirts and donating generously toward the Ark. We are over half way there, having raised $2, 664.66 so far! We have a week and a half until the trip and we are so excited about this opportunity to fill the Ark.
Our goal is to wrap all the resources we can find around Iris’ tender call to action—trusting that her simple vision, of a world where struggling families have the chance to feed themselves and their children and lift themselves out of poverty, is indeed God’s own dream for our world.
Please give as you are able—either through this secure link  or check, made out to Church in the Cliff with “Heifer” in subject line and mailed to PO Box 5072 Dallas TX 75208.  
Also, if you live in town, join us for the final tally at our “Land the Ark” party on Thursday July 7 and enjoy local barbeque, home brew, and home grown watermelons. 6:30pm. 310 S. Windomere Dallas 75208

Board Nominations

It has now been a full two years since the transition team established the current Board of Directors, which means that Ross, James and Kristin have completed their two-year volunteer commitments. Much has been accomplished in the life of this community over the last two years, and yet the work does not end here. With the departure of these three, in addition to the vacant treasurer position, we have a great need for four individuals from our community to step up and volunteer to fill these leadership roles. Pastor Courtney and each of us on the Board ask you to prayerfully and thoughtfully consider whether you may be called to church leadership.
According to our by-laws, the purpose of the Board is to engage in broad stroke planning, ensuring a shared vision among members. The Board is responsible for developing an annual strategic plan, an annual budget, and staffing recommendations. In addition, each Board member is expected to serve on at least one committee, and to be a goodwill ambassador to the community. All Board members are asked to commit to a term of two years. The vacant positions are as follows:
Moderator: facilitates Board and community meetings
Treasurer: manages Church assets, develops an annual budget, and provides financial reports
Clerk: facilitates communication with members about Church business, takes notes during Board meetings and distributes them to Pastor and the Board
Trustee: has no additional expectations beyond the generalBoard responsibilities described above
The Board will be receiving nominations for two weeks, fromJune 26 through July 10. Please contact one of us if you wish to nominate yourself or another community member. We will then take one additional week to complete interviews and determine which nominees we recommend to the community for election. We anticipate announcing the final candidates on July 17, and holding the election on July 31.
Each of us is happy to make ourselves available to discuss any questions you have that may help in your own discernment, so please do not hesitate to contact us. It is always exciting to see new leadership take root in a community such as ours. We look forward to discovering who will become our future CITC leaders! And we trust that God will choose you well.
Yours in Christ,
Ross Prater, Moderator
Kristin Schutz, Clerk
James Fairchild, Trustee 
Stephanie Maxson, Trustee


// June 24th, 2011 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

Sometimes this thing my Methodist friends lovingly call “the discernment process” is a rollercoaster ride. At least it is for me. There are the high points, like marrying my friends on Saturday. In moments like that, filled with beauty and love, I think I could be a minister. Then I started my class on premarital counseling.

When I signed up for the course, I thought it was a tragic irony that it should start two days after the wedding. Now I think it was a blessing. I might have abandoned the whole project if I thought that my friends’ marriage had to live up to what I’m learning. To be fair, the professor is a nice man that is open to alternative ideas. But he also makes very clear that there is an ideal marriage and that all others are “adjustments” and “not what God intended.” Despite the tremendous plurality of understandings of both Christianity and marriage, he is certain he can clearly identify a proper “Christian marriage.” Turns out it consists of one man and one woman and must last forever. Because I know many people (Christians, even!) whose lives are intertwined with — and thriving in — alternative realities, this breaks my heart.

I was also at a meeting where a woman boldly proclaimed that she was a Christian and not ashamed of it, that there was nothing embarassing about being a Christian. I sympathize with — and perhaps even envy — her confidence in and commitment to the faith she loves, but I cannot agree. Too often, Christianity concerns itself with policing its boundaries and in the process hurts people for its own self-preservation. Bloody doctrinal controversies, the Inquisition, slavery, patriarchy, homophobia: Christianity takes a profound message of love and justice and twists it into something demonic that divides, excludes and exploits. It makes me wonder why anyone would call him- or herself a Christian, much less a minister.

So that’s what we’ll talk about this Sunday: Why stick with it? In a community that questions so much, why do we continue to call ourselves Christians? And how do we do it? How do we negotiate the path we’re on? Is this “the Way?”

The lectionary texts this week are Genesis 22:1-14 and Romans 6:12-23. Both texts are troublng: the former because of the content and the latter because of the way it has been used in my own tradition. I encourage you to read both texts as background to our conversation. You should also read the Gospel text, Matthew 10:40-42, which is a beautiful call for compassion and justice. But I’m choosing a different passage: Genesis 32:22-32, which is the story of Jacob wrestling with God until God blessed him. I hope you’ll join us.

Grace and peace,

The Practice of Feeling Pain

// June 18th, 2011 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Pain is clarifying. When in real physical pain one’s interest in other things is superseded by the NOW of moving through acute bodily distress. In this state there is not much energy left to attend to relational complexities or remember the books yet read, or work yet done. This week I was struck by an infection that morphed into a kidney infection over the span of three days. Starting, most inconveniently, on Sunday morning. It was very painful. At some point in my slow decline I pulled out Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World and reread her chapter on pain. I am indebted to her for much of the reflection I share here.
Pain is experienced in the body but we are dependent on language, specifically metaphor, to try to describe the physical experience. Pain can feel like your lower abdomen is on fire, like your sinuses are full of cement, like someone has a voodoo doll of you and is poking hot coals into your eye sockets. Just to give a few examples. 
I am now on the slow road to recovery, courtesy of some antibiotics, and I notice such a difference not only in my physical but also in my spiritual posture. Specifically, I note the transition from an altered state of consciousness to a reconnection with regular life and its demands. This week has me wondering—what does pain teach us as practitioners on the Jesus Way?
For starters, pain strips away the illusion that we are in control. And that is often what is the most troubling about it. It feels like a snub from the universe. And can also be a sort of invitation to ask the age old spiritual question: “Why me?” or to turn in on yourself and think of all the things you could have done differently that might have avoided this situation: “If I had only eaten better last week, or gotten more sleep etc.”
But Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that real question with pain is not “why?” but “when?” For to be alive, en-fleshed, moving on this earth is to be vulnerable to physical pain of every sort: illness, infection, and physical accident.
It is possible to cultivate an awarenessof our physical vulnerability without giving in to a state of fear about it. Simply being aware of our bodies and the possibility of pain is a valuable spiritual exercise because it reminds us of what is Really Real. And God always lives and moves and finds us in the really real space of now. Not in the exhausting catalogue of pain related to our past, nor in hopes or concerns over the future.
Stated differently, I think God holds us and accompanies us as we anguish and suffer about past and future, but I don’t think there is much openness on our part in those states for the Holy. God is really only absorbed, in a way that can warm and change and nourish us, in the present.
That is pain’s great gift. It keeps us in the present.
Then there is that moment when the pain stops: the antibiotics kick in, or you get a good nights sleep and wake up and can breathe again. It is like an invitation to reanimate your body. To flow back in and reclaim the part that was shut down, shut out, or that you tried to disown for the pain it was causing. And concurrent with this change in body is a wave of gratitude— a thankfulness for the experience of relative health – something which of course is so much more valuable now due to its recent absence.  
The awareness that pain can bring is not just an internal practice. I found that pain sharpened my gaze outward as well—making me more aware of the beauty of the trees out my window or the first breath of fresh air when I made it outside after a couple of days. And my interaction with my kids was a great solace. Seeing Rosetta thrive, squeezing her chunky body, holding Perl and listening to her tell me a story. I felt in some ways that I was seeing them more deeply than I normally do in the busy flow of life. And I relished that awareness even as I resented the pain that brought it.
Now this is all regular pain. Every day pain. Nothing life threatening or extra-ordinary. 
Yet there are some among us and in the world who live with chronic pain. This is akin to struggling with an unwelcome and high-maintenance relationship. And it is an experience of pain of which honestly I am not qualified to speak. I have had friends who lived with this kind of pain and heard their stories. One was in a terrible car crash at forty and lives with pain. She talked about the choice to sit in a chair and watch her grandchildren or to get right down on the floor with the pain and play with them. The pain becomes a suitor—someone vying for your attention. And for people living with pain on this scale the struggle is to learn how to continue to live with it—and not to spend all of your energy fighting the pain but instead to somehow coexist with it peacefully. Kind of a reclaiming of whatever energy is left over after part of your psyche goes out to meet the pain. And making the choice to continue to live with that. This is a spiritual practice on a whole other scale, and is a day to day, moment to moment dance. There are those in our midst who model it with grace.
One last lesson related to pain and community. Physical pain can point us toward a healthier mind/body/spirit integration. To risk an oversimplification, so much of Christian tradition and contemporary expression of Church seem focused on spirit and mind—and just leave the body behind. As an example, last week I attended the annual multi-day meeting of the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. I experienced some beautiful things, and there was much important work that was accomplished. My favorite part was the session in which retiring clergy had a chance to speak to the thousand or so delegates gathered. These folks could preach! They were funny, and humble and irreverent and I loved them.
But in terms of bodies? I kind of had to forget I had a body in order to be able to bear to sit there, in a chair, in the Plano Conference Center for the better part of 10 hour days. I fueled my way through on coffee and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies (which might have been part of the reason my immune system was not functioning in tip top shape.)
I have heard that ministers on the whole are one of hardest groups to insure— because we tend to be overweight, have high blood pressure, and be stressed out. What does that say about us— both the Church and the pool of pastors who serve her — that the work tends to cultivate such unhealthy bodies? Something I hope we continue to talk about.
Final point– We always have to be careful how we talk about God and pain: for there is a lot of hurtful theology out there that suggests that God masterminds who will hurt and when as some sort of cosmic punishment.

Yet pain is, often, a part of living. Pain is an invitation to remember our body and not just to be mad at it for not doing what we want it to do– perform on command.  And if it can remind us of what a gift it is to be alive and awake, pain has the potential to burn off some nonessentials. And sometimes God can use that extra space and do something meaningful with it. 
Peace and health to you all. And I hope to see you Sunday!
We are raising funds for our Heifer Mission Project. Want to help Iris buy an ark? Checks to CitC with Heifer on memo line. PO Box 5072 Dallas TX 75233.

Benefit Concert for Heifer International

// June 10th, 2011 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Trinity River Folk Flyer

The Kessler Presents: Trinity River Folk w/ Chasing the Muse
June 15, 2011
doing all acoustic sets.

Proceeds go to benefit Heifer International

Sustainably Grown Soul Food

// June 1st, 2011 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This Sunday Church in the Cliff will be worshipping on a football field turned organic farm: Paul Quinn College’s Food for Good Urban Farm.
Now this may be a rookie mistake on my part — the moving of our eleven oclock worship service to a new venue. Have you ever been to a church that relocated their main gathering just to have a “fresh encounter” with Jesus?  Much less moving it outside on a Texas summer day? And to a low-income neighborhood, like Highland Hills, which is significantly further south in Oak Cliff than the areas most of us routinely visit? (Click here for directions to the farm).
As unusual as it may seem, our church actually has a long history of pushing the envelope in terms of worship venue. From its very inception this community has gathered in unlikely places, including art galleries, community rec centers with a view of the pond, and indie music spots. 

If you are one that finds the location change stressful, I hope you will come anyway and trust that wherever we are gathered we find the church. If you are super excited I hope you will bring a friend—maybe one who long ago gave up on organized religion but likes local food.

But Sunday is not only about being courageous enough to worship in an unusual location. Nor is it just an effort to catch up to the groovy set in the neighborhood. (Local food is trendy, after all, especially in Oak Cliff. Exhibit A–Check out this fundraiser put on at Paul Quinn by area celebrity chefs a few months back.) 

No— we gather at the farm because like Jesus, we like to eat. Indeed, the table is one of our most trusted meeting places with the Divine. The Eucharist is more than a symbol, it is a meal. Or at least a snack. It is food. Bread grown from grain, juice pressed from fruit. Like all food it has its origins in water, soil, and sunshine which falls freely from heaven. And it reminds us that every meal is an invitation to build community, to cultivate gratitude for the gifts of the earth, and to nourish our bodies.

We gather on a farm to celebrate a vision of our city in which fresh and healthy food are available for all. And to stand with the prophet Isaiah who says that hunger, and food deserts, like the one in Highland Hills, are not what God wants for Gods people.

Lastly, we gather at the farm because we too are hungry.
And the farm is deeply restorative for weary folks who spend too much time indoors, in front of a computer screen, and under artificial light. Are you hungry for the smell of chocolate mint in the air? Does your soul crave time in the company of 1500 strawberry plants— located in a bed that runs end zone to end zone? Do your ears need to hear the sermon preached by bees pollinating blackberry bushes and a press box with a future as a chicken coop? (Hungry for more than soul food? The farm also has jalapenos, bell peppers, tomatoes, yellow squash, turnips, snap beans, yellow onions, parsley, basil and chocolate mint available for purchase.)

Join us this Sunday, June 5th for a special morning to conclude Eastertide. 10 AM tour/weed pick, 11 AM worship– including communion with locally sourced ingredients.  Bring a water bottle, wear a hat and sun protective clothing, bring an umbrella for shade. Children, as always, are very welcome.
Peace and all good things,


PS Some bikers are contemplating a ride to the farm. Email churchinthecliff@gmail for details.

Isaiah 58:10-11
If you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your shadows will become like noon. YHWH will always guide you, giving relief in desert places. God will give strength to your bones and you will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never run dry.

Church on the Farm– this Sunday

// June 1st, 2011 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

Sunday June 5 Church in the Cliff is taking our show on the road. We will be gathering at a football field turned organic farm: Paul Quinn College’s Food for Good Urban Farm. 10am tour and weed pick. 11am service. wear a hat and sun protective clothing and join us!