Archive for July, 2011

River Grit and Wounded Gait

// July 30th, 2011 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Over the course of the night, Jacob arose, took the entire caravan, and crossed the ford of the Yabbok River.  After Jacob had crossed with all his possessions, he returned to the camp, and he was completely alone.
And there, someone wrestled with Jacob until the first light of dawn. Seeing that Jacob could not be overpowered, the other struck Jacob at the socket of the hip, and the hip was dislocated as they wrestled.
Then Jacob’s contender said, “Let me go, for day is breaking.”
Jacob answered, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
“What is your name?” the other asked.
“Jacob,” he answered. The other said, “Your name will no longer be called ‘Jacob,’ or “Heel-Grabber,’ but ‘Israel’ – Overcomer of God’s – because you have wrestled with both God and mortals, and you have prevailed.”
Then Jacob asked “now tell me your name, I beg you.” The other said, “Why do you ask me my name?”- and blessed Jacob there.
Jacob named the place Peniel—“Face of God” – “because I have seen God face to face, yet my life was spared.”
At sunrise, Jacob left Peniel, limping along from the injured hip.
Genesis 32:22-31, inclusive transation
In this week’s lectionary passage Jacob is wrestling with someone- an adversary—on a riverbank before dawn. Described in the text as “a mortal,” tradition has called this mysterious stranger an angel, or God in human form.  The original Hebrew dialogue is dizzying and almost completely lacking in proper names. Instead, each line merely begins, “and he said” thus leaving the reader without a clear indication of who is speaking.  Are Jacob and the Other merely mirror images of one another? Is Jacob wrestling with himself? Is he wrestling with God or merely with his own fears related to the next day’s encounter with his twin Esau, whom Jacob cheated out of their father’s blessing twenty years earlier?
These are not questions we can answer. Yet the text continues to draw people in: artists have painted a thousand portraits of this scene, academic and priestly commentary could fill all of our bookshelves, and endless blog posts await the online reader. Indeed, one can get lost in the sea of reflection on the intersection between pain, essence, wrestling match, and God. Clearly, we relate to the struggle.
Our goal is not to strip all of layers of questions and complexity of competing interpretations in order to pursue some “true meaning” of the text.

No– it is the very ambiguity of the text which relates so well to the ambiguity of life.
Who hasn’t passed a night wrestling and been unclear as to an adversary’s true identity? Anxiety, fear, our false self or shadow-side—these all make fierce opponents. The voices of others infect our head and trouble us. Deep yearnings for wholeness or nagging needs for changes— these are visitors easier to ignore by daylight. Demon, angel, ego, — who hasn’t prayed to God for clarity after a night like Jacob’s? Who among us has not tasted river bank grit in your mouth and pleaded for a blessing as the morning dawns— grasping for some good come out of a night of struggle.

The story leaves me wondering– where is God when we struggle with our fears and yearnings? Could it be that God’s face is somehow more easily recognizable after a night of honest engagement with these shadows?
This week we take our turn in the parade of meaning makers drawn to this ancient source. Join us Sunday for the conversation and for a chance to thank our outgoing board members: Ross, Kristin, and James for two years of faithful service to the community.


Community Meeting Sunday 10AM

The board invites everyone to an important meeting to elect new board members, review updated financials, and discuss church opportunities.  Questions or electronic vote: contact Ross or Kristin at

Family Drama

// July 27th, 2011 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Wednesday July 20

One of the joys of following the lectionary is that it often confronts us with difficult passages.  This week we are reading the story of Laban and Jacob, in which Jacob works for the hand of Rachel, but gets Leah instead (Genesis 29:15-28).  Unfortunately, the lectionary also sanitizes the text, presenting only a small portion of the story.  I encourage you to read the larger narrative found in Genesis 29:1-30:24.  It’s a soap opera, filled with love, betrayal and a contest for affection.  The space for discussion is as fertile as Leah.
We could go political.  In contemporary rhetoric, the phrases “biblical marriage” and “traditional marriage” fly around pretty freely.  Here we have an example in which women are treated as property, bought and sold for procreation.  It’s one man and 2-4 women whose status shifts – from daughter to wife or maid to wife and back again – according to the needs of the men who control them.  What does DOMA have to say about that?
We could also go theological.  As the story continues, God is both blamed and credited with a lot.  Specifically, God alone controls child-bearing and thus presumably Jacob’s love for each of the women.  One could fairly ask if that is how God operates, pulling the strings of fate.  Further, one could ask if God supports a system in which the value of a woman is determined solely by her ability to provide (male) children.
But perhaps the human story is the most compelling.  Laban’s deception of Jacob and the reversal of favor for the firstborn reflect back on Jacob’s treatment of Esau.  The competition between Leah and Rachel for Jacob’s affection seems tragically misguided.  And where is the voice of Zilpah and Bilhah?
Regardless of the configuration, family is complicated.  Family is the space where we negotiate (for) love and set ourselves and those to whom we are connected on a path.  It often neither starts nor ends where we expect.  The truth is, the story of our family started long before we were born and will continue long after we are gone.  It is a story in which people have felt heard by God and people have felt judged and loved and hated and lucky and happy.  Its telling is its writing; the ways we understand our relationships with one another create the world we live in.  I hope you’ll join us on Sunday to write a little more of that story.

Grace and Peace,

Entangled Root balls

// July 13th, 2011 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Matthew 13:24-30  (Inclusive Text)
Jesus put a parable before the crowds:
The reign of God may be compared to a sower who sowed good seed in a field.
While everybody was asleep an enemy came,
sowed weeds all among the wheat, and made off.
When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, the weed appeared as well.
The owner’s servants came and said:
‘Was it not good seed that you sowed in your field?
If so, where does the weed come from?’
‘Some enemy has done this’, the owner answered.
And the servants said:
‘Do you want us to go and weed it out?’
No, because when you pull out the darnel
you might pull up the wheat with it.
Let them both grow until the harvest.
And at harvest time I will tell the reapers:
‘First collect the weeds and tie it in bundles to be burnt,
then gather the wheat into my barn’.
This week’s lectionary text presents a pretty potent botanical analogy. And a reminder that Jesus was a naturalist.
The bearded darnel is likely the “weed” in question. The darnel penetrates and interweaves around the root ball of other plants and sucks up nutrients and scarce water, thus making it impossible to remove without damaging the other plant. Even more confusing, above ground the darnel looks identical to wheat, until it bears seed.
This passage provides me with a new favorite image for God: as holy seed propagator. Clearly this is a rare and life-giving skill. Who among us knows how to propagate and collect seed of any sort? Much less who could identify plants with such a subtle set of distinguishing characteristics?
Yet too often we are eager to play the part of labeling good and bad, in and out, right and wrong. But ultimately that kind of judgement does not belong to us. Leave it up to the one described in the passage as “the sower” who is comfortable letting the plants grow to maturity and then sorting out the nourishing from the destructive seeds.
I’ve been thinking about church lately—meditating on what makes it a space of both beauty and tragic shadow sides. The people in it, of course. When you couple the wheat and weed within each one of us with a holy and essential quest for “matters of ultimate concern” it is no wonder that we end up lost more often than found.
Truthfully, one has to employ nondualistic thinking to abide in the complexity of the church. Especially in a time when the very definitions of church are so on the move. A non-dual way of seeing is what the mystics meant when they used the word “prayer.” It is the cultivation of a capacity to receive reality, rather than to immediately classify each component as “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong.”
This allows us to acknowledge that people can be both high-maintenance and lovely. (including, of course, ourselves). And that communities can contain within both extreme beauty and toxic moments or patterns. And this acknowledgement, in that it is a recognition of What Really Is, can be the foundation for choices which create more space for God.
In short, we live our lives of faith, especially lives of faith in community, in a liminal zone. And if as a church we can talk about what it means to live in the “in between” space and get clear on the practices that keep us centered—we will be healthier and more open to God’s nourishment, and thus able to grow and bear the crop which God has planted in our little plot of soil.
There are a couple of conferences which I am a part of which connect us to a broader emerging conversation about these topics.
The first is Liminal Christianity: The Sacred Place in Between which will be held on August 13 in Fort Worth. It is a mid-year follow-up to the conference held at Brite last year with keynote Richard Rohr (whose book the Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See informs much of what I’ve shared here on nondual thinking.)
And mark your calendars for a special experiential conference in Dallas on Sept 30th-October 1st called The Four Cornerstones of Emerging Christianity: Spiritual Disciples (which I am co-leading), Church Community, Social Justice and the Historical Jesus. Brochures available at church and online registration will be up soon.
Living with both the weeds and the wheat doesn’t mean that we have no boundaries or limits. But it does require that we make peace with the holy ambiguity that is the life of the church. This frees us up to do our part to water the seeds of nonviolence, of love, of peace, of attentiveness to the created world within ourselves and our community.
I look forward to talking with you all more about this passage on Sunday.
Joy and all the good,
I am indebted to commentaries drawn from Feasting on the Word for today’s reflection.
Visioning Continues
Dear Friends,
We held our second community visioning meeting June 23rd at the home of Luis and Catalina who blessed us with home grilled burgers and beer. (Thanks so much for hosting!) Attendance continues to be small but enthusiastic. We greatly appreciate everyone who has come out to help shape the future vision of our church. However, we would sure love to hear more voices. Following is a brief recap of our evening with the hopes of tempting you into joining us for the next.
Nearly half the people in attendance last week are on the music team, so we decided to start brainstorming around music. (FYI – if you are interested in contributing to the conversation around music, please know there will be another opportunity to do so.) There is an awareness that we need to find a way to make newcomers feel more welcome to participate in the music worship team. One suggestion was to hold an open call for new musicians every 2-3 months allowing an opportunity for a longer rehearsal than is typically held on Sunday mornings. Some people expressed interest in holding a hymn sing, and for including the choir in worship more often. It was also suggested we hold “Las Posada”. If you are like me and have never heard of “Las Posada”, look it up on the web – sounds like a lot of fun.
The majority of our conversation centered around a completely fresh idea. This is what I love about visioning. You put a group of random folks together, start tossing around ideas, and something amazing and unexpected is likely to jump out! I believe it started when someone said he’d like to learn to play guitar. The ideas began to fly around the room, and the next thing we knew we had a plan to offer a twice monthly group guitar lesson followed by a slow jam at the Kessler. I love this idea for a whole lot of reasons. For starters, I just bought my first guitar. But more importantly for this community, this idea reaches beyond our desire for music in church. This idea for a slow jam reaches out to the greater Oak Cliff community, giving back while also inviting folks in to meet us. I do believe we could become the first church to use slow jam as a form of public identity and outreach. And how appropriate to attract more musicians to our community considering we meet in the coolest music venue in town!
Okay, so clearly I’m excited! But have I tempted you yet? Sure hope so! Our next visioning meeting will be held on Thursday July 28th in the home of Teri Walker.339 S.Montclair 75208 .  We will begin to gather at 6:30pm, with the meeting to take place from 7-9pm. Teri is cooking dinner, all you do is bring drinks or dessert to share and show up!
Please put this meeting on your calendar and plan on joining us to help envision our future church. I look forward to seeing you there. If you have questions regarding church visioning, please feel free to contact me anytime.
Stephanie Maxson, Trustee

Nature Deficit Disorder

// July 6th, 2011 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Some mornings I can’t wake up. I move through my house in a slight fog—drinking endless cups of green tea, feeding my kids and sending them off, folding clothes, doing work emails. Yet I look at my day from a distance, as if through the thin film of gunk that coats the fishbowl when it needs to be cleaned.

Words don’t really wake me up on these mornings. I read scripture commentary or listen to the radio with fog still firmly in place. Caffeine and good food help, but not entirely. Do you know what helps? I go outside. The natural world is a game changer. The smell of mint when I water it, the feel of the buds from the antique rose bush I planted after Rosetta was born, the sun on my skin. Combined they create a poultice which warms and stimulates my consciousness.

Direct contact with nature heals. Richard Louv calls it “Vitamin N” in the Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder. Contact with nature makes us feel less alone in the universe, and actually can change our behavior: making us more creative, more intelligent, more community minded.

The author of second Isaiah was familiar with the balm of nature. Our scripture passage this week is a poetic tribute to the movement of God in and through the fertility of the earth: For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be a memorial to YHWH, an everlasting sign that shall never be destroyed. Isaiah 55: 10-13.

Written for a people in exile, these passages reveal God as a dynamic source of nourishment for plants and human community alike. This Sunday we move deeper into ordinary time, a liturgical season marked by the color green. This is our time to lie fallow. This is the rest after the meaning-making extravaganza of Lent and Eastertide and our encounters with the Big Questions of life, death, liberation, and longing. Ordinary time is the recognition that we need space to assimilate all that we have seen, tasted, and learned in recent seasons.

This is true every year, but probably especially true for church in the cliff this year as we have navigated many changes—including a pilgrimage to locate new space, saying goodbye to Kidd Springs, saying hello to the Kessler, Lent in a cave, and most recently a joyful and bumpy Eastertide of fresh encounters. This included a courageous and disruptive series of changes in worship venues and activities—bike blessings, farm visits and so forth. Given all that we have experienced, what could it mean to sit in this green liturgical time and to cultivate an awareness of our green world? What could we learn if we hold the prophet Isaiah in one hand and the beauty of high summer in the other?

There are a thousand different ways to answer this question, and I hope you will prayerfully consider your own path. It could be rising early to sit on the porch with a first cup of coffee and the calls of the birds. You might immerse yourself in nature: through a day trip to a local state park. Or choose simply to roll down the windows for part of a morning commute and take note of the plant life that surrounds you. My favorite current practice is keeping cuttings of basil from the community garden in our kitchen window and adding palmfuls to everything I cook. The beautiful thing about contact with nature is that it heals without us having to try. So often we are hung up on needing to do something better to enhance our spiritual practice—thinking “If I only made time for centering prayer, or more scripture-reading, or was kinder to my partner.” These are all good things to want, but it is also good to remember that God’s healing presence is not dependent on our best efforts. Our role is more one of finding ways to reestablish the connection with the Divine than having to do the heavy lifting ourselves. And often it is through the senses: smell, touch and so on that God brings us back to ourselves.

This is another reason nature heals and wakes us up on groggy mornings: it engages us in multi-sensory experience. Ours is a multi-sensory God. She blows in the wind, burns in the fire, touches us through our neighbor’s hand, and tastes sweet like honey. The Sufi poet Rumi, writing in the 13th century, says, “From the hundreds of times I lost the connection, I learn this: your fragrance brings me back.” Join us Sunday as we explore how we can cultivate the connection between the Spirit of God and the natural world during this season of rest and renewal. Peace, Courtney

Ark Update

We put out the call and the community is responding! We have raised $3,850 so far for Heifer International– over a thousand dollars last week! Please consider making a donation as we aim for a Gift Ark, at $5,000 Heifer’s ultimate challenge! This gift provides livestock– two 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 and pigs– and training for struggling families worldwide. Make a donation via heifer’s secure site or bring a check or cash and join us TONIGHT for the final tally at our “Land the Ark” party as we enjoy local barbeque, home brew, and home grown watermelons! 6:30pm. 310 S. Windomere Dallas 75208.