Archive for August, 2011

Table Rock Lake

// August 31st, 2011 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Our six hour car ride to a friend’s cabin in the Ozarks last week turned out to be a nine and a half hour car ride— we rolled up on Friday morning at 1:40am. At this point the children decided to party, so none of us got to sleep until dawn– a  rough way to start a mini-vacation.
But it was worth it. The night was super black and the trees felt like they held the cabin in a big hug. The next morning we drove a few minutes to a sleepy state park on Table Rock Lake. There was a cemetery there, not far from the shore, with a dozen headstones from the turn of the century surrounded by a wrought iron gate.
Rosetta and I spread out a blanket next the cemetery—resting in the shade of ancient trees. I read the names on the tombstones and wondered about lives long gone while feeding Rosetta her smashed up banana and O’s. Down by the water we could just make out Coleman, Perl and Richie fishing off the dock, or frolicking in the cool water.
While most lakes are murky, Table Rock Lake is totally transparent— due to the limestone cliffs and a rock “table” which under girds the water. It is one of the few places one can learn to scuba dive in fresh water—catching site of (so I hear) monstrous catfish, long-ear sunfish, and crawdads scurrying across deep underwater ravines.
It is an oasis for the senses and the soul.
I think God’s dream for the Church might be just such a place.
This week I have had a string of conversations with people enduring stressful job environments. A neighbor and I talked about the yuck of being a creative in a corporate hierarchy with the double yuck of dealing with other creatives jockeying for power and undermining her projects.
And this morning, while I was held hostage in her chair, my dental hygienist unloads a horror story of a manipulative former boss who told lies and kept her office perpetually on edge with her erratic behavior. 
Dental hygienists have long been my sort of fantasy alternative profession. When things are hard in my work I wonder—why, why why am I drawn to these murky edge waters? Why do I consistently work for passionate little non-profits or churches (yes, CitC is but one in the line of funky start-ups which comprise my professional history). Why do I surround myself with people with strong opinions and intense personalities? Why can’t I just have a normal job?
This is when the fantasy of life as a dental hygienist enters my mind– probably based on a series of kind hygienists I have known and my view of their life from the outside. They have a specialized skill set. They help others stay healthy, they educate, they get Friday’s off. They ask me questions about my kids and listen like they are really interested. They tell funny stories, they laugh and joke with their colleagues. And I think the thing that is so alluring to me about the profession is that it is clear to see the results: you know as a practitioner when you have done a good job cleaning someone’s teeth, and you know when they are doing a good job caring for their own oral health or when they could use some help.
Life in the community of faith, as all of you know, is not so clear.
I mean—come on – who really feels up for the job of cultivating community which engenders radical spiritual transformation?  Some days I would just rather stay home and water my window box and watch Madmen and eat salty caramels.
But this is the work of the church—to create an environment where the Spirit can radically transform our lives. It is the wading pool for love—it is where we learn how to stretch and strengthen our muscles of compassion.
Now you know that many churches are not safe spaces for the soul. Which is so sad, especially when people bring their desire for God into such spaces and get torn up. There are many reasons for this—the most simple being that it is hard work to create and maintain soul space as a community. But it is possible. Jesus was a community organizer who showed us how.
And all throughout my life I have had glimpses of the Church at her very best: of covenants of kindness made and kept, of worships that align the breath of the gathered body with the breath of the Holy One, and of intimate conversations of truth and authenticity.
And I treasure such moments when I experience them at CitC— for they can be cultivated, not engineered. Moments of true community are always gifts of the Spirit.
And I have also witnessed and endured the shadow side of community in previous churches and at Church in the Cliff: moments where people wound others, make sad choices, live out of fear and not security. These encounters too are the stuff of community life. It is hard to honest about them but in talking about the shadows we release their power over us. All churches and indeed all people have our shadow sides— call them what you will: our work to do, our unresolved emotional attachments, our ego. These things all come to church with us at the Kessler Theater every week, so we might as well greet them by name.

A couple of times in recent conversations in our community I have heard people use these words:  “Church in the Cliff is my safe place.” Often they are describing their involvement in this community in contrast to a toxic work environment or family challenges.
They are naming a desire for soul space, and indeed claiming CitC as the space where they (sometimes? Most of the time?) encounter it.
This is God’s dream for the church.
Yet maintaining that safe soul space is a big responsibility—and it is one we all sign up for through our commitment to this community.
Thankfully we are not left without resources to create such an oasis. There is a rocky foundation which holds the fluid body of the Church in place: and our scripture this week is one effort to describe the limestone covenant which under girds our work.
Your love must be sincere. Hate what is evil and cling to what is good. Love one another with the affection of sisters and brothers. Try to outdo one another in showing respect. Don’t grow slack, but be fervent in spirit: the One you serve is Christ. Rejoice in hope; be patient under trial; persevere in prayer. Look on the needs of God’s holy people as your own; be generous in offering hospitality. Bless your persecutors—bless and don’t curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same attitude toward everyone. Don’t be condescending to those who aren’t as well off as you; don’t be conceited. Don’t repay evil with evil. Be concerned with highest ideal in the eyes of all people. Do all you can to be at peace with everyone. Don’t take revenge: leave room, my friends, for God’s wrath. To quote scripture, “Vengeance is mine, I will pay them back,” says our God.” But there is more: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them drink. For in doing so, you will heap burning coals upon their heads.” Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by doing good.  Romans 12:9-21
OK, so there is a lot in there. This is why we should all gather on Sunday to talk more about it as a community. In the interim I invite you to consider all the ways we can name our work as people who strive to hold sacred space for another and for the newcomers to our community.
For I look around me and I see a world full of souls looking for a place to swim— a haven in which to stretch out, to feel the sparkly sun on one’s face and to bob in the waves. To rest in the comfort of being able to see through the crystal waters which surround—so our primordial brains can rest if only for a minute. No need to fear the alligators of our world—there are none nearby. This is what we are called to be as a church on the Jesus Way.


Community Meeting on Finances

There is another way which our church aims to be transparent, through its handling of money. Teri, our new treasurer, and the rest of the board (newly elected and continuing) have been working hard to evaluate our financial position and provide an update. On Sunday the board will host an important meeting at the 10am hour to talk about the church budget and strategies for putting our church on steadier fiscal ground. Please bring a brunch dish to share and join in the conversation. Read on for details.
Members of the Church in the Cliff Community,
It may still feel like the height of summer outside, but in just a few short days school will be back in session and everyone’s summer vacations will be over for another year.  Well, almost everyone:  the Church in the Cliff budget never gets a vacation, and it has been working hard all summer.  And sadly, it’s more than a little bit worn out: in a nutshell, our church budget doesn’t look nearly as rosy as we had thought a few weeks ago, and we’ve had to dip into our savings just to be able to pay our pastor this month.  Had it not been for some fortuitous timing for us, at least a couple of checks we wrote this month would have bounced.  That’s why we need all of you to come to a very important meeting on Sunday, August 28th, for a review of our current financial situation and a time to share ideas and strategies for putting our church on steadier fiscal ground.    

Date:  Sunday, August 28th
Time and Location:  10AM Kessler Theater Lounge
A full financial statement for August 2010-July 2011 will be available at the meeting and/or by emailing

We all care about this community, and part of that care is recognizing that sustaining the community should be important to us. If this resonates with you, and if you want to help ensure that Church in the Cliff continues to do its important work, then please do come to the meeting on August 28th.     
And if you are still out and about but would like to make a financial contribution to the church, please mail it to us.  And better yet, set Church in the Cliff up on automatic bill pay with your bank to make regular contributions whether you are there on Sunday or not.
Church in the Cliff
P.O. Box 5072
Dallas, TX  75208
Peace and Blessings,
CitC Board
Mikal Hughey, Moderator.
Teri Walker, Treasurer.
Clint Chamberlain, Clerk.
Stephanie Maxson, Trustee.
Alan Stephenson, Trustee.

Steel Wool Anxiety

// August 24th, 2011 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

“Thus says YHWH Omnipotent, the God of Israel, to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses to live in. Plant gardens and eat what they grow. Marry and raise daughers and sons. Find wives for your sons and husbands for your daughters, that they may bear daughers and sons. Multiply while you are there. Do not decrease. Rather, seek the peace and the prosperity of the city to which I exiled you. Pray to YHWH for it, for if it prospers, you will prosper.” Jeremiah 29: 4-7

Sometimes when you find yourself in exile—rather than groaning and longing for home, you do better to just plant a vineyard. Suck it up, says our prophet. Build a life where you are—even if it is not the home you thought you would have. This passage is the foundation for a local conference in which several of us participated on Saturday August 13. It was a beautiful  chance to speak honestly with other souls about liminal Christianity.

Suzanne Stabile, conference organizer, describes liminality as that experience of finding oneself on the edge of something new and contending with two honest and competing urges. People tend either to run back to the familiar saying “this is how it has always worked…” or to force an answer– to build their own landing spot and jump to it. Anything to get over that “in between” feeling and the anxiety it provokes. The trick is to learn how to plant a vineyard in an unfamiliar landscape. Or to live faithfully in a liminal spot.

On Monday the week of the conference I spent some time in Home Depot pondering scouring pads. Rosetta was strapped to me, making eyes with other folks in the cleaning isle. I held various options in my hands: round ones and flat ones, synthetic ones and metal ones, brillo pads with bright pink or blue industrial soap inside. It was a moment of prayer. What is the texture of anxiety? —I asked myself. I was searching for a prayer object to have on the tables at lunch at the conference: something people from different denominations, congregations, and communities can meditate on as a symbol for the anxiety we feel as a transition Church.

At the planning session, we had talked stones. Stones are dense. I think fear might be a stone. But anxiety is like steel wool. How easily the spaces the Spirit opens in our souls or in our connections with each other become filled with this prickly stuff. It functions as an unhelpful buffer between our hearts and reality. Between our hearts and others hearts. Steel wool is conductive: it has the power to move energy. In the same way, anxiety often moves through us and we pass it onto the next person, infecting the whole system with vibrations that make it harder to sense the Spirit.

So, we had 120 Brillo pads for our center pieces. Anxiety is not all bad. Actually it is a useful energy that is trapped—something like an ingrown hair. So in the experiential breakout room hosted by Church in the Cliff people had a chance to donate their anxiety pad to a place where it can be put to good use (United Community Centers, a UMC Mission to Children which also distributes cleaning supplies to families). The donation a small offering to support growing edges of relationships and concern for those on the margins. The invitation was to hold and then to release Brillo pads as just the symbol of a consent for transformation. The meditation strove to create a space for individuals and communities to release the words and concerns that keep us trapped: “we are too small.” “We are irrelevant.” “Our work doesn’t matter.” “Our relationships stretch us too far or are too weak to hold and birth this new thing.” “The way is too opaque.” And on and on. This same invitation is open to us all to name our anxieties as emerging-oriented folks in this time and this community. At the conference, the drop off point was a bucket at the center of a small spiral labyrinth of stones. Then people have the opportunity to receive another symbol: a simple waffle-weave white cloth. Kind of hip in a grandma’s kitchen sort of way, and attached with one of two quotes: “If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.” — Julian of Norwich “Do exactly what you would do if you felt most secure.” Meister Eckhart Anxiety is a daily thing. It is normal. We don’t say goodbye to it on Saturday or any day. But rather hello—to our willingness to handle it day in day out. To sit in liminal space is to be willing to pick up a rag and wash the dishes from the Feast with care and attention, again and again. We are faithful to the work at hand as we listen for our future story. My hope is that every time we gather our community invites people to lay down the brillo pad and pick up the cloth. For surely part of our work as church is to remind each other how harsh we often are with our souls as we long to scrub out fear and anxieties, when, in the end, it’s the gentle and powerful nature of love that transforms them. peace, Courtney PS I am indebted to Genny Rowley as creative partner in the crafting of this meditation and creating of the CitC experiential room.

Like the sound of this conversation? Join us at our next upcoming conference on the Four CornerStones of Emerging Christianity on Sept 30th and October 1st. Register now.

Saying Goodbye and Saying Hello

This month we are rotating off three board members and bringing in four new ones including filling a vacant treasurer spot. I celebrate our recent elections and am excited to have strong leaders in place. Below I share the litany we used to bless our outgoing board members in worship on their final Sunday — it is my ongoing prayer for our church—especially the last phrase “So it should be in the Body of Christ: we take turns with the work and care of Church. Always listening for God’s invitation to conspire with one another: to breathe deeply and to plot goodness and to join God as co-re-creators of the world. AMEN.”

All of of our outgoing board members brought different gifts as co-re-creators: We are grateful to Ross for his stabilizing presence, dry humor and long-term commitment to our community, to James for his many practical skills, including knowledge of real estate, and to Kristin for her willingness to do often thankless work of crafting agendas, recording minutes and attending to administrative details. All of them brought a passion for missions and social justice and a willing heart. They have served us well. If you were not able to be with us to thank them in person , I provide their contact info below.

Our new board members brings different skills and strengths to build on what has gone before. With a treasurer in place again the incoming board is equipped to do some deep financial analysis and make plans for our budget— Teri is hard at work on these things so that we can better dream and vision for the upcoming year. Mikal brings a natural leadership, passion and honesty and also a connection to music, which is such a part of our community. Alan brings a quick wit and a deep sense of empathy, as well as professional skills in the mental health arena. Clint is our resident mystic and plant-whisperer—and one who has access to a lot of information as a librarian. And Stephanie brings her experience in leadership with another emerging church in Seattle as well as all her other passions and skills— making her a helpful bridge from the retiring board into a new working relationship those recently elected. I invite you to say thank you and welcome either in person or via emails provided below. Courtney

Gratitude: A Blessing for Outgoing Board Members The people stand as they are able God is never finished with creation And God is never finished with us. We are constantly being re-created, as individuals and a community And we give thanks for leaders who have given freely of their time, energy, and resources to guide this church. Kristin, James, and Ross— as board members you have led us and loved us well for over two years We celebrate your contributions and know that your passion and kindness is forever woven into our ecclesial DNA We also celebrate a smooth transfer of power and release you from your roles, now publicly, so that you may tend to other concerns, rest and renew. So it should be in the Body of Christ: we take turns with the work and care of Church. Always listening for God’s invitation to conspire with one another: to breathe deeply and to plot goodness and to join God as co-re-creators of the world. AMEN.

Outgoing board members: Kristin Schutz, clerk. Ross Prater, moderator. James Fairchild, trustee.

Newly elected and continuing board members: Mikal Hughey, moderator. Teri Walker, treasurer. Clint Chamberlain, clerk. Stephanie Maxson, trustee. Alan Stephenson, trustee.

Our Bodies, Ourselves

// August 19th, 2011 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

I try to avoid Pauline texts as much as possible. In addition to what in my estimation is a very non-systematic approach, Pauline texts have the unfortunate honor of establishing the language we use to talk about our faith. I say unfortunate because it is impossible to hear these texts without the weight of the entire history of interpretation of the text. When we read Paul, we read him with Augustine and Martin Luther and Rene Descartes and Karl Barth looking over our shoulders, whispering in our ears. And so, one would not normally think a simple word like “bodies” would be an action-packed exegetical summer blockbuster, but, oh-em-gee, one would be so wrong.

First, let’s deal with a little baggage. Western culture has a radical ambivalence toward the body, simultaneously body-obsessed and body-hating. Philosophically and theologically the body is often seen as a burdensome shell to be resisted in life and finally, gloriously, shucked in death. Culturally it is the means by which we judge and are judged. If we pay attention to our bodies, we are vain; if we don’t, we are slovenly or slothful. No matter what we do, our bodies can turn on us when we least expect it and will inevitably wither and die. It is no wonder we want to distance ourselves from our bodies, to hope that, whatever we are, it is not our fickle flesh.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we are our bodies. Don’t worry. It’s not all bad. In fact, it’s quite beautiful. To be embodied is to exist in a particular time and place. Our bodies are a unique point of reference that cannot possibly be duplicated and from which we construct the world around us. As such, our bodies are located in a web of relationships with other bodies. Our “selves” are constructed by those relationships. This is the dance of existence: always constructing and being constructed. Thus our bodies are spiritual, being the locus of transformation through the mind and heart and will. As embodied beings, we press against one another leaving impressions like pieces of soft clay.

It is part of the peculiar beauty of our faith that we are deeply concerned with bodies. Despite the diversity of views in Christendom, past and present, we all agree that there was something so important about bodies that God had to get one. When we speak of the Incarnation, we are talking about the embodiment of God in the world. That embodiment continues in the Church, which, at Paul’s suggestion, we refer to as the Body of Christ. And here, Paul exhorts us to make our bodies a living sacrifice, to be transformed, to be impressed by and impress ourselves on the soft clay of the Body of God.

Join us this Sunday as we try to redeem our attitudes toward bodies, to see them as God does: good and acceptable and perfect.

Grace and Peace,


// August 4th, 2011 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

I will listen to what you have to say, YHWH—a voice that speaks of peace, peace for your people and your friends so long as they don’t return to their folly. Your salvation is near for those who revere you and your glory will dwell in our land. Love and faithfulness have met; justice and peace have embraced. Fidelity will sprout from the earth and justice will lean down from heaven. YHWH will give us what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Justice will march before you, YWHW, and peace will prepare the way for your steps. Psalm 85: 8-13, Inclusive version

I want to live in the world our Psalmist describes: one where justice and peace embrace. Actually, they are doing more than embracing. As other translations reveal: they are smooching.
Our passage this week is a prime instance of how Hebrew verbs can be vague on time and tense. So it is unclear. Have love and faithfulness just met, are they meeting, or will they meet soon? Likewise, have justice and peace kissed, or is it a kiss that they (and we) are still anticipating?
How does it reframe our life—individually and collectively—if we understand it as being lived in the space in between desire and lip to lip contact?
And even better when we consider who is making out: two aspects of the Divine are leaning in toward each other and we live our lives caught in the middle of that embrace. How might I live differently if I recognized my location in such a cozy spot?
The fancy word for the figurative device employed in Psalm 85 is a merismus (a figure in which two contrasting or complementary parts of an entity are cited to imply the whole). This is especially true in the next part of the passage when fidelity sprouts from the earth and justice leans down (or rains down) from the heavens. We live our lives in the middle of a summer downpour. Sweet rain and fruiting field surround us— divine gifts available to quicken and revive our droopy constitution.
On Sunday we talked honestly about anxiety—the intense kind that keeps us up at night and the more quotidian kind that we pass around and even cultivate in our friends and families as we navigate changes in our church and our country. And together we wondered —what are the spiritual practices we can employ that speak to this anxiety? How do we cultivate postures that calm our hearts and quiet our minds so that we can better discern the wisdom of the Spirit?
These are questions we continue to live into as a community. I hope we come up with a whole list of practices—so many that there is one that feels inviting and accessible for everyone we know and love.
One practice we should add to our list is the holding of life-giving scripture.
While wrestling with a difficult passage is also a spiritual practice, it is good to identify a few passages which don’t require any wrestling at all—but instead speak to the world we want to live towards and describe it better than we ever could by ourselves.
These passages can reduce our anxiety because they remind us we are not alone and they give us a poetry we can get inside and live.
I hope everyone will join me on Sunday as we talk more about Psalm 85: one of our traditions most lovely and comforting descriptions of God’s restorative work.

I am indebted to Feasting on the Word for parts of today’s reflection. Especially the big words.

Volunteer with Refugee Writers

Lauren and her brother Justin have launched a project to support refugees, asylees and forced migrants. (featured in the Dallas Morning News). Lauren is looking for volunteers to coach the writers for an upcoming speaking engagement at SMU. Details below.
Escape to Dallas:
Stories of Flight and Survival
Sponsored by SMU Department of Human Rights
Thursday, October 6th
At the SMU Campus, room location TBD
The event highlights the stories and writings of international refugees, asylees, and other forced migrants currently living in Dallas. Presenters offer their experiences of flight from conflict, political and economic threats and their resettlement in the Dallas area.
We need volunteers to coach forced migrants, one-one-one, for 6 to 8 weeks in preparation for their event presentations.
Time Commitment:
— 6 to 8 weeks, 1 to 2 hours per week
Monday Nights: 6:30-8:00pm
August 17th to October 3rd at 7611 Park Lane, Dallas, TX
(the Lutheran church across from Northpark Mall)
— 1 Hour Optional training/ information session:
Saturday August 13th, location TBD