Archive for November, 2011

Day After the Day of the Dead

// November 3rd, 2011 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

As those who have ever attended a birth or a death will tell you—all time is hallowed. I have left births I supported as a doula with my heart crying out— looking at folks passing in the street and thinking “how can the world keep on going?” “Don’t you know what has just happened?” “Don’t you see that the Mystery is so real?”
 
Yet, holding that awareness is really too much to bear most days: we have commutes to drive and kiddos to feed and regular people, including ourselves, to figure out how to love. So we need certain liturgical moments, like the one we just moved through, to invite us to draw closer to the thin veil.
 
But as the mist All Hallows/All Soul’s evaporates, the ghoulish jack lanterns turn out to be just pumpkins, now with faces caving in or smashed to pieces in the street. And creepy diablitos turn out to be red-headed five year olds. And the candles from the vigil go out and the night face of the church fades back into ordinary time. Thus, it is a good day to take stock, to look honestly at our lives and practices, and to speak truthfully to self, friend, and neighbor. 
 
Recently I saw a brief clip on TV in the pediatrician’s office. They had these brief health infomercials playing and in one of them someone was talking with folks in a retirement home. The audio was off so I couldn’t hear anything, but the camera zoomed in close on an old man dressed for the occasion in full military uniform. I don’t know my ranks, but with all the bars and patches he looked like a general. And it sort of made my heart break. He looked so small in the clothes: the gap between his thin neck and the collar so wide. His tie was a little loose, and he didn’t notice.
 
Whether military uniform, priest’s collar, doctor’s coat or musician’s leather jacket– most of us don’t want to see the gap between an aged neck and previous professional attire. In fact, the more external authority the clothes connote, the more squeamish it makes us feel to see someone who has shrunk wearing them. 
 
Why? Because it calls to our attention to the fact that a lot of what we invest our life in is really ego costumery, to a certain extent. And we can’t take it with us.
 
I am not saying it is bad to be a doctor, or a musician or whatever. Indeed all of those can be arenas where we live out our vocational call, the work God calls out of us for the world.
 
Yet we live in a culture that denies death and the vulnerability which often precedes it.
 
Also the world will tell you to cover your flank, to deny your weakness, to hide your faults or mistakes. This is a trap.
 
And Jesus knew it.
 
The passage we are working with this Sunday (Matthew 23:1-12) details this point.
 
Yet the Church at her most lovely provides us with an alternative to pretending we are perfect: the economy of Grace. This approach acknowledges that personal and corporate failure in fact set the stage for God’s tranformation to be be revealed. 
 
But most churches fall short of this ideal. In fact, if one is looking for coaching on a life of radical honesty, skip the worship service and head straight to the recovery program in the basement. (Or read Richard Rohr’s book Breathing Underwater: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps.)
 
Why don’t we do this more often in church? Because it is too freaking scary! Yet what freedom to be found on the other side of an honest moral inventory.
 
And so, below I share my list of things if I had to do over at CitC I would.
 
1. Money-Talk. For two and a half years I participated in (enabled?) a culture of avoiding talking about money at Church in the Cliff. This led to a money crisis which erupted this Summer —the third or fourth of its kind since the church was founded over a decade before.
 
I am sorry. I ask your forgiveness and for God’s grace.
 
If I had it to do over I would have introduced our economic discipleship series a year ago, as we prepared to transition away from the financial support of Cathedral of Hope. I would have done our pledge drive then too, in anticipation of independence.
 
I think that this is one of the moments when my inexperience as a pastor met the church’s own weaker patterns. And a blind spot was born!
 
Yet there is hope. I am so proud of the community for walking through the economic discipleship series and prayerfully, soulfully, scripturally discussing money and faith. Honestly, it was a little bit excruciating. Like half the church just stopped coming on those Sunday mornings. There was a lot of tension in the air and confusion over next steps.
 
Yet when asked to soulfully give based on the value they find in this church– the community was so generous! And I heard the church articulate, really for the first time, the value of giving with intentionality, even as the church remains a work in progress. There is freedom here. And a future.
 
And the good news is the church brought in significantly over $4k in monthly pledges! (for a detailed budget emailboard@churchinthecliff.org or come Sunday for the budget vote.) These regular contributions create exciting possibilities for the church which the board has put a lot of time into imagining.
 
2. The next thing I regret is that the Church did not ordain Adam Brett. He heard his call to ministry in this community. He has many gifts and graces. Again, this was a space where my own inexperience (particularly not coming out of a denomination that ordains at the local church level) and the community’s confusion over its own identity merged. And we simply couldn’t see our way forward in the time frame before Adam moved to New York.
 
So to the whole church, and especially to Adam, I want to say that I am sorry.
 
And I ask for forgiveness and God’s grace.
 
Young people are hearing their call to ordained ministry in this community. This is a sacred gift. This is not happening everywhere. It is the prayer of the church, and CitC has an opportunity to ordain some amazing people (Genny Rowley and Scott Shirley next on deck). And maybe even to reopen a conversation with Adam. I hope the church will continue to support the ordination team— and its co-chairs Wes and Jaime – as they articulate a process for ordination at CitC.   
 
3. Lastly, like all preachers, I know I have at times fallen short of the truth of the Gospel. For example, a month ago I shared a vision I received in a moment of prayer which was from the movie the Matrix. As I explained in the sermon, I felt like the character “Trinity” who says to Neo, the guy who is going to save them from being trapped in the system “you can’t be dead yet, because I love you.” And I basically said that same phrase to the church and reiterated my call to this community and my belief in what this church can be. This was in the depths of the depression over money, and depth of my confusion over my future, but I regret if me voicing this vision made my recent announcement that I am leaving more painful for anyone.
 
I am sorry. I ask your forgiveness and for God’s grace.
 
I have been wrestling with this decision over whether to go or stay for several months, and I’m walking away limping. Sometimes we don’t interpret visions right. Or we only see the way forward dimly. But I think it is so important that this church continues to create space for people to talk about their mystical encoutners with the Holy. And to figure out what it means to be a community of discernment. 
 
The work we are doing now is terminal work. And it is part of life. Whether through divorce, death of loved ones, an end to a job we love– we all walk through it. And if you haven’t, you will. This is one reason I believe in a season of goodbye.
 
But I also want to make really clear that my offer to stay through Advent was only an offer—I didn’t want the community to feel abandoned over the holidays. But the board has met and discussed the timeframe and is recommending that November 18th be my last Sunday.
 
I honor the board’s recommendation—which it will be presenting to the community this Sunday for a vote. In fact, I appreciate the community thinking liturgically and wanting the transition to correspond to the beginning of the liturgical year in Advent.
 
While painful, goodbyes are good for the soul. They clear out the rocks in our pockets and help us travel lighter into future relationships. They are not easy. But they are a rare opportunity. Join me Sunday for a worship gathering centered around Matthew 23: 1-12 and join the board for a discussion of the budget and terms of the pastoral transition (including timeframe and severance) following worship.
 
Peace,
 
Courtney
  
Community Meeting and Vote Sunday

Join the Board for an official community meeting and vote this Sunday at the end of worship. The agenda will include a discussion of the time frame of the pastoral transition, severance, and overall church budget. Questions? email board@churchinthecliff.org