Archive for September, 2012

How to Read the Bible: The Moral

// September 30th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

As a teenager there were a lot of decisions to make.  Who should I date?  What should I do with them?  What should I drink?  What movies should I go see?  What words should I use?  What should I wear?  What music should I listen to and what should I do while listening to it?**  So many choices.  It was a good thing for me that I had the Bible.  It answered all those tricky questions and so many more.  Of course, it was best at helping me make the ultimate choice, the choice between heaven and hell – seems like an easy choice, right? – but once that one was made one must figure out what to do with oneself.  Bible for the win!

While for me this was the primary reason for reading the Bible, it was only one of four senses of Scripture for classical minds.  So far in this series, we have talked about the literal and the allegorical and now we add the moral.  The Bible will tell you what you should do.  However, in the classical model, the moral rests on top of the literal and the allegorical.  They are all simultaneously true senses of Scripture and in later thought, say Thomas Aquinas, they are all necessary.  That is, it is literally true, allegorically true, and morally true.  The Bible cannot be taken seriously as a guide for our choices unless it is also true in fact and true in pointing us to Christ.

Given what we’ve talked about the last couple of weeks, I hope you see the problem here.  Problems of transmission, translation, and intercultural communication become very acute when they are rendered in the moral arena.  The moral is where the rubber meets the road: actual behavior of actual human beings.  And given the way morality plays out in groups in a democratic society, it is critical that we attempt to be aware of the ways in which we read such a prominent moral guide, the world we construct in reading the text a particular way.  Perhaps a correct interpretation is less important than an ethical interpretation.

Please join us Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center as we discuss how to read the Bible in such a way that it brings God’s dreams into reality.

Grace and Peace,

How to Read the Bible: The Allegorical (Program and Sermon)

// September 27th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Sermon Outline (roughly followed)

I.        Back up

a.       Scripture as revelation

1.      How does God intervene in writing Scripture?

2.      How does God intervene in the world?

b.      Review series

1.      Literal

a)      Plain reading

b)      Modern rationalist, truth-seeking tendencies

2.      Allegorical

3.      Moral

4.      Anagogical

II.     What is allegory?

a.       Lisa is a fox

b.      Bernie Madoff is a fox

III.   Classical

a.       Allegory of Christ

1.      Suffering servant

IV.  Modern

a.       Archetypes

The suffering servant could be understood as a typical hero’s quest, suffering for those who rejected the hero.

b.      Making meaning

V.     Post-modern strategies

a.       Reader-response

The reader completes the meaning of the text through interpretation.  He or she does so from a particular social location.  This entails certain connections making more sense than others, which means that allegorical readings can shift meaning quite a bit.

b.      Hidden transcript

A hidden transcript is when a message is conveyed to those inside a particular community, but is hidden from those outside that community.  For example, Revelation is filled with hidden transcripts; the author is talking about the Roman Empire through symbolism that is well-known to insiders, but obscure to outsiders.  The problem with reading hidden transcripts is that we are rarely in the insider group.

c.       Intertextuality

Readers interpret a text in relation to other texts.  Sometimes this is unconscious, such as reading the Bible through the lens of Paradise Lost.  Sometimes is purposeful, such as Marcella Althaus-Reid connecting the writings of the Marquis de Sade to biblical and traditional understandings of God.

d.      Allegory of Christ reconsidered

1.      Cyrus

2.      Prophet

3.      Israel or remnant

How to Read the Bible: The Allegorical

// September 21st, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

If you spend enough time on Internet message boards, you will see a lot of bad analogies.  In the course of a discussion (pronounced “argument”) someone will try to make a point by referencing something that is presumably a point of common interest and common understanding between the two dialog partners (pronounced “combatants”), say, football.  One might compare a political candidate to a quarterback, for example.  Then, of course, the conversation turns to each person’s assessment of both the quarterback and the candidate.  As an analogy, the whole thing fails because there is no common ground, no point of agreement from which to expand.  This is the trouble with any kind speech that attempts to draw a comparison: everyone has to agree about the meaning of the things being compared and how they relate to one another.

This week, we continue our series on how to read the Bible by looking at the classical category of allegory.  In the Four Senses of Scripture, which is the framework for our study, the ltieral meaning is maintained, but there is always a layer of allegory on top of that. That is, every bit of Scripture points toward something beyond its literal meaning.  For these early scholars, that something was always Christ.  For them, Jesus is the answer.  Adam in Genesis points to the new Adam: Jesus.  Moses the liberator points to Jesus the liberator from sin.  As Noah was the one good person to save humanity, so is Jesus.  David was the anointed one of God; Jesus is the Anointed One of God.

But even if we could agree that every bit of Scripture points to Jesus – 2 Kings 2:23-24 might be problematic – what exactly would that mean?  In what way is Jesus the new Adam?  It depends on what we think the story of Adam is about.  And what we think the story of Jesus is about.  Perhaps Christians are more united on that than on candidates and quarterbacks, but not much.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about how to read the Bible allegorically to speak into our own lives.

Grace and Peace,


We don’t normally do movie previews in the church email, but there is something special premiering tonight at Grapevine Mills: Hellbound.  This documentary features interviews with scholars on the doctrine of hell, including my friend and teacher, our own Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles.  On Saturday, after the 6:10pm showing of the film, there will be a Q&A at the Cozymel’s at Grapevine Mills with Jaime, the producers of the film, and Sharon Baker, the author of Razing Hell, who is also featured in the film.  This is a terrific opportunity to pick the brains of some brilliant people on a longstanding, perhaps questionable, doctrine of the faith.  Hope to see you there!


Last night I had the opportunity to preview the third installment of the I AM A TEACHER series of plays, written and performed by my friend and long-time CitCer, David Marquis.  It made me sad that I have not seen the other two.  The play traces a year in the life of a teacher, Ben James, at the end of his career.  Mr. James is a fierce advocate for kids, who is determined to teach them in spite of all the obstacles in his way.  It is inspiring and thought-provoking, highlighting the challenges we face in treating kids in our schools as human beings that matter instead of cogs in a machine.  For anyone who is a teacher, knows a teacher, or just cares about the next generation and the future we are leaving them, this play is a must-see.  It will be at Stage West in Fort Worth October 18-21.

How to Read the Bible: The Literal (Program and Sermon)

// September 21st, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Sermon Outline

I.        Classical

a.       Descriptive

b.      Just the facts

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” – Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis

c.       Naïve?

II.     Modern

a.       Enlightenment

1.      Jefferson Bible

b.      Fundamentalism

c.       Historical-critical

1.      Jesus Seminar

d.      Problems

1.      Transmission

2.      Translation

3.      Social location

4.      Inconsistency in the text

III.   Post-modern strategies

a.       Redeeming the text

b.      Reading against the text

c.       Second naiveté

IV.  Discussion Questions

a.       Does it matter what the Bible says?

b.      How does the Bible speak?

c.       What is the promise of a literal approach?

d.      What is the peril of a literal approach?

V.     Closing

a.       Luke 23:55-24:9

How to Read the Bible: The Literal

// September 12th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

When I was in 8th grade, I was placed in the advanced reading class, as I had been since the 2nd grade.  Yes, this is a brag.  But wait.  It’s all downhill from here.  One day we were learning vocabulary and the teacher asked for someone to give the definition of “literally.”  Since my mom used that word literally all the time, I confidently raised my hand.  I explained that it meant that whatever was being said could not be taken seriously, that it was exaggerated.  The second semester, I was transferred to the regular class.

As Yale Bible scholar Dale Martin points out, words mean what they mean to the people using them.  If my mom meant, as many, many people do, that the literally true was an exaggeration that couldn’t possibly be true, that’s what it means.  I claim victory, victory in post-modernism.

This week, we move properly into our discussion of the classical four senses of scripture, which begins with the literal sense.  In the classical understanding, this meant what we might call a “plain reading” of the text.  It says what it says.  Whatever facts the text reports can be trusted.  But as the tragic tale of my demotion to regular Reading classes illustrates, this is not always a simple matter.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center as we discuss the promise and the peril of simply reading “what the Bible says.”

Grace and Peace,

How to Read the Bible Schedule

We will be following the classical understanding of the four senses of Scripture: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical.  We will look at how each of these was originally understood, how that has changed, and how we might use them today.  There will be an introductory week, a week dedicated to each sense, and a “practicum” in the sixth week where we will try this out on a passage in small groups.

September 9 – Introduction
September 16 – Literal
September 23 – Allegorical
September 30 – Moral
October 7 – Anagogical
October 14 – Practicum

We hope you’ll join us.

How to Read the Bible: Introduction (Program and Sermon)

// September 10th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Sermon Outline (loosely followed)

I.                               Questions

a.       How do you view the Bible?

b.      How do you use Bible?

c.       Do know the Bible?

d.      Do you want to know the Bible?

II.                            Classical understanding

a.       Literal

b.      Allegorical

c.       Moral

d.      Anagogical

III.                         Post-modern twist

IV.                          Why read it?  Why does it matter?

a.       Cultural defense

1.      Literary tradition

a)      Universal stories

b)      Authors steeped in tradition

2.      American culture

3.      Used against us

b.      Sacred trust

1.      Tradition: the dead get a vote

2.      Collection of human experience

3.      Wrestles with issues of ultimate concern

4.      Means by which God calls to us

Scripture is one of the primary means by which God calls to us.  If we listen to that call instead of sin and fear and desire, we become more holy, take one more step on the path to the Divine.  Because Scripture is

5.      Not so much informative as transformative

You can read Scripture to learn something.  You can read it to argue with people, to defend your beliefs.  Blah, blah, blah.  Noisy gong.  Clanging cymbal.  But if you read it and aren’t transformed into the person God would have you be, you are missing the point.  Reading to be transformed means reading critically, reading actively, letting the word of God speak to our deepest selves, the Divine within.  Read that way, Scripture can give us strength, encouragement, comfort, correction.  We can block out sin and ego and fear.  As someone pretending to be Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:17, in reading Scripture we become the person that God would have us be, equipped for every good work.  If we believe, as I think many people in this church do, that being a Christian means bringing into being God’s dreams for the world, Pseudo-Paul says we better be reading Scripture.  Not just to learn, but to become the kinds of people who do God’s work, the kinds of people who are faithful, loving, and hopeful.

How to Read the Bible: Introduction

// September 8th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Growing up in a Southern Baptist church, the Bible was at the center of most of what we did.  We were Protestants, which meant that we believed in the power of the Bible alone to guide our lives.  And, because we were Baptists, we might yell at you if you disagreed.  Looking back, I often think we worshipped the Bible more than we worshipped God.

We had one pastor who would regularly challenge us.  I don’t mean challenge us like “really make us think.”  I mean he would read a passage in the course of his sermon, verse by verse, connect it to other parts of the Bible and then, at some point say, “You don’t believe me?  Look it up!”  Why would we need to look it up?  Why would we disagree with something so plainly presented, so clearly and confidently stated?  After all, he was simply telling us what the Bible says.  Who could argue?

Having now spent quite a few years playing poker (bad Baptist!), I can say that this is what is known as a “bluff.”  He could say whatever he wanted.  We would believe the story he was telling and we would fold.  We would fold because he was speaking about and from the Bible, the Word of God.  Who could argue?

Well, it turns out people argue all the time about the Bible.  Christians argue with non-Christians.  Protestants argue with Catholics.  Baptists argue with Methodists.  Lutherans argue with Lutherans.  We argue about homosexuality and the role of women in marriage and the church.  We argue about war.  We argue about the origins of the earth.  We argue about poverty.  And all of these positions are as confidently presented as my old preacher’s.  Everyone is right and dares us to say otherwise.

I’ll admit it: I love to argue about the Bible.  However, I’m not sure it’s a very fruitful exercise.  It is unusual for people to change their minds, which means that the fight is mostly about the fight.

Fortunately, in seminary they teach us to do a lot of other things with the Bible.  It turns out there are a lot of ways to read the Bible.  In addition to a variety of ways of interpreting it, there are many different reasons one might bother.  Each of those ways might be a means by which God calls out to us and a means by which we might respond.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we begin our six-week series on how to read the Bible.

Grace and Peace,

How to Read the Bible

We will be following the classical understanding of the four senses of Scripture: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical.  We will look at how each of these was originally understood, how that has changed, and how we might use them today.  There will be an introductory week, a week dedicated to each sense, and a “practicum” in the sixth week where we will try this out on a passage in small groups.

September 9 – Introduction
September 16 – Literal
September 23 – Allegorical
September 30 – Moral
October 7 – Anagogical
October 14 – Practicum

We hope you’ll join us.

Sunday School

We will not have Sunday School this Sunday.  I hoped we could put something together, but it’s just not going to happen right now.  I would like to explain why I think this is important and the challenges we face.

I grew up in Sunday School.  I probably did not love it.  I remember badly drawn pictures of Jesus holding a sheep or talking to children.  Occasionally, we heard about Noah.  I also remember being with my friends discussing the Bible and what truths, what guidance it might provide us.  It made me consider the world and my relationship to it in a deeper way than I would have if I were at home watching TV.  It made me consider that things actually mattered: the way I treat people, what I do with my money, how I experience sorrow and joy.  As a kid, I didn’t pay much attention to the sermons.  But in Sunday School, I worked through my faith in fear and trembling with a community of friends that endures to this day.  I want that for all of us, but especially for our kids.  Certainly, deep, enduring friendships can be built outside the church.  But there is something special about developing relationships in a context of ultimate concern.

That said, we are a small church.  This often presents problems.  We think it is feasible to divide the children and youth into three groups, which means that we need six adult volunteers. We want to ensure stability for our kids, so we need people who can commit to being there at 10am every Sunday.  There are many more issues to work out, such as safety, so we will keep working on it.  If you are interested in helping out, please contact Scott Shirley, Janalee Shadburn-Wiles, or Sara Kitto.

It’s a joy having so many young faces.  I hope that we can make learning about their faith a cherished memory for them.

Return (Program and Sermon)

// September 5th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff



In 587 BCE, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.  The temple was destroyed and most of the residents were taken into exile.  In 538, the Persian ruler, Cyrus, defeated the Babylonians and encouraged people to return to their homes.  While many Jews remained in diaspora, preferring to keep the lives they had built in exile, some returned to Jerusalem.  Both the passage from Isaiah and the passage from Haggai come from this post-exilic period and represent competing views of how to move on in their new old lives.

For Haggai, things were pretty simple.  People came back and planted crops and built houses and got on with their lives, but things aren’t going well.  They don’t have enough food, water is scarce and no one is making any money.Haggai’s solution is equally simple: make things as they were before.  Build a temple for YHWH and reestablish the Davidic kingdom.  The reason nothing is working is that God is not happy because God is not getting the love and adoration that God deserves.  If we build God a house to live in, God will bless us and things will improve.  We’ll have a king and resist our oppressors.

Isaiah sees things differently.  God doesn’t want a stupid house.  And God never wanted a king.  Everything belongs to God.  What could we possibly build for God?  Instead, God wants humility.  Temples mean nothing, sacrifices mean nothing, because the people do not do what God asks them to do.  They have abandoned the law and follow other gods, which results in injustice.  The law was given for life; failing to follow it brings death.  If they simply listen to God and do the right thing, prosperity will flow like a river and Jerusalem will be comforted.


Obviously, these are not exactly our issues.  We’re not really coming back from exile and we’re certainly not concerned with building a temple.  However, they are competing visions of life in God.  So my question this morning is simple.  Big, but simple.  Where do we go from here?  How do we see life in God as we move forward together?  What kind of church do you want to be a part of?


There are a couple of interesting things about these passages.  The first is that they preserve a genuine debate in the life of the Israelites.  And both claimed to speak directly for God.  It is common among Christians to see the story of God as monolithic and linear: God made everything perfect; we screwed it up; Jesus came to fix it.  If we just read the text, we will know how we fit in that story.  But if we read it carefully, we see that Scripture provides conflicting ways of understanding the world.  Why do bad things happen?  Why is there injustice?  What do we do about it?  Depends on which part you read.  Perhaps, as we move forward, we should bear that in mind.  For as long as I have been here, conversation and dialogue have been foundational values of Church in the Cliff.  You never really know who speaks for God.  So the role of the person standing up here is to create a space where God can speak.  I hope to do that and apologize for those times when I fail.

The second interesting thing is what actually happened.  Haggai won.  The new temple was completed in 515 BCE.  Things did not improve.  Part two of Haggai’s plan was never completed.  The guy he backed for kingship simply disappears from history.  He may have faded into obscurity; he may have been killed by agents of the Persian king.  But the bottom line is that Haggai was wrong, so wrong that people wonder why his words were preserved at all.  One suggestion is that he did get the temple built and the temple, while never solidifying the nation of Israel as a free state, did become central to Jewish cultural understanding.  So maybe by implication, Isaiah was right.  Maybe following the law, practicing justice, being faithful to God, is what is important.  Maybe our understanding of ourselves should be rooted in how we treat each other.

The funny thing about Haggai’s vision is that the exile lasted a long time.  Few people who returned would have even remembered the temple.  Those who did were probably children when they left.  So I’ll speak as one of those old-timers remembering the good old days.  I remember a lot of things from being here before.  In some sense, this is where my ministry started.  I remember two things that made that possible, two things that I cherish.  The first is a kind of luxurious grace where I could try without fear of failure.  Not that I didn’t fail, but that people were willing to go along for the ride, to see what happens.  That doesn’t happen without the second thing I remember: the people.  There was a trust and intimacy, a willingness to take risks and hold onto each other through it all.

Because I did find so much in that time of my life, so much that I needed to get where I am now, it is tempting to try to go back, to rebuild what was here before.  I miss so many people from that time and I often wish I could bring them back.  But if I try to rebuild the old things, I’ll miss out on the new things.  The people that have remained and the new people who have joined us deserve to find that trust and intimacy, that willingness to hold onto each other through our trying and failing.  I intend to make a lot of mistakes.  I hope you’ll join me.


Christian memory is long.  For 2000 years, Christians have gathered at the communion table to remember the story of new life given in death.  When Jesus saw the end coming, he gathered his friends together for a meal.  While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out to release many from sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in the kindom of God.”

That time is coming and is in fact already here.  God is always returning to us as we are always returning to God.  Today, we eat and drink in the kindom of God.

Return (and a Letter from the Board)

// September 1st, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Whenever we return to someplace we’ve been before, memories bubble up like a spring.  My memories tend to be visual.  When I think of Kidd Springs, I think of the light.  Three walls are glass looking out over the pond.  The light filters in through the trees and bounces off the water in the pond.  Life wanders by outside and the visuals yield to narrative, a small part of the story of this church.

I remember making “stained glass windows” out of tissue paper for Advent.  I remember one of the first services I led, where we did art as a spiritual practice.  I remember Courtney pacing around the outside of our circle of chairs, seeming to externalize the journey we were all on.  I remember creating a labyrinth out of sand and hearing the crunch of people’s feet as they walked it in prayer.  I remember the smack of a bird against the window as we tried to have a moment of silence.  I remember the ducks nesting in the beds outside the windows and watching the ducklings hatch and follow their parents around until they were big enough to fly away.  Kidd Springs seems a constant reminder of life.

But I also remember a lot of goodbyes.  To Laura and Neeki.  To Ed and Amy and P.J.  To many more.  Too many more.  We lost a lot at Kidd Springs.

When we remember, we tend to filter.  We talk about the light and the ducks, all happy memories.  When we actually return, we remember a lot more.  In the end, Kidd Springs is just a place.  We make the memories there.  Say a prayer that our return finds more hellos than goodbyes.  Say a prayer that we find what God is doing at Kidd Springs and how we can join in.

Please join us at Kidd Springs Rec Center, Sunday at 11am, as we talk about where to go from here.

Grace and Peace,

Letter from the Board

Here we are days before moving back to one of our old homes,  Kidd Springs Park.  We have spent the time at the Kessler regrouping, reconsidering and refocusing on our church, ourselves and our mission to the greater community. Scott and Sara have done a great job helping hold things together as several of us on the board have been focused on our individual issues.  Thanks to Scott and Sara specifically and everyone in the community for stepping up.

For those of you not at our last community meeting, we voted to affirm a revised Budget based on more up to date numbers.  This is the budget we will carry into next year.  There were some things we renamed and others we reprioritized.  There are fixed costs for Rent, Worship Leading (now that Scott is our official intern), and Infrastructure (phone, website).  We have committed to Affiliation Dues for the Alliance of Baptist and the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.  We are planning to have two people helping with the younger children, Sara is filling the Admin. Asst./ Bookkeeper and we are putting our money where our hearts focus us.  The zeros at the bottom are areas we will fund as we can.  If we have money in excess of the budget as outlined these last items will be considered.

Newly Revised Budget

Budget 2991
Rent 1100
Worship Leading 1000
Infrastructure Costs 61
Affiliation Dues 68
Children and Youth 240
Admin. Asst./Bookkeeper 250
Social Justice 272
Worship Supplies 0
Community Events 0
Marketing 0
Savings/ Long Term Projects 0
Music 0

As a part of being a member of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists we will need to draft a statement reflecting our affirmation of LGBTQ persons and place it into our Bylaws.  The proposed statement is:  “Church in the Cliff stands firmly for the full inclusion of all people in the family of God.  The full range of human difference – race, age, gender, sexuality, nationality, disability, and any other ways that humans devise to separate us from another – shall be welcomed, affirmed, and celebrated as an expression of God’s love for all.”

We will have a Community Meeting on Sunday, September 2 at 10:00 at Kidd Springs Park, 711 West Canty St.  Help us begin a new cycle in the life of Church in the Cliff.  We need everyone’s participation and input to continue to grow and develop.

Thank you,

The Board of Church in the Cliff