Archive for March, 2013

New Life

// March 30th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

One of the quirks of doing ministry within the liturgical calendar is that we often have to think about things out of order, so that they might be presented in order.  That is, in the middle of Advent, I really should be planning Lent, in a time of hopeful expectation, planning the mournful journey to the tomb.  The liturgical calendar is designed to provide a flow of life: beginning, ending, and beginning again.  However, I often do not experience it that way.  Instead, I live in that tension, life and death and new life all coexisting pulling my focus from moment to moment.  Today was one of those days.

This morning I participated in the Dallas Area Christian Progressive Alliance’s Good Friday Walk.  The walk this year was dedicated to children who have been killed by gun violence.  We heard meditations from ministers, progress reports from activists, and the testimony of a mother whose teenage daughter’s life was taken.  As we walked, we carried pictures of the dead children.  Mine was a six-year-old boy named James who was killed at Sandy Hook.  We shuffled from park to park in downtown Dallas showing the dead the sights they will never see.  It’s obviously sad – heartbreaking and heartwrenching, really – but it’s also bewildering how we can see these tragedies unfold again and again, yet nothing changes.  The powers and principalities of this world seem to have won – again.

But now is the time to plan for Easter.  The message of Easter is the message of hope.  Jesus was crucified on the cross, humiliated, beaten, tortured.  But on the third day, he walked out of the tomb.  The powers and principalities of this world may have won again, but we are a resurrection people.

By the logic of the liturgical calendar, death and life are separated.  While they play out in a loop each year, there is an orderly progression: birth, death, new life, and final judgment, the triumph of the dreams of God.  But our lives are messier than that.  Death and life are intertwined.  Moments of humor are found alongside moments of tragedy.  As we walked this maudlin walk this morning, we passed a bar playing Frank Sinatra on the loudspeakers: “Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race.  That’s life.”  An Easter message of sorts.  We are a resurrection people.  Life and death are intertwined, but we get back up.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we celebrate the resurrection, the hope of new life.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Celebration and Mourning (Plus: Holy Week, Easter, and a Vote

// March 23rd, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Holy Week
Easter
Vote on Pastoral Resident

This Sunday, Palm Sunday, is the beginning of Holy Week.  The liturgical year began with Advent and the birth of Jesus.  One would think that its culmination would be in the death of Jesus after a full year.  However, our tradition places that event in the middle of the year signifying that death is not the end.  I’m not suggesting that we skip the Passion and jump to Easter.  Rather, as with Jesus’ Triumphal Entry, death and heartbreak can come at any time, even in the midst of victory.  Perhaps it must.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a bittersweet affair.  There is adulation and celebration from the huge crowds that gather around.  Jesus feels it.  He understands what is happening as a part of the nature of things, even the stones of the earth cry out.  But he also knows the other part of nature: his must die because of the sin in the world.

This is an act of defiance against the power of his world.  It fulfills Jewish understanding of Scriptures about the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.  It mocks the procession of Roman military might taking place at the same time on the other side of town.  This is the beginning of a series of provocations that can end in no other way than his death.

If there is to be more of a story, we have to deal with this part.  Suffering and death will come.  We can’t avoid it; we can’t run away; we can’t buy it off.  What we can do is celebrate what should be celebrated and mourn what should be mourned.  Suffering and death are redeemed by being present, seeing them for what they are, and by trying, whenever we can, to make them for something.  The Christian story is a long one that stretches beyond the grave because it is a story of redemption.  It is a story that ultimately ends in justice, health, and peace.  Like Jesus, we are anointed by God to a particular destiny: to work toward that end, no matter the cost.  Redemption does not take away this part of the story, but suffering and death is not the whole story.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we celebrate and mourn.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Holy Week

There will be no Wednesday dinner this week.  Instead, we will have a brief Maundy Thursday service and meal and then watch Jesus of Montreal.  We’ll start at 7pm at the Shirleys’, 221 S. Edgefield Ave.  For Good Friday, we are not doing anything formal.  However, there are many, many opportunities in Dallas, including the Dallas Area Christian Progressive Alliance’s Good Friday Walk.  This year, the walk is dedicated to all the children who have been lost to gun violence.  It will begin at 10am at Young and Harwood in front of First Presbyterian Church.

Easter

After our Easter service, we will have a picnic at Kidd Springs as well as an Easter egg hunt.  If you would like to help out, please email Lisa at lisawhiteshirley@hotmail.com.  It is also a fifth Sunday, which means we will be serving at Oak Lawn UMC in the afternoon.  If you would like to help out there, please let Lisa know.

Vote on Pastoral Resident

We announced this last week in church, but, for those who were unable to attend, there is currently a vote underway to hire Genny Rowley as a pastoral resident through December.  Genny would share responsibilities with Scott, allowing the team to add more activities, such as increased pastoral care and counseling, Bible study, events, and service work.  The proposal is revenue-neutral as the pastoral staff budget ($1500/month through May; $1000/month after May) would be divided equally.  The board approved this change pending a community vote to call Genny to this position.  Please register your vote by emailing board@churchinthecliff.org or by speaking to a board member in person before March 30th.

Tears and Laughter

// March 15th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

One of the traditional purposes of the church is to proclaim the word of God.  Judging by current trends, maybe that’s harder than one would think.  My preaching professor told us a story of a young minister who found out ten minutes before a service that he would be filling in to preach.  He had never preached before and certainly hadn’t prepared anything.  So he opened the Bible to a random place in the New Testament and read slowly for ten minutes.  And the word of God was indeed proclaimed.

I’m looking at the lectionary this week and it’s some damn fine passages.  You got Isaiah 43:16-21, where Isaiah talks about God doing a new thing: “a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  Psalm 126, short and sweet, sounds a call to joy: “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.”  Then Paul is braggin’ and cussin’ in Philippians 3:4b-14 – “rubbish” isn’t rubbish, FYI.  And finally, in our beloved Gospel of John, the story of Martha perfuming Jesus for the tomb.  We might just read them all.

Of course, the conversation will be a mess.  Even with a single, simple passage, y’all often surprise me with the directions you take.  It might take some kind of supernatural force to pull it all together, some kind of Spirit in whom we trust.  The word of God will be proclaimed.

Let’s see what happens if we just let the word of God speak to us, to each of us.  You’ve got the passages.  Feel free to read ahead and bring your joys, fears, frustrations, and moments of beauty on Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Lost in Death, Found in Life (Plus: Notes on Ordination)

// March 9th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This week’s passage might be the most well-known parable in the Bible.  Since it is so well-known, we also know exactly what it means.  We are the terrible son, God is the forgiving father, and the bitter brother is, I don’t know, Robert Jeffress?  As we discussed last week, the beauty of a parable is that it opens more questions than it answers.  Read properly, we can come back to a parable over and over again and find new avenues of transformation.  But, for now, let’s dive into the familiar.

We shouldn’t dismiss the traditional understanding.  Certainly, the message of forgiveness is a good one.  As Oscar Wilde famously said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”  There are many of us who feel as though we’ve made mistakes – and some of us actually have! – and it is good to confess and feel the freedom of absolution.  Just having someone tell us we’re okay, that our life is not defined by one or even many poor judgments, is certainly an occasion for joy.

I will let you judge whether this is a confession or a revelation, but it turns out I did not know what “prodigal” means.  I have only ever heard it in the context of this parable and, since it is grouped with the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin, I assumed it meant “lost.”  It does not; it means “recklessly extravagant” or “lavishly abundant.”  This, of course, brings into sharp focus the nature of the son’s sins and the father’s forgiveness.

This is not just a selfish kid who ran away from home with his inheritance.  He was impatient and arrogant, viewing his loving father as an obstacle to his prosperity.  When that obstacle was removed, he squandered what he had.  We Christians often use the word “faith” and it has come to mean “beliefs we have no good reason for holding.”  But here we see a perfect example of true faith, if only through negation.  The son’s lack of faith is the failure to recognize that he came from somewhere, that he did not birth or raise himself.  As a result, he did not respect and care for what he had been given.  This makes the father’s forgiveness not only remarkable, but also entirely appropriate as an example of what forgiveness means.  Where the son disavowed his family and severed ties, the father welcomed him home.  Where the child was recklessly extravagant, spending in a way that destroyed him, the father celebrated with abundance that built him up.  The son was careening toward death and the father welcomed him into life, abundant life.  I think we could all use that at some point in our lives.

Of course, there are many other ways to read this.  If you would like to explore those possibilities, please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Ordination

At the board meeting last week and the community meeting on Sunday, we discussed the desires of Genny Rowley and I to be ordained by Church in the Cliff.  This is something that the church should consider carefully and vote accordingly.  We are working with the board to provide whatever information is necessary for that process.  With that in mind, Genny and I have each prepared a short bit about our sense of call.  (For the record, Genny and I both have issues with this term that we would be happy to discuss, but it is commonly used, so we’ll go with it for now.)

I’ll let Genny lead off:

Ordination is a complicated topic with plenty to think through practically, theologically, and communally.  So, when Scott asked if I could introduce the community to the idea by summarizing my hopes for ordination into an elevator speech, I got the feeling this could be a bit of a challenge.  Nonetheless, I’m going to briefly share my thoughts on “why ordination” from a practical, theological, and community standpoint, along with my key reasons for “why CITC.”

Why ordination? Practically, as a chaplain, pastoral counselor, and theological educator, ordination offers me credibility as someone engaging in forms of pastoral ministry. Since I’m a Baptist, ordination is also part of the process for endorsement, the denominational “seal of approval” for chaplains and pastoral counselors.  Theologically, I view ordination as the community’s affirmation of the vocational path I’m on, a blessing that says my training and gifts for placing our current human experiences and the Christian tradition into dialogue are valued and welcomed (since I’m a theologian, there is a lot more I could say about this part.  I am happy to share with those who are interested, but I’ll leave it there for now!).    Finally, the piece about community is actually theological, too.  In Baptist life and in other kinds of churches with congregational polity, the local faith community ordains people to Christian ministry. In a sense, this means that local community of faith and the values it embodies stay with the ordained person throughout their ministry. So for me, ordination means that I needed to find and become part of a community I wanted to carry with me.  Since I’m a theological pot-stirrer who asks lots of pesky questions, this took me quite a while.

So then, why this community? In short, I hope this church will ordain me because I need to remember that this place exists, and how it formed what I know is possible for faith communities. I want to carry this place with me: our genuine embodiment of the belief that “all are welcome” that is symbolized each week through the open table, and the commitment to asking meaningful questions of our faith and of each other.  These are the things I most need to believe about the wide embrace of God’s love, and they are things you’ve shown me through these years at CITC.

This was a pretty long elevator speech.  Thanks for reading it, and for helping me see what is possible.

Now my turn:

Many of you have probably heard this story, but it’s worth telling again, I think.  My “call” came at the ordination of Laura Arp.  There are different ways to lay on hands during ordination, but Laura knelt at the front of the church and everyone present individually put their hands on her shoulders and spoke a blessing.  It was beautiful.  I thought that I might want that.  And then I thought that everyone should have that one moment when the people who love you gather around and tell you that you are doing and will do good things.  And then I thought that everyone should have the chance to have the moments of transition and transformation in their lives marked.  I thought I might be able to do that and I thought CitC, with it’s creative approach to worship and close bonds of friendship, might be the place for it.  I thought that ministry could be a grand art project, creating new life and a new world.

I spoke to Pastor Laura Fregin very soon afterward, applied to seminary, and started volunteering with the church in worship planning.  I can honestly say that I have never been so certain of anything in my life except for Lisa.  It has been a long and beautiful walk since then.  Ministry has been all that I thought it would be, but so much more.  I am grateful to walk with the people of CitC, wherever our paths may lead.

So, ordination.  It is obviously the culmination of the path I’ve been on.  If ministry is to be my vocation, it is the next step.  It is also still for me that moment that I witnessed what seems so long ago, but my understanding of it has shifted.  It’s not just a blessing.  It is a confirmation of calling.  The spiritual life, to be done well, must be done in community.  In requesting ordination, I’m asking CitC to confirm what I think I know about myself and what I think I know about the church and God and love and our future together.  CitC embodied for me a way to be church and be Christian that I did not think was possible: intense friendships, creative and intellectual challenge, commitment to social justice, and extravagant hospitality.  No matter where life takes me, that is a part of who I am and how I understand my place in the life of God.  My hope is that the people of CitC see me in the same way and confer their blessings on the road ahead.

I also want to add that ordination is important for CitC.  It has been more than four years since we have ordained anyone and more than three since we have had an ordained person serving the church.  Ordination, ultimately, is not about me and Genny.  It’s about this community of faith calling people out for special service, to develop, recognize, and bless the gifts of individuals to help shape the world to the dreams of God.  CitC has made more of a difference in my life than I could ever express.  I hope that we can celebrate that together in front of God and everybody.