Archive for July, 2013

Ship of Fools: Stewardship

// July 27th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

One of the reasons we are doing this series – and perhaps the reason Church in the Cliff exists – is that there is a tremendous amount of skepticism about the Church.  Scandals have eroded the sense that the Church is worthy of one’s time, treasure, or talents.  The good that churches do is often done better by other groups, which leaves self-preservation as a church’s only purpose.  When we use churchy words like the -ship words, it marks us as church people and church people probably just want something from you.  That’s what “stewardship” means, right?  Give us money!  In return, we will inch our giant thermometer up a notch or put your name on a brick.

Of course, we are told that stewardship is not just giving money, but caring for the things we have been given. That’s a nice and helpful way to look at it.  It asks us to be kind and responsible.  It encourages us to be mindful and thankful for what we have.  It opens up space for ecological concerns.  All good stuff.  Sadly, that view must be extracted from a text that appears to have other ideas.

There are several words in both Greek and Hebrew that are translated as “steward.”  Their meanings range from “prince” to “butler,” which tells us something critical about the biblical witness.  A steward is to care for stuff, but he (yes, overwhelmingly a he) does so within the context of what is known as a “client-patron” relationship.  That is, he both rules and serves.  He rules over things and people on behalf of someone else, on behalf of the real owner of the things and people.  Ultimately, everything is ruled and owned by one person: the king.  So the steward is sandwiched in a power relationship where he rules over others, but he, in turn, is ruled by someone else.

This might seem to be common sense.  As Bob Dylan says, you gotta serve somebody.  Certainly, the biblical text is embedded in this kind of power relationship and our society is not much different.

But look at what this does to the whole notion of care.  First, it turns the world into a long chain of possessions.  We care for stuff because we own it and we hope to be cared for because we belong to someone else.  Second, we don’t care for others because they are intrinsically valuable or because they are the image of God, but because someone more powerful than us wants us to care for them.  And they do so, mostly, because they provide something.  Value is based on what you give; relationship is merely a method of exchange.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that our relationship with the Church is strained.  The Church too often adopts this model of power.  It promulgates a narrative about human weakness and God’s power and the Church as the caretaker on God’s behalf.  Also, in doing so, the Church adopts signs of power from the world: money, status, political influence, masculinity, normative values.  How can stewardship be anything in that context other than giving, ruling, and using?

Fortunately, there is a thread of Scripture that runs against this.  In the Hebrew Bible, God stands for the slaves and exiles.  God prohibits the early Israelite kings from having an army or a treasury.  There is an ongoing skepticism about power.  And it is written all over the New Testament, too.  We see it in the Great Reversal in Luke.  We see it in Paul’s writings to his brothers and sisters in Christ, a relationship of equals.  We see it in Jesus’ calls for friendship as the ultimate love.  We see it in the Acts of the Apostles where the early church shared all things equally.  And we see it in Jesus, God dying on the cross, giving everything for the sake of those who have been cast aside.  God’s sense of power seems to make power subject to care rather than the reverse.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center as we talk about how power is acquired and what we do with it to care for our world and others.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Ship of Fools: Worship

// July 12th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

I will admit my bias against church organ music.  Why does it have to sound like this, when it could sound like this?  The latter tells me about all of life: tragedy and joy, grief and laughter – that seems more like the walk of faith that I know.  The former just makes me wish for a coma, which is usually where I end up when I find myself in a “high church” worship service.  The former is also accompanied by the unforgiving church-lady stare of the organist, Mrs. Mcreary, literally looking down her nose at you.  Church organ music seems to put you in your place.  When people say “worship,” that’s what I think of.

I’m not far off.  One of the Hebrew words that is translated as “worship” means to bow down to a superior.  So “worship” in this sense is meant to establish a power relationship, to make you feel small and unimportant.  In that context, it is hard not to also feel unloved.  It is a hierarchy of value with God at the top and you at the bottom.

When God visits Abraham (as three persons; that’s weird) by the Oaks of Mamre, he bows down before them and calls himself God’s servant.  He asks his wife Sarah to make a cake, slaughters a calf, and brings them water to wash their feet.  But James, in our Christian scripture, has a different take: he says that Abraham was called a “friend of God” (James 2:23).  This reminds me of John’s Jesus, in his farewell discourse, proclaiming that we are no longer servants, but friends (John 15:15).  If we take Jesus to be the embodiment of God in the world, it would seem that God’s ideal is to have friends rather than servants, to know and be known, to walk with us, even into death.  The hierarchy of value dissolves and we must search for another way to understand worship.

Please join us at Kidd Springs Rec Center, 11am on Sunday, as we gather for worship and talk about what it might mean to a bunch of unruly, post-everything skeptics.

Ship of Fools: Fellowship

// July 6th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

To kick off our “Ship of Fools” series – a conversation about the “ship” words so common in church life: fellowship, worship, discipleship, stewardship – we’re going to start firmly in our comfort zone: fellowship.  In some ways, this is the least threatening of the “ship” words.  After all, we’re pretty good at this.  Jesus ate a lot of meals with his friends and so do we.  But it is more than the potlucks and prayer breakfasts we might have grown up with and it is more than a gluten-free meal on a Wednesday night.  A specifically Christian understanding of fellowship calls us to so much more than that.

The Greek word we translate as “fellowship” is koinonia.  It is more often translated as “sharing.”  Acts 2:42 tells us that those who were saved devoted themselves to teaching and fellowship, to breaking bread and prayers.  Potlucks and prayer breakfasts?  Only if you stop reading there.  No, the first Christians “had all things in common (koinos); they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all as any had need” (vv. 44-45).  Fellowship is a high bar.

Koinonia is also sometimes rendered as “communion.”  This, of course, is a very special meal in the Christian tradition.  Jesus had lived his life for his people and he knew that he would die for it.  He gathered his friends around him to celebrate their time together, to mourn its ending, and to talk about who they might be afterward.  Jesus had fought for them, healed them, fed them, and now he would die for them.  Who must we be in the wake of fellowship like that?  How can we take that meal and do any less?

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, for conversation, fellowship, and a special service of the communion meal.