Archive for July, 2014

Loose Screws Sink Shelves

// July 27th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

One of the things I think we have all noticed in reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a kind of divisiveness.  Paul is very concerned to draw distinctions, such as those who live according to the Flesh as opposed to the Spirit.  We see something similar in the language of the Matthew passages we have been following.  Especially in the discussions of Gehenna, there appears to be a concern for who is in and who is out.  This concern has dominated the faith ever since, whether it manifests as excommunications from the Catholic Church or vigorous attempts by evangelicals to convert everyone.  In some sense, the entire project of Christianity has been one of constructing a dividing line, a boundary between God’s haves and have-nots.

There are now a number of efforts to say that there is no dividing line.  (I highly recommend the documentary Hellbound and Sharon Baker’s book, Razing Hell.)  These efforts often stem from the very reasonable and very kind theological perspective that a loving God would not send someone to hell or exclude someone from God’s presence.  It is hard to make sense of such a thing: an all-powerful God that loves us and wants nothing more than to be with us can’t seem to make it happen.  Instead, God must punish some of us with eternal fire.  It is theologically attractive to find some other way, but then that pesky Bible is always a problem.

But here’s the thing about the Bible: it says a lot of stuff.  And a lot of that stuff does not necessarily go together.  Sure, we can do some mental gymnastics and try to cram it into one monolithic, coherent thought.  We’ll have to ignore a few stray pieces, like the bolts left over after you put together your BORGSJO shelf unit.  They don’t matter until your BORGSJO collapses with your new big-screen LCDTV sitting on it.  At some point, these rigid belief systems collapse under the weight of reality.

Maybe we can just accept that the books of the Bible were written by different people for different reasons.  Further, they were not attempting to write a systematic theology that carefully lays out an argument to be debated, at least not with the same expectations for argument that we have.  When we make our theological choices – and they are choices – we have a wide range of stories and wisdom and poems and songs to inform those choices.

Look at how Paul, in Romans 8.12-25 loads on the metaphors.  We move from debt to slavery to adoption to child birth.  We move from a creation pregnant with the children of God to ourselves imagined as pregnant with the Spirit of God.  And our pregnancy results in our own adoption and the redemption of our bodies.  There is certainly a sense of something new on the horizon, something heretofore unknown and unseen.  However, because it is unknown and unseen, it might be too much to try to systematize Paul’s metaphors.

When we systematize the metaphors and stories in the Bible, we make choices.  The lectionary this week chooses to give us Matthew 13.24-30 and 36-43.  In skipping vv. 31-35, it gives us only the parable of the weeds.  This makes sense in that it narrows our focus to study that one parable.  However, it also restricts our view of Jesus’ vision of God’s dreams for the world.  We are left only with the image of division, destruction, and fire.  It so happens that the parables that are left out this week (we get to them next week) are expansive images: the mustard seed that grows, contrary to expectations, into a tree that birds nest in; the lump of yeast that grows to feed the people.  The kindom of God expands beyond our wildest imagination and nurtures everyone.

Certainly, we should not ignore what is in the Bible, simply discard the parts we find distasteful.  Okay, we can; we all do.  But we can also recognize that the choices that the authors made in how they characterized their experience of God and their hopes for the world were driven by circumstances that are not our circumstances.  Their choices spoke to a kind of oppression that we rarely experience, the crushing weight of empire and the despair of a people that have waited too long.  Therefore, the choices that they made reflected the good that they needed to hear and believe.  They are ethical choices meant to inspire, encourage, and strengthen.  They are meant to bring hope and wholeness and justice, not condemnation and division.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about pregnancy, children, and childhood.  As a non-parent, I’m a world-renowned expert on all of these things, so please come and add your stories to our discussion of hope.

Grace & Peace,

The Gospel According to Spike

// July 18th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Since it always works out for characters in the Bible, let’s go to the well one more time.  Our discussion of Buffy last week focused primarily on sin and the psyche.  We talked about the interior struggle for identity and integrity that this bit of pop culture mythologizes so well.  However, there is another side to the show that highlights another aspect of our faith: apocalypse.  Many an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer centers on impending doom that Buffy and her Scooby pals must thwart.  Sometimes, it is run-of-the-mill doom – your crazed robot, your homicidal lunch lady, your beer-swilling cavemen – but at least once a season, it is End of Times doom.

At the end of Season 2, Angelus, the evil version of Angel, and his sidekick Drusilla plot to bring the demon Acathla into the world, which, not coincidentally, will destroy it.  Spike, another evil vampire, who looks like a cross between Billy Idol and James Dean, teams up with Buffy to stop them.  In making his pitch/plea for his life, Spike says, “We like to talk big, vampires do: ‘I’m going to destroy the world.’  It’s just tough guy talk.  Strutting around with your friends over a pint of blood.  The truth is, I like this world.  You’ve got dog racing.  Manchester United. And you’ve got people.  Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs.  It’s alright here.  But then someone comes along with a vision, a real passion for destruction.”  Angel and Dru are the special kind of vampires who might actually do it.

We have a lot of special vampires running around in the world today.  Perhaps all of us are.  We care so little for the world that we neglect it, abuse it, exploit it.  We do the same to other people.  All of God’s creatures are just tools for our use.

There are certainly a lot of biblical precedents for this attitude.  Right from the beginning, in Genesis 1.28, we are told to fill the earth and subdue it.  It is there for our control and use, as if the earth were nothing without our presence.  By the time we get to Paul’s Letter to the Romans, it would seem that there is nothing good about the world at all.

In fact, it is our bodies themselves that are the problem.  The flesh is weak.  Paul tells us in Chapter 8.1-11 that, “To set the mind on the flesh is death.”  And, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”  It’s no wonder we are so confused about bodies.

The flip side, of course, is that we retreat into a bland spirituality that seeks escape.  Paul contrasts the flesh with the Spirit.  We are to live in the Spirit.  The Spirit is life and peace.  It sounds nice.  We may not want to destroy the world, but we will not mourn its passing – or ours.

And yet, God, according to the stories, made the world.  God called it good, in fact.  And God, according to the stories, became a creature like us with a body that breathed and bled.  And when all is said and done, according to the stories, we will have bodies again.  God, I suspect, agrees with Spike: “It’s alright here.”

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we try to unravel our complex attitudes toward our embodied existence and place them in a broader framework of sin and salvation.

Grace & Peace,

The Gospel According to Buffy

// July 11th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

I am a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I have watched the entire series, including the Angel spin-off, about six times.  I’m watching it again now.  Part of that is comfort; I know the show and know that I will enjoy it, so it’s easy to put on when I just want to relax.  However, when I want to pay attention, the show is very perceptive of the human condition.

For those who don’t follow the show – I’m not sure why such a person would exist, but I will try to have compassion for you – Buffy is a former cheerleader who is set apart by destiny to battle vampires and other monsters for the safety of humankind.  Or, as the intro explains: “In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.”  This, of course, is typical hero genre rhetoric wherein there are good people and bad people and the job of the good people is to destroy the bad people.  While fun, that is not what makes the show great.

Rather, the show is great precisely because it proceeds, over the course of seven television seasons, to deconstruct that very premise.  It turns out the vampires and demons aren’t all bad.  Not only are there good demons, but all the characters, demon and Slayer alike, are a mix of good and bad.  Through the eyes of a sixteen-year-old, coming to terms with her identity and her place in the world, we find that our easy labels don’t really tell the whole story.  Perhaps they don’t even tell a very interesting story.  Perhaps the more interesting story is that struggle for identity and meaning, for morality and integrity, that does not take place out in the world, but inside ourselves.

In Romans 7.15-25, this is precisely what Paul describes.  Sometimes, if we are lucky, we know the good, but often, if we are honest, we are unable to do it.  Whether we call it demons or passions or id or sin, there is something that compels us to act in ways that are contrary to our own will.  This something can grow into, not merely a collection of unwanted behaviors, but the very way that we understand ourselves.  This is the thing that Paul – and Buffy – truly want to save us from.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we place Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Paul the Apostle in dialog with special guest stars Evagrius Ponticus and Sigmond Freud.

Grace & Peace,

P.S. If you haven’t voted yet, and want to, please email or vote in person on Sunday when the vote will close.

Vote for New Space and New Board

// July 1st, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

We would like to announce two votes that are currently open.  You may vote by emailing  See below for details on each vote.

Vote #1:

If you agree to empower the board to negotiate in good faith and sign a lease for the building at 1719 W. 10th Ave., vote, “Yes.”  If not, vote, “No.”

Vote #2:

If you approve of the following changes to the board, vote, “Yes.”  If not, vote, “No.”

Janalee Shadburn Wiles will continue for the remainder of her two-year term as Moderator.
Mikal Beth Fortenberry will continue for the remainder of her two-year term as Trustee
Nelis Potgieter will move from Treasurer to Trustee for the remainder of his two-year term.
Jen Mauldin will move from Trustee to Clerk for the remainder of her two-year term.
Ashley Pena will begin a two-year term as Treasurer.

Detail for Vote #1

At the church planning retreat in May, there was a strong consensus that finding permanent space is the next step for Church in the Cliff.  “Church-in-a-box” takes its toll on everyone involved.  It is time to find a home.

The board has looked at several spaces in Oak Cliff, but one just became available that has generated a lot of excitement.  The building is a Mid-Century Modern located at 1719 W. 10th St.  It is 2600 square feet with a large area at the front that could be used for worship and 9-10 smaller rooms that can be used for offices, studios, kitchen, classrooms, and childcare.  Our hope is to rent four of the rooms as studios for an artist’s co-op.

The numbers are as follows: $1375 in rent + $600 (max) in utilities – $800 in income for studio rentals (4 rooms at $200 each) = $1175 per month.  This is almost exactly what we pay at Kidd Springs for 4 hours of access each week.  However, there are still a few unknowns.

We had a meeting on Sunday for questions and comments and two possible costs were revealed.  First, we need to clarify with the property manager who is responsible for maintenance, both routine, such as custodial and lawn care, and emergent, such as broken pipes or HVAC.  Our assumption is that we would be responsible for the routine and the owner would be responsible for the emergent, but we need to make sure.  Second, it was suggested that we get an insurance policy, both to cover property for theft or damage and for basic liability.  We will have to get some quotes, but some present at the meeting suggested that such coverage is inexpensive, perhaps $50 per month.

This vote would empower the board to negotiate and sign a lease, assuming the costs are roughly in line with what has been outlined here.  It is simply not feasible to bring every point of negotiation back to the community, so the board is asking for your trust as good stewards of the church’s finances and future in this matter.

Our normal voting procedures require two weeks notice.  Our processes were put in place to protect the community, but we would not want them to keep us from doing something that it seems everyone wants.  Therefore, we will attempt to keep to that standard, but it may be necessary to move on a lease before the two week period has ended.  If there is a substantial consensus in the early votes and no dissent and those votes appear to represent the church community, we may have to cut the voting period short in order to get the building.  Janalee and Scott have spoken to all the regular attendees personally and, assuming the numbers work the way we anticipate, everyone has been very supportive.  We want everyone to make an informed decision, but we would appreciate everyone voting as quickly as your conscience allows.

Details for Vote #2

We are always trying to match people’s gifts with the needs of the church as we configure the board.  Nelis has served us well as Treasurer, helping us to move our accounts to a neighborhood credit union and ensuring that deposits were made in a timely manner.  However, it became clear that this is not a life-giving position for Nelis, and so he would like to serve in the capacity of Trustee instead.  We are certainly glad to have him continue!  We are also glad that Ashley is looking for more ways to serve the church.  Her skills are a perfect match for the position of Treasurer.  Ashley is an accountant for the Dallas Opera and has many years of bookkeeping and accounting experience.  She has already blessed this church by helping to navigate some issues with tax filing and reporting.  We are excited to have her join the board.

Our Clerk position will soon be vacant as Valen Chavez’s two-year term is ending.  Valen has served us well, providing excellent notes and communication.  We will miss Valen’s generous spirit and insightful questions in our board meetings.  Jen has served for the past year as a Trustee, but throughout her tenure has always taken detailed notes and communicated efficiently on board matters.  It is a natural fit for her to move from Trustee to Clerk.

Janalee Shadburn Wiles and Mikal Beth Fortenberry will continue in their current positions as Moderator and Trustee, respectively.  They each have one year remaining in a two-year term.

Thank you for your participation,
The Board of Church in the Cliff