Archive for September, 2014

St. Joe Strummer

// September 26th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This week, we honor St. Joe Strummer, the guitarist and lyricist for seminal punk bands, the 101ers and the Clash.  His later career with the Mescaleros was equally rich.  Perhaps this is a selfish choice.  Paul and I are just huge fans.  We never miss an opportunity to include one of Joe’s songs in our services.  It is not difficult because Strummer’s lyrics so often fit with who we are as a church.  But there’s more to being a saint than just writing some good songs.  We honor St. Joe because he is a shining example of punk rock and the emergent church is punk rock: counter-cultural, anti-authoritarian, and DIY.

Punk rock was born in the midst of the global malaise of the 1970s.  Most of the great leaders of the ‘60s were dead, most by assassination.  By 1973, a global economy that rested so heavily on oil entered a tailspin.  Watergate and Vietnam had exhausted everyone.  People just wanted a break from the bad news.  Music was there for them, with bombastic rock and disco to dance the night away.

But some young rockers thought music should be about something.  It should speak to the time, provide a voice for all those young people who saw little hope for their futures.  They might have only known a couple of chords at first, but they were more concerned with meaning than technique.  Some bought into the nihilism, but Joe Strummer understood himself as the descendant of Woody Guthrie, even adopting the nickname “Woody” for a few years.  His songs spoke of the ways that some prosper from a culture of fear and escapism and suggested that we should fight back against the malaise.

The church also has a culture of fear and escapism that produces a spiritual malaise.  Some of God’s self-appointed earthly representatives pronounce judgment on the world, but guarantee a jetpack for those who get in line.  The theology is shallow, built to get people in the door.  There is no need to change our material reality, so we sing praise choruses, 7-11 songs (seven words, repeated eleven times) that make us feel good, but ask nothing of us.

But some young ministers thought church should be about something.  They insisted on a robust and challenging theology with an atmosphere of questioning to foster growth.  They often operated outside of traditional denominational structures and explored a wide array of traditions.  Certain counter-traditions, such as monastic and contemplative practices, were cherished and remade.  Each community uses what it has to speak to the realities of their lives rather than a distant doctrine or institution.

The people of Church in the Cliff seek to live honestly and authentically, to challenge a culture of competition and consumption.  They want lives that matter and a faith that matters.  They want justice and peace.  For all of us who feel that way, you can’t get a better soundtrack than St. Joe.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we celebrate the life and music of Joe Strummer.

Grace & Peace,

St. Dorothy Day

// September 19th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

As we are quickly hurtling toward All Saints Day, it is time for the 2nd annual Church in the Cliff canonization of saints.  Each year, we select a few people who exemplify something that we understand about ourselves as a church.  Like the Catholic Church, our saints must be dead and must have performed miracles.  Of course, we’re a little faster and looser than the Catholic Church.  For us, a miracle should be thought of as knocking the world off its tracks for a just a little bit, just enough to change it, to show the world that there is another way of being.  We do not pretend that our saints are perfect, but we are certainly constructing a particular story about them.  Like all hagiographies, these stories certainly say more about who we are than who they are.  These are the stories we tell ourselves to guide the lives into which we might live.  We begin this week with Dorothy Day.

Dorothy Day was an activist in the 20th century, an advocate for any who struggle.  She was born in 1897 in Brooklyn, New York, but moved around the country early in life as her father looked for work.  This movement made her feel lonely and isolated, so, as a child, she took long walks all over the cities in which she lived.  Like the Buddha Gautama, she saw a lot of suffering on her walks outside of the safe, middle class neighborhoods in which she lived.  She determined that there must be some meaning to it all and, perhaps, something to be done about it, so she steeped herself in the Bible and the writings of radical thinkers like the anarchist Peter Kropotkin.  She emerged into adulthood uniquely prepared for the life she would lead.

After a couple of years at the University of Illinois, she made her way back to New York’s Lower East Side.  She wrote for three different radical newspapers simultaneously, run variously by anarchists, communists, and syndicalists.  However, like St. Bayard Rustin, she never bought fully into any ideology.  Her concern was more pragmatic: she wanted justice and so she aligned herself with anyone who also wanted justice.  She fought for women’s suffrage.  She founded the Catholic Worker Movement embodied in hundreds of autonomous community houses that seek justice through local action.  She protested every war during her lifetime.  In her 70s, she was arrested with Cesar Chavez while protesting for farm workers’ rights.  She lived every bit of what she believed.

At the heart of her belief was an alternative economy in which the rich are made poor and the poor are made holy.  She believed the class warfare identified by Karl Marx was a fact, but remained a pacifist in that war saying that she would resist aggression, repression, and coercion in favor of mercy and love.  Any economic system that insisted on a competition for God’s bounty, whether resolved through individualist competition or state-enforced sharing, was faulty from the start.  Instead, she wished to subordinate economic activity to the wholeness of human life.  In keeping with her beliefs, she lived a life of voluntary poverty and simplicity, giving of herself to others in every way she could.  Dorothy Day is an icon of compassion and integrity.  Dorothy Day is a saint.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we celebrate the life of Dorothy Day.  Also, we will have a booth at the Lake Cliff Park Centennial Celebration from 5-9pm.  I hear there will be free cookies!

Grace & Peace,

I Want to Forget

// September 12th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This is the 11th of September.  I began the day with an easy run in a soft rain, the gray clouds making the green foliage seem to glow with its own light.  It is unusually cool out for this time of year in Texas, perhaps signaling an early Fall.  What’s left of my lawn after the heat of the summer and the constant wrestling and crazed sprinting of the dogs will have some time to grow, to stretch out and cover the ground.  Fall in Texas is like a second Spring.  I love the Fall, so I’m pleased if it comes a little early.  It’s exactly the kind of day to relax and enjoy, if only anyone would let me forget.

To most Americans, this day has forever been transformed from the 11th of September to 9/11.  As you might recall, something terrible happened on this day in 2001.  I’m sure my story of that day is not that different from anyone else who watched from afar: confusion yielding to understanding and that, in turn, to horror.  Hours of watching events unfold and helpless to do anything about it.  Worse was the feeling that everyone was helpless to do anything about it, shown starkly in the images of those who jumped from the building rather than burn.  Why must we remind each other of something that no one could ever forget?

The answer, of course, is that we don’t want to remember, so much as retell and reconstruct.  The effort began almost immediately.  Our leader perched on the rubble of the fallen towers, a smoldering grave, and promised the chanting crowd that “the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”  We would turn this story from tragic loss to triumphal vengeance.  In his next major speech, George W. Bush sought to counter our fears by reminding us that, “Our financial institutions remain strong, and the American economy will be open for business as well.”  He asked for our “continued participation and confidence in the American economy.”  As we were ushered toward war over the next few months, this theme was amplified.  We were certainly going to war, but we shouldn’t worry too much about it.  We should live our lives as we normally would.  We should go to Disney World.  The story of 9/11 has become, like all American stories, a story of violence and consumption.  If these are the balms that heal our wounds, perhaps we should just forget the whole thing.

This Sunday is Holy Cross Sunday, the day we commemorate an instrument of torture and death.  When Jesus was crucified, his followers must have been confused and horrified.  They could not avoid the reality that this person they followed was branded a traitor and terrorist.  If they were to continue, they must retell that story, reconstruct it into something that spoke of everything they had done together and everything they still hoped to do.  It could not be the story of the end, the cessation of hope.  Instead, it must be the story of the triumph of peace over violence.  Instead, it must be the story of enough, the story of sharing ourselves into a new world.  It must be the story of resurrection and redemption.  We must never forget.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about the memory of the crucifixion and the symbol of the cross.  What values do we construct with the stories we tell and retell?  What kind of world?  Who do we become in the telling?

Grace & Peace,

Church Fight!

// September 5th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Church in the Cliff has been through some transitions in the past five years.  I say, “transitions,” but anyone who has been around through that time knows that I really mean “meltdowns.”  As with any group of human beings that try to get together and sustain relationships, there is sometimes conflict.  That is unavoidable.  However, what we do with conflict is an ongoing practice.  We are about to go through another transition: we’re going to have a building.

I’m excited about this.  For years, we have endeavored in ministry in a space to which we only had access four hours each week.  This severely limits what we can do in a service because we have to set up and tear down each Sunday.  Any time we want to have dinners or Bible studies or board meetings, we have to find someone’s home to meet in.  It’s all pretty exhausting.  A building will allow us to expand our work and create a home.  But if you grew up in a home, you know it is not always peace and harmony.

Part of the luxury of being small and mobile and flexible is that there’s not a lot to fight about.  The open secret of many church splits is that they begin over conflict about carpet color and whether to buy new pews or invest in a food pantry.  Legend has it that one Church in the Cliff founder broke from one of our parental churches because she thought that the expense of a new parking lot was ridiculous when there were so many in need.  I don’t know if it happened that way, but I’m certain it is true.  Staking a claim to property brings new opportunities for conflict as we all become invested in that property and its use.  Personally, I don’t have the energy for another “transition” and I’m not sure it is the best witness to the peace and love that we proclaim.

So perhaps it is good that the lectionary this week brings us some advice for dealing with conflict.  Understand this is not a commentary on where we are now, but something to consider for where we might find ourselves, or in our lives outside the church.  There will be conflict, maybe not over carpet, but perhaps an argument over whether to create a meditation room or a feral cat domestication center.  (Y’all know where I stand!)  Regardless of the issue, we must have ways of resolving conflict that ensure that everyone is heard and decisions are made together.  Our commitments to one another must endure disagreement and even the horror of not getting our way.  The value of our life together must be greater than our individual desires.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we discuss how to resolve conflict in peace.  We’ll talk about what Paul (Romans 13.8-14) and Matthew (18.15-20) have to say about it and maybe some things they missed.  See you there!

Grace & Peace,