Archive for November, 2014

Judgment Turns to Hope

// November 25th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Advent is a time of waiting and preparation.  It’s easy to jump forward to the birth of the little baby Jesus and the star and the wise ones bearing gifts.  We’ll soon be decorating our homes with twinkly, sparkly things and hear the golden voice of Johnny Mathis floating through the halls.  But during Advent, we wait and we work.

This Advent, we as a church have a lot to do.  We finally got our permit for the new building.  There are still a couple of details to iron out, but we’ll be in next week.  But it won’t all be done.  We will be working over the next month and beyond to build our new home, to nest a bit.  It is an opportunity to dream and bring those dreams into reality.  As we do that, perhaps we can use the experience to think about what it means to create a place for God to come into the world.

And what does that presence mean in our lives?  How do we see God?  In what ways do we feel God’s presence?  How do we experience our Advent themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love?

This week, we begin with Hope.  Interestingly, it is still a time of judgment.  The First Sunday of Advent is a day of reckoning that begins turning the world back toward justice.  The world is ending and the world begins anew, but only if we wrestle with what has come before and how we ended where we are.  Somehow, we find that hope arises out of tragedy and loss.

This is particularly critical as we watch the events unfolding in Ferguson.  Something has clearly gone off the rails.  Decades of disenfranchisement, of simmering distrust, of poverty and racial enmity, have boiled over.  It’s easy to point at the looting and cluck our tongues.  It’s much harder to ask how we each contribute to racial systems of power that are at the root of what is happening in Ferguson.  If we asked those questions, we might be responsible.  We might have to change.  Whether we want it to or not, the day of judgment will come.  Would we rather it come through introspection and prayer, through thoughtful decision-making that leads to transformation?  Or through explosive violence that destroys the very communities that long for justice?  Either way, the world has once again come to an end and so we will build something new.  This is hope: that we will always be preserved to try again, to do a little better this time.  Judgment turns to hope.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about our hopes for our new church home, our hopes for who we become in that space, our hopes for bringing God into the world.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Sheep and Goats

// November 22nd, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Our series on the Rapture culminates this Sunday in what is traditionally known as “Christ the King” Sunday.  This is not language we typically use at Church in the Cliff.  It is hierarchical and patriarchal and we prefer more expansive and inclusive images of God.  However, this highlights some of the things we’ve been talking about with Rapture theology.

As it is commonly understood today, due to the influence of writers like Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye, Christ’s return will be marked with violence and division.  God will judge everyone, separating the believers from the non-believers.  Believers will be vindicated and rewarded for their faith and non-believers will be punished.  Those who have suffered so long for the glory of Christ will finally be spared the indignity of hearing “Happy Holidays!”

Most Rapture enthusiasts I encounter today are privileged in a number of ways: straight, white, Christian, and relatively prosperous.  In fact, there is a curious intersection of prosperity gospel and self-help gospel that tell people that good Christians have good lives, and a Rapture theology that tells Christians that they are always under threat, that their way – God’s way – is in decline.  The result is that God’s judgment is rendered to protect the privileged – from the gays, from the Muslims, from the immigrants, from the lazy poor.  Some folks are anxious for the division of the sheep and the goats, but maybe they shouldn’t be.

Maybe they should read the parable of the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25.31-46, which is one of our lectionary passages this week.  Yes, God comes as a king and sits in judgment.  He separates the sheep from the goats.  The sheep go to mansions in the sky and the goats get the coal chute.  But look at the criteria for judgment.  How did you treat the poor?  How did you treat the hungry?  How did you treat the homeless?  How did you care for the least among us?  Then he says something remarkable that, in a very Jesus-y way, undoes all the hierarchical, patriarchal stuff in which the story is framed.  Jesus says that the way that we treat the least among is the way that we treat Jesus, that Jesus is, in fact, those very people.

To backtrack a little bit, the reason that we so often see images of kingship in ancient writings is that the king was understood to be subordinate only to God.  Many times, the king was seen as the Son of God, carrying God’s full authority.  Philosophically, this defines a great hierarchy of being that carries God’s nature into the world.  If you want to know who God is, look at the king.  If you want to please God, behave like the king, support the king.  That is not only the ordering principle of society, but the very nature of reality itself.  When the early Christian writers speak of Jesus as king, they are saying he is the image of who God is, the definitive vision of the nature of reality itself.

Yet, here Jesus identifies himself with the least among us.  God’s vision of kingship is a complete reversal of everything it means to be a king.  The definitive vision of the nature of reality itself is, in fact, those who are impoverished, those who wander or have no home, those who are hungry and naked.  If we want to know who God is, look at them.  If we want to please God, we should live our lives in solidarity with them.  If we want to avoid the coal chute, we should not see God as the protector of our privilege over against those who suffer, those who ask for food to eat and a roof over their heads.  Jesus is not the king, but is instead the presence of God in the world seen most of all in those who suffer.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we discuss sheep and goats and which one we might become as we construct our vision of hope.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave…

// November 16th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

I did not have a Scofield Reference Bible growing up.  Apparently, my church was very neglectful in getting me my copy when I was baptized.  Over the years, as I’ve read analysis of dispensationalism, I’ve heard about the Scofield and its use, but never had one to which I might refer.  I remedied that this past week with the purchase of my very own Scofield Study Bible – bound in genuine Duradera leather!  My intention was to dig into the nitty-gritty of Rapture theology so as to present it fairly in church this week.  My goodness!  I’m used to study Bibles with a great deal of notes providing historical context, translation and textual alternatives, and cross-references to other passages.  Nothing could have prepared me for this.

The Scofield Bible is a Bible for fans of books and movies like The DaVinci Code or National Treasure.  Well, maybe fans who think they are documentaries.  For every verse in the Scofield, there are notes.  Not unusual for a Bible, but these are unusual for their singular focus: prophecy.  There are notes for every verse, sometimes two or three.  That is, a single verse is chopped up into even smaller phrases or individual words and each is given its own notes.  And each note consists of multiple cross-referenced verses or portions of verses thought to be a prophecy.  The verse one is reading might be an answer to a question asked 1500 years earlier, or the fulfillment of a hinted future event.  Or it could be a prophecy itself with its own rabbit trail of fulfillment in future verses.  Sometimes, that prophecy is marked as unfulfilled, leaving the reader to determine what extra-biblical event is described.  The overall effect is a whirlwind of page-flipping to get the real message of the text.  It’s an odd way to read a book.

As a practical matter, I’m not sure how one might approach this methodology critically.  The textual relationships are so convoluted that it seems impossible to unravel them all, which leaves any critique susceptible to the unknown.  That is, there is always something you don’t know and can’t know, some new claim that is simply, currently, unfulfilled.  Worse, every claim relies so heavily on the assumptions the system is supposed to support.  One must believe that there are dispensations and that there will be a Rapture and that it will play out in a particular way in order for any particular claim to make any sense at all.

Worse, I think, is that this way of reading the Bible dismisses the grand literary accomplishment of it all.  The stories themselves only matter for the puzzle pieces they offer.  The voices of the authors are erased.  And worst of all, the story of which we are a part, the story that we continue to write, is irrelevant.  The only story that matters is the one written for those with the right decoder ring.  They are not participants, but seekers of signs.  It is an impoverishment of the great wisdom that God has gifted us and the agency we have to live into the life of God.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about how we might read Scripture in a way that invites us into the story of God and who that God might be in different ways of reading.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

// November 7th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Y’all know I love a good apocalypse, right?  Whether it’s John Cusack fleeing the Mayan apocalypse with his estranged family or Jake Gyllenhaal fleeing a global-warming-caused Ice Age or Elijah Wood fleeing meteor-induced tidal waves, I’m in.  (Not Bruce Willis flying into space to stop a meteor.  That movie just sucked.  Totally.)  Perhaps a part of my adoration of the Buffyverse is that they had at least one apocalypse per season.  I am sad to have missed Left Behind in theaters, but I’m sure I’ll be able to pick it up in a Costco bargain bin soon.  (I’m sure several nearby churches would give me a copy so that I would hear the Gospel of God and Guns.)  There’s just something about the end of the world that fills me with glee!  That’s why this is the most wonderful time of the year.

Each year, just before the birth of the adorable little baby Jesus, the world ends.  As we talked about last week at All Souls, the liturgical calendar gives us the opportunity to rehearse cycles of birth, death, and rebirth.  We confront these realities symbolically so that we are transformed into the sorts of people who know what to do when they finally, ultimately occur.  In some ways, the deaths we rehearse in Lent and All Souls are individual, marking our place in the grander scheme.  But the next few weeks mark the end of everything.  In that sense, it is rehearsing not our own mortality, but the end of all things and the beginning of the ultimate reality into which we might live.

An apocalypse tends to focus things.  In film it provides motivation and dramatic tension.  It moves things forward and forces characters to make choices about how they do so.  In the biblical text, it serves a similar function.  Because there is a final reality put forward, we must make a choice about who we will be in that final reality.  Will we be prepared?  Will we look out for ourselves?  Will we be passive?  Who do we become in anticipation of that end?  Will we be sheep or goats?

Probably the dominant understanding of the End Times in contemporary American churches is the Rapture.  Even when denominations reject this theology, their laypeople persist in embracing it due to its pervasive presence in our culture.  It so happens that some of the passages presented by the lectionary for next few weeks are classic Rapture texts.  So we’re going to hit it head on for the next few weeks in a mini-series on the Rapture.  We’ll talk about its origins, about what it presents and what the Bible says, and we’ll talk about where this theology might take us.

Spoiler alert: despite my love for apocalypse, I think Rapture theology is terrible theology.  However, I do think it offers something that speaks to real human experience.  It speaks to a need for closure, for validation, for identity, and, in its own way, for justice.  I’m just not sure it speaks to the best versions of ourselves, the self that is the image of God.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about the origins of Rapture theology and the context in which it rose to prominence.  Bring your Scofield Study Bibles.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Hallowtide

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

Last night was good.  As has become our annual tradition, we made a lot of food and bought a lot of candy.  Good friends come over to help us eat and drink and pass out candy to thousands of kids that swarm our neighborhood.  As always, it was delightful seeing all the tiny adorable kids in their tiny adorable costumes.  There’s nothing that can melt your heart like a tiny, shy superhero hiding behind his mother.  Before we moved to Dallas, we never had trick-or-treaters.  Parents had given into fears of crime or, in many cases, that there was something evil about Halloween, replacing it with a Fall Festival or a Trunk-or-Treat in the parking lot of the local megachurch.  It’s a shame, really.

Halloween is the first in a trio of days, Hallowtide, that confront death to bring new life.  On All Hallows Eve (Halloween) we mock death so that, with the Apostle Paul, we can ask, “Where, O Death, is your victory?  Where, O Death, is your sting?”  We put on costumes and celebrate.  Some costumes are frightening, but we know that under that gruesome mask is a child.  Some costumes are expressions of a child’s dreams, that one day he or she will be a princess or a hero.  Fear and hope, bound together in a parade of children.

Saturday is All Hallows Day, the day we venerate the saints, the hallows, of the tradition.  As we have discussed in our series on saints, these people exemplify in their lives and legends who we might imagine ourselves to be as people of God.  Of course, this often says more about the people canonizing a saint than the ones being canonized, so the stories of the saints are offered as stories we might like to tell about ourselves.  To our local pantheon of saints this year we added five (well, six): Dorothy Day, Joe Strummer, Sergius and Bacchus, Teresa of Avila, and Molly Ivins.  Each of these points us to the Way of life in God, whether through contemplation, a relentless pursuit of justice, or a broader view of what is possible.  We honor the saints by telling their stories and trying to live into parts of those stories, so that we have our own to tell.

Hallowtide culminates in telling our own stories on All Souls Day.  This is the day that we remember those we have lost.  Contrary to modern common wisdom, we do not come into this world alone and we don’t leave it that way, either.  We are brought into this world by those who have come before, by those who have built the world we have, for better or worse.  Someday, we will leave this world, having made it better or worse, to those who come after.  The world is finite and we are mortal, but everything is connected in God, so that every beginning is an end and every end a new beginning.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we remember those we have loved and lost.  You are invited to bring photos, icons, or sentimental objects to place on the altar, to light a candle in remembrance, and to tell stories of the lives of those who have come before.

Grace & Peace,
Scott