Posts Tagged ‘hope’

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

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

Depression and Suicide: Beyond Buzzfeed

// August 15th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

The death of Robin Williams this week has brought a ton of information about depression and suicide bubbling to the top of social networks and message boards and content aggregators.  That’s probably a good thing.  Much of the power that drives a person to that point and keeps one from asking for help is the feeling that one is alone, that no one understands.  So it is good that people are at least talking about it.  We might experience a brief moment of understanding and compassion before we revert to charges of selfishness or cowardice.  (Too late?  Oh, well.)  However, there are still a thousand reasons I shouldn’t talk about my own experience of depression and suicidal thoughts this Sunday.

As a true example of selfishness, it can hurt me professionally.  Even though ministers are more likely to suffer depression or consider suicide than most other people, it is not exactly a plus on a resume.  Churches don’t want someone who might tank; they want a steady hand.  Worse, it can erode a minister’s authority in the pulpit as well as in providing pastoral care.  Many people don’t want a message of hope from someone who experiences such hopelessness.  I am grateful for a church where I believe I can be honest about such things.

My bigger concern is that it becomes a sideshow.  As a minister, my job is to inspire and educate others to faith, hope, and love, to care for them in times of struggle and celebrate with them in times of joy.  The church exists for others, not for its leadership.  In short, it’s not about me.

However, in spite of these concerns, I think it is the right thing to do.  Part of the problem is that we don’t see people talking about these things from positions of leadership.  Sure, the hoi polloi is plagued with depression.  Their lives are terrible.  Of course they are depressed.  But those who have succeeded, the people in pulpits or in executive’s chairs or wearing the doctor’s white coat or the judge’s robe, they don’t feel these things.  That is both why they are successful and the reward of success.  Again, fortunately, the people at Church in the Cliff know that I certainly do not have it all together.  They may not know how bad things have gotten at times, but they do know me and they love me, just as I love them.  If there is a church that can handle this discussion, this is it.

I want to put a human face on the endless, well-intentioned lists and pithy quotes and even substantial articles that tell us “what depressed/suicidal people think/feel.”  I read those and I recognize myself in some of it, but a lot of it is alien to me.  Some of it is downright insulting.  Such lists give the impression that there is a formula for this and there is a checklist for dealing with it: say this; don’t say that.  If we can just generate the right cliché at the right moment, we can lick this thing!  So I will try not to make any general statements or present myself as the exemplar of what depression looks like.  I can only speak for myself, of my own experience.

My hope is that others will feel free to do the same.  Perhaps in an honest conversation, we can get beyond the caricature and into a more nuanced and human picture of what depression looks like.  Then, perhaps, we can find healing.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about the depths of despair and the things that might pull us out.  I know this is a heavy topic, but I promise there is a hopeful conclusion.  After all, I’m still here.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

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,
Scott

Death and the Possibility of New Life (Gun Violence Sabbath Sermon)

// March 17th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

(This was my sermon from Sunday’s Gun Violence Sabbath.  – Scott)

Erbie Bowser was a school teacher who worked with special education students. He was an imposing figure at 6-foot 7-inches and 335 pounds, but was described as a “gentle giant” by those who knew him. He liked to have fun, entertaining crowds before Mavericks games with the a dance troupe for overweight men, the ManiAACs. In 2010, he quit his teaching job to form his own non-profit to provide clothing, tutoring, and food for children. By all accounts, he was a good man.

In 2011, Erbie and his wife Zina began divorce proceedings. Court documents show that he warned her against taking any of their property, saying, “I will bury you.” He emphasized the point by opening a pocket knife and adding, “Call the police and I will execute your kids.” The judge granted a protective order, which barred Erbie from coming within 200 yards of Zina or her children. The judge wrote in his report: “Family violence has occurred and is likely to occur in the future.” On August 7th of 2013, the judge’s prescient words were fulfilled.

Erbie Bowser began his shooting spree at 10:30 pm in the home of his ex-girlfriend, Toya Smith. He killed Toya and her daughter Tasmia as well as injuring Toya’s son Storm and family friend, Dasmine. When the police arrived at Toya’s house, Erbie was gone, but Dasmine bravely identified him from a photo lineup. The Dallas police suspected that he might go after Zina next, so they alerted the DeSoto police that he might be on his way. As the DeSoto police made their way to Zina’s house, they received a 911 call that there was an incident at the home. Erbie Bowser shot and killed Zina and her daughter Neima and wounded her two boys, aged 11 and 13, before running out of ammunition.

I don’t know what happened in Erbie’s life that sent him down this path of violence. It’s possible that he had a breakdown of some kind in 2010 that caused him to quit his job and created marital problems. It’s also possible that, like many cases of domestic abuse, the threats and violence went on for years, but was well hidden outside his family. Since his arrest, neither he nor his lawyers have said anything publicly while he awaits his capital trial in prison. In any case, it wasn’t exactly beyond reasonable supposition that something like this could happen. The divorce judge predicted it and did what he could to prevent it. Interestingly, one thing he could not do is prevent Erbie Bowser from having a gun.

The discourse around gun violence quickly descends into a series of claims and counterclaims, with statistics flying around like the bullets they represent. We argue about how to label things. Is it a mass killing? A shooting spree? Is it gang violence? We slice and dice the numbers into murders and accidents and suicides. We even compare the number of gun deaths to other ways we might die. These are all important distinctions because they point to multiple causes and multiple possible solutions.

However, they also become ways to distance ourselves from the problem. Mass killings are committed by kids who are mentally ill – they either aren’t medicated enough or they are medicated too much, depending on who you ask. Gang violence is only a problem for “them,” for “those people,” the people that live wherever I don’t live. Because why would you live in a place like that, anyway? That’s why it’s so important to distinguish between North Oak Cliff and South Oak Cliff, right? By dividing things up into a myriad of smaller problems we convince ourselves, first, that each problem is not really so bad, and, second, that the possible solutions are so varied and complex that we can’t possibly solve them all. Why even try?

We seem to overlook the one common denominator: guns. Across class, race, and geography, whether unjustified or justified, accidental or purposefully self-inflicted, guns remain the most efficient way to destroy a life. Bullets cannot be dodged or outrun. The damage they do is immediate, devastating, and longlasting. There are an infinite number of ways that someone might die, but there is one way that is extremely effective and absolutely pervasive: guns.

Frankly, when I consider the damage done, the easy availability, and the total inaction on the part of our representatives, I am mystified and I am angry. How many times do we have to turn on our televisions or our computers to see that someone has once again shot up a school or a mall or a theater or an office building? How many times must we be outraged? How many times must we be disappointed and lose interest and go on with our lives? Until the next time. Until the time it happens across the street or to people that we care about. At some point, all the isolated incidents add up to an epidemic. Something has to change.

In John, chapter 3, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about being born again, born from above in the Spirit. This seems like nonsense to Nicodemus: a grown person can’t return to the womb to be born again. Jesus gently mocks him: How can you be a teacher of Israel and not understand this stuff? Jesus is simply explaining what he has seen and what he knows, but Nicodemus does not get it.

I feel this way when we talk about gun violence. We know that background checks work. In states where background checks are required for all gun sales 38% fewer women are killed with a gun by an intimate partner; there are 49% fewer gun suicides; 39% fewer police are killed with a handgun; and 64% fewer “crime guns” cross state lines. Yet, in spite of all that we know, people do not believe. Instead, people believe that we need more guns with unfettered access to them. It seems like nonsense to adopt anything other than a posture of opposition and defense. This is often the nature of the things of heaven: baffling to people of the world.

But Jesus speaks of earthly things. Jesus is in the flesh describing the human condition and the need to be reborn, but Nicodemus does not believe. What Jesus is saying should be obvious. We have all experienced that need for new life. How can Nicodemus, one of the wisest people in Israel, not understand that need? And if he can’t understand that, how could he possibly understand the things of God? To know God is to be reborn, to be transformed into new life in the Spirit. Flesh is flesh and spirit is spirit, it’s true, but we must understand both. In fact, understanding the things of the earth is a prerequisite for understanding the things of God. The two go hand in hand. To understand heavenly things, we must understand earthly things. We must see the world as it is.

We have a tendency to forget about gun violence. In between the heartbreaking tragedies, we convince ourselves that it was just that once. It’s just one disaffected youth, one disgruntled worker, one kid from the wrong side of the tracks. We don’t see the world as it really is. We forget that in America 1 in 3 people know someone who has been shot; every day 32 Americans are murdered with guns; 51 people every day kill themselves with a gun; and every day, 45 people are shot by accident. Our gun homicide rate is 20 times higher than our global peers; the only nations with more gun violence than the United States are countries torn apart by civil unrest. You have to go to a war zone to find a place more violent than America. Beyond the numbers, we forget the names of the victims and sometimes even the perpetrators. We stop seeing the families destroyed, the lives torn apart by loss and grief. For most of us, these awful tragedies have no face that persists in our memory. If we don’t see these things, if we don’t believe the epidemic all around us, how can we possibly know God?

God sent God’s only child so that the world might be saved. All we have to do is have faith. First, we must have faith that what God tells us about the world is true. We must have faith that the world was created for everyone to thrive. We must be passionate in that faith. Second, we must be faithful to God’s ways. From where will my help come? It comes from God and God alone. Do we trust in firepower or the powerful ways of God? Do we live in such a way that our thriving is set over against the thriving of another? Is reality at its core one of opposition, conflict, and struggle? Is that God’s way?

Grace Baptist Church in Troy, New York, is having a raffle next weekend. One lucky attendee of their Sunday morning service will receive an AR-15 assault rifle. The flyer promoting the event, mailed to all gun owners in Troy, backs itself with Scripture, the Gospel of John, in fact. It quotes John 14.27: “…my peace I give to you…” it says. It has ellipses before and after the quote, so it’s dot-dot-dot my peace I give to you dot-dot-dot, which usually indicates that there is something both before and after the text quoted. That made me curious, so I did a little investigating. It turns out that what is hidden behind the ellipses is very important. This is Jesus’ Farewell Discourse where he tells the disciples he is leaving and gives them an idea of what to expect after that. In 14.26, he tells them that he will send the Holy Spirit to teach them everything and to remind them of all he has taught them. Then, in the full text of 14.27, he says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Life in God is not a life of fear and opposition. The new life, life born of the Spirit, is a life of peace and wholeness.

The Lenten journey is a journey toward death. However, it is a death that promises new life on the other side. But where is the new life for those caught up in the cycle of violence? The world does not believe the testimony of experts. It does not believe the great witness of our civil rights leaders who achieved great change without firing a shot. The world does not hear the grief and anguish of the victims. It does not see the brokenness of the perpetrators. We see Erbie Bowser on the TV and call for vengeance, death at the hand of the state, blood on our hands. The child of God came into the world to save it, but we fail to believe the testimony. We fail to see the death all around us. As a result, we continue to experience death – over and over and over. But this death is only death. There is no new life in it. At times, it seems hopeless.

But just as the world no longer runs on a global system of slave trade, just as women can now vote, just as same-sex couples can marry in 17 states and counting, there is a way through. That way is God’s way. From where will our help come? It comes from God and God alone. God’s way is the way forward. But what is God’s way? God’s way is certainly to mourn the dead, see their faces, hear their names, weep with the families left behind. But we must also change. God’s way is not to simply mourn as the bodies pile up around us. God’s way is the way of peace and wholeness. Do not let your hearts be afraid. As we mourn the victims, remember that on the other side of that gun is a broken person who, for whatever reason, has run out of options. God’s way is to reach out to those people. God’s way is to create new options and new life. God’s way is to take the option of gun violence away from them.

But most importantly, God’s way is to shine light into the shadows where our representatives creep. Jesus ends his conversation with Nicodemus saying, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” We can be instruments of peace and we can live our lives without opposition – and we should – but a problem of this magnitude requires systemic change. Attitudes must change, but so must laws. God’s way is to turn over tables in the temple. God’s way is to preach the good news in the presence of those who hate you. God’s way is to go to the house of Caiaphus and the palace of Pilate and, finally, to the cross. God’s way is to shine light on evil right to the end. This is the way to new life.

Reasoning from Above

// March 14th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This Sunday, Church in the Cliff is proud to participate in the Gun Violence Sabbath Weekend, in partnership with the Washington National Cathedral and Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence.  In preparation, I’ve been looking at a lot of statistics.  It’s upsetting.  I remember the day of Sandy Hook.  I was in California for Lisa’s company holiday party.  We were in a hotel right on the beach, waves literally washing up underneath our balcony, the soft sound rocking us to sleep at night.  The morning of Sandy Hook, I had gotten up early to read in preparation for the next semester of seminary.  I was taking a class on evil, suffering, and death, and the first assignment was to read “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor” from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov.  Included in the first of those chapters, Ivan, in conversation with Alyosha, philosophizes on the nature of evil:

Do you love children, Alyosha? I know you love them, and you’ll understand why I want to speak only of them now. If they, too, suffer terribly on earth, it is, of course, for their fathers; they are punished for their fathers who ate the apple— but that is reasoning from another world; for the human heart here on earth it is incomprehensible. It is impossible that a blameless one should suffer for another, and such a blameless one!

I finished my reading and turned on the TV to see that twenty children had been shot to death along with six adults and the shooter, Adam Lanza, who killed himself.  It turned out he had also killed his mother in her sleep with the gun that she had bought for him.

Lent is a time of preparation, as we have said.  It is a preparation for death that leads to new life.  In the liturgical calendar, we rehearse the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, so that we are prepared for all that life has to offer.  Coping with small losses, even (or perhaps especially) symbolic losses, creates a deep reservoir from which we draw when the big stuff hits.  But nothing can prepare us for this.

At least this will serve as a trumpet blast, I thought, the call that wakes us up to the epidemic in our land.  Certainly, this tragedy can be redeemed.  We’ll pass new laws.  Restrict clip sizes.  Require background checks on every gun sale, so we at least know where they all are.  Maybe people will voluntarily give up their guns, refuse to be a part of this cycle of violence and death, say enough is enough.  Maybe we’ll finally beat our swords into plowshares after all.  Two years later, there has not been one significant change in state or federal policy regarding guns.  In fact, the only thing that has been done is to arm teachers and school administrators in some states, putting more guns in our schools.  Every morning, millions of parents send their kids to militarized zones to learn.  The result: forty-four school shootings since Sandy Hook; twenty-three mass shootings in the year following Sandy Hook, including four within a stone’s throw of Dallas.  It seems that the sins of parents are indeed visited on the children.

Our lectionary text this week is Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John, chapter 3.  In it, he promises Nicodemus that he could see the realm of God if he will only be born again, born from above.  This new life seems nonsensical to Nicodemus.  We often imagine in our modern world that God speaks only of God’s things: heaven, the spiritual, and the great hereafter.  But Jesus testifies to earthly things.  If we cannot believe those things, we have no right and no way to know the things of heaven.  If there is new life on the other side of a tragedy like Sandy Hook, we must believe that Ivan is wrong, that the reasoning from heaven is one of hope.  At this point, it seems nonsensical to believe that there is a life not dominated by the threat of violence.  However, we must believe God’s great witness to the things of this earth: that we are here to thrive and love and mourn and change.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about earthly things: tragedy and the possibility of new life.  Note that we will be taking up a special collection to be donated to a non-profit working to end violence.

Grace and Peace,
Scott

Advent: Lighting the Candle of Hope

// December 1st, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Welcome to Advent! The first breath of the new church year is about to be drawn. Once more, we’ve circled around to the season of mystery, into “the close and holy darkness,” as the poet Dylan Thomas put it.

Advent is laden with expectation, pregnant with strange good news, and lit by archetypal symbols. I loved this season during my growing up years – though in my not-particularly-liturgical home, we just called it Christmas time. Special food, special songs, pretty things that came out only during this special season – it felt magical, like I was part of a story of great importance.  As I became a grown person, I learned about the distinction that followers of the Christian tradition make between “ordinary” time and the seasons that are laden with signs of the sacred.  In the Greek, a distinction is made between chronos, or “clock time,” and kairos – sacred time, time that is heavy-laden with meaning.

We are entering a season of wild kairos. In the rhythms of life, certain seasons help us remember the holiness of every moment and serve as guideposts – identity markers that help us recall ourselves and begin again towards how we want to live and who we long to be.  This week, we light the first candle of Advent – the flickering flame of Hope.

Join us as we take the first breaths of Advent together. We’ll make some symbols of hope & expectancy to take with us on our journey through the next few weeks, and we will talk through the two faces of hope: judgment and expectancy. Please celebrate with us tomorrow, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center.

With Hope,
Genny

A Hoping Machine, a Working Machine: St. Woody Guthrie

// October 18th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

If Bayard Rustin is the architect of the progressive movement in America, perhaps Woody Guthrie is the soundtrack.  He seems to be rediscovered as each generation finds itself, once again, in lean times.  Then he is forgotten when people forget that hard times can happen to them, too.  Woody always remembered because he lived it.  Although he started life in a comfortable home with some wealth, by his teenage years his family was fragmented and destitute, the victims of one tragedy after another.  By the time the ground fell out from under the U.S. economy in 1929, no one was in a better position to be the voice of that generation.  More importantly, despite success as a radio star, musician, and writer, he never forgot suffering because he constantly put himself alongside those whose lives had taken a turn for the worse.

In the 1930s, Woody headed west.  As he travelled, he met thousands like him, driven by terrible drought that had turned the middle of the country to dust.  Massive storms buried whole towns in dirt.  There was no food, no water, and no work.  They left Oklahoma and Texas and Kansas because their farms and homes had been repossessed.  California was said to be a land of plenty where everyone could get a fresh start.  However, when they arrived, they discovered that they were unwanted.  The L.A. Police Chief went so far as to send 125 policemen to the border to turn back undesirables.  Refugees were told that there was “nothing for them” in California.  One man responded, “Well you ought to see what they got where I come from!”  Woody heard their stories and turned them into songs, saying: “I cannot help but learn the most from you who count yourself least.”  WWJD, indeed.

Woody is not a religious figure, so it might seem odd to canonize him as a saint.  However, embodied in his songs is a theology, certainly unsystematic, but absolutely clear.  In 1940, “God Bless America” was a hit song.  He hated it.  Saccharine sweet and, in his estimation, completely untrue.  He looked at America over the previous ten years and saw a battered people.  If that was God’s blessing, he wanted no part of it.  He sat down and penned “This Land is Your Land.”  If America was to be blessed, it was because its people loved it and worked for a common good.  He once described the human race as “a hoping machine, a working machine.”  America – and humanity – is best when it remains hopeful and works toward that hope for the flourishing of the whole.  That hope and working toward justice is Woody’s God.  I hope that it is ours as well.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we discuss the life and theology of Saint Woody Guthrie.  Be prepared to sing!

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Vote on Genny’s Ordination

The board has voted to recommend Genny Rowley for ordination by Church in the Cliff.  I enthusiastically support this nomination!  Genny has tremendous gifts for ministry and it has been a pleasure to see her find her voice and place in this church.  We are not sure where she is headed after her residency ends, but CitC would be fortunate to have our name attached to her future endeavors.  If you would like to join us in supporting her ordination, please do so by voting via email to board@churchinthecliff.org or in person at the community meeting on November 3.  Her ordination service is tentatively scheduled for November 10.

The Decisive Moment

// September 14th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Since this is the last in our mini-series on the cross, I might as well lay my cards on the table.  This view is offered not as a final answer, but as an opportunity for further questions.  Ultimately, I think the cross is just that – an opportunity for more questions.

The theologian Schubert Ogden describes Christ as the decisive re-presentation of God.  God has always been here – is always here – but Christ re-presents God to us.  Christ does so in such a way that it is decisive.  Not decisive in the sense of final or unique, but in a way that puts us to a decision.  And I think the decisive moment in the story of this decisive re-presentation of God is the cross.

As I see it, the reason the cross is the defining symbol for Christianity is that it is the moment of greatest uncertainty.  As we discovered in our study of Ecclesiastes, uncertainty is the heart of faith.  It is in the moment of the unknown, the moment of ultimate loss, that we must decide whether to continue living with faith, love, and hope.  The resurrection is beautiful and is our hope and promise, but it is the moment of victory; there is no decision to be made.  But the call of the disciple, the follower of Christ on the Way, is in the abyss of the unknown where all possibility lives.  Ours is to choose which reality will emerge from the shadows, to make the world anew.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we explore the “further questions.”  It will be a slightly different service, one of our interactive, choose-your-own-adventure services.  We will symbolically take on the wounds of Christ and then reflect on what those wounds mean in our lives as individuals and as the Body of Christ together. Is the cross the possibility of coming home?  Is it final victory over injustice? Is it strength to endure suffering?  Each of us will probably need it to be one of these (and so many more things) in the courses of our lives.  Come and discover what you might be saved from and what you might be saved for.  See you Sunday!

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Pet Blessing in Honor of St. Francis, Sep 29, Kidd Springs

It happens that the feast day of St. Francis occurs during our series on saints (Sep. 22 – Nov. 2).  To honor the patron saint of animals and the environment, our service on September 29th will be a special pet blessing in Kidd Springs Park.  Bring your pets or a picture of your pet to receive a blessing.  The service will be free-flowing and may flow right into a lazy  afternoon picnic.  Come and enjoy the outdoors and celebrate with us!

St. Francis, does God talk to you, too?

The Scandal of the Cross

// August 31st, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

It seems that the people of the Jesus Movement expected something else.  Maybe a violent overthrow of their Roman oppressors.  Maybe just a living wage and single-payer health care.  A chicken in every pot.  Maybe they just wanted someone, one of their own, to say that he understood and to speak for them and fight for them.  But it didn’t work out that way.  Their Yeshua, their rescuer, their deliverer, was arrested and killed.  Not just killed, but executed in a way that was reserved for enemies of the state – terrorists and traitors.  It seems somewhat ironic that the cross has become the central symbol of the Christian faith, the means of execution of the one who was to be our rescuer.

Among biblical scholars, this is known as “the scandal of the cross.”  The execution of Jesus had its intended effect: no one wanted to be connected to Jesus.  When you hang the leader of the movement on a piece of wood for public viewing, the movement tends to fragment.  It is not merely fear, but shame.  Your savior is utterly defeated.  All his followers hid or went back to their day jobs.

But it seemed there was life in this movement, yet.  The women didn’t go home.  Instead, they went to the tomb and what they saw shocked them.  It was empty.  Then it got weird.  People started seeing Jesus all over place.  As it turned out, there were rescuers everywhere people needed rescuing.  Salvation was a present reality, not a dashed hope.

One could take a cynical view.  Resurrection stories could be a marketing move or a mass delusion.  It is a fact that the followers of Jesus needed some way to deal with the scandal.  If the movement was to continue, there was certainly a public relations angle to consider.  However, there was also massive personal grief.  Jesus asked his followers to give up their lives – their families, their jobs, their status in their communities – to follow him.  They did that.  For years.  And this is how it ends?  There must be something else.  Or there must be a reason it ended this way.  If not, then what have we been doing?  And how do we go on?

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center as we talk about hope defeated and how we go on with purpose.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Series Schedule

September 1: The Scandal of the Cross
How do we move forward from grief and loss?  How do we remain hopeful?

September 8: Atonement Theology
Did Jesus have to die?  If so, why?

September 15: Saved from what?
If Jesus died so that we could be saved, from what are we saved?  Should everyone have the same answer?