Archive for Church in The Cliff

Song of Songs: NSFW

// August 29th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Well, I said we were going to start talking about wisdom literature, but it turns out that’s not quite right.  It would have been more accurate to say we are going to talk about the Solomonic corpus, books that are attributed to Solomon.  Of course, it is likely that little to none of these books was actually written by Solomon, but the tradition gives these books some gravitas.  That may be the only reason they are included in our canon or our deutero-canon.  The books have a vague constellation of traits in common, but are mostly dissimilar.  However, the one thing they do share is a concern with the things of this world, perhaps none more than the Song of Songs.

The first question one must ask about the Song of Songs is: Why?  Why is it in here?  Why is it Scripture?  It does not mention God at all.  Much of the material is euphemisms for sex and poetic, imaginative descriptions of male and female anatomy.  It contains the story of a very human pursuit, the erotic longing between two (or possibly three) lovers.  Even the structure and genre of the text is unclear.  That is, some see a collection of love poems ranging in number from six to thirty, while others see the remnants of a fertility cult.  It may be an ancient pop song or even softcore pornography.  It might be the Skinemax of the ancient world.  And yet, one ancient rabbi called it “the Holy of Holies.”

Its inclusion in Scripture has always been a concern for both Jews and Christians.  Consequently, both groups have tried to construe it as a metaphor of God’s love.  For Jews it is God’s love for Israel; for Christians it is Christ’s love for the Church.  This interpretation constrains the text to be about marriage because God’s love must rest in absolute fidelity.  God is the groom and Israel or the Church is the bride.  This ignores the fact that the characters in the book are not married, sneaking off to have sex away from prying eyes.  It is not so much about constructing an appropriate, society-approved coupling, but sheer passion for one another, the bliss of pure desire and its fulfillment.

However, because it is in Scripture, it is assumed to have some spiritual purpose.  Aside from the metaphors mentioned, it has been a touchstone for erotic Christian mysticism.  Yes, that is a thing.  When nuns say they are “brides of Christ,” some of them mean that in all ways.  That is, they understand their love for Christ as erotic just as much as the more tame kinds of love we often associate with God.  Spirituality, it turns out, is embedded in the reality of bodies and expressed in the meetings of those bodies, even if one of those bodies is God’s.  The Song of Songs, if it is about God, speaks to a passionate desire for the Divine that is experienced in one’s body.  Perhaps even more so, it is experienced in the bodies of people together without regard for what other people might think of those assignations.  Desire, as we all know, overcomes good judgment.

Maybe that is how the Song of Songs ties back to wisdom literature.  The paradigmatic piece of wisdom literature is Proverbs, which we might see as a nag, full of pithy sayings that do not come close to coping with lived reality.  But Job and Ecclesiastes call that rigid cause-effect morality into question.  Proverbs is like the Highlights Magazine series, “Goofus and Gallant,” read in elementary school, but Job and Ecclesiastes are like Camus and Nietzsche in first-year philosophy.  Maybe the Songs of Songs functions that way, too, but gives some detail and inspiration – some va-va-voom! – to Ecclesiastes’ “eat, drink, and be merry” philosophy.  If we’re all going to die anyway, perhaps desire for one another, even when frowned upon by the culture war wags, is the best way to spend the time we have.  And maybe in that bodily experience of mutual desire, in being passionately drawn to one another, we are drawn closer to God and the world of God’s dreams.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we talk about embodiment, eroticism, and God.

Grace & Peace,

The Listening Heart

// August 15th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

There’s always a sequel.  Last week, we brought the story of David to a close, but this week we see his son, Solomon, take the throne.  We’ll spend a couple of weeks with Solomon and then move into some wisdom literature.  So maybe it’s more a coda than a sequel.

You may recall that Solomon chose wisdom from God and so God gave him wisdom, prosperity, and long life.  The thinking is that one who chooses wisdom will be able to handle the prosperity and long life.  That one will be a gift to the world rather than a burden.  That one will take us into a better world.

Solomon’s gifts are reputed to be many.  In addition to being a legendary ruler, perhaps the wealthiest and most virile the world has ever seen, he is reputed to have written the bulk of wisdom literature found in the Bible.  He is credited with Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, many Psalms, the Song of Songs, and the Wisdom of Solomon.  These books range widely in style and outlook, from the clever quips of Proverbs to the existential weight of Ecclesiastes.  It would be a fertile mind indeed to have produced them all.

Of course, he probably did not write them.  Again, we see the gloss of memory.  Solomon begins his reign by lionizing his father, David, ignoring all the clear faults.  There is an irony here that Solomon’s chief virtue is his wisdom, his ability to make good judgments, to know good from evil, yet the text reveals a lot of questionable decisions, even in the eyes of the author, the Deuternomistic Historian.  This text that regularly proclaims the virtue of its characters is written as an explanation of what went wrong with the dynasty.

Perhaps that is the way that wisdom literature works.  Wisdom literature purports to present the collected wisdom of earlier generations.  It’s as if we get a head start on the good life by paying attention to what the dead say.  For us to believe in the advice given, we must believe in the outcome.  Do good, get good. Unfortunately, to believe that, we have to ignore a lot of personal experience and seriously edit the lives of our forbears.  Like all Scripture – and all texts – perhaps there is some value there, but it has to be tested.  Rather than simply following their advice, we should ask: What values do they present?  For whom are those values valuable?  What and who is left out of their imagination of the good?  Only by questioning the text with Solomon’s “listening heart” can we see their real value in our lives.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we talk about the good life in memory and imagination.

Grace & Peace,

Help a Homeless High School Student

One of our community members is working with a young man who is homeless. He is a 17-year-old athlete, and he is a junior in high school. He has back to school supplies, but he could really use some clothes, shoes, and a few other things. There are other agencies working with him on housing, food, and financial issues.  Please purchase items on the list and bring them to services at Church in the Cliff at 11am on Sunday August 16th or 23rd. Please message Scott on Facebook, email, or text at 214-505-6205 to arrange drop-off during the week.

To learn more about homelessness in high school here in Dallas, visit American Graduate, a special report by KERA.

Absalom, Absalom! The Original

// August 8th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

I wish I were a more literary person.  To my regret and my enduring hope for the future, I have not read the classics, the great works of Shakespeare, or much of the great literature of the 20th century.  I suspect that if I did I could make all kinds of comparisons with the stories of David.  It is an epic tale of the rise and fall of the powerful, of mistakes big and small, of strategic regret and hollow redemption.  In short, it is a very human story.

Google is not being helpful right now, but I distinctly remember an interview with a Jewish writer of TV westerns, maybe Gunsmoke.  The interview was conducted in light of some achievement, so they asked where his ideas came from.  He confessed that he stole everything from the Hebrew Bible.  Everyone else at the show was nominally Christian and hadn’t ever really read their Old Testament.  So this author would just pick a story from his Scriptures, change the names, eliminate some messiness, and present an epic tale with a neat moral at the end.  They thought he was a genius with a vivid imagination.

As Christians, we don’t pay a lot of attention to our Old Testament.  The names are hard to pronounce.  The geography is unfamiliar.  And it’s sooooo looooong.  Besides, we all know the answer, regardless of the question, is “Jesus.”  Why read this stuff?

It is hard to understand the story of Jesus without understanding the story of David.  To the people of Israel in Jesus’ time, the Davidic Kingdom represented the last time they enjoyed autonomy and prosperity.  We tend to spiritualize the story of Jesus, placing every hope in an eschatological future, either our own death or the end of the world.  But the Eschaton is only a vision that tells us the future we might live into.  Historically, Christians have said that the Jews missed the boat because they sought material good rather than spiritual reward.  (That view quickly veers into racism.)  Maybe we missed the boat, forgetting how much of Jesus ministry consisted of changing the material reality of the people around him.

Even as the story of David gives us some insight into the story of Jesus, we must view that story – both of those stories, really – critically.  Perhaps the people of Jesus’ day spoke of David the way that some speak of Ronald Reagan or the Founding Fathers today, as idealized figures rather than actual human beings.  Many of the Founding Fathers held slaves even as they spoke of equality.  Reagan’s hope for America was infectious and inspiring, but he did some shady stuff on the way to living into that hope.  David, as we have seen, was terribly flawed.  Those flaws reveal something about the very dangers of romanticizing these figures.  This week, in the story of Absalom, the chickens come home to roost.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we bring the story of David to a close.

Grace & Peace,

A Love Story

// July 25th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This will be another challenging week.  Yet again, we will gather in the wake of a mass shooting.  We are told once again that it is too soon to talk about gun control, too soon to talk about politics.  We know that it is statistically likely that next week will witness another mass shooting and the clock will be reset and it will never be time to talk about it.  We can only lament.

The lectionary would seem to be no help this week, but let’s see.  It is the story of David and Bathsheba found in 2 Samuel 11.1-15.  According to painters and filmmakers, this a great love story of the ages.  David sees her across the way and she is described much like David’s other great love, Jonathon – she is beautiful.  He must have her.  He sends for her, their passion leads where passion leads and she ends up pregnant.  David sends her husband, Uriah the Hittite, to the front lines so that he will be killed, clearing the way for David and Bathsheba to marry.  However, there are two things missing from this reading.

First, we never hear Bathsheba’s voice.  She has been cast as a scheming temptress and the victim of an unhappy marriage, due to either abuse or her husband’s sterility or both.  Yet, her consent is so unnecessary to David that he simply sends for her and so uninteresting to the author that it isn’t even mentioned.  When David, the king of Israel, a man willing to murder to get what he wants, sends for her, are we really to believe that she can refuse?  Does a woman’s consent even exist in this scenario?  It doesn’t seem so.

Second, this story is often read as the story of David’s decline into sin, the reason for the failure of Israel, the exile and deportation, the eventual end of the Davidic dynasty.  More immediately, it is the reason for the death of the child of this union.  Through the prophet Nathan, God tells David precisely what he did wrong: he stole Bathsheba from Uriah the Hittite; he murdered Uriah; he showed no pity for the poor soldier with only one wife.  Clearly, he has wronged Uriah.  There is no mention of Bathsheba, no mention of rape.  Perhaps there should be.  Perhaps we should include that among David’s sins.  To paraphrase our president speaking about Bill Cosby: if you have sex with someone without his or her consent, it is rape.  Bathsheba’s consent is not recorded here.

So what does this have to do with the shooting in Lafayette?  So far, another white shooter is being written off as a lone nut, a victim of mental illness.  We will make nothing of the context of the shooting or his choice of victims.  The star of the film is Amy Schumer, a comedian who keenly satirizes the reality of being a woman in contemporary America.  The two people Rusty Houser killed were women.  Houser had a long history of anti-woman sentiments, including during his appearances on “Rise and Shine,” a morning talk show in Columbus, Georgia, whose hosts recall that “Rusty had an issue with feminine rights. He was opposed to women having a say in anything.”  They had him on regularly because his “controversial” positions lit up the switchboards.  Apparently, his bi-polar disorder was entertaining when he was only talking about shutting women up.  Now that he actually did it, we won’t talk about his misogyny.  We certainly won’t talk about the support he found for it in the rest of society.  We won’t play politics with the lives of the two women who he hated and murdered.  We will respectfully ignore the content of Houser’s hatred and help him keep his victims silent.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we crack open the canon a little and see what Bathsheba might have to say to us.

Grace & Peace,

Dancing toward Justice

// July 8th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

I’ll be out of town this Sunday, but fortunately our church is packed with great people.  Lindsey Mosher Trozzo will be filling in for me.  Lindsey is currently working on her dissertation on the ethics of the Gospel of John.  From our chat this evening it seems like this Sunday will be an extension of our conversation last Sunday with a slightly different lens and, of course, a different voice to frame things.

The lectionary presents us with David’s celebration at the return of the ark as well as Amos’s proclamation of judgment on the nation of Israel.  Given the news of the last few weeks, how do we live in the tension of celebrating the milestones on the way to justice while continuing to press for more?  Who are we in those opposing moments?

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we talk about the way we stagger, stumble, and dance toward justice.

Grace & Peace,


// July 4th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

The last couple of weeks have been kind of intense, a rollercoaster of emotions.  Now we are witnessing the backlash.  Those who see their worlds crumbling with the removal of symbols of racism and the elation of others as they take a step toward equality are determined to fight back.  They ask, “How far is too far?” And the answer is always a ways back up the road to the place where they live.  There is still work to do, but I confess I am often at a loss as to how to do it.

I can testify to my own internal backlash, the valley that must be faced after the peak.  Righteous anger is good space for me.  I know what the world should look like and I’m not afraid to ask for it.  I don’t mind a good fight.  But after the yelling is over, the bitter words have ceased, and everyone has gone back to their corners, it always feels like a loss.  Things didn’t change much, everyone is retrenched, and I feel like we’ll never get anywhere, like it was all for nothing.

In part, this is just how I’m built – Enneagram 4 for those keeping score at home.  My best self knows the right thing, but I have trouble living in the day-to-day.  Unfortunately, it’s the day-to-day that we really need.  It’s the every day grind of making small changes, practicing justice in every little choice.  It’s hard, it’s slow, and it’s kind of boring.  There are no clever memes to guides us.  Maybe we could just watch TV instead.  Or…

We could read the Bible!  (Yay, Bible!)  The lectionary this week gives us Paul and Jesus, both dealing with the struggles and frustrations of sustaining a movement.  Paul’s writing is a little cryptic.  However, it is clear that he is frustrated because he knows about Paradise, but is confined to live in this world.  Somehow, he finds a way to draw strength from that.  Jesus, too, is giving the world some wisdom, but he is amazed at how poorly it is received.  He does what he can, educates people, and gets some help.  Something must have worked or I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about Paul and Jesus.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we talk about how we continue the momentum in the face of frustrating opposition and how we might shape our work for transformation rather than conflict.  This will certainly be one of those weeks where I learn more than I teach.

Grace & Peace,

David Loved Jonathon

// June 25th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This past Sunday was rough.  I am pleased to see so much happening in the wake of the events in Charleston.  Seeing Confederate flags removed in Alabama and initiatives to do the same throughout the South is encouraging.  However, there is so much more to do than change the racist décor.  While we endeavor to keep the quest for racial justice in our hearts and minds, it is also important to celebrate a milestone for justice in another community.  Sometime before our Sunday service, the Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision affirming same-sex marriage as the law of the land.  This is good news.

Unfortunately, just as with our continual struggle to live into racial equality, there will still be work to do even if the ruling goes our way.  Many states, including Texas, have already said they will resist.  I can’t see anyone seceding over it, but they’re not going to go into this new day willingly.  We won’t truly have equality until hearts and minds are changed.  That is church work.  Sadly, the Church has been mired in a single question, a question promoted by those who would oppose same-sex marriage in any case: What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

I’m not sure that’s the best question, but it so happens that the lectionary god, which I suppose is just God, has given us the story of David grieving the death of Jonathon, in which he says that he loved Jonathon more than a woman.  This passage is often lifted up as evidence of a homosexual coupling in the Bible, providing a biblical warrant for same-sex relationships.  I admit, I think it’s a reasonable case and I don’t think it’s the only one.  However, as with all things Bible, it is much more complicated than that.

Please join us at Church in the Cliff, 11am Sunday, as we talk about those complications and how those complications render the question moot.  More importantly, let’s (hopefully) celebrate a great stride toward justice.

Grace & Peace,

A Response to Charleston (preached Sunday, June 21, 2015)

// June 22nd, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

I’ve been trying to figure out why the events in Charleston this week have affected me as they have.  Yes, it’s a tragedy.  Nine good people are gone from this world.  But let’s face it: this happens every day.  Every day, our news cycle is filled with death.  I become immune to it just like everyone else.  There might be a moment of outrage, a shake of the head, maybe a tsk tsk at whoever is to blame.  But we get over it.  We move on.  Lest we become mired in cynicism and hopelessness, we distract ourselves with cat videos or cooking shows or the new Cajun-Vietnamese restaurant that we just can’t wait to try.  These strategies work.  They make us feel better, but they never dispel the hopelessness.  They just set it off to the side.

This is white privilege.  We can set things off to the side.  We can choose to be outraged for a moment and then not be.  Our lives are not on the line.  We can set an entire people off to the side, a whole community, which is exactly what we do.

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed on January 1, 1863.  It effectively ended slavery in the United States.  And yet, slavery continued in the state of Texas until June 19, 1865, which is now celebrated all over the United States as Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, the day that slavery really ended.  There is some contention over why it took two-and-a-half years for the Proclamation to have its effect.  Some say the messenger was killed on his way by horseback to Texas.  It was a dangerous time.  Some say that white slave owners simply didn’t tell their enslaved captives the news, which is probably true.  Why would they?  Some say that Northern generals held back the news so that Texas could provide a couple of more cotton harvests with free labor.  All or none of these may be true; the Internet is not entirely trustworthy.  But one thing we know: 250,000 black people enslaved by white people had to wait for two-and-a-half years to be free.  Whatever the reason, the end result is the same: white people prospered while black people suffered.

Black life in America is a life of waiting.  Two-and-a-half years to be free – that on top of centuries of kidnapping and murder, being bought and sold like a mule.  I listen to songs from the civil rights movement and I cannot believe how current they are.  “We Shall Not Be Moved.”  “We Shall Overcome.”  “Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.  Hold on.” These songs should be relics of a fight well fought and ultimately won, but we can dust them off at any time without fear of anachronism.  Langston Hughes called it “a dream deferred.”  Reverend King said, in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”: “This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”  Perhaps more hauntingly, he described “forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’”

We have raised the defense of King’s nobodiness to a pernicious art form.  Watch the news cycle any time racial justice is at stake.  Whenever a white person has appeared to act wrongly to a black person, check your social media.  Never read the comments, but sometimes read the comments.  We should know who is out there and how ideas become pervasive in our culture.  The Internet allows us to share information at such a rapid rate.  Coupled with the 24-hour news cycle to which a terrifying number of people are constantly glued, ideas move from suggestion to fact, from “could be” to “definitely” in the blink of an eye.  An idea is floated by bobbleheads then repeated until it becomes truth.

It’s called “shaping the narrative.”  We withhold judgment until the facts are in.  We get more and more information.  We hear from witnesses.  We listen to recordings of 911 calls and from cellphones that just happened to be on at the time.  We want to know who the characters in the narrative are.  What is their background?  What was their family like?  What were the immediate circumstances under which they entered our story?

All of this effort purports to be in service of the truth, but it is really in search of one truth: it’s not really the white guy’s fault.  We will feign ignorance until we can find a way to know that it wasn’t his fault.  We will lament that there was no video, until there is.  When there is video, we will determine why video doesn’t tell the whole story.  This document of reality is suddenly insufficient.  We pornographically analyze it frame by frame.  This is an aggressive move.  This is motion in his peripheral vision.  Threat, threat, threat.  Fear, fear, fear.

Y’know what I never see?  This kind of effort brought to bear in the service of proving a black person’s innocence.  It doesn’t happen.  Ever.  All we hear about black people is how big they are.  Their previous crimes.  Their suspicious behavior.  How rude they are.  Why don’t they respect authority?  Why don’t they comply?  Why don’t they sit down and shut up like a good Negro should?  To be black in America is to be guilty until proven innocent, to endeavor to be deemed, in the words of my grandmother, “one of the good ones.”  The black tax is in full effect.

It may seem obvious that this latest incident is the worst of the worst.  All suggestions of racism pale in comparison to the clear racist hate crime, the white terrorism, the assassination in Charleston.  Well, maybe not.  Fox News immediately ascribed fault to Christian persecution, even though Dylann Storm Roof passed twenty other churches on his way to Emmanuel AME.  Not one Republican presidential candidate cited race as a potential factor in this crime.  Even so, it is easy to dismiss this tragedy as the act of a singular, disaffected lunatic.  His actions take place in a vacuum without a broader context.  They certainly do not reflect on his white culture.  They did not derive from a broader social location.  They take no account of the confederate flag flying over his state.  He takes no comfort in a society that glorifies racism and treason from the principles of equality that bind this nation together.  He takes no notice of the ways that we regularly, consistently, compulsively diminish the cessation of black lives in America.  No, he was a just a lone actor, disconnected from any broader implications.  Therefore, we need do nothing but shake our heads in dismay.

President Obama is criticized for politicizing these deaths.  How does one politicize an action intended to spark a race war?  How is that possible?  In what way is a shooting intended to terrorize black people in the last place in which they felt safe, in the home church of a state legislator – in what way is that not a political act?  Sit down and shut up, black people.  You know what happens if you don’t.  What they mean is trying to harness a political will to do something about gun violence in America.

This is the fourteenth time Obama has had to stand up during his presidency and lament the tally of a mass shooting.  Nine people this time; twelve in a movie theater; twenty children and six adults in a school.  You know you are at the depth of evil when you can’t tell what’s worse: twenty kindergartners killed because they were defenseless or nine black people killed because they had come too far.  And, yes, the fact that I had to find some way of characterizing the reason for their deaths is a whole other level of wrong because nothing adequately explains what happened.  There is nothing that could make sense of these acts.

That is the secret of the media life cycle of these stories.  They are so horrible that we can’t fully make sense of them.  We are fed little tidbits that call our outrage into question.  Michael Brown stole cigars.  Trayvon Martin was suspended for marijuana.  Tamir Rice was holding a toy gun.  Dajerria Becton was mouthy.  Is that even a crime?  Mouthy?  I’m not a lawyer, but I question the mouthiness statute.  Oh, well.  The cop probably had a hard day.  Or felt threatened.   Or knew something was suspicious.  Might as well shoot somebody dead and work out the details later.

The events in Charleston are different – civilian perpetrator with a racist ideology – but they are only set aside by our constant dismissal of every other event.  We dismiss the vicious wrangling of a 15-year-old girl.  We dismiss the shooting of a 17-year-old boy by a white man who stalked him in the dark.  We dismiss the shooting of another 17-year-old boy by a cop who feigned an assault.  We dismiss the shooting of a 12-year-old boy by a cop who didn’t even bother to let his car come to a stop before firing and then neglected to provide even basic first aid for several minutes after they knew he was not a threat.  A child lying on the ground bleeding to death and no effort to save him.  By the time Dylann Storm Roof walks into the church in Charleston, what guideposts does he have to tell him that black lives matter, that these lives are precious in the eyes of God?  Honestly, if the national narrative around black lives is to be believed, I can’t think of a reason he should care.

As Christians, that is not our narrative.  Every life matters, but, in particular, the lives of the disenfranchised, the outcast, the different – these lives matter most to God.  In America, black lives matter most because black lives have been systematically excluded and devalued and destroyed for 500 years.  The Christian narrative is one of welcome.  The Christian narrative is one of hospitality.  The Christian narrative is one of justice.  I know it may not seem like that because of the pervasive attacks on an inclusive, compassionate, welcoming Christianity, but I promise the Good News of Christianity is hope for the hopeless, new life for those who have been beaten down.

If that promise is to be fulfilled, Christians need to act right.  The pernicious effect of the narrative surrounding racial justice is twofold.  Those who are inclined not to care about black lives are able do dismiss any events.  They are either completely understandable or completely unfathomable.  The perpetrator is either fully humanized with complex, nuanced motivations that are to be pitied, but understood, or fully distanced so that it bears no resemblance to any sort of recognizable humanity.  In any case, this person does not live where we live.  On the other hand, those who are inclined to care about these injustices are worn down.  Racism and gun violence seem to be intractable problems in America.  As Mike Yard said on the Nightly Show, “Let’s be real.  If they didn’t change gun control laws after Sandy Hook, what makes you think it’s going to happen now?”  I’ve seen friends online, committed liberals, state unequivocally that gun control is a dead end.  They won’t waste any effort on it.  And we’ve got a black president, so racism is over.  For those who care about justice, there seems to be no path, no way forward, no hope.

Perhaps I am naïve – and maybe naïveté is what we need now – but I think there is a way forward.  The first step is to absolutely, unequivocally refuse to accept the narrative that the small things don’t matter, that they are somehow justified or reasonable.  Only by paying attention to the smaller slights do we see the larger pattern of racism and injustice.

Second, we must act politically.  Reverend Pinckney was a state senator who fought tirelessly for the people of his district and the people of South Carolina.  He worked to eliminate poverty, police brutality, and racial discrimination.  Make no mistake, this was a political assassination.  It was not only an attack on the last place that black people might feel safe in a world that seems to want them dead, but an attack on black political power, an attack on the will to change the material circumstances of black people in America.  Some of those who now send their condolences promote the same system of white supremacy through the more civil avenues of voter ID laws and gerrymandered districts that suppress black political power.

Finally, we need more black friends.  I know it’s a cliché.  When people say or do something racist, they simply say that some of their best friends are black and suggest that whatever racist thing they just did is forgiven or accepted or even supported by their black friend.  It’s all good!  But I think we need more black friends.  I really do.  Not just Facebook friends, but real friends.  Go to lunch.  Talk about TV or kids or aging parents or the terrible manager you work for.  It doesn’t matter.  Get together and talk.  Sooner or later, something will happen: a shooting, a city council meeting, a pool party.  It doesn’t matter.  Sooner or later, there will be a crisis with racism at its heart.  Without a relationship to facilitate honest conversation, we’ll have no role to play.  You can’t support someone through tragedy or celebrate in victory without the wellspring of a relationship to sustain us.  Crisis is no time to start.

To be the body of Christ is to be bound together in the heart and mind of God.  Though their lives on this earth have ended, their presence is still with us, sustained by the memories of their loved ones, the love they shared with their community, and God’s faithful, abiding grace.  We cannot change what happened to them, but we can redeem it.  We can commit ourselves to seeking a better path, to being agents of healing and transformation, to tear down the divisive structures of power that say that some lives don’t matter.  Let us abide with one another as God abides in us.


Preaching to the Choir

// June 19th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

I was supposed to talk about David and Goliath this week, about how we read it as children and how we need to read it as adults.  There are themes of abuse of power, the cost of a warrior culture, the providence and protection of God.  It’s a great story.  I would have been clever and provocative.  But something happened this week.

Nine people were praying together in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and someone sat with them for an hour and then killed them.  As depressing and awful as that is, I have been even more disturbed by the lifecycle of the story that we see play out time and time again.  They were black and he was white.  He said clearly that he was there to kill black people.  Yet, we see justifications, minimizations, dismissals.  We see the takeaways evolve in response to the questions we are willing ask: more guns, less drugs, an isolated incident, really.  As a society, we are willing to consider any possibility other than the simple fact that they were killed by a racist with easy access to a gun and a society that practically cheered him on until the act itself.  I’m going to talk about that.

I know that this is a progressive church.  I don’t have to convince anyone that racism is bad or that we need fewer guns in the world.  However, I am convinced that if we as white people do not actively work to confront this racist system of power and the tools of violence that are its ultimate expression, then we might as well pull the trigger ourselves.

Honestly, I’m not sure what I’ll say about it.  It is such a large and intractable problem.  Maybe I’ll just read Martin Luther King’s eulogy after the Birmingham church bombing that took the lives of four black children; it is eerily applicable.  Maybe I’ll show slides of every perceptive meme that has crossed social media or videos of two people struggling with the job of doing comedy in the face of tragedy.  Repeating smart things that others have said might be my best course.  Or maybe I’ll just scream and weep and cover myself in ashes, take my place with the dead.

I am sure of this: if we don’t start talking about it now, we will be ill-equipped when it inevitably happens again.  My black brothers and sisters in ministry have been emailing and posting on social media desperate pleas for white churches to talk about racism and violence, to refuse to let this tragedy stand without redemption – again.  I cannot ignore their cries.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we try to find the hope to heal this deep wound.

Grace & Peace,

I AM Anarchy

// June 5th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

(Warning: Some of the video links in this message contain strong language.  It’s okay.  The Apostle Paul did it, too.)

The teenage years can be confusing and awkward and mine were no exception.  I made questionable hairstyle choices – some things never change! – and thought that Ronald Reagan was the Messiah – thankfully some things do change!  At the same time I was extolling the virtues of the Star Wars missile defense system in one term paper, I was writing another on anarchism.  Just as I was compulsively, voluntarily attending a conservative, suburban, upper-middle class, fundamentalist Baptist church, I was devouring every bit of subversive music and underground literature I could get my hands on.

By the time I reached adolescence, punk rock had officially been declared dead, but the New Wave included some of its descendents, which sent a kid like me looking back into the brief history of it.  And to a kid like me, who knew nothing about anything, the Sex Pistols seemed like the real deal.  Anarchy was their anthem.

In the song “Anarchy in the U.K.,” Johnny Rotten sneers, “I am an antichrist/I am an anarchist.”  He claimed the title of antichrist because he was so bad and dangerous.  He was an anarchist!  However, he really is antichrist because he’s a joke, a poseur.  Or maybe the joke is on me because he cops to it in the song: “How many ways to get what you want/I use the best/I use the rest/I use the N.M.E (New Music Express magazine)/I use Anarchy.” He packages teen angst and political rebellion as a commodity.  He’s writing jingles for Anarchy, Inc., and getting rich in the process.  For him, anarchy was just a venue for his own vapid self-interest.  Jesus, on the other hand, was the real deal.

It has taken me thirty years to resolve the apparent contradiction between my rebellious instincts and my Christian faith.  I now know that the Christianity I was taught as a kid was as much a commodity as the music I bought.  It propped up the status quo, made the world safe for those who had plenty.  But when I read the Bible now, I see a Jesus who fought the status quo.  He really was dangerous.  He vigorously opposed the Roman Empire.  He attacked the familial institutions of the honor/shame culture in which he lived.  He called people to the personal transformations that would bring about equality and justice, not because they were compelled to do so, but because their hearts were opened to the people around them.  It might be anachronistic to say that Jesus was a utopian anarchist, but I’m not sure it would be wrong.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we talk about a God who warns us about power and its abuses, a Jesus that attempted to bring down a society, and our calling as Christians to continue that work.

Grace & Peace,

BPFNA Peace Breakfast

Our friend LeDayne McLeese Polaski from the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America is in town in  a couple of weeks for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly and is sponsoring a Peace Breakfast.  She explains:

On Thursday, June 18,  BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz will host a Peace Breakfast in Dallas! We hope you’ll consider coming.
In addition to a full breakfast, music, and the chance to gather with fellow peacemakers from around the country, we’ll have some fabulous information and resources to support YOUR work of peace rooted in justice.
Local pastor Gale Paul will share information about her church’s experience using fairly traded coffee and snacks from Equal Exchange — and we’ll have free, fair chocolate and coffee samples.
Seminarian Judith Myers who was part of the Justice at the Border trip we sponsored earlier this year at the El Paso / Ciudad Juarez border will offer a personal reflection on the trip.

We’ll have a keynote address on The Church and Immigration from Jesús RomeroDirector of ISAAC, The Immigration Service and Aid Center.

You can register here:

We would LOVE to see you!
— LeDayne