Love Slaves

OK, sometimes the Bible can be a little kinky. I am really enjoying this week’s passage from Galatians, chapter 5, “For you were called to freedom, sisters and brothers; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Who has ever been a part of a community that bites and devours their members? That is some pretty strong language. Yet when I reflect on conversations I have had with people involved with Church in the Cliff I think that many of us carry bite marks from previous communities, even (maybe especially?) from other communities of faith. These old wounds are made worse by the fact that the parts of ourselves we presented upon joining said groups were often our most tender bits. For it is those tender parts of our bodies and souls which, like the canary in the mine, first alert us to our need for fresh air and new life.   
Let me offer an example. I spent a couple of years in Nicaragua in my mid twenties, living on the side of a volcano. Most of my days were spent with women and children from the community, Mansico, where I lived. We did a lot of talking, sharing ideas, and slowly organized some grassroots banking co-operatives.
In Nicaragua they have a saying, “Hay mas tiempo que vida” or “there is more time than life.” People spend a lot of time waiting for stuff: for the bus to come chugging up the dusty road, for an appointment at the health clinic, for the teachers to make it up the rocky trail to start class. I did my share of waiting too: for community meetings to start, for a local leader to stand up and speak, for the carrots in my parched garden to grow.
In the midst of all this waiting, God started to haunt me. In the potent silence of the in-between times God was busy nudging me into reconsidering my next steps. Ultimately after a couple of years of ignoring Divine promptings I gave up. I came to see that the career I was planning in law and non-profit management was about to take a big turn. And that the kind of justice-work that most inspired and interested me was in fact dependent on my participation in spiritual community. I came to trust that whatever I could contribute to and learn from this hurting world would be richer and more impactful if I could do it as part of a group of people who were hungry for the same things: meaning, traction, growth, even love. In short, God helped me recognize that I was not done with the church as I thought I might be.
So, with all this hard fought spiritual wisdom I applied to Divinity schools. That is where Part I of the story ends and another story begins. Let us just say that the small and growing edges of my soul watered in the silence of Nicaragua had a hard time finding a home in the competitive world of graduate school. And some very yucky internships again made me doubt the beauty and integrity of church life. So, like many among us, I am familiar with what happens when you present your most vulnerable, growing edges to a community and someone takes a big chomp out of them and it really hurts.
Which is why Paul reminds us in this letter to folks in Galatia that the stakes are high. Church is to be the wading pool for an even bigger experience of the Divine, not a place that makes us retreat from whatever individual truths we have gleaned through reflection and hard life. We are scripturally mandated to be each other’s love slaves because we need an experience of God manifest through flesh and blood if we are to continue to live deeper into the vulnerability modeled by Jesus. It is scary to trust our inner canaries and the still small voice of God.
This summer we are creating space to listen to each other’s stories about church. About what we have learned and about where we hope we are headed. Join us tonight and Sunday as Jen and Alan and others with Bible Church/Church of Christ experience give voice to what they love, what they choose to leave behind, and what they draw from their traditions which helps them articulate the church they want us to be.
Joy and All Good Things,
PS Paul is making a surprise dish sponsored by Jen tonight. Drinks and dessert welcome. 108 S. Rosemont Ave 75208. 6:30pm



One of the joys of pastoring a church such as Church in the Cliff is how engaged this community is in social investment of various forms.  We give money, we organize, we volunteer, we enter into relationship with the poor, locally and globally, and we help and love each other.

Chloe, Ross and I had a wonderful recon trip to New Orleans. Photos will be posted on Facebook and the All Souls Summer Camp blog tonight (Teri is going to help me 🙂 We now have one dozen Church in the Cliff folks going, which as Ross pointed out, is a pretty great ratio– one third– when you consider we usually have thirty-six in worship on Sunday.  Thank you to all who have generously contributed to support our work so far. Chloe, Ross and I feel so energized by what we saw on the ground and cannot wait for our community to participate further. If you would like to make a donation, please make a check out to CitC and write ‘New Orleans Mission Trip’ in the memo line. Checks can be mailed (PO Box 5072 Dallas TX 75208), put in the offering basket, or given directly to Lisa Shirley. Thanks!

Comments 1

  1. I was looking at this passage from Galatians with my Lutheran theological school “glasses” on, and I was struck by what I saw. For Lutherans, “law” and “gospel” are big theological categories that can be seen in scripture and perhaps even more so in life itself. The Law is what drives us to Christ. It shows us how sinful we are (and for Lutherans, sin is less the sum of our individual acts of wrongdoing and more a state in which we are trapped) and how incapable of righteousness we are on our own. This, then, is that makes the Gospel truly “good news,” for through no merit or act on our part (indeed, some Lutherans are so “works”-averse that they would contend you can’t even really “choose” to receive Christ; thus, “decision-theology” is out, but I digress) God’s righteousness is imputed to us by grace. Hence, we didn’t and couldn’t earn it or even choose it, but we’re “saved,” nonetheless. Anyway, I was looking at that laundry list in Galatians 5 of all the things that “proceed from the flesh:” impurity, idolatry, arguments, orgies, and the like, and the stern warning that “those who do these sorts of things won’t inherit the kingdom of God!” I think many Christians see this and proclaim it as “bad news;” that is, you better not do these things or God won’t have you; you’re doomed! The passage goes on to list the famous “fruits of the Spirit-” all the things you SHOULD do if you’re really in God’s camp, like “love joy, peace,” and so on. So there’s kind of a double “ought” here: you ought not do this one whole list of stuff, and to be safe, you ought do this other whole list of stuff, and maybe then you’re okay. I don’t think this is really the point, though, and it’s to the church’s shame that so many “Christian” spokespeople proclaim this message. Instead, and thanks to a careful reading of the larger passage (context- and subtext- matter), I think there’s a better “point” to be had here. The passage begins, “When Christ freed us, we were meant to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and don’t submit to the yoke of slavery a second time!” This is music to a Lutheran’s ears, for that “yoke of slavery” is the Law. Paul’s message here might be understood to be: “Look, Christ has saved you, not anything you do or don’t do. We’ve been down that road before, and you probably know by now that you can never be good enough. You can never not do enough of the bad stuff; nor can you ever do enough of the good stuff. So don’t listen to anyone who tries to get you hung up in that do-goodery game again. You’re free of that. Be free!” Paul goes on then to say, basically, so “use your power for good.” No one’s judging you by a checklist any more; so don’t hold one up to anybody else. If you do, Paul warns, “you may destroy the whole community.” Of course, Paul goes on to give us the lists mentioned above- one bad, and one good. But again, I don’t think he gives them to us so that we can measure one another (and especially ourselves) with them. Rather, as he says, he’s warning us: “Don’t use lists. Don’t judge. Don’t be slaves under the law again, ’cause the law will get you killed. You can’t inherit the kingdom that way. As for the good stuff, there’s no law against that, and our freedom means we’re free to actually follow the Spirit’s lead and be loving, joyous, peaceful, and so on.” We’re free TO risk trying these things because our lives don’t depend on our performance of them anymore. This is actually a really freeing, hopeful passage. It’s too bad we don’t hear it proclaimed that way more often.

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