Our six hour car ride to a friend’s cabin in the Ozarks last week turned out to be a nine and a half hour car ride— we rolled up on Friday morning at 1:40am. At this point the children decided to party, so none of us got to sleep until dawn– a rough way to start a mini-vacation.
But it was worth it. The night was super black and the trees felt like they held the cabin in a big hug. The next morning we drove a few minutes to a sleepy state park on Table Rock Lake. There was a cemetery there, not far from the shore, with a dozen headstones from the turn of the century surrounded by a wrought iron gate.
Rosetta and I spread out a blanket next the cemetery—resting in the shade of ancient trees. I read the names on the tombstones and wondered about lives long gone while feeding Rosetta her smashed up banana and O’s. Down by the water we could just make out Coleman, Perl and Richie fishing off the dock, or frolicking in the cool water.
While most lakes are murky, Table Rock Lake is totally transparent— due to the limestone cliffs and a rock “table” which under girds the water. It is one of the few places one can learn to scuba dive in fresh water—catching site of (so I hear) monstrous catfish, long-ear sunfish, and crawdads scurrying across deep underwater ravines.
It is an oasis for the senses and the soul.
I think God’s dream for the Church might be just such a place.
This week I have had a string of conversations with people enduring stressful job environments. A neighbor and I talked about the yuck of being a creative in a corporate hierarchy with the double yuck of dealing with other creatives jockeying for power and undermining her projects.
And this morning, while I was held hostage in her chair, my dental hygienist unloads a horror story of a manipulative former boss who told lies and kept her office perpetually on edge with her erratic behavior.
Dental hygienists have long been my sort of fantasy alternative profession. When things are hard in my work I wonder—why, why why am I drawn to these murky edge waters? Why do I consistently work for passionate little non-profits or churches (yes, CitC is but one in the line of funky start-ups which comprise my professional history). Why do I surround myself with people with strong opinions and intense personalities? Why can’t I just have a normal job?
This is when the fantasy of life as a dental hygienist enters my mind– probably based on a series of kind hygienists I have known and my view of their life from the outside. They have a specialized skill set. They help others stay healthy, they educate, they get Friday’s off. They ask me questions about my kids and listen like they are really interested. They tell funny stories, they laugh and joke with their colleagues. And I think the thing that is so alluring to me about the profession is that it is clear to see the results: you know as a practitioner when you have done a good job cleaning someone’s teeth, and you know when they are doing a good job caring for their own oral health or when they could use some help.
Life in the community of faith, as all of you know, is not so clear.
I mean—come on – who really feels up for the job of cultivating community which engenders radical spiritual transformation? Some days I would just rather stay home and water my window box and watch Madmen and eat salty caramels.
But this is the work of the church—to create an environment where the Spirit can radically transform our lives. It is the wading pool for love—it is where we learn how to stretch and strengthen our muscles of compassion.
Now you know that many churches are not safe spaces for the soul. Which is so sad, especially when people bring their desire for God into such spaces and get torn up. There are many reasons for this—the most simple being that it is hard work to create and maintain soul space as a community. But it is possible. Jesus was a community organizer who showed us how.
And all throughout my life I have had glimpses of the Church at her very best: of covenants of kindness made and kept, of worships that align the breath of the gathered body with the breath of the Holy One, and of intimate conversations of truth and authenticity.
And I treasure such moments when I experience them at CitC— for they can be cultivated, not engineered. Moments of true community are always gifts of the Spirit.
And I have also witnessed and endured the shadow side of community in previous churches and at Church in the Cliff: moments where people wound others, make sad choices, live out of fear and not security. These encounters too are the stuff of community life. It is hard to honest about them but in talking about the shadows we release their power over us. All churches and indeed all people have our shadow sides— call them what you will: our work to do, our unresolved emotional attachments, our ego. These things all come to church with us at the Kessler Theater every week, so we might as well greet them by name.
A couple of times in recent conversations in our community I have heard people use these words: “Church in the Cliff is my safe place.” Often they are describing their involvement in this community in contrast to a toxic work environment or family challenges.
They are naming a desire for soul space, and indeed claiming CitC as the space where they (sometimes? Most of the time?) encounter it.
This is God’s dream for the church.
Yet maintaining that safe soul space is a big responsibility—and it is one we all sign up for through our commitment to this community.
Thankfully we are not left without resources to create such an oasis. There is a rocky foundation which holds the fluid body of the Church in place: and our scripture this week is one effort to describe the limestone covenant which under girds our work.
Your love must be sincere. Hate what is evil and cling to what is good. Love one another with the affection of sisters and brothers. Try to outdo one another in showing respect. Don’t grow slack, but be fervent in spirit: the One you serve is Christ. Rejoice in hope; be patient under trial; persevere in prayer. Look on the needs of God’s holy people as your own; be generous in offering hospitality. Bless your persecutors—bless and don’t curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same attitude toward everyone. Don’t be condescending to those who aren’t as well off as you; don’t be conceited. Don’t repay evil with evil. Be concerned with highest ideal in the eyes of all people. Do all you can to be at peace with everyone. Don’t take revenge: leave room, my friends, for God’s wrath. To quote scripture, “Vengeance is mine, I will pay them back,” says our God.” But there is more: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them drink. For in doing so, you will heap burning coals upon their heads.” Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by doing good. Romans 12:9-21
OK, so there is a lot in there. This is why we should all gather on Sunday to talk more about it as a community. In the interim I invite you to consider all the ways we can name our work as people who strive to hold sacred space for another and for the newcomers to our community.
For I look around me and I see a world full of souls looking for a place to swim— a haven in which to stretch out, to feel the sparkly sun on one’s face and to bob in the waves. To rest in the comfort of being able to see through the crystal waters which surround—so our primordial brains can rest if only for a minute. No need to fear the alligators of our world—there are none nearby. This is what we are called to be as a church on the Jesus Way.
Community Meeting on Finances
There is another way which our church aims to be transparent, through its handling of money. Teri, our new treasurer, and the rest of the board (newly elected and continuing) have been working hard to evaluate our financial position and provide an update. On Sunday the board will host an important meeting at the 10am hour to talk about the church budget and strategies for putting our church on steadier fiscal ground. Please bring a brunch dish to share and join in the conversation. Read on for details.
Members of the Church in the Cliff Community,
It may still feel like the height of summer outside, but in just a few short days school will be back in session and everyone’s summer vacations will be over for another year. Well, almost everyone: the Church in the Cliff budget never gets a vacation, and it has been working hard all summer. And sadly, it’s more than a little bit worn out: in a nutshell, our church budget doesn’t look nearly as rosy as we had thought a few weeks ago, and we’ve had to dip into our savings just to be able to pay our pastor this month. Had it not been for some fortuitous timing for us, at least a couple of checks we wrote this month would have bounced. That’s why we need all of you to come to a very important meeting on Sunday, August 28th, for a review of our current financial situation and a time to share ideas and strategies for putting our church on steadier fiscal ground.
Date: Sunday, August 28th
Time and Location: 10AM Kessler Theater Lounge
A full financial statement for August 2010-July 2011 will be available at the meeting and/or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
We all care about this community, and part of that care is recognizing that sustaining the community should be important to us. If this resonates with you, and if you want to help ensure that Church in the Cliff continues to do its important work, then please do come to the meeting on August 28th.
And if you are still out and about but would like to make a financial contribution to the church, please mail it to us. And better yet, set Church in the Cliff up on automatic bill pay with your bank to make regular contributions whether you are there on Sunday or not.
Church in the Cliff
P.O. Box 5072
Dallas, TX 75208
Peace and Blessings,
Mikal Hughey, Moderator. email@example.com
Teri Walker, Treasurer. firstname.lastname@example.org
Clint Chamberlain, Clerk. email@example.com
Stephanie Maxson, Trustee. firstname.lastname@example.org
Alan Stephenson, Trustee. email@example.com