Posts Tagged ‘faith’

The Intimacy of Faith

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

The Gospel of John is often regarded as a very “spiritual” text, perhaps even an abstract, theological text.  Some think it was included in the canon largely because it made claims about Jesus that other Gospels did not, claims that had become important to the Church, such as Jesus being God and stuff.  This, in turn, creates the possibility of a counter-claim in a culture obsessed with facts over meaning, that John was the latest Gospel, a literary construction produced long after the lived reality of Jesus.  As such, it sometimes gets dismissed.  It is as though the other Gospels tell us about the real Jesus and John is just a cherry tree from which we pick tasty quotes that bolster our theological positions.  This is not fair to the Fourth Gospel, nor is it fair to what our faith might be.

First, the historical reality.  It is probably true that portions of John were written later than other Gospels.  However, it is also probably true that much of the content of John comes from sources contemporary with Jesus.  As with most Scripture, there are layers to the text.  The first layer is the direct witness of the Beloved Disciple who, perhaps along with others, such as the Samaritan woman, Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene, was a part of the Johannine community and contributed an oral, liturgical, and pastoral tradition for that community.  The second layer is the evangelist, who committed this tradition to writing, probably before the Beloved Disciple’s death.  Finally, the text underwent many years of redaction, editing, and amendment to produce the text we have received.  Thus, the Gospel of John is every bit as “historical” as the other Gospels.  More importantly, it includes the direct witness of someone who knew Jesus well and is therefore not merely an abstraction.  Admittedly, this is all nerd stuff, but let’s see where this leads.  (Full disclosure: I know where this leads.)

When we read the spiritualized elements of John, we must never forget that these airy contemplations gain their meaning from the lived reality from which they arise.  In the moment when Jesus is saying his farewell and feeling the weight of betrayal and loss and duty, here is the Beloved Disciple, reclining in Jesus’ bosom (13:23), just as Christ rested in God’s bosom before the creation of the world (1:18).  So it should be no surprise in our text this week (20:19-31) when Jesus appears to the disciples in a resurrected body and that the encounter is nothing but intimate.

Thomas gets a bad rap: the Doubter.  However, his instincts are not that different from the others: he wants to see the man he followed, touch the man he loves.  Mary Magdalene was no different.  When the body was missing from the tomb, she asked “the gardener” where the body was.  In the presence of angels, she wants to be with Jesus, physically.  When she finds him, she immediately tries to touch him.  When the disciples meet Jesus in Thomas’ absence, Jesus shows his wounds and breathes on them the Holy Spirit.  Thomas simply wanted the same experience.  It is not so much about knowing that Jesus lives as knowing the living Jesus.  It is not so much believing that Jesus lives as being faithful in the life of Jesus that we share.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we discuss Doubting Thomas, the intimacy of faith, and our continuing authorship of the Good News.  Bring your questions, joys, concerns, and, above all, love.

Grace & Peace,

Faith in Doubt, Doubt in Faith

// August 17th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Qohelet, the primary voice of Ecclesiastes, has a penchant for hedging.  There is no profit in wisdom or foolishness – the wise and the foolish will both die alike – but it’s probably still better to be wise.  Ultimately, God is inscrutable, but we should probably honor God anyway.  Is this capitulation to the common wisdom that Qohelet spends so much effort dismissing?  Or is this its own kind of wisdom?

The modern project has been an attempt to nail things down.  We look at the data, determine the best course, and do it.  Right?  The task of understanding Scripture is to narrow down the possible meanings until we find the right one.  Right?  The job of the Christian is to believe all the right things about God and Jesus and salvation.  Right?  Post-modernists say no – and it seems that Qohelet is right there with them.  There is never any certainty, not in life and not in faith.

I remember hearing the altar call as a youth.  Being at a camp filled mostly with Christians, it might seem odd to have an altar call.  I mean, we’re already on board.  But the question wasn’t just, “Are you saved?”  It was, “Do you know that you know that you know?”  When you put it like that, I think I better double dip.  Just in case.  Salvation, it seems, is about certainty.  Faith is about knowing.

But for Qohelet and for post-moderns and for many mystics throughout the history of the Church, faith is not really about knowing.  In fact, it is a brutal recognition of our inability to know, our constant, enduring uncertainty.  In faith, we embrace the mystery, the unknown, the nurturing abyss.  We call this enigma “God.”  In that context, how can faith be anything but a struggle – to do right, to love well, to create justice, to be comforted, to be saved?  Perhaps the faithful life is a life of questions and answers loosely held.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we discuss the questioning of faith and the faithfulness of questioning.

Grace & Peace,

What I Meant to Say Was…

// June 13th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

On Sunday, I was highly critical of Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas, as well as others of his ilk that are famous for their criticism of homosexuality.  You can read my comments here, but the main point was that any ethical stance must risk something.  This follows from Jesus’ claim in John 15:13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  My claim was that, in saying that “gay is not okay,” Mr. Jeffress risks nothing and, therefore, finds nothing and gives nothing.  Mind you, this is not an apology; I stand by that statement.  However, my intention was to hold myself and our church to the same standard and I think I failed in that.

I did ask the question in our conversation, but, being a conversation, it didn’t go exactly where I thought it would.  As we used to say about software design: This is not a bug, but a feature.  Some tremendous insights were given, as well as some difficult and important questions.  However, I don’t want to let the questions I started with slip by: What do we risk as a church?  What are we willing to risk?

Valen suggested that we risk a certain kind of alienation.  Because we hold certain positions on social issues, such as being open and affirming of all kinds of queerness, and because we take practices to be more important than beliefs, we often find ourselves on the margins of the dominant Christian tradition.  (I say “dominant,” not because that tradition is necessarily the largest, but because it is currently the loudest.)  I agree that we risk this kind of alienation, whether that means outright rejection by family and friends, criticism by other Christians, or just the awkwardness of trying to explain what the hell we are doing.  However, I wonder if that is enough.  It strikes me that Robert Jeffress and others often claim, not just alienation, but victimization by a larger culture that is hostile to their values, values that they take to be from God.  It also strikes me that some of us enjoy alienation; it feeds my need to be special.  So, while our alienation is very real and, at times, uncomfortable – painful even – I want more, for myself and for our church.

I’m not sure what I’m asking.  Often, the greatest risks are surprises.  (Thanks, God!)  But I want to continue pushing this question as a church.  We often struggle with issues of identity, but often that question is focused around beliefs, how we understand ourselves as Christians and as a church.  What if, instead, we focused our identity around action?

Our next series, starting in July, will be on social justice issues.  My hope is to lift up the things we are already doing and to ask what more we can do.  Do our actions match our values?  Is there an identity we can claim?  What would anyone outside our church recognize as Church in the Cliff?  If we disappeared, would it make a difference to anyone but us?

I also wanted to address some of the questions highlighted by a visitor.  Like many of us, it seemed that she is moving away from a more conservative tradition, but is unsure of what faith looks like outside of that.  She was looking for a bottom line, a set of beliefs on which to ground herself.  As many expressed in the conversation, our faith tends to be organized around practices more than beliefs.  Although the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus appear to be important to all of us, we probably all understand those things a little differently.  Our task is to love one another as we negotiate their meaning.  However, I would like to provide my version of what those things might mean as succinctly as I can.

In the traditional view, Jesus was both human and divine and his death on the cross is payment for our sin.  In the church of my youth, and probably what is now the dominant view in American Protestantism, the critical thing is to accept this fact in order to be saved.  I can say clearly that I no longer understand things this way.

I do think Jesus is both human and divine, but not in a way that is substantially different from any of us.  In a difference of degree, Jesus was so clear about the task of his life and so faithful in pursuing it, that the divine part was in complete control.  He was not under the sway of fear, controlled by the limitations of being human in a finite world.  And he did die for our sins.  That is, he died because of the sins of those who were – and are; as Pope John Paul II suggested, Christ is crucified all day every day – controlled by fear.  Fear of loss, of death, of rejection, of pain, all drive us to control others, to isolate ourselves, to insulate ourselves.  Jesus stood up to that fear and lived through it unto death.  Our task as Christians is to live into that story, stand with those who suffer even unto death.

This means that salvation is not one moment.  Yes, a big decision is helpful as a milestone, a marker of the day we decided to turn toward God and live into that story.  But we must make that decision every day, every moment we are beset by fear and loss and death.  We must look for salvation every day because sin persists every day.

This also means that salvation is not for us; it is for the world.  If walking in the Way of Christ and the Wisdom of Sophia is just entering heaven and avoiding hell, you’re missing the point.  In fact, it lives into precisely the fear that drives the world into sin.  Instead, we as Christians can live into God’s dreams for the world, a world beyond fear of loss and limitation and death, a world of faith, love, and hope.

This, to me, is the meaning of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Others in Church in the Cliff may see it differently.  I look forward to continuing to discuss it and to sharing life together through it all.


Desires in the Darkness

// October 21st, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

From the Gospel of Mark, chapter ten, 46-52

Often what stands out about people in Bible stories is not their virtue but their very strong wants. Makes me wonder—do our desires propel us in ways that God can use? 

Bartimaeus wanted to see. In fact, the scripture reveals that he wanted to see again suggesting that at some time previously he had been able to see and had lost his vision. He wanted sight badly -so badly that it made him bold.  It almost makes your stomach hurt, picturing the intensity of this scene: A teacher at the center of a throng of people on their way out of town and a vulnerable, blind beggar  on the curb, hearing the commotion, figuring out who it is and shouting out with desperation: “Jesus, have mercy on me.” A better translation from the Greek doesn’t really work in English but it would be more active— something like “Jesus ‘mercify’ me” or “Jesus do  something.”

And then the silencing began. People (could have been disciples, could be the crowd, could be both) told this beggar to keep it to himself. And after a couple of rounds of this Jesus does something interesting—he stands still. I imagine as Jesus stopped walking those around stopped walking too. And in the stillness a quiet space opens up and into that quiet Jesus speaks– over, under, through, and around the crowd to the man whose voice he hears but who he cannot yet see.  And Jesus invites him closer.  Then right there in a dusty side street of Jericho we are told that this cry of need is transformed to a glimpse of God’s healing activity as Bartimaeus is brought out of darkness and into light. And promptly gets up and follows Jesus.

We often talk about discipleship as a journey. I think it also can be described as a dance. We name our desire, we take responsibility for what we most want and let loose with a loud cry to be heard–trusting God, or the Great Beyond, to take it from there. And I believe the Holy Spirit consistently hears us, calls us closer, and helps us step from darkness into light. Not once in a lifetime but again, and again, and again. This is the dance of faith.

Join us this week for a conversation about our blindness, wants, and the healing balm offered on the Jesus Way.

Peace to you all this rainy day,