Posts Tagged ‘jesus’

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,

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


// May 16th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

We’ve been in a quasi-series throughout Eastertide, talking about the early Christian communities represented in Acts and 1 John.  In particular, we’ve been looking at the struggle for identity through doctrine and practice.  Unfortunately, that struggle has too often – not just in the early Church, but in every incarnation since – been decided in favor of doctrine, even at the expense of love.  So, my summary for the quasi-series is this: any time the Church (that is us) chooses doctrine over love, we are missing the point.  Further, if doctrine does not move us to love, it is false.

This week we’re going to take a little side trip leading into Pentecost.  Thursday was Ascension Day, the day we celebrate Jesus’ ascension into heaven to be with God until his final return.  At least, that’s the story that Luke tells.  Only Luke finds it necessary to explain why Jesus, who the Gospels seem to agree rose bodily from the dead, is not still walking around today.  The way the author chooses to explain it is pretty fantastic.

I don’t just mean fantastic like “really cool,” but actually containing elements of fantasy.  Luke-Acts is the story of a cosmic battle between good and evil.  Jesus is the hero.  Perhaps, Jesus is the superhero, flying up into the sky like Superman.  I’ll say more about that tomorrow, but I want to go ahead and provide the test questions in advance, so that you can all study and do your best.

  1. If Jesus is a superhero, what is his superpower?  I know it is tempting to say “everything,” but maybe think about what superpower you might count on in a time of need.  Or what would worry the villains of this world.
  2. If we are to be like Jesus, what is your superpower?  How do you use it?

I look forward to hearing your responses this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff.

Grace & Peace,

Neighbors in Need

On Wednesday night, the apartment building next to the church was hit by a speeding car.  All three occupants of the car were killed.  Fortunately, none of the residents were hurt, but they are all displaced due to massive damage to the building.  Folks here in the neighborhood are trying to raise $6000 to help them with repairs.  Please give whatever you can.

The Prophetic Act

// March 28th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Last Sunday, we talked about the prophet, Jeremiah, and the circumstances under which the book that bears his name was produced.  I read a lot of history, which means that my mind was packed with a lot of details, which rarely serves me well.  I got into the weeds a bit, so let me see if I can narrow this down a little.

Like most of the prophets whose names are remembered, Jeremiah’s life was marked by conflict.  He was the one who dared to speak the truth, even if it hurt him.  Others spoke only of good times, so they became the favorites of royalty and Jeremiah’s chief targets.  He, along with the prophetess Hulda, predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the line of King David.  He even acted out his prophecies, taking on a yoke to symbolize the coming power of Babylon, so they attacked him and marginalized him.  He stayed true to his pronouncements, no matter the cost.

This week is Palm Sunday, the commemoration of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.  Jesus stood in this long prophetic tradition with Jeremiah.  After time in Galilee ministering to the needs of his people, he came to understand that there were larger systems of power in place to keep people impoverished and dispossessed.  He began to speak out, knowing how it would end.  He went into the belly of the beast, he confronted the powers and principalities of his world, and he demanded justice.  He marked his arrival in Jerusalem with a prophetic act, a provocation that would end the week with his death.

Please join us this Holy Week, beginning with our Palm Sunday service tomorrow at 11am at Church in the Cliff.  See the sidebar for other events or follow us on Facebook for more details.

Grace & Peace,

My Understanding of Sin

// February 28th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Because Lent is a time when we tend to talk a lot about sin, I endeavored on Sunday to explain my framework for thinking about sin.  It differs from things we might have heard growing up in a modern American Christian context, whether Catholic or Evangelical.  In the spirit of this church’s emphasis on questioning and conversation, I am not stating that this is the only or right or best way to think about sin.  I am only setting it forward as a starting point that frees us up from some of the issues that plague other frameworks and to try to shift the conversation away from personal piety and guilt.

There are traditionally three ways that sin is considered.  First, behavior.  Sin is doing the wrong thing.  Second, as a condition.  When Eve ate the apple, it stained our nature so that we are evil from birth.  Finally, relationally, socially, and cosmically as systems that sustain injustice.  Not only are humans flawed, but the world is fallen, incapable on its own to produce the Good.  Each of these ways of thinking about sin generates a different response to sin and those ways are not always compatible.

We can see examples of this in the early Christian writers wrestling with the question of salvation: By grace?  Through faith?  By works?  Is it our behavior or God’s that matters?  And what are we saved from?  Our own condition or the injustice of the world?  In my opinion and in my experience as a pastor talking through issues of suffering and evil with people, our explanations of sin lead only to confusion and frustration, rather than the experience of freedom promised by the gospel.  So, here is my understanding of sin, which I hope will serve as the backdrop for our conversations throughout Lent.

It is a fact that we live in a finite world.  Existence is marked by scarcity, limits, loss, and ends.  To exist at all requires the possibility of non-existence.  To be, to have a point of view, is to understand that there are things that are not us.

These limits create fear.  We fear scarcity.  We fear death.  We fear the powerlessness of confronting all the not-us that is beyond our control.  Our psyche is structured to deal with this, to defend us against the threat of the world.  Our fears pile up to become delusions, doubts, and desires that help us cope with our finitude.  In themselves, they are not bad.  We hunger, so we know to feed ourselves.  We tell ourselves we are capable even when we are not sure.  We question things to find truth.  However, those good things can swallow us up and become our whole identity, so that each of us is nothing but a monad of fear colliding with other fearful bits of isolation in the world.  We no longer see the world clearly and become convinced that we are not enough and the world is not enough to bring about wholeness, peace, or justice.  The reality of the world and the formation of our psyche in response to its limitations is the condition of sin.

Out of that condition, we make choices.  You can see how a failure to see the world clearly might result in some bad choices.  We often choose to live into that fear rather than overcome it.  We fear scarcity, so we hoard.  We could trust that there is enough if we trusted one another to share.  We fear judgment, so we isolate ourselves or compulsively pursue perfection.  We could accept grace.  We fear loss and failure, so we disengage from the world, keep everything in our bountiful imagination.  We could have some beautiful failures and invest our hope in the next thing.  All of these choices to live into fear rather than hope are sin.  Note that this is not so much something to feel guilty about, but something to endure, overcome, and redeem.

Of course, our choices produce results.  The trick is that these results do not directly correlate to either our intentions or our calculations.  Sometimes, things simply don’t work out as we had hoped or planned.  Sometimes, things work out far better than we had hoped or planned.  But, either way, those results tend to inform our future choices.  If we take that risk and live into hope instead of fear and it ends badly, we’re less likely to try it again.  Fear is reinforced; we are cast further down into the condition of sin, our escape seems even more impossible, and our choices become more distorted.

The terrible reality is that fear has a lot of power in a finite world and we tend to structure our world in response to fear rather than hope.  Politics, economics, even ethics, are designed to cope with scarcity and limits.  We quantify, manipulate, and exploit our world and even one another.  This is what Martin Buber calls the It-world.  It, like the defense mechanisms in our psyche, is necessary.  We must design systems to distribute goods.  We must, at times, regard one another as objects to be used.  But, also like the defense mechanisms in our psyche, we can allow this to become our full understanding of reality.  We live entirely into the It-world and forget that there is a You-world out there, full of people to be related to with compassion and vulnerability.  Worse, the structures of the It-world become entrenched systems of power that exploit and oppress.  They become so pervasive that they seem to be the nature of things.  Gender, class, sexuality, (dis)ability, age – all manner of ways of dividing and labeling one another – are assumed to be embedded in the fabric of reality, each person occupying a predetermined place in a predetermined order.  In such a system, there is no room for the story of the individual, no room for vulnerability or variation, and no room for transformation.  This, too, is sin.

In this framework of sin, the tensions between the different ways of talking about sin are eased.  There is no conflict between the condition of sin, sinful behaviors, and the injustice and evil of the world.  The nature of the world forces us to make choices that have outcomes and those outcomes either support or resist injustice.  It is a self-sustaining loop.

The good news is that the remedy also consists of overlapping, intersecting constructs.  Those walls of fear that we use to keep the finite world from harming us can be taken down.  Instead of focusing on loss and limits, we can turn around – repent – to see promise and possibility.  But that is not enough.  We also must break the systems of power that capitalize on fear to oppress and exploit.  It is not a question of whether faith, grace, or works is operative, or even primary, in the work of salvation.  They work in concert, each bringing its own potential for transformation that feeds the others:  trust and faith in God and God’s children; the vulnerability and humility in accepting grace; and the courage to work against the oppressor.  This is salvation.

It is worth noting that this is not radically different from a lot of traditional Christian theology.  Augustine is more nuanced than contemporary interpreters give credit.  Evagrius Ponticus’s demonology is almost a perfect analogue of modern psychology.  These authors and others were wrestling with the weighty issues of human experience.  Unfortunately, we have whittled them down to frightening caricatures, using fear to drive membership, and we have largely failed in Christian education to teach people to think critically or take their own experience and reason seriously.  We are left with only guilt and fear to transform people’s lives.  I think we can do better.

And Now for Something Completely Different

// January 3rd, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Christmas, as I’m sure you know, is, for Christians, a celebration of the birth of Jesus.  He was born a helpless baby, in poverty, on the road, and threatened by an evil empire.  Next Tuesday we will celebrate Epiphany, the day when the Wise Ones arrived with gifts and named Jesus as King.  This is the story that we tell of the person, Jesus.  This is the origin story of our faith.  The story of Jesus, the man, is a story that might guide us, might provide a story by which we measure our own stories, a story to live into.  But there are other stories.  This week, the lectionary takes an interesting turn, interrupting the Christmas story of the little baby Jesus to tell us a couple of other stories.

The most familiar of these is the prologue to the Gospel of John (John 1.1-18).  It is frequently said that the Gospel of John is the “spiritual gospel” because of its lofty language.  It begins by locating the story of Jesus at the beginning of time.  It imagines Jesus as God’s Word, spoken into a void that becomes the world.  The prologue identifies the story of Jesus with the story of the beginning of the world found in Genesis 1.  This was not the first time that creation story had been carried forward into a new context with new characters.

The less familiar of our passages this week, Sirach 24.1-12 and Wisdom of Solomon 10.15-21, speak of another person in strikingly similar terms.  Wisdom, or Sophia, is both personified and spiritualized in these texts.  Like the Word, she comes forth from the mouth of God.  Like the Word, she existed before time, in the beginning.  Like the Word, she came to dwell with the people of God.  She is a way, a guide, a light in the dark.  However, unlike the Word, Wisdom took root in her people and they became great.

Each of these is a way of telling the story of God and the world.  Their differences are as notable as their similarities because each frames the ways that we understand what the world is, what ultimate reality is, and the ways that we relate to them.  Thus, each has its own promise and peril.  It is a blessing that all of these – and so many more! – are a part of our tradition, providing so many ways to navigate the seasons of our lives.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we talk about how we talk about God and what difference it really makes.

Grace & Peace,

Jesus is a Jerk

// August 23rd, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

One of this week’s Scriptures has always troubled me.  In Matthew 15.21-28 Jesus is a jerk – kind of a racist jerk.  This raises a lot of questions.

First, we have to wonder if it really happened.  Jesus first ignores the Canaanite woman’s needs and then calls her a dog.  That’s not nice.  Jesus is nice.  We know that from Sunday School as children.  A couple of weeks ago, we talked about Jesus feeding five thousand people.  That’s nice.  That’s the Jesus we like, the one we want to tell others about.  Not racist Jesus.  This passage reminds us that our ideas about who Jesus are constructed.  We have an idea of who he should be and we tend to filter out the things that do not match up with that idea.  Everyone does this, even Matthew.

Matthew chose to include this story in his narrative.  It also appears in Mark 7.24-30.  Mark, the first gospel, is source material for both Matthew and Luke, but Luke omits this story.  Matthew also edits it slightly, adding the details that Jesus first ignored the woman and then told her explicitly that his mission did not include her.  It is impossible to think that Matthew did not have a theological agenda in the way he presents this story.  That is, there is something he intends to tell us about Jesus by giving us this story in this way.  Why does Matthew want us to see racist Jesus?

I’m honestly not sure I have an answer to that question, but I do notice something: Jesus changed his mind.  One of the core doctrinal understandings of God’s nature is that God does not change.  God cannot change because that implies that God is deficient in some way that necessitates change.  God is perfect.  If we hold that Jesus is entirely God with all the properties that we attribute to God, Jesus must also be perfect.  That probably means Jesus shouldn’t say racist things, but it also means that Jesus shouldn’t change.

One way of dealing with this problem is to say that Jesus knew what the Canaanite woman would say and do and knew how he would respond.  So, he didn’t really change his mind.  (We see similar explanations of God bargaining with Abraham over the fate of Sodom and Gomorra in Genesis 18.)  Jesus was just playing with her, challenging her to assert her own humanity.  Besides being cruel, this also reads some things into Matthew’s text, possibly borrowing from John’s Jesus, who knows everything.  Matthew’s Jesus changes his mind.

The fear of admitting that God changes is that there is nothing stable, nothing holding things together.  In terms of salvation, it is said that the only thing that can redeem the imperfect is that which is absolutely, unquestionably perfect, that which never needs redemption.  But maybe only that which has experience of redemption can properly deliver redemption.  What if God, present in Jesus as a finite human being, must experience change, like all human beings?  Jesus, like all human beings, has a limited point of view that is constructed by a particular time and place.  When he began his ministry, he had an idea of its scope, an idea of who was excluded.  But in this encounter with a stranger, a woman with whom he has nothing in common, he learns.  He transcends the boundary lines that had been drawn for him.  Perhaps that tells us something about who God is and what life in God is like: boundary-crossing; ever-expanding kindness; vulnerability; and willingness to change for the sake of love and justice.

Please join us this Sunday at 11am.  Because of a snafu with the city, we don’t have Kidd Springs this week.  Instead, Ashley and Fred Pena have generously offered their home (410 E. 5th St. by Lake Cliff Park) for our Sunday service.  We’ll talk about the politics of boundary-breaking and the ability to change our minds and we’ll wrap it all in some familiar music.  Hope to see you there!

Grace & Peace,

Building Update

As you know, Church in the Cliff signed a 1-year lease for the building at 1719 W. 10th to be our new home.  The board is working on the details to get us moved in right now and we will need your help.  Assuming we have electricity, we are going to have a church work day on August 30th.  We need to move some furniture, so we’ll need a truck.  We will also repaint and clean and decorate a little.  If we don’t have electricity by the 30th, we will reschedule for September 6th.  If you are interested in helping, email board@churchinthecliff.  Also, the move is requiring some additional expenditures, as we knew it would, so if you can help out with a special donation, we would appreciate it.  You can mail checks to P.O. Box 5072, Dallas, TX 75208 or bring them to church with you on Sunday.

It’s a Miracle. Or Not.

// August 9th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

As promised, we’re done with the Apostle Paul for a bit.  I hope that we have gained a more generous view of Paul that acknowledges his deep love for a gospel of justice and peace even where his writing can, at times, be problematic.  Now we’re going back to the Gospels, so more stories and less jibber-jabber.  Specifically, we are going to follow along with Matthew for a few weeks until we begin beatifying some dead people in anticipation of All Saints Day.  We’re still a little bit off the lectionary, so I’d like to step back to last week’s Gospel passage, Matthew 14.13-21, the story of the feeding of the five thousand.

When we step back into the stories of Jesus, we are confronted with incredible tales, so incredible that they are hard for the modern mind to believe.  In this week’s story, Jesus feeds five thousand men, plus women and children, with five loaves of bread and two fish.  We know this is not possible.

This leaves us with a few options.  We can accept the impossible and call it faith.  We can dismiss it entirely and write off the whole Christian project as a lie.  We can posit a story behind the story, wherein everyone shared or sacrificed or added to what was provided to make sure everyone got what they really needed.  Or we can look to the meaning behind the story without worrying about whether it is literally-factually true.

Even if we assume, as many modern readers in the wake of Joseph Campbell do, that the meaning is the critical point, we still have to decipher what the meaning is.  The common understanding is that these stories show us Jesus’ divinity; that is their purpose.  Only God could do such things.  That may be true of the author’s agenda.  If we study the Gospel of John, that is certainly the point; Matthew may hold that as well.  However, if we focus on that point, we have a single item to which we must assent, requiring little commitment or transformation.  More importantly, we miss the very content of these acts of power that should define our lives as Christians: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, freeing people from the bondage of the fearful voices in their heads.  These are works of power, truly.  We may not be able to speak a word and have it done, but that does not absolve us from the task.

Too often, we assume that, because we do not have the miraculous, mind-bending power portrayed in the stories of Jesus, we have no power at all.  It seems to me that it is far better to refuse to believe in miracles than to refuse to believe that we can change the world.  Indeed, if we have faith like a mustard seed, we can move mountains; we can change the very landscape of our world.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, for a conversation about works of power.  Where is our power as Christians centered?  What is our response to that power?  See you there!

Grace & Peace,

Traveling with Strangers

// May 1st, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

After Jesus was crucified, Luke (24.13-35) tells us that two disciples were walking to Emmaus when a stranger began to walk alongside them.  They looked sad as they spoke about all that had happened: Jesus’ ministry and judgment, the crucifixion and the resurrection.  The stranger inquired about their conversation, perhaps wondering why they looked sad when their story appeared to say that their friend was alive.  The stranger chided them for their lack of faith and interpreted the prophets as speaking of the Messiah.  Because it was late, the disciples invited the stranger to stay with them before continuing his journey.  As he broke bread and blessed it, their eyes were opened and they saw that this stranger was in fact their friend, Jesus.  They were so astonished that they immediately returned to Jerusalem to tell the others that Jesus lives.

We never know who will walk with us on our journey.  When I went to the Holy Land, I wasn’t sure who any of my travel companions were.  Though we had been meeting sporadically for a year, I still felt like I didn’t know them very well.  Strangers.  For an introvert, that is difficult space.

However, on that trip we travelled and talked and shared a lot of meals together.  Each night at dinner and every morning at breakfast and all day long as we travelled around the countryside, they taught me things about church and faith and life that I sometimes have trouble believing.  Each night at dinner, as we broke bread, God’s presence was revealed.

One of my companions on this trip was Danielle Shroyer, the former pastor of Journey, another emergent church in Dallas.  Though younger than me, she has been at this for a long time and was on the forefront of the emergent conversation.  I learned so much from her and gained a true and faithful friend.  She’s also pretty damn smart.  And funny.  She is passionate about church and faith and justice.  Being around Danielle makes it seem like this little old world might have a chance.

You can see for yourself this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, because I will be out of town at the Alliance of Baptists Annual Gathering.  I am sad that I will miss this conversation with Danielle, but I’m also glad for a rare chance to connect with other progressive Baptists.  The Annual Gathering is also a spot where it seems like this little old world has a chance.  Please pray for me on my journey as I will pray for you this week.  May we all meet some strangers that we come to know as the presence of God in our lives.

Grace & Peace,

Looking for Love

// December 20th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

What happens when life doesn’t sync up with the seasons? When our world seems filled with joyful laughter and shiny things, and we just don’t feel shiny? Is it possible that the holy can be found both within the holiday mirth, and also within struggle?

We are nearing the final week of Advent. Advent is a season of longing, of anticipation. It is my favorite liturgical season, perhaps because it helps me dream of a world where, as Julian of Norwich said, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Sometimes, though, life gets in the way of Advent. These past few weeks I’ve had a pet die and two dear friends become gravely ill. I know some of you have been sick or struggling to figure out work, relationships, and general life stuff. Sometimes when we’re trying to wrap our heads around the present, it’s hard to anticipate a world where Love is the center of life. Longing for transformation gets lost in surviving the worries of now.

One of our biblical stories this week is Joseph’s dream (Matthew 1.18-25). Joseph, being a stand-up guy for his era, plans to “dismiss” his betrothed, the pregnant Mary. He plans to do this quietly, to avoid shaming her and still maintain his honor, since he’s not sure who the father of her baby is. After he makes up his mind, he goes to sleep, and has a dream. An angel appears, telling him not to fear public disgrace, because the child Mary carries will save his people. This story isn’t really about a virgin birth or sexuality, but about God’s communication with Joseph, and the presence of the holy in a human baby. For some wild reason, Joseph pays attention to this dream, and marries Mary – a risky response not anticipated by cultural standards of normalcy. It’s a shining moment where love and courage win – Joseph’s response makes way for the holy in our world.

This week of Advent, we meditate on Love. We remember that Emmanuel means “God with us” – in the midst of life, wherever we are. Love with us, in the midst of sickness. Love with us, in the midst of grief. Love with us, in the midst of tangled relationships. Love with us, in loneliness. Love with us, too, in all that is joyful and good and beautiful, lest we forget that our world is always charged with these things. Wherever we are this Advent, I wonder – how can we tune ourselves to the Holy in our midst? And how might we be changed if this happens?

Join us Sunday morning, 11am, at Kidd Springs Rec Center, and connect with our face-to-face community as we work out what it means to live in Love together. Join us Sunday night, as well, for our early celebration of Christmas Eve hosted by the Shirley’s. There will be Jesus stories and candles and singing and friends. Food, too, if I heard the rumors correctly, so please join us at 6pm Sunday evening, 221 S. Edgefield.

With Advent Longing,