Posts Tagged ‘justice’

The Cause of the Poor

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

Plus: Saints 2016

Y’all may have noticed that I’m not great at details or schedules.  That makes following the lectionary a danger zone for me, so I keep telling you we’re going to talk about things that, it turns out, we are not.  I am truly thankful for your grace.  This is all said to preface the news that we will not be explaining everything about Christ-Sophia this week.  The lectionary, unfortunately for a smooth pedagogy, decided to give us some wisdom from Proverbs a week before reading the beginning of Proverbs that sets up the whole thing.  The good news is that the text we are assigned is perfect for Labor Day weekend.

We seldom notice that Labor Day is not just summer’s last gasp, filled with swimming pools and grills.  It is actually about labor.  Not just a rest from working, but a celebration of the labor movement that created labor unions that gave laborers bargaining power against management – management that worked people to excessive hours in unsafe conditions for little pay, management that created company stores that kept their employees in virtual slavery.  In this period of unfettered capitalism, great wealth was generated, but most of that ended up in the pockets of the people at the top, the people who had the means to manipulate political and economic systems to their own ends.  Because laborers fought for their rights, corruption was contained and income inequality shrank in the first half of the 20th century.  When labor was at its strongest, the country prospered and the lives of ordinary people improved.

The power of unions has shrunk drastically over the last 50 years and the results are stark.  Those at the bottom of the wealth ladder earn low wages in mostly part-time jobs.  (I saw one study lauding the “increased leisure time” for people at the bottom!)  Those in the middle now inhabit a perpetual state of quasi-labor: cell phones on, checking email, retraining, laying awake at night wondering how to not be fungible.  Those at the top continue the hiring freezes, wage stagnation, and reduced benefits that they discovered people – unorganized people – would live with during the recession and make short-sighted investors happy in the recovery.  Corporate profits skyrocket while labor struggles: CEOs now make 354 times the wage of their lowest paid workers.  Perhaps most concerning, the graft of the 19th century is now mostly legal with the wealthiest people attempting to buy the political process.  It does not have to be this way.

Certainly, this is not as God would have it.  As Proverbs tells us this week, God pleads for the cause of the impoverished.  Repeatedly, we hear about how any regulation, any organization of labor, any protection of the common welfare puts a stranglehold on business.  Frankly, God doesn’t care.  God instructs farmers to leave a portion of their harvests for the poor.  God instructs lenders not to charge interest.  God instructs debt-holders to forgive debts regularly.  Such things do not maximize profits; they do not produce excess capital for investment.  Instead, they care for those who are impoverished.  They interrupt the cycles of poverty in which people find themselves to give hope.  They contemplate a common welfare that is only maintained when it is maintained for everyone.  God gives these instructions, but people must carry them out.

The solution to the problem of poverty is complex, so complex that it might seem to be impossible, but if we begin, as God does, by pleading the case of the impoverished, maybe there’s a chance.  Rather than concerning ourselves with the economy as an abstraction with its own intrinsic value, perhaps we should, as God does, concern ourselves with those in need.  Perhaps we should, as God suggests, organize our lives, our society, our political will around those who struggle the most.  This may deny a few the opportunity to amass the wealth of Solomon, but it might more closely mirror the world of God’s dreams, a world where everyone has a seat at the table and everyone can eat their fill.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we talk about poverty, equality, and labor.  And probably robots.  Robots are important.

Grace & Peace,

Saints 2016

As is our annual tradition, we gather the Tribunal for Canonization of the Saints (that’s you!) to consider the cause of certain individuals, now deceased a minimum of five years, who have performed miracles that have set the world on a different (and better!) course.  In particular, we select people who are in some way indicative of what Church in the Cliff is about and, in some cases, without whom Church in the Cliff would not exist.  We have five slots and seven nominations this year, so I’d like to get some feedback from people.  I would also appreciate it if people who are passionate about one of these individuals would participate in the canonization service.  Here are the nominees:

Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  Church in the Cliff was formed, in part, to provide greater opportunities for women in ministry.  Almost everything we do is informed by feminist discourse.  More importantly, the life of Church in the Cliff is enriched by the strong, brilliant, passionate women who have participated in church leadership from the beginning.  It is unlikely that any of them would have done that without Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  She was one of the first to assert the equality of women in the church, to suggest a liberating reading of the Bible, and to advocate for the use of feminine language for God.  To that effort, she spearheaded the production of The Woman’s Bible, published in 1895.

Martin Luther King.  It is unusual that a Sunday passes at Church in the Cliff without mention of Martin Luther King.  In fact, his name is invoked so regularly that it has seemed cliché to canonize him, so we have chosen to highlight others ahead of him.  But perhaps the time has come.  In addition to the profound effect he had in civil rights, his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” could arguably be an amendment to the canon.  He was truly a martyr, his life cut short just as he was setting his sights on even larger problems than those in which he had already triumphed.

Fred Rogers.  Many of us grew up in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  We learned about kindness, compassion, and puppets.  Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, became the moral center for a generation growing up in a world wracked with cultural upheaval, violence, and corruption.  Even now, any time something bad happens, there is probably a Fred Rogers quote to give us hope.

Samuel Mockbee.  Growing up in the South during the Civil Rights Movement, Samuel Mockbee was driven by a need to right wrongs using the talents that he had in art and architecture.  He created the Rural Studio program at Auburn University, which taught students about the social responsibility of architectural practice. The program built sustainable architecture in impoverished areas of Alabama using novel materials that would have otherwise been waste.  He helped revitalize Hale County, Alabama, while protecting the environment and inspiring young people to shape their world for the better.

Pseudo-Denis.  Also known as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Denis wrote a body of literature that was hugely influential in Christian theology, particularly Christian mysticism.  His work often functions as a bridge between Christianity and non-Christian thought and practice, ranging from Zen meditation to deconstructive philosophy.  If you practice centering prayer, you owe a debt to Denis.

Johnny Cash.  This almost needs no explanation.  Not only was he one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, the Man in Black was driven by his faith and his experience of the shadowy sides of life to care for those that no one else cared for.

Roger Williams.  Williams founded the colony of Providence, in what was to become Rhode Island, on the principle of religious freedom.  Though he was a Christian, he had the novel idea that Christianity should succeed or fail on its own merits rather than by government coercion, that each faith is enriched in dialog with others.  As a result, Providence was open to all.  In fact, in addition to founding the first Baptist church in the New World, Williams helped build the first synagogue.  He advocated for fair relations with Native Americans and was an early abolitionist.  Whatever Baptist identity Church in the Cliff clings to, it is embodied in the life of Roger Williams.

Please email your thoughts to pastor@churchinthecliff.

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,

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,

Love and Justice (and Babies!)

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

It has been a hectic week with a surprise trip to Las Vegas to help take care of my new niece and nephew while their mother (my sister-in-law) recovers in the hospital after a rough delivery.  She is improving and the kids are sure to be the smartest, kindest, beautifulest people the world has ever known.  I’m back in town for a couple of days and I look forward to sleeping.  (Seriously, this has given me some insight into what it takes to bring a child into the world, so hats off to all those who have taken that leap.)

Anyway, I just wanted to drop a quick note to invite you to join us tomorrow, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we continue our discussion of the distinct early Christian communities described in Acts and in 1 John.  This week, we will focus especially on the practice of love and justice.  Hope to see you there!

Grace & Peace,

SS. Sergius and Bacchus/AWAB Sunday

// October 11th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

It has been wonderful the last few weeks watching court decisions roll in, toppling the state dominoes of bigotry.  Marriage equality is now the law of the land in 30 states, which accounts for 60% of the population of the U.S.  It’s a beautiful time for all who care about justice.  Even more for those who long for equality and those who love them.  The outcome seems inevitable, even for a state like Texas that will have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the future.  I think – I hope! – that within two years I will be able to legally perform weddings for two people of the same sex in my home state.  We did not get here by chance.

Obviously, cultural attitudes march along.  When young people in the 1950s suggested that blacks and whites should live together, it seemed radical.  Now it is commonplace.  That change happened because of demographic shifts, but also because people fought and died to make it happen.  There were protests, legislation, court cases, interventions of force, and even martyrs.  There were also people of faith speaking with prophetic voices for justice and peace.

The relationship between religion and culture is complex.  In some ways, religion adapts to culture.  As people’s attitudes change, religion as a cultural institution, as a keeper of the status quo, will change with it.  But it is also true that change in America is difficult if people can’t find a way to resolve their sense of the new and daring with their faith.  We have to find new ways of thinking about our faith that resonate with our sense of justice.  A clear articulation of faith can drive social change like no other force.

I am proud to be involved with people of faith who have always had the courage to articulate that vision of justice.  Church in the Cliff, since it’s beginning as City Church thirteen years ago, has accepted our LGBTQ brothers and sisters as full participants and leaders.  Our denomination, the Alliance of Baptists, solidly affirmed same-sex relationships in 1995 when we adopted a report of our Task Force on Human Sexuality.  Our views have continued to grow and evolve since that report, expanding our notions of human sexuality beyond simple labels of gender identity, sexual orientation, and family structure.  Part of that expansion is certainly due to the Alliance’s close relationship with the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB), of which Church in the Cliff is also a member.

This Sunday, we are proud to celebrate AWAB Sunday.  AWAB seeks to create and support a network of Baptist churches that are welcoming and affirming to all people, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.  So much of the dialog right now in churches is how to attract and welcome queer people, but the reality is that there are plenty of queer people in church already.  So this Sunday we will focus on the lessons and gifts brought to us by our LGBTQ friends in the Christian community.

We will also continue with our canonization of saints by welcoming and affirming SS. Sergius and Bacchus.  These paired saints were Roman soldiers with a “friendship” so close and so strong that it endures for eternity and has become an exemplar of same-sex unions in the Christian tradition.  We will place their relationship in its historical context and see what it can teach us about love, sex, family, and faith.  We hope you will join us, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center.

Grace & Peace,

The Power of Being Yourself

// February 15th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This is a special week because we are joined by Rev. Robin Lunn, Executive Director of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, an organization committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church.  We are privileged to be a part of AWAB and privileged to have Robin join us.  Once again, the lectionary provides us with a lot to think about in Matthew 5.21-37, so I’m glad Robin is along side to help unravel this text’s gospel of inclusion.

Our passage continues Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, a passage that presents some challenges, especially for a progressive congregation like Church in the Cliff.  For us, the challenge is in honestly engaging a text that has been used to reinforce heteronormative ideas of family.  When Jesus speaks of adultery and divorce, he assumes that a marriage is between one man and one woman.  Worse, he assumes that the man is in control of whether the marriage might continue and only the woman’s virtue and faithfulness is in question.  The result is a text that can be used to keep women in oppressive situations while requiring little of men.  But that’s a pretty narrow view of the text.

As we have seen in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew is quite careful about what he includes and where it is placed.  Remember, Jesus has just finished talking about the importance of the law as a guide to justice.  Specifically, he says that the righteousness – the practice of justice-making – of the disciples is to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, the religious bigwigs of the day.  Now Jesus describes how that works.  For Matthew’s Jesus, increasing one’s righteousness is aligning inner thoughts with outer actions.

The Gospel of Matthew uses the term “hypocrites” thirteen times, far more than any other Gospel.  Each time, his target is the religious elite.  His charge was not that they did not follow the law, but that they didn’t care about the people of God.  They used the law to exclude people from life in God – “for you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven (23.13)” – and kept the law without practicing justice – “for you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, compassion, and faith (23.23).”  The small things consumed them, became their religion, while forgetting that the whole point is to love one another and bring about justice.  There is an inner reality of concern for the well-being of others that becomes an outer reality of justice.

When Jesus says that being angry with a person receives judgment just like murdering a person will and looking at a woman is the same as committing adultery, we probably hear that as something like “all sins are the same” or “even our thoughts are sinful.”  This kind of guilt is precisely what can keep people away from life in God.  We are taught that we are unworthy of love and that weighs us down.  We become bitter and angry and depressed and we transmit that onto others or destroy ourselves.

God’s option, however, is to transform us, to console us in our pain, to quench our thirst for justice, to make us children of God.  We don’t stop feeling angry, but we transform that anger into reconciliation and justice.  Our desire does not stop, but is purified in the fire of judgment – not the judgment of damnation, but discernment that turns us toward the call of justice.  As disciples, we are called to faithfulness.  That faith starts inside, by being the persons that God made us to be.  We become who we have always been in the dreams of God and so can simply let our yes be yes and our no be no.  Faith like that moves mountains.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we continue to talk about the law and the ways we engage it for justice.  And help us welcome Robin as she preaches the gospel of inclusion!

Grace & Peace,

Jubilee: Gwyneth and her goop

// May 4th, 2013 // 1 Comment » // Church in The Cliff

I was watching Bill Maher this week in tiny increments between paper writing as I nibbled on a sandwich.  One of his guests was Jimmy Kimmel, who I, if I may speak openly, do not care for too much.  Normally, Bill’s guests are asked questions about pressing issues of the day, but Kimmel was asked about television industry decisions and celebrity news.  In particular, Kimmel was asked about Gwyneth Paltrow and her more-fabulous-than-thou shopping blog, goop.  It seems that every week, Gwyneth tells her fans what to buy and make and do that will make their lives into hers – minus Chris Martin’s soothing, melancholy, triumphant piano ballads.  That costs extra.  I was not really aware of this fount of wisdom.  I knew that people loved to hate her, but I wasn’t entirely sure why.  So I’m looking at goop now and, I have to say, I do want her life.  I mean, I don’t have a lot of use for a grey (British spelling!  So sophisticated!) Corsica bikini or an exclusive eisha (I don’t know what that word means!  So sophisticated!)  kids romper and I am heartbroken that the extra large nest bowl in wasabi is out of stock, but I pop over to the recipe section my life feels back on track.  I now know what I should cook: parmesan polenta and grilled radicchio wedge, plus some lentil “meatballs” for Dixon.  I might be joking, but I’m not really.  Her life does seem fabulous.  And I love stuff.  I love my Dyson DC-17 Animal vacuum cleaner, bought with my first poker tournament winnings.  But now I see they have a DC41 Animal Complete, which sounds so much better and now I’m sad.  🙁  I love the Vitamix blender that Lisa bought despite my skepticism about green smoothies, which turn out to be delicious!  The Vitamix makes all the sauces that y’all devour on Wednesday nights, but I would make even if you weren’t there because it is so easy to throw food in the Vitamix and blend.  Stuff makes my life better.  It really does.  I’m sure of it.  Definitely sure.

So it is with some trepidation that I come into this week of Jubilee.  At the heart of the Jubilee ethic is a theology of enough, a trust that God has provided enough.  And it is only when we trust in God’s provision that we have the courage to share and ensure that everyone will have enough.  As I consistently demonstrate, that is easier said than done.

A couple of weeks ago, we considered what kind of people our economic system forms us into.  This week, we will come from the other side and think about who we are in our relationship with money and consumption and, well, stuff.  What is it that drives us to want?  Who do we think we will become when we acquire?  And what are the consequences?  What systems are created out of our fears, doubts, and desires?

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center as we discuss the role of personal sin – fears, doubts, and desires – in systems of power.

Grace & Peace,

Undone by Love (Program and Sermon)

// July 1st, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff



Every so often, someone comes forward with proclamations of doom for America.  Whether it’s Carle Zimmerman in 1947, Francis Schaeffer in 1975, or William Bennett in 2003, they see themselves as prophets pointing us back to an ideal time that has passed us by, an ideal place we seem unable to still find.  We have lost our way, our moral compass.  The problem, as Schaeffer puts it, is that we have placed value in the ephemeral, the impermanent, instead of the absolute.  They look back to something that never existed.  Any claim to an absolute is just the claimant making themselves into the absolute.  Of course, they never say, “You know who has really made a mess of things?  Men.  The rich.  White people.  The straights.”  No, the threat always comes from somewhere else.  It’s the feminists who desperately want more teen mothers.  All the non-white people are lazy and breeding at an alarming rate.  The greedy poor are jealous of what others have achieved through hard work.  I’m not sure what the gays are doing, but I’m sure it’s icky – and dangerous!  Any perspective from the margins threatens these moralists’ world.  These postmodern approaches destabilize a society that works very well for some people.

We have been accused of being a deconstructive church and that has produced some anxiety about the possibility of building something.  What do we have to offer other than critique?  What is our bottom line?  Do the questions ever end?  But we have suffered from the same misunderstanding, often self-inflicted, that has plagued Derrida and other postmodern thinkers.  It is commonly thought that deconstruction is nihilistic, Nietzsche’s horrific abyss left in the wake of God’s death.  I would suggest to those critics that they should actually read Derrida.  I haven’t read much, but it doesn’t take much to realize that is not the objective.

All deconstruction suggests is that the things we take for granted about the way the world is organized – race, class, gender, disability, etc. – are all constructed.  That is, things like race don’t really exist except as ways to categorize people.  That’s why Wanda Sykes jokes about how Tiger Woods got less black the more success he had.  It’s not that people don’t have different skin color or different biology or different amounts of wealth.  It’s just that we have decided that those things matter in particular ways.  They matter because of the value we attach to them.  And because we attach value to them, some people benefit and some people are harmed merely by being on the wrong side of an arbitrary line.

What deconstruction suggests is that, because these things are constructed, they can be deconstructed.  We can take them apart and see how they work.  We can ask who wins and who loses by constructing things the way we do.  Thus, contrary to the claims of the naysayers looking for absolutes, deconstruction is primarily ethical.  As Grace Jantzen says of the abyss as represented in Hadewijch’s writings, if the abyss is the site of all possibility, a natal space, “then we could hardly imagine that all attitudes and actions are equally relative, that nourishment and care do not count for more than contempt or cruelty.”  Deconstruction is certainly a playful adventure and one without a clear end, but it is far from immoral.  Good is always good for, and deconstruction asks, “Who is this good for?”

I submit that we see the same deconstructive posture in the law.  Our passage from Deuteronomy is an account of the time just before the Israelites enter the Promised Land, though written very much after the fact, a retelling of the Exodus narrative from the perspective of the exiles.  As the Deuteronomist tells it, they had not had a ruler up to then, but God knows that they will ask for one.  So God says, “Sure you can have a ruler, but only with some conditions.”  First, the ruler cannot acquire horses, which means there will be no army.  Second, the ruler cannot acquire a lot of wives.  Wives of rulers at that time were essentially treaties, so this ruler cannot negotiate relationships with other nations.  And finally, the ruler cannot hoard money.  This is really everything a ruler did at that time: make war, make treaties, and rake in the cash.  The Israelite ruler would have none of it.  Instead, the ruler was to read the law all the time and keep its statutes, never placing him- or herself above the rest of the people.  If the ruler can rule in this way, he or she would rule for a long time.  To properly rule is not to rule.  To properly rule is to be equal to everyone else, struggling to live with one another.  To properly rule is to be powerless.  The purpose of the law, then, is not to give power, but to construct a society around an ethic of love, a society of justice.

Just before Jesus came on the scene, the chief religious leader in Jerusalem was Rabbi Hillel.  Hillel had frequent disagreements with Rabbi Shammai, which are recorded in the Talmud.  Their disagreements were over interpretations of the law.  Hillel’s were typically more liberal, looking at the law as grounded in a principle, whereas Shammai was more conservative, demanding strict adherence to the statutes.  There is a story, often told, of a Gentile who wanted to understand the Jewish law, so he posed the same challenge to Shammai and Hillel: “Explain the Torah to me while I stand on one foot.”  Shammai told him to go away and slammed the door in his face.  Hillel said, “Certainly!  That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.  That is the whole Torah.  All the rest is commentary.”  It’s not that the Torah and its statutes didn’t matter – he advised the Gentile to study the commentary if he really wanted to understand – but without a principle of concern for your neighbor, it is meaningless, useless.

As static statute, the law becomes a system of power that oppresses.  At the time of Hillel, the temple cult held the most power within Jewish society and it was oriented entirely around strict adherence to the law and the sacrificial system of atonement.  Though history has not been kind to Shammai, always playing the foil for Hillel, he seemed to be winning in the year 0.  If you’re poor, you must have sinned and need a sacrifice.  But if you’re poor, you have no money to buy a sacrifice.  And if you take a day off work to travel to Jerusalem, you get even poorer.  You can go into debt.  There are people at the temple who will loan you money, but you can probably never pay it back.  So then you become a debt slave and lose whatever meager property you had.  It’s not that different today, by the way, but we’ll talk more about that in a couple of weeks.  The promise of a just society is not only not fulfilled, but it is turned on its head.  This is the world in which Jesus finds himself.

The law is a system of oppression that Jesus sets out to deconstruct.  Jesus’ words reported by Matthew curiously echo those of Hillel: “’You must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ That is the greatest and first commandment.  The second is like it: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments, the whole Law is based – and the Prophets as well.”  Everything the law is intended to be is expressed by love of God and love of neighbor.  If the law or its application does not do either of those things, it is not the law.  Feeding and healing people on the Sabbath is not a violation of the law.  As Jesus says in Matthew 5:17: “I have come not to abolish (the law), but to fulfill (it)!”

Love deconstructs power.  Love asks, “Who is this good for?”  If you’re a privileged, straight, white male, you can bet your absolute will be good for privileged, straight, white men.  We – and I say “we” because I certainly have benefited from this – built a system of slavery and segregation; of monogamous, heterosexual marriage with clearly defined gender roles; of hyper-masculinity; and we made sure that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.  Who is this good for?  Jesus announces in Luke that he is bringing good news for the poor.  Would Jesus even recognize those who claim his name today?  Matthew 25, the story of the sheep and the goats, makes me think otherwise.


Would Jesus recognize us?  Who do we have good news for?  Who do we love?  Ourselves?  Each other?  What systems of power are we willing to take apart?  And how do we go about doing that?


In our series on John’s church, we learned about how love, friendship and oneness require equality and mutuality to reveal ourselves to each other.  It is often thought that, in the real world, such relationships are impossible.  Derrida says that deconstruction is “the experience of the impossible.”  I would argue that’s a pretty good definition of life in God and life in love.  As my professor, Dr. Theo Walker is fond of pointing out, there was a time when people thought that the abolition of slavery was impossible, that it simply was the way the world functioned. It’s just crazy to think otherwise.  And it was, for thousands of years.  But then someone – a Christian, in fact – thought otherwise. Bartolome de las Casas, the author of the phrase “human rights,” saw the Indians of the New World as friends and knew he could not hold power over them.  It took about 300 years, but now no one can imagine a world in which slavery would be okay.  Out of love, de las Casas deconstructed the way of the world.

Now our struggles are different, but somehow the same.  Slavery has ended, but discrimination, poverty, sexism, homophobia – evils too numerous to mention – are thought to be the way the world works.  We must have poor people.  Men and women are just inherently different.  There just isn’t enough in the world.  We are told that the things that plague our world are impossible to fix, a part of the nature of reality.  But love asks us – God asks us – to experience the impossible.  In the remainder of this series, we will talk about what that means for us as individuals and as a church.

Undone by Love

// June 29th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

The series we just finished examined John’s ethic of love as a guide for how our church might understand itself.  John’s ethic of love is aimed largely in toward the community from which the Gospel arose.  Although John’s scope is the world (“so that the world may believe,” John 17:21), it intends to draw the world in (“come and see,” John 4:29) rather than pushing outward as Matthew (“make disciples of all nations,” Matthew 28:19) would have us do.  And, although I believe we are a Johannine church, both John and we are a part of a much larger tradition.  We also live in the world, a world that God loves so much (John 3:16).  Our next series, then, continues with the proposal that John is our canon within a canon, the filter through which we might understand the rest of our text and tradition.  We will begin to reacquaint ourselves with the broader canon, read through John’s ethic of love.

This may seem easy.  “God is love” is a cliché.  Interestingly, people tend to say it only when they move away from the Church.  When people are asked what they think of Christians, they overwhelmingly see us as judgmental and bigoted.  In order to believe that “God is love,” it seems they must get away from Christians, become “spiritual, but not religious.”  It breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart because, in part, they are right.  The loudest voices, the squeakiest wheels in the Church are voices of fear and judgment.  And, as we look at our text and tradition, it is not hard to find support for all manner of evil, from domestic violence and homophobia, to slavery and genocide.  But it also breaks my heart because there is also, always, a counter-tradition, a thread of love that runs through it all.  We’re going to pull that thread and see what comes apart.

I think it’s time for Church in the Cliff to speak up.  To get loud. So, while this series will be an examination of our text and tradition, I also want it to have results.  What are we going to do?  How do we reveal God to the world?  The world cries out for love and those cries are louder than the squeaky wheels of judgment and fear.  We can respond to those cries.  We can harmonize with the world’s longing.  We are few and our resources are limited, but, if we find the right resonance, we can tear down the structures of power that feed on fear.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at the Kessler, as we talk about power and how it might be undone by love.

Grace and Peace,

Feminist Reclaiming of Churching Rite

// September 24th, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

This week we conclude with the final verses of James, the lone Wisdom book in the New Testament (Chapter 5: 13-20)
Join us this Sunday as we breathe new life into a  Christian rite from the Middle Ages — The Churching of Women — and celebrate Teresha and Mandy and their recent birth into motherhood.

Starting in the 11th century the Book of Common Prayer and later the first American Prayer Book of the 17th century include a rite for the reintroduction of a woman who has given birth into church life and society. Commonly called ‘The Churching of Women’ this service was an important social occasion: the mother and her midwife, surrounded by the woman’s friends would wait at the door of the church and participate in a liturgical processional re-entering the church, led by the priest and celebrating the healthy passage for mother and child through the challenges of the birth process. Although mainly a female occasion of thanksgiving and solidarity, the rite was designed to be performed during worship with the whole congregation.

This week we dust off this centuries old practice to acknowledge the journey that Mandy and Chris and Teresha and Damon have travelled through pregnancy, birth and the first tender weeks of new parenthood.  The Churching liturgy dovetails beautifully with the lectionary passage from James which talks about the importance of ministering to each other in through our tender spots, moments of deep joy or suffering, such as the birth of a baby, losing a parent, illness etc. In fact, James suggests that such simple acts of compassion are really sacred work-a kind of living body prayer for the body of Christ. Join us tonight and Sunday as we explore the means through which we create our life together as a community.



“Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” (James 3:13)