Posts Tagged ‘life’

Finding Life in a Place of Death

// March 28th, 2016 // 1 Comment » // Church in The Cliff

This was the sermon from Easter Sunday:

When the women go to the tomb on that Sunday morning, they are expecting to find a corpse. Because Jesus died after noon on a Friday, it was not possible to properly prepare his body for burial. The women who had followed him all the way from Galilee returned on Sunday morning to complete the task. They would perfume the body with spices, then tuck it away in a little room to decompose. In about a year, their Jesus would be nothing more than dry bones, collected, rearranged, and moved to make room for another body, the dead piled on top of the dead. The women came to the tomb expecting death.

But a funny thing happened. When they arrived at the tomb, the stone was rolled away. This stone is a large, heavy, wheel-like disc that rolls in a track. It is a cold, hard boundary between the place of the living and the place of the dead.

This is how we like it: death behind a wall where we can’t see it. Underground. Made up and dressed nice. Somewhere in the far future behind years of healthy eating and miracle drugs and desperate surgeries. We live as though life and death are binaries, separated by a wide chasm of good choices. But that boundary is not so thick, not so heavy, that chasm not so hard to cross as we would like to believe. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, the hands of angels move it aside so that we can witness the truth.

The women came to the tomb expecting death and we often do the same. We worry about death. We fear it. But that fear turns in on itself and somehow brings death closer. We buy guns and build walls and pray to Jesus to take us home. But Jesus never left.

The women came to the tomb expecting to find the dead body of Jesus, the man who they followed from Galilee. For three years, they supported his ministry. They travelled the long road to Jerusalem, the road to suffering and death. They followed him because he offered them salvation.  He offered them freedom. He offered them equality. He offered them a voice, a voice that was their own. They came to the tomb expecting to find all their hopes and dreams lying dead, a lifeless body torn apart by a cruel empire.

Instead, they found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. It was not what they expected. They were perplexed, anxious, confused. Thankfully, there were some friendly angels in fabulous clothes to remind them of what they already knew: that Jesus told them this would happen. Speaking with the eschatological title “the Son of Man,” he told them that he must be handed over to sinners – for Luke, the wealthy elites who oppressed the common people – be crucified, and on the third day rise again.  This must mean that Jesus was, in fact, alive. They were in the wrong place to see the risen Christ because they were looking in the place of the dead. Where they expected to find death, they found a hint of life.

Both Mark and Matthew tell us that they left with joy, fear, and amazement, but Luke simply says they returned from the tomb and told everyone the Good News. Because the tellers of the tale were all women, the apostles were of course skeptical. You know how women are. They get all emotional and excited. They can’t be taken seriously. They certainly can’t be president. We need the reserved dignity and moderation that is the nature of men.

The Gospel of Luke has been called “The Women’s Gospel.” Luke features women far more than Matthew and Mark. For every parable about a man, there is a corresponding parable about a woman. Yet there is a tension in Luke’s treatment of women. Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza and others have pointed out that, while Luke features women, he does not often give them a voice. Over the course of Luke and Acts, women become less prevalent. The resurrected Jesus does not appear to women in the Gospel of Luke as he does in Matthew and John. The women an empty tomb with an angel and men get the risen Jesus. And yet, here, I think, is an opportunity to read against the text or perhaps excavate things that Luke hints at, but can’t fully live into. It’s possible that Luke is describing what happened after Jesus’ death – the gradual marginalization of women – while suggesting that it should not be so.

Chief in the evidence against Luke is the fact that the women’s account of the tomb is dismissed. Peter believes enough to go check, but his amazement seems required to validate the claim. When Cleopas and another disciple meet Jesus unknowingly on the walk to Emmaus, they cite the women’s account with some skepticism. Though Peter was amazed at what had happened, the takeaway seems to have been that no one saw Jesus. Then he says to them: “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” Perhaps I am being a generous reader, but isn’t it possible that Jesus is including the women among the prophets here? They spoke with divine beings and delivered the good news of the resurrection. In Cleopas’s remarks to Jesus, he repeats that it was the claims of the women that are in question and Jesus’ response is that they are foolish not to believe the prophets.

Luke’s Gospel has also been called “The Gospel of the Poor.” From the beginning, Luke sets up the story as a cosmic battle between good and evil and the good characterizes the lowly, the laborer, the outcast, where the evil characterizes the high-born, the powerful, the elite. Sinners are rich and the righteous are poor. The arc of the narrative is to overturn the current order to strike down what is high and raise up what is low.  It’s known as “The Great Reversal.” In many places in Luke, women are the representatives of the lowly, especially widows, those who depend on societal support. So if we are looking for the righteous in our world, we need not be restricted to the widow, alien, and orphan, though those are often good places to start. We simply have to find whoever is marginalized in our world.

When we are confronted with the weighty matters of glory, our first step should be to listen to the marginalized, to those who come face to face with suffering and death. When the black community says that they are being terrorized by police, as they did for years before the Rodney King beating, as they did for years before Ferguson, we have to listen. Instead, we wait for video – and not just one! After Eric Garner is strangled and 12-year-old Tamir Rice is shot and Sandra Bland is harassed, arrested, and found dead in her cell, we’re still not sure. We find ways to dismiss their claims, to blame the victim. We advise them on how to behave properly, to be respectful and do what their betters tell them to do.

When queer kids tell us about bullying at school and the rejection of their families that leaves them homeless, we tell them to toughen up or deny who they are. When women speak of their hardship in having their only source of medical care taken away, we tell them to just go to another doctor. When the impoverished cry out for food, shelter, health care, and safe communities, we tell them to move and get a job. When the victims of global poverty and endless war try to do just that, we tell them to wait and wait and wait. When people who experience death on a daily basis – sometimes literal death, but often the smaller deaths of being told they aren’t good enough, don’t belong, or don’t matter – when the suffering cry out to us we turn a deaf ear.

But these are the witnesses to the resurrection. Only by going to the cross and seeking out the dead can we find life. So, for those of us who are privileged – and I would bet that everyone in this room is privileged in some way – we can only see the resurrected Jesus if we walk alongside those who suffer. This is the Gospel. As James Cone says in A Black Theology of Liberation, “there can be no theology of the Gospel which does not arise from an oppressed community. This is so because God is revealed in Jesus as a God whose righteousness is inseparable from the weak and helpless in human society.” If we cannot even listen to those who suffer, we have no part of the Gospel.

We see this Gospel in action. Out of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Jordan Davis, Sandra Bland – the list, sadly, goes on and on and on – out of these tragedies, we see the BlackLivesMatter movement finally expressing the frustrated dreams of a generation that saw the hard fought gains of their mothers and fathers taken away – taken away in the War on Drugs, trickle-down economics, voter suppression, unequal housing and education – the list, sadly, goes on and on and on. Out of the AIDS crisis that devastated the gay community while the White House denied its existence, we got an organized resistance that fought for same-sex marriage and non-discrimination ordinances, and continues to fight to maintain what has been gained and gain even more for our queer family. Out of this latest in the ongoing assault on women’s rights and fundamental dignity, I believe we will see women empowered like never before. This is not “just” politics. This is the resurrection life.

It is not that this suffering and death is somehow justified or “worth it” or “serve a purpose in the greater scheme of things,” but that it can be redeemed. Those deaths – whether of black people at the hands of police and vigilantes, or of queer people at the hands of parents and closeted bullies, or of women at the hands of abusive spouses or substandard medical procedures – those deaths can never be justified. They are never worth it. But contained within each of these moments of suffering, there is the possibility of new life just waiting to be witnessed and proclaimed and fought for. If we turn our eyes away from death, we never get to see life. If we cover our ears to lament, we never get to hear exultation. If we don’t go to the tomb and we don’t pay attention to those who do, we are fools and we will miss out on the greatest gift in all creation.

The women went to the tomb expecting to find death. But in that cold tomb of despair, they found the hope of new life. This is the Gospel. This is the Good News. This is the resurrection.

Taking Up the Cross

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

Sorry about the cold last Sunday.  Still learning about the building’s reaction to crazy Texas weather.  So our conversation was brief, but good.

I shared a little (maybe a lot) about the context of Romans.  Paul is often read through the eyes of previous interpreters and, in our contemporary context, Romans is often the source of our ideas about what it means to be “saved,” the how and the why.  Every time I read Romans, I encounter one of those verses that would seem to tell us that Jesus died because I am awful, because of something I did or said, because I’m just rotten to the core.  I read Romans and see that Jesus was a sacrifice made for my rottenness, that Jesus stood in my place for what I deserved.  Even after all the study I have done, I still fall into that reading.  However, there are other readings.

The Jewish Christians who started the Roman church had been exiled and now returned to find a church filled with Gentile Christians.  As you might imagine, there is tension.  Paul is writing to address that tension, to unify the church so that they might also unite with him in his proposed mission to Spain.  Thus, it is not a treatise on how and why we might be saved.  Rather, Paul cites the faithfulness that both groups have, the trust in God’s promise that is more foundational than law or conversion or ethnicity or history. Specifically, it is trust in God’s promise that life can come out of death, which was revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ.  Most importantly, the Roman Christians have the opportunity to make that promise come true by being new life for one another.  The struggle and suffering of exile and persecution can be redeemed if they choose to live into that promise, to hold fast to one another in a difficult time.

It is the same in the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus tells us that following him means to take up one’s cross.  If the cross of Jesus was the one cross, if the death of Jesus was the singular event to set things right, why follow him at all?  What is left to be done?  Why are there still crosses to bear?  While Paul uses the language of sacrificial atonement, he does not develop the idea, but instead returns over and over again to the idea of participation, of unity in Christ.  We live into the suffering and death of Christ so that we and our world might be transformed into a new life of love, peace, and justice.  Jesus did not carry that cross so that we wouldn’t have to; he carried it so that we would know the Way.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we continue to discuss the meaning of the suffering and death of Jesus in this Lenten season.  This week, we will discuss the foolish ways of the world and the wisdom of the cross (1 Corinthians 1.18-25) informed by Jesus’ cleansing of the temple as depicted in John 2.13-22.  I figured out how to use the heater.

Grace & Peace,

Progress Report

The workday didn’t happen because it was freezing in the building.  My bad.  However, Mikal Beth got some more painting done this week (thank you!) and I did some odds and ends.  If you’d like to do some work on the building, check out our Google doc task list.  It is fully editable, so feel free to add on if you see something that needs to be done.  No shenanigans!

Fred and Ashley got a lot of stuff for the kitchen (big thanks!), but we still need some stuff from our registry.  We welcome any contributions!

Finally, we have studios to rent.  If you know someone who wants a small studio or office, send them our way.  They are small, about 80sf, but enough room for a desk or wall space for painting.  We’ll try to accommodate people as best we can.  We’re looking for $200/mo in rent.


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

Last night was good.  As has become our annual tradition, we made a lot of food and bought a lot of candy.  Good friends come over to help us eat and drink and pass out candy to thousands of kids that swarm our neighborhood.  As always, it was delightful seeing all the tiny adorable kids in their tiny adorable costumes.  There’s nothing that can melt your heart like a tiny, shy superhero hiding behind his mother.  Before we moved to Dallas, we never had trick-or-treaters.  Parents had given into fears of crime or, in many cases, that there was something evil about Halloween, replacing it with a Fall Festival or a Trunk-or-Treat in the parking lot of the local megachurch.  It’s a shame, really.

Halloween is the first in a trio of days, Hallowtide, that confront death to bring new life.  On All Hallows Eve (Halloween) we mock death so that, with the Apostle Paul, we can ask, “Where, O Death, is your victory?  Where, O Death, is your sting?”  We put on costumes and celebrate.  Some costumes are frightening, but we know that under that gruesome mask is a child.  Some costumes are expressions of a child’s dreams, that one day he or she will be a princess or a hero.  Fear and hope, bound together in a parade of children.

Saturday is All Hallows Day, the day we venerate the saints, the hallows, of the tradition.  As we have discussed in our series on saints, these people exemplify in their lives and legends who we might imagine ourselves to be as people of God.  Of course, this often says more about the people canonizing a saint than the ones being canonized, so the stories of the saints are offered as stories we might like to tell about ourselves.  To our local pantheon of saints this year we added five (well, six): Dorothy Day, Joe Strummer, Sergius and Bacchus, Teresa of Avila, and Molly Ivins.  Each of these points us to the Way of life in God, whether through contemplation, a relentless pursuit of justice, or a broader view of what is possible.  We honor the saints by telling their stories and trying to live into parts of those stories, so that we have our own to tell.

Hallowtide culminates in telling our own stories on All Souls Day.  This is the day that we remember those we have lost.  Contrary to modern common wisdom, we do not come into this world alone and we don’t leave it that way, either.  We are brought into this world by those who have come before, by those who have built the world we have, for better or worse.  Someday, we will leave this world, having made it better or worse, to those who come after.  The world is finite and we are mortal, but everything is connected in God, so that every beginning is an end and every end a new beginning.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we remember those we have loved and lost.  You are invited to bring photos, icons, or sentimental objects to place on the altar, to light a candle in remembrance, and to tell stories of the lives of those who have come before.

Grace & Peace,

The Freedom to Be Formed

// June 28th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

We have just passed Juneteenth and we are quickly approaching the Fourth of July, so freedom is on our minds.  Perhaps it is always on our minds as freedom-loving Americans.  And we are a Baptist church (it’s true!), so freedom is at the heart of who we are.  However, Paul did not write in a time of freedom.  Everyone lived within a domination system, a rigid hierarchy.  At the bottom of that system was slavery.

Slavery was simply a part of the way Paul’s world was organized.  It was pervasive, absolutely commonplace.  Slaves were a part of any household of sufficient wealth and size.  They were, sort of, members of the family.  They, sort of, had some legal rights.  They were, sometimes, well educated and, sometimes, had high-level jobs, like accountants and managers.  But they were still slaves.  Property.

When Paul compares the Christian Way to slavery (Romans 6.12-23), it can be awkward for us.  Slavery is a thing of the past.  We now stand on the right side of history.  Our faith is not about enslavement, but about freedom.  But Paul knew then what we still live today: we are all parts of systems of power and influence and we are all formed by those systems.  We are certainly freer than the people of 1st century Palestine, but we are never completely free.

Our greatest freedom comes in our choices to support or resist the systems of power in which we find ourselves.  Where do we buy our clothing?  Who made our electronics?  Which store do we shop at?  Where does our food come from?  What kinds of families do we embrace?  How do our votes change the lives of people who are not us?  We choose what we bind ourselves to and so we choose how we and our world might be formed.  Paul’s prayer for us would be that we bind ourselves to those things that bring life rather than death.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we discuss slavery, grace, and a welcoming spirit.  Also, note that we will have a meeting after church to discuss the space we are looking to lease.  See details below.  Hope to see you!

Grace & Peace,

New Space

At our church planning retreat in May, there was a strong consensus that having full-time space was one of the critical next steps for this church.  We have done “church-in-a-box” for a long time.  It puts a considerable burden on those who set up and tear down every Sunday and limits what we can do with services and any other programming.  It is time to find a home.

We have looked at a few properties that were serviceable, but one has just become available that is far more than we could have hoped.  The building is a beautiful mid-century modern at the intersection of Jefferson, Rosemont, and 10th on the border between Winnetka Heights and Sunset Hill.  It is 2600 square feet, with a large space at the front that has big windows and lots of light, much like Kidd Springs.  There are also 9-10 smaller rooms in the back that will support a kitchen/dining/lounge area, dedicated childcare, and office space, as well as leaving some rooms to sublet to artists as studio space.  Everyone who has seen the space is excited about the possibilities!

Perhaps the best part is that it is affordable.  As you probably know, property in Oak Cliff can be expensive to rent, but we think we can have this space for about what we are paying Kidd Springs right now.  The numbers:

$1375 in rent + $600 in utilities (max) – $800 in studio rentals (4 rooms @ $200 each) = $1175/month.

In theory, this is budget-neutral.  In reality, there are some variables.  First, we’re not sure about the utility costs, but the manager said that $600 seems high.  Second, it does depend on keeping those extra rooms occupied and paying.  We have already talked to a few artists who are interested, but no guarantees. If costs do come in a little high, we would have to increase giving or dip into our savings.  There will also be some initial costs, such as painting and furniture.  Our resourceful designers and architects are already looking out for deals and we have already had people approaching us to contribute to those costs.

There will be a Q&A at the end of church tomorrow.  Please bring any questions or concerns.  If you are not able to attend, please email with any questions or concerns.  We will make our best effort to allow our standard two weeks to vote on a lease, but if there is a strong consensus and we need to lock down the space or lose it, we might have to cut the time short.  So please register your thoughts and opinions as quickly as you can.

From Death into Life

// April 18th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, DART Stations of the Cross

This is the season when we sit with death and find the way to new life.  Doug Pagitt says that every preacher has four sermons that get preached over and over and over.  I guess this is one of my four.  I’ll take it.

Last night was our Maundy Thursday service.  It was a very Church in the Cliff night.  It was small and intimate.  We ate and drank.  We laughed a lot.  We might have cried a little.  Maundy Thursday is a celebration turned farewell.  It is the Passover meal celebrating the ancient Hebrews’ liberation from Egypt, but it is Jesus’ last Passover meal with his friends.  There is a sweetness in a farewell that we should savor when we are lucky enough to have one.  He knew that he was leaving, going where they could not go, and he asked them to do one thing in his absence: love one another.

Tonight is DART Stations of the Cross.  It commemorates the Passion in words and pictures while riding a train.  I know it sounds odd, but it is oddly affecting.  This is Good Friday.  The name of this day has always bothered me because it glosses over the real pain and loss of the Passion.  It points us forward.  It signals that this is the day that Jesus’ work is done, forgetting that his work is done while sweating blood.  Jesus ached so much for the state of the world that his anguish was literally seeping out of him.  Those who loved him, those who had the courage, saw every step that he took on his way to Calvary.  In the Stations of the Cross, we have the opportunity to do the same.  We do this not for guilt, but for compassion, to feel with Christ and to thereby feel with all those who suffer.  In the Stations of the Cross, we ache for the world; we bleed for it.  Imagine if our concern for the world seeped out of us, unable to be contained.

Then there is the quiet of the tomb.  We must not forget that Jesus was dead.  For some of us, that remembrance might be a day of silence, of prayer, of meditation.  I will be doing some of that.  I’m also going to see Southern Baptist Sissies, the story of four gay men growing up in a Southern Baptist church.  It looks funny and, in some ways, incongruous with the day.  However, in remembering Jesus death and time in the tomb, we must also remember the people that we as Christians have forced into silence and solitude for so many years.  The closet is a tomb.  Fortunately for many, the stone has been rolled away.

What we learn from our queer kindred is what we learn from our own experiences: there is always the promise of new life.  The loss of loved ones, of jobs, moving to a new place, relationships severed, a plan failed, a hope dashed, or just dying to the person others expected you to be – there is always the promise of new life.  The mistake is in thinking that those losses don’t continue to have some claim on us, that they cease to be a part of who we are.  New life is only possible when we contend with death, when we live through it and give it its proper due.

Easter is not exactly Christmas; it is not birth, but resurrection.  It is all the more joyful for knowing the alternative.  The bloom of the wildflowers, the greening of the world, puppies playing in the park, and picnics and potlucks, and the Beloved One of God lives again – life is so beautiful.  So let’s celebrate.

Please join us for the remainder of our Holy Week activities.  We will be handing out prayer cards for DART Stations of the Cross from 5-7pm at Mockingbird Station this Good Friday evening.  Tomorrow, for Holy Saturday, we don’t have any official plans, but I encourage you to go see Southern Baptist Sissies at 2:30pm at the Texas Theater.  Then please join us for our Easter celebration, 11am Sunday at Kidd Springs Rec Center.  Following the service there will be a picnic potluck in the park, weather permitting.  The Kittos have graciously volunteered their house, 310 S. Montclair, if there is rain.

Grace & Peace,

Mostly Dead

// April 4th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

When Fezzik and Inigo Montoya bring Westley to Miracle Max, they are sure that Westley is dead. They do not know so much, as Max explains, “It just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.” It seems that Michael Goldman, who wrote The Princess Bride, is a student of the Torah.

As good Protestants in the tradition of Luther, we tend to frown on the law as an oppressive force in conflict with the freedom we find in Christ. We tend to see it as a black and white set of rules. However, the law not only requires interpretation, but it has an assumed framework that is anything but black and white. That is, the law assumes that we are always living somewhere between life and death and its goal is to describe for us what it means to move toward life and away from death. Bleeding often moves us toward death, so we want to fix that, we want to account for it in some way and move a person back toward life. By the same token, poverty tends to place people closer to death, so we want to mediate that. We might quibble with some of the specifics of what the ancients thought was death-dealing rather than life-giving, but I hope we can mostly agree with the principle that we should prefer the latter. The good news, then, is that we are rarely all dead; we can almost always be brought back.

As much as many modern Christians dismiss the law as irrelevant – except when needed to beat somebody up – we also tend to ignore the prophets, with their silly cries for justice. In the same way we might think that Jesus trumps the law, Jesus is also the ultimate prophet, so why bother with the inferior ones? Out with the old and in with the new! However, much of what Jesus did and said was exactly the same as what the other prophets did and said. It would be fair to say that Jesus gained a following, not because he was unique, but because he was exactly what his culture had come to expect from one who spoke for God, one who tried to move his people from death to life, one who held the people of Israel to account for the law, especially its requirements for social justice.

The stories we have in the lectionary this week profess the same ethic of life and death, one about the prophet Ezekiel and one about Jesus. Their common thread is that they radically expand our range of mostly dead. In the law, there is a point at which one is, in fact, all dead. It’s a little farther down the road than we think today – three days down the road, in fact – but still, dead is dead. But God, like Miracle Max, says to us, “Look who knows so much.” In Ezekiel’s vision, he sees a valley filled with dry bones, clearly dead. But with the word of God, the bones are covered with flesh, and breathe again. In the story of Lazarus, Jesus waits more than three days to raise him from the dead, clearly dead in the ancient imagination. Jesus, the Word of God, commands him to come out of death and into life. And he does. No matter how dead we feel, no matter how bad things seem, we are only ever mostly dead, and mostly dead is slightly alive with the possibility of living fully.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about death, new life, coming out, and true love.

Grace & Peace,

Lost in Death, Found in Life (Plus: Notes on Ordination)

// March 9th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This week’s passage might be the most well-known parable in the Bible.  Since it is so well-known, we also know exactly what it means.  We are the terrible son, God is the forgiving father, and the bitter brother is, I don’t know, Robert Jeffress?  As we discussed last week, the beauty of a parable is that it opens more questions than it answers.  Read properly, we can come back to a parable over and over again and find new avenues of transformation.  But, for now, let’s dive into the familiar.

We shouldn’t dismiss the traditional understanding.  Certainly, the message of forgiveness is a good one.  As Oscar Wilde famously said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”  There are many of us who feel as though we’ve made mistakes – and some of us actually have! – and it is good to confess and feel the freedom of absolution.  Just having someone tell us we’re okay, that our life is not defined by one or even many poor judgments, is certainly an occasion for joy.

I will let you judge whether this is a confession or a revelation, but it turns out I did not know what “prodigal” means.  I have only ever heard it in the context of this parable and, since it is grouped with the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin, I assumed it meant “lost.”  It does not; it means “recklessly extravagant” or “lavishly abundant.”  This, of course, brings into sharp focus the nature of the son’s sins and the father’s forgiveness.

This is not just a selfish kid who ran away from home with his inheritance.  He was impatient and arrogant, viewing his loving father as an obstacle to his prosperity.  When that obstacle was removed, he squandered what he had.  We Christians often use the word “faith” and it has come to mean “beliefs we have no good reason for holding.”  But here we see a perfect example of true faith, if only through negation.  The son’s lack of faith is the failure to recognize that he came from somewhere, that he did not birth or raise himself.  As a result, he did not respect and care for what he had been given.  This makes the father’s forgiveness not only remarkable, but also entirely appropriate as an example of what forgiveness means.  Where the son disavowed his family and severed ties, the father welcomed him home.  Where the child was recklessly extravagant, spending in a way that destroyed him, the father celebrated with abundance that built him up.  The son was careening toward death and the father welcomed him into life, abundant life.  I think we could all use that at some point in our lives.

Of course, there are many other ways to read this.  If you would like to explore those possibilities, please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center.

Grace & Peace,


At the board meeting last week and the community meeting on Sunday, we discussed the desires of Genny Rowley and I to be ordained by Church in the Cliff.  This is something that the church should consider carefully and vote accordingly.  We are working with the board to provide whatever information is necessary for that process.  With that in mind, Genny and I have each prepared a short bit about our sense of call.  (For the record, Genny and I both have issues with this term that we would be happy to discuss, but it is commonly used, so we’ll go with it for now.)

I’ll let Genny lead off:

Ordination is a complicated topic with plenty to think through practically, theologically, and communally.  So, when Scott asked if I could introduce the community to the idea by summarizing my hopes for ordination into an elevator speech, I got the feeling this could be a bit of a challenge.  Nonetheless, I’m going to briefly share my thoughts on “why ordination” from a practical, theological, and community standpoint, along with my key reasons for “why CITC.”

Why ordination? Practically, as a chaplain, pastoral counselor, and theological educator, ordination offers me credibility as someone engaging in forms of pastoral ministry. Since I’m a Baptist, ordination is also part of the process for endorsement, the denominational “seal of approval” for chaplains and pastoral counselors.  Theologically, I view ordination as the community’s affirmation of the vocational path I’m on, a blessing that says my training and gifts for placing our current human experiences and the Christian tradition into dialogue are valued and welcomed (since I’m a theologian, there is a lot more I could say about this part.  I am happy to share with those who are interested, but I’ll leave it there for now!).    Finally, the piece about community is actually theological, too.  In Baptist life and in other kinds of churches with congregational polity, the local faith community ordains people to Christian ministry. In a sense, this means that local community of faith and the values it embodies stay with the ordained person throughout their ministry. So for me, ordination means that I needed to find and become part of a community I wanted to carry with me.  Since I’m a theological pot-stirrer who asks lots of pesky questions, this took me quite a while.

So then, why this community? In short, I hope this church will ordain me because I need to remember that this place exists, and how it formed what I know is possible for faith communities. I want to carry this place with me: our genuine embodiment of the belief that “all are welcome” that is symbolized each week through the open table, and the commitment to asking meaningful questions of our faith and of each other.  These are the things I most need to believe about the wide embrace of God’s love, and they are things you’ve shown me through these years at CITC.

This was a pretty long elevator speech.  Thanks for reading it, and for helping me see what is possible.

Now my turn:

Many of you have probably heard this story, but it’s worth telling again, I think.  My “call” came at the ordination of Laura Arp.  There are different ways to lay on hands during ordination, but Laura knelt at the front of the church and everyone present individually put their hands on her shoulders and spoke a blessing.  It was beautiful.  I thought that I might want that.  And then I thought that everyone should have that one moment when the people who love you gather around and tell you that you are doing and will do good things.  And then I thought that everyone should have the chance to have the moments of transition and transformation in their lives marked.  I thought I might be able to do that and I thought CitC, with it’s creative approach to worship and close bonds of friendship, might be the place for it.  I thought that ministry could be a grand art project, creating new life and a new world.

I spoke to Pastor Laura Fregin very soon afterward, applied to seminary, and started volunteering with the church in worship planning.  I can honestly say that I have never been so certain of anything in my life except for Lisa.  It has been a long and beautiful walk since then.  Ministry has been all that I thought it would be, but so much more.  I am grateful to walk with the people of CitC, wherever our paths may lead.

So, ordination.  It is obviously the culmination of the path I’ve been on.  If ministry is to be my vocation, it is the next step.  It is also still for me that moment that I witnessed what seems so long ago, but my understanding of it has shifted.  It’s not just a blessing.  It is a confirmation of calling.  The spiritual life, to be done well, must be done in community.  In requesting ordination, I’m asking CitC to confirm what I think I know about myself and what I think I know about the church and God and love and our future together.  CitC embodied for me a way to be church and be Christian that I did not think was possible: intense friendships, creative and intellectual challenge, commitment to social justice, and extravagant hospitality.  No matter where life takes me, that is a part of who I am and how I understand my place in the life of God.  My hope is that the people of CitC see me in the same way and confer their blessings on the road ahead.

I also want to add that ordination is important for CitC.  It has been more than four years since we have ordained anyone and more than three since we have had an ordained person serving the church.  Ordination, ultimately, is not about me and Genny.  It’s about this community of faith calling people out for special service, to develop, recognize, and bless the gifts of individuals to help shape the world to the dreams of God.  CitC has made more of a difference in my life than I could ever express.  I hope that we can celebrate that together in front of God and everybody.

What We Leave Behind (Program and Sermon)

// August 22nd, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff



We just went on vacation.  We went to a place in the Hill Country, to a little plot of land that has been in Lisa’s family for almost a hundred years.  The Hagy Camp sits on a bluff above the Western fork of the Frio River, about six miles north of Leakey, Texas.  Lisa’s ancestors started going there in the early 20th century, taking covered wagons from San Antonio to get there.  There were no roads in, so they went over land, making some twenty-seven river crossings along the way.  Given the effort to get there, they often stayed a month or so.  In 1927, they built a little cabin that we still use to this day.

Time spent at the Hagy Camp is idyllic.  I think there is a clock, but we don’t pay much attention to it. There’s a phone, but no one knows the number.  We sleep when we are tired, dip in the cool, crystal clear, spring-fed water when we are hot, and we eat when we are hungry.  I’m not sure I’m ever happier, ever more relaxed than when I’m there, sitting on that bluff with the light filtering through the trees, floating in and out of sleep as I read whatever my whims dictate.

Lisa and I have a ritual when we leave that place.  It’s a lot of work to shut the place down, so we often take one final dip after clean-up to cool down and wash away the sweat before piling in the car with a week’s worth of trash and dirty clothes for the long drive home.  Once we have left the gate behind, as we drive away, first on rough dirt roads and then on the winding highways beyond, Lisa begins to analyze the logistics of the trip.  Should we have shopped the day before?  Is it better to leave early in the morning to arrive in the afternoon?  Or perhaps later in the day so that you arrive late and wake up to your first full day fresh and early?  Should we not bring stuff for sandwiches and just eat leftovers for lunch instead?  Did we really need to stop for ice in Leakey?  Did we get too much or too little?  I don’t generally hear a word of it.

I’m looking at the flowers that just popped out from the previous evening’s rain.  I’m soaking in the sunlight, whether bright in a cloudless sky or filtered through dark clouds, making the colors on the ground seem deeper and richer.  The limestone bluffs rise above us, first on one side of the road and then on the other.  Every house poking out of the trees on every hill causes me to live a lifetime in a brief moment.  Maybe it’s for sale!  We could farm.  I could build a studio.  We could run a retreat center or a B&B.  The truth is, I have spent the past twenty years trying to figure out how I could just stay on that bluff.  And whatever Lisa is talking about, I know she’s doing the same thing.  How do we get back to the one place where we are the most happy, the most ourselves?

I wonder if Adam and Eve are having that kind of conversation as they walk away from Eden.  What went wrong?  How did we end up in this place?  Maybe we should be more skeptical when animals start talking.  Maybe we shouldn’t have eaten that fruit.  Maybe we can find a way back.  But then Adam says, “Hey, honey.  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”  And Eve says, “Yeah, alright.” And along comes Cain.

I could totally nerd out on this passage.  I think I took Hebrew just so I could read the original.  But I’m just going to point out a couple of things to support my reading as a coming-of-age narrative.  First, the way the narrative is structured.  In the early part of the narrative, they are like kids, running around naked and thinking nothing of it.  By the end, they have a baby.  In the middle, they make some mistakes.  Sound familiar?  Second, there’s a lot of word play here, which is very common in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The snake is described as “cunning” or “crafty,” but the Hebrew is arum, which is the same root as the word for “naked.”  And “cunning” adds an element of menace to it that may not be fair.  People who are arum are usually thought of positively.  They know things, practical things. They know what to do.  In this case, the snake knows what to do with nakedness.

I’m sure most of us have heard someone say something like “he knew her, in the biblical sense.”  It’s a euphemism.  We even have it here, in 4:1: “Now the man knew his wife Eve.”  Since Cain is the result, I don’t think it means that he figured out what to get her for their anniversary.  So the knowledge that the snake has and the knowledge that is contained in the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, is a very particular kind of knowledge.  It is everything you ever wanted to know about sex, but were afraid to ask.  And you should be afraid to ask because it is both the good and the bad of it.  This story is often interpreted as if the knowledge is the ability to distinguish between good and evil, but another way to read it is as a merism.  A merism is when we name the extreme ends of a field as a way of describing everything in between: “alpha and omega,” “heaven and earth,” “A to Z,” “soup to nuts.”  And here, “good and evil.”  After eating the apple, they are sexually aware, the good, the bad, and everything in between.

Part of the good is that they can make babies.  They can create life, which up to this point was a divine prerogative.  In 3:22: “”See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” The bad is that, if you can create life, life must also end.  You have to die.

This is reality.  As you move toward one thing, you move away from something else.  When you cut off other possibilities, you create new ones.  But the memories never die.  You remember who you were before.  You even remember who you hoped to be.  So you mourn the loss of things undone and hope for something new, a constant dialog between hope and regret.  And too often we forget the place where we are right now.  Richard Rohr says we transmit whatever we don’t transform.  We can get so caught up in nostalgia for what has been – and even for what never was – or dreaming of what might be, that we entirely miss what actually is: the community we’re a part of; the family we have built; the friendships that enrich us; the person we actually are.  We see the world through the fog of our hopes and regrets, rather than what is.

Questions for Conversation

What is your experience of change?  How does that connect to this story?

What do we forget that we should remember?  What do we remember that we should forget?


As much as this is a coming-of-age story, this is also an origin story.  Every culture – and every superhero – has one.  Where did we come from?  How did we get here?  But most importantly, who are we?  It’s fun to examine origin stories and look for commonalities, to figure out how we are all a part of one people.  But whether you emerged from a block of ice licked clean by a cosmic cow or float on the back of a giant turtle or were created from a stalk of corn makes a big difference in how you understand yourself.  This story embodies what I see as the core values of the Judeo-Christian tradition: faith, love, and hope.  Faith is engaging the memory of who we have been.  Hope is engaging the possibilities of who we might be.  And love is the beautifully muddled middle, the part where we are actually present, where we live every day.


1) Death and life are intertwined.  If you’re going to make something new, you have to let old things pass away.  But part of that new thing is finding the old in the new, learning to remember the things we have loved before and see them in what we are moving toward.  In doing so, we see ourselves more clearly, seeing a continuity that is the eternal connection between ourselves and others, ourselves and the Divine.  This is usually a painful process.  Death hurts.  Creating life hurts.

2) Because of the pain, the labor, the sweat, we can’t do it alone.  When Adam and Eve left the Garden, they had each other.  And, even though this is traditionally read as the eternal separation of God and humanity, if we read it closely, we’ll see that God is right there.  God makes them some new outfits and sends them on their way.  And when she has Cain, she credits God: “I have produce a man with the help of YHWH.”  As Eve sees it, God is still with her, helping her through it all.


Normally, at this time in our service, we would have communion.  Communion is, perhaps, the longest standing ritual in Christian practice.  It celebrates salvation through the body and blood of Christ.  It invites all to God’s table.  It joins us together as the family of God.

But something else joins us together.  Before the communion table, before the cross, before anything else, we share our humanity.  Each of us lives with the curse and the blessing of being sandwiched between all that has been and all that might be.

So today, I ask you to eat the apple, the forbidden fruit, not as a symbol of sin, but as a symbol of change.  Eating the fruit was inevitable.  And it had consequences.  We grow.  We change.  We can’t ever go back.

So as you eat this apple this morning, I ask you to allow it to mark the changes in your life.  What are you holding onto?  What have you left behind?  What chains you to the past?  What do you miss?  Acknowledge it all.  Embrace it all.  See who you are now because of it.  And love every bit of it.  Love yourself for who you have been and what you will be.  Love others for the same.  When you eat, you will surely die, but you will die so that you may live.

A Little Bit of Death, but So Much Life

// August 18th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  There’s this naked lady living in a garden with her boyfriend, also naked.  A talking snake tells her to eat an apple, so she does, and things go downhill fast.  The God of the garden knows they’ve been bad, so they lie about it, blame each other, and get kicked out.  Not just kicked out, but cursed for eternity with hard work and pain in child birth.  They’ve been bad indeed.  So bad that we are bad because of it.  At least, that’s one way to tell it.  It probably won’t surprise anyone if I choose to tell it another way.

My way goes like this.  To me, there is a sense of inevitability to the story.  The all-knowing, all-powerful God puts in the garden the one thing that can ruin everything.  Not hidden away in a dark corner or even hidden in plain sight, like the keys you don’t see on the entry table.  It is specifically highlighted, desire enhanced by its prominence and prohibition.  So when things are ruined, why is God angry, or even surprised?

There’s also something about sex here.  In the Hebrew, let’s just say that is one sexy tree.  The woman really wants it.  And when she gets it, she gets it.  Suddenly, she and the man are sexually aware.  They grow up.  They suddenly find that life is not simply handed to them.  We can’t just pluck dinner off a tree.  Our laundry doesn’t magically get done.  They didn’t even have laundry before that day!  And, yes, of course, someday they will die.  The illusion of the garden passes away and, faced with this new reality, they get busy.  In the biblical sense.  Busy makin’ babies.  A little bit of death, but so much life.

This is an incredibly rich story with many more possible ways to read it – it might be about farming! – but this time I want to focus on our theme: change.  As I’m reading it here, this is a coming-of-age narrative.  Life for the two humans is changing, perhaps in some ways that they could have expected, and certainly in some ways they did not – as it always does.  Even when we fully expect a change to come – even if we welcome or seek that change – it is often hard to account for the enormity of it.  It can feel overwhelming, like something is being lost that we can never get back.  But, oh, how we will try.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at the Kessler, as we continue to talk about change, movement, and return.  If you’re going through a change, it can feel like a little death.  Come and see the life on the other side.

Grace and Peace,