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Author Archive for Nancy Montier

Nurturing Gratitude

-by David Guerra

Last spring, I attended a day-long retreat for caregivers at Mission San Jose. It was filled with workshops and information as well as fun activities designed to give the 100 or so caregivers a break. One of the workshops really stood out to me. It was about gratitude.

I initially thought: Gratitude? I’m dealing with a really bad situation and you expect me to be grateful?

Studies, they explained, showed that when people looked for things to be grateful for, their overall well-being improved.

Skeptical, I decided to try it. I took a small daily diary that’d been sitting unused in my nightstand drawer. I opened to the first page. I thought about the events of the day and penned, “I am grateful for my singing voice, that I could share ‘My Sweet Embraceable You’ in a tender moment with Claude while caring for him.”

I thought about it. Wow, it did feel good to express how it made me feel. Maybe there’s something to this gratitude thing.

So I wrote another the next day. And the next… until it became a daily practice with one huge caveat: Positive things only, no complaints allowed. Even if the day has been horrible, I need to find one positive thing I’m glad for.

And you know what? I’ve noticed a difference in my attitude. As I go through the day, I am more aware of the bliss in little moments: The scent of a rose. The fleeting smile on Claude’s face.  A bird’s song, a loving hug, a day of peace as family, good news from the doctor, the glow of sunlight through the trees, the soft downy fluff of a turkey chick in my hand, kindness from a stranger, laugher and recognizing love in its many forms.  

All these things are gifts! Moments of peace and joy and wonder, tiny treats that nurture the soul. So many in a course of a day, too many to catalog! I cherish each one of them because they show me that there is, indeed, much to be grateful for. 

 

Just for the Fun of It

Sometimes you do something just for the fun of it.  No one orders you to, it isn’t part of your job description, you’re not sure how you’ll benefit from it, and there are a million reasons to let inertia make you stay put right where you are.   Sunday, July 22, I actually shortened my naptime in order to take advantage of what promised to be fun.  Little did I know that it would also be inspiring.

It began with a friendly welcome (“Be Our Guest”, from Beauty and the Beast) and sent us forth on the cheerful  sounds of  a Disney medley, ending with the song “Friend Like Me” (Aladdin).  Throughout the afternoon, the Oakland East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus encouraged laughter, poignancy, even some conscience-raising.  For instance, the song “God Help the Outcasts” (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)  is a prayer sung by the character Esmeralda:  

“I don’t know if You can hear me, Or if You’re even there;

  I don’t know if You would listen To a gypsy’s prayer.

  Yes, I know I’m just an outcast.  I shouldn’t speak to you.

  Still I see Your face and wonder:  Were You once an outcast too?”

This is what I refer to as “message music”.  It wasn’t written for a worship service, but it sure has  strong challenging lyrics.  Think Pete Seeger (“Where Have All the Flowers Gone”), Bob Dylan (“Blowing in the Wind”), the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”, and Glen Campbell’s “I Will Never Pass This Way Again”. There are even life lessons to be learned from children’s songs: “Love Is Like a Magic Penney” and many others performed on Sesame Street.

Attending Sunday’s concert was definitely a treat to myself.  Oh, yes, I was there to support two particular participants:  David Guerra and his daughter Alegra. (Bravo to you both!)  However.  it’s MY pleasure to get to know more about the people with whom I worship.  The music was almost all unfamiliar to me; I wasn’t sure I’d like it.  But I did!  And the biggest “message” I got was that if God  has something to say, or something to show me, it happens not only in worship- but can happen anytime and anywhere else!

Statements and Questions of Faith

by Tom Manley

Hello friends,

At a recent Spiritual Life meeting, a bunch of us sat around a coffee table in Colette and Colin’s living room to discuss our Statement of Faith. The conversation was riveting.

I urge you all to go and read the UCC’s Statement of Faith (copied below) as well as Skyline’s. They’re fairly similar and very interesting. As a member of a UCC church, or a member of our community, I think that it is important to understand not just what the denomination does, but why. The Statement of Faith explains the why.

One fascinating thing that came up in our conversation was that different parts of the UCC’s Statement caused different people to pause… some parts caused me to pause. Since then, I’ve spent a fair bit of time contemplating my own faith. One of the things that I value most about the UCC, in general, and Skyline in particular, is that we truly welcome anyone, as Pastor Laurie regularly reminds us, “Whoever you are, and wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you are welcome here.” Even, or perhaps especially, if you are questioning your faith.

All of us are on spiritual journeys and the wonderful thing about the Skyline Community is that we’ve chosen to walk our paths together. We offer support, we ask for guidance, we come together to listen to, and listen for, God’s calling. We come together as disciples on the road.

We are not all at the same place on our journeys and our paths are not all the same. What we share in common is that we are curious and compelled: curious to explore the example and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and compelled to do so together.  The important part isn’t reaching some anticipated final destination and it isn’t answering the questions.

What is important is to take the journey and to ask the questions. Our Statement of Faith raised questions for all of us in that meeting. What questions does it raise for you?

In the coming year, the Spiritual Life Service Team will host events and create spaces where we can explore those questions together, where we can examine our journeys, ask our questions, and listen together for God’s still-speaking voice. I hope you will join us. Our next event is Sat, Aug 18, 1:00 – 4:00 PM for a film and discussion

Peace and love,

Tom.

United Church of Christ Statement of Faith—adapted by Robert V. Moss

http://www.ucc.org/beliefs_statement-of-faith

We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit, who is made known to us in Jesus our brother, and to whose deeds we testify:

God calls the worlds into being, creates humankind in the divine image, and sets before us the ways of life and death.

God seeks in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.

God judges all humanity and all nations by that will of righteousness declared through prophets and apostles.

In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord, God has come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the whole creation to its Creator.

God bestows upon us the Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.

God calls us into the church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be servants in the service of the whole human family, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.

God promises to all who trust in the gospel forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, the presence of the Holy Spirit in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in that kingdom which has no end.

Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto God.

Amen.

World Refugee Day: Do more than Post to Facebook

Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

Wednesday, June 20th, is World Refugee Day, a day to draw the public’s attention to the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes due to war. According to the UN, today more than 68 million people around the world are refugees or internally displaced as a result of conflict or persecution. That is equivalent to the population of the world’s 20th largest country.

There’s been so much news about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) separating children from their parents and raiding homes, schools, and businesses. 

The UCC is urging all of it’s congregations to take action now, by contacting our representatives and providing funds to keep families together. Please read on and please sign on! 

I recently read a story of Taina Smalls, an African-American woman confronting ICE agents on a Greyhound bus near Las Vegas. Agents boarded the bus and demanded to see people’s identification papers. The Hispanic woman beside her was horrified until this woman stood up and shouted at the ICE agents, “This isn’t Nazi Germany, and you don’t have to show these gestapo agents anything. They don’t have a search warrant, and we are more than 100 miles from the border, so they have no authority here.”  

Her words were more choice than that, but the agents backed down and said, “Obviously, with that mouth you are an American.”  Then they got off the bus. An informed patriot resisted what this country has become and is becoming. She’s an ordinary citizen who performed and extraordinary service. She is a woman and a person of color, and I have no doubt she has encountered oppression because of both these things. Despite her salty language, however, she clearly was the most moral and American person on the bus that day. She stood up to injustice, named it, and encouraged others to resist it.

What would you have done? Do you have the courage to resist injustice with more than a Facebook post or a tweet? Are you willing to confront the malignant bigotry that starts with the White House and removes the thin veil over the anger and hatred of our neighbors and kin? Failing to do more than we are makes us collaborators, just like those who, in apathy, stood and watched as their Jewish neighbors were dragged away by the Gestapo. 

Do we believe those collaborators somehow were worse people than we are? Do we think that our apathy toward the treatment of immigrants seeking asylum is somehow more justified than that which enabled the Nazis? I’m sorry, but we are no different if we remain silent or scream about it only to our “friends” and followers online. We must do more. We must call our representatives relentlessly until they fear for their jobs and understand what it means to be a REAL American

Blessings and thanks, Pastor Laurie 

I See You – Passion Project for Oakland’s Homeless

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world [or Oakland].  Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead 

Several months ago, challenged by the question, what more can Skyline church do about homelessness crisis in Oakland, we hosted the Pacific Boys Academy in a worship service/concert to benefit the homeless here in Oakland. We raised over $1300, and split the proceeds between St. Vincent de Paul and St. Mary’s. But even more, we raised awareness! Far more than we imagined!

One of the choir members, William, who’s also a 6th grader at Bentley school, was hugely inspired by this service. In particular, he was moved by  the video I created,   based on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and set to the song, “What if God was One of Us?” William asked me that day to be his mentor on a Passion project for the homeless entitled, I See You.  I said yes. So, the following Saturday, a group of us made sandwiches, visited the encampment at 12th and E 23rd and had conversations with some of the folks living there.

I remember one conversation in particular.  We met a woman in her 60‘s, in a wheel chair because of her debilitating arthritis. She shared her story with us.  She was a cancer survivor, had a daughter, who was a drug user, with four kids.  With all the rains this past winter she came down with pneumonia and was hospitalized at Highland Hospital. She had been living in a tent with her husband for about a year. She and her husband became recipients of the first TuffShed on that encampment that very day.

Here’s what William is doing with his talents to help us to see this woman, and so many other men, women & children, here in Oakland.

He would like to have our support in investing wisely to support these families and in coordinating future visits to the encampment. Let me know if you’re interested in getting involved. 

Thank you to  William and his family, to the Bentley school, to Pacific Boy’s Academy, to Charlie and Aiden, and to Skyline,  for recognizing our common humanity. 

                                    with love, Pastor Laurie 

Here’s his email to me, which includes his Passion Project, video concert and request for support. 

Hi Reverend Manning!
I wanted to let you know that my Passion Project for the homeless, “I See You!” is complete and went very well. Although I did not spend as much time as I wanted with you (totally my fault), you had a VERY BIG impact on my project. Seeing your presentation, sharing your videos and research with me, making sandwiches, and going to the homeless camp were all things that helped shape my project.
 
Attached is the actual PowerPoint presentation I gave to an audience of 100 people (I was very nervous!). Below is the “virtual concert” email I used to solicit funds for my project.  I raised over $1,300 in cash and another $285 in gift cards to buy food and supplies for the homeless!
 
I promised those who gave me money that I would spend every dollar raised on food and supplies for the homeless.  Can you help me identify/confirm a date and organize a delivery of food to the place we went before?  I don’t think I can just show up with food 🤔. I also don’t think I can spend all of the money on one meal, so do you know of other homeless places that need food or supplies, or can I go back a few times?  
 
Thank you so much again!  I really appreciate your help and look forward to seeing you at church soon.  We are coming back. When we were doing research to make my PowerPoint presentation, my Mom saw that you used to be at Riverside Church in New York.  That is her old church and she is pretty sure she remembers your time there. That made her very happy 😊. 
 
From,
William
Here’s his fundraiser: 
Dear Friends and Family,
I am working on a passion project entitled, “I SEE YOU”. As part of our middle school curriculum, we are encouraged to explore issues that we are passionate about, and brainstorm ways that we can make a difference.  I am passionate about music, and I care about the homeless. Even as a kindergartener, when visiting places with my parents, I wanted to stop and talk to the people I would see laying on the street or sitting outside of restaurants with their children or pets.  When I did this, they would smile. 
 
Sometimes a problem seems so big that we can’t imagine we can do anything about it. But we can.  There is one thing that every person can do, and it doesn’t cost anything. If you don’t have a dollar to give, or food and clothes to donate, or time to volunteer, you can do the one thing that is completely within your power, but is so often overlooked. You can refuse to let homeless people be invisible to you. 
 
Homeless people have become so commonplace that we don’t even see them. Every day people walk by them without even acknowledging their existence. To not acknowledge another human being is inhumane. We need to be reminded that the homeless are like us—human—and could even be us. Maybe they lost their job, had serious medical bills they couldn’t pay, experienced stress or mental illness as a veteran — all things that could happen in our families. Sometimes what they need most is the very thing we have to give; a warm smile, a hello, a greeting, a gesture that says, “I SEE YOU!”
 
I am using my love of music to raise funds, via a virtual concert, for two purposes:
 
1) To donate a meal to the homeless camp at 12th and 24th in Oakland that I identified with the help of my mentor, Reverend Laurie Manning;
 
2) To purchase the “I See You” bands that I created and will share freely with my friends and family to remind us all to be kind to the homeless people we see on the streets. 
 
I do not have a “not for profit,” (hopefully one day I will!) so your donation is NOT tax deductible, but 100% of the proceeds will go to the meal for the homeless (the more money, the more food!) and the “I SEE YOU” bands.  
 
If you would like to view my online concert, please click here.
 
 
If you like it and wish to make a donation to “I SEE YOU”, please click here.
 
Please share my email with others you think will support my cause.
 
Gratefully,
William S.
Bentley School
6th Grade

The UCC, Skyline, and Social Justice

Last Sunday, Teresa Jenkins lifted up her passion for the UCC and our historic and ongoing prophetic witness for justice. 

As I mentioned, last Friday in Oakland there was a rally seeking to challenge the purposeful separation of families at the US border. Here’s a UCC article about how people across the country have been speaking up, and what we can do.  In addition, I’d like to share with you an article from Mirtha. 

From Mirtha:

Last Sunday, Pastor Laurie shared a story about PJ, a young man from Cambodia seeking asylum in the US who is awaiting deportation.  We are seeking a pardon from the Governor. If you’d like to learn more, please go to bringpjhomenow.
 
Other ideas about accompanying immigrants: 
1.  Letter writing to people in detention. Past detained person gave testimony of how alone and isolated they felt in detention facility and how much it meant to receive letters.  
 
2. Also sponsoring someone who needs a sponsor before release is allowed. Some people take a person into their home with the support of the accompaniment teams.

Here’s a link to a publication entitled UCC in the News. It highlights weekly themes about our denomination. 

 

The Way of Grace

In her book, Traveling Mercies, Ann Lamott says, “Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there. “

I like to say, far less poetically, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. If at first you do succeed, try not to look so surprised.” Grace is the gift of God empowering us to become more, do more, discover more, help more, give more, heal more than we are capable of under on our own power, wisdom, or strength. Maybe it is just that I’ve gotten older, but almost daily I have this moment when I realize that I know something I don’t remember learning or have a wisdom that is beyond my own capacity. Perhaps it is a glimpse of God’s grace as I begin to trust more and more a light that I have not known. 

Once upon a time, I understood God could explain eternity, and would teach the entire Bible with confidence. With the passing of time, however, I’ve discovered how appallingly ignorant, illiterate, and incompetent I am. Making peace with those limits is excruciatingly difficult, but failing to do so is spiritually terminal.

The great theologian Jurgen Moltmann said: Our disappointments, our loneliness and our defeats do not separate us from Christ; they draw us more deeply into communion with him. And with the final unanswered cry, “Why, my God, why?” we join in [Christ’s] death cry and await with [Christ] the resurrection. This is what faith really is: believing, not with the head or the lips or out of habit, but believing with one’s whole life. It means seeking community with the human Christ in every situation in life, and in every situation experiencing Christ’s own history.

Trusting something, no, Someone, other than ourselves is the Way of Grace. Perhaps it the way to Life itself.

“A song of peace for lands afar and mine…”

Photo by Matthew Huang on Unsplash


Next Monday we honor Memorial Day, a federal holiday set aside to remember the men and women who died while serving in our country’s armed forces.   I cannot help but lift up the beautiful words of Finlandia, which we will sing this Sunday: 
 
“This Is My Song”

Lloyd Stone and Georgia Harkness,  UM Hymnal, No. 437

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

This Sunday, join us as we lift up prayers not only for our country’s servicemen and women who have died, but all those who have died in the world because of war.  Here is a beautiful prayer, entitled  A Prayer for the World by Amy Petrie Shaw.

Pentecost, Unbounded Energy of the Spirit

This coming Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, the mysterious, life giving power and unbounded energy of the Spirit.  We welcome the wind and fire, wonder and wildness to change our lives, personally and collectively, particularly when it seems to be on the verge of apocalypse. 

Wear RED if you can in celebration of the fiery spirit.  

Id like to share with you a benediction by May Sarton;  an invitation to return to the deep source:

Unison Benediction

Return to the most human,
nothing less will nourish the torn spirit,
the bewildered heart,
the angry mind:
and from the ultimate duress,
pierced with the breath of anguish,
speak of love.

Return, return to the deep sources,
nothing less will teach the stiff hands a new way to serve,
to carve into our lives the forms of tenderness
and still that ancient necessary pain preserve.

Return to the most human,
nothing less will teach the angry spirit,
the bewildered heart;
the torn mind,
to accept the whole of its duress,
and pierced with anguish…
at last, act for love.

~ May Sarton ~

Justice & Witness Team sponsors  Sanctuary Events

Sanctuary Orientation for Skyline Church: May 24th from 5- 7 pm

In early Jan 2018, Skyline Community church declared itself to be a sanctuary congregation. The greatest community  “sanctuary” needs in Alameda County are for accompaniment teams.  Members do not need to be Spanish speaking and the commitment is only a few hours a month.

If you’d like to learn more, come and join us.  We will hear reflections from Miriam Noriega, a staff member of the Interfaith Movemeht for Human Integrity.  Miriam is a first generation immigrant, and an MDiv student at the Jesuit School of Theology at the Graduate Theological Union.   Also sharing is Mirtha Ninayauer, co chair of  SCC’s justice and witness team and co-founder of the Nueva Esperanza Preschool. 

5- 6 pm will be a presentation
6-7 pm will be a potluck dinner 

Contact  Mirtha Langewis-Ninayahuar – 510-339-0115 mirthan@sbcglobal.net, Nancy Taylor: (510-530-0814) ngtaylor94619@yahoo.com,  

2. June 1-2, Sanctuary Convening, -Friday, June 1 & Saturday, June 2. Both days 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM

-Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California (1433 Madison St, Oakland, CA)

-Breakfast and Lunch served both days

-Registration Deadline: May 21, 2018

Sanctuary: Caminando Hacia la Libertad is a 2-day convening that serves to strengthen and organize people of faith in our sanctuary work across California to respond in an increasingly dangerous climate for immigrant communities in 2018. Join us to learn tools and best practices to create a more prophetic path towards liberation, caminando hacia la libertad, where all can live with dignity and wholeness.

Learn more and register here.