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Archive for Church in the World

Fourth of July: What is Liberty?

Like many of us, as a child I have memories of a shining holiday, filled with family, friends, food, and fireworks, celebrating the 4th of July. I even remember on one family trip to New York city, seeing the fireworks over NY City harbor, bursting into  spectrum of glorious light, like a halo behind the Statue of Liberty. I fell in love with the words of the that beautiful woman, that beacon of welcome, The New Colossus.

Like many of us, and especially now, I am more conscious of all that make that shining holiday less shiny. What is liberty? In the words of James Baldwin, “for black Americans in this country, the Statue of Liberty is simply, a bitter joke”. Our monuments, including the Statue of Liberty, are representations of myth, not fact. We must remember the history behind them, and all those for whom the promise of liberty has not been fulfilled.

I am more conscious of all that we didn’t learn in our “American history classes”:

  • All those who left their former countries to escape religious persecution, only to persecute others.
  • All those who felt justified to take the land of the Indigenous people, in the name of God,
  • All those who captured Africans and sold them into slavery in the name of God.

I am more conscious of all that we didn’t learn about our Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence,  and all those who they did not have in mind when they wrote the document:

  • All those who didn’t have in mind setting folks like African Americans and Indigenous people free.
  • All those women, and people of color, who comprised the majority of  the population who were excluded from the vote.

This Sunday we lift up courageous prophetic voices of the resistance, including Fredrick Douglas. Douglas was invited to give a talk in 1862 to a group of wealthy white republican woman on July 4th, and he refused. Instead he chose July 5th, and what he delivered was a  blistering critique of this holiday, entitled, What to the Slave is the 4th of July? He berated pastors who refused to stand against the powers and principalities of that time. 

  peace, Pastor Laurie 

“COVID 1619” – Racism, the 400 Year Old Virus

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

The slow, brutal public execution of George Floyd has ignited international outrage.  White people are becoming more conscious of what black people have known for centuries about the deep, violent, pervasive, structural, systemic racism within this country.  I’ve been wondering, is this movement sustainable, and what can we do to sustain it?

Related to this desire, and as we consider our priorities as a church for this fall,  I would like to share with you this week’s E-Letter reflection from our Conference Minister Diane Weible:   (copied below)

 

Blessings upon your week, Pastor Laurie 

Let’s Talk: About 8 Minutes and 46 Seconds

By Conference Minister Diane Weible

Each morning I spend 8 minutes and 46 seconds in silence. My thoughts go in many directions and over the next many weeks I hope to share some of those reflections here. Today I want to share two things that came up for me and one leads into the other.

I want to ask our churches in this Conference to seriously consider waiting until 2021 to return to their sanctuaries for worship. I am not making this ask just because I believe that the unknowns of COVID-19 makes it unsafe to consider returning too early. I am also not asking this just because it pains me to think that our communities of faith will be divided or members will feel excluded because they cannot safely return yet.

I ask this because I believe making a decision now to not consider returning to our sanctuaries until 2021 will free up precious time for us to focus on the other virus that we are dealing—that we have been dealing with for 400 years—COVID 1619. Instead of spending time every month debating if now is the time and what safety measures still need to be put into place, we can engage in the hard work of addressing white privilege, dismantling white supremacy and racism, working for equity and justice and co-creating the new ministry that God has revealed to us through these months of sheltering in place and the movement for racial justice that has reached all of us in new and profound ways the past couple of weeks.

And that brings me to the other thing that came up for me that I lift up as an example of the kind of work I am doing in my own life so I can better show up with all of you in this sacred work. The other day during my 8 minute and 46 second time of silence, I started thinking about the concept of “whiteness.” When we say someone is black or brown, we are referring to their skin color. Very few of us who check the “white” box on ethnicity forms would call our skin color white.

A couple of years ago I was at the PAAM Convocation and a dear friend said, “Well, peach people like you…” I looked at her for a moment, confused. And, then I burst out laughing. She was right. In the crayon-box of life, my skin is a lot closer to peach color then it will ever be to white.

White is a construct. It was created to define who holds the power and privilege in a dominating society. It was created for bonded labor that came to the United States and had to work to get out of debt. The white construct allowed these labors to feel superior to newly arrived slaves from Africa. The owners were worried about an uprising if the laborers and the slaves, both desperate for basic human rights and dignities joined forces. If bonded laborers received benefits for being “white” they would feel superior to slaves and the owners could better control all of them.

I am white by a definition that was created to protect the wealthy and powerful in a dominating society that holds a single narrative as the only reality that counts. Anything that happens that doesn’t fit with what we expect from that narrative must be discredited, claimed as untrue, not believed. The cost to me as a person who shares many of the aspects of that single narrative is that my authentic and beautiful story and history is not told or shared because the culture I grew up in encouraged me to focus on how similar we are all—how connected we all are. It allowed me to call a story or reality I don’t understand as “weird” or “different.” It taught me that it’s ok to be so absorbed in my own story, my own reality, that I should expect that everyone shares the same reality as I do and if they don’t, the problem must be with their story, not mine.

People who do not share in the single narrative of society have to navigate both their own authentic story with the story that the dominating society has deemed THE narrative. The white construct is as fragile as a house of cards. If we begin to truly listen to someone else’s story and learn the truth and reality of what we have for four hundred years ignored, our house of cards will topple.

My hope and prayer is that this is what is happening today. The house of cards is falling. As people of faith, we have an important role to make sure that happens. We are learning that we are not white. Instead, we are infected with a virus that is not new but is also deadly. As a peach person, I have been infected with the COVID-1619 virus for four hundred years. There is a vaccine, but unfortunately, it takes a lot more work than just getting a shot.

  • It requires one (or many) conversations with a Person of Color to hear their story; to hear of their experiences in our society and world.
    • It requires reading books by Authors of Color. It requires watching movies like “The Hate You Give.”
    • It requires reading about the deaths of Black people for doing things that those of us with privilege take for granted. (https://demcastusa.com/2020/05/29/i-have-privilege-as-a-white-person-because-i-can-do-all-of-these-things-without-thinking-twice/ ).
    • It requires that we read White Fragility, not because we think we already understand privilege and fragility but because there is always something more we need to understand about our privilege and what will be required to dismantle white privilege and white supremacy.
    • It requires that we show up for protests now and we commit to showing up for protests and events that will happen in the future.
    • It requires not just showing up for protests but that we show up in relationships. Silence in the face of bigotry and racism is equally brutal.
    • It requires expanding your circle of relationships beyond those who share the same story or skin color. Who are your neighbors? Who are the people you call friends and why? Do you know their story? How has their story shaped your view of the world?

The time is now. Many of us understand a lot with our heads. We are being invited to embody that knowledge throughout our entire being so we can understand it in a new way. I envision a Conference-wide commitment to conversations within our churches and among all of us in the wider church. These conversations and commitment to action has the potential for transformation and co-creation. I pray you will join me.

 

“Our Democracy Hangs in the Balance”

We are living at an inflection point in the history of our country, and in the history of this planet. 

Michelle Alexander; a writer, civil rights advocate,  visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary, and author of The New Jim Crow; writes in the NY Times:

“Our democracy hangs in the balance. This is not an overstatement.

As protests, riots, and police violence roiled the nation last week, the president vowed to send the military to quell persistent rebellions and looting, whether governors wanted a military occupation or not. “

Is this the beginning or the end? Where lies our hope? Where do we begin? We must face our racial history and our racial present. We must re-imagine justice.

Michelle Alexander continues:

My hope lies in the movement that brings together people of all  ethnicities, genders and backgrounds as they rise up together, standing in solidarity for justice, protesting, marching and singing together, even as SWAT teams and tanks roll in.  — a reflection of the best of who we are and what we can become. It is a glimpse,  of a beautiful, courageous nation struggling to be born.

Let us, as people of faith, be inspired by this Spirit.  

Blessings, Pastor Laurie 

Take Action:

The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III is the senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. He has recently recorded and posted two video messages about the killings of African Americans that have been fueled by white supremacy. I hope you will make, over the next couple days, the forty minutes it will take to watch and listen to them both.

The Trinity UCC YouTube channel suggests watching “When Is Someday?” first.  The other video to watch, whatever order you watch them in, is “The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Requiem for Ahmaud Arbery.” 

May these two messages to awaken your spirit, open your hearts, and inspire you to action.

P.S. The petition Dr. Moss refers to in “When Is Someday?” can be found here.

Poor People’s Campaign Town Hall: In the context of the uprisings across the country against police killings of Black people and the devastation of COVID-19, people will come together across movements at a virtual town hall entitled “Poor People’s Campaign 1968-2020: Everybody’s Got A Right to Live! We Won’t Be Silent Anymore,” which will be held on Saturday, June 13, at 11:00 a.m. (Pacific time). Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival will be the keynote speaker. RSVP to join the online town hall on Saturday, June 13, at 11:00 a.m.

Being Grateful in Difficult Times:  Theologian and historian Diana Butler Bass  is offering an online class on “Being Grateful in Difficult Times.” It includes mini-lectures, suggested practices, and conversations with other writers (including some surprise guests whose books you probably love!). It is a completely self-paced online course – you decide when you start and when you finish. The course goes live on June 22 and only costs $59 if you register by June 20. Learn more and register here.

Advocacy: For those of us who can’t take to the streets, we need to take to our phones and computers to make our opinions known to the politicians. Here are two ways you can do that:

  1. Sign up to be part of the Poor People’s Campaign.
  2. Become part of the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Peace Action Network.

Care for the Earth at Home: Undertake some (or all) of the environmental activities that can be done at home listed here. The list maker says they are activities kids can do; adults can do them, too.

A Requieum for Ahmaud Arbery

The Cross and the Lynching Tree
A Requieum for Ahmaud Arbery – Webinar 

Sunday, May 31, 3PM

Hi Visitors and Members,

I thought you’d be especially interested in this upcoming webinar on dismantling racism, in light of the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. The reflections are based upon the writings of late great
American theologian, specializing in black liberation theology, Dr James Cone, from Union Theological seminary. In his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Cone draws connections between the means of execution of the innocent Jesus 2,000 years ago and the ongoing executions of innocent black men in this country.  Please share widely!!   I’ve registered! I loved  Dr Cone, and loved his courses in Black Liberation  and womanist theology. 

The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Join a national conversation sponsored by the United Church of Christ about how Christians can be actively involved in dismantling racism. Learn more about the webinar HERE.  Register for the webinar here.
Peace to you,
Pastor Laurie 

“Suppressed: the Fight to Vote” Film, Discussion by Zoom

Wednesday, June 17th at t 7 pm – Zoom movie night!
 
   Many of us have read about the ongoing chaos in the primaries in states like Georgia, which threaten to be a preview of what’s to come in the Nov elections.
 
Relatedly, we will watch an outstanding 40 minute film, entitled Suppressed: The Fight to Vote, the new documentary by Robert Greenwald (Director of Outfoxed, Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price, and Making A Killing: Guns, Greed, & the NRA) weaves together personal stories from voters across the state of Georgia to paint an undeniable picture of voter suppression in the 2018 midterm election where Stacey Abrams fought to become the first Black female governor in the U.S.  

Access to voting impacts justice for all people, and life itself on this planet, especially the most marginalized.
Meeting ID: 822 412 861
 
If you don’t have time to join us for this viewing, I encourage you to watch it on your own HERE.
 

We will then discuss ways that some of us at Skyline are fighting voter suppression including sending postcards to those who have possibly been dropped from the voting files.

Ways to Support for Our Immigrant Communities

Dear Skyline Family,

The immigrant communities are facing an especially hard time during the pandemic but there are many community organizations coming together to help. As Skyline Church is a Sanctuary Church, the Justice and Witness team would like to offer ways to support the communities that we have been accompanying. Thank you for sharing with those among us who are in so much need.

The Maya Mam in Oakland organization is helping coordinate food distribution to the Mam community, including the Nueva Esperanza Preschool families. The Mandela Partners and the Alameda Food Bank have been providing food for distribution at Iglesia de Dios, Mam Church at 4500 International Blvd. Henry Sales, organizer, says they haven’t been able to get fruits, chicken, rice, beans, eggs, and milk. He’s working to partner with other organizations, as well  as getting a nonprofit designation. Monetary donations will be used to buy food for distribution and  materials (masks, gloves, and sanitizer) for volunteers. On-line donations can be made HERE.

If you prefer to write a check, please contact Mirtha through the church office, office@skylineucc.org.

The Centro Legal de La Raza, along with six community partners, created the Oakland Undocumented Relief Fund for Oakland immigrant workers who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Donations can be by check or online HERE.

Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity has set up a Migrant Emergency Fund which helps recently arrived immigrants, formerly detained and incarcerated folks, and other immigrants encountering urgent survival needs due to the severe economic impact of COVID-1.   

East Bay Sanctuary Covenant continues to support clients by phone, providing up-to-date information about their legal cases and social services. Action items to support the immigrant population are listed on their website.  

Save the date for a zoom discussion on Monday, May 18th at 7 pm with Pastor Laurie,  Nancy Taylor and myself! More details to follow!

Join Zoom Meetinghttps://zoom.us/j/241524878  Meeting ID: 241 524 878, or call 510 421 2646

Thank you! Mirtha N., co-chair, Justice & Witness

The Human Element, a Documentary about Global Warming- View and Discuss

View The Human Element free between April 17-26;  Discussion Sunday April 26 after service.

An arresting new documentary from the producers of Racing Extinction and Chasing Ice, environmental photographer James Balog captures the lives of everyday Americans on the front lines of climate change. With rare compassion and heart, The Human Element relays captivating stories from coast-to-coast, inspiring us to reevaluate our relationship with the natural world.

Thanks to a partnership with Earth Vision Film, Interfaith Power & Light is able to offer you this inspiring film. It’s a must see for people of faith concerned about the impact of climate change on human life in the United States.

To see a preview and to sign up to watch this film for free, click here.   Here is the link to The Human Element with Spanish subtitles!  (Password: THE-2020)

SIGN UP HERE to view the film April 17-26  

 
We will be discussing the film on 4/26 after worship. For more info, contact Catherine Kessler or Pastor Laurie

Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary – a Virtual Celebration

Wednesday, April 22, 12:00 – 1:30pm

Skyline honors this special Earth Day with music, stories, and tree planting on the beautiful campus of Skyline church in Oakland, using Zoom to bring you there.   Skyline is a very green congregation.  

Featuring: Mary Ellen Hill, Storyteller and teacher, Pastor Laurie, Catherine Kessler, and more TBD. 

Access the Earth Day festivities on your computer or smart phone via Zoom here, or click this link:  

Meeting ID: 921 0997 9060
Password: 018951
One tap mobile +16699009128,,92109979060#,,#,018951# US (San Jose) 

Shelter-in-Place Virtual Worship Services and Gatherings

Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash

Virtual Worship, Bible Study and Prayer

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven… Now is the time for “shelter in place” here in the greater Bay Area. It is a time to refrain from embracing, i.e. physical distancing. And more than ever, it is a time for social and emotional connection.

Skyline is utilizing Zoom.us for our virtual worship services and weekly gatherings. Zoom links and numbers are listed below for accessing the events on your computer, your smart phone, or a regular phone call.

  1. Sunday Services are being delivered by Zoom Meeting at 10 AM.   (You will access all Sunday Zoom calls at this link or number)
    Sundays, 10:00 – 11:00am
    https://zoom.us/j/716026467
    Meeting ID: 716 026 467
    Dial in by phone 1-669-900-9128
    Dial in by phone: 1-346-248-7799
    Video of past services will be available.  
    Here is a video of our Sunday, March 15 worship, recorded and edited by our very own Tom Manley!

  2. Pastor Laurie’s virtual bible study, Weekly on Tuesdays.  10:30 – 11:30 am.
    First meeting – Tuesday, March 24⋅10:30 – 11:30 am
    https://zoom.us/j/901784352
    Meeting ID: 901 784 352 One tap mobile
    Dial in by phone 1-669-900-9128
    Dial in by phone: 1-346-248-7799

  3. Pastor Laurie’s Prayer, Care, and Share time, every Friday from ⋅1:00 – 2:00 pm.    Join us for a time of praying, caring, and sharing!   If you’re at home, you’re invited to light your own candle, so we’ll all have our candles together.  We’ll gather with a little meditative music, then spend some time lifting up our prayers together.  In this stressful and uncertain moment, perhaps we need to turn to prayer even more than usual.  Join us, breathe deep, and trust that the Spirit will be with us wherever we are.  Whenever two or three are gathered in the name of God, even gathered digitally, the Spirit is in the space between, connecting our hearts and strengthening us.  Hope to see you for our collective prayer:
    https://zoom.us/j/910815155
    Meeting ID: 910 815 155
    Dial in by phone 1-669-900-9128
    Dial in by phone: 1-346-248-7799 
 
 

Impeachment: Seek, Defend, and Act Upon the Truth

This week, as the impeachment hearings begin, truth itself seems to be on trial.  As a nation, we are embroiled in a deeply divisive political moment. Not only is President Trump on trial, but so it seems, are truth, the rule of law, and the moral ideas of our nation.

Are we living in a post truth world? Shall we know the truth that shall set us free? Shall the truth prevail? The truth is that we’ve never lived up to the ideals ascribed at our nation’s birth.

Among the greatest concerns of the founders was the ascendance of a president with unchecked power and authority, and foreign influence over the presidential office.   Truth, honor, and the advancement of the common good – these moral values matter if our elected officials are to deliver on their promises to govern for the betterment of the public wellbeing.

Let us  heed the wisdom of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, ‘the church is called not to be the master of , or the servant of the state, but to be the conscience of the state’.  Let us remember the prophets throughout time who demanded that the government be based on truth, justice, and peace. Let us look to Jesus who often challenged authorities to seek God’s deeper truth. Let us look to the US Civil rights movement: to  Dr King, Fannie Lou, Ella Baker, and so many others, all who risked their lives to improve our democracy, and to build a more perfect union.

May this impeachment crisis be a time to again seek our deepest social and spiritual ethics and the democratic processes that elevate truth telling and healthy discourse. Let us seek to prioritize seeing things through a moral lens rather than a partisan one. Now is the moment to stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, following in the ways of love embodied in Jesus. Let us stand together in an effort to seek, to defend, and to act upon the truth; so that we shall overcome and advance the common good together.

Join me in praying for our Congress this week, and if you feel called to do so, sign this letter initiated by a faith group “calling on senators to uphold their oath by seeking the truth, acting on the courage of their conscience, and protecting our democracy through an impartial trial.”

Join us this Sunday, as we seek to love mercy, seek justice, and walk humbly with God.  

Peace, Pastor Laurie

On a lighter note:  Fun and educational way to learn about the racist history of our suburbs in the US:  The Disturbing History of the Suburbs | Adam Ruins Everything