Oakland church

Archive for Messages from the Pastor

Guns, Action, Vigil

Last Sunday while we were in worship, another horrible and senseless mass shooting was happening.  

It angers me that people are feeling vulnerable and scared about coming to their sacred space, their spiritual oasis, their refuge from the world.

It angers me that preschool parents worry about the safety of their children, because of our maniacal gun culture.

It angers me that so little has changed since the Las Vegas massacre, and since the Newtown massacre almost five years ago. 

The reason that we have such high rates of gun violence and so many mass shootings in this country is simple. We have too many guns. Please read this informative article from the NY Times

As Christians we are called to pray after the tragic shooting in Texas, but our prayers should also be accompanied by deep introspection about whether and how we are complicit in the evils we deplore.

In a statement, Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a group representing more than 70 Episcopal bishops, stated,  

In the wake of the heartbreaking shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, we find ourselves both calling people to prayer, and wishing that the word did not come so readily to the lips of elected leaders who are quick to speak, but take no action on behalf of public safety,” the bishops said. “Each of us has a role to play in our repentance. Elected representatives bear the responsibility of passing legislation that protects our citizenry. If our representatives are not up to this responsibility, we must replace them. In the meantime, however, we ask that in honor of our many murdered dead, elected leaders who behave as though successive episode of mass slaughter are simply the price our nation pays for freedom stop the reflexive and corrosive repetition of the phrase ‘thoughts and prayers.’”

“One does not offer prayers in lieu of demonstrating political courage, but rather in preparation.”

In response,  Skyline will host an Interfaith Vigil  in remembrance of all those killed and injured in all of the mass shootings in this country on the 5th anniversary since the Newtown,  Connecticut shootings.  It is on Saturday, Dec 9th at 4 pm. We will sing, pray, light candles, and walk the labyrinth, aligned with UCC’s national vigil.  It is an official ICAN (Interfaith Council of Alameda County) event. 

We must take care of our emotional and spiritual health after a tragedy like this, but we cannot be complacent and believe we are powerless to end gun violence. Therefore, in addition, we offer these resources and invite you to join us in advocating for sensible gun reform:

Stop Handgun Violence

the Brady Campaign

the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence,

the film, Making a Killing

UCC on Gun Violence

As members of the UCC, we are committed to the ethical principles affirming that every person has inherent worth and dignity and that we must work together for a world community of peace, liberty, and justice for all. We will pray for all those impacted by gun violence, and we will work to be peacemakers locally and nationally.

Coming Out Sunday

This Sunday, Oct 15, we celebrate “Coming Out Day”, which is really an invitation to all of us to let our own uniquely brilliant light shine.  And, in doing so, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. Please join us this Sunday as guest preacher, Nichola Torbett, shares her reflections on this theme. I will be away on the east coast visiting family, and then attending the Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership conference. I am with you in Spirit!

     With love, Pastor Laurie

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

― Marianne WilliamsonA Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

Gun Violence and Las Vegas Attack

I am deeply saddened to write to you in the wake of another major national tragedy: the mass shooting at a Las Vegas outdoor concert that has already claimed nearly sixty lives, with five hundred more people injured.  

Though we will not forget the lives at risk from ongoing flooding, infrastructure damage, and insufficient government assistance across the Caribbean, Florida, and Texas, our hearts are broken whenever any individual unleashes such terrible violence. And, “whenever” is far too frequent in our country. Painful as it is, we keep all the victims of this violence in our hearts and pray for solace for the Las Vegas community.

In response,  Skyline will host a vigil in remembrance of all those killed and injured in Las Vegas here in our sanctuary on Thursday, Oct. 5, at 7pm. We will sing, pray, light candles, and walk the labyrinth.

We must take care of our emotional and spiritual health after a tragedy like this, but we cannot be complacent and believe we are powerless to end gun violence. United Church of Christ Andover-Newton graduate, Casey Guet, wrote this in righteous anger about our national ambivalence toward gun violence:

Why do guns grow from the ground, oh Lord?
Why did you make something, which kills so quickly?

Why do you allow these killing machines to be plucked
From our gardens?
And sold in our gun markets?

We will not take any responsibility. 
We never do.
In the beginning, God created the gun and the bullet.

There is nothing we can do, nothing to stop these tragedies.
Perhaps, if we created guns with our own hands,
Perhaps, if we could use our system of laws,

But there is nothing we can do.
The guns will keep cropping up.
The guns will keep growing.

I wonder, is there a way to destroy these flowers of death?
But cash crops are so hard to burn.

It’s true, “cash crops” like the gun industry are hard to burn — yet, we must not succumb to despair, we must keep trying. Here are a few resources:

As members of the UCC, we are committed to the ethical principles affirming that every person has inherent worth and dignity and that we must work together for a world community of peace, liberty, and justice for all. We will pray for all those impacted by gun violence, and we will work to be peacemakers locally and nationally.

 Blessings, Pastor Laurie 

To Oakland Fire Responders – Thank You

Yesterday the rising temperatures and the Santa Ana winds ignited a grass fire in the Oakland Hills, just below Campus Drive. Here we are, a church and a preschool with 34 children, perched on the crest of Skyline ridge, adjacent to EBRP.  Yet at first we were unaware because the winds and the smoke were blowing west, in the opposite direction from us.
 
However, we were protected because the firefighters, police officers, and park services were on their mission. Within minutes I received a text message from my friend Janet, a Park ranger, and I notified our preschool director, church members, friends and homeowners associations. They, in turn, spread the word and shared the live update links. 
 
Just as quickly as the wildfire spread, so too, did the alerts to the wider community; not only through twitter feeds from Oakland fire and police, but through citizens like you and me, through Nextdoor postings, text messages, and tweets.  Warnings spread almost as quickly as the fire!
 
Thank you firefighters, police, and park services, for keeping us safe.
 
Thank you concerned citizens, for spreading the word.
 
Thank you technology, for serving the greater good.
 
Thank you, our common humanity, reminding us of how interconnected we are.

Peace, Pastor Laurie

Forgiveness and Mercy

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ID 8336955 Dreamstime

Dear Beloved Community, 

This week we continue in the all so human themes of love manifest in our capacity to forgive ourselves and one another.

I’d like to share some beautiful quotes on these themes with you: 

Henri J.M. Nouwen, 20th century
“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”

Anne Lamott, 21st century
“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 20th century
“By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 20th century
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”
 
Abraham Lincoln, 19th century
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”

Traveling mercies this week! See you on Sunday! 

Now’s the Time to Celebrate Love and Unity

Last weekend a contingent of us from Skyline gathered glorious Sunday morning to celebrate Oakland Pride. It was my first year actually participating in the parade, and I’m very grateful to Teresa Jenkins for preaching last Sunday. Truth be told, I was especially grateful after returning from a family reunion, and the harrowing experience of my father almost dying the night we arrived. I returned exhausted, physically and emotionally, and that combined with the state of the world, I would have preached about the apocalypse. Consider it all:  the total eclipse over the US last month, last week’s powerful earthquake in Mexico, the unprecedented destruction of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the raging fires in the West, the heartless proposed DACA deportations, the ever present threat of nuclear strikes from North Korea, and the precarious state of our democracy. Does it ever seem as if God is sending us many signs from the heavens that the world is coming to an end?
 
I don’t believe that God brings forth the violence that we’re experiencing, but I do believe that God uses the violence to wake us up and to bring us together.  I was grateful to celebrate Pride, and to celebrate love and unity. Below you’ll find some photos from the parade.
 
Join us this Sunday as we celebrate our reunion together at Skyline! The choir returns, we will enjoy some festivities after worship, and above all, we will celebrate love.

Advocate for Our Planet Home

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I’ve returned from sharing precious time together with my family on the east coast where I grew up.  I’m grateful for the cooler weather out here, especially after the record setting temperatures last weekend!

Many of us have been stunned by the unprecedented climate events these past few weeks, with global heat records being surpassed, and hurricanes like Harvey and Irma becoming ever more devastating. Many of us are wondering how can we support the disaster relief efforts and how can we prevent such events from occurring in the future?
 
Here’s a word from the UCC and a way to donate to disaster relief in Houston, in response to Hurricane Harvey.
 
Charity Navigator  provides guidance to ensure that your donations maximize your contributions to relief efforts for Harvey and Irma victims.  

In the long term, we need to embrace God’s calling to us to love and to protect this precious planet, not only for ourselves but for future generations and for those most vulnerable. We must continue to embrace the science that points to the underlying influences of human induced climate change and continue to advocate for our planet. In an effort to do both, and as our NCNCUCC Climate Justice Rep, I have applied for and have received a scholarship to attend Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Conference in October. I look forward to sharing this learning with you, as partners in this ministry.
   
Peace in these times and prayers for all who need help and safety,

Pastor Laurie

Offer Love’s Response to White Supremacy’s Hatred

I am sickened by the latest incidence of violence, this time  in Charlottesville, Virginia. I pray for the families of the two police officers who died on their way to help. I pray for the family of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old paralegal who was killed by a 20-year-old white supremacist, a terrorist whose name I will not speak, who turned his car into a weapon against non-violent protesters. Heather was killed, and 19 other people were struck down by malice, hatred and racism.

They were struck down by what has stricken our nation since its founding: the horrible lie that is white supremacy. This lie was formed in the mouth of Thomas Jefferson, who had a suspicion that the Africans who had been enslaved by the freedom-seeking colonists were inferior to their white owners. This horrible lie was fanned into pseudo-science about racial hierarchy. This lie spits in the face of the truth: there is only one race, and that race is called human.

We who know the truth must be set free from apathy and boldly challenge the falsehood of white supremacy every time and everywhere we see it. We who are people of faith must not pretend that what happened in Charlottesville was violence and hatred on “many sides.” We must say the truth out loud.

This is the truth: White supremacists organized themselves and descended on Charlottesville to protest the removal of a symbol of hatred and racism. They will keep organizing and use every tool in their power to make America racist, again and again.

And we who believe in freedom, we who believe in the power of revolutionary love must keep organizing as well, and use every tool in our power to fight this hatred, to renounce this bigotry, and to call our leaders into account. This is NOT the America for us. This rising ugly tide of white supremacy, if unchecked, will become a tsunami that will drown the liberties espoused by our constitution, and will end more and more innocent lives.

Hatred kills.

We must recognize that all of these movements (black lives matter, women’s march, immigration reform, LGBTQ Pride, affordable housing, education, and healthcare, prison reform, climate justice, etc) are all part of the human rights movement. We must join together to stand on the side of love. Here are some things we can all do now in response to white supremacy:

  1. Tweet the president or retweet a prayer that @POTUS joins us to name and fight #WhiteSupremacy and the #terrorism that accompanies it.
  2. Read “UCC Pastoral Letter condemns racist violence in Charlottesville, demands equality for all”
  3. Read these articles and learn more about what’s happening here in the Bay area, Aug 26-27 weekend:
    1. Message from Mayor of Berkeley – The Aug 27 Rally does not have a permit
    2. Nancy Pelosi asks if White House had a hand in approving the permit for Aug 26    
    3. Don’t give the haters any bragging rights 
  4. Sign this petition from Faith in Public Life that calls on the @POTUS to behave like a president. It calls “on all elected officials to explicitly and publicly condemn white supremacy and the organizations that advance and seek to give it mainstream credibility.” And it asks “President Trump to remove Steve Bannon and other supporters of the alt-right from his White House and stand against the racist policies they propose.”
  5. Join us for an interfaith worship service on Sat Aug 26th, in which our very own music director, Benjamin Mertz, will be performing; stay tuned for more as plans unfold. 
  6. Join us for a conversation immediately following worship this Sunday about our own personal discernment in response. 

And never forget that when we take these actions, we are praying with our hands and our feet. We are mourning, and we are organizing against white supremacy with revolutionary love,  until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.

I leave you with the prophetic words of Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr: 

Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that. 
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, 
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. 
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar, 
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. 
Through violence you may murder the hater, 
but you do not murder hate. 
In fact, violence merely increases hate. 
So it goes. 
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, 
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. 
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: 
only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
A time to end the Silence. 

History will have to record the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the vitriolic words and other violent actions of the bad people but the appalling silence and indifference of the good people. Our generation will have to repent not only the words and acts of the children of darkness but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light.” “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

How Does the Holy Show Up in Our Lives?

How you know when God is present? When the danger has been avoided? When your heart stops pounding & you know you can breathe normally again?  When you aren’t afraid anymore? It’s an appealing idea, but unfortunately the Bible will not back it up. In that richly disturbing book, much of God’s best work takes place in total chaos, with people terrified!

This Sunday we wrestle with our faith and our understanding of how the Holy shows up in our lives. Join us as we  dive into the timeless and universal story of Jacob, who, fearing for his life, and wrestling with an angel in the darkness, gains his new life. It is a story that has captured the imaginations of artists from the great painters, Marc Chagall to Rembrandt to the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. May we open ourselves to the cloud of unknowing, and discover the light within the dark clouds and the painful experiences of our lives. 

Blessings upon your week!

Pastor Laurie 

The Man Watching  

By Rainer Maria Rilke

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after 
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes 
that a storm is coming, 
and I hear the far-off fields say things 
I can’t bear without a friend, 
I can’t love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on  
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
 
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,  
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!  
What fights with us is so great.  
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm, 
 
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,  
and the triumph itself makes us small.  
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us. 
 
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament: 
when the wrestlers’ sinews  
grew long like metal strings,  
he felt them under his fingers 
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel  
(who often simply declined the fight)  
went away proud and strengthened 
and great from that harsh hand,  
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.  
Winning does not tempt that man.  
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,  
by constantly greater beings.

                –Translated by Robert Bly

Heaven on Earth – Look Around You!

Oh, the splendor of summer days where we revel in the beauty of sunlight sparkling on water, in fields of tall wheat like grass, and in the Oakland hills with feasting herds of goats. I imagine seeing through the eyes of Jesus thousands of years ago, and how he perceived heaven here on earth within such images. 

Join us this Sunday as we immerse in these timeless parables, that we may perceive the heaven at hand here in our midst. 

I leave you with a quote from St. Augustine of Hippo, 5th Century: 

“Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book, the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Note it. Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead God set before your eyes the things that God had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?”