Oakland church

Archive for Messages from the Pastor

Thanksgiving – Whatever our Race or Religion, We are One Family

When you hear the word “Thanksgiving,” what comes to mind?  As a child,  the word immediately brought to my mind’s eye a huge turkey, roasted golden brown. I saw potatoes, stuffing, peas and onions, gravy, and of course pumpkin pie.  I saw children and parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles happily gathered around the table. I was unaware that everyone was white, just like the famous Norman Rockwell painting.  
 
But then I learned more about the Pilgrims and Wampanoags gathered around the table at the first Thanksgiving feast, and that fleeting moment of peace, friendship and mutual gratitude..But through the years, new images come to mind: 
  • Native Americans amassing in Plymouth, Massachusetts, for a National Day of Mourning—mourning for their ancestors and the theft of their lands. 
  • Undocumented children being separated from their parents at the border of this country. 
  • Trans women, fleeing the violence of their countries, seeking safety in this country, only to be brutalized and left to die in detention camps.  
  • The faces of so many others in our times, who like the Pilgrims,  come to this land seeking freedom from violence and oppression, shelter, a new home, and a new life. 
Today, I want to lift up gratitude for this congregation for choosing, in our words and actions, to become a sanctuary congregation.
 
Whatever our nation or race or religion or language we are all one family, and we have to help one another. 
 
Join us this Sunday, as we lift up the theme of gratitude.   

Healing, Wellness and Jesus’s Ways of Love

This Sunday, Nov 17, during worship we will focus on the themes of healing and wellness in the context of following in the ways of love, embodied by Jesus.  

The gospels are full of stories about Jesus healing. These healing stories are some of the most moving accounts in Scripture. They represent so many different things to different people:

  • the miracle stories used to convince the world that Jesus was the Son of God during the 1st 5 centuries ad.
  • the stories that “ higher level biblical criticism” challenged as being literally true.
  • the stories that have inspired generations of Christian healers.

No wonder scientists have wrestled with healing in a religious context. What we often dismiss as “faith healing” is contrary to almost everything that we usually place a lot of stock in: science, reason, and self-reliance. Most of us are willing to put ourselves in the hands of doctors and pharmacists when we are ill. Most of us have mostly good experience with the medical model of healing. We take whatever pills we are told to take and we see the doctor in the morning. Most of the time we feel better. Or we accept the surgery, and we see a whole lot of doctors for many mornings. Most of the time, we feel better.

But around the edges of our lives we are aware of the disease that doesn’t respond, the injury that won’t get better, the illness that can’t be cured. Whether it is AIDS or cancer, whether it is schizophrenia or depression, whether it is stroke or Alzheimer’s, we are aware of the limits of medicine. For some of us, the edges become the center, when disease or injury takes over our lives and leaves us with no hope for a cure. Finally, no matter if the edges ever move to the center, we remember at last that there is one condition we are absolutely sure will never be cured, and that is life itself. We are mortal. Our death is inevitable. Medicine may win a lot of battles, but it will always lose the war.

How, then, shall we be healed? What does it mean for us as religious liberals to talk of healing in a religious context? What does it mean to talk of healing in a world where illness and disease are understood more clearly than ever before, but where adequate health care for most of the world’s people remains inaccessible? What does it mean to talk of healing when medical and spiritual models of wellness don’t speak much to each other? What does it mean to talk of healing when all too often the best we can do with all our knowledge and power and technology is not enough? How shall we be healed?  Join us as we explore this topic. 

This Sunday, After fellowship time, from 11:30 – 12:30, we are offering what will become an ongoing series on wholistic wellness, reconnecting mind/body/spirit as part of wellness.  

We have a wealth of expertise within this faith community, and within the wider community. Sunday we begin this series with Susan Junfish, who is retired from Cal/EPA, Founder of Parents for a Safer Environment, and an environmental health scientist and public health educator trained at UC Berkeley.

Please join us for Susan’s talk after the fellowship time, entitled, Protecting Ourselves & Pets from Hidden Health Hazards at Home.  Share your specific topics of interest, like us on Facebook, and  invite others, thank you!

 Together, in this series we explore how our faith connects with and inspires wholistic health, wellness, and healing.  Please share it!

peace, Laurie 

Courage to Face the Diablo Winds of the World

As a child, I loved October as the fall foliage in New England transformed from tender green to fiery crimson and gold.

But seasons change and so do we.

Two years ago, on Oct 24th, my father died, letting go, like a leaf, falling gently to the earth.  In his memory, I had planned to attend a retreat, starting the evening of Oct 24th, in Geyserville.  That very same morning, Oct 24th, a PG&E transformer ignited a fire, during the deadliest of the Diablo winds. The epicenter, of all places, was in Geyserville. Had it been a day later, we would have been among the evacuees. The child within me asks, “was Dad watching over me?”

This time we were spared, while others were not. The Kincade fire is only 5% contained at the time of this writing, while others have started… and the Diablo winds continue, with more to come.

  • Evacuees… 180,000 people and rising,
  • Power outages for millions,
  • California is in a state of emergency.

It feels as if we are living in a war zone.  We try to carry on… as best we can… yet we are living with a sense of foreboding… because the Diablo winds will get worse. They say  this is becoming the new normal for us.

We are glued to the news… or trying to limit our intake of it.. worried that the fires may ignite here, haunted by memories of ever closer encounters with fires… 

I find myself haunted by the recurring dream that our beautiful Skyline church has burned down…that we are standing at the foundation in prayer, grateful for our lives,  looking out over a charred East Bay Regional Parks,  sharing photographs of this once beautiful place, filled with so many happy memories, where so many couples have come to get married and preschool children once played, and people once worshipped. Haunted by the reality that our beautiful sanctuary looks out at Mt Diablo.. We must face it… the Diablos..

God of life, we come again to this terrifying season of fires..
We pray for those who have lost their homes and businesses,
We pray for the people evacuated and those who shelter them,
We pray for those whose power has been cut off,
For those in nursing homes, and children with school cancelled, and life disrupted.
We pray for the firefighters.
We pray for ourselves,
to have the courage to face the diablos of the world,
the forces behind the winds of war, violence and destruction.
Give us the courage to do our part.
Inspire us, with the breath of life, to transform these diablos
into the winds of healing and peace.
Inspire us to transform this world into a place
where all people are safe from harm,
now and forever
       amen.

Prayers for the Kurds and Leadership in this Country

This past Sunday we lifted up prayers for the Kurds in Northern Syria. Let us also pray for our personal and collective moral leadership in this country.  Who would dare to be a US ally, when the betrayal of allies has become our  hallmark? Our President has betrayed the Kurds in the most cynical way, giving a “green-light” to Turkey’s invasion of Northern Syria and thus betraying the Kurds who have been our allies in fighting ISIS.  

Why did he do this?  I’d like to share with you reflections from Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite  who is President and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. 

It is an abrupt reversal of years of U.S. policy. Israel, a key ally in the region, is said to be particularly shaken by this sudden move, about which they apparently had no notice. Headlines from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz tell the tale: “Trump’s Kurdish Treachery” and “Trump Roundly Slammed.”

The Middle East is a delicate web of international alliances and histories. The one thing this region hates is sudden moves without consulting allies. As The Washington Post reported: “The abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria and subsequent Turkish attacks on Kurdish fighters have badly rattled Israel’s national security experts, who decried President Trump’s action as a betrayal of loyal allies and evidence that Israel’s most vital supporter is a fickle friend at best.”

But maybe, as in many Trump actions, it has nothing very much to do with the interests of allies in the Middle East such as Israel, or even the best security interests of the people of the United States, and a lot to do with the interests of Donald Trump.

In 2015, Trump gave a radio interview in which he said, “I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul … It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers — two towers, instead of one, not the usual one, it’s two.”

As it turns out, it’s more than a little conflict of interest. Trump doesn’t own these towers, he leases his name. And it’s been very lucrative, per reporting from Mother Jones: “According to personal financial disclosures filed by Trump, since he launched his bid for the presidency, he has earned somewhere between $3.2 million and $17 million in royalties from the deal. (The amounts are given in ranges; the precise figures are unclear.)” 

So Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his current supporter, Aydin Dogan, the wealthy owner of these glass towers with Trump’s name on them, have quite a hold on Donald Trump. Erdogan has actually threatened to remove Trump’s name from the towers in the past when he has done something Erdogan doesn’t like.

Maybe this betrayal of the Kurds is just as simple and terrible as keeping Trump’s name on two towers in Istanbul, and the security interests of the world be damned. Literally.

The world’s religions reserve a special scorn for those who betray their friends, especially for financial gain. In the Christian scriptures, Judas is said to have agreed to betray Jesus for “thirty pieces of silver.” (Matthew 26: 14-16)

In the climactic scene from the movie “A Man for All Seasons,” Sir Thomas More is betrayed by Richard Rich, who has been bribed to do it by being made attorney general of Wales. More tries one last time to get his former friend to repent, and he quotes Jesus of Nazareth on what it does to a person to betray another for money. “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world (Matthew 16:26). But for Wales?”

Betrayal of a friend for a real estate deal, even one as big as the whole world, profits you nothing, Jesus argues. Thus, we might paraphrase Jesus words as follows:

“Donald, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for your name on two glass towers?”   

Let us pray, as a nation, for the restoration of our souls. 

 blessings, pastor Laurie 

Climate – a Global Grassroots Movement for Life

Days after global protests calling for climate change action, the United Nations held a special climate summit where world leaders and other officials gathered to hammer out specific pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.N. made science very visible in advance of this meeting.  https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/fiery-calls-to-action-at-un-climate-summit-dont-win-pledges-from-worst-emitters

Recently, the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank, measured the percentage of people in the US who believe that climate change is a threat to the well-being of the planet. The results were more telling than even I expected.  94% of liberal democrats believe it is a threat, but only 19% of conservative republicans do. Perhaps even more frightening is that only 57%  of all people in the US do. 

In Europe, the very question would illicit incredulity because they KNOW climate change is a threat, just like they know the earth is round and the sun is hot. How this became a matter of opinion in this country is a frightening tribute to politicians’ ability to use the media and the bible to manipulate our trust in the most basic science-based facts. 
 
Relatedly, if we can be made to doubt something so obvious, what other things have we been made to believe that simply aren’t so? Well, a good portion of people in this country believe that tax cuts for the rich will help the poor and middle-class. Many people believe we went to war with Iraq because of 9/11.  Apparently, many people still believe that capital punishment deters crime and that guns make us a safer nation. 
 
I have been so moved by the clarity of Greta Thunberg, the voice of a young prophet of our times, challenging insatiable greed, at the expense of life itself.
 
I give thanks to Skyline for being a part of the movement, to reform our understanding and our ways of what it means to be good stewards of this precious planet, and embodying inclusive love of all people, especially the most vulnerable. I give thanks for advocating for the Green New Deal, as part of this global grass roots movement for life.  

Join us this Sunday as we deepen our connection to this global grass roots movement for life. We look forward to celebrating Yom Kippur with Rabbi David Cooper, a passionate advocate for social and environmental justice, and  founding rabbi of Kehilla synagogue in Oakland. Here’s some info about David

Love and Listen Deeply

This Sunday we gather to celebrate love, including a family friendly picnic with lots of games and activities for all ages, an encore performance of the “Parable of the Dancing Queen”  and a beautiful worship service! 
 
A friend of mine is getting married, and she and her fiancé recently asked if I would marry them. Of course, I said, yes. Here’s a poem she shared with me today, which in turn, I would love to share with you! 
 
God is still speaking! Let us create the time and space within our hours,  to listen deeply. 
 

Why am I reaching again for the brushes
When I paint your portrait, God,
nothing happens.

But I can choose to feel you.

At my senses’ horizon
you appear hesitantly,
like scattered islands.

Yet standing here, peering out,
I’m all the time seen by you.

The choruses of angels use up all of heaven.
There’s no more room for you
in all that glory. You’re living
in your very last house.

All creation holds its breath, listening within me,
because, to hear you, I keep silent.

~ Ranier Maria Rilke ~

(Rilke’s Book of Hours:Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)

Pride Sunday – Welcome Home!

Last weekend Oakland celebrated LGBTQ+ Pride  in a tastefully, over -the -top way!

This Sunday, September 15th, we will bring LGBTQ+ Pride  to Skyline, in worship!

We will celebrate Pride with a family friendly service, featuring the Parable of the Dancing Queen, written by our very own Tim Carter, former Senior Producer at Sesame Street and winner of 14 Emmy awards!! Also featured are puppetry and costuming, from our very own David G. and Alegra Figeroid, artists extraordinaire!

After all, it’s a big year!  Fifty years ago, the Pride movement began in the US. on  June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in NYC. Just think of it….Skyline and Pride were both born out of the liberation and justice movements fifty years ago, as part of the evolving understanding of the equal rights of women, people of color, LGBTQ people, indigenous people, and the ecumenical interfaith movement, as well as the wisdom that with our evolving understanding of science and human development, so too must our faith evolve. Ours is a still speaking God! 

Have you ever felt left out? Excluded? Singled out for being different? How did you feel? Did you ever want to run away from home, from school, from church, your country, from it all? Have you ever yearned to find other people who really saw you and understood you and loved you for who you are? Have you ever yearned to be free to sing, dance, and  just be yourself?  I think of Jesus’s parable for this Sunday,  of the  lost and found coins, sheep, and people; and God’s love for each and every one of us: seeking, finding, loving, and welcoming us home, just as we are. 

When the UCC, Golden Gate Association in 1972, ordained Bill Johnson as the first openly gay minister in an historical protestant denomination and to become the first denomination to support equal marriage rights for same sex couples, we were saying welcome home! You are part of the family.

When, in 2008, at the height of the debate over the Prop 8 same-sex marriage legislation in California, Skyline hung a banner in front of the church entrance, proclaiming to every passerby “Support Marriage Equality. We do.” we were saying welcome home! You are part of the family.

And when I, Skyline’s pastor Laurie, blessed same sex couples for many years before it was a legal right, and urged all heterosexual couples I married to stand in solidarity with them, until the day that this became a legal right for all people, we were saying welcome home! You are part of the family.

Read more about UCC’s LGBTQ actions and programs.

Welcome home! It’s Pride Sunday! Children are especially welcome!!

Summer – a Time Outside of Time

 

 

 

 

Summer time…. a time outside of time, a time for resting in nature, reveling in the unique beauty of this place we call home, renewing our souls, and remembering Who’s we are. 

Did you notice the full moon grow ever brighter?  Did you watch the fog move slowly under the Golden Gate bridge and over the  Peninsula ridge, and move across the Bay? Did you see how the violet poppies open in the morning and close at dusk?  

In the quiet beauty of such noticing, I give thanks to the small still voice within each one of us, “that makes us lie down in green pastures, that leads us besides the pools of still water, and restores our souls”.

I wish many such moments for you!! 

Immigrant Rights and Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity Call to Action

Hi Rev Deb, (and IM4HI)

I hope that you are doing well, what a time to be alive, and advocating for the rights of undocumented people!   As you are well aware, the ongoing plight of immigrants at the border, especially children is heartbreaking and sickening, and is growing worse.  Then there’s also the upcoming ICE raids planned in a few weeks. We want to do something, and wanting to pool together ideas, resources, and responses.  You’ve probably seen this: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/24/opinion/border-kids-immigration-help.html

 What’s the Center for Human Integrity’s response, and how can we be of support, locally?

 peace, Laurie 

********************************************************

(From Rev. Deb)

Hi Rev. Laurie, and Skyline,

Here is our eblast where we are trying to direct people to act.  It would be good for congregations to get together – hold an event – to discuss and learn more, watch a film.  What is happening is not new, but is being exploited to an all new level.  Good for people to think about what they can do longterm – like support housing needs, creatively in the parking lot or congregations, or congregation members homes.
 
Also Donations are needed locally- as we are constantly getting requests for new arrivals – and have our emergency housing fund.  Once they are able to move out of the terrible camps at the border. They are coming to cities like ours across the country with little or no help and infrastructure.
 
 
Also we need help with Sergio’s bond fundraiser so he can come home.  Follow this link to donate-https://www.gofundme.com/help-us-reunite-sergio-with-his-fa…
Sent by
Rev. Deborah Lee
Executive Director
Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity (IM4HumanIntegrity)
310 8th St. Suite 310
Oakland, CA  94607
o) 510 948-7899  
c) 415- 534-5620
 
 
All People are Sacred Across All Borders
Justice Not Jails
Compassion Has No Walls 
More on the border issue:
Dear Friends:  
 
We are all concerned about the deplorable detention of children, and the President’s threat of immigration raids. Once again, he has created a hostage crisis. Now threatening to resume immigration raids in two weeks unless Congress approves a spending bill of $4.5 billion that would worsen the crisis he has created. The harm is felt across our communities, so we invite you to breathe and remember the power and strength we’ve been building in the local community. This violence is not isolated only to immigrants, but it is also practiced on other communities by recent policies: Muslims, Jews, Women of Color, Transgendered folks, Indigenous, African American, and more.
 
We invite you to join us in acts that lift up our faith values:
  • We must practice collective responsibility by addressing the root causes of social problems.
  • We are interconnected and accountable for one another.
CONTACT YOUR CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS
Congress is in the midst of negotiating the two versions of the spending bill. It is critical that you contact your U.S. Congressperson’s office immediately. Click here to find your congress representative.
 
They need to hear your faith values that upholds the sanctity of all!
  • No more funding for ICE, detention, and enforcement.
  • Divest from all programs that criminalize and incarcerate immigrants.
  • Release all those detained to their families and communities.
  • Invest in alternatives that focus on integration of immigrants.
  • End contracts with private corporations.
JOIN UPCOMING EVENTS at IM4H
In addition to participating in local actions to express outrage and concern; we invite you to join us over the next few weeks to strengthen your faith, deepen our connection to each other, and mend the past, in order to transform our future!
 
 
 
 
 
August 10th, 7pm, Faith Reflection on Reparations: Led by Kehilla Community Synagogue, Chochmat HaLev, and IM4HI. More details to come.
TURNING OUR ANGER AND FEAR INTO ACTION
With the announcement last week, that several major U.S. cities would be terrorized by the cruel machine known as ICE, our family was once again forced to imagine what it would be like if we were separated and what our plan of action would be if this actually happened.  READ FULL ARTICLE HERE
 
For resources about detention and deportation please click here

Let Your Light Shine!

In just a few weeks, our sanctuary will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking ceremony which happened on July 14th, 1969. Happy ground breaking anniversary, Skyline sanctuary! What a vision! 

But the vision and the movement began much earlier, as the young families living in the Oakland hills searched for a more progressive, non-doctrinal faith community. Founding Pastor, William McCormack, held worship services at Skyline High School while his wife played the portable organ.  Friends invited friends to come and experience this new happening.  Skyline’s first annual meeting took place Jan 4th, 1964, at the high school, and 300 members were enrolled at that time. It sounds like a story of Pentecost to me!

We are part of the UCC’s amazing legacy, the first national denomination to ordain an African American, a woman, an openly gay man, and now the first national denomination to support the Green New Deal.  Skyline has an amazing legacy as well. We are a progressive, spiritual, open and affirming, green, sanctuary congregation. Ours is a vision and a voice, that is vitally needed in these challenging times.

Here we are, 50 years later, living in a very different time. The Spirit is calling us to lift up our hearts , open our eyes, and respond to the new vision that God is calling us to in this time and place.  

Join us this Sunday for a wonderful worship service, including a baptism, to be followed by our annual meeting.  Child care and lunch are provided. We encourage you to log on to the website to review the budget and our slate of officers, prior to the meeting.   

You and I are called to be light. Jesus said so! As Eugene Peterson translates Matthew 5:14-16: 
 
You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bushel basket do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous God in heaven.