Oakland church

Archive for Messages from the Pastor

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.

Pentecost – the Power and Mystery of the Holy Spirit

This Sunday we celebrate the power and Mystery of the Holy Spirit! 

She is that powerful, moving,  invisible yet real presence, blowing into our lives as gently as each breath, or as powerfully as a hurricane. She is that energy heating up our lives as gently as a candle, or with the awesome power of a  wildfire. Which version of the Spirit do you prefer? 

 This Sunday, we honor the moment when the disciples experienced the Holy Spirit and realized that they no longer needed the physical presence of Jesus. Each of them had his own inner conduit to God. So do we, if we dare to seek her. 

Here’s how Luke (Acts 2:1-6) describes the moment, in the Message

When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

The Pentecost spirit is captured in a powerful poem by William Blake:

Unless the eye catch fire,
The God will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire
The God will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire
The God will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire,
The God will not be loved.
Unless the mind catch fire,
The God will not be known.

Dare we catch fire? 
 
I look forward to seeing you in worship this Sunday! 

Re-Opening Skyline – Safely and Inclusively

Can you believe it? It’s week 8 of SIP here in Alameda County.

So many of us in this country are engaged in the question, when will we open up again? How will we do so in a way that keeps us all safe?  As states begin to open again and restaurants welcome patrons, offices reopen, and churches begin holding in-person activities, the question we face is: Who will we leave behind?

COVID-19 is with us until we have a vaccine or cure. Some of us are more vulnerable to being killed by this virus if we contract it. As a nation, we are caught between the tension of restarting our economy and risking the spread of COVID 19, that has already killed over 80,000 people in our country, disproportionately poor people of color. How do we re-open in a way that keeps all of us safe and leaves no one behind?

It’s a particularly challenging question for Skyline as a faith community. The Skyline community, like many protestant churches, is older and most at risk. How do we open the church and carry on knowing that our oldest members, already struggling to engage new technology, will be left out of important moments of being a community together? Who will we leave behind? I’m reminded of how often Jesus promised: I will not abandon you, whether you’re a lost sheep, or an orphan. Let’s not leave anyone behind!

It’s also a particularly challenging question for Skyline as a small church, that also owns a preschool and offers our venue for rentals and weddings. The challenges of maintaining social distancing and sanitary conditions will be formidable in such gatherings. How do we plan to open up in a way that maximizes the safety of us all, and balance this with our economic reality that most of our revenues come from our preschool and weddings?

I don’t have an easy answer for us, as a country or as Skyline. We are continually monitoring the guidelines from the CDC and local Alameda County health department for both church and preschool openings.

But I do have faith that we can do this if we engage in this process together. You’re invited to consider the gifts that you have in this important conversation. Get involved!

As we begin reopening, let us do so with deep compassion and measured patience. We have much to learn about how to be together right now. Let’s make sure we discern the way forward together.

 

God is with us through this Storm

These are days in which we feel tossed about by the rough winds and waves, like boats at sea. These are times of change, loss and confusion. And times of living with so many unanswered questions: When do we open?  Do we stay home? Will my job be there when this is over? Will my child be going to school in the fall? Will I run out of money this month? Can my family help me if I should need it? What will I do if I get sick and don’t have insurance?

It’s hard to find our bearings, hard to predict the winds, and hard to see the shore.  Life feels adrift, and while we are sharing the experience of disorientation, we are not all experiencing the same vulnerabilities. We are in this together, but our journeys are uniquely our own.

I am grateful to ride out the winds and waves together. My comfort comes not in an expectation that God will perform some great miracle, but that God is with us through it all. We can trust this journey because we are not alone.

I recently read a piece that conveyed this sense of isolated connection that I’ve been experiencing: 

I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked, and mine might not be.

Or vice versa.

For some, quarantine is optimal. A moment of reflections, of re-connection, easy in flip-flops, with a cocktail or coffee. For others, this is a desperate financial and family crisis.

For some that live alone, they’re facing endless loneliness. While for others it is peace, rest, and time with their mother, father, sons and daughters.

With the $600 (US) weekly increase in unemployment, some are bringing in more money to their households than they were working.

Others are working more hours for less money, due to pay cuts or loss in commissioned sales.

Some families of four just received $3400 from the stimulus package, while other families of four saw $0.

Some were concerned about getting a certain candy for Easter, while others were concerned if there would be enough bread, milk, and eggs for the weekend.

Some want to go back to work because they don’t qualify for unemployment and are running out of money. Others want to kill those who break quarantine.

Some are at home spending two to three hours a day, helping their child with online schooling, while others are doing the same on top of a 10–12 hour work day.

Some have experienced the near death of the virus, some have already lost someone from it, and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it.

 

Others don’t believe this is a big deal.


Others say the worst is yet to come.
Some have faith in God and expect miracles this year.

We are not in the same boat. We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.

Each of us will emerge, in our own way, from this storm. It is important to see beyond what is seen at first glance. Not just looking, actually seeing.

We are all on different ships during this storm, experiencing a very different journey. — Unknown Author

Hear the Sounds of the Eternal; Holy Week Appreciations

May you hear the sounds of the eternal in this season of spring, even as we are sheltering in place. 

That your glory rises in the morning sun
and sparkles off flowing waters,
that the glory of the everlasting world
shines in this world
growing from the ground
and issuing forth in every creature,
that glory can be handled, seen and known
in the matter of earth and human relationships
and the most ordinary matters of daily life,
assure us again this day, O God,
assure us again this day.
 
~ by John Philip Newell, excerpt from Sounds of the Eternal: A Celtic Psalter

Holy week and Easter reflections: 
 
It was wonderful to be with so many of you during Holy Week, and Easter, especially this year. My deepest gratitude to each one of you, participating from as far away as Philadelphia, Washington DC, and yes, even Cartagena Colombia! Deepest appreciation for our virtual worship team, of Tom Manley, Ken Medema, Benjamin Mertz, Gabrielle Lochard, for our teamwork and innovation in this transformation process. Special thanks to David Guerra for working with me to create a new virtual worship story time for children. Last week we had 15 families taking part! And deepest thanks to YOU for being with us! 
 
Here are the video services from Holy week as well as previous services.

Here are our online programs – Sunday mornings, Tuesday Bible study, Friday prayer and care.

This Sunday, and for the rest of our shelter in place time, join us as we continue with our uplifting worship services, featuring our extraordinary virtual worship team! 
 

Connecting, Updates, Prayer and Palm/Passion Sunday

Here we are, in April, beginning  another month of sheltering in place. What a time we are living through! 

Even in the midst of this there are blessings. Among them has been the blessing of communicating with you through social media: worshiping, studying, praying and yes, even sharing birthday celebrations and happy hours together.

I am grateful to the virtual teams within our faith community, rising up to offer all kinds of support within and beyond us. I hope you were able to join the zoom crowd who worshiped online this week. If you missed it, you can find it here on our website.  Many of us are using zoom for the first time, and here’s a helpful tutorial to get started.  You can always call me on my cell phone! All of our computers are facing buffering challenges due to the overload on various platforms and the internet in general, please be patient.  

Last Sunday, the 29th of March, I lifted up the theme of grief, so I want to offer a helpful article for you to better understand your own experience of grief. 

Please continue to check our weekly email, our  Facebook  page, and our website for updates.    

This Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday— please find a palm, or a leafy branch, or a symbol of gratitude for praising the heroes of our time, and bring it with you for our service.  And, before you sit down to participate in the Zoom service (here’s the link), please have ready nearby elements of food and drink to share in our agape meal, remembering Jesus and all those we love that we wish were here with us, and all those in need, especially during the pandemic.  Finally, David G. is leading a Zoom Children’s time at 11:30 – read more here.

Prayer for today:

You have been our strength, O God.
At the beginning of the day you brought us from darkness into light.
At the ending of the day you lead us from busyness into stillness.
In earth’s cycles and seasons you offer us new life and fresh beginnings.
Be our strength this day and the strength of new beginnings in our world.
Be our help, O God, and the help of those who cry out in need.
~ by John Philip Newell, excerpt from Celtic Treasure: Daily Scriptures and Prayer

Prayer in music & videos:

Inspiration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video Recordings of Past Services

March 15 – Recorded at the church by Tom
March 22 – Wonderful interactive zoom service. Ken, Benjamin, Gabrielle and Pastor Laurie.
March 29  – Topic is grief, Ken, Benjamin, Gabrielle and Pastor Laurie.
April 5 – Palm Sunday, with Ken, Benjamin, Gabrielle and Pastor Laurie.
April 5 – Donkey Odie tells his story for Palm Sunday with David G. 
April 9 – Good Friday with Ken, Benjamin, Gabrielle and Pastor Laurie.
April 12 – Easter Sunday Service with Ken,  Gabrielle, Benjamin and Pastor Laurie
April 12 – Children’s Time, Easter Sunday, with Enriquita KittyKat and Edmund Caterpillar
April 19 – Sunday Service
April 19 – Children’s Time with Mirabelle Fairy and David G.
April 22 – 50th Anniversary of Earth day
April 26 – Sunday Service
April 26 – Children’s Time with Enriquita who learns how to be kind even when she can’t go out
May 3 – Sunday Service
May 3 – Children’s time (repeat of April 26)
May 10 – Sunday Service (Family Friendly service that includes Children’s time and story telling)
May 10 – Children’s time story: “The Waiting Room”
May 17 – Sunday Service
May 24 – Sunday Service
May 31 – Sunday Pentecost Service
June 7 – Sunday Service – (Sermon, scripture, sermon response only)
June 14 – Sunday Service (27 minutes)
June 21 – Sunday Service (34 min)
June 28 – Sunday Service  (22 min)

 

 

 

Praying in Crisis, Holding Back Nothing from God

Dear Ones,

We are in the season of praying in crisis, holding back nothing from the God who invites us to come, naked and vulnerable, just as we are, holding nothing back from the One who loves and knows us better than we know ourselves  Be encouraged in your time of prayer in the days ahead. I encourage you to join us for 1 PM contemplative prayer on Friday: Zoom Meeting, Meeting ID: 910 815 155, or just call me!

There is a beautiful poem, which captures the essence of intimate, naked vulnerability before God in prayer, entitled the Guest House, by the Sufi poet, Rumi, 

I leave you with Rumi’s words:

Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.