Oakland church

Archive for Messages from the Pastor

“You are the Light of the World, Let Your Light Shine”

Altar


My heart is full of gratitude for the greening of the earth, and for the timeless stories of hope and justice that live on in our time in the countless acts of courage and love.
 
I am reminded of our closing ritual in our Christmas Eve service, that in lighting one candle and passing it on, together, our light shines in the darkness. I am reminded of the words of Jesus in John’s gospel, reminding us, “You are the light of the world, let your light shine”.  Even during the brief neighborhood power outage, the light and the music shined on!
 
I am grateful for the light which shines so brightly in each one of you!
  • The inspired vision of Sunday’s Christmas Pageant, the Bethlehemian Rhapsody, through our very own Tim Carter and David Guerra, our resident Rogers and Hammerstein! Special thanks to our Holy family (Amie, Justin, & Josiah), Angel (Anna), Herod (Boyd), and our choir!
  • The soulful, joyous music from Monday’s Christmas eve service, featuring so many songs from black spirituals, like Rise up Shepherds and Follow, Mary Had a Baby, Ain’t that a Rockin, songs that emerged from the sufferings of slavery, that lift up the timeless scriptures, and inspire God’s timeless vision of freedom and liberation, and good news for all people. Special thanks to Benjamin Mertz and the choir!!
  • Our kitchen angels: led by the wonderful Marcella Hardy, supported by Paula & Dave Byrens, Becky Taylor, Philippia Pegram, and all of you who donated treats!
  • The recent generosity to support the children of East Oakland Community Project, the largest transitional homeless center in Alameda County. Special thanks to Nancy Taylor, chair of our justice & witness teams!
  • The Green team for their recent community sing, to support for the Camp Fire victims, to their consistent dedication in maintaining our beautiful campus, especially in this Christmas season! Special thanks to Catherine Kessler, and Michael Armijo!
  • Our spiritual life team in offering the well -received Saturday morning advent bible study
  • The joy of welcoming those of you who have been away, the pleasure of welcoming those of you who are new, and the love that unites us all, across time and space.
I encourage you to enjoy the photos (see below) and the videos (see links below) from our worship together!
 
My heart and prayers are with all of those for whom this season carries grief and sadness. You are part of the circle of light. You are part of this family of love. May you experience God’s healing light, bringing comfort and peace to you and to those you love.  
 
Video Links

Prepare a Space for God “to be Born Within Us”

It’s Monday, December 17 at 7;30 pm, and as I type this, it’s hard to believe that next week, literally at this time, we will be celebrating our Christmas eve service! 
 
    It’s so easy, in the midst of grief, to feel that the promise of new life is not meant for us. 
 
    It’s so easy, in the midst of stress,  to lose sight of the deeper meaning  of God with us
 
    It’s so easy, in the midst of fear, to want to close ourselves off from the hope and promise of love. 
 
   As the great Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart once wrote, “God is always wanting to be born within us” 
 
    I believe that it’s true, and like pregnancy and birth, we need to be active participants in the process. 
 
    I offer you some suggestions for preparing a space within yourself. 
  • Take time to read the timeless words of the prophets, that speak to us, personally and collectively,  as people 
  • living in the wilderness, in need of comfort, living in a land of deep darkness. I love the words of Isaiah 40, and 35, and 9.
  • Take time to read the birth narratives, especially  Luke 2.
  • Take time to be still, to breathe deeply, to breathe in peace, to breathe out fear, and to allow yourself to be fully open, vulnerable, and real, with the God who loves you completely. 
  • Take time to be grateful, even in the midst of all of the pain,  violence, and suffering,  for the gift of life, of love, of this moment, of the beauty that is all around  and within us. 
     
Blessings and peace to you this week, with love, Pastor Laurie

“Let Us Walk in the Light of Our God”

copyright nathan mcbride 2018 unsplash

In this season of Advent, may you walk in the light of peace! God bless you and thank you, for the privilege of serving as your minister.

An Advent Reading

Some day,

the Lord’s house will be there,

on that highest mountain.

And people will climb the mountain

and learn, from the Lord, how to live.

And they will spread the word to others,

so that everyone will know

how to act in the right way.

No nation shall invade another nation.

No, never again shall anyone be trained for war.

Swords shall be hammered into plows for the farm,

and spears recycled into tools for the garden.

Come,

let us all walk in the light of the Lord. 

                             adapted from Isaiah 2:1-5

Isaiah reminds us that Advent is about creating a new world in which there will be only one center, one people, one Light and one reason to be. “The mountain of God’s house shall be established as the highest mountain . . . and all nations shall stream toward it…O house of Jacob, come,” Isaiah pleads. “Let us walk in the light of our God.” 

In this season of advent, let us look up, to the mountaintop, let us walk together in the light of God. 

With love, Pastor Laurie

God’s Time

On this first Sunday of Advent, we begin to prepare for the story of Jesus’ birth with the strangest of readings, near the end of Luke, and just a few lines before the story of his death. 

“When you hear of war and insurrections, do not be terrified, for these things must take place first. But the end will not follow immediately. ‘Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes and famines and plagues, and dreadful portents and great signs from heaven…’” 

He predicts persecution for the disciples. He says “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days.”  Woe is right!  As in whoa! Ease up, man! We haven’t even digested our Thanksgiving leftovers!

So much for ‘little baby Jesus.’  Instead, we’ve got super serious, super stern sounding, adult Jesus.  What’s more, he goes all kinds of end-timey on us, here!  What does it all mean, especially now in the troubling times we are living in?

This Advent season, we are called to see these troubled times not just as our time, but as God’s time as well. That long view of time which spans millennia and generations, a time which encompasses memory and hope, with God as our mercy and our judge. The season is about God’s coming to us, to be sure, but it’s also about our coming to God,  about our coming to Jesus, returning year after year, and perhaps especially this year, to his prophetic voice of hope, to his way of radically inclusive love, to the long view of human history and with it the long view of our human redemption.  May we heed his call to be on guard, and to be not afraid. May we draw near to that already and not yet day of God, even as it draws near to us. Amen.

     peace, Pastor Laurie 

Gratitude

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash


It has been a hard week, especially for children and those with respiratory conditions given the poor air quality in the aftermath of the worst fire in California history. Yet, the faithful remnant arrived to worship on Sunday, donning our  M95 masks, and focusing on gratitude and compassion. Special thanks to Tim Carter, David G. and Al Figeroid for their amazing Thanksgiving skit! (Please see photos and video below.)
 
We also  offered gifts to support the people of Butte County, especially in Paradise and have opportunities to share more (please see article below). 
 
We are reminded with every breath that we share the same air, and that we are more connected than we realize. May the breath, the Spirit of God, unite us together despite all that seeks to divide us. May we resolve to care more deeply for the earth, for one another, for future generations, and for poor people of color, globally and locally,  who live in disproportionally more polluted areas. 
 
May we remember, especially on this Thanksgiving, the heroism of Squanto who showed unconditional love to the Pilgrims despite his entrapment and enslavement by white skinned people; to those he could have easily seen as the enemy. May we remember that this sacred land that we live on was first their land.  May we remember the wisdom of the Native Americans who recognized their deep connection with this precious planet. 
 
Next Sunday join us for a conversation about becoming more conscious of our own white privilege, and a discussion after worship on Robin D’Angelo’s book, “White Fragility”. If you haven’t ordered the book, and don’t have time to read it, I encourage you to read this white paper
 
Blessings and safe and easy travels, to all of you who are traveling for Thanksgiving. 
 
I leave you with a quote written in Nov, 2016 about Thanksgiving by Dianna Butler Bass entitled, “Choose Gratitude”.

God, there are days we do not feel grateful. When we are anxious or angry. When we feel alone. When we do not understand what is happening in the world or with our neighbors. When the news is bleak, confusing. God, we struggle to feel grateful.

But this Thanksgiving, we choose gratitude.

We choose to accept life as a gift from you, and as a gift from the unfolding work of all creation.

We choose to be grateful for the earth from which our food comes; for the water that gives life; and for the air we all breathe.

We choose to thank our ancestors, those who came before us, grateful for their stories and struggles, and we receive their wisdom as a continuing gift for today.

We choose to see our families and friends with new eyes, appreciating and accepting them for who they are. We are thankful for our homes, whether humble or grand.

We will be grateful for our neighbors, no matter how they voted, whatever our differences, or how much we feel hurt or misunderstood by them.

We choose to see the whole planet as our shared commons, the stage of the future of humankind and creation.

God, this Thanksgiving, we do not give thanks. We choose it. We will make this choice of thanks with courageous hearts, knowing that it is humbling to say “thank you.” We choose to see your sacred generosity, aware that we live in an infinite circle of gratitude. That we all are guests at a hospitable table around which gifts are passed and received. We will not let anything opposed to love take over this table. Instead, we choose grace, free and unmerited love, the giftedness of life everywhere. In this choosing, and in the making, we will pass gratitude onto the world.

Thus, with you, and with all those gathered at this table, we pledge to make thanks. We ask you to strengthen us in this resolve. Here, now, and into the future. Around our family table. Around the table of our nation. Around the table of the earth.

We choose thanks.

Amen.

The Sacredness of the Earth

Even as more and more people are beginning to see God, not only in the heavens, but right here on the earth, we are also discovering how fragile and endangered the Earth is. 

Just consider the latest reports from the UN. Or consider the increasingly dangerous fires, droughts, and hurricanes we’ve been experiencing.  The greatest need seems to be mobilizing the spiritual and political will to stop catastrophic climate disaster.  It is, among the greatest moral imperatives of our time, disproportionately affecting poor people of color, and future generations on this planet.  The U.N.’s climate panel tells world leaders the time for dithering on climate change is over.

  
For millennia, the ancients looked to the heavens, to the light of millions of stars above, to find God.  Although the stars still move us to wonder, contemporary people are learning that the soil beneath our feet is as mysterious, complex, and awe-inspiring as gazing into the night sky.  “I was stunned by what I learned about life in the soil,” says journalist Kristin Ohlson, “that when we stand on the surface of the Earth, we’re atop a vast underground kingdom of microorganisms without which life as we know it wouldn’t exist.  Trillions of microorganisms, even in my own smallish backyard, like a great dark sea swarming with tiny creatures.”
 
In fact, the soil is sacred.  Even the most secular writers understand that the ground calls forth an ethical, moral, and spiritual response.  We are powerfully connected to the ground, and the soil is intimately related to how we understand and celebrate God.  The late Irish Roman Catholic priest and philosopher, John O’Donohue, called the land “the firstborn of creation” and the “condition of the possibility of everything.”  The Earth itself, he insisted, holds the memory of the beginning of all things, the memory of God.  When feminist theologian Sallie McFague offers the metaphor of “body” to describe the relationship between God and the world, she is reminding us of both scientific truth and a sacred mystery.  “What if,” she asks, “we saw the Earth as part of the body of God, not as separate from God (who dwells elsewhere), but as the visible reality of the invisible God?

 
In her book, Grounded, author and scholar of American religion and culture,Diana Butler Bass, writes, “Although I had observed wounded landscapes, it did not occur to me that dirt was threatened on a larger scale.  Soil was like air or water, a boundless gift of creation, always present. Yet soil is being lost at an alarming rate all over the planet.  During the last century and a half, the planet has lost half its topsoil.”  According to a Cornell University study, American soil is disappearing ten times faster than the rate at which it can be replenished; China and India are experiencing erosion rates thirty to forty times faster.  In the last forty years alone, about one-third of the world’s formerly productive soil has become unusable, and the planet continues to lose approximately twenty-five million acres a year to erosion.  This is an environmental crisis to be sure, but it is a moral and ethical one as well.
 
Something odd is happening, however, as this disaster is unfolding.  At the same time that the Earth is losing its soil, more people than ever are making their way back to the ground. Skyline’s Green team, and our Garden of God, is a great example. So are many of you! Urban gardens are cropping up throughout the world, and people are learning to respect and participate in the miraculous processes that are happening, literally beneath our feet. 
 
An atheist friend of mine is fond of saying, “I just don’t believe that God is an old man sitting on the throne in Heaven.”    Nor do the millions of people who still trust in God, yet reject this particular conception of God.  McFague calls it the “transcendent sky-God tradition.”  As Diana Butler Bass writes, “Instead of seeing God as distinct and distant from the world, we are acquiring a new awareness that the universe itself is God’s body, a complex and diverse interdependent organism, animated by God’s breath, the spirit of creation.  We are with God and God is with us because – and some people may find this shocking – we are in God and God is in us.  Maybe the far-off Heavenly Father is finally retiring, replaced by a far more down-to-earth presence, a presence named in Hebrew and Christian scriptures as both love and spirit.”  As Wendell Berry puts it “The idea of Heaven doesn’t take religion very far,” because the distance makes for too great an abstraction.  “Love,” as the very being of God, he continued, “has to wear a face.”  And that “face” is “our neighborhood, our neighbors and other creatures, the Earth and its inhabitants.
 
Join us this Sunday at 10 am  as we continue this revolutionary spiritual journey, drawing from the wisdom of Genesis, Jesus’s parable of the sower, Diana Butler Bass’s book, Grounded,  and Forrest Pritchard’s book, Gaining Ground.
 
After worship, food and fellowship, our conversation will continue from 11:45-12;30. All are welcome! Childcare is provided!
 
peace, Laurie . 

“Won’t you be my Neighbor?”

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?   Mr. Rogers

This Sunday at 10 am, come and experience the Parable of the Good Samaritan, not only in a sermon but also in a fabulous children’s skit based on the gospel according to Fred Rogers! 

The skit is written and performed by our talented,  Emmy award winning, Tim Carter who is a former Senior Producer with Sesame Street  http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Tim_Carter, and David Guerra, an artist and award winning costumer who is creating special props and puppets.  Join us for a wonderful day in the neighborhood, filled with inspiring music, delicious food, wonderful people, child-friendly programs, and an interesting discussion about our local and global neighbors.

It’s also a time to join us later in the afternoon as we celebrate the end of the ICE contract with the West County Detention Facility, and as we continue to support undocumented men, women, and children, as our neighbors. We will also be receiving a special collection for the UCC’s justice ministries supporting our local and global neighbors in need. 

Come join us, neighbors!!   

Just for the Fun of It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I See You – Passion Project for Oakland’s Homeless

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    with love, Pastor Laurie 

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

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

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

Photo by Matthew Huang on Unsplash


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

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

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

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