Oakland church

Archive for Messages from the Pastor

Behold What is Beckoning Us this New Year

Those of us who are hikers know what a cairn is, right?  A cairn is a little pile of stones that we sometimes see along the trail — or maybe a marker of some sort — that marks a turning point, or a crossroads in the trail, a decision point.

If you’re a hiker you know that when you come to a cairn on the path it’s usually a good idea to let your pack down and sit down and maybe take a sip of water and eat some trail mix, take out your map and figure out where exactly you’ve come from and where it is that you’re going.  A time of reorientation, to make sure you’re still headed in the right direction.  That’s what New Year’s was for our ancestors, a kind of milestone, a reckoning point on life’s journey.
I can remember hiking in the high Sierras, where the stars are so bright that you can see our home (our galaxy-the Milky Way), gracefully revealing her light, which so often is obscured with our light pollution. In such moments, it is so important to stop, and behold, like the Magi long ago, to consider this journey, and what it is that is beckoning us, and what it is we are all a part of.
.
We, like the Magi, are walking toward you.
One foot in front of the other, we are walking
toward you. 

It is our very prayer to move your way. 
So if you can, oh God of love, leave the light on
and the front door unlocked. 

Leave a fire in the hearth and food on the stove. 
And when we start to get lost or doubt our dreams, 
Give us the will to persevere. 
We are walking toward you, O God. 
So like the parent that throws open the door, 
Open the door to us and welcome us in. 
Amen. Join us as we begin the new year together, this Sunday in worship! 
Peace, Pastor Laurie

May Our Souls Magnify God’s Love

Those of us who take the Bible seriously but not necessarily literally may wonder what Mary really said when the angel told her that she was about to become an unwed teenage mother.

This could not possibly have been good news for Mary, a poor peasant girl among an illiterate people who never heard of a thing called “virgin birth.”

“I’m what? Pregnant?”

“And you want me to tell people what?”

“You know that in the eyes of all my neighbors, he will always be regarded as a . . . you know what they will call my baby.”

And yet the truth of this text is profoundly present in Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, whose birth will so change the world that the years on earth will be measured as being before and after Jesus’ birth. And Mary’s prophecy in this text is still coming true. People of the light still believe and work for it to this day.

It is Mary who utters these radical words, who says this about God:
“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Who says that God sides with the poor?

And we will still work for justice as God’s partners, until the poorest and most vulnerable on the earth realize God’s mercy as present “for those who fear God from generation to generation.” God’s strength has and will continue to bring down powerful despots on thrones; God will continue lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry on the earth, filling them with good things.

No matter what actually happened, I know this text is true.

God is still magnifying the souls of those who say, yes.

May our souls magnify this love.

Amen, Pastor Laurie

Enjoy these video replays from the Magnificat service and the Longest Night Vespers! (Passcode: 3Q+54v9P)  Simply click on the title to watch the video. “My Soul Magnifies the Light” starts at about 44 minutes into the Magnificat.

     
Magnificat    (video)              Longest Night Vespers  
 Passcode: 3Q+54v9P

Special thanks to our musicians: Ken Medema, Gabrielle Lochard, the choir ensemble. 

Join us for this Thursday evening’s Christmas Eve service!! Learn more at this link: https://skylineucc.org/christmas-eve/

With Love, Pastor Laurie

(421-2646)  revlauriemanning@aol.com

Image: “Magnificat,” by Thomas Mainardi (2018)

Care of Your Soul in these Trying Times

How ARE you? 
 
Increasingly we are all experiencing the fatigue not only of this emotional time of year, but of the pandemic. 
 
The SIP ( shelter in place) orders we’ve been living with have gotten more restrictive. It’s in our best health interests collectively to switch to more restrictive rules. And at the same time, the changing of the rules, the unknown future, and the general stress and worry of the pandemic is exhausting.
 
In the midst of the darkness, self-care is important. Diet and exercise are important. Paying attention to what you’re feeling is important. Finding a spiritual practice that feeds your soul is important.
 
One of the chronic ongoing impacts of the pandemic on mental health has been an increase in feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety. If you’re feeling any of these, I know it can be really hard to reach out and ask for help. Still, I encourage you to do so. It is honestly the only way your family and friends can know that you need extra attention. It is the only way your pastor and your beloved community can know that you need some pastoral care.
 
If you need something new to feed your soul, you might want to consider these:
  • Even though Advent has already started, it’s not too late to make a daily practice of sitting in reflection and prayer. You can download this free Advent Devotional for your personal use. It was written by members of the Sequoia Association of the Northern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ.
  • Join us on Fridays at 1 pm for our prayer and care check ins. It’s a time to be present to our souls. 
And, please, remember that we have a special service on Monday, December 21, at 7 pm  This Longest Night Service” is simple, meditative, and healing. 
 
peace, Laurie 
 
 

From Gratitude to Service

Our guest preacher last Sunday, Mr. Benjamin Mertz, lifted up some powerful challenges to us, on the eve of this 400th anniversary of the first “Thanksgiving”, shared between the Pilgrims and the Wampanaugs.

He asked,
What do we do with this fantasy story of this Thanksgiving of the big meal, shared among people who are different getting together? How do we square it with the rest of the story?

What do we do instead? All of these gifts, given to us justly, or taken through the spoils of conquest & slavery? What do the prophets say? They are calling us, to agape love, to loving our neighbors, to loving those as the parable of the Good Samaritan taught us, those we view as enemy, as other. To love them, not as an intellectual exercise –but as active, alive, agape love, in service to others. .
  
Let us remember, on this 400th anniversary of that feast shared between Pilgrims and the Wampanaugs that this is not our land. Let us remember, that for many of us, too much of our money is in the bank, not much has gone to our neighbors right here, from the Ohlone tribe.

 


 
Here is another great piece for us to reflect upon this Thanksgiving:
 
Yes we are in the middle of a pandemic, yes, Corona has taken so much away from us., and many of us are mourning. But, despite it all, we are so blessed, there is so much abundance, food, housing, clothing, bank accounts, internet.
 
Let us transform Thanksgiving into a day of justice,
Let us transform Thanksgiving into a day of agape love
That doesn’t mean just sitting around the table with our families & friends, it means being active in the community, lifting up the oppressed & the poor.
Let us transform the fantasy of Pilgrims and Indians from the past ..  into the dream & strategy for the future of racial and economic of justice for all.
 
Let us transform the fantasy of giving thanks into giving help.
Let us transform the gratitude of what we’ve been given into service of others.


 
Here are some opportunities to do so, safely, even now, in this pandemic:

1.    Donating to land reparations to the Ohlone people in the Bay Area:
 
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/dec/31/native-american-land-taxes-reparations
https://sogoreate-landtrust.org/shuumi-land-tax/
 
2.    Offering support for the children and families of East Oakland Community Project, the largest transitional homeless shelter in Alameda County. Our chair of justice and Witness,  Nancy Taylor, encourages you to reach out and contact her, if you are interested and able to help provide a meal (boxed food or gift card) for families who have found permanent shelter from East Oakland Community Project (homeless shelter). 

Together, may we transform the gratitude of what we’ve been given into service of others. 

The Fierce Urgency of Now with the Climate Crisis; We are in Kairos Time

“The Fierce Urgency of Now” is a phrase that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. deployed in his address at New York’s Riverside Church when he articulated his opposition to the Vietnam War:

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.”

 

Kairos:  Jesus’s Understanding of Time

Jesus’ ministry begins in a time of turmoil following the arrest of John the Baptist. In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus declares, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Theologians such as Paul Tillich have unpacked the nuance and significance of the Greek word for “time” in these opening words of Jesus.

Unlike English, Greek has two distinctly different words for “time”: chronos and kairos. Chronos is time that is measured and definite, as of a ticking clock. Kairos, by contrast, signifies the fulfillment of the right action at the right moment. In the New Testament, the coming of Jesus is what the apostle Paul describes as the fullness of time.
 
Tillich elaborated an understanding of kairos by situating it within moments of profound catastrophe which are paradoxically also moments of unique opportunity. For Tillich, such moments are charged with God as “the eternal breaks into the temporal, shaking and transforming it.”
 
I recently recalled a quote from the Russian author, Dostoyevsky, that moves me deeply about our climate crisis, “in the end perhaps it is the beauty of nature that will compel us to save it.” I also came across a poem that I fell in love with in my early 20’s, written by English poet and Jesuit Priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins, entitled Pied Beauty, which speaks of this sense of wonder about the glorious diversity of the earth: 
Pied Beauty
Glory be to God for dappled things —
For skies of couple-color as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscapes plotted and pieced-fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
 
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.
    With gratitude for the beauty and the preciousness of this Earth! Love, Pastor Laurie 
 

Blessings

I’m writing this on Tuesday, the last day of voting in the 2020 election, and the health of American democracy is in crisis ( NTY Times opinion- “End Our National Crisis“). 

At the same time, in the midst of this  crisis, the strength of democracy also is on display. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his final speech, “Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”

This week, I wish to offer you a prescription for happiness; a Greek word that can be translated as “blessed”, “fortunate”’ “greatly honored”’ or even “happy.”  Bear with me as a I nerd out a bit here with some different translations. In fact, there are two Hebrew words for blessing. First, A’shar means blessing but it can also translate as “to find the right road”. And, Barak – yes, it’s the same spelling – which also means blessing but translated literally means “to stoop or bow down”. Consider what these translations open up when we return to these familiar words from Jesus. “You are on the right road” when you are poor in spirit, or when you are merciful.

And forget for a moment about “happy” or even “blessed” are those who mourn, or “happy” are those who are persecuted.  Consider instead this far more poignant offering:

God bows down before those who mourn.
The Lord stoops before those who are meek.
God bends the knee to peacemakers and to those who are persecuted!

What a blessing, especially for this week. Join us for worship on Sunday as we explore more deeply these blessings from Matthew’s gospel.

Speaking of Blessing, I encourage you, if you weren’t able to join us Monday night, Nov 2, to enjoy our recording of  our interfaith vespers service, Calm in the Storm

My deepest thanks to our talented musicians: Gabrielle Lochard, Benjamin Mertz, Ken Medema and to you for joining us!  

Gratitude Can Change Everything

 
Our theme for November is gratitude. 

Why? Because we need it, especially now. Seeing the world through the eyes of gratitude changes us. Gratitude can change everything. 

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:6-7, he writes,   Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Diana Butler Bass, bestselling author of “Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks,” writes,  The capacity for collective joy is encoded into us….We can live without it, as most of us do, but only at the risk of succumbing to the solitary nightmare of depression.  Why not reclaim our distinctly human heritage as creatures who can generate their own ecstatic pleasures out of music, color, feasting, and dance?  Why not?  Why not rediscover gratitude through play? 

November Calendar Highlights

Month – long initiatives:

  1. Virtual food drive with Alameda County Community Food Bank 
  2.  Journaling about gratitude. we invite you to: 
    1. keep a gratitude journal for the month of November. (Feel free to download and use)
    2. share your prayers of gratitude during our prayer time in worship. 

Key dates in November:  (for more details see below)  

Sunday, Nov 1, during service: All Saints and all Soul’s Day (remember to set your clocks back Saturday night, the 31st) (Here’s the facebook event to share)

Monday Nov. 2, 7 pm, Calm in the Storm –Gratitude on the Eve of the election;   Laurie, Ken, Benjamin and Gabrielle, and here’s the facebook event to share.

Thurs, Nov 12, 7PM   Green team: climate discussion, Zoom Link Meeting ID: 716 026 467

Sunday, Nov 15, Rev. Jim Antal guest speaker – Gratitude for the Earth – the Earth is God’s, discussion after the service (w/Green team) Zoom Link Meeting ID: 716 026 467

Thurs, Nov 19, 7PM:   Justice &Witness:  400th anniversary discussion of First People, Zoom Link Meeting ID: 716 026 467

Sunday, Nov 22,  Benjamin Mertz – 400th Gratitude for First People. Anniversary of Plymouth – Thanksgiving, Zoom Link Meeting ID: 716 026 467, https://www.facebook.com/SkylineCommunityChurch

Here are slides from last Sunday’s  quarterly meeting, describing more of our mission highlights for the fall. 

Remembering Loved Ones on All Saints Day: Sunday Service

Sunday, November 1, 10-11 AM
From Pastor Laurie: November 1 is All Saints Day. I invite us to remember our loved ones who have died.
As part of this service, I would like to make a video of photos of our beloved dead. If you would like to remember someone who has died from your past – a family member, a mentor, a dear friend – in this video, please send a photo of that person to Pastor Laurie at (office@skylineucc.org) by Thursday, October 29. The simplest way is to take a photo of your printed photo, and email a large image to me.
 
Second, please have photos of your beloved dead set out by your communion elements when you set up for worship on Sunday, November 1.
With love, Laurie
Meeting ID: 716 026 467 

Debt Relief – Jubilee Weekend 2020

Our UCC conference, and our church, voted in 2015 to become Jubilee conferences, which honors the biblical concept of debt relief for the poorest. I encourage you to read these addresses from Eric LaCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA, addressing  the UN conference on Covid 19 crisis recovery and debt relief. 
 
This year’s Jubilee Weekend 2020: Curing Poverty, Inequality and the Coronavirus , will be held October 16th – 18th, the same weekend as the major IMF and World Bank meetings this year. We lift up our voices in defense of the world’s most vulnerable during this critical time, to help  expand debt relief for the 73 poorest countries and move forward more aid for developing countries.

This year is really important. The United Nations estimates that 265 million more people are facing famine due to the coronavirus crisis. The International Labor Organization says 400 million jobs will be wiped out and the IMF asserts the current economic crisis rivals the Great Depression.

During Jubilee Weekend 2020: Curing Poverty, Inequality and the Coronavirus, the IMF and World Bank will make decisions that will determine whether or not tens of millions of people will enter extreme poverty or if hundreds of millions of people in the US and around the world can exit poverty. As coronavirus wreaks havoc around the globe and induces a global economic crisis on par with the Great Depression, we need to make a strong call for debt cancellation, relief and increased aid to address the crisis in developing countries.

I close with this prayer of Jubilee:
 
O Great G-d of all creation, hear our plea
We pray for an end to broken systems, in a world beset by the ravages of poverty and debt
We pray for rightness, fairness, justice and grace
We pray for your light to guide us as we seek your will.
Bless us with an economy that is whole and right, where all can live in dignity and hope and your light shines brightly in every land
G-d Most High, Bless us with your Jubilee
 
 
 
 

Oct 12: Indigenous Peoples Day and Columbus Day

Monday, Oct 12, 2020, the holiday has traditionally been called “Columbus Day”.  Join us on Sunday, the 11th, as we honor the Indigenous people who were here long before us. 

As a child, I learned a pledge of allegiance that carried far more than loyalty to “one nation, under God.” I learned allegiance to the assumption that this nation was founded by my European forebears just a few centuries ago. I learned that Columbus “sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred nine-two.” I learned to draw  the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. I learned and memorized the “really important dates”—1492, 1620, 1776, 1789.  I didn’t bother asking or wondering or doubting, because I really didn’t have to.

Once a system of beliefs begins to crack, once what is held to be historic gospel begins to erode, once any of us becomes privy to another story, another history, another reality, we cling to the familiar only out of a need to be reassured, only out of a penchant to take our cues from loved and respected teachers and preachers and parents and grandparents and touted authorities on this and that because climbing into a boat guaranteed to rock is just way too scary.

“Every year as October 12 approaches, there is a certain sense of dread that can be felt in indigenous communities in the Americas,” writes Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, a historian, writer, and co-founder of the Indigenous World Association, which lobbies the United Nations on behalf of indigenous peoples’ rights. She continues:

“That it is a federal holiday in the United States is regarded as hideous, a celebration of genocide and colonization. However, beginning thirty years ago, indigenous peoples formed an international movement, demanding…that October 12 be commemorated as an international day of mourning for the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. Informally, the day has been appropriated as Indigenous Peoples Day. This year feels different in indigenous communities as they celebrate the great victory of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly…”

We are part of this international day of mourning, we are part of this movement. Our NCNC UCC conference is considering a resolution of Amendments, which I encourage you to read HERE.  

Those of us whose ancestry is from other shores are newcomers. No matter that our ancestors go back to the 1600s; we’re newcomers. We’ve barely arrived here,  already we’ve forgotten why we set sail? Was it an escape from religious oppression? Was it a flight from famine? Was it a quest for gold to feed a hungry queen? Was it a crusade to appease a fragile god? And our arrival?

What is it that we hold sacred? What is it that we celebrate?

In the spirit of the late Alfred Arteaga:

Five hundred and (twenty eight) years of events
took place, we cannot change that.
We cannot stand up like Las Casas
and say this must stop; we cannot
tell Tainos, on first seeing the Spanish arrive,
to run, to run, and not stop running.
What was, was.
We cannot change the number of days, nor
can we change the events that happened.
We can, though, choose to remember or forget,
to celebrate, solemnize, recognize.

May it be so. Amen.