Archive for Messages from the Pastor – Page 2

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.

Voting for America Through the Eyes of Love

 

Voting is our most precious right.  Please vote November 3 through the Eyes of Love.

Video created by Rev. Laurie Manning and Ken Medema

After the Debate – We Are in this Together

Image by beate bachmann from Pixabay

After the Presidential debate this week, Ivan, Oliver (my cat) and I sat outside on the porch, under the stars. I listened to the crickets, breathed in the fresh air, and listened,  for comfort, strength, wisdom, vision. I found it there,  reminded of, and finding comfort in the One Who made the world. 

And I thought about the sharp contrasting visions of our time, and what to do with our one wild and precious life.  

As we grieve the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I gain strength from her enduring dedication to the vision that all people are created equal; her advocacy for gender equality; and her respect, honor and dignity for all people, especially with those with whom she disagreed.

At the same time, once again last night we heard our nation’s president say  that he will not commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he was not elected. Journalist Thomas Friedman reflected in an interview, “I think what happened in the last few days is a six-alarm fire. The President of the United States has told us ‘Either I win the election, or I de-legitimize the election.’ Those are your choices.” Readying a strategy that forces the decision to the Supreme Court, he is pushing through a nominee who will know going in that her job will be to rule in favor of the President staying in office.

It has left me thinking, “How did we get here?”

These are the times when I am grateful to be a person of faith. I gain strength from the wisdom of all of the world’s religions, especially Judeo-Christianity, and especially Jesus. 

Most of scripture was written to people being ruled by oppressive governments and corrupt leaders.

  • Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. The journey taught them about trusting that God was with them, and they were more resilient than they knew. 
  • In Jesus’s, the Roman Empire used violence to keep people in line. The people learned to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” It led to the fall of the Roman Empire.

We are stronger than we know. We care for one another and are offended in the face of cruelty. Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility. We are made of resilience, bravery, and courage, in every act of love.

Today, we face into a moment that requires every bit of our best. We have been here before. We are stronger together than divided. We are all God’s children. 

Let us vote, with our words and especially in our actions with faith, voting for the poor, for the vulnerable, for children, for people of color, for our planet, for life itself.

We are in this together.   

Resources to Respond to the Divide & Reestablish a Shared Reality

Photo by Tim Gouw unsplash

Most of us, myself included, are experiencing anxiety as we reflect upon the upcoming election.  Now, even as we grieve the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there is a fast-tracking of a new conservative justice. 

How did we become so divided?

How did our relationships become weaponized? 

How did we come to accept such lack of integrity in our leaders? 

How did we create worlds based on radically different sets of facts, and how do we reestablish a shared reality? 

Here are a few resources that I find helpful in answering these questions, and more importantly, in responding constructively. 

  1. Brian McLaren (yes, the same author of the Great Spiritual Migration that we are reading!)  provides a short video on Kitchen Table Logic, describing  the emergence of a new electorate that represents the deep disruption we see today. He notes, “You may think, as many people do, that there are only two kinds of voters in American politics, Republican and Democrat or Conservative and Liberal. You may even add a third category, Independents. Whatever your current understanding, I think you’ll benefit from this alternate way of seeing American politics in 2020: there have been four kinds of voters in recent elections, but now, a fifth voter element is emerging, and that changes everything.”

  2. Netflix movie called “The Social Dilemma.” It does a brilliant job of outlining the complex challenge we now face with social media companies selling you and me (their real products) to advertisers. Their business model generates more profit when we are angry, divided, and divisive. We spend more time on their platforms in that state and, often unknowingly, click on more ads.

  3. If you haven’t already seen the film, Suppress the Vote, you might appreciate this film from Netflix: “All In: the Fight for Democracy”  The film offers a  primer on the history of voter suppression in the United States. The film features Stacey Abrams in her failed bid for the Governor’s office in Georgia. It serves as a warning that what happened to her could be a sign of what is in store for our future.

My intent is not to make us more anxious. It is to make us less naïve, more aware of the sophisticated strategies at work, and to empower us with a consciously loving, powerful and faithful response. 

We are in this together, keep the faith!

with love, Pastor Laurie 

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Prayer for the week: 

Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world as your love would have it:
a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor;
a world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them;
a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect;
a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love…
May it be so through our lives, in honor of those who have come before and those who will follow after us.
Amen.

– adapted from the UCC Prayers for Justice and Peace

 

God’s Economy vs Caesar’s

UCC CBLF Team Zoom Meeting


Here’s the reflection that I shared with our national  UCC Church Building & Loan Fund (CB&LF)  group this week for  this Just Peace Sunday

On February 18, 1965  at the University of Cambridge, in a debate (the motion of the debate was that the American dream was at the expense of black Americans) between William F. Buckley Jr. and the brilliant author, James Baldwin, Baldwin responded: 

“The American Dream is at the expense of the American Negro,” picked the cotton, and I carried it to the market, and I built the railroads under someone else’s whip for nothing,” he said, his voice rising with the cadences of the pulpit. “For nothing.”

In his 2012 book, The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future,  by Nobel Prize economist  Joseph E. Stiglitz, he writes,

“There are two visions of America a half century from now. One is of a society more divided between the haves and the have-nots, a country in which the rich live in gated communities, send their children to expensive schools, and have access to first-rate medical care. Meanwhile, the rest live in a world marked by insecurity, at best mediocre education, and in effect rationed health care―they hope and pray they don’t get seriously sick. At the bottom are millions of young people alienated and without hope. I have seen that picture in many developing countries; economists have given it a name, a dual economy, two societies living side by side, but hardly knowing each other, hardly imagining what life is like for the other. Whether we will fall to the depths of some countries, where the gates grow higher and the societies split farther and farther apart, I do not know. It is, however, the nightmare towards which we are slowly marching.”

Stiglitz continues, saying,

The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy are to spend money on common needs… clean air, water, healthcare, education..  The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security.”

He adds,

“The protesters have called into question whether there is a real democracy. Real democracy is more than the right to vote once every two or four years. The choices have to be meaningful. But increasingly, and especially in the US, it seems that the political system is more akin to “one dollar one vote” than to “one person one vote”. Rather than correcting the market failures, the political system was reinforcing them.”

And now, the apocalyptic times have come. The perfect storm of  Covid 19, 1619, and the terrifying fires and hurricanes, all of which are disproportionately killing the poorest people of color.

As Nelson Mandela once wrote,

“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”

This Sunday’s gospel from Matthew reveals the great tension between God’s economy and Ceaser’s.  Just before today’s story, the disciples ask, Who will be the greatest among us?  (Aren’t we supposed to be first?) In typical fashion, in answering a question,  Jesus told a parable, about a generous landowner who promises the first workers a fair days wage, and the others, who are unemployed,  who came later – even just an hour before the end of the day, “whatever is fair.” 

In the end, each laborer received a fair day’s wage. 

And those who were first in line, complained.

The need is urgent, the time is now, and the place is here to bring forth God’s generous economy. Here in the US, the world’s wealthiest nation, where the top 3 billionaires have as much wealth as the bottom 50%, while at the same time 48% of the US population lives at or below the poverty line; while 20% of children and 1 in 9 seniors are food insecure, and are disproportionately poor people of color.   

I am grateful to be part of the CB&LF, doing our part, to transform the economy of Caesar into God’s economy, to reach out and to welcome those most vulnerable, into God’s generous vision for all people.   May God inspire us to do so together.  

Orange Sky in the Morning is a Call to Support the Green New Deal

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
On Wednesday morning, here in the Bay Area, we awoke to the strangest shared experience.  Even our cats were wondering… what’s going on? Why is the sky as orange as a pumpkin? Why is it getting darker rather than lighter? Why can’t I smell smoke? Will it get worse?   When will the locusts come?   As Marvin Gaye once sung it, “What’s going on?”
 
By now, many of you have read about what’s going on.
 
What’s really going on? Human induced climate change. Let’s do what we can in this upcoming election to support the Green New Deal! Thank you to our denomination, the UCC for being the first Christian body to endorse the Green New Deal!  Thank you to Skyline Church for initiating the resolution at our 2019 NCNC Annual Meeting, as it made it’s way up to the National UCC body.
 
Here are excerpts from my presentation at last year’s NCNCUCC Annual Meeting. I’d be happy to share more from my presentation, or from my climate change talk at Annual meeting.
 
What is it:

The Green New Deal (GND) marks the 1st time that Congress has been presented with an opportunity  to act on climate change by taking a vote that recognizes the scope of the challenge , the urgency of the crisis,  the intersectionality of the numerous justice issues that are amplified by climate change; the opportunity to act on climate in a way that also addresses racial injustice, economic injustice,  and the need to create clean, healthful, and family supporting jobs that our planet needs; and the opportunity to deploy solutions that address all of these moral challenges.

Here’s why it’s important: 

1. The GND addresses the most important justice issues that the UCC has been committed to for decades. It demands that the federal govt. address injustice of climate change in a way that also tackles the systemic injustices that disproportionately affect vulnerable and front-line communities, including racial injustice, economic injustice and the need to create clean, healthful, and family supporting jobs that our planet needs. 

2. The GND acknowledges the necessity of assuming moral responsibility for intergenerational harm caused by the failure to act on climate change and the urgency of acting on a comprehensive scale to reduce the catastrophic future generations will inherit.

3. The GND offers tangible hope in the face of threats that are becoming more and more real – in the US & world-wide- or to put it another way it’s up to us to transform these threats into opportunities. To create fair paying secure jobs,  secure clean air and water, redress manifestations of environmental racism, and pursue a just transition to clean and renewable energy.  

Here’s what we can do locally: 
 
1. standup for science & continuing to learn from new science

2. discuss climate change more often – at church, home & in social encounters

3. tell others that we already have all the tech. we need to achieve the goals of the GND

4. incorporate into our worship  & community leadership an awareness of climate change, its conseq. esp. for vulnerable & front-line communities, & make the changes science says we must & technology says we can

5.  help our communities prepare for extreme weather events & to become a resource

6. lift up this reality of millions of people, regardless of their political affiliation or resolve to support the GND

7. engaging federal state & local agencies as advocates for policies & legislation that advance the goals of GND including its commitment to address systemic injustice, that disproportionately affects front-line invulnerable communities.

8.  advocate for a just transition for all those workers & communities most dependent on fossil fuel energy so that they also have opportunities for clean healthful &: family supporting jobs that heal our planet. 

And here’s a resource from UCC – 10 Ways to Mobilize.