Oakland church

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday – MLK and Housing

We are living in historic times…
 
On Tuesday before dawn, a group of moms were evicted from a vacant house in Oakland, drawing attention to the fact that here in Oakland there are nearly four vacant properties for every homeless person. It’s not so much an issue of scarcity, but of distribution.  It raises many questions: Who are we? Why is this happening? What are we called to do, as a society, and as people of faith? 
 
The questions raised by another great prophet of recent history, Rev Dr Martin Luther King Junior, who, following in the ways of Jesus and of Gandhi,  embraced non violent civil resistance to bring forth greater justice and good news for the poor, who continue to be disproportionally people of color. 
 
I am sharing with you these articles about Kingian Nonviolence conflict reconciliation: “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence and “Statement and Letter from Birmingham Jail“. 
 
Please join us for worship and for a conversation after worship about non violent conflict reconciliation as it relates to our current housing crisis. 
 
I leave you with the prophetic words of Dr King: 
We shall overcome someday, 
The ultimate measure of humankind is not where we stand in moments of comfort and  convenience but where we stand and times of challenge and controversy.
We’ll walk hand in hand… 
We will have to repent in this generation.. not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of silence of the good people. in the end will not remember the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.
We are not afraid… 
nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon because it cuts without wounding and ennobles the one who wields it.  Non-violence is a sword that heals.
The truth shall set us free…
unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.  Right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.
We are not alone .. 
the solution to poverty is simply this.. we must abolish it..
We shall all be free… 
on the day before his death he simply said,  I just want to do God’s will.. 
Blessings, Pastor Laurie 
 

Dawn of a New Decade: I Resolve to…..

Here we are, in the dawn of a fresh new decade. 

What does this new year and new decade hold for us? Hope or despair? New life, or destruction?  How can we avert war with Iran? How can we restore representative government in our country? How can we save our planet from the unfolding climate crisis? 

We are in new territory as a civilization, living in a world that would have been considered wildly imaginative science fiction just a few decades ago—with revolutionary new technologies and global interconnections through the internet and global threats of nuclear war, threats to the environment and a global refugee crisis, to name only some of the changes.

At the same time an increasing percentage of our society has given up on institutionalized religion’s ability to  help us find our way through the new landscape of our lives. 

Yet we have as much reason to hope as any generation ever had. The prophetic words of  Isaiah echo through the ages:

“Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness…. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare.”

Where do we begin, in the face of the enormity of these events, at the dawn of this new decade?  It begins by taking a new journey, of rebirth, beginning with our own souls, and recognizing that we are all connected. It means choosing  the road of hope tied to action. I resolve to live myself into hope, into a better year. 

What does that look like? For me, it starts within my own soul and a conscious commitment to really see people beyond the societal labels assigned to them. It means I am determined to work for equity and justice believing I can make a difference. It means more kindness in each interaction and more listening to those whose views are different than my own. It means not letting bitterness or cynicism take root in me. It means turning my anger into the power of radical love. It means believing that every single one of us is called by name, as God’s beloved.   

Begin by Seeking the Light

I write this to you on the last day of a decade, and you will receive this in this new decade. 

I encourage us all to begin by seeking the light… be it the light of a single candle, or the light in the clear night sky of the stars and the planets, especially Venus these days. I encourage us to seek the light to remind us of something far greater than ourselves –  the Light of Divine Unconditional  Love that permeates everything, showing us a well-lit path to wholeness, forgiveness, and life.

The star over Bethlehem is a major symbol of Christmas—we sing about it, put it on the top of Christmas trees, even wear it on neckties—yet if you read the story closely, only a few wise men saw and understood the star. The shepherds did not notice a star, nor did anyone else.  Would we have been among the wise? Are we seeing the stars of Christ around us now? Do we understand the signs of light that God is giving us that can fill us with hope and inspire us?

The wise men saw and were moved for a reason: they were looking, they were searching the skies for meaning, they had practiced and made themselves students of the light. They were part of a tradition that passed wisdom along to them. They added their own knowledge and experience and were open to something new happening in their day.

We need to practice looking and finding meaning, too, if we want to be among those who see signs of Christ’s presence in our world, who see the light and understand what it says and follow where it leads. We need to be open to learning the wisdom of our tradition and being changed by the new things that God is doing.

   with love, Pastor Laurie 

A light has dawned. For unto us a child is born…

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;  on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 

For unto us a child is born. 

Unto us,  love is born.  

The highest truth of the human soul is love.

Let us remember love. 

Let us remember this all-powerful force being born in a humble child in an impoverished and oppressed setting.

Let us  remember how this force was at work, guiding and empowering his mother and father.

Let us remember how it has brought about good news to the poor, freedom to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and is ultimately more powerful than empires. 

Together, let us bear witness to how love is still is at work in the world, and within every one of us. 

I give thanks to God for each one of you, in the world and in my life! 

Here are some videos of our beautiful Christmas Eve service, for all of you to experience! 

This Sunday, join us, as we experience the beautiful music of Gabrielle and Ken Medema, and the powerful preaching of Rev Jerri Handy! 

We are not Alone

Truth be told: this season is hard, for many reasons: 
  • Here in the Northern hemisphere it’s hard to keep our spirits up in the absence of much daylight, warmth, and sunlight. 
  • Then there are all of the expectations  that this season places upon us, to be generous, to purchase gifts for loved ones, and to be jolly.
  • The longer we live, the more memories we have of the past, and especially the memory of loved ones: our parents and grandparents, our spouses, and siblings, and best friends who have died.
  •  The more news we read, the easier it is to become overwhelmed with unrest and anxiety, about the state of the country and of the world, and of our planet. 
 For those of us who are in the midst of experiencing grief, loss, death, endings, in our personal lives, it can feel as if the sun and the moon have fallen from the sky… the world is forever changed…   It is harder still,  if we believe that we are alone. 
 
The truth is, that we are not alone in our struggles. All of us share these very human experiences at different times in our lives. All of hunger for a place where we can feel truly at home with ourselves and with others, in the presence of Love. I encourage you to join us for some meaningful experiences of community this week: 
 
On Tuesday, people from both the church and some of the preschool families visited the beautiful children of the Matilda Cleveland Center, part of East Oakland Community Project, the largest transitional homeless shelter in Alameda County, to share a meal, bring gifts, and sing songs, which reminds me so much of the promise of One who was born to poor refugees, in a manger, two thousand years ago. 
 
On Wednesday, at 4 pm and again at 7 pm, Ken Medema and I welcome you to join us for an interfaith service of healing, honoring the solstice, the longest night, a Blue  Welcome to a place where you can be yourself, and feel however you really feel. Tonight we honor the healing power of experiencing  & sharing our authentic experiences, in the context of prayers, songs, silence, sharing of stories, readings, in the context of safe community .
 
And of course, our upcoming services, this Sunday, featuring a child-friendly, fabulous puppet show about the Christmas story for children, created by David Guerra.
 
Finally, comes the timeless musical beauty of our Candlelight Christmas Eve Service, Dec 24 at 7 pm. 
 
My deepest gratitude to everyone within our little community of faith, our staff members, our council, and service team leaders, and our many volunteers, who together make all of this possible. 
 
Our best wishes to all of you who are traveling, and all who are far from home, and all of you who have moved. May you be filled with comfort and deep peace, through this season. 
 
with love, Pastor Laurie 

The Christmas Story – a Puppet Show

Join us for a wonderful child friendly puppet show, telling the Christmas story, created by David Guerra, featuring some of our favorite puppets.  David Guerra ( cardinalis7@gmail.com)

Sunday, December 22 during service at 10 AM

 

 

 

Christmas Eve Candlelight Service

Come experience the wonder of our candlelight service and celebrate the birth of Jesus with

Carols and Singing
Scripture readings
Beautiful music performed by the Christmas Choir

The service will be followed by delicious Christmas treats, hot apple cider, and fellowship.

This is a beautiful way to celebrate the season with your entire family. ALL are welcome!

Skyline Community Church UCC
12540 Skyline Blvd, Oakland

For more information please contact the office at 510.531.8212, office@skylineucc.org

Advent: “Wait Without Hope” is not Pessimistic

In the midst of this advent season of waiting, I invite you to set aside the distractions of the busy-ness of this season to to take a moment of mindfulness.  I invite you to realize the radical transformation that comes from setting aside preconceived ideas. 

This Sunday, we will explore questions raised by T.S. Eliot and other great thinkers to move towards a direct, experiential understanding of what it means to live an awakened life, and to contemplate the meaning of waiting in the words of the poet, TS Elliott:

Wait Without Hope

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

https://dailypoetry.me/t-s-eliot/wait-without-hope/

We may not be ready for thought unless we’ve trained our minds in mindfulness. Our love may be tainted by selfish attachment.  Let us begin —be still, even if for a moment. And now, “wait without hope.” Isn’t that pessimistic? I venture to say, no, it is not pessimistic. Optimism is good, hope can get in the way.

Is it better to acknowledge our desire, to understand its context, and to wait without hope? Yes, I think so. Then we can watch the spectacle unfold with pleasure and equanimity. If we cling to hope, we make ourselves vulnerable to disappointment, anger, and frustration.

 

Six Tips for More Meaningful, Healthy Holiday Conversations

Special note from Pastor Laurie and the Wellness team:  
 
Among the discussions we’ve been having about integrative wellness we’ve been talking about how challenging the upcoming holidays can be, as we search for more effective ways to communicate; especially about our differences with others and with loved ones during stressful times. 
 
Here’s a helpful communication guide  on using the principals of Non Violent Communications,  for surviving the holidays: 
 
For many spending time with relatives over the holidays may be challenging. In addition to the love and care we may feel, family gatherings can bring up old hurts or expose painful differences. How many family meals have been marred by tense silence or devolved into harsh argument? For me, to find balance, authenticity and care in my conversations with family members and friends was a key turning point in my communication practice. Instead of dreading the holiday meal, gritting your teeth and sweating it out, here are six tips for more meaningful, healthy conversations during the holidays. 

How to Survive the Holidays: 6 Communication Tips With Oren Jay Sofer 

  1. Set intentions-One of the most transformative ingredients in a conversation is intention, the inclination or motivation that impels us to speak or act. When we come from healthy intentions like patience, kindness, or curiosity, we’re more likely to respond in a helpful way rather than react impulsively. Take some time reflect on your intentions before you get together with family or friends. How do you want to engage? How strongly are you committed to those values? Can you feel the strength of that in your body? 
  2. Stay grounded – Being mindful is a prerequisite for effective conversations. Without awareness, we’re just running on automatic! One way to stay mindful during conversation, and especially in challenging moments, is to feel the weight of your body. Sense your feet on the floor, the warmth in your hands, or the contact with the chair. Feeling the heaviness of our body and its contact with the floor can help us to stay grounded when things get heated.
  3. Practice key phrases – How many times have you thought of the perfect thing to say hours (or days) after an argument or tense moment? Instead of freezing or falling back on old habits when something challenging arises, practice a few key phrases ahead of time. Based on past experience, consider where you might get stuck and then write down some phrases you can use if something similar happens. For example: To buy more time: “Let me take a moment to think about that…” To decline to comment: “That’s important, and I’d prefer to talk about it some other time. How about we…?” To pause a conversation: “This feel pretty intense. Let’s take a break on this topic for a little while.” To change the subject: “I’d love to focus on enjoying one another’s company tonight. Let’s talk about…”
  4. Listen for what matters – Another key way to ease tensions and turn a conversation around is to get curious. Instead of focusing on the things you disagree with, try to get interested. NVC (and many forms of psychology and social science) teaches that at the core all humans share the same basic, fundamental needs. We all want to be happy, to be understood, to have meaning. Conflict happens at the level of our strategies—our ideas about how to meet our needs. When we identify what really matters, our commonalities outweigh our differences and we find shared humanity. Practice listening for this deeper layer of human meaning and experience. Underneath the views and opinions, what’s important to this person? Genuinely listening for another’s values can go a long way to bridging the gap.
  5. Set limits with care  – Keeping the peace has value, and it’s important to know your limits. Sometimes, speaking up is what’s most authentic or needed. We can call out ideas we believe to be dangerous, harsh speech or harmful actions without degrading anyone. Instead of blaming, diagnosing or labeling someone, speak from your heart about what matters to you. “I feel so upset by what you’re saying. Those kinds of generalizations can lead to terrible violence, and I want everyone to be seen for who they rather than be defined by their … (nationality, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, ability…).” By stating with your own feelings and needs, you can minimize conflict when it arises.
  6. Keep your aims modest – Last, let go of the outcome. There can be great value in critical conversation, but consider if this family gathering is the right time and place for a meaningful exchange! What’s more, trying to change the other person’s mind rarely supports real dialogue. Instead, focus on how you’re having the conversation. Are you embodying your values regardless of the other person’s behavior? While you’re unlikely to solve the world’s pressing issues over dinner, you might deepen your relationship with a relative if you can find a way to really listen and share ideas. When it comes down to it, our ability to engage with care and respect is often more effective than finding the right words. 

What are you waiting for?

The words “breath,” “wind,” and “spirit” are used interchangeably to remind us that God is always coming to us.  Become aware of your breath. Notice how breathing more deeply calms you. Notice how long you can hold your breath to remember how essential it is for your life. The Living God, or the God of Life, seeks to come to dwell within us and to give new life to us and through us. 

 Advent calls us to pay attention and to anticipate what “the God who comes to us” wants to do within us and through us. So, we wait in hope of what yet may be.  This process of waiting in hope, is active, not passive. 

 
Join us this Sunday as we continue to awaken to the new life full of hope, peace, joy, and love that God is calling each one of us, by name, into. 
 
What are you waiting for? 

Blessings,  Pastor Laurie