Published in the Northern California Nevada Conference UCC Listserve:

prison_032911-thumb-640xauto-2730Dear Colleagues,

Last week, we represented the UCC clergy of California, taking part in a delegation of clergy leaders of all faiths, at a conference to discuss our broken and overwhelmingly overcrowded prison system. The conference was sponsored by the California Endowment and the PICO national faith based community network.

The conference continued to open our eyes to the racism reflected by our criminal justice system. Consider just a few facts:

* Incarceration has exploded in growth within the US: From 300,000 in 1980 to over 2,000,000 in prison & more than 7,000,000 today-1 in 31 adults-behind bars, on probation, or on parole.

* Here in California, from 1982 to 2000, we built 23 new prisons, at a cost of $300,000,000 each (and built only 1 public university).

* Nationwide two-third of those imprisoned are black & Hispanic.

* Nationwide two-third of those imprisoned are black & Hispanic.

* Nationwide, although most drug users & dealers are white, three-fourth of those imprisoned on drug charges are black or Latino.

* We spend $62,000 a year per prisoner.

We committed ourselves, along with clergy from across the state, to stand in solidarity with the movement to end mass incarceration of people of color, nationally, and here in California. We urge you to join us and vote yes on Proposition 47 in the upcoming election.

Our denomination, the United Church Christ, has been in the forefront of civil rights issues, and we passionately believe that ending the system of mass incarceration, so racially based, is the civil rights movement of our day and that we must do our part with the fierce urgency of now. There are many reasons to support Prop 47, but for us the primary reason is ending our current system of mass incarcerarion.

Over 50 years ago, in the crucible of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. There’s much more bending to do. Bending the bars that imprison so many people in this country: the largest incarceration in human history, especially men of color.

We encourage you to raise the awareness with your congregation of the racism of our current system of mass incarceration. Let us join together in ending the cradle to prison pipeline in our country, and in our state, by activating the vote and lifting up the prophetic voices of our times. The Spirit of the Lord is upon US all! Now is the time!

Laurie Manning Pastor: Skyline Community Church    http://www.skylineucc.org   510-531-8212 www.ccsm-ucc.org

Penny Nixon  Sr. Minister, Congregational Church of San Mateo   www.ccsm-ucc.org     650-343-3694 x2  http://www.piconetwork.org/issues/let-my-people-vote

Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow. http://youtu.be/Gln1JwDUI64 

The act of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”.  

The Rev Dr Martin Luther King wrote these prophetic words to sustain the people on the long civil rights journey.

How true they are!

In 1972 The Golden Gate Association of our denomination, the United Church of Christ, ordained Bill Johnson, the first openly gay man.

Here we are, over 40 years later, witnessing the arc of the universe bending a bit more, with the recent civil rights ruling on same sex marriage.

But we cannot rest on our historic legacy.. there is much more bending to be done..

prison_032911-thumb-640xauto-2730Perhaps you’ve read the recent article in last Sunday’s New York Times about our broken prison system, here in California?

 If not, I’ve attached the article here:   California Voters to Decide on Sending Fewer Criminals to Prison – NYTimes.com.

As we reflect upon the tragic killing of Michael Brown and the pain, anger, and action that have marked recent weeks in Ferguson Missouri and around the country, we are called to think, pray, and act together to end the dehumanization and mass incarceration of boys and men of color in this country.

On Wednesday October 8, I am joining with a delegation of clergy leaders from around the state and across faith traditions in Los Angeles to explore how we can ignite an awakening of faith to proclaim a message of hope, healing, and restoration in California.

Our hope is to change both the public debate and the public policy that criminalizes boys and men of color, separates families, and robs young people and communities of opportunities by investing in prison systems over education, healthcare, and treatment.

Thank you for your prayers,

 Blessings, Pastor Laurie

imgres.30Tuesday, October 7, 7PM at Skyline Church

The League of Women Voters will present a neutral overview of the pros and cons  of the propositions, both state and local, on this election’s ballot.  Be informed and have your say in the democratic process and civic responsibility!  Invite friends!    More information at http://www.lwvoakland.org/index.html  

Contact Nancy Taylor:  (ngtaylor94619@yahoo.com) or Lee Rutter: (leerutter@sbcglobal.net).

Sermon by Kim Bobo, Executive Director, Interfaith Worker Justice

Delivered at Skyline Church, August 31, 2014

Good morning – this Labor Day Sunday.   Thank you for letting me join you.  I bring you greetings from Good News Community Church, a UCC fellowship on the northside of Chicago where I am a member and the choir director.

burningbushYou heard the lectionary text read earlier – Exodus 3:1-15.   The story of the burning bush.  Here I am: hearing and responding to the call.   There are lots of messages from the text, but I’d like to lift up three lessons that speak to me, and hopefully to you as well.

Lesson One:  God hears the cries of oppressed workers.    The text is so clear: “I have observed the misery of my people…I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters.  Indeed, I know their sufferings….The cry of the Israelites has now come to me.  I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.”  The text is repeated in Deuteronomy 24:14-15, when it says, “Do not take advantage of a worker.  Pay them their wages…otherwise, they may cry to the Lord against you and you will be guilty of sin.”

God didn’t just hear about the poor workers. God heard about the oppression – the intentional subjugation of the workers.  It is not a passive – it just happened – kind of situation.  There is a system of oppression, a pattern of behavior that is causing the workers to cry to God.   People weren’t just born oppressed – stuff happened to them.

What’s happening for workers in the U.S. is not inevitable.   It is NOT simple “the way things are.”   The crisis for workers in the U.S. is about lots of decisions, some small and many large, that oppress workers.  The text is clear that God not only cares about the conditions, but the oppression – the fact that there are intentional choices made that cause or keep workers poor.

You all know there is a crisis for workers, but let me quickly review the big-picture dimensions of the crisis.

First, there aren’t enough jobs. As a nation, we have no jobs policy.  We have no commitment to invest in companies that create jobs.  There are lots of ways this could be addressed, but it is not a priority.   And honestly, this will be one of the toughest issues to change.

Second, we have too few core standards.  As a nation, we have the fewest core standards of any country in the industrialized world.   Our minimum wage – federally – is pitifully low.  We have no federal standards on sick days, vacation days, maternity leave, mandatory overtime, use of permatemps and only now a miniscule standard on health care.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  Most European workers have standards around wages, benefits, health care – standards that make life better for most workers.

Third, wage theft is rampant.  Nothing is clearer in terms of “oppression” than wage theft.  Too many unethical employers are literally stealing workers wages.  According to the largest surveys ever done, one out of four low-wage workers (those who earn $10 per hour or less) is not paid minimum wage.  Three-fourths of low wage workers who work more than 40 hours per week are not paid the overtime premium they are owed.   One out of ten tipped workers has his/her tips stolen.

And this wage theft is not somewhere else.  It is all around us.  Last summer, my niece Alisa came to live with me.  Just what I needed – a third teenager in the house.  Because jobs for teenagers are hard to come by and Alisa speaks Thai, I asked my son Ben to drive her around to a bunch of Thai restaurants and see if she could get a job.

Sure enough.  She got a job at my favorite – well, my formerly favorite – Thai restaurant.  After her first work day, I asked about her pay.  Her employer was only giving her tips.  No minimum wage.   Even though the tipped minimum wage is super low, it is still something.  This was illegal, blatant wage theft.  At the end of eight weeks or so, she’d been paid about $1800, when she should have gotten paid about $2800.  This kid, saving for college, had been shorted about $1000.  Of course I went with her to get the money back.  My niece was mortified.  Wage theft wasn’t somewhere else.  It was at my favorite Thai restaurant and happened to my neice.

Fourth, workers’ rights to organize into a union are routinely oppressed.   One way to try to address wage disparities, core standards and wage theft is for workers to organize a union.  For those of you who are not in a union, what do you think would happen if you tried to organize a union?   Hmmmm….. are you thinking you’d get fired?   You might.    And even if you wouldn’t, most people think they would be fired.  We say we officially have the right to organize a union, but we mostly believe we would lose our job if we did organize.   Not much of a right.   Like with other core standards, U.S. workers have the lowest organizing rights of any workers in the industrialized world.   And some companies, and large monied interests, are intent on destroying unions.  Unions, like our churches, are not perfect institutions.   Nonetheless, unions create a standard for wages and benefits.  Unions stop wage theft.  Unions have helped build the middle class.

The oppression of U.S. workers didn’t just “happen.”   The oppression is intentional – not by one person, but intentional nonetheless.  It doesn’t have to be this way.   And thus, I believe that God not only sees the plight and despair of poor workers, but sees the oppression that puts workers and keeps workers in terrible situations.   God hears the cry of oppressed workers, as the text says,  “on account of their taskmasters.”

Lesson Two:  We must choose to recognize (and listen to) the burning bushes.  Moses was minding his own business – caring for his flock.   His life was fine.  He was married, comfortably settled with family, had a job to do.   He kind of knew there were some problems back in Egypt, but he and his family were good.  Moses was probably a great husband, great dad, great son-in-law – even a good hard worker.   But it wasn’t enough.

God wanted Moses to get out of his comfy bubble and address the crisis.   So the texts says “the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush,” which blazed but didn’t burn up.   Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”    So even with the burning bush, Moses had to make a decision to look…to turn aside, turning aside from his day-to-day herding work.

I do believe God regularly puts burning bushes near us – opportunities to learn more about what is really going on in the world and God’s priorities, but we have to be willing to look, to make a decision to turn aside.

We live in a world of great segregation and disparity.  Our schools, our neighborhoods, our jobs can isolate us from those who struggle and are oppressed.   And sometimes, I suspect, God is putting burning bushes all around us and we’re ignoring them, avoiding them.  Moses had to intentionally decide to look at the bush and heard God’s call.   We do too.

We need to spot those burning bushes and then investigate – see what God is trying to tell us through the burning bush.

Now sometimes the burning bush is so in your path that you can’t ignore it.   Anyone who has had a family member injured or killed on the job – you get it.  You are 60 and lost a job and can’t find another.  You are a recent college grad with loads of debt and you are flipping hamburgers for minimum wage.   You or someone you know got fired and didn’t get your last paycheck.  These are not individual problems, but rather problems that demonstrate the broader society.  They are burning bushes of the crisis.

You may need to take more deliberate action to find or view the burning bush.   Could you go to a community forum organized by the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy, the IWJ affiliate here in Oakland?   If there’s a public forum on your living wage campaign, could you attend and hear workers’ stories?   If there is a wage theft clinic nearby, could you volunteer for it, so you can hear the stories?

Honestly, I think there is nothing as important as hearing workers stories directly.  The personal stories are the best burning bushes…the best wake up calls that there is a human crisis.   Reading books, learning statistics, intellectually understanding the problem is not the same.  There’s no passion, no wake-up call.

My kids for many years heard me talk about my work.  But it wasn’t till they were about 12 or so and I took them to a forum to hear from workers who hadn’t gotten paid that they really “grasped” the work and its importance.  They came home shocked and angry and wanted to know what I was going to do to help those workers.  My sons had turned toward the burning bush (or I’d helped them turn).

A number of years ago, I was going to be a part of a delegation to meet with the owner of Cintas, the nation’s largest industrial laundry.  I knew all the facts about the company.  I’d helped write a report on it.   But the Saturday before the meeting, I spent the day visiting in the homes of Cintas workers.   I wanted to really understand, to appreciate the human implications of the oppression at Cintas.   I sought out women who served as a burning bush for me.

Given the business of our lives and sometimes the isolation of our worlds, sometimes we have to seek out people and situations that help us understand and truly feel what is happening to God’s people.   These human stories, human interactions, give us the courage to take actions.  The stories help us focus our attention on God’s priorities and not our own.   But, listening to and finding the burning bush may require some effort on our parts – a turning aside or toward, a searching, an intentional visit or meeting.  Turning to, and then listening to, the burning bush, allows us to focus on God’s priorities.

Lesson Three:   God can use us to address the oppression.    God heard the cry of the Israelites and he saw how the Egyptians oppressed them.  So, God told Moses that he should go bring God’s people out of Egypt.   Moses immediately began backpeddling.   Wow…. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh.”   God assures him, “I’ll be with you.”   Moses again questions God… “Who should I say sent me?  What shall I say.”    Moses clearly did not want this leadership role.   This was a bit confrontational – way messy.  He was doing fine herding the animals.  I’m sure that it really wasn’t a good time for Moses to leave home.

We are all so much like Moses.  We are not the right people to make a difference.  It is not a good time.  I don’t have much power.  I don’t speak well.  I don’t know enough.  This should be left to the experts.  And on and on.   I personally have lots of excuses for why I don’t and can’t do more, but they are usually just excuses.

God can and wants to use every single one of us – not only to help people in some vague way, but to challenge oppression, to right the wrongs, to create a more just and level playing field for workers.  Let me suggest four simple things each of you can do to help workers today.  You can’t leave a Labor Day sermon without a few things to do!

1) Support the Lift Up Oakland ballot initiative.   Sign up on the clipboard (or send an email to Kbobo@iwj.org) and I’ll send you a window sign to put in your window.  I’ll also connect you with Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy, the IWJ affiliate group in Oakland that is helping lead the campaign.  This is an important campaign.  It will not only raise wages to $12.25 per hour, but will establish a standard for earned sick days in Oakland.  Almost two-thirds of workers in Oakland earning less than $12.25 per hour have no paid sick days.  This ballot initiative is not only important for Oakland.  It is important of the nation.  The linking of two core standards – minimum wage and earned sick days – is visionary and significant.  You can help Oakland lead the nation on these issues.

2) Pay your tip in cash. About one out of ten wait-staff won’t get a tip if its put on a credit card.  Thus, you must ask wait-staff, “Will you get the tip if I put it on thecredit card.”   If the person responds, “Sure, no problem,” then you can put it on the credit card.  But if the person asks if you can give the tip in cash, or if you don’t ask, then tip in cash.

3) Ask how contracted workers are paid.  If you hire any contracted workers at your home, job or church, ask how workers are paid.  Contracted workers – landscapers, janitors, construction workers – are often victims of wage theft.  Almost all contracted workers are in sectors that are notorious.  If you don’t ask how workers are paid – and make sure they are paid as employees and not independent contractors – you could well be contributing to wage theft.   You must ask.

4) Urge Mr. Tom Perez, Secretary of Labor, to require employers to give workers a paystub.  Perhaps as many as 20 million workers are not given a paystub explaining how they are paid, even though their employers are required to keep the info.  Interfaith Worker Justice believes that giving workers a clear paystub will help deter wage theft and help workers advocate for themselves when they are victims of wage theft.  It is a simple regulatory change and Mr. Perez can do it.    Go to the IWJ website, www.iwj.org, and send a simple email.   For those who signed up already, I will send you a link for sending the emal to Mr. Perez.  How easy is that!

Work can be a blessing.  It can be a way we find meaning in the world.  Work is how we support our families.   But too many workers, like the Israelites in Egypt, find themselves in oppressive situations – low wages, inadequate supplies or tools (making bricks without straw), wage theft, discrimination, dangerous conditions and abuse.

This Labor Day weekend, let’s do our share to stand with workers.   Let’s remember that:

God hears the cry of oppressed workers.  Workers and justice for workers is not a minor issue.  It is the central theme in the liberation story.

We must choose to recognize and learn from the burning bushes.  We are regularly sent burning bushes, messages, about God’s priorities, but we must intentionally turn to hear them.

And, God can use each one of us to make a difference, to fight oppression, to help workers.  We may think we are inadequate, or too busy, or that someone else could do a better job, but each one of us can – and should – make a difference.

I know you are part of this congregation in part because of worship, in part because of community, but also in part because you are encouraged to make a difference.  God cares about workers, sends us messengers to understand oppression and with your fellow congregants, you are called to respond.   Here I am Lord. Thanks be to God.

Kim Bobo StoryLabor Day is about laborers! It a day to take time, as a faith community, to consider the inherent worth and dignity of all people, and the importance of advocating for fair treatment of all people.

This Sunday, at 10 am worship:

We are pleased to have Kim Bobo, Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice preaching on minimum wage, the plight of undocumented workers, wage theft, and most importantly what we can do locally to advocate for workers rights.  http://www.iwj.org/

Join us here at Skyline Community Church, 12540 Skyline Boulevard in Oakland,  or email office@skylineucc.org or call 510-531-8212

Kim was named one of 14 faith leaders to watch in 2014 by the Center for American Progress, and one of Utne Reader‘s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” in 2009. Kim helped coin the phrase “wage theft.” Her book Wage Theft in America helped get the issue on the national radar. Prior to founding IWJ, Kim was a trainer for the Midwest Academy and Director of Organizing for Bread for the World. She is co-author of Organizing for Social Change, the best-selling organizing manual in the country. A music lover, Kim directs the choir at her UCC church. She also enjoys visiting with her twin sons, Eric and Benjamin, who are away at college.

Additional articles:
How HR can Prevent Wage Theft 
Kim Bobo: Labor and the Lord’s Work
Book Review: Wage Theft in America

This Sunday as part of our Oakland Pride worship service we will  hold a prayer vigil  for the people of Ferguson, Missouri, and prayers for our country. 

We will pray for the healing of all those affected by this continuing tragedy, and healing in our race relations from Ferguson to Oakland. 

In the immortal words of the Rev Dr MLK Jr, who wrote, while imprisoned in a jail in Birmingham Alabama, “Why We Can’t Wait”:

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist: “ I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist? “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or for the extension of justice?

Blessings, Pastor Laurie 

This Sunday, August 24th is our own Oakland Pride Sunday service. Come celebrate with us at 10 AM! Bring your friends! Hear testimonials from several members of our congregation!

All are welcome here!

  • When the UCC, Golden Gate Association in 1972, ordained Bill Johnson as the first openly gay minister in an historical Protestant denomination, we were extremists for love. All are welcome!
  • When the UCC, on July 4, 2005 overwhelming voted as the first mainline denomination to support same gender marriage equality;
  • when, in 2008, at the height of the debate over same-sex marriage in California during Prop 8 this congregation hung a banner in front of the church entrance, proclaiming to every passerby “Support Marriage Equality. We do”;
  • when your pastor blessed same sex couples for many years before it was a legal right, and urged all heterosexual couples she married to stand in solidarity with them until the day that marriage became a legal right for all people, we were standing on the side of love.

All are welcome here!

By the way, did you hear that the states that allow same sex marriage have lower divorce rates? In states where same-sex marriages are legally recognized, the divorce rate is 20 percent lower than in states that only allow marriages between a man and a woman. Rachel Maddow says “It turns out gay marriage is a Defense of Marriage Act.” Who knew?

Standing on the side of love doesn’t require power. It requires courage. Because courage is power. Join us as we celebrate the liberating empowering good news!

Here’s a 1 minute all-are-welcome video called The Bouncer!

Blessings,
Pastor Laurie

Child refugee posterFor weeks now, we’ve learned about the growing humanitarian crisis of 57,000 unaccompanied children who have crossed the U.S. border this year… the story of refugees making the long and dangerous journey, with little but hope and the love of their parents far away to sustain them. It echoes the birth narrative of Jesus, born as a refugee. A tiny child, born into poverty, a precious, yet hidden treasure.

These children make the long and dangerous journey to escape the far greater danger of poverty and violence in their own countries; especially Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.  As people of faith, we are called to notice them, imagine them as our own children, and to protect them.

In addition, as people of faith, we are called to address the vicious cycles of violence and poverty that are spurring the children to flee their countries of origin.

We are pleased to invite this Sunday at 10 am, Rev Deborah Lee, Director of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrants Rights, http://revdeblee.blogspot.com/.  The Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights for the past 20 years has sought to call forth people of faith to promote the fair treatment and dignity of all immigrants so that all may be welcome and fully participate in our nation.  Deborah is here to deepen our understanding of how we together can protect these children, inform people about the dangers of such a journey, promote development in their countries of origin, and influence new forms of legal and secure migration.

Here is a link to an article in the SF Chronicle last week- explaining the situation where we are.

Blessings, Pastor Laurie 

Image converted using ifftoanyThis past Mother’s Day weekend my heart rejoiced in the many eco-justice events happening throughout the Bay Area; from the East Bay chapter of 350.org, to the Sierra Club, to Skyline Green Team’s  “Water Concerns” event.

I believe that we are becoming more aware of how inextricably connected we are with our many mothers – including Mother God and Mother Earth.

I leave with you the wisdom of two visionary writers, who share this love of our Mothers:
A Call to Prayer
Hildegard of Bingen
The earth is at the same time mother,
She is mother of all that is natural, mother of all that is human.
She is the mother of all, for contained in her are the seeds of all.
The earth of humankind contains all moistness, all verdancy, all germinating power.
It is in so many ways fruitful.
All creation comes from it. Yet it forms not only the basic raw material for humankind, but also the substance of the incarnation of God’s son.

A Quote by Chief Seattle
Teach your children what we have taught our children: that the earth is our true mother. Whatever happens to the earth, happens to the children of the earth. If people spit on the ground, they spit on themselves. We know: the earth does not belong to people, but people belong to the earth. We know: everything is joined together in some way, like the blood that runs through a family. Whatever happens to the earth, happens to the children of the earth. We did not weave the web of life; we are just a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.

Just as Paul writes, “we are one body and many parts”, it is profoundly true when we consider our relationship with our mothers… our biological mothers and with mother earth.  This Sunday at 10 AM we’ll continue our celebration of Earth Month with a service about both our human mothers and our ancient mother earth.  All are welcome.

I leave you with a quote from Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, Jungian psychiatrist, in “Crossing to Avalon” pp. 255-257.

Image converted using ifftoany

“The photo of the Earth taken from outer space may be the most significant image in the evolution of human consciousness in the twentieth century; it was a gift from Apollo-NASA’s Apollo space missions. The Apollo astronauts saw the Earth from outer space for the first time. And through them, we could see the Earth as a holy island against a sea of blackness, a sunlit ocean-blue globe with swirls of clouds and glimpses of continents. This image of the Earth touched the heart and brought humanity into a planetary age, with the psychological awareness that we share the fate of the earth, which has finite resources.

The beautiful blue and white planet that is earth, a sphere flowing art woman wrapping arms around earthwith light, silhouetted against the blackness of space, is a gorgeous sight. She is beautiful and vulnerable, and the only Mother Earth we have.

In photographs, Earth also has the shape of a mandala, a circle within a square, the symbol of what Jung called the Self, an image of wholeness and the archetype of meaning. The Self is whatever we experience that is greater than our small selves through which we know that there is something meaningful to our existence. The round or the circle is a feminine symbol that represented the Great Mother before humanity could know that the Earth is round. The Earth is the great Mother Goddess: she births us and breathes us and feeds us and holds us to her body with gravity, and we return to her in death.”

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Skyline UCC
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12540 Skyline Boulevard
Oakland, CA 94619
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