This Sunday marks the Autumnal Equinox. A time of balance. A time to remember the changing seasons, a time of endings and beginnings, a time to remember impermanence. A time to embrace the gift of life and to give thanks for the harvest and for this day!

Here are some words of wisdom from Chief Seattle as we consider our relationship with the earth and with the changing seasons..

Blessings, Pastor Laurie

Teach youFall-Thanksgiving-Maple-Leaf-sun-orange-300x235r children what we have taught our children—that the Earth is our mother.  Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.  If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.

This we know.  The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth.

This we know.  All things are connected like the blood which unites one family.

All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.

We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it.

Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.

                                    Chief Seattle

Here are a few lovely quotes to reflect upon.
Blessings upon your journey this week!

Love, Pastor Laurie

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 20th century
“Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

Bruce Epperly, Christian Century 1-26-10
“When author Madeleine L’Engle was asked, ‘Do you believe in God without any doubts?’ she replied, ‘I believe in God with all my doubts.'”

Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. 20th century
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

M. Scott Peck, 20th century
“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

Madeleine L’Engle, 20th century
“Some things have to be believed to be seen.”

Here are some beautiful thoughts for all of us to reflect upon in our lives, in our relationships with one another, and in the world. 

Martin Luther King Jr., 20th century
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” 

Henri J.M. Nouwen, 20th century
“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”

Abraham Lincoln, 19th century
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”    

Dr Fred Kuskin, Stanford University, the Forgiveness project 
“People don’t understand what strength and courage it takes [to forgive]. It’s an assertive statement that this awful event is not going to mar my whole life — that there’s more to me than that.”

Pastor Laurie

Who’s welcome here? You are! You know the tagline… let’s say it together… “No matter who you are, where you are on your life’s journey, you are welcome here..”! Part of the family!

Many UCC members suffer from a chronic identity crisis. People ask us, what do United Church of Christ members believe? And—we freeze! We don’t know what to say, because we UCC’ers believe so many things, so many different things. We are priests of paradox, apostles of ambiguity, nattering nabobs of nuance.

And so the UCC produces the “God is still speaking campaign”, including our legacy of firsts, our taglines, with countless videos, pamphlets and little wallet cards all to remind us what we kinda sorta believe. We are exhorted to compose elevator speeches, summations of UCC’ers so pithy they might be recited on an elevator in its fleeting passage between floors.

Do we believe in God? Question—simple. Answer—impossible.

Define “God.”   Define “believe.”   Define “we.”   Define “in.”

Whatever God is or is not, I don’t think God cares what we believe. I don’t think Jesus cares what we believe. I don’t think the Buddha doesn’t care what we believe.

The important question is not what we believe, it’s where we stand.

I want to be extremists for love… where all are welcome.Of course when I say “standing” I’m not talking about a physical posture. Rosa Parks stood on the side of love by remaining seated.I’m talking about a moral stance not just assumed privately in our hearts but witnessed boldly in our families and schools and workplaces and communities, at the State House, in the halls of Congress. I’m talking about faith in action.I’m not talking about sanctimony. I’m talking about intentionality. Understanding that our practice will be imperfect as each of us is imperfect, what is our purpose? What is our aspiration? What is our commitment?

Extremists for love. No matter who you are, you are welcome here.

  • When UCC minister Samuel Sewell challenged the institution of slavery in the UC, writing the first anti slavery pamphlet in America,  in 1700, “The selling of Joseph, he laid the foundation for the abolitionist movement a century later, he was an extremist for love. 
  • When the UCC, in 1785, ordained Lemuel Haynes, the first African American pastor ordained by a protestant denomination, we were extremists for love -All are welcome here!
  • When the UCC ordained Antoinette Brown in 1854, as the first woman since New Testament times to serve as a Christian minister, and perhaps the first woman in history elected to serve as a  Christian pastor to a congregation, we were extremists for love. All are welcome!
  • When the UCC, Golden Gate Association in 1972, ordained Bill Johnson as the first openly gay minister in an historical protestant denomination, and went on for the next three decades as a national synod urging the equal rights for homosexual citizens, and to become the first denomination to support equal marriage rights for same sex couples, we were extremists for love. All are welcome!
  • When  on July 4, 2005 the UCC overwhelming voted as a 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.” 
  • And 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 this became a legal right for all people, we were extremists for 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?

Extremists for love doesn’t require power. It requires courage. Because courage is power.When a child on a playground sticks up for another who is teased or bullied or left out because they’re different, that child is an extremist for love.

Let’s celebrate the blessed uniqueness, within, and among us all!  Our true colors, the full spectrum of beautiful differences.

Together, we stand, as As MLK wrote, as Jesus lived, together we stand on the side of love, a still speaking God calling us to confront exclusion and violence based on identity, be it sexual orientation, gender presentation, immigration status, race, class, religions, nationality, physical ability, or any other excuse for harassment.

Our denomination is working for full equality—across the board—for people of all gender identities and sexual orientations. 

Extremists for love means treating each other well, whether ally or adversary. “Love is patient;” wrote the Apostle Paul, “love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.”

Extremists for love means being more committed to being reconciled than to being right. Love “does not insist on its own way…. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

A religious person, Rabbi Abraham Heschel taught us, is one “whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.”His friend Martin Luther King Jr. added, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

So when someone asks us what UCC members believe, or why we’re speaking out on gay rights or immigrant rights or disability rights or human rights, or why we bother to drag our sorry selves down to Skyline Community Church on a Sunday morning, let’s tell ‘em: no matter who you are, where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!

We are extremists for love… no matter who you are, or where you are on your life’s journey, you are welcome here!

Amen and Blessed Be.

On August 2 the Clergy and Laity for Economic Justice held their monthly vigil around the humanitarian crisis at the border, where over 52,000 unaccompanied minors have been caught crossing the border fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.

As many of us know, the government is looking for ways to quickly deport them without a chance to fight a case for asylum, despite the fact that U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees released a report claiming that up to 60% of these children can qualify for refugee status.

The purpose: a time of prayer, testimonies and songs, and to make our voices heard on behalf of these precious children to raise awareness to their plea.

Mirtha organized attendance from our church – here is her report:

About 50 people gathered in front of the detention center for introductions. Most of the people were associated with a church but also in attendance were Richmond’s Mayor Gayle McLaughlin; candidate for Mayor, Eduardo Martinez; and a council woman. Catherine Kessler and Michael Armijo came to the Vigil! We sang in English and Spanish led by a guitarist. Three personal testimonies were the highlight of the vigil.

A young man, recent Cal graduate, told his story of being born in a refugee camp in El Salvador when his mom was 14 years old. His father left them as the government wanted to make him “disappear” due to his work to help organize the indigenous people. His father got asylum in the U.S. and then at age 8 he came and finally met his father.  He thanked one of the church people in attendance for helping him when he arrived to this country.

A young woman and her daughter from El Salvador gave their testimony. The mother said her daughter had recently arrived to the U.S. fleeing the gangs at the school who abducted girls and used drugs in front of the younger children. Everyone is to fearful to say anything against the gangs as they will kill you, your family and friends. A school mate of her daughter’s had been killed by the gangs forcing the family to leave their home.

An older Guatemalan woman said she came to the U.S. to escape the gang violence and showed her scarred and gouged leg where she was shot by a gang member.  She said she prayed during her whole journey. She says she feels safe here and doesn’t want to leave.

In closing, we prayed for the children, all those detained, and for government officials to see these children as one of theirs.

We were urged to call Senator Feinstein and Washington DC, as the calls are reportedly 4 to 1 in favor of the quick deportation of the children.

by Mirtha Ninayahuar

Harvey Milk photo BWThis week, California honors the inspiring and courageous life of Harvey Milk, the  first openly gay man elected to major public office in the United States during one of the most oppressive times in our nation’s history. Despite repeated and increasing death threats and condemnation by conservative fundamentalists, Milk appeared on the national scene urging solidarity.

I invite you to listen to an excerpt from one of his famous speeches on hope.

I also invite you to listen to this beautiful song, entitled, “I Will Change Your Name”, which speaks to the hearts of all those who have been shamed or outcast in the name of God.

Better yet, come join us this Thursday, from 7 – 9 pm to watch the American Classic, “Milk” featuring Sean Penn. Bring your friends and bring a dish to share for dinner!

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.”

kid-drawingSpring is here! Finally, after months of waiting living waters fell from the heavens to nourish the dry parched earth here in the Bay area.

We are experiencing that amazing re-Creation that God provides each year at this time. New grass, buds on the trees, and flowers in abundance. Also, spiritually each of us has the chance to be reborn or recreated into new life and new opportunity at the time of Passover and Easter when we reflect on future possibilities.

It is also Earth Day.hand hold earth painting

I grew up in Northern New England where the seasons spoke to us. I remember as a child playing in grass when it was dry and the ground was hard and cold. Then, after the rain it was soft and new life appeared. The Creation is reborn in the spring.

In this season of new beginning let us join together in hope to bring all of Creation back to full health, and to recover from the wounds of climate change. Join us in this movement, as we begin by teaching our children about the recreation of our relationship with the Earth and with one another.

With love and hope,

Pastor Laurie

It is one thing to talk about looking for the presence of God in the midst of our daily lives, in the babie_031e2d150midst of beauty and grace, in the midst of the simple and mundane, and in the midst of the frightening, challenging and overwhelming aspects of life.

But how do we do this? How do we keep our eyes open for the God who is everywhere?

How do we approach seeing as a practice? What supports our seeing; how do we cultivate the courage, wisdom, patience, and discernment that will help us see what we need to see, and respond to it? How will we allow our seeing to be challenged — and ourselves to be changed by what we see?

These are just a few of the questions I carry as I move through this world that holds such deep brokenness and such stunning beauty. May this be a week of seeing wonders.

with love, Pastor Laurie

Blessing for Seeing
– by Jan Richardson

It seems it should
be simple enough
to bless your eyes —
first the left, perhaps,
then the right —
but there is so much else
you will need
for the seeing.

You will need courage
to open your eyes
where it would be easier
to let them
remain closed.

You will need wisdom
to question what it is
that you see.

You will need to know
when to look more closely,
that you may see
beneath what you see
and between what you see
and behind what you see.

Likewise you will need to know
when to still your eyes
just for a space
so that the seeing
that pierces your heart
will not paralyze it.

Patience will come in handy,
that you will let yourself
learn all over again
what it means to look.

And imagination,
so that you can see
what is not yet there:
what is possible
in that dreaming-place
where seeing becomes

You will need wonder
to let yourself be dazzled
and grace
to ward off despair;
to see clearly
and intuition
to see in the dark.

Mercy, but all this
is quite a lot
and it will take
a lifetime
at least
for the learning.

So perhaps
we should simply
begin here
and say:

Let a blessing
be upon
your left eye.

Let a blessing
be upon
your right eye.

May you see.
May you see.
May you see.

In this age of discord and division the earnest words of Jesus’ farewell prayer on behalf of his followers could not feel more relevant or more urgent. With his beloved disciples during the Last Supper Jesus prays for connection and unity, locally and globally. Perhaps he knew that understanding our oneness would be one of our greatest challenges as human beings, and that is why one of his very last acts was to pray for unity. “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23). When we understand that we are of God, created by none other than the Creator of all creation, and that we are thus beloved, we reconnect to ourselves, to one another, and to our Divine Parent.

For almost seven decades now nine denominations in the U.S., united as one, have together been connecting people through the One Great Hour of Sharing offering. Sisters and brothers living in poverty who would have been otherwise overlooked or outright forgotten have been empowered by our gifts to the offering. The woman who has been a victim of war attempting on her own to raise her family without any access to long-term food security, education, or health care is now self-sufficient because of assistance from One Great Hour of Sharing. Families across North America, still struggling to survive after a devastating storm took everything in its path are accompanied for the long haul, thanks to funds from One Great Hour of Sharing. Each time a gift is given a connection is made. Every single offering builds another bridge and tears down another wall. Each donation to One Great Hour of Sharing, no matter how large or small, reveals our unity that in Christ Jesus we are one family. When one of us—anywhere on earth—hurts, we all hurt. As long as there is need, we are all in need. One Great Hour of Sharing enables us to fulfill those needs, for they are our needs.

We are the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the homeless, the hurting. We are one with our sisters and brothers, and we will answer Christ’s call until we all are fed. Until all are fed. Through this ecumenical effort, One Great Hour of Sharing, we connect visibly, effectively, efficiently, and powerfully to answer those needs. Together, we are much stronger. Together, we have raised hundreds of millions of dollars to assist and to connect with those whose lives have now been forever changed.

The legacy lives on. Give generously to this great connector of our churches and our shared faith, work, and witness in the world. Give generously, for as long as a sister or a brother is in need, we are all in need.  Give generously at the March 30th service or online.  Thank you for your leadership.

Gratefully, Pastor Laurie

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