Archive for the ‘common good’ Category

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Week of Compassion

February 9, 2015

vynguyenVy Nguyen is a long-time friend of First Church Berkeley and the Executive Director of Week of Compassion. He formally worked for Church World Service. In that previous role, he was a guest in our congregation several times.

In this short video he shares some of his story of escaping Viet Nam, ending up in a refugee camp in Thailand and then making his way to the United States.

Week of Compassion is a program of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and supports refugee assistance, emergency relief and sustainable development.

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”Be Brave“

February 8, 2015

by First Church Emerging Leader Matt Boswell

mattboswell“Be brave!” The words of my 2 1⁄2 year-old concluded my recent sermon. Clara, like Jonah, is on a journey of growing in courage. I believe our health, our happiness and our ability to love and be loved are heavily dependent on the continual deepening of virtues like courage. To what does courage call us as a Christian community?

Courage calls us to humility about what we know and
 can know. Courage is an invitation to mystery, to endure the limits of being a particular human, trapped in one body in one location in one community in one country in one era in one… you get the point. It takes courage to say “I’m in!” and believe in something, even if that mythic “certainty” eludes us. And it takes courage to admit that we have much to learn.

Courage calls us to fight for the good of others. Courage calls us not simply to feel something but to do something, at a potential cost to ourselves. We may show our support for particular causes and resistance to particular injustices, but until we are moved to particular actions, our courage may be incomplete. Where the loving and just treatment of others
is at stake, courage can give us the strength to do something about it.

Courage calls us to risk loss. Standing up for something we believe in brings the risk of losing status, approval, our connection to others. The Church is a living tradition, and things that are alive are constantly changing even while retaining their apparent form. A courageous Christian community can maintain its fidelity to what God seems to care about while courageously letting go of certain approaches, perspectives and practices when it becomes clear they don’t “fit” the spirit of love, justice and care.

Courage might call us to pursue social change more indirectly. I absolutely believe in direct confrontation, explicitly naming what’s broken and calling for our leaders, policymakers and fellow citizens to do something about it. But there’s something to be said for that Gandhian insight — to be the change you want to see in the world. For example, as an “open and affirming” community, maybe courage calls us to enhance our advocacy for marriage equality by pouring energy into our own relationships. This may be the riskier, more terrifying path to persuading people of what marriage is all about — to be an example of that for which we are fighting.

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Loving Our World-Wide Neighbors

July 29, 2014

by First Church Senior Minister Patricia de Jong

“It was un-American; it was unbiblical; it was inhumane.” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York wrote these words in response to the busloads of mothers and children in Murietta that were turned back  toward the border as protesters shouted to them, “Go home!” Cardinal Dolan grasps the sorrow and even shame many people of faith are experiencing these days as we confront the meaning of the Gospel imperative “to love our neighbor as ourselves” on the childrenatborderUS border and in Gaza and in the Middle East. Not only do we have difficulty with the political events of the past few weeks, but many of us have trouble making moral sense out of the way children are being treated in the hot spots around the globe.

In the past two weeks, we have stood silently as a body during worship in order to prayerfully protest the deportation of children who are fleeing violence in their own countries and have arrived at our borders with nothing more than hope for a chance at survival. We’ve prayed for peace in the Israel/Palestine and especially for the bombings to stop in the Gaza Strip. And we have received a free will offering for East Bay Sanctuary Covenant and the important work they are doing in the East Bay with refugees right now. It doesn’t seem like much when we imagine the enormity of human suffering that is occurring; but we also know that a stance of grace and compassion is vital to the process of moving forward to justice and healing.

Each small act of intention and attention is powerful. Through the simple act of prayer or writing a check or emailing our representatives, we are making a difference. We simply must not allow violence or division or ignoring the plight of children to become our new normal; as people of faith we have a calling to honor creation through the honoring of each other as God’s own beloved children.

In the coming days, pray for the children, our own and especially those at risk. If you feel like it and are able, write a check supporting an agency that helps children, here or anywhere in the world, but especially the troubled spots. Send an email to your representative reminding them of the importance of the welfare of children to the future well being of the planet. And pay attention to and be thankful for a child or a young person in your life; they are wise and wonderful and will remind you of our calling to care for all the children of the world.

More about First Church Berkeley…

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Young Ones Fleeing Central America

July 16, 2014

by Patricia de Jong, Senior Minister

migrantchildrenMany of us having been reading and hearing stories about the wave of children and youth from Central American who are crossing over the boarder into the southwest of the United States, many of them unaccompanied. But First Church member Jennifer Fisher has taken the next step—encouraging our congregation to take concrete action to address the needs of these young immigrants. And she will get in a truck full of supplies and drive if that is the right thing to do.

Jennifer’s desire to respond has been galvanizing and a meeting has been set up for Wednesday, July 16 at 7:00 pm in the Sunburst Room. Anyone who is interested in learning more about this challenging situation and to discern the best way for First Church to respond are invited to attend.

Although this surge has ignited much political debate, Jennifer has her eyes squarely on the human story:  “Everyone can argue both sides of the immigration issue, that does not matter. What matters is these kids have traveled hundreds and perhaps thousands of miles on a rough road to get here and many are victims of violence, upheaval and economic hardships in their country. People willing to make that kind of hazardous, unsafe, dusty, dry, and arduous trip are usually doing it to save their lives. ”

In testimony before Congress administration members described the situation this way: “We face an urgent situation in the Rio Grande Valley Last fiscal year, Customs and Border Protection apprehended more than 24,000 unaccompanied children at the border. By mid-June of this fiscal year, that number has doubled to more than 52,000. Those from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras make up about three quarters of that migration…[T]his is a humanitarian issue as much as it is a matter of border security. We are talking about large numbers of children, without their parents, who have arrived at our border—hungry, thirsty, exhausted, scared and vulnerable. How we treat the children, in particular, is a reflection of our laws and our values.”

This wave of immigration has excited strong feelings. I heard on the radio that at one rally protesting the arrival of these children a woman held a sign that said “Not our children, Not our problem.” I must emphatically disagree. Jesus clearly calls us to care for the hungry and the thirsty. We are all neighbors and when our neighbors are in need, we are called to act.

Join Jennifer and I on Wednesday night and be prepared to respond to a special call for funds to provide relief for at least some of these children.

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Here are some online resources about the wave of young immigrants coming to the US from Central America:

•   A comprehensive article called “Life Ended There” by Susan Terrio, professor of anthropology at Georgetown University, author of Whose Child Am I? Unaccompanied, Undocumented Children in U.S. Immigration Custody: http://tinyurl.com/lifeendedthere

•   An article about how social service agencies that work with the immigration community in San Francisco are being stretched by this situation: http://tinyurl.com/agenciesstretched

•   Transcript of testimony by administration officials at a hearing titled “Challenges at the Border”: http://tinyurl.com/challengesattheborder

•   A clear picture of the increase in this sort of immigration based on data from Customs and Border Protection: www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/southwest-border-unaccompanied-children

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More about First Church Berkeley…

 

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Mother’s Day

May 6, 2014

by Senior Minister Patricia de Jong

As Mother’s Day approaches, I walk by the card aisle at the drugstore and contemplate the card I will not buy this year. Since my own mother has been dead for many years, I am tempted to skip this day altogether, but there are many women in this community and in my life who embody the best of what I believe it means to be a mother, sister, daughter and woman and friend. I am thankful for them all.

Mother’s Day has become for me, a time of quiet celebration of what it means to be a good and courageous human being in whatever life circumstance we find ourselves. The original idea for Mother’s Day emerged out of the Civil War, with a group of grieving mothers resolving to work together to abolish war. The idea of a day for mothers was in response to the heavy toll that war had extracted from their lives. Later, as it became more commercial, people lost sight of the desire for peace and justice that originally grounded a day for mothers.

The origins of this day were centered around the need of women to create a better world for their children rather than becoming the focus of attention and adulation. Perhaps we can reclaim an important aspect of the legacy of those brave women who came before us by intentionally lifting up peace and justice this Mother’s Day.

redcarnationI’d rather not give this day away to Hallmark or Flowers.com or even a great place to have brunch. Instead, I’d like to lift up a prayer for the mothers and fathers of those 270 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped from their school three weeks ago. They still don’t know what happened to the girls or if they will see their children again. And not so far from us, in the Ukraine, the madness of war has once again threatened to destroy the lives of children and families and a whole nation. And our own Mother Earth is ravaged by our lack of conscious attention to the ways we have ignored and abused her.

Every time I baptize a baby, child or adult, I say “Mother of us all,” to remind us that we are held by a powerful and gentle God who broods and frets over us like a mother hen. Yet she also calls forth from us the best of what is means to be a child of God—courage, steadiness of commitment to the common good, lovingkindness and a willingness to act for justice and peace.

However you celebrate this day, may the Mother of Us All shine in you and give you courage and strength for your life work.

Find out more about First Church Berkeley…

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A Lament for Lynching

July 17, 2012

by Phil Porter, First Church Minister of Art & Communication and member of the Diversity Ministry Team

This piece was originally published in the First Church newsletter The Carillon. It was written in the context of a study the church was doing of Dr. James Cone’s book The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

When I was in high school, I had a teacher with whom I worked quite a bit. More than once, when I apologized to her for something I had done, she would say “Don’t be sorry, just do better next time.” I understood and appreciated the sentiment—paying attention to future actions and not repeating mistakes rather than regretting the past. But it also changed my habits around apology. I think I apologized less to her and to others and I’m not that was a good thing.

In my mind, there are a couple of different ways to apologize.  In the first, I may have done something I regretted. I say “I’m sorry” to the ones who were affected by my actions. In the second, I may recognize that a bad thing has happened to someone. I may say “I’m sorry that that happened to you.” The intention is less about my personal regret or responsibility and more about expressing compassion and solidarity.

Sometimes, I find myself  in between the two. I may feel a need to apologize because I recognize that a wrong has been done, but I may not be sure about my own personal responsibility.

Over a period of forty years from about 1880 to 1940, there were over 3400 reported cases of lynching in the United States. Who knows how many more went unreported? This violence and terrorism was brutal and widespread, and went unchecked by law enforcement, government or civic and religious institutions. Its purpose was not only to punish but to “frighten to death.” It was racism most blatant.

I’m sorry that this happened in this country or anywhere. I’m sorry that the pain of this period reverberates in individuals and in the collective body even today. And I find myself in that territory where I’m not sure of my own responsibility. Those events have seemed distant both in time and location, but the more I learn, the more I open myself to this tragedy, the more I wonder what responsibility I carry. Sometimes my sense of responsibility comes from a collective rather than individual identity. I may be at fault, not as one person but as a member of a group, whether that membership is chosen or not. As a spiritual practice, I try not to shirk my collective responsibility even when an inner voice is saying, “but it wasn’t really me that did this!”

As a white person, I feel a need to make my regret explicit for lynching and all the other practices that have terrorized and demeaned black people throughout the years. Otherwise, how with those who carry that painful legacy know that I stand with them? I’m sorry all of that happened.

And because these sorts of things are still going on, I will also try to follow advice of my high school teacher to do better this time and the next.

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Families of All Shapes & Sizes

June 15, 2012

by Rachel Bauman, First Church’s Minister of Community Life

What is family? Who comes to mind when you hear that word?

There was a time in U.S. popular culture when family was always portrayed like that famous Norman Rockwell image in the Saturday Evening Post: mom, dad, children and grandparents happily enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner. The First Church family gathers at Camp CazaderoWhen it was printed in the 1940’s, this was the prevailing assumption among many about just who made up the American family.

But now most of us have a more expansive, or at least more complicated, view of what constitutes family: blended families, single-parent or same-sex headed households; families created through open adoption; transracial and transnational families; middle-aged adults making tough decisions in caring for aging parents; couples with no kids, former couples faithfully navigating the hard work of co-parenting; grandparents raising grand kids; and families of choice created because one’s family of origin may be far away, passed on, or are perhaps emotionally estranged and unavailable. So we become aunties and uncles, sisters and brothers, children or parents to those with whom we have no biological ties but feel deeply accountable and connected to them just the same.

At First Church Berkeley we celebrate and honor all types and possibilities of family. This is one of the reasons I am so happy to be serving as your Minister of Community Life. This community understands that family matters.  It matters to have a place where we are seen, supported and loved fully for who we are.

This unconditional love is the fertile soil from which we grow into who we are created to be. Belonging to a community that reminds us that our identity and value comes from our relationship to a living, loving God is the bedrock upon which we are each able to withstand the inevitable ups and downs of life.  Some of us are blessed to have this type of family surrounding us in our daily life and for others this type of family is hard come by. But the beauty and the challenge of Christian community is the opportunity to be that family for each other.

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Zephania and Economic Justice

November 18, 2011

On Sunday, November 13, one of the lectionary readings for the day was from the book of the prophet Zephania. In it the speaker warns the people about the dangers of “resting on the dregs” of economic wealth.

In the two Sunday services at First Church Berkeley, preachers Phil Porter (9 am) and Sam Rennebohm (11 am) reflect on issues of economic justice, weaving in reflections on the Occupy movement and the 99%.

Here are the videos of the two sermons:

 

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The March to the Port of Oakland

November 3, 2011

by Phil Porter

As I begin my day this Thursday, November 3, the day after the General Strike in Oakland, I am mostly experiencing frustration over what little media coverage I have scanned (mostly online). Reports are focusing primarily on vandalism and clashes between police and participants later in the evening. Little is being said about the scope of the march or its tone.

The crowd at the evening march of the General StrikeI went downtown both in the morning and later for the 5 pm march to the Port of Oakland. At that later time, I had intended to stay for a while, perhaps march for a bit and then return home. I ended up walking all the way to the port and back.

The crowd was huge, stretching for blocks. I’ll attach a photo, but it was hard to capture the scope of the march. The crowd was varied and the general vibe was positive, friendly and celebrative. Personally, I think this is the big story from yesterday: the action was only called a week ago and thousands turned out for it. And not only that, but folks were willing to walk all the way to the port and back (a couple of miles each way.) That, in my opinion is a sign of high commitment. This huge crowd got itself to the port and back with only a small police presence (I saw a dozen or so police on motorcycles at a few intersections along the route of the march, but they weren’t directing traffic.)

“Shutting down the port” can conjure up many different pictures. My experience of what happened was that the crowds alone clogged the roads leading to and from the port which make truck traffic impossible. From where I was, I didn’t see any other sort of disruptive action. Mostly what I witnessed was people walking down and then walking back. I felt the primary message that was being communicated was “we are standing together because things need to change.” (From other reports I have seen, the port may have chosen to close even before the march arrived there.)

When I walked back to downtown Oakland which was still relatively early (7:30 pm) a group was gathered in the intersection at Broadway and 14th. I must say, I felt at that point I experienced a bit of dread, because I believe the possibility for conflict dramatically increases the later it gets. And this morning, I began hearing the reports of problems. This will always be the part of the story that the media leads with.

I am a firm believer in non-violent protest and I see absolutely no value in the defacement or destruction of property. It seems a shame that the dynamics of public and political action and the attention they receive pivot precisely on that. The Occupy Oakland movement has both benefitted and will be harmed in this unfortunate equation. As a progressive person of faith, I believe that “the truth will set us free” and that the truth of any situation has many sides to it. I would hope to see a fuller truth represented in the media.

Other stories and points of view on the activities in Oakland and the larger issues of the “Occupy Movement” are welcome. Email your thoughts to pporter@fccb.org.

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National “Move Your Money” Day

October 28, 2011

by Richard Wong, a member of First Church Berkeley

National Move Your Money Day is November 5th—A way to participate in the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Move Your Money logoOn October 13th about 30 people from FCCB, the GTU community, and local clergy met to discuss how people of faith can support the Occupy Wall Street movement. One idea was to encourage people to move their money from major banks to more local options. This is not a new idea. It was first proposed by Arianna Huffington in December 2010 as a New Year’s resolution to address the excesses of the banking industry and the havoc they have played in the housing market and in the economy at large. This idea has now gained national momentum because of Bank of America’s debit card fee and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

On October 25th, Jody and I completed transfer of our bank accounts from Chase to First United Services Credit Union. We did this to align ourselves with the National Move Your Money campaign, which has declared November 5th as the day to move your money from large banks to credit unions and local community banks. We feel that we can make a difference in a concrete way by this action. We are standing with “the 99 percent.” So far, over 45,000 people have pledged on Facebook to participate. For more information on the ‘Move Your Money’ campaign, visit online at www.moveyourmoney.info.

The “Big Six” banks, JP Morgan/Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have evolved in the past few years to become the institutions “too big to fail.”  Why do we have this situation?  In 1990, the six largest banks accounted for 9 percent of all U.S. deposits.  By the end of 2010, the six biggest banks accounted for 36 percent of deposits.  This concentration of deposits into the major banks was the result of 37 regional/national banks (remember Security Pacific Bank?) in 1990, merging from buyout, acquisition, and bankruptcy to become only four in 2009 (Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan/Chase).  Add the investment banks, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and we have the Big Six.

The result of this shift was that the largest and most profitable banks have moved away from being traditional lending institutions and have become speculative trading entities.

This collective mismanagement has resulted in the foreclosure crisis, record high levels of unemployment, and the American and world economies in turmoil. It is time to reverse this trend.

Jody and I invite you to join us in the Move Your Money campaign as a concrete way to “do something” in the face of our current economic crisis.

To find a local credit union go to www.findacreditunion.com, submit your address, and a listing of credit unions in the area will be given.