Archive for the ‘justice’ Category

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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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Climate Change

February 4, 2014

by Phil Porter, Minister of Art & Communication

The weather in the Bay Area is deceptively mild.

This part of the country has managed to avoid the dramatic “in your face” weather events that other areas are experiencing—events that are being linked to climate change and the use of fossil fuels. Our challenges are more subtle but no less important—a drought that is being described as the most serious since 1850.

hot earthIn Australia, however, climate reality is uncomfortably obvious. Last year in Sydney there was one day when the temperature was over 110 degrees. It was not figuratively, but literally, like a sauna.

This year while I was in Sydney, the weather in Adelaide (where I would be going next) was hitting record highs. At one point Adelaide was the hottest city in the world. I joked that I had sent off my advance team to cool things down before I arrived. It was cooler when I got there, but on the day I left to return home, you could once again begin to feel the oppressiveness of the heat. I escaped just in time. Or is there really an escape?

As President Obama proclaimed in his 2014 State of the Union message “…the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

Is there any more fundamental issue facing us today than to address the global threat of climate change? And as progressive Christians, given our deep commitment to the common good and the stewardship of the earth, can we stand by wringing our hands rather than taking to the streets both literally and figuratively?

Fossil fuels are limited and will run out. There is no future in oil. While in the US, the market seems to be turning away from coal (though probably not fast enough), tons of coal is being mined in Australia and sent to China. But the science tells us that if the path we take is to keep extracting and burning the remaining fossil fuels—releasing carbon into the atmosphere—the result will be a significant increase in the global temperatures which would take thousands of years to reverse. We must leave the carbon in the ground. This is a hard reality for the carbon-addicted.

Without my faith, I would be tempted to despair. The situation seems dire and critical. In this country, when we need leadership at the highest level to address this problem, our political system seems shockingly inadequate to the task. Will reason prevail? Will we speak truth to power and reverse damaging trends?

I am still hopeful that this is possible, but only with the help of God. I guess this is taking the authority question to the next level.

On February 16, First Church will participate in a National Preach-In on Climate Change organized by Interfaith Power and Light. Senior Minister Patricia de Jong will address the issue at 9 am and First Church scientist and theologian Rev. Dr. Robert Russell will preach at 11 am. A related Learning Hour will be held at 10 am in the Large Assembly. More about events on February 16…

Come. Pray. Hope.

More about First Church Berkeley, United Church of Christ

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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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President Obama and Marriage Equality

May 10, 2012

First Congregational Church of Berkeley celebrates the personal stand that President Obama has taken on marriage equality. First Church has been an “Open & Affirming” congregation (welcoming all people including those of different sexual orientations) in the United Church of Christ for over 15 years and has taken public positions in favor of equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

First Church celebrates marriage equalitySenior Minister Patricia de Jong adds, “Marriage equality is more than an issue of legal rights, as important as those are. It is also about love, commitment, deep caring and human dignity. I was moved by the lines of people who wanted to get married in California during the brief time it was legal. I have performed same-sex marriages for over 28 years. We recognize the importance that the support of a faith community can have in marriage and family life.”

First Church took a clear stand against Prop 8’s ban on gay marriage and worked to defeat it. The hope of the church is that the personal positions of elected officials will translate into policies and laws that protect the rights of all people.

First Church includes members who are directly affected by the lack of marriage equality.  In a service during the anti-Prop 8 campaign, the church celebrated and affirmed the same-gender relationships among its members and friends. Rachel Bauman, who has just recently been called as First Church’s Minister of Community Life says, “One of the reasons that I was so interested in being part of the First Church community is that it so clearly welcomes families of all shapes and sizes. I think it is crucial that faith communities support loving relationships in a world that is full of challenges.”

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The Tragic Death of Trayvon Martin

March 29, 2012

by Phil Porter
Minister of Art & Communication

Trayvon MartinLast Sunday, a photograph of Trayvon Martin and a “hoodie” were placed on the communion tables at both services at First Church. Trayvon was a 17-year-old African American who was shot by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida. The man who shot Trayvon was not arrested based on his claim that he fired in self-defense. Public attention and outrage has grown steadily in the month since the shooting.

This case has touched a nerve for many, inviting us to look not only at instances, but at patterns. This situation is not just about the tragic death of one young man. It is about perceptions of young African American men. Though some may see the murder as out of the ordinary, many are seeing it as something that could easily happen to them or someone they love. Thousands upon thousands of parents are now even more concerned and apprehensive about the safety of their sons.

Philadelphia AP writer Jesse Washington talks about having to give his 12-year-old son the talk about the “black male code.” He gave his son this advice:

“Always pay close attention to your surroundings, son, especially if you are in an affluent neighborhood where black folks are few. Understand that even though you are not a criminal, some people might assume you are, especially if you are wearing certain clothes.

Never argue with police, but protect your dignity and take pride in humility. When confronted by someone with a badge or a gun, do not flee, fight, or put your hands anywhere other than up.

Please don’t assume, son, that all white people view you as a threat. America is better than that. Suspicion and bitterness can imprison you. But as a black male, you must go above and beyond to show strangers what type of person you really are.”

(Read Jesse Washington’s full article “Trayvon Martin, my son, and the Black Male Code”.)

Trayvon is both a victim and a symbol. The tragedy of his death stands alone, but as we mourn him, we are also mourning many lives lost. We have an opportunity to stop and call ourselves and our culture to account for the ways that young lives are cut short or derailed because of race or class.

One of the things that church can offer is a place where the family is extended. In so many ways, teenagers and their parents need the support of the wider community. We can help hold the lives of our young people during a period that is often fraught with challenge. Perhaps Trayvon’s death can spur us to take even more seriously our opportunity to spread our collective wings over our young ones—those right next to us, those we pass on the street and those we only hear about through the news.