Archive for the ‘spiritual growth’ Category

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Palm Sunday Poem

May 6, 2014

TessTaylor2Tess Taylor has been serving as Poet Laureate at First Church Berkeley since the summer of 2013. She has composed several poems based on the liturgical seasons which are read in worship and shared on the First Church website.

This is the poem that Tess wrote for Palm Sunday 2014, which she read in worship on April 13.

AFTER PALMS

And now the holy week begins
again in parade turned prison march.
In the fickle world abandoning.

The news: this year again
evildoers keep the upper hand,
a fashionable cure-all reveals itself as poison,

the blatherers jockey for position.
Absurd politicians parrot hate.
We find we’ve come too early or too late—

we predictably deny you
or linger on in some mean-spirited spot.
When called, we do not recognize you:

You come: We spend your visit cleaning house.

And still you march towards trial.
And still we stay trapped in empty tombs.
And still we do not reconcile.

And when we look to find you, you
point elsewhere, first  from the unearthly back to earth,
first to death, then baffled, back to life:

Because you are the transformed, transforming sign:
The parade, also the penitent,
the riddle, also the riddler.

Storyteller: you become the parable.
You enfold the death inside the rose
and also hold the rose within  the ash

and now appear as worm, as bone, as flesh
as gaping holes within the winding sheet.
And of these you are none & all:

because again you are the blooming plant—

…………….

Find out more about how First Church Berkeley uses the arts in worship and other aspects of community life…

Photo of Tess by Lisa Beth Anderson

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Gracias a la Vida!

August 6, 2013

Joanne BrownJoanne Brown is a writer, poet, teacher and member of the First Church community. She spends her time in both Oaxaca, Mexico and Berkeley, California. She shares her reflections and poetry on her blog Transitions and Transformations: the beauty and the terror.

Joanne also teaches writing workshops using the Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) method. She will be starting a new workshop series Write for Your Life” at First Church on September 9, 2013.

She wrote this entry “Gracias a la Vida” in May of 2012.

………………….

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto
Me dio dos luceros que cuando los abro
Perfecto distingo lo negro del blanco …

Thank you life, you have given me so much
You gave me two eyes which when I open them
I can distinguish perfectly between black and white …

– Violeta Parra 

Last evening a friend and I went to see a play about the life of the late Chilean singer, songwriter, folklorist, and visual artist Violeta Parra. She’s known as the mother of the New Chilean Song Movement, and she revived the Peña, a community center for arts and political activism. I never knew that La Peña on Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley owes its name and mission to Violeta.

Just before her suicide in 1967 at age 50, Parra wrote the beautiful song Gracias a la Vida  (Thank you life), which has been popularized by Joan Baez (watch Joan sing it!), Mercedes Sosa, Luciano Pavarotti, and many others. It played as we waited for the drama to begin, and my friend said to me, “I don’t always feel grateful for what life has given me, and I wish I did.” Her longing played across my dreams last night …

By dawn I asked myself, Am I grateful for what life has given me?

In my mid-forties, when I was lonely in my marriage, on the brink of leaving it, and desperate to find a spiritual home, the people of First Church Berkeley lifted me up. There was community, new friends, song; a way to see the commonality in all beings, and the truth that we need each other to live. In all of this, I recognized something so much bigger than my one life. First church planted in me the seeds of gratitude!

Surely gratitude for a difficult childhood or divorce doesn’t come easy. But I suppose what I’ve been given has made me who I am at this moment and who I may yet become.  I’ve traveled beyond past miseries with the help of so many friends, and they, like a loving family, live always in my heart (and on Skype!) though I make my life now in Mexico and they are far away. And even with so much distraction, violence, and treachery in the world, I know if I can sing, pray, watch the beauty of a sunrise, a child’s smile, or a hummingbird’s dance, I’m on my way to gracias a la vida!

According to Gratefulness.org, the practice of gratefulness moves people “to live in the light of all we’ve been given.” They say that can be a force for personal change — inspiring compassion and generosity — as well as for world peace.

Heady stuff! May gratitude and peace be with you.

More reflections and poetry from Joanne Brown…

More about First Church Berkeley…

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Places for Grace

December 22, 2011

Throughout the Advent Season, we have been looking for “Places for Grace”—in our lives, in the world and in the stories of the season leading up to the birth of Jesus. Each Sunday we have explored Grace in a variety of ways using personal stories, scripture, music and preaching. Here are some videos from the fourth Sunday of Advent.

Angela Arnold and Matt Reed share ways in which they find grace in their lives as they light the fourth Advent candle.

The First Church Flute Choir plays “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.

Phil Porter tells the story of the Angel Gabriel visiting Mary from the Book of Luke.

Patricia de Jong preaches the sermon “Full of Grace”.

First Church Berkeley is a progressive Christian church with two services on Christmas Eve—a Family Service at 5 pm and a Candlelight Service at 10 pm. Both are full of sights, sounds and inspiration.

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Living in Unity Can Be…

August 19, 2011

This is a condensed version of Phil Porter’s sermon “Living in Unity” that he preached on Sunday, August 14 at First Church.

Church groupThe first verse of Psalm 133 says: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” I found this simple declaration powerful and uplifting. I assume the intent of the second verse was to illuminate this idea with a luxurious and sensual metaphor: “It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.”

And that is just the way I read it the first couple of times through. But then I began to see the image from my own modern (and, yes, somewhat fastidious) point of view. Oil? In your hair? Your beard? Running down onto your clothes?”

And that is when another truth hit me: trying to live in unity can be a sticky mess.

Yes, we know the delights of community: support, connection, continuity, friendship, collaboration, energy, care. But if we approach the task of being together from our “lower selves”—those parts of ourselves that are insecure, needy, self-absorbed, unlovable and unloved, community is a huge challenge. We can be inflexible, unforgiving and intolerant, all qualities that are deadly in community.

Fortunately our spiritual tradition calls us to a bigger vision. It calls forth our “higher selves.” Perhaps it is the larger circle that God draws that can encompass our delightful but sometimes exasperating differences. It is this larger circle of love and acceptance that can fill our hearts and soften the challenge of living together. It is this larger circle that invites forth our openness, our acceptance, our service, our care.

And things become noticeably less sticky!

Get a video sneak peak of Phil’s sermon…

Watch the complete sermon on video…

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Walk On Water

August 8, 2011

Here are the words to “Walk on Water” a song by Phil Porter and Elaine Kirkland that was sung during the Sunday service on August 7, 2011. Phil also preached a sermon called “That Sinking Feeling.” You can read a condensed version on this blog or view the video of the service.

Walk on Water
By Phil Porter & Elaine Kirkland

Chorus:
It might be nice to walk on water,
To cross a lake without a boat,
To take a stroll among the otters,
But now I’m lucky just to float.

1. It seems my cares and troubles
might make my life capsize.
I look around for sunshine
But rainclouds fill the skies.

2. My life is topsy-turvy
a boat in heaving seas.
I clutch the oars in panic
And terror clutches me.

Chorus

3. Just when I think I’m done for,
the waves have reached new highs,
I come to a conclusion
That’s right before my eyes.

4. I’ve navigated solo,
no compass and no crew,
Alone, I’d conquer oceans,
And part the waters, too.

Chorus

5. But now I see my folly.
I’m trying much too hard.
I wanted to astound folks,
And earn God’s high regard

6. To try to walk on water,
why pick a task so tough?
God knows that sometimes floating
Is miracle enough.

Chorus

© 1990, Phil Porter & Elaine Kirkland. All rights reserved.

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Weaving Together Motherhood and Ministry

August 8, 2011

Shelly Dieterle, Minister of Campus Life, recently returned to work at the church from maternity leave after giving birth to twins. She is shown below with Mirabelle, Ethan and Sebastian.

It was exactly one year ago that I received astonishing news of two lives growing within me—news that dramatically changed my life and vision for 2010-11 and beyond, personally and professionally. The immediate plans for campus life were impacted by my impending absence in the Spring Semester. My vision for family life was swept away and spewed back in new form. In short, this last year was full of change, blessing, and new ways of doing things.

Shelly Dieterle with Mirabelle, Ethan and SebastianIn January and February I ministered from my home, and frequently from a hospital bed, as I withstood early labor.  In March, I counted the hours until those two little ones gave out their first yelp.  And for the past four and a half months, I have surrendered to the cycles of new life, new life that knows no daily rhythm, no difference between night and day, no moment but the present, no need except for food, sleep, a clean diaper and love.  I have also readily accepted every helping hand, meal, hug, story and inspirational word…many from the First Church community. There has been little time for thank yous, for catching up, or for giving back. And now, my soul longs to engage with the community that has buoyed me with support throughout this journey. My expectant spirit awaits the curious engagement of students’ hearts, minds and lives.

Still, the demands of motherhood will shift the way I minister – exact impact unknown in this moment. I will be more bound by the needs and demands of family life. And yet I believe my spirit will be more present, fresh, and creative (and more efficient) by what my children teach me each day. I am more aware of the intricate balancing act, not only families work out each day, but students as well, who seem to manage more demands than any mother does!

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That Sinking Feeling

August 8, 2011

This is a condensed version of a sermon by Phil Porter’s based on the story of Jesus walking on water. You can watch a video of Phil telling the story (beginning at about 23 minutes) and preaching on the text (beginning at about 33 minutes.)

man sinking in waterThe disciples were in the boat and the wind was fierce and the waves were high and they were afraid. And then to their surprise, Jesus walked toward them from across the lake. Peter, eager to believe, begged to be summoned out onto the water. And off he went. But then he got that sinking feeling…

So few things are true for all of us. But I would guess that we have all had that sinking feeling. Worries, doubts, regrets—large and small. The flutter in our gut, a dark cloud obscuring clear thought, a nervous rush that tingles all the way to our fingertips.

Don’t we long for someone or something to reach out and take our hands and pull us out of the murky waters? Jesus did that for Peter. He grabbed Peter’s hand and together they walked back to the boat. The wind ceased and the waves quieted.

Isn’t that part of what community is about? We reach out to each other in times of need. We are pulled back into the boat or help someone else clamber in.

Isn’t that part of what prayer is about? We try to quiet the rampaging worries, we breathe deeply, we look for a deeper truth and a more stable center. We ask for help from a source greater than we can imagine.

Isn’t that what Jesus is about, a man who was of a time and place but also transcends time and place? If Jesus could be there for Peter and the rest of the panicking disciples, could he also be there for me?

Isn’t that what communion is about? We gather around a table and share food like a family. We take sustenance to use when we need it and we almost always need it.

Let’s take hands. Often. That way, even if you don’t know I have that sinking feeling, you may be pulling me out of the troubling waters. Together we will get back in the boat, the winds will cease and the waves will quiet.

More about First Congregational Church of Berkeley.