Last Wednesday, Kathie and I attended a training on standing in solidarity with immigrants. In a conference room at the Congregational Church of San Mateo, more than 50 clergy and religious leaders from different faith backgrounds (see my blurry picture, below) gathered to learn about the different ways we can support those in our communities who are being targeted by our government. It was an inspiring event on many levels: practical, realistic, but also full of hope. We need hope!
As I mentioned in my reflection on Sunday, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids have been picking up in California. These past weeks, Jesus’ words from Matthew 25 have been on my mind: “…For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Jesus is talking about living the kind of life that reflects the Kingdom of Heaven. Not everyone present at our training considered those words to be scripture. But everyone found a common teaching of compassion and support for the oppressed in their specific tradition, be it Jewish, Muslim, Unitarian, etc.
So what did we learn, and what might we all do, as First Church Redwood City? First, we learned that the Faith in Action Bay Area team is setting up local groups of “rapid responders,” folks who can show up at an ICE raid at short notice (they usually occur in the early morning) to witness and provide moral support. If you’re interested in joining a rapid response network in your neighborhood, you can write to organizer Adriana Guzman at Adriana@faithinactionba.org, or see me for more information.
Secondly, and most importantly for our congregation, we learned about the California Values Act — a new piece of legislation that Adriana called one of the strongest acts to protect immigrants in our country. Here is how the act describes itself: “The bill provides essential safeguards to ensure that police, schools, hospitals and courts remain accessible to Californians from all walks of life.” At our next Community Sunday on February 26, following worship, all those who are interested will have the opportunity to add our signatures to a letter in support of this bill. We’ll have the letters ready. Our signatures will then be delivered, along with the signatures from many other faith communities, to Sacramento in early March.
One of the best things about community is the sense that we can do more, together, than we ever could on our own. We are never just one congregation. And as it is for everyone breathing on this earth right now, our lives intersect in urgent, powerful ways. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, we have a Teacher who gave us words to live by: “Just as you did to the least of these, you did to me.”
Thanking God for you,
Can you believe it? I officially began as your settled Pastor on February 1. Thanks be to God!
And thanks be to you–thank you to NCNC staff for connecting us. Thank you to the First Church Search Committee, for your diligent work these past months. Thank you to Kathie and Joyce, for helping me get started and get up to speed. Finally, thanks to every one of you, for welcoming me. After Prayer Circle and Staff Meeting on my first day in the office, I could already tell that the First Church community is a special one.
Luckily, we send out our newsletter every week, because there is a heck of a lot to cover. And over time, I will use this space to share about myself and my hopes and dreams for ministry at First Church. For this first note, though, I want to lift up three simple things that are on my mind — requests, I guess you could call them.
Help me get to know you. I want to visit with as many folks as I can, over my first few months of ministry. If you’re getting this newsletter, that means you! I am happy to meet you here at church, or at your home or a favorite local restaurant. Will you take the initiative and reach out to me to schedule a visit? You can call for me at the church office (650.369.0344), or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join us for worship and communion this month. On February 12, I will be talking about Paul’s notion of belonging, an important and tricky concept in our country at the moment. And on February 26, we will celebrate Jesus’ transfiguration.
Look out, too, for our “Soul Sparks” Lent study group, beginning Sunday, March 12 (more information on page 7).
Number 3 (and this one goes for myself, more than anyone):
Breathe, and enjoy this newness. Sure, there may be some little hiccups as we get adjusted. But God is present in a special way during transitions. So, as much as I might like to rush ahead and cross off all my to-do lists, I am trying to slow down and bask in the here and now. By the time you read this, I will have been your Pastor for seven days! And I am praising God for the next seven of them.
[Jesus said: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The images of salt and light are part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ most well-known sermon and his first in the Gospel of Matthew. As he climbs up the mountain, he turns to look upon the crowd that’s gathered around him since he started his ministry of teaching and healing; their suffering and need fill his heart with compassion, just as he is keenly aware of the spiritual hunger and physical suffering of the world around them. He speaks about the reign of God that is even now, in his own person, breaking into that world. For three chapters, Matthew pulls together a number of Jesus’ teachings to form a long sermon; this short passage connects the Beatitudes to the difficult instructions that follow. Before Jesus repeatedly raises the standard for his own followers (“you have heard it said Öbut I say to you Ö”), he uses two common, everyday images to tell his disciples who they are. After lifting up the mostly unlikely people–the poor in spirit, the meek and the merciful, those who mourn and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted–and calling them “blessed,” Jesus addresses the crowd as “you,” and offers them words of both reassurance and challenge. The “you,” is plural, to be heard by us not as private, pious Christians but as the Body of Christ in the world God loves.
Like the second generation of Christians in Matthew’s community, we listen with the crowd to hear that we, too, are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” While Jesus is telling us who we are, these metaphors are also about what we do, how we do it, and the effect of what we do in the world. We’re called to make a reinvigorating difference in the world, so that all who watch us will feel new life, new vitality, new possibility, new hope, new beauty. The church is no secret society, Jesus tells us, right from the beginning. Or, as Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message, “We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hillÖ.Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand–shine! Keep open house, be generous with your lives.” As we strive to live faithfully in the world, we may be small, but we are mighty, not because of our own strength but because of God’s own grace, which will never leave us on our own.
The Rev. Kathryn Matthews (email@example.com) retired in July after serving as the dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio (https://www.facebook.com/AmistadChapel).
For Further Reflection:
Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, 21st century
“The thing about light is that it really isn’t yours; it’s what you gather and shine back. And it gets more power from reflectiveness; if you sit still and take it in, it fills your cup, and then you can give it off yourself.”
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, 20th century
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”
John O’Donohue, 21st century
“May the light of your soul guide you. May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart….May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.”
I will be honest. I have been turning the channel a lot these days. I want to watch the news but I cannot do it for very long before I have to change the channel.
I’m never very good at good-byes, especially when it is someone I respect the way I respect our current President. And, of course, there are many other reasons for my aversion to watching news that I don’t need to recite here.
But, the fact is that the polarization, infighting, hateful rhetoric, yelling, accusations, false statements that I see filling the news channels is not new. I’ve been watching it for years without changing the channel quite as fast as I am changing it now. So, all that has me wondering, what has changed? Why am I having such a hard time watching it now?
I’m afraid it’s because I have given up. I’m afraid that somewhere inside of me I have decided that it is too late to end the fighting and polarization. I shared this with my Spiritual Director last week. We talked. And, God talked. God reminded me that with God all things are possible and giving up is not an option.
There is a lot happening this week—the Inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington (happening in cities throughout the country as well). No matter who you are or how you are feeling—excited about the future, scared about the future, confused about the future—you are needed here. God needs me. God needs you. God needs us.
Maybe I can’t do anything about what is happening in Congress or in the Oval Office but I can do something about how I engage in ministry right here, right now. One of the first things I believe we need to do is to learn how to talk to each other. If this season in our country’s history has taught us anything, it has taught us that we are not doing a good job of talking to one another—of sharing our hurts and pains with each other; of sharing our hopes and dreams with each other.
When was the last time you sat down with someone who is really different from you (either in life circumstance or in opinions and views on life) and had a deep conversation where you were not trying to convince that person of your own viewpoint but that you purely wanted to hear their story and understand what they are most afraid of, most excited about, most hopeful about, most angry about? When was the last time I did that?
I am in Chicago this week for a week intensive related to my Doctor of Ministry program. My project will be about generous listening. I think that for those of us who identify as liberal Christians, we have the most difficult time with this. Because we are all about inclusivity and radical hospitality we think we already have it all figured out and that we “have arrived”. The truth is, in many cases, we shut down and even don blinders related to inequality and oppression because we think we already have it figured out. We stop listening to what people are trying to tell us because we think we know it and that we are the ones who need to teach others. The truth is there is a lot we still need to learn if we are going to be advocates for those who do not have the privilege we have, privilege we didn’t earn but was given to us by nature of how and when and to whom we were born.
You know the saying, “When you point your finger at someone there are four fingers pointing back at you?” My hope and prayer is that I (and I hope you all will join me) will spend important time in the coming year seriously thinking about what those four fingers pointing back at me are telling me about what I still don’t understand about my own privilege and my own prejudice. I pray that the conversations I have in this next year (and in these next years) will help me to truly hear another person in a way that allows me to be an agent of change in my own community and also in my own life.
~ Original post by NCNC Office
January 18, 2017
A timely opinion piece and a call to action on the consequences of dismantling the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) from one of our favorite writers…
by James Burklo on January 8, 2017
Here’s what “market-based healthcare” looks like:
Been there, and done that. A real “market-based” healthcare system is one in which people with the greatest need for medical attention will be the least likely to get it. It means people will be left on the streets to suffer and die from treatable conditions. It means that if you cannot afford insurance, and cannot pay cash for medical care, you cannot get into an emergency room if you have a life-threatening condition. It means that if you have no money to see a doctor, you have to beg. But if you have to beg, the people you know are probably not the ones who can come up with the cash to help you.
Many Republicans are living in a parallel universe populated by unicorns and fairies if they really believe their own rhetoric about a “market-based” healthcare system. We haven’t had one for a long time – thank God. Before Obamacare, about half of all healthcare expenditures in America already came through government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, public employee plans, and the Veterans Administration. Those in the private market fended for themselves in an expensive, bewildering, and inhumane health insurance market, and many were left behind. NerdWallet Health Analysis estimated the number of medical-related bankruptcies in the U.S. in 2013, before Obamacare was fully in effect, at 646,812, vastly worse than in any other industrialized nation. That number is surely going down as a result of millions of people getting insurance, and getting better coverage, under Obamacare. But it will surely rise higher if Obamacare is dismantled.
Civilization and a “market-based healthcare system” are incompatible. Free enterprise and medical care don’t mix. The market works fine for producing and consuming shoes, cars, computers, and many services. But it fails in delivering basic medical care to everyone. Ironically, the nearest thing to a “free market” was created by Obamacare itself, in the form of an online “marketplace” in which consumers could meaningfully “comparison shop” for private health insurance plans for the first time.
What America needs is “an orderly and smooth transition” from Mike Pence claiming to be a Christian to Mike Pence acting like one. Jesus did not offer health care on a “free market” basis. He healed for free, without a market. Jesus’ health care system fails the Republicans’ rigid, irrational, and inhumane ideological standard. Can anyone imagine Jesus the Christ advocating for greatly reducing the number of people in America who have access to health insurance, or reducing the quality of that insurance? Yet every Republican plan for Obamacare “replacement” would have those effects.
So let’s flood Congress with emails and calls demanding “an orderly and smooth transition” to civilization in America – in which everybody has access to decent health care, everybody is adequately insured regardless of their ability to pay, nobody goes bankrupt behind medical bills, and nobody dies sick or crippled on the streets.
Here’s how: Sign The Obamacare Petition
Also, Paul Ryan’s office is conducting a phone poll about the Affordable Care Act. Call (202) 225-0600 & press 2 – many reports of difficulty getting through. So try (608) 752-4050 instead, his Wisconsin line. You can participate in the ACA poll there as well. There’s a full 30 seconds of dead air when you call — don’t hang up. You also have to sit through a message about what Ryan has done to try to repeal the ACA, but then you get to vote in the poll ( and leave a strongly worded voicemail if you’re so inclined). You’ll hear a recording about the bill to repeal it, then Press 1 to support continuing the Affordable Healthcare Act.
ABOUT JIM BURKLO
Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
Redwood City, CA
(Shared driveway with Smart & Final ~
We are at the far end of the second parking lot)
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