What does Labor Day mean to you? Does it bring up images of picnics and parades? Does it signify the end of summer? Does it remind you of the laborers whose work makes this country run? As we enter into this Labor Day Weekend, I offer up two readings for your reflection. The first is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. It reminds us again of the kind of community we are called, as people of faith, to be building.
The second reading is from our UCC Minister for Economic Justice, Edith Rasell. As you read them both, I invite you to let them be in dialogue with one another. How does the call from St. Paul relate to the statistics from Rasell? What does our Christian faith ask of our civic involvement? And how can we use our consumer advocacy and political activism to create a more just and loving world, for all workers?
9 Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good. 10 Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself.
Edith Rasell writes:
“In an unjust world, in a nation with millions living in poverty, genuine love demands our involvement. Loving our neighbors means standing with people on the margins who seek a better life for themselves, the life that is God’s intention for them.
In the U.S. today, 47 million people (nearly one in seven) live in poverty and over one third of us (some 106 million people) live below twice the poverty line, the amount that many researchers think is a minimally adequate income level. At the same time, there are 1,591 billionaires and 7.1 million (or 8.4 million[iv] or 9.6 million) millionaires, depending on whose study you read. Over one in seven people in the U.S. is receiving food stamps that provide, on average, less than $1.50 per meal, per person. The dire statistics go on and on. Some 9.5 million people are unemployed. Millions more are jobless but have given up looking for work and, therefore, are no longer counted among the unemployed.
Over one-quarter of all jobs in the U.S. (28%) pay poverty-level wages, so low that a full-time worker cannot keep a family out of In 2013, 42% percent of Hispanic workers, 36% percent of black workers, and 23% of white workers earned poverty-level wages. Read about the difficulties faced by young workers. Learn about wage theft, the common practice in which employers fail to pay workers all the wages they earn.
The federal minimum wage, $7.75/hour, has not increased in five years. Some states or cities have a higher minimum wage (check your state) and in a few places the minimum wage is nearly high enough to support people at a meager, but adequate, standard of living. But in most locations, the minimum wage needs to be raised. Corporate profits are at record levels (more). Corporate giants can well afford to raise their workers’ pay. The United States is a wealthy country. There is no justification for poverty, oppressive work conditions, or lack of opportunity. Things do not need to be this way. Our involvement could make a difference.”
This Labor Day, amidst the picnics and the celebrations, let’s not forget the work of so many unseen workers who are living in need in this land of plenty. May our words and our deeds honor them, and may our faith shape our own work toward justice for all.
“I’ve had it with perfection.
I have packed my bags.
I am out of here.
So begins a poem by Killan McDonnell titled “Perfection, Perfection.” It floated across my computer screen this week, a gift from Parker Palmer, and amidst the many, many wonderful memes and notes I received, it was the one I needed to hear. You see, even I, who has so many opportunities to practice the spirituality of imperfection, still sometimes need to be reminded that perfectionism is a disability, a false goal, an illusion. It keeps us from trying something we aren’t sure we can do and it keeps us from enjoying the beauty of what is.
I still have the note, written to me by my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Vaughn, in which she gently points out to me that getting 100% on my papers isn’t the only goal for a good student – having fun, getting some things wrong and learning from them, she wrote, are things she hoped I would do more of. Being the good little girl that I was, I decided to listen to her, and turns out, she was right. I don’t remember anything about the papers and tests on which I got perfect scores. Not really. I do remember the time I risked playing the cymbals in a band for a program at school (it was a disaster) and how it was okay, anyway. I do remember making a birthday cake for my high school boyfriend: (baking two cakes, actually, because the first one was too done for my liking); decorating it meticulously; and having the dog jump up on the table and eat part of it while I was primping in thebathroom.I remember how much we laughed about that (later in the evening, after I stopped crying). And I remember that most of the regrets I have in my life are from things I didn’t do because I wasn’t sure I could do them perfectly.
This Sunday we reflected on the story in Matthew in which the disciples are floating off on the choppy waters, unmoored and scared, only to see Jesus walking toward them. Peter stands up in the boat, and asks Jesus if he can join him. Jesus says, “Come.” So Peter, being Peter, starts out on the water, makes it a few steps — then realizes that he probably doesn’t know what he is doing, and begins to sink. Jesus reaches out a hand, and pulls him to safety.
It’s a story with many layers, but I was struck by how Peter’s faith, imperfect though it was, was enough to get him out of the boat and into Jesus’ hands. It was only a little faith, an imperfect faith, but it was the catalyst for a new way living and being. It was imperfect, but enough.
Perfectionism, in faith and in life, is an illusion of the ego. It restricts our vision and keeps our actions in safe and manageable boxes. And most of all, it is not what God asks of us. God asks that we be fully alive, with all the messiness that entails. Jesus shows us that even faith the size of a mustard seed (hardly impressive) is enough. And so we need to be reminded every now and then to try things we aren’t sure of and laugh at ourselves when we fall short. Because the strength of our relationship with God and with each other doesn’t come from our ability to achieve but from our desire to love.
So I return to the words of Killan McDonnell, a 93 year old Benedictine monk, as he reflects on perfectionism:
“I’ve handed in my notice,
given back my keys,
signed my severance check, I
Hints I could have taken:
Even the perfect chiseled form of
Michelangelos’s radiant David
the Venus de Milo
has no arms,
the Liberty Bell is
I hadn’t seen her for quite awhile. We were friends, but the kind of friends who enjoy each other and work together on committees, yet don’t really know each other very well. So I was glad to see her again at one of our get-togethers, and I told her so.
‘Where’ve you been?” I asked. “You’ve been missed!”
“Thanks,” she replied. “I’ve been sick for the past few months. But I’m getting back on my feet now, and feeling much better.”
I immediately felt terrible – how could I not have known she was sick? Granted, it had been a few months, but still, we’re all busy and …
“I’ve been depressed.” She said it matter-of-factly. Like “I’ve had hip replacement surgery” or “I’ve been doing cancer treatments.” “I had to concentrate on getting the medical help I needed.”
My friend wasn’t talking about feeling a little blue, or having a down day. She was sharing with me that she had been clinically depressed, to the point she was unable to function in her daily life and required medical intervention.
Since that day, I have been with her several times when she has referred to this experience with others. She always speaks of it in a very straightforward and non-dramatic way, but in a way that makes it clear the seriousness of what she went through – and her commitment to helping others in the same situation.
Part of what she does that is so very healing is simply speaking the words and acknowledging the truth about mental illness. It really is an illness, like cancer and arthritis and heart disease, but because as a society we have somehow confused it with a character issue or a sign of personal weakness, people don’t talk about it. It has been stigmatized to the degree that people often don’t get the help they need when they need it most.
You know, we’ve done that with other illnesses before, ones we didn’t yet understand. Epilepsy was a sign of demon possession. Leprosy was a sign of an unclean spirit. Addiction was a sign of weakness. Cancer was an indication that “something was unresolved in your life.” One by one, we’ve knocked those myths down, as science has led us toward new understanding and new hope. It’s past time to do that with mental illness, as well. Because there really is new hope in this arena. And though it is estimated that 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness in his or her life, by far most of those people will be successfully treated and have high functioning, fulfilling lives. Like my friend.
There are so many things we don’t know about one another. We assume that all is well when sometimes it isn’t. We don’t ask questions, for fear of invading someone’s privacy. And most debilitating of all, we don’t acknowledge our own needs or ask for help when we are in the midst of depression or anxiety or any myriad of illnesses that can be helped – and thus we lose hope when we don’t need to.
So let’s take a page from my friend’s playbook. Let’s be clear about what mental illness really is. (see the following page on facts) Let’s step into the 21st century and resolve to view this type of illness with the same scientific lens we’ve learned to treat others. And most important of all: let’s be honest about who we are and what we need. Because what I don’t know about you – and what you don’t know about me – can hurt us.
Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are burdened and heavy laden.” May we remember those words whenever we feel the burden of any illness. We don’t have to carry it alone. We are surrounded by the love and the light of God, which no darkness can ever overcome. Ever. Thanks be to God.
(If you or someone you know is currently suffering from a mental illness, please know you can reach out to me. I am just a phone call away: 650-369-0344. Other resources: your own physician; the national suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255. In an emergency, call 911. For additional mental health tools and resources, visit the Network of Care website at www.sanmateo.networkofcare.org/mh.)
Facts About Mental Illness
- Mental illnesses are brain disorders that alter how people feel, behave, & perceive the world, but, like physical illnesses, they are biologically-based.
* People who suffer from a mental illness can be just as effective as those with any other illness (i.e. Abraham Lincoln suffered from severe depression)
- A surprising number of high level jobs are filled by people who have experienced mental illness.
*Many of our great works of art, music, & literature were produced by persons with mental illness.
- A person’s character has nothing to do with whether they develop a mental illness.
* Mental illnesses strike those with all kinds of temperaments, beliefs, morals, & backgrounds.
- The primary factor determining whether a person will develop a mental illness is their bio-chemical makeup
*A mentally ill person is just as frightened, upset, & physically ill as someone suffering congenital heart disease or any other physical illness
- Learning the facts about mental illness is the first step to a fair attitude toward people with mental disorders
Used with permission from The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
Herb Caen was a long-time columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He was eccentric and erudite, biting and witty – and a must-read for many of us here in the Bay Area. He was not, however, standard seminary reading. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – yes. Herb—not so much. So I was surprised one day to spend a whole class hour responding to one of his “love letters” to San Francisco.
This love letter, said my professor, is how all people of faith should feel about the community they are in. Everyone, no matter where they are or who they are, must find the places of beauty and need in their communities, and shine their lights on them. Ministry is about lifting up and loving the place where you are, and serving God by making it better.
30 years later I find myself in a congregation whose ministry is exactly that. Faith, In Redwood City is the center of what we do together: we live our faith by loving our community. We started focusing our ministry that direction in an intentional way about three years ago, by identifying community partners to lift up during our 150th Anniversary Celebration. Then we read about the UCC Faith, In initiative which encourages congregations to reach out in precisely this way and gave us lots of good ideas on how to expand our work (and a name for the ministry). Since then, we have continued to choose and lift up partner organizations here in Redwood City whose work we want to support – financially and relationally. We have held community gatherings, Second Sunday seminars, collected supplies, given grants, and been a clearing house for information on the work our partners do.
And that’s just the beginning. As we prepare for our move in September, much of the planning is about how our new space can help us do more. We are planning community concerts to do as a congregation. The more we give, the more we can do.
“As often as you care for the least among you, you care for me.”
He was talking about community, about looking around and seeing the people in our neighborhoods and towns and knowing that our service to them is our service to God. As we begin this new chapter in our common life of faith, I look forward to all the ways we can grow in giving, loving, and serving – and receiving the richness that comes from being part of something much bigger than ourselves. Let’s continue to write our own love letter to Redwood City in the days ahead. May God guide us into ever new adventures and even bolder ways of being in the world!
fundraise for our partner organizations, and community building events to help us get to know one another better. We are
exploring ways to be more active in our new neighborhood, and to share our space as the need arises. We hope to branch out and work with groups around issues like creating more civil
communication and peacemaking, and to become more
involved in Inter-faith partnerships. Faith, In Redwood City is the way we plan to live our faith and love in our community.
The money from sale of our building that we have invested
allows us to pay our bills: staff, rent, supplies. We are so
fortunate that we no longer have to fundraise for a roof or a
boiler. So everything that is given to FCC can now go into our community work. Pledges and donations can go directly into supporting the Faith,In Redwood City ministry and the work we
“The United Church of Christ has a long and proud history of demonstrating courage in the struggle for justice and peace. Now, as ever, our resolve is being tested. It is with a good deal of hope and courage that we face this injustice. Let the actions forged by our compassion silence the voices of hatred and fear that ring right now in the ears of these precious children of God. Let them know we are Christians by our love.”
With these words, The United Church of Christ Collegium of Officers and the Council of Conference Ministers most recent letter set the context for our response to the children who are fleeing to our borders from Central America and seeking refuge on our borders.
This coming Sunday, August 3rd, is a special time of worship and action at FCC. We will meet for worship, as we usually do, and we will learn more about the current crisis. We will share resources, write letters, even make calls to our representatives. In addition, a special offering will be taken to send emergency supplies to the areas most affected.
If you can be with us for this Sunday, it is one of the most powerful ways in which we can experience faith in community. If you are unable to be there in person, here are some actions you can take on your own:
Demand that Congress Reject Rollbacks to Child Protection Law – Proposals to “deport children more quickly” would return unaccompanied children to exploitation, trafficking and unsafe situations. Call 1-866-940-2439 to be connected with the offices of your Representative and both of your Senators or visit tiny.cc/ProtectKids for more info.
Take Action to Support Unaccompanied Children at the Border- We can help to ensure that the U.S. refugee services programs, which help serve the needs of these young people and other families fleeing violence, are funded appropriately so they can continue to meet this growing need. Take action now.
Gifts may be made by writing a check to FCC and noting support for “Unaccompanied Child Refugees”. Gifts will then be sent through the Conference office on to Wider Church Ministries. Or, make a secure on-line donationnoting “Unaccompanied Child Refugees” in the comments section. Donations may also be made out and sent directly to Wider Church Ministries, Financial Services – 6th Floor, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115.
Your financial contribution is multiplied by joining with others to increase the capacity of the UCC to address humanitarian needs and to shape the future. Provide food, water, safe places, a listening pastoral ear, religious services, and legal assistance that provides access to the U.S. legal system to tell stories for official documentation. The situation changes rapidly. You are there in the right place at the right time. Thank you for your contributions.
It is easy to believe that people of faith don’t make a difference in the world today. And the fact is, that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But we come from a tradition of Christians who fought slavery, stood up against poverty, and made Civil Rights a centerpiece of our faith. We are still those Christians. We still follow the same Jesus. Children are hurting and in danger. Come join us this Sunday as we ask God to bless these children and our actions, so that all that we say and all that we do may be a reflection of Christ’s love.
160 Birch Street
Redwood City, CA
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