Lent 2019

Each year, Christ followers around the world observe a season of reflection known as Lent. For those who practice it, the 40 days (plus Sundays) leading to Easter provide a time to cultivate awareness of God's presence as we remember the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert.  In many ways, the desert symbolizes a spiritual place where we withdrawal for a time in order to silence the noise and distractions of the world. 

This year, Lent begins on March 6th, and many Christians will recognize the day by having ashes placed on their forehead. With Ash Wednesday comes a sense of somberness, and acknowledgement of our sin and mortality—that we came from dust and to dust we will one day return (Ecclesiastes 3:20).  You might notice people around town with ashes on their forehead, which are traditionally taken from leaves used the previous year for Palm Sunday, and act as an outward sign of inward reflection. 

Though the season of Lent comes with a sense of soberness and seriousness, the word Lent is actually derived from words meaning "spring," and the next six weeks of devotion and renewal also include a sense of new life, slowly emerging from winter. This fills us with expectation and hope for Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.

Even though Oak Life may not be the most traditional church, we still strive to embrace the beauty and wisdom of our historic and global faith. Our hope is to become more aware of the sacredness of life as we enter into this seasonal rhythm alongside followers of Christ from various backgrounds and denominations. 

Below is a simple Lenten prayer we'll be closing out Sunday gatherings with with followed by a couple of ideas for how you might be able to personally engage with Lent:

"God of Love, In this season of listening:
Calm our restlessness, quiet our chaos, and still our spirits.
Help us to live spaciously and simply so that
Our hearts would be open to your presence,
And our hands to the needs of those around us.
Be with us now as we go forth to love and serve the world.
Amen"

Ideas for how to engage in Lent:

-Find a practice or fast to engage with.  Maybe you want to consider fasting a meal a day or taking a day of the week to avoid social media.  Maybe this could be a time of sacrificial giving where forego getting coffee out and instead donate the money to a ministry or charity.   Maybe you'd like to spend some time each day in prayer or reading a devotional.  The point with these practices is to find a way to be still and listen for God's presence. 

- Be a part of our Sunday gatherings which will be connected to some of the themes around living lives of spaciousness and simplicity

-Check out a couple of these books to supplement your journey:
- Wondrous Encounters by Richard Rohr
- Lent for Everyone, N.T. Wright

-Check out an Ash Wednesday service at a local church

Community post from Cristina Deptula

Hi Oak Life, I'm Cristina, and I wrote this essay as a 36 year old woman, who's between being Gen X and being a Millennial, about the different stages of my spiritual journey. 

This was originally written for a zine from Portland's Microcosm Publishing that's a benefit for autism awareness/neurodiversity and has different quarterly themes. This time the theme was about 'interactions with authority' and I wrote about my evolving relationship with God and faith and the church in terms of relating to/submitting to authority and how I understood that. 

You can find more of my writing, and others' writing, at synchchaos.com, which I publish and for which I write the editorial letters. 

___

When I was in junior high, my parents brought our family to a relatively traditional, evangelical Protestant church.

The senior pastor shared a sermon illustration where a Christian believer found himself sharing a ski lift with a skeptic. On discovering he was a man of faith, she interrogated him with a variety of philosophical objections. He finally responded, ‘If I could answer all your questions, would you believe?’

She said, just before the two landed in the snow and never saw each other again, ‘Honestly, I still wouldn’t want to. If I accepted that a supreme being existed who were in charge of the entire universe, I’d have to be accountable to that being for how I lived my life.’

The pastor used that illustration to suggest that some of those who chose not to embrace faith were actually rejecting authority.

I wasn’t sure what I thought about that anecdote at age twelve, so I decided to set it aside to think more about it later. But now that I’m in my late thirties, and I’ve gone through different stages of how I understood my relationship to faith, it’s come to mind again.

I remember reading progressive essayist and novelist Anne Lamott’s book Traveling Mercies in college, and she conceptualized her journey out of alcoholism and depression and into an eclectic version of Christianity through the metaphor of lily pads. Rather than heading straight into faith, she meandered through a set of experiences that nurtured and nudged her along the way, like a frog leaping across a pond from one lily pad to another.

I’ve landed on several lily pads throughout my personal spiritual journey, which I tend to divide into three main phases.

In my teens, I chose to accept and enthusiastically participate in and promote evangelical Christianity. The church our family attended had a large high school youth group and I was accepted and welcomed there, and promoted into leadership, where I helped organize events to bring more of our fellow teens to faith.

Most of the people I met at the church were kind and friendly, and I am still in contact with some of them, even if we don’t agree on everything now. The youth group and associated church made a big impression on me as a teen because it offered me as a young person who wasn’t especially wealthy or famous the chance to take part in something that was saving the world.

It also provided me with a ready-made social outlet where I was respected and stood out in good ways. I wasn’t bullied or especially unpopular at my high school, but felt that my classmates were more like acquaintances than real friends. My parents, especially my father, were not particularly social and did not enjoy having people over to our house, whether they were my friends or classmates or other adults they knew. They were also extremely protective, due to several high-profile kidnappings that had made the news near us when my brother and I were young. I now know that I, and most likely my father, are on the autistic spectrum, and that likely influenced that teen social dynamic.

My mother compensated for my father’s social awkwardness by making a big deal to me that I needed to hang back and observe how others interacted in social situations, that there were rules and norms I needed to follow. While I know she meant well and only wanted to stop me from embarrassing myself and that she wanted me to learn social skills from someone other than my dad, I grew up with the feeling that interacting with others was difficult and that there were so many ways you could accidentally get things wrong.

Church was a place where I could feel freer to let my guard down around people. We all believed similar things and listened to the same music and watched the same movies. This was the 90s, the era of Christian rock bands DC Talk and Rebecca St. James, movie stars like Kirk Cameron and the hugely selling Left Behind suspense series about Armageddon, the final judgement of the world and the divine rescue of the faithful. Here I knew the right cultural icons, the right passwords and slang, to enter this large teen subculture. The ‘rules of the road’ – i.e. no premarital sex, no underage drinking, etc – were things I was already following as I lived with protective parents who wanted me to spend most of my time studying, so I didn’t think about them too much.

I moved out of my parents’ house at 17 and started college at UC Davis. Once there, I started off by getting involved in college Christian groups, following the teachings of my faith and trying to re-create some of my high school church experience. Later, probably because I could, as I was living on my own with non-Christian roommates for the first time in my life, I gradually started to try different ways of life and adopt different beliefs.

This was an educational time for me, where I learned about different cultures, religions, philosophies and ways of life. I became close friends for the first time with people who were LGBT, polyamorous, Jewish, Muslim, socialist, atheist, Pagan, feminist, who had been teen moms, and who were from various other backgrounds.

While I do believe that this time helped me to gain a more balanced and inclusive perspective on life, and I do appreciate the chance to learn to understand and respect all people, it wasn’t an entirely positive season. I did some things then that I regret, such as sleeping around without really thinking about what I was doing, getting angry and getting involved in drama, and cheating/emotionally abusing others in relationships. I also became aware at some level of the cognitive dissonance between the morals I’d been raised with and had personally adopted at age 12 and the way I was living then, and turned to drinking to silence the contradictions. Later on I remember reading an academic article about Jack Kerouac’s alcoholism possibly stemming from his inability to resolve the tension between his early conservative Catholicism and his Beatnik lifestyle.

When I drank too much I became sloppy in ways that I never wanted to be. I was less articulate in how I spoke, not so witty, and would show up places late or not at all, and lost some of the ability I always admired in myself to get projects (school assignments, volunteer work, articles for the student paper) done well before deadlines.

Also, I experienced the kinds of insecurities that had made me groan when I heard others share them or when I read about teens having these feelings in YA literature. The worries about whether I were cool enough for people to like me, why I was still single, whether my friends really liked me, whether people were talking behind my back, etc. When I was single I’d feel lonely and inadequate and want to be back in a relationship, but then when I would start dating a guy I’d miss the freedom I had as a single woman and want to be on my own again. And I would get annoyed and impatient with my own insecurities but felt helpless to escape them.

At this point I felt that there was a philosophical binary where I had to choose between traditional Christianity, which offered a clear and understandable system of ideas and moral teachings based on Divine authority and a way back through repentance, and the values of the other Generation X people around me. Many of them were like me, aimless, insecure, and cynical because cynicism made us feel good/superior about being the way we were now instead of how many of us were raised to be.

My parents reinforced this binary by telling me I’d have to choose between the ways of the world and the values of our faith.

And, the traditional, conservative systems we were rejecting did not affirm LGBT people or grapple with the realities of racially motivated violence, a nation at war once again, and the erosion of our faith in our major economic and political institutions. The United States government was behaving unethically in Iraq and towards prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and many corporate and financial executives were being exposed and banished for dishonest and sleazy behavior as well. We believed we were seeing the failure and bankruptcy of the values and institutions we’d been raised to respect, which in my mind included traditional Christianity, whose authority we rejected. But in our early twenties we didn’t have any real alternatives of our own, just vague alienation and disengagement.

After graduation, I moved back in with my parents, where by necessity I drank less and attended their traditional church again. At that point I reached an uneasy mental truce with my faith. I had to live my life and look for work, so I decided to go along to get along. I got busier, became less restless and picky in my dating life with fewer social outlets open to me, and settled down into a few longer-term steady relationships. Insecurities about finding work and earning enough money to move out replaced my former anxieties about my social life and likability. I didn’t exactly submit to the authority of my faith then, but didn’t actively challenge it either.

As I transitioned from being a twenty-something to a thirty-something, I got involved in more long-term projects. I started a literary magazine and became involved in the cultural scene of the Bay Area. And I continued to encounter faith in the weirdest of places, the most unlikely of lily pads.

My current boyfriend and I have a mutual artist friend who’s gay, formerly homeless, streetwise, newly clean and sober, politically active and outspoken. Once I offered to fill in for him at an editorial meeting of a radical magazine to which he’d submitted an essay. There, I discovered, in front of a roomful of tattooed anarchists, that he had written about Jesus. More specifically, about a documentary he’d watched where indigenous female community leaders in Honduras had found inspiration to protest a corporate takeover of their land through their Christian faith and commitment to the dignity of everyone, no matter how marginalized. My nonreligious friend had been so moved by the women’s faith that he’d read and quoted sections of the New Testament and made those central to his film review.

Around that time I started a literary PR business and became friends with a woman who was an executive at a publishing firm. When she invited my boyfriend and I to her wedding, she extended an open invitation for all guests to join her and her fiancé at their regular social activities. Turned out that despite coming from an atheist family, she was heavily involved in a local church.

I visited the church a few months after her wedding, mostly out of curiosity, and am still attending. Sadly, my friend’s marriage broke up, but the people there have supported her through the whole situation. There are sort of a random assortment of people there, many my age or slightly younger, many of whom are grappling with a similarly complex history with faith. They’re also exploring the ‘third path’ for those who exist outside the philosophical binaries of worldliness vs spirituality, conservative vs liberal, saved vs unsaved, but who would like to have something to believe and somewhere to belong.

Several well-meaning people from my past who would like to bring me and others like me back into the conservative religious fold point to supposed archaeological or historical evidence for traditional orthodox belief. While that may exist, I’m not so interested at this point in academic debates over the age of the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Shroud of Turin.

I’m more interested in what it means, culturally, as a woman, in 2019, on the autistic spectrum, on the cusp between Generation X and the Millennials, to accept again some form of my earlier Christian belief. Not in the sense that I care what people will think of me, but because I’m exploring how to re-integrate my faith into the values that I’ve come to adopt over time as a thinking adult making my way in the world.

I can hear the voice of my old pastor saying that faith is meant to be the first thing in your life, the structure around which you build everything else that you believe, something that you submit to, not something that you integrate or re-integrate into your current values.

And I admit that I’m still struggling with the submission and authority concept. Submission is linked in my mind still to very traditional ideas of wives submitting to husbands and children submitting to parents, to times in my life when I was not necessarily mistreated, but was very sheltered and didn’t have much capacity to develop an identity of my own and function as a human being.

I received some therapy related to my autism diagnosis and the therapist commented that I disliked authority and being told what to do. I’ve heard that some consider this trait, this independence and rebelliousness of spirit, to be shared by others on the spectrum and possibly associated with how some of our brains are wired.

But I do see some very real positive aspects to Christian faith, even for progressives from my generation or among the Millennials.

We live in a society where our economic system’s values and practices tend to spill over into other areas of life, where people are valued and treated differently based on how much they can earn and contribute and produce.

From where I sit this afternoon, in my parents’ living room, in my Trump-supporting, conservative, quiet, frugal, working-class neighborhood, I can’t imagine enough people in this country adopting other value systems in numbers large enough to challenge the pervasive societal attitude of measuring our lives’ value in purely economic terms. I really don’t see the USA becoming heavily shaped by paganism, or democratic socialism, or non-Western religious traditions, or any other alternative that people have developed throughout history or at cocktail parties or in Internet think pieces. Like it or not, due to the generational history many of us share, Christianity is the major source of values in the United States that compete with those that result from our economic medium of exchange being left to exist in a vacuum.

Because of my now officially diagnosed autism, and other issues, it’s been difficult for me to find steady paying work. Many people I know are disabled and struggling as well, and Christianity clearly asserts the intrinsic value of our lives even if we can add little or nothing to the economy.

Also, right now the business I founded is facing serious financial trouble and we’re having to think about restructuring. In that and other areas of my life, I’m having to face the possibility of failure and be realistic about the future.

But my faith teaches me that my life matters, regardless of my accomplishments or economic status, just because I exist, not because of what I can do. Even if I spend my life bouncing from one short term low wage temp job to another, or even if I am not able to work at all, my life is inherently valuable.

I remember reading ethicist Marilyn Vos Savant’s column in a major newspaper one day. Someone had asked her if she believed we all had the right to have our basic needs met. She answered in the negative because others would have to work and give of themselves to meet others’ needs and that would make the ‘givers’ into slaves.

Christianity sidesteps the whole legal, ethical, and political debate about whether the poor, the disabled, and those otherwise in need have a right to make others who have more resources care for them by making the issue one of moral responsibility on the part of the giver because of the inherent dignity and worth of the recipient, rather than a matter of rights.

The faith articulates and asserts a whole different basis for the value of life, human and otherwise, that doesn’t depend on our economic status or what we can produce.

For that reason, and others, I see value in my faith, and I am moving towards being able to find that ‘third way’ between the conservative fundamentalism of my teenage years and the cynical nihilism of my college days. Life always takes a degree of faith, even if you’re atheist – because there’s always some degree of uncertainty and you have to choose to keep going, to keep seeing your journey as valuable.

And I do want to learn how to submit in a healthy sense that’s not encumbered by cultural baggage, in a way that involves checking my ego and holding myself accountable to an authority and principles and values outside myself that I choose to embrace.

Dear Dr. King / Letter From a Birmingham Jail

Of all the inspiring words that came out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, few are as famous as those contained in Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." Written in response to eight white local clergy who criticized his work and ideas as unwise and wrong, the letter is King's explanation of the importance of civil rights protesting. It is one of the most famous documents in American history.

As we celebrate and remember the legacy of Dr. King, would you take a moment to read his words and consider the ways we might continue the work of justice and love in our world?
 

LETTER FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL
April 16, 1963

MY DEAR FELLOW CLERGYMEN:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here In Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants --- for example, to remove the stores humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves : "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoralty election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run-off we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run-off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct-action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken .in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: "Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?" The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor. will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may want to ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all"

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I-it" relationship for an "I-thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression 'of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to ace the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this 'hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At fist I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do-nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.

If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble-rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides--and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ..." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime---the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some---such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle---have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as "dirty nigger lovers." Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.

Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a non segregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative .critics who can always find. something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of Rio shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leader era; an too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious. irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, on Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators"' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it vi lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom, They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jai with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham, ham and all over the nation, because the goal of America k freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation-and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handing the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."

I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. There will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. There will be the old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest." There will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Advent 2018

Around the world and across the centuries, Christ followers have taken the weeks leading up to Christmas as an opportunity to focus and prepare in a season we've come to call Advent.  These four-ish weeks are a time waiting, longing, and looking forward to the coming hope that is found in the humble birth of Christ.  Additionally, in many ways Advent runs counter to the hustle, materialism, and excess that the Christmas season has all to often become. 

Often we avoid the places of our lives and our world that are broken and dark, but Advent invites us to enter in to these spaces, allowing them to teach us the spiritual discipline of waiting.

Waiting is not something most of us are good at, but when it comes to our faith it's actually an essential practice if we want to see God's movement in our world.  "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10)

Waiting allows us to release control, recognize our problems, and tell the truth about our fears and mistakes. 

Waiting teaches us to slow down and notice things we miss amidst all our endless activity. 

Waiting opens our eyes to our reality in new ways. 

In the season of Advent, as the hours of light grow dimmer and leaner, and the weather colder and darker, we recognize the darkness of our world and we long for the light of Christ to emerge once again.  As we wait, we lean into our hope, and lean into our longing at the same time. 

Henri Nouwen said that "Waiting is a period of learning. The longer we wait, the more we hear about him for whom we are waiting."

So what is it you are waiting and longing for?  In what areas of our lives and our world are we in desperate need of the hope, peace, joy and love of Christ?

Instead of our typical avoidance of these longings, what if we allowed this season to lay them bare within our souls, and entered into our darkness with a sense of waiting and yearning for God?

"Waiting for God to act only seems like waiting for God to act. God is always acting because God is always loving the world and always giving birth to something. Waiting for God to act is actually waiting for your soul to become quiet enough and contemplative enough to discern what God is doing in the obscure and forgotten corners, far from the corridors of power or wherever you think the action is." - Brian Zahn

For the next few weeks at Oak Life, we'll take a moment at our Sunday gatherings to pause, recognize our darkness, and light candle, symbolizing our hope in the light that Christ brings.

A Prayer for the Election

On the Sunday before the 2018 midterms Oak Life Church will take a moment in our service to pray for the election and our country.   The chosen prayer has been circulated throughout countless churches and can be found below.  

But before we get to the prayer, let's take a moment to reflect:

As our nation seems more divided than ever, and our world is increasingly faced with difficulties, it is urgently important to remember that as followers of Christ our hope should lie in the Kingdom of God, rather than earthly kingdoms and candidates.   The Kingdom of God is the reality and movement of Jesus to bring a different kind of rule and reign into our world.  This different way flips the "kingdoms" of our world upside down and will outlast all nations.  It's a movement of love, forgiveness, and grace for all.  It's a place where the least are the greatest and where peace and justice thrive. 

Our calling as the church (the global and historic family of Jesus-followers) is to be a foretaste, or a picture of this reality in our world.  Sometimes this happens within the realm of politics and other times it happens in spite of them because our hope is ultimately anchored in the empty tomb of Jesus Christ and nothing else.  So we strive to love our enemies, forgive those who have wronged us, care for the vulnerable, pray for our nation and its leaders, deepen our respect for all humanity, and trust that God has been, and always will be with us- regardless of who gets elected. 

In this moment, as polarized and as broken as we are, we believe our nation desperately needs kingdom people who's lives are oriented around this reality - the reconciling hope of the Jesus' Kingdom. 

Would you join us in praying for our country and our world at this important moment?


A Prayer for Our Nation:

L: Merciful and loving God, as we prepare for Election Day, send the light of your Holy Spirit into the hearts of all in our nation. Bring peace and hope where there is confusion, discord and apathy.



P: LORD HEAR OUR PRAYERS



L: Guide those who hold elected office, may their leadership bring about positive change in our communities. Protect them and their families from both corruption and harm.



P: LORD HEAR OUR PRAYERS

L: Awaken in us a strong desire to work for the common good of all peoples, especially the most vulnerable in our world. Enable us to differ and to dialogue with reverence and respect for one another. May we steward the gift of democracy in a way that reflects your love.


P: LORD HEAR OUR PRAYERS


L: Pour out on us a spirit of wisdom and discernment to help us choose government officials and policies that will help our society become more just for all.

P: LORD HEAR OUR PRAYERS


ALL: We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen."

The Good Samaritan and a Hurting Culture: A #metoo reflection

There they lay, along the side of the dirt path, half dead. The road was known for being treacherous, and it was not uncommon for bandits to take advantage of vulnerable travelers, which was apparently what had happened to this individual. They were likely assaulted, robbed, and abandoned. This is the scene described by Jesus in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

As the narrative continues we learn that two people, a Levite and a Priest pass by the wounded traveler and avoid engagement. Maybe they were in a hurry and didn’t want to be inconvenienced, or maybe they didn’t want to contaminate themselves with something ritually unclean. Ultimately we don’t know the exact reason they crossed to the other side of the road, though there are many great interpretations. What we do know is that this was not neighborly love, which is sort of a big deal to Jesus.

After the first two travelers pass by on the other side, we’re then introduced to another character, a Samaritan. To Jesus’ audience this group of people would have been considered political, cultural, and religious enemies. As this unlikely character enters the scene they not only care for the abandoned traveler in that moment, but also offer substantial assistance for some time after.

As with most parables, their aim is to challenge and change their audience, and this is also true of the narrative crafted by Jesus here. What is the change and challenge that we should consider? First, we’re invited to consider how we often avoid the messiness of helping others and change our ways. Secondly, we’re challenged to be like the Good Samaritan by noticing the people on the side of the “roads” of our life and help them, even if it costs us.

In our world there are many areas where this challenge can be lived out, but there is one area that our collective culture has been wrestling with significantly in recent months: domestic abuse and sexual assault. For far too long those who have been hurt, abused, or assaulted have been silenced and abandoned.

Statistically one in three women and one in six men will experience some form of these two in their lifetimes. What makes this issue even worse is the reality that those who have lived through it are often forced into silence, not believed, or shamed into thinking it was some how their fault.

As people of faith who are striving to live into the ethics of Jesus, the Parable of the Good Samaritan speaks directly to how we should respond to those who’ve been hurt. We must learn to see the pain of survivors, believe their stories, and do our best to offer help, support, and solidarity. These issues are not isolated to any particular segment of culture and are tragically present with churches as well. This is most notably apparent of the past year as many individuals have bravely shared that they have been hurt in some way by sharing the hashtags #metoo and #churchtoo.

If you’ve been subject to sexual assault or domestic abuse, we want you to know that you are not alone. God is with you and there are many others who’ve been through this too. Abuse and assault are not ok. God is a God who defends and heals the vulnerable and also convicts and transforms those who’ve hurt others. Our hope and prayer is that God will continue to offer hope and transformation for our broken culture and that we will be like the Good Samaritan by standing in solidarity with our freinds and family who are hurting.

If you or some one who you know is going though a situation where there is abuse please check out the below resouces:

Resources:
-Talk to some one (There are a few folks at Oak Life who’ve offered to talk to anyone who needs it)
-https://www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-telephone-hotline
-http://survivorsupport.berkeley.edu/home
-http://www.silenceisnotspiritual.org/
-The Allender Podcast

-Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick

-Why He Does That by Lindy Bancroft



Ask Anything 2018

We recently started a new topic on Sunday mornings called Ask Anything: Questions and conversations about life, faith, and God.  While this is the 2nd time we've engaged this theme as a church on Sundays, our specific topics will be completely new and based on the questions asked by our community.  Our hope is to embrace questions as an integral part of our life with God as we try to live into Jesus' teaching of being people who "ask, seek, and knock."

Often times questions are not welcomed in church spaces and churches become places where answers are given rather than questions asked.  Additionally, we have routinely turned the Bible into an answer book that provides certainty rather than a book that raises questions.  What's ironic about this is that so many of us have questions, and our faith tradition actually welcomes these questions more than we probably know.  In some ways, you can call the Bible a question book because it asks questions of God, of ourselves, and of our world.  Examples of this include God's questions to Adam and Eve in the Garden, the Psalmists questions to God in times where it seems God has abandoned us, God's questions to Job, Jesus questions to his audience, and more. 

David Dark in his book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything says this: 
"When religion won’t tolerate questions, objections, or differences of opinion, it obstructs our ability to think, empathize, and live lives of authenticity and genuine engagement. The God of the Bible not only encourages questions; the God of the Bible demands them. If that were not so, we wouldn’t live in a world of such rich, God-given complexity in which wide-eyed wonder is part and parcel of the human condition. The possibility of redemption and revolution depends on the questions we ask of God, governments, media, and everyday economies. It is by way of the questions that we resist the conformity that deadens and come alive to visions that redeem.”

So it is our hope at Oak Life to be a space where our questions are welcomed.  Where our doubts and curiosities can be transformed into divine inquiry.  Where we seek, knock, and ask in a way that leads us to deeper truth and deeper intimacy with the God who loves us more than we can possibly know. 

As we started this conversation, we invited our community to write down their questions.  These questions will become the discussion topics for each Sunday for the next few weeks.  Since there were way too many questions to cover just on Sundays, we tried our best to group these together in ways that make sense.  It was actually really cool to see how many people asked tough questions, and how often similar questions were being asked.  Again, the goal here is to offer answers where answers are appropriate, but often times our questions will lead to more questions, so this is not a Q & A series but a Q & C (conversation) series.  We hope you can join us as we wrestle and learn and grow together! 

Here are the grouped questions for our series: 
(Also, feel free to post comments for discussion below)

Discerning God's presence, God's direction, and God's activity
"How can I better discern when God is directing me versus some other pull or selfish motivation?  I often struggle to hear when God is speaking to me, and also to trust him in the direction he provides."
"Is it possible that the encounters I thought I had with God could have been only psychological trickery?"
"What should I be doing to bring about your (God) will/live as you showed in this world?  How do I use the gifts you have given me to make the world a better place?"
"God you know all the situations I have, is it in your plan?  Please let me know clearly if it is your plan.  I love you God."
"God, how can I serve you and do my best to serve others and make sure others feel loved, joy, adored, and cherished?"
"What does it mean to "find" God?"

"God, I am struggling w recovery from alcoholism and I thank you for all you have done.  When will obsession and compulsion be lifted once and for all? At what point in my recovery will I experience a spiritual awakening w all the love?"
"Does God condone distancing yourself from someone to receive healing?"


The Afterlife:
"How should we understand what the Bible says about hell and damnation- and the other side, what is says about the "elect" and salvation?"
"What is heaven & what is hell?  How has the church used these in a way that may have created fear?  Where is the love and grace in these?"

Other religions/traditions
"God, how do you see other religions that don't praise you?  Are they all wrong?  How can that be?"

"As a kid I pondered about the various different religions in the world and how I was raised in a Christian household.  I wondered what my life would have looked like if my parents were Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, etc.  I never liked the idea of believing in the right or correct religion or God because I feel like as children a lot of our religious beliefs are fed to us. My constant question of faith is, could we all believe in the same God?  Can I believe that God is fair enough, just enough to give everyone an opportunity to experience his presence and glory no matter where or how we grew up?"

How we view/understand God and God's love for us
"I'm working on viewing God as an all-knowing, good, holy, justice seeking, LGBTQ affirming, and gracious being.  In doing so, its been easier to view God as a gender-neutral/non-binary source of peace and power.  I've come to find viewing him as the Father limits my understanding of Him to an omnipotent white male who reinforces the closed-minded Christianity that I so staunchly believed growing up.  Now can I be changing my view of Him as God the Mother/Healer/Lover/Savior and not rethink the validity of everything I once believed?"

"What is it so hard to believe I am loved by God even though I'm sinful?"
"What does full-self acceptance look like while knowing and believing that you are also a sinner?"

"Why am I the way I am?"
"God how much do you love me?"


What is the Bible?
"What authority does/should the Bible have in my life when it was written 1000s of years ago by men w/o scientific method or multi-cultural understanding, from a patriarchal world view?"

What does the Bible say about...?
"Is pre-marital sex okay?  1. OT sex was used as a batering tool for marraige.  2. OT - people had multiple wives / concubines. 3. sex was such a taboo thing in the ancient world and reviled.  Do you think it's the same now or should change?  Like our view on homosexuality?  Is there a shift that should be there?"
"Tithe - is that a thing of the old or new testament?  And why don't all churches preach it?  Why doesn't Oak Life teach it?"

Injustice, suffering and our role
"Why are you allowing our government to enact such atrocities as separating families who are desperate for safety, spending billions on weapons while allowing millions to be homeless?"
"How can I actively change social systems that hurt us?"

"Why do good people/children suffer abuse and trauma?"

Miscellaneous
"The verse from today said seek, ask knock- but how do you balance that with the God from Romans 9 which says who are you to answer back to God and Gods response to Joy.  Seems like God is ok with you asking questions until it pertains to his decisions/sovereignty- but if that's what I'm struggling with (his goodness/character) it seems like God just wants me to not ask anything at all."
"God, when are you going to bless me with millions of dollars?"

"So many parts of what we consider "Christianity" in this modern world are coercion. What if the core of Christianity is only social coercion too?"



 

Seeking Forgiveness & Sharing Love at PRIDE (video)

Christians are known for many things. 

In a book that surveyed people's perception of Christians, author David Kinnaman noted that two of top six things we're known for are: being anti-LGBT+, and being judgemental.  In the years since Kinnaman's book was published it's safe to say that these perceptions are largely still accurate.

Tragically, these notions are not what Jesus said we should be known for. 

All to often Christians are the ones pointing the finger, casting judgement, and calling others to repentance.  We think it's our job to be the morality policy of the world, and the consequences of this judgemental posture are that many feel unwelcome, wounded, and unloved. 

It was Jesus himself who said we should look to the plank in our own eye before we look to the speck in our neighbors', and few communities have been subject to the Church's judgment like our LGBT+ family.  As an inclusive and affirming church, Oak Life has attempted to reverse these patterns as we seek to lament, confess, and repent of the ways we as the church needs grace first and foremost.  

So, in what's becoming sort of a tradition at Oak Life, each year at Pride (either Oakland or SF), a group of us heads over to offer our apologies and ask forgiveness for the ways we or other Christians have hurt or rejected the LGBT+ community. 

We hold signs that communicate both our confessions and love. 

We confess the ways the church has rejected, oppressed, silenced, and cast aside so many people who bear the Image of God in their being. 

We listen to stories of both pain and hope.

We pray for healing, reconciliation, and mercy. 

And we proclaim that God's love is for everyone regardless of gender, orientation, race, or anything else. 

Oak Life is by no means a perfect church, in fact we're pretty messy, but we take grace seriously, and we welcome everyone to our community. 

Below are two videos that highlight our engagement at Oakland Pride in 2017.  This year we'll be heading over again to Oakland Pride, and we'll even have our own booth!  If you'd like to join us or have any questions, let us know!

If you've been hurt or judged by the church because or your gender, orientation, or anything else, we're deeply sorry.  We need your forgiveness.  Our prayer is that you'll encounter the God of love in your life even if the church has fallen short in reflecting that love. 
 

"Mr. Sessions, Could We Talk Over Coffee?"

Dear Mr. Jeffrey Sessions,

I am an Evangelical Christian. Please do not confuse me as an extreme fundamentalist. As I understand it, you claim also to be a Christian. Could we sit down and have a safe, sane conversation over coffee? There is some confusion that I have over some things that you said and I would appreciate the opportunity to understand a statement you made during a news conference.  In referring to the U.S. government separating Central American children from their families at our southern border you stated," Illegal entry into the United States is a crime.  It should be. It must be. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul in his clear and wise command in Romans 13. To obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes."  You were referring to Romans 13:1 in that statement.

Mr. Sessions it would seem to me that you have been attending church long enough to know that a good Christian never takes one statement in scripture and applies a definitive interpretation all by itself.  All good theologians know you must read before and after any one scripture to gain context and often one must cross reference with other scriptures to get a theme in the writings.  Perhaps if you would read the rest of that chapter in Romans out loud you could help us all to get a bigger picture of what Paul was saying.  Paul writes in Romans 13:10 ,"Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Aren't little children from Central America our neighbors?  According to the American Psychological Association there are decades of research demonstrating that family separation can lead to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other conditions. Doesn't that constitute harm?

The Apostle Paul, as you know, had a life changing encounter with Jesus. Afterward Paul dedicated his life to teaching others about Jesus and his message of love. I am sure you know Jesus' quote from the Gospel of Luke 6:31,"Do to others as you would have them do to you." In  the Gospel of Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus says,"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." Mr. Sessions are you and this White House administration treating these children the way you would want to be treated if you were in their situation? Are you loving these innocent children and their families as you love yourself?

Do you remember Mr. Sessions another young , poor family who lived in the Roman territory of Judea about 2000 years ago. They had to flee due to a law that the client king of Rome named Herod had decreed. He decreed the killing of all baby boys under the age of two in the City of Bethlehem and the surrounding area. Was that law just and ordained by God or just corrupt? This refugee family had to flee to Egypt for political asylum. Perhaps you have heard of this family. Their names were Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. I am so glad that family was not separated. Aren't you?

When you have a moment, let's have that coffee.

In His Love,

Ed Ness

Leadership Team Member

Oak Life Church

Addressing Biblical Misuse and a Call to Love Immigrant Children

When it comes to the Bible and how it gets used in social discourse, there are no shortages of historical and contemporary errors.  Chief among these is when those in positions of authority appeal to the Bible blindly, and without thoughtful interpretation to back up their policies.  Even in America's relatively short history we've seen the Bible used to defend slavery, oppress women, declare war, and more.  This is a misguided approach to Biblical interpretation and often goes against the Bible's central messages, turning it into a tool of oppression rather than a declaration of freedom.

This week US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, quoted from Romans 13 to support the government's decision to take children of immigrants from their families as part of US immigration policy.  Specifically, Mr. Sessions cited verses 1-2 which read "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."

Read in isolation, out of its historical context, and separate from the rest of the Bible, this passage can easily be used to defend one's position of power and the unethical treatment of those under a particular governing authority.  In fact, this very verse was used many times to justify the owning of slaves and their subordination to owners.  This reveals a tremendous lack of historical humility and paves the way for us to repeat the most heinous wrongs of our past.  

This is morally, intellectually, and Biblically wrong. 

The appeal to Romans 13 is essentially "proof-texting", which means picking isolated verses to back up an already conceived opinion, and goes against even the most elementary forms of Biblical interpretation.  Held in conversation with the rest of the Bible, it's clear that the Biblical mandate is towards protection of the vulnerable, the immigrant, and loving treatment of the neighbor, i.e. everyone.   Anyone who can contort taking children away from their parents in the ways Mr. Sessions stands behind has a very un-Bliblical view of love.  You only have to look a few verses ahead, to Romans 13:10 to get a view of why: "Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."

Biblical love, or love that reflects Jesus, is that of enemy love, inclusion of the outsider, heightened concern for the marginalized, patience, kindness, seeking the good of others, forgiveness, and endlessly extending grace.  It flips the tables of corruption and opens its arms to the destitute.   Any usage of isolated Biblical verses that do not reflect the compassion, mercy, grace, sacrifice, and love of Christ is incomplete and should be reconsidered.  History alone demands this if commitment to Christ isn't enough. 

Central to the Christian faith, of which Mr Sessions identifies, is a Jewish minority who was considered rebellious by both the legal and religious authorities of his time.   Consistently, Jesus loved those on the margins and disrupted those in the center.  Over the centuries his followers have challenged the authority of their perspective governments when the policies and actions of those governments goes against the teachings of their faith, and on behalf of their neighbors who were being marginalized, as Dr. King wrote, "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws".   This type of civil disobedience is as Christian as the cross. 

If we consider the ways Jesus talked about children, the consistent moral exhortations throughout the scripture to care for the least of these, (widows, orphans, and foreigners), or the ways we have misused the Bible in the past, then the usage of Romans 13:1-2 by Mr. Sessions to defend the taking of children from their families should offend and grieve those of us who have found life in Christ and take the Bible seriously.   A serious approach to the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible invites us to love and stand alongside those that these policies affect while standing against powers and principalities of division and oppression. 

A thoughtful response to these policies and misuse of the Bible should be to pray for our leaders, act and speak out for justice, and to take seriously the whole of the scripture in a way that leads us deeper down the path of love.  
 
* This post was written by Chris Scott who serves as a pastor at Oak Life


 

Sit Down

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A community entry written by Maeva Renaud

Hey Oaklifers, my name is Maeva. I’m originally from Haiti and I currently live in West Palm Beach, Florida. I’m an educator, artist, and activist with a passion for social justice. Last summer, I visited Oaklife Church during my first trip to the Bay Area. Since my visit, I was feeling #hella connected. I currently watch the live feeds on Facebook and anticipate the weekly updates. I’m really excited to stay engaged and serve our online community in this capacity.  I have hopes to join you all in person soon, but I am waiting on God’s timing. In the meantime, enjoy this devotional and I will see you online!

Sit Down

During my reading of First Chronicles 21, I wondered why God was angry with David for taking the Census of the Israeli people. I did some googling and commentators have stated that the Bible does not explicitly state why God was angry. One can infer however, that it was due to King David’s pride.

In previous chapters, God had delivered the Israeli people from all their enemies and always provided  King David with enough warriors for the battles they encountered. Then at one point, the Bible says “Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel”.  Joab, the head captain of King David’s army, questioned his reasoning saying “ may the Lord increase the number of his people 100 fold! Are they not my lord the king, all of them, my Lord servant‘s? Why should my Lord require this?” but King David was still adamant about his count. It wasn’t until something bad happened to the Israeli people that King David repented of his sin. That sin, some have said, was King David’s pride going ahead of God.

Whenever I read scripture, I try to identify the areas of my life God is trying to speak to. I read this chapter not really finding much to contemplate on except for the reason of God's’ anger towards King David. From that, I realized that I allowed my own pride to get in the way of God. Recently, I was led to relocate to Oakland California. The Lord told me that he would get me there. Being the self motivated, determined, and ambitious person that I am, I started applying for jobs in the Bay area. I also started to take some certification exams in order to pretty up my resume and to show how valuable of an asset I would be. I got caught up in my pride to make myself look good. What was humbling was the fact that I did not pass any of my exams. I thought to myself, I could’ve saved a lot of money and time if I had just waited on God to open a door for me. If I had not rushed to brand myself as such and such and waited for the Lord to make a way, I probably would have gotten a position already.

Am I saying that God was angry with me? Maybe, but what I am saying is that I need to slow down. Just because I may hear a word from the Lord, doesn’t mean I should  jump the gun. I need to make sure, I’m not going ahead of God‘s timing. I must remain in the stillness and align myself to the leading of his Holy Spirit.

“Lord I pray thee
Settle my soul
Your Understanding keeps me
I wait on your Spirit
For life to unfold”


If waiting on God is something you struggle with, know that you are not alone. I’m in a season of waiting on God. I don’t know about you, but waiting can be hard, annoying, and humbling. I’m learning more about myself and God. I’m learning that when it’s all said and done, His understanding supersedes mine. So be encouraged, whatever you are believing God for, His timing is perfect.

Feel free to follow me on FB, IG, and the birdy @maevatheartist

Finding Closure with Uncertainty / A Prayer and Exhortation

A community entry written by Yiann Chou
instagram.com/yiannc
SoundCloud.com/yiannchou
 

God (the Christian god), I am confused about you. I have been healed through you, and wounded by you. 

I feel moved and inspired when I read about the ways Jesus gave attention and kindness to those at the bottom of society. I also feel confused and angry when I read about the ways you seem to condone violent oppression.

I have been relieved, watching my family become less violent and angry after praying to you and reading the bible, which is called your word. I felt grief when I watched my family punish and shame each other in your name, using your word.

I learned to value compassion and justice from people who say they follow you. I experienced betrayal from those same people: gossiped about, and outed by them.

I’m not sure who you are. Through you, I found comfort and also pain. I longed for answers from you, I felt uncertain about you, and anxious because of it. But I am starting to accept my uncertainty. I am beginning to accept that I have many questions, and few answers.

Sometimes, in prayer, I felt a presence that gave me an inexplicable sense of healing and love. I used to think that was you, but I’m not sure now. I just know that it is something beautiful and beyond me. 

In recent years, I notice that presence through different life-giving things: nature, music, time spent with loving friends, time spent loving myself, and sometimes at church. I don’t have a name for it, and I don’t know if it’s you, but I know I need it. I’m going to keep searching for that presence.

To whoever is reading this: If you also feel confused about faith, know that it’s okay not to have answers. May you find what is healing and life-giving for you, no matter what name it goes by. If you feel at peace with your faith, may you accept others as they ask questions and maybe find answers different from your own. All I hope is that what we each find will lead us to true healing, love, and justice.

Yiann

Flowers From Ashes: Easter 2018

Every year billions of people gather around the world to celebrate Easter.  Typically, these gatherings are filled with celebration, color, joy, and flowers.  The reason behind this is that Easter reminds us of the most important truth in all of reality- that Love wins. Just as a flower reminds us that the darkness of winter is almost over and that spring is near,  in Jesus' resurrection, we have a hope that the brokenness of our lives and our world will be healed and overcome.  We have a peace that can transcend our understanding because we know that even when our bodies fail us, we can have new life in Jesus.   

So, on April 1st 2018, our eclectic and inclusive church packed the pub-theater that has become our sanctuary to proclaim what the prophet Isaiah says of the Messiah:

Isaiah 61:3:

The Lord has sent me
to comfort those who mourn,
    especially in Jerusalem.
He sent me to give them flowers
    in place of their sorrow,
olive oil in place of tears,
and joyous praise
    in place of broken hearts.

This year's Easter celebration was a special reminder of the new life that Christ brings.  As we explored the resurrection account from the gospel Luke, we also reflected on Jesus' invitation to our world- to be people who are transformed by and live into the hope that sin, death, evil, and injustice will not get the last word, but that the empty tomb does by dispersing flowers throughout the room, helping us remember and mark all that Easter means. 

Thanks everyone who helped make this such a special time!  And thanks to Matt Evearitt who snapped photos of the festivities!

As we closed our time together with singing, we were sent off with a prayer:

"God of Resurrection,
May we be people who are transformed
by the ways you bring joy in our sorrow,
light in our darkness,
hope in our despair,
and flowers in our ashes.

Be with us now as we go forth to love and serve the world.

Amen"

Good Friday

Good Friday, ironically named, is a time of mourning.  As a church we'll be gathering this evening at 7pm at Chapter 510 on Telegraph for an experiential gathering. Today, as we remember and grieve the reality that an innocent human being was brutally executed on behalf of the world,  we reflect on the nature of our own darkness and surrender all of it onto the cross.  Namely, that Christ receives all of our darkness, depravity, and sin out of love onto himself.  It's graphic, it's bloody, it's painful, it's horrifying, it's scary, it's sad, and yet it's hopeful.  Isaiah the prophet writes of our suffering servant and Lord: 

Isaiah 53:4-6

4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

This is the picture of God's love for us, that God would go through the unspeakable horror of being crucified for each of us.  And in so doing enter into all of the brokenness of the world.  That as those nails broke into his flesh, Jesus was experiencing indescribable anguish for us.  For you.  

This is the God Christians worship.  A God not distant from human suffering, but more aquantinted with it then we are.  A God that entered into our suffering, walks with us, and overcomes it all.  Subsequently, the symbol that Christians around the world identify with is the cross- a Roman execution device.  The cross, the death of Christ is a source of great power, hope, and our very salvation.  Because we know that death is not the final word, that resurrection is the final word.  But in order to have resurrection, we have to go through the cross.  Today we remember the scandalous and counter-intuitive act that redeems the world.  

Would you spend some time in solitude today, this Good Friday?  

Spend some time reflecting on the crucifixion.  Let your imagination identify with this man who, out of infinite love, was thrust onto wooden beams, exposed and bloody, and hung high by nails for you.

Take some time to read through the passion narrative found in the gospels:
-Mark 15:33 to 16:8
-Matthew 27:52 to 28:20
-Luke 23:44 to 24:12
-John 19:29 to 20:18

As you reflect- maybe ask yourself some questions:
-Where in my life do I need the hope of the cross?  That darkness and death are not the end?
-What darkness do I need to bring to the light of the cross.  Are there things to confess? If so, surrender them to God and receive forgives.
-How can I identify more with the suffering of others, like Jesus?
-Do I fully understand the extent of God's love for me? 

Lent / Ash Wednesday 2018

Each year, Christ followers around the world observe a season of reflection known as Lent. For those who practice it, the 40 days (plus Sundays) leading to Easter provide a time to cultivate awareness of God's presence as we remember the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert.  In many ways, the desert symbolizes a spiritual place where we withdrawal for a time in order to silence the noise and distractions of the world. 

This year, Lent begins on February 14th, and many Christians will recognize the day by having ashes placed on their forehead. With Ash Wednesday comes a sense of somberness, and acknowledgement of our sin and mortality—that we came from dust and to dust we will one day return (Ecclesiastes 3:20).  You might notice people around town with ashes on their forehead, which are traditionally taken from leaves used the previous year for Palm Sunday, and act as an outward sign of inward reflection. 

Though the season of Lent comes with a sense of soberness and seriousness, the word Lent is actually derived from words meaning "spring," and the next six weeks of devotion and renewal also include a sense of new life, slowly emerging from winter. This fills us with expectation and hope for Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.

Even though Oak Life may not be the most traditional church, we still strive to embrace the beauty and wisdom of our historic and global faith. Our hope is to become more aware of the sacredness of life as we enter into this seasonal rhythm alongside followers of Christ from various backgrounds and denominations. 

Below is a simple Lenton prayer we'll be closing out Sunday gatherings with with followed by a couple of ideas for how you might be able to personally engage with Lent:

"God of Love, In this season of listening:
Calm our restlessness, quiet our chaos, and still our spirits.
Open our senses to your presence,
And our hands to the needs of those around us.
May we find in you the life we long for,
And may others find in us lives that reflect you.
Be with us now as we go forth to love and serve the world.
Amen"

Ideas for how to engage in Lent:

-Find a practice or fast to engage with.  Maybe you want to consider fasting a meal a day or taking a day of the week to avoid social media.  Maybe this could be a time of sacrificial giving where forego getting coffee out and instead donate the money to a ministry or charity.   Maybe you'd like to spend some time each day in prayer or reading a devotional.  The point with these practices is to find a way to be still and listen for God's presence.  If you'd like some further tips on fasting

- Be a part of our Sunday gatherings which will be connected to some of the themes around listening to God's presence in each of our 5 senses. 

-Engage with this daily Lenton Devotional our friends at PAAC put together.

-Check out a couple of these books to supplement your journey:
- Wondrous Encounters by Richard Rohr
- Lent for Everyone, N.T. Wright

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New Years Reflection and The Serenity Prayer

As we enter a new year we're asking big questions that center around things like our purpose, calling, and life rhythms.  Our hope is that as we lean into the future together, we'll continue to walk the path of love, and as we do, come to know ourselves and God more deeply.  At our Sunday gathering on New Years Eve we asked the following questions to help us in this process.  If you'd like to watch the message click here.  Also, we used "Serenity Prayer" as an anchor and benediction.  The aim is that as we ask these questions, we'll set up a life rhythm and posture that allows space for our lives and our world to be transformed:   

What are my loves?
What relationships, values, people, or ideas are most important to you?

What is my role/calling in the world?
At this point in your life are there any specific images, stories, or strengths that feel uniquely true for you?

What are my rhythms?
How can you establish patterns or practices in 2018 that will that help you orient around your loves and roles?

THE SERENITY PRAYER:
The Serenity Prayer God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

Advent 2017

Around the world and across the centuries, Christ followers have taken the weeks leading up to Christmas as an opportunity to focus and prepare in a season we've come to call Advent.  These four-ish weeks are a time waiting, longing, and looking forward to the coming hope that is found in the humble birth of Christ.  Additionally, in many ways Advent runs counter to the hustle, materialism, and excess that the Christmas season has all to often become. 

Often we avoid the places of our lives and our world that are broken and dark, but Advent invites us to enter in to these spaces, allowing them to teach us the spiritual discipline of waiting.

Waiting is not something most of us are good at, but when it comes to our faith it's actually an essential practice if we want to see God's movement in our world.  "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10)

Waiting allows us to release control, recognize our problems, and tell the truth about our fears and mistakes. 

Waiting teaches us to slow down and notice things we miss amidst all our endless activity. 

Waiting opens our eyes to our reality in new ways. 

In the season of Advent, as the hours of light grow dimmer and leaner, and the weather colder and darker, we recognize the darkness of our world and we long for the light of Christ to emerge once again.  As we wait, we lean into our hope, and lean into our longing at the same time. 

Henri Nouwen said that "Waiting is a period of learning. The longer we wait, the more we hear about him for whom we are waiting."

So what is it you are waiting and longing for?  In what areas of our lives and our world are we in desperate need of the hope, peace, joy and love of Christ?

Instead of our typical avoidance of these longings, what if we allowed this season to lay them bare within our souls, and entered into our darkness with a sense of waiting and yearning for God?

"Waiting for God to act only seems like waiting for God to act. God is always acting because God is always loving the world and always giving birth to something. Waiting for God to act is actually waiting for your soul to become quiet enough and contemplative enough to discern what God is doing in the obscure and forgotten corners, far from the corridors of power or wherever you think the action is." - Brian Zahn

For the next few weeks at Oak Life, we'll take a moment at our Sunday gatherings to pause, recognize our darkness, and light candle, symbolizing our hope in the light that Christ brings.

A Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Of all the inspiring words that came out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, few are as famous as those contained in Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." Written in response to eight white local clergy who criticized his work and ideas as unwise and wrong, the letter is King's explanation of the importance of civil rights protesting. It is one of the most famous documents in American history.

Currently Oak Life Church is in a conversation called "God of the Margins" where we're exploring both the ways God is near to those who have been silenced, pushed aside, and minimized, AND the ways God called those of us with advantages to love those on the margins.  One of the ways we'll be exploring these convictions is by reflecting on our nations history of marginalizing people based on race.  We'll also be hosting a special discussion group on November 16th (location TBD).  Our hope is that our entire community will read "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" and reflect on some of the following questions:

- Where was God during the Civil Rights Movement?

- How does this phrase make you feel?

The Gospel embraces the margins and disrupts the center

-
In what ways is our society still marginalizing people today?

- How have you been marginalized in your life?

- What is our calling as Christians in relation to people and groups that have been marginalized?

- Hod does Dr. King's letter still speak to us today?
 

LETTER FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL
April 16, 1963

MY DEAR FELLOW CLERGYMEN:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here In Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants --- for example, to remove the stores humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves : "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoralty election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run-off we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run-off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct-action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken .in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: "Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?" The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor. will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may want to ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all"

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I-it" relationship for an "I-thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression 'of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to ace the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this 'hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At fist I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do-nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.

If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble-rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides--and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ..." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime---the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some---such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle---have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as "dirty nigger lovers." Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.

Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a non segregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative .critics who can always find. something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of Rio shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leader era; an too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious. irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, on Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators"' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it vi lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom, They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jai with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham, ham and all over the nation, because the goal of America k freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation-and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handing the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."

I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. There will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. There will be the old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest." There will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Oak Life Turns 3!

This week we celebrated our third "Sprout-Day" as a church.  It's been incredible to witness the ways in which God has formed us into who we are.  Oak Life has become a church that has embraced those often marginalized, invited deep community, sought peace and justice, and tried to follow Jesus faithfully in our city.  While there are still many areas of growth ahead, the stories being written in and through Oak Life are so encouraging to reflect on.  During our Sunday gathering we looked back at many of these stories and also prayed for what God might do in the future. 

Below you'll find a thank you from some of the wonderful organizations we've donated our third Sunday offerings too as well the prayers collected during our celebration service for our future.

Hopes, Dreams, & Prayers for Oak Life

-I pray for Oak Life to continue to be brave
-That OL would be a place where the first shall be last, and the last, first
-For Radical Honesty
-I pray that Oak Life would continue to care about what is going on in the world today- not just in our lives
-My hopes for Oak Life is to be unwavering in love, grace, and fighting against oppression to all- welcoming to ALL
-That we continue to be a community with open minds and hearts
-That we can be a church that embodies ressuresction
-For continual growth, acceptance, & LOVE :)
-For the church to continue joining God where He's already working- in and out of the parkway and our own community
-Deepening intentional community
-I would like to pray for Oak Life church to have our own building and always be a place where the lost are loved
-Children and Youth
-I hope and pray that oaklife continues to prosper
-I pray that Oak Life would continue to be filled with a heart of grace and mercy for each other and compassion and justice for the world.
-For Christ to continue to be our center
-to continue- keep on keeping on
-For us to help youth in our area
-Keeping the heart of Oak life while the community grows
-I pray that Oak Life would continue to be a haven for those traditionally not accepted by the church and we would continue pursuing love & justice in our community
-Become more intergenerational
-a body of healing, transformation, and enlightenment
-That Oak Life would be a place where God's love is manifested powerful through physical healing so that Oakland would come to know Christ
-Hope: sustain existing community partnerships and grow.  Fear: succumb to "trendiness over commitment to truth"
-Growth
-To use our growing numbers to even greater effect in our community
-That we engage in mental health in our community
-May Oak Life continue to be a safe haven, where all are welcome to come as they are and receive Good News
-Always think of and serve others
-That we can learn to follow Jesus, day by day, step by step
-I pray that Oak Life spins off 2-3 more churches over the next 3-5 years
-I pray that Oak life continues to be a: intimate space, safe space, open space- for everyone
-I pray that Oak Life grows in action and relationally with each other, the community and with Jesus.  May we be a church that shows unconditional love and continued generosity and extended grace
-That Oak Life will challenge themselves to be critical and restorative, graceful yet accountable, firm but loving
-Children's ministry
-I pray we can have our own space to meet and keep walking humbly by uplifting the downtrodden and oppressed
-OL would be an expression of God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven
-That God supernaturally meets all your financial needs so you can extend your branches out into the community without any limits
-That Christ be what makes us whole
-That I can find where I belong in Oak Life
-That Oak Life continues to grow and prosper and minister as a community
-Courage to examine ourselves and truly advocate for the most marginalized among us
-That Oak Life would continue to disrupt the center and embrace the margins
-For more LGBT+ people to find breath, life, and healing through Oak Life
-Continued deep commitment to service, reflection, community, and love (from a visitor)
-For the gospel to be at the core of all we do

Dear Church: A Listening Project

Whoever has ears, let them hear.
— Matthew 11:15

Last week a few of us headed to First Friday's in hopes of creating a space for listening.  Specifically, we set out to hear what people wanted to share about the church in America.  One of the things churches are known for is projecting our views onto the world and expecting others to become like us. Additionally, we've adopted the modern cultural value of constant noise and activity which often prevents us from being people who know how to be silent and truly listen.  Consequently we've never learned how to have "ears to hear" and our voice is often experienced as judgmental and dogmatic. 

Over the short history of Oak Life we've sought to subvert this tendency by practicing the discipline of listening.  It's sort of evangelism in reverse where we seek to be transformed by the stories, voices, and experiences of our community.  The value of listening is regularly seen in our gatherings and church formation as there are lots of spaces for conversation and learning from one another.  Sometimes listening can be challenging and even painful as we are often forced to confront our own missteps reflected back to us; but if held as an opportunity for transformation can provide space for healing, reconciliation, and growth.  And at it's best, cultivating a posture of listening allows us to hear spiritual realities and even the presence of the divine. 

So we put out a chalk board sign and invited people to share their thoughts with us about the church.  There was no hidden agenda, just a space to listen and learn.  While many people shared with us in person through conversation, some folks were also willing to write down their thoughts in journals.  

May we be people who have ears to hear.  Special thanks to the folks who shared with us.  Also, if you'd like so share your "Dear Church" note feel feel to leave a message in the comments!

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"Dear Church, Love now!  Teach more about love and less about judgment.  Less talk about tithes.  Get into the community more.  Be realistic and understanding.  Fire Joel Osteen!!!! Money hungry pastors aren't a good look!"

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"Why yall be so judgemental?"

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"More love and support"

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"Dear Church, Our relationship has been like a roller coaster.  I realized that I don't like roller coasters so I stopped riding and sat still and started helping others who were tired of riding.  Now, I coast through life on a spiritual journey towards peace, love, and justice for those on the margins"

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"Dear Church, now is the time more than ever to accept.  Bring people together and love.  Isn't that what you were supposed to do in the first place?  What happened?"

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"What's up with the Nashville Statement."

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"Be in the community.  Be a part of it.  Be of use to it.  Participate"

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"Church is where we get to practice what it means to be human. - James Luther Adams"

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"Church - it evokes quietness and connectedness in me at once together.  It represents hope and love, but also sometimes lots of rigidity and hierarchy.  I am a deeply spiritual person still looking for my 'church' in life." 

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"Dear Church, I've been a believer/follower for many years.  I hope we can more actively come alongside the poor and marginalized more each day like we are calle to do.  God bless and much love."

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"Don't be like Joel Osteen!  What can we do to support the artist community?"

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"Dear Church, thank you for taking me in when I was alone.  Thank you for helping me in so many ways.  I know you're not perfect but thank you for being in the world.  I hope I can be less of a critic and more of an agent for change to help you be healthy"