A Letter from a Birmingham Jail

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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

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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.

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Oak Life Turns 3!

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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

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Dear Church: A Listening Project

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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"

 

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The Heart Of The Matter

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The Heart Of The Matter

We're currently in a conversation called "The Way of the Heart" where we're looking at the ways our inner lives affect our outer-self and world.  Here are some thoughts from our very own Gina Norman!
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The Heart of the Matter: A Closer Look at Why We Do What We Do by Gina Norman

Looking directly into our hearts is no easy task, and let me tell you, it IS a task, and a daunting one.  We need to find the courage to start, and that courage and strength is never too far away: David told Solomon in 1 Chronicles 28:20

Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished.

Heart journeying is very specific work, we won’t ever want to look back, we’ll only want to keep looking into our very hearts, more and more, wider and wider, deeper and deeper, because that is where we’ll discover our truest selves, [our “new man” that God gives us, that new creation that's talked about in the Gospel:

2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come".

We were meant to step into this reality and live, so that we can become whole, and starting journeying through our hearts is the way TO that "new person hood".

And in Matthew 5:48 “BE PERFECT AS YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN IS PERFECT”.

Through studying this verse, it simply means to be holy as your Father in heaven is holy. And holy? Means becoming whole. It’s being as whole as possible while walking through life on earth, but because of all that is broken in this world and in our hearts, we are wounded. That leaves us very "stuck". We tend to feel conflicted, confused, angry, sad, rejected, etc. . . as a shocking result to what has happened to us, and also choices we've made. Thing is, is, most of us don’t know HOW or WHERE to even start with our hearts!

We need to find out what’s hiding in the crevices of our very own heart.

Why we think what we think, then feel the way we do, and then act the way we do? It's all a lot to grasp and comprehend.

For starters, hurts from our upbringings, emotional pain from dissolved or troubled relationships,  or trauma from abuses all add up if unaddressed and find a hideaway deep within the nooks and crannies of our hearts. Verbal abuses, stuff we're taught in schools and churches that tend to break us spiritually, mentally and even physically.

The toll life has taken on us leave massive wounds if you will, and it’s there, in looking directly in, that you’ll see that these wounds need tending too, the wounds have led to disruptive, negative and even untrue thoughts! And if our feelings are generated from our thought life, we must have work to do in our minds--the main place to start IS our thoughts! As we give attention, care and the time these wounds deserve, this will eventually lead us into healing.

Discovering WHAT, WHERE, HOW AND WHY THE WOUNDS ARE THERE IS KEY.

BTW, our thoughts and feelings make up our HEARTS--and all thoughts and feelings are are what's taken place our whole lives up to this point: anything from beliefs that experiences, trauma, pictures in our minds, memories, family, culture, class, education, illnesses and much more. All of it, a huge complicated pile of HEART STUFF, if you will, that has accumulated. Compiled from all that was and all that is in our lives. People, places and things.

Here's the thing: some of the beliefs are TRUE, and some of them ARE NOT. The trouble lies in the "ARE NOT'S".

We don't have to operate, or behave out of these hiding wounds, the valves will pump new thoughts, new feelings and eventually new behaviors. In this hide -n-seek game with your heart, you’ll see what has been causing-- (BLOCKING) this valve that has kept you from not being able to enter into your newness, and the old self will start to disappear. I think we are in need of heart transplants. Wouldn’t you agree? Life is just so much more comfortable with what we are familiar with, such as perspectives we hold dear, even though they may not be healthy for us, or behaviors that make us feel good, no matter how dysfunctional they may be. Once we, in humility admit we don't know it all or have all the right answers, we can surrender to listening. Listening to ourselves in new ways, others and most importantly, God.

How can you tell if YOU need a heart transplant? How will you know from day to day, week to week? Pay attention to every little thing that doesn’t or wouldn’t line up with God. If you are thinking negatively, if a thought throws you off, or doesn't "sit" well with you, wonder about it. Scan your thought life and look for patterns, observe what’s in there and start to ponder those thoughts.

“Hmmm interesting, wonder what that means?”

“Interesting, I wonder why you’re there thought..”

“Hmmm that’s odd, why would I think that?”

Think about your think, and the thoughts that jarr you, or upset you, or send you into “icky” feelings….THAT’S what you’re looking for. That’s what you want to pay attention to, because it’s those feelings that cause our behaviors. And it all starts with a thought.

So do you feel jealous? Do you feel less than? Do you feel fat and ugly? Do you feel worthless? Do you feel unsuccessful and purposeless? All of those feelings are attached to a thought. Find it. Because, we know that “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Isn’t that an indication to change the way we are thinking, so that our feelings will shift, and eventually change the way we are behaving? We want an internal shift so we can have an external shift. All is NOT right in our world, even if we think it is. That is, if it's "tripping" us up.

As Christians and in Christian atmosphere’s we’ve probably picked up through the years that we “need” and “should” do these things that the bible says, and we do long to live God’s Word, but a good portion of the time, we are hurting from our pasts, stuck in our ways, or thinking we are right, indignant, or in survival mode, and we simply cannot DO God’s Word, even if we are in the truest sense believers. Not only the missing piece, BUT HE BIGGEST MISSING PIECE of living a contented, peaceful, "new" life is our hearts. I would imagine that’s why God talked about our hearts so often. Upon discovering that it’s what lies within that makes it’s way out, is nothing short of new found freedom.

So many of us “feel” awful in so many ways. We want change. But how?

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When we are brave enough to crack our hearts wide open and face what we find there, how it got there and why it’s still there, we’ll find ourselves on the life long journey of becoming more like our Maker.

David was a man after God’s own heart. What did that mean? What does that look like in our lives? It simply means that our lives are in harmony with God. And our hearts are where that begins! We start to change from the inside out as we heal what hurts.

That is indeed what God looks at and is after, that’s why Jesus said,

“If you even look at woman and lust you’ve committed adultery”.

What!?? He doesn’t want us to objectify women! He was so ahead of His time, what a feminist! I just love this! He is constantly taking it a step further, one step, a hundred steps ahead of us. He simply knows that if our hearts our addressed, if we looks into our hearts, and finds out why we lust, gain a new perspective, or change our thoughts about someone/something,  he can apply Truth to that “reason” and change the thought patterns, which then changes how we will view whatever we are lusting, which then will take root and shape our “new heart”. We'll walk more free in this "new personhood" that we've been given. DISCLAIMER: struggles don’t cease, but you become more and more free and will be equipped to handle.

Insofar as we examine, search--- Psalm 139:23 “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” and Psalm 26:2 “Examine my heart and mind God…”and inevitably address and deal with our hidden hurts in our hearts, we’ll only be living from mere wounds, and not living, from our God given newness. We need heart transplants, because it’s the greatest success rate for accessing who we really, truly are.

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The more we tend to our hearts and the wounds within-- which all a wound is is some kind of brokenness. I think what can happen sometimes when we become christians, a certain behavior we have or struggle we have, doesn’t go away right away. Sometimes it “never” goes away, we keep struggling with it, the whole “thorn in my side issue like Paul mentioned…” One of the many struggles I had for a long time was rage.

I knew Jesus didn’t have rage, so what could I do to get “rid” of it. I actually had so much anger, that it became rage. After I had given my life to Christ, I wasn’t “getting better” and that confused me. But see I needed to find out what was underneath the rage, underneath the anger, and the way I discovered that was through examining my heart. I found the wounds of my anger and boy did I address them! I questioned and analyzed every thought that didn’t match up with God, and then pounded it out even further by holding it up like a diamond in the light--looking at all the angles of it.

Well if I’m jealous because SHE’S pregnant, to the point of me feeling bitter which then led to ignoring her and not congratulating her, that doesn’t seem like a spirit filled thing or something Jesus would do. That seems like it’s my ego or flesh. But why am I jealous? Because I WANT a baby with my husband!  Ok, well why can’t I get pregnant?” AND SO ON AND SO FORTH. There’s a rabbit trail. We need to get on it.

I tackled it and asked it so many questions that by the end of the questions, there WAS an answer! The answer is most usually our WOUND.

Today I can say I’m basically fully healed from my rage and haven’t had an episode in years. It’s not enough to “just believe”, God made us free agents in this world, so we will be attacked by others free wills and therefore experience intense pain and trauma. Our hearts hold it all.

If we aren’t operating out of Christ’s love and living in that new person as believers, we are new creations after all, it’s because we are operating and living out of a wound, something that has hurt us, big or small that have left us still bleeding still. It’s time to stop the bleeding. We need the wherewithal to be ABLE to live in more freedom. We can heal the hurt, even if what has happened to us is wrong, unfair and disgusting in the most strongest sense of the word.

A note on "false beliefs": with these unattended wounds come false beliefs--we start to believe something about something that has happened to us. These false beliefs end up behaving more like actual truths, and that’s why we think and act the way we do. The false beliefs SHAPE our thinking, feeling and doing! If we identify the false belief for what it is, FALSE, and replace that with truth, we’ll start becoming free.

By approaching our thought patterns, our feelings and recognizing our behaviors, we’ll be able to start our journey inward and eventually outwardly live in more peace. We can get creative too with how we replace a thought, for a thought! By taking our thoughts to "school" we school our thoughts! Ask it them things like "Oh ya, who said so??" Looking for evidence for a thought is pretty incredible.

Replacing a TRUE THOUGHT with a not so true thought, one that doesn't hold any water, is exhilarating actually. It gives us a lot of control when we've felt so out OF control.

THOUGHTS FEELINGS & BEHAVIORS all work together in how they, we, operate and it’s when we start there, we’re able to explore our hearts more thoroughly.

But we’ve got to look inside these big beautiful hearts of ours! Face what’s there, stop sweeping it under the rug, and look at it all straight on. Be honest with ourselves about not being in alignment with our Savior. There may be parts that do, like the desire one might have, but how is that desire coming through? What are the thoughts and feelings that are occurring in any particular situation? Are they good? Pure? Noble? Trustworthy? Some questions to consider.

Some scripture on thoughts on the heart:

Proverbs 23:26

Psalm 51:10

Psalm 26:2

Matt 5:8

Psalm 19:14

1 Sam 16:7

Ezekiel 36:26

Romans 2:29

Heb 4:12

Ephesians 5:19

Mark 7:21

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Some Cool Updates

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Some Cool Updates

Can you believe that in September Oak Life will have it's 3rd "Sprout-day"?  It's crazy to think about all the ways our community has been shaped and formed over the past 30+ months, and all the stories God is writing in our midst.  As we begin to enter a new season we've got a few cool updates we'd like to share, and we'd also like to invite you to enter more deeply into what God is doing in and through Oak Life.

The first update is that we're officially our own non-profit!  As a start up we've been under the non-profit umbrella of our sending church, CrossWinds, who has been super supportive since we've started, but now we've reached a new stage in our life as our own independent church. 

The next really encouraging news is that for the past few months our community has been paying all of our own bills and then some!  God is good!  Even though this is our initial budget that will need to grow for sustainability, this is incredibly awesome, as most church start ups aren't financially self sufficient until about year 4 or 5.  Though we do a lot with a little, as we continue to mature as a church , we will definitely need our budget to grow in order to be sustainable long term. 

Another cool thing is that over the next year we'll be entering into a deeper relationship with our friends in the homeless camp as one of our community members begins a seminary internship living in the camp and partnering with Oak Life.

Finally, we're really excited to announce that starting July 1st, we'll be hiring Greg full time as Program and Worship Director!  This is a huge step for our scrappy start up church and will really help us continue to become all that Oak Life can be.  That said, this will increase our budget going into next year, something our Leadership Team has discerned is both very doable and the right move as we grow.

Pretty neat, right?

In order for us to keep Oak Life-ing, it will require all of us to join in on what God is doing, and part of this is financial generosity.

So, we totally acknowledge that money is a conversation churches have often done poorly, so we' like to be as transparent as we possible can be. 

Over the past few years our annual budget has been around 90,000.  That breaks down to about 7,500 per month.  This budget is incredibly small (the average church plant has a budget of around 150,000), and we do a lot with a little (have you seen our projector set up?).  Next year our Leadership Team has decided to increase our budget to about 140,000 which comes out to 11,670 per month.  While that might seem like a large increase, our current community generosity is about 9,000 per month and we've got some money in reserves as well.  At the bottom of the page you'll find an overly simplified breakdown of our budget for this year and next.  In the future we'll also need to add some budget in order to develop kids programs as well and when we can afford it. 

Here is the thing.  We've never really made a big deal about money because it's not why we do what we do at Oak Life, so we've never really made a big ask of folks to consider giving back to Oak Life at a deeper level.  So we'd sincerely invite folks who are connected to Oak Life or believe in what God is doing to pray about what generosity might look like for them.  For us to meet our budget it probably only means that about 150 of us contribute $78 per month.  For some of us that might seem like a lot, and for others that might seem like peanuts.  Wherever you're at, please know that you're welcome and invited to be a part of Oak Life no matter what, but we wanted to be open and transparent with our financial needs because we believe that what is being created at Oak Life is truly beautiful, and relatively cheap.  So please consider practicing generosity towards Oak Life so that the story God is writing in and through us will only continue to grow deeper and wider.

One of the easiest ways to be a part of what's going on at Oak Life financially is to set up a recurring donation on our generosity page.  Or take a look at some of our one time needs to see if you can help.

More than anything, we hope you're encouraged by all that God is doing. 

If you've got any questions at all about our budget or finances, please don't hesitate to reach out, this is a conversation that we don't enter into lightly! 

 


Oak Life Needs and Budget at a Glance

Total third Sunday donations to outside causes over past 18 months: 13,000 + and ongoing

One Time Needs:
-Upgrade sound system: 3,500-5,000
-New projector and stand: 1,500
-Fees from IRS non-profit application process : 1,100

2016-2017 Budget:
90,000 annually
7,500 monthly
Expenses breakdown:
-Full time Pastor
-Part time Worship Director
-Rent at the New Parkway
-Rent at the Freedom Story Office
-One time stipend for Pastoral Resident / Intern
-Miscellaneous ministry expenses (website, coffee/snacks, AV equipment)
-Third Sunday donations to outside causes not included

2017-2018 Budget
140,000 Annually
11,666 monthly
Expenses breakdown:
-Full time Pastor
-Full Time Worship and Program Director
-Rent at the New Parkway
-Rent at the Freedom Story Office
-Miscellaneous ministry expenses (website, coffee/snacks, AV equipment)
-Third Sunday donations to outside causes not included

 

 

 

 

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Medical Support Trip Reflection/Update

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Medical Support Trip Reflection/Update

Recently some Oak Life medical professionals extended our branches into the world by serving at a refugee clinic on the border of Myanmar and Thailand.  Below are some reflections from one of the the team members, Kaitlyn Gentilin:

I wish I could say this isn't true, but working as an RN I know that hospitals are more like the movies than we like to admit. At least, they are in attitude. We doctors, nurses, and the like want to believe that we are heroes saving lives, having emotionally intense conversations with our patients that change their lives and ours, and that if we work really hard we can have all the answers to someone's problems. In essence, we want to be Jesus for people. Of course, when reality hits, as it does every day, it’s quite a blow to our self-esteem.

When the opportunity came up to educate Karen medics performing jungle medicine at a clinic in a remote village on the border of Thailand and Myanmar, it really fit the whole “saving lives” sexiness of being a health care provider. Imagine going 7 hours up and down a road passing refugee camps to arrive at a war torn, mostly deforested area, so remote there is no running water, no internet, and a 20 minute walk to the nearest refrigerated drink. Oh, and did I mention it’s over 90 degrees every day?

So, Alie, Darrell, and myself, three transported RNs, started our teaching. Now, let me just explain “jungle medicine”. Take anything you think you know about how medicine is done and throw it out the window. Now imagine the first "doctor" ever. He probably learned through trial and error, his scientific reasoning was based solely on his experience of the physical world, and it probably took a long time to diagnose and decide what was wrong with a patient—not to mention what to do to fix it. Now imagine being that doctor. And also being a social worker, nurse, case manager, public health provider, lab technician, pharmacist, and counselor. That's what these medics face every day. Their ingenuity and problem solving ability are off the charts.

Some of these medics usually move to a refugee camp to go to school, leaving behind their homes and families. The cease fire there is only 4 years old, so although they may not talk about it, war has touched each and every medic’s life. While most have never taken a biology class, they use their limited resources and the knowledge they do have intelligently and wisely.

A certain medic I met on our trip left a huge impression on me. K is my age, with kind, youthful brown eyes and curly black hair shaved on either side. After each of the small lessons our team taught, he would come to me asking for more. "I want to learn more about how the body works--anatomy and physiology. I want to learn the parts of a cell, the anatomy of skin, and musculoskeletal system", he said. His desire for knowledge appeared to be insatiable. Marci, our fearless leader, also the RN who works for Partners for Relief and Development supporting the medics and the clinics, spoke of K as a leader in the clinic. He was under more pressure than any other medic because, if he didn't know the answer, there was no one else to turn to. "They all look up to him, and that's a weight on his shoulders", she said.

At the end of one of our sessions, K said, "I need to know more about everything because I make mistakes a lot and I feel guilty about those mistakes, and I'm responsible for them. I need to learn more so I don't make mistakes." I could hear the frustration and urgency of his concern.

 I was left speechless. Here was a person who had a life completely different from my own. And here K is, having the same fears and concerns that I struggle with.

I had no answer for him, because I have no answer for myself. I remember coming up with something about turning mistakes into learning opportunities that even now I think sounds contrived. But, I did tell him that I feel the same way. I also told him what he does is no small feat: he is doing the work of 7 people in the United States, and he does an amazing and inspiring job.

There are no easy answers for the struggles we face, but we all struggle, we all want to do better, and we all want to help. As human beings, we can’t save people—that’s Jesus’ job. The ironic thing is, as soon as I saw it from that perspective, I could see how K and I DO help save lives every day! I keep going back to the verses in Ecclesiastes that says all our labor is meaningless, and I find it’s actually hopeful. Jesus saves us from ourselves, and after that, we can only do what we can do. When I acknowledge Jesus and what his role is, through him I get to participate in his plan by whatever action I choose. I get to relate to K, and watch how Jesus works through him, whether he sees it or not. That’s my “meaningless” work—yet I feel extremely blessed and joyful to have experienced it.

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Lent: Revisited

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Lent: Revisited

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 1st, 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 reflection:
Calm our restlessness, quiet our chaos, and still our spirits.
Open our hearts to your presence,
Our ears to your voice,
And our eyes to the needs of those around us.
May we find in you the life we need,
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:

- Be a part of our Sunday gatherings will be connected to some of the themes around Lent like simplicity, silence, and contemplation.  

-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 here is simple online list of ideas.

- Join our daily common prayer group on Facebook:  common prayer Facebook group

-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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A Prayer from Black History

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A Prayer from Black History

Our nation and world have been forever shaped by the lives of countless African American sisters and brothers.  During the month of February our country remembers the legacy of these women and men by highlighting their stories.  This year Oak Life will be praying especially for unity and healing in our divided communities by echoing the prayer of an amazing woman named Mary McLoud Bethune. 

Born into a family of seventeen children whose parents had once been slaves, Mary McLeod Bethune became one of the most important and tireless voices for global equality and understanding in the immediate years before and after World War II. She was a self-assured educator, activist, and columnist and found in prayer one of life’s great comforts. Through it all Dr. Bethune relied on faith and prayer for guidance and inspiration, saying, "without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible."  Here she expresses her firm belief in the beauty of diversity throughout the world.    Let's learn from her faith and join in her prayer:

"Father, we call Thee Father because we love Thee. We are glad to
be called Thy children, and to dedicate our lives to the service
that extends through willing hearts and hands to the betterment
of all mankind. We send a cry of Thanksgiving for people of all
races, creeds, classes, and colors the world over, and pray that
through the instrumentality of our lives the spirit of peace, joy,
fellowship, and brotherhood shall circle the world. We know that
this world is filled with discordant notes, but help us, Father, to
so unite our efforts that we may all join in one harmonious
symphony for peace and brotherhood, justice, and equality of
opportunity for all men. The tasks performed today with
forgiveness for all our errors, we dedicate, dear Lord, to Thee.
Grant us strength and courage and faith and humility sufficient
for the tasks assigned to us."


You can read more about Mary McCloud Bethune here. 

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Every Morning: New Years Reflection & Common Prayer Experiment

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Every Morning: New Years Reflection & Common Prayer Experiment

One of the most common themes in the Bible and our faith tradition is that of of renewal, second chances, and fresh starts.  This is something many in our world are longing for as 2016 was a difficult year filled with conflict, division, racism, shootings, and more.  It's for these reasons that 2017 represents a chance for the sun to rise on a new day. 

In the book of Lamentations we see that these experiences are not exclusive to our current context.  Traditionally written by the prophet Jeremiah, this emotion-filled book was created in response to the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in the 500s BC.   Much of the language of this text is overflowing with anguish and grief.  In fact, the title of the book comes from the Hebrew word ekah, which can be translated “Alas!” or “How,” giving the sense of weeping or lamenting over some sad event.  No doubt many of us can relate to these emotions as we look at the state of our world.

But that's not all that the book of Lamentations contains. 

Smack dab in the midst of all the grief, the author pens these words that speak to the possibility of newness and the hope of God's forever love:

Lamentations 3:22-26
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul that seeks him."

With this in mind we'd like to offer two New Years prayers to help us receive God's mercies and surrender the future to God as we enter a new chapter in our stories.  Also, we're going to experiment in 2017 with an online common prayer group.  Our hope is that no matter where you are at on your journey and no matter what the next year may bring, we will trust that God is loving and near no matter what. 

A Prayer for the New Year
Remember us, O God;
from age to age be our comforter.
You have given us the wonder of time,
blessings in days and nights, seasons and years.
Bless your children at the turning of the year
and fill the months ahead with the bright hope
that is ours in the coming of Christ.

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 Jesus did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You
Forever in the next.

New Years Common Prayer Experiment:
This year, we're going to start a Facebook group where we post devotionals and prayers about every day.  This will be an interactive group where members can post their own reflections, prayers, questions, or thoughts.  It'll be based on the daily prayers and devotionals from the book Common Prayer a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.  Below are the ways you can follow along with us:

In our Facebook group here:

On the Common Prayer website here: 

You can pick it up on amazon here. 

 

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Advent 2016

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Advent 2016

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.

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A Call to Keep Going

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A Call to Keep Going

In light of the various ways the message of Christ has been co-opted by the political movements in our nation- movements that are often built on nationalism, ethnocentrism, exclusion, and closed mindedness- it has become increasingly clear how important communities like Oak Life are.

This is a call to action for Oak Life to keep being what it is, to help create a new wineskin for Christian engagement in our society.  Below that is a statement of solidarity with those who have been subject to prejudice and marginalization.  

Oak Life Church,

You are more needed than ever.

Your inclusive, thoughtful, sincere, welcoming, and grace-oriented spirit has the power to heal and reconcile more than you probably know.

While so many have taken the the label 'Christian' and tangled it with fear based politics and the the exploitative ambition for power, you've stayed compassionate, open, humble, and embracing of those on the margins.

Though you are not polished, though you are still young, and you can't yet pay your own bills,

You are beautifully walking the messy path of love in a world that all to often defaults to ethnocentrism, exclusivity, judgement, and rejection of the "other".

You are gritty, eclectic, honest, and diverse.

You are the antidote to religious expressions that are more concerned with the comfort of the majority, the building of institutions, and the vice of nationalism than concern for the poor, commitment to justice, or openness to mystery.

I have seen the potential of our community, and I'm more convinced than ever that what is being formed in our midst is urgently needed in our world.

You are a new wineskin, the rays of light shinning from a fresh sunrise on a broken, divided, and tired land.

You are a vessel of peace, a place of safety, and the very body of God incarnate- the hands and feet of Christ.

Your branches provide perch and shade for the lost, wounded, and weary.

And your roots offer nourishment to hungry souls.

Keep going.

Keep asking the tough questions.

Keep believing that our faith is strong enough for doubts.

Keep loving the outsider.

Keep loving your enemies.

Keep praying for peace.

Keep entering into the pain others.

Keep allowing the Spirit of God to breath life into you.

Don't grow weary.

Get involved.

If you're frustrated by the church, let's build something new.

Let's keep this thing going. Let's write history.

Let's show the world what what Christ's love looks like.


"We believe that Jesus loves, supports, and weeps for the hurts of people regardless of their political affiliation, age, gender, race, class background, sexual orientation, gender orientation or spiritual choices. We strive to do the same. When we fail, we pray that God would give us the wisdom to grow past our failure."


 

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A Prayer for the U.S. Election and a Kingdom Reminder

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A Prayer for the U.S. Election and a Kingdom Reminder

On the Sunday before November 8th 2016, Oak Life Church took 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:

"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.

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.

Pour out on us a spirit of wisdom and discernment
to help us choose government officials who will lead our country,
that our society will become more just for all.

We ask this through Jesus Christ or Lord.

Amen."

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The Lost Art

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The Lost Art

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” - Thomas Merton

When most of think of creativity we think of people with specialized skills in the arts, but the truth is that each of us, just by being human, is intrinsically wired with a divine spark of creativity.  Sadly many of us have forgotten or lost this.  Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  For the next few weeks at our Sunday gatherings we'll beexploring the practical and theological implications of God's creativity.  Also, in addition to a theological reflection and conversation- each week we'll get the chance to experience creativity from a different local artist from within Oak Life or the community.  Below you'll find a schedule of artists and also some quote and further resources:

The Lost Art Artist Lineup:

October 2 Artist: Regina Evans, Poet, Abolitionist

October 2
Artist: Regina Evans, Poet, Abolitionist

October 9 Artist: Matthew Evearitt, Filmaker, Photographer

October 9
Artist: Matthew Evearitt, Filmaker, Photographer

October 16 Artist: Yiann, Chou, Songwriter

October 16
Artist: Yiann, Chou, Songwriter

October 23 Artist: Madisen Hunt, Visual Artist, Illustrator

October 23
Artist: Madisen Hunt, Visual Artist, Illustrator

Further Resources:

Misc Quotes:

-“There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” -Vincent van Gogh
-“Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” C. S. Lewis
-“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” – Thomas Merton
-“When we study creativity or act creatively, we learn about God.” - Ken Wytsma
-“We are both works of art, and artists at work….
“To create is to be human.  To create is to fulfill our divine intention. To create is to reflect the image of God To create is an act of worship.
So who is an artists?  Anyone who has a soul.  What are the qualifications for being an artist?  You guessed it - having a soul.  And though we celebrate the way the artisan soul is expressed in those who bring artistry and beauty to the world….we have to realize that life itself is a work of art.” - Erwin McManus

Extra Biblical Sources:
Artisan Soul, Erwin McManus
Create vs. Copy, Ken Wytsma

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#Psalmsonlocation

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#Psalmsonlocation

We recently started new conversation called "You are Here" where we engage one of the most cherished sections of the scripture, the Psalms.  Part poetry, part worship, and part song, the Psalms are a collection of ancient prayers which display the full spectrum of human experience.  Sometimes we'll find ourselves in the deepest, darkest valleys, and other times on the mountaintops or everywhere in between.  Each week we're looking at a specific location that we might find ourselves in and see where the divine meets us in the midst it.

Also, we're going to be having some fun engaging the Psalms through an instagram scavenger hunt.  Below you'll find 10 different settings that represent a location from the Psalms that we might find ourselves in at some point in our lives.  We're inviting everyone to journey with us by taking pictures at these locations and using the hashtag #psalmsonlocation to share.  This is a great way to spend some time engaging scripture and also spending time in a geography that portrays God's love wherever we are.  Plus there will be a prize for anyone who gets all 10!

Finally, below the scavenger hunt list are some reading resources as well as a video conversation between Bono and a Pastor/Author named Eugene Petersen that talks about the Psalms.  Some of these books will be referenced on Sundays, and others are just provided to help us go deeper.

#PSALMSONLOCATION Instagram Scavenger Hunt:

1) A tree beside quite waters: Psalm 1
2) In the valley of the shadow of death: Psalm 23
3) On the mountain top:  Psalm 123
4) In the house of the Lord (a place you feel connected to God): Psalm 84
5) In exile (a location you feel unfamiliar with or out of place): Psalm 106
6) A place of awe and wonder: Psalm 96
7) In the storm (a place of chaos or uncertainty): Psalm 77
8) A place of refuge: Psalm 71
9) A place of victory: Psalm 124
10) In the desert: Psalm 107


Bono and Eugene Peterson on The Psalms

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Listening and Lamentation

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Listening and Lamentation

This week our nation experienced tragedy again on multiple fronts. First the undeserved killing Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, followed by the mass shooting of Police officers in Dallas. For many of us, these events are deeply felt and have left us with fear, anger, grief, and confusion. Where is God in all of this? How do we heal? What happens next? Will there be justice? This last Sunday Oak Life hosted gathering that will included an extended community conversation and time of lamenting. We may not have answers to all of these questions, but our hope is that we can come together as a family and learn to love like God loves us.

Below are the prayers and liturgies from the morning.  Also, here is a link to our Facebook page where the conversation was live streamed and here is a blog that has some of Chris' words from Sunday.

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A LITANY FOR THOSE WHO AREN’T READY FOR HEALING

(adapted from Reverend Dr. Yolanda Pierce)

Let us not rush to the language of healing, before understanding the fullness of the injury and the depth of the wound.

Let us not rush to offer a band-aid, when the gaping wound requires surgery and complete reconstruction.

Let us not offer false equivalencies, thereby diminishing the particular pain being felt in a particular circumstance in a particular historical moment.

Let us not speak of reconciliation without speaking of reparations and restoration, or how we can repair the breach and how we can restore the loss.

Let us not rush past the loss of a mother’s child, a father’s child…someone’s beloved son.

Let us not value property over people; let us not protect material objects while human lives hang in the balance.

Let us not value a false peace over a righteous justice.

Let us not be afraid to sit with the ugliness, the messiness, and the pain that is life in community together.

Let us not offer clichés to the grieving, those whose hearts are being torn asunder.

Instead…
Let us mourn black and brown men and women, those killed extrajudicially. Let us mourn for our fallen police officers, and pray for the protection of all those who have taken that sacred oath.

Let us together stand in solidarity against violence.

Let us weep at a criminal justice system, which is neither blind nor just.

Let us call for the mourning men and the wailing women, those willing to rend their garments of privilege and ease, and sit in the ashes of this nation’s original sin.

Let us be silent when we don’t know what to say.

Let us be humble and listen to the pain, rage, and grief pouring from the lips of our neighbors and friends.

Let us decrease, so that our brothers and sisters who live on the underside of history may increase.

Let us pray with our eyes open and our feet firmly planted on the ground

Let us listen to the shattering glass and let us smell the purifying fires, for it is the language of the unheard.

God, in your mercy…

Show me my own complicity in injustice.

Convict me for my indifference.

Forgive me when I have remained silent.

Equip me with a zeal for righteousness.

Never let me grow accustomed or acclimated to unrighteousness. Christ have mercy on us and our fallen world. Amen.

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Prayer of Lament:

“Gracious and loving God, we come as your children with sorrow in our hearts and lives which are confused and disturbed. This past week has brought death, pain, anguish and distress to so many people. We are struggling to find peace and solace among the devastation and hatred which has exploded in this nation. We have thought that we were good and kind people yet there are so much hate in our cities. We, ask, O Lord, where have we gone wrong? Help us live the words of Paul from Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” As we look to you, Lord, may we find that you are near.  May we find comfort in your love which grieves alongside our grieving community.  God of mercy, would you be everything you are to this church, this city, and this community”


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Prayer of Lament and Candle Lighting:

L: Would you join me in a time of lament by praying together the words on the screen that follow the word “people”? As we light this candle and enter into a moment if silence we grieve the undeserved killing and mistreatment of our black sisters and brothers at the hands of those in power.  This has gone on for far too long.  We also grieve the killing of the killing of our police officers and stand against violence of any kind.  God of mercy, may we grieve as you, do for the brokenness in our world.

L: The God of love opens our eyes to see the suffering of all our sisters and brothers
People: And we will see

L: The God of justice opens our ears to hear those who cry out
P: And we will hear

L: The God of healing opens our hearts to acknowledge and share our own pain
P: And we will bear it together

L: In the power of the Spirit we will know the truth
P: And the truth will set us free

L: May this candle be a reminder that though there is darkness, the light of Christ will never burn out. (light candle)
Everyone: Silence

 

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Ask Anything

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Ask Anything

We recently started a new topic on Sunday mornings called Ask Anything: Questions and conversations about life, faith, and God.  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, and when it only brings to the table threats of excommunication, violence, and hellfire, 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 touch 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)

Patriarchy, and Institutional Issues in the Church:
-"Why does the church never talk about it's own negative histories?  Couldn't we learn from it?"
-"How doe we help people know God when they first associate organized religion with systematic oppression, evil, judgement, corruption, and colonialism?  While Christ does not have a dark history Christianity in-arguably does, and it is challenging when people won't talk about Christ because of it."
-"How much of our faith (Bible, church history, current leaders) is based in patriarchy?  How has that changed God's message?  Does it matter if it is true that God is filtered in the Bible b/c of the truth of men at the time?"
-"How do we dismantle patriarchy?"

Evil / Satan:
-"How can modern, liberal, inclusive Christians visualize, understand, and oppose Satan?... P.S. The Satan Concept has some conservative baggage but I think can be a helpful concept."

Suffering:
-"I know we live in a broken and desperate world.  At times I question the difference between the consequences of human frailty and God's design."
-"If God supplies my food, clothing, and shelter, and we are to trust him with our lives, why does He allow women and youth to be sold as sex slaves by ISIS?  Why does God take care of me and not them?"
-"Are we the Laodician Church?  At a time when Christians are being hunted and killed, is everything I want or need pure vanity and indulgence?"
-"Why do we try to justify suffering in the world through the lessons being learned through it?"

Miracles:
-"What is blocking us from seeing and experiencing more physical healing?"
-"Why are there no more miracles?"
-"Why are Christians not witnessing the power Jesus said he poses? John 14:12"

Eschatology (Final Things), and the Afterlife:
-"I was always taught that the rapture could happen at any given second, but also that a certain sequence of events has to happen first.  Which is it, or is there a third theory?"
-"Do Non-believers go to heaven?  Many live more Christ-like lives than Christians..."
-"What happens to non-Christians?"
-"If sin is "dead" then why does Jesus have to return?"
-"Why can't people attain peace or salvation through their own faith (that is, faith that does not subscribe to Jesus being the only way)?"

Seeking / Knowing God:
-"Is questioning a lack of faith?"
-"God! Why are you so silent sometimes?"
-"What is the difference between God and the Golden Calf beside our belief that God is God is God and the Golden Calf is not. And what is the difference between us and the Israelites who wanted to believe in a divine when in doubt?"
-"If we are not actively seeking answers from God (or more of the time at a place of apathy/distance) does God present the same type of questions, challenges, etc. in our life as He would if we were seeking?"
-"God is God (diagram of 3 circles), but Jesus sometimes feels like a separate dude.. why are our words so bad?"

Faith
-"What if we or Christianity got it all wrong?'
-"Is faith a series of small victories, or can I really be transformed and renewed?"
-"What is the point of it all?"

Other/ Misc:
-"Why does it matter to anybody if Jesus did or didn't marry, have kids, etc.?"
-"What is the role of Israel in the Christian faith?"
-"Why is it at all controversial in the church to be transgender?"
-"How meaningful is Jesus' sacrifice if he knew he was coming back anyway?"
-"If hell is so miserable, then isn't that where Jesus would want to send his followers? (to do ministry, provide comfort, etc.)"
-"Why are people narcissistic, apathetic, fearful, and addicted to certainty?  It follows, can we be addicted to un-certainty?
-"What is the point of praying to ask for things if God is unchanging?"



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The Serenity Prayer

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The Serenity Prayer

On Sunday we considered what it means for us to surrender our worries to God.  As we closed our time together we prayed this prayer.  Feel free to experiment with this prayer as you seek God's love in the midst of your worries. 
 

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the 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 hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

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Experiencing Resurrection: An Easter Recap

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Experiencing Resurrection: An Easter Recap

This Sunday we celebrated Oak Life's 2nd Easter together!  As we remembered the resurrection of Christ, we also prayed for the areas of our world and lives that need renewal.  After our morning worship gathering, we headed up to Lake Temescal, to continue the party by celebrating new life through Baptism.  This was one of the most memorable days in Oak Life's history, and we're overwhelmed with all that God is doing.  It's humbling to think that in many ways, the story of Oak Life is still just beginning! 

During our morning celebration we closed our time together by writing down times in our life when we've experienced resurrection and also areas that need newness.  These praises and prayers were then placed on a tree that symbolically represented new life in our church and in our world.

Below are the sacred praises and prayers of our church.  As you read through these words, would you celebrate and pray with us for Christ's resurrection to be more known in our world?  Most are grouped together having to do with where we have seen resurrection and where we need resurrection, but some are just prayers or words between us and God.   A few have been changed slightly to protect anonymity.   

Where have you seen resurrection?  Where do we need resurrection?

"I experienced resurrection when I moved in 2000 to the Bay Area.  New Culture, diversity, beautiful weather, and landscapes."
"I need resurrection in my work situation."

"Resurrection in this beautiful church giving me hope."
"Need resurrection in my belief about self efficacy"

"I see new life in the continually evolving way that I'm able to experience community with my friends and family.  It's not always perfect, buy I'm slowly learning."
"I really need either a new job or a different way to be where I am.  The status quo is, at times, soul crushing."

"Thank you for Spring, art, and imagination."
"We need resurrection.  We need young people like my brother, and those in his situation to find jobs, meaning, and purpose."

"I felt like there was resurrection when I got baptized @ my church in Sacramento."
"I would like to become closer to God."

"I have seen resurrection in career, relationship with my girlfriend, and moving to the Bay Area."
"I would like to see resurrection in better health choices, relationship with family on east coast who I do not see much since moving"

"I've felt resurrection in mending of my family's brokenness"
"I still need resurrection to meal my negative outlook on people and the world's future."

"Unnecessary anxiousness"

"New job, new house, renewed relationships/friendships."
"Light/love conquer hatred and fear of unkowns."

"I have seen resurrection in the way people have continued to love me after I share the darkest parts of my story."
"I am looking for resurrection in the socially made boundaries between groups of people: races, wealth vs poor, etc."

"I hope that the inequality that exists in our world does not have the last word- that the spirit of resurrection creates spaces where all of humanity is recognized as being equal, all worthy of love and happiness and light."

"I have seen resurrection in my marriage"
"I need resurrection in my marriage"

What frequency are you tuned into?  Trying to listen to God and hear people's stories- asking questions"
What area of our life do you need resurrection?  "Action and loving the hope of Jesus"

"I've seen resurrection in my day to day life at work.  I feel a change on the horizon in my relationships after 10 years of being together."
"I need resurrection in my prayer life.  I need to be the voice of my circle and be confident in my faith and how I communicate with others."

"I've experienced resurrection with my mental health."
"I need resurrection in my job."

"Our relationship and life together."
"The struggles/turmoil in East Oakland Neighborhoods"

"Me and ___"
"Anger at God, my shame, fear- being assaulted."

"My cuz"

"I have experienced resurrection each time I mess up and receive forgiveness from friends and family."
"I have a friend of 12 years possibly dying at 49 years old of heart failure.  She's got a lot of dysfunction and fear/rage and mental illness in her family.  I pray for healing and deliverance for her."

"Resurrection in having compassion towards others; in being courageous; in being mature following God's values."

"health"

"I see resurrection in my family that has endured cancer and grief but remains and struggles together." 
I need resurrection in my motivation to create and be compassionate."

"The youth, my children."
"My calling to ministry.  Relationships.  Letting go of control and privilege."

"I see resurrection in the new growth here at Oak Life- new faces and connections every week!"
"I need resurrection in my relationship with Jesus.  I have been keeping him on the fringe."

"I see resurrection in Baptism, meaning you have accepted God and have been forgiven."
"I need resurrection in my relationship with Christ.  I need to stay connected with, stay focused, and not be distracted."

"Have resurrection: in the ability to know, listen to, and act on my own gut."
"Need resurrection: in my ability to act in service of others out of selflessness and ease."

"Experienced resurrection by returning to my first love."
"I want to resurrect my passion to serve God."

"I remember when I felt grace touch my soul.  Even after years of being at church, I hadn't felt it.  When it hit me, I felt new, I went outside and did cartwheels in the grass.  I felt free.  I was free."
"I have lost that feeling and need it back.  I need grace to touch my soul again."

"See resurrection: Teaching.  Totally in my students.  As frustrating and seemingly futile as it can be at times, I am ultimately filled (like to the bring) with hope.  So much hope."
"Need resurrection: Church.  I haven't really been since college.  I've lost so much faith.  Not in God, but in the church.  I get angry, both at myself and the world, at the human manifestation of the Kingdom, please God, help."

"My wife"
"Porn"

"When I was baptized."
"Loving others as much as God loves me."

"I have seen resurrection in finally having not one but 2 churches to call home."
"I would like to see resurrection in all the traumatic changes I have experienced since 2015."

"I experienced resurrection when I started to see my body the way God sees it... flawless."

"New life (birth of my son), New sense of purpose and belonging"
"Self love, sense of self worth, feelings of inadequacy"

"Births of my children and grandchild."
"physical health"

"I see resurrection when my patients come in sick, suffering, in panic, in pain, in fear, sometimes barely alive, and then become better.  They go home smiling.  Praise you Jesus for new life!"

"#hisnamewasblake, Alex Matheney, Spectrum Ministries.  Lord teach me to exted grace and mercy to those I see as hateful.  Lord thank you that your love is based on grace, not perfection.  Thank you for this example through parenthood and adoption and foster care. Amen."

"I need new life in: my emotions, the way I view myself, the way I view others.  Everyday I just feel worthless and that I should just give up."

"I see resurrection in the remnant who are willing to embody God's heart of radical inclusion and justice.  Those willing to create a space and fight for the people on the margins."
"Seeing mainstream Christianity be dictated by the culture of capitalism which has led to hate and exclusion and imbalanced power dynamics.  For myself, giving into despair and hopelessness from time to time."

"When I was baptized"
"Being the best I can be"

"New life: trusting people in relationships."
"Challenge: trusting that God will work through me."

"Resurrection: New beginnings! Purpose! Love! Caring!"
"Need for resurrection: American political life."

"My resurrection: Overcoming my failures"
"Need for resurrection: love, mercy, justice in our country and world."

"I see resurrection in how aware our community is of our differences and more importantly in our shared humanity!"
"I seek resurrection in my work/life balance ........."

"Health, Hunger for truth."

"I found resurrection in a Christ centered community to heal my loneliness."
"I need resurrection and new life in personal relationships.  To no longer depend on people for happiness but to fill my cup of joy in this grace and love."

"Resurrection: In affirming communities, leaders, churches."
"Needs resurrection: loneliness of being a queer woman of color and minister in the church."

"renewal, rebirth, restoration, rejuvenate, regenerate, recreate, reevaluate. Trust heart, ears to hear."

"Two names", "My marriage"

"New life, grandchildren"

"Resurrection seen: being pulled out of and finally leaving an abusive relationship.  Experiencing healthy relationships and forgiveness since then."
"Prayer for resurrection:  Welcoming the thousands of refugees into this country with open arms, safety, provisions, and love."

"Family. Marriage"

"Forgiving myself for my wrongs in my marriage."  "Co dependency, debting, spending, undearning."

"I've seen resurrection in the redwoods of Big Sur."
"We need resurrection among the races in Oakland."

"Help me to see your resurrection power for real."
"You know oh Lord you know that which is dead and dying in my life.  Help, resurrection......"

"May you always be the center of my identity."

"Completing a 4 yr masters program when I thought I was two old to go back to school."

"my relationships"
"abandoned animals and children around the world."

"I have seen resurrection in my life when I got a new job."
"I would like to experience resurrection in my relationship with my brother."

"Seen: I survived."
"Need: my heart, my faith."

"New life in friends and family who have extended so much grace and love unto me even when I'm undeserving."
"I need resurrection in letting go of the past and moving forward into a new chapter of my life."

"In my friends and family." "In me"

"Resurrection experienced: turning down fellowship/grant experience abroad and moving back to the US."
"Resurrection needed: my friends sister as she deals with depression."

"resurrection in my daily walk"

"I see resurrection in my daily awakening.  It's how I know God is giving me a second chance and that he is not finished with me yet."
"I need resurrection in my thought life and in my personal devotion time with God.  I need resurrection in my strength to overcome my temptations."

"My work/career is a form of resurrection."
"In my love life- I hate being single and lonely."

"I've had resurrection in my personal family, life and mental health."
"I need a resurrection of my career."

"Self Advocacy, directness, self acceptance."  "Need 2nd chance and new beginning" "Community, loneliness,........ hope and faith"

"Widen his tent stakes" "Understanding life' shortcomings."

"Sing minded and focused on Jesus"


 

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Good Friday

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Good Friday

Good Friday, ironically named, is a time of mourning.  Today we 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.  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 brokeness 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 aquatinted 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 counterintuitive act that redeems the world.  

Oak Life is hosting an interactive time of prayer and reflection surrounding these events- be sure to come and engage!  You can stop by anytime between 7-8:30 at the office. 

Additionally, you may want to spend some alone 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? 

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Grief Resources

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Grief Resources

Grief must be witnessed to be healed.
— Elizabeth Kubler Ross

On Sunday we considered what it meant to listen to grief instead of avoiding it.  Emma shared a few connections to support groups we wanted to connect you with if you're interested.  Also, Oak Life is a community that deeply cares about our community and if you need to process, we'd love to connect.  Email us if you'd like to learn more: chris.oaklife@gmail.com

Local Community Grief Support Groups

https://www.pathwayshealth.org/grief-support-groups-and-workshops/

http://deathcafe.com/deathcafe/382/

http://www.suttercareathome.org/griefsupport/eastbaysupport.html
 

 

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