Loss of Innocence

by | Jun 12, 2017

One year ago, many of us woke up and got ready for church. A few of us heard at church that there had been a mass murder in Florida, at the Pulse nightclub. It was the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history. The tragedy highlighted the brokenness of this world, as a man from one marginalized group targeted people from another marginalized group, claiming revenge for US intervention in the Middle East. The nightclub itself was one woman’s reaction to her brother’s death from AIDS; her brother had told her that as a gay man, gay nightclubs were the one place he felt safe.

A little over two weeks ago, on May 26, a man boarded the Portland MAX Green Line train at the Lloyd Center and started harassing two young women with racist and anti-Islamic slurs. Three men attempted to subdue him, and they were stabbed, two of them fatally. In the last two weeks, there have been other terrorist acts in England, but the people of Britain continue with their determination to “keep calm and carry on” and respond to the violence with love.

The Grief and Shock are Deep
A few months ago, February 20, 8-year-old Jonah Hwang, a child of First Presbyterian Church in Pomona, was killed by a man who shot into the house where Jonah and others had gathered for dinner. Police found that this man had shot at the house four different times. The man has been arrested, but he has no connection with the family living at the house, and there is no known motive. The Hwang family, the family whose home was shot at, and the whole church family who have cared for them continue to heal, but the grief and shock are deep, and continued prayers are appreciated.

This last week, several members of the Presbyterian Church in Southern California passed away after long illnesses. We pray for Ruth Mandernach (First Encino) upon the death of her husband Bill, the family of John Chandler of Los Ranchos Presbytery, and our own Karen Berns and family upon the passing of our San Gabriel member Don Berns early last Monday morning.

We are reminded every day that this world can present us with much to grieve, whether our loss is due to long illness or sudden catastrophic violence. As we face such grievous events, how are we to respond? With certain violent incidents, people have sometimes responded with added violence, demonstrating the axiom that violence begets violence. But we also see that there is another way to respond, even when it seems that the world hates us, and our Lord and Savior and leader of our lives names this directly. We Christians respond to the hatred of the world with love.

It is no coincidence that the memorial service for Ricky Best, who was killed as he defended those two young women in Portland, included the song “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” I am appreciative that the people of First Presbyterian Pomona have shown strong and persistent love as they care for each other and grieve together, and that others from partner churches have reached out with resources and support. And I know that the legacy of our close friends and partners is carried forward in the lives of all who loved them.

A Happy Day
Last Friday was graduation day for the Alliance Ted K. Tajima High School. This has become one of the happiest days of the year for me. I was delighted to hear multiple allusions to the “Tajima Family”-but only once was that restricted to the likes of my sisters and me. In their minds, the Tajima Family now includes the students, parents, teachers, and administration of this school where young people have been empowered with education and hope, even as they face the difficulties of their lives. Some have had to hold jobs, or care for their siblings, or fear themselves or their parents being deported, or live through violence and poverty and disease in their community-and yet all look forward to college to transform not only their lives, but the lives of their families. As the Senior Class President, a young Latina admitted to UCLA, said,

“My parents are undocumented immigrants, and I am the first person in my family to graduate from high school and go to college. That may not mean much to everyone, but when your father had to quit school at 11 because his family could not afford to let him go to school, a high school diploma means so much more. When your mother had to quit school at 11 because she was a girl, and women weren’t expected to have an education, a high school diploma means so much more. When your neighborhood is filled with dropouts, gangbangers, and people without hope, a high school diploma means so much more.”

We are all challenged with the brokenness of the world and the difficulties of our lives. Yet we have the opportunity to respond as Jesus would respond, with love and faith in the wider mercy of our God. My family was blessed with the suggestion of a man, Dale Okuno, who was inspired by my father’s faith to suggest that a school be named after him. We are blessed to see how a legacy can be carried on into future generations, to a family that is not limited to biology or inheritance.

San Marino Community Church

Jesus tells us to love one another, even in the face of the world’s hatred. This Saturday we have the opportunity to show love to some of our churches and mission partners with the All-Presbytery Work Day. We still have slots for workers if you want to participate, so please come this Saturday, June 17, and show your support. We may not have lunches if you didn’t pre-register, but come anyway.

The short Presbytery meeting starts at 9 am at San Marino Community Church, and we expect to start working at the various sites by 11 am. If you have questions, please contact Wendy Gist or call the Presbytery office, which is now at (626) 614-5964. We will also have worship, with offering going to the Tapestry Youth Collective.

May every action of kindness and justice, of love and forgiveness, be carried forward and magnified in the power of the Holy Spirit. Giving thanks for God’s eternal wisdom and the saving grace of Jesus Christ, may we take every opportunity to spread the love that he shows us, that all may be one.

Praying for grace,