Walking Paths

Walking Paths

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

Isaiah 11:1-3 (NRSVUE)

Each year, I look forward to returning to the familiar texts of Advent. These texts serve as a reminder of the journey so far and as an invitation to a new year and a new part of the path. Recently, I was describing how I think of our life of faith as a journey where we walk the same path again and again, but with each lap, we see new aspects of the path. Parts of the path are easier to traverse and other parts provide new challenges. Much like the stump, held fast by tree roots that have a long history of providing stability and nourishment, giving way to a new shoot, there is new growth that comes from well worn paths. We see new life from broken things that are mended.

My prayer this Advent is for the spirit of the Lord to rest on each of our leaders and communities. A spirit of wisdom, understanding, and discernment. A spirit of counsel, might, and courage. A spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD that brings peace and joy rather than fear and shame. As the season inevitably becomes filled traditions and work, I pray that the well-worn paths lead you to new experiences of God’s Spirit at work in your life, at work in your congregations and communities, and at work in our world.

Today, I leave with you with a poem for your reflection on Isaiah 11:1-10.

Stump of Jesse

Slowly wasted. Left for dead. Hacked at the root. Broken.
The tree of Jesse wasted by wind and war.
Tiny green spring. Reflecting light. Hope.
Growing, flourishing.
Wisdom and understanding.
Counsel and might.
Knowledge and fear of the Lord rest upon it.
Unseeing eyes, unhearing ears judge with righteousness.
The poor, the meek receive their due.

The tiny spring a new world reveals.
Wolf and lamb, leopard and kid lie together.
A child leads the lion and the calf.
What is destructive no longer destroys.
What is arrogant bows.
What is irreverent bends toward the holy mountain.
All the earth is filled with the knowledge of God.

The root of Jesse made anew.
A signal for all the people.
Hope from brokenness.
Peace from destruction.
Life from death.

-Ally Lee (2016) 

Peace,

Ally Lee

 

Latchkey Stew

Latchkey Stew

So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God

Ephesians 2:19

As you may know for the November Presbytery meeting, I was quarantined at home due to both of my family members testing positive for COVID. A few hours after the meeting I too was in bed with symptoms, so I am grateful for the early warning given by their positive tests. Because of COVID restrictions much of my work with the Presbytery has been online since I started back in 2020. As I come up on my third anniversary working with the Presbytery, I am grateful that it has been possible for me to do so much of my work online. Yet, I think we all have a sense that our lives are much fuller when they happen in person. I have heard from many of our church leaders that making the transition back to in person has been a burden they were not expecting.

I am reminded of a story1 about a hungry traveler who came upon a town hoping to find food. Each house in the town had a lovely lawn and windows open to let in the breeze, but curiously each door had half a dozen locks on it. The traveler wondered what they were trying to protect, but she thought surely, they will have some food to share, so she began knocking on doors. Door after door she was rejected. They townspeople told her they worked hard for their food and wouldn’t even share with their neighbors, so why would they share with a stranger. The traveler started to leave, but then had an idea.

She went into the forest to collect wood to build a fire and water to fill her tin pot. She started the fire in the middle of the main street and brought the water to a boil. The townspeople stuck their head out of the doors and shouted to her, asking her what she was doing. She told them making a magic stew. She got their attention, and they began to ask questions about her magic stew. She told them she needed a special ingredient, keys. Well, the townspeople had plenty of keys and ran into their homes to get some to share with her. I imagine you can see where the story is going, the townspeople end up eagerly sharing their pots, salt and pepper, and vegetables. They think of all the things they have that would make this magic stew even better and, in the end, have a large party enjoying stew around shared tables and chairs. The party goes late into the night as they tell stories, play music, and dance. When it becomes too cold to remain outside, they unlock their doors and move the party into their homes.

Now I will certainly be the first to say that we still must be careful of our health and the health of our neighbors. If we are sick, we should stay home. And we also need to find ways to undo the locks that we all have put up to keep ourselves safe and remember how to share in community.

Our November Presbytery meeting was a wonderful example of how the small and large gifts of everyone create beautiful, fun, and meaningful experiences.

In our churches and in our work together as a Presbytery, I invite you to find ways to share of your time, your talents, and your things, to work to build up the household of God. We each have at least a key that we can share.

Ally

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1 The story was told on the podcast Circle Round created by WBUR Boston on January 2, 2018, Episode 17.

 

The Practice of Seeing

The Practice of Seeing

So she (Hagar) named the LORD who spoke to her, “You are El-roi” (God of seeing or God who sees).

Genesis 16:13

Over the past few months, I have found myself reflecting one of the stories of Hagar. In Genesis 16, she is introduced as the Egyptian slave of Sarai who is given to Abraham as a second wife to give them both the heir that God has promised. Sarai deals harshly with her when she becomes pregnant, and Hagar runs away into the wilderness. There in the wilderness the angel of the Lord finds her by a spring of water. After their meeting, Hagar names the Lord, El-roi or God who sees.

El-roi, God who sees, names the action of God’s attention placed on those who might otherwise be unseen. Hagar flees a situation where she is unseen. Taken advantage of as a vessel rather than valued as a member of the family. God’s seeing is restorative and gives strength to Hagar to return.

I have been meditating on this passage because in many ways I am learning how to put my attention on those who are often unseen. As the Teaching Elder Commissioner for our Presbytery, one of the ways that I participated in the discernment of General Assembly was to submit myself to the practice of Equity Primes. Each of us was given a reference card that said:

Equity Prime

We each have a choice. . . to be a voice for equity and inclusion.

When I see or hear someone being treated in a manner contrary to our values and rights as members of this committee, I can. . .

  • Send a private message to the speaker
  • Ask for recognition to pause and address the issue in the moment
    • Speak with the moderator at the break to address later

Am I using the meeting tools to maintain my own power?

Provisional lists of the rights of Committee members underlying the equity prime card:

  • Right to be recognized by the moderator
  • Right to disagree and voice disagreement
  • Right not to be interrupted and be able to finish a thought
    • Right to vote (depending upon status)
      • Right to speak with an accent
      • Right to request an interpreter
      • Right to feel equal to others at the table
    • Right not to be a cradle Presbyterian and have zero connection to the historical church

 

Throughout our meetings together, there were many times that we read these cards together. We reminded ourselves that the work of discernment involved putting our attention to what many times might be unseen in the conversation. At several points, we needed to slow down the conversation, so that those who were receiving interpretation could participate. Or we had to stop because the technology needed to be restarted for a few people. In addition to the equity prime cards, we also agreed to a Committee Covenant that encouraged us to consider what voices were not speaking and to ask who if those who would be most impacted have had the chance to speak.

The Equity Prime cards are one way of practicing together how to see people and issues that are unseen. Like all difficult work it takes practice to build competency. Throughout our time together, it became clear that the practice was shifting some of the ways that our committee was interacting. By the time, we were discussing the format for the 226th General Assembly, we were asking more questions about the impacts to groups that have not been able to participate in General Assembly due to caregiving responsibilities, hourly jobs, lack of internet accessibility, adequate financial support for the secondary costs, or accessibility challenges due to disability. I imagine that over the course of weeks and months, the practice would bear even more significant fruit.

As we are preparing for our September 13 Presbytery Meeting and even beyond looking to read and vote on around 30 amendments to the Constitution from the 225th General Assembly, my hope is that as a Presbytery we might consider practices that will enable us to put our attention on people and issues that might be unseen in our work together.

Peace,

 Rev. Ally Lee

One other note: I hope that you will register this week for the EEE Mid-Year Conference. We are excited to share with you all the thoughtful reflections and challenges that Rev. Dr. Dongwoo Lee and Rev. Dr. Terry McGonigal have for us. You can find out more information including a registration link in the MMU.

 

Unexpected Gifts

Unexpected Gifts

A Reflection by Stated Clerk for Administration, Rev. Ally Lee

The last days of August are upon us. Schools have begun. We are watching the shifts in weather nervous about local fires and praying for our neighbors affected by ongoing fire and smoke. Hurricane season is in full force on the eastern coast of the Americas. All of these serve as markers of fall. A time for new church programs, education classes, maybe even a beloved yearly gathering. And yet, we are still engaged in this COVID dance. Some regular programs will have to wait another year. Some gatherings will go forward but might look different.

I think we are all tired, and perhaps if you are like me there are moments of excitement. Learnings that come as surprises and change our minds about a long-held belief. Or a shift comes that changes the conversation creating room for dialogue, openness, and forgiveness. These moments fuel creativity and hope. I find that I am more aware of these moments because I need a little extra fuel to keep up with the COVID dance.

This week, I have been grateful for the collection of these moments that have enabled me to get to know the Presbytery more deeply in my first year and a half than I believe I would have under other circumstances. After two months on the job, I was thrown into mid-council work in a pandemic. I found that many of you were willing to offer help and support, and even more of you reached out for encouragement as well. The gifts of encouragement, experience, and wisdom from all corners of our Presbytery have inspired me. I do not know if I would have had so many opportunities to build these relationships across the Presbytery if it wasn’t for Zoom. I am inspired to be on the look out for more unexpected gifts as our COVID dance changes.

And one of the changes that is coming up is our first hybrid Presbytery meeting. It will take place at 9:00 am on Saturday, September 18. You can join the meeting in-person at San Marino Community Church (1750 Virginia Road, San Marino) or on Zoom.

For those joining on Zoom, find a comfortable place to sit in your home or office (wherever your internet is strongest), and sign in by 8:40 am. We will go through the details of how the Zoom meeting will work in hybrid form at 8:50 am. These details will also be sent out in the Presbytery packet on September 10.

For those joining in-person, we will meet in the Fellowship Hall of San Marino Community Church where their contemporary service takes place. A registration table will be set-up in the courtyard. Doors will open at 8:30 am for registration. Please wear a mask and do not attend the in- person gathering if you have been exposed to COVID-19 or have any symptoms.

We will not be serving food or drinks at this meeting. We ask that you enjoy your morning coffee or tea in the courtyard before coming inside for the meeting.

We will have seats set-up in small groups for our breakout times. You will not have to move around to be in a group. The online meeting participants will be shown on screens up front along with the meeting PowerPoint. Please bring a copy of the packet on your device to reference during the meeting if you would like the additional detail that will not be on the PowerPoint. We will go over the details of how we will hear from both groups before the meeting begins.

I am so grateful for the support of SMCC and several in our Presbytery commissions and committees who are helping to sort out the technology and logistics. And I can guarantee there will be hiccups and failures and new learnings. What a gift to share this experience with all of you. We are learning and growing together. May the Spirit more to inspire and shape us in the face of challenge and discomfort. I hope that you will join us for this opportunity.

One way that you can contribute to the work of the meeting is to register for the meeting as soon as possible. In fact why not click this link today and take care of it. The registration form asks if you will attend in-person or on Zoom. As you can imagine, it matters for the design on the meeting if more folks will be in-person or online. If something changes and you need to change your registration, contact me at ally@sangabpres.org before September 16, so I can adjust. In the MMU the week before the meeting, I will post a contact number for the day of the Presbytery meeting.

I am excited for the Sept. 18th meeting and hope to see you there.

Grace and peace,

Ally

 

 

Reflection: Ally Lee

Reflection: Ally Lee

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Philippians 2: 1-4

These past few months have been a series of transitions for many of us. Our daily routines have changed. Many routines require more thought and energy than ever before. Who knew that preaching a sermon could take three to four takes with additional work to edit the video? Not to mention learning how to edit the video in the first place. Or that connecting with people we normally see every day would require learning new technologies to be able to see their faces. We are exhausted from learning new ways of being in the world. Even for those of us who are digital natives, the speed of the transition has taken its toll.

As many of you know I work part-time with the Presbytery of San Gabriel as the Presbyter for Administration and the Associate Stated Clerk. My other part-time job is as the Associate Pastor at Knox Presbyterian Church. One of the areas that I oversee at Knox is our children’s program. Over the past few weeks, we have been going through Compassion Camp by Illustrated Ministry. This curriculum written as a virtual VBS teaches basic skills for building compassion and this week’s theme is loving yourself. What this curriculum highlights is that in order to love others well, we must learn to love ourselves. If the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, then we have our work cut out for us to learn how to love well.

When I was younger, this passage from Philippians 2 was taught in such a way that I thought caring for myself was an act of conceit. Being humble required putting aside your own needs. The exhortation was to serve as Christ served and that required humiliation. However, what I think those teachers missed in their exegesis was that there is a distinction between conceit and self-care. An even great distinction between tending to your needs and selfish ambition. I wonder how often we have tangled up those ideas and at who’s expense? If we are only able to love others as well as we love ourselves, then how well are we caring for our neighbors?

My question for us this week is how are you learning to love yourself? In this season of transition and new learnings, how do you show yourself kindness? I encourage you to take some time this week to reflect on these questions. Then, take some more time to find a practice or an activity that will nourish your soul or give you respite.

Grace and peace,

Ally