Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.

1 Corinthians 3:18-19a

I realize that the last several weeks I have been reflecting on paradoxes, as I have seen how God’s world seems to be our world, inside out. Even the way I describe this paradox shows the bias of my perspective—I am tempted to say that God’s world is an inversion of our world. But, if we are to reflect our Reformed viewpoint of God’s sovereignty, God’s world is not the inversion; God’s world is good, and eternal. Our world is the inversion, or the distortion, of God’s world. But since I was born to this world, it seems to me that God’s world is the strange place I must attempt to accept.

 I’m sure you have seen different optical illusions that show how we can see things differently. One of the most famous ones I just learned is usually titled “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law”—I don’t like the implications of that title, so I won’t show it, though
my guess is you know the image I mean. I’m showing instead another image that is also very popular, especially in church circles. Let me know if you don’t see what (or who) is “hidden” in this image.

One of the great blessings of my job is getting to meet amazing people. As we prepared for tomorrow’s meeting, I touched base with Veronica Ota, whom CPM is recommending be examined for candidacy, and Beth Putney, who just started at San Marino Community Church as the very first Pastoral Resident, focusing on culture and pastoral entrepreneurship. Both are Princeton types—Beth just graduated this year, and Veronica is still there. And from what I can tell, this focus on social enterprise/entrepreneurial ministry/ministry innovation (they haven’t landed on an easy handle yet) is all the rage at Princeton, and other seminaries as well. Harlan Redmond, a recent Princeton grad, envisions this for the future of Interwoven.

In conversations with these bright lights in the future of our church, it has become clear to me how much things have changed since I was in seminary! But it also reminds me of my early years in ministry, when church transformation consultants kept talking about “adaptive change”—so much that some of us joked we can all sing a song about it together. We more recent seminary grads realized that what we had been taught was new and foreign for the prior generations of pastors, who could see the church as a stable, prominent, unchanging institution. Now, I am the one in that prior generation, and now I’m stumbling to figure out what the next generation is talking about!

In fact, the first time I met Veronica, I attempted to correct her on her initial theological statement. Turns out she was just a few steps ahead of me—! Isn’t it great how we old-timers think we’re in the position of guiding and teaching the next generation, when they have so much to teach us. We are blessed to have these leaders of the next generation in our midst, as they have the grace and wisdom to be bridge people for us as we move into the future church. We will continue to be blessed as San Marino’s Pastoral Residency Program continues in full swing, because they expect to have two residents for two years each, starting in alternating years, so we will get to receive a gifted new pastor every year through their program! Beth is a most excellent pioneer in this effort.

By the way, one of those amazing people I met fairly recently is Kevin Haah, who joined our presbytery in April. Kevin is a member of our JPM Committee, and he emailed us right before their meeting last Wednesday to tell us that he would have to miss the meeting because he had just been in a motorcycle accident and was at the emergency room. He has ended up in the hospital for the days since, though most people know that his injuries could have been much worse.

Another amazing person is Ally Lee, who recently left us to move back to Georgia. Wednesday was a big day for her as well, as she gave birth to Rowan Mae Lee. Ally, as an only child, texted that “seeing the sisters together has been by far the most joyful part.” I cannot quantify the impact of having my three older sisters has been on my life! Blessings to Ally, Brian, Johanna, and Rowan.

Let us pray—for these new pastors and ministries in our midst, for healing for Kevin and all who need the power of the Holy Spirit (that’s all of us), for new life and growing families in our Presbytery family, and for all that God has entrusted to us, as we consider together the will of God in our Presbytery meeting tomorrow evening. See you then!



Turning Points

Turning Points

“After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen;
from its ruins I will rebuild it,
and I will set it up,
so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—
even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.” Acts 15:16-17a

There’s no way of forgetting what happened on this day, 22 years ago. I remember I was living on Kaua‘i then, and I had the television on that morning. When I saw an airplane crashing into the side of the World Trade Center, I just kept looking at the TV, thinking it was a movie. But they didn’t show movies in the morning. And then they played that horrible film, and the others, over and over, and finally I had to accept that this was really happening.

I also remember September 11, 2002, the one-year anniversary of that great tragedy. Much of the media attention was put to remembering the attacks, but on Kaua‘i, that day marked something more relevant to them—it was the 10th anniversary of the day when Hurricane ‘Iniki hit Kaua‘i. ‘Iniki destroyed 1,400 homes and severely damaged over 5,000 homes on Kaua‘i, hitting the small island with winds of 145 mph and wind gusts of 225 mph. It caused $3.1 billion in damages, making it the most costly natural disaster in the history of Hawai‘i (though it’s likely that the recent fires on Maui will surpass that). Ten years later, the island was still only mostly recovered.

There were some stories shared of the pain suffered after ‘Iniki, mostly how institutions (including the regional ministers at the time) failed to support the rebuilding efforts. In fact, the little church I served — a native Hawaiian church in Hanapēpē, Kaua‘i—worshiped for 9 years under a used tent they were given by the US Army (Eric Shinseki’s wife was from Hanapēpē), because that’s how long it took for them to secure the funding to rebuild.

But what was most remarkable were their remembrances of community coming together. In fact, the people seemed almost wistful about those days; when I would ask how things had changed over the ten years since the hurricane, the most common response was “We aren’t community like that anymore.” This is why I was so sure that the people of Maui would care for each other after the fires. I also remember one woman who said, “We were just grateful that the hurricane hit us and not O‘ahu.” She was grateful because the population of O‘ahu is over 13 times larger than Kaua‘i, but also because all the communication and government centers for all of Hawai‘i are on O‘ahu.

What do we make of these tragedies? Almost 2,500 people die in an earthquake in Morocco. Hurricanes and wildfires occur on a more frequent basis, and in areas that had not known such disasters. And in the United States alone, 1,127,152 people died from COVID so far. And I have not even touched on deaths caused by human rage, hatred, bias, and fear.

We cannot explain why these things happen, nor can we know how an all-powerful God would allow these things to happen. But sometimes we can see shifts in the history of the world as people respond to adversity. Communities come together to recover from disaster. Former enemies reach out with compassion. Necessity, the mother of invention, causes people to try new things. We still don’t know how much church life has been changed permanently because of COVID, and some of the changes have been positive.

And sometimes people try new things because God asks them to. Today’s scripture verse comes from the Council at Jerusalem, when the Jewish leaders of Christ’s church discerned the call to allow Gentiles to come into the church without going through the Jewish tradition of circumcision. Remembering the promises of restoration that God gave to the Israelites over the centuries, the Jerusalem Council saw the new church as the restoration of Jesus’s people, a restoration that would extend even to the Gentiles—and in Romans 8, Paul suggested that even Creation would be restored as the children of God live into their calling as agents of God’s grace. And the Council came to understand that fulfilling their call would require them to do things they never could have imagined they would do—like receiving as siblings the very people they abhorred for many generations.

It is now 2023, and God is still calling us to do things we never imagined we would do. In response to inescapable signs of the danger of the climate crisis, a young seminarian works to organize the community to work in concert with, rather than against, God’s Creation. In anticipation of the post- Christendom church needing to take different approaches to connecting with the world and, frankly, creating new income streams to keep the church running, a newly-ordained pastor seeks an opportunity to practice entrepreneurship in ministry. Out of the closure of one church, another church is rising up, a church that is attracting people who had given up on church, attracting them with their radical hour of love that crosses boundaries of race, generation, and background. After years of attempts to stay alive by being their old selves, a church welcomes in a recent seminary graduate and a group of strangers larger than they are—and the groups have come together in ways that truly reflect the glory of God. And an attorney uses her training and gifts to fulfill her calling to help negotiate peace in her strife-torn home country, and helps to organize a new denomination to work towards justice and peace in El Salvador.

These are the stories that will be reflected at our Presbytery meeting on September 19th. I invite you to register today for the meeting, and the dinner before the meeting. You can register as a minister member, as a ruling elder commissioner, but also as a church member, a friend, an interested observer —and you can participate in the meeting in person at Claremont Presbyterian Church, or on Zoom. Join us, as we consider what God is calling us to do and be for this troubled world.

My favorite Hawaiian word is kuleana, which is often translated as “responsibility” but also means “right” or “privilege.” That is what we have been given as followers of Christ, the kuleana to be Christ’s good news for our world. May we encourage each other as we do so.

Relying on God’s grace,


Broken and Blessed

Broken and Blessed

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

So the good news is that I tested negative for COVID, last Wednesday and Saturday. Even better, it sounds like I didn’t infect anyone at Filipino Community United in Azusa, which is where I preached the Sunday before I tested positive. However, it sounds like much of their youth group is down with COVID, so I’m guessing it’s moving fast through the schools. It does seem like lots of folks are contracting it, so please be careful.

It’s a funny thing about being a pastor, that these negative reminders of our human condition actually help our ministry, because we are able to experience some of the challenges others are facing.
Sometimes we like to say that God came down to be human in Jesus Christ in order to feel what it’s like to be one of us. I’m Reformed enough to believe God doesn’t need to learn anything; I might contend that it’s comforting to us to know that Jesus walked among us and in our flesh and bones.

For us ordinary people, we need these setbacks to remind us that we are not God, and also to remind us that there are downturns, but with God’s grace, there is nothing we cannot overcome.

I thought about this when Bill Richardson died. I never followed his career very closely; in fact I thought he was Native American (his family had roots in Mexico, but one of his descendants was on the Mayflower). He did work with Native Americans, initially as a congressman and chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Native American Affairs. He advocated for Indigenous rights for years.

Most of all, Bill Richardson is known for his work negotiating for the release of Americans held hostage or illegally detained in other countries. When he died, I looked into his life, and was surprised to learn that he faced several scandals and controversies in his life. None of the cases ended his career, but it reminded me how close colleagues have told me that no one is perfect. My first associate pastor said that she learned from me that she had to accept the whole package, and put up with the bad in me in order to allow the good to go forth. And back when I was a reluctant seminary intern, I made a bad mistake and left an elder stranded, and she didn’t let me off the hook for it! My internal message to God was “See? I told you I can’t do this!” And the message that came back was “Making a mistake is no excuse for refusing your ministry.”

I often wonder how much we could do for God’s kin-dom if we allowed ourselves to make mistakes as we take risks—and even stumble—in faith. And what a witness we offer to the world, when we forgive as we have been forgiven. Saints are not perfect beings—saints are faithful humans who seek to do God’s will, just like you, just like me.

This, of course, is not a call for carelessness or indifference. Rather, may we strive to do right by God, and help others on their journey as well, and may we keep striving, even if we mess up sometimes. “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:1) Let us continue to pray for each other, and encourage each other, that Christ’s light may continue to shine through us.

Relying on God’s grace,



Power and Weakness

Power and Weakness

The Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9a

After what felt like a long summer, all of a sudden the September Presbytery meeting is coming up quickly! The meeting will be on Tuesday, September 19th, and is full of the power of our God to give us a glimpse into the future of the church.

The Executive Commission has shifted the meeting to be hybrid, so that those who can make it to Claremont on a Tuesday evening can meet International Peacemaker Milagro Mejía of El Salvador. She has a distinguished place in the organization of the Calvinist Reformed Church of El Salvador. As an attorney, she has advocated for education of children, women’s entrepreneurship, and the peace agreements after civil war in her home country. So that we may greet her more fully, we will have dinner prior to the meeting, where Ms. Mejía will speak and take questions. She will also speak briefly during the Presbytery meeting.

She cannot speak more because we already had a very full docket for this meeting! We anticipate that we will consider advancing two wonderfully gifted inquirers to candidacy under care of CPM. We will welcome newly-ordained Beth Putney, San Marino Community Church’s inaugural O’Grady Resident for Theology and Culture. Beth has just started her two-year residency at San Marino, with an emphasis on social entrepreneurship in the church and community. And, we will consider renewed funding for two of our new worshiping communities, Interwoven with Harlan Redmond and the New Worshiping Community at Temple City with Andrew Ritiau. That’s a lot to celebrate!

Even as I look forward to this action-packed, consequential presbytery meeting, I am reminded that we cannot forget our need to lean on God’s grace to witness these paths into the future. I am aware that there is a new wave of COVID coming through. I noticed hearing folks mentioning testing positive, and one of our pastors ended up in the hospital. And then I got a tickle in my throat, and yes, I tested positive myself! After a week, my symptoms have been quite mild—I have always felt that God has had to coddle me; I guess because my faith is so weak, I can’t handle greater personal challenges. But I am constantly monitoring myself for signs of the illness, and I can get hit with a wave of fatigue at least once during the day. Thank God my headache and fatigue go away after a nap (though I have never taken naps!). But the symptoms are just enough to remind me of my weakness.

I know of two other pastors in our presbytery who are having a much harder time with COVID, so I do ask for your prayers for all who are facing the illness again, and I definitely suggest that you pull out your masks again!

And as we celebrate the ministries in our presbytery family—those who are just emerging, those who are thriving in our maturity, and those who are feeling the weakness that reminds us of our need for God—may we rejoice, not only in our own efforts, but let us rejoice all the more in our Lord, who fills our mortal bodies with the power of the Holy Spirit to reflect the glory of God. And as we celebrate God’s power in our weakness, may we offer hope to the hopeless, through the grace of Jesus Christ.

Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

With thanks and faith,




Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:35-36

As has been said way too often for way too many reasons, we are living in unprecedented times. As we mourn the horrendous fires in Maui and Canada, I am writing this column a little ahead of time,
so we are watching a hurricane come up the coast of Baja California, with the expectation that we will experience our first tropical storm in nearly 84 years. I take comfort in knowing that you join me in praying for all people who are impacted by these extreme weather events, especially those without safe shelter. And my hope is that as you read this column, we are already on the other side of the storm, and relieved that we got through with little or no damage.

While we are becoming used to unprecedented times, I don’t know that we have figured out how to live into them beyond crisis response. For instance, we are now accepting the fact that our churches are not going to go “back to normal” post-pandemic, but we don’t know what faithful church life looks like in this new world. It seems that COVID impacted our churches’ ministry with children and youth, and I’ve worried that I don’t even hear concerns that we don’t have children in our churches anymore. And we continue to wonder what “two or three are gathered in my name” means in a hybrid or online community, how emotional health is impacted by lack of in-person relationships, and how to plan for an attendance pattern that has moved from sporadic (pre-pandemic), to totally unpredictable now.

I have not heard of any definitive answers, except that our need to trust in God has never been greater. I have recently heard from a couple of younger leaders their visions for the church. One is developing a new way of looking at children in church as co-leaders within the faith community. Another is considering what a faith community looks like if it is designed for these post-pandemic times. She wonders about a community that is formed with people who are not bound to weekly worship with a consistent pattern of practice, but instead offers opportunities for embodied faith that incorporates movement and food as well as preaching and study. Both of these approaches to ministry are significantly different from the way we’ve always done church. I know I’m still trying to imagine what these approaches would look like. But I’m inspired by their new perspectives, and I’ve encouraged the leaders to consider new worshiping communities to try out their visions.

Now I can imagine people asking, “Why are we always talking about new worshiping communities? What about us existing churches, who have struggled so long to survive and stay relevant?” Believe me, I hear you. But I don’t think I’m alone in being so rooted in the way we do church now, that I would have a hard time accepting some of these very different, even opposite, ways of looking at church. So it would be a regular struggle for our sessions to know how to be supportive but diligent if they were asked to support these new visions. And I’ve heard (and intuitively understand) that people are far more likely to try out a new church than an established church, especially for the many folks who do not have a church background or have been hurt by the church.

Perhaps in these ever-changing times, we have to transform the way we look at church from static institution to living organism. While some have hoped for the church to be the one anchor in our lives that never changes, we have seen that we cannot force others—including our own family members—to continue to participate in a church that has not adapted to life as we now know it. But if we saw the church as a living being, able to grow and adjust to whatever God asks of us, we might also need to accept the idea that living beings have life cycles, and we are asked to guide and nurture new churches, and even step back so that new leaders can move the church forward. (This is also true for leaders within existing churches, even changing our bylaws to allow younger members to become elders even if they cannot promise 6 or 60 years of commitment, or ask to meet and communicate in new ways.)

I am of the age when it’s getting harder to understand the perspectives of younger generations. (My cousin shared that her college-age daughter told her she shouldn’t bother seeing the movie “Barbie” because she wouldn’t get it.) So I have the choice to correct them so they live the way I understand, or let them take over however they see fit. Or, like with much of life in community, do I listen to their wisdom with humility, but also offer my own discernment, and look for ways that we can connect when we can, and go separately when we must?

This last week I have been transported back to two of my “past lives.” The stories of the fires on Maui remind me of my time serving in Hawai‘i, in a very different culture, an indigenous island culture that taught me a lot about respect, and community, and faith. I fear I have forgotten some of those lessons. But there can be kindness everywhere. A few days ago, I received an email from a stranger, saying
I am writing today to see if I can connect a picture with its owner. I had a picture frame shop in Alameda, Bay Station Accents/Urban Forest, and I framed a needlepoint for someone with your name. I have the picture and am hoping you are the owner. It is a spiritual picture with orange, blue and green. If this is your picture, I would be happy to ship it to you.

She went on to say how she had tried to contact me over the years, but didn’t get through. I did live in Alameda after graduating from seminary 25 years ago, and I did needlepoint back then! This may seem odd, but it isn’t the first time, or second or third time, that a stranger took unusual lengths to show kindness to me.

As I consider these very new visions of church, visions I don’t understand, these glimpses into my own life remind me that we can be supportive and generous, even to people we don’t know, even to movements of the Spirit we don’t understand. Because we are now regularly confronted with things we don’t understand, perhaps we need to cling all the harder—not to our past, but to our faith that God will bring us through the unknown and the downright scary. My experience is that God comes through, often far exceeding what I dared hope for.

May we be agents of hope by showing grace and generosity, as God has done for us. And may we have eyes to see the new blooms of faith that are springing up around us.

In hope and trust,