Dad’s Dream

Dad’s Dream

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.” Luke 6:22

June is upon us, and soon we will have our Presbytery meeting and Day of Service on June 15th (please make sure to REGISTER today!), and Father’s Day on June 16th. Since next week will be focused on the Presbytery meeting, I hope you will indulge me as I share a story about my father, Ted Tajima, who happened to be a very regular elder commissioner to this presbytery from First Presbyterian Church, Altadena. My sister Elaine is developing an art exhibit that gives a brief glimpse into individual lives, and Dad’s is one of them. And as we look ahead to General Assembly later this month, I will get to worship at the Japanese Church of Christ in Salt Lake City, a church my grandfather built in the town where my father was born. 

Ted K. Tajima taught at Alhambra High School for 35 years. I always thought how wonderful that he had a job he loved so much that he’d keep it all those years. I tried to find a job I could stay in my whole life, but couldn’t find it (at least not until I went into the ministry). One day I told my father how I wish I could find a lifelong job that I loved like he did. Dad replied in a somewhat disgusted voice, “I never wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a journalist. But teaching was the only job I could get, and then we had you four girls, so I had to stay.”

Mom and Dad were young adults during World War II. Both were born in the United States, and as far as I can tell, neither had never stepped foot out of the country, yet in 1942 they and all Japanese Americans on the West Coast were treated as enemy aliens and forcibly evacuated. Because Dad’s father was a pastor (he was pastor of what is now First Presbyterian Church, Altadena), he was able to arrange to send my father and his siblings far enough east, so they did not go into the camps. My mother, whose father had just passed away, was sent with her family to Gila River Camp in Arizona. My mother took the initiative to apply for a program that allowed her to leave the camp, to work as a domestic for a wealthy family near Cleveland, Ohio. She arranged for jobs for her family and friends, and for her boyfriend (my father), so my whole family was in Cleveland at the end of the war. My grandfather even started a Japanese church while they were there, and my parents married in Cleveland. But when the war ended, they all returned to Los Angeles. 

My father worked for the Army, teaching Japanese (and then English) to soldiers going to occupy Japan. He then got a Master’s degree in Journalism. His communication skills were excellent. His writing was easy and evocative, and his bass voice was the envy of broadcasters and preachers alike. But, by 1948, he had a wife, a baby, and no job prospects in journalism for a Japanese-American, so he took my mother’s advice and became a public school teacher. He taught English at Alhambra High School, and he developed the school paper, The Moor, into a national award-winning weekly.

Whether or not Dad wanted to stay at Alhambra, he did, and according to hundreds of his students— many of whom went into journalism themselves—he transformed lives. My cousin Renée, an Oscar- nominated documentary filmmaker, has said that wherever she goes, someone will come up to her and ask if she’s related to Ted. Upon his death, his obituary ran on the front page of the “California” section of the Los Angeles Times, and was run again in the year-end review.

Dad was especially known for encouraging working-class kids to go to college, and several became outstanding leaders in their professions. So, it has been a fitting tribute to have a high school named for him. Alliance Ted K. Tajima High School in downtown LA has just been rated in the top 2% of all public high schools in the United States. 97% of their students graduate and 95% are accepted into college, while 92% are on the free lunch program and most are the first in their families to attend college. Like so many fellow Presbyterians, Dad was a big believer in the transformative power of education. Like his pastor father, Dad also believed in responding to Christ’s call for justice, especially for those who have been persecuted.

Dad didn’t achieve his dream of becoming a journalist. So instead, he helped countless students achieve more than they ever dreamed of. And now, I am thrilled to hear teachers of working-class, mostly immigrant Latin teenagers talk about their “Tajima Family” and know that our family now includes hundreds of families whose futures are being changed in the name of my father.

I hope you have stories to share of your father, or one who has been like a father to you. And may we all find—and share—hope and empowerment in the name of our heavenly father, who makes us one in Christ’s family.

Happy Father’s Day in advance,

Wendy

Words

Words

[The Lord said,] “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” Genesis 11:7

In these times when it seems easier to divide than to connect, I’ve noticed how even when we speak to each other, even when we think we’re speaking the same language, we might say the same word, but mean very different things. So the confusion that was injected into the human experience after the Tower of Babel has become quite insidious, because we don’t even realize that we are envisioning different concepts when speaking to each other. How can we understand each other when we don’t know all the different experiences, perspectives, and word views we bring to each interaction?

Take, for instance, the brave conversations that have been happening around the United States about race issues. I feel that folks have made significant progress in our efforts to eradicate racism, and one sign of that progress is our ability to talk more openly about race and racism. But the word “racism” or, even more anxiety-producing, “racist” causes a visceral reaction in some folks that often stops the conversation. I confess that in my cynicism, my initial thought was that the reaction was a useful way to defend against a difficult discussion. But the pain is quite evident and sincere for many folks, and my current theory is that we define “racist” differently. It reminds me of how we don’t like to talk about “sin” in church, though especially as Reformed Christians, we are very aware of our sinfulness.

Some of us think of sin as the intentional, malicious act of an individual, or worse, the evil character of that individual. This is why we are so troubled by the idea of innocent babies being born into sin. Church leaders try to address this by defining sin not as an intentional act but just “missing the mark” or being imperfect. More frequently, we just stop talking about sin altogether. Personally, I believe we are born into sin by virtue of being born into a broken world, and so we are infected by the brokenness of the world long before we can defend ourselves against it. Worse, we are told that the broken world is not broken, so our perceptions are distorted from the start.

In a similar way, some people understand racism to be the intentional, malicious actions of individuals who hate other individuals. But others think of racism as a systemic illness, an example of the brokenness of the world which impacts us from birth. For most of us, we do not choose the prejudices we pick up out of the fears of the people or media around us—and we certainly don’t choose whether we are born into privilege or marginalization. But, as with other challenges or privileges that are thrust upon us, we learn to be responsible with the cards we are dealt.

Lately, we have all been shocked by the catastrophic violence that has occurred in Israel and Palestine, especially on and after October 7, 2023. For myself, I have also been mystified by the reactions to the conflicts in the United States, including the conflicts on college campuses. Our Education, Equipping, and Empowerment Committee (EEE) decided to offer the “God’s Word in God’s Land” seminar as a way of addressing what some pastors were seeing in our churches. It was a revelation for me, because I did not realize there were so many people in our Presbyterian churches who follow the theory that the current nation of Israel must be protected at all costs—including at the cost of Palestinian lives—in order to fulfill a prophecy about the return of Christ. In the first hour of the seminar, Dr. Dennis Okholm addressed the difference between the dispensationalism of what is now considered the Evangelical church (that’s another term that has meant different things!), and what he called the “amillenial” belief of Presbyterians (some might talk more about “covenant theology”—or maybe I’m still confused; I always swore I would never use the word “eschatology” in my ministry).

In the planning for the event, the word “Zionism” kept coming up, and at least for me it became a cause for confusion, because that word is used to describe many different things. Interestingly, the word was not used much in the “God’s Word in God’s Land” seminar, but Dr. Tommy Givens instead discussed the ways the name “Israel” references different peoples.

But Zionism seems to raise fear and anxiety for many, and in different ways. I have mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Memorial Day event, held on Israel’s Memorial Day, when Israelis remember those who gave their lives defending the present state of Israel. After the event, there was a Zoom webinar with two peace activists, one Israeli and one Palestinian: Maoz Inon, whose parents were killed on October 7th, and Musa Juma‘a, a doctor born and raised in Jerusalem who lost an aunt and eight cousins in the current violence in Gaza. A week later, Maoz Inon and another Palestinian peace activist, Aziz Abu Sarah, met with Pope Francis, and the Pope signed a letter they brought from 250 peace organizations calling on the G7 nations “to working together multilaterally – and with other international partners – to . . . build the foundations necessary for a negotiated and lasting Israeli- Palestinian peace.” The embrace they shared offered more hope than any of the words spoken.

As with many major actions for peace, the road is not straight. During the Zoom meeting with Mr. Inon and Mr. Juma‘a, the chat was mostly supportive and positive, but then some disagreement arose about Zionism. It was disturbing to me that even in this hard-fought effort to build peace between Palestinians and Israelis, disagreement rose up. But as I reflect on this, I believe that the way of understanding and peace does not come from a lack of disagreement, but the practice of communicating disagreement as a way of learning and broadening our understanding. As St. Francis of Assisi prayed,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

There are so many points of confusion and disagreement in this broken world. But that means there are that many opportunities for communication and understanding—and perhaps that communication and understanding will lead to mutual compassion, respect, upbuilding, and maybe even peace. St. Francis was also quoted as saying, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” Sometimes we can come to an understanding through a mutual hug, or by working together. That is the purpose behind our annual Day of Service, which will be held on June 15th this year. I hope you will join us, and as we work side by side, we come to appreciate each other beyond the words we speak.

Praying for peace,

Wendy

Rejoice Always

Rejoice Always

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Philippians 4:4

When I pastored a small rural church on the island of Kaua‘i, I once asked the church leaders about their experience after Hurricane ‘Iniki destroyed their church building and many homes. One of the elders said, “We learned that God does provide—not a moment too late, but also not a moment too soon.” He said that they would pray for something to happen (it took them ten years to raise the funds and rebuild), and they would eventually get it, but there was some uncertainty in the meantime.

We are experiencing some flux in our presbytery staff, and there is some uncertainty with the transition. Today’s Monday Morning Update is the last compiled and edited by Amy Marmol. Amy is traveling to Europe for the second half of March, and with Carrie Kohler now on board, Amy is able to go back to her several other jobs that she currently carries. Carrie will pick up the MMU (among her many skills is as a journalist), but we expect to hire another staff person to do the MMU on-going. Thanks Carrie!

I can’t say how grateful I am for Amy’s willingness to help us these last nine months. Amy is a good friend of Ally Lee, and when Ally moved to Georgia, she recommended Amy to join the presbytery staff temporarily. Amy jumped in and gave critical support with our Presbytery meetings and commissions, and the weekly MMU. Amy is a full-time high school French teacher, and also works with the founder of an international non-profit. She is married to Joshua Marmol, who was our Ruling Elder Commissioner to the 2022 General Assembly, and they have three children. Because she has so much on her plate, and since I rarely managed to meet the weekend deadline for my weekly columns (including today’s column), Amy ended up doing some of her work between midnight and 3 am! And she did the work exceptionally well, and with unfailing good will. Because Amy is an active member of Knox, she does not leave the presbytery family, but she was just the right person to step into presbytery staff work when we needed her the most. Thanks to Amy, thanks to Ally, and thanks to God for both of them!

Sam Bang is also leaving the presbytery staff effective the end of this month. Please pray for his health to be restored. In Sam’s tenure on the presbytery staff, he made a significant positive impact on several of our churches, and he has been a wonderful colleague, giving insight and encouragement to us in our various initiatives. He handled business matters for the Presbytery (and often helped churches with their business needs), such as developing a new benefits policy and helping with property tax exemption documents as well as managing the basics of payroll for the Presbytery and new worshiping communities. His deep understanding of the roots of our polity made him the “go to” person for guiding sessions on polity issues. Just last week he was thanked by name at the chartering service of GKI LA for providing crucial help to them as they met the requirements of joining the PC(USA). Like Amy, Sam continues in the Presbytery, at Northminster in Diamond Bar. Thank you Sam, and I look forward to seeing how your leadership will flower in new ways as you regain your health.

The Personnel Committee recently met with the staff and some presbytery leaders to assess how staffing might change. Carrie Kohler is very ably taking on her responsibilities as Stated Clerk for Administration, and expressed gratitude for the warm welcome she has received. We have been blessed with temporary help from Melinda Forbes and Aimee Epstein in this time of transition. While we are not settled yet, I am so grateful for all these folks and more as we strive to support the ministry of the Presbytery without disruption. Thanks to you for your patience and your prayers.

We are, of course, navigating this time of transition as the world faces wartime suffering, and the Presbytery enjoys wonderful new ministries. Live Oak Community Church in Temple City is working hard to reach out to the community, inviting all to their grand (re-)opening on Easter Sunday. I preached at First Presbyterian Church Altadena yesterday, and I could see the renewed commitment and growing faith of the members as they walk forward with their new pastor Elizabeth Wang. And several dozen of us have been meeting weekly in the “Becoming the Beloved Community” Lenten series, and the experience has been wonderful—not only content-filled, but it has been a great opportunity to come to know others in the Presbytery at a deeper level. Thanks to Tracey Shenell and the dozen small group facilitators who have provided such able and insightful leadership. And we continue to pray as a body for peace here and in Israel/Palestine. Please plan on attending EEE’s learning event, “God’s Word in God’s Land” on Saturday, March 23, 9 am—noon, that we may better understand Scripture, and what Scripture tells us about the conflict in the Holy Land.

When the apostle Paul writes to the Philippian church to rejoice in the Lord always, he is experiencing a mix of challenge and joy when he does so. Our life of faith is not devoid of struggle, and certainly as we continue through the season of Lent we are aware that Easter only comes after Good Friday. We are an Easter people, and so we can face whatever uncertainty or even difficulty with the sure hope that God and God’s plan of salvation will overcome. I do ask for your prayers as we continue to serve through these uncertain times, but I also say “Rejoice,” because there is so much to be thankful for in our congregations and fellowships, in the staff and leadership of the Presbytery, and in the life of the Presbytery as a whole.

Thanks be to God for all of you, and for God’s continuing blessing—in ways we know and ways we don’t even recognize. For in Christ we have life now, and life and love everlasting.

 

With thanks,

Wendy

From Death to Life

From Death to Life

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:24

This last week, the death toll in Gaza passed 30,000. Over 100 people were killed while trying to get food from an aid truck. There seemed to be a possible breakthrough in ceasefire talks, but Israel chose not to send their delegates to Cairo for the next session in the negotiations.

The Synod Commission of Assembly met on Saturday, and at the end of the meeting Rev. Dr. Charles Marks asked for prayers for a ceasefire, and for all Middle Eastern people—and those who love them—who are suffering so much as the people of Gaza continue to be killed through bombing, guns, and slow starvation. For myself, it’s not just about an affinity for Arabic people or even the general concern for humanity in general; right or wrong, I have always held a very high regard for the Jewish tradition and the community I know, and I cannot comprehend how this violence is being perpetrated by a people who have so often advocated for compassion and justice. (Yes, many have tried to say it’s the government, not the people, but Israel claims to be a democracy, so the government acts on behalf of the people.)

I’ve been told that some Christians are saying this suffering is regrettable, but justified as the fulfillment of Scripture. I cannot believe that our role is to justify the death of tens of thousands of people, including many young children, and claim it is God’s will. But perhaps I’m wrong. The Education, Equipping, and Empowerment Committee is holding a seminar on Saturday, March 23—the Saturday before Palm Sunday—at Knox with biblical scholars discussing what Scripture says about Israel, and how this is applied to the current conflict. You can register to “God’s Word in God’s Land” by clicking HERE.

In light of the violence in Gaza, Ukraine, and in our own nation, it feels like death is pressing in on us. But Jesus often told us that he himself would suffer death, but that death would not be the final answer, and pointed out the ways that death leads to new and greater life. We mere humans mourn the losses we see around us, and we imagine that God weeps with us. But we do pray that even in our grief, we also can see how God can offer new life even in the face of death. For instance, in San Gabriel

Presbytery, we try to be intentional about the property of congregations that are dissolved, that we don’t just spend down the funds by failing to adjust our budgets down to the size of the membership of the Presbytery. Rather, we want to set aside at least some funds towards building up new ministries.

And we are indeed blessed to see vibrant ministries in our continuing congregations, and in new ministries. Yesterday was the chartering service for GKI LA, and it was indeed a great celebration, for the people of GKI LA, the other Indonesian Presbyterian churches (GKI LA is only the second Indonesian church in Southern California to be chartered), their partnering congregation Praise Community Church, and San Gabriel Presbytery. What a joy to see our Presbytery, through the Chartering Commission, bless this newest of all PC(USA) churches. Blessings to Organizing Pastor TE Pipi Dhali, and their brand-new session: Hendrie Tatilu, Grace Manampiring, Robert Tanadi, Yonatan Widiantoro, and Melvin Rebiono. Thanks to COM’s appointed committee to shepherd GKI LA through the final steps towards chartering: Revs. Ann Oglesby-Edwards, Peter Tan-Gatue, and Bryce Little, and CRE Sam Bang, who provided crucial help as they revised their bylaws in compliance with the PC(USA) Constitution. Members of GKI LA have already contributed to the life of our Presbytery, and I look forward to all of us getting to know each other better over time.

The message of Holy Week and Easter is that God’s power to love and save through Jesus Christ is much greater than death. We do believe that no sin is so great, no pain so deep that God cannot overcome with mercy and healing. In these difficult times, I am thankful for this season when we are reminded of all that God will do to show us that

neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

May we never forget this—and recognize the great things God is doing in our midst. May we live with the confidence and compassion to be part of Christ’s mission of love and salvation. And let us rejoice in what God has in store for our new life.

 

Praying for peace,

Wendy

Forsaken

Forsaken

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
  Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

Psalm 22:1

During Lent, we often reflect on our mortality. And Lent concludes on Good Friday, when we think of the mortal side of Jesus. One Good Friday tradition is to reflect on the Seven Last Words of Christ, the last sayings Jesus made while on the cross:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

“Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” John 19:26-27

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34

“I am thirsty.” John 19:28

“It is finished.” John 19:30

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:46

I would guess that I am not the only person who thinks at some point during every season of Lent, “why did it have to happen like this?” That is, why did Jesus have to suffer to save us? I remember my internship year, so many years ago, at Immanuel Presbyterian in Los Angeles. We did pretty much every Holy Week observance, including a full-on all-night Saturday Easter Vigil, which is really a beautiful service. On Good Friday, we led a Via Cruces walk all around Koreatown and a service of the Seven Last Words, with different people speaking on each of the words. I got “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I reflected on that moment when even Jesus felt abandoned, when even Jesus gave up hope. After I was finished, drained by the weightiness of the message and having gone without sleep for a few nights (those Holy Week rituals don’t plan themselves), I sat down, and started sobbing.

We all may know of people who are feeling like the burden of life is too heavy, and feel out of touch with God, as if God isn’t listening anymore, or God has turned away. The ones I know happen to be men, and I wonder if part of their suffering comes from the sense that they should be able to withstand any burden, or deny their feelings of grief or abandonment. Being Japanese, I was taught that I

shouldn’t cry, especially in public. And yet, sometimes the best thing we can do is to cry out our pain, or have a good sob.

For whatever reason, whenever I think of Jesus’ cry of anguish from the cross, I also see the slightest glimmer of hope even in this pit of despair. Actually, those old Christian leaders who put the

lectionary together gave us a hint. Yesterday’s Psalm reading is the second half of Psalm 22, which begins with that cry of anguish that Jesus uttered in his suffering. And most of the first half of Psalm 22 acknowledges the suffering that sometimes fall on us humans. But by verse 21, the Psalmist moves from crying out for help to an assertion that God has already rescued them, and the Psalmist can then give testimony of God’s saving grace to all.

And the lectionary reading, starting at Psalm 22:23, proclaims to future generations what God has already done:

23 You who fear the Lord, give praise!
All you offspring of Jacob, give glory.
Stand in awe of the LORD, all you offspring of Israel!

24 For the LORD did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
neither is the LORD’s face hidden from me;
but when I cry out, the LORD hears me.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear the LORD.

26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied.
Let those who seek the LORD give praise!
May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall bow before God.

28 For dominion belongs to the LORD,
who rules over the nations.

29 Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow down in worship;
all who go down to the dust,
though they be dead,
shall live for the LORD.

30 Their descendants shall serve the LORD,
of whom they shall proclaim for generations to come.

31 They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying, “The LORD has done it.”

Maybe because I cannot live forever in that moment of abandonment and despair, I like to think that when Jesus uttered that cry of anguish, he chose to quote the 22nd Psalm, knowing that even when we think God has forsaken us, God will save us. Indeed, God already has saved us!

Yet it is hard to remember this when people are suffering. As I wrote this, I received a message from a Palestinian peace activist who is such a strong and caring person. She just wrote, “so much destruction, so many many deaths . . . I can’t take it anymore, my heart is breaking . . .”

As we continue our Lenten journey, as we face the fragility of our human condition, as we witness the third year of aggression and violence in Ukraine, as we hear of vengeful killing by bomb and starvation in the land that Jesus loved, let us preserve the faith that even in this moment of utter loneliness, the seeds of hope and eventual new life are just starting to germinate. God has not forsaken us. And yes, there will be spring. There will be blossoms of beauty. There will be life, and life everlasting.

In the peace of Christ,

Wendy