A Good Day

A Good Day

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose. Romans 8:28

Maligayang Araw ng Kasarinlan!
Happy Philippine Independence Day!

Yesterday I preached at Filipino Community United Presbyterian Church in Azusa. They started worship by sending their holiday greeting to their livestream audience in the Philippines. (They are also planning a new “Operation Sunshine” mission trip to Cavite and Batangas n February 2023.) June 12 is Independence Day, and it also signals the end of the school term and the start of summer.

For San Gabriel Presbytery, our June Day of Service signals the start of summer. Since our Day of Service was Saturday, it does feel like summer. The warm weather helps confirm it.

Our Presbytery meeting and Day of Service reflected this “hybrid” time we are experiencing in our churches. Because the Day of Service activities were in person, at the Presbytery Center in Temple City, we were focusing on this as an in-person meeting. But, like our churches, we do not want to exclude people who cannot physically attend the meeting, so we offered a Zoom option. I don’t have the official numbers, but I’d guess the Zoom attendees represented at least a third of the voting members of Presbytery.

In the sanctuary, we reflected COVID times. Folks wore masks, we borrowed air purifiers from Calvary South Pasadena, and had communion with bread pieces and cups spread out so people could pick them up easily. The offering for the day contributed to the LAC+USC Medical Center/Angel Interfaith hygiene kits and gift cards as patients are released from the hospital, some to lives without shelter. If you would like to give, you can still do so by going to https://sangabpres.org/donate/.

Under the dollar amount you want to give, please click “Give to Presbytery Offering” in the first drop-down menu.

There was one major item of business for the Presbytery meeting, as we received Rev. Chris Jinyoung Choi, who is transferring from the Korean Presbyterian Church Abroad (KPCA), and approving him as temporary pastor for the Korean Language Ministry (KLM) of Pasadena Presbyterian Church (PPC). Chris is not unknown to us, as he served for a few years at New Hope Church, and his wife is Kayla Kim, the conductor of the KLM Trinity Choir at PPC. They are both world-class musicians: Chris on cello and Kayla on voice. They have offered transcendent music to PPC’s worship life, together, solo, or with others, and in all-church services, Kayla conducts the combined choir. Blessings to Chris as he serves PPC with his faithfulness and pastor’s heart.

We also commissioned our folks for General Assembly: Ruling Elder Commission Joshua Marmol (Knox), Teaching Elder Ally Lee (Interwoven/San Gabriel Presbytery), and Young Adult Advisory Delegate Joselyne Gonzalez (Puente de Esperanza). In her Stated Clerk’s report, Ally gave an overview of this hybrid General Assembly, which begins this Saturday, June 18, with opening worship at 8 am Pacific Time, but most of the decision-making will be done July 5-9. You can view General Assembly, and locate many other resources such as information on moderatorial candidates (including our own Ruth Santana-Grace) at https://ga-pcusa.org/. The schedule for the whole GA is at https://ga-pcusa.org/docket/.

There have already been several “Riverside Conversations,” one-hour preview discussions of specific topics that will be considered in this GA, such as the new Rules of Discipline, the report from the Committee on Racism Truth and Reconciliation, the proposal to explore an advisory committee on LGBTQIA+ Concerns, and the recommendations of the Special Committee on Per Capita and Financial Sustainability. You can see recordings of these discussions and more at https://ga- pcusa.org/riverside-conversations/.

For the Day of Service, we had five teams:

  • Organizing office files and preparing some for shipment to the Presbyterian Historical Society
  • Cleaning out the Rainbow Room classroom
  • Piloting an approach to sharing our stories, which will be rolled out presbytery-wide
  • Cleaning out a garden area and planting succulents, which were bought from Plants Colectivo, the recipient of our recent Self-Development of People grant who spoke at our April Presbytery meeting
  • Assembling hygiene kits for LAC+USC Medical Center/Angel Interfaith Network, and hearing a presentation from chaplain Rev. Elizabeth Gibbs-Zehnder on Spiritual Pain and the “Total Pain Model” approach to addressing multiple aspects of trauma.

The spirit of the day was good, and much was accomplished. The initial goal of the Day of Service was helping Presbytery members get to know each other better, and some good connections were made.

This year’s Day of Service was planned by members of the Justice Peacemaking and Mission and Education Equipping and Empowerment committees, with support from Presbytery staff. Thanks to everyone who participated, contributed, and helped to prepare. In this time of violence, illness, and political division, this was a very good day. It gave me cause to hope. Thanks be to God, and to you.

Living in hope,


The New Church

The New Church

For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls.                                                                                                  Acts 2:39

Yesterday was Pentecost, sometimes called the birthday of the Christian church, when the followers of Jesus Christ were empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak all the languages of the earth, so that they can proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world.

After the rush of the Holy Spirit comes over the disciples and they get attention with their instant linguistic abilities, the first converts hear Peter’s message, then ask, “what should we do?” Peter tells them to repent, and assures them that when they are baptized, their sins are forgiven and they too will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. They will receive the promise, as well as their children and even people who are far away, and in Acts 2:40, Peter suggests that the people “save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

Certainly we are living in a corrupt generation; maybe it even feels like a lost generation. So as we celebrate another Pentecost, it’s like another birthday, an opportunity to recommit and start over for another year. How do we as a church start anew, and provide this hurting world a glimpse into God’s promise of salvation?

Just this last week, I have seen some hopeful signs within our Presbytery family. Even as we continue to be burdened by continuing threats of violence here and abroad, and an upsurge in COVID infections, there is hope, and we have the opportunity to share that hope with others who so need it.

In June 2019, Grace Presbyterian Church in Highland Park closed. There was special concern for Grace’s Spanish-speaking fellowship, and they moved as a group to Iglesia de la Comunidad. For the last three years they worshiped separately, while finding ways to connect in mission, fellowship, and worship.

Yesterday, the members of Grace’s Latino fellowship became members of Iglesia de la Comunidad in a most joyous Pentecost celebration, as the people became truly one in Christ. Thanks go to Roberto Ramírez and Edgardo Cedeño Diaz, as well as Dave Tomlinson, Pat Martinez-Miller, and Judie Evers, who all worked sensitively and patiently to bring the churches together.

As it happens, I was able to worship with three of our churches yesterday: Westminster Temple City, Mideast Evangelical, and Interwoven. The three are quite different from each other, but they all showed good energy, love for each other and for God, and a desire to deepen their faith and receive the power of the Holy Spirit in their church families. In the absence of a pastor, the people of Westminster are showing great resourcefulness as the session considers future leadership options. Mideast Evangelical continues to celebrate the gifted commitment of their young people, and Pastor Maher Makar arranged for a great scholar and teacher to preach as he takes a sabbatical. And Interwoven offers profoundly moving opportunities for people to connect with each other in all the complexities of life. Sometimes their music leader Astyn Turrentine will offer a new interpretation of an old hymn, and it brings tears to my eyes, as I witness the old traditions continuing to live in new ways for a new generation of disciples.

Indeed, I have been able to see this old Presbyterian Church in new ways, thanks to several close colleagues who came to this church in recent years. My love for this church is matched by my awareness of our shortcomings, so I am thankful to hear how, in spite of our faults, we are offering welcome, compassion, opportunity, and new awareness to friends who are faithful but seeking a new home where they can be more fully engaged in ministry.

Also, I have heard recently from folks who are LGBTQIA+, or who have family members who are. One long-time leader mentioned a confrontation at a presbytery meeting many years ago, when another commissioner told her and a gay elder that they were going to hell. (This is extremely

troubling to me. Even at the height of controversy over LGBT inclusion, there was always one point of agreement from all sides, that there is no tolerance in the PCUSA for hostility or condemnation of persons, including for their sexual orientation.) And yet, this leader has stayed faithful in serving the presbytery, and has shown unusual grace and sensitivity to those who are not in agreement about LGBT inclusion in the church.

I have also heard stories of new ministries that are starting up in our presbytery. One is an innovative “dinner church” outreach to the community which has been led by one of our pastors who happens to be gay. The other is a potential new worshiping community that offers welcome and support for LGBT Christians who have experienced rejection by their home churches and even their families.

Separately, another presbytery member shared that their relationship with a gay relative was marked with healing and joy because he feels seen and accepted, knowing that the PCUSA is now a place of welcome for him.

I strongly believe that we Presbyterians do best as a “Big Tent” church, meaning that we seek to be a church where people are gathered in mission and fellowship not because we agree on everything, but because we understand that God has chosen to bring us together. Perhaps the strongest witness we can offer to this hurting, violent, broken, divided world is to be a community of people bound together not by purity tests or exclusivist doctrine, but by our humble appreciation for the life-giving love that Jesus Christ has given to us, and his command that we love each other.

As we live into this renewed church this Pentecost season, may we be a church where we can honor the work God does for us, in us, and through us, regardless of how we are seen by others. May our commitment to unity and mutual respect, even if we don’t understand or don’t agree, be a beacon of hope for all who are weary of the fighting. I confess there have been moments when my hope has become quite thin, and I give thanks for being in community with a diversity of experiences, and we can be buoyed by those who are rejoicing, even as we also share in the grief that has marked our world these days and years. Personally, I do not have the energy to be angry or hateful, nor do I believe God has given us God’s role as judge. So all I can do is pray, and care, and be thankful.

Holding out for hope,


Speak Up

Speak Up

Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.           Matthew 15:28

This last week brought new horrors on top of the horrors of the week before.

It wasn’t enough that folks could not go to their neighborhood supermarket, or to church, without losing their lives to gun violence. In yet another example of people going about the most basic of life activities—little children going to school, teachers going to teach them—more innocents were killed by another teenager with a gun.

The shock and agony was felt by anyone with a heart, but the pain was all the more acute for parents who think of their own little ones. And then there was the news that the killer was able to legally purchase two semi-automatic rifles within a few days of his 18th birthday, as well as 1,657 rounds of ammunition. And there was evidence of his violent tendencies on social media, and he was even reported to the platform, but nothing was done about it.

For myself, the most sickening revelation was the non-response of the dozens of first responders on the scene. The shooter was at the school for 80 minutes. There was some initial fire in the first few minutes, but later there was a span of 47 minutes while at least 19 officers waited inside the school, while students called 911 repeatedly for help, shots were heard, and more officers were outside, restraining parents from trying to go in and get their children. They all waited because one person— the chief of the 6-officer Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police—told them to wait.

It triggered for me the memory of the three police officers who watched for 9 minutes 29 seconds as George Floyd was being killed. Other than two questions that perhaps he should be rolled over, there seemed to be more energy spent holding Mr. Floyd down and keeping the crowd from helping him.

There are people who seem to take comfort focusing on the one perpetrator for these tragic deaths. We don’t need to consider the idolatry of guns (as poet Amanda Gorman wrote, “The truth is, one nation under guns”), or the racism that is woven into the fabric of America, or the hatred that is fomented on social media, or the number of people who did nothing in the midst of a killing spree. Instead, we just need to restrain the “one bad guy with a gun,” possibly with a “good guy with a gun.”

This focus on condemning one individual, while assuming everyone else can go about their lives unchanged, fails to recognize the brokenness that plagues all humans—and human institutions. The Calvinist in me appreciates the tenet of mutual accountability which is foundational in our Presbyterian system. We all have vulnerabilities, and no individual is capable of making correct decisions every time. This is why I am disturbed that there seems to be so little questioning of decisions we make in our presbytery. While many people are uncomfortable with what feels like conflict and distrust when we Presbyterians debate decisions, I consider this engagement to be healthy and important (as well as it is done with respect, humility, and faithfulness to Christ’s guidance). As members of a connectional church, I hope you are also gravely concerned when people sit back and watch an unjustice being done, without speaking up.

Now the defense for this behavior is the protocol for obeying a command, even it is dangerously wrong. While rapid crisis response usually benefits from a clear command structure, in our church we count on the intelligence and awareness that come with multiple individuals sharing their wisdom. I love the story referenced in Matthew 15:22-28, when even Jesus makes a response that seems devoid of wisdom or compassion. Indeed, when a woman—a foreign Gentile, at that—persists, and even challenges Jesus, she is rewarded. It was probably her desperation to save her daughter that caused her to talk back, but she spoke up, and saved her daughter, and changed the scope of Jesus’ saving call.

Thank God I have never personally seen extreme violence in the life of the church, though the selfless response of Dr. John Cheng probably saved many lives at Irvine Taiwanese, though he lost his own. For the most part our churches suffer from the actions of minor bullies who use menacing tones of voice or emotional abuse to get their way. Sometimes I think that is the important work of leadership, to stay the hands of bullies, but that takes the courage to speak up when you see wrong, and a thick skin (and/or the protection of God) to withstand the reaction. But it can be done, and with practice, it can be done with love and respect. And the earlier it’s done, the less difficult the correction.

May we be open to living out our faith, with love and respect for the body of Christ which is the church—and all the members of it. And let us pray, fervently and without ceasing, for Christ’s comfort for all who grieve, and for protection for all our most vulnerable neighbors and siblings.





Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
your children shall come back to their own country.                             Jeremiah 31:15-17

I used to write my columns first thing Monday morning. I don’t know why—it’s some combination of old age and feeling guilty that Ally has to send this out on her day off—but I have been trying to write earlier. The problem is, things keep happening.

This weekend, I thought about the shooting at Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, a massacre against African- Americans by a teenager filled with white supremacist hate. I remember a Black friend who once said that it feels like people are hunting down Blacks, and I can’t deny the feeling. New York Governor Kathy Hochul called it, “A military style execution, targeting people who simply went to buy groceries.” I started wondering whether we are in the middle of a slow-moving, unannounced war within our own country, as we are distracted by what seems like greater tragedies elsewhere, like in Ukraine. Maybe other countries just have a harder time hiding it—or we have blinders on, as other nations are certainly perplexed how there can be so much gun violence—and so many guns—in the United States. And, of course, I remember hearing the witnesses say what they always say, about how you never think something like this would happen here, in a grocery store in a quiet neighborhood.

And then Sunday came. I went to worship in Covina, at Faith Grace Chinese Evangelical Church, joined by Ralph Su. I confess that I have boasted once or twice about our San Gabriel COM, which has among our members three current or former national congregational consultant staff; Ralph works with all Asian congregations—which, in uniquely Presbyterian fashion, means all Asian congregations other than Korean. The second largest group of Asian churches in the PC(USA) is Taiwanese, so it is fitting that Ralph is Taiwanese. That also means that Ralph speaks Mandarin as well as Taiwanese and English, so he was helpful as we met with Faith Grace’s Session. Though they worship in Cantonese, they also speak Mandarin, as well as some English—and, as it happens, several also speak Vietnamese.

I left Faith Grace in order to come to Interwoven, and it was there when the news came about the shooting at Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, in Laguna Woods. I called Ralph, who was on his way home and had just received a text. As I write this, I am sick with unshed tears. All I can think of was the 2019 National Asian Presbyterian Women triennial gathering hosted by this church, when Janice Takeda was an officer who helped with the planning, bringing in several San Gabriel sisters— Mary Ellen Azada, Charlene Jin Lee, Eun-hyey Lok, and myself—to lead the worship and sessions.

But I also think about the fires that raged so close to this area, where the news mentioned the high value of the houses that burned. And I was left with that same stupid feeling, that I could never imagine that something like this would happen here, at this celebration luncheon for a former pastor of this congregation of aging Taiwanese Presbyterians in a wealthy retirement community in Orange County. Without more information than this, I ask your prayers for the people of Buffalo, for the people of the Taiwanese Presbyterian Council and Geneva Presbyterian Church, and for leaders like Los Ranchos presbyter Tom Cramer and Ralph Su, who are already being called on for help.

What causes me the most despair is the relentless repetition of these tragedies. We’ve even given up calling for gun safety laws to prevent future killings, because it never happens. United Church of Christ pastor Susan A. Blain wrote after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the sadness then was the very long list of mass shootings she included in that document. I dare not try to count how many have been added to the list since then. She wrote:

Children, youth, teachers at school, devout folks at prayer, adults at work, elderly and their caregivers in nursing homes, music lovers at concerts, dancers at clubs— their lives violently ended; their futures lost.

They are all our ancestors now: peculiarly American ancestors, whose diverse lives were lost to a peculiarly American confluence of rage, hate, mental illness, and—most critically—easy access to guns.

Sadly, we can now add “families at Walmart and the supermarket.” And our ancestors include African- Americans and Indigenous women; schoolchildren of all races and backgrounds, including suburban White kids and rural Amish schoolgirls; and people of faith including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs

. . . and now Taiwanese Presbyterians. And the land of the enemy and our own country are one and the same. As Muscogee poet Joy Harjo wrote, “Keep us from giving up in this land of nightmares which is also the land of miracles.”

I have no answer for this. Sometimes all we can do is sit in the ashes of our dreams, and wait for the Lord to remind us of hope, of resurrection, of love that overcomes hate. Soon and very soon, Lord.



Waking Up to New Learning

Waking Up to New Learning

The gifts Christ gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.                Ephesians 4:11-13

I spent last week in Washington state, between Tacoma and Seattle, for the Presbytery Leader Formation residency. This is a program to help prepare new presbytery executives (or those in similar positions) for the work ahead of them, and I was the newest instructor to be added in. Because COVID put the residencies on hiatus, we are trying to sort out how to give folks a satisfactory experience in learning and connecting with each other. While the program design includes three residencies (theoretically, the first three years of one’s service), things got jumbled up with the two years of COVID preventing in-person meetings. So, even though quite a few people ended up not attending, we still had 40 attendees, which the veterans said was twice the size of a typical residency. And, of course, they reflect a broad diversity of contexts.

What this week represented for me was the first steps of coming out of COVID. Though I participated in one in-person conference last year, my travel schedule has been nothing like it used to be—and what with the hybrid GA, and all of the meetings for the GAPJC still on Zoom, it will still be less than before, and frankly I’m OK with that. It’s always a surprise for people to hear that I’m actually a pretty strong introvert, so the limited travel has been kind of nice for me. Last week I noticed how the extroverts were beyond thrilled to be able to connect in person this last week, but I felt like I was coming out of a fog.

But it seems that it is time for us to start to wake up and venture back out into the world, and maybe participate in some continuing education again. As it happens, I have heard about some programs coming up this summer and fall that you might want to look into.

Huw Christopher pointed to the rich variety of trainings offered by Columbia Theological Seminary, some on-line and some in various locations around the Southeast. The full list is at https://www.ctsnet.edu/events/ but Huw highlighted one very intriguing program for pastors of congregations, on Developing Pastoral Intelligence, September 19-21. The programs include some trainings on prayer and contemplation, or leading the Presbyterian Women Horizons Bible Study Curriculum, for disciples seeking deeper practices of faith as well as pastors looking for new skills.

I was looking at Zephyr Point’s Events Calendar, which includes a variety of summer camps for young people, workshops for artists and musicians, and pastors interested in interim ministry. You can find it at https://www.zephyrpoint.org/programs/. For me, just being up at Lake Tahoe is a wonderful retreat! I was happy to see that anyone can register for the Ethnic Concerns Consultation, an annual conference that has been led and supported by Bryce Little for decades (he invited me to be the speaker in 2016), sponsored by what is now North Central California Presbytery (the merger of Sacramento and Stockton presbyteries). The October 7-9 event will have three of the most influential leaders in the PC(USA): Liz Theoharis, Co-Chair with William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign; Bruce Reyes-Chow, former GA Moderator and advocate for the future of the church; and Elona Street-Stewart, current GA Co- Moderator and key Indigenous church leader. All PC(USA) members are eligible for a $100 discount off the already quite affordable registration fee. (Use discount code “PCUSA22” when registering.)

Because Bryce and I are hoping that others from San Gabriel Presbytery might want to go together, I would be happy to register folks as a group and we can coordinate travel etc. Just let me know.

Princeton Theological Seminary has several intriguing events coming up, including an on-line two-day reflection on the 1992 response in Los Angeles to the Rodney King police trial, called Hope from Ashes, scheduled for this Friday and Saturday, May 13-14. Veronica Ota, a Princeton student from First Altadena who is under care of San Gabriel Presbytery, has been active in planning this event. The full list of options is at https://www.ptsem.edu/the-quad/events. Again, some are on-line, some are hybrid, and some are in person at Princeton.

As you know, we Presbyterians are big believers in education, including education for our pastors. It might be time for us to look into some opportunities to come out of our collective COVID fog. Now I’m also very clear that we need to be gentle with ourselves, and to venture out only when we are ready. But here are a few options; and I’m sure there are many others.

One of my favorite quotes from John Calvin is “the minds of the godly are rarely at peace,” though to be honest this is more a reflection on our tendency to experience doubt. The full sentence is “Faith is tossed about by various doubts, so that the minds of the godly are rarely at peace.” (You can find it in the Institutes, Book III, Chapter ii, item 37, on page 584 in the first volume of the 1960 John T. McNeill edition.) In any case, I like to think that we do have lively, restless minds, even if it challenges our faith.

Yesterday I experienced a transformational worship service, as Interwoven reflected on Mother’s Day in a most unique and powerful way. I may be slow, but I’m hoping that all of us are starting to feel some fresh awareness again—in worship, in relationship, and in education.