Covenants

Covenants

You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, “And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Acts 3:25

Last week I mentioned working on a talk I am preparing for, a recounting from my perspective of the experiences of what we used to call the JPC, the Japanese Presbyterian Conference. While I am still quite nervous and humbled by the invitation to speak to the NCKPC, the National Caucus of Korean Presbyterian Churches, it has been a blessing to me personally to have occasion to put together several of the strands of my sense of self and faith.

Somewhere in the work I found a couple of websites on redlining in the greater Los Angeles area. In 1939, the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC), under the Federal Housing Administration, was established to increase homeownership for working-class Americans under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Part of this work was to assign grades to the various neighborhoods as a way of assessing property values. It is ironic that this effort helped to raise the lifestyle of working-class Americans coming out of the Depression, yet also reinforced one of the most damaging aspects of structural racism that impacts the financial security of people of color even today.

But if we know our history, it helps us avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. In the case of Japanese- Americans, the website https://www.laalmanac.com/history/hi727.php shows how we were seen back in the day, when my parents were just finishing high school. This website has a summary table of some local neighborhoods, of which I am listing just a few. The table below uses the exact terms from the HOLC descriptions; in the grading, “A” is the most desired of neighborhoods; “D” is “hazardous.”

* One of several neighborhoods in that community

This table reflects the diversity that Los Angeles has always known, and the nature of racism in this diversity. For instance, I always loved Boyle Heights for the great cultural mix that has been there for so long. It is the original home for the Jewish community, and the Japanese community, in Los Angeles, and Americans of Mexican descent continue to live there. This report shows how people who would now be called “White” were listed as undesirable foreigners. African-Americans are measured in their own column in the table, and the harshest exclusionary practices were used against them.

The second website, https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=14/34.168/-118.173&city=los- angeles-ca&area=D6&adview=full, includes an interactive map so you can look up your own house and see how your neighborhood was valued in 1939.

You probably know that segregation was enforced through racially restricted “covenants,” by which White homeowners were supposed to fulfill a promise not to sell their home to anyone who was not Caucasian. As a Christian, I was always confused by the use of this term, because it is such a fundamental aspect of our relationship with God. Of course, the term simply means “contract” or “agreement,” so those agreements can be used for good, or ill.

But undoubtedly, God can make good out of ill. The neighborhoods of African-Americans and immigrants were considered undesirable by some, but they offered opportunity for diverse peoples to come to know, care for, and learn from each other. For instance, a favorite story from First Presbyterian Church, Altadena, is the friendship between Jackie Robinson and his next door neighbor and UCLA teammate, Shig Takayama. Their families were so close that when the Takayamas were sent to the camps, the Robinsons watched over their home for them. And right before the Japanese were expelled, Congregationalist pastor, Royden Susu-Mago, shared in his sermon:

Having learned the result of intolerance, let us be tolerant of others……. I like to think of the fine attitude of the Negroes towards us. Consider how the Negroes have been persecuted as an inferior race because black happens to be a hated color……………….. You would think the Negroes would jump at the opportunity of crying “Japs,” and joining the nation in oppressing us, but they have not done it. They understand how it hurts to be segregated and denied civil rights. They have learned tolerance, remembering how Jesus said: “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceiveth not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 7:3; Luke 6:41)

Let us gain strength, and courage, and love by the covenant we have in Jesus Christ. Let us form covenants of mutual respect, and care, and justice with all of God’s people, that we may be a blessing to all the families of earth. Let us tell our stories, and hear the stories of each other, and together tell the story of the healing action of the Holy Spirit in our lives and our churches.

In the Presbyterian tradition, we believe in geographic presbyteries because we believe God put us in this community together for a reason. Let us seek God’s will together, and do it.

 

Gathered as one body,

Wendy

Minimizing

Minimizing

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.

1 Corinthians 9:19, 22

Lately I’ve been delving into memories from my childhood days at First Presbyterian Church, Altadena, previously known as Pasadena Union Presbyterian Church (and prior to that, Pasadena Japanese Union Church). I’m trying to prepare for a presentation to one of the 50th Anniversary events for the National Caucus of Korean Presbyterian Churches (NCKPC). The Korean Presbyterian Men met about a week ago in Chicago, and our own Dongwoo Lee was one of the speakers. Due to a mix-up with Steve Yamaguchi (who I think will try to greet them remotely from his current role as pastor of Tokyo Union Church), I will sub for him and go to Denver October 18-20 to meet with the symposium focusing on the future of the Korean-American church. The symposium planners are asking Chinese- and Japanese-Americans to share our experience, as we have been in the US longer.

The NCKPC is the collection of all Korean congregations in the PC(USA). Currently there are 350-400 churches with almost 500,000 members, but many of the church members are 1st generation, and are moving into retirement age. This question about the Korean-American church’s future has been a source of on-going concern for church leaders, and it is now more critical as the immigration rate from Korea is dropping. US Census reports show that there were 290,000 Korean immigrants in the US in 1980, 1,100,000 in 2010, and the number actually decreased by 2019, to 1,013,000. In 2019, there were an additional 448,700 people identifying as Korean who were born in the United States; they represent 31% of all Koreans in the US.

Anyway, as I have reflected on my childhood in the Japanese Presbyterian church, I remembered this Scripture passage about fitting in, which I remember my uncle preaching on regularly. Yet I have never heard it preached on by anyone else, and I myself have never preached it, and I began preaching regularly on World Communion Sunday 24 years ago. While I didn’t know how big (or small) a concept this was for other Christians, I do remember thinking how it fit in well with the Japanese penchant for conforming to the larger group.

I’ve also thought about this in relation to the intercultural orientation of Minimization, which describes San Gabriel Presbytery as a group and myself as an individual. I’ve become more aware of the ways people rely on areas of commonality when relating to groups they are not totally comfortable with. I’m now wondering whether the prevalence of this strategy reflects where we are in the world: in general, we do not deny or prejudge other cultures, but we are not yet comfortable with “going deep” in connecting with people of different backgrounds. So we can acknowledge that we have diverse backgrounds, but it feels more safe to focus on whatever we have in common, or adjust to the dominant culture, rather than explore what makes us different. Conversely, when I am with people from other cultures with whom I am comfortable, I have no trouble referencing our cultural differences.

As the Reforming Presbytery Practices group continues to meet, we have become more aware that being a truly inclusive presbytery, where we can understand and incorporate the wide range of cultural values and perspectives, takes much more effort than we have chosen in the past. I remember Alhambra True Light, and the work they put into any meeting, which included having everything written so it can be translated in three languages ahead of time, and having simultaneous translators available at every meeting. We have started to streamline things like putting more items in the Consent Agenda, but that’s just the first step. The group has been excellent at looking for ways to find time to deepen our relationships and understanding of each others’ cultures.

I think there has been great progress, in the church and in the world. One subtle shift is for Euro- Americans to recognize that they are a culture too, and there are specific values held in that culture that are not necessarily shared by others. Here’s an example: one cultural value that Elizabeth Gibbs Zehnder mentioned at our Presbytery meeting was staying on time, so she shortened her presentation to keep to the planned schedule. There are many traditional cultures, such as in Latin America or among Pacific Islanders, where people do not cut their activities to fit the clock, but they take as long as they need to in order to finish what they are doing, which may include taking the time to connect with each other on a personal level. And so we have some people who are always on time, and some even get insulted if they have to wait for a latecomer. On the other hand, others are stressed to figure out how to meet the appointed schedule, if there is something or someone who needs their attention, and often end up being “late” to their next event. (I once asked some native Hawaiians how they do it, because they are rarely late—their response was they would not schedule events back to back, and my experience is that they would not try to pack so many events in a day.)

What would it take to allow our diverse members to live and work in a way that works for them, rather than force themselves to fit the current dominant way we do things? We may not accommodate all differences— but it will be great help for us to do some self-examination and prayer time, and to take advantage of our growing number of opportunities to connect with folks you may not know yet. We don’t know how to do it all, but that’s what the prayer is for! Keep your hearts and minds open to God’s leading for all of us.

 

In the peace of Christ,

Wendy

 

Managing

Managing

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
the Lord who has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers. Psalm 24:1-2

Yesterday was an important day in the Presbytery of San Gabriel. In the morning, Arcadia Community Church called Rev. John Scholte to be their new pastor. It was a joyous day, a clear demonstration of God’s grace in bringing together a gifted pastor and a faithful, vibrant church. It was a gift for COM Moderator Cyndie Crowell and me to witness the work of the Pastor Nominating Committee, who represented different parts of the Arcadia church, yet who listened well to each other’s perspectives, and offered their varied skills and priorities in a fruitful manner. Rev. Scholte, who currently has standing with the Reformed Church in America (RCA), should be coming before the Presbytery on November 16th.

In the afternoon, the Presbytery installed Rev. Lisa Hansen as pastor of Pasadena Presbyterian Church in a beautiful service that marked a hopeful new chapter in PPC’s ministry. Lisa is providing faithful, solid leadership for all of PPC, and though other transitions lay ahead, the Gospel lives through the people of PPC.

You may remember that Lisa also transferred in from the RCA. The RCA is the denomination that is closest to the PC(USA)—one RCA official refers to them as “the Dutch PCUSA.” But the RCA is facing serious internal conflict. My understanding is that they will be making some fundamental decisions about the future of the denomination in their General Synod next month, and I told the clerk of the classis (think stated clerk of the presbytery) in Southern California that I’d ask you to pray for them. Just as we have seen the gracious hand of God in directing these churches in Pasadena and Arcadia, let us pray that all churches and denominations—and their members and pastors—see many reasons to give thanks for God’s providence, especially in times of transition.

In between these two events, the September Camino de San Diego (aka the Virtual Border Trip) concluded by watching the livestream of the Border Church at worship (https://www.facebook.com/BorderChurch), a weekly church service held with people on both sides of the border between Tijuana and San Diego, and our closing reflection on our last few weeks visiting the border. The trip is organized—beautifully—by Via International (https://viainternational.org/), and this virtual approach provides valuable glimpses into not only the crisis of a broken immigration system, the inequalities and trials that cause people to attempt to migrate to the United States, and some really impressive self-determined community development work that is facilitated by Via International and others. I hope that we can offer this again, and more people will be able to experience it.

I have to say that these visits were quite challenging, especially at this particular time when it seems the whole world is being displaced. During these last few weeks of the Border Trip, we also heard about the evacuation and eventual placement of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees, we saw the horrible treatment of Haitian refugees attempting to enter into Texas, and Congress and the Administration continue to stumble in their attempts to resolve multiple problems in the US policies on immigration, even as a Texas federal court ruled that DACA is illegal.

The cumulative effect of so many people trying to enter the relative safety and prosperity of the United States can overwhelm all of us as we try to figure out how to be compassionate and prudent in managing the continuing stream of people trying to find a home in the United States. Continued attempts to close the border bring to mind a large and well-appointed palace housing a relatively small group of people, who are doing everything they can do to block entry into the palace by large groups of needy people trying to get in.

I confess that I am almost paralyzed by the shame of recognizing the injustice in a privileged few withholding resources from so many (and knowing that I am one of those few), and the panic of being overrun by what seems to be a never-ending stream of potential immigrants. What do we do?

We try to manage the situation, to be prudent in finding a feasible approach to the immigration situation. It’s like the challenge faced by affluent Christians (and that includes nearly all of us)—it’s so popular to say we need to take care of ourselves, and make sure we have enough before we can give to others, but what is enough? Do we ever get to the point where we are able to give freely?

Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t give us any easy answers. The Bible gives answers like:

  • Go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor
  • Deny yourselves and take up your cross daily and follow
  • There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.

Personally, the question of immigration may be answered by the Psalmist who wrote “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” If we treat everything we try to manage as the Lord’s, and not our own, would we make different decisions? Is it right for us to try to hold onto property and privilege, if we realize that we really don’t own what we have to enjoy?

I share this reflection humbly, knowing that I regularly spoil myself with frivolous luxuries. But if we claim to follow the Bible, we need to think what the Bible is saying about our choices, and the people whose choices we deny. I make no demands; but I would ask that you join me in praying on it.

And in the meantime, may you enjoy the many blessings God has given you—and may we all trust that God will continue to bless us.

In the peace of Christ,

Wendy

 

Self-Portrait

Self-Portrait

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us . . .

Romans 12:4-6a

Last Saturday we held our first “hybrid” Presbytery meeting. Rev. Elizabeth Gibbs Zehnder, our chaplain at LAC+USC Medical Center, was extremely encouraging as she gave us props for the design of the meeting. Of course, she gave us a compelling glimpse into her ministry, which has been so painful and totally critical during these COVID-ravaged times. Since she kindly shortened her presentation (since we did go long), you might want to contact her if you are interested in helping with the chaplaincy, or ask her to preach or do adult education at your church. Click here for a written update, and opportunities to get involved for the fall and winter seasons.

As I mentioned, our meeting ran long before Elizabeth spoke, but we had the opportunity to hear from each other, and to reflect on a report on our intercultural awareness.

There were several milestones in ministry we celebrated:

  • Lisa Hansen will be installed as pastor of Pasadena Presbyterian Church this coming Sunday, September 26, at 3 pm. Everyone is encouraged to come to this service of the Presbytery.
  • Sam Kim is retiring at the end of October as pastor of Divine Light Presbyterian Church in El Monte. We lift up prayers of thanksgiving for Sam’s faithful service, and for Divine Light as they enter a period of transition after two decades of loving ministry with Rev. Kim.
  • Terry McGonigal transferred his membership into San Gabriel Presbytery, having retired from Whitworth University and having moved to Monte Vista Grove. Rev. McGonigal is a highly respected leader in the larger church, and continues to work as a consultant with Whitworth’s Office of Church Engagement. He is currently working with select churches as he looks ahead to the church’s future in this very changed world. We look forward to getting to know and learn from Terry.
  • We followed up on the Presbytery’s decision in June to make GKI-LA a fellowship of San Gabriel. COM has appointed a team to work with GKI-LA as they seek to be chartered as a member We heard from GKI’s pastor, Rev. Pipi Dhali, and elder Melvin Rebiono about their church, and their background and the gifts they bring from the church in Indonesia. Rev. Karen Kiser was impressed enough with Pipi’s presentation that she asked for a written copy of his notes. Pipi’s notes, which can be accessed here, is more complete than we had time for at the meeting and includes a bonus question about the large number of woman pastors in the Indonesian church.
  • We gave our blessings to Jennifer Ackerman and Becca Bateman as they move to their new homes in the Presbytery of Cascades and Jennifer has purchased a house and settled in Portland as she continues to work for Fuller Seminary, and Becca has been called as associate pastor at Doylestown Presbyterian Church. We also approved Ally Lee’s departure from Knox Presbyterian, as she begins her work with Interwoven New Worshiping Community.

We were inspired and challenged by elder Joshua Marmol’s sharing about Shower of Hope, which is a ministry with people experiencing homelessness at Knox Presbyterian Church. Joshua reminded us that people who are currently homeless are just as deserving of love and respect as anyone else. We received the Presbytery offering for Shower of Hope; you can give by going to https://sangabpres.org/donate/ and clicking the dropdown menu to “Presbytery Offering,” or by sending a check to Presbytery of San Gabriel, 9723 Garibaldi Avenue, Temple City, CA 91780 and write “Shower of Hope” in the memo line.

Several important events in 2022 were announced:

  • WinterFest 2022 will happen, probably in late January 2022. The plan will be to hold multiple sessions on Zoom for three weeknights, then we will have a plenary session and lunch to close the event on Saturday. We will livestream the plenary session for those who cannot come to the event. This WinterFest will help us prepare and live into a much-changed future, as we seek to continue to offer our churches as places of compassion, for each person and for the congregation as a
  • General Assembly will be held in a hybrid format between June 18 and July 9, 2022. Click here for the nominations form if you are interested in being Ruling Elder or Teaching Elder Commissioner, or Young Adult Advisory Delegate. Please return the completed form to Ally Lee at ally@sangabpres.org by October 12, 2021.
  • Presbyterian Youth Triennium will be held July 24-27, 2022 in Indianapolis. Brian Gaeta- Symonds (brian@claremontpres.org) will be San Gabriel’s Registrar and will be sending information to all the churches as it becomes available.

As promised, we reviewed the initial group report for San Gabriel Presbytery from the Intercultural Development Inventory. I say “initial” report because we are making it available for more people who may have missed taking the inventory during the summer. We can also create reports for churches if we get enough people (at least 10 or more) from a single church to take the inventory, which the Presbytery Executive Commission has committed to funding. You can review the slides from the presentation here, and contact Sam Bang (sbang@fuller.edu), Sophia Eurich-Rascoe (sophiaeurich@gmail.com), or Wendy Tajima (wendytajima@sangabpres.org) if you have questions about the IDI or if you already took the inventory and want to go over your individual report.

We began and ended the meeting with prayer. Early in the meeting we remembered Rev. Bill Van Loan, who was a very active and diligent Presbytery leader, most recently as Corporate Secretary. Bill died on July 25, 2021.  We pray for Bill’s family, especially his wife Judy Post.

We tried out some recommendations from the “Reforming Presbytery Practices” group, with the approval of the Executive Commission. One key item was an expanded consent agenda, which freed up time in the Presbytery meeting by combining all non-controversial motions while still giving any commissioner the ability to pull any item that they want to discuss. A second was holding facilitated breakout groups, with the same people in each group, so that we could get to know each other more.  In breakout groups we were able to share our memories, thoughts on IDI, and prayers. One prayer is for Rev. Doug Edwards, who is recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor. The family is struggling to pay for the large caregiving expenses; if you would like to read an update and a way to help, you can read this letter from his family.

We continue to grow—and grow together—as a Presbytery. We are committed to building relationships of love and shared ministry that help us to appreciate and honor the divinely-created variety of gifts and perspectives that we all bring from our varied backgrounds and cultural identities. It is a great blessing to walk with San Gabriel Presbytery on this leg of our journey.

Together with you in Christ,

Wendy

 

Identity

Identity

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.

Luke 6:35

I am part of the Camino de San Diego Virtual Border Trip, which is being offered in conjunction with Via International and the Southern California Presbyterian Immigrant Accompaniment Ministry. Our first stop was Chicano Park in San Diego. I didn’t even know about this wonderful place, a true model of community claiming, defending, and building on their rights!

Two of the artists who work on the amazing murals at Chicano Park spoke with us.  As they live close to the border between Mexico and the United States, they regularly cross back and forth between the nations; about 100,000 people commute regularly between Tijuana and San Ysidro. They are called “fronteriz@s” or borderlanders. They are connected to both nations.

Among many things, I was struck by the discussion of identity. At one level, the artists shared the challenge of their dual identity, not being fully accepted as Mexican in Mexico, or as American in the United States. But they also gain strength from asserting and expressing and celebrating their identity: through their artwork, through revived traditions such as Aztec dances and healing practices, and through storytelling within the community.

I was intrigued by this as an Asian-American. When asked, Asian-Americans speak most passionately about identity. I believe that a key benefit that Asian-Americans have is our ability, for the most part, to trace our ancestry back several generations to our ancestral homeland. Our ancestral identity is relatively intact, which gives us a sense of security from knowledge of our roots. This just happens to be my belief; I am aware that there are Asians who have either lost or rejected their family and cultural heritage. But when I consider the way Africans were ripped away from their roots during the days of the slave trade, or the number of White Americans who do not have a sense of identity, I think of the stories of my ancestors to be a blessing.

Because of this, I had to ponder the words of our guides, who also gained strength from their identity—but their identity was much more complicated than mine. How could people look back on generations of struggle and persecution, and gain strength?

As much as I lean on my sense of identity as a Japanese-American, I also look to the Bible to understand my identity, my spiritual ancestral roots among the people of Israel and followers of Jesus Christ. What is my identity as a Christian?

In our Presbytery meeting this Saturday (have you registered yet?!), we will discuss the results of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), which measures our intercultural competence as the Presbytery. One thing that the developers of the IDI recommend to most of us is to learn more about our own culture. Because “culture” is not limited to ethnicity, perhaps it would be helpful for us to explore our cultural identity as Christians—or even as Presbyterians. In a recent conversation after one of our “Reforming Presbytery Practices” group meetings, some young teaching elders shared how they do not feel included in the Presbyterian in-circle, because they did not grow up in Presbyterian families. There are assumptions and values that are shared almost subconsciously among cradle Presbyterians—sometimes people refer to this as “Presbyterian DNA.”

In some ways, our Presbyterian identity is a guide and even a source of pride for many of us. But it is quite possible that elements of that identity can constrain us as a church, especially when we fail to recognize that some of those elements keep us from welcoming and flexing with people from different backgrounds. For instance, our appreciation of traditional Western education and the related attachment to the written word in English can make us develop very rationalistic, word-heavy and complicated approaches to worship and church governance. This has resulted in expectations of church sessions that are daunting to people of nearly every background.

Perhaps it would be helpful for us to consider who we are—as individuals, as Presbyterians, as Christians. And the Bible does give us great insight into our identity, and it’s almost as complicated as our friends at the border. We can look back and remember that Jesus told his followers that they will have the power of the Holy Spirit—but also that the world will reject them, as Jesus was rejected. We are a people who are strengthened by knowledge that we connect with an authority far beyond earthly powers, and that even when we are persecuted, God will protect us and even work through our faithful witness. Like the Fronteriz@s, we can be bold to challenge oppression, because we know what God would want for us and for all marginalized peoples. All we need to do is trust in God, and follow the teachings that Jesus offers for God’s children, teachings that surround the bold statement “you will be children of the Most High”— teachings like humility, love for one’s enemies, and radical forgiveness.

As we consider ways we must change in order to welcome more of God’s children into our shared ministry, it might be compelling to consider what it means to be Presbyterian in a very changed context. And as we consider who we are and whose we are, may we be grateful for and recognize the gifts of our spiritual roots. And may we also be emboldened to do the will of the God who made us and saved us, and got us to this point. May we bearers of the grace that God has offered to us.

See you on Saturday, on Zoom or at San Marino!

Together with you in Christ,

Wendy

 

There is a God . . .

There is a God . . .

Jesus said to the apostles, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

Mark 6:31

A couple of weeks ago, I was getting ready to go on vacation, including the first time I was to fly in almost two years. I was thinking it was a really good time to go, because I had noticed that my general outlook was suffering from burnout. Not only was I getting fatigued, I think it was impacting my ministry. I was jumping to conclusions too fast, and getting irritated even more than my usual irritable self. As I wrote in my column a couple of weeks ago, I was starting to worry that I wasn’t listening for God in Scripture, or in the voices of God’s people.

The impact of burnout for many of us church types is that we can get so busy doing God’s work that we start confusing the work that we think we should do for God, over the work that God is guiding us to do.

I thought on this as I took the luxury of doing nothing for days at a time during this vacation. I thought about the justification for doing nothing—is it rest? Or clearing my mind long enough to be able to approach life and ministry afresh? Or giving folks a break from me or my opinions? Or was it acknowledging that the running of the world (or the Presbytery) is not my work, but God’s?

One big blessing of the vacation was the relatively few emails and texts I got. I trust that either life has gone back to that summer pace we always wish for, or most likely, folks are quite able to lead freely without me. We will have an even better opportunity to prove this next year, as I hope to take a sabbatical next summer.

As I shifted gears to neutral, two stories came to mind. One was not really a story, but a comment made by Walt Gerber, the well-known pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (whose first call, by the way, was right here in San Gabriel Presbytery). For all the planning and musical gifts and technology that went into their five weekly worship services, Walt reminded us seminarians that any worship they planned was a “dead, limp body until the Holy Spirit fills it.” For all of our hard work and competence, anything we do is minimal—perhaps even problematic—without God’s guidance and blessing.

The other memory is only partial. It came from a famous Christian writer whose name I cannot remember. He mentioned how he managed to take time out of his very busy and important schedule of speaking and preaching, and spent a season at a Trappist monastery. When he was about to leave, the monks gave him a two-handled mug. They told him that when one holds both handles of the mug, it is hard to do anything other than drink from the mug. Rather than living a high-speed, multi-tasking existence when it can be difficult to slow down long enough to appreciate what God offers us—even a simple drink—he was advised to do one thing at a time, with the undivided gratitude for whatever we are doing in that moment.

Even as I write this, I wonder if people question the feasibility of such a slow, deliberate approach to life. Honestly, when I think of the old ways of cloistered monastic life, when it seemed that there was little or no interaction with the outside world, I am challenged to accept that this form of faithful living is just as God- honoring as a busy life of work for charity and justice. But I do believe that, and I remember times in my life when I benefited from time doing nothing but prayer and worship.

I make no promises whether I will be any easier to live with when I get back–! Sometimes re-entry from vacation can be so difficult that I wonder why I went away at all. But I pray that this will not be true this coming week, and even if problems do arise, I will have enough peace in my mind and heart to respond with Christ’s compassion, having been reminded that God is in charge. As the saying goes, “There is a God— and I’m not Him.” (Sorry, I haven’t found a non-gendered way to say this effectively.)

I pray that my ministry will be less of me and more of God, speaking through the collective “we.” I pray that I will have the ability to keep to a pace of peace, even if this means I may not be as efficient or as responsive as I like to think I am. And I pray that I will appreciate how we all discern the rhythm that is God’s, even when it does not match our own.

May God’s peace fill you as we enter the fall season.

Blessings,

Wendy