Languages

Languages

The Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.

Habakkuk 2:2

This last weekend was my first real work with the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC), and as I started out in this very new territory, I realized I was facing a steep learning curve.

When I met my new colleagues, a couple of times they asked if I was an attorney before seminary.

I remembered how my polity professor, the late great Howard Rice, once asked me the same question because I seemed to “get” the polity so well. I told him I wasn’t a lawyer, I was just raised a Presbyterian. But being on the GAPJC really tests one’s level of polity geekness as well as an attention to detail. GAPJC decisions carry the same authority as the Book of Order, so they work hard to ensure that what they write, and how they write it, will stand the test of time. And they have developed their own kind of quasi-legalese, a mix of legalisms and Presbyterianism that I might call PJC-ese.

Once I got past the panic, I realized that the documents were describing situations that happen in the life of the church, when people and churches—and presbyteries and synods—find themselves in the kinds of conflicts that are at the heart of all this legalese. And you can see how the folks are trying their best to speak this PJC-ese, though they are as bewildered by the requirements of the Book of Order and Rules of Discipline as any of us are.

But as it happens, the first two cases I have worked on present new challenges for the GAPJC. In these cases, these people and churches—and presbyteries and synods—speak Spanish and Korean, while the GAPJC meets in English. And, of course, we are attempting to hold these hearings by Zoom, with people all over the continent and in Puerto Rico. Now a few people on the GAPJC do speak Spanish and one speaks Korean, though some of these folks had to be recused. So here we are now trying to discern God’s justice through intricate legal processes, in multiple languages, via Zoom. It seemed a good time to appreciate this new frontier we were working in.

As I started to get overwhelmed by the complexity of these multiple languages—PJC-ese, English, Spanish, Zoom—I thought of this passage from Habakkuk. Once, many years ago, I was involved in leading churches in a missional church transformation process that introduced new terminology and concepts that were very confusing to the church members and pastors. At one point they were getting so flustered that I shared this passage with them:

Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.

A church matriarch laughed and said, “You’re making that up! That isn’t really in the Bible, is it?!” But in fact it is, and it is one of the messages of comfort—and challenge—that I often fall back on.

Actually, as I reflect on it, I realize that there are many references to changing communications technology throughout the Bible. We start with God speaking the universe into creation. We see the power of language that God confounded at Babel, and the power of the Holy Spirit overcoming this confusion on the Day of Pentecost.

The Habakkuk passage evokes many profound images in just a few words: the Lord speaks through a prophet, commands that a message be written in plain language on tablets, with a runner delivering it—hopefully not as long as with the legendary first marathon runner. Even more powerfully, we remember other ways that we hear from God:

Moses sees a burning bush and later meets with God on the mountaintop; dreams come to Samuel and Joseph,

angels speak to Mary and humble shepherds, and

of course Jesus speaks to his people, unrolling a scroll in the temple and declaring that the Spirit of the Lord has anointed Jesus to bring good news to the poor,

to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

God speaks to us through the many literary forms in the Bible, through the words and deeds of the people of God, through the beauty of nature and the arts and maybe even the wonders of science, and through the still small voice of love and hope and redemption and peace that can easily be missed in the craziness that is this year, the year 2020.

In turn, we are called to spread the good news of Jesus Christ through proclamation and sacrament; through the word spoken, written, sung, emailed, and tweeted in many languages; and through our very lives, as individuals and as the body gathered, in worship and discernment, gathered however we can, even connected by Zoom. We can be confident that God will always find ways to communicate with us humans —and God willspeak through us if we are faithful, and if we are not, God is prepared to speak through strangers and enemies, through stones in the street, and even the occasional donkey, if need be.

In this strange new time, may we be open to be filled with the Pentecost power of the Holy Spirit, that we may communicate as God wills it, in the many different languages we speak in these days of diversity and technology. Let us take a moment to stop and take a breath, breathing in the Spirit of the Lord, empowering us but also comforting and calming us for our ministries, our relationships, and whatever life has waiting for us.

And when things feel complicated and clumsy and unfulfilling, may we lean into God’s power to communicate through us, in ways beyond our own understanding. May we live with gratitude and grace, sharing God’s mercy and wisdom to all who need to hear, through whatever means necessary. AMEN.

Wendy

 

Reflection: Kristi Van Nostran

Reflection: Kristi Van Nostran

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.

Hebrews 13:1-3

“Let mutual love continue” was our theme last weekend for World Communion Sunday. It was a beautiful way to frame the celebration of the unity that we are called to as Christian siblings around the globe. Mutual love sounds sweet, don’t you think? Love is always a good thing. Cue the singing animals, some sparkly stars, and warm fuzzy feelings. Until of course you are stuck on a never-ending zoom call with the person who drives you absolutely crazy, or the person who always complains but never steps up to fix the stuff they complain about, or that person you live with who just left their dishes inches from the dish washer for the 10th time this week, or the family member who knows exactly which of your buttons to push… And so the author of Hebrews goes on to describe what mutual love actually looks like. And unfortunately for Disney it doesn’t appear to include singing animals or star-crossed lovers. It is a choice, and often not an easy or comfortable one.

Mutual love is counterintuitive: it looks like congregations who are facing all the challenges of living in this difficult, in between, insecure, unclear and unsure moment welcoming strangers. Strangers who could be angels, but who are strangers all the same. Mutual love isn’t safe. It means empathizing with those in prison, so much so that you visit them, write to them, pray for them, advocate for them. Mutual love extends to those who we can easily love like family and those who are strangers, love means being in the skin of the person being tortured, practicing compassion so extreme that you experience the suffering of others yourself. Which is probably going to demand that you do something about that torture. Love changes you, love demands things of you; love is action. Love is making the choice to act for those who are in danger, who are powerless, who are other. Love is a risky choice that will change who we are at our core.

The reason is simple: we are made in the image of a God who is mutual love. God of course does it perfectly, the three diverse persons of the Trinity freely to act for one another, to make room for one another, to always choose the best for the Beloved, and in turn the same is done for them. Mutual love becomes perfect in that the One who made us got so in our skin and felt our struggle that God came to us having put on human flesh. It doesn’t get much more compassionate or more loving than that! God took on real risk to be with us, to experience our lives, to show us with God’s own hands a different way of living, a way of choosing to love. Even if it meant suffering, even if it meant conflict, even if it meant death.

The author of Hebrews is seeking to guide that congregation – and our congregations – to build wide and welcoming community where the vulnerable are cared for and safe, where those with privilege and power give of themselves for the good of all. And the key to all the author’s instructions is action that builds welcoming, mutual, loving community. Love is about our relationship with others, the actions that will draw us closer to others, that will knit together a community, that will bind individuals into relationship with each other, and with God.

Love is a choice, however. We are free to walk away from it. We are free to choose an easier way, probably a more comfortable way. That easy way lets us choose just the people we like to

surround us, and only do activities that we like, and resist any change that might crack us open to otherness, or newness. We do have that choice, but it won’t help us to pattern our lives after Christ’s way; not like consciously choosing love does.

To choose mutual love is to choose to act in a way that gives life to all. Sometimes that means welcoming the stranger who is in danger, afraid, hated by others. Sometimes that means allowing ourselves to be the stranger who is welcomed by others out of our suffering, to be raised up and cared for in a community of love.

We are called by God to choose to act toward others in ways that builds wholeness, promotes healing, provides welcome and wellness in ourselves and our communities. It is work we can only do together, with one another and with the God who made us. This is the hope to which we are called on World Communion Sunday, and every day: To be people who are formed by and who practice mutual love.

In peace,

Kristi

 

 

Shalom

Shalom

I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.

Joshua 24:13

I hope you had a joyous World Communion Sunday yesterday. We on Presbytery staff had fun putting together resources for World Communion Sunday, and I was gratified to hear from a few churches that they were helpful to you. As I sometimes say in a prideful moment, for San Gabriel Presbytery, we are the world, and the world is us, and this service is a glimpse of that. The timing could have been a little better, though, since we were also preparing for an equally joyous Presbytery meeting, and helping with two major congregational meetings on Zoom and several other tasks. I’m just thankful that we didn’t get evacuated from the Bobcat fire in the midst of it!

Some of the elements in the service can be used other times, so you’re welcome to go to our World Communion Sunday Google Drive and see what might be helpful to you.

Now that we’ve considered Christ’s church gathering at the Lord’s Table all around the world, we might also consider more deeply the land on which God has placed us. Next week, on October 12, we remember what is traditionally called “Columbus Day,” commemorating Christopher Columbus arriving in the Americas. More recently, people have also called this day “Indigenous Peoples Day,” raising the fact that people have been living in this land for many centuries prior to Columbus “discovering” it, and that these people suffered due to the expansion of immigrants from Europe.

The more spiritually damaging aspect of this migration was the “Doctrine of Discovery,” the religious and legal construct that had been upheld by United States and international law, justifying claims of ownership of lands that were taken from indigenous peoples. The Presbyterian Church (USA), along with several other denominations, has repudiated this and apologized for our complicity in perpetuating it. Each level of the church is also expected to recognize and show respect for the peoples who inhabited the land before our ancestors settled on it.

In last November’s Presbytery meeting, we acknowledged the people who have lived in the Los Angeles-San Gabriel Valley area, the Tongva people. Utilizing a wonderful resource on Native American Day (which used to be recognized in September, but seems to be missing from our calendar now), we worshipped for reconciliation with our indigenous siblings in Christ, including the Tongva people but also recognizing Taiwanese and Hawaiian peoples, with whom our Presbytery members have roots. Click HERE for a copy of this worship service, in case you would like to use some of the resources or the brief historical overview of the people who have lived in this area, perhaps for as long as 8,000 years.

We know that the question of land rights is an ancient one. The scripture I reference from Joshua 24 is an inversion of the more frequently used description of God’s shalom, the fulfillment of God’s will of justice and peace for all:

They shall build houses and inhabit them;

they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

They shall not build and another inhabit;

they shall not plant and another eat.                       Isaiah 65:21-22a

As we know, the book of Joshua chronicles the conquest of the land of Canaan by the people of Israel, which according to the Bible was God’s gift to God’s chosen. Joshua 24:13 is in fact the culmination of Joshua’s report to the people of Israel of God’s care throughout their history, as the basis for their covenant of loyalty to YHWH. The challenge is: what looks like mercy for the people of Israel, was conquest for the people of Canaan. And it has been too easy for later conquerors to justify their taking of native lands as God’s will.

In North America, the conquest of this land has resulted in Native Americans losing their land and true sovereignty, and they have lost countless lives through exposure to foreign disease, expulsion, violence, and intergenerational trauma. Most recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) reported that the incidence of Covid-19 cases among American Indians and Alaska Natives was 3.5 times more than the rate of White people. The Navajo Nation has lost more people to Coronavirus than 13 states. I was in a meeting recently, and one of the participants is Native American; she started to list the community leaders they had lost already, and it was daunting. And a few weeks ago, Bong Bringas and I heard of the death of colleague Rev. Cecil Corbett, due to Covid-19. Cecil, a Nez Perce/Choctaw pastor member of Inland Northwest Presbytery in Spokane, was a long-time leader of our denomination and co-writer of the hymn “O God the Creator,” which is in the blue Presbyterian Hymnal, #273 (note that the hymn was meant to be sung to the tune “They’ll Know We Are Christians”).

There are different times when a church might recognize the peoples whose land we now inhabit; I often think of this as part of the November Thanksgiving season. My hope is that as we seek Christ’s realm of justice and peace, we seek that justice and peace for all peoples. And as we consider the ways God has given us so much privilege and power—over the rest of Creation and even over other less-resourced peoples—we use this privilege and power in a way that Christ might want us to do. May we add our efforts to God’s will of shalom for this world, a shalom where all are fed, all are respected, all are free to live and work in God’s vineyards together.

In Christ’s peace,

Wendy

 

Presbytery Meeting Notes

Presbytery Meeting Notes

For the LORD’s anger is but for a moment;
    God’s favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm 30:5

After weeks of heat, smoke, ash, and flames, I stepped outside for a bit on Saturday morning and thought I was hallucinating. The air was cool and damp; in fact it was misting! It felt like a miracle, and was a wonderful reminder of God’s providence before our Presbytery meeting this last weekend.

Our Saturday meeting was our second Zoom-based meeting, and we continued to look for ways to utilize the possibilities of meeting through the internet. We were able to meet and receive Lisa Hansen, new pastor and head of staff for

Pasadena Presbyterian Church, as she was on the road on her way from Texas to California. On the suggestion of GA commissioner N’Yisrela Watts-Afriyie, we also gave people a glimpse of the first on-line General Assembly by playing videos of Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, which we played for our opening prayer and benediction.

We also experienced the video production talents of several of our younger Presbytery members such as Becca Bateman, who produced videos for the Tapestry Youth Work Week

and the upcoming WinterFest training event. As a couple of us remarked via chat, the WinterFest video made us tear up out of love and gratitude for our San Gabriel Presbytery. Ally Lee coordinated the Call to Worship, led by youth and children from several of our churches. Lauren Evans produced the Scripture readings in Korean, Arabic, Kikuyu, Thai, Farsi and German, hearing the voices of San Gabriel members and friends: Heidi Park (from Seoul), Maher Makar (from Temple City), Priscilla Ngunju (from South Pasadena), Esther Wakeman (from Chiang Mai), and Ryan White (from Berlin).

And Lauren and Jennifer Ackerman produced music videos for worship.

Several of these videos are being offered as parts of a World Communion Sunday virtual service, which will be available for churches early this week. We have enjoyed receiving musical offerings from several churches as well, so churches can choose the music they want, and all or select parts of the worship service. If you’d like to see what is available and download what you want, go to https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1J_ef_B3rZlMeA8mjF0S0eKuOTW8vJJ8N?usp=sharing.

With the WinterFest video, our Education, Equipping, and Empowerment Committee announced a new approach this coming year. Rather than one day, where attendees are limited to only two workshops, this WinterFest will be held throughout the week of February 1-6, 2021, all online. The sessions will be recorded, and saved as the beginnings of a resource library of trainings on diverse topics for church leaders. And the week culminates in a plenary celebration and worship service on Saturday, February 6. Details and registration information will be available at https://sangabpres.org/wf/

We also met several new friends who are helping us with some new initiatives. Rae Huang, lead organizer with LA Voice, described the voter education work they are doing, and the inaugural Belong Circle, a relationship-building small group approach to help us connect better across differences. We will start the first group on October 13 with a select group of leaders to “beta test” this curriculum.

Tapestry is organizing a larger Belong Circle for youth, and we are inviting young people from any of our churches to participate. Contact Ashley Roque at mailto:ashleylroque@gmail.com if you are interested.

LA Voice has also played a crucial role in helping us envision an exciting new use for the site of our Baldwin Park church property. We hope to use this property for affordable housing and transitional housing for asylum seekers. We are grateful for the multiple ways our mission work is strengthened through our partnership with LA Voice, so this meeting’s offering was designated towards LA Voice; if you would like to contribute, go to https://sangabpres.org/donate/ and designate your gift “to Presbytery Offering” and we will send it to them.

Speaking of asylum seekers, Kristi Van Nostran gave an update on our Immigrant Accompaniment Ministry.  What an inspiration!  This past year we helped 85 people transition out of Adelanto Detention Center, and when we were able, Kristi hosted visits to Adelanto, enabling us to show our support in person. This ministry has been so effective that we received a grant from a mission partner in Claremont, and another year grant from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. This coming year Kristi will be working with San Gabriel and now Riverside Presbytery.

Of course, we heard several reports—on finances, revisions to our Presbytery Employment Handbook, Representation, and we got two excellent perspectives from GA commissioners Maria Cacarnakis and N’Yisrela Watts-Afriyie. Stated Clerk Diane Frasher announced the schedule of Presbytery meetings for 2021: in addition to WinterFest February 1-6, Presbytery meetings will be held January 26 (7 pm), March 20, June 19, September 18, and November 16 (7 pm).

We heard about the funds offered to all churches, to help alleviate the financial challenges from COVID- 19: $2,000 for every active church and fellowship, and 10 churches requesting and receiving $10,000 grants. We also heard from three of the national church agencies: René Myers on the Matthew 25 initiative at Presbyterian Mission Agency, Maggie Harmon from Presbyterian Foundation, and Mickie Choi from Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program; blessings to Mickie especially, as she will be retiring at the end of 2020. And we heard from Veronica Ota from Wyoming, who was enrolled as a CPM Inquirer, and Sam Bang, who will be starting a new worshiping community in Rowland Heights.

As our churches have learned, there are certain advantages to this technology. We are getting better attendance than in physical meetings: 150 participants on Saturday. We are able to connect with friends near and far. We weren’t able to gather at San Marino Community Church, who was scheduled to host us, but San Marino’s Jessica Vaughn Lower celebrated communion with us.

All in all, this meeting gave us inspiring glimpses into the life of our presbytery, highlighted some exciting ministries we are offering, and celebrated the connections with the larger church. In the midst of uncertainty and challenge, our churches and all levels of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are finding ways to be a beacon of hope and light for ourselves and this hurting world, a reflection of the glory of our God. Thanks be to God!

In Christ’s peace,

Wendy

 

Reflection: Ally Lee

Reflection: Ally Lee

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

Philippians 2: 1-4

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

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

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

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

Grace and peace,

Ally

 

 

Reflection: Lauren Evans, Chaplain to Retired Church Workers

Reflection: Lauren Evans, Chaplain to Retired Church Workers

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures evermore.” – Psalm 16:11

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

I’ve been working as the presbytery’s Chaplain to Retired Church Workers now for a little over three years now, and I’ve come to know a number of the Honorably Retired members of our community. I’ve had the chance to listen to the stories of folks who have lived lives of service in ways that they never could have predicted – lived through extraordinary circumstances that they could never have anticipated. This has been a constant theme, especially among the stories from our retired missionaries: being willing to let God lead the way. This means letting God lead even when that means leaving friends and family and one’s home in order to do God’s mission work as strangers in strange lands. It means letting God lead even when that means finding oneself living a life that was never expected, that didn’t work out the way they’d planned, and yet finding that their life was still filled to the brim with life abundant.

What can we learn from our Honorably Retired community during this particularly unprecedented time in our history? Certainly this year has unfolded in ways none of us had anticipated. What have they learned about bending with the circumstances, acting like bamboo that moves with the stormy winds and survives instead of like the oak that cracks and falls?

One of the gifts that comes with hearing the stories of our retired church workers means getting a chance to see the overarching narrative of God’s hand in the life of another. And it truly has been an enormous gift — it is so easy for us to get lost in the midst of this immediate moment. And getting lost in the midst of the demands of the immediate world means finding our gaze directed almost anywhere else but at God. It becomes so very easy to ignore or even forget that God is the one at the helm of our lives, and that God is playing the long game. We may look at the fraction of life that is in front of us and wonder where God is, failing to see that God has been at work in shaping our journeys from our first steps in the world and will continue through our very last breaths.

Getting the chance to sit down with some of our retired church workers and listening to them tell the story of their journeys makes God’s active presence in their lives much easier to see, however. Telling our story means taking a step back in perspective, as though we had been standing too close to a painting in an art museum but finally walked far enough to see what was really going on. And as our retired church workers have taken those backward steps with me to look at their lives together, the clear guidance of God’s hand through every step becomes obvious.

I am relatively young in my ministry, and in the grand scheme of things even young in my own journey with God, but the gift of my work with our HRs and their families is in the realization that just as God has guided and continues to guide their steps in extraordinary and unexpected ways, so too does God guide my own steps. As I listen to the stories of others, I hear God

calling gently to me to take a step back in my own life, to see the whole of my story so far, to see God’s hand in my journey and to have the hope and trust in God to lead me still in the years to come.

There is much to learn when we look backwards, because it reminds us of the constancy of God’s presence in our future. What would change about your own perspective this week if you took a moment to look back, to tell your own story of faith and ministry? What from your history gives you hope for the future, or helps you trust that God is with you in this immediate moment?

In grace, Lauren Evans

Chaplain to Retired Church Workers