Looking towards Lent

Looking towards Lent

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

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, but it seems like the holiday rush began last July—or certainly, people have been shopping or decorating their yards for various holidays all fall. I sense that folks are hungry to celebrate the holidays this year, like we haven’t been able to for four years!

So I don’t blame folks for looking ahead to Christmas—but Lent?!

Actually, Easter comes early in 2024 (how often does Easter land in March?), so Ash Wednesday comes on Valentine’s Day. And the Presbytery is going to try something new—we are proposing that folks participate in a Presbytery-wide Lenten series. We are even suggesting that churches encourage their members to participate in this instead of doing a Lenten study for their congregation alone. And we wanted to offer this before people start ordering Lent study materials.

Intrigued? We have invited pastors to a Zoom-based sample of this series tomorrow, Tuesday, at 2 pm. A couple of pastors have told me that they could not attend that day, so they have sent the invitation to someone else in the church, like the elder in charge of adult education. That’s fine; since we want as many people involved as possible, I’m sharing the Zoom link here if you want to experience the session, as a way of planning for your faith community for Lent:

Meeting ID: 827 6896 3576
Passcode: 309803

One tap mobile
+16694449171,,82768963576#,,,,*309803# US

This series is called “Growing as the Beloved Community,” and will be led by Dr. Tracey Shenell. Tracey is a church change consultant and coach, and has been a pastor in non-denominational churches, but she has just embarked on a six-month agreement to provide pastoral services with TE Bear Ride with Filipino Community United Presbyterian Church in Azusa. Most importantly, she is a prophetic speaker and leader for all of us as we explore who God has made in us, and in each other. This series will offer us the opportunity to get to know fellow members of San Gabriel Presbytery in a deeper way, which has been a request of presbytery members for years. We are grateful for the diversity of our presbytery, but unless we share with each other more deeply in a guided and safe environment, we will not move beyond assumptions and possibly misleading narratives about who is in this presbytery family.

What does this have to do with Lent? Traditionally, Lent was a time of preparation for baptism, which would happen during Easter weekend. The preparation would include reflecting on who we are, and how much God loves us, that God would come to save us in Jesus Christ. As John Calvin wrote in opening his Institutes of the Christian Religion,   
Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.

As we gather and reflect on ourselves and each other, we will know ourselves better, but perhaps more importantly, we will have a broader understanding of God’s creative genius in giving us a rich diversity of cultures, experiences, perspectives, and identities in the people of God.

Of course, the experience will be much richer with participation from more people from across the presbytery, so we are hoping to see all of you—if not tomorrow, then soon after Ash Wednesday.

Christ has indeed gifted us with partners in ministry with a variety of calls, and we will be an even more faithful and effective body of Christ as we come to appreciate who God has called into our presbytery family—and as the Presbytery’s mission statement states, we will help to transform San Gabriel Valley by “becoming a mosaic of Godly diversity in a deeply divided society.”

I am very hopeful that this series will be a profound gift for our presbytery. Tracey conducted a series for Santa Barbara Presbytery, and they recommended her highly. As I’ve mentioned this to folks around the presbytery, several leaders shared that this will be a great opportunity for their congregations, especially if we have participation from across the presbytery. So please step forward in faith, and offer yourselves to your San Gabriel ministry partners, that we may draw closer as one body of Christ, called to be a glimpse of God’s kin-dom for a troubled world.

And may we prepare our hearts for that wonderful season of anticipation, as we enter into the season of Advent this Sunday. Blessings to you, and may we rejoice in the gift that God has offered us—in Jesus Christ, and in all whom Jesus loves.


Happy Holy Days,


Giving Thanks for this Presbytery

Giving Thanks for this Presbytery

You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts towards us;
    none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted.

Psalm 40:5

This last Saturday was a wonderful day for San Gabriel Presbytery. A few of our retired pastors, who have been to more presbytery meetings than anyone can count, were kind enough to share with me how gratified they were by the meeting. We definitely felt the power of the Holy Spirit moving through us as we considered several milestones and decisions for the future.

This was one of the only in-person meetings we have held since COVID, and the hospitality was wonderful. Praise Community Church, whose pastor is our incoming moderator, Rev. Dr. Peter Tan- Gatue, provided a welcoming and well-planned venue for the meeting, in partnership with GKI LA, who also worships at this site, and who offered some of the lunch, assisted with the meeting, and sang beautifully in worship. This was an important year for both churches, as Praise celebrated their 75th anniversary, and GKI LA celebrated their 10th anniversary and were requesting to be chartered as a member congregation of San Gabriel Presbytery. Their enthusiasm was infectious; even a small thing like the practice of clapping after every report was an encouragement as we addressed many different business items through the morning.

November is Native American Heritage Month, and we make an effort to honor the people who have lived in and cared for this land for so many centuries. This year was special, because we have renewed our connections with and advocacy for the Gabrieleno/Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, largely thanks to the leadership of RE Mona Morales Recalde, elder at La Verne Heights Presbyterian Church, enrolled member of the Gabrieleno/Tongva tribe, and elected commissioner of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission. Mona opened the meeting with a land acknowledgement and prayer, and explained the importance of land acknowledgements. She also shared the enduring relationship between tribe and presbytery; the tribal headquarters is at La Casa de San Gabriel community center, a ministry of the Presbytery.

Our November meeting is always busy, because we take care of several annual actions each November (all these items except my report were included in the Presbytery packet):

  • We approved the 2024 budget, and kept the apportionment at $70/member.
  • We elected leaders for the new year, and thanked those whose terms have We look forward to the leadership of incoming Moderator Peter Tan-Gatue and RE Helen Darsie, who was elected Vice Moderator, as RE Pat Martinez-Miller now chairs the Executive Commission and TE Dave Tomlinson completes his moderator track.
  • We also elected RE Melinda Forbes and TE Deidra Goulding to be commissioners to the 2024 General Assembly in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • I gave my annual report to the Presbytery. the I am attaching it HERE in case you are interested
  • We presented the meeting schedule for 2024
  • We look ahead to WinterFest, which is held in conjunction with the first meeting of the new

    WinterFest 2024 will be held with Zoom sessions Wednesday-Friday, Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 7-9 pm, and an in- person plenary session at Northminster Presbyterian in Diamond Bar on Saturday, Feb. 3, 10 am-noon with lunch following. The plenary speaker is Dr. Tracey Shenell, who will focus on Growing as the Beloved Community. The weeknight Zoom sessions include:

    • a panel of new pastoral leaders and their vision of ministry for their generation,
    • Mona Morales Recalde will discuss the Gabrieleno/Tongva people and their care of creation,
    • training on responding to our unhoused neighbors who come onto our church campuses, and
    • skills training for leaders on financial management and legal

    One of the topics that the new pastoral leaders will touch on is social enterprise, and there is an incentive for churches to send intergenerational teams to WinterFest 2024—and five such church teams will each receive a $100 gift certificate for Homeboy Industries, to be used for food or merchandise through their website, or better yet for a visit to their campus in Downtown Los Angeles. Homeboy Industries is one of the best-known social enterprise ministries in our area, offering training and job opportunities for people coming out of gangs and incarceration, led by Jesuit priest Father Gregory Boyle.

    In addition, several very important decisions and commitments were made on Saturday:

    • The Presbytery commissioned RE Jorge Gomez and RE Rosario Orosco to provide pastoral services to Iglesia Presbiteriana Emmanuel in Claremont.
    • The Presbytery affirmed a six-month pastoral leadership team for Filipino Community Presbyterian Church in Azusa, with TE Bear Ride and Tracey Shenell.
    • The Presbytery received TE Deetje Tiwa, who is acting as interim pastor for GPIB-USA in Claremont. Dr. Tiwa’s leadership with the National Indonesian Presbyterian Council will help GPIB-USA to discern their relationship with the PC(USA), and San Gabriel Presbytery.
    • The Presbytery voted to authorize the chartering of GKI LA, who will be the first Indonesian member congregation of San Gabriel TE Pipi Dhali, who is a minister member of the Presbytery already, is pastor of this very gifted and committed fellowship, and the leaders worked hard with the Presbytery to come into alignment with the PC(USA) Constitution, as reported by team leader TE Ann Oglesby-Edwards.
    • The Presbytery approved the recommendations from the Eagle Rock Presbyterian Church Administrative Commission, expanding the AC membership and its commission to three parts:
      • Continuing care for the existing Eagle Rock congregation, with help from Deidra Goulding, who was hired to provide pastoral care and manage day-to-day property issues
      • Oversight of a major renovation of the property, which will be funded by the Presbytery and a capital campaign
      • Coordinating with the leadership of Interwoven, who will move to Eagle Rock and utilize the renovated campus as their home base for their multi-faceted ministry, including worship, a preschool, and a social enterprise employing young people in the

    This ambitious commitment was supported by the Executive Commission and COM, and may utilize the proceeds from the sale of the St. Andrew’s church property ($1.7M).

    • Justice Peacemaking and Mission awarded grants of $34,000 to CaliCenter, a multi-faceted community program at Puente de Esperanza in La Puente, and $15,000 to the Free Choice Food Pantry at Community Presbyterian Church in El Monte.

    Finally, the Presbytery showed your extraordinary generosity again by giving gift cards which the Gabrieleno/Tongva tribe will use to assist any Native American in need in the area, and cold-weather and travel gear for migrants being released from the Desert View Detention Annex in Adelanto.

    And we had a wonderful, joyous lunch together as we celebrated each other and the many ways God is working through us for the sake of the Gospel and our community.

    God is surely blessing us, that we may be a blessing. Thanks be to God!


    Happy Thanksgiving,


    Giving Thanks for the Secret Kingdom

    Giving Thanks for the Secret Kingdom

    Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

    John 18:36

    I don’t know about you, but sometimes I want to laugh at Jesus’ many efforts to get people to understand what the kingdom of heaven is like. I don’t know if it’s a failure of language, or God’s kingdom is just too far out of our imagination, but it seems like no matter what he says, at least I don’t get it.


    It’s not that I don’t get glimpses of the kingdom. My “a-ha” moment came when a Native Hawaiian man talked about his journey. Like many Hawaiian men, he joined the US Army and was a very patriotic American. But over time he became more troubled about who he was and why he was fighting for the nation that illegally took over his native land. He went through a period of great anger until he came to accept his identity as a citizen of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, a kingdom that was invisible to most of the world. But because he was committed to the kingdom and its values, he was able to have aloha even for people who treated him with disrespect, because he knew who he was, and how his people were a gift to the larger world.


    To me, that is a great description of who we are as citizens of the Kingdom of God. We continue to live in this world, and at least we Presbyterians don’t change our clothing or physical appearance to announce our real identity—but we live out our lives following the ways of God’s nation, which are not the ways of the world. We are blessed to be a blessing to others, even if they don’t know it.


    I was reminded of this at a recent community meeting. There were about 50 or 60 community leaders in attendance, all working to make life better in the Pasadena area. They asked everyone to introduce themselves, and I recognized eight Presbyterians present. But only three of us identified as Presbyterian. Perhaps because we are in a post-Christendom—certainly a post-denominational—world, people who are in helping professions, or who are leading new faith communities, know that a label like “Presbyterian” can be off-putting. But I know that all of these people are a blessing to the world, and perhaps they are able to bless even more people by keeping their church membership a secret.

    But there are times when we are meant to celebrate our Presbyterianness out loud, and this Saturday is it!

    We have the regular year-end decisions to make, electing the leaders for next year and approving the budget. But we will also be considering some significant milestones in the life of our Presbytery. This is the 50th anniversary year for our host church, Praise Community Church (formerly known as First Thai Presbyterian Church), and as it happens their pastor, Peter Tan-Gatue, will be our incoming Presbytery Moderator. This church has been a place of welcome and grace for the Thai community but now they are receiving members of many backgrounds. And they are the partnering congregation for GKI-LA. GKI-LA will be recommended for chartering in early 2024, which will make them the first chartered Indonesian congregation in San Gabriel Presbytery! They have a committed group of young gifted leaders in the church, and Praise’s session has been an excellent role model for them as they already act as a session in partnership with Pastor Pipi Dhali.

    In this meeting, we will also receive a recommendation from the Administrative Commission for Eagle Rock Presbyterian Church. For almost two years, the Presbytery has been working with the Eagle Rock congregation. Perhaps more than any of our churches, Eagle Rock was impacted by the COVID pandemic: they had several key leaders pass away, many of the church members struggled in their work in healthcare, their preschool had to close which depleted a major source of income, and their pastor took another call. The AC has worked to stabilize the church and continue to hold weekly worship for a regular but small group of members. The campus of the church has an excellent location and potential for various uses, and there are several partners in ministry who provide outreach to the community. But the plant needs significant work to restore the property, which scared off any prospective new ministries who might relocate there.

    The Eagle Rock AC is proposing a significant investment on the part of the Presbytery to renovate the property, and to welcome the new worshiping community Interwoven to make it their home base. Like many new church starts, Interwoven has envisioned themselves to be not only a place for worship but also for community development, and the Eagle Rock property has potential for supporting that. This will be a significant and very exciting commitment on the part of the Presbytery, enabled in God’s providence by the sale of the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church property, and by Interwoven pastor Harlan Redmond’s experience in funds development.

    In a troubled world, there is great need for God’s people to be channels of God’s grace. We do that in our lives in the world, acting out of faith to be a blessing for others, sometimes without anyone knowing how Christ leads and empowers us to serve. We also do that by acting as a body of Christ, taking bold actions of obedience, and showing a hurting world what great things God can do through us.

    I love how we are like leaven, raising up the world often without the world knowing it. But I also give thanks when we can be a glimpse of God’s kingdom, offering hope and inspiration especially for those who long to find a welcoming family of faith, who yearn for places of grace and reconciliation, who dream of moving beyond the cycles of poverty and struggle that constrain many of our neighbors. Thank God for the resources entrusted to us, and for all of us being willing to be that welcoming community— for new immigrants, for long-term residents who never knew the Presbyterian Church might be for them, for veterans of the faith, for young families and folks just coming to know who Jesus is, for cradle Presbyterians, for people with privilege looking for ways to share God’s generosity with the world, for folks who never thought God cared about them, for God’s children who just want to let others know the love we enjoy . . . that is who we are, and that is who God is for us. Thanks be to God!

    See you Saturday—and stay for lunch and celebrate!



    Giving Thanks for the Saints

    Giving Thanks for the Saints

    I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.

    2 Timothy 1:5

    I expect that sometime this last week, many of you gave thanks for loved ones who have gone before us —family members, church friends and leaders, or ancestors in the faith such as Abraham and Sarah. When I was a pastor, I enjoyed planning worship for the first Sunday in November as a Communion of the Saints. Like the first Sunday in October, World Communion Sunday, we are reminded that communion is more than the holy gathering of the members of one congregation, but a glimpse into the heavenly banquet, where we are connected to children of God around the world and even in heaven, as we all come at the invitation of Christ, who is spiritually present at the table.

    I was sharing with a Mexican-American member of Interwoven that one of my favorite worship events happened when I was an intern at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Koreatown. (Actually there were several memorable worship experiences there, which reminds me how important church internships are in the formation of pastors.) The event I was remembering to Maria was a kind of mash-up of an organ concert/laser light show (quite the sensory experience in that big cathedral-like sanctuary!), and our version of Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

    An elder and I brought items that gave a nod to actual Mexican traditions, interpreted for our multi-racial congregation. As an example, we wanted to allow people to remember their own departed loved ones at our version of an ofrenda. We gave everyone small pieces of paper on which they were to write the names of those loved ones they wanted to remember, which they were able to put on the ofrenda. To set the stage, the elder and I put pictures of our departed loved ones —which meant that this ofrenda had very old photos of our German and Japanese ancestors!

    There were fun elements of the evening, as happens with traditional Day of the Dead celebrations, but when people were invited to bring forward the names of their loved ones, I still remember how moved the people were. The pastor suggested that dominant-culture folks like him had lost their customs to remember their loved ones, so it was a gift to be able to honor their ancestors using another’s tradition.

    On Saturday, November 18th, we will have the last Presbytery meeting of 2023. This is always a full meeting, with annual actions such as electing leaders and passing the budget for coming year. In November, we also honor the Indigenous people who have lived in this land for millenia. And, we have our annual necrology, naming all minister members and congregational leaders who have died in the past year. Please let me know if you have leaders so we can include them in worship.

    As it happens, there will be some exciting things to look forward to, including consideration of chartering GKI-LA, the Indonesian fellowship worshiping in Covina, and providing support for the renovation of the Eagle Rock Presbyterian Church property to become the eventual home for Interwoven New Worshiping Community. With this plan, we are calling on the legacies of multiple ministries of San Gabriel Presbytery, not only honoring the many years of ministry of the Eagle Rock congregation, but also because Interwoven benefits from the legacy of South Hills Presbyterian

    Church, and partial funding for the renovation may come from the recent sale of the property of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.

    Some people seem to believe that churches as an institution were to continue forever. I often wonder whether some folks want church to be the one place that will not change in a world of constant and unpredictable change. However, this presbytery understands that ministries must change in order to serve our changing neighborhoods. Better than any presbytery I know, San Gabriel has been able to reflect the ethnic diversity of our region, and it is because our congregational leaders know that the churches are entrusted with serving a particular neighborhood, but if they cannot do that effectively, they should contact the presbytery and find a church who can.

    When I think of the saints who have gone before me, I do not believe to love them means we cling to who they were and the way they lived out their faith. On the contrary, we should give thanks for the ways they were bold to make difficult decisions in order to meet the challenges of their time and place. Our call is to meet the challenges we face, and to leave a legacy for the next generations of disciples— and this may require sacrifice, as our ancestors made sacrifices for our sake.

    As we give thanks for the shoulders we stand on, may we look for those we are to lift up, that they may be able to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ for future generations. As we have looked to our ancestors to teach us about the life of faith, may we be aware that we are ancestors for others—and what are we nurturing and enabling in them?

    May we always be grateful for all the saints, known and unknown, who have helped us be who and where we are. May we be grateful for saints who are still laboring and loving with us, as well as those who have gone on to glory. I am grateful for you who have been faithful leaders of this presbytery for years, and for the ways you welcome folks who are coming new into the presbytery. Together may we continue to grow and change in relevance for our ever-changing community.

    See you on the 18th!



    Giving Thanks for Art

    Giving Thanks for Art

    Awake, my soul!
    Awake, O harp and lyre!
    I will awake the dawn.

    I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
    I will sing praises to you among the nations.

    For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens;
    your faithfulness extends to the clouds.

    Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
    Let your glory be over all the earth.                        

    Psalm 57:8-11

    This week is All Saints Day. This holy day has led to the creation of wildly diverse cultural variations, from child trick or treaters, to the West Hollywood Carnaval, to Dia de Muertos, to the Communion of the Saints . . . . Today, I should be giving thanks for the saints who came before us. And if you want to take this reflection as an excuse to spend some time giving thanks for the saints in your life, go for it.

    Though All Saints Day is a very important time for me—as I have often said, we Japanese love our dead people—for some reason, these days I have been more aware of the importance of art in our faith and our lives.

    This last Saturday was the memorial for Dee Kelley at Claremont Presbyterian. Since Pentecost, Claremont’s sanctuary has been graced with an art installation of doves flying out from the cross, a gift of Claremont’s engineer/artist, John Watts. John, by the way, was the person who put many hours helping us to hold our September Presbytery meeting as a hybrid meeting on short notice. Thanks, John! Anyway, the first installation was in 2019, and then COVID. But the doves returned in 2023, with more color around the cross, and the doves now take a slight turn around the sanctuary.

    I’ve always loved this, but as I walked into the sanctuary on Saturday, my heart was lightened at the thought of Dee flying like these doves, free of the limitations of the mortal plane. I saw Deidra Goulding gazing up at the doves, as this was the first time she had seen the Claremont sanctuary.

    Deidra has created some beautiful and meaningful art installations herself, so I imagine she has a special appreciation for this artwork and what it brings to the experience of worship.

    The service included the hymn “Here I Am, Lord” by Dan Schutte. This is a favorite at every seminary, and I still have a hard time singing the hymn, as I am overwhelmed by the music and images of God loving this world, and calling us to join in God’s holy mission. Dee had made a special request that the postlude be Charles-Marie Widor’s Toccata from his 5th Symphony for Organ, that most glorious piece of organ virtuosity. Listening to the organ, looking up at the doves and the stained glass, I thought how all this beauty, visual and aural, helps people like Dee and myself feel more deeply the glory of God.

    Art can transcend words, or logic, or rules, so art can reflect the divine mysteries of God in ways that words cannot. Art can transcend despair, and has offered a death-shattering ray of hope in places of tragedy. And art can transcend the limits of social standing; I have known people without advanced degrees or even secure housing who are able to express themselves, their hope, their faith, through art.

    Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the need to express ourselves through art. I think it’s healing to be able to process what’s been going on in our lives and in the world these last few years—or any time. We need to be able to receive the power of art, but we also can create, and in doing so, we taste the power that God offers to us, the power of creativity.

    Of course, art takes many forms, and it communicates differently for different people. Some of the controversies in the church come when we try to control people’s creativity as they attempt to share their experience of God, especially through music. But some breakthroughs can come through art as well, as people can experience the unique grace of God through a story well told, a poem piercing the fog of the mundane, a painting that hints at the glory of God’s realm.

    I’ve heard that when school district budgets face constraints, the art curriculum suffers. I was comparing notes with a younger person who went to the same high school I did, and I was saddened to hear how many art and music classes I took are no longer offered. Too often, our scarcity mindset labels art a luxury, and so we put artistic expression aside when times are tough. During COVID, we called on our creative powers to figure out how to do church together, remotely. But perhaps it’s time to see if we can nurture our creative urges with a little more freedom.

    As I write this, I feel like I’m not being very creative or artistic in the way I am arguing for the importance of art. I think this is my concern—feeling a hunger for creativity, but not yet finding the channel for that creativity. I hope that you are feeling the desire to create, and that we can offer opportunities for our folks to create as a way of exercising the power that God gives us, and to offer hope to a world in danger of losing our imagination of what is possible.

    May we find art—and opportunities to create—so that we may open our eyes to God’s beauty, open our hearts to God’s love, and open our souls to God’s life-giving power of creation. May it be so.



    Giving Thanks for Stories

    Giving Thanks for Stories

    We give thanks to you, O God;
    we give thanks; your name is near.
    People tell of your wondrous deeds.

    At the set time that I appoint,
    I will judge with equity.
    When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants,
    it is I who keep its pillars steady.                              

    Psalm 75:1-3

    From week to week, the state of the world seems to be getting worse. The war in Ukraine continues, though it has been pushed out of the news by the war in Israel-Palestine. As much as we Americans want to help, we are hamstrung by the inability of our elected representatives to agree on a leader to allow Congress to act. I am embarrassed by the comfort and peace I experience in my life, as I try to imagine what it feels like to be trapped in a small piece of land like Gaza, with millions of people trapped without food, water, or power, but with bombs raining down on them relentlessly.

    How do people survive through times when hope is nowhere to be found? People of faith—especially those rooted in the Jewish faith—have woven into the fabric of their being the ability, even the habit, of telling stories. More than anything, we tell the stories of God’s grace, God’s love, God’s great power to save, even from the most dire of circumstances. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, there are calls to tell the story of the ways God delivered the Hebrew slaves escaping Egypt, and other occasions of God’s mercy. In fact, many times God begins communicating to the Israelites by reminding them of their deliverance. As Jesus calls disciples to do his mission, one of the most powerful tools they use is to tell the story of Jesus’ healing power and love, and the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. Our reading of Scripture, and our offering of our own testimony, are ways we regularly tell the story of God’s story of constant care for the human condition.

    As I mentioned, I sometimes feel ashamed for the ways God has blessed me. In fact, it was an issue as I began to prepare for ministry, because I could not understand why I was given so much. It seems insensitive to speak of the blessings some of us enjoy, especially when others are hurting. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) And it is true that we must not flaunt our privilege—and most critically, we cannot act as if we have earned the privilege, because whatever we have, is through the grace and plan of God.

    But I have learned that sometimes, people in pain need to be reminded that there will be better times, that God will come through, that there will be life, even out of the worst of circumstances. Each of us is part of God’s story of humanity, and each of us has stories to share. Sometimes, when there is nothing else, and sometimes, even when we have plenty of material wealth but little meaning, we need to hear God’s story anew in the lives of our friends, neighbors, and our saints and ancestors who came before us. And if we need to hear from others, we need to tell our story as well—sometimes even to ourselves, to remind us that God is alive, and blessing us with every day of our lives.

    Holocaust survivor and human rights activist Elie Wiesel prefaced his novel, The Gates of the Forest, with this Hasidic parable:

    When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.

    Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,” and again the miracle would be accomplished.

    Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: “I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.

    Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient.

    God made man because he loves stories.

    In the face of despair, may we be brave to stand up and tell our stories of God’s greatness—to ourselves, to each other, to a hurting world.