Fear of Joy

Fear of Joy

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

Luke 24:36-37

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!!

It is generally understood that the death and resurrection of Jesus occurred around 30 AD, which means that we are coming up on a full 2,000 years of looking back on this world-changing event and saying, “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!!”

With that time and repetition, churches often labor to find ways to make the Easter story “fresh.”  It is difficult for us to understand the number of times throughout the Bible that we humans responded to the saving actions of God with fear.  The friends of Jesus responded to his resurrection not with joy and potted lilies, but with fear—in this passage, they were startled and terrified at the very sight of the risen Christ.  Their fear evolved into joy and disbelief at the sight of his wounds, and they didn’t settle into belief until they saw him eat a nice piece of broiled fish.

This mix of fear and wonderment seems to pervade our world today.  We feel the hope that vaccinations bring, as we are hearing of the drastic drop in COVID cases and deaths among our senior population, especially in residential communities that experienced real terror in the face of this pandemic.  Seniors are able to see and hug loved ones after a year of isolation, and as vaccines are becoming available to all adults, hope is springing up that we will once again go out to eat, travel, see a baseball game, and actually go—not just log in—to church.

But with these signs of hope come signs of concern.  After a truly horrible winter, California is now seeing the best statistics in the country—but we must always be wary, because states like Michigan and Europe show us how quickly another surge can rise up.  At the same time, every day we are hearing of mass shootings (where four or more individuals have been shot, not necessarily fatally), too often persons are being treated with excessive force by police, and there is massive confusion about safe practices for newly-opening businesses, schools, and churches.

For some months I have anticipated post-pandemic stress rising up as the crisis subsides.  What I have noticed even in myself is that this stress will not show up in nicely rational and scheduled bouts of sadness, but in unpredictable moments of irritability or fatigue.  I have heard of teachers having to rearrange their schedules to go back into school even though their own children are still learning from home, and pastors and church leaders trying to figure out how to go “hybrid” in their worship.  As protocols and research continue to evolve, I have found it irritating that one LA County public health doctor has taken to answering questions about re-opening protocols with “use your common sense”—which I’ve decided is a veiled way of saying “I don’t know anymore than you do what to do.”

So what do we do?  Last week I shared some baseline thoughts, and I am hoping that the Executive Commission will have guidelines next week, that we can discuss via Zoom on April 22nd, 7-8:30 pm.  

I am reminded of the confusion a year ago, because there is still much uncertainty.  I also want to remember the clear evidence of God’s care and creativity showing up in our lives.  And I want to reiterate some basic reminders:  Consider the essentials.  Care for the vulnerable.  Be gentle with yourself, and with others.  Trust God.  As Paul writes in Romans 12, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  And if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  We have lived through this season of death, and we will live into this new life—together.

Peace, Wendy

 

Winterfest 2021 Plenary Saturday, February 6

Winterfest 2021 Plenary Saturday, February 6

Winterfest 2021 Plenary Saturday, February 6

Rev. Bruce Reyes Chow

An Unexpected, Generous, and Hybrid Table

I will be looking at what it will take to build a hybrid future: skills, offerings, and resources.

There are no silver linings from the COVID19 Pandemic. Too many people have died, too many people are now struggling with day-to-day survival, and too many people’s futures have been left in turmoil and doubt. This season in the life of humanity has been simply put, awful.

At the same time, during this time, churches have stepped into spaces that many would have never imagined they could. Congregations have answered the call to fight for social justice and institutional accountability; they have given resources of time, space, and prayer; and they have served, fed, and clothed those in need. In a time when all of our actions have been magnified through the lens of the pandemic, many churches have adapted in amazing and faithful ways.  

This shift may not be more evident in any other area than worship. Communities have adapted to online spaces for worship, meetings, pastoral care, conferences, and more. It has not always been easy and not everyone thrives in this setting, but congregations have, across denominations, risen to the challenge in diverse and creative ways.
While there is no single, best way for people to gather for worship, as the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel begins to shine and the conversation about “going back” begins in earnest, the question for many congregations is this, “Once online worship is no longer the only option for you and your congregation, will you all have the willingness, energy, and capacity to birth, curate, nurture, and sustain a long-term digital space?” or more succinctly put, “What now?”

Our “hybrid” future, should we choose to build this future, will undoubtedly be fraught with obstacles and struggles. But . . . if we take this path of discernment seriously, openly, and honestly, the possibilities for impact and growth by being “hybrid” might just surprise us.

 

 

Executive Presbyter’s Report

Executive Presbyter’s Report

Once a year I’m expected to give a report to the Presbytery. I was prepared to give a report that was already too long, but the meeting was going late, and my dogs seemed to think I should keep it short. In case anyone is interested, here is the report I intended to give. Overall, of course, this has been the strangest year I hope to ever experience. But it was a time for some rich learning, and through it all the work got done—and God was there.

Adaptive Change: Instant Evangelists and Holy Imperfection

Most pastors I know have heard about, tried to explain, endured through way too many lectures, and read countless articles and several books on adaptive change (especially Heifetz and Linsky). We’ve been told I don’t know how many times that we are facing a time of adaptive change. Adaptive change (as opposed to the fine tuning of “technical change”) is so radical that not only do we not know the answers, we don’t even know the questions we’re supposed to ask.

Well, I think we’re finally experiencing adaptive change. The basics of life as we know it, and church as we’ve always done it, were taken away, in ways that were unpredictable, sudden and deep, and for several months they were constantly changing—sometimes on a moment’s notice. We had to use technology to recreate our lives virtually—whatever that means! But I am convinced that the Holy Spirit went into overdrive, helping us turn this crisis into remarkably creative new ways of being church, and we learned some things that we never would have learned, if we were allowed to keep doing things the way we always did it.

We were forced to focus on the essentials of church—worship, pastoral care, and mission—and church leaders found new ways of doing these essentials, sometimes more than they did before. We found that there were opportunities in the crisis. Most significantly, we found out that many more people are interested in worshiping with us, if they don’t have to come into the sanctuary. Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson likes to say how thousands of Presbyterian pastors became televangelists overnight—and our audiences are much larger than any of us realized.

And COVID forced us to try new things with no guarantee of success. One of the best things that I hope will come out of this strange year is our new-found experience that grace exists, and comes alive when we let go of our attachment to perfection.  Perfectionism has kept us from trying new things, taking risks, stepping forward into the future that is only known to God. But there was no way to do church in 2020 by holding on to the tried and true. Living in holy imperfection, we learned that we are capable of far more creativity than we thought; we were free to challenge our old ways; and sometimes we stumbled into even more effective mission. I do hope that we continue to experience God’s grace as we allow for holy imperfection that allows us to reform the church.

However, I am saddened to have learned that some church members somehow thought pastors weren’t working as hard because of COVID. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have seen pastors face their own performance insecurities to preach, lead, and care through technologies that they didn’t know any better than you did. They worried when the finances plunged through the floor, trying to save their staff’s jobs and wondering about their own. And they tried to care for the church through all the unpredictable changes, even as they shared the same challenges everyone else did, with no advance warning as things flip-flopped in a blink of an eye. While I have not heard from our pastors of the suicidal thoughts that have plagued some pastors this year, I do worry how they will crash when the urgency of the now finally subsides.

Better Together

In the midst of all this uncertainty, we give thanks for being a connectional church. The pastors and church leaders meet weekly to get and share information, compare notes on new technologies and ways to provide care from a distance, and we pray, and share concerns and joys. It has been quite lovely to see ways we’ve been able to support each other. Honestly, this has been an opportunity for the Presbytery to help in more tangible ways, through financial grants, mutual support, common guidelines, even stepping in to play “Presbytery bad guy” in enforcing strict distancing rules. But as time wears on, we also feel the limits of being together only virtually, and we all long for the ease of being physically together, joining our voices in song together, and staying connected with people who do not have comfortable access to technology. So in some ways, this time has actually given us more desire and time to be together, while we also feel the emptiness of being apart. As we move into the holidays, I am more concerned, especially for those who already feel isolated. And we all look eagerly for vaccines to become available in the new year.

Seeing—and Valuing—Each Other Anew

All this disruption gave us new ways of seeing each other. Young leaders, our digital natives, became lifelines as we turned to technology to enable physically distant church life. The young pastors of this Presbytery have always been one of our great gifts, and their creativity and collaboration and commitment continue to amaze me. Through God’s provision, we welcomed Ally Lee to Presbytery staff. She took on almost all the technology needs of the Presbytery and many churches, facilitated communication and collaboration, and brought great new ideas to ways we can support our churches.

We also saw the rise of awareness of racially-motivated violence and disparities in economics and even health resources during this time of public health and economic crises. This led to a new humility, and a willingness to confront White privilege in historic and current systems of society. Perhaps the COVID pandemic gave people time for introspection, study, and conversation that were facilitated by Zoom—for instance, I’ve been able to attend meetings from around the nation, and we beta-tested our first “Belong Circle,” which is one way to enable people to come to know and care for each other across differences. My hope is that we will continue to find ways to live into the gift of diversity that God has given us.

Doing the Work

In the midst of these foundational shifts in life as we know it, we continue to do the work. There were many significant events, including:

  1. In January, the Presbytery approved COM’s major revision of our pastor compensation policy, with special emphasis on effecting family-friendly leave policies, not only for maternity leave but also times when pastors need time for elder care, or critical care of children. This comprehensive policy has been a boon not only for our pastors and the concept of support for the family, but it also provides more clear guidance for our
  2. Also in January, the Presbytery said good-bye to Alhambra True Light Presbyterian Church. Alhambra and our team probably showed more love and grace than in any other church dismissal, and ended years of attempts to stay together. As it turns out, the timing and dissolution terms enabled the Presbytery to continue ministry without feeling financially constrained. And we have opportunities to stay in touch. For instance, I had occasion to speak with Jack Davidson and Foster Shannon recently. Foster, who is still a member of San Gabriel Presbytery, is still writing (I will be reading one of his books, on Revelation), and because he’s still home I got to visit him and Janis. And Jack shared that Alhambra expects to end this year without a deficit, so we can thank God that if there had to be a dismissal, both the church and the Presbytery have moved on in love and continued
  3. In light of this year’s drastic changes in worship life and stewardship, and thanks to the funds that we received from the Synod, as well as the Alhambra dismissal and our reserves, we were able to offer financial support for our churches. We provided upfront finances to help our churches think ahead around technology and continued mission, and offered grants as churches requested them. We distributed almost $300,000 in aid to our
  4. Along the way, we learned of the special needs of undocumented members and friends of our churches, and also new and recently settled refugee members, who have come to us from Latin America and the Middle East. Thanks to two Presbyterian Disaster Assistance emergency grants, on top of the program grant they have given us so that we can employ Kristi Van Nostran, $10,000 of emergency food and medical/rent grants were offered to settled refugees and undocumented immigrants in our own churches. In partnership with Pacific Presbytery and several other nonprofits, Kristi coordinated the safe release and transition of nearly 100
  5. Our little presbytery has inspired the larger church in various ways. The immigrant ministry has inspired many, especially due to the strong support of the churches throughout this presbytery. We have also gotten some attention for our work in West Covina, because we are doing several innovative things at once there: we provided needed care for a struggling church by moving them to fellowship status, we looked for ways to enable larger mission through better use of the property, and we are developing an exciting partnership with International Theological Seminary. We’ve talked a lot about this, but you may not know that we have been asked to talk about this to the national church multiple times, most recently last month.
  1. One way we are like every other presbytery is the need to find new ways of connecting. As a presbytery, we helped convert presbytery and congregational meetings to virtual, we interpreted ever-changing government regulations, and we are looking at ways to share resources that can be used in worship and education, like for World Communion Sunday and our next WinterFest. And Diane Frasher and Lauren Evans, our chaplains for retired church workers, have gone back to old technologies, like the telephone and hand-written greeting
  2. Finally, we are preparing for the future. Thanks to the legacy of First Presbyterian Church of Baldwin Park, we hope to enable an affordable housing development, which will include a Presbytery House that we can use for mission purposes, such as offering housing for asylum seekers. Wendy Gist, who will now be our senior staff member when Twila French retires, is staff support for this project, with the newly expanded Baldwin Park AC. Thanks to the budget you have approved, we are able to expand Wendy’s hours so that she can use her expertise in civil engineering and affordable housing to provide wise, passionate, and focused support on this, and I’m

Giving Thanks

As we look back on this year, we need to take a moment to give thanks. Thanks to God, of course. Thanks to God for bringing us our nearly 100 volunteer Presbytery leaders, the amazing committed leaders in every congregation, the pastors who reinvented ministry on the fly, and the chaplains who care for patients in hospitals and care homes, sometimes risking their own health. And of course, I have to give thanks to God for an incredible group of gifted, committed, faithful, funny, loving, creative, inspired and inspiring colleagues on the Presbytery staff: Wendy, Kristi, Lauren, Diane, Ally, and of course Twila. We began this year mourning Jake Kim. We end this year saying farewell to Twila.  But as you can see, God has sent us new friends, not as clones for others, but each bringing new energy, perspective, skills, and ministries that help keep us moving ahead. I pray that you get to know each staff member, and show them appreciation for who they are and all that they do to enable transformative ministry in this presbytery. Thanks be to God! And thanks to each of you.

When I think of 2020, this is the image I want to remember. This is Registered Nurse Amanda Etienne, of Brooklyn, New York. She survived the hardest three months of her health care career, in those scary days when COVID swarmed over New York, and then she was confronted with—and compelled to fight against—the violence erupting against people who look like her and her family. Here she participated in a protest rally against the killing of George Floyd, in her scrubs, and holding this sign, saying,

“I will still do everything I can to SAVE you! A Black RN.”

As we go forth into 2021, may we stay dedicated to our mission, keep our eyes open to injustice, and stay committed to Christ’s call to each one of us to give our lives for others.

Blessings, and thanks,
Wendy

 

The Hard Work of Hope

The Hard Work of Hope

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

Jeremiah 32:14-15

I’m aware that the events of this last week—or at least what we think might have happened last week— may be seen in opposite ways. Some may see it as the end of a nightmare; some may see it as the end of the promise of America as we’ve known it.

The one thing I hope we can agree on is that we cannot continue hating each other as much as seemed evident these days. The one advantage of electing someone with Joe Biden’s length of public service is the number of people, including people who opposed him, who have experienced his desire to listen, to compromise, to seek common ground even with people who disagree with him. Even his choice of Vice President symbolized his willingness to put divisions behind him, as other candidates would not have forgiven Kamala Harris for her dramatic criticism of him during a debate.

But the reality is that most of us don’t forgive that easily. Even as the results of Election Day—or Election Season—started to take form, and Biden started to express his hopes for reconciliation, many of us started to wonder whether reconciliation was possible, and what it would take. For myself, I was reminded that reconciliation does not usually evaporate in an instant. Reconciliation takes hard work, and to be a people of hope, we must be people of perseverance.

Even as we hear the great news of the possibility of a vaccine being tested as 90% effective against COVID-19, we must remember that it will still take several months into 2021 before the benefits of the vaccine will take full effect. And it will take who knows how long for us to see each other not as a political enemy or a threat to our individual existence, but as a fellow compatriot.

Whenever I wonder how long we need to walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I recall the story of Jeremiah making a land purchase. Consider it: in the midst of a conquering empire taking control of your country, having been told by God that your nation will be occupied and your people exiled for a lifetime, you are now told to go buy some traditional family land and tuck away the deed for a long time. Who does that?!

It’s an act of sheer faith for Jeremiah to obey God’s word, the promise that eventually—after decades of suffering, but eventually—the people of Israel would be restored. And through those decades of suffering, Jeremiah would attempt to offer hope to his people—not always perfectly or joyfully!— but faithfully.

As we reflect on this time in our own nation’s history, the phrase I heard that has stuck with me is deep listening.

Can we listen deeply to the perspectives, the fears, the values of others, especially those others who see us as the downfall of our nation? Can we make room in our own perspectives, fears, and values to consider the possibility that the others are not so wrong, and we are not always right? And at least for us Christians, can we listen deeply to each other, even—especially—to those who differ from us, remembering that no one of us, no single group of humans, has all the wisdom, but only together do we learn more of our infinite God?

As the results of the election have come in, it occurred to me that perhaps God showed that wisdom by revealing a nation that is not easily lumped in one side or the other, that our people are not easily lumped together in just one of two camps. Commentators are trying to interpret what it means that people would vote for a Democratic President, yet increase the number of Republicans in Congress. Those who assumed that Latins would flee from President Trump had to be reminded that the people with roots in Latin America are not easily categorized as one voting bloc. As much as people on either extreme wanted it, there would be no repudiation of liberal or conservative views, no vindication against the “enemy,” no partisan triumphalism. Instead, we have to realize we are more complex than that, and we have to listen, not just assume; we have to come to know, not just categorize.

Even as we listen deeply, we also have to know that the road isn’t totally clear. The sign of true relationship is when someone feels safe enough to share their own hurts, their own anger, their own questions about what we did or didn’t do when they were at risk. But our ability to stay on the path of relationship, even through times of challenge, will enable true healing to happen. We must not give up, or avoid the pain that sometimes comes with new life.

Last week, Sonnie Swenston-Forbes informed us of the death of Rev. Donn Crail. Rev. Crail was pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Baldwin Park, and then retired to be Director of the Lazarus Project, the first ministry of the PC(USA) to offer words of Christ’s grace to gay men. Sonnie wrote, “No one was a stronger advocate for LGBTQIA+ people as a pastor and then as the Director of the Lazarus Project – the first inclusive ministry of the PCUSA. The blessing is that his son and [daughter- in-law] were able to travel from their home in Switzerland to be with Donn as he transitioned on All Souls Day.”

Any of us who have advocated for people on the margins of society—whether they be homeless, refugee, disabled, mentally ill, or people of another race or sexual identity—have felt the pain of the people they love. Jesus gave his life for, and still feels the pain of, the people he loves. May we have the faith to risk a life of faithfulness and hope, even when it does not come quick and easy, so that we—and many, many more—will know the freedom of the people of God, deeply and forever.

In Christ’s peace,

Wendy

 

Saints

Saints

Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

James 2:17-18

Tomorrow is Election Day, and it seems that’s all anyone can talk about. But amidst all the wonderings and fears of this interesting time, I remember that this Halloween would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. (Yes, I am old, though not that old, as my mother was almost 40 when she had me.)

Those who know about my family know something about my father. He had the intelligence, the voice, and the presence that his students and fellow community and church members appreciated.

As a pastor’s kid, he learned and showed me what it meant to be a servant leader. How many people who was profiled prominently by the Los Angeles Times had the humility to sit at the edge of his chair so he wouldn’t disturb a sleeping cat?

Those who know about my family know about my father, but those who know my family know that my mother was the powerhouse among us. When I was in seminary, I joked with my mother that she would be the most frequent sermon illustration in my preaching. While I don’t actually name her, I can look back and see how she, and her life, shaped my understanding of faith in indelible ways.

During these unusual times, I have had the opportunity to talk about anti-racism more than ever, and as I reflect on what I’ve learned, I noticed that many of the foundational lessons of my life came from my mother. As the son of a Presbyterian pastor who networked well with the majority culture, my father grew up in relative privilege; for instance, he and his siblings were educated at Occidental College (remember when it was a Presbyterian school?), and my grandfather had the knowledge and wherewithal to send his children out of the reach of the World War II internment camps. While my father was somewhat protected from the abuses of racism, my mother personally experienced the many ways that Japanese women have suffered from the divisiveness of her country in her lifetime.

My mother’s father was a medical doctor, but a century ago, a Japanese doctor was limited to serving Japanese patients, who were so poor they would sometimes pay him in produce. So when he died, my mother’s family was left without financial resources. My mother grew up in Pasadena, which even then was racially diverse. I found a remarkable school picture of her that shows how the Japanese were placed somewhere in between the Blacks and the Whites. They weren’t Black, and they were not White. And when World War II came along, my mother’s family was sent first to sleep in the horse stalls of Santa Anita Racetrack, and then to barracks at Gila, Arizona.

My mother lived through many hardships, and overcame them through grit and determination, but also through the faith and fellowship and healing and leadership and service opportunities in the church. Her compassion and her strong sense of justice were borne out of this hardship, so she found a great partner in my father. They dedicated their lives to service to God and all people through the mission of the church. Her circumstances did not give her the platform to speak her truth and her wisdom in a public forum, but her works certainly showed her faith for all to see.

While I have often felt my mother didn’t get the attention she deserved for her wisdom and her labor, she is not unique. As she taught us, we take God and the concerns of the world seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. As we celebrate All Saints Day one day late (or Dia de Muertos, which extends to today), we all know people who have been an inspiration and guide, a model and a challenge, a comfort and source of empowerment that shape who we are as disciples of Christ.

As we enter into this week of change and anxiety, may we keep the perspective of the ages, remembering ancestors who faced much more hardship and uncertainty than we do. As we enter into this month of Thanksgiving, may we remember and live out our gratitude, for the privileges we enjoy, and the sacrifice of our families to provide for us. As we look ahead to the season of Advent, may we remember that even in the dark, still night, we are never alone, as Jesus Christ came into this world to be one with us, to love and heal and teach us, and ultimately to save us.

As we recall the saints who came before us, as we anticipate the saints who come after us, may we consider and take responsibility for those who look to us as models and teachers of the faith. And through this week, may we as a nation live into the ideals that we profess, and seek the path of peace. I am reminded of the first General Assembly I attended, in 1996, which marked one of the most tense decisions made in recent decades in the Presbyterian Church. Before the vote was taken, the Moderator John Buchanan told the Assembly that no matter which way the vote came out, there would be people of faith who would be hurt. Such is true this week.  I pray that we find ways to know and share God’s grace throughout this time.

In Christ’s peace,

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