Reflection: Learning from Our Ancestors

Reflection: Learning from Our Ancestors

Rehoboam answered the people harshly.  He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men.

Ephesians 4:15-16

Some of you know that the Presbyterian Planning Calendar prints readings each Sunday from the Revised Common Lectionary, which is the three-year cycle of Bible readings that unite churches in worship all over the world, as we read and hear proclaimed the same Scripture lessons on the same days of our Lord.  The Revised Common Lectionary, or RCL, has its roots in the Roman Catholic Lectionary, but was adapted for Protestant churches such as Lutheran, Episcopal, Congregationalist, and of course Presbyterian.  If you want to follow the lectionary, Vanderbilt Divinity School has the best website on it at

Recently I came across an amusing article on the shortcomings of the RCL, and about the same time I fell upon a website for The African-American Lectionary (though it seems to have stopped after developing six years of readings).  This lectionary, which has been developed by a distinguished group of African-American Christian leaders and scholars, connects Scripture readings with events that are significant to African-American Christians.  It can be found at

One church now follows the Narrative Lectionary, which was developed at Luther Seminary, which not surprisingly is the largest Lutheran seminary in the United States.  It attempts to address some concerns with the RCL, for instance being a four-year cycle so that each of the four Gospels can have its own year.  It also provides much more emphasis on the Old Testament, partially to reflect the fact that the bulk of the biblical text is in the Old Testament.  As it is, the RCL also expanded the Old Testament coverage from the Catholic lectionary.

For those who are bored with or concerned about shortcomings in the RCL, the Narrative Lectionary is quite a change of pace.  In fact, I don’t like it!  Change is so hard.  But if you’re curious, the Narrative Lectionary can be found at, which also has the RCL.

Why all this preacher geekiness?  For some reason I’m being asked to preach a lot this fall, including at the church that asked that I use the Narrative Lectionary.  I found that the fall readings focus on telling the Old Testament story, and the reading about Rehoboam comes up later this month.  I have also been thinking a lot about All Saints Day, and how much I love that day, and the Communion of the Saints (as I always say, we Japanese love our dead people).  And it occurred to me recently how much—virtually all—of what I do is my simple application of what my family taught me growing up. 

Maybe that makes me a “good girl,” and some will say that I have been blessed with an extraordinary family, but the unfortunate story of Solomon’s son and successor Rehoboam tells the hard and universal lesson that there is wisdom in experience, and there is wisdom in heeding the advice of our elders and the stories of our ancestors—and we dismiss that wisdom at our own peril.

This last week, we have heard of tragic events that can happen if we fail to learn from history.  The world is now hearing of the casualties and terror arising from the abrupt withdrawal of US military personnel from Syria, leaving the Kurdish people to attempt to defend themselves against the Turkish military, which is larger and more powerful than the Kurds.  This seems to be a repeat of the prior administration’s action, or inaction, that left the Kurds to lose thousands of their lives in the fight against ISIS.

Closer to home, the mounting number of fatal shootings of innocent African-Americans by white police officers continues to become even more bewildering.  I feel for the neighbor of Atatiana Jefferson, who phoned the police to ask for a welfare check on the home where Ms. Jefferson was staying to take care of her ailing mother.  That welfare check resulted in a police officer shooting into the window of the house, killing Ms. Jefferson in front of her 8-year-old nephew.  This happened in Forth Worth, Texas, two weeks after the conviction of Amber Guyger, the Dallas police officer who shot Botham Jean as he watched television in his own apartment.

Even non-believers have appreciated the Bible as the story of a people, and these stories of God’s relationship with our spiritual ancestors are an immeasurable gift for us as we learn about God’s love for us, our failures to be faithful, and God’s mercy shown to us in the life-giving grace of Jesus Christ.  As with the young ruler Rehoboam, our failure in heeding the grace and wisdom of those who come before us can lead to tragedy, whether it be the division of the ancient kingdom of Israel, continued violence in the Middle East and wherever ISIS might strike, or more innocents sacrificed in a society steeped in racial fear and weaponry.

As the old adage goes, those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.  We are gifted with the stories of our spiritual and cultural ancestors, and the sure knowledge of the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Even in times of change, may we learn from our past, and with deep roots of faith grow to face the future with confidence and agility.

And let us pray for mercy for those who are caught in the crosshairs of violence when the wisdom of our elders is ignored.





Reflection: Digital Immigrants

Reflection: Digital Immigrants

How can we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land?

Psalm 137:4

I hope you had a meaningful and worshipful World Communion Sunday weekend.  It was quite a busy weekend, including multilingual worship services, church gatherings, and a pancake breakfast.  I had the opportunity to worship in Claremont with the four faith communities housed at the site of Claremont Presbyterian Church:  Claremont, of course, and Emmanuel Hispanic, GPIB (which I think is Gereja Protestan di Indonesia Bagian Barat), and Claremont Korean Presbyterian.  Claremont and Emmanuel are chartered member churches of San Gabriel Presbytery.  GPIB is enrolled with the PCUSA as a “New Church Development.”  And Claremont Korean received seed funding as a possible new worshiping community. 

Speaking of new worshiping communities, I also had the opportunity to attend the one-year anniversary of First Progressive Church Los Angeles, started by a couple of alums from SFTS-Southern California.  It is a safe place for Asian-Americans to gather in an inclusive worship space.  Though the focus is on welcoming people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, it seemed that many of the attendees were heterosexual couples, which the pastor confirmed.  This was a reminder to me that when we welcome people who have been marginalized, there are others who love them who also want them to feel welcome, so how we connect with the marginalized can be a powerful witness to our understanding of God’s love for the world.

Another group that is considered a new worshiping community is GKI-LA (Gereja Kristen Indonesia Los Angeles), pastored by Rev. Pipi Dhali, who recently joined our presbytery.  GKI-LA, which is now worshiping at the Covina campus of their partner congregation, Praise Community Church (aka First Thai Presbyterian), hosted the Southern California meeting of NIPC (National Indonesian Presbyterian Council).  Pipi invited me to greet them, and it was a glimpse into San Gabriel Presbytery life—Indonesian church leaders meeting with Sean Chow, a Chinese-American who is on our national staff; myself, Japanese-American; Praise pastor Peter Tan-Gatue, Filipino-American; on the site of Praise, which is largely a Thai church.  Please note that this was actually a breakthrough, because there are significant cultural differences between northern Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese) and southern Asians (Indian, but also Thai, Cambodian, Indonesian, etc.).  So it was nice to have so many of us in one meeting.  For you old-timers, it was also great to see NIPC honor the memory of Jack Makonda, who was a member of our presbytery and was honored for translating the Book of Order into Indonesian.

But the personal breakthrough for me was what I learned at the event.  There was a training by a pastor who is also a therapist, and though most of the session was in Indonesian, some of the slides were in English.  She seemed to be focusing on generational differences and church family ministries.  One of the slides described “Digital Immigrants” and “Digital Natives.”  I think I have heard the term “Digital Natives” but never the former, and that really hit home for me. 

The trainer described the challenges for Digital Immigrants, including:  unfamiliarity with the technology, which leads to some level of fear dealing with it; unfamiliarity with the language associated with it; concerns about disruption of family life; and questions whether the risks associated with this new world outweigh its benefits. 

People new to this country experience many of these feelings—they are surprised at how foreign American culture and systems can be; they feel constrained using the English language; their children born in the USA are influenced by American norms and sometimes are put in a leadership position due to their familiarity with English; and the disruptions in community, status, familial relationships, and other elements of life can lead people to wonder if they really are better off in the US than back home.

On the other hand, Digital Natives are born into this world, so they don’t know anything else; not only are they comfortable with the technology, it’s the normal way for them to communicate with each other; it is the only way they know to access educational, policy, and information resources; and there is a social system and etiquette for this way of relating digitally that is foreign to those disconnected to the technology.

I have heard parents worry that their children are addicted to their phones or they are failing to develop socially due to their attachment to the technology.  The trainer at the NIPC gathering confessed that she sometimes thinks her child “loves her phone better than me.” 

This was great learning for me—and I was not expecting to learn it at a presentation given in Indonesian at a Thai church!  Isn’t God’s world grand . . .

Speaking of God’s world, I was contacted by my friends in Hawaii, because there are 11 churches in the Hawaii Conference UCC looking for pastors.  Often Presbyterians serve in the UCC because they are like the “state church” for Hawaii (the original missionaries were Congregationalists).  In my experience, the cultural fit is far more critical to pastoral work in Hawaii than denominational ties.  If you are curious, please let me know (I am comfortable talking with people about their call, and keeping it confidential)—or if you would rather, you can contact Rev. Richard Kamanu at  The PCUSA is in “full communion” with the UCC (as well as with the ELCA—Lutheran—and RCA—Reformed), so it is easier (but not automatic) for pastors from these denominations to serve in each others’ churches.

As I write this column, it occurs to me that we continue to find more kinds of people with whom we are not familiar, not only due to ethnicity and language but also generation, gender identity, denominational heritage, theological conviction, mental and physical ability, and others that we cannot anticipate.  I know that it can feel overwhelming if we see these differences as barriers.  My hope is that we get to the point when we can accept each other for all of how we understand ourselves—and the more we learn about each other, the more we understand that our most important identity is that of child of God, partner in Christ’s mission, and mere mortal empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Thankful for our partnership,




Reflection: Telling Our Stories

Reflection: Telling Our Stories

Then we your people, the flock of your pasture,
   will give thanks to you forever;
   from generation to generation we will recount your praise. 

Psalm 79:13

Last Saturday, the Presbytery of San Gabriel installed Rev. Ming Yuan Hsu as pastor of Good Shepherd Taiwanese Presbyterian Church.  It was a joyous occasion, as Taiwanese Presbyterians gathered from all around, to worship and sing in Taiwanese and English—and in one song, in Spanish!  And we heard the Word proclaimed by Rev. Hong Tiong Lyim, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.  His role is equivalent to J. Herbert Nelson’s role as Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

I love events like this, because I see a glimpse of the strength of the Taiwanese church.  When I was growing up, people from the Japanese Presbyterian Conference (JPC) churches would gather like this, but that network has fizzled out.  The Taiwanese Presbyterian Church (TPC) is still very active, and as the second-largest Asian church in the PC(USA), their congregations are planted all around the USA.  You may recall that our own Presbytery has four Taiwanese congregations, and there is a possibility that we may welcome more.

The Presbyterian Church has played a special role in Taiwanese history, standing in solidarity with the Taiwanese as they have striven for sovereignty, first against Japanese colonialism and now dealing with the rule of mainland China.  This is why, I believe, that Taiwanese Presbyterians are especially opposed to worship in Mandarin, even though Mandarin has become mandated in Taiwanese government and schools since the dominance of the “One China” policy that attempts to absorb Taiwan into the jurisdiction of mainland China. 

The Taiwanese Presbyterian church reflects this commitment to human rights in a few ways that I have witnessed even through my very slight knowledge of the church.  The church has a strong commitment to the indigenous peoples in Taiwan, such that one of the three Associate General Secretaries is always an indigenous person.  The church members are called “co-workers,” reflecting the generally egalitarian ethos of the church, even in relationship to the pastor.  But the strongest characteristic is the commitment to upholding Taiwanese language and tradition, over and against the worldly dominance of mainland China.

I have discussed this with others at times, because I have been troubled that too often the Christian faith has resulted in the subjugation of majority world (non-Western) people.  So I am thankful that in Taiwan, the Presbyterian mission helped the Taiwanese people to retain a stronger sense of their identity and their rights.  When I mentioned how the Taiwanese church is one of a very few churches that have aligned with sovereignty and human rights movements, a friend once responded, “oh, like the Church of Scotland.”  

In his sermon last Saturday, Rev. Lim reflected on the church name and Ming’s new role as Good Shepherd.  But he also gave a little background on the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT), and thanks to the very able translation by Elder Henry Liao, I learned that the PCT was founded by Presbyterian missionaries from Canada and Scotland.  In my US-centered myopia, I assumed that the church was started by missionaries from the United States!

So it clicked in my mind that from the same root, the Taiwanese inherited the fire for God’s justice for all peoples that we have claimed here in the PC(USA).  What an affirmation of the gospel’s work in many nations, and the common roots we have with people all around the world.

One of the greatest blessings of my ministry is the ability to hear the stories of our churches.  We have in our midst such wonderful stories of faith, and struggle, and wisdom, and justice, and mercy.  Our churches can tell the stories of surviving poverty and war, of raising their children under the specter of ever-changing and increasingly inhumane immigration policies, of showing the love of Christ to their dominant Muslim neighbors, of learning from their own experience of unjust detention and racism to reach out to others facing unjust detention and racism, of reconciling with descendants of a brutal colonial power by sharing the gospel, of tending the faith even in light of abusive churches and finding healing in the justice and mutual respect in Presbyterian polity, of finding connections and shared experience even with people who look nothing like ourselves…and these are stories that I just hear in passing doing Presbytery work.

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday, when we traditionally receive the Peace & Global Witness Offering.  This special offering is shared three ways:

  • 25% can be used by individual congregations to connect with the global witness of Christ’s peace
  • 25% is retained by mid councils for joint ministries of peace and reconciliation.
  • The remaining 50% is used by Presbyterian World Mission to advocate for peace and justice in cultures of violence, including our own, through collaborative projects of education and Christian witness.

You can find more information on this offering at

As we celebrate Christ’s church around the world, my hope is that we will find ways to hear each other’s stories more, because we all bear stories of the grace of Jesus Christ in our lives.  All of us have stories to share, and all of us have more to learn about the saving hand of God in every nation in the world, and our prayer that God blesses every family in the world.  May we have ears to hear, and voices to speak.

Remembering Christ’s blessings in my life,




Reflection: What Would Jesus Do?

Reflection: What Would Jesus Do?

Jesus said,Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor

John 12:26

When I was younger, the cool Christians wore bracelets with the letters WWJD, for “What Would Jesus Do?”  The simple directness of the question has always been a helpful challenge to me, and to this day the question comes to my head on a regular basis.  I confess that I don’t always follow the answer, and for a time I used to snap back with “I’m not Jesus!”  But of course, the apostle Paul wrote several times that we followers of Jesus are the body of Christ on earth.

I have made some admittedly cynical suggestions about why this question doesn’t get asked anymore.  I believe the best guide for what Jesus would do in our context is the biblical text, which reports on Jesus’ pattern of behavior, much of which flies in the face of Christian politics of today.

So what did Jesus do?  Reflecting on the biblical account, Jesus . . .

  • was born in a cow’s stall, because a government edict made his parents temporarily displaced and homeless.
  • was a refugee child, taken by his parents to the nearby superpower Egypt, where he was given asylum until it was safe for his family to return to Israel.
  • challenged the norms of the time regarding family life by never marrying or having children.
  • defied the social conventions and laws of his community, challenging church law and questioning church leaders.
  • related to women, foreigners, and social outcasts, showing them respect and attention that offended even his closest followers.
  • spoke to people with privilege about responsibility and sacrifice, and condemned those in privilege who abused the poor.
  • obeyed God’s will even to the point of suffering violence, yet resisted doing violence himself.
  • told his disciples to follow his example, and taught that whatever we do (or fail to do) for the least of us, we do (or fail to do) for him.

I considered this as I prepared to speak on a panel at my family church.  Like many Japanese-American churches, First Presbyterian Altadena has an annual festival (our version of matsuri).  For decades it was simply called the Annual Bazaar, and had food, games, and shopping.  In more recent years, the church leadership questioned the event because there was no overt Christian evangelistic content.  The leaders of that time also decided that “Fall Festival” was a better name than “Bazaar.”  When Mark Buchanan became pastor, he showed appreciation for the Japanese roots of the church, even as the membership became multiracial, so most years there is an additional event in the sanctuary that highlights life in the Japanese-American community.

And so I was thrilled to see a young yonsei (fourth-generation) woman, Veronica Ota, who has become a committed, creative leader at the church.  She is already known for her music and art and now running the annual “Peace Camp” for neighborhood youth.  But this weekend she stepped forward in faith to speak of her family’s experience and her call for justice, not only for Japanese and Japanese-Americans but for those who are being marginalized and endangered in today’s world:  asylum seekers, people of color, LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer/Questioning) people, and those who live in the looming shadow of nuclear weapons proliferation and increasing dependence on nuclear power in some nations such as Japan.  From her family’s legacy of persecution, Veronica stands in solidarity with those whose struggles have parallels with our own, and is forming an ecumenical group to act in defense of all life.  I have heard other Asian-American young adults in our churches who speak quietly about the need to stretch our boundaries and show respect for the marginalized, but they fear offending the older generations or standing out from the community.  So it’s impressive when even a few young Asian-American Christians are speaking outside the lines of comfortable conformity.

So often our churches worry about aging membership, and we wonder how to reach out to the young people.  If this weekend gave any hints, I see great potential if we old folks are willing to say yes, to be so obedient to God’s will that we challenge the norms of our time, to speak and care for and listen to those who make us uncomfortable, and to defend the rights of children and the powerless.  This is the legacy of my family church at its best.  And among other things, this is what Jesus would do.





Stated Clerk’s Corner September 2019

Stated Clerk’s Corner September 2019

First on my items of the day is to remind everyone that the second and last Review of Minute Books and Registers for the year is coming up on October 5, 2019 at Calvary Presbyterian Church, South Pasadena beginning at 10:00 am that morning and expected to end by noon. I try not to take up too much of everyone’s Saturday and give people a chance to sleep in a little as well. A great many of the churches of this presbytery are expected that day as only a few came to the spring review. I am looking forward to seeing so many of my clerk and pastor friends on that day. Please contact me at my email ( if you plan to attend.

As the fall gets into full swing, the Executive Presbyter and I look forward to the annual Mid Council Leaders’ Meeting and our respective organizations’ meetings which are held every October somewhere in the United States. This year we will meet in Baltimore, Maryland between October 17 and October 21. We meet in Baltimore because next year’s General Assembly will be held there. We will have the privilege of getting a basic knowledge of the logistics of the Conference Center as well as accommodations for next year. We will attend meetings that will inform us of upcoming foci of the meeting, as well. Workshops are available to each of us that are geared to our various position needs. I have requested a workshop that will discuss the proposed changes to the Book of Discipline, something I really need to understand. I have requested another one that will discuss the difficulties of maintaining records in an age with such climate change, as well as changes in technology. I am truly looking forward to this workshop. I am hoping that the denomination will be coming up with some plans to meet the challenges we are all facing in that area. There is another one specifically geared toward Digital Pastor Files that is of interest to me. Another workshop dealing with the drafting and updating of Sexual Misconduct Prevention Policies to incorporate Child, Youth, and Vulnerable Adult Safety is available again this year. I have made my requests, we will see what I get on my schedule in October. The Executive Pastor will have requested workshops geared to her needs for the presbytery. We’ll see what she gets when we arrive. This is always a busy and long few days and we come back tired but also full of new ideas and information to share with members of this presbytery. We do look forward to sharing when we return.

There will be a notification in the September Presbytery Packet of the dates that have been chosen for Presbytery Meetings for the 2020 year. But, in the event some of you may not see that packet, here are the dates:

January 14th – Tuesday, 7-9 PM


 March 28th – Saturday, 9am-12noon

 May 30th – Saturday, 9am-12noon

September 26th – Saturday, 9am-12noon

November 17th – Tuesday, 7-9pm

(We have the privilege of having the Co-Moderator, Cindy Kohlmann with us at our May 30th Meeting. We are excited about that!)

We are now looking for locations for those various meetings. If you would like to volunteer your church as a possible location of one of these presbytery meetings, please contact the stated clerk and/or the executive presbyter. We would love to discuss that idea with your church leadership.

Lastly, I continue to work on an individual basis with new clerks in the presbytery this year. If you’re a new clerk who would like individual training or are a pastor of a new clerk, please contact me and we can set up a time and place for an education meeting to help get a new clerk acclimated. I have done several of these meetings and they have proved very successful for the new clerks. I look forward to meeting with anyone who needs some help.

Diane M. Frasher
Stated Clerk



I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

John 13:34

God calls us to love one another, and while sometimes this commandment leads us to do good things for others, at other times it leads us to do good things in partnership with others.  This is a constant issue we struggle with in the broad area of mission – doing for or doing with.  While I believe that there is a place and actually a need for both, I tend to gravitate toward opportunities that would fall under the “doing with” heading as that can lead to empowerment and self-sufficiency of the individuals or groups we are working alongside.

The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) is a perfect example of an empowerment model.  SDOP makes it possible for us to financially support the programs or projects of disadvantaged communities through grants.  This may sound very familiar – grants for programs or projects in disadvantaged communities.  But, SDOP grants come with criteria unlike most other grant programs we may be familiar with.  First, the project must be presented, owned, and controlled by the group of disadvantaged people who will benefit from it.  This first criteria makes it impossible for the project to be one where some group is “doing for” others.  Second, the project needs to address a long-term correction of conditions that keep people bound by poverty and oppression.  This second criteria leads directly toward empowerment and self-sufficiency of oppressed people.  There are other criteria that include being sensitive to the environment; not advocating violence; and describing, in detail, goals, objectives, the roles of direct beneficiaries, and the methods used to achieve goals and objectives.  However, the first two criteria are what set SDOP apart and make it harder to find grant recipients sometimes.

The churches in our Presbytery have lots of good programs and connections to organizations with good programs that help poor, oppressed, and marginalized people in our communities in a myriad of ways.  We are very good at “doing for” others and know of lots of organizations that run on that model.  However, are you aware of groups in your community that are working to lift themselves out of poverty and oppression and make their own lives better?  I would encourage all of us to open our eyes and ears and search out the groups of disadvantaged people in our area that are working to empower themselves.  They are both exciting and inspiring!

As a reminder, our Presbytery is part of a joint SDOP Committee with the Presbytery of San Fernando.  This committee has grant money available every year to support the work of groups that meet the SDOP criteria.  If you know of a community group that meets the SDOP criteria and has a project or program that could use some financial assistance, please contact Wendy Gist at and visit for more information.