Faith Not Works

by | Mar 8, 2021

All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. . . [But] by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:3, 8-9

Even though I can’t believe the number of columns I’ve written over these years with you, it seems there’s always something—or several things—to talk about. For instance, I remind you that in less than two weeks, we will be having a Presbytery meeting, so please don’t forget to register for that. Among other things, we will have the opportunity to hear from two gifted emerging leaders of the Presbytery, and I’m so grateful and happy for that.

And as I write this column, I hear of the first glimmers of hope that we are almost afraid to express, hope that is coming as the number of people being vaccinated goes up—and the number of people suffering from COVID goes down. The guidelines being issued to people who have been fully vaccinated sound a little confusing, and they remind me of Bruce Reyes-Chow and others anticipating the complexity of our new hybrid reality. We as a Presbytery have not yet given guidance on how to worship indoors—we’re not there yet; LA County is still in the highest tier of infection, and even those who have been fully vaccinated are told to still wear masks in public and avoid medium and large gatherings. The “reopening” will require much planning, and we will attempt to share guidance as we hear of it.

Perhaps it’s not as pressing for me, because I’m not yet eligible for the vaccine, so I don’t yet feel the freedom that others are feeling. We do tend to see the world through our own particular lenses, which is why diversity is so important—the more people from various backgrounds we have in leadership, the more views on God’s world we get. For better or for worse, right now you get me writing this column, from my particular perspective as a third-generation Japanese-American woman from a family that has long attempted to serve God’s mission of justice and peace.

So, for instance, I think I’ve mentioned that much of what I know about combating racism I learned as a child, from my parents. (A good reminder that children are watching and listening, even when they don’t seem to be.) I remember a TV news item during the Senate hearings on redress and reparations for Japanese-Americans who were displaced and incarcerated in camps during World War II. As politicians do, one Senator spoke hyperbolically about what he heard, saying “the internment camps were the worst injustice in the history of the United States.” My mother, who herself was sent to the Gila camp in Arizona, scoffed and said, “That’s ridiculous. What we went through was nothing compared to what was done to Blacks.”

This is a good illustration of the term BIPOC. The term refers to Black, Indigenous and People of Color, and attempts to maintain solidarity among all people of color, while acknowledging the specific trauma that has been perpetrated on Black and Indigenous people in the United States. I do not believe that anyone can deny that racism has affected all people of color, but this nation’s treatment of Black and Native people has at times reached genocidal proportions.


My mother’s teaching did not deny the injustice done against her and her contemporaries, but she kept it in perspective, and she did not deny the injustice done to others. In the same mindset, I feel the need to acknowledge the rise in anti-Asian violence that has coincided with the rise of COVID-19.

As other Asians have discussed this, I have lived in relative denial, because while the name-calling, spitting, and exclusion of Asians have escalated across the country, it did not result in the hugely disproportionate number of deaths experienced by Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans during this time period. Asians have not suffered as much from poverty or lack of adequate and responsive health care (not saying they have not suffered AT ALL, just not as much), so we have not contracted COVID or died from it at the same heightened levels as other people of color. Nor have we faced the same levels of undue violence at the hands of police officers (again, not totally—I have my own police harassment story).

And, we Asians who live in Southern California (especially San Gabriel Valley!) seem to be in some kind of protective bubble—or so our friends who live in other states tell us. But this bubble may be ephemeral, as we hear of elders in the Bay Area who were attacked, one fatally—or of an Asian elementary school teacher’s aide who was beaten with his own cane while waiting at a bus stop in Rosemead. Only recently have these attacks been mentioned in the news media, because the numbers have been relatively low, and perhaps because these attacks do not conform to the “model minority” myth of Asians that has been used as ammunition against charges of racism by other people of color.

The leadership of San Gabriel Presbytery has raised the question of racism, and how we can more intentionally work to dismantle it. As Christians, we know that we live in a world that has been broken by inherited sin, including the sin of racism. And as Christians, we know that we are offered the opportunity to be freed from sin, not through our efforts but through the gift of Christ’s grace.

As North American Christians of all races, we are claimed and called by God to share the good news that in Christ we can be freed from the sins that divide us, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to be agents of love and justice. This isn’t automatic; Hebrews 12:1 speaks of “the sin that clings so closely,” and tells us to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” And we need not reduce the issues of the world to black-white or male-female; if we take the time to see each other as the people God made us to be, we may more fully appreciate God’s amazing creativity in fashioning and forming each of us as beautifully unique glimpses into God’s kin-dom.

We can be a beacon of hope in this world beaten down by division, as we come to love and live together, respecting and enjoying each other for all that we are. May it be so.

In Christ’s peace,