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.
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,