Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
your children shall come back to their own country. Jeremiah 31:15-17
I used to write my columns first thing Monday morning. I don’t know why—it’s some combination of old age and feeling guilty that Ally has to send this out on her day off—but I have been trying to write earlier. The problem is, things keep happening.
This weekend, I thought about the shooting at Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, a massacre against African- Americans by a teenager filled with white supremacist hate. I remember a Black friend who once said that it feels like people are hunting down Blacks, and I can’t deny the feeling. New York Governor Kathy Hochul called it, “A military style execution, targeting people who simply went to buy groceries.” I started wondering whether we are in the middle of a slow-moving, unannounced war within our own country, as we are distracted by what seems like greater tragedies elsewhere, like in Ukraine. Maybe other countries just have a harder time hiding it—or we have blinders on, as other nations are certainly perplexed how there can be so much gun violence—and so many guns—in the United States. And, of course, I remember hearing the witnesses say what they always say, about how you never think something like this would happen here, in a grocery store in a quiet neighborhood.
And then Sunday came. I went to worship in Covina, at Faith Grace Chinese Evangelical Church, joined by Ralph Su. I confess that I have boasted once or twice about our San Gabriel COM, which has among our members three current or former national congregational consultant staff; Ralph works with all Asian congregations—which, in uniquely Presbyterian fashion, means all Asian congregations other than Korean. The second largest group of Asian churches in the PC(USA) is Taiwanese, so it is fitting that Ralph is Taiwanese. That also means that Ralph speaks Mandarin as well as Taiwanese and English, so he was helpful as we met with Faith Grace’s Session. Though they worship in Cantonese, they also speak Mandarin, as well as some English—and, as it happens, several also speak Vietnamese.
I left Faith Grace in order to come to Interwoven, and it was there when the news came about the shooting at Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, in Laguna Woods. I called Ralph, who was on his way home and had just received a text. As I write this, I am sick with unshed tears. All I can think of was the 2019 National Asian Presbyterian Women triennial gathering hosted by this church, when Janice Takeda was an officer who helped with the planning, bringing in several San Gabriel sisters— Mary Ellen Azada, Charlene Jin Lee, Eun-hyey Lok, and myself—to lead the worship and sessions.
But I also think about the fires that raged so close to this area, where the news mentioned the high value of the houses that burned. And I was left with that same stupid feeling, that I could never imagine that something like this would happen here, at this celebration luncheon for a former pastor of this congregation of aging Taiwanese Presbyterians in a wealthy retirement community in Orange County. Without more information than this, I ask your prayers for the people of Buffalo, for the people of the Taiwanese Presbyterian Council and Geneva Presbyterian Church, and for leaders like Los Ranchos presbyter Tom Cramer and Ralph Su, who are already being called on for help.
What causes me the most despair is the relentless repetition of these tragedies. We’ve even given up calling for gun safety laws to prevent future killings, because it never happens. United Church of Christ pastor Susan A. Blain wrote after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the sadness then was the very long list of mass shootings she included in that document. I dare not try to count how many have been added to the list since then. She wrote:
Children, youth, teachers at school, devout folks at prayer, adults at work, elderly and their caregivers in nursing homes, music lovers at concerts, dancers at clubs— their lives violently ended; their futures lost.
They are all our ancestors now: peculiarly American ancestors, whose diverse lives were lost to a peculiarly American confluence of rage, hate, mental illness, and—most critically—easy access to guns.
Sadly, we can now add “families at Walmart and the supermarket.” And our ancestors include African- Americans and Indigenous women; schoolchildren of all races and backgrounds, including suburban White kids and rural Amish schoolgirls; and people of faith including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs
. . . and now Taiwanese Presbyterians. And the land of the enemy and our own country are one and the same. As Muscogee poet Joy Harjo wrote, “Keep us from giving up in this land of nightmares which is also the land of miracles.”
I have no answer for this. Sometimes all we can do is sit in the ashes of our dreams, and wait for the Lord to remind us of hope, of resurrection, of love that overcomes hate. Soon and very soon, Lord.