Rev. Diane K. Hooge
As I was walking around the plaza this past Wednesday evening viewing all the painful history from the August 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima. I was reminded of the horror of that history as I read of the 80,000 who were killed, and the tens of thousands who would die later of radiation. Three days later, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and 40,000 more lost their lives. I was grateful that Paula had been there earlier that morning representing our community as she participated in the opening ritual.
However, as I moved along the information hanging from the lines while listening to the folk singer singing familiar Peace songs, I found myself going back in time and remembering an event from my childhood. I clearly remember the first time I spotted the purse on my mother’s shelf in the closet. It didn’t look anything like her other purses. I discovered that the leather purse had been hand tooled by a Japanese man, who was a friend of my Dad’s family. He tooled it while he was held in the Manzanar desert Japanese internment camp…a whitewashed name for the prison-camp that was located on the Mojave Desert during WWII. As a child I remember having a difficult time knowing what to do with that story.
I don’t know what happened to the purse, but when my dad died recently, I found the coin purse that had belonged inside the big purse and I was grateful to have it. It was tooled in the same design. I need to be reminded of that horrendous period of history.
I then thought about my friend Steve Hanamura. His mother was pregnant with Steve when she was living in an internment camp not getting proper nutrition, and Steve was born blind. At a very young age he was placed on a train and made the trip from Southern CA to Berkeley where he entered the boarding school for the blind.
I then thought about the group of Japanese Americans that were members of the church I served in Seattle, WA who had been taken from their homes, businesses and farms to their place of imprisonment. Dr. Jensen, the pastor of the church during that era, spent the war years welcoming the soldiers who docked in Seattle to the church for meals and support, while at the same time, advocating for the Japanese Americans who were imprisoned. He had walked many of them to the dock where with deep grief, they said their good-byes before being loaded on to a transport ship and taken to their internment site. Many of the church members kept boxes of possessions for those who had been stripped of life as they knew it. It was a radical era of adjusted expectations. How could they have possibly predicted that as American citizens that they would have been placed into imprisonment?
Our scripture lesson today is about adjusted expectations. Genesis 11:31 gives us the information that Terah, Abraham’s father, has every intention of moving to Canaan. The text informs us that he took his son Abram and daughter-in-law Sarah, along with his grandson Lot, and they all went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan. But, when they arrived in Haran, the text informs us that they settled there instead of going on to Canaan. And, we are told that Terah eventually died and was buried in Haran. We are given no reasons for Terah’s decision to settle in Haran. Did he find the good life in Haran? Did he determine that Canaan couldn’t possibly be any better than Haran?
This is a puzzling piece of history. We have no way of knowing if he abandoned his dreams or if he found fulfillment en=route to Canaan. We are given the reality of one who modified his dreams. We are given an example of how dreams can be fulfilled through other people. What was not carried out in Terah’s lifetime was carried out through Abraham’s life. The quest for dreams—for freedom—for liberation—are not always met in one’s own lifetime.
Ghandi preached freedom for India, but he didn’t experience freedom. Moses never entered Canaan, in spite of spending 40 years leading the people out of enslavement in Egypt and through their journey in the desert. Martin Luther King, Jr. passed on his dreams. There is risk in dreams. Dreams may be passed on but they are not always claimed. And, dreams are often the property of the powerless, for those with little power often only have their dreams. Those with power often have too much to lose to dream.
Abraham is the faith figure of the one who inaugurates the new era. Faith takes different forms with different generations. Although Terah didn’t actually enter the Promised Land, I believe that Abraham carried his father with him into Canaan. He carried Terah’s dreams.
All of us have experienced adjusted expectations. As I have listened too many of your stories, I know that some of you have your own Haran story. Many of you have seasons of your lives that were spent in jobs, cities, states that surprised you. Sometimes the Haran’s of our lives bring great joy, and sometimes, like the Japanese Americans of the 1940’s the Haran’s have been prisons of betrayal. And, I suspect that there are stories within our community of faith where people have felt that they are living in or have lived in a period of imprisonment.
Just as there were adjusted expectations with Terah on his journey, so there have been adjusted expectations within this congregation. Some of those adjustments began five months ago with the resignation letter from beloved Pastor Pam. These months have been filled with major transitions. You have walked through the anticipatory grief, and the final good-byes, and now we are well into our in-between season.
In two weeks many of us will be at Camp. On that Saturday morning, I will be offering a workshop focused on our Interim journey. I have had the privilege of meeting with over 65 members of this community either one-on-one or in small groups, and I am continuing to set up times to get together with folks who I haven’t yet had an opportunity to sit with. The timing feels right to offer some of my reflections on our shared journey and to continue to be in dialogue with our community as we seek to listen and learn from one another about discerning God’s invitation for the next focus of ministry. It is out of these kinds of conversations that we will discern the skillset that will be needed in the nest pastoral leader. I plan to offer that same information in some adult education format here at the church.
Those who have made a commitment to hold this church in their prayers are doing their part to keep this community and its leadership grounded during this important season of discernment and transition.
In early September those who worked on the 20/20 vision for this congregation will gather to meet again and review the goals that have been achieved. We will talk about what process is needed to help us be clear on where the Spirit is inviting us to step out of the boat and take our collective leaps of faith towards the future.
There is a church in the village of Glouster, MA, whose building is in the shape of a ship. In our Gospel reading today, I cherish the image of the boatload of disciples along with Peter’s leap of courage over the side of the boat. I f I were to give that boat a name, I’d call it Haran, because all those disciples are wrestling with adjusted expectations as they seek to figure out their lives as followers of the way of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t make situations less turbulent, but what he does offer is his hand of support and his words “Do not be afraid.”
It’s in the boat that the community of faith lives out its shared life. Our churches are laboratories where we learn and practice loving one another. One of the great gifts of the church is the unique intergenerational make-up of the community. It allows us the great advantage of being interconnected with various generations.
Friday night I had the privilege of watching a painfully powerful story of adjusted expectations. The film is a documentary on the story of Yolanda Morales who 20 some years ago fled a violent situation from her home in Guatemala. She found employment in Los Angeles and worked to raise her daughter Annabella who was born in this country. Over the years she spent $8,000 seeking to become a citizen of the United States. But, due to incompetent professional help, she was unable to achieve that goal. In 2007 the LA neighborhoods become a nightmare for illegal immigrants as the ICE authorities (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) made their daily raids. In 2007 she was threatened with deportation. Annabella was 15.
The documentary tracks the journey of Yolanda and her faith community, Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. The church leaders gathered and voted on becoming a new sanctuary church. The vote was “yes” and then they studied their budget to find the funds they needed to transform a room in the church into a home for Yolanda and Annabella. Upon completion of the work, the mother and daughter were welcomed into what became their new home. However, this isn’t a happily-ever-after story. Seven years later, Yolanda is still living in the church, having never stepped outside its doors for all these years. Her daughter has grown up and is still seeking to secure Yolanda a place of belonging in the U.S. It is a powerful story of a faith community standing together in solidarity over a very long journey in the wilderness. They are all in the boat together clinging to their belief that justice will come as they claim the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid.”
I loved listening to Becky and Jim Martin’s grandson sing on a July Sunday morning along with his Grandpa. It’s in this place where we share the mystery of our faith—sometimes we’re not able to fully articulate what a faith community means to us. It’s the place where we gain the strength to dare to let our voices be heard around issues we care about. It’s the place where we grow and deepen our faith.
For those Japanese Americans who were still alive in the 1990’s, a provision was made to pay a token $20,000 to each formerly interned Japanese-American as a gesture of national apology. I was an Associate Pastor in Seattle when Peter Koshi gave his money to honor Pastor Jensen who had advocated for the Japanese American community and was involved, along with the congregation, in their welcoming return and their resettlement in Seattle. That money became the endowment for the Herald Jensen Yearly Lecture on Peace.
In this season of transition, in this season of change, in this season of adjusted expectations, know that God is still speaking and the hand of Jesus is outstretched to those who dare to step out of the boat into unchartered waters. The words of faith that followed Jesus life through his birth, ministry, death and resurrection are still being offered to each one of us: Do not be afraid! Amen.