A Word from Our Pastor 2017 March

Tani Ikeda, someone I don’t know personally, wrote on Facebook about Japanese American and Muslim women who lead a group called “Vigilant Love Coalition.”

They came to the LAX airport and “sat in” at the Customs and Border Protection Office to support those being detained or turned back because of the recent Executive Order that banned entrance to the US by people from seven Muslim-majority countries. Their group of about 20 soon grew to hundreds of people.

One of the inspirations for this action in the Japanese American community was the memory of the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 that banned Japanese immigrants (and Arabs) from entering the country, and other acts and circumstances that led up to the Executive Order 9066, the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII.

Ikeda wrote: “Sunday, when I sat with hundreds of people at the airport singing, ‘We welcome you,’ I knew that today, if we stood together we could change our history. I knew that if our neighbors had shown up for our people we would not have been incarcerated. That is why Japanese Americans fight so hard for the civil liberties of Muslims. We know that even if our government will not protect our Muslim neighbors, we will protect each other.”

This past Sunday, we commemorated the incarceration of Japanese Americans at our church, as we do every year. For this Day of Remembrance, we were blessed with Peter and Wendy Horikoshi, who shared the music they created in response to the camp experience, the Asian American movement and Japanese American life. Afterwards, members of the congregation displayed their memorabilia for those who attended – sharing memories, stories, information and feelings about what happened. The Day of Remembrance is such an important experience for our church. It is a time of building bonds of love, as we share some of the most intense experiences of our lives; it is also a time of healing, as we listen to one another with compassion; it is a time of inspiration, as we reflect upon our commitment to justice.

It is clear that this is no longer just about remembering what happened in the past. We see signs that the same kinds of discrimination that Japanese Americans faced are happening again to Muslims, and threatening to extend in scope. Someone said, “The past doesn’t repeat itself – it’s people who repeat the past.” That is an important distinction – the course of history isn’t something that chugs along, repeating itself every so often. The course of history is the record of human choices, of human activity. We can choose to repeat the past, or not. In the days and months ahead, we must remain vigilant to uphold the civil rights of immigrants, Muslims and others who are targeted by this administration. Our church can be a sanctuary: a place of hope, healing, peace and acceptance. Let us welcome our neighbors, protect them, and cherish them.

We’ve been singing about this for a while now. We know that God is the “author” of justice, the one who defines, inspires and upholds justice, as the words remind us:
Author of justice on time’s endless page
Your theme is justice in race creed and age
Justice for women for children for men
Stewards of justice we pledge our Amen. . .

We have also been singing, “Draw the Circle Wide:”

“Draw the circle wide, draw the circle wide. No one stands alone, we’ll stand side by side. Draw the circle wide; draw it wider still. Let this be our song! No one stands alone. Standing side by side, draw the circle, draw the circle wide!”

I am moved by Ikeda’s comment: “If our neighbors had shown up for our people we would not have been incarcerated . . .” That statement, to me is the lament of God speaking. It is also a call for me to act, to honor God’s justice and care for all of God’s children. I hope that this is a call to you, as well. . . Let’s find ways to “show up” for Muslims, for immigrants, for transgender people, for Black lives, for veterans, for those who rights and safety are threatened at this very moment. God hears the cries of the suffering, and God calls to us. Let us answer, “Here am I, send me.”
–Rev. Naomi