Category Archives: Church

Births and Deaths – My Ash Wednesday 2015

Ash Wednesday is the one day of the year that brings me to church. I love the sentiment of focusing energy on one of the three things that the Catholic Church emphasizes during Lent, alms. The concept of alms is to humbly help people in need, with monetary donations or volunteering your time and energy in some way. Officially, Ash Wednesday is observed through fasting, abstinence from meat (cow and fowl) and repentance. For Pi’i, Ash Wednesday is about contemplating the past year and being deliberate about how I want to be in the year to come. Living the Aloha Spirit is the goal. The Aloha Spirit is about giving back selflessly, just as I interpret the concept of giving alms. So Ash Wednesday becomes a mash-up of the sparse religious education I received as a child, the values my parents imparted on me and the Aloha Spirit that I have adopted as a part of my life.

“The Aloha Spirit is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the Self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, Aloha, the following unuhi laulâ loa (free translation) may be used:

A – Akahai, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;

L – Lôkahi, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;

O – `Olu`olu, meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;

H – Ha`aha`a, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;

A – Ahonui, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.

These are traits of character that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii’s people. It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaii.

Aloha is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation.

Aloha means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return.

Aloha is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence.

Aloha means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.”   http://www.atchawaii.com/LocalInfo/alohaspirit.html

I say all that because in 2015, my Ash Wednesday took me on an emotional roller coaster of sorts, as I meditated on my 2014 and envisioned what I wanted for the coming year. This week is packed with celebrations. The country observed the legal President’s Day holiday on the heels of the very commercialized Valentine’s Day. Then Ash Wednesday popped up, earlier than I expected. And the day after, we celebrate Lunar New Year, the anniversary of when I launched this blog. On a personal note, this Saturday is my father’s 80th birthday and we will all be together to eat a big meal and share some laughs. These are all pleasant occurrences, filled with giggles and celebrations and tradition. But this year on Ash Wednesday, I also felt sadness for a friend and a family member.

Today, I signed a condolence card for my friend at work. Her mother passed away last weekend. I know her mom has been ill for a while but I am sure she and her family were not prepared for this loss. To make matters worse, her mother lives 2,000 miles away in Ohio. There are no words of comfort that feel sincere, in my opinion, when writing on a Hallmark card. I would prefer to just hug my friend or hold her hand or just sit in silence with her. But I can’t so I wrote words on the Hallmark card to try to convey the sentiment that I feel for her.

That brings me to another death that our extended family has experienced recently and added a funeral to our week of celebrations. My extended family, a second cousin, experienced the most horrific thing a mother could possibly experience. She came home from work in the early evening to discover that her teenaged daughter had committed suicide. The details aren’t important as to how it happened, the only thing that matters is that her daughter is gone. I don’t know her daughter really well and I haven’t spent much time with this cousin since I’ve moved away from the Central Coast. But I am a mother of a teenaged daughter and our girls are only a few weeks apart in age and I know they had played together during numerous family reunions and baptisms and parties. And I can’t stop thinking about how much it must hurt.

The teenage years are incredible difficult. Peer pressure, hormones, Asian mothers, all impart incredible amounts of stress and uncertainty and confusion for a teen. I am sure that this young woman also had some sort of additional emotional challenges to deal with, as if being a teenager isn’t hard enough. Perhaps she needed medication but stopped taking it. Maybe she had a therapist that she couldn’t connect to or feel comfortable enough to truly share. Who knows what triggered this young woman to do what she did. I just hurt at the loss of her young life and I ache for the pain her mother must be feeling.

Thankfully, the second card I signed at work was for a baby shower. Another friend who I worked with six years ago is finally pregnant. She and her husband dated long distance for a couple of years before they moved in together. We used to go to lunch and I would outline my dating adventures while she would listen and laugh. For some reason, my friends found my dating life to be more entertaining than reality TV. I am happy to have a reminder that life goes on, despite the pain that others are experiencing. And as the season of Lent begins, I am holding my daughter a little closer and taking a more deliberate approach to living the Aloha Spirit. I also am giving up booze and baked goods. If I fall off the Lenten wagon, expect a big financial donation to a non-profit to come. The happy news of my friend and her husband expecting a baby brought me back to the Aloha Spirit, “the coordination of mind and heart within each person…Each person must think and emote good feelings to others.”

Lt. Dan Choi, Opening Keynote at #LinkageInc Diversity & Inclusion Institute

May 2014

Lt. Dan Choi. I said his name out loud and my boyfriend laughed. It made him think of “Forrest Gump” and the character that Gary Sinise played. That was Lt. Dan Taylor, a proud soldier from a long lineage of soldiers who had died in battle. Lt. Dan was a leader and fully expected to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. When Lt. Dan and his platoon fell under attack, he protected many of his soldiers, like a true leader. While under a bombing attack, he lost both legs and was waiting to die a hero’s death. However, Forrest Gump saved him.

This blog isn’t about a fictional hero named Lt. Dan, I’m going to write about Lt. Dan Choi, an American hero and leader.

Dan Choi grew up in Southern California, the son of a Korean-American Baptist Minister. That fact was evident when I heard Lt. Dan Choi address a room of 500 or 600 people for the opening keynote at the Linkage Diversity and Inclusion Institute. Even though it was 8:15am, the room was at attention to hear this speech. Lt. Dan Choi commanded the room, not like an officer in the US military but more like a preacher. He told a story that felt authentic and compelling, with more than a few life lessons weaved throughout. I didn’t want to miss a single word.

His opening words included a photograph of Afghanistan, from the mid 2000’s. Choi had graduated from West Point with degrees in Arabic and environmental engineering. There were only a handful of military officers who spoke Arabic. Choi became a highly valued member of the army and quickly aided in sorting through bad intelligence by translating conversations of insurgents and locals alike, real time. That, in and of itself, is leadership.

But Choi didn’t expect what was to come. He told the room what changed for him. He shared what had happened that gave him so much courage to speak his truth. It wasn’t a message from above. It wasn’t a life or death event. The simple truth was that Lt. Dan Choi fell in love. He stated that when he finally experienced what it felt like to put someone else ahead of himself, it changed him. Falling in love and having so much emotion and care for another human being sparked a new fire of courage and leadership. Choi realized that he could no longer hide from the fact that he was a gay man. This led to Choi coming out, in a rather public manner. He came out on TV, on “The Rachel Maddow Show” and began a fight against the questionable morality and wisdom of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In a letter to Congress and President Barack Obama, Choi wrote that the policy is a “slap in the face to me. It is a slap in the face to my soldiers, peers and leaders who have demonstrated than an infantry unit can be professional enough to accept diversity, to accept capable leaders, to accept skilled soldiers.”

Because Lt. Choi showed such courage in standing up for what he believed in and not disparaging the US military,
I think he is a leader. Love is a force that brings bravery to the forefront. It helped Lt. Choi fight for what he deemed right. He attended the very prestigious military academy, West Point. He served proudly in the US Army. He didn’t find it fair that he had to cover up or “not tell” the military that he was gay. And eventually, the US government would agree.

What really struck me as I listened to Lt. Choi centered around his love and commitment to his faith. Choi continuously quoted the Bible. He spoke of his father’s service and commitment to his congregation with respect. My favorite moment was when Choi mentioned that his father was specifically a Southern Baptist minister (the ballroom in Atlanta did catch it’s collective breath.). When he asked his father why Southern Baptist was his denomination of choice, Choi lovingly imitated his father’s Korean accept with the reply, “because we are from South Korea, of course.” That drew quite a laugh from me. I think I almost snorted.

Despite his authenticity and candor, Choi seemed tired of the speaking circuit. He mentioned a desire to find a job and to live a quiet, settled life. Living in the public eye for so long, fighting against the system for what he believed in, these were both completely counter culture to his upbringing. Although he never directly came out and said it, I also got the feeling that his parents did not appreciate his activism. I understand that. Most Asian cultures place high value on protecting the family and saving face. And being gay is frowned upon by many Christians, including Southern Baptists. For Choi to step out in such a public way, it really must have felt like a threat to his family.

But the nugget of wisdom that struck me the hardest was a simple statement that Choi said. He said he listened to his father’s sermons growing up. Choi learned about the concept of unconditional love. He said that regardless of the conditions that his father might put on it, Choi will always love his father. That is both courage and leadership.

Ash Wednesday 2014

Ash Wednesday

6:33am, I tip toed into the chapel and scanned the pews for an empty seat close to the exit. If Mass went longer than an hour, I would have had to sneak out to bring my daughter to school. I am not a devout Catholic who attended Mass every Sunday or made my daughter attend Sunday School. She has no emotional connection to attending church and I am fine with that. My own journey as a Catholic has had many more stops than starts. I identify with being Christian who went to a Catholic church but I also am a Catholic who wore a “Vote No on Proposition 8” button to mass at Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in Downtown LA. Little did I know that the priest was going to end Mass and tell his congregation to vote Yes on Proposition 8 to “restore marriage and protect children.” I left Mass that morning PISSED OFF and more frustrated than ever with the Catholic church.

Despite this, I consider myself to be more than a C&E (Christmas and Easter) Catholic because I believe in the fundamentals of what I learned from the church, my parents, and my grandparents:

• Love and protect your family.
• Always try to do the right thing.
• Be generous and help others in need.
• Respect your elders and care for all children.

And here is what I gleaned from those learnings:

• Everyone has a story to tell and something to teach me.
• Assume good intentions from others but watch your back.
• Do all things with Aloha and expect nothing in return.

My last memory of attending an Ash Wednesday service was while on a business trip in NYC. I always like to visit churches and cathedrals while in other cities. Architectural design interests and I appreciate how Catholic churches have a familiar look and smell (is that weird?) to me. When I walk into a church, regardless of where I am in the world, I get sense of who lives in the community. I scan for ethnic diversity, I listen for different languages/accents and honestly, I look at how people are dressed. It still shocks me to see people attending Mass in jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. It shouldn’t, as I am sure the priests are happy to have butts in seats.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NY is iconic and honestly, I wanted to compare it to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Northern Ireland, where my brother was married. The two buildings looked very similar but the church in Ireland had this heavy energy of time weighing over it. It has seen war and weather and many more moons rise over it. Our young country can’t compare to Europe in so many ways. This long-standing essence of maturity is yet another difference. When we drove to the rehearsal, we travelled up one of the seven large hills in the city of Armagh. The front of the church was illuminated with gorgeous spotlights hidden in the landscaping. Couple that with Aaron Neville’s rendition of “Ave Maria” spinning in the CD player and we all took in a collective breath of admiration and wonder. The church was stunningly beautiful and seeing it gave me a sense of how serious the commitment my brother and now sister in law were about to make. Scary, scary serious and oh so permanent. Sorry, I digress.

Back to my personal Catholic journey….
During my elementary school years, I attended CCD after school on Wednesdays. This was the only time I ate Twinkies or Ho Ho’s (those were the rolled up ones, right?) which we received as a reward for paying attention during CCD. After all these years, I realize that I don’t even know what CCD stands for so I looked it up. Thank You, Wikipedia.

“The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine was an association established at Rome
in 1562 for the purpose of giving religious education. Its modern usage, often abbreviated CCD or C.C.D., is a religious education program of the Roman Catholic Church, normally designed for children.”

It must have been during second and third grades that I went to Mrs. Lavarato’s house for CCD. Her son, Chris, had been a classmate since kindergarten. Chris had thick dark hair and huge brown eyes, he looked like an adorable model for an Italian garden statue and all the girls crushed on him. His best friend was the other hottie who had blond hair and blue eyes, Shawn Jackson (or “SJ”) and he lived right across the street. They were excellent athletes and the cool kids at school. Also in our class was the sweet and sort of soft spoken JoAnn DiMaggio, who I am still in contact with on Facebook. I really love that JoAnn is happily married and posts about her attending pole dancing fitness classes. That so rocks. The four of us memorized prayers and read bible passages, all under the watchful eye of Mrs. Lavarato. Mr. Lavarato was a successful attorney in town and I remember thinking that they lived in a mansion. Mrs. L was always dressed to the nines, I think she shopped exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. Her hair was jet black and sprayed into place with care. But her make-up always bugged me. She wore extra creamy foundation from Hollywood and too long of eye lashes with blue eye shadow. I always felt like she looked like a nice version of Cruella DeVil. And should Cruella DeVil really be teaching CCD to our youth? I keep getting off track here, I meant to write about Ash Wednesday.

Every year, Ash Wednesday falls on a different day but it always marks the first day of Lent and is 46 days before Easter Sunday. I hadn’t done the math before but since we always say that Lent lasts for 40 days, I wanted to figure out what happened to the other six days. Of the 46 days until Easter, six are Sundays. Sunday is the Sabbath for Christians and are not included in the fasting period and are instead “feast” days during Lent. So, boom. That’s why there are 40 days for Lent but 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

I also looked for a reminder of the “rules” for Lent. In the Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are observed by fasting, not eating meat, and repentance – a day of contemplating one’s transgressions. Fasting in this case refers to eating just one full meal a day, we don’t have to starve ourselves to follow this rule.

My goal during Lent is to take an action that will benefit others and help me break a bad habit or stop doing something that is not productive. In my case, I find that I use too many curse words. A well placed “F” word is acceptable from time to time but gratuitous swearing is not ladylike or classy, and I am all class, right? This year, I vow to try to stop cursing so much. At one point in my college career, I was an English major so I know that removing swear words will not limit my vocabulary. In fact, it should grow because I won’t be relying on cursing. I also want to give up alcohol because that will feel like a supreme sacrifice. Red wine is divine and whiskey sipping has fast become a favorite pastime. (Did I really just make that rhyme? Sorry.) Some of my friends give up carbs because they love bread, sugar and pasta and that is an appropriate sacrifice. Another friend gave up Facebook and never went back to it. We, as Catholics, are also expected to spend more time reflecting and praying. Lent is considered by many to be an opportunity for spiritual transformation.

It seems appropriate to include a quote from Sister Joan Chittister, Benedictine nun, author, speaker, and HufPo blogger. She wrote, “Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.”
“Repent and believe in the Gospel” these are the strong words as I received my ashes this morning. My approach to Lent and to 2014 is to embrace the changes in my life, forgive myself for my short-lived marriage, and continue to fall in love with myself again. The last few years brought me down a path where I could have been content. I was in a marriage to very nice man who was a friend but not much more. There was no heat in the relationship. We might have had a baby together and lived as roommates for a lifetime. My passion for life was stifled. I could have been comfortable with complacency and just existed, living my life through my children. Instead, we walked away from the marriage early and I feel like the universe has sent me such much positive energy. As if some life force is hugging me tightly and protecting me from harm. I’ve been reminded of the passion I have for culture and movement. Martial arts brings me a sense of power, both physically and emotionally. I’ve begun to practice yoga and can already feel a difference in my running, hula, and karate. I feel happier than I have ever been, which makes me a better mother to my daughter. My heart is open to all that is coming my way. To my surprise, that includes having a very special man in my life who has only added to my happiness. Sister Joan Chittistqer wrote that “Lent is a summons to live anew.” I am all in to live life anew.