On a serene patch of grass on La Crescenta's busy Foothill Boulevard sits a sign for St. Luke's of the Mountains Episcopal Church that says, “Come Join Us.”
The sign is nothing out of the ordinary for a place of worship, especially for this relatively new congregation which has called the ‘20s era building home since October 2009. But the flags that envelope it might make regular drivers who pass by the church on a daily basis look twice.
Fluttering side by side, they represent the countries of Mexico, Armenia, South Korea and the U.S. — a nod to the diverse ethnic makeup of the area, along with the rainbow flag, a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride, and the flag of the American Ecology Movement.
After driving by them for a few weeks, I became intrigued enough by the church's symbolic message of acceptance and inclusion of all —a component that is often missing from many of those who claim membership in a flurry of religious affiliations — to put on my Sunday best and attend a service at St. Luke's.
I had just spent the week reflecting on the discussion surrounding the tragic death of Trayvon Martin — the teenager in Florida who was shot and killed by an eager Neighborhood Watch captain for apparently looking suspicious — when I heard about the tragic hate crime case of Shaima Alawadi, an Iraqi immigrant who moved to America in 1993 with her family.
Alawadi, a mother of five, was brutally beaten in her home and left with a note that, according to her daughter, told the family to go back to Iraq, referring to them as terrorists. Alawadi was taken off life support on Saturday.
I'm not a religious person. Though I descend from a culture that touts its more than 1,700-year, precedent-setting relationship with Christianity with much pride and can act out a Catholic communion service from start to finish (courtesy of four years spent at a Catholic high school) the idea of worship generally makes me uncomfortable.
But where I'm not religious, I'm curious, and I was looking for something to restore just a little bit of faith in human kind again. St. Luke's, with their flags that encompassed a wide spectrum of ideals, had the biggest and most obvious, blatant sign.
During the calm before yesterday's storm, I accompanied this humble group of people as they gathered together, sang songs and took communion. During that time, several people introduced themselves to me and I relished in the opportunity to tell complete strangers, “peace be with you.” During prayer, a voice in the crowd mentioned Trayvon Martin and my mind wandered off again, trying to make sense of human nature.
I drove home in the rain, with prayer beads I had been given during a breakout session in the morning lingering in the seat next to me. I kept thinking about all those flags and how similar they looked, whether it was raining or not, despite their different colors and meanings.
We're always looking for differences in people, separating ourselves by color, class, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and ethnicity. We're so busy putting up walls veiled with animosity and hate that we often fail to recognize a simple, perhaps obvious, sentiment: at our core, we're all cut from the same cloth.
LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic.