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Credo

womb

I believe that God created the world and the universe and all within and beyond it — God is Mother, Father, Waymaker, Guardian, Friend. God designed us in their own image and made us of the soil of the earth, which every other living thing is made of too. God is not mere possibility or symbol, but is presence, depth, agent and source of liberation.

I was formed in the womb of many churches, nursed by many saints and stories. Daily I bear the fruits of their teaching. We cannot be Christians without the Church, which calls us to discipleship and greater faithfulness. Beyond this, the church is itself a mark of God’s covenant faithfulness with the world. We are called to be as pluralistic as Christ’s own mixed and multifaceted body, while genuinely rooted in our traditions.

A friend struggling with addiction once told me: “man, I’m just crawling from sacrament to sacrament.” Malcolm X was fond of the idea that if we take one step towards Allah, Allah will take two steps towards us. In the sacraments, we open our mouths, pores, and hands to God and the divine sprints, runs, stumbles, gushes, and crawls towards us.

I believe that there are many sacraments, “first” among them Baptism and the Eucharist. In the waters of baptism, we are plunged into the embalming chaos of the world, and we emerge victoriously raised with Christ, buoyed in living waters that hold us in solidarity with all those experiencing havoc, death, or thirst – our own destinies churning now alongside all suffering and drowned people. In baptism, we “go for broke.”[1] New demands are made of the baptized, as we now constitute Christ’s own Body – a body as dark, female, queer, beautiful, and disabled as we are.

The Eucharist is a steady means of receiving God’s grace, an active way for us to be replenished and re-membered along the journey. Communion connects the faithful with all laborers who have produced the wheat and wine we are consuming; with the sacred land which is our source and sibling; with that entire communion of saints, living and dead, who faithfully rehearse the heavenly banquet alongside us. The Lord’s Supper is the promise that there is enough – that we will eat and drink ourselves into God’s joyous risen life, breaking silence and healing from trauma.

I confess the many words of God – the Word of Christ, enfleshed among us; the Word in the Proclaimed Word before creation; the Word in the delivered preaching moment; the Word made fleshy and sweet in the sacraments; the Words of Sacred Story and Scripture, bristling with the stories of our ancestors. The Bible teaches us everything we need to receive and realize salvation – testaments that teem with violence, indigeneity, resistance, dereliction, empire, hope (each person, too, is a holy word of God, a unique diction that comes syllabically from the mouth of God). Relationship is the heart of God, and a beautiful chorus of voices is at the center of not only the holy scriptures but the Trinity as well.

I see Jesus as the divine disclosure of the creative love behind the universe. Born poor to young parents under foreign occupation and colonization, the cosmic Christ was sent on a stealth mission to overturn death. Jesus was lynched because of us, not God; we are the bloodthirsty ones, not God. Still, by his unjust murder, the Lamb triumphed.

This moment can be explained in many ways: tricking the devil, descending into hell, swallowing up Satan’s kingdom, robbing death of its power, revealing human sacrifice and scapegoating as bankrupt, and far more. God’s raising of Jesus affirms his conquest over death. He is risen today, still reversing our world’s twisted logic, breathing new life into dry bones, and stands in solidarity with the brutalized. I believe in the universal taking on particularity: in my context, sin and death may be understood best as the wages of white supremacy.

I recognize Jesus is still being crucified today among the poor and disenfranchised. I affirm the spiritual headship of all who lament and suffer; in light of God’s preferential option for the poor, we must understand the oppressed as the first among equals. God is specially present among suffering people, who are able to see most clearly. Our departed faithful and all ancestors sustain us – in them we live and move and have our being. We can pray to the saints and ancestors to sustain us. The holy mother of God, too, specially hears our prayers.

I trust in the power and peace of the Holy Spirit, who speaks into our lives and names the sin that we would prefer to keep covered, in our own hearts and in the structures of society. The Holy Ghost animates the church, communities of the faithful everywhere, and helps us resist colonialism and sin (which stems from our inability to understand every body as holy). God’s spirit has been poured out upon all flesh – when handing out spiritual gifts and extending the call of discipleship, God does not discriminate on the basis of gender, sexuality, or color. And yet God does have a preference for the weak, and the afflicted.

I support using many tools: science, faith, story and indigenous wisdom, to shape and understand our world. I reject end-times heresies or any theology that encourages us to discard this beautiful planet. I long to see our hearts, souls, strength, and minds resynchronize with scripture, divest from whiteness and binary thinking, and move towards Lord Christ’s kingdom and God’s committed purposes in the world. The divine call as I hear it now is to love the last and the least – at least as much as we love ourselves.


[1] Hawaiian pidgin for: “going all in,” putting it all on the line. “Go for broke” was a gambling term popularized by the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the segregated Japanese American combat unit which served in the European theater during World War II to become the most decorated army unit in military history. My family served, volunteering from Tule Lake concentration camp in California.

The above is an assignment from my Introduction to Christian Theology course, where I was tasked with writing a Statement of Faith.

Public Theology in the Digital Age

I had hoped to video call into a seminary course that my friend Kyle is teaching on public theology, online engagement, and how/why Christians might responsibly drive these nascent digital conversations. Due to a flight, I unfortunately wasn’t able to join the class live, but I still want to reflect on the questions that Kyle shared with me. I hope these reflections will be as helpful to the course as they were to me, and to other interested readers.

What motivate(d/s) you to bring your theological studies into the public sphere via social media? 

I’ve found in the Internet much of what many relatively lonely people, from LGBTQ teens to white nationalists, have – a place where I can connect with others from a wider community that reminds me I am not alone. A place to build momentum and find fellowship that extends beyond my local community.

I started to use social media in the same way that many young people do: without thinking critically about it, just imitating how I saw others acting. As I began to pivot towards using online spaces to engage critical questions of theology and power, I was forced to start thinking more intentionally about my practice. But there certainly wasn’t always a critical reflection embodied in my engagement, lacking sound theory there were certainly more thoughtful ways I could have contributed. We know that what we put out there is always out there, and that’s a scary thought: my great, great grandchildren will have full digital access to my well-intentioned half-truths and mistakes. I hope my children and future generations think more critically about this stuff from the outset.

It wasn’t until college, through participating in online video call book clubs, swapping blog platforms, tweeting, and then co-curating my own projects like the Theology of Ferguson and #StayWokeAdvent anthologies, I began to realize the organizing power of the web.

At first, I really didn’t think that anyone would really care what I was writing or talking about. Questions of representation have influenced how I see myself occupying space online. Knowing that there weren’t many Japanese American or queer or mixed race theologians being read or discussed in general, I became more interested in lending my voice in a public way. I think being present in online spaces is also healing for me, given my years of participation in traumatic forms of Christianity that didn’t really invite authenticity.

How would you describe the relationship between your local community of formation and your broader online community? How does each contribute to your studies and your theological identity? 

I was formed by Christian traditions that tended to share a healthy skepticism for positive uses of the Internet: we were encouraged to think of social media with metaphors of temptation and wildfire. These days, through seminary community and my work at a local Episcopal church, I feel lucky to have a community that honors my public witness. I don’t feel as much like I must hide who I am anymore, which is enormously healing…I have met many other people online for whom local community is toxic or otherwise lacking, which can make for a profoundly isolating journey of faith.

I’ve made many intimate and rewarding friendships online, many of whom even across distance by technology have been actively diffused into my “local” and daily emotional life. Sometimes, though, fusing these two realms has been difficult for me. I know in-person witness and online activity would both be greatly improved if I were able to figure this out better.

What is challenging about hosting and participating in theological conversations online? What is exciting about it?

Many things excite me here: the ability to participate in progressive theological commentary in the public square (not just micro-echo chambers), how this space can help infuse values of ecumenism, feminism, antiracism, and the friendships that can emerge from this cataclysm of pixels and passion.

I was in what I would now call a spiritually abusive faith community in college – when I was eventually placed under discipline for my “spirit of division,” I was asked to sign a contract asking me to stay off of Twitter and my blog for 16 weeks while I read church-selected texts instead. Looking back, their fear really reflects what can actually be a liberating dimension of these spaces, sharpening each other, broadening horizons.

Throughout history, Christians of different traditions were never able to engage each other so immediately. This can bring insight, but also venom…of course, much of the world’s poor is still without Internet access, and for them joining many of these “exciting new” questions is not an option…

There are plenty of other dangers. Of course our culture’s hyper-individualism is a constant threat. I know many people who embody compulsive and extremely unhealthy activity encouraged by constant beeps and pings of news somewhere else. Disputes online are often quickly vicious. With the bridle of personal responsibility clouded by anonymity, people aren’t often as accountable for our words. This manifests in hate speech very frequently, especially directed towards women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, sex workers, etc.

You think and write a lot about the intersection of race, sexuality, gender, theology, and the public sphere. What have you learned about the practice of online discourse and community around these particular topics? 

For one, I see learning from others through pointed conversations on social media as an active part of my own theological training. Twitter in particular has supplemented and improved my ability to think theologically by introducing me to the work of many diverse and faithful people with whom I otherwise never would have encountered. Given the racial insularity of most Americans’ social networks (especially true for whites, especially true in worship and church spaces), by connecting with the theological insights of other people of color online I have been able expand the tiniest bit further outside of my own social/ethnic bubbles.

In my experience Twitter, as a digitized urban space where anyone is able to connect with another without shared physical location (in-person) or prior relationship (Facebook), serves a unique and educational purpose, as well as a movement-building space for those interested in doing theology online in a just way. Again, this engagement has been personally helpful for not uncritically producing unconsciously racist white or myopic theology in my own life and work.

Something to watch out for is that all the dynamics of race, gender, sexuality, and power as manifested in physical interactions between people are all still at play in virtual spaces – often without being named as such.

What advice do you have for other faith leaders who want to participate in public theological conversation?

Hop in, with both feet! Ask questions and create content that you are passionate about, that engages pressing theological issues. (This could look like collaborative projects like @ThirtySOL or public conversations like #PresbyIntersect or #SlateSpeak or something entirely different). Form relationships, do not just push your project. Especially if you have a larger platform, boost and share content from people who are experiencing harm in concrete and overlooked ways. There are plenty of people with a public platform that will influence many people who have less than nothing to do with helping create imaginative and liberative theological content.

As encouraged in your course syllabus, I would suggest reflecting on and creating a personal “rule of life” around social media engagement/consumption to limit unhealthy behavior. This is an area in which I struggle, and would like to grow further. I would be eager to hear from others how they are able to increasingly honor their own physical community as well as lend a voice to broader conversations.

There is something unique that you have to add to this conversation. The cosmic cocktail of DNA consciousness flesh ancestors spirit that produced you has never before appeared, and never again will. You can bring your unique perspectives to the living questions of how to heed the call of Christian discipleship in the midst of awful social woes. You can help keep the same voices from dominating the theological conversation. Each of us is impoverished to go the journey without you.

Nikkei Theology: Untangling Barbed Wire

In my dreams I am frequently met with all manner of bodily calamity – teeth falling out, piping hot lava, exhaling steam pipes swallowing me up in fine, chalky mist. These dreams have been accelerating lately – there have always been zombies, but now they’re butcher-proof, the triggers on my pistols don’t work or the barrels spray only water.

I would be surprised if this back-order of spontaneous nightmares had nothing to do with last month’s election, or with the wider climate of fear and hatred that seems to be only growing around us. I preached a couple of weeks ago on the marked increase of hate crimes affecting Muslim, immigrant, and LGBTQ communities since the election. Last week, Japanese Americans in Chicago held a press conference with Arab and Muslim American groups condemning recent rhetoric seeking to justify a mass detention or profiling of these groups on the basis that, well, “we did it to those Japs.”

If you haven’t seen the Broadway Musical “Allegiance” yet, I would highly recommend it. I had the chance to travel to New York City last fall to watch the play and meet some of the cast. On Tuesday, I saw the theatrical one-night release of the show’s film with some friends in the Chicago area.

I can’t tell you how many times I was brought to tears in that room, especially in light of EO 9066’s approaching seventy fifth anniversary this February. Of course I thought of Uncle Clark and Joe, forced out of college and into concentration camps (not the kind that help you study). I thought of Uncle George, whose now-wrinkled hands once gripped a cold metal fence at Dachau, liberating its prisoners as his own family remained behind bars.

Whenever I let my mind revisit this history, I am also tuned into the screeching demands for patriotic “loyalty” that were so key to this process of strip-mining our humanity. We weren’t allowed to serve in the armed forces, live outside of barbed wire, our worship spaces and language schools were forcibly shut down.

These histories of forced adherence to Patriotic Orthodoxy on pains of exclusion and death cannot be mentally divorced from modern inquisitions into Theological Loyalty. These legacies violate and clamber through one another.

In short, I am no longer able to understand the accusations of “you’re not a real American, you damn traitor Jap!” wielded against my ancestors as qualitatively different from the “you’re not a real Christian, you damn deceiver heretic!” I received as I was being excised from white evangelicalism. Coming to terms with this has been incredibly healing in terms of recovering from spiritual abuse at the hands of vigilante theological “gatekeepers” – a pointed term for my people.

Leaning into my heritage as a Japanese American has been complicated: I have actually changed my name(!), I have messily broken up with conservative and liberal church communities that have internalized the Gospel of White Supremacy, burning bridges not through malice so much as fear, benign and panicked arsons. None of this has been without pain.

Sometimes people ask about my family’s history of immigration to the United States. I try to explain that we never came to America: America came to us. It bowled us over, conquered the Kingdom we lived in – questioned, interrogated, and incarcerated us, spirited our children towards grotesque whiteness, sent us to camp and abroad to water the fields of the American bloodlust with our lives.

These are stories that I cling to in times of pain. Now, more than ever, we will need to lean into the traditions and ways of our ancestors, drawing strength and witness from their lives. Our communities can help us resist oppression and see the face of God in unique ways.

cross

Last February, sean miura tweeted that as an organizer working among communities of color, he is “in a constant state of untangling barbed wire.” Few things have struck me as so profoundly true. Creating Nikkei theology in a world where I am often marked with suspicion and fear has, for me also, been a constant process of untangling barbed wire.

Untangling shame, silence, and complicity in gargantuan structures of violence that are deep-rooted and tentacled beyond imagination. Unspooling the precarious perch of slipping on the silken mask of whiteness, which at any time might once more slip into a noose. Unwinding vaulting beauty standards and our peculiar presence on colonized lands and our gnarled role in this faith tradition often seeded to our ancestors by brutality or Western fervor.

These are the kinds of questions that theology issued by Japanese American Christians will need to address in the coming decade, if we are not to fade into the mist of polite religion or quaint historic anecdote. And now more than ever, we must speak out against the sinister values that our country’s next President is determined to enflesh. Donald Trump embodies everything I believe people of faith and conscience are called to resist: white supremacy, sexual assault, bodily disownership, separation and pride.

Speaking honestly is an integral part of this process. Our theology must diagnose the essence of things, or it is lying. So enough: Trump does not have a “black” heart. He is not heralding “dark” times. Truly, he is not a “tribalist” or even a “Nativist,” but the opposite – a sterile and crystallized product of Western Civilization, whose “success” is only possible by an anti-indigenous violence that is the extinguishing of tribe and native.

We can all do something to resist. If you dance, sing, paint, or play, don’t give it up to fight for freedom – do more of those things. If you write, please write, and hold their conquest at bay with your words. Blog, tweet, start a book club, form a small group with loved ones or church members. Be patient with those who don’t “get it” yet in the way you do. And, always, care for yourself. These are white times we are headed for, friends, and we need each of you.