Skip to content

So We Blog On… A Real Rattlesnake Turns 4

A Real Rattlesnake Turns 4 years old this August.

As I’m trying to be more “professional” online and less scattered overall, I’ve been thinking:

Why keep up this old, wracking hulk of a blog?

Why keep writing on it? Why keep sharing the links on social media, especially when there is so much content on these old pages – things I myself have written – that saddens and infuriates me?

Well, for one, maintaining this site forces me not to obfuscate or erase the past, which is my constant tendency. Keeping up this blog stands as a pushback to my self-preservation instinct’s collapsing star. If you want to go back and look at the unfortunate things I once thought, here I am inarguably naked, laid bare by this artifact.

When I started A Real Rattlesnake Meets His Maker in August of 2012, the summer I participated in a Cru Summer Project, I believed a lot of different things about God, the world, and myself. It causes me such acute pain, a spiritual cringe really, to look back on most things written here. I’ve changed so, so much.

On a good day I can follow a couple of my old signposts along the trail, walking backwards through some stranger’s thoughts about the world and all the divinity infused here. Keeping all these old posts up leaves a reverse bread crumb trail that, from comments I still get, I know is helpful to others in their Exoduses out of spiritually abusive evangelical and fundamentalist communities.

But clicking on a random post I wrote back when I thought LGBTQ relationships were sinful, for instance, makes me feel like I’m unnecessarily keeping the racist relatives around. Many posts feel cheap, disrespectful to myself even, reviewing them years out.

However, the dramatic reflections on spiritual and sexual trauma and searching splayed across these pages and the loss – and staggered regaining – of my religious faith is not the only story here. The fundamental re-conception of core beliefs I have undergone in the four years since my blog began was issued, in part, from newly-claimed and discovered identities. The boxes I would have checked on a census even just two years ago compared to today would differ radically: when prompted, I would have penned a different kind of faith, written down a different race/ethnicity, noted a different sexual orientation, even a different name.

It is already difficult for me as an ENFP (and an Enneagram 7) to hold onto old relationships and to keep close personal friendships, despite a fairly wide-reaching social network. Add to that natural proclivity the incredible and inexpressible distance I have traveled over these past few years, and you will almost certainly find a lot of confusion and pain from loved ones.

How to begin to account for this secondary (and tertiary…) adolescence with even dear friends and family who, knowing some former fragment of me, are now left with a crude sketch of who I’ve become? They can only approximate, hurling innocent questions like torpedoes. B-7? C-9? Playing this game leaves me with a sense of shame. It is easier to reinvent, to obfuscate, to deny access – or to ignore that these seismic shifts have taken place.

How to maintain these old relationships with integrity when there is so much to account for? Easier to jettison the cargo, make a beeline for the nearest shore, and let who follows will.

I was never taught how to hold onto the past.

Last night while having dinner with friends I traveled to Cuba with two summers ago, all sorts of emotions came suddenly welling up. I have not let myself be consciously in touch with memories from even two years ago. It is too painful to imagine the past, when I was distinctly captive to a certain kind of faith. A past splayed all over this blog, a past of distinct racism and sexism and heterosexism and, of course, using only capital ‘He’ to refer to God.

“Can’t relive the past? Why of course you can!”

I am nothing like Jay Gatsby. I don’t want to relive the good old days: I want to immolate the past. I want to purge its stench from my flesh, excise its signature in my brain. Even the good memories have become tainted with an embarrassment of who I was, who I allowed myself to be.

But those memories cannot escape us. We are littered with the past. If not defined by it, at least caught in its pull. I am not Kenji without Ryan, and Keone. I am not a mainline seminarian without my Roman Catholic and nondenominational evangelical roots and faith. I’m not a Nikkei without having been socialized into hapa suburban whiteness for most of my life, not myself as a writer or a boyfriend or a brother without my struggles with clinical depression, without divorce and coming out and understanding both my and my mother’s queerness. I’m simply not me at all without my tongue and pen, without my brash Spanish in Honduras and Costa Rica, street evangelizing in San Diego, and on long walks down Havana’s Malecón. I’m not me without Twitter, without brightside and holy friendships, without Carry the Fire, the Reformation Project, and the Killjoy Prophets.

When I think about it, I am everything like Gatsby. I am re-invented. I am no more a paragon of “wokeness” and allure than James Gatz could claim the mantle of the rich young ruler. (Gatsby must have been an ENFP also – often we are not sure what we are beyond the warped, crumpled projections of your deepest desires.)

For now, this blog will remain up, as a honest tool for myself and others, to help close the mental and spiritual gap between then and now. I’m done trying to be appealing or hip with these posts. I love the white Christian mommy and daddy bloggers, and I’m not one of them. The times I’ve loved this space most have been when I could be forwardly vulnerable in such a way that other people felt okay saying: “…me too.” I think if we can stay in that place, there is real hope for the stories that will be continue to told here as I navigate what’s next for A Real Rattlesnake.

Like Gatsby, like all of us, I’m inextricably bound up in each of my old testaments, fully indicted and fully known by all former versions of myself. I, too, believe in some divine, impassable light, an orgastic dream that jets out year by year before us. It eluded us before, but no worries – tomorrow we will lean forward, re-imagine ourselves, brush off the keyboards, and break ourselves open to the world again. And one fine morning…

So we blog on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Happy four years. I am so grateful for each one of you reading this.

Pulse

News of a gay nightclub in Orlando being attacked by an armed gunman on June 12 immediately quelled my excitement for Loving Day – an annual celebration of the 1967 Supreme Court decision to federally legalize interracial marriage. Nine years before the court’s ruling, police officers acting off an anonymous tip had raided the home of interracial couple Mildred and Richard Loving, pulling them from bed and charging them with violating Virginia law. In court, the trial judge would invoke the natural and inviolable created order of “Almighty God” to condemn the Lovings to twenty five years of banishment from the state for publicly violating mores of sexual respectability.

The day before the shooting, I was riding through hundreds of miles of California desert with a group of young Japanese Americans on a cross-country trip to Manzanar, a concentration camp where more than ten thousand persons had been imprisoned during world war two. Once we arrived, we spent the day taking it all in, visiting the graves of those who died in camp, and laboring with gardening tools for hours under the silent sun, fighting back against nascent tumbleweeds.

In the camp’s museum, a large guestbook had been laid out for visitors to record their thoughts. I saw a lot of beauty and innocence in those pages, signatures in dozens of languages and notes of pained hope and healing. Then I flipped to a page that seized my attention. Someone in confident, inking scrawl, had written:

 Make America Great Again!

Vote Donald Trump!

Let’s do this to the Muslims!

13433202_10154251124719609_7177816530829107842_o

I started shaking in anger, remembering a similar incident from my first pilgrimage to this site two years ago. While eating dinner at a restaurant near camp, a waiter, an older white military veteran, had stormed up to me from behind and ripped my keffiyeh off my head, demanding that I keep it off, and calming only when another employee intervened to point out my Hebrew tattoo. Over the past few years, politicians and talking heads have favorably revisited the idea of resurrecting America’s concentration camps for Muslim and Arab Americans, just like we did to “those Japs.” But too many of our families remember the barbed wire and the machine guns to be silent while something like this happens again.

The home, a marriage bed, an incarceration center’s memorial guestbook, or a gay nightclub on Latin night – these are supposed to be spaces where wider currents of violent acts are repelled, not their epicenters. When such prejudice manifests in a place that is supposed to be sacred, it wounds twice over. The injury is visibly deepened as a vulnerable group is robbed of what little sense of safety they had to begin with.

vigil

Emerging from a familial background in which matters of sex and sexuality are often characterized by silence and a cultural context in which few of the popular labels around sexual minorities are indigenous, I have over this past year deeply struggled to articulate my own identities. Sometimes talking about being queer feels comparable to publicly discussing my personal struggles with mental health: I’m truly afraid to pin these stories and identities loudly to my chest, lest I give others the weapons that they might later use to wound me.

As a queer person who is in a committed relationship with someone of the opposite sex, I have often felt a fixed degree of separation from many of the “traditional” markers of The Gay Experience™. I am struck by the fact that when my partner and I hold hands in public, we do not experience the kind of revulsion, for instance, that my gay mom and her partner do when they act in the same way. I am much more easily able to camouflage, to blend in, and rendered that much more unseen.

But this relative hiddenness has not lessened the pit that opens in my stomach – around the dinner table, in church settings, on television, with friends and their spouses – when LGBTQ people are being boldly or subtly maligned. It has not reduced my fear that new or old friendships will evaporate if I begin to trouble easy assumptions about my sexuality. And this sense of invisibility has not mitigated the trauma of the Orlando shooting. I was comforted and challenged by someone who recently tweeted, “Bisexuality is real and you deserve to mourn, too.” The shooter did not stop to ask his victims whether they identified as L, G, B, T, or Q; that night, a proximity to brownness and queerness was enough to mark their bodies as utterly worthy of death.

If there was ever a time to reapply ourselves to the work of combatting the ideologies of death that affect Latinx, queer, and Muslim communities, it is now. Just as every myth and measured lie about black sloth and sexual predation fed into Dylan Roof’s racial terror in Charleston last summer, so too did every pulpit proclamation against the “abomination” of homosexuality and the threat of queer families help fuel the Pulse nightclub attack. While many “traditionalist” evangelicals have been quick to voice their sympathy for the slaughter’s victims, less acknowledged is that what the Orlando shooter did exceptionally well on Sunday was bring the doctrine of “hate the sin” to its ultimate, horrifying conclusion.

On the morning of the Pulse attack, I woke up in a Los Angeles hotel on the same street where our families had to line up with what little belongings they could carry, to be searched and trucked off to camp. Before America’s more than fifty Little Tokyos were forced into historic memory, they stood as vibrant communities of diasporic Nikkei identity, testaments to our migrant pride. Today, only three Japantowns exist. Only three scattered patches of streets, reduced from former glories, have managed to repel the near-constant incursions by outside business and political interests who dream of raising up more parking lots, high-rent housing, and yuppie kitsch in their place.

I am remembering more than anything this week that there are vast powers arrayed against each of us, forces trying to encroach upon the integrity of our whole selves. We are, each of us, a Little Tokyo. The world will try to pick and parcel us apart, claiming that we cannot possibly hold all parts of ourselves together – you cannot be both queer and a Muslim; a person of color and a Christian; attracted to both women, men, and people of other genders.

We are a people whose mere existence frightens the state’s enforcers of the status quo, those frustrated men who see in our multitudes miscegenation, violation to be extinguished. Their vicious acts of hatred continue to wound deeply, and there are not words to address them. But we will continue to share our hope and our lives, speaking out against single stories and silence. If we do not tell these stories, no one else will.

Apple Orchard

image

I had a nightmare last night. In my dream I didn’t know where I was, but I was trapped, somehow unable to either open or close my eyes. I was being swallowed up in marbled heat, like I was closed inside a standing coffin, sweltering in the sun. But I wasn’t inside, I was just…standing outside, sobbing, unable to catch my breath. Loved ones were standing around me, watching me dissolve into my body’s demands, and I knew in this moment that I was back at Manzanar.      

This weekend I’ll be chaperoning a group of college-age (18-25) Japanese Americans to Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo neighborhood, where we will be engaging in critical workshops and discussions on Nikkei identity, as well as exploring the history of the community there through political tours and museum visits. The next day, we will head three hours north to the site of a former concentration camp that imprisoned more than ten thousand people during world war two – some of our participant’s family members included.

Two years ago, I went on this same trip myself as a participant and really felt that my life was changed forever by it. It was certainly the most explicit site of my genesis as a liberation theologian. Afterwards, I wrote a number of times about this experience: dramatically, for my own blog ; coolly, for the Pacific Citizen newspaper; and most recently for Inheritance Magazine.

I had spent the year before that first trip crystallizing a sense of racial consciousness through joining weekly videoconferences with a now-defunct antiracist/feminist theological collective (Killjoy Prophets) where we read Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree and engaged in decolonizing discussions around faith, gender, race, and social media.

From Cone to Manzanar to mobilizing around Michael Brown’s stalking and killing later that fall, these events left an indelible mark in my personal racial consciencization. They were each steps in a long journey of learning to marshal my own muddled, depoliticized identities into greater participation in a Christian QPOC activist tradition that has been extraordinarily life-giving. All of these collective experiences helped me finally begin to question the hegemonic categories of whiteness (and straightness) in which I’d enacted uneasy participation for most of my life. That year left me altered, some Ship of Theseus type stuff (if you replace every single component of a ship part by part, is that ship the same ship as before?). Manzanar met me shining and bright and I somehow left cut to the heart, immolating, with a new theology and a new name.

The concentration camps that our country raised from desert sands were our community’s crucifixion event. It is the Exile. This pilgrimage feels like, maybe, the disciples’ grandchildren gathering at Golgotha seventy years later, poking at old scabs, shooting for profundity, wondering if there is any going back here, or if it will fade forever, and which would be better.

Maybe someday when I’m telling this story of our people to the rokusei, sichisei (ha!), the hachisei, I will remind them that it could be that everything started with Manzanar. It is all here: trauma, sexuality, memory, ghosts, dead life, broken bodies and haunted houses. I wonder if all those years later, I will still be consumed by the reckless hatred of it all. Not my hatred – although that is there also, humming raw and pink in my chest. But the hatred of the men who for God and country architected this, and the easy scorn of the millions who to this day remain silent. (The people who believe themselves to be human.)

The immanent fact of returning to Manzanar in under 48 hours exhilarates and panics me. I have reimagined the scene of my return a thousand times, in dreams and idle thoughts. This land is not just any land. I know the history of pain there will physically paralyze me when I return. Where blood is spilled, where bodily hosts are broken, these places become perverted sacraments, outward and visible markers of an inward and invisible corruption. The cynics cannot understand the weight of this place, but there living memories here, waiting to be resurrected. When you walk over the sands, your feet kick up dust that stirs around in the wind and is swept into your nostrils. You can’t help but leave the place coated, the stuff sticking in and through and with every inch of you.

Please pray that we are able to have a productive and life-changing trip. Pray that the Spirit of God would speak powerfully to heal the trauma we are walking into this weekend. That we would be ever more greatly propelled towards enacting the liberation of ourselves, but especially other marginalized groups. That we can together learn to honor this place and history without deploying an essentialized or sterile version of this event, painfully easy for me to do when I am sharing with nice white folks, or to other well-meaning people of color who are eager to quickly bound towards The Greater Atrocities like we’re swapping tales about Big Fish.

I am looking forward to everything to come this weekend, and grateful for each of you who is reading this post.

Wine and Bread

"Food, Faith, Fellowship"

The Niš Niche

Ms Adventures In Serbia

Ethnic Space Blog

we have no color lines

Whispering Winds

Whispering Winds Blog ... Taking Time to be still and listen for God

Chris Martin Writes

Sowing seeds for the Kingdom

Leaving Fundamentalism

Examining Christian Fundamentalism in the UK

Mercy not Sacrifice

The Blog of Morgan Guyton

If you want to sing out, sing out.

And if you want to be free, be free.

The Blog of Andrew Arndt

Bits and pieces... fragments of thoughts on living a quiet life with God

And Now Deep Thoughts With Justin Hanvey

Where Justin shares his (not so) deep thoughts on life, faith, art, etc.

Revolutionary Faith

Taking back Christianity

Sacred Tension

A Story About Dissonance

Ignostic Atheist

Intellectually Sexy

Who Said Life Wasn't Complicated?

Faith. Youth Work. Film. Conversation.

The Heart Divide

Navigating the distance between what my brain understands and my heart longs for.

voyagingsoul

Inhale Glory, Exhale Love.

theophiliacs

amiable. anglican. awesome.

Sketches By Boze

An ongoing exploration of faith, culture, myth, life, art. An advocate for all who are trapped in nightmares.

All Things Rabyd

A blog dedicated to the thoughts, opinions, ideas and random madness of Edward W. Raby, Sr. - Pastor, Theologian, Philosopher, Writer, Bodybuilder and Football Fan. "Yes, the dog is foaming at the mouth. Don't worry, He just had pint of beer and is trying to scare you." This is a Theology Pub so drink your theology responsibly or have a designated driver to get you home as theology can be as intoxicating as alcohol.

Mercy Not Sacrifice

The Blog of Morgan Guyton

The Visionlarry

Stride with Confidence into the Unknown

brandon andress

extending the kingdom of god...

Deconstructing Myths

Social justice is built one idea at a time...

David Westlake

What on earth is God doing and how do I join in

ywammercy

A blog about how to better serve the poor and vulnerable of our world.

the life of ashley marie

Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever

Good Deeds Are Easy

Do something good today!

Married in Mile Square City

life & love in Hoboken

Ad Dei Gloriam

My thoughts and work on philosophy, theology, and politics.

Walking Christian

One Way, One Truth, One Life

Thoughts from a Catholic

I've been Roman for a while

Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,301 other followers