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Posts from the ‘spirituality’ Category

Apple Orchard


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.

faith between the lines

This post is an adapted essay I recently wrote as part of my very first seminary application.  It fleshes out some of my faith background and understanding of a personal call to ministry.

In the Catholic tradition in which I was reared, children and adults selected patron saints to serve as protectors and role models, piecemeal guardian angels of sorts. Martyrs and apostles, writers and ecclesiastical provocateurs, these hallowed figures provided people of various professions with great comfort in times of confusion or distress.

As a person of faith, I claim spiritual sages from a number of social spheres – individuals whose ongoing impact can be felt directly or indirectly in my life, across the pull of time or locale.  Among my most profound influencers remain individuals like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Clive Lewis, Martin King, John Sykes, Tsuyoko Nakamura, Anne Lamott, Jorge Bergoglio, Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Not all of these people share an earthly plane or a Christian faith with me.  Yet I have called upon many voices, including some of theirs, to ask for intercession and prayers before God as I apply to seminary.

Like a proper veneration of the saints, the flow of liturgy, patterned as spiritual breathing, has a way of infusing souls with an appreciation for the women and men who came before us.  Worshipping in liturgical contexts has taught me to appreciate tradition, to look backwards and walk in the ways of spiritual ancestors whose examples have been faithfully passed down through generations; I believe that a healthy Christianity is community-driven, longstanding, collectively inspired.

Yet my faith is also something I consider something wholly my own.  This is because I have had to fight for my beliefs, against my own doubts as well as those who would strip me of my convictions.  Others once dominated the private contours of my faith, but now I know that this sacred act is mine, and ours, and cannot be robbed by outside judgment or disappointment.


I spent my early childhood attending a theologically progressive Japanese American church in Chicago.  My father, whom I deeply admire, decided to leave our congregation after a guest preacher mentioned that he was gay and partnered.  We migrated us to my mother’s Catholic church, where I was dutifully confirmed.  This period of my life was consistently interrupted by my parents’ embattled and vicious divorce, which altered custody so that my siblings and I were standing/kneeling among hymns and chants, crossing ourselves and smelling incense one Sunday, then singing popular praise songs, hands in the air, surrounded by thousands the next.

My mother soon came out of the closet.  I balked and rejected this, rallying in pain and frustration to a fundamentalist worldview that I now recognize as stifling.  Two years ago, I departed from this camp and, after telling others about my change of heart, underwent a season of severe spiritual abuse at the hands of my local faith community.  Since being shattered by this culture of altar calls, ex-gay ministries, female submission, and campus crusades, I’ve gradually gravitated towards more moderate articulations of faith, where I’ve healed and regained some of my trust in religious institutions.

Years ago, in the evangelical era of Adventures in Odyssey and Awana, I startled from my sleep, woke my father through hot tears.  He asked what was wrong. “I think God wants me to be a missionary,” I managed, “but I don’t want to live in a hut in the jungle.”  My father laughed, swelled with pride.  He pulled me close, glowing in the dark.

My early understandings of ministry held that one either had to inhabit the secular world or embrace celibacy and become a priest; go into finance, policing, or film or become a megachurch pastor, a missionary to an unreached tribal group.  My own understanding of vocation has changed since then. I was encouraged by the 2014 ordination of Chris Hedges, who 31 years ago was told by an ordination committee that his call to war correspondence and journalism was “invalid.”

I also delighted in learning that Mr. Rogers, another of my informal patron saints, deeply considered his work in children’s education nothing less than a full call to Christian ministry.  I know some churches ordain scholars, who bless God’s people through careful academics infused with sacrament and spirituality.  Truly, those who claim the Christian mantle have not only the right to name our sages but also to discern what unique ways God is calling us to further the kingdom.  Earth is not demarcated into spiritual and secular realms, but God’s calling pervades every inch of each of our lives – regardless of ordination status.

Pain prepares us for ministry,” an anonymous commenter (whom I suspect to be my father) said on a recent blog post I wrote on Selma, Ferguson, and my visit to a former internment camp. As a fifth generation Japanese American, I know that my own community has been particularly impacted by racialized oppression in this country.  I am interested in helping my neighbors from privileged and marginalized backgrounds explore how modern “powers and principalities” so often degrade our shared humanity, distorting the image of God in us all.  I am passionate about advancing these conversations in the church.  Like Chris Hedges and Mr. Rogers, I too feel a sense of calling towards accomplishing these good things by using my gifts of writing and connecting with others through play.

While my Roman Catholic and evangelical roots continue to influence my theology, I no longer identify with most popular expressions of these traditions.  Yet one of the reasons I am interested in studying theology is because my ecumenical commitments ensure that I will be able to remain in profound and playful dialogue with the traditions that at once housed, delivered, and afflicted me.  Through a deeper education, I hope to more fully inhabit the blank spaces in between the lines of my resume, as I learn to bring my outer actions and activisms into better alignment with my understanding of God’s values.

I know that our Lord and the saints have left us Christ-followers a series of holy examples.  I am eternally drawn towards the kind of otherworldly hospitality, beauty, and interconnectedness exemplified in the Eucharist, demonstrated in all those who risk and sacrifice for their neighbor during times of great persecution.  I stand amazed at the awesome justice and solidarity that God demonstrated through the incarnation and the at-one-ment, replicated in small part every time a member of a powerful group empties themselves of privilege.  I believe any theological reflection worth its salt must begin on the margins, among the dispossessed and the overlooked – the “crucified peoples of history.”  This is where the body of Christ is meant to dwell, and this is where I want to spend myself.

death by love wins (a tale of two pastors)

death by love wins

“Death by love,” I repeated.  “The author’s name is Mark Driscoll.  D-R-I-S-C-O-L-L.”

The thin, wiry librarian sitting in front of me leaned slowly forward.  She nodded and began delicately clacking at the keyboard in front of her, using only her two index fingers.  As I waited, I considered pulling out my phone, just to pretend I had something else to do.

“No, I’m sorry.  There’s no book here by that name,” she breathed.  “We do have the other books you asked for, though.  John Piper and Tim Keller, correct?”

“Yes, thank you,” I replied, glancing up from my cell phone’s screen, annoyed.  How could they not carry this Death by Love book here?  It had been recommended to me by many friends.  This Driscoll guy is supposed to be famous, and the book is supposed to be really powerful.

“Those other books are in the religious studies/Christianity aisle,” she said.  “Section AB 120-132.  Would you like me to write that down for you?”

“No thank you,” I smiled with thin lips.  I had no intention of waiting so patiently for another four minutes.

* * * * *

“Ooh,” Mary Ann* said, shaking her head, “you don’t want to read that book.”

We were walking around the second floor of the library, wandering through my favorite aisle, when she stopped, almost as if ordered, and pointed towards a book on the shelf.

“Why not?” I asked, gripping its pleasant red spine and lifting it to my face.

“Be careful with that,” Mary Ann intoned, unconsciously taking a step back.  “That book was written by this pastor who used to be a Real Christian…but then he started questioning everything and now he’s written this book that says hell doesn’t even exist and that no one goes there,” she explained.  “He used to be not bad at all but now, he’s a liberal.”  Her voice deepened to a whisper: “He’s a heretic.”

The book immediately took on an otherworldly weight in my hand.  I was at once filled with an inexplicable dread and the burning urge to stop touching the thing.  I laid it back on the shelf as gingerly as I could, as if it were a sleeping infant who would transform into a tyrant upon being aroused from sleep.  We continued walking down the aisle and talking about the ways our faith had been challenged by Christians who stopped believing in the clear words of the Bible.

A week later, I came back to the library alone.  I picked up the book and carefully read the inside flap.  I considered opening to an actual page, but found myself lacking the courage to do so without an invisibility cloak.  I placed the book back on the shelf and quickly scurried out the door.  None of my ministry friends from Joyous Jihad for Jesus* could ever know about this.

* * * * *

Weeks later, I finally got around to ordering “Death by God” on Amazon.  I plopped down on my bed night after night and tried reading it, but I was so bothered by the author’s aggression, by the way this pastor was speaking about his manliness and wanting to hurt people…about how God also wanted to hurt people…that I couldn’t read more than a few chapters.  I replaced the book on my shelf above my computer and wrote in my journal that night: “I’m not spiritually ready enough for this book.  Pray and read the Bible more then come back when I have more maturity.”

I eventually stole a copy of Love Wins and breezed through it in days.  Rob Bell said that maybe there’s another way to think about heaven and hell, and it didn’t infuriate me as much as I was told it should.  After all, these were the same things I’d been reading my hero C.S. Lewis say for a while now.  I discreetly passed the copy on to several of my close friends.  I felt doubly guilty afterwards, for now I was both a thief and a heretic.

Surely they would crucify me if they ever found out.