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Summer Plans

prair

I just returned from two lovely weeks in Vienna, Austria where my sister is studying abroad and doing some fascinating archaeological digs with some really cool people. I think every good trip to a distant place should have the potential to alter the way you see the world, and that’s definitely been my experience in Europe and beyond. Only if a city really inflects itself in you, you will miss it even when you’re home, and you will begin to feel less home at home, always remembering another somewhere and another set of someones. That’s only happened to me a couple of times, and although lots of folks I encountered in Vienna were bristling cold by my Midwest standards, there was something amazing about being there, and I will carry these memories with me for a long time.

Anyhow, below are some of the tentative summer plans I have this year:

Classes

I will be taking a summer class at SCUPE this June called Building Together a Just Economy, taught by Joerg Rieger and Rosemarie Henkel-Rieger. Although I’ve never taken a critical race theory class, a theology class, or a class on gender/sexuality I have tried my best to self-educate in these areas, and I think I’ve been able to do so relatively well. However, I can’t wrap my head always around the economic dynamics of oppressive systems, and I think that this course will really help me appreciate the theological resources that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity can offer when it comes to the project of tackling exploitative capitalism and building a just economic system as people of faith. I hope that I can continue to take classes in more practical pastoral areas as well, but I know that I really need to improve my economic analyses in order to do more intersectional justice work.

Speaking

Privilege from a Nikkei Perspective

I had a great time teaching Adult Christian Formation last month with my congregation, St. Paul and the Redeemer, where I was part of a series of speakers addressing white racism and privilege in the church and society. We explored how to use theological and liturgical resources, as well as story and academia, in order to challenge white supremacy. I am also excited to share that SPR is where I will be fulfilling my seminary’s field placement requirement this next year as a pastoral intern, which means I hope to get to do all sorts of fun things like leading Bible studies, preaching, and working with youth right here in Hyde Park.

E-Formation Conference

At the e-formation conference held at Virginia Theological Seminary from June 5-8, I’ll be presenting an interactive workshop on Doing Theology Online. As you may know from reading my blog or engaging with me on social media, lots of the ways I have been interested about using social media have intersected with concerns and questions about challenging power structures with marginalized theological perspectives. If you’re interested in purchasing Webinar access to the conference ($89), my session and many others may be viewed from home.

However, I hope they make the video of my talk eventually free. If that’s not the case and if the webinar access is too expensive for you, email me (kenjikuramitsu@gmail.com) and I’ll send you my notes and slides.

Wild Goose Festival

I’m participating in a lot of fun things at Wild Goose this year:

  1. The day before the Goose, I will be facilitating a daylong pre-festival workshop with several friends and colleagues called the Racial Justice Institute. Check it out here! As an anti-racism educator, I am very excited about this gathering, and I actually think this event will be worth coming to Wild Goose itself. We have a few free tickets to give away for friends, so please let me know if you’re interested.
  2. I’m going to be on a panel about diaspora and Asian American/bicultural identity with theologian Soong-Chang Rah and filmmaker SueAnn Shiah, which I’m getting psyched about. I have never seen many Asian American and/or Pacific Islander speakers or attendees of the festival, so this should be interesting.
  3. I’ll be speaking to the youth participants of Wild Goose about claiming our ancestral heritages to fight racism, in a workshop called “All In God’s Image: You Contain Multitudes.” Only young ones allowed, but if you are an interested parent I’m happy to pass along my notes.
  4.  I’m going to be participating in a fishbowl discussion with some fellow LGBTQ+ Christians on how to handle faithful engagement and disagreement in conversations around human sexuality and the church in a session called “Oriented to Love.”
  5. My friend Austen and I are leading a workshop on liminality in terms of gender and race. Here’s the description: Join transgender theologian Austen Hartke and Japanese American educator Kenji Kuramitsu in sharing stories of social liminality as we inhabit “betwixt and between” spaces. We’ll be considering the middle grounds of race, gender, faith, and sexuality as we highlight relevant characters from scripture and throughout church history. This will be a “mixed-methods” workshop using stories as a point of departure for creating authentic and healing theology, and encouraging participants to explore and voice their own social locations.
  6. I’m joining worship leader (and my boss!) Gary Rand and other creatives in a Christian worship session on Friday night that will incorporate spoken word, carpentry (really), and sacrament to challenge unjust the social structures that depress and dehumanize us.
  7. It looks like I’ll be a part of a panel with my friends AnaYelsi Sanchez, Micky Scottbey Jones, and Jim Wallis about racism in America.

Travel

The day after Wild Goose, I’m headed to Las Vegas for a week of long board meetings and fraught Robert’s Rules-driven voting sessions. No, it’s not for a church convention – one of the other hats I wear is serving on the National Board of Directors of the Japanese American Citizens League, working to empower young Japanese Americans. We’ll be having what is shaping up to be a very interesting yearly convention as hundreds of Nikkei descend on Las Vegas.

The last week of July I am headed to Provincetown, MA to work as a staff member at COLAGE camp. This is my second year doing this, and the relationships I made last year were simply life-changing. Before I understood myself as almost anything else, I understood myself to be bad because I was queerspawn: the child of a gay parent who felt like this was a terrible secret to hide. I’m doing some teaching there: I will be presenting to high schoolers about how to disrupt white supremacy in their communities and families and co-leading a workshop to LGBTQ parents on race and parenting children of color as a queer person.

In August, I’m saving up for a plane ticket to Hawai’i, where I’ll be living for the month and working with my church’s diocese out there hopefully in a ministerial internship kind of placement. At the end of the month, properly tanned, I will be headed to New York City with my partner to hang out with and visit my friend Jeff.

Please do say hello and let’s make sure to connect if you find yourself in Honolulu, New York City, Boston/Provincetown, Hot Springs, Las Vegas, Chicago, or Alexandria/DC when I am around. If you are feeling particularly generous and want to help supplement the travel experiences I am hoping to have this summer, please do get in touch with me (with many of these opportunities I am hoping to simply break even, and at this stage in my life generosity is always appreciated). I’ll be in Chicago for around 4 scattered weeks this summer, so please get in touch if you are interested in hanging out here!

Racial_Justice_Institute_with-Times-and-with-Names.jpg

Join us at the Racial Justice Institute this July 6-7!

White Skin, Black Masks

You are part of a group of about a dozen friends that has been invited into the home of some colleagues from another land, who are hosting you for a meal to share and learn about one another’s ways. You have come to learn the stories of the people whose home you have been invited into as they relate to theology, violence, suffering, and hope.

At the door, you are welcomed warmly by hosts who usher you into their home. It has been a long trip. You dust your coat, take your shoes off at the door, and step into their modest but bustling dining room. Everyone begins to introduce themselves, laugh, share stories, and connect even across a steady language barrier. Your hosts have prepared for you all a wonderful meal, which is brought out on worn plates and adorned with local spices. You pray, and then dive into the meal.

A few bites into the meal, several of the guests in your group begin to cough. Their eyes begin to water, fists ball tightly, and throats begin to swell shut. You discern that some of the contents of the meal have caused for a few folks an allergic reaction. This is, of course, no one’s fault – caused simply because of what went into the meal and what your friends happened to he carrying around in their own bodies.

Wordlessly, a few of your friends stumble outside for air, to take a minute to see if the symptoms subside. You follow quickly to comfort them. A few others come outside to pray for wellness and healing. One of them throws up. As the pain begins to settle, still raw, your group returns back inside. Medical treatment at this time is unnecessary, but clearly the meal cannot continue as it was.

When you regain your seats at the table, your hosts begin to pepper you with questions: “so I see that you didn’t enjoy our food? We went through all this trouble for you.” You try to say that is not the case, but are cut off: “No, no, no. This is an outrage,” your hosts shoot back. “This is my grandmother’s recipe. We have prepared this meal for you with all of the finest ingredients, from local sources.”

“I understand and appreciate the profound gladness from which this meal came,” one of your friends begins. “But as you can see, eating this meal caused me inexpressible pain. Is there anything else I might eat?”

You look around the room for sympathetic eyes, confused. The mood in the room has clearly shifted from one of celebration to one of anger and hurt. After a period of silence, one of your hosts stands shaking her head and explains that one must always be in firmer control of their emotions. Another man crosses his arms and scoffs: “This is our culture. You don’t understand our ways. How dare you come here and tell us what’s wrong – perhaps you had better leave.”

Later that night, your friends talk about what happened over drinks. How did this happen? Could we have reacted any better? There were more dietitians and culinary professionals sitting in the room than you could count on both your hands, but you feel there was so little understanding of what happened.

The two older members of your group, who architected the visit, have fallen largely silent. They are hurt also. Although they have eaten here dozens of times, they have never thought too much about the meal’s ingredients. Without allergies of their own, this was never a personal concern. No warnings were given before the meal on the hope they wouldn’t prove necessary. You are instructed that we must move forward in learning from our hosts – when we return to the hosts’ home tomorrow, we will not under any circumstances have a group conversation about what happened.

The next day, one of these older friends – who didn’t say a word over drinks the night before – has a separate group member send out his thoughts by email, precluding direct response or engagement (perhaps having had enough time to formulate his own perspective).

The email reads: How could you expect our hosts to be “partners” in a conversation about food allergies? I see you’re in pain, but we must get it together. These people are not scientists! They don’t understand antihistamines. Did you know they just lost their child to a war, and the government can’t help them at all? I think we have got it pretty good back in our homes compared to these people who are very poor. Everyone has suffered pain. My wife and I have suffered also, so you shouldn’t make such a big deal out of things. We should really just be grateful for what we have.

When you return to your hosts’ home the following afternoon, you are surprised to find that everyone is, in fact, now going to talk about what happened. All of the hosts are at the front of the room, arms crossed, joined by your older friends. Those who suffered yesterday begin to share the pain they experienced. One tries to talk about the reality of food allergies in relation to her family history. Others around the room – from both groups – begin to chime in, staring with contorted faces and thin lips. Whispers and groans begin to fill the air:

“Get a handle on yourselves.”

“Voy a defender esta tradición un poco…mostremos honor, y nos insultaron.”

“You all have made a big deal out of nothing.”

“So disrespectful.”

“Es de much dolor lo que ustedes hicieron.”

This is, of course, a sloppy allegory. What happened in real life was that my study trip to Colombia had a large incidence of blackface (preceded and followed by several dozen smaller such incidences) during a visit to a community who had around thirty youth paint their skin black, their lips red, and dance a traditional dance for us. I wasn’t going to write about this, but enough people have asked me what happened and posted about it in part that I wanted to share my honest impressions.

I’m not going to post pictures, but please know that the experience splintered the group. It chemically altered the way we were able to relate to each other. It fractured both Colombian and Chicagoan students and professors along strange fault lines of indifference, loyalties to old friendships, and misguided racial solidarity. It changed the way I was able to understand, and even look at, students and faculty from both schools.

masks

In 1952, critical theorist Frantz Fanon published Black Skin, White Masks, a psychological study of the internalized racism that colonialism infuses in its subjects, particularly in relation to the pathology of the colonized mind and the black body. Like Ta-Nehisi Coates (and James Cone before him) Fanon was a prophetic expositor of the implicit but often unarticulated fault lines along blackness and whiteness, theorizing on the invisible racial cracks that swallow up entire persons and psyches. He elucidated before many others the profound inability of black people to fit into dominant social norms in a postcolonial society and discussed the implicit association of “blackness” with “villainy” with which we have all been trained to think.

In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon reflects: “Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”

The core, inviolable belief at play in our group conversation about the people with white skin wearing masks of black paint, for our Colombian friends, seemed to be a misplaced sense of cultural orgullo and defense of the nobility and supremacy of “our traditional ways.” Therefore, it didn’t matter that the room was full of pastors trained in pastoral care, that some of our group experienced a trauma beyond human words, that we were all Christians struggling to express our mutual hurt. In that moment, very cowardly responses emerged (with the exception of one comment). To preserve cognitive harmony, overwhelmingly cold, sterile, mathematical reactions – “there is no racism in Latin America;” “Look, I am 1/16th African on my mother’s side!” – needed to be liberally employed to, as Fanon writes, “rationalize, ignore, and even deny” our students’ raw, emotional pain.

On the very first day of class we presented for three hours on experiences of anti-black racism that our students felt in both Chicago and in Colombia. But even after two weeks together, there was no recognition that this was all connected: Laquan McDonald’s lynching; being followed around in stores in Barranquilla and Chicago; the racial profiling by security at the airport; Ta-Nehisi’s talk of reparations for slavery; the protests actual black Colombians have been making against blackface; and the “beloved cultural tradition” of putting black paint on white skin.

It is hard to imagine that a blackness one can apply with a sponge, crudely baptize under the guise of “honoring our slave ancestors,” and mop off the floor afterwards is not related to the kind of pathologies that Fanon was writing about. This is perhaps why one of our Colombian professors felt the need to liken light-skinned people doing blackface to the beauty of the incarnation (how a perfect God slipped on soiled human skin and became one of us in a gesture of love). On a continent where blackness has historically been associated with embarrassment, terror, and sin and is currently publicly extinguished or painted on for minstrel dance, this was an uninspired analogy.

Many times in Colombia I heard an invocation of Latin America’s historic tripartite blood fraternity to explain women’s physical beauty, and to justify romanticized claims to African identity. As a multigenerational diasporic mixed race person, I can appreciate to some (although an entirely different) degree the distanced pride in mestizaje identity. But just as I don’t dress as a samurai and do fake Japanese or Hawaiian accents to entertain my white friends, I don’t know that it’s possible to crudely spiritualize away and “parody” one’s vague African ancestry without virulently participating in a tragic kind of anti-blackness. A largely hypothetical mestizaje identity, imagined as a single potent drop of black blood, does not excuse one from the task of reckoning with what the actual black people are feeling today.

I’m not going to go into the exhausting, painful experiences of racism I constantly experienced throughout our trip. I won’t delve into how my sharing of my pain related to Orientalism and anti-Asian racism led to mocking from our own group, how our Colombian hosts perpetuated some of the most hurtful racisms I’ve felt in a while. Those are conversations I will reserve for those I trust.

I’ll just close by saying that in light of the ongoing poverty that children of the African diaspora are still experiencing on this continent, it is unfortunate that many of us took into account the momentary discomfort of fake black people far more than the abiding trauma that actual black people experienced. It is, to be sure, unfortunate that during a trip studying contexts of violence and how the church responds, our leaders, our local partners, and we ourselves largely failed to meaningfully account for situations of emotional violence and silencing perpetuated by the church.

#BlackLivesMatter Liturgy

Below is the outline of a worship service that was held by the six students in my seminary’s Worship and the Arts: #BlackLivesMatter course this winter. My friend Lauren Robinson and I structured the flow of the liturgy and created the public call and response critique of “All lives matter,” adapted with permission from a blog post by Peter Gathje.

I wrote the prayers below, inspired by the Book of Common Prayer, and they are a part of an ongoing project (a booklet of uncommon prayer) I am working on for the sharing and curating of Collects (a specific kind of traditional prayer used in the Anglican and other traditions) specifically for (and from a lens of) the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

In these skeletal words it is impossible to capture the fullness of the service: thinking here of the cadence of the testimonies, the power in public renunciation and confession, the musical depth, and the impressing of our fingerprints on the portrait of the lynching tree. The service was filmed in its entirety, and I will post a link on this page when it becomes available. Hopefully that will help fill in some gaps for those interested.

I’m very happy to hear feedback on this service: please feel free to use, workshop, and improve it in creating your own spaces to worship God as we journey together to praise our Savior, celebrate blackness, and address the ongoing bane of white supremacy in this land.

black glass

WORSHIP SERVICE

Wednesday, Dec 2nd, 2015

Call to Worship

Liturgical critique of “All Lives Matter!”

All: Moses went to Pharaoh and said, “Slave lives matter. God says, ‘Let my people go!’”

Leader: Pharaoh said:

White People: “ALL lives matter. Get back to work.”

All: The prophets went to the rulers of Israel and said: “Poor lives, widowed lives, orphan lives matter!”

Leader: The rulers of Israel said:

White People: “ALL lives matter. Shut up.”

All: Jesus walked about Roman empire and said: “Lepers’ lives matter. Blind peoples’ lives matter. The lives of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the incarcerated matter.”

Leader: The Roman empire and their collaborators said:

White People: “ALL lives matter. Enjoy your crucifixion.”

All: The children of God held in bondage said: We are in chains. We live under the lash. Our mothers and sisters are being raped.

Leader: The Christian slave-owners responded:

White People: The Bible says: “submit to your masters! Don’t be a trouble maker!”

All: The children of God held in bondage said: We cannot vote, we cannot make a living. Our houses are being stolen from us. We are burned and hung on trees and lamp-poles.

Leader: The nice white people said:

White People: They were probably criminals anyway. We work hard for what we have!

All: The children of God held in bondage said: Our churches are burning. The police are killing our children. We are not safe in Wednesday night Bible studies.

Leader: The lawmakers and churches,  said:

White People: Stop being thugs. What about black on black violence? Jesus says: “Turn the other cheek! Pray for those who persecute you! Forgive your enemies!” Donald Trump’s Life Matters!

Pause

Leader: God, they are killing our children. What else, God, can we say?

All: Silence.

Leader: Against the killings of your children and all strange fruit, Merciful God, we ask that you make prosperous the good fruits of the Holy Spirit in us. Let us hear the cries of those who are mourning. Let our own cries be heard. Grant us boldness and assurance as your children, and end the reign of evil in this land.

All: Amen.

Passing of the Peace

Song: To God Be the Glory

Scripture (Numbers 21:7-9)

Some of the people went to Moses and admitted, “It was wrong of us to insult you and the Lord. Now please ask him to make these snakes go away.”Moses prayed, and the Lord answered, “Make a snake out of bronze and place it on top of a pole. Anyone who gets bitten can look at the snake and won’t die.” Moses obeyed the Lord. And all of those who looked at the bronze snake lived, even though they had been bitten by the poisonous snakes

Testimony

Eucharist

Confession

Fingerprints on the Lynching Tree

Collect for an End to Violence at the Hands of the State

Leader: O God, Protector and Servant of All, Grant that we through the strength of your divine hand might protect and serve one another – make all hatreds cease, unmask all systems of corruption and power, drive out all fears and prejudices in our day. We know that you are as near as our breath and as close to us as the recesses of our hearts and minds. May your presence be a balm to those who are suffering and a dark flame to those who are causing injury. Rupture, O Holy Spirit, O Giver of Truth, the status quo of perennial violence that infects our land, and teach us through your divine Word to reject the lies of any false peace in favor of the presence of your dangerous justice.

All: Amen

Collect Against False (White) Pacifism (Presented through word and dance)

God, we know that the enemy is here to steal and kill and destroy. May God’s Spirit fill and free us, ending false peace and giving us the strength to enter into the depths of our world in all its mangled truths. Empower us to reject any false peace that is maintained through social violence. Forgive us for believing the lie that black people are inherently violent, that white people are inherently safe. Teach us to follow you down any path, empower us to greater freedom and peace in our day by as many means as necessary.

Scripture (Proverbs 6:16-19)

There are six things the Lord hates,
    seven that are detestable to him:
        haughty eyes,
        a lying tongue,
        hands that shed innocent blood,
         a heart that devises wicked schemes,
        feet that are quick to rush into evil,
     a false witness who pours out lies
    and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

Final Message 

Closing Scripture (Romans 12:2)

“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”