A Word from Our Pastor 2011 June Being a Japanese American Church 1

Being a Japanese American Church 1

The Dreamcatchers group met the other day, and talked over some BMUC history; we learned that the first Bazaar was in 1957. . . 54 years ago. It’s awesome to think of how many hours of work was done by so many individuals over the years. And, think of how many people we have served. . . For some of us, the Bazaar is the highlight of the year, an opportunity to spend time with friends, meet new friends, and do something good for the church and community. For others it is a chore, a chore we complete with good humor, but a chore nonetheless. We are grateful for everyone who helps, and everyone who comes to enjoy what we have to offer. It is one of our most central and lively traditions.

We have been talking about the future of BMUC — how do we want to shape the church that is to come; which traditions are important to continue; which are less so? Many people feel strongly about the Japanese American heritage of our congregation — they feel if that heritage were forgotten, we would lose our unique qualities. In addition to the Japanese American people who attend, and the history of our community, what does it mean to be a Japanese church? Can we still be a Japanese church if there are very few Japanese people who attend? Can we still be a Japanese church if we don’t continue to remember our history?

I think that there are some other characteristics that reflect our Japanese heritage, that grow out of our theological understandings and our cultural and social history. In the next few weeks at church, I will be preaching on these topics, and hope that you will engage with me. What is your theology? What cultural and social values are important to you? These may not match with what I think — no one of us represents the whole culture, so it will be important for us to talk together, as we take the first steps in envisioning BMUC’s future.

Japanese American Theological Themes
I think many Sansei (and perhaps Yonsei) Japanese Americans have a Buddhist world view, even if our family history is Christian. World view includes things like: how optimistic are we about being able to affect the course of the world; what is our relationship to the natural world; what is our attitude toward human experiences such as joy or suffering? Our world view is quite obviously connected to our theology: the relationship between the human community (or individual) and God reflects our beliefs about such questions as: is it possible to have a “personal” relationship with God — is that even important? Do we experience God in prayer, out in nature, in relationships with others?

Also, because our community has equal or greater numbers of Buddhists to Christians, many Sansei and Yonsei are very open to non-Christian religions; we have learned that what a person believes does not determine if she or he is part of the community. Therefore, many Japanese Americans react negatively to religious exclusivism. There are also Japanese churches which are religiously exclusive, and whose members feel that Buddhism and other religions do not teach the truth. In either case, whether inclusive or exclusive, Japanese Americans have learned the challenge of living in a religiously diverse community.

Japanese American Culture and History
Buddhism is deeply embedded in Japanese culture and society, so we could say that many Japanese values are Buddhist. Japanese values such as loyalty to the community, hard work, honesty, showing respect to elders or persons in authority, being emotionally reserved, expressing feelings and thought in directly, valuing group harmony more than individual freedom are familiar to many of us as being typically Japanese, even if we do not personally “practice” them. Some of these values flow directly out of Buddhism or Confucianism (which influenced Japanese culture via China and Korea).

In addition, some values are directly related to Japanese American history. Many of us have strong feelings about social injustice, and are concerned about minorities or the “underdog.”

I think this is related to our own experiences of racism, stereotyping and illegal incarceration during the Second World War.

Of course, everything I have written here is a generalization; not everyone will agree that what I have described are commonly held beliefs and values — I certainly don’t expect that at all. However, our Japanese heritage teaches us that our community is like a biological family — everyone is a member, even if we don’t agree. What binds us together is our commitment to each other, to being together, no matter our differences.

These are just a few of the things that we may talk about related to our faith and culture. In the next few weeks at church, I hope you will be thinking about what is the foundation of your faith and values, and how you would like to see our church carry them forward in the future.
–Rev. Naomi