Pastor’s Letter 2022 November

Dear Siblings in Christ,

In mid-October I joined other clergy of JAUMCs in visiting the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.  We went to see the special exhibit Sutra and Bible, showcasing altars, statues, prayer books, and – accidentally found stones with Lotus Sutra inscriptions and handwritten annotated bi-lingual Japanese and English Bibles, called the Kitaji Bibles.  We were blessed to be led through the exhibit by one of the curators, Emily Anderson.  The exhibit displayed the power that religion both Buddhism and Christianity, faith, ritual, and community carry in all circumstances, but especially in the most heartbreaking of times.

It was my first visit to the JANM, so I was not only viewing the special exhibit, I was also viewing the history, in picture, letters, articles and artifacts of Japanese people’s migration to the US of A. I was filled with emotions of inspiration, joy and heartbreak at both the resilience of Japanese and Japanese Americans and the systemic and institutionalized discrimination and, quite honestly, hatred of our Japanese siblings. As we know this led to Executive Order 9066 and its enforcement.

The special exhibit of Sutra and Bible, gave witness to more hope, resilience, and inspiration even in the face of heartbreak.  I saw the original first pages of four sermons by Japanese-American clergy, including Rev. Dr. Lester Suzuki’s, just before they boarded buses to places unknown.  I saw a beautiful wooden altar dedicated to the Shinto deity of war, Hachiman Daimyojin, next to two hand-carved wood panels, one with psalms and the other with a Buddhist devotional phrase.  I also saw pictures of people gathered for worship and the celebration of both Buddhist and Christian holidays and religious artifacts made from scraps of wood and metal.  

The two most amazing items were the display of the Lotus Sutra rocks and the handwritten Kitaji Bibles.  The Sutra stones were found quite accidentally by workers hired to clean up Heart Mountain concentration camp, after the incarcerated peoples were released.  A worker unearthed a barrel beneath the cemetery and in it were thousands of stones with inscriptions on them.  It wasn’t until 2001 that scholars studied them and recognized they made up the first six volumes of the Lotus Sutra. Seeing the stones touched my heart deeply for I could imagine the painstaking and dedicated work it took over the years to write the Sutra on these tiny rocks. It was an incredible witness of faith and the belief in finding any way to both retain and pass on the story of faith to the next generations.

The other amazing artifact were the Kitaji Bibles.  Handwritten by Salvation Army Captain Masuo Kitaji, during his incarceration at Poston camp, he believed one of the best ways to teach Japanese-Americans was with a translated English-Japanese annotated Bible.  With whatever paper he had he finally finished his bi-lingual annotated Bible while in camp.  Some of the writing was so small it was hard to read.  Seeing these pages not only gave witness to his dedication and faith, it also brought home the scarcity of such a basic item as paper.  These Bibles were lost until accidentally found by someone looking through books in a recycle bin.  They were on their way to a recycling plant.  They became known to Capt. Kitaji’s family when they went on sale at a well-known auction house.  Thankfully they were returned and are now safely held and able to be viewed by the public.  

I would dare say that when Curator Emily shared the stories of the unearthing of these two artifacts, just as she described, clearly there was divine inspiration – or intervention in – the feet and hands of those who accidentally found the Sutra Stones and the Kitaji Bibles.  I have included some pictures we took at the museum of but a few of the items, including the Sutra Stones, pages of the Kitaji Bibles and the first page of Rev. Dr. Suzuki’s sermon. 

Shalom, Salaam

Rev. Pamela L Kurtz, Pastor