Making Paper Cranes: Courage and Community

This post is part of the series “Making Paper Cranes,” and the inspiration behind my forthcoming book by the same name. For more information, click here.

I like to imagine the disciples together in one place. I like to imagine fishermen next to tax collectors, the fully disenfranchised next to those given just enough power and privilege that they could sleeps at night after fleecing their own people. I like to think of what they made of their motley community, how hard it must have been to be sent to teach and heal, how challenging it must have been to follow this man who upended their expectations. Do you think they spent much time squabbling when they were tired and hungry?

My passion is community. I don’t mean the kind of community that is full of people who sing the same songs I do. I don’t mean people I agree with. I mean real community. Big wide open community, where sometimes we get frustrated with each other, where we often disagree. I mean the type of community that demands we commit and work, not the kind that I seek out to meet my needs. Like church. Not for me, but for a greater purpose.

Ten years ago, one of my uncles asked me why I cared so much about suffering: “animal suffering, human suffering, suffering suffering…” I think I care because I was taught to follow the lead of one who cared deeply about the ways in which the system caused suffering, and the individual experiences of illness and cultural reactions to that illness that caused immense suffering. I continue to operate under the assumption that this is not all there is. There is another way to be.

Asian American feminist theology is important because it is where I finally recognize myself in this Christian community. Growing up, the only time I remember my race being a part of the worshiping community was when my dad preached about racism after a nice-looking white woman walked past me and my brother and told her companion she had a problem with half-breeds (I should probably tell you that is a racial slur… Because I have heard that used casually in a sermon recently and I’m pretty sure not everyone knew it was inappropriate.). I was raised in white churches with white pastors and white church families. There isn’t anything particularly terrible in this. My dad is white. I felt loved and accepted as part of the church family. Who I am was very much shaped by that. But come the end of college, I needed something more. James Cone, Delores Williams, Letty Russell, Rosemary Radford Reuther, and other liberationists could only bring me so far.

I should stop here and explain that race and culture are not synonymous. Here is why: race is a social construct. Culture is the way particular groups of people live. My culture is Japanese American, secular Jewish, Pacific Northwest, mainline Reformed Protestant, middle class. My race? Too many people who are not like me seem to have an opinion about my race. I hate to break it to you, but your opinion doesn’t count, and frankly, neither does mine. The government assigns me a race.

I am Asian American. Being biracial means I might fluctuate between identifications, or I might make up a new one. I might never think about my race. But it is undeniable. I might have a white dad, but I am not white. My experience is not of a white person. You can argue here with me too, but it isn’t up to you. Until you can take back a lifetime of micro-aggressions, a national history and culture that shapes my life possibilities, and a government determined to place individuals into categories with economic consequences, you don’t really get a say.

Feminist theology for me, at its core, is about community. Feminist theology is not about an individual woman getting what she wants. It is about how we are all beloved by God, and that our theology, worshipping communities, society and culture do not function under that same truth. Feminist theology looks toward a reality that is life-giving for all beings, not one in which some have better lives than others.

Asian American feminist theology made room for me to see myself. Unzu Lee’s primer on Asian American Feminist Theology was the first written exposure I had to articulating something relevant to me. I cannot underestimate the importance of seeing oneself in God’s creation. The other day I had access to cable television, and I saw the Melissa Harris-Perry show who had two Asian American women as guests. They were having serious conversations about topics that concern women (and one of them was Margaret Cho!). I almost cried. Imagine, as Asian American women, being taken seriously as political beings!

We all need to see ourselves. And then?

Asian American feminist theology demands community. Coalition building, working to move outside of ourselves, to understand and know about the struggles of other communities, to join with other communities because it is what we are called to do as Christians. What else do you think Pentecost could be about?

Asian American feminist theology requires that we work not for ourselves, but for those who come after us. We are doing this not so my life is better, or so your employment opportunities improve, or so we get to see Asian American religiosity taken seriously within the wider U.S. Christian church, but for those who follow us, that they might see themselves, so they might know what it means to build coalitions, so they might have a community to join. A big, difficult, challenging, messy community, doing its very best to live the gospel.

The Rev. Laura Mariko Cheifetz is a hapa (multiracial Asian American) yonsei (fourth generation) of Japanese and Jewish descent, born in San Francisco and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She attended Western Washington University (BA), McCormick Theological Seminary (MDiv) and North Park University (MBA). She has been active with the wider church in various capacities, beginning with serving on the Coordinating Committee of the National Network of Presbyterian College Women in 1999, and including preaching at national events, providing conference and General Assembly leadership, writing resources and articles, and serving on the Middle East Monitoring Group. She has been active with antiracism work first with the PC(USA), and now with Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. She is a double-pastors’ kid and thanks her parents for being awesome: her mother, for being a model of a (kick-ass) Japanese American female pastor/spiritual director, and her father, for being a model of a white male pastor who believes in and actively supports the leadership and voice of women of color. She lives in Atlanta with her family, the smallest town she’s lived in since college. Laura serves as the Director of Alumni Relations and Development at The Fund for Theological Education (Ministry Fellow ’01).