Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Thoughts

These were my thoughts on Easter Weekend.
We are at the McCloud River.  The Children's Rock stands out along the grassy banks of the river.  We walk down the steep incline from the parking lot.  The boys have hidden the eggs while we all ate breakfast, and we women and children follow, the young ones scampering down the hill to find their eggs.  There is not ready set go the Winnemem way.  It's just "GO!"

Our daughter Maki grew up with this around her birthday every year she lived with us.  Sometimes Easter would happen on her birthday.  No grander party, in my opinion, than to be with all her cousins and Granny, Uncle Emerson and Auntie Margie.  Not only was there an Easter Egg Hunt, but a delicious lunch and a run.  Maki loved to win!

I don't write these thought this morning, the day after Easter, to offend anyone.  It's something I wanted to write down for awhile, a journey I personally took, and which led me out and at the same time come round where I ought to be.   It is a story of Christianity and America.

Most Japanese families, Nikkei families, use the term American to mean white Americans.  I suppose that mirrors a certain group of white Americans, those who see only Europeans as Americans and everyone else forever foreign, including the First Peoples of this land, never belonging, not the norm, the "other."  Some would say that this view of American we held is the colonized mind.

Part of living in America and adopting the American way was to adopt Christianity.  Grandma was Zen-shu with her solitary time in the bedroom, meditating.  Grandpa was Shinto, and Shizen was his path of life.  He practiced it every day as far as I witnessed and his followers were his two granddaughters.  He taught us the names of all the living beings.  He taught us that even a small bug or little worm was filled with life just as we were and if we left it alone we could live side by side.  He taught us not to fear nature, not to kill anything.  He taught us the names of the trees, the animals.  He told us about ancient stones in the mountain forest near his village which were sacred, and could help people if they prayed there and left an offering behind.  He taught us about the river which was the name of the village.  Kawai, his name, meant where two rivers meet.  These stories made our foundation.

When I started school at 5, my mother took my sister and I to Christian church -- the First Methodist Church in Caldwell Idaho, a bigger town near where we lived in Marsing by the Snake on our first family farm since the Alien Land Law was lifted.  It was a stressful year, school, then church, with all these American teachers and children staring.  I always felt very unsafe but gritted my teeth to make it through.  Japanese was my first language and I was born right after the war.  Timid, shy, small, I was still 'the enemy.'  An oddity at best.  Where my little sister was in Nursery where there were toys, and focused on the play at hand, I was in Primary and intimidated by the expectation to socialize and burst into tears, my tongue locked down by language.  At school if I spoke Japanese, I was put in the coat closet so how different would it be here, was my thinking.

Going to school and church turned me into an avid Christian and year after year I would describe myself as being emotionally tied to Jesus and the stories of the Bible, reading a comic book style telling of it given to us over and over and over again.  Whenever I felt scared, there was grandma, grandpa, momma, and also Jesus.    I was a little girl of faith, a praying little girl.

In high school while my friends matured into a more abstract understanding of the Holy Trinity,  Father, Son and Holy Ghost, I continued my child's faith in the goodness of Jesus and a grandfatherly, perhaps like my grandfather, God.  Holy Ghost was not really part of my understanding, and I remember my girlfriends laughing and saying, do you think there are really pearly gates too?  No, but there was a place in my mind, a place of light and lots of ancestors.

All of this came crashing down with the rest of my beliefs during the long and drawn out war in Viet Nam.  Really, there is no way to understand how it is to be young at that time to anyone who was not.  For those who lived through it as parents, they do have their own experience, but to be young in the decade of 1963 - 1975, especially 1965 on, the time of the most men drafted and the least trained and the most casualties, had a huge impact on all of us, men and women, whether we were drafted or not, whether we served or left, or dropped out.  I won't go into it, but in my experience it was time of a great crisis of faith, of no praying, of giving up, believing we were not going to survive this.  I remember going to the Methodist Church one dark time, after hours, and somehow, though I should have known, being surprised that the door was locked.  That locked door took on a huge significance for me in the context of the times.

Loss of faith and a national cultural shift to "questioning values" and searching the libraries, and taking classes of new perspectives we quenched a hunger for something right, something just, to make sense of the chaos, turning to Latin American, Africa, Asia, Caribbean, and from First Nations, as well as from the poets, philosophers and political people of the American working class, exploited labor, immigrants, and for many of us who did not see ourselves as the "norm" of Americans, to our own family stories.  The doors to these were open, as were the circles of youth studying together, and the circles of our peoples, multi-generational with "talk story", and sharing, always sharing across the cultural divide, young people growing together into the beautiful mix of America, claiming ourselves -- called pride -- claiming America -- called responsibility.  But that too is another story.  And it is a longer story in which a little girl from Korea taught me that faith in ourselves would never be enough, not only to get justice, but also to do anything in this world.

Along this path, there was a time to meet Jesus again.  And for me it was with Granny.  I had heard that during the Harmonic Conversion thousands of people converged upon her sacred ceremonial area on Mt. Shasta during her annual August ceremony.  I also heard that as she went about her way doing what she always did, being who she truly is, she offended a few of these encroachers.  I believe Granny was talking about her healing history.  She said, "I'm just like Jesus.  I have healed the blind, raised the dead.  I've doctored for 80 years -- cancer, diabetes, all kinds of disease -- and never lost a patient.  I tried to walk on water once, though, and almost drowned."  That is my Granny.  That is the great renowned Indian Doctor of the Winnemem Wintu who took my family and me under her wing who saw Jesus as I always saw him, from the time I was a little girl -- a good doctor who took me under his wing, someone I could talk to when I needed help, was sad, was alone -- but a Jesus, as I grew older, was lost to me through the Christian mythology.

In a moment of stubborness, as a student of a College of Idaho required Religion class taught by our neighbor and Calvinist Professor, Ruth Grob from Switzerland, I just could not answer the finals question she posed "Is it by faith or by good deeds that you are saved?"  I just could not.  It never translated cross culturally to me to even be decent to celebrate that someone else was sacrificed and died for our sins.  Never mind the raising from the dead and ascending to heaven to sit at the side of his heavenly father part.  I felt that there was somehow a cowardly, irresponsible aspect to this by faith and faith alone stuff and I just could not stomach it.  There it sat, waiting for me, in purple and white on the mimeographed test sheet.  I looked at my blue book's blank pages and fretted.  What to do.  Regurgitate back the lecture notes, or just go with my heart.  And so I did.

I was enjoying my first day of spring break when I heard a loud knock at the door.  My mother must have opened it because it was she who came down the hall and said, "Dr. Grob is here and she wants to talk to us."  I felt like a high school child being lectured in front of a parent.  I begrudgingly came out to the living room.  I knew I was in trouble.  Dr. Grob is a very frightening figure when she is angry.  Rather than scholarly professor, she really resembled any child's imagination of a wicked witch, meaning no disrespect.  It seemed with rage, her hair stretch out farther, her eyes seemed more wild behind her thick glasses, and she became very expressive with her arms, gesturing and hitting my blue book to stress her point.  She spoke very distinctly and loudly as if I did not understand English, and there my mom and I stood as she re-did her lecture on by faith and faith alone.  She paused to ask why I did what I did.  I started to answer but it just pissed her off , "The Devil is in YOU!" she screeched, and my mother's elbow nudge shut me up.  Mom looked at me, trying hard to communicate with me with her eyes -- and I got her message.  When Dr. Grob said I was to re-do that essay question, I said I would without arguing, and when the door shut behind her, my mother said, "this is just a test.  Give her what she wants.  She does not want to fail you."

That is when I learned that a Christian needed to believe in one thing and one thing only . . . or else.  All that Jesus did in his life was of little importance.  I know this because I listed them all in my essay answer when arguing the point (which was not to be argued) why good deeds counted to be a Christian.  Courage was not expected.  Social responsibility was not expected.  Right thinking and action was not to be expected.  Love for your fellow beings was not to be expected.  Treating everyone like a brother or sister was not to be expected.  All we were supposed to do, or we would FAIL as Christians was to believe that Jesus was crucified, dead and buried and on the third day arose from the dead and ascended into Heaven to sit by his Father God and by believing that, we gain salvation and all our sins are forgiven.

A caveat is we all know Christians who are good people, giving people, people who live by the example set by their Jesus and there are probably many more than the loud voices of judgement, hate and greed which are such poor representations in politics today.  When I hear them, I do not think Jesus.  I do not even think all Christians.  But I do think the voices of hate, intolerance, ignorance are lesser than Jesus, follow Paul, stealing Jesus' life having killed him to build a imperialistic religion lifting up Mammon by making of Jesus' life a mythical cynical State religion.

So these stories, my original childhood faith and finding comfort under Jesus' wings during a very stressful initiation into American society, my faith forced into a mold as a young adult, silenced, going underground, my faith tested  and lost during a time of upheaval  during the Viet Nam War era, and my relationship with Jesus regained as a Winnemem Wintu through my relationship with and following Granny describe my path with Jesus as well as with America.  It is all the same.

One day while I was sitting with Granny who was resting in her bed, she told me another story.  She pointed up to the crucifix which hung over her bed.  "See that?" she said.  "It bled real blood once.  I saw it, and I reached up like this and touched it.  I looked at it and it was really blood.  I told my friend who was a preacher and asked him what it was and he told me not to tell anyone about this, but wouldn't tell me what it was."
      "Do you want to know Granny?" I asked.  When she nodded I said, "It's called the stigmata.  And if you had told anyone, there would be tens and thousands of people who would have come here from all over the world to be healed because by touching the blood of Jesus on this crucifix, they believe, would have been healed."
      She didn't react one way or another.  It was just an answer to another question.

But through Granny my relationship with Jesus was mended.  The door was no longer shut between us.  There were no Religion professors or preachers in between us telling me what a good believer or a devil person was.  For me it is about believing in the good of Jesus, not being a good believer.  I believe he is a strong spiritual doctor, a healer of the body, heart and soul  I believe he lived with courage and goodness and accepted all people just as doctors are supposed to.  I believe that the State could not abide with his commitment to his way of life and it threatened them, his charismatic leadership and his belief system threatened their empire and their wealth.   They made his true way of life as a Jew criminal and  unjustly sentenced him to die a tortuous death as an example of what would happen to anyone who acted like Jesus.  Unfortunately the State's treatment became the underpinning of Christianity -- do not seek to be like him -- and the symbol of one's faith is the execution method, the cross a constant reminder of what will happen to you (on a subconscious level) if you every try to "be the change you dream."  Don't dream.  He did it for us all.  He is the lamb.  But Jesus was no sheep.  Jesus was an eagle, a warrior, a doctor.  That is as close as I can come as an adult to understand the Jesus who took me under his wing during a very harsh time in my life.  No pearly gates -- but a place where all of Olelbis' beloved creations go -- so many extinct now -- all as one with our ancestors.

A very good friend of mine gave a group of Sisters a bracelet for the holiday.  I treasure it.  One thing only did I change, and this is what brought me to this understanding of myself and my journey with Jesus.  All the little trinkets which dangled symbolizing love, light and goodness, and there also was the cross.  I understand that for my Sisters, most of whom are Catholic, and with deep goodness, giving and personal sacrifice in their hearts as devout indigenous Catholic women, this is a symbol of Faith and goodness.  I honor that.  But for me, I realized at that moment, how the cross plays in my life is very  very different.  It is not faith but fear.  I went to my computer and googled salmon, which came within a week -- a little sterling, jumping chinook salmon -- which I put on my bracelet in place of the cross.  The Nur (salmon) is the symbol of faith and following for me.  I have the faith of its return, and the faith that to follow the Nur and meet the challenge to make decisions which would make the rivers home again to the Nur,  we can make it right again.  It is the symbol because I am Winnemem and the Winnemem speak for and follow the Salmon who gave us voice so we would have a sacred responsibility too.  We share that responsibility with the salmon, and historically our lot is tied to the salmon.  It happens at the same time, the challenges, the destruction, and the ceremonial times, on salmon time, in salmon country.  And like Granny but not as personal because I did not walk with him in his time, Jesus is now for me,  a doctor, my first doctor who got me through the first harsh barbs of racism, who forgave me when I turned away from him at a man-locked man-made door, and who is just like Granny so is found as I found him beside Granny.  I am blessed.

On Easter, we Winnemem go down to the river by the Children's Rock.  The colored eggs, dozens of them are hidden and all the next generation of Winnemem children go egg hunting.  We wonder about people celebrating bunnies who lay eggs, and have our jokes, but celebrate Easter too.  As for Jesus, this good Doctor who was killed by the State, he is an ancestor now -- at least of Granny -- and his goodness is celebrated and remembered by me.  I picture me in Granny's bedroom, the crucifix above her bed, and across on top of the bureau, a portrait of Jesus, her Jesus, my Jesus. 

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"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.