Continuing on our adventure of visiting churches of various cultures, Colette Numajiri and I went to Japanese Baptist Church of North Texas and to the Center for Spiritual Living.
We have been looking for a church where Colette’s pre-school sons, Zayden and Nikko, will see both their Japanese and Anglo cultures celebrated. At the Japanese Baptist Church there were a few Anglos and one African American, but the congregation was mostly Japanese. Like most of the other churches we’ve visited in the Dallas area, the Japanese Baptist Church is more single-cultural than multicultural. But as Colette remarked about visiting the Eritrean and Vietnamese churches, going to the Japanese church was an expansive experience, like stepping into another country. Because most of the service was translated into English at the Japanese church, the predominantly male language for Deity was more noticeable than at the Eritrean and Vietnamese churches.
At the Center for Spiritual Living we were glad to see more cultural diversity. The worship leaders included an African American woman and a Hispanic man, along with the Anglo spiritual director. The congregation included about 30% people of color. But we were disappointed and somewhat surprised that this liberal faith community didn’t include female divine names. The language for Deity was gender-neutral and masculine. Also, women’s history as healers was not included in a talk about the connection between spirituality and healing.
Colette expresses her mixed feelings about our visits to these churches. Here are some excerpts from her reflections.
We chose Japanese Baptist Church of North Texas for our next adventure. My brother, Kline, came with me, Zayden, and Nikko, and we met Jann outside a little mid-century modern house, where this church meets.
Several Japanese women greeted us and told us to have a seat and sign in. All came and introduced themselves and talked to the boys. My favorite was the preacher’s daughter, who was very on top of things and knew how to take care of guests. She gave us headphones to hear the English translations, and we sat near the back before the service began.
Including us, I counted 28 people in attendance. The congregation was 80% Japanese female; there were two Anglo male teenagers, a few Japanese men, one Anglo male, and one African American male, who had met his wife in the ‘80s when he worked in Japan for six months,
A few minutes into the service, Zayden and Nikko started crawling around. The Anglo man showed Kline where the nursery was, and a Japanese woman followed to watch them. They were the only children there; the next youngest were the teenage girls who later went to watch my boys.
The service went on with hymns like “Father, We Love You,” and the Lord’s Prayer in Japanese with the English translation under the Japanese words projected on the screen at the front of the room. In our usual style, we changed the words to be more inclusive. We were delighted that one hymn included lyrics that named God as like a mother caring for her children.
The sermon was about how Jesus is “the truth, the life, the way.” The older male Japanese preacher seemed very kind and sincere. He preached in Japanese, and we listened on our headphones to the English interpreter.
After a few more songs and the announcements, the Anglo man gave the closing prayer. During the announcements, the pastor asked us in English to stand and give our names and where we were from. We did, and they all applauded. We felt as warmly welcomed at this Japanese Baptist Church as we had at the first church we visited, the Eritrean Baptist. Later we realized that we had forgotten to tell them we were from New Wineskins Feminist Ritual Community.
We said our goodbyes, and many people kept asking us to stay and have lunch with them.
I wondered where these people got their Christian roots. Less than 1% of people in Japan are Christian; 80% are Shinto. Christianity doesn’t seem to mesh well with the culture. Japan is called “the Land of the Rising Sun,” referring to the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, believed to be the founder of Japan. She is symbolized in the Japanese flag with the large red sun in the center. The Japanese believe that their island nation is the only holy place on Earth. That might be why more are not interested in changing their religion.
Our next adventure led us to the Center for Spiritual Living, also in North Dallas. When we entered the large meeting hall, the worship leaders were praying for the whole congregation, and everyone ended together with “and so it is.” Later, we would see a “Teaching Symbol” that includes the letters “ASII” (“and so it is”) underneath.
After the opening prayer, a great band and four joyful singers led us all through songs about peace and love. The songs were reminiscent to me of the ‘60s “Age of Aquarius” and peace rallies of that era, which were right on. As the songs continued, the band seemed to be having a full on jam session and most of the people were dancing along.
Everyone seemed to be really enthusiastic, but for some reason I was not. At this point in the journey, we’ve already realized that we’re not going to find much inclusive language outside of New Wineskins Community. Although their songs mostly called God “Spirit,” the service still used “God” and other words which are primarily masculine. So, I kept looking for Her. This church did fulfill our search for a culturally diverse community. I think all ethnicities would feel welcome at the Center for Spiritual Living.
When it came time for the sermon, there She was. Their high priestess, whom they call “spiritual director,” is a blonde, glamorous lesbian, and she shines brightly, like Amaterasu, for the congregation. She is strong and carries this church, and I could feel their adoration of her. She started talking about how our bodies are an extension of our spirits and how we have to take care of our health. “Right on,” I thought. She referred several times to Ernest Holmes, founder of Religious Science, which this church promotes.
Then the spiritual director called up a woman to share her findings on health and spirituality. This woman shared a picture of an early medical school in a quaint village in France, saying that this school was connected to a cathedral and that spirituality and healing should not be separate. I completely agree, but my mind quickly wandered off to the film “The Burning Times,” a 1990 Canadian documentary, about the women’s holocaust in Europe between the 15th and 17th centuries in which an estimated nine million women were killed. That little medical school in the picture was probably set up by the Catholic church during the Inquisition to train men (women were not allowed to go to school) to be doctors because they had burned all of the midwives and healers as witches. For thousands of years prior to this, most of the physicians and healers and nurturers were women. They knew all about nutrition and anatomy; they birthed babies and comforted the dying. They were a huge threat to the Catholic faith and endangered those in the male hierarchy, who declared that “anyone (woman) who cured without studying was a witch and must die.” This is how they gained control over women’s powers, and we still live under this patriarchal control. It took all of my strength not to raise my hand and stand up and share with these people what I knew.
The spiritual director concluded her sermon, and there was a blessing of the collection plates and welcoming of the visitors. I had planned after the service to run up to the minister and the woman who spoke about the medical school and share the truth about women as healers, but several people had come to greet and welcome us.
After the service, a friend who is a member of the Center for Spiritual Living gave us a tour of their awesome facility. There were altars hidden in corners along the way. But I didn’t really see any female images of the Divine.
Then I went to retrieve my happy sons from the nursery. As we were saying our goodbyes, the woman who had given the speech about the medical school walked up and started talking to Nikko in my arms. So, I told her everything about the witch trials as quickly as I could. She didn’t say much, but I felt her fear. Her cheeks got red, and she turned away from me, and that was it. I hate that I scared her, but it’s time for the truth to be revealed.