Wednesday Wonders: Why a Closing Japanese American Church Matters Today

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Bulletin with a photo of the stained glass from the Tacoma Japanese American Episcopal Methodist Church on Fawcett Street in Tacoma complete with my prayer doodles

Last Sunday, I went to the closing ceremony of the Whitney Memorial United Methodist Church, a congregation of Japanese Americans who voted to shut their doors this spring.

I sat in the back of Puyallup United Methodist Church in a different pew from where I sit most Sundays.

Here I saw Shirley DeLarme and Ann Berney, two former pastors of PUMC, and many of my church friends. The origami cranes hung from the ceiling in gold, red, blue, and primary colors that danced and twirled.

The company filled my heart and the decorations reminded me of countless hours I spent with Japanese students in my younger years as a teacher. The futomaki I ate afterwards reminded me of them even more with the rolled nori and stuffing probably designed to suit the tastes of the American-born.

Running through my nostalgia, however, was a stinging thread of sorrow. 

I saw the pain in the faces of those who had lost their church community that opened on September 22, 1907. I heard the anguish in the voice of their Pastor Karen Yokota Love as she reassured them that they had not let their ancestors down. Even as Whitney Memorial presented generous gifts of the cottage they owned, stained glass and the original bell from their church, I ached.

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The church bell Mr. Mizukami said once came from a train

I could not escape the loss the closing of this church represents to our community.

Those cranes hung from the ceiling came from the 2014 United Methodist conference held at the Puyallup Fair Grounds. Here the ancestors of those remaining members, including then church pastor Seichi Niwa, found themselves interned in 1942.

After the war, member Greg Mizukami told us, only ten percent of the population retuned to the once thriving church community then located on Fawcett Street in hilltop Tacoma. In spite of this they continued to do the work of Christians everywhere, helping the poor and the immigrant communities, even though many of the congregation never returned and the church never fully recovered.

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The Fawcett building still stands and is now owned by the University of Washington.

Over one hundred years later, we still face the effects of the anger and fear from World War II.

When I asked him, my father once told me how terrifying it was to live with the fear of a Japanese invasion. He spoke of black outs and air raid sirens, of forts built to guard Puget Sound, and of fear of spies both rational and irrational.

I get that. I feel it now when the news brings stories of American citizens pledging themselves to foreign powers and then viciously killing innocents. I feel it when I wait hours in line for security checks even for our college’s graduation ceremonies. I feel it whenever I think  on September 11, 2001 or San Bernardino this last year.

But I also know that locking up people who have done nothing wrong is never the answer to keeping ourselves safe. It wasn’t the answer then, and it isn’t the answer today.

The effects of unjust incarceration devastate individuals and communities.

The effects last for generations.

I saw those effects Sunday.

I do not want my grandchildren to see a ceremony one hundred years from now like the one I saw Sunday.

I pray we all know grace and peace even in times of fear. May we know this for our own tranquility, for those we might otherwise hurt, and for the generations that will follow us.

I don’t believe Whitney Memorial United Methodist Church let their ancestors down.

And I intend to work like my hair is on fire to be sure I don’t let my descendants down.

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Losing My Way: What is Happening to a Beloved Horse Road

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Two years ago I wrote a long post about the horse road that I love near my home. I ended it by saying that I knew it might not last.

It hasn’t.

At first I thought the owners of the gravel pit trimmed the blackberry bushes and were done with it. I told my four year old not to worry. Blackberries always grow back. Then they brought in the dozers, and I knew the berries didn’t stand a chance this year. 

My neighbors say the pit owners are filling in the gigantic hole and then developing. I’ve seen big project announcements for months so I suppose I should have expected this. From looking at my last post, I know I did expect it.

But I’m still sad. Sad to lose an abandoned gravel pit full of brambles. Sad because the goldfinch don’t fly in front of me this year. Sad because I wonder where the coyote moved her den that was under those brambles. Sad because no rabbits dart in front of me now. Sad because the hawks no longer sit along the telephone wire waiting to catch those rabbits.

And mostly, sad because the wildlife had reclaimed their space after the ripping destruction of a gravel pit. Now their homes are once again destroyed. I hope for their resilience to come through again. I wish they didn’t have to.

I know this is off my usual topics and not the hopeful voice I normally use. But my heart is breaking and I had to say something somewhere to someone.

I can hardly bear to post the picture.

Epic Fail Part One: The Gift of the Seahawks After the Loss

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My first column in The News Tribune ran last week. In it, I talked about my admiration for Pete Carroll and his leadership of the Seattle Seahawks. After reading it, several people I knew (and many I didn’t) sent me emails telling me how much they liked my work, including my high school English teacher Mrs. Koon.

It felt wonderful but also oddly terrifying in a way that I struggled to understand.

Apparently, it’s one thing to write along hoping someone will notice and that I will improve enough to be good. It’s another to have people watching for my next piece to see if they like it or not.

Then the Hawks lost.

Dramatically.

Because of a decision Carroll made.

I’ve read the posts and talked to my friends about it. Most people say it was a bad call. They say Pete Carroll made a mistake in throwing the ball instead of running it with Lynch or, my husband tells me, running the ‘read option’ where the Wilson fakes it to Lynch and then runs it in himself if he reads the situation correctly.

“What’s with all the throwing!?!” one person posted on my Facebook feed. “Run the ball!”

I’ve seen plenty of analysis as I’ve tried to process and understand what happened. I’ve even read smart statistics about why Carroll made the mathematically best move.

For the record, I think he made a mistake. Or, at the very least, he made a carefully calculated gamble and lost.

When I saw his face fall after the game ending interception, I felt a recognition. That is what I am afraid of when people say they liked my work and are looking forward to the next. That. Making a mistake, feeling the devastation, and having more people watching to see it.

In a strange way, it helped me that Carroll lost the Super Bowl.

Don’t get me wrong.(Please, dear fabulous Seahawks fans!)

I’d so rather we had won and keep wishing for the Hermione’s time turner so we could go back and make that last yard with Lynch, the read option, or another down. Anything.

It’s just that something about seeing a gigantic failure gives me permission to keep going, knowing that we all make mistakes.

Some will forgive us.

Some will not.

That’s the risk.

The pain of that football loss only happened to me because I cared enough to feel the absolute thrill of the victory two weeks before.

My writing is a calculated gamble I’m willing to make because the joy of getting the words right matters to me enough to face the risk of the defeat, public or not.

To that end, this month I’ll focus on the epic fail. I’ll look at different failures each week. For Carroll and for me, I’ll look for stories of resilience — of how others have overcome huge mistakes and come out stronger for the struggle.

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