Home > op-ed > A Meditation on Itch Scratching – Tim Tseng

A Meditation on Itch Scratching – Tim Tseng

I made a surprising discovery. ISAAC causes rashes!

Many friends have encouraged ISAAC to “scratch where people itch.” Indeed, our research, resources, and consulting efforts “scratch” the Asian American “itch.” But most immigrant Asian church organizations and mainstream American institutions have so locked their gaze on Asia, that they barely notice the Asian American “itch.” And “model minority” Asian Americans are purported to be so well assimilated that they no longer itch.

Most of the messages that we church-going Asian Americans hear avoids the “itch altogether. We are always being mobilized for missions to China and the world, but we are not supported when we feel called to lead our own ethnic churches. Others urge us to leave our Asian “ghettos” behind to join post-modern, multi-cultural ministries. Yet, nothing about our Asian American histories and identities is affirmed or even taught to us. Still others insist that we must participate in social justice work, yet deny us the right to suggest that advocating for Asian American concerns is a justice issue. Is it any wonder then so few believe that there is an itch to scratch!

But ISAAC believes the “itch” is very real – especially among Asian Americans who are not in our churches. Many in these communities need help. Few are aware of efforts to resettle Karen, Chin, and Kachin refugees from Myanmar – a recent example of how the Asian America “itch” has been overlooked (see how American Baptists are helping at http://karen-konnection.icontact.com/). An exciting effort to raise up Second Generation Southeast Asian Christian leaders deserves more attention and support. And a recent report by Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy revealed that effective giving to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities’ needs has not kept pace with the growth of these communities.

If we are to make a positive “kingdom” impact in the Asian American communities, then Christian leaders ought to pay attention to the “itch.” Moreover, we might want to practice the discipline of “itching the scratch.” For example, college students and faculty might support Asian American Studies on campus and encourage these programs to pay more attention to religion. Campus ministries might encourage students to see returning to their ethnic churches and communities as real discipleship and mission choices. Seminarians and theological educators might insist that courses and programs that address Asian American concerns be offered – and then go out of their way to attend or offer these courses. Similar “itching” practices ought to be encouraged in denominations, para-church ministries, and the market place.

Given the recent changes and growth in Asia, it would be wise to “itch the scratch.” History can be instructive. 65 years ago, Rev. Hideo Hashimoto, Pastor of the Japanese Methodist Church in Fresno, California, spoke these words to his congregation on the Sunday before 120,000 Japanese Americans was forced to leave their homes and live in internment camps during World War II:

In a sense, our being evacuated is the consequence of our sinfulness. As American citizens of Japanese ancestry, we had a great mission to fulfill. We were destined to be the bridge-builders of the Pacific.

But we failed. In our self-centeredness, like Jonah, we ran away from our great mission. We thought only of fun, thrill, and good time. We sought fame, reputation, to be a “good sport.” We sought money and soft, easy, comfortable lives. We were constantly reminded of our task, until we were sick and tired of hearing about “Bridge-builders of the Pacific.” Yet, instead of going straight toward our responsibility, we went in the opposite direction – money making, self seeking, sin. For sin means going the opposite direction from God-given destiny.

This war, this suffering, and our evacuation, is partially our fault and our making. If we had been vigilant, and stuck to our God-given mission, working with all our heart and soul to prevent war and make for peace, justice and true democracy, the situation may have been different somewhat.

From Allan H. Hunter and Gurney Binford, eds., The Sunday Before (Sermons by Pacific Coast Pastors of the Japanese race on the Sunday before Evacuation to Assembly centers in the late spring of 1942) [unpublished manuscript, Graduate Theological Union Library Archives])

Rev. Hashimoto exaggerated the shortcomings of the Christian Nisei in his sermon. In fairness to him, he also considered the evacuation “a shame, a dangerous attack upon the fundamental principle upon which our nation in built.” Nevertheless I believe his message to Christian Nisei has relevance for us today. We, too, have a responsibility to pay attention to the Asian American issues of our day!

Today, ISAAC is helping to scratch the Asian American itch. But we may have to draw attention to – and maybe cause the itch, first! Will you join us in this effort? – Tim Tseng, Executive Director

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Categories: op-ed

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