The Rev. Michiko Bown-Kai is the guest
June 9, 2023
The Rev. Michiko Bown-Kai, a pastor in the United Church of Canada, recently discussed during “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” how people who feel they don’t belong in religious spaces can indeed feel that sense of belonging.
Hear the conversation on “Decolonizing Spiritual Spaces and Practices” with Bown-Kai and hosts the Rev. Lee Catoe, editor of Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice, and Simon Doong of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, by going here.
Bown-Kai described themselves as a “nonbinary queer person of color doing ministry within congregational settings.”
“It’s been my passion to be connected with all kinds of justice movements,” Bown-Kai said, including with people who “felt they didn’t belong in religious spaces,” some of them struggling “on a spiritual level with no tools or community of faith.”
How do we decolonize practices and traditions, Doong asked, helping people to make them their own?
“For me, these questions come back to power: Who has it and how is it being used?” Bown-Kai said. Often when we talk about spiritual practices, “the norms are that there is a professional, someone who knows what’s going on and therefore they get to control what a spiritual practice looks like. If they are leading it, it is deemed as a worthwhile practice.”
“Part of my philosophy of ministry is empowering people with the tools to say, ‘We are all spiritual beings, and we all have a relationship with God, and so we all have the capacity within us to imagine,’” Bown-Kai said. “We know best where we’re feeling called, where the Spirit is stirring within us in terms of our own needs for healing, and what is drawing us to community.”
Rather than a colonial model of worship, “which would be hierarchical, top-down thinking, how do we empower from the ground up,” Bown-Kai said, “giving people agency to name what is meaningful and important to them?”
Colonization and white supremacy “in any form rely on this idea of scarcity and fear to maintain control,” Bown-Kai said. “I think spiritual practices can help us resist fear … and can enable us to see abundance in our lives, to be connected to God and able to see God’s definition of abundance. … It can be so nourishing for us as individuals and as communities.”
“We preach progressivism, and we want to dismantle racism and white supremacy,” Catoe said. “But oftentimes we miss a vital connection into how we create models of worship and ritual and spiritual practices that are very much dismantling those systems. Sometimes I think we preach a good game, but we don’t often reflect that through our practical theologies.”
“How might we create rituals and practices that dismantle these systems?” he asked Bown-Kai. “What’s your experience?”
“What I’ve found helpful,” Bown-Kai responded, “is to create spaces that are more workshop-like to create that shift in people’s approach.”
“Of course, when I do a workshop, I like to make it accessible and for people to participate as they feel comfortable.,” Bown-Kai said. “I think there’s a certain among of community-building and intimacy that can be created that oftentimes, sadly, we don’t do in worship. I often wonder, how can worship be more like a workshop? I often feel connected to God and community in workshop spaces in a way I can’t access in worship.”
Another tool “is to pay attention to where ritual already exists in our lives and to figure out ways to pay attention to that more and lift that up,” Bown-Kai said. When something happens that’s distressing to us, “we often see people know how to sit vigil,” Bown-Kai said. “They know how to gather in a community space and light candles. There’s an understanding that being together in a space, sharing stories and music are all meaningful ways to express how we’re feeling as a community.”
The work of reclaiming ritual includes determining “what was going on here? Why was this so important?” Bown-Kai said. “At the time it was developed and first practiced, what was the messaging? What was the meaning behind it? Then you can adapt it in a way that feels true and honest.”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: ‘A Matter of Faith,’ a PC(USA) podcast
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Susan Dudgeon, Operations Specialist, Presbyterian Foundation
Kate Duffert, Manager for GA Business & Per Capita Promotion, Office of the General Assembly
Let us pray
God of grace, hear our prayers for those who do the work of the kingdom in difficult circumstances. Stand with them and inspire us by their example. May we find new ways to speak the words of faith to our neighbors as we share the gifts you have given us through Christ. Amen.