Laura Mariko Cheifetz (she/her) is a queer biracial Presbyterian Church (USA) minister curious about race, gender, identity, public theology, the meaning of citizenship, and fun television shows. She and her partner grew up in opposite parts of the country, met in the middle, and have lived for the past 13 years in the southeast (currently in Nashville, TN). Laura is multiracial Asian American of Japanese and white Jewish descent. She was the fourth generation of her family to be born in California and grew up in eastern Oregon and western Washington. She has worked in theological education, social justice advocacy, and religious publishing.
To learn more about Holden Village, visit: http://www.holdenvillage.org or to listen to more audio recordings visit: http://audio.holdenvillage.org. The Holden Village Podcast is accessible through Apple iTunes, Spotify, TuneIn, iHeart Radio, and most podcast apps. For questions and inquiries, contact email@example.com.
Background music by Olexy: The Beat of Nature.
Laura Mariko Cheifetz
[00:00:00] Intro: Welcome to the Holden Village Podcast. Holden is a community of education, programming, and worship located in the remote wilderness of the Cascade Mountains. These snapshots provide a glimpse into the learnings taking place in our community. Let's tune in to this week's highlight.
[00:00:23] Dev: And so this will be a lesson in density and brevity...just like this 70% dense chocolate bar. Would you like a piece by the way?
[00:00:34] Laura: I'm okay for now.
[00:00:34] Dev: You're okay? Okay.
[00:00:36] Laura: Yeah. I just had some jelly or like some gummy bears.
[00:00:40] Dev: Oh, you did? Wait, did you like steal these gummy bears?
[00:00:43] Laura: No, it's cause they're a lot of children. So like I probably will share with them eventually, but I was like, you know what? They're hyped up enough without the sugar.
[00:00:53] Dev: This topic that you are pondering.
[00:00:55] Laura: So the topic that I'm pondering, like some people design like these workshops are gonna build on each other, but I did kind of four different topics. And so basically what I spent a lot of my time thinking about, which is really why I propose the workshops I did...it seems like we're in a spiral of doom.
[00:01:13] Dev: Spiral of doom. That's a great way to start.
[00:01:16] Laura: You know, here we are in the spiral of doom. So many things are going wrong just everywhere. Right? But I think I have this really persistent hope and a sense of joy all the time. So I don't know where it comes from. I have a sense that it's like it's theological maybe in nature. But I just think, because I have hope that things could be different...because that's what the gospel is about, right? It tells us there's a different way to be. That's why we have to sometimes talk about hard things. The things that are part of our spiral of doom. Because otherwise, you know, how can we really make that difference if we haven't fully understood what we're up against?
[00:01:53] Dev: So in this spiral of doom, what are the top three things?
[00:01:56] Laura: That I like to talk about? I do like to talk about white supremacy. Since I think that's like really at the root of a lot of our spiral of doom, especially in the U.S.. Just in terms of like how that disrupts relationship with creation. How that disrupts relationship with each other. How it puts in place these ways of really making it impossible for different people groups to thrive. And like cutting off opportunities.
I think we end up with people who are very ill-equipped (I'm talking primarily white people); really ill-equipped to talk about white supremacy because, you know, it's like background, right? And I also love thinking about in terms of how our Christian theology has really played into creating sustaining white supremacy and how our theology is actually the path out of white supremacy. And so that's always fun for me.
So one of the things that I'm gonna be talking about also is queer theology. And just to think how are we called into transgressing all of these boundaries that society puts up...like God didn't put these boundaries up.
[00:03:00] Dev: Yeah. Humans, you know? It's our specialty. It's our specialty. It really is.
[00:03:05] Laura: Yeah. We could be different.
[00:03:08] Dev: We certainly could.
[00:03:08] Laura: Let's think about that.
[00:03:09] Dev: When you take yourself seriously, that's when all the boundaries get really like etched into stone.
[00:03:14] Laura: Exactly, yeah. All those barriers become like, they're like concrete. But with laughter, you're like, that's not a real thing, man. You don't have to do that. That's really just a line on a map. It doesn't have any real meaning, you know? Except that it does. And so how can we make fun of that? Because it's ridiculous to draw a line through people.
[00:03:38] Dev: It's crazy.
[00:03:39] Laura: Yeah. It's so stupid. Drawing through habitats? That's so dumb. Yeah. Sometimes people have asked, because my spouse also does a lot around anti-racism, white supremacy, diversity, equity...what's it like to live in your brains? Like in your household? Because we talk about this constantly. I don't know...it's pretty funny...the people we come from are pretty cool, but we're also willing to make fun of ourselves.
[00:04:02] Dev: Excellent. Yeah. Sounds like you're doing it right.
[00:04:04] Laura: I mean...you gotta eat...you gotta have friends.
[00:04:07] Dev: Sometimes.
[00:04:08] Laura: You gotta enjoy things.
[00:04:10] Dev: So it sounds like, I mean, you enjoy your work.
[00:04:13] Laura: I do. It's true. You know what I do really love (this is like very reformed theology, so I think you may find some things in common) is the belief that God is sovereign. And so like we can make up whatever we want in terms of rules, right? Or like, this is how you should act or whatever.
And ultimately it's not up to us. And it's really cute that we're trying, you know, but God's gonna make the ultimate determination, right? And so I feel like because I am like personality wise...I tend to be kind of tightly wound. High control need. Everyone who's ever met me is like, yes, that is absolutely her, especially my coworkers. I'm so sorry, but they know I'm like this.
And so I think there's a part of me that's very freed by knowing that God is sovereign and so like...I'm still gonna do my annoying high control thing sometimes just cuz I want things to go a certain way...but in the end it's not up to me. That's my theology. So whatever happens, happens.
[00:05:11] Dev: That's a beautiful balance because we all have personalities. Like we all came into this world to do very unique things. Don't need to get rid of those.
[00:05:19] Laura: Yeah. I mean, sometimes we go to therapy for some of it.
[00:05:22] Dev: Yes. Sometimes we spend years in therapy.
[00:05:26] Laura: Exactly. All about it. Yeah.
[00:05:31] Dev: I feel like you touched upon two of the four...
[00:05:33] Laura: Yes, so I'm also gonna talk specifically about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, in terms of like the historical background. I'm Asian American. How we came to be a part of the national fabric of the United States. What role we play and the kinds of specific ways that we experience racism with Pacific Islanders.
And then my closing segment will be I'm not that kind of Christian. And so I come to this honestly. So I will say I'm a double pastor's kid. Both my parents are Presbyterian church USA pastors and I grew up in the Pacific Northwest where most people were either like atheist to not practicing or they were evangelical, which is obviously an oversimplification.
There are plenty of mainline liberals around cuz I was part of those churches. And a lot of us were part of those churches. And I think that my childhood sense is there are those other kinds of Christians and we definitely are different from each other...has extended and amplified into adulthood where just seeing like a lot of us...especially once the Trump era reared its head...and with like so many people have identified as evangelicals, and I think some evangelicals would quibble with how that's been used.
But then to always say like, I'm Christian, but I'm not like that kind cause I think we need to unpack that a little bit. Like how far apart are we really? What are our shared things that we need to work on? And are we also responsible for really terrible things that other Christians do? It's food for thought. It would be very conversational. Yeah. You're gonna unpack your religious trauma here. Let's do it.
[00:07:12] Dev: This is a great place for that actually.
[00:07:13] Laura: Yeah. Yeah. I figured. Y'all seem cool.
[00:07:16] Dev: Yeah. We're all right. I mean, you know, depends on the day I guess. My grandparents were Lutheran pastors and their association with Christianity was art. Like they were both artists and that was the path that led them to their faith and exploring their own faith. Which I really enjoyed, but I feel like that's not your typical Christian experience...but I love that. I love using art as a means of exploring any faith in general.
[00:07:43] Laura: I love that actually. Where I work at Vanderbilt Divinity School...we have a whole program area. It's also a certificate and a concentration. So it's religion, arts, and contemporary culture and arts is understood very broadly. And so I love that. I love going to the showcases at the end of the year and the students are each presenting whatever art it is cuz it's so wide ranging. It's really cool. And then, you know, it's like I can understand God a little bit differently because of the way this person helped illuminate it.
[00:08:10] Dev: Do you happen to have a particular art form that you enjoy? Either doing or witnessing?
[00:08:15] Laura: I really love music. Like a lot. Even though I'm like, I'm not good at it, but I love just being around. I love just like listening to it or hearing it being performed. Yeah. I think oftentimes like music moves us in a way that maybe words won't always. Although I love me some words. I am Presbyterian. That's rather distinctive.We're all about those words.
[00:08:40] Dev: Can't get rid of those words.
[00:08:41] Laura: Exactly. Yeah. It's all about The Word, you know?
[00:08:43] Dev: Yeah. Eden is calling. It is. What does that mean to you?
[00:08:48] Laura: To me, what I think of Eden as calling...it's that reminder of what we were meant to be. Like how we were created to be. And so of course, because I'm like everything is actually terrible, I think look how far we have fallen...and this is something that we're doing to each other, right? And some people and some creatures pay the price far more than other people and other creatures. And so to just always be mindful of there are these impacts of the choices we're making. Or that the majority (the ones in power) have decided we're making...and then everyone else is like feeling that cost...in their bodies...in their land...in their habitat...and how they're allowed to just be or not be. So I'm always like reminded. Yeah. Eden.
[00:09:41] Dev: Eden.
[00:09:41] Laura: It's there. It's a thing. It's real.
[00:09:43] Dev: I can taste it.
[00:09:44] Laura: Yeah. But we just all have to decide that that's where we're going. And we're clearly not there yet.
[00:09:50] Dev: How much of us being at the precipice is what actually allows us to get to that Eden?
[00:09:56] Laura: I do feel like the precipice is illuminating. And I think lends us an urgency that we may otherwise not have. And I do think contrasts are actually very helpful. There are times when we can think like, okay, I can see because of that...that there's so much else to see. And I maybe wouldn't have noticed all of that, you know, without the contrast. Yeah. I wouldn't say that we always need that contrast cuz I don't actually think suffering's like that cool for people.
[00:10:28] Dev: I mean, I prefer more joy personally, but you know, at the same time it's just hard to even fathom or make sense of what's happening right now without either like laughing at it, which is certainly one of my coping mechanisms.
[00:10:44] Laura: Heck yes.
[00:10:45] Dev: Or like finding some sort of philosophy in the pain.
[00:10:50] Laura: You know, I think it is very human, but also very Christian to like make meaning. All the time.
[00:10:58] Dev: Too much meaning,
[00:10:59] Laura: Right. Well, sometimes I think we overdo the making meaning...and that is like rationalizing someone suffering and being like, look, it helps them be happy. Don't love that, but I also think there's frequently meaning to be made. That's what I do. I'm in the business of making meaning out of all of this. It has its place. And I do think like experiencing things that are terrible as a people...it reminds us of how hard we must work. Which I think is good for us. I'm actually a fan of people putting in work, occasionally.
[00:11:31] Dev: Right, Occasionally.
[00:11:32] Laura: Yeah. Oh no. We definitely need a lot more rest. We're not doing great enough.
[00:11:37] Dev: Yeah. I love the face that you were making as I was talking about...
[00:11:42] Laura: Oh yeah, I gave you a real face.
[00:11:44] Dev: ...the purpose of suffering. You're like "no, don't say it. I know where you're going with this."
[00:11:50] Laura: Like, don't love it. Yeah. I'm not like into redemptive suffering. I guess that's maybe the, I was giving you the face like...oh no.
[00:11:58] Dev: Oh no. Right. Don't do that. Not now. We were having so much fun.
[00:12:02] Laura: Why would you do that? What a downer man.... Sometimes you have to speak real things right into the world because they're already out there. We just gotta name it.
[00:12:13] Dev: Absolutely. And that goes back to the Eden thing as well. You know, it's naming the things that are there...that's part of our stewardship for me, bringing awareness to what is...cuz as humans we're able to do that...we have this weird mind that allows us to be like, oh, this is a thing. Yeah, I'm aware of this thing now and I can actually create an appropriate name or something.
[00:12:40] Laura: Brains are wild.
[00:12:42] Dev: Brains are totally wild.
[00:12:43] Laura: Yeah. There's so much we don't know yet.
[00:12:45] Dev: Technically we only know 10%. That's what they say.
[00:12:49] Laura: Oh yes. I love it. I love a lot of mystery. That's my other thing too.
[00:12:55] Dev: Tell me about mystery.
[00:12:56] Laura: I mean, mystery's great; you know, should keep curious all the time because there's so much mystery. But I also don't love explaining everything either. That makes me very tired. If people are like, I'm gonna explain how this happened...or this is real. There's sometimes where you want that (like medical conditions) that'd be really nice. And sometimes you just gotta let the mystery stand.
[00:13:16] Dev: Well, that's the other thing with improv that I love is that it shows us how many disclaimers we make in our lives.
[00:13:23] Laura: Like we really do.
[00:13:24] Dev: If I were to teach a class...this is just came to my head. If I were gonna teach a class at Holden...it would be like eliminating disclaimers and like the philosophy of that.
[00:13:32] Laura: That's like a core academic tenet. Like when I work with all these PhDs, I'm always like, here are the qualifiers for everything I say.
[00:13:41] Dev: Right. But yeah, you just have to trust that what you're gonna say is gonna be received at some level according to their ability to receive...and there's nothing you can do to make them more amenable to your words. Like you just have to be confident. Say what you say and then leave. That's the gangster, you know?
[00:14:03] Laura: That's true. Like little bit of bam...
[00:14:05] Dev: Boom, I'm done. Yeah. See you next to year, you know? Yeah.
[00:14:10] Laura: I do think we're not always good in the U.S.... at (dramatic pause)
[00:14:15] Dev: Just in general?
[00:14:16] Laura: Just, I mean, period. Yeah. But we're like not always great at being able to live in the in-between, like the liminal spaces or in the shadows or in like the wake of something. We always want that like solid ground...I think a lot of us want that. And that to me goes back to the that mystery thing that like...sometimes you just...it's in the waves. Soak it up. You're gonna be okay. You don't have to know everything.
[00:14:48] Dev: Is it a particle or a wave? I mean, you've opened up a can of worms with the liminal spaces.
[00:14:54] Laura: That's what I do's.
[00:14:56] Dev: That's great. I love it. Yeah. cuz the in-between spaces, like that's where everything lives. That's where all the good stuff lives. Like in-between the words...in-between the meditative traditions it's in-between the inhale and the exhale. You have to fall into it. Particularly when it comes to like, back to like in-between the words, like just poetic expressions. Being able to say things beyond meaning, because anything that brings us close to God is gonna be beyond language.
[00:15:22] Laura: It's there, but you're not quite sure how to pin it down. So don't pin it down. Let that butterfly go.
[00:15:27] Dev: Totally. Say weird things. Do a dance, you know. How often have you been to Holden.
[00:15:32] Laura: It's my first time.
[00:15:33] Dev: This is your first time.
[00:15:34] Laura: That's why I signed up for everything. I'm like, I wanna do dishes...I wanna do this podcast.
[00:15:40] Dev: How was Dish Team by the way?
[00:15:42] Laura: Dish Team was very fun. They're like very cool...and it allowed me a little moment of silence cuz no one can talk to you. It's like so loud...and you're like scrubbing industrially.
[00:15:52] Dev: But that's when I found you..
[00:15:53] Laura: I know. And then you're like, hey. And I'm like, whoa.
[00:15:55] Dev: Whoa. Yeah. Boundaries.
[00:15:57] Laura: What is it? The third space or whatever you like interfered. Right? Totally. That was hilarious. I know I gave you a look.
[00:16:07] Dev: It was a great look. Yeah. That felt like an invitation, you know?
[00:16:11] Laura: Amazing. Yeah.
[00:16:14] Dev: Okay, so this is your first time. Welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome.
[00:16:18] Laura: I'm excited about trying to have a very full experience, which I feel like is a little bit me. Like sometimes I'm like...I want it all.
[00:16:25] Dev: Absolutely. It's either all or nothing for me. I'll be a monk or I'll just like, I just want to consume everything. Yeah. Give me all the elegance and...
[00:16:34] Laura: Hedonism.
[00:16:36] Dev: There we go.
[00:16:36] Laura: That's such a good word.
[00:16:37] Dev: That's a great word. Yeah, I'll take that. I'll take some of that, that, that, you know. The buffet. Okay, this has been absolutely delightful.
[00:16:46] Laura: Thanks for having me.
[00:16:46] Dev: Of course, of course, of course.
[00:16:48] Laura: It's nice to talk.
[00:16:49] Dev: Totally, totally. And hopefully the first of many conversations, maybe over tea next time. Are you into tea?
[00:16:55] Laura: Yeah. I like tea.
[00:16:56] Dev: Okay. Yeah. Beautiful.
[00:16:58] Laura: All the kinds.
[00:16:58] Dev: All the kinds. I have all the fancy kinds here.
[00:17:01] Laura: Oh, I bet. Yes. You have to. I mean, to survive.
[00:17:04] Dev: Exactly. Right. Without it, I'm nothing. I can't choose my food; I can choose my tea. Right. Yeah. It's really a status thing here.
[00:17:12] Laura: No one else knows who you are, but the tea, but the tea makes you great. That's so funny.
[00:17:22] Outro: Thanks for joining us. Be sure to view the links in the description for more information or visit our website to find out more about the village. We hope you will make a pilgrimage to Holden. Blessings and peace to you.