The Ascetic Witness In Race Relations

Metaphors for Life

Using the Ascetic Witness metaphor to integrate cultural and theological conversations.

Dear JB and the rest of my amazing team,

            Thanks again for the space you all hold for me. As an Enneagram 9, I need tons of time to process, and I have tons to say, it just doesn’t all come to me in the moment!! It’s a source of never-ending frustration for me, but thanks for your patience. Getting my thoughts out “in the moment” is something I’m working on.  JB, I often get frustrated because I think our dialogues about race and its relation to Christianity are profound and God-orchestrated, but we never have enough time to truly dialogue in my opinion. So I wrote this as a way of redeeming the time—you all can take a look at this at your convenience. I would like to lay out some of my thoughts on using the Ascetic Witness as metaphor when I am entering into emotionally charged conversations such as the ones about race in America. First, we have to remember that no metaphor is perfect. I seek to use the Ascetic Witness not to disengage, but to be able to manage my emotions so that they are helpful and not harmful. Second, I would like to discuss how I believe emotional asceticism may be beneficial when I am engaging with you all as peers.

Emotional Asceticism

            Asceticism (askesis, askein), taken in its literal signification, means a polishing, a smoothing or refining. The Greeks used the word to designate the exercises of the athletes, whereby the powers dormant in the body were developed and the body itself was trained to its full natural beauty.[1] – So in emotional asceticism, I want to polish, smooth and refine my emotions and my arguments about America’s racial struggles. I also want to unlock the thoughts and feelings which have been dormant in my heart, develop them, and allow my heart to be trained to its full natural beauty. In Pastoral Counseling: The Basics, James Ditte describes the Ascetic Witness in this way: This role requires the stringent discipline of self-renunciation and a surrendering of the ego. Not problem-solving, but attention to feelings, unconditional regard, and a gracious nonchalance are some of the marks of the counselor as ascetic witness.[2] Again, for JB, JW, CC, and MF, I am certainly not trying to “fix” any guilt or grief that you may feel. While I do feel that forgiveness should ultimately be our aim, I understand that justice should be integrated with mercy.  In fact, I believe that the cross is the greatest picture of justice being combined with mercy that we have as human beings. JW, you just shared (7/6/21, 16:45:53 PM, EST) something with me about your father, and his commentary about Latinx Americans. I am truly sorry. I don’t grieve FOR you, rather I grieve with you, and I am a witness to your grief. I too, have a similar story with my father.  Years ago (I just remembered this JW, as we talked), after I had been married to my half-Taiwanese bride, I remember my father making derogatory noises that were supposed to mimick Chinese words and tones.  My younger brother began to follow suit. The immaturity, irresponsibility, and racial implications of this still make me angry today!! As JW stated similarly with the Puerto-Rican side of his family, my Asian & Euro American in-laws have held me down and held more space for me than my African American family members have. It’s only in very recent times that my African-American family has begun to truly hold space for me.  But this has come after years of my taking the initiative, and modeling forgiveness, again, and again. I have deep compassion and love for both Chinese and Japanese people in addition to Africans and all who are a part of the African Diaspora. It all began with a prophetic dream: Back in 2000, the summer before my junior year in high school, my pastor’s wife had a dream that a friend and I were tasked with pulling people from different cultures out of pits. We built the structures for each cultural group, but when we got to Asia, it proved to be enormously difficult to build the structure, because this pit was filled with water. But we eventually got them out. 

Kumiko Shibuya’s Dream in 2016 and How It Related to My Dream in 2000

Fast forward to 2014-2017, when I pastored a small church in downtown Misawa, Japan.  We traveled by train with my friends NP & CP (JB knows CP 😀) to a Japanese Pentecostal church called Joyful Chapel, in Aomori, Japan.  In this church, I met the wonderful pastor Tomomitsu Shibuya and his wife, Kumiko Shibuya.  I shared my dream with Kumiko-San in 2016. Kumiko-San shared a dream in which she saw pastors and ministers from Africa and the African Diaspora holding hands and surrounding the island nation of Japan. That was very, very powerful, and there were tears and rejoicing.  Kumiko-San’s dream combined with my dream 16 years earlier to confirm for me that I am called to the nations.  However, there was a missing piece in my dream in 2000! I had another friend with me in the dream. I have prayed as to who that is.  Now in meeting our CPE group, I believe the friend in that dream was you all, my fellow Americans (had to do it :D) as my fellow sojourners and pilgrims. We will partner together to bring the nations out of the pits of injustice, racism, and hatred. We will use structures and bridges just like in the dream, to

  • The bridge, the structure is the Gospel.
  • The structure is mercy and justice intermingled, just like the Cross of Christ, just like he wants the races. Intermingled. Intertwined. Interwoven. In relationship. In connection. Seeking justice, and extending mercy, together.
  • Finally, the bridges used in my dream represent us….as in being from different ethnic groups in America and coming together for the same cause and mission.  Listening to each other, holding space for each other, being mindful, empathetic, etc.
  • The Air Force and It’s Mission Was A Metaphor For My Ministry.  In the Air Force, I saw Euro Americans, Afro Americans, LatinX Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans rally together under a common goal—fighting against the injustices of terrorism. It was a microcosm of U.S., and I also believe it can inform us how we can come together to war against racial injustices, healthcare disparities, etc.
  • I’ve seen forgiveness modeled. I’ve seen true diversity modeled.
  • If it can happen in our Armed Services, it can happen here in our neighborhoods, places of work, and larger societies.
  • Courage is required.  I would invite you, ask you, summon you, and appeal to you all to let us reason together. Let’s be missional. Let our prophetic voices reflect our multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-cultural world.
  • Warfare left an indelible impression upon my soul, regarding the depths of evil humanity can plunge into, but also the heights to which humanity can soar on the wings of mercy.

                        And speaking of the world, history through the eyes of my heroes shows me that coming together may not be easy, but it is possible, and it is right.  

My Heroes and Their Ties to Lutheranism, Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism

By 1534 Luther, well established in Wittenberg. In that year Luther welcomed a new voice into his ecumenical dialogue: Michael the Deacon, an Ethiopian cleric. Recalling his dialogue with Michael, Luther stated: “We have also learned from him, that the rite which we observe in the use of administration of the Lord’s Supper and the Mass, agrees with the Eastern Church.” Luther expressed his approval of the Church of Ethiopia along with his embrace of Deacon Michael in a letter dated July 4, 1534: “For this reason we ask that good people would demonstrate Christian love also to this [Ethiopian] visitor.” According to Luther, Michael responded positively to his articles of the Christian faith, proclaiming: “This is a good creed, that is, faith” (see Martin Luther, Table-Talk, November 17, 1538 [WA, TR 4:152-153, no. 4126]).[3]

            I think that if we dig deep, we will find that Christianity, and the Protestant Reformation were more global in their scale and scope than many people realize.  Martin Luther King and MLK Jr both had their names changed to Martin Luther after visiting Germany.

 Desmond Tutu is the beloved Nobel-prize winning Anglican bishop (1984) who helped end apartheid in South Africa.  1986 he was elected the first Black archbishop of Cape Town, thus becoming the primate of South Africa’s 1.6 million-member Anglican church.[4] “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”― Desmond Tutu

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” ― Desmond Tutu.

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”[ Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa, 23 November 2004]” ― Desmond Tutu

My great-great-great uncle on my mother’s side is the legendary abolitionist, Frederick Douglass. “Love came to me, and I was not afraid to marry the man I loved because of his color,” – Helen Pitts Douglass. Douglass laughingly commented, “This proves I am impartial. My first wife was the color of my mother and the second, the color of my father. Helen was Euromerican, and 20 years younger than Douglass, and was radical in 1884. Finally, in spite of the pain his own people were going through, Douglass advocated for citizenship and fair treatment for Asian Americans! I want a home here not only for the negro, the mulatto and the Latin races; but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours. Right wrongs no man.- Frederick Douglass, 1869, Boston (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/04/10/frederick-douglass-on-immigration/). And last but not least, CC and MF, thank you both for your willingness to hold space and grieve over the injustices in America. MF, I want to tell you that your professor in seminary was flat out EVIL for saying that you are evil simply because you are of European descent. That’s got to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. CC, I just LOVE the fact that you listen to 93.3 (local hip-hop), and you can name every song from the Weekend, Chris Brown or Da Baby that I sing sometimes! I love the fact that your in-laws are Costa Rican and you hold space for them.

YM, you are the greatest (please board certify me! 😀). Seriously, I’ve learned a lot from your stories about Cuba, and what it means to be a Cuban American immigrant in this country, especially here in Charleston. Thanks for the tremendous honor that you show me as an Afro American male, even in the smallest of things, like consistently responding to emails and texts, and looking for my hand to be raised in group discussions. Blessings on your continued journey as a CPE supervisor…and as a born again…and again, and again Baptist!!!


[1] https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14613a.htm

[2] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1026058213342

[3] https://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings/articles/martin-luther-and-ethiopian-christianity-historical-traces

[4] https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5943.Desmond_Tutu

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