Exactly two years before the Camry met its fate, we crossed the width of the continent in that black Toyota with the gold wheels in four weeks. On that particular crossing: we had dinner with a saintly, eighty-four-year-old Jesuit priest in Portland, Oregon; we had high tea with a Japanese Buddhist. We stayed in the home of the eldest of eight siblings in a Mormon family that traces its roots to the earliest church founders. In Missouri, we broke bread and bared souls with a Unity minister – a woman whose heart is as open as the roads we traversed across Nebraska. In Louisville, Kentucky, we stayed in the home of the man who blew the conch shell that summoned guests to ‘Iokepa and my Hawaiian wedding. In Charleston, West Virginia, we had deep and meaningful conversation with Southern Baptists of the mega-church variety. Then we were in Baltimore with my Jewish family for my birthday.
Religion makes a difference, culture makes a difference – and well it should. ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Īmaikalani would be the last to say otherwise. Our words and our work is about embracing and celebrating those differences.
Our work is not – and never will be – evangelical. We convert no one. We assume that each of us is born with answers of our own, and that those answers require no more than waking up to them – never burying them under someone else’s certainties.
Some people encounter ‘Iokepa with fear and suspicion. “What is this Native Hawaiian culture?” they speak aloud, and the question asserts challenge and doubt. The unspoken question is: “Does it threaten mine?”
The authentic Native Hawaiian culture threatens no one. It does not impose; it does not extract. ‘Iokepa says: “You don’t have to give up anything. This is about making you more of who you already are.”
The Native Hawaiian people have always been (sometimes to their own detriment) about acceptance and inclusion. They were free of judgment. They rejected dominance, sexism, racism. We attempt to model Return Voyage on that culture – we aspire to it.
Fear – and its reactive judgment of the stranger – is the infection that was injected by the very folks to whom ‘Iokepa’s ancestors opened their hands and hearts.
It would have been agreeable if – when those first missionaries arrived in the 1820s; or when the first capitalists came a generation later; or when the New Age gurus arrived more recently – they had accorded the Native Hawaiians the same privilege. Respect does not seem to be too stringent a requirement.