I will never forget a prayer meeting I attended in Kansas City back in 2014 for Japan and the Japanese that was co-hosted by 24-7 Prayer and the International House of Prayer. A Chinese sister was sharing a dream she had had about Japan where she saw all of these dead bodies in the city of Tokyo that were in homes and apartments and she saw them being resurrected. I believe this is a picture of of those “dead in their transgression” being raised to new life in Christ.
I think the darkening of winter teaches us something important about a deep internal truth of the human condition. We all feel cold, we feel an large empty aloneness, we experience the eclipse of warmth and light and love. Harsh, harsh is the world upon the soft and supple flesh of humankind.
Amidst the dark and gloom of the winter night there are different kinds of portals we set up to remind us that beyond this there is something more profound. Stars in the night sky and pierce not only shade of night but also the shroud that gets around our heads. Fairy lights are strung up in preparations for the mass of Christ, the Light of the Word born in this harsh world. We set ups lamps and advent wreathes, and Christmas trees which glow and shimmer a warmth. And all of this is a kind of fight.
Its still Fall here in Kumamoto but the days have been getting darker. But I only reference this seasonal charade of shortening days as a kind of analogy. Its an analogy to what goes on in life and to what has been going on in my life.
Breakdown in relationships, stress, fatigue, and friction wearing on relationships still intact, the anxiety of navigating how to love one another. Is that supposed to be stressful thing? Too much work, never enough time. Setting boundaries against the narrative of slavery that wants to destroy both sabbath and sonship along with God’s image and Kingdom. I slip. I sin. Sleep comes thinner and sickness seems to spin around from head to head as it jumps on sneezes and halitosis ridden yawns.
Harsh is the world that presses heavy upon our supple flesh.
Nearby the ones I love most struggle to grasp meaning and joy. God,, Where is your God? The enemy mutters.
So I speak over my heartbroken soul,
For I know my God will break through for me.”from Psalm 42, TPT
Joy is a battle! Putting up Christmas lights, lighting a candle, clasping a mug of warm tea or soup, bringing a warm face to a downcast friend or finding a warm face for yours– these are acts war, or resistance against the onslaught of the cold, dark, drift of despair and assulting lies that say its not worth it.
Its worth it. “The Joy of the Lord is our strength.” Its the only way I have been able to find victory in this season is to fight with joy and when I don’t have it, to fight for joy. There is this profound, and wonderful truth that should undergird all of reality–God is fighting for our joy to. Jesus, crucified on the cross (“for the joy of set before him”)– He was fighting for joy. For your joy, for mine, for the joy of holy fellowship at the warmth of his table. He was fighting so we could know we are the beloved and rest on his chest, he fought to give us the cup of the covenant. Holy wow! There is joy in his presence, the fullness thereof.
To all my brave friends and fellow travelers out there going through life in this post-modern, post-industrial, overworked, 1%, bi-polarized, bickering, cold, petty, merciless, atomically armed, neo-imperialistic in both capitalist and communist iterations, (why do the nations rage in vain) world.
Peace. God is with us. There is joy in his presence. Fight to enter it, Surrender to His fight to bring you there, to infill you. Rest in it and then labor from it so your life can extend the deep and satisfying joy of being loved in God through Christ to battle-worn weary in your midst. We are all among them. And the right man is on our side, the man of God’s own choosing.
Resting in an ornamental plate laid upon the chalky black of my desk surface is the silver of my ring. Of all the things in my room it is one of the smallest and yet one of the most precious. We have been together for ten and half years. Ten and half years is a long story. Perhaps to long to give it a complete biography but, man the memories that go with this ring.
The plate it lay in is a gift from my student Chisa-san. Chisa is a retired teacher, a farmer, and perhaps an unhappily married woman. My ring was with me the whole time I knew Chisa. It went with me to her farm home, to the sake breweries we toured in her hometown. It hung, snug enough through many a teaching on basic English. Chisa gave me the plate this ring sits in. It is one of three of its proper places.
The other is an ornamental bowel given to me by a now old friend Yusuke Kubo. He came to my hometown twelve years ago. Both his and Chisa’s dish were farewell gifts upon my leaving Japan. I left last year, the ring with me and I with it.
If you look closely at the ring you will see that it is not perfectly round. This is because on one of our first dates I dropped it off the balcony of an art museum in Copenhagen. Copenhagen is where I met the ring. It was my gift into first-year participation at Copenhagen International Masters Commission. First year students were supposed to make a covenant not to date or pursue the opposite sex during the entire duration of their first year. Because of this commitment we were all given individually chosen covenant rings. This one is my covenant ring.
Upon graduating from the program I decided I needed to give an extended meaning to this ring I had grown so fond of. Growing up an Evangelical Christian I had enough dipping in promise keepers and purity cultures to know that getting a promise ring was kind of like a right of passage. And its kind of connected to the purpose of the original covenant, I thought, and so it became my promise and purity ring.
I have lost the ring several times but thankfully have found it. One time I was visiting a friend and spiritual brother in Nagasaki. I was staying with him during my short vacation. We had become friends before he came to profess faith in our Lord, while he was still seeking God. He has studied to become a doctor, he is an excellent volleyball player, he is gentle, kind, and a determined young man. He is a good friend. He even made me pancakes for breakfast as we ate on the rooftop balcony of his eighth floor apartment. Atsuro is his name. I left my ring at his apartment the morning I left to return the 1,500 kilometers for my home in Fukushima. He sent it within several days with a note encouraging me to not give up and to be courageous in my efforts to share the Gospel with Japanese young people in Fukushima.
I took his encouraging words to heart and put them into practice sometimes. I wish I would have put them into practice more. I wish I practiced purity and promise keepeing more too. God knows I’ve lost those sometimes.
/Sometimes/ when I put my ring on my finger I grimace because it reminds me of how often I have failed. The ritual includes praying Shema, the Hebrew prayer likely central to Jesus’ own prayer. Shema Israel, adonai elehenu, adoni echad I begin before I break into the rest in English, You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your mind, and with all of your might. And I aspire to, but I don’t. I have a love-hate relationship with the word purity. Its a shame triggering word at times. What is pure about the race of men made from the mud of this earth? What is pure about me? Maybe I have taken on a love-hate relationship with this ring. Maybe I’m writing this now because God wants me to address this.
I have been learning that God is more concerned with our trust in him then in our attempts to please him. The righteous fall but they get back up,
they get back up,
they get back up.
And everyday when I put this ring on my finger I will remember that it is not my purity, not my love isolated away from the One I trust that will hold me in God’s promise but that he who is faithful and true will finish what he has accomplished. That is His promise to me.
So when I put on the ring and when I place back into the bowl or dish I will remember the One who holds me in eternal love, a love that will demand from the grave all that is worth more than the mud and refuse of broken humanity. Whatever it is that God sees in us, some treasure, some glitter and glimmer. May this ring remind me I am precious in His sight, I am beloved.
In the fifth grade I was in an “experimental” math class. I don’t remember much about it other then I got to go to another classroom to be taught by Miss Racine. She was younger and had less patience for me then my own teacher. I remember that she didn’t wear bras because my classmate Jessie pointed it out and thought it was quite the sight. I never noticed things like that I guess and I didn’t understand him at all. We were ten years old.
The one assignment I remember is how we would spend a million dollars on a vacation if we could go anywhere we wanted. I insisted to my partner that we go to Greenland because I had always wanted to. In reality I had only recently decided that I wanted to go there because it was the Northern most territory in the world and I wanted to go to every country and territory in the order from North to South.
If I were given a million dollars through some grace today I would still travel. I am not sure if I would go to Greenland though. I have no ambition to visit every country and territory.
When you run out of money you feel it deep in your gut. Its a little more deep than oh shit, it comes out more like what am I going to do? And I pray. A million dollars feels a lot like I wouldn’t have to feel that. Of course I would tithe on it, and then pay my debts, and then probably pay my family’s debts and set up retirement for my parents. Then I would pray about what to do with the rest of it. I would probably pray about each of the prior things to. The economy of money I live in has mostly always been within the economy of prayer. But when I have more I splurge on myself and others. I don’t always pray. Maybe that’s why I don’t have a million dollars. I should always pray. Its not my money. But let’s just say the first 20% is accounted for in tithing and collective debts.
That still leaves $800,000. I know I would probably invest most of it and save the rest. I would save and invest so it can continue to give to me, to missionaries I want to support, to children I want to sponsor, to scholarship students, maybe create an endowment for scholarship. I can’t think of many things I would want to buy. It would be better if I just saved and invested and prayed and pretended if that money was never there at my disposal.
I have everything I need. So I don’t need a million dollars, but if I ever do my Father’s got it. My Father has everything. So when I feel the what am I going to dos? in my gut, its important to pause, to ask with trust, and to relinquish the present poverty so that I can be clothed with the richness of whatever provision is had. That’s far better than going to Greenland or having a million bucks.
One word summarizes much of the longings of the human heart. Why do I write? Firstly writing comes as a thing of a necessity. I write because I am. Like all communication, writing comes from somewhere deep within the inner life of a person. The energy and intention of the written word may be heavily gravitated towards topics of expertise, abstract ideas such as philosophy or strategy, or about subjective topics like people, biography or memoir. Whether the subject matter is objective or subjective all writing is something for or to another. It is addressed.
Its the addressed nature of our writing that personalizes and hopefully humanizes it. One writes a love letter to a distant family member or friend or they write a blog to other pilgrim travelers trying to navigate the complexity and strain of whatever niche they co-habit. Whether amateur or expert, what is written is meant to land somewhere and to someone who inhabits that space. It is the intention to share one’s life and thus give life to others that is humanizing energy of writing. However, this energy needs a personal and contextual field of thought to bring life into the words. It is this contextual and relational dimension of writing that seems to be under increasing threat in the world today.
The ubiquity of written and visual media and communication brought forth through the various technologies of the ongoing digital revolutions and information age threaten both the personal quality of our communication and the life that lay at the kernel of it. This is no less true of writing which has gone through its own revolution. For instance, typing is writing, and inputing things into a smartphone is at least called writing in the sense of labor. Or maybe this is just putting or texting. But whatever it be called, the life in the written word is cheapened by the demands of efficiency, expediency, and the relative anonymity that the inter-web has in flattening personal address into a global, public, and faceless address. Even the linguistic boundaries of the world’s cultures and people’s are pressed and squashed through technologies of online translation. It can help us reach more but it we reach with so much less.
So this two fold desire to share life so that others receive life and nourishment through writing is something I think must be fought for because it goes against the tide of much of the mediums through which one now writes. I have not addressed the flaws in our human nature which could charge our words with destruction, damage, and hate— a kind of anti-life. These are not new fronts but they are exasperated by the technologies of our emerging age. If it is true that “it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45, NRSV) its also true of our writing. Spirited words bring life, not dead, heartless ones. And the hurried, harried, and anonymous landscape of our present time does much to diminish if not outright kill our hearts.
Thus I write for life, first for mine and then for the life of the world. And I trust a superior Word to aid and sustain me in the vigilance we all most certainly need to be a good neighborly people.
It’s my first free day of Spring break, I saw the rabbit on the mountain today (this signifies that Spring really has come to Fukushima). The English School is resting and I am trying to as well. I am moving this week. The current house I am residing in has been sold by the owner so it on and out. Not far, and I could probably use a transition in my process to simplify my life ala konmari method. If I get time I would like to apply the same to the classroom as well.
I actually don’t have anything profound to say at this time other than that I am really tired and I am very grateful to have this break.
Also, hoping to write more so I hope you’ll be hearing more from me.
The reality we live in, under the weight of grace. So beautifully put.
The image in this post may represent the single most important image I have had the privilege of creating since coming to Japan. People who know me understand that I love to dive right into editing my images as soon as I can get them downloaded on my workstation. But I allowed this set of images to sit for a while so I could reflect on the man who is the subject of these photos and his life’s journey that brought him to where he is.
Anyone familiar with Japanese culture knows that when they see the tattoos and the severed pinky finger, they are looking at the image of someone associated with the yakuza, Japan’s organized crime syndicates. It is true that this man was once a member of the yakuza, but it has been decades since he was miraculously released from the service of his crime bosses to…
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We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.
(Psalm 124:7, NRSV)
It is not from Fukushima City that I write. I am sitting with my nephew and brother in his underground, home office. Outside the snowfall barely sticks to the ground as the winds of a winter storm blow with gusto. Yet we are safe in the warm coziness of this space. Warmth, shelter, family and even a little bit of work. It is here that I write.
Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs from the first years of our Saviour’s life. In a world seeming to grow in violence and oppression there is a word that the Word frustrates the designs of evil. And whereas Satan, through Herod could not abort the deliverance of God, then so it is true that Satan now defeated, the snare now broken, cannot stop the advance of the Gospel of the Kingdom in this or any age. We are as birds escaped from the fowler’s snare. The snare is broken. Thanks be to the Lord.
As my heart now turns to thoughts of Fukushima I am reminded of my former student who’s son committed suicide last year. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more. And yet, the last Sunday of Advent, when the Japan Lutheran Church celebrates Christmas, her and her husband became followers of Jesus in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Satan cannot abort the deliverance of our God.
My student’s story is sadly one of a large number who is taken victim by him who holds the power of death and whose native language is lies. The experience last spring of this young man’s premature death is a call to wake up, to be alert; for while we are idle, Satan is busy working to destroy the race of men and Jesus weeps.
But the truth of the Gospel is present in this one line—”the snare is broken.” If Satan is the fowler then death is the snare and its teeth and bindings sin. This contraption, this device of hell is broken. Therefore, where the enemy is bringing attack against Fukushima, where people take their own lives overcome in despair, where individuals reclude themselves from the fellowship of others because they are bound in fear, where people doubt their capacity so much that they refuse to venture into the world I pray love, love, love came down, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day and the snare is broken! People of Fukushima, fly as the freed birds you are on the wind of God’s Spirit!
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Prayer Request: The newly baptized couple at Izumi Lutheran Church who are still grieving the loss of their beloved son.
It has been raining and raining for days. Half-week old, reheated curry and the new letter writing occupy night hours between vespers and compline. Mostly letters of gratitude. Thank you friend, thank you stranger, thank you universe there is still good in you, highest thanks to God of All who alone is good.
The summer makes its way to an end. Everyone acts as if its fall but I would like to remind them that fall starts with the equinox. Yet, my favorite season approaches. In the meantime I try to take in the season passing which has drug on more slowly than the way time has felt anytime recently. That’s a good thing. I’m part elven; I like time to be slow mostly. Of course when you’re in love and separated with those you love all of time and space has a different ring to it.
So much is stirring, so much is good in the Lord’s hands, in this heart, the Lord’s workings, saving everything like rainbows and shooting stars exploding from a fountain of life. So good is the Lord to me. Give thanks, give thanks, and praise his name. Amen.