Foraging On

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If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain;

If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?

Proverbs 24:11-12, KJV

Jesus came to seek and to save those who were lost (Lk 19:10). He defined his mission with these words and additionally contrasted the fact that he came to give life and life in abundance with that of the thief who comes only to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). As the Wise Son he has been appointed over God’s house (Heb. 3:6).

Since I have written on this thread of “Missio Argo” sub-blog, more than four and half years have passed. My brother’s house from which I last wrote has been sold and he is living in a new home. I moved to a new home within Fukushima, then I left Fukushima in 2017, to intern at a non-denominational church in Kansas City as part of the missions, prayer, and justice movement with which I was seeking a greater degree of covering, alignment, and relationship. I started with homecoming in Wisconsin for a four-month sabbatical.

Two years in Kansas City brought great difficulty as well as great depth of friendship and significant pivotal moments for growth in my life. I came to the church in KC to first seek inner and heart healing in the context of a spiritual family I was led to. I was met with a heavy-handed skepticism from some of the leadership that was shocking, and I think borderline spiritually abusive. Despite that, I submitted as much as I could with a broken heart, believing the promise that this was the family I was supposed to be with. Good friends grew up around me, godly men and women generations above me and near me who were able to speak prophetically into my heart.

Between a Living Waters group program and a Healing for the Nations retreat, as well as time in the prayer room at the church, and the experience of losing my car and phone while driving through the Iowa countryside, God spoke profound, life altering revelation into my life. Let me give some snapshots of the heart and vocational journey over these years:

  • Healing and deliverance from deeply embedded shame and childhood wounds began to free me from the way shame coated my sexuality and inner child. Within this freedom I could see that my path to holiness/wholeness meant integration of my homosexually oriented sexuality and inner child with my adult self and with my faith and relationship with the Lord. I did not need to manicure a “holy enough” version of myself that was rooted in my own work but freed in Christ and the love of the Father I knew I was empowered to walk the path of integration and given permission to live the question of what all of this means and how I should live.
  • The need to surrender the work of healing my heart to the Lord. It’s not my work, it’s my heart but Jesus is the healer, the master physician and he is the only one who can in fact bring healing.
  • I was building my life on a foundation of technology and knowledge. These empower the old man, or the false self. The picture is me sitting in a command center at the panels of a supercomputer. The seat with me in it represents the rule of reason/knowledge/intellect and the use of technology to aid the shaping of self and my world.
  • God was replacing that paradigm with a new one: “the coracle is sonship.” The coracle refers to a kind of sail boat driven by the wind and is a picture of a Spirit lead lifestyle. Sonship refers to the life in the Spirit by which God is my Father and Jesus my elder brother. God has always been, and profoundly through this revelation, inviting me into a new and living way by which I plan, strategize, and make decisions with the Father and under his wise council and leadership as a son rather than as an orphan in my own command center. I am still shifting into this reality, but it has been tremendously life giving.
  • Caught up within this paradigm shift was how to live the question of my sexuality. I needed to not rely on my own insight, knowledge, and understanding nor on the knowledge of experts but trust the voice of the Spirit to lead me through the darkness of unknowing.
  • This nexus of foundational repentance brought great freedom. Freedom from shame, freedom from needing to figure things out, and freedom from the lies that I am solely responsible; I have to be on top of things; I have to have it together in any way that exalts the self, up, over, and against the Lord’s role to be responsible to and for me. To let the Lord be my covering, and to be the Word from the Father that defines and calls me into being.
  • As I began to live this repentance in the context of my church family, I found good, caring, and compassionate friends who got to know me and who I in turn got to know. I was somewhat anxious to get accepted into the internship in which I was invited into and had subsequently been disinvited into. This put a little bit of the devil’s schemes into the walking out of these new revelations. In my relationship with the Father I grew in sonship and belonging. In my relationship with the church I fell into performance and continually struggled with belonging.
  • I had hoped to live out the question of my sexuality together with my spiritual family. In some ways this occurred, but in many ways the process seemed frustrated. I was also eager, probably too eager, to make it through the hoops to get through the internship, seminary study, and leadership development so that I could get back to Japan and dear friends and relationships I had built during my three years in Fukushima.
  • My trust in the leadership had been rocky from the initial rejection and performance dynamic that built but as the story kept changing about when I might be resent to Japan, I began to grow uncomfortable with the alignment.
  • In the summer and fall of last year I felt increasing tug from the Lord to give voice to my experience as a sexual minority which culminated in me coming out as a queer, celibate Christian. From what I knew about the theological/ethical boundaries of the movement I was coming into, I thought I was within them. I had shared openly about my sexuality and how to speak to it with leadership and thought it was safe. It was NOT. Immediately I began to be treated with anger and accusation for doing something wrong. Something that was so hard and yet so freeing for me to speak, which was an act of living in the light and living with greater integrity was met with judgement and anger. It was the anger that scared me most. I began to feel unsafe in the company of certain leadership and when I attended worship, I began to have experiences of trauma. This wasn’t just an experience of offense, but I was actually having a racing heart, hyperventilating and feeling extreme panic. I stopped attending worship at that church but stayed involved in the courses and small group I was helping start.
  • I hardly began to look for ways to go back for Japan but there was a remarkable open door that came through ELCA Global Mission and I was in a process of discerning a call immediately. This avenue out of Kansas City and to Japan is, I am convinced, the good pastoring of the Lord to deliver me from a place where I was not being pastored well.

I move home in December. My spiritual son and friend who is closer than a brother came from Japan to visit me in Kansas City, and then my family in Wisconsin, and New Mexico. I accepted the call to Japan with the ELCA in December and started orientation in February. I was sent at the end of March and started working at a Lutheran junior and senior high school about as soon as I got here as well as work in congregational mission which I am still just getting aligned with. My pastors of the Lutheran church in my hometown have been a literal lifeline as I almost gave up hope of belonging in any kind of “church.” Not only have they always been a prophetic voice of welcome, they have championed me in the upward call of God. I am incredibly grateful for them.

I love my church family in Kansas City as well. I met some of the most beautiful, loving people there. I also love the leaders. Some are close friends. There is pain but leaving for me was something God did to rescue and re-place me in his purposes, not a permanent farewell. I don’t know if, how, or when I will rejoin my friends from that movement. I was kicked out of the leadership pathway because of my professed sexual orientation. That has been a deep, and grievous bludgeon against my soul but I am hopeful for change, for reconciliation, and for us to grow in brotherly love and affection through whatever comes next.

Jesus sought me out when I was lost in the rejection and judgement of those given over me. Jesus is healing and giving me life as I walk in the way of the cross. Jesus is protecting me from the way the thief has tried to kill my walk with God, steal my destiny, and destroy the dreams God has put in my heart. I am growing in my identity of a son in God’s house both in relationship to God and to the Church which is full of sinners of which I am one. God’s love came through the bloody cross of Christ and I am learning obedience through suffering in various junctures in my relationship with the church. I am encouraged by this because I read it as a sign that I am a legitimate son who is chastised because I am loved.

And so, as I continue to write on this platform about mission and life as a missionary, I want you to know a little about more about who I am and where I am coming from. As I am eager in the joy of the Lord to share the good news of the reconciling love of God, of his generous welcome into the house, not only to receive the bread of life but to do the work of the Kingdom as co-agents of a glorious redemption. As I do so, I remember I can still be lost, I am still broken, I am still holding questions and living them. I don’t give pretense to hold the answers but I know there is something about this man, about the way he loves me, about the way he holds out his hand that I can say with confidence to those around me, have you heard of this man who can save you from death, and sin, and hell? Far be it from me to to abandon the work of reconciliation to which God has given me.

Pray for me. The love of God be with you.

この指輪

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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.

Amen.

Provision for Greenland

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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.

Challenge: to cultivate a writing habit

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The first serious poem I ever wrote was in a spiral ring binder. This binder contained all of my first serious poems. Some of them have made it onto the early posts of this blog. My voice as a writer, my inner voice, was discovered as a middle school student under the tutelage of the late Ellen Kort’s.

Ellen was the state poet laureate at the time and was well traveled as a poet and authority on writing. I didn’t know her this way at first through. She was very grandmotherly as a woman, in the best, kind and calming way. At the same time her voice carried an authority that helped cut through the overthinking noise or moaning blankness that can come to mind when one first starts writing. She is the one who helped me discover my voice and I will forever appreciate her for it.

My first notebook was opened in her workshop, it has those first lines. It also has the salty tears of adolescent angst, long dehydrated but somehow infused with the lead.

When I lost that notebook several years later I couldn’t write for about a year and a half or more. I wrote assignments, including for some writing classes I later took with Ellen but other than keeping a journal I couldn’t get myself to write poems anymore. I couldn’t move past the sentimental sense of loss. I confessed this feeling of loss with my world literature teacher and she interrupted my doldrum with words something like this, maybe we were supposed to have this conversation and the reason is because you are supposed to write again. And so I began to write again and esteem myself as a writer. Writing is my art, I would think to myself in those days and I say about myself now.

Loosing my notebook was one reason I fell out of writing for a time. There have been countless others, university study loads, moving across the world, depression, and bad time management. But its time to fall back in. I am supposed to write again.

In order to cultivate this resettling into regular writing I will write 500 words a day for a month. That’s my goal, simply stated.

Sometime after waking my body after a pre-dawn run in the woods, I will write for about twenty to thirty minutes each morning before work. If this fails I can write as soon as I finish work. Prompts will aid me in setting aside the content of what to write about and center on my theme to “just write.” The immediate focus is habit building more so than the content of the writing.

If I succeed towards this end I will also accomplish a sub-goal which is to be blogging more consistently. Once this is set in a more perpetual motion I can think about more ambitious projects such as starting a book or short story or thematic writing about mission or the spiritual life.

Journaling for the life of the world

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Life.

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.

Peace.

 

Monday night musings 2

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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.

 

Peace out.