Welcome to Tad Mitsui’s Website!


Thank you for visiting my website.  There are seven categories. Please look at the list on the right and click on the one you want to read.  Each category has a list of articles from which you can choose.  Feel free to post your comment in the bubble.

The photo on top is my spouse Muriel on the left and my sister Taeko on the right taken in South Africa.  Picture on the right is me, Tad Mitsui and my cat, George.

Feel free to borrow or quote any part or whole of any article.  .  Giving me a credit will be nice.  Thank you.

Imagination makes human different from animals


I am convinced that art is as important as science and religion. Art separates us human from other life forms. It surprises me that some people hate the City Council spending money on Art. Other animals spend all their time and thinking about eating, mating, and mere survival. They are not into prayer, quantum physics, or symphony because you can not touch nor eat them. I don’t think my cat thinks of giving up kibble for Van Gogh.

Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” It sounds strange coming from a scientist. But if you think about it more deeply, it makes sense. Imagination makes us curios about everything invisible or unknown and inspire us to try to find behind what we can not see. It makes us creative. That’s why we, unlike other living things, spend money and time to art, science, and religion.

The animal nature, or inability to be concerned about what we do not see, made Montreal known for its excellent and efficient snow removal service but without decent sewer system dumping raw sewage into the St. Lawrence river for years, like Halifax and Victoria until recently. The result of public’s apathy in what they do not see.

The flip side is: it is hard to make a living on imagination. Many people think creativity out of imagination is unimportant. They don’t want tax money spent on Art Gallery or Theatre, and shout “Fix the potholes!” So, if you are an abstract artists or a minister who preaches about some dead guy who lived 2000 years ago, you have to be prepared to have a job that feeds you and pay the bills. My brother-in-law took early retirement from a good civil service job so that he could spend all his time playing guitar. Einstein, before he found a good position in university, had a job in the Patent Registry Office. Theoretical Physics was not exactly a money maker. The work that makes you feel you have a life worth living is called vocation. It gives you the sense of your worth no matter how much it costs or how little it pays.

Some people are lucky to have a good paying job that gives them fulfilment. People in health care professions for example. Academics, artisans, botanists, carpenters, chefs, teachers, etc. But many are not that lucky. One day, my favourite tenor of the University Opera Workshop came knocking our door as a cleaner of the Merry Maids house cleaning service. I have seen other artists in disguise as a house painter, a chef, a security guard, a bartender, etc. Majority of the artists I know have other occupations. I am familiar with such a life style because I am a father of an artist. Art is a vocation not necessarily a way to make living. The same with religion and pure science. Some make enough money to live on but many do not. Vincent Van Gogh never earned enough money to live on from his painting before he died. All his life, he was dependent on the financial support of his businessman brother Theo. Now his each painting commands millions of dollars.

Likewise, religion is a calling. Monks and nuns in many religions often earn livelihood as teachers, nurses, even as butchers and cheese makers in order to make the pursuit of their vocation possible. Remember Oka cheese? Monks in Oka Quebec make it. An oldest monastery in the world has sustained itself since 1605 from the income from famous liqueur: “Chartreuse.” Their vocation is “silence.” They sit all day in total silence to pray and meditate. That’s no way to make money. Instead they make delicious booze and sell it. In many Buddhist countries in Asia you see monks and nuns with begging bowls standing on the street corners or walking house to house begging for charity. It’s a way to learn humility while the collections sustain them financially.

As the society is increasingly secular, all who dedicate themselves to religious life must recover the sense of vocation. Artists have never lost it. In Japan when I was in the seminary preparing myself for my life in religious calling, the seminary offered the course to qualify us for a high school teacher’s certificate. Many of my former class mates in Japan supplement their income from other occupations often as school teachers. My nephew who is a minister of a small church in Tokyo supplements his income singing with a group of professional singers, in bars and cabarets, at birthday parties and wedding receptions, etc.

What distinguish humans from other animals is an unquenchable desire to see what’s beyond. We are never satisfied until we find what’s out there. So we make calculated guess called hypothesis and imagine what may be out there through artistic expressions, scientific research, and deep thinking: meditation. However, many of us do not have patience to bother and think it’s waste of time and money. But if everyone stops going after what we imagine, we will be the same as other living organisms interested only in eating, procreation, and survival.

When will we ever learn?

– P


“All wars are a symptom of human failure as a thinking animal.” – John Steinbach

Vladimir Putin is making a colossal mistake. Not only Russians and Ukrainians but also he himself will have to pay a terrible price for starting an unwanted war. History will remember him as a cruel sociopath responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent lives and destruction of beautiful country. When do we learn that war does not solve anything?

Homo sapience is the only species that fights war within the same species against each other. Other living organisms fight for food and sex partner but do not engage in wars. They don’t kill unknown strangers en mass. History has proven that wars never solve problems but worsen existing bad situations. Then what is Mr. Putin up to by invading Ukraine unprovoked? Outrageous madness! Thousands of innocent people have already died and more will. Millions became refugees. It is creating worse situations for all parties since German invasion of Poland in 1939. We must do everything to help save lives and to prevent all-out war.

Many pundits predict a devastating result of Putin’s fatal mistake not only on Russian and Ukrainian people but also on Mr. Putin himself personally. Many dictators died pathetic and often violent deaths. It will be a repeat of Soviet misadventure into Afghanistan during the 1980’s. It resulted in the downfall of the Russian Empire “USSR.” The bottomless quagmire dragged the Russian economy into the bottomless bog and turned the populace against the once powerful empire. Humans fought each other from time immemorial. History tells us that there haven’t been very many positive effects on the victors as well as on vanquished. No one wins a war. Like Bob Dylan lamented: “When will we ever learn?”

As World War II ended, severe recession fell on the U.K. It was so bad that people rejected the war hero Winston Churchill in the general election. American economy was going through a same doom and gloom. Severe recession fell. while Germany and Japan thrived in an economic miracle. A standup comedian Jackie Mason proposed a quick passage to prosperity. “Declare a war against Germany and Japan, and surrender next day. We get lots of foreign aid, and we will kick start economy.” Often comedians are a sharpest and acute observer like Charlie Chaplin was. The current president of Ukraine Valensky was a comedian. Mighty Russian army may be defeated by a comedian in a green T-shirt.

When I came to Canada in 1957, in Vancouver where I was appointed to the my first job in Canada, the city was full from the elites of Japanese business class who were representatives of trading companies. I had a luck (or misfortune) to get invited to the parties at the Consul General’s Residence often because some of them came to my church. Many of those businessmen were former officers of the defeated former Japanese military. They were full of passion for revenge but through commerce and technology: Buy up everything Canada wanted to sell: coal, lumber, oil, fish, wheat, oil, everything, and sell superior quality technological manufactured goods: cars, electronic gizmos, mortor-bikes, etc. The passionate conversation was frightening for one committed to Canada. I quit going there. In retrospect, I guess they succeeded not in the war but in commerce and technology. Germany can tell the same story. When will we ever learn? Nobody wins a war. Mr. Putin is trapped in the same bottomless qugmire and will be remembered as a blood-thirsty tyrant like Joseph Stalin.

About Life and Death


  • Reflection on my 90th birthday –

Rumour has it that Dustin Hoffman’s tombstone is expected to have an inscription: “I knew it would happen.”

Death is not a morbid subject of conversation. When I came to Canada in 1957, I found it strange that suicide was felony; condoms were hidden and sold from under the counter; and abortion and homosexual acts were illegal. I assumed it was the influence of Judeo-Christian culture to encourage procreation and to deny death. In Japan: “Death is real and Life is a sweet dream.” But it’s changed in Canada.

Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) is legal and a few thousand Canadians benefit from it every year. Gay ministers of religion have been around for more than a few years in major Christian denominations, and same sex couples have been marrying legally for a few years. Conservatives try to avoid the subject of abortion to keep the votes from the middle of the road.

On the surface the Bible is very anti-gay and against masturbation. Lesbianism is ignored because it does not prevent procreation, nevertheless they had been persecuted though there is no Biblical base to condemn it. It was all about preventing waste of sperms. “Thou shall not kill” was a commandment applicable only within the tribe, meanwhile killing members of other tribes was tolerated, even encouraged. They all point to the supreme directives: procreate and proliferate.

It made sense when untimely early death was common and all outsiders were ready to kill you. It was a dangerous and unhealthy world. Too many infants died, many more than those survived. Henry VIII married six wives but had only one male heir. Other tribes were enemies. Humans killed each other by the hundreds of thousands throughout history. Hence life was most precious and death was to be avoided at all cost.

Thank God paradigms shifted: Life and death are no longer oxymoron. They are two sides of a coin. We had dreaded death because too many people died too early, and too often suffered painfully.

I eat wisely, exercise regularly. I enjoy life: family, friends, food, and nature. Without sickness and violence, our natural life should be much longer than it is now. I am an optimist. Prophet Isaiah said, “One who dies at one hundred years will be considered a youth.” Reality is moving rapidly closer to Isaiah’s ideals. It’s not unusual to see obituaries of centenarians. Dying no longer has to be painful. We live longer, procreate and proliferate faster, and stay healthy to the extent that the major concern now is the unsustainable large population.

When Homo Sapience became self-conscious and aware of finitude, the reaction was denial: “They die, but I won’t. I am different: chosen, special, top of the food chain.” So we conjured up something like “god” who will tweak the nature and make us live forever. Imagination invented “Eternal Life.” But now we can live until we are tired of it. MAID rendered “eternal life” pointless. My mother died in sleep at 96 and 1/2 years. She was happy and healthy until the end. Near the end however she kept saying, “My friends are gone. I can’t play piano anymore. Foods don’t taste the same. What’s the point?” Her wish was not eternal life. She wanted rest.

I intend to live fully. When the end comes whoever is out there will take care of the rest. I am happy with that.


We were shocked and surprised how fast the Afghan government collapsed even after 20 years of the support by the world’s wealthiest countries. It cost billions of dollars and sacrifices of thousands of lives. It reminds me of collapse of the Nationalist Chinese government in 1947. It took only two years to disintegrate after Japan surrendered. It shows how little we learn from history, and how expensive it is to ignore lessons of history.

In spite of heavy investment in money and personnel by the United States and the allies, China in 1947, Vietnam in 1970, and Afghanistan in 2021 all collapsed fast. Douglass MacArthur, the victorious Supreme Commander of the World War in the Pacific and the in Korea said, “Anyone who contemplates another war in Asia has to have his head examined.”

I met an ex-solider when he came back from China. It was 1947: Japan surrendered in 1945. His regiment was disarmed and disbanded but returned home a few years later than others. The delay was caused by the Communist/Nationalist conflict in China. Only a few days after his unit had been disarmed, they were armed again under the command of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Chinese Nationalist government. They were ordered to make 180 degree about face to face the advancing the Communist “People’s Liberation Army” under Mao Zedong. The battle didn’t last long. The Nationalist command structure disintegrated soon and in two years China was taken over by the Communists. Speed was breath-taking.

The whole organization of the Chinese Nationalist Party escaped to Taiwan where it still resides. The victorious Western powers of the WWII, particularly the United States, who supported the Chiang Kai-shek long before “Pearl Harbour,” were shocked how easy and fast the collapse of the Nationalist China was. It was particularly frustrating considering the large sum of money and of deep commitment by American Air Force volunteer personnel who helped the Chinese Nationalists.

However, from the perspective of Japanese colonial expatriates who had to escape the advancing Chinese and Russian armies in North Eastern China, it was easy to understand what happened. Initially Japanese entrepreneurs who had had farms and factories in Korea and Manchuria, including my father’s family, found themselves hiding their valuables and disguise women and girls like men, to protect themselves against the advancing armies. They were commanded by the corrupt leadership whose soldiers were a bunch of thugs according to my uncle. But later the situation became a lot better and safer when the Chinese Communists’ People’s Liberation Army replaced Chinese Nationalists and Russians. They were better disciplined and orderly, said my uncle.

I wish someone good in historical analysis could tell me whyt happened in China in the 1940’s, in Vietnam in the 1970’s and in Afghanistan in the 2000’s where.



Thinking about the Federal Election, I found the following report very interesting. It deals with the question of who votes for whom.

It reports the survey done by an economist Thomas Piketty. It shows that in 1970 majority of highest earning and best educated voters in the most of the western countries supported right of centre political candiedates like Christian Democrats, and Conservatives, and Republicans. Meanwhile, the lower earning and the less educated farmers and labourers voted for the left of centre parties like the Democratic, CCF (NDP) in Canada, Labour, and Social Democratic parties. Forty years later in 2010 however, the same researcher found the rich stayed with the right of centre parties, but the well educated have switched their support to the centre left parties.

Picketty calls the wealthy business class who remained right of centre parties supporters, “Merchants Right,” and the educated who moved to the left, “Brahmins Left.” As for the less educated and the low income earners, they have switched their support to the right of centre parties. They are found as the core supporters of the populist right-wing causes like Donald Trump Presidency and Brexit. What happened during those forty years? The report does not say.

My guess as an amateur observer is that the “Brahmin Left” felt betrayed by the “Merchant Right.” The economic meltdown of 2008 had confirmed a suspicion that Market is amoral. The banks exploited the gullible average income public with products like sub-prime mortgage. Banks failed but were bailed out by government funds because they were “too big to fail.” Meanwhile the average income earners lost their homes, pensions, and life savings. Even the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, was appalled by the recklessness and amoral behaviours of the financial sector. “Merchant Right” chose profit rather than fairness. Nevertheless, the middle class youths who joined hippies and anti-war movements safely remained Middle Class.

I have a difficulty guessing what happened to the lower income and less educated masses who became Trump and Brexit supporters. It is possible that they have never embrased left-wing ideology. Their aspiration could always have been joining the filthy-rich class. They might have felt betrayed when they lost the jobs and homes while the elitist Brahmin Left remained comfortably middle class in academia, board room, or bureaucracy. They might have concluded that the educated Left are hypocrites and traitors.

As for those in the agricultural sector who joined the CCF during the depression and the 1940’s in Canada, with the shift from small scale family farms to capital intensive mechanized big business. They joined the “Merchant Right.”

If both Left and Right want to take back the lost ground, the Left must learn to talk to those who work in sweat and blood; and the Right must learn the way to appeal to the people who think.


For me, following Jesus means to join the company of his followers. I cannot do it alone. I am not brave. I witnessed the martyrdom of those who followed Jesus as they fought for justice in Palestine and South Africa. But I am like the Roman centurion who watched Jesus die on the cross from a safe distance and said, “This man was innocent.”

The people I accompanied were following Jesus in varied ways. Some were agnostics, humanists, Christians, or Muslims. Regardless of different labels, they were moved by the same spirit. Like the centurion who might have been a pagan, they reached the same conclusion as Jesus’ followers. They gave themselves entirely to the cause of justice, love, and peace – salaam – shalom. When a theological college awarded me an honorary degree, I did not feel worthy. I accepted it to celebrate those followers of Jesus I had known and named them in my acceptance speech. I am a witness to those who paid the ultimate cost of discipleship.

People must wonder if I am a reckless adventurer seeking excitement by being involved in the struggles of Palestinians and South Africans. It was not like that. I took the job that came my way, and realized the price of the choices I had unwittingly made. Nevertheless, I wanted to run every time I came face-to-face with harsh reality, like Peter did.

We went to Africa because, after eleven years in my first pastoral charge, I wanted change. I applied for an overseas posting with the United Church of Canada. Norman McKenzie, the personnel officer of the Division on World Outreach, asked me, “Africa or Asia?” I said “Africa.” He asked, “Lesotho?” I had never heard of such a country, but I said, “Yes.” That’s how I stumbled into the struggle against apartheid in South Africa in 1968. Was I seeking an adventure? No.

Lesotho is a tiny land-locked mountain kingdom surrounded by South Africa. The Paris Missionary Society of French Reformed Churches requested the United Church of Canada to recruit an English speaking person with a graduate degree in Theology. After a few months of orientation in Paris, we went to Lesotho where I met extraordinary colleagues and students. Some of their names you may recognize and others not, but each of them were equally committed to the struggle for justice.

Who were my colleagues and friends? Desmond Tutu was my colleague in Theology at the University of Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. John Osmers was the chaplain of the Student Christian Movement. Another colleague, Anthony Gann was already prohibited to enter South Africa. The university had many South African students who were activists in the Black Consciousness Movement created by Steve Biko. They came to avoid racially-segregated university education. One was Njabulo Ndebele, who later became President of the University of Cape Town. Another was Jama Mbeki, a brother of the second President of free South Africa, Thabo Mbeki. Jama simply disappeared from the campus in 1971. To this day, nobody knows what happened to him.

Others died in the struggle. In 1976, Mapetla Mohapi was found dead in a prison cell in King Williams Town. He was probably killed while being tortured. Police were trying to find the names of overseas financial supporters of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), of which the World University Service (WUS), my later employer, was one. Mohapi was the treasurer of BCM. His wife, Nohle, wrote to me that it was the worst possible time for her. Their first child was just born and they just had a roof repaired. Griffith Mxenge, who was a lawyer for the BCM, was found shot dead on the street a few months after he and I had a meeting in Lesotho to discuss administrative matters. A year after Mohapi’s death, Steve Biko was beaten to death in the same prison. The whole world knows what happened to Steve Biko. But there was no real difference between those who lived or died. Following Jesus means one accepts the risk, the roll of the dice.

Two of my friends, both Anglican chaplains, John Osmers and Michael Lapsely, were nearly killed by parcel bombs. They lost a few limbs but survived. Abram Tiro was blown to bits in exile in Gaborone, Botswana, with a parcel bomb. The bombs were sent from Geneva, most likely by Craig Williamson who I had thought to be my good friend. He pretended to be a refugee. In 1980, Craig was exposed to be a spy for the South African Police. Sometimes following Jesus means you may run into Judas.

In January, 1971, I was detained at the Detention Centre in Johannesburg Airport while returning from a conference in Tanzania. Thereafter, I was expelled and prohibited further entry into the Republic of South Africa. At the time, I had no idea why it happened to me. I was not looking for trouble. I had not done or said anything subversive.

I stayed in Lesotho for five more years not being able to leave the land-locked country. Dentists were available only in South Africa. I had to ask someone to take my car into South Africa for service. To go outside of the country, I had to fly via a South African airport where I was required to be escorted by Canadian embassy staff. It became impossible to send my daughter to an English language secondary school outside of the country. We had to leave Southern Africa.

I took up a position in the World University Service (WUS) International Headquarters in Switzerland. It enabled me to continue working with the same people in Southern Africa. I administered funds to support the work of those who were engaged in the struggle for the freedom in South Africa. I always flew to Lesotho to meet with my partners from South Africa as I was not allowed in. And I came safely home while others stayed to pay a price.

While still in Lesotho, I asked the Canadian Embassy in South Africa to discover the reason for my detention and expulsion. It took several years. Initially, the Canadian Embassy in Cape Town dismissed my request for inquiry. This was how their letter began, “As a Canadian of non-European origin, etc., etc.” It sounded as though I did something wrong and Canada had two-tier citizenship. There was a strong protest from the United Church of Canada, spearheaded by Garth Legge, General Secretary of the World Outreach and my home Conference of British Columbia. Mitchell Sharp, the Minister for External Affairs, finally apologized and informed me that it seemed the South African authorities saw me as undesirable because of the kind of colleagues and friends I had. I didn’t choose them: they were there when I got there. Following Jesus can place you among the outcasts.

I have also met brave people in Palestine when I worked for the Canadian Council of Churches from 1979 to 1990. Part of my job was to represent Canadian churches that supported the Middle East Council of Churches. Also, for three months in 2003, I joined the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program of the World Council of Churches and lived in the West Bank village of Jayyous. One day, some farmers were prevented to go to their fields by a barricade and curfew, leading to a tense encounter between them and Israeli soldiers. Many young Israeli peace activists and my co-workers in the Accompaniment Program rushed to be with the farmers to provide them safe space. There was tear gas shot into the crowd. Where was I? I ran away to wash my eyes with a raw onion, an antidote for tear gas. I had to face the fact that I was not brave. Following Jesus teaches you humility.

I met many brave Christian Palestinians in Gaza Strip and West Bank, including Constantine Dabbagh, Doris Saleh, and Albert Nursy. They were the members of the Refugee Service Committee of the Council of Churches. Another was Emil Aghaby, a wealthy businessman who volunteered to administer the Middle East Council of Churches’ program in the refugee camps in Lebanon. He was later found shot dead on the road. They were all well-educated, middle-class Palestinians. By the 1980s, most middle-class Palestinian Christians had left for safer living conditions in other countries, and their numbers dropped from 26 to 5% of the total Palestinian population in the Holy Land. But my colleagues stayed behind to help those who could not migrate. Many traced their ancestry to the original Christians: the original followers of Jesus.

Saying “yes” to Lesotho changed my life. By chance, it set me on the road to South Africa and to Palestine. And on the road to Emmaus. The encounters on that path taught me many lessons. Those with whom I walked paid a heavy price. I am a witness for them.

Remember their names


Statues of dead white people are falling down and some people say “You can not cancel history.” I agree. History must not be forgotten. Every historical figure should be remembered. But the question is who should be honoured. Some must not be forgotten but without honour. Hitler must never be forgotten but never honoured.

Problem is those guilty are remembered because they were white Europeans. The people who fell victims of inhuman acts were often forgotten because they were from other racial groups. John Newton was a slave ship captain for almost entire life but he is remembered lovingly just because of the hymn he wrote “Amazing Grace.” He wrote it later in his life after he became an abolitionist. However, does anyone remember his victims and recorded the names of those who were kidnapped and separated from family, chained and traded like animals, and during the storm thrown into the ocean as cargo in order to save the ship? Rendered nameless is the same as murdered but worse because they are not remembered.

I was once gullible enough to send more than $200 and spit as DNA sample requesting an information about my origin. After a month the result came back. I found that I was an East Asian and my ancestry came from somewhere North of Malay to the Northern Hokkaido island; West of Mongolia to the Eastern edge of Honshu Island of Japan, the area bigger than North America. Of course I knew that without paying 200 bucks. I guess they did not have data for a person who looked like me. Isn’t this called Systemic Racism?

We need a new system where every human is remembered by name. However we have a problem. We don’t have record. System had not thought to count everybody worth remembering, like thousands of children buried unmarked under the ground of former residential schools. They were priceless beloved children of parents and community. They all had names. I can not imagine the sleepless nights of agony waiting for them to come home, who never did.

Do you always lose something important when we move forward?

I am worried about the future of Newspaper. Are we not losing precious sector of our culture?

When you disembark plane or train, you are always asked to make sure you don’t leave anything important behind. However, every time you move forward in your life, you rarely think of what you leave behind could be important. Print media, for example, played a vital role in the advancement of civilization through renaissance, reformation, and democracy allowing ideas to flow freely and widely. Now print media are in existential crisis by the powerful tsunami of digital technology. What will we lose when we don’t have books, magazines, and newspapers?

Drawing attention to a similar challenge, Socrates told a story of the Egyptian King Thamus. He one day entertained the god of invention Theuth. He was known to have invented many things like algebra, number, calculation, astronomy, geometry, and writing, etc. The king thought about every invention carefully. He concluded that writing in particular was a bad idea. “When you acquire an ability to record spoken words in writing, you cease to exercise your ability to remember and become forgetful.” You don’t need the presence of persons anymore. Human becomes redundant. (“Techonopoly” by Neil Postman)

This is the story I love to tell often: An old man was sitting on the edge of an African mountain road, looking tired. You stop the car and offered him a ride. The old man declined and said, “I walked all day. I am sitting here for my spirit to catch up with me.”

What is it that we lose when we acquire the ability to record words in writing? When you can read words, there is no more need to sit around with family and friend to tell real and made-up stories, or catch up with your friends and spouses. The end of conversation means the end of community. End of cummunity means the end of humanity: “A person can only be a person with people.” (African oracle of Ubuntu)

We need to stop and sit from time to time to make sure we don’t leave anything precious behind as we are busily running trying to catch up with whoever and whatever is ahead of us. You have to make sure what’s new is better than what you leave behind. Is it more important to catch up with what’s on your phone than listen to your child? Your kid may be babbling nonsense but she is trying to tell you that she loves you.


1968 – 1980

For me, following Jesus means to join the company of his followers. I cannot do it alone. I am not brave. I am like the Roman centurion who watched Jesus died on the cross from a safe distance and said, “He was a good man.” I witnessed the martyrdom of those who followed Jesus. They fought for dignity of all people and for justice in Palestine and South Africa, like Jesus did for despised, poor, and sick. I can also be compared with John Mark, Barnabas’ nephew in the Gospel and the Acts of Apostles. Like him I walked with people who followed Jesus, but when I came face to face with the real test of strength of my faith, I got scared and ran away.

People I accompanied were all followers of Jesus but in varied ways. I don’t look at their labels: they were moved by the same spirit, like the Roman centurion who might have been a pagan but reach the same conclusion about Jesus as his followers did. Though they are labelled differently, they followed the same Jesus in spirit. They could have been atheists, agnostics, humanists, Buddhist, Christians, or Muslims. They believed in and gave themselves for the cause of justice, love, and peace – salaam – shalom. They were followers of Jesus just the same, just like Mahatma Gandhi and Dalai Lama.

When a theological college awarded me an honorary degree, I did not feel worthy. I accepted it to celebrate those followers of Jesus and named them in my acceptance speech. I am a witness to those who paid the ultimate cost of discipleship.

People must wonder if I am a reckless adventurer seeking excitement by being involved in the struggles of Palestinians and South Africans. It was not like that. I took the job that came my way, and paid the price of the choices I had unwittingly made. I wanted to run every time I came face to face with harsh reality.

We went to Africa because after 11 years in my first pastoral charge. I wanted change. I applied for overseas posting with the United Church of Canada. Norman McKenzie, the personnel officer of the Division on World Outreach, asked me, “Africa or Asia?” I said “Africa.” “Lesotho?” I had never heard of such a country, but I said, “Yes” to Lesotho. That’s how I stumbled into the struggle against apartheid in South Africa in 1968. Was I seeking adventures? No.

Lesotho is a tiny land-locked mountain kingdom surrounded by South Africa. The Paris Missionary Society of French Reformed Churches (La societe des mission Evangelique de Paris) requested the United Church to recruit an English speaking person with a graduate degree in Theology. So I went to Lesotho after a few months of orientation in Paris. Once in Lesotho I met colleagues like Desmond Tutu and Anthony Gann, and students like Steve Biko, Njabulo Ndebele, Jama Mbeki, and Shelagh Sisulu.

In January, 1971, I was detained for three days at the Detention Centre in Johannesburg Airport as I was returning from a conference in Tanzania. Thereafter, I was expelled and prohibited further entry into the Republic of South Africa. At the time I had no idea why such a thing could happen to me.

I stayed in Lesotho for five more years without being able to leave that land-locked country which is the size of Belgium. Dentists were available only in South Africa. I had to ask someone to take the car into South Africa for service. To go outside of the country, I had to fly via a South African airport where I was required an escort of a Canadian embassy staff. After five years without being able to get out of the land-locked country, the “prohibited Immigrant” status made it impossible to send my daughter to an English language secondary school. We had to leave Southern Africa.

I was recruited to take a position in the World University Service (WUS) International Headquarters in Switzerland. Our daughter went to a French language secondary school: no problem for a Canadian. The WUS position attracted me because it enabled me to continue to work with the same people in Southern Africa. My work involved administering funds to support people and their work who were engaged in the struggle for the freedom and justice for all people in South Africa.

While still in Lesotho, I asked the Canadian Embassy in South Africa to discover the reason for my detention and expulsion. It took several years for them to find it. Initially, however, the First Secretary of the Canadian Embassy in Cape Town dismissed my request for inquiry. This was how his letter began, “As a Canadian of non-European origin, etc., etc.” It sounded as though I did something wrong and Canada had two-tier citizenship. There was a strong protest from the United Church of Canada, spearheaded by Garth Legge, General Secretary of the Division of World Outreach and my home Conference of British Columbia. Mitchell Sharp, then the Minister for External Affairs finally apologized and informed me that it seemed the South African authorities saw me as undesirable because of my association with the kind of colleagues and friends I had. I didn’t choose them: they were there when I got there.

Who were my colleagues and friends? Desmond Tutu was one of my teaching colleagues in the Department of Theology at the University of Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. John Osmers was the chaplain of the Student Christian Movement. Another colleague in Theology, an Anglican priest from Britain, Anthony Gann, also became prohibited to enter South Africa. The university had many South African students activists in the Black Consciousness Movement created by Steve Biko. They were there to avoid the racially segregated university education. Jama Mbeki was one. And Njabulo Ndebele was another, who later became President of the University of Cape Town. Jama was a brother of the second President of free South Africa, Thabo Mbeki. Jama simply disappeared from the campus in 1971. To this day, nobody knows what happened to him.

I was not looking for trouble. I was there for work. I had not done or said anything subversive about South Africa. In 1976, Mapetla Mohapi was found dead hanging in a prison cell in King Williams Town, Eastern Cape Province. He was probably killed accidentally while being tortured. The police were apparently trying to find the names of the overseas financial supporters of the Black Consciousness Movement (BMC), of which WUS was one. He was the treasurer of BCM. His wife, Nohle, wrote to me that it was the worst possible time for her. Their first child was just born and they just had a roof repaired. A year after Mohapi’s death, Steve Biko was beaten to death in the same prison. Other staff were banned – house arrest. Griffith Mxenge, who was a lawyer for the BCM, was found shot dead on the street of King Williams Town a few months after he and I had a meeting in Lesotho to discuss administrative matters. I always flew to Lesotho to meet with my partners in South Africa since I was not allowed in. The whole world knows what happened to Steve Biko. But other martyrs remain mostly unknown.

Two of my friends, both chaplains and Anglican priests from New Zealand, John Osmers and Michael Lapsely, were nearly killed by parcel bombs. They lost a few limbs but survived. The bombs were sent from Geneva by Craig Williamson who I had thought to be my good friend. In 1980, Craig was exposed to be a spy for the South African Police. He had pretended to be a political refugee and came to Switzerland. Abram Tiro also was blown to bits in his exile home in Gaborone, Botswana, with a parcel bomb.

I have also met brave people in Palestine when I worked for the Canadian Council of Churches from 1979 to 1990. I was assigned to a job representing Canadian Churches that supported the Middle East Council of Churches. Also for three months in 2003, I was a member of Ecumenical Accompaniment Program of the World Council of Churches and lived in the West Bank in a village called Jayyous. One day, some farmers who were prevented to go to their fields by a separation barrier and curfew, there was a tense encounter between farmers and the Israel Defence Force soldiers. Many young Israeli peace activists and my co-workers in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program rushed to be with the farmers to provide them safe space. There was tear gas shot into the crowd. Where was I? I was running away washing my eyes with a raw onion, an antidote for tear gas. I had to come face the fact that I was not brave.

Emil Aghaby, who was the coordinator of the Refugee Program for Palestinians in Lebanon, was found shot dead on the road, a victim of mistaken identity. He was a wealthy businessman who volunteered time to administer the Middle East Council of Churches’ program in the refugee camps in Lebanon. I met many brave Christian Palestinians in Gaza Strip and West Bank. Constantine Dabbagh, Doris Saleh, Albert Nursy, to name a few. They were all middle class educated Palestinians. I met them as the members implementing the Refugee Service Program of the Middle East Council of Churches. When a majority of those middle class Palestinians Christians left the homeland for better and safer living in other parts of the world, they stayed behind to help their compatriots who had no resource to migrate. Palestinian Christians are better educated hence have better chance to migrate and re-establish their life in safer countries. Palestinian Christians used to constitute 26% of Palestinian population in the Holy Land. Remaining Christians are now less than 5% of Palestinians. The Holy Land has been empties out of native Christians. Many of them claim their ancestry to the original Christians.

They followed Jesus and paid the heavy price. I am a witness for them.



In Alberta, the term “socialism” is used to demonize or insult political opponents. I find the ways people use the word in Canada is often ridiculous. “NAZIS” stood for “National Socialism” in German. Labels like “socialism,” “terrorism,” and ”democracy”are so elusive that they can be meaningless.

Recently Mr. Maxim Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, a former Cabinet minister of the Harper Conservative government said on March 30th, 2021 at the zoom session of the Southern Alberta Council of Public Affairs, that the current Conservative Party of Canada had some “socialist” elements in the ranks. In the U.S., Republicans are trying to scare people suggesting that the Joe Biden administration is steering the USA towards radical socialism.

People who are blinded by ignorance and prejudice put Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians into one category and label them “terrorists.” I wonder if they know that the popular elected mayors of Calgary and Mayor of London England are Muslims? Do they know that the biggest numbers of Muslims are not Arabs but are Asians in India, Indonesia, and Pakistan? A CBC reporter, Neal MacDonald who used to report from conflicted regions of the world said that he would no longer mention the word “terrorism or terrorist.”

Two former Prime Ministers of Israel, Manahem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, were terrorists as far as the British government was concerned before 1947. Nelson Mandela had been called “terrorist” by most of the Western countries including Canada. He is a winner of Nobel Peace Prize. On the other hand, the mass shooters in America who kill dozens every year are almost all white male Americans, and are never called terrorists.

“Democratic” is another elusive adjective. The official name of the Communist Germany was “German Democratic Republic.” North Korea officially is “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” If you survey those countries which carry the label, many are nothing but democratic.

If you don’t know what it means, don’t mention it.

Aging ain’t for a sissy.


In Asian culture, old people are honoured and respected. So when I was ordained to be a minister, I tried to look older. The tenet still dictates my consciousness. I don’t want to be young again with all that struggle with self-confidence and frustration. Nevertheless, getting old is never easy.

The ultimate insult for a Japanese man’s ego is having to ask for a fork at a Japanese restaurant. The muscles of my hands atrophied and can not handle chopsticks any more. I drop things. Body parts are replaced by artificial ones one by one. At the bottom of the staircase, I don’t remember why I came to the basement. “Aging isn’t for a SISSY.” said late Stuart McLean. The most difficult is to be honest with one’s conditions without self-pity and whingeing. Someone who is trying to help you is not insulting you. You must recognize reality with dignity and accept help gracefully.

Once, at a board meeting of a not-for-profit organization, the discussion focussed on the status of one person’s membership on the board, who had become a liability. He seemed to have joined the organization only for power and social standing. The question was: “Why should he stay with us when nobody can work with him?” No one could think of a good reason to keep him. But one person pointed out, “But he’s got money.” The board kept him on.

When libido recedes and stomach shrinks, you find yourself more desperate to hang on to the only thing left, pride. Some men become more greedy: yes, mostly men. There is no more pathetic person than a shrivelling old man obsessed with wealth and power. I notice that the rich and powerful die about the same age as average people. What they crave don’t seem to add even a year to their lifespan. Death lets us know that pleasure, money and power are only for what Japanese call “ukiyo” – the fleeting world. You can not take them with you once you leave this world. Then I have to ask myself, “What for?”

It’s good that I do not make unwise decisions as often as before. It seems accumulated pieces of knowledge have been sifted through a mesh. Trivial and unimportant junk seems to have been deleted with a click. It’s time to sit and wait for the spirit to catch up with me.


I saw a woman of certain age at a restaurant, who was obviously addicted to her phone. She looked at and clicked on the devise every few minutes. Her table was next to ours. I felt guilty lurking, but could not help it because her behaviour was so extraordinary. Her sister, I assumed she was judging from the resemblance, kept putting her hand on sister’s phone to restrain her. In the end, the woman put her phone on her laps and continued checking it while eating dinner. If that was not addiction, what else could it be called? I shuddered to think of her driving a car. However, one sees similar scenes everywhere nowadays.

I saw a recent statistics showing that the traffic fatality caused by distracted driving is six times that of driving while intoxicated. It is 16% of all road fatalities. Most are cases of speaking or texting on the phone while driving. The report says it is now the leading cause of death on the road. It is a very serious problem, more serious than that of death by opioid overdose. Why is it then the problem is not talked about more prominently?

I understand that addiction to internet causes damages to the same organ made by other types of addiction like alcohol, drugs, and gambling. I also understand that internet addiction is caused by not merely psychological but also biological change. It is a serious public health issue. Digital technology has now become integral part of our life. Society would not function without it. Then the question is; what can you do to avoid the damaging effect of internet addiction?

Speaking as a recovered dialled-up “Chat Room” addict (remember those days?), the solution is the same as that for any other addictions: Disciplined consumption. It can be harder than “cold turkey.” Besides, total abstention often does not work. It has been tried before with drugs. We can get addicted to all sorts of things, not only to alcohol and drugs. But you can keep consuming under a strict regime with right amount, frequency, and timing, without being totally destroyed. We can avoid destructive result of addiction to devises by setting time, duration, and frequency. It takes will-power. Once it becomes a habit, it is easier. This is what we do with alcohol, food, and recreation; disciplined consumption. All can be good for you in moderation.


Many people hate wearing masks. They say: requiring masks and not allowing to gather for worship is an attack on the fundamental right to freedom. But we must remember that we wear masks primarily to prevent spreading deadly virus to other people, because we don ’t know if we are carrying virus or not. We are not free to endanger people’s lives: like driving through a red light, texting while driving, and indiscriminately shooting a gun.

Maybe some people like pubescent boys don’t want to be told. When WW II ended in 1945, many silly little rules were cancelled in Japan. I was an incorrigible grade seven 12 year old. “Free at last!” I decided to let my hair grow. During the war, all school boys had to keep their hair very short like an US Marine. I was summoned to the principal’s office. I got tired of cutting hair so often. My hair would not harm anybody except making me look like a weirdo, I said. They didn’t know what to do with me, but they knew they couldn’t force me to cut hair: I kept my hair.

Freedom is our fundamental right for sure. It’s the hallmark of liberal democracy. Freedom gives birth to creativity. However it is a particular dilemma for America where it’s sacred and a gun is the symbol. America is proudly a land of liberty. The Second Amendment gives the right to bear arms against arbitrary measures.

That’s why there are more creative people in America; but it is the most violent society. Americans have won the largest number of Nobel Prize in all fields. But it’s where the largest number of people killed by the guns held by fellow Americans: the second largest number of deaths after traffic accidents.

I treasure my freedom. I am keeping the same spirit of a 12 year old long hair wiredo. But I want to live a long life too.

Power of Art


I am not a Liberal Party supporter; never voted for them. But I dislike the way some people call Justin Trudeau a “former drama teacher” to mock him. Drama, as in many forms of art, is important for the quality of life. It forces us to advance our skills in thinking. Also it teaches us to communicate better. It also helps us to look into our life in depth. When you call someone a drama teacher as an insult, you are only exposing your lack of wisdom.

Powerful politicians of all colours are often excellent artists: Winston Churchill was an artist as a painter, an orator, and a writer that made him a powerful politician and the leader of free world. He saved civilization from fascism. If you make fun of Ronald Reagan calling him a “former movie actor,” you have overlooked his awesome skill in communication. He helped to bring about a profound change to the world which we now call “neo-liberalism.” Politics is the theatre that changes the world.

Charlie Chaplin was a philosopher and a social critic, not at all just a funny man on the silver screen. His social criticism was so cutting and effective that the mighty American establishment was mightily threatened and had to kicked him out of the country, and kept him out for decades. In the end Chaplin won. He received “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the “Academy.”

I often attend drama and music performances at the university. I notice every time the students active in performing arts excel also in academic disciplines. Ability to memorize one whole book to perform in a drama alone proves their mental capacity.

Millions of years ago, our ancestors made art on the wall of the cave. Art is what makes us human, because it makes us imagine and think. Art nurtures creativity and productivity. Belittle it at your peril.



I saw a woman of certain age at a restaurant, who was obviously addicted to her phone. She looked at and clicked on the devise every few minutes. Her table was next to ours. I felt guilty lurking, but could not help it because her behaviour was so extraordinary. Her sister, I assumed she was judging from the resemblance, kept putting her hand on sister’s phone to restrain her. In the end, the woman put her phone on her laps and continued checking it while eating dinner. If that was not addiction, what else could it be called? I shuddered to think of her driving a car. However, one sees similar scenes everywhere nowadays.

I saw a recent statistics showing that the traffic fatality caused by distracted driving is six times that of driving while intoxicated. It is 16% of all road fatalities. Most are cases of speaking or texting on the phone while driving. The report says it is now the leading cause of death on the road. It is a very serious problem, more serious than that of death by opioid overdose. Why is it then the problem is not talked about more prominently?

I understand that addiction to internet causes damages to the same organ made by other types of addiction like alcohol, drugs, and gambling. I also understand that internet addiction is caused by not merely psychological but also biological change. It is a serious public health issue. Digital technology has now become integral part of our life. Society would not function without it. Then the question is; what can you do to avoid the damaging effect of internet addiction?

Speaking as a recovered dialled-up “Chat Room” addict (remember those days?), the solution is the same as that for any other addictions: Disciplined consumption. It can be harder than “cold turkey.” Besides, total abstention often does not work. It has been tried before with drugs. We can get addicted to all sorts of things, not only to alcohol and drugs. But you can keep consuming under a strict regime with right amount, frequency, and timing, without being totally destroyed. We can avoid destructive result of addiction to devises by setting time, duration, and frequency. It takes will-power. Once it becomes a habit, it is easier. This is what we do with alcohol, food, and recreation; disciplined consumption. All can be good for you in moderation.


The WW II ended in 1945: Many silly little life-style restrictions also ended in Japan. I was an incorrigible grade seven boy. Free at last! I decided to let my hair grow. Under the war-time regime, all school boys had to keep their hair very short. Only one shaggy head among several hundred short cropped hairs: mine must have stood out.

It took a while for people in the administration to decide how to handle the new situation. I was called to the principal’s office. They asked me why I had to look different. They didn’t know what to do with me, but they knew they couldn’t force me to cut my hair. I said, I got tired of cutting hair so often. Besides I said, my hair would not harm anybody except making me look weird.

Many people seem to have a problem wearing masks. Is the face mask the same question as length of hair? Is it attack on fundamental rights to freedom? I disagree. We wear a mask to prevent transmission of virus to other people; we don’t know if we have virus or not. But some people don’t see it that way. A face mask is uncomfortable. Maybe some people simply don’t like to be told, like the boy in the grade seven.

We do have the rights to liberty but we do not have freedom to endanger people’s lives. It’s like ignoring the traffic lights or texting while driving. Gun ownership poses the same problem.

Of course freedom is our fundamental right. It’s the hallmark of liberal democracy. It’s also what makes us creative and dynamic. Autocracy stifles creativity and is an attack on human dignity. It is a particular American dilemma. The U.S.A. is proudly a land of liberty. Freedom is sacred. The Second Amendment gives the right to bear arms against arbitrary measures.

That’s why Americans are creative and their society violent. Americans have won the largest number of Nobel Prize in many fields. Meanwhile it’s where the largest number of people killed by the guns held by fellow Americans: the second largest number of deaths after traffic accidents.

I treasure my freedom. I hold dear the same spirit of a long hair wiredo. But I want to live longer too.

Glass Ceiling created a new class of professionals


About three decades ago, we began to see more women in theological schools overtaking men. We see the same trend unfolding in Law and Medical Schools. The result is apparent at the press conferences on Covid-19. Many women appear as Chief Medical Officers representing Provinces. The same is true of other professions like law and veterinary medicine. Likewise you see larger number of persons from ethnic minority groups in those professions.

Though it is a positive development, it also exposes a negative side. We have seen misogynist and racist attacks on women by angry white men, such as the one against Dr. Theresa Tam, the Federal Chief Public Health Officer by Conservative politicians. Some people have not quite caught up with the 21st Century. They will soon find themselves left in the museums like stuffed dinosaurs.

Another important point is that it reveals the invisible wall built around the big corporate board rooms. Large number of women and persons from minority ethnic groups in the professions is the result of the barrier. For many decades, many Jewish parents have encouraged their children to go into law and medicine. Americans and Canadians of Asian descent have followed suit close behind.

According to a sociologist who specializes in “Sociology of Work,” there is an unspoken protective barrier around the class that controls big corporations. For women, it has been known as the “glass ceiling.” It prevents women and minority groups to join the clique of highly paid executive men and/or membership in the “board room.”

In Japan, it is called “Gakubatsu,” which is “old boys’ network” from elite universities, like Keio, Todai, and Waseda, that controls the board rooms and the government bureaucracy. Few people admits its existence, but it’s there. “Collegiality” is the excuse they use to exclude capable women and minority.

The result is law and medicine have become the choice for those women and people of minority groups who are excluded from high executive positions and the board rooms of big corporations. In law and medicine, skills count more than the connections with “Dad’s old buddies,” When I came to Canada in 1957, I worked among Japanese Canadians. I saw it was common for parents to encourage their children to go into law and medicine. And they did.

Crucified Santa Claus


Ginger Beef was concocted in Alberta, not original Chinese. Chop Suey is American food in Chinese style. We are lucky that we live in the 21st Century when we enjoy many things from other cultures like those foods. I am happy also we are free to adapt them to suit our taste. There are many examples:

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden in Lethbridge is called “Canadian Garden in Japanese style.” All trees are Canadian that look like Japanese. Many native Japanese plants do not survive Canadian winter.

Poutine was food for working class Quebeckers. Original ingredients are just fries, cheese curd, and gravy. It is only recently it began to appear with many add-ons like chicken bits. Ramen has the same story. It was cheap street food for students, only Chinese noodles in pork broth. California Roll is not Japanese. It’s American sushi. Pineapple bits on Pizza? Italians would look at it with horror.

I was once surprised by quality of rice cooked for sushi which was prepared by a couple of well known otherwise first class kitchens in town. Fussy Japanese sushi gourmands would be dismayed. Well, let them. Many people didn’t mind and loved it. It’s O.K. so long as people like it and are willing to pay for it. It’s Japanese style Canadian sushi.

We have to watch out for appropriation or misappropriation of cultural and traditional practices and sacred symbols. Last Spring, I attended a wedding in Yokohama celebrated at a commercial wedding chapel. The building was a cheap imitation of a Baroque period European church. Attendants, females included, dressed like Franciscan monks. Japanese young people think Christian wedding is cool though most of them are not Christians. I was dismayed by the blatant appropriation of Christian ritual. Often, the person officiating the ceremony is an European or anyone with white skin. Japan like many European countries legal marriage is civil done at city halls or registry, and religious part is only social; officiant is not required of licence.

The worst was the Crucified Santa Claus hung in department stores in Tokyo. It was a response to the criticism of absent religion during unabashed Christmas Sales. Appropriation of Indigenous culture is just as grotesque: it’s cultural thievery and desecration of the sacred.

We celebrate many cultures today that had until recently been strange to us. Culture and language define our identity. We deny culture we deny people’s existence. We nearly succeeded in destroying the people who accepted us to the land we now live on. Treat culture and tradition with respect. They define what we are.

Cats are annoying. We love them.

Bad manners in public discourse is a sign of decaying civilization.

Some people never agree with anything you say. They have to say “no” first. Relationships break up when one side always insists “I’m right.” You should realize if you know someone who never disagrees with you, he is a boot-licking liar.

Can we agree to disagree without calling names, and continue talking? Disagreement is not a sign of a dysfunctional society. It’s natural. We are all different from each other. It’s normal. It’s OK if we do not accept what is offered or said without checking it. The civilized society knows how to deal with disagreement constructively.

You put a cat on a nicely fluffed up cushion. It has to get up, sniffs at it, walks around it as though there is something wrong with it, and finally lies down on that very same spot on the cushion. If you love the cat, you have to learn to be patient. More so with people.

Some people are like that. If you say ‘this,’ they say ‘that.’ When you see red, they say “It’s sort of red.” Many professors are like that. They have to say “no” first as a mark of a learned person. In Japan such a person is called “heso magari.” Literal translation is, “a person with a crooked navel.” I don’t know where ‘belly button’ comes from, but it means “an annoying contrarian.” Kings of yesteryears used to chop the head off of anyone who contradicted them. We know some dictators who behave like that today.

We are all different and independent minded. We think, disagree and question first. When your child begins to ask, “Why?” you should be happy. The kid is growing up. We are all different. It’s a mark of Homo Sapiens. The trick is to accept the difference as normal and to find the way to live together on a small boat without throwing anyone overboard. Good manners help you do that.

Decriminalization is the way to solve opioid crisis

Regarding opioid crisis, I want to begin speaking about three addicts I knew personally. None of them was a criminal. Thinking about them I have realized that the solution may have to be de-criminalization, like in Portugal. Prohibition of alcohol during the 1920’s failed totally. “War on Drugs” has failed too. When the law requires impossibility it emboldens criminals.

Prof. Zenta Watanabe got doctorate in Germany and was a well known Old Testament scholar in Japan when I was at the Tokyo Union Theological Seminary during the 1950’s. He was a heroin addict. It started with prescription after a major surgery. He was persuaded to go for rehabilitation through total abstention. It was so difficult he attempted suicide several times. He said he would never recommend abstention as a solution.

My grand father, Dr. Yukichi Takeda was a veterinarian served in the Japanese Imperial Cavalry during the Ruso-Japan War of early 1900’s. He saw the worst. I found only recently that he was an addict all his life. I guess it’s called PTSD today. He managed to look normal and conducted an active working life until he died at the age of 82. I remember the smell of disinfectant every time I walked into his den. Being a veterinarian, he had an easy access.

I met many damaged souls when I came to Canada. Japanese Canadians were released from internment and gradually returning to the coast. Visiting the Mental Hospital in Fraser Valley was my regular routine. J.O. was addicted to substance but wanted desperately to be rehabilitated. Many times he went into the rehabilitation program; failed every time. He died trying, a few years later.

In the Victorian England, opium was a common recreational drug like alcohol and was sold in any drugstore. Connan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Browning, George Elliot and many other prominent people were well known regular users. It was a profitable commodity for the East India Company. England waged a war against China when it tried to stop opium import. England was a world’s biggest drug dealer then.

We take some kinds of substance for recreation. Alcohol for example. Many painkillers contain opioid. Many cultures have used substance of some kind, like qat, coca, cola nuts. Abused them, they are addictive and toxic. But with control they can be medicinal. Current crisis is the result of illegal product of questionable quality produced by criminal elements.


Why do we have to avoid what we like: FAT, SALT AND SUGAR


Life is unfair. I have to stay away from what we crave. I have to watch the intake of fat, salt, and sugar to stay healthy. I think our body has not evolved to live in time of plenty. Our body is still conditioned to live like hunter gatherers. When you have to run after the animals for meat and walk all day to pick berries and seeds, find edible grass and roots under the hot Sun, you have to consume fat, salt, and sugar whenever you find them. But those things are available easily today; and they are killing us. Like a drug used as effective painkiller is now seen as a curse.

When I was a child in Japan there was a popular caramel candy called “Glico.” It came in the box of ten. I loved it. On the box it said, “One is worth 200 meters” with a picture of a runner. The message is: one candy gives you energy to run 200 meters. But we don’t run 200 meters every time we eat a candy.

Carbohydrate intake turns into sugar. We burn it to generate energy. Surplus sugar turns into fat and is stays in our body. Most of us do not move enough to burn it all up so the amount of stored fat becomes bigger and bigger. Our heart has to work harder to bring oxygen to the increasingly bigger body mass. Consequently obesity has become ubiquitous, and heart decease is now the major cause of death.

Fat is important for survival at the time of want. It supplies source of energy from within. It’s why when food is scarce big people survive better than skinny people. They eat what’s stored in their body. Likewise, salt retains water in our body under the hot Sun: it cools the body and prevents heat-stroke. When I first went to Africa for volunteer work in 1964, the organizer gave everyone anti-malaria pills and salt tablets.

The body of Homo Sapiens has not yet evolved to dislike superfluous nutrient. We lust for big fat juicy hamburger and fries, with sweet soda drinks: all fat, salt, and sugar. We are indulging ourselves to death. So we have to go to gym, to suffer the dictate of diet, and banish natural desire. I know it’s unfair. But that’s life.

SWITZERLAND – I worked for the World University Service in Geneva, Switzerland


by Tad Mitsui

I was employed by the International Office of the WUS in Geneva, Switzerland from 1975 until 1979. My job title was Associate Secretary for East and Southern Africa. I administered the largest funds in Southern Africa, namely Zimbabwe (as was called Rhodesia then) and South Africa. I was assigned also to keep contact with the national committees in Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Rhodesia, and Lesotho. There was no WUS Committee in South Africa but the WUS International worked directly with the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) for white students and the South African Students Organization (SASO) for blacks. I was also a lead contact with the committees in Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea because of my language ability.

I visited all the above national committees at least twice during my tenure, except for South Africa. When I was hired by the WUS International, I had been a “prohibited immigrant” in South Africa since 1971 following a brief incarceration and expulsion. So, I was not able to visit South Africa from Geneva, though it was where WUS International raised and spent the largest sum; Rhodesia being the number two. I met with South African project holders often in Lesotho. Other times, they came to Geneva.

* I once asked Richard Taylor, General Secretary, to visit all the WUS supported programs in South Africa.  I was very excited that Richard managed to spend time even with Steve Biko who was under house arrest as a  banned person.  Little did we know that Richard was followed by the security police everywhere he went.  We planned the whole excursion on consultation with Craig Williamson, who was working for the IUEF (International University Education Fund) as Deputy Director.  After I left Geneva, in 1980 Williamson was exposed to be a spy for the South African Police, a captain in the Special Branch. 

I was made aware of WUS for the first time by a plaque at the entrance of the university library in Lesotho in 1970. The plaque indicated the building was the donation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the WUS. I tried to find the WUS Committee in Lesotho. There was none. The committee had existed apparently but was disbanded. The relation with WUS was severed after the decision of the WUS General Assembly to establish contacts with anti-Apartheid movements and organizations. The Vice Chancellor at the time was British who did not think that keeping the connection with the organization explicitly against South Africa prudent because of the presence of a large number of South African students. It must have been the sign that a change was happening in WUS. In the 1960s many altruistic and activist organizations were shifting the emphasis towards social justice and away from merely charity and welfare.

In 1974, as Dean of Students of the university I encouraged students to revive the national WUS committee. I thought it would be a way for them to be involved in community and national development. The Committee did revive and was recognized at the 1974 WUS General Assembly. When the WUS Lesotho Committee was recognized, the new University Vice Chancellor was very pleased seeing a WUS national committee as an important channel of international assistance.

Among 12 national committees I was assigned to – nine were in Africa and three in Asia, – I observed that there were three categories of programs being implemented:
(1) Service to the students typically by providing important facilities e.g. libraries, residential accommodations and tuberculises sanatoria;
(2) Assistance to international students particularly refugees and disadvantaged students by unjust policy and system.
(3) participation in community development and popular consciousness raising programs.

Categories 1 and 2 were the original type of WUS programs in Europe after the World War I, which provided opportunity to continue university education for the prisoners of wars and the students with tuberculosis. Scholarships to refugee students displaced by war, civil unrest, and those disadvantaged by unjust society were a part of the category 2.

I classify most of the consciousness raising programs to No.3. They were, for example, the South African Committee for Higher Education (SACHED) and a few community development programs in black townships. There were several programs carried out by Black Consciousness Movement headed by Steve Biko. There was only one rural development program, which was based in an university; it was in Rwanda. I found it interesting that Tanzania and Zambia committees had not found their new niche after the governments introduced university students national service for development. Their Presidents’ (Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda) socialistic philosophy pre-empted WUS’s impetus. They have not found a new direction after ‘bricks and mortar’ foreign aid program in the WUS’ donor community became redundant.

  1. Of the committees I had related to, Sudan, Korea, and Japan focussed more on category one. Student residence s were in Khartoum in Sudan and Seoul in Korea and in Tokyo Japan. I believe Japan had a TB sanatorium as well. It was no longer there when I visited from Geneva.
  2. Scholarships: Burundi, Lesotho, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) administered scholarship program. In South Africa it was implemented by NUSAS which was a scholarship programs for black medical students and political prisoners. Burundi and Uganda administered the scholarships for Tutsi refugee students who escaped violence in Rwanda. They were the victims of the Hutu dominated government’s ethnic cleansing policy. In Lesotho, the WCC took over the WUS scholarship program for South Africans after the national committee was disbanded. WCC transferred the funds directly to the University administration, and it selected the recipients. Because scholarship administration required strict accounting protocol, all scholarship programs had volunteer financial administrators under national committee oversight. Most of my time was spent to keep contact with the administrators in stead of volunteer student committees. Administrators were mostly faculty members.

Program in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe was by far the largest in terms of the size of funds as well as the number of recipients. It was the program to support all black students at the University of Salisbury. Though the university admitted all races on A level school leavers, most black students could not afford the cost which was determined by the average income of white population: Hence the scholarship assistance. Source of funds was the WUS committees in Canada, Denmark, and the U.K. and one government direct, Sweden. WUS committees received their contributions from the government aid agencies also. Even in the implementation of scholarship programs, what should be noted was the shift from emphasis on welfare to social justice. All WUS scholarships were social justice actions fighting political and social injustice..

  1. Participation in development: a shift from welfare programs to an emphasis on social justice must have grown from the mere support of refugee students to include the support of students who were disadvantaged due to discrimination and other unjust practices. This shift towards social action programs included consciousness raising popular education to create more just society, it became massive and effective such as News Paper Education Supplement, and was exemplified by programs such as one created by the South African Committee on Higher Education (SACHED) and the Domestic Workers’ Project to make maids, nannies, and gardeners more aware of their conditions and their rights. The fact that those popular education programs quickly became the target of attack by the South African government proves that it was effective. News paper education supplement and the educators were banned very quickly. All the funds for South African programs were Swedish government grants. SACHED was the biggest program in terms of the size of funds in the WUS International.

One curious twist I found was in Rwanda: There was an active agricultural reserach program implemented by WUS students at the National University of Rwanda directly funded by Canadian government, in Butare in Southern Rwanda. I found it creative and well run. When I visited the university, the student body was exclusively from people of Hutu ethnic group. It might have been the result of civil unrest and exodus of the Tutsi population. It is an interesting question why the violent persecution, even the massacre and resultant exodus of the Tutsis produced an university where students were all Hutu and keenly interested in rural development. Was it accidental? I never had time to solve the puzzle. A decade and a half later, the genocides of the Tutsi by the Hutu government happened.

Another interesting feature of some WUS national committees was the relationship with the Student Christian Movement (SCM). I found this in Japan, Korea, and Zambia. Of course, until 1970, WUS International office was sharing the same building and services such as the receptionist and the custodian on rue Calvin in the historical old Geneva on the hill, with the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF), which is the international headquarters of the SCM. Japan and Korea still operated student residences with strong tie with SCM. In Zambia, the WUS committee did not have any WUS program. It looked like a SCM national chapter. I know this because before I joined WUS in 1975, I was Regional Director of the South African UCM (SCM) for Lesotho and Orange Free State.

Finally, let me say a few words about the International office of the WUS in Geneva. The running of the office in Geneva on rue Cointrin was not in my job descriptions. For that reason, I never raised a serious alarm about the existential problem of the WUS International. However, I thought there were two dangerous aspects. Firstly, there was an over-dependence on government funding exclusively for Southern Africa programs; and secondly the source of largest amount of funds for Southern Africa was mostly from one country namely Sweden, where WUS had no national counterpart. Yet, the cost of running the office in Geneva was mainly financed by Swedish government funds as the fee for administration, which created a sort of organizational instability.

I conclude with the challenge from the experience of working in the World University Service in regards to the role of Civil Society, such as NGO, in the global human family. There has to be a balance of power between three sectors of global human family: Market, Civil Society, and Government. Margaret Thatcher said, “There is no such thing as SOCIETY. There is only MARKET.” Charles de Gaulle said, “Government has no CAUSE only INTEREST.” The demise of WUS International is the result of NGO losing its independence as it turned into GONGO (Government sponsored NGO.)

PENTECOST: Arrogant word divides. Spirit of Love unites

Genesis 11: 1 – 9, Acts 2: 1 – 12

“Arrogance divides, Spirit unites”
Genesis 11: 1-9
Acts 2: 1-13

There is a story about people who were very arrogant in the Book of Genesis, chapter two. They thought they were so clever that they could reach the sky and God. They started to build a very tall tower determined to reach the sky where they thought god lived. The tower never reached the sky because of language difference among the workers. If you think, “I know everything” and dismiss what others say, you are acting like those ancient builders. Different languages were the God’s way to punish arrogant people. Marriage and friendship will not last very long either, if you think you are never wrong and only others are.

You hear the same arrogant words in today’s politics. The man with big ego says: “Whatever I say is always right. Others are “fake news.” He is now the most divisive figure we have ever had. God’s punishment for such arrogance is a divided nation. Canada is not doing any better. When you think you are perfect and never make mistake, you can not hear the truth. That is how a country falls apart. Friendship and marriage fail too. Dalai Lama said, “When you speak you are repeating yourself. When you listen to others you are learning something you didn’t know.”

I don’t think it is language as such that breaks up relationship. It’s the idea behind word that does it. A word is an expression of what you have in mind. When you know another language, you know it is impossible to translate one language into another to say exactly the same thing, because different peoples think differently. You think differently depending on culture and tradition. So your words can never find the one in a foreign language with exactly the same meaning.

For example: 1. At one General Council of the UCC, delegates debated the question of the authority of the Bible. They spent two days debating if the Bible is “an” authority or “the” authority of our faith. I thought it was such a waste of time. Because I didn’t understand what the whole fuss was all about. You see, there is no article as such, definite or indefinite, in Japanese and Sesotho.

  1. There is no such word as “NO” in Japanese and Sesotho. They are polite people. They never say “no” to another person. If you don’t agree, you say something like, “Yes, but.”
  2. On the shore of Lake Galilee, three times the risen Christ asked Peter if he loved him. The word “love” Jesus used (agape) is not in English language. But Peter answered every time using the word people often used for love. He was distressed that Jesus asked the same question three times. The problem here was that there is no one word for love in the Bible: there are at least three: agape, eros, and phileo. They mean three different kinds of love. Peter answered that he “loved” him as we love our parents, children, friends, sisters and brothers. The word is phileo. But Jesus asked if Peter loved him with the kind of love that has no English translation, agape, King James version translated it “charity” not love. The word Jesus used was the kind you give up everything for love. It’s the kind of love even when you don’t like the person.

On the day of Pentecost, the Book of Acts reports people started to speak different languages and different people heard the same messages in their native tongues. It is because they were possessed with the same spirit of the Risen Christ, who lived the life of love. They were possessed with that spirit of Christ. This is spirit that makes many people understand each other despite the difference of language.

People were eager to speak of the Good News of perfect love that the life and teaching of Jesus Christ demonstrated. People saw that such life never dies. They were so possessed by the conviction that Love of Jesus did not end on the cross. So, they were overcome with joy that they could not keep their mouths shut. When you are willing to learn the languages of other people, it means you are showing your willingness to understand and communicate with those people on their terms, not yours.

On the day of Pentecost, people spoke in different languages and understood each other. They understood each other because they felt the spirit of the one who lived God’s love. When there is spirit there will be unity despite language difference.

Bible is a collection of diverse ideas


  • How to read Esther, Ruth, Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs –

For many centuries, the Church had tried to see the Bible as the book that would bring unity of faith. Christians believed there was one continual chain of thoughts; ultimately reaching a consensus – one correct doctrine. However, after two thousand years we are discovering that is not possible. The churches are divided as ever. We must realize the Bible is a collection of diverse literature arranged laterally, like a drug store shelf displaying different brands of nutrition supplements. Linear approach to understand it does not work. The Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament is a good example where even opposing views are co-existing side by side.

* When the Hebrew word “wisdom” was translated into Greek, the feminine word “Sophia” was chosen.  It introduces an image of God as a female figure.  So, I believe in the fourth person of God, Wisdom, in addition to God the creator, Jesus the human, and the spirit the friend.

The Old Testament is normally divided into three categories of literature: Torah (Law) – Genesis to Deuteronomy, Prophets (history) – Samuel to Ezekiel and13 minor prophets, and Wisdom Literature. All of them refer extensively but often not factually, to the history of Hebrew people. In this paper, I propose to discuss the thirdt category, Wisdom Literature.

I bundle the following books into one category as Wisdom Literature: Esther, Ruth, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of songs (Song of Solomon.) Some Biblical scholars do it differently by including some prophets and history books as Writings such as Jonah and Daniel in this category because they are mostly fictitious and stand on thinner ice to claim historicity than other Torah and Prophets.

One thing that distinguish them from Torah and Prophet is its diversity of content. For one thing, it is impossible to find any unity of thoughts among them. Esther and Ruth for example. Esther is adamantly Hebrew nationalist, and Ruth is delightfully universalist: totally opposing views. In other words, it is impossible to find any co-relation between them to formulate one cohesive doctrine: Diversity prevents any simple and homogeneous description of one unified faith. In this sense, they are very appropriate to be quoted in our age of diversity and ecumenism (unity as humans, not of one faith as such). This is rather astonishing as we have long considered Judaism as the founding faith of monotheism (belief in one God), such as Christianity and Islam. It is ironical that the two religions are notorious in history for their intolerance and doctrinal conflicts and disputes. Wars have been fought over doctrinal differences and heretics were burned at the stake.

Also they include different types of literature. Psalms are hymns; Esther, Jonah, and Ruth are fictions; Proverbs are exactly that, “proverbs”; Lamentation and Song of Songs are poems; and Ecclesiastes is like a collection of succinct sayings of sages. In other words, they are not related to each other, and they lack of unity of thought. It means they were not compiled in one book in linear sequence but offer lateral thinking. They do not demand “either or” choice but rather “and also” inclusion.

I think there is a reason for this. They were written by people who were exposed to different cultures and the cosmopolitan way of living in a pluralistic society, like ours. All those books I mentioned the above as Wisdom Literature were included in the Hebrew holy books after traumatic experience of defeat and exile as captives in Babylon. ((Circa 600 – 400 B.C.E.) Up until then, the experiences of defeat had not caused to question their faith in their God, Yahweh. In fact, some of them strengthened it because of suffering and made them stronger in their resolve in their faith in one God. Liberation from slavery in Egypt gave them the nature of God as the Law, thus giving them a stronger self-consciousness as the God’s Chosen People. The secret of their strength after Holocaust is another example.

However, the exile in Babylon was different. Unlike enslavement of common masses of labourers by Egyptians, Babylonians selected and removed the Jewish elite; aristocrats, educated, priests, and scribes (scholars) away from the populous. It was a cultural and spiritual genocide, that left the masses without the caretakers of the spiritual foundation and the traditions. Many who remained in Palestine were uneducated and easily became acculturated into pagan spirituality, and intermarried racially and religiously. Furthermore those in captivity were also exposed to different cultures, and often forced to practice different religions. It was impossible not to be influenced by them. Wisdom literature was the result.

When they were liberated by Persian King Cyrus, and were allowed to return to the homeland on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, there were two different groups among the returnees: Nationalist Traditionalists and Cosmopolitan Universalists. The first was led by Ezra and Nehemiah, who gathered people in Jerusalem and read Torah known as the books of Moses in pubic squares. Esther is the fiction representing a typical example of this school of thought. The second group was pluralist who accepted the cultural and religious practices that the traditionalists adamantly rejected such as inter-racial and inter-religious marriages such as Samaritans. Ruth is a good example of that tolerant attitude. It’s intriguing to note that two opposing views are complied into one Holy Book as the Old Testament as we know it.

Also, because those captives were educated elite, they were able to observe foreign culture and spiritual practices of their captors. That experience was devastating, but also educative. Traditionalists rejected to heed the wisdom in those foreign sayings and poetic traditions; insisted on purity of race and spirituality; like Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. But cosmopolitan pluralist recognised the value of foreign traditions, and adopted lot of their wisdom and interracial marriage were valued. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Ruth are the examples. It is interesting to note that today among many religions the same dichotomy exists: Exclusivists and Universalists e.g. Fundamentalist and Liberal Christians; Orthodox and Reform Synagogues, Radical Jihadists and Muslim majority.



When theological schools began to see more women than men, the same trend was unfolding in Law and Medical Schools. That was more than three decades ago. We see the results at the press conference where mostly women are Chief Medical Officers of the Provinces. The same can be said of other professions like dentistry, veterinary, and law: you see more women. Also you see larger number of persons from minority ethnic groups.

Though it is a positive development, there is a dark side to this trend. There are misogynist and racist attacks, at times violent, by angry white men. The attack on Dr. Theresa Tam, the Federal Chief Public Health Officer is an example. This shows some people have not quite caught up with the 21st Century. They will soon find themselves left on the dusty shelf of antiques. They may also find themselves without a family doctor if they insist on being seeing by a white male physician.

Another interesting thing about the trend in question is the reason for larger number of women and persons from minority ethnic groups in the professions. There is an invisible wall built around the big business. For many decades, persons of Jewish ancestry have led the way encouraging their children to go into law and medicine. Americans and Canadians of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean background have followed suit. Why?

According to a Sociologist who specializes in “Sociology of Work,” there is an unspoken protective barrier around the class that controls big corporations. It’s like a transparent plexiglass. For women, it is known as the “glass ceiling.” It prevents them to join the high executive positions and/or membership in the “board rooms” of multi-billion dollar corporations. In Japan, it is often “old boys’ network” of elite universities that controls the board rooms. It’s called “Gakubatsu.” Few people admits its existence, but it’s there. Just look at the number of universities where they come from. The excuse is “collegiality.”.

The result is law and medicine have become the choice for those who are excluded from high executive positions in big corporations, namely women and minorities. In law and medicine, skills count not the connections with “old buddies,” When I came to Canada in 1957, I worked among Japanese Canadians. I saw it was common for parents to encourage their children to go into law and medicine. And they did.



Suppose I inherit a rich uncle’s money: Common sense tells me that I should invest it, and dip into the capital only in an emergency. You live with what you earn. Saving account is for rainy days. Do not plan to live on it. Canada is wealthy thanks to natural resource. But we are taking money out of our inheritance and are living on it.

Canadians are lucky to live in a country with so much natural resource. It is the gifts from God, Mother Nature or whatever. We didn’t earn it. It was gifted to us. It was here when we got here. Generous original inhabitants of the land allowed us settle here to catch, extract, and harvest it. Settlers worked hard with blood and sweat to grow and raise and dig it out. However, rich soil was here to begin with. We cleared the land and put down seeds. Fossils had already been buried under our feet. What have we been doing with them? We must be grateful and treat them with respect as gifts not entitlement. Are we investing it for the future or are we living on it like a spoiled brat? Are we managing it, or harvesting it and driving it into extinction like we did with Atlantic cod and Pacific salmon?

I should also remind ourselves about volatility of resource market. Unsavoury rulers of the countries like Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia often make it the weapon against civilization, like they are doing with oil today. We are only waiting for the tide to change direction. We are vulnerable. It’s humiliating to feel powerless being dependent on unpredictable market.

It’s about time we think seriously about change. Let’s stop fighting people who criticize our way of life. Everyone must try to see other’s point of view. The solution often comes from compromise. Some people argue that coal is almost limitless and oil will last many more decades. I accept their argument only for now. We still have to buy groceries and pay mortgages while changing our way of life. It’s the cost to finance our transformation.

Resource based economy is notoriously uncontrollable as the current crisis in oil market shows. Keystone XL may restart. Bitumen may start flowing over mountains. But it’s only for the short time in transition. Let’s not continue to be a hostage to the unstable economy.

Learning to Grow Old – Canada


In Asian culture, old people are honoured and respected. So when I was ordained to be a minister, I tried to look older. The tenet still dictates my consciousness. I don’t want to be young again with all that struggle with self-confidence and frustration. Nevertheless, getting old is never easy.

The ultimate insult for a Japanese man’s ego is having to ask for a fork at a Japanese restaurant. The muscles of my hands atrophied and can not handle chopsticks any more. I drop things. Body parts are replaced by artificial ones one by one. At the bottom of the staircase, I don’t remember why I came to the basement. “Aging isn’t for a SISSY.” said late Stuart McLean. The most difficult is to be honest with one’s conditions without self-pity and whingeing. Someone who is trying to help you is not insulting you. You must recognize reality with dignity and accept help gracefully.

Once, at a board meeting of a not-for-profit organization, the discussion focussed on the status of one person’s membership on the board, who had become a liability. He seemed to have joined the organization only for power and social standing. The question was: “Why should he stay with us when nobody can work with him?” No one could think of a good reason to keep him. But one person pointed out, “But he’s got money.” The board kept him on.

When libido recedes and stomach shrinks, you find yourself more desperate to hang on to the only thing left, pride. Some men become more greedy: yes, mostly men. There is no more pathetic person than a shrivelling old man obsessed with wealth and power. I notice that the rich and powerful die about the same age as average people. What they crave don’t seem to add even a year to their lifespan. Death lets us know that pleasure, money and power are only for what Japanese call “ukiyo” – the fleeting world. You can not take them with you once you leave this world. Then I have to ask myself, “What for?”

It’s good that I do not make unwise decisions as often as before. It seems accumulated pieces of knowledge have been sifted through a mesh. Trivial and unimportant junk seems to have been deleted with a click. It’s time to sit and wait for the spirit to catch up with me.

We are what we are, not what we do.

GOVERNMENTS ARE PAYING MANY PEOPLE FOR DOING NOTHING during the current crisis. Is this our future?

Once I nearly missed a flight because I got confused with a self-check-in machine and needed a help of an airline attendant. Furthermore there were fewer luggage drop-off counter; the customers had to spend more time in line. Airlines is saving money with smaller staff at the expense of customers’ time. Progress means less people?

A 14 year old geek can handle the automatic checkout with one eye on smart-phone, but not me. I didn’t want to wait in line for just a bunch of green onions. I got all muddled up and an attendant had to come to rescue me. Here again, I noticed there were fewer check out-counters with real persons serving; another case of a business saving money at the expense of customer’s time and grief.

Is all this automation a way to make humans redundant? Thanks to mechanization farmers who constitute 1.7% of population are now producing more food than the time when farmers numbered multiple times more. More is on the way: driver-less cars, parcel delivery by drones, automated factories, self-directing vacuum cleaners. During the Cold War, there were rumours about the development of neutron bomb. Its idea was a weapon that kills humans without damaging physical assets: absolute abomination.

I don’t think Mr. Trump is right to blame trade treaties for unemployment. It is automation, computerization, mechanization, robotics that are making people losing jobs. But humans are not disappearing; if at all we will be more in number. In these circumstances, there has to be a radical paradigm shift with our idea of who we are.

We have to move away from the notion of “We are what we do.” We have to accept ourselves as what we are regardless of what we do. I am a human being whatever I’m doing. When I introduce myself as a retired person, I feel obliged to find a way to justify my existence by describing how I spend my time. If I say, “Actually I do nothing,” people think I am being funny. So I say something like, “I write.” But I should not have to say what I do to win the right to occupy space and eat food. “I don’t apologize,” something like that, said John Wayne. I have a right to live and be loved by simply being alive and cranky.

humans think in story


“No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot,” said Mark Twain. What troubles me nowadays is what is called “Post-Truth” culture. Facts are called “fake news” when it’s true, scary scientific evidence is dismissed as “unbalanced.” Innocence or guilt is determined by partisan votes. Popular votes are rejected by the “Electoral College” like in 2015. After Japan was defeated in 1945, a bunch of cheeky 7th grade boys voted to resolve “Cheating in exam is acceptable” after a talk by an United States Information Service agent who came to school to explain the principles of democracy. That kind of idiocy is nothing new. “Democracy is the worst form of government,” said Winston Churchill. Hitler was first democratically elected. Does that make us idiots, ready to repeat the same terrible mistakes?

Historian Yuval Harari said, “humans think in stories not in facts, numbers, and equations.” It’s what makes us human. Animals see only facts and do not see beyond what’s apparent. This is also how we make arts and music, come up with new ideas and ideologies, and imagine existence of the power beyond the visible. In other words, we write scripts and stories, and have faith in the system we have created. Money is such a system, a created mechanism. And it works. The value of money is nothing but the trust in the system of exchange we agree on. Without the trust, money is a mere IOU written on a piece of paper. “In God we trust.” says Greenback.

Science is another one; it is the efforts by human persons who try to prove hypothesis to be real by accumulating facts. Human society is built with institutions, mechanisms, organizations, systems, and structures created in the mind of people, and by trust in what is imagined. They can be called ethics, ideals, ideologies, and principles.

Since imagination is invisible, greed and hubris can easily deceive public with “fake news” for the benefit of a few. But deception fails eventually . Like the famous saying: You can fool some people all the time; you can fool all the people some of the time; but you can not fool all the people all the time. Time will come when deception is exposed. Humans think beyond facts. We think and behave according to the common stories we share. Trust works when there is evid4ence of truth in the story. If there isn’t, it fails; often tragically.



I saw a woman of certain age at a restaurant, who was obviously addicted to her phone. She looked at and clicked on the devise every few minutes. Her table was next to ours. I felt guilty lurking, but could not help it because her behaviour was so extraordinary. Her sister, I assumed she was judging from the resemblance, kept putting her hand on sister’s phone to restrain her. In the end, the woman put her phone on her laps and continued checking it while eating dinner. If that was not addiction, what else could it be called? I shuddered to think of her driving a car. However, one sees similar scenes everywhere nowadays.

I saw a recent statistics showing that the traffic fatality caused by distracted driving is six times that of driving while intoxicated. It is 16% of all road fatalities. Most are cases of speaking or texting on the phone while driving. The report says it is now the leading cause of death on the road. It is a very serious problem, more serious than that of death by opioid overdose. Why is it then the problem is not talked about more prominently?

I understand that addiction to internet causes damages to the same organ made by other types of addiction like alcohol, drugs, and gambling. I also understand that internet addiction is caused by not merely psychological but also biological change. It is a serious public health issue. Digital technology has now become integral part of our life. Society would not function without it. Then the question is; what can you do to avoid the damaging effect of internet addiction?

Speaking as a recovered dialled-up “Chat Room” addict (remember those days?), the solution is the same as that for any other addictions: Disciplined consumption. It can be harder than “cold turkey.” Besides, total abstention often does not work. It has been tried before with drugs. We can get addicted to all sorts of things, not only to alcohol and drugs. But you can keep consuming under a strict regime with right amount, frequency, and timing, without being totally destroyed. We can avoid destructive result of addiction to devises by setting time, duration, and frequency. It takes will-power. Once it becomes a habit, it is easier. This is what we do with alcohol, food, and recreation; disciplined consumption. All can be good for you in moderation.


I believe in religion. I go to church regularly and never miss the chance to go to a mosque when invited. I enjoy chatting with my Buddhist colleague Rev.Yasuo Izumi about religion. As Yuval Harari said, “humans think in stories not in facts, numbers and equations.” Religion is a story; a system created by imagination. If it’s not religion, it’s beauty, ethics, ideal, ideology, or tradition. Money is another product of imagination. Its value is nothing but the trust in the system agreed upon. Without the trust in what it promises, money is worthless. “In God we trust,” says Greenback. We create stories by imagination and put trust in what we imagined. But greed and hubris can easily transform religions into dark force.

It was in Jerusalem: I used to go there yearly during the 1980’s for refugee work. It was not the constant conflicts between two groups of sons and daughters of Abraham and Sarah; Arabs and Jews. It was the centuries’ old enmities between the believers of Jesus the Christ that made me ready to quit religion altogether. Go and see the Church of Holy Sepulchre, for example. Churches have been fighting over ridiculous inches of the space in the sanctuary. It’s all about property, and the money pilgrims/tourists bring in. I realized that Jerusalem was the location of butchery by Christians more than a millennium.

Marriage of religion and power makes it the agent of evil (paraphrase), said Salman Rushdie when he was under the threat of death “Fat’wa” by Ayatola Khomeni. Christianity became a demonic power after Emperor Constantine made the Christian Church the establish state religion during the fifth Century. Butchery: Crusades, Hundred Year War, Inquisition, Misogyny, Witch Hunt, Colonialism, Holocaust, including “Indian Residential School” ensued. All because of the pursuit of domination in stead of justice and love. I speak of Christianity because that’s the one I know. But other religions are guilty as well. Think what’s Buddhists are doing to the Muslims in Myanmar, for example.

My co-religionists lament secularization and demise of religious institutions. I don’t. After 15 centuries of living in the “glorious misunderstanding” (the words by Swiss theologian, Emil Brunner), the Christianity finally has a chance return to its true being, sort of like a homeless bare-foot prophet in the wilderness crying out for justice, love, and mercy.

LIFE IS A CONSTANT CHANGE Life is a river. You have to keep paddling to stay on the same spot. Likewise life is a process of continuous transformation. Mother Nature demands it. When you stop changing, it indicates you are dead. But the constant change is not easy. Remember the discomfort when you moved to a new school or a new job? I hated it every time but eventually I got used to it and became comfortable. Nothing stays the same. Even the words of a traditional prayer had to change with economy. “Debt” was a sin requiring forgiveness in the old Lord’s Prayer. Now debt is the engine of economy in the capitalist society. It’s called credit. So the wording changed to “trespass” to protect private property. Likewise ethics change with time. You can put an adulterer to death by stoning no more. Another example: Tattoo is in fashion and ubiquitous. But it bothers me. As a self-professed “progressive person,” this antipathy puzzles me. I think it is because memories die hard. Iin Japan only the members of “Yakuza” had tattoos. Yakuza, like Italian Mafia, are the outlaw gangs who have controlled gambling, debt collection and protection rackets for centuries. So hot spring hotels in Japan refuse anyone with tattoo; though white tourists with tattoo are reluctantly tolerated. How much traditions still control my judgement surprises me. I should know that nothing stays the same, but it is not easy to accept it. Having suffered many centuries of bloody turmoil, small island nations like Britain and Japan value order and stability. I realize reluctantly that I am Japanese therefore naturally conservative. This does not make sense. I am a son of a man, who got into trouble with the fascist police for singing the Socialist anthem “International.” He was in a theological seminary. He supported Japanese Socialist Party all his life. So I thought that progressive ideology was in my DNA. But I love some conservative qualities; cleanliness, clean desk, good manners, punctuality, order, proper clothes, stability, and traditions. In other words, I understand the frustration of conservative people. When things move too fast, you feel things are falling apart. You feel you are no longer respected. Change is upsetting but reality. I was born conservative (small “c”) but I know I have to persuade others that changes are normal and necessary. Change is a fact of life.



Historian Yuval Harari of Hebrew University says in his book, “Homo Sapiens,” human species emerged in East Africa 90,000 years ago. The human population grew rapidly driving more than 90% of other species disappear. As the life-style began to switch from foraging to agriculture during about 12,000 BCE, mass extinction accelerated.

The museum in Morden, Manitoba features the story of gigantic 60 feet Mosasaurus that lived 70 million years ago. They became so powerful that their dominance was complete. They exploited all life-forms until had nothing to live on. So they perished, unlike Dinosaurs which were driven to extinction by a cataclysmic event. Humans seem to be following the Mosasaurian path.

Samson fought a lion with bear hands according to the Bible. There are no lions in Israel. In Lesotho, there are prominent tribes called “Tau – Lion” and “Koena – Crocodile.” But there are no more animals like lions or crocodiles. Dairy farmers in Chateauguay Valley, Quebec told me about their grand-fathers driving milk tanker trucks across on the frozen St. Lawrence River. Pacific islanders are losing their land to live on as the sea level rises. Cod stock collapsed thirty years ago in Newfoundland. Bisons that carpeted Prairies once were wiped out. Chimpanzees, elephants, rhinoceros, salmons, song birds, and whales are disappearing. Last year in Japan for the first time I heard stories like a mother watched her son dropped dead by heat stroke in the middle of a soccer game. An old woman died in sleep because she ignored the advise not to set the air conditioner on timer. A/C stopped on time and she died of heat.

But none of those facts seem to scare sceptics. They say, “It’s cyclical.” When a frog is in a pot of water getting warmer, it stays in comfort until it’s cooked in the boiling hot water. I am sure Mosasaurus did not realize they were killing themselves by enjoying their supremacy eating everything in sight. We too think being dominant is a good thing. Creating expanding economy is the purpose of life. We in the North enjoy warmer summers like the frog in a pot of warming water. Before long we may need to stop Americans escaping more frequent and violent hurricanes and wild fires. Some will say, “It’s cyclical; it comes and goes.” You mean other species like cockroaches will take over when humans are long gone?

Lethbridge Japanese Garden is a pearl



The idea of Nikka Yuko (Japan-Canada Friendship) Garden was inspired by Rev. Yutetsu Kawamura of the Buddhist Temple in Raymond. He believed that to heal the pain of injustice was a gesture of friendship for reconciliation not a demand for compensation nor revenge. The following is the story of another Japanese Canadian religious man who lived in Southern Alberta during the Second World War.

Rev. Jun Kabayama was removed from his church in Ocean Falls in the British Columbia in 1942 under War Measures Act which defined all Canadian citizens of Japanese descent as “Enemy Aliens. He was re-assigned by the United Church of Canada to begin a Japanese speaking congregation in Lethbridge. ” However, the law did not allow him to live in Lethbridge. So he and his family lived in Raymond.

My mother, Natsuno Mitsui, married Rev. Jun Kabayama in 1974. He lost his wife a few years previously, and my mother had been a widow for 20 years. When I came to Lethbridge to retire, I found that Rev. Kabayama was the founder of Japanese United Church here. I had run into him from time to time as a fellow United Church minister before. He came to visit us in Geneva in Switzerland as a newly married man to my mother in 1974. That was the only chance I had to get to know him. It was only a few days. By the time I returned to Canada from overseas service in 1980, Rev. Kabayama was recently deceased. So my knowledge of his life in Lethbridge was mainly from historical documents and other material like diaries of other United Church ministers. I only remember him as a stoic man of few words with a straight back; a Samurai from the country of Samurai, Satsuma; the Southern tip of the southmost island of Japanese archipelago, Kyushu.

Canadian Japanese clergy people struggled to begin their ministry in the new locations under difficult conditions. Many of them did not have cars as all cars and radios were confiscated when they were ordered to move out of the B.C. coast. Despite difficult conditions, when I came to Canada in 1957, eight years after they were allowed to return to the coat or to disperse across Canada, I had never sensed bitterness among them. It astonished me. I wondered if it was a manifestation of stoicism Japanese people grew up with. It is expressed in a familiar saying “Shikataganai.” It means, “You can not do anything about it. No use holding a grudge.” It is similar to the prayer of the Alcoholics Anonymous, “Lord, give us serenity to accept what we can not change; and courage to change what we can.”

I heard an amazing story of Rev. Kabayama’s difficult ministry in Southern Alberta, but not from him. He only spoke about good times filled with blessing. I learned about his difficulty, not only lack of mode of transport but also hostility he encountered not allowing him to live in Lethbridge, from a diary of another Japanese Canadian minister, Rev. Dr. Kosaburo Shimizu. In one of the entries about his visit to Alberta, he mentioned Kabayama’s bicycle. He was amazed how Kabayama travelled from Raymond to Lethbridge everyday on a bicycle, through rain, shine, and snow, 38 kilometres one way even in minus 20 degree temperature. He took the picture of Kabayama in his winter outfit. I found a picture of him with the bicycle in the 100th anniversary edition of the commemorative publication for Japanese United Churches. It is a picture of Kabayama all bundled up in layers. Shimizu’s comment was something like, “Strange creature!”

Kabayama covered the area from Coalhurst to Taber, Coaldale to Lethbridge from his home in Raymond. He rented spaces in Lethbridge United Churches to hold services on Sundays at Southminster United Church chapel and others. He visited other towns where people were relocated to work for sugar beat farms as often as he could on the bicycle. In those places he held monthly “Katei-shukai” – house church worship services. There is no record of the time when he was permitted to own a vehicle. But his bicycle ministry must have lasted for a few years. By the time he was reassigned by the Home Mission Board to Kelowna, B.C. he was driving his own car, in 1949.

When I think of Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden, I think of pearl; that beautiful jewel from the sea. Pearl is produced to ease the pain caused by a foreign object accidentally invading the shell fish like mollusk. It keeps excreting mucus to cope with the pain in stead of expelling the offending object. In the end, sticky substance coagulates into a hard object transforming itself into a beautiful jewel. That is Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden.

How to read the Bible – 2


“Why it is so difficult to read the Bible?” Many of us do not read the Bible because it is the style of writing which does not attract our fancy as other books do. It is because it was written many centuries ago. We find it strange. It is so different from anything we read. Even if we decide to read a few lines, we do not understand them, except snappy teachings, like “Do not kill. Or “Do not commit adultery.” Yet strangely enough, there is no other book sold more copies than the Bible. Ironically “Thomas Nelson,” the biggest publisher of the Bible, prints it mostly in Communist China. Yet, few people who read the Bible. Most of them just sit on the book shelves collecting dust. Why is that?

The Bible is an ancient book written between 600 BC and 200 AD originally in Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek, and translated into hundreds of languages. No wonder it is difficult to understand. People who lived in those days, their minds and writings, were so different from us. However, we must make one thing quite clear: The Bible is the most important document for us who identify ourselves as Christians. Jews, Christians, and Muslims belong to the same family of religions and are called “People of the Book.” Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is the Holy book for all three religions. Christians added the New Testament and Muslims added Kor’an. All three revere the Bible.

Let me make it clear though. The Bible is not the word of God. It teaches us how people in history imagined what God could have said and acted. But it’s all imaginations. Perhaps it could be more serious attempts to find God than just “imagination.” The writers were all humans like us but want to find God in their history and in their experience of daily life. It is a collection of such writings by people who lived in the Middle East and the regions around the Mediterranean Sea between about 600 B.C. to 200 A.D. They are the record of their attempts to find God. Some of them may fit our situation in 21st Century because human conditions are often common and timeless. But in more often, conditions are totally out of our life experience. Even amongst them what the writers of the Bible wrote are often different from each other.

In addition to the above mentioned reason, it is a book written for people who lived a long time ago. What they were interested in were not the same as ours. The subject matters do not invite our interest. They were interested in devils not bacteria. Question of god does not keep us awake at night. But in ancient times, many things were out of their control. They were frightened of unknowns. In our times, many of the unknowns are resolved by ourselves thanks to science, and its application in medicine and technology that solve problems. However, we still don’t know many things. There are more unknown than known. Science is our way to find the unknown rather than faith in gods. There is a commonality between science and what ancient people tried to do: knowing the unknown. I am not trying to be too audacious, but the goal of religion and science is the same; knowing the unknowns.

Another question we have to be clear about the Bible is that books are often different and do not agree between them. They contain many contradicting view points. It is because they were written from their own unique situations in different places and different times. Even in the first chapter of the first book, Genesis, there are two different kinds of gods. Esther and Ruth have contradicting views about race. Paul and James in the New Testament are different in their view of faithfulness. No one can claim that there is a complete agreement in regards to what should be believed. It is impossible to have agreement in different places and times. You must read it with knowledge of their context of times and places.

For exercise, we read and examine the image of human being in the first three chapters of the Bible: Genesis chapters 1, 2 and 3.

As we noted, the first three chapters of Genesis contain two different ideas about human being. At the outset, we should know that Chapter one is based on the documents or tradition known as P – Priestly tradition and E – Elohim tradition. Chapters two and three are based on the document or tradition known among the scholars as “J” (or “Y” in Hebrew.) P-E tradition has entirely different views of humans from that of Y. It is interesting that the people who decided to bunch three documents (or traditions) together into one book to convey their view of the beginning of the world. Why did they do that? A good question.

It is obvious that E and P thought humans very highly. They thought that humans were like gods. They imagined that humans were created in “our (gods’) image.” The creators of P and E hoped that gods must be humans. That image is quite evidently different from the idea of humans who had not had the ability to know good from bad. It took the act of disobeying God’s command to acquire such a capability. In chapter two, the first human (a man: the creator of that image was obviously a male-chauvinist.) was formed from a handful of dirt. So the creator of J tradition did not have P – E’s enhanced image of god-like humans.

Another interesting point to realize is the different understandings of female and male in two traditions “E-P” in chapter one and “J” in chapter two and three. You will note that in E-P, female and male are equal: “humans are created male and female….and making them like me (god).” (1: 27) However, J tradition has the notion of the primacy of males over females. The first human was a male made from a hunk of dirt, and female was made from a part of a male body to be his companion. (1:7 and 18) “J” added the idea of the male first and female second pecking order. How does the party, who compiled such a conflicting order of priority into one document, expect us to interpret such an juxtaposition? Maybe they did not try to convey an unified monolithic view of human being.

Another interesting point is the number of days it took for God to create the world. It took six days for God to create everything in the world, and on the seventh day He rested. We are not literalists, so we don’t take it as the actual number of days of creation. Number always has had meaning. Romans did not have a concept of zero, because they did not know what void was. I don’t think we do either. Albert Einstein did not believe in nothingness, “there is no void.” So he created a notion of “ether” that fills the space where nothing exists. Or what does “one” mean? Many peoples of the world think “one” means unity; a good thing. In the Bible “one” means primacy. It is God. In the modern world we think “one” is pathetic because it is only one, when most of us believe more is better than one. In Hebrew understanding “seven” means “holy or complete” not necessarily number of seven items. In the Bible all numbers have meanings. When “E or P” said God created the world in seven days, they meant the world was perfect.

How to read the Bible – 1


There are different ways to read the Bible. I can think of the following five that we do.

  1. COLD TURKEY: Read it straight, chapter by chapter, from Genesis to Revelation, book by book: that is the simplest way and the most painful way to read the whole Bible. It takes patience and tenacity. The beginning of our Bible Study group was an attempt to read the whole Bible cover to cover with a group of friends. It began around 2007, I think, by Corrine Steel and Tad Mitsui encouraged by Rev. Frank Lewis, to read the whole Bible cover to cover.

Frank was looking for someone who would take an initiative to follow the United Church program called “Read a Chapter a Day,” to read the whole of the Bible in a year. We met one Sunday at the Labyrinth Room with a few interested people who showed up after hearing the announcement at the Sunday worship. We talked about possibility of meeting on Saturdays once a months to talk about the chapters we read in one month. We agreed to meet for breakfast at the small dining room of Ramada Inn on Mayor Magrath. We read the Bible a chapter a day at home, and met once a month. About a dozen people endured till the end including a 14 year old Sarah Dalby.

I think it is worthwhile program to try again. Otherwise, reading the Bible “Cold Turkey” is not easy. I think we should do it at least once in a life time; reading the Bible Cold Turkey. When you do it that way, one thing we must be aware of. It is the fact that all the Bibles that we can buy are translations. It means there is no Bible available without prejudices and opinions of translators. Unless you read it in Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek; that is. We should read the Bible in different translations and compare them sometime.

  1. LISTEN TO THE EXPERTS: Another way to read it is to rely on “experts.” We sit and listen to them basically. This is the most traditional way. That was the only way until a few centuries ago, because majority of people could not read. In the beginning the Bible was written for the educated elite. It was a job of those people to read it aloud and explain what it meant to the illiterate masses. “Experts,” or “learned people” were ministers, pastors, preachers, priests, and scholars, who were often the only persons who could read in a community. So Christians for most of their history were dependent on those people to acquire any knowledge of the Bible. Many people still do. That all changed with the Reformation of the 16th Century.
  2. EVERYBODY COULD READ NOW: Reformation in the 16th Century (1517) changed everything. More and more people could now read as Enlightenment made more people literate. Also the Bible became more easily available with the invention of printing press. Many people started to read on their own. Initially clergy and professional scholars were upset. They lost power and authority they used to have with an exclusive possession of knowledge. The Church therefore, for a while anyway, made it illegal to read the Bible on their own. But that did not stop people, even though printing the Bible without authorization was a capital offense. People like Tindal and Wickliffe dared to tell people the importance of reading it on their own. They paid the ultimate price: they were executed, burned at the stake.

But that didn’t stop people reading the Bible. There were not many books to read those days. So people were eager, just like people jump on to new media today.

  1. DIFFICULTY OF FINDING TRUE MESSAGE: The Bible is the collection of many books containing many different ideas of those who were seeking God. So it is natural that they contain different opinions, even contradicting each other. As someone said, “You can justify anything quoting the Bible verses. The devil can quote the Bible better than anyone.” It is dangerous to pick and choose chapters and verses you like to prove your point. This is where the authority to interpret the Bible has become an important question. But in democracy, nobody can stop anyone to read anything as he/she likes and interpret it anyway. Nobody will punish you. This is the reason why in the Protestant churches it is important for everybody to know the basics of the nature and the origin of the book, hence the importance of Christian education in the church.
  2. LECTIONARY: Since many people who attend the church depend on the worship service to know what’s in the Bible, many mainline churches around the world participate in what is known as “Common Lectionary.” It is the three year program (called Year A, B, C) to cover the whole Bible in the weekly lessons read in the Worship Service. Each Sunday, the churches read one common passage from the Old Testament, the Gospel, and the Letters of the New Testament. In three years, all the churches would have read all passages of the Bible. So if you attend all services for three years, you will have read and heard the exposition of the whole Bible.

Let us see how we can read the Bible differently through the very beginning of the Bible, Genesis “CREATION STORIES” from GENESIS CHAPTER 1:1 – 2:25

You may be shocked to find that you find two different gods in the Book of Genesis. It is because the creation story of the Hebrew Bible is a compellation of texts from a few different sources. Scholars who studied the original Hebrew texts found in Genesis texts from at least 3 different sources. One is named “Priestly” writing, another one “Elohim” writing, and the third “Yahweh.” Elohim is a generic word for god in Hebrew, and Yahweh is the name of the Jewish God referring to the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac. For convenience’s sake, they are identified as P, E, and J. (In Hebrew alphabet J and Y and the same.)

When you read the chapters 1 and 2 of the Book of Genesis, you will notice that they contain two different stories. Even God is referred to in two different ways. It is because the creation story of Genesis is made up of materials coming from at least two documental sources. The easiest way to distinguish them is to see the different ways God is referred to in English translation. Chapter one refers to god as just “God” while Chapter 2 uses the expression “Lord God.” God in the First chapter is the title, not a name, which can be applied to any god, like Hindhu God or Shinto God. In Hebrew the word is ‘elohim” simply “God” in English. In other words, it is a generic word. This is why it says God created humans “Like US (in plural).” (Verse 1:26)

In chapter 2, “Lord God” is the translation of the Hebrew word written as YHWH, which Jews have always pronounced as “adonai.” The word means “king” or “lord.” It was because the Jews were not allowed to say the name of their God, according to the Ten Commandments. “YHWH” is only consonants without vowels. In stead of pronouncing those consonants with proper vowels, they said, “Lord – Adonai.” Now we know YHWH should be Yahweh after an extensive research into ancient texts. So the translators into English respected the Hebrew tradition, and decided to write “Lord God.” Not only are the words for God is different between Genesis 1 and 2. The story lines are different between them. It can not be history.

Arts, Science, and Religion are not money making occupations


One famous music teacher reportedly always asked every applicant to study music under him, “What can you do to earn a living?” At the seminary in Tokyo, all of us were encouraged to take courses to qualify as teachers in the school system. We were not expected to make a decent living in the church work: Christians in Japan are a tiny minority. So often clergy men and women have other sources of income. My nephew, a minister of the United Church in Osaka, sings in night clubs and teaches part time in a high school.

Art, religion, and science are vocations. They don’t belong to the same category as income generating employment. Many monks and nuns have skills in secular employments like teaching and nursing. They pursue their spiritual vocations in contemplation, meditation, or community service, while earning their living in various occupations. Some monasteries operate industries. “Oka” cheese and “Chartreuse” liqueur are well known.

Science is vocation too: Albert Einstein was a civil servant working in the Patent Office in Zurich until he became known for his Theory of Relativity. Theoretical Physics is not a lucrative business. Likewise are many artists and musicians. I know artists and musicians with graduate degrees doing odd jobs to make living. Vocations in pursuit of beauty, truth, and answers to the mysteries of the universe do not necessarily provide decent living. Van Gogh, whose paintings now command millions of dollars, never made money from art. All his life he was supported by his brother Theo.

Religion is on the decline, because science solved many mysteries and problems of life. It lost the role as the stop-gap where science had no answer. As secularism becomes increasingly prevalent, some religious people are responding to their despair in fanaticism, fundamentalism and terrorism. They are trying to recover the former glory. It’s time to realize that for religions to seek power and wealth is a travesty of the vocation. When science had little influrnce, religions had enormous power. That was when religions were powerful and wealthy, and most corrupt. Then, the worst crimes were committed by Western Christian institutions by default or by participation: Crusade, colonialism, and Holocaust.

It is a travesty of vocation when power and wealth become its goal; like physicians treat patients for the interest of pharmaceutical industry. When religion follows its calling, they can be what they are.


Japanese people are sticklers for punctuality but they know how to live with ambiguity. We hate to say “No.” In stead, we say something like “Yeah, but.” Correct answer can wait if it breaks up relationship. Japanese language does not have definite article nor indefinite article. So I had no idea what the fuss was all about when elected delegates spent many hours debating passionately if the Bible is a foundation or the foundation of faith at a United Church’s highest decision making court – General Council. I am happy if it is approximately close to what-ever. I don’t apologize for my imprecise sloppy logic, because flexibility lets us avoid needless quarrel. We live in ambiguity for a while until mist dissipates and the answer presents itself. Time will tell. Why fight?

All is relative. A veterinarian’s examination room has a sign, “A year for a human is six years for a cat. When you go away for a week, your cat will suffer your absence for six weeks.” One minute is just like a flash. But two minute silence at Remembrance Day ceremony feels like eternity. When you get old, time passes very quickly. But when you are a teenager waiting for a girl friend, it feels like forever. It’s all relative. Or could it be time is uneven? There is no such thing as an absolutely straight line, because the earth is round. The shortest line between point A to point B is curved. What seems reality for you may not exist. A star you see could be billions of light-years away. So it could be billions of years old: It may no longer be there. Will the world exist after I die?

I think that over-emphasis on accuracy, correctness, or precision is a source of unnecessary anxiety and many disputes. We waste countless hours fighting over trivial things, causing break-up of relationships and hurting people. Fighting is even more serious when it comes to religious doctrine or government policy. Humans have killed each other over customs, policies, and religious doctrines, or even clothes, over stupid differences. It’s all because of our obsession with precision; like a or the. As time passes, many of those disputes begin to look silly. We are all living things on the same planet. Can we not live with ambiguity until you can see it more clearly in a bigger picture?



In Asian culture, old people are honoured and respected. So when I was ordained to be a minister, I tried to look older. The tenet still dictates my consciousness. I don’t want to be young again with all that struggle with self-confidence and frustration. Nevertheless, getting old is never easy.

The ultimate insult for a Japanese man’s ego is having to ask for a fork at a Japanese restaurant. The muscles of my hands atrophied and can not handle chopsticks any more. I drop things. Body parts are replaced by artificial ones one by one. At the bottom of the staircase, I don’t remember why I came to the basement. “Aging isn’t for a SISSY.” said late Stuart McLean. The most difficult is to be honest with one’s conditions without self-pity and whingeing. Someone who is trying to help you is not insulting you. You must recognize reality with dignity and accept help gracefully.

Once, at a board meeting of a not-for-profit organization, the discussion focussed on the status of one person’s membership on the board, who had become a liability. He seemed to have joined the organization only for power and social standing. The question was: “Why should he stay with us when nobody can work with him?” No one could think of a good reason to keep him. But one person pointed out, “But he’s got money.” The board kept him on.

When libido recedes and stomach shrinks, you find yourself more desperate to hang on to the only thing left, pride. Some men become more greedy: yes, mostly men. There is no more pathetic person than a shrivelling old man obsessed with wealth and power. I notice that the rich and powerful die about the same age as average people. What they crave don’t seem to add even a year to their lifespan. Death lets us know that pleasure, money and power are only for what Japanese call “ukiyo” – the fleeting world. You can not take them with you once you leave this world. Then I have to ask myself, “What for?”

It’s good that I do not make unwise decisions as often as before. It seems accumulated pieces of knowledge have been sifted through a mesh. Trivial and unimportant junk seems to have been deleted with a click. It’s time to sit and wait for the spirit to catch up with me.

Danger of easy analysis


When the bloody civil war broke out in Syria, I, like many Canadians, was against the brutal regime and cheered those brave Syrian rebels. Then we received a strong message from the Syrian Orthodox Church, a member of the World Council of Churches. They wanted us to tone down the rhetoric in support of the rebels. I realized then how hazardous it was to make a hasty judgement about the situation you really have no in-depth knowledge of.

I learned since that majority of Syrians are Sunni Muslims. There are many minority groups like Kurds, Orthodox Christians, and Shia Muslims, etc. The current regime is a coalition of those minority ethnic and religious groups the father of the current dictator brought together to keep him in power. Meanwhile, among the rebels were ISIS, Jihadist Sunni. Even though it became clear that ISIS terrorists were a party in the rebel groups, the “West” was quick to reach a conclusion and threw their support to the rebels. The Syrian government called the conflict “fight against terrorism” because of the ISIS among the rebels. It resulted in consolidating Bashar al Assad’s hold on power with stronger Iranian and Russian presence. Many innocent people were caught in the middle and became refugees.

Hong Kong is a quagmire. The Western media try to tell us that it is a struggle between democracy and the Communist government, and men in black fighting demonstrators are agents of Beijing government. I don’t think it is that simple. Hong Kong was a British colony and has never been a democracy. I visited Hong Kong often during the late 1970’s while working for the World University Service at the International Office in Geneva Switzerland. My regular itinerary included two universities; the University of Hong Kong on the island and the Chinese University in Kowloon. The former was an English University with “Tea at the Senior Common Room.” Meanwhile the Chinese University was very much Chinese. I often needed an interpreter. Students were keen to learn Mandarin Chinese. They were preparing themselves for the return to the Chinese rule. Tension between two universities was high.

I firmly believe democracy is the best system existing today. But also I believe that it is foolhardy to assume that everybody agrees with me. Action based on simplistic analysis is dangerous in a complex situation.

I am worried about the situation in Hong Kong.



There are many ways to celebrate during Christmas time. At the kindergarten, an American teacher brought pieces of roasted turkey for us to find the “real taste of Christmas.” I was unimpressed; “What a boring tasteless meat!” At my father’s church, we had a huge pot of pork and vegetable miso stew for the Christmas party. Growing up in Japan, Christmas for me was Christmas Candle Light Service and the party afterward. Many Christians are converts, so they do not celebrate Christmas at home for other family members are not Christians. Christmas presents were exchanged between church members. Santa did not come to homes; he sold merchandise at department stores.

When I lived in Switzerland on the first week of Advent, we got together at the church with mulled wine, oranges and walnuts, and enjoyed conversation. In South Africa and Lesotho, we had “Carols and Candle Lights” at the soccer pitch and other outdoor venues. Christmas in Southern hemisphere comes in the middle of summer, so you get out into the cool of the night and sing Carols and watch Christmas Pageant. Too hot to roast turkey in 40 C.

At drinking joints in Tokyo, you hear “Merry Christmas” more often than any other places. No wife, no kids, just buddies from work. Most of them are non-Christians. Christmas Eve is the time of serious boozing. They take home cakes to appease unhappy wives. In Lesotho, when you hear “Merry Christmas,” you see an extended hand. It’s a tradition missionaries started. They had no family Christmas, so only thing they saw with the word “Christmas” was charity handout. Watching how Europeans celebrated Christmas they learned drinking and fighting. Christmas was the busiest day at the hospital; many broken ribs and cracked heads.

We go to Toronto for a combined Christmas/Hanukkah celebration. We light Menorah and eat turkey. Once we found a whole family of in-laws in my daughters house escaping the cold dark home due to the power failure by ice storm. My son-in-law had to go to a drug store on Christmas Eve, only stored still open, and bought presents for the children from Jewish side of the family. Theirs were not under the tree; not their custom.

Christmas season is the time of love and togetherness. It’s called in different names, and people greet differently. Even among Christians they do differently. But the spirit of the season binds us together. Let us adapt and celebrate .



Hitler’s chief propagandist Joseph Goebbles said, “A lie told once remains a lie. Repeated ten thousand times, people will believe it’s true. Then it’s the truth.” People who watch Fox News believe that CNN and Washington Post are “fake news.” They know their tribe is always right and facts are wrong.

Humans are the only organism that impose code of ethics based on ideas like ideology and religion. Arguably it is for the well-being of people. The fact is often, it is a way for the powerful to keep their power. Karl Marx called it “super structure” created by those who own “means of production.” So he called religion “opium of people.” Japanese historical novelist Ryotaro Shiba called it “Kyokoh” – “artificial systems of thoughts.” Napoleon Bonaparte called it “Pack of lies agreed upon.”

Yuval Noah Harari, a historian at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem puts a positive spin on those sets of ideas. He says “Gossips helped us to cooperate. Mythology maintained law and order. Money gave us something we can trust. Contradictions created culture.” Only humans act on mentally conceived ideas. They enable us act voluntarily against natural instinct, making us distinct from other animals. Could it be the result of eating the forbidden fruit?

Money, for example, is powerful because people have faith in its value. Its importance surpassed religion for many people. But fact is; it is amorphous imagination held commonly. It’s based its worth on trust. Its value is dependent on faith in what’s on paper. “Bit Coin” is such a system invented recently, worth billions of dollars traded publicly. Once that trust is lost, it’s worthless like Venezuelan and Zimbabwean currencies. ‘Nation’ as a concept has the power to bind people together, to create laws and transform bunch of strangers into a cohesive entity called “country.” But it is an artificial notion that is based on the history agreed upon and the myths commonly shared.

Harari helped me to rejuvenate my belief in the importance of art, music, myths and religion. They make us think and give us ideas. Ideas are powerful and can bring benefits to the real world. They can delude us too, like opium. Since the beginning of civilization, humans fought over differences in doctrines and ideologies. Millions died for them. How do we distinguish Gospel from fake news? It requires wisdom. What is wisdom then? Good question!



Greek Lexicon says, “parable” – “paraboleh in Greek” is the story to compare with reality.

In 1968, I went to Africa with a newly acquired graduate degree in theology. So I was sure of the quality of my theology. However, when I delivered my first sermon in Sesotho, my language teacher James Tente said, “Your sermon may be a good theology but I didn’t understand anything. Tell us stories like Jesus.” James, school principal, the best educated man in the village, did not understand anything I said! I was crushed; I thought I had solid theological education. However, I heard James and began to tell stories to preach. People began to appreciate the message though my grammar and pronunciation were atrocious. That was how I learned to preach in stories. Sermon is milk and honey of nourishment, not acid test of correct doctrine.

We are people of stories. Legends, myths, and parables shape our identity and create community: like the Baby Jesus, wise men from the East and shepherds. We sing “Silent Night.” Scientific research denies historicity of Christmas story as myth. But it establishes our identity as Christians as we share it. Our identity comes from the shared stories that have been told in churches for millennia, like a story told repeatedly in the family. They are mixture of facts and fading memories, even some exaggerated brags. Mark Twain said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” A bunch of individuals become a community of people when they share and own the same story. Jesus taught in parables. (Mark 4) His intention was not to lecture in history or science. He was telling us who we are, so we become one people who share the same story.

Of course science is important. It tells us objective facts. Let the scientists tell us the truth in biology, chemistry, history, mathematics, and physics; or textual analysis. But let us speak about our spiritual life in stories that are preserved in legends and myths, in dreams and visions. Language of empiricism is too restricted and shallow to describe profound human reality.

I did my seven year course designed for candidates for ministry at a theological seminary. There were 36 students in my class. By the time I finished Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.), after seven years, there were only six of us left. Rigorous theological examination of your faith does not stand if it is not grounded emotionally on the level deeper than mere reason. Theology is not fertilizer for faith; it is a critical scientific analytical test the authenticity of your spirituality. Myths and stories strengthen faith and let us withstand rigorous scrutiny of theology.

You can analyse parables and stories scientifically. But when you do, you must realize that you are not exactly dealing with the living faith; you are reading the written record of the past faith journey. If you want to look at life, do not cut it up to look inside while it is alive. It will die if you do. When I was a child, I got a biology tool set and dissected a live frog. Of course, the poor thing died on the table. Don’t let scientific truth kill a beautiful living faith: you can kill life sustained by myths and stories with science. Faith is different reality from empirical phenomena.

In Biblical Theology, you examine letters and texts, that have been dead and expired. When you kill myths you grew up with, you kill your soul. Take the case of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. Though it is a myth and you know it might not have happened that way as you read in the Bible, don’t abolish Christmas and don’t stop singing “Silent Night.” It’s part of us. Primarily, spiritualty is not nurtured by scientific analysis and research. Spirituality belongs to the world of deep consciousness, emotion, imagination, inspiration, passion, and soul. Do not dismiss them because they are without historically and scientifically demonstrable evidence. They belong to the realm of art, music, and poetry; felt in emotion, seen in dreams and visions.

When it comes to your sense of yourself and self-esteem, you more often than not find them in legends and myths of your community, family, and nation than historical and scientific facts. None of the drop-outs from my seminary class gave up the career in ministry because of theological challenge. They left because of lack of emotional community support. Never let theologians tell you that your faith is inferior to theirs because you have not read theology. Faith is maintained by community support. Community support comes from the group of people who share same stories.

Jesus told stories and taught in enigmatic parables, intentionally to confuse scholarly Pharisees, because his message is the matter of faith not of reason. This explains his mysterious comments. Jesus said to Pharisees (lawyers) and scribes (scholars), “Only those with ears can hear it.” In other words, he told them: “You may know dead letters well, but don’t have ear to hear the voice of the living faith.”

Myths and stories bind people emotionally and spiritually together and give them “(spiritual) ear to hear.” Some myths are fantastic stories of dragons, gods and heroes; wizards and witches. But Jesus told parables from ordinary life experience like bread, lost coins, robbers, lost sheep, seeds, father and son, vineyard owners and workers, and yeast.

Jesus’ parables appear only in three books in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, and Luke: mainly in Matthew and Luke. Mark, which provides the source material for the Matthew and Luke, is primarily interested in deeds of Jesus, while Matthew and Luke added another source material that provides Jesus’ words. Even in reporting the same Jesus’ parables, there are differences. It is no use to try to define the authentic original words of Jesus. The Gospels are not too interested in historical facts.

Also, though the first three Gospels are using the same source material, each of them has a specific message. Mark was targeting none-Jewish Christians, Matthew the Jewish Christians, and Luke for the people of the whole world. The writers freely interpreted the original source material and reported differently on purpose to suite their audience, like the notion of “poor” Matthew and Luke. Gospels are different because their readers were different, and the writers’ messages were different accordingly. Variation was intentional not mistake. Stories vary not by mistake but by design, because the situations where readers lived were different.

Exercise: PARABLE AS ALLEGORY : Take each character in the parable of “Good Samaritan” Luke 10 : 25-37, and ask, “When was I like a robber or a Levite (etc.) and how?”

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder


Alcohol and drug abuse is neither recent nor is the monopoly of a particular class or race. Opium use, for example, was quite common in high society in Victorian England: Browning, Byron, Dickens, Keats all took opium. My grandfather was a horse veterinarian in the Russia-Japan War of 1900’s. When he came back he was a heroin addict. Probably he had PTSD in today’s terms, exacerbated by easy access to the drug. He failed in everything he tried in civilian life, and remained a proud but bitter man.

At the SACPA on April 19th, Sabrina Hacker confirmed something I had long suspected. She said, “The problem of Fetal Alcoholic Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is much greater than previously thought.” It is not limited to one racial group or a class. When I volunteered in a program for handicapped children, I met children with FASD from white middle class families. However, its omnipresence has been hidden from the public.

The speaker informed us that the tragic consequence of parents’ foolhardiness was ubiquitous. They are called in different names like “attention deficit disorder” or something similar. In Alberta , she said, 40% of pregnancies are reportedly unplanned, and among them as many as 11% may have FASD. Two major risk groups are post-secondary students enjoying newly-found freedom, and those who live in farming communities who go out after hard day’s work where alcohol is often the only entertainment. ( Herald, April 20, p.A4)

Furthermore, racism lets us ignore the problem, and makes us delusional : “Not our problem.” The whole society is in denial consequently exposing all of us to risk. If we need to eradicate a tragedy like FASD, we must get out of the misconception based on racial stereotype and own the problem as our own and educate ourselves. The First Nations acknowledge the problem and are speaking out.

Harm from substance abuse had been around but was ignored. It was only when it became apparent among working class and Chinese immigrants affecting productivity and social order, it became illegal. Still the better-off class gets away free. Attempts to hide the problem as something found only among a certain race or class, and by criminalizing it, expose the general public to danger; such as today’s opioid crisis. We should treat it as a public health issue without stigma attached; like we do with alcohol and tobacco use. Class-ism and Racism harm all of us.

Better to give than to receive


The sage I adore very much said a long time ago, “It is better to give than to receive.” He was not trying to be funny, because it is true. I know it because I was once on a receiving end of charity and my pride was in tatters. I was envious of people who were rich enough to give to the needy. My idea of paradise is the place where nobody is an object of charity.

It was soon after the end of the WWII in Tokyo in 1945. I was hungry. Everybody was hungry. Infrastructure was totally broken down and food could not reach the cities. People who refused to go to black market starved. The story was the same in Europe, I am told. Then Americans came to the rescue with emergency relief. Were we grateful? Of course we were. But we were also ashamed having to depend on charity. We were proud, as all of us should be. It is a human nature. In an ideal world, we all should be proudly able to keep dignity of independence.

About one million Ethiopians died of starvation during the great African famine of the 1980’s. I worked in Geneva as a member of the team coordinating the relief work. We found that many who died of starvation were farmers. Despite plenty of the available emergency food they starved. Farmers are proud people: they did not want to go for free food until it was too late after eating seeds and selling all farm animals and implements. Then they were too weak to walk to relief centres. They were ashamed that they could not feed themselves.

Christmas is coming. It’s tine to give. We feel good when we give. But what about those who are on the receiving end? Of course they are grateful to receive. But have you ever stop to think that those who have to receive prefer to be on the giving side? It is better to give than to receive. We should work for the world where no one is needy and everybody knows the joy of giving.

Translating one language into another perfectly is impossible


Having lived in four different cultures, I am a person without perfect command of any language, even my mother tongue. Mastering a language is difficult not only because of grammar and pronunciation but because of baggage it carries. Language is a product of culture, history, time, and tradition, therefore almost impossible to find the perfect match of the words from different languages with exactly the same meaning.

Japanese hospitals don’t have fourth floor. In Japanese, the sound of ‘four’ is same as the sound of the word ‘death’ – “shi.” I came to a conclusion that perfect translation of any language into another is impossible. Most of us read the Bible in translations, few read it in original Aramaic or Hebrew. So, taking its every word as absolute truth does not make sense.

There are many other examples. When Pearson Government launched “CUSO – Canadian University Service Overseas” during the 1960’s, Japanese students at the UBC laughed so hard falling off chair. It’s sounded the ‘s’ word in Japanese. In order not offend anybody in any language in their new brand, a big oil company had to spend millions of dollars in search of a name that would not offend anybody in any language. The result: “Exxon.”

You will be surprised at Christian churches in the Arabic speaking countries, and hear God is invoked with the name “Allah.” In Arabic, God is the same word among Christians as among Muslims. But in the American and European countries the word “Allah” gives a different image. Confucius called on “heaven” in stead of God.

This is why translating a language into another is tricky, almost impossible and easily manipulated. The Church adopted the word “virgin” in Greek translation for the Hebrew word “young woman” to conform to the divine birth stories of other religions. In the Lord’s Prayer, the original Greek word “debt” was changed to “trespass” in my lifetime. The reason; for capitalism “debt or credit” is essential element of economy. So the total prohibition of interest in the Book of Leviticus has been modified and “debt” was banished.

Language is an important tool for us to communicate each other, yet admittedly is imperfect. Therefore, hearing other persons’ thoughts only through words is fraught with misunderstanding. We must not pass judgment on people only by hearing their words. Deeds speak louder. Never claim you are absolutely right, because you aren’t.

We lament the demise of truth


Whenever I see “fake news” or false advertisements, I am annoyed. Then I find some people believing such garbage and I despair. Doesn’t truth matter any more ? It seems truth is conditional; it depends what your tribe (Fox News, Republicans, or UCP) says it is. If the other tribe (CNN, Democrats, or NDP) says it, it’s fake. Or vise versa.

Napoleon Bonaparte said, “History is a pack of lies agreed upon.” Karl Marx says, truth is what the owner of the means of production says it is: “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” When the World War II ended in 1945, we the Japanese school kids had to cleanse text books of “falsehood.” We blacked out lines and cut out pages as dictated by the Allied Occupation Forces. So people were desperate to redefine “who we are.” They flocked to the churches and the temples to repair badly damaged self-esteem and find new identity. Esoteric religious sects appeared and disappeared.

Nobody can survive loathing oneself too long. But today we have no place to go to feel good about ourselves, because we have not created the institution to replace discredited legends and myths. Kenan Malik in the Weekly Guardian, April 18, expresses fear that “We have lost faith in God as well as in reason.” Churches are in decline in Europe and North America. Many people say they are “spiritual not religious” and are suspicious of institutions; quite rightly probably.

Malik continues, “Our failure to create social movements that fill the space vacated by the church (synagogue or temple) had left people feeling helpless” Is that why people find comfort in fake news, religious fanaticism, far-right nationalism, racism, xenophobia, or even in terrorism? Could it be why some are obsessed in the endless pursuit of pleasure that never quenches the thirst?

An Austrian psychologist and a holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, noted that those who knew their place in the world hence the meaning of their lives had better chance of survival in hell. “God is dead,” said Frederick Nietzsche, but he added, “Yet his shadow still looms.” The Guardian commentator concludes that God may be dead but “His shadow is in reality our failure to create movements and institutions that can nurture a sense of meaning, belongingness, and dignity.”

Me? I am an optimist: We are not stupid. We muddle but will find it.

End of the world?

Is the Book of Revelation the prediction of the End of the World?
– The answer is “no.” –

Admittedly, the last book of the Bible is very strange. Preachers like me try to avoid it. Fundamentalist Christians take it literally and preach a very dangerous message: “The world will end after a cataclysmic global war at Armageddon ( chapter 15 & 16). When that happens all the Jews will accept Jesus as Messiah and only the chosen few will go to heaven.” During the Cold War, many fundamentalists Christians took such scenario seriously. They predicted the apocalyptic global nuclear war that will end the world, as the Revelation prophesied. They also called natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis as God’s punishment on homosexuals.

However, if you read it like you read “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis or “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien, you will find there is nothing strange about the Book of Revelation. They are Christian literatures written about Christian faith by 20th Century Christian professors of Oxford University. John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” belongs to the same literally genre. They are written in symbolic language.

Unlike fundamentalist Christians, we must not take its prediction literally as the future fate of our world. The Revelation is an interpretation of the events unfolding in the Mediterranean world under the Roman Empire during the first Century. It suggests how Christians can read the signs of the times from the current affairs. The Revelation gave hope to those early Christians who were suffering terrible hardship.

When you study the history of the first Century Roman Empire, particularly under Emperor Nero, you will understand how the Christians saw the situation and described it in symbolic language, i.e. the empire as an ugly beast with seven heads. You must also be aware that in the Revelation events are not presented in a linear fashion. Events are not written sequentially. They are not necessarily related either. When you read the history of Roman Empire, such as Edward Gibbon’s “The History of the Decline and Fall of Roman Empire” and compare it with the Revelation, it is interesting to see how Christians interpreted the events happening around them.

Also you must recognize the fact that it was written in secret codes. The first three hundred years of the Christianity were dangerous time for the followers of Jesus Christ. Often it meant death when discovered, because Christians were seen as members of the fanatic religious sect founded by a treasonous agitator, a blaspheme, and a heretic; and incredibly an atheist. They were seen like today’s ISIS sympathizers. This is why many church leaders wrote their messages in coded language so that only Christians could decipher it. The one still current even today is the sign of a fish to symbolize “Jesus Christ.” Fish in Greek is ιχθνσ IXTHUS. The Christians saw those characters as the initials for “Jesus Christ Son of God – Iesus Christus Theos Fuios – IXTHUS.”

The Revelation is not the only example of such literal form in the Bible. The Hebrew people had had a long tradition of writing their dreams, messages, and visions in secret code when they lived in dangerous times. The Book of Daniel in the Old Testament was written in the same literal form. The writer of the Book of Daniel lived after Israel was defeated by the Babylonian Empire and the elite and the leadership were taken captive and exiled in a foreign country. Like the Revelation, the latter half of the Book of Daniel is a collection of strange images and visions. It is a coded document passed around among the Israeli prisoners and those who lived in exile.

The literal style of Revelation and Daniel is called “apocalypse” to mean the end of the world. Also some scholars claim that Mark’s Gospel chapter 13 takes the apocalyptic style. It is because it prophecies the end of an era. The Revelation is predicting the end of the Roman Empire, not the end of the world. Be that as it may, it’s supposed to hide the real message in secret language so that only people who know the code would hear its message.

Nobody knows who wrote the Revelation. It carries the name of John and follows the style of Greek language resembling that of the Gospel according to John and three letters which also carry the same name. It is impossible that they were written by Apostle John, he should have been more than a hundred years old had he written it. But there is a connection between those Johannine literatures. For one thing, their Greek language has common features; in fact it sounds like childish Greek written by a child in the grade two. As a first year seminary student, I began reading Greek with John’s Gospel: easy to read like baby-talk. Secondly whoever wrote them worked among the Christians who lived in the present day Turkey, Asia Minor. Letters to seven churches indicate the writer was familiar with those churches in present day Turkey. Whoever it was he must have belonged to the group began by Apostle John.

Let me list a few examples of coded words and numbers:

Angels – intermediary. Animal or beast – Roman Empire. Colour white also crown – victory. Eyes – knowledge. Horns – power. Lamb – Jesus Christ.

Often number do not mean mathematical numbers. They have meanings, often representing objects:

One – unity, 2 – union, 3 – completion, 6 – weakness, 7 – spiritual perfection, 8 – new birth, 12 – perfect government, 22 – light, 23 – death, 33 – promise, 200 – insufficiency, 7000 – final judgement, 144,000 – number of Jews.

The Revelation is a document in coded language, secretly passed around among the First Century Christians who lived in the present day Turkey. It is a commentary of the events unfolding around them, often suffering persecution by the Roman authorities. You must not read it literary. You must know the code. You must never try to apply its prediction to our situation. But we can admire the courage of those Christians who lived under such a severe situation without losing hope and were determined to keep their faith.



The recent “Economist” lists a few interesting examples of the positive side of negative trend. One of them: about 1,000 Pubs are closing every year in Britain. In the affluent countries of OECD, 25% of 16 – 24 years olds do not drink alcohol; about 20% decrease since 1998. Not only they consume less alcohol, but they do less drugs, less sex, harm each other less often, and break fewer rules “Young people are behaving differently from previous cohorts.” No longer hedonists. (January 19th, 2018, p. 53)

The above weekly says, one of the reasons for this is the effect of social media: “technology has changed people’s behaviour.” We of the certain age who struggle with new technologies sour-grape about young people wasting too much time on devises, ignoring the real world. However, the article points out the flip side. Young people are busy looking at little screens and have less time to ‘sin’. Also since everyone has a smart-phone, children are more connected with parents. Apparently, 15 years old boys in 28 rich countries have found it easier to talk to fathers; albeit in mere 170 characters. Thanks to smart-phones also, parents know where kids are.

Another trend on the list is the influence of immigration. Young people are ethnically more divers in Western countries. Immigrants come from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. British psychologist Ann Hagell says, often “immigrants arrive with strong taboos against drinking, premarital sex…. and think only paupers send their children to work.” They work very hard and sacrifice themselves to educate children. Evangelical Christianity has strong influence on some African and East Asian communities. So their youth take less alcohol and drugs, and follow stricter code of ethics. Against the backdrop of increasing secularization, they retain strong attachment to their faiths, which stirs up suspicion even hatred. However they ally themselves with the churches that oppose abortion and homosexuality.

Every change is like a coin with positive and negative sides. German has a convenient word for it: “Schlimmbesserung” which means the negative side of an improvement. It’s like the fact that invention of letters diminished memory capability. There is also a positive effect of a negative change. Therefore it is important to recognize that the debate should be ‘both.. and…’ not ‘either…or…”

Three ingredients of a successful society are, compromise, co-existence, and respect.

Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui

Four words for love

– Luke 15 and 1 Corinthians 13 –

Can you love someone you hate? Yes you can: love is complex. “In the world of four letter words, Care is short of Love, but just beyond Work.” (Anne Boyer, “Canadian Art” – 2018 Winter Issue.) You can not put a dynamic life force like love into the prison of mere one word. Jesus told parables and stories not theology. (Luke 15) Otherwise, he simply acted on it. When Jesus was asked what to do with the adulterous woman who stood in front of him, he just hunkered down, kept doodling on the ground, and did not say a word. (John 8: 1-11) Perhaps for us, art and music are better media to communicate love than mere words.

Although it is quoted as the “hymn for Love,” oddly the First Corinthians chapter 13 in the King James Version of the Bible does not speak about “love.” It says “charity” in its place. Why? In Greek lexicon, you will find at least four words for love. Three of them are in the New Testament. The Biblical scholars who worked under King James decided that “charity” was closer to the original Greek word “agapeh” meant to convey.

The fact that there are more-than-one word for love is a problem for English speakers, because love is so central to Christian teaching; there should be clear without any confusion. Lack of clarity due to short of the right word is the reason for ambivalence about love in our culture. Inhuman acts are committed in the name of love. I don’t think that the writers of the Bible were confused. They knew exactly what they were writing about; it’s why there are four words for love.

Forgive me writing Greek letters. I wanted to show how the four words looked different representing different concepts, though it is one word in English. They are agapeh – αγαπη, epithumia – επιθυμια, eros – ερwσ, and phileo – φιλεο. It shows the complexity of the most important value of the Christian faith. Perfect goodness is not simple: love is complex. But it is pure and simple in real life. This is why Jesus told parables to teach love. (Luke 15) This challenge is affecting our behaviours often resulting in the abuse of the word and deeds; like making selfish demand in the name of love. Maybe we should stop talking about love but live the life like the stories in the Bible.

English is not the only language with problems of “love” word. Sesotho, an African language for example, has the same problem: “lerato” means desire and love. However, Buddhism clearly distinguishes them with different words, desire is “bon’noh” and self-giving charity is “jihi.” The question is whether those four Greek words present irreconcilable difference or they are related and can grow into perfect goodness. Can selfish desire turn into selfless act of pure love? Can greed become generosity?

This is a challenge of translation. The Bible is the document written in Greek from the oral traditions originally spoken in Aramaic and Hebrew. All Bibles are translations. The Church in Rome translated it into Latin and called it “Vulgata” meaning it is a vulgar version

Every time a word is translated into another language, the scholars of languages have to choose the word closest in meaning to the original. There is none meaning the exactly the same as the original, because languages are the product of different cultures and histories.

So what is “love” according to the Bible? . The word in the Corinthians chapter 13 represents the perfect love, and it is “agapeh – αγαπη.” I suggest that we take the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians as the standard representing the true and godly love and evaluate other love words.

Let me begin with the most popular and yet often abused word. It represents erotic and/or romantic love. Εροσ – eros became so closely connected to sexuality that by the time New Testament was adopted as the authorized holy scriptures (Canon), it was banished from all church vocabulary. It was replaced by another Greek word, epithumia – επιθuμια. Greek philosophy defines ‘spirit’ good, and ‘physical body’ bad. This Greek dualism corrupted the Hebrew view of the body and spirit being one and the same.

I think this is unfortunate because in ancient Greece, circa 500 B.C., thinkers like Plato used the word eros to mean an irresistible impulse for beauty and perfection. Sex was only a tiny part. I think it is a pity that our natural yearning for beauty and perfection was so degraded in common understanding of the word. It is a source of ambivalence about our body and sexuality. All are God’s creation and good. (Genesis 1) Sexuality is godly. Jesus loved – epithumia to eat with disciples. (Luke 22:15) We have to remind ourselves that for Jewish mind there is no separation between mind/spirit and body. A healthy mind dwells in a healthy body. When a body ails, so does spirit.

Natural love in Greek is “phileo” as in “philo-sophy” (love of wisdom). Friendship, brotherly/ sisterly and parental love, all fall into this category. (Matthew 19:37) It is a natural emotional and often passionate love. It is also self-giving love. When you love your child, you would sacrifice yourself for the love of your child. But it is spontaneous and natural; has to be given up for higher purpose. (Matthew 10:37) Love your parents but you may have to stop loving them if such love prevents you to follow a higher goal. This is why you find puzzling sayings of Jesus like Matthew 10:37. John 21: 15-17 is interesting: Jesus asked Peter if he loved (phileo) the master. Peter said, “Yes, of course…” But that was not enough, Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” In other words,”You have to prove it with deeds.” Phileo must be elevated by action.

Lastly, agapeh. It is the godly love as in “Love your enemy.” It can be against natural instinct. (Matthew 5:43 – 48 and Luke 15) This is why Jesus uttered impossible to understand words like, “You can not be my disciple if you love your father, mother, brother, or sister.” (Matthew 10:37) Agapeh love and phileo love are two different things. You must love (agapeh) ones you don’t love (phileo). Jesus from the cross asked forgiveness of those mocking him, torturing him, and killing him?

The most chilling words I heard recently were victim impact statements in the trials of a murder and of a perpetrator of multiple rapes: “I hate you.” I totally understand that sentiment. I have such a problem with one man who murdered several friends in South Africa. Can you demand forgiveness from the families of victims of the Holocaust or from “Indian Residential School” survivors? We don’t quite understand the distinctions between different loves therefore can not agree to love enemies. The important question is: “Can one kind of love grow into another kind of love?” Can Eros become self-giving Phileo such as parental love? I suppose it is possible. From time to time, one hears of incredible grace of forgiveness – an example of true Agaphe: such as Nelson Mandela.


Idol worship: a big mistake

When you admire a person, you make him/her an idol; a bad mistake. You should know nobody is perfect. We must not make anyone a god. Saints are not gods. Heroes make mistakes.

Recently, some of us are having difficult time understanding the leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi. We admired her so much that we gave her Nobel Peace Prize and Honorary Canadian citizenship. Why doesn’t she stop violence against the Muslim minority Rohingya? Should she be stripped of all those honours?

I can list many examples of the same mistakes: Ugandan President Yoweri Moseveni who saved his country from the butcher Idi Amin; Rwandan President Paul Kagame who brought order after the genocide of Tsusis. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who ended the minority white rule in Rhodesia in 1980.

When Mugabe brought in the North Korean 5th Brigade and bombarded and slaughtered the minority Matebele people, we did not condemned him. We said nothing because Mugabe was a hero. We in the west praised those African leaders then, but now they are embarrassment. They were heros, but now they are power hungry dictators. They must not stay on the pedestal. But why didn’t we condemn them, then? We haven’t admitted our mistakes.

When I was a part of the team tackling famine in Ethiopia during the 1980’s, we were criticized by many “progressive” people in the West who supported the independent movement of Eritrea called “EPLA.” It’s now one of the most brutal regimes that produces many refugees who are trying to cross the Mediterranean sea.

We in the western countries do not have all that clean record either. Are we not lucky that King Edward, the Queen’s uncle, abdicated? He loved Nazi Germany and admired Hitler. What if he hadn’t? The controversies about names and statues abound: Father of Confederation John A. MacDonald, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, etc. Now some Oxford University students demand the change of the name “Rhode Scholar” because what Cecil Rhodes did in Africa.

Historian Margaret MacMillan raises an interesting question in her book, “The Uses and abuses of history.” She mentions the Pope apologizing for the Crusade and admitting that Galileo was right; Bill Clinton apologizing for slavery; and Tony Blair for the Irish Famine. And she argues that learning from history is dangerous, but we must learn from it, because no human is perfect.

Ten Commandments

ETHICS ARE BASED ON RESPECT – Exodus 20: 12 – 17

Christians believe that the most important rule that should govern the relationship with others is LOVE based on Leviticus 19:18. However, the Ten Commandments suggest it is RESPECT. It is not a contradiction. Respect is a starting point that paves the way to love. “You can take a horse to water, but you can not force the horse to drink water.” Respect is like “taking a horse to water” to create the condition that will lead us to LOVE.

Respect stops you to commit murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty, envy and greed. And it begins with appreciating your parents. Acknowledge that your parents brought you into the world and therefore give them respect. It is not a matter of choice. Without parents, there is no ‘me nor you.’ Respecting your parents, even imperfect ones, means you are affirming your own existence. Not respecting your parents is to deny your own existence. That’s a starting point. The remaining five rules are deeds as the result of respect. They are necessary rules for our own survival in the interdependent world.

When you read the Old Testament however, you will find the Ten Commandments demanding observance of those six rules hypocritical. The commandment, “Thou shall not kill, steal, commit adultery, lie, nor be envious,” was required only among the Israelis. They were gratuitously violated otherwise. The God of the Old Testament freely allowed Israelis to not only ignore them but often were encouraged to violate them.

The same is true today. There are many excuses to disobey the six Commandments. In fact, despite the universal acceptance of the Ten Commandments as the fundamental rules for any decent human being, they are shamelessly ignored and violated. War, capital punishment, under-cover police operation, espionage, and competition in the market motivated by envy and greed should be all illegal among all children of Abraham – Christians, Jews and Muslims. The Ten Commandments are the basis of our ethics and legal systems. But that is not the case. Why? Why you must not murder your fellow citizens but can kill your enemies? How can you explain that?

It’s the contradiction stems from the conundrum caused by the juxtaposition of specific and universal. When you say, “Charity begins at home,” you recognize the universal importance of charity, but you have to begin practising it specifically at home. The circle begins small but must expand. When it is not big enough, the contradiction exposes itself. When you say, “I love my country.” your statement is based on your limited experience and specific knowledge of people and communities you know. You do not know whole of Canada and all Canadians. But you can not claim to love Canada if you do not love some Canadians you met and the parts of Canada you know. Your love of the country begins at home. Specific and universal are one undivided continuum . There can not be one without the other. You can not claim to love Canada if you hate your home town.

Jean Paul Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” He does not know life. We are not alone. We exist because of others people. In an African language, there is a saying, “ Motho ke motho ka batho.” It means “ a person can only be a person with people.” That is what Nelson Mandela called, “Um Buntu.” Interdependence is the only viable way for us to survive as a species. This is why welfare of the whole community is vital for us. “A man is not an island.” So when you recognize the importance of interdependence, you know that respect other persons is also critical for our survival. Respect is not only an article of moral ethics, it is an indispensable ingredient of the recipe of life. No one can survive if the community you live in is not functional, where members want to kill and/or deceive each other. Guns do not guarantee your safety.

When a community is small, there must be respect for family, friends, and neighbours. But outsiders must be repelled, therefore the rules that are essential within a community do not apply to outsiders. They can be ignored and other rules must be followed. So do not kill your neighbours but may have to kill the outsiders. But as the size of the community become larger, those rule must be applied to the larger number of people. This is how tribal laws become national, national become international, and international to universal. Same rules that have to be applied to humans will have to be expanded to include animals and plants when interdependence of all creatures are recognized to be essential. The world we live in can continue to exist only when all rules become universal.

Now briefly the specific rules:

Respect your parents: this is not a matter of choice, it is given. You don’t choose your parents, likewise you don’t choose the Creator. You deny God at your expense. The stupidity to deny your origin will lead you to your own ultimate demise.

Do not kill: killing other people is an act of suicide in the interdependent society. When you respect another person, you are exercising an art of survival.

Adultery is an act of disloyalty: when your impulsive pursuit of self-interest takes over, your are not behaving according to respect. A community where there is no loyalty will not live long.

Theft is the result of lack of respect for the boundary between you and other persons. In many societies where sharing is the norm, there is an understanding that sharing is different from theft. Theft is an act as a result of lack of respect for other person’s boundary.

Deception is the result of ignoring truth for selfish interest.

Envy and greed also is the result of selfish pursuit ignoring the need for the interdependent community.

There can be many other examples of the ways to exercise respect, but the author of those rules were restricted to reach and stop at the number “10″ as the number for the perfect laws. Therefore, the number can be altered. In fact, many followers of the ancient Jewish traditions later added and expanded the scope of moral ethics. Christians did the same such as Seven Deadly Sins.

However all rules must be based on love because it is the sum of all laws. (Romans 13:8 – 10)


WE BELIEVE IN ONE GOD – What does it mean? –

The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20

Laws in the Old Testament are published in two different formats; many of them are in the form of stories. The Ten Commandments, however, are another style which is a listing of code of conduct item by item. Listing format in the Western legal tradition is first found as the Code of King Hammurabi of Mesopotamia (1554 B.C.) It predates Moses by about five hundred years and is a precursor of the Ten Commandments.

For many of us, the list format is easier to understand than stories because it is short, pointed, hence clear. Our laws are promulgated as itemised lists. The story format is ambiguous and is left to interpretation. However, it is debatable if list is more effective. In later years people like St. Paul questioned its efficacy. (Galatians Chapter 3) Be as it may, it is very important to recognize that the principle of the rule of law was introduced at the time the arbitrary power of the monarchs was on the rise. The Bible has always been sceptical about the power exercised by humans. Remember the story of the first King of Israel Saul? God was not sure if any human should have power over others. (I Samuel Chapter 8) Rule of Law rejects the notion of arbitrary power of human: no one should be above the law.

The Ten Commandments are actually amplification of two basic principles: The first principle is that there is only one God, or perfect truth. Secondly, the ethics of interpersonal relationship is based on respect. However in ancient days, numbers had meaning and ‘two’ had to be avoided, because it meant division. Laws must not contradict each other. Thus two fundamentals were expanded to make a list of ten rules. ‘Ten’ makes it the perfect law.

I. The first and second commandments – verses 3 – 5:

The verse 3 and the verses 4-6 are two sides of a coin. There is only one God and anything conjured up by human is an idol – false god. Because of this belief, Christians during the time of the early Church were persecuted and/or killed for not recognizing the divinity of the Roman emperor. They refused to pay tax because it was called an offering to a god. Likewise, twenty centuries later my father was detained from time to time during the Second World War for not publicly acknowledging the divinity of the Japanese emperor in his sermons; the act considered to be treasonous as was interpreted as a rejection of the authority of the military. The military were considered to be the instrument of a god the emperor.

Christians and Jews believed they had to refuse any recognition of human power to be divine and insist that anything human was temporary and could be wrong. That was the basis of the second commandment; prohibition of idol worship. (Verse 4 – 6) We must recognize that this is a refusal to accept any assumption, hypothesis, idea, image, and theology of God to be absolutely true. Many religions, though claim to be monotheistic, often appoint a certain human figure and/or institution such as church hierarchy, pope or prophet and bestow upon them the ultimate divine authority. We believe they are also idol worship. No human can be god and possess ultimate truth.

It is natural that we want to know perfect beauty, perfect goodness, and perfect everything; happiness, love, power, justice, peace, or pleasure. Because we don’t know or have never seen what that perfection is, humans decided to call it “god”: Plato called it “ideals.” Many people, except Christians, Jews, Muslims, called anything amazing, beautiful, big, merciful, or powerful ‘god.’ Today, many people believe money, profit, and wealth as such the most important therefore god-like. Therefore, there are many conflicts among gods. Though monotheism began as a tribal God of the Jews, rejection of idiolatry eventually led it universal monotheism. This is the meaning of rejecting idols: All things imagined or perceived by humans can not be perfect and ultimate. Therefore, search continues.

The belief in One God is the motive of all enquiries and never ending search for truth. It means no hypothesis nor imagination should be termed as complete and final. Hence monotheism is intrinsically doubt-driven; so the search for truth never ends. This is the reason why monotheism, the Jewish-Christian-Islamic tradition has always been the primary mover of scientific pursuits. All scientific conclusions are hypothesis and are discarded with a new discovery. Jewish Albert Einstein made Christian Isaac Newton redundant. Likewise all human search for the ultimate reality never ends.

Belief in one God means an unceasing search for absolute truth. It is why it is called “belief” or ‘faith” not knowledge, because no one possesses it. Jesus said, “Nobody has seen the wind, nobody knows where it comes from. We only know it is there because we feel it.” If you claim to know it, that is no longer belief or faith, it’s a knowledge. Once it is a knowledge it is no longer eternal, because it is limited to the capacity of a human brain. Faith is like rendez-vous; ‘waiting for a lover.’ You wait because you believe the love you are not yet 100% sure exists but continue to wait because you trust your lover. The great philosopher, Socrates, said, “One thing I know for sure is that I know little.” Here faith and science have a common ground. Since we know little, we keep looking for it. That is the life of a believer.

Faith is a journey, not ownership; nobody owns God.

The third and fourth commandments: (Verses 7 – 11)

The third commandment is not a mere prohibition to swear. It prohibits any action in the name of and/or on behalf of God. None of us has a complete knowledge of God therefore has no right to act in the name of God. We are seekers. Just like scientists never stop to seek secrets of the universe, and artists search for beauty, we seek the truth. And the search never ends. We can never assume that we possess answers. Life is a perpetual process of search. But alas, so many people claim they know God and speak for Him! They are all liars and idol worshippers.

The fourth commandment regarding Sabbath is often misunderstood. We must take note that the word Sabbath comes from a Hebrew word ‘shabbat’ which means ‘rest.’ The idea that Sabbath is the day of worship did not come from Ten Commandments. It comes from the synagogue and the church in their institutional need for the people’s support . It recognises an importance of rest – break from routine. It is ‘holy’; the word simply means ‘special’ or ‘different.’

Racism is ubiquitous

African Canadian actress, Rita Devereux, opened a workshop on racism with a following statement: “We must admit we are all racists. However we must never act on it.” If “racism” is too harsh a word, could it be “prejudice” or “fear of unknown?” Anyhow, racism is common.

Racism between Chinese, Korean and Japanese, for example, is not spoken about often but is there. When the Very Rev. Sang Chul Lee, of Korean ancestry, was elected Moderator of the United Church of Canada, he was asked if he had ever experienced racism. He said, “Not in Canada, but in Japan.” I knew a psychiatrist in Japan. He had to hide his background because of the prejudice against Koreans: even his wife hadn’t known it.

We must admit that racism is ubiquitous. One hears whispers about it between Blood and Cree nations. But we must treat it like cancer. We must acknowledge it’s there, lest it raises its ugly head unconsciously. If we acknowledge it, we can work on it: NEVER act on it. All of us are still learning to live with many unknowns in the Global Village to become one human family. We fear differences or unknowns initially but it’s natural. My daughter grew up with African and European friends in an African university community. One day, she was absolutely frightened when she saw a group of Chinese agriculturalists who arrived as foreign aid specialists. They were the first North-East Asians she saw aside from her parents. I had to remind her how she looked in a mirror. Funny but true.

It is more difficult when people do things differently that seem rude, and/or eat weird foods. When I came to Canada in 1958, I still found some Japanese Canadians, even a dentist’s family, hid their chopsticks when there was a knock on the door during the meal. I still hear hesitation when raw fish sushi was suggested. Until a hundred years ago, Japanese thought eating red meat was barbaric and yucky. So bad boys who wanted to eat anything forbidden cooked steak outside on a ploughshare, hence “Sukiyaki” – “Fried on a blade.” Franklin expedition did not have to end tragically if only English sailors ate raw fish like Inuit people.

People are different, neither good or bad. Just different. We should learn about them and their ways without contempt, disgust or fear.



The indigenous nations accepted refugees and settlers from other lands. Newcomers were horrible to the hosts. Throughout history, invaders were often more aggressive to the natives. Nevertheless, together we built Canada.

In June, 1979, I attended an UN Conference held in Geneva to discuss refugees from Viet Nam. Canada was represented by Flora MacDonald, Secretary for External Affairs of Joe Clarke’s Federal Conservative government. She pledged that Canada would accept and resettle 100,000 of so-called “Boat People.” I was so proud of Canada. Compared to the most recent attempt to resettle 25,000 Syrians, it was quite a generous gesture. Vietnamese were such a success story. Many of them are now business owners, professionals and entrepreneurs. Vietnamese noodle soup – Pho is now as Canadian as Poutine.

Canada was built by the generosity of Indigenous people who received settlers from different continents. Many of whom were refugees: the founders of English Canada were American refugees, not migrants straight from Britain, escaping revolutionaries into the North still held by the Crown. They were “United Empire Royalists.” They laid the foundation of English speaking Upper Canada. Without them, Canada would have been a French speaking country. Many Europeans from places like Ireland came escaping hunger and poverty. We now called them economic migrants, but they were escaping intolerable conditions like refugees.

Underground Railroad brought many African descendants who were escaping slavery; Ukrainians escaping Stalin; Jewish people escaping Anti-Semitism in Europe; Doukhabors and Mennonites escaping from the persecution of pacifists; Chinese from Hong Kong from Japanese invasion and later Communist take-over – one of them became Governor General; Hindus and Muslims escaping Idi Amin in Uganda, one of them is now Mayor of Calgary; Hungarians and Czechoslovakians; Latin Americans escaping civil unrest; the list goes on.

Let us not forget Americans: many of them well educated intellectuals came to Canada because they did not want to be involved in the war in Viet Nam. Some of them constituted the corpses of the faculties of universities, including our University of Lethbridge, which sprung up everywhere in Canada since the 1960’s. We don’t call them refugees but they were.

Jesus and Mohamad were refugees at some points in their lives. Thank God for refugees who helped build Canada, and thank God for the original people of this land who welcomed them at a great cost to them.

Happy Canada Day!



I have never understood people who don’t believe what is obviously fact. I guess it’s the case of: “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with facts.” On Facebook while ago, there was a very helpful graphic essay answering the puzzle: “Why facts don’t convince people.” It says in short that people’s action is invoked by an emotional impulse rather than the facts based reason. It’s like being caught up in the stampede rushing toward a precipice. You are conditioned to be loyal to the herd despite smell of death.

Even if I have all the data and hence I am convinced that a certain action is needed, I still have to be emotionally motivated to act. What moves me there is often not the knowledge of cold facts but compulsion. I can easily just sit and do nothing about what I know. What moves my emotion is a search for safety. We are, more often than not, motivated to look for security than correct logic or morality. Security feeling comes from a sense of belonging to a group of loved ones; family, friends, organizations, religions, customs, shared memories, or traditions.

This is why it is difficult to speak against the policy of the political party I have voted all my life; or to question what I have believed for a long time; or speak against someone I love and/or family and friends. This is how we come to behave against reason. Facts are often inconvenient and uncomfortable. Still some people act following what reason dictates and pay the price. How then do we manage to act rationally against natural instinct? Is it power of reason or pigheadedness?

What should be done, if the world should function and survive? The Facebook post suggests: first we must believe and persuade others to believe that we are in this together in the same boat despite the differences. We can argue until ‘cows come home.’ But never scuttle the boat. If you do we all drown. Secondly, admit that “I could be wrong.” That takes humility and courage. It is not easy: so many relationships break up because we insist “I am right and you are wrong.”
How many times have wars been fought over differences and have killed thousands and millions? The only cure for unrepentant stupidity is death.



I was not tortured; it was not a jail; but I was driven to madness: it WAS torture. In January, 1972 I was locked up alone for three days. It was detention by the immigration authority at Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg.

I flew back from a conference in Dar-a-Salaam. The plan was to pick up my car in Johannesburg parked at a friend’s house, drive three hours into Lesotho, and cook supper for Evelyn, my 8 year old daughter. She was home alone as her mother had left in the morning for a conference in Botswana: not a good plan.

In the terminal building, the immigration officer took my passport and told me to follow him. He led me to a room, which was like a cheap motel. He locked the door and went away without explanation. Nobody came for three days except a frightened looking black man in a blue over-all who delivered stale food. The only window faced a brick wall: there was no radio, TV., nor telephone. Nothing to read. I had no idea why I was kept there. “I tell you anything you want, just get me out-a here:” I would shout. I banged the door; nobody came. I didn’t sleep; the whole time. The thought of my daughter alone at home at night drove me insane.

The conference in Tanzania was organized by the World Student Christian Federation based in Switzerland. I went there as Regional Director of the University Christians Movement (UCM) for Lesotho and Orange Free State. UCM was banned later that year for none compliance of a law prohibiting mixed-race association, hence was deemed subversive. Colleagues and friends were banned, jailed, or killed: non-South Africans were expelled or letter-bombed.

I learned a few things: Total isolation is torture. Also information obtained by torture is unreliable because one would say anything to get out of agony. In solitude, you must know how to face yourself – as a supposedly religious person I should have known how to look at myself calmly. It was just three days: I was pathetic: monks meditate many days alone in silence.

After three days, I was given a deportation paper, and two hours to leave the country. Practically impossible driving 300 km. My daughter was safe. The family of a political science professor took her in when they saw her alone at night.

Are we redundant?


Once I nearly missed a flight because I got confused with a self-check-in machine and needed a help of an airline attendant. Furthermore there were fewer luggage drop-off counter; the customers had to spend more time in line. Airlines is saving money with smaller staff at the expense of customers’ time.

The Super Market self-check-out is the same for me. A 14 year old geek can handle it with one eye on smart-phone, but not this old geezer. I tried a self-check-out because I didn’t want to wait in line for just a bunch of green onions. I got all muddled up and an attendant had to come to rescue me. Here again, I noticed there were fewer check out-counters with real persons serving; another case of a business saving money at the expense of customer’s time and grief.

Is all this automation a way to make humans redundant? Thanks to mechanization farmers who constitute 1.7% of population are now producing more food than the time when farmers numbered multiple times more. More is on the way: driver-less cars, parcel delivery by drones, automated factories, self-directing vacuum cleaners. During the Cold War, there were rumours about the development of neutron bomb. Its idea was a weapon that kills humans without damaging physical assets: absolute abomination.

I don’t think Mr. Trump is right to blame trade treaties for unemployment. It is automation, computerization, mechanization, robotics that are making people losing jobs. But humans are not disappearing; if at all we will be more in number. In these circumstances, there has be a radical paradigm shift with our idea of who we are.

We have to move away from the notion of “We are what we do.” We have to accept ourselves as what we are regardless of what we do. I am a human being whatever I’m doing. When I introduce myself as a retired person, I feel obliged to find a way to justify my existence by describing how I spend my time. If I say, “Actually I do nothing,” people think I am being funny. So I say something like, “I write.” But I should not have to say what I do to win the right to occupy space and eat food. “I don’t apologize,” something like that, said John Wayne. I have a right to live and be loved by simply being alive and cranky.

How Can I forgive a man who pretended to be my friend?


A South African journalist, Jonathan Ancer, recently published a book “SPY: Uncovering Craig Williamson.” Ancer interviewed me on Skype for this book because I knew Craig, whom I thought was my friend. I met with him often over meals to catch up. But his friendship was a deception. He was a spy, a Captain in the South African State Security. For several years he pretended to be an activist working to change the racist political system. He not only infiltrated the international organizations but also killed and injured numerous people, including some friends.

During the late 1970’s, I was working at the International Headquarters of the World University Service in Geneva Switzerland. My job was to raise funds for and to support the movements fighting the racist system within South Africa. One of them was “National Union of South African Students” (NUSAS). I met Williamson first time at the Johannesburg Airport in 1975. He came to meet me in place of Karel Tip, who had just been jailed. Tip was President of NUSAS and Williamson was Treasurer. By then I was a persona-non-grata in South Africa, so I met with my contacts in neighbouring Lesotho and Botswana, or in the airport building which was outside of South African jurisdiction. Eventually he came to Geneva pretending to be a refugee. He spied on many international organizations with the help of naive armatures like me.

In April, 1994, I was back in South Africa as a member of the International Election Monitoring Group. Immediately after elected President, Nelson Mandela announced a plan to introduce “Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” The idea was to allow people on both sides to come forward and confess what they committed during the Apartheid offing amnesty. I said, “No, you can not do that!” I could not bear the thought of a person like Craig Williamson walking away scot-free. The fact is that was what happened.

I read Ancer’s book. Craig admitted what he did and was never charged; now a wealthy business man. He showed no remorse: “I did my job. It’s a soldier’s job to kill.” It’s difficult to forgive him. I am not a good Christian. However, without the Mandela/Tutu “tell the truth and be forgiven” measures, South Africa would have had a horrendous blood bath, and may be like another dysfunctional Zimbabwe.

Words lost the power


New immigrants face many challenges. Language for one. It is impossible to start a life without it in another country. I was recruited to come to Canada because I could preach in Japanese. I was too dumb to realize that in Canada the working language was English otherwise. To learn English as a primary language of work was hard, because learning a language is not just a matter of correct grammar, pronunciation, and sufficient vocabulary. Language is a product of culture, history, society and many other factors. You must understand those determinants to know the language. It can be disastrous to use the language you hear on the street.

A same word can mean different things. For example, “trespass” in the familiar Christian prayer is translated into “sin” in Japanese. But the original Greek and Hebrew word is “debt.” We don’t pray “forgive us our debt” because if debt is bad and must be forgiven, our economy will collapse. Investments, stocks and bonds, credit cards, mortgages are all debts, borrowed money, in different names. Debts are forgiven if you are too big to fail. So we call it “trespass.” But a socialist says that to equate trespass with sin is a capitalist’s spin. How can a new immigrant learn so much complexity and subtlety of culture and society in a short time?

Another problem: Word of mouth used to be as good as the speaker. “I give you my word,” was like a notarized affidavit. But now, do you trust the word of all politicians? How did word become like shifting sand? I wonder if, in the age of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” art, music, and stories are more reliable means of communication. My language teacher, Ntate Tente, commented after my first sermon in Sesotho, a Bantu language, “You may be a good preacher. But I didn’t understand what you tried to say. We are story tellers. Tell us stories like Jesus did.” To make a point with life stories? I wonder how many politicians can survive if their livess are their words.

When you see an immigrant, listen to the story, not the imperfect English. If a person speaks in broken English, he/she must be bilingual. You must give compliments. With three acquired languages, I am no longer perfect in any of them including my mother tongue. So I tell stories.

Missionaries were agents of Imperialism

“The Church misread Matthew 28:19 for a thousand and six hundred years.”

One of the most influential theologians of the 20th Century, Emil Brunner, Professor of Theology at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, called the Church’s application of Matthew 28: 19 “a glorious misunderstanding.” For nearly two millennia, the Western Christian Churches had followed the dictum, “Go out into the world, make all people my disciples, and baptise them…….” Some still do. However, the Biblical ground for such aggressive way to expand the Church is a very thin ice. There is only one mention of such commandment in the Bible. There is no other passage in the whole Bible commanding proselytization.

Why then did aggressive evangelism become a powerful doctrine? I am convinced that it was the influence of the Roman Empire on the fourth Century church leadership. By then the Roman Catholic Church was an integral part of the Imperial political structure. It was convenient for the proponents of the empire expansion to embrace an aggressive religious doctrine. Matthew 28:19 was a useful passage to justify the imperial expansion in stead of encouragement to being the witness to God’s love. It was a misreading of the passage. We must recognize the fact that it was originally written for a different reason.

This verse has been misunderstood and abused first by the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church, and gave birth to the missionary movement of the Protestant Churches as an agent of colonialism. Consequently, colonialism, destruction of non-Western cultural traditions, and even military actions like Crusades and European colonial wars used Matthew 28:19 as the Divine Commandment to expand.

From Africa , Cecile Rhodes famously wrote to the Colonial Office, “Send us more missionaries. They are cheaper than policemen.” The Residential School system for the original population of Canada was another infamous example of corroboration between colonialism and proselytism. Empire expansion is as old as human race, from Mongolian Empire to British Empire. However, Matthew 28 gave an added sense of God given rights to the basically theft of other people’s land. Granted, missionaries brought benefits as education and western medicine. But even those good deeds were used as the tools of propaganda. On the other hand, Japan and Thailand, both had prohibited Christian missionaries during the time of European expansion. Consequently those countries were never colonized. They adopted Western science and technology on their own volition to suit their needs and kept the religious heritage intact.

In short, the missionary venture legitimised the incorrect interpretation of the word ‘evangelism.’ “Evangelism” comes from the Greek word, “evangelion.” Actually, it means “to convey good news.” It never meant “converting pagans into Christian faith.” The missionary movement of the western churches was an invention of the Roman Empire, not of the Bible. Therefore, other non-Western Churches did not have a missionary movement. Orthodox Churches of the Eastern Europe, Greece, Middle East, North Africa, and Russia have never sent out missionaries to win converts; likewise neither did non-conformist groups like Mennonites and Quakers.

As for the Gospel according to Matthew, you have to take into count its particularity to understand the reasons behind 28:19. Matthew was written in Antioch, present day South Eastern Turkey, during the Second Century by a Greek speaking Jewish Christian. Greek language of the Gospel of Matthew is in such a refined quality that only a Greek mother tongue person could write it; not the disciple Matthew from Galilee who had no Greek. In comparison, the writer of the Mark’s Gospel uses only elementary Greek indicating he was not a person of Greek mother tongue.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke, called Synoptic Gospels, represented three distinct groups in the early church. Two of them retained Judaism: one group spoke Hebrew and remained mainly around Jerusalem; while the other was made up of diaspora Jews who spoke Greek as mother tongue and lived outside of Palestine. Both were a reform movement of Judaism. The group based in Jerusalem disappeared when the Roman army totally destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The second group lived mainly in Asia Minor (Turkey) and continued to exist. Those two groups believed that Jesus never abandoned Judaism. So they continued to practise Hebrew religious customs. Meanwhile, Luke was speaking to the third group who were made up of some Greek speaking Jews with an increasingly large number of Gentiles. They accepted Christ as a founder of a new inclusive religion. They did not observed Hebrew practices such as circumcision and Kosher foods.

The most important issue that separated them was the question of “how much should Christians retain Jewishness?” The group Matthew was addressing itself to believed that the message was Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law and Prophets. For Matthew, Jews were Christ’s target group. So he recorded Christ’s words like “I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel” (15:24) And “Go nowhere among the Gentiles.” (10:5) In contrast, Luke believed that Jesus Christ founded a new religion for all nationalities: the Law of Moses had completed their assignments hence not to be imposed on non-Jewish converts.

The challenge was, even among the group Matthew was addressing himself to, there were increasingly large number of non-Jews joining up. The Church grew very fast in number without conscious effort to expand. This happened despite the difficulty to engage in open observance of Christian faith: because it was often illegal. But people willingly joined often secretly. Sociologist Rodney Starke attributes such attractions as the women’s enhanced positions in the Church, caring nature of the community to the orphans, the poor, the widows and the sick. The church was a very attractive alternative to the old religions and the oppressive political system.

What do you do with those gentiles who were attracted to the group of Jewish Christians? That was the challenge Matthew had to address. Kick them out? Making them Jewish by circumcision and Kosher food? Matthew 28: 19 was written in order that Christian Jews would welcome the Gentiles as brothers and sisters. The only condition was baptism, which interestingly was an initiation ritual of one Jewish sect, “Essene.” Nevertheless, it was an appeal for inclusion. Unfortunately it was used by the Roman authorities to justify imperialistic aggression. We do believe in evangelism as a good news but not as a tool for aggrandisement of the Christian Church. .

Progress or Suicide?


“China, a land of famine” used to be a common characterization of the now prosperous country. Korea too used to conjure up an image of hunger and poverty. In fact, a biggest non-governmental international charity, “World Vision” began to help Korea in the 1950’s. Japan was not too much behind on poverty index. Now, some Americans want to build trade barriers against their cars, clothes, and electric gizmo. There are people keen to stop Asian money spiking up the price of real estate beyond the afford-ability of ordinary Canadians. Where are those former recipients of charity today? They are economic success stories.

Now China and India are top green house gas producers kicking off the U.S. to No.2 status and the European Union to No.3. Should they celebrate the biggest polluter status like a badge of honour? They are the successful story of free market system and industrialization. In fact during the 1950′ s, a teacher in social studies at my middle school in Japan suggested that the degree of success in advancement of civilization could be measured by the amount of water consumption and the volume of trashed garbage. The bigger the better: he said seriously. Japan, Korea, and China were the first success stories of the development model advocated by the Western countries since the end of the Second World War. Foreign aid worked for Asia like “Marshall Plan” did for Western Europe.

Science and technology; exploitation of natural resource, production and consumption; competition and free un-tethered market: those are some of the buzz words to be successful economy. They were encouraged to follow the Western model of development and succeeded. Asians have proven themselves to be good in the imitation game. But now some Americans hate it because they see Asians succeeding in what they had been encouraged to emulate. Ironical, isn’t it? What is scary is: what’s going to happen if and when Africans catch up with the rest of the world. The day is coming fast. That’s why China is furiously investing in Africa as their future market.

More scary is the fact that very few people are questioning the direction of the development model. I am not rejecting progress. I am not a romantic advocate of the paternalistic and racist notion of “noble savages.” But I think we have to slow down to survive: sustainable development.

You don’t have to be disagreeable to disagree.

Sadly I sense that civility in our day-to-day conversations is diminishing recently. Is politeness no longer important? The hallmark of democracy, I believe, is to agree to disagree without being unpleasant. Dictators, tyrannical kings, and self-righteous religious leaders, all tend to be thin-skinned egomaniacs, persecuted and even killed those who disagreed with them. Those days are supposed to be over in democracy like ours. So why insult someone who doesn’t agree with you.

It is not only unpleasant to hear gratuitously disrespectful words but also it is an ineffective way to communicate if you want to influence others. If hurtful words are thrown at me, I get annoyed and will stop listening. Are you trying to persuade oppositions into your way of thinking, or do you just want to insult them? When insulted, the opponent only gets angry and thinks of a way to get back at you. It is a waste of time to engage in a debate where the participants are determined to tow the party line or are not ready to change mind.

When I was teaching at an university in Southern Africa, I doubled as Dean of Students for a while. I often had to be involved in the court cases when students appeared. One student stabbed a man in a fight causing a none-life threatening injury. The village chief who normally acts as the magistrate, gave him six lashes. On another occasion, a student verbally insulted a female server at the cafeteria. The offender was sentenced to prison for several months missing exams. In Basotho culture, they believe that a mere physical injury can heal but words can destroy a person profoundly therefore more serious offence.

I am not advocating respectful language just to show-off our civility. I believe a society functions better when people demonstrate respect to each other despite the difference in opinion. I prefer to live in a society where respect for each other is the norm.

Middle Class Left – Traitor to the class

Dilemma of Middle Class

When Donald Trump was elected President, I felt lost, was puzzled and upset. Megalomaniacs are always around. There have been some who caused terrible devastations and deaths, like Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. But I thought history gave us good lessons not to repeat it. “Those who can not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

What scares me is not so much the President-elect but it is the fact that so many people voted for him. I am sure there are such people in Canada too. I wonder if we are too conceited to think we have right answers but only failed in communication. Maybe we don’t have answers and don’t want to acknowledge our blindness.

When Ronald Reagan was elected President, I was staying with a friend of mine who was teaching at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. We were appalled by the prospect of the former actor’s presidency. My friend said, “the trouble of self-appointed intellectuals like us is we don’t know the language of people who are edged out of the mainstream society and are angry.”

Once I lived in Cabbage Town in Toronto. I took a street car to downtown. The tram runs between Cabbage Town and Regent Park. The former is a ghetto of the smug middle class living with gentrified early 20th Century brick houses: the latter is the first urban renewal housing project, a.k.a.”’slum.” Occasionally, I had to go to work early, like 6 a.m. Fellow passengers were mainly construction workers, cleaning ladies, and new immigrants. They read the Toronto Sun, a right-wing tabloid featuring crime, sex, and sports. At 8:30 a.m., my usual time, commuters were business people and professionals. They read the Globe and Mails or the New York Times.

The liberal/progressive camp occupied by the middle class has a problem. A friend of mine said, “the problem of the middle class left is: They are traitors to their class.” They claim they work for the cause of the poor but hopefully without sacrificing their comfortable life-style. We must stop talking disdainfully of the people who supported Donald Trump. We should try to understand their hopes and aspirations with respect agreeing to disagree. They must have good reasons to be angry. Come to think of it, back in the day, I was also against Sales Tax and Free Trade proposed by Conservatives.

Dilemma of Middle Class

Dilemma of Middle Class

When Donald Trump was elected President, I felt lost, was puzzled and upset. Megalomaniacs are always around. There have been some who caused terrible devastations and deaths, like Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. But I thought history gave us good lessons not to repeat it. “Those who can not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

What scares me is not so much the President-elect but it is the fact that so many people voted for him. I am sure there are such people in Canada too. I wonder if we are too conceited to think we have right answers but only failed in communication. Maybe we don’t have answers and don’t want to acknowledge our blindness.

When Ronald Reagan was elected President, I was staying with a friend of mine who was teaching at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. We were appalled by the prospect of the former actor’s presidency. My friend said, “the trouble of self-appointed intellectuals like us is we don’t know the language of people who are edged out of the mainstream society and are angry.”

Once I lived in Cabbage Town in Toronto. I took a street car to downtown. The tram runs between Cabbage Town and Regent Park. The former is a ghetto of the smug middle class living with gentrified early 20th Century brick houses: the latter is the first urban renewal housing project, a.k.a.”’slum.” Occasionally, I had to go to work early, like 6 a.m. Fellow passengers were mainly construction workers, cleaning ladies, and new immigrants. They read the Toronto Sun, a right-wing tabloid featuring crime, sex, and sports. At 8:30 a.m., my usual time, commuters were business people and professionals. They read the Globe and Mails or the New York Times.

The liberal/progressive camp occupied by the middle class has a problem. A friend of mine said, “the problem of the middle class left is: They are traitors to their class.” They claim they work for the cause of the poor but hopefully without sacrificing their comfortable life-style. We must stop talking disdainfully of the people who supported Donald Trump. We should try to understand their hopes and aspirations with respect agreeing to disagree. They must have good reasons to be angry. Come to think of it, back in the day, I was also against Sales Tax and Free Trade proposed by Conservatives.

In search of good government

First ISAIAH – Chapters 1 – 39
In search of the good government

As you begin to read the Book of Isaiah, you can feel trapped in doom and gloom. You must understand that Isaiah was angry and afraid of the future of his nation of Hebrews. He condemned not only his own country but also many of the surrounding ones. He was fed up. It is rumoured that because of harshness of his criticism, he angered the king and was executed. You have to read it patiently to see beyond the angry rhetoric. You will find here and there his yearning for an ideal ruler – a good government. His dream is so alive that it looks like he was seeing a figure of Christ. This is why Isaiah became known as the prophecy of Jesus the Christ. “Christ” is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” meaning “anointed one”.

Isaiah condemns nations in many parts, (Chapters 1,2,3,13,15,17,18, 19, 22 – 39.) Isaiah criticised them for their bad governments (kings), corruption, and immorality. He predicts destruction and suffering as the consequence. He condemns not only Hebrew states but all nations in the Middle East. (Chapters 1, 2, 3, 13, 15, 17, 18, 19, 22 – 39.) God is also non-discriminatory in choosing his agent. For example, he chose non-Hebrew Persian and Assyrian kings to be the messiahs. (chapter 10). I don’t think Isaiah intended to predict appearance of a person like Jesus. He just wished there was a government (or king) which was faire, just, merciful, and wise.

The book of Isaiah is an influential book in Christian faith. Frederic Handle wrote the beloved oratorio “Messiah” often quoting verses from the book of Isaiah to characterize Jesus the Messiah. In the entertainment world also, the recent Walt Disney cartoon movie, “Zootopia” is inspired by an ideal world (11: 2-9 & 65: 25) where preyed and predators live together without being harmed. The first sermon Jesus gave when he began his ministry at a synagogue in Galilee was a quotation from Isaiah. (Luke 4: 16 – 19) Isaiah greatly influenced Christian idea of social justice too.

The question is: Is Isaiah predicting what the life of Jesus would be like? Was Isaiah describing a man yet to come eight hundred years later? Or did Jesus tried to emulate his life according to the image dreamt by Isaiah? Or did the Church altered, or fabricated some parts of the oral tradition about the life of Jesus to fit Isaiah’s prophecy? In my way of thinking, it really does not matter. Faith does not necessarily have to be based on historical facts. Spiritual truths can be expressed in different literal forms; fictions, history, or poetry. “What is it trying to tell us?” is the question we should be asking. I think that debating facts or fiction of the Biblical passages is a meaningless exercise in our spiritual life. Faith is a conviction of things not seen nor known. (Hebrew 11:1)

For example, in search of a good government, Jesus was made to be a descendant of King David in order to qualify him as the ideal king; “the King of kings” – the best government. Matthew made Bethlehem as his birth place. The city was known as the city of David, his birth place. (Chapter 9) The difficulty of this notion is that if Jesus was a result of immaculate conception (virgin birth), he was not the son of Joseph therefore not the descendant of King David. Isaiah traced David back to Jesse as his ancestor. (11:1) Matthew traced Joseph’s ancestry to David. Mary the mother of Jesus was not an offspring of David. So, Matthew’s argument is a bit of a stretch. It isn’t history. Matthew tried to build up Jesus’s image of the Messiah by manipulating some facts. But we get the idea. The life of Jesus was the model of the best king (government).

A prophet in the Bible is not a fortune teller. He/she does foretell the future sometimes but that is only one aspect of his multiple mission. Like Moses, a prophet conveys the word of God: in other words, he/she was a preacher. Like Miriam, she celebrates the miraculous God’s action after crossing it on a dry sea floor with dance and music by the Red Sea: a worship leader. Like Samuel, he anoints kings, advises and often scolds kings like Nathan. He declares justice on the street like Amos. The prophetic function is one of today’s preachers’ dual mission, proclamation and teaching. A prophet is a messenger of God.

The Book of Isaiah was not written by one person Isaiah. It probably began as the document recording the original words of Prophet Isaiah of the 8th Century B.C. It looks like his autobiography in many parts, particularly in chapter 6. But other prophets added their writings. It is a compilation of many prophetic works written in three centuries. In ancient days, it was not unusual for people who admired a particular writer to add their own writings to the original text. You realize that before printing press was invented in the 16 Century, all documents were hand-copied onto a piece of parchment or of skin or chiselled on a piece of flat stone. Copiers added, edited, and omitted freely as there was no copy-right laws. The book of Isaiah is the work of many people who agreed and admired the original prophet. Imagine editing Jane Austen!

Scholars agree that it contains the writings of at least three major prophets. The first is Chapters 1 – 39 written by the original Isaiah written just before the defeat of kingdoms of Israel and Judah by the Babylonian empire – the eighth century B.C. The second is the chapters 40 – 55 written by a nameless prophet in Babylon (the present day Iraq) just before the liberation of the Jews from captivity in the seventh century B.C. And the third is the chapters 56 – 66 by yet another nameless person after the return of the Hebrews to Palestine, in the sixth century B.C..

The prophets in the Bible speak about three dimensions of life: the relationships with God, with people, and with the world. In today’s preaching, the first two are major common themes; first about the nature of God; secondly about personal moral ethics. But rarely do we hear the third dimension; politics, foreign relations, history, and society.

Today, politics is often off limit in religion. On the contrary in the prophetic tradition, as you can clearly see in Isaiah, politics and society are dominant themes. He spoke prominently about morality of kings (politicians and governments) and foreign relations. He spoke about historical events as the consequences of political actions and God’s responses. In fact, politics and history are the major themes of the first Isaiah: 1 – 39. Let me pick a few salient points the first Isaiah raises:

– God hates empty words and showy rituals – worship service. Building, clothes, and ornaments mean nothing to God. They are like wine left to become sour and waterily. (1:12)

– God’s rule is peaceful and just. Beat swords into ploughshares. (2:4)

– A young woman will bear a child, who will be a wise counsellor and Prince of Peace. (7:10) The word “young woman” was changed into a Greek word “virgin” when the Catholic Church translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek. It followed the traditions of other religions which often made the birth of their gods the result of immaculate conception.

– The poor will be protected and widows and orphans will be treated justly. (10)

– A non-believing foreign king, Syrian, can be an instrument of God. (10:5)

– The vision of the world under God’s rule. A David’s descendants will produce a new king who will rule with wisdom and treat the poor fairly and defend the rights of the helpless. Wolves and sheep will live in peace. (11: 2 – 9)

What is Christmas in a Multicultural Society?


This year, we will go to Toronto and cook Christmas dinner for our extended family: our turn. Diners around the table will be more Jewish than Christian. No matter, everyone loves turkey dinner. It’s our family tradition. Except one time, my son-in-law had to go out to buy sundries to make sure all cousins, Christian and Jewish kids, get to open presents. Nobody care how we greet each other. We are family and enjoy each other’s company with good food. Isn’t that this is all about? Celebrating togetherness though we may live and believe differently.

Ostensibly, many Christmas customs come from pagan traditions anyway. So, strict Calvinists banned Christmas celebration at one time. For example, Christmas tree: Prince Albert introduced the German pagan tradition to enjoy colour and scent of evergreen trees. December 25 was a pre-Christian Roman winter holiday. A fat jolly bearded man in red costume is an invention of Coca Cola company. Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on January 6; Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Epiphany rather than Christmas; in England once a friend roasted a traditional goose for us. In Switzerland, we used to get together with friends on December 6 for an evening of conversation over spicy mulled red wine, oranges and walnuts.

In Japan, Christmas in the cities is an evening of serious drinking. At their favourite watering holes, they raise the glasses and shout, “Merry Christmas.” Most of them are not Christians. My father who was a United Church minister in Tokyo scandalized a barber cutting his hair when he said he was busy for Christmas preparation. “You? Christmas?” He thought my father was a sober clergyman. In Japan, Christians celebrate Christmas only at the church, not with family. It is because Christians are less than 1% of the population and most of them are only Christians at home. Christmas at the church is a special worship service, sometimes with meal afterwards. No turkey: when I ate turkey first time at an American missionary’s home, I though it was bland and tasteless. Gift-giving is not the custom. Inebriated husbands buy cakes to take home for the family; peace offering perhaps.

If you really want to bring Christ back into Christmas, in stead of wondering how you should greet, you should , “Feed the hungry, give a cup of water to the thirsty, and love your neighbour:” as Jesus said.


Syria is a mess, so are many Middle Eastern and North African countries. The West including Russia, by their intervention, have to take much of responsibility for this mess.

I do believe in democracy. But it is a messy system. It requires informed citizens and their ability to live with difference. Founder of the Fifth French Republic, General de Gaul said, “How can you conceive of one party system in a country that has over 200 varieties of cheese!” It has taken centuries since Enlightenment for the West to achieve today’s democracy: it has taken millennia since the ancient democratic Athens. Building a democracy takes time. We can not expect it to be successful in a few years.

Even the United States, the most advanced democracy somehow managed to produce Donald Trump; Russian revolution begun by liberal democratic groups was quickly taken over by Bolshevik dictatorship in 1905; Germany. Italy, and Japan democratically elected fascist dictatorships during 1930’s. History is full of failed democracies. Democracy is still work-in-progress; often causing much suffering like the current Middle East.

The mistake the West keeps making is; we assume we can build a democracy for other people: “Just get rid of dictatorship and unleash people power.” It’s not that simple. Once stability is lost, the chaos ensues. Then it is very difficult to bring back order. Chaos produces bloody conflict. This is why China is trying to maintain order and stability at any price; even indulging North Korea. I don’t condone it, but I understand it. I am also critical of the West’s hubris which makes us think that outsiders can create a “people first” political system for them. That’s a delusion.

Democracy can not be imposed. It has to come from people who would build it in their own way and in their own time. The Western allies are proud of the Second World War’s success in creating democracy in Germany and Japan. You have to remember, however, that both countries had thriving democracies during the 1920’s. They were destroyed by right-wing nationalists. Democracy requires people to be informed and have ability to live respectfully with oppositions. It takes time .

It is frustrating to watch people struggle and suffer while working toward democratic society. But intervention from outside rarely help them. Often foreigners make the situation worse.

Is truth obsolete?

Post-Truth Era?

A recent article in The Economist laments the diminishing importance of truth (September 10, 2016). The most depressing thing about current American politics is not so much Donald Trump but the apparent demise of respect for facts. It does not seem to matter to Trump’s supporters how many times he fudges facts and tells lies. After the first debate with Hillary Clinton where he lied dozens of times, his percentage of support did not diminish. It’s a case of : ”My mind is made up, don’t bother me with facts.”

The Economist blames this on the loss of faith in institutions among people who used to enjoy their place in society; mostly white men. They lost influence and are angry. They feel they have been betrayed by institutions like banks, government, political parties, mainline media, and policies they implemented like globalization and free-trade. So they don’t trust anything coming from the traditional sources of information anymore. They think immigrants and women are taking over and undercutting America’s greatness. They explicitly deride “political correctness.” The Black President symbolizes all this. So they are fighting back.

The authority of mainline media has diminished because social media has become the primary information source. Social media has democratised the information sector. But there is no longer a fact checking mechanism hence no authoritative referee. Truth is determined by “who is saying it.” Anyone who says what you don’t like is unfriended and banished from your sight, so you see only what you like. Even scientific consensus is considered to be unbalanced if it is inconvenient.

As the result, there are few means to verify facts. Truth no longer depends on facts but on “who is saying it.” Truth is determined according to tribal loyalty, race, nationality, religion, or political ideology, leading to statements such as: “ I believe whatever he says, right or wrong; the NDP is leading us into a catastrophe because they are doing what NDP does (even though the Tories might have done the same thing.)” Even aesthetics can distort facts: Nicholos Sarkosy stated that “Bashar Al Assad can not be so bad because his wife is beautiful.” This is why Mr. Trump can get away with untruths.

We are in trouble even after American election is over, one way or another; we have to find a way to restore faith in truth based on facts.


LEVITICUS – Book of Rules


Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself,” and called it as the most important law of our faith. It is a quotation from the Book of Leviticus. (19:34) But the abomination of homosexuality also comes from Leviticus. In fact, many of the rules in Leviticus are outdated and impractical. If all the commandments are strictly followed today, a large percentage of the world’s population, at least among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, will have to be put to death. How many people would survive if those who spoke against their parents and those who engaged in sex outside of marriage are to be stoned to death?

Leviticus was written as the manual for the priests who were known as Levites. They were custodians of the correct form of worship and the standard of moral ethics. The source of its content is known among the Biblical scholars as “P” for priest. Not only P is the main content of the Leviticus, it is also often quoted in other books of Torah – Law, the first five books of the Old Testament. However, in this paper I am not touching on the first 10 chapters for the sake of time, because it is all about rituals and contains an entirely different category of subject matters from what I decided to discuss.

The basic motif of Leviticus is that God is holy therefore we have to be clean to be acceptable to God. (19:2) What then do the words “holy” and “clean” mean? Simply put, holiness equals cleanness. To be clean determines our action towards God and towards fellow humans and other creatures. The notion of “holy” was actually nothing uniquely religious originally. It simply meant ‘special’, ‘different’, or ‘unique’ as oppose to ‘common’ or ‘ordinary’. It was in later years religious institutions made it a religious notion, hence adoption of the word like ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’ to distinguish it from secular sounding adjective.

It seems that the idea of ‘holiness equals cleanness’ has a lot to do with health and procreation. Basically it derives from a concern for our well being and secure future. But to determine what is clean seems to be dependent on subjective, aesthetic, and emotional reactions, no way objective or scientific. So there can be difference of opinions depending on different cultures, places, and even on climate. So we who live in different circumstances from the Middle East often don’t understand some peculiar rules. How can an animals with divided hooves and eat cud are clean, but that do not eat cud are unclean? We who live in different places and times have no idea why such distinctions were made. I suppose it is totally contextual and/or subjective judgement.

Granted some rules have survived the test of time and geography and are still valid; e.g. prohibition of mildew or incest. (13:47 & 18: 6 ff.) However, many ethical decisions were made according to cultural and/or aesthetic bias. Anything that looks yucky, disgusting, and slimy looks unclean, therefore is bad for your health and bad for your spirit. The logic is, “It looks disgusting and unhealthy so God must hate it.” Liquid and solid discharge from any orifice of the body is deemed to be disgusting according to the cultural bias therefore determined to be unclean. Of course, some rules stand the test of geography and time. But most passed expiry dates and are obsolete, such as rules against eating certain animals like shrimps and pigs.

As for the rules against male homosexuality (18 ff), it is interesting to note that lesbianism is not mentioned. It shows that the prohibition of male homosexuality has to do with the need for preservation of seeds for future offspring, hence abomination of male masturbation as well. Preservation of the blood-line in a harsh desert climate and in the hostile neighbourhood was the primary concern. In milder climate and/or more civilized less violent societies, like ancient Athens, male homosexuality was thought of as natural and positive. In fact, in ancient Athenian society attraction between men was considered to be the most beautiful emotion, and is an ubiquitous theme in literature.

We must not forget that in ancient times people died very young and in large numbers especially in the harsh condition of the Middle East. Tribal wars were common. Death was ubiquitous. Survival of species was of utmost importance. The rules against waste of blood and semen were very much in keeping with this spirit. Scholars speculate also that the reason why male homosexuality is particularly detested has also to do with sensation of disgust about anus, a source of uncleanness.

At the same time, you must discover and recognize the positive aspect of Leviticus. You will find many precious gems that last forever. “Love your neighbour” is one. Love should be a criterion to weed out obsolete rules. There are other gems also that should be more strongly emphasized such as the notion of Jubilee. ( Chapter 25 and following) I often wonder why we have ignored those wonderfully humane commandments.

What I particularly think precious is the idea of Sabbath – sacred seven; after seven days taking time off to restore health and sanity in your body and in your relationship. The notion of seven is extended to seven years, and seven times seven years (forty-nine years). On the seventh day, you stop working to bring physical strength back and get together with family and friends to restore relationship. After seven years, you stop planting in order to give soil rest allowing time to recover richness of soil, and do not charge interest on the loan so that the poor people have a break. After 49 years (7 x 7), all debts must be forgiven, and all slaves must be freed. If anyone was forced to sell the house or land in the past 50 years, it has to be returned to the original owner. In the year of Jubilee – the 50th year; all must be forgiven out of love and welfare of community, nature, as well as of yourself.

It is such a companionate and humane idea. It’s such a radical idea that human race never had courage to follow the commandments of “sacred seven.” Seven is God’s time therefore it should mean love, restoration and salvation. Human race never followed it because it is bad for business. Leviticus spends many pages how the concept of Sabbath (Sacred Seven) should be implemented compared to relatively minor requirements like taboo on male homosexuality.

No matter how we screen out some of the obsolete and outdated rules, Christ’s primary “love” command is supreme and forever lasting. All others must be judged according to the supreme commandment, and be preserved or be allowed to expire. In conclusion, Leviticus has to be examined carefully to be applied in our life and time.

Creation Myth

Preface: “The Bible is not…..”

The Bible is not a collection of the words of God. Humans wrote it. However, reading those human words, you will be led to the Word of God. It is a collection of the record of the search for God in their experiences. It is written in different literary forms. The Bible is not a history book neither is it scientific. There are too many mistakes as history or as science. It is not even the book of morality, though it shows you the way to find it. It is like finding a pearl in a pig sty; there is a lot of muck around it as Jesus put it in Matthew 13: 44. Martin Luther compared the Bible to the trough in the animal shed. There is so much dirty and smelly stuff but that’s where the Holy Child is laid. The way to read the Bible is not to take muck as the words of God. But find God among it. Do not throw that away ; if you do you may throw out the Baby with garbage. You must examine what’s around it to understand the context in which God revealed himself.

Let us find what the writers of creation stories tried to say to us:

Humans have to this day always wanted to know how we came into existence. By knowing how we began we think we will know the purpose of our lives a better. This desire to know the beginning is universal. Every race has its creation story. And all creation stories are about intentional actions; not accidental happening. People who wrote creation stories did not believe humans came into being by accident. It was not like a monkey sitting in front of a computer banging away on the key board and by sheer accident voila “Romeo and Juliet.” Humans saw themselves to be the beings with purpose. Someone wanted us to exist and brought us into existence for a reason. That someone we call God.

Wise men and women of old imagined how the world could have come into existense, passed the idea around by word of mouth by the fire. It was written down later. They are all fictions inspired spiritualy wanting know more than just superficial facts. However, though they were the result of imagination, they tell us the importance of the belief that what we see is not all that there is and there is something important beyond what we see.

However, even during those ancient days, there were people who did not believe that there was anything or anybody beyond the visible world. They think that what is here is the result of series of accidents. Greek philosopher Epicures for example, believed that we came into being by accident and our lives had no purpose: A monkey wrote Shakespear, a sheer accident. The writers of the Bible did not believe that. Which one to believe? Choice is ours.

The creation stories of the Bible contains at least two different, perhaps three, traditions. All of them come from the region which includes present day Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. Chapter 1 and 2 contain two distinctively different stories. Even God is different in Chapter one and in two. Chapter one has a god who is translated and called in English as “God.” But in chapter two, he is referred to as “Lord God.” The word in chapter 1 for god is “Elohim.” It is a generic word for god, could be any divine being, Islamic or Hindu. The second one is specifically Hebrew God and is spelt in Hebrew script as “YHWH.” Nobody knows for sure today how those four consonants should be pronounced. Jews see those four consonants today and always say “adonai.” It means “Lord.” It is not the pronunciation of YHWH. They had not pronounced it by obeying the commandment, “Thou shalt not mention God’s name.” So now they do not know how it should be pronounced anymore. Chapter one’s god means all gods. But the second one is distinctively Hebrew, the Jewish God of Abraham and Sarah.

Not only do they have different names, their characters are different like they are two persons. The god in Chapter one “commands” with words and creates out of nothing. God addresses himself in plural “us” as though there is a family of gods. In Chapter 2, God works with hands, takes a walk, gets angry, and knows loneliness; in other words more human. God in chapter 2 created human by moulding mud into human shape, not out of nothing. God created the world in seven days in Chapter one, whereas in two there is no such reference to the time God took to create the world.

As for 7 as the number of days it took for God to create the world, we must recognize that numbers have always carried specific meanings, even today, to mean something other than just numbers. Seven, for example in Hebrew tradition, meant perfection. The writer of Genesis chapter one did not actually mean “7 days.” It was meant to be perfect; could be several billion years from the time of Big Bang. Other examples: One means God, five means grace, 6 means sin, etc. In Japan. 4 means death and the total number of gods is 8 million, ten thousand means “never-ending.” The Great Wall of China is called “Wall of Bannri (Ten thousand miles):” the wall that never ends.”

Speaking of 8 million gods, the reason Japanese think there are that many gods is because they deify all elements and phenomena in the world: Mt. Fuji is a god, Tsunami is a show of anger of the god of sea, earthquake is caused by a god who looks like a dragon. The Sun is a godness. The Greek/Roman gods are the same: for example the god of love-Venus, etc. Here is a definite and importance difference of divinity. The God of creation is beyond our reach and totally other being from our experience, while the other traditions (Asian and Greek/Roman) is god as a part our visible world. This is an important difference. It is like our contemporaries think that money and wealth are most important thing in the world: money is god. Ancient Israelis were always tempted to worship the golden cow, a symbol of fertility and wealth. The Bible definitely insists that God is the totally Other, the existence beyond us.

There is one difference between chapters 1 and 2, which requires special attention. It is the view about man and woman. Chapter one says, human are made like “us” (note that god in plural), and made them male and female. There is equality between men and women, and share God’s likeness. (1:26 ff) However in chapter two, God made a man first then woman from a rib of the man. Man was here first. How should we read this?

Though there can be many other interesting questions in the creation stories, one thing that needs to be emphasized is what is created is good. God was pleased with what he saw. The point is also made by the use of the number “seven” for the number of days he took to create the world. The number seven means in Hebrew tradition completeness. That the world is perfect is the basic belief of the writers. Nature is good. If there is any problem, it is because someone or something is behaving against nature.

Don’t forget things that may not be cute


The recent few articles on environment in this newspaper have challenged me to respond.

First, cute-factor: When the annual seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence became an international furor during the ninety- seventies, we, the Canadians who lived in Europe, became pariahs and were made to feel uncomfortable. I think those cute big eyes of seal pups were the cause of so much passion. (Lethbridge Herald August 22 page A9) Cats are also cute; I admit that I am willfully blind when it comes to the cats’ devastating effect on wild birds. (Mclean’s, September 12, P 65)
Because they are cute, Chinese government spends so much efforts to the preservation of pandas . Welfare of majestic elephants, lions, and whales raise more interest than damage made by carbon dioxide. Worms and microbes don’t get much attention, though they are very important for the health of our planet. Survival of spices is closely related to the health of environment. We have to admit and take into account the fact that ideology, aesthetics, personal value, and self-interest prejudice the discourse. (e.g. the guest columns, August 25 and 30)

I am not trying to make frivolity of serious issues. Rather, I am trying to widen the scope of our conversation beyond familiar and recognizable icons. Even some things we think disgusting could be very important because sustainable environment has a lot to do with balance between elements, albeit they may be cute or ugly, big or small, visible or invisible, inconvenient or profitable.

Secondly, that Alberta produces a tiny amount of CO2 is not an excuse to do nothing. Its action is not insignificant though its footprint is small. Fraser Institute’s critique of Alberta NDP government’s environment policy indicates that compare to a devastating effect on economy, its CO2 emission in a global context is negligible. It sounds like an opposite of Charlie Chaplin’s argument. Chaplin ends one movie about a serial wife killer with a quotation from a philosopher Jean Rostand, “If you kill one person, you are a murderer. But if you kill millions, you are a conqueror. If you kill them all, you are god.”

Just like there’s no such condition as “a little bit pregnant,” a small amount of wrong still is wrong. Alberta should not ignore its environmental footprint though it may be relatively small.

Don’t honor terrorists with religious labels


It is a fact that true and mainstream Muslims never allow terrorists to be designated as Islamic. It is the same with Christians, we must not allow intentional killing of other persons in the name of Christian faith. Therefore, we must not honour murderers with adjectives like “Muslim” terrorists. We don’t call Ku Klux Klan neither Nazis “Christian” though admittedly they were called by that designation in the beginning with official blessing of some mainline churches. Terrorists are sadistic murderers often using religion as an excuse. Religions do not kill. If they do, they are serious apostasy. Let us all be clear about that.

However, I must admit that history is full of officially sanctioned killings with executions and wars. Likewise terrorism was sanctified by the religious authorities. Burning at the stake of heretics and witches; Crusaders killed Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians alike; Hundred Years War between Catholics and Protestants; the bloody partition of India into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. The list goes on and on. Ku Klux Klan began not only as anti-African American, but also as ant-Catholic and Anti-Semitic movement allowing extra-judicial executions by lynching. Even supposedly the most tolerant religion, Buddhism, had legendary professional warrior monks, just like the Templars in Catholic Church.

The problem of religions causing such a deadly apostasy is absolutism and certitude. God is absolute but humanity isn’t. No human knows God. However, in order to assert the superiority of their religion, believers often claim monopoly of absolute truth. We must know we can never be certain that we know God completely. It is like waiving a flashlight in the dark sky. You can not claim all the mosquitoes you see with the flashlight are all mosquitoes that can bite you. That would be ridiculous. What you see is not all, but you can see mosquitoes are there. This is why all religions are called faith: you see only partially and the rest is a mere hypothesis.

Faith is an admission what you know is not total. With such an incomplete knowledge, nobody has the right to judge other to be untrue and destroy them as heresy. Faith by definition has no right to condemn others. This is why no religion can claim the only rights to exist and to exclude others. But religions often do. That’s the problem.



Many people predicted what we are witnessing today: deadly conflicts, mass migration, and starvation, all due to injustice. We were warned so we knew: humans are not so dumb. Then how come the world did nothing and let the predictions come true. They were preventable. The reason: there was no strong enough political will. Politicians saw lack of interest among their constituencies. We see only short term gain and are willfully blind to reality. Many who cried out and warned about an impending crisis were called bleeding-heart crying wolf and were laughed at.

In 1968, there was a huge UN conference about development in Uppsala, Sweden. I remember it well because it was my first year in Africa and extreme poverty was in front of me. The world came together to discuss development to eliminate inequality and poverty. It warned of dire consequences if the issue was not addressed. There would be conflicts and unrest because of inequality and injustice. Due to advanced technology of mass media e.g. televsion, poor people could see how other world lived and their misery was not normal. They wanted the same thing. It was predicted, consequently there would be uncontrollable and unstoppable mass migration like breached Hoover Dam.

In 1974, there was another big UN conference about imminent food crisis. It was held in Rome, Italy. But one thing I remember very well is Henry Kissinger’s bold promise. He was Secretary of States of the U.S.A. He said: “In ten years, there will be no child going to bed hungry.” Ironically, exactly ten years later, 1984, I was on the way to Geneva, Switzerland, to be a member of the team to coordinate the food aid to Africa. In the 1980’s, in Ethiopia alone about one million people died of starvation.

So here we are in 2016, there are conflicts in the Middle East, drought and starvation in Africa (again), and unstoppable mass migration in Europe.

We have been hearing about the climate change for more than two decades. Record breaking hot summers, melting ice in the Arctic, bigger and bigger forest fires in California and Canadian Prairies. Still there are enough number of people who deny that there is a crisis. They say it comes around every now and then. Don’t worry about the planet earth. It will survive; without us.

“When will we ever learn.” – Bob Dylan

Build a wall between friends not between enemies


Donald Trump wants to build walls between Mexico and the United States and force Mexico to pay for it. Good luck! I just hope and pray that there are enough voters with common sense in the States, so we will never have to worry about that possibility.

Canadian journalist, Marcello di Cintio visited controversial eight walls and wrote a book about them. He, in the introduction, also mentions several historical walls e.g. the Great Wall of China, the Walls built by Roman Emperor Hadrian in Britain, Maginot Line before WW II, and the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. He concludes: “History has not been kind to the old walls. Almost all the historical walls inspire scorn and, when they failed (almost all of them did) ridicule.”

Di Cintio visited and examined more recently built walls, barricades, and fences such as the fence around the Town of Mount Royal in Montreal to keep French speaking people out, the West Bank walls to stop Palestinian terrorists, the one that separates Catholics and Protestants in Belfast, the one between Greeks and Turks in Cyprus, and the Western Sahara wall to keep Saharawi out of Morocco.

His conclusion: none of them have been working, nor have produced results as the builders wanted to. Then how come some people still think they are worth the money? I guess it’s the price you have to pay when you ignore the lessons from the past.

Granted fences can be good: “Mending the fence,” means repairing a damaged relationship. A fence, in this case, means a respect for individual dignity and privacy. So here is what I think: barriers, fences, and walls work for the better where there is already good relationship existing. But if there is hatred between them, barriers exacerbate a bad situation. Then any separation mechanism never works, because resentment leads people to find ways to circumvent it, or even to tear it down. So work on becoming better neighbours first.

Di Cintio quotes Dr. Seus’ book about the wall between Yooks and Zooks: A Yook grandfather tells the need for the wall, ‘It’s high time you know the terrible horrible thing Zooks do. They eat bread with butter side down. We Yooks eat it with butter side up.” Walls can make enemies out of two good peoples. But good neighbours can build a beautiful fence together to celebrate friendship.


Acts 16

The word ‘missionary’ comes from a Greek word ‘apostolos’ (apostle). It is translated into a Latin word “missio.” It means, “being sent out into an unfamiliar place with a good news.” Mission is an integral part of Christian living; Jesus sent disciples out for a mission. (Mark 6:6 – 13) Some one rephrased Mark’s Gospel’s message, “a beggar telling another beggar where to find food.” It is an action in humility and love, not of domination and power. However, the idea had been wrongly understood and practiced by the Church for centuries. It’s time to rediscover its true meaning. Acts 16 helps us find the mission of Jesus Christ in true form.

When I went to Africa in 1968. I was sent out by the United Church as a missionary, almost one of the last ones to be called by that title. We were a group of twenty-six people trained together, ordained ministers, a dentist, physicians, nurses, engineers, accountants, and teachers. We also studied in Paris because our destination was the church that followed French Huguenot tradition. There, I trained with a Swiss mechanic and his wife, a nurse. Already the notion of “going out into the dark continent to lead heathens to Christ” was quite redundant. We were commissioned to help the local indigenous churches with skills they needed. Today the United Church does not send missionaries. It sends out “overseas personnel” when requested by overseas church partners. Why the change? It is a result of post colonial revision of history, where the word “missionary” became a bad name.

In Africa, I ran into harsh criticism of the Western missionary movement coming from African colleagues. They termed former missionaries as the agents of Western colonialism and imperialism. They said, “When you (missionaries) came, you had the Bible and we had the land. Now we have the Bible and you have the land.” Canadian indigenous people make the same observation. David Livingstone was followed by British soldiers who conquered East Africa from Cape Town to Nairobi. Cecil Rhodes famously asked the Colonial Office, “Send us more missionaries. They are cheaper than policemen.” Although today Christianity is the fastest growing religion in Africa and in the world, something went terribly wrong in the process.

The cause of this travesty was the marriage of the Roman Imperial power with the Catholic Church. Religion became a tool of the Empire. For eight centuries, there was no distinction between church and state. It distorted and re-defined the notion of the Mission of the Church. So the missionaries and the armies marched together into Asia, Africa, and Americas. Consequently, in Asia there are only two countries which have never been colonized: Japan and Thailand. Why? Both countries prohibited the Christianity by refusing entry of the missionaries and brutally persecuted and killed those who had been already in the countries. Those locals who had already been converted met the same fate. In Africa, only Ethiopia was not colonized. Ethiopia had long been a Christian country with the well established Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which is older than the Roman Catholic Church. All the rest of the continent became colonies of European countries. However, missionaries from Americas did not represent colonial powers but preached Western culture. American missionaries urged locals to accept Christianity as the way to become civilized. Thus the strategy of the Christian mission switched from use of state power to cultural intimidation.

However, despite the negative effect of the wrongly implemented the vision of the mission of Christ, you can not deny the importance of the apostolic faith and the centrality of mission. For nearly eight hundred years, the Church got it all wrong. Swiss theologian Emil Brunner called it “A glorious misunderstanding.” But do not dump the baby out with bath water. It’s time to rediscover the true meaning of Christ’s mission. Let us see how the Acts of Apostles chapter 16 helps us see the true way of Christian mission.

Timothy’s circumcision, verse 3: Timothy was a son of Greek father but because his mother was Jewish Paul circumcised him. Customarily all children of Jewish mothers are considered to be Jewish. It shows Paul’s flexibility and sensitivity. Despite a great controversy about the circumcision and his objection, he was ready to be accommodating, because the matters that were culturally important to the Jews. Compare that to the Canadian churches’ determination to stamp out all native customs like Pow-wow and Potlatch.

Speaking to the believers, verse 4: Paul never forced his way in. He approached only those believers who were ready to listen. And as in the case of Lydia (next paragraph) this verse does not say which God these Romans believed in. Would Paul speak to a believer of a pagan god?

Women, verse 11: In Phillipi, he was hosted by a rich merchant woman, Lydia, whose home became the church. Sociologist Rodney Stark who studied the rise of Christianity attributed the prominent role women play as one of the most important reasons for rapid expansion of Christianity. Unfortunately the advancement of women’s status in the church was halted when the empire took over the control and the church adopted the male dominated power structure of the imperial government. But the Bible records many important roles women played in the early church.

Healing, Verse16: Christians always followed the example of Jesus and showed compassion for the sick in body and mind. Rodney Stark again pointed this out to be the reason why many Christians survived the plagues and the church grew fast. When mental and physical afflictions were considered to be punishments for evil deeds, patients were often abandoned to die alone. But Christians took care of the sick and the possessed thus they survived.

Charitable work often offends money and power, 19 – 24: Paul and Silas were imprisoned because their healing act caused loss of business and offended the people in power.

Forgiveness, 25 – 34: Paul did not hold grudge against the jailer and gave him a new life. Only politician I know in world’s history who forgave those who inflicted injustice was Nelson Mandela. All others, though being Christians, practiced the law of revenge and called it justice.

Forgoing privileges, 36 – 40: Paul and Silas did not insist on the privileges they were entitled to as Roman citizens. Whereas Western missionaries always rode on the coat-tails of the colonial power, and took advantages of the special status where-ever they went. For example, my salary was better than the locals, and I had a free car though locals walked.



The sage I adore very much said a long time ago, “It is better to give than to receive.” He was not trying to be funny, because it is true. I know it because I was once on a receiving end of charity and my pride was in tatters. I was envious of people who were rich enough to give to the needy. My idea of paradise is the place where nobody is an object of charity.

It was soon after the end of the WWII in Tokyo in 1945. I was hungry. Everybody was hungry. Infrastructure was totally broken down and food could not reach the cities. People who refused to go to black market starved. The story was the same in Europe, I am told. Then Americans came to the rescue with emergency relief. Were we grateful? Of course we were. But we were also ashamed having to depend on charity. We were proud, as all of us should be. It is a human nature. In an ideal world, we all should be proudly able to keep dignity of independence.

About one million Ethiopians died of starvation during the great African famine of the 1980’s. I worked in Geneva as a member of the team coordinating the relief work. We found that many who died of starvation were farmers. Despite plenty of the available emergency food they starved. Farmers are proud people: they did not want to go for free food until it was too late after eating seeds and selling all farm animals and implements. Then they were too weak to walk to relief centres. They were ashamed that they could not feed themselves.

Christmas is coming. It’s tine to give. We feel good when we give. But what about those who are on the receiving end? Of course they are grateful to receive. But have you ever stop to think that those who have to receive prefer to be on the giving side? It is better to give than to receive. We should work for the world where no one is needy and everybody knows the joy of giving.

Dummy Company and Offshore Bank Account


Re: the story about illicit money hiding their identities in dummy companies and offshore accounts. They even used the names of charities. (Lethbridge Herald, April 11, page A5) It sounds familiar to me as I have done both. In my case, it was in Switzerland. The Swiss banking system has been known for anonymous numbered accounts. The question is: Why is it necessary for some people to feel they have to do such athing?

In my case, we used those mechanisms for altruistic reasons with the blessing of donor governments. I worked in Switzerland for six years in an organization that gave financial support to South African student and church organizations that were fighting the racist policy. We used Swiss bank accounts. It was a convenient way to erase the identity of their funds because those Western governments were not ready to sever the diplomatic ties with the Republic of South Africa.

I was also involved in a scheme to set up a dummy company in Liechtenstein. It became necessary to take such a measure because South African government was making it increasingly difficult for overseas entities to transfer funds to the organizations they considered subversive, such as the National Union of South African Students and the South African Council of Churches. It wasn’t meant to be tax evasion. The experience gave me some ideas as to how to hide and move money. I don’t feel guilty about what we did. For it is quite amazing how much has been achieved with such a small amount. When a majority of people know who are on their side with a token donation from overseas, the size of money is almost irrelevant,.

However, some thing is not quite right when people feel their money has to be hidden. It’s got to be an utopian world if finance has to be completely transparent. Sometimes money has to be hidden, because greed makes wealth a reason for guilt not of happiness. A Japanese saying has it: “Greedy person doesn’t want to stick out even his tongue.” In my own experience, we had to do it because an unjust system didn’t tolerate good money. It is reprehensible either way. I hope that someday nobody feel they have to hide what they legitimately earned, and that people will openly receive it for what they do, with pride.

Think globally and act locally


“Take care of homeless veterans rather than Syrian refugees”, you say. It sounds like an excuse for inaction to me. Of course we have to spend more tax money to help those men and women who sacrificed a lot for us. So I ask you, “Name one veteran you helped to get on welfare. At least, did you write to your M.P. about this?” Then I will hear you.

“Charity begins at home.” Of course it has to. More than 50% of public finance is spent on health care in Canada, and Social Assistance on top of it. Many of us rightly demand more. That’s why Canada is on the list of top five happiest countries in the world. I love Canada.

Let’s do a reality check. How much do we spend to help people overseas? In 1968, Prime Minister Lester Pearson aimed at 1% of the GDP. Never achieved. Afterward, for a few decades, 0.7% was the goal. Even that turned out to be too idealistic. We now spend less than 5%. That’s 5 cents of a dollar.



The true believer does not claim to know God. Religion is a system of faith. Faith is trust in what is unknown and unseen. Without trust, any association, bank, institution, or state is unworkable. Neither is science possible without it: faith in hypothesis.

Because the belief system is based on admission of ignorance, anyone who arrogates complete knowledge of God is either delusional or lying.

“What yesterday was still religion, is no longer such today; and what today is atheism, tomorrow will be religion.” -Ludwig Feurerbach : quoted by Chris Hedges in his book “America’s New Fundamentalists – When atheism becomes religion.”

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates



Acts 10 – 11 and 15: 1 – 25

Late Hugh MacCullum, a former editor of the United Church Observer, told me once that a large number of protest subscription cancellation happened each time after the publication of articles about women and sexual ethics, not so often about international and political issues. The first serious fight in the early Christian Church was not about faith in Christ. It was about food and circumcision. Were they that important? Granted, any question, no matter how trivial, can represent an important question worth fighting for. However, a sad fact is: more often than not, so many unimportant matters cause divisions.

After a bitter fight about food and circumcision during the first Century in the early Christian Church, a compromise was reached by dividing the church into two language groups; into the Greek speaking people and the Hebrew speakers. Greeks lived mainly outside of Palestine and Hebrew Christians around Jerusalem. This arrangement allowed different life-styles to co-exist by separating them geographically. Accordingly, Greek speakers whose number increased exponentially were allowed to eat whatever they used to eat and were spared from knives of circumcision. The Hebrew speakers continued to observe the traditional Jewish laws like Kosher food and circumcision.

The fight must have been fierce judging by the angry tone of the Letter of Paul to Galatians. Paul wrote the letter around 54-56 A.D. Consequently the big council meeting of all church leaders was called in Jerusalem to resolve it. (Acts 15:1-35) However, when the Acts of Apostles was written about 30 years later, compromise measures had been in practice for some time, hence the gentler tone of the book.

It is interesting that the Apostles and the leading charter members of the church in Jerusalem could not simply prevail over new non-Jewish members. The new comers were converts to the Jesus movement and mostly lived outside of Palestine. They spoke Greek and their customs and moral conduct offended the observant Jews, who still thought the Jesus Way was a reformed Jewish religion. The leaders of the church in Jerusalem lost the power over the new members because the number of those “gentile Christians” was large. (Acts 10 & 11) Also, the church in Jerusalem began to be heavily dependent on the financial support of those converts. (1 Corintians 16:1-4)

Why were food and circumcision such serious subjects? My guess is: often superficial differences touch people’s nerves more than invisible spiritual matters. How many people today criticize Muslims from their knowledge of Koran? Their objections are about ‘head-cover’ (nuns used to wear those) and because some of them are terrorists. Have people count the number of Christian criminals? Some Jews still blame Christians for holocaust. Vladimir Putin is a devout Orthodox Christian. But we don’t term Christianity a criminal organization because some of the criminals are Christians.

A concern for health was not so much about science, but very much a part of religious life. Bodily cleanliness and spiritual purity were the same thing. Practice of circumcision for example came from a sanitary concern, and was not invented by the Jews. Many regions in Africa and Middle East have a long history of this custom because of hot climate and scarcity of water.

When I went to Africa to live in 1968, I found that circumcision had been an entrenched tradition until European missionaries prohibited it as a heathen custom. It was never completely eradicated. The practice has continued clandestinely. Recently, ironically it has become a widely accepted knowledge that circumcision reduces HIV transmission, and is now encouraged.

As for food taboo: fear of anything that crawls and creeps on the dirt or ocean floor, slimy and weird looking things such as pigs, oysters, snakes, snails, shrimps, and worms, etc., were all suspect because of their disgusting appearances. Also men feared blood while women didn’t. For men blood represented death and violence while for women menstruation meant readiness for new life. Males dominated religious life, thus mixing blood was prohibited in foods. Blood was offered only to God as a symbol of sacrificial death.

In antiquity a concern for physical and spiritual health was one and same. Bacteria and virus as causes of ill-health were not known. Sickness was considered to be the punishment from angry gods. They were also the acts of evil spirit. This is why when Peter was faced with God’s command to eat with a captain of the Roman army, it was compared with the eating unclean foods. Italians are seafood eaters after all. Because cleanliness was spiritual matter, water and washing are not only acts of cleaning but also important part of worship in many religions.

However, were the issues that bothered the followers of Jesus still so important when Paul started to travel among non-Jews? Should the community based on love and mercy kick out some people because they eat different food? Peter was forced to change his mind and ate with the Roman. Paul and those who spoke Greek didn’t think food was an essential part of the faith in Jesus Christ.

It is interesting to note that even the minimum conditions the Jerusalem Council imposed on non-Jewish Christians were soon abandoned and ignored. Times change rapidly. How many European Christians stopped killing chickens by strangulation or stop making blood sausage? There is a fundamental problem with detailed rules of conduct and treat them as the core faith practice. Laws were introduced as a way to be obedient to God. But they immediately created problems. As Paul said, Law brought to us curse because we now know what is the right thing to do which we do not want to do. We know what not to do, so we do it. (Romans 7: 19 & 20) This is the perennial dilemma of human conditions. Rules are often temporary.

The same problem still rages today in many religions. The society is divided over abortion, assisted death, head-covers, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Violence and even wars are fought over those cultural and life-style questions. Often words of the Holy Scriptures are used to justify the positions that are not really core values. This is why it is important to learn from the experience of the early church; how they separated the core faith matters from the customs and traditions which were mere temporary expression of faith. They are often time specific. What then is the core value of Christian faith? That is the most important question.



Re: “Canadians in ISIS files”, March 11, Lethbridge Herald p. A10

The revelation of the ISIS recruits file is very interesting. I have long puzzled about the radicalization of educated middle-class Western terrorists from various ethnic groups volunteering to join ISIS. March 7 issue of the Mclean’s magazine introduces the research done by Diego Gambera and Steffen Hertog. It shows a curious connection of Jihadists and engineers.

The researchers found, “The presence of engineers among the known Islamist extremists is 14 times greater” than average. They are not saying engineers are potential terrorists. I have to make it absolutely clear, that I reject such stereotyping. The research points to the importance of the balanced use of both sides of a brain, and the need for education that ensure that balance.

The left side of the brain makes us think logically and scientifically while the right side more emotionally and spontaneously. A passionate religious believer who ignores what the left side of the brain says can easily become delusional. An excellent engineer insists only on logic, order and purity ignoring human quality of the left side of the brain can easily be persuaded to give to the extremism. The 9/11 master-mind Khalid Sheikh Mohamed was a well trained engineer. Gambera and Hertog mention a few other examples of terrorists who were likewise engineers. They also mention a high concentration of scientists and engineers among Nazis and Salafissts.

Of course, we must not overlook the “lone wolf” misfits who turn to acts of mass-killing and terrorism. They are found, for examples, in such places like the War Memorial in Ottawa, a summer camp in Norway, Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, and market places, schools and theatres in France and the United States. They are often lonely people excluded by peers and society, even bullied. However, the research in question added new food for thought for me.

It warns of the danger of over specialization, the training in narrow and highly specific areas. Though we are born with a certain degree of tendencies one way or another, we have to nurture and develop balanced use of both sides of brain compensating the weaker side. So, mathematicians should be encouraged to read Dalai Lama for example. Likewise a religious believer must at least know what quantum physics is about, and read Stephen Hawking. Smart people can be dangerous without balance.



Acts 9

The gift of the Jews to all humanity is “monotheism” – belief in “One and Only God”. Paul’s importance lies in the fact that he made that uniquely Jewish faith universal. Before Paul, Judaism was the only religion that espoused the notion of one god. Belief in the one that transcends all human imagination, the absolute other, is now the belief of two third of world’s population who believe in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or native spirituality. Most of other millions of gods were reflexion of human’s own aspirations and desires, such as longevity, money, sex, power etc. Paul says of this type of belief, “they are serving their own bellies.” (Romans 16:18)

Paul is a central figure of Christian faith: dare I say he is the second most important person next to Jesus himself. His letters and those that carry his name, and his life story dominate the New Testament; 14 out of 27 books. Some people have even called him the founder of Christian religion. But oddly enough he never met Jesus alive. His claim to be an Apostle is based solely on his encounter with the Risen Christ, while all other Apostles lived and walked with Jesus alive. This is why the resurrection of Jesus is central to Paul’s faith (1 Corinthians 15: 14).

Also his nemesis alleged Paul was an imposter who wanted to start his own religion by claiming he met the risen Christ. Saul was a Greek speaking diaspora Jew; opponents alleged his Jewishness was corrupted by Greek philosophy. Worse still, he had been an enemy of the Jesus movement known as the “WAY” as the church was known, jailing its members and overseeing their execution. (Acts 8:1) No wonder he had difficult time being accepted into the church.

So what happened on his way to Damascus? He had heard there was a thriving community of the members of the “Way” in Syria. With a licence from the Temple authorities, he was on the way to arrest those Christians. But something happened on the way that transformed him. This episode has been often called “Paul’s conversion.” (Acts 8:1-3 & 9:1-31) However, I would argue that it was God’s call to a new assignment. It was not a conversion. It was a step in the evolution of his long held Hebrew faith which he did not throw that away.

On the way to Damascus, he was called to be a missionary to spread the way of Hebrew God to the Greek speaking non-Jewish world. In other words, Saul did not reject the Hebrew tradition. He realized that the resurrection of Christ was the fulfilment of God’s design to be the God for all peoples, not just for the Jews. This is why he adopted the Greek version of his name “Paul” in stead of the Hebrew name Saul. (Acts 13:9) He became a missionary of the monotheistic spiritual tradition to the world of many false gods.

The way it happened as described in the Acts sounds like a heat or Sun stroke: “a sudden light flashed around him, and he fell to the ground from the horse-back and became blind.” (Acts 9:3-4) Likely story: the distance between Jerusalem and Damascus is 200 k.m. in a straight line, more than a week of horse back ride under the hot Sun of the Middle East. It was a long ride. Heat/ Sun stroke probably induced hallucination. He must have been thinking about those brave and faithful people like Stephen who stood face to face with a brutal persecution. “Who are they? What made them so strong in their belief?” It must have troubled him enormously.

Another factor that has to be kept in mind is the fact Saul was a member of the Pharisees, the party led by scholarly lawyers and teachers (rabbi). Another dominant group was the Sadducees, who believed in importance of the Temple and the rituals. They were often in conflict with the Pharisees. They quarrelled over many issues about spiritual life. For example, Pharisees believed in resurrection and Sadducees didn’t. For Sadducees, the religion was a this worldly institution; buildings, hierarchy, order, rituals, finance, etc. But for Pharisees, it is about deed/ morality, belief, doctrine, learning and teaching. Jesus himself took upon himself the life-style of the Pharisees rejecting temple culture. Jesus criticised hypocrisy of Pharisees but not their philosophy. The Sadducees disappeared after the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in 68 A.D.

The next question is: how can a man change so completely? On the way to Damascus, Saul realized the mistake he had made in his belief and completely changed his view of Jesus. This really shocked him. He didn’t know what was happening to him. He could not see his way. People rarely change their basic attitude. Can a zebra change its stripes? However, changes are normal in other context. Swans are black when they are chicks but they grow up to be white. Change of mind is natural; a normal progression of life. When you stop changing, you are dead.

An example: I am reading a auto-biography of Nelson Mandela’s personal secretary, Zelda la Grange. She is a white Dutch descendant. She grew up in a conservative Calvinistic home and became convinced that Black people were inferior race. How did she change after being chosen by Nelson Mandela to be his closest assistant after he was elected the first Black President! She became the closest confidante and the trusted friend of Nelson Mandela. A sheer strength of Mandela’s charisma did it.

How did Saul become Paul? It was a growing process of his belief system. It must have been quite a shock for Paul but was natural; a progression from a tribal god to the universal symbol of love. It was so shocking that he could not face the world immediately afterward; he went into hiding for 3 years in Arabian desert. (Letter of Paul to the Galatians 1:15 – 18) He did accept the new assignment eventually to be an Apostle to the non-Jews, and faced both external and internal enemies. Thus began the process of the belief in one God, began among Hebrew people, becoming the universal God for all people through Jesus the Christ.

With Saul changing to Paul, Joshua Messiah in Hebrew language became known in its Greek name Jesus the Christ (Iesus Christus). But many Jewish Christians insisted on keeping Jewish customs such as kosher food and circumcision: they thought those Jewish customs should be kept as an integral part of Christianity. But Peter and Paul didn’t. Thus the people of “the Way” became “Christians” in Greek word.

Change of mind does not mean lack of conviction


Justin Trudeau promised a review of the electoral system. If we adopt proportional representation or ranked ballot, we will have to radically change the way we think in politics. We will have to learn to compromise and co-operate when we work with people of different opinions. Adversarial style will create gridlocks. It is because there winning is the goal, not the pursuit of what really works. It creates a mind-set, “We got the majority; we have a platform. Don’t confuse me with facts.”

In adversarial style of politics, facts are often twisted or ignored just to oppose the other guy. I think that the dialogue engaged in a civilized manner is very important if you have to co-operate or compromise with other people. Major wars have often produced national coalitions, because the governments have to act quickly in war. But we are all different and disagreements are natural. So the trick is to find how we can work together and carry on without a fight or without being coerced into accepting what we don’t believe.

We need an open mind to listen to different points of view to see if we can live with something which we do not necessarily agree 100%. Arrogance can be not only bad for working relationship but can also be existentially deadly. There is a legend about a nobleman who lived in a small village near Geneva in Switzerland during the 19th Century. His hubris was infamous. He never listened to anyone. He always had his way. He died hit by a train as he lifted the barrier and entered a railroad crossing. For some people their ego is more important than life itself; a stupid but common attitude. “Willful Blindness” by Margaret Heffernan records many such historical disasters because people ignored reality.

It is rare to see anyone changes his/her ideologically and/or religiously based opinion. We don’t change our mind because it’s seen as a sign of weakness or lack of conviction, even betrayal. How can we be honest to admit our fallibility and listen to others? Willful blindness makes us ignore inconvenient truth like climate change or over-dependence on extraction of natural resources, and blame the other guy.

How can we change? Can a zebra change stripes? Maybe not. But snakes shed skins to grow and larvae become butterflies. They stop changing; they are dead.

Balanced budget is a holy cow.


Justin Trudeau’s victory at the last federal election (October, 2015) was a truly interesting moment in recent history. He offered big deficit spending on infrastructure projects and a big tax hike on the rich. Meanwhile Conservatives and NDP promised a balanced budget. Strange bedfellows! I guess more people were tired of Harper government than those who were concerned about balancing the budget. Perhaps, like me, many didn’t think that a deficit was a taboo. You may say I lack knowledge of economic fundamentals. But I think the question of a balanced versus deficit budget is neutral, not good or bad. It all depends.

Debt used to be a dirty word for conservatives. In my first job, I had a co-worker who was a kindest person I have ever known. She was Bible-centred, conservative and evangelical. She believed that debt was immoral: quoting the Bible, “Owe nobody anything.” She bought even a car with cash. Old prayer books had the Lord’s Prayer with a sentence “Forgive our debt,” not trespass sounding as though debt equalled wickedness. But today, our economy can not be sustained if nobody borrows money. George W. Bush said after 9/11 something like, “If you are patriotic, go out and shop.” He was encouraging consumption; borrowing was a patriotic act. Banks invented sub-prime mortgage – cheap money, and saw the seeds of recession of 2008.

When I was in Southern Africa during the seventies, I became Dean of Students, a job that required lots of travelling. So I applied for a credit card. It was refused because my name must have looked suspiciously non-white. It was during the days of Apartheid. My African colleagues had no credit card. But nowadays, credit cards arrive in the mail without asking for them. Personal debt is good for business. A successful businessman friend of mine said, “the measure of a good business man is how much money he can borrow.”

Buying government bonds ( a tool of deficit financing) can be a patriotic act, like Victory Bonds during the war. No one thought they were enabling the government to commit sin. There are certain things the government can and must do, like responding to crisis, defence, building infrastructure, and maintaining public order. Then we have to let the government borrow necessary funds. It’s a patriotic act.

Stephen and suicide-bomber

ACTS 6:8 – 8:1

Boxing Day is St. Stephen’s Day. Remember a Christmas Carole “Good King Winceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen.” Stephen was a martyr stoned to death for his faith, thus became the first Christian martyr.

Thinking about Stephen the Martyr, I want to make it quite clear that our faith does not encourage suicide. Christian faith does not glorify death. Death of an innocent person happens because evil hates goodness and innocence. So evil kills a good person, especially when a good person tells the inconvenient truth.

A martyr does not seek death recklessly. Remember Jesus’ prayer on the night he was arrested to be crucified in the Garden of Gethsemane? “Father, take this bitter cup away from me.” Jesus did not seek death. He dreaded it. There is a distinction between martyrdom and suicide. Christian faith is based on the respect for life therefore does not glorify gratuitous death. It is important to recognize this today when some religious extremists glorify suicidal acts.

When I lived in Palestine in 2003, I saw many pictures of Palestinian young men and women on community bulletin boards who died committing suicide-bombing. They were called “martyrs.” It is a wrong use of the word; they were not martyrs. ISIS terrorists also misuse the word in the same way. Likewise, during the WW II, Italy and Japan misused the word: Japanese suicide bomber pilots were called “Kamikaze – wind of God,” and in Italy the sailors rode torpedos and steered it to the enemy warship and died. They were not martyrs though were called as such and celebrated as heros. Martyrs die for their conviction, but do not commit suicide.

A best-selling Japanese Catholic novelist, Shusaku Endo, examined the notion of the word “martyr” in the church and wrote a historical novel called “Silence.” (You can buy it in English through Amazon.) Endo tells a story of a historical figure, a Portugese Jesuit missionary priest in Japan during the 16th Century. His name was Christovo Ferreira. At that time, in Japan, practice of Christianity was prohibited punishable by death. Covert Christians were tested, by being asked to step on the image of Mother and Jesus. Those who didn’t were burned at the stake or crucified. Endo depicts Ferreria as a man who could not bear watching his beloved Christian converts dying because of what he taught them. Ferreria decided to outwardly recant his own faith, and appear to give up his own salvation, in order to set an example and try to save the lives of Japanese converts. Endo criticised the cult of martyrdom that celebrates these individuals as heros and saints.

Did Stephen have to die? He was stoned to death by crowd who heard Stephen’s speech. A rumour had it that he was speaking against Moses (Laws) and the Temple. High Priest asked him if the rumour was true. (Acts 6:13) He did not deny the charges. But he gave a long speech to explain his belief. (Acts 7) Stephen recalled the history of the Hebrew people who repeatedly behaved against God and against the messenger of God, Moses. Also, he reminded people that God always went to wherever people moved to. God ordered people to pitch a tent for him. Stephen reminded people that God did not live in the houses built by humans. (Acts 7:48) People did not obeyed the God and killed God’s messengers, prophets, many times. In the end, they killed the Messiah they were waiting for, referring to the crucifixion of Jesus. (7:52)

The question is: did Stephen knowingly say these things in order to be killed? And was it even a legitimate death penalty? There are some interesting questions raised in the New Testament instances of execution. For example, Jewish authority technically did not execute Jesus. Crucifixion was a Roman method of execution; Hebrew custom was death by stoning. Jesus was crucified for an offence against the Roman Empire as a terrorist. Meanwhile, Stephen died using a traditional Hebrew custom–though without an official trial. The Council officials participated in the stoning, but it was a “knee-jerk” response; they behaved like an unruly crowd. In other words, it was a lynching. It is obvious that the official temple authority avoided the responsibility of due process for Stephen’s death. In the case of Jesus, the Temple authority shifted responsibility of his death to the governor of Roman Empire; and, in the case of Stephen, left it to an unruly crowd. The temple authority and the office of High Priests did have authority to formally examine and execute offenders of religious crime, such as adultery. Why did they evade the responsibility in the case of Stephen?

In both cases of Jesus and Stephen, what angered the religious authority was a threat against the temple, not Jesus’ teaching as such. Jesus upset the finance of the temple by disrupting its market system. Jesus’ action against merchants triggered the plot to kill Jesus. (Mark 11:18) Stephen questioned the legitimacy of the temple by telling the traditional story of the tent called the “tabernacle”, as the meeting place of people with God. David was not allowed to build a temple. Solomon did, to show off his success and wealth in building his empire. Building was a symbol of power, not of God but of humans.

When religion becomes a matter of domination and power in stead of respect for God and love for fellow humans, it becomes demonic; evil not blessing. That was what Jesus showed through his life and teaching. Jesus was about love, not power and domination. This is why he had to die. As far as the religious authority was concerned, what Jesus stood for was not allowed. It was the same with Stephen. He had to die.

However, religion can not overtly claim to be in a position to seek power for itself. It has to be seen as acting for the welfare of the world. This is why in both cases, of Jesus and Stephen, the temple authority avoided the responsibility for the deaths of two good and innocent men; shifting it to the Romans and to the unruly crowd. This is hypocrisy. Jesus often condemned hypocrisy more severely than immorality.

When Salman Rushdie was under a threat of death by Iranian authority, he did not condemn Islamic religion as such. He said that when religion assumed power it became evil. Christian church was guilty of it many times in history just like a certain groups of Islam today. Religion is about mercy and love, not about power and wealth. Therefore when religion begins to claim the right to domination, power, and wealth, it no longer has legitimacy. Particularly if it claims the right to kill, it becomes a demonic power. This was what Stephen was fighting. And he didn’t back down. Did he commit suicide, or did he have to die? Good question.

The First Church – a commune


ACTS 2:42 – 47, 4:32 – 37, 5:1 – 11, 6: 1 – 6

After the ecstatic euphoria on Pentecost five weeks after the Passover, many people who were present became convinced that Jesus was risen and was alive: He was indeed the Messiah Jews had been waiting for. They stayed together and organized themselves into communes. It was a necessary process for unorganized crowd to become a viable institution as the church. A big crowd often creates euphoric frenzy. I attended a meeting of eight thousand people once: the once in a decade World Council of Churches Assembly in 1983. Through two weeks of living together on an university campus with many inspiring speeches and motivational talks, music and singing, prayers and endless conversations in big and small groups, even a sceptic like me was swept away into an emotional fury .

It is up to us to decide if Pentecost was a work of a transcendental power like the Holy Spirit or a mass hysteria. I do not reject the legitimacy of such a collective phenomenon even if it could be termed as a emotional fury of the crowd. There is a place for a collective uplifting experience such as, dare I say, a rock concert. The one in Woodstock during the 1960’s became a turning point of Anti-Vietnam War movement. But if it is an authentic event that should evolve into a a long-lasting positive life force, the initial excitement has to be followed up by a long term process of a collective reflection and interaction. Lack of such a process leads a emotional high to disillusionment and disappointment; even to boredom. This is why an effect of the huge Evangelical assemblies often fizzles out. But Pentecost kicked off the two thousand year history of the Christian Church. So how did it all begin?

The first church was a communal living in a loving, sharing, and caring community. They regularly met to celebrate the risen Christ. It has become Sunday observance to celebrate the day Christ rose, the third day after the death on the cross. They told each other stories of Jesus in endless conversations while sharing food. They shared possessions also. Thus the first Christian Church was a commune. They gathered at the temple in Jerusalem to worship according to the traditional Jewish rites. Then, they went to the homes of members, who had big enough space to accommodate large number of people. They talked about the amazingly uplifting experience they just went through. At the temple, they were prohibited to preach about Jesus; his teaching was considered to be heretical by the establishment religious authorities. Therefore sermons were given in homes by Apostles who actually met and followed Jesus physically as disciples in his ministry . The sermons were stories of Jesus’ life and teaching, the collection of which eventually became the Gospels of the New Testament.
(2: 42-47)

The church communes were made up of diverse peoples. Though the majority were Jewish, there were also many non-Jewish peoples who came from all regions of the Mediterranean world. In today’s terms they came from Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Greece, and even Italy, Spain, and islands of the Mediterranean sea. (2: 9-10) Among the Jews, there were at least three different kinds of them. A majority spoke Hebrew who lived mostly in Judea. But there were Jews from the northern countryside of Galilee including Jesus and most of the disciples. They spoke Aramaic. Also by then many Jews were already scattered throughout Mediterranean world and spoke Greek which was the universal language of the day like today’s English. They were also from different classes such as different income groups, and educated and uneducated. Furthermore, there were many non-Jews who did not follow Hebrew laws, therefore were disdained as being unclean. How could such a diverse group as that stay together?

In order for them to stay united as a coherent group, first they had to learn to live together overcoming the hurdles, suspicions, and even hostility the difference generates. First step was; they tried to overcome the different degree of wealth. They brought all their wealth together and put it into the common purse to share; many even selling property. They ate together at the same table. That table evolved into Communion Service. They did this in the homes of relatively well to do members, such as the mother of John Mark, the writer of a Gospel (Acts 12:13). Some faith groups like Amish and Hutterites maintain this life-style. This regiment must have been strictly observed judging from the severity of punishment imposed on the cheaters. (4:32-37 and 5:1 – 11)

More difficult was difference in language and culture. It seems that the Jews who spoke Hebrew dominated because there were more of them. So those who were in minority unfamiliar with the Orthodox Jewish customs were looked down upon. The first target of discrimination were Greek speaking Jews: it is just like people who don’t speak English in our community. They were often neglected in the daily distribution of provision. Also sometimes, poor people and widows missed the meals at the common table: Paul reported that by the time the poor and widows came to the table there was no food left though early arrivals were well fed, even drunk with wine. Some others were looked down upon because they did not observe kosher, eating prohibited food. Something had to be done.

There was a need for the designated persons to keep the order so that everybody was treated equally. So Apostles, whose job was preaching and teaching, selected seven persons to look after the practical aspect to keep of the organization. Hence there appeared leaders who attended the administration of the order of the church. In fact, those seven proved themselves to be most dedicated and faithful people to the extent that the first person who died for his faith was from this group of seven – Stephen. (6:1-6)

Thus developed three essential components of a sustainable institution in the first church: Emotion, Reason, and Order.
– Emotional elements began with passion of Pentecost, and nurtured by empathetic and caring communes.
– Reason was maintained in teaching and preaching.
– Order was overseen by the two groups of leaders: twelve Apostles who looked after the spiritual aspect of the communal living and seven Serving Elders who took care of the practicals.

Democracy requires change


After hearing about the unprecedented change of the political landscape in Alberta after the election victory of the NDP, Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice, portrayed the atmosphere of the Federal Conservative caucus as a “morgue.” NDP which held four seats in A;berta Legislature won the power winning 54 seats on May 5, 2015. Changes are difficult for people who value the things that don’t change. Some people get particularly angry at changes in practice of moral ethics, such as abortion, homosexuality, and marijuana. Prayers at public fora and schools is another irritation for the conservatives. Here the “conservative” I speak about are small “c” varieties.

However, changes are inevitable. Nothing stays the same. Sages of yesteryears all agreed on the universality of change: from ancient Hebrew Psalmists to Buddha, Socrates to Jesus, they all said, “Nothing stays the same” in various ways. Then why conservatives insist that nothing should change and what is old is always good. Remember: An organism that does not change is a dead organism, will rot and stink in time. Why then facing with changes, conservatives are often angry and denounce those progressives as evil?

As a person proud of being progressive, I often feel sorry for conservative people. They are always faced with inevitability of change, because it is the universal norm. Nothing stays the same. Everything flows like a river: it’s only a matter of difference in speed. When it is young, it flows rapidly but it is narrow and its volume small. As it reaches plains, it becomes wider, volume abundant, and power enormous. However, it flows constantly changing its outlook and shape. If it stops, in no time it becomes dirty, smelly, often deadly. Water evaporates and remnant kills lives. Change is like breathing: when it stops it means death.

In the meanwhile, I do understand conservatives’ anger with those who insist on change for the sake of change. Changes can be destructive and meaningless. All positive changes must be built on the foundation of the past. In other words, they must be evolutionary and revisionary. The positive changes have to be made on the foundation of the past. Otherwise, it does not move forward, the baseless change can be regressive. Future and past are like two sides of a sheet of paper. One can not exist without the other. Progress without a basis of the past is like a balloon without a string. They may not go anywhere.

Who am I if I don’t work for pay?


Another year has gone. Time seems to slip away faster at my age. I have been retired for twenty years. In twenty more years, I will have lived in retirement as long as I worked. We live longer nowadays. But according to customary men’s definition, I do nothing hence I’m nobody. Men have always identified themselves with what they do for pay. So you don’t do anything for pay, you are nobody. As we live longer more years in retirement doing a lot but without pay, we will have to find a different way to identify ourselves. Definitely I am not “nobody.”

Of course, I am speaking as a male. Women seem to do better job of coping with the question of self-identity. I think it’s because they have always been engaged in things that are life-giving and caring without being paid, like birthing and feeding. Women know who they are without being paid. Here we must know the difference between a job and a vocation. We live for vocation. It’s like being an artist, who knows who he/she is without a job that pays. I go even further. I can say simply “I am Tadashi Mitsui, period.” Can’t I?

There are also a couple of things that concern me as a large number of boomers retire and live more years after.

First, Canada needs more people who pay into pension plans and health care systems to keep them going. There aren’t that many million-billionaires who can live only on investment. So most of us depend on people who are working and contributing to pension funds and health care systems. But as a society grows more affluent, birth rate usually declines. The result is less number of people who pay for our pension and health care. We need more people, immigrants and refugees, to come to Canada. Xenophobia, fear of others, is suicidal for the nation.

Secondly, we should forget the idea that the goal of medicine is just to prevent death. Of course it must prevent pain and suffering and untimely death. But we must also accept the notion that death is a part of life. I have not quite worked it out yet, but we must rethink the way we treat death as an ultimate curse. We must rather ask, “ Is this life what I want?” more often.

A Happy New Year!

Return to South Africa


Last month, Muriel and I travelled in three Southern African countries, Lesotho, South Africa, and Zimbabwe We thought this might be my last time to make such an extensive trip. I wanted to look up friends – former colleagues and students. Sure we saw elephants and giraffes and pony trekking, but. We wanted to see again counties and peoples that taught me so much about the life according to the Good News. It was Spring time with jacaranda and plum blossoms in full bloom.

In Cape Town, a few former students organized a party for us in the home of one of them. Also, we were able to have a cup of tea with the only remaining my former colleague, Desmond Tutu. They did well: Desmond of course, the host, Prof. Njabulo Ndebele, is a South Africa’s famous writer and a public intellectual, a former President of the University of Cape Town. There was another university president. Among the same generation of the student body, we counted two U.N. Ambassadors, Director General of World Food Program, and one Prime Minister, and a few successful business people, and M.P.’s.

We wondered how a small insignificant fledging university of 500 students (now 8000) located in a world’s poorest country managed to produce so many nation builders and successful people. Faculty was not all that spectacular; except Desmond Tutu. We agreed that we were all highly motivated, political refugees, driven by passion to excel for the future of their nations. It’s the students who made an university not money nor famous professors.

Lesotho and South Africa are hauntingly beautiful countries, striving toward democracy. We saw that they were well on their way. Democracy is a messy system so at times it’s chaotic. But it’s now an envy of all African, frocking into South Africa in droves just like Mexicans in the United States. It’s all because of one man’s idea of justice and reconciliation. Nelson Mandela forgave the past and brought in the very old notion of Reconciliation. It spared the country of blood-shed and hostility. I can not think of any other example in history. Forgiveness? Reconciliation between enemies? And it worked. The founder of Lesotho King Moshoeshoe was the same: he advocated and practised accommodation. Thing is it’s working.

Contrast is Zimbabwe, from where some students also came escaping Rhodesian racial policy. But a dictator is hanging onto power discarding democratic principles, thus having created a dysfunctional country. It’s still gorgeous place but things and organizations often don’t work.

Forgiveness, justice, and reconciliation truly work. Besides, people are kind and sing like angels. We loved it. You may leave Africa but Africa never leaves you.

P.S. The Protestant Chapel on the Lesotho University campus was completed after forty years. It was dedicated after we left. When I was there, we always had to borrow Catholic space when it was not in use. It is a beautiful brick building mainly built by volunteers.

In Paradise, there is no need for charity – everybody is a giver


The sage I adore very much said a long time ago, “It is better to give than to receive.” He was not trying to be funny, because it is true. I know it because I was once on a receiving end of charity and my pride was in tatters. I was envious of people who were rich enough to give to the needy. My idea of paradise is the place where nobody is an object of charity.

It was soon after the end of the WWII in Tokyo in 1945. I was hungry. Everybody was hungry. Infrastructure was totally broken down and food could not reach the cities. People who refused to go to black market starved. The story was the same in Europe, I am told. Then Americans came to the rescue with emergency relief. Were we grateful? Of course we were. But we were also ashamed having to depend on charity. We were proud, as all of us should be. It is a human nature. In an ideal world, we all should be proudly able to keep dignity of independence.

About one million Ethiopians died of starvation during the great African famine of the 1980’s. I worked in Geneva as a member of the team coordinating the relief work. We found that many who died of starvation were farmers. Despite plenty of the available emergency food they starved. Farmers are proud people: they did not want to go for free food until it was too late after eating seeds and selling all farm animals and implements. Then they were too weak to walk to relief centres. They were ashamed that they could not feed themselves.

Christmas is coming. It’s tine to give. We feel good when we give. But what about those who are on the receiving end? Of course they are grateful to receive. But have you ever stop to think that those who have to receive prefer to be on the giving side? It is better to give than to receive. We should work for the world where no one is needy and everybody knows the joy of giving.

Remember history when you vote


I wonder how people will vote  if they remember the past.  A short term memory is my problem: I reached the bottom of the stairs, I can’t remember why I came to the basement.  But I remember what happened 30  years  ago very well.  The fact is: people forget and politicians benefit.  First Nations and Jewish people keep reminding us of  humanity’s capability to commit acts of  unspeakable cruelty.  Memory should be a lesson not an excuse for vengeance.   Here are a few things I remember:

– When the Parliament invoked the War Measures Act in 1941 and voted to exclude Japanese Canadians from the coast as  “Enemy Aliens,”  only the CCF, which is now the NDP, voted against it.   The action was just but a political suicide for an MP like Angus MacInnis.

– When Canada accepted an unprecedented large number of Vietnamese boat people in 1980, all parties in the Parliament were in favour of it.  Only an organization called “National Citizens Coalition” was against it.   It ran a full page advertisement in major newspapers opposing the acceptance of refugees.  Argument was Asians were family oriented people hence Canada would be flooded by their relations once you let a few of them in.  Mr. Stephen Harper headed that organization before he re-entered the politics.

– Conservatives and Liberals did not stop civil servants who prevented other boat peoples to come into Canada different times in the 20th Century.  They were boatful of Sikh, Japanese, and Jewish people who were turned back to the sea.  Many of those Jews perished in death camps.

– In 1984, we were invited to meet with an all party coalition of some Parliamentarians headed by Conservative Heath MacQuarrie and Robert Stanfield.  They encouraged the churches to be involved in helping Palestinians refugees.  Marcel Prud’ homme, Liberal, and Derek Blackburn, NDP were there also. Canadian churches had just joined in the program to help Palestinians.

– Opposing the white South African racial policy, Conservatives were more active than Liberals.  John Diefenbaker and Brian Mulroney were very supportive of anti-Apartheid movement.

We all make mistakes; the question is if we admit it as the mistake and change or overlook it as just politics.

George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”



I am looking at a picture of my two grand daughters: Hana, 12 years old, brilliant, hard working, competitive, and serious like her Dad, and Miki, eight, a clown, a fun-loving joker, and affectionate and warm hearted somewhat like her uncle Kenny.  I love them so very dearly; I can give my life for them.  They both have names that are good both in Hebrew and Japanese languages.  Yes, they are Canadians of both Japanese and Jewish ancestry.  They are the reason why I feel passionately protective of the State of Israel.  Hana and Miki have a safe home to go back to, just in one in million chances when such a necessity presents itself .  I know it could never happen.  But that was how Japanese Canadians felt: “we are not enemies, we are Canadians.”  But all of them were given ID cards as “Enemy Aliens” and were rounded up and were kept in cattle stalls at the Pacific National Exhibition, Vancouver, in 1942.

Anyone who saw the Academy Award winning Italian movie “Life is Beautiful” understands why I feel like this.  Even a seven year old child could have been gassed in a Nazi death camp because he had a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, like Hana and Miki.  I shiver in horror by a thought of it.  Of course it will never happen.  But what about the massacre in Paris just this year in 2015?

This is why I am totally committed to the survival of the State of Israel as a home for all the Jews in the world.  We, of the Japanese origine in Canada, will never have to experience again what happened in 1942 – 49 in Canada.  You think?  I still have a copy of  the letter the First Secretary of the Canadian Embassy in Cape Town wrote to me in 1975.  “As a Canadian of non-European origine” (exact words) one must honour the laws of the host country where he is a guest.”  He was explaining to me why I was expelled from South Africa.

The record of the Canadian diplomatic representatives overseas in protection of  “Canadian of non-European origine” is not so spectacular.  Do I feel at home in Canada?  Yes 100%, but….  How come people still ask me where I come from.  “Quebec,” I answer.  It was where I last lived and worked for ten years.  No that’s not what they were asking.  Before that?  Toronto, Geneva in Switzerland, Lesotho in Africa, or Vancouver?  Not that’s not the answer they expect from me.  Now that Harper government is thinking a creation of two tier category of Canadian citizenship, so that the government will have a power to stripe citizenship.

With such a backdrop, do you blame me in the very back of my mind to find a life-line of notion, “I have a home to go to just in case.”  Jews now have a home, Israel,  just in case in million chance.  Do you blame them after millennia of persecution?  I understand.

The Holocaust happened seventy years ago.  But Christians had persecuted and murdered Jews for two millennia everywhere in Europe.  Such a memory lingers for a long time.  No matter how the State of Israel was established (can any country claim totally morally squeaky clean beginning?), I firmly believe that it has to remain the home for all the Jews in the world.  All the civilized countries have duty to defend its existence.  Israel has the right to exist absolutely.

That is the very reason why I firmly believe the Occupation of Palestine by Israel must end.   The occupation  and the way the Palestinians are treated by the state of Israel in their own home must cease.  It is the first step to ensure the existence of the State of Israel.  If it has to continue to exists, it is absolutely necessary to be friends with the Arab neighbours.   And the peaceful co-existence of two states, Israel and Palestine, is the utmost importance.  Otherwise, th region will be, if it may not already be, in a perpetual state of hostility like the Balkans.  The U.S. may not afford to pay for the protection of Israel for ever.  America is the only country paying for the defence of Israel.  Would  I feel secure with such a singlehanded guarantee?  No.

They have to begin rapprochement now.  Unfortunately, the current relation between two peoples is worsening.  Hatred between peoples are palpable.  Just listen to people talk about the other people on the streets in Tel Aviv and Ramallah: racist on both sides.  Perpetual state of oppression is not the way to nurture friendship.  Neither can rockets and cluster bombs force people to love each other.  What does it take for a six years old boy to carry stones in his pocket just in case he spots a lone Jesh (Israel soldier) looking  the other way: decades of hostility.  He is bred in bones to hate the neighbour.

When I came back to Canada from African and Switzerland, where my preoccupation was to fight Apartheid, I was employed by the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC).  The first Ecumenical gathering I was assigned to attend was a meeting on Palestinian refugees held in Beirut, Lebanon organized by the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC).  That was in 1979.  I thought I was hearing stories from Apartheid South Africa.  The Committee on Development and Service of the CCC appointed me to be the permanent representative for five churches, Anglican, Disciples, Presbyterian, Quakers, and United, for this MECC programme.  It was easy to understand what was happening.  Similarity between Palestine and South Africa was uncanny.  No wonder Desmond Tutu understood that too.  I don’t think many people know that Tutu is a persona-none-grata in Israel for many years. Thus my annual journey to Palestine began to continue until 1985 when I was seconded to the WCC and relocated to Geneva.

For 15 years, I had been exposed to daily frustration and humiliation of my Palestinian colleagues in the West Bank and Gaza.  My friends were elite.  People’s experience is much worse.  Daily humiliation was accelerating their hatred, and obvious economic disparity between two peoples were driving people to desperation.  If the State of Israel is to continue, the relationship has to begin to move towards opposite direction: towards reconciliation, friendship and good will.  It may be too late.  During the early stage of the second Intifada in the 1990’s, some Israeli left leaning pundits already started to predict “One State” solution in despair.  They predicted that such a state will result in the end of Jewish state.  Demography always shows that less wealthy group eventually takes over the more wealthy one eventually.  It’s an “apartheid” system that never succeeds.

When I began my annual trip to Israel-Palestine during the eighties, Jewish settlements still had a population of less than 100,000.  However many people said that when the settlers’ number exceeded 100,000, it would be a de-facto annexation.  Now the settler population is about 300,000.  Only a determined denier hopes for a bright future for the Jewish State.  I cry for Israel.

Respectable language is more effective than insult


Print media are in a survival mode under the onslaught of digital technology.  So I am happy to see its participatory nature of the page called “Roasted and Toasted” of the Lethbridge Herald. People write a few lines anonymously about their appreciations and complains.  It is popular.   However, I don’t like anonymous rude comments made of others.  It is not only aggravating but also useless.  When an offensive word is thrown at me, my immediate reaction is to stop hearing.   Rudeness stokes resentment and entrenches resolve.


Words have become cheaper nowadays, even meaningless.  But they could be deadly: verbal insults provoked men to kill each other in duels; heretics were burnt at stake because their language did not conform to the doctrine.  Prohibiting their language, Canada nearly destroyed First Nations by rejecting their identity and dignity.  Language represents not only culture and tradition but also the person’s identity.  Hence, words can destroy people.  Then why some of us are so quick to call names?  We can learn a lot from societies that are still in a state before the age of advanced technology and ubiquitous advertisement.  They may be backward in technology, but could be more civilized in humanity.

When I was doing double-duty as Dean of Students while teaching at an university in Africa, I came face to face with a culture that still recognized the importance of civility in language.  Once a student verbally insulted a woman behind the counter of the university cafeteria.  He was taken to the village court called Khotla.  The chief gave him a month in Jail.  So, he didn’t graduate that year.  Meanwhile, another student had a fight and stabbed a local boy with a non-life threatening injury.  The same chief sentenced him merely to six lashes.  Verbal Insult on an older person is a serious offence worse than a physical attack in Basotho culture.  An aging beggar is still addressed “Ntate” – “Sir.”

Today, words are even cheaper because of social media.   Law makers are the worst role models in language use.  I wish political parties stop personal attack-ads.  They don’t change minds: they only fortify already held prejudices.  Can we not be more civilized in what we say?   There are ways to be critical without being nasty or rude: respectful words could be more effective in communicating messages.



Steven Reive’s article about the impact an American statistics professor had on the auto industries is a significant story.  (Lethbridge Herald, June 12, page C4)  W. Edward Deming of New York University built “a paradigm during the 1930’s and a set of 14 principles” of management and quality control.  American automakers did not understand him but Japanese Auto industries enthusiastically applied his ideas thus helping them to reach the supremacy in the sector.  When Americans realized it, it was too late.  It shows the wisdom of primarily seeking superior quality rather than cost efficiency.

I had a friend, a Quebec dairy farmer, who always drove a Cadillac.  His philosophy is: Good quality is most economical in a long term.  A Swedish friend tells me of the quality of Saab and Volvo, “We buy a car like we buy a house.”  German and Swiss are also sticklers of quality.  It’s not only Japanese who say quality matters.

Ryotaro Shiba, a well known author of historical novels, says, “Japan is the country that values craftsmanship more than others.”   Master craftsmen are revered and remembered just like war heros, wise monarchs; even like saints.  One sword smith,  by the name of Goro Masamune is called with a tile “Saint” not because of his religiosity but because of quaulity.  It is like a blacksmith who forged Excalibur was sainted.

Japan has a category of a state funded national heritage program called “Living National Treasure”: they are masters in various crafts like pottery, carpentry, weaving, etc.  They receive generous life time stipends from the government to concentrate in creating crafts  free of pressure to sell.  Though Japan adopted Confucianism as basic values of ethics, disdain of craftsmen is one it chose to ignore, says Shiba.  In Confucianism, a craftsman belongs to the lowest caste.

I once sat next to a Calgary roofer on a flight to Japan.  He went to Japan often to learn to perfect his skills in trade.  He says, a Canadian roofer  goes through months of apprenticeship before he gets a journeyman’s ticket.  But in Japan it takes eight years.

An environmentalist will choose good quality over low price, because usually more fossils  is burnt in manufacturing a machine than it takes to run it.  It is certainly is the case of automobile.   A quality product lasts longer therefore it costs less in the end; produces less waste.

Difficulty of being conservative


After hearing about the unprecedented change of the political landscape in Alberta after the election victory of the NDP, Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice, portrayed the atmosphere of the Federal Conservative caucus as a “morgue.”  NDP which held four seats in A;berta Legislature won the power winning 54 seats on May 5, 2015.  Changes are difficult for people who value the things that don’t change.  Some people get particularly angry at changes in practice of moral ethics, such as abortion, homosexuality, and marijuana.   Prayers at public fora and schools is another irritation for the conservatives.  Here the “conservative” I speak about are small “c” varieties.

However, changes are inevitable.  Nothing stays the same.  Sages of yesteryears all agreed on the universality of change: from ancient Hebrew Psalmists to Buddha, Socrates to Jesus, they all said, “Nothing stays the same” in various ways.  Then why conservatives insist that nothing should change and what is old is always good.  Remember:  An organism that does not change is a dead organism, will rot and stink in time.  Why then facing with changes, conservatives are often angry and denounce those progressives as evil?

As a person proud of being progressive, I often feel sorry for conservative people.  They are always faced with inevitability of change, because it is the universal norm.  Nothing stays the same.  Everything flows like a river: it’s only a matter of difference in speed.  When it is young, it flows rapidly but it is narrow and its volume small.  As it reaches plains, it becomes wider, volume abundant, and power enormous.  However, it flows constantly changing its outlook and shape.  If it stops, in no time it becomes dirty, smelly, often deadly.  Water evaporates and remnant kills lives.  Change is like breathing: when it stops it means death.

In the meanwhile, I do understand conservatives’ anger with those who insist on change for the sake of change.  Changes can be destructive and meaningless.  All positive changes must be built on the foundation of the past.  In other words, they must be evolutionary and revisionary.  The positive changes have to be made on the foundation of the past.  Otherwise, it does not move forward, the baseless change can be regressive.  Future and past are like two sides of a sheet of paper.  One can not exist without the other.  Progress without a basis of the past is like a balloon without a string.  They may not go anywhere.

Secular society protects minorities

I am Christian therefore I fight for the minority rights

There is nothing more irksome than someone misrepresenting me.  I totally disagree with Russel Whittaker.  In his letter to the editor to the Lethbridge Herald on June 9 he blamed non-Christian immigrants who caused the Supreme Court of Canada to ban the recitation Lord’s Prayer in public schools and city halls in Canada. He demanded that such non-Christian immigrants should go back to where they came from.  His view of claiming a majority rights of Christians does not represent me at all.  I am a committed Christian too, but I vigorously defend the rights of minority to remain different and to be comfortable among us.  My Christian conviction dictates that a civilised democratic country respects the rights of the minority and the vulnerable: such a country needs to be secular.

My father was a Methodist Minister during the WW II in Japan.  He often did not come home after Sundays for a few days.  Until recently I did not know that he spent those times interrogated about  his sermons by “Tokko Keisatsu” – the Special Police Force like German Gestapo .   He was pressured to confess and declare the divinity of the emperor.  He refused. The divinity of the Commander-in-Chief, the emperor, was the basis of the absolute power the military wielded.  Some ministers of religion were beaten to death during interrogation.  Dad died soon after the end of the war at the age of fifty from the stress he suffered.  This is the reason why Japanese Christians today are fierce advocates of the secular state: no official observance of any religion in public.

Orthodox Churches in Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, and Syria are ancient churches probably founded by the original Apostles.  Today they are in minority surrounded by Muslims and  are sometimes  persecuted.  In extreme cases, they are brutally killed as we observed recently in Lybia, Iraq, and Syria by extremists.  This is why they advocate for secular states: no observance of any religion in public life.  In Israel and Palestine, the minority Arab Orthodox Christians have been leaving the region in droves because of being minority among Jewish and Muslims majority.  As the result, there are more Christian Palestinians living in Canada than in Jerusalem today.  Some of them are descendants of the original Christians claiming the origine of their tradition to the Pentecost.  I know one of them.

To me, the essence of the Gospel is inclusiveness, tolerance, and universal love.  Unfortunately some of us who called ourselves Christians do not live up to that standard, and mis-take dominance and exclusion as faithfulness.  Have we not learn anything from the barbarous and tragic history of “Indian Residential School?”*

*  (Footnote) On June 9, 2015, the report of the Truth and  Reconciliation Commission which heard the experiences of the thousands of former students of so-called Indian Residential Schools was published.  Canadian government’s policy was to kill all identities, cultural, societal, and religious traditions of the Canadian First nations by rounding up all the children from the indigenous communities and forced them to live in the residential schools, where use of their native language, any practice of their spiritual customs and culture were prohibited.  The implementation of this policy lasted nearly a century. That created destruction of their society resulted in the wide-spread dysfunctional communities with crimes, abuse of alcohol and drugs. The chair of the commission termed this policy as “Cultural Genocide.”

Root causes are often Poverty


CBC quoted Statistics Canada that people living in poverty, 5 % of population, cost the Alberta Health Service 56% of its total budget. (May 8, the CBC National)  The figure is even worse in Ontario with 68% of the budget.  It’s a staggering statistics.  Poor people can not afford healthy life-style.  Often cheap food is more likely unhealthy and organic food more expensive.  It is stressful and unhappy to be poor too.  No wonder they get sick more often than the middle-class.  It saves tax payer’s money if poor people have a little bit more money.  Increase minimum wage and social assistance.  There is a popular misconception about better minimum wage and  better social assistance.  Many people think those costs as waste of tax money. They aren’t.

Once I tried to help a priest from Ethiopia to obtain a visa to work among the refugees in Toronto.  The application was rejected because the wage the local Ethiopian Orthodox Church could offer was not good enough; but it was better than social assistance.  The Immigration did not realize that contradiction.  Another thing they didn’t understand was the remuneration practice of Ethiopian Church.  Often priests are supported by gifts-in-kind. That’s nothing new.  Canadian churches had the same system.  Fact is: social assistance is below the Canadian Immigration thinks adequate for living.

I learnt the same lesson about the cost of poverty when I was working on hunger issues in Africa during the 1980’s.  The cause of hunger was not really famine induced by natural disasters nor food shortage.  Hunger is caused not by shortage of available food, but by food not accessible to the poor.  Without money they  have no access to food neither can they produce food.  I ate well in Africa; I had money.  Ironically, during the famine of the eighties, Ethiopia exported more food items to Europe: beef, coffee, and sugar,  more than what they received in foreign aid.  How it was possible?  Commercial farms had better land and credit, while poor farmers had none of those.  So the rich can overcome  natural calamity.  Cash is cheaper way to resolve hunger than more imported food.

It’s the same with the cost of health care.  You want to save tax money on health care?  Concentrate on making poor people not so poor.  Why didn’t I think of that?

Why the Old Testament more angry than the New?


Anger: a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility  –   Oxford English Dictionary.

I looked up Oxford Dictionary and the Concordance that lists all the words of the Bible.  I thought interesting that in English language an angry emotion prompts both constructive and destructive actions.  Anger can motivate you to take a positive restorative action; but when anger turns to hatred, your ensuing action becomes destructive.  The use of the anger word in the Bible also has the double-edged implication.

In Concordance I found the adjective “angry” 174 times in the Old Testament (OT) but only 3 in the New Testament (NT); the noun “anger” 65 times in the OT and 6 in the NT.  I looked up the ‘anger’ word only, but there are also a lot more angry situations in the OT than in the NT.   In other words, there is more anger in the Old Testament.  Why is that?  There must be a good reason for this.

The OT contains 39 books and NT 27.  But a third more number of books in the OT does not explain why there are so much more anger in the Hebrew Bible.  My guess is that the belief in God evolved among the Jews: from an angry, dominating, jealous, and possessive power towards a caring and faire-minded parent figure.  That was an evolutionary process of belief system, from the creation story through the history of Hebrew people, finally into the time of Jesus in the space of about four thousand years.  God of Yahweh is very different by the time He revealed himself in Jesus of Nazareth.  The Bible is the travelogue of a progressive spiritual journey.

In the beginning, there was a god who claimed all the power, was jealous and vengeful against all those who annoyed him or did not completely submit to him.  You find him most in the first five books of the Bible.  He was angry with Adam and Eve just because they didn’t obey God’s commandment: they ate a forbidden fruit because it would give them god-like ability.  This does not make much sense because God made humans according to his image.  And yet, he didn’t want them to have a god-like ability: a contradiction within the same book.

God was angry with Cain who killed his brother Abel out of jealousy.  God chose Abel’s offering of animal sacrifice over Cain’s vegetables.  It shows the hunter gatherers’ anger with an economic  progress; from hunting to agriculture.   It is a typical case of anger of the one who becomes obsolete.  This passage clearly shows religious people’s nostalgia for ‘good-old hunting days, which are passing.  Why did they think God was angry with progress?

God was also angry with the whole world who acted against his wishes: angels were marrying human women and creating a race of giants.   Why is this so bad?  It does not make much sense to me.  But God punished the whole world and killed every living thing with a great flood, except those who were on the boat.  But He in the end regrets the cataclysmic consequence and promised Noah never to repeat such a devastating punishment.  Here a merciful God appeared.  The story of Jonah is another one where God decided not to punish people: an introduction of a loving God.

Then, the faithful people ran into a serious dilemma.  Pain and suffering were not always angry God’s punishment for the evil and unfaithful.  Obedient people suffer too.  Job was angry with God, because he was always faithful and just and yet suffered grievously.  He asked God, “Why, why, why?”  The Book of Job does not really give an answer.  It simply concluded that God was powerful and in charge, so just “suck it up” was the message.  He is still arbitrary God.   But one can be angry with God, and can question Him, “why.”   So the Bible progressed from an angry God to anger of people with a seemingly unfair God.

Another step forward taken in the Bible is the anger of righteous people with unjust measures and unfair business: the anger with unjust people.  Prophet Amos was angry with crooked scales used by profiteering merchants who cheated customers.  He went on to denounce injustice generally.  This is the third stage in the progress: God is just and fair, no longer arbitrary.

What is wonderful is an appearance of forgiving, loving, and merciful God in the Prophet Hosea.  God never gives up unfaithful people just like Hosea didn’t.  He loved his wife.  Hosea went after promiscuous unfaithful wife even to a brothel where she ended up.  He spent fortune to buy her back.  In Hosea, anger is shifted from people to evil itself.   He is angry with evil that enslaved his wife to illustrate the love of God.  God is now forgiving and loving but hates evil that ensnares people.

The final stage of the progress, to my belief, in the evolution of God, is the image of a suffering servant, a lamb who suffers and dies for others.  (Isaiah chapter 53)  That is the image of God that became reality in the life of Jesus.   “God so loves the world that he gave his own son.” (John 3:16)  And this is the apex of our Judeo-Christian tradition.  Does angry God disappear with Jesus Christ?  No, it goes toward a different direction: false religions that exploit vulnerable people.

Jesus got angry with religious leaders who misled people away from the belief in loving God.  He was angry with the religious establishment who profit from innocent and gullible people. He kicked out money changers and sellers of animals for offering from the temple court yard, who enriched the temple and made priests fat and powerful.  The temple religion tried to convince people that they have to buy forgiveness.

Another kind of anger you find post-Jesus is with legalism.  Paul was angry with those who insist on the observance of the laws of Moses as the way to salvation, rather than belief in the forgiving and merciful God. (Paul’s letter to the Galatians)  He was angry with the redundant and retrogressive idea that you have to follow the letters of the laws to please the angry God, rather than believing in his love.  Paul’s anger is restorative not punitive.  Ephesians 4:26 says, “Do not let your righteous anger lead to sin (destructive action).  The case in point is the anger of the older brother of the prodigal son.  He was angry with the one who strayed and wasted his life and father’s money.  (Luke 15:28)   This is a destructive anger, while father’s was the love that forgave the prodigal son.

Conclusion: Nature of anger evolved in the Bible as our belief in God.







I have never completely understood the notion of the “West” even after living in Lethbridge for fourteen years.  I love it here and am very comfortable.   Nobody has tried to run me out of town yet.  I think Alberta is changing.  Wealth is making it more urbanized and libertarian male chauvinism has become an embarrassment.  Wild Rose Rick Strankman had to apologize and withdraw his  “bring your wife’s pie” invitation tot a fund-raiser.  And the same party would not sign Russ Kuykendall’s nomination paper for his stand against Gay Pride function. (Herald, April17, p.A2)  Alberta is no longer the frontiers nor a Bible belt.  Yet how come Mr. Harper is still chasing the tired old myth of the West and trying to reshape the whole country.

During the World War II, I was a child  in Japan.  I remember a disparaging image of Canada caricatured in political cartoons.  Pudgy little boy MacKenzie King in short pants fighting to join the big bully boys club of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin.  They were rudely throwing at boy King nasty scrap jobs like disastrous landing of Dieppe and hopeless defence of Hong Kong.

However, when I applied for visa to come to Canada in 1957, Canada had a different image.

It was shaped by Pearsonian idealism of a middle power confidently making a unique contribution to the cause of human rights and peace with a creative use of armed forces.  I lived in Switzerland during the seventies and eighties when young backpackers were hitch-hiking everywhere.  Many kids  including Americans had Canadian Maple Leaf sewn on their backpacks.  A few radical leftist attacked anything American.  Americans were frightened.  The reason was the Viet Nam War.  It was the same in Lebanon in 1982 where I worked briefly.  I felt lucky to be Canadian as Danish, Dutch, and Swedish did, free to go anywhere.  Americans, Britons, and French persons were told to stay inside in Beirut.  Canada was neutral on both fronts.

Now, it seems we live in a different Canada.  At her investiture into the Order of Canada,  film maker Bonnie Klein was quoted as saying,”Today’s Canada is not the country we chose.” (The Walrus, Page 52, April issue, 2015)  She is mother of Naomi Klein, who is Stephen Lewis’  daughter-in-law.  For me, Klein/Lewis family represents the best of Canada.  Where art thou my beloved Canada?

Bible and Morality – Uncomfortable Truth


This article will make you uncomfortable, because morality requires honesty, and honest truth is not comfortable.  But remember, God loves us all. Therefore we must love God and all creation.

Do you know that banks have been ignoring the teaching of the Bible?  In  Deuteronomy 23: 19, God says: “When you lend money, do not charge  interest.”   But, our economy is based on credit.  Without interest,  the system will collapse.  Does that mean the economic system is against the Biblical teaching therefore is immoral by definition ?  A good question.  This is only one of the examples to show that it is impossible to follow every teaching of the Bible.

Do we have to follow every word of the Bible about moral ethics?  The simplest answer is “no.”   Why then so many self-righteous Christians justify their position about what to do and what not to do claiming it is based on the Bible?  A short answer is: it is because of a widespread misuse of the Holy Book based on misreading of the truth in it.  Likewise, in history the church is also grossly guilty of abuse of the Bible.

I firmly believe that the highest moral standard is found in the Bible.  I really do.  But each and every word of the Bible does not always give you the appropriate and correct answer to everyday practical question on ethics.  A lot of the Bible contains myths.  Myths and stories often express much more profound truth because it is impossible for mere words to fully express truth.  This is why Jesus told stories.  Every word of the Bible is not necessarily literally appropriate all the time, because many moral questions are time specific.  When you have this understanding,  you will find the basis of moral ethics in the Bible.

First off, what is absolutely clear is the most fundamental commandment in the Bible is,  “Love God, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.”  (Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:40)  All the rest is circumstantial.  All ethical requirements must be measured against this fundamental dictum.

A journalist for the New York Times, A.J. Jacobs tried to live according to the Bible for one year and wrote a book about the experience: “ The Year of Living Biblically – Humble quest to follow the Bible as literally as possible.”   In no time, Jacobs ran into legal issues of the Biblical requirements.  You can not stone the person  to death who cheats on wife or husband, neither can you kill your child who speaks against you, for example. (Leviticus 20)  Such killing is illegal in most of the societies today.

If every Biblical commandment is not applicable today, why and how apply only selected ones?  Why should you pick the prohibition of male homosexual act and condemn all homosexuals, ignoring the fact that there is no prohibition of lesbianism in the Bible.  It is because preservation of clan, tribe, or race was the paramount necessity at the Biblical time when mortality was extremely high, and producing offspring was supremely important for survival of blood line: hence the prohibition of wasting semen, masturbation or sodomy.  Widespread disgust about anus is another factor.  Once you begin to selectively apply some rules not others, you are acting according to your interest, your preference, your taste, or your opinion, not necessarily according to God’s demand.

Let me mention an example of impracticality:  A. J.Jacobs tried not to sit on anything his wife sat on when she was having period, following requirement of Leviticus.  She became extremely annoyed and made it impossible for him to live in their home.  She sat on everything in sight.

Another example to show contradictions in the Bible:  Kings Saul and David were ordered by God to kill everyone and everything  of the Amalekites, (1 Samuel 15).  But Saul had a pity on the King of the Amalek and spared his life and a few animals.  God was extremely unhappy about his disobedience and decided to dump him as king.  On the other hand David killed absolutely every Amalekite and every animal, gained God’s favour, and became the most beloved king of Israel.  How should you think of this story in terms of  Ten Commandments that tell us not to kill?  Examples of contradiction like this are just too many in the Bible.

The message of A. J. Jacob’s book is that you can not take the Bible literally and apply every word.  You must read Biblical demands in context considering the circumstances; when and where it was written and for whom.  You must find the reason why a particular commandment was necessary at the particular time and place.  Once you know the basic principles motivating the commandments, you will know that the basis of all moral ethics can be found in the Bible.

You must understand that every demand in the Bible was made appropriately for a specific time, place, and circumstance.   Answer to an ethical question is always circumstantial: “It all depends” should be the opening sentence of all answers.  Does that means: anything goes?  Absolutely not!  There is a book written by Joseph Fletcher, “Situation Ethics” dealing exactly with this question.  Fletcher says:  the central and most basic ethical requirement for all  is found Matthew 5:43 -44, 19:19, 22:37, 39 and Romans 13: 8 – 10, which are based on Leviticus 19: 18.  “Love God and love your neighbours.”  Jesus said all the requirements are contained in this commandment, and all others are attempts to interpret  this basic law appropriately for the particular time and place.  You lie for love for example.

It makes you work hard to find the right conduct when situations change.  It is easier to remember a set of rules and follow them in all circumstances blindly.  Unfortunately life is not that simple.  You have to think when situations change.  All Christian ethics are situational. Christian’s search for ethical living is hard work.  It is easier to follow arbitrary rules blindly.  But this is a lazy person’s way.  Many dictators and dictatorial false religious leaders take advantage of this weakness and exercise their power not for God but for themselves.  Remember God created us as intelligent beings in his image.  Our brains are God’s gifts.  Let us use our brains.

This is why, when faced with difficult ethical questions we need community of believers to think together and exchange ideas.  Faith and faith-in- action are communal work.  This is why we have communities of faith.  The church is an essential part of our faith that works together to find answers.  Good luck to any person who claim that he/she can be spiritual and lead godly life alone.  Some people are gifted and can help others in this process.  Some people can be trained to interpret the Scriptures to apply them in the daily life.  This is why some of us can be teachers, or ministers.  But all believers can do that, by learning and thinking.  Besides, elders, ministers, teachers, and thinkers need help too, because none of us is perfect.

Another important factor in our effort to make right ethical decision is a need for some principles that help bridge the gap between the supreme LOVE commandment and practical challenges of our daily life.  Letters written by Paul in the Bible are very helpful in this regard.  When I was in the seminary, one teacher called those in-between principles “Middle Axiom.”  They are accepted-by-many propositions to interpret the basic commandment in practical situations.  They are points of reference like: justice, equality, kindness, respect for life, compassion, harmony; avoiding negativity like hatred, selfishness, or greed;  just to name a few.

More of them are found in the letters of Paul.  Romans 12 – 15, 1 Corinthians 5:1 – 7: 40, Ephesians 5:21 – 6:9, Titus 3 list some of the helpful suggestions.  However, again we have to keep in mind that all those practical teachings are time and place specific, and may have to be revised when situations change and time moves on.  Women do not have to wear hats in the church any more, for example.  No matter how much changes come to pass, we must remember that the one and only supreme commandment never changes.  If I may repeat:  “Love God and love neighbours.”  As Paul said in Romans 13: 8-10, that passage sums up all commandments.

Finally let us contemplate what the supreme Love commandment means.

First: What does it mean to love God?  It is a passionate belief in the loving spirit that is beyond our capacity to understand.  That is what loving God means to me.  We, the Christians, believe God has shown himself in the life and teaching of Jesus.  Even then, nobody knows how and what aspect of God Jesus revealed.  The fact is nobody has seen, heard, or touched God.  This is why we keep pursuing the meaning of the life of Jesus Christ with devotion and passion, because we love what we have heard so far.

On the dark side of this is: “Do not trust any human who claims to know the absolute truth absolutely.  Look suspiciously at people who speak in absolute terms; be they Christian fundamentalists or the Muslim extremists.  We keep looking and searching for truth with our fellow travellers passionately but humbly.  Situations change and the world changes, so do you have to adapt your behaviours accordingly.  You can do this if you are humble, ready to understand  different circumstances.

Secondly, we must love our neighbours as we love ourselves.  But who is my neighbour?  Jesus was once asked this question.  As an answer, He gave was a story of a good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25 – 37)   Who is a Samaritan?  At the time of Jesus, Samaritans were the most despised and hated people.  That means, the neighbour could even be an enemy.  He is not a relation nor a friend; you may not like him.  A neighbour represents a person, any person.  You have no choice of a neighbour.  He/she represents anybody who happens to run into to you, could be one standing next to you at a supermarket cashier counter.  You can extend the notion to all creation, even to a tree, a cat, or a gecko.  Love your neighbour.  This is the basis of Christian moral ethics.








Terrorism – over used word lost its meaning


A CBC correspondent Neil McDonald once said that he would not use the word “terrorism.”  He said that the word had been so abused often for political reason that he didn’t know what it meant any more.  And yet, the danger is that the word is so poisonous that it scares people and drives them to irrational actions.   Franklin Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – unjustified terror which paralyses…”

The word “terrorism” is so ubiquitous nowadays.  Mr. Harper and his colleagues love to use it and are gaining ground in public support because of it.  People are scared.  The word has been abused to demonize political enemies avoiding the real issue.  Examples:

Two former Israeli Prime Ministers, Yitzhak Shamir and Manachem Begin were hunted by the British Army as terrorists.  The guerrilla group they belonged bombed King David Hotel in Jerusalem during the British Mandate of Palestine, killing hundreds of British soldiers.  I know two of the survivors of that attack, one lives in Lethbridge.  Late President of the South Africa, Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years for terrorism.  Russian President Vladimir Putin loves to call his political enemies “terrorists.”  A Canadian journalist of Al Jezeera is charged for terrorism because he belongs to a news organization that is critical of the Egyptian Military regime.  List goes on.

I was detained in solitary for three days and expelled from the Republic of South Africa under the provisions of the racist Apartheid law to combat “terrorism” in 1971.  I didn’t do or say anything (I am too cowardly to do such a thing).  The reason was my friends; guilt by association.  I didn’t know Desmond Tutu was such a dangerous man.  He and I were hired together by the same university to teach.  Canadian government was no help.  “A Canadian of Non-European origin must honour the laws of the land where he is a guest” was the expression the First Secretary of the Canadian Embassy wrote in the letter to me.    I guess it was a bad time for Canada because of the 1970 October Crisis in Quebec.

This is why I think it is dangerous for Harper government to use the word “terrorism or terrorist” for political expedience.  The real problem remain unresolved and innocent people get hurt.

Re: Radical Islamists added Japan on their list of enemies

A pacifist reporter KENJI GOTO beheaded by Islamists in January, 2015

My sister in Tokyo was furious in her recent email about the brutal execution of two Japanese men by ISIS.  Of course, she did not spare any word in condemnation of the ISIS.  However, an interesting thing about it is a double-edge nature of her anger.  She is more angry with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was using the brutal death of those men to stir up public opinion urging them to accept a more advanced role of the Japanese military in alliance with the West, particularly with the U.S.

Mr. Goto was a member of an United Church in Japan, my sister’s neighbouring church, whose pacifist stand was well known.  The United Church of Christ in Japan has been working hard for a long time, albeit an almost lost cause, for protection of the Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution which prohibits Japanese military involvement in a war other than for self defence.  It therefore can not participate in the conflict in a third country even with an alliance partner like the U.S.  The Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is a right leaning conservative who want to militarize the country by amending the Constitution, which requires a two-third majority in the Lower House.  He didn’t get it at the last election.  So the propaganda war is fierce.  What is lost is that the Constitution was drafted by the U.S. occupation force.

Kenji Goto, a well-known war correspondent, quite naively believing that Japan was still accepted as non-alliance country, went to Syria to negotiate the release of another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa.  He didn’t realize that Mr. Abe’s hawkish pronouncements in support of the American led coalition had already been known and changed the mind of the ISIS leadership about Japan.  By the way, Mr. Abe represents the segment of the population on the right which denies the culpability of Japanese Imperial Army in the Nanjing massacre and rape, kidnapping of thousands of Korean women as sex slaves, and other war crimes during the Second World War. If denying Holocaust is a crime here, why in Japan the Prime Minister gets away denying war crimes?.  I don’t understand the double standard.

It is a tragic irony that the death of the pacifist correspondent is used by a warmongering politicians to advance the cause of militarization.  Of course, the brutality of ISIS is despicable.  But shouldn’t Prime Minister Abe also take some responsibility in Kenji Goto’s death?



– I Corinthians 11 –

In the Old Testament, three words defined the Ministry of Hebrew religion: Calling, Prophet andPriest.  The New Testament added Rabbi, Scribe, and Apostle. However today’s Church calls the member of the Order of Ministry differently from the Bible; Elder, Minister, Priest, Pastor, Preacher, or Deacon. How did those titles evolve? What are their job descriptions?

In the Old Testament, there were ‘Priests and Prophets.” Those two designations still summarise the vocation of ministry. Priests were the caretakers of the religious institutions and the spiritual care-givers for people; while prophets discerned the mind of God and communicated it through interpretation, preaching, and teaching. In many Protestant Churches such as our United Church of Canada, there is no “priest” in the Order of Ministry. We believe in the priesthood of all faithful through Christ.

Another important principle of the ministry is that it is a calling or a vocation. Ministry is not a “job.” A simple way to distinguish a calling from a job is to ask: Do you live to work? Or Do you work to live? In the case of the first, job defines you. In the second case, life is a mission and work is what makes that possible. If two are the same, it is a happy situation; just like a physician or a teacher whose calling is to heal or to educate while letting you make a living in the course of answering the call. But often those two don’t come together. Art is the calling for artists for example. But only lucky ones can make enough money to live by making art. They often work in non-artistic jobs so that they can follow their calling. Likewise, ministry does not necessarily allow you to make a living. Ministers in some countries have second jobs. Many convents and monasteries operate money making industries. In other cases, monks and nuns go out to work in day jobs.

In the Old Testament, Moses and his brother Aaron were the first prophet and the first priest respectively. Moses was called to be the prophet. God called him from a burning bush. (Exodus 3) Aaron, his brother, was anointed by Moses to be a priest. (Exodus 29) Moses relayed God’s words to people. Aaron officiated rituals to lead people in prayers and sacrifices (service). Moses was the first of present day preachers and teachers. Aaron was the priest and the administrator of an religious institution and the officer of religious rituals (sacraments). Priests were also watch-dogs for the correct practice of religion.

While it is easy to assume that priests made living from sacrifices (offerings), one can only speculate how prophets earned their living. There were some prophets established their positions by kings and were paid by them like Nathan (2 Samuel 12) and Isaiah (2 Kings 19). However, their primary job was to communicate the word of God in preaching and teaching. Therefore they were free of human authorities even from the ones who employed them. From time to time, the authorities didn’t like what some prophets said, and they had to run for life or killed. Their demand of the vocation came before their livelihood. Elijah had to run to save his life. (1 King 19) A legend has it that Isaiah was executed by a king. Some were clearly anti- establishment freelancers such as Amos, who preached on the streets and made living with a day job. Amos was a shepherd.

At the time of Jesus, the New Testament mentions several ministry positions in the lives of the Jews in Palestine: Priests, Elders, Scribes, and Rabbis. The first three were mentioned together in the Gospels as those who worked for the Temple in Jerusalem. Priests officiated rituals and were guardians of orthodoxy with elders as their consultants. Scribes were the Biblical scholars, as their job was transcribing the Scriptures, thus became knowledgeable of them. King Herod consulted scribes to find where Jesus was born for the wise men from the East. Also there must have been many low ranking priests scattered all over Palestine. When Jesus told a healed leper to go to a priest to be certified as clean, he was referring to the local priest, not the one in Jerusalem. (Luke17:14) That episode indicates that priests also looked after the welfare of people. Today, it is the minister’s pastoral work.

Also the New Testament mentions other Jewish religious institutions, “synagogues and rabbis.”  It was rabbis, literally meaning “teachers”, who continued the prophetic ministry. It seems synagogues were everywhere Jews were found, not only in Palestine but also in the whole of the Mediterranean world. Synagogues were ubiquitous, hence not all were possibly served by rabbis. You must remember, however, that in Jewish life, religious observance has always been a family affair. Head of the house read scriptures and said the prayers. Many men who could read were quite capable to step in to act in place of rabbis and cantors (readers) in the synagogues. Anyone capable spoke in synagogues. Hence, that custom allowed Jesus and disciples to begin their ministry. In a synagogue, Jesus was given the Scriptures and was asked to read a certain text and to explain what it meant. So he did and surprised people who saw Jesus only as a country bumpkin. (Luke 4) Synagogues provided the venue for Jesus, and people who were ready to hear the Word even from an unknown man like Jesus.

It seems rabbis were accepted as such without formal paper qualifications. Exception was Paul; he had the highest possible Jewish education. (Acts22:3) In general, some people must have been accepted and called “rabbi” if they sounded good enough to be one. There must have been many fakes and frauds also. This is why there were watchdogs like priests and scribes to keep eye on those who spoke in public and perform miracles. This is how, in the synagogues, the Good News of Jesus Christ began to spread throughout the Roman Empire.

However, in the early Christian church the new order began to develop. It began with twelve men who followed Jesus and were called “disciples.” After Jesus was crucified and no longer on the earth, they changed their titles to “apostles.” The word means “the one who is sent out with a mission.” In the Gospels such as Matthew 10 say, disciples were sent out by Jesus to heal the sick and spread his message. They became the first leaders of the church. A criterion to being “Apostle” seemed to be the personal knowledge of Jesus. Their successors later became bishops, who oversaw the church in teaching and practice of religious life.

However, two apostles were added later in addition to the original Twelve. One was James, a brother of Jesus. The other one was Paul. There didn’t seem to be any problem for James accepted as an Apostle, because he was after all a brother of Lord Jesus. But for Paul, there was a problem about his claim to be an Apostle. (Acts 26 and Galatians 2) Before his conversion, he persecuted many Christians and even supervised the stoning death of the first Christian martyr Stephen. (Acts 7: 58) Paul was accepted as an apostle only by some who accepted his claim of having met the Risen Christ on the way to Damascus. Some others didn’t. This was an important

episode in the life of the Church, because Apostles were an important link with Jesus, and Paul was the person who defined a large part of what is Christianity today. Without Paul, Christianity could have remained a mere heretical sect of Judaism.

There was no woman Apostle, though there were many women leaders of the church in the New Testament e.g. Acts 16:22 ff and 18. Many women faithfully followed Jesus even to the cross while all men ran away. It is an important question today why they were not Apostles. Anglican and Lutheran churches have recently installed women bishops, at last, to be the successors to the Apostles.

Many churches still consider the unbroken chain of succession of spiritual gifts from the original Apostles the most important source of the authority in the church. Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican Churches, to name a few, adopt this doctrine. They all have Bishops as the successors to the Apostles. Most of the protestant churches do not recognize the Apostolic Succession, because we believe all believers are sent out to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and to do good work. (Luke 10:1 ff.)

As for other positions of the order of ministry in Christian Church, the evolution seems to have begun when seven men were ordained to help Apostles in the day-to-day business of the church. They were filled with spiritual gifts according to the Acts 6: l-7. Their duty was primarily looking after the material aspect of the church life. They later became known in the church as Elders (Presbyters): Teaching Elders (ministers and pastors) and Serving Elders (deacons and stewards). The significant part of this development is the fact that the first martyr, Stephen, in the Christian history, who died for his faith, came out from this group of serving elders (Acts 6: 8 – 60). His address before his death was one of the most impressive sermons recorded in the Bible.

I have briefly surveyed the Bible to find the references made of the Order of Ministry. There have been variety of designations beginning with Prophets and Priests: Elders, Rabbis, Scribes to Christian titles like Apostles, Deacons, and Stewards. Those Christian terms have evolved into Popes (the successors to the chief Apostle Peter), Bishops (successors of Apostles), Priests and Ministers; and Elders and Deacons. In the United Church of ours, there are now Ordained Ministers, Commissioned Ministers, Lay Pastoral Ministers, and Lay Worship Leaders. No matter how much names change, three things remain unchanged. It’s a calling, it is prophetic in preaching and teaching, and is concerned about the spiritual welfare of believers.


Limit to Freedon of Expression


In the month of January, 2015, three radical Islamists attacked the office of French Cartoon magazine “Charlie Hebdo” anf killed more than dozen people including the editor-in-chief as well as a few cartoonists.because they mockingly depicted Prophet Mohammed..  Reaction to such savage attack on them was immediate world-wide.  A few days later several media outlets, both electronic and print, reproduced the pictures in question.  The following is my January 23, 2015 letter to the editor of the Lethbridge Herald which re-printed the cartoon previous week.


I admire the courage of all media organizations that decided to reproduce the cartoons from the French magazine “Charlie Hebdo.”  (Lethbridge Herald, January 9, 2015, Page B1) It also shows that they have faith in the efficiency of the security apparatus which hopefully guarantee their safety.  However, I take the side of those media which, as a principle, try not to offend what is held sacred by anyone.  I don’t accept the accusation that they were acting in fear.

How far can “freedom of expression” go?  It is a tricky question.  The Americans tend to believe there should be no limit; likewise do the French people.  Canadians believe otherwise; we have anti-hate crime legislation restricting use of a certain language, for example.  I don’t believe that insulting or offending other people in the name of freedom of expression is a civilized human behaviour.  I am a Japanese-Canadian: I have a double dose of politeness in my DNA.  And I think it is a good thing in a situation like the one we are facing today.

I belong to the spiritual tradition that traces its origin from Abraham: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.  We are monotheists, a belief in one Divine Being.   Therefore we follow the dictum prohibiting any representation of the Divine which we term as idiolatry: the Second Commandment.  It is an admission of human limitation and of our inability to know and understand what is absolute and perfect.  It means any human has no right to decide the ultimate demise of another human based on belief, because nobody knows for sure the absolute truth and its demand.  This is why I believe there should be no killing of other humans in the name of religion.

I am condemning the recent murderous acts by Islamic extremists.  Christianity does not have  pristine history either.  Deaths were ordered by the Catholic Church for heresy.  Protestant history is not any better: Jean Calvin ordered burning at stake of Michael Servetus. Remember also Thirty Year War?   Eight million were killed in the war that began as a fight between Catholics and Protestants.  When those humans and human institutions rooted in the faith of Abraham claim the god-given right to kill, they become idol worshippers: they are making themselves gods.  To say, “God said so” is a lie.  Because nobody knows God’s will for sure.




I know it is a festive season, and we all should look at the bright side of life.    But this whole business of ISIS depresses me.  We, I mean the West, is doing it all over again.  When will we ever learn?  (Sorry, Bob Dylan, for the paraphrase.)  According to Imam Soharwardy, who spoke at the SACPA luncheon lecture recently, in the rush to organize credible fighting forces against the regime in Syria, the West asked Saudi Arabia to help, which obliged by pouring in money and weapons to create a Sunni fighting force.  That is the origin of the ISIS.  It’s the case of applying “enemy of my enemy is my friend” logic.  And it turned out they were no friends of ours.

In order to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Americans invited Muslim extremists, armed them and showered them with money to expel Soviets.  There is a Hollywood movie about it called “Charlie’s War.”  That was how al Qaida and Taliban were born.  They turned out to be no friends of America after the Soviets were defeated and left.  They turned out to be deadly against us.  Remember 9/11?

Likewise, Sadam Husein was a friend of ours when he was fighting Iran.  Donald Rumsfelt shook hands with Sadam.  I saw the same kid of things with Israel vis a vis Hamas in Gaza during the 1980’s.  I was there when Islamic radicals in collusion with Israeli forces attacked the PLO leadership and burned down the building of the Red Crescent Society.  Again the enemies (Hamas) of the enemies (secular PLO) turned out to be more deadly to Israel.  Our histories are full of the same old mistakes.  Violence begets violence.  When will we ever learn?

We really should think deeply about what we mean when we celebrate the birth of Prince of Peace.  Peace is not cowardly nor sissy.  Do we have to keep killing such an idea like PEACE?  It’s not a new idea.  All religions believe in it.  I wish you all, Shalom!  Salaam!  Peace!

The system does not adequately deal with sexual harassement.


I can relate to Justin Trudeau’s conundrum.  Did he rush into an action too fast by suspending two M.P’s in the latest sex scandal?  I made the same mistake.  When a woman comes to you reporting sexual harassment, you want to do the right thing quickly, but can end up overlooking the due process.  Is it your mistake or is the system faulty?

During the early 1990’s I sat on an administrative position of the United Church in Ottawa and Montreal region.  One of the terms of reference of the job was to facilitate the disciplinary process of church employees including clergy.  It was the time when sexual abuse by clergymen was in the media.  It was also the time the whole outrage of “Indian Residential School” came into open.  We in the church administration were scrambling to do the right thing fast.

In two separate cases, women reported to me that they took complaints of sexual harassment by their ministers to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.  We wanted to do the right thing as quickly as possible; so not waiting for the decision of the Commission, we suspended them from their pastorates.  Those ministers took the church administration to the civil court.  It took two years, and the church lost.  We had to reinstate them and pay the cost.

The court decided that the church did not diligently follow the procedure prescribed in “the United Church Manual.”  We were too eager not to repeat the past mistakes: lack of transparency and a long, arduous and adversarial process that punished the victims further.  Also, if the truth be told, we wanted to be seen to be sympathetic to women.

We did have a legal advisor.  But the system that requires presumption of innocence, adversarial disciplinary proceedings, and worst of all, the time consuming process did not work for the already traumatized victims.  Media frenzy traumatize the victims further.  No wonder those NDP M.P.’s wanted to stay anonymous.

The Parliament, incredibly, does not have a process.  But even the existing processes of other organizations do not work because the systems often victimise the victims.  Criminal proceedings are worse because they are extremely adversarial and brutal.  There’s got to be one that enables a quick and decisive yet humane action to deal with the offence against the vulnerable.

Should Doctor-assisted-suicide be legally allowed?


What is the issue?  Does the Bible provide any help to resolve the dilemma?

On the question of assisted suicide and euthanasia, the only Biblical reference I can think of is the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”  (Exodus 20:13)   It is the most important dictum to define the justifiable homicide, that is an act to end another human life legally.  Homicide is a loaded word, because it is used most often in relation to crime.  I use it to show my instinctive dislike of any act of destruction of life.  In the ideal world, there should be no homicide in any situation, any time, any where.  It affirms the fundamental principle of sanctity of life as a gift of God in creation.  However, the fact is, throughout history this commandment has been ignored selectively, never obeyed universally nor unconditionally.  In other words, the principle of justifiable homicide has often been applied to exempt certain number of situations.

War, capital punishment, self-defence, protection of property, use of lethal force to maintain public order are used to justify killing people.  The number of countries that have death penalty in the statute book, however, is decreasing in the industrialised countries.  Recently, *physician assisted suicide (PAS) and euthanasia have been added to the list of justifiable homicide in certain number of countries, a province and states: Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland, Quebec, Oregon, Vermont, Montana, and Washington.  And public support for it is increasing.  The primary argument for PAS is horrible quality of life such as incurable disease, chronic and unbearable pain and suffering.  For those sufferers life has become unbearable.

* Assisted suicide and euthanasia present two separate issues.  But I am not going into technicality here, as this is a paper for the Bible Study not a legal exercise.

However, we must remind ourselves that this issue has arisen because of positive developments in the quality of care for life in respect for creation.  We should rejoice in that.  Because of the rapid development of medical science and technology, and of other disciplines such as better understanding of psychological and sociological conditions, life on earth is safer and longer, and increasingly with compassion.  We can prolong life as long as we had ever imagined possible.  Life with pain and suffering are often the result of unprecedented longevity.  We have never lived so long until such side-effects appeared.  But the fact that we managed to prolong life as much as we have, does not mean anyone has the right to terminate it.  In the ideal world no homicide does not have to be justified.  Meanwhile in reality, pain and suffering do exist.  It is natural that a compassionate person wishes to help suffering persons to have their wish.  PAS is justified as an interim measure until the Kingdom comes.

We should all be working toward creation of an utopian society where everyone lives out their natural life without pain and suffering.  It means the universal palliative facilities and end-of-life hospice care for all allowing those with chronic pain, to live out their lives in comfort.  In the Bible, Second Isaiah dreamed about such a world and called it “New Jerusalem.”. (Isaiah 65: 20)

How has Christian view on suicide evolved?


The view of the Christian Church – a work in progress

The following is a preliminary to the question of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.

The Bible mentions three suicides.  Judges 16:28-30 tells the story of Samson killing the enemy of Israel by killing himself and became a sort of first suicide bomber.  Samson is a national hero.  1 Samuel 31:4 describes King Saul falling on his sword in stead of a life of shame after being defeated by the Philistines.  He redeemed himself in the eyes of Israelites by committing suicide.  Acts 1:18 reports Judas Iscariot hung himself out of guilt for betraying his master and teach Jesus.  I also found four passages which mention writers’ death wish.  Job 3: 20 – 22, Jonah 4:8, Acts 16:28, Philippians1:23.

Job lost all children who were killed in a natural calamity, lost all wealth and possessions by marauding brigands.  Afterward, he suffered skin disease which caused unbearable incessant itch.  Seeing his suffering his wife said, “Curse God and die.”  His friends assumed he commited grievous sins that brought to him such misery.  Job cursed the day he was born and wanted to die.  Jonah couldn’t stand the heat of the Sun without a shade and wanted to die: the most frivolous excuse!  In the Acts, a jail guard in Philippi was going to kill himself when he found that all his prisoners escaped.  As for Paul, students of the Bible have suspected him of chronic health problem that bothered him for a long time.  In the letter to the Philippians, he said death and being with Christ would be preferable than life of suffering.  They all preferred death to horrible quality of life.   They had no good reason to live on in such agony, guilt, misery, pain, or shame.    Death seemed to be a better option than mere longevity.

The Bible dose not say explicitly that suicide as such is a sinful act.  Then, where does the concept that suicide is an unforgivable sin comes from?  Suicide was a crime until recently in the Christian West.  As recently as 1970’s, at the university where I taught for eight years, there was a piece of land consecrated as the burial ground.  The Catholic Church sold the university to the government at the time of independence, but the cemetery remained under the control of the church.  One time, a faculty member committed suicide, but the church did not allowed him to be buried in the cemetery, even though the dead man was a devote Catholic.  In the United Church, I remember the controversy in B.C., during the sixties, of a couple of respected former missionaries who killed themselves in the garage instead of watching his wife dying slowly of cancer.  In this case, the argument for compassion and understanding for the tortured souls won rather than condemnation.

In Japan, the notion of honourable suicide has been a long held tradition.   The Japanese Protestant churches did not follow the western dictum of equating suicide to murder,  and didn’t refused funerals for those who killed themselves.  In fact, my first funeral in Tokyo after being designated as a Deacon was for a friend who committed suicide.  He opted for death rather than telling his newly wedded wife that he lost his job.  This is why I never had trouble accepting suicide as a tragic but inevitable way of dying for some people.  Where, then, does the prohibition of suicide come from?  Thomas Kennedy in the “Christianity Today” traces the origin of the doctrine that suicide was unforgivable sin to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. They influenced the doctrine of the Catholic Church, not the Bible.  Protestant Martin Luther and John Calvin down-graded it a notch by making it forgivable nevertheless “sin”.

The Bible was not the source of the doctrine of suicide as sin: the Church was.  It seems the whole notion against suicide comes from the ten commandments and for the respect for God’s creation.  It is absolutely right to accept the sanctity of life as the gift of God, thus prohibiting its willful destruction.  The sixth commandment “Thou shalt not kill” should be universally adhered to.   However I have trouble equating suicide with murder.  Furthermore, the Church has never observed the sixth commandment unconditionally.  There have always been “justifiable homicides” both in the church and the state.  I am happy that the progress in understanding of human conditions is nudging us toward the idea that suicide is a tragedy that should not happen, but definitely is not sin.  We are almost in agreement about the need to work towards a society where such a tragedy does not happen.

WHY I AM NOT A LITERALIST – How to read the Bible.


In Japan, they say, “Even a head of a sardine can be a beginning of a religion.”  I know we live in a free country and you can believe in anything so long as you don’t harm others.  Nevertheless, I just don’t understand how people can insist that we must read the Bible literally and accept every word in it as the Word of God, true and correct and historically factual.  I think such literalists can be crazy and dangerous like Muslim extremists and the Koran burning Christian fundamentalist preacher.  I don’t believe in such a way to read the Bible.  But to be sure I am a Christian and believe that the Bible is the most important book for our faith.  I believe that the Bible contains (not “is”) the word of God.  Nobody can accuse me of being a non-believer.  The following is how I believe in the Bible.

The Bible was written by humans.  They are a collection of the selected few from the pieces of work by many writers.  They were selected because they represented the belief system of the majority of bishops of the fourth Century Church in Europe and North Africa.  Their views prevailed in the Church Council.  Those who did not agree with the majority were banished or went into exile.   And they started  different churches, like the Nestorians in China.  There had been much variety in Christian beliefs in early church.  As recently as 1950’s, manuscripts of several Gospels were uncovered in Alexandria, Egypt that had not made the cut.  They did not fit the belief system of the majority.   Those books were excluded when the Church declared the selection in the current Bible to be the “Cannon,” the authorized official Bible.   Nobody knows how many such books were excluded.  They were often burned or destroyed. This shows that from the beginning the Bible was a creation of humans.

It is a collection of writings in many different forms, but all were the attempts of the people who were sincere in search of the spiritual truth and the will of God.  None of them saw or heard God, so those writings were the result of the best and earnest imagination.  They take the forms of stories, poems, accounts and interpretations of collective, national, and personal experiences; legends, myths, oral traditions passed down from ancestors for generations.  None of them were interested in historical accuracy as we insist on it today.  Least of their interest was scientific proof: they did not know what science was and didn’t care.  Spiritual significance was more important to them than mere facts.  Therefore, they felt free to change some facts to fit their belief.  They were creative people in search of truth, perhaps more creative than many of us who are obsessed and stuck in historical and scientific facts.

Another factor to keep in mind is: all of the Bible had been oral traditions stored in the memories of elders and prophets (or teachers) before they were hand-written by scribes.  Printing press was invented as late as the seventeenth Century.  Until then, the Bible was always transcribed by hand.  You can imagine the possibilities of mistakes and omissions in such processes, both in memories and copying.  Some parts of text were even changed and/or forged to fit the opinions of scribes.  This is why identifying authentic manuscripts is an important continuous work of Biblical scholarship.

For those reasons alone, I think it is absurd to believe every word of the Bible is to be believed as a factual truth.  It is not meant to be such.  It is supposed to give spiritual messages.  This is to say you cannot mix science and spiritual metaphors.  An enlarged heart means you are sick.  It is ridiculous to say that since you have a big heart, you are a generous person.   A “New Yorker” writer, A.J. Jacobs exposed this literalist absurdity by trying to live according to every dictate of the Bible.  His book, “A Year of Living Biblically” is a hilarious account of his life trying to live biblically without compromise.  He had a trouble with his wife during her period, because he refused to sit on the same chair his wife had sat on.  He realized also that he would run into serious trouble with the law if he tried to follow all commandments of Leviticus.  You cannot strike your son to death when he speaks against you.  In the U.S., it is a capital crime.   When certain parts of the scriptures are impossible to follow, one has to use one’s own interpretations to make them workable.  This is a slippery slope.  Once one’s discretion is used to decide if one should obey or disobey the law, where should one stop?  This is the fundamental flaw of the literalist’s argument.

Number is another problem.  Though we don’t think about the meaning of numbers seriously anymore, in many cultures they still convey messages.  They say in Japan turtles live ten thousand years and cranes one thousand years.  Of course, they don’t live that long.  It means they are animals that bring you good luck.  They send the images of turtles and cranes with “good wishes.”  The official name of the Great Wall of China is “Ten Thousand Mile Long Wall – Ban Rii no Choh-Joh”.  Rii is approximately one mile.  In fact the Wall is half that long.   Ten thousand miles long mean “very, very long almost without end.”

In the Bible, likewise, numbers often have meaning and you have to take note of what those numbers represent: one signifies oneness of God, the one and only; two is credible evidence with two witnesses agreeing; three means completion; seven – divine perfection; twelve – divine governance; seven times seven mean forgiveness, etc.  They don’t necessarily represent actual numbers.  They even changed the numbers to convey the message they wanted to convey.  So the world was created in seven days:  Seven being the perfect divine order.   After Judas betrayed Jesus and committed suicide, one disciple had to be elected in order to complete the number to twelve in order to make the group of disciples a sacred organization.

Another serious problem is the fact that the Bible we have today is all translations from other languages.  There is no Bible that prints the original Jesus’ words, because he spoke in Aramaic, and the Aramaic Bible does not exist.  The Christian Church authorized the Old Testament in the Greek translation though it had been read for more than a millennium in Hebrew by Jewish people.  The New Testament was also originally written in Greek, not in Aramaic or Hebrew which Jesus and his disciples spoke.  And as we all know translating one language into another inevitably changes meaning.   Some words in one language do not exist in another, or have more synonyms. The word love, for instance, has at least three words in Greek in the New Testament.  The Catholic Bible chose the word “Charity” instead of Love.

French language has two words for “you” – vous and tu, in German, sie and du, depending on the degree of intimacy.  It’s your judgement call to decide the nature of relationship in order to decide which word to use.  French Biblical scholars decided that our relationship with God is very intimate hence chose “tu” to address God.  Likewise, “thou” in older versions of the English Bible is an intimate “you”.  I don’t think many people today think of your relationship with God as though he is as intimate as your spouse is.  At any rate, that’s how translators decided the nature of our relationship with God.  It was a human decision.  Japanese has 16 different words to say “I”.   Choose a wrong word you may exalt or insult people depending on the circumstance and the nature of relationship.  I know two languages, Japanese and Sesotho, that do not use a word for “no”; instead you say something like “yes, but” or “sort of”, etc.  They believe a negative word like “no” sounds very rude and disrespectful.

If you have to insist that the word of the Bible is the word of God, you have a problem of the translators using their judgement to pick the words which they think most faithfully expressing the original meaning.  Nevertheless, it’s a personal decision.  You could be wrong, because you are a mere human.  There are so many possibilities of mistakes and subjectivities.  Problems of translating languages are numerous.  No, every word of the Bible cannot be the word of God.

The more serious factor that must be taken into account in reading the Bible is the fact that it is a collection of writings which are all culture, geography, and time specific.  Often they are contradictory because of it.  Each book was written at a specific time addressing a specific issue to a particular people in mind who lived in a particular culture.  An example: “Thou shalt not kill” sounds a definite and universal commandment, but it is contradicted by God many times in the Bible.  An example: King Saul and David were ordered by God to exterminate a certain tribe.  Saul had mercy on them and did not kill all of them, therefore he fell out of favour of God.  David on the other hand, followed it and committed genocide hence he became a favourite of God. (1 Samuel 15 and 2 Samuel 1)  Likewise, the governments justify killing, so do religions.  It all depends.  You cannot understand what the lesson of this kind of story is unless you know the historical context.

There are two creation stories: another example.  Genesis chapter one depicts the God who simply commanded by word to create the world and everything in it.   Using hands was beneath God’s dignity, while chapter two describes God who worked by hand shaping creatures from mud.  Those stories even refer to God in two different names.  Chapter one uses the generic word for God “Elohim,” so the English Bible prints the word “God” in its place.  The chapter two refers to the name of God by writing it as “YHWH” without vowels and translated into an English word as “Lord.”  You can tell immediately that the Book of Genesis has at least two different, sometimes contradictory, sources.  Again in such situation, one has to use one’s judgment to sort them out and find what the writers were trying to say.

How then can you read the Bible and find the will of God in such perplexity.  There is a core message in the Bible that never changed, like love, faithfulness and trust.  The trick is to find such a core value of our faith and put them on like you do a pair of eye glasses to read the Bible.  We have to find the core value of our faith: therein in the way to read the Bible.

There is nothing wrong reading the Bible critically so long as we look for the truth as though we look for a pearl in the mud.  The reformer Martin Luther put it another way and said, “Reading the Bible and find God is like finding the Baby Jesus in a bunch of dirty, smelly pile of hay in the stable.”  Do not throw out the baby with smelly hay (or bath water).  What then are the eye glasses to see the pearl or the baby in the murky bewildering muddle?  Jesus put it succinctly, “Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself.”   Therein is the ways to read the Bible.  It is love, but it takes a lot of work.







That’s too bad

The recent resurgence of passionate, often barbaric, dedication to a religion, such as ISIS ( Islamic State), among the youths took me by a complete surprise.  Why do middle class educated young Canadians frock to the cause of an extreme religious fanaticism?  Today, I thought it was cool among the youths to be atheists and to predict a demise of organized religions.  They point to the diminishing size of many Christian congregations as a proof.   But religious fanatics who don’t mind dying for the cause?  What is happening?

Demise of traditional religions has been predicted for a long time.  Already during the 1940’s, Dietrich Bonheoffer, who was executed by Adolf Hitler predicted that:  “As science advances, the space God had occupied is getting smaller.”   This is why some of us were hoping that such a wake-up call would motivate us to a more vigorous search for a true mission of the authentic religions.

Violence and barbarism by religious people are nothing new.  Officially blessed by a respectable denomination in the Southern U.S., the violently anti-Black, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic movement Ku Klux Klan went on to killing rampage in the United States only several decades ago.  There were many bloody conflicts among Buddhist denominations in Japan for many centuries too.   Warrior monks were legends I grew up hearing about.  Crusaders like Knights Templars were officially glorified for mass killing of Muslims.  Intolerance to differences that led to the burning at stake of many heretics is another crime committed by the organized religion.  Even the supposedly most tolerant Hinduism had a recent history of violence against other religions for the cause of Hindu-nationalism.  But I thought those were passing or the thing of the past.

Why do religions drive some people to such violent inhuman acts?  I think that the basic mistake they make is confusing faith from knowledge.  Religion is a matter of belief.  Belief is not knowledge.  Faith, by definition, always acknowledges possibilities of error.  Hence, no one has the right to cause death of another person in the name of faith.  This is why I am happy to put religions to a rigorous test.  That is the only way to keep religions honest and away from delusions, fanaticism, and superstitions.  This is why I am sad that religious fanaticism and fundamentalism are thwarting the journey of religions towards their true mission.






I watch an old Marilyn Monroe movie recently and was surprised by her figures: she was voluptuous, unlike today’s’ Barbie doll  anorexic  standard.  Another example in a similar vein:  When I went to Africa in 1968, people were worried that I my wife was not happy and I was not treating her well because she was slim.  African standard of a happy wife has a well endowed body, well fed and ready to bear many children.  These examples tell us that people’s taste in values shifts constantly with time and place.

A Chinese colleague of mine in the United Church of Canada, who like me recently arrived to Canada from Hong Kong made a terrible faux pas at a women’s missionary event.  When asked his impression of Canadian women, he answered, “They are wonderful people, they are fat and look old.”   In China, like in Japan, old people were respected and considered to be wise. You always ask elders for their opinions. Also only successful people could afford to be fat.  They congratulated fat people for their success in business.  In Japanese you congratulate successful people saying, “Kappuku ga  i-idesune” meaning, “You look filled up, you must be successful.  Congratulations!  Fat and old mean successful and wise.  Things could have changed since I left Japan.  But the point is: you must be careful not to read antiquity and understand it according to our norm.

The Bible describes Sarah, Abraham’s wife, as a very beautiful woman, who charmed Pharaoh instantly.  When you run into a passage like this, question is: does this give an image of a person who can be understood as a beautiful woman according to our standard?  Surely not.   Our views change as times change.



I usually like what Gwynne Dyer says, but I take exception to his emphasis on Islamicpressures in Sudan, Iraq, and other Arab countries causing demise of Christians. However, in other parts of the world other factors are also responsible.

One example I know well is in the Holy Land.  There are more Palestinian Christians living in Canada and the U.S. today than those who still live in Israel and Palestine because of their exodus.  Traditionally close to 20% of Palestinians were Christians.  I don’t know the statistics today, but I know there are fewer than a few thousand still living in Jerusalem.  Christians have lived in the Holy Land for millennia but they are leaving in droves.  Leaders of the Christian community in Jerusalem have been appealing to the Worldwide Christian community for help drawing attention to the demise of Christian population in the Holy Land.  Many of them go back a long way: their history is older than any Christian church in the world.  Some of them can go back their family histories to the original Christians of Jewish converts at the time of Jesus and his brother James.  I know personally at least two such families in Gaza.

Pressure on the Christians comes from many sides, not just from Muslim community.  Israel is suspicious of them because they are Palestinians and support the P.L.O’s position on a secular state, which goes against the notion of the Jewish State.  Of course, there are pressures coming from Muslims too.  The Christians are the target of suspicion from them because of the activities of some American Evangelical Christians, who are the most enthusiastic supporters of the State of Israel.  Some of us call them “Christian Zionists.”   Thus they are seen with suspicion by both sides.  They are like Orthodox Christians who had lived in the Holy Land at the time of Crusade.  Crusaders did not distinguish different peoples who had lived there.  So they killed Muslims, as well as Orthodox Christians and Jews in order to gain Christian control of the Holy Land.  This is why the Palestinian Christians leave the land where their faith tradition began.

Let us think seriously about the persecution on religions as a human rights issue, not a political football.

Tad Mitsui




Russian President Vladimir Putin is apparently very popular in his country.  Russians believe Putin’s incredible lie that, against all evidences, the Ukrainians government forces shot down Malaysian Airlines MH17, not the Russian supported separatists.   However, of course, all evidences point to the separatists as culprits.  It is very dangerous to humiliate a proud people: they believe anything that gives them back the pride they lost.  This is why humiliation helped Adolf Hitler to be elected to lead the nation to a total disaster in order to recover the sense of greatness as people which they lost during the First World War and its aftermath.

When Japan was recovering from devastation of the World War II, the many captains of major Japanese industries that led the incredible economic recovery between 1950’s and 60’s were officers of the Japanese Imperial Forces.  I knew many of them personally.  The motto I heard often during those days was, “We were beaten in military, but we will beat them in economy.”  That’s the one of the reasons Japan became the second largest economy in a short time until they were overtaken recently by China.  Free competitive market is a constructive place to choose for revenge, but their motive gave me a chill.   It is dangerous to humiliate proud people.   Desire for revenge kills humanity and truth.   Hatred and self-deception make all of us beasts.  When we remind ourselves about the greatness of Russian culture; art, literature, music, and science, it is understandable that people love Mr. Putin who is helping them recover the pride they had lost after the fall of the Soviet empire.

I am in no way justifying the evil paths German, Japanese, and Russian people had followed during the 20th Century.  But I am warning about the danger of humiliating people.  Gwyn Dyer traces the almost intractable problems facing the Middle East to the humiliation of the Arabs and the Jewish people.  They were both great people in culture, science, and spiritual traditions.  And yet they had been utterly humiliated by the West throughout the recent history.  Have we done the same to the First Nations?

We must never humiliate people.  Like the cliché has it,  ”Hate evil not people.”

August 5, 2014

Are we the only stupid animals kill each other for ideas?


 Do you remember the movie?   “Stop the world.  I want to get off!”   If I shut out all the news from my eyes and ears, I should be happy in this beautiful summer in the most beautiful country in the world.  Ongoing civil war in Syria that already killed a few hundred thousand people, 300 girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airliner with 400 people on board, the ISIS take over of Northern Iraq, missing bodies of three murdered people in Alberta, another Malaysian Airliner shot down by Ukrainian rebels, and conflict between Hamas and Israel.  It goes on and on.  I want to get off.  The worst thing is: we soon forget and move on to the next exciting tragedy.

Humans are the only species that kill each other by the thousands.  Do you still think we are the most superior living organisms?  Matthew White is a historian and loves to count numbers.  He counted the number of people killed by fellow humans en mass in history.  He published a book listing 100 worst mass killings in the known human history since 5th Century B.C.E.

The first goes to the Second World War that killed 66 million people in four years.  (20 million soldiers and 46 million civilians including 6 million Jews)  Next comes Chinggis Khan who killed 40 million people to conquer a large portion of Asia and Europe during the Thirteenth Century.  Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin were both mass murderers, causing the deaths of 40 Million and 20 million respectively during their life time.  Religious conflict kills too, big time.  Crusade in three hundred years killed 3 million, and Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants during the Seventeenth Century killed 7.5 million.

Other animals kill each other too, but in the much smaller scale and never deliberately.  They fight for food, sex, and territory.  But they never fight like humans over differences in ideologies and theologies.  We boast that we are superior being than other animals because we think on a higher level than basic biological level.  Really?

Historian Arnold Toynbee thought bees and ants survive humans.  Cockroaches had  existed millions of years before dinosaurs and they are still with us.  They may outlive us if we continue to be so stupid fighting each other over ideologies, territories, and religions.

July 20, 2014



In June 6, 2014, Canadian Prime Minister stood before the media defiantly declared that he would never risk Canadian economy and jobs for the sake of environment.  He had his soul mate Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on his side to stand up against Barak Obama’s bold move to curb the carbon emission.  Meanwhile, on June 10 in the Lethbridge Herald, there was a glossy special insert, which was all about business in Lethbridge.   And I said to myself: There is something missing in the notion of economics from what I think it should be part of.

I thought economy meant more than capital, finance, productivity, profit, and the like.  In my “ECONOMICS 101” class sixty some years ago, I heard that the word economy came from a Greek word “OIKONOMIA ”  and that it meant the management of  a home (OIKOS).  I don’t like the way people defined the word OIKONOMIA into something too narrow and yet too complicated.  They say, economy is bigger than a household.  It’s about “macro economics”: It’s about a city, or a country, or even the world.  And it’s all about money.   I don’t buy that.  What about welfare of people?

Economy, to me, should also be about fairness and other warm and fuzzy stuff like happiness and compassion.    Without those qualities I will not be a sucess in the management of my family household.  I hope that such a notion of economy is applied on the macro level as well.  Warm and fuzziness should extend to towns and cities and countries not just my home.  If you apply a narrowly defined meaning of economy, you can call China most successful.   But where is freedom?

Of course, it’s about money too.  You need money to have basics to be sure.  Without money you suffer humiliation and indignity.  But on the other hand, when the CEO on the top is compensated three hundred times more than what an average worker of the same company, and it is considered to be normal, there is something wrong with this notion of economy.   Where is fairness?  If it is about maintaining that kind of system, I don’t want to be any part of it.  We need oil; we need gas to run my car; yes, we need money for sure.  But that should not be the bottom line of the story of economy.



Temporary Foreign Workers

Conservative movements always seem to have the same quandary. Industries say that unrestricted free labour market is essential to stay competitive.  But the libertarian base wants none of it: the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) brings in too many non-European faces.    Jason Kenny is caught between two camps among the Conservatives over the TFWP.  He tried to appease the base by tightening up the TFWP, which in turn angers the industries.  History proves that xenophobia of the libertarian variety destroys competitive edge of any economy.  So Mr. Kenny somehow must find the way to please the Conservative rich friends, while hanging on to the support from the libertarian (Reform Party or Wild Rose) base.

I have observed the same catch-22 in other times and places.   The Dunsmuir Collieries brought in cheap Japanese labour to the coal mines on the Vancouver Island during the late 19th Century.  It angered the conservative base and the racists in B.C.  It made them turned against the Eastern establishment and the Federal Government.  When fishermen on the B.C. coast struck against the processing plants demanding higher price for their salmon catch, the industry brought in Japanese fishermen as scabs to break the strike in 1901, it angered both the labour left and the racist right.  Resentment festered until the racist riot in Vancouver in 1907 against Chinese and Japanese.

Apartheid in South Africa was introduced to appease the Calvinist Afrikaners who felt that it was their mission to establish Christian European country in Africa. But the industries were unhappy because it created an expensive skilled labour pool: it was reserved only to whites.  Apartheid economy was unsustainable in the global market.  That was why big money like the Oppenheimer and the De Beer were supporting the Liberal Party of South Africa against Apartheid.

Now a tighter TFWP is threatening Mr. Harper’s pride and joy, Free Trade with India.  India’s IT sector demands free flow of highly-skilled IT workers between Canada and India.  What is the Harper government going to do?

It is just like an in-fight within the same GOP in the United States between the Republican Party main stream and the Tea Party libertarians over undocumented immigrants.

I believe that the immigration policy open equally to everyone is a key to a successful economy.  Everyone should have equal rights in Canada: a key to a successful country.




JEHOVAH – Who is he?

Jehovah is the name of God that appears mainly in older versions of the Protestant Bible.  The name was adopted by William Tyndale who studied Hebrew in Germany and was the first person to translate the Bible into English during the 16th Century.  Many scholars believe that the usage of the particular word began in Latin language during the 11th Century.   They took the symbol for God “JHVH” or YHWH, and fitted the vowels from the Hebrew word “adonai” (A, O, and Ai) into it.  “Adonai” is a Hebrew word and means “my lord.”   It created a Latin word Iehouah. This way of applying the vowels from a Hebrew word into another word in another language was probably a mistake.  Nevertheless many ancient English translators of the Bible adopted Jehovah  as God’s name: among them were those who produced the King James Version of the Bible first published in the 17th Century.  More recent English Bible translations, however, do not use it any more.  They prefer to use the word “Yahweh” in its place.   Many Evangelical Protestant denominations and others like the Jehovah’s Witness and the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints – the Mormons, continue to use Jehovah.

Jewish people incidentally do not use that name.  They, in stead of  pronouncing God’s name, substitute another word and say “adonai” every time they come across the symbol “YHWH.”  The generic word for God in Hebrew is “Elohim.”  Jesus called God “Elli” in his native tongue of Aramaic, and Muslims call him “Allah”, both from the same Hebrew root “El.”  When the Bible uses Elohim, the English versions translated it into “God,” while the symbol YHWH appears, it is  translated into “Lord God” or “Lord.”  However, the United Church of Canada still uses Jehovah but only once; namely in the Voices United hymn book No. 651: “Guide me O Thou great Jehovah.”  This is because the hymn is much loved by so many people in the original form; no-one dares to change it.

You may ask, “Why so much fuss about God’s name?”  Here you must ask “Why should God need a name, if there is only one God?”  It is like mother’s name among siblings.  If they have one mother, why should they bother to call her by name?  “Mom” is enough.  A baby doesn’t know mother’s name but knows who she is.  Likewise: Isn’t calling God just “God” enough?

True: we believe in one God and don’t need to know the name.  When there is only one God, isn’t a name as such redundant?  You must understand, however, that it was necessary to refer to their God by name because ancient people were surrounded by many gods. They fought for their god’s supremacy over other gods.  They had to fight off the likes of Jupiter, Zeus, Venus, etc.  Furthermore, during the days of Roman Empire, every emperor claimed to be a god, and forced people to worship him, hence tax was meant to be an offering to a god.  This was why the Jews and the Christians who lived under the Roman occupation had problems about tax because it was an offering to a god the emperor. (Matthew 22: 15 – 22)

All in all, God’s name was a dilemma for the Jews.  In fact, when Moses heard the voice of God in the burning bush and asked what the name of God who was speaking to him was, God answered, “I am who I am.”  What God meant was this: “You can not describe me by any name or in any human language.  It’s just me as you hear me, see me, and experience life with me.” (Exodus 3:14)  It’s like calling the one and only loved one “my love” without a name.  Who needs to call her name because she is the only one?  Nevertheless, the name of God does appear in the Bible.  I guess it is a compromise to avoid confusion.  The compromise was: “Yes, God of Israel needs to be identified distinct from other fake gods, so here is God’s name if you have to know. But don’t vocalize it.”  Thus the third article of the Ten Commandment Exodus 20:7 came to prohibit calling God’s name: “You shall not call my name in vain.”  This is how holy names have become bad words in the Western culture, because we were told not to call the holy name.

This is the origin of swear words.  Many of them come from religious language in Christian culture.  In other cultures, however, bad words come from other aspects of life.  The Japanese, for example, use names of animals to swear or insult others.


The word that appears in the Bible for the name of God is written as YHWH in Hebrew script.  You must realize that Hebrew language, even in Israel today, does not have scripts for vowels.  Written Hebrew is all consonants.  Also another the fact you must recognize is some characters are pronounced differently in different countries.  For example, Y and W sound different in some countries.  “Y” can be “I” in Greece and Ireland, and can also be “J” in Spanish.  So John becomes Ian in Ireland.  “W” is pronounced like “V” in Germany and other northern European countries.  Even vowels can sound different.

“A” in my name “Tad” can easily be “eh or ai” in the Southern United States.  Likewise, my daughter’s mother-in-law is a Russian Yiddish speaking Jew and calls me “Ted” like they do in Southern States.

So, this is how Yahweh became Jehovah.  There is another good reason for this mistake.  After the Jews were freed from their captivity in Babylon in 450 B.C., a stricter observance of the laws of Moses was imposed.  For example, because they were not allowed to mention God’s name according to the Ten Commandments, the Jews began to say “adonai,” in stead of the proper name.  After nearly a millennium of substituting the name of god with “adonai” in place of  YHWH, the Jews completely forgotten the vowels for it.  Thus they lost the memory of its pronunciation.  By the time Protestant Christians began to translate the Bible from Latin and Hebrew into English or German nearly two thousand years later, translators tried hard to guess how YHWH was and should be pronounced.  They decided to take, mistakenly, three vowels from the word adonai, namely A, O, and A, and fitted them between Y(or J), H, W(orV), and H.  This was how the hybrid word “Jehovah” came into being.  A sacred legend was born.  Many people still believe that that was not a mistake and continue to call God “Jehovah.”  I don’t mind that so long as they know whom they are referring to.

More recently, most of the Biblical scholars, after many years of research, have adopted “Yahweh” as the much more likely pronunciation of YHWH.  However, I don’t take this debate too seriously because our God is the God of Jesus Christ and I believe who he was, and his name is LOVE.  I don’t need to know the correct pronunciation of the name of the only one I dearly love.  In Japan, for example, people can not pronounce my wife’s name “Muriel.”  There is neither “L” nor  “R” in Japanese language.  It doesn’t matter.  My family love her dearly anyway no matter how mistakenly they pronounce her name.  Their hearts are in the right place. 


Long live Jehovah, long live Yahweh!  God’s name is love!

Whale is not a part of the traditional diet in Japan

Oil and whale

While I was in Tokyo for family emergency in the beginning of April, the judgement was rendered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague regarding whaling in the Antarctic Ocean.  It found what Japanese so-called “scientific whale hunting” unjustifiable as science, in effect banning the whale hunt in the Antarctic.  I had expected a big roar of protest from the public.   It didn’t happen.   There was only a shrug among the people on the streets.  The government and the industry made a big noise in the media crying “unfair,” sounding as though theirs was the authentic voice of common people.  It wasn’t.

The whole outcry about the ICJ judgement was industry driven in collusion with the Japanese government.  People didn’t care all that much about the ban because its impact on their daily life is negligible.  Very few people eat whale contrary to the claim that whale is an important part of traditional diet.  There are only few high-end restaurants that serve whale meat, like selling Kangaroo meat in Canada.  I never ate whale in my twenty years of youth in Japan, neither did I see it in the market, never at home, mine nor others.  I first tasted whale meat in Vancouver during the 1960’s offered at a Japanese trading company representative.  He was trying to sell it to Canada.  The effort obviously wasn’t a roaring success.

The industrial scale whaling is an import from Norway and the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, hardly traditional.  Japan before the industrialization until the end of 19th century did not possess ocean-going boat.  “Traditional diet?”  It’s a spin by the industrial scale fishing industry, a party line toed faithfully by the government, which has supported the industry with the billions of yens for years.

I could not help but to compare the whale situation with the whole discourse about resource extraction in Canada: the controversy about benefit to the Canadian economy from gas and oil extraction by fracking, tar sand, pipelines, etc.  It looks like there is connivance between the oil industry and the government trying to make resource extraction essential to the welfare of nation.  Is it?  A policy span by the industry/government complex does not necessarily represent interest of people nor truth.  I saw unravelling of such deception in Japan.



– What does resurrection mean today? –

That Jesus Christ died and came back to life is the most important article of Christian faith, but it is not history.  Resurrection is a totally un-scientific story but conveys the very important human values essential for our existence.  In a nut-shell, Easter is a message of infinite optimism, which is strictly a spiritual matter, not of science.


However, intoxicated by the power given by the Roman Empire as the state religion, the church gave itself the right to assume the divine authority, and had lived in the hallucination of entitlement to judged all aspects of human life.  This was how the church often came to dismiss science as heresy for the reason that it did not conform to the stories of the Bible.  It decreed that the Bible is history and science. This is how bodily resurrection of Jesus became an official doctrine and a matter of history.  Thus the true meaning of resurrection was lost in a superstitious delusion.

Now the table is turned upside down, and many people think that science can answers all questions.  Science has assumed the absolute authority and replaced the church of the Middle Age.  Many don’t take the story of Easter seriously, because science says the dead person does not come back to life.  This is shallow-minded arrogance like the church had.  It shows inability to separately appreciate two qualitatively different world views.   Can you imagine deciding a value of a human person by putting a price on each chemical component of a human body, calcium, carbon, iron, salt, water, etc. and adding them up?  A totally inappropriate way of valuation.  My worth could be less than one hundred dollars.

Faith and science do not belong to the same category therefore it is wrong to compare them.  We can not dismiss other ways of viewing the world such as aesthetics and spirituality as unscientific therefore untrue or inconsequential.  Another example: knowledge and wisdom belong to two different categories of paradigm.  We must recognize the different categories of world views on their own merits.  Then we will understand the message of Easter.

Now about Easter: one thing absolutely certain is that something extraordinary happened to a group of people after Jesus died on the cross.  Nobody can explain what it was that happened.  It happened simultaneously to many people and changed them completely.  Disillusioned followers of Jesus had run away after Jesus was killed on the cross.  But  a few days later something extraordinary happened and they all came back together again.  They all claimed that they saw Jesus alive.  Their stories were all different, often contradictory.   There is no conclusive evidence to any of them.  But one thing is certain: they were transformed into completely new persons, no longer afraid not even of death. They behaved as though death was no longer the end of the story.  This is the story of resurrection.   We must find its meaning though it was not a historical event.

We perceive death today differently even from decades ago.  Its negativity has diminished.  For example, my mother died at the age 96.  She was not ill.  She dies in her sleep.  She was happy until the end, but she was tired.  Besides all her friends were gone.  If she was offered a chance to live longer, she would have probably said “No thank you.”  What was the point of the belief in eternal life for my Mom?    What is going to happen to the traditional faith in eternal life, now that the sting of death has diminished?  The question about life has now shifted to the quality of life, not its length.

Paul declared that the faith without the resurrection of Jesus is useless. (I Corinthians 15:12-14)  Really?  I believe in the resurrection of Christ, yes, but I don’t believe he came back into his 32 years old physical body.  For me, death in the Bible meant ultimate despair, not necessarily physical death.   The message of Risen Christ is a victory of faith over hopelessness.  A quick survey of the passages of the Bible about the dead coming back to life has proven that point.

Throughout history, humans have been driven by three kinds of fear: the fear of hunger, of death, and of extinction of species.  Now that we are getting ever closer to the resolution to all those catastrophes, thanks to progress of science and technology, the relevance of traditional beliefs are rapidly becoming redundant.  We are no longer so afraid of them as our ancestors use to be.  Then the question is: is the belief in next life really that important, if it is a mere revival of the dead to life?   What is the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus Christ when we are not so fearful of death and not so attracted to longevity as before?

We live many more years than we have ever imagined, perhaps we live too long.  For many people death can be a relief.  Of course, death of the infants and the young must be avoided at all cost.  But it is possible for many to live to ripe old age of 90’s into 100.  The question now is more on its quality.  The current debate about assisted suicide and euthanasia is a serious concern morally and spiritually.  All in all, we can say, “Death has lost its sting. ” (Letter of Paul to the Romans: 13)

Let me go back to the beginning.  Why was the belief in life after death (or eternal life) so universally important in many religions?  It is because death use to be so ubiquitous and life so short.  Many new born infants and their mothers died.  If they survived the birth, they died of illness and violence, if not mal-nutrition and starvation, before they reached the age 50.  Death was everywhere.  It was the end.   It represented despair and hopelessness.  It was hell: in fact death and hell are the same one word in Hebrew language.  Therefore, avoiding death was an ultimate blessing and salvation.  Is it still so when some people began to live too long and are so tired to keep going?


So what is the meaning of resurrection today?  Why should it be so important?  What does the Bible really say about resurrection?  I suggest we look at some passages to find the answer to the question:  Is the Bible speaking about resurrection as the return of physical life after death?  Or is it speaking about an overwhelming sense of the presence of a dead person? In other words, “Did Christ walked among people physically alive or was he like a spiritual presence, a ghost?”  My answer is the latter.  That is how I view resurrection: the overwhelming sense of presence of a dead person.  Many who had followed Jesus Christ felt the presence of Jesus Christ so strongly that they felt he was there alive, but in actuality he was there spiritually.  They came to believe that death did not kill him.

The earliest account of an incident beyond death and back to life, in the Bible, is the story of dry bones coming back into life in the Prophet Ezekiel 37.  This is obviously a metaphor, a vision of hope beyond hopelessness.  The bones came back to life with muscles and sinews when the word of God was spoken to them.  This is the message of Easter that death can not kill spirits.

In all of the resurrection stories, Jesus the risen Christ appears and disappears from and into thin air, goes through a locked door, appeared to 500 people at the same time, and said, “You can not touch me. ” to Mary.  He was in a different body.  True, he told Thomas to touch his wound.  But that didn’t happen: Thomas didn’t actually took the offer.  He was overcome by the feeling of his presence and only said, “My Lord, my God.”  Risen Christ had barbecued fish for breakfast with Peter and Andrew on a beach.  But we all do that with the dead ancestors in Japan during the Obon festival, eat with them and remembering their lives.  A few years later,  Paul claimed that on the way to Damascus Jesus appeared to him too.  Christ struck him off the horse and made him temporarily blind.

No Jesus did not come back into a physical body.  All who met Christ on and after the day of Easter had a powerful sense of his presence and for whom death lost its power.  The meaning of Easter is:  power of faith in Jesus the Christ does not allow hopelessness.  Death no longer speaks the last word.   Easter is still the most important event worthy to celebrate not just once a year but on every Sunday.  Sunday began not as Sabbath, but on the day after Sabbath as a weekly celebration of hope beyond hopelessness.  And the standard greeting in the early church on that day was, “Christ is risen!” and responded ” He is risen indeed!”  A good custom to remember when the Christians are often discouraged due to declining membership.

Biblical reference


Ezekiel 37, Matthew 27:57 – 28:1 – 20, Mark 16 (the original Mark’s Gospel did not have the resurrection story.  It is believed that this chapter is a later addition by another writer), Luke 24: 1-53, John 20 – 21, Acts 1: 1-14 and 9 :4 – 6, 1 Corinthians 15:1 – 58




I have come to believe that the word “death” in the Bible means more than the mere end of life.  It’s finality is more profound.   It means utter despair and absolute hopelessness.  That means, a living person can be dead when one has lost all hopes according to this understanding of death.  It can also mean that a dead person can be alive and present.

When doctor- assisted suicide and euthanasia are a pressing question demanding answer, what the word “death” in the Bible means is an important question.  It’s because we take the Bible as the authoritative guide.  Medical ethicists and lawmakers are challenged to come to a conclusion urgently.  Quebec is attempting to allow medically assisted suicide by law.  In some countries, the assisting someone to commit suicide is allowed by law.  Today for some people, living has become a burden and a nightmare because they are living in excruciating pain or abject quality of life, while they can continue to live on in the wretched conditions for a long time.  Thus for some people living has become hell.  This is because, thanks to rapid advancements of medical science and availability of better nutrition, most of the people are living far longer than imaginable even a decade ago.  Is it possible that death can be a blessing for some people?  What does death mean in the Bible today?  Many Christians still consider suicide as a serious sin as bad as murder.  They never tolerate euthanasia under any circumstance.  The United Church, on the other hand, took the position that Robert Latimer should be released accepting the idea of mercy killing.

Only a few decades ago, the Apostle Creed had a sentence “he (Christ) descended into hell” after he was crucified.   However the new United Church version changed it to “he descended to the dead.” The reason is: death here is a synonym of hell.  If hell is where sinners go according to our common understanding of the word, Christ could not have gone to hell, because he was without sin.  So hell in the Apostle’s Creed is not what we understand it today.  Creed simply means that Christ died.  Not punished.  Death in those days was more profoundly hopeless and tragic, but not the place where punishment is meted out.  Death in the Bible is more dead than a mere end of life: it is the very end itself, absolutely nothing beyond it.  Death is hell because it is the place where there is absolutely no hope.  We understand death and hell differently today.

When you scan the Old Testament and survey the use of the word death, you will soon find that the Hebrew writers didn’t believe there was anything beyond death, neither heaven nor hell.  I went through about 100 passages that contained the word “death” in the Old Testament.  I was impressed by the tone of absolute finality in the word.  “In the world of the dead, nobody remembers you.” (Psalm 6:5)  Death is the door into nothingness: no future.  You become no entity when you die.  An ultimate blessing is, “you shall not see death.”   But only person who was accorded this ultimate blessing in the Old Testament was Prophet Elijah.  He didn’t die; he went into heaven on the Chariot of Fire. (2 Kings 2)  Jesus Christ, on the contrary, died on the cross.

Towards the end of the era of the Temple of Jerusalem when Jesus walked on the earth, there were two different understandings of the religion among the Jews.  The main-line Jewish religion, which was centred in the Temple served by priests, believed that there was nothing beyond death.  Scholars who were called “Sadducees,” were the intellectual guardians of this temple centred priestly tradition, and advocated this position.  They insisted there was no life beyond death.  There was no resurrection of the dead, neither was there a place of eternal punishment.  The dead went nowhere: They just become non-existent according to the Sadducees.

About the same time, the Pharisees appeared on the scene.  They were the lawyers and the guardians of the Law (Torah). They believed that there was life beyond death and the dead could be resurrected.   They also believed that there was a place of eternal torment where sinners went upon death.  You can clearly see the influence of Pharisee’s thinking in the New Testament, in the parables of Jesus such as “Rich man and Lazarus.”   In Luke 16:19 the poor man Lazarus died and went to sit next to Moses but the heartless rich man went to the place of torment.  Christ also spoke about paradise (Luke 23:43).   Particularly in the Gospels and the Paul’s letters, the resurrection is the most important article of faith.

Sadducees maintained the liturgy centred religion in the temple, while Pharisees kept moral ethics and scripture learning as the centre of religious life.  Therefore, the Pharisees and the Sadducees were theological enemies when Christ was living.  When the temple was destroyed and priests were killed or scattered, their religion died too.   The emphasis on learning the Holy Scriptures and living accordingly in ethical living took over the Jewish religious life.  The church today is the descendant of this Pharisee’s tradition.  We hear the Words as the essence of worship, not so much of the rituals, and putting into practice what we hear is the centre of our spiritual life.

Pharisees have a bad name among the Christians, because of Christ’s frequent criticism of them.  Jesus criticized pharisees for their hypocrisy, for not practising what they preached, but did not criticize their basic attitude toward ethical life-style.  We should remember that they followed Jesus everywhere asking many questions.  Jesus dined with them and also had a serious conversation with a Pharisee rich young man about eternal life.   He was buried in the cemetery plot owned by a Pharisee Joseph of Arimathea.  Christ was against the Temple culture, calling it “a den of thieves.”  Jesus Movement was very much in the Pharisee tradition, not of Sadducees.


Let us go back to the subject of death in the Bible: That death stands for an absolute finality as held firmly by the tradition of the Old Testament and maintained by the Sadducees has an important merit.  It affirms the seriousness of this physical existence here and now, not “pie in the sky when you die” kind of fatalism.  “There is nothing beyond this world therefore be serious about this life.  Do it right,” they said.  It leads us to the recognition of the importance of here and now.  “You have only this life.  You can not repeat it.”

The problem is: though they were serious about being good before God, their good deeds and ethical life was not often recognized nor rewarded.  That is what the followers of the new teaching by Jesus began to ask.  Their master was killed on the cross, thus their hope had been shifted to his return.   This is where the belief in resurrection becomes central to our faith.

Roots of Homophobia


Three cheers to the 2014 Olympic athletes!  They performed magnificently.  I am so proud of them! Also I am happy that there was no ugliness like act of terrorism nor homophobic incident.  The gay bar was not shut down in Sochi.  I wonder if the media hype made Russia nervous, hence didn’t act against homosexuality.  I want to celebrate the steps of progress made in this regard.

Imagine, the Deputy Mayor of Vancouver city, Tim Stevens, who went to Sochi representing the former host city of Winter Olympics is the first openly gay man ordained into the United Church ministry: the issue that spilt the church and nearly destroyed it in 1988.  I am amazed how fast homosexuality has become a litmus test of a progressive society around the world, though it is still dangerous for gay persons to come out in many places.  Nevertheless, I think there has been some progress towards inclusiveness.

As I was preparing for a Bible study it dawned on me that there was no prohibition of lesbian acts in the Bible.  It’s all about against male homosexuality.  The argument is; homosexuality is against nature therefore against God’s will.  But this is a gender specific commandment applied only to men.  From this, I hypothesized that it was about preservation of the species, the race, the family name and the tribe.  Infant deaths were ubiquitous in those days.  Therefore the norm was: “It’s important to make many babies.  Seeds were invaluable gifts from God: Don’t waste them.”

Those days are long gone. Thank God.  In my last pastorate before retirement, during the five years of ministry in a community of about 2,000 people, I had never buried an infant, not one.  Children rarely die these days and people live longer and longer.  It’s a good thing.  But some people are worried about population explosion.  How to feed several billions is a serious concern.  Maybe we should make waste of food a sin.  Times change, so do ethics.

Homosexuality is unnatural?  Even an amateur like me have seen homosexuality among animals.  Many times.

I think it all comes down to the question of accepting situation ethics, or not.  We don’t stone a child to death who speak against parents any more.  Those days are long gone.  Times change.  It can be uncomfortable.  But things change with time.  So we change too,

Some inprovements make things worse


Improvement that makes things worse

Cenovus CEO, Brian Ferguson contradicted himself.  (Lethbridge Herald, Jan. 16, page B1) He said in response to the criticisms by celebrities about oil-sand development, “In Hollywood, a land of make-belief, everything is black and white.  But a real world does not work that way.”  He means that things are not always clear-cut right or wrong but ambiguous grey.  He is right there. However, a few sentences later, he condemned the critics, “Those accusations are absolutely baseless.”  If it is not clear “black and white”, why use the “absolute” word?   Is everybody wrong except Mr. Brian Ferguson?

Neil Postman, a professor at the University of New York in his book “Technopoly,” makes a point that humans lose something important every time a new technology is introduced.  Progress is always accompanied by negative effects as well as positive outcomes.  In this regard, I like the German expression “Schimmbesserung.”  I understand that the word means an improvement that makes things worse.   There are many so-called new developments that are touted as improvements on human conditions.  They are not always.   Many are changes for the sake of change to make more profits, not necessarily for the better.  Like Ferguson says, it’s not the question of black or white.  Changes can be Schlimmbesserung; may be good but could also be worse.

I don’t accept any argument which claims to be absolutely correct.  I am tired of hearing absolute language, be it from a point of view of a particular ideology, or from the religious fundamentalism.  They exercise willful blindness and use science selectively to suit their purpose.  Recently a decision was made by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) to recommend the Northern Gateway Pipeline project to go ahead.  A law suit against the project points out the gaps CEAA ignored.  It is a good example of willful blindness on the part of the conservatice government.  The governments shut up researchers or make scientists to sell themselves to the highest bidder like prostitutes.  They tire me and make me cynical.

The reality is more often than not neither black or white: right or wrong: good or evil.  Often it is somewhere in-between.  Therefore, let us not speak of the ultimately correct solution in absolute terms.  There is no such thing.  You lose your credibility by referring too often to the absolute, as though you are a god.  No body will take you seriously.




It may come as a surprise to you but there is no one word for “love” in the original Greek and Hebrew Bible.  This is a problem for English speaking people.  It causes misunderstanding about the most important value of the Christian faith.  The popular but very old English translation of the Bible, King James version of 1839 does not use the word “love” in the famous I Corinthians chapter 13 but it uses  “charity” because of this difficulty.  It seems a mere word “love” does not quite convey its true meaning.  It shows the problem of translating the Greek word into English.  It is not the difficulty that the word “love”poses, however.   It is the limitation of human language.  Human experience is much larger than our spoken and written words can explain.

A certain emotions and human conditions can only be adequately described in stories.  This is why Jesus taught in parables.  This is why poetry and myths, even fictitious stories, are better media to convey and express spiritual quality than theories.  The parable of the good shepherd (Matthew 18:12), and the father of a prodigal son (Luke 15: 11ff), for example, are much better descriptions of love than First Corinthians 13: “Love is.”  I am going to examine the Biblical love words to show the inadequacy of English language.

I can think of at least three words which are all translated into one English word “love”.  I think all of them contain some of the ideas but not quite all.  How is it possible that such an important and the most frequently used quality of Christian faith can not be expressed accurately in English?  I can not answer the question, but I can make an attempt to reflect on all three  “love” words and see if we can come to a better understanding of Biblical love.

Let me begin by dealing with the word which is not in the Bible.  I dare to begin with this word though it is not biblical, because it is the most popular understanding, rather misunderstanding, of love in our culture today.  The word I am referring to is “eros.”  You can not find this word in the Greek Bible.  Isn’t it significant that the word most people think and use it in relation to love is not there?  The oldest use of the word “eros” was by Greek philosopher Plato of the 4th Century B.C.  Even then, Plato’s usage of eros is not the same thing as we use it today with sexual connotation.

Plato extol the notion that everything has its ideal model.  It’s the idea of the perfect form to which everything is striving to become.  That irresistible force of pull toward or yearning for perfection is called “eros” by Plato.  This is where sex may find an excuse to come in.  It is the idea that unless one attains the act of union with a perfect object physically, one can never be satisfied.  But that is only one of the erotic acts.  One can feel strongly in need of making a perfect chair, for example.  That passion for a perfect chair is eros too.  The Bible does not touch this Platonic concept.  One word closest to Platonic “eros” in the Bible, according to my first year university Greek lexicon, is “epithumia” translated as “desire.”  That obviously does not convey exactly what Plato meant, for it lacks passion for idealism.  Such is the problem of translation.  By the way, Buddhism calls it “bonnow,” which we must abandone in order to reach “Nirvana.”

There are two Greek words that have been translated into one word “love” in the English Bible.  Though they are translated into the same one English word, they carry different meanings.  It means that the word “love” is not quite accurate translation of those two words, hence “charity” that translators of the King James chose to use.  The difference between those two is not just nuance: it’s substantial.  Therein is the problem of our understanding of love.

The first is “agapeh” or verb “agapaow.”  It refers to self-giving and sacrificial love that God endows.  Its typical usage is John 3:16:  “God so loved the world He gave his own begotten Son.”   When a human person does it in a self denying manner, such as “Love your neighbour” or “Love your enemy” without expecting any return, the Bible also uses agapaow (Matthew 5:43 & 44).  It means human is also capable of the divine love to some extent.  For example, the first Corinthians chapter 13 uses “agapeh.”  No wonder the translators of the King James version did not use “love.”  They must have felt the word “love” inadequate.  They chose “charity” to indicate that it is the passion for self-giving and sacrificial acts.

Another word translated also into “love” is human instinctive force expressed in Greek word “philo” or verb “phileow.”  It is self-giving love as “agapeh” is, but it is instinctive human emotional drive.  It is used to describe that which exists between parents and children, brothers and sisters, man and woman, and between friends.  As you can see, there is qualitative difference between agapeh and philo.  The first one does not need any reason to love but does, while the other is something one can not help and does.  It is an instinct and is a natural urge.  The former is intentional and the latter spontaneous.  In either case, one does it no matter how much it costs while expecting no return.  It is sacrificial love like mother’s love of her child.

There is one word which is not translated into an English word “love” in the Bible but we call it “love.”   It is the Greek word “epithumia.”  The English Bible translates it into “desire” in stead of “love.”  It is closest the Bible gets to what we call “eros”, though it includes not only sexual desire but also greed like insatiable desire for materials goods or wealth or power.

To sum up, in the Bible there are three words that are currently translated into or understood as love.  Divine love and human love, both of which induce selfless acts, and lastly selfish desire to fulfil one’s desire.  The last one is not called “love” in the Holy Scriptures.   But we do.  We love money and power, etc.  I feel there ought to be different English words for each of three categories.  Because of this paucity of English language, such an important value in our life “love” is treated so cheaply and badly misused.   However, the following song written by a Dominican monk expresses love more adequately than anyone can ever articulate.

“Love is a giving;  Love is a baby boy; Love is your brother; Love is your sister;

Love is a joy.  Love is the tenderest thing; Love is a song of a bird; Love is a wind in the trees;

The man on the hill.”  Amen.



“Schlimmbesserung” – So-called Improvement that actually makes things worse

A philosopher at the University of Toronto, Mark Kingwell introduced to me a fascinating German word in his article on the Globe and Mail: it’s “Schlimmbesserung.”  It means the so-called improvement that makes things actually worse.  I find the word very relevant today, when a new technology is introduced every nano second.  They say: when a new product is introduced, it’s already obsolete.  I like its ambivalence.  I think English language should have such a word.   But the question is, “Are we better off?” I am not sure.

The expression appropriately described my feeling about Windows Vista that came with my new desktop.  The new operating system was touted as a great improvement.  But for me it was the opposite.  I hated it.  Likewise, there are many so-called improvements that are not.   They are changes for the sake of change so that manufactures make more profit by selling new products.

Neil Postman, a professor at MIT, opens his book “Technopoly” with a story of invention of writing.   It is a legend of the ancient Egypt which Plato quoted in “Phaedrus”.  As the story goes, King Thamus called on the god of invention, Theuth, to explain his creations: number, algebra, calculus, geometry, astronomy, and writing.  It is amazing that so much of today’s science is based on those ancient Egyptian inventions.  The king liked many of them except writing.  He had doubts.  Theuth extoled writing as it would improve the wisdom and the memory of the Egyptians.  But the king reacted, “those who acquire it will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.”  They rely on external signs in stead of their own internal resources.  It retards our intelligence.  The Postman’s book is a lot about what humans lost because of new technological developments while making improvements.

Surely, what benefits digital revolution brought to our society is incalculable.  We can bring any new information with a click of a mouse on to the screen.  But what we have lost is also innumerable.  People do not talk to each other in person any more.  They relate to each other but on the screen.  They talk by clicking a mouse and/or touching a screen on Facebook or Twitters.  We have developed new ways to relate to each other.  People are alone but they are not lonely.  I thought “phone sex” was strange, but now virtual sex on social network!  A brave new world!

Just watch the kids who come to your home for sleep-over. You see them sitting around on the floor, each playing one’s own game, watching their own shows on their own devises.   No more pillow fight nor running around the house.  They sure are quite.  Is this an improvement or Schlimmbesserung?    In extreme cases, people are killing themselves because they are preoccupied talking or texting on the i-phones while driving.  We think everything new is good.  It isn’t.  We have to know the negative consequences of the new.

Every step of progress has both positive and negative aspects to it.  It is a mistake to assume that everything new is good, and old is to be abandoned.



On the first Sunday of Advent at the church I worship, the music director invited the congregation to join in a carol singing before the service.  A child raised hand and asked for “Jingle Bells.”  It’s not in the hymn book: no, that was not what she said.  The brave choir director asked the pianist to play Jingle Bells.  Everybody knows the words: who needs a hymn book.  So we sang our hearts out the song that had nothing to do with the birth of our Saviour.  Christmas is more secular ever, even in the church.  I guess Santa is kind of religious; a symbol of charity, Saint Nicholas.  Otherwise Christmas is more Jingle Bells, White Christmas, Sound of Music, Nutcracker, and shopping.  No religion there.  Serious Christians lament commercialization and secularization of Christmas celebrations.

It is interesting to watch how my daughter’s family celebrate holidays.  Her husband is Jewish and she Christian, sort of.  Neither practices religion but celebrates whatever they like to celebrate.   So my grand children light the menorah and get gelt and dreidel for Hanukkah, trim the Christmas tree, eat turkey dinner, and get Christmas presents.  Best of both worlds.  Why not.  Better than making tons of money on the backs of poorly paid sales staff. I go to Midnight Mass after Turkey is stuffed, ready for the oven.  Next day, we open the presents, and eat turkey dinner with agnostics, Christians, and Jews.  We have a good time!

Other times, my daughter’s family celebrate Birthdays, New Year, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Canada Day; Thanksgiving, and Halloween which of course is huge.  I wonder if something like this is the future holiday practice of secular and multi-cultural Canada.  For those who insist on celebrating the birth of Jesus can go to church. Meanwhile, Christians should be reminded that many of the Christmas customs have pagan roots anyway.  Christmas Tree was a German pre-Christian heathen celebration of evergreen, for example.  In fact in the past, many denominations, including Presbyterians, prohibited Christmas celebrations because of their pagan origins.  Even the current image of Santa Claus, a pot- belly white bearded man in red is an invention by Coca Cola Co.

I think we should give ourselves time to let  new Canadian cultural practice to evolve, without imposing one culture on the other while respecting different traditions, and freedom to practice them.


Christmas in the Bible – History or Myth



Albert Schweitzer had three doctor’s degrees – Doctor of Medicine, Music, and Theology.  He was a missionary doctor in Gabon during the 20th Century. He was also an celebrated interpreter and organist for J.S. Bach’s music.  He raised funds for his leprosy in Africa by touring Europe playing in concerts.  He is also known for his  Biblical scholarship on the life of Jesus.  His book, “A Quest for Historical Jesus” astonished the churches around the world by concluding that it was impossible to know the life of Jesus in accurate historical details.  He set the tone for the contemporary scholarly research on the life of Jesus.

Since Schweitzer, it is now widely accepted that Jesus is a historical figure who lived on earth for sure, but details of his life is mired in legends, myths, hymns, and poems.  Though I personally believe that Jesus was one person, some even suggested that Jesus of the Bible could be a composited image of a person created from bits and pieces of messianic and  revolutionary figures who lived in Palestine during the beginning of the current common calender

The Biblical account of the birth of Jesus is a typical example of a melange of facts and myths.  It is impossible to separate facts from myths.   But it is a mistake to conclude that those beautiful Christmas stories we love and grew up with should be dismissed as insignificant just because some of them may not be historical facts.  In the core of this mixture, there is a figure of a historical Jesus which is embellished eloquently with myths. It is pregnant with a profound belief in Jesus the Christ – Messiah and the meaning of his life for all of us.   They show the depth and width of the belief of our fathers and mothers of faith, which are impossible  to describe fully by boring facts.  It is just like: The value of a human person can not be measured by the monetary value of a body’s chemical components such as calcium, iron, salt and water, which could be less than $100.  The renown scholar of literature, Northrop Frye, said, “Myth is an expression of truth on the deepest level.”

Let us follow the Bible passages relating to the birth of Jesus and try to discover the meaning of Christmas.  The following are my reflections on some of disconnected but beautiful Christmas stories.  Incidentally, it is worth noting that, with exception of the Gospels, the rest of the New Testament is silent about the birth of Jesus.  Why Christmas has become such a huge event in our lives today is a good question   I think it is because the birth of a child is always important in any culture.  It was particularly so for pre-Christian and pagan spiritual traditions.  The Church had to find something to quench the thirst for a baby story by christening the popular pagan festivals.  Also in the Northern hemisphere people want something joyful to lighten up the dark nights of winter, even though the Bible itself originally didn’t show much enthusiasm for Christmas.

Religions borrow customs from each other often.  Hanukkah, for example, was not a high holiday in ancient Judaism.  But as Christmas became popular, Jewish people elevated it to celebrate in a big way during the same season as Christmas.  Christmas tree was a German heathen custom to celebrate every-green; this one is a religious plagiarism.  But why not.  It makes grey days of winter smelling fresh.

I begin with Mark and John because they have little to stay about Christmas:

Let us begin with the Gospel according to Mark, which is universally accepted as the earliest account of the life of Jesus written during the first century.  The simple fact is there is no Christmas story in Mark.  It begins with the story of John the Baptist, who introduced Jesus in Northern Palestine by the river Jordan to the public as the Messiah everyone was waiting for.  By then Jesus must have been about 30 years old.  There is no Virgin mother Mary, no shepherds, no wise men, no star of Bethlehem in Mark.  Jesus suddenly appeared before John by the river Jordan asking for baptism.  This absence of Christmas speaks volume about what was important about Jesus in Mark’s mind.  For him, the mere fact of Jesus lived and suffered, performed wonders, and taught many life lessons were what he believed to be the essence of the Gospel, Good News.  His birth was not that important for Mark as his life was most important.  It is possible that, due to his humble beginning in a back country of Galilee, nobody knew how Jesus was born neither did anyone know anything about his childhood and youth.

We now move onto the Gospel according to John.  Chapter one of John does not say anything about birth.  But it begins with what Jesus means.  He describes Jesus as a manifestation of God by naming him as “the Word – logos.”  If you want to know what God is like and thinks, the life of Jesus says it all.  He goes on to describe him as God taking the shape of a human, who is not born of human stock through a human father (1:12).  Is he hinting a miraculous virgin birth?  It is not clear.  At any rate, John does not spend too many words to tell the birth stories.  Obviously for him, John the Baptist announcing the coming of the Messiah the most significant beginning of the life of Jesus. (1:15)

All the birth stories of Jesus we tell every year and love come from two Gospels: Matthew and Luke.  Oddly those accounts are not the same.  Obviously both Luke and Matthew writers did not know the other existed.  Though both of them agree on the mother, Mary, giving birth while being unmarried, and the place of birth being Bethlehem, other stories are not the same.   Incidentally, miraculous birth stories are common in many religions to distinguish special personalities from ordinary people.  To take the virgin birth as a proof of Jesus being uniquely divine simply does not work.  There are too many virgin birth myths to make Jesus special.

Matthew tells the story of wise men, who were the astrologers who followed the star, while Luke speaks about the shepherds in the field but without mentioning the star.   Incidentally, popular image of “three” wise men comes from the “three” gifts they brought.  The actual number of men was not mentioned.  It could have been two men carrying three things.

Both Matthew and Luke mention the genealogy of Joseph, that gives away their bias.  They are interested in Jesus being the Messiah, the king who would free and bring glory to the nation, just like King David did.  The title comes from a corrupted English  pronunciation of Hebrew word, “mahstah” or “messia.”  When the New Testament was translated into Greek, which was the universal language at the time, Messiah became Greek word “Kharistus” – Christus or Christ.  Matthew begins with Abraham, father of the Hebrew nation, while Luke begins with Adam and Eve – the first humans because he is interested in the whole humanity.  Matthew was a Hebrew nationalist and Luke was an universalist.  Both told birth stories attempting to connect Jesus with King David, the most beloved king.  This is why Bethlehem was chosen as the birth place.  Bethlehem was David’s birth place where he grew up.  No serious scholar accepts that it was also Jesus’ birth place.  It is believed that Jesus was born and grew up in Nazareth.  It shows the writers’ prayer for the spiritual quality of political leader.

Another interesting fact is: for both Matthew and Luke, the genealogy of Jesus was that of Joseph, not of Mary.   If Matthew and Luke were serious about the fact that Mary conceived Jesus without a man hence virgin birth, why should the genealogy be of Joseph ancestry? The word used to describe Mary simply means an unmarried young woman, virgin or not.  If she was a virgin, why Joseph was troubled by Mary’s pregnancy? (Matthew 1) It could only mean Mary became pregnant by another man, not Joseph?  It is impossible to make the story straight by trying to make sense out of the accounts by Matthew and Luke.  I think that the point of Mary’s questionable pregnancy is, by making the beginning of Jesus less than socially acceptable, Jesus was a bastard.  Mary was a single mom.  In fact, the Gospels often make the point of Jesus not accepted in Nazareth where he is know as “son of Mary” not of Joseph.  The song of Mary (Luke 1 46 – 56) makes sense: by forcing a young woman going through a socially unacceptable pregnancy, “God brought down the mighty and proud, and lifted up the lowly.”

What is the point of introducing the story of wise men from the East, who followed the star?  That story appears only in Matthew.  Persia, present day Iran, was well known for the art of star gazing – astrology.  So it is logical to assume that those men came from Persia.  Isn’t astrology (horoscope)  still popular section of the news paper?  As far as the Hebrew religion was concern, they were pagans.  So the point of the story is: if you are dedicated to your own belief and serious about it to the point of sacrificing all to pursue what they believe, following the star for example, you will find the son of God, the implication is enormous.  Does this also mean that idol worshippers would also find the Hebrew Messiah?  Will Buddhists and Hindu believers find the Hebrew God?  Or should this notion leads to the universality of religions: namely all religions are like many paths leading to the same summit?

The shepherd story is a typical Luke story.  Luke is a socialist, a defender and sympathizer of the poor and the working class.  Shepherds represent the homeless, and the poorly paid working people.  They were chosen to hear the good news of the new born Messiah.  It is a clear message, contrast to the king and the scholars who knew where and when the Messiah would be born but didn’t go to see him.  Not only did they not to bother, but they planned to kill him, because they wanted to keep the status quo, holding on to power and wealth.

There are a lot more we can touch around the stories of Jesus’ birth and his youth.  There is a story of massacre of infant boys in Bethlehem and the flight to Egypt.  A story of the miraculous birth of John the Baptist, his mother Elizabeth who conceived well after her menopause.  The encounter of Elizabeth and Mary while there were both pregnant.  The story of 12 years old Jesus and his journey to Jerusalem.  I am not going to touch on them, not because they are fabricated.  They are important.  But I have already articulated how we should understand those myths.

We must remind ourselves that the Bible is neither historical nor scientific book.  It is a book about faith written in the forms of fiction, metaphor, myth, parable, poem, and sermon.  What they mean is enormously important, not because of the historical facts they might seem to represent.  Christmas in the Bible is magical.  Let us enjoy it and think about its meaning for our faith in Jesus the Christ.


Will you really really be happy if you succeed in everything?


– The Book of Ecclesiastes-

Scholars agree that the Book of Ecclesiastes was compiled in the Third Century B.C.  by the Jews who were influenced by Greek culture.  It begins by introducing the author as Solomon,  son of King David.   But Solomon did not write it.   It is a collection of quotations from many sages.  During those days, it was quite common to credit a well-known person to honour him/her  by  naming such a person  as an author of a work written by someone else.  Anyhow, the Ecclesiastes argues in short that it is useless to look for happiness and fulfilment without a recognition of the reality that only comes from the Creator God.  It is interesting that this way of thinking resembles the idea of a Greek philosopher Epicurus, who also lived during the same period in history.

The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees every citizen the liberty and the right to pursuit happiness.  However, we seldom realize that such an idea was revolutionary and had been condemned universally by the church for many centuries.  It was termed as an unchristian “hedonism” or “Epicurean.”   Some people who advocated such an idea, that seeking happiness was good,  in the Medieval Europe were burned at stake for being heretics.  The Church believed, “Pleasure was against God’s will.”  Monks and nuns starved themselves near death or beat themselves until they bled in order to share Christ’s suffering.   Denying one pleasure was the highest calling.  Protestants agreed.  It is said that the nightmare of Calvinists (Presbyterians and Reformed Church Christians) was, “Somewhere someone is happy.”  Obviously those church leaders did not understand the Ecclesiastes.

But today, it is widely accepted that the purpose of our life is to find happiness, and going after comfort and pleasure is a part of that process .  How times change!  However, though we live in a pursuit of happiness culture, curiously we still feel guilty in the back of our consciousness when we are having a good time.  Seeking pleasure seems somewhat closer to committing a “sin.”   We still retain the latent traditional Christian notion of virtuous denial of comfort.   Why do we still feel guilty for being happy?   Let us see how this question is dealt with in the Ecclesiastes.

Even though King Solomon did not write the Book of Ecclesiastes, to have him as a narrator creates a fitting framework to discuss pleasure and its futility.  It is easy to imagined Solomon speaking those words.  Solomon had everything he wanted.  He was the most powerful and successful Hebrew king, none like him before and after in the history of Jewish people.  He conquered and ruled the Mediterranean world; he married about three hundred wives, some of them queens and princesses; he sought pleasures and got them; he was the richest man in the known world; he was also said to be the wisest man on earth and was admired for that.  Nothing he wanted was denied to him.  He was adored and praised by everyone. (Chapter 1: 16-18)  And yet, he found life empty.  In fact, he felt everything he acquired was useless; he was not satisfied; he felt hollow. (Chapter 2)

How true this is also in the world today.  Have you ever heard of or met anyone, no matter how powerful, rich, and successful he/she is, completely happy and satisfied with their lives?  The more you get, the more you want, ending up less fulfilled than before.  We don’t know when and how to stop accumulating stuff or climbing a ladder, because there is always more to be had.  We are therefore always frustrated.  Unhappy amidst plenty.  How often we hear people reminiscing the good old times, “We were poor, but happy.”   Power is the same: so many powerful people ended so very badly: Julius Cesar, Henry VIII, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, Hitler, Muamur Ghadafi, Sadam Hussein, etc.

Idealists find life totally unsatisfactory too.  Seeking  fairness and justice often end up disappointing , because often clever but less than honourable people flourish and innocent and good people suffer.  How useless it is trying to be good or trying to create just society!  This is a voice of despair coming from a person who had everything and were successful in everything, like King Solomon.  Idealists want to build a world where goodness and justice prevail.  Yet how come so many good people suffer and/or become martyrs?  How come so many prophets and saints had to go through suffering?  Nelson Mandela, Oscar Romero, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the like.

In the end, one had to conclude that everything is pre-determined, therefore no matter how hard you try to control your life or change the world, the result is just the same: it runs its own course.  What will be will be.  You can not do anything to change it.  Whatever you do does not count all that much.  Chapter 3 is a voice of a person who just gave up: “Everything that happens in the world happens at the time God chooses.”    “Time to die, a time to be born.”  Time you choose or want it to happen is not the time.  It happens when it happens, not because of you.

So the Ecclesiastes advises to young people to enjoy their youth, the “pleasant light of day”, because no matter how long you live you die anyway.  In the meanwhile,  it is better you know the Creator God as early as you can. (Chapter12)  Otherwise, your pursuit of happiness will be in vain.  It is useless to start with search of happiness from greed, because there is no end to such a pursuit.  It must start with the awareness of blessing that the creator God has already provided.

Here Epicurus is helpful.  He says, when you begin your search for happiness and pleasure with the knowledge of what you don’t have, you will never be satisfied,  and in the end frustrated.  Starting with the acknowledgement of what you don’t have, and with greed for more of what you already have, you are starting an endless and frustrating journey.  There is no end of lust.  The more you get the more you need: fame, food, money, pleasure, power, sex, etc.  Instead, you must begin with the appreciation of what you already have, “blessing of creation” that God has already given us.  This is why it is important to recognize what is useless, so that you can begin the journey toward true happiness from what really exists, the blessing of God.  That is, I believe, the chapter 12 of the Ecclesiastes means.

“Lord, grant us serenity to accept things we can not change; and courage to change things we can change.”  (AA prayer, by Reinhold Niebuhr)


Some people think that the Ecclesiastes is very much like Buddhism.  I appended my understanding of Buddhism for comparison.


It seems to me that the following two passages of text summarize the basic teaching of Buddhism.

Alphabet by Koukai

“Like flagrant colour of flowers, they last only so long,

Who can ever be permanent.

Let us go beyond this floating world,

Never get snared in nor get drunk by fleeting dreams.”

Japanese alphabet has 48 characters.  Each character is a phonetic sign.  A monk in the 7th Century, by the name of Koukai, arranged the characters in such a way to summarize the basic Buddhist teaching.


A Haiku by Basho

“An old pond

A sound of

A frog leap in.”


Life is like the sound of a frog jumping into muddy water of an old pond; it broke the silence for only a split second.  But silence came back as though nothing ever happened.

Basho was a wandering monk, better known for his haiku.  He walked all over Japan with no money nor change of clothes depending only on charity of food and shelter.  He summarized Buddhism in three lines 5-7-5 syllables haiku.




I can be quite wrong, and I am happy.


Recently I made in a letter to the editor of the Lethbridge Herald,  two predictions, and I was wrong on both accounts.  And this manifestation of my fallibility  makes me happy.

I thought that Pope Francis could not do all that much to change the Catholic Church, because of the power of Curia (Vatican bureaucracy).  Boy, was I wrong!  He is changing the agenda of the church.  I also predicted that the public would forget the Senate spending scandals by this time.  I was wrong there too.  It is still a big news in the media.  I hope that the public is following the story and continued to complain about the sorry state of the Senate, and the lack of transparency on the part of Prime Minister.  It seems prorogation is not changing the situation.  The supporters of the Mr. Harper must urge him to come clean fast and cut the loss.

I was wrong many times in my life.

When I was kicked out of South Africa in 1971, I never thought that the Black rule would ever come to Southern Africa in my life-time.  The Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Ian Smith, said, “Majority rule will never come in my life time.”  I had agreed.  Then “puff!”  Robert Mugabe was elected Prime Minister in 1980.  My life did not end.  Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1989 and became President by popular vote in 1994.  I was happy I was so wrong.

By the way, about Mugabe, I had had a suspicion about him.  As soon as he was elected, he brought in the North Korean 50th Brigade, and bombarded the Matebeleland, the base of his opposition Mr Joshua Nkhomo, and killed hundreds of his supporters.  We didn’t condemn the atrocity, because we were still caught in the rhetoric of the politically correct idea of “Black rule means free Africa.”  We were punch-drunk and refused to see evil behind Robert Mugabe’s facade.

Lessons learned.  No.1: It’s O.K. to be sceptical but leave a window open for optimism: humans are not always stupid.  We do the right thing from time to time. Lesson.  No. 2: Don’t get caught in the ideology and rhetoric.  Rigid dogmatism and fundamentalism must always be questioned in politics and religion.  Mr. Mugabe must have been condemned for atrocity then, even though he was a celebrated hero for freedom.

Value of University Education

The Lethbridge Herald, an an Alberta City of Lethrbidge daily, published and article on August 28, 2013 based on the survey done by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce about the diminishing value of the university education.  It reported that the university graduates are receiving less income relative to other practically trained people.  And have more difficulty finding employment than before.  I disagree with the CIBC’s use of the two criteria, namely the size of pay-cheque and the marketable skill,  as the only measurement to judge the value of university education.  I believe that the goal of the university also is to produce a person who can think creatively and knows how to see beyond what is.  Our world, like a machine, requires two kinds of people: those who competently run it and those who can see the problems with the status quo, and improve the whole system or invent a new one.  We expect the universities to produce such people.

60 years ago, I had a friend who was passionately speaking about cybernetics.  Nobody understood him including me, neither did any corporation: the result was no money for his research.  So he went to Germany.  My friend was about forty years ahead of the likes of Bill Gates, never made big money.  Now digital technology – cybernetics runs the world.  Industries often are so short-sighted that many of them have no patience for new ideas nor creative people.  They want people who fit in and make a big profit now.  That’s why the GM scrapped the development of electric car decades ago.

There are also many people who prefer a meaningful life than a fat cheque.   Artists are such people.  Also I have been surprised by the kinds of people who joined the ministry as a second career.   Among those I met, there were lawyers, medical doctors, and one highflying executive of IBM from New York and an Union Carbide executive from a Geneva based international headquarters.  They all left lucrative careers, went to seminaries and became ministers.  They saw life beyond money.

Let me shamelessly brag a little (you can stop reading this now): I have two graduate degrees, can work in three languages, worked in four continents in church administrations, a secular NGO’s in executive positions, and as an university teacher, but never saw a pay-cheque bigger than a high school teacher’s.    But I would not repeat my life in any other way.  There are people like that.  Crazy? Maybe.  But I have seen too many such people to say they are all crazy.  Stupid?  No.  I believe that the world is a better place because of them.


SUFFERING – Reflection on the Book of Job –

Does God exist?  If so, what is he doing about it?  Innocent children and women suffer by the hand of evil people everyday:  people are killed by drunken drivers.  Slavery and colonialism killed and starved millions of people throughout human history in order to support dominant economy. 6 million Jews were gassed and incinerated  by the Nazis; tens of thousands of Chinese people were slaughtered and raped by the Japanese military in Nanjing; Stalin and Mao Zedung are responsible for the deaths of millions of opposition, often their own people.  And the list goes on and on.  I have not touched on the victims of natural calamities like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, and tsunamis.  Why does not God intervene to stop this terrible suffering of the innocent people?  Lots of people just give up and say, “There is no God.” or “Life has no meaning.”

No matter how happy we think we are, all of us suffer in different ways and in various degrees.  Suffering takes a form in physical, psychological, or social sphere.  The most obvious is physical pain that makes the world look unbearable.  Hunger and poverty are others.  Even if there is no physical suffering, there is psychological pain which is as bad as physical one or worse; such as anxiety, depression, or lack of confidence.  Fear of death is the worst.  We also suffer from interpersonal issues such as abandonment, betrayal, envy, jealousy, loneliness, or separation.  Happy are those who never suffer.  But is there a person who never suffers?

My first teacher in Theology, Dr. H. Kuwata, Principal of Tokyo Union Theological Seminary, told us that four things had troubled humans ever since they became self-conscious.  They are life, love, suffering, and death.  I was 18 when I heard that, too young to understand it. They still remain largely unresolved.   I wonder if eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden thus becoming self-conscious (and tried to cover private parts), might indeed have been a fundamental mistake that human species made.

Humans are condemned to keep asking ‘why’ to the question that has no answer.  We are obsessed to find answers.  Maybe that is our problem.  Should we just accept suffering as a fact of life and resign to it?  It is the approach some people decided to take.  Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, when he was still a prince, went outside of his father’s palace and ran into suffering people: one was gravely sick, another was very old, and the other was dead.   He concluded that suffering was the reality of human condition.  From there, he gave up his kingdom and began the search for Nirvana, a complete understanding of everything.  After many years of search through meditation and self-denial, he concluded that suffering was the nature of life.  He suggests that if you want to overcome suffering we should give up all desires, and accept suffering as the fact of life and try not so much to change it but to understand it.

Such a passive view is  found not only in the Eastern culture.  Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kierekegaard said, “As soon as one is born, he begins a journey towards death” as though to say “That’s life.  Suck it up!”   Atheist French philosophers, notably Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, decided that life had no meaning nor purpose, and trying to find the reasons for suffering is futile.  Life is what you make of it.  In other words, they say, “It’s up to you.”

But we do not take that tack: we believe that we live for a reason: life has a meaning.  Unlike Buddhism and Existentialism, the Judeo-Christian and Islamic spiritual tradition rejects the notion that suffering is natural.  It keeps asking “Why do we suffer?” and “How can we avoid it?”  There is something wrong when one suffers.  Good people should go to heaven – a good place, where they enjoy plenty and happiness, and where there are full of love, joy, and contentment.  The most popular and enduring notion is that if you are good, you should not suffer.  If you are suffering, it’s because you have done something wrong.  God does not allow good people to suffer.

There are many books among the Judeo-Christian-Islamic literature that have made attempts to answer the question of suffering.  The Book of Job is the most serious and profound attempt.  The reality is good people do suffer: that’s the challenge that the Book of Job tackles.

The Book of Job is a drama – a play.  The story goes that there was a good man, Job, blessed with loving family, fortune, and a successful life all around.  But he ran into unspeakable misfortune.  He lost everything by natural calamity and by enemy, lost his children violently, and finally stricken with an ugly sickness with unbearable pain.  (1:1 – 2:13)  And he asked, “What did I do wrong?” He was so miserable and wished he was never born.  But he did not condemn God.  (3:1 – 26)  Even his loyal wife, out of sympathy without malice, said, “ You are going to die anyway, why don’t you curse such a heartless God before you die. God is not merciful.”   (2:9)

Three friends came to give comfort to the grieving friend, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  What those friends found was, however, so horrible that they didn’t know what to say and do.  They just sat there without a word for seven days.  (2:12)  As soon as Job saw friends, he complain bitterly of God.  (3)   Each friend tried very hard to comfort him.  But what came out of their mouths was the age-old traditional notion that God does not punish good people. Job must have done something wrong.  “Fess up!” they said.

They meant well trying to help Job find solution to his agony.  But they sounded like they were scolding him.  Each gave very long speech lasting chapter 4 to 28.   All three basically said the same thing with some nuance, confess your guilt, be good, and God will bless you and restore your health and wealth, and bring back your children.  Job knew it was not that simple. There came another person, Elihu, a young man who was thus far a bystander.  He said that suffering was not necessarily the result of one’s guilt, God may be trying to say something to you: an educational tool.  Something very deep that three friends failed to understand. (32:1 – 37:24)

At the end, God spoke.  He overwhelmed Job by the grandeurs of his existence and the mystery of his acts, pointing out how little Job understood God,.   Job accepts this and totally surrenders.  Consequently Job recovers everything and is restored, even better than before.  I don’t like this ending.  It’s so much like Hollywood, “And lived happily ever after.”  It is so shallow compared to all the complex and profound discourse that preceded it.  The Book of Job offers no conclusion.  We are left with the need of further exploration about the meaning of suffering.  There is a nihilistic suggestion by the Ecclesiastes.  It says that everything is useless, which is more pessimistic than Buddhism.  There is also a suggestion of God who himself suffers for people, (Isaiah chapter 53) Thus, the search continues.



Notes for people who are not familiar with events happened in Canada in early summer of 2013:

At the end of June, two events shook Canadians.  The train with 70 tankers loaded with crude oil started to go down a hill, derailed and exploded in downtown Lac-Megontic in Quebec destroying downtown core and about 50 people were instantly incinerated.  The whole train was operated by one engineer who left it unattended for the night.  Another event was the flood in Calgary and nearby smaller bed-room community of High River, and their vicinity.  After a torrential rain whole region was flooded causing billions dollars of damage.  A similar calamity happened in 2005 in the same region, a cabinet minister from Calgary, commented that it had nothing to do with climate change.  Such an extraordinary weather happens once in a century.



A question “why” is annoying, but ignoring it will be very costly.

Brand new cabinet  Minister Pierre Poilievre was quoted as saying, “The root cause of terrorism is terrorists” responding to Justin Trudeau after the Boston bombing.  That cheeky comment echoes Mr. Harper’s angry reaction to Liberal Leader’s comment about the importance of asking why terrorists do what they do.  Catching terrorists is most urgent not asking why, he said.  Why is “why” question annoys people?  Why they considered it cheeky and inappropriate?

Every parent including me knows a child who says “why?” to everything.  You must know how you respond to the annoying kid distinguishes stupid parents from good ones.  “Go ask your Mom, I’m busy!”; says I.   Woe is she who gets brushed aside like that!  She may not want to speak to you again, ever.

If you want to avoid the repetition of a horrendous tragedy like the one caused by a runaway train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, you have to ask,  “How can such a tragedy happen?”  Isn’t it most logical to pick a systemic problem as the cause: allowing the train of 70 tankers loaded with explosive or toxic materials to be left unattended?  Isn’t it obvious that the law should not allow it?  Conductor was disposable for the sake of profit and 50 people were incinerated..

Minister Jason Kenny was annoyed when asked why an unusual weather event like flood happened, in 2005.  He said that it was the exceptional event that happens only once in a hundred years; nothing to do with climate change.  But the flood came again, a more serious one, after eight years.  Why is it so wrong to ask about the root causes?

When I heard about climate change thirty years ago, we had already been warned that the consequences of the continuous release of carbon-dioxide into atmosphere would be extreme weather.  I think it’s here.  And it’s costing us a lot of money: a half a billion dollars for the Alberta provincial government alone as an initial cost of recovery.  Even wealthy Alberta can not afford it if it comes a few more times.  And what about the cost to the individuals such as devalued real estate and damages and loss not covered by insurance?

So what’s so wrong about asking, “why?”  Not doing so is more expensive, I should think.



The January 12th – 18th, 2013 issue of the Economist magazine published an obituary of a woman who, at the age of 22, changed Japan forever.  She was an American by naturalization, born in Vienna, Austria of Jewish parents.  Her name was Beate (Pronounced Bay-ah-tay) Gordon Serota.  She was assigned to be a member of a secret drafting group of New Japanese Constitution, a group of twelve men and one woman, Beate Serota.  The reason for this extraordinary turn of event was her fluency in Japanese language.  This was how she ended up drafting Article 24 of the Constitution of post-war Japan defining the rights of women.  What she drafted was so radical that a member of the group, an American Army colonel, commented that even the Constitution of the United States did not give so many rights to women.

In 1945, she was in Japan as an interpreter in the General Headquarters of the Allied Occupation Forces.  She had lived in Japan before the WW II for more than a decade as her father was a professor at Tokyo Imperial Academy of Music (now a part of the University of the Fine Arts in Tokyo), hence she was fluent in Japanese language by the time she became of age.  She loved Japan, its culture and people.  She went to the United States to advance her study in an university.  While studying in the U.S., the war in the Pacific broke out.  Thus she lost contact with her parents.  She joined the Army as a civilian after the war to go to Japan, in order to find her parents.  She eventually found them in an internment camp for enemy aliens.  However, the story does not end there.  She played a much more earth shaking role in the history of Japan, in fact in the history of women’s advancement in the world.

Article 24 of Japanese Constitution spells out marriage as one based on the mutual consent on both sexes, with equal rights and mutual co-operation.  There is equal rights in regards to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce, rights to paid work, custody of children, equal rights to education, and many other matters.  Japanese bureaucrats hated it.  Americans took some of them out because they thought them too radical.   Miraculously most survived and was passed by the Diet (Parliament).  Now it is considered to be the most valued part of the constitution. It is one of the two revolutionary articles of the basic law in Japan: (the other one being Article 9 renouncing war.)

I am writing this for two reasons: one personal and the other out of my astonishment.

As is mentioned in the article “Two Rogues in My Family” in the Memory and Stories section of this website, I lost family fortune because my grand mother did not have right to hold on to her property.  My branch of the Mitsui’s was a very wealthy family in Japan.  My grand father had a control of my grandmother’s wealth, which he wasted away.  She was the only remaining child after two of her brothers were killed in the Russo-Japan War of the early twentieth century.  The post WW II constitution could have prevented that.

Secondly, after nearly seventy years, there is still strong resentment amongst Japanese about the fact that their basic law is drafted by a foreign power, the United States of America. However, Article 24 has never been in dispute.  It is deeply entrenched in Japanese psyche.  The target of resentment was Article 9.   Every conservative government that came into power tried hard to amend the constitution in order to abolish Article 9It has never succeeded because no party ever achieved a 2/3 majority in the lower house, required by the Constitution.

It is quite an achievement for a 22 years old woman.



There is no more room for dispute: evolution is how all existing life forms came into being.  It is the result of natural selection by the dictate of the survival skill of the fittest.  I resent the claim by some Christians that only “creationist theory” is the universal truth.  I am a Christian too and have no problem accepting the theory of evolution.  If they insist that the Biblical story of creation is how the world came into being, I say, “Not true.”   The Bible is not a scientific book.  The writers of the Bible would be embarrassed to find that some people take their words literary.   The Bible is a spiritual book.  It’s a collection of apocalyptic fantasies, folk tales, legends, metaphors, poetry, and sermons, all of which are the record of human’s search for the ultimate reality.   Scientific facts were not their interest.

I don’t care if some people want to believe that what the Book of Genesis says is how the world came into being.  But I have difficulty if a belief affects people adversely.  In that sense, I have two problems with the theory of evolution.  First, some people say that evolution is also a social theory.  They use evolution to justify ethics of free market economy: the winners are entitled to the riches because they have proven to be fit, and the losers deserve to be poor and are unfit to survive.  You can not do that.  Evolution is natural, not social, science.

The second problem is an assumption that human species are on top of food chain because we have survived this long and now dominate the planet.  They credit this to our survival skills and superior wisdom.   Here, we must remember that human race have existed for only about a million years.   I think that the jury is still out on the question of human forte.  Yes, we humans advanced so fast and are thriving.  The rate of human population increase is phenomenal.  In the process, we must also recognize that we are destroying the balance and equilibrium of the eco-system.   It is suicidal.  We are rushing in top speed towards a precipice.  We could be the shortest-lived organism hence the stupidest and the most unfit.

At the Museum of Insects in Montreal, the most impressive educational show piece for me is the section on cockroaches.  I had no idea that cockroaches had lived a few million years before dinosaurs.  And they are still with us.  Surely the skill to enable a species to survive must be the ultimate test of skill and wisdom.   Then, you can say we are inferior to cockroaches judging from the way we are destroying our environment hence ourselves.  We certainly are not on top of evolutionary process.  Or are we?  We’ll see in a billion years.




For a few weeks in April and May in 2013, a succession of tragic events hit the headlines.  The deaths of teenage girls who committed suicide both in Canada and the United States, were everywhere in the news media.  They were sexually assaulted and bullied on social media.  Public was outraged and the coverage relentless.  Then the bombing in Boston happened: the attention has been shifted to the terrorism.  The tragic deaths of abused victims simply disappeared from the media and from the mind of the public.  Arrests of two Al Qaida saboteurs in Canada, then the dramatic rescue of three women after a decade in captivity in Cleveland rapidly followed.  A busy time for media.  Tragedies have come and gone in people’s mind in rapid succession.  Media wait for next big headline event to stay on top of the rating competition.

I remember in 1994 in Africa.  I was in South Africa as a member of the team of  international observers of the first democratic election which elevated a former political prisoner to the president of the Republic.  Daily press conference was a massive event.  An huge theatre was packed by the international press.  Then one day, before the final result was yet to be announced, suddenly the theatre was nearly empty.  Genocide in Rwanda was unfolding.  International press corps were ordered to fly to Rwanda.  Genocide was more exciting than the historic democratic election, I suppose.  Am I being crass?

Neil Postman published in 1985, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.”  He was a professor of Communication at the New York University.  He laments that news has become show business.

We live in an age of information deluge.  Our nerves are numb; nothing is serious anymore.   Too much information is making dramatic events meaningless.  It is impossible to make its flow stop or slowdown.  But rape is not funny, neither is terrorist bombing.  What can we do about this problem?

SHALOM: What do you do when a good word becomes bad?

Problem of languages

Some years ago, the biggest oil company in the world changed its name to Exxon.  I don’t remember what the old name was.  It could have been “Standard Oil.”  I also remember hearing that the cost of the re-branding exercise resulting in the new name cost millions of dollars.  The concern was that the new name must not be embarrassing or offensive in any language.  This is a big challenge in the global village where there are hundreds of languages, in which some words have same sound by coincident but can mean totally different thing, sometimes very embarrassing or offensive.

When I was introducing my fiance to my mother, I remember asking her never to utter names of two Canadian organizations: CUSO and MANCO.  The latter is, for people who have never been to Manitoba, an ubiquitous milk brand from the Manitoba Coop.  In Japanese, those words sound like the very rude words for excrement and female genital.  I added another word soon, when we moved to Europe: the name of a popular Italian car, “Cinco Cento” Fiat 500.  The word for number five in Italian sounds like a rude word for male genital in Japanese.  I didn’t want my mother to think my wife got mixed up with shady Japanese characters.

It could be dangerous if you are not aware of such problems of similar sounding words with different meaning.  When I was working with a program for Palestinian refugees I went to Gaza every year.  In one of those working trips to Gaza, though I was travelling in a clearly marked car showing that it belonged to a refugee agency, several teenage boys began to shout “Shalom” to me.  I innocently answered back, “Shalom.”  My Palestinian colleague turned pale, and pulled me off the road into the safety of a house of his friend.  The kids obviously thought for some reason I was an Israeli spy.  I knew that there were many Shin Bet informers (Israeli equivalent of MI5) among Palestinians, but Japanese Shin Bet mole?

I was in love with the words “Shalom” since 1960’s from my reading of the books by progressive Christian thinkers like Harvey Cox.  He explained the word in a most touching manner as a Jewish aspiration for peace with justice.  It has become a fashion among progressive Christians to greet “Shalom.”  However, since I was hired by the Canadian Council of Churches, I have had opportunities to go to the Holy Land, both Israel and Palestine, regularly.  It was impossible not to notice that in Israel the word “shalom” was ubiquitous as greeting as “Hello” in our culture.

This also meant that the word was a symbol of oppression.  Palestinians hear the word every time they are stopped at the check points: Israeli soldiers greeting each other “shalom”.  It is a pity that such a good word has become bad because of political situations and cultural differences.


Gun control in America – Won’t happen.


President Obama has been trying so hard to pass some kind of gun control measures in the Congress, and has failed so far.  I don’t think this is only because of a powerful gun lobby.  I think there is a much deeper reason.  It is in the genes of the American culture: that is a deeply rooted distrust of institutions.

Switzerland, where I lived for six years, is a country that has as many guns per household as the United States, if not more.  It has the citizen’s military.  Every adult male is a soldier and has a government issued weapon at home, ready to be mobilized in fifteen minutes.  Yet, homicides committed with those guns are extremely rare.  There are incidents involving firearms less than a few times a year .  When it happens, it is a huge headline news.  People almost never think of using them for personal reasons, because of their bred-in-the-bones respect for the Federal institutions.  Likewise, Canadians confer a great respect to the institutions.  We still expect the police to protect us in stead of going out to buy a gun.

The United States of America is founded basically on the distrust of institutions and the belief in total freedom of individuals.  People who founded the republic fought hard for freedom from the tyranny of the monarchy, the organized religions, and other oppressive institutions.  Nothing stops them now. That is what makes the United States an exciting and great country.  This is why Americans are so innovative, because nothing stops them trying new things.   Americans hate to be controlled and restricted.  That’s why the number of Nobel Prize won by Americans are more than any other nationalities.  This is also why entrepreneurs from all over the world flock to America..

The flip side of this is: the United States is inherently violent.  Each individual feels strongly that it is his/her responsibility to defend oneself.   It is more difficult to make a fundamental change of this deep seated attitude than to pass a legislation.  But that’s what should happen, if daily carnage should stop.  In the meantime, Americans keep on killing each other at a rate any terrorist can only dream of.  It is because they feel it’s their constitutional right and responsibility to defend themselves.  And the guns symbolize this attitude.



– The book of Proverbs –

The Book of Proverbs is a collection of words of wisdom that are universally appreciated voice of reason.   They are commonsensical and practical words of ‘Sophia’ – ‘wisdom’ in Greek.   “If you work hard, you become rich.  If you are lazy, you will be poor,”  Says Proverbs 10:4   “If you are wise, you keep your mouth shut.” (10:19)  How sensible!  They sound almost corny.  Proverbs (8:22 – 31) says the Wisdom was with God when God created the world.  It sounds like the Gospel John (1:1-5) that says,  “Christ (the Word) was with God from the beginning at the time of creation” is an imitation of the Book of Proverbs.

I suspect that, when the Bible was officially made the Holy Book of the church in the Fourth Century,  the early fathers of the Church did not recognize ‘Wisdom’ as the fourth person of God, because “Sophia,” is female.  The Book of Proverb always refers Wisdom as “she”. This is how the Christian Church ended up with the doctrine of “Trinity” –  God in three male persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.   It could have been God in four persons, “Father, Son, Spirit, and Wisdom”, if those who met at the Nicene Council were not all men.   It was at that council Trinity was made a doctrine of the church.

They say that today is an age of information.  But information, like a telephone book, is useless unless we can use it.  Otherwise it is just a door-stop.  Information is useful only when it is knowledge.  However knowledge can be abused and misused without wisdom.  Knowledge in the hands of evil is a catastrophe.  Wisdom is essential for knowledge to be a useful tool.  It is possible that an uneducated illiterate but wise person can save the world.  Wisdom is supremely important just as essential as “LOVE’ which Christ represents.

The Book of Proverbs is a collection of many traditional wisdom sayings by unknown sages.  Many of them are credited to King Solomon, because the legend has it that he was the wisest king in history of Jewish people.  But it does not mean he wrote them all.  He might have done some of them but only some.   Most of them are from unknown traditional sources.  Unlike today’s demand for copyrights and strict prohibition of plagiarism, in ancient days people often attached the names of the persons they admired to their writings to honour them in stead of signing their own names.  So Solomon ended up being credited for many sayings he didn’t say nor write.

Uniqueness of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament as Proverbs is lack of emphasis on the special relationship of Jewish people with God; “covenant” as it was referred to in the Bible.  Other Wisdom literature are  Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Job.  They could be acceptable to all people of different beliefs.   The advise like “Arrogant people do not like to be corrected, But you will die if you don’t let yourself corrected.” is universal.   In this sense, the Proverbs is a collection of advises for all humanity regardless of belief.

However, the Book of Proverbs does say that it is important to “fear God” as a pre-condition to benefit from the words of Wisdom. (1:7 and 2:5)  Still “which god?” is a question it does not ask. I think the word ‘fear’ simply means ‘respect’ in strong terms.  It means that the origin of all wisdom is God.  If God is the source of wisdom, there is no limit to the depth, scope, and strength of wisdom.   It is so vast that it is unknowable and is beyond the reach of any human comprehension..  There is no end to a search for the ultimate wisdom.  That is what it means to say “Fear God.”  Be humble and never stop searching for wisdom for you will never know it completely.  The search for wisdom is on-going and never-ending.   Anyone arrogant enough to stop the pursuit of wisdom because he thinks he knows everything will never know anything.  A search for wisdom is a very long journey.    In other words, we must be smart enough to know that we are basically stupid

In ancient Greece, the father of philosophy Socrates, said,  “Know yourself.”  And the ultimate knowledge of yourself is the realization of your ignorance.  The point is that even though the Proverbs, and other wisdom literatures, do not mention God as often as other books in the Bible do, it emphasises the importance of being humble.  You must realize that the result of your search of knowledge is tiny.  We can never fathom the notion that a planet can exist billions of light-years away, for example.  It boggles our minds.  Search for wisdom never ends.

Ironically, to say that the source of wisdom is God also means that there is a limit to common sense.  Reality often does not make sense and can be cruel.  “Why innocent people fall victim of the action of evil people?”  Consider the string of tragic events of the last few weeks illustrate this. (April, 2013)  Why an innocent teenage girl was gang raped and became a target of internet-bullies, and driven to suicide?  A peaceful annual event of Marathon was a target of terrorists’ bombing by a couple of twisted minded young men?  Why hard working people in a garment factory had to die painfully because of greedy factory owners tried to save money by building a cheaply constructed building?  The Book of Proverbs does not raise such questions.  It’s the question raised by another wisdom literature: the Book of Job.

The voice of reason and the wise advise as given to us in the Book of Proverbs make sense most of the time in our daily life.  But the reality is not always reasonable and follow the logic.  The world is full of contradiction.  The Book of Proverbs does not deal with those contradictions.  The Book of Job raises the question of unreasonable suffering of innocent people.  Job cries out, “What is the matter with you, God!  I didn’t do anything wrong, and yet I suffer so much.  Why?”  “God, are you there?  Do you even care?”  There are two suggestions made in the Old Testament to answer those questions: the Ecclesiastes concludes, “there is no sense in the world.  Everything is useless!  Prophet Isaiah suggests that it is the mission of the just people to suffer.  The Bible suggests resolutions, but in separate books.

The Bible does not make sense, if you don’t read it as a whole.  It is a record of the Hebrew people’s progress in their thinking while they search for truth.  You have to try to understand it in the context of different solutions suggested by different books.



Administration kills visionaries


– Are they enemies? –

I admire prophets and visionaries, but I have realized that I am not one of them, neither do I want to be.  I had wanted to be seen as a prophet. Looking back on my career, however, I have realized that I am more suited to be an administrator than a visionary.  I am not a self-loathing failed prophet though.  I know that institutions require both: bureaucrats and visionaries.  Sustainability and creativity.  Advocates for law and order and rebels.  The world needs them both.

I was born in 1932.  I have never imagined I would live to be 81 years old.  If you live long enough, as I have, you are bound to cross paths with famous people, not necessarily because of whatever you have done and deserve such an honour.  I am amazed, so do people who have found the persons I know, how many famous people, prophets, or visionaries I was fortunate to share the same paths with.  I take no credit for this.  I just stumble into them and got to know them, some of them rather well.  There are two Nobel Peace Prize recipients, one as a very close colleague and the other now a saint with whom I worked briefly.  Two martyrs who died for the cause.  There are two one time heads of the major Canadian Christian denominations.  I got to know them because of various positions I held in the bureaucracies of an university and the Church.  They can be called mavericks, therefore, quite frankly, they were bureaucratic nightmares.  Let me describe my encounters with fame.

One time I was contacted by Mother Teresa from India by telephone.    During the late 1990’s, I was working for the Canadian Council of Churches.  I held a position responsible for the administration of a fund to pay for the overhead cost of the programs jointly supported by the member churches and Canadian government.  There were three in Africa and one in the Middle East.  In the telephone call, she asked me to pay for the cost of a heart surgery of an important person for her.  In a  heavily accented English, the caller introduced herself as Mother Teresa.  She said that the person, a doctor, was indispensable in her work in Calcutta.  He was already on his way to Toronto and the surgery had already been scheduled.  She must have realized that the Ontario Health Insurance did not cover the cost of a surgery for a non-resident, hence her phone call.  I had no idea how she found out about me and the money.

I did not have a program in India, therefore such a cost was totally out of the mandate of the fund I managed.  She did not accept “no” for an answer.  Besides, he was already on the plane bound for Toronto.  I wrote a cheque: tens of thousands of dollars.  It’s a miracle I was not fired.  I guess nobody dared to speak against Mother Teresa’ request.

Archbishop Ted Scott, former President of the Canadian as well as the World Council of Churches, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Commander of the Order of Canada, did not carry a date-book, at least on a surface he did not appear to do.   Later I found that he carried a thin month-at-a-glance type of pocket date book, which was not much of a help for a busy person like Archbishop Scott.  It was a nightmare for any administrative person working for him, I being one of them.  An example,  one time he did not show up at an important meeting of a nation-wide significance.  He was the Chair.  We found later that he was helping an old woman hauling coal into her basement.

Steve Biko was beaten to death in a prison in King Williams Town, Eastern Cape, South Africa in 1977.  He was a leader of Black Consciousness Movement during the 1970’s while Nelson Mandela was in prison.  In Mandela’s absence, Biko was a real threat to the Apartheid regime.  His life and death became a Hollywood movie: “Cry Freedom.”.  I met him in 1972 in Johannesburg at an annual conference of  the University Christian Movement of South Africa.  After I was made a persona-non-grata in South Africa, I move to Geneva, Switzerland, and worked for an organization that supported his programs financially, funded mainly by Scandinavian governments.

At one point, all his organizations were banned, finance and property confiscated, and all workers were placed under the banning order, a virtual house arrest.  Steve told me that at this point he spent all the funds in the organization’s bank account to buy a luxurious Italian sports car in the name of one of the staff members.  South African government could not touch a private property.  What a nightmare that was for a person like me who had to account for all the government grants!  Their grants paid for a Ferrari which was given to a staff person!  Bureaucratic nightmare!  The movement continued underground, obviously a Ferrari produced sizable funds enabling its continuation.  Does a bureaucracy understand it?  Normally I would be fired for misappropriation of public money.  Fortunately the Swedish Embassy had a way to know what was happening in Sotuth Africa, and I was not fired.

I don’t want to mention my experiences working with people like Desmond Tutu, who was a teaching colleague at an university in Southern Africa and Lois Wilson, who was a president of the World Council of Churches, where I worked.   They are still with us alive.  I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable because of my exposure.  But I can say that they also fit nicely into the model of a prophet or a visionary: creative visionaries.

Institutions need two components to be effective and sustainable: Good administration and vision, sustainability and creativity.  They need each other though they exist in opposite poles.  They exist in tension.  They must respect each other without compromise.  They are prophets and priests, Popes and Curia, elected politicians and civil servants.  If one tries to continue at the expense of the other, both die.  Empire and priests murdered Jesus, but in the end the empire died but the vision of the Kingdom of God still lives.  Time is fluid, therefore any institution must undertake metamorphosis to survive in the rapid of time.  Otherwise it dies trying to defend itself.


A view of  Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives 2003

A view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives 2003



It has been exactly ten years since President G. W. Bush, ordered the invasion of Iraq. I am surprised how little attention is paid to the anniversary.  Perhaps it was such a colossal fiasco that nobody wants to remember.  It cost more than $ 1 trillion which could be an origine of today’s economic woes.  How can it not be: It’s a lot of money.  It killed thousands of American and British soldiers not counting hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.  Canada didn’t join the coalition.  I am happy Mr. Harper was not the Prime Minister then?  He accused Mr. Chretien of betraying the best friend by refusing to join.

In March, 2003, when the invasion began, I was ready to get on a plane to fly to Tel Aviv for a several months’ assignment.  It was the World Council of Churches’ human rights watch program.  But I couldn’t leave as scheduled because the insurance company charged an exorbitant premium for war coverage.  Remember Saddam’s Scud missiles?  The church could not afford it.  Eventually a reasonable insurance policy was found.  Still there was a  problem: the insurance covered Israel but not the West Bank and Gaza.  By then I was already there.  So I had to be pulled back from West Bank to Jerusalem to wait until the policy that covered the Palestinian territories was found.  It was strange because suicide-bombers struck in Israel, not in the Palestinian territories.  I was safe in Palestine.

Another irony was that the result of the war in Iraq was a Shia government in Baghdad.  Shia is a religion of Iran, an enemy of Israel and America.  When in the Middle East, you can’t help but see the major divide in Islam.  It is the division between Sunni and Shia.  It  is as deep and old split as Protestants and Catholics divide.  It is the Shi’ites from Iran who support Hezbolah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza to fight Israel through terrorist surrogates.  But Mr. Bush’s Iraq war gave the power to a Shi’ite government.

Our policy makers often don’t know the subtlety of Middle Eastern politics.  Neither do insurance companies. Yogi Berra said: “If you don’t know where you are going, you don’t get there.”  It’s good we got rid of the murderous butcher, Saddam Hussein.  But did we get where we wanted to go?



– So what’s the big deal?  Does it matter? –

My mother died at the age 96.  She was not ill: she dies in her sleep.  She was happy until the end, but she was tired and wanted to rest.  If she was offered a chance to live forever, she would have probably said “No thank you.”  What was the point of the belief in Life Eternal for my Mom?  What is going to happen to the traditional faith now?

Paul declared that the faith without the resurrection of Jesus is useless. (I Corinthians Risen Christ by Michelangelo15:12-14)  Really?  I believe in the resurrection of Christ, yes, but I don’t believe he came back into his physical body and returned to this world.  For me, death in the Bible signifies ultimate despair, and the message of Risen Christ means a victory of faith over hopelessness.  A quick survey of the passages of the Bible about the dead coming back to life has proven that point.

(The picture on the right is a drawing by Michelangelo,    “Risen Christ.”)

Throughout history, humans have been driven by three kinds of fear: the fear of hunger, of death, and of extinction of species.  Now that we are getting ever closer to the resolution to all those catastrophes, thanks to progress of science and technology, the relevance of traditional beliefs are rapidly becoming redundant.  We are no longer so afraid of them as our ancestors use to be.  Then the question is: is the belief in resurrection really that important?  Let us re-examine the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ when we are not so fearful of death and not so attracted to longevity as before.

In fact, the situation often is opposite today.  Food, for example, is plentiful today.  If we achieve justice at home and abroad universally, we will have a capacity to eradicate hunger altogether.  Irony is: the problem of food in our society is opposite of want: we suffer from availability of too much food and from over consumption of it.  In fact, we are killing ourselves by eating too much cheap food.  Obesity is now our major health hazzard.

Thanks to the progress in medical science and technology, our life-span has more than doubled in less than a century.  Because people now live so many more years, the problems relating to aging is our most important challenge: we live too long.  For many people death can be a relief.  Of course, death of the infants and the young must be avoided at all cost.  But it is possible for everybody to live to ripe old age. In my last pastorate, for five years I hadn’t had a single funeral which was not a relief, a relief to the deceased and the family. The current debate about assisted suicide and euthanasia is a serious concern morally and spiritually.  All in all, we can say, “Death has lost its sting. ”

The danger of the extinction of human species comes not from an external factors like disease and hunger any more, but from our own making, such as violence, war, and climate change all of them due to our stupidity.  If we are not so stupid, there is no problem multiplying the number of humanity to be like starts in the sky and grains of sand, as God promised to Abraham.  If anything, the problem today is over-population: we are getting to be too many for our planet to sustain.  I am convinced that the Biblical prohibition of homosexual acts and masturbation is based on the fear of extinction of the tribe, nation, or of human species.  That’s why the Bible is silent about lesbianism and female masturbation.  “Don’t waste the seeds” was the command only for men.

Let me go back to the beginning.  Most of the spiritual traditions put those concerns as longevity and avoidance of death, at the centre of their faith. Why was the belief in life after death (or eternal life) so universally important in many religions?  And make faith the solution to them?  It is because death use to be so ubiquitous and life so short.  Many new born infants and their mothers died.  If they survived the birth, they died of illness and violence, if not mal-nutrition and starvation, before they reached the age 50.  Death was everywhere.  It was the end.   It represented despair and hopelessness.  It is hell: in fact death and hell are the same one word in Hebrew language.  Therefore, giving an end to death was an ultimate blessing and salvation.  Is it still so when some people began to live too long and are so tired to keep going?


So what is the meaning of resurrection today?  Why should it be so important?  What does the Bible really say about death and resurrection?  I suggest looking at some passages to find the answer to the question: “Is the Bible speaking about resurrection as coming back to physical life after death? or is it speaking about an overwhelming sense of the presence of a person who is  dead?”  In other words, “Did Christ walked among people physically alive or was he a ghost?”  My answer is the latter.  That is how I view resurrection: the overwhelming sense of presence of a dead person.  Many who had followed Jesus Christ  felt the presence of Jesus Christ so strongly that they felt He was there alive, but in actuality he was not there physically.

Th earliest account of an incident beyond death and back to life is the story of dry bones coming back into life in the Prophet Ezekiel 37.  This is obviously a metaphor, a vision of hope beyond hopelessness.  It is about the fate of the Kingdom of Israel which was hopelessly like dead dried up bones.  They come back to life with muscles and sinews when the word of God was spoken to them.  I believe the central message of Easter was established in this story.

In all of the resurrection stories, Jesus the risen Christ appears and disappears from and into thin air, goes through a locked door, appeared to 500 people at the same time, and said, “You can not touch me. ” to Mary.  He was in a different body.  True, he told Thomas to touch his wound.  But that didn’t happen: Thomas didn’t actually took the offer.  He was overcome by the feeling of his presence and only said, “My Lord, my God.”  Risen Christ had barbecued fish for breakfast with Peter on a beach.  But we all do that with the dead ancestors in Japan during the Obon festival and remember Grandma and her delicious cooking, for example.  In the end Paul claimed that on the way to Damascus he appeared to him too, who struck him off the horse and made him temporarily blind.  That was a few years after the Easter.

No Jesus did not come back into a physical body.  All who met Christ on and after Easter had a powerful sense of his presence and for whom death became meaningless.  The meaning of Easter is:  Power of faith in Jesus the Christ does not allow hopelessness.  There is alway hope.  Easter is for me still the most important event worthy to celebrate every Sunday.  Sunday for me is not Sabbath, it is a celebration of hope beyond hopelessness,




I can not help comparing what’s happening in the Catholic Church today, as the Cardinals gather in Sistine Chapel to elect a new Pope, with Canadian politics.  Here is how my scattered brain sees two situations: a totally unprofessional view.

Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Stephen Harper knows he has to change bureaucracy, hopefully judiciary as well, if he wants to effect a fundamental change of Canada radically towards the direction of libertarian conservatism.  He must secretly admire the Catholic Church.  When the first Pope John Paul died after only a week on the St. Peter’s throne, Le Monde commented, “Popes come and go, but Curia stays.”  Nothing will change until the Vatican administration called Curia changes.  Mr. Harper knows that he has to paint whole Ottawa Curia blue.  (In Canada, the colour of the Liberal Party is red, Conservative blue, and Socialist New Democratic Party orange.)

When Bev Oda, Minister in charge of foreign aid, changed the content of  a letter to KAIROS (the ecumenical coalition for international and social justice) with an addition of the hand-written script “not”, the whole CIDA civil servants’ weeks of work was thrown out of window.  It changed the message of the letter entirely.  The civil service lost a small battle.  War continues: death by a thousand little cuts.  When Pope John XXIII convene the Second Vatical Council to change the church in tune with time, Curia must have been dismayed.  When John Paul II and Benedict slowed down the transformation, Curia could not have been unhappy.  The job of bureaucracy is to keep things unchanged.  And there is no other conservative institution firmly entrenched and long lasting in the world as Vatican is: Mr. Harper’s dream.

But remember this: Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Reagan started a free market revolution during the eighties with a massive deregulations in the United States and the United Kingdom.  In Canada however, both Progressive Conservatives and Liberals kept regulations for the banking sector intact thus avoided the 2008 world-wide catastrophic economic melt-down.  Thanks a little to the former Liberal Prime Minister, Paul Martin, but the main credit should go to the Ottawa Curia.

People are saying that the Roman Catholic Church will not change much because the next Pope will be elected by many Cardinals who were appointed by John Paul II and Benedict.  Progressive Catholics wishing for a change probably are in for a disappointment.  However, in Ottawa letting a bunch of 30-something running things at the Prime Minister’s Office has its risks too.  The whole Harper revolution could fail by a thousand little missteps: sometimes a giant one like Tom Flanagan.  Meanwhile Ottawa Curia knows history and nuance of language, ignore it at own risk.



Learning another language is difficult.  I have been speaking and working in English for more than a half a century.  But I still have problems with English.  For example, the Japanese language does not have articles.  So I still have problem in the use of articles.  The Japanese way of thinking is that life is full of ambiguity.  Trying to be definite or precise about life is futile.  We have to live with ambiguity.  Who needs a definite or indefinite article?  When I was at the United Church General Council in Fredericton in 1992, the assembly spent a half a day hotly debating whether the Bible was “the” authority or “an” authority.  I had no idea what the fuss was all about, neither I suspect many Japanese speakers.

In Sesotho language in which I preached in Africa, there are two ‘e’ sounds.  A French speaking person can pronounce them distinctively ‘e’ with an accent grave and ‘e’ with an acute accent.   But I can not hear the difference between those two “e” sounds nor produce them distinctively.  In Sesotho, ‘body’ is ‘mele with an accent grave and woman’s breast (or tits) is ‘mele’ with an acute accent.  For the first two years, every time I gave out “body of Christ” in the communion service, people giggled.  I didn’t understand why it was so funny.   It so happened that I was giving out the breast (or tits) of Christ.  In John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath”,  there is a scene of a young woman, who lets a starving man on a verge of death suck on her breast.  I heard of a retired teacher who received a complaint from parents  by speaking about that part of the novel  in his highschool English class.

Lately as I was thinking about the meaning of communion, I began to develop a deeper meaning from my mistake because of my inability to distinguish “body” from “breast”.   If you look at Renaissance paintings and sculptures, by Michelangelo and Donatelo and others, you will notice the only exposed female body part is Mary’s one breast, nursing Baby Jesus.  The word ‘Christ’ is not Jesus’ last name, it’s a title.  The proper way to address him should therefore be “Jesus the Christ.”  It means the anointed one. In Hebrew, it is Messiah.  Christ is a Greek translation of the word “Messiah.”  King of Persia, Cyrus was called the anointed one in the Isaiah, because he defeated Babylon and freed Israelites.  The anointed one- Messiah is a generic name, therefore, can also be  male or female.  If the anointed one was a woman, isn’t it meaningful to receive her milk when a minister gives out communion by saying like I said in Lesotho, “this is the breast of Christ” through which we receive life’s sustenance?

After all, the meaning of the word ‘communion’ is sharing.  In communion, we remember that Christ shared his own life.  So why not through the breast.  Recently, I was reading a book about the development of Mary’s status as the mother God in the early Christian church.  The status of Mary we know today is not from the Bible.  It’s an invention of the early church.  It comes from the yearning of new converts, who missed a female divine figure because they were used to worshipping goddesses.  So Mary as a mother of god, a mediator between Christ and people, was a theological compromise.  When you hear people who believe in Mary as the ultimate mediator between Jesus and people, you could feel a tremendous adoration for her almost equal to that you give to Christ.  I am not saying that we should replace Jesus for Mary.  All I am saying is that my mistake in pronunciation gave me an opening into a different kind of understanding of the Communion and how we may be nourished by God.  Try to think of communion as an act that is as intimate and basic as a baby nursing at mother’s breast.

In order to understand the deeper meaning of the breasts of Christ, you have to switch your mind into the way hungry people think about the communion.  In Lesotho, communion services are held only once or twice a year.  Because the church is poor and often could not pay a full time minister, one ordained person looks after at least three or more congregations, sometimes in the mountains, thirty congregations.  Each congregation is looked after on Sundays by a part-time trained and certified lay preacher called an “evangelist” who is usually a teacher in a city and/or a farmer in the countryside.  So if an ordained person has ten congregations, for example, communion services are held jointly once or twice a year with a few neighbouring congregations.  A host congregation holds fundraising events in order to sponsor such an event.  They have to have sufficient funds to  feed the crowd who may walk hours to come to the special joint communion service.  It is called ‘mokete’ meaning “Feast.”  It’s a joyful occasion.

When I went to administer a communion like that for the first time, I had a few surprises, not only the breasts of Christ I gave out unknowingly.  They used home-baked hearty bread and sweet South African wine in a common cup.  Bread is held by the minister which each communicant tear away a chunk, and a cup of wine is held by an elder from which each person has a sip.

But what surprised me  was that the a group of elders surrounded me and the cup holding elder like the honour  guards.  What surprised me even more was that their role was to make sure people didn’t take too much of bread and wine.  They pushed them away if they thought someone was taking too big a chunk of bread and drink too much from the cup if they stay there too long.  People were hungry.  For them, even a bit of bread and a drop of wine were food.  It never dawned on me, since I came from an affluent society, that communion could mean  food when you are hungry.

In Communion Service, we remember that Christ shared his own life, the most precious thing any living person has.  Food is precious for a lot of people in the world.  By taking communion, we must remind ourselves that this symbolic act is a beginning of our action to try to eradicate hunger from our world.  In conclusion, I wish to go back to John Steinbeck.  The communion is a remembrance of an event as intimate and embarrassing as the young woman’s act who had nothing else to give except what she had.


We fight when we are too close, look alike, eat the same stuff. Stupid, eh?


Again and again catastrophes caused by religious fanatics were on the headlines:  the home-grown alleged “Islamist terrorists” in Ottawa and the aborted Qur’an burning day in Gainsville in Florida, etc. etc.  It seems that where proximity and similarity exist, there is more possibility of hostility.  We must remember that Christianity and Islam are very similar in many ways.  It seems that similarity brings out a difference into focus and becomes an irritation.

I have often been asked if I could tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese.  Yes sometimes, but not always.  When I was in South Africa during the 1970’s, Japanese were classified as “Honorary White” because of the trade links with Japan, but Chinses were not.  A bus driver was taken to court because he forced a Japanese business man off the whites only bus.   He thought he saw a Chinese.  The bus driver won the case, because even the judge could not tell the difference Chinese and Japanese.  And yet, both nationalities have been traditional enemies for millenia.

Often enemies are neighbours.  Irish and English, Chinese and Japanese, Basque and Spanish, Hutu and Tutsi, Israeli and Palestinian.  The same problem of being too close exists between religions:  Christianity and Islam, for example.  Both are the branches of one root, Judaism: we are all children of Abraham and Sarah.   And yet, some of my co-religionists speak of the cousins-in-faith as though they were arch-enemies, calling them some such names as devils or Satan.

I think that the trouble is we are close enough to understand them partly but refuse to see the whole, because they are too close for comfort.  So we fight over small stuff, even kill each other from time to time, because we don’t  try to understand little difference.  What a stupidity!  Why can’t we try to see the other side and understand it?  After all, we differ only on minor points; easy to bridge the gap.  Isn’t a refusal to do this the root causes of many troubles today?

We have to learn the art of compromise, and see good things in different ideas.  Therein is a solution to the current political dilemma in Canada too.  When there does not seem to be a possibility of a majority government, a coalition is a good possibility.  There is already one in the U.K., and another in Australia.  Why not in Canada?  Our politicians have to stop speaking of the other parties as though they were enemies.



I lit a candle at the alter of the Church of Reconciliation in Berlin last summer, 2012.  We were there on holiday for gallery hopping.  I light a candle when I am overcome by a profound emotion which no word can adequately express .  The chapel was built with crushed stones from the millennium old original church building which was blown up in 1985 by the Communist East Germany, because it was located by the wall.  Many people died trying to climb over it seeking freedom.  The Wall came down in 1989 when Communism itself fell.

I could not help but think of a few other walls in history.  The Great Wall of China, Roman Walls that dot  England, the Sea Wall in Hakata in Kyushu, Japan built against Mongol invasion, the Wall in Israel and Palestine, and the Sea Wall outside of the Fukshima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power station against Tsunami.  Did they effectively stop the menace they meant to stop?  It is debatable. Isn’t it.

The guide book says: The Great Wall of China never stopped Mongoianl invasion.  In stead, it acted as  an useful East-West highway.  I don’t know what role the Romans walls played in England, but the sea wall in Kyushu was never useful against Kubla Khan’s navy.  It was a powerful typhoon that sunk the Mongolian warships.  Not the wall that stopped the invasion.  The word Kamikaze was invented to describe the event: it means “Wind of God.”   The wall in Israel Palestine did not stop the Palestinian terrorists.  I lived there at the height of the suicide-bombing spell.  It did not stop the bombers.  They had other ways to go around it.  It was a change in the policy of the Palestinian authority that stopped it.  We know what happened to the sea wall of Fukushima Nuclear Power Station.  They thought 8 metre was high enough.  It wasn’t.  13 metres high Tsuami caused the unprecedented nuclear melt down.

Walls are expensive, but never effective.  Good neighborliness is the most effective deterrent against the menace from bad relationship.  In case of Fukushima, living in harmony with nature will deter such catastrophe.  Then why we keep on building them?