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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.

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FAKE NEWS OR GOSPEL

FAKE NEWS OR GOSPEL

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!

JESUS TAUGHT IN PARABLES

REFLECTIONS ON PARABLES

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?”